Category Archive for Food + Theme Restaurants
De Pijp, hip neighborhood of Amsterdam. Halloween travels & speaking at Experience Bucharest tourism conference!
Get your fangs out… Halloween 2017 is going to be bloody fabulous!
This year, I’ll be in three European countries famous for Vampires, Alien, and Jack the Ripper. (Any guesses? The reveal is below.)
First, I’m excited to officially announce: I’m off to the land of vampires, Transylvania! I was invited to attend and speak at Experience Bucharest, the largest project ever to promote tourism in Romania’s capital and beyond. For several days, worldwide travel influencers will be gathering to see the capital through the eyes of its passionate residents.
It’s been my long-time dream to visit the ultimate Goth destination, and experience the dark underground culture. I’m honored to be speaking on at Travel Massive’s “Future of Tourism in Romania” conference, on a panel about travel and social media.
Follow along my social media @LaCarmina and hashtag #experiencebucharest to join the fun, including a visit to the castle of Count Dracula. (Above, photographer Joey Wong captured me in front of UK’s Whitby Abbey, an inspiration for Bram Stoker’s novel.)
While in Europe, I’m also teaming up with Switzerland Tourism and La Gruyère Tourisme… to visit the H.R. Giger bar in Gruyeres!
Fans of the Alien movies will immediately recognize these eerie bio-mechanical works, which form the backbone of the art design in the series. I’m fascinated with Giger’s imagination, and can’t wait to see his sci-fi bar and museum. (Images above by Kristin Thorogood Photography).
Finally… I’ll be in London, England for the first time in ages! Time to reunite with spooky friends, and check out the many dark Halloween events in the city. If you have suggestions for what to see and do (around the end of October), please let me know in the comments.
(To get you in the mood, here is my friend John’s London Goth travel guide. His photo above shows a store in Camden Market.)
Since I’m off to Europe again, I thought it was nigh time to release my final article about the Netherlands.
A while back, I shared my tour of Noord, the artistic district north of Centraal Station. Now, I’ll take you around De Pijp, another Amsterdam hipster neighborhood.
De Pijp translates to “the pipe,” for reasons that are unclear (perhaps it refers to the winding streets, or a former gas company with that name). In line with this spirit, the borough has a funky, good-humored vibe. Both travellers and locals come here for the bustling Albert Cuyp market, and to dine in ethnic restaurants.
My friends and I went for lunch at Bazar Restaurant, which was recommended by several people. The word “bazaar” aptly describes the tw0-level space filled with Middle Eastern decor and music to delight the senses. When I walked in, I was transported back to the time I visited the markets of Morocco.
(Address: Albert Cuypstraat 182, 1073 Amsterdam, Netherlands)
– I love my alien sweater, which looks similar to the keyboard emoji. There’s a similar alien shirt here, and more sci-fi fashion below:
I began with a cup of fresh Moroccan mint tea, while Leyla perused the gluten free menu. Bazar has options for everyone, including vegan and vegetarian plates.
As you can see, we ordered a bit of everything! Bazar’s dishes take inspiration from the cuisine of North Africa and the Middle East — everything is moderately priced, and perfect for sharing with a group. I particularly loved the grape leaves, garlic sauce and falafel that came in one of the mixed platters.
A visit to Bazar feels like stepping into a Far Eastern fairy tale. I lounged under the high ceilings, next to these spectacular hand-painted tiled walls.
The vibrant spirit continues right outside Bazaar, at Albert Cuypmarkt. Six days a week, this street is packed with vendors selling everything from hippie skirts to stroopwafels.
I think we fit in rather well with the creative spirit of De Pijp! (My alien top is similar to this one; browse more styles below:)
De Pijp was once a working class quarter, and home to residents of many nationalities. Today, the neighborhood remains filled with color. Leyla spreads her wings on Gerard Doustraat, a street lined with indie shops.
These rainbow flags beckoned us into De Kinderfeestwinkel, a store for kid’s party goods.
Doesn’t this feel like a Wes Anderson dreamscape? Masks and gadgets and hats everywhere!
Arina couldn’t resist taking home this magical stuffed unicorn. My attention went to the rack of Miffy books, of course.
The smiling ghost light stole my heart. We wandered past a 3D printing shop, and saw these “octo-pussycat” designs.
The other “hipster district,” Noord, is more for experimental art and murals. If you’re looking for indie fashion and cafes, De Pijp is the place to be.
