Myanmar in 7 days

Myanmar may still be under the radar for most tourist but I’ve been wanting to visit for as long as I can remember. I can’t tell you exactly how this destination stumbled its way on my list. I just knew for a fact that I’d rather visit sooner than later. When the chance to do so this winter came, me and my travel buddy just can’t let our chance pass us by!

 

We had 7 nights – admittedly short – for Myanmar. Better known to others as Burma – its name was changed in 1989 by the then military junta. We had to plan it carefully: avoid beaten tracks, if possible. Avoid backtracking. Preferably, go someplace unpopular yet beautiful.

 

Day 1: Flight in Mandalay

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I actually lost a day and a night for this trip. Air Asia rescheduled my flight much earlier eventhough I allotted more than enough time. I was to fly in to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport from Manila at 8am. I was then meaning to catch a 4pm flight from DMK for Mandalay. It was however changed to 11am. I thought it was too close – with the immigration checks, baggage pick up/ drop off, and the fact that it’s at least 1 hour travel time between the two airport. On the upside, I was able to eat my way around Bangkok, delicious!

Immediately upon my arrival at the place where Jess was staying at – I didn’t even get the chance to change into my sandals- we hopped on to the private car that was arranged to take us around.

Day 2: Exploring Bagan

After a whirlwind tour of Mandalay (for me), it was off to Bagan for us both via night train. They didn’t have sleeper trains. We bought a first class ticket to avail of whatever comfort it may provide. When we arrived in Bagan, it was freezing! Our top priority was to get to our hotel for its warmth and bed. Enroute to the hotel, our taxi was stopped at the check point where we had to pay a visitor’s fee – 25,000 kyats. We were later told by other tourists that they made excuses to not pay this. Oh well. A proper sleep later, we set about to renting an ebike and seeing the beauty of the temples and pagodas for ourselves.

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Day 3: Sunrise in Bagan

We’ve sort of scouted where to go for sunrise the day before. We did try to chance it to another temple but it looked like it was closed for  general public. Off to the original plan then! At the top of the temple – probably 3 floors high – we all, I mean everyone up there that morning, watched as Jessica’s DSLR cover went rolling down to the edge and fell to the ground! We got it back when we were safely back on the ground. We headed back to the hotel for breakfast and some more snooze before we dedicated the rest of our day to visiting more temples.

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Day 4: Wandering around Yangon
That night, we got on a bus that would take us to our next destination, Yangon. We got our tickets from one of the many tour operators in Bagan, we chose the one that suited our budget and time. I remember waking up to the sunrise on the road. The bus station was very busy! It felt a bit overwhelming since it was very early in the day too. We took a cab to our hotel. The traffic was pretty bad in the city. The best bit for me was when were inside the Shwedagon Pagoda. It rained while we were there which made for an unusual experience. How the place gleamed under the sun after though!

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Day 5: Hpa An’s sunset

Hpa An was the gem of our trip. We knew very little of the place. We didn’t know what to expect. We wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. We found refuge here.

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Day 6: Hpa An on (motor)bike

This was my fave part of the trip. No fixed schedule nor itinerary, we wandered where we felt like. We made sure to visit temple caves and other sceneries. Beautiful! Chit chatting with locals – or tried to anyways! The frequency of us taking our footwear off since we were walking on sacred ground – read that as walking barefoot inside caves with guano- resulted to 2 pairs of (really) dirt(y) feet, I ended up dubbing them hobbits’ feet. Waah! hehe

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Day 7: Back to Yangon

We left Hpa An early in the afternoon and arrived back in the city well in the evening. This was the only bit where we returned to the same place because we’re flying out of the country for Bangkok early the next morning. Speaking of flying, the lounge in their airport is one that’s pretty massive and impressive!

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It’s always great to explore new destinations with your (fave) travel buddy. I had such a fabulous time! Thanks Jess!xxx

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Las Vegas Eats: Mesa

It was my first time to travel in the American continent. I went to attend a cousin’s wedding. Since I was there, I might as well maximise it and that I did by going on a weeklong roadtrip with cousins – and nieces.

I was beyond happy to realise that we are a family of foodies. Friends would usually tease me and say I’m happiest when we’re out eating good food and discussing past amazing food experiences, AND planning for future food excursions. :D In the presence of my family members there, I find that they’re even more passionate about food than me! Food heaven. As such, they’d take me to places they think/ or read about as serving really good food!  <3

One of the said places is Chef Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill. It is located in Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas and features “Southwestern” cuisine – that’s fusion of  recipes that might have been eaten by Spanish colonial settlers, cowboys, Native Americans, and Mexicans throughout the post Columbian era (definition given by Wikipedia. ^_^).  On a simpler note, it’s similar to Mexican cuisine but with larger cuts of meat like beef and pork, and usually use spices particularly chile or chili pepper.

