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.

stairs
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?

 

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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

 

 

Exploring Antelope Canyon

I just got back from my trip to Arizona, it was a long drive from Los Angeles but worth every mile of the trip. My itinerary includes a supposedly 2 nights of camping at Lone Rock Beach Campground, a tour of Lower Antelope Canyon, and of course, a photo shoot at the majestic Horseshoe Bend.

LONE ROCK BEACH CAMPGROUND

I’m giving this campground an 8/10. It is a big area and reservations are not required. Arrive early if you’re camping around the busy months of the summer. There are plenty of space for RVs and tents, but if it’s crowded you might not get the best spot–depending on your definition of a best spot. I like my tent close to the water and away from the toilets. Speaking of toilets, the vault toilets are clean, maintained, and equipped with toilet papers.

Our campsite! We have a total of 4 tents. See how close we are to the lake?
Our campsite! We have a total of 4 tents. See how close we are to the lake?

The first night of our camping trip was amazing. The moon was full and everyone was having fun. We can hear a combination of sounds coming from guitars, radio, and people singing. There was music everywhere! An over all great experience. I slept like a baby!

LakePowell
Full moon tonight.

The next night was a different story. Right when we left the campsite for our tour of the Antelope Canyon the clouds started rolling inn and rain started pouring. We can see lightning everywhere! Four people in our group decided to go back to the campsite and the rest continued with the original plan of kayaking on Lake Powell. The kayak tour took about 3-4 hours. Right after leaving the lake, our phones were immediately bombarded with messages. One of which was my friend’s distraught voicemail.

Once back at the campsite our old spot was gone! Our tents were nowhere to be found! I thought we lost them but thankfully our friends (the awesome ones who decided not to go kayaking) packed everything up. According to my friends, the tents couldn’t handle the strong wind and rain. We lost a flash flight and undies? But all these, the good and the bad, surely made this trip one for the books.

The rain was gone, too exhausted to set the tents up for the second time we headed out to Page, AZ and ended up  spending the second night at a wonderful “campsite” called Clarion Inn, teehee!

Before camping, please check the weather! I repeat, check the weather! Don’t make the same mistake me and my gang made. 

Click here for more information about Lone Rock Beach Campground. 

KAYAKING ON LAKE POWELL

I love kayaking. I had my first taste of kayaking in an open ocean environment. Hence, I find Lake Powell more relaxed and quite easy, the water is calm and you don’t have to fight giant waves. Though from time to time you do have to deal with boat traffic. You don’t have to hire a guide in order to explore the lake, but it is a huge lake and shouldn’t be underestimated.  My group and I paid $90.00 for a sunset tour with a company called Kayak Lake Powell. The tour takes about 3-4 hours and includes snacks and drinks. The guides were amazing and very professional. As the tour goes on they gave us important facts about the lake. It was a very learning experience, also very fun. I highly recommend this company. They also offer kayak rentals, expeditions, and bike rental. For more information about Kayak Lake Powell visit http://www.kayakpowell.com.

Lower Antelope Canyon

The Lower Antelope Canyon is as cool as its Navajo name Hasdeztwazi or Spiral Rock Arches. The shapes and curves down the canyon will stretch anyone’s imagination. Just have a look at the photo below, can you see the baby?

Can you see the baby? I sure do :)
Can you see the baby?

The positioning of the sun changes the colors down the canyon adding a very dramatic effect. Time your visit if you can, it’s best to go when the sun is high up and there is enough light reaching down the canyons.

Inside the Canyon
Inside the Canyon

In order to see the canyons you will have to sign up for a tour with a Navajo guide. You can’t just show up and explore on your own. For this trip, I signed up with Ken’s Tours. The cost is $20 plus an $8.00 Navajo permit fee to be paid upon entering the parking lot. You can easily make reservations online by visiting http://lowerantelope.com/. This amazing company also offers a photographer tour; 2 hours in duration and costs $42.00. A DSLR and a tripod is required. Make sure to check the weather before your trip. Keep in mind that during the monsoon season the canyons can get dangerously flooded causing the tours to get cancelled without early notice.

Horseshoe Bend

Cost: FREE

How to get to Horseshoe Bend: http://horseshoebend.com/how-to-get-here/

Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend

Antelope Canyon is about 15 minutes away from the Horseshoe Bend which makes it the perfect stop before or after your canyon tour. From the parking lot leading to the rim you have to walk/hike for 3/4 mile. Depending on your fitness level, the walk can be grueling especially during the summer months. Bring water and walk slow, I can guarantee you the view is worth every step.

One thing i wish I did on this trip was to take sunrise photos at the bend. We just didn’t have the time and the willpower to wake up before sunrise. I guess this is another reason to come back! So next time you’re in Arizona or Utah don’t hesitate to go camping and explore Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon, and the Horseshoe Bend. Enjoy the photos!