After our 10 days Myanmar trip we can say that this beautiful country offers an exciting, colorful and really authentic experience for photography enthusiasts. Locals are very friendly, generally fine with making a portrait of them (but as always, do ask before doing so). Every men wears a longyi (a traditional long wrap-around skirt) and most women and children have thanaka (a yellowish-white paste made from ground-bark) painted on their faces. Life is simple, especially outside of cities, you will see many locals working on their farms.
Even one month would be too short to explore this magnificent land. In 10 days you can explore just the most popular places. However, once you want to get off the tourist trail, going gets miserably slow and quite rough. So if your budget allows, it’s a great idea flying some legs of the route.
We flew from Bangkok into Yangon (with Air Asia) and flew out of Mandalay (with Thai Smile) back to Bangkok. Between the destinations we took buses. In total we spent over 30 hours on bumpy roads…
The best places for photography in Myanmar
Yangon, the formal capital offers a perfect opportunity for interesting street shots and architecture. We especially loved photographing at Shwedagon Pagoda, early in the morning. Make sure to be there for SUNRISE to avoid the tourists and to see many local people and monks chanting and praying at this magnificent temple.
Bagan is an amazingly photogenic site in Myanmar, especially at sunrise and sunset. You can see many hot air balloons drifting over the huge ancient city at sunrise. If you want to secure the best spots, again, you will have to wake up very early and be there around 5.30am. As a reward you will experience an epic sunrise and view, plus you will have awesome pictures.
Inle Lake is a truly picturesque place, famous for its floating villages and gardens and the unique way of life of the local people. Boat trips provide excellent opportunity to experinece the life on the lake.
Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar (after Yangon) so expect lots of concrete buildings, traffic and smog. The city itself is not very appealing, but around Mandalay there are some attractions (the tree ancient cities, Mingun, U-Bein bridge, and temples) worth visiting. Wake up early, visit temples and markets to see locals going on about their daily lives.
After 49 years of military rule Myanmar is slowly opening up to the world, but it is still a genuine and authentic place. Tourist numbers are rising considerably in recent years due to the fact that the country has so many hidden paradises. Go before it turns into the next Thailand!
Given that Sri Lanka is so close to India, you might as well want to hop on the plane and fly from Colombo to India.
But before you do that, you will need a Visa. It can be done electronically but since you are in Colombo, you can get it done personally.
Although the Indian High Commission is located in the center of Colombo they do not process visa applications there! You have to go to IVS Indian Visa Center in Colombo 4.
Address: 129 Philip Gunewardena Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka
How To Get The Indian Tourist Visa in Colombo
It is fairly simple. You can get it done in 1 week, here is how:
1. You have to fill in the application forms* (you will need copy of passports, and passport photos)
2. Hand them in at the Indian Visa Center (IVS)
3. Go back 1 week later to drop the passport
4. Collect passport with the visa on next day
*Important: You can get all the application forms done in 10 minutes if you go to the agency located just across the street from the IVS. They will do all forms for you, ID photos and photocopies as well for 300 RS and they guarantee that your application will be accepted. It is easy to find them, as there are agents standing right outside the IVS and show you the way to their office.
The Andaman Islands are also called the “Maldives of India” and the name is well-deserved. The archipelago lays in the middle of the Indian Ocean, 1400 km East of India and 1000 km West of Thailand. It is a tropical paradise giving home to hundreds of animal species and plants, beautiful white sandy beaches and crystal clear water. But, don’t let the postcard perfect scenery fool you – this Paradise comes with nature’s creatures as well. The Andamans are a very wild place where it’s possible to see many types of wild animals such as salt water crocodiles, venomous snakes, frogs, sea kraits etc. Some of the islands are inhabited by the Sentinelese people (one of the many indigenous tribes living on the islands),who resist contact with the outside world and remains hostile to any attempt.
It is a true gem, an adventurous off-the-beaten track destination. If you are in India, it’s a must see. Go until it’s too late!
The archipelago belongs to India and the only way to get to Port Blair (the archipelago’s capital) is through mainland of India. There are flights every day from Chennai and Calcutta. Otherwise there are ships as well, but it is not for the faint-hearted. It takes about 4 days on rough seas which can be way too long even in deluxe cabins. (Rumor has it that it’s planned to open direct flights between Bangkok and Port Blair. This would bring many tourists to the islands with the all the unwanted effects of tourism. We hope that it will not happen any time soon.)
You will need – obviously – the Indian Tourist Visa but in the Andamans tourists can only stay a maximum of 30 days regardless of a 3 month or longer Indian visa you have. Upon landing in Port Blair, you will receive a permit that you have to keep with you at all times. With this permit you can visit certain islands but many are off-limit for tourists.
