Lagos, Portugal

Lagos offers the very best of Portuguese vistas, beaches, authenticity and charm. With a  crumbling coastline, white-wash town and hippy vibe, it is really deserves credit for being the best destination along the Algarve.

 

Getting to Lagos

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We opted to take the rusty old tank of a train to Lagos which was ideal. The views along the coast are stunning – you’ll pass through rolling hills with earthy shades of soil and thirsty shrubs as well as traditional hamlets off the beaten track. The train set us back all of €5 (if you are 25 and younger make sure to show the ticket officer your passport/ID so you get a young persons discount!), and took approximately 1.5 hours.

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Let’s talk about the beach…

I’d love to tell you that we did loads when we in Lagos. It would be lying. We had an absolute ball soaking up the sun, gorging on delicious Portuguese dishes (make sure you try the sardines and swordfish, and make a point of visiting Bar Inna for traditional meals costing only 5 euros!) and drinking lots of wine and sangria.

The beaches are out of this world. The azure Atlantic contrasts the golden coast which has crumbled away leaving behind giant rocks and secret tunnels to explore. It’s said these are best viewed from one of the excursions which takes you along the coast by kayak or catamaran, but we were happy exploring different beaches by foot each day. Personally, my favourite beach was Praia dos Estudantes – though all of them are unique and worth checking out.

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Lagos Town

 

Accommodation

I’m the world’s biggest fan of Air BnB. Seriously. There’s nothing I enjoy more than living like a local. We found a steal of a deal with this gorgeous, homely apartment just outside of the town centre. It was brilliant to have our access to private facilities like a sun terrace and really enriched our holiday with the sense of uniqueness. If you’re heading to Lagos, make sure you drop Claudio a message to stay in his wonderful home: www.airbnb.co.uk/lagos-apartment

 

 

 

 

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Saigon / Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City is Hanoi’s elegant, wealthy younger sister who sits around taking selfies all day. Often mistaken as Vietnam’s capital city, old Saigon is trendy, cosmopolitan and economically booming, drawing large numbers of tourists year upon year. Having travelled Vietnam extensively, Ho Chi Minh definitely feels out of place, to the extent where I feel it’s more similar to Bangkok in terms of culture, appearance and vibe.

If you’re planning a trip to Ho Chi Minh City, I would advise that you allow two full days to absorb the sites, and a further two days to take trips out to the Cu Chi Tunnels (a half day excursion) and the Mekong Delta (full day excursion). District 1 is where it all happens: you can find the backpacker area (which personally I thought was as sleazy as Koh San Road), the CBD, the historical/cultural museums, monuments and buildings as well as markets, shopping malls and an abundance of places to eat/ grab a coffee.

As a huge lover of Northern Vietnamese lifestyle and culture, I wasn’t sure if I’d like Ho Chi Minh. I was, however, pleasantly surprised: the streets are wider (and quieter!) with huge, tall trees lining them, everything is landscaped and manicured, the people are beautiful and friendly, and above all the city feels much less polluted. It’s almost like going to a different country altogether as Ho Ci Minh city feels removed from the rest of the Vietnam I know and love – to illustrate, they’re currently collaborating with the Japanese to build an underground network which will shoot them into the next century!

I left Ho Chi Minh City feeling like I understood Vietnam a lot better. I was profoundly moved by the War Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels and had a newfound respect for how far Vietnam has moved on since the war. It’s somewhere that you’re unlikely to miss if you’re travelling to Vietnam, but shouldn’t be the benchmark for the rest of your travels around the country.

 

What to do:

 

What to see:

Ho Chi Minh City is a walking city. You can easily stroll through district 1 in a day and see most of the beautiful architecture and famous sights. Here are a few musts:

  • Notre Dam Cathedral
  • The Post Office
  • The Opera House
  • The Town Hall
  • Ben Thanh market

 

Accommodation:

Vietnam Hideout Hostel – We were thoroughly impressed by this hostel as it’s bang smack in the middle of the backpacker area, next to the bus station, is only 160,000 VND ($7 per night) and includes breakfast and some free beer. Beds were dead comfy and rooms weere clean and the hostel offered plenty of services.

