I'd decided that Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) was at the top of the list of destinations to visit whilst in SE Asia. Somewhat untouched and cut off from Western influence since the days of British Colonialism it is a country at a fascinating turning point in it's history. After a brutal military government ruled with an iron fist for such a long period of time a leader emerged in the form of Aung San Suu Kyi who stood up to the government and helped to introduce sweeping democratic change after being release from house arrest a couple of years ago. The tourism boycott lifted, this is a land where people are happy to see you, talk with you and hear about the world beyond their borders.
To get there however, is challenging. We had to first obtain flights to get into the country. The airlines are pretty behind the times with essentially the deal being that you have to email them at a hotmail address and wait for them to call you back. No online booking or e-ticketing. This is old school paper ticketing and talking with a customer service rep. You can get a sense of the difficulty we were having from this rather amusing exchange between Cameron and the ticketing office below.
Somehow we eventually ended up with tickets for the following day. The only snag being that in order to actually enter the country we had to get a visa....and to get that visa you need to get up at 7am, get to the Myanmar Embassy, and present photos, passport, application and entry fee. We had to have all in place by the end of the day and so headed to the Embassy to be greeted by a massive line of similarly eager tourists lining up outside in the baking sun.
In theory we'd be able to collect our processed passports with newly adorned visa's at the end of the day and so had booked a fun activity to spend the day. Next stop Chef Leez, a wonderful Thai chef who over the course of 3 hours would take us to the market, show us how to shop and what to look for in our ingredients before creating a variety of dazzling Thai dishes.
Check out some of the scenes from the market below:
Back at the kitchen we started working our way through a number of incredibly tasty thai dishes. All made from scratch. The ingredients making all the difference was abundantly clear as we tasted things like store bought vs. hand squeezed coconut milk, ginger and peppers. If you're curious, here's the venerable Phad Thai as demonstrated by Chef Leez.
After picking up our Myanmar visas, it was time to head home in a Tuk Tuk, grab some food from the lovely ladies around the corner and get some rest before the early flight into darkest Burma!