Sights of Singapore

Spring break was coming up and I knew I didn’t want to be stuck in Shenzhen for the month, so when my friend, Michael, asked if I wanted to join him and his family (his wife and father) for a short break in Singapore, I jumped at the chance.

We left Monday morning. Once we arrived, we got our SIM cards and money and took taxis to our hotels (I was staying at a hotel down the street). That night, we ended up having a last minute (last minute to me since I found out about it 5 minutes before jumping into the taxi) dinner at my friend’s wife’s friend’s house.

Now, you maybe wondering why I stayed at a different hotel. You see, I’m a sucker for a good bathtub, and this hotel had one to die for. Hotel Indigo Singapore Katong offers a premier room with a deep, round bathtub over looking the surrounding neighborhood. I had to book this particular room just so I could experience the tub, and it did not disappoint!

The second day, we got up early and headed to the botanical gardens. The weather was super hot, but the flora was beautiful as we strolled to our destination within the gardens: the National Orchid Garden. My mom and I have always enjoyed orchids so I wanted to make sure to see the array and variety these gardens offered. The entrance fee to the botanical gardens is free, but to enter the orchid section, it costs 5SGD.

As we entered the gates, we were surrounded by the most lush and vibrant orchids. They were everywhere, in every color imagined. Popular orchids were prevalent, but also orchids that aren’t as well known. I was in awe of the exotic environment.

After a few hours in the heat, we took a taxi (taxis were fabulously cheap) over to the Marina Bay Finance Tower to head up to Level 33, a brewery overlooking the bay, including the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Merlion. The menu offered jazzy appetizers (fish bites on roasted potatoes and steak bites on a sizzling plate) and a great selection of craft brewery. Now, I’m not one for beer really (maybe a cider) so I opted for a Shirley Temple first. Once I downed the ST, I ordered a Golden Rush…a drink made with champs (champagne), some sort of beer, and GOLD SPARKLE! I asked for extra sparkle in mine and they did not disappoint. The drink was okay; it would have been much better without the addition of the beer in my opinion, but I wasn’t asked. I mostly enjoyed the drink when I twirled the gold around. I’m also not one for heights so I had to take deep breaths at our seats. I was fine at first, but did start to feel a bit panicked after an hour sitting out on their balcony.

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Look at that sparkle!

The rain started to drizzle, so we headed off for a short visit along Orchard Road, the best high-end shopping area in Singapore. As we were waiting for my friend’s wife, Michelle, to finish her shopping, his father, Dale, and I headed for the Magnum Ice Cream shop; I’ve become quite a fan of Magnum ice cream bars since moving to China. In this particular shop, you got to decide what you wanted to dip your ice cream bar into (dark chocolate, milk chocolate, or white chocolate) and up to three different toppings. I kept it simple with a dark chocolate shell with gold beads for my topping. It was delicious even though the gold beads were a bit too crunchy at times.

That night, we took off for Jumbo’s in Clarke Quay to enjoy some of Singapore’s famous chili crab. After ordering, we were given bibs and I knew then we were in for a messy meal. The crab came soaked in chili sauce and we got one cracker to share. I sauce was tasty, but my lips were tingling and on the verge of being numb by the end of the meal. The meal, in my opinion, was a bit overpriced for what we got, but I’m glad we got to try it since I’ve heard lots of people talk about Jumbo’s. In the future, I would try to find an alternative and cheaper place to enjoy this tasty crustacean.

IMG_0895Our next day started with a trip to Little India to walk around. The market was okay (I wasn’t looking for anything since I’d already spent money at the botanical gardens on souvenirs and gifts). We walked down a street to a Hindi temple, my first time entering a Hindi one. The temple had multiple carvings on the outer exterior, as well as within. We stayed for a few minutes, watching locals pray and worship, before deciding to walk along a few streets (offering interesting wall murals) to the metro station.

