A whole other world in Bagan

The moment we came back from our US trip (or even when we were still in US), we already started planning out next trip to a new place we’d never been. Both Bandi and I burnt off all of our Annual Leave during the lengthy US trip so we didn’t really go far in 2018, so we planned some new adventure for 2019. We decided to finally do 2 things I’ve been wanting for so long: Experience Songkran in Thailand and visit Bagan, Myanmar. In this post, I’ll only talk about Bagan.

How to reach Bagan?

Bagan is one of the place that has always been in the back of my mind for so long, but it’s not the easiest place to reach; no direct flight from Singapore and further road travel from the landing international airport.

So when I planned my Songkran trip to Bangkok, I was checking if it was possible to continue my journey to Bagan.

Indeed it was! There was a possible way to fly from Bangkok to Mandalay and then take a 4 hours bumpy car ride from Mandalay to Bagan. The nearest airport to reach bagan is actually Nyaung-U, but then you have to take local flight from Mandalay or Yangon.

So please note that the first and last day in Bagan should be spared for traveling alone, if you plan to reach in Mandalay or Yangon.

What to do in Bagan?

Very simple, exploring the ruins. Bagan is like a whole new world, the landscape is like no other, it’s full of temples, pagodas and stupas with deserts-like  surrounding (because I visited in summer), the trees were dried up, sun was high, dust was everywhere, it looked so dramatic in every photos. But I must tell you, if you’re usually comfortable, Bagan is not the place to be comfortable (again, I visited during Summer).

Bagan is full of beautiful ancient temples and ruins. If you’ve visited Angkor Wat, the vibe is similar, but Bagan has more sporadic temples with beautiful landscape. This group of little temples and pagodas create some kind of a whole new different world feeling.

Ananda Temple, most known for its beautiful architecture.

Bagan is also famous for its sunrise and sunset, and chasing them requires patience and adventurous soul. Tourist used to be able to climb pagodas to the highest to get a better view of sunrise and sunset, since 2016, it has been banned. However, you may find some deserted pagodas or stupas where you can illegally climb. Ahem, find some local people to go with you if you’re unsure. You may comment if you’re interested and we can talk in private LOL.

There are a couple of secret sunrise and sunset spot that tourists do not know exist, here’s the two places that our local guy brought us to:

Sunrise spot, a secret temple

You need to climb 3 levels up to get the best view; first level is by stairs, second and third level is a 2 meters vertical climbing each. Since I was carrying a bulky item in my belly, I only reach up to the second climb, it was still scary, but not as scary as the last one and going down was even scarier!

Sunset spot, an ancient monastery

Keep hiking up to the highest point and wait the sunset there. Sadly there was a thick layer of clouds once the sun was setting, we actually could see the huge red sun when we were riding our bike there, but once it almost hit the horizon, it was covered by the clouds. :(

Where to stay?

I would only suggest 2 areas to stay during your adventure in Bagan, New Bagan area and Old Bagan area. We personally chose Old Bagan area, it has less cafes or restaurants, and practically just surrounded by temples, but the feeling was magical! We were staying just 1 step away from temple! We stayed at Thande Hotel Old Bagan and overall it was not bad!

New Bagan is like a small town, so it has more hotels/hostels and cafes. We usually go out to New Bagan for lunch and dinner, it’s just 20 minutes e-bike ride away! There’s another possible town to stay, which is Nyaung-U, but I personally don’t like the vibe of this town, so I won’t recommend.

How to move around?

There are a couple of choices but I will only give you the best: e-bike! Tourist can only rent e-bike, not the real motorbike. E-bike is electric and less powerful than the normal motorbike, so in another word, it’s safer. It’s very easy to navigate too! But please take note that some of the roads to some temples are not paved, it’s sandy and rocky, and navigating the e-bike in fields like these can be tricky, just be careful and stay safe!

Sandy roads to the temples

I rode e-bike with Bandi, and there were moments when we almost fell, it was a little scary, only because I was (and am) carrying our baby in my belly. I was 24 weeks pregnant on this trip and I was more careful than the rest of our trips. I literally couldn’t be reckless.

The road could be bumpy too, so imagine I was holding my tummy most of the time, but I guess my baby kinda enjoyed it, it felt like riding a transformers ride in Universal studios, haha.

What to eat in Bagan?

Be open. :)

Bandi and I personally like asian food with spices, so there was no problem at all for us, but I think it could be too much for some people, especially if your palette is very western, but try to be open and you will be rewarded.

But if you don’t feel that adventurous, there were cafes that serve western food like burger and fries too.

We ate a lot of Chinese Burmese food and don’t miss their avocado juice and passionfruit soda! They’re abundant on fruits, so take advantage of it.

This vegetarian cafe called Moon is so good!

Watch out on the season!

Please check out the whether before you book your trip. I didn’t and I was punished with crazy hot weather. It was up to 42 degrees in the afternoon! Imagine I was having hot flush because of my pregnancy and I needed to face the 42 degrees heat; maaaan, I almost exploded!

Please also take note of their big holidays, some shuttle bus didn’t operate during thingyan (water festival), which is exactly when we booked the trip (double hit). Thankfully we went in a big group, it was 6 of us, so we could book a private van from and to Bagan-Mandalay. It costed us US$ 270 for the return trip.

Try to visit in the colder season, from October to April; our driver told us the temperature could drop to 16, so that would be lovely!

Do I love Bagan?

Yes! I always love beautiful landscape! I’m not a big fan of temples (maybe that’s why I didn’t really enjoy Siem Reap), but Bagan has a unique landscape, so it’s what makes it special. Some people said Bagan is a mix between Siem Reap and Cappadocia. I would agree in some extend. :)

The Photogenic Bodhi Tree

But if I could change one thing, I wouldn’t want to visit Bagan during summer, it’s too harsh.

Traveling while Pregnant

I did travel while pregnant previously, but it was more like a relaxing trip, like Bali or weekend getaway to Batam; I also went for business trips. But this trip is different because it’s the typical Bandi and May’s adventurous trip, there were moments where I had to do vertical climb in the pagoda to catch a sunrise, and not to mention the constant bumpy bike ride. Not only the physical activities, I also needed to watch out for what I ate and be more mindful about the cleanliness. I don’t want to eat anything harmful for my baby, but if you know me, I usually never cared about what I eat, so it was a little difficult.

To be honest, this trip was planned before we got pregnant (or even account for it LOL), so I couldn’t-didn’t want- to cancel or change anything about it. I’ve been wanting to explore Bagan for so looong! Thankfully everything went well and again I’m grateful to have 2 fun guys in my life who love adventure (I assume my baby loved it LOL).

So, what’s next?

