Enthralled by El Nido

I found my paradise in the Philippines.

Spellbounding Siquijor

A brave girl's first ever solo trip was to this mystical island.

The Quiet Charm of Cagbalete Island

Outdoor serenity at its best.

The Rugged Beauty of Islas de Gigantes

The off-the-beaten rockin beauty of Northern Iloilo.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

What to See in Downtown Yangon


Myanmar Day 2

I started my second day earlier than expected. First thing I did was book a bus ticket to Bagan for that night. The inn's bus company partners were all fully booked, so I had to go to Aung San Stadium to buy my own ticket directly. The receptionist told me to hurry up because the tickets were selling out pretty fast because it was the start of Myanmar's school holiday.


my typical breakfast in Myanmar :)


After getting my bus ticket, I asked my very nice taxi driver (who patiently waited for me with a smile) to just bring me to Sule Paya next. I started exploring Yangon from there that day.



Sule Paya

Sule Paya or Pagoda is located in the center of downtown Yangon. They say it was even older than the grandiose Shwedagon Paya. According to the legends, it used to be the site where meetings about the planning of building the Shwedagon occured.


Sule Paya


It is unique from the other pagodas because of its octagonal shape. It also enshrines a hair relic of a Buddha. It is a famous landmark in downtown Yangon. It's just a small temple. You can go around in a matter of 2-3 minutes.



a planetary post


It also played a significant role in Burmese history. This was the meeting point of the pro-democracy and anti-government uprisings during 1988 and 2007. But it had also been the first place to witness the inhumane treatment of the Burmese government to the protesters. :(



a man in deep prayer


I encountered an annoying old man here. He keeps insisting that he is a religious teacher and kept asking me if I know what that means. I said yes but politely declined to let him go further. I wasn't interested to get any tourist assistance because the temple is so miniscule that paying a guide fee would not be worth it. I've read about it. There would be people in the temples who will initially show you kindness then later on charge you with a specific amount of money. The man got agitated when I refused two or three times. That only means that he was really up to something. He wasn't doing it because he is religious. I also got pissed that I decided to leave the pagoda.



Sule Paya from the outside


You can reach Sule Paya through four entrances. Entrance Fee is USD 2.00.



Independence Monument

Just across the street, you can see the Independence Monument from Sule Paya. It stood in the middle of Mahabandoola Park.



Independence Monument


It was built in commemoration of the Burmese Independence from the British colony in 1948. Entrance Fee to the park is MMK 500 (kyats).



for the birds :)


I saw these tied to the fence around the park. Bunch of rice grains which were intentionally put in there for the birds to eat. I love the thought that they care so much about the animals to feed them. :)



Colonial Period Structures

I never thought there are numerous colonial buildings in this city. I was actually astounded as I walked around downtown and saw these beautiful old structures. Apparently, Yangon has the most number of colonial era buildings in South East Asia.







The constructions of these buildings began when the British invaded Lower Burma during the Anglo-Burmese War back in 1852. They were also the ones responsible for the grid layout of the city.



Yangon City Hall



The Brits transformed Yangon in to a commercial hub. It became a flourishing city after 40 years. They also started building hospitals and schools. It became the capital of British Burma after seizing Upper Burma as well.



Yangon High Court


the back of High Court Building


Downtown Yangon is still majorly composed of these deteriorating colonial buildings. Some of them are even residential. The cheapest place I stayed at, is in fact in one of those very old buildings.










Yangon City Government formed a committee to protect these heritage buildings. They came up with Yangon City Heritage List wherein all listed structures can not be modified nor deconstructed without their permission.









I didn't get the names of the other buildings I took photos of. I don't want to put incorrect info here, so I am leaving them unlabeled. If anyone of you knew which buildings are these, kindly let me know so I can update this blog. :)



Government Telegraph Office


Only a few skyscrapers can be seen in this city unlike in other SEA cities. The heritage structures still largely dominate the capital. I only saw a few bank and hotel high-rise buildings.



Bengali Sunni Jameh Mosque


Those were the scenes I captured at the downtown area. Yangon is a very interesting city.


