Next Friday I will have a blog about beautiful Oman, but today I hope you enjoy our first video blog.
Are you stumped for a gift for someone on your holiday list who loves to travel? Check out our video below, with our favorite travel items, sure to be a hit for any traveler you know. Lot’s of gift ideas for the traveler on your list.
We hope our video helped you think of new ideas and we wish you happy shopping and a very Merry Christmas!
PLEASE NOTE – these opinions are my own and I have received no compensation for mentioning these products in my blog.
This was a lovely and unexpected book. This is a book I have meaning to get to for months, one of the free books I received on International Book Day from Amazon. Written by a distinguished Israeli Journalist, the story is dazzling.
I will be visiting Israel in March for the first time and this book helped me understand the turmoil and joy, tragedy and euphoria, ancient history and current events that the tiny country of Israel has endured.
Told in the voice of Elias, a Christian Arab in the end of his life. He looks back on the greatest love, his love for Lia, a Jew. Their forbidden love brings great passion and deep sorrow as they maneuver the years between 1947 and 2006. Told with a deeply moving voice, the author is a talented story teller and character developer.
This is both a beautiful love story and a history lesson. I enjoyed it very much.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Five stars for About the Night by Anat Talshir.
On arrival the foods of Myanmar seemed less interesting to me than most places we have been. But four weeks in to our visit I have really learned to appreciate the cuisine, and in fact a few dishes have become favorites – the surprising foods of Myanmar.
Local and Fresh
Besides eating as often as possible at authentic restaurants where the locals eat, we made an effort to find a cooking school in the village Nyaungshwe, the town closest to where we are staying on Inle Lake. A little research online and I discovered the highly rated Bamboo Delights Cooking School. I’m very glad I did.
We met with our host from Bamboo Delights at the Nyaungshwe morning market. We were joined by two women traveling together from Germany, and a couple from the Netherlands who are on an extended journey like ourselves.
At the Market
We spent a good hour and a half exploring the wonderful morning market, gathering ingredients for our class as well as other ingredients for the Bamboo Delight Restaurant. Going to market with a local is always so interesting…with a guide you can ask questions and be informed not only about the products for sale but also the vendors selling them. Vendors are usually more likely to engage when you have an interpreter present.
Our guide was known by nearly everyone at the market, so we were well received. We learned about many of the local lake and river fish, as well as the produce grown and gathered around the area and brought daily to the market. We learned about the regional chickpea tofu, and the handmade tofu snacks and rice crackers. We learned that onion prices have recently skyrocketed and tomatoes often sell out early. So colorful and very interesting.
Learning to Cook
At the cooking school we each got to choose two dishes to make. It was hard to choose because all the choices sounded so good – but in the end we all tasted all 12 dishes we made and there was MORE than enough to go around.
I made Pennywort Salad, although we were unable to find Pennywort in the market so we used Snap Pea tendrils instead. Pennywort is a plant that grows wild and I’ve seen on many menus but didn’t know what it was. I also made steamed butterfish, a local river fish.
My husband Arne made Avocado Salad with rice crackers and a chicken and green pepper curry.
Other participants made Curry Butterfish, Pumpkin Curry, Chicken Curry with Lemongrass, Eggplant Salad, Tea Leaf Salad, Chickpea Tofu Curry, Stir Fry Vegetables with mushrooms, bokchoy and garlic and Green Onion Dumplings.
Other than the Tea Leaf Salad I had not eaten any of these dishes in Myanmar. I really enjoyed in particular the Chickpea Tofu Curry, the Pumpkin Curry and all of the salads. It was a real feast. I will definitely order these dishes again – the surprising foods of Myanmar.
Here in Inle Lake region we have also had three other really delicious local dishes. I’m pretty sure I could find the ingredients to make all of these at home. Served in multiple restaurants we have visited we enjoyed;
Braised Pork with Shan Tea Leaves – tender pork in a melt in your mouth sauce served with rice. Shan foods are always cooked over a wood fire and aren’t usually as spicy as other regional food.
Inle Spring Chicken with Cocunut – this dish in a rich and yummy coconut cream sauce with big chunks of boneless tender chicken. Inle Foods are usually cooked over charcoal instead of wood.
Grandmother Style Inle Beef – tender chunks of beef have been marinated in rice wine then braised and served in a tomato gravy.
Soup for Breakfast
Soup is a popular dish for breakfast in Myanmar and I have become a big fan. And why not? It’s warm and filling and a delicious way to start your day. Mohinga is a fish soup and is considered the national dish of Myanmar (as is the Tea Leaf Salad) and though usually served for breakfast it is now eaten any time of day. At the market we watched a women with a giant vat of Mohinga serving up bowls to the locals for their breakfast.