I don’t think there will be big trip until the labor, the only big trip coming up is a journey to be a parent! So this blog could be on hibernation for a while until we’re off for another trip, unless I could blog about the trip to hospital on our journey to be parent! That could be accounted as adventure too! :)

Share with me your travel stories when you were/are pregnant! It would be fun to read!

Cheers,

May, grounded for a while

The Complete guide of our epic American Hiking Trip

7,205 miles or 11,595 kms. That’s how long we’ve driven in our North American journey. The distance is comparable with a flight from Manila to New York, yes it’s that far. There were some days that we drove for 10 hours, with occasional stops of junk-food drive ins and quick hike. The feeling of freedom was unbeatable, it was just me and Bandi and the road, so many stories, so many inside jokes of road-trip games (water tank!), so many out-of-tune singalong to the radio, so many windshields clean up I was actually becoming so good at it, so many cups of coffee, it was indeed the time of our life.

In some point in our life, we shared this amazing invincible feeling together.

There are 2 main purposes on this trip: (1) To hike and (2) to drive the Route 66. The first one happened because of our love to the nature, the second one was because of our adventurous old soul. I will create another post about Route 66 so let’s focus on the hiking part for now.

I am not a good hiker, let’s get that straight. But not good at it doesn’t mean you can’t love it. I usually try to hike the most popular trail in the park, but will limit to 5 miles distance, and if I had extra time and energy, I’d do a couple of short trails with different angle or view of the park. Both in Canada and US, the national parks are well organized so you can plan well for your hikes. My favourite app/web would be Alltrails where you can read other people’s review on the trails and understand whether it’s suitable for you or not. All of the hiking trails I mention in this post will be linked to its details from Alltrails web.

I will write all of the 9 National Park we visited during the trip and some highlights about it. I know usually I wrote details for my travel, but since this is a huge trip, I don’t think it would be comparable to what I usually wrote, I will only write the highlights. If you’re interested in one of the parks and have some questions, don’t hesitate to contact me, I love to share!

Here are the National Parks we’ve visited:

Banff National Park, Alberta (Canada)

This is probably my most favourite place on earth. I’ve decided that I want to retire in Banff. Words can’t describe how beautiful it is… Snowy Rocky Mountains, lush hills to hike on, beautiful wildlife, serene turquoise lakes, this place is out of this world. Please take note that their summer window is quite short compared to the other National Park. I visited on May and some of the lakes were still frozen. So if you want to do water sports, make sure to go on July and August.

Banff Town

Hiking Tunnel Mountain

This beautiful and enjoyable trail is pretty easy to do, there were some steep steps along the way, but nothing extreme. I’ve got to meet so many cute dogs on the trails which was a huge bonus. We arrived at the summit around noon and sat down for 30 minutes to enjoy the sun and ate banana bread.

Taking Cable Car to Sulphur Mountain

We spent almost a day on the top of Sulphur Mountain, learning about the history of how Banff became a famous destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers. The surrounding Mountains were magnet for curious trekkers and it has such a rich history. The summit has museum which is worth a visit and also the historic Cosmic Ray Station. If you do not want to pay the cable car to go to the Sulphur mountain summit, you can hike up; while taking the cable car down is free. The hike is 7 miles long though. Good luck!

The view from the Cosmic Ray Station is AMAZING. I couldn’t believe I actually lived to see this. It was one of the best view I’ve ever seen in my life. I could literally live there. It was a clear day with blue sky and we saw all the mountains surrounding us. I was falling in love… again and again… with mountains.

Driving the Icefield Parkway

The road from Banff to Jasper via Lake Louise is called The Icefield Parkway and this road turns to be a magical winter wonderland when it’s not summer. When you drive on this road, you wouldn’t believe the view you see. This gotta be the most beautiful road trip one could ever have.

The oh-so-many beautiful lakes

Banff has so many beautiful lakes, I can name a few; Morraine Lake, Emerald Lake, Lake Louise, Two Jake Lake, just follow the map and when you see lakes, stop over and enjoy it.

Staying in Emerald Lodge with no outside contact

So… we didn’t know what we signed up for, really. We booked 2 nights at the Emerald Lake Lodge without knowing that it means we won’t have internet connection or any connection at all. We even had to burn fire wood to keep us warm in the lodge. The lodge was last refurbished in the 1980’s and is tuck away from the outside world. We even had to park our car about 2 miles away and took the lodge shuttle to the Lake. I enjoyed it, but Bandi was a bit frustrated because he doesn’t have his TV and Internet. After hours of doing nothing, he decided to light up some fire and watch the woods burned. It was a nice moment for us. :)

Yosemite National Park, California

For a huge and majestic place like Yosemite, my 2 days visit couldn’t do any justice. But Yosemite is expensive, and this girl has a long way to go, thus… decision, decision! We maxed out our Yosemite trip by staying in the Yosemite Lodge and saw the Yosemite Falls by going through the lower Fall trail. Unfortunately my foot was hurting the whole time I was in Yosemite, thus I didn’t get to do a lot of hiking. :( And probably we were still jet-lagging too.

Yosemite has million years of rock formation stories and you can learn about it in the visitor centre. The rock formation makes Yosemite so special, thus the beautiful waterfalls too.

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Acadia National Park, Maine

From west, we flew all the way to the very east of USA, Maine. Known for its Seafood and setting for Stephen King’s horror novel, we come to Maine for the nature. It did not disappoint.

If you’re wondering whether the cold should hinder you to visit Maine, then the answer is NO. Yes it is cold, but Maine is such a beautiful place, Acadia National Park to be exact, with Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor and Bass Harbor as their host towns. Don’t forget about the New England food of Clam Chowder and Lobster Roll, oh the visit will be perfection.

I love Maine, and if I need to single out one highlight from Acadia National Park, it’s the Beehive Trail. It is the most famous trail of Acadia and it’s famous for a reason.

Bar Harbor, a wonderful little town

We drove all the way from Boston to Bar Harbor because it’s the perfect town to stay to explore Acadia National Park. If you ever plan to visit Acadia, I recommend to stay at Bar Harbor Motel, it was the cutest, most comfortable Motel we’ve stayed throughout our US trip. The staffs were super friendly too! Bar Harbor is a charming little town, one which you secretly wish to live in.

Beehive Trail, a must do in Acadia

This wonderful and fun trail is not very long, but… it is difficult. There were times where I had to climed vertically, with no harness, just railing to grab on. It was horrifying, but exciting, and the view from the top was rewarding. If you plan to go, please read the reviews from Alltrails so you get to understand more of the trails before you actually decide to take it. Once you reach certain height, it’s not advisable to go down. Going up is still safer than going down. This trail is a loop, so once you reach the summit, you need to continue going down in the longer route to the beginning of the trail.

