The Fantastic Hoi An Temples of Central Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

A day spent visiting the Hoi An Temples are a day well spent in Central Vietnam

Buddhist influences are felt far and wide throughout Southeast Asia, but perhaps the most beautiful and unique are the Hoi An Temples. Thanks to a combination of Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese and even French architecture notes, the temples are a stunning part of Central Vietnam’s ancient capital.

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Hainan Assembly Hall

Hoi An, Vietnam
Fancy fresh durian or bananas? A lady seller in a rice hat poses in front of the Hainan Assembly Hall

SInce I’ve already written at length about Hoi An this post will stick primarily to the brilliant Hoi An Temples and their overall vibes, architecture and general design.  First up in the Ancient Town of Hoi An is the Hainan Assembly Hall. It was built in 1851 by the Chinese of Hainan to serve both the Hainan and Jialing communities. The story behind this temple is that it is in memorium of 108 Chinese merchants who were mistakenly killed when locals believed them to be pirates. These merchants were named deities by King Tu Duc, who donated the money in order to build it.

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Chua Phap Bao Pagoda

Hoi An, Vietnam

The Chua Phap Bao Pagoda is the only temple in this mini Hoi An – Vietnam Travel Guide – that is located outside of the Ancient Town. The well-kept modern pagoda (relatively speaking, that is) is named after its founder and the 34th Chaplain Lam Te Chanh. Three famous Buddha Images are located in the compound – Shakyamuni Buddha, Amitabha Buddha and Maitreya Bodhisattva – and it was completely renovated in the year 2000 by Thich Hanh Niem. It was originally built in 1981.

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Cantonese Assembly Hall/Quang Trieu Assembly Hall/Hoi Quan Quang Dong

Hoi An, Vietnam

Built in 1885 by Guangdong/Cantonese Chinese immigrants, the Cantonese Assembly Hall is one of Hoi An’s most famous temples. Filled with statues made of pottery and mythical characters from Chinese and Vietnamese lore, the Assembly Hall has so much to see. Some of the temple compound was actually built in China and transported to Hoi An. For a bit of history, the Hall used to be located on a wharf and it was a meeting point for local fishermen and merchants to buy/sell/exchange goods. Festivals are held at the Hall several times a year so make sure to plan your trip around the festivities if possible!

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Trung Hoa Assembly Hall/Trung Tam Hoa Van Le Nghia

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An’s oldest assembly hall, built in 1741, is the Duong Thuong Assembly Hall. Built with money from local traders of the five Chinese counties of Fukien, Zhao Zhou, Canton, Hainan and Jiain. Filled with history, it has been dedicated to a number of different people along with soldiers killed in the “anti-Japanese Resistance War.” It was renamed the Trung Hoa Assembly Hall in 1928, served as a public school for the Chinese and then named the Le-Nghia School. Today is serves as a school for children of the diaspora and is dubbed the Truong Le Nghia. Fun fact: there was a stone stele called “Duong Thuong Rules” which stated the 10 principles for the Chinese immigrants to do business in Hoi An.

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Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall/Fujian Assembly Hall

Hoi An, Vietnam

I’ve already said that the Duong Thuong Assembly Hall is the oldest temple in Hoi An, however some argue that the Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall was actually built in 1690 and is the oldest. Regardless, the large temple is not to be missed when visiting the Ancient Town of Hoi An. Also known as the Fujian Assembly for having been built to serve the Fujian Chinese community, it was sold to traders from Phuoc Kien after some damage from earthquakes and was restored around 1759.  The architecture of this temple is tremendous and its images and sculptures are some of the finest in the city.

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Quon Cong Temple

Hoi An, Vietnam

The Quon Cong Temple is another example of Chinese craftsmanship and architecture in the Hoi An Ancient Town. Named after a successful Chinese general and sometimes referred to as the Ong Pagoda, it has been reconstructed several times and also features major sculputres, perfectly-manicured bushes and trees, and several prominent Buddha Images.

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Tu Do Tham Quan

Hoi An, Vietnam
The entrance to the Tu Do Tham Quan from Tran Phu Road

Hoi An, Vietnam

The Tu Do Tham Quan is yet another example of brilliant architecture in Hoi An. The humble entranceway gives way to a quiet and peaceful courtyard with perfectly-manicured trees, clean paths and floors, and well-cared for statues and sculptures.

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I hope you all enjoyed the photo drop and breakdown of some of my favorite Hoi An Temples! Don’t forget to follow the links below to read more about the stunning Hoi An Ancient Town and the rest of my travels in Vietnam!

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Hoi An, Vietnam

Exploring Authentic Hoi An, Vietnam

Japanese Covered Bridge

There are few pristine travel destinations left like Hoi An, Vietnam.

Brilliant architecture, perfect canals, clean coastline with immaculate sandy beaches and more history than you can shake a stick at make Hoi An, Vietnam, a gem of Southeast Asia.

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Hoi An, Vietnam

While modern cities like Ho Chi Minh City (and even more photos here) and Hanoi see a great leap forward in FDI, architecture and technology which is reshaping them to their very foundations, Vietnam’s ancient cities of Hue and Hoi An are still raising the flag so to speak of traditional Vietnamese culture and identity. Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a wonder of central Vietnam.

Hoi An, Vietnam
Crossing the Ho River into Hoi An from China Beach

Hoi An, Vietnam

And that’s just the view on the way in to Hoi An! The drive from Danang to Hoi An is a roughly 30-kilometer drive along the quiet and peaceful coastline. Spanning the length of My Khe Beach, the infamous stretch of sand used to be referred to as “China Beach” by American GI’s during the Vietnam War. It’s quite a weird thing, passing Danang, cruising past the Marble Mountains and heading inland towards Hoi An and imaging how different a sight this place must have been only 30-some years ago.

Hoi An, Vietnam
The famous Chinese Lanterns of Hoi An
Hoi An, Vietnam
French Colonial Architecture lines the Ancient Town of Hoi An

Hoi An, Vietnam

The Iconic Japanese Covered Bridge of Hoi An

Hoi An has long been an international city and not to get too bogged down in history, but the Japanese community in town wanted to link up with the Chinese quarter therefore they began bridge-building over the natural canals. The first bridge built here was in the 1590s with updates and upkeep taking place frequently since then. Keeping faithful to the original Japanese design, during the French Indochina days they flattened out the roadway for cars and the bridge, especially its arched shape, was completely restored in 1986. It is now an icon of the city.

Hoi An, Vietnam
To make a local smile, ask in Vietnamese for the “Cau Nhat Ban”
Hoi An, Vietnam
“Lai Vien Kieu” = “A bridge for passengers by from afar”

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam
The bridge’s “Pagoda” section, the Cau Chua Pagoda

Hoi An, Vietnam

The Streets and Local Vibe

After the Japanese Bridge, the streets are lined with cafes, restaurants, local shops and handmade goods stores. Primarily a tourist city, Chinese lanterns line the city streets and are available for purchase for tourists who want a trademark souvenir.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam
Handcrafted goods line the alleyways

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam
Expert craftsmanship, done the old way

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam
The Cau An Hoi Bridge over the Thu Bon River

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam
Riverboats are always available for cruises up and down the canals

Hoi An, Vietnam

 

The Central Market

The busy little Central Market  is essentially a large food hall surrounded by small shops, tailors and restaurants. If you’re looking to save a bit of Dong vs. the rest of the city’s tourist spots, this is the place to go in the Ancient Town for a good local meal for a fair price. I recommend the Cau Lau or the Mi Quang, but my favorite is the fried beef with noodles.

 

Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam
Always busy and seemingly always open (officially at 6:30am)!

Keep checking the site for more on Hoi An, as the Temples and Assembly Halls are up next… and you don’t want to miss them!

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Capturing the Corpses, Lakes & Prisons of Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

Gorgeous lakes, Communist shrines, French-inspired colonial architecture and a sprawling modern city make Hanoi, Vietnam, a must-see city in Southeast Asia

From the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the Hanoi Hilton to the brand-new buildings of downtown Hanoi, Vietnam, the capital is alive with economic progress while maintaining strong ties to its roots.

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Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi! The capital city of Vietnam is one of the most interesting places to visit in the country from a historical perspective – I mean there is the infamous Hanoi Hilton Prison, the Soviet-Communist inspiration of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and of course, the French colonial architecture of the Old Town. But there is also massive economic progress being made as the communist ruling government embraces progress via foreign investment and capitalist principles.

Hanoi, Vietnam
The famous Hoan Kiem Lake & Bridge to the Ngoc Son Temple

Hanoi, Vietnam

For most visitors to Hanoi, the first stop is usually the Hoan Kiem Lake & Bridge to the Ngoc Son Temple. Open from dawn till dusk, the ‘Temple of the Jade Mountain’ is Hanoi’s most-visited temple and sits on a small island in the northern part the lake. The scarlet bridge is constructed in classical Vietnamese style and the temple itself is dedicated to a general who defeated the Mongols in the 13th century, the patron saint of physicians and a famous Vietnamese scholar. It’s free to enter which is great because I could spend that money on overpriced drinks that night at a rooftop bar overlooking the awesome cityscape of Hanoi. Check out the quick video below!

Hanoi, Vietnam

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WreNtO-kV1Q”]

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Hanoi, Vietnam

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is a sight to behold and entering the mausoleum is an unforgettable experience. Styled after Vladimir Lenin’s Mausoleum in Moscow, Russia, the Vietnamese version features a traditional sloping roof and imposing gray granite which looms over the Ba Dinh Square below. Strict rules upon entrance mean giving up your phones, cameras and electronic devices. The dress code is enforced at all times, meaning no shorts or skirts. Visitors enter in rows of two-by-two and the honor guard you pass on the way in is dressed in all white, pristine makeup and are meant to be intimidating. Upon entrance, silence is mandatory, no hands in pockets (a soldier actually grabbed my arm and put it by my side), no smoking, eating, drinking, photography or video is allowed. The body of Ho Chi Minh is on display in a very cool and air-conditioned central chamber and you are meant to walking rather quickly in a U-shape around the embalmed body.

Hanoi, Vietnam
Vietnamese guards turn away all visitors in skirts and shorts
Hanoi, Vietnam
The expansive square is used often for military parades

 

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum has open hours usually from: Tuesday-Thursday 07:30 – 10:30; Saturday & Sunday 07:30 – 11:00. I recommend checking in with your hostel or hotel staff to the open hours on that day as schedule changes quite often and sometimes it is closed for maintenance.  After the mausoleum we headed next door to check out the Ho Chi Minh Museum for a bit of history before heading on to the Hanoi Hilton Prison.

Hanoi, Vietnam
The Ho Chi Minh Museum is located next to the mausoleum

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam
Artifacts and trinkets from all around Vietnam are on display at the museum
Hanoi, Vietnam
A wax figure of Ho Chi Minh at his desk

 

The Infamous Hanoi Hilton Prison

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
The original Maison Centrale gatehouse of Hoa Lo Prison

I’ve written before about how “History is written by the victors” using the famous Winston Churchill quote when discussing Vietnam and modern attitudes towards the War with America. In fairness I try to present both sides because, honestly, both sides’ arguments had merit and both sides’ actions were at times atrocious and inexcusable. The example I commonly use is this: dropping napalm (USA) vs. torturing and killing prisoners (Vietnamese). And that’s all I’ll touch on that.

 

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

For a short history, the Hoa Lo Prison was originally built by the French during the Indochina Colonial days and was used mostly for incarcerating political prisoners. Known then as the Maison Centrale (Central House), the French’s cruelty towards those agitating for independence was notorious and well documented. Torture and execution were frequent occurrences and a guillotine still exists and is on display today at the museum. Such was the horror under the French that the locals dubbed the prison Hoa Lo, the fiery furnace or hell hole.

 

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Most of the history on display at the Hoa Lo Prison concerns the inhumane treatment of the Vietnamese prisoners under French rule and praises the treatment given to the Americans under Vietnamese rule. When the French departed, the North Vietnamese assumed control of the prison and used it to hold American POWs during the Vietnam War. Known infamously as the Hanoi Hilton by the American prisoners in an ironic twist, the Vietnamese actually grew to “resent” the nickname as it went against the propaganda of how “humane” they treated the American prisoners. Again, a point of contention that both sides would dispute greatly but as always, I present both sides.

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Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
American Senator John McCain, in a rare photo, was one of the most high-profile prisoners held at the “Hanoi Hilton”

 

From the beginning, U.S. POWs endured miserable conditions, including poor food and unsanitary conditions. The “Hanoi Hilton” moniker was given sarcastically in a reference to the famous Hilton Hotel chain. Kids nowadays may be more familiar with the heiress to the Hilton fortune, Paris Hilton. Most of the POWs who were held at the prison were American pilots who were shot down during bombing raids. Straight from Wiki, “Although North Vietnam was a signatory of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 which demanded “decent and humane treatment” of prisoners of war, severe torture methods were employed, such as rope bindings, irons, beatings, and prolonged solitary confinement.” Regarding treatment at Hỏa Lò and other prisons, Communists countered by stating that prisoners were treated well and in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
One of the beds provided to captured American servicemen during the war

 

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
The original guillotine used by the French at the Hoa Lo Prison

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam
The original New Year’s greeting from Ho Chi Minh on display at the prison

Hanoi, Vietnam, has so much to see and do and I hope this post helped convince you to make the trip!

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Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

Hanoi Hilton, Vietnam

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Photo Journal: Vietnam War Tour in HCMC

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

The Vietnam War officially ended in 1975 but its legacy still cuts deep in the Far East.

“History is written by the victors” is the famous quote by Winston Churchill and that rings true more so in Vietnam than anywhere else. This photo journal will cover three important locations of the Vietnam War in relation to the former capital of the south, Saigon, known nowadays as Ho Chi Minh City.

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Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The immaculate lawn of the Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City

The Independence Palace (Reunification Palace)

The Independence Palace of Ho Chi Minh City is a landmark of the South Vietnamese government during the Vietnam War. A symbol of the fall and subsequent reunification of Vietnam when on April 30, 1975, a North Vietnamese tank crashed through its gates. The palace is known nowadays as the Reunification Palace and is a museum to the southern fall and northern conquest. From rooftop party decks to underground bunkers, the site is immaculately kept and open to all visitors.

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
One of the many meeting rooms in the Independence Palace

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

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Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The President’s desk and office
Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The Presidential Library
Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The palace’s retro-style movie theater

 

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The original bar that was used during presidential shindigs – and next to it a mark of American-style capitalist influence
Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
A commandeered chopper next to two markers where the United States had dropped bombs during the Vietnam War

 

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The exit to the bunker from the rooftop for a quick escape
Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The first room of the underground command center used during the war

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Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
These tunnel labyrinths were used extensively during the war
Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
There are two levels to the underground tunnel system (that we know of!) Each is more claustrophobic than the last

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
One of the tunnel exits leads to the kitchen

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Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập
The backside of the Independence Palace – the vertical columns in the middle of the building are part of an open-air ventilation system

The Cu Chi Tunnels

I’ve covered the Cu Chi Tunnels extensively in a lengthy post here however for the sake of this post here are a few of my favorite shots from the thick-jungle of Southeast Asia. The tunnels, as I’m sure you’re aware of, were used by the Vietcong to ambush the American/Australian/British troops during the Vietnam War.

Cu Chi Tunnels
Jungle Warfare mixed with Guerilla Warfare… a terrifying combination
Cu Chi Tunnels
On hands and knees during the crawl through the “reinforced” and tourist-ized section of the tunnels
Cu Chi Tunnels
The real size of the cramped and dirt-carved tunnels
Cu Chi Tunnels
Absolute relief and joy upon exited the cramped and tight tunnel system

The Vietnam War Remnants Museum

A last bit of Vietnam War-related travel in Ho Chi Minh City that is a must in order to understand the Northern Vietnamese perspective is at the War Remnants Museum. The museum features many pieces of hardware from the war including captured and left behind planes, helicopters, tanks, missile shells and casings, guns, gas masks and much much more, all presented in a manner completely (no pun intended) foreign to an American-educated lad such as myself.

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

 

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum

War Remnants Museum
As democracy fought communism on Southeast Asian soil, the Cubans along with others lent their support to the Northern Vietnamese cause
War Remnants Museum
Captured guns and weapons, along with war stories from Vietnamese soldiers, line the walls of the museum. I’ve decided to cut the really graphic stuff from here but you can see them on Facebook via the link here
Ho Chi Minh City
Still one of the most powerful images from Vietnam and snapped with my phone nonetheless – the Communist sickle and hammer coupled next to the icon of American capitalism – Starbucks

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Hot Shots from Ho Chi Minh – Part Two

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city and has huge buildings, awesome nightclubs and a vibrant culture.

Southeast Asia feels like a totally different world for western travelers, however Ho Chi Minh City is undergoing a renaissance complete with an influx of professionals from the west. Here are a couple of my favorite little spots around the city.

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Ho Chi Minh City
The architectural masterpiece that is the Bitexco Buildling

Ho Chi Minh City is the “city” symbol of Vietnam’s rising economy and new-found wealth. Vietnam’s largest city, formerly-known and sometimes still referred-to as Saigon, has huge skyscrapers and a bustling new industries. Perhaps chief among Ho Chi Minh City’s skyscrapers is the 68-story Bitexco Financial Tower. The 262.5-meters tall building was once the tallest building in all of Vietnam upon its completion in 2010 until 2011. Designed by Venezuelan Carlos Zapata, the renowned design of the Bitexco Financial Tower shows a significant shift in the mentality of the communist-meets-capitalist new reality of the country with a well-known troubled past.

Ho Chi Minh City
Go to the Bitexco Skydeck. You won’t be disappointed.

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As much as the Bitexco Tower is a symbol of Vietnam’s future, the Independance Palace of Ho Chi Minh City is a testament to the country’s past. The deep division sowed into the society between the Democratic and Communist factions before the Vietnam War (or War of American Aggression, depending on who you ask!) has repaired itself as best as probably possible… and of course no one would discount all the things that happened during the build-up, during and of course after the War, by both sides, and the scars the beautiful country still bears to this day.  Not to go too deep into the history of the conflict here (though I may go in-depth on this topic in the future) but for an insight into the war from a Viet Cong leadership perspective the Independence Palace is the place to go.

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

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Another interesting piece of Vietnamese history is the famous Saigon Central Post Office. Located just caddy corner from the Saigon Notre Dame Basilica in central Ho Chi Minh City, the Post Office itself is still function today and was built during the French Indochina days in the late 19th century. Designed by Alfred Foulhoux with Gothic, Renaissance and French cues, it was finished in 1891.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City
“Lignes telegraphiques du Sud Vietnam et Cambodge 1892” – “Telegraphic lines of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia 1892”

All around Ho Chi Minh City are architectural and historical landmarks, such as the Cac Gio Le Catholic Church. Built in 1859, it is located just minutes walking from the Bui Vien backpackers’ area and worth a quick stroll on foot.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

I’ll wrap up this post with a quick word on Ho Chi Minh City nightlife. Basically, whatever you’re looking for is available in the city but one thing is for sure – you don’t have to bend rules to have a great time. Some of my colleagues took me to Glow Skybar and the view alone from the roof was worth it. Drinks can be a bit pricy at some of the trendier nightclubs however a simple search of “bars” on Google Maps will provide you with dozens of options all withing a few block radius. After months in Myanmar, a proper night out can be found in Ho Chi Minh City.

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City
As blurry as my eyesight!
Ho Chi Minh City
At. Your. Own. Risk.

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I hope you guys enjoyed the post and I’ll be back soon with some more from awesome Vietnam!

Chillin in Ho Chi Minh City – Part One

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s former capital and one of the funnest cities in Southeast Asia! 

A backpacker’s paradise, Ho Chi Minh City has everything a traveler is looking for – interesting history, amazing nightlife, vibrant culture, good shopping and of course, it’s cheap!

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For part two of my visit to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Click Here

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Ho Chi Minh City
The French-inspired Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City. Saigon. Vietnam’s most-populous city of several names (most use both, I did/still do)  is quickly shifting towards the future, however its vibrant culture and old-school attitude is still felt by its residents and travelers alike. I’ve touched on the Vietnam War bit of the coastal country’s troubled history in my post about the fear-inducing Cu Chi Tunnels, so I’ll focus more on the city itself and what there is to do around town in this post and the next in a two-part series.

Ho Chi Minh City
Bui Vien Street, a backpackers’ paradise
Ho Chi Minh City
Chances are, your hostel will located down one of these many packed corridors in Ho Chi Minh City

For starters, if you arrive in town from neighboring Cambodia (like most backpackers) or via the airport, you’ll need to make your way towards Bui Vien Street/Pham Ngu Lao Street. The central hub of all hostels, trips, bars, restaurants (and amazing street food) and things-to-do-in-town, Bui Vien is the place to get sorted. I stayed at the Galaxy Hotel & Capsule for around $10 USD/night which is pretty standard in Saigon. Most hostels call themselves hotels since they offer single private rooms (as basic as you can imagine, but private nonetheless) in addition to the regular dorm-style accommodations most opt for due to cheapness.

Ho Chi Minh City
Like ebony and ivory, Vietnam is a mix of communism and capitalism in perfect harmony

As readers of this blog are certainly aware by now, my favorite thing to do once I arrive in a new city is to scope out the surroundings by taking a nice long walk, camera in hand. The strangeness of Vietnam’s communism-meets-capitalism is quick stark and offers such a weird contrast for the recent arrival. I was struck by the juxtaposition of the famous two-tailed mermaid, a symbol of American luxury coffee literally located next to sickle and hammer flag. Bui Vien is the place where the far east meets west.

Ho Chi Minh City
A pair of western gals stroll in front of Vietnam’s famous propaganda

I could write volumes on the oddness of seeing American consumerism occupying the same stretch of street as Vietnam’s staunch political belief systems. One last example – Popeye’s Fried Chicken located 3 minutes walking from the Independence Palace. But I digress… and will leave it for the next post. After taking in the local area I grabbed some shuteye for the next day. I planned on hitting up some local parks and sights and then meeting a colleague of mine for drinks a bit later that night. One of the advantages of living and working in Yangon, Myanmar, is that you make connections all around Southeast Asia and with a good nights’ sleep I wanted to make the most of the famous Vietnamese nightlife… but first, the Tao Dan Park.

Ho Chi Minh City
The sidewalks of Saigon have a lot to say for proper city planning. Loving that shade.

The Tao Dan Park is located in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City. The park is made up of old stupas, a Buddhist Temple or two and plenty of leisure space for children to run around and adults to partake in some strange Tai Chi – like dance moves. The large park also has artwork on display and is incredibly well kept for a big city spot of nature.

Ho Chi Minh City
A tribute to the famous Viet Cong dual-way sandal

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City
Stone carvings are among the artwork on display at the park

Ho Chi Minh City

The last place I’ll cover in this post is the absolutely-brilliant Notre Dame Basilica Cathedral Saigon. Designed by the French architect Jules Bourard and opened in 1880 (1880!) the massive church dominates the downtown landscape and maintains its presence amongst the modern buildings of the “new Saigon.”

Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception

Ho Chi Minh City
Our Lady and the Cathedral

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City

I’m gonna do something a little bit different in describing the Basilica – just list facts… and what facts are these:

  1. All the building materials were imported from France. The bricks outside the cathedral are from Toulouse and have retained their red color without the use of coated conrete.
  2. There are 56 glass squares supplied by the Lorin firm of Chartres province in France.
  3. The cathedral foundation was designed to bear ten times the weight of the cathedral itself.
  4. Tiles have been carved with the words Guichard Carvin, Marseille St André France (perhaps stating the locality where the tiles were produced). Some tiles are carved with the words “Wang-Tai Saigon”. Many tiles have since been made in Ho Chi Minh City to replace the tiles that were damaged by the war.
  5. In October 2005, it was claimed that the Virgin Mary statue out front started to “shed tears.” This was never confirmed by the Catholic Church yet it still drew crowds the world over.
  6. In 1960, Pope John XXIII erected Roman Catholic dioceses in Vietnam and assigned archbishops to Hanoi, Huế and Saigon. The cathedral was titled Saigon Chief Cathedral. In 1962, Pope John XXIII anointed the Saigon Chief Cathedral, and conferred it the status of a basilica. From this time, this cathedral was called Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica.

Ho Chi Minh City

That’s your lot for now, I’ll be back soon with Part 2  of Ho Chi Minh City. Cheers!

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Claustrophobic Cu Chi Tunnels of Ho Chi Minh City

Cu Chi Tunnels

Have you ever been terrified on  your travels? I have, and the Cu Chi Tunnels are as frightening as they are incredible.

Vietnam’s (and neighboring Laos) natural beauty is engulfing; yet a legacy of war remains prominent when visiting the Pacific-rim country and the Cu Chi Tunnels are a prime example of that.

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Cu Chi Tunnels
A path cleared for the tour through the thick jungle of Southern Vietnam

Vietnam is one of those countries that, no matter how much culture, heritage or even change that has taken place, it still bears the scarred reputation as being the focal point of one of the worst theaters of war to have existed on Earth. Napalm, gasses of all kinds, bombs of all sizes and more all did terrible damage to a gorgeous country that is now rebounding in a big way. One of the main remnants of the war that is now a must-see tourist (or backpacker!) destination is the Cu Chi Tunnels of what was known then as Saigon but nowadays, Ho Chi Minh City.

Cu Chi Tunnels
Tiny entrances and exits – this is why the Viet Cong was so deadly and effective

Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi Tunnels are located about an hour and a half outside the city, especially if you sign up for a bus tour near the Bui Vien/Pham Ngu Lao backpackers’ area like I did. Southeast Asia is known for the possible scam or two and our trip was no different as the bus conveniently stopped near a workshop to try and get travelers to purchase locally-made goods from “victims” of Agent Orange. I do recommend taking a bus from the city instead of trying to drive it via rented car (lots of traffic) or motorbike (quite dangerous roads) and I won’t spend too much time on this but as a travel blog with travel tips, I will say a few things to watch out for: firstly it’s great to always contribute to the local economy when visiting a much-poorer country like Vietnam, however with the inflated prices at the shop you could easily purchase similar goods for a fraction of the price in the city markets and with the prices listed, there is more “value” in this little market than at an entire Gucci or Versace store – no joke. So that’s one thing, another is that they book you for a half-day trip and spend an hour at a place like this wasting your precious travel time. So after 15 to 20 minutes I started rallying the bus and telling the guide that it was time to head out as no one was going to buy anything. Do this and your sorted. One last tip – never leave your bags or any valuables on the bus even if you pop off to grab a quick soda.

Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels
While the goods are handmade, those making it may or may not have been affected by chemical agents left over from the war

And now to the tunnels! The Cu Chi Tunnels were dug by the Communist Viet Cong forces and at one time spanned “tens of thousands of miles.” Whether or not that number is entirely accurate they do span for miles and miles.  In terms of engineering, they really are a marvel – dug mostly by hoe in the post-monsoon rainy season, the tunnels have air vents, booby traps, living quarters, hospitals and more! The small, narrow tunnels were easier for the smaller Vietnamese to navigate vs. the larger American, British and Australian forces, however life was incredibly difficult underground and living in these tunnels meant dealing with rampant malaria and disease, poisonous centipedes and scorpions, even vermin and rodents infested the cramped quarters.  They were highly effective nonetheless and were the launching point of the Tet Offensive in 1968.

Cu Chi Tunnels
The 90-meter long stretch of tunnel was made larger, wider and reinforced for tourists
Cu Chi Tunnels
The original tunnel is truly frightening
Cu Chi Tunnels
Successfully made it through! Had to suck in the gut, obviously

After a guide explains to you the basic history, runs you through some of the terrifying booby traps and tactics used by the Viet Cong vs. the foreign forces, brave visitors can try their hand at crawling through an enlarged version of the tunnels. The 90-meter long stretch has several exits for the claustrophobic and larger travelers as they get progressively smaller towards the end. About halfway through I seriously reconsidered why I thought this was a good idea. I think the look on my face above shows how absolutely thrilled I was to get out of there. Honestly looking up through the exit sent chills down my spine. What if I don’t fit through? I’m getting clammy thinking about it, but check out my size 10.5’s (American, like 45? in European) next to the exit below.

Cu Chi Tunnels
Too small…
Cu Chi Tunnels
… and way too tight!

A half-day trip is all you need at the Cu Chi Tunnels although I do recommend  reading up on the history of the place beforehand. At the conclusion of the tour we stopped by the gun range where you can shoot old rifles and even some Jeep-mounted machine guns. The prices are a bit steep and it’ll set you back around $20 USD to get down onto the field. I passed as having grown up around veterans who have had to actually shoot guns in Vietnam for real, it is thankfully something I’ve never had to do and really not a vibe I want to get in to. But if you have some extra dough it does go back into keeping the grounds meticulous and they really are.

Cu Chi Tunnels
The path towards the shooting range at Cu Chi
Cu Chi Tunnels
Booby traps made the tunnels impassible for invading soldiers

As you can see, the photos here are less quality than my normal pics as I was shooting entirely from the GoPro on a rainy day. I’ll be back with more from Vietnam soon!

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Cu Chi Tunnels
A captured American tank during the “War of American Aggression”

Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels
The Vietnamese used fake ant hills as disguised air vents

Shooting Fire at the Da Nang Dragon Bridge

The Da Nang Dragon Bridge is a symbol of the resurgence of Central Vietnam both culturally and economically.

The fire-breathing Da Nang Dragon Bridge is located in the heart of Danang and spans the length of the Han River a whopping 666 meters (2,185 ft).

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Da Nang Dragon Bridge

“Cau Rong Da Nang!” That was the first thing I heard upon arriving via motorbike in Danang, a growing tourist destination in central Vietnam. Well, a “growing tourist destination” in theory at least as the Southeast Asian country is investing heavily in the beautiful yet-still-quaint city. Its location between the Hoi Van Pass of Top Gear fame in the north, the gorgeous ancient town of Hoi An along with the Marble Mountains to the south, the Son Tra Peninsula located slightly east and the Ba Na Hills to the west make it a prime vacation spot for Buddhist pilgrims and vacationers both local and foreign. But I digress… let’s talk about the fire-breathing Dragon Bridge!

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Awesome, right? The Cau Rong – meaning Dragon Bridge – is ironically-measured at 666-meters long (about 2,185 ft) and connects the Da Nang International Airport to the city of Da Nang. The 1.5 trillion Vietnamese Dong ($88 million USD) project was officially completed in 2013 and is a 6-lane pass going both ways over the mighty Han River. As for seeing the fire show, the Da Nang Dragon Bridge lights up from sunset on Saturday and Sunday nights at 9:00pm. It is best to get there a bit early as the bridge is massively popular with the locals, however the bridge itself shuts down to traffic so it isn’t so hard to find a good view.

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
The Da Nang Dragon Bridge as seen from the Monkey Mountain on Son Tra Peninsula
Da Nang Dragon Bridge
The Dragon is a symbol of power, nobility and good fortune dating back to the Ly Dynasty

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge
Cooling off the street after the fire show

As you can tell, I was a bit too close and the heat emitted from the fire itself is no joke! The police presence is apparent but they don’t do that much aside from keeping crowds near the sides of the bridge and stopping traffic… so you can get pretty close. After the show I recommend walking the span of the Da Nang Dragon Bridge to take in all the sights of the city after dark.  There is a pair of bridges, LED lights galore and ships moving up and down the river while the lights of restaurants and bars fill the banks of the Han River.

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge
The Cau Song Han Bridge from the Cau Rong

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge
The Sun Wheel and the LED lights of the Cau Tran Thi Ly

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Alright, that’s your lot for today. Back soon with another post from Central Vietnam!

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The Incredibly Colorful Chua Buu Dai Son Chinese Temple of Da Nang

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

The city of Da Nang in central Vietnam has so much to offer travelers – whether that be backpackers, photographers or regular run-of-the-mill travelers. An afternoon drive along the beach brought me to the Vu Lan Bao Hieu – Chua Buu Dai Son Chinese Temple and I just had to snap some pics.

Located along the beach just before the magnificent Son Tra Peninsula, the Chua Buu Dai Son is a colorful reminder to always explore everywhere you go!

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Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

Many of Vietnam’s incredible sites have been well documented thanks to the enormous numbers of travelers who have ventured to this part of the world. Danang’s Dragon Bridge, Son Tra Peninsula (not too mention the glorious Lady Buddha) and the further Hoi An and Hoi Van Pass of Top Gear fame, have all been written about at length. What has gotten lost in all this clamour are the less-traveled yet important heritage sites such as local pagodas and temples. The Vu Lan Bao Hieu – Chua Buu Dai Son Chinese Temple is a perfect example of the latter, as Vietnamese culture oozes through every part of this fantastically colorful pagoda and surrounding compound.

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son
The Budai (or Pu-Tai) statue in front of the main temple
Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son
Swords and mythical figures – a Chinese epic in the main temple
Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son
Incredible colors and a solitary Buddha Image

Like most places I’ve visited in Southeast Asia, there is a serious dearth of information on the Chua Buu Dai Son Temple. I could wax poetic about the colors though I feel I’ve covered that already! From my visit and perusing the entire compound, I can report that there are many stone statues each with its own unique flair in addition to well maintained albeit smaller temples and the Vietnamese traditional-style architecture, with Chinese infusion, is beyond stunning.

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

So that’s your lot for now. It was a brilliant day of blue skies and I hope you enjoyed the photos from the Chua Buu Dai Son Chinese Temple. I’ll be back with more from brilliant Da Nang, Vietnam – my favorite city in the country! Here are some more photos for a lasting impression.

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Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son
More than a few swastikas, hey

 

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

Wild Motorbike Ride to the Peak of Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

The Son Tra Peninsula in Da Nang is one of the most picturesque places I’ve had the chance to travel to. Taking a motorbike up to the top of Monkey Mountain is a must for travelers passing through central Vietnam. 

Monkey Mountain on the Son Tra Peninsula rises 850 meters (about 3,000 feet) above the city of Da Nang and makes for a perfect day trip for any adventurer (or photographer!) and has some of the best views in the entire country.

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Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Located almost halfway between the former Vietnamese capital of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and the current capital of Hanoi, Danang is one of the gems of Vietnam’s central coastline and has so much to offer a traveler. From the glorious Buddhist pilgrimage sites of the Marble Mountains to the towering Lady Buddha located a third of the way up the Monkey Mountain on Son Tra Peninsula, you really need to stop by this place for a few days at minimum to catch a glimpse of real Vietnamese life. As I’ve just published a blog post on the Lady Buddha I’ll leave that for this post on the motorbike drive up to the peak of the Monkey Mountain.

Da Nang Lady Buddha
The fishing village at the bottom of Monkey Mountain with the Lady Buddha of Danang in the distance
Da Nang Lady Buddha
The bay of Danang and city in the distance, from the circular road leading up the mountain

The Son Tra Peninsula still largely covered with dense, lush rainforest.  Though I didn’t spot any, the mountain gets its “Monkey”moniker from the rare Red Shanked Doucs monkeys that inhabit the area. The narrow jungle roads can be a bit hairy by motorbike as taxis, tuk tuks and open-air trucks can be seen ferrying up visitors to and from the peak. I only came across a few but the one-lane roads make it easy to imagine having to take it a bit slow just to play it safe. Don’t go too slow, some of the roads are pretty steep and you won’t be able to get your bike up it!

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
Some amazing coves and views all around the peninsula. Most of the beaches are empty and can be taken advantage of by those who want some peace and quiet
Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
Clouds starting to form at the peak

I made it a point to leave early in the morning to try and beat the afternoon clouds that usually settle upon the mountain this time of year… however as luck would have it about two-thirds up the clouds started to form around the peak. Back on the bike and with the GoPro attached to my wrist, it was full speed ahead along the increasingly narrow, steep roads to the top.

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
Eek! That was close

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

By the time I reached the peak I was driving in near white-out conditions. From the photo above, you can see how thick the clouds set upon the last stretch of road near the top. The following two pics are almost completely untouched so you can get a real feel for just how cloudy the peak was. What is most peculiar is that just a couple meters below the cloud line, perfect weather mean incredible photos… it was just the top bit that had zero visibility. Check out the pictures below of the chess grandmaster waiting for you at the top and following that some excellent shots of Danang City from just below the cloud line.

I won!

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
A 4-minute drive from the peak broke through the clouds and gave way to some of the most incredible views
Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
STOKED!

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam
The Danang Dragon Bridge crossing the river in Danang, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

From the lookout I continue my descent through the winding roads of the Monkey Mountain. An observatory sits atop a second peak and unfortunately I was unable to get up there. But the view from my stop off was unbelievable. Islands almost untouched by man and some of the thickest jungle in the entire region blanket this little bit of paradise.

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Monkey Mountain, Vietnam

Welp, there you have it… my motorbike trip through the excellent and pristine Monkey Mountain of the Son Tra Peninsula. Keep an eye out for my next post of the Danang Dragon Bridge, a long stretch of road over the river in the form of a traditional Vietnamese dragon… and it shoots fire at night!

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Biking to the Da Nang Lady Buddha of Son Tra, Vietnam

Da Nang Lady Buddha

The Da Nang Lady Buddha is missing from most guidebooks and travel sites but it is a must-see of central Vietnam. 

Da Nang is best known for its Marble Mountains, close proximity to the Hoi Van Pass, Hoi An and Hue. The Da Nang Lady Buddha isn’t at the top of the list for most travelers but really should be, standing at 67m tall and rivaling the Statue of Liberty in scale.

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Da Nang Lady Buddha
The Lady Buddha of Danang from the fishing village across the bay

The Linh Ung Pagoda of Son Tra Peninsula in Da Nang (Danang), Vietnam, is home to a massive Buddha statue which looks over the bay and China Beach (known locally as My Khe Beach).  The beautiful 67m (220 ft) is the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam and is only 14km from the Da Nang city center making it a quick drive along the coast and past the fishing village. Perhaps what is most impressive about the Da Nang Lady Buddha is how it is visible from almost the entire city and as well has a lotus diameter of 35m, equivalent to a 30-story building! The official website of the Lady Buddha reads that “facing the sea, the kind eyes looking down, a hand exorcizes (ed) while the other hand is holding a bottle of holy water like sprinkling the peace to the offshore fishermen.”

Da Nang Lady Buddha

In Danang, you can rent a motorbike for around 100,000 dong (about $5 USD) and the drive up the coast to the Son Tra Mountain aka Monkey Mountain takes hardly any time at all. The traffic in this area is quite light while the infrastructure of this area is top class. The only thing a traveler needs to look out for is tight turns around the corners going up the mountain. Vietnamese drivers are notoriously quick and carefree so of course you’ll have to take that into account. The views from the Lady Buddha are brilliant and you’ll want to stop off several times on your trip to grab a few photos. I sure did!

Da Nang Lady Buddha
Halfway up to the Da Nang Lady Buddha!
Da Nang Lady Buddha
Mountainous islands and brilliant turquoise blue seas as far as the eye can see

Definitely don’t get distracted while driving up! The Da Nang Lady Buddha is located about halfway up the mountain and a large-scale parking lot is available at the entrance to store your bike. I forget the exact parking fee but it is nominal to say the least. If riding motorbikes is a bit too hairy for you, tuk tuks and open-air trucks regularly ferry visitors up the mountain. Most will take you up to the peak of the Son Tra Mountain after visiting the Lady Buddha, another sight you won’t want to miss. My next post will cover the peak of the mountain.

Da Nang Lady Buddha
The steps leading up the Linh Ung Pagoda from the parking lot
Da Nang Lady Buddha
The entrance… but first turn around quick!
Da Nang Lady Buddha
Worth it!

Da Nang Lady Buddha

Linh Ung Pagoda

The Da Nang Lady Buddha is part of the greater Linh Ung Pagoda, a complex with many different temples and Buddha statues to take in.  On a hot day (it was way past 40C when I arrived, around 100F) there is plenty of shade to take advantage of. As a quick bit of history (and Vietnamese myth), the people of Son Tra “recalled that, at the time of Minh Mang King (Nguyen Dynasty, XIX century), there was a Buddha statue from nowhere to drift on the sandbank here. Believing that was an auspicious sign, people here established a shrine for worship… the sandbank where the Buddha statue drifted was then named Bai But (i.e. Buddha land on earth) also was where Ling Ung pagoda erected today,” – LadyBuddha.org. The modern complex you can visit today took six years to complete, from June 2004 to July 30th, 2010. The Linh Ung Bai But Pagoda is considered the “meeting place of heaven and earth.”

Da Nang Lady Buddha
The main temple of Linh Ung Bai But with the traditional Vietnamese architecture of a dragon roof
Da Nang Lady Buddha
Worshippers praying to the Sakyamuni Buddha Statue
Da Nang Lady Buddha
The Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva ‘guarding’ the Buddhist worshippers

Da Nang Lady Buddha

Da Nang Lady Buddha
Rubbing the Buddha belly for good luck
Da Nang Lady Buddha
18 stone Arhat statues line the Linh Ung Pagoda courtyard. Each was carved up by the artist Nguyen Viet Minh (head of the Non Nuoc craft village) with monolithic white stone materials brought from Thanh Hoa
Da Nang Lady Buddha
The view from the main temple. Beat this: Danang City in the background, a pristine ocean, the entrance and courtyard and, of course, the Lady Buddha

Da Nang Lady Buddha

Da Nang Lady Buddha

I hope you guys enjoyed the Da Nang Lady Buddha and Linh Ung Pagoda! I’ll be back with the drive up the Son Tra Peninsula and peak soon, don’t miss it!

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Marvelous Marble Mountains of DaNang, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

The Marble Mountains of DaNang jut out along the flat and pristine Vietnamese coastline and give central Vietnam its spiritual character.

The Marble Mountains, Vietnam, are a main attraction for tourists from all over the world, including devout Buddhists who wish to find their inner peace within the grottoes of the intricate cave systems.

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Marble Mountains, Vietnam
The immense view from the “Gate of Heaven” at Mt. Thuy

The Marble Mountains of Danang, Vietnam, are known locally as the “five elements mountains (Ngu Hanh Son)” and upon first glance it’s easy to see why. The karst limestone mountains loom in the distance from the city and a 20-minute motorbike ride south from the city center takes you right into the heart of the pristine mountains. Made out of the same rock as the well-known tourist destination of Halong Bay in the north of Vietnam, you get all the beauty but without the mass amounts of tourists. I’ve been told this is depending on the season, however I was there atthe beginning of the dry season and I had no issues with a mass influx of tourists whatsoever.

