20 Nov
2016

Backpacking in Burma: Yangon

Backpacking in Burma: Yangon

Really enjoyed my time in Myanmar (Burma) which is an extremely interesting country. Ravaged by decades of dictatorship and war, the country is finally opening up to the outside world. The richest nation in Asia in the 1960s, Myanmar is now among the region’s poorest. With its immense natural resources, sizable population of 64 million and access to key trade routes, Myanmar has all of the ingredients for a tremendous turnaround story.

Traveling in Myanmar was intense as there is no ATMs (cash only), no credit cards accepted, and little to no internet access. There was also a tough process of obtaining a visa at the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok. You have to go in the morning and wait on a long line to place your application. They then tell you to come back in a few days to physically claim your visa. This process will all hopefully change in the next few years with the US recently releasing its harsh economic sanctions it had placed on Myanmar.

Yangon

My trip started in Yangon, the former capital of Myanamar. Although the military government has officially relocated the capital to Naypyidaw since March 2006, Yangon, with a population of over five million, continues to be the country’s largest city and the most important commercial center.

Although Yangon’s infrastructure is undeveloped compared to those of other major cities in Southeast Asia, it has the largest number of colonial buildings in the region today (Wiki).

The country has built a brand new, beautiful airport in Yangon. It was probably the cleanest and most modern building in the country.

My two days in Yangon were spent hanging around the city, talking and touring with locals. I took a ton of pictures (as you can see above) because the country’s sites were like nothing I have ever seen before.

Shwedagon Pagoda 

The Shwedagon Pagoda or Paya is the single most important religious site in all of Myanmar. The pagoda stands on the top of Singuttara Hill, and, according to legend, that spot has been sacred since the beginning of time, just before our present world was created. At that time, five lotus buds popped up on the hill, each bud signifying the five Buddhas who would appear in the world and guide it to Nirvana. Gautama, the Buddha as we know him, is the fourth of these five (Maitreya, the fifth, will announce the end of the world with his appearance) and, according to the legend, two brothers brought eight hairs of the Buddha to be enshrined in this sacred location, inaugurating the Shwedagon Pagoda.

Whatever the truth of the legend, verifiable history records a pagoda at the site since the 6th Century AD. Built and rebuilt, guilded and reguilded, almost nothing in the pagoda is likely to be old, except whatever is hidden deep inside the stupa. An earthquake (18th century) destroyed the upper half of the pagoda spire and many buildings. Burmese Buddhists are inherently practical people who constantly build and rebuild pagodas for merit (Wiki).

Conclusions of Burma

It was an amazing experience, visiting a country that is about to go through significant changes within the next few years. Despite the difficulties of having to use bills that are 100% crisp without any creases, or the passport issues, it was worth it. This is a great time to visit Mynamar as it will never be this raw and untouched.

What was your Burma experience like? Are you traveling to Burma soon? Leave a question and we’ll gladly help!

0 comments blevine32
6 Nov
2015

La, Paz Bolivia – spending $25 per day in this Andes covered city is cake!

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If you are looking for a destination that is full of diverse attractions and activities, Bolivia is a perfect choice for your next adventure.

In Bolivia, you can easily spend less than $25 USD per day, eat extremely well and enjoy landscapes that photographs can’t do justice. The Bolivian destination cities that we suggest are: La Paz (a major city nestled in the snowcapped Andes Mountains), Copacabana (set on Lake Titicaca, the World’s highest accessible lake), Potosi (home of the most famous mine in the world), Sucre (Bolivia’s white-washed historical capital), and Uyuni (one of the BEST sites in the World, previously being a dinosaur stomping ground and now offering the unlike-anything-you’ll-ever-see Salt Flats).

Today, we’re discussing “A day in La Paz” – a place where $25 USD goes a long, long way. If you have the opportunity – especially if you are already traveling in South America – get to La Paz!!

We arrived in the “other Bolivian capital” on a bus from Copacabana, Bolivia. On the ride in, the scenery was fantastic. We passed between snowcapped mountains, lakes, and never-ending green pastures. The road into the city has been recently reconstructed, and if it wasn’t already there you would feel like you were the first person to catch a glimpse this land. It really is that bare in terms of development.

