Yangon: A Quick Stop-Over

Delays. An annoying reality but unavoidable in today’s world of traveling. And due to this, we didn’t see much of Yangon.

Holy Trinity Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral found on Bogyoke Aung San Road next to Bogyoke Aung San Market. A beautifully preserved church left behind by the British.

Too bad because Yangon is known for its colonial architecture, which although decaying remains an almost unique example of a 19th-century British imperial capital.

Restaurant in Yangon has mushroomed in the last ten years. A combination of British, Burmese, Chinese, and Indian influence means that a delicious host of cuisines can be found here.

With limited time in the former capital, we found ourselves wandering the streets and ended up on 19th Street in Chinatown for a late lunch.   On this street, little restaurants and barbeques stands sit side by side to choose from. We randomly entered a snack bar where there was a Lonely Planet logo that has “appear” below it.

We shared a plate of Roast Myanmar Beef and Fried Chicken Wings at Kosan 19th Street Snack and Bar and downed it really cheap Mojitos. Lonely Planet didn’t really disappoint. It was pretty good for the price.

Dinner, on the other hand, was a platter of charcuterie, cheese and spreads with wonderful homemade bread.

A pleasant surprise, I must say. We went back the next day before heading to the airport and had more of what Sharky had to offer. A Myanmar legend, Sharky’s Restaurant and Deli served artisan food made from locally farmed ingredients. Know more about Sharky’s owner, Ye Htut Win here.

That was how I will remember Yangon, at least for now.  And this ends my series on my travel to Myanmar.

Advertisements

Mingalaba

I approached the guy holding a sign with my name on it. “Mingalaba (hello),” he greeted and then led us to a Toyota Corolla. The first thing I noticed (aside from it being an old car) was the right-hand steering driving on the right-hand side of the road. Before we even reached the guesthouse, I was already helping him navigate the road (making sure the blind spot is clear of any passing cars – haha!). And that, my friends, was my introduction to the world of Burmese driving.

Burma, also known as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, where the landscape scatter with golden pagodas, and where more than 100 ethnic groups live. Under the rule of the oppressive military junta for almost five decades, exploring this nation can feel like you’ve stumbled into a bygone era as it has remained a rural country of traditional ways.

Expect to be dazzled by Myanmar as it steps out of its checkered past. With tradition deeply rooted in the philosophy of Buddhism, Myanmar shimmer with gilded temples and stupas, flourishes with emerald-green landscapes, beautiful lakes, and lush tropical forest but most memorable are the encounters with its gracious people ready with warm smiles and eagerness to introduce their country and culture.

Follow me as I cast my mind back to the beautiful ten days wandering around the different cities of Myanmar.

A Piece of Heaven

Magical, massive, magnificent—endless terraces in a sea of clouds is a sight to behold. Not foreign to rice terraces, I found myself awed by the vastness and intricacy of the Yuanyang terraces, now the 45th World Heritage Site in China. Breathtaking after breathtaking scenes came before us as we drew closer to the center.

terraces-by-the-road-2

Regarded as the core of the Hani Terraces, where its ancestors settled 2,500 years ago.

hani-people

In its steep mountains and challenging terrain, the Hani people struggled and succeeded in growing rice. Their creativity turned this mountain into one artistic beauty that has placed Yuanyang on the map for impressive rice paddy terracing.

duoyishu-terracesDuoyishu Rice Terraces

With an area of 28,000 acres, it is similar to the Banaue terraces of my country but on a grander scale.

laohuzui-waiting-for-sunset

Three major scenic spots is a must. Scattered in different places, the terraces exhibit different tones and hues depending on the season and time of day. When we were there (in April), the terraces, still filled with water, glows from the sun’s ray.

laohuzui-sunsetLaohuzui Rice Terraces

So different from the one I am familiar with. It is stunning.

Laohuzui. The biggest Hani rice terraces listed in the World Cultural Heritage Site and ideal for sunset shots.

laohuzui-different-view-deck

It has 2 viewing areas, the higher deck closer to the road and a lower one closer to the terraces. Both views are lovely depending on how you want to capture its grandiosity.

laohizui-sunset-2

Bada. It has one of the biggest collections of terraces, and any angle is snap-worthy.

bada-terraces

From top to bottom, the terraces is said to be 3,900 steps.

