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.

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Hoi An, Vietnam: Click Here

 

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.

Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam

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.

Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam

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!

Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam

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.

Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam

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.

Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam

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.

Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam

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.

Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam Hoi An, Vietnam

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!

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Hoi An, Vietnam: Click Here

Hoi An, Vietnam

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.

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

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

For all the high-resolution photos from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Click Here

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.

Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City Ho Chi Minh City

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

Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập Independence Palace - Dinh Độc Lập

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.

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

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

For all the high-resolution photos from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Click Here

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!

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

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

For all the high-resolution photos from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Click Here

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!

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

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

For all the high-resolution photos from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Click Here

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).

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Da Nang Dragon Bridge: Click Here

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!

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the DaNang Dragon Bridge: Click Here

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!

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Vu Lan Bao Hieu – Chua Buu Dai Son Chinese Temple: Click Here

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.

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Vu Lan Bao Hieu – Chua Buu Dai Son Chinese Temple: Click Here

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

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.

For all my travel blog posts on Vietnam: Click Here

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

[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

Throwback to 2004 – London, England

A first trip abroad to England included a 6-hour flight and a terror scare!

London, England is a brilliant place for a first-time traveler and the ease of which you can move from place to place (not to mention a pretty non-existent language barrier) makes for a great time all around.

For all my travel blog posts: Click Here

England

“Spring Break 2004! Panama? Nah… England? Great! Shorts and no shirt weather! Oh wait… It’s cold there too?” And thus began an ignorant American’s first trip abroad and across the pond to jolly ol’ England. Now, it gets cold in Ohio. Especially northern Ohio and, thanks to about 3-4 feet of snow falling overnight, I didn’t even know if we could fly out of Cleveland let alone make it to the airport for our Transatlantic.  Well let’s time-machine back real quick and see what we had outside my dorm:

England
Good morn…nope

In 2004 I was in my senior year of high school and after studying Chaucer for the year, my classmates and I were offered the opportunity to go on a week-long class trip to London. I jumped at the opportunity and shooting from a disposable, I was able to capture a few memories and thanks to the ‘new’ technology of getting a CD made with a digital copy of my photos, I’ve held them for the past 12 years. In fact, not only have I not looked at these photos in years but I even forgot they existed deep in the recesses of my external hard drive. I’ve never shared these photos with anyone so… no time like the present hey?

England
Group photo outside of Armington Hall

The Grand River Academy is an all-boys boarding school located in the small town of Austinburg, Ohio, just outside of Ashtabula and about an hours-drive north of Cleveland. We had good reports of flights being on time so off it was after the mandatory photo op. Our group numbered about 14, students and staff included. A 6-hour flight and the first time outside of the States for most of us, a poor night’s sleep couldn’t even support a quick snooze on the plane due to our excitement. Upon arrival, we hopped on a tour bus and took off for our whirlwind of a week. As an aside, I’m hopeless here chronologically.

The first stop (I’m going to write about, anyways) on our journey was the remarkable Stonehenge. I’ve written at length previously about how seeing Stonehenge for the first time had drastically changed my perception of the world and opened doors for me that were previously unreachable. I mean that in every sense of the phrase, as the prehistoric wonder means an enormous amount to me and my perception of actually leaving home and seeing these places that had previously only existed for me on the television and in textbooks. As corny as it may sound, the experience instilled in me a wanderlust that travels throughout the Middle East, Europe and Asia still hasn’t quenched.

England
The amazing Stonehenge

England

England

England

You know, the funny thing about Stonehenge is that once you leave London, the rolling hills interspersed with the countryside of England feel a lot like Ohio. Green, agricultural both in crops and animals, quiet. And then you have it… standing desolately among farm after farm are about 20 massive stones reaching heights of over 20-feet (6m or so) tall. The sheer size of how large the stones are was just breath-taking. I didn’t expect that. In any case, you can click around the blog to read more about my visit to the famous site.

England

England

Bath, England, derives its clever name from the Great Roman Baths which sit in the center of the city. The 2nd-century spa of the Roman elite is heated, housed in a still-immaculate and stunning building and is a testament to Roman architecture and ability to conquer lands so very far away. A series of interconnected rooms with dry heat saunas and hot dipping pools are found throughout the millenniums-old facility. A quick visit here and you’ll see why the Romans loved baths the way Kanye loves Kanye.

