kamakura buddha japan fb

Side-trip to Kamakura, Japan

(I had this blog post in my draft since July 2, 2013. I’ve decided to just post this up despite the lack of text. A picture speaks a thousand words, I guess.)

Act I: Reaching town

The trip to Kamakura in 2012 was totally impromptu. I was planning to head to Yokohama with my N’EX and Suica package but changed my mind when I saw that the ticket covers Kamakura.

Despite being a city person, I love old towns more than cities. The trip to Kamakura from the airport was quite long. I fell asleep on the train.

The sky was cloudy when I reached. It took me a while to find an empty locker to store my luggage.

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Blank white book w/path

Where’s that book you’ve been talking about?

I can't even finish a scrapbook.

I can’t even finish a scrapbook.

There’s a strange relationship between being a writer and publishing a book.

In the day of the possibility of publishing online to an audience of millions, having a solid book in hand is still the goal. The part where bringing out the Champagne is called for.

At least that’s for me.

Before travelling, I had hoped to be able to gather enough stories to piece together into a travel memoir, or a book.
During travelling, I kept a digital journal each day to remind myself of what happened.
After travelling, I went to the library to get my hands on books about writing books.

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mai ygn sin.51

A glimpse of Yangon, Inle Lake

Ever since Myanmar opened up its tourism, many people I know of (whether adventurous or not) have visited or have been planning to visit the country.

I realised that Myanmar is no longer just the dream destination for the adventurous when even the aunties started talking about it. One day, my mom casually mentioned to me that a “travel expert on TV” recommended visiting Myanmar and that the country is beautiful and cheap to visit.

Still, I wasn’t adventurous enough to visit Myanmar on my own. I think I’ve used up all my sense of adventure during my 130-day trip around the world. I didn’t feel the energy to make plans, bookings and sketch an itinerary.

That was why when I heard about the Myanmar Airways International (MAI) trip to Myanmar, I grabbed it.

Now’s a chance for me to see Myanmar without the hassle of planning. Of course, the downside of a packaged tour is that you’re bound to your group without much chance to see things outside of the comfortable tour bubble. Still, that’s a price that I’m willing to pay so I could get a glimpse of the country.

Myanmar Airways International flight to Yangon

Myanmar Airways International (MAI) is a full service carrier and is one of the six airlines with direct flights from Singapore to Yangon.

MAI plane from Yangon to Singapore

MAI plane from Yangon to Singapore

MAI is one of the six airlines with direct flights from Singapore to Yangon. For a full Myanmar experience, I’d recommend choosing this airline to see the cabin crew dressed in the traditional Myanmar longyi and to listen to the announcements made in the soft Myanmar language.

MAI cabin crew wearing traditional longyi

MAI cabin crew wearing traditional longyi

The inflight magazine is also Myanmar-specific so you can learn more about the country and some of the language in the short 2 hour plus plane ride.

MAI's inflight magazine

MAI’s inflight magazine

I’m one of the odd people who actually like plane food. MAI’s food did not disappoint. On the flight to Yangon, I had the chicken noodle while on the way back I had curry chicken with prata. They were all delicious.

MAI inflight meal. rom left: Chicken noodle, Fish bee hoon and Chicken prata

MAI inflight meal. rom left: Chicken noodle, Fish bee hoon and Chicken prata

Myanmar Airways International Economy class

Myanmar Airways International Economy class

Leg room for Premium seats

Leg room for Premium seats

When the plane flew over Myanmar, I saw emerald green land with slices of rectangular water fields with ribbons of water from the river. The land didn’t look like anything I’ve seen before and I was enchanted.

A glimpse of Myanmar from above

A glimpse of Myanmar from above

A trip to Shwedagon Pagoda

When we reached Yangon airport, we changed our Singapore dollars to local kyat (pronounced as “cha’t”). It was S$1 to 777 kyat. Or for easier mental calculation, US$1 is about 1,000 kyat.

We were greeted by our tour guide Moon who is from local tour agency Myanmar Tourex. I learned that all the tours that Myanmar Airways International offer are provided by Myanmar Tourex which is a family-run travel agency.

Our first tourist spot was Shwedagon Pagoda where it was said that that eight strands of Gautama Buddha’s hair was enshrined.

We left our slippers at the ground floor and took the elevator to the top where the Pagoda was. Since most of the area was not sheltered, the tiled floor was wet and everyone walked in small steps.

We began the tour in front of an image of Buddha under a bodhi tree. The tour guide told us the history of the pagoda and then led us to the main compound. The first sight of Shwedagon Pagoda made me gasp. At 105 metres high, it towered over the rest of the little pagoda. It still glimmered brightly but I suspect that it would be blindingly gold when there’s sun.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

Our guide said there are different “corners” for each day of the week (plus two for Wednesday: Wednesday morning and Wednesday evening) and each person should pray at their respective corners. I left the group to go in search of the Sunday Corner.

