Tag Archives: travel

The Beginning: Kuala Lumpur

After two overnight flights, we arrived in KL pretty delirious, but happy to be there. We grabbed the KLIA Express train after clearing customs and picking up our bags which took us to KL Sentral, the main train station. Our hotel, the Aloft KL Sentral, was actually accessible through walkways within this giant station/shopping mall, which was really convenient, especially after two nights sans sleep.

Rooftop pool at the Aloft KL Sentral.

Rooftop pool at the Aloft KL Sentral.

I typically pick a “nicer” hotel to stay in at the beginning of these trips after the big trip over, thinking that after long flights I would be happy to rest and recover in a comfortable spot. Each time I do this, I am reminded of how awesome I am and what a great idea that was, and this time was no exception. The staff at the Aloft was totally awesome and allowed us to head up to a 6th floor room to nap (we arrived around 12:30 pm). Later, upon waking up, they’d move us to a nicer, upgraded, upper floor room (which was being cleaned so we couldn’t go in at first). I was overjoyed to hear that one, we had a place to nap and two, we’d be upgraded! So we crashed hard for about four hours and then headed up to our new and sassier room on the 28th floor, which did indeed have better views. This is one of the many times during our three day stay in KL that I would be so happy to have picked the Aloft, I honestly can’t say enough nice things about it!

We spent several different afternoons lounging at the rooftop pool, just two floors above our room. This was the second time I would be thrilled to be staying here, because WOW. The rooftop infinity pool was simply amazing, with panoramic city views, sexy lounge music and just an all-around Lori-approved vibe. Upon entering on the first day, we realized it was about to storm, and so we enjoyed taking some photos and then headed back down to the room where I promptly fell asleep again. Finally, an hour later the rain had stopped and I had come back to life and we headed to the night market in Chinatown.

The Chinatown night market.

The Chinatown night market.

This is a good point to stop and explain a little bit about KL in general. As far as cities in Asia go, this may be my least favorite, as it seems extremely disjointed. There’s several “sections” of the city that are cool, like KL Sentral/Little India (where we stayed), Chinatown, Bukit Bintang (near where the Petrona Towers are) and more, but in between it’s very odd, with just highways or industrial streets. It actually feels like several small cities sort of close to each other instead of one big city. This made it annoying to get places, even though they do have a monorail transport system and we did walk and use Uber as well. It’s also worth noting the city is not super pedestrian friendly, which is something that is important to me in a large city. It was annoying to get around, there was just so much traffic, and I really didn’t like it.

So back to Chinatown. As far as night markets go, I’ve been to many in Asia, especially in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos and this just didn’t seem to have much of an ambiance. It was fine, though, we walked around, got some Chinese food (KL is also a big mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay) which wasn’t great and went home to crash. After sleeping 11 hours, we decided we needed to enjoy the insane pool for a bit, so we headed up to spend most of the day there, which was so wonderful.

View from the KL Tower.

View from the KL Tower.

That evening, we headed over via Uber to the KL Tower to visit the observation deck and see the city, Petrona Towers included, from up above.

Petrona Towers at night.

Petrona Towers at night.

Then we walked over to the KL Towers and strolled through the active Bukit Bintang area where we searched for this restaurant I wanted to try, and never found it. We ended up getting Lebanese food which was awesome, but I was seriously jonesin for some Malay food at this point, but we couldn’t seem to find the right spot.

The Batu caves.

The Batu caves.

The next morning, we got up early to head out of the city and see the Batu Caves. The journey was super easy on the KL Komuter Trains, and we were able to get there with no problems, as it’s just about 25 minutes outside the city. Although it was super hot, these Hindu caves and temples dedicated to Indian God Lord Murugan dating back to 1890 were worth it. They were colorful and huge and quite unique, thanks to their many stairs and excess of annoying monkeys running around stealing peoples food.

A monkey eating a stolen ice cream cone.

A monkey eating a stolen ice cream cone.

One of the temples had  about 300 stairs to climb to get to the top, which of course we had to climb. In the heat and humidity of the day this felt like an extreme sport of course, especially as I was wearing pants and sleeves (temple gear, gotta stay covered) and we were sufficiently sweating and tuckered out by the end.

