Archive for October, 2010

More Burmese Capitals

Most countries are happy with two or three, in fact many have only had one, ever .  In Burma they like to do things diferently, changing the capital like everybody else changes their clothes.  Well maybe not quite, but they even changed the capital from Yangon only a couple of years ago – apparently because a fortune teller told the Generals to!

Anyway Here’s a couple of photos of Inwa, Sagaing, Amarapura and the snake temple at Paleik – where three snakes turned up one day in the 1970’s wrapped around a Buddha Image and decided to stay.

Around Mandalay october 2010

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Burmese Curry

This is pretty much the national meal in Myanmar.  A small portion of  meat or fish slowly stewed with mild spices till its almost falling off the bone and the oil and solids have separated.  Then it’s served with lots of different vegetables and condiments such as fried aubergine with fermented fish paste, green vegetables and garli isc, a really thick yellow lentil dhal and a thin broth made of watercress and tamarind.  Finally some fresh wingbeans, crisp cabbage and cucumber are common – nice to dip into the ubiquitous spicy dried fish condiments that also come with the meal.

The curry it’s self isn’t so much an indian style curry, its more South East Asian in flavour, but the whole meal similar to an Indian thali.  And like other SE Asian Food the vegetables are served crisp and green. 

Its a pretty well balanced and satisfying meal.  Loads of fresh green vegetables, pulses, some rice and a little bit of meat – or fish.  It’s especially good washed down with one of the local Myanmar beers.  I could eat this every day.

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Built from the 9th to the 13th century as the capital of the First Bamar Kingdom, Bagan is one of the most epic ancient landscapes ever created by man.  Over the years various Kings tried to put their stamp on the area by sponsoring projects to build massive monuments to their Therevada Buddhist Faith.  The first of the great kings Anawrahta conquered the Mon kingdom in the south and brought back their Tripitaka scriptures and adopted their new form of Therevada Buddhism.  It finally ended in 1287 when the Burmese army was defeated by Kublai Khan after refusing to pay tribute.

In those couple of hundred years they managed to do quite a bit of work.  Its literally temple after temple all the way into the distance and barely another tourist in sight.  Three to four thousand temples and monuments altogether- depending on who counts.  Small and large they dot a plain next to the mighty Irrawaddy river.  It’s an atmospheric place to be, especially as the sun is setting and you can see from one of the higher spots all out over the plain.

Anyway words – and photos – can’t do justice to this wonderous place.  Everybody should make this top of their to go list.  For the people that cant go I’ve got a few photos.

Bagan Temples 2010

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Shan Noodles

The first thing I’ve eaten in Burma thats really stood out.  The locals eat it at tea shops for their Brekkie or just as a snack.  They warm a bowl of fresh Rice noodles then throw on a spoon full of spicy peanut sauce, some chopped coriander and chinese chives, and a little diced roast chicken – then add so many condiments it would take all day to list them.  This is all served with some pickled greens and a bowl of chicken broth, which you can use to make a soup if you want to eat it that way.

Can’t begin to tell you how tasty a combo it is – crunchy nuts, spicy chicken and that great broth to moisten it all up.  Perfect to set you up for a day of temple hopping.

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Becoming Buddhist

Wanting to visit some of the more peaceful temples we ventured to the north on Yangon where we visited two amazing buddha statues. One  a huge reclining Buddha at chaukhtatgyi and another over the other side of the road surrounded in small monasteries, an equally massive seated buddha covered in precious stones. An older man who showed us around the area and took us around a couple of the monasteries – some of which are housed in old collonial buildings.


 We met the Abbot of one of the bigger monasteries, Surya, and he insisted we come to visit.  He force fed us fruit, cakes, dry fish and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  He was very happy I had a little undertanding of Buddhism and insisted we return there the next day to have breakfast.

We took a gift of new robes and had a little giving ceremony.  Then afterwards he declared that we are both Buddhists now.  He told us he had special powers and as long as we think of him we wont come to any harm – Thats pretty handy I thought.  Also he gave me my own Buddha relic in the form of a carved Buddha in a small tube. 

After this the monks had breakfast and we lay people waited till they had finished and then got stuck into the feast.  And what a feast it was – Fish, Pork, Fried greens, Rice, Soup and enough dried fish to feed the 4000. It was great.  The monks and their friends really looked after us.  We couldn’t have felt more at home.

We were sad to leave.  Definately one of the best experiences of our trip.

