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.


June 30, 2014

Flea Market Shopping, Apliu Street, Hong Kong

We do have at least one specific place we wanted to go to in Hong Kong (aside from H&M) and it’s filled with second-hand if not totally bogged-down electronic devices, old books, cd’s, dvd’s, vinyl records, clothing, house wares, kitchen appliances, antique and pseudo antique watches, jewelries, and old coins.



Apliu Street is tucked away in the much urbanized district of Sham Shui Po.  Once we got off the train, it wasn't really that difficult to find since almost every local we saw seemed to be heading in one direction and that led us straight into the bargain bin of Hong Kong.



Although we were not in the market for anything used, we explored every nook and cranny of the flea market in Apliu Street until a Yamatar camera for only P300 caught my fancy.


Aside from previously loved goods; there were also some shops that sell brand new items such as camera accessories, wireless remotes that control almost everything imaginable, a whole lot of batteries, alarm clocks, LED lights, flashlights and whatnots for a cheap. We got an automatic lens cap for the Lumix LX3 for P150 that sells in the Philippines for P900 – P1,500 at that time.



We also stumbled upon San T'ai Tzu Temple on our way back to the metro.


And when you’re famished from all the shopping, HK style BBQ stalls dotted the streets as well as snacks on skewers. If you’re brave enough, you can wash your food down with cobra infused liquor. We were even offered a free taste but we we’re too sissy to try it. If you’re adventurous enough, tell us about it. Or not.



How to get there: take the MTR to Sham Shui Po Station and take Exit C1.

February 11, 2014

Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden, Hong Kong

Not having an itinerary means not having to get up early in the morning and while I take a shower at 10am, MJ checks out leaflets handed to us by our hostel upon checking in and decided quickly that we were gonna spend the rest of the day north of Kowloon.  Yes, that's how we made our itineraries, in between showers.

After gorging on roast ducks and Chinese-style pork BBQ for brunch, we took a bus ride to Diamond Hill.  Chi Lin Nunnery is located in urban Hong Kong adjacent Nan Lian Garden, entrance is free and is open daily from 9am-4pm.

First stop, the Nunnery.  Chi Lin Nunnery is a Buddhist monastic temple built according to architecture of the Tang Dynasty.  One amazing fact about this temple complex is the absence of the use of nails; the entire structure is made of wood, clay and stone - held together by traditional bracketing techniques. The complex also has a lotus garden with 4 ponds and houses quite an impressive number of bonsai plants.  Photography is limited though in the lotus ponds and the courtyard.





Fronting the Nunnery is the very tranquil Nan Lian Garden.  Landscaped based on the Tang Dynasty style, this serene and rather calm place makes you forget that you are in Hong Kong.  The garden also has a souvenir shop and a vegetarian restaurant which we did not bother to even check (we tend to run away from everything vegetarian, me at least).






LOCATION: Diamond Hill, Kowloon

HOW TO GET THERE: take the MTR to Diamond Hill, get off at the C2 exit in Plaza Hollywood and walk a few meters.  You can also take the bus as some routes stops near the nunnery, do check a map, it’ll tell you which bus to take, there’s also a list of bus routes at every bus stop.


September 11, 2013

Crash Course Mong Kok

For the first time since we started travelling together, MJ did not have a printed excel file of our itinerary, because… well, we do not have one.  What she had for this trip though was a little notebook that contained her “outfit changes”, a list of what to eat and addresses of H&M branches throughout Hong Kong.  As for the sight-seeing part, we kinda relied on the tourist map we got from the airport, crossing out Disneyland of course (as you know by now, we’re not that kind of tourists - no offense to those who are).

Our 1st day was spent pretty much in Mong Kok and despite being the busiest district in the world (noisiest too if you ask me); we loved it there.  The blinding neon signs, the cramped-up alleys, traffic noise, the crowded streets and the stench of boiling pig innards, what’s not to love?  Oh did I mention that there’s an abundance of shopping and lots of places to eat?


In Mong Kok you’ll find anything and everything for all ages and genders; clothes, shoes, cosmetics, jewelry, traditional Chinese medicine, bags, electronics, roast duck, dimsum, traditional Chinese street-side food, milk tea and burgers and fries.






There are also quite a number of hotels and hostels in the area, some money changers and 24-hour 711’s that sell tiger balm for a cheap. 



Getting to Mong Kok is easy as it is quite a popular place; just get on a train and get off at Mong Kok Station.  If you are looking for a particular shop, best to do a little research and bring a map, asking locals for direction in a place like Mong Kok can be challenging as everyone seems to be moving in a very fast phase. -KIM



May 20, 2013

Sleeping in Hong Kong

After a really short direct flight from Cebu, we have arrived in Hong Kong in the middle of the night. It’s funny how the HK locals on the plane were outfitted with shorts, tank tops and flip-flops while I was bundled up in denim, chambray, jacket and - boots! The boots is a dream come true by the way, ha ha!


Amazing how the Philippines in March is at the peak of summer, while we arrived to an 11 degrees in Hong Kong just less than 3 hours away. 11 degrees might not be cold for you, but add to that the gustiness and the fact that this girl from the islands has lived her whole life in the tropics, I felt like I was freezing my a** off! Even after filling my suitcase to the brim, I felt that the clothes that I packed were inadequate. Good thing this destination is also famous for shopping. Wink!

The Chek Lap Kok Airport (IATA Code: HKG) is the main airport in Hong Kong and is well served by public bus routes that transport was no problem even past midnight. From HKG, we took the N21 bus to Kowloon for HKD23 or roughly about Php138 per person. Travel time was about 30 minutes. The prefix N in the bus number means it is an overnight bus service.


We’ve set up residence for 5 nights at Ah Shan Hostel and this was the directions lifted from their website: “Get off at Mong Kok MTR Station - the 6th bus stop, before Argyle Street; 688 Nathan Road outside Argyle Centre; You will see the Bank " Shanghai Commercial Bank. " This is the Cross of Nathan Road and Argyle St. Turn "Left " to Argyle Street. Then go straight cross 2 pedestrian traffic lights. You can see the "CRC Care" Shop and Mong Kok MTR Station "D" Exit. This is the first Trafflight . After the first traffic light you can see Hui Lau Shan (許留山) on your left.

The building in front of you is the Sincere House (先施大厦), directly opposite Baleno.”

Don’t get overwhelmed by the directions, follow this step by step and you’ll find Sincere House with As Shan Hostel’s reception at the 14th floor of Sincere House.


Now let’s orient you with Sincere House. I believe it is like most buildings in Hong Kong - a little rundown that hosts a number of cheap accommodations along with several apartment tenants. There’s always a queue present in the tiny lift (but surprisingly can squeeze in an impressive number of people all at one time) during daylight and believe me when I tell you that it is very busy. We were initially shocked to be greeted by hanging intimate laundries at the hallway but the novelty soon wore off and we got used to it. The rooms, especially the restrooms are cramped. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s discuss the merits of why we still chose to stay here. And for 5 nights at that!


This building is located right across the Ladies Night Market and Langham Place (read: H&M). Major factor. There’s a 711 in the corner, few money changers, an abundance of camera shops, lots of international fast food joints, local eateries with some that are open 24 hours, and the yummiest duck roasts! Those duck roasts still haunt me to this day! There’s also a bus stop, a taxi stand and the MTR station.




The very strategic location makes it a good base for us while the white sheets and the clean room saved us from being miserable and took some of the sting of our being too cheap to pay for a decent hotel.



I swear, when I become a certified Senior Citizen, no more of these hostels, I will put the GRAND in grandmother, with 25 percent discount, guaranteed! - MJ

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