Marble Mountains, Vietnam
The Marble Mountains consist of five mountains, each named for an element: Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth. Each mountain contains tunnels, caves and shrines

First things first – how can you travel to the Marble Mountains on a budget – easy – hostels in Danang are easily bookable for about $5-10 USD. Motorbikes are available for daily rental for around 100,000 Vietnamese Dong/Day (that’s less than $5 USD)! If you want to travel more upscale, there are plenty of resorts around Danang all the way south towards the tourist hub of Hoi An. I stayed at the Glocal Beachside Hostel and “paid extra” for a private two-bedroom room, basically just for the private amenities for roughly $12 USD. Shared room and bathroom options are available for cheaper. After renting a motorbike, I made the 20 minute or so journey along the coastal highway south to the Marble Mountains and was met along the way by a woman wanting to show me her statue shop and offering me free parking. I declined as there is already free parking at the site for motorbikes plus what is a backpacker gonna do with a massive Buddha statue?

The ominous entrance to the “Cave to Buddhist Hell”

Unfortunately once I arrived, there was a power outage at the “Cave to Buddhist Hell” in Mt Thuy and it was closed down with entrance forbidden. Kind of ominous really, but inconvenient mostly. I made a return trip just for this cave system on my next trip south to Hoi An so I ended up being able to see it after all. The cave entrance is much larger than the rest and inside is pitch black save for the artificial lighting which illuminates the way.

Marble Mountains, Vietnam
The narrow passages of Mt Thuy “The Cave to Buddhist Hell”

Marble Mountains, VietnamMarble Mountains, VietnamMarble Mountains, VietnamMarble Mountains, Vietnam

Thumbnails: Just your average stirring boiling souls alive in soup, toture and being eaten by snakes.

Marble Mountains, Vietnam
Buddha Shrine in Mt Thuy illuminated by neon LEDs

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

All is not lost in the eternal damnation sense, however, as the cave has a very narrow walkway up through a skylight to the top of the mountain, named the “Gate of Heaven.” If there is a hint of rain or the steps are wet, climb at your own peril as the small steps don’t offer much room for footing. I climbed up to the top amid a bit of foot traffic and the view was definitely worth the hassle.

Marble Mountains, Vietnam
The brilliant blue sky, sea and a sign of “new Danang” – one of many tourist resorts popping up along the otherwise pristine coast
Marble Mountains, Vietnam
The Marble Mountains, a zoroastrian church and the small town

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

 

Several Buddhist sanctuaries can also be found within the mountains, making this a famous tourist destination for pilgrims. As a bit of history, there was a US military base in the area during the Vietnam War (known in Vietnam as the “War of American Aggression”) and history buffs may be more familiar with the name “China Beach.” To protect the base, the US dropped copious amounts of napalm in the area and its devasting effects can still be seen today in destruction of the local area and birth defects among the local population where the deadly chemicals infiltrated the water stream. But I digress… Outside of Mt. Thuy, there are a number of grottoes, including Huyen Khong and Tang Chon, and many Hindu and Buddhist sanctuaries.  The pagoda Tam Thai was built in 1825 by Tu Tam and Linh Ung along with the tower of Pho Dong. The sanctuaries feature statuary and relief depictions of religious scenes carved out of local marble.

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam
So peaceful… swastika!

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam
Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

All in all, the Marble Mountains are a fantastic day trip for travelers in central Vietnam. Make sure to check out the surrounding village and nearby An Loc Temple while in the area for some cool views and fun adventure. I’ll do a photo post here soon for those who just want to see some cool shots from the area.

Alright folks, that’s your lot for today. As always, for all the high-resolution photos from the Marble Mountains, Vietnam: Click Here

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A Rainy Day in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Few places in the world are as renowned for its incredible natural formations like the karst limestone mountains of Halong Bay, Vietnam

The sheer size, scope and beauty of the natural rock formations of Halong Bay, Vietnam, first captured my imagination several years ago when I caught a glimpse  of them on a television program on the National Geographic Channel. Seeing is believing and it is truly one of the rare places on Planet Earth that you really do need to see to believe. Unfortunately my trip included a massive monsoon rainstorm that caught up with me on the boat ride out to explore the area.

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[su_youtube_advanced url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zOhh2NagQg” theme=”light”]

From the start, we arrived to the town of Halong Bay after a couple days in Hanoi (with beautiful blue skies nonetheless) and the change of scenery was seriously welcome. A crowded and bustling (though brilliant… more on that in a later post) city gave way to striking countryside, small villages and excellent rural expanses that span as far as the eye can see. I was traveling with three mates, one from Israel and doing a semester abroad in Hong Kong, plus two of his classmates, one German and one from Singapore. After some hunting around for the best price, we ended up in a private van for about $15 each.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Boats with cabins below and a sundeck above are aplenty at Halong Bay, offering daily cruises

After settling into the hostel and looking for the best price for day cruises, we found most prices to range from $30 USD to $50 USD and up. We booked for $30 from the Halong Party Hostel and pickup began at 6:00 AM. Unfortunately our perfect blue skies gave way to the last gasps of the Southeast Asian monsoon and muggy weather turned out to be the theme of the day. Luckily I was armed with my handy GoPro camera and its waterproof case turned out to be a lifesaver. So in advance, my apologies for the clarity of some of these images as I was constantly wiping away raindrops from blurring my shots of the area.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
For reference, the thousands of islands of Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Upon grabbing our boat and setting sail, our first glimpse of the thousands of islands that dot the Halong Bay landscape came into view and despite all the rain, the sheer size and immensity of the surroundings really blow you away. Our first stop was a cave amongst the islands for which I was able to break out the Canon and take some remarkable images of the giant stalactite and stalagmite formations of the cave.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, VietnamHalong Bay, VietnamHalong Bay, VietnamHalong Bay, Vietnam

The cave itself was an eerie experience though for me, a bit far from enjoyable. Many tourists are crammed into the caverns not only making the art of photography difficult but making it hard to connect with the site itself and feel more like a theme park ride than an adventure out into the islands. This is the tradeoff in Halong Bay, Vietnam = the most unique and impressive sights combined with a glut of tourists which make it hard to take it all in. But I digress… after we exited the cave, the weather had broken a bit and it was back into the boat and on to the next location, taking out kayaks into the Bay. A word of advice – make sure you negotiate the kayak rental into the price of the trip itself. We had it thrown in as part of our package and avoided having to pay an extra fee for the rental. But as we arrived, the weather acted up again but it didn’t stop us from going hard into the water.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
The cave behind us led to…
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The most gorgeous lagoon I’ve ever seen, rain and all

Kayak rental can cost anywhere from $5 to $50 USD depending on who you rent from. Don’t get scammed but definitely take the kayaks. Even in the worst weather it is an adventure well worth the hassle. With the GoPro affixed to my head attachment, we set out into the bay and underneath a cave which led to the lagoon of my dreams. We were the only ones in there and it was a welcome change from being surrounded by tourists. This was by far my favorite moment of the trip.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

The rain continued to press on and by this time we were all quite miserable, our crew along with the entire boat. I attempted to dry off but it was ultimately to no avail. A short boat ride around the islands followed by another stop at a small island concluded our epic trip to the once-of-a-kind Halong Bay. I’ll leave ya’ll with some parting shots (For all the high-resolution photos from Halong Bay, Vietnam: Click Hereand stay tuned for more from Vietnam!

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam
Sun setting after a long cruise on the epic Halong Bay, Vietnam

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Halong Bay, Vietnam: Click Here

Myanmar vs. India AFC Football at the Thuwanna

AFC Football Myanmar vs. India

Yangon’s Thuwanna Stadium played host to the FIFA AFC Football Qualifier between the White Angels and the Blue Tigers

The 2017 FIFA AFC Football Asian Cup Qualifier match between Myanmar and India was played on March 28th at the Thuwanna Stadium in Yangon and ended in a 1-0 result for the visiting team.

For all the high-resolution photos from the Thuwanna Stadium: Click Here

AFC Football

“Mate, wanna go see the Myanmar vs. India Football game? March 28th and tickets should be cheap.” Sounds good to me hey. For 3,000 Myanmar Kyat (roughly $2.50 USD), you can sit in an open-seating area near the pitch which honestly, you really can’t beat. I won’t go too deep into the details of the match (you can catch all the highlights here), but as you can imagine from two teams ranked quite low on the FIFA Rankings there were many easy chances missed for both teams albeit with several spurts of decent play. India took the win 1-0 at the end with a goal in the last five minutes. I’m going to focus on the stadium and experience, but if you want to see all the pics in high resolution check out the Facebook album here.

The Thuwanna Stadium in Yangon is the premier multi-function stadium in Myanmar. I know that might not be saying much given the state of stadiums in the country but it is everything you need for a sports event and literally nothing more. No concessions, limited signs (and those that exist are in Burmese) and chairs which range from affixed plastic shells on concrete to bare concrete steps. I felt like the VIP box seats might be worth a few extra Kyat, but no… no a/c in the VIP. Fine by me, I like to be a ‘man of the people.’ What I didn’t realize was that myself and a mate would be two of the handful of foreigners in the entire stadium.

A couple of Israelis Abroad

First things first – the kit. Upon hopping out of the cab, we drew looks from everyone around wondering why two foreigners (read: white guys) would be at the AFC football. Not wanting to stand out and, of course, being railroaded by a couple old ladies with obviously ‘official’ gear, we picked up two Myanmar football headbands for 500 Kyat each ($0.35) and upon entering the stadium, two official kits for 9,000 Kyat each ($7.00). Not bad compared to the Euro kits which run from $100 USD and up. Each step of the way we were stopped for selfies by locals who loved our outfits and the fact that we showed up to the match. Two Israelis and 32,000 of our newest and closest friends.

Once we found our gate (which of course was any gate they let us in), we made our way to some primo seats thanks to the open seating setup. I caught several people taking our photos and you know, when in Myanmar you just get used to that sort of thing. One of the awesome things about the Myanmar people is that they are the politest fans I’ve ever seen. They smile the whole game, sing and chant for their team and never boo or curse the team even if they miss a sitter or when they gave up the winning goal at the death. Really a great experience vs. western fans who curse as a matter of commentary.

And… free scarfs for the diehard fans. We were able to get some as well.
Not a bad seat for about $2.50

 

Night falling on the Thuwanna

The 18:00 kickoff saw night fall in the second half and after the final whistle, fans started pouring out of the stadium en masse. We got out and started heading towards the main road when I spotted a gap in the surrounding fence and a clear path to the field. About 10 minutes after the whistle the path was empty and we headed towards the field. Perhaps they thought we were FIFA officials or something but no one batted an eye. So to the field we went!

Myanmar’s #1 Ultra Fan
View from the penalty

All in all, a great experience at the Thuwanna Stadium and for the price, absolutely worth it. If you happen to be traveling through Myanmar and find out there is a match to take in, definitely make the effort and of course, if you can make it on to the field don’t skip the opportunity!

For all the high-resolution photos from the Thuwanna Stadium: Click Here

Koh Phangan’s Top Five Must-See Beaches

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Some of the best beaches in the world are located on the island of Koh Phangan, Thailand

Thailand is known for its world-class beaches and travel options. The beautiful beaches of Koh Phangan are world renowned for a reason and here is a list of my top five must-see beaches on the gulf island.

For all my blog entries in Thailand, check out the blog: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Koh Phangan, Thailand: Click Here

No. 5: Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi

Koh Phangan
Great views & Great atmosphere

Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi is one of Koh Phangan’s smaller and underrated beaches. Great views, plenty of small and chilled beach-front restaurants to grab drinks and snacks from and a cool vibe give this little piece of sand a cool vibe not found many other places in the hustle and bustle of the Thai islands. If you’re in the mood for some sun, a few sodas and some cool views, check out Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi.

Koh Phangan
Food & Drinks & Chill at Ao Thong Nai Pan Noi

No. 4: Haad Salad

Koh Phangan
Nearly empty beach on a crescent-shaped cove

Koh Phangan

Haad Salad is the place to go for beachfront traditional Thai massages, nightly seafood BBQs and last but not least, a lovely and quiet crescent-shaped beach. Haad Salad has two resorts located at each crescent tip and most restaurants and massage parlors rely on them for the majority of their business. As these resorts are generally smaller than others and packed with luxury, the majority of the beach remains empty most of the time. A terrific and quiet find.

Koh Phangan
The thick, dense jungle hides a beautiful crescent-shaped beach

No. 3: Haad Than Sadet

Koh Phangan

A beach cove on the eastern edge of the island of Koh Phangan, Haad Than Sadet is a small beach book-ended by a pair of small resorts and in the middle, a view into infinity. This beach is the entrance into the Gulf of Thailand and the mesmerizing view coupled with quiet surroundings is a great place for relaxing after a night of partying or just unwinding from the world for a bit.

Koh Phangan
The sound of waves… and occasional lovebirds

Koh Phangan

No. 2: Haad Thian Beach

 

Koh Phangan

A sandbar beach in paradise? Sign me up! The Haad Thian Beach is pretty much your average cool island beach – small shack-bars with cold drinks, a couple lounge chairs strewn about and random passersby sticking around for indeterminate periods of time – except for one amazing feature – a giant sandbar located some 20 yards from the beach itself! The massive sandbar feels like its own separate island and has the cleanest sand you’ll find.

Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan

The haze that sets upon the tall hills of Koh Phangan adds a fairytale-like feel to this tiny sand oasis in the bay of Haad Thian. Haad Thain is located on the western coast of Koh Phangan.

Koh Phangan
The view from the edge of the sandbar is immense… almost as if the sand is melting back into the sea

Koh Phangan

Koh Phangan

No. 1: Haad Rin

Koh Phangan

It had to be #1, right? “The Full Moon Party” Beach of Haad Rin is the most famous beach on the entire island of Koh Phangan, let alone its neighbors Samui or Tao. The monthly festivities last all night long and in the morning give way to a freshly-cleaned cleaned canvas of sand and hungover/still sleeping partygoers. Known as a backpackers beach, you’ll want to enjoy the cheap food and drinks that dot the area along with taking a tuk tuk to and from the beach during the party season.

Koh Phangan
When the beach isn’t hosting all night parties, there are beach football/soccer tournaments put on by the local pubs
Koh Phangan
Catching some sun

Koh Phangan

I hope you enjoyed my top 5 beaches on Koh Phangan! Stay tuned for my rundown of Koh Tao coming up next and as always…

For all my blog entries in Thailand, check out the blog: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Koh Phangan, Thailand: Click Here

Honeymoon in Style in Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand

If you’re looking for an unforgettable honeymoon or vacation with a partner, look no further than Koh Phangan, Thailand

The islands of Thailand may no longer be secret getaways, however they are just as romantic and luxurious as ever! And even if you are looking to travel in style but want to save a bit of cash, Koh Phangan, Thailand, has all that you could ever dream of and more at a reasonable cost!

For all my blog entries in Thailand, check out the blog: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Koh Phangan, Thailand: Click Here

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Everyone wants “The Most Romantic Honeymoon Evaaaaa” and I have to say we probably nailed it. Thailand’s many islands are world famous for their pristine beaches, crystal clear waters and incredible luxury spas and resorts. Sure you can backpack it up (like I’ve done for the most part of this blog) but when you shouldn’t shlep  you can roll in style for reasonable prices in remote places with some of the best service on earth!

Koh Phangan, Thailand
The view from our luxury villa at Salad Buri Resort and Spa

We had a 2-part honeymoon with a week in Koh Phangan (also spelled Ko Pha Ngan) and a week in Koh Tao. Koh Phangan  is located in the Thai Gulf just north of Koh Samui and just south of Koh Tao. Famous among backpackers and travelers alike for its Full Moon Party, Koh Phangan has so much to offer in the way of hiking, temples, beaches, scuba, charming villages and more. One of the things to keep in mind about this brilliant island is that it is only reachable by boat from neighboring Koh Samui or land-based ports such as Surat Thani or Chumphon. Flights from Bangkok are available to all of those destinations. There are ferries that travel between many destinations in the Gulf and destinations like Koh Phi Phi, Phuket or Krabi. We used Lomprayah with VIP Shuttle Service.

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Our high-speed ferry from Surat Thani Laem Thuat Pier

Koh Phangan, Thailand

So now that we’ve established how to get to Koh Phangan, check out our luxury honeymoon suite on Haad Salad at the Salad Buri Resort & Spa. Talking a private villa with an infinity pool, sunbed, wood deck, fridge, living room, king-sized bed and more. To be honest, the flat screen was a bit small but who needs TV in paradise? The view out of the window is significantly better.

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Our private infinity pool

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Not a shabby view

Koh Phangan, Thailand

The rest of the resort featured a three-tiered freshwater swimming pool, a tad overpriced but decent nightly seafood BBQ dinner on the beach, great breakfast buffet and near practical private beach. The cove, named Haad Salad, has several massage parlors located right on the beach, a few restaurants and scuba lessons plus boats willing to ferry you around the island. More after a photo break:

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Three-tiered swimming pool with our private villa in the background

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Open-air breakfast buffet…
Koh Phangan, Thailand
And our perfect view from breakfast
Koh Phangan, Thailand
The resort is located on a pretty steep hill. Not to worry, as chauffeurs in golf carts can whisk you anywhere

From there we rented a jeep and tooled around the island for the week. You can easily get by with a motorbike but for the two of us planning excursions every day, it was well worth it. And since we arrived in October/November, rain was a real concern and we had two days of rain during our stay on the island. Though the rain is cumbersome, it isn’t a deterrent from driving all around and checking out all the local markets, shops and restaurants. The best part of a jeep is how much time it saves you, allowing maximization of time on the island. I mean, if you come to paradise, you gotta explore it all, right?

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Right-hand drive and driving on the left side of the road… like a boss
Koh Phangan, Thailand
Like exploring the Saampan/Deog Waterfalls

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand
We drove the entire island and found a great spot on the other side
Koh Phangan, Thailand
Finding hidden beaches

Another travel tip for luxury/high-end travelers is to stop off at Baan Srithanu Village. There you’ll find a lovely beach and some fantastic food options. Taboon, a middle eastern restaurant, has some delectable malawach and one of the best shakshukas I’ve ever had outside of Tel Aviv. Highly recommended and a definite for your travel itinerary.

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Taboon restaurant, highly recommended

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Stopping off at the top of the mountain… and behind a Buddhist monastery was the most amazing view

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Koh Phangan, Thailand

Koh Phangan, Thailand
Best. Pad. Thai. Ever.
Koh Phangan, Thailand
One of Koh Phangan’s amazing Buddhist Temples
Koh Phangan, Thailand
Head to Haad Than Sadet Beach and on the way stop off at this incredible lookout
Koh Phangan, Thailand
And… off to Koh Tao!

For all my blog entries in Thailand, check out the blog: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Koh Phangan, Thailand: Click Here

Walking with Elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Asian Elephants are some of the most amazing, graceful and gigantic creatures on Planet Earth.

On a misty morning and up in the high mountains of northern Thailand, I found a herd of formerly-abused Asian Elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The ensuing shenanigans made for possibly the most fun day of my two week-long northern Thailand/Laos trip.

For all my blog entries in Thailand, check out the blog: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Chiang Mai, Thailand: Click Here

Elephants
After a hard trip up the mountain… the view

The ride up to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary was miserable. About 2 hours in the cold and rain in the back of a truck bed with benches on both sides. A small tarp didn’t break the wind or rain nearly as much as it should have and the 8 of us crammed in there was just tough. We ended up laughing about the whole thing which brings you closer as a group but you know, I’m cool with distance if I’m not freezing. Anywho… the ride up the mountain about 60 km north of Chiang Mai was pretty steep but the views are impressive.

Elephants
Mud + constant drizzle = plastic rain coat fashion accessories
Elephants
Nom nom

Those who know me are aware of the obligation I feel towards responsible tourism, especially when it comes to impoverished or indigenous tribes and native wildlife. Too often in undeveloped parts of the world you can find tiger “temples” and basically “photobooths” with locals – both of which are usually accessible for only a few dollars and terribly abusive for the animals and people involved. So with that being said, during my brilliant but short stay in northern Thailand’s largest city of Chiang Mai, I decided to check out the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary where both of my concerns were alleviated instantly.

Elephants

Elephants

The sanctuary was started as an experiment in eco-tourism through ethical and sustainable business practices in 2014. The joint-initiative combines international travelers with the Karen Hill-Tribes which dot this part of Asia. As I’m currently living in Myanmar I’ve become very familiar with the Karen as they live in the jungles between Shan State, Myanmar, and the northern provinces of Thailand, it’s great to see this effort in action. The no-riding experience began with a quick overview of what’s up in the valley and the plan for the day. We had about 20 participants in our group and as it was roughly 7:45am and most of us had been enjoying ourselves the night before, not many were paying close attention. I just wanted a coffee.

Elephants

Elephants

We meandered down in to the valley were the elephants were hanging out and munching on some bamboo. The thing about these elephants is that you can tell they’d been abused, could easily see the scars and holes in their ears, yet they didn’t seem to care. The quality of their lives is readily apparent as their days consist of eating bamboo, getting fed treats by travelers, playing the mud, hanging out on the hillsides and washing off in a pristine natural stream.

