We settle too easily into habits and routine. That is welcome in many ways, but sometimes I find myself a little frustrated that I don’t push the boundaries a little more and venture into new or different ground.
The weekend is the perfect time for this, but too often – and even with the five sticky plan to give me a shove – I find myself going to the same places, and doing the same things almost on default. In Yangon, of course that always has an edge of the fascinating and unusual, but sometimes we crave a little bit more.
So a couple of weekends ago, two Yangon friends and I decided to be proactive, carpe the Sundiem and do something a little different. That involved getting up earlier than usual on a Sunday and heading into new territory – across the river!
I remember, not long after we had arrived in Yangon, our housemates had headed to catch this ferry across the river. They had returned disappointed. They needed a Travel Authorisation to head across the river to Dala and did not have one. It was not difficult to obtain, but you did need to know where to go and how to get the TA. They made a plan for another day. Nowadays the TA requirement has been lifted for the past couple of years or so now. So we knew it would be much more straightforware. Our plan was to head to Dala and then pick up a taxi over to Twante, a town known especially for its pottery and generally explore some new territory.
The day started very gently with a rendez vous and breakfast at the new Rangoon Tea House, which I had not previously visited and a plush version of the Myanmar breakfast staple – Mohinga. Yum!
Mohinga is usually described as a rice noodle and fish soup dish, but it is so much more. The soup is bursting with flavours of garlic, onions, lemongrass, banana tree stem, ginger, fish paste, fish sauce and catfish and it is topped with crispy fried chick pea fritters, fresh coriander, onions, dried chilli and a squeeze of lemon. This is served usually in little mohinga stalls, as well as by mohinga sellers with all of the ingredients balanced on a cart or even a pole carried on his shoulders. On my way back from morning swims I pass many folks with a set of little plastic bags, full of the various mohinga components as well as a nearby mohinga shop, bustling with folks eating and chatting, perched on tiny plastic stools at low tables.
The Rangoon Tea House experience combines the flavours and essence of a tea house, with a well designed and stylish setting.
A great start to the day! It was a short walk down to the jetty after breakfast, to the bustle of the ticket office for the Dala ferry. We were directed away from the ticket window, into a small room where foreigners buy their tickets. We parted with our equivalent of 4 US Dollars in return for our tickets and settled to wait for the next boat, which was on its way over towards our side of the river.
In no time, the ferry had docked and people were thronging onto dry land and the port area. The “entry” gate opened and we joined men, women, children, bicycles, …piling onto the ferry, which was already milling with folks selling quail eggs, newspapers, water melon, plastic gadgets, cigarettes, betel and tobacco, nail clippers with valentine hearts on them and even bubble blowing water pistols.
The ferry crossing is less than ten minutes but it feels much longer because of the buzz of activity and action. As soon as we emerge on the other side of the river, we are in a different kind of throng. Saiqua (Myanmar pedal trishaws), taxis, bike hire and all manner of transfer options.
We quickly negotiated an car to take us to Twante and into new space for the three of us. We agreed a price and a rough schedule. Drive to Twante, visit the temples, market area and pottery, and on the way back call into the scary sounding “snake temple”. A great Sunday adventure!
First stop was the Shwe Sandaw pagoda – and a circumambulation in scorching sunshine and a bit of a slither (thanks to post chemo peripheral neuropathy numb toes) on a wet path, around the quiet temple.
Even though it was only mid-February, it was hot. The cool winter days do not last long, and even if it is fresh in the mornings, the days very quickly heat up and after our meander through the market, we were in great need of a refreshing cold drink and we stopped at a teashop for quick rehydration.
Next in the plan was to visit the pottery. I had no real expectation of this, other than that Twante was home to production of local pottery ware. The driver did not seem to clear about where to go, but after a few conversations at strategic points along the way, we drew up at a fairly large bamboo hut. Outside were a number of pots. A good sign.
We tentatively asked if we could enter, and were welcomed in with smiles. I rapidly realised that this was a true cottage industry.
I bought a small vase, and the woman who seemed to be in charge grasped my hand. Before I knew what was happening, she had added several more little dishes, usually used to place buttermilk wicks in the shrine rooms. “A present“, she gesticulated. Humbling. A warm and genuine connection.
We left Twante for the drive back to Dala, via the renown “snake temple”. Fortunately I had heard of this temple already. I knew that there were pythons everywhere but that they were not venomous. I did not, however, really know what to expect.
Did we really want to face these scary snakes?? Moreover, would I actually be able to venture into the temple alongside them?
The pythons were indeed EVERYWHERE! They did, however, look extremely sleepy. I still kept one foot at the door as I watched, terrified yet somewhat fascinated. The more I looked, the more pythons appeared in front of me, like some kind of optical illusion. Not only were they everywhere – they were huge.
In no time, we were heading back onto the ferry, through the gates which were about to close as we passed through. The buzz of the ferry itself was waiting for us as we sought out seats.
It really takes so little effort, more the nudge to make an earlier start and seek out new wonders which really are on our doorstep.