Sun-Seeking Travel – Burma, India, the Philipines & Thailand

In our January 2014 Issue of Connect Magazine, our readers brought you the ‘Hot’ special of sun-seeking travel, covering advice and inside tips for visiting Cambodia, Malaysia, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Here, Olivia Doggett, Jeremy Baba, Dusty Wittman and Dan Ayres share more of their experiences travelling to Burma, India, the Philipines and Thailand respectively. Enjoy!

BURMA
by Jeremy Baba

Owing to its unique and tumultuous history, Burma has not yet been altered by the whims of western tourism like Thailand or other neighboring countries. It’s like jumping in a time-machine and going back 60 years to a time when horse carriages were standard and only one person a neighborhood had a television. What it lacks in beaches, it makes up for in temples. This being said, Burma is also not a leisure-tourist destination: you need both a visa and your wits about you if you want to go.

GETTING THERE AND AROUND: Currently there is no direct flight from Japan to Burma. You can catch flights out of Kuala Lumpur, Hannoi, Singapore and Bangkok, however. Osaka to Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia is usually quite cheap. If you fly into Bangkok, you can get a visa for Burma in one day if there are no complications. Otherwise, you need to apply to the Burmese embassy in Tokyo at least a month prior to departure. Traveling within Burma is a tempestuous topic and should be researched beforehand, as land-based travel is slow and crowded, while domestic air travel likely supports ongoing government corruption.

SEE AND DO: Be sure to visit the many pagodas on the plains of Old Bagan at sunrise and sunset. If you are tired of looking at temples, check out Bogyoke Aung San Market, and the Indian and Chinese districts in Yangon for delicious food and good shopping. Burma is an early-to-rise, early-to-bed country. In Yangon, wake up at dawn and visit a local paya for morning prayers before heading over to a nearby market. If you are into the wilderness, take a two- or three-day trek in Shan State. Here you can stay in monasteries, visit small villages and experience the beauty of the Burmese mountains.

EAT: Try a bowl of mohinga, a soup of thin rice noodles, fish broth, fresh herbs, garlic and chilis for a taste of the local breakfast. In Shan State, look for round white cookies made of dried sticky rice. They are delicious. (I brought back 6kgs of them as omiyage!). Also, be careful when consuming fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, and water. Food poisoning is a common experience for many foreigners.

Olivia Doggett is a second-year Canadian ALT living in Fukuoka City. She wakes up at 4am most mornings, enjoys long layovers in unexpected places, and has a rapidly growing mask collection. She’s always hungry. Catch her at onionsniffles.com for recipes and ramblings.

INDIA
by Jeremy Baba

India is a vast country with a rich history stretching back thousands of years. The second-most populated country in the world, it is seemingly fixed in an era long gone. Its towns and villages are overflowing with traditional Indian culture, while its cities are regional epicenters of commerce that are bustling with activity. Vast and diverse, there span as many different Indias as there are explorers.

GETTING THERE AND AROUND: Flights into Delhi or Mumbai are recommended. For domestic travel, go by plane if you’re short on time, but traveling by train is nothing short of an adventure. Make sure you give yourself ample time for domestic flights as Indian airports are always ridiculously busy. Also, bring your printed-out ticket to the airport or the security guards may not let you in! Train tickets can be booked in advance online. Traveling within a city is best done by foot or by rickshaw (make sure to negotiate the price first if you aren’t using a metered car). Also look into motorcycles for hire if you’re undaunted by lunatic traffic. It’s unbelievably, cinematically badass.

SEE AND DO: India, especially in the south where the average temperature is 27° Celsius, is a great place to escape the cold winter weather. From Varanasi, the city resting alongside the sacred waters of the Ganga, to Dharamsala’s McLeod Ganj, the current residence of His Holiness the 14th Lama, India is an extremely culturally and linguistically diverse nation with many places to visit. The ruins of Hampi and, of course, the Taj Mahal in Agra are musts, especially for history buffs. Also, Sikkim in Eastern India offers great trekking through the majestic Himalayan mountain range. Soak up some rays on the beaches of Goa, go on a yoga retreat in Rishikesh, or check out the Bollywood flicks in the theaters if you’re in Mumbai. Other sites include Tipu’s Palace in Mysore (the architecture!), the Five Rathas in Mahabalipuram (the goats!), the Baha’i Lotus Temple in Delhi (the flowers!), monkeys (all over!), and, if you want a laugh, the new age mecca of Auroville (the hippies!). As for festivals, check out the huge New Year’s procession of the Kochi Carnival, and, in case you’re desperately fleeing the cold, head for some beachside fun at the Sunburn Festival Goa. There’s also the Mahabalipuram Dance Festival. Remember girls, dress conservatively—no bare shoulders. In addition, if you’re environmentally sensitive, steel yourself for tons of litter everywhere. Not to mention all the beggars.