Elephants
It was her idea…
Elephants
The world’s largest land animal and an elephant
Elephants
Wearing a traditional Karen shirt over my wind jacket

The elephants are very friendly (you are feeding them, after all) and aren’t shy in the slightest – which is both good and bad. You have to constantly keep your head on a swivel as they move about without much regard to who’s around them. The last thing you’d want is to have your foot be stepped on by on of these gigantic creatures. I grew up around Belgium draft horses and there is really no comparison as to how incredibly tall and wide – these animals are easily as wide as a U-Haul truck.

Elephants

Elephants

Elephants

Elephants

After a short time of feeding the elephants, off they went to the mountainside for a bit of graze. The steep muddy slopes make for tricky terrain but their flat feet somehow hold. We were slipping and sliding all over the place. Next was off to the stream at the end of the valley to play in the water with the elephants. Elephants really do engage in an incredible amount of social activity with each other and watching them play about from only feet away was such a uniquely-awesome experience.

Elephants
Paradise in the dense Thai jungle

Elephants

Elephants

Elephants
Baby always climbing on mama

Elephants

Elephants

Elephants

We spent about 6 hours with the elephants in total and it was worth every minute. The whole tour plus travel costs runs about 1,500 baht (give or take $40 USD) but for the experience, interaction with the animals and for the cause, it really is worth the expense. I’d do it again in a heartbeat and have recommended the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary to many friends and fellow travelers. I mean, the weather was atrocious and it was my favorite day in Thailand.

Elephants
Elephant paradise

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A Morning with the Monks of Myanmar

Monks, Yangon, Myanmar

I recently had the opportunity to spend a morning with the monks of Myanmar and, as you would imagine, it was an unforgettable experience.

Spending a morning with the monks of Myanmar is a must when traveling through the Golden Land. I headed near the Kabar Aye Pagoda for a morning walk with the monks.

For all the high-resolution photos from this part of my journey: Click Here

Monks
Fresh shaves and burgundy robes

Well, it’s good to be back folks! I’ve been away for awhile handling a few things (parenthood, that sorta thing), however I’m back and hoping to be posting quite regularly from now on. I actually had these photos loaded up and ready to post (you can check out the full high-res gallery on Facebook here) however I just never had the opportunity and then, of course, completely forgot about them after I flew out to Vietnam and then on to Israel. But I digress…

Monks
Squad

The morning started with a ride out to the junior monks’ monastery at around 7:15am.  As a quick lesson in Myanmar Buddhism – Southeast Asia’s second-largest country is about 90%-plus Buddhist and they practice a very ancient form of the faith called Theravada. This type of Buddhism is a bit different than the more familiar Tibetan Buddhism most commonly depicted in Western movies and film.  The primary focus of Theravada Buddhism is on practicing strict personal meditation and finding the monastic path to Enlightenment. This branch of Buddhism uses the oldest recorded teachings of the Buddha and is found throughout Thailand and Sri Lanka with its total number of followers estimated at over 100 million. In Myanmar, monks are venerated and given the title of “U”, as in “U Phil” if I were a monk. They are treated with the utmost respect and live solely off alms and donations from the community. OK, now that  you’re familiar with Myanmar Buddhism, back to the story….

Monks

So it’s pouring rain all morning and when I arrive at the monastery everyone is taking cover and enjoying the cool, brisk air – a rarity in Myanmar. The break in the humidity and punishing heat was a great respite for the junior monks who live here at the compound. The monastery, located just north/northeast of Yangon’s largest lake, Inya Lake, has around 60 novice monks. Every morning before they set out for their alms collecting, they usually get their laundry and places sorted for the day. Myanmar monks have a custom of not eating food or drinking water after 12pm noon so they are on a different schedule than most of us, as you can imagine.

Monks

The purpose of this visit was to film a TV show for Israeli television on the history of sport around the world. Serving as a bit of a guide/translator, my role was support and snapping some photos of the whole process and experience. Accompanied by staff from the Embassy of Israel, we got to take in some local games from the monks and local schoolchildren before the procession. One of the most striking things you’ll notice when visiting the monks is their lack of shoes… and I’m not referring to just being inside buildings as is Asian custom, but the entire procession down the streets are bare-footed occasions. It’s really quite a thing to witness.

Monks

Monks

The following daily march is actually quite a straightforward process – a lead junior monk walks in the front tolling a bell to alert the neighborhood residents the monks are passing by. The narrow roads of Myanmar are nothing new to those that frequent the country but feel especially claustrophobic when you have about 60 children walking through the street, dozens upon dozens of residents passing them food and charity all while cars and trucks pass in both directions.

Monks

Monks
The burgundy robes of Myanmar’s monks are iconic for travelers in Southeast Asia. Orange robes are usually worn in Thailand while the Vietnamese wear brown.

Monks

Monks

Monks

Monks

Monks

Monks

Monks

For all the high-resolution photos from this part of my journey: Click Here

Stunning Sein Yaung Chi Pagoda

Sein Yaung Chi Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

The Sein Yaung Chi Pagoda is a magnificent work of art located in Yangon

One of Yangon’s more unique pagodas, Sein Yaung Chi Pagoda looms behind several large trees on Shwedagon Pagoda Road.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Sein Yaung Chi Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Sein Yaung Chi Pagoda: Click Here

 

Sein Yaung Chi

Located just south of the Shwedagon Pagoda, the jade-colored Sein Yaung Chi Pagoda can be found just behind Pan Tra Street obscured from street view by several massive trees. The mirror-like exterior of this pagoda makes it one of Yangon’s more unique religious shrines as its exterior is completely covered by mirrored-glass pieces interspersed with touches of green paint. The shiny-jade effect that comes off when the sun is at its zenith on a clear day is simply mesmerizing and an incredible interior makes this a perfect spot to spend a half hour poking around.

Sein Yaung Chi

Sein Yaung Chi
The very bright entrance to the rotunda hall
Sein Yaung Chi
But first, let me take a selfie

Sein Yaung Chi

The interior of Sein Yaung Chi is built in a rotunda layout with large Buddha Images layered in an also shiny gold leaf. Each Buddha Image has its own unique posture and frame which surrounds it, on each side many disciple images and fresh flowers, water and incense as it Myanmar Theravada Buddhist custom. With the sound of birds chirping overhead as they come and go from the interior of the pagoda, the soundtrack of nature mixed with hums and occasional songs from devout locals fill the air while perusing each Image. The ceiling is a rich teak wood and the walls are completely covered with smaller Buddha Images leaving not an inch to spare.

Sein Yaung Chi

Sein Yaung Chi

Sein Yaung Chi

Sein Yaung Chi

Out the backside of the pagoda is a quiet little meditation area complete with a gold-leaf covered tree, more Buddha Images and other iconic and local mythical creatures known to inhabit this land. Around the back of the Sein Yaung Chi is a small house with a Gautama Buddha Image that serves as a home for several resident monks. The entire area is immaculately well kept and is a delight to visit. You’ll only need about 30 to 45 minutes to explore the whole area, more of course if you want to take a rest and take in the surroundings.

Sein Yaung Chi
Golden Gautama Buddha Tree
Sein Yaung Chi
Ogres (Belu) and Meilamu
Sein Yaung Chi
Warriors in traditional Myanmar dress
Sein Yaung Chi
The legendary and very popular Hintha Bird with a pair of princesses
Sein Yaung Chi
Monks’ residence
Sein Yaung Chi
Wide view of the courtyard

Sein Yaung Chi

Sein Yaung Chi

Sein Yaung Chi

Sein Yaung Chi

It was hard getting the whole pagoda into one frame, as there are plenty of trees and bushes around obscuring the view. I found one corner, however, were options were aplenty. Hope you enjoyed this post and I’ll be back soon with more!

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Sein Yaung Chi Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Sein Yaung Chi Pagoda: Click Here

The Mysterious Tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar

Bahadur Shah Zafar Grave, Yangon, Myanmar

The Tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar is a stark reminder of the harsh British colonization of  India and Southeast Asia

Bahadur Shah Zafar was the last emperor of the Mughal dynasty and his remains have been interned in the land of which he was exiled, modern-day Myanmar.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Bahadur Shah Zafar: Click Here

 

Bahadur Shah Zafar

The Tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar represents a fascinating bit of Asian history and is located just south of the mighty Shwedagon Pagoda. The mausoleum is a half-mosque half-tomb which pays tribute to the last Mughal Emperor of India. Zafar was exiled to what was then Rangoon after supporting the Sepoy Rebellion in Delhi (Indian Rebellion of 1857) against the British East India Company. The might of the Mughals had already been severely injured beforehand and British Colonial Rule began shortly thereafter with the Government of India Act 1858 which established the British Raj.

Bahadur Shah Zafar

Bahadur Shah Zafar
The Bahadur Shah Zafar Memorial Hall is exquisitely kept in a very dusty part of town

Bahadur Shah Zafar

Bahadur Shah Zafar
The tomb of Zafar resting in the lower level of the Hall

The Mughal (also known as Mogul) Dynasty was a Turco-Mongol lineage consisting of a “Classic Period” from 1556 with Akbar the Great, his son Jahangir, Shah Jahan and more all holding the throne. Mirza Abu Zafar Sirajuddin Muhammad Bahadur Shah Zafar, to give his full name,  had a reputation as a talented Urdu poet and held the throne from 1837-1857. He died in 1862 and chronicler William Dalrymple wrote of how his shrouded corpse was quickly buried in an anonymous grave inside his prison enclosure so that, as the British Commissioner in charge of Zafar insisted, “No vestige should remain to distinguish where the last of the Great Mughals rests.”

Bahadur Shah Zafar
The entrance to the tomb of Shah Zafar

Bahadur Shah Zafar

A mausoleum was later built on the location of the prison yet the grave itself remained a mystery until the year 1991 when workmen discovered his remains three and a half feet underground during excavations for a new structure at the site. Today his grave is covered in silks and strewn with sweet-smelling petals. The tomb now serves as a place of pilgrimage for Indians, Muslims and others interested in the history of the Raj. The mausoleum still functions as a mosque and is home to the remains of his wife and children. (Hat tip to LonelyPlanet).

Bahadur Shah Zafar
The courtyard of the mausoleum

The compound is located on a small road just south of the Shwedagon Pagoda. The entrance is fairly easy to find as a golden gate stands out from the lush green surroundings. The quiet aura of the mosque is disturbed only by some locals grabbing a quick lunch at a street cart near the entrance. Upon entering the compound, several locals move about sweeping different areas, eating some strong-smelling Indian cuisine or washing their feet for prayer. I was the only tourist at the tomb (not uncommon at ‘tourist’ spots in Yangon) so the chance to really explore the mausoleum undisturbed was quite a treat.

Bahadur Shah Zafar

Bahadur Shah Zafar

Bahadur Shah Zafar

A poem by Bahadur Shah Zafar:
Umr-e-daraaz maang ke laye the char din/Do aarzu mein kat gaye, do intezar mein
Hai kitna badnasseb Zafar dafn ke liye/Do gaz zameen bhi mil na saki koo-e-yaar mein.
Na kisii kii ankh ka nur na kisii ke dil ka qarar hun/Jo kisii ke kam na a sake main vo ek musht-e-Gubar hun
Na to main kisii ka habiib hun na to main kisii ka raqiib hun/Jo bigar gaya vo nasiib hun jo ujar gaya vo dayar hun
hamane duniyaa mein aake kyaa dekha/dekhaa jo kucch so Khvaab-saa dekhaa/hai to insaan Khaak kaa putlaa/lekin paanii ka bulbulaa dekhaa)
I had requested for a long life a life of four days/Two passed by in pining, and two in waiting/How unlucky is Zafar! For burial/Even two yards of land were not to be had, in the land (of the) beloved./My life gives no ray of light, I bring no solace to heart or eye/Out of dust to dust again, of no use to anyone am I/Barred the door of the fate for me, bereft of my dear ones am I/The spring of a flower garden ruined/Alas, my autumn wind am I/I came into the world and what did I see?/Whatever I saw was just like a dream/Man is moulded from clay but/I saw him as a bubble of water.
Bahadur Shah Zafar

Bahadur Shah Zafar
Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, and his wife Smt. Gursharan Kaur pray after offering chadar at the Mazar of Bahadur Shah Zafar, on May 29, 2012.
Bahadur Shah Zafar
A rare photo of Shah Zafar in exile
Bahadur Shah Zafar
The mausoleum doubles as a regularly-used mosque for Yangon’s local Muslim population
Bahadur Shah Zafar
Muslim Myanmar

Bahadur Shah Zafar

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Bahadur Shah Zafar: Click Here

The Immaculate Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery, Yangon, Myanmar

Amidst the crowded streets and loud ruckus of day-to-day Yangon, the Rangoon War Cemetery is a welcome reprieve

The Rangoon War Cemetery is a perfectly-kept grass rectangle hidden down a dark alley from small street food shops and local car repair joints.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Rangoon War Cemetary: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Rangoon War Cemetery: Click Here

Rangoon War Cemetery

From time to time I peruse sites looking for new programming on Myanmar as I’m always curious to see what the world is showing about this ‘little’ corner of the world. Recently I came across a BBC program entitled “Burma’s Secret Jungle War” and my first thought was “Oh great, a program demonizing this country during a time of transition from brutal military junta rule towards a liberal democracy… c’mon fellas, leave it.” You see, I presumed that this new program, a two-part series, was based around Myanmar’s (or Burma’s, if you will) decades-long struggle with rebel groups in Kachin State, Karen State, Shan State, etc. Planning to watch it anyways, I quickly realized that it was about the incredibly-brave British fighting force, the Chindits, taking on the Japanese army behind enemy lines in Burma back in World War II. Fears resigned and curiosity piqued, I settle in to watch both hours-long episodes with my Mrs. Of course, fate would have its say the next day as I somehow happened to find myself next to the small cemetery which pays homage to these fallen warriors in the heart of Yangon. More on my part of the story later.

Rangoon War Cemetery
The Rangoon War Memorial is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Rangoon War Cemetery

The Chindits fighting force was a mix of British and Indian fighters who were deposited behind enemy Japanese lines in the far north of Myanmar in the Shan and then Kachin States during World War II. Fighting a guerrilla war of sabotage against he Japanese, the force encountered not only the harsh resistance of the army but also the powerful monsoon rains, thick bugs and mosquitoes, viral and other sicknesses along with food shortages all piled on top of long treks through thick Southeast Asian jungle. The host of the aforementioned television program Burma’s Secret Jungle War, Joe Simpson, is a renowned mountaineer and author of Touching the Void, and his father actually served in the Chindits as the coordinator of airdrops and as their navigator. Armed with his father’s old maps, diary, and a special permission to enter parts of the country normally closed to tourists, Simpson and guest host/fellow adventurer Ed Stafford attempted to retrace the group’s steps but fail to follow completely as fighting in the area between the Myanmar army and aforementioned rebel groups hit a crescendo during the events of the filming of the show – Myanmar’s first free elections in decades.

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

I won’t give anything further away from the show (you can watch both episodes free on YouTube (Part 1; Part 2) however the last bit shows Simpson touring the Yangon War Memorial Cemetery. Having traveled all around Yangon it was one of the few places I’ve yet to go and the next day while randomly getting my car fixed down a dirty and dark alley (busted motor starters hey?) off the main drag a bit south on Pyay Road, I noticed a sign for the Rangoon War Memorial. Now it wasn’t the Taukkyan War Cemetery featured in the show, however it seemed that fate meant for me to check it out. What are the odds the local car repair joint sits next to a Commonwealth War Graves Commission site?

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery  Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery
More than 74,000 Commonwealth casualties came from the war

Rangoon War Cemetery

The immaculate grounds are in part thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the good work of the British Embassy and a caretaker who resides on site. The Rangoon War Cemetery is open daily from 7:00 – 17:00. The CWGC site is wheelchair accessible and easy to access and meander about. The Rangoon War Cemetery was first used as a burial ground immediately following the recapture of Rangoon in May 1945. Later, the Army Graves Service moved in graves from several burial sites from in and around Yangon, including those of the men who died in the infamous Rangoon Jail as prisoners of war.

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery
There are 1,381 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War buried or commemorated in this cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery
86 of the burials are unidentified and there are special memorials to more than 60 casualties whose graves could not be precisely located

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

The cemetery is a lot to take in, however its location off the back road and insulation from the main drags by residential buildings make the cemetery a quiet ground to pay your respects. As a final resting place in Yangon, it really doesn’t get as serene or green as the Rangoon War Cemetery.

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery
Layout of the Rangoon War Cemetery
Rangoon War Cemetery
The Chindits
Rangoon War Cemetery
Ed Stafford (l) and Joe Simpson (r)

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Rangoon War Cemetary: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Rangoon War Cemetery: Click Here

Resources:

CWGC.Org

Chinditslongcloth1943.com

Vang Vieng is Animal House in Laos

Vang Vieng, Laos

Jungle parties, rafting on the river, bars and restaurants all around… Vang Vieng is basically the Animal House of Asia

“If teenagers ruled the world, it might resemble Vang Vieng” – The New Zealand Herald

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Luang Prabang: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Vang Vieng: Click Here

To check out my trip in Luang Prabang, click here. For the epic road trip to the Kuang Si Falls, click here. For my photo essay on the Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng trip, click here.

Vang Vieng
The view from our hostel – Karst limestone mountains dot the background of the small city

The party town-for-tourists called Vang Vieng is located midway between the major cities of Luang Prabang (5 hours drive) and Vientiane  (4 and a half hours drive) in the thick of the Laotian jungle and along the banks of the Nam Song River. First settled around 1353 in the midst of a Karst mountain landscape, the quiet little town saw huge changes during the Vietnam War when the United States constructed an air force base complete with an airstrip called “Lima Site 6.” After another quiet period following the war, backpackers started flowing to the city in search of adventure on the Nam Song River.

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng

The main street of Vang Vieng is packed with cheap hostels and guest houses, bars, cafes, restaurants and tourist agencies. The main attraction, however, is inner tubing on the river. Sure, kayaks are available but let’s be honest – you come to Vang Vieng for the tubing and the parties. Bars, rope swings and zip lines used to dot the banks of the river to serve tourists from all over the world, however injuries and deaths of young tourists have left only a few bars remaining. Nonetheless, the party continues until late in the night. We arrived from Luang Prabang towards nightfall and kicked off the trip in a local pub.

Vang Vieng
Beer pong is a universal language. Beer Lao is a cheap and decent drink
Vang Vieng
A South African, America, Frenchman and Kiwi walk into a bar…
Vang Vieng
Good night, Vang Vieng from the Malany Villa Hostel

Hundreds of tourists were already in the city and backpackers were from all over the world. A jungle party held once-a-month happened to be that very night and it was [redacted]. I woke up the next morning and headed to a local cafe for breakfast. The “Israeli Breakfast” was neither “Israeli” nor would it be considered by any measurable standard “breakfast,” but it did serve its purpose of soaking up the booze from the previous night. We had a long day of tubing ahead of us so a hearty meal was absolutely in order. I ended up eating two of these.

Vang Vieng
The “Israeli Breakfast” in Vang Vieng

Ok so… tubing! Tubing on the Nam Song River began around 1999 and the heavy drinking, zip lines, rope swings, bars everywhere scene came shortly thereafter as backpackers and travelers began to flood the area. In 2011, 22 tourists were reported as dying on the river from excessive alcohol combined with the fast pace of the river (especially after the monsoon season). Drugs being widely available didn’t help the situation either. A huge push from the Laotian government in 2013 saw most of the river and town itself cleaned up and now only a few bars remain. Don’t be dissuaded however, as it’s still an amazingly-fun time cruising down the river, grabbing a rope thrown from a local and stopping off for a drink or two.

Vang Vieng

 

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng
Tubing at its peak pre-2011
Vang Vieng
Tubing nowadays on the Nam Song

 

Vang Vieng
Getting ready to hit the river

Nowadays, tubing and kayaking are popular activities in the town but so is traveling to the surrounding villages, exploring the local limestone Karst mountains and caves and biking around. Climbing has also become one of the main attractions to adventure travelers. Not just that, but the diversity among the travelers in Laos is quite impressive. We met backpackers from all over Europe, Australia, Korea and more! If you’re in Southeast Asia, Vang Vieng is a must-do on any adventurous traveler’s list!

Vang Vieng

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Luang Prabang: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Vang Vieng: Click Here

To check out my trip in Luang Prabang, click here. For the epic road trip to the Kuang Si Falls, click here. For my photo essay on the Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng trip, click here.

A Crazy Trip to Kuang Si Waterfall in Laos

Kuang Si Falls, Luang Prabang, Laos

The Kuang Si Waterfall is a jungle paradise and a crazy trip

On the way to the Kuang Si Waterfall, we passed two massive water buffalo dead on the street and another monster which squared us down.

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Luang Prabang: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Vang Vieng: Click Here

To check out my trip in Luang Prabang, click here. For the crazy part life of Vang Vieng, click here. For my photo essay on the Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng trip, click here.

Kuang Si Waterfall
Stairway to Heaven

A day trip on a motorbike some 30-plus kilometers away through a winding and mountainous jungle road just to see  a waterfall? Sounds like a legit backpacker’s Wednesday to me – and thus began our journey to what should be a world-famous tourist attraction… but isn’t. The landlocked country of Laos is often overlooked by travelers heading to Asia, and Southeast Asia especially. Its neighbors Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China are known for excellent tourist infrastructure, fancy hotels and incredible landscapes combined with unspoiled beaches and five-star restaurants. You won’t find any of that in Laos, well, save landscapes that completely boggle the mind.