Another great thing about this trail is that you can combine it with so many other trails. We continued to The Bowl from the intersection and it became a very fruitful hike! A bowl of Shrimp Chowder waited for me as a reward. :)

The food!

We didn’t expect the food in Maine to be this good, we enjoyed every meal we had in Maine! Lobster Roll and clam chowders are available in almost every diner and we’ve had them in every meal. Our cholesterol level definitely hiked up! We crowned Maine as the Best State for the food.

Cadillac Mountain

I want to remember the moment when Bandi and I went to Cadillac Mountain. I want to remember the feeling… We loved it so much and the sky was clear so we decided to come back again at night to stargaze. It was crazy cold, we stayed in the car and watch the stars. It was one of the moment in your life that you just know… that it will stay forever. It’s impossible not to question life, when the stars seem so near, the things that are so out of reach suddenly touch our life. If there are lives in the earth, there might be lives in other planets too… Our milky way is just one of millions galaxies out there… What is life? Where do we go after we die? It was the same question when Hubble discovered another galaxy hundred years ago, and it is still the question now.

Bandi and I didn’t get to find the answer that night (of course), but we bonded over our curiosity and our humbleness to this huge universe. We are nothing compare to the stars… We are merely a dot.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Fast forward to Colorado!!! (Between Maine and Colorado we spent so much time in the cities, either visiting museums, friends or driving on the route 66).

We didn’t plan to come here, we didn’t even know that Colorado has sand dunes; we were driving from Albuquerque to Denver when we stumbled upon the sand dunes in the map and decided to give it a visit.

It was pretty okay, I don’t really fancy sand dunes, I guess it will be more beautiful to view it from the air or from afar; hiking on the sand dunes is pretty painful actually, there were sands on my eyes, hair, socks, panties (didn’t know how it got there).

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We only hiked for about an hour and went back to the car when we saw sheriff arresting somebody. (If only we came back a little earlier to witness some American Drama!)

Rocky Mountains National Park, Colorado

This is crowned as my most favourite National Park in USA. I can tell you hundred of reasons why, but due to limited time and space, let me just say… the mountains are so maginifcent, it will blow you away.

Trail Ridge Road

I love mountains, so that one reason only has eaten up the quotas of making reasons. The park is so huge, 3 days were definitely not enough. There are 2 towns that can host you while exploring the park: Estes Park and Grand Lake. The first one is bigger and more touristy than the later. These two towns are connected by Trail Ridge Road, the highest elevated road in North America; but this road is not always open because of the unpredicted snowstorm.

We decided to stay in both Estes Park and Grand Lake; if the Trail Ridge Road wasn’t open, we had to detour for 4 hours (while the Trail Ridge will only takes 1 hour and 45 mins, and it was the drive of our life!!!) Even though you don’t need to go to Grand Lake, I would still suggest for you to drive to the Trail Ridge Road, it was so crazy beautiful up there! It is a must-do scenic drive in your lifetime!

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The wildlife

We hiked to the Bear Trail and even though at the end of the trail we got hit by snowstrom, we had fun and met some wildlife, fox and bears. Yes, we met bears, and they were cute and actually were afraid of humans. It was still pretty cold when we visited (end of May) and some of the hiking trails were still covered by snow, some were 1 meter high! We went for picnic on one of the days and it was just calming and I felt very happy and peaceful. Here, we also picked up a new hobby, putt putt golf! Oh, I hope we have more putt putt golf in Asia!

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If I had to choose 1 place of all the places we went during our American road trip, Rocky mountains is the one. It’s that special for me. I know, I know, I said that for Banff too, well, let’s just say I can’t choose which rocky mountain I love more, all of them are special.

Arches National Park, Utah

We spent the whole day in Arches and had so much fun. Arches is the one national park where I didn’t have so much expectation but ended up blowing me away. The size of the park wasn’t as big as the other parks we visited, so we practically drove all the available paved roads. Since we only had a day there, we visited the highlights of the park: The Delicate Arch (take a hike there), Balanced Rock (very short hike), fiery furnace (require a permit to hike inside – hoping we’ll do it next time). The other famous trail in Arches is called Devil’s garden, however you’ll need a day to finish the whole round, so probably good to have 2 days 1 night camp in Arches, but the camping ground is limited and fully booked fast during summer, so better plan ahead.

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We hiked to the Delicate Arch during a very dry and hot day and kind of underestimated it by not bringing enough water. We ended up feeling so thirsty, it could be dangerous, I think. So please bring enough water when you hike in the desert during summer.

Zion National Park, Utah

We went to Zion during summer and it was CROWDED. Fortunately the NPS has got it under control. Summer time is the time where everyone hits the park, so no private car is allowed further than the visitor centre areas. We drove there and park our car in the visitor centre, and then take the shuttle bus to different bus stops along the parks. You should come very early to make sure getting a parking spot. We didn’t come early, and it was impossible to find parking spot. However, for the hundredth time, I was helped by my luck, thus we got a spot. :)

We had to queue to ride the park shuttle bus, though the queue was very long, we had no choice but to wait under the sun, 40 minutes later, we were on the bus. We rode the park shuttle bus to the very last stop , which is the entrance for The Narrow. There are 2 most famous hiking trails in Zion: Angel’s Landing and The Narrow. Angel’s Landing is shorter but steeper, the trail ends in quite high elevation and stories said it’s an amazing view. We chose The Narrow, which is a very long and wet trails, most of the trails are in the river, so it’s more like wading than walking.

We were well prepared for The Narrow, wearing a lightweight pants and bringing extra shirt. After 2 hours of wading, there was nowhere near the end, we asked some people who walked back if they saw the end, they didn’t, we learned afterwards that the river runs through Colorado River, so I guess you can go as far as you can. But the further you go, the less crowded it is, and the deeper too!

Bandi and I had fun the The Narrow, it was a refreshing hike in the water during a super hot and dry summer day, and very much different from our normal hike.

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Wet shoes go on the top of the car. LOL

Guess what we did after the tiring day in The Narrow? Binging on Pizza!!! :D

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

I am guilty. My crime is not spending more time in Grand Canyon. We pratically just ‘passed by’ Grand Canyon, we didn’t spend the night there. Even though we spent almost the whole day in Grand Canyon, it felt like touch and go because of the size of Grand Canyon, it’s HUUUGE! We visited from the North Rim entrance which is the less crowded and less touristy.

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Once we passed by the entrance, we were greeted by loads of American Bisons! Aren’t they cute? We then just kept driving up to the vantage point, where we were stunned by how grand the grand canyon is, thus the name of grand canyon. :p

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Obviously this won’t be our last time here. There’s a challenge to hike Grand Canyon from North Rim to South Rim, that’ll take 2 days 1 night, but it would be an experience of a lifetime, worth to think about. :)

Bonus: Antelope Canyon, Arizona

This magnificent nature’s creation is famous for a reason, its beauty that will leave you speechless. I was contemplating whether I wanted to give Antelope Canyon a visit because I was afraid it would be overrated and it was so expensive; thankfully I chose to take a leap of faith and went!