Another important site there is the Bogyoke Aung San Market. It is also colonial in architecture, built during the British occupation. It is where you'll find awesome Myanmar souvenirs. Unfortunately, I don't have any photos of it. I always get excited when it comes to markets and shopping haha! I was so busy checking out cute stuff that I already forgot to take pictures. Sorry folks, I'm a girl after all. :)


Yangon is still far different from other Asian capital cities. Exploring it made me feel like I time traveled. There are no big shopping malls. The first one just opened a few months before I went there, but I didn't check it out. I saw a few movie theaters, but the movies being shown are so outdated. I've seen old Chinese action movies on the posters. I think everything is still highly regulated by the military government. I was not enticed to try the street food. I'm not a germaphobe or anything, it's just that, they don't look clean enough for me to try it. There are a lot more other things I can think of why this city is so different. It may not be as progressive as the other cities I've been to, but it has its own unique charm. Undeniably, I liked it for that.


“Through travel I first became aware of the outside world; it was through travel that I found my own introspective way into becoming a part of it.” ~Eudora Welty



This is Part 2 of my Myanmar travel series.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Splendid Shwedagon Pagoda


Myanmar Day 1

I don't have a very detailed plan on how I'll spend my first day in Myanmar. So I just grabbed a map from the reception and went out. Botataung Paya seemed near Motherland Inn 2 based on the map. But after a few minutes under the sun, I gave up on finding it. The street lay out of Yangon was very confusing to me. I just hailed a cab and decided to see the oldest historical pagoda in the world.


Maha Wizaya Paya

Paya is the Burmese word for stupa or pagoda. It can also mean "God". I might use this word more often in this series as I got used to saying it instead of pagoda.


connecting bridge to Maha Wizaya

The taxi dropped me off at the South Gate of the Shwedagon Paya. A nice temple across the road caught my eye so I went there first before proceeding to Shwedagon.



Maha Wizaya


This pagoda was built in 1980. The relics enshrined here were given by the King of Nepal. It is well-proportioned and the design is both of traditional and modern styles. It was built as a memorial to the First Congregation of Sangha of All Orders. I'm not expounding that anymore hehe.

This temple is just small but lovely. It was my first Myanmar pagoda, so it was where I first observed how they do worship and how I should I behave inside a paya.



Shwedagon Paya

No visit to Myanmar is complete if you did not see this enormous charmer. Shwedagon Paya or Pagoda is considered as one of the religious world wonders. It is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda for the people of Myanmar. It was built 2,600 years ago containing the relics of four Buddhas.



the dazzling Shwedagon



The bell-shaped structure is 326 feet in length. The complex structure is made of genuine gold plates. The people of Myanmar including the royalty from the past are donating gold to maintain it and it still happens until now. For the upper dome, it is studded with 5,000 diamonds and other gems. At the very top of that, is a 76 carat diamond. How grand is that?



one of them shrines



The pagoda is surrounded with a big open terrace. There you'll find many colorful shrines, pavilions, stupas, Buddha images, and other objects of worship.




Reclining Buddha



The pilgrims walk clockwise around the main Pagoda, before stopping in one of the pavilions to pray, meditate or contemplate. That's how they do it traditionally until now.



fancy architecture



There are four entrances leading up to the paya. The foreign visitors are required to enter from the North Gate because there is a lift that may take them straight to the terrace. But I didn't mind using the South Gate. From there, I was also able to see the Maha Wizaya. I love to do it the long way just like the locals do. No wonder when I presented myself at the Entrance Booth for Foreigners to pay, nobody was coming to get my payment. I just found out later on that I entered the gate where locals normally do and probably also because I didn't look like a tourist. Entrance Fee is USD 5.00.



very intricate details


Everything about it is mind-blowing. The architectural details of all structures in the entire complex are magnificent.



Religious Rituals

All visitors are obliged to remove their footwear just before the first step of the entrance. This applies not only to Shwedagon but to all temples in Myanmar, old or new. At the end of the day, expect your feet to be very dirty. I got used to it after some days. From day one, I always carry an extra plastic bag for my slippers. I was happy to find out that the locals are doing the same thing. :)



barefoot :)



Another thing that you will notice as you walk around the terrace are these Buddha posts where people offer flowers and prayer flags, and pouring water to the Buddha along with a prayer and a wish. This has something to do with the Myanmar Buddhist's belief in Hindu Brahmanism astrology. It is imperative for them to know the day that they were born so they can practice this devotional act. Each planetary posts signifies each days in a week.



