The Fantastic Hoi An Temples of Central Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

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

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

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Hainan Assembly Hall

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

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

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Chua Phap Bao Pagoda

Hoi An, Vietnam

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

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

Hoi An, Vietnam

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

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Trung Hoa Assembly Hall/Trung Tam Hoa Van Le Nghia

Hoi An, Vietnam

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

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Phuoc Kien Assembly Hall/Fujian Assembly Hall

Hoi An, Vietnam

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

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Quon Cong Temple

Hoi An, Vietnam

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

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Tu Do Tham Quan

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

Hoi An, Vietnam

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

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!

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Hoi An, Vietnam

Shooting Fire at the Da Nang Dragon Bridge

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

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

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Da Nang Dragon Bridge

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

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

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

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

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

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

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

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

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

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

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

Da Nang Dragon Bridge

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

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

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

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

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

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Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

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

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

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

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

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

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

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Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

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

 

Vu Lan Bao Hieu - Chua Buu Dai Son

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

Da Nang Lady Buddha

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

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

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

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

Da Nang Lady Buddha

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

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

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

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

Da Nang Lady Buddha

Linh Ung Pagoda

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

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

Da Nang Lady Buddha

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

Da Nang Lady Buddha

Da Nang Lady Buddha

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

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Marvelous Marble Mountains of DaNang, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ominous entrance to the “Cave to Buddhist Hell”

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

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

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

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

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

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

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

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

 

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

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam
So peaceful… swastika!

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam
Marble Mountains, Vietnam

Marble Mountains, Vietnam

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

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

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Myanmar vs. India AFC Football at the Thuwanna

AFC Football Myanmar vs. India

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

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

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AFC Football

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

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

A couple of Israelis Abroad

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

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

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

 

Night falling on the Thuwanna

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

Myanmar’s #1 Ultra Fan
View from the penalty

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

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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.

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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

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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 Mysterious Tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar

Bahadur Shah Zafar Grave, Yangon, Myanmar

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

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

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

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

 

Bahadur Shah Zafar

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

Bahadur Shah Zafar

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

Bahadur Shah Zafar

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

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

Bahadur Shah Zafar
The entrance to the tomb of Shah Zafar

Bahadur Shah Zafar

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

Bahadur Shah Zafar
The courtyard of the mausoleum

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

Bahadur Shah Zafar

Bahadur Shah Zafar

Bahadur Shah Zafar

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

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

Bahadur Shah Zafar

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

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

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

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

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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

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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

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

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

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

Real Myanmar Nature at Hlawga National Park

Hlawga National Park, Myanmar

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

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

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

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

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

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The Asian Sun Bear
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Bears love fruit

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

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

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Myanmar Nature

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

Myanmar Nature

Myanmar Nature

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

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

The Mysterious Mitta Oo Pagoda in Myanmar

Mitta U Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

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

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

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

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

Mitta Oo Pagoda

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

Mitta Oo Pagoda

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

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

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

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

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

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

Mitta Oo Pagoda

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

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

Sderot, Israel, and the Gaza Border

Sderot, Gaza, Israel

Sderot, Israel, is one of the most troubled cities on Planet Earth

There are few places in the world that suffer as much terror and missile fire as Sderot, Israel

For more posts on Israel: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Sderot, Israel: Click Here

Sderot, Israel

The “Bomb Shelter Capital of the World” in Israel is a hell of a place to visit. Sderot (pronounced S-de ROTE) is an Israeli city in the western Negev desert located right next to the Israeli border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The formerly vibrant community shows the scars of years of rocket and mortar fire from the neighboring Palestinian enclave which under the terror group has become a hub of conflict and war. For a bit of history, the Gaza Strip was vacated by Israel in a unilateral move in 2005 which led to the relocation of some 10,000 Israelis from 21 Jewish communities. The controversial move was even more so disheartening as Hamas took over the territory from the Palestinian Authority in a bloody coup shortly thereafter. Since then, the 24,000-strong city of Sderot has seen continuous rocket and mortar fire numbering over 20,000 (some estimates have this number much higher due to the recent conflicts between Hamas and Israel).

Sderot, Israel

I was shooting from a disposable back in July 2007, about 18 months after the disengagement, when I visited the already-weary small town. I took a few quick snaps of some bomb shelters from our bullet-proof tour bus and was quickly prompted by our decent English-speaking yet thickly Israeli-accented tour guide to hold off. “You will run out of pictures if you photo each bomb shelter.”

Yeesh.

The first place we stopped off upon our arrival to Sderot was the Sderot Media Center to learn more about the conflict and current situation of the Gaza-border communities. The center is located inside a bomb shelter which quickly makes the experience much more real and serious (as if it wasn’t enough already)!