 

Eating Out:

What should you eat in Ho Chi Minh City? STREET FOOD. By street food I don’t mean the dried out squid on the side of the road, but the little spots with plastic chairs and bright, unforgiving lights – this is where you’ll get the best home cooked grub and for next to nothing. Read my post on the best dishes to try in The Flavour of Vietnam: What you must eat in the south

If you are craving something other than Vietnamese food and an upset stomach, you must go to Baba’s Indian Restaurant.

The Flavour of Vietnam: What you must eat in the south

Food is my forte (correction, downfall!) However, as controversial as it is to say, despite living in Vietnam for over a year now I’ve not been a huge lover of Vietnamese food… that is until my recent trip to southern Vietnam. I’m not sure why I haven’t gelled with the cuisine before now, perhaps because it’s not overly moorish (unless laced with MSG). Since being on this trip I’ve not had a single Western meal and feel great for it – I’ve learnt a lot about the flavours of Vietnam, the classics, the accompaniments, the techniques, the freshness and understand at last why it’s becoming a food trend back home.

The flavours in southern Vietnamese food definitely steer more towards the extremes: sweeter, sourer, saltier and spicier. Whilst I’m a sucker for classic northern dishes (mmm Bun Cha), I would actually go as far as to say I prefer the taste of the South.

In Saigon/ Ho Chi Minh City, here are some dishes I thoroughly enjoyed eating:


In Con Dao we relished in eating fresh sea food every day. It’s just about all you can eat on the island, and is freshly caught every day:

 

In central Vietnam there is much more of a noticeable presence of sugar. Food taste sweeter and sticker. If you are visiting Hoi An you MUST try the local speciality Cao Lau – only 20,000 VND from the market!

 

 

 

All of the dishes below are typical dishes you will find on the menu all over Vietnam, but it’s interesting noticing the differences and you travel up/down the country. These are:

  • Bun Thit Nuong – noodles, salad, slow-roasted pork in a sweet sauce covered in peanuts
  • Banh My – The classic Vietnamese sandwich (pate, meat, salad picked veg, coriander, sweet chilli sauce)
  • Pho Bo – Beef noodle soup, with spring onions and salad leaves (make sure you squeeze a lime or two in!)
  • Pho Ga – the same as above but with Chicken (personally prefer the beef i think)
  • Com Chay – My favourite way of eating in Vietnam – you are given a large portion of sticky rice and can point to which of the many toppings they have
  • Com Tam – Very similar to Com Chay except it is broken rice rather than sticky
  • Com Rang – Fried rice which usually comes with a meat or veg
  • My Xao – Stir fried egg noodles with a meat or veg
  • Nem – The Vietnamese classic deep fried spring rools

 

All of the dishes above should not cost you between 25,000-50,000 VND depending where you are. Often the rougher looking places are some of the best as they are more authentic home-cooked meals … don’t judge a book by it’s cover!

Ailu Cat Cafe, Hanoi

Yes. There is a cat cafe in Hanoi (hallelujah!) For those who have had your heads in the sand, pet cafes are a trend taking Asia (unsurprisingly) by storm.

Not ideal if you suffer from allergies, but phenomenal if you’re an animal and/ or coffee lover: If you’re visiting or living in Hanoi, the Ailu Cat House Club is a lovely treat and in a peaceful part of town (Truc Bach). The cafe rescues cats, so for a small entrance fee you’re helping a small-scale charity care for otherwise abandoned kitties. Put it on your travel itinerary NOW!

Address: 114 Trấn Vũ, Trúc Bạch, Ba Đình, Hà Nội, Vietnam

Phone:+84 90 488 41 21

Hours: 8.00 – 22.30 (Monday-Sunday)

Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan is Myanmar’s best kept secret: an ancient city of Buddhist temple ruins spanning across 2,000 km of central Burma. It feels cliche to have such a soft spot for Bagan, but it’s difficult not to when it’s profoundly beautiful, immensely inspirational and dripping in culture and history.

As most major bus routes arrive in Bagan at around 4am, we highly recommend you utilise this early start by taking a taxi directly to the sunrise temple. Soon after leaving the bus terminal in Nyaung Oo you will pass through the gates to the Heritage Park where you are expected to pay $20 per person. It is possible to bribe your taxi driver to avoid the gates and the subsequent fee, however personally I feel it’s important to pay this small cost for Bagan’s upkeep.

We recommend spending at least 2 nights and 3 days in Bagan in order to make the most of the city and to see enough sunrises and sunsets! It is important to note that as of March 1st 2016 tourists will be restricted to which temples they are able to climb on, so some research and enquiries will enable you to find quieter temples with fewer tourists.

Things to do:

  • Sunrise over Bagan – This is an absolute must. It was one of the most sensational sites I’ve ever seen, watching the sun illuminate the misty ancient city. It is possible to take a hot air balloon ride at dawn but this will set you back anywhere between $300-$500, and is only an hour long ride. The view we had from Buledi temple was sublime and actually the hot air balloons made it all the more magical for us on the ground.
  • Rent either bicycles or E-bikes to cruise around Old Bagan – Out of the two options I would recommend a push bike as the terrain is quite sandy, which bicycles are easier to maneuver on. A bicycle will set you back $1.50 per day whereas an E-bike costs $7 per day. By taking either method of transport you really get to cover a lot of ground and try and try and find yourself a more remote temple to climb for sunset!
  • Visiting temples – It’s a given. There are literally thousands of temples to visit which is the main, if not really the only, attraction in Bagan. There are plenty of the burnt-orange crumbling structures to see, some highly popular, some very remote. Here’s a guide to the best temples to see in Bagan which avoid the crowds: mywanderlist.com/secret-places-in-bagan-to-avoid-the-crowds
  • A day trip to Mount Popa – Mount Popa is a significant place of pilgrimage for many Burmese Buddhists. The Mountain has 700 steps to climb in order to marvel at the summit’s view of Bagan. Our hotel arranged a taxi to take our 6 person group the 1.5 hour journey to Mount Popa for $9 per person. Personally I found Mount Popa a slight disappointment and rather tacky, however it was a nice afternoon away from Bagan but nothing I would rush to do again.
  • Sunset over Bagan – Take a small picnic of local snacks and a bottle of Mandalay Rum to any temple you fancy to watch the sunset over Bagan. A truly magical experience, but make sure you get a wiggle on afterwards as it gets dark quickly, so navigating your way back to your hotel can be tricky with no street or bicycle lights!

Accommodation:

Nowadays the city is comprised of three areas: Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung Oo. All three locations offer accommodation for tourists but vary drastically in price. Old Bagan is by far the most expensive place to stay, as these hotels are usually luxury resorts nestled between ancient temples. A perfect honeymoon choice, but not especially backpacker friendly. New Bagan has a variety of places for most budgets, and is conveniently located in relation to the Heritage Park. Nyaung Oo has the most budget accommodation options, however it’s quite far from Old Bagan so you would find yourself to-ing and fro-ing a fair bit.

We had a very comfortable stay at the Pann Cherry Hotel – who had incredibly friendly and helpful staff and was conveniently located to the temples and restaurant street. The most luxurious rooms with a private bathroom are $20 per night, whereas a more basic room with a shared bathroom is $14 per night.

Eating and Drinking:

  • Weatherspoons – All brits are cringing at this recommendation (as ‘Spoons is a cheap and cheerful British pub), however Weatherspoons in Bagan had a great menu. Very fairly priced and offered a decent variety of Western, Thai and local food. Make sue you try their Avocado Salad, yum!
  • Aroma – You couldn’t beat this meal in India itself. Gorgeous Indian food in a beautiful setting. Slightly pricey, but worth treating yourself for this!
  • Be Kind To Animals The Moon – A great vegetarian lunch spot. Make sure you get the right one though, as the restaurant across the street has stolen their name!

Bagan was without a doubt the highlight of my trip to Myanmar and cannot be missed if you are planning on going. Make sure you check out The Travelling Tapir’s complete guide to travelling in Myanmar for our ultimate travel itinerary!

Yangon, Myanmar

Yangon will almost certainly be your first stop in Myanmar as it’s the largest city in the country and has the most international transport connections.

Yangon took me by surprise. There was something remarkably different about it compared to other South East Asian cities, which usually all sort of merge into one. You won’t see sky scrapers, suspended motorway networks, glamorous people on their way to work or the mall – there’s something genuine, modest and laid back about it.  The housing blocks are slightly disheveled, dilapidated and have that grey, mossy stain which reminds me of King Louie’s palace in the Jungle Book. Life in Yangon seems to plod along at a very comfortable pace, which makes it just so easy to adjust to.

While there are some beautiful sites to see, I wouldn’t designate too much time for Yangon. Myanmar has plenty more to offer in terms of things to do, countryside, views and culture, so a couple of days is ample.