Inside the caves.

Inside the caves.

However, for me this was one of the highlights of KL, and to be honest, one of the most unique temples I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of temples, but really). As I mentioned, KL has a bit of an awkward vibe, and so this cool cultural attraction really was a highlight for me in the midst of a bustling city that can’t seem to find it’s own personality.

The menu, entirely in...some language I don't understand.

The menu, entirely in…some language I don’t understand.

Once we arrived back in town, of course we hit the pool and then finally found a more local spot for dinner, but not before taking Jorge to Little India to get his head shaved at the barbershop for $2. After a nice haircut, we found a cheap street vendor to make us some Nasi Goreng (fried rice) and roti (a type of buttery nan bread) which was fantastic. The guy spoke no English, so I ended up ordering the above somehow, plus some kind of green vegetable (perhaps morning glory, a common vegetable eaten in Southeast Asia) with chicken which was covered in ginger and delicious. The whole meal cost about $3, so I was thrilled. After spending a lot more on other shittier meals and feeling like I was getting cheated for half the trip, a good $3 meal helped to put me in the grandest of moods.

The next morning, we were headed out to Lombok and then onto the fabulous Gili Islands, which will be detailed out in my next post.

Basically, compared to other large cities in Southeast Asia, KL is my least favorite. I think I’ll stick to Bangkok from now on for my jumping off point. That being said, if you want to explore Malaysia or Indonesia, it is easily accessible and close to everything, so it can be a good place to start. However, for future trips, I doubt I will be back unless I get some kind of insane flight deal.

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A Dreamy Week in Laos

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!

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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! 

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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!

The Ancient Temples Of Bagan, Myanmar

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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

A Hidden Gem: Mandalay

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!”

A Chilled Out Bangkok

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.

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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!

Run BKK

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!

Natural Wonders: Halong Bay

I heard so many horror stories about terrible cruises through Halong Bay, so I was really nervous to embark on our two night, three day cruise.

We’d read tons of Tripadvisor reviews and splurged a bit on a more expensive cruise to avoid all the awful stories we’d heard, like overcrowded boats, dirty and insect filled cabins, unsanitary food and even boats sinking and accidents. Some of the cruises costs as cheap as $24 per night per person, and we realized that that was just a disaster waiting to happen—no thank you!

Embarking on the Paradise Luxury

Embarking on the Paradise Luxury

In the end, we went with Paradise Luxury Cruises, which weren’t the most expensive, but were on the higher end of the cruises. We spend about $400 each, and that included pickup and drop off in Hanoi via van (the drive is almost 4 hours each way), two nights and three days on a “luxury” boat in a deluxe cabin with balcony, excursions, a visa approval letter (this took the visa cost down from 85 dollars a person to 45 dollars, so worth it) and all meals provided.

The shuttle promptly picked us up at 7:30 to start the (harrowing) drive to Halong. People in Vietnam drive like complete nutcases, so I simply closed my eyes and prayed for the best. 4 hours and several bumps, horn honks and driving on the wrong side of the road later, we arrived (safely) to the Halong Bay docks and boarded our boat.

Our cabin, cosy and bright!

Our cabin, cosy and bright!

 

Our balcony...a splurge I am glad we made!

Our balcony…a splurge I am glad we made!

 

We were escorted to our cabin, which was lovely. It was small but clean and modern, and the balcony was great. The bathroom was much larger than I had expected, and I was pleased with our accommodation. They even tossed ross petals over as we boarded haha—cheesy but fun. The rest of the boat was also nice. There was a big dining room to fit everyone in for meals (maybe 25 people or so max) and a rooftop deck area with lounge chairs.

Fruit for dessert, anyone?

Fruit for dessert, anyone?

The cruise took off and we started with a buffet lunch. The food was amazing on the cruise, a great mix of Western and Vietnamese dishes. It was definitely luxury, with dishes like sea bass, steak and a variety of tasty Asian food as well.

Some pretty amazing views

Some pretty amazing views

The scenery started to amp up and Jorge and I were in awe. Really, it’s difficult to describe the peaceful, beautiful cliffs jutting out from the green water, and photos don’t do it justice. Pure zen is the best way I can describe it, just so peaceful and calm.

