The Cruise to Bagan

Myanmar’s lifeline, the Irrawaddy River flows from the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas cutting across the country from north to south before emptying into the Andaman Sea. The river is used for commercial transport and is Myanmar’s largest river, about 2,170 kilometers long.

It is a pleasant way to travel between Mandalay and Bagan, two essential cities to be when visiting Myanmar. The former is the country’s most significant and historically most important of all cities, and the latter is its mecca of temples.

A visit to Myanmar was seen as relatively remarkable. Significant changes recently to the political regime has caught the attention of the traveling world, and cruise lines have started to offer multi-day cruises as part of their itinerary.

We flew into Yangon via AirAsia, which had a long layover in Kuala Lumpur. We decided to stay the night so we could have our favorite char siu at Oversea Restaurant in Jalan Imbi. Due to flight delays too, we only spent a night in Yangon.

It was a few days of airports and planes; the day cruise was a pleasant respite – to take it easy, go with the flow (literally), and visit with locals.

The RV Panorama Cruise ship runs between Mandalay and Bagan from October to March. It leaves at dawn at the Gawein Jetty in Mandalay and arrives in Bagan at the Nyaung U Jetty late afternoon just around sunset.

The cruise comes with breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks with a side trip to a town by the river.

The town visit was a nice break from an otherwise uneventful journey. For the most part, we kept ourselves entertained relaxing on the upper deck by the bar.

It is, in my opinion, an excellent way to slow down after a few days of catching flights in different airports. Here’s sharing with you some of the highlights of the day cruise.

Breakfast at dawn
The RV Panoarama docked at a town by the river.
The crew teaching how to wear a longyi.
Traditional house
Curious local folks

 

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New Year Cruising

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.” — Ashely Montagu

 New-Years-at-High-SeaCredits: JSprague Digi in Deeper course materials

This year, 68 of my family members from all over flew to Singapore for a grand reunion. For the first time, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins took the time and effort to fly from all over and spent New Year holidays together, on the high seas to boot.

mariner's-of-the-seaInside Royal Caribbean’s Mariners of the Seas

A perfect venue, truth to tell, as none of us could go very far—not saying though that the ship isn’t big and off-shore excursions aren’t aplenty. It was contained enough to allow us to catch up.  Some met each other for the first time.

new-year-in-patongFireworks before the New Year in Patong Beach

It was an experience I surprisingly enjoyed. Being the traveler that I am, I thought that this was merely something I had to do, an obligation of some sort. The destinations were nothing to rave about but the togetherness was awesome. It was something unexpected… Which are usually the best, yes? You know what they say— “the things you don’t see coming tickles you the most.”

Port Klang

So the destinations weren’t great, they weren’t total disappointments either. Our first port of call was Port Klang. What is there to see in Port Klang, the principal port in Selangor state of Malaysia? Nothing much though we heard that it is a haven for local foodies—good enough for us (by us I mean my immediate family).

bak-kut-teh

Seafood aside, Klang is famous for its Bak Kut Teh, in fact they say that this pork rib soup which has become a staple in Malaysia, Singapore and some parts of Indonesia started here. Considered a breakfast food, BKT, as locals call it, is pork ribs (or other parts of the pork meat) slowly simmered in an herbal broth.

restoran-bak-kut-teh-facade

Across the AEON Bukit Tinggi Shopping Center, about 30 minutes away from the Star Cruises Terminal, we randomly chose Restoran Bak Kut Teh. A small shop sans the fanfare – open air and round tables and stools to sit that serves (in my opinion) quite a good and (I assume) authentic BKT.

restoran-bak-kut-tehFood tripping with the family

The Bak Kut Teh has an herbal taste (of course), salty with the hint of sweetness; meat was falling off the bone. Extremely enjoyable with soy sauce, garlic and a bit of chopped chili.