a man bathing his birthday Buddha


Visiting pagodas are very important to the Myanmar Buddhist. You will also notice that they always bring something to offer to Buddha. The act of giving is a huge part of Buddhist teaching. Anything you do with generosity, love, kindness and compassion is a good karmic deed.
 


a female monk on a prayer


I spent majority of my first day here so I noticed and witnessed a lot of interesting things. :)



Shinbyu or Novitiation Ceremony

Just thirty minutes after I made it to the paya, I witnessed one of Myanmar's celebrated festivities. They call it Shinbyu.



start of the parade



This only happens during school holidays (March) and before the water festival or the New Year (April). These rites last for 2 days. It happened to be the first day of Myanmar school holiday when I arrived.



Myanmar boys in royal costumes



The Novitiation Ceremony involves a parade around the pagoda with the boys dressed up as princes. In Theravada Buddhism, this marks the ordination of a boy under the age of 20 as a novice monk.



the monks and the elders


In their tradition, the parents' most important duty to their son is to let him go forth and embrace Buddha's legacy by letting him join the Sangha (Buddhist Monastery) as a novice.






The boys will be immersed in the teachings of Buddha. They have an option to live in the monastery for a while or for the rest of their lives if they choose that path.







This ritual symbolizes Prince Siddharta Gautama aka Buddha's departure from the luxuries of the royal palace and leaving his family in search of the Four Noble Truths.


The little boy dressed as a royal king or prince is shielded from the sun with a golden parasol and is being carried as on horseback. Behind what seemed to be his horse is the family, his parents carrying his monastic robes and eight other requirements.



the little "prince"



After them are his sisters or village maidens wearing their best silks, carrying ceremonial boxes of "paan" and lotus blossoms. The rest are the completing party of the joyous procession.

 

village maidens with paan


I consider myself lucky that day. It was amazing to witness this kind of traditional rite. It is a  window to the Myanmar Buddhist culture. It is one of the things I look forward to when I travel, learning more about the country's culture and tradition.



Only in Myanmar

I stayed and walked some more to observe just about everything around me.


what were they doing?


If you ever wonder what those women in horizontal line were doing, they were sweeping the floor! Yes. They form a long parallel line covering the entire area of the terrace and they sweep altogether all around the pagoda. I've only seen something like that in Myanmar.



and they do it with joy on their faces :)

 

When I first saw the men carrying a cart full of brooms, I thought they were like selling it. I was surprised to see after a few minutes that, this was its purpose. They do not employ people to do the cleaning job. The community is just working altogether to maintain and keep the shrine clean at all times. That was fascinating.



public drinking station


You will also see these traditional jars which contain water for public consumption. You will see these as well in the streets, public markets or any other places in Yangon. For travelers, maybe it's best to stick to their bottles of mineral water just to be safe.


I would love to stay in Shwedagon till it gets dark to see the beauty of it in lights. But for some "feminine" reasons (Girls, you know what I'm talking about), I really had to go back to the inn soon. I felt very uncomfortable and easily exhausted. I planned on going back that night but my body said no. I just had my dinner at the inn's restaurant and rested early that night, in preparation for the next day's adventure. I had an awe-inspiring first day in Yangon. :)


“If you reject the food, ignore the customs,
fear the religion and avoid the people,
you might better stay at home.” ~ James Michener




This is Part 1 of my Myanmar travel series.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Where to Stay in Bagan, Myanmar: Pyinsa Rupa Guest House


This wasn't my preferred hostel. I ended up here because I don't have advanced booking and everywhere else we checked was full. This was the only one that guaranteed me a room. I actually had second thoughts on giving this hostel a review or a recommendation entry but I guess it would be helpful for fellow travelers if I do. The second room they gave me was decent anyway.


to the reception area


Oh, that was quite an intro. There's a story behind that rant. It was all because for USD 25.00, I was given a shitty room. I mean really. It was not even worth USD 10! Imagine entering a room at the end of a creepy hallway and the room windows  are almost falling off. To my disgust, when I checked the bathroom, there are black molds forming on the wall tiles. It isn't just a tiny part, it was like 8-10 inch thick. Eeeek. That image is still in my head, ugh. What's worse is - the electric socket was broken. Not only you can't plug anything in there, there's also a risk of you getting electrocuted. It was that bad. There is no way, I'm paying twenty five effing dollars for that. So I stormed back to the reception and demanded them to transfer me to a better room. I didn't care if there were other guests hearing my complaint. I was getting really pissed when the receptionist told me, I can just charge my gadgets at the reception. Good grief. That was not the point. If I hadn't raised my voice he might have not given me a better solution.

