Rollin’ On The (Mekong) River

bloglovin

Sorry for the Tina Turner reference, just had to. Anyway, our two-day cruise up the Mekong river was one of the aspects of our trip I was most looking forward too, especially since we weren’t able to cruise from Mandalay to Bagan in Myanmar along the Irawaddy River.

A map of our route

A map of our route

We set off on a misty morning in Luang Prabang, carefully treading down slippery steep steps to the riverbank to embark on our Shompoo Cruise boat, made of teakwood, decidedly rustic and delightfully picturesque.

I chose this spot, and basically didn't move for two days!

I chose this spot, and basically didn’t move for two days!

The boat was prepared for a max of 40 passengers, and since it was rainy season, we were only 10, which was perfect–we could spread out, relax and have plenty of personal space. My favorite area of the boat was the loungers placed at the front and back, where you could stretch out and read, nap or just enjoy the river view scenery. The middle of the boat featured booths, with wooden benches and tables so you could eat or work.

A lone fisherman

A lone fisherman

I took my spot lounging in the front of the boat and didn’t move for about 10 hours! The scenery was breathtaking and very much uninhabited, albeit a few villages here and there and a lone fisherman looking for his catch of the day.

MekongLSM8

MekongLSM2

MekongLSM9

For the most part, the area along the Mekong is a jungle forest, thriving with huge trees and plants jutting out at all angles. There really isn’t even a “riverbank” along most of the river, especially in rainy season, it’s just water, and then trees and then mountains. In fact, we were told that the river had risen over 20 meters in about a week’s time, as the rainy season had just hit and the rain was really pouring down hard.

Fog over the mountains at sunrise

Fog over the mountains at sunrise

The dewy mist covering the mountains was just stunning. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park or something (well, minus the dinosaurs and Jeff Goldblum). We passed by the occasional village, clumps of broken-down wooden huts, muddy roads and boats as their main form of transportation.

River debris

River debris

There was a lot of debris in the river at times, but not garbage. There is just so much foliage that the trees, leaves and plants break off into the river. There are also landslides then end up pushing a lot of branches and logs into the river. Our captain had to be very carefully to not tread over any of the big logs. At one point we actually had to stop so they could clean out some of the wood from the engine.

MekongLSM7

MekongLSM4

MekongLSM5

MekongLSM6

The first day, we stopped at the Pak Ou caves, which consist of two caves, the lower and upper. The upper cave we couldn’t access due to a flooded staircase, but we headed into the lower cave (it wasn’t really a “cave” more of just an overcut).  The caves are famous thanks to their thousands of small, spider-covered, dusty Buddha figures set up throughout the space. The Buddhas have been left in the cave from worshippers, and some are hundreds of years old. Locals still boat up the river to pray and burn incense to the many Buddhas.

A view of the Mekong River Lodge, our hotel for the night

A view of the Mekong River Lodge, our hotel for the night

Rustic, wouldn't you say?

Rustic, wouldn’t you say?

 

The view from our shuttered wooden windows

The view from our shuttered wooden windows

 

After the stop, we cruised until about 5 p.m. having enjoyed the lovely, yet at times monotonous scenery. We docked in Pakbeng, and dropped our bags at the Mekong River Lodge before heading out to walk around the village. The village was nondescript and probably only there for locals and backpackers to stop mid-river for the night. We ate a nice Indian food dinner overlooking the Mekong and headed to sleep.

Sunrise over the river

Sunrise over the river

After an evening in our rustic river lodge, complete with mosquito net and plenty of insects, we awoke to a sunrise over the river. Although it was cloudy, it was still gorgeous, and we enjoyed some morning peacefulness on our balcony before heading down to the boat once again.

A village hut

A village hut

 

A typical Khmu house

A typical Khmu house

Our second day along the Mekong was just as lovely as the first. Relaxing on my lounger and enjoying the scenery plus the occasional nap was paradise! Later that morning, we stopped at a Khmu village along the river. Jorge enjoyed the visit, but it left me rather sad. The village has about 300 inhabitants, and no running water, cars or electricity. The Khmu tribes live in remote areas in Northern Laos and came over from Cambodia in the 4th century.

The pump, which is the main water source in the village,is shared with a variety of animals and humans

The pump, which is the main water source in the village, is shared with a variety of animals and humans

The villagers live in teak wood huts on stilts, with their animals, pigs, ducks, dogs, chickens and even cows lounging underneath the areas where they sleep and cook. The animals also run amok through the town and around the water pump, the only water supply currently available to villagers. Whereas it was very interesting to see, the villages looked sad, dirty and poor. There was one small schoolhouse, where all the kids go together. Small kids go with one teacher and slightly older kids with another teacher. They are typically married off as teenagers, except for ones that escape the village to work in the “city”–meaning Pakbeng or Pat Tha, the two nearest cities (to me these are both small villages, but it must seem like paradise after living in such a small, remote area like the Khmu’s do).

MekongLSM26

While they are taught Lao at school, they speak the Khmu language and they aren’t Buddhists like most of the Lao people. Instead they worship a variety of gods such as a dragon and mother earth. As they don’t have access to medical care (the nearest option for them is two hours by boat to Pak Beng, and I am not even sure if there is a hospital there, but there is a doctor), they turn to the town Shaman to cure them from any mental or physical ailments they may be experiencing. They get pretty much everything they need by working the land (food such as rice, vegetables, fruit and meat, building materials like wood) and for clothes and other supplies they may take the occasional boat trip down the river.

MekongLSM27

As I mentioned, it rather depressed me to see people living in such dirty conditions. I have witnessed this kind of living before, in the slums of India or Bangkok or remote jungle areas of Cambodia, but the people seem to be smiling and content, especially the children. In fact, in Cambodia, I actually envied the children, running around collecting coconuts naked, without a care in the world.

A Khmu villager

A Khmu villager

In the Khmu village, people seemed tired and worn. Despite seeing their apparent sadness I am glad we visited. The discomfort I felt clearly wasn’t a nice feeling, but it’s important to be exposed to the way people live. If we don’t understand the conditions in which people live around the world, how can we grow and change? I wonder if there are ways to respect and continue their traditions while taking them into a more modern, comfortable world? Maybe not, but how can I ever appreciate all the comforts I have in my life: running water, electricity, internet, soft mattresses, electronics and access to medical care and education at my fingertips without realizing it’s not a right or given ? It’s essential to understand that not everything has access to these types of comforts and to never take for granted that we can switch on a light, have a dry shelter from rain and clean drinking water whenever we want. It’s clear, especially after seeing this village close-up that not everyone is born with or given such an “opportunity” (or is it a right? Another conversation for another day).

A traditional Khmu house

A traditional Khmu house

Piglets in the village

Piglets in the village

Some typical village kids...the closest thing we got to a smile!

Some typical village kids…the closest thing we got to a smile!

 

After re-boarding my luxury boat (and feeling mildly guilty), I took my spot on the lounger and watched as the scenery changed a bit, banana plantations, rice fields, and more villages. We got to the point where the left bank of the river was Thailand and the right, Laos.

The bus taking us from Lao customs to Thai customs

The bus taking us from Lao customs to Thai customs

The friendship bridge, connecting Thailand and Laos, which we drove over on the bus (approx 10 minutes, 50 cents)

The friendship bridge, connecting Thailand and Laos, which we drove over on the bus (approx 10 minutes, 50 cents)

 

Around 4 pm on the second day, we docked in Laos, the right side of the river. Then we had to take a tuk-tuk about 10 km to go through Laos immigration, take a bus over the friendship bridge to the other side of the river into Thailand and then go through Thai customs. It was slightly tedious but no major issues and when we exited Thai customs, our driver was ready and waiting to take us the two hours to Chiang Rai.

I would also like to point out that we took the two-day slowboat cruise to the border. There are speedboats they make the trip in one day, and they are terrifying. They are small motorboats that fly over the river and it’s extremely dangerous, many people have died. In fact, the passengers all wear motorcycle helmets. No thank you! We saw a few and it looked well, not enjoyable in the least.

