51 Things to do in Morocco

 

DAY 1

Arrive in Marrakech airport (host picked me up at the airport)

took the bus to host’s place (c/o host)

1.)Explore the city (c/o host) Jamaa El Fna Square, Koutoubia Mosque, Souk, etc

dinner for 2 (my treat) 50 dirham

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at Jamaa El Fna with the Koutoubia mosque in the background

Day 2

Booked a 3 day Sahara Desert tour 700 dirham

inclusions: a really comfortable transportation, tour guide, 1 night accommodation in a riad, 1 night tent accommodation in the middle of the Sahara desert, camel rides, breakfast and dinner (not bad, not bad at all)

2.) Marvel at the beautiful snow capped Atlas Mountain on your way to the desert

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3.) Witness locals make the famous Moroccan Argan oil, butter and jams

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4.) Be astounded by these beautiful old villages on mountain sides

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5.) Explore the city or as what they call it “ksar” of Ait Ben Haddou (if you are a Game of Thrones fan, this one’s for you)

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6.) Learn how the locals make all organic art

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7.) and Learn how they make their houses

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8.) Stay at the lounge area  of your riad and meet fellow travelers

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9.) Go through an almond plantation while on your way to a local village

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10.) Explore another village

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11.) Pretend you are in Japan in the middle of the Cherry Blossom season

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12.) Learn how to tell the difference between sheep, camel and donkey carpet just by the feel of it

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13.) Have your fill of their famous Tagine 100 dirham

tagine

lunch is not covered in the desert package so we had to buy really really expensive meals

14.) Try your first camel meat (and actually like it) 100 dirham

camel meat

15.) Marvel at the beauty of Dades Gorge

dades gorge

16.) and Todra Gorge

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NOW HERE COMES MY FAVORITE PART OF THE TOUR

17.) Be very giddy at your first sight of the Sahara- the largest hot desert in the world

first sight

18.) Ride a camel

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19.) Climb the gigantic sand dunes of Erg Chebbi and feel like dying- then ask your guide and fellow travelers to pull you up the last few meters of the dune hahahaha

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20.) Marvel at the beautiful Saharan sunset (while the group climbs another dune and you stay behind because you are very unfit!)

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21.) FULFILL YOUR CHILDHOOD DREAM (play in the Saharan Desert and sleep under millions of stars)

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22.) Wake up very early to a cold cold morning in the desert, ride your camel and witness a beautiful sunrise

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23.) Enjoy the view of the Rose Valley

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After the 3 day Sahara tour, a couple of friends and I went to Fes to continue exploring Morocco.

24.) Get lost in the maze alley of Fes, panic and call people from your riad to help you find your way back

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25.) Enter the medina through the famous Blue Gate (Bab Boujloud)

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26.) Walk up the mountain until you get to Borj Nord

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27.) Witness the 2 contrasting views of Fes

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city view

 

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mountain view

 

28.)  See the unique white tombs

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29.) Marvel at the intricate designs of the walls inside Bou Inania Madrasa 20 dirham

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30.) Be prepared to get lost inside Fes Medina

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31.) Appreciate the beautiful Jardin Jnin Sbil

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32.) Walk into the unique world of the Wood Museum 20 dirham

wood museum

33.) Look for the oldest library in the world located in Qarrawiyyin; get dismayed because it’s closed so you proceed to the nearby mosque

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34.) Explore the Blue City of Chefchaouan

35.) Marvel at the beauty of the city while inside the Kasbah Museum 20 dirham

37.) Wait for the sunset while exploring a partly excavated Berber and Roman city

38.) Look really small next to the gigantic Bab Mansour in Meknes

39.) Visit a creepy underground prison 10 dirham

 

40) stay in a beautiful riad- for free

41.) Feel like a local and go to the market

one rainy day in the market

42.) Ride a public bus 4 dirham

43.) Visit the largest mosque in Morocco

you could see how big the mosque is by looking at how tiny the father pushing a stroller in the foreground is.

44.) Appreciate their murals

45.) Look for a Catholic Church and cast all your worries there

46.) Hitchhike your way back to the city

47.) Kiss a camel

48.) Meet some awesome friends

49.) Play with the local kids who can only speak French

50.) Learn how to cook and share a meal with your local family

51.) FALL IN LOVE ❤

Chaaaaar.. Fall in love with the country and the people

 

Damage Report:

 

 

 

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Race the sun- Indonesian style

It’s gonna be a physically draining day for us. Today, we are racing the sun.

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yeah, this sunrise

Upon our arrival, we booked a guide, registered for the climb, bought water and snacks and drank a cup of coffee to keep us warm.

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because I didn’t have a headlamp, I had to be resourceful (madam auring)

I was wearing my long sleeved climbing gear but I had to wear a rash guard plus a jacket on top of it just to keep me from shivering.

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It was still dark when we started our walk to the foot of the mountain and once there, I could see the trail of headlights, all trying to reach the mountain before sunrise.

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Our guide, kuya Gede, did his best to give us the pace our unfit bodies could manage while making sure we had ample time to reach the peak. He would constantly ask “Mae, are you ok?” or “no quitting Mae” or “If you quit, I’m not going down with you.”

That’s the problem with a small group, if someone decides to quit, there is no extra guide to go back with you to the foot of the mountain.

 So there we were, shivering from the cold, snot dripping down our noses (the path was gravel-y which contributed to the dust and making it more slippery).