If we were to pick a way to spend a single day in La Paz, I would advise the following:

Start your day by catching the free walking tour with Red Cap Tours. The tour begins outside the San Pedro Prison, a prison where inmates (along with their wives and children!) infamously rent “cells” equivalent to hotel suites. From there, Red Cap walks you all over the city providing great bits of information that you won’t find in your Lonely Planet book. The tour incorporates the always interesting “Witch’s Market” and ends by taking an elevator up to observation tower of La Paz’s five-star hotel. This incredible view of the snowcapped Andes looming over the World’s Highest National Capital is all yours, free. The guides are great and gladly accept tips. The tour lasts around two to three hours.

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After the tour (you can bail out at any time), we highly recommend grabbing lunch at the number one ranked restaurant in La Paz, the vegetarian and vegan-friendly Namas Te. Healthy food and great fruit juices make this place a staple for locals and travelers alike. A delicious and hearty meal will set you back about $5 USD.

If you have time for another great activity, take a local “colectivo”, a big white shared passenger van, to the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) on the outskirts of the city. Nature-lovers and photographers will especially appreciate this daytrip. It is rumored that the Moon Valley got its name when Neil Armstrong visited and stated that the unearthly landscapes here looked just like those he’d seen on the moon. Admission into the park costs less than $3 USD and, with set prices clearly marked on the colectivo shared taxis, transportation costs less than $1 USD each way.

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To end your night, choose one of many typical Bolivian restaurants offering a “menu del dia”, which will set you back $2-4 USD. Most serve a great homemade soup (usually chicken, quinoa, or vegetable), and a main course of fish, meat, or chicken. If you have any energy left, the shopping stalls near the Plaza de Armas are incredible for a budget traveler. You will literally find anything and everything at extra cheap prices.

La Paz has so much more to offer. More markets, more nature, and more good food than you can possibly discover in just a couple of days. Follow this guide for a first day scraping the surface of this affordable metropolis. We had a ball walking around the city, exploring the markets, and just gazing up at the Andes. The snowcaps never get old!

0 comments blevine32

I was first introduced to Paramahansa Yoganada in 2010 by a friend.

He loaned me the Essence of Self Realization which I eventually read and enjoyed.

When Steve Jobs died, I read in Walter Issacon’s autobiography of Steve, that Jobs had re-read one book every year; Autobiography of a Yogi. Being inspired by Jobs’s life and being, Autobiography of a Yogi, made its way on to my list of books to read.

This year I had the opportunity to read Autobiograpgy of a Yogi while traveling in Panama. I loved the book and look forward to seeing this movie.

Yogananda’s life was special. He too led a Jesus-Christ like life….a life of love and trust. I think that anyone who is inspired by faith, love, happiness, and peace would potentially like the story as well.

3 Dec
2014

Reaching the 2nd half of life – Dying before you die

I’m not always one to share my opinion…because I feel I don’t really know anything. I do spend a lot of time thinking about this life.

Why not?

Today we were talking about the concept of being at peace and “dying before you die.”

I tend to think a lot about practicing death. If I were to die today, have I lived my life to the fullest? Did I touch people?

Gandhi said it so well when he said,

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.

How many times have you heard this beautiful quote? It has withstood the test of time and it will continue to be a great thought process for all of us.

I enjoy switching the first word of both sentences with the word LOVE.

Love as if you were to die tomorrow. Love as if you were to live forever.

Love everyday unconditionally because you have one opportunity in this life, this moment. We may be gone tomorrow.

Richard Rohr’s quote, ‘God I give myself to you one more time. You are not taking away my life. I am giving mine to you,’ in my opinion  is simply amazing. This is Trust 101. Because once we reach this point of peace, this point of eternal love, Rohr is right, we are trusting in a bigger path and we’re trusting that we do not ultimately control this life. It speaks to being at peace with the moment, being at peace with your enemies, and being at peace with yourself because at the end of the day, why were you born? Why do we die? Who is in control of those two events? I trust that it is something way Bigger than myself.

I love how our friend BC talks about this loving, God-aware thought process as ‘the second half of life.’ The first half is filled with wants and opportunities to feed your ego, trying to be better than your neighbor. Peaceful humans, ‘2nd half of life’ humans, are the ones who have begun to Trust and live for the minute, live for each other, and live like today is all we got.

I’m not sure I will ever fully see my 2nd half of life, a day where I fully trust and not worry or want more, but I feel thinking about it is moving me there. I’m grateful for these moments where I can lucidly feel something Bigger controlling my life.

I did some light research on ‘dying before you die’ and the first thing that came up was this awesome quote from Rumi titled Die Before you Die.

O Generous Ones,
Die before you die,
even as I have died before death
and brought this reminder from Beyond.

