Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar with a rough population of 1.2 million. It is a main stream hub of culture, education and economics. There are many things to do and see in Mandalay from Pagodas, viewpoints, temples and Mandalay Palace. Unfortunately, for me, I didn’t get to see any of them. Joseline and I became a bit landlocked because of the New Year festivities in Mandalay making it hard to get around. We struck gold when we made friends with the young man, named Andrew, that ran the front desk of our hostel.
Andrew had been helping Joseline and I get around as best we could and we had grown very fond of him. His English was exceptional and he really went above and beyond to help us. Not to mention he is funny and kept us laughing and entertained. He either was fond of us as well or he just felt sorry for us when he invited us to spend a day with him and his friends while enjoying Mandalay during the New Years water festival. He didn’t offer any information as to what we would be doing. He just said he would come pick us up the next morning.
True to his word, Andrew and a friend showed up the next morning on motorbikes to pick us up. I was so excited to be spending a day amongst locals as well as get out of the hostel. The boys each gave us their helmets for safety and off we went. I love riding on motorbikes. The cool breeze all around me is always so welcome and I always feel so free. Our first stop was at a small restaurant/bar with little tiki style huts to sit in. Andrews friends were there waiting. They made room for us and welcomed us right into the group. Andrew was the only one who spoke fluent English. To my knowledge a few others spoke little English but they didn’t try speaking with us. I think a lot of the time they are scared or embarrassed, which I thought was adorable.
There was nine of us including Joseline and I who were the only girls in the group. The boys were all different ages. The youngest and most adorable one was 14. The rest were all in their late teens and early twenties. They mostly all knew each other from growing up together or from school. Even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying I could pick up personalities through their dialect and body languages. There was definitely the funny guy, who was my favorite and who we lost for a bit later in the day. He was always laughing and teasing everyone and singing. He also had red hearts painted on his face with what looked like lipstick, which made me giggle every time I looked at him. There were a few shy guys who didn’t say too much. One was covered in tattoos, which of course I have a soft spot for tattoos and he had the best smile!
At the little tiki hut hangout we were graciously served by the boys. They had pitchers of a sweet almost wine cooler type of drink made from sap of palm trees. It’s very popular amongst Burmese farmers. They also had snacks and even ordered Joseline some veggies when they found out she was vegetarian. They were all so polite and always made sure our glasses were full and kept passing the snacks to us. I can’t explain how much my heart grew from these boys instantly treating us like old friends or older sisters. We didn’t share the same language and we couldn’t communicate but they made me feel loved through their kind gestures and warm smiles.
As we were leaving, Andrew’s younger brother and another friend met up with us. There were 5 motorbikes total in our little group. 3 people on one and 2 on the others. Off we went to wherever I didn’t know. I actually liked the mystery of not knowing what was going on. I had full trust in Andrew and all of these boys to take care of us and to show us a good time, and that’s exactly what they did. We headed down a road that was full of attacking arsenals of water. It couldn’t be avoided and I actually really enjoyed it. It was really hot and the water helped cool me down. It does hurt when you’re going fast and someone blasts you in the face though. We drove out of town for about 30 minutes to what was supposed to be our destination.
Our intended destination, I believe, was a water park. I wouldn’t know because we never made it. Literally every human from Mandalay as well as all their visiting friends and families had the same idea of going to this park. If I was to make a guess I would say there was over 100K people trying to get to this place. I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life. Thousands of people in the beds of trucks, stuck in cars, and so many motorbikes trying to weave through and around the traffic jam. It was pretty much a parking lot. There was no way the park could accommodate this amount of people and I don’t know if they were turning people away at the entrance or what, we never got that far. Any car or truck was just stuck because you couldn’t turn around. I seriously saw people who looked like they were dying in the back of trucks in the heat.
Seeing as we were on motorbikes we did our best to weave through and around the traffic. There was also about 50k other motorbikes trying to do the same thing. We were off roading as if we were on dirt bikes. We had to get off the back of the bikes several times and walk between the cars because it was just too dangerous and sometimes the sand was so thick. The group got split up but we were able to find each other later. The boys never lost sight of me and were always making sure I was ok. I felt like I had little personal body guards. I know Andrew was worried because this was pretty intense. He kept apologizing because they had never been here during New Years and they were just as surprised as we were. I was having a great time, I knew as long as I was with the boys, I would be fine. I probably should have been worried or scared but I never once was. I was just enjoying spending time amongst all the locals.
When we all found each other we hung out under the shade for a bit while the boys tried to make a game plan. Joseline and I were just kind of laughing and didn’t really know what to say. We had lost our goofy friend with the hearts on his face and we waited trying to find him. There was no cell service making finding him nearly impossible. The guys decided to leave him behind and head back. So we turned around and made our way back through the madness. When we emerged from the chaos we found our lost buddy and headed back into town to get some food.
The restaurant they took us to was amazing and Joseline and I even returned the following day to eat there again. The boys all ordered family style and shared everything which I just adore. They made sure our plates were always full and gave us what I think was whiskey, but I don’t know. I was in heaven. Joseline ordered an amazing fish that we all shared and was so delicious. When the bill came they wanted to refuse our money but I forced them to take our contribution. They had already done so much for us and I was so grateful and had no other way of showing my gratitude for their hospitality and friendship.
After we ate we headed down to the main street of the water festival to go dancing. I had so much fun dancing with the boys. I didn’t know the music but they all did and they were all singing and jumping and were all so happy. We were so soaked but it didn’t matter. The boys always made sure us girls were close by and that people weren’t crowding us. They even created a circle as a barrier when some people got a little too grabby with us. I felt like they were my little brothers protecting me from crazy older boys. I was so touched by this. We danced and danced until we couldn’t dance anymore because the music had stopped.
Andrew had to get to work so we parted ways with our friends. I wanted so badly to give them all hugs and kisses on the cheeks and show them how much fun I had. The Burmese culture don’t hug or show affection, so I opted for a hand shake. I felt sad saying goodbye to them, I had so much fun with all of them and had felt so loved all day. On the way back to the hostel Andrew stopped by his family home to get a change of clothes for work. We were greeted by his entire family. It was so nice to meet his mother and tell her just how much we enjoyed her family. We also got to meet his youngest sister who is also learning English. This literally was the most amazing family I had the pleasure of meeting.
Andrew made one last pit stop on the way back to get us a traditional Burmese treat that local woman were preparing in a group on the street. They were little balls made out of coconut flour with palm sugar in the middle. Served warm after being lightly fried. We arrived back at the hostel and were exhausted and in desperate need of a shower. We showered and then headed out for dinner. Needless to say we slept very well that night!
I’m really sorry that I was having WAY too much fun on this day to be concerned with photos and videos. Bad blogger! This is all I got!!
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