 Halfway up, we met a couple of foreigners who decided to quit and were walking back to the base with one of their guides. And there was Kuya Gede again telling me that if I quit, he won’t be coming down with me.

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Once at the peak, we had a few minutes to spare before sunrise. Yey! We beat the sun! We had another cup of coffee to keep us warm as we sit in anticipation for the beauty that unraveled right before our very eyes.

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just amazing

Those little bit of sunrays kept us warm and the beauty of it all kept us energized so we decided to explore more of Mt. Batur. We tried to cook eggs on the sulfur vents, tried shouting and waiting for our echo near the crater, taking pictures, running around and just taking in the beauty of the mountain. All the while, Kuya Gede was amused on how we were acting. (like kids in a candy store)

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Before starting our decent, Kuya Gede showed us a 360 view of the ground down below.

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We wouldn’t have made it if not for this guy right here. Thank you Kuya Gede!

 

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Ok, picture picture

Coming down was as much of a struggle as climbing up because of the loose stones but we made it in one piece.

 

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Before saying goodbye to our guide, Kuya Gede, and leaving this marvelous mountain, we had to look back to take in its magnificence once last time.

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Mt. Batur is an active volcano and the 3rd highest in Bali, Indonesia. Those lines that you’re seeing there are actually where the lava passed the last time it erupted.

So you see, Bali is not just about the beaches, surfing and temples.

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YES! the 3 Musketeers’ conquered Mt. Batur in Bali, Indonesia

 

 

 

 

 

Kolkata: my own little pilgrimage

Calcutta is not for everyone.

You want your city clean and green, stick to Delhi.

You want your city rich and impersonal, go to Bombay.

You want them hi-tech and full of draught beer, Bangalore’s your place.

But if you want a city with a soul, come to Calcutta

                                                                                – Vir Sanghvi

Why Kolkata?

1.) Because of Mother Teresa

2.) It has the cheapest airfare I could find in (Northeast) India

When you arrive, you land at Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport. To witness the coolest thing about this airport, don’t forget to look up. You will see the  the works of Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore written on the ceiling.

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Since I almost always take the red eye flight since it’s the cheapest, I almost always land in the wee hours of the day. But you don’t have to worry because the airport is clean, safe and modern. If you are just in Kolkata for a day, I recommend you sleep in the airport, take the earliest bus to the train station (which is around 5:30AM), leave your luggage there then start your sight seeing adventure.

If you booked a hotel, you can immediately pay for a prepaid taxi at the counter (in the departure area) to take you to your hotel. Exit the departure area and head to the taxi line. (guards are very visible in the airport so don’t be afraid to ask). Also, I suggest you start with Dakshineswar Kali temple and Belur Math after dropping off your luggage.

(personal experience- some drivers would say they don’t speak English and would say NO to you but as I said, just ask the help of the guards- there’s one that mans the taxi line- and he’ll instruct the driver for you)

I paid 390 Rupees for a ride from the airport to the city proper which takes about 45 mins. But it took us more than an hour to find my hostel because I gave the driver a different address and I was looking at a different hostel in my google maps (I know it’s my fault) causing us to go around in circles and when we finally arrived at our destination, the driver kind of got a little bit pissed off (hahahaha) and started arguing with the hostel guy (in Hindi) so I just gave him an additional 100 rupees so he would leave. Oppps sorry kowyah driver.

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I got the room all to myself

I always book a dorm room coz it’s the cheapest and that way I get to meet other travellers but I was the only one here. So, I chose the biggest bed and got my own peace and quiet in the middle of the bustling city of Kolkata. Thus the big smile.

Suggested itinerary:

1.) Birla Mandir– either you come here in the evening (because the light makes it more beautiful) or early morning when it’s not too hot.

Admission: FREE. You have to leave your shoes and water bottle in the counter near the entrance and give perhaps a 30 rupee donation once you claim your shoes from the counter.

Photography not allowed inside.

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2.) Kali Ghat Kali temple

Admission: FREE

Photography not allowed inside.

3.) South Park Cemetery

Entrance: FREE but they’ll ask you for a donation. 30 rupees is okay.

4.)Mother House– This is where Saint Teresa of Calcutta lived while doing her mission and this is also where she was buried.

I took a taxi ride from Kali Ghat temple to the Mother House and paid 100 rupees. (75-150 rupees is a reasonable price). Don’t expect a beautiful yellow cab just like in New York. Their taxis, though yellow are not airconditioned and are a bit rickety. And did I mention, Indians are the best drivers in the world?! Be prepared for the sometimes annoying beep beep beep sound. They honk a looooot.

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Tip: Sometimes a mass will be held so don’t forget to ask if there is a scheduled mass for the day. Don’t forget to check out Mother Teresa’s room.

Admission: FREE

Photography is permitted only at the tomb area.

mother-house

5.) Indian Museum– The largest and oldest museum in India. Most displays are not airconditioned. They have a mummy!!!

Admission: 500 rupees for foreigners

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6.) Victoria Memorial Museum– A large marble museum dedicated to the memory of Queen Victoria.

I took a subway ride from the Indian Museum to Victoria Memorial and paid only 9 rupees. The ride was comfortable, the train was clean (and yes I know what you’re thinking, it didn’t stink at all), there was enough space (maybe because it wasn’t rush hour) and buying a “ticket” was easy.

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Tips: Don’t forget to climb the stairs and check out the view from above.