As I previously mentioned, we studied Chaucer for the duration of our senior year and having a need for an education component to our trip we headed to classic theater for some lessons on the stage and an impromptu fashion show. Apparently there was a group of high school girls also on a school trip so we not only tried on British stage dress but ‘acted’ around in them. I embraced the experience, the girls took it a bit more seriously.

England

England
Wearing old-timey dresses makes girls serious. Like “Frozen” before “Frozen” and some guy just goofing off
England
“High School Phil” wasn’t smooth with the ladies

Anyways later in the week we did some proper traveling. As a ‘travel blog’, I’d be remiss without posting some photos of some of the excellent sites of London. The M-I6 Building (SIS Building if that’s your thing), older castles and cathedrals, etc.

London
Bond. James Bond.

England

London

London

England

The Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace is truly something to see. The guards, immaculately dressed and drilled to precision, perform their march to “bands playing stirring music.” One of London’s most popular attractions, it’s definitely worth the stop during any tour of London. Check out the dates & times of the Changing of the Guard Here.

England

London

London

London

The Dover Castle was perhaps on of my favorites and also worth spending an afternoon checking out. The sheer amount of history coupled with scenic views make it a terrific experience for all. Situated high above the White Cliffs of Dover, you can see why the castle is near-impregnable and the design and architecture make for an imposing sight.

London

London

London

England

The rest of our trip included site-seeing tours, a few nights of sneaking out to local pubs and nightclubs (loved that 18-years old drinking ago) and striking out with British girls easily 5-7 years our senior. Here’s the rest of my random snaps from the trip.

England

England

England

England
Outside the Shakespeare Theater

England

London
Anne Hathaway’s House

England

England

England

England
Zillah, our tour guide for the week

London

London
The famous red phone booths of London
London
The famous black cabs of London

For all my travel blog posts: 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

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

Charming Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai is one of the gems of Northern Thailand’s dense jungle region

The jungles of Northern Thailand are still a mysterious and wild place to visit, however a traveler can hang his hat in Chiang Mai while enjoying modern first-world comfort

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

Chiang Mai
Arrive at airport, hop on tuk tuk, food. And more food.

Chiang Mai! I was really excited to get a chance to really explore Thailand and after so many trips to the islands it was definitely time to get back to some adventure and the jungle way up north was calling me. The flight over really gets you pumped for what’s to come, I mean check out this view from my plane window:

Chiang Mai
Next-level shades of green

So to be completely fair, I had no idea what to expect of Chiang Mai other than the obvious ‘being in the middle of nowhere.’ It’s about 700 km north of Thailand’s capital of Bangkok and it turns out Chiang Mai is actually the largest city in Northern Thailand and, up until recently, had some serious issues with air pollution. I experienced no pollution while there but after being in the islands for so long the sticky humidity was a bit tough. It was also the capital of the Lan Na Kingdom (1296-1768) and was then known as the Kingdom of Chiang Mai (1774-1899) which are important factoids considering the first thing you see upon entering the city are the expertly well-kept old city walls.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

I was in Chiang Mai to visit a mate of mine that was traveling all throughout Asia after journeying through the Middle East. He told me to expect some craziness and late nights so I left my photography gear at home and was traveling with only my Samsung Galaxy A8 on me. This turned out to be a good call as my sunglasses and watch all were wrecked on this trip (mostly from visiting the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary just outside of town… but that will be in the next post). So after arriving in the Chiang Mai it was time to hit the hostel and drop my bags, then grab some Thai street food and check out the night market. Chiang Mai’s night market is world renowned and is a big part of why TripAdvisor named the city one of its “25 Best Destinations in the World.”

Chiang Mai
Trademark Thai cutoff t’s
Chiang Mai
Pancakes with nutella and banana? Yes please!

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai
Everything from art to t-shirts to watches to electronics are on offer at the night market
Chiang Mai
Obviously a ladyboy show in the middle of the plaza
Chiang Mai
Live music at most bars
Chiang Mai
Muay Thai boxing gyms are located throughout the city for the short- and long-term travelers
Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai’s most famous bar/club is Zoe in Yellow – recommended

 

