Monday, November 21, 2016

Hua Hin, Thailand

Very shortly after returning from our Myanmar trip, we made a quick stop at home and then headed off for a relaxing few days in Hua Hin.  Hua Hin is a resort on the opposite side of the Gulf of Thailand from where we live in Pattaya, taking approximately 4.5 hours by car to drive along the coast.  It quickly became an escape for the residents of Bangkok after the 1920s when the Thai Royal Family built there summer palaces here.

The 5km beach of Hua Hin is a great place to relax and our resort was very nice.  We stayed at the Centara Grand Beach Resort and the property was very tranquil and relaxing.

When they have horses on the beach you go for a ride!

When we were not soaking up the sun at night we did a little exploring.  Hua Hin has several markets at night which are fun to shop around.  The first is the Cicada Market.  Unlike other markets we have visited in AP Cicada is a source of the arts with many handmade decorative items, paintings and the the best street food atmospheres/eating experiences in Thailand.   The Market has a wonderful ambiance as it is very well planned out with an amphitheater, venue for art exhibitions, and a food zone called Cicada Cuisine. We were able to chose from a variety of Thai and international dished from grilled seafood, satay, BBQ and so much more.

Here is a painting we bought at the Market...

The other Market we visited was called the Night Bazaar.  As opposed to the Cicada Market that is only open on the weekends the Night Bazaar is open daily, known by the locals as the Chat Chi Market.  This one is located in the heart of the town and resembled many other markets you will find in Thailand.  

This was my second trip to Hua Hin, however the first with the family.  This area boast some of the top courses in Thailand and AP.  Thus, I enjoyed some golf in the early morning when the family was eating breakfast.  Looking forward to my next golf trip with some friends at the end of November.

This was a great break for us all as we have done many exploring vacations lately so it was nice to lay in the sun and swim.  Soon enough the winter of Michigan will be welcoming us home...


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)

For a portion of our October vacation we decided to do some exploring to a country which has been under an oppressive military rule up until 2011.  Myanmar (also known as Burma) has recently been experiencing a large pro-democracy movement thanks to Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi who endured decades of house arrest to bring change to the country and greater human rights.  Our decision to visit Yangon, the largest city in the country, was based on all the all the beautiful history despite it's past political unrest.  It is home to many bustling markets, numerous parks and lakes, and various Pagodas which contain Buddhist relics dating back to the 6th century.

Our first day we decided to do some independent exploring while we also spent time researching what to see on the rest of the trip. Since we did not yet have a guide or car, we spent a majority of the day on foot or taxi.  Fortunately our hotel was in an excellent location in the heart of the city.  First stop was the Bogyoke Market.  We spent a some time wandering around this sprawling covered market which is also sometime referred to by its old British name, the Scott Market.  With more than 2000 shops it has a wide selection of Myanmar handicrafts and souvenirs.

Next we walked down the street to the Sule Pagoda, located right in the center of Yangon.  The Pagoda is said to be over 2000 years old and enshrine a hair of the Buddha.

Lastly on the way back to the hotel we walked through Mahabandoola Park/Garden.  This park is in the center of the downtown area and has views of the surrounding heritage buildings including City Hall and the High Court.  In the middle of the park is the Independence Monument standing at 165 ft tall.

For our second day and the remainder of our trip we found an incredible guide to show us around the city.  Our fist stop was the Swe Taw Myat Pagoda, otherwise known as the Tooth Relic Pagoda.  This Pagoda was constructed to enshrine a sacred Buddha Tooth Relic believed to be one of the teeth of the Gautama Buddha who died some 2,500 years ago.

Our next stop was the Kalaywa Tawya Monastery.  This was a great experience for all of us.  We got to see a "behind the scences" look at how monks live their very simple lives.A highlight for us was also see the morning mealtime ritual, hundreds of monks lined up in their dark red robes.  

We then moved on to the Kabar Aye Pagoda (World Peace Pagoda).  Unlike other much older pagodas, this was built in 1952.  As the name implies it is dedicated to realization of global peace.  

Just North of the World Peace Pagoda is Mahapasanna Cave.  This is a man made cave where monks recite and verify the words of the Buddha teachings.

We then moved on to Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda (Reclining Buddha Pagoda).  This Pagoda is known for its enormous 213 foot reclining Buddha.  Buddhist people pay their respect by burning incense sticks and offering flowers.

After taking a break for lunch we next stopped at Shwedagon however it then began to rain hard so we decided to depart and return the next day.  Due to the rain we decided to make our last stop indoors and visit Botataung Pagoda.  This Pagoda is over 2500 years old and houses what is believed to be a sacred hair of Buddha.   

Having completed two days in Myanmar, we continued to look forward to our future plans given what we had already seen.  We decided to start our day on the Circular Train.  For just one dollar we got to experience first hand the local life of the city.  The train forms a loop around the city and you get to see how the city transforms into paddy fields and rustic villages.  We departed the train about half way on the loop to experience a local food market.  

Next we took a taxi back to Shwedagon Pagoda, this time it was not raining.   The Pagoda sits atop a hill and can be seen from most places in the city.  At night the Pagoda is even more apparent in the city as the golden top is illuminated.  The Pagoda is 2,600 years old making it the oldest in the world.  It is often referred to as the crown of Burma, perhaps because the stupa contains over 7000 gems.  Being the most revered shrine it is customary for many Buddhist followers to make the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime.  During our visit we sought good fortune by blessing the statues representing the day of the week we were born and also affixed gold leafs to the Buddha statue.   

We briefly stopped at the Gem Store VES where we bought Natalie an early birthday present, a Burmese Ruby ring.  From there we went to see Kandawgyi Lake, also know as Royal Lake.  

Before heading back to the hotel to wrap up the day we stopped at a Lacquer shop to get some items to remember our travels.

On our final day our touring we may have saved the best for last.  Our guide arranged for us to do a bike tour of Seik Kyi Khan Naung Toe Island.  We loved every minute of this!  Everything from the adventure of arriving on the island to riding our bikes in the countryside and receiving such a warm welcome from the locals.  What a great experience it was.

In conclusion we had such a wonderful trip.  We are very optimistic what the future holds for this country as they are rich in history and the people are so kind.