The North Korean Border Revisited

Greetings and happy fall to all!

My good friend and co-founder of the The Weekly Wanderer, Phill Feltham, has been revamping some of our best articles from back in the day when we ran the internet. The link below recounts my 2006 adventure into the demilitarized zone – the border dividing the north from the south in Korea. It was tense but I felt fortunate to be there witnessing history in the flesh. Check out the article and have a great weekend everyone!

Dare to Travel the North Korea Border

Bringing Your Cats and Dogs to Korea

Are you thinking of heading to South Korea with your fur ball?

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Regulations change from time to time and also differ country to country so be sure to do your due diligence at least 6 months before you plan to leave. I didn’t check the regulations often enough, missed a new regulation for entrance to South Korea and had to leave my cat behind. Thankfully I had an amazing friend who took her in for 3 years but not everyone is so fortunate. It was one of the hardest good-byes I’ve ever had to say, but now that I’m home and back with my little one, let’s discuss how you can avoid my mistakes.

Dropping Ali off in 2013.

Taking Ali to her temporary home in 2013.

Avoid quarantine (or sending your pet home) by following these guidelines:

New Kittens and Puppies Need:

Cats and dogs less than 3 months old OR originating from rabies-free countries don’t need rabies shots, but they must be microchipped. You must also provide a health certificate from your vet that states the animal’s microchip number. To see if your country is considered rabies-free, click here to see the list.

This Sasquatch is not a kitten.

This Sasquatch is not a kitten.

Cats or Dogs Older Than 90 Days (and Not from a Rabies-Free Country) Need:

1) A microchip implant. Please note that the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency of Korea (QIA) states that microchips must be ISO-compliant (ISO11784 and 11785 standards). For any other chips, owners must bring their own microchip scanner. If your pet is already chipped and you’re not sure of the brand, a quick call to your vet or adoption clinic should get you some answers.

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2) Rabies shots which can be done up to 24 months prior to leaving your country according to QIA but only up to 12 months prior to leaving according to pettravel.com. If you’re not sure when your pet last got shots, call your vet to find out.

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3) Health certificate from your veterinarian. The health certificate must state the results of the rabies-neutralizing antibody test or your pet may need to get the shot again and be held in quarantine while the results are pending – on your dime. It must also have the microchip number on the form and that number must match the scanning results of your animal. If those numbers don’t match, re-chipping may happen and again, on your dime. Some countries have official government health forms (for example in Canada it’s called a CFIA International Health Certificate) so ask your vet.

*If you are transporting 5 or more animals, you’ll need an additional import permit.

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4) Blood Titer Test which takes 30 days for results. This is the newer regulation that snuck up on me when I was about to leave in 2013. You can have the blood titer test done anytime from 30 days to 2 years before leaving your country.

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This information has been collected for you from Pettravel.com and the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency of Korea (QIA). I noticed some discrepancies between the QIA site and Pettravel.com so I suggest to take both into consideration and use your best judgement. Considering the QIA site hasn’t been updated since late 2012 and Pet Travel has been updated in 2016, it seems Pet Travel is more reliable. Don’t forget to check up on these sites every so often to make sure no guidelines have changed. For info on other pets not cats or dogs, visit Pet Travel here for more guidance.

I hope this helps! Happy trails to you and your four-legged friends :)

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Safely back with mom.

Things I’ve Missed: Home and Abroad

What a crazy few months it’s been! I left Korea at the end of February, traveled in the United States for a while (Texas and Luisiana), then finally returned to Canada. After 3 years away, I spent most of April visiting friends and family around Ontario and eating everything I had been craving over the last 3 years. Poutine! Ketchup chips! Maple everything! Then along came May and I was off to Toronto to settle in.

Now that I’m back and getting in the groove, I’ve had time to reflect on some things I’ve missed in Toronto (and Canada overall) and some things I miss from Korea now that I’m back. I tried to think outside of the usual “missed my friends/family” content because it’s predictable and obvious. My top 5, hopefully will not be.

