10th Jan – Arrival in Myanmar

So we were up at the ungodly hour of 5.30am, for an hour and half journey to the airport, it was a long time due to the road blocks and protests, we were a little groggy from the night before, but excited to be on the move again!  The excitement waned a little when there were no delays and the mini van driver managed to drive through the streets of Bangkok at around 70km/hr ensuring we were at the airport in 30 mins later, a full 4.5 hrs before take off. We so could have done with another 2 hours in bed but that was not to be!! Then the flight from Bangkok was delayed by 30 mins for an ‘airshow’, at least that was the official explanation!

When we arrived at Myanmar and were greeted by the smiliest passport control officers we’ve ever encountered, then we made it through the screaming taxi drivers demanding our business in arrivals, to clamber on the free AirAsia shuttle bus to downtown Mandalay, a 46km journey which I don’t reckon Ryanair would provide. Our hotel staff were equally smiley and after dropping off the bags we went for a wander and were pleased to find everyone very smiley. Mandalay is built on a grid system so its easy to wander about but you’re in the street with the all the other traffic, be that mechanical or mammals. The area our hotel was in seemed to have a lot of industrial machinery shops and car part shops with pharmacies, restaurants and mobile phone shops peppered around.

As usual we were a little peckish, so started looking for street food, it was not so easy as Thailand, due to the language barrier we were ignored at the first place we approached, the second was more smiley.  So we had steamed Chinese buns with unidentifiable fillings, and steamed wontons with fish fillings and and accompanying red chilli sauce, this was all to take away for 35p. It was delicious, if a little difficult to eat on a dusty street corner, but we managed it.

We had time to get a taxi to see the sunset from Mandalay Hill with the idea that the taxi would wait for us and take us back.  The walk up was a dirty, barefoot 45 min walk up a temple, so we took off our shoes and started walking, and perspiring! There were a few tourists also doing this, we are starting to recognise a few on the circuit, and we dodged the bird poo on the floor! The views were great, and we did the walk in about 25mins, I guess the timings are for people less fit than ourselves, who have had a hard weeks training in Bangkok!!

Coming down we got a bit of pace up, and collected our shoes, whilst we were putting them on Guy saw our taxi driver drive off, literally into the sunset, with 2 people in his car, and he seemed to see us both look at him as well. OK, we were a little surprised at this, thought we should wait to see if he was just moonlighting, however with the growing buzz of mosquitoes and other taxi drivers asking for our business we decided to get a taxi home with a different driver. So, it wasn’t an all together successful beginning to Myanmar, however at least we were home, and had saved money and not got bitten!
We asked for a recomendation for tea, Myanmar food, and we got it! No other westerners were in the restaurant, thankfully they did have a menu in English, however, no prices.  There are two prices in this country one for locals and one for tourists, tourists usually pay 5 times more than locals, but at least now we can pay in the local currency, whereas previously it was all in dollars that went straight back to the government.

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The food was all tepid, which was odd, some of it was tasty, but compared to the balance you find in Thai food this was all fish sauce and fish tasting, even the meaty looking soup. It was interesting and as you can see from the photos, there was plenty to eat, including the raw salad of aubergine and okra! The mutton (goat) curry and meatballs were tasty and fish-less. We were well attended to, about 7 waiters to our table, and as another group of westerners came in they got the same treatment! Many people asked us where we were from, and ‘Wayne Rooney’ was the usual response, and entertaining when Guy alluded to the hairstyle he shares with him.

Bye, bye Bangkok

Well, it has been a fun few days, but as they say, all good things must come to an end, and for once this is a pretty timely end as it seems a whole load of protests are  blocking off streets and on Monday the rebels are planning on cutting off all government offices from electricity and water…..time to go! And we are hoping it will all have cleared up by the time we get back!

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Anyway, we had a Posh Day Out yesterday, being fans of his food we were keen to go the David Thompson’s restaurant, Nahm, and taste some posh Thai nosh, along with a strict dress code to adhere too which is worrying when you live in flip flops and shorts. It was also the same day we had to pick up our passports at 3.30pm with, hopefully, our Myanmar visas stamped in it, so for once we had a deadlines to meet. So we dressed in our best clobber, trousers, best flip flops (erm, only flip flops) and strappy top – with thin jumper to casually wrap around my shoulders in the middle aged way that is acceptable to posh restaurants – I even wore makeup for the first time since we left! We boarded the riverboat and sped across the waves to the sky train for some welcome air con, and were about 1hour early for lunch. So stopped at a posh coffee house for iced coffees, our new favourite nonalcoholic drinks. Ideal in 34° heat.

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We casually wandered into Nahm, and tried to act normal as if we were used to loads of waiters waiting on us. We ordered the set menu and another curry as it seemed plenty for our shrinking appetites. Weirdly they wouldn’t let us order the smoked fish curry we wanted as it was very very hot, even for Thais! Which made us wonder why put it on the menu!! We ordered cocktails, followed by a glass of sancerre for the lady and pinot noir for Guy, it was expensive but blooming delicious, OMG!!!

