Puppets Alive!

On my first trip to Yangon a couple of years ago, I was unable to see a puppet show as the puppet troupe listed at Lonely Planet was only doing invitational shows.  The people who were there showed me the puppets though.  I had been to the Mandalay Marionette Theater twice and I wanted to see what Yangon had.  Fortunately, on this trip I saw Htwee Oo Puppets listed at Trip Advisor.  I don’t remember seeing it at the site when I first visited Yangon in 2014.  Checked out the website and had the hotel receptionist call the listed number for reservations.

The cab we hailed at The Strand declined as he didn’t know the address.  A guy hanging around the hotel driveway offered to take us as he knew where it was.  It was a “secret” location, he said, and not many cab drivers knew where it was.  Blogs do mention the difficulty of finding the place.  Indeed, it was located at a not so ideal neighborhood.  The car stopped in front of an apartment building. Seeing the small tarpaulin sign hanging at the 2nd floor of the walk-up apartment banished any doubts.  Our driver went to a store beside the apartment and a slender young woman opened the gate to the stairs.  We climbed up and someone unlocked a wooden door and we found ourselves in a living room that had been converted into small theater with about 20 plastic seats.

On one side of the room was a wooden cabinet with puppets from other countries such as China and Vietnam.

Aside from the 5 of us were a Russian giy and a French couple.  The show started at 6pm with the same young lady who opened the gate explaining the puppets. 

One really interesting info is that Myanmar puppets are anatomically correct.

The 45-minute show featured dance scenes and fight scenes from different stories.

The entire show was hugely entertaining as the puppeteers deftly maneuvered the strings that made the puppets dance, leap, and even show facial expressions.  

My favorite scene was the finale which featured several puppets playing traditional music instruments.

After the show, we got the chance to have a photo-op with the puppets.

We even got to try animating the puppets.  It was really such a fun experience and we all left with big smiles and profuse thanks to the puppeteers.

Practicalities

The show costs 10,000 kyats per person.  

Posted below is the business card and the address in Myanmar script.

It is advisable to let your cab wait for you as I’m not sure about cabs in the area as it is primarily residential.

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High Tea at The Strand

The Strand is what the Raffles is to Singapore, the Peninsula to Hong Kong, and the Eastern & Oriental is to Penang.  Built by the famous Sarkies brothers, like it’s counterparts, it stands as a testament to Yangon’s grand colonial past.  While it is small compared to the other colonial hotels, it is nevertheless beautifully restored.

There weren’t much people on a Monday afternoon and we had the wonderful lobby all to ourselves to take photos. 

Of course, we had High Tea at the equally beautiful cafe. 


 The Classic Set (USD 20) arrived in a 3 tier tea tray of pastries and a plate of  prawn sandwhiches, turkey sandwhiches, goose liver pate on gingerbread and other delicious stuff. 

Everything was just so good.  The scones were warm and buttery and were served with whipped butter, blue berry jam, and raspberry jam.  The pastries, particularly the Opera cake were very delicate.

So far, this was the yummiest high tea I’ve ever had and at just USD 20, really good value for money.  The service was par excellence and with male staff dressed in longyi and Burmese jackets graciously serving you, we felt like we were back in those days when Yangon was still called Rangoon.
There is an USD 18 Myanmar set with traditional snacks and served in traditional tiffin ware which was so cute.

Like other high tea sets, the morsels may seem small but they’re actually filling. We really had a lovely experience here.

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The Yangon Circular Train

We took the Yangon circular train this morning for an experience apart from the usual. We decided to do the trip today so there wouldn’t be a crowd.   We arrived at the Yangon Railway Station around 9:45 on board a taxi.  I had forgotten to bring a bottle of water but surprise! Surprise!  The friendly driver gave us bottles of water, free!!!   Arriving at the station is like stepping back into time.  It is a magnificent piece of colonial architecture with its high ceilings, columns, and arches. 


The people lounging around at the lobby floor simply added to the old world atmosphere.

We entered the station and headed up the stairs, across, and down to platform 7.  It was easy to find as there were signs.

Since the train was coming in a few minutes, a guy from the ticket office quickly gave us tickets so we didn’t have to line-up.  The roundtrip ticket only cost 200 kyat, a far cry from the 1,000 kyat charged to foreigners before.  

The train arrived at 10:10 as scheduled and discharged passengers.  Being a holiday, there weren’t too many people. 

The carriage was quite hot due to the summer heat but not uncomfortable hot.  I can just imagine how it is on regular days when it would be quite packed.