Admission: 200 rupees for foreigners

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7.) Dakshineswar Kali Temple

Tips: Take a 10 rupee ferry ride to Belur Math after. Only buy your tickets at the ticketing counter which is found right at the bottom of Bally bridge or via a 3 minute walk on the left side road from the temple’s main gate.

Admission: FREE

Photography not allowed.

8.) Belur Math

Tips: If you chose to do this before going to Dakshineswar Kali Temple, you can still take the 10 rupee ferry ride to the temple by going to the Belur jetty just a 3  minute walk from Belur Math.

Admission: FREE

Photography not allowed.

9.) Princep Ghat

Admission: FREE

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photo by a friend (pranatravels)

10.) Howrah Bridge– If you are up for the adventure, try crossing the bridge on foot and enjoying the view. Best done during sunset.

Admission: FREE

Other places you might want to visit if you still have time:

a.) Terreti Morning Market (Bazaar)- Best to go in the morning. Duh! hehehe

b.) Mallick Ghat Flower market- Flower market directly under Howrah Bridge.

c.) New Market or Sir Stuart Hogg Market- located in the popular Sudder street.

Here’s a not so presentable map that I used to help me make my itinerary. Map is labeled with numbers and letters to show you where the areas mentioned above are located. Hope this helps.

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And here’s the breakdown of expenses in Kolkata:

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I ended my adventure in Kolkata at the Howrah Junction Railway Station which is the oldest and largest railway complex in India. Had dinner here while waiting for the train which would take me to my next adventure in….. VARANASI.

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Stay tuned!

Cracking the Indian Railway System code

Bonus India blog!

Before, I thought Japan railway system was complicated, that was until I started booking Indian train tickets from overseas. So here’s the score, you can only book those tickets through their website http://www.irctc.co.in and for you to access it, you have to sign-up for an account. To get an account, you need an active Indian mobile number. That’s where the problem begins. And it does not stop there. If ever, for any miracle, you were able to secure an active Indian mobile number, it’s paying for your tickets that’s the problem. Though it says on the website that they now accept foreign credit cards, I can’t seem to figure out how to do it (and most travellers haven’t figured it out til now yet, based on threads upon threads of problems like this that I’ve read.)

Many blogs suggested that I use www.makemytrip.com or www.cleartrip.com but the problem here is that once you have chosen your trip, you will again be routed to the Indian railway system website (www.irctc.co.in) so it kinda defeats the point of this “work around”.

About to give up, I remember one of my fave blogger, the MAN IN SEAT 61 and thanks to his website www.seat61.com I was able to figure it out on the last minute. (Yes, like literally a few days before my trip) Thank you MAN IN SEAT 61!!!I would highly recommend that you visit his site.

So he suggested that:

  1. I create an account in http://www.irctc.co.in
  2. Use my own mobile number as the contact info (just change the leading zero to 9).
  3. And if the site asks for your pincode, it actually means zipcode, you can use 123456
  4. then click submit
  5. Next, check your email for the One Time Password that the website sent.
  6. Now, you have to send an email to care@irctc.co.in quoting your username (which is case sensitive), attach a scanned copy of your passport (making sure the size is less than 1 MB) and now, ask them to activate your account since you don’t have an Indian mobile number
  7. I got my response the day after I registered.

I logged in to http://www.irctc.co.in using my new activated account and still can’t figure out how to pay using a foreign credit card. So I downloaded the cleartrip app on my phone, booked a ticket using that app, signed in using my IRCTC account during the payment verification process and VOILA, I was able to book my tickets! Woohoo! Thank you “internet” for all your help!

Here’s a few more tips.

Indian trains have different classes, AC1, AC2, AC3, first class, Executive chair class, chair class, sleeper class and second class seat.

If like me, and you put all your sleeping slash resting needs during those overnight journey you have, and still don’t want to go out of budget, I suggest you book the AC tier 2 class.

So what’s the difference between AC1, AC2 and AC3?

Well, AC1 and AC2 are kinda the same but AC1 is a bit more spacious and is, yes you’ve guessed it, more expensive. It is also not available on all trips. Now, you’re left with AC2 and AC3. Still both are air-conditioned but in AC3 there are 3 bunk beds while in AC2, you have your regular 2 tiered bunk beds. So AC2 is more spacious and comfy.

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AC tier 2 photo from google

 

 

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AC tier 3 photo from google

 

*note: the top bunk is freezing cold but with your ticket you get a pillow, pillowcase, 2 bed sheets slash blanket and another thick blanket

Also, if I know I have a few hours of daylight in my journey, I prefer the lower side berth since I get a window all for myself to look at the view. Other than that, I prefer, the top bunk so I get my peace and quiet.

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my fave train berth. 2 regular seats at daytime convert into one bed at night

 

*there is a note on the train that says, from 6AM to 9PM the beds should be converted into seats so those staying on the upper bunks can sit down during those hours. Not all passengers would follow it but on my last train ride, I had to wait 3 hours before I can sleep coz I booked the AC3 and I was on the middle berth. The other passengers were still sitting on the first berth so I can’t open the middle one since it would hit their heads. If I had took the AC2 class, or opted for the top most berth then I would have been able to sleep immediately.

train-layout

Lastly, for journeys that would only take a few hours, like a train ride from Agra to Delhi, you can opt for the AC chair class. It is air-conditioned and the seats are arranged like those in a bus.

