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    Asia Travel  --  Food & Drink

    The Surprising Foods of Myanmar

    Eating and Cooking My Way Through Myanmar

    Location: Inle Lake Myanmar

    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.

    Tea Leaf Salad

    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.

    Our feast at Bamboo Delight Cooking School

    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.

    Bamboo Delight Cooking School

    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.

    At the Market

    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.

    Chickpea Tofu at the market

    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.

    Tofu making at Bamboo Delight Cooking School
    Making the Pennywort Salad at Bamboo Delight

    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.

    Chickpea Tofu 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.

    Shan version of Tea Leaf Salad front and Pennywort Salad back

    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.

    Time to eat!

    Regional Specialties

    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.

    Braised Pork with Shan Tea Leaves

    Soup for Breakfast

    Mohinga Fish Soup

    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.

    Mohinga being dished out at the market
    Chicken and Coconut Soup

    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.

    Steamed Butterfish

    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.

    Spicy Pork Salad

    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.

    Wine Tasting at Red Mountain Winery

    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.

    Cheers Myanmar!

    Kye zu tin ba Myanmar. Thank you for a wonderful visit. Read last week’s blog about the Remarkable People of Inle Lake

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    Asia Travel

    The Remarkable People of Inle Lake Myanmar

    Magical Myanmar

    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.

    Fisher People

    Fishing on Inle Lake Myanmar
    Inle Lake Fisherman

    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.

    traditional fisherman Inle Lake Myanmar
    Traditional Fishing Style, Inle Lake

    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.

    Unique fishrman Inle Lake Myanmar
    Fisherman use their legs to paddle

    Gatherer People

    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.

    Lotus gatherer Inle Lake Myanmar
    Gathering Lotus Stems

    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.

    Farming People

    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.

    Inle Lake Floating Gardens
    Floating Gardens

    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.

    Markets at Inle Lake
    Market

    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.

    Craft People

    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.

    Silvermaking Inle Lake
    Silver Jewelry Making

    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.

    Weavers of Inle Lake
    Long Neck Tribal Woman Weaving

    Weaving is traditional and several styles of weaving are important to the region. Silk, cotton and lotus thread weaving occupies many women.

    Lotus thread weaver Inle Lake
    This woman making thread from the Lotus Stems

    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.

    Color scarves
    Color scarves being sold

    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.

    Cigar Making Myanmar
    Making Cigars

    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.

    Lake village on stilts Inle Lake
    Village on stilts

    Transportation People

    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.

    Boats of Inle Lake Myanmar
    Fishing size boat

    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.

    Boats of Inle Lake Myanmar
    Largest size boat

    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.

    Handmade Teak Boats Inle Lake
    Handmade from Teak

    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.

    Transporting goods Inle Lake
    Women unloading goods to carry back to their hill village

    Lake Fact – the teak trees grown around Inle Lake are known as the finest teak in the world.

    Faithful People

    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.

    Monks Inle Lake
    Monk’s at prayer

    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.

    Alms Myanmar
    Morning walk for Alms

    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.

    Simple Monk Life

    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.

    Magical Myanmar.

    Next Friday’s blog – the food of Myanmar!

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    Asia Travel  --  Inspire

    Reflecting on Bagan

    As I Witness Around the World

    Location: Bagan Myanmar

    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.

    Old Woman Bagan Myanmar

    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.

    Spinning cotton Bagan Myanmar

    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.

    Long Neck woman of Myanmar

    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.

    Monks waiting for Alms, Bagan Myanmar

    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?

    Full moon over Temple Bagan Myanmar

    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).

    Bagan Myanmar

    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.

    Temples Bagan Myanmar

    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.

    Ruins of Temple, Bagan Myanmar

    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.

    Thanaka paint on woman in Myanmar

    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.

    Old City of Bagan Myanmar

    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.

    Village Woman Bagan Myanmar

    Conflicted in Bagan. Beautiful, precarious, real Bagan.
    Reflecting on Bagan.

    Learn more about ancient and changing Bagan on Wikipedia.

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    Asia Travel

    Languishing on Langkawi

    Location: Langkawi Malaysia

    A week or so before we arrived in Langkawi we met a young women who was concerned when we told her we would be on the island of Langkawi in Malaysia for 26 days. She felt we didn’t understand how little there is to do here.

    Langkawi Malaysia
    Langkawi the Jewel of Kedah

    We laughed about it later. Our favorite places in the world are the places with little to do. We particularly enjoy island-time and take it whenever we can get it. And our time here languishing on Langkawi has served us well both physically and mentally.

    Langkawi Malaysia Cenang Beach
    Cenang Beach

    Although we spent many days doing pretty close to nothing, we also have enjoyed several busy and active days around the island. And after getting to know this small (25 miles long and 12 miles wide) island just off the coast of Malaysia and Thailand, I would argue that there is indeed plenty to do here.

    Sunset Cenang Beach
    Margarita at Sunset, Cenang Beach

    Most people come here for three or four days. Maybe a week. When we told the young man on the beach who peddles the beach chairs we would be here for more than three weeks he was amazed. He said it was unusual. We have also noticed our age bracket here is unusual. Langkawi seems to be an itinerary of the young-backpacker and honeymooners …with a handful of people in their forties and fifties. We haven’t met any other Americans but it seems popular with the Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Malaysians, Germans and Australians.

    Parasail at Cenang Beach
    Parasail is one of many activities at Cenang Beach

    Our languishing on Langkawi days have often been spent at Pantai Cenang, Langkawi’s most popular beach. It’s a two-minute walk to Cenang (pronounced ‘Chenang’) from our Airbnb and we can rent two chairs for the entire day for $5. The water is ridiculously warm and Cenang is the best place to watch the sunset. Although we did none of these things, it’s very popular (and seems relatively cheap) to go parasailing, rent jet-skis, ride on a banana boat, go island hopping or take a mangrove tour.

    Syrian Restaurant on Langkawi
    Yasmine Syrian Restaurant
    The Cliff Restaurant Langkawi
    Fresh caught red snapper at The Cliff Restaurant Langkawi

    Cenang has lots of hotels, restaurants and shopping. We enjoyed fantastic meals at Happy Happy Chinese Seafood and The Cliff Restaurant but probably my favorite meal was at Yasmine Syrian Restaurant. We also enjoyed several small sidewalk food stalls especially the Lebanese Shawarma Kebab sidewalk cafe and the Warung Cafe for breakfast.

    Seafood Restaurant Cenang Beach
    Happy Happy Chinese Seafood offers whole fish cooked to order
    Cable Car Langkawi
    High Above Langkawi on the Cable Car

    We rented a car on three separate days over our 26 day stay, when we felt ready to get out and see more of the island. The rental car cost us $20 a day while gas runs about $2 a gallon. There really isn’t much public transportation but we found Grab (Uber) to be very efficient and super cheap.

    Sky Bridge Langkawi
    A walk across the Sky Bridge in Langkawi will be memorable

    The first day in the rental car we went to the Langkawi Cable Car and rode to the top for spectacular views. It’s relatively expensive by Malaysia standards ($20 pp) but worth it. From the top you can pay an extra $4 pp to walk out on the Sky Bridge. It was foggy when we were there but still a spectacular thing to do. Next we hiked the Seven Wells Waterfall. Free but ouch. It was 600 steps up and boy did I feel that in the morning. But it was worth it. Really beautiful. The waterfall has beautiful pools you can enjoy as part of your languishing in Langkawi efforts. We did not do the Umgawa Zipline, but it seems popular at around $100 pp.

    Seven Wells Waterfall Langkawi
    One of the pools at Seven Wells Waterfall

    Our second day in the car we drove to Temuran Waterfall in the northwest corner of the island. This is Langkawi’s highest waterfall and it was really spectacular. It’s much easier to access (200 steps) and also has a lovely pool at the base of the falls to cool off once you arrive.

    Scarbourgh Fish and Chips
    Scarborough Fish and Chips Langkawi

    Next we stopped to take a peek at the small but beautiful Pantai Tengorak Beach, but because there was a school field trip there we decided to move on. We enjoyed a spectacular fish-and-chips lunch with view at Scarborough Fish and Chips before heading next door to a much bigger and very beautiful beach called Pantai Tanjung Rhu. We spent several hours here. The water like a bathtub.

    Temuran Waterfall Langkawi
    Beautiful Temuran Waterfall is the highest in Langkawi
    Tanjung Rhu Langkawi
    Tanjung Rhu Beach in north Langkawi

    Back in Cenang we enjoyed one evening at the Aseania Resort where twice a week they offer a “Cultural Show and BBQ”. Think Luau. Similar to many such shows we have done around the world (New Zealand, Australia, Easter Island, Spain, Portugal, Hawaii), even though it is touristy it’s always fun, informative and delicious. Even though the sound system could use an upgrade, I was really glad we went. At $15 pp and all you can eat, you can’t beat it.

