Sammy’s Kitchen Abroad: A Week in Myanmar

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Having now spent a week there I can confirm I still have no idea how to pronounce Myanmar. But by the sounds of it, the locals aren’t really sure either. 

The Journey

After a pretty gruelling 24 hours of travelling, 3 aeroplanes and four countries later, we finally arrived in Myanmar.

We got through passport control, customs and baggage reclaim surprisingly quickly and headed straight to the ATM to get some cash out. I took out a reasonable amount as we had read there weren’t many ATMS around, although by the end we’d seen a fair few all over the place. The ATM dished out my money in 10,000 kyat notes and I immediately felt like an absolute baller. We took a taxi to our hostel with another cutie of a driver, who told us a little about Yangon. My Grandad was posted to Burma during the war, so I was really excited to visit, although I didn’t think I would be going anywhere he was stationed. However, I soon learnt that us Brits used to call Yangon ‘Rangoon’, which much to my excitement was where my Grandad had been positioned for a little while.

A one hour journey saw us arrive at our hostel. However after attempting to stay awake to get our first glimpse of the city, classic me fell asleep all too quickly in the car and I woke up as we were pulling up at our hostel. We spent our first afternoon walking/plodding around the city in the 36 degree heat and visiting Sule pagoda, which is basically a massive temple in the middle of a very busy roundabout.

Sule Pagoda- not a great picture but you get the idea

Having got a glimpse of an Indian hospital, I then got to check out a Burmese one to get my gammy toe looked at again. The doctor I saw spoke very little English, but was incredibly gentle and a really nice man! He sat me on a wooden bed in a room with no aircon, cleaned my big ol’ toe and redressed it, before sending me on my way with some clean dressings and instructions to change it every day. This time around, it cost me all of £6, which again I didn’t think was too bad.

After sweating it out around the city and in the clinic, we decided to head back to our hostel for some much needed a/c and a nap. A month in India taught us that everything looks even better at sunset, so with this in mind we decided to visit the big boy, the Shwedagon Pagoda, at sunset. Boy oh boy was this a good decision. With a beautiful long walkway to the temple, we were greeted by a main giant golden pagoda. Which if I’m honest, looks a little bit like a giant iced gem. Surrounding the pagoda were numerous beautiful temples and buddhas, and the sunset shone over the area perfectly and generally looked bloomin great. I definitely think this is up there with the Taj as one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. After a beaut dinner at a Thai place we headed back for an early night to try and catch up on some of the Zs we’d missed out on.

Shwedagon Pagoda looking beaut
Shwedagon Pagoda after the sun had said its goodbye

By the second day we’d felt like we’d pretty much seen most things we’d wanted to see, so we opted to visit the indoor market and brand new shopping centre (opened two days earlier), and then had a bit of a lazy afternoon before our overnight bus. That didn’t stop us from sampling some delish Burmese food that Trip Advisor had directed us to. Burmese food is known for being a bit odd. It’s kinda a cross between Thai, Vietnamese, Indian and Chinese, but with lots of emphasis on the fish sauce. This meant that pretty much all Burmese food smelt like the stuff, which to be fair wasn’t particularly appetising. However, after being handed a plethora of a menu, we pointed at some random Shan names and hoped for the best. What we received did not disappoint. Flo and I shared a Shan noodle soup, which was delish, and I got some stir fry vegetables too. At this point it had kinda becoming a running joke about how much I said “ooh it’s good to have vegetables”, but true to my word it really was! Although Burmese food is also known for being cooked in heaps of oil, it was definitely a step in the right direction.

Shan Noodle Soup: A week in Myanmar
Shan noodle soup

Leaving the restaurant rather full, we headed back to our hostel in time to be picked up and taken to the bus station, where we caught an overnight bus to Mandalay. I’d been on a couple of overnight buses in South America, so kind of knew what to expect. Or at least I knew that I probably wouldn’t get much sleep. Accurate. Upon embarking the bus after an hour’s wait in the terminal with some strange TV, we soon realised we were the only foreigners on the bus. This meant that our tickets were never checked, and we were simply referred to as ‘foreign’, which we found pretty amusing. Our first stop saw us wander round what we’d call a service station, but was more of a market type restaurant thing (a bit odd really). After going for a wee we realised that we had absolutely no idea which was our bus. After being offered some crisps by a random girl being nice, I assumed we must have been on her bus, but when we tried to follow her onto the bus we realised the interior was completely different to ours – she was just offering the white people a snack and we were therefore back to square one again. We finally managed to find our correct bus in the dark and tried to settle down for the rest of the journey.