The Indian Railway headache does not stop there. Next you have the reservation. If like me, you just have a few days left before your journey, you will be greeted with the words RAC, waitlist and Tatkal and Tourist Quotas. So let me break them down for you.

Remember the beds that convert to seats in the morning? One bed converts to 2 seats okay? It will come in handy in this explanation. RAC means Reservation Against Cancellation. It means, you are guaranteed a seat in the train but not a bed. Let me paint a picture. If you are issued a RAC2 ticket, it means, you are sharing the “bed space” with one other passenger (RAC1), so both of you will be sitting the whole way. (But don’t you worry, there are always cancellations hehehehe) If a confirmed ticket holder, cancels on the last minute, RAC1 ticket holder takes his/her “bed space” then you (RAC2) now has the “bed space” all for yourself.

*All my tickets were purchased as a RAC3 and on the day of my travel, I always got a berth of my own. You can check the status of your ticket online but since the status can change even on the day of your trip, I suggest you ask at the station.

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2 seats convert to a bed at night

 

Next, the Waitlist tickets. These ticket holders cannot travel, I repeat, they cannot travel on this kind of ticket. But once the RAC tickets have been moved to Confirmed (as mentioned above) the waitlisted passengers can now be moved to a RAC ticket. That is the time that they are now guaranteed a seat. Once on RAC, they follow the steps above.

Lastly, Tatkal tickets. These tickets are available for those spur of the moment bookings. They are a bit more expensive and they start selling around just 24 hours before the trip (but always ask for the “tourist quota ticket first” before booking a tatkal ticket). Tourist Quotas are a small number of seats or berths that are reserved for foreign travelers only. A trip can show as fully booked (for the general public) but sometimes there could still be seats left in the “tourist quota”.

There you go. Hope this helps you in booking those elusive Indian train tickets.

 

 

Budget breakdown: India

Okay, so after some back to back to back trainings at work, I was finally able to score 17 glorious days of well deserved vacation. So what do I do? Dan dan daraaaan drum roll pls… Go on another budget adventure to one of the countries on my bucketlist— Inredible India.

3 countries, 6 different airports, and a grand total of 47 hours of waiting, I think in this trip, I have mastered the art of airport squatting. From sleeping, to roaming around the shops ,to buying food— and with food, i mean ice cream— with what little change I had left in their currency, I had to make it work.

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But here’s the fun part; 5 cities, 3 train rides and a total distance covered of 1919.8 kms it was one heck of an adventure. (Look at the map below, just looking at it makes me so exhausted but even I can’t believe that I did it)

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Here’s a budget breakdown of my India adventure which consisted of five cities. Will share my experiences on these cities and some pictures on future blogs if time permits.

kolkata

varanasi

amritsar

india-airfare

So with a little over a week in India, I spent around 15 thousand pesos for the whole duration of my stay, including visa fees and airfare.  Plus you add those 2 days in Malaysia, 2 days in Manila and 4 days in Bohol, maybe we can sum it up to 20 thousand pesos. Not bad! I stayed within budget!

Til my next trip.

 

Bali Beautiful

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Two years ago, I was able to spend my birthday week and the three musketeers’ 3rd year anniversary getaway in the land of gods and goddesses, Bali, Indonesia. The water baby that I am, it has always been my dream to visit this place, it even came to a point that I  challenged myself to lose a little weight (unsaon na lang ang 2 pc, basin ma Phuket part 2 hahaha)

If you have read/watched Eat, Pray, Love, then you would have an idea on how beautiful Bali is. So that became the theme of our trip: Bali Beautiful- Eat, Pray, Love.

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As per research, a drive to Bali from Jakarta (the capital of Indonesia) takes 24 hours or an hour plane ride. Since we were coming in from Singapore because I had to meet up with the other musketeers there, we took the direct flight to Denpasar from Singapore via Jetstar airlines and what do you expect, we were the last to check-in. hehe

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I also got a chance to do a cockpit tour and take a picture with the captain and co-captain of our flight. Cool! (When asked how I did it, I just answer, “because I’m beautiful” LOL) – it was one of my wishes for my birthday

We arrived at Ngurah Rai International Airport  in Denpasar which is the capital of Bali. And the first thing we noticed were these leaf and flower offerings.

 

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Canang Sari- one of the daily offerings of the Balinese Hindus

First on our itinerary was to visit Uluwatu temple, so we booked a hotel near there. We had to hire a cab and travel around 2 hours to get to our hotel but the good news is that Padang-Padang beach (one of the famous surf points in the island) is just a 5 min walk away. Here’s a picture of where we stayed. Not bad right?

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yeah, not bad at all

After checking in, we immediately headed to Padang-Padang beach for our first sunset in this beautiful place.

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Saturday night live music

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We woke up early, had breakfast then went to Padang-Padang beach again for an early swim and to people watch. Hehe

 

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Entry way to Padang2x beach

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After lunch, we were off to Uluwatu temple which was another hour or so ride away from the hotel. Here, we got to witness a beautiful sunset as we marveled at the beauty of Uluwatu Temple- a small temple perched on top of a steep cliff which is one of 6 key temples believed to be Bali’s spiritual pillars- while being entertained by Balinese performers doing  their traditional Kecak dance.