Case in point: Anna + Nina, a shop with eclectic jewellery and old-world home accessories that reflect their love of travel.
The boutique is filled with textures: a floral silk dressing gown, golden leaves, fresh blossoms.
If I had more space in my apartment, I’d set up a curving mid-century modern floor lamp like this one. Many of the stores in De Pijp sell both clothing and interior decor, mostly by local designers.
Pick up a cactus, or Michael Jackson’s glittery mask… that’s the humorous spirit of De Pijp!
In the evening, my friends and I had dinner at Supperclub. The restaurant is designed like a nightclub, with flamboyant light projections and quirky performances throughout the evening.
All of the diners get to lounge on beds while eating dinner! Between the courses of the set menu, we watched dance and art performances right in front of us. My favorite was a woman with a giant eyeball for a head — she came up to each bed and interacted with guests, in funny ways.
Later in the evening, the venue turned into a dance club. Cheers to the fantastic staff, for keeping our wine-glasses filled and making this night a delight.
I leave you with some snaps from our walks around Amsterdam. I was drawn to the city’s modern architecture, and never-ending rows of bikes.
Amsterdam is great for wandering around and popping into stores. Arina is peering into Nunc, which carries handmade, fair-trade and recycled products.
We saw cute skeleton cats and robots in one window…
… and posse of Miffies in another. (Psst: I wrote this guide to Miffy stores in Amsterdam, which includes De Winkel Van Nijntje, Mr. Maria studio and a chocolaterie).
We couldn’t leave without a stroll through the Red Light district, home to brothels and marijuana cafes. Note: it’s forbidden to take photos of the girls in the glass windows. If you attempt to take an image, you’ll get shooed off by their security.
Tourists can see live erotic entertainment at venues like Casa Rosso, which has a cheeky red elephant mascot.
If you’re planning a visit to Amsterdam, here are all my Netherlands offbeat travel tips on a single page. I hope you find them helpful.
I had such a great time with my friends in Amsterdam, and I’m sure we will be back soon.
And now, time to prepare for London, Bucharest and Gruyeres! If you have travel advice for me, or know of events happening in these cities at the end of October, please let me know in the comments. Here’s to the bloodiest Halloween yet.
Yangon’s top travel attractions! Sule pagoda, Circular Railway, Kalaywa Buddhist monastery lunch, Le Planteur.
Ready for more decadent adventures with Yukiro?
I’ve been saving this final dispatch from Myanmar, since it was the most eye-opening destination we’ve visited together. We’ll give you a run-down of the best attractions in Yangon. The city has lots of fascinating sights, including the golden Karaweik Palace…
… and the lunch procession of Buddhist nuns and monks at Kalaywa Tawyakyaung Monastery.
We’ll also take you to Yangon Circular Rail. It goes all around the city in a loop, which lets you glimpse slices of life in Burma.
But first, the epic news… Yukiro and I are going to India and Malaysia!
This dream trip has been brewing for some time, and it’s finally happening. We’ll be visiting Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi and North India — including New Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal), Jaipur and Varanasi (Indian Golden Triangle, and holy city where the Ganges river flows).
Can’t wait to reunite with this queen again. Be sure to follow @lacarmina Instagram and Snapchat to see snippets from our Indian epic. And if you have travel tips, we are all ears.
To get you in the mood, let’s flash back to Burma. Yukiro and I were endlessly inspired by the local culture we encountered.
We fully embraced the Southeast Asian elegant fashion and languorous poses. We drew inspiration from the “longyi” skirts and “thanaka” yellow sun-protection paste, worn by both local men and women. (All photos by Sniper Chau.)
Many travelers know little about Burma / Myanmar (you may call it either, according to leader Aung San Suu Kyi) — other than that it’s the most Buddhist country on the planet. We wanted to learn more about the Theravada traditions, so our ParkRoyal hotel driver took us to Kalaywa Monastery, located about 20 minutes from downtown.
(Address: Naga Hlainggu Hillock, Yangon / Rangoon)
Aim to arrive around 10:30-11:30am, so that you can witness the Buddhist lunch procession. About a thousand monks and nuns line up, and walk through this food station run by volunteers. They gracefully receive hot food, vegetarian dishes and fresh fruit in their metal alms bowls.
For most of the Burmese population, Buddhism is an important part of their daily practice. These volunteers work together to prepare and serve the food, in the true spirit of loving-kindness.