A typical slowboat, like ours

A typical slowboat, like ours

 

A typical speedboat. No thanks!

A typical speedboat. No thanks!

I really loved our cruise and would recommend it to anyone who wants to see the rural landscape of Laos along the Mekong.  Especially if you want to some un-interrupted relaxing time without internet!

Ciao Mekong River!

Ciao Mekong River!

Next stop, coming soon….Chiang Rai, Thailand!

bloglovin

A Dreamy Week in Laos

bloglovin

Flying into the Luang Prabang Airport was absolutely breathtaking and terrifying at the same time. The airplane lowers into a slim valley set between two beautiful mountains covered in green foliage and floating clouds making for beautiful views, but one false move and we’re all goners.

Flying into the Luang Prabang valley

Flying into the Luang Prabang valley

 

Luckily, we arrived safely and headed to obtain our visas upon arrival. Our visas cost approximately $35 US dollars per person plus a one dollar processing fee. We needed to fill out some paperwork during the flight and we brought passport photos with us. For an added fee they will copy your passport photo for you if you don’t have photos. Although everything is done by hands the line moved relatively quickly and we were in and out of the customs area within about 20 minutes. We changed some money into Lao Kip and headed out!

We are rich! 10,000 kip is about one euro...so not really

We are rich! 10,000 kip is about one euro…so not really

Some Lao Kip and Jorge

Some Lao Kip and Jorge

Luang Prabang is such a cute town

Luang Prabang is such a cute town

The city of Luang Prabang is quaint, picturesque and charming. It’s roots are French and therefore there is an interesting mix of Asian and colonial European architecture vibe and ambience throughout the city.

Some street food: Mekong river fish

Some street food: Mekong river fish

Since we had a full week here, I won’t go through daily activities, but simply share some exciting activities and interesting tidbits from our time.

A blooming lotus from the lotus pond at the Maison Dalabua

A blooming lotus from the lotus pond at the Maison Dalabua

This is the city I was most excited to stay due to the hotels I had carefully hand-selected. Both were boutique hotels, and since I couldn’t choose between the two, we chose to do a few nights in each: the Maison Dalabua Hotel and My Dream Boutique Resort. They were both lovely, but were very different from one another.

One of the lotus ponds at the Maison Dalabua

One of the lotus ponds at the Maison Dalabua

The Maison Dalabua is a French-owned hotel boasting charming wooden bungalow huts overlooking a blooming lotus pond. I was in love at first glance. Our room was large and decorated with French antiques and Asian-weaving projects.

I have this thing with lotus flowers, they are just so magical. They close in the afternoon and open in the morning. According to Buddhists.org:

“The lotus flower represents rebirth, both in a figurative and a literal sense. The rebirth can be a change of ideas, an acceptance of Buddha where there once was none, the dawn after one’s darkest day, a renaissance of beliefs or the ability to see past wrongs. It also represents a symbol of fortune in Buddhism. It grows in muddy water, and it is this environment that gives forth the flower’s most literal meaning: rising and blooming above the murk to achieve enlightenment.”

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I honestly don’t understand why anyone would want to be anything but a peaceful Buddhist. If I am ever inclined to become religious one day, Buddhism is definitely where it’s at!

I just can't get enough of the lotus flowers!

I just can’t get enough of the lotus flowers!

The second hotel, My Dream was a zen-like property overlooking the river, with all teak-wooden rooms and a beautiful “yard” area where you could relax in little huts and read over looking the Nam Khan river.

 

Our room was the balcony on the top left

Our room was the balcony on the top left

Both hotels were wonderful spots to recharge and relax, and I am so thrilled I was able to experience them both.

A little quiet riverside reading hut at the My Dream. Perfection!

A little quiet riverside reading hut at the My Dream. Perfection!

The city of Luang Prabang has a lot to offer. It’s small and cute main road has a plethora of Lao restaurants, touristy shops and temples to check out. Every night, vendors set up shop for a night market where you can buy all sorts of items as well as street food.

The night market goes on for several blocks

The night market goes on for several blocks

 

Tents at the night market

Tents at the night market

Rain or shine, this market goes on nightly. We had a lot of fun buying items here, and often enjoyed a crepe or Mango smoothie for dinner too!

LSMSMALL8

The view from Mt. Phousi

The view from Mt. Phousi

We were all templed out after Bagan but we did manage to stop and see a couple temples. One was at the top of Mount Phousi, a  100-meter high hill right in the middle of the city center with the temple Wat Chom Si at the top. The temple was nothing to write home about, but the mountains encased in fog overlooking the city was a glorious view. Climbing the approximately 300 steps to arrive there was worth it! 

LSMSMALL45

The other temple we stopped at was called Wat Xien Thong, and had some beautiful glass mosaics of Lao life and culture.

Jorge and his ladyphant

Jorge and his ladyphant

Me and my baby girllllll

Me and my baby girllllll

One day we went to the Elephant Village, recommend to me by fellow travel writer Eric Rosen. I always take special care to make sure that any elephant activities I participate in treat the elephants well, and this particular spot is a rescue center and conservation center where they really do treat the elephants well, which is important.

Splish splash I was takin' a bath!

Splish splash I was takin’ a bath!

 

Jorge playing with one of the two "babies"

Jorge playing with one of the two “babies”

Here we were able to ride, bathe, feed and play with elephants, as well as take a brief boat tour up to the Tad Sae waterfalls. The day was lovely, and I fall more in love with these majestic creatures every time I see them!

The Tad Sae waterfalls

The Tad Sae waterfalls

The camp was beautiful and had little cabins overlooking the river where you could eat lunch

The camp was beautiful and had little cabins overlooking the river where you could eat lunch

This butterfly followed me around the whole day!

This butterfly followed me around the whole day!

 

The elephant village also had a swimming pool...with just some average views...!

The elephant village also had a swimming pool…with just some average views…!

We took advantage of what was pretty much the only day the sun poked through the clouds and rented a motorcycle to head out of the town and into the countryside to visit the Koung Xi waterfalls.

No caption needed

No caption needed

LSMSMALL33

I wasn’t sure what to expect, and well, it totally blew my mind.

Mesmorizing!

Mesmerizing!

An astounding wonder of nature, and it was so refreshing to enjoy wading into the cool water after a brief but intense hike through a steep, muddy forest to the top! (during which Jorge managed to break his camera and drop his phone into a pool of water…sigh…).

It was this very moment the phone fell out of Jorge's pocket. The convo went as such: Jorge: "Oh look, someone dropped their phone in the waterfall. Oh wow, it's the same as my phone. Oh, shit, it's my phone!" #fail.

It was this very moment the phone fell out of Jorge’s pocket. The convo went as such:
Jorge: “Oh look, someone dropped their phone in the waterfall. Oh wow, it’s the same as my phone. Oh, shit, it’s my phone!”
#fail.

Whipping my hair back and forth during the hike

Whipping my hair back and forth during the hike

 

The cold pools

The cold pools

LSMSMALL37

 

The best part was that the fish in the water are the kind they use in the fish pedicures, so they nibbled away all the dead skin on my feet, yay! The waterfalls also have a small moon bear conservation center and was funny to see the bears lumbering around and playing.

My next pet? A moon bear!

My next pet? A moon bear!

This is for sure an absolute must-do if you visit Luang Prabang, and luckily, no matter what season you visit it, it always has water flowing.

Alm-giving prep

Alm-giving prep

LSMSMALL41

Of course, one morning we had to wake up at 5:30 to see the townspeople giving alms to the monks. I tried to stay in the back a bit, as I had read that often times tourists get in the monks faces and disrespect the practice. It’s a sacred practice (locals supporting the Buddha by giving food and offerings to the monks) and special so I actually waited until we were in our second hotel, which was a bit further away from the city center in hopes of having a more local experience. We stood behind a few women in the pouring rain and watched them give the monks rice and to my surprise, umbrellas. It was a very beautiful, peaceful thing to see…and I kept having to remind myself they do this every single day and it’s an important, religious moment for them.

