Due to the fact that this world-largest fish market is running out of space for future development, and that the site of the existing Inner Wholesale Market is sitting on prime real estate land, the Tsukiji Inner Market or Jonai Shijo (築地中央卸売市場) is scheduled to be relocated to Toyosu (豊洲) in this October. Handling over 2000 tons of seafood per day and employed over 60,000 staff, relocating the Tsukiji Inner Market is no small feat. Not catered for public visitors and tourists, the wholesale area is not an ideal place to wander around. No tourists are allowed before 11am according to the rules, and there is a limited number of quota for watching the famous tuna auction before dawn. Outside of the wholesale area, a few small lanes of restaurants are extremely popular with tourists. There are about two dozens of small sushi restaurants serving fresh fish just a stone throw away from the wholesale area. No wonder the most popular restaurants such as Sushi Dai (寿司大) and Daiwa Sushi (大和寿司) are infamously known for the long queues, with some bloggers mentioning in the range of one to three hours of wait.
This time, we didn’t enter the wholesale area of the Inner Market. We didn’t want to stand in the way of the busy staff.
We walked to the lanes of eateries and sushi bars to hunt for a place for breakfast.
Japanese grilled omelette or tamagoyaki (玉子焼き) could also be found in the Inner Market area.
In 2014, we came to the Inner Market in early morning and had a bowl of chirashi for breakfast.
Other than chirashi and sushi, there were also other options such as curry and tempura.
The line for Sushi Dai went all the way to the other side of the building out onto the adjacent lane. It seemed like a two hour wait at least.
This time, we picked Daiwa Sushi (大和寿司). Daiwa Sushi occupies two stores so we thought the queue wouldn’t be too long. We wouldn’t mind queuing for a while to have a chance to taste the fresh nigirizushi or hand pressed sushi (握り寿司) from Tsukiji Market.
At the door of Daiwa Sushi, a staff was responsible to monitor the queue and direct the entering customers when seats became available in the restaurant.
Through the window, we could see a senior itamae (chef) and his apprentices busy preparing nigirizushi for customers.
We ended up queuing for a little over an hour before finding ourselves sitting at the bar seats of Daiwa Sushi.
The interior was down to earth. We sat by the corner right by a photo depicting the catch of a huge tuna.
There was only one nigirizushi (握り寿司) set option to order. Nothing fancy about the sushi, but the freshness of the fish and the vibrant market atmosphere made all the wait worthwhile.
After the sushi breakfast, we hopped to Aiyo Cafe next door for a cup of coffee.
The interior of Aiyo revealed a strong vintage atmosphere.
The entire shop seemed frozen in time since mid 20th century.
The staff were very friendly and spoke some English.
We had a good time exchange a few words with them while taking a short coffee break. After all, we were a little sleepy after the red-eye flight.
At another lane there were restaurants that offered Western cuisine. We thought of trying but were too full after the sushi breakfast.
We walked by an interesting sliding door panel leaning against a low wall outside the row of restaurants that offered Western food. Was the move to Toyosu already underway for some restaurant owners we did not know.
Judging from the mini figure that actually moved continuously as if devouring a bowl of delicious noodles, the door might belong to a ramen restaurant. After the sushi and coffee, we decided to move on to Roppongi for a dose of design culture.
In the evening, we returned to Sanon Restaurant in Nyaung-U for dinner. After dinner, we walked to the commercial street of Nyaung-U. Souvenir vendors, hotels, pubs and restaurants lined up along Thi Ri Pysitsaya 4 Street, which, as our guidebook described, provided simple nightlife to the foreign tourists. Foreign tourists concentrated on a few of the restaurants that served fusion cuisine (Chinese, Thai and Myanmar). The decor were mainly causal and colourful. For us, the most eye-catching scene was a traditional umbrella showroom with a variety of colourful and translucent umbrellas lighted up from behind.
We passed by the Sapada Paya once again at the road intersection on our way to Sanon Restaurant.
Simple Christmas decorations lighted up building facades along the main road of the town.
Another satisfying meal at Sanon Restaurant.
Most shops along the main street in Nyaung-U offered e-bikes hire for tourists.
It was about 9pm and most tourists had already returned to their hotels.
Some shops offered contemporary bags and accessories with a Burmese touch in design.
Some were still checking out the souvenir vendors.