In Burma, there are approximately 500,000 male monks, and 75,000 nuns. Lay-people often become “temporary” monks as well, such as by dedicating a month or so to living the monastic lifestyle.
Once they received their alms, the young practitioners walked over to the separate dining halls, where they sat and waited until everyone had been served.
They spend their lives in the kyaung (temple-monastery), where they devote every day to study and practice.
The Theravada Buddhist line of bhikkhuni (nuns) died out in Burma, so the women created a new type of lineage. These “thilashin” take vows, shave their heads and wear the pink robes — sometimes from a very young age.
(Many smiled gently at me, perhaps because of my matching pink hair and fashion!)
Over 1000 Buddhists live at Kalaywa Monastery. The community gladly supports their education and basic needs.
All over Myanmar, you’ll often see red-robed monks making their rounds for alms in the mornings. Even the poorest community members will prepare a dish of food, and dole out a serving into the bowl of each Buddhist that passes by.
Almsgiving is not a form of begging, but the local tradition that lets laypeople give respect to Buddhist monks and nuns, and support their spiritual journey.
When everyone was seated in the long benches, the monks clasped their hands together and chanted. Finally, it was time to break open the fruit and eat from the alms bowls, using their fingers.
We noticed a few cats walking around the tables! True to Buddhist spirit of compassion, these young men made sure the kitties had something to eat.
We encourage you to visit Kalaywa Monastery to learn more about the Burmese Buddhist tradition. If you walk around the grounds, you’ll see some beautiful flowers and gardens as well.
Visiting Karaweik Palace is another way to experience Burma’s culture. Located on Kandawgyi Lake in central Yangon, this golden floating restaurant is based on the design of the Pyigyimon royal barge.
Only customers are allowed inside, so we stopped for tea and pandan leaf-flavored ice cream. (It’s also possible to order Burmese food, and there is an international buffet as well).
We enjoyed cooling off in Karaweik Palace’s golden hall, and watching an energetic puppet show on the stage.
The restaurant hosts a Royal Culture Show every evening, with all types of Burmese performances. Yukiro could easily be mistaken for one of the dancers!
We listened to traditional songs performed by this singer and instrumentalist, who is strumming the Saung-gauk (Burmese arched harp).
Near the entrance of Karaweik restaurant, this stylish woman did a thanaka demonstration. She showed us how to grind bark to make the yellow-white cosmetic paste, which is worn to soften the skin and protect it from sun damage.
Karaweik Hall is a bit touristy, but it’s a fun spot to take photos and learn about Burmese culture.
My ponytail reveals my cobweb undercut, or shaved and dyed hair tattoo! My hairstyle and color are by Stephanie Hoy at Sugar Skull Studio in Vancouver, as always.
As Seinfeld might say: What’s the deal with these “quacky” gold-headed ducks? Are they dragon boats, or rubber duckies?
In fact, they represent a mythical bird in Burmese folklore with a melodious cry, called the karaweik.
The golden barge gave us perfect views of Shwedagon Pagoda, Kandawgyi lake (with a tall fountain) and park.
Another top attraction is — surprisingly enough — riding the rails. Yangon Circular Railway is similar to the Yamanote in Tokyo: a local commuter rail that forms a loop around the city.
Operated by Myanmar Railways, the line stretches 29 miles and has 39 stops. We went to Yangon Central Railway Station to check it out. (Address: Kun Chan Rd, Yangon, Myanmar)
Yangon’s Circle Rail is extremely popular among the locals. There are about 200 coaches, which carry 100,000 to 150,000 commuters daily.
Yukiro and I enjoy seeing daily life, wherever we travel. Yangon’s central station had a Complaint Center… but there was nobody there to complain to! (Now that’s something to complain about.)
Many tourists ride the circular loop, which takes about three hours to complete. It’s a way to glimpse different parts of Yangon, and see what day-to-day life is like for the people who live here.
We decided the train journey would be a bit too hot and time-consuming… so we ended up simply visiting the Circular Train station.
As you can see, there’s no AC. The seats fill up quickly, so arrive early if you want to nab one.
Such cute and classic trains rolling through, with a choo-choo.
Yangon Circular Railway was first built during colonial times by the British. Today, the tracks have been modernized and expanded, and there are even ads on the front of the cars.