Here are some highlights to definitely include in your itinerary:

Accommodation: 

We based ourselves at the Agga Guesthouse on 13th Street. It was a perfectly comfortable , although basic, guesthouse/hostel with a wonderful reception manager. Being on 13th street was definitely handy, with easy access to the night markets, 19th street and various other attractions. Our stay cost us $14 per person, per night (a typical rate for a private room in Myanmar), and included breakfast.

Things to do:

  • Shwedagon Pagoda – this pagoda is definitely worth the visit. It’s a little on the pricey side (as pagoda’s go) at 8,000 Kyat but very beautiful and peaceful. Remember your Longyi (“long-gee”), or traditional skirt cross sarong. You can easily spend a good few hours strolling around the grounds (if you can handle the heat, that is!) and makes a beautiful subject for photography.
  • Utopia Tower – a great panoramic viewpoint over Yangon but, somewhat ironically, quite dystopian on the inside with quirky arcades and amusement attractions. The tower is in Kandawgyi Park which surrounds an attractive reservoir
  • Yangon Circular Train – A really pleasant way of getting around the city. To do a total lap of the circuit will take 3 hours, but it’s so cheap (at 200 kyat) that even just taking a few stops is a great experience. We discovered whilst on the train that it goes as far out as the airport so it could be a novel way of leaving Myanmar – but beware, it travels very slowly!
  • Happy world amusement park – words can’t quite describe how strange this experience was. Don’t look it up, go with low expectations (and after a few beers!)

Eating and Drinking:

  • Feel Restaurant – Feel is an iconic restaurant in Yangon which offers its guests the chance to sample a variety of Burmese cuisine. It’s definitely a lucky dip, but a great way to see, smell and taste some of the best (and worst!) of an unknown cuisine.  It’s not especially cheap by Burmese standards, but it worked out at about $6 per person which is still very affordable.
  • Vista Bar – Make sure you save this to your last night in Yangon/Myanmar. It’s a fantastic and lively rooftop bar which overlooks the Shwedagon pagoda which dazzles in the night. Mean cocktails in a rather swanky environment.

For more information about travelling in Yangon and where to head next, check out our Ultimate Guide to Travelling in Myanmar.

The Ultimate Itinerary for Travelling in Myanmar

Here’s our guide to spending 2 weeks in Myanmar:

Day 1 -2: Yangon

Explore the bustling streets of downtown Yangon – 19th Street being the popular traveller street, nestled in the heart of China Town. Get lost in the Bogyoke Aung San Market, and become dazzled by an emporium of jade jewelry, wooden trinkets and local produce. Don’t forget to pick up a must-have Longyi, as you’ll need one of these culturally significant pieces of clothing to cover your legs at many of the spectacular temples you’ll soon be visiting… Expect to pay around $5. In the daytime, make sure to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s one of the most structurally impressive, and decadent Buddhist temples in the world, and it’s golden nighttime glow totally captivates the skyline of Yangon! If you have time, take a couple of hours to visit the Sule Paya Pagoda (a beautiful 2,000 year old Golden Temple. The Utopia Tower within Bogyoke Park is a bizarre arcade, with beautiful views across the lake gardens and city.


Overnight Travel: Yangon to Bagan

There are several transport options to consider. Trains costs £30 for an “upper class” sleeper cabin, which is highly recommended. Flights are expensive, costing between £120 and £200 for a return. Buses leave downtown Yangon to Bagan every evening at 6pm. They arrive at 4am (which leaves you time to jump in a taxi and clamber up the side of a temple in time for sunrise). A “normal bus” will set you back 15,000 Kyat / £8, whereas a VIP bus is 18,000 Kyat / £9.50. The VIP bus is seriously worth considering (especially JJ Express coaches!), but these fill up quickly. In our experience, the small increase in price for the VIP coach is worth every penny. Make sure you allow 2 hours to get from Yangon to the bus station – this is no exaggeration as the roads are extremely congested during rush hour.