Things to do in Port Blair
In Port Blair there is not much to do or see. There are couple of museums and that’s about it. It’s a small capital city, that feels like the time has stopped about 50 years ago. Make sure to book the ferry to Havelock Island (or wherever you’re heading) as soon as you arrive. Ask the guesthouse to book it for you or go by yourself to the ferry terminal. Take the private ferry, it’s more expensive but better standard. They get booked out very quickly and you will get stuck in Port Blair just like we did… 🙂
Where To Stay In Port Blair
We stayed 1 night at Hotel Lalaji which offers a basic accommodation, it’s OK for a night but don’t expect anything fancy. Once you are there, check out ExcelBar & Restaurant on the rooftop. The owner is very nice, he will be able to give you travel tips and plan your tip further plus there is WiFi! Another option is to stay at Aashiaanaa Guesthouse, they have nice and clean rooms.
Another good advice:Internet is hard to find in the capital city and even harder on the islands. Make sure to have your return flight booked before you even get to Port Blair and forget about spontaneous online bookings once you are there. We had to go back to the airport in Port Blair to buy tickets as we did not find Internet good enough to do an online booking in Port Blair.
Havelock Island = Paradise
Havelock Island is a 2 hours ferry-ride away from Port Blair. If the weather is nice you can stay on the deck and enjoy the amazing view of the uninhabited, lush green islands. When you thought that Port Blair was at the end of the world, there is even further. Havelock Island is as close as we got to Paradise.
Once you arrive at the port, ask a tuk tuk driver to take you to places that match your budget. There are plenty of simple and cheap bamboo bungalows at also some more expensive hotels as well. The basic bamboo huts cost 10 dollars or less a night. While many of the lodges have ‘resort’ in their names, none come even close, thankfully.
Food is as cheap as anywhere in mainland India. The majority of the population originates from immigrants who came to the island since the colonial times, mainly of Bengali, Hindustani and Tamil. So you will find lots of delicious curries, seafood dishes and some Western food also.
Things to Do On Havelock Island
The pace of life is slow, the locals are friendly and still not too affected by tourism. Imagine a tropical Paradise island – what would you do there (without WiFi haha)? Lay on the beach, hang out at your bungalow, read, sleep, have a nap in the hammock, sample local foods…
Go on a snorkeling trip! We went on a full day trip, there was only us and another couple. We highly recommend to do this, you will see more islands from the motorboat and colorful underwater life, some corals as well. Unfortunately, here too, most of the corals are bleached. We had lunch on the shores of an uninhabited island which was amazing!
Rent a scooter and drive around the island! You will see beautiful rice fields and farming people. You will need your own transportation if you want to get around anyway.
Visit beach no.7 (Radhanagar Beach) – it is a beautiful long beach, not a living soul in sight! During our stay we visited this beach two times. Once it was closed, because saltwater crocs were seen. This is the infamous beach where an American tourist was devoured while snorkeling off the beach by a large crocodile in 2010. We did not swim here but not many people did actually.
Trek through the jungle to see Elephant Beach! Be prepared that the path is not very obvious, and after rain it will be very muddy and slippery. We removed our flipflops and were walking barefoot. And… Watch out for snakes. We saw a really big one, laying on the path and so we did not get to the beach but turned back and ran 🙂 But other travelers who did go, said it was amazing. At the end of the trail you need to cross mangroves to access the beach and it’s a god idea to mark the route you take to get back.
Are there crocodiles in the Andaman Islands?
Yes there are. As we mentioned above, there has been a crocodile sighting during our stay and we were there only for a week. The deadly crocodile attack of an American tourist back in 2010 have been largely covered in the media but most likely there are other incidents that we don’t hear about. The incidents often go unreported due to the lack of accessibility to mainstream media.
When we asked locals about crocs (around beach 7, or anywhere in the islands) they always smile and say they’ve never seen any. It might be that they just don’t want to scare tourists away? Perhaps, yes. Anyway… It is a beautiful place but we can’t emphasize it enough that it is also dangerous! The nature is fairly untouched and wild and therefore you have to be very cautious.
Salt water crocodiles are generally prefer the security of mangroves or other thick coastal vegetation by day and emerge to hunt by night. So never dive or snorkel close to the mangroves and never swim at sun down!
We read somewhere that while you are in the water one person should always watch… This of course did not happen when we were snorkeling. The 4 of us were snorkeling and the boat’s driver was sleeping or swimming as well. Since salt water crocodiles travel in open sea also, perhaps it was a dangerous thing to do to snorkel near the islands…
In summary, we would say that we had an incredible, unforgettable time on Havelock Island! Don’t let the crocs put you off, do go and see this place for yourself. But be cautious, read and be informed before you go!
As Travel & Street photographers we like to stay longer in the places we are visiting to have time to properly explore and observe the daily life there.
