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From Diary 3 I now head a bit west, mainly because the fighting prevents me from going east and north.
I sleep from midnight to four, and figures when I'm awake anyway, I might as well send a "birthday card" to a good friend, and take advantages of the slightly working internet.
When the luxurious bus arrivals at the hotel, I find out seat number 13 is unlucky. Next to a wide part of the bus' construction and added curtains. I get to swap it to shadow side, full window. The hotel provides breakfast: A bag with toast, a banana and an egg. Even a bag of instant coffee mix, although without warm water, it seems a bit useless. We leave only nine minutes passed 5:30.

Not that I'm suspicious in any way, but it seems like that number 13 haunts me the entire day. After a hour, there s a major congestion on the narrow road, and in both directions. It delays us a hour and a half, and looking out the windows does not make up for it. Despite it is after eight, the mist easily keep the sun away.
As so many other places, wee passes long lines of small beehives. In front of one hut, they are stacked in large numbers.

The road more or less follows the railroad, and the same huge gorge have to be crosses. Where the railroad had the old cast-iron-bridge, the cars have to zigzag the entire way down to the river for the crossing. It is a great decent through what appears to be the only untouched forest I have see so fare. The huge trees are overgrown with lianas, ferns and orchids. I wished I could do a walk here, but I fail to figure how I get back on a bus. Further more, the few policemen are said not to like company, although they do appreciate the water bottles from the bus-crew.

Like all other mainroads, cars from other states have to pay toll, and it is quite big. We follow the gorge, which is indicated by a long, dense cloud. After the crossing of the gorge, the road seems a bit dull, and I doze off. I get woken when we enters Pyin Oo Lwin, and do a short lunch brake. I skip lunch to enjoy the sun and the nursery we have stopped at. A bag of caramel with nuts must be sufficient. I need to replace all the energy the air-condition have taken this morning. I don't get why everyone have to freeze, several have asked for blankets.

We start the long decent to Mandalay, and there are some great views to the lowland through the mist. We reach a big bus terminal, but accordantly to the helpful girl I ask, I have to drive to another one to catch the bus for Mingun village. A young boy, not that bright, drive the eight kilometres, and now it get difficult. It seems like she had misunderstood which city I was heading for - despite I showed it to her in writing and on a map. There are no busses going that way, at this terminal. They say the only connection to this remote village is by moped through Sagaing.

The boy could drive me there in a good hour, for 5.000K - the others say - but I rather get a bus. A taxi driver, who can a few English words - more than the others all together, offers to drive me for 10.000K, and it seems like there are no busses anyway. At least, we seems to be in the right end of Mandalay, and at two, we reach the huge bridge to  Sagaing - I hope. The town is build on several big hills, and the only thing visible despite the trees and numerous pagodas. It look like an entire town of pagodas and temples.
The driver drops me of at a fancy hotel, but considering the last two nights' $5, nice room, I find it hard to pay $25.

Just around the corner, I find the new and too clean market. Well, the butchers do it easy to maintain vegetarian... I walk a bit around, but I am clearly in the wrong neighbourhood. A moped driver, speaking a bit of English, offers me to find a slightly cheaper hotel, but a the same time, he repeat the taxi driver claim: It is a real expensive town.
A bit out of town, and recently hotel offers me two nights for $30, which transform into 39.000K. Not really bad I guess, I'm just spoiled.

I drop the bag and head straight back to town. The market get another look through, then I try to find the tourist attractions. Both to see them, but also because I actually would like to find a golden pagoda as my Myanmar souvenir. It is after all the thing I connect Myanmar with. One of the stalls offers the stuffed pancakes with kick peas and other vegetables, and I try one: Just as delicious and the others I have had.
I try to spot the moped drivers, but in a city with 50 mopeds on each corner, it is hard. I try to look desperate, but none bites. I ask several groups, which could be drivers, where the tourists go, but they just giggles. English is not common!!!

Finally, a middle aged moped driver calls at me. He offers to show me the two pagodas and temples on the top of the biggest hill, the sunset from here and the ride back to my hotel, and I gladly pay him 4.000K. It is a rather long drive and the last part is steep. We passes hundreds of young monks and nuns. Same haircut, but the girls are warring pink while the boys have bordeaux ropes.