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We ordered everything we thought would taste good and all was for sharing. We enjoyed the meal. My nieces particularly loved their blue corn tortilla strips that they gave us a complimentary plate after the first one was gone in a flash!

My fave one was the goat cheese “Queso Fundido.” Pic above. Rajas, blistered serrano vinaigrette, and blue corn tortilla strips. Such cheesy goodness! <3 <3 <3

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Steamed halibut served in Guajillo chile posole broth, topped with mint, cilantro, avocado, and crispy blue corn.

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Sixteen spice chicken toped with garlic-mango sauce. Habanero-apricot butter mashed potatoes and fresno chile-mango relish on the side.

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Service was really good and all the food served were delicious! Great choice, cousins! :D

Australian Wine Tour: Wineries & Vineyards Worth Visiting

My first ever guest blog post!
Since I’ll be heading to Australia soon, I thought the timing’s perfect! Happy reading. :)

Image 1 - Australian wine tour, Featured image

Image 1 – Australian wine tour, Featured image (Source)

Even some seasoned tourists get surprised when they hear Australian wine is just as prized around the world as Italian and French varieties. This is simply due to the fact that the climate of certain inland areas of the vast and beautiful landscapes this continent offers makes for fertile ground to cultivate grapes. The gentle slopes of these hills are not unlike the Mediterranean meadows or Californian valleys.  With that in mind, if you ever get a chance to go on an Australian wine tour, these are the vineyards and wineries worth visiting.

Margaret River

About 280 kilometers south of Perth lies the quaint little town of Margaret River – a modest urbanity that lies on the delta of the eponymous river and which is primarily known as a hub for surfers. However, this town is also a gathering spot for wine connoisseurs who are constantly searching for the best and the most delicate balance of tastes the wineries of Western Australia can offer. The destination is also renowned for award winning restaurants, some of which are actually located in the most prestigious wineries. This means that you’ll get a chance to enjoy that ever so coveted gourmet combo of rich Australian cuisine and textured wine.

Image 2 - Australian wine tour, Margaret River

Image 2 – Australian wine tour, Margaret River (Source)

Clare Valley

If you are a bit bored of the red varieties and you yearn for a taste of something white and light, head to the Clare Valley. This extremely opulent wine region is famous for its state of the art Riesling, a courtesy of opportune continental climate with cold nights and hot days during the summer period. It is located about 120 kilometers north of Adelaide and it is known for “housing” a staggering number of quality wineries. As for the red, if you take a chance to try its Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon, your taste of red wine might get reinvigorated before you expected!

Image 3 - Australian wine tour, Clare Valley

Image 3 – Australian wine tour, Clare Valley (Source)

Yarra Valley

It is simply a blasphemy to go on an Australian Wine tour and to skip a visit to one of its most captivating locales – the Yarra Valley. This staggeringly beautiful bucolic region got its moniker after the Yarra River, which cuts through the territory for 90 kilometers before it spills into the Port Phillip Bay, under the docks of Melbourne. The wine production on this patch of land is both diverse and plentiful – a prospect that can be tested in the professional and renowned Olivigna winery in Warrandyte, which offers an exquisite assortment of nectars.

Image 4 - Australian wine tour, Yarra Valley

Image 4 – Australian wine tour, Yarra Valley (Source)

Swan Valley

A tour around the Swan Valley is like a rite of passage for wine connoisseurs that have decided to visit the Land Down Under. Its historical significance is hard to deny since the Swan Valley stands as the oldest wine region on the entire Australian Continent. It is also a small wonder of a region because it persists among some of the most arid and inhospitable patches of land you can possibly imagine. After all, the land around Perth is not exactly known for its healthy soil that can grow something as demanding as grapes, and yet the Swan Valley rests proudly, and its wineries stand the test of time. Definitely add its century old vineyards to your binge-drinking escapade.