Each train ticket costs the equivalent of 15 cents! Ticket prices are kept low because of ministry subsidies, so this public transportation system is accessible to everyone.
Hello, boys of Burma…
(If you want to hop on this train with them, here’s info about getting tickets, timetables and more.)
Only in Myanmar, you’ll see people wearing thanaka (sometimes in intricate designs) on their faces.
The future of the railway is optimistic. Japan is currently working with Yangon city development to improve and expand public transport.
Yangon is a very safe city, and we rarely ran into touts or beggars. At the station, everyone we encountered was respectful.
Baby on board. (Images by Sniper Chau.)
Even if you don’t end up taking the three-hour ride, Yangon’s Circular Railway is worth checking out!
Another must-see is Maha Bandula Park, which features a fountain pond and sits next to Sule Pagoda. The park dates back to the late 19th century, and is currently named after General Maha Bandula who fought the British in the First Anglo-Burmese War.
During colonial times, the centerpiece of the park was a statue of Queen Victoria. After 1948, the queen was replaced by Independence Monument, an obelisk that commemorates Burmese independence from the British. (You can see it behind us.)
It’s impossible to miss Sule Pagoda, a glimmering golden dome in the center of Yangon’s downtown.
This spiritual site supposedly enshrines a hair of the Buddha. (It’s located at the junction of Sule Pagoda Road and Maha Bandula Road.)
Sule Pagoda was the focal point of many political demonstrations over the years. Protesters gathered here during the 1988 uprisings and 2007 Saffron Revolution, both of which faced violent pushback from the military government that was then in power.
Today, it’s a peaceful Buddhist temple where city-dwellers can meditate.
Sule Pagoda is about the size of a small block — much smaller than Shwedagon Pagoda, which we visited too. You’ll see Buddha statues and golden architecture in both places, but if you only have time to visit one, go to the magnificent Shwe Dagon.
Buddhists can place offerings in a miniature golden ship, which has the mythical karaweik bird at the front. With a system of pulleys, the boat sails up to the stupa.
This Burmese child seemed as earnest as her mother in her reflections.
Finally, you can’t leave Yangon without a fine meal. We headed towards Inya Lake, a popular recreational and romantic area. On the way, look out for Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound, where she spent years under house arrest. (We spotted the outside gate, which has a portrait of her father on the top.)
This photo illustrates the fun of driving in Myanmar. You’ll see “boys in the back” of trucks, lounging about. And when the vehicle needs to change lanes, everyone participates in the turn signal!
Yukiro and I were having dinner at the highly-rated Le Planteur. As soon as we saw this glorious French colonial manor, lit by lanterns, we knew we were in for a special meal.
Address: 80 University Avenue, Bahan Township, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)
Le Planteur is all about beautiful service and thoughtful touches — such as this table by the water, covered in fresh rose petals.
We explored the grounds, blooming with lush foliage and secret lounge areas. Many come here for cocktails and light bites.
How beautiful is the waterfront of Inya Lake? In the distance, there’s a rowboat illuminated in lights.
Inside, we were excited to see a high-tech wine dispenser wall! With a touch of a card, you could fill your glass with varietals from around the world.
Le Planteur pays tribute to the French colonial days. The manor is filled with glamorous private lounges, perfect for large gatherings.
The decor ranges from 19th century style red couches to a chandelier made from white feathers, framed by peek-a-boo vintage photography.
Founder Boris Granges was born in Switzerland, and brought his fine dining expertise to Myanmar. You may order a-la-carte, but I recommend Le Planteur’s degustation menu, which lets you taste the chef’s selection of the day. (It can also be customized if you are vegetarian.)
We started with delightful amuse-bouches of tuna, and ordered a second round of the freshly-baked brown bread rolls.
The French cuisine is five stars perfection. Le Planteur uses the freshest ingredients, with a focus on subtle vegetable flavors. Every dish is beautifully executed and presented. On the right, this is my favorite dessert of the year so far: a black chocolate dome with passion fruit heart and tonka bean biscuit.
Le Planteur is the place to be for an exquisite meal in Myanmar. (Be sure to browse the artisan shop at the entrance too.)
(For other restaurant suggestions, including homestyle Thai and Burmese food, check out this post.)
Did you enjoy our Yangon city guide? Here are all my Myanmar posts in one place — we hope to be back soon, to hang out with our new punk and Goth friends. But now, a new journey to South Asia awaits…
We’ll be exploring India and Malaysia! Add @lacarmina Instagram and Snapchat for the first peek.
