Letters from Myanmar – Nyaungshwe and Inle Lake

You can hear the sound of the engine as you get settled in and all comfy in your wooden chair on the boat that is about to take you on a journey through Inle Lake. The sun is burning and all you can see around on both sides is water and hills. As you exit the canal leading to Inle Lake there is a particular smell of wet soil and grass and the fishermen boats are starting to pop out here and there.

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Fishermen have a special way of rowing in Inle Lake, standing on the edge of the boat and using one leg to row while using the hand to throw the net and balancing the body in the same time.

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This is said to allow more visibility to the boatmen over the vegetation in Inle Lake and is used only by men; ladies row in the classical way by sitting on the edge of the boat. The fishing experience is also unique, two fishermen each in their own boat would lay the net and then start beating the water with sticks to scare the fish away into the net.

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As you move further into the heart of the lake boats with people gathering vegetation from the lake appear and the unique floating gardens. Layers of vegetation are pilled one on top of the other until they create a compact layer on which the people plant mostly tomatoes. The plantation on floating gardens is so spread that it covers a significant part of the country’s demand of tomatoes.

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Villagers rely on crops for their day to day leaving. Sometimes an entire floating garden may be transferred from a village to a different village by slowly moving the entire floating layer of vegetation with boats.

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And one by one the houses on poles appear. There are around 70,000 people leaving on Inle Lake in houses mainly having one big room to accommodate everyone.

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People move around using small boats by rowing or for longer distances by using motor boats.

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Some houses have electricity from the nearby electrical power lines or use solar panels. Small shops care for the basic needs of the people leaving here whilst for more products a trip to the on ground houses and villages would be required.

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One of the pole houses is particularly flooded in front with boats and people waiting in the boats. It is afternoon and the villagers are waiting for their kids to finish school. There are classes in different rooms depending on the year of the children. Windows are widely open and you can see the kids dressed with white shirts and green skirts already getting agitated. Classes would usually be spread over the course of a day with classes in the morning followed by a lunch break and classes in the afternoon. Education is free and for primary classes kids are provided with one uniform and the necessary books.

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Industries on the lake are also varied.

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You can find weavers (including bamboo thread weavers), cigarettes and cigars producers, pottery makers.

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For cigarettes and cigar producers workers would usually be paid depending on what they are able to produce in one day.

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Where we ate

There are plenty of options for eating or just having coffee like Aqua Lilies, The French Touch, Min Min’s, Mr. Chef, Ever Green…We however fell in love with Zizi and her small restaurant and we came back two nights in a row for the amazing food and company. Zizi has moved to Nyaungshwe together with her mother and started a business all alone in a domain she had no clue about four months ago. She cooks Myanmar food and a little bit of European food all made by herself like she says in a “home style”. Food is cooked from the heart; there is no menu (yet), no rules apply. You just have to trust the hands of Zizi, give her a few pointers on your preferences (spicy, not spicy, vegan, non-vegan) and she will just create a special experience for you.

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In a developing country, more opened to the foreign eye than ever, with a sense of freedom circling around and the people becoming more and more courageous to speak out loud every day, in a business environment dominate by men, Zizi leads with her heart and passion, she is a road opener, leading by example and with a strong will to prove that she can make it in the existing environment and empower other women in her community to follow their dreams.

All of Zizi you can find on her Facebook page here or on Trip Advisor. Do visit her when you are in Myanmar, she is the kind of person that makes her home feel like your home and there’s just no such other equal feeling when travelling in a foreign land than the feeling you have when meeting a homey heart.

Where we stayed

We stayed at Royal Inlay Hotel located close to the boat boarding area and walking distance from the main road and the shops and restaurants area. The hotel serves breakfast on the rooftop with a selection of American breakfast and Burmese style breakfast. The canal going to Inle Lake can be seen from the rooftop. Rooms are spacious and clean, staff is nice. They have somewhat of a SPA (more of a massage room) but you can get a massage in other part of Nyaungshwe also for cheaper prices and probably better quality. WI FI works fine.

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Click here for some Tips & Tricks of Inle Lake

Click here for our Top 10 experiences in Inle Lake

For more photos of Inle Lake just click here for our Facebook page.

Tips & Tricks Inle Lake

Tips & Tricks Inle Lake

  • for the boat ride make sure you use sunscreen lotion; take a sweater because it can be cold during some parts of the trip due to the speed boat and the wind; use a cap or a hat to protect from the sun or if you ae not a fan of either just use the umbrella that you can usually find on the boat for protection from the sun;
  • expect a diverse weather on the boat ride; during the same day it can be sunny, rainy and cloudy; raincoats and umbrellas should be available on the boat (just ask when you board);
  • boats on Inle Lake are not particularly big; they fit around 4 – 5 foreigners sitting on chairs and the boat driver; careful when stepping in and out of the boat so you don’t fall;
  • there are at least 2 Agoda Bank ATMs; an ATM easy to find is the one in front of Cherry Queen Hotel which one step away from the street going passed the area for boarding the boats;
  • no need to buy the products in the pottery, weaving or cigarettes shops; places on Inle Lake have a tip box for the ladies showing you different processes so if you want just drop a tip in the tip box.

Top things to do in Inle Lake

Our top things to do in Inle Lake

  1. Boat ride on Inle Lake;
  2. Gossiping with Zizi and eating her amazing food (you can find Zizi of her Facebook page Cooking with Zizi and also on Trip Advisor here);
  3. Pottery making;
  4. Watching the cigarettes making process;
  5. Wandering through the city market especially if you catch the fifth day circling of the markets around the area in Nyaungshwe when the market is busier than usual.

Guest post – A Hidden Gem: Why Ghent Is the Best Place to Visit

Ghent is not the first name springing to mind when it comes to places in Belgium to explore – and quite frankly that’s criminal. This Flemish city is a gem which has gone hidden for too long. Here are five amazing reasons why you’ll want to visit Ghent in the near future.

1. Rebel

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At a time when tyrannical leaders seem to be continuously rising to power, it may be pertinent to take a leaf out of the Ghent history books.

Having grown tired of the regime of the Roman Empire and the Spanish King Charles Karel V, in 1539 the people of the city rebelled against their rulers in an attempt to take the city back.

Okay, so maybe they failed (and were promptly paraded through town in their undergarments with a noose around their necks), but you can’t fault their underdog mentality. Inspiring stuff.

2. Uniqueness

What other cities in Europe can boast a shop which sells wallpaper from the past five decades? That’s right, we didn’t think you’d be able to name any.

Ghent is host to a bevy of different, incredibly unique, stores where both locals and visitors alike will be able to find all sorts of bizarre oddities.

Vintage antiques stores are also common, but arguably the must-see shop of the region comes in the form of Bloemenijs – a florist which also serves ice-creams flavored with rose, jasmine and cherry blossom.

3. Atmosphere

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With a staggering 65,000 students in a population of just under a quarter of a million, it’s perhaps no surprise the vibe is buzzing in Ghent.

Alright, nobody wants to be walking around in some kind of constant party zone – and don’t worry, you won’t be – but it’s nice to know there are places you can go if you’re looking for a wild night out.

With 250 different brands of beer on tap across the city, you’ll certainly be able to find a brew of your liking to get the juices flowing.

4. Understated

Bruges has become one of the most frequented cities in Europe across the past few decades – and, in truth, that’s ruined the tiny and picturesque locale somewhat.

You won’t experience any of that in Ghent, with this hidden gem currently remaining for the most part untouched by the hordes of tourists who clutter the Bruges streets.

That’s not to say you won’t also find plenty of visitors here – but the key difference is they don’t outnumber the locals, meaning the city retains a lot of its natural heritage.

5. The Sites

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Aside from the contemporary reasons to visit, Ghent also has a varied number of historical features which will lure in anyone looking for a splattering of culture.

Churches are a particularly affluent feature, with castles also playing an important role in the history of the city.

For anyone with a strong stomach you might even want to check out the torture museum located within the famous Gravensteen castle – enter at your own risk, however.

By now you’re probably starting to understand why Ghent is one of the most underrated cities in Europe. The next time you’re in Belgium, why not take a trip and see for yourself why this majestic locale deserves more love?

