Mandalay, (Myanmar)

“Yadanabon: City of Gems”, “Famed Royal Emerald Palace”, “Former capital of Myanmar”

Mandalay, Myanmar, April 2016

Our third and last destination while in Myanmar, continuing farther to the north on this rather large country even if you did not realize; and after a very short 30 minutes flight we arrived in Mandalay. The second largest city in the country and one of the most historical and important, packed with temples everywhere and with three former Imperial Capitals on the outskirts. And yet even that we knew our time was meant to be very limited altogether, we managed to definitely be able to say we’ve really been there and visited almost everything!. Rushing at times, but well worth invested time. This was also our last place while in Myanmar before departing back to Bangkok; and for sure it is out of question we can clearly say how much we loved this country!

On a similar way Beijing in China with its Forbidden City, here in Mandalay there is also a huge Royal Palace in the middle of the city, completely surrounded by kilometres of walls and a water canal through its entire perimeter. This is the sight number one, but not the only one. We did not expect so many historical places in the city to be honest. Temple after temple, from large to an even larger! Thankfully most of them located towards the northeastern quarter of the city. Our trip could have not ended any better, but on this occasion, I must confess I was truly unhappy for having to return back to London after such a great time. Gladly I would have stayed for weeks discovering this fascinating country.

Now we also know there is an extra reason why to return to Southeast Asia. Not only that we are already so much in Love with Thailand, Laos and Cambodia ever since the first step we did in those; now, we have also to add Myanmar onto this list. I only hope this beautiful country, its people, culture and everything does not change too much since their long awaited opening to the world. It will be “too sad” to see in the near future McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and the likes of the Western World which you can find on every corner on at the neighboring countries, especially Thailand. (more…)

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Bagan and Mount Popa, (Myanmar)

“Arimaddana-pura: City that Tramples on Enemies”, “Tampadipa: Bronzed Country”

Bagan, Myanmar, March 2016

Reaching the highlight of this journey, Bagan. The most memorable place and world renown image of Myanmar to the outside world; and for us, the reason number 1 on why to come to visit this fascinating country. The immense place will leave you speechless with the more than 2200 temples scattered in the plateau. And now imagine how its heyday might have looked like with over 10000 temples during the 9th and 13th centuries when the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan. It is by all means the place with the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, stupas, pagodas and monuments in the world.

From the 13th century and until the 15th when the city declined no longer being the capital. And only the most important and famous temples were kept up to date, refurbished and upgraded through the centuries, meaning that many other thousands fell into disrepair and lost. Nowadays only thousands of piles of rocks are their solely remnant of their location. Earthquakes have done their part too, damaging and destroying many structures. Fortunately many hundreds have been questionably restored. And I use the word “questionably” because their restoration did not follow the original design nor features and fittings, hence why the entire place has not made it yet to be inscribed as a World Heritage Site. UNESCO claims that the restoration vaguely follows the original, and for now it remains on the Tentative List.

Bagan, apart from the archaeological site, has nothing else to see or do. And unless you have some plans to get farther to the many great sites nearby, then do not plan any longer than 2 days. Yes it is true the site is vast and you could be spending more days to visit, in the other hand and after visiting the most important temples, the rest are all pretty much the same. New Bagan, located to the north of Old Bagan is just a simple a modern small city where majority of hotels and facilities for tourists are, and residence to the local people. Old Bagan is a deserted place on the early morning and late evening hours. (more…)

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Yangon, (Myanmar)

“Dagon”, “Yan (enemies) Koun (run out of)”, “Rangoon”, “End of Strife”

Yangon, Myanmar, March 2016

Accomplishing a long time dream we finally managed to come to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma which is still a widely used name; right before the country transforms itself and loses character and uniqueness since the lifting of majority of the sanctions imposed by the Western World and overall opening to the world after many years of strict closeness for its long lasting military rule. Unfortunately from now on it is matter of time until the first Western establishments start to pop all over the country, as the likes of McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut and so on.

