A Travellerspoint blog

back home. And looking forward to more vacations

View Nolan's Eleven Heaven meetups & Meet my TravBuddy friends - Rhea (rheagirl) & Myanmar 2014 & Myanmar 2014 on NT01's travel map.

This Bangkok and Myanmar trip was my first time to travel with TravBuddies. And Rhea, Alpa and Annika were the best in making this experience truly memorable - I would travel with them again at the drop of a hat :D

From February 2014, I had already made plans for another trip with Rhea, Masayo and Jon - this time to Sri Lanka. We (me, Rhea and Anne) had already made bookings for Kuala Lumpur in November 2014, with me and Rhea continuing on to Sri Lanka. (as of this edit in early 2015, Anne had finally booked her flights to Sri Lanka so we did push through). Aside from the TravBuddy meetup in Kuala Lumpur and the travel in Sri Lanka, I had booked by December 2013 flights to Osaka, Japan where I would be meeting Masayo in May 2014. That Japan trip turned out to be a mini-TB meetup with Maine (mudcore) and Diana (dgligor) joining us in walking around Osaka. Diana also joined us in Nara where we met with Yasuyo. On the way back we met Maine in Kyoto plus a couple of other backpackers.

This trip is the impetus for me to travel as much as I can, by myself or with TravBuddies. Surely there is a long, long ride ahead :D

Posted by NT01 17:00 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

transit in Changi

View Nolan's Eleven Heaven meetups & Meet my TravBuddy friends - Rhea (rheagirl) & Myanmar 2014 & Myanmar 2014 on NT01's travel map.

large_1840343_13945868641744.jpgMy original flight back to Manila was on TG. This was the best combination in terms of timing for me to get back home, and available on the United Airlines' Mileage Plus options for the award ticket. I was thinking of trying to get other longer routes, even dreaming about transiting through Incheon, Korea (via Singapore or Bangkok), since the award ticket was on business class. But since it took me a while to finally decide on which route to take (I had waited for Rhea and Anne to confirm that they were booked to Bangkok and Yangon), I ended up being the last to book and had almost missed the opportunity to get an ideal routing.

So the original routing was pretty simple: MNL x/BKK RGN x/BKK MNL. Nothing more straightforward than that. But that was before the Thai anti-government protests started happening in January 2014.large_1840343_13945868576574.jpgMenu selection on Yangon-Bagan flight Marinated gravadlax on cucumber citrus salad Seared salmon in tomato olive-caper sauce with sauteed vegetable and wholewheat pasta Chocolate fudge cake with cherry and vanilla sauceAs a result of the protests, the airlines cut back on their flights, including the second TG flight that left BKK midday for MNL. And then Thai Airways booked me on the first flight out the following day! Oh no! I don't want to get back to MNL on Monday, I have to show up at the office without any business clothes on!

So here's where connections come in. One of my former staff was now a supervisor with the call center of United Airlines. I texted her and asked her if the rebookings could be changed. After some exchanges of messages, she said it's possible and so I request for a RGN x/SIN MNL route on Singapore Airlines (my favorite airline). Done, she managed to pull it off very quickly and sent me an email confirmation with my new routing, which was returning to Manila on the same day (Sunday, February 23rd) with a 4 hour layover in Singapore.large_1840343_13945868566083.jpgSeared salmon in tomato olive-caper sauce with sauteed vegetable and wholewheat pasta

And who doesn't want a layover in Singapore? Changi Airport [Changi-Airport-travel-guide-1331777] has consistently been awarded Best Airport (they compete heavily with Incheon) for many years, and they just keep on increasing the bar. When I started flying to Singapore there was only Changi [Changi-travel-guide-1321041] Terminal 1. Then came Terminal 2, then Terminal 3, and now they are about to build Terminal 4 - constant innovation, which isn't surprising why they are voted Best Airport. There is simply so much to do in Changi Airport - and for those who stay longer, there is an airport hotel in between the terminals.