Duoyishu. Surrounded by mountains on 3 sides and a valley on the east, it makes for a beautiful sunrise scene.

duoyishu-sunrise

The terraces, still filled with water, unveils the reflection of the soft golden sky just coming to light underneath a sea of clouds.

duoyishu-viewing-deck

From our beautiful guesthouse, Flower Residence, it was just t a 20-minute walk to the viewing deck.

pugao-village

And speaking or our guesthouse, we stayed in a charming boutique hotel in a village called Pugao Laozhai.

flower-residence

flower-residence-2

flower-residenceview-from-our-room

flower-residence-meals

Large glass windows to enjoy the fantastic view, wood everywhere, good food, combined with wonderful hosts CC and his uncle (who cooked fabulous meals)

with-hosts-cc

—is a formula sure to impress me, no doubt. A place where one can be happy to just hang out, I wish I had booked more than just a night.

Yuanyang is 2 more hours south from Jianshiu and definitely worth the road trip. A little piece of heaven with spectacular rice terraces so grand it almost guarantees poster-worthy shots at any angle.

duoyishu-terraces-upclose

terraces-by-the-road

laohuzui-changing-season

photograhers-haven-at-laohuzui

The Trek to the Underground River

Underground-RiverCredits: Papers by Plum Dumpling Designs, Pri Rocha, The Design Girl, Trixie Scap Design; Ribbon by Design by Tater, Red string with flowers by Graham Like the Cracker, and String wrap by Haynay Designs. 

Elusive in the past, I became disinterested and eventually gave up the idea of visiting Palawan’s famous Underground River. Then they re-opened the Jungle Trail.

Initially slated for December but due to unforeseen reasons, we moved our Puerto Princesa trip to January.  We planned to simply chill out, visit our favorite jaunts and catch up with friends. Then, the grand idea— “why not go to Sabang for the day so you can finally see the Underground River?” Anton to me.  Me to him,  “Ok, but we will trek to the cave.”

Sabang-Pier

The Sabang Pier is the main jump off point to the Underground River or The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, once also called the St. Paul Subterranean River. Yes, it has many names. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999, the cave was provisionally chosen (through votes—and you know how we Filipinos can vote) as one of the 7 New Wonders of Nature in 2011.

Entrance-from-the-shoreEntrance from the shore

The usual way to get there is to take a 15-20 minute boat ride (I estimate) from the pier.

There are two trails to the cave, The Monkey Trail, and the Jungle Trail. The former has been closed for a time now and the latter re-opened only last year. Having heard of the Monkey trail from friends who did it some 10 years back, I knew that I’d do it at some point. Well, the jungle trail, I reckon, is good enough.

crossingThe trek starts by crossing the mangrove.

A recommended option for the active, the jungle trail meanders through a beautiful lush forest.

dwarfed-by-trees

It lets you hike through ancient trees, well crafted wooden staircases, bridges and benches made from confiscated wood that adds character to the trail

wooden-walkways

one-among-many-bridges

and at one point, limestone formations becomes backdrop behind the foliage.

limestone-backdrop

Not only does the pleasant 2-hour hike enhance the experience but it also gives jobs to the 20 or so Tagbanua indigenous community members.

guide

reminder-before-the-trek

As “Park Wardens” they serve as guides and caretakers of the jungle.

path-to-the-riverthe path from the trail

The Underground River itself was not a let down at all. Having heard of so many mixed reviews, expectations were low.

paddle-boatsWaiting in line to enter the cave.

But to my surprise, the chambers especially the one called “the cathedral,” towering some 800 meters high, impressed me.

inside-the-cave

Truth to tell though, I fell asleep some part of the way, perhaps due to exhaustion and the fact that the only thing lighting the way was a flashlight held by the person in front. Our guide was adept and quite engaging in providing intelligent albeit elementary information about what a cave system is.

lush-forest-2

My take on this experience: to go there just for the Underground River may not be worth the effort (it’s still a 2-hour ride to Sabang). The hikes makes the difference.  Having seen Sabang, I wish I had stayed a few nights to explore the quiet town.