The beautiful resort we splurged on in Inle Lake (Myanmar Treasure Resort – I hight recommend) served a wonderful breakfast each morning with a wide variety of local and western options. Every morning a different soup was featured. My favorite soup was the local Shan Noodle Soup (see photo in title image) and the chicken Coconut Soup.
The Surprising Foods of Myanmar
Although the cuisine of Myanmar includes meat proteins, like in most Asian cuisines the meat does not feature as the main part of most dishes. Instead a wide variety of the freshest local vegetables, herbs, spices and fruits (both locally grown and locally gathered) as well as rich and flavorful broths, curries and stews.
The cuisine features peanuts in nearly every dish, and although I like peanuts I wish they were not so abundantly used. Also many dishes are heavily based in peanut oil, sometimes making a dish too rich for me.
Although chilies are often used, sometimes abundantly, the Myanmar cuisine is not nearly as spicy as the cuisine of Thailand…but watch out for that garlic. It’s used in great quantities. However certain dishes can be very spicy, like the Shan pork and vegetable salad we had a teeny restaurant in Nyaungshwe. It seemed to be bathed in spicy chili oil.
Coffee is pleasant not great, fruit juices are popular and beer is pretty much the standard Asian lager. It gets the job done. In Mandalay the local beer, called Mandalay, had a higher alcohol content. A popular drink is lime soda – fresh squeezed lime juice with club soda served with simple syrup on the side so you can sweeten to taste. Very refreshing.
Myanmar is proud of its locally made whiskey, rum and the country has several wineries.
Farewell and Thank you
So after a month in Myanmar I certainly am not starving. In fact the surprising foods of Myanmar are keeping me sated and curious. It’s a wonderful country all around, including the surprising foods of Myanmar.
Mbue, an immigrant from Limbe Cameroon, weaves a fictional tale of immigrants like herself, who make their way from Cameroon in search of the American Dream in New York. My book review Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue is fiction but a near to true story of the hardship of immigrants in the USA.
Both a love story and an American tragedy, Behold the Dreamers brings to life the incredible characters of Jenda Jonga and his wife Neni and their sweet and small children. The Jonga family has worked for years to make their way to New York City, land of dreams and opportunity.
We are introduced to the Edward’s family. Husband Clark and wife Cindy with children Vince and Mighty. Clark is a high powered financial investor with the ill-fated Lehman Brothers. Cindy a New York socialite hiding and running from her past.
These two families will collide in a sad but believable look at how two very different families navigate the financial collapse of 2008, the nearly impossible American immigration system as well as the challenges of race, class, substance abuse and marriage in America.
A remarkable debut novel for Imbolo Mbue. Five stars for Behold the Dreamers.
You might not immediately understand the comparison, but Myanmar, and Inle Lake specifically, reminds me very much of Guatemala. Beautiful Guatemala – one of my favorite countries in the world because of its simple, shy but welcoming people. A people often living a subsistence lifestyle, happily and faithfully like their ancestors before them. This is how I see the remarkable people of Inle Lake Myanmar.
We are blessed with two full weeks in Inle, about eleven days longer than most people stay. Our slow travel style has us enjoying the peace and quiet here, from our stilt house over Inle at the Myanmar Treasure Resort – a splurge hotel from our normally simple Airbnbs. From this vantage point we are swept away by the lovely people of the region, the remarkable people of Inle Lake Myanmar, whose lives are intricately connected to the lake.
Of course the lake provides so much to the people – it is highway, bathtub, garden and washing machine. But mostly it is a food source. Watching the unique fishing style of the fishermen, it’s a bit like a ballet. The men have developed this system of standing at the stern of their boat, using one leg to maneuver the paddle while using both hands to manipulate their nets or baskets. This system came about because the water is clear, and it’s easier for the men to see the fish in the shallow lake if they are standing.
Lake Fact – Inle Lake is the second largest lake in Myanmar (45 square miles) but only 12 feet at its deepest point most of the year. During the rainy season the lake can rise about 5 feet.
Many people still living in the old ways have little need for cash money. They live a subsistence life, with fishing, farming and gathering providing their daily needs. Gatherers can be seen collecting betel leaves, foraging for wild plants such as pennywort and morning glory, and pulling lotus stems from the lake to create thread for weaving (more on this below). In the forests, teak and bamboo are taken for many uses.
Lake Fact – Inle Lake was designated a UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserve – a protected area that demonstrates a balanced relationship between people and nature and encourages sustainable development.
The remarkable people of Inle Lake Myanmar have created an ingenious farming method. Using weeds gathered from the bottom of the lake and bamboo poles for support, the people have built floating gardens. The gardens are tended from a dugout canoe, and due to the rich and abundant mineral lake water, the crops flourish.
