January 17, 2015

More Myanmar: Inle Lake and Ngapali

We finished our trip at a lake and on the ocean. Inle is in Shan State and is the farthest east we got to travel. Since the lake is fresh water and people live in it (ie - bath, laundry, bathroom, LIVE) I chose not to eat fish there. However, you can still get a lot of wonderful Burmese classics including Shan noodles. Since Inle is a little more touristy, the reviews of many restaurants are good and reliable.  We made the trek to a couple well-reviewed options in our book and were very happy.  The strangest thing we did in all of Myanmar was go to a winery here on Red Mountain. Very touristy, but a fascinating set-up and an incredible view. Not a bad way to spend an evening but I recommend taking a tuk-tuk as the mosquitoes really start in at sunset.

Restaurants we liked in Inle include Thanakka (really hard to find) and Live Dim Sum (not hard to find). Both of these offered a large variety of options, were affordable, clean and had good service. You will find Westerners pretty much anywhere you go in this area. The most lovely thing about Burmese food is all of the condiments. Dishes come with a plethora of sauces, fresh lime and chopped herbs and spices. I ate the hottest dish of my life, which is saying a lot because I love spice - papaya salad with these slices of hot Thai peppers.  It was awesome.

We ended our trip on the West Coast on the Bay of Bengal in Ngapali. What a gorgeous, peaceful, place to experience traditional Myanmar life. We had a blast talking at a local school on Thanksgiving and teaching the kids about American holidays. That morning, as the nigh fishermen were coming back, we got to go over and pick out our own Thanksgiving tuna. The hotel prepared it for us in two ways and the four of us had a unique feast.

The food in Myanmar was better than I ever expected it could be, though I am obviously obsessed with Asian cuisine of all types. Binging on noodles, tofu and veggies for a few weeks treated us all very well.  I came home feeling amazing, several pounds lighter, and with perfect skin. What is Myanmar doing right? I hope to go back to South East Asia soon - I miss it.  If you ever get a chance to go - grab it!

January 13, 2015

More Myanmar: Ancient City of Bagan

Bagan is relatively close to Mandalay (or 3 hours by bus if you're us). It is an ancient city where getting around by horse-cart is often the most viable option on the small sandy roads between temples and pagodas. Restaurants here are more difficult to get to just because everything is very rural, spread out, and taxis are very expensive. This was the area that prices were highest if you are a tourist, but also one of my favorite spots. We had two lunches and a dinner at a very cute spot, Yar Pyi, which is right across the street from another famous Bagan Veggie spot: The Moon though the Yar Pyi family tells us they "are not friends" and it seems they vie for business.

The owner was very helpful in telling us about which temple to climb in the
morning to avoid crowds. Some temples are so packed with tourists that you are elbow-to-elbow watching the sunrise. Asking taxis and restaurant owners for the inside scoop almost always turned out very successfully for us. Yar Pyi offered specials such as aubergine curry and guac that was incredible. Definitely order a lassi to drink. We had some great meals at Yar Pyi and I loved their slogan: "Be Kind to Animals". Zarni (our friend and tour guide in Mandalay) told me that he was also a vegetarian from a young age mostly out of "pity" for animals.  Myself as well - I love this compassionate Buddhist culture.

We had another meal in Bagan that was very good and closer to other restaurants and shops since we were staying at Bagan Thande which is sort of far from things but a great hotel right on the river.  It was called Sarabha and was just outside the old Bagan wall so we could walk home with headlamps (Bagan is DARK at night).  Fantastic traditional food, affordable, great service and as always, lots of garlic!                  
If you can find a guy to take you on a boat down the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) river at sunset, definitely do it.  Asking horse the guys who live in their horse carts can be much more affordable than arranging things at your hotel and, like everything else in Myanmar, were incredibly reliable and always on time Don't forget to bring some Myanmar beer with you on whichever adventure you choose to have.....

January 9, 2015

More Myanmar: Mandalay

Mandalay is the second biggest city and last Royal capitol of Burma. The locals proudly boast that it is set up on a grid system and has a lot of scooters (banned in Yangon) accompanied by regular rolling blackouts as electricity struggles to keep up with the booming city. The scooters add to the charming chaos.  This was a special place where we met our friend Zarni as a tour guide. He showed us so much...things we could never have experienced on our own and took us to some incredible markets including a night market more vibrant than any US Farmers Market you could imagine.

The markets are so amazing - huge trays full of spices. Ginger and garlic are major flavors in every dish. Hot peppers of every kind and fruits I've never seen before are presented by crouching locals. Cabbage,
leafy greens, potatoes and herbs fill the marketplace. The most exotic thing we saw was giant trays of fried crickets.  Though we didn't try any, children came running up to the vendors, wanting to eat them like candy.

Vendors on the street in the markets sold some interesting items. We saw a lot of boiled quail eggs, gelatin coconut desserts and sticks of bbq; plant and animal alike. Our favorite were these fantastic little fried egg and lentil packets. The cook has a hot plate filled with small divots. He poured dough into each one, cracked a quail egg, added lentils and covered the rest in dough. The result was a crispy bag filled with delicious fried egg balls and sprinkled with hot oil and spices for $0.40. 

Our highlight in Mandalay was definitely the meal we shared with our tour guide and friend, Zarni. We hope to bring him to Chicago to visit this summer and learn more about tourism in the US in hopes of increasing his English skills and cultural competency for work at home. He took us to a street restaurant we never would have tried otherwise and had the most delicious fried tofu with garlic sauce and Shan noodles - our favorite dish in all of Myanmar.

**Currently, we are running a fundraiser to help get Zarni to come visit the US to study tourism in Chicago.  He will be staying with us and we will help him in every way we can but this trip is the trip of a lifetime for him - it would be impossible without our support.  If you are interested in learning more about what we're trying to achieve, you can visit our site here:  https://www.fundme.com/en/projects/13686-A-Burmese-boy-s-dream--A-trip-to-the-U-S