Passing Through Faro

marina-4

It was a beautiful, balmy day. Blue skies, gorgeous clouds, splendid sunshine.

planning-the-route

We sat outdoors, right beside the marina. We ordered our beer and then planned our day. First agenda was deciding on lunch.

Not particularly known as a tourist destination with little to boast in terms of tourist attractions.

quiet-plaza

The gateway to Portugal from Southern Spain is a quiet town in the Algarve region.  Quiet relative to all the places we’ve visited on this trip.  Tourists more like pass through Faro on their way to a beach resort or a fairway nearby. But I love it for the quietness.

graffiti

If you look beyond the graffiti walls, Faro is charming. Small enough to cover by foot and without an agenda, we went with the flow, stopping for beer or sweets when tired or just felt like it.

The journey by bus from Seville took about 2 hours.  We arrived mid-morning and it took about 10 minutes from the bus station to our cozy B&B, comfortable enough for one night (read: tiny room).

azothea

“What can we do for the day?” we asked the young lady in charge. “Here?” she thought for a second. “Nothing much” she replied. We could go to Lagos for the day if we wish. Her advice.

We didn’t.  Into our third week of traveling, we felt like doing nothing.  We needed to recharge so we stayed put.  Never mind that we didn’t get see the fort up in Lagos.  So after a few beers at the marina, we followed the map to Adega Nova along Rua Francisco Barreto.

Adega-Nova

Beautiful lunch and a superb dessert—a place I highly recommend when in the area.

Then we walked towards Cidade Velha (the old town) through shops and cafes along the city’s pedestrianised shopping center.

pedestrian-shopping-street

We entered the old town through Vila Adentro and was magically transported to another world.

old-town

Streets cobbled and lined with whitewashed houses maintaining the Portuguese character,

cobbled-street

a large section of this old walled city is still surrounded by walls built by the Muslim conquerors.

wall

This medieval walled city survived two earthquakes, they say.

Palacio-BelmarcoThe Palacio Belmarco

The hodgepodge of Baroque, Gothic, and Moorish architecture provides a fascinating insight into its past.

Linked by medieval gates or arches, the Arco do Repouso is the most impressive section of the walled city,

arco-do-repouso

 and the Arco do Porta Nova or the Portes do Mar (doors of the sea) near the water, is usually where many would end their walk, us included.

jardim-manuel-bivar

Walking at the water’s edge heading back to Jardim Manuel Bivar near the marina, many offered us a trip to Ria Formosa Natural Park, a marshland supposedly teeming with birdlife.

We declined. Instead, we headed to Clube Naval.

clube-naval

We read that this harbor-side bar offers good views of the park and the city from the top floor,

beer and ice cream

but they were closed for the day so we settled for a cafe nearby, spending the rest of the day admiring the harbor and the city until we were ready for dinner.

boardwalkWhere one take the trip to Ria Formosa.

harbour marina-2 marina-3

Contrary to the lady’s (from the B&B) enlightenment or lack thereof, Faro is a delightful destination in its own right.  The charming old town had impressed and makes for a wonderful, unforgettable break.  I wonder why she thought otherwise? Perhaps we need to start seeing beyond our ordinary. I too am guilty of that in many ways.  We tend to take for granted the (what we think are) ordinary things.

Here are more photos of our wonderfully surprising day well-spent.

Capuchin-conventCapuchin Convent close to the guesthouse

charming-city   estatua-d-afonso-III

At the Largo do Don Afonso III, named after the 13th century king whose statue dominates the square.
governo-civilGoverno Civil
igreja-de-sao-pedroIgreja de Sao Pedro

museu-municipal

The Municipal Museum, Faro’s cultural highlight, is in a former convent built around a Renaissance cloister containing exhibits related to the city’s Roman and Islāmic heritage.