Sources:

 http://www.gutenberg.us/articles/revolt_of_ghent_(1539)

 https://www.1cover.com.au/secret-traveller/disappointing-tourist-attractions/

 https://visit.gent.be/en/ghent-statistics?context=tourist

 A story by Andrew Luke :p

 

Guest Post – Liguria, an experience of a lifetime

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Camogli

Liguria is a coastal region in the North-West of Italy. Once in Liguria, your only issue will be deciding where to go first. Liguria is very generous in cities and villages creating a magical environment, so take your time visiting it, experiencing it, living it.

 

I will start by saying that I have never felt so alive and so aware of my existence than in Liguria. The seaside position, the history lying beneath, the cuisine, the sky, the stars, the architecture, the nature, the colors, everything around you creates the impression of another world. It’s not just another Italian spectacular land. In Liguria, with every step, you run into an unique place or building or view or experience.

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Portofino

 

My first time in Liguria, I went to Genova, but I didn’t have the time to visit much for the time being and I only enjoyed the old harbor and the amazing cuisine. And then I kept coming back and started discovering the city, without any plan or guide, just wandering through the streets, taking a trip back in time at the times of Columbus and of the great navigators.

Genova takes you back to your childhood, when you first learnt about history and sea travels. Genova is just that city which you have always imagined as a start of big sea adventures and development of maritime commerce. It’s it, you’re back home, in the memories of your imagination about history in the Middle Ages.

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Genova

 

Leaving Genova behind and moving to the riviera may generate a contradictory feeling: while you’re leaving behind such a special city, the wonders of outer Liguria start to show off and you won’t be able to choose a favorite place. For example, Liguria is host of amazing Portofino and Cinque Terre. Being there, in either of these places, it’s like walking into a photo or a painting. There is no list of things to do there, just be, just let them conquer you, just live the moment and your memories will thank you for ever.

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Camogli

 

But there is more about Liguria than Portofino or Cinque Terre or Genova, in Liguria there are Rapallo and Santa Margherita, the sisters of Portofino, both underestimated due to their vicinity to Portofino. But they’re beautiful and they offer amazing views of the sea and the sky, making them part of a movable existence, making them become part of your existence.

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Rapallo

 

Your trip shouldn’t stop there. You should try also Chiavari or Camogli or Sestri Levante or Bonassola or Framura or Alassio. Ah, che bellezza! You’re in a book you once read or in a photo you’ve dreamt of.

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Framura

 

I cannot describe the feeling of the sun caressing my head or the perfume of the sea in Liguria, you just must go there and see by yourself that this cannot be put into words, but just felt and lived and kept safe in your soul.

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Framura

 

I have dispersed memories screaming of happiness: a walk on the beach at Sestri Levante, a bite of focaccia in Genova, a sip of wine in Portofino, a taste of pesto in a restaurant at Santa Margherita, the seafood in Rapallo, a feeling of chill on a bike through the tunnel in Framura, there rain on my face during a picnic in Bonassola, the feeling of a swim on a hot summer day at Porto Pidocchio, a trip by boat to Vernazza…

I am stopping here, I’ve said enough. The rest, I’ll keep it for myself. Go there and start an experience of a lifetime!

(Story and pictures: Cristina Mihalachioiu)

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Letters from Myanmar – Yangon

This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about” Rudyard Kipling, Letters from the East (1898)

Myanmar is referred to as Amarapura, the Land of Immortality, Yadanarbon, the Land of the Gems and Suvanabhomi, the Golden Land. And we are off to discover how each and every of this skilfull names suit Myanmar and breathe from each of its corners. First stop of this ride Yangon.

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What we did

Shwedagon Pagoda

The Golden Pagoda dates back to 588 BC and it is said to be the oldest stupa in Myanmar if not the world. The complex o Shwedagon Pagoda is accessible on four majestic stairways. The stupa is 99m height and is encircled by the sequence of the planetary posts each representing a day of the week along with its associated heavenly body and animal (in Burmese astrology Wednesday is divided in two, thus resulting eight “days” in total). Around the terraces you will find a replica of the Buddha’s Tooth (a copy of the original held in Kandy, Sri Lanka), the Magic Ruby Enshrined Buddha, the Child-clutching Brahma, a reclining Buddha and plenty more.