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

With our information session out of the way and with hundreds of questions on my mind, we headed out for a tour of the city and were confronted with the day-to-day reality of life in Sderot. On one side of the street you can see a beautiful house while the other side of the street has a house that’s been bombed-out. Upon reflection, this is the very reason why the Iron Dome missile defense system is such an invaluable part of the defense of the State of Israel – residents have less than 30 seconds to reach a bomb shelter after the siren blares before impact.

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel
A synagogue sits between a home being rebuilt after a rocket attack and a bomb shelter (orange-brown building) on the right

After driving around parts of the city, it’s clear why, according to Realtor Yaakov Levy, property values in Sderot have dropped between 30 and 50 percent. It actually got worse as we made our next stop at a children’s playground. Due to the lack of warning time and frequency of attacks (during periods of conflict around 8-10 attacks would occur per day) there are bomb shelters built into children’s playground. Studies have found that at least 75% of the children raised in Sderot ages 4-18 suffer from post-traumatic stress including sleep disorders and severe anxiety.

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

For a taste of what it’s like in Sderot, you can watch this video on YouTube. I don’t want to dive any further into this as it’s a tough subject to tackle online. In any case, it’s not all doom and gloom in Sderot. We went to a local market for some lunch and the strong, determined community was out and about like any other ‘normal’ day. As an agricultural community, you can image just how many fresh fruits and vegetables are available for purchase. We ate local and it was delectable. Not quite “Bangkok street food level” but delicious nonetheless. Street fried chicken. Yum.

Sderot, Israel

 Sderot, Israel

As this was our last stop in the city of Sderot, I made sure to chat up a few locals to get their feelings on things. They told me to visit the Gaza border lookout less than a mile away. I obliged and convinced our driver and tour guide that we had to see it. After a few minutes of conversation and convincing in broken Hebrew (for me) and English (for them) we came to an arrangement and headed up a small hill. The view of the 41 km (25 miles) long Gaza Strip is truly something to see. There aren’t many words to describe it, however it’s quite incredible that the tiny enclave garners so much of the world’s attention.

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

Sderot, Israel

And that’s that for my visit to Sderot and the Gaza border. I’ve heard that the best surf in the Middle East is the Gaza coast and one day when peace breaks out in the region I hope to return.

Until next time…

For more posts on Israel: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from Sderot, Israel: 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.

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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.

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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

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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

Photo Essay: People & Places of Bagan, Myanmar

Shwezigon Pagoda, Bagan, Myanmar

The powerful people and picturesque places of Bagan, Myanmar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bagan, Myanmar

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

Bagan, Myanmar

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

Bagan, Myanmar

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

Bagan, Myanmar

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

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar
South African backpackers hey

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar

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

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

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

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

The Extraordinary Plains of Bagan

Bagan, Myanmar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bagan

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

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

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

Bagan

 Bagan

Bagan

Bagan

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

Bagan

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

Bagan

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

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

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

Bagan

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

Bagan

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

Bagan

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

Bagan

Bagan

Bagan

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

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

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

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

Brilliant Bagan Sunrise in Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar, Burma

The Bagan sunrise is a must-see in Southeast Asia

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

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

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

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

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

Bagan Sunrise

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

Bagan Sunrise
The steep steps of Shwesandaw Pagoda post-sunrise

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

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

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

Bagan Sunrise
Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

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

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

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

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise
Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

Bagan Sunrise

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

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

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

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

The Dead Sea is Alive and Well (Mostly)

Dead Sea, Israel
The Dead Sea is a one-of-a-kind lake in-between Israel and Jordan

Facing Jordan to the East and Israel to the West, the Dead Sea is a destination spot for tens of thousands of travelers each year and certainly doesn’t disappoint.

For more posts on Israel: Click Here

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

Dead Sea

The road from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea is a wild and winding one, filled with intermittent security checks, gas stations with camels  you can ride, Arab, Jewish and nomadic Bedouin villages and more as the big capital city turns into the dessert. Nice and clean roads help with the smooth hour-plus ride and the scenes are absolutely breathtaking. Commonly referred to as “the Dead Sea” due to the high concentrations of naturally-occurring salt in the water prohibiting any animals from living in it, it is the lowest point on Earth and a unique and stunning place to visit.

Dead Sea
Jordan shares the other and more undeveloped coast of the Dead Sea

The high concentration of salt makes you so buoyant you can float for days on the water. You wouldn’t want to, however, as the salt stings and burns everywhere! PRO-TIP: Men don’t shave your faces, ladies don’t shave  your legs. Any open cuts or nicks will leave you stinging like nothing else. Also be sure to NOT dunk your face under the water. Your eyes will snap shut and you’ll be begging for fresh water to rinse them out.

