I've lived in Nashville for close to two years now, and I wanted to share a few of my favorite craft cocktail bars. There are new establishments opening every week, but so far these are the ones that stand out in my mind as Music City's best:
The Patterson House A small speakeasy tucked away in an unmarked building right off Music Row in Midtown. One of the most coveted seats in town to get high end pours. You’ll find yourself waiting alongside other patrons in anticipation of being led behind a velvet curtain to a small room that is centered round a four sided bar. The walls are lined with books and your check will also be delivered in the form of a bookmark. The Goldberg brothers’ priciest eatery is located just above your head.
308 The first of two establishments in town courtesy of Nashville's Soler Sisters. Dimly lit and adorned with taxidermy, many East Nashvillians find it a great place to dance late on the weekends. The drink menu is adventurous and the tattooed bar staff knows how to get you drunk enough to shake that butt.
Old Glory New to Edgehill Village, this is the second and most recent project brought to you by the Soler sisters. It offers a more industrial vibe to Nashville’s drink scene. Housed in the old dry cleaning space, the ceilings make way for a four story boilermaker. There are several nooks and crannies where you can whisper into your friends’ ears while watching people walk down the curving staircase that leads to the main bar. A little more sceney than its East Nashville counterpart, the crowds could easily be mistaken for the same in LA or New York.
The Cellar (at The Sutler) Located in the burgeoning Melrose neighborhood, just a stone’s throw from 12 South. Walk into The Sutler and find your way down a flight of stairs that has been decorated with scores of cowboy boots. At the bottom of the stairs, you can go left to the bathrooms and green room for the bands who play in the main dining area. Or, you can go right and push open the two swinging doors into a rectangular shaped lounge of sorts. Turn of the century furniture and barber chairs face the long bar where expert cocktail craftsmen await your request. At the time of writing this guide, the owners of The Sutler were doing some renovations to Melrose Billiards, another favorite just beyond the basement’s walls.
The Crying Wolf A former employee of 308 decided to open this grittier version of the East Nashville watering hole. Stuffed wolves and other animals line the walls and even find their way onto the bathroom handles. There’s an elevated patio for smoking and their parking lot below heats up with summer pool parties once an above the ground pool makes its appearance.
MIKELL HAZLEHURST’S SEMESTER IN INDIA YIELDS AN EDUCATION IN BUSINESS AND CULTURE, PLUS A FEW SIDE-TRIP ADVENTURES
I like to call India one of those love-hate countries. Everyone I spoke to before leaving would tell me, “You’re gonna love it!” or, “Don’t go, it’s awful!” Traveling to the country for a semester-long exchange program through the University of Memphis MBA program, I decided I would keep an open mind.
I discovered that India can stimulate your senses in ways that will leave you bewildered but entranced. Initially, you may be shocked by some Indian behaviors and practices. For example, there seems to be no concept for waiting in line. Public trash cans do not exist or, if they do, I never saw one. The traffic is absolutely insane, with men hopelessly attempting to direct the never-ending flow of vehicles. You’ll see a motorcycle carrying three people, one of whom is holding a baby. But these are the images you’ll forever remember, and for that reason, grow to love the country that boasts 1.28 billion people.
After a three-week sojourn through Southeast Asia I met a young nurse on the flight from Singapore who told me I would love Bangalore. I began to anticipate what the fourth-largest city in India would offer. The campus at the Indian Institute of Management was flawless. Architecturally, it was one of the most impressive campuses I had ever seen. Regardless of my whereabouts, I always felt as if I were outside because of the gigantic, open-air windows and skylights that filtered rays of sunshine onto the concrete and stone walkways. The plant life was extraordinary, and the local landscapers were meticulous in their maintenance of the grounds.
My peers at IIMB were brilliant. I wasn’t surprised to see the school listed among the top 100 MBA programs in the Financial Times Executive Education 2015 rankings. When figuring out where I wanted to study abroad, it was the prestige of IIMB that was the deciding factor – that and my fascination with Asia. This was my third visit to the continent.
I was one of two Americans on campus that semester. The other student was from the University of Chicago, and we bonded instantly. All of the other exchange students were from Europe, the majority coming from France or Germany. We had many group projects, comprising both exchange and Indian students. The Indian students rarely slept more than a few hours each night and would schedule meetings that often ran well into the wee hours of the morning.
The experience greatly enhanced my communication skills, as I was usually selected as spokesman for our presentations because my native language is English. One of my favorite courses was Self-Transformation – An Indian Approach. Each class began with 15 minutes of silent meditation and explored the different theologies that focus upon meditative techniques. Our professor would bring in experts in the field, and one of our best visitors was a Pranayama breathing guru. Proponents of meditation such as Al Gore and Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, swear by its benefits. Since returning from the program, I have used meditative techniques during times of the day when I need rejuvenation.
When our classes were not in session, there were countless opportunities for adventure. Trains were the cheapest and most interesting means of transportation. For one of my first breaks, I headed to the west coast of India and spent a few days in Goa at a beach called Palolem, which is where Matt Damon was running in the opening scene of The Bourne Supremacy. I also took a bus to visit the UNESCO-protected ancient village of Hampi and explored its timeless ruins. Sri Lanka was one of my favorite countries in all of Asia, and I spent 10 days on a motorbike traveling around the southern beaches and national parks.
I ended my stay in India with a trip to Rajasthan, starting off in its capital, Jaipur, which is the city featured in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I rented a motorcycle for two days and weaved my way through The Pink City, as Jaipur is called, to world-famous sites such as the Amer Fort. Approaching the fort, I was surprised to see a man riding an elephant through one of its gates. The ramparts sprawled throughout the surrounding mountains, and I spent several hours hiking up to various vantage points to snap photos. I escaped death several times amongst the lawless traffic, but my experience in Jaipur was exhilarating. My last stop was the Taj Mahal in Agra, and I cannot describe the sight of the world’s most beautiful building other than to say it is exactly that. I woke up to a nearby mosque’s call to prayer, and I had breakfast on the rooftop of a hotel while waiting for the gates of the Taj to open. I kept imagining that not much had changed since Richard Halliburton 1915 spent the night there more than 90 years ago.
I had to catch a flight back to the USA the next day, and it took me roughly 33 hours to get from Agra to Tennessee. The months I spent in India certainly tested my patience and taught me to not take anything for granted. Reverse culture shock can be an issue for people who spend significant time abroad. It was only upon my return that I began to miss those honking horns and smelly streets. The saying, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone” resonated with me not only in India but also when I returned home. I hope my story will inspire you to venture out and explore the world. Memphis has a special place in my heart, but I’m glad to have seen what else the world has to offer.
Hopscotching Through Southeast Asia
Before beginning my semester at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, I took three weeks to check out the remaining countries in Southeast Asia I had not yet visited. After arriving in the Philippines via Hong Kong, I flew to one of the archipelago’s most remote islands, Palawan. It was here that Alex Garland was inspired to write his novel The Beach, which later was adapted into a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The limestone cliffs and blue water in El Nido were all I needed to forget about the 24-plus hours it took me to get there. I paid maybe $15 to sleep in a rustic cottage that had waves breaking at my doorstep.
I then ventured over to the island of Borneo to touch down on Brunei soil. When I landed in Bandar Seri Begawan, it was about 2 o’clock in the morning, and my hotel driver was waiting for me. I began to notice how clean and modern this petroleum-rich country looked. I didn’t see a speck of trash.
I took a bus to the city center to grab some breakfast and met a Kiwi couple who had also just arrived. We decided to tour the Sultan’s Royal Regalia Museum, which celebrates more than 600 years of the royal family’s rule. We then took a stroll along the stilted walkways on the Kampong Ayer, a water village people often refer to as the Venice of the East. It sounds romantic, and it might have been if it weren’t for the quality of the wood that held me above the water. I almost fell through several times, but that only added to the adventure. Everyone living in these stilted homes commutes into town via water taxis. We hailed one of the wooden boats because the Kiwi couple wanted to see some proboscis monkeys. Our driver didn’t speak a word of English, but he did take us into the jungle, and we managed to catch a glimpse of the long-nosed monkey.