    Aseania Hotel Langkawi
    Cultural Show at the Aseania Hotel, Cenang Langkawi

    We spent three separate days enjoying day-passes at two beautiful beach resorts. We walked three miles to Resorts World Langkawi at the tip of the peninsula. For $10 we had access all day to their infinity pool, enjoyed pizza and a drink. Two days we walked one mile to Dash Resort. An all-day pass here was $9 and included a drink. It’s a nice way to take a break from the beach and feel a bit pampered. We liked the pool at Dash the best.

    Dash Resort Langkawi
    We loved Dash Resort, Langkawi

    We went to the Thursday-only Langkawi Night Market which is tiny but we grazed our way through and had a full-meal for two for about $7. There is also a nightly food truck area right off the main drag- we weren’t overly impressed with the offerings so we never ate there.

    NIght Market Langkawi
    The Cenang Night Market is every Thursday

    Nearly every morning we did a beach and boardwalk run, taking advantage of the flat and beautiful terrain around Cenang to get back into running shape. I really appreciated having the time to do that.

    Running in Langkawi
    I always felt safe on my runs in Langkawi

    Speaking of running, while we were on Langkawi the island hosted the Malaysia Ironman. What a spectacle that was! It was very difficult to get around during the event as so many roads were closed so we were only able to enjoy the finish line which was very near to our Airbnb. Super fun and exciting to witness an event like this. This is considered the second most difficult Ironman in the world. We saw the top three, all who beat the the course record despite the unusually warm day. It gave me goosebumps to watch them get their medals. What an accomplishment.

    Ironman Malaysia
    Philippe Koutny of Switzerland crossing the finish line takes second place in the Ironman Malaysia event

    The following week we rented a car again for one more day of exploring. We drove around the southern road of the island to the town of Kuah. It’s a big town with lots of shopping and resorts. Not really something we are interested in but we wanted to see it. We then headed north with the intention of going to the Lucky Temple, a Buddhist Temple that accepts visitors. But we couldn’t find it. So next we headed to the Langkawi Cultural Craft Center. I was wishing I had more room in my suitcase for some of the beautiful baskets. I did purchase a beautiful hand painted Kaftan. We spent some time at the beach before heading back to Kuah to the Wednesday Night Market there.

    Cultural Craft Center handpainted kaftan
    My beautiful hand-painted Kaftan
    Kuah NIght Market
    At the Kuah Night Market

    Sunset in Cenang is pretty amazing. Our favorite places to watch sunset was from the rooftop of the El Toro Mexican Restaurant with a margarita in hand, or from the rooftop Flo Lounge on top of the Nadia Hotel. Our favorite beachside bar was Thirstday or we would bring our own scotch down to the beach for a nightcap.

    Sunset Cenang Beach

    Flo Lounge view from the Nadia Hotel

    Speaking of Scotch, the entire island of Langkawi is a Duty Free Zone. I don’t know why but lucky for us. We could buy a case of beer for $15, a liter of gin for $9 and a really nice bottle of Aberlour Scotch for $50. Aberlour 12 year in the USA would sell for about $90.

    Strangely though, few restaurants serve alcohol since the majority of the businesses are Muslim owned. But you can find a drink in hotel and beach bars.

    Scotch at Sunset Langkawi
    Scotch on the beach

    Sometimes we would take a long walk instead of going to the beach. Although the humidity can be tough, there are few cars on the roads and it felt good to get out and just walk around.

    Hiking on Langkawi
    Six mile hike to Resorts World on the Peninsula

    For nightly free entertainment there is never a dull moment down at the beach after sunset. The tiny town really comes alive, and pop up hookah lounges, fire dancers and foot massage studios take over the beach after dark. You can kick back all night in beach bean bag chairs if that’s your thing – definitely fits the languishing on Langkawi theme don’t you think?

    Beach entertainmment at night Cenang Beach
    Fire dancer on the beach after dark, Cenang Beach

    We were on the tail end of Malaysia’s rainy season and during our visit to Langkawi and other parts of Malaysia we witnessed some crazy big tropical storms. But always the sun would return eventually. Other than during the Ironman and the week of the Indian holiday of Diwali, most hotels and restaurants and tourist attractions were lightly populated. High season will begin in November.

