The Golden Rock is one of the most holy Buddhist sites in Myanmar and truly an amazing sight. However, I found the journey to the top of Mt Kyaiktiyo to be taxing on both the wallet and body. That is not to say I do not recommend visiting the rock, but I do so with extreme caution. From the nearby town of Kinpun, it is a minimum half-day commitment, and depending on the time you want to arrive or leave, this could easily become a full-day excursion.
We elected to stay in Kinpun for one night, as it is the base camp for Mt Kyaiktiyo (which holds the precariously balanced Golden Rock) and we had the time to commit to an overnight stay. For those on a more frantic schedule, it may be possible to make this a day trip from Yangon, or even a stopover en route to another town, but with buses running infrequently, this is not recommended. There are a few towns in the area, but Kinpun seemed to be the best acclimated for tourists and pilgrims traveling to the top of the mountain. We found prices to be more reasonable since it had a larger selection of restaurants and places to stay. Continue reading →
After getting our bearings and kyats (the local currency, pronounced chats) in Yangon, we decided to visit Bago, a bustling small town a two-hour drive northeast. The decision to travel here was primarily due to having three weeks in the country and a large gap of where to go. While we initially marked numerous cities that we thought we could visit, upon arrival in Yangon we found there were travel restrictions preventing us from doing so. The government is particularly paranoid about tourists getting hurt or injured, so the moment even a small incident of civil unrest occurrence, that region is marked out of bounds for foreigners. So we elected to move in unrestricted areas and created an eight-day route that explored the Mon State (a region mainly southeast of Yangon). To get to Bago (our first destination after Yangon), we hopped on a locals’ bus for a pleasant, but dusty ride.
As the only foreigners on the bus, we felt like we were definitely off the normal tourist track. Adults and children alike gawked and smiled at us as though we were the first foreigners they had ever seen. To our surprise, a woman in front of us spoke English. Since we didn’t know when to get off, she asked the bus attendant to let us know when we reached our destination. Upon exiting the bus and without any prompting, an old man who spoke English helped us negotiate two motorbike taxis to our hotel. We were a little wary about this mode of transportation since we had all our bags, but for less than $1, we said ok and jumped on. The drivers took off with the greatest of ease, tearing through the dusty uneven streets. It was a little harrowing trying to stay balanced on the back with two backpacks strapped to me, but the five-minute drive was over soon enough. Continue reading →
Myanmar seems familiar. Village children run out of their huts to say hello (mingalaba) like we experienced in Zambia. Pavement is uneven, debris litters the ground and paint peels off aging buildings like those in Egypt. Even the people are a beautiful mix of Indian and east Asian. We continually want to compare the country to other places. Maybe it contains a smattering of similarities from cities we’ve visited, but like everywhere else in the world, this combination of traits makes Myanmar unlike any other place.
For those looking to visit or just curious about the culture, here are some aspects that may invite culture shock or a feeling of familiarity.
1) First, Myanmar is pronounced mee-an-mar, not my-an-mar. (Find out here why we say Myanmar and not Burma.) The name means “quick strong.” “Myan” means fast or quick, and “ma” means strong. The Burmese language doesn’t use the “r” sound, so the r at the end of Myanmar is an Anglicized version. Continue reading →
It took 22 days before we put down our chopsticks and asked, “Why have we not learned how to make this delicious food yet?” Tara had a hand in making som tam in the streets of Bangkok, but it was finally in Chiang Mai that we decided enough was enough — we needed to know how to make other mouthwatering Thai dishes.
There is no shortage of cooking classes in this Chiang Mai, but we are picky when it comes to learning new cuisines. Two boring and non-interactive culinary lessons in India made us very choosey when it came to selecting a class in Thailand. We wanted something with more pizzazz, and we found it in Red Chili Thai Cooking School.
Chef Aon has been operating Red Chili since the beginning of 2013 but already has a reputation as an enthusiastic newcomer to the Chiang Mai cookery school scene. As soon as we met him, we could see why: he’s young, gregarious and passionate about food. We immediately knew this was not going to be another uninspiring class. Continue reading →