Image 5 - Australian wine tour, Swan Valley

Image 5 – Australian wine tour, Swan Valley (Source)

Rutherglen

It appears the territories of Victoria are full of surprises when it comes to wine. If you head north-east and follow the M31 highway, this wine region will creep up on your left flank right before you enter the territory of New South Wales. The climate in this part of the country is mostly dry, with long and sunny days during the summer, which renders Rutherglen territory perfect for the cultivation of grape varieties. All Saints Estate is renowned for its gorgeousness and an exquisite wine selection, so make sure to do proper reservations in time.

Image 6 - Australian wine tour, Rutherglen

Image 6 – Australian wine tour, Rutherglen (Source)

The Land Down Under is not all about spectacular beaches and epic desserts. Somewhere between arid landscapes and lush tropicana lies a territory filled with serene rustic scenery and a sumptuous scent of wine. If you ever get a chance to follow this alluring smell, you’ll find yourself immersed in one of the most hedonistic, lavishing wine tours of your life, and you’ll absolutely fall in love with this Dionysian part of the Australian continent.

 

 

About the author

Marie Nieves is a lifestyle blogger who loves unusual trips, gadgets and creative ideas. On her travels she likes to read poetry and prose and surf the Internet. Her favourite writer is Tracy Chevalier and she always carries one of her books in her bag. She spends most of her free time at home walking her Labrador Retriever named Max. She is an avid lover of photography and a regular author at High Style Life. You can find Marie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Rome Eats: Bucatino

When visiting a country well known for its cuisine, I try my best not to miss the chance to sample great food! I asked some Italians I know and this was recommended to me. Rome’s Bucatino.

I arrived just before it became quite busy for dinner. I normally eat between 6-7pm. It was maybe around 7:30pm when the place started filling up – I wasn’t really minding the time. I was too engrossed in my meal. <3

After I was led to my seat and handed the menu, I knew I wanted to try lots of dishes. I did after all made the effort to go there. I was thinking of getting a starters, a main (or two), and a dessert (or two)? My friendly waiter laughingly brushed off my attempt to order a pizza AND a pasta – too much, you can’t possibly finish it he said, persuading me to be reasonable against my (not-so-better) judgement. 

Deflated but not defeated, I ordered a bruschetta. It’s a simple but very tasty and fresh dish – I do tend to order them in Italian restaurants.

I settled for pasta. I was thinking, I’ll finish it THEN order my pizza. hehe Reading the descriptions of each dish, I opted for beef bucatino. It actually didn’t quite hit me til after I ordered it that the name of the place I went to was the same. Great choice (in hindsight))! The same waiter who laughingly denied me 2 mains then proceeded to tie a bib on me – I felt like a baby! After a while though, I noticed that other patrons who ordered red sauce based pasta had them too. Whew! Though I did take notice that it wasn’t done for them. 

Tiramisu has got to be my favourite Italian dessert so I always order it every chance I get. Mmmm, so good!

Whenever I’m full, I tend to have a cup of tea. But as the adage “when in Rome, do as the Romans do…,” I had espresso instead. Don’t get me wrong, I do like coffee and it’s espresso that I would order though being the sweet tooth, I’ll add sugar in it. :D

It was a beautiful meal! In the end, I’m happy I didn’t get another main – too much of something/ anything is just not good for you. On to the next recommendation then! <3

Meteora in Pics

I arrived in the town of Kalambaka after 3pm. Because of that, the owner of the hostel I stayed at advised me to leave the mountains be for the next day.
 
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I heard a rustling sound. When I looked for its source, I saw this cutie! It was adorable how it stopped midstride – hoping to blend in to the background I guess. hehe

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These honeycomb looking caves used to house hermit monks

There are buses that go up every 2 hours (09:00, 11:00, 13:00, 15:00). I took her advise and got on the 11:00 bus as that’d give me enough time for much needed sleep!
Before getting on the bus, I bought 2 gyros (€3.40 for both!) to eat when I get hungry for my long day ahead. Also in my bag are the 2 fruit given to me by an elderly man the afternoon before. And just for good measure, I decided to buy a bread from the bakery literally in front of the bus stop.
Bus fare is €1.80. I got off at Grand Meteora – it’s the first and largest monastery in the area. From there, I started my walk up in the mountains – following the road.  Next up was the viewpoint for Varlaam. I didn’t go inside as I’ll have to go down and up the mountain – yes, I was getting lazy! Hehe
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Varlaam in the background as seen from the Grand Monastery

All the monastery are open today, Monday. Entrance fee was €6. Everyone is to dress modestly. There are skirts for women to put on top of their jeans or bare legs. There are also shawls available to cover up the shoulders.
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Inside the Monastery of Great Meteoron

When I was told that I have to follow the path up in the mountains, somehow what I hand in mind is a trail. But actually, it really is the (concrete) road that I have had to walk on. The weather was just right – sunny but cloudy, not overbearingly hot with breeze every now and then. Also, the view is more than enough to distract me from the actual act of walking. According to my host, it was just a total of 4kms really. But with my frequent stops, the seemingly long distance I’ve covered, it seemed longer (but very doable!)
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The tiny town of Kastriki

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My view while I was eating my sandwich (gyro) for lunch

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I was happily walking down this road when I was struck by how pretty the autumnal colours are!

