Beautiful Myanmar Part 2

Let me whet your appetite for more of Myanmar with this guacamole dish. We were abundantly fed with avacado since it’s so plentiful here, and it’s so fresh and good!

Vast views of coffee and orange plantations growing on the hills unfolded before our eyes. They were neatly demarcated according to family territorial borders. From a distance, the adjacent land plots looked like a patterned quilt draped over the mountains. We crossed paths with the village kids, fascinated with our camera gear. After some coaxing they reciprocated with a slight smile and a peace sign for a pose.

One of our rest stops was at a local hut, where we were served sweet glutinous rice and hot tea. The portrait of Aung Sung Syu Kyi took a prominent place in the living room, earning a rank almost equivalent to that of their ancestral alters. She is widely revered as a Burmese national hero – someone who relinquished a comfortable life in the UK, to pursue a cause of democracy, to liberate the nation from Junta oppression. I’ve always admired people who have convictions of steel, who stay steadfast in their beliefs despite currents of opposition, to make a vision a reality.

The trekking journey brought forth sweeping views of wild flowers,

less-trodden trails of old railway tracks,

indegineous women in traditional clothing ,

chilli farms painted bright red in the glory of the harvest season.

Dandelions were in full bloom, their petals dancing away with the wind.

Oxen grazed in the plains.

Night began to fall and temperatures began to plunge. There is no electricity source in the mountains of Kalaw, other than sporadic solar panels that lit the lone light bulb in the hut with a weak glow for a few hours. The toilets- essentially makeshift shacks without roofs- had no lights so we had to shower up before dusk. I remember taking the quickest baths in my life in Kalaw- stripping in the open-air bath and throwing the frigid water over my body, drying up, and making a quick dash back to the hut.

Our Hut
The Shower Shack

From Kalaw, we also crossed Inle lake via speedboat back to the bus station.

 

I saw how people established their livelihood by the lake – housing settlements were built along the Bank. Oddly enough, they did their laundry, fished, and obtained plants like the water lotus (fibre from the water lotus is used to make fabric), from the same lake.

We boarded the bus back to Yangon to spend our last day in Myanmar.

Temperatures were back to tropical. We visited Shwedagon Pagoda, an icon of Myanmar and the grandest Buddhist architecture the country had to offer.

Shwedagon Pagoda

The entrance fee of 10 USD was a tad pricey. Admittedly, I’m not particularly intrigued by Buddhist history and culture. It was more of a checkbox to be ticked when you visited Yangon. We strolled along the roadside marketplaces, where raw fish was peddled out in the open on the floor, with the fishmonger lady trying to swat away the hovering flies. Avocados and fresh produce were sold out in the open, and housewives were haggling for better deals. I always like to bring a piece of a country back home, in the form of ethnic fashion. I tried, without success, to hunt around for their traditional wrap skirt.

Through this trip, I experienced how a different way of life was being led, and how a different definition of happiness was written. The joy of reflective meditation while trekking in the solitude of hill country, away from the bustle of city life. May Myanmar never lose that rustic charm, even as she begins to open her borders to the outside world.

To better days ahead (:
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Beautiful Myanmar Part 1

With that severe lack of work-life balance in Singapore, we are perpetually fixated on the next vacation to tide us through work blues. I had the privilege to travel to 8 countries in 2017. A very special year for travelling indeed. Well, this post is dedicated to my trip to Myanmar.

They’ve been known to be an insular country, but to really know a country’s culture, landscape and people, you’ve gotta go there in person and immerse yourself into the life there first hand. Put aside the pre-conceived notions that media reports on the Rakhine crisis seek to shape. Walking along the streets, you will not see soldiers in military garb, or pro-democracy protests clogging up the streets. Yangon was pretty peaceful. Grab functioned perfectly, bringing us from the airport into the city.

The roads were jammed up with cars. While I was deep in thought, absorbing the sights and sounds of the city through the rear windscreen, a knock on the car door nudged me back to consciousness. And there was a man peddling jackfruit and pears in the middle of a traffic jam. Very interesting. Politely declining the offer, we set off into the city, where we spent the next half of the day loading up on carbohydrates at Rangoon Teahouse, where we had a taste of Burmese-Western fusion food. The place was humming with conversations among expats over lunch, glasses clinking, cash registers ringing. We indulged in good comfort food-  the briyani and local milk tea, before making our way to Sule Pagoda in the scorching midday heat.