    Tropical Storm Cenang Beach
    Storm rolling in makes for a beautiful shot, Cenang Beach

    At the end of our visit, we had hoped to do a guided sunrise hike to the top of Gunung Raya, the highest point on Langkawi. But the weather did not cooperate so we had to cancel. So instead I booked a spa day at Alun Alun Spa in Cenang. It was really nice. I had a manicure, pedicure and a facial. There are many, many places in Cenang hawking foot massage, manicure, full-body massage etc. BUT since I am very particular about hygiene I decided to go to the more expensive and upsacale Alun Alun. I was really glad I did.

    After nearly a month languishing on Langkawi -this tiny island ranks pretty high for me as a great place to both kick back and relax AND find plenty of things to keep busy. We were never bored. It fit our definition of island life pretty well, whether languishing on Langkawi or being on the go.

    Beautiful Langkawi
    A beautiful view of a beautiful island. Thank you Langkawi.

    After forty days in Malaysia it’s time to go. Malaysia now falls fourth in the list of countries we have stayed in the longest (Spain, Thailand, New Zealand are the top three). But Malaysia ties for first place as the least expensive country for our travels – tied with Bulgaria. Coming in third is the Maldives.

    Cenang Beach Langkawi Malaysia
    Cenang Beach with my guy

    Thanks Langkawi. Terima Kasih Malaysia. We have loved our time here.

    Next stop Myanmar!

    Please note WiFi in Myanmar is very poor. We will do our best to continue to post a Travel Blog each Friday and a Book Review each Wednesday. If you like what we are doing here, we would greatly appreciate you showing your love with a share or a pin! Please invite your friends to follow our blog. Thank you!

    Languishing on Langkawi
    Asia Travel

    What to do in Kuala Lumpur

    Beautiful and Cosmopolitan Malaysian City

    Location: Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

    We had six lovely days to leisurely explore the beautiful city of Kuala Lumpur. You could easily see most of this city in three days, but we have the time and enjoy taking our time, which is exactly how we explored KL. If your travels take you near this city, plan some time here. It is worth it. Here are our recommendations on what to do in Kuala Lumpur.

    Sultan Abdul Samad and Merdeka Square

    Sultan Abdul Samad Colonial Era Building Kuala Lumpur

    The Sultan Abdul Samad Building is among Kuala Lumpur’s earliest Moorish-style buildings, it was built in 1897 and named after the reigning sultan of Selangor at the time. Originally used by the British during Colonial times, the building is most beautiful after dark. Across the street the wide green Merdeka Square, also known as Independence Park is a lovely oasis in the middle of the city.

    Eco Park and Hanging Bridges

    Kuala Lumpur Hanging Bridge Canopy Walk Eco Park

    A surprising find right in the middle of the city (and coincidentally right across the street from our hotel). The Kuala Lumpur Eco Park is a hidden jewel. The forested park is home to a number of swinging bridges that take you up into the canopy to view the flora and the skyscrapers beyond.

    Petronas Twin Towers

    Petronas Twin Towers Kuala Lumpur

    These iconic towers were the tallest in the world from 1998 to 2004. They remain the tallest twin towers. The design looks somewhat like a tall tin can, but at night they glow beautifully and can be seen from miles around. We went to go up the towers on a Monday, only to find out they are closed on Mondays. But we have been up many tall towers so we really didn’t mind. Looking at them from below was really enough for us.

    Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan Federal Mosque

    Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan Federal Mosque Kuala Lumpur

    We have visited beautiful mosques all over the world, but our visit to this mosque was the first time we were greeted with such grace and hospitality. This mosque has a design similar to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. It’s a bit out of town, but we took a Grab (Uber) from the Batu Caves and it only cost a couple of dollars. The Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan Federal Mosque has a visitor program that is so welcoming. They provide women with the appropriate covering before giving a free tour with an English speaking guide. Our guide was named Noor and she was the sweetest person. Since we arrived right before prayers (we didn’t know that) she invited us to sit in and witness the faithful at prayers. It was a wonderful opportunity. She then gave us a lovely tour and insight both into the mosque and her faith. I highly recommend a visit.

