The Nearly Perfect 10 Day Trip to Myanmar – Leg 2: Bagan

**Sadly, due to recent events, I’m adding this note and suspending the series before completing Part III. In October and November 2016, an increase in violence in the northern regions has led to a number of village burnings and significant loss of life. As a result, I encourage anyone considering a visit to research events and the current status before making any decisions. For the time being, it looks like many of the recent gains made are being eroded.** 
Welcome to Part II of my three part series exploring Myanmar. When we decided to visit Myanmar, we wanted to explore a country we knew very little about. You can read up on all of the misconceptions we had before going in this post. Just joining? Jump back to Part I here.

Life in Old Bagan - Myanmar

Myanmar (formerly Burma), is a wonderful country that recently started to open up again to travel. To recap my previous post, it’s; 1) safe 2) easy to get around 3 ) easy to access 4) still very affordable and, 5) already has a comfortable tourist infrastructure. For some familiar with the earthquake in August 2016, the majority of the damage was to repairs that had been made during a controversial series of repairs 10-20 years ago. In essence, it wiped the slate clean. Everything I’ve seen and read says that most of the temples and pagodas impacted are being repaired rapidly and will re-open soon, if they have not already done so.

Bagan - Myanmar

It’s also worth noting that the famous balloons over Bagan only fly seasonally. So, if you go in July like we did, you will not see them. They’re also extremely expensive. Lastly, we didn’t fly, but apparently most of the material about the internal airlines being extremely unsafe is 2+ years out of date with the Government overhauling things and replacing aged aircraft with new ones.

Navigating Bagan - Myanmar

The Nearly Perfect 10 Day Trip to Myanmar – Leg 1: Yangon

**Sadly, due to recent events, I’m adding this note and suspending the series before completing Part III. In October and November 2016, an increase in violence in the northern regions has led to a number of village burnings and significant loss of life. As a result, I encourage anyone considering a visit to research events and the current status before making any decisions. For the time being, it looks like many of the recent gains made are being eroded.**

When we decided to visit Myanmar, we wanted to explore a country we knew very little about. You can read up on all of the misconceptions we had before going in this post.

We wanted to see Bagan, visit the amazing temples there, and to catch the one-legged paddling fishermen of Inle Lake if possible. Beyond that? We knew very little. The initial plan was to spend around 5 days in-country before continuing on to Laos. Ultimately, we decided to skip Laos completely and instead doubled up our visit to Myanmar.

Myanmar (formerly Burma), is a wonderful country that recently started to open up again to travel. To recap my previous post, it’s; 1) safe 2) easy to get around 3 ) easy to access 4) still very affordable and, 5) already has a comfortable tourist infrastructure. For some familiar with the earthquake in August 2016, the majority of the damage was to repairs that had been made during a controversial series of repairs 10-20 years ago. In essence, it wiped the slate clean. Everything I’ve seen and read says that most of the temples and pagodas impacted are being repaired rapidly and will re-open soon, if they have not already done so.

It’s also worth noting that the famous balloons over Bagan only fly seasonally. So, if you go in July like we did, you will not see them. They’re also extremely expensive. Lastly, we didn’t fly, but apparently most of the material about the internal airlines being extremely unsafe is 2+ years out of date with the Government overhauling things and replacing aged aircraft with new ones.

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The Streets of Yangon

Yangon

With Yangon we were expecting a bustling, loud, moped infested, smelly, impoverished capital city.  What greeted us was an extremely clean city where mopeds and motorcycles are completely banned. We stayed in a small hostel just off of China Town which was the perfect spot for getting around.  The taxi in from the airport was well regulated, no-nonsense and cost us 8,000 kyat (6.5 dollars or so).

The Streets of Yangon

Outside of fairly poor wifi and surprisingly high rates, the hostel was modern and everything a typical modern has to offer. Interestingly, throughout the trip we alternated between hotels and hostels. The hostels were often as/if not more expensive than 2-4 star hotels and usually ran between 10-20 USD a night per person. This might have been in part due to it being off-season, but I suspect it’s more just that they’ve figured out that people want the social atmosphere even if the price is similar to what they’d pay for a hotel room.

Copenhagen Warning: Public Museums are No Longer Free

Pick up a guide book or read a blog and it’ll probably still mention that Copenhagen’s spectacular museums are free. Tragically, due to the election of a pack of brutish neanderthals more than 8% of Denmark’s cultural budget will be cut over the next 4 years. This means Copenhagen’s public museums, including the National Museum of Denmark which is home to a lovely exhibit on Denmark’s prehistoric period, have been forced to impose hefty admission fees. The changes were implemented in April of 2016 and will remain in place for the foreseeable future or until a more intellectually focused government returns to power. For a political group that’s robustly vocal about preserving and celebrating Danish history and culture, they’ve manage to illustrate their commitment in the most peculiar of ways. These cuts have also led to the closure of the Royal Danish Navy Museum, which will be incorporated into the Royal Danish Arsenal Museum (Et tu, Brute?).

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek - The Museum

As of this post’s publication a day’s admission ticket to the National Museum costs 75 DKK for adults, the Open Air Museum costs 65 DKK, The Royal Danish Arsenal Museum costs 65 DKK, while the National Gallery costs 110 DKK.  Other exhibits/museums within the network will also have admissions prices imposed. So, instead of serving as a refuge with knowledge and a budget friendly alternative to sitting in the rain, visitors to Copenhagen who encounter harsh weather should be prepared to shell out or ship out. Presumably the only group that’s actually happy about this change is the team behind the Copenhagen Card which may finally actually be worth purchasing.

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek - The Museum

There are also several changes at one of Copenhagen’s other most prominent and famous museums: Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.  While the museum has always charged, and currently charges 95 DKK for admission the free day has been moved to Tuesdays. Due to increased demand I’ve had reports that they’ve implemented a cue and ticket system, which makes walk-ins significantly more difficult on Tuesdays. They’ve also implemented a new charge (an additional 110 DKK) for the special exhibits which include a significant chunk of the museum including some of their primary art/painting collections.

Danish National Museum

So, if you’re planning a visit to Copenhagen, make sure you come prepared.

The Danish museums are, and remain, fantastic museums which are well worth the time and cost, so I still highly suggest you make an effort to go, or at the very least, to prioritize one or two if you’re on a tight budget.  Keep your fingers crossed, and on this end we’ll continue to advocate for a restoration of the funding initiatives that made art, culture and history more accessible to everyone.

A Day and a Half Spent Driving Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Photos

Is a four day solo road trip through Iceland enough to properly explore the country?

Absolutely not. But, it sure does make for one heck of a brilliant teaser.

My visit to Iceland’s Westfjords left off as I hopped the small car ferry from the Ferry Baldur terminal. The ferry took me across perfectly flat seas, stopped briefly at the car-less island of Flatey, and continued on before docking at Stykkishólmur on  Snæfellsnes peninsula. The following day and a half was spent exploring Snæfellsnes, photographing waterfalls, walking old volcanic craters, and even spotting an Orca from the cliffs.  It was beautiful and included amazing experiences with locals as I stumbled into the local annual Fisherman’s Festival.  This post showcases photos taken during the ferry ride and my time spent on Snæfellsnes. 

Don’t Fear A Visit To Myanmar

**Sadly, due to recent events, I’m adding this note and suspending the series before completing Part III. In October and November 2016, an increase in violence in the northern regions has led to a number of village burnings and significant loss of life. As a result, I encourage anyone considering a visit to research events and the current status before making any decisions. For the time being, it looks like many of the recent gains made are being eroded.**

Despite hearing glowing stories about visits to Myanmar (formerly called Burma) from friends, it was with some trepidation and a significant sense of adventure that I booked the ticket for my brother and I from Copenhagen to Myanmar’s former capital, Yangon (formerly Rangoon). Most articles about Myanmar right now either focus on the drug trade/Golden Triangle, armed conflict in several of the remote regions, or gush about the importance of, “visiting Myanmar before it’s ruined”.

Frankly, we didn’t know what to expect. Was it going to be dangerous? Was it going to be massively under-developed? Was there any tourist infrastructure at all? Would the visa process be a nightmare? Would we need armed guards to guide us around the country or military minders ala North Korea? Were food poisoning and feces stained walls surrounding filthy squattypotties lurking around every corner?

Inle Lake - Myanmar - Alex Berger

As usual, it was ignorant pigswill.

Myanmar is spectacular and the sooner you can visit the better.  The people are wonderful. The tourist circle; Yangon to Bagan to Mandalay to Inle Lake and back to Yangon could not be safer. The food is decent. The culture is vibrant. The tourist infrastructure is rapidly evolving (perhaps too rapidly). Getting around isn’t difficult.  It’s relatively affordable. The historical, natural and cultural beauty is spectacular.

A Visual Tour of Iceland’s Westfjords

Is a four day solo road trip through Iceland enough to properly explore the country?

Absolutely not.

Is it, however, enough time to run up into the largely deserted Westernfjords, roam brilliant empty fjords, see puffins, and then hop a ferry down to Snaefellsnes for a taste of more waterfalls, extinct volcanos and gorgeous Icelandic horses?

Absolutely.

I’ll talk a bit in a future post about just how powerful, liberating, and wonderful a solo road trip like this is. But, for now, I want to take you through a visual tour (in color) of my road trip through Iceland’s Westfjords. According to one statistic I read before the trip, fewer than 11% of visitors to Iceland visit the region in the far Northwest and in this instance, that lack of tourism is great news for people eager to explore a vibrant but more natural and less touristic Iceland.

The Beauty and Grace of Icelandic Horses

Ahh yes, the Icelandic Horse. Famed for their beauty, their charm and their long-flowing majestic Fabio-esque locks. For years I’ve seen dramatic photos of Iceland’s famed horses cutting the most perfect poses. At times they’d feature wild eyes and a raw untamed beauty which seemed to practically whisper “Iceland”. Other photos feature raven colored locks blown by the wind and snow that would surely put even Jon Snow to shame. Though, one can’t muse on Jon Snow’s obsidian locks without also paying homage to the rugged feminine beauty of Ygritte, but she too faces the most flattering of challengers in the bonfire-lit-beauty of many a native Icelandic horse’s flowing ginger mane.

The only problem was…when I got to Iceland, I seemed to find their B team. Who knows, perhaps the others had all been called to the East to film the final two seasons of Game of Thrones. Or, perhaps I just caught them celebrating having survived the final battle in Season 6th. Either way…these were MY Icelandic horses. Crazy beautiful? Or just crazy. I’ll let you decide.

Icelandic Horses - Snæfellsnes Peninsula
The inbred great grandson of Mr. Ed?

Icelandic Horses - Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Someone forgot to call?

The Mysteries of Angkor and Angkor Wat

When I first learned of Angkor, it was through photos and stories of Angkor Wat. At the time I had no idea that Angkor Wat was only one small piece of a sprawling civilization and series of cities, temples, and developments that spanned the entire region.  Angkor, the capital of the empire, includes a long list of sites including Angkor Banteay, Baray, Esvara, Gopura, Jaya, Phnom, Prasat, Preah, Srei, Ta, Thom, Varman, and Wat.  In recent weeks announcements have come out that a number of other major temples, some of which are quite large, have been discovered in the surrounding region.  As more exploration is done, it seems complex after complex from the mysterious Khmer Empire re-emerge from the the anonymity of the sands (and jungles) of time.

Angkor Wat - Wonder of the World

Though we don’t talk about it much in western histories, the Khmer Empire ruled the region for hundreds of years. Some historians suggest that the Angkor area was one of, if not the, largest pre-industrial urban area during that period. Interesting, timing and placing when an empire existed within our mental narrative is also something that is always incredibly difficult. I often think of the Mayan and Inca temples having been built around the same time as the pyramids (they were built 2,000 years apart).  For me, Angkor was always the same. I picture it as early – perhaps even parallel to the Greeks or Romans.  Yet, as it turns out, it’s actually closer to the Franks and Vikings and falls squarely within the Medieval Period.

Takeo Angkor Temple

Another of the big surprises for me was just how accessible Angkor is. The modern city of Siam Reap is situated on the border of the National Park and in some places the two nearly overlap. Which makes the commute from hotel to Angkor convenient and incredibly easy.