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Carbs and more carbs 

Yangon’s a lot less humid than Singapore, which makes travelling on foot more pleasant. We took off our footwear as a gesture of respect before entering the temple compound. It was a blinding lot of gold for my eyes to take in, with the blazing sun hung high in the sky, and intricate Buddhist architecture and towering spires bathed in gold.

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Sule Pagoda 

After that, we made our way to the bus station, where the overnight bus would take us to the Inle region for our hike.

Their bus station was teeming with backpackers, scrambling to clean up for the day. Charger ports had plugs cables streaming out for a last minute battery top up.

Our first taste of original Burmese food, was during a food stop 3 hours into the bus ride. We had Nanjitoth, some kind of local Mee Goreng. I had some noodle soup that I hastily ordered in my famished state, and found out later that if could very well be pig skin broth. *gags*

Aroused from my sleep a few hours later, I was told that we had reached Kalaw. The bitter chill stung me out of my drowsiness the moment I got out of the bus. I only survived the trek to our hotel because of my down jacket. Squinting at the GPS screen and rustling along the gravel path in pitch darkness, gave me an odd sense of satisfaction, that I had attained ruggedness.

As with most tourists, we made it a point to wake up at 5 to catch the Kalaw sunrise. The Ombre tones painted a beautiful start to a day.

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The pine trees with acorns were a pretty sight to behold from our dining area. Here’s me striking a pose with the pine trees as a backdrop.

pine tree

We started our cafe-hopping adventures, first at a a vegetarian cafe that served wonderful guacamole, bruschetta and chai tea cake.

bruschetta
Bruschetta 

Guacamole will feature in many of our meals I will describe later, inspiring me to  replicate that flavor back home. Dinner was at a cozy cafe New Simple Life. They served wholesome homemade Chicken Spaghetti and pumpkin soup with a drizzle of olive oil, made from produce from their backyard farm. If there was one thing they benefited from British rule, it was the Western recipes they had inherited while serving their colonial masters.

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Pretty flowers outside New Simple Life 

We started the trek into the hills of Kalaw early. The terrain was slightly rocky and uneven. I immediately regretted not getting a proper pair of trekking shoes. I thought I would just wear a pair to throw away since the road was going to be muddy. Well, it felt as if my worn-out Asics were on the verge of falling apart with the grind. The universe sure does not put a premium on ignorance, for a first time trekker. I kept my eyes on the ground because the uneven terrain was hard to manage. Thankfully,  the lunch of Chapati and Guacamole, revitalized my senses for the rest of the trek.

 

Croatia & Slovenia – Eastern Europe

Yep, I am having tangible withdrawal effects from Croatia and Slovenia. The men are terribly gorgeous – after you’ve seen and talked to them, you would be immune/ indifferent to local men. I remember this impossibly hot waiter from a Ljubljana cafe, Robba, helping us with menu choices. His features were so gorgeous; he was tall, well-built with a high nose and a 5 o’clock shadow.  I would have been content gazing into his dark brown eyes for a minute.

On the plane back home, some British guy winked and nudged at me. Thought that was pretty cute zomg!!

Flirting aside, I was truly mesmerized by nature and scenery that Eastern Europe had to offer. Old Yugoslavia is quaint, charming and one-of-a-kind. You see the imprints of Communist rule and Western occupation in their architecture, infrastructure and food. Weather during spring is beautiful and crisp; the temperate breezes made walking on the street worth relishing. Colorful blooms were everywhere; by the streets, in bouquets in a lady’s arms, at farmers’ markets. The Postojna Caves in Slovenia were completely breathtaking in every sense of the word. Magnificent rock formations from many years of limestone erosion- through rainwater and lakewater – created artfully-shaped spikes in all shapes and sizes throughout the cave. Reddish hues of iron oxide and grey touches of manganese covered those half-a-million-year-old stalagmites and stalactites. Chemistry never felt so meaningful to me before.

cave

The Piltvice National Park in Croatia was just as magical- mighty waterfalls gushed endlessly. Ducks were seen waddling around in pairs, presumably in their mating season. I have not seen a prettier shade of aquamarine and turquoise as the sun shone into the waters, creating temporary diamonds dancing across the rivers.

