March 16, 2015

Getting To and Around Bagan

Bagan - home to over 2000 pagodas and temples is 700 kilometers north of Yangon and 9 hours by bus or 15 hours or more away by train. We took the 9 hour bus route and slept through the entire duration of the trip. 

We left Aung Mingalar bus station in Yangon at 9PM aboard the JJ Express VIP Bus and arrived at the Nyaung U terminal in Bagan at 6AM the next day. 

Where to buy tickets in Yangon:
You can buy your tickets from Aung Mingalar bus station.

But since the station is a little too far from the city center, about 45-60 minutes away depending on the traffic, the receptionist from our hotel recommended buying from Pansodan Street instead. The street houses a few travel agencies and is just walking distance away from the little India. 

Burmese script for Pansodan Street where we bought our bus tickets


What’s the best bus to take: 
JJ Express VIP Bus, 25USD/pax; comes with a spacious leg room, reclining seats, neck pillow, a blanket, a snack pack, bottled water and a wet mini-towel.




Aung Mingalar Bus Station:
Downtown Yangon to Aung Mingalar is about 25 kilometers and it's a good thing that we left our hotel with plenty of time to spare as it took us 1 hour and half to get there with the traffic so bad and even if our driver was weaving in and out maniacally. 

What to expect during the long drive:
The trip was uneventful and a stewardess informs every one of the pit stop through a speaker.  The first stop was within the first hour, 20 minutes long and compulsory; the driver turns off the engine and locks the bus so you have no choice but to get off.  I suggest you go to the loo and do your business as the next stop will be after 6 hours and will be a quick one.



Bus liners in Myanmar are notorious for their loud Burmese music playing on loop for the entire journey (night and day), but thankfully we didn't have this problem with JJ Express. The road itself is paved all the way and it was a smooth drive all the way to Bagan.

The day time bus back to Yangon via Mandalar Minn Express is a different story and we had to sit through 9 hours of Mariah Carey and Celine Dion's Burmese rendition of All By Myself in between Burmese soap operas. On full blast. Bring ear plugs.

Arriving in Bagan:
Bagan’s bus terminal is 30-45 minutes from New Bagan where our hotel was located and to get there we hired a horse drawn carriage that costs about 10,000 Kyats or 10USD. Taxis are more expensive at 15000 to 17000 Kyats.



A compulsory admission fee is required at 15USD/EUR per person.  Take your admission ticket when you do your temple runs as they might be checked at the entrance of some temples and pagodas. 


Going around Bagan:
You have 4 choices, rent a bicycle, motorbike/electric bike, a horse cart and an air-conditioned private car/van.  Keep in mind that the roads to most temples are sandy and dusty.

Take a bicycle if you are fit enough to handle a good work out on a 40 degree weather. 

A motorbike if you are a little out of shape.




A horse cart can provide you a little shade from the scorching heat of the sun but you might want to take the back seat facing away from the horse’s bum as it sometimes lets out explosive gaseous emissions. Again, learn from our mistake.  

March 7, 2015

DINING: Davao's Pers Satti Haus

Davao’s Pers Satti Haus is the new addition to the growing food scene in Davao city - cheap, filling, satisfying and delicious authentic Tausug food and certified halal.

Halal simply means permitted or lawful. So when we are talking about halal foods it means any food that is allowed to be eaten according to Islamic Sharia law. This means that for any food to be considered halal it must comply with the religious ritual and observance of Sharia law. - www.halalchoices.com.au

Popular dishes of Jolo and Zamboanga, now in Davao.


Pyanggang 
 spicy chicken with burnt coconut meat, onions and coconut milk, 
served with Kyuning (turmeric rice), 
Sambal and hardboiled egg


Satti and Tahmu 
 marinated chicken and beef skewers with steamed rice in woven palm baskets 
served (swimming) in spicy sweet sauce


 Putli Mandi 
sticky flour balls filled with bukayo or sweetened young coconut meat 
rolled in grated coconut. 
“Putli” means white and “mandi” means “bath”


Daral lappit 
 fresh lumpia-like wrapper with sweetened coconut filling


Kahasug
native coffee from Jolo with a smoky and slight bitterness with no acidity, 
much like a tamed-down corn coffee. “Kaha” means coffee and “sug” means Jolo


Davao’s Pers Satti Haus is located at Unit 25-26 Tiyanggehan, Matina Pangi, Davao City, adjacent to Hardwaremaxx, walking distance from Matina Centerpoint.

OPEN daily from 10:00AM to 8:00PM except on WEDNESDAYS.



January 14, 2015

Jakarta - 1 Day Itinerary

We have very low expectations of Jakarta but we were pleasantly surprised by it that we came home full of charming and heartwarming memories to remember it by.  Come to think of it, most of our travel memories that lingers with us stems from the most unexpected adventures.

Jakarta is exactly as they say; chaotic, noisy and polluted; but amidst the chaos, noise and pollution, Indonesians are one of the sweetest, friendliest neighbors we’ve met.  Not only once did someone went of their way to help us find our destination when we were desperately lost – one even acted as our tour guide and photographer and flat out refused the tip we were insisting on.  Indonesians we found are always, always with a ready toothy smile. 


And their food!  Delicious!  We savored every bit and relished every taste.  Word of caution though, when a local tells you the dish is not spicy, DO NOT believe him.  You’ll thank me for it. 





WHAT TO SEE:

Passer Baroe
Built in 1821, it’s the oldest shopping center in Jakarta.  Much like Manila’s Tutuban, cheap shopping, you can basically find anything here from knock-off designer items to authentic batik products, household items and furniture, textile shops and shoe stores and lots and lots of street food.






Taman Fatahillah also called Taman Square or Old Batavia
All 3 names recognized by cab drivers so you won’t have any problems getting there.  This place has history which will be made obvious by the crumbling buildings, there’s also a museum and a cafe’.   The square is bustling with activities, locals and tourists alike get one colorful bikes for rent, a lot of street vendors selling food, beverage and artworks; and the locals seem frequent the square to socialize.







Jakarta Cathedral
Neo-gothic Roman Catholic Church situated in front of Istiqlal Mosque.





Istiqlal Mosque
The largest mosque in Southeast Asia, visitors are welcomed Muslim or not.  A local at the entrance asked us to take off our shoes and led us to some sort of viewing deck where you can take pictures.  Please be advised that at the exit someone will approach you for a donation, this is not a scam so don’t be too dismissive, they might take you to a room and ask you to sign a guestbook and if you’re lucky, you might get a bit of a history lesson as well. 


NOTES:

Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta International Airport – IATA Code: CGK located 20 kilometers west of Jakarta city center  

Currency: Indonesia Rupiah exchange rate at that time (Augusut 2013) 1USD = 12040 Indonesian Rupiah. 

Electrical outlets – 2 round pins 

Philippine time is an hour advance.


September 2, 2014

Sightseeing in Yangon

We were in Myanmar in May and it was very hot then. Temps could go as high as 40 degrees Celsius so we would wake up early in the morning to sightsee while it was relatively cool and the light is softer, take an early lunch, have a siesta and resume sightseeing late in the afternoon just before sunset.  It helped that Myanmar is an hour and a half late to the Philippines and we took advantage of that time difference.

We spent a total of 3 nights and 3 days in Yangon and it was more than enough time to go around the city in a very leisurely pace. We napped a lot at middays or escaped the heat in room just reading a novel.

When we actually went out to explore, these were what we saw:

Shwedagon Pagoda
The grandest, most impressive and most sacred pagoda for the Burmese.  Over 2600 years old, the Shwedagon houses strands of Buddha’s hair. The actual pagoda is covered in gold plates and the top of the stupa is encrusted with diamonds.  It is located atop Singuttara Hill and so massive that it has 3 entrances. My favorite would be the one that has access to a lift.  And because it is a place of worship, you have to walk barefoot which can be tricky if it is 40 degrees hot out, so I suggest you visit early morning or late in the afternoon like we did.  Entrance fee for foreigners is 8000 kyats or 8 USD.