    Batu Caves

    Batu Caves and Hindu God Statue Kuala Lumpur

    We have also visited several Hindu Temples in our travels, and are often struck at how different they are from Mosques. Where Islam has no idols, no flashy temples and only worships one god (Allah), Hinduism has many gods, lots of color and idols that the faithful pray to.

    The Batu Caves is a Hindu temple and shrine that attracts thousands of worshippers and tourists, especially during the annual Hindu festival, Thaipusam. 

    A limestone outcrop located just north of Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves has three main caves featuring temples and Hindu shrines, including the giant statue of the Hindu God at the entrance to the 272 Rainbow Stairs.

    Batu Caves are easily accessible from KL Central Station via train.

    Thean Hou Temple

    Thuen Hue Temple Kuala Lumpur

    Thean Hou Temple is one of the oldest and largest temples in Southeast Asia. Overlooking the city, the six-tiered Buddhist temple is also known as the Temple of the Goddess of Heaven. Built by KL’s Hainanese community in 1894, it is set on a hill and offers wonderful views of the city.

    Supposedly a perfect place to watch the sunrise over Kuala Lumpur, we visited in the late morning and really enjoyed this beautiful place.

    Little India and Chinatown

    Little India Kuala Lumpur

    Kuala Lumpur is a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures and taking a bit of time to wander through Little India and Chinatown provides wonderful insight to these thriving cultures in Malaysia. Both neighborhoods are filled with an abundance of places to eat, excellent shopping as well as people watching. KL’s metro provides easy access to both.

    Off the Eaten Track Food Tour Malaysia

    Food Tour Malaysia Kuala Lumpur

    We are so glad we booked with Food Tour Malaysia, because what we got was by far one of the best food tours we have ever been on. Off the Eaten Track was a wonderful tour not just in Kuala Lumpur proper but at several stops in the suburbs outside the city. I can’t recommend them highly enough. Possibly the best thing we did in all of KL.

    Roof Top Bars

    Heli Lounge and Rooftop Bar Kuala Lumpur

    We read a lot of reviews that talked about the rooftop bars in KL, and even though we are rarely out after dark, we did get to two of the three we wanted to see. The Deep Blue rooftop bar and the Heli Lounge Bar we absolutely recommend for the stunning view. The Heli Lounge is a helicopter pad by day, outdoor bar by night. Crazy. We didn’t get to the rooftop bar at the W Hotel but we sure heard great things about it too.

    Subway and Monorail and Grab

    Kuala Lumpur Metro

    We always get to know the local metros in every city we go to – and are amazed how often we talk to travelers who are afraid to use public transit. KL like almost all other major world cities has a clean, efficient and inexpensive Metro/Subway, train to outlying areas and a short monorail to some neighborhoods not served by the metro. Throughout Asia we also use Grab reliably. Grab is the Asian version of Uber, works just the same but its way cheaper!

    What we missed

    Well we should have gotten to everything given we were in KL for six days, but we did leave behind a few things we wanted to see including Botanical Gardens, the City Mosque, the Jalan Alor Night Market, the Islamic Art Museum and scores of music and live theater options. I guess we will need to come back!

    By the way, we stayed at the amazing Renaissance Kuala Lumpur Hotel and we absolutely loved everything about it. $100 a night in the Executive Suites included breakfast, high-tea and evening cocktails with food. Our room was beautiful and we enjoyed the pool, workout facility and spa. And a block from the metro.

    Thanks for being a great place to visit Kuala Lumpur! We loved you!

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    Asia Travel  --  Food & Drink

    Two Countries, Two Cuisines, Too Delicious

    The Food of Taiwan and Malaysia

    Location: Taiwan and Malaysia

    Taking a cooking class and going on a food tour in every country I visit is a goal I have. And I accomplish it often, but not always. But when I can I always enjoy it and over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing two countries, two cuisines, too delicious – the food of Taiwan and Malaysia.

    Taiwan

    We spent six days in Taipei Taiwan. We weren’t really tuned in to the Taiwanese cuisine, half expecting it to be just like China. But unlike China, Taiwan has been strongly influenced from Japan (with historical influence also from Portugal and Holland) and it’s noticeable in the cuisine. The Chinese influence comes primarily from Eastern China (Fujian). And certainly the fact that Taiwan is an island, the cuisine has a much stronger focus on seafood than much of China.

