Myanmar (Burma) adventures

Myanmar (Burma) adventures

My first real exposure to Burma was from watching the Anthony Bourdain’s show of Parts Unknown. It was the first episode of a long TV series and watching it immediately excited my travel senses and curiosity about the country. I had to get a first hand experience of the country.

If you want to get a better understanding of Burma and it’s disturbing times under British Colonial rule you must read George Orwell’s Burmese days. You will understand the worst bigotry and corruption that Burma faced under the British rule.

The country was under the military rule for almost 50 years since getting independence from British rule and after a brief experiment with democracy. Much of the country’s population is still under poverty. The nominal GDP of the country is 74 Billion which is about the size of Delaware. Population is close to 53 million per 2014 census with a population density of 76/sq km compared to a more populated country like India with 390/sq km.

After spending two weeks in Burma (Jan 10 – 26) I would say this is my favorite place in south east Asia. Burmese people are the friendliest people you will ever come across in your travels. They genuinely try to help you (as supposed to Egypt) and always have a smile on their face. The country side of Burma is gorgeous with rice paddies, pagodas, nature and happy people. Some cities are dusty but that is because the country is still not developed.

I recommend you visit Burma before it gets the full democracy and the inevitable Capitalism that will follow and turn the country into a touristy mecca like Thailand.

How do you plan your travels in Burma?

Looking back I feel that I should have taken the land path from Thailand to Burma instead of flying directly to Yangon. This would have been a much better journey than going by plane.

I would recommend crossing the Thailand/Burmese border via Mae Sot (on Thai border) and Myawaddy (on Burma border). You need to take a 5 hour bus from Chiang Mai to Mae Sot and then crossed the border and get another bus to Yangon (largest city and former capital) in Burma. Instead of going straight to Yangon I would go to Hpa-an (pronounced Paa-han) first to see the pagodas and golden rock. Then take a slow boat from Hpa-an to Mawlamyine. This boat ride is great as you can see many interesting things along the way – fishermen, little transport boats, pagodas and villages along the way. Once you are in Mawlamyine you must go to the biggest pagoda, Kyaikthanlan Pagoda in the town which is not too far from the town’s center.

Myanmar Travel Plan

Yangon

IMG_1850

IMG_1846

IMG_1852

Bagan

IMG_1925

IMG_1921

IMG_1895

IMG_1893

IMG_2042

IMG_2062

IMG_2078

IMG_2100

Mandalay

IMG_2376


IMG_2281

Inle Lake

IMG_2533

IMG_2579

IMG_2514

IMG_2562

Finally watch the video I put together.

Why train travel in Burma is fun and adenturous?

Why train travel in Burma is fun and adenturous?

Taking the train in Myanmar is a must do fun activity for all ages. It feels like you are riding on a roller coaster the whole time when you are in the train. Traveling in “Upper class” is preferable as you can sit on leather seats as supposed to wooden seats.

On your way you notice the following – farmers with their conical hats tilling the farm, cows grazing the field, pagodas on the top of the hills and little children waving their hands.

Warning: Don’t eat much before your travel!

Watch the video!

How to renew U.S passport outside the States

How to renew U.S passport outside the States

If you are one of those backpackers from United States and have been traveling for a while you might be in this situation. You suddenly realize that you don’t have any free pages in your passport. Well first give yourself a pat on the back for getting all the pages stamped. Second read the steps below to see how you can renew your most important travel document so your global travel is not interrupted and you can continue to cross off those countries in your bucket list.

US Passport

US Passport

1. Make an appointment

You must make an appointment first with a local embassy office near you. Once you make an appointment online you will receive a confirmation email regarding the time and location. Make sure to print this letter and bring it with with you to your appointment at the embassy.

