We had tickets for a 3:00 pm train heading south to Thazi on this day so we got an early start to the day. As mentioned in our section on Mandalay Guide Soe Soe, he had previously worked for 10 years in the jade market before becoming a guide. We took advantage of his expertise and spent time first wandering through the section of the market where lessor quality rough stones are spread out on blankets. As we moved further through the crowds we came upon blankets with nicer and nicer rough stones mixed in.
Many of the rough stones are just as they are found in the mines. To an untrained eye, they look like a rock you could find anywhere. Stones with some promise are often sliced near one end and then polished for display. With the benefit of a strong flash light, great care is taken to look deep into the cut stones. Traders consider the value of the color and attempt to see the fractures and estimate how many gem quality pieces can be cut from the raw stone or simply the best way to make use of it.
Bargaining is definitely a necessity if interested in buying a stone. As shown in the video on the Guide Soe Soe page, the small rock we decided to buy was first quoted to us at 70,000 Khat or roughly $70 USD. With the help of Soe Soe, we ended up paying 6,000 Khat.
After walking through the rough stone area, we walked through the workshop area where stones were being cut and polished; sometimes by young kids. From there we moved into an area where gem quality, already polished stones were being sold. At each step in the refining process, prices would be higher than at the previous step. Eventually we arrive at a sales area where stones worth thousands of dollars were spread out on card tables for buyers to view.
As we left the Jade Market, it had begun to rain. By the time we reached Mandalay Hill, our next stop for the day, it was pouring. Given the weather and our time constraints for the day, we chose to drive to the top of the hill rather than walk the stairs up the 790 foot hill, as many pilgrims do.
Before we drove all the way to the top, we stopped at the base of the hill to see two large white lions guarding the entrance. After a long winding drive to the top we found some amazing views of the countryside and city from the terrace surrounding Sutaungpyei Pagoda. The interior of this pagoda features bright colored tiles and mosaic mirror covered arches and walkways that created natural breezes as seen in the video below. On our way to the escalator back to the car park, we passed through several other pagodas including Mwegyi hnakaung (Two Great Snakes) Pagoda, where pilgrims make offerings and rub the head of the snakes for good luck
The Largest Book in The World
We didn’t have to travel far to reach our final stop of our morning tour as Kuthodaw Pagoda is located at bottom of Mandalay Hill. The most remarkable aspect to the temple complex are the 729 stupa-like “caves” that each hold 2 carved marble pages of the complete Pali Canon, sacred text of Theravada Buddhism. This display has earned Kuthodaw Pagoda the title of ‘The World’s Largest Book.”
Pilgrims travel from all over Myanmar and walk down a long corridor with elaborate tile ceilings in some sections. The 729 book caves stretch in organized rows on either side of the corridor. We saw families having lunch and kids playing among the 34 rest areas along the walkway, which eventually leads to a lovely Buddha image.
Here is a link to a short video we shot while walking down the corridor.
Train Travel to Thazi
We got back to our hotel in plenty of time to have lunch and order dinner to go to take along on our train trip. Soe Soe arranged for a friend to give us a lift to the nearby train station and hang out with us for a while to make sure we got on the correct train.
We departed Mandalay heading south on Train 6 at around 3:45 pm and arrived in Thazi around 6:00 pm. Pictured below are our “Upper Class” carriage and one of the many nice landscapes we passed on the way to Thazi. You can read about our experiences on trains in Myanmar in more detail on our Myanmar Train Travel page.