A little further down the road to Mandalay — it’s about a 45-minute drive — is the hamlet of Paleik, famous for its “Snake Pagoda.” And true to its name, there are indeed some snakes in residence at this old pagoda. And large ones they are; two rather lengthy Burmese pythons. If you had heard there were three snakes, well there were, but one of them passed away a year or so ago.
Paleik has always been one of my favorite spots to visit when I’m in Mandalay. The biggest draw is the bizarre daily ritual at the pagoda, where the snakes are bathed and fed, and then escorted to a platform where tourists can take their photo holding one of the long, slippery creatures. That whole spectacle is pretty cool, but the bigger attraction for me is the grove of ancient stupas that can found a few hundred yards behind the pagoda. The site is very atmospheric and tranquil, without hordes of tour groups trampling about and getting in your way.
I hadn’t been to Paleik in about five years and expressed an interest in going back, so my friend Ye Man Oo talked his father into taking us there one morning, along with one of his cousins. Expect for the young cousin — who apparently wasn’t used to riding in motor vehicles —- spewing the contents of his morning bowl of noodles on the floor of the pickup truck when we rounded a curve, it was a pleasant drive. We got there too late for the morning snake-bathing ritual, but we still got to see both snakes slithering around the grounds and curling around the Buddha figure where they usually stay.
As for the nearby ruins, some of the stupas look like they have been refurbished since my last visit, which was somewhat of a disappointment. I prefer my ruins looking old — the more crumbling and dilapidated the better — and am not too keen on seeing shiny new versions of ancient structures. Nevertheless, it’s still a nice place to walk around and soak up the tranquil atmosphere, something that’s getting increasingly harder to find with the rising number of tourists visiting Myanmar.