Category Archives: Travel Tips

Bagan: Top Spots for Photography

French architect Pierre Pichard inventoried all 2,834 temples, pagodas and stupas in Bagan, describing the scene as “a balance between uniformity and diversity.” Upon arrival, the thousands of structures all look pretty similar with variations on a few themes, but each one really has its own personality, which morphs with the changing light throughout the day. Our travel group of four was all very into photography and after spending the first 2 days in Bagan seeing all of the main sights, we decided to spend day 3 on the search for the perfect photo spots.

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Since online resources on best photo spots were scarce, we had to do our own research. We’d first search google images for photos of Bagan that we wanted to re-create (most of which indicated what pagodas were shown in the photo but not what pagoda the photo was taken from). Armed with these images, a couple rudimentary maps and our own photos from the past couple days, we were able to figure out where almost all of the best Bagan photos were taken from! Also, though our balloon ride was rained out that day, we were gifted with the luck of getting the best taxi driver who seemed to know every pagoda worth visiting, even the really obscure ones that nobody else knew about, and we ended up having the most magical day exploring these hidden gems. Because we had such a difficult time knowing where to go, and even the local taxi drivers didn’t always know the pagodas aside from the most famous ones, I am sharing all of my secret (and not so secret) spots right here.

 

Buledi – Best Sunrise Spot

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There are actually only a handful of pagodas that you can climb up (safely). The ideal view of Bagan is from about halfway up one of these pagodas. Too low, and you only see a couple pagodas nearby. Too high, and you see a lot of land in between the pagoda spires. Halfway up, you can see the tops of many pagodas clustered together. Zoom in to get as many spires in your shot as possible. I was handicapped by my 24-105mm lens, which didn’t zoom as much as I’d wanted. If I ever go back, it won’t be without a lens that zooms to at least 200mm. I didn’t actually see sunrise from Buledi, but based on this view and the direction of the sun, I think this one is one of the best sunrise spots.

 

Pyathada – Most Spacious Spot for Sunrise or Sunset

IMG_4561Pyathada all to ourselves at sunrise

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Crowds can be an issue for sunrise and sunset viewing, as almost every tourist in town will be climbing up one of the 5 or 6 pagodas that are able to be climbed. Pyathada has a huge, I mean HUGE, terrace that could almost fit all of Bagan’s tourists without feeling crowded. One morning, we had this place entirely to ourselves, so it seems to be more popular for sunset than for sunrise. It’s a little farther from the surrounding pagodas than I’d like for photos, but if you’re claustrophobic or don’t want to be fighting for a spot to view the sunrise/sunset, this is your spot.

 

Ananda – Beautiful, White & Amazing

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Ananda was breathtaking in its vastness and detail. The ornate spires looked different from every angle. It looks so different from the other temples in the area that it should be high on your list to visit.

 

Sulamani – Magical

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For some reason, the magic of Sulamani doesn’t translate in photos, but this was by far my favorite of the well-known temples in Bagan. Something about walking barefoot along the mossy brick grounds next to this towering structure aging gracefully was so powerful. I still can’t quite place why exactly I loved it so much so if you have been here before, I’m curious if you had the same reaction. There must be some magical spirits wandering the ancient corridors or something.

 

Shwegugyi – One of The Best Views

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The views from Shwegugyi were some of the best in all of Bagan. There were so many temples very close by that you felt like you were right in the center of the action. This would be another great spot for either sunrise or sunset, though the standing room is a bit limited so it could get crowded.

 

North Guni – Most Underrated

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I’ve saved the best two for last. These happened to be the final two stops on our visit to Bagan before we headed to the airport. To think we would have missed this if our outstanding taxi driver hadn’t taken us there! This is one of the reasons I’d highly recommend a private taxi to get around (the other being A/C). North Guni was hands down the coolest temple that you could climb up (and I’m pretty sure we climbed all of the climb-able ones), yet it was completely deserted because it’s not on many of the top temple lists. It has many levels and some tight corridors and I really felt like an explorer winding my way through hidden passageways to make it to the top level. Because we visited after some heavy rains, we were rewarded with a view of green farmland that reminded me of Tuscany, with pagodas instead of villas!

 

Khaymingha – Top Secret Spot

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This incredible cluster of stupas was our final stop, and possible the most under-visited site in Bagan. I’ve tried to find out more about it, but there is just not much information out there. The decaying, lopsided sea of stupas could not have been a more charming way to end our tour of Bagan. I haven’t included any maps because google maps does a better job than I ever could. Good luck in your Bagan explorations!

 

Be Kind To Animals: The Moon Restaurant

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Not a top photo spot, but I had to mention this amazing vegetarian restaurant with a sweet name. Everything was delicious and it’s a good place to try Burmese Tea Leaf Salad.

Great Ocean Road, Australia – Quick Guide

An opportunity to tour the Great Ocean Road was the main reason I was so excited to visit Australia for a second time within such a short amount of time (7 months, to be exact). You can do a day-long bus tour from Melbourne all the way to the famous Twelve Apostles and back, but I wanted to take my sweet time and be able to make spontaneous stops along the way since that’s more my travel style, so I rented a car and made it a two-day trip. Here are the highlights of the beautiful Great Ocean Road:

Bell’s Beach, famous surf beach and home of the Rip Curl Pro Surf & Music Festival

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A spontaneous stop to get a closer look at this otherworldly beauty of the Great Ocean Road (one of many reasons to avoid the tour bus)

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The highlight of the Great Ocean Drive, the 12 Apostles. I saw these beauties at sunset…

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…and again the next morning via helicopter!

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We stayed the night in Port Fairy, about another hour’s drive past the 12 Apostles. You could stay closer to Port Campbell near the 12 Apostles if you didn’t want to do so much driving, but I loved waking up in this charming little port town. I even made a local fisherman friend with an Aussie accent so thick he might as well have been speaking Nepalese, but I understood his hand gestures well enough to have him point out a nearby seal sitting in the water staring at me.

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Loch Ard Gorge, named after the clipper ship that ran aground here in 1878, leaving only two survivors stranded on this beach.

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Another highlight of the drive, Teddy’s Lookout:

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Where to eat & drink along the way:

Maid’s Pantry Brunchbar (Anglesea)

Cumberland Milk Bar (Lorne)

Sandy Feet Cafe (Apollo Bay)

 

Best Travel Apps

How on earth did we travel before smartphones existed? I rely on mine for finding my way around, coordinating meet-ups with friends, travel planning on the fly, and of course sharing photos with family and friends while on the road. Here are a few of my favorite apps that make travel more efficient and fun.

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Instagram

Well, what kind of travel blogger would I be without an Instagram account? For me, photography is one of the main purposes of travel (I almost wouldn’t go somewhere if I knew I couldn’t take photos), and I post simultaneously on Instagram and Facebook to reach all my friends and followers. Whenever I travel to a new place, I end up connecting with so many new Instagrammers who are posting and hash tagging photos from the same places, and we end up following each other and becoming InstaBFFs! I’ve even made a couple really good friends through Instagram who became real life friends (y’all know who you are). Also, I use Instagram as a travel resource to look up photos in an area I want to visit to get an idea of what I might want to do and see there. I’ve actually discovered some great restaurants that way. #thankyouhashtags

Google Maps

This one may seem obvious, but did you know Google Maps shows public transportation information for many major cities? Just put in where you want to go, and it will give you details down to the train departure time and platform number. Practically foolproof, but if for some reason you aren’t finding any public transportation information on Google, check for a local transportation app for that city.

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WhatsApp / LINE

I don’t have an international plan on my phone, so I rely on a rented mobile wifi device (which I mentioned in a previous post about the best travel gear here) and texting apps to communicate with people. LINE is the most popular in Asia, and WhatsApp everywhere else. LINE has the best stickers, which is probably not a surprise since it’s so popular in Japan, where everything is just sooo cute. Facebook messenger works, too, but with so many people using the apps, I end up using them frequently, too.

Pasteasy

I have a few ways of transferring data between my phone and computer, depending on the purpose. For the quickest transfers, I use the Pasteasy app, which lets you send text or photos between your phone and computer with just the “copy” and “paste” functions. If I have a photo on my phone that I want to use in my blog, I just hit “copy” on the photo and it automatically appears in my computer’s clipboard so I can drop it easily into a blog post. Or, if I want to text a novel to my friend about my adventures without getting a repetitive stress injury, I can type it up quickly on my computer (I type 102 words per minute, thanks to decades of piano lessons!), hit “copy” on my computer, then “paste” into a WhatsApp chat on my phone, and then my friend can enjoy wordy descriptions of my encounters with interesting people and hugging lots of animals (obviously)!

