Mystery Solved!

I have a love and hate relationship with social media. But tonight, it’s 100% love.  Two years ago I wrote an article about my trip to Mandalay, Myanmar. On the article I talked about getting lost in a jade market and ending up in a beautiful wooden house. Link to article; Getting Lost in Mandalay, Myanmar I never really figured out the name or the use of the house. It has been a mystery for years! After countless searches, I took a break. Until a blogger from Thailand contacted me asking about the specifics of the wooden house. I thought I’d give it another search and voila! A familiar photo on google images popped out, linked on a youtube video. 

Now the mystery is solved! The wooden house turned out to be a monastery called Kin Wun Min Gyi. Watch the attached youtube video and you’ll see the same monk I photographed in the article. Now I can revisit this place with a specific location on a map. 🙂

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Indian Visa Application with CKGS

     After years of imagining and preparing myself, I declared 2016 as the perfect time to finally set foot in the land of Incredible India. And to make the trip more amazing I’ve decided to also visit Nepal, a country known for hosting the tallest mountain in the world, Mount Everest.

But before anything else. . . I need a visa! US citizens can obtain a visa on arrival in Nepal but India is a different story.

     Nowadays, you can easily apply for an Indian e-tourist visa online via https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/tvoa.html. The application must be submitted 4 days prior to your trip and is only valid for single entry. Very convenient, though it won’t be practical for anyone planning a side trip to India’s neighboring countries. Yes, you can reapply for a visa but it wouldn’t be too practical unless you have plenty of time for paper work and processing. To avoid any problems, it’s better to have a multiple entry visa on hand upon arrival to India.

     This is a post summarizing my experience in obtaining my Indian visa. Please note that I applied as a United States citizen living in Southern California. Indian visas may be obtained in the US through Cox & Kings Global Services. My experience below might be different from yours. The application process is based on residency status, location, and other varying factors. Before filling out the application form you must first read the application guideline by visiting CKGS. You need to know which forms to fill and which documents to attach with your application. You also need to know where to send your application form. It’s necessary to follow every step otherwise you’re risking delaying your application process. A minor mistake can cause a huge delay! Trust me, I heard tons of horror stories.

09/20/2016: Filled out the online application form. I received a temporary ID on the same day. Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 12.24.13 AM.png

09/21/2016: Mailed my application form using Fedex overnight shipping.

Here’s a list of documents I sent along with my application form.

  1. Passport Copies (2)
  2. Driver’s License
  3. Passport Photos (2)
  4. Application checklist
  5. Visa Additional Particular Forms
  6. Payment Receipt
  7. Application Form 
  8. Original Passport

At the end of the online application form you will have an option to pick your mailing service of choice. It’s easier to just pick CKGS’ Fedex shipping option. Once you paid, you will be able to print a shipping label. All you have to do is go to FedEx and find the right envelope. The people at FedEx can help you with this. Before mailing, please make sure you have all your documents printed, use the application checklist as a guide. I paid $155.25 for the entire application process including shipping.

09/22/2016Received an e-mail stating that CKGS received my package. I’m really impressed by their quick e-mail updates.

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09/26/2016Visa application in-Transit to consulate, received a tracking ID for checking the progress of my application. con.jpg

09/28/2016: Application was returned to CKGS. Screen Shot 2017-02-09 at 1.24.18 AM.png 

On the same day, I received a Fedex tracking number for my package.

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09/29/2016: I got my precious passport with a shiny 10 year multiple entry Indian visa attached to it. 🙂IMG_4828 copy.jpg

 

 Over all, an amazing experience with CKGS. Filling up the application form was tedious, but following the guidelines helped me get my Indian visa with ease. For anyone wishing to go to India please check if you really need one and if you do, don’t wait the last minute to obtain your visa. Give yourself at least two months before your trip. By doing so will allow you enough room for possible delays. 

US Passports & International Travel
Cox & Kings Global Services
Indian Government/ ETA

 

Borobodur: First Sunrise of the New Year

Well, hello September! We are now 3 months away from the holiday season. I’m already scrambling for ideas on what best way to celebrate Christmas and New Year. Hoping it will be as unforgettable as last year. I always look forward to the first thing I do on the first day of the New Year, and that goes beyond watching fireworks display.