Phuket

Next port of call was an overnight in Phuket. Arriving Phuket at 11AM, it was too late to do much so we decided on a late lunch in Old Phuket Town and a massage after. We took the tender to Patong Beach and haggled with one of the many vans peddling their services to take us to town.

old-shop-house

Old Phuket town shines with personality with its rich history. In this old quarter, you will see beautifully ornate old shophouses, quaint cafes, Buddhist and Chinese temples, and some grandiose Sino-Colonial mansions once occupied by Phuket’s tin barons of years ago.

Raya

In the middle of town, on New Dibuk Road is a two-storey Sino-Portuguese house converted into a restaurant.

green-tint-windows

Tinted glass windows and wooden shutters, hard to find Machuca floor tiles,

Raya-interior

stairs

rustic ceiling fans, vintage posters, a wooden staircase,

old-bar

and an antique bar, this old house exudes old colonial.

raya-dishesL-R: Pork with Kafir Leaves; Deep Fried Sea Bass with Shallots and red chilli in Tamarind-Lemongrass Sauce; Green Mango with Dried Squid Salad

The food, known to be THE Thai restaurant in Phuket; its specialty is said to be the Crabmeat Curry served with rice vermicelli. Being a sucker for all things crab, this was a definite winner. Big chunks of crabmeat and the strong curry muted by the addition of coconut milk produced a subtle creamy curry dish. The deep-fried sea bass with shallots and red chilies in tamarind-lemongrass sauce and the pork with Kafir leaves were fantastic too. When in town, do visit Raya Restaurant if you can.

We could and should have walked around town, but we opted instead for a massage. We could and should have gone to the spa just around the corner from Raya. On a previous  trip (a post I still owe) the boutique hotel I stayed in offered a discount at The Raintree Spa when booked through them.

RainTree-Spa

It was most satisfying, in all the right ways—service, skills, and ambiance. I should have known better than to indulge our driver but, hindsight is always 20/20, so yeah… We could have saved the 30-minute drive to the spa he recommended (name and place I won’t even bother to tell) and used it to walk around the charming old town instead. And to think, I convinced my whole family to that massage.

Koh Phi Phi

Thank goodness for Phi Phi Islands.

Phi-Phi

Praised as one of the most beautiful beaches in Southeast Asia, thanks to the film “The Beach”.

white-sand-beach

A 45-minute bumpy (because we decided to sit in front) speed boat ride from Phuket, the Phi Phi archipelago comprises 6 islands boasting of white sand beaches, stunning limestone cliff and turquoise water, many parts ideal for snorkelling.

snorkling

tourists

Popular with backpackers even before the movie, but the world seemed to have flocked here after the film was shot in 1999. In spite the crowd, the limestone outcrops that swept the archipelago still impressed.

phi-phi-2

The Great Land That is Alaska

Credits:  Template by Crystal Wilkerson; Paper by Jessica Sprague.

“Alyeska” to the Aleut people means the great land and those who have visited would likely agree.  It is a vacation paradise, America’s last frontier, if you will.   Raw with a touch of exotic, Alaska is magnificent sceneries one after the other.  Our trip was rugged yet luxurious – thanks to our cruise ship extravagance, which balanced everything out.  Although more than half of the tourists came through a cruise ship, if I were to do it again, I would explore traveling by land to allow for longer stays in each town.  But if you are pressed for time and have constraints in budget, contrary to popular belief, taking a cruise is an economical way to cover Alaska.  Consider this:  you hit 3 birds in one stone, your means of transport, your accommodation and let’s not forget the overflowing sustenance offered on board.

My allure with Alaska started with the TV series, Northern Exposure.  Shown in the early to mid 90’s, it actually aroused my fascination to charming quaint towns such as Sagada and Banaue – closer to home rugged towns that I frequent.  Alaska was a far-fetched dream that came true.

Wildlife.  Humpback whales and bald eagles to be more specific thrive in Alaska.  This is an area full of wildlife as evidence in the wildlife and whale watching tours available in many towns.  Alaska is a perfect archetype of the great outdoors.  And if you are no stranger to this blog, you already know that I love the great outdoors, and the great wildlife.  Charming towns + great outdoors + wildlife galore = money and time well spent.