We enjoyed the scenery for awhile until the first excursion started. We docked the boat and walked up and down several steps to see a natural cave. It was cool and reminded me of the Neptune Grotto we had seen just last summer in Sardinia. However, it was packed with pushy, obnoxious tourists shoving everyone (dude, relax, you will see the damn cave!) which rather irritated me, but I tried to enjoy myself despite the annoyance.

The inside of the cave (sharing it of course with a zillion pushy tourists)

The inside of the cave (sharing it of course with a zillion pushy tourists)

Standing outside the cave

Standing outside the cave

 

After that, we boarded the boat again and had the opportunity to kayak around a few of the islands. It was the first time I had been kayaking in years and it was pretty amazing. Then we headed to a rather touristy beach on one of the islands.

Both excursions were fun, but extremely crowded and touristy. However, I knew we’d be getting a little further into the cliffs and away from the tourists on day 2, so I didn’t really care too much.

The crowded touristy beach

The crowded touristy beach

Our first kayaking adventure

Our first kayaking adventure

Following this, we headed back to the boat for happy hour, where we indulged in some overpriced but well deserved glasses of wine. We watched and participated in a cooking demonstration, where we learned how to roll spring rolls in rice paper. Jorge competed against a 6 year old girl to make the best looking roll. I am sure I don’t need to tell you who won, for those of you who don’t know, Jorge is skilled at many things, but cooking is not one of them!

It's very important to drink wine after kayaking to refuel

It’s very important to drink wine after kayaking to refuel

Even six year old girls can make better spring rolls than my life partner, Jorge

Even six year old girls can make better spring rolls than my life partner, Jorge

I look rather nice in a chef's hat don't I?

I look rather nice in a chef’s hat don’t I?

Eating the spring rolls was fun, and then we headed down for a delicious seafood dinner filled with clams, mussels, lobster, crab, squid and more underwater delicacies. We were then presented with our cooking class “certificates” in which they had artfully destroyed both of our names, which you can see below. Where they got Jan Vanderbosenback (or something like that!) from Jorge Ortega Villanueva, I have no idea! But it was pretty funny.

YUM

YUM

I think they might have misspelled our names.

I think they might have misspelled our names.

My new boyfriend, Jan!

My new boyfriend, Jan!

 

We were exhausted by this point and headed to bed. Breakfast was served at 8 am the next day, followed by several excursions and we wanted to be fresh (needless to say, we did not wake up for the 630 am Thai Chi class!)

Pretty breakfast!

Pretty breakfast!

 

Day 2 started off with a fulfilling breakfast (I wish I had an omelette station in my house!) followed by a rowboat trip to a trip to a traditional floating village, where 200 people actually live on floating houses on the river. It was extremely interesting but also a bit of a shock seeing how they live. Jorge immediately integrated himself by playing hacky sack with the locals, and I roamed around checking out the one room school house. I took a photo of two little local kids and then showed it to them, and they were fascinated to be able to see themselves on the camera screen.

Sorry, but we had to be dumb tourists and wear the hats!

Sorry, but we had to be dumb tourists and wear the hats!

The floating houses

The floating houses

Ready to row to the fishing village

Ready to row to the fishing village

 

Local boys in the fishing village

Local boys in the fishing village

The one room school

The one room school

Jorge and his new buddies

Jorge and his new buddies

 

 

We headed back to the boat and spent a short while checking out an oyster pearl farm. We saw how they grow pearls and extract them, which was really cool. Then of course there was an opportunity to buy pearls, but I wasn’t super interested in that…pearls aren’t really my thing, but it was nice to see.

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Then we cruised for another hour and the scenery just got better and better. We ate a nice lunch on the boat, again, excellent food. The sun came out (hoorary!) we anchored and were given the opportunity to kayak to small secluded beaches. This was by far the best part of the trip.

Kayaks ready to go!

Kayaks ready to go!

Breathtaking (at least the scenery!)

Breathtaking (at least the scenery!)

Jorge and our kayak

Jorge and our kayak

Sorry...we had to do a jumping pic!

Sorry…we had to do a jumping pic!