Volunteering with Punk Rock bands in Yangon, Myanmar! The Rebel Riot, Human Rights concert, Rangoon restaurants.
Believe it or not — there’s a 1970s-style punk rock subculture in Myanmar!
Yukiro and I loved getting to know Kyaw Kyaw, the leader of Burmese punk band Rebel Riot, and his studded, tattooed, Mohawk-ed friends.
As you’ll see in this post, Yangon’s punks play hard. But they also give back to their community in a huge way: Kyaw Kyaw runs two charities that directly aid the homeless, and children in need.
Yukiro and I called the theme of our Burma trip “Monks and Punks.” The two groups have more in common than you’d think: they’re all about inclusivity, compassion, and taking action to support others.
(You might remember from our Shwedagon Pagoda photos that this is the world’s most Buddhist nation.)
Before we arrived in Yangon, I reached out to The Rebel Riot band on Facebook (as they are one of the most prominent punk groups in the scene). We were keen to volunteer for their charities, and get to know Burma’s alternative, underground side.
Singer and songwriter Kyaw Kyaw welcomed us warmly. He invited us to Human Rights Day, where The Rebel Riot was performing an acoustic set.
The free event took place outdoors, in People’s Park (not far from the famous golden temple).
As I mentioned in my first post about Myanmar, the country was formerly under a military dictatorship, which put up strict barriers for freedom of expression. Now, Aung San Suu Kyi is the democratic leader. The state of human rights is still a work in progress here (as it is everywhere — I’m not going to get into the specific politics). Still, it’s significant to have event like this one, run by young Burmese who believe in this mission.
We were thrilled to meet locals at the event. I was impressed by their passion: they were here to stand up and speak out, for human equality and freedoms.
A lot of friendly faces came up to us, and asked to take photos together. Yukiro’s makeup and fashion were quite the sensation!
In recent years, the LGBT community has become more open and accepted in Myanmar. Still, same sex activity remains technically illegal, and the gay night at J-One Music Bar is sometimes shut down.
The King n Queens Organisation is doing wonderful work to advocate for equality in Burma. As their motto says, “Human rights are LGBT rights.”
In addition to fighting the discriminatory laws, these LGBT groups are working to increase awareness and education. One giant placard contained a “glossary” with definitions in both English and Burmese. The terms include queer, pansexual and transgender (which are not instinctively known in this population).
Next to People’s Park, we noticed a creepy abandoned theme park! This is the old “Happy World,” which looks like a derelict, haunted version Disney’s Fantasia. (It should be re-named “Unhappy World,” don’t you think?”
Anyone can access the run-down rides — so naturally, we posed inside the creepy roller-coaster cars. (More images at the end of this article; all photos by Sniper Chau.)
To celebrate Human Rights Day, various Burmese bands took the stage and performed. The Rebel Riot band did an acoustic set with their friends. Between songs, Kyaw Kyaw spoke from the heart about the importance of this cause.
As he put it — he’s an advocate for human rights because as a human being, how could he not be? The fundamental rights to equality, free expression, and protection against unjust persecution should be extended to everyone in society.
The Rebel Riot’s songs conveyed these messages with power.
As Kyaw Kyaw’s nonprofits gain more recognition, many are coming to Myanmar to volunteer directly alongside him. My friends and I brought a suitcase full of school supplies for Books Not Bombs, which provides children with educational support (especially in conflict and rural regions of the country).
Every Monday night, his group Food Not Bombs purchases food and distributes it to the homeless and needy in Yangon. At first, locals weren’t sure what to make of these tattooed and pierced punk volunteers! However, their dedication spoke for itself, and the rockers are now welcomed each week with hugs.
The logo at left (two people giving a high five) summed up the positive spirit of Human Rights Day, Yangon.
In the audience, we saw others with large gauge earrings, alternative dyed and shaved hair, and DIY studded and painted clothing.
It’s interesting (but perhaps not surprising) that punk ideologies have taken hold in Myanmar — as the country has recently broken free of military rule, yet continues to struggle with regional clashes and authoritarianism.
We have full confidence in the young Burmese volunteers we met. They’re progressive and full of energy, and will shape their homeland in a positive, inclusive direction.
We wanted to get to know The Rebel Riot and friends better, so we made arrangements to hang out the following evening.