5 Things I’ve Missed In Canada:

1. Peter Mansbridge.

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I guess you could say I’ve missed North American TV in general. Although I don’t watch much TV, I did miss the option of having background noise in a language I understand. I’ve missed the evening news, CP24 (local news), and yes, my dear Peter Mansbridge who hosts the National on CBC. There’s something comforting about Mr. Mansbridge; I can’t say why he’s my favourite news anchor, he just is.

2. The abundance of Indian and Japanese food.

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Overall I really missed the easy access to foods from all cultures in Toronto. The 6ix has everything from Greek food to Jamaican food and I’ve missed every single one of them being in my belly. Delivery was never a skill I mastered in South Korea so I’ve missed that luxury as well. My first choice for other countries’ foods (other than Korean of course ^_^) are Indian and Japanese so you can imagine how much dal, saag, samosa, roti and sushi I’ve shoved down my throat since I got back!

3. Caesars! (The drink – not the salad – don’t waste my time).

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Caesars are quite possibly the best alcoholic drink in the universe and also quite possibly the most Canadian drink you could order (aside from a beer). It’s made with Clamato juice (a more watery tomato juice infused with clams-sound worse than it is), vodka, worcestershire sauce, a dash of salt and pepper, splash of hot sauce, a celery salted rim and topped with crisp celery, a lime and if you’re lucky, a dill pickle too. Enough said. You’re welcome.

4. Bath & Body Works.

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For ladies as much as men, expats tend to miss common products from back home like a favourite toothpaste, skin cream or make up brand. Although there are plenty of nice smelling lotions and body washes available in South Korea, it wasn’t Bath & Body Works and so I missed it horribly. I managed to buy my favourite B&BW perfume on eBay when I ran out, but it’s nice to walk by a shop and know it’s there should you need it.

5. The Village!

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I absolutely love and missed hanging out in the Village, a gay-friendly neighbourhood in Toronto (Church and Wellesley) where most venues cater to the LGBT community. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you Dear Readers but in case you didn’t know, you don’t have to be gay or lesbian or bi or anything to enjoy the Village. It’s a lovely community open to all walks of life so come as you are and enjoy. It’s a place I end up more often than not when I’m out for the night and it’s always a good time. As a woman I feel safe there, surrounded by positivity and good people who just want a good drag show on a Friday night. I mean, who doesn’t? The atmosphere is fun and handsome men are everywhere. It’s a win-win situation for me :)

5 Things I Miss From South Korea:

1. Daiso.

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I’m sure I’ve talked about Daiso in previous articles. I was way too excited when my little town got a Daiso (as was the whole town I’m sure) and this is because it’s the best dollar store in the world (sorry Dollarama!). It’s a high-end dollar store based out of Japan and the items they have are surprisingly high quality (for a dollar store). I’ve become accustomed to it so much that I often feel a pang of longing every time I go into a Dollarama now. Who knew.

2.  Seoul Metro subway system.

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I’ll take the jab-you-in-the-spine-with-their-elbows-if-you-don’t-get-outta-my-way grandmas and the ass-grabbing pervy old men any day! I miss the Seoul metro every time I get on the TTC in Toronto. The Toronto subway system is extremely limited in regards to area covered and although they are working to improve this, it’s decades away from meeting international standards. I’m too ashamed to even show you a picture. Sigh…Ok fine, here it is:

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3. Having an extra 12 hours to remember people’s birthdays.

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Ok I’ll admit, I’m horrible at remembering birthdays and anniversaries. One of the perks of finally subscribing to Facebook is that it tells you that stuff! Being overseas gave me a 12-13 hour head-start on remembering important dates. Many times I have jumped up with a start, remembering someone’s birthday a day later. But, wait! Asah! It’s still yesterday in Canada! Score. I was in the clear for years. Now that I’m back, I’m done for.