What are your favorite apps for travel?

Best travel gear

I’ve been asked by several people about my favorite travel gear – comfortable clothes, bags, electronics, etc. I tend to get caught up in wanting to show pretty pictures and don’t stop to think about all the gear I use to get those shots. So, here it is – my list of essential travel gear. This is not a comprehensive list by any means – just a list of things that make traveling more comfortable and enjoyable.

 

1. Eye-Fi SD Card

Everyone always wants to know how I get my photos from my DSLR to my phone and up to Instagram so quickly. Many new cameras have a wifi feature built in that allows you to transfer photos directly from camera to phone, but all of the camera systems I have used have been so clunky that I prefer to use an Eye-Fi SD card. With this card, I can either have all photos I take transfer to my phone automatically, or if I have limited space on my phone, I set it to transfer only selected images. To start the transfer, you just connect to the Eye-fi card like you would connect to any Wifi under your phone settings, then open up the Eye-Fi app on your phone and the photos transfer automatically. This way, I can upload photos to Instagram and facebook that were taken on my nice camera while sitting at a cafe enjoying a flat white.

2. Comfortable shoes

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When I travel, I like to walk everywhere so I can see everything between here and there. Since a typical day can involved 10+ miles of walking (with at minimum a purse and giant camera strapped around my neck), combined with my sensitive back, I need shoes that support my love for walking. I’d probably wear these even if they hadn’t made a big comeback, but I notice I’m in good company wearing Birkenstocks again! These are the only shoes that I can walk in for 10-15 miles without having any foot or back pain.

I chose the vegan version, but you can find many options for the Gizeb Birkenstock Thong here:

 

3. Mobile Wifi

After booking a flight and hotel, the next thing on my mind is how I’m going to stay connected while on the road. When traveling internationally, I’ve found that the best solution for me is to rent (or buy) a mobile wifi hotspot device. Most countries I’ve visited have these available for rent (or purchase) and you can usually pick them up and drop them off at the airport, which makes it very convenient. With my mobile wifi, I can map my way around town (google maps even shows you public transportation options with train info even down to which platform you need to catch the train from), yelp a good restaurant, and of course post photos on Instagram!

Many people choose to get a local SIM card, but the disadvantages of this route are that that not all countries let you do this, the SIM card is tied to just one phone, your phone has to be unlocked, and there is no guarantee that it will work once you are there. The mobile wifi device works with any phone and allows you to connect multiple devices to it, but you will only have wifi (not voice) so you would need a Skype type option to make phone calls. So, when planning your next international trip, just google search “mobile wifi” in that country to find the best rental or purchase options.

 

4. My favorite travel bag/purse

I have taken this Kipling Machida crossbody bag (that I’m wearing in the photo above) on every trip for the past year, and it still surprises me how useful it is with the many pockets and compartments without being overwhelmingly large. I like to pack light for a day of walking around since, as you now know, I like to walk for miles on end and am usually also carting a heavy DSLR. This bag fits my wallet, phone, mobile wifi, water bottle, snacks, hand sanitizer, a couple cosmetics products, note pad, pen, and still has compartments for random things I may collect throughout the day.

 

 

5. A good backpack

I’m still searching for the perfect travel backpack (if you know of one, please let me know!), but this High Sierra backpack has many features I love. I always buy 2 liters of water before getting on the plane, and this is one of the only backpacks that can fit the large liter bottles in the side pockets. In the main compartment, I can fit my 15″ Macbook Pro, a DSLR with 2 lenses, an inflatable airplane pillow, and snacks, leaving 2 other compartments for everything else. It has a small zippered compartment where I keep small headphones and ear plugs, and another pocket for my phone charger. My ancient Jansport backpack was more comfortable and durable, which is why I am still looking for that ideal backpack, but for now this one is pretty good. Plus, it comes in so many fun colors and I get many compliments on my gray floral print backpack.

 

6. DSLR Insert for a Backpack

There are loads of great camera bags and backpacks out there, but I wanted just one backpack that works without carrying a camera, so I decided to get an insert to turn my regular backpack into a camera bag. These inserts come in many sizes, so you can find one that fits best into your bag. This sits in the bottom of the main compartment of my backpack and can hold my DSLR with lens plus one extra lens (and a few smaller accessories). It has a padded top so you can pack other things on top of it.

 

What travel gear makes traveling more convenient for you?