Kuang Si Waterfall
Rolling mountains covered in almost impassible jungle and at the end of the rainy season, green of all shades
Kuang Si Waterfall
The Mekong River, sleepy in the morning

Located roughly 30km southwest of Luang Prabang, options for transportation through the rolling, thick, lush, hot, adjectives-galore route include tuk-tuk, open-air pickup truck, boat or motorbike. Our group of four chose the latter and to save money took two bikes and shared driving duties.  It was an epic adventure to say the least. On the way to the Kuang Si Waterfall, we drove by two huge, dead water buffalo which had just been ran into by a large Laotian big-rig truck. Ran into, that is, instead of run over… because you literally cannot run over these hulking monsters. Thinking that would be the gnarliest thing we saw, we then came across a herd crowding near the road and one single solitary bull of a male who clearly didn’t give two sh… cares about us wanting to pass through on our bikes. I could describe this in words but pictures seem to tell a more powerful story:

Kuang Si Waterfall
There were about a dozen total, but the thick jungle can hide a 500lbs animal a yard away no problem

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
Come at me, bro

 

Kuang Si Waterfall
Angle #2 from the bike ahead of us. That’s less than 2 yards from a bull with his head lowered right at us
Kuang Si Waterfall
Too… close…

 

Kuang Si Waterfall
And… exhale… whew

As you can tell from the penultimate photo, the bull is bigger than the two of us and our bike, combined. After that incredible experience we stopped our bikes off to grab some water, talk about the harrowing experience (I cursed, as is my custom) and chat with the locals. The roads of Laos are paved but narrow and are lined with small little bamboo-stilted shops with rudimentary rusted tin roofs. We needed to chill for a moment before continuing our journey and the locals are lovely and welcoming.

Kuang Si Waterfall
Camera #1
Kuang Si Waterfall
Camera #2
Kuang Si Waterfall
Camera #3

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
Building a bridge with a machete as a hammer

Kuang Si Waterfall Kuang Si Waterfall

Another sprint through the ‘jungly’ roads and up into the mountain and finally we arrived at the Kuang Si Waterfall. We arrived in late October which is at the tail-end of the rainy season which affects all of Southeast Asia. The monsoon rains bring out shades of green that you have to see to believe. Entrance to the Kuang Si Falls runs about 20,000 kip ($2.50 USD) and the visit rewards the lengthy, roughly 1-hour fifteen minutes ride.

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
A South African, American, Kiwi and Frenchman walk into a bar in Laos…

The first part of the hike up to the top of the waterfall is a famous bear sanctuary  where Asiatic Black Bears (aka Moon Bears, White-Chested Bears) have been rescued from poachers and abusive situations. They are listed as ‘vulnerable’ in some places and endangered in others, as their bile is considered a natural medicine by the Chinese. There are about 20-25 bears in the sanctuary at any given time.

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

After taking in the bears, it was time to get down to serious waterfall-trekking business. There are several tiers to the Kuang Si Waterfall system with pools located all over the mountain. Some are sacred so swimming is prohibited, though others are free and good to go. There are several waterfalls in this system with the biggest measuring almost 200-feet tall (60 meters). The turquoise and blue hues of the water is really quite brilliant and after a hot 30-minutes or so hike to the very top, the pool at the top offers not only unbelievable views but a refreshing swim on the peak of the mountain.

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
Feels neverending

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
Straight out of a fairytale

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
#selfie #nofilterneeded

 

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
One part of the slippery climb up

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall
Kuang Si Waterfall

Just a brilliant spot to hang out. Flooded pools and fast-moving water… I absolutely recommend the Kuang Si Falls during or after the rainy season. You get the full feeling of a flooded landscape and gain comprehension of just how much water flows through Southeast Asia thanks to these monsoon rains. After kicking it at the flooded campsite, we hopped back on the bikes for the trek back to Luang Prabang and I have to say, I was a bit nervous about the ride back. Our bikes needed some fuel so we stopped for petrol at a small market on the side of the road. Two women were busy chopping meat while the okes purchased the petrol and it didn’t take long to figure out what they were chopping… the water buffalo from the ride up that were hit by the truck. Roadkill = dinner in the Laotian jungle.

 

Kuang Si Waterfall
Roadkill steaks

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

Kuang Si Waterfall

We made it back to the hostel just before sundown and dollar street-food sandwiches and much-needed cold beer was required. When in Laos, make like a Laotian.

Next up is the trip from Luang Prabang down south to Vang Vieng and tubing on the Mekong River.

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Luang Prabang: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Vang Vieng: Click Here

To check out my trip in Luang Prabang, click here. For the crazy part life of Vang Vieng, click here. For my photo essay on the Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng trip, click here.

Living “Large” ‘in Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos

There are few places as beautiful as Luang Prabang, Laos

The flight from Chiang Mai, Thailand, to Luang Prabang, Laos, is a short but sketchy one… and well worth the trip.

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Luang Prabang: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Vang Vieng: Click Here

To check out my crazy trip to the Kuang Si Falls, click here. For the crazy part life of Vang Vieng, click here. For my photo essay on the Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng trip, click here.

Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang International Airport

So are you Chinese or Japanese? As a guy from Ohio that clip from “King of the Hill” was pretty much the only time I had every heard of Laos and you can bet after spending some time in Myanmar and Thailand I was pretty stoked to continue making my way East. Having just finished up a week in stunning Chiang Mai, Thailand, a quick 2-hour, super-choppy plane ride brought me over the jungles and mountains of Southeast Asia to the quaint Luang Prabang International Airport.

Luang Prabang, Laos
Headphones and view after view
Luang Prabang, Laos
The infamous Mekong River
Luang Prabang, Laos
Touchdown, Laos

 I had no idea what to expect upon arrival nor did I have any idea about what Laos would be like. Having been in Asia for some time, I assumed hot, jungle-y, but that really was it. On the plane, our route started trailing the Mekong River and when you notice the only signs of civilization are little fishing villages lining the wide-then-skinny-then-wide murky and muddy water of the Mekong, well, you realize pretty quickly that you’re about to be in the thick of it. Touchdown saw an unbelievable sight from the tarmac of rolling hills and mountains. A 20-minute or so wait for a visa-on-arrival and I was on my way via airport shuttle to a hostel in ‘downtown’ Luang Prabang. The 30-minute or so drive saw the sun set on me and at the last moment I got to catch the sunset just over the Mekong from the waterfront. Immediately my favorite shot of the trip so far.

Luang Prabang, Laos
Mekong River waterfront sunset
Luang Prabang, Laos
Utopia Bar off Aphay Street. Your experience will directly be affected by the people in town. The bar is super-chilled
Luang Prabang, Laos
Hostel found – time for Laotian street food
Luang Prabang, Laos
The crew
Luang Prabang, Laos
Post-drinks bowling
Luang Prabang, Laos
Our Laotian tuk tuk driver around 3am

The photos from this trip are a bit ‘below-par’ so to speak as I was shooting from my mobile – a Samsung Galaxy A8 – which turned out to be a good idea as my Canon would have been destroyed, like my watch, sunglasses and other affections that didn’t survive the trip. Laos is a helluva place! So hostel found, street food devoured (basically half a Euro for a chicken and avocado sandwich) and whiskey poured (1 Euro for 1 bottle!), we headed to a local pub popular with backpackers. Late-night bowling is all the rage in Luang Prabang so we ventured out there as well.

Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos
Not bad for $10/night for two people
Luang Prabang, Laos
The beautiful views of Luang Prabang, Laos

The next morning we woke up a bit late, hit up a breakfast and grabbed some motorbikes to head about 30km away to the Kaung Si Waterfall. I’ll cover that in the next post as this one will stick to just Luang Prabang. There’s so much to do in this little city up north in the jungle. The layout of the city is based on the side of the Mekong River with a large mountain in the middle of the city. Mount Phousi serves as a religious point in the heart of the city and has some of the best lookouts on offer.

Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos
Mount Phousi in the distance

Luang Prabang, Laos
Buddhas on Mount Phousi

Luang Prabang, Laos
Luang Prabang, Laos

The Luang Prabang night market was also a big hit and well worth a visit in the late hours of the evening. In any case, I’ll be back with a trip to Kaung Si Falls about 30km outside Luang Prabang, Laos.

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Luang Prabang: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my journey to Vang Vieng: Click Here

To check out my crazy trip to the Kuang Si Falls, click here. For the crazy part life of Vang Vieng, click here. For my photo essay on the Luang Prabang-Vang Vieng trip, click here.

Beautiful Views at Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery, Yangon, Myanmar

The Taung Pulu Monastery is one example of the many hidden gems of Yangon

“Off-the-beaten-path” is la régulière for seasoned travelers in Southeast Asia’s largest continental country and to find the Taung Pulu Monastery you’ll need to be determined and adventurous.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Taung Pulu Monastery: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to the Taung Pulu Monastery: Click Here

Taung Pulu Monastery

Myanmar is known as the “Golden Land” and Yangon is a prime example of this nickname in action. I’ve written at length about how Myanmar is, for the most part, unexplored, and that information online is as scarce as it can be for a country shut off from the world for six decades. It seems that around every corner and tucked into every nook and cranny of the entire country is filled with a golden dome denoting either a monastery or pagoda which is indicative of Myanmar’s devotion to Theravada Buddhism.

Taung Pulu Monastery

Obscured from view from University Road just south of Inya Lake are two monasteries definitely worth checking out in an afternoon. Taking a small side street past the Myawady Gas Station you’ll come across the Inya Wailuwun Monastery on the left and further down the lane the Taung Pulu Pagoda and Monastery. Heading first to the bright gold-domed Pagoda of Taung Pulu, the site contains a monastery and living quarters for monks on the left right on the bank of the central Inya Lake.

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

Located inside the golden dome are seven large Buddha Images each in a similar design and surrounded by fresh flowers, well-cared for plants and other accouterments. As I entered midday on a toasty Saturday, the hall was relatively empty save for the occasional devout Buddhist stopping in to quickly offer respects and pray to the figures. After snapping a few shots I headed up to the second and third tiers which offered brilliant views of the surrounding Inya Lake and waterfront on the east side (facing Kabar Aye Pagoda Road) and the Myanmar Plaza shopping center, a brand-new $440 million USD project.

Taung Pulu Monastery
A symbol of Myanmar’s opening to the world

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery
There are four Gautama Buddha Images around the top center spire

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

This little pocket on the shores of Inya Lake is a great example of how many things there are to see in Myanmar. I mean, down a small road from a gas station lies great views and beautiful buildings. What a gem. In any case, my time was almost up for the day so a quick stroll around the grounds and stop off near the Wailuwun Monastery was in order before massive stray dogs ran me off. Well, it was actually one dog. And it wasn’t that ‘massive’… but I digress… until next time!

Taung Pulu Monastery
“No girls allowed” club
Taung Pulu Monastery
Did I mention peaceful? This is where to find mindfulness

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery

Taung Pulu Monastery
Don’t be fooled, this is a vicious beast!

Taung Pulu Monastery

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Taung Pulu Monastery: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to the Taung Pulu Monastery: Click Here

Magical Maha Wizaya Pagoda

Maha Wizaya, Yangon, Myanmar

 The Maha Wizaya Pagoda is an often overlooked gem located down the road from the Shwedagon Pagoda

Yangon is flush with golden pagodas of all shapes and sizes and each is as unique as the previous. The Maha Wizaya Pagoda (Maha Wizara Pyay; on Google Maps: Mahavijaya Pagoda) is no exception, as the interior of the grand stupa is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Maha Wizaya Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Maha Wizaya Pagoda: Click Here

Maha Wizaya
A monk making his way over the bridge to Maha Wizaya Pagoda

With the immense Shwedagon Pagoda looming just down the street, the Maha Wizara Pagoda sits just south and to the right on Shwedagon Pagoda Road behind a pond full of fish and turtles. You’ll have to cross a bridge up a set of stairs guarded by two looming Chinthes (Myanmar mythical lions), a hallmark of Burmese religious sites. The entrance to the Maha Wizara Pagoda compound is a large golden structure complete with the filigree you’ll come to grow and love as you venture through the Golden Land.

Maha Wizaya
Shwedagon Pagoda Road with its namesake in the background and the entrance to Maha Wizaya on the right
Maha Wizaya
Locals earn merit by feeding the fish and turtles over the bridge to the Maha Wizaya Pagoda

IMG_3658

IMG_3665

The compound area around the Maha Wizara Pagoda features sheltered bells in each corner where locals can either ring the bell for good luck or hang out in the shade to escape the oppressive heat of the day. Clear blue skies and the powerful Southeast Asian sun make these spots handy locations to chill out however the high humidity Yangon is known for means travelers will still find it sweltering in the shade.

Maha Wizaya

Maha Wizaya

Maha Wizaya

Maha Wizaya

Stepping back from the different size bells and housings, the grand Maha Wizaya is a majestic sight to behold (hyperbolic speech and the like is commonplace here). Built on Dhammarakhita Hill (translated to Guardian of the Law), the pagoda was built and consecrated by the former Myanmar leader and army general Ne Win to commemorate the first successful convening of all sects of the Buddhist Monastic Order under one supervisory body in 1980. Known locally as “Ne Win’s Pagoda,” the pagoda remained largely unvisited due to the negative feelings the people held towards the harsh military rule.

Maha Wizaya

The interior of the pagoda, as mentioned before, is where the Maha Wizaya truly separates itself from other pagodas in the Golden Land. Masterful mosaics line the ceilings of each entrance depicting the stories of the Buddha’s lives. An outer hallway features paintings on the far walls with Buddha Images and depictions of Myanmar’s thousands-upon-thousands of pagodas in each state and region are set behind clear glass. The interior of the pagoda is a circular room with high ceilings depicting animals both real and imagined and at the center are Buddha Images of gold and jade, the showpiece of which is an enshrined relic from the Buddha donated by the King of Nepal. The walls are covered in trees and leaves which give the feeling of entering the jungles of the north and central parts of Myanmar.

Maha Wizaya

Maha Wizaya

Maha Wizaya

IMG_3679

Maha Wizaya
Pagodas and Buddha Images in the Rakhine and Kayin styles
Maha Wizaya
Golden Rock in Mon State
Maha Wizaya
Centerpiece Gautama Buddha Images
Maha Wizaya
Buddha relics gifted by the King of Nepal are said to lay within the Maha Wizaya

Maha Wizaya

Maha Wizaya

IMG_3778

It’s like a jungle in the middle of Yangon! The Maha Wizara Pagoda may not be the most popularized pagoda or well-known to travelers but it is a one-of-a-kind place where travelers can see and learn more about the history of Myanmar along with its devotion to the Buddhist religion. Visit for an hour or two after spending an afternoon or morning at the Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s so close you can’t miss it!

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Maha Wizaya Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Maha Wizaya Pagoda: Click Here

Real Myanmar Nature at Hlawga National Park

Hlawga National Park, Myanmar

Hlawga National Park is a great way to see some Myanmar nature while in Yangon

About an hour and a half north of the hustle and bustle of Myanmar’s largest city and former capital of Yangon is the Hlawga National Park. The jewel of a Myanmar nature preserve is flush with free-roaming monkeys, deer, elephants and more.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Hlawga National Park: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Hlawga National Park: Click Here

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The Myanmar nature reserve is divided into two parts: a walk-through zoo and a drive-through safari area. The zoo area features several types of bears, deer, full-grown monkeys, alligators, exotic birds and much more. The zoo has plenty of animals running around like monkeys. Be careful around these animals as they are absolutely wild and can be friendly one minute for some free snacks and then hyper-aggressive due to their territorial nature. Feeding the bears is quite fun as is tossing fresh leaves to the deer. As far as zoos go (especially in Asia) these animals have quite large and clean habitats with plenty of resources to stay cool and comfortable in the hot sun.

IMG_4385
The Asian Sun Bear
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Bears love fruit

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The drive-through safari is a dream but as a tip, for sure don’t take the local bus. The local bus is usually crammed with people, lacks air-conditioning and is so crowded and slow that locals hang from the outside just so they don’t have to walk in the oppressive Southeast Asian heat. Spend a few extra thousand Myanmar kyat (an entrance fee of around 3-4,000 kyat or $2-3 USD plus private mini-bus or ‘tuk-tuk’ fee of 5-6,000 kyat or $4-5 USD) is absolutely worth it. With the private vehicle you can stop off and feed the animals, interact with them and even hang out at a petting area and get up close and personal with some deer and monkeys. Elephant rides are also available but as a conscientious traveler I usually refrain from these activities. It’s hard on the animals and immoral due to their training and ‘breaking-in’ process.

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You also have the option of taking your own private vehicle through the park but I wouldn’t recommend it (unless you drive a beater!). The dirt path is narrow, wildly uneven and contains debris that may scrape your undercarriage to a nerve-wracking point. You can toss out treats to the animals (purchasable around the park) but visitors tend to throw any old food at the animals. Not a great idea and absolutely not recommended.

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Myanmar Nature

The whole experience is great and is very family-friendly. Independent travelers in Myanmar can have a great time as well and it’s definitely worth the drive if you have a free afternoon. Buses head this way as well and are frequent from Yangon. During the hot and dry season you’ll need to pack plenty of sunscreen and down copious amounts of water.

Myanmar Nature

Myanmar Nature

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Hlawga National Park: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Hlawga National Park: Click Here

The Mysterious Mitta Oo Pagoda in Myanmar

Mitta U Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

The Mitta Oo Pagoda is a local temple complex located down the road from the Kyain Thit Sar Shin Pagoda

One of the things I love about Myanmar is that the dearth of available information (in English anyway!) on the internet makes travel around the Golden Land so fun and fascinating. The Mitta Oo Pagoda is a perfect example of that.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Mitta Oo Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Mitta Oo Pagoda: Click Here

Mitta Oo Pagoda

I know I’ve written that many times before but a day trip out to the Kyain Thit Sar Shin meant not only the opportunity to check out a giant, unique and unknown pagoda but also another pagoda hardly mentioned to the outside world: the Mitta Oo Pagoda.

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Yangon is flush with ‘smaller’ pagodas and while everyone knows about the Sule and Shwedagon Pagodas, few know of the Chaukhtatgyi Reclining Buddha or Ngahtatgyi Pagoda, no-one writes or discusses the ‘off-the-beaten-path’ pagodas. There are just too many of them, and this is just one more example of the many and vast compounds that dot Southeast Asia’s second-largest country and the reason why Myanmar is affectionately known as the “Golden Land.”

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Like the majority of pagodas in Myanmar, the Mitta Oo Pagoda contains many golden stupas along with statues depicting various stages of the Buddha’s life. Each one is captured in brilliant detail which pays real testament to the artistry of the Burmese. This particular pagoda has some years on it and it shows, however I wouldn’t describe it as “being in a state of disrepair.” Some upkeep could be needed however it plays hosts to children playing all sorts of games, from cards to the local chinlone and football. Footvolley on dirt with a decrepit net adds some real local character to the pagoda.

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

For high-resolution images from my trip to the Mitta Oo Pagoda, click here and don’t forget to ‘like’ our Facebook page for more stories and updates!

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Mitta Oo Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Mitta Oo Pagoda: Click Here

Photo Essay: People & Places of Bagan, Myanmar

Shwezigon Pagoda, Bagan, Myanmar

The powerful people and picturesque places of Bagan, Myanmar

World-renowned and recognized by UNESCO though visited by a fraction of the tourists which make their way to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Bagan, Myanmar is a must-see for anyone making their way to Southeast Asia.

For more information from our Travel Guide on Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: Brilliant Bagan Sunrise in Myanmar: Click Here

More on Bagan: The Extraordinary Plains of Bagan: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Bagan: Click Here

Bagan, Myanmar
Mandatory Thanaka to blend in with the locals
Bagan, Myanmar
Some things never change
Bagan, Myanmar
Myanmar Chinlone “Footvolley”
Bagan, Myanmar
Traditional Bagan Palm Wine. Delicious and does the job!

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
Foaming at the teeth in Nyaung-U
Bagan, Myanmar
Hey bro, for sure get outta the way!
Bagan, Myanmar
Modern products are still made in the traditional methods
Bagan, Myanmar
Traditional everything at Bagan
Bagan, Myanmar
Locals believe Thanaka leads to beauty
Bagan, Myanmar
Off-the-grid Buddha Image at a worn-down Bagan Pagoda
Bagan, Myanmar
After taking in the Bagan sunrise, locals gather to pitch their wares to tourists
Bagan, Myanmar
Travelers and backpackers taking in the beautiful views from Shwesandaw Pagoda
Bagan, Myanmar
Watermelon fresh and cheap
Bagan, Myanmar
Kyaw (pronounced Joe), our guide
Bagan, Myanmar
Shwezigon Paya through the Ray Bans

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
Gautama Buddha images of all shapes, sizes and styles are found throughout the thousands of temples of Bagan

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
Famous hand-drawn sand paintings at Dhammayangyi Temple
Bagan, Myanmar
Famous hand-drawn sand paintings at Dhammayangyi Temple

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
Bagan is well-known for lacquerware products
Bagan, Myanmar
There are plenty of lacquerware workshops and shops to visit in Bagan
Bagan, Myanmar
This cottage industry dates back to 12th Century A.D and runs in Burmese families where fathers pass it on to their sons as a tradition
Bagan, Myanmar
Hand-made lacquerware guitars a future purchase for sure

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
South African backpackers hey

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

For more information from our Travel Guide on Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: Brilliant Bagan Sunrise in Myanmar: Click Here

More on Bagan: The Extraordinary Plains of Bagan: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Bagan: Click Here

The Extraordinary Plains of Bagan

Bagan, Myanmar

The plains of Bagan rival Cambodia’s Angkor Wat in size and scale

Perhaps only Cambodia’s more-famous Angkor Wat can rival Myanmar’s Bagan in terms of religious importance, size and scale in southeast Asia.

