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Follow these instructions:
(1) Find a pair of headphones. Any will do, but the higher the possible volume, the better.
(2) Hook said headphones into your computer and turn the volume all the way up. You’ll know why in a minute.
(3) Play this audio file.
(4) Listen to the whole thing and imagine it repeated ninety times in a row with only short breaks.
You now know roughly how my eardrums feel as I write this.
All joking aside, the optional (but highly advisable) day trip you can take from Mandalay to the surrounding villages of Sagaing, Inwa and Amarapura is well-worth the admittedly brutal taxi ride between the four. If you’re lucky — I wasn’t — your truck will be less than 40 years old or have good enough tires that you won’t notice the apparently cobblestone roads.
Transit time varies, as it tends to when you travel in Myanmar. From Mandalay to Sagaing Hill, for example, you should count on at least 45 minutes, while you’ll arrive in Inwa less than 10 minutes after descending the precipice. The total time in transit will be no less than 90 minutes for the whole day’s affairs.
Although it’s relatively straightforward — like sunset spot Mandalay Hill, it consists of a long and winding staircase that leads to the highest peak for several square miles — Sagaing Hill is not to be missed, if only for the frame of reference it gives you for the adventure that will follow.
Look out toward the direction of the steps and take note of the oft-invoked (in Myanmar) nothingness that lies before you. This is Inwa, where you’re headed next.
Once your driver drops you off, you’ll need to take a 1,000 kyat (per person) boat ride across the narrow river, at which point you’ll be dropped off at the de-facto entrance to the settlment. Horsecart drivers will try to seduce you into their buggies (the rate started at around 5,000 but had dropped to around 1,500 by the time they got the message) but I highly recommend walking if you’re not in a rush.
In addition to the cool people you’re likely to meet on foot, the slower pace will afford you better photographs, more time for pause and a generally more accurate experience of where you are: In essence, the middle of nowhere.
Carriage drivers will deceive you into hopping in with a false 10-kilometer figure as to the distance of the town’s main attractions (Inwa’s very own “Leaning Tower” the centerpiece) from the entrance. Truth be told, the ride doesn’t look particularly bad.
Still, there are few things (when you travel in Myanmar, anyway) more exciting than walking through seemingly deserted farmland and coming randomly-upon a decaying, centuries-old fortress locals expect and want you to climb in spite of its apparent unsafeness. Don’t bother with the restaurant near the entrance of the main settlement. Instead, visit the local establishment on the other side of the river, where you can enjoy a sumptuous, local-specialty fish curry with rice for Ks 1,500 out the door.
Speaking of apparent unsafeness, your third and festination is the Amarapura bridge, famous for being on the cover of Lonely Planet’s out-of-date volume on Myanmar. The photograph is a bit misleading — the bridge isn’t particularly high and once you look closer, you’ll notice a great deal of its supposed height is due to a reflection — but traversing its length is nonetheless harrowing.
As is the case with Mandalay Hill, you’ll likely encounter friendly monks and other students who are looking to practice their English. Even if you found yourself immune to their charming naivete on your sunset promenade, their presence will likely calm you as you wonder whether your feets’ pitter-pattering will be the proverbial straw to break the camel’s ancient back as you look out over fishermen who cast their lines while neck deep in the water below.
Plus, even the most crippling of fear is more pleasant than the rattling you’ll endure en route back to civilization, or what they deem civilization here in the land of the (wonderfully) uncivilized.
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