Chinese New Year for us means more school vacation and this time we decided to spend (at least some of it) in Myanmar. What a most wonderful destination it turned out to be: friendly people, great (read warm/hot) weather, unforgettable landscape and of course….. delicious food. The first thing I noticed upon our arrival was the yellow ‘face paint’ that all of the women and many of the men had on their cheeks. It turns out that the cosmetic paste responsible is called ‘thanaka’ and is made from grinding wood on a stone slab with some water.
Our first stop was in Bagan to the north. An immense plain featuring temples (around 3000 of them so they say – some dating back to the 12th century) all connected with a vast network of bumpy dirt roads and trails. The highlight of the trip was taking this all in at sunrise from the basket of a hot-air balloon (the transport in the pre-WWII Chevrolet buses made of teak was pretty memorable too).
Then once on the ground we were able to get lost on the trails on electric scooters (thankfully there was often someone around to ask for directions) and were able to get a close-up look at the temples and the drying plamberries on the ground – that from above had made brilliant crimson ‘stains’ on the earth – see below.
These beautiful pots (above-left) are used to collect the sap from palm trees which is drunk as ‘toddy’ or boiled up to make ‘jaggery’ (the sugar that is served as dessert – see it boiling above) or fermented and then distilled to make rather a tasty drop. Left: peanuts and sesame seeds are ground – with the help of an ox – to extract the oil.
We then headed south to the Inle Lake area:The beautiful skirts worn by the women across the country are woven from mostly cotton or silk
Most of the manual work is performed by hand – young monks making a road, women collecting rice seedlings (above left), collecting seaweed to use as a fertilizer to the right (we were wondering how this boat didn’t sink!) and fishing at sunset (left) using an ingenious cage with a moveable net on the inside.
And we finished our trip in busy Yangon (Rangoon) for a day before flying home. the men seemed to be addicted to chewing little packages of betel leaves which left their teeth and the pavement stained a dark red (from spitting).
Now for the food! Speaking of which, Myanmar has the best peanuts I’ve ever tasted.
The cuisine of neighboring countries seem to influence the food here: Thailand (tamarind, coconut, salads) , China (noodles, bamboo shoots) and India (curries, chick peas, tumeric, okra) and we feasted on noodles, curries, rice, and a vast array of vegetables: ‘nangyi dhouq’ – salad of rice noodles (left), grilled fish, tomato salad and fish and rice (above) and a curry and all of the accompaniments – (right). Hin – clear soup was often served at meals. One of our favorite street foods in Yangon were the pancakes: ‘bein moun’ (sweet) and ‘moun pyar thalet’ (savory). Probably the most famous dish in Myanmar is ‘mohinga’ – thin rice noodles with chicken or fish – which we ate very often for breakfast along with ‘oun-no hkauq-sweh’ – noodles with coconut broth.
In our travel guide book it was suggested that foreigners do not speak to the locals about the government – I got a sense of the strength of the army when we passed one of the barracks and I swear I saw ‘Move, Shoot, Communicate’ emblazoned on the wall (my poor eye-sight, possibly lost in translation, ……or a warning!). In any case, a man did speak to me at the airport about the next elections and he seemed rather optimistic that they would be ‘fair’. Let’s hope they are for the sake of these wonderful people.