IMG_0904We took the metro to the Chinatown station. Michelle and I decided to try the fish spa while the two gentlemen explored the area. We timidly headed up the narrow stairs to the spa. Inside, a couple already had their feet inside open aquariums with fish sucking their feet. We were shown where and how to sit. The owner counted to three and we quickly put our feet into the tanks. Have I mentioned that I don’t like the idea of touching fish? Yeah. So I’m not sure where my head was when we decided to try this. I closed my eyes and tried not to focus on the fact it was fish causing the tickling sensation. Once in a while, I could feel a fish go between my toes. Apparently these fish are in the carp family and originate in Turkey. The owner claimed he ordered his fish directly from Turkey; I didn’t care. All I knew was that it was weird. Would I try this again? Probably not. Once is good enough for me, but I do think it was something different and fun to try.

Following a quick trip back to the hotels for some much needed naps, we went to Gardens by the Bay to see their “trees”. It was dark out and the trees soared above us in sparkling lights. All of a sudden, the lights went off and music came on. A show! I spotted numerous people laying on the ground in the center of the trees so I joined them to watch this synchronized light show. This was by far my favorite thing from this trip. In the future when I come back, I would like to visit the Cloud Forest (and indoor rain forest surround a small mountain, complete with waterfall) and explore a little more. Unfortunately, we were short on time that evening and some of the park had closed. Afterwards we went to Satay by the Bay for some grilled satay and food…I tried chicken and lamb satay, along with an Indian desert that was similar to a crepe with chocolate and bananas.

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The next morning, it was time to head to the airport. Since moving to China, I had seen pictures of a dancing raindrops exhibit within one of the terminals. So, I went to the airport a few minutes early so I could check it out. I was in Terminal 2 for check-in and asked where I could find the raindrops. I was pointed in the direction of Terminal 1. I will admit, the raindrops were graceful as they moved smoothly, but I was expecting something a little grander. I was surprised and excited to discover a sunflower garden back in Terminal 2, as well as a orchid garden and koi pond.

Overall, I have to say my trip to Singapore was awesome. I had great travel companions and we got to experience a lot of what the city country had to offer. It’s a place I’d definitely go back to should the opportunity ever arise again…especially for that tub.

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So long, my friend. 

A Day in Seoul

After leaving Gangneung for the Olympics, we decided to spend a night in Seoul. Our train arrived in the early afternoon and we walked to our hotel, which overlooked the mountain/hill near Seoul Tower. I was exhausted, but knew of one place I felt like I needed to visit.

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Last year, I read an article about this café that had a barista who was an artist. He created special CreamArt on the lattes. I followed him on Instagram after reading the article and became a fan. When we discussed staying in Seoul for a day, I started researching about how I could get my own CreamArt to enjoy. I looked up the address for the C.Through Café and knew we had to go. So, though I felt bad and a cold coming on, we hailed a taxi and had him drive us to the café’s neighborhood.

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So one thing I learned about Seoul, is that the streets might be the same name but differ by one or two numbers. It was confusing, but after taking us the long way round, I spotted the exterior of C.Through Café. I took a deep breath, and we entered. There he was, the barista I had admired for the past year, looking just as handsome in person. We ordered our CreamArt. I asked if I could take pictures while he created his works of art and he said it was fine. I was in love as I watched him patiently (and surprisingly quickly) paint his masterpieces of cream on the lattes. Once we got our art, it was difficult to drink since we hated to destroy such amazing work. But we quickly got over that and drank up.

As we began to stroll back to the main road, we spotted an advertisement for the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich. It was an opportunity we could not pass up. We ordered one to split. And might I add, we were not disappointed when we pulled our halves apart and saw the strings of gooey cheese dangle between us.

Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped off at a market so I could stock up on GongYoo socks and Kim Woobin folders/cards. Unfortunately at this point, I was feeling pretty under the weather so I was not able to hit the town like I had originally hoped. I had plans. I was going to find Kim WooBin or another acceptable Korean artist. Oh well, maybe next time.