In Myanmar, I spent about a week climbing pagodas in Bagan and riding boats on Inle Lake. I spent my last days before starting classes in Bangalore in Singapore, where I was able to tour a Cummins Inc. facility. I worked for Cummins’ Global Logistics in Memphis the summer before my trip, so I was able to set up a meeting with several leaders. I was impressed by the sheer wealth and amount of commerce in Singapore. The tiny city-state is running out of land, so the warehouses were stacked up like skyscrapers. I made the mistake of booking a room next to a mosque, which began to sound the Friday call to prayer around 4 o’clock in the morning. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep, but my time in Singapore convinced me to return sometime. The museums, food, and underground shopping malls made for an exciting couple of days before I flew to India.
Hopefully some of you have read the recent Rolling Stone article highlighting the possibilities of free travel with major airlines. I’ve done quite a bit of that over the past few years, rarely ever paying cash for flights unless it was something obscure like Manila to Bandar Seri Begawan. This past year I literally flew around the world on frequent flier miles from bonus points awarded by Citi’s American Airlines card and Chase’s United Explorer. I also was able to fly my girlfriend to France with the remainder.
So far in 2015, we both flew out to LA twice, and I have another round trip flight planned for New York on Labor Day. We just got back from LA, and I didn’t pay for a single hotel room while I was there either. Two nights at the W Hotel in West Beverly Hills along with a night at the Westlake Village Inn left more money for restaurants and drinks at places like the Mondrian and Chateau Marmont. Chase’s British Airways and Sapphire Preferred cards provided more than enough bonus miles for all of that.
I still have some leftover Delta points after booking round trip tickets to La Guardia in September, and I recently discovered a little hack on American Airlines’ website that allowed me to book two nights in the Hamptons with a free rental car all for about 23,000 points. That’s not supposed to happen, but I noticed that the American Airlines’ Vacations servers weren’t communicating properly with the parent site late Friday evening when I couldn’t go to bed.
If you had read that Rolling Stone article, then you would know that this stuff can become addicting. Although, most people refer to it simply as a hobby. Whatever it may be, I’ve certainly enjoyed the free travel and have become quite accustomed to flying that way every time I think about going somewhere.
Shoot me a message if you’re interested in booking that trip you thought you could never afford because with a little planning and tactful spending, you actually can.
I was drinking a Kingfisher Premium beer at an al fresco restaurant on top of Nahargarh Fort in Jaipur, Northern India. The sun had just gone down and dozens of mosques began to sound their calls to prayer. I rode up to the fort on a Honda Hero that I rented from the Rajasthan Auto Center. I spent the afternoon walking up and down the Amer Fort, which is something to rival the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. The climate and geography of Jaipur reminds me of Southern California. Its dry heat and barren landscapes take me back to a time when I was running amuck in LA.
I stayed the second night at Atithi Guest House, which was quite pleasant and only cost me $7. The following morning, I had breakfast and got lost in the Pink City for about an hour. I also had about 6 near accidents and stalled maybe 20 times on the narrow alleyways. Children that were peeing in the streets kept laughing at me because of how ridiculous I must have looked. Over the two days I spent in Jaipur, I never once saw a single tourist on a motorcycle. Maybe I'm crazy, but it was an experience that I'll never forget.
I finally found the Hawa Mahal and the City Palace where I toured the grounds for maybe 2 hours. I was anxious to return my bike, so I did and jumped on a train bound for Agra. The train ride lasted about 6 hours, and I slept for most of the journey on a fold down bed.
I arrived in Agra around 11 pm later that night. A tuk tuk driver delivered me to a hotel that I had not yet booked, and they were sold out of rooms. I ducked into the one next door, grabbed some food, and I then got some sleep.
I was awoken by hollering Islamic prayers around 4:30am. I went up to the rooftop of the Shanti Hotel to checkout the sunrise. As I was taking some panoramic pictures, someone started calling me by name. Kenny, who was traveling with a friend of mine, happened to be standing on the rooftop of the same hotel I tried to check into the night before. They had arrived earlier in the day from Jaipur (Kenny kept calling it "Diaper"), and I knew that I'd run into them eventually. John Collins was a friend whom I met about a year ago in Panama. He and Kenny were traveling Asia for the next 3 months.
We grabbed some coffee and headed to the Taj Mahal. The line was short at roughly 6:30am, and we whisked right through security and into the main gate. The guards made John Collins leave his Snickers bar at the gate, and some Asian woman refused to have her purse inspected. I paid 750 rupees to enter, which amounts to roughly $13.
As the sun rose from the horizon, I could begin to make out the elaborate detail that was engraved into the Taj. The first close up view I had of her was from across this long reflection pool. The fountains remained off, and I took some great pictures right before my battery died.
We went inside the mausoleum, and I started eavesdropping on a Spanish speaking couple who were accompanied by a guide. The guide told them that the queen's tomb was lying in the middle of the floor with her husband’s located directly to her left. The guide also said the tombs were replicas, and that the real bodies were buried underneath the building.
After a few more photos, we took a rest on one of the benches that faced the Taj. Within moments, a hand grazed my back. I thought it was one of the other hundreds of tourists seeking someone to take their picture. Instead, it was Sandra who I was studying with at IIMB. She had another French guy with her and said there were a few others from IIMB as well. We took a picture together, and then Kenny, John and I left.
We spent the rest of the day walking around markets and then began to drink some beer back at the Saniya Hotel rooftop restaurant. Kenny had purchased some Indian whiskey, so we then moved on to drinking that poison. Once we finished the bottle, we headed down to the river for some sunset pictures. This old man and his son agreed to paddle us out onto the winding river so we could admire the Taj from the water.
The sun finally went down, and we bought two more bottles of whiskey and drank them at another restaurant whose name I have forgotten. I then woke up at 3:30 in the morning with a pounding headache. I am now waiting for my train to Delhi, and I am still hungover after nursing my aching body for nearly 12 hours. After this train, I will have a 27.5 hour journey ahead of me, and I will finally touch down in Tennessee where I haven't been in 4 months!
I had already missed one train to Hampi the day before I actually ended up leaving Bangalore. I finally found a day bus, which was operated by the Indian government. I didn’t care about the quality of the transportation because I can’t sleep on sleeper buses anyhow. So I ended up riding in traffic for over an hour in a tuk tuk to reach this bus station on the outskirts of downtown Bangalore.
The bus was scheduled to take only 6 hours, but it ended up taking well over 8. Since I was riding in the front passenger seat right next to the driver, I could see everything that was whizzing past us. I saw at least three large trucks flipped over on the side of the road, and our bus nearly became one of them on several occasions. We stopped about halfway through the journey, and I had some coffee at this questionably sanitary restaurant. I was literally the only white person amongst nearly one hundred people taking a break at this rest stop. I joined the locals to relieve myself in the parking lot, and I kept looking over my shoulders to make sure no one robbed me.
We pulled into the Hospet Central Bus Station around midnight, and I began walking about town in order to try and find somewhere to lay my head for the evening. The first three places I went to were fully occupied, and I ended up staying at the most expensive place in town because that was the only place not many Indian tourists could afford. It cost about $56, but I didn’t care because I was dead tired and worn out from seeing my life flash before my eyes on that damn bus. I woke up in the morning, and I headed for the bus station once again to ride about 8 or so miles into the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Hampi.
I was immediately hounded by tuk tuk drivers upon stepping off the bus. This one persistent gentleman kept pestering me and followed me into this restaurant called The Mango Tree. After eating some Israeli food, I once again was confronted by the tuk tuk driver outside the restaurant. He wanted to take me on a tour of Hampi, and I agreed to let him after finding out that no more motorbikes could be rented to tourists. Apparently, in the previous 2 months, two tourists had died while recklessly driving around town. We spent the afternoon at several ruins that were destroyed nearly 500 years ago by, you guessed it, the Muslims . I watched the sunset on top of this rock, and I went to sleep that night at Vicky’s Guest House.
My second day in Hampi, I rented a bicycle. I paid this random guy about $1.50 for the entire day and headed down to the river. I rolled my wheels up this ramp and onto a small, rickety boat that would transport me and about 20 others across the other side. I peddled for nearly 20 minutes until stopping for water at the Hanuman Temple. 572 steps later, I made it to the top. There were many Indians making the small pilgrimage as well, and many stopped me to take photos with them. Across the vast rock laden hills, were plantations that contained banana trees and sugar cane. The river cut through the earth and weaved its way past several ancient ruins.
After making the much easier way back down, I grabbed another cool water and headed to the ferry. The sun was really beating down on me at this point in the day, but there wasn’t much humidity, so I wasn’t too bothered by it. I then returned my bike once back on the semi-civilized side of the river. I packed up my room, and I spent some time blogging about Sri Lanka while watching dozens of monkeys jumping from rooftop to rooftop chasing eachother. I ate once more at The Mango Tree restaurant, paid and then took a bus back to Hospet.