We arrived in Mandalay at about 5am after a sleepless journey and had the task of deciding what to do for the day. I for one function rather poorly on little sleep, but we managed to come to the decision that we wanted to get the next bus to Lake Inle. Either we waited til 9pm for another overnight bus, or get an 8 hour minibus at 8am. Seeing as the bus station was an hour out of town and we had no where to store our luggage, we decided to bite the bullet and go for the morning minibus ride. Can confirm that this was probably one of the least pleasant journeys ever, but hey ho, we got there in one piece. Eventually. The minibus itself was pretty cramped and had poor aircon, so we spent the whole journey stuck to the seats and each other, falling asleep before being woken up seconds later by a bump or hole in the road. To try and stay awake we decided to entertain ourselves with every and any game possible. We went through the A-Zs of pretty much everything, from animals and countries, to song names and English towns – we named them all. One good thing about the journey was that we did get to stop a fair few times. Again as the only two foreigners on the bus we weren’t sure what each stop was for or how long we had. The most bizarre stop was around 11:30am, where everyone got off the bus and sat down in a cafe. Our driver had muttered the words ‘lunch’ to us, and we noticed that our fellow passengers had sat down and been brought some food, so we decided to follow suit and ordered some rice to share. We got our rice. And a whole lot more. We were presented with a spread of God knows what, but we obliged and tried everything. We paid our 30p each and hopped back on the bus for another couple of hours before our driver delivered us straight to our hostel. Definite perks of being the only foreigners on the bus. Top bloke.

The “lunch stop” meal for 30p

Lake Inle

We arrived about 4pm feeling rather tired, jaded but very hungry. After taking advantage of the half price cocktails on the rooftop bar (obviously), we headed downstairs just after 7pm for the free pasta that is served 3 times a day. I know right, free pasta – the hostel of dreams. However we were bitterly disappointed to find out we’d missed the free pasta, so decided to order some proper food instead. We met a lovely couple from Texas and were invited by the staff to head to the roof for some ‘traveller speed dating’. Being the awkward person that I am, Flo and I both decided we needed to get on the half price cocktails before the social started. However, the clock ticked by and the speed dating still hadn’t happened, but he mojitos had. Eventually the tiredness/alcohol overcame us and we headed back to our dorm, only to find we were the only ones occupying the room #result.

Iconic fisherman on the lake

The next day we took a boat trip around Lake Inle, which was really fab. An 8am start still seemed rather painful after such little sleep over the last few days, but the beautiful scenery and gentle breeze soon woke us up. We stopped off at a silver maker, where we watched them grind, heat and shape the silver, before being shown around the jewellery shop. I bought my second ever ring for a super cheap price and was rather chuffed with it. We also visited a cigar maker, umbrella maker, silk and lotus weaver, monastery and pagoda, which were all on stilts.

Locals making flavoured cigars and cigarettes

At the pagoda, we were greeted by the cutest pair of dogs, which I naturally took multiple pictures of. Clearly the power couple on the island/the whole of Myanmar, we named them Michelle and Barack and they followed us the whole time we were there. Bloomin adorable.


Day 2 at Inle Lake was another good one, albeit pretty chilled. We walked around a market, made up of fruit, flowers, clothes, jewellery, dried fish, fresh meat and pre-packed bread. I managed to come across an enormous cauliflower and coconut, which pleased me greatly thanks to my (and a pal back at home’s) love for abnormal sized fruit and veg (we cool). Lunch time came around so we decided to try out a pancake place, where I enjoyed and lavished over an avocado, tomato and mushroom pancake, accompanied by a banana and chocolate milkshake. Deeeeelish. We actually ended up back here for dinner because it was so good, except I opted for a tomato, onion and cheese omelette, which was equally as delish.

The local market
The bloomin marvelous giant fruit and veg

6pm came around and it was time for our next overnight bus. Upon arriving at the bus station and getting annoyed at its lateness, we were then told that we’d been upgraded to a VIP bus. Definitely made up for its lateness. We were treated to bigger and more reclining seats, as well as a snack, free bottle of water, a coke, and a toilet. After a much more pleasant overnight bus with marginally more sleep, we arrived in Bagan at around 4:30am.

VIP Bus complete with Dora the Explorer neck pillows

Bagan

It took us about 15 minutes for us and a few others to negotiate with the taxi drivers but we finally got to our hotel. Our room wasn’t ready, so we decided we may as well hire an electric moped and whiz off to watch the sunrise. We’d heard a lot about Bagan and how it is covered in Pagodas, setting you up for a beaut sunrise or sunset, and it really didn’t disappoint. Following the main road before turning off down a dirt track, we came across a pagoda that we could climb to get a better view.

