Friday, January 10, 2014

Mountain view from Ghorepani at sunset - Nepalese Himalayas

This picture was taken around mid October, 2013, from a guesthouse at Ghorepani, along the Annapurna Circuit. This is actually the highest guesthouse that is on the path that reaches up to Poon Hill. This amazing view with this golden color lasted only a couple of minutes during the sunset. The whole scenery there is stunning, as is the old Tibetan/Nepalese village of Ghorepani.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tips and recommendations for traveling to India and not getting sick

In 2013 I travelled three months backpacking around Nepal, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka (former Ceylon) and Vietnam. I always like to absorb the local culture wherever I go, but this time, because I was a bit more concerned about my health, because I was planning to travel alone, stay at the cheapest and shabbiest guesthouses, eat mainly local food at local restaurants or in the streets, and move around visiting shabby old little villages where hygiene habits were bad.

From all, my biggest concern was India, where I was planning to stay at Shirdi, Aurangabad and Varanasi (Benares), because of the negative feedback I had had from friends that always (or too often) get food poisoning when they travel there. This was my second time to the country, but my first time alone and in a wilder way.

I did all I planned to do and experimented all the foods I was curious about, and ate and drank regularly at street-stalls. Here are some tips I followed and that helped me not to get sick a single time:

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Myanmar (Burma) - A rich country living in the Middle Age thanks to it's military government

Myanmar (or Burma, as it's called traditionally) is a beautiful and very rich country, shamefully impoverished by one of the most clumsy and selfish military dictatorships in the world today. Unfortunately, being a Buddhist country, the people are too nice and peaceful for an uprising revolution that would have happened a long time ago in many other parts of the world. But that's also part of the beauty of Burma: it's human asset - kind people who prefer to live in peace and place their faith on their buddhist beliefs, while working hard to survive and paying worship at the temples and shrines.

The shameless military government has been in power for too long already (more than fifty years), and is the longest military despotic government in power in the world today. For many years there was a tourism ban imposed on the country in order not to help finance the government, but that ban was lifted 2 or 3 years ago, and now it's booming with tourists. And it is a wonderful place to visit, indeed!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Inle Lake and the floating village Monastery - Myanmar (Burma)

Inle Lake is usually part of the must-see tour in Myanmar. To travel there from Yangon (the capital of Burma) you can take a plane at the airport, and then hire a driver to take you to the lake, where you can spend a couple of nights at any village. Taking a flight in Myanmar is the simplest procedure in the world. You can usually show up on the spot and buy your ticket right there. The airport is very old-fashioned, but thanks to that it is friendly and totally lacking of the global security paranoia that is unknown and unnecessary there.

Among the best trips in the area is the floating village. You can do a boat tour around the lake and visit some of the many floating villages that are there. Many of these villages are many centuries old, and are floating in the lake. It's interesting to watch how the local community works building homes for the newer families, and visiting the floating factories, shops and houses. Some of these factories how can visit include paper, jewelry, silverware, lacquerware, weaving, food, and many other. The floating plantations are quite amazing as well. At some places the boatman can let you get-off the boat to step on some of the huge floating plantations. But usually only one person may stand on a same small area, so as not to sink. The natural flora that forms the bushes where you step are sometimes just enough for one person to walk on at the same time.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Dubai - The ugliest city I've visited

I've only been 24 hours in Dubai, so I can't really claim I know much about the city-life. But I went around the city and also met some friends there that also gave me some good tips and showed me around.

Dubai is a very impressive city, because it's undeniable that the architecture of the buildings is astonishing. The city is neat, clean, and has many luxurious buildings, malls, best cars, and very good subways. However, that's all there is about this city. It's all about spending petrodollars to impressive rich-tourists with its trillions of tons of concrete. But I can't say Dubai is a city with a personality of itself. I cannot say it's friendly, because it's totally the opposite. At the most I can say that people are correct, but there is a strong racism towards dark skin and Southeast Asians, and towards the menial workers. These can be even hit by their employers as a common thing. And other types of humiliation are too common.