I knew there was a train departing around an hour before the last bus to Bangalore. I wanted to try boarding the train with only a general ticket in hopes of being upgraded to a first class sleeper car. I met these two Australian policewomen who were also waiting for the train to arrive, and they said I shouldn’t have a problem getting on board. When the train finally did arrive, I was politely told by the car’s superintendent that no seats were available and that I would be stuck in the general class for the entire 9 hour train ride. I then abandoned the train and took a tuk tuk to the dreaded bus station. I had to spend the next 8 hours in the very back of another bus to Bangalore. I didn’t sleep a wink, and I didn’t bother to get out until I had to relieve myself on the side of the road near a toll gate. I made sure to look over both of my shoulders, but I think most people were just shocked to see this white guy taking a pee at 4 o’clock in the morning on the side of the road.
I decided to spend my last long break while in India...not in India. Sri Lanka had tantalized me ever since I heard about her from a friend of mine who was working at a microbrewery with me in Australia. He had been before on a surfing trip and told me it was “just amazing bro”. He was a cool kid and a great surfer, so I knew when I made it over to that part of the world that I’d have to check it out. Additionally, one of my fellow students at IIMB had spent more than a week on the exact route I was planning to take, and SHE did it alone on a motorbike. So, without (much) hesitation, I boarded a Srilankan Airlines flight from Bangalore and touched down at Colombo International Airport at roughly 10PM on a Wednesday evening.
I had to buy a visa on arrival for $35 USD, and then I made my way through the bizarre duty free shops that were selling everything from microwaves to refrigerators. The first person I spoke to after clearing customs was the guy at the information counter, and I asked him where the nearest ATM was and if there were a bus to Colombo. He said that if I left the airport property and took a right that, “in about 500 meters you will find bus #197”. The taxi was about $20, but I thought I would try the local means of transportation and fork out the roughly $1 that it cost.
After walking for what seemed like 15 minutes, I was heading down a super shady highway at night and in the dark. I asked a few security guards the way to bus #187, and they just kept waving me down the street. Finally a bus came rumbling down the road, and a guy who was hanging out the side of the door kept hollering “Colombo Colombo Colombo!”. The bus said #197, so I said what the hay and jumped inside. I shouldn’t need to tell you that I was the only white person (or non Sri Lankan for that matter) on this bus. But I should tell you that I decided to leave any guidebooks at home for this trip and try to experience everything without any preconceptions. The only thing I had to aid me was my phone’s GPS, which for some reason actually works even though I had no cell reception or wifi access. The only comfort I had that evening was being able to see that little blue dot creeping its way towards Colombo.
The thing that really sucks about governmental transportation is that the men working the vehicle are instructed to fill it to the brim. There are people sitting on people. There are also pee breaks, cigarette breaks, coffee breaks, and god knows what breaks throughout the journey. Sometimes, the driver will stop for everyone to use the toilet (or just pee in a field), and then he will stop 15 minutes later to go himself. Needless to say, this means of travel can test your patience quite quickly and often. The only advantage is the insanely cheap price it entails. Since I had nothing better to do on this particular Wednesday evening, I decided to take bus #197.
I finally got dropped off near the Colombo Fort train station, and I asked a rickshaw driver to deliver me to my prospective hotel for the evening. It was about 1AM at this point, and my bus took nearly 2:30 hours to get about 20 miles. I also ended up paying the rickshaw guy twice as much money that I paid on the bus. I probably had never been dropped off anywhere sketchier in my life than maybe Penang, Malaysia at this hour. Luckily, these people were not as malicious as say people in Memphis, TN, so I didn’t worry too much. I finally stumbled upon my hotel, and I got some much needed rest for the following day.
The next morning I woke up, ate breakfast, and then headed to the train station for the roughly 3 hour ride to Hikkaduwa. The train station was bustling to say the least. It was also pouring down rain, so everyone smelled extra pleasant! My train finally arrived, and I thought that surely there would be a space for my butt to sit. Of course, there were no seats available, and I had to stand up pretty much the entire way to Hikkaduwa. Fortunately, the trains in this part of the world have doors that you can open and hang out of, so I enjoyed the breeze and shanty buildings with ocean views. I finally made it to Hikkaduwa, and I quickly rented my own scooter in an attempt to avoid anymore governmental rides.
I spent the night at a very run down hotel on the beach in Unawatuna, which was about 45 minutes from Hikkaduwa. I had never heard of the place until a bartender in Hikkaduwa directed me to where he thought was the best place to be in Sri Lanka. The beach was pretty, and there were a lot of (mainly Russian) tourists at the many hotels/restaurants/bars that dotted the crescent shaped coastline.
I arrived close to sunset, so I made my way towards a sign that kept saying “Jungle Beach”. After twisting and turning all the way up this dirt road on a mountain, I made it to a bamboo hut where these two fine young gentlemen were offering me some marijuana. I politely declined, and they said that I couldn’t ride my scooter any further. I then decided to leave my bike with these super dodgy characters, and I began the hike to Jungle Beach. After about 3 minutes, the views that emerged were heavenly. It looked like something out of a postcard from Hawaii, and the white washed Pagoda on top of the peninsula only added to the serenity.
I finally reached Jungle Beach, and the guys who owned the little restaurant on its small enclave said I could sleep on one of their mats for the evening if I so desired. I once again politely declined, and I made my way back to Unawatuna. I forgot to mention that earlier in the day I had visited the old town of Galle, so I was quite exhausted and in need of some sleep. The Sea Song motel didn’t really offer much in the way of frills, but it was enough to hold me over for the night. I paid the man who had been running the place for over 30 years (a self-proclaimed Buddhist alcoholic) about $15 to sleep in a room that offered beach views, and where I could hear the waves crashing as I dozed off to sleep.
The next day I had breakfast back at Jungle Beach, and I found a shortcut that allowed me to avoid having to hike nearly as much. After finishing my omelet and coffee, I headed back to Hikkaduwa because my two German friends from IIMB were meeting me at the train station. Once they arrived, we rented another scooter and zoomed back to Unawatuna. We had a late lunch at this tiny little beach bar called the Chili Cafe. The waves were literally crashing right at the steps that led up to its stilted dining area. I didn’t think the Germans would want to stay at the same place that I’d spent the previous night, but they were fine with the digs and the proprietor was elated when I brought him more business.
That night we headed down the beach for some dinner at a beachside restaurant, and then we drove up the mountain for a drink at The Rooftop. The Rooftop was this very isolated bar that was run by a bunch of delinquents, one of whom’s father must have paid for the construction of the building. The views were unbeatable, and you could see the beach of Unawatuna and its lights flickering below. After taking a few pictures and paying for some overpriced, warm beer, we headed back down to the beach and went to bed.
We spent the following day wandering around Unawatuna and had breakfast at Jungle Beach again. The next day we headed to Mirissa, which was rumored to offer the best beaches in Sri Lanka. Mirissa did not disappoint, and we found this two room hotel on the beach that was brand new and had shabby chic decor. My German friends woke up early the following morning and went whale watching, while I opted for a luxury breakfast at the reef break where I could watch surfers show off their skills. The neat thing about Sri Lanka is that no matter how expensive a hotel is, their food menu is usually on par with most other restaurants. So if you want to stretch your dollars but eat well, then stay at cheap hotels but eat at expensive ones.
We then left later that afternoon, and headed Southeast for Tangalle. We didn’t arrive until nightfall, and we managed to find this cute little hotel on a long stretch of Tangalle’s main beach. The next morning, I had some breakfast and starting reading my newly acquired book, Up In Smoke by Paul Newman. After a few hours, I decided to go checkout Amanwella, which is one of the hotels in the Aman Resorts’ collection. One of my first ever jobs was working for the Amangani in Jackson Hole, WY. Our guest list while I was there included the likes of Vince Vaughn and Bill Gates. I wanted to go checkout Sri Lanka’s Aman property, and I had a hunch that the general manager would be impressed with me attempting to drop in and say hello. Sure enough, the GM was from Georgia. We chatted for about 10 minutes, and he directed the staff to serve me a pot of tea and invited me to swim in their enormous infinity pool.
