8 Reasons To Visit Yangon, Myanmar
This article was written by Melissa Reichwage, an avid traveler and international development and health professional currently living in Colombia. She holds a Master's in Public Health from Emory University in Atlanta (USA). With familial ties in Myanmar, she has a special affinity for the beautiful landscapes and people of Myanmar.
As you probably know, Myanmar has had its share of difficulties, but there's finally some good news: the tourism ban that caused many travelers to steer clear of the nation for over a decade has been lifted. In many ways, being cut off from the globalized world has allowed Myanmar to retain its cultural authenticity, making it an ideal destination for the more adventurous at heart. In 1898, Rudyard Kipling wrote the famous words, "This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about." The same still holds true. The streets of Myanmar's largest city are stained red with betel nut, and filled with horