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.

July 13, 2014

Crash Course Yangon

Yangon surprised us.

Because Myanmar was closed off to foreigners for too long, we kind of expected Yangon to be a quiet small town but the pulse, colors and sounds of a bustling big city is a contradiction, albeit, pleasantly of the Yangon we had in my mind.


Sure, we were a bit apprehensive about setting foot in a military ruled country because of all the common negative perception about their government and just minutes out of their extremely clean and modern airport while at a back seat of a cab idling at a traffic light, we were side by side a van with a huge POLICE sign imprinted on its side in bold stark white letters. Only the hands of the prisoners grasping the bars can be seen.

But other than that sighting, we’ve never seen any form of military presence and the Burmese people seems to be generally at peace, happy and very friendly. We never once questioned our safety nor did we feel threatened in any way and at any time. We felt VERY SAFE even while strolling at night in a country that is embroiled in political turmoil for the longest time.




The city center for its proximity to the popular sights is where we stayed. Accommodations in Yangon, well Myanmar in general, is still limited and rates are a little bit higher compared to other neighboring Southeast Asian countries because of the recent influx of tourism and lack of infrastructures. 

We always do some form of research before our every travel but somehow it escaped our notice that the city center is also known as the Little India.




Like many Southeast Asian countries, it is crowded with a mishmash of settlers, but judging from what the district is called, there’s a profusion of Indians concentrated in the area. Lucky for us that means glorious authentic Indian food!


Little India is lined with narrow streets that hosts dilapidated colonial mix-use (residential and commercial) buildings and makeshift stores that sell anything and everything from the ubiquitous cheap China made plastics to street food to betel nut sellers with stained red teeth.


We saw some parts of Yangon that is grimy, crowded, polluted but somehow, we saw it as character.

In its crumbling walls, we glimpsed the history of its grandness. In its crowdedness, we saw the art.





Yangon has us charmed.

And grateful that Myanmar is now open to us Filipinos, visa free since January of 2014.

NOTES:

Yangon International Airport – IATA code: RGN located at Mingaladon about 15 kilometers from north of downtown Yangon.

There is a taxi booth at the airport with fixed price. We paid 10,000 kyat from the airport to the city center.

Philippine time is an hour and half (1hr and 30mins) advance.

Currency: Kyat (pronounced as chats).
Note that they only accept clean and crisp dollar bills with no crease and from year 2006 or
newer.

Rates at the airport are surprisingly good.

You can also use US dollars for paying hotel bills, entrance fees to tourist attractions and long
distance bus tickets.

Electrical outlets - 2 round pins or 3 flat pins

The only mode of transportation we used to get around is cabs because buses and trucks with their Burmese script routes intimidated us. These are old surplus vehicles that are either left or right hand drive and may or may not have air-conditioning. There is no meter so negotiate before getting in. $1 or 1,000 kyat is the minimum.


Dress modestly with shoulders and knees covered when visiting the temples. Footwear, even socks are not permitted in places of worship. If you turn up at a temple inappropriately dressed, you can rent or borrow a longyi (a sort of sarong) for a few kyats as deposit.


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