When traveling in Myanmar, especially during the summer months, there is nothing more noticeable than the women and kids wearing tinted paste on their skin. This paste is called Thanakha and every Burmese people seemed to swear by it.
Thanakha paste is made out of ground roots, barks, or branches of Limonia acidissima or Hesperethusa crenulata commonly known as sandalwood or wood-apple in English. This tree has many names but in Burma it’s known as the thanakha tree. The process involves grinding the tree parts, with a small amount of water, on a round stone slabs called kyaukpyin. The result is a thick yellowish paste called thanakha.
The tree must be old enough, at least 35 years old, and about 2 cm in thickness for it to produce a high quality product. Thanakha paste is known to prevent wrinkles and sun damage. People also use it as a cleanser and as an everyday face moisturizer. It’s also a great insect repellent. According to a study by Wangthong and colleagues of Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, extracts from Thanaka bark showed anti-inflammatory properties, significant antioxidation, and low toxic properties. Hence, the use of thanakha in the form of paste is not only safe but also beneficial to skin.
The used of thanakhadates back in the mid 11th century. It has been used as a beauty product for over 2000 years. Paintings of women wearing thanakha was discovered inside a pagoda in Bagan, Myanmar. It’s been said that thanakha was made popular by a queen from Beikthano. Her skin was so nice and everyone wanted to know her secret. Well, the secret is out and the use of thanakha in Myanmar is still very much alive to this day.
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. 🙂
***UPDATE: As of October 16, 2020 CKGS has terminated all Indian visa application services including OCI. VFSGlobal will be the new visa service provider in the USA. Visit http://www.vfsglobal.com for more information. Note that India does not offer visa on arrival to US citizens.
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.
09/21/2016: Mailed my application form using Fedex overnight shipping.
Here’s a list of documents I sent along with my application form.
Passport Copies (2)
Passport Photos (2)
Visa Additional Particular Forms
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.
09/22/2016: Received an e-mail stating that CKGS received my package. I’m really impressed by their quick e-mail updates.
09/26/2016: Visa application in-Transit to consulate, received a tracking ID for checking the progress of my application.
09/28/2016: Application was returned to CKGS.
On the same day, I received a Fedex tracking number for my package.
09/29/2016: I got my precious passport with a shiny 10 year multiple entry Indian visa attached to it. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
And finally, a hint of orange surfaced from the clouds.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Borobodur 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.
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.
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?
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 Gianyar. Not for shopping but for a tour. Everything we needed for our cooking class was already prepared in advanced.
Vendors lined up at the beautiful busy Pasar Umum Gianyar Market.
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.
Assortment of Snacks
Baskets for Offerings
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.
We were welcomed with a sweet treat of pandan rice cake and fresh mango juice.
Welcome Drink and Rice Cake
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Are you familiar with that essay Don’t Date a Girl Who Travels? Well, there’s a video version now and I just can’t get enough of it. I really like that they’ve included a clip from Trackswhich is one of my favorite travel movies of all time. Above is the embedded video taken from vimeo.com. Watch it and be inspired 🙂
And if you have any suggestion of a good travel movie please don’t hesitate to comment.
I want to start this post with some of my favorite photos from this trip along with my favorite sayings/quotations. If you would like more information,and photos, about my experience in the Sequoia just keep scrolling 🙂 Enjoy!
“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”
“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.”
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.”
— Rachel Carson
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”
“Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.”
Anthony J. D’Angelo
“Even if one tree falls down it wouldn’t affect the entire forest.”
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
“Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley.”
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain. Frank Herbert
News about flash floods and stranded vehicles on the 5 freeway (near Grapevine) was all over the media just two days before my trip to Sequoia. I was very close to canceling the trip but I’m glad I didn’t. Hours before driving, the rain stopped and the road condition was reported to be safe for traffic.
Sequoia National Park is a 404,064 acres park situated in the Sierra Nevada, only 3 hours away from Los Angeles.
A true hiker’s paradise, Sequoia is home to magnificent hiking trails–you have more than 1000 choices. There are short and long trails for everyone to enjoy.
Some of the top-rated Sequoia hikes include; Big Trees Trail, Crescent Meadow Loop Trail, Congress Trail, Tokopah Falls Trail, Hazelwood Nature Trail, Alta Peak Trail, and the High Sierra Trail to Bearpaw Meadow.
The hiking trails provides out of this world experience to one of the most amazing tree groves in the world, you’ll get to enjoy flora and faunas of different colors, majestic trees of small and medium sizes, and of course, there’s the General Sherman, largest tree in the world.
The entrance fee to the park cost $20.00 per vehicle and $10.00 for individuals traveling on foot, motorcycle, or bicycle. Both passes are valid for 7 days. The park also offers annual passes for both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. For more detailed information please click here.
There are plenty of accommodation choices near the park. My boyfriend and I stayed at the Sierra Lodge, we got a very clean room with king-sized bed, bathroom, and a balcony. The hotel offers complimentary beverages and pastries for breakfast. I highly recommend this place, it was a bit dated but the hotel feels very homey and actually very clean! Below are some photos of the reception area. Biggest fail for not taking bedroom photos.
The biggest plus for me is its close proximity to the park, only 3 miles away from the southern entrance. There is only one thing I hated about this place, although there are designated parking spots for each rooms, the parking entrance leading to the lot is too small. Other than that, this hotel is perfect for couples and families. Rates start at $68.00 a night. To book rooms visit http://www.sierra-lodge.com. You can also find them on Agoda, Hotels.com, or Priceline.
FOG + Hiking
I am no fog expert but I am definitely a fog lover!
I think fogs can add emotion to just about anything, it can make a boring hike interesting and it can definitely make any photograph dramatic.
The rain was pouring throughout the night before my hike to the Sequoias. I was excited and nervous at the same time. Nervous because of the possible park closure caused by mudslides. Excited because with every rain comes an amazing fog phenomenon! The rain didn’t tamed down until 9am the next morning. We started heading to the park entrance by 10am. The entire park is safe for visitors with only one closure, the Crystal Cave.
There are many hiking trail choices in the park. One of my favorites is the Crescent Meadow hike, this is where I experienced the fog phenomenon I was looking for.
Another one of my favorites is the Big Trees Trail. Right by the trail is Ed by Ned, from afar it looks like one giant tree with one trunk. But it’s actually a formation of 2 trees that grew very closely to each other. Just look at the top and you’ll notice the two trunks. Twin trees!
I felt really small walking around the Big Trees trail. It was a gloomy day but we experienced a little bit of sun shine along the trail. The lights hitting the big trees made its reddish trunk more dramatic.
And finally, our hike ended at Tharp’s Log. A cattleman named Tharp started a small cattle ranch in the Big Forest area. He then built a cabin, equipped with window, fireplace, and a door, out of a fallen log. The log was hollowed by fire through fifty-five feet of its seventy-foot length.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
I showed him my camera and asked if I can take photos as we go on our tour. He smiled and said ya!.
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.
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.
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.