It turned out to be a grand gathering of Goths and Punks, at Rangoon Tea House! (Address: Ground Floor, 77-79 Pansodan Rd (Lower Middle Block), Yangon, Myanmar).
We sat down at a long table, and the boys laid out their tattooed arms. I see A for anarchy, hell on the knuckles, a skull, and two gasmasks on these sleeves.
In true punk spirit, many of these tattoos are DIY. I spot 666…
A lot of young locals and travelers come to dine at Rangoon Tea House, which is one of the highest rated restaurants in the city. The restored two-level space is reminiscent of the British colonial era, with classic molded ceilings and lanterns.
Rangoon Tea House is well known for its drink menu. The world-class cocktails are inspired by Asian flavors, such as a jasmine gin and tonic, and “Smoking Cheroot” with smoky cinnamon, bourbon and Hennessy, served on a thanaka tray.
At the entrance, we saw the staff preparing tea from the finest grade pindica leaves, aerated with a long pour from above.
Goths in the back, and punks in the front! I’m standing next to Esther, a Gothic makeup artist, and Ze Ze, vocalist and composer of the band Maze of Mara. We quickly became fast friends — amazing how you can find like-minded spirits in the most unexpected of places.
“System Error” — so good. Tattooing isn’t taboo here, as it is in Asian countries like Korea and Japan. There’s also a history of tattoos among ethnic groups in Burma, up until the 20th century.
As you can see from our smiles, we loved the food at Rangoon Tea House. The mohinga (Burmese fish noodle soup) was so delicious that we ordered two bowls! This national favorite dish is made from fresh Rakhine daggertooth fish, and perfectly balances sweet, sour, salty and spicy.
The menu is a homage to Rangoon’s past — when traders from different countries mingled with colonial settlers and locals. We ate up every bite of the Indian-inspired curries, biryanis, samosas, rotis. Other highlights included British Pimm’s, and traditional Burmese “ohn note kauk” chicken and noodles in coconut broth.
As you can see, the boys were fans of the Burmese beers.
A meal to remember, followed by a night of more laughs, drinks and shenanigans!
On a different evening, we dined at the amazing Yangon Green Gallery — a Thai restaurant that is the favorite hangout of expats and young artistic types. We were sold on the chalkboard sign: “Let us tickle your tastebuds and fill your stomachs.”
Green Gallery Address: Mahabandoola No 58, 52 Street Lower Block, Between Mahabandoola and Merchant, Yangon 1116, Burma.
The friendly owner, Bo, welcomed us with gusto, and insisted that we make ourselves at home. Once again, we found a kindred spirit — we bonded over the 1980s songs that she broadcast all night, from Europe to Eurythmics!
Bo used to live in Thailand, and brought these traditional flavors to her cooking. At the same time, Green Gallery is as modern as it gets: she brought us gin and tonics with colorful straws, and we admired the industrial, bohemian design of the restaurant.
The Lady, Aung Sang Suu Kyi, looks over the space. It’s wonderful to see women like Bo put their hearts into their independent businesses, and succeed.
My mouth is watering as I reminisce about our meal at Green Gallery! The menu is simple, with a focus on fresh and healthy — yet comforting — Thailand dishes. The items change with the seasons; we started with spicy salad Larb Mhoo, and adored the panang and green curries with rice. Leave room for the coconut sticky rice and mango dessert, which is full of love.
As you can see, the tables fill up quickly, especially with groups of expats. The restaurant also hosts a monthly Green Party that draws in lots of friendly, young faces.
We could have stayed all night, grooving to the 80s songs and joking with Bo about thumb sizes. There’s no better place in Yangon to get a heart-warming meal than Green Gallery. Please say hi to her for us!
We chatted with someone at the next table, and he suggested that we visit Root Kitchen and Bar for a “Wa-Tang” cocktail. His recommendation was on point: the drinks are perfectly concocted with ingredients like tea, lemongrass, ginger, and a special Wa-region liquor made from rice and barley grains.
Root is a new restaurant and bar, which pays homage to the Wa people who live in Shan State. This region of Myanmar is often dismissed as a drug and conflict-ridden borderland, so these owners wanted to showcase Wa culture, art, and food in a comfortable space.
Later, we met Bo and other new friends at the nearby 50th Street Bar (there are lots of bars and hip restaurants in this district). This venue is known for its live concerts — that evening, we watched several alternative bands perform.