    Scallion pancake on Food Tour in Taiwan
    Scallion Pancake is one of our favorite foods we discovered in Taipei Taiwan

    GoTuCook

    A search online led me to Chef Calvin at GoTuCook. Thorough out our world travels I’ve taken cooking classes large and small, in cooking schools and home kitchens, from world famous chefs and humble housewives. And usually my favorite experiences are the ones where I have one-on-one time with the instructor in their home. This was my experience with GoTuCook.

    Mushroom and chincken soup in Cooking class in Taipei
    The beginnings of a delicious shiitake mushroom and chicken soup

    We met early in the morning at the Beitou metro station from where we walked to experience the bustling thriving market and the local vendors selling to the local people. I always love this experience with a local who can explain unusual ingredients, answer my questions and enlighten me to this way of life long gone in America.

    At The morning market Beitou Taipei
    Me at the busy Beitou morning market

    Next we headed to Calvin’s apartment, set up perfectfully for cooking classes. I had chosen three dishes I wanted to make ahead of time from a variety of options listed on the GoTuCook website. I chose as a starter Jellyfish Salad and for a soup course a chicken and mushroom soup and for our main course two kinds of pork dumplings.

    Displaying all the dumplings made by hand in Taipei cooking class
    My pretty dumplings ready for the steamer

    I liked both the jellyfish salad (requires an overnight soak of the chewy jellyfish in the fridge before prep) and the fragrant soup with a broth we cooked with chicken feet as well as meaty parts from the blue chicken, but my favorite was the dumplings.

    Chef Calvin of GoTuCook
    My new friend Chef Calvin of GoTuCook

    Making Chinese style steamed dumplings takes some practice. I’ve done similar work in classes before (making empanada in Argentina, pirogi in Poland and dumplings in Vietnam) but it’s still a chore to get your fingers to make the beautiful designs if it’s not a task you do everyday. We made pork with cabbage and spices and pork with corn and different spices. And then we ate!

    Of course we had leftovers and I brought dumplings and jellyfish to my husband who was back at the hotel.

    I really enjoyed this class and plan to tackle dumplings on my own soon. I recommend GoToCook if you visit Taipei.

    Pork bun One sample from Taipei Eats Food Tour
    The pork “burger” was one of the best things we had on our Taipei food tour

    Taipei Eats

    We also took an amazing walking food tour with Taipei Eats where we expanded our Taiwanese cuisine knowledge with Taiwan Pork “burger”, stinky tofu, betel nut, scallion pancake and much more. Taipei Eats was one of the best food tours we have ever done. Our guide was amazing, there was so much food and we learned some interesting facts while meeting local people as well as other travelers from around the world. Such a wonderful experience!

    TStinky Tofu at Taipei Eats Food Tour
    This is probably the one and only time for me with the Stinky Tofu

    Malaysia

    What a country Malaysia is for a foodie. This remarkable country is a melting pot of many cultures, and it shows in everything, especially the food. Malay food is often spicy, and nasi (rice) features often. Eating with your hands is common. Pork is rarely featured in this cuisine because most Malay are Muslim.

    Prepping the chicken at Indian Cooking Class Kuala Lumpur
    Learning Indian cooking in Kuala Lumpur

    On the other hand, many Chinese immigrated here in the 1800’s when this land was a British colony and the Chinese food is abundant, and often includes pork. Noodles, chicken and dumplings are also widely enjoyed.

    And then there is the Indian food, representing the vast number of Indians living in Malaysia. The use of pungent spices and curries, more noodles as well as lots of vegetables make up this delicious cuisine.

    Indigenous Malaysian sweet treat
    Ancient Malay cultures enjoyed this rice flour treat

    No matter what ethnic background, the people in this country love fried foods and fried chicken, seafood, samosa and much more are popular both as street food and in restaurants.

    Off the Eaten Track

    The food tour we took in Kuala Lumpur was very unique and one of the best ever. At the end of the evening we had sampled twenty-four (yes you read that correctly) foods of this diverse and delicious country.

    Chinese Soup at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    A very local Chinese Soup with veg, chicken and tofu

    We signed up with Food Tour Malaysia for their Off the Eaten Track tour and were met by our guide Timothy at a subway stop in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur called Petaling Jaya where we began our gluttonous odyssey at an outdoor Malay neighborhood food court that operates 24 hours a day seven days a week. Here we found just locals enjoying the foods they loved. We had Nasi Lemak wrapped in banana leaf; ota ota, a smoked mackerel wrapped in palm leaf; a rich goat and potato soup; fried chicken and fried tempeh. I was full before we left this first stop.