Myanmar is a big country within Southeast Asia when compared to the other countries neighboring countries. It is quite long too, and it is packed with history on every corner. Even though the country suffered from a long war, with the British colonizing it in three different stages; then again suffering WWII, not much was lost architectonically speaking through the country, although Yangon was the most affected. However, it is the city with the largest amount of colonial structures in the country. The British, upon colonization, developed and grew the key cities following an orthogonal grid pattern urbanism, with parks and lakes, and transformed Yangon into the commercial and political hub of the British Burma, it’s capital. While no longer the capital of the country, it is still the largest and most important in the country.

There’s a lot to do and visit in Yangon. We planned 3 days, which unfortunately changed to just 2 since our outbound flight was cancelled and lost an entire day trying to get there. We managed in any case to see the majority of the city and really enjoyed our first contact with Myanmar, before continuing the rest of the planned tour in the country. (more…)

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Bali, (Indonesia)

“Island of Gods”, “Island of thousand temples”

Bali, Indonesia, October 2015

The last part of this Indonesian trip, yet the one taking half of the entire time we had with one full week. No surprise why this much, after such an incredible busy past days non stop, we wanted also to relax and enjoy doing nothing but lying in the beach and by the hotel’s pool. Still, with so much to see and do in the island, even a week is not enough and you will need to prioritise and plan ahead what you really want to see. The best way in doing so? Having a driver to take you around and explaining you a bit on the places. This is not really a high cost but surely is something you will not regret but be thankful instead.

Bali ranks among the lists of number one destinations of places to visit on “to do before you die” and on every travel magazine. It’s a major tourist destination that keeps gaining strength with more and more people coming here every year. Such fact is not fortuitous, but has to do with the incredible culture legacy and facilities offered. Literally there are over a thousand temples in such a “little space” that the island is, and to this, the spectacular rice terraces and nature, mountains and volcanoes, and the hundreds of kilometres of beaches aligned with great resorts and hotels. An ever growing thriving nightlife, and day life too!, and countless activities for everyone. No, you will not definitely be bored at any time and wished for the days to have more hours!

As for the cities, pretty much everything is located on the southern tip of the island, with its capital Denpasar, and the resorts of Kuta and Nusa Dua. Also the airport is located on the narrow strip that divides Denpasar from Kuta. Half of the entire island’s population lives just in this small area in the south, that’s over 2 million people. (more…)

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Mount Ijen National Park, (Indonesia)

“The blue lava volcano”

Mount Ijen, Indonesia, October 2015

The most unexpected trip we could ever have imagined we would be doing. And all it happened while having a chat with out driver we got to show us everywhere in Bali island, where the subject of blue lava came as a thread. I must be honest in saying I’ve never ever heard about this to be real or that any place in the world would exist with this but hey! The surprise kept us on a high knowing we were in fact not that far from one of the only 2 places in the world with blue lava! Yet things get even more thrilling after learning Mount Ijen is in fact, the only accessible of them 2. Merely for information, the other such volcano is in Iceland and it is inaccessible.

Giving up the splendid beach and pool at the resort we stayed in Bali was hard and kept us thinking if we should go ahead in doing this trip or not. Once I keep telling you then you will know why. This was not just getting there at any time and that’s all, but instead it required travelling in the night, and spend the entire night awake, hiking at terribly unsocial odd hours in the middle of the pitch black night. Then after sunrise, thinking on the same way back with a much longer driving time due to the heavier traffic. It took almost 24 hours since we were picked at the hotel and until we were dropped off.