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Yangon – City of gold

The streets of Yangon are paved with gold – well the Monasteries and Stupas that are heavily sprinkled all over the city anyway. None more so than the famous Shwedagon Paya – the gilded gold stupa that dominates the city skyline. Apparently It’s gilded with over 60 tonnes of gold and gold leaf, the top is covered with all sorts of precious and semi-precious stones and finished with a 76 carat diamond. One local told us it was all worth 16 million billion dollars – A pretty interesting calculation, not sure where he got it from but its certainly worth a lot.

Costs aside its an amazing spectacle, especially when the sun is setting over it or when the lights are turned on after dark to light it up – I’m sure it’s just as impressive at dawn, but I was a little preoccupied at that time.

It’s a busy place at all times of the day, with worshippers popping by on their way past to and from work, so it never feels like a typical tourist trap experience. It’s still the firmly at the heart of Burmese Buddhism and locals far outnumber tourists. There are many hundreds of smaller stupas and Buddha statues that people come to worship at, each person with his or her particular affection. Many come to worship the stupa dedicated to day of their birth – there are eight days in the Myanmar week, Wednesday gets split in two, the Buddha was born on a Wednesday morning. Most people join in the clockwise walk around the stupa, but even with the thousands joining in it never seems to lose its spiritual feel – Also there are many peaceful sanctuaries where people can go for quiet meditation and prayer.

Shwedagon Isn’t the only Impressive sight that yangon has to offer. The whole city is teeming with gold clad religious sites. In the city centre is the Sule Paya, much smaller than Shwedagon but stuck in the middle of an intersection of two of the city’s main roads making it probably the most beautiful roundabout in the world – no sponsored landscape gardening here.

There is also the Botataung Paya with its revered gilded bronze Buddha which once lived in the Victoria and Albert but was returned in 1951. Also here you can walk around inside the mirrored interior of the Stupa and see what kind of relics they actually put inside one of these things – mostly Buddha carvings here, but with one Hair of the Buddha himself which is the big draw. There are some serious similarities with the reverence of relics in Europe here – see Turin shroud, Santiago etc.

It’s not all Stupas and Buddhas though Yangon has one of the finest collection of colonial architecture in the world. The British stamped their grand imperial design all over the older part of town especially on the area close to the waterfront – Most impessive are the Strand Hotel, The IWT building and the Ports Authority. Walking around this area is great for colonial history enthusiasts like myself.

In fact most of the city is great for a wander with markets galore, and ethnic Chinese and Indian areas with their respective cuisines. There are parks and lakes to wander round and a thousand places to stop for tea.

But this is only one city, I cant wait for the rest of the country.

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Piggy, Piggy, Piggy!!!

Well its been a long time, but the wait is over.  There is no social taboo surounding schweinefleisch in this country.  Its pork galore – Kebabs, Sausages, stir fry, balls, noodles, but my personal favourite is the dark soy braise that never fails to make my eyes water and my bell rumble.  Soft, moist well seasoned pork bits served over rice with a little green veggies, some braised chard and possibly a boiled egg, also dark and braised.  I could eat it every day.

This time I also discovered a variant with braised and crispy pork, served in an incredibly rich soup with those black eggs, some boiled pork blood and some beanstarch noodle things – and this is a brekkie dish.  God I love Bangkok

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I’ve certainly found my favourite, and it’s at the bottom of my street , In fact it was the first thing I ate getting back to Thailand – where am I going to go from here?

Duck noodles: rice vermicelli, lettuce, celery leaf, crispy shallots, braised duck and the best broth I’ve ever tasted.  Total perfection. 

Obviously it comes with the usual selection of condiments, dried chilli, nam prik, nam pla and sugar, but really I didn’t need any – it was just so perfect.  After my second time I did try to experiment a bit, with the soup tasting even better in the process.  I’m also adding a little sugar to the soup these days which I always though was strange, but the Thais always do it.  It really balances the sour taste in the vinegar – bitter in the celery. Sweet, sour, spicy, salty! Thats what its all about. Get it at the end of Samsen Soi 5, Bangkok

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Drinking this Tibetan ‘beer’ is great fun.  I’ts a kind of DIY drink where you get the components and mix it up yourself.  First millet is fermented in vats – known as tongba – then sealed off to mature for a month or so, depending on the outside temperature i’m told.  This is then put into a  another smaller barrel shape tongba which is brought to your table along with a flask of boiling water.  Mix some water and millet, wait two minutes and you’ve got yourself a tasty brew.  Keep topping the water up until all the alcohol is gone.  To avoid sucking up the millet a straw with a crimped end is provided – though drinking hot water through a straw is a dangerous game 

The locals here call it a beer but it’s much more like a grain wine like saki, with that yeasty sour flavour.  It must be a great for those cold winter nights, but I’m not sure i

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