When I won't back down, he told me the only room left is in the new building. He showed me the room, yes it was new but the catch there was it's USD 5 more. I told him I don't care. I just wouldn't stay in that rubbish room. So, I transferred to the new wing. I can finally rest.



my "new" room


It was at the ground floor of the newly constructed building. There's still an ongoing construction on the second floor. The room is small and it has two beds, so it has a very limited space. But I'm glad that everything in there is new. The A/C, the beddings, everything. I was relieved.



the toilet


Glorious new bathroom, a far cry from that mold infested one at the old building. I didn't mind shelling out extra dollars for this.


the shower


The water pressure was fine. Hot and cold shower works well.



not much space, eh?


The only other thing you'll see in the room aside from the beds is the vanity drawer at the corner. There's no TV here (not that you'll need it) or anything.



in front of the guesthouse


Maybe one thing that's nice about this guesthouse is their location. They are at the main road of Bagan. In front of it is a store where you can buy anything you may need and rent bicycles and the 7 Eleven Cyber Cafe if you want to check something online. The guesthouse is also in line with various restaurants, so finding a place to eat is very easy.

I have a mixed review for this hostel. The first room they'd given me was horrible but I was satisfied by the second room at the new building. They also need to improve on their customer service. The receptionist suggested me that he could call the bus to pick me up from the hostel, but asked me to pay 200 kyats for that. Geez. Who does that? If he offered me such kind gesture without anything in return, I would have given him a tip (of larger amount) for a job well done. The hostel owner is not very guest-friendly too.

I did not write this as recommendation. This is more of an FYI post. Just in case if like me, you ended up in this hostel with no other choice, at least you know what you'll get into. Who knows, your experience might be better than mine. If you still have the time and the energy after a long trip from Yangon, please try looking for someplace else. If you still end up here, just do yourself a favor and request for a room located at their new building.


Accommodation Information:

Pyinsa Rupa Guesthouse
Address: Main Road, Nyaung Oo, Bagan, Myanmar
Contact No: 061-60607
Room Rates: USD 20- 25 per night
They also have a dorm but I did not ask anymore because they were full. 

Accommodation Rating: ♥♥

Friday, April 12, 2013

Budget Hostel in Yangon, Myanmar: Mahabandoola Guesthouse

If you are a rough backpacker or on a very tight budget and just looking for the cheapest place to stay, then this guesthouse is for you. A Malaysian fellow-surfer suggested me this place in Yangon. Thanks El for this and for a handful of helpful tips! :)

I didn't have a reservation with them because they don't have a website and foreign mobile phones don't work there. I just took my chance and walked-in very early in the morning, along with a European couple. We waited until they opened up.

I was able to get a Single Room for only USD 5.00! Yup, you read it right. That was just PHP 205.00 in our  currency. So, 1 night in Motherland Inn 2 could get me 5 nights here.


my five dollar room


For the very cheap price, please don't expect too much. I just got this small room with a comfy single bed, a desk fan, an exhaust fan, a small mirror and a little table on the side. They also provide a towel and a soap.

My only real complain was the only one electric socket. So say, if you want to charge your batteries you have to give up the fan and deal with the heat. Yaiikks! It was like an hour to a couple of hours of sacrifice.


that was it!


The room or the entire guesthouse I would say is not very clean. Good thing the bed and the pillows are. Same with the bathrooms, in all fairness they were well kept and cleaned. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take photos of that.

They are located at the very corner of the same street as Okinawa Guesthouse, pretty easy to find. It is at the 3rd floor of an old building. Going upstairs, you may see the filth all around and you may think "is this really the way to the guesthouse?". If you are a germaphobe or if you have cleanliness issues, you may not want to stay here. I think, this type of hostel is more for "hardcore" backpackers. :)

Aside from the very affordable rates, one more thing that is great about this guest house is the location. It is very central. It's literally just a few steps away from Sule Paya, Independence Monument and the old colonial buildings. It is also just 15-minute walk to Traders Hotel and Bogyoke Market.