EAT: India is a vegetarian’s paradise. In southern India, try sambhar (spiced vegetable stew) with vada (fried bread). Yum! Skip the more touristy establishments that hand out low rent turbans, and steer instead towards the dives where you can net life-changing meals for spare change. Also, you can’t go wrong with a side of chai. Make sure to use only your right hand while eating (or doing anything else) to avoid ritual uncleanliness, and avoid non-bottled water to keep your pants from becoming another kind of unclean.

Dalai

Hailing from the warm Hawaiian sands of O’ahu, Jeremy Baba is a first-year CIR in Izumo, Shimane. His co-author, Giuseppe di Martino, is a first year ALT from Yamagata Prefecture. Giuseppe is an incorrigible goof with with a skull full of dreams in lieu of brains, and you can follow his podcast at Meatmutant.com

PHILIPPINES
by Dusty Wittman

The Philippines is a treasure trove of treats for travelers including underground rivers, chocolate hills, caves, Catholic cathedrals, active volcanoes, scuba diving, perfect beaches, shopping, food, nightlife, and so much more. Being tropically located, these 7,000+ islands offer a perfect escape from the bitter winter of Japan. With the typhoon season wrapping up and the rainy season months away, now is the perfect time to enjoy beautiful weather and clear skies.

GETTING THERE AND AROUND: Budget airlines include Cebu Pacific, Jetstar, and Air Asia. Once there, make use of Jeepneys (half Jeep, half bus), taxis, and buses. Always negotiate the rate before accepting a ride when using taxis. Keep an extra 550 Pesos for the airport departure tax.

SEE AND DO: The bullet-laden Fort Santiago in Manila, the hanging coffins in Sagada, the pristine beaches of Palawan, the rice field amphitheater in Banaue and the underwater life in Puerto Galera. Hike to the crater lake on top of Mount Pinatubo, an active volcano, kayak along uninhabited beaches in Palawan and dive anywhere in this mecca of underwater life

EAT: With a country as spread out as this one, look for local specialties in each place you visit, such as garlic rice and various adobo dishes. Heavily influenced by the neighboring countries, there is truly something for everyone and, if you’re a fruit lover, be sure to load up on fresh mangoes and bananas at dirt-cheap prices.

In his nearly five years as an ALT in Shiga-ken, Dusty Wittman has extensively traveled Southeast Asia and the Philippines tops his list of amazing countries.

THAILAND
by Dan Ayres

Beautiful Thailand is undoubtedly one of South-East Asia’s brightest stars. Blessed with balmybeaches, tastebud-tantalising colourful cuisine and a unique and accessible history and culture, it’s easy to see why so many backpackers flock to this multifaceted country.

GETTING THERE AND AROUND: Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport is the main entrance point to this region, though travellers heading straight to the islands can opt to fly into Phuket. Travelling by train is by far the most comfortable and charming way of getting around. Tourist buses also criss cross the country, while ferries are necessary when travelling to most islands.

SEE AND DO: Hot, steamy and boisterous, Bangkok is the entrancing entrance point for most travellers. Khao San road heaves with bars flogging buckets of booze and hawkers selling their wares. Top tourist sites include the reclining Buddha in Wat Pho and the enormous weekend market. The seas surrounding Thailand are peppered with stunning islands. Ko Pha Ngan hosts hedonistic full moon parties, which are an ode to drunken revelry and neon face paint. The nearby island of Ko Tao offers world-class diving. And if it’s jaw-dropping beauty and azure waters you seek, Ko Phi Phi is your place. Back on the mainland, the temple-studded northern city of Chiang Mai is a jumping point for a plethora of activities, including elephant trekking, visiting hill-tribes and Thai cooking courses.

EAT: One of the true delights of Thailand is the sensory journey it takes you on, especially regarding the food. Vividly coloured and brimming with spice and flavour, green curry is a must for all hungry travellers. Another favourite is pad thai, a hearty noodle dish that accompanies a chilled Beer Chang majestically.

Dan Ayres is a second-year ALT living in Omura, Nagasaki Prefecture. He is a travel enthusiast with a penchant for over-eating and lying in hammocks.