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Temperatures were on the chilly side, but all that stood out was the immaculate scenery laid out before my eyes; almost sacred to behold. These two attractions overshadowed the many cathedrals and castles that I had visited in this trip. Baroque architecture and their history is charming in its own right, like Zagreb Cathedral and Bled Castle, but nothing beats the beauty of Mother Nature.

Kids in Europe looked happier than Singaporean ones. I saw them running around uninhibited, cheeks red and chubby, their peals of laughter embellishing the night air. Women and men looked gorgeous; as if they had just steeped out from some runway catalog.

Why Lord why? The proportion of handsome men are simply unfairly distributed. 24 hours ago, the land I stepped on had men that looked like they had just descended from some celestial realm. Hot men were everywhere. Sexy sexy ones.

It has always been a dream of mine to work overseas and settle there for good. Preferably to marry some German or Austrian, or even Slovenian or Brit. To make gorgeous mixed-race babies and live happily ever after. To study in an European university.

While entertaining these grandiose fantasies and walking through the arrival hall, reality hit as a wave of warm air tingled by skin. Silly Singlish accents, faces buried in their phones posting away on Instagram, long immigration queues were all around me.

Well, fairy tales eventually have an epilogue. As I end of this post reflecting on my trip to old Yugoslavia, I tuck these precious travel memories into a secret pocket in my heart. Where would 2017 bring me to? Holy Land? Germany?

I would want to look forward to better things in life, more opportunities, open doors, friends, vacations and exhilaration. Travelling has enlarged my heart so much, and therefore that extra room has to be filled with more purpose and focus, such that I can keep on giving and going.

3 Days in Bangkok

As a Singaporean, Bangkok remains a place that charms in terms of cuisine, culture, lifestyle and price point. While prices for designer labels in upscale malls like (Terminal 21) are similar worldwide, the crowd-drawers are the night markets.

terminal 21
Inside terminal 21!
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At Ratchada Night Market

steph at ratchanda

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Ain’t my manicure pretty heh

I am indeed fascinated my their modes of transportation. A tuk tuk ride costs more than a cab/grabcar ride. However, it’s worth noting that vehicular transport is inefficient as their jams are legendary. The subway is a better way to get to your destination on time. We had almost missed our flight due to a jam on the road, and thankfully managed to catch the check-in time by the skin of our teeth. Singaporeans may view Changi Airport as another mall in the east, but after stopping by foreign airports, I do appreciate the poshness and organisation of Changi. On the same point of transportation, while Singapore has only recently embarked on bikeshare as a complimentary mode of transport to walking, Bangkok already has an established bikeshare network. Also, people there get around via boats that stop at regular stops just like buses.

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En route Ratchanda Night Market via boat, we passed by rows of attap houses and element-worn parapets coated with graffiti. It was an interesting insight into a different way of life, one that metropolitan city dwellers are unfamiliar with. Pollution tends to be evident with the skyline sometimes muted with a hint of grey. Trees are sparse as well.

Street food stalls packed with locals are a must-try –  an authentic taste of local Thai fare like salt-grilled tilapia and Chang beer, which was rather palatable due to its subtle malt taste that does not overpower the senses, from a perspective of someone who does not fancy beer.

street stall
Street Food!

st food bkk

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And more..

When I visit a foreign land, I always make it a point to source for ethnic garments that compliment my style. I managed to get a Thai print maroon wrap skirt, and I find the silk finishing so enchanting to look at. A very classy and artistic piece of fabric that offers my wardrobe some variation. I also got myself and my mum a jade-coloured cashmere shawl with gold threading. I thought the intricate patterns looked really regal and expensive, like something worn by royalty. I even had a chance to haggle prices with the ladyboys peddling these wholesale goods. Just a random thought; there are people out there who so badly want to be a woman. Perhaps I should embrace the beauty of being born as one, instead of secretly lamenting and gender favoritism that exists in today’s world?

All in all, it was an interesting eye opener. I don’t expect myself to visit Thailand in the next 5 years, but the hospitality of the people had genuinely warmed my heart. Good morals and consideration for the sphere beyond self are not entities that can be engineered by textbook education or instructions. I believe it comes from an observant, reflective and restful heart, which understands the beauty of enjoying the present and appreciating everything in life as a gift from above. This insight is the most valuable thing I have brought back home, an experience that surpasses manicures, massages, shopping or feasting.

skyline bkk
So long bkk