I did not stay long in this guesthouse. I just stayed for a day before my flight back to KL. But I don't think I would mind staying here for a few more days. You'll save a lot of money here because the normal rates for a hostel in Yangon ranges from USD 20-25 per night. You'll be out to explore anyway, so this would be fine. So if you're trying not to spend too much money on accommodation, this might be just what you need.


Accommodation Information:

Mahabandoola Guesthouse
Address: No 453/459(2nd Floor) Maha Bandoola Road, No(93), 32nd Street, Pabedan Township,Yangon
Contact Nos: 248104; 09-54-11-368
Room Rates: USD 5 for Single Rooms; USD 10 for Double Rooms; USD 15 for Triple Occupancy. They also have a Dorm but I'm not sure about the rate. I didn't asked about it.


Accommodation Rating: ♥♥♥

*I want to give it 2 1/2 hearts but I can't do it hehe. I just rounded it up :)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Where to Stay in Yangon, Myanmar: Motherland Inn 2


Myanmar is a country with a lot of uncertainties, well at least for now. Unlike other Southeast Asian countries, their tourism industry is just starting to boom. Getting accommodation in advance is something you have to think about before going there. Just recently, there were feedback from other travelers on how hard it is to get a room because hostels are always fully booked.

Since I was off on a solo journey, I heeded the advice of traveler friends to book early. There were just a few hostels that have websites for online booking. Motherland Inn 2 was the most recommended, so I picked them. I booked my reservation a month before my trip to make sure I'll get a space. They were very responsive to my emails and reconfirmed my reservation a week before my arrival.


The free airport pickup was on time. I was a bit disappointed that a fairly new SUV picked us up, as opposed to the old bus I've seen  from the previous guests' photos haha! :) When we arrived at the inn, we were immediately directed to the restaurant for our free breakfast while they're preparing our rooms. That was great customer service there.



complimentary breakfast



You have several options for breakfast. They usually have toasts, cakes, fruits and eggs. You'll be asked how do you want your egg. That was sweet. Of course, there's coffee and tea. You can also request for a Burmese breakfast but have to order that in advance. You can eat as much as you want.

After breakfast, I was led to my room. It was pretty big for a solo traveler. I wonder if they do have a literal Single Room. The room given to me can accommodate 3 people really.



my beds


There's a tele in the room, which you will not use anyway. No interesting program or whatever and you'll be spending most of your time out for sure.



the room


The room was clean which is very important for me. The bedding were a little bit old but still okay. The room has good air conditioning, also a must for me. Oh, and I have windows. The view may not be great but I like rooms with windows.



work desk/bed side table


Another plus point for me, is the presence of more than one electric outlet. You know, in these modern times we usually carry at least 2 gadgets (camera and mobile phone) with us when we travel. If we toured for the entire day, most likely their batteries were already drained at the end of it. Wouldn't it be nice to charge them all at once? :)



en suite t&b


Another thing I loved the most when I travel are clean bathrooms. Who doesn't? :) A clean toilet and bath with proper ventilation and perfectly working hot and cold shower is just incredible.

They also have an internet station that you may use for a fee but I didn't try it. They also have a full service restaurant serving from breakfast to dinner. Their prices is actually reasonable and the food was good. It was my favorite place in the guesthouse because the staff in the restaurant were the friendliest. They were always smiling and not shy to interact with the guests. They are also eager to learn about your country and your language. The receptionists were also good but not all of them were helpful.

By the way, the location of Motherland Inn 2 is not central. Some cab driver's don't even know where it is. I always have to show them the map whenever I take a cab. That was one of their downside. You'll incur more transportation expenses because of its off location.

My stay here has been worth it. I was satisfied with the room and the service that I got for USD 25.00. Probably not the best for the price range but I would still recommend it.


Accommodation Information:

Motherland Inn 2
Address: No 433, Lower Pazundaung Road, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)
Contact No: 0095-1 291343, 0095-1 290348
Website: http://myanmarmotherlandinn.com
Email: motherlandinn2@gmail.com
Room Rates: USD 22-25 for Single Occupancy; USD 25-30 for Double Occupancy; USD 34-37 for Triple Occupancy
*Rate varies depending on fan or aircon and private or common bathroom preferences.


Accommodation Rating: ♥♥♥