For more information from our Travel Guide on Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: Brilliant Bagan Sunrise in Myanmar: Click Here

More on Bagan: Photo Essay: People & Places of Bagan, Myanmar: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Bagan: Click Here

Bagan

After taking in the unbelievable sunrise from the Shwesandaw Pagoda (Shwesandaw Pyay), a quick breakfast was in order back at the hotel and then it was straight out for a full day of pagoda hopping. Our first stop after breakfast was the Shwezigon Pagoda (Shwezigon Pyay, Paya) in the small town of Nyaung-U. The prototypical Burmese pagoda is as bright as gold can get and gold leaf-gilded stupa shone even brighter in the bright sunlight. Our guide filled us in on its history, having been built during the reign of Anawrahta in 1102 AD and finished during the reign of King Kyansittha of the Pagan Dynasty. Though he doesn’t buy the traditional story, it is said to house the bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha.

Bagan
No tourists, only locals… and a few at that!
Bagan
A reflection pool was used to measure the straightness of the pagoda in previous times
Bagan
Mon inscriptions can be found all around the Shwezigon Pagoda

After walking the wide expanse of the Shwezigon and peppering our tour guide with questions both relating to the pagoda, general history of Bagan and his relationship with Buddhism, we hopped back in the minibus and made our way to the Sulamani Guphaya Temple, one of the wonders of Bagan. The Buddhist temple located in the village of Minnanthu about 10 minutes southwest of Bagan from the Shwezigon and is an immense structure kept in relatively great shape. As a main destination of travelers, there are plenty of stalls and stands to purchase hand-made sand paintings and all sorts of little knick-knacks and other trinkets. As for the pagoda itself, take a look:

Bagan

 Bagan

Bagan

Bagan

Bagan
The famous hand- and sand-sculpted paintings of Bagan

Bagan

Built in 1183 by King Narapatisithu and similar to the Thatbyinnyu Temple in design, the Sulamani Temple also shows influence from the Dhammayangyi Temple and was the model for the Htilominlo Temple. Sulamani Temple was restored after the 1975 earthquake and utilizes brick and stone with frescoes in the interior of the temple. It was rebuilt in 1994 and maintains its aura even today. After we purchased two too-many sand paintings, we hopped back in the minibus for a tour of the jewel of Bagan, the world-renowned Ananda Pyay (Ananda Pagoda, Ananda Paya).

Bagan

The Ananda Temple is the holiest and most important temple in Bagan. It houses four massive standing Buddha Images each facing towards the four cardinal points. The Ananda Paya displays a mix of Mon and Indian architecture.  Originally built in 1105 AD, it is one of only four temples that survives within Old Bagan. The temple was extensively damaged by an earthquake in 1975 but has been restored with the spires being gilded in 1990 in preparation for the celebration of the 900th anniversary of its completion. The Buddha statues are made from teak wood gilded with gold leaf and the ones facing North and South are believed to be originals. The four Standing Buddha Images are:

Bagan
Kakusandha Buddha – Faces north and pictured for scale
Bagan
Konagamana Buddha – Faces east
Bagan
Kassapa – Faces south, appears to smile the further away you get
Bagan
Gautama Buddha – Faces west and the final Buddha of Ananda Temple

The name ‘Ananda’ derives from ‘anantapannya‘ the Pali word for ‘boundless wisdom‘. There are only so many pagodas that fit into a day and our last stop was the impeccable Dhammayangyi Temple. The largest of all the temples in Bagan, the Dhammayangyi was built during the reign of King Narathu (1167-1170). Narathu, who came to the throne by assassinating his father Alaungsithu and his elder brother, presumably built this largest temple to atone for his sins. Local legend backs up this tale, although he was never able to finish it.

Bagan

The Dhammayangyi Temple is also the widest temple in Bagan and is built in a plan similar to that of the aforementioned Ananda Temple. Burmese chronicles state that while the construction of the temple was in the process, the king was assassinated by some Indians and thus the temple was not completed. Sinhalese sources however indicate that the king was killed by Sinhalese invaders. The temple’s interior is bricked up for unknown reasons, thus only the four porches and the outer corridors are accessible. I definitely accessed them. Stay tuned for a final post on Bagan and it’s villages, people and culture. Until next time, Cheers!

Bagan

Bagan
A rare opportunity to enjoy the quiet halls of this famous pagoda

Bagan

Bagan
Old and ‘new’ brickwork on the outside of the temple

Bagan

Bagan

Bagan

For more information from our Travel Guide on Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: Brilliant Bagan Sunrise in Myanmar: Click Here

More on Bagan: Photo Essay: People & Places of Bagan, Myanmar: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Bagan: Click Here

Brilliant Bagan Sunrise in Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar, Burma

The Bagan sunrise is a must-see in Southeast Asia

Thousands of temples dotting the landscape make the Bagan sunrise one of the best in the world.

For more information from our Travel Guide on Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: The Extraordinary Plains of Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: Photo Essay: People & Places of Bagan, Myanmar: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Bagan: Click Here

Bagan Sunrise

Most travelers know that any wakeup after 3:30am is just an arbitrary number. You know you’re going to be shredded and zombiefied so the only thing to do is to keep on doing. A 4:30am call beckoned for what we heard was a must-see in Bagan – the incredible sunrise over the immense plains of the ancient city. With just enough time to boil water, throw on some clothes and quickly down a couple instant coffees, we were out the door from our room at the wonderful Bagan Hotel River View and on the road in Old Bagan to the Shwesandaw Pagoda (Shwe Sandaw Pyay).

Bagan Sunrise
The steep steps of Shwesandaw Pagoda post-sunrise

Our pickup was a minivan flush with air-conditioning already at full tilt which was absolutely unnecessary at 4:30am but appreciated it nonetheless. Our guide and driver were eager to get going as sunrise was expected at about 5:00am on the dot. The 10-minute ride was fairly mundane as Bagan is pitch black at night. Pitch black as in hardly any electricity in the area and only a few lamps around the sides of the roads. Once we arrived to the pagoda we hopped out, kicked our sandals off at the foot of some incredibly steep steps and made our way to the top. The only indication that there was anyone else on the pagoda were quiet voices up ahead on the walk up. In reality, it was packed but you’d never known until you reached the terrace they were standing at. A great spot and a few minutes to relax in the cold morning air gave way to a glimpse of the Bagan plain and mist ascending from the jungle as the sun made its way up to the horizon. Some more light, some more pagodas, some more light, mist, some more light, ‘wow there’s a lot of people around me,’ and then… this:

Bagan Sunrise
First Glimpse
Bagan Sunrise
Little More…
Bagan Sunrise
Money Shot

Yep, for the Bagan sunrise, totally worth it. The moment passes so suddenly and as everyone fell silent to take in the incredible sight I couldn’t help but notice a female traveler, probably in her mid-40s-50s in tears. Turns out she wasn’t crying at the beauty of the sunrise but at the shame of having her camera fog up. Apparently she had been looking forward to this moment for years, taking in the sunrise over Bagan and waiting for the perfect picture… and her camera had fogged up. I got her email address and she had these photos the next morning. Karma must have worked in my favor as the view from Shwesandaw was immense in all directions. The sun, now just settling over the horizon, made for some amazing shots of the misty plains laid out before a backdrop of mountains against a purple-red sky.

Bagan Sunrise
Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

The Shwesandaw Pagoda was built with five terraces and is topped with a cylindrical stupa with a bejeweled umbrella (hti). The pagoda was built by King Anawrahta in 1057. The pagoda once contained terracotta tiles depicting scenes form the Jataka Tales (a voluminous body of literature native to India concerning the previous births of Gautama Buddha) and supposedly still houses sacred hairs of the Gautama Buddha obtained from Thaton (a town in Mon State, southern Myanmar).

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

In true traveler spirit, the Bagan sunrise was over and everyone started moving on for a day out and about in Bagan. Breakfast was beckoning but we stuck back for a bit to take in the incredible sights and to talk to some of the locals. The famous Hot Air Balloons take off around sunrise, however it you want some photos of that or to hitch a ride (an expensive $300+ ride per person!) the Shwesandaw is not the place for that. But for incredible landscapes of Pagodas and an excellent view of the entire area, look no further. Check out some pics below, for High-Res photos of my trip to Bagan CLICK HERE. Stay tuned for more posts from Bagan, coming soon!

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise
Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

For more information from our Travel Guide on Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: The Extraordinary Plains of Bagan: Click Here

More on Bagan: Photo Essay: People & Places of Bagan, Myanmar: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Bagan: Click Here

Kyain Thit Sar Shin Monastery

Mahar Kyain Thitsar Shin Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

The Kyain Thit Sar Shin Monastery is a place you can’t believe isn’t more famous

One of the more unique pagodas in Yangon is the Kyain Thit Sar Shin Monastery, a giant open-air Rakhine-style Gautama Buddha Image which can be seen from miles away.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Kyain Thit Sar Shin Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Kyain Thit Sar Shin Pagoda: Click Here

So I’m at the rooftop of Parami Hotel at the popular Piano Bar midday trying to book the location for a work event and I notice a huge, and I mean absolutely massive figure due north just glaring in the sunlight. I say to the manager “Akko le (Burmese for my brother), what is that huge statue over there?” He replied “Big pagoda. Very nice, big big pagoda.” Cool bro, and the name? “Kyain Thit Sar Shin Paya.” Alright my man, how do you spell this bad boy? After a quick location search on Google, I had my next location to check out in Yangon.

Kyain Thit Sar Shin

Kyain Thit Sar Shin

Large trees and dilapidated buildings obscure the vision while driving north on Thudhamma Road, however my expectations were high and once we made the turn onto Thu Nandar Road the giant Buddha Image hits you like a bright sun. The incredible reflection of light from the entirely gold-leafed image is really something to see, so much so that it boggles the mind that people don’t know about this place. Built atop a two-storied monastery, the hollow Buddha statue house a monastery for Buddhist monks and the walled compound surrounding it provides housing.

Kyain Thit Sar Shin

Kyain Thit Sar Shin

One thing that stands out about this Image is that the face and crown look far different from the rest of the Buddha Images in Yangon. The reason for this is that the head monk of this sect of Buddhism, called Adit-Htan, is from Rakhine State in the north of Myanmar and in this state they have a very specific style of Buddha. This Buddha has several names, like Mahar Kyain Thit Sar Shin Pagoda, Kyain Thitsar Shin Pyay, Adit-Htan Pagoda and Maha Kyein Payagyi. It stands an imposing 130-foot tall (45 m) and is a testament to Burmese craftsmanship and dedication.

Kyain Thit Sar Shin
The head monk Mahajeyyasiddhi Adit-Htan Sayadaw U Kularakhita

Kyain Thit Sar Shin

The compound itself is guarded by several Nagar (Burmese Mythological Dragons) near its gate. The rather large walls are quite thick, as they contain housing for Monks and devoted followers who pilgrim to North Okkalapa Township in Yangon to pray and study at the monastery. On top of the walls are many Gautama Buddha images each intricately detailed and housed in expertly-crafted coves.

Kyain Thit Sar Shin
Nagar guarding the temple

Kyain Thit Sar Shin

Kyain Thit Sar Shin
The first floor of the Monastery
Kyain Thit Sar Shin
The second floor of the Monastery
Kyain Thit Sar Shin
Stairs leading up to the hollowed-out Buddha Image

Kyain Thit Sar Shin

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Kyain Thit Sar Shin Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Kyain Thit Sar Shin Pagoda: Click Here

Inle Lake Life: Bamboo, Ancient Pagodas & More

Shwe Indein Pagoda, Inle Lake, Myanmar

Life on Inle Lake is simple yet refined – pagodas, open-air markets and hand-made boats of all shapes and sizes dot the lake

Inle Lake in Shan State, Myanmar, features a myriad of pagodas and more!

For more on Inle Lake, Myanmar: Hand-Rolled Smoke & Blacksmiths: Click Here

For more Out and About on Inle Lake: Part 1: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here

Inle
Shwe Inn Tain Pagoda

Life revolves around the water for the Shan people of Inle Lake. Bamboo, however, is what sustains it. From boats to housing to bridges and lacquer ware,  it’s bamboo that makes it possible for the Shan to keep on keeping on. Having already taken in blacksmiths, cigar and clothing factories and some iconic scenery like one-legged fishermen, it was time we saw how the people make their life possible. Our stop at the Hein Thapyay Bamboo Shop gave us a first-hand look at how dishes, plates, hats and more are made solely from hand.

Inle

Inle

Inle

Inle
Fashion and function, crafted into one

Perhaps the third ingredient for life on the lake is religion. The Shan are deeply religious and having seen the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda in the village of  Nyaung Shwe, I thought we had seen the gist of Inle Lake Buddhism. Then we arrived at the ancient Shwe Indein Pagoda (Shwe Inn Tain Pyay) near the small fishing village of Indein. The quiet hillock is located on a busy little stream that the locals fish, bathe and wash their clothes in.

Inle

Inle

The twisting and turning Indein Creek is laden on both sides with paddy fields and it isn’t uncommon to see water buffaloes and farmers strutting about, but I digress, the Shwe Indein Pagoda is a huge hill filled with hundreds of ancient, destroyed and newly-built stupas of all colors, shapes and sizes. To reach them, you’ll have to walk up about 700m worth of  footpath in your bare feet. Each side of the walkways are lined with souvenir and gift shops with vendors hawking everything from puppets to longyis and fabric and every other sort of tzotchke you can think of.

Inle

Inle

Inle

The older stupas, gray and serene, were built around the 8th century (some sources say between the 14th and 18th centuries). We arrived around 4:00pm and most shops and vendors, along with the few tourists on the lake, had mostly cleared out. This left us to take in the unrestored and natural, overgrown beauty of the pagoda to ourselves. It can be an eerie place, as the only thing you can really hear standing among the hundreds of centuries-old pagodas is the light breeze and quiet wind. Truly an awe-inspiring and memorable place to behold.

Inle

Inle
There are over 1,000 stupas in this Pagoda complex

Inle

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Further down the hill from this incredible section of unrestored stupas are a core section of more modern pagodas, each built with donations from all around the world. Some of the more recent pagodas are marked as recent as 2005 and in total, there are said to be 1,054 different stupas in this complex alone! For a little Myanmar legend, according to an inscription on a stone tablet, the Shwe Inn Dain Pagoda was built by India’s greatest emperor Ashoka Maurya (304-232 BC). There is no real archaeological evidence for this legend or others that claim the area was originally built up in 200-300 BCE.


Inle

Inle   Inle

Inle
Inle

I hope you enjoyed reading about the trip to Inle Lake! I will post a repository of photos (you can take thousands of amazing photos in one day at Inle) under the “Explore Myanmar” tab at the top of the page. See you on the next adventure!

Inle

Inle

Inle

For more on Inle Lake, Myanmar: Hand-Rolled Smoke & Blacksmiths: Click Here

For more Out and About on Inle Lake: Part 1: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here

Inle Lake, Myanmar: Hand-Rolled Smoke & Blacksmiths

Inle Lake, Myanmar

There is so much to see and do at Inle Lake, Myanmar, that you can spend days on the water and not catch it all

There are few places on Planet Earth like Inle Lake, Myanmar – it’s a must-see destination in Southeast Asia.

For more on Inle Lake: Bamboo, Ancient Pagods & More: Click Here

For more Out and About on Inle Lake: Part 1: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here

Inle Lake, Myanmar

September weather in Shan State can be a bit of a coin toss. The monsoon in Myanmar this past year hit several areas of the country rather hard and led to serious flooding and damage.  Not only were cities cut off from the rest of the country but even entire townships. Inle Lake was spared serious flooding and the weekend we spent there was quite nice during the day with overcast skies saving us the brunt of the oppressive Southeast Asian sun.

Inle Lake, Myanmar

The last post finished with a tour of the main village of Nyaung Shwe and the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda (also known as the Phaung Daw Oo or Phaung Daw U Pagoda). After checking out the city, we hopped back in our boat and headed to a hand-rolled cigar factory, one of the lake’s main tourist spots. While I prefer off-the-grid locales, this is definitely a spot to check out. Now using the word ‘factory’ is a bit misleading, as about 8 women seated around the floor of a shack on the water doesn’t quite make for mass production but it does make for a tasty mid-morning smoke.

Inle Lake, Myanmar
“Ugh, tourists always taking our pictures…”
Inle Lake, Myanmar
Lake-grown aquaculture tobacco, honey-paste for glue
Inle Lake, Myanmar
Palm leaves and corn-rolled filters
Inle Lake, Myanmar
Flavors include betel nut, coconut, honey, vanilla and more! I went with berry flavor

I also used the bathroom. How about that middle-of-the-lake plumbing and fully-functional toilet! But I digress, our next stop was the Khit Sunn Yin Lotus, Silk & Cotton Hand-weaving center. Some of the finest dresses and scarves come from Southeast Asia, with Laos and Myanmar particularly renowned for their weaving skills. I have to say I don’t know much about all that but hey, when in Rome… or in this case on the lake…

Inle Lake, Myanmar
Looms on looms

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Everything at Inle Lake, Myanmar, is handmade – from breaking apart the individual lotus branches to the threading and sewing. After perusing the factory we hopped back on our boat and headed to what might be the highlight of our trip to Inle Lake, a real, good ol’ fashioned blacksmith.

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

In Se-khong village, there is a blacksmith workshop which produces knives, swords, farming tools and more. Sold at different 5 different day markets around the Inle region, visiting the shop is a must if you want to see how things are done in the original form. Wearing traditional Myanmar longyis, the blacksmiths strike rhythmically and in turn on super-heated metal forming crafted swords that put Renaissance Fair enthusiasts to shame. I purchased a coconut-cracking dagger for a very reasonable 20,000 kyat (about $15 USD). Definitely worth the splurge.

Inle Lake, Myanmar Inle Lake, Myanmar Inle Lake, Myanmar Inle Lake, Myanmar Inle Lake, Myanmar Inle Lake, Myanmar

The modern-meets-traditional forms of production and life at Inle Lake, Myanmar, is really cool to take in. With so much to see and experience, one day doesn’t seem like nearly enough time on the water. Another example of this is modern-style housing with amenities such as electric, satellite television and plumbing built on bamboo shafts stuck into the lake and next to ancient pagodas hundreds of years old. I hope you enjoyed part 2 on the water and part 3 will come soon, with a trip to a bamboo factory and some unbelievably beautiful and ancient pagodas.

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

For more on Inle Lake: Bamboo, Ancient Pagods & More: Click Here

For more Out and About on Inle Lake: Part 1: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here

Balance Fitness Center Charity Sports Day

Balance Fitness Charity Yangon Myanmar

Local Gym Balance Fitness Center hosted its 3rd Annual Charity Sports Day

Yangon’s premier gym Balance Fitness Center holds an annual sports day for local underprivileged children and those from orphanages.

Balance Fitness Center
Dance with Balance Fitness instructor Mimi Wu

During my time here in Southeast Asia, I’ve had the opportunity to  work with some local businesses and organizations to help the underprivileged, impoverished and those who have suffered from years of conflict and natural disasters. On January 10th, Balance Fitness hosted its third annual Charity Sports Day for over 360 orphans and poverty-stricken children from all around the Yangon area.

Balance Fitness Center

Balance Fitness Center

Held at the Seinn Lann So Pyay Garden on Inya Road (just south of Inya Lake; blog, more info), the event featured many famous Burmese musicians, local businesses selling their goods for donations to the charity and plenty of sports-related activities for the children to take part in. Soccer (known here as football), hacky sack, yoga, leithwei (Burma’s version of the well-known Muay Thai kickboxing), dance and more were offered for the children to take part in.

Balance Fitness Center
Leithwei with Aung Thett
Balance Fitness Center
Hacky sack with Tony Jones

The past two years’ events saw over $30,000 USD raised for 8 orphanages and this year’s event was the biggest and most successful yet. The charity day began from around 1pm and ended after 6pm, with happy and ‘tuckered-out’ children heading to their homes with plenty of prizes, new clothes, toys and huge smiles on their faces. Of all the fundraisers and charities I’ve attended so far in Myanmar, this was by far the most fun and most well-organized event. A day gone and already we are looking forward to next year’s event.

Balance Fitness Center

Balance Fitness Center

Balance Fitness Center

Balance Fitness Center
Burmese orphans wearing the traditional ‘longyi’

Balance Fitness Center

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Out and About on Inle Lake: Part 1

Inle Lake, Myanmar, Burma

Inle Lake is home to unique fish species and a unique single-legged method to catching them

Myanmar’s Inle Lake is a massive body of water with full-on cities built right on the water with bamboo and even plumbing!