The operator that we went with is called Ken’s tour and it’s from the Lower Antelope canyon. You may find them in Tripadvisor or their website and book via email. It costs US$50 per person, yes it’s expensive, but the other tours cost about the same.

Side trip to Horseshoe Bend!

Once you’re done with Antelope Canyon, don’t forget to give Horseshoe Bend a visit, it’s just 10 mins drive away, you may park your car in the car park and hike up about 15 mins.

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The magical Colorado River flows through.

End Notes

The most important things to plan a hiking trip is to understand the size of the park you’re visiting and allocate enough time. We spent five days in Banff and spent only 1 day in Zion. Hunestly both are not enough, but you get the point, lol. Anyway I think it’s just my problem, nothing is long enough for me to explore the park. But normally 3 days would be fine, of course if the park is huge like Rocky mountains, you can stay there for a week and won’t get bored, but for a much smaller park like Arches, you can spend the 2 days and explored 90% of it. If you’re planning to visit one of the parks I mentioned, don’t hesitate to contact me, I love planning and I love talking about traveling, so it’s win-win. Ha!

Entrance Park Fees VS buying annual pass

Since entrance price to the park could be quite expensive, and we planned to visit lots of them, we bought the annual pass which costed us US$85, applicable for one car with maximum of 4 persons, that’s a steal!

Top 3 hikes

To summarize, here are our top 3 favourite hikes:

  1. The Beehive, Acadia.
  2. The Narrows, Zion.
  3. Delicate Arch, Arches.

Came back smarter and wiser

I always say traveling is an investment for yourself, I usually looked back on what I’ve learned from my travels in the past but this time, I’ll write them down so I won’t forget. Here are some points of my enhanced self after this trip:

  • I am now fluent in Miles, Feet and Fahrenheit, making me bilingual in metrics system, haha!
  • I am now a -much- better driver than I’d ever been
  • I love and appreciate nature more (will it ever be less? No way)
  • I know where to retire
  • I am more motivated to save up for my pension coz I can’t wait to retire, thus making me a better worker.
  • I learned more about Art
  • I learned more about International Space Station
  • I am now able to locate Ursa Major and Cassiopeia in the night sky thanks to stargazing and planetarium sessions.
  • I learned to be more chilled and easy-going like Americans.

We are planning for our 2021 North American Road Trip again with these parks in our mind: Great Smoky Mountain in Tennessee, Grand Teton and Yellowstone in Wyoming and probably some side trip to South Carolina and North Carolina. So if you happen to have the same passion like us, let’s go hit the road together, it will be fun! :)

Travel Green

And since we are in nature topic, I just want to remind about the importance to be educated about environment and wildlife. Leave no trace, if you really need to pee in the wild, bring back your tissues, do not step anywhere else beside the trails, it could be restoration area, don’t do so just for the sake of instagram pictures, do not leave any marks, no graffiti shits, nobody wants to see your stupid art, do not feed any wildlife, do not pet them no matter how cute they are (I struggled the most). If you’re not sure with anything, google it! Don’t be ignorant. It’s okay not to know everything, but try to learn more each time. I don’t know anything either, but I’m trying to be more eco-friendly each day, not to leave more carbon footprint.

Travel green is hard. That is for sure. Being eco-friendly is already hard in routine, it’s even harder during travel. From this long trip, I’ve learned a couple of new tricks for being more eco-friendly while travelling, that reminds me to write another post about this. (Oh darn, I owe so many posts.)

I hope this inspires you to travel to the Northwest! Hit me up anytime if you need advice on your travel, you know that’s always been my favourite subject! :)

Cheers,

May, missing Colorado.

The Roads of Colorado

We rolled down the window, feeling the gusty morning and the sun on our skin. We couldn’t believe our eyes, the towering rockies in front of us, so magnificently standing against all. The small towns we passed by, each has their own stories to tell, but this busy schedule didn’t give them a chance. A long winding road ahead of us, by the beautiful Colorado River that never stop flowing, a home for thousands of species whose lives depending on. Songs were playing on the radio, competing with the winds. Gas pedal was roaring, the old car tried to keep up with the elevated roads of Colorado.
The snowy rockies were behind us, the red canyons are greeting us, the Colorado River is still devoted by our side. In each turns, we awed. We felt so small, so fragile. We were nothing compared to what was in front of us, a vast view of what could be a small fraction of the world. The roads of Colorado left us speechless.
A cheerful tune came in the radio, I slowed down a little bit while I sang along with you. I turned to the right, looking at you for a split second, you were looking at me, smiling. What a good life we had, at that very moment, how grateful we felt, how amazing we felt, on the road of Colorado.
Some places were more magical than others, some places were meant to be special. At the road of Colorado, you and me, at some point, we were invincible.

May, 30-05-2019

Plan your trip to Banff, NOW!

I don’t know what to say anymore, words can’t describe how I feel about Banff. No matter what I say, it will not do any justice of what Banff actually is. One must go there and experience to really understand. I know I say good things about all of my travel destination, but Banff is REALLY SPECIAL, I’m not kidding you. If I could recommend a place for you to go, it’s Banff. (And Norway – still).

But seriously, Banff is up there with Norway. I now have 2 favorite place on earth: Norway and Banff.

Two Jack Lake overlooking the Mighty Mt. Rundle.

The Natural Bridge at Emerald Lake creates this beautiful falls effect.

There are some practical things I want to share from my trip to Banff though, that could help you since you’re planning one. Oh yes, you’re planning your trip to Banff. Yes YOU ARE, NOW.

Yaiy! Let’s do it!

1. Calgary is your port to enter Canada where it’s the nearest and easiest to Banff. Start researching a ticket to Calgary (YYC) now.

2. The lakes in the Lake Louise Region are frozen most of the times. It’s starting to thaw at the end of May til August. That’s the only time you can see the lakes as lakes, not as skating rinks. But bear in mind, summer will be so crowded. If you’re like me, love the beautiful view of snow, come anytime except summer, the view is amazing.

Aww, some PDA here, but I love this shot. <3

3. Icefield Parkway is an amazing road trip route during winter; everything around it turns into a snow wonderland. I visited at the beginning of May and the snow was still 1 metre thick in some places.

4. Banff has some public transports, but it won’t be that many unless it’s summer time, even the bus from Calgary to Banff only operates during summer, so the only way to visit Banff is by car if you’re planning a non-summer visit. Prepare your international’s driving license!

