Rio de Janeiro
I won’t lie, I had no idea that San Carlos de Bariloche is the chocolate capital of Argentina and what’s better is that we just so happened to be there during Easter!! It is famous for producing the most purest handcrafted chocolates in the country and I have even personally taste tested copious amounts to make sure this statement is true.
My first stop on my 6 month adventure was Rio de Janeiro and I was nervous. This was my first big solo trip and I had no idea what to expect or what I had gotten myself into.
I got in late to Rio and somehow navigated myself to my hotel via taxi. I looked a hot mess and was wearing long pants and jacket with hiking boots in 40° heat. Of course I got some funny looks from the staff at my hotel and I’m pretty sure I even saw some hide back laughter. However, after travelling for over 24hrs you kind of don’t care anymore.
The next day I looked a tad better and had a walking tour with a local guide. We started with catching a local bus to the top of Santa Teresa. Santa Teresa is set on a hill and has beautiful views overlooking Rio. We got off at the top and wondered the cobblestone streets down. I love Santa Teresa as it has beautiful old mansions and colourful walls with graffiti art. It’s home to many artists and bohemians and has some awesome restaurants and bars to check out too (definitely my kind of place anyway).
As we made our way down we learnt about the history of the tram that was used to get up Santa Teresa, however there was a deadly derailment back in 2011 where a few people died. The driver was deemed a hero as he stayed on the tram to try and stop it but died trying. The community has been in support of getting the tram back which seems to be a slow process. If you wonder around you will most likely see stickers of the tram on cars or buildings in support.
We kept heading down until we got to the top of the Escadaria Selarón. If you get a chance you have to see this famous staircase as it is quite beautiful. The Chilean artist Selarón started tiling this staircase (over 200 steps) and people from around the world would send him tiles from their countries to use so make sure you try and spot some from your own country!
Afterwards we made our way to Santa Marta favela. Favelas are like shanty towns or slums and are not for everyone to visit. The government has been working with favelas to try and clean them up and make them safer. The Santa Marta favela is now drug free and they have been buying paint for the community to paint the outside of their homes to make them more appealing. It was definitely interesting though and they have some amazing views from the top. Just make sure you go with a guide where the funds go back into the community. This favela was also part of the setting for the film clip “They Don’t Care About Us” by Michael Jackson and you will find a statue dedicated to him here as well.
During our walking tour I had hit it off with another solo female traveller and after the tour we ended the day at Copocanaba beach, drinking Caprihanas and eating some local food. As we sat there talking, drinking and watching the sunset all my worries about Rio disappeared and I think that’s when my love affair with the city started.
The next day I had a lazy start to the morning and eventually dragged myself out of the hotel and into 41° heat to make my way down to the Uruguaiana markets to find some cheap carnaval costumes! These markets are crazy and I’m not sure if it was because of Carnaval or if they were usually like this. There are stalls galore and it’s like a little maze. These markets were packed with people, music playing in every direction and you could smell different types of food cooking everywhere. These markets are also very local, I only saw a handful of tourists here and everything was so cheap so check them out! Eventually I found some cheap tattoos, fairy wings and some false eye lashes to wear for the week.
Rio Carnaval is essentially made up of various different bloco’s (street parties) and then of course you have the Sambadrome where the various different samba schools perform and show off their costumes and elaborate floats. Bloco’s are where the most fun is at though and they are free. Just search for the schedule to see which ones appeal to you the most and then rock up. They are held at different locations and times and each has a certain theme. During Carnaval though you will see a lot of people in costumes for a few days so make sure you dress up and join in the festivities!!
As you can imagine I went to a lot of different bloco’s and even just walked out of a restaurant once and found myself in one that just started. Make sure you are sensible though and don’t take any big bags. There are a lot of pickpocketers and I only took a small bag that I kept at my front but when I could I just tucked money in my bra and didn’t take anything else. I never felt unsafe at any of the bloco’s I went to apart from when I was in Lapa where there were a few dodgy alleyways and seedy looking places. Plus I had read pickpocketers were like magicians in Lapa!
Ladies (and gents) I feel like this would not be a true post if I didn’t mention the fact that the men here during Carnaval are hawt! Expect to see lots of shirtless men with muscles (possibly in tutus or dresses but still)! They are a tad too friendly and will often stop you for a cheeky kiss or just to chat but don’t take offence as they are respectful if you say no.