Day 3 – 6: Bagan

Bagan Archeological Complex requires a $20 p/p entrance fee, which can come as a shock to most tourists who are blind-sided by this. However the costs of this supposedly go into the preservation of these spectacular monoliths. This place has to be seen to be believed, as there are approximately 2,200 temples scattered across the dry an arid shrubland. A lost civilization of unknown magnitude. It’s possible to rent E-bikes or push bikes to see the most of Old Bagan, which is where the majority of temples reside. You can’t cover much by foot, so we recommend peddling your way around the vantage points and hidden gems. E-bikes are around $7 per day, whereas push bikes are $1. Head in the general direction of Old Bagan and you can’t go wrong. For those seeking a romantic window into the past (and a bumpy ride!), we recommend flagging down one of Bagan’s many horse drawn carriages. They’re touristy, but novel and allow you to soak up the sights.

Sunrises and sunsets in Bagan are an absolute must. The sun rises in – you guessed it – the East! Ask your hotel/guest house/driver to help you find a nice quiet temple that faces your intended direction, and await the concerto…

There are many cultural dancing and puppet shows in the evening, that can be combined with hearty local food. Here are a few options:

  • The Amata Boutique House. Thiripyitsaya Quarter, New Bagan. 061 65099: Performances nightly from Oct to March starting with a 30min puppet show followed by an hour of traditional Shan and Karen dancing. Free with a meal in the restaurant (with Asian mains for around K6000–7000). Daily 7–8.30pm (Oct–March only).
  • Bagan Golden Palace Main Rd, Old Bagan: Nightly shows of traditional dancing; $24 with dinner buffet or $10 entrance plus à la carte meal. Daily 7–9pm.
  • Nanda Restaurant Bagan–Chauk Rd, Wet Kyi Inn. 061 60790: Enjoyable 40min puppet shows, free with a drink or meal at the restaurant (although the pedestrian Chinese food is expensive, with mains at around K5500–7000). Daily at 6.30pm, 7.15pm and 8pm.

Hot air balloon rides are expensive, at around $350 to $400 per person for 45 minutes. We had a genuinely fascinating view of the balloons whilst viewing sunrise from our temple. They took off in their 10s, 20s and 30s, to a movie-set of low lying mist, and sharp golden light refractions that split over colossal stone temples…

If you have spare time, take a wonder around the Nyaung U Market – supposedly one of the best in the country.

We highly recommended the day trip to Mt. Popa which is 65km East of Bagan. Here you’ll climb 777 steps to a monastery capped mountain, dedicated as a shrine to the Nat spirits (which play a large part in the lives of the average citizen). A bus goes here from Nyaung U bus station at 8am every day. It takes 2.5 hours. However, you can hire a taxi for 35,000K which is what we recommend.

Overnight Travel: Bagan to Kalaw

Take an overnight bus for $15 – $20. It leaves New Bagan town at 7.30 pm, and arrives in Kalaw at 4am. Again, VIP is recommended!

Day 7-8: Kalaw

The beautifully tranquil and warm-hearted city of Kalaw is a former hill station that bills itself as the ‘Pine City’. It is a lovely place to wander, and a very popular spot for those taking two or three-day treks to Inle Lake. There are beautiful gardens, pine-forested hills, and a large selection of Nepalese food (which made it’s way to Myanmar from Nepalese labourers who came to build the railroad during British rule).

The Pindaya Caves are only a 45 minute drive away from Kalaw. Pilgrims flock here to worship 8,000 Buddha statues within the winding labyrinth of caverns, tunnels and chambers of this huge limestone cave. Pindaya is also surrounded by beautiful scenery, and the drive itself was just as captivating. We had a driver called Shan Lay, who was incredibly insightful, and a very friendly and interesting character. You can contact him to arrange a trip to the caves by calling him on 09978604306.

We were lucky enough to be the first-ever customers at the Sprouting Seeds Cafe, a community development programme that provides education, trade and applicable skills to teens in Myanmar and Thailand, through the owners NGO Whispering Seed. I’d highly recommend coming here to simply be inspired by their dedication and commitment to positive change, and maybe try some of their delicious homemade cakes and snacks.

If you have extra time, walk up to the Thein Taung Pagoda Monastery at sunset, or checkout the beautifully embellished catholic church. If rum sours and Burmese acoustic music’s your thing, then head to Hi Bar. Here you’ll find a shoebox sized bar full of charm and close-knit community. It’s a small, dark and smokey locals bar with a whole lot of charm. If you’re not too hazy in the morning, head to the Kalaw Market for an invigorating barrage of sights, smells and sounds.

Day 8-10: Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake

This is an absolute must. I highly recommend booking through Ever Smile Trekking. Here’s our in-depth account of the trek.

On the first day of the trek you’ll pass through rural villages and farms, but each trip is vastly different to the last as there are a large array of routes and turns to choose from. You can discuss this with Ever Smile prior to booking, or simply allow your guide to choose the best option for you based on his or her gut instinct. Ever Smile were eager to find us the most interesting and rural route as it was a busy time of year, so rather than tearing us through the same well-trodden tourist path, we got to experience true Burmese countryside. We were the only people on our particular route, and we met many friendly locals along the way. We had the option to swim in the lake, pass between mountains, and cross paddy fields before staying the night in a local persons house in a hilltop village. All food is provided, and they your bag off to your hotel at Inle Lake.

On the second day, it was the final stretch to Inle Lake. You will cross through forests, mountains, and a steep decline until you’re finally at your destination where a long, thin motorboat awaits to take you 45 minutes across the lake to Nyaungshwe. You’ll see local life on the lake, fisherman with a distinct leg rowing technique, and loads of industries such as cigar makers, silversmiths etc. There’s a floating market that happens every five days.

Day 10 – 12: Inle Lake (Nyaungshwe town)

Nyaungshwe is a small town that sits on the northeastern edge of Inle Lake. It’s a little touristic, but has a vibe that’s relaxed and backpacker friendly. Expect no wifi, overbooked hotels, and some slightly expensive food joints. A bike will cost $1 per day, so with this in mind I recommend the following day trip. Peddle west of Nyaunshwe along a disheveled road, and through some farmland. Eventually you’ll take a left and start to head south, parallel to the mountains. You’ll reach reclaimed hot springs after about 5 miles. It’s not what you’d expect, and the entrance fee is $10 – but it’s welcome retreat after 2 or 3 days of trekking! After the dip, head south to Kaung Daing, an Intha village which produces fresh Shan state tofu, a local delicacy. You can now get back to the other side of the lake on a boat ferry, and then cycle north to the Red Mountain Winery; where you’ll head up the hill for some wine-tasting, and a magnificent view of the lake and the vineyards. Just before sunset, cycle back to Nyaungshwe through the sugar cane fields.

Those with extra time should visit the Mingala morning market, or the Yadana Man Aung Paya (Nyuangshwe’s oldest Buddhist monastery).

Up until this point the trip has been action-packed. Depending on whether you’re after some relaxation or some adventure, there are a couple of options of how to spending the final days of your trip…

Option 1: Adventure in Hsipaw

Hsipaw is much less developed than Kalaw, and has it soul rooted firmly in the untouched countryside that surrounds it. It’s a snoozy town that operates as a central hub/community supplied farmers market, which is in full swing. I highly recommend picking up some local raw honey which will set you back about $1.50 for a 350ml bottle.

More options for adventure and trekking tours with Mitch Michael from Myanmar Trekking (an excellent, young guide who has a lot of local knowledge and enthusiasm). He’ll take you to all sorts of places, including a Buddhist Monastery, the Dotha Wardy River via boat,waterfalls and local farmhouses. Who would have thought solar power was so popular in Myanmar? If you get the chance one evening, then check out the Sunset Hill, or one of the many temples facing West.

Travel from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lwin via train ($2)

The journey takes 6 hours along a slow an bumpy track, precariously crossing an unfathomably steep valley, across an old steel bridge that disappears into the blackness below you. A thrill, nonetheless. You can stop off in Pyin Oo Lwin for a few hours before carrying on to Mandalay / Yangon, or choose to stay a whole day or more at the Meditation Centre or the National Kandawgyi Gardens. Either way, make sure you eat at Krishna restaurant in the evening, which is run by a large Indian family and offers the best authentic food I can recall in recent memory.

Pyin Oo Lwin is a town that eludes long forgotten old world charm, and it has deep colonial routes as it was the home of the Summer Palace of the Governor of British Burma. It’s got unique history, and it’s modernising very quickly. It’d be great to catch a glance as it’s one of the few places in the world that’s been able to retains it’s (not so) colonial glory. It’s a populated by European architecture and lush, exotic gardens.

It’s easy to fetch a VIP bus from Pyin Oo Lwin to Yangon from here.