    Amazing Night Market at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    My husband Arne recruited to work on the “carrot cake” stir fry – one of our favorite things we had on our Kuala Lumpur food tour

    Next we headed to probably the best night market I have ever been too, also in the suburb of Petaling Jaya. Here we learned about the popular “carrot cake” (not a cake in the sense we are used to, more of a pressed tofu), we had spring roll, noodles, dumplings and sweet Chinese daun pandan filled with peanuts.

    Trying new foods like mackeral in palm leaf at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    Mackerel cooked inside a palm leaf

    Next we headed to a very local-only Chinese open air restaurant to sample more noodles cooked over an open fire and a delicious soup with chicken, okra, long beans and potato.

    Chinese sweet treat at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    Daun Pandan a sweet Chinese treat

    Our final stop was an outdoor Indian restaurant, and we were the only non-Indians there. And darn it I was so full I couldn’t really enjoy the amazing feast of roti, lentil dal, curry, a giant fried pancake with a coconut curry dip, fried chicken and mango smoothie. Roll me home. What a night it was. If you are ever in Kuala Lumpur, do this tour – but pace yourself!

    Indian Bananan Roti at Kuala Lumpur Food Tour
    Banana Roti a sweet Indian treat

    The Versatile Housewives

    To round off our food frenzy in Kuala Lumpur we spent one morning with Ruth, a cooking instructor who brings the flavors of her native India to visitors in Kuala Lumpur through her business The Versatile Housewives. We learned to make one of India’s most famous dishes, biryani, with a group of local university students in Ruth’s kitchen. Biryani is a rich and flavorful traditional dish, often served at weddings and ceremonies. It can be beef or lamb or chicken. We made a chicken biryani. The flavors of this dish come together by slowly preparing the fresh ingredients of caramelized onions, vegetables and spices like cardamon, cloves and pepper as well as herbs like cilantro and mint. After slowly blending all these flavors with rice and chicken, the biryani is served in a giant bowl and enjoyed communally. Check out Ruth’s website for a great selection of delicious Indian recipes.

    Indian Cooking class Kuala Lumpur
    The beautiful Biryani we made with our instructor Ruth

    No matter where you travel, diving into the culture through food is the most interesting and tastiest way to engage with locals, learn history and culture and broaden your culinary chops. Be brave! Eat the world!

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    Asia Travel

    Visiting Endangered Primates in Borneo

    A Must Do in Malaysia

    Location: Sepilok Borneo Malaysia

    Seeing orangutans, gorilla and chimpanzees in the wild has been a long time goal of mine. Last year I checked off my bucket list seeing sloths and toucans in the wild. This year I’m totally focused on primates – including visiting endangered primates in Borneo.

    And that is what has brought us to the far northeast region of Borneo and the Sepilok Forest – home to the beautiful but endangered orangutans as well as the bizarre and endangered proboscis monkeys.

    Sepilok Borneo Firefly Tour
    On our river tour, Sepilok Borneo

    We spent three days in Sepilok. Flying into the Sandakan airport we traveled by Grab (Uber) thirty minutes to our destination of the Sepilok Forest Edge Resort. I can not recommend this place highly enough. We loved our beautiful little chalet with veranda and outdoor shower (an indoor one as well). The breakfast was outstanding as were the two fantastic dinners we enjoyed in the restaurant. Just $80 per night for two with the breakfast included.

    Sepilok Forest Edge Resort
    Dinner at Sepilok Forest Edge Resort

    We arrived around 3:00pm and unpacked and took a short rest – very short because we had pre-arranged an evening boat tour through the mangroves. The tour was promoted as a Firefly Tour but it was way more than that.

    River Tour Borneo, Malaysia
    Fresh Coconut at sunset

    First we drove about 20 minutes to a teeny village in the mangrove marsh where we were served yummy Cassava fritters and tea before boarding a small wooden boat. Our guides took us through the watery world of mangroves and it reminded me of our time in Bangladesh and even looked a bit like the Amazon and even the Everglades. We stopped to admire some long-tailed macaque monkeys grooming each other high in the trees.