The beach at Amanwella was the nicest I came across while in Sri Lanka. The man serving me tea mentioned that they spent up to three hours everyday cleaning any rubbish that happened to wash ashore. After swimming and sipping tea for about an hour, I headed back to Tangalle. The Germans collected their things, and we left for Yala National Park in search for leopards and elephants. The drive took about 2 hours, and I nearly died on several occasions due to dogs running into the street and trucks stopping without any brake lights.
The following morning, we woke up at 5am for our safari. I was very anxious to see a leopard in the wild, and I hadn’t been on a safari since 2009 in Tanzania. We zoomed off into the jungle and spent about 6 hours touring Yala. We ended up seeing one leopard, but it was eating in the brush, and the view wasn’t as clear as I had hoped. We saw a bunch of different species of birds and water buffalo. There were also crocodiles, but I was fairly underwhelmed after we were told the likelihood of seeing anymore spotted cats was low.
Tired and disheveled, we then had lunch and got back on our scooters for the 100 kms or so left to reach Sinharaja Rainforest. The road for the first 30 kms was all dirt, windy and super dusty. We then came upon an elephant on the side of the road near the entrance to Udawalawe National Park. After taking some pictures, we continued on towards Sinharaja. I wasn’t aware prior to our days’ trip that Sinharaja was located amongst vast amounts of tea plantations. The temperature began to drop as we climbed up and up to our final destination. We found the only affordable and tolerable accommodation option in town, and it sort of reminded me of a old colonial home that could easily be haunted.
The next morning, we were picked up by our rickshaw driver and driven about 1 hour into the rainforest. We spent the next few hours being shown pit vipers, monkeys and various types of lizards. The highlight of the day was this great waterfall that we climbed up and jumped about 30 feet from into the cool water below. We then packed up our things after returning back to our hotel, and we made the 75 km trip down to Unawatuna. The drive was probably the best of my road trips in Sri Lanka. I was cruising downhill the entire way past dozens of little tea plantations. I finally reached the port of Galle and stayed one more night in Unawatuna before turning in my scooter and taking the train back to Colombo.
Colombo was quite an interesting place to spend my final day before leaving for the airport back to Bangalore. There was a thriving art scene, and I went to four or so galleries that were all within walking distance of each other. My favorite was The Gallery Cafe, since they offered a great exhibition and had a wonderful restaurant. After a few hours in the Colombo heat, I decided to venture into a hair salon and chop off some of my now shaggy and bothersome hair. I then went back to my hotel, begged the reception lady to let me take a shower in one of their “dirty” rooms, and then I took a taxi back to the airport. The Germans met me at the check-in counter, and because the flight was full, we all got upgraded to first class. I was sad to be leaving Sri Lanka, but I knew that I would someday return to further explore the rest of what she had to offer!
The last time I was in Paris, I celebrated the New Year (‘09) with my brother at the Eiffel Tower. We popped champagne and cheered with thousands of other Parisians as the tower lit up and sparkled in all its grandeur. This time, I was coming at a slightly less chilly season of the year (Fall), and I was experiencing The City of Love in a different light - with my girlfriend, Lindsay.
We arrived on a Sunday afternoon from Nice, and the sky was overcast with a slight drizzle. We took a cab to our hotel in the Latin quarter, checked-in, and then headed down to St. Germain for an afternoon lunch. Cafes are one of the staples of Paris, and almost any cafe you step into will not disappoint. We visited more than a dozen on this trip, and it never got old.
That first night, we walked nearly 3 miles along the Seine to come upon the Eiffel Tower. After standing around taking some photographs for about 20 minutes, the tower lit up and dazzled all the other tourists doing the same thing we were doing. We then made it a few more blocks back towards the Latin quarter and stumbled into a great pizza place, whose name I have since forgotten.
Our first real day was spent cruising the streets of Le Marais, which is the old Jewish quarter across the Seine from where we were staying. Since it was a Monday, most of the shops we tried to peek into were actually closed. The Picasso Museum was also closed, so we were limited in our ability to spend money we probably shouldn’t be spending to begin with.
The second day, we went to Versailles and spent the day walking through the massive palace. Apparently, October is a good month to view the grounds; however, I kept wondering what it would have been like in the summer because there were still quite a lot of tourists. We waited in line for about 45 minutes to get inside, and we spent about an hour in crowded hallways and rooms that once housed historic figures like Louis XIV. The Hall of Mirrors was definitely the most dramatic, and we probably spent the most time loitering in that infamous space.
After touring the palace, we then walked down through the gardens and canals to the Petit Trianon, which is the former estate of Marie Antoinette. It actually costs extra to enter this part of the ground, so it was less crowded and thus more enjoyable in my opinion. We then walked our way back to the train station and headed back to Paris.
Later that evening, I wanted to go to a bar that my Parisian friend had recommended: Prescription. It was a small speakeasy style cocktail club, and we asked the bartender what other bars in Paris he liked once we ordered our drinks. He recommended two other similar style bars called Candelaria and Moonshiner. After we finished our drinks, we walked across the Seine and headed into another similar style bar called Ballroom. One cool thing about Paris is the fashion in which you actually get into some of the establishments. Ballroom, for example, was though an unmarked door, down some very sketchy stairs and into a corridor that would make most people question if they were about to get mugged. Then we started to notice the candles, and a swank parlour opened up to where bartenders were making $15 cocktails.
Our third day was spent touring the Musee d'Orsay. This museum is impressive. When I was last in Paris in 2009, this museum was absolutely swamped, so I was glad to be back in a less popular time of the year. The museum is home to the old train station of Paris, and it is an impressive structure. It must have cost a fortune transforming the building to its current state, and we spent about 3 hours admiring the Impressionist works of Monet, Renoir, Seurat, Van Gogh and Degas.
At night, we went to checkout Candelaria, which was entered through the back of a tiny Mexican restaurant. You went through a door that blended in with the white wall, and you emerged in a small yet intimate space where 20-somethings were ordering expensive cocktails and lounging in style. After one drink, we headed to Moonshiner, which also featured a very interesting entrance: through the cold storage space of its Italian restaurant. The drinks at this bar were probably the best of all the speakeasies we visited, but we noticed that all of them were quite small and generally crowded, even for a week night.
Our fourth day, I made my girlfriend wake up at dawn to see the sunrise over the Notre Dame cathedral. We then had breakfast near the University of Paris which is the epicenter of the Latin quarter. Next, we spent a lot of time walking around Champs Elysees and were trying not to notice how sore our legs were from so much walking.
The last day we woke up late and went to another restaurant which was recommended by my Parisian friend. It was a cozy little place called Eggs & Co., and we had brunch up in their loft area. The other thing I noticed about Paris is that probably 90% of the establishments would not be allowed in the USA because of handicap access restrictions. On the bright side, it was an open invitation to be as creative as one wishes with their space. You could basically have your customers climbing ladders to get to their table, and because the food is so damn good, most of them would actually do it!
Our last night was spent with a good friend of mine named Fabien Taverne. I met Fabien back in 2010 while living in Byron Bay, Australia. Fabien is a super talented guitarist, and he has played with the likes of Katie Melua and Robin Thicke. We watched Fabien play a solo show, and then he took us out for a night of drinking in cave bars. One place was called Caveau des Oubliettes, and it was considered one of the oldest cave bars in Paris. It actually used to be a prison, and there were scratch marks on the walls were prisoners used to be held captive.
I then woke up on Friday and headed back to Charles de Gaulle airport for my Air France flight back to Bangalore. I was surprised to hear the band Cherub’s single “Tonight” on the in-flight radio, as less than 2 years ago I was on the road with them touring with Mansions on the Moon. Once I got back into Bangalore, my taxi driver got lost. I finally made it back to IIMB (Indian Institute of Management - Bangalore), and I prepared myself for two weeks of classes. We then had another holiday coming up, and I will post later about spending that time in Sri Lanka.
Ah - the South of France! What an amazing place :) I was first here in 2009 with my parents, and we drove from Marseille to Antibes/Cannes/Monaco/Nice. My first encounter with the breathtaking Corniches and Monaco’s glam had me hooked. So when my girlfriend suggested that we go back this October, I didn’t really hesitate. Luckily for me, Air France had just ended their strike, and I caught a direct flight to Paris and then onto Nice the following morning. I picked up my girlfriend, Lindsay, at the Nice airport in our rental car. It had been some time since I had been behind the wheel of a manual vehicle, and the South of France is definitely not a place for beginners. The hairpin turns and rich French locals do not make for a pleasant combination, believe me! However, I quickly got accustomed to the shifting and off we went.