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Sule Pagoda

Sule Pagoda is right in the centre of the British style organized streets in Downtown Yangon. Local tradition says that the pagoda was built during the lifetime of the Buddha himself. The pagoda is reachable on four staircases located on each cardinal point. Entrance for tourists is 3 USD and the view is especially beautiful in the afternoon when the sun sets.

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Downtown Street Wandering

Downtown is a display of colonial architecture with entire streets and houses all lined up like in the 19th century.  There are shops and street vendors on all the streets between the 19th Street and the Pansodan Street.  In the evening street food stalls and street “restaurants” with plastic tables and chairs are lined up on both sides of Mahabandoola Road and the streets between 32nd Street and 18th Street with all sorts of barbecue, noodles and fruits.

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Bogyoke Market

Foreign-friendly market built in 1926 covering everything from souvenirs, gems, jewellery, clothing this bazaar looks like a must for shopaholics.

Where we stayed

We stayed at Clover City Centre Hotel Plus. Small entrance lobby with reception at the third floor but otherwise a great spot for a short stay in Yangon. Room was big and clean. Air-conditioning working properly; TV with a few channels, water and coffee complimentary and the well needed safe. Location is great on 32nd Street which makes you stay 5 minutes away from Sule Pagoda and walking distance to 19th Street (one one side) and 50th Street (on the other side).

Where we ate

We went to 50th Street for pies, Bar Book for coffee, 19th Kosan Street for beer, the Black Hat for dinner and live music and 999 Shan Noodle Soup for the best noodles soup in town. Click here for more details on our eating & drinking in Yangon experience.

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What we think about Yangon people

We loved the people in Yangon. They seemed nice and honest and did smile a lot. Most of them wear the traditional longyi – the sarong like lower body garment worn by both women and men. Thanka (the bright yellow face paint) is also usual in Yangon. Kids are curious like in all places and do expect people in the pagodas to ask for pictures with you :p.

Click here for some Tips & Tricks of Yangon

Click here for our Top experiences in Yangon

For more photos of Yangon just click here for our Facebook page.

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Tips & Tricks Yangon

Tips & Tricks Yangon

  • the best views of the Shwedagon pagoda are towards sunset. Just reach around 4:30 pm to allow enough time to visit the complex and than just relax waiting for the sunset and enjoying the changing colours of the stupa; entrance is 8000 kyat for foreigners (roughly 6 USD);
  • choose a place to stay in Downtown; it will make it easier to reach Sule Pagoda and even Shwedagon Pagoda;
  • walking is your friend in Yangon; for longer distances (including for returning in the evening from Shwedagon Pagoda to Downtown) just grab one of the cabs you will easily find on the street; they are pretty cheap (as an example a trip one way from Downtown to Inya Lake was 3,500 kyat – roughly 3 USD);
  • pay attention to the floors in the pagodas especially if it’s raining or the caretakers cleaned the terraces;
  • a small umbrella could prove useful towards the end of the rainy season although there are plenty of places to take cover;
  • you can find these days money exchange machine in the Yangon airport as well as money exchange offices; there are plenty of ATMs all over Yangon and some places even accept payment with cards (Visa seems to be accepted usually);
  • there are no traffic lights for pedestrians; for cars the traffic light is located usually on top of the street in front of the cars; if you want to cross the street usually use the corners and cross when the cars have a red light if possible; same rules as in other Asian countries would apply, look before you cross, don’t run just walk and try to estimate the right time to pass; if in doubt follow a local.

Food & Drinks Yangon

Random order :p:

50th Street – located somewhere between 50th and 49th Street (better enter from Merchant Street might be faster); the bar & restaurant seems a bit of a Irish or Australia inspiration, sitting area, bar area with tall chairs, TVs playing a ruby match with New Zealand starting with the usual hakka; food is diverse from pies to pizzas and pastas and some local food selection also; great cold beer; a little spicy the prices compared to other spots but worth a trip; great WI FI.

19th Street Kosan; located in the bustling China Town where at night streets are crazy crowded with locals and some tourists enjoying food at the plenty of street food stalls; the beer is 640 ml – big Asian style ones; haven’t tried the food as the plate with fries was to dirty to touch however seen tourists also eating at this place so must be good; the place is small with a few tables for the bar part an there seems to be their place also on the left and right side of the bar with eating areas; no WI FI.

