Week 1: A week in Burma / Myanmar

After talking about it for more than a year we finally made it to the new hotspot of Southeast Asia. We may have been a little late to the game.  2 years ago we heard it was necessary to bring a bag of cash into Yangon, there are now multiple ATMs inside a single temple and MasterCard sponsors the international airport, of course.  But there are still very few western brands that have made it here, and in the first 9 months of 2014, less than 700,000 foreigners (only 35,000 of whom were Americans) entered the country.  Despite the fast development, the temples of Bagan are still pleasant to visit and it is very likely you'll end up alone among them at some point.  I'm not sure how long Burma will be like this for, but I'm glad to have made it there now.
View of Bagan from Shwesandaw Paya pagoda 
Yangon is a chaotic and bustling city, to me it felt like a mix of China and India, right down to the food and people. Something about Yangon felt very unique to me, it took me a while to figure it out and then I finally realized...there are no motorbikes due to a ban years ago. The loud and frenzied motorbikes so iconic of all Asian cities doesn't exist in Yangon, it is so strange.  No complaints from me though because I really dislike motorbikes.
Tea-time in Yangon
Apart from the huge Shwedagon Paya temple, there is not that much to do in Yangon. The entire temple complex is stunning, probably because it's covered in gold and there are 5000 diamonds at the top of the stupa.  Despite going through a metal detector (that may or may not have worked), I'm surprised there isn't more security given how bling-y this temple is.

So much bling!
Food in Burma was OK, it was a bit hit or miss.  One of the better dishes was the mohinga, which is like a laksa...noodles in a thick coconut and fish soup. The soup is very earthy and thick, it's not very spicy, although fried chili flakes are always available to add.

Tea is the drink of choice and the black teas are served with lots of condensed milk making it taste like dessert. 
Pre-dinner tea in Yangon, with fried curry puffs for the tourists
My favorite thing I had was probably the tea leaf salad.  It's a salad that's made of pickled tea leaves and tossed with combinations of cabbage, crunchy beans, sesame seeds, fried garlic, tomato.  It's so addicting!

In Yangon we stuck mainly with street food and ate a lot of noodles the first few meals.  The first meal was rice noodles, shredded vegetables and some dried prawn and garlic, very reminiscent or some of the better Vietnamese dishes I've had.  19th street is popular for bbq at night and we had some chicken wings, ribs and grilled vegetables.
bbq skewers at 19th st Yangon
We also visited two very good restaurants for dinner,  Aye Mya Thida is a small restaurant in New Bagan that has a good traditional set menu for 4000 kyat (roughly $4 when we were there). The menu is huge too and comes with a lot of vegetable curries and 2 meat/fish curries. The curries we had the entire trip were served room temperature, which we quickly got used to. One of my favorite things we had a few times was this yellow bean mash. I kept on saying that it tasted like cheese...which probably only means I really miss cheese.

The best meal was at Aye Myit Tar in Mandalay.  It was sort of like a set menu, but instead you just order the main curries and they give you all the other veggie sides and rice in addition. The mutton curry was surprisingly good and it was the first/only tender piece of meat we had in Burma. They also keep bringing more sides, which is dangerous because some of them like the tomato salad are seriously tasty. 

There is this cute restaurant called the Golden Bamboo on the main road of new Bagan that I just really loved, not so much for the food but for the atmosphere, prices and service. Since food is not extraordinary anyways, sometimes it's nice to just go somewhere that's pleasant to hang out in for a bit. They do also serve a great mohinga anytime of the day (even though it's listed as a breakfast menu) and lots of fresh juices.

We stayed a full 3 nights and 3 days in Bagan and it was really well worth it.  There are literally thousands of temples and pagodas to cycle through and the whole town is just really relaxing.  It's also possible to catch a beautiful sunset over the calming Ayeyarwady River.


A seriously peaceful dusk in Bagan

Comments

  1. i miss Bagan! :-) and I loved the food there, but we only ate at recommended restaurants. my favorite was a baked then friend eggplant mixed with peanut oil and smashed peanuts, with a bit of garlic and onions, chopped in very small pieces...very very tasty :-).

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