The most attractive shop was an traditional umbrella store.
Several local children circling around a fire reminded us that Bagan was still a less privileged rural area in Myanmar despite recent development of tourism.
Tourists and guidebooks often compare the ancient ruins of Myanmar’s Bagan with Cambodia’s Angkor, and so as their base towns: Nyaung-U of Bagan and Siem Reap of Angkor. Tourists arriving in Bagan may discover that Nyaung-U is nothing like Siem Reap. There is no designated Pub Street, massage parlours or fish spa for the tired feet. Several years ago we spent the night of New Year’s Eve in the Pub Street of Siem Reap, where bars and restaurants were packed with half drunk tourists. This time, we had an opportunity to spend Christmas Eve in Bagan. Unlike Siem Reap, Nyaung-U was much more peaceful. To celebrate Christmas Eve, we chose Sanon Restaurant, a social enterprise offering great food and non-profit training for the disadvantaged youth. After a satisfying meal, we walked around Nyaung-U to take in the peaceful atmosphere of the silent night.
On our way to Sanon Restaurant, we passed by a number of convenient stores catered for tourists. Most shops also offered e-bike rentals to tourists. Renting E-bikes is one of the most popular ways for tourists to do their pagoda hopping.
We were lucky to find a table after a bit of waiting at Sanon Restaurant.
The dining area was a pleasant open terrace.
We started our Christmas Eve dinner with a delicious cocktail.
We had a local dish: deep fried morning glory for appetizer.
One of our main dishes was also a local dish: Giant Irrawaddy Prawn and Catfish Curry. Flowing north to south, Irrawaddy River is the largest river in Myanmar.
After dinner, we walked past a book vendor in front of a restaurant. All books were non-fiction and half of them were in English.
It was a 15-minute walk from Sanon Restaurant back to Oasis Hotel. The street was peaceful and quiet. All actions seemed to be limited inside the restaurants and hotels.
Some of the local eateries were particularly busy, with customers gathered to watch football games on large televisions.
Located at a road junction, Sapada Paya stood quietly over Nyaung-U.
We stopped by a small playground at the base of Sapada Paya.
Despite there was no one around, up at the terrace of Sapada Paya we found a small altar with fresh floral offerings.
Finally we were back at Oasis Hotel, our comfortable base for our stay in Bagan.
No one was around in the garden of Oasis Hotel, though Christmas music was on.
We enjoyed a peaceful Christmas Eve and retired to our room early. The next morning we would get up before dawn. Our driver would pick us up to watch the magical sunrise over Old Bagan, probably the most well known and gorgeous scenery in Myanmar.
Considered as the first empire in Myanmar, the legacy of the ancient Bagan Kingdom is what drawn all visitors coming to the dry plains at the eastern bank of the Ayeyawaddy River today. With over 2000 ruined pagodas concentrated around a few villages, Bagan is truly one of the most wonderful place to visit in Southeast Asia. After seeing Shwezigon, probably the most active temple still popular with pilgrims today, we moved on to check out some of the less intact pagodas nearby.
The first was Htilominlo Temple. Built on the spot where King Htilominlo was chosen as the next king, Htilominlo was eventually named after the king himself. Topped with a sikhara, an ornamental tower originated from Hindu architecture in Northern India, the 46m pagoda is a majestic brick structure plastered with stucco carvings.
Built in the 13th century, the Htilominlo is about 46m tall. The temple was damaged by earthquake in 1975.
Among all the tourist souvenirs on display at Htilominlo, local puppets seemed to be the most eye-catching.
Well known for its detailed plaster work, Htilominlo is a popular temple among the 2000+ pagodas in the area. The sikhara at the top was under scaffolding during our visit.
There is one gilded Buddha figure at each of the four worship halls facing the four directions.
Each of the four Buddha figures is unique in appearance. Pilgrims usually visit all of them for the worship.
The four main worship halls are connected by vaulted corridors running around the core of the main structure.
The interior of the architecture is full of archways and vaulted corridors.
Some of the fading fresco can still be seen inside Htilominlo.
After an interior loop, we walked around the temple to check out its exterior decorations. Some of the beautiful plaster work and glazed terracotta plaques were still visible.