The diverse night market is a great way to meet people and see the city. The vendors here were incredibly friendly and not nearly as pushy as the ones you find throughout Southeast Asia, Bangkok especially. Ladyboys dancing and inviting onlookers to their show later in the evening and bars scattered throughout the market with live music adds to the ambiance all while tourists and travelers from the world over mingle about and peruse all the goods on show. It’s quite a cool experience even for those looking to party and get some drinks in. We ended up at Zoe in Yellow, Chiang Mai’s most famous bar which morphs into a club around 10:30-11:00 pm. Bars close notoriously early in Chiang Mai so you’ll have to get the evening started straight away. You can try to find clubs open late on the popular Nimmanhaemin Road. We met some cool people at the clubs whom we met up later in the trip, however it was time to crash as we had a full day of siteseeing the next morning. Ready for pictures of Wats (Pagodas, Stupas, Temples)? Well here we go:

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai
Thai temple architecture is unique from neighboring Myanmar and Laos

 

Chiang Mai
Some temples are much more ‘touristy’ than others

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

As a pseudo-professional photography (I’ve been paid but this isn’t a full-time gig at all for me, still a hobby), the picture above taken with a sub-par phone camera makes me proud. The photo below, however, is riddled with lighting issues. The debate I have with myself is this: post and tell the story as fully as possible or omit the photo and just photograph the exterior of the building. I’ll let ya’ll decide.

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

I’ll be back with another post from the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, one of the gems of Chiang Mai and a brilliant experience. Responsible tourism is an important issue to me and to support a local initiative that takes formerly-captive work elephants and let’s them live a full life in a rich and diverse environment was an unreal experience. The zoo was never an option and time ran out on us to do the Flight of the Gibbon zipline adventure, but I’ve heard good things. See ya’ll soon and here are some parting shots from the charming Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai
Police ceremony at the central square
Chiang Mai
Proper Israeli graze, malawach with tomato sauce at Sababa
Chiang Mai
Turkish coffee, hummus with falafel and homemade pita

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

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

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 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.

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

Cheap Thrills in Kiev Ukraine

A never-ending nightlife and an excellent exchange rate makes for an incredible weekend in Kiev Ukraine

It’s chilly in Eastern Europe and even in March you gotta bundle up to head out and about… that is if you can wake up at a respectable hour after partying all night in one of Kiev’s word-famous nightclubs.

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to Kiev, Ukraine: Click Here

Kiev

First and foremost, if you go to Eastern Europe you must visit Kiev along the way. Yes it’s cold, yes it’s probably gray and yes, it can get quite depressing… but the nightlife, favorable exchange rate and fun things to do make the trek absolutely worthwhile. Traveling to Kiev from Tel Aviv, Israel, the weather may have been the biggest adjustment but the charm and allure of the historical Ukrainian capital in encapsulating. Start your trip the right way – McDonald’s coffee and, with an exchange rate of 20-to-1, this cost about $4 USD:

Kiev
10 coffees, a McSomething meal, roughly $4 USD

And now you’re ready to rock n’ roll through the capital of Ukraine…

Kiev

Any good day trip through Kiev starts at the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), famous for many reasons but most recently as the hub of the anti-government and anti-corruption protests which led tot he 2014 Ukrainian Revolution. The plaza of Maidan Nezalezhnosti still has burn marks from tires and other objects set ablaze while snipers shot at demonstrators from the nearby rooftops. The Revolution led to the ousting of then-president Viktor Yanukovych.

Kiev

Kiev

Kiev

Kiev
The President’s House, seen from Independence Square

After the powerful Independence Square, it quickly dawned on me that the only language spoken on the streets of Kiev is Russian. The similar-but-different Ukrainian tongue is spoken as you travel further west towards Europe but it’s clearly apparent that Russian influence still reigns heavy on a country that is now starting to lean towards the EU and away from “Mother Russia.” But I digress… Here’s Khreshchatyk Street which is packed with souvenir shops, historical buildings (feels like walking through an old World War I film) and plenty of monuments.

Kiev

Kiev

Kiev

We walked about 15 minutes through light rain to St. Sophia’s Cathedral, the city’s oldest church. Built in 1017, the UNESCO world heritage site runs about $3 to enter and you can climb the sketchy 200-foot bell tower for a great view of the city. The open-air design means you walk up windy and slippery narrow steps to the very top. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

Kiev
St. Sophia’s Cathedral in downtown Kiev
Kiev
Plaza outside of St. Sophia’s Cathedral
Kiev
St. Michael’s Cathedral down the road

Kiev

St. Sophia’s Cathedral features original mosaic flooring and tapestries from over 1,000 years ago. Museum exhibits and more are worth a gander to escape the rain and just five minutes down the road is the St. Michael’s Cathedral, also worth a quick trip to catch a bit of Ukrainian religious history.