5. There’s only daily entrance to Banff National Park (including Lake Louise and Jasper) and it’s CAD 9.8 per person; while annual pass cost $136 for 4 people in 1 car. So if you’re planning to visit Banff for more than 6 days (at least 2 persons), it’s better to buy the annual pass. Plan accordingly.

6. Gear up! Even though it seems like it’s already spring, Banff is surrounded by snowy rocky mountains, even the lakes are frozen, so you go figure.

7. I highly recommend to go to the peak of Sulphur mountain. It’s free if you hike up, but it’s a really strenuous hike and an icy one, so better to pay CAD 62, I know this sounds expensive but the view and the museum are worth it. Read all the story and information about this amazing Sulphur Mountain while at the top; you can also see the 360 degrees view of mountains of Banff, and learn their names too. Now that you’ve known them in first name basis, you’ll love them even more! My favourite is Mt. Rundle!

8. Hiking trails are open all year round, however depending on the avalanche season, some of the trails may be closed. Visit the information centre to have trails recommendation. We went on: Tunnel Mountain Trail, Fernland Trail, Bow lakes (which is open 365 days and so easy and fun to do), Bow Summit (overlooking Peyto Lake – even though the trail was covered by snow), and Lake Louise Trail (also icy)

Bow Lake

On the way up to Tunnel Mountain Summit.

The icy way up to see Peyto Lake

9. Banff Town is actually a real town with so many restaurants, markets, even movie theatre and a yoga studio. Of course it’s not like in the city where your theatre is in a huge building, it’s still a pretty small movie theatre, but Banff is a pretty complete town, Bandi-approved. Coz Bandi loves to see nature but still wants his well-cooked food and strong internet connection. However, we went to lake Louise Town on the 3rd and 4th Night and it’s a totally different story. So if you’re like Bandi, better stay at Banff Town.

I hope I’ve said all the important and useful information, well at least those are all I remember now. I am still currently on the road trip. I’ve left Canada 3 days ago and had fun in Maine afterwards (another post I believe because Acadia national park is so awesome!) and now I am currently in Salem, Massachusetts to sleep for the night so tomorrow morning we can catch the bus to New York! Hope to talk to you guys again soon, meanwhile hit me up in the comment if you have questions about Banff.

And don’t forget to follow our adventures on instagram @baytravels !

Cheers,

May, carrying laptop and backpack and yoga mat.

Big Plans Take Time

Yesterday, I walked home from work and I passed by an advertising by DBS about retirement. It was so coincidental because I was just talking about planning my retirement with my colleagues.

The ads said: “BIG PLANS TAKE TIME”

That’s right. I’ve spent my whole life planning stuffs, I just love planning and making goals. I had a new goal that day, I want to retire when I turn 55. I already started plotting my retirement plans in my head, but this post is not about my retirement plan (we can talk about it next time), it is about big plan. Specifically, the biggest, most epic trip I’ll ever have (so far). This is the biggest thing we’ve (Bandi and I) ever planned in our life, it’s even bigger than our wedding! We planned our wedding for a year. This… we’ve been planning since 2016! And after 22 months planning, the most epic road trip of our life is finally happening!

The beginning

By now you should’ve known how much I love road trip. Our Pacific Coast road trip in NSW, Australia back in 2015 was the beginning of our love affair with road trip. I also love hiking, but sometimes I found it too troublesome to bring hiking gear, unless… you’re driving a car. Bingo! Road trip and hiking are match made in heaven, just like me and Bandi. Lol.

We narrowed down countries which would be great to be explored by car: Australia (of course), New Zealand (in our future plan, of course), Scotland, US and Canada. Bandi has always wanted to show me US so in August 2016 we started creating a plan for our epic American Road trip. I still remember we were sitting in Starbucks and we agreed to quit both of our jobs and spend at least 3 months in the US, in a van to be exact. (this photo of my soc-med timeline marks the beginning of the plan!) Circumstances then started to happen, I moved to Facebook, it got delayed again and then we planned it after the facebook life but then I got even a better gig. So then we realized, we should compromise. We then shortened the trip to a month plus and not both of us should quit the job.

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That screenshot from a socmed post 2 years ago.

In one fateful day, in the middle of reality, we bought a ticket to San Francisco. We decided to figure things out one step at a time. But the ticket was bought. So we’re going!

The route

The route planning was crazy! It took months for us to do a lot of reading and go through hundreds of arguments before we finalized it! It was so difficult to prioritize and create a perfect map for our North American Trip. I call it North America because it’ll involve both US and Canada! Yes! It’s been a dream of mine to visit Banff, and since we’ll be in the US, of course we should spare time enrouting to Banff!

There are so many national parks I want to see but so little time we have, and the longer we’re there, the more expensive it is. Our goal is to find the most efficient route, with the most National Parks covered, with the cheapest accommodation possible.

At first we wanted to cut short some of the road trips and save money on the drop-off fee. For those who are not familiar, drop off fee is a fee payable to the car rental when you pick up and drop off the car from and to different states. But at the end, after calculating and recalculating, we’d save more money by doing full East coast to West coast road trip. One drop off fee and that’s it. It costed US$550 for the drop fee only and I could faint just to think about the money, but well, we’re doing it.

The biggest chunk of the trip will be on the road of course, but we did take some flights to and from Canada. We’re going in to Calgary, Canada from SF and fly further to Boston to start our US road trip which eventually will end back to the west coast, in LA.

So to summarize, Our route is to start in West Coast, move up to Alberta, Canada, then fly to East coast, so east we’ll start from Maine! We took bus from Boston to New York and to DC, then car all the way to Los Angeles, enrouting to Texas in the middle. Crazy, huh?

The budget

This is by far the most expensive trip we’ve ever had (and I guess we’ll ever have). First of all, US is far from Singapore; the flight itself is expensive. Thankfully we get a good deal (as always). Second of all, the length of the trip is crazy, so the cost multiplies so much. Third of all, we want to visit Banff, so another whopping budget for flights, Canadian Visa and expensive Banff Accommodation.

Just like I mentioned, we’ve been planning for this trip since 2016, so we have some savings for the trip specifically and thankfully the spending were staggered in months (almost a year) from the time we purchased our flight, applying US visa, booking airbnb, booking cars, buying national park pass, to the other tiny details like purchasing a good angle-wide lens or renewing International Driving License. Overall, the budget turns out to be more expensive than our wedding. I’m serious. But our wedding was a simple one anyway, so not a very good comparison. My point is… this is huge. This is the biggest thing we’ve ever invested in in our life. If you happen to plan similar trip like ours, we’d love to share out itinerary! :)

The execution

They said good things happen to those who wait. Well, we’ve been waiting (and plotting) for 22 months, and here it comes. It’s finally happening. We’re only bringing one 35L backpack each consist only essentials. On moments like this, I always be reminded how stuffs are overrated, and how we should never be attached to stuffs. Because really, at the end of the day, I won’t be needing 95% of the stuffs I own. All I want in life is making memories, connections, achievements, and none of them can be tangibly measured.