Of course my trip to Rio wouldn’t be complete without a tourist trip up to Sugar Loaf mountain and Christ the Redeemer statue.
Overall though my time in Rio was absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to go back!!! Sadly it’s time to move on for the next part of my adventure.
I have been dreaming of going to Carnaval in Rio since I was a teenager and finally this year that dream had come true! It has been so surreal to think that after seeing pictures of Carnaval for so long that I was finally physically in the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro waiting for the parade to start. Of course we didn’t exactly have the smoothest of starts to the parade.
We took the metro from where we were staying to near the Sambadrome and walked the rest of the way. On the way there the wind started to pick up and then of course torrential rain started so we sought out shelter under some buildings until the rain eased a little bit. Eventually we made our way to the Sambadrome and to our section and waited undercover until the parades started all the while hoping that the rain would stop soon…. of course it didn’t and then the thunder and lightening started and we knew we were in for a really good night!
The first samba school parade still went on regardless of the rain and even the rain couldn’t dampen the spirit of the crowd. The crowds were decked out in ponchos and umbrellas all the while dancing and singing in the rain which was contagious. Even though you were soaking wet and looked miserable your hips couldn’t help but move to the music and before you knew it you were dancing and signing a song you don’t know the words to.
Words or pictures can’t describe the atmosphere in the Sambadrome and the parades and floats were just amazing! If you are in sector 13 you can easily pick up some of the costumes as well as the dancers just leave costumes lying around everywhere in this area after they finish.
Somehow I managed to stay until the last parade which started about 5.30am so I had been awake for over 24hrs by the time I got home but it was well and truly worth it! Walking back to the metro the streets were filled with discarded costumes, music and dancers were out getting food and celebrating. Even though the sun was rising, it seemed like the party kept going outside of the Sambadrome.
After an amazing time in Inle Lake it was time to move on. It was an early start to the Heho airport which was an experience in itself but we made it to Yangon in one piece and onto a bus for our 4hr journey to the village at the base of Mt. Kyaiktiyo.
From here you can either choose to walk up the mountain to the The Golden Rock (from the base to the top it will be about a 3day trek) or you can jump into an open air truck at the base which they pack with locals and foreigners (there is a small price). The 3 day trek was awfully tempting, however we opted for the truck. The seats are uncomfortable and not built for badonkadonks (aka big bums like mine) and some trucks have back rests that act as handles and others don’t. You will also enjoy the journey with someone’s knee digging into your bum, but when you get going, being uncomfortable seems like a good price to pay compared to walking. The hills are quite steep and at moments it feels like the truck will loose steam and just roll backwards but it perseveres. The truck ride takes about 45mins – 1hr to get from the base to the top as it’s only a one way street they do have to stop at designated stops to let other trucks pass that are coming in the opposite direction. The trucks also only seem to run during the day which is understandable as I can imagine it being quite dangerous driving at night. Once you get to the top you will have to pay a foreigner fee and then it’s about a 20min walk to the actual site. Again, as it’s a sacred site, once you reach the two giant lions guarding the entrance you will have to walk the rest of the way barefoot but it’s all tiled and the walk itself isn’t that strenuous.
I tell you what, after the crazy day to get here, plane, bus, truck, feet… it was definitely worth it! I can’t even describe the atmosphere as it’s something you have to experience. There are some spots where only men can enter and then of course men can purchase some gold leaf to place on the rock after walking over the ‘abyss’, again, no girls allowed.
If you do visit, I’d recommend you go for sunset and battle your way through the foreigners to find yourself a nice spot to view the sun setting behind the rock. Of course, you won’t be able to get back down if you go for sunset so make sure you book some accommodation and stay the night (why not?). We stayed at the Golden Rock Hotel and I recommend it to anyone! It was about a 30min walk from the golden rock down steep hill (make sure to bring a torch) but it was definitely not what we were expecting. The staff here were amazing and so friendly and helpful and the rooms were really nice and comfortable. It was probably one of the best hotels we have stayed in since arriving in Myanmar.
If you have got time, definitely try and make your way to the Golden Rock. The view on the way up and at the top is breathtaking and just to experience the whole atmosphere was amazing.
Our time in Kalaw was short but it was time to move on to our next destination: Inle Lake. We spent the afternoon exploring our new home by weaving our way through the bazaar and getting lost in the back streets until we found an Italian restaurant – The Golden Kite. If you have a hankering for Italian food and carbs than this is the place you want to find!