The train was quite slow and made many stops.  There really is nothing much to see as it winds along the outskirts of the city.  In fact, you see much garbage and shanties. As a commuter train, people get on and off at each station.  

The real treasure is in being with the friendly locals.

We didn’t have time to take the entire 3 hour route so we jumped train after about 30 minutes and took a taxi to our next destination.

It was an interesting experience to just sit and people watch.  If you can spare a few hours, it’s highly recommended.

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999 Shan Noodle Soup

Each time I’m in Myanmar, I always head to a Shan eatery.  While there are a variety of establishments to choose from in Mandalay, the same cannot be said in Yangon, at least to my experience.  Along comes 999 Shan Noodle Shop. Highlighted in my Lonely Planet guidebook and saved in my Trip Advisor mobile app, I never got to try it in my previous trip to Yangon.  This afternoon, I almost didn’t get to try it again as the driver we hired got his directions wrong and the LP map wasn’t quite right. Fortunately, we got to the right part of 34th street and saw the huge sign.

The place was quite full but we were quickly ushered to a table by the stairs to the second floor.  

The Shan Noodle with Oil was so tasty. The noodles had the smooth chewy texture reminiscent of Chinese hand-pulled noodles which I really love.  The pork  and  “oil” toppings were just right. Tita Cel’s Fried Noodles had a very rich eggy taste while Rhoda’s flat noodles was made more savoury with the addition of beans.  

What really won the palate was the Yellow Rice with Tomato.  It was a very unusual dish but really really good.

We really enjoyed our lunch at this place.  Service was quick and very friendly.  It’s a small place but the noodles we had were really big in flavor.  A few feet down the road is 999 Shan Cuisine which had a counter of pre-cooked food.  Not sure if it’s related to the noodle shop though.

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Back in Yangon

Yey!  I’m back in Yangon for the 2nd time (the first one was in 2015)!  Traveling this time  with four other people — my eldest sister and aunt and two colleagues from the university.

Last year, at a conference in Malaysia: 

 “Are you going to ____ next year?” 

“Where?” 

“In Yangon.”  

“Yes!”  (Turning to my sister and aunt who joins me af conferences, “We’re going to Yangon next year!”)

So after a sleepless night at Suvarnabhumi spent in transit at the departure area after arriving from Manila  for the connecting flight to Yangon in the morning, we’re finally here!  Never mind the traffic-clogged streets and the hot dry weather, it’s good to be back.

Checked in at Crystal Palace Hotel and proceeded to the buffet breakfast still laid out at the tables at past 10 in the morning.  Food was cold but quite good— baked beans, scrambled eggs, sausages, and a variety of Burmese snack food.  Anything after airline food is bound to be good anyway.  

Spent the next couple of hours just resting at the hotel.  Really snagged a good deal at this place.  Clean comfortable rooms with nice beds, buffet breakfast, really friendly staff for just USD 100 per person for 7 nights!  It’s away from the downtown area though but near the the conference venue.

Headed to the Bogyoke Aung San Market later in the afternoon to window shop.  It was the first time for the others and they wanted to check out the prices first.  Went to Yoyomay, the Chin store where I bought some music instruments before. Many beautiful stuff but expensive.

Next stop was the Shwegadon Paya.  It still is a majestic site to behold even after seeing it the second time.

Women power.  No we know how they keep the floor clean. 

We didn’t wait for the sunset anymore as we were all hungry. Headed to Feel for dinner where outdoor stalls and tables had been set-up.  

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Joy Ride at the Chao Phraya

I never fail to get in one if those express boats that ply the Chao Phraya whenever I’m in Bangkok.


It’s not the sights but just the feel of being in a commuter boat—people getting on and off, the bump when the boat steers on to the pier, and the voice of the female ticket seller.  Plus of course, the splash of river water on the side of the boat occassionally spraying passengers at “window” side and the general feel of being on water rather than on land.


So this afternoon after resting a bit at the hotel coming back from Chatuchak, I caught an orange flag express boat to Nonthanburi, its terminus.  The thing is, when we reached Pra Athit, the driver announced that it was the last stop and we were turning back.  I guess because everyone got off the boat except a middle-aged couple and a white guy who looked kinda pissed when told it was not proceeding further.  Like the couple, I told the driver I was going back and would just pay the TH 14 again.  Not many people got on the boat so it was kinda empty.


The boat quickly filled at Tha Chang as that’s the pier for the Grand Palace which is filled with so many people these days;  not just tourists but Thais in black paying respect to the departed king.  See this pic taken yesterday at the palace’s entrance.


Back at Sathorn pier, I just decided to head to the BTS and spend the rest of the day in Siam.