LSMSMALL40 LSMSMALL42

 

Something else special we did was visit Big Brother Mouse to offer English conversation to young Lao students wanting to practice their English. You simply walk in and start chatting. I sat down with two young men (one 17, one 21) and was later joined by two more, and Jorge had his crew as well. They asked me a lot of questions about my life and told me about their lives too. One of the boys was one of 10 kids, and his family lived on a farm outside of the city. He is spending his summer in the “city” (if you can call Luang Prabang that!) working to save for university and trying to improve his English. It’s clear these teens have very little in the way of opportunities and it was nice to get to know a bit more of the Lao culture and know that we were doing our part to give back. I strongly encourage anyone visiting Luang Prabang (and I think there is also a center in Vientiane) to pop in and offer your native English skills to help out a Lao local. (from 9-11 am or 5-7 pm daily). One curious thing about this was that it was filled only with guys, almost no women.

My two "students" and I at Big Brother Mouse

My two “students” and I at Big Brother Mouse

As far as local Lao food goes, we tried a variety of spots and my favorites for Kaiphaen, which is a restaurant created by Friends International, a charity that helps low-income kids train as chefs and waiters. We went to their sister restaurant in Cambodia last summer, Marum, and if I can help out a great non-profit while enjoying a lovely meal, than great! A highlight for us was the food Kaiphaen, which the restaurant is named after. It’s crispy, nacho-like chip made of cooked river seaweed found in the Mekong.

Another cool spot we enjoyed was Dyen Sabai, which features Lao fondue, which is not cheese at all. They actually put a stove at your table and you cook your own meal. We got the chicken fondue, and they bring out your stove, light it up, and then give you raw chicken, veg, and noodles, and you boil your own soup and then cook your own meat. Jorge and I had so much fun doing this, and it was delicious. The only negative was that we were sweating so much after…the hot stove mixed with the hot humid temps was just too much.

We took quite a bit of down time in Laos, reading and relaxing by the pool, napping, just biking around the city (both our hotels offered free bikes, which was great) and dining and drinking along the river. After a busy, activity-filled Myanmar trip, we were so happy to just chill out a bit.

We biked across this bridge!

We biked across this bridge!

Bike riding along the river

Bike riding along the river

Laos, we will miss you!

Laos, we will miss you!

 

Next up, two-day cruise along the Mekong, coming soon!

bloglovin

The Ancient Temples Of Bagan, Myanmar

bloglovin

DAY 1

BAGAN

BAGAN

We excitedly arrived in Bagan and our hotel, the Oasis Bagan was a short taxi ride (about 4 euros) away located in Nyang-U. There are three sections of Bagan: Old Bagan (where most of the temples are and super pricy luxury hotels) New Bagan (far away from everything) and Nyang-U (mid-range hotels and great restaurants, a short ride away from temples).

At the airport we had to purchase a temple pass for $20 p/p (it was just $10 last year, so things are growing fast) and in the end we were asked to show it at two temples, so make sure you buy it at the airport because I am not sure where else you can purchase the pass.

Our boutique hotel, the Oasis Bagan, was sparse yet cute and we settled in and headed out for dinner. We ate at a little spot called “A Little Bit of Bagan” (I am getting ahead of myself but DON’T EAT HERE YOU WILL REGRET IT) and then headed to get some shut-eye.

Before turning in, we discussed our options for seeing the temples the following day.  Basically, you have the option of horse and carriage, taxi, e-bike (which is really a small electric scooter/moto) or regular bike. It was super hot, and so we decided our best option having three days to explore the temples was to start with a taxi and have him route us through the further temples. Then, the following day we’d rent e-bikes and explore the closer temples on our own. Bicycles are not recommended unless you are super fit and love the heat, because it’s a lot of work in a hot climate and you have to ride through a lot of sandy dirt roads which is not ideal.

The horse carts are something I see dying out soon. They were quite popular before the e-bikes made an appearance about 2 years ago but the horses are also exhausted in the heat and it’s a bumpy, uncomfortable ride. So we opted for the taxi tour, which would go from about 830-1230 am and then pick up again from 4-7. This way, you can have a rest and lunch during the hottest part of the day. The full day taxi tour with English-speaking guide was about 30 euros. We booked it and headed to bed.

Trees and temples

Trees and temples

Jorge woke up in the middle of the telling complaining of intense stomach pain, which worsened. I got a bit worried, but gave him some Pepto Bismol and that did help, but neither of us got much sleep. Nevertheless, we powered through and got up the next morning for our 8:30 am guided taxi tour.

Us on the top of Butheyi temple enjoying the view

Us on the top of Bulethi temple enjoying the view

I will include the full list of temples and pagodas we visited below, but for now I will just talk about my favorites. Bagan has about 3,211 temples located throughout a dusty area of 60 miles, though about 2,000 are still standing and not in ruins, so you have a lot of territory to cover.

Temple time

Temple time

They range from small shrines to looming broken-down palaces, and it was really cool to see how each one was unique.

LSMBAGAN6

We were able to start with about 6-7 temples in the morning. We saw a few you could hike up the steep, uneven stairs for gorgeous panoramic views, and I think those were my favorite. The shrines, elaborate with gilded gold Buddhas are beautiful, but sometimes they all begin to run together, whereas climbing old, dark cement stairs hopeful for a new glimpse of the clouds over the temple-tops, well that is where the real magic lies.

We loved climbing up the temples, especially Jorge!

We loved climbing up the temples, especially Jorge!

LSMBAGAN25

We bought some paintings for our house at one of the temples and chatted for awhile with the girl selling them. She repeatedly offered to “trade” me items she was selling for items of my own like lipstick or bangle bracelets. They really can’t get that stuff here, and it made me wish I had brought alone all those bracelets I never wear or brightly colored lipsticks. I just would have given them to her!

My new decorative art for the apartment! 5 euros!

My new decorative art for the apartment! 5 euros!

 

Some temples are famous for things like having unique Buddhas inside, a reclining Buddha, or other unique characteristics like a leaning top, painted walls, etc. We also  saw one that is white-washed by villagers once a year and a few with gilded gold tops. By about noon Jorge was looking a bit green and so we headed back to the hotel for our mid-day break. He immediately fell asleep and would stay that way for about four hours, and I took a one hour nap and then headed out for lunch on my own.

Just couldn't get enough of the views

Just couldn’t get enough of the views

 

This trip wouldn't be nearly as much fun without my favorite partner in crime, Jorge!

This trip wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without my favorite partner in crime, Jorge!

Our afternoon portion picked back up with more temples and finished with an amazing sunset view. Although the temple was crowded, the view is absolutely awe-inspiring. Photos just don’t do it justice. I tried to embed the glowing sky hovering over the ancient temples in my mind forever. I feel lucky to have been able to experience such beauty in this fleeting lifetime.

The sunset over the Bagan temples and plains...just marvelous!

The sunset over the Bagan temples and plains…just marvelous!

 

Okay enough of me getting all poetic justice here, there is one other interesting fact I would like to share and that is some info about laundry. I know, pretty mundane after just speaking about what may just be some of the most majestic ruins in the world, but it is interesting.

Obviously traveling with a backpack requires that during a six week trip you will eventually have to do laundry, in fact, several times. Especially when it’s super hot outside and you are constantly sweating.  Last year we did laundry in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam and it is super cheap. Typically they charge by kilo and for a couple plastic bags full of dirty clothes they charge you a few euros to wash, dry and iron.

Myanmar is a totally different animal. THEY DON’T HAVE WASHERS! Yes, you heard me. They wash all their clothes by hand, just like I previously mentioned when I saw people doing laundry in Mandalay in the river.

So we dropped off our laundry in the morning, and it was 300 KYAT (about 23 euro cents) per small item (tanks, undies, a pair of socks) and then 500 KYAT (about 40 cents) for larger items like pants. We actually had about 33 small items and 8 big items to wash, and they hand washed every single item (I feel slightly weird knowing my dirty underwear was washed in the river by some random person, but what choice did I have) dried (obviously they have no dryers, so air drying only) and ironed it during my day at the temple, and couldn’t have been more good-natured about it all and thankful for our business. The total was about 11 euros, and it’s one of the most expensive things I’ve done in Myanmar, but it was certainly an interesting experience.