So, as soon as I had bid goodbye to Rhea and Alpa in Yangon Airport, my journey on the rebooked return leg began.large_1840343_13945868664329.jpg First the plane was an A330 but it had the newer seats on business class. Leather seats, with individual chargers for iOS devices through US, plus a regular universal electrical outlet. My seatmate in row 11 was a local businessman from Myanmar - he wasn't interesting at all, and we never struck a conversation. He was more interested in reading the news, probably trying to catch up with the day's updates. I didn't mind either, this was one of the better business class seats I've taken, although still a far cry from the best ones you will see on Singapore Airlines' A380 and newer 777-300s.

And since we woke up a bit early for our morning flights, this was a time to catch some rest. They served me the usual bag of mixed nuts and a choice of beverage - I opted for the Singapore Sling special on SQ, which was not as much loaded with alcohol but zesty enough.large_1840343_13945868613670.jpgSilver Kris lounge in Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 3 - this is the computer/internet area - online heaven! :)I then asked the Flight Attendant to wake me up later than the usual mealtime so I could catch a bit more sleep. When mealtime came, it was another feast in the air - the pictures say it all.

Transiting in Changi for four hours goes by real fast. I checked out the shops, and after seeing most of them in Terminal 3, went over to the SilverKris lounge. I was tempted to take a shower but decided against it, so I just took a few photos of the huge lounge and grabbed minimal food since I was full from the meal on the plane earlier. I then ended up in the computer area of the lounge where there were rows of PCs where I could just catch up on the internet, after being practically disconnected while in Myanmar. True enough, the speeds of the ISP at the lounge were over 7Mbps, a far cry from the less than 50kbps in Myanmar where it would take many tries and 15 minutes just to upload a photo on FaceBook.large_1840343_13945868617871.jpg7 Mbps download speed - a tremendous boost over the 30 kbps speeds in Myanmar!

As usual, I checked out my Updates on TravBuddy, sent out messages to whoever needed to be greeted on Facebook, browsed the news, and so on. Nice to be reconnected with the internet world after a week of enjoyable isolation and discovery in Myanmar.

Finally it was time to move to Terminal 2 because my plane to Manila was boarding from there. The Skytrain is so convenient that you get to the other side in about 5 minutes, and the waits are no more than 10 minutes long.


Posted by NT01 17:00 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

back to the big city Yangon before returning to Manila

View Nolan's Eleven Heaven meetups & Meet my TravBuddy friends - Rhea (rheagirl) & Myanmar 2014 & Myanmar 2014 on NT01's travel map.

large_1840343_1394809515571.jpgThe second time in Yangon [Yangon-travel-guide-1320501] was not as activity filled compared to the first time. Because we changed our mode of travel back from Bagan [Bagan-travel-guide-1314554], our arrival was scheduled for when it was already dark. Not much to do when it's dark, probably because I didn't include in my planning the bars or lounges in the swanky hotels anymore. And besides, we were all flying back home early in the morning. And as we arrived quite late, Mr. Htun's coffee shop was already closed when we dropped by :(

This is the twilight zone when it comes to any trip. The feeling where you've accomplished a fair enough deal, but the feeling of anxiety that you have when you know you will be saying goodbye to your dear friends and travel buddies. Just like when we all came into Bangkok on different flights and times, we were leaving Yangon on different flights although we all traveled to the airport together. Annika was to continue her journey for another week at the least. Alpa would have a full month in Thailand as she would be meeting up with her friend from the UK there. And that left Rhea and I will the dreaded thought of going back to work and the salt mines. The realization sometimes strikes you hard - travel is such a fleeting experience, while it is not living in a fantasy world, it is discovering a whole lot more about yourself and others. I have yet to find that Eureka! moment though, but I knew I had started on those first few steps to getting there.