Long time no see… Yukiro and La Carmina are back!
At the end of 2016, we journeyed to Yangon, Myanmar — and it turned out to be one of our most meaningful trips to date.
There’s so much to share from this beautiful Buddhist country. We met creative locals, volunteered, and immersed ourselves in Burmese culture. (Above: Yukiro sits in front of a patala, or traditional xylophone, and I’m wearing the traditional longyi skirt and thanaka face paste).
Until a year or two ago, Myanmar was difficult for tourists to access. Now, the country has changed its government (with Aung San Suu Kyi in power) and opened its doors. Visitors can easily get an E-Visa: we filled out the government application online, paid $50 US, and were approved in a day.
More airlines have also launched routes to the newly-built Yangon Airport. We flew on my long-time favorites, HK Express: they have a direct, fast and inexpensive flight from Hong Kong to Yangon. In just over three hours, we were in the land of Buddhist monks.
We were treated like queens at ParkRoyal Hotel Yangon, our home base for this trip. The hotel sent a BMW to pick us up from the airport, and later take us around the city. The staff greeted us at the door, and showed us to our rooms on the exclusive Orchid Club level.
Yukiro and I loved the old-world charm of this luxury hotel. As you can see above, ParkRoyal gracefully incorporates Burmese art into the design. The location is also ideal: right by cultural attractions including the golden Shwedagon Pagoda.
As part of the Orchid Club privileges, we were spoiled with freshly-baked treats every day. Such a joy to come back from sightseeing, and find little sandwiches and sweets awaiting us.
It’s a relief to visit a country without any tourist trappings (such as fast food chains and tour buses). However, this also means Myanmar can be a challenging place for some travelers to navigate (for example, streets and numbers are not easy to find). We were glad we had the ParkRoyal staff to assist us, and these comfortable rooms to return to.
● You can book a room at ParkRoyal Yangon here, at a discounted rate.
● Here’s where you can get a black off-the-shoulder top like the one I’m wearing.
In our rooms, we found these cute primers on the local etiquette. The illustrations explain regional quirks that everyone should respect, such as not pointing to objects with one’s feet, or taking photos of pregnant women without permission. (I thought the above cartoon was common knowledge… until I saw someone grab a monk to “pose” him for a photo!)
Local art and music fills the hallways of ParkRoyal Yangon. We watched a lady play the saung (national string instrument) in the lobby, and admired these traditional Burmese carved wood panels.
The hotel staff even provided us with longyi, or long single cloth skirts that are tied at the waist, and worn by both men and women in Myanmar.
As Orchid Club guests, we were privy to additional benefits including a concierge desk right on our floor. Every day, the kind staff helped us coordinate our itinerary and car/driver. They were wonderful at answering our questions about local culture, and giving us off-the-beaten-path travel tips.
We also had access to the lounge, which is always stocked with complimentary drinks and snacks. During cocktail hour, we tried Red Mountain, a Myanmar wine that comes from the hills of the southern Shan State. Yukiro took a few bottles back as gifts for friends and family (very few people have tried Burmese wine!)
On our first day, we relaxed at the hotel spa. I lay down on this inviting bed, and got a traditional Myanmar Thanaka massage that worked out all my knots.
It’s hot year-round in Yangon, and the ParkRoyal swimming pool beckoned us to dive in… but it was time to explore the city.
(Hotel photos by Sniper Chau, city photos by La Carmina. My black top is similar to this.)
Our concierge suggested that we walk to the nearby Bogyoke Aung San Market. A staff member took us there by foot, and pointed out a few neighborhood attractions on the way.
There’s an overhead bridge leads to the market, with vendors selling fruits and dried seafood on the wooden planks.
Safety note: While some outskirt regions of Myanmar are in conflict, Yangon (the biggest city and former capital) is considered one of the safest cities in all of Asia, with very little crime. All the locals we met were friendly, and no touts approached us. It’s important to stay cautious wherever you travel, but let me assure you that Yangon is not a dangerous destination.
The bridge to Boygoke spans these railroad tracks. Locals walk right on them, balancing objects on their heads.
Yangon’s infrastructure and development were better than I expected. There are a lot of Japanese and Korean electronics here, including cars and smartphones.
It’s easy to spend an hour or more exploring what was originally known as Scott Market, established in 1926 during the British rule. Upon Burmese independence in 1948, the market was renamed after Bogyoke (General) Aung San.