Become the resurrection of the spirit
so you may experience the resurrection.

This becoming is necessary
for seeing and knowing
the real nature of anything.

Until you become it,
you will not know it completely,
whether it be light or darkness.

If you become Reason,
you will know Reason perfectly

If you become Love,
you will know Love’s flaming wick.

~ Rumi

Die before you die. Trust. Love yourself. Love others.  Bring that positive energy (PE) every damn day. Why not?

Any thoughts?!?

4 comments blevine32
12 Nov
2014

Long Weekend at the Beach: Bocas Del Toro Travel Blog – Panama

Bocas Del Toro Travel: Our Third Stop

Bocas Del Toro is a province of Northern Panama that is made up of lots of small islands located on the Caribbean Sea. This was our third stop in our four month journey. We arrived here after spending time in the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica and Boquete in Northern Panama. While we looked forward to traveling to Bocas for months, we were somewhat disappointed with the destination after spending four days there in February of 2014 (yes, a very small sample size lol). 

After spending a week in Boquete, we were seeking a tropical paradise, but found an over populated, party focused island of Isla Colon. Even though Bocas wasn’t fully what we expected it to be after reading many great reviews, we did find some really great places to visit…spend your entire trip on Bastamientos..!

bocas del toro travel

Bocas Del Toro Travel Terrain:

The terrain of the different areas in ‘the mouth of the bull’ is incredible. You will find mountains, jungle, beaches, and so many different types of environments, on so many tiny islands. 

Bocas Del Toro Travel Favorite Spot: Bastamientos

The best day of the four was spent on the island of Bastamientos. 

Kate and I took a taxi cab boat about fifteen minutes over to Bastamientos, home of red frog beach. 

The fifteen minute or so walk to the beach was a bit mucky that day, but I think we’ll remember the time spent on the beach for a long time. Just a few people, incredible breaks, straw huts, fresh coconut juice…life is good!! 

Bocas Del Toro Travel Recap:

We didn’t get to eat anything crazy or really do anything crazy during the 4 days in Boca Del Toro so no special advice. We were mainly cooking our own meals, reading, and hanging out. We would walk to Bocas Town at night to watch all the action and people partying. 

I feel lucky and blessed to be able to document it here.

After a few nights in Bocas we took a bus down to David and then moved on to Santa Fe, Panama, one of my favorite destinations on the 2014 trip. Excited to document it in the near future! 

Peace,

Brian

0 comments blevine32
31 Oct
2014

The Beginning: San Jose, Costa Rica Travel Recap

San Jose, Costa Rica Travel Recap

Kate and I decided on San Jose, Costa Rica as our jump off point for our 2014 backpacking trip.

We had heard from some friends that Costa Rica was an amazing country and a place ‘we had to see.’

New York to San Jose, Costa Rica Travel

Leaving from New York, San Jose happened to be the cheapest place we could find to fly to in Central America…We were able to find one way flights for under $180 USD a person and scheduled a trip we knew would last a while.

Neither one of us knew much about San Jose – we had heard Costa Rica was awesome, but we really hadn’t heard much about San Jose.

We finally arrived on January 23, 2014. The feelings going through my body were pretty crazy – ‘bye parents, bye family, bye friends see you in a few months – we’re about to explore Central America,’ – those kind of feelings..!

We took a 6am flight…so we arrived pretty early after connecting in Miami. We were off, back on the road.

Tip for Arriving at San Jose, Costa Rica Airport:

If you fly into San Jose and you are backpacking, do not listen to any one who says cabs are the only way to get into the center of city which is about 30 miles away. Walk out the airport exit, walk about a block up the road and you will see a bus sign. There is a bus line that runs to the center of city that costs a dollar or two.

Our San Jose, Costa Rica Travel Summary

San Jose as a city is a nice place. Nothing you have to run and see tomorrow, but a nice place. Kate and I explored the downtown area which we had heard was a bit sketchy. It seemed fine. We ended up spending two days there and felt like we had more than enough time to see the city.

We enjoyed a memorable meal at a cafe one night, but not too many more memories from San Jose.

I’d suggest just using San Jose, Costa Rica as a travel hub to move around Costa Rica and a hub to start a Central America trip. Check out Nomadic Matt’s post for a thorough San Jose, Costa Rica travel recap if you plan on staying for an extended period of time.

We wanted to get off quickly to the Osa Peninsula (more on this here), an area that a few friends had advised us to get to quickly.

~BL

6 comments blevine32