DAY 2

Encountering some road blocks on my e-bike

Encountering some road blocks on my e-bike

After an awesome first day, we were completely exhausted– especially Jorge who was feeling better but who still was a bit ill. So we slept a solid nine hours and then woke up ready to take on the e-bikes. It’s funny to me that they are called e-bikes because this conjures up an image of a typical bike with a small motor, not unlike the ones in Madrid used for the Bici Mad bikeshare program. Instead, e-bikes are more like motorcycles or scooters, but electric. There are various kinds and ones that have more power, but the most basic ones sorta reminded me of a faster version of those scooter cards old people drive around Walmart in the USA.

E-biking our hearts our

E-biking our hearts out

We started out around 8 am, paid about four euros each to rent the bikes and were on our way. Again, full list of visited temples below, but we saw some of the most popular ones today, as well as a smaller complex with a semi-leaning temple that the locals refer to as the “Leaning Tower of Bagan”.

Of course we had to take this photo at the Leaning Tower of Bagan!

Of course we had to take this photo at the Leaning Tower of Bagan!

I personally prefer some of the smaller, quieter temples. They may not be quite as grand as some of the more famous ones, but they allow for peaceful, reflective exploring as opposed to knocking knees with people shouting in other languages and Myanmar kids trying to sell you touristy trinkets.

A temple along the river

A temple along the river

Another interesting fact is that the temples often have fresco paintings inside. Some are destroyed and others more intact. The images are beautiful, showing Buddhas, typical life in Bagan, elephants etc. We went to one temple which was especially cool because the whole inside of the temple was dark with paintings. No photos were allowed and you needed to use a flashlight (I was overjoyed, Jorge made fun of me for taking a mini-flashlight along and it came in handy!) to see them. It was eerie walking about the dark temple shining the flashlight to see the huge paintings all over the walls and ceiling.

Happy on my e-bike

Happy on my e-bike

Many of the temples allow you to buy these gold papers for about a $1 where you actually peel off bits of gold and press it onto the Buddha. This practice seems to be very popular among locals and we gave it a shot. I think the concept is that you are supposed to make a wish or desire and press the gold on, and then it will come true.

We took our midday break for lunch, pool and nap and then headed back for a sunset, this time at a less-touristy temple. The view was just as great and there were about 10 people there vs. about 100 yesterday. Unfortunately, the sunset wasn’t quite as beautiful as it had clouded over, but we still had a nice time.

DAY 3

The keyholder opening the gate for us!

The keyholder opening the gate for us!

We managed to get up at 4:30 am to catch a 5:30 am sunrise! We wrote our e-bikes to the temple Law ka ou Shaung through dark dirt roads. We also managed not to get too lost, thankfully. We carefully selected this temple for two reasons: it wasn’t super touristy and also because there is a neat process to get inside the temple. You actually have to go to the hut behind the temple, where the dogs & roosters alert the “gatekeeper” of our presence. He comes out and unlocks the temple gates and directs you up the spooky, dark stairs so you get walk up to the top and watch the sunrise. Unfortunately, it was so cloudy that there wasn’t really a sunrise, but the experience was still really special, and we were the only people there which made it very peaceful as well.

We decided to take advantage of the cooler temps (it was so early in the morning) and then headed around through Old Bagan and to the Bupaya pagoda which overlooks the river. Apparently the pagoda was destroyed in a 1975 earthquake, but it’s been rebuilt and gilded with gold. It was a great time to go (around 6-630 am) because people were there taking their early morning prayers and meditation before starting the day.

It’s actually worth nothing that one thing that makes the Bagan temples so riveting is that they are active temples. You see locals visiting them, praying in them, meditating, monks paying visits to their Buddha among the tourists. I think it’s so cool that these temples are not just being used for tourism and that local people enjoy them as well.

Jorge with a local girl

Jorge with a local girl

 

We walked down the riverfront and saw some of the boats taking off along the Irrawaddy. I was actually bummed because our original plan included taking a 12-hour slow boat from Mandalay to Bagan, but then we realized it only operated in the dry season, so there went my illusions of slowly sailing past the Burmese countryside. At least we will have our cruise up the Mekong coming soon in Laos.

Riverfront child

Riverfront child

Riverfront people

Riverfront people

 

We then headed over to some smaller temples on the way home where we encountered the typical beggar kids trying to sell us things. They were really cute, but I hate supporting the idea that they beg and don’t go to school, so we reluctantly left without purchasing their coins, souvenirs or hand-colored postcards.

LSMBAGAN49

My heart went out to this child, but I didn't have the heart to give him any $$, though I wanted to!

My heart went out to this child, but I didn’t have the heart to give him any $$, though I wanted to!

By that time we were destroyed from our 4:30 am wakeup call, so we headed back for a nap and breakfast. It started to rain and didn’t stop for awhile, so we were so glad we woke up early and got those few hours in of temple time. Around 5:00 pm it stopped raining and we were able to get in one last cruise with our e-bikes and visited a few spots. Although it was slightly drizzly and overcast, it was fun because the temples were completely deserted!

Jorge being Jorge

Jorge being Jorge

 

Dusk on our e-bikes!

Dusk on our e-bikes!

Bagan is amazing!

Bagan is amazing!

 

If you take away anything at all from this long winded explanation of my travels, it’s that you need to see Myanmar, and you need to see it ASAP. In even just six months things will be so different and so go, go now, go soon and experience this pure and authentic one-of-a-kind country!

Next stop, LAOS!

Temple & Resource List 

DAY 1

Temples taxi: guide Win: thiriallright@gmail.com
09253599515

MORNING

  • Bulethi (went up, great views rec’d for sunset)
  • Su la ma ni pato
  • Dhamma yan gyi temple (smelled of bats)
  • North guni (great views recd for sunset)
  • Dhamma ya zi-ka Zedi (all gold), like a pentagon, 5 buddhas
  • Lay myet hnay-white washed by man-nan-thu villagers once a yr
  • Tayoke pyai

AFTERNOON

  • Shwe-kun char (amazing river views)
  • Teak wood monastery Nat Htauh Ryacn (not so interesting)
  • Mingala-zedi
  • Gu-byauk-gy (painting, no photos)
  • Ma-nu-ha (near Myinkaba village) with reclining buddha
  • Sunset: shwe-san-daw Paya (asked for pass)

DAY 2

  • Rented ebikes for 5000 each from Sulatt store in Nyang-U
  • Route: drove along bagan Nyang-U road
  • Shwe-zi-gon Paya
  • One near hti lo min lo
  • Hti lo min lo (asked for pass)
  • Leaning tower of bagan otherwise know as Khay- Min-Gha
  • That-byin-nyu (grey and gold) at first we thought it was Ananda
  • Ananda (popular, 4 standing buddhas, jorge bought gold paper to press on the Buddha)
  • Afternoon sunset–dirt road to Guni (north)
  • Dinner at Spice restaurant: carrot salad, eggs, rice for a total under 2 euros (very good!)
  • Rec’d for sunrise: Pyat thut gyi,  Pyat tha da or Law ka ou Shaung (gatekeeper with key)

Day 3

  • Ebikes again
  • Sunrise: Law ka ou Shaung
  • Bupaya (along the river)
  • Small temples without name along Nyang-U road

–Note—Restaurant that gave Jorge food poisoning: “A Little Bit of Bagan”—don’t eat there!

bloglovin

A Hidden Gem: Mandalay

bloglovin

LSMMANDALAY0

After three sweaty yet amazing days in Bangkok we headed to Mandalay. I was really unsure on what to expect. I really couldn’t find too much info on Mandalay and what to do there during my pre-trip research. In fact, many people just head to Yangon, Inle Lake and Bagana and skip Mandalay entirely—some say Mandalay isn’t even worth a visit.

Needless to say I wasn’t expecting much. I chose Mandalay as a gateway city instead of Yangon before heading to Bagan because you can’t fly into Bagan from any international airport and it’s super monsoon season in Yangon. So Mandalay it was, and I went in with very low expectations.