The beaches were absolutely stunning and there was no one else there! Jorge and I explored a couple of the beaches and kayaked around. A couple hours later, we returned to the boat, and enjoying the sun and scenery with some iced coffee.

It looks heavy... (it wasn't)

It looks heavy… (it wasn’t)

I never wanted to leave our secluded spot!

I never wanted to leave our secluded spot!

View from our little beach

View from our little beach

Jorge having a swim

Jorge having a swim

 

Little did I know my peaceful zen would soon be disturbed due to poor organization by the Paradise staff

Little did I know my peaceful zen would soon be disturbed due to poor organization by the Paradise staff

Everything was going just splendidly until the dock boy handed me a 80’s nokia phone and said “for you”. I said hello and it was our cruise ship manager, telling me she had to switch us to a different boat (a little context, for the excursion we had boarded a day boat from about 9-5 that was smaller in order to be able to get to the sites faster. The four main cruise ships, Luxury 1, 2,3 and 4 all had people on them, most of who headed home on our Day 2 as they had only booked a one night cruise. Anyone who was leftover on the four boats came to the Day 2 excursions on the day boat with us—maybe 20 people max from all the boats. We were originally on Boat 4, and the cruise manager wanted to move us to boat 1). I said it seemed a little weird, but I didn’t want to make a big fuss, and said that when we re-boarded the main boat after the excursions, we would pack our things and move. This is where things got fishy. She said she would call me back.

The next call came and she told me that no problem “We’ve already packed all your things and moved them”. This is where I got pissed. I explained it was completely inappropriate for them to have entered our cabin, packed our things (including moving the entire safe with all our “valuables”) and moved them WITHOUT ASKING US FIRST. We docked to the new boat where I again chatted with the new manager, where I pleasantly explained to him how this was ridiculous. We checked all our things, and luckily nothing had been stolen, but still! Picking our underwear off the floor and shoving in into our suitcase without our permission is just NOT OKAY.

The new manager Jimmy, sympathized with us and had already placed a bottle of wine in our room (how did he know wine fixes everything?!) and also offered us both 30 minute complimentary massages in the spa onboard. I figured, nothing was missing, they obviously knew it wasn’t okay to have done that, and they tried to fix it, so I graciously accepted the massages, uncorked the wine and let it go. I didn’t want to ruin what had really been a beautiful day enjoying the bay.

 

Wine fixes pretty much anything

Wine fixes pretty much anything

Jorge agrees that wine fixes everything

Jorge agrees that wine fixes everything

A cloudy but picturesque sunset on Halong, made better with wine

A cloudy but picturesque sunset on Halong, made better with wine

 

Jorge and I relaxed on the balcony sipping the wine and enjoyed the perfect views. Finally, a chance to just chill out. It was perfect! We headed up top to see a clouded sunset, and then enjoyed another great dinner. Jorge then tried his hand at squid fishing unsuccessfully when we realized how much cooler fishing SOUNDS and in reality, it is boring as hell. So we went to enjoy our massages and hit the sack.

The next morning was an early one, and we enjoyed a rowboat ride (a rainy one!) to see a cave and some monkeys that live inside—they were so cute! Then it was another breakfast and check out and head back to the shore. After paying a ridiculous amount of money for the few glasses of wine and a bottle of sparking water we consumed at dinner the first night, we checked out and waited for our shuttle bus to take us back to Hanoi.

Us on a rainy rowboat...spot the monkey behind us?!

Us on a rainy rowboat…spot the monkey behind us?!

OMG ITS A MONKEY

OMG ITS A MONKEY

 

Despite the mix up with moving boats, I loved the cruise and Halong Bay is a fascinating wonder of nature that I can’t believe I was lucky enough to see in this lifetime. I think EVERYONE should do this at some point, just may sure to do it when you can splurge a bit, because I saw some of the other boats and some were ghetto. If you do choose Paradise, it is definitely a great time, I would just make sure things are clear and organized when you arrive to avoid any confusion or boat changes.

Halong Bay, I will miss you and your beauty, but it’s onto our next adventure, meeting our favorites Marisa and Eric at the beach in Thailand! Koh Samui, here we come!