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temple ootd 101- if it’s too short, you need to cover up

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Back in the hotel, we had a sumptuous dinner plus I discovered my fave dessert in Bali. (Bad idea, tambok kayo pagka ugma hahaha)

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pisang goreng- fried banana with vanilla ice cream nom nom

 

The next day was allotted for a whole day of beach bumming at one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen- Dreamland beach- which was indeed a dreamland for me.

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one cool bus ride to the beach pls

 

dreamland

Selfeet

 

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This is where I’ve seen the biggest waves so far in my entire life which made the beach not safe for swimming. So we settled at taking pictures, playing with the baby waves on the shoreline and working on our tan (iring! Para ingnon lang jud na laysho ba hahahah)

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time to pack up the mat and say bye bye to this beautiful beach

 

All the picture taking had us very hungry.

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Pungko2x budget style

Upon arriving back to our hotel, that was when we noticed how burnt we were but this is my favorite color so far. We rested for a few minutes, packed and got ready for another ride to a different hotel, this time near Ubud.

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After settling in to our new hotel, we decided to go to the beach which was just a few minutes away. Upon arriving there, honestly, we were disappointed, (coming from Bohol, an island known for beautiful white sand beaches and having enjoyed Phuket’s beaches and recently, Bali’s Dreamland beach, our taste for beaches is hard to please) So we walked away and started exploring the market place instead.

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off to the market instead

 

After several hours of walking, and before turning in for the night coz we had an early start the next day, we decided to Carbo load for our first official International Climb.

 

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Yes, we consumed all that food. Just the three of us.

We were so full that we had to walk some more and enjoy the beauty of Bali’s night time scene just to burn the extra fat.

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*** we have just scratched the surface of what Bali can offer***

Still to come, Ubud adventure, Mt. Batur climb, Tanah Lot visit and who would forget, surfing at Kuta Beach

 

A series of unfortunate events in Beijing

We took a 12 hour sleeper train from Xi’an to Beijing which was unexpectedly comfortable. I don’t know if I was just tired or comfy but I slept the whole way, so I was not able to enjoy the view. Not that we had a view since the train left 7PM from Xi’an and arrived around 7AM in Beijing.

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since we booked our tickets late, we had separate rooms in the train

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From the station, we just had to walk for 3 minutes to get to our hotel sponsor, Ibis (Beijing). It was too early for check-in so we just left our bags and ventured out to explore the city.

 

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We bought a transportation smart card worth 100RMB so we don’t have to buy tickets on each train ride.

It was a jam packed day for us; Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, The Nest and The Cube so we had to start early.

 

First, was the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square and ironically, we were “forbidden” to enter the Forbidden City because of the Commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the victory of China in the war of resistance against Japan, something we didn’t research beforehand. (So here’s another tip, research research research)

 

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We just took some pictures from afar then decided to visit the Summer Palace since it was a bit far from where we were staying. We took a bus to the Summer Palace and paid the 30 RMB entrance fee and spent around 4 hours enjoying the view and taking pictures.

 

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After all the walking and being silly, we decided to go back to the city and visit the Olympic stadium– The Nest –that they built when they hosted the 2008 Olympics. I was particularly excited to see The Cube. (If you’re not big on international events, let me just tell you that this is the place where my love and idol, the great Michael Phelps won his record breaking 8 gold medals for the Olympics yeeeey) But when we arrived at The Nest, lo and behold, the place was closed for the 2015 World Championship for Athletics and just like that, my fan girl dream came crashing down the drain. boohoo

 

The nest

Not one to let a series of unfortunate events cloud our trip, we happily settled taking pictures outside (again) and secretly waited for the Philippine delegates (if ever we had some) to pass by and allow us to come inside and cheer hahahahaha We waited for around an hour for the bus to take us to our hotel, and to kill boredom, we were people watching, trying to see if there were famous personalities from the International delegates or members of the media hahaha but we were the only famous people there.

 

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Back in our hotel, after a not so fruitful day of sight seeing, we slept early and was again excited to be amazed by what the Great Wall of China could offer us the next day.

 

Beijing

P.S

gopro pix still not available so pardon the pictures

 

next post: Our Great Wall experience

 

Less than 24 hours in Xi’an

Second on the China itinerary was to see the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’An. And to score the cheapest tickets, of course we booked a red eye flight aboard China Eastern from Zhiangjiajie to Xi’an which took about an hour and a half. Our flight got super delayed so we did what we came here to do- sleep at the airport- hahaha. We were supposed to take turns sleeping so as not to miss the boarding announcement for our flight but guess who stayed awake.

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Since Xi’an was a busier city, their airport was better than Zhangjiajie and upon arrival we were immediately greeted by “scouts”. We were able to book a taxi for 150 RMB to our hotel at downtown Xi’an and the ride took around an hour.

Ibis hotel- our official hotel sponsor for our china trip hahahaha It’s clean and affordable but the downside is that the beds were again super comfortable that it’s such a struggle to get up. hahaha 2 thumbs up!

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We had a 9 AM call time that day, took a bus (which passes just outside our hotel) to the terminal for just 1 RMB. The bus terminal is just near the train station and the walled city. We paid 7 RMB for the one hour bus ride to the Terra Cotta Warriors. I guess we rode bus 306 but we were at the wrong queue so a Chinese vendor, which we thought was trying to sell us her goods, had to do the “charades” for us to understand that we need to transfer to a different line. See how helpful they are? To think we didn’t even ask for any help, they just saw that we made a mistake and immediately pointed us to the right direction.(China- three; Fabiosa-zero)

While waiting for the bus, we were able to talk with a couple from the US and they advised us to explore the walled city, preferably on a bike and to do it before sunset so we get to see different views of the surroundings (day time, sunset and night time). So we decided to do this once we get back from the Terra Cotta Warriors.