A local having a nap

A local having a nap

I was in for quite I surprise. I find myself right now actually sad to leave Mandalay after a wonderful few days there.

Day 1

I suppose I should start at the beginning. We arrived and hopped into the free AirAsia shuttle bus that conveniently stops about a block from our hotel. Changing euros at the airport was no problem, so we had literally hundreds of thousands of KYAT on us! We then checked in and everyone was overwhelmingly polite. Our hotel, the Sahara was about $28 per night and included a small, impeccably clean room with fridge and a bathroom.

We dropped our stuff, enjoyed a few magical moments of air conditioning and headed out about 3 pm to find a spot for lunch. We consulted the hotel staff and they suggested a traditional Burmese spot about a 25 minute walk away called Mingalada which also means hello in Burmese (the only word I managed to master so far!).

Our trickshaw driver and new friend, Challaou

Our trickshaw driver and new friend, Challaou

Upon heading out, we were stopped by a trickshaw, a man with a bike with a “sidecar” of two seats attached. I normally steer away from those offering tuk tuk or taxi services but something about this guy was different. So I asked a price and he told me 1200 Kyat. I did a quick calculation…less than one euro. Cheaper than one ticket in the Madrid metro. We happily accepted.

We had a great time talking with him and asked him if he would come back after lunch, pick us up and take us around the city to see the sights, and he told us he would for 7000 Kyat, about five euros. Sold!

Now onto the food. We sat on the floor around a table and ordered a traditional Burmese lunch. It works like this: you order the main dish, like duck, or chicken curry (we got one of each) and then they bring you a million sauces, side dishes, veg, salad, soup and more in little plates and also dessert.

This is only about half the plates!

This is only about half the plates!

So our table was literally set with 100 plates and the food was good! I prefer Thai and Indian curries to these because the Myanmar curry was very oily, which is typical of their curries. However, the presentation was fun and dessert consisted of seeds mixed with chili, which was crazy. Not my favorite, but certainly an experience. Jorge accidentally put a giant spoonful of picante pepper seasoning in his mouth thinking it was something else and the entire wait staff was cracking up. He’s still dealing with the consequences two days later, LOL.

It’s also worth noting the wait staff spoke basically no English, although the menu did have the dishes in both Burmese and English. The menu also had no prices, so we were slightly concerned we might get cheated. Then the bill came.

6200 KYAT for a full meal for two including dessert and drinks. 4.50 euros. Insane, right?

Our friend/guide Challou was waiting for us outside with his trusty trickshaw bike and we headed out. He took us to some amazing shrines as well as simply driving through some of the areas in town that are less touristy.

LSMMANDALAY5

He also showed us the old monastery he lived in during the days when he was a monk.

Jorge playing some game with the locals! He did pretty well I would say!

Jorge playing some game with the locals! He did pretty well I would say!

Jorge also played this game with locals that is similar to hacky sack where they kick the ball around.

LSMMANDALAY3

During this tour, so many people and children waved to us, said hello, in fact, we were the only Westerners we saw all day! Tourism is still new in Mandalay and we really didn’t see many at all, however, we did hear there are quite a few tourists from India and China which makes sense because those countries border Myanmar.

LSMMANDALAY4

The people are poor but friendly and for the most part, they don’t try to cheat you. In fact they just seem awed at the fact people with blond hair and western features are in their country.

This kid, sitting naked on garbage tugged at my heart strings

This kid, sitting naked on garbage tugged at my heart strings

Children seem especially excited, and love to say hello and come shake our hands. It was our fifteen minutes of  “fame.”

 

Almost every single person here wears a Longyi, which is a long skirt that you tie at the waist. Woman wear it more wrapped around their waist and men tie it in a knot. Children also wear it and it’s surprisingly comfy and airy. I couldn’t believe that 99% of the people wear this. It just seems like such a different world (it IS). Locals, especially women and children also put a yellow like, glittery substance on their cheeks and face which our guide told us was like a natural kind of sunblock. Besides the fact that the sun is very strong here, Myanmar is no different to any other Asian country in that they are obsessed with having whiter skin.

It’s also interesting to hear about their anti-government sentiments. We were told not to pay to go inside some of the government monuments because the government gets the money, and clearly doesn’t use it to help and support their citizen.  I listened carefully and decided not to contribute to the government and their cronies by choosing to simply see the outside of these monuments.. Of course, by staying in a hotel, I already was handing money over to the government but obviously I had to have somewhere to stay.

LSMMANDALAY7

Anyway, our awesome tour ended with a visit to the banks of the Irrawaddy river, where I surprisingly saw locals bathing! Yes, it’s true…many people in Myanmar don’t have running water.

A local chatting me up after a quick bath in the river

A local chatting me up after a quick bath in the river

In fact, I saw a lot of stone wells too during the trip, and people using them to fill up buckets with water. Also, no one seems to have the luxury of a washer here, and most wash their clothes in the river or using the water they have in wells.  That means squat toilets and outhouses too.  In fact, there aren’t really any laundry places in Myanmar as you see in Thailand where backpackers can drop off their laundry. Why? Because of course, no washers! No one wants to wash scuzzy backpacker clothes by hand!

LSMMANDALAY8

Checking out the river was beautiful and interesting. We were able to see the beginnings of the sunset, which was very peaceful.

Flowers on a moto!

Flowers on a moto!

Then, we made a quick stop at the flower market, where most locals bring flowers on their motorbikes to sell. It’s curious because the flowers are typically purchased not for peoples’ homes or gifts, but as offerings to Buddha. Flowers may be a luxury not many can afford, but they will splurge only for Buddha. Lucky guy, that Buddha!

Fitted for my very own Longyi

Fitted for my very own Longyi

Finally, a stop at the night market for Jorge and I to purchase our own longyis! When in Myanmar, do as the Myammar(ians?) do! I am still trying to master tying mine!

Jorge getting fitted for his Longyi

Jorge getting fitted for his Longyi

Day 2

Our day tour was so wonderful we asked Challou if he would drive us around to see the famous U-Bein bridge and sure enough, he asked his brother to do so who happens to be a taxi driver. It was perfect because the hotel had quoted us $50 for a full day tour with driver who speaks limited English, plus another $30 for a guide to  explain more things in English for a total of $80. However, Challou said he would accompany his brother in order to translate and the full cost would be $45. Deal!

Meditating with the women while the men got to see the Buddha. Not fair!

Meditating with the women while the men got to see the Buddha. Not fair!

We started off with a visit to the Big Buddha, which is placed in elaborate shrine made of gold. To my dismay, only men could enter! So Jorge happily sauntered in while I sat meditating with the other women. Blah.

Our boat ride over to Amanpura

Our boat ride over to Amanpura

Next stop would be Amanpura, a small village just outside of Mandalay featuring the famous U-Bein bridge, the longest wooden teak footbridge in the world at 1300 yards. We started on one side of the water and took small boat over to the other side, which was fun.

Boarding the boat

Boarding the boat

They we explored the village, visiting a weaving factory, pagoda, a Buddha shrine (they are all starting to blend together) and then finally walked back over the bridge.

The Big Buddha

The Big Buddha

The bridge made for beautiful views and we encountered some friendly locals as well and all in all it was a delightful experience.

Jorge making friends with local children

Jorge making friends with local children

Us in front of the U-Bein bridge

Us in front of the U-Bein bridge

Locals use their heads to carry heavy goods across the bridge

Locals use their heads to carry heavy goods across the bridge

Walking back across the bridge

Walking back across the bridge

 

Next stop, lunch at a local Burmese spot. Delicious curries, again, a table with one million plates, and for four people (we treated our guide and driver) to eat a huge meal, the bill came to a whopping total of…about 8.50 euros. Mind-blowing. Also interesting to note that the locals eat the rice and curry with their hands. It’s a bit shocking at first, but once you realize everyone does it you get used to it.