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The food was great, and for all you Food Clubbers, nearly as good as our last FC! The canape was a recipe we have done at home, and we thought ours had more flavour. The rest of the dishes were all very different, having different herbs – Asian penny wort, banana flower blossom – which are hard to find at home, even in waitrose, and amazing flavours. It was a great experience.

To note though, we have had equally amazing street food for a fraction of the cost.

We then had to get to the Myanmar embassy to get our passports back, the journey wasn’t far walking, and we were going to take a leisurely walk though Patpong to end up at the embassy, however we both got a little needy for the toilet, if you know what I mean, so ended up taking detours via posh hotels, japanese restaurants with very clean toilets, and a bookstore with equally clean toilets before totally jumping the massive queue outside the embassy, and getting elbows out and collecting passports in about 20 mins.  A bit different to the 3 hours we spent on Monday putting the application in!

We still had time to be Posh, so it was off the to Mandarin Oriental for a couple of cocktails, after being thoroughly checked out to see if we passed the dress code – my jumper was slung over my shoulders and they couldn’t see the curry Guy had dribbled down his shirt – so we were ok to proceed. It is strange going into places like this where rooms are £374 per night and we are paying £7 and you wonder what kind of people are staying here, but we were happy to have a couple of cocktails, watching the world go by and be happy that we are who we are!

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We then got the wrong river boat back, the tourist boat, and paid an extra 50 baht (£1) to return home, daily budget broken we had to then resort to Banglampu for fun and cheap beer, alas the night disintegrated into a few beers, 2 bottles of sang som Thai whiskey, more live music, a bit of Radiohead, Tracy Chapman, Eric Clapton, chillli peppers, and a blooming pizza on the way home! The pizza cost considerably less than lunch!

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Today we have been enjoying the delights of Bangkok by buying toothpaste, extra mosquito repellant, Fred perry knock-off tee-shirts and D&G pants – mainly Guy doing the shopping today!

We then booked the 6am bus to the airport, and needed to recover from the shock of getting up so early by having a few beers in a cheap bar. Cheap bars mean interesting people, so we sat next to a Norwegian who is on his second Thai wife, and enlightened us as to why the Thai democracy doesn’t work / has been bought and his Thai wife told us how she ate the white grubs that lived in buffalo ‘waste’ when she was little and lived in the countryside. You don’t get that kind of conversation in your local English boozer!!

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4 – 5 January in Bangkok

We had a day of planning the Myanmar trip, involved a lot of sitting around on internet, as dull as it sounds! Booked flights, flying 10 -24 Jan, so we have a week to play in Bangkok!  We (nearly)stuck to our aim of not drinking until 6pm, had a beer at 4pm, not bad! We tried a few street stalls out for food, had noodle soups which were delicious.

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We then decided as it was Saturday night we would celebrate by having a small bottle of sang som Thai whiskey for old time sakes.  Bottle of whisky, soda and bucket of ice ordered, we realised how few bars were offering this now.  It used to be the alcoholics drink of choice, maybe there are less alcoholics here (which there is no evidence of elsewhere) or it is a cheap way of getting drunk and it is better business to have the tourists drinking beer…….? Anyhow, we were flying after just one small bottle, we used to have more than that 15 years ago! Another couple beers later we were back home, tucked up in bed.

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Next day the heads were slightly worse for wear, dull thumping whisky hangover in 34 degree heat, only air conditioning would help, so it was off to the shopping malls for bartering and eyewateringly expensive shops – that was when we wandered into the ‘wrong’ shopping mall that wasn’t full of counterfeit goods!  As Bangkok is easily navigable now we quite delicately jumped onto the river boat and made the whole journey without incident, then on the sky train and we were shooting through Bangkok’s skyline to Siam square! We then had a great time in the Thai food court at the top of the MBK shopping mall, I had chicken laab with rice, Guy had a pink fishy soup…..I won that round of food roulette!  Guy then successfully bartered for a ruck sac, fancy orange one, we then had photos taken in front of the pink penguins that were the xmas decorations, well, why wouldn’t you?

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By this time it was dark so we saw Bangkok by night, all lit up, with all the posh hotel bars with posh beer gardens overlooking the river on our river boat ride home.  On our route back there was a massive street market up the road from us, full of food stalls, crafty stuff, second hand clothes – probably donated from travellers who have gone feral – music, and fashion /dance shows. Apparently this was the second night of this, we clearly missed it the previous night, this whisky has a lot to answer for! So we had a load of street food for tea………and had no unwanted side effects! Bonus!

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BANGKOK

Its good to be back. After 15 years we flew back in to Bangkok which is one of our favourite cities. Polluted, noisy, smelly, colourful and in your face it’s a sensory overload. If life seems pedestrian and in black and white, a visit here gives you full colour High Definition. Its a constant thrill to just wander around with your eyes, ears and especially your nose being assaulted. Monks, hawkers, tuktuk drivers, masseurs, office workers, food sellers, package holidaymakers, feral travellers and local shoppers all share pavement space in a city lived on the streets.