Posted by NT01 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Mount Popa and the flight back to Yangon

View Nolan's Eleven Heaven meetups & Meet my TravBuddy friends - Rhea (rheagirl) & Myanmar 2014 & Myanmar 2014 on NT01's travel map.

large_1840343_13943788314318.jpgMount Popa was never on our list. But then that was because we were planning to return to Yangon [Yangon-travel-guide-1320501] from Bagan [Bagan-travel-guide-1314554] via the daytime bus. Because we didn't have enough time in Bagan, Rhea, Alpa and I decided that we would book the tickets at the nearest travel agency after getting off the ferry. Once we got that out of the way, the pressure was off and we had almost a full day to explore the rest of Bagan and the vicinity.

Since Annika wanted to go to Mount Popa [Mount-Popa-travel-guide-1362443], and Bong & Tessie who we met earlier in Bagan also planned to do so, we decided to hire Min-min again for the Mt.large_1840343_13943788328617.jpg Popa side trip and pass by New Bagan to drop off Annika at her hostel. Rhea and I picked them up early at their hotel (since they didn't stay with us anymore to catch the sunrise), and we headed off to Mt. Popa since Min-min said there should be enough time for us to get there before noon and to be able to return before 4PM.

On the way to Mt. Popa we got to pass by a store that had an ox pulling a grinder for what-it-was-I-can't-recall-now. Some sort of food item which they plucked from the trees and ground probably into a sort of candy. All of us enjoyed riding on the cart that went nowhere but in circles, except for Alpa who had obviously ridden more exotic animals in Africa compared to the ox here in Myanmar.

When we went to Mt. Popa, it was an interesting sight from afar, but overrated compared to other temples in Bagan.large_1840343_13943788354361.jpg The only thing that was so great about it was that it was perched on a very pointed and steep mountain. Well, I think the reason we missed out was because we didn't have a guide, otherwise the stories in the smaller temples would have made sense. Plus of course what we didn't like were the cleaners who would ask for a dollar or so after polishing the steps every so often, and the thieving monkeys who almost got away with Annika's camera (well, not that close). Oh yeah, I remember why there are cleaners - to wipe away the pee and leftovers of the mischievous primates. So after the usual photos (this time Annika was ahead of us all throughout the hike up the temple), we decided to head down. Again, because I spent a few minutes longer to take more photos, I didn't realize where Rhea and Annika went on the way down - there were two routes.large_1840343_1394378840355.jpg So I hurriedly took all the photos of the rooms, statues and monkeys and went down to the place where we left our shoes. It took the girls a few more minutes before they finally arrived, they were also wondering where I passed. Oh, and in case you are wondering where Alpa was all throughout our ordeal, she was enjoying herself on lower ground while we went through the gruelling climb and enduring the monkey mischief.

After we were done with Mt. Popa, it seem everyone was tired and they told me to skip the restaurant just outside the area of the mountain and instead just head back to Bagan for lunch. We asked Min-min where would be a nice place to eat and so he brought us to Black Rose Restaurant in New Bagan. That was a good food experience, and when lunch was done, we had to bring Annika to her hostel and say our goodbyes.large_1840343_13943812861749.jpg Annika was to venture on more interesting travails in the rest of Myanmar, we wish though that we were with her during some of those hair-raising encounters she had.

Finally, on to the airport. We had planned to arrive a bit ahead of the usual schedule, somewhat early, in fact because the checkin counter had not opened when we got there. And lo and behold, Air KBZ was in the pre-computer age! No printouts of the passenger manifest, but a handwritten one! No ATBs and thermal printed baggage tags, it was like riding a plane back in the 70s (as if I rode planes that much back then). Even immigration didn't get the list of the passengers, just the nationality and passenger count! Hahaha! I wonder how they would track down their passengers if something unfortunate happens (well, hope not).large_1840343_13943812963527.jpg And this is the newest airline with the most number of planes in Myanmar (well, just maybe 1 plane more than the others)! Definitely a lot of opportunity for airline systems providers when Myanmar's tourism industry starts growing by leaps and bounds!