Hubbard Glacier

The largest non-polar tidewater glacier in the world was one of the major highlights of our cruise adventure.  How could I have forgotten something that has made it to my “Top Picks” list?  Can I blame it on exhaustion from the holiday stress??

Now really… how could I have forgotten the day our ship approached Disenchantment Bay at the head of Yakutat Bay?  We were all bundled up on the gelid deck when the ship slowed down and the glacier came more into a breathtaking view.  As Hubbard advances, it moans and groans as huge chunks of ice moves and eventually crashes into the bay creating a sound the Tlinglits call “White Thunder”.  It does sound like thunder and it took me a while to realize that it was from the falling icebergs.   😛

Yes my friends, Hubbard is one of the eight glaciers that is currently advancing instead of retreating, thickening instead of thinning.  First mapped in 1895, the Hubbard’s huge open face is more than 5 miles wide and actively calves icebergs as large as 10-story buildings.  Once in 1986 and then again in 2002, it has twice blocked the mouth of Russell Fjord making it a lake as high as 90 ft above sea level.

Hubbard Glacier was a sight to remember and it indubitably deserves a post in this blog.   🙂

More interesting mosaics here.

Seward

Scenic Sunday

Happy and pleased, we bid goodbye to the Ryndam recognizing the tail end of a wonderful adventure.  We took a cab to Moby Dick Hostel, our home for a night and there we slept once again on dry land.

Seward is a picturesque town sandwiched between the Kenai Mountains and the water of Kenai Fjord National Park.  It is one of Alaska’s oldest and most scenic communities.

A little bit of history

It was named after the US Secretary of State, William Seward, who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia.

In the 1903, John and Frank Ballaine and a group of settlers arrived to begin construction of a railroad.  The Alaska Railroad was constructed between 1915-1925 and Seward was developed as the ocean terminus and supply center.

And what do you know?  Just in front of our humble hostel is the Ballaine House, one of the oldest home in Seward.  It was built by Frank Ballaine, the brother of Seward’s founder.

By 1960, Seward was the largest community on the Peninsula.  Tsunamis generated after the 1964 earthquake, also known as “The Great Alaska Earthquake”, destroyed the railroad terminal and killed several residents.   Fast forward to present day, tsunami warning signs are seen in most street corners.

We spent 2 days in Seward, more than enough time to explore the town fully.  Here’s what we saw on our walks through town.

A Best Western

Van Gilder, one of the oldest hotel in town

Overlooking the harbor

Quaint little shops

King Crab for $8!… obviously where we dined!  Who could ask for more?

Downtown Seward

For more scenes from around the globe, visit Scenic Sunday.

Sitka

Nestled on Baranof Island and protected by a myriad of small-forested islands, Sitka is a town not lacking in character.  Aside from it being home to native Tlinglits with the cultures still being practiced today, it was also the capital of Russia-America until its transfer to the U.S. in 1867.  It is in Castle Hill that the Russian flag was lowered and the American flag raised.

Easily managed by foot, we walked around town browsing through shops, walking along the harbor.

The first Russian church built in America, St. Michael’s Cathedral is a picturesque focal point in Sitka, topped by its magnificent onion-shaped dome.  And in addition to many historical sights and museums, as in many of Alaska towns, Sitka has a wide range of outdoor activities… fishing, kayaking, hiking, biking…

Oh and that focal photo?  That’s my way of taking my hat off to one of the best tasting, juiciest burger I’ve ever had.  Not exactly a “burger person”, this particular one called me at first sight and am I glad I listened.   😉

Hop on over to Little Red House for more fun mosaics.

Eagles in Abundance

Scenic Sunday

Bald Eagles have been the national bird of the U.S. since 1782.  While they are still protected under federal law, the birds are no longer “endangered” and about half of the 70,000 live in Alaska.  They are spotted year round but are especially abundant March through early July.

As the photos reveal, it was bald eagles galore for us that one day in June.  They were perched atop poles, on the beach, in flight around the harbor waiting for spawning herrings to appear.  They were spectacular.

For more scenes from across the globe, click here.