Dead Sea

Dead Sea
Try it with your sandals! Everything floats!

Huge chunks of salt lay at the bottom so make sure you don’t cut your feet! You can pick up chunks as large as a basketball all around the Dead Sea. It’s really something to see. So after you get your float on, your skin will feel velvety smooth and it’s time for the famous Dead Sea Mud Bath. It’s supposed to be amazing for your skin, not so sure about that but it does feel great. After the mud dries, head back to the water to carefully (read: carefully) rinse it all off. There are fresh water showers all around the beach so hit that afterwards to get all the salt off your burning body.

Dead Sea

Dead Sea

Dead Sea
The sand was brutally hot!

After you rinse off the mud, you’ll feel baby-skin smooth. People come from all around the world to the Dead Sea for its healing attributes and the uniqueness of it all. I’ve been several times and each time I go it’s as good as the first time. Just make sure you rinse all over (ALL OVER) when you finish there. About 2 hours is good, as once your… private areas… start burning you’ll be aching for a cold shower. Next time I visit I plan on hitting it from the Jordanian side. The Israeli side has been developed much more however I’ve heard great things about hitting the Dead Sea from the east side of the sea.

Dead Sea

Dead Sea
Fancy a camel ride? The SUVs of the desert
Dead Sea
Mountains of the ancient Judean Desert
Dead Sea
The same in any language
Dead Sea
We opted for ‘al aish’, Hebrew for barbecue

For more posts on Israel: Click Here

For all the high-resolution photos from the Dead Sea: 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

Inle Lake Life: Bamboo, Ancient Pagodas & More

Shwe Indein Pagoda, Inle Lake, Myanmar

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

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

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

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

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

Inle
Shwe Inn Tain Pagoda

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

Inle

Inle

Inle

Inle
Fashion and function, crafted into one

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

Inle

Inle

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

Inle

Inle

Inle

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

Inle

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

Inle

  Inle Inle Inle Inle Inle Inle

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


Inle

Inle   Inle

Inle
Inle

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

Inle

Inle

Inle

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

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

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

Inle Lake, Myanmar: Hand-Rolled Smoke & Blacksmiths

Inle Lake, Myanmar

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

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

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

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

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

Inle Lake, Myanmar

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

Inle Lake, Myanmar

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

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

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

Inle Lake, Myanmar
Looms on looms

Inle Lake, Myanmar

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

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

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

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

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

Inle Lake, Myanmar

Inle Lake, Myanmar

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

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

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

Out and About on Inle Lake: Part 1

Inle Lake, Myanmar, Burma

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

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

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

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

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

Inle Lake

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

Inle Lake

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

Inle Lake Inle Lake    Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

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

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

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

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

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

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

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

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

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

Wat Arun and Roll

Wat Arun Temple, Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok’s history comes alive at Wat Arun

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

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

Wat Arun

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

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

Wat Arun

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

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

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

Wat Arun  Wat Arun Wat Arun

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

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun  Wat Arun  Wat Arun

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

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun Wat Arun  Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

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

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

Walking the History of the Jews of Burma

Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue, Yangon, Myanmar, Burma

The Jews of Burma have a long and interesting history

The history of the Jews of Burma is linked to that of Myanmar’s largest cities and grandest institutions.

To read the Travel Guide about the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue: Click Here

For all my High-Resolution images of the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue: Click Here

Jews of Burma
Baghdadi Jews

Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and the Jews have an incredible albeit little-known history together. The first recorded Jew in the country of Burma came in with a bang and left a lasting legacy – Solomon Gabriol was a commander in the army of King Alaungpaya, responsible for founding he Konbaung Dynasty and its much-storied and famed capital which stands to this day, Rangoon (Yangon) in 1755.

The history of Jews of Burma is mainly tied to that of the Jews in India and the development of the British Empire. In the 19th century, Jewish merchants from India and Baghdad began establishing sizable communities in Rangoon and Mandalay trading cotton and rice. At its height the community of Jews of Burma stood at 2,500 members. Jews were so established that Rangoon had a Jewish mayor in the early 20th century!

Jews of Burma
U Nu and David Ben-Gurion

With the Japanese invasion in 1942, many Jews fled to India due to fears of being seen as British spies or sympathizers. The Jews kept tight relations within Burma however, and those manifested in Burma becoming the first country in Southeast Asia to recognize the State of Israel. The two countries and leaders were so close that David Ben-Gurion visited Burma and struck up a lasting friendship with U Nu, Burma’s first Prime Minister. Israel opened its first Diplomatic mission in Yangon in 1953, and in 1957 it became an embassy. Both nations shared a Socialist outlook in their early years and until today cooperate in many different fields, such as agriculture, health and education.