Additionally, farming of fruit, beans and nuts, rice, corn and sugar cane is abundant in the region. Yellow tofu made from chickpeas is a regional specialty and exported to other regions.
Lake Fact – daily markets take place around the lake, moving daily to five different locations. Here the people sell homegrown produce, fresh caught fish, eels and snails, as well as baskets, weavings and tofu.
As people will do everywhere in the world, the remarkable people of Inle Lake Myanmar have created income from their ability to create beautiful things from local resources.
The mountains that circle the lake are a source of silver, and silver making of jewelry and other ornamental items is big business particularly for the tourist trade.
Weaving is traditional and several styles of weaving are important to the region. Silk, cotton and lotus thread weaving occupies many women.
Unique to Inle, gathering of the lotus stems and creating thread from the fine spiderweb-like interior creates a unique and beautiful style of weaving. Most of the robes the monks wear are made from this lotus thread cloth. It is very expensive because of how delicate it is and the time-consuming work. Lotus cloth or silk cloth is usually reserved for special occasions for the average person, who dress daily in cloth skirts known as longhi.
Cigar making is also an important industry. Most women of the older generation smoke handmade cigars while men lean to chewing betel leaves. The cigars are all hand rolled and it’s quite remarkable to watch the process. Several styles of cigars and smaller cigarette-like cigars are made using tobacco, tobacco mixed with spices or honey, and also some filled with cornhusks. Some have filters, others do not.
Lake Fact – their are four cities on the lake, but dozens of smaller villages, many built on stilts out over the water and accessible only by boat. The remarkable people of Inle Lake Myanmar are mostly of the Intha tribe, with a mix of Shan, Taungyo, Pa-O, Danu, Kayak, Danaw and Bamar.
To live effectively and have any kind of a life on this lake, people need to either own or have access to a boat. The boats that ply these waters are all very similar in style, and are usually built from teak.
The boats used for fishing are the smallest, 7m, some have a motor while others do not. A family boat is about 10m and the largest boat used for transportation, similar to a taxi or ferry service on the lake is about 18m.
Boat manufacturing is a specialized craft all done by hand, usually in a family owned business handed down over generations. Even the teak trees are cut by hand and hewn by hand into the beautifully shaped vessel. The boats are designed to maneuver through the narrow passage ways on the lake and are low to the water. A mixture of shredded teak and tar is used to fill the gaps in the boat. Lacquer is used to paint the boat. A boat well cared for will last about 20 years.
Transporting people and goods is a business into itself. People who grow vegetables and other items in the hills around the lake need to transport the items to the people on the lake and vice versa. Of course transporting tourists is big business today as well.
Lake Fact – the teak trees grown around Inle Lake are known as the finest teak in the world.
Nearly all of the population of Myanmar is Buddhist, and temples and pagodas dot the Inle Lake area, just like the rest of Myanmar. Monks are revered and the people make a practice to visit the temples and worship regularly.
Most monks live a simple and quiet life at monasteries scattered around the area. While some children are apprenticed as monks very early, not all remain throughout their life. It’s a difficult life. Monks often walk the street each morning and the people come out to provide food to them (known as alms) and often this is their only meal of the day.
Monks infrequently engage with tourists but occasionally receiving a blessing from a monk will occur. It is important to never touch a monk’s robe.
Lake Fact – there are several monasteries and temples (also called Pyay) accessible by water on the lake and visitors are welcome. You must always remove your shoes, and sometimes women must cover their heads. In addition Pyay and temples are also scattered around the hills and can often be illuminated by the rising sun in the morning. A beautiful sight.
Our time in Myanmar has been memorable, and it isn’t over yet. Looking forward to learning more about the remarkable people of Inle Lake Myanmar over the next week, before we move on to Yangoon.
I found this true story very similar to Tara Westover’s “Educated”. A deep and disturbing look at how children survive growing up in dysfunctional, often violent, and deeply impoverished family.
Tracing Jeannette Walls climb out of poverty and neglect to her life today as a successful writer and contributor for the likes of Esquire and MSNBC. The Glass Castle is an astonishing look at an all to common and oft ignored American tragedy of childhood neglect.
Jeannette Walls and her three siblings are raised by a brilliant father who is also a raging alcoholic. Her free-spirited mother has little interest in domestic life, leaves her children to fend for themselves, even when she has the financial opportunity to provide and pull them out of despair and poverty.
The Walls children are forced to learn to take care of themselves and each other, nearly starving or freezing to death in the cold winters.
Eventually making her way to New York, getting an education and a good job, Jeannette finds it impossible to talk about her upbringing or the fact that her parents are living homeless on the streets of New York. She is ashamed of them and the way they live. Until she is encouraged by those closest to her, to tell this real life story of surviving neglect and despair, even while still loving her parents.
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Four stars for The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Read last week’s review of My Sister’s Keeper.
