There’s caves in them hills! Yes, all you spelunkers, we got your caves! Over in the tiny Shan State village of Tat Ein, just a few kilometers down the road from the larger environs of Nyaung Shwe and scenic Inle Lake, there is at least one interesting cave worth exploring.
Accompanying me on this trip to Nyaung Shwe this time were Ye Man Oo and his parents from Mandalay, along with his friend Zin Min Phyo, and my friend from Bagan, Nine Nine. None of those fine folks had visited the larger of the Tat Ein caves before, so we put that on our agenda this time, hoping to squeeze in a visit between the rain storms.
Well, the first day the rain won and we couldn’t go to the cave, but on the second day our luck held and we were able to make a visit, accompanied by Aung Thaung, one of the novice monks from the village’s monastery, and one of the local kids. Armed with a huge flashlight, Aung Thaung and his friend led us through the labyrinth network of dark passages and Buddha images that decorated the interior.
The next day we returned for a quick visit to say goodbye to the monks at the monastery. While we were there we met Chaw Jo, a friendly young female tourist from Hong Kong who was traveling by herself. We didn’t have time to stay and show here around, needing to be at a friend’s house before dark, but we suggested that she visit the cave while she was in the village. Once again the senior monk assigned Aung Thaung and the other boy the task of taking a visitor to see the cave. Not sure if Aung Thaung was thrilled or petrified with this extra task, but he obediently accepted the duty!
We met Chaw Jo for dinner later that night and she reported that the excursion was a lot of fun, although because Aung Thaung and his friend spoke only a few words of English, and Chaw Jo didn’t understand any Burmese, they resorted to using a lot of hand gestures. All in all, this was another good example of the joys of travel and the unexpected things — and people — that you can encounter along the way.
My friends Ma Pu Sue and her husband Lesly have been operating the Bamboo Delight Cooking Class in Nyaung Shwe for about three years now, and from all indications, business is booming. Even during the recent slow season they still had clients nearly every day of the week. Clearly, they have gained a very good reputation via word of mouth recommendations and reviews on Internet sites such as Trip Advisor.
I’ve been privileged to have been a guest at Sue and Lesly’s home for many meals over the years, but until recently I had never observed one of their cooking classes. But during my most recent visit to Nyaung Shwe, Ye Man Oo — the boy from Mandalay who is helping us with Chinlone Books — had gone with me to visit Ma Pu Sue and seemed quite intrigued with the idea of these cooking classes and asked if we could observe one. Sue graciously agreed to let us be “flies on the wall” during a scheduled class the next day.
Along with Ye Man Oo’s friend from Mandalay, Zin Min Phyo, we arrived at the appointed hour and found eight tourists already in the process of cutting, peeling, folding, stirring and preparing the lunch that Sue and Lesly had planned. After all the prep work was done, it was time to commence the actual cooking. As Lesly explained to us, the timing of cooking each dish is crucial. You don’t want to have something prepared too quickly and have it sit and get cold, only to end up waiting on a stubborn curry or soup to finish cooking. And there was indeed an array of different dishes being prepared, from a vegetable curry and a traditional Burmese tea leaf salad, to dumplings, tomato salad, and a stir fry dish.
By the time everything was finished, Ye Man Oo, Zin Min Phyo and I were preparing to say goodbye and say thank you for letting us sit in on the class, but Sue and Lesly insisted that we stay and sample some of the dishes. It was an unexpected lunch, but I can assure you it was a tasty one!
I was back in Nyaung Shwe again last month, primarily to deliver more books to Mar Mar Aye at Chinlone Books. Ye Man Oo from Mandalay came along to help me organize the bookshelves, and his parents kindly drove us all the way there. And that’s not a short or easy journey, having to navigate several mountain ranges to reach Shan State. In any case the trip was a success: we increased the bookshelf count from two to six, while adding about 500 books to the mix. And more are on the way!
Besides the sheer number of books — not only in English, but also French, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, Russian, and Japanese! — perhaps the most exciting aspect of being in Myanmar this time was seeing the new logo for the bookshop, one that was designed by Ye Man Oo himself. This kid is a very talented artist and has been brainstorming ideas for the past several months until he came up with a very cool design.
The next step was getting some t-shirts made that sported his creation. We found a company in Mandalay called Moe Pale (thanks to my friend Ko Soe Moe for the recommendation!) that offered reasonable prices and good service. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to get the shirts made before we made the trek to Nyaung Shwe, but upon our return to Mandalay the shirts had been printed and were ready!
I had a flight back to Bangkok the day after returning to Mandalay, but U Khin Maung Lwin graciously accepted the task of sending the shipment of shirts to Mar Mar Aye in Nyaung Shwe. And I’m happy to report that the shirts are now in stock in three sizes (medium, large, and extra large) and in three colors (white, light blue, and tan). And the price per shirt is only 6,000 kyat (about US$5). Why buy a boring Inle Lake t-shirt when you can purchase a beautiful Chinlone Books t-shirt?
Meanwhile, we are gearing up for the next big book delivery sometime in September. Our aim is to beef up the number of books in all sections and languages in anticipation of the upcoming “high season” for tourism later in the year. If you are in Nyaung Shwe you MUST stop by Chinlone Books!