Kiev
Putin not trending well at the moment…

Kiev

Kiev

Kiev
Panhandlers clip pigeon’s/dove’s wings and charge tourists to ‘wear’ them for a photo
Kiev
Hot coffee-to-go? Yes please!

Kiev

Kiev

Kiev
One of Kiev’s many Cathedrals

I’ll be back with tips for Kiev’s night life!

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to Kiev, Ukraine: 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

  IMG_4310

IMG_4403

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
IMG_4362
Bears love fruit

IMG_4368

IMG_4343

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.

IMG_4404

IMG_4405

IMG_4408

IMG_4409

IMG_4413

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.

 IMG_4335

IMG_4319

IMG_4314

IMG_4313

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

Israel’s Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon, Negev, Israel

The Mitzpe Ramon Crater is a unique geological formation located in southern Israel

The Negev Desert of southern Israel is home to one of the rarest geological formations on earth, the Mitzpe Ramon Crater.

For more posts on Israel: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Mitzpe Ramon Crater: Click Here

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

 Located in the heart of the Negev Desert in Southern Israel, the Ramon Crater is a “Makhtesh” geological feature that, unlike a meteor or asteroid impact or a volcanic crater, is unique only to Israel and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. A makhtesh is formed when a hard outer layer of rock covers layers of softer rock. Erosion and rain then remove the softer minerals quickly and are washed away from under the hard rock leaving the hard rock to collapse under their own weight with nothing below to hold it up. A carter-like valley is formed. The hard rock, usually comprised of limestone and dolomite, is found throughout the valley while the softer chalk or sandstone can be found at the bottom of the valley. Ramon crater is the largest of these unique geological features.

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

The town of Mitzpe Ramon (translated roughly to “Ramon Lookout”) sits on the northern edge of the mighty 40 km long, 2-10 km wide and 500 m deep valley. Shaped like an elongated heart, from the town you can clearly see the defined edges of Israel’s largest national park. And of course, plan your route for a day of epic “jeeping,” as the locals call it.

PANO_20140616_130335
Mitzpe Ramon Nature Reserve

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

The trip, courtesy of Ladbrokes Israel, was a fantastic time in the desert sun. We were treated to a legit hookah lounge and buffet, trekking, massage overlooking the valley and a stay at the incredible Beeresheet Hotel. The baller-status accommodation is located some 800 m above sea level so you’ll need to bring a sweater and long pants even in the summer as it gets quite chilly at night. I learned something about myself in the desert – infinity pools are my thing.

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

For adventurers heading to the Dead Sea, grab a bus over to Mitzpe Ramon. Trekking and camping out in the multi-colored sandy desert makes for a terrific weekend/3-day trip. Day tours are available as are trips to alpaca farms and unbelievable lookouts. There is one nightspot in Mitzpe Ramon and if you’re in the mood for jazz, you’re in luck. Check out the rest of the shots below and high-resolution pics on Facebook by Clicking Here

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

IMG_20140616_115205

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

Mitzpe Ramon Crater

For more posts on Israel: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Mitzpe Ramon Crater: Click Here

Tel Aviv Ya Habibi Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv, Israel

Tel Aviv is the party capital of the Middle East and a hub for high-tech

Israel is home to 3 of the major world religions and Tel Aviv is where you go to take a break from them all.

For more posts on Israel: Click Here

For some high-resolution photos from the Dead Sea: Click Here

Tel Aviv
View of Tel Aviv South to North (right to left)

Tel Aviv has a magic and charm so great that I lived there for several years! A bustling and growing city located on the Mediterranean Sea, the sprawling mass of buildings and cars make it hard to believe that this entire area was swampland only 100 years ago. For a traveler passing through, Israel’s economic capital is quite pricey and the food and lodging is something you’ll have to plan for. The nightlife is incredible but you’ll have to spend your money wisely as a round of drinks for four can cost around 120 Israeli shekels ($30 USD) or more!

Tel Aviv
Kikar Dizengoff (Dizengoff Square – Right) from the rooftop of the City Chic Hotel

Awesome weather year-round makes Tel Aviv a perfect spot to spend a bit of time (with the partial exception of the ‘winter’ – basically half of January and February). Contrary to what you’ll hear daily in the media, Tel Aviv is incredibly safe and women routinely walk late at night through the entire city usually without any problem. As with all big cities, of course you should exercise caution and cab it if you must. Domestic crime other than petty theft or opportunistic thievery is quite rare (definitely don’t leave a bicycle unlocked!) which is a huge plus for extended stays in this city.