It was a hassle free  and comfortable ride and after an hour, we arrived at our destination. We had to walk for 10 minutes to get to the gates where you can buy the 150 RMB tickets to enter the pits. But it was either another 5 min walk to actually get to the pits or a 5 RMB ride on a golf cart. I don’t need to tell you which one we took.

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The plaza (heard there’s a fountain show in the evenings)

Since we had the flair for the dramatic, we decided to start with pit 3 and walk our way up to the most interesting and biggest area which was pit 1.

 

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Pit 3

 

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Pit 2- located 20 meters north of Pit 1 is in “L” shape. Pit 2 consists of mixed military forces in four arrays; archers, war chariots, cavalrymen and infantrymen.

 

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Pit 1- the largest of the 3 pits. Up to now, about 2,000 pottery warriors and horses, 20 wooden chariots have been unearthed within an area of 4,000 square meters. It is assumed that more than 6,000 terra-cotta warriors and horses, 50 chariots were buried in Pit 1.

 

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the warriors up close

 

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Kalesa? hehe

 

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Chariot on display

 

After several hours of feeding our eyes with the awesomeness of the site, we decided to go back to the city to have ample time to explore the wall. We did a little pasalubong shopping, and Daina sent home again some postcards. 

I don’t know but the bus back to the city was 10 RMB (not 7). Once we got to the terminal, we walked to the nearest wall entrance (they have several entrances, this is where you can buy the tickets) and bought our tickets for 54 RMB each. Since it was a kilometer walk to the nearest bike rental, we decided to do a walking tour of the wall instead- BAD IDEA. A huge wall plus unfit people plus a tight schedule is never a good idea.

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Xi’an’s walled city (their own version of our Intramuros)

 

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Since we still need to catch our 7PM train ride to Beijing we had to cut our walled city exploration short and head back to our hotel to get our bags.

We took a 10RMB tricycle ride back to our hotel, got our bags, took the same bus we rode in the morning to the terminal and boarded our train just in the nick of time.

 Next stop: Beijing

budget

 

 

Made in China

China has always been on my top 10 travel bucket list; however I did not expect to have ticked it off this early. It was around 2-3 years away in the travel plan but I’ll spare you the long backstory.

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Amazing race worthy journey

So it was a solo flight to Shanghai for me while my 2 girl friends had a 5 hour layover in KL, Malaysia. We arrived at Shanghai Pudong International Airport just 10 minutes apart and since we had another flight in the evening, we decided to just sleep in the airport (saves us money, time, effort and I’ve always wanted to sleep in one). Their airport was huge and the chairs were comfy enough to sleep in.

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airport squatters

We left our luggage at the airport and went out to explore Shanghai for a day (which I’ll be blogging about separately).

Fast forward 10 hours and we are back at the airport, waiting for our flight to Zhangjiajie.

This was the main purpose of our trip, to visit Zhangjiajie National Forest Park home of the famous “Southern Sky Column” which inspired James Cameron to create the magical floating peaks in Pandora known as the “Hallelujah Mountains” in the movie Avatar.

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from the movie Avatar (photo taken from google)

It was a 2 hour and 20 mins plane ride from Shanghai aboard China Eastern (this trip’s airline sponsor hahaha)

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We arrived at around 9PM and immediately looked for a taxi to take us to our hostel which was at Wulingyuan, an hour and 30 mins away from the airport . It was already dark and the tourist information desk was already closed and we didn’t see any airport police who could help us get a cab. So we went out and fended for ourselves. We haggled with our broken English and charades to finally get one at a reasonable price.

After 30 minutes of driving, the taxi driver stopped at the side of the road and told us to transfer to a different taxi which he said was his friend and would take us to our hostel. (Panic mode) Ofcourse we had to comply and transferred our bags to the other taxi. I didn’t get to sleep the rest of the way coz I was on high alert. Upon our arrival in the Wulingyuan district, we had a hard time finding our hostel so our taxi driver offered to call our hostel and asked someone to pick us up. That was when I got to breathe a sigh of relief. My fear was irrational, these Chinese people are helpful. (One point China- zero Fabiosa)

While walking to our hostel, my friend, Julius, said he got scared as well, and as we were sharing stories on all the bad stuff we were imagining that would happen to us, our other friend, Daina, said she just slept the whole way. Hahahaha

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Our room had a homey feel and the beds were super comfy. One of the comfiest hostels I’ve slept in. We shared it with 2 other Chinese teens who were there for vacation and before going to bed, they shared some tips on how we could go about our Zhangjiajie sight-seeing the next day.

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What’s for breakfast? FROGS

 

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We got to make our own noodle soup.

 

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bedheads

We had an early start the next day. Ate breakfast at a nearby buffet place for 15RMB each, took our baths and headed to the bus station which was a 10 minute walk from our hostel. We boarded bus number 10 and paid 10RMB each and we were on our way to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.

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almost there

 

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with our super buotan bus driver

First order of business, buy a map (I wouldn’t be #thegirlwithamap without it wouldn’t I?) hehehe and paid 248RMB for a 4 day pass.