Our first four nights were spent at Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. When I was first in this area with my parents, I had actually mistaken this little gem for Monaco because of the abundance of giant yachts moored off of its harbour. However, it just happened to be the other, quieter playground for the rich and famous. The secluded beaches that dotted the peninsula here were great spots for having a little wine and cheese picnic. After each day’s activity, we would cap it off with a swim near the pebbly shore. The first afternoon that we arrived, we took a nice long walk around the trail of the peninsula and were able to get a great view up the coast towards Monaco. We stayed right overlooking the Cap Ferrat port at L’Oursin. The room was quite large and had two European style balconies that peeked out onto the sea.
The first full day we had was spent driving West towards Cannes and Antibes. The old fort and town in Cannes was my girlfriend’s favorite part of the day. I enjoyed the walls surrounding the Picasso Museum in Antibes, but much of the sea front there was under construction. I guess I had a special connection to the town since I stayed there almost 5 years ago. Driving along the coast is awesome. The waves crash into the pebble beaches and create this striking blue color that just makes you melt. I could drive along the roads for hours without even realizing it. We then made it back later that afternoon for some cocktails at Villefranche-sur-Mer and noticed how similar the town was to others I had been to in Northern Italy, such as Margherita. A lot of the food in the Nice area is influenced by Italy, since it is so close in proximity. A lot of the workers in town were actually from or lived in Italy because it was cheaper. I didn’t mind one bit, since amazing pizza is to be found at nearly every restaurant.
That first night we made our first trip up to Eze, which is an ancient commune and fortress just above Cap Ferrat in the mountains. This town is nothing short of enchanting. The cobblestone streets are no more than two people wide, and I was told that only 50 or so residents actually lived in the little village. We meandered our way up and into L’Eden, which is one of several restaurants attached to Chateau de La Chevre. I really had no business being in this place, as one of their restaurants holds two Michelin stars. The views from up above on their terrance were stunning. It was something magical, and I would eat there for every meal if I could afford it.
The next day we drove up again to Eze, since we wanted to see it better in the daylight. At the top of the village, there is a little cactus garden that has what seem to be the best views of the coast. We had breakfast at a little place called Gascogne Cafe, which was right opposite the hill leading up to Eze. After walking around the ancient village, we made our way down to Monaco. Driving into Monaco is like no other experience you can imagine. The sheer concentration of wealth is incredible, as is evident by some of the largest yachts in the world. Ever other car is an Aston Martin or Ferrari or Rolls. The Monte Carlo Casino is home to the vast majority of tourists to the area, and we walked right past it onto the veranda that offers a wonderful view onto the port. After taking a few pictures, we settled down for lunch at the Miramar Hotel & Restaurant, which is eerily similar to where I are with my parents 5 years ago.
After lunch, we drove our car to the opposite side of the port to where you can take an elevator up to the Palace, Cathedral and Aquarium. This is the old, cute part of Monaco. It’s where Princess Grace married Prince Rainier, and it’s also the other tourist draw in the city state. There are impeccable gardens that skirt the edge of cliffs and are wonderful for walking. After about an hour, we hopped back in the car and headed back to our little nook of a beach in Cap Ferrat. Since we enjoyed Villefranche-sur-Mer so much the other day at the beach, we decided to come back and have dinner on their seafront road. All of the restaurants set up tables alongside the harbour, and the lights that reflect off the water provide a magical ambience. It was also a full moon that night, so you could really see the mountains in all their glory towering from above.
The third day, we drove to Ventimiglia which is an Italian town just across the border of France. We walked around town and popped into a few shops before deciding to get a pizza at a beachside restaurant. Yes, the pizza was great...obviously! We then drove back through Eze so my girlfriend could buy some presents at this perfumery, which apparently has been frequented by the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio. I wasn’t so interested in scent shopping, but they did have a really cool museum that showed the history of making perfume in the back. We then had another afternoon of wine and cheese on the beach of Cap Ferrat, and dined at a small restaurant in neighboring Beaulieu-sur-Mer called L’eSCentiel. One thing to note is that you should always order the set menu, it’s the easiest and most affordable option for every meal. Plus, it’s what the chef is cooking fresh that night, and there is no confusion or miscommunication since you can just say you want the menu of the day.
Our last day in the South of France was spent having breakfast at a small cafe in Cap Ferrat. We then made our way to the airport and dropped off our rental car. We had a flight to catch for Paris, and I will tell you all about that in my next post!
After a full day of classes, I boarded a night train bound for Jog Falls in Eastern Karnataka from the Bangalore City Rail Station. Once I got to the station, I found my train but noticed that only "sleeper class" seats were available. One might assume that this "sleeper class" means that there are beds to sleep in, but there are definitely not. These are the cheap seats, and are the most crowded as a result. After asking the guard who had a machine gun around his shoulder where my class was, he told me that they would be "attaching" it shortly. Sure enough, within 10 or so minutes after the scheduled departure time, the first, second and third class AC cars were connected. Upon the train, this man introduced himself to me, showed me his military ID - even though he was a civilian - and told me that if I had any problems to come find him. He gave me his seat number and quietly went back to his seat. About 8 hours later, I woke up at the trains final destination: Jog Falls.
The falls were a disappointment, and due to people dying from falling off the rocks that lead down to the base of the falls, the trail was closed. I then took several buses and ended up in Gokarna, which is a very small little beach town in Northeastern Karnataka. Out of season, the place is barely alive, and only two places were open for accommodation on Om Beach. I stayed at the Namaste Cafe, which was by far the best option at the time. Their food was actually quite good, and the view from their restaurant floor was well worth the $12 bucks I paid to stay there.
After one night in Gokarna, I made my way up to Palolem in Goa. This was the beach town where they filmed the opening scene from the Bourne Supremacy film with Matt Damon. The movie opens up with Damon running down the beach, and that is where I spent two nights before heading to Margao. Goa is a bit overrated in my opinion, and I doubt I will ever return. Trash and cows are bountiful, the water is cold, and it isn’t even clear. I met a British couple who were traveling around the world at a restaurant on the beach, and they had just come from the North of Goa. They told me that Palolem was the best beach by far that they had seen in Goa, so I decided to stay put. If you think the beaches of Goa are going to rival those of SE Asia, then you’re in for some serious disappointment.
The last day I was in Goa, I rented a motorbike and headed inland to see some Portuguese mansions. I was lucky enough to have a man show me the way to Chandor Village because none of the streets were labeled at all. Without his help, I never would have found the small town. Once I arrived at the Braganza Mansion, the old lady who lived there stood up when I entered her living room. The mansion was filled with antiques and artifacts from all over the world. I asked her when was the last time she danced in her grand ballroom, and she said that 1967 was the last time there had been a real party.
I then hopped back on my bike and scooted into town. The Muslim man who rented me the bike at the bus station agreed to take me back into town so I wouldn’t have to take a taxi. It was an interesting ride through the streets of Margao on the back of a scooter with this Muslim man. As strange as the scene may have looked (white American kid on the back of a Muslim’s scooter), no one even seemed to notice. The following morning, I took a cab to the airport and landed in Bangalore an hour later. It took more time for me to get from the airport in Bangalore to IIMB than it took for me to fly from Goa to Bangalore. I stayed in town the following weekend because in two weeks I was flying to France for a 10 day vacation with my girlfriend. She lives in the USA, and France is the halfway point for us. Luckily, Air France just ended their strike about a week before my flight, and I am writing this blog post on my way back to Bangalore from Paris. More on Paris and the South of France in my next post!
My first real weekend in India was spent in Mysore, which has one of the finest palaces from the Raj era. The town is also known for its manufacture of silk products, such as scarves. It was only a 2:30 hour train ride from Bangalore, and I unknowingly paid around $5 USD for the first class AC cabin on the way down. We spent the first night at the Viceroy hotel, and ate at this cool alfresco restaurant in town. Being able to wander the streets of Mysore made for a much more authentic experience than in Bangalore. This was the India that I had come to expect. There were genuine smells of spice in the air, cows in the street, and food stalls lined up and down the road. The traffic wasn’t nearly as bad as it was in Bangalore, and you could walk around town without worrying about getting run over every 2 seconds.