Lunch with our guide, Challaou, and driver, Mr. A

Lunch with our guide, Challaou, and driver, Mr. A

We then took a small speedboat over to the village of Inwa, where we  paid for a horse cart and driver to take us to a monastery and some pagodas. The shrines were gorgeous, but the horse cart was bumpy and this is really the only spot I encountered pushy locals trying to sell me crafts etc. It reminded me of Siem Reap…which I am sure most of Myanmar will be like when the tourism boom hits in the next five years or so.

We bought these cool etchings in one of the temples for our apartment

We bought these cool etchings in one of the temples for our apartment

Until this point it had been refreshingly authentic, but I guess it’s normal that these people want to make a living and really the only people who come to this ancient protected city are tourists.

Hanging out with Buddha

Hanging out with Buddha

Horse and buggy in Inwa

Horse and buggy in Inwa

Love this shrine, so much zen!

Love this shrine, so much zen!

 

Chatting with the big B

Chatting with the big B

Jorge being Jorge

Jorge being Jorge

 

We ended out the day driving up to Sagaling Mountain for beautiful shrines and some breathtaking panoramic views of Mandalay, where you can see the river, lakes, greenery and tons of temples. I think this was my favorite part of the day, as I am a real sucker for panoramic views, plus a bunch of gold shrines that were really stunning.

They call these the "cage" buddhas because they are technically behind some caged gates

They call these the “cage” buddhas because they are technically behind some caged gates

The views

The views

This little girl was wandering around the temple alone. I just love this photo!

This little girl was wandering around the temple alone. I just love this photo!

Thank goodness for the selfie stick!

Thank goodness for the selfie stick!

Enjoying the views

Enjoying the views

 

 

The tour was incredible and I really had no idea that Mandalay was filled with so many special and historic spots.

We had a small rest after the tour and then headed out for dinner. Since there are so many Indian and Chinese people living in Mandalay, a huge part of the Myanmar cuisine is actually Chinese and Indian food, so we selected Indian. It was good, but decidedly similar to the more oily curries of Myanmar.

Biking around the palace

Biking around the palace

 

DAY 3 

After a long day out, we crashed and woke up fresh the next day for our final Mandalay morning. We rented bikes from our hotel and braved the Mandalay traffic to lap around the nearby palace. That may seem like a short trip, but the giant, square Royal Palace complex is a huge square surrounded by a moat that is actually two km on each side. So to bike the whole thing is eight km. We had decided not to go inside for two reason: one because I didn’t feel like paying 10 euros to the government and two because I heard it wasn’t that interesting inside anyway. Everything was reconstructed in 1990 and nothing is original, so I didn’t think it was worth it to pay the 10 euro entrance and support the government. So we decided to simply enjoy the outside instead.

Biking around the palace

Biking around the palace

We biked along the first two sides and then stopped to see a few pagodas, one of which I fell in love with, the Sandarmuni Pagoda. It’s simply stunning: many small white shrines with a giant gold one in the middle. The cloud formations were just perfect and the photo ops were insane. Each little tower has small chimes on top and the deserted temple with the chimes blowing in the wind just about converted me to Buddhism, it was such a zen setting. If only I could induce that feeling of the chimes blowing in the wind into my daily life (perhaps I need to get some wind chimes in my office lol?).

My favorite!

My favorite!

Our bikes parked outside the temple

Our bikes parked outside the temple

 

We then lapped the last two sides of the palace on our bikes and arrived back in time to check out of the hotel, head out for a brief lunch of Chinese food (good, but nothing particularly exciting, though we did finally sample Myanmar beer which I give two thumbs up). Then we headed to the airport to catch our flight to Bagan.

Some not-so-subtle gold temples

Some not-so-subtle gold temples

 

The flight to Bagan we managed to purchase online a month before on a travel agency, which I wasn’t really sure if it was even real because it’s extremely difficult to purchase flights online and ahead of time.  Really, until a few months ago, inter-Myanmar flights could only be purchased in person by a hotel or travel agency once you arrived to the country.  I also see this changing very soon…especially with the increasing presence of internet and tourism.

We got to the airport and went to the Air KBZ desk with an printed email I was assured was enough to secure our reservation. Turns out it was, hooray! However, there was no one at the Air KBZ desk and I was directed to another airline’s check in and actually flew with Mann Yandanarpon Airlines (try saying that 10 times fast)…I still am not sure if I totally understand what happened but the point was after a 25 minute flight in a propeller plane, we landed safely in Bagan. Oh, and it’s probably worth noting that no one once checked my ID and security was kind of a joke.

Stayed tuned for Bagan, coming soon! In the meantime, I leave you with a little poetry from Rudyard Kipling:

Come you back to Mandalay,  
mandalay imagesWhere the old Flotilla lay; 
 
mandalay imagesCan’t you ‘ear their paddles clunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay? 
 
mandalay imagesOn the road to Mandalay, 
 
mandalay imagesWhere the flyin’-fishes play, 
 
mandalay imagesAn’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!”

bloglovin

A Chilled Out Bangkok

bloglovin

Our second day in Bangkok was relaxing and fun, albeit hot. We woke up feeling fairly well rested and set off for the Wat Arun temple, aka the Temple of Dawn. We started off by taking the ferry there. We then realized upon arrival that the actual temples were ages away from the ferry stop so we contemplated what to do. Jorge thought it would be fun to take the moto taxi, aka licensed drivers who take you on their motorcycles. We each got our own helmet and popped on the back of two different motorbikes for a 10 minute ride (would be been at least 40 minutes walking). It was fun zooming through a section of Bangkok that was relatively un-touristy.

Temple reconstruction in full force

Temple reconstruction in full force

Once we arrived, we headed into the temples, and much to my dismay, they were mostly under construction, so we really couldn’t get that full sense of awe, but it was okay. It was actually pretty cool to see the people hand-renovating the temples using hammers, plaster and paint, going to painstaking lengths to make sure every detail was perfectly represented. We enjoyed a nice walk around and then realized that we could get a quick boat to the ferry we needed to be on to get back to our main area. By then the hunger pains had set in and we hada great lunch at one of my favorite BKK restaurants, Tongue Thai, and then went back to hotel for a swim.

LSM1

Hammering away

Yum! Lunch at Tongue Thai

Yum! Lunch at Tongue Thai

After a few hours, we headed back out to Khao San road to grab a Singha beer and do a little shopping for cheap shirts/ Chang pants and enjoy some street food. Once we’d had our fill of the tacky backpacker street and were all shopped out, we got a foot massage at a nearby joint and then took a Tuk Tuk over to Cloud 47, a newish rooftop bar. The city views were incredible and the drinks were flowing.

View of Bangkok from Cloud 47

View of Bangkok from Cloud 47

I highly recommend checking out Cloud 47. We decided we wanted a more local, sexier rooftop experience than the typical one from Hangover 2 at the Le Bua towers, so we did a little research and it paid off. Insane views, nice service, no dress code (Jorge happily sported shorts, a tank and flip flops) and best of all—just a few bucks for a beer instead of $15 which is what several other rooftop bars charge. Go there! You will love it.

The pool at the Royal Orchid Sheraton overlooking the Chao Praya River

The pool at the Royal Orchid Sheraton overlooking the Chao Praya River

Our last day in Bangkok included a morning at the gym and pool (gotta work off all that curry) followed by an afternoon at the Siam Paragon mall complete with the VIP movie theatre. I told Jorge that Magic Mike XXL was an action flick and he agreed to see it with me (hehe!).

The VIP movie theatre lounge

The VIP movie theatre lounge

We purchased the special VIP tickets for $30, which typically I would NEVER pay for a movie but I really wanted to experience this VIP cinema I’d heard so much about. The ticket includes: movie entrance with seats that recline into beds (similar to a first class airline seat) and before the movie you get your choice of wine/beer plus snack in the swanky, heavily air conditioned lounge. You also get a 15 minute massage which you can enjoy before or after the film. We started off with wine and popcorn, got our 15 minute massage and then headed into the movie. Jorge was surprised that my definition of an action film included male strippers, but the experience was fun and different, great for a one-time activity.

