Globerovers Magazine is in conversation with Spanish-born Juan Gallardo who lives in Yangon, Myanmar. Juan has travelled Myanmar extensively and shares with us his love for this country and its Burmese cuisine which he meticulously showcases in his cookbook available on
on Amazon.com: Delicious Myanmar – Discover Myanmar Through Its People and Food.
Globerovers Magazine is in conversation with Juan Gallardo:
Juan Gallardo (JG): I first came to Myanmar in 2012 with the idea of travelling around the country for one month and then spending three months travelling around India. Guess what… India never happened. I liked Myanmar so much that I spent all four months slowly getting to know the country. What attracted me were the people, the food and the culture. It’s located in the heart of Asia and there is a beautiful and rich mix of these three aspects. But it is mainly the people who make the real difference.
GR: What are your favourite regions of Myanmar for travel and why?
JG: Shan State is one of my favourite States in Myanmar. It offers so many different things like the Taunggyi Hot-air Balloon Festival, Inle Lake with its amazing floating gardens, the fishermen’s village and the unique way of one-leg paddling. For adventurers, Hsipaw and Kalaw are two great places to be in touch with nature and do trekking, while Kakku Pagodas is the must-see religious site. Besides all these, Shan food is delicious.
GR: Globerovers Magazine focuses on off-the-beaten-track destinations around the world for the intrepid traveller. Myanmar is known to have many areas with no, or hardly any, foreign travellers. Which truly off-the-beaten places can you recommend to our readers?
JG: I always say that wherever you go in Myanmar, tourist destination or not, it’s always really easy to go off the beaten track. You just need to be ready for the adventure. Rent a bicycle or scooter and get out of the village in any direction. Within 15 minutes you will be in a rural area without any tourists. Next step is to talk to locals and make friends. I also recommend in this regard to travel the local way. For example, I went from Chaungtha to Ngwesaung Beach and the journey was an amazing experience. It involved crossing two rivers in a small wooden boat (scooters included). Half of the trip was spent driving along narrow paths and surrounded by palm trees and countryside; the last part of the journey was along the beach with amazing views.
GR: Many travellers give very positive reviews of the people of Myanmar. Please share your thoughts. Is there any specific group of people, such as a region or tribal group, which you find most fascinating?
JG: Myanmar has an ethnically diverse population of 135 different recognised groups and many different religions. Myanmar people are honest, friendly and their warmth will touch your heart. They are very curious about other cultures and countries, so my recommendation is that you learn a few words in the local language and interact with them wherever you are… temple, teashop, street. You will learn a lot about the country and share some priceless moments.
GR: You have published a lovely book about Myanmar cuisines entitled “Delicious Myanmar” which is available on Amazon.com (www.amazon.com/Delicious-Myanmar-Discover-Through-People/dp/1941142338). Which Myanmar cuisines are your favourites and why?
JG: Myanmar borders Laos, Thailand, China, Bangladesh and India, and all these countries have influenced its cuisine. ‘Delicious Myanmar’ is a photobook to discover Myanmar through its people and food. I have travelled all over the country and asked locals to cook their favourite dish for me in their own kitchen in the traditional way. I share pictures and write about the people, the dishes and the culture. If I have to choose one favourite area, I will pick Shan State, with my favourite dishes like Shan Noodles, Shan Yellow Rice Cake with Tomato Sauce, and Black Sesame Seed and Sticky Rice Cake (Khor Poat).
GR: Let’s talk about adventure travel in Myanmar. What adventures would you recommend in Myanmar?
JG: Myanmar is amazing for trekking. You can choose from Putao in Kachin State, to Kalaw and Hsipaw in Shan State, Pha An in Kayin State, and the hills in Chin State. There are organised treks where you get to sleep in local villages and the experience is just unforgettable.
GR: There are many places in Myanmar where I personally wish I could just spend time relaxing for several weeks. Which places are your favourites to just chill out for a few weeks and take in the local culture?
JG: I would suggest Ngapali Beach, Inle Lake and Pyin Oo Lwin. Although they may sound like tourist places, you can really relax and enjoy them.
GR: Do you have an interesting travel tale to share with us? Some unforgettable moments?
JG: I have memories of many special moments while travelling in Myanmar. One of them is the time I spent with the students from NEED, an eco-agriculture school in North Yangon. I cooked many dishes with them including Mohinga, which is on the front cover of my book. I stayed on the farm for a few days, and it was amazing to get up very early in the morning and have a “coffee mix” next to an open fire in the outdoors with them. Cooking and sharing meals with these students was an experience I will never forget.
GR: Globerovers Magazine aims to promote responsible and sustainable tourism everywhere. As Myanmar has so much beauty to share with the world and is at the cusp of exploding into a major tourist destination, what would you recommend the Myanmar tourist industry and travellers do to protect Myanmar from becoming just another “tourist zoo” with foreigners behaving badly and irresponsible tourism?
JG: I have written an article about Responsible Photography (www.myanmartravelessentials.com/responsible-photography-in-myanmar). In Myanmar, there are many things that will catch your attention, like women with thanaka make-up, men wearing a longyi (traditional skirt), and queues of monks dressed in red and orange passing through the streets early in the morning. Responsible photography involves taking into consideration and respecting how a person would feel about your taking a picture of them. How you ask and interact with them will make a big difference to their reaction. When you see someone that you want to take a picture of, smile, say hello, ask permission. Please don’t just get close to someone, take a picture, and leave. I have seen this happen a lot in Myanmar and it really bothers me. Please keep in mind you are not in a zoo taking pictures of monkeys! Learn a few simple phrases in Burmese such as “Mingala ba” (Hello), “Nei kaun ye la” (How are you?), “Kyei zu tin ba de” (Thank you) … so that you can at least greet and thank your subjects.
GR: When you meet travellers who have never been to Myanmar, what are the first things you tell them to persuade them to visit this incredible country?
JG: Myanmar is different to any other country. Still unspoilt by tourism, it is now the best time to visit. As I said before, it borders Laos, Thailand, China, Bangladesh and India and the mix in culture, art, religion and food is just spectacular.
GR: Can you kindly give details about your website and social media where our readers can follow your interesting stories and beautiful photos about life in Myanmar?
JG: My blog is Myanmar Travel Essentials (www.myanmartravelessentials.com) and you can find me on the main social media platforms.