Chiang Mai has interesting streets for the photographers, narrow alleys with colorful street art, food stalls with all types of cooked meals, “restaurants” on the side walks, few night markets and unique beautiful temples. Continue reading Street Photography in Chiang Mai→
Like most travelers visiting Thailand, we also landed in Bangkok. The Thai capital’s airport is well connected to the city with public transport (train, bus and mini vans). We decided to take a taxi, which made more sense after flying/sleeping at airports for over 20 hours… The taxi ride was almost 1 hour – due the heavy traffic jam that seemed to be present all day, every day in the city. There is a huge selection when it comes to accommodation. Our hotel was very close to Wat Saket and the Golden Mount but most backpackers stay on Khao San Road, the center of the backpacking universe. Continue reading Bangkok, a great city for street photography→
Wow, we absolutely loved Indonesia, what a beautiful country! The Indonesian archipelago is made up of 18,110 volcanic islands – 6,000 of them being inhabited – and it is the largest archipelago in the world. No wonder why we felt that 3 weeks time was just way too short and we definitely will be back at some point. During this rather short vacation we visited Bali, The Gili Islands and Lombok. Continue reading 3 Weeks In Indonesia – Bali, The Gilis and Lombok→
The ‘Emerald Island‘ is a great destination for everyone from tourists to backpackers. While the accommodation is a bit more expensive than other South East Asian countries, the food and transportation is still very cheap. Wonderful sights, amazing beaches, delicious local specialties, friendly people in a laid back culture.
I was skeptical about buying camera equipment for in South East Asia because of the big price difference. The DSLR’s are 800-1000$ cheaper if you buy them here.
– Are they fake? Are they used but cleaned?
These are just few of the many other questions I had. I was doing researches on the net for two months, reading personal blogs, Flickr discussions. Also I spent lots of time on Tripadvisor and Thorn Tree but I haven’t found a good answer anywhere.
When I was in Hanoi and googled ‘Canon shops‘ a few links popped up. One was from the official store with the price 3100$+ for Canon 5D Mark III and the other like DIGIworld had the approx. 2400$ price. I went there the next morning, like a tourist that is just asking questions with no intention of buying, to see why there is such a big difference in the prices.
The first place was DIGIworld, clean and modern shop with lots of photo equipments. They were pretty helpful and answered all the questions I asked.
The price difference is because:
The not official stores are not paying “VAT”
The products are smuggled from other countries like Cambodia or Laos where the taxes are low.
I went to a few other smaller photo shops further down the road, but the people working there had poor English and not very helpful, but from what I understood 90% of them were saying the same thing as in DIGIworld.
I ended up buying a GoPro 4 and a Canon 5D MK III for 2900$ in DIGIworld and they are perfectly fine, I had no problems with them.
DIGIworld is located on 6 Hàng Bài street, 500m after the lake, south of the Old Ha Noi quarter.
Perhaps for most of the travelers, Sen Monorom, the capital of Mondulkiri province, is not the first place to visit in Cambodia. Many don’t even know about it and they are not even including it in their itinerary.
We took the mini van from Kampong Cham, which was a mistake. We should have gone with a bus because in the minivans you are driving with 21 people plus the driver and the vehicle is registered for 12. The price difference is only 0,5 / 1$, but we were thinking that the vans are faster and book one of them.
The first half of the journey to Sen Monorom is on dirt road, the second half is on paved one. The landscapes surrounding the road are amazing, green hills combined with red soil and various types of flora.
Sen Monorom is not like the other places in Cambodia. When you get off the bus there are no tuk tuk drivers offering ride to acommodations. Here you will have one or two guys offering a motorbike ride to the hotel you have booked. It shouldn’t be more than 1$ even if it’s outside of town like the Nature Lodge or Tree Lodge. To explore the town and its surroundings you will need a motorbike, as it is quite spread out. The maps you are handed when renting a bike, are not very helpful as they are all hand drawn and not very accurate.
Book a room in advance. Usually the budget lodges with nice bungalows get full quickly in main season. The prices can be higher than written in the guide books, add 2-3$ on top of them. We stayed in Phanyro Guesthouse for 8$ (double room) hot shower, clean and spacious rooms. Most of the staff don’t speak English. There is no wifi in the room but you can sit in front of your door to get some signal.
There are few lodges that offer bungalows for 7-10$ like Tree Lodge or Happy Elephant. Nature Lodge is charging 25$ for the same thing.
We found a nice place to eat called Sovannkiri Restaurant and Guesthouse on the main road with fair prices, good food, friendly staff and good wifi. They also have rooms for 8$/night. If you are looking for cheap local food check out the market and grab some vegetarian dish for a dollar.
What to do:
On the hand drawn map all the things that are worth seeing in the area are marked. Not so many and they are pretty far from each other. Mondulkiri is a province for eco tourism and you can find many 2-3 days tours offering jungle trekking, see and feed the elephants, visit the indigenous Bunong people. Most of the waterfalls you can visit by yourself, just rent a motorbike. We didn’t go on arranged tour because the price was over our budget. Instead, we rented a bike and drove to Sen Monorom waterfall located at the edge of the jungle where we saw an elephant and her owner, a nice Bunong man. We passed by Bunong villages but they were unfortunately empty.
It is said that this is the least visited province but that is not true. There are many big groups of students from AU, NZ, UK & US doing volunteer work here, paying lots of money for that. The locals say that the a foreign company organizes all of that and its primary objective is not to help the minorities and animals but to make money. Now there is another organization founded by the locals which is cheaper and is just for helping themselves.