Option 2: Relaxation on Ngapali Beach 

This is the most famous beach in Myanmar, so potentially not the best, but it’s certainly the most well-established. It’s also incredibly hard to get to unless you’re willing to fly, or via Yangon/Mandalay if you plan to use the trains or buses. I’ve had consistently good reviews of the tour company Friends Forever – who operate in Ngapali and will take you on fishing and snorkelling trips to secluded paradises. The beach is the perfect spot to watch sunsets  whilst winding down with a beer.

Day 13-14: Yangon

Before you’re flight home, check out as many local delicacies as you can at Feel Myanmar Restaurant – a buffet where you can try traditional dishes of Burma. Visit Vista Bar in the evening – an amazing rooftop bar with a impressive view of the Shwedagon Pagoda in the midst of the city skyline. Explore the Happy World amusement park (and take some Mandalay Rum with you!). And finally, take a ride on the Yangon Circle Line which takes roughly 3 hours to travel around the city (at a snail’s pace). It’s a mere 200 kyat (15 cents) and you’ll likely spark compelling and friendly conversation with locals and tourists alike.

So there we have it, your ultimate 2 week whirlwind magical adventure in Myanmar. Please feel free to contribute your own suggestions in the comments box below!

Tennerfest: Eating Out In Guernsey For Just Ten Pounds

Tennerfest is an ingenious, sociable and tasty marketing strategy, laid on in Guernsey (The Channel Islands, Great Britain) by local restaurants. It is a month-long event where restaurants varying in standards and size offer a speciality three-course menu for just ten pounds to promote their business and encourage the people of Guernsey to eat out during the winter months.

As a big foodie, this opportunity is a fantastic way of sampling the quality of restaurants I’ve not had the chance to experience yet whilst dining  in a wallet-friendly fashion. Of course for the business’ themselves Tennerfest is a remarkable way of filling empty tables at off-peak times and days. Last night we visited Le Grande Mare Brasserie which was fully booked on a Sunday evening until 9pm! I would say that the portions were a little on the small size, but the atmosphere was good, the food tasted great and they even extended their promotion to drinks!
If you’re planning a trip to The Channel Islands this October, make sure you check our the Tennerfest website to make the most of the festival: tennerfest.com

Ninh Bình, Vietnam

This week my boyfriend and I found ourselves with two days free of classes, so ceased the opportunity to make an overnight trip to a place we’d been looking forward to visiting for a long while: Ninh Bình. Ninh Bình province is located approximately 95KM south-east of Hanoi; a mouth-wateringly beautiful region which attracts those interested in nature, history and culture. Ninh Bình city itself isn’t anything special, but 10KM west of the city is a site of natural beauty called Tam Cốc which I feel should be on all traveller’s bucket lists.
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There are several ways to get to Ninh Binh from Hanoi. Most backpackers opt to take the train (costing £10) or the bus ($3.50), both of which take roughly 2.5 hours (see links for further detail). Both of these options depart from central Hanoi, however they take you to Ninh Binh city centre which will leave you relying on taxis for the rest of your stay. We drove our motorbikes down which took us about  3 hours and cost us $2 in fuel. Having our bikes when we were in Tam Coc was definitely an advantage as there is a lot of beautiful scenery best explored independently, and a fair bit of distance between various attractions which could be costly if relying on taxi. It is possible to hire bicycles in the town of Tam Coc to take you around.

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There are plenty of choices when it comes to accommodation, however only a few options will really make your stay that bit more memorable. We had been highly recommended The Tam Coc Garden Resort by friends, however as the resort was unavailable during our time in Ninh Binh so we stayed at The Mua Cave Ecolodge Resort which was simply fantastic. At an inexpensive 600,000 VND (£17) per night, guests receive their own private cabin which is both cosy and romantic. The price includes breakfast and also free access to the Mua Caves which costs visitors 50,000 VND. The hotel is rather remote which offers tranquility in a peaceful and natural environment. Our host was kind, informative and did everything possible to make our stay as enjoyable as possible (including polishing wine glasses for us when we bought our own bottle of wine back to the hotel with us). Although it is not advertised very clearly, the Ecolodge also has a restaurant which I highly recommend to those visiting the caves. The food is authentic and delicious, allowing you to sample real home cooking at a very reasonable price (you must try the sweet and sour chicken with the Com Rang, or friend rice!)