After the coup d’état of 1962, the country became a military dictatorship, ushering in years of violent suppression. In 2011, the junta was dissolved; in 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won a majority in both houses, and she is the democratic leader today.
(In 1989, the military government changed many official names — Rangoon became Yangon, and Burma became Myanmar. There’s some contention over the official name, but Aung San Suu Kyi stated in 2016 that foreigners could use either. J. Peterman from Seinfeld put it best: “You most likely know it as Myanmar, but it will always be Burma to me.”)
You can find all sorts of local food at Bogyoke Aung San Market. However, be careful about eating street food, if you aren’t accustomed to it.
So many sights and smells to behold. Isn’t the Burmese alphabet beautiful? The written language dates back to the 11th century. (Myanmar is bordered by China, Laos, Thailand and India — hence some of these influences).
“Langorous” was our word of the day. In Myanmar, do as the locals do: slow down, hang out, enjoy the moment.
The market has hundreds of vendors, lined up on cobblestone paths. You can find all types of antiques, jewelry, clothing, Burmese art, handicrafts, you name it.
Long, silky hair is a trademark of Burmese beauty. Yukiro and I loved this futuristic-looking hairstyle worn by “Aunty Mary.”
Bogyoke market is the best place in Yangon to pick up a longyi, or Burmese long skirt. You can choose from the various embroidered silky fabrics, and get the garment custom-tailored to fit you like a glove. The ladies can also help you match it with a sleeveless top and sheer scarf.
The shops are a rainbow of intricate, elegant fabrics. Longyis are worn by both men and women, and are a perfect mix of style and function. (The airy fabric keeps you from overheating, and protects you from mosquitoes).
As I mentioned, Burmese vendors aren’t aggressive — they don’t run up to you or try to rip you off. Shopping at this market was easygoing and enjoyable.
We went indoors to look at the gems and jewels. This cyber disco Buddha greeted us at the entrance
Myanmar is known as the world’s most Buddhist country. Close to 90% of the population practices Theravada Buddhism, which certainly contributes to the peaceful, welcoming, compassionate nature of the locals we encountered.
In a country that was formerly isolated, you’re bound to find some oddities. I did a double-take at this store window. Is that… Annabelle? (The haunted doll and horror movie star must have escaped from her locked case at the Warren’s Occult Museum!)
These funky faces reminded me of Japanese daruma. Underneath, notice the Burmese comic strips, with speech balloons in the local script.
Many vendors put up images of The Lady, Aung San Suu Kyi. During the time of military rule, she was placed under house arrest and it was forbidden to publicly display her photo. Now that she’s the leader of the country, locals can have her smiling from their walls.
Since it was humid (even around Christmas), we tended to go out for a short period, and then return to our hotel to rest before heading out again. ParkRoyal’s central location and car/driver service made all this possible.
One time, we came back to gingerbread houses and cute chocolates in our room! The pastry chef is a maestro; we gobbled everything up, like Hansel and Gretel.
We dined with the General Manager at Shiki-Tei, an exquisite Japanese restaurant inside the hotel. We started with sake-tinis and warm sake…
… followed by the freshest sashimi, yakimono (fish and steak grilled right at the table), and nabemono (hot pot with fish and vegetables in a subtle yet complex broth). A meal to remember.
Every day, we looked forward to the breakfast / brunch buffet, which is one of the best in Yangon. There’s all types of international food, but I focused on the Burmese dishes, such as spiced salads, curries…
… and one or more bowls of the national dish of Myanmar, mohinga. This is a fish and rice noodle soup — but it’s so much more than that. Mohinga is heartwarming, with every flavor and texture (salty, sour, crunchy, sweet) in perfect balance.
At first, there may be a “fishy” smell, but once you get in a few spoonfuls, you won’t be able to stop. It’s a little like laksa and pho, but uniquely Burmese. I hope you can try mohinga for yourself, as it’s a game-changer.
We’ll miss the friendly staff of ParkRoyal Hotel Yangon, who always greeted us with a “Min Gā Lar Ba!” Without them, we wouldn’t have had such a magnificent time in Myanmar.
(Find out more about this hotel here.)
Isn’t Myanmar a fascinating country? I hope this first post got you intrigued about Burmese history and culture.
There’s a lot more to come from this fascinating destination — including monks and punks. Let’s just say… you won’t be disappointed!