Tel Aviv
SUP (Stand-up Paddle Boarding), kayaking, surfing, waterboarding and kiteboarding are all for rent and hugely popular

Tel Aviv is a huge vacation spot for tourists from all over the world. A day on the beach and you’ll hear Hebrew, American & British & South African and Australian accents, Russian, French, Arabic, Spanish, Italian and more! It’s considered the most inclusive city in the Middle East for all religions and is considered the Gay Capital of the Middle East. The annual Gay Pride Parade is really something to see even if that isn’t your persuasion. Parties around the clock keep everyone entertained and coffee shops are buzzing all day long.

Tel Aviv
Street parties are a must in Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv
Candy at the Tel Aviv Shuk (Market)
Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv Architecture
Tel Aviv
Rent paddle boats and canoes on the HaYarkon River

I could write for days on the Bauhaus architecture that lines the city, on how Tel Aviv is a capital for world high-tech and startups, on the parks and incredible food… the list goes one. I’ll post more in the months coming up but for now I’ll leave you with some of my favorite cell phone shots from around the city.

Tel Aviv
Tehina, jachnun, egg and ‘resek’ – fresh tomato sauce
Tel Aviv
Football on Tel Aviv Beach

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is incredibly dog-friendly
Tel Aviv
Kikar Dizengoff
Tel Aviv
Azrielli Center, a hub for business, high-tech and shopping
Tel Aviv
Sailboats at Jaffa Port

For more posts on Israel: Click Here

For some high-resolution photos from the Dead Sea: 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

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

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
Kabar Aye Pagoda

Kabar Aye Pagoda

The Kabaraye Paya also underscores the failure of U Nu to standardize and institutionalize Buddhism. There are numerous minorities in Burma such as the Kachins and Karens who felt alienated by this effort to make Buddhism a state enterprise. Furthermore, Buddhists did not believe that Buddhism should be a part of a political institution. They wanted Burma to be a moral society but did not wish their religion to be imposed on the citizens. The monks who want religion to be a social practice that is separate from the state do not associate with these pagodas. Therefore, the pagodas such as the Kaba Aye are not affiliated with any monasteries. The fear is that if these monks become tied to a pagoda, which was built by the state and is run by the state, they will be captured by the state and lose their autonomy.

Kabar Aye Pagoda
Kabar Aye Pagoda

On December 25, 1996, two bombs exploded at the Kaba Aye Pagoda and Maha Pasana Cave, killing five people and wounding 17. The initial explosion took place at the Kaba Aye Pagoda at 8:20 pm, but nobody was injured because pilgrims did not use that entrance. However, the second explosion, which detonated two hours later as authorities were looking into the other blast, went off inside the temple as it was filling with pilgrims, causing the fatalities and injuries. At the Kaba Aye compound Buddha’s tooth relic was on display, and thus many more pilgrims were at the site than during normal times. The tooth relic, on loan from China and believed to be one of two surviving since the Buddha’s death 2500 years ago, was not damaged in the bombing.

The explosion followed a crackdown on student protestors who were demanding more civil liberties. The SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) accused the All-Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF) and the KNU (Karen National Union) of carrying out the bombing. Both groups denied the accusation. Aung Naing U, the foreign affairs liaison officer of the ABSDA, denied all involvement and added, “This is just an excuse by the SLORC to use force in suppressing the democratic forces. We learned that more security forces were placed at the site of the bombing; despite this measure, the explosions took place. Thus, it is assumed that it must be the work of the SLORC.”

Kabar Aye Pagoda

Kabar Aye Pagoda

Kabar Aye Pagoda

Kabar Aye Pagoda

Kabar Aye Pagoda

Kabar Aye Pagoda  Kabar Aye Pagoda

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

Ho de Yangon Zoo ho de

The Yangon Zoo is one of Myanmar’s most prestigious zoological gardens

If you’ve ever wanted to get a taste of wild Myanmar, head to the Yangon Zoo and be prepared to sweat!

Check out the Travel Guide to the Yangon Zoological Gardens by Clicking Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to the Yangon Zoo: Click Here

Yangon Zoo

Let’s start with a quick lesson in the Myanmar language – “Ho de” is literally translated into “OK” in English, however you constantly hear a mixing of the two around Yangon – “Ho K, Ho K, Ho K” usually said three times. Why? No clue. Now let’s continue with a lesson in local custom – myself and my wife being eye-balled at the zoo more than any of the animals. Apparently a white guy and a black girl are more rare in this part of the world than elephants, hippos or tigers. Apparently.