Our first sunrise in Bagan

After a beautiful sunrise, we spent the day exploring on our e-mopeds, which were great fun in themselves, and at around £5 a day for your own bike, definitely worth doing. We did however return back to our hotel during the hottest part of the day, cos it really was a scorcher and my pale English skin ain’t got any time for that.

The bikes

We climbed another pagoda to watch the sunset, before handing our bikes in before 7pm and heading to dinner at Weatherspoons. Yup. You heard it. Weatherspoons. It was one of the top choices on trip advisor and we simply couldn’t not go! I had my second instalment of avo in Myanmar, in the form of a giant chicken and avocado salad, which made me happy beyond belief. Expect midway through I did eat a green bean only to find out it was a green chilly. So. Much. Regret.

Spoons in all its glory

We hired the bikes again for our second day, and drove in the darkness to a virtually empty pagoda. I’d done a little bit of research and was instructed to this ‘secret pagoda’, which not many people know about. It was a fairly tricky climb but we got a beautiful and wonderfully peaceful view of the sunrise over the pagodas, which were spotted with hot air balloons. Basically a recipe for a delicious sunrise.

No caption needed

We spent the morning exploring dirt tracks, which led us to more deserted pagodas – we pretty much didn’t see any tourists the whole morning. Driving through trees up rocky paths and sandy lanes surrounded by old pagodas made me feel exactly like I was in Indiana Jones. Until I dramatically fell off into a thorn bush after hitting a rock at about 10mph. Classic me. I was going super slow so don’t worry Mummy, I didn’t injure myself other than a solid bruise on my hip and thigh, but you’ve seen worse rugby bruises on me. We then made our way back to our hotel to miss the hottest part of the day, and my eyes pricked as I heard the word ‘gym’ being muttered in the lobby.

A typical small rocky dirt track leading off from another first track

After quizzing the staff, I found out that there was a local gym really nearby, which seemed like the ideal place to waste a couple of hours when it was too hot to be outside, so I followed the instructions on the map given to me and headed out. What should’ve been a 10 minute walk turned into a half hour one thanks to false instructions from my hotel. Luckily after asking a few non-English speaking locals and miming weight lifting, I finally found it and it was a beautiful site. The air conditioned and completely empty gym looked fab. And it was. Until there was a power cut 10 mins into my warm up on the bike. I spent the next 40 minutes sweating like I’ve never sweated before in the 37 degree heat. Sweaty shins, sweaty forearms, sweaty tummy, sweaty eyeballs. Everything. Dripping. Managed to do a full body workout using some free weights and a couple of machines, but my favourite part was when I got off the bike and headed to the weight section, only to be stopped by the owner and directed back to the cardio bit and towards the treadmill. Pretty sure he’d never seen a female use the weights before. 50 minutes later and having drunk about 1.5l of water and probably sweating the same, I dragged myself back to the hotel looking like a sweaty tomato but feeling brill.

Ew

We chilled in the hotel after grabbing some food and waited for our overnight bus back to Yangon where we’d spend another night. Or so we thought.

Just as our pick up tuk tuk collected us, Flo and I both realised the date, and that our flight to Bangkok was actually the very next day. There was a mild panic as we were convinced we wouldn’t make our 09:50am flight, as the bus was due to get in about 7am and we had no clue how close it was to the airport. Thankfully, the bus terminal was only a 20 minute taxi ride away from the airport, and we made it with plenty of time.

So, a rather abrupt end to our week in Myanmar but what a cracker it was. It’s up there as one of my favourite countries to date for many reasons. Firstly, it’s beautiful and diverse. From the villages on stilts at Inle Lake to the pagoda littered Bagan, as well as the fast developing cities, it really is an amazing country. The people are all lovely and genuinely want to help. You know how it is in some places, well definitely India, where they’ll help you but for a fee. There’s none of that in Myanmar, everyone we met were so sweet and genuine. Even the kids seemed lovely – we encountered quite a few on our buses and they were all so well behaved, only knowing they were there by their beaming smile in our direction. So the food doesn’t quite rival other cuisines, but it was much better than we had expected. It was rather refreshing to be in an environment that isn’t chocca block with tourists. We felt like we really did see authentic Burma. I know it will have changed hugely since my Grandad was there, but I’m sure there are some aspects which are similar.

So, a week in Myanmar. One of my favourites to date. 11/10 would recommend visiting this amazing place and the sooner the better.

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