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Mandalay, Myanmar

Our flight was from Don Mueang to Mandalay at 11am. We took a shared taxi into Mandalay, which took around 40 min @ 4,000 MMK(USD$2)/person. It’s much cheaper than taking a private taxi, you just need to wait a couple minutes until the van is full– an easy way to save money!

Travelling in Mandalay is not that hard, there are scooters everywhere. You can flag a moto-taxi anytime and they will pick you up… even if they have to kick their wife off the back to take you :P

In the afternoon, we took scooters to the Kuthodaw Pagoda (ကုသိုလ်တော်ဘုရား). It contains the world’s largest book, which is inscribed on 729 stone-inscription caves (kyauksa gu), each cave contains a marble slab inscribed on both sides with a page of text from the Tipitaka, the entire Pali Canon of Theravada Buddhism.

Kuthodaw Pagoda Lotus at Kuthodaw Pagoda

Street foods are very popular. We tried to eat all of it. We stopped at a street food stall in front of the Kuthodaw Pagoda and had Samosas, fried wonton shells filled with a savory deliciousness such as spicy potatoes, onions, peas, and lentils. They made a salad where they chopped up tomatoes, lettuce, onions, vinegar, and chopped Samosas on top. Yum!

Samosa Salad

We went to Sandamuni Pagoda (စန္ဒာမုနိဘုရား) which is right next to the Kuthodaw Pagoda. They have 1,774 Shrines that house inscribed marble slabs. All of these Shrines surround the magnificent main Pagoda. It was pretty cool to see the shrines go on seemingly forever.

Sandamuni Buddha Image
Sandamuni Pagoda Cat in Sandamuni Pagoda

Most Burmese are Buddhist and they believe that building temples and pagodas bring them good karma, which explains why Myanmar has so many. The next temple that we went to was Kyauk Taw Gyi Phaya temple, not too far from last temple by walking distance. You could see the mix of tradition and modernism at this temple, as the huge White Buddha Image was completely surrounded by bright, flashy LED lights. This was Brandon’s favorite temple because of all the lights.

We went up to Mandalay Hill to see the Su Taung Pyae Pagoda (ဆုတောင်းပြည့်ဘုရား) and the view of the city. We shared the scooter ride to the top of the mountain (we’re okay, mom!). It rained once we got to the top which was nice because we got to see a triple rainbow over the town.

Kyauk Taw Gyi Phaya
Raining at Mandalay Hill Rainbow
Su Taung Pyae Pagoda
Another temple
Mandalay Hill's view
Sunset at Mandalay Hill Neon on Pagoda

The next day we went to Mandalay Palace, the last royal palace of the Burmese monarchy. It is a large (2km x 2km) compound surrounded by a moat and high stone walls. The actual palace takes up only a small area in the very center of the walls, while the rest is used as an active military base. Most of the palace compound was destroyed during World War II by allied bombing; only the royal mint and the watch tower survived. The rest was rebuilt in the 1990’s.

Mandalay Palace
Watch Tower Gam with Burma's dress

In the afternoon, we went to Shwenandaw Monastery which is made of carved teak wood. It was built in the traditional Burmese architectural style. Next we went to Maha Myat Muni Buddha Image (မဟာမုနိဘုရားကြီး) also called the Mahamuni Pagoda. Every morning at 4am they have a ritual where monks wash the face and brush the teeth of the Buddha image. Also, gold leaves are regularly applied to the face of the Mahamuni Buddha by male devotees (They don’t allow women to get inside). There is around a 6 inch layer of gold leaf weighing hundreds of pounds on the image.

Shwenandaw Monastery Maha Myat Muni Buddha Image

At the end of the day, we went to U Bein Bridge (ဦးပိန် တံတား), a crossing that spans the Taungthaman Lake near Amarapura in Myanmar, It was built around 1850 and is 1.2-kilometres (0.75 mi) long. They believe this bridge is the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world.

U Bein Bridge Boat tour of U Bein Bridge
View on U Bein Bridge Watching Sunset

The next day we went to Sagaing (စစ်ကိုင်းမြို့), a neighboring region located on the opposite side of the river from Mandalay, they have numerous pagodas and monasteries along hills. We went to Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda (ဆွမ်းဦးပုညရှင်စေတီ), which is on the top of the Sagaing Hill, one of the oldest temples on Sagaing Hill. This temple has the most beautiful pastel tiles. We also went to the U Min Thonze Caves (ဥမင္သုံးဆယ္ဘုရား), this pagoda contains 45 gilded Buddha images.

In the afternoon, we went to Innwa (အင်းဝမြို့) or Awa, is an ancient imperial capital of the Burmese kingdoms from the 14th to 19th centuries. The capital city was abandoned after it was completely destroyed by a series of major earthquakes in March 1839.

