Crossing Myanmar by motorcycle: Sweet curious inviting betel chewing locals, markets, gifts, & Mt. Popa

I figured out that I could get Aung to let me go ahead of the group. I would just have him show me where we were heading for the day and make spots to meet up. It was so much better when Steve and I could be free and not worry about sticking with the vehicles. The best times I had in Myanmar were always when I could wander around a village and mingle with everyone. Probably one of the best days was after leaving Inle Lake. To start the day, Steve and I were free to go ahead to the first meeting spot. When it’s just the two of us we can make up ground quick and it’s fun traveling with another rider. Knowing that we were much faster than the rest, we were able to make some stops at places we would usually have to ride past.

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Up a dirt track we found a massive buddha statue with a sexy red robe and a solid set of man tits. He instructed his minions to get on their knees and pray for our safe passage, and for ladies only chocolate pudding wrestling. As long as one comes to fruition I’ll be happy. In the small town of Aungban the rest of the group headed out to another cave. After the last couple months in SE Asia I’m a bit burnt out on caves filled with buddhas. Unless they have monkeys. Watching monkeys is like the best reality show ever made. One minute they’re picking bugs off each other and the next it’s mayhem of screeching. I had four hours on my hands to explore. As soon as I set out I got into the middle of a Buddhist Shinbyu ceremony. It’s the most important coming of age event for a boy, in which he will enter the monastery. Usually for a short time, but possibly for a lifetime.

All boys are encouraged to become a novice before the age of twenty and a monk after this. To be a monk you must be over twenty, so before this you are considered a novice. I like talking to the young ones and hearing how they feel about it all. The thing I hear most about is the food.

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In the monastery you eat only breakfast and lunch. Theres no dinner, only lots of praying or chanting. The poor kids are so hungry. Some of them told me about sneaking some little candies and snacks. I would be a terrible monk and have little food stashes all over the place. They would take my robe and kick me out for my love of food over Buddha. During the same time, girls have ear piercing ceremonies. It was a super colorful mini-parade with a lot of painted faces and beautiful clothes.

Some of the boys looked awfully serious with a bit of worry on their face. Most of the people were pretty serious about it, but there was one guy who was feeling the vibes of the music. He was like a Burmese Michael Jackson on mushrooms. He had some serious happy juices flowing through his veins and pouring out through his feet.

Before I came to Myanmar, everyone told me how nice and warm the people were, and it’s 100% true. It’s definitely the highlight of the country for me. I wandered out of town on some side streets and found an area behind a fence covered in little squares that looked like uncooked lasagna.

As I was peeking over the fence, a girls voice came from somewhere saying “wait two minutes”. After a minute the gate flung open and some ladies ushered me into their house. Turned out they made a traditional food thats only made in Shan State. At the lake Aung had given me some and told me about it. The people explain it as fried tofu. Basically the squares are made from ground up soybeans into dried squares and then deep fried. The end product is pretty much a vegetarian pork rind. They were so sweet and showed me all around the kitchen and how they make it. There were three sisters, the mom, and a young boy to sample the product to make sure it’s not poison.

Large plastic bags full of it were ready to head to Yangon. They insisted I come back the next day and sent me away with a bag full of it. Many people invited me over to their house or small shop just to say hi, ask some questions, and tell me a little about the place. This man was so pleasant and easy going. He completely stopped the work he was doing and had me come in for a tea.

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The lady who was waiting for her item to get finished didn’t seem to be bothered in the least bit. A sprawling street market overflowed with everything imaginable. Maybe you’re looking for some natural remedies, zillions of dried little fishes, every imaginable fruit and veg, or an array of raw meats piled up all over the place together. The best way to see a country is go to the local markets. Not the tourist ones where half the stuff is crummy souvenirs, but the dirty, colorful, full of smiles and curiousness, strong aromas, and surprises around every corner local markets.

Most of the people get a kick out of seeing a tall goofy foreigner and have some fun with it. Inevitably you’ll have many of them coming up to try out their english on you, which ends up being a few questions before they’re stuck. Sometimes somebody will pop out of nowhere and be fairly fluent. A lot of laughs. My favorite part of the market was definitely the chili ladies. They were the jolliest bunch of all with colorful scarf type things wrapped around their heads. All of them were older and looked like they didn’t take much too seriously.

Eventually they convinced me to eat some of their chili flakes and got a big laugh out of it when I was drooling all over myself. A wander up the street led me into some type of game. It’s sort of like pool except flicking it with your finger. I’m pretty sure I was a natural and I blame my teammate for our loss. I might have only made one, but I almost made a lot more. Actually I was terrible and every time I flicked it it went off at some funky angle.
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I blame my big non-asian fingers. All day I was given little gifts by people. The less people have the more they give. It’s almost always true. As well as the tofu stuff, I got a bundle of bananas, a cigar, tea, and a pipe. A guy with a new business called Genius Coffee gave me a big bag of coffee grown in Myanmar.