People are questioning, what do you bring for a month trip?

I answer the same whether it’s for 1 month, 2 months, 2 weeks or 1 week… I pack 5 days’ worth of clothes. I always do, unless I go for weekend trip, then pack for 2 days’ worth of clothes, duh.

My 5 days’ worth of clothes consist:

3 shirts, 2 shorts, 2 dresses, panties + bras + socks, 2 sets of yoga gear.

And because we’re going hiking, I added: 2 sets of hiking gears, 1 pair of hiking shoes, sweater and waterproof jacket.

For toiletries, I bring only tiny bottles of essentials. And if shampoos or soaps are running out, we can always buy there. No sweat.

It seems very light now, isn’t it?

One important thing to prepare is driver’s license. Both Bandi and I will be driving so both of us need to have our international Driver’s license ready. Making international driver’s license is a breeze, nothing to worry about! I made mine in Jakarta, Indonesia and Bandi made it in Singapore (coz he has Singapore Driver’s license).

The Day

We’re leaving in 2 days! I hope I’ll some time to blog during my trip, coz otherwise it’ll take forever to tell all the stories when I’m back. But at least I’ll keep my instagram posted! I still remember sharing my excitement and happiness with all of you during our epic Europetrip, so now I’m doing the same, hoping to always inspire and ignite incredible adventures. Follow this epic trip on @baytravels ! Leave a comment below to send some love! :)

IMG_8876.jpgCheers,

May, excited would be an understatement.

Drifted to Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

I spent my first weekend of 2018 in Taiwan with my mom. Since it was our very first girls trip, I didn’t plan a lot of things so we could chill and relax and not to rush on to anything, but I still wanted to make it special so after seeking advice from my local Taiwanese friend, he recommended to go to Sun-Moon Lake as a side trip. Out of 5 days in Taipei, it won’t hurt to get away from the city for a day.

And it turned out to be the highlight of our Taiwan trip, at least for me. I’ve always loved nature and Sun Moon lake didn’t disappoint.

There are a lot of tour agency that offer day trip package from Taichung, it involves transportation from and to Taichung HSR station, biking, getting into cable car and boat riding in the Sun Moon Lake; and lunch! We paid S$80 per person for this one day tour and our tour guide was so fun! This price is excluded return high speed train from Taipei.

The rock that caused people to quarrel because they wanted to take photos in front of it.

But if you want to arrange a DIY trip, it’s very doable. Of course the first step is to take a train from Taipei to Taichung and then take public bus from Taichung Station to Sun Moon Lake visitor centre. From the visitor centre, there are a lot of options; you can rent a bike, walk around or rent a motorbike!

Me and my mom cycling around the lake

My first of many lakes in 2018 -I wish!

There are also a lot of hotels and inns around the lake; after all it’s one of Taiwan’s beloved nature attraction; there were so many tourists from all around the world, and all around Taiwan.

I enjoyed our time biking around the lake in the morning, it was BEAUTIFUL! Oh I really wish I could go back without the tour so I could just hang around in the lake, watching seabirds and cranes! Both Sun Lake and Moon Lake form a huge lake, probably need 3-4 hours to totally bike around it; which I hope to do one day with Bandi. :)

Unfortunately the rain started to pour after lunch, so we hopped on to the boat when it was raining. We didn’t see much from the boat. It was also very foggy when we took the cable car.

So, if you’re bored hanging around in Taipei and look for an easy day trip, go for Sun Moon Lake, it’s worth the trip!

Cheers,

May, so excited about 2018

Exploring Himachal Pradesh: Our toughest trip yet.

It was about 4 years ago when I saw an ads at the back of some airline’s seats, it was a picture of a dreamy winter wonderland, called Himachal Pradesh, situated in the north India, just at the foot of the Himalayan mountains.

You know sometimes we see a beautiful place in a picture and decided to put in in out list? This is one of those moments.

Bandi and I spared 2 weeks to explore Himachal Pradesh, the longest trip we have this year! We initially planned to fly in to New Delhi, but the price was just ridiculous; so thankfully we have our beloved Scoot, which offers flights to Amritsar for only $300 return! Off we went!

Himachal Pradesh is unquestionably beautiful, with snowy mountains surrounding you, everything was magical there. But, this trip is exhausting, it will drain you like no other trip! Oxygen level was thinner, roads are tough (I’m talking about car sick, like serious car sick), and if you go during winter, weather can be harsh. Bandi and I crown this trip as our toughest trip yet. It’s not about the temperature degree per se, we’ve been to sub-zero places before but this gotta be the harshest because most of Indian houses were not built for winter, it was cold in and out of the house.

If you decided to go, let’s talk about some planning. I chose to talk about technical part of the trip because I reaaaaally think it’s the most important part for this one. Well, not so many people know Himachal Pradesh and want to go there. Even when I was planning for it, I couldn’t find a decent amount of blog posts about it, most of the tourists are local tourists so very limited source of ideas from a foreigner perspective.

i) Plan your route and budget

Your first priority should be your route, so you can book hotels/airbnb and then look for driver. Since I planned to spend time in New Delhi and Agra the first 2 days in India, my route is from New Delhi and back to Amritsar. So here’s my route:

New Delhi to Kalka – by Train (2,380 rupees / 4 hours)

Kalka to Shimla – by heritage Train, The Himalayan Queen (520 rupees / 5 hours)

Shimla to Manali – by car (we started to hire driver at our last day in Shimla) (7 hours)

Manali to Dharamsala – by car (7 hours)

Dharamsala to Dalhousie – by car (4 hours)

Dalhousie to Amrtisar – by car (4 hours) (Total cost for 9 days booking a driver and car is 16,000 rupees)

Once you have your route fixed, book your driver (I book it from here, they’re very helpful and the service is good. Email address is: himachaltaxitours@gmail.com) and book your accommodation.

I did a lot of research on our drivers, compared quotation prices and asked my Indian friend to call them asking about the company; and I didn’t regret my decision making. Another point to highlight is to get a local Himachal drivers who knows their way to drive in Himachal (t’s a different world out there) and this company is based in Shimla.

ii) Hire a driver

Himachal Pradesh is hilly region, and the only way you can explore from one town to the other is by car. But remember this, no matter how good your driving skill is, DO NOT SELF DRIVE. Just book a driver + car, it’s not worth the risk and the energy; the region is a totally different world for a driver, even if you’re used to driving in mountainous area, in India, people drive like they’re inside Fast and Furious movie all the time. Indian drivers are crazy awesome, man!