We took a horse-drawn carriage to 4 temples: Bagaya Monastery, Yandana Sinme Pagoda, Nanmyin Tower, and မဟာဘောဓိအောင်‌မြေ ဆုတောင်းပြည့် (I can’t find name in English). It costs 10,000 MMK ($7)/couple to go on the tour.

Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda
U Min Thonze Caves
Daw Gyan Pagoda Complex Yandana Sinme Pagoda

Around dinner time we said goodbye to Mandalay and took a bus to Bagan. We took “OK Bus” for about 20,000 MMK ($15)/person. The driving was a little stressful, but we arrived unscathed in Bagan.


Vieques, Puerto Rico

This trip we went to Vieques, another island on the North East of Puerto Rico.

We drove from San Juan to the Fajardo Ferry and then took the ferry to the island. It takes around 2 hours and was a little rougher (barf bags came out and babies were crying the whole time). But it was well worth it, as it was our favorite trip in Puerto Rico.

There were much fewer tourists on Vieques and with only 10,000 locals split between the island’s 2 towns, it had a welcoming small-town vibe. Everyone we met was very friendly and we had the opportunity to meet some very well travelled people while hitchhiking around the island.

By the time we got off the ferry it was already late afternoon, so we decided to head to the campground to get setup. We all took a taxi to Sun Bay campground ($10/night) and got settled in. There were only around 4-5 other tents spread out over a large field, so it felt much more private than camping at Flamenco Beach. Our campsite was right on the beach and could see the sand, palm trees, and water as soon as you got out of the tent in the morning. Throw in a Piña Colada and it would have made a great postcard.

Pro-tip: If you don’t want to pay the modest $10 to camp, you can just park right down the beach and camp (squat?) there. There’s no running water and you might get run over by one of the horses, but you can save your $$$ for that Piña Colada.

In the morning, we walked to Esperanza, the town on the southern part of the island. We went to a bakery for breakfast and walked to Playa Negra (Black Beach). During the way, we saw a lot of horses. This island is well known for it’s wild horses.

At Playa Negra, we took a couple hours to swim and play in the black volcanic sand. We got to see another family of wild horses on the beach and fed them some more peanuts.

The next beach that we went to was Playa Caracas. Our friend Maria is from Caracas, Venezuela so we had to go to get a picture with the sign. I still haven’t found a Springfield Beach anywhere, but I’ll keep looking.

We had a campfire on our last night and you know what? Off Spray is a propellant and works very well as a fire starter!

We also learned to hitch hike and it’s not too scary. The people who picked us up were very nice and had some interesting stories for us. We might try it again in the future who knows…


Culebra, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has two nearby islands, Culebra and Vieques. They’re both beautiful and they both have great campgrounds, beaches, snorkeling, and friendly people. We went on a camping trip to Culebra on a warm February weekend.

We took an Uber from San Juan to the Fajardo Ferry terminal on a Friday afternoon. We had originally planned to go to Vieques, but the Ferry to Culebra was about to leave and had some open seats, so we changed our plans (we saw Vieques another time, but that’s for another post).

Canal in Culebra
Ferry at the Port in Culebra Boats in harbor at culebra

Gam, myself, and the other 150 people onboard arrived in Culebra as it was getting dark outside. We got in a Público (a shared taxi), along with an older couple who were also headed to the Playa Flamenco Campground. A broken mirror and 20 minutes later, we got to the campground and setup camp.

We woke up the next morning as the sun was rising. This was partly due to being excited, but sleeping on the sand and the dozens of wild roosters also had something to do with it ;)

Chicken Zaccos Tacos

We walked about 100 feet from our tent and were on the Playa Flamenco beach, the big tourist attraction. It was breathtaking.

Playa Flamenco with sun rising

Playa Flamenco at sunrise

While waiting for our Taxi into town, an old hippie offered to give us a ride. He said he comes to Culebra 3 months out of the year to go snorkeling/diving. He gave us some really good tips on where to go, so he is our new travel agent…

We picked up our Golf Cart and started to explore the island. Our first stop was Playa Tamarindo, which is a feeding ground for sea turtles. We snorkled out a ways and found 6 or 7 sea turtles. They were absolutely massive, I really wish we would have gotten a picture, but we were too excited about finding them to get one.

Our next beach was Playa Zoni on the north east part of the island. It only had about a dozen people at it, but was the most beautiful place I saw while in Puerto Rico. The beach was pure white sand, private, and had a great view of neighboring islands.

Picture of Dinghy Dock restaurant Picture of Dinghy Dock restaurant
Picture of Dinghy Dock restaurant

We had heard of a food truck parked on the highest point on the island that had seafood and a good view. We trudged up the mountain in our golfcart only to find they were closed for President’s Day… that’s okay, it was still a beatiful view, even if we had to eat Cheezy Poofs for dinner ;)

Picture of Dinghy Dock restaurant
Playa Punta de Soldado Playa Flamenco with tank