From Mandalay, you can visit The Snake Temple (Hmwe Paya). It’s about an hour-long motorbike ride out of town—out 62 toward the airport but then straight instead of right at the roundabout! Then through the green temple gates 20? minutes ahead on the right. Seriously, those directions are how we got there. You (however) can check out Trip Advisor for an actual map. Local directions usually are a little less direct, like how our address includes the phrase “between 33rd and 34th streets.”
Going to the temple, we were in a rush to be sure we made it in time for the 11 o’clock feeding. We made it with about 4 minutes to spare. We rushed inside, to find 11 o’clock is actually when they start the bath for the snakes so they are fresh and pure for their feeding. They float and curl on top of the water along with flowers and a big silver bowl to collect donations. They were HUGE! And they kept arching up the side of the wall of their thigh-high container, trying to get a peek at everyone peering in at them. Someone would pour a little water on them and gently coax them back in. We got in close to get some pictures and marvel at them. When the first one was done bathing, he was set out on the wall of the pool to dry. The the size and girth of the beast was more obvious once the sun was gleaming off of his scales. Burmese pythons are one of the 5 biggest snakes in the world. They are typically about 12 feet long, but have been known to reach 18 feet in the wild. They can swim, slither across the ground and climb trees. They could be anywhere! Everywhere!
Once the snake was dry, a couple of men picked him up (he looked heavy) and carried him over to the feeding area. A local temple-goer who had made a great donation was invited over to pray and feed the snake. The handlers used a little stick to hold its massive mouth open while the worshiper poured some egg yolks in (the snakes, like all good Buddhists, are vegetarians). The snake gulped and the yolks went down in increments. Then the snake was released to slither over to his post. The crowd cleared to make way for the beast and a couple of snake handlers walked beside it to make sure it didn’t make any spontaneous decisions. After the ceremony, the snakes slither up the altar and stay there, guarding the Buddha. I was surprised as it slithered, I could hear the eerie sound of its scales on the floor. I had never been around a large enough snake actively slithering to hear that noise live with my own ears! The repeated the feeding process with the other 2 snakes.
The last snake wasn’t allowed to slither over to its post right away though; they kept him out for photos. We wandered around the rest of the small temple while we waited for the crowd to die down. We admired the naga (serpent) statues sheltering the Buddhas, then went back to get in on the photo op. When it was my turn, I knelt on the floor and 2 men draped the heavy, muscular python onto my torso. They were very careful to treat it with respect and made a great effort to keep it calm. I held its neck out as they motioned I should. I smiled at the camera as it clicked a few times and then realized subtly that the snake was very strong. I couldn’t hold it back as it used its thick body to glide toward my armpit. Its head was parting my arm from my body as two men calmly but swiftly removed it. After that, it was time for the snake to go! They sent it on its way to the main altar. Later we realized the snake had decided egg yolks weren’t quite enough for today’s meal. Pythons are constrictors- they contract their massive muscles to kill their prey before swallowing it. Sometimes they also bite first, but we’d seen as they were force-fed their yolks, these ones had had their teeth removed. After that, it was pretty much time for me to leave too!
We continued down the road past the snake temple to the Banwaw Monastery. The monastery is a jungle of white pagodas with serene Buddhas inside. It was beautiful. We enjoyed meandering around and through the structures, exploring the nearly deserted grounds.
When we left, we went toward the main road but spotted a restaurant claiming to have European food on the way. While this isn’t one of our necessary criteria for lunch, we figured that meant we could at least talk to them about what was available. They seated us in a sort of raised pavilion-hut overlooking a river and fields. It was a beautiful place to rest and relax, luckily, since our food took hours. We didn’t really mind. It was an eventful, memorable day and we had lots to talk about, up there in the clouds.