The first place he drops me of is a huge gathering of temples, pagodas and huts with statues. I head upwards, and time and time again, I think I have reach the top and its secret building. The view to the surroundings are fantastic, and so are the shrines. Lines of identical Buddha statues in golden buildings, some standing tall and alone in other buildings. All kind of stupas, pagodas and other symbolic buildings are gathered on this top. After I have reached what apparently is the top, returned down and then up to get my flip-flops, my driver do the short tour to the nearby hilltop.

As hoped, both places have plenty of souvenir shops, but nothing remotely resample what I was looking for. And I only se Asian Buddhists, not a single pale-faces. This is a real well visited city, but by pilgrims!
The main pagoda is still under construction, but here are plenty to look at. I do several tours, and my driver give a hint about what the buildings and the surrounding hills holds. I park him at a cafe, and do  my own exploring, and returns for a cup of tea. I sit with the most fantastic view over the city, and the only other person is the driver, engaged in his smartphone. After an additional round on the top, the sun is low enough for me, and I get the lift home.

As we passes the market, I ask him to stop. This must be the place to look for dinner. It is in the last daylight, and the cut flowers look fantastic. I try a few photos of the stalls in the dimmed light, and feel I have to buy a sweet pancake, filled with something sweet. Then two of the vegetable pancakes - and a sweet just to be sure.
It seems like it is some sort of special night or festival. A marry-go-round and a stage along with some sort of lottery draws people in, and I do some rounds.

Back at seven, I start the usual work, except the pointless attempt to connect to the internet. They don't have any - like the others, but they acknowledges it. Considering I have the room for two days, I might celebrate it with a small round of laundry.
And a bit of planning might be in order. Due to the re-planning forced by wars, I have moved a bit too fast. It seems like there are no busses to the village I'm actually heading for; Mingun. Well, that is what the bus-guys say, and the moped drivers confirms. But they will be happy to drive me the 75 kilometres up there, give a guided tour and return me in the afternoon for 8.000 to 15.000K. If it wasn't because I already had thrown 50.000K after it, I would reconsider.
Another error is a misplacement on my own made map. I have placed 160 and 162 north of Mandalay, but it is might be at least 400 kilometres south of - unless it is north of? My great guidebook mention it a lot, but fail to place it on a map. And is it identical with my map's Pye? I blame it all on seat number 13. Now I just hope I can avoid Mandalay on my attempt to reach Pakokku and the west. I give it a 1:100 chance. I try to make corrections on my map, but the pen fails. I could do with Google maps by now! My GPS is useless, as it use a third spelling of the cities. It only work if I feed it coordinates.
The lack of sleep in combination with close bye, loud religious and endless shouting make it hard to concentrate, and I give in before midnight. They don't....

16/12 Despite the loud prayers, I get a great nights sleep for once. No reason to hurry anyway; the 75 kilometre moped drive will be cold enough later in the morning. I find some great breakfast on the street nearby; Fried noodles with slightly spiced vegetables, tofu and veggie-pirokes. With a cup of instant coffee, I have to pay 1100K. I share the table with a farther and his little son. He is only slightly better with the chop-sticks than me.
Back at the hotel, I ask them to call the expensive moped driver. He spoke a bit better English, and drove faster.

At nine, a third driver turns up, and why not: A bit of English and a rather new moped is all I need - I hope. We take the narrow road along the river up north. I do not see any busses or alike, but plenty of cows, temples, and pagodas! The area are home to 6.000 monks and nuns, and we see most.
I spot a big hole in the ground, and hope for water. My driver doubt, but I'm right. It is a huge, old tank with gats around. Must have taken a unbelievable recourse to build! The area is dominated by Recinus, the most poisonous plant I know, but only the skin of the seeds thought.
We passes a few villages and see some area with bushes. It seems to be real dry by now. A few huge trees are still left along the road, but not on the fields. All the way, one pagoda replaces the other, unless it is a big monastery.