In any case, the plane was an ATR-72, not that old, but was used on another leg (from Heho I think) so when we boarded the plane, there were passengers already in front. I took the seat on the left side and left Rhea behind on the right, as we were jockeying to see who would have the better view for the sunset. It turns out the sunset was on the right side (so Rhea wins), but she mentioned it was also difficult to get some decent photos because of the way the plane took off. Anyway, it was an uneventful flight, less than an hour, but we were pleased with the packaging of the inflight snack (croissant and a cake roll) since we are used to low cost carriers that offer at the most peanuts and a packaged processed snack, or nothing at all!

Landing at Yangon Airport was smooth, it was interesting to note all the planes were parked on the apron in a relatively haphazard order - since there were no airbridges on the domestic terminal.large_1840343_13943788482942.jpg And you could see the difference between the old and the new - the international wing was a pleasant surprise, although the domestic airport was like throwback into the late 70s.

So we were able to get another taxi (this time for 9000 kyat, relatively new car but not aircon), and the driver was fairly friendly. We passed by the nighttime sights of Yangon, but didn't pay much attention to Shwedagon Pagoda anymore since we had seen it up close the Sunday before.

Finally, back to the same hotel (Orchid City Hall) but this time with smaller and cheaper rooms, and the girls were fairly exhausted having come from Mt. Popa and the short flight. But I can't recall now if someone was able to sneak out another bottle of beer .... hmmmm...


Posted by NT01 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

The amazing sights of Bagan

View Nolan's Eleven Heaven meetups & Meet my TravBuddy friends - Rhea (rheagirl) & Myanmar 2014 & Myanmar 2014 on NT01's travel map.

large_1840343_1394034319438.jpgBagan would be the highlight of our trip. All the 2,000+ temples (down from over 10,000 constructed over the centuries) would simply be a most dramatic sight to behold. That also factored in our choice of hotel. During the planning stage, I asked Rhea if she was willing to splurge a bit more than the usual for the comforts and among the best locations in Bagan [Bagan-travel-guide-1314554] - Old Bagan, at the Bagan Hotel River View. Just by mentioning that there are two 12th century temples on sight means a lot for a hotel, not to mention the view from our room was the immenseGawdawpalin Temple, second tallest temple in Bagan. Hands down, this hotel was a winner! (save for the slow internet in the lobby and the ATM which hadn't been repaired in over a month).large_1840343_13940343201664.jpg

There was a twist to our booking of hotels. Before we all discovered WhatsApp as a hotel and meetup planning tool, Alpa, Annika and I were limited to communicating via the TravBuddy site and emails - nothing wrong about that, but it wasn't as fast coordinating our decisions when finding a place to stay. There was another TravBuddy who had confirmed she would be joining way ahead but eventually influenced the others to book a cheaper place away from our hotel, only to cancel joining the trip from Mandalay [Mandalay-travel-guide-551987] to Bagan for some filmsy excuse. For that reason this TB will not be named anymore in this blog - well, somethings are bound not to work well. In the end we didn't allow this incovenience bother us as much, although it would have been better to travel as a whole group.large_1840343_13940343342237.jpg Alpa and Annika still managed to get a good hotel deal, but in no way comparable to what we got at the Bagan Hotel River View. And Stephanie and Genia were able to get another nice hotel in the plains near the airport, but a bit far from the main temple sites.

The amazing day in Bagan always starts with sunrise, well, even before sunrise itself. Rhea and I woke up early to find a nice spot to take photos. We knew in advance that Shwesandaw Pagoda will be overrun by tourists, so we started asking the hotel staff which ones are nearby. We were able to reach a certain area which the map said had a good view, but to our disappointment the angles for photography were a bit low, and there were electrical cables that got in the way of the photo. We took a few photos and then it seemed boring already.large_1840343_13940343299081.jpg On our way back to the hotel, we managed to meet a girl of about 12 who spoke fairly good English and offered to show us a temple with a good view. It seems to me this is the same girl that Karen (Mezmerized) met during her travels to Bagan a couple of years back - too bad Rhea and I didn't manage to get her picture for comparison. But she did sell postcards, exactly as how Karen described her.