Across the road from Htilominlo, we reached a smaller building called Upali Thein. Built in the 13th century, this building houses some fine frescoes from the 17th century. The interesting roof battlements attempted to mimic a type of historical Burmese wooden architecture that can no longer be found today.
We were fortunate that the usually locked Upali Thein was open while we were there.
We wandered around a cluster of stupas nearby. These stupas varied in size and form, and were constructed in different eras.
In the past, constructing stupas in Bagan was considered a religious good deed of the donor. Stupa donors in Bagan ranged from businessmen to officials and even kings. Names and addresses of the donor were often presented at the entrance gate.
Constructing stupas was a competitive business in the old days among the wealthy class.
Today, most of the 2000+ surviving stupas and pagodas stand in partial ruins, except the most prominent ones that are still serving as places of worship for Buddhist pilgrims.
Centuries of competitive stupa constructions put Bagan at the top of the list of attractions for Myanmar.
Looking back at Htilominlo from afar, we could truly sense that our two-day feast of temple and stupa hopping would be a really special experience. Unlike Angkor in Cambodia where majestic temples are overtaken by the powerful rainforest, Bagan is a romantic landscape picture consisted of layers of pagodas scattered across the horizon.
For lunch, Win Thu took us to a local restaurant nearby.
There was no menu as all customers were given the same dozen or so small plates of local dishes and a large plate of rice.
Housed in a simple shed, the restaurant kitchen was filled with the scent of charcoal.
Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, was the capital city of Myanmar (Burma) until 2006. With 7 million inhabitants, Yangon remains as the largest city in Myanmar. Because of our tight schedule, we only had a day to explore the downtown where decaying colonial buildings from the British era mingled with bustling daily activities of the locals, and the Shwedagon Pagoda, the religious heart and biggest tourist draw of the city. Before that, we decided to first get a taste of the Burmese culture through sampling the local cuisine. We weren’t particularly hungry, but would want to try out a well known noodle shop: 999 Shan Noodle House. It was a half-hour walk to the noodle shop. What’s better to get a quick Yangon impression than wandering its lively streets?
Venturing out of the Loft Hotel, we headed east towards the north-south thoroughfare Alan Pya Pagoda Street. Local shops lined along one side of the street, while the opposite side was dominated by the large Park Royal Hotel.
One of the first building we encountered on Alan Pya Pagoda Street was Thamada (President) Cinema and Hotel. Opened its door in 1958, Thamada was Rangoon’s most prominent cinema with a fully air-conditioned hall and a great example of the cuty’s Modernist architecture.
A number of snack vending carts were stationed in front of Thamada Cinema.
Other than skewers or salad, fruit is also common snacks in Yangon.
Renovated a few years ago, Thamada Cinema remains as a popular cinema in the present, drawing sell out shows from time to time.
Further down the road we reached the intersection of Sakura Tower. Built in 1999, Sakura is a 20 storey building built by Japanese investors and architects. It offers office spaces up to international standards, with a restaurant at the top floor. While the top floors struggled to find tenants in the first several years, Sakura is now totally full as Myanmar opens up in recent years.
Next to Sakura Tower, the 1910 Bible Society of Myanmar (British and Foreign Bible Society) was the heart of Christian evangelical society in the early 20th century. In the 1960s, the foreign missionaries were expelled from the country, and was restructured in 1964 under national organization.
The strip of Bogyoke Road at Sakura Tower was known as Rangoon’s “Cinema Row” in the past, a designated entertainment district. The Nay Pyi Taw Theatre with its iconic patterned facade was built in 1961. Movie was and still remains big in Yangon (formerly Rangoon). The modernist patterned facade was popular back in late 1950s and early 1960s in Southeast Asia.
Further down we reached a busy intersection of Sule Road and Anawratha Road where a network of pedestrian overpass allowed us to gain a raised overview of this part of Downtown Yangon.
The overpass was occupied with vendors. Pedestrians loved to stop by the railing for a look at the changing surrounding skyline. Looking north, the top of Sakura Tower perched over the tree crown in the middle, and the Sule Shangri-La (Trader Hotel) dominates the the left side with its 500 rooms. Built by Japanese and Singaporean architects, the hotel never really fulfilled its tourist potentials due to the West’s boycott on the junta government. Rooms were sold at discounted prices. interestingly, it did attract a number of NGOs and UN agencies to set ups their offices here, and so as foreign journalists and some tourists.