Olympic Happenings

IMG_0419This year, the Winter Olympics coincided with our Chinese New Year break. Now, I’ll fully admit that the Olympics isn’t the top of my list “must-do in life” list, but I do think the whole idea of being able to say “I vacationed at the Winter Olympics in Korea” is pretty cool. So, when my friend asked me at the time if it would be something to consider, I agreed. Now, we were coming over from Harbin where I had been super cold the majority of the time…I was relieved that I didn’t need all of the layers I was using days previously when we arrived in Gangneung (via a flight from Harbin into Incheon and a ride on the Korail train to Gangneung). The moment we left the station in Gangneung to meet our AirBnB host (information to follow because he was awesome) I was relieved at the pleasant temperatures (which I find a tad sad since the temps were still in the 30s and 40s [Fahrenheit]).

We were whisked away in our host’s van to the adorable cabin (sorry, I’m a slacker and never took a picture of it), skipping the long taxi queue. It was dark at the time so I was not able to see the beautiful nature that we passed on the 45-minute drive.

The next morning, we woke up early for our ride back into the city to the Gangneung Olympic Park. Our first event (we went to three in all) was a medal event for the Men’s Figure Skating, a super hot ticket this year. I had tried for over a month trying to secure the two tickets for us. In fact, it was only the day before we left on the grand trip that I was able to find the two tickets. Yes, the event was the most expensive ticket, but come on—it was a medal event. I’ve been watching those medal ceremonies for years and was finally going to be able to see one in person. The entrance to the Park was packed, and you could totally feel the buzz of excitement as we walked to the arena. We found our seats (quiet snug) and waited for the skaters to take the ice.

Learning moment: For those who have never been to an ice skating final event, let me explain (the best I can) a little bit about how it goes. They take all the skaters and arrange them into four sessions, with 15-minute intermissions in between. The first group that skates are the men that scored the lowest in the first round, held a few days before. The final group is comprised of the higher scoring men. It’s a long event (like at least a couple of hours). Plus, I am not sure how the judges score. I get that the more complicated moves get more points. But I still think if a skater’s hand touches the ice or he falls, he should not get a score higher than a skater who skates a near perfect routine even if it’s not as filled with those complicated moves. Just saying.

I tried my best to pay attention. But I couldn’t take it. Finally, after the second session, I got up during intermission to go to the restroom and walk a little. I walked around that whole arena looking for the shortest bathroom line. It was impossible to find. So, I just picked a line and decided to spend the whole third session not watching figure skating. As soon as I finished in the bathroom, I went to one of the stores inside of the arena…then went to the larger store outside the arena (but still within the venue area)…followed by finding some food. I returned to my seat just as the third session was wrapping up.

The fourth session was exciting. I had heard about two Japanese skaters that were quite popular. The moment they took the ice, the stands became a sea of Japanese flags. It was pretty overwhelming and cool to see. After the session, the scores determined the gold, silver, and bronze medal winners. This was it! The moment I had wanted to see. The reason I spent so much money on the bloody ticket. THE MEDAL CEREMONY.

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Not the expected Medal Ceremony

Unfortunately, the Pyeongchang Olympic Committee decided to try something different this year with the medals. Instead of giving medals directly after the event, they handout a stuffed animal (the mascot) and the medal winners take pictures and wave at the crowd and press. At the end of each day, there’s a medal event at the Pyeongchang Olympic Village area for all of the medal winners of the day. So, yeah. Thanks, POC, for trying something new this year.

After my disappointment of not seeing a medal ceremony, we hoofed it to the curling center to see a round robin of the men’s curling. It was the cheapest ticket but offered quite a lot to see. It was a short event, but it was nice that it kept my interest. I could even follow the sport and understand the point system. Plus, allow me to mention the eight teams of men showing off those arm muscles! And the best part of this event was that we were sitting closest to where the Korea team was curling. It almost made up for the lack of the medal ceremony at the previous event.

That afternoon, after curling, we spend the time walking around the Gangneung Olympic Village. We even went to the huge shopping center…which was a 45-minute wait to enter. When we finally reached inside, it was every man for him/herself. Chaos. And items were not stocked well. That was just the first tent. The second tent where you paid for your items was just as chaotic. It was not a place I wanted to revisit. Soon, our ride came and we went back to the cabin.