For more on Inle Lake: Bamboo, Ancient Pagods & More: Click Here

For more on Inle Lake, Myanmar: Hand-Rolled Smoke & Blacksmiths: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Inle Lake: Click Here

Inle Lake

Starting our day bright and early (and by skipping breakfast!) we headed out from our hotel The Pristine Lotus Resort on a small boat towards one of the most iconic places in Shan State, Myanmar (Burma), Inle Lake. There is nothing like taking a boat from your room straight on the water and heading down a small waterway towards the lake itself, we were both buzzing from excitement.

Inle Lake

 Our boat driver, whom we hired for the full day for 15,000 Kyat (about $13.00 USD), was in a chipper mood and with his basic English and my very basic and heavily-accented Burmese, we were able to communicate where he would be taking us. The simple explanation was everywhere! Our first stop was to see the famous fishermen of Inle Lake, complete with bamboo fishing traps, basic line and their unique one-legged fishing technique. The Intha technique, standing on the stern of the boat on one leg, apparently was developed as a way to get a better view of the water as the lake is covered by reeds and floating plants.

Inle Lake Inle Lake    Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

 The peace and serenity of Inle Lake is truly something to experience. Set between two large ridges, the seemingly sleepy water poses in front of a backdrop of golden pagodas and green rolling hills. Water agriculture and houses made of bamboo and standing on stilts of the same wood line the waterways towards the main village of Nyaung Shwe and the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda (also known as the Phaung Daw Oo or Phaung Daw U Pagoda).

Inle Lake
The Kaylar Village floating garden, where locals grow tomatoes, peas, chillies and flowers
Inle Lake
The Intha (Hintha) Bird is a mythical creature believed to have golden feathers and can fly great distances
Inle Lake
Inle Lake taxis complete with umbrellas to shield you from the powerful sun

As we arrived in September, the area was buzzing for the Phaung Daw U festival and around 9:00 am you could see the lake waking up with water taxis sprinting about and farmers harvesting their crops. As we arrived to the main pagoda the town was buzzing. A literal town on the water and a market to boot. The Phaung Daw U Pagoda contains four Buddha images which have been turned into golden globes as each male pilgrim adds his own gold flake in homage to the Buddha.

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Just a short walk over a bridge from the market a barge in the shape of the Hintha Bird was being prepared for its annual trip around the lake. Bright gold and large enough for several dozen people, the barge carries the Buddha images to each village on the lake so locals can pay their respects. The trip is accompanied by paddling competitions, signing and dancing along with martial arts challenges.

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

For more on Inle Lake: Bamboo, Ancient Pagods & More: Click Here

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2015 Myanmar Election Through the Lens

Elections, Yangon, Myanmar

The 2015 Myanmar election shot live in Yangon by a diplomat’s spouse

The opportunity to experience democracy in action during the 2015 Myanmar election was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

2015 Myanmar election

November 8th 2014 marked the day I proposed to my wife, a diplomat of the State of Israel, and I never thought that we would be celebrating our 1-year proposal-versary in the country of Myanmar (formally Burma) observing the nation’s first free and fair elections in over a quarter of a century. The build-up to this day was marked with a speculative excitement  and nervousness I’ve never felt before from the locals, who feared everything from a military crackdown to a delay in voting to a rigging of the elections. As we await the closing of the polls at 4:00pm local time, it seems as though the fear and tension have abated by now as happy voters and thrilled security staff lined up side-by-side since 5:00am to cast their vote and celebrate their leap towards democracy and a truly representative government.

2015 Myanmar election

2015 Myanmar election

Much has been made in the international media of the regime’s oppression of minority Muslims and disenfranchised citizens, however in Yangon, the nation’s former capital, all were united in a peaceful and beautiful display of camaraderie and hope. As an American born and bred, I can honestly say that the overwhelming feeling of optimism far surpassed anything I felt during Barack Obama’s election campaign back in 2008.

2015 Myanmar election

2015 Myanmar election

2015 Myanmar election

As luck would have it, the polling station we were at in Bahan Township in Yangon was graced with the presence of National League for Democracy chairperson, Nobel Laureate and world-renowned freedom fighter Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as she cast her vote. Daw Suu Kyi’s famous history, for those who don’t know, includes a war hero of a father who negotiated Burma’s independence from the British, General Aung San, and years of house arrest by the military junta who previously led the country for her advocacy for democracy.

2015 Myanmar election

Given her status and high profile nature, international press and media attended the polling station and crowded out many of the locals hoping to ‘get that one shot’ of Daw Suu Kyi to blast around the world’s mainstream media and social media. The media horde dissipated as soon as Daw Suu departed and business returned to normal. Happy voters with ink-stained fingers proudly waved them after voting in the 2015 Myanmar election, as election organizers are using this method to prevent anyone from voting more than once. Many families all attended together, helping their parents and grandparents sort through the process and make it to the polling booths. Even the security guards were more than willing to lend a helping hand to those in need.

2015 Myanmar election

2015 Myanmar election

There is much more to say on the elections, including discussions on the current president U Thein Sein, his USDP party and the constitution of Myanmar, written by the military, which excludes Daw Suu Kyi from holding the title of President, however I’ll leave that to the mainstream media. I will leave this post on one thought – how incredible it is to see real, true democracy in action in a place that has little experience with it in the past. Myanmar is a place with a truly special culture and people, and I’m thrilled to having been able to watch it from the sidelines.

2015 Myanmar election 2015 Myanmar election

Peaceful and Inspiring Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave, Shan State, Myanmar

The Pindaya Cave is a truly one-of-a-kind place unique to the hills of Shan State

Myanmar has so much to offer that you can’t find anywhere else in the world and the Pindaya Cave is a perfect example.

For more information on the Pindaya Cave: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to the Pindaya Cave: Click Here

Pindaya Cave

Of all the places I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to visit in the world, one of the most impressive man-made creations interacting with nature is the incredible Pindaya Cave in Shan State, Myanmar. The natural cave has been turned into a shrine of epic proportions by the local Buddhists and what they’ve created on the side and inside the limestone Myelat ridge is a worthy destination for anyone.

Pindaya Cave

In order to access the cave, one must travel about 1.5 hours away from the Heho Airport and drive through the quiet but active town of Pindaya where you can take an elevator up 9 stories to the entrance of the cave.  The southernmost Pindaya Cave can be entered and extends for about 490 feet along a well-worn path. It is known for its interior which contains over 9,200 images of Buddha (there is some variation of this number). Some of the older statues and images in the cave have inscriptions dating to the late 18th century and the earliest one dates from 1773. There may be some images without inscriptions that are older, but based on the style elements some believe none of them is older than the early 18th century and even suggests 1750 as the earliest possible date. The statues and images come in all shapes and sizes and have been placed there on an ongoing basis by different donors throughout the cave’s history, from lay people to the ruling authorities. The collection begins from the early Konbaung era to the modern period. (Wiki)
Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Within the cave, there are about seventy unique images of the Bhisakkaguru tradition dating to the late 18th century. They are unique in that the styling of hair, eyes, nose, ears, robe are different from most other images from Burma. The salient feature of this type of image is the holding of a seed in the upturned right palm. Than Tun reports that such images are found nowhere else in Burma, and based on Buddhist iconography, that these images are from the Mahayana tradition, and the conjecture is that the Pindaya cave at one time served the Mahayana Bhisakkaguru cult. (Wiki). The fact of the matter is that each point is in contention as locals believe this cave and some of the images are thousands of years old.
Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

There is a 15-m (49 ft) pagoda named Shwe U Min (Golden Cave) Pagoda at the entrance to the southernmost cave. Local legend attributes this pagoda as being built by King Asoka and repaired by King Alaungsithu in the 12th century, but this is not corroborated by any other historical source. In its present form and style, it is immediately apparent that the pagoda is of recent origin.

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave      Pindaya Cave    Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

There are many legends surrounding the Pindaya cave. One is that a blocked-off path at the end of the cave leads to the ancient city of Bagan. There is also the legend of the seven princesses bathing in a lake and how they were captured by a giant spider and trapped in the cave to be rescued by Prince Kummabhaya of Yawnghwe. Sculptures of the spider and the prince aiming with his bow and arrow have been added in recent times at the entrance of the covered stairway to the caves.

Pindaya Cave

After touring the cave (which took almost 3 hours!), we explored the outside and cliffs of the Golden Cave area which featured awesome statues and stupas as well as a game of Chinlone (Sepak Takraw) or as we know it, hackey sack mixed with football played with a ball of bent bamboo. We didn’t jump in, but it looked fun!
Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

For more information on the Pindaya Cave: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to the Pindaya Cave: Click Here

Bangkok Style: Sunday Drive in a Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuk, Bangkok, Thailand

When in Bangkok, one must Tuk Tuk

Known as a rickshaw in the west, the tuk tuk is the east’s primary form of transportation when facing the choking traffic of Thailand’s capital of Bangkok.

For more on the Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace: Click Here

For more on the Wat Arun and Temple of the Dawn: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wat Phra Kaew: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wat Arun and Temple of the Dawn: Click Here

Tuk Tuk

The Tuk-Tuk is synonymous with Bangkok. Named for its motor’s distinctive ‘tuk tuk tuk tuk tuk’ sound, it’s the best way to cruise through Thailand’s capital… as long as you don’t mind the choking-from-smog air. There’s no seat belt, no door, usually no-side gate for extra safety (though it succeeds in only making you ‘feel’ safe) and generally no rules. So I point, click and enjoy. And now through my lens, you can too!

Tuk Tuk


Tuk Tuk
Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuk

Bike for Mom weekend was in full swing during this weekend in Bangkok. The Thai people love their Royal Family and they celebrate their birthdays in all sorts of ways. This year contained bike rides for the King and Queen whom they refer to as “Dad and Mom,” respectively. The ride took place on Sunday morning and thousands upon thousands of participants took part in it.

Tuk Tuk
Tuk Tuk

There are so many shopping options in Bangkok, making it a central hub for travelers and tourists from all around the region. For backpackers, the ability to engage in adventure travel in the heart of a big city is priceless… though you needn’t worry as those on a tight budget can get by on a few dollars a day.

For more on the Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace: Click Here

For more on the Wat Arun and Temple of the Dawn: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wat Phra Kaew: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wat Arun and Temple of the Dawn: Click Here

The Grand Palace at Wat Phra Kaew

Wat Phra Kaew Temple, Bangkok, Thailand

The Grand Palace is a highlight of Wat Phra Kaew 

Modern history meets ancient history at the Grand Palace of Wat Phra Kaew

For more on the Wat Phra Kaew and Temple of the Emerald Buddha: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wat Phra Kaew: Click Here

The Grand Palace

Having previously written about the Wat Phra Kaew in beautiful downtown Bangkok, Thailand, here is quickie on the Grand Palace of Thailand – located on the back end of the compound. The Grand Palace certainly gives credence to the name. Constructed during the reign of King Rama V from 1897 to 1903. The new palace, Phra Thinang Boromphiman (pictured above), was built over the site of an old armory after King Rama V had it demolished. The new palace was intended as a gift to the first Crown Prince of Siam, Prince Maha Vajirunhis. It was originally named Phra Thinang Phanumart Chamroon, however before the construction was finished the prince died of typhoid at the age of 16. Once completed the palace was handed to the next heir, Crown Prince Maha Vajiravudh, who ascended the throne in 1910 as Rama VI. He later gave the palace its present name (Wiki). After seeing the Phra Thinang Boromphiman, you can literally turn around and see the original palace shining in the sunlight.

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace (Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang) served as the official residence of the kings of Siam (and now Thailand, for those who haven’t watched the play “The King and I”) since 1782. The king, his court and his royal government were based on the grounds of the palace until 1925. The present monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) currently resides at Chitralada Palace but the Grand Palace is still used for official events. Several royal ceremonies and state functions are held within the walls of the palace every year. As mentioned in my previous post, the palace is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Thailand and on this day it was easy to see why.

 The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace The Grand Palace The Grand Palace

Construction of the palace began on May 6, 1782, at the order of King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (Rama I), the founder of the Chakri Dynasty, when he moved the capital city from Thonburi to Bangkok. Throughout successive reigns, many new buildings and structures were added, especially during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). By 1925, the king, the Royal Family and the government were no longer permanently settled at the palace, and had moved to other residences. After the abolition of absolute monarchy in 1932, all government agencies completely moved out of the palace.

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace

The palace complex is roughly rectangular and has a combined area of a massive 218,400 square meters (2,351,000 sq ft) surrounded by four walls. It is situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya River at the heart of the Rattanakosin Island, today in the Phra Nakhon District. The Grand Palace is made up of numerous buildings, halls, pavilions set around open lawns, gardens and courtyards. Its asymmetry and eclectic styles are due to its organic development with additions and rebuilding being made by successive reigning kings over 200 years of history. The Grand Palace is currently partially open to the public as a museum, but it remains a working palace, with several royal offices still situated inside. After our walkthrough of the Grand Palace, we headed down the road to check out some other sites and grabbed a cab back to our hotel. As always, a quick drive through Southeast Asia can lead to its own little adventure.

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace

    The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace

For more on the Wat Phra Kaew and Temple of the Emerald Buddha: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wat Phra Kaew: Click Here

Wat Phra Kaew – Temple of the Emerald Buddha

Wat Phra Kaew stands out among all the hustle and bustle of Bangkok

Thailand’s crown jewel temple, the Wat Phra Kaew, features three massive pagodas in the Sri Lankan, Thai and Khmer styles.

For more on the Wat Phra Kaew and Grand Palace: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wat Phra Kaew: Click Here

Wat Phra Kaew

Simply put, the Wat Phra Kaew Pagoda is a mix of three things: the spiritual center of Thai Buddhism, the former residence of the Thai Monarch – the Grand Palace, and a fairy tale. I’ll go more into detail, but that is the gist of what we’re talking about. That, and an incredible collaboration between religion, history and modern politics.

Wat Phra Kaew

Our trip starts out with the Temple Guards, who stand mightily by protecting tourists from taking photos without something clever in them. They did their duty with flying colors while I learned that Ethiopians are more afraid of horses than the Chinese or Koreans. There is a Genghis Khan joke in there somewhere, I just can’t find it. So after that discovery, we entered the packed compound and here it is ever more apparent that tourists have discovered Thailand whereas in Myanmar, locals still dare to tread. In a way it’s almost like looking into the future for Myanmar’s incredible sights as many tourists kind of cheapen the experience of the Far East… but then again, we’re here so… here are the crammed gates:

Wat Phra Kaew

Wat Phra Kaew

After paying a small entrance fee and changing into long pants (insider tip: always wear long pants into religious sites in Thailand), we finally got a chance to take in the incredible and fantasy-minded Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The most sacred Buddha Temple in Thailand doesn’t disappoint in the least as three large pagodas surrounded by a more than mile long wall make for a once-in-a-lifetime skyline.  There are two main parts of the compound, the first of which contains three pagodas and the second contains the Grand Palace.

Wat Phra Kaew

The three pagodas of Wat Phra Kaew represent the changing centers of Buddhist influence. Phra Si Ratana Chedi is a 19th-century Sri Lankan-style stupa housing ashes of the Buddha. Phra Mondop, in the middle, is a library built in Thai style by Rama I, known for its excellently crafted Ayutthaya-style mother-of-pearl doors, bookcases containing the Tripitaka (sacred Buddhist manuscripts), human- and dragon-headed nagas (snakes) and statues of Chakri kings. The Royal Pantheon, to the east, was built in Khmer style during the 19th century. It’s open to the public for one day in October to commemorate the founding of the Chakri dynasty. All were closed while we visited as security was on high alert for the Queen of Thailand’s upcoming birthday (as a note, we left Bangkok the day before the bombing in downtown). Also to the north is a model of Angkor Wat, perhaps the most sacred of all Cambodian shrines. It was constructed by King Mongkut as a reminder that the neighboring state was under the dominion of the Thai. Thanks Wiki!

Wat Phra Kaew

Besides tourists, the first part of the Wat Phra Kaew compound is chock full of incredibly-detailed statues, figures and more. There is so much to see in the compound that you’d need a few days to take it all in. We tried, but again Thailand’s mini heatwave was baking this boy. So I’ll give a quick history lesson on this part and head to the Grand Palace after these pictures: According to popular belief, the Emerald Buddha is ancient and came from Sri Lanka. Art historians, however, generally believe that it was crafted in 14th-century Thailand. The much-revered Buddha image has traveled extensively over the centuries. The story goes that the Emerald Buddha was once kept covered in plaster in a monument in Chiang Rai, but a damaging lightning storm in 1434 uncovered the treasure.  The king of Chiang Mai tried very hard to procure the statute, but three times the elephant transporting the statute stopped at a crossroads in Lampang. Taking it as a sign from the Buddha, the statue was placed in a specially-built monumental temple in Lampang, where it stayed for 32 years. The next king of Chiang Mai was more determined, succeeding in bringing the Emerald Buddha to his city. It was housed in a temple there until 1552, when Laotian invaders took it. The statue stayed in Laos for 214 years, until General Chakri (later King Rama I) brought it back to the Thai capital at Thonburi after his successful campaign in Laos. In 1784, when he moved the capital across the river to Bangkok, King Rama I installed the precious figure in its present shrine, where it has remained as a tangible symbol of the Thai nation. It is feared that removal of the image from Bangkok will signify the end of the Chakri dynasty.

Wat Phra Kaew

Wat Phra Kaew Wat Phra Kaew

 Wat Phra Kaew Wat Phra Kaew  Wat Phra Kaew   Wat Phra Kaew  Wat Phra Kaew Wat Phra Kaew   Wat Phra Kaew

Wat Phra Kaew Wat Phra Kaew  Wat Phra Kaew

Wat Phra Kaew

  Wat Phra Kaew Wat Phra Kaew     Wat Phra Kaew  Wat Phra Kaew

Oh and of course the Emerald Buddha.

“It is not known when the statue of the Emerald Buddha was made, but it is generally believed that it was crafted in 14th-century Thailand. However, there are also claims that the statue originated in India or Sri Lanka. None of these theories can be firmly established as none of the historians could get a close look at the statue. The Emerald Buddha was found in Chiang Rai, Lanna in 1434, after a lightning storm struck a temple. The Buddha statue fell down and later became chipped, and the monks, after removing the plaster around the statue, discovered that the image was a perfectly made Buddha image from a solid piece of green jade. The image was moved a few time to various temples, first to Lampang, then to Chiang Mai, from where it was removed by prince Chao Chaiyasetthathirat to Luang Prabang, when his father died and he ascended the throne of both Lanna and Lan Xang, in 1551. The statue remained the it to his new capital of Lan Xang in Vientiane in the 1560s. The statue remained there for twelve years. King Chaiyasetthathirat then shifted it to his new capital of Lan Xang in Vientiane in the 1560s. He took the Emerald Buddha with him and the image remained in Vientiane for 214 years until 1778. In the reign of King Taksin, Chao Phya Chakri (who later became Rama I) defeated Vientiane and moved the Emerald Buddha from Vientiane to Thonburi where it was installed in a shrine close to Wat Arun. Chao Phra Chakri then took over the throne and founded the Chakri Dynasty of the Rattanakosin Kingdom, and shifted his capital across the river to its present location in Bangkok. The Emerald Buddha was also moved across the river with pomp and pageantry and installed in the temple of Wat Phra Keaw.” – Wiki

Wat Phra Kaew

The Grand Palace… coming soon.

For more on the Wat Phra Kaew and Grand Palace: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wat Phra Kaew: Click Here

Wat Arun and Roll

Wat Arun Temple, Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok’s history comes alive at Wat Arun

The Wat Arun “Temple of Dawn” is a brilliant spot to take in some Thai Buddhism near downtown Bangkok.

For all the high-resolution photos from Wat Arun: Click Here

Wat Arun

Caked in sunscreen on an atypically blistering day during Thailand’s rainy season, it’s easy to see why the locals are complaining of a heat wave… and why white boys from southwestern Ohio have a hard go of it traveling in Southeast Asia. Bangkok is only 45 minutes away by flight from Yangon, Myanmar, so a weekend in BKK it was! Our second day in Bangkok saw us travel to the outskirts of Bangkok proper to the Bangkok Yai district located on the Thonburi west bank of the Chao Phraya River. The lovely Wat Arun brought us out of the Sukhumvit district in downtown and while unfortunately for us it was in the middle of a reconstruction period it was still worth the hour or so trek.
Wat Arun

Wat Arun, or to call it by its full name Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan, is a Buddhist temple named for the Hindu god Aruna. Meaning “Temple of Dawn,” the Wat Arun is one of Thailand’s best known and most ancient landmarks. Originally built around the beginning of the seventeenth century, it’s distinctive spires were built in the early nineteenth century during the reign of King Rama II.

Wat Arun

The compound itself is quite large, with several different temples all in a typically Thailand/Khmer-ish architecture. Something I’ve found quite interesting around Southeast Asia is that the Buddhist statues are all very similar while the architecture of each pagoda varies depending on the country you’re in. For example, Myanmar’s pagodas all have a very distinct gold-domed appearance while Thailand’s are covered in statues and intricate carvings and are colored primarily in a white-ish hue. This was particularly noticeable at Wat Phrae Kaew, but more on that in the next post.