Prepping for some Magic Mike XXL

Prepping for some Magic Mike XXL

Comfy seats

Comfy seats

 

We then headed out to our last night in the nearby airport hotel to wake up early for our flight to Mandalay. Stay tuned for Myammar!

bloglovin

Run BKK

bloglovin

Back in Bangkok…a mess of sweaty, humid love and energy! Smells wafting at me every which way…potent durians, pollution, toothy grins , flip flops and worn crow’s feet among the locals…I couldn’t be happier to be lost in this contaminated, sparkling (a grimy glitter, if you know what I mean) urban circus.

A grey, humid welcome to BKK!

A grey, humid welcome to BKK!

We landed after a 12 hour flight from Madrid tired but happy. Luckily, the lovely staff at the Royal Orchid Sheraton let us check in at the wee hour of 8:30 am! After a two (five) hour nap I clearly felt exuberant enough to take on the city.

We started off with some spicy curry and Chang beers from nearby restaurant Tealicious. While it wasn’t much to look it, the familiar bursts of Penang peppery curry exploded it my mouth as I happily wolfed down what would be the first of many curries I will surely be indulging in this trip! Of course this was followed by some Tums, also the first of many I will be indulging in during this six week spicy adventure.

Penang me please

Penang me please

After lunch, we headed down to the Taskin pier to catch the ferry boat to the Asiatique Market. We got 75 minute foot + head, neck and shoulder massages (400 THB per person, about $11), which was literally heaven after 12 hours in economy seating (though I can’t complain, we did have an exit row!), followed by a stroll through the shopping/market area.

Love (and intense humidity) is in the air at Asiatique

Love (and intense humidity) is in the air at Asiatique

I purchased a notebook for 60 THB ($1.50) and enjoying checking out all the clothing etc. We also messed around with the new Go Pro which is super fun even when you aren’t doing extreme sports!

A little Asiatique action

A little Asiatique action

After this we headed back and it seemed to get more and more humid by the second, so we thought a dip in the pool might be a good idea! More to come tomorrow after we get a good night of sleep and hit some temples!

bloglovin

A New Way To Zen: InspiraLife

bloglovin

InspiraLife is a new company dedicated to helping keep your mind and body beautiful, healthy, fit and happy. The company was started by my friend and yoga teacher, Carla Sanchez and her business partner Inma Brea. Together, the team of two helps you expand your mind and body horizons allowing you to find your best self. Inma does this through coaching and Carla through yoga and mediation.

A yoga party organized by InspiraLife

A yoga party organized by InspiraLife

I was able to attend a Yoga Party thrown by InspiraLife, which allowed me to get to know a little more about their company and what the provide and do. Besides providing yoga classes and workshops, they also plan big health events and what I find the most awesome, retreats.

Inma and Carla, InspiraLife founders

Inma and Carla, InspiraLife founders

 

I went on my first yoga retreat (unfortunately before InspiraLife was a thing) to India recently and not to be all “this was life-changing”…except it was. Yoga retreats are beautiful because they allow you to focus on YOU. It’s not a family, friend or couples vacation. It’s a vacation all about bringing out the best in yourself, allowing you to be selfish and focus on your own needs.

Because let’s be honest, regardless of what obligations you have in your life (job, friends, boyfriends, children, family etc) it’s difficult to take time for introspection and mental and physical growth. Yes, we all spend our hour at Body Combat at the gym or Bikram Yoga, but the rest of our days are almost always spend pleasing others and fulfilling obligations.

Yoga retreats, in general, even if you aren’t even that into yoga are beautiful ways to learn to focus on self-awareness. What is it you need in life? Or have too much of? How can you find peace and love in your daily life? How can you stay stress-free?

InspiraLife goes a step beyond because not only are the retreats about yoga, but the coaching aspect will also help to answer the above questions and find out how you can enrich your life in so many ways: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

A healthy cooking workshop from InspiraLife

A healthy cooking workshop from InspiraLife

InspiraLife’s next retreats are to India in August (I wish I could go but I already have vacation plans) and to Tuscany in the fall, which I hope to go to. I also plan on attending a cooking class at some point (lord knows I need a  little help in the kitchen!).

In any case, I love the idea of a business that helps both your mind and body grow, and I look forward to seeing what else InspiraLife will continue to offer. Check them out!

Namaste! xo Lori

Namaste! xo Lori

 

bloglovin

Eat Your Heart Out At The MadrEAT Food Truck Festival

bloglovin

Spring has arrived and it’s time to experience the Madrid Food Truck Festival, MadrEAT. The event features over 40 different food trucks, stands and market stalls where you can find all sorts of different cuisines and enjoy an afternoon eating in the sunshine.

Welcome to MadrEAT

Welcome to MadrEAT

 

I must say I am impressed in how quickly Madrid has grown to embrace international foods. When I first moved here six years ago, you could barely find a sushi restaurant, and now Madrid is quickly catching up to other major cities and offering a much more “exotic: food selection such as Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Latin American and more.

Some Korean BBQ sassy sauce bottles

Some Korean BBQ sassy sauce bottles

I visited the festival for the first time last March, and have since then noted it will be continuing on in the AZCA complex each month this spring, starting again today! More practical info at the bottom of the post.

A yummy arepa from the La Cuchara truck

A yummy arepa from the La Cuchara truck

Last time, I was able to sample some Korean BBQ which was amazing, Venezuelan arepas from La Cuchara, a Feltman’s hotdog and some delicious dessert cakes, topping it all off with a four euro bottle of Sidra. Prices are reasonable and I indulged in several treats & snacks for a total of under 15-20 euros.

A delightful snack of Sidra and Hot Dogs

A delightful snack of Sidra and a Feltman’s Hot Dog, yum

I plan on attending again Saturday and who knows what I will indulge in this time? Perhaps a gourmet burger, perhaps a taco?

2015-03-14 14.02.56

The festival has a fun, kitschy vibe

 

This is a great festival and my main recommendation would be to arrive there EARLY especially if you plan on going Saturday and Sunday. The spot gets extremely crowded with a lot of strollers blocking the walkway (annoying) and so it’s best to arrive sooner rather than later.

One of the trucks

One of the trucks

Happy chowing!

You can hand out and eat outside

Enjoy snacking outside at MadrEAT

Practical Info

Spring Dates:

17, 18, 19 of April
8, 9, and 10 of May
19, 20, 21 of June

Location:

AZCA, entrance by Paseo de la Castellana 89, by Orense 16 or through the Central Comercial Moda Shopping. There is free parking in Moda Shopping (from 12:00 to 20:00, Saturday and Sunday). Metro: Nuevos Minsterios or Santiago Bernabéu, Bus: 27 – 40 – 126 – 147 – 150

Opening hours:

Friday from 12:00 to 18:00
Saturday from 12:00 to 24:00
Sunday from 12:00 to 18:00

 

bloglovin

The Best Exotic Little Cove Yoga Retreat

bloglovin
The beach at the Little Cove Yoga Retreat

The beach at the Little Cove Yoga Retreat

Forgive me for the cheesy title, but I just love the movie the Best Exotic Marigold hotel. My aunt even asked me why I liked the movie, that it was an “old-person’s movie,” and while she is probably right, any film that puts Judy Dench & Maggie Smith together is pure magic. Plus, I may have a small place in my heart for dearest Dev Patel. I supposed deep down I have an old soul, one that appreciated old British humor!

Ever since I saw the movie, I’ve wanted to explore India. The sensory overload…the plethora of tastes, smells, exotic-everything appeared tantalizing. Of course, the timely release of the the sequel to the movie just made everything seem even more perfect, I was fated to experience India in April 2015!

I have been getting more and more into yoga lately, finding that the escape it gives me from the daily demands of life and technology helps to keep my mind, body and soul clear and happy. I thought India would be the perfect place for a yoga retreat, though I didn’t want anything too serious, like an ashram where you can’t speak or anything.