When it comes to things to do/see, Ninh Binh has plenty of choices to indulge in. The main attraction is to go on the Tam Coc river cruise which is said to have some spectacular scenery. However, due to its popularity amongst tourists, visitors say that they feel harassed by vendors and at times obliged to buy their knick knacks. The Trang An Grottoes are said to be much less touristy, much less expensive, but equally as beautiful. Sadly, due to poor weather we were unable to do either on this visit, but it gives us the perfect excuse to come back another time! Instead we visited two pagodas: the Bich Dong pagoda and the Bai Dinh pagoda. The Bich Dong pagoda is a lovely spot, and accessible from the Tam Coc ‘harbour’. The Bai Dinh pagoda on the other hand was out of this world: almost the size of a small town, the pagoda is a historical and cultural landmark for the Vietnamese which contains beautiful architecture, statues and views.

If my words haven’t tempted you enough then hopefully these snaps will validate all reasons why you must go to Ninh Binh!

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Kanchanaburi, Thailand

£1 = 53 Baht / $1 = 34 Baht
Situated approximately 150km west of Bangkok, Kanchanaburi is a laid-back, linear town nestled in the valley between emerald, mountainous national parks. The town is becoming increasingly popular with foreign visitors due to its richness in history, culture and nature which in recent times has put Kanchanaburi on the travellers bucket list.
We decided to bi-pass central Bangkok by taking a taxi directly from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Bangoks’s South bus terminal Sai Tai Mai. The taxi fair cost us 350 Baht (including toll roads, and the 50 Baht mandatory gratuity). As we were pushed for time we opted to take a cab, but a much more economical way of getting into central Bangkok is to take the Sky Rail which costs 40 Baht per person, and then taking a cab to the bus station which is less distance. Buses run from Said Tai Mai to Kanchanaburi every 20 minutes until 10pm departing from stand 10. The bus costs 110 Baht, but i’ve heard of it being cheaper so if you’re in the mood you might be able to haggle this.
Kanchanaburi is home to the iconic bridge over the river Kwai. The bridge and the ‘Death Railway’ were built by Malaysian, British, American and Indian military who were captured in South East Asia during WW2 by the Japanese. Forced to work in abysmal conditions and crippled by disease and starvation, the operation became a feat for those who survived the ordeal. There are many reminders of this event in history  for tourists to visit in Kanchanaburi which I highly recommend incorporating into your stay. To do this I suggest you rent push bicycles (50 Baht for 24 hours) and cycle to the War Cemetery (which is free to the public). Adjacent to the cemetery is the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre (entrance costing 160 Baht which includes a free hot beverage at the end), which offered a comprehensible account of the history of the railway – it’s a part of history that I was totally oblivious to, so I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. After the museum we cycled to the other end of town to the famous bridge. It’s a haunting piece of architecture knowing the suffering involved in its creation, but it’s in an incredibly picturesque location. You can walk across the bridge (free of charge), which is still used on the Bangkok to Nam Tok.
On the second day in Kanchanaburi (and last full day in the town), we headed to Erawan waterfalls. It was probably one of the best experiences I’ve had out of four visits to Thailand. Read my blog post on Erawan Waterfalls by clicking on this link: thetravellingtapir.wordpress.com/erawan-waterfalls.
After the waterfalls we had intended to take public transport to the Hellfire Pass Museum which is highly rated by anyone who visits it, and then return to Kanchanaburi by the Death Railway. Despite the fact that the Hellfire Museum is on the outskirts of the Erawan National Park, we discovered too late that you have to return to Kanchanaburi in order to get to the Hellfire Pass. Due to a lapse in our schedules we regretfully had to give the Death Railway a miss this time – but it’s not the end of the world as hopefully I’ll return to Kanchanaburi in the not so distant future.
As my partner has undergone dental treatment the day before our trip, our eating experiences were restricted to liquidated meals, which as a huge foodie is a rarity! There’s plenty of places to choose from when eating out or having a few bevvys (in fact there are loads of bars to choose from, which surprised me a little seeing as the town is so snoozy). We enjoyed cocktails at Friends Bar, playing pool and being served by a larger-than-life hostess who makes a mean mojito!
Kanchanaburi is definitely a destination that should be on your travel bucket list as it caters to pretty much everyone’s idea of fun: a melting pot of history, culture, relaxation, scenery, nature and partying. Kanchanaburi is a breath of fresh air – literally! It’s a pleasant and easy getaway from Bangkok and easily accessible from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Make sure you drop if you find yourself in this corner of the world to see what all the fuss is about!