The next day we started early for a full day on the lake. Again, it wasn’t what I was expecting at all but this seems to be the charm that is Myanmar, it will just keep surprising you.
We got into our long boats that looked like they might sink just with my weight and took off. We had 3 boats in total with 4 to each boat and they were all decked out with chairs, blankets, umbrellas and a bottle of water each. If you leave for the lake early in the morning, I’d recommend you take at the very least a jumper with you as we found it very cold and it’s about 45mims until you reach the ‘main hub’. If you are staying on the lake this will obviously be different.
Our first stop was to the markets (of course). This is quite an amazing place to stop at as there are a lot of souviner stalls but as you battle your way through the crowds you will also see it’s a place for the locals as well. Off to the side you can see locals selling freshly caught fish which are still jumping around on the paper and as you keep going you will see fresh fruit and vegetables being sold. It’s also a great photo opportunity with the amount of boats that are tied up around these markets.
The next few stops were to some workshops where you could see the process of making certain items and then purchase the products in their store. These places are mainly set up for tourists but still worth a visit I think as their processes are quite interesting to watch. We visited the lotus leaf weaving, blacksmith, cigar rolling and a silversmith.
After lunch we visited a pagoda and then on to my much anticipated stop – the long neck women or Kayan people.
We weaved our way through little canals and even had floating merchants latch themselves onto our boat to sell their wares and made our way to what I thought was the village of this tribe only to be disappointed. There were 4 long neck ladies here, 2 older women and 2 young girls. 3 were sitting outside on seats where you just took photos of them and there was one older lady inside weaving. They were just on display for tourists to take photos of them. They seemed very happy though but it was definitely not what I was expecting at all. I later found out that there aren’t many left that continue with this practice as the young girls want to go to school and don’t want to wear the gold rings.
We finished the day off by making our way through the floating gardens and watched farmers tend to their crops from their boats. Be sure to pick up some biscuits for the seagulls too. You will have a good laugh as they follow your boat while you feed them.
On our way back in the open lake we even got a chance to see the Intha fishermen who have a distinctive one-legged rowing technique. The fishermen stand holding a long paddle in one hand and wrap one leg around the paddle to row. This frees up their other hand to be able to cast their large conical net in shallow waters. This is quite a draw for Inle Lake and the fishermen love to pose for tourists by doing some acrobatics for the cameras. If you are a lover of photography I would definitely recommend staying on the lake itself so you can see the fishermen early in the morning on calm waters before the tourists start rolling in.
After an amazing day on the lake the next day we decided to treated ourselves to a sleep in and a bit of luxury for the day. We hired a mega tuk tuk to take us to the Hot Springs which was about half an hour away from our hotel. We opted for the easy way but you can hire bicycles and cycle there as it’s only 10km away. However, we didn’t quite anticipate the bumpy road that laid ahead so I’m not sure if it would have been worse on a bicycle or better.
The hot springs are man made and they have the option of a public pool which is one pool and both locals and foreigners can enter but it’s split into female and male sections for 5,000 kyat or they have the private option which has 3 smaller pools of varying temperatures, showers, deck chairs, private bar where only foreigners can enter and you can have both males and females in there for 9,000 kyat. We obviously went for the latter partially because we had a mixed group but mainly because of the luxury the private springs held! After traveling for a couple of weeks these springs were heaven! Cocktails brought to us by the pools, a bit of sunbathing and chilling out with a book was exactly what we needed!
We could stay there forever but alas we had a winery to visit! We jumped back into our mega tuk tuk and headed to the Red Mountain Estate Winery. If you ever find yourself in Inle Lake, I would definitely recommend you immerse yourself in this winery. The food here was delicious and the wine was just as good if not better and at $10 US a bottle how could you not pass up visiting this place? After a few glasses of wine under our belts and a couple of bottles for the road we made our way back to our hotel but not before a pit stop to the local roller skating rink. Yes, you read that right, we stopped at a roller skating rink and a few of us put on some skates and skated around with the local kids. Of course the local kids all thought it was hilarious watching three tourists fall on their bums and grab for the poles while they skated circles around us! But it was a great end to our time in Inle Lake!
Our adventure in Myanmar is almost coming to an end but check out the next post about the Golden Rock
To all of my gorgeous readers out there, I apologise for my slackness in getting my last few posts up about Myanmar. Life just seems to get in the way and before I knew it, my short trip was over and I’m back to reality! Never fear, I will have posts up shortly to whet your appetite for Myanmar.