Our first real day in Mysore was spent at the Mysore Palace. The tour really only lasted about 30 minutes, as most of the palace is not open to the public. There were elephants all over the grounds, and they were trained to take a picture with you, if you held out money for them. The elephant would see that you were holding money, take the money from your hand, pass it back up to its master, and then touch your head with its trunk as a blessing. You would not believe how many people actually contributed to this scheme. I witnessed at least 20 different people engage with the elephants, and then we decided to leave for the Nandi Hills.
The ride up to the hills is quite scenic, and you really are able to get a sense for how big Mysore actually is. There are many places that surround the city, and several had been turned into high end hotels. We finally made it up to the temple on Nandi Hill, and I experienced my first long wait to see what was inside a temple. To my surprise, there isn’t really anything worth waiting to see. The exterior of Hindu temples is much more appealing than the interior. Besides being insanely crowded and borderline claustrophobic, the reward you receive for being inside the temple is some powder that is rubbed on your forehead by the people who are working inside the shrine of the temple. I’m glad I got to experience and witness how it worked, but I won’t waste anymore time waiting in line like that again. Just enjoy the intricate engravings that make up the temples and your own space that you will have outside the temple -- it just isn’t worth the effort that is required to see what’s inside.
After making our way back down to Mysore, we then went to an oil den. Apparently (there’s not an easy way to tell otherwise), this oil den provided products to the likes of The Body Shop and sat us down for some sampling. We smelled oils that ranged from massage oil to aphrodisiacs for both men and women. My friend ended up buying what was called, “black musk”. The oil based product required only two drops underneath your tongue for increased libido. I didn’t buy anything, but it was an interesting experience nonetheless.
I did some exploring around the streets at dusk alone, and I picked up a Kingfisher beer to help entertain myself while observing everyday life. The sunset in Mysore was quite enchanting, and several of their monuments that scatter about the palace really come to life during this time. We were in town about 2 weeks before the Mysore Dasara festival, and elephants were on march to practice for their upcoming parade. What seemed like a very normal occurrence to everyone else was incredibly entertaining to me: about a dozen men riding elephants down the street for no apparent reason. The single file march of elephants amongst the regular car traffic was not something you see everyday in the developed world.
The next morning, we toured a government owned silk factory where photos were prohibited. I managed to snap a shot of the production floor, which consisted of several employees managing various types of weaving machines. The most interesting machines were the Japanese weavers, and they must have been 30 years old. There were three main rooms which processed the silk, from spooling to final product.
After spending about 45 minutes at the silk factory, we went back to the train station and bought regular “sleeper” class tickets for $1. It’s pretty amazing that you can take a 3 hour train for $1. Another cool aspect about these trains, which you will also experience in places like Morocco, is that you may open the doors while the train is rolling down the track. It’s great fun to hang out the door while the wind rushes through your clothes and hair. Another amusing aspect of their trains is when they stop: you can get off onto the gravel of the track and then wait until they start moving to jump back on. My next train adventure would lead me East to the Karnataka & Goa coast, which I will cover in my next post!
My Tiger Airways flight touched down in Bangalore, India a little past 1 AM on a Sunday morning. The travel time from Singapore wasn’t more than 4 hours, and I had an entire exit row to myself. Always remember to request an exit row seat upon check-in. If it’s available, they will give it to you for free. Just smile at the counter attendant, and let them do their thing. After a pretty serious encounter with the immigration officer in Bangalore, I made it into the arrivals hall and was all but accosted by several taxi cab promoters. Luckily, I had pre-arranged a ride with my hotel, but I actually ended up paying nearly what the promoters wanted in the end: 1600 Rupees for about a 45 minute ride. This translates to roughly $26 USD, and what is great about India is that no matter how badly you are getting ripped off, it’s still only a few bucks in the grand scheme of things. For instance, I just recently got driven to the exact same airport for for about 1,000 Rupees, which is about $10 less (whoo hoooo).
When my driver dropped me off at my hotel around 2:30AM, there was this crazy dog in the middle of the street just howling. It never stopped, and I am glad that the receptionist put me in a room away from that street because I could still faintly hear the animal well into the wee hours of the morning. I woke up around 9AM and had a rooftop breakfast, my first in India. This was also my first encounter with the spice that Indians rave about. Let’s just say that I was on the toilet a bit more frequently than normal for the follwing week as a result.
Once I checked out of my room, I was then presented with my taxi bill, for which I had no rupees to offer. The receptionist sent me down the street to try my luck at an ATM. I was dodging in and out of non-existent lanes of traffic like I was running through an obstacle course. I finally pulled out about $200 worth of Rupees and headed for the Indian Institute of Management. Other than just recently bursting onto the Financial Times top 100 MBA programs in the world, I had little knowledge of what to expect about the place.
My tuk-tuk driver (they also call these “Autos” in India) dropped me at the front gate of IIMB around 10AM, and I had to complete several formalities in order to just set foot on campus. The first thing I noticed was how tight they kept security. Every night, someone lines up the security guards like they are in the military. Honestly, there probably isn’t a safer place to be living in Bangalore, and I have not once felt in any sort of danger while on campus. However, life outside the gate is a different story.
The campus is a very plush urban oasis that has some of the most tended to gardens I have ever seen. The campus employs hundreds of people from maintenance workers to cooks to guards to teachers. It is really like its own little mini village, and while within its walls, it is not even possible to realize you are in Bangalore. The stone walls and long corridors really make you feel like you’re in a Tomb Raider movie, and I have never seen a more uniquely designed campus in all my life. The students who attend IIMB are truly lucky, not only to have gotten into one of the top MBA programs in India, but to live in such a beautiful place.
The campus does have its downfalls, however. For starters, the “mess” food is horribly redundant. They seem to serve nearly the same thing everyday, and the only meal I enjoy is breakfast due to the dual omelet chefs. The night canteen has a plethora of Gatorade and Snickers on hand, and I am probably their biggest consumer of those products. Then there is a cafe, which serves lattes and chicken pesto paninis. Most students congregate here outside of mess hours. Additionally, there are several convenient stands scattered throughout campus to prevent people from having to walk forever to get a chai or bottle of water.
The administrative issues that I had to deal with to just get my campus ID and then registered with the FRRO (Foreigners Regional Registration Office or something) was excruciatingly painful. I visited the exchange coordinators office countless times and was required to repeat unnecessary steps so many times it was a joke. After being in Bangalore for about 2 weeks, I finally got my approval letter from the FRRO, and I could finally relax about being detained when trying to leave the country. More on my first trip outside Bangalore in the next post!
As this was my third trip to Asia, I knew that leaving without seeing Singapore would continue to agitate me. So, in route to India, I stopped to see The City of Lions for myself and finally put it to rest. I had always heard that Singapore was very plain, clean, expensive and even blasé. For starters, it is definitely a breath of fresh air for one who has spent significant time tramping around the wonders of SE Asia. Everything is incredibly modern, and one might even forget he is in Asia while in Singapore, if it weren’t for the multitude of Asian residents.
I spent the first night in the Bugis neighborhood. There are numerous cafes and bars where expats thrive in this area. I was staying right off Arab street and had a beautiful view of the Sultan Mosque. I ate dinner that night at the Blue Jaz Cafe. I spent a few minutes strolling down Haji Street, which is one of the most picturesque in all of Singapore. After traveling for most of the day, I went to bed early and tried to prepare myself for an early morning meeting with my employer, Cummins Inc.
Since I had been traveling for nearly 3 weeks without shaving, I was on a mission to find some shaving cream so that I could look presentable to the powers that be at our Singapore Distribution Center. Around 10pm, I realized that the bathroom had no mirror, so I ended up shaving in my room with no water or shaving cream. I was able to pull off a mildly acceptable complexion, and I went to sleep. At around 4:45AM, the call to prayer from the Sultan Mosque began. It hadn’t occurred to me when I checked into my hotel that this would be a possibility. I had spent time in several Arab countries, but it had been a few years and I just couldn’t forgive myself for the entire day for being so absent minded. The prayers subsided around 6am, and then I began to get ready for my day.
The transportation in Singapore is excellent. It took me about an hour to walk, train and then bus to Cummins’ sea front location. One of the strange things about the logistics industry in this part of the world is that warehouses are built in a multi-story fashion. Instead of having huge football field size storage facilities, they build upwards, and trucks are required to make their way to the docks via parking garage style ramps. I spent most of the day meeting with operational leaders, and then I headed back to Bugis for a much needed nap.
