Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Thanakha and jaggery en route to Kalaw

From the moment we crossed the border into Myanmar, we noticed that many of the women had painted circles or stripes of what looked like clay onto their cheeks - or sometimes even a more elaborate leaf pattern. We asked Myo about this and he explained that it is a form of sun block that women use and also put on their children.

It is called thanakha. You buy a small log of wood from the thanakha tree and grind it on a stone slab called a kyauk pyin, with a tiny bit of water, to make a thin paste that you apply to your skin. It is a very old tradition, and it supposed to be excellent as both moisturiser and sunscreen. Women are considered more beautiful for wearing it - indeed Myo is certainly that any future bride of his would wear the thanakha.

Well on our drive from Bagan to Kalaw, we stopped off at a roadside place where we got to try this for ourselves, and soon all of the women in the group had thanakha leaves painted on our cheeks.

That wasn't the only thing we could try here either. They were also tapping the palm trees for their sap, which they do by climbing up the tree, making a small cut and leaving a pot tied under it to collect the sap that drips out. From that sap, they make drinks and sweets.
The sweet is called jaggery, and is very rich tasting and crumbly, and popular across Myanmar with adults, children and we tourists too. It is made by simply boiling the sap. Here, they were making it plain, or mixed with either shredded coconut or jujube date paste.

And then there are the drinks. The first is palm wine, or toddy, which is made by fermenting the sap. It is quite low in alcohol, so when they want something stronger, they can distill the toddy.

The other drink we tried was a mix of jaggery, water and sticky rice, which is fermented for four days - they had a pot bubbling away while we were there and the smell was fairly pungent. They all tasted OK, but I won't be rushing to get any.

They were very hospitable at this stop, as we were all offered tea and green tea leaf salad too.

And we got to feed the ox that was pulling the grinding stone to extract the peanut oil from the peanuts. The ox gets the leftover dried out peanut, which it seems to rather like, so it's a win win situation.

After that it was back on the road to Kalaw, with a quick stop for lunch. As we reached our destination, which is another of these British hill stations, we were stopped by the tourist police, and we all had to get off again to have another group photo taken.

Then it was on to the Thein Taung Paya monastery where we were doing our last night of camping. There was a great view of Kalaw from the monastery, so every so often other visitors would appear and be quite surprised to find us camping there.

One particular pair of male Chinese tourists were especially fascinated by our dinner preparations, and seemed to think it perfectly acceptable to shove their huge cameras right in the faces of Nic and the others in the cook group, without even saying hello. It made me glad that I am more considerate of people when taking my own photos, even if it means I can't always get the picture that I'd like

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