In the meantime, check out this post by Nikki Scott which I absolutely love!
After a 7hour bumpy bus trip (with 3 people that had stomach bugs) we finally made it to Kalaw. Kalaw is a hill station and is located 1320m above sea level and a nice peaceful place. We arrived in the afternoon and had a bit of a stroll around. This was only a stop over town for our trip to Inle Lake so there wasn’t too much for us to do in the short time we had here. There are a lot of hikes you can do around here including hiking from Kalaw to Inle Lake which is a 2 day trek. You can even opt to visit the Green Hill Elephant Camp which is only a 40min taxi ride away, however I would recommend you book in advance.
As I said we didn’t have long here so it limited our exploring options quite a bit but luckily for us the big Kalaw market was on while we were here. For 5 days every week, people from the hill tribes come down to sell produce. This market is mainly produce with some souvenir stores which are permanently there but I would recommend going about 7am ish to watch them setting up stores and to get in early before it’s crowded by foreigners.
Stay tuned for our adventures on Inle Lake.
It was time to move on from Bagan, starting with a 6am ferry ride to Mandalay. Again, this was not a short journey but 11hours on a smooth sailing ferry sure beats that train ride! With nothing else to do but read, I decided to start on the cheap book I bought – George Orwell, Burmese Days. I have been meaning to read this book for ages and it just seemed fitting to read it while in Myanmar. The reason I bring this up is that I would like to point out that George Orwell seemed to have documented some Burmese twerking! So look at that, it seems twerking has been around for quite some time…
The first thing you will notice about Mandalay is the gold tips of all the pagodas and monasteries as you arrive. We docked and had to jump over a couple of boats to get to shore and battle our way through a mix of merchants and taxi drivers to get to our bus that awaited us to take us to our hotel.
Our first full day in Mandalay we jammed it packed full of the top things to do starting with the Mahamuni Buddha Temple which is located southwest of Mandalay. While here male devotees can opt to place gold leaf on the statue of Buddha for a small price but females are not allowed to do this.
Our next stop was to the Monastery which was a bit of a weird experience. We arrived at 10.30am not sure what to expect and it was an absolute tourist mecca. The monks were all sitting down eating while tourists with their massive cameras took photos of them. I suppose I found it weird mainly because of the amount of tourists there just watching monks eat and the monks just kind of accepted it. I know I wouldn’t like people taking photos of me eating – but while in Myanmar I suppose…
Next it was on to the U-Bein Bridge. Now I would actually recommend coming here for sunrise. We saw it during the day but we (or rather I) was quite determined to come here for sunrise so I got a little group together for the next day. We got into our seatless truck and braced the cold for our 40min truck ride to the bridge. The sunrise itself was quite amazing but coupled with monks walking over the bridge and the locals setting up their shops and starting their day it was quite an unforgettable morning.
We had a few quick stops at some workshops (gold leaf, silk weaving and wood carving) before we stopped for lunch.
After some old fashioned western food and cocktails we were ready to go again! Our next stop was at the Mandalay Palace. Once you have paid your foreigner fee you can enter into the Palace grounds. There is a short drive through the mini city that is within the palace gates before you reach the temples where you can take photos. It’s worth a stop just to walk right around and go up the tower for some nice views of Mandalay. You can even have a bit of a nap on the grass under the shade but we were on a tight schedule so our nap had to wait!
We were off to the Kuthodaw Pagoda which holds the worlds biggest book and it’s not exactly what you are thinking (ie: just some big book on a pedestal). It’s actually written on stone and each page is kept in its own little housing. I would recommend stopping here as it’s quite incredible to see this.
Our second last stop was to the Shwenandaw Monastry which is built entirely of teak. It’s not an active Monastry just a tourist stop and if you have your Mandalay card you can show it here otherwise there is a foreigner fee.
The last stop for the day was to Mandalay Hill to watch the sun set over Mandalay. There is also a beautiful pagoda up here with markets along the stairs. To avoid all of the tourists, I’d recommend heading down the stairs to the next little bit of the pagoda and away from the main one. We got to sit on seats in peace without people pushing us to take photos and we got to take it all in.
I must admit, it seems like we jammed a lot of sight seeing in but it just shows that you can do it.
Stay posted for our time in Kalaw!