    Sepilok Borneo Firefly Tour
    Sunset in the mangroves

    We stopped on a tiny island where we were served fresh coconut and watched the sunset. Once it was dark we headed back into the mangroves in our boat and the fireflies lit up the night. The trees along the channels looked like lighted Christmas trees and the little bugs made me think of Tinkerbell. Returning to shore we were served a simple and delicious Malaysian meal of curry chicken, sweet and sour tuna, soup, rice and vegetable fritters. All of this cost $55 per person.

    But the fireflies are also endangered, like so much else in this beautiful region. Learn more about the fireflies here.

    Back to Sepilok Forest Edge Resort and a good night’s sleep.

    Next morning we were up early and enjoyed a wonderful breakfast in the open air restaurant before making the 15 minute trek to the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center. Entrance fee was $7.50 each.

    Did you know the words orang utan means forest human in Malay? When you watch these animals up close it is remarkable how humanlike their behavior is.

    Sepilok Orangutan Reabilitation Center
    Mama and baby at feeding time

    This is an amazing place working to keep the orangutans from becoming extinct. Over the past two decades the orangutan population in Borneo has dwindled from 200,000 to only 11,000! The main reason this is happening is deforestation. Native forests are being eliminated and in their place mile after mile after mile of palm oil trees are being planted…pushing the orangutans to the brink of existence. Palm oil is used in thousands of products commercially produced. Everything from ice cream to soap. It’s likely you have products in your home right now with palm oil as an ingredient that has come from Borneo.

    Palm Oil deforestation in Borneo
    This is a palm oil nut from a palm oil tree
    Sepilok Orangutan Reabilitation Center
    Young male orangutan getting exercise

    At the Sepilok Orangutan Reabilitation Center two things occur;

    1. Wild orangutans learn to come here to help supplement their diet during two “feeding” times a day. The wild animals, especially nursing mothers, that are unable to find adequate nutrition due to the dwindling native forests come to the reserve and receive fresh fruits and vegetables.
    2. Injured or orphaned orangutans are brought from outside the region to receive medical attention or to learn necessary skills to survive in the wild. All with the goal of releasing these animals back into the wild when they are ready.
    Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Center
    Mom and Baby looking healthy and well fed

    We saw dozens of orangutans while we visited the reserve…some just wandering around or swinging through the trees, others during their feeding. The reserve is not a zoo – there are no fences keeping these wild animals in. They come and go as they need.

    Sepilok Orangutan Reabilitation Center
    This young orangutan was strolling along the path at the same time we were

    It was a joyful experience and a dream come true for me!

    We knew almost nothing about the funny looking proboscis (meaning nose) monkeys, but found that they too are suffering from deforestation. So on our final day we headed 30 minutes away to the Labak Bay Proboscis Monkey Reserve. Entry fee $15 each.

    Labok Bay Proboscis Monkey Reserve
    A dominate male proboscis monkey

    The facilities here were not as nice as the orangutan reserve (and twice as expensive) but we still really enjoyed seeing these strange animals with the Jimmy Durante nose. I was astonished at the size of the males and their strength as well as how they can jump like kangaroos. Unlike orangutans who live a pretty solitary life, the proboscis monkeys live a harem kind of hierarchy with one dominant male overseeing multiple females and offspring.

    Labak Bay Proboscis Monkey Reserve
    Looking pensive

    I learned a lot about all of these animals in our three day visit and we also saw macaque monkeys, one wild boar, and giant monitor lizards to round our our wildlife adventure!

    Palm Oil Plantation Monitor Lizards
    Monitor Lizard about five feet long

    An interesting note – monitor lizards are the only native animal thriving in the palm oil plantations. In fact, they are growing incredibly large and due to population explosion of monitor lizards they are more aggressive. A clear sign of an eco-system out of balance.

    Labak Bay Proboscis Monkey Reserve
    The animals come in large family groups from the forest to the center to feed.

    Although there were many tourists, we met no other Americans. It’s a long ways to come from the USA, but if you can it’s worth a visit. I truly enjoyed visiting endangered primates in Borneo.

    Labak Bay Proboscis Monkey Reserve
    Young male – he seems to be contemplating his future

    We look forward to more primate encounters in the months ahead, but we will never forget our amazing time visiting endangered primates in Borneo. Fabulous.

    Want to learn more about what’s going on in Borneo with the wildlife and deforestation? Read here.

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    Visiting Endangered Primates in Borneo