Now, I am a HUGE k-drama fan. I’m convinced that one day the actor Kim WooBin will realize he loves me. I also like GongYoo. What does this have to do with the Olympics? Great question. One of my all-time favorite K-dramas had a couple of very important scenes filmed in Gangneung. I was not going to leave the town before checking out the spot. Before arriving, I had arranged with our AirBnB host a short trip to the spot. He knew exactly where I was talking about. So, that morning, we woke up and I was taken to the dock that juts out into the water where Ji EunTak, wearing the iconic red scarf, gives buckwheat flowers to Kim Shin after summoning him in “Goblin: The Great and Lonely God”. No, I’m not obsessed.

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I popped out of the van the moment we pulled up to the dock. I dashed through the sand to go to the end of the dock, where our fabulous host and I proceeded to have a photo shoot. It was truly an awesome moment and just one of the highlights of this trip.

Once we were finished letting me have my moment, we took the
train to the Pyeongchang Olympic Village where the torch was located. This area was much larger than the Gangnueng Olympic Village. We didn’t have to purchase tickets to enter since we had event tickets later that day so we walked in to admire the row of all the country flags. Next, we were headed for the torch when I got distracted by the G-Dragon sign (he sings for the KPop band, Big Bang). We took a quick detour to get the information about that particular pop-up experience before continuing our stroll to the torch
(I was told we could go back). It was windy that morning so the torch wasn’t exactly blazing like you see on TV, but we still got to see part of it.

Once again, though, I was distracted by the intoxicating aroma of a Korean IMG_0485pancake. I placed an order and it was amazing. Inside was some seed paste mixture (I was told later on that it was nuts, which I usually hate, but not in this delightful treat) that oozed once you bit into the fluffy pastry dough. As you can tell, it was one of my favorite parts of this Olympic experience.

 

One of the other pop-up experiences offered in the village was an interactive light gallery. We walked through a hallway where it looked like raindrops of lights were falling from the sky into another room with slow moving lasers. It was an interesting pop-up, but it was time for the pop-up I was promised we’d return to.

The entertainment pop-up offered VR opportunities to sky and snowboard, photo shoots with KPop and K-drama stars. But the best part of this pop-up was the hologram concerts with singers and bands…including G-Dragon! My travel companion was super kind and understanding in recognizing that I had to go to the “concert”. I felt like he was there singing a few of his hits. It was so fun! I’m sure I stood out as being the only westerner in the room singing along, but ask me if I cared (I didn’t). It almost made up for not seeing the medal ceremony the day before.

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Before returning to Gangneung we went to the actual town of Pyeongchang where the Phoenix Snow Park hosted the snowboarding and some of the skiing events. What was interesting (or at least I found interesting) was that there were tons of signs accusing the Olympic Committee of murder. Now, it wasn’t actually killing of people they were accused of murdering, but the killing of businesses. Months before the actual start of the Olympics, the Committee came in and closed the snow park to prepare for the event. The snow park is the source of income for the majority of the businesses there as it is a ski/snowboarding town. Most of the events weren’t even held in the small town of Pyeongchang. It’s disappointing that news of this sort of thing isn’t well known and that such an amazing opportunity for athletes can cause such disruption in the average family’s life. Anyway, no events were happening at the park so no one was allowed to enter, so we headed back to Gangneung to hang out before the night’s event we were attending (hockey).

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Back at Gangneung, we had some dinner from the McDonald’s pop-up restaurant (a blow-up tent). Next, we shopped at the North Face pop-up, which was tiny but much better managed than the huge event store. We also got to put a huge coin into an even bigger Coke vending machine to get some free cans of Coke (plus we won a couple of tote bags).

