A Tale of Two Expat Lives in Asia – Kuala Lumpur vs. Yangon

A Tale of Two Expat Lives in Asia – Kuala Lumpur vs. Yangon

We have dreamed about living overseas for years – and have been planning how to do it just as long.  Our options seemed many, and still do.  I thought about asking for a transfer from my law firm, buying a villa in Italy or a townhouse in a Spanish village.  I interviewed for legal jobs in Southeast Asia. I hoped one of us would get a job in Asia with a fabulous expat package, allowing us to live in Hong Kong or Singapore.  Or, perhaps, we could just move to the other side of the world and live simply – a location independent lifestyle, making money online.  It made me wonder about expat lives in Asia. I watched episodes of House Hunters International, reveling in the details – expats moving abroad with a housing allowance, versus young people going to Korea to teach English, on a more limited budget.  I wondered where we fit on this scale.  What would it be like to be a Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, expat?  How much would rent cost in Yangon, an even more exotic location?  During our first two weeks back in Asia, we were able to experience the two extremes of expat lives in Asia, and were able to contemplate which was right for us, if either of them.  Expats in Kuala Lumpur-High Rise On the traditional expat side of extremes, we stayed with our friends, who are expats in KL for about 10 days.  He moved his family to KL for a great job opportunity with his company back in Chicago.  Although they don’t have a plush “expat package” like many...
You Know You’re in Southeast Asia When…

You Know You’re in Southeast Asia When…

There are certain things I simply love about Southeast Asia.  Even with the diversity among the various countries, and even though we have not seen it all (Philippines, Borneo, East Timor), there are things that I noticed during our time in Kuala Lumpur, Myanmar, and Bali, Indonesia, that reminded me of our past travels through this region.  It made us pause and think….you know you’re in Southeast Asia when…. Most people will immediately think of beautiful beaches and spicy food, and I love both of those things.  But, after all of our travels through Eastern Europe and Central America, I was thrilled to see these few little things that have come to mean so much to me. They may exist elsewhere in the world, but for me they combine as a symbol of the region I love.  Small Plastic Stools  I am convinced that every meal would taste better on a small, plastic stool, on the side of the road.  Particularly if it is one that is too small for your weight, one where you worry whether you will break the stool if you shift the wrong way. I have broken at least one stool (Kuala Lumpur 2009).  Of course Eric has too.   I especially love walking up to a food stall or tea stand where there seems to be no room, but suddenly the proprietor pulls a table and chairs out of thin air placing them somewhere on the street for you to sit down.  I simply just love it.  Motos, Scooters, etc.  We tend to call motorbikes motos, like they do in Vietnam, even if that...
Ngapali – The Best Beach in Myanmar

Ngapali – The Best Beach in Myanmar

I have been known to be the Goldilocks of the Beaches – never able to find the one that fits me perfectly.  That was, until I found the best beach in Myanmar.  I almost don’t want to talk about it.  I would prefer it to remain just as it is, with few tourists, pristine beaches, clean water, and cheap seafood. But, that is definitely NOT the future in Myanmar, so I might as well clue you in to the best beach in Myanmar. Getting to the Best Beach in Myanmar First off, Ngapali is difficult to get to.  It is about an 18-20 hour bus ride from Yangon, over a mountain range.  And, there are no VIP buses making the route.  Numerous domestic airlines fly though, at a cost of about $100-$150 one way.  This makes the best beach in Myanmar a little more challenging for traditional shoestring backpackers.   Even more so, rooms generally start around $60 a night.  When you can get a bed on a beach in Thailand for a few dollars a night, again, the shoestring backpackers shy away from this beach, despite the fact that it is the best beach in Myanmar. Our friend told us it was worth the cost of the flight, and the room, and I am glad we bucked up. Pin It!!  Empty Beach in Myanmar We found Memento Resort in the Lonely Planet guide book and found a room for only $35 a night – a basic, clean room, with a simple shower, hot water, and a fan.  No air con and no TV, which was fine by us.  The...
The Temples of Bagan Myanmar

The Temples of Bagan Myanmar

After another awful bus experience, this one during the day, complete with broken air conditioning, dust covering the bus, and extra seating placed in the aisles (where one of my seat mates vomited for a while into a plastic bag), we arrived in Bagan Myanmar, Burma’s answer to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. Dustiness and a Mirage in Bagan Myanmar We were miserable when we arrived, after the 11 hours bus ride.  I was overheated, and could not tell if I was sun burn, wind burn, or just hot through and through. I wiped my face on my pink t-shirt and left a black dirt mark.  Pure yuck. The bus arrived in Nyaung U, the main tourist town, but we planned to stay in New Bagan Myanmar, and hired a pick up taxi to drive us the last 6 kilometers, where we promptly exceed our budget (only by $10 a night, for 2 nights) to check into the only hotel in town with a pool.   We threw on our suits, walked out of our bungalow, directly to the pool.  We were considerate enough to rinse ourselves in the pool side shower (and watched the dust pour off of us), jumped into the pool, and admired the view. Within view of the pool, we could see at least a dozen temples, all made of brick, some in very good condition, and others not.  As dusk came, there was an eerie golden glow over the temples. There are over 4,000 temples in the plain of Bagan.  Most of them are mere stupas, or small temple structures housing a sitting Buddha inside, some...
Nyaungshwe, and Touring Inle Lake By Boat

Nyaungshwe, and Touring Inle Lake By Boat

After a miserable and brutal overnight bus ride with no air conditioning, windows open, dust blowing in, loud music, and broken seats (tourist infrastructure is still in development through most of Myanmar), we arrived early in the morning in Nyaungshwe, the jumping off point for touring Inle Lake. We were hooked up in Inle – we were introduced to someone who knows the area, could act as a tour guide, and help us in every way possible, Sandra.  Sandra made our almost week long stay entirely enjoyable – to the point that we were looking for business and investment ideas before we even left . . .  The Village on Inle Lake Nyaungshwe is about an hour away from the capital of the Shan State, which borders Thailand on the east.  The Shan are an ethnic minority in Myanmar, whose ethnic majority are Burmese.  The Shan people traditionally had numerous kings, their own traditions, food, and ways of dress.   The village itself focuses on tourism – hotels and restaurants abound, as well as souvenir stands and plenty of stores selling handmade painted parasols and traditional Shan clothing.   We enjoyed Shan specialities, like Shan noodles, fried spring onion with pork, tomato salad, and fermented tea leaf salad.  We drank too many Myanmar beer, having fun with a little contest on the bottle cap enabling us to win a few free beers here and there.   We dabbled in a little whisky popular in Myanmar, High Commissioner.  We found a Nepalese restaurant, which satisfied our curry cravings, and a Thai restaurant, Green Chillies, owned by a friend of a...
Mandalay Myanmar – A Hot and Dusty Trip

Mandalay Myanmar – A Hot and Dusty Trip

There really was not much to see in Mandalay, Myanmar, one of the former royal capitals of the country.  It is a dusty city, the second largest in Myanmar, and other than a fort surrounded by a moat and a hill with a view over the city, it is more of a commercial center hawking Chinese goods. Other than finding a decent Burmese BBQ joint with cold draft beer (and old Jackie Chan Kung Fu movies), called Rainbow, which we frequented, we made our way to Mandalay to flee the city. Why Travel to Mandalay Myanmar? The big draw to Mandalay are the three additional former royal capitals on the outskirts of the city – Amarapura, Sagaing, and Inwa.  We booked a driver for the day and set out to see everything at one shot.  Generally, we don’t enjoy cramming a mess of sights into one day, but in this case, its the norm – a tourist circuit of foreigners traipsing across a bridge, up a hill, and through ancient temples.  Our driver suggested a few stops on the way out of town, the first to see an old teak monastery, Shwe In Bin Kyaung.  It was quite peaceful, but due to the time it appeared the monks were out collecting their alms.  So, after walking around barefoot through the finely sifted dirt, we put our sandals back on and returned to the car.  A Gold Leaf Buddha in Mandalay Myanmar The second site was the Mahamuni Paya, one of the most famous in the Mandalay area.  The temple contained a 13 foot high seated Buddha, most famous I believe...