 

999 Shan Noodle Soup – you will find this place on 34th Street at the end near the Yangon City Hall; the place has soimg_20160918_122523_editme tables downstairs and tables at the first floor; food is great; must try the noodle soup; sticks and tablespoon you will find in the wooden box sitting around on the table; ah yes and if you are a tea lover there is a hot metallic pot on the table just waiting for you to try; no WI FI.

Bar Boon – in front of FMI C        enter at the end of 3o something street; this coffee places that also serves food seems like a great retreat for tourists; coffee is amazing; terrace with tables in front and also some tables inside; WI FI available though low quality.

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The Black Hat – near Sule Pagoda in Sule Plaza there is this bar & restaurant which is graciously called the Black Hat and where waiters and waitresses wear of course a black hat; the places is decorated in a combined style with Greek style columns, bar with tall stalls and those type of eating tables with sofas on all four sides to remind one of the American buffet style; ah and there is even a piano; the food is great, we had lentil soup, pork ribs and our Asian favourite spring rolls; the walls are decorated with movie stars and singers from the 60s / 70s and Elvis is a star; the piano man and his band start at 8 so plan accordingly.

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Valcea Village Museum

It’s a hot summer day and like on every other sunny day we are having lunch underneath the mulberry tree in front of my grandparents’ house. For a foreign eye this would seem like a small house with three rooms of not more than 3 square meters each but for us this is home of the happiest moments of our childhood. We know each and every corner, we got out of the rooms through all its windows when we were small enough to fit, we ate on a three feet table on top of grandma’s bed when it was winter and cold outside and grandma was weaving at her weaving loom filling the room, we spent nights of gossiping while “beating” the milk to make butter in the middle room of the house where everyone used to gather for cooking, eating and small talk, we sat lazy on the porch reading books when it was raining outside or lining up tobacco leaves, we painted walls and cleaned everything up on Easter time, we shared donuts freshly cooked by grandma in the middle of the night all toped up with laughter and happiness in our small sanctuary called “odaie”, we searched through the pockets and bags of grandpa coming back from church with small gifts for the kids and the ever not missing flowers, we fought for that place behind the heating machine to get warm after coming home from caroling out in the snow, we washed our little faces with cold water every Easter night and dressed up just to get ready for “getting light” in a proper way, we packed small bags to give away the morning of the Easter day for our ancestors and shared the only fish we got from one of our relatives or neighbors at the church just to make grandma happy because she used to think this will make us fast like a fish in the year to come, we guided ourselves from many nights spent having fun with our friends by that light that grandma always used to leave on in the porch for the kids to come home, we ran in and out of this small house saying hellos or goodbyes so many years until we grew so tall that we were almost the size of the entrance door but the house never grew to small for us or our memories.

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Like our story there are tons of other stories of childhoods and lives spent in the Romanian traditional village

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in small houses where everything was circling around one room or two

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where life was spent more outside in open air

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where every object had its purpose and it was used almost daily and not forgotten in the back of a drawer for years to come

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where it was perfectly ok for the chicken, the cat or the dog to enter the “middle room” as it was equally ok to eat with bear hands or from the same plate.

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Valcea Village Museum has gathered in time an impressive collection of houses from different areas in Romania and recreates on an 8 hectares area the functional image of a traditional rural settlement with all its social-cultural institutions including a primary school built at the beginning of the XXth century

Valcea Village Museum

a wooden church from 1785

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a swing from Stoenesti commune that my other grandma used to call “wardrobe” and said on Easter kids could ride it for eggs

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an inn

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a pottery shop from the XIX century

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a sheep yard

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a bee keeper’s place

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The Museum is so well arranged and preserved that you feel like going back in time in that garden, on that day, on that summer, in front of that small 3 rooms house and grandma is calling to go pick-up zarzare :p.

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How to find it?

Valcea Village Museum it’s located near Valcea in Bujoreni Commune. You can drive or you can even take bus number 7 from Valcea and it will drop you right in front. Starting from the month of April the houses may be visited also inside and workshops are organized. And if you are lucky the nice historian that take place of the place will share stories about the school, the houses and cherished old times traditions. All you have to do is ask :p

For more pictures check out our Facebook page here.

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