My favorite pop-up at Gangneung had to be the Team Korea House. Inside, I was able to dress up in a traditional Korean hanbok; mine was a hanbok a queen would wear (of course). Tea was being served and medals were displayed. I was even able to become a KPop dancer to one of Big Bang’s songs (“Fantastic Baby”). Side note: For all that watched my “dance”, you’re welcome for that bit of entertainment.

Our event that night was hockey, Korea vs. Canada. Now, I know what you’re thinking: it doesn’t take a lot of thought to know who would win that game. But I wasn’t going because I was interested in the sport. I’ll admit, I like the fights of hockey games, but that’s about all I can follow in the game. We went to this one because my co-traveller liked hockey and wouldn’t mind watching the Canadian players, while I would not mind watching the Korean players. There was a good mixture of fans from both sides. I cheered with the Korean family sitting next to me, even though I knew it was pointless. Our seats were amazing, a few rows up from the glass. The highlight of the evening was when one of the players got three teeth knocked out. Personally, I admit, I was hoping for a few more bang up moments, but nope; all men were basically well behaved. So disappointing.

That concluded our Olympic time. Overall, though I’m pretty sure I’m not the best Olympic event spectator, I would probably go to another Olympic event, especially so I could gain entry into the different Olympic Villages to enjoy the various pop-ups and food.

AirBnB Host in Gangneung: Hyeonbuk-myeon, YangYang

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If teaching doesn’t work out, I can always go into bobsledding. 

Freezing in Harbin

IMG_0242   Harbin. All I had heard about this northern Chinese city was that it was cold and had some cool ice sculptures in the winter. Most expats I know in China had mentioned Harbin as being one of those “must-see” places. So, when planning our trip for Chinese New Year, Emily (my travel companion for few previous trips and this trip) mentioned heading up for the first part of our vacation. I thought it was a good idea and we booked the tickets. It was then that I started to monitor the weather to see if I had enough layers to take. It would be the coldest temperatures I’d ever been in…colder than when I was at Everest Base Camp even. I’ll admit, this Florida girl was worried.

The night we arrived in Harbin, I put on a hat, thick scarf, and a few jackets before bracing the cold walk to the driver’s car. I was hoping the next day, when we explored the city, I would be warmer. I wasn’t.

The first morning in Harbin, we woke up, ate breakfast, and braved (I braved it with four layers on top and three on the bottom, Emily embraced it) the cold to walk to the St. Sophia Church, a former Russian Orthodox church. The church was built in 1907, with Byzantine architecture. In 1996, it became an art gallery where locals and tourist can walk through (we paid 15rmb). The inside offered pictures of the past, while gazing up offered an impressive look into traditional Russian architecture. After our fill, we continued to walk around and came across our first ice sculpture. I was impressed. It was right there off Central Street, and you could walk through the little open ice “hallway”. Of course, it wouldn’t compare to the sites we had not seen yet at this point.

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We continued our walk and came to the frozen Song Hua River. The icy frozen surface hosted lots of activities…traditional ice games, dune buggies going into the sky via a sketchy propeller, slides, and dog sleds. We opted to walk (slowly and carefully for me) across the white expanse of ice to the small island. After about 15 minutes, we made it to the other side (I with a sigh of relief for making it without a broken ankle, and a sigh of annoyance that we’d have to eventually cross it again!) We paid to take a little closed tram around the island to see what it offered. We came across the Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo and decided to hit it up later that evening, after a little more sight seeing. After getting off the tram, we walked to an almost abandoned temple. The only person there was a lady who came out to take an entrance fee from us. I loved the sound of my feet crunching along the snow as I took each step. Again, coming from Florida, it was not an everyday experience for me.