Useful Info:

Adega Nova
Rua Francisco Barreto
+351 289 813 433
www.restauranteadeganova.com
 
Azothea
Rua Baptista Lopes, 40
+351 289 802 536
www.facebook.com/Azotheabnb

Flavors of Andalusia

AndalusiaCredits:  Papers by Scrapmuss Designs, Page Frocks and Pri Rocha Designs; Stitch and label by Crystal Wilkerson; The Boyfriend Alpha by Carina Gardiner

Seductive, vivacious, relaxed, stunning, delectable… This is Andalusia in my eyes. It is the quintessential Spain where bullfighting, flamenco, sherry and ruined castles first originated, an autonomous region where the cuisine is all about simple pleasures in an unhurried way, a region of contrast: ancient cities and beautiful countryside, wind-swept, sandy beaches and remote mountain ranges, Christianity and Islamic as manifested in its culture and architecture…

Stay tuned for flavors of Andalusia and its way of life.

Crossing the Straits of Gibraltar

Photo-collageCredits: Template by Jessica Sprague (JS Photo 8x10V-01); Papers by Scrapmuss Designs and Happy Scrap Girl

Onboard the FRS ferry bound for Tarifa, I stayed out on the deck for a little while, soaking up the last of this exotic African getaway, not that there is much to soak up in Tangier, a port town.

tangier-port

Like Casablanca, Tangier was our jump-off point and if we had time to spare, we’d most likely find worthwhile sights to explore.

However, we didn’t.

casablanca-stopover

We spent 10 hours travelling from Marrakech to Tangiers, with a 2-hour stop to change trains in Casablanca. We arrived in Tangier way after the sun has set, too tired to even bother to find a place to eat.

steak

We settled for a steak dinner at the Ibis, where we stayed the night.  The first ferry to Tarifa the next day was at 7 in the morning.

Now out on the deck, I bid goodbye to Morocco. A stupendous experience had of getting lost in ancient medinas with its bustling souks and spice markets, shopping and bargaining with the vendors; of people watching in panoramic terrace cafes sipping sweet Moroccan tea; of sweating and scrubbing in a hammam; of staying in a riad and getting to know one of the friendliest people on earth. Many scrumptious meals were devoured in fancy establishments to hole in the walls. Just across the Mediterranean Sea from Southern Spain yet a world apart from its neighbor, it is unequivocally exotic and oftentimes overwhelming with its incredible colors, smells and sounds.

A pleasant 45 minutes ferry ride transported us into a different world.

port-of-tarifa

Tarifa is a small town in Cadiz, Andalusia just across the Straits of Gibraltar facing Morocco.

tarifa

Though this bohemian town in the southernmost coast of Spain shares similarities with Morocco—its culture, its landscape, even the spectacular view of the Rif Mountains across the water—religion separates them.

algeciras

Our journey continues in Algeciras, where we traveled by train to one of the most scenic villages of Spain.

Useful Info:

Marrakech to Tangier

Travelling by train in Morocco is an ideal way to get around. Albeit not an extensive network, most major hubs and cities are connected.  There is an overnight train for this route and is best taken if one is pressed for time and on a budget. However, there is so much to see and the day train is an excellent one for sightseeing. OCNF operates the railway system. It is a 10-11 hour ride.

Note that there will be a brief stop in Casablanca to change trains for the day train. The night train, however, travels straight through to Tangier.

train-to-tangier

First class tickets are comfortable and pre-assigned.  The cabins are air-conditioned. Night trains have bunks / couchettes (but not the day trains) and it is best to get tickets early as these cabins are limited. However, you cannot buy or reserve a ticket outside of Morocco so do consider arriving a day or two ahead to buy your tickets.

Tangier to Spain

The shortest route is between the ports of Tangier and Tarifa. FRS has modern high-speed ferries sailing between the ports several times daily. Crossing takes roughly 45 minutes. Alternatively, FRS also connects Algeciras with Tangier MED, the new port situated about 40 kilometers (1 hour each way) from the city. Either way, FRS provides a free shuttle to transport its passengers to either ports. In our case, we arrived in Tarifa from Tangier Ville (the city) and took the free shuttle to Algeciras where the Renfe train station is.

FRS-ferry

There are several ferry services that connect Europe with Africa and online is the best way to book.  You collect your ticket at the port of crossing by showing an ID or passport. Use services such as aFerry, Direct Ferries, Ferries-Booking.com to book.