In any case, we were able to get up the temple and there were only two other tourists who had arrived before us. And over the next hour or so, we had taken among the most fantastic photos of a view that very few people, including ourselves, had the privilege of seeing in person - the glorious Bagan sunrise. The lucky ones who were able to cough up to $350 to get an even better view on a hot air balloon (Stephanie included) would have likely even more dramatic photos.large_1840343_13951577695999.jpg But we were content to have the balloons as backdrops to our photos - they really show how serene the morning starts. The sunrise was a more interesting sight for me compared to the sunset later on. It seems the colors change more dramatically from the purplish hue before the sun is up and then to a bright reddish orange and then yellow. With sunset you go the other way around but the purples aren't as dramatic (well maybe because we also left the viewpoint early). Rhea and I enjoyed the opportunity to be away from the crowds, which mean we didn't get overwhelmed by the commercialization that Stephanie and Genia had destested since coming to Mandalay the day prior.

On the way back we took photos of the large museum (which was still closed and we never got to visit anymore).large_1840343_13951577804035.jpg People were very friendly, one old chap on a horse carriage would call out to us and greet us good morning as we were crossing the road back to the hotel.

And the spectacular views didn't end there. As this was our first morning there, we finally got to see what we had missed out from the dinner the night before - a very calm view of the Ayeyarwaddy River with the occasional motorized outboard boat noise that would break the silence. Plus a lot of bougainvilleas just a few meters away from our end of the deck. And we also saw a Francis (TravBuddy moderator fransglobal) lookalike! And a few meters away were the two 12th century pagodas and trees where the crows and squirrels would play about. I would say it was the most unique and serene breakfast I've had in my travels.large_1840343_13940343437160.jpg

After breakfast our driver MingMing was waiting for us and we headed off to Alpa and Annika’s hotel. After picking up the two, we headed to Shwezigon Pagoda, which is a stupa structure whose dome is covered in gold leaf. This pagoda is believed to house a tooth and bone of Buddha.

After lunch, we went on a tour of as many pagodas we could, the sheer number just blows us away. In the process of the pagoda hopping we meet a Filipino couple (Bong and Tessie) based in Los Angeles who made small talk with us when I mentioned something in Tagalog to Rhea on top of one of the pagodas. We struck up a conversation with them, and despite having different itineraries, still met them in at least five other pagodas during the rest of the day. We invited them to dinner but unfortunately they weren’t able to make it (Tessie said they were tired from all the walking) but nevertheless we promised to keep in touch.large_1840343_13951577897435.jpg That serendipitous meeting resulted in me inviting them to join TravBuddy and they signed up as TB profile name 23661cue (http://www.travbuddy.com/23661cue [23661cue]).

Well, despite how hard one tries, you will never get to complete the 2,000+ temples in a day (or probably even in a week). We went for the major ones – Ananda Temple, Bupaya Pagoda, Dhammayangyi Temple, Mingalazedi Pagoda, and so on. If we had a tour guide with us we would have learned more about the story of the royal family that got killed by one of its members. Well, I did get to see a pretty Burmese lady who looked like a model in one of those temples, plus a handicapped artist/painter who collected foreign currencies. And much more.

In the evening we (the four of us including Annika) took more photos of the temples and had dinner with Stephanie and Genia at the Starbeam Bistro near Ananda Temple.large_1840343_13951577933878.jpg As mentioned, Bong and Tessie were tired so they skipped dinner, but we were to meet again in Manila and Los Angeles. Bagan is such an amazing place, very tranquil during the early part of the day despite having lots of tourists but never overwhelmed by commercialization in a sense. Hopefully it remains that way in the future.


Posted by NT01 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

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