U.S embassy passport renewal appointment

U.S embassy passport renewal appointment confirmation

2. Prepare your documents

The list is basic

Bring your original passport

  • Two passport size photographs that fits this photo spec
  • Completed and printed DS-82 form
  • Printed appointment letter and first page of passport
  • Passport renewal fee ($110) and you can pay in local currency (Malaysian Ringgit for example)

3. Show up in the consulate office

Try to get there 15-20 minutes before your appointment as you need to go through security clearance and getting a ticket etc. Once you drop off your application with the first officer it will take 30 minutes for them to review and then once approved you will be asked to pay at the cashier window. There is another wait for 30-45 minutes before they give you back your passport with a receipt. The embassy will send you an email when your new passport is printed and ready to be picked up. Typically it takes 10 business days for you to receive the passport. I checked the status of the passport online by going to the this website .

Please note this article was written on Jan 6, 2016. Make sure to double check on U.S Embassy website to get the most recent information on the renewal process.

Keep scratching the map!

Scatch world map

Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi, Malaysia

If you visit Malaysia you must make a trip to the north of Malaysia to the island of Langkawi. If you are in Pinang you can take a direct ferry from Pinang (costs 70 Ringgit for a 3 hour ride) to Langkawi Island. The ferry arrives at Kuah (eastern part of the Island). I traveled there with my German friend Janine. We heard that the New years eve celebration mostly happen along the beach in Pantai Cenang which is on the western end of the island so we booked a guest house closer to that area.

Map of Langkawi Island, Malaysia

Map of Langkawi Island, Malaysia

When we arrived in Langkawi Island our host came to pick us up at the jetty terminal and drove us to the guest house. Langkawi is an idyllic tropical paradise located on the shores of Andaman sea. It was recognized as the first UNESCO national geo park in South East Asia in 2007. As we drove through the island from Kuah to Pantai Cenang we witnessed some beautiful rice paddies, banana plantations, rolling hills and small fishing villages along the way which makes for a beautiful scenic ride.

Rice Paddies in Langkawi

Rice Paddies in Langkawi

The guest house where we stayed is situated on the quieter part of the island. But we rented a scooter to get around the island (costs 30 ringgit per day). I highly recommend staying at this guest house if you do visit Langkawi.

Seaside guesthouse near Pantai Kok, Langkawi island

Seaside guesthouse near Pantai Kok, Langkawi island

Boats docked in Langkawi island

Boats docked in Langkawi island

We found some nice restaurants near our guest house. There was this one nice seafood restaurant right across from our guesthouse where you can sit outside on the beach and enjoy the scrumptious sea food. They have the freshest fish I have had in a long time. Plenty of shrimps, squids, calamari, mussels and lobster. It is served with rice and some spicy sauce. Wash it down with a glass of freshly squeezed lime or orange juice. It costs 40 ringgit for 2 people. Damn cheap for such delicious food!

Fresh Seafood in Langkawi

Fresh Seafood in Langkawi

Next day we went to Pantai Cenang to check out the beach. After negotiated a price of 150 Ringgit for a 30 minute jet ski ride we both got on the jet ski around the sunset time. When we were jet skiing we got stuck in the middle of the ocean as our jet ski stopped working for some reason. While we were a little distressed about this situation and trying to get help from someone we also saw the most beautiful sunset without any obstructions in front of us. Finally the guy from the jetty place came to help us with the ski.

Jetski in Langkawi

Jetski in Langkawi

Sunset over Langkawi island

Sunset over Langkawi island

Sunset over Langkawi, Malaysia

Sunset over Langkawi, Malaysia

We made a day trip to the Sky bridge which is a 15 minute bike ride from our guest house. The line was long when we arrived so we decided to go there in the evening when it is not so crowded and also we can see the sunset.

Measuring at 125m in length, the Sky bridge ranks among the world’s longest curve suspension bridge. The entire bridge, in all its elements had to be lifted to the top of the mountain by helicopter and was later assembled to its current position.

Skybridge in Langkawi island

Skybridge in Langkawi island

When you get to the top of the skybridge you can see this amazing view of the Langkawi island from the top.

Aerial view of Langkawi island

Aerial view of Langkawi island

Last day on our stay in Langkawi island we went to Pantai Cenang beach to celebrate the New years eve by lighting up a sky lantern (hot air balloon) and watching the fireworks and fire performance show on the beach drinking some rum and soda. It was just spectacular and memorable.