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Chatuchak Saturday

Khao San Road yesterday, revisited another Bangkok haunt–Chatuchak.  Never knew Chatuchak was open even on Saturdays (got the tip from the hostel owner).  I always assumed it was a Sunday only market.

Not too many people yet at 10am.


Found myself in Sections 25 and 26 which is the place for northern Thai stuff. If you ddon’t ever get to Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai, you can get all yoir stuff here for that hill people look.

​Saw many of the same clothes, accessories, and souvenirs sold in Chiang Mai though with less variety. The earrings I bought for my sis near Warorot market in Chiang Mai for TH 100 was at TH 120 at Chatuchak.  Not bad considering you  can bargain it down to TH 100. Bought 5 pairs at Chiang Mai and got them at TH 90 a piece.


Was primarily looking for music instruments and found some.  Bought a small gong for TH 1000 at a shop that had much brass crafts including rain drums.  Asked if they were original, the elderly shop keeper (owner?) replied, “new antique.”  Just as I thought.  After all, if they were real, the National Museum would have had their necks.

Bought a small percussion instrument (TH 200) at this shop selling African instruments similar to the ones being sold at KL’s Central Market and at the markets in Bali. 


Djembe all lined up in a row at another shop.

As written in Lonely  Planet Bangkok, I went in search and found Stall 464 at Section 8, Soi 5 which sells Thai music instruments among others including djembe (again!)


Lots and lots of music instruments in this store   In fact, a Thai lady was buying a quim when I was there.


How about some khlui ?


The owner, a kind round man was very jolly and was delighted to find out I was Filipino as he used to have a Filipino boss in Dallas.  I bought 2 drums and 2 jaw’s harps.  His sister-in-law who runs the shop gave me a free rattle that costs TH 150 aside from the discounts.  Good deal!

That ended my Chatuchak sojourn as I had to head home and pack the instruments. 

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Morning at the Museum

Been to Bangkok so many times but never made it to its national museum.  I always make it a point to visit a country’s cultural repository and now I can’t remember any reason why I overlooked Thailand’s.  Perhaps, because after seeing all the glorious architecture and images at Bangkok’s temples and palaces, visiting its museum may seem anti-climactic.


Granted, Bangkok’s National Museum pales in comparison to the national museum’s of its ASEAN counterparts, it still merits a look. Hopefully, the continuing renovations improve it considerably.  Formerly the National Palace, the museum is spread out in different buildings in the complex some of which are inaccessible due to the ongoing renovations.

This red building was once the residence of a former queen.  It was dismantled from its original location and brought to its current location.


Most impressive of the open galleries is that of Thai History.with its collection of antique religious sculptures some spaning different historical eras from the Dvarvati to Ayyuthaya to Bangkok. Highly recommended to watch the short video on Thailand’s different historical periods  first to better appreciate the figures.


An impressive towering bronze figure


This giant Buddha head is massive.


A bronze drum. Thailand’s link to Vietnam’s Dong Son culture.


Very impressive are the gold figurines in a gallery housing the museum’s most important collections including royal palanquins, howdas  and  thrones.


Most poignant however is an airconditioned tent that had been set-up near the entrance showcasing photographs taken during the king’s funeral rites.


I admit being a bit teary-eyed seeing how much the Thais love their king.  The photographs are magnificent and you get a free postcard reproduction of one of the photos.

The museum was quite underwhelming considering Thailand’s heritage but hopefully the renovations will one day give it the merit it deserves.

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First Night in Bangkok: A Tasteless Fried Rice and a Killer View

Unbelievable but I just had the most in tasteless fried rice in Bangkok at an outdoor restaurant called Steak Chef Noi.  To a cuisine that prides itself with the use of herbs and seasonings, it comes a surprise.  Besides, how can you go wrong with fried rice, the global dish if every foreign traveler in Asia?  Perhaps I should have ordered any of the Western food they have in their menu.  After all, the chicken nuggets came perfectly fried.  After all the delicious meals I have had in Chiang Mai, this dinner in Bangkok was such a disappointment.  At least, the resto was just across the Bangkok Hub Hostel, a nice enough place just 2 minutes walk from the Saphan Taksin BTS station and Central Pier.  Very convenient. Friendly English-speaking owner, too.  The only downside is my room is on the 5th floor up some narrow flights of stairs.  Sizeable clean room with a killer view.


The Sathorn Tower otherwise known as the ghost tower.  This building was supposed to be a Bangkok landmark but was never completed due to what people say is a string of bad luck.  Perhaps being built on an ancient burial ground (unverified) could be the root cause?  The stuff of urban legends.  It attracts many adventurers who scale it for its marvelous views.