Strangely, the days of the week didn’t seem to be arranged accordingly. I walked a large round before finally stopping at the Sunday Corner. There was already a throng of women gathered at the Buddha underneath the Sunday Corner sign. I said a small prayer and jostled with the women to rinse the image of Buddha with little tin cups of water.

It started drizzling heavier at the end of our tour. When we reached the ground level, I couldn’t find my flip flops since they were stored in a different place from my tour groups.

Short stay at Hotel ESTA

Yangon was only a jumping point for us on this tour. We stayed at Hotel ESTA during our first and last night in Myanmar, the rest of the days were spent at Inle Lake.

Hotel ESTA is run by an enterprising Myanmar lady who spent a large part of her childhood in Singapore. The hotel amenities did not disappoint. I was most pleased that there were enough electrical plugs for two people and an electric kettle with 3-in-1 coffee mix.

Hotel ESTA Yangon facilities

Hotel ESTA Yangon facilities

For dinner, we had western food. The prawn that came with my pasta was quite large. The banana pancake dessert with vanilla ice cream was to die for.

Western dinner at Hotel ESTA Yangon

Western dinner at Hotel ESTA Yangon

After enjoying the hot shower, I slept like a baby but woke up at 3am. I was afraid that I might miss the morning alarm and be the last person to arrive at assembly. If it weren’t for the early flight, I would have stayed in bed for much longer.

Since we had to leave very early for both days–the second day to catch a domestic flight and the last day to catch the flight back to Singapore–breakfast was prepared in takeaway  boxes for us to bring.

From Yangon to Inle Lake

If you don’t have much time in Myanmar and prefer to travel in comfort, it’s best to take the plane to reach the other destinations. It’s comfortable and saves time so it will give you even more time and energy to sight see.

On the day we were flying to Inle Lake, the traffic from Hotel ESTA to the domestic airport was smooth. Yangon’s domestic airport is right next the the modern, boxy international airport.

The domestic airport was blinged out to look like the exterior of a pagoda. It was golden all over even in the dim morning night. I had seen it the previous day but thought that it was a shrine or pagoda to pray for good luck for travellers.

It was pouring while we waited for the plane. I was worried that our domestic plane from Yangon to Heho (the airport nearest to Inle Lake) could not fly.

Rainy day at Yangon domestic airport

Rainy day at Yangon domestic airport

When it was our time to board, the ground staff lined up with large umbrellas to shelter us from the airport building to the bus and from the bus to the plane.

Even with the heavy rain, the pilots of Air Bagan were able to bring us to our destinations safely. I’m pretty impressed.

Enjoying Inle Lake for two days

I spent most of the days at Inle Lake on a boat. The tourist spots were scattered on different parts of the lake and its shores so it’s quite impossible to try to see everything by bus.

To get a better idea of what to do at Inle Lake, you can check out my separate blog post about What to Do at Inle Lake, Myanmar.

Inle Lake might not be as famous as Bagan or Mandalay but the view on the lake and the floating gardens are definitely something you shouldn’t miss.

Back to Yangon, trip to Scotts Market for shopping

We left Inle Lake after two days of touring at Inle Lake, it was time to head back to Yangon for our flight back to Singapore.

Scotts Market, Yangon

Scotts Market, Yangon

One our last day, we had a bit of time to visit Scotts Market for some local shopping. Compared to Ho Chi Minh City’s Bến Thành Market, Scotts Market–now called Bogyoke Aung San Market–is a bit smaller and less warm.

While at the market, I managed to haggle two longyi for 8,000 kyat and some bracelets made from probably-not previous stones.

I tried haggling down thanaka to a ridiculously low price but the vendor refused to sell them to me. I realised that I had crossed the line and became the unpolite tourist who expects everything to be cheap.

Longyi cloth and semi-precious stones

Longyi cloth and semi-precious stones

My friend from Myanmar later told me that things at the market are overpriced to begin with, still I had a great time and hope to visit again.

Our last dinner in Yangon was the buffet at Shangri-La. My travel buddy Debbie (who wasn’t with me on this trip) and I have an item on our To-Do List when travelling, we should have a buffet at one of the classy hotels because the food would be good and yet cheaper than in Singapore.

Buffet dinner at Shangri-La Yangon

Buffet dinner at Shangri-La Yangon

The buffet at Shangri-La Yangon gets crowded so remember to make reservations before popping over.

The last night was spent at Hotel ESTA. I had a room switch and ended up with a King-sized bed. It also felt good to be there because of the relatively fast and stable Wi-Fi connection. I really can’t live without my phone.

After this trip, I want to return to Myanmar to see the rest of the country that I haven’t seen. But most importantly, to buy those boxes of thanaka!