I discovered the Little Cova Yoga Retreat online in Goa, India and I immediately knew it would be perfect. When planning travel, I really heavily on intuition (and of course the help of TripAdvisor!). No one ever talks about intuition as a travel-planning tool, but truly, I often search tirelessly for the perfect hotel or destination to no avail, and then stumble upon something and automatically just know it’s the perfect spot.

I immediately knew my friend Elise would be on board, and upon mentioning it to my friend Rachel, she joined up too, and I just knew it was going to be an incredible trip.

We were able to find extremely cheap tickets to Goa, but the clincher was that we’d have two layovers and almost a 24 hour journey. But I didn’t care. I was ready for India (after a 114 euro visa, of course, let’s not forget that). Nevermind all the advice from people, “you won’t eat for a week, bring granola bars” or “you’ll hate it, it’s dirty and smelly” (smelly it was…but that’s part of the charm).

After a long and hilarious (life is just good when Rachel and Elise are part of it) 26 hour journey (which included sprinting through the Mumbai airport and a lot of sweating) we landed in Goa. We changed some euros into rupees and headed outside into the sweltering sunshine of India.

Our driver Raj, was waiting for us, and we piled into a dusty Land Rover which took us through several small villages, a large town, past old Portuguese houses (history lesson: Goa was once owned by Portugal), rivers, jungles, cashew nut trees, cattle, motorbikes, swerving buses and more. The last two kilometers were over a bumpy dirt road, and we excitedly bounced around in the backseat as we awaited the appearance of Little Cove.

Arriving on our hot, bumpy dirt road!

Arriving on our hot, bumpy dirt road!

It was just as picturesque and I could have ever hoped for. Down a rocky set of stairs awaited my very own paradise, beach shacks, a beachfront yoga bungalow swathed in palm trees set on the loveliest cove beach one could ever imagine.

Little Cove, our first sighting!

Little Cove, our first sighting!

We anxiously checked in and got our bungalows. The rustic one-room shacks were perfect. My bathroom even had a net instead of a roof so I could stare at the palm trees while showering.

my open air bathroom

my open air bathroom

The view from my front porch

The view from my front porch

 

My perfect little hut

My perfect little hut

 

That evening, we made it just in time for evening mediation and a light Vinyassa flow before dinner.

Sunil hard at work preparing delicious, home-cooked food

Sunil hard at work preparing delicious, home-cooked food

Dinner…where do I even start? Sunil and his accompaniment spoiled us rotten all week long with delicious vegetarian cuisine. Dhal, chapati, okra, beet and carrot salad…every single meal was perfect. I am already missing the amazing food.

The waves were so loud outside my window I didn't hear my alarm!

The waves were so loud outside my window I didn’t hear my alarm!

I am going to share my daily schedule now, but before I do so, I want to just explain one small story I find rather entertaining. The first night we were all just exhausted from the crazy-long journey, so we crashed at about 8:30 p.m. I set my alarm for 7 a.m. so I would be able to have a coffee before 8 a.m. yoga and prepare. Well, I woke up at 7:50 in a panic…what had happened?! Turns out, the waves were crashing so loud, I couldn’t hear my alarm! #seriousproblems

Our days went a little something like this:

7:30: Wake up to waves crashing and birds chirping (well, there were some crazy crows so perhaps crowing). Have a coffee and sit on Elise’s porch and giggle.

Our beachfront yoga space

Our beachfront yoga space

Pardeshi, yoga god

Pardeshi, yoga god

8 a.m: Ashtanga yoga with Pardeshi. Pardeshi is a tiny magical Indian man who I feel morphed down from his place in nirvana to assist us in finding ourselves for approximately six nights and seven days.

2015-04-03 09.36.10

Finally mastered my headstand

2015-04-03 18.39.14

There was a lot of Ohming, as you may imagine

 

The classes started with pranayama breathing, which I immediately balked at, figuring it was a waste of time, and later learned to love. After about 30 minutes of that, we would typically do about 1.5-2 hours of yoga, which included all the traditional poses.

10-1030 am: Fresh fruit and tea on the beach swing

The amazing swing

The amazing swing

We weren't the only ones favoring the swing!

We weren’t the only ones favoring the swing!

 

Cool little floor stools and table for lunch

Cool little floor stools and table for lunch

Incredible vegetarian food

Incredible vegetarian food

11:15 am: Brunch. I’ve already discussed the amazing vegetarian food, and for brunch, we eat on the floor in the yoga studio using these cool little stool table combinations.

12:00: Beach time. All day long, sitting on our private cove reading, napping, chatting, collecting shells, laughing with the girls.

IMG_5676 IMG_5736 IMG_5716

 

4:00: Retreat to room to hang out and relax, nap, chill

Rach having an Ohm moment

Rach having an Ohm moment

5:30: either meditation on the rocks or a yoga class with the lovely Nadia, an Italian yogi who was staying for awhile at the retreat. I learned a lot from Nadia, and plus, I always love Italians, so it was a win-win.

7:30: Dinner at the long table. It was so dark, I usually couldn’t even see what was on my plate, but I happily ate it with no qualms.

Porch chat!

Porch chat!

8:30: Porch chat. We’d hang out on our porch and chat, talk, laugh and just enjoy each other’s company. Since Elise has been so busy this year doing a master and working full-time and Rachel lives in a far-off land called Brooklyn, I never see these girls and it was wonderful to just enjoy some girl time.

Nighty night!

Nighty night!

10:00 pm: Bedtime! Fall asleep to the sound of crashing waves.

Our journey to a nearby beach

Our journey to a nearby beach

The only deviations we made from our plan were to visit a nearby beach (we were at Little Cola beach and we walked over to Cola Beach) which was similar to our but bigger.

We also took an afternoon to hit up the nearby village of Agonda, in order to shop and see a little bit more of our surroundings. The town was quaint and reminded me of the typical markets you will find in Asia where they sell clothes and other gifty items. I bought some tea, and then we stumbled into a store called the Himalayan where we all got our chakras read, which was entertaining, and Elise bought a meditation gong.

Such cute kids in the village.

Such cute kids in the village.

Elise getting her chakras read.

Elise getting her chakras read.

Getting my chakras read.

Getting my chakras read.

Oh hey.

Oh hey.

A beautiful family in the village. These kids shared their chips with us!

A beautiful family in the village. These kids shared their chips with us!

A shop where I bought some tea

A shop where I bought some tea

 

This will hang in my office for inspiration

This will hang in my office for inspiration

I bought a wall hanging for my office, some soap and a few other small presents. Rachel got some scarves and clothing, and we were quite bemused at the site sight of motorbikes sharing the road with cattle. By this point, we were borderline having heat stroke and headed down to the beach to cool off.

A Hindu God

A Hindu God

Coconut offerings at the temple

Coconut offerings at the temple

On the way home we stopped at a cool temple in the jungle and took some photos, and I was especially interested in the coconut offerings left outside the temple.

Shoba, one of the amazing staff members at Little Cove

Shoba, one of the amazing staff members at Little Cove

When it was time to leave Little Cove, I was almost in tears. Such a memorable experience, one of true beauty. I felt rejuvenated and ready to again take on the daily demands of life. I can’t wait to return to this little slice of heaven again soon!

The rocks on our last day

The rocks on our last day

 

bloglovin

MBFW Madrid: Teresa Helbig

bloglovin

I always adore Teresa Helbig’s designs because they are youthful and wearable. Simple, fun, creative dresses that are trendy but also easy to wear for any occasion. This collection, althought it was for autumn actually seemed a bit summery. As she often does short dresses, and loves to use light colors, most of her styles seem like they are for a spring season as opposed to an autum, but I love them all the same.

This season she “winterized” things by using a lot of leather in my favorite color, army green. This army green leather, combined with pastel pink chiffon, was the perfect juxtaposition. I would absolutely LOVE to wear anything that Teresa puts on on the runway. Some of my favorites were the army green leather looks paired with black sequins as well as a vibrant yellow color that I think would just look incredible on most woman if you have a little sun. All in all, I loved this collection, as I typically always do with Helbig, and I hope to own a few pieces of it!

TH1 th2 th3 th4 th5 th6 th7 th8 th9 th10 thh1

bloglovin