4. Being kind of a big deal around town.

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In my little town of Deokso there weren’t many foreigners and even fewer who stuck around for more than a year. I was one of the few who did stay for years so I became well-known at the local markets and restaurants. Between local merchants, my martial arts club, my students (over 700) and their parents, I was ALWAYS seeing people I knew in town. On one hand I felt like I always had to be in teacher mode but on the other hand it was kinda nice. It was comforting to exchange pleasantries around town because it reminded me of Canadian kindness. Especially in a country like Korea where they often remind you over and over that you’re a foreigner, it’s nice to feel accepted in the community.

5. 7-11, CU and all other convenience stores.

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Anytime you need something, these stores are there for you. A toothbrush, some rice for dinner, juice, soju, tissues, they have you covered. The best part is, the prices are reasonable! They never close, they’re everywhere and they don’t gouge the consumer for the “cost of convenience” like they do in North America. It may be a few hundred won (cents) difference than regularly priced, but overall fair. It’s the little things that count! I also miss how these little shops often have plastic tables and chairs outside where you can have your drink and snack with a friend while people-watching. It’s a cheap way to kill time and a fun way to get to know the folks in your town.

To check out my article Thoughts On Leaving, click here to see the difference from last fall to now! I wrote Thoughts On Leaving last October and it’s interesting to see what I would add or take away from the list today. Until next time Dear Readers, be well and stay hydrated!

Voodoo in New Orleans

What do you think of when you hear the word voodoo? Black magic? Zombies? Curses? You wouldn’t be alone in your thinking if those words popped into your head, but you also wouldn’t be entirely correct. Don’t beat yourself up! It’s ok. Hollywood has given voodoo a tainted image over the years but I’m here to shed some light and show you that voodoo is not so dark. I had the chance to visit the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum and as my last instalment of the KIK New Orleans Chronicles I’d like to share my experience with you.

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The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum stands as an archive for the history of voodoo culture in Louisiana. Originally, voodoo practice traveled to Louisiana from West Africa in 1719 with the first African slaves. Voodoo is part of a larger group of practices, collectively called African Traditional Religion. It focuses mainly on spirits; spirits in general, ancestral spirits and God. Their voodoo chiefs, priests and priestesses can access these spirits through ritual, music and often dance. I won’t get too into it, but basically they seek guidance and leave offerings to entice the spirits to act in their favour and help from beyond the grave.

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A painting of a ritual to entice the spirits by dancing with a snake.

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This Historic Voodoo Museum consists of three main rooms; The history hallway, the gris-gris room and the altar room. History hallway leads you into the two main rooms with an array of news articles and press clippings regarding voodoo leaders in the community. Marie Laveau is the most well-known voodoo priestesses in New Orleans so many clippings are about her. Marie Laveau was born in 1801 as a free woman of colour. She had a salon in town and became known as a savvy business woman as well as a skilled healer, especially regarding matters of the heart.

The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau.

The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau.

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History hallway.

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Coin offerings sit around this painted tree stump.

In the gris-gris room you can see the offerings that people have left for Marie and other spirits and saints they have called upon for help. A gris-gris is an amulet or talisman given to the client by the voodoo priest or priestess. It is the object that holds the supernatural power, such as a little pouch, bag, necklace or a small doll. It should be noted that voodoo is rarely used for evil. This is where the entertainment industry leads us astray. The most basic and widely used voodoo practices are for the purpose of: 1) love and romance 2) power and domination 3) fortune and luck. There aren’t many real voodoo priests or priestesses who would agree to doing dirty work for the dark side.

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A voodoo ritual of dancing with a snake.

Offerings left to Mami Waters, called upon for peace, love, protection of the home and of mothers and children.

Offerings left to Mami Waters (Mami Wata), a goddess called upon for protection of the home and of mothers and children.

The altar room is the most impressive of all. Here you can see real altars and more offerings from people asking spirits to lend a hand. You can see some Catholic influence here and many spirits called upon for intervention are actually Catholic saints who have melded into voodoo practice over time.