After a hours driving, we reach Mingun, the area starts to teaming with people. At the main area, even a few pale tourists are found, who have arrived by boat from Mandalay.
The first sight I see, is a absolutely massive brick-building. I guess it is the famous start of an even bigger pagoda; Po. Hto Da.w Gui Pagoda (based on the sign. I guess it is known as the Mingun Pagoda), which was started in 1790 and cancelled in 1819, when king Bodawpaya died. Was it finished, it would have been the world's biggest. Now, it is describes as the world's largest pile of brigs.

We park on the other side of the road, and as a tourist, I have to pay what all the locals have mentioned as a heavy price; 5000K, but I'm fine with supporting the area this way. As with all other pagodas, two Chinthe (half lions, half dragons) are watching the entrance, and these are build and match the size. Well, they have disintegrated quite some, and now, they look more like the buts of elephants. Anyway, their share size make them impressive still!

A guy is lining up his Indian oxen in front of a wooden carnage, and offers me a ride around the area. There is a childish drawn "taxi" on the bamboo cover. I decline, and walk the other side of the road to see this giant of a pagoda.
It is really impressive, and where the buts of the loins did impress me, this blows my mind. Just considering the amount of firewood which it must have taken to burn this mount of bricks! On each side is a small "cave" with Buddha statues. I do a walk around it, and feel a bit sad the two earth crakes have caused so much destruction.

Next on my driver's agenda is the huge, white pagoda-like structure of Hsinbyume Paya. It is the symbolic seven mountain ranges around Mount Meru: The centre of the Buddhist universe. It is also impressive, and I do the walk around it, and to the top, which offering a great view to the surroundings.

Next to it is a more wooden-like structure. It is build to protect the mightily Mingun Bell - world's second largest bell. Bodawpaya had a bell made, matching his pagoda. It was cast in 1808, and measures 4,87 meter at the  base, and four metres high. The weight is 90 tons. It does have a fine, deep sound!

After that, I offers the driver a cup of coffee, mainly because I could do with some tea. I walk to the white Sat Taw Yar Pagoda, which is the same type of building as the mightily Mingun Pagoda, was it finished.
A bit further up the road, we find the another pagoda, and my driver has run out of sights here. I rented him for six hours, and he offers to show me some more of Sagaing. On the way back, we do several stops to see oxen-wagons and boats in the river. It seems like the major part to be transported on  the river, is teak stems.

Back in Sagaing, I don't seem to be able to avoid a tour to the highest hill with its pagoda, and as a good tourist, I do a round.
Then I get to see an other pagoda, which is rather impressive - and pink. So many Buddhas, so much "gold" and so few people. And I have not seen a single pale-faced in entire Sagaing.

Next up is some water paintings. We pass one office to be registered, and then head over to the Tilawkaguro Cave. It seems like another huge pile of bricks, and it does hold some ancient paintings on the inner walls. I walk around all by my self, and try to find the bats.

From here, we head way out on the south-western highway. Here are the largest golden Pagoda; Kaunghmudaw Paya, and the tour it self is interesting. We passes smiths making the brass stuff for the pagodas, some shops selling huge terracotta things and some selling weaved furniture. 

We reach the Kaunghmudaw Paya and it is truly huge!It is not only 46 meter tall, it is also rather obese. It is said, when the king was asked about the shape, the queen just pointed at her breast, and said: Make it like this. It is from 1636, and real well preserved and maintained.
I do the walk around, and despite I kind of find all the shops a bit offending, I am amassed about all the things they can sell to the pilgrims. Especially the fire-wood-like short branches, used for the facial powder. They even have a big selection of stones to grind it on.

I still look for a golden pagoda as the perfect Myanmar souvenir, and ask my driver to stop at some of the huge silver smiths on the way back. They do have a lot, but not any small ones.
I get him to stop at some ancient, red pagodas, which look great! At two, we are back at the hotel, and I walk straight back to town and epically the market.

I get a lot of good pictures, although I keep failing to get their faces: The look away every time. But look back, when I say "thank you" - and take the second picture. It fall quite natural for me to say "Min-ga-lawa" by now. A normal greeting. On second floor, the textiles are found, and I do some "laundry". Underwear; 1000K.