When I awoke, I ventured out to explore Singapore’s museum scene. Since it was Friday, everything was free of charge, and I was able to explore the National Museum of Singapore, the Singapore Art Museum, and finally the Red Dot Design Museum. The RDDM was my favorite, as they had a night bazaar of sorts with local and expat designers selling their goods inside the venue. There was also a dj spinning funky dance tunes accompanied by food and beer vendors. I purchased a few items for my girlfriend, and then I headed down the street to grab dinner at Five Viet Bistro Bar. There was actually a great duo providing music while I had several East Asian street food tapas. I then made my way back to Bugis and went to bed in my new and far removed from any call to prayer room.
My last day in Singapore was spent mostly around the Marina Bay Sands area. The view from atop the MBS is quite breathtaking. Besides being 55 stories high upon SE Asia’s most lavish building, you can really begin to get a sense of Singapore’s power and wealth. The Singapore port is well within view of the MBS, and its volume is highly impressive. Additionally, the amount of tankers offshore is mindboggling. When I left later that evening, I must have noticed at least 100 boats moored in the bay. While Singapore is not as exotic and gritty as most other SE Asian destinations, it does delight the senses and is definitely worth a visit. I would not hesitate to live and work in the city, since being located there puts all of SE Asia at your fingertips. Every discount airline in the region flies in and out of Singapore, and it would make a wonderful base for more tantalizing adventures.
My first encounter with India on this trip began at the Singapore International Airport. As I made my way to the check-in counter, I knew that my comfort zone would soon be tested. I was about to board a Tiger Airways flight as the only white person on-board. Something to prepare yourself for when traveling to India: the men are very touchy feely with each other. Men are always holding hands and hanging on one another openly. I began to notice this as I was waiting in line for my boarding passes. After waiting for an hour or so at the boarding gate, I was off for India and my semester abroad at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. Surely after 3 trips to Asia and 3 more trips to Africa, there could be nothing more in the way of culture shock left to experience. But in the back of my mind, I knew that somehow India could pull it off...
Other than Bagan, Inle Lake is the most popular destination in Myanmar. Pronounced “In-Lay Lake”, there is no reason why anyone should miss a few days in this little slice of heaven. I spent my nights at the Mingalar Inn, which is located in Nyaungshwe. They had two types of rooms, since they had recently added on to their hotel. The newer side had a pool, and unless you paid extra to stay in the nicer rooms, then you weren’t allowed to use the pool. The nicer rooms also had a balcony that overlooked the pool. I opted for the nicer room and paid around $30USD for a few extra amenities, including aircon.
I spent my first day and night wandering around the streets of Nyaung Shwe. There was a photo gallery in town, and a few nice little restaurants that seemed to be at least partly run by expats. One place, called “The French Touch”, served up European fares with an excellent collection of photos that adorned the walls. In all honesty, it was much better than the photo gallery that I had visited earlier in the day. I went to bed fairly early that night, and I woke up to sounds of roosters crowing, which happens quite a bit when you are staying in rural communities in the third world. The Mingalar Inn offered me a wonderful breakfast, and I was highly impressed with their service. The great thing about Asia is that regardless of the price of your room, the hotel staff will almost always treat you like a VIP.
I rented a bicycle from my hotel and set off for a route that would take me around the top half of Inle Lake. Firstly, I highly recommend taking an ample amount of water when exercising in SE Asia. It is super hot almost anywhere you go, and you sweat like crazy. The first few kilometers of my journey were great, and I passed through numerous little villages that were buzzing with activity. A few minutes later, I was heading up a hill towards a mountain. I hadn’t really exercised in about a month, so the ride began to really get challenging. My legs were buring, my clothes were soaking wet, and I was wearing this ridiculous straw hat because I didn’t want to get anymore sunburnt that I already was. Once I made it to the top of the hill, the lake came into view, and I was coasting the rest of the way down to the shore.
I finally made it to a point where there were men waiting for tourists like me to arrive, so they could transport me across the lake to the other side where I would continue with my bike all the way to Nyaung Shwe. As I was waiting for the men to load my bike onto the boat, I asked if it would be alright for me to use a toilet. The men pointed to an elevated outhouse, and I walked up the stairs to relieve myself. I probably should have just gone in the grass, but I’m glad I got to see how the locals did their business. Bathrooms in the third world are very humbling. After a few weeks of using them, you really appreciate flushing toilets and aircon. There’s nothing worse than going number two when it’s like 90 degrees outside and you’re sweating while squatting in a stilted outhouse. Be thankful my friends :)
Eventually, I hopped aboard this little long boat and headed across Inle Lake. The lake itself is pretty amazing. There are a lot of fishermen spread about the water rowing their boats while using one leg instead of their hands to operate the paddle. Apparently, this is the only place in the world where people do that. To me, it looks extremely difficult for no other reason than the balance it would require not to flip over their tiny boats. Once we made it to the other side of the lake, I unloaded my bike and rode along a wooden footbridge about 1 kilometer back to shore. I then took a left and headed back to Nyaung Shwe. Along the way, I ventured into a 5 star resort called the Inle Lake Treasure Resort. If you are flush with cash, this is where I would recommend staying. All of the rooms are stilted above the water and they have an on-site spa where you can get pampered while basking in one of the nation’s best natural wonders.
I decided to stay for lunch, after discovering that credit cards were accepted (supposedly) for the bar/restaurant. They prepared me this amazing pan seared butterfish meal with grilled vegetables. I also got another giant water for the ride home. When the bill came, and I handed the lady my credit card, she looked at me like I was crazy. “We don’t accept credit card”, she said with a very concerned look upon her face. I told her that I had no cash on me, so I ended up having to leave my driver’s license with them as a guarantee that the bill would eventually get settled. However, I was about 45 minutes from town, and it would surely be a complicated ordeal to settle up with them.
When I finally got back to the Mingalar Inn, I took about an hour nap before trying to see if one of the only two ATMs in town would give me some much needed cash. Neither of the machines would accept my card, so I ended up having to basically charge everything that I paid for in town on account with the hotel. I went to the View Point restaurant later that night, and a man had to follow me back to my hotel so the Mingalar Inn could give him cash and then charge my room what I owed the restaurant as a result. This continued on to the next day, since I wanted to go on an all day boat ride through the floating villages. I was really impressed with the Mangalar Inn’s willingness to help me, and I cannot stress enough how kind their entire staff was throughout my stay.
My last day in Inle Lake was spent entirely on the lake. My trusty guide and I set off for our adventure at 8AM. We walked about a mile to a canal where his boat was waiting for us. We hopped in and headed to a busy market, which was about 45 minutes by boat from Nyaung Shwe. The market was like nothing I had ever seen before, in that everyone who was there had arrived by boat. The market was very hectic, and it was thrilling to just walk through the jungle of storefronts. On several occasions I noticed what appeared to be blood all over the ground, but I was relieved to find out it was just tomatoes - apparently they’re very popular in this part of the country.
We then continued on to several houses that were stilted over the canals and had everything from long-neck ladies to cigar rolling families to pashmina weaving factories. After telling my guide that I didn’t want to do anymore shopping, he then took me to an ancient temple complex called Shwe Inn Thein Paya. On the way up the hill to the temples, I noticed an elementary school that was in session and had kids playing in the main courtyard. This ended up being one of the highlights of my day, as the principal let me go around the classes and take pictures of all the kids. They really got excited when I popped into every room, and it really brightened up my day as well. I took a few videos, and I hope to some day be able to provide this school with some sort of assistance. They had no access to internet, and they have never had any native English teachers on-site. It was the second such place that I had visited on this trip which I thought could benefit greatly from some very basic connections. Please let me know if anyone is interested in teaching there for any period of time, as I know the experience would be greatly appreciated and mutually beneficial.
We finally set off for the hour and a half long journey back to town. It began to pour rain upon our boat, and the tiny umbrella that my guide gave me was basically useless, except for to shield me from the stinging effect that each rain drop had. We stopped at a Buddhist monastery to take shelter and I feel asleep on the floor of their main prayer hall, dripping wet and dead tired. No one bothered to wake me up, and what seemed like an hour later, I got up and walked out since the rain had subsided.
My overnight bus to Rangoon picked me up around 8PM later that night, and I spent one night there before flying to Singapore. Other than a huge pagoda and some really cool hotels that were frequented by British aristocrats when England ruled Burma, Rangoon didn’t really offer a lot of entertainment options. The place was extremely impoverished, and I saw this one guy taking a bath on the side of the road in a puddle of floating garbage. Talk about humbling...