Sky lantern (hot air balloon)  Pantai Cenang, Langkawi

Sky lantern (hot air balloon) Pantai Cenang, Langkawi

Fireworks on the beach for New Years eve, Langkawi island

Fireworks on the beach for New Years eve, Langkawi island


 

Exploring Pai in my Vespa

Exploring Pai in my Vespa

In Pai you can rent a scooter (pictures 9,10) for less than $5 a day including gas. Then ride to Love strawberry Pai (picture 1), Coffee in Love for a scenic view (2), see the WW2 memorial bridge (3), feed bananas to the elephants (4), check out the Chinese village (5), and slide down the waterfall (6) and go to the Buddha temple (7) up in the top of the hill to watch the sunset (8). To finish it off have a nice healthy salad at Charlie and Leks health food restaurant.

‪#‎Pai‬‪#‎Vespa‬‪#‎Thailand‬‪#‎travel‬

 Strawberry Pai

1. Love Strawberry Pai

Enjoy the scenic views at Coffee in Love Pai

2. Enjoy the Scenic views in Coffee in Love

WW2 Memorial Bridge

3. WW2 Memorial Bridge

 

 

 

Chinese Village Pai

4. Chinese Village, Pai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feeding elephants in Pai

5. Feeding elephants in Pai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slide down the water fall in Pai

6. Slide down the water fall in Pai

Buddhist temple in Pai

7. Buddhist temple in Pai

Watch the sunset from the top of Wat Phra That Mae Yen

8. Watch the sunset from the top of Wat Phra That Mae Yen

 

 

 

 

 

ScooterPai

9. Driving Vespa in Pai

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My shadow riding the scooter in Pai

10. My shadow riding the scooter in Pai

 

Eating Papaya Salad in Charlie and Nek Health Restaurant

11. Eating Papaya Salad with fresh Mulberry juice in Charlie and Leks Health Restaurant

 

 

 

Why NOW is the best time to travel?

Why NOW is the best time to travel?

Some of my readers know that I took the whole year off to travel around the world. Looking back I think I made the right decision. It has never been a better time to take your time off and see the world. In this post, I want to highlight a few reasons why you consider my advice.

  • Strong currency
  • Cheap Oil price
  • Technology Options
  • Geopolitical situation
  1. Favorable currency exchange rate

This section is only relevant to people living in the western countries with strong currencies (hint: USD). US Dollar has been making all time highs against currencies in the developing countries and even the currencies in the developed countries. Last summer, Brazil’s Real, Colombian Peso and Indian Rupee all hit a 12 year low against USD. The main reason behind the strong dollar is the healthy employment picture combined with the prospect of FED raising the rates in the United States. For example, when I started my journey in Colombia in early June the exchange rate was 1USD to 2500COP and by the time I left in late August it was trading at 1USD to 3100COP. It has appreciated almost 25% in just 3 months. You see this pattern in every major currency of developing countries. A strong dollar means higher purchasing power for westerners. A big lunch meal with fresh glass of juice costs $3.5 in Colombia or $2.5 in Thailand. It is not just USD that is gaining but also other currencies such as Euro, Swiss Francs and British Pounds.

USD to INR chart

  1. USD to Indian Rupee (2015)

USD to Euro

2. USD to EU Euro (2015)

USD to COP

3. USD to Colombian Peso (2015)

  1. Cheap Flight tickets

This is somewhat related to the 1st point. Thanks to a combination of strong USD and collapse in commodity prices (oil, natural gas, jet fuel etc) the price of flight tickets have come down quite a bit. Low cost airlines hugely benefited from the decline in oil prices. Increasing competition from other airlines also hugely drove the prices lower this year.

Take a look at the available options in the market to find your cheap flights. You have many sites and apps such as PriceScanner, Kayak and Google Flights that can find you cheap tickets to anywhere in the world given your destination point and start date. Google Flights even has a price trend map that shows the best days to book the flight tickets.