Jews of Burma
Moshe Samuels Z”L (Photo courtesy of the Israeli MFA)

In 1962, the Burmese military toppled the government and nationalized businesses. Most of the remaining Jews left, however one man and his family stayed – Moses Samuels. The Samuels family has looked over the Mesmuah Yeshua Synagogue in Yangon for generations. Moses Samuels inherited the task of synagogue caretaker from his father Isaac Samuels and before that his grandfather. After his recent passing at the age of 65 from throat cancer, his son Sammy Samuels, a graduate of New York’s Yeshiva University, will assume the role of keeping the synagogue open. Sammy Samuels (Aung Soe Lwin) has already made a bit of modern history in the state as he and his wife Zahava Elfhady (Ei Ei Phyo) were recently married, marking the first Jewish wedding in Myanmar in 27 years.

Jews of Burma

I recently visited the Mesmuah Yeshua Synagogue in Yangon and was blown away not only by its beauty but its sheer size. Immaculately kept, the 2-story temple which was built in 1896 and once housed 126 Torah scrolls still maintains its presence amongst the street market outside. Most of the electronic, food and clothing vendors each carry signs adorned with a Magen David (Star of David) which mean that first, you are close to the synagogue, and second, that tourists should visit their shops!

Jews of Burma
Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, Israel, or… downtown Yangon, Myanmar…


Jews of Burma

Jews of Burma

The synagogue, located down the road from the famous Sule Pagoda, is built with blue and white tile, blends a British Colonial-era feel with the warmth of a small-town American synagogue like Piqua or Ashtabula, Ohio. Knowing that you are now part of a small remnant of a once-thriving community is a strange feeling in and of itself, but the history, the location in the heart of the city and the distinction for which it’s held and appreciation of what it stands for is, quite frankly, a feeling I won’t soon forget and a privilege that I’m proud to now be part of.

Jews of Burma

Jews of Burma

Jews of Burma

Jews of Burma

Jews of Burma

Jews of Burma

Jews of Burma

Jews of Burma

Jews of Burma

Jews of Burma

Jews of Burma

Jews of Burma

Jews of Burma

Jews of Burma

To read the Travel Guide about the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue: Click Here

For all my High-Resolution images of the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue: Click Here

 

Sources: Wikipedia, JewishTimesAsia

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

Photo Journal: Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar

The world-famous Shwedagon Pagoda is more impressive in person than in photos or videos

The Shwedagon Pagoda is a pillar of Myanmar Buddhism and is as revered as it is incredible.

For all my High-Resolution images of the Shwedagon Pagoda: Click Here

For all my High-Resolution images of the Shwedagon Pagoda at NightClick Here

Shwedagon Pagoda

The Shwedagon Pagoda located in Yangon, Myanmar is certainly a one-of-a-kind compound visible from all parts of the former Burmese capital. Also known as the Great Dagon Pagoda or the Golden Pagoda, the main spire stands 325 feet tall (99 meters or taller than a football field is long) and is one of the more impressive sites in the entire area.

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda
There are thousands of statues of Gautama Buddha around the Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda
Gautam Buddha is covered by different robes according to the season in Burmese tradition

The entire “compound” features hundreds of smaller stupas with Buddhas and carvings of all shapes and sizes. The detail on each column, figurine, statue and stand is incredible. There is so much to see even in one of these individual stupas that it overwhelms the senses to the point where you look at the main figurine and move on. To give each its proper due would take months. Literally months.

There are 4 entrances to the Shwedagon – East, West, North and South. Each entrance contains a massive covered walkway guarded by two Chinthes – Burmese mythological creatures – and many flights of stairs. There is a ‘bonus’ entrance off the north side with an elevator for those who need assistance reaching the pagoda which sits on top of the Great Dagon Hill.

Shwedagon Pagoda
Yangon Myanmar in 2016

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda
Rangoon, Burma, is one of the premier places for travel photography

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Vipassana Meditation techniques along with many others are practiced throughout Myanmar and Burma is home to thousands of monasteries, some of which accept foreign practitioners.

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda
All type of meditation can be seen at the Shwedagon, including Vipassana

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

For a country that ranks 2nd in landmass in Southeast Asia, Myanmar has more than its share of golden stupas and pagodas located throughout. Yangon’s centerpiece is a class above the rest as its renown is legend around the globe of the world.

For all my High-Resolution images of the Shwedagon Pagoda: Click Here

For all my High-Resolution images of the Shwedagon Pagoda at NightClick Here

Shwedagon Pagoda
Rocking a longyi in Myanmar Burma

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda
Actual Ivory carved with images of Gautama Buddha
Shwedagon Pagoda
Make your own globe of the world!