This post first appeared on TripZilla Magazine.

Many thanks to TripZilla and Myanmar Airways International who made my trip to Myanmar possible. A big thank you to Myanmar Tourex and Hotel ESTA for the tours and accommodation. As usual, all tasty comments are my own.

yqinmmr

YQtravelling will be away in Myanmar #YQinMMR

If you follow YQtravelling on Instagram, you would have known that I’ll be going to Myanmar. I’m finally travelling far after a long hiatus. I’m both nervous and excited about travelling.

This trip to Myanmar will be my very first blog trip and I’ll be going on behalf of Tripzilla Magazine and hosted by Myanmar Airways International.

I’m leaving on Sunday and returning to Singapore on Thursday. During the 5-day-4-night trip, I’ll be spending my trip in Yangon and Inle Lake with a small tour group.

I’m excited about seeing Myanmar and tasting its food. I’m also curious about shopping, how much thanaka or longyi should I get?

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda

Source: The Nomad Damsel (I borrow this photo for a while, ok? Thanks!)

I’ll hashtag the trip with #YQinMMR (Hope that doesn’t stand for anything weird!) Follow me on my trip on Instagram and Twitter.

What would you like me to do in Myanmar? Share your comments here or tweet me at @yqtravelling

yq updates

What has YQ been up to? June 2014 update

Hello,

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Why? Because I haven’t been travelling much so I don’t know what I could share with you good folks.

Anyway, I wanted to give a short update on what’s been happening while I was YQnotTravelling.

I pose with Daruma

I pose with Daruma

Update about my job situation

Since my last major posts about the pros and cons of quitting your job to travel, I have found a job in the travel and tourism industry! *toast a glass of bubbly*

Strangely, there is no official job title for it since the stuff on my name card doesn’t really match my real job. So I introduce myself professionally as a “Content Marketer” but the actual duties are that of a “Blogger”.  It’s still unbelievable today that I’m an actual Blogger (with a big B).

Fun things I’ve been doing

Enough about boring work stuff, now it’s time for the fun stuff.

Since I was hired in March, I couldn’t take long periods of leave for travelling so I had been stuck in Singapore for a while.

I might have Stockholm syndrome since I don’t think life was that boring in the previous months:

  • I went to a friend’s wedding in May

chiawoon wedding.08

I travelled to small town Raub in Pahang for a friend’s wedding. It was great meeting my old friends and getting to feast at the wedding dinner. Om nom nom.

  • I went to another friend’s wedding in Singapore

kei weddingMore happy things happened!

  • My sister is getting married

sis marrying

The official wedding dinner is happening next year but they’re going to register this year. More and more happy things happened.

  • I discovered that Singapore has improv classes

I absolutely adore improv ever since I saw it on Whose Line Is It Anyway? (Improv-A-Ganza is awesome too, with the same cast). I didn’t know it was a real thing that I could actually do.

Then I found out that The Improv Company teaches improv. I’m going to sign up for their longer course when their schedule suits me.

  • I’ve bought music from Amazon France

I have a thing for French musicals and the paranormal. That’s why I was hooked on Dracula, l’amour plus fort que la mort.

I had to jump through multiple hoops to get the soundtrack for Draculabut I have it now! And I play it again and again. This beats trying to listen on Youtube.

What do you want to know about Singapore? I’ll find out for you!

Since I’m stuck in Singapore for a while until any major trips. I thought it would be good to share with you some of the places in Singapore to visit or things to do.

klia2

Snapshots of KLIA2–AirAsia’s new airport at KL

Walking time to departure gates at KLIA2

Most important photo of this post: Walking time to departure gates at KLIA2

KLIA2 is the new terminal for budget carriers flying in or out Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia’s largest budget airline AirAsia moved its operations from the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) to KLIA2 on May 9.

I was flying to KL on May 10 so I had the chance to see the airport while it was still new. Here’s a peek at what the new airport looks like.

Why KLIA2 is so huge?
Before flying, I’ve read advisories from AirAsia telling travellers that the boarding gates are quite far so everyone needs to be early. The walk from the arrival gates to the main terminal did feel quite long, although the view of airplanes from the large windows helped pass time.

Things were still kind of bare when I was at KLIA2. I didn’t get much photos of the arrival hall because I wanted to catch my bus to KL Sentral.

KLIA2 FAQ person

There were these human-FAQ walking around at the airport. They’re helpful with directions and bad at finding a normal trashcan.

The buses are located at Basement 2. I had booked a shuttle bus to KL Sentral from AirAsia. Turns out I could just hop on the bus and show my ticket.

Leaving KLIA2

AirAsia checkin counter at KLIA2

Not many people check in their luggage so the counters are bare.

I had more time to take photos when I was leaving KL. The departure level is the highest of the building and getting here takes more time than I expected.