Yangon Zoo

The locals also have no real concept of obeying rules at the Yangon Zoo, especially the ‘don’t feed the animals’ rule. Seeing kids throw fruit at hippos or otters is cute, but a monk giving absolutely zero f*cks and jumping over the guard rail to feed a massive 300+ lbs white tiger is one of the gnarliest things I think I’ve ever seen.

Yangon Zoo

Yangon Zoo

We arrived at Myanmar’s oldest zoo mid-day and the temperature was already well over 100F. After paying the 6,ooo Kyat entrance fee (about $3 each – more expensive for foreigners) we entered into a tropical path with various trails off of each side.

Yangon Zoo

Yangon Zoo

Yangon Zoo

Like the locals here in Yangon, we had an umbrella to shield us from the sun however it didn’t help much. With righteous humidity slowing our progress we ended up cutting the zoo a bit short, however the hour-plus we were there we were still able to catch most of the Yangon Zoo main attractions, of which included several behemoth Asian elephants, deer from around the region and more than a few strange birds and mammals.

Yangon Zoo

Yangon Zoo

Yangon Zoo

Yangon Zoo

Yangon Zoo

Most Asian Zoos are strange to visit as they tend to have a much different view on animal’s right, upkeep and care. The Yangon Zoological Gardens are not much different and regardless of the small sizes of some of the enclosures, the elephants’ area was quite troubling to see.

Yangon Zoo
Riding elephants is a very harmful practice to the animals.
Yangon Zoo
Chains and…
Yangon Zoo
Very obvious struggle marks.

 Click the links below for more!

Check out the Travel Guide to the Yangon Zoological Gardens by Clicking Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to the Yangon Zoo: Click Here

Of Tropical Diseases and Beautiful Lakes

Inya Lake

Of Tropical Diseases and Beautiful Lakes – Checking out Inya Lake in Northern Yangon

Surrounded by new developments and dilapidated old ones, Inya Lake is a part of Yangon’s long and storied history.

For Myanmar Travel Guide information on Inya Lake: Click Here

For all my high-resolution photos of Inya Lake in Yangon, Myanmar: Click Here

Inya Lake Inya Lake
Before & After – 4 days in

When people talk about their worst fears, usually it’s like “bro I hate snakes” or “dude I can’t stand clowns” or even “OMG, like, cockroaches are icks.” Welp, in my case I learned that it’s being in a third-world country and getting bit by a bug with some weird type of infectious disease and the local doctor says with absolute authority “yeah we’ve seen that before.” Then does nothing because there is nothing he can do.

Well this morning I’m grateful for doxycycline, the atomic bomb of antibiotics. The Iron Sheikh of Defeating Infections. The… you get the point. Doxycycline treats “Lyme disease, chronic prostatitis, sinusitis, pelvic inflammatory disease, acne, the yips, rosacea, rickettsial infections, urinary tract infections, intestinal infections, eye infections, gonorrhea, chlamydia, periodontitis, Baltimore-rioting syndrome and more. As an aside, I do want to mention how three nurses came running over to me in the International Emergency Medical Center and waited on my every need. I received two doctors’ undivided attention and they sorted me out with high priority. Israel could learn a thing or two from the Burmese as how to run an emergency med center efficiently and effectively.

So let’s continue shall we to the gorgeous Inya Lake, located smack-dab in the center of Yangon. Surrounded by beautiful golden pagodas, hotels, restaurants, a gorgeous walking path and gardens (as is custom here), the lake played host to many events for the Thingyan Festival (Myanmar’s New Year).

Inya Lake

Modern and primitive come together all around the lake and, as I’ve said before, the higher you go the more it seems like the city is growing right out of the jungle. This is also a hot spot for young local couples to come out, take a walk or lay and rest in one of the many gardens. The gardens are dotted with umbrellas which shield the couples from the blistering sun and weird foreigners with cameras snapping photos of them… like me.

Inya Lake

Inya Lake

Inya Lake

Inya Lake

Inya Lake

Inya Lake

Inya Lake

Inya Lake

Inya Lake

Inya Lake

Inya Lake

Inya Lake

Inya Lake

Inya Lake

Inya Lake

Inya Lake

For Myanmar Travel Guide information on Inya Lake: Click Here

For all my high-resolution photos of Inya Lake in Yangon, Myanmar: Click Here