Mandalay is the second-largest city in Myanmar with a population of approximately 1.2 million. It was the last royal capital and is considered the center of Burmese culture. The former royal palace complex occupies a prominent place in the city center, with a square footprint measuring a mind-boggling two miles on each side. The complex is complete with a wall and wide moat.
The structures in the palace compound are reconstructions, since the originals were destroyed. How did this come about? During World War II, the British were using this compound as a military garrison, which marked it as a prime target and resulted in heavy bombing by the Japanese. Most Americans, when they think of WWII, think of Europe or the Pacific, not Southeast Asia. But fierce fighting took place across this region. The reconstructed buildings convey a sense of the majesty of the originals.
Outside of town is the U Bien footbridge, the longest footbridge in Myanmar at approximately 3/4 mile in length. It was built 200 years ago, and crosses the shallow Thaung Thaman Lake. The decking has recently been replaced, but the pilings and support beams are original. Can you name the weather-resistant wood species, which is famous past and present as a Myanmar/Burma export, used in this bridge? You may even have some outdoor furniture made of this wood. The answer is at the end of this post.
The Irrawaddy River courses through Myanmar and has been a key transportation route in the past and continuing into the present. Cargo vessels ply the waters, and haphazard primitive loading and storage facilities dot the banks. The river is bustling with activity near the cities, although this is clearly a developing country.
The classic design of the river vessels is a “long tail,” which could refer to the long narrow shape of the hulls, or to the long drive shaft for the propeller. A small-block engine is directly mounted on the front of this shaft, and the pilot wrestles this weighty but balanced contraption to keep the propeller from hitting sand bars on the bottom of the shallow and ever-changing riverbed. Many do not have mufflers, and the resonating loud exhaust notes contribute to the rough-edged feel of the scene.
Seasonal farmers take advantage of the low water levels of the dry season to plant crops on the river banks and also on the exposed sand bars in the middle of the river. Temporary living structures are erected on the sand bars for the growing season, and then disassembled and moved before the arrival of the high waters of the monsoon season each year. The main crops include corn and peanuts.
The day’s end brings a beautiful sunset over the water, and a good place to end this post.
With that, we leave the country of Myanmar, and depart for Bangkok, Thailand.
Quiz answer: the famous weather-resistant wood found in Burma is…… teak.