After a surprisingly comfortable overnight bus from Yangon I woke up caught unaware by that thing where it’s too early and not only are people talking to me but I am expected to say words back to them. Thankfully one of the bonuses of solo travel is the ability to nap whenever it sounds like a good idea, which to me is always.
After finding a guest house and taking a nap, I went for a walk around sleepy Nyaungshwe, the nearest town to Northern Myanmar’s must-see natural feature that is Inle Lake. I found some stupas, which I’m a bit over since I don’t really understand blinging out statues with gold and jewels, and also a group of ineffective bullying boys. After harassing some girls over a bottle of water, the youngest did the chicken dance at me while repeating all the English words he could muster: one, what, and spider man.
Then I passed a teenager who was very interested in my camera. That’s when I realised why so many people had been saying the word “one” at me. The request was to take a single photo, show it to them, and that’s it. Anyway this guy did some super posing for me and was pretty much my favourite person I encountered throughout my entire trip.
And then I got lost. Of course I got lost. I always get lost. But it was a good lost, because while I was wandering down a dusty residential road I heard someone shouting at me. When I looked up, I saw a woman gesturing at me from the doorway of a shack on stilts over a thin stream.
“Come have tea!” she said, and eagerly waved me over. Okay, sure, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s to always accept refreshments from strangers. The little English she spoke communicated a story of five family members living in a space smaller than some people’s bathrooms. Three children and two grandparents, or maybe they were parents to one of the children, but at least one of them was motherless.
She showed me photo albums, postcards, and banknotes gifted to her by various travelers and I helped her to identify money from Vietnam and Argentina. Clearly I wasn’t the first person she’d invited in for tea and snacks. Letters of thanks and family photos with strangers were her prized possessions. The eldest child scribbled an all Burmese address, so I hope to add to their collection of prized worldwide post.
I’m not much of a tea drinker, but I dig this Shan culture of non stop refuelling on the somewhat bland and bitter drink. A hydrating and refreshing break during the sticky afternoons. Snacks usually accompany, and in the case of my brief visit with this family it was insisted that I tuck into some crispy rice cakes and sticky rice steamed in bamboo (if you see long, thin, almost white sticks being sold on the street, that’s what it is – great for bus journeys). Being vegan in Nyaungshwe, as in the rest of Burma, was already proving to be easy.
In the evening I found a quiet spot for dinner (Lucky Star restaurant). Much like everywhere else in Myanmar so far, it was straightforward to order a vegan meal at Lucky Star. Another pickled tea leaf salad for me, plus a Shan vegetable curry and some banana flower salad, a dish which attracted the attention of another diner who later joined me to discuss the benefits of solo travel. Why do our friends and family find it odd that we don’t necessarily want to encounter everything in life with a partner or friend beside us at all times?
The tea leaf salad wasn’t the greatest I’ve had so far in Burma, but that’s not to say it was bad (pickle and ferment nearly anything and I will like it). One aspect about the crunchy banana flower salad that stood out from other salads I’ve had was the liberal use of lemon basil. Banana flower has a great texture too, so there was a slight contrast to the tea leaves despite the similar dressings used in both dishes (lime, peanuts, salt, oil).
Curries in Burma tend to be made by frying a set of ingredients in oil, and then boiling them down until fully cooked. A little bit of liquid remains, but they aren’t heavy on gravy like their Indian counterparts and they do not feature coconut milk as in Thailand. A great complement to the bold flavours of Burmese salads, the simple curries are sound comfort food.
Sometimes I suffer from potato deficiency and this was the first time in three weeks I had potato. So yes the vegetable curry I ordered was good because it was full of potato.
I was happy to have a dinner buddy, the guy who sat with me after eyeing my salad from across the room (not a euphemism), but it was hard for me to concentrate since I was nearly wrecked from drinking one glass of wine. I tend to not drink when I’m on the road alone, especially after the time I caught myself in a swimming pool in Bali having a conversation with a frog. That was after just one drink too, so I was a little worried I might embarrass myself. Somehow I didn’t.
I keep getting distracted by an asterisk I drew on a scrap of paper because it looks like a spider when I see it out of the corner of my eye. Anyway the point I’m trying to make is how meaningful solo adventures are since they facilitate an aspect of travel that is important to me, and that is the magic of finding and relating to other people.
Of course it also means I can eat 12 meals a day without anyone complaining, so it’s basically a win win situation.