That evening, we headed back to the Sun Island Snow Sculpture Art Expo. People from all over the world came to Harbin to create amazing sculptures out of snow. Each sculpture was truly a work of art, offering impressive details. Every corner you took, another piece of art was there. In the center of the expo, a frozen pond had people “riding” bikes or being pulled by inner tubes. In the back of the pond, I saw many people going up stairs with an inner tube. Now, as I’ve stated before, I am not use to ice and I really was trying to avoid a broken ankle or leg, so I happily waited on the snowy shore as Emily glided gracefully over the ice to the stairs. A while later, she came back and said I had to come. I was skeptical, but begrudgingly went. For a 100rmb deposit, you get an inner tube and go up the stairs. Emily carried my inner tube for me as we went up the stairs (in all fairness, at this point, my body was 70% ice and didn’t move too easily). We were instructed to sit a certain way and then were pushed down an ice luge!! It was so much fun!! It was worth every slippery step on that ice! If you ever find yourself at this expo during the winter, you must go ice luging there! I would have gone another time, but the attendant said no. We left the expo as the sun was setting (in my attempt to get back to the hotel before the night temperatures set in).

The next day, our second and final day in the charming city of Harbin, we set off for a walk through the city. We eventually found ourselves at the Shangri-La Hotel, where I had read about them having an ice bar. I asked about it once we got there. Sadly, they were not doing the ice bar anymore, but they were doing a restaurant with hot pot. I’m not sure what part of my brain (probably the part that had frozen over at this point) thought it was a great idea, but we signed up for a meal. We each got our own pot among the table that had a million things to cook up spread on it. It was cold in there. So cold, that the Coke I ordered was nearly frozen by the end of the meal. Even the meat slices were frozen not long after we began eating. It was a great experience, but at this point, my body was starting to feel the effects from being exposed to the cold I was not normally used to.

Later that evening, we headed to the main reason people travel to Harbin during the winter months: Ice-Snow World. We took a taxi to the venue (which was overpriced but we wanted to get out there and so we paid the 100rmb) and purchased our tickets. Tonight, I was prepared: I had on five top layers, Chinese hot packs (that you can stick to you) on my upper back, three layers on the bottom with hot packs on the front and back of my thigh area, plus two pairs of socks, a scarf, and hat. I was relatively comfortable with all this on, with the exception of my poor nose that was running.

IMG_0300Upon entering Ice-Snow World, you are magically transported into another world, a world made of ice. Once the day starts becoming night, colorful lights blaze through the ice buildings. Some of the buildings were two stories high and offered views of the impressive ice city. I’ve never seen anything like it. After a few hours admiring the buildings, we were about to walk towards the exit when out of nowhere, maybe 20 feet in front of us, boxes of fireworks started going off to celebrate the Chinese New Year (it was considered the Eve of Chinese New Year which means the start of booming fireworks for days in China). After the initial panic and stepping back (because why rope off the firework zone?), we admired the fireworks show before taking the packed bus (much cheaper than the earlier taxi) back to our hotel area.

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But before heading back to the hotel, we had a stop to make since we were heading to the next place on our itinerary in the morning. Before heading to Harbin, we talked to some coworkers (who were from Harbin) about what they would recommend for food. The one thing everyone mentioned was the ice cream. I know, ice cream in those temperatures? Yes. We stopped at one of the vendors and got an ice cream bar. It was so creamy and a delicious frozen treat. A highly recommended treat! The best part? It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to eat it because it won’t melt in those temperatures!IMG_0327

 

We stayed at the Holiday Inn near Central Street. When hotel researching, this one seemed relatively close to what we wanted to see and the price was right. Inside, it was like a sauna and the staff was super friendly. For the night of Chinese New Year Eve, the hotel gave us a bag of peanuts, and in addition invited us to watch a fireworks show at midnight and enjoy a dumplings feast to bring in the new year. At midnight, we stood outside and watched the workers roll out yards and yards of fireworks. Soon, they lit the ends and the show began. We were so close (safety isn’t really a priority when it comes to fireworks in China I’ve learned) that firework shells were hitting us, not to mention my hearing was worse than normal for the following hour. After the 15-minute firework display and attack, we headed to the hotel’s banquet room and were shown to a round table, set up with the traditional lazy susan. Other families sat with us, and together we feasted on multiple types of dumplings and dishes. It was a great way to celebrate the new year and to end our trip to Harbin.