  1. Technology

There is really a wide array of tools and technologies available for budding travelers to help plan and enhance their travels. Personally I use many apps to manage my travels. I wrote a blog post regarding the technology you should be using in your travels. While selfie stick might be annoying to some people, but it can be seen everywhere. This gives people the freedom of filming themselves next to some exotic animals or landscapes. GoPro 4 Hero is a great choice for adventure and adrenaline seeking travelers. Google Maps, Maps.me, Hostelbookers, Facebook, Whatsapp, Airbnb, XE Currency, TripIt, Google Translate are some of those apps that I have seen in most of the traveler’s device. Groupon gives you great local deals on adventure sports. I booked my Paragliding trip for $35 through Groupon Colombia site.

  1. Geopolitical Situation

With increasing uncertainty in some Middle Eastern and South East Asian countries it might be better to travel to these countries NOW before the situation could get worse in the future. So what do I mean by that? In Myanmar a pro-democracy party under Suu Kyi’s (who was exiled and under house arrest the last decade) recently won the majority seats in the parliament. This could be some positive news for travelers (some would challenge me on this), which means more domestic reforms and ultimately more choices for travelers. But given their sketchy past I wouldn’t be surprised if there is another coup attempt from the military to take over the power. Egypt and Turkey are great places to travel but with increasing threat from terror groups based in the Middle East like ISIL it could only mean things could get worse that might prevent you from completely visiting these amazing countries. With the recent demolition of the Palmyra ruins in Syria, ISIL has demonstrated they have no interest in preserving any historic structures or cultural artifacts. Jordan offers free visa if you enter through Israel or Saudi Arabia to attract tourists but this policy could change once the tourism industry gets stronger. Starting this year India allows visa on arrival for most western citizens, which is great given the lengthy process to get an Indian visa. Argentina given it is always on the edge of bankruptcy situation it might be better to visit now before a full scale default occurs.

At the end of the day many things may influence your decision to travel. But I hope that after reading this article you might give it a chance now when the situation is still favorable to most western citizens. I would welcome your comments and reaction to this article and provide other useful tips that might help to influence more people travel the world.

Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai 2015

Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai 2015

Loi Krathong Annual Full Moon Festival (Yee Peng) in Thailand

Location: Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand

Loi Krathong is an annual celebration to celebrate the last full moon in the year. The festival is held in many parts of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. The best place to witness this week long festival is in Chiang Mai.This year it falls on the date November 25th. I was just lucky to be there in Thailand around this time. I went to Chiang Mai for 10 days and manage to fully partake in the festival.

For a peaceful religion like Buddhism they know how to throw a grand party like Loi Krathong. There was fireworks, traditional lanna candle decoration, monk chanting, candle lighting in most temples, candle floating krathong, city decoration, martial arts and traditional dance demonstration, sky lantern hot air balloon (my favorite), parade floats and procession, Ms and Mr Chiang Mai beauty contest and more.

Wat Festival Monks candle ceremony, Loi Krathong, Chiang Mai

Wat Festival Monks candle ceremony, Chiang Mai

Loi Krathong 2015

Monks walking with candles before chanting ceremony

Loi Krathong 2015

Monks prayers, Loi Krathong Full moon festival

Loi Krathong 2015

Monks prayer for Loi Krathong festival in Chiang Mai

 

Hot Air balloon (Sky lantern)

The sky lantern balloon is a cylindrical paper of one meter high, formed by wire circles at the base and enveloped by the paper. At the bottom of the cylinder is a small tray that holds the cotton soaked in kerosene. You first make some openings on four different corners and then light them up with a matchbox. This catch fire very quickly but you have to let them sit on the floor for a minute or so to form enough heat inside the balloon. You see it’s simple physics. The basic principle behind hot air balloon physics is the use of hot air to create buoyancy, which generates lift. Some people gets creative by attaching fireworks inside the balloon which explode after the balloon is launched.

Sky Lantern (Hot air balloon) Loi Krathong

Sky Lantern (Hot air balloon) Loi Krathong

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loi Krathong Ms Chiang Mai Beauty Contest, Chiang Mai

Loi Krathong Ms Chiang Mai Beauty Contest, Chiang Mai

…and finally the amazing procession that took place almost every night during the festival

LoiKrathongParade

Loi Krathong Parade Chiang Mai

Loi Krathong Parade Chiang Mai