So I’m parking my self  for 3 nights  in this Thai capital before flying back home to Manila on Sunday morning.  

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Eating in Chiang Mai

The cuisine in the north is more aromatic and has a stronger taste than that of central Thailand, which visitors like me are more familiar with.  Spent 10 nights in Chiang Mai and tried to eat as much variety as possible aside from all the food I cooked in my 3-day Thai cookery class.

My favorite is the northern sausage which is chockful of herbs.


Tastes really nice grilled rather than fried.  Talking of grills, many times, a simple stall grilling meat on skewers satiated my hunger pangs in the evening.


Yup, even sticky rice is grilled.


For something more substantial, I headed to restaurants.  Took my chance and headed to popular and always packed Kajana   at the old town for lunch and lo and behold!  Found empty tables.


The pork sausage with eggs and glass noodles was soooo good I immediately wrote down the recipe the way I understood it based on taste and look.


The roast pork in curry is a little sweetish but oh so tender you can pick it with just a fork.  Warning:  if eating alone, don’t order another dish like what I did coz the portion is big. 

On the two times I lunched at Aroon Rai  the food was always delicious. 

Portions are generous and the staff friendly. Because I was always hungry whenever I came, I always headed straight to the pre-cooked food counter rather than ordering a la carte.  

A surprise discovery was Yummy E-San which I always ignored due to its cirny name.  Too touristy so maybe the taste is touristy too.  Hunger and convenience drove me there one night so I took a table.  The Tom Yum with coconut milk was really delicious with just the right amount of sourness balanced by the coconut milk.  


However, it was the Fried Tofu in Tamarind Sauce that won me over.  Melt in your mouth soft tofu so perfectly fried it was delicate to the tongue.  Dipped in tangily sweet tamarind sauce, it was heavenly.


Good Taste  kitchen just as its name suggests has really good taste both in interiors—cute wooden tables for a homey feel— and food.

Seriously good Green Curry Fried Rice.


Wat Phan On with its spacious grounds that hosts a few food stalls was also my go to place if I needed something simple and hot such as a bowl of noodle soup.  I just added the pork cracklings on the soup.

Speaking of pork, the Thai make crispy pork so perfectly.  Just the right thickness and fried to a crisp.  Not too salty.


Wat Phra Singh was also hosting a small market where I had some som tam, the ubiquitious Thai papaya salad.

I guesss wats not only provide spiritual nourishment but physical too.

Off Rachadamnoen Rd at the old town was this Mango with Sticky Rice. The blue rice is naturally tinted with butterfly pea flowers.


Of course, I had to have my  khao soi,  Chiang Mai’s signature noodle dish.  This  was courtesy of a stall at the Sunday Night Market at the old town.

In case, you need some Western food, there are burger places and lots of Italian restos.  Had a pizza with smoked ham and smoked cheese at La Fontana.  Good value at TH 200.  

I didn’t eat too much breakfast  as   I had a stash of fruits.  Was thinking of going to Fueng Fah for their TH 289 breakfast buffet was too lazy to get up early.  I did get to try the eggs benedict at  Art Cafe just across Thapae Gate in the morning I arrived by plane from Bangkok.  Looked pretty on my plate but it had the most tasteless Hollandaise sauce ever.  A better breakfast was at The Garden where I had a tasty breakfast sausage, some really good wheat toast with jelly, and pan-fried potatoes.

Breakfast fare is  mostly Western perhaps as a break from all the local food.  Besides, the farang may not take to noodle soup or rice porridge in the morning.
The quiet soi in the old town and even the night bazaar area where my hotel wad is home to small quaint cafes that beckon the weary temple-hopper to take a break and just watch the world go by.  At Nam’s, I could have sat on my wooden chair forever.


A cool leafy spot at Coffee Corner Kitchen.


Rachadamnern Cafe near the Chiang Mai police station has good coffee and pastries.  Went to Angel’s Secrets for the famous carrot cake but the place was packed and no cake in sight.  

So skip the big chains like Starbucks, Black Canyon, and Wawee and look for these hidden gems. You also get to support local independent businesses.
Surprisingly, I didn’t hav much desserts. My sweet tooth was asleep perhaps.  I did have a cup of white chocolate gelato at   Gelato World   but only just because I was too embarassed not  to buy after looking at the display far too long.  I did buy some traditional Thai desserts.


Many places to eat but not enough time to try.  The bane of solo travel also is you can’t order much. I guess I should just have to make a return trip.

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