Eight Delicious Dishes From Around the World

1. Maine Lobster Roll in Perkins Cove, Maine, USA

Lobster rolls all over New England are delicious, but where better to have a Maine lobster than in Maine? They aren’t cheap, but this one from Perkins Cove was well worth the price and drive to get there.

Maine Lobster Roll

Maine lobster roll in Perkins Cove, Maine, USA

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When You Hear Southeast Asia, What Do You Think?

Flying to Phuket, Thailand

Flying to Phuket, Thailand.

Hello world! After traveling through Southeast Asia these past five months, I wanted to share with our readers what surprised me the most about this area, namely the things you don’t learn about unless you have been here. Then I got to thinking about perceptions and misconceptions. Everywhere Mike and I have been has revealed itself to be slightly or very different from what we were initially expecting.

For example, we thought Johannesburg, South Africa, would be an intimidating crime-ridden place. But like any big city, it has areas that are sketchy at certain times of the day and areas that are quite vibrant and safe. It was truly different from what we were expecting.

So what I want to know from those of you who have not been to Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, et al.) is this: When you hear “Southeast Asia,” what comes to mind? Even if it’s as simple as chopsticks and beaches in Thailand, I want to hear from you (and I promise to give you huge thanks in my article! 🙂 ) Continue reading

5 Ways to Make the Most Out of Myanmar

The best way to understand Myanmar is to clear your mind of any other place you have visited and let it stand on its own. Forget that time India. Ignore that week in Morocco. Do not even bring up Thailand. Myanmar is different, not same same.

Myanmar Monks on a Motorbike

Myanmar monks on a motorbike at a cave temple.

Myanmar was a nice surprise and a welcome change of pace. Since it only recently opened its borders to mass tourism, many of the things we find unpleasant about other SE Asian countries do not exist here. Touts are not very prevalent, but where they do exist they are neither pushy nor persistent. We did not have to bargain hard for things like local transportation, and sometimes for food we paid the locals’ price (in many countries, foreigners are wildly overcharged). If a local does something nice, they are doing it because they want to, not because they expect a handout in return. When we were at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bagan, one of the locals wanted to put thanakha on Tara’s face. She took Tara to a nearby hut and showed her how to grind the bark from a piece of wood against a stone tablet to create the paste. As she was doing it, she asked if we wanted a fan or longyi, but there was never a hard sell. She did not ask for money afterward and seemed as happy as Tara to have this type of interaction. Continue reading

Trekking Across the Myanmar Countryside

Up until this point in our journey through Myanmar, most of the sights we visited were temples and Buddha sculptures, some in caves, some on mountaintops and all of various shapes and sizes. After the staggering number of temples in Bagan, we were ready for a change. Instead of taking a bus directly to Inle Lake, we decided to stop short in Kalaw, a small hill station of a town that has the distinction of offering treks to Inle Lake. We heard about these treks before arriving in Myanmar, and Lucie and Isabelle, the French girls we met in Hpa-an, confirmed that this is the most scenic and enjoyable way to get to the lake. So we spent a day in Kalaw to find a guide and opted for a 3-day, 2-night trek through Sam’s Trekking company.

Shan Noodles

Shan noodle breakfast at Golden Kalaw.

The next morning we rose early to watch the sunrise from our balcony. A man working for Sam arrived before breakfast to collect our large backpacks, which were being transported ahead of us to our guesthouse in Nyaung Shwe, one of the larger towns at Inle Lake. Though we wanted to pack light for the trek, the day bags we were carrying were still full, mainly out of concern that it may rain (and being it was the rainy season, it did).