 
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My last monastery for the day, the Monastery of St. Stephen.

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Since I kept bumping into them during the day, I eventually joined their little group. Heading down the mountains enroute back to Kalampaka .

Meteora Eats: Archontariki

My hostess recommended a taverna to me when I asked her where to eat. She said the place served fresh off the market, traditional food at a good price. Archontariki was just a minute’s walk from where I’m staying at. Just off the town square.
I was told I can seat anywhere I fancied so I chose a table near the window and got settled in. Since I seem to have only time for dinner on this trip, my evening meals tend to make up for the rushed ones of the day.
Browsing through the menu, I decided to have a starter, a main, and of course, dessert!
Due to the fact that I’m in Greece, I was craving for feta cheese.

Grilled feta cheese

For mains, I had lamb. Something that seems to be of a specialty. I asked for it to be paired with rice coz a meal just isn’t the same for me without it! Other options were potatoes, pasta, or vegetables.

Roasted lamb cooked with lemon and herbs

Dessert was another opportunity to try something local so I had kataifi. I was advised by them to let its temperature get warm first as it was from their fridge so that it’d melt in your mouth when you eat it. It tastes quite like baklava – very sweet. I was only able to eat half of it.

Kataifi

Being very satisfied with mu dinner at this taverna that night, I came back again for my dinner the next day. My total expense for the previous meal was 15euros! I wanted to try other dishes. :)

 I still wanted my feta cheese so even if I was really tempted to have another plate of grilled feta cheese, I opted for something healthier and had Greek salad instead. Yummy!

Greek salad

For mains, I opted for a meat I love (chicken) and ordered for a souvlaki. It is a Greek dish where pieces of meat are skewered then grilled. Of course I paired it again with rice – wouldn’t have it any other way! hehe

Chicken souvlaki

I didn’t order any dessert as I was looking forward to eating my freshly picked pomegranate once I’m back in the hostel. I did order for a Greek coffee though. I was (pleasantly) surprised to learn when they told me that it’s on the house!

I highly recommend this place!

How To Get To Meteora From Thessaloniki

I’ve always wanted to see the amazing mountains of Meteora. Those rock formations that formed millions of years ago and which served as refuge of monks since the 12th century. Meteora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. SO even if it meant travelling to this gorgeous place on my own, I was more than up for it! :D
I arrived in Thessaloniki airport from Rome. It’s amazing travelling within the EU! Their free movement meant that there was not even any kind of check once we landed in Greece. Our flight was led to a gate that leads outside after you get your luggage!
Once outside, just follow the sign for the bus station which is literally just outside the doors, opposite side of the road. There is a kiosk that sells bus tickets. I bought a €2 ticket that would bring me to the main bus station (Macedonia Inter City Bus Station).  After around 55mins, we’re at the terminal.
Inside the terminal, there are several counters where you can buy tickets from. To get to Meteora, you buy a ticket for Trikala (at counter 1), for €20.40. I had around 30mins to kill so I took that as a chance to freshen up and get some food in my tummy. I had 2 pizza (one to take away), a hot cup of tea, and a litre of water for  less than €8! The bus was scheduled to leave at 12:00nn. 2.5hrs later, we arrived in Trikala. The bus ride was relaxing. No traffic enroute. And I had no one seated beside me!👍
Upon arriving in Trikala, I went to the ticketing counter and bought a ticket for Kalambaka (€2.60). This will be my base for exploring the mountains of Meteora. I opted to stay here so that I’d have more option for food and other shops. Also, more convenient as both the train and bus station will just be short walks away!
Coming back to Thessaloniki, I got on the 08:19 train (€15.20). The train station is only around 2mins walk from the town centre. It’s not an actual direct train as we’ve had to change at a certain station – there was an announcement though so you shouldn’t miss it (and almost everyone changed there)! And the next train is just the platform beside it. You just get off the train and get on the one opposite it! 👍
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