Ah, Bagan. Our home for a week of temple exploration, bicycle riding, Western food dining and the Internet. Like I mentioned in the last post, we were starting to burn out, so we decided to skip the other small city we had in mind (Pyay) and settle into Bagan for the last segment of our stay in Myanmar. And it was perfect because the city had just enough infrastructure to accommodate two weary travelers.
It was interesting to finally be somewhere touristy in Myanmar. People didn’t stare, English wasn’t that hard to come by and sightseeing was pretty streamlined. It was the future of Myanmar as we knew it. I’m not sure tourism in the country is headed in the right direction, but that’s a discussion for another post.
We stayed in Nyuang U, the main hub for Bagan, where you’ll find budget accommodation, the best restaurants and the most buzz, if you want to call it that. This was no big crazy metropolis like Yangon. It’s a pretty quiet, dusty, hot village masked as a city. We found spiffy restaurants, took an impromptu cooking class, did some damage at the markets and played on the internet. A lot.
In the past, we’ve definitely hated on other American food-eating, Web-surfing backpackers. But at that point, I’m not sure we’ve ever been so happy to see pizza on a menu. And WiFi! Sweet, wonderful WiFi that didn’t cut out every two minutes, as it did in most other parts of Myanmar.
I know it sounds completely insane to be in an amazing place and spend so much time on the Internet, but we’ve met so many travelers on long trips like ours with the same mindset: Internet + cold beverage = happy. One guy told us that at the end of his two-year Peace Corps stint in Paraguay, all he wanted to do was go to Internet cafes and surf Wikipedia. Another guy at the tail-end of 14 months on the road said “Only people who travel for that long get it,” as we were all using WiFi at a restaurant, naturally.
We just wanted to watch YouTube videos, catch up on blogs and find out what “Call Me Maybe” was all about. Simply put, it was comfort.
If you needed to find us, we were most likely at Weatherspoon’s, a friendly cafe with an even friendlier owner, Winton, with whom we shared many a fun conversation.
The place clearly gets a lot of love as evidenced by the messages scribbled on the walls. I think it has something to do with their famous burgers, which Winton learned how to make at his friend’s pub in England.
Two of my favorite scribbles.
Our message. Eaman ate four burgers there during our week in Bagan, so Winton said he was the unofficial burger-eating champ.
Each meal there ended with these tart tamarind flakes. We became addicted to these things so much that we bought a huge pack of them (from the same store Winton gets his stash from) to take to Malaysia. But sorry friends, they don’t have a long shelf life so none to bring home.
Loved, loved, loved Bibo, a restaurant owned by a young couple who were trained at a fancy hotel. Their background comes through in the excellent service, quality but inexpensive food (chicken curry, nomnomnom) and cocktails worthy of a swanky New York bar. (Both Bibo and Weatherspoon’s aren’t in guidebooks. Maybe that’s why they’re so charming.)
Pizza was fairly decent in Bagan. The cheese was a little strange, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Not sure why Bagan hasn’t gotten on the ice cream train, but considering how hot it is there, they could make a killing off some cones. If we found any, it was expensive and didn’t taste real. Luckily, we found some great ice cream toward the end of our stay at Nation restaurant.
We took one of the more common forms of public transport — horse carriage…
…to the market.
Eaman bought a vintage Burmese tattoo kit from a very friendly shopguy, the only one who didn’t accost us to buy something.
Visited some beautiful shops, one for handmade umbrellas — a handicraft very special to Myanmar — and one for expertly made lacquerware. We got to see the whole process at the lacquerware workshop from start to finish, and wow, that’s a lot of work.
Cups made of horse hair and lined on the inside with gold flakes.
And Eaman got a haircut.
But best of all, we had a cooking lesson! Sort of. I couldn’t believe that I had gone nearly a year of traveling without taking a cooking class. (Either it was so touristy that it lost authenticity or we didn’t have time.) We had planned to do one in Bagan, but it was a whopping $50. Instead, we asked the lovely staff at Moe Pyae San, a vegetarian restaurant we loved, if they could show us how to make our three favorite salads. (Salads are a big part of Burmese cuisine.) So one day, we ordered the tea leaf, tomato and fried bean salads, and got to see how it was all made in their tiny outdoor kitchen. The salads are fresh, easy to make and pretty healthy compared to the rest of Burmese food, which is comprised of fried food and more fried food.
Two versions of the tea leaf salad, with the more traditional style on the bottom.
Fried bean salad.
And we’re sharing one of the recipes with you!
(Proportions are up to your taste.) Chop tomatoes into big chunks, mix with thinly sliced onions and add crushed peanuts. Stir in soy sauce. Add minced garlic, bean powder (available at Asian markets), green chili, ajinomoto (a mild sweetener will do) and mix. Optional: Top with dried shrimp.
Yadah shideh…Burmese for “It’s tasty!”