This is not a blog about everything you should do when visiting Bagan. There are no recommendations on hotels or restaurants or which temples are the most austere. There are plenty of those blogs already written.
There is an old women. She looks 80 but a life of labor probably means she is closer to my age of 59. She rolls cigars for a living…rolled from corn husks and filled with a mixture of tobacco and chunks of palm wood.
This is a blog about the way Bagan Myanmar makes me feel. A feeling I find difficult to describe or explain. Nonetheless this is me reflecting on Bagan.
The more I travel the more I find myself conflicted about travel…all the while also finding myself needing to travel more. It’s an addiction plain and simple. This insatiable desire to get at the nerve of a place and really feel it’s soul.
Hunched over a loom she makes cloth from cotton she has grown, dyed and spun into thread. She spends her days weaving to sell to the tourists and to provide the traditional skirts both men and women wear.
I’m conflicted because I don’t want to contribute to “over-tourism” – one of our current catch words of the decade. Though I practice conscientious travel my nomad life has me often seated in a jet airplane, frequently drinking plastic bottled water when no other options present themselves and participating in a growing global tourism culture in places few people have ever been until recently.
Thus here I am reflecting on Bagan.
Since before puberty she has worn the brass rings around her neck as one of the unique women of the Kayan tribe. Now later in her life, removing the rings could kill her. She has spent 50 years bound this way and even when the tourists stare she is proud.
I stand at a temple (a place where you worship Buddha inside) or a stupa (a usually dome topped monument to worship from the outside) and I find myself thinking much more about human life than about ancient structures. As I have gazed on the pyramids at Giza (Egypt 4500 years), the Mayan Temples of Guatemala (3000 years), the white marble Taj Mahal (India 400 years) and the Roman Road of the Camino de Santiago (Spain 2000 years) I see people more than structures.
In my reflection I’m less inclined to convince more visitors to come here than I am to search for meaning as to why I have been called to be here? Why has my life led me to witness.
I want to remember and honor and understand the remarkable human beings who walked this same ground I’m on, yet thousand of years before. Who were they? Young or old? Did they have families? Were they hungry? Happy? Whole?
I am fascinated at the thought of workers and slaves who by force or by faith built the great structures of our world. The precise stone monument of Machu Picchu (Peru 600 year), the precariously placed mountain top Sri Lankan fort of Sigiriya (1500 year) , the astonishing stone carved temple of Lalibela (Ethiopia 1500 years) or the massive and sprawling city of Angor Wat (Cambodia 900 years).
Beyond this curiosity about these ancient societies I also find myself drawn to more recent history. Meeting a tiny little cigar puffing 80-year old Burmese woman and wondering what she feels about the changes here over her lifetime. Eighty years ago Burma was a British Colony and the native people were suppressed under British rule. They cultivated the fields all around these more than 4000 ancient temples with little knowledge or awareness to understand the history that happened here. Making sure they knew where their next meal was coming from was more important.
Twenty years ago tourists began to come to the newly named country of Myanmar. Seven years ago a new government began to really push Bagan as a tourist destination and four-months ago Bagan became the newest UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A lot of changes in a few years. And though a UNESCO designation will breath new life into conservation and preservation efforts it will also bring a vast number of more tourists and continue to change the ancient way of life.
For me I find people and their cultures more fascinating than structures. The history of life. The culture of 4000 years ago and the culture of 100 years ago hold the same fascination for me. I think about the farmer who for generations planted his fields around the giant stones laying on the ground that we now know as Stonehenge (England 5000 years). Or the farmer in China just out digging a new well less than sixty years ago who discovered the incredible archeological site we now know as the Terracotta Warriors (2000 years). Or a British explorer looking for one thing and stumbling upon the ancient buried city of Ephesus (Turkey 1000 years). Just real everyday people discovering remarkable antiquities in a world fascinated with ancient ruins.
A beautiful young woman wearing the traditional thanaka paste on her face sells fans and postcards outside the temple. She uses her English to engage with visitors and her smile to enchant.
As I am reflecting on Bagan I want to embrace and honor the culture of the place, all while knowing much of it is gone or going with the influx of visitors like myself.
An old woman invites a stranger into her courtyard and serves them tea – expecting no donation or payment. This is her culture and she preserves it. She chats away in a language we don’t know and puffs on her cigar. She cackles loudly showing cigar stained teeth. She firmly grasps my hand as we depart with a well worn paw that has seen decades of labor. Her gesture is genuine, lovely, and will disappear likely in the next generation.
I don’t know where this leaves me, except in a quandary to do my best to show respect and reverence to the remarkable cultures I am so very blessed to touch, if only briefly.
Conflicted in Bagan. Beautiful, precarious, real Bagan. Reflecting on Bagan.