The sacred Shwedagon Pagoda - Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)

Everyone will agree that the Shwedagon Pagoda is by far the Number 1 place to visit in Yangon city (Rangoon), Myanmar. This huge religious and historical complex requires a two or three hours visit and includes some of Burma's holiest jewels, as well as Buddhist relics. Inside of the dome of the main pagoda (in the center) it is said that there are hairs of the last Buddha (Shakyamuni) and also relics from the previous Buddha. The shrine is considered to be 2500 years old, and is the holiest site in the country.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

If you are visiting Beijing there are several places you have to visit. But the number of options is so great, that you need to have a priority list. This is what I try to offer here after two and a half years living in that city. I will number them by order of importance, the 1st one being the more transcendent must-see in the capital:

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

La Pizza - Considered by all the best pizza in Beijing

Most people agree that the best pizza in Beijing is La Pizza. This is a pizza restaurant that belongs to a guy from Naples, and it is arguably the best "pizza napolitana" in the capital. More than once they've wont the Best Pizza of the Year prize by some local magazines, and most Italian chefs in the city will also agree that it is by far the best pizza.

It is located at a corner, and you will see it is all glass. You wont miss it. There is one in San Li Tun and another one in Solana (LiangMa Qiao).

It is expensive, but that's because it's simply the best in town. It is just half a block away from Yashou market, and right at the corner of the food street where the biggest concentration of dancing clubs is (right between the North Village and the South Village, or Tai Ku Li, as it is now called). Address: 3.3服装大厦1楼, 33 Sanlitun Rd, Chaoyang, Beijing, China

If you want to taste the really best pizza don't go for a standard Margarita. Try go for the real special pizzas. Open the menu and look for those long pizzas (not the round ones). Usually they come with some rucula salad and cost 120 RMB. That's enough for a big hungry man, or for two less hungry people. You will like those!

Traveling to Myanmar (Burma)

Myanmar or Burma (as it was traditionally called) is and amazing country still under one of the basest military dictatorships in the world. However, since some few years ago, the country has opened to the world and is now receiving many tourists. But the prices are increasing very fast, and if you want to visit, you better go now.

In many ways Burma is very unique. I went there with my wife in February 2012, during the Chinese New Year holiday, while we were living in Beijing. So, here I will give you an example of how prices are increasing rocket-high.

We were two persons, and we had two friends that had traveled together the previous year, at the same time of the year (also during the Chinese New Year holiday), and also leaving from Beijing. So, the point of reference couldn't be better.

Our friends were very happy with their trip, so we asked them to share with us their itinerary, the tourist agency that had used, and the contact person. They sent us the pdf with the whole trip plan. It was USD 850 for 9 days traveling around Burma to Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, and Inle Lake, including guides, drivers, 5 star-hotels and most meals. It just didn't include the flights from Beijing and back to Bejing.

We forwarded the pdf the same person at the agency that had prepared the itinerary. We said we were friends and wanted the same trip plan. The agency had to send a new quotation because in that one year prices had increased. And that itinerary jumped from USD 850 per person to USD 2450 per person! In one year only!

If possible, try to avoid travel there during the Chinese New Year because that season is more expensive. This is when the great majority of Chinese can make a long trip. It's usually around end of January or beginning to mid-February.

I had to return three times to emailing the agency to let them know that we didn't have that money, and to put us in the cheapest hotels they could find. I reassured them every time that we were only interested in visiting their culture, and not in the comfort of a cosy hotel. Still I had to ask 2 times more to lower the budget ever more, until I realized it was safer to stop, because I was perceiving they were losing interest and taking too long to reply (because they have too much work at that time of the year).

At the end, the lowest budget we got was USD 1350 per person staying at 3 and 4 start-hotels. The trip was still amazing and unforgettable. But if prices had increased so much from one year to another, I wonder how high they must be next year in 2014.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Uruguay is country of the year. But not everything is so well as may seem.

Recently Uruguay came on focus from everybody because The Economist nominated it "best country of the year". I believe it does deserve the nomination due its historic tradition of being the most stable country in Latin America socially and politically, despite the difficulty of maintaining itself as neutral as possible from its neighbors influence (Argentina is 13 times bigger and Brazil is 43 times bigger). Uruguay has the highest and GDP per capita in Latin America.

However, unfortunately it is far from being the ideal country that many think it is. With all it's beauties, and it's strong and stable democracy, the rule of law is being shaken by the party that today is in government. It's known to the whole world that South America is passing through a period of populist left governments that still live the romanticism of the revolutionary ideas of transforming their countries through violence into what they consider to be the ideal communist or socialist State. And when I talk of violence I don't only mean guns and bombs, but also violence against democratic values and the Constitution. Examples of this are Chávez, Maduro, Evo Morales and the Kirchner family of presidents in Argentina (Néstor and Cristina).