I like that there are a lot more restaurants at KLIA2 than LCCT. Finally, more food choices. But I only got a cup of latte from McCafe since I ate multiple meals before leaving the city center.

After having my coffee, I had a really difficult time finding a normal trashcan to throw my cup. The human-FAQ couldn’t help me and only pointed to the recycling bins.

More than 95 percent of the trash cans are recycle bins.

KLIA2 is overdoing the recycling bins. It seemed like every corner I see one of these but not a regular trash can. Recycling won’t work if everyone throws their regular trash inside.

International Departure at KLIA2

Departure lounge

Walking time to departure gates at KLIA2

Walking time to departure gates at KLIA2

Long walkway at KLIA 2

The walkway to the international departure lounge was pretty far. The shops weren’t opened so the walk was boring.

KLIA2 depature hall

Empty KLIA2 depature hall

Resting lounge at departure lounge at KLIA2

Resting lounge at departure lounge at KLIA2

map of westeros

How can I get to Westeros? : Prompt 16 of #indie30

Prompt #16: What city in Europe would you like to visit the most?

Having visited Paris in 2011, I can’t really think of any other European city that I would like to visit. I think my imagination has been eroded from too much travelling.

Although I don’t have a a particular city in Europe that I’m dying to visit, if I were dying, I would choose to go to the fictional land of Westeros in Game of Thrones (which is kind of in Europe and filmed in Europe).

Map of Westeros

Credit: Robert whose handsome face I’ve cropped out

Compared to my current life, Westeros has 1000 times more swords and an infinity times more shadows dragons. Those are good enough reasons to go.

I would love have been a part of the storyline but based on my karma, I’d probably end up as Character Who Crosses The Road in the books or the film. Plus, I wouldn’t have survived a day in Flea Bottom.

Actually, come to think of it, I don’t feel like dying that soon. The one reason I want to be in Westeros is so that I can wear fantastic braids all year long (which I have been doing in a mini scale these days).

More on Game of Thrones filming locations:

 

This post is part of 30 Days of Indie Travel Art Project.

korean fried chicken.41

Travelling in Asia: Prompt 15 of #indie30

Prompt #15: If you could pick any country in Asia to go to, which one would you pick and why?

I haven’t been to all parts of Asia but I don’t seem to find the motivation to explore all corners.

I guess living in this continent gives a false sense that it would be easy to travel around so I wouldn’t need to hit all the countries any time soon.

So for today’s choice, I would love to head back to Japan and see the other parts of it that I hadn’t been.

I’ve heard a lot about Hokkaido. It’s supposed to be a land where all seasons are beautiful.

I would love to heard there when lavender season is in. (I wanted to do that even back in 2011’s indie30.) I would love to be there when the King Crabs are fleshy.

Image credit: Jennifer

The only period I wouldn’t want to be in Hokkaido is winter. I dread the cold. Thank goodness the onsen-loving Japanese macaques don’t live there or else it’s a very tempting visit.

Other Asia to-visit list

But if it’s for going to somewhere I’ve not been, South Korea would be my top choice since it is the land of skincare products.

I’m not particularly fond of spicy food which Koreans love. But if it’s spicy fried chicken, I’m up for it. The marinade is so so good.

Korean Fried Chicken

I would also love to visit the cafes in South Korean and drink lattes until I am jittery from caffeine.

Is there any place in Asia that’s on your list? Share it in the comments below.

 

This post is part of 30 Days of Indie Travel Art Project.

One related post: 11 travel blogs from Asia to follow

travelling with a hat

One thing I do when travelling but won’t do at home: Prompt 11 of #indie30

Prompt #11: Tell us about a time you did something, something you knew you probably shouldn’t do, while traveling.

In SPM examinations in Malaysia (kind of an exam in between O- and A-Levels), non-Muslim students have to sit for a subject called “Moral Education” (Pendidikan Moral).

It doesn’t actually test how moral you are but how good you are at memorizing exact phrases. I’m telling you this because I scored a “C5″ for this subject. (A1 is the best anyone can score and F9 is “Fail”.)

Based on my results, you might judge me as being an immoral person: someone who steals candy from babies and stick “Kick Me” signs on old ladies.

Well, I like to believe that I’m a moral person and that I’m moral at home and overseas.

So I won’t be sharing any scandalous stories about myself because I’m practically scandal-free.

Instead, the thing that I would do overseas but not at home is dressing like a tourist.

I love the idea of wearing hats. But to actually wear a hat in Singapore or Malaysia, I probably won’t do it unless I’m at a fancy picnic party where 5 other people are wearing hats.

That’s why I only wear hats when I travel. I already look different from the locals, why not milk it all the way.

What about you? Is there something that you do overseas but never at home?

This post is part of 30 Days of Indie Travel Art Project.