Then I do the surrounding streets and alleys. A few cups of tea - or is it coffee? later, I have seen it all. The sun disappears, and I head home to work on photos and diary. I have somehow been able to make 303 photos, and it is going to be a long evening. I start with the diary, while I chase the tiny ants in the keyboard again. I might have to take the Mac apart one of these days - and I did bring the tool, and I'm not afraid to use it!
I still haven't figured the Pyay/Pye question, but I think I know where the mini-busses (pick-ups are more describing) leaves from, when I want to go south-west.

At seven, the prayer school is up and running next door, and I head back to town for dinner. Street food again, but here are no festival this evening, and I head home. On the way, I do a single stop for a cup of tea, but the temperature is slightly low - for me.
At eleven, the neighbourhood have quiet down, and I decide I'm done working.
Though, I have to make two special slideshows for the day: Mingun village with pagodas and Sagaing Market .
As I now head further west, I also make the The "north" (of the central Myanmar) slideshow.

17/12 Breakfast same place as yesterday, and then down and catch the pick-up. Well, that would have been easy, but apparently, they do NOT leave for the south-western highway from here. I spend quite some time asking around, and everybody seems to agree: I have to go around Mandalay.
Spend some more time finding the pick-up for that, and half a hour later, it is sufficient filled for it to leave. Well to the next stop. I am not build for these wooden seats and crammed benches, and it might be a good thing, I didn't find one to take on the 165 km to Nyaung U.

Several agree on where I shout jump of, but unfortunately, they must have it wrong. Here in this part of Mandalay, none have heard of Nyaung U or Bagan. A moped driver have an idea: The motor boats! Why not? He drive me across the huge city once more, and the jetty is there. Unfortunately, there is only a seven o'clock boat. But they know where the busses leave from.

Back on the soon to be rich moped drivers iron-horse, and a new angel cross town. I recon I now have seen most of Mandalay, and it don't seem to me as an interesting, nor beautiful city.
We find the ticket office in a back-alley, and they have a mini-bus within a hour. I see the little local market and stock some fruits. I would have liked sweet bananas, but the few places who have them, only sell them in huge bunches. Mandarines/clementines and a huge pear will do.

Then I find something fantastic: A real teahouse with kettles, socks and condensed milk. That causes for a celebration, and four cups later, I'm so ready for a four hour bus tour. That is more than can be said about the bus. When if finally turns up, I get a shadow window seat, and we spend the most of a hour, getting out of Mandalay.
We reach the narrow and real uneven road to Bagan well over noon, and the landscape is real dry.

Here are a few fields with corn, then liquorice root, coconuts, cotton and then some tobacco plants. Small herds of sheep and larger herds of Indian oxen. We crosses several huge rivers with water, and smaller ones without.
Around one o'clock, we do a lunch-stop at a restaurant in the middle of nowhere. I stock some caramel with nuts, and do a tour around the surroundings.
A nice little pond have white flowers in. They look so much like Ipomoea and are for sure Convulvaceae. They are eaten in salads. Surprisingly short break, but at least, they waited for me.

Next time we stop is at a narrow bridge. It turns out this single lane bridge also doubles as a railroad line, and the train have the way of right. Then we stop outside town to let me pay 25.000K in fee to the Bagdan archaeological area. We reach Nyaung U in the outskirts of Bagan at five, and I walk down the mainstreet, looking for a good hotel. Some don't have hot water, some are ridiculous expensive. This is tourist country for sure.

In the middle of town, I find a great looking place, good price and a truly helpful receptionist. I get a big map and hints to what to see. He recommend a restaurant next door, which I on one hand find a bit too fancy, but they have a full page of vegetarian courses! I get "Golden Beans", which is unripe green peas.
Back at the hotel, I catch-up on the internet and start on the few photos. Here are several other tourists, some even speak Danish! I don't... At ten, I call it a day.

From here, it will be the western part of the country - from the middle and down, and the north is closed to foreigners due to the fight lings. Read about the wild west in Diary 5.