Now if you ask me if the terrible tiredness, and extreme danger we were constantly when hiking up and down to the caldera of the volcano, I can tell you YES! Do it. Never think twice or you will regret not doing this. It is something so unique you might never have another chance in your lifetime, unless you travel back here on purpose. (more…)

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Bromo Tengger Semeru, (Indonesia)

“The most active volcano in Indonesia”

Mount Bromo, Indonesia, October 2015

Here we are on the last stop while in Java before leaving to the island of Bali, visiting this spectacular national park. Never before we’ve come across a place where to see such impressive volcanoes and so many on a birds eye view, with 2 of them active. Not even in Central America we’ve seen it this way, only coming close Guatemala with Lake Atitlan with the view of 3 at once. The most active in the whole of Indonesia, Mount Semeru, meaning Great Mountain, is like a Swiss clock and every 20 minutes or so it releases a cloud of steam and smoke. Mount Bromo, in the other hand, is constantly releasing a white cloud of smoke. Just for the fact of having such incredible view in front of you is quite unique hence why such a great tourist attraction not only in the region but the entire country with so many national and foreign tourists coming to admire.

Basically, take any Indonesia travel brochure and you will see a picture of this place. Another of the must do in the “list of places to visit before you die”. No wonder why. It really paid off all the hassle we experienced to get here to the point I would not mind in doing it all again to see it one more time.

Unfortunately getting here from Surabaya is not an easy nor fast task. If you decide to go on the cheap, then your only option is by bus and will set you up to at least 4 hours per way. In the other hand, the best you can do is to rent a car with a driver. This is what we did and worked perfectly! Not only that saved us plenty of time, we also arrived in great comfort and secured, while the driver waited for us as much time as we needed there. Please ask me if you need the contact of the driver who took us there or drop me a comment in this post and will provide the details to you; he is more than happy to have as many recommendations as possible since after all, this is his job.
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Surabaya, (Indonesia)

“Suro: Shark, and Boyo: Crocodile”, “Capital of East Java”

Surabaya, Indonesia, October 2015

Continuing our tour across Indonesia we arrive to the second largest city in the country. Not only because of the many hundreds of gorgeous Dutch colonial buildings scattered everywhere through the city, but also because it was the perfect base and gateway to reach the incredible Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, where the most active volcanoes of Indonesia are, while the area is worldwide known for its incredible beautiful landscapes. This was for us, no need to mention, the actual main purpose for this stopover in Surabaya.

Having always been a powerful city, and even becoming during the Dutch period the largest and most important city in the colony, it survived pretty much intact until the Japanese occupation in 1944 during World War II, when it was heavily bombed and as such, losing most of its character, charm and historic buildings legacy from the ex-colonial times. The revolution of 1945 also did not help much and claimed the loss of thousands of lives in the city. This date, 30th of October is a big celebration in the city named Hari Pahlawan, meaning Heroes’ Day.

Nevertheless and as we personally experienced, there are plenty places to see and things to do to keep you busy and enjoy a full day. This was our original plan, sparing the first day for visiting the city and the second for the excursion to the national park. This worked perfectly but unfortunately a bit rushy through the city as distances are very big between sights. Remember to have in consideration that by 18.00pm is already dark! This means the day will be even shorter. (more…)

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Borobudur, (Indonesia)

“The largest Buddhist monument in the world”

Borobudur, Indonesia, October 2015

On the following day after our very packed cultural sightseeing day we had at Prambanan archaeological park and nearby temples, the next obliged visit was to Borobudur temple, a little bit more far from Yogyakarta than the previous one at some 40 kilometres northwest from the city, around 1 hour away. This is the most visited monument in the entire country and also the finest, without any doubt one of the key reasons why to visit Indonesia. No wonder it is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

Once again, as it was the case for the Prambanan complex and surroundings, a day is well more than enough to visit the entire place and the nearby minor temples. In fact, half a day is all you will really need in this case giving you plenty of time to enjoy the site at slow pace. It was such our case that on this same day we flew to Surabaya later in the late afternoon. In the other hand, of course, there are way too many more temples scattered nearby and all around Yogyakarta that could easily keep you busy for some days should you be looking to visit them, or at least the most important ones.

Borobudur in any case will impress you from the beginning and the many hundreds of pictures you can take in such short time from every angle is priceless. The most spectacular one is when heading towards the exit when you will get to see the entire temple from far on two of its sides and all of its height and levels. Expect nevertheless thousands of tourists everywhere, unlike much quieter Prambanan.

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