Upon entering, we were instantly amazed by the natural beauty of the place. From the mighty pillars, down to the trees, grass, pond and the golden whip stream. We were awestruck, we don’t know where to go and what to do first.

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So we stopped and did what we were great at, picture taking. Hahahaah after that, we consulted our map and decided to go to the Yellow Rock Village first via the forest. Whoow, did we ever made a bad decision! We were faced with a million flights of stairs. But armed with determination, we started our slow ascent. Chatting with each other, occasionally taking pictures  and asking those coming down if we were halfway there (Unfortunately, we weren’t hahahaha). Guess determination was not enough to combat the stairs. We were at a disadvantage. We had to play it smart. Before draining all our energy early on in our trip, we decided to go back down and ride the cable car instead.

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Kaya ba natin to guys?

 

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We call this the “princess princess ride” These 2 guys would take you all the way up the mountain for a fee ofcourse. Unfortunately I think we can’t afford it and I don’t think they can carry me hahahaha and it looks dangerous (incase they slip or anything)

We bought a one way ride worth 65RMB (double way is 118 RMB) and the view was ahh-mazing. Followed the Huangshi village tour line and finally found the “five fingers peak” which was one of my favorite.

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First cable car ride.

 

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It was foggy the whole day

After several hours of walking, we finally decided to go back down via the stairs but not before sending some postcards to friends from the China post located at the top of the mountain. Cool.

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Ohh and btw, beware of monkeys. They may look cute but they seem to be attracted to  your snacks.

 

Going down was as much of a struggle for me as it was climbing up. Before my China trip, I was recently diagnosed with tendonitis on my left knee and it started to hurt big time. I can’t bend my left knee so you can imagine how painful it was for me to go down all those flight of stairs.

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thegirlwithamap at work

On our way down, we passed a place similar to the hanging coffins of Sagada and had our pictures taken there. We were a bit behind schedule so we were not able to walk along the Golden Whip Stream which was supposed to be one of my non-negotiables. (We have this tradition wherein one member of the group can choose his/her non-negotiable site per day and all the rest needs to do it with him/her. Also, we have so called “cards” that we can use. Like the “layda2x” card, “massage” card and etc.)

We took a taxi (50RMB) back to the other entrance.Here, we paid for a 72RMB elevator ride. Quite expensive for one ride? Well, the Bailong elevator is a glass elevator built onto the side of a huge cliff and was officially recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world’s tallest outdoor lift. (One Guinness entry, down) Then we rode 2 more buses to get to our hostel inside the park so we can get a good head start for tomorrow’s sunrise.

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with kuya cab driver

 

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Day 2.

Hostel personnel- “No sunrise for today. Raining.”

Whaaaaaat?!!!! Yes yes I know. No plan is ever perfect. So we packed our stuff and decided to do our Day 3 itinerary on Day 2. (Always make your plans as flexible as you can)

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Bailong elevator- 2nd ride

So we took our 2nd Bailong elevator ride and waited for the bus to take us back to the terminal. Since it was raining, it was the perfect excuse to visit the Yellow Dragon Cave. We took bus number 1 at the same terminal and paid 1RMB for a 30 minute ride going to the cave. We paid 100RMB for the entrance and 3RMB for the tourist insurance thingie.

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To my amazement, the cave was well lit, colorful, huge and fully airconditioned. And the tallest stalagmite inside the cave was apparently insured for 100 million Yuan. Wheeew! That’s a hefty sum.

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But what really caught my attention here in not the cave but the beautiful scenery outside.

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After the cave, we went back to the terminal, rode another bus (bus #2 for 2RMB) and went to Baofeng Lake. While inside the bus, we got to chat with some Chinese kids who were counting from 1 to a hundred in English. We tried to help them with it and in turn they taught us how to count in Chinese and we had an impromptu Chinese lesson with the rest of the people in the bus. And they were all game to do a groufie. FUN! (China- 2; Fabiosa-0)

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We paid 90RMB for the entrance to the lake and since it was located high up in the mountain we had another tiring walk to the lake because there were a lot of people waiting for the free bus. There’s a free boat that would take you around the lake with a Chinese guide so we practically didn’t understand anything she said. We just enjoyed the pristine natural beauty of its surroundings and was surprised to see that black swans are real, not just on movies. Hehehe

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Lake tour group

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Beautiful waterfalls as the backdrop.

Tired and wet from all the walking under the never ending drizzle, we went back to our hostel and had one of the most delicious dinners we had on this trip.

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coming up: day 3 and 4 itinerary on a separate post to share more info and pictures (and not just my solo. ulk! hehe)

sorry for the pix, gopro photos not available (paging Daina) hehehe

 

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Magical Myanmar

Exactly a year ago, I, together with family, got to explore the beautiful country of Myanmar formerly known as Burma. The country is known for the breath taking view you get to see while on a hot air balloon ride overlooking thousands of pagodas in Bagan. However, one balloon ride is equivalent to our whole week’s budget so we passed up that chance and was more than happy to savor the view on top of a pagoda- not that the sunrise was less magical this way.

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So, here’s how we did it.

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We took a plane (Jetstar) from Singapore to Yangon (which I thought was the capital of Myanmar but as per google it has been Naypyidaw since 2005) and from there, it was bus ride after bus ride after bus ride but who am I to complain. (You can take a domestic flight but it’s too expensive for us)

The airport taxi to the bus station in Yangon costs 7000 Kyat. The ride was around 30 mins and once we arrived at the station, we immediately bought our tickets to Nyaung Shwe where you can find Inle Lake. The bus was not scheduled to leave for another hour or so, so we decided to get our fill of our first ever authentic Burmese food. Then we bought some snacks and water since we were told that it’s going to be a loooooong ride.