Bandi and I love to do road trips, we mostly drive anywhere we go if possible, and this time we skip it because of advices from locals. Now that we have gone there, we are giving the same advice.

iii) Apply a visa

One of the annoying about holding third-world passport is getting visa to go almost everywhere, including India. To give you contacts, Indonesian used to have a visa-on-arrival scheme, but not anymore. :(

Please be patience with the visa website because it will crash a couple of times, and after talking with friends who went to India with visa as well, this happened to them too. And oh boy, did they ask you soooo many questions, including your grandpa’s name. I hope you do remember your granpa and give him a call today! :D

You can click here to apply for India visa.

iv) Pre-purchase Indian Sim Card in your home country

I don’t know if this option is available in all countries, but I know this is available in Singapore. At first we didn’t understand why Changi airport offered this, why don’t we just but it in India? It’s gonna be cheaper, isn’t it?

It turns out, you can’t just buy a sim card in India. We got rejected so many times because they needed local guarantor to sign up for a sim card. Of all the countries we have travelled to, this is the first time we couldn’t get a sim card. In India, everything is based on relationship, this is indeed true.

The other option is to buy it in Airport, however again, we couldn’t get the sim card because the seller told us it’s sold out. Really?

v) Understanding India

If this is your first time going to India, I suggest to read up some cultural information about India so you won’t do something funny there. Cows are sacred, don’t ask for a beef burger in their McDonalds, that would be ridiculous. Minimize PDA (public display affection), tipping anybody that serves you; these are some of the key points that I remember. Just be as mindful and respectful as possible. Bandi told me India is the one country where he felt the most un-describeable energy. You’ll understand when you’re there. India is indeed magical.

If you still have some questions about your planning, you may leave a comment below of message me via facebook. I hope I can help. :)

And now, here are some interesting points from our trip that hopefully can give you ideas:

  • India is now joining Bandi and May’s list of “Country where we never had bad food at”; following Thailand and Japan. We love spices and India didn’t fail us on spicing up our palette, we were looking forward for every meal, whether it’s street food or buffet in the hotel, every meal is delicious! We had the best home cooked meal during our airbnb stay in Dalhousie and Bandi couldn’t help but finishing everything!
  • Indian people put Masala on all food and drinks; seriously you name it. They put Masala on hash brown, sausage, french fries, Lays, tea, coffee, candy, everything! So if you don’t like spices, probably a bad idea to visit India.
  • People are generally nice. I know there are a lot of bad media about traveling to India, but we’ve met a lot of good people and people asked to take pictures with us just because we look different; which I found innocently funny at first (but more irritated with the stares.) Keep your scepticism whenever you travel, but be open with kindness. We’ve troubled a lot of people during our runaway to Banikhet and we were so grateful to meet good people.
  • Animals are even nicer! This is the thing I love the most about India!!! I looooovveeee animals, and in India, you find them EVERYWHERE. Dogs, monkeys, cows, horses, donkeys, yaks, sheeps, they’re roaming around the street; and the best we’ve ever encountered is… wait for it… ELEPHANT! Yes, a f***ing elephant walking in the busy road of New Delhi. I’m serious. People will just nonchalantly avoiding the animals but everyone and everything are living together in harmony.
  • I’m disappointed that the real romance in India doesn’t involve dancing and singing in the rain. Growing up watching dancing scene of Sharukh Khan, I thought people in India literally dance on the road when they’re in love. But not even once we witness this in our 2 weeks life in India, not even one flashmob.
  • The only negative part: India is filthy and messy; and this is coming from an Indonesian. And it’s not “organized messy” like in Hanoi, it’s chaotic messy! It’s messy and filthy. You won’t know the real filth til you see slums in India. We passed by slums in the outskirt of Agra and they have tough life, seriously. Rubbish are everywhere; even in the middle of nowhere in the mountains, you still see piles of rubbish. I had to google about waste management problem in India because it really bothered me, and can you believe most of big cities in India had up to 2000% of waste increase in the last 15 years and the infrastructure couldn’t catch up with that. The good thing is: we never receive plastic bag in India. Starting this year it has been banned (at least in the north?) and we only received either paper bags or cloth bags.
  • I need to highlight Taj Mahal. Taj Mahal is REMARKABLE. I seriously thought it’s gonna be overrated, but holy cow… it’s one magnificent well-thought building full of details!!!IMG_8860
  • Shimla has one of the best sunset view in the world. Hands down.IMG_7363
  • Dharamshala is a must visit, learn about Dalai Lama’s flee from Tibet, it’s very intriguing! #freetibet
  • Amritsar is just 45 minutes away from Lahore, Pakistan. If you intended to visit Amritsar, might as well as apply for Pakistani visa and visit Lahore. We regret we didn’t plan it well and have visa beforehand, otherwise it would be another amazing experience. You’re welcome.
  • And since you’re in Amritsar, you would want to visit the Golden Temple, it’s the pilgrimage place for Sikhsm. To be honest, I didn’t even know about Sikhsm at all until I came to visit and it was very interesting. They are welcoming people to understand their religion, you can see how people travel so far to visit he holy tree and to bathe in the holy water.IMG_7703

Like always, I hope my travel post can inspire you to… GO. :)

I know traveling is not always fun, sometimes we suffer during our trip, but everything is part of the experiences, part of learning, part of growing up to be a better and wiser person.

Cheers,

May, coming back stronger.

The beautiful doors of Bodrum

Strolling in a beautiful seaside town of Bodrum, I couldn’t help but adoring the beautiful doors of Bodrum. Yes, aside of its beautiful landscape of hilly town, view of amazing Aegean sea, white houses and colorful flowers, Bodrum has beautiful doors. This town is like the more creative and less pretentious cousin of Santorini; it is in fact only apart by Aegean sea to Santorini. You may sail there and combine Turkey trip with Greece trip! :)

There is nothing specific to do in Bodrum for me rather than chilling and relaxing. In the summer, people probably flock the town, but since it was Autumn when I visited, with not so many beach activity available, the town was sleepy and calm. I was really surprised by how empty Bodrum was, and it was not even cold! Seriously, I personally think it was the best time to visit!

Although I personally enjoy Bodrum, I realized that Bodrum is much more expensive comparing to other Turkish cities. This is probably because Bodrum caters for European market and is a perfect summer holiday. Just like Bali is waaay more expensive than the other Indonesian cities now and some places even have USD in the price-list.