At the southwest corner of the pedestrian overpass, a new 20 storey office building was under construction.
Further south we could see one of the city’s most important monument, the Sule Pagoda. It is known to be one of the oldest monument site in Yangon, some said around 2600 years old. Sule Pagoda has been and still is considered to be the heart of Downtown Yangon.
After a moment above the streets, it was time for us to return to the busy street scenes.
As we approached 999 Shan Noodle House, we began to explore the network of small side streets behind Yangon City Hall.
All side streets were flanked by buildings dated back to British Rangoon.
It took us several minutes to reach the right side street of the noodle house. It was fortunate that we had portable wifi device and mobile phone which we could get on Google Map.
Food vendors could be seen on many of these side streets. Groups of children monks were also a common sight.
After a little over half an hour of walk, we finally reached our destination – 999 Shan Noodle House. 999 is a famous restaurant in Yangon specialized in dishes from the Shan and Kachin States at Northern Myanmar. These states border with Yunnan Province of China, which is also popular with rice noodle dishes.
The pig knuckle noodle soup was tasty, and the pork texture was just right.
Stir fry rice noodle with local spices was also a popular dish at 999 Shan Noodle House.
After lunch, we continued to walk down the side street towards Yangon City Hall.
At the end of the street we again passed by a food vendor. They seemed to be everywhere in Downtown Yangon, especially at the end of side streets.
Our driver Sangzhu dropped us near our hotel Trichang Labrang (赤江拉讓藏式賓館) in Barkhor Old Town. After dropping off our bags, we stopped by the eatery beside the hotel for a quick bite. The friendly eatery owners, a talkative young couple, were excited to welcome us and chatted with us. We ordered a Nepali platter, fried momo and two cans of local beer to celebrate the completion of our road trip. The momos were quite delicious, and went well with the beer made with Highland Barley. It was the last full day of the trip. After filling our stomach, we didn’t want to visit any attractions, but spent time wandering in Barkhor Old Town, checking out souvenirs, watching people, and photographing anything that interested us, until the dinner time. For dinner, we decided to try the Tibetan hotpot at “Our Tibetan Restaurant” (咱们的藏餐馆).
After returning to Lhasa, we stopped by the small local eatery next door from Trichang Labrang Hotel. The young owners were friendly and talkative.
To celebrate the completion of our 6-day road trip, we ordered some local beer and highland barley wine.
The most delicious snack we ordered was the fried momo (Tibetan dumplings).
For dinner, we revisited the “Our Tibetan Restaurant” (咱们的藏餐馆), the atmospheric courtyard restaurant nearby.
Again we ordered the highland barley wine (青稞酒). The wine came in an interesting bird-like pottery jar.
The main dish of the meal was the Tibetan hotpot. It came with vegetables, melons, beef, ham and yak meat.
We wanted to linger around Barkhor Old Town for a little longer after dinner.
In front of Jokhang Monastery (གཙུག་ལག་ཁང༌། 大昭寺), pilgrims, worshiped on the stone pavers as usual.
Other than pilgrims, tourists also gathered at the Jokhang forecourt.
In front of Jokhang main entrance, more pilgrims gathered to worship, including some Buddhist monks.
The sky was getting dark but the Jokhang forecourt was getting even more crowded.
Some pilgrims preferred to stay near the large flag pole in front of the Jokhang.
Around Jokhang, groups after groups of pilgrims and tourists walked the kora in clockwise direction around Lhasa’s most sacred site.
The kora route was flanked one side by souvenir shops and the other by the majestic facade of the Jokhang.
Along the kora route, many pilgrims were performing prostration the entire way.
Some tourists treated the pilgrimage forecourt as a public plaza and sat on the pavers to chill out among the pilgrims.
Among pilgrims and tourists, chilling out in the Jokhang forecourt included this large and gorgeous husky.
We would certainly miss the spiritual atmosphere of the Jokhang forecourt.
On our way back to Trichang Labrang Hotel, we passed by one last time the store where we bought our bottled water everyday of our Lhasa stay. The next morning, we would take the airport shuttle bus near the Potala and fly back to Hong Kong via Chengdu. Although short, it was a delightful experience for the three of us on the unique Tibetan culture and magnificent Himalayan landscape. Hopefully next time we could have more time and travel further to the western corner of Tibet.
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More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet