How do you know if you like a place or if that place is the one you want to return to time and again? What made you choose to eat at the second stall at the night market, run by the beautiful lady with Indian features, very pregnant and a crisp English instead of the first stall or the third? Finding that place, that very peculiar spot where you like to hang out — the first step in lifting the tourism veil and getting to know a place — has an alchemy of its own.
Choosing The French Touch was a no brainer. The bright orange cafe is created for travelers and foreigners; wifi, coffee, pancakes and spaghetti, a beautifully designed English menu and a staff that doesn’t care if you hang out all day. It is topped off with a well-mannered brown-orange Husky suffering the intolerable heat in his beautiful coat. Even so, why is the Butterfly Cafe just a block over, painted the same shade of bright orange, always empty, even if they are offering the same amenities (minus the Husky)?
There is a teahouse on the corner of Shwenyaung-Nyaungshwe Rd and Yone Gyi street, the major intersection in Nyaungshwe. Its teal colored tiles shimmers in the afternoon light, dressing up an ordinary teahouse into something slightly special. They recognize me this morning from my two consecutive visits yesterday. I sit down at my usual table in the corner (it only took a day and I already have a favorite table) and order some coffee.
“Do you eat Shan noodles?” She carefully enunciates these few English words. The shop owner woke her up from a nap yesterday afternoon when I came in. Her careful pronunciation of the question this morning is more solicitous than accusatory. I shake my head; I’ve already had noodles this morning. She comes back with the coffee and a mango. She motion cutting the mango and I nod in consent.
The boy comes to the table with two plates of morning snacks, chive tempuras and samosas. He points to the samosas and clearly pronounces, samosas with vegetables and meat. He then look at the tempuras, at a lost for a moment as if he suddenly loss its English name, gave up the detailed introduction for each plate he just began and walks away. Maybe the tempuras will be self-explanatory. He brings by a sample plate of snacks from yesterday afternoon and makes no attempt to introduce any of them.
The policeman is outside again, just as he was yesterday, drinking tea and smoking cigarettes. You can smoke in the teahouse. There is even a lighter attached to a string, nailed to a post, incase you need a light. The boy rotates out the tea thermos on each table, ensuring a hot and endless supply of weak tea.
The teashop has four large doors, two on each side, framing up the comings and goings of this small town. A younger monk accompanies an elder one, holding an umbrella over him while sporting a pair of sunglasses himself. Women in giant floppy straw hat walks by; I wish I knew where they are going and what their days are like. All the snacks served at here are made right out front on a wood burning stove. The cook is pulling out fresh pastry buns from the little oven. The boy comes to my table and swap out the day old pastry with a plate of hot buns. I am really not hungry but I would like to know how these buns taste fresh from the oven.
A policeman who was here earlier returns with a newspaper. He rejoins his friends and each of them takes a section of the paper. Maybe this corner is the unofficial police station. It does provide a great view on the goings about of the town and its citizens.
The coffee here is made with sweet condensed milk, a lighter version of the Vietnamese coffee. The shop keeper has a just-right delicate pour, making sure there is just enough sweet condensed milk to make it delicious but not so its achingly sweet. Every cup of coffee is remarkablely consistently. It is one the best coffee I’ve had in Myanmar, for a meager 300 kyat ($0.30USD), compared to the American coffee for 1500 kyat over at The French Touch.
I’ve found my spots here in Nyaungshwe: the night market for excellent tofu salad and noodles, The French Touch for internet connection and getting work done, and the corner teashop for people watching, delicious snacks and coffee. Except, now I must leave. If I had more time, I would be a regular at the teashop, the best source of local news and learn of town gossip from the shopkeeper and the local policeman.