It was strange from the minute we boarded the Mandalay Airways plane - a tiny boxlike creature with propellers not jets. As soon as our party stepped on board we were greeted by two of the best looking people I have ever seen - all almond shaped eyes and coffee coloured skin. "Helllll-ow" purred one of them in very upper class english before showing us to our seats. It was immediately clear we were off to a very different kind of country.
Mandalay - hot, dusty, dark. It is so easy to tell that Myanmar was once a British colony, the old buildings that litter the streets of this city are not unlike the kind of Victorian / Edwardian creations you would see in Sydney or in Melbourne. Except there are no trendy warehouse conversions for these buildings. They look like rotting wedding cakes, floral garlands, plaster mouldings and ornatmental urns are blooming with damp, cracked with weeds and lean on a drunken angle.
The dark streets of town are like that for two reasons - one there are no street lights, two the Government limit the amount of power or simply turn it off at will plunging the city into darkness. Enterprising locals have their own generators which hum and shriek pumping out hot, smoky exhaust into the already hot smoky night.
We find a streetside restaurant - there are no menus just curries. Mutton, Chicken and vegetable. Beer? A shake of the head. Tea? our restaurant boy suggests - why not. The tea arrives, hot, milky, thick and spicy - the country tastes more like India than Thailand.
By ten the streets are completely blacked out, we dodge low lit trucks, tractors spewing exhaust and bicycle taxis, trishaws that come out of the darkness with no lights at all. It's still hot and the dust makes us all cough - sleep comes easy but filled with strange dreams...