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MraukU of the Rakhine State

When my travel companion and I were discussing where and what we wanted to see during our trip, we knew we wanted a remote area…an area we could see something unique to the country. An experience not a lot of people want or brave. MraukU was the answer.

Our morning journey began early…with a flight to Sittwe. The airport was really just a small two-room building, no computers either. There was a government official in the first room we entered that copied our passport and visa information down before letting us out of the airport. It was there that our guide picked us up at the airport.

Now, after planning our perfect itinerary, we knew there was dissension in the area of the Rakhine State (the region MraukU is located). I kept in contact with the travel company to make sure everything would be okay for us to enter and be safe in the area. I was assured we would be fine and that the disturbances were closer to the Northern border. So, after careful consideration, we decided to keep MraukU on the itinerary. One thing I noticed no matter where we were or what guides we were with, no one spoke of anything negative regarding the country.

After we hopped in the private van at the airport, we were quickly driven through an area the military had taken over from the locals. The area was a significant size. About an hour or two later, we arrived at a jetty, where we boarded a boat which would take us to MraukU. Our estimated time until arrival was about 4 hours. Our guide made us dinner on the boat, as we gazed at the stars that were starting to dot the night sky. There was no light anywhere except for the boat’s lights. At times I wondered how the boat captain would find where we were headed to, but he did. And we arrived around 8 or 9 at night.

The next morning, we set out early for another boat ride, but first we stopped at a local village market. Even though the sun had just risen, the market was full of life. Tons of colorful vegetables and fruits lined the small walkways as we wandered among the locals.

The jetty wasn’t too far from town. We climbed in another boat, this time smaller, and motored through the water for about two to three hours. Soon, our “driver” pulled up to a sandy stretch of land and we jumped out.

We could hear kids laughing and running around as we walked up a small hill. Houses were on small stilts while livestock lounged around underneath and chickens pranced around. We followed our guide to a small area where two small schools had been built, one for younger students and one for older ones. Unfortunately, there were no teachers and so the schools were basically sitting empty. We then were led to where an older woman sat. The town leader introduced us and said for a donation we could take our picture with her. The two of us split a donation and I took my picture with her. Why? you may ask. She was one of the tattoo faced women; I remember reading an article once in National Geographic about tribal women who had their faces tattooed as young girls. She was just one of a few that still remained.

We were then ushered back into the boat and went a little farther to another small village. We were met by another woman with a tattoo face. She was all smiles and joked with our guide, who she knew well. We were led around the small village, where additional tattooed face women tried to sell their woven masterpieces, to the woman’s house. We were shown up the ladder and promptly sat. Our guide served us lunch while our hostess demonstrated how she wove her artwork. She offered us homemade necklaces (still currently hanging on my wall). After asking questions, we learned a little more about the history of the tattoo-faced women. Men of the Rakhine State thought their daughters were so beautiful that enemies would come kidnap the girls. In order to prevent kidnapping, girls around the age of 12 and 13 would be tied down. There was one man in the village that would use buffalo bladder to make ink and tattoo the girls’ faces. He would do one side of the face the first day, leave the girl overnight tied up, and finish the other half the following day. The pain was excruciating. I believe the practice mostly died out in the 60’s, but I could be totally wrong about that. I will say our hostess thought it was entertaining that I willing got my tattoos.

Soon, after eating, learning, and shopping (I never pass up a good opportunity to shop), we were shown the way back to our boat to make the three hour journey back to town.

Once we arrived, we were escorted to a few more temples to look at before sunset.

Overall, it was a pleasant afternoon, and I can only hope that even though there has been even more uproar, including bombings and killings, in this particular area, that the people in the two villages we were able to visit with and learn about are still safe. It saddens me to even contemplate the idea that theses villages may or may not be there anymore.

Final Thoughts: Myanmar is a great place to visit. The people were super friendly and every guide we had went out of his/her way to make us feel welcomed to their country. It was an amazing learning opportunity as well. I would highly recommend Myanmar as a place to go; just as with any place, be smart when traveling and respect the country you’re in. If you’re limited on time, check out Inle Lake and its food for sure.