I woke up in Bagan (Myanmar) around 7am at the Umbra Hotel just in time for breakfast. I rented an electric bike and set out to climb some ancient ruins. There are said to be over 2,000 temples and pagodas still in tact. The really fun part about Bagan is finding the way on top of these temples and pagodas. Some of the staircases that you find inside the temple walls have gates that prevent people from accessing the upper levels of these amazing structures. Sometimes, there are what people call the “gatekeepers” who live on site, and they will open the lock for you to venture up the narrow staircases to higher vantage points.
My first experience up to the top of one of these temples was around noon. I climbed up to the fourth terrace of the Shwe-San-Daw temple. From there, Bagan really becomes impressive, and you can sit for hours on end just admiring the panoramic 360 degree views of the plains below. Another great advantage of being so high up is that you are able to avoid the many locals trying to peddle everything from paintings to copies of George Orwell’s Burmese Days. Once atop the temple, I could really get a better sense of direction and abandon my map and Lonely Planet guidebook. I was able to see first hand which temples looked the coolest to me, and i simply hopped on my e-bike and rode there.
My first hiccup in Bagan came when I realized both of my tires were flat. I was asking this local if I made it to the right temple, and he pointed down at my tires. I looked at the front tire, and I noticed that I was now riding on the rim. The local man was trying to get me to come back with him somewhere, but I just backtracked to the only civilization I knew. Some shopkeepers called the number that the e-bike rental guys had given me, and within 20 minutes I had a new bike to keep me entertained for the rest of the afternoon.
It was insanely hot in Bagan, and I was constantly having to reapply sunscreen and guzzle water. The sun was beating down on me all day, and I couldn’t wait until sunset. I finally made it to this amazing temple that had a huge wrap around terrace. While this temple was overcrowded with Asian tourists, I don’t think any other temple could offer up better views - which is probably why so many people were always there. A couple was having their wedding photos made as well, and the shots that the photographer was getting were amazing.
I had dinner at this restaurant right next to my hotel that night, and I went to bed early because that’s what you do when you’re traveling by yourself! The next morning I woke up at 5 AM to catch the sunrise. However, it was pouring rain when I woke up, so that foiled my plans. The rain eventually subsided around midday, and I spent the afternoon catching the temples that I had not made it to the previous day.
I woke up the third day in time for the sun to rise, and then I had to catch a flight to Inle Lake. If you’re ever staying at the Umbra Hotel, there is this great temple just a few hundred yards down the road towards Old Bagan and on your left - away from the Irrawaddy. The only other people there was a German couple. One of the most exciting moments for me was trying to make it up the narrow stairwell in the dark. You have to feel all around you on the walls to make sure you don’t hit your head on anything. You also have to remove your shoes as well, so it’s quite the sensory experience.
I made it to my Golden Air flight on time, and we had a quick layover in Mandalay to pick-up other passengers. It’s funny because the same trip, which took about 45 minutes by plane, would have taken 9+ hours by bus. The only other tourists on the plane were 3 French people. We agreed to split a cab and motored our way to Inle Lake. On the ride over, I really began to get a sense for how poor this region really was. People were bathing nude all around us in the streams that fed into the lake. Grown men and women were pouring soap and water all over themselves in broad daylight, and I had never seen anything quite like it. More on Inle Lake in my next post!
Upon arriving in Mandalay (Myanmar/Burma), I was not sure what to expect of this former capital city. My first impression reminded me of the Mississippi Delta because there was an incredible amount of water running through the countryside. There were countless Pagodas that dotted the party cloudy countryside, and I felt like the country came across as a very peaceful place. The Immigration officer that greeted me into Myanmar was probably the nicest (immigration) man I have ever encountered in all my travels. We had about a 2 minute conversation and he told me he was very hot when I asked him how he was doing. I acknowledged his discomfort but noted that at least he had a fan to help with the heat.
Once the officer stamped my visa page, I headed through customs and out into the arrivals hall. I was casually bombarded with taxi drivers in ankle length skirts made of various fabric patterns. I couldn’t believe these men were able to wear all that cloth in the 90 degree weather. Once they found out that I had a connecting flight to Bagan, I was able to roam freely about this very strange airport. The first thing I needed to do was change my money, since the only modern cafe available would not accept my US dollars. The currency exchanges are incredibly particular and anal about the condition of the US dollars you give them. If there is ANY crease, mark, tear or stain of ANY kind then the value of your exchange rate diminishes. Make sure to take pristine bills, or you will lose a few pennies on the dollar. I exchanged about 60 USD, and I then made my way into the Cafe for some lunch. To my surprise, the cafe had free wifi and it actually worked well enough for me to phone my girlfriend to let her know I was alive and well. About 45 minutes into sitting down for lunch, the power went out in the whole building. It came back in maybe 20 seconds later, but everyone else around me seemed to think it was totally normal. I had a 32 OZ Myanmar Beer and some chicken fried rice before heading upstairs to see if I could check-in to my flight for Bagan.
The main terminal at the Mandalay International Airport is laughable. The have zero air conditioning, and the few fans that are available can barely keep the flies off you long enough to not go crazy. The only lady available at the information counter told me that I needed to wait another 2 hours before I could check-in for my flight, so I decided to go back into the cafe for another beer. Exhausted from waking up at 4AM, I headed back upstairs because I thought that lying down in the Cafe would not be so well received. I woke up about an hour later in sweat, and I looked over to where the bathrooms were located. Above the bathroom, there was a shirtless man in a skirt who was working on some signage. There was a little area outside the bathroom which was labeled “phones”, but there were no phones to be found. If I didn’t know better, they airport was either being remodeled or could have been like this for years. Either way, it made for an interesting layover.
Finally, I was able to make it into the departures area, and I was delighted to see that a giant air conditioning unit was cooling off the gate to Bagan. After waiting for nearly an hour in the boarding area, we walked out onto the tarmac and headed for the plane that would take us to Bagan. I walked up the stairs to the plane and was greeted by a sweet flight attendant and others who were still onboard for their connection from Inle Lake. Our flight to Bagan only lasted about 35 minutes and cost me around 72 USD. The bus apparently took about 10 hours, and the train took nearly 12. If I had more time available to spend in Myanmar, I would have explored the 24 hour boat option, but it wasn’t in my cards this trip. As we were gliding into Bagan, I noticed the reddish/brown Pagodas that lie just off the shore of the Irrawaddy River that Orwell romanticized in his novel, Burmese Days. The sun was setting as we landed, and I knew that my next few days would be surreal. Any copy of Lonely Planet has nothing but rave reviews about Bagan, and I was overly excited to romp around one of SE Asia’s most famous architectural marvels.
When I stepped out into the arrivals hall in Bagan, I was directed to an area that charged foreigners $15 USD to be in the Ancient Architectural Zone and was good for several days. A taxi driver asked me where I needed to go, and I told him to take me to Old Bagan. On the ride to Old Bagan, I noticed that everyone was on a bicycle. Some tourists had electric bikes, but most everyone was riding around town in some non-motorized means of transportation. Apparently, the governement had banned anyone from renting a motorbike to tourists in fear for their safety. I later found out that renting a motorbike to a tourist in a restricted area could land a local in jail for up to a week!
My taxi driver took me to a place in between Nyuang U (main town) and Old Bagan called the Hotel Umbra. I checked in, put my bags down, and I headed to the nearest Pagoda to watch the sunset. I only had to walk about 15 minutes through a field to the nearest Pagoda, which rose about 45-ft from the ground. I took a few photos, then I headed towards the Irrawaddy river to catch the sun fall behind the mountainous terrain. The river is huge. I am from Memphis, TN and am used to the mighty Mississippi. This river might be even wider and more impressive, especially when taking into account the mountains that occupied the west bank. After the sun set, I made my way to the strip of restaurants that lined up alongside the few hotels in this particular area. I had something that resembled the Thai style Pad Thai, and then I went to sleep so that I could get up early to wander around Bagan.
The shop next door to my hotel offered both electric and manual bikes for all day rentals. The manual bikes were about $2 USD and the electric bikes were $7 USD. After a brief debate, I decided to go with the electric bike because the Bagan area is quite expansive. The bike topped out at nearly 20mph, which is plenty for the relatively flat landscape. The only downfall is that the tires were pretty thin, and going 20 mph everywhere was a recipe for disaster...