It has been a dream of mine to be in a magical place while watching the first dawn of a New Year, and just last year, Indonesia fulfilled that dream. At 4:30 in the morning, after a sleepless night of celebration; eating durian, walking around Yogyakarta, watching fireworks and all, my bf and I headed to the city of Magelang in hopes of watching the first sunrise of 2016 at Borobodur. A beautiful buddhist stupa and temple complex dating from the 8th century. The largest Buddhist temple in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

yogyakarta
Salak, durian, and sweet bread as a pre NYE snack, courtesy of Wayang Homestay

We stayed at the Wayang Homestay in Yogyakarta, about 45-60 minutes away from Borobodur. Yogyakarta is not a far bus ride but if your goal is to catch the dawn, it’s ideal to hire a driver or sign up for a tour. The complex won’t be open until 6:00 AM, it’s better to be there 30 minutes before the opening time.

Another good reason to arrive early is to secure your picture taking spot. As you can see below, it can get crowded. After all, it’s one of Indonesia’s most visited attraction.

crowd

Manohara  Hotel offers sunrise tour (gain access before the public opening time) and sunset tour, both, with discounted tickets to in-house guests. For more information about Manohara Hotel please visit http://manoharaborobudur.com/. If staying somewhere else just inquire at your hostel/hotel concierge. The Wayang Homestay offers affordable accommodation and tour options. Click here for more information.

Armed with a flashlight and a raincoat, we started our walk inside the temple complex.  It wasn’t raining in Yogyakarta but the weather quickly changed in Magelang. It was pouring!

We waited…and waited! No sun! Everything was gray and gloomy. Nevertheless, I thought the gloominess was charming. I fell in love with the temple against a foggy forest backdrop. Even the heavy clouds I found idyllic.

fog

And finally, a hint of orange surfaced from the clouds.

Borobodur_WEB

I was hoping for more sunshine but I can’t complain about this view. The clouds, the fog, and the wet temple floors added more mystery to this already mysterious place.

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After a few minutes of rejoicing, everything went back from being orange to gray. It was once again gloomy and raining. I was disappointed in the beginning, but then I realized how fortunate I am to be standing in one of the greatest Buddhist architecture in the world.full_borobodur

Borobodur is a complex architecture, it’s goal is to visually show the teachings of Buddha. The base of the temple is filled with intricate friezes depicting the consequences of living a life engulf by earthly desires; greed, lust etc.

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Borobodur has 9 platforms. Having hand rails along the stairs provides relief to people who has fear of heights, me.

Apart from the base, each platforms leading to the very top stupa has wall friezes that shows different steps on how to achieve total enlightenment.

wall

wall3Borobodur is designed in a way where it’s visitors can take a religious walk to enlightenment; and exploring it’s platforms, under a gloomy weather, feels just like that. Make sure to explore the temple in a clockwise manner, gradually ascending from the base to each platforms.

At the very top of Borobodur is a center dome surrounded by smaller stupas. The central dome symbolically pointing to the heaven is said to represent the total state of blissfulness, Vimutti widely known as Nirvana. The final and highest goal of Buddhism.

top
Central Dome

My seemingly religious exploration of Borobodur took about 6 hours. We left the complex nearing lunch time, it was drizzling and the temple still surrounded by fog.

outside
Fog Wrapped Around Borobodur

And even if the weather was gloomy and the sun didn’t fully come out of it’s hiding, it’s still a dream come true. Spending the first day of 2016 at a magical place like Borobodur. Everyday is a special day but a New Year marks a fresh start. Why not celebrate it by watching the first sunrise at your favorite place, or better, your dream place. What about you? Where would you like to be on the first sunrise of 2017?

 

Cooking Class in Bali

For the final leg of my Indonesia trip I decided to sign up for an all day cooking class in Bali. Trying local delicacies has always been the highlights of my travels, but this time, I want more than just the food, I want to do the cooking!

After a quick internet research I found a reputable company called Ubad Ubud Bali Cooking Class. Reservation was easy, all it took was 2 emails and one final confirmation email. We were picked up from our Ubud hotel early in the morning. From there we headed to a local market outside of Ubud, Pasar Umum GianyarNot for shopping but for a tour. Everything we needed for our cooking class was already prepared in advanced.

Our wonderful host gave us an educational tour; showing us tips on how to save money, teaching us market etiquettes, and of course, we spent some time learning about the local produce.

 

Market27
Dragon Fruit and Green Mangoes
Market25
Salak (snake fruit), Dragon Fruit, Mangoes, and Sour Oranges (jeruk)

The cooking class was held at our host’ ancestral compound. It was a beautiful home with garden and traditional features every Balinese home would have.

Market29

Market31

Market30

We were welcomed with a sweet treat of pandan rice cake and fresh mango juice.

The set up for the cooking class was very homey yet professional.
There were two gas stoves, 1 charcoal grill, brick oven, small mortar and pestle, and a giant mortar and pestle (my absolute favorite!). 

setup

mortarand
Giant Mortar and Pestle! The sarong they provided gave a more authentic feel!