In and around Sule Pagoda
Right in the middle of downtown Yangon, not as impressive as Shwedagon but still worth a visit; entrance fee is 1000 kyats.  Since Sule is right in the middle of the city, a walk around it can be quite interesting.     







Kandawgyi Lake and Nature Park
Kandawgyi Lake literally means “royal lake.”  The park is well maintained and very clean, perfect for a morning stroll. Entrance and camera fee is 1000 kyats.  The park has several restaurants, a pond and a children’s playground.



Chaukhtatgyi Paya (Reclining Buddha)
Paya is a Burmese word for stupa or pagoda and this paya houses a 60 meter long and a 30 meter tall reclining Buddha. It is also a monastery.



Bogyoke Market
A great place to buy souvenirs, they have everything from hand carved magnets and key chains to laquerware, gemstones, longyi, paintings and fruits.






Yangon Central Railway Station / On Board the Circular Train 
The jam-packed with locals railway station in downtown Yangon is already an attraction in itself with its traditional Burmese style architecture.





The complete loop takes 3 hours and probably the best way of getting a glimpse on how the locals actually live their daily lives – the backyards with their gardens or animal pens, the monasteries with their clothesline full of monk’s robes fluttering in the wind to dry, the slums, the farms green with produce or cracked dry lands. It’s a tour of the facts of Yangon’s life without walking on foot.





Foreigners pay 1 USD or 1200 Kyat in a little ticket office on platform seven in Central Railway Station regardless of the length of the journey. Ticket is valid for the whole day.

Service hours are from 3:45 am to 10:15 pm daily. 

We did this right after lunch and it was like riding a furnace on wheels. It is an experience and a good way to interact with locals but we strongly recommend that you do this early in the morning. Learn from our mistake.



July 23, 2014

Sleeping in Yangon: 30th Corner Boutique Hostel

While we splurge our hard earned money once in a while luxuriating in French toiletries on long drawn bubble baths in claw foot tubs and rest our weary bodies on good quality high-thread-count sheets, we appreciate good hostels as well if we must.

We like good value, regardless of the price we actually fork out and 30th Corner Boutique Hostel definitely gave us ample bang for our buck. As mentioned on our previous post (CLICK HEREbecause of the recent influx of tourism and lack of infrastructures, accommodations in Myanmar are still limited and a wee bit pricier than other Southeast Asian countries . 


Once we got past the shock of being deposited in the heart of Little India and that dreadful staircase, we found that 30th Corner is a clean and sweet escape from the very lively and interesting downtown area and accessible to sightseeing spots. It is within walking distance to the Sule Pagoda, Bogyoke Market, the old railway station and to a lot of dining options. The location in terms of accessibility cannot be beat.



We booked their best room - the Deluxe King Room overnight in May for 65 USD and we loved our clean, modern, well lighted and spacious air-conditioned room with en-suite bath. There’s a coffee and tea facilities supplied with good quality coffee. Bottled drinking water all you can is complimentary. There’s also wifi and a cable TV that we never get to use.




Checking in right from the airport to the hotel is a great welcome to Yangon. The staffs are welcoming, spoke good English and gave us good recommendations for dining, sightseeing and directions, even going so far as writing the Burmese script of the places we wanted to go to just in case our transport couldn’t speak English.


On the day that we have to leave for Bagan via an overnight bus, they let us check out at 6PM so we could comfortably freshen up and get enough rest - at no extra charge. They really imprinted us with Burmese hospitality. Now that’s what we call 5 star services on a budget!

We wanted to book with them again when we got back from Bagan but unfortunately, which we actually kind of expected, they were full on our dates. Suffice it to say that if ever we find ourselves in Yangon again, we will definitely stay with them.

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