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*Choose a first class bus; your bodies will thank you for it. If a first class bus is not available, do not, I repeat, do not sit at the back of a local bus since the seats there don’t recline. Also, local buses do not have toilets inside so remember the rules of long distance travelling.

It was a 15 hour bus ride from Yangon to Nyaung Shwe, the longest one I’ve experienced to date. We paid 16,000 Kyat each to ride one of the local buses.

*As you already know, while travelling, you should always keep a small bag with you for your passport, wallet, wipes, alcohol, make-up kit etc etc etc hahahah this is very handy since they don’t allow you to stay on the bus during stopovers (for security purposes)

We arrived in Nyaung Shwe bus station at daybreak and hired a cab to Inle lake for 10K kyat. The entrance for foreigners is also 10K kyat good for a week’s stay in the area. We booked a family room at Inle Star hotel which was huuuuuge. The place is adjacent to the lake so we didn’t have a hard time getting a boat ride the next day.

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And yes, they are as comfy as they look.

 

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witnessing the Burmese day to day life while sipping coffee on our hotel’s balcony

After a few minutes of rest, we freshened up and started exploring the area.

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We grabbed breakfast at a local eatery

Booked our ride for the evening’s fire balloon festival in Taunggyi which was also one of the reasons why we scheduled this trip to Myanmar.

Went to the market, bought some Thanaka, had lunch at another local eatery (you might have discovered the trend by now #WeChooseLocal hehehe)

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Then we explored the place more and took the “muddy” road less travelled.

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Afternoon came and we were all excited to witness the festival. We got dressed in our warmest clothes and waited for the pick-up we scheduled earlier that day.

*Nyaung Shwe to Taunggyi pick-up at hotel was 10K Kyat per person (the car leaves at 5:30PM and back at 11PM) the ride was for an hour and 30 mins.

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we had to go to several more hotels to pick up other passengers who scheduled the same trip but ok lang madugay kay cutie ang afam na akong tapad hahaha

Back story: Before our flight to Myanmar, a Burmese friend of my cousin told us to pack clothes to keep us warm since it would be very very cold at night in Taunggyi. Ofcourse, the stubborn person that I am, I did not heed her warning coz I was thinking that Myanmar would be too hot even for a light jacket. 

Halfway to Taunggyi, I finally suffered the consequence of my mistake. It was freezing. From that day, I swore to never again question a local’s weather advisory hahaha

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murag wala gipang tugnaw

 

Since it was raining, the whole place was so muddy and the people had to wait for the weather to clear up a bit since the wind would be dangerous should a fire balloon be accidentally blown away. While waiting, we bought some local snacks, ate bbq (murag larsians lang), and drank coffee to keep us warm.

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Reminded us of Larsians sa Fuente

 

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Here in this little coffee stall, we met Justine and Richard, a couple from UK who have been working in Yangon for a couple years now. They gave us tips on going about our trip to Yangon in a few days.

Finally, the weather cleared up a bit, they started playing some lively music, the people were chanting and singing and they let out several fire balloons as the crowd cheered on.

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We didn’t get to finish the festival because it was time to go back to our hotel. We were the last to arrive at our meet up place and all the other foreigners were waiting for us hehehehe sorry guys.

The next day, after having breakfast at the hotel, we immediately looked for a boat that would take us for a whole day tour around Inle Lake.

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With us is Becky, a dentist from Ohio who has been doing some dental missions in several countries. She was scheduled to visit the Philippines (Palawan) the following month.

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Getting ready for our Inle Lake tour

Inle lake boat tour (whole day) good for 5 persons 35K Kyat (price range during peak season is 35-50K and 18-20K on ordinary days)

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No trip ever goes as planned. Our boat got into some mechanical problems on the way.

While on our way to the “community” we saw the leg rowing Intha people going about their daily fishing activities and one was game enough to show us some tricks. Cool!

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First stop is the place where they make scarves using lotus stem. Yes, not silk or anything else but the teeny tiny thread-like stem of a lotus flower.

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*Did you know that it takes 20 days and 4000 lotus stems just to make one scarf?

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Since it was almost noon, Onle, our boat driver took us to a local restaurant nearby.

 

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Well, it was actually more like another 20 minutes boat ride but the food was really good and affordable. And the view was so relaxing.

After lunch, we went to a place where they make local cigars and cigarettes and they even allowed me to try making one on my own.

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They gave it to me as a souvenir

On our way to see the Kayan Lahwi women with brass neck coils, we passed by some beautiful floating pagodas.

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Now, here’s the part I have been waiting for! After watching several episodes on National Geographic and Discovery Channel for many many years, I was finally able to see them. And we even got to take a selfie heheheh

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Last place is where they make parasols and notebooks made of paper mache. And again, the “kulit” kid that I am, I volunteered to try my hand at making one hahahaha

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Here’s the finished product (I wish haha)

After getting our fill of all the local snacks, souvenir shopping, selfies and goofing around, we decided to go back to our hotel to rest for a bit before taking another bus ride to Bagan.

I can’t wait to share with you how beautiful Bagan’s sunrise and sunset was. ‘Til my next post.