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

The main feature of Wat Arun is its central prang (Khmer-style tower) which is encrusted with colorful porcelain. The height is measured between 66.8 meters (219 feet) and 86 meters (282 feet) tall. Very steep and narrow steps lead to a balcony high on the central tower. The circumference of the base of the structure is 234 meters. The corners are surrounded by four smaller satellite prang. The prang are decorated by seashells and bits of porcelain which had previously been used as ballast by boats coming to Bangkok from China. The presiding Buddha image, cast in the reign of Rama II, is said to have been molded by the king himself. The ashes of King Rama II are interred in the base of the image.

Wat Arun  Wat Arun Wat Arun

Next to the prang is the Ordination Hall with a Niramitr Buddha image supposedly designed by King Rama II. The front entrance of the Ordination Hall has a roof with a central spire, decorated in colored ceramic and stucco work “sheathed in colored china.” Basically, it’s incredibly colorful and detailed intricately. It is also a much welcome respite from the searing heat.

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun  Wat Arun  Wat Arun

In addition to the towering stupas, a market, several shrines and monastery are all located in the compound. After taking in the incredible sights of the Wat Arun, we took a quick walk around the area (it’s a photographer’s dream) and then stopped off for a fresh coconut and on to the next stop on our journey… the awe-inspiring Wat Phrae Kaew.

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun Wat Arun  Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

For all the high-resolution photos from Wat Arun: Click Here

Bangkok Shop ‘Till you Drop

Terminal 21, Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok Shop UNTIL YOU DROP! Alt. Title – Leave the Mrs at Home!

It’s called Bangkok Shop ‘Till you Drop because lets be honest – after parties and ladies (and ladyboys) Thailand’s capital is a consumers’ paradise.

For some cool high-resolution photos from Bangkok: Click Here

Bangkok Shop

Everyone has heard the excuse “Sorry, my dog ate my homework.” It’s not funny or believable. The Burmese version of this joke is “Sorry the internet is out/incredibly slow in the entire country, turns out an internet cable was cut somewhere up north in the jungle.” Well, at least they didn’t say a tiger or elephant ate/stepped on it. Or something. Whatever, the internet’s back online for now so I can now share with ya’ll our trip to lovely Bangkok, Thailand. Going to hit it in three parts so here’s today’s rather short first installment on shopping.

Bangkok Shop

Bangkok is a a cash dump. I mean with every type of food imaginable, store imaginable, etc. you can literally blow your trip’s budget in a day. But hey, when you miss Starbucks’ coffee, $10 is no problem. In fact, I was happy to pay it #SkinnyLightCaramelFrappacinoForTheWin. Yeah, just like that. After getting our Starbucks’ fix, we headed down Sukhumvit way to the famous Terminal 21 Shopping Mall. Let me tell you, it was worth it.

Bangkok Shop

Each floor of the 9-story complex is themed for a different part/city of the world: the Caribbean, Rome, Tokyo, Paris, San Franciso, Istanbul, London and Hollywood. The intricate detail that went into each floor is incredible and the amount of stores… well there’s a lot.

Bangkok Shop Bangkok Shop

Most stores accept either Baht or US Dollars, so keeping track of the exchange rate helps. Money changers are aplenty in the mall along with free WiFi, however foreigners must register at one of two “gates,” whereas locals can register at any of the numerous computers in the complex.

Bangkok Shop

Bangkok Shop

Bangkok Shop Bangkok Shop

Bangkok Shop

Fast Times at Koe Htat Gyi

Koe Htat Gyi Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

The Koe Htat Gyi Pagoda (Koehtatgyi) is a massive monument which stands testament to Burmese artistry

They don’t call Myanmar the “Golden Land” for nothing, and the Koe Htat Gyi Pagoda is yet another example of gold mixed with ingenuity and devotion to Buddhism.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Koe Htat Gyi Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Koe Htat Gyi Pagoda: Click Here

 

Koe Htat Gyi

Upon arriving at the Koe Htat Gyi Pagoda (Koehtatgyi Paya), I joked with my wife about how small the temple appeared from the outside. Half-joking and half-assuredly she told me that it would be gigantic on the inside just like the Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda and all the Pagodas we’ve seen around Myanmar. As always fellas, listen to your wife. She will usually be right and boy, was she ever.

Koe Htat Gyi

Koe Htat Gyi

Located near the world-renowned Shwedagon Pagoda on Bargayar Road in the Sanchaung Township of Yangon, the bright and cheerful Koe Htat Gyi boasts a huge Buddha Image known locally as the nine-story (or -tiered due to the CGI sheet roof) pagoda or the Atula Dipatti Maha Muni Thetkya Image. Built in 1905 on the 14 acres of the Bargayar Monastery, the Image stands 72-feet tall.

Koe Htat Gyi   Koe Htat Gyi

Koe Htat Gyi
Vipassana meditation is very popular in Buddhism

According to local legend, a frog ate a snake at the site symbolizing victory – hence the image was built there. Also located around the main Image are many smaller Buddhas and pictures and scenes depicting the Buddha’s life. On the grounds of the compound, you can find many small shops selling beads, flowers, books, candles and many other assorted tchotchkies. Astrologers and palm-readers are also aplenty around the pagoda.

Koe Htat Gyi

Koe Htat Gyi

Koe Htat Gyi

Koe Htat Gyi

Koe Htat Gyi

Koe Htat Gyi

Koe Htat Gyi
The Gautama Buddha Image is incredible from every angle

Koe Htat Gyi

Koe Htat Gyi

Koe Htat Gyi

The lively atmosphere at the pagoda is made by children running around and playing games. Plenty of statues and little figurines made out of marble and other materials are found throughout the entire complex.

Koe Htat Gyi

Koe Htat Gyi

Koe Htat Gyi

Koe Htat Gyi

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Koe Htat Gyi Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Koe Htat Gyi Pagoda: Click Here

The Dark and Desolate Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

The Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda is an enormous Gautama Buddha Image centrally-located in Yangon

The Golden Land is filled with massive pagodas and the Nga Htat Gyi (Ngahtatgyi) is a testament to the Burmese use of gold and design to create a brilliant Image.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda: Click Here

Nga Htat Gyi

The Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda is perhaps the truest testament to Burmese craftsmanship in all of Yangon. Located across the street from the enormous Reclining Buddha Image of Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda, Nga Htat Gyi (or Ngahtatgyi) has an almost eerie air about it. In order to access the temple, one must maneuver the increasingly traffic-heavy Shwegonedaing Road and ascend up a long and narrow staircase surrounded by jungle and overgrowth on both sides. As you make your way up the winding path, the sounds of the city grow ever more silent as you enter the desolateness of the main temple area.

Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi

  Nga Htat Gyi

I’ve mentioned before how few tourists enter Yangon’s lesser-known pagodas and this day was no exception. Nearly empty save the few monks and locals there to pray, Nga Htat Gyi’s dark and empty halls combined with the sound of thunder and rain in the background made this visit even more impressive and isolated. Just before you enter the main temple area with the usual huge, iconic Buddha image, each side of the entrance is lined with paintings of the Buddha’s life and teachings. They were, to be succinct and keeping with today’s theme, quite dark.

Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi

  Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi

So now that we’ve established the seriousness of this site, let’s move on to the gigantic image itself. Built underneath a five-tiered roof (Ngahtatgyi translates roughly to “Five-Layered Roof”), the Buddha image stands about 15 meters tall (46 feet) and has Magite armor surrounding its body. Built around the year 1900 and painted in an incredibly gaudy and brilliant gold, the Buddha stands in contrast to its rich carved-wood background. An original 20.5-foot tall Buddha image stood previously at the site and was donated by Prince Minyedeippa back in 1558.

Nga Htat Gyi Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi
Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi

The robes of the Buddha are meticulously detailed as are jewels in the headpiece. Furthermore, throughout the pagoda area are more statues of the Buddha, various figures such as the Naga Snake (a mythical snake which protects Buddhism), a large bell and a row of monks ascending into a 3-D image onto a wall.

Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi
Nga Htat Gyi

.Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi

 Nga Htat Gyi Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi
Chaukhtatgyi (green structure) and Buddhist monastery

   Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi

Nga Htat Gyi

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda: Click Here

Off the Grid in Yangon: Wijuwedo Paya

Wijuwedo Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

Day-trip to the Wijuwedo Pagoda and you won’t forget it!

Close to Yangon but still ‘off-the-grid,’ the Wijuwedo Pagoda stands tall in the jungle.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Wijuwedo Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wijuwedo Pagoda: Click Here

Wijuwedo

The phrase “off the grid” in Myanmar is a very relative term – meaning that if you travel just a hop, skip or jump outside Yangon you are pretty much traveling into areas unknown to the West. Now, this doesn’t mean that no one outside of the locals have traveled there, but it means that you cannot find any information online (especially in English) about the sites you will come across. For this very reason, I have started this blog and dutifully maintain it to show the outside world just how much there is to see in this incredible country. Think that’s an exaggeration? Let’s consult Google Maps on the Wijuwedo Pagoda:
WijuwedoWijuwedo

So how did we find Wijuwedo Pagoda? While touring the incredible Meilamu Pagoda we came upon the murky and untamed Pazundaung Creek. Quick aside – the creek, though more of a river, typifies the absolute raw nature of Myanmar and how close the jungle really is to the newly-built modern civilization. Yangon is, for the most part, a city growing within a tropical rainforest. As soon as you step outside into the outskirts of the city, you find yourself entrapped and mystified by its sheer beauty and natural state. But I digress. Seeing several shining stupas in the distance I quickly inquired with a local restaurant owner about what the location was and they told me “Wujiwedo Pyay,” the Pagoda of Wujiwedo. With nothing on the internet or maps depicting its location, we knew we had a mission on our hands.

Wijuwedo
Wujiwedo Pyay across the Pazundaung

Upon exiting the Meilamu Pagoda, we found a taxi who was familiar with the area and, to our luck, knew enough English to understand where we wanted to go. The language barrier in Myanmar is enormous, however it isn’t surprising – after all, the country formerly known as Burma had been cut off from the Western world for almost 60 years. Cutting through the banned-in-Yangon proper motorcycles that line the streets, drive on the curbs and skim through traffic, we made our way across “Industrial Road Bridge” over the river and hung a right onto a dirt path lined on both sides with thicker than thick jungle bush. At the end of the dirt path, however, was the Wujiwedo Pyay.

Wijuwedo

There are very few tourists in Myanmar and only a handful of westerners, so my Ethiopian-Israeli wife and my whiter-than-white freckled features draw attention everywhere we go. Here, however, we seemed to be the first visitors to ever visitor the place. Whether that’s true or not, everyone seemed more than happy to guide us around the grounds and show us the different buildings that line the area. Unlike some of the more famous sites in Yangon such as the Shwedagon Pagoda and Sule Pagoda, this is not a tourist attraction.  Paved areas are at a minimum and there isn’t a lick of English in sight.

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Seriously, how does no one know about this place? And those photos of from just the FIRST stupa. It’s mind-boggling the detail on each pillar, doorway, ceiling and shrine is unknown and not publicized. This is just one example of the hundreds of locations not toured by outsiders. And one more reason to share with the world the beauties of Burma.

Wijuwedo
Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo
Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo  Wijuwedo

With about 7 total buildings and the sunlight fading, we needed to make haste in order to see the entire compound. Of course, who can refuse a nice photo op? Or three?Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

 Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo  Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo  Wijuwedo   Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo
The locals believe ringing the bell brings good luck

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

Wijuwedo

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Wijuwedo Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Wijuwedo Pagoda: Click Here

Swal Daw Pagoda aka Swe Taw Myat Paya

Swal Daw Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

The Swe Taw Myat Pagoda is a gorgeous gold and white dome standing over Yangon’s north

The Swe Taw Myat Pagoda in Yangon’s North is a welcome respite from the more touristy pagodas of its center and south.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Swe Taw Myat Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Swe Taw Myat Pagoda: Click Here

Swe Taw Myat

As with most places in Myanmar, several names for one location can be quite confusing. The Swal Daw Pagoda (or Swe Taw Myat, or Swe Dal, or… ) is a more recently-built pagoda in Yangon, funded mostly by donations from the Burmese people and Buddhists from the world over. It was commissioned to enshrine a sacred Buddha Tooth Relic from China, believed to be from the Gautama Buddha who died around 2,500 years ago.

Swe Taw Myat

The tooth was brought over from China in 1994 and was enshrined in the Pagoda for about 45 days, along with two ivory copies. As for the Pagoda itself, it is large white structure adorned with gold and incredibly intricate detailing all around.

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

Unlike most relics in Myanmar, the Swe Taw Myat tooth relic can be viewed by the public. Usually the relic is hidden deep in the pagoda or stupa and cannot be viewed. Burmese Jade, ivory and gold make for the centerpiece in the Swal Daw Pagoda in an unbelievably impressive form. Located at the center of the large hall, the roof is supported by massive gold-painted columns. A raised structure is topped with a very elaborate, multi-tiered ceremonial umbrella. The surrounding fence is encircled by Buddha images in various mudras seated on pedestals. The relic is kept in a small cylinder-shaped glass case topped with a small multi tiered Pyatthat. The relic is encircled by small green jade Buddha images.

Swe Taw Myat

As for the Pagoda itself, it was built to resemble the ancient Ananda Pagoda in Bagan which dates back to the 11th century. Four entrances lead to the inner shrine in perfectly-symmetrical fashion. The stairs to each entrance are flanked by a pair of white and gold Chinthe, a mythological creature that looks like a lion. Chinthes are often seen guarding temples in Myanmar. The center of the structure consists of several tiers of receding size, topped with a gold painted sikhara and a spire.

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat
Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

As always, shoes come off upon entering the Pagoda compound. The grounds are open daily from 6 am until 6 pm. Admission is free, however I needed to make a 200 Kyat (20 Cents) donation fee for my camera. Located upon the Dhammapala Hillock in Mayangone Township, Yangon and across from a Buddhist monastery.

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

Swe Taw Myat

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Swe Taw Myat Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Swe Taw Myat Pagoda: Click Here

Massive Statues of Meilamu

Meilamu Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

The Meilamu Pagoda is a Disneyland-like playground of Pagodas north of Yangon

There is so much to see and do in Yangon and one thing not to be overlooked on your travels is the Meilamu Pagoda.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Meilamu Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Meilamu Pagoda: Click Here

Meilamu
Several giant Gautama Buddha Images are stationed around the pagoda

The Meilamu Pagoda, located on Thudhamma Road in the working-class suburb North Okkalapa Township in Yangon, is a literal Disneyland of pagodas and stupas. Nominal access to the city’s power and sewer grid leave the Pagoda virtually untouched by tourists as electricity is available only several times per day. The pagoda and area is so remote that LonelyPlanet and the internet are little help to visitors as this is as far off the grid as  you can go in Yangon District.

Meilamu
Meilamu

Established in 1959, North Okkalapa Township serves as home to several structures on the Yangon City Heritage List and our day there was fulfilling and gorgeous as even storm clouds couldn’t keep our excitement at bay. Larger-than-life 3D stucco depictions of the Buddha’s life and practice can be found throughout the compound while a giant concrete crocodile houses a gallery depicting the legend of Mei La Mu, the girl born from a mangrove fruit, after whom the temple is named.

Meilamu

Meilamu

Walking through the compound takes quite a while even if you don’t pause to stop and look at all the sites. Making your way to the back of the compound, you come to Nga Moe Yeik Creek and Pazundaung Creek with teahouses and local restaurants galore. Houses floating on the water is truly a sight to see and across the creek is the stunning Wijuwedo Pagoda, but that is a story for another day!

Meilamu

Meilamu

Back to the compound, and numerous buildings scattered throughout the complex shelter other images of the Buddha before and after he became enlightened. In addition, many little shops adorn the walkways and entrances. You can buy little crabs, fish, clothing and more!

Meilamu
Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

Meilamu

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Meilamu Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Meilamu Pagoda: Click Here

Brilliant Botahtaung Pagoda & Jetty

The Botahtaung Pagoda & Jetty is a terrific stop when in downtown Yangon

Less well-known than the Sule Pagoda, the Botahtaung Pagoda located on a jetty that shares its same name is a brilliant stop when traveling through downtown Yangon.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Botahtaung Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Botahtaung Pagoda: Click Here

Botahtaung

Located next to the Yangon River in downtown Yangon, the Botahtaung Jetty features many shops, shrines and restaurants. The piece de resistance of the jetty is a pagoda so gold plated that it is disorientating. Literally disorientating, so much so that I didn’t even realize I was traveling in a circle within it.

Botahtaung

Botahtaung translates literally to English as “1,000 Military Officers” and with gold everywhere, it seems a fitting tribute to (according to legend, 1,000 military officers who escorted relics of the Buddha to Yangon from India around 2,500 years ago). Built around the time of the Shwedagon and Sule Pagodas, it was originally known as Kyaik-de-att, a Mon name, or Sandaw Shin. Enshrined in the hollowed gold-covered pagoda is a sacred hair of the Lord Buddha.
Botahtaung

Botahtaung

Botahtaung

The Botahtaung Pagoda stands about 40 meters high (132 feet) and features many ancient relics and artifacts from the Buddha and the local area. Every year during the dry season, the locals hold a festival at the shrine during which a weaving contest and Htamane cooking contest are featured. Htamane is a tradition Myanmar dish cooked with sticky rice, nuts and coconut. Theatrical troupes perform for the public at night while food stalls adorn the surrounding jetty.

Botahtaung
Botahtaung

Modern history of the Botahtaung Pagoda includes a rebuilding project after it was destroyed during British Royal Air Force bombing in World War II when Japan had previously invaded the region. The relics excavated during the time of repair are enshrined in the visible showcase on the interior corridor walls. Together with the relics are silver, bronze and alabaster images of Buddha in a Pagoda- shaped casket serving as a repository of the sacred Hair and relics of the two great Disciples.

Botahtaung
Botahtaung
Botahtaung

Botahtaung

Botahtaung
Botahtaung

Botahtaung

Botahtaung
There are many Gautama Buddha Images around the compound

Botahtaung
Botahtaung

The jetty itself has many docks with cruises that run up and down the Yangon River for tourists, while locals use small skiffs to ferry across the river to residential neighborhoods and local markets. A delicious restaurant named Junior Duck sits at the far east end of the jetty, a great local joint that I highly recommend if you’re in the mood for Myanmar cuisine and great duck.

Botahtaung

Botahtaung

Botahtaung

Botahtaung

  
Botahtaung
Botahtaung
Botahtaung

Botahtaung
Botahtaung
Botahtaung
Botahtaung
Botahtaung
Botahtaung
Botahtaung

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Botahtaung Pagoda: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Botahtaung Pagoda: Click Here

Kabar Aye Pagoda & Mahapasana Cave

Kabar Aye Pagoda, Myanmar

The Kabar Aye Pagoda & Mahapasana Cave complex are prominent landmarks near Inya Lake

Yangon’s Inya Lake houses two huge pieces of modern Myanmar history in the form of the Kabar Aye Pagoda and Mahapasana Cave.

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Kabar Aye Pagoda: Click Here

For more information from our Travel Guide on the Mahapasana Cave: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Kabar Aye Pagoda & Mahapasana Cave: Click Here

Kabar Aye Pagoda

The Mahapasana Cave & Kabar Aye Pagoda make for a great afternoon trip. Built in the 1950s for the Sixth Buddhist Synod (1954-1946), the locations played host to some 2,500 monks and marked the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment. The Mahapasana Cave (Great Stone Cave) was created as a replica of the Satta Panni Cave of India, which hosted the first Buddhist Synod. The Cave was used for congregation and reading scriptures and now serves as a place for pilgrimage.

Kabar Aye Pagoda

The hall itself was commissioned by Prime Minister U Nu and measures 67 meters long and 43 meters wide. The ceilings and walls are adorned with the teachings of the Tripitaka while the end of the hall has a Buddha image seated in the “Calling the Earth to Witness” posture. Six entrances along with six pillars all symbolizing the Sixth Synod.

Kabar Aye Pagoda

Kabar Aye Pagoda

 Kabar Aye Pagoda

Kabar Aye Pagoda

Kabar Aye Pagoda

Kabar Aye Pagoda

Kabar Aye Pagoda

Kabar Aye Pagoda

Kabar Aye Pagoda

Heading out and south of the Mahapasana Guha is the Kabar Aye Pagoda (Kabaraye Paya). Meaning “World Peace,” the three-tiered hti Stupa stands 35 meters tall and the Pagoda is wonderfully decorated in almost every color imaginable. Golden statues along with lotuses of all shapes and size can be found throughout the Pagoda’s balcony.

Kabar Aye Pagoda

Kabar Aye Pagoda

Aside from an exquisite exterior, the hollow interior of the Kabaraye Paya features exquisite paintings, Buddha depictions donated from around the world and four golden Buddha images: Kassapa Buddha, Kakusandha Buddha, Konagamana Buddha and Gautama Buddha.

Kabar Aye Pagoda

 Kabar Aye Pagoda

On August 29, 1961, the Burmese Parliament announced that Buddhism was the official state religion, mainly as a result of U Nu’s efforts. Cow slaughtering was officially banned in Burma. However, in 1962 Ne Win, who succeeded U Nu, repealed this measure and the effort to make Burma a Buddhist country was effectively halted. The construction of the Kabaraye complex was part of U Nu’s attempt to institutionalize Buddhism at the national level.

Kabar Aye Pagoda