Ambling downstairs, we devoured Golden Kalaw Inn’s free and filling Shan noodle breakfast. This guesthouse proved to be a solid choice for a whopping $12. After finishing breakfast and downing as much coffee as possible, we walked to Sam’s Family Restaurant to join the rest of our group: Nicole from Canada and Adrian, Anne Marie and Theo, all from Switzerland). We also met our English-speaking trekking leader, Do (as in: doe, a deer, a female deer), a veteran Kachin guide with more than 10 years of experience. Continue reading

Sesame Tea and Tales from Trekking Guides in Kalaw

After leaving Bagan, Myanmar, we grabbed a bus to Kalaw, a small hill station that serves as the starting point for treks to Inle Lake. We wanted to visit Inle Lake and had heard trekking (also known as hiking for our American readers) was a pleasant and leisurely way of getting there. Lucy and Isabelle (the two French girls we toured Hpa-an with) had recommended doing this inexpensive and fun (and non-bumpy) bus alternative to travel to Inle.

Bagan to Kalaw Bus

Fun on the bus from Bagan to Kalaw.

There were numerous trekking guide options online and in guidebooks, so while we were not afraid they would all book up, we called ahead to Sam’s Trekking just in case. Sam also owns a restaurant and told us to meet him there when our bus got in. The ride was not as bumpy and miserable as others had described, though the AC did mysteriously “break” a couple hours in. When we reached Kalaw, we piled off the bus with a few other foreigners. Immediately, we were inundated with people offering their services as guides. They ranged from people we had heard of with bona fide cards to scrubby characters with handwritten business cards. Sensing an opportunity to perhaps pay less per person, we collected everyone’s contact information and walked to our hotel to check-in. Continue reading

Food Poisoning, a Flat Tire and Buddhist Temples in Bagan

Bagan had a mystical appeal to us the second we saw photos of it. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to the largest concentration of stupas, temples and pagodas in the world. The immediate landscape is relatively flat, so when you climb to the top of a temple, you can see scores of other pagodas peeking through treetops in the distance. It’s an unreal view.

View of the Temples of Bagan

View of the temples of Bagan.

Starting in the 11th century, thousands of Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were built on the sandy plains of the capital city of Pagan (Bagan). After the Pagan Kingdom’s collapse in 1287, the capital was moved and the area was all but forgotten. Earthquakes and erosion have left many of the site’s structures in ruins, though many have been restored or reconstructed in the last few decades (many historians claim that this process is being carried out without regard for the structures’ original appearance).

We arrived weary at 3:20am via an overnight bus from Yangon. The 8-hour ride was a nightmare for Mike, who started feeling the crippling effects of food poisoning en route to the Yangon bus station. I hadn’t seen him in such miserable conditions since his last bout of food poisoning in India. Our bus didn’t have a toilet on board, so Mike was the first off each time we pulled into a rest stop. But even these stops were not enough. He got to use — for the first time in his life — one of the motion sickness bags onboard. Like a good wife, I brought it to the attendant at the front of the bus. He asked where we were sitting and walked back with me. He then opened the window and chucked the bag out. Yes, there was a lane next to us. No, he didn’t look before tossing it. If you read our first Myanmar post, you already know that they have no qualms when it comes to littering. Continue reading

Touring Buddhist Caves Around Hpa-an

After traveling for nearly a year, Tara and I seem to have found a perfect balance between going on our own and hiring a guide/tour to take us around. The benefits of both (you pay a premium for knowledge and access with a tour, but it also means giving up freedom and flexibility) keep us from completely committing to one or the other. While visiting Hpa-an, Myanmar, we opted for a tour versus renting our own motorcycle and are glad we did.

Touring Hpa-an

View from behind our tuk tuk driver.

The Lonely Planet guidebook seems to encourage readers to either rent their own transportation or take a tour, but I will do one better: I will not give you an option. Do not rent a vehicle and try to go to sights around Hpa-an unless you have a detailed map and a proficiency in speaking/writing Burmese. Over the course of more than eight hours (8am-4:30pm) we paid random tolls and traveled down too many dirt roads and unmarked lanes to adequately provide directions to anyone trying to go at it alone. Our driver was flying between locations and, even then, we only covered seven sights. Continue reading