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The museum is located in the French Quarter and is all indoors. If nothing else, this tour was educational and great food for thought. We were free to walk around the rooms as we pleased and any questions we had were answered without judgement. The two employees I met were incredibly knowledgeable. Both practice and teach voodoo and also host voodoo ritual tours of the Quarter. I really enjoyed my conversation with the staff here and felt welcome even though our purpose of visit was mere curiousity. The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is open 10-6 daily and admission is $7 USD. Depending on how much you want to read, the tour can take up to 45 minutes to absorb.

With that, we leave New Orleans – a city filled with history, resilience, power and strength. I’ll never forget this place.

Mardi Gras World

People talk about Mardi Gras in New Orleans like going to Las Vegas. It’s a once in a lifetime experience, a non-stop party in the streets with music, costumes, masks and beads. For me, I always imagined Mardi Gras to be something like Woodstock 1969 meets Ringling Brothers Circus with a bit of St. Patrick’s Day all rolled into one.

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Although Mardi Gras has kept headquarters in Louisiana since 1875, the tradition of Mardi Gras has roots that go back to medieval Europe (mainly Rome and France). The term, “mardi gras,” is French for Fat Tuesday, a Christian festival-type day of revelry. Fat Tuesday is the last day to feast and indulge for Christians, before beginning the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday.

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Today’s Mardi Gras festivities are a lot different from what they used to be in medieval times but change is good! Nowadays in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is preceded by 12 days of pre-celebration with 12 days of parades which means 12 days of completely different floats! With that many parades on order, you can imagine how busy a float building workshop like Mardi Gras World might be.

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Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World is responsible for the largest float parades in New Orleans. Mardi Gras World designs and builds floats for events in cities across America and it’s still being run by the Kerns three generations later. Blaine Kern himself was a float designer and builder. He built his first parade in 1932 and opened the museum fifteen years later in 1947. Now, almost 70 years later, people can still enjoy the Mardi Gras World museum and see the making of the Mardi Gras floats.

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The first stop on the walking tour is the workshop where the staff build the props and figures that will be mounted on the floats. You can see how they create shapes out of glued layers of styrofoam, some fine trimming and paper mache.

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Once the props and characters are carved and coated, they are relocated to the colour department where the figures really come to life!

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After that we walked out to the main storage area where all the figures, props and complete floats can rest safely. Below are some of the finished figures.

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The finished floats were absolutely stunning with such vivid colours and intricate designs. They were so huge it was impossible to get the entire float into one shot. Below are two of my favourites.

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Hades, the keeper of the underworld.

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Hades float from behind.

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Coraline float from the front.

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Coraline float from behind.

Once our guide was finished his tour, we were free to roam the warehouse and take pictures as we wished. The tour took about an hour to complete and it’s all indoors so write this one down for a rainy day activity. At first glance an attraction like this may seem odd but if you like “how it’s made” shows, I think you’d like the tour. Admission is $19.95 for adults but you can get $2 off in the magazine I mentioned in my article Cities of the Dead Part 1 . Click here to get your free New Orleans official visitors guide book and check the back for tons of coupons for most main attractions and restaurants.

Cities of the Dead Part 2: Lafayette Cemetery

The second of this two-part series takes us to one of the oldest cemeteries in New Orleans. Built in 1833, Lafayette Cemetery doesn’t have the “tour-guide escort only” policy, although the church is working towards changing that. This cemetery held many beautiful monuments to the dead and looked to be less vandalized than St. Louis Cemetery Number 1. (To see pics from last week’s story on St. Louis Number 1, click here.) I suspect Lafayette has been left alone due to the fact that there is no one particularly famous buried there, however pedestrian traffic is still taking its toll on the grounds.

We took the streetcar over and enjoyed the sunny streets with trees and phone poles draped in colourful Mardi Gras beads.

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Upon arrival we had free reign to explore as we wished and so we did. I’ll let the pictures walk you through.

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Right across the street from Lafayette Cemetery is a restaurant called the Commander’s Palace. We were intrigued by the teal and white striped awnings and went over to check it out. We discovered the structure was built in 1880 by Emile Commander for his daughter. No one seems quite sure what the building hosted for its first 3 years but as of 1883 it was officially an upscale creole restaurant. Some say it was always a restaurant, while others say it may have been a brothel during those first murky years.

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However it came to be a place of nourishment, it remains an absolutely stunning place to enjoy fresh seafood and fine dining. A note to travelers, casual clothing is acceptable for lunch but dinner service prohibits jeans and t-shirt attire. Entrance to Lafayette Cemetery is free but if you dine at the Commander’s Palace prepare to drop some dollars.

Next week we’ll visit another slice of New Orleans and this time I promise to take you somewhere with a pulse. Until next time, be well Dear Readers.

Cities of the Dead Part 1: St.Louis Cemetery Number 1

While in New Orleans, my friend and I got wind of a tour company that delves into the dark side of the city, called Haunted History Tours. We signed up for an afternoon tour of St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 and later that night, another tour about French Quarter ghosts and legends. Both tours were awesome and well worth the $25 (USD) but I’m going to tell you about St. Louis Cemetery Number 1. New Orleans is unique when it comes to their dead. New Orleans’ cemeteries have been called the “cities of the dead,” a name given by travelers who said the above-ground tombs in the graveyards look like little cities for the dead from afar.

Our tour guide, Trevor.

Our tour guide, Trevor.

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Their cemeteries are designed with above-ground tombs and mausoleums due to heavy rains and a high water table in the region. If their loved ones were buried six feet under like other cemeteries, remains of the deceased would eventually float to street level in extreme weather. As a solution the people of New Orleans implemented above-ground tomb designs to help keep their loved ones where they were laid to rest.

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St. Luis Cemetery Number 1 is only accessible through a guided tour led by a certified cemetery guide. The reason you can’t go solo to St. Luis is due to past bad behaviour from visitors. Much of the vandalism happened around the assumed burial place of a renowned voodoo priestess. Her name was Marie Laveau and she was the spiritual mother of New Orleans in her time.

The tomb of Marie Laveau.

The tomb of Marie Laveau.

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Somehow a legend got started after her death in 1881 that if one went to her tomb in search of a favour and got it, 3 x’s were to be written on her tomb in thanks. This has led to a growing number of defaced tombs: hers and the others nearby as well. Higher-ups in the church wanted to ban all visitors to St. Luis unless they could prove they had a relative buried inside. The tourist industry folks were against that so as a compromise, only guided tours allowed and guides pay an annual fee to the church that goes towards cemetery clean-up.

A guard makes sure no-one enters without a proper guide.

A guard makes sure no-one enters without a proper guide.

Behold, for we also saw the pre-paid tomb of actor Nicolas Cage. Apparently, he purchased this item while in the midst of filming National Treasure (2004).

Nicolas Cage's tomb.

Nicolas Cage’s tomb.

I highly recommend getting a tour (or 2) with the Haunted History Tour company. It’s run by locals who are deeply passionate and well-versed in the history of their city and state. Both of my guides (Travis for the cemetery and Wendy for the ghosts and legends) were great story tellers and had the whole group engaged. To check out more about Haunted History Tours, click here.

To request a free copy of the New Orleans Official Visitors Guide magazine with coupons for this tour ($3 off) and others inside, click here.

A view of the French Quarter

Last week I was able to check another city off my list of places to see before I die. That city was New Orleans in the state of Louisiana. V.C. Andrews’ Ruby took place in Louisiana and after reading that series in high school, I was hooked. After 20 years of dreaming, I finally set foot in Ruby‘s world. I did several tours which I will tell you about in upcoming articles but for now, I’d just like to show you around the French Quarter; the heart of New Orleans.

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The Quarter is New Orlean’s most popular place to hang out, thanks to the food, music, entertainers and locals. There are sights to see on every corner from live music and buskers on the street to hot sauce-tasting and voodoo dolls in the shops.

A man stands frozen in position on the street, a bucket in front that reads "Tips for Pics."

A man stands frozen in position on the street, a bucket in front reads “Tips for Pics.”

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Throughout the French Quarter you can see different styles of residential architecture. This is because many cultures have left their footprint on the streets of this town and the whole state. Louisiana fell under ownership of the French when the explorer Robert de La Salle claimed the land in 1682. It remained French-owned until 1764 when Louisiana came under Spanish rule. The Spanish had control for only 36 years, when it was sold back to the French in the year 1800. Three years later Napoleon sold Louisiana to the USA and so it has remained since 1803.  Today visitors can enjoy the mix of French, Spanish and Creole designs which makes for one breathtaking city.

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Jackson Square is a famous park in the French Quarter. Built in 1721, it sits right in front of the beautiful Saint Louis Cathedral. The Square actually became a National Historic Landmark in 1960, for being the location where Louisiana was made a part of the USA in 1803.

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Old-fashioned streetcars run through the French Quarter (and beyond) for a nice scenic tour of the town. One-way fare is $1.25 (USD) and an all-day pass goes for $3(USD).

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Night life is hopping in the Quarter as well! With or without Mardi Gras, the streets come alive in a whole new way once the sun goes down. Buskers pack up and go home while bars pump live music and sell drinks for here or to-go. It’s very common to see patrons grab their drinks in a big plastic cup and take it out to the streets. The downside to this culture is that the streets get a bit rowdy as the night goes on so for my friend Bal and I, we bailed on the night life pretty early.

Live blues at the Funky Pirate.

Live blues at the Funky Pirate.

Yours truly with a funky pirate.

Yours truly with a funky pirate.

Enjoying a "hurricane," the famous drink in the French Quarter.

Enjoying a “hurricane,” the famous drink in the French Quarter.

This is just a glimpse of the various things going on in the French Quarter. Whether it’s art, fashion, antiques or people, I promise you’ll never run out of things to see in this part of town.

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The Land of 2,000 Temples

The central city of Bagan, Burma (formerly Myanmar), about an hour southwest of Mandalay by plane, is known as the land of 2,000 temples. The locals however argue there are closer to 4,000 and even if you lived there it would be hard to visit every single one. People travel to Bagan to watch a sunrise or sunset from the tops of the many ancient pagodas. Many temples and pagodas have steps you can climb, although the Burmese government recently banned tourists from doing this as of March 1st, 2016 (read more on the ban here). Luckily I got there in January and managed to catch a sunrise from one of the smaller, lesser-known pagodas.

Waiting for the sun.

Waiting for the sun.

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To get around to the many temples and pagodas most travellers rent a regular bike, an e-bike (a bicycle with an electric motor) or a moped (like a slower, battery operated motorcycle with no license required). Mopeds were the most preferred since the side roads needed to get to said temples and pagodas are often sandy and uneven which makes adventuring with a bicycle difficult. Moped daily rentals cost between 5,000-8,000 kyats (approx. $5.50-$8.80 CAD) depending on the size of the bike. Most rental places expect the bikes back by 8pm or whenever it gets dark out so it’s a fair deal for a whole day of exploring.

My first moped rental. A little scary but I did it!

My first moped rental. A little scary!

What often happens when heading out to find the big famous temples is you get side-tracked by some random and often unmarked pagoda or temple that looks interesting. So off you go down a sandy path towards the temple that caught your eye and the next thing you know it’s been an hour, you’ve found nothing on the map but you’ve explored about a mile of ancient roads. This is why they say you need at least 3 days to look around. You need time to wander. Below are some pictures of the ancient unnamed pagodas I stumbled upon.

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Eventually I did find my way to some of the more well-known temples but with great fame comes a great many patrons and tourists. Here are some shots of the bigger temples. The huge white temple below is called Ananda Temple.

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Htilominlo Temple was one of my favourites because of the markets at the entrance to the temple. It was busy and pretty much a tourist trap but I enjoyed the bustling atmosphere amongst the devout.

The walkway to Htilominlo.

The walkway to Htilominlo.

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Htilominlo seen from the top of a neighboring pagoda.

Htilominlo seen from the top of a neighboring pagoda.

Thatbyinnyu Temple was another I liked, partly because I found it by accident. Many of these temples are the same inside with big buddha statues, cool stucco walls and old cement floors. Often times the architecture from the outside is the best part and the insides are more plain.

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For those who don’t want to bike around to the temples and would rather the safety of a car, it is possible to rent a driver and a car for a day. The cost is around $60 USD so share the fare with 3 people and it’s not so bad. Keep in mind that the drivers rarely own their own cars. Drivers usually get $2-$4 USD for an 8 hour day while the car owner keeps the remaining money. If you do rent a driver be sure to tip them well!

I will leave you with some sunset pictures to end our journey through Bagan. No matter how limited your time in Burma may be, I highly recommend you include Bagan in your itinerary. Until next time Dear Readers, be well.

Sunset from a temple-top.

Sunset from a temple-top.

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A Tour of Mandalay

The next part of my journey led me from the southern city of Yangon, Burma (Myanmar) to the northern city of Mandalay. My hotel offered city tours through their connections so I signed up for one heading out the next morning. I had a great time as our group was small and our guide was passionate. I traveled with 2 other ladies, one from Shanghai and one from Hong Kong. Our first stop was a teak woodworking shop to see the craftsmen at work and obviously, to shop.

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After the teak shop we went to the Maha Gana Yon Kyaung monastery that is still active, housing over 1,000 monks of all ages. We were told that often times joining a monastery is the best chance at a good education since most kids come from low-income families and education is free while studying there. We caught a glimpse of young monks waiting to enter their eating hall for lunch. They traditionally bring their pots outside into the street in the morning to get offerings from the locals who gladly oblige. At this time, some tourists put snacks on the lids of the passing monks’ pots but they went into the eating hall where food was already cooked and waiting.

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Next up was a short boat ride across a lake and onwards to a horse and carriage ride waiting to take us around the town of Ava, also known as Inwa. Ava was an imperial capital city from the 14th-19th century and the remains of decadence are notable. We saw an old teak monastery called Bagaya Kyaung. It’s too old and dilapidated to use as an active monastery so it remains as a historical landmark for tourists. It was too dark inside to get any good shots but here are some from the outside:

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Ava (Inwa) is also home to some beautiful temple ruins. The ones you’ll see below are called Yadana Hsimi pagodas, built in the mid-1800s. There are also “stupas” which look like little mini temples with long pointed tops and no entrance.

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These ruins used to be an actual temple but due to earthquakes, most of the foundation has crumbled.

These ruins used to be an actual temple but due to earthquakes, much of the foundation has crumbled.

Just before the sun got too low, we went to see one more ancient place called the Maha Aungmye Bonzan Monastery. Although this pale yellow monastery was built in the traditional way architecturally, this one is unique because it was built with brick and stucco instead of the traditional wooden pagodas and temples of the times. It was completed in 1822 but earthquakes over time did some damage. It got repaired by each successive imperial family as needed and today it is still used as a place of worship among monks.

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Young female monks pray to the Buddha statues inside.

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Myself, my two tour-mates and our tour guide, Lynn.

Myself, my two tour-mates and our tour guide, Lynn.

To top off our adventure we went to U Bein Bridge in Amarapura to catch the sunset. This is the longest teak bridge in the world, built in the 1850s and legend has it that couples who walk the 1.2 kilometer (3/4 of a mile) bridge together will have good fortune in their relationship. I walked a few feet out but the lack of railings mixed with the volume of people had me turning back mighty fast. I was still able to get a few shots and after that it was back to the hotel.

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Lynn was a wonderful guide who worked hard to teach us about his country’s history. I hadn’t thought much of Mandalay until I took this tour and I’m glad I did. For 24,000 kyat (approx. $26 CAD) We got over 9 hours of adventure plus lunch and good conversation all day. We met lots of locals, many who were eager to have a chat and take our picture.

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Stay tuned next week when I’ll share my most favourite part of Burma – adventures in Bagan!