I don’t know if they’re all really so happy, but they sure put out the best energy. Maybe it’s all the betel they chew thats got them in the clouds. Everywhere you go there’s little stands making the goods. It’s made with a green betel leaf from a vine plant, then some watery lime (limestone) paste is brushed on, a bit of chewing tobacco sprinkled on that, some pieces of areca nut (a type brownish nut with red veins) placed on this, and then folded up. The leaf is a mild stimulant and the combo can be euphoria inducing. I believe it because sometimes dudes looked on another planet with wild bloodshot eyes. They sell them in bags of five for dirt cheap or individualy for almost free. In my case, they were always free. The people loved to see a foreigner trying it and getting a red mouth. The side effects are a mouth with missing or rotten teeth, and stained deep red.

Nobody seems to mind and everyone chomps away at it. At intersections the road is stained red from all the people spitting and a lot of car doors have a nice coating of it. After meeting back up with Steve, we continued north. Along the road we found a elephant in a driveway, which looked like a Susan to me. It’s such a beast of a creature. The mouth and trunk are so strange to watch in action, and the skin reminds me of what elderly peoples looks like. It was lunch time and the kids were feeding in melon after melon. They quartered them up and fed the big chunks one after another.

Each piece was gone in seconds. We got to feed some pieces to it as well. There was a pile of melons on the side of the house and it looked like the elephant must eat a massive amount of them everyday. Before we left Steve tried to telepathically communicate with Susan.

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For a second it looked like they might have really had something going. He had a look in his eye like he was going to climb up onto Susan and they were going to ride into a beautiful sunset bareback, or maybe thats just what I saw. Further along in the day I had my first mohinga. It’s a traditional soup made from the banana tree. Not the actual bananas, but the trunk. I randomly stopped at this little ladies street side stall because a couple locals were eating it, which is always a good sign.

The broth is poured over thin white noodles with some chili flakes, lime juice, and crunchy things. I devoured three bowls before the group caught up with me. There was a descent little gathering around me watching every bite with aw. You definitely can’t be self conscious in Myanmar as you will often have people staring at your every move. At one point in the day, I had an old guy next to me start feeling my arm with his finger. He just wanted to feel me white skin with blonde hairs. The look on his face was priceless. I had a feel of his arm just to even out the score. We arrived into Meiktila exactly as the sun was setting over the lake. A sunset is always the best way to end a day. Roaming around the lake, I stumbled onto some friendly fishermen using up the final light.

The small town doesn’t see too many foreigners and the kids really cracked me up. They were giving me military salutes and i was giving em right back, and we had a little march off. That night me and Steve ended up at a restaurant with an unintentionally funny, but serious lady running the place. Lots of times when they don’t speak very good english, they have one or two words that they’ve somehow come to use for everything. Hers was ‘nothing”. Half the questions we asked were met with “nothing”. Sometimes it didn’t make much sense, and got us laughing pretty hard. One item on the menu caught our eye. The fighting balls. We had to know what these were, but after five minutes of trying to find out with the language barrier we still didn’t know. They brought them out on a tray to enlighten us. Turns out fighting balls are massive goat testicles. The pair on the plate were raw and supremely terrible looking. Fortunately Steve isn’t very into balls and they took them away and far out of sight. On the way to Bagan we took a detour and drove up to Mt. Popa. It’s quite the sight as you approach along the small rough road that leads up towards it. It’s a temple at the top of an extinct volcanic lava plug. 777 steps lead up to views over the surrounding area. Since I’ll be hiking in the himalayas soon I’ve been thinking I should start getting in shape. I put on some shorts and was going to run up, but only made it about a quarter of the way. My excuse is the cute/violent/mischievous monkeys along the way. I’m a sucker and have to stop and chill with them. They’re so damn sneaky.

You can see it in their crazy glowing eyes darting around at everything with way to much speed. They remind me of cat eyes mixed with human. Every temple’s monkeys are different. Sometimes they’re laid back friendly and other times they’re looking for every chance to rob you. These ones were spoiled. People give them these rolled up papers that look like a fat joint and are filled with little soybeans.

Their sharp teeth rip them open in a flash. If you look them in the eyes long enough when you’re close by it will usually get a hiss and some teeth shown. There’s a mini golden rock at the top, which teeters on the edge facing the plains that stretch as far as the eye can see.

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About Trueworldtravels

Following my heart around the planet. Bringing to life the unique world around us through writing and photography.
This entry was posted in adventure travel, Kawasaki KLR650, locals, markets, Motorcycle world travel, Myanmar travel, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Crossing Myanmar by motorcycle: Sweet curious inviting betel chewing locals, markets, gifts, & Mt. Popa

  1. Elaine Segura says:

    What an AMAZING day! One of my favorite reads.

    Like

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