Apart from that, it’s totally a perfect place for holiday, to just chill and drink wine by the sea. Bodrum city centre is full of so many restaurants and bars, but we found a gem, which is a burger house called mEAT. The price is not expensive and the burger is honestly one of the best burgers we’ve ever had! Pay a visit if you’re there and say hi to the cats and dogs! :D

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Bodrum also will always be a place I remember because it was where I first learned how to drive a car! Yaiy! I felt bad because Bandi has always been the one who drive during our road trips, and we LOVE road trip. Seriously, we REALLY LOVE road trip; the only thing we love more is cheap flight tickets. :D

And since we’re planning for our epic road trip, I’m starting to learn how to drive a car, so I could help Bandi. :)

I took some pictures of the beautiful doors of Bodrum hoping it could inspire you to visit this lovely town, because it is indeed worth detouring.

Bonus: Side trip to Ephesus

If you’re into archeological site, this place is A MUST! Ephesus is a huge ancient city in Turkey, the only place that can top this is probably Rome. You may visit Ephesus from Bodrum, which is 2 and half hour drive, or from Izmir, which is 1 hour drive, if you rent a car. If you don’t have your own car, you may follow day tour from either cities.

To sum up the series of Turkey posts, I would like to highlight how underrated Turkey is. Turkey is usually overshadowed by the other European countries, but I personally feel Turkey offers so much more! Turkey is much cheaper comparing to the other European countries, and for Indonesian (and assuming other countries too), you don’t need to apply visa to visit, e-visa is done within 5 minutes! People are friendly in Turkey, food is delicious (especially their breakfast, oh god), and their stray dogs are fluffy and friendly! :D

So? GO!

Cheers,

Mei, plotting the next trip.

The magical Cappadocia

When my Egypt trip was cancelled and Qatar was no longer flying there, Bandi and I looked for alternative only to find much more expensive tickets to Cairo, so we ended up googling other destinations, cheaper ones. We found Cappadocia as very attractive from the photos, but we were a bit skeptic coz sometimes people enhance the photos so extremely it became unreal. However, we decided to book tickets to Istanbul kinda last minute (because of the cancelled trip). Our main destination was Cappadocia, we even thought to skip Istanbul so we spend much more time in Cappadocia, thank god we didn’t do that.

Cappadocia is small! 4 days 3 nights is a perfect length for Cappadocia, seriously. We did everything we could do! We went on hot air balloon ride (the one that everyone said is a must), we did horseback riding for 2.5 hours chasing for sunset, we went for hiking and we even slept in 2 different towns, Goreme and Ortahisar.

I wouldn’t repeat talking about Cappadocia in this blog post because I created a vlog for it in my youtube channel. If you’re interested to visit Cappadocia, it’s very essential and informative to watch!

Even if you’re not, please subscribe to Bay Travels! I will try my best to create more videos on my travel. Sometimes I’m just sooo lazy, but I’ll try to be better. :)

Cheers,

May, missing the magic already.

Drinking çay in Istanbul

There is no word that can describe the feeling when I first drank my Çay (Traditional Turkish Tea), the taste, the way I held it with my fingertips on the rim of the tulip-shaped glass, and the amazing ambience of Istanbul. I didn’t stop drinking ever since; every hour if possible. I have to be honest, food (and drink) usually plays important role on how Bandi and I end up loving the place we travelled to or not; and Turkey scored well on that department. We were really looking forward to every meal.

We started everyday with scrumptious Turkey breakfast; which just like their tea, is a big deal for them. From this experience, I learned the best way to eat my toast: with butter, cream and honey. Mind blowing. Although most of the recommended dishes in Turkey are meat heavy, there were some pleasant surprise of vegetarian options. I turned into a vegetarian most of the days because I simply couldn’t eat meat everyday. I love love love their Lentil Soup, pairing with Turkish famous bread makes it perfect.

Before I continue rambling about food, let’s talk about the city itself.

I rarely fall in love with cities. Cities are not my most favourite place to travel to and only few cities left mark in my memories; London, Tokyo, Rome. So I was surprised when I grew fond of Istanbul organically. Istanbul is visually beautiful, no doubts, but it also has something unique that enticed me. Maybe it’s the culture, the people or the food, I didn’t really know when exactly I fell in love with it.

I knew it was love because there’s something I hate about it, yet I still love it. Turks smoke like they drink their çay, non-stop; and I hate coming home with my hair smelling disgusting.

Bandi and I visited the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, or famously known as the Blue Mosque. I had goosebumps all over me when I entered, it was the same feeling when I first entered Pantheon in Rome, the unforgettable feeling, the wow-this-is-out-of-this-world feeling. It was BEAUTIFUL. Please take note that you have to dress modestly if you plan to go in, you also need to take off your shoes. There is no entrance fee as this is a functioning mosque.

The exterior of Sultan Ahmet Mosque

The beautiful interior

 

Our second stop was Hagia Sophia, which has a very long history. It was a church during Byzantine period. Hagia Sophia has more interesting stories than the building itself. We stopped for a while before we entered, sat on the park bench, just to read the long history of Hagia Sophia, it’s really interesting how this building has witnessed so many revolutions happened. Google for the story, it could be 20 pages long! The main wodden door in Hagia Sophia has been standing since 6th century!

Super old door!

Bandi and I, in the park between Hagia Sophia and Sultan Ahmet Mosque

The third must-visit place in Istanbul is Topkapi Palace. This place is huuuge! Slot some time to really walk around and explore the place. Bandi and I really enjoyed this place, especially the kitchen museum, imagining how it feels to be the chief cook in that era, leading a team to cook for the whole palace (roughly 4,000 people), it was massive in that era. The museum has a lot of information written all over it, so we could really learn about the palace.

Sadly the 40 Lira entrance fee doesn’t include the Harem (the place where the Sultan spent his private life with his family). You need to pay additional 25 Lira to get to know the Harem.

If you’re a Moslem, or interested in one, there is some seriously important artefact stored in Topkapi Palace, such as footprint of Prophet Muhammad, Moses’ staff, and other impressive collections! You may googling more about the list and its authenticity, but it is definitely a must visit!

Our favorite place in Topkapi Palace is the balcony where you can see the sea. It was such a beautiful day in Istanbul, and seriously how can you not love this city?

My only regret is not to spend longer time in Istanbul. I was so mesmerized by the seabirds that followed us all the way when we boarded ferry from the European Istanbul to the Asian Istanbul. There were thousand of them, hovering above the ferry, while cruising from one continent to another. Everything about Istanbul is visually beautiful.

And the vibe in Galatasaray bridge in the evening, full of people fishing, chatting, hassling… A dad teaching his daughter how to fish, a group of friend hanging out while eating fish sandwich, a couple having fun under the bridge, where the restaurants are, and their pink sunset… This city is really special, their sunset is pink color! I love Istanbul, I really do. I will definitely come back because I’ve left a piece of my heart there. :)

Cheers,

May, with a hair as pink as Istanbul’s Sunset.