At the risk of sounding nostalgic, 15 years ago, Kao San Road in Banglampu was the centre of the S E Asia backpacker scene, offering rooms, laundry services, visas, transport, nightlife and most importantly, pizza. The next street over, Thanon Rambuttri had authentic Thai food stalls serving locals their evening meal.  As everywhere, things have moved on and there are now additional services available. Kao San now has two mconalds, Boots the chemist and a starbucks and Burger King round the corner. On Thanon Rambuttri, the food stalls also offer pizza and have huge bars showing premier league football.

Other changes we have noticed are tourists drinking beer whilst walking about, doner kebab stalls, massage stalls, cashpoints everywhere, families of tourists (only backpackers before), long wheelbase tuktuks, and best of all, live acoustic music.

We checked in to the same guesthouse we stayed at in 98 and caught the river taxi down to the post office to send a parcel home. We did this journey a lot before and we both felt like it was only yesterday that we were here. Time at its stretchy-ist. We wandered about trying to soak everything in and grazed at street food stalls. Its cheaper to eat out than cook at home so there are food stalls everywhere. Al had a noodle soup with searingly hot chili (choking and a runny nose) and I opted for phad Thai, the national dish of fried noodles. Then a few cold beers. Chang, Leo and Singha.

We ended up at a bar with live acoustic sets and after a month away loved hearing Radiohead, Chilli Peppers and rather aptly Jonny Cash’s Ring of Fire.

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2nd Jan – Negombo Cookery Lesson

On our last day in Sri Lanka we managed to arrange a cookery lesson.      We turn up at 11am, cooked then ate the fruits of our labour. At first there were about 7 curries planned, in the end we did ‘just’ 6 as we couldn’t face eating any more! The recipes are written down in guys notebook for prosperity, however we did a fish curry, a chicken curry – which will be done for lucky guests to our house soon – an aubergine curry, a bitter gourd sambal, pumpkin curry, dal curry and how to steam rice! All in 2.5 hours, Guy was quite stressed as she was doing more than one curry at a time, which is not his way of working, done his way it would have taken most of the day! However it was a delicious meal, we ate about 10 % of it and donated the rest to the kitchen!
The rest of the afternoon was spent killing time til we had to go to the airport for a 1am flight to Bangkok!

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31st Dec – Galle to Negombo. Happy New Year!

New years eve and today we travelled to Negombo, Sri Lanka’s version of Benidorm and perfect for a celebratory drink. Liquor licences here are prohibitively expensive so many bars and restaurants don’t have beer on the menu but are happy to sell it to you anyway. In Negombo though, huge flashing neon signs advertised The Rodeo Pub, The White Rose and Sherryland.

The day started normally though with Al having a traditional Sri Lankan breakfast of Chicken sausage, cheese and potato frittata with french fries. Then tuktuk to train station and another 3 hours standing by the open door on the wrong side of a beautiful coastline journey. Time was eased by chatting to an interesting couple who lived in Shanghai and assured us that China won’t get their act together to invade. We arrived in Colombo, the capital and then caught another train for 1 1/2 hrs to Negombo. We got chatting to a young travel agent who then arranged for his tuktuk driving mate to take us to our guesthouse free of charge. A very kind gesture and different from the usual tuktuk transactions. Eager to check out the evenings options, we dumped the bags and headed straight out for a recce of the nightlife. We noticed we were finally spoilt for options and watched people making their preparations for the night to come. Restauranteurs laying tables and bar owners hosing down pavements. We decided that the live jazz, fun party and live DJ at the best restaurant in town was possibly not our scene and planned to just wing it. On our way back we saw the imaginatively named “Pub” and broke the journey for a bottle of Lion Stout which at 8.8% is a fearsome brew and one Al hadn’t tried yet. Then on to the White Rose where we met a couple from Sedgley who owned properties in Florida, Malaysia, Southern Spain and Dubai. Back for a shower, then out to celebrate New Year.

On the way to the bars a local shouted hello at us which is usually followed by a sales pitch, but this time he asked us

Are you happy in your life?

We arrived at the Rodeo pub and sat next to some Norwegians who were eating prawns the size of dwarf lobsters. We noticed the bar had a cage on the outside and we weren’t sure if we were being kept in or whether the locals would get rowdy. This was the first place we have seen locals out on the lash and they certainly enjoy their europop. On to Sherryland which unfortunately had no sherry but did have very good cocktails where we saw an arsenal of fireworks to see in 2014.

A bit worse for wear we headed home and passed many locals in the same state shouting happy new year at every opportunity. Then we came across a Christian mass a few doors up from our guesthouse. Hundreds of solemn worshippers stood in silence in the church grounds and on the street outside. The contrast to where we had come from was quite shocking and we shuffled along failing to be inconspicuous.

At the guesthouse we were equally surprised to find the gates shut. I tried unsuccessfully to reach through and open them so we did what any self respecting tourist would do and climbed over the 5 foot wall into the garden. Al got a leg up first and just as I was climbing down she simply opened the latch and the gates swung open.

HAPPY NEW YEAR

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