We started off by sampling some of the ingredients; turmeric, cumin, ginger, and lemon leaves to name a few. cropped37

We first made a soup with coconut and mushroom served as an appetizer. It gave us needed energy for all the chopping, grinding, and wrapping of the ingredients.

couple
The boyfriend grinding peanuts while I chopped up some garlic and onions and other spices.

With a small class of four, our host was able to make things more personal. We were laughing and learning together, as  we took turns mixing, grilling, and chopping.

Market32
Our beautiful host with the two other people from our group. I wish I took a group photo :/

Two people in our group are vegetarians. They used tempeh (cooked and slightly fermented soybeans) for the dishes involving meat. If you have any dietary restrictions just let them know in advanced and they will do their best to accommodate your needs.

Market33
Meet Puspa our beautiful and very energetic host
Market36
Puspa explaining how to use steam to cook rice.

We learned how to make eight amazing traditional Balinese dishes: 1. Sate ayam (grilled chicken) 2. Gado-gado (vegetables with peanut sauce) 3. Mushroom and coconut soup 4. Fern salad 5. Tofu and tempeh with sweet sauce 6. Chicken soup 7. Black and white rice with palm sugar (dessert) 8. Steamed tuna in banana leaves. We also had jackfruit and mangoes from our host’s own backyard. 

After hours of cooking everyone was excited to feast, but first, time for a beautiful fruit carving presentation. Puspa’s cousin did a brief demonstration on how to create amazing shapes out of fruits and fruit peels. It was learning and entertaining. I wish I took photos but I was too busy paying attention.

The food was beautifully prepared, buffet style, in a special garden area.You dine best when you dine with nature! The photo below doesn’t justify the actual beauty of the set up. FINISH

If you want to learn the recipes and methods for the above dishes I highly suggest, when in Bali, to sign up for Ubad Ubud Bali Cooking Class. They are very knowledgeable and will go above and beyond to meet your needs. You will gain so much knowledge not just about the local dishes but also about the unique culture of Bali. The entire class was highly organized and Puspa gave very clear explanations. Word of advice, come hungry and prepare yourself for a Balinese feast. A truly unforgettable experience.

More information about Ubad Ubud Bali

Website: http://ubadubudbali.com

Price: $25.00 (as of 2016)

Services: Cooking class and market tour

Free hotel pick up and drop off

Free copy of recipes included in the price

Getting Lost in Mandalay, Myanmar

My second day in Mandalay consisted of walking, lots of walking. It was raining and the streets were covered in mud. Every step I took felt like the mud was trying to engulf my flip flops. This marked the day I vowed to only travel with Skechers walking shoes or a good pair of running shoes!

After walking around the markets for hours, my travel buddy and I can’t seem to orient ourselves on the map. And so we lay down the guide book and proceeded with more walking! We just walked and walked and walked until we spotted an old house.

The House
How can you not be intrigued by this old house?
House_Monk3
How can you not be intrigued by this old house?

The gate leading to the house was open. I took that as a sign of invitation. After a few minutes of exploring, an old friendly barefooted monk approached me. He pointed to my feet, showed me the keys on his hands, and pointed right at the house.

I took my flip-flops off, my tour begins.

A Friendly Host
How can you not be intrigued by this old house?

I showed him my camera and asked if I can take photos as we go on our tour. He smiled and said ya!.

And the tour starts!
The Monk
The railings and the big red sliding door has intricate details. The color matches the monk’s robe. Everything just adds to the mystery of the house.

Although my tour guide for the day barely spoke English, he somewhat learned to say,  ” All original here”. Every part of the house, according to him, is all original and preserved. Majority of the time we communicated through gestures, he points here and there, and I just look.

House_Monk4
Behind the door is a big open space. Everything is old and made of wood. The ceiling is as intricate as the metal door outside. 

Many times, during my tour, I wished I knew how to speak the local language. It would’ve been nice to be able to know what he was saying. He talks as though he was giving important details as we were walking in every area of the house.My questions were never answered, is this a family house? A temple? A house for the monks? I will never know.

House_monk7
Inside a house is a spiral stairs leading to the second floor.
House_Monk5
How can you not be intrigued by this old house?
House_Monk2
At the second floor of the house

Mandalay has been amazing to me. The people are friendly and everyone has been polite and welcoming. This is just one of my favorite memories in Myanmar. I’m hoping to someday come back and go on more adventures. Who knows, maybe i’ll get lost again.

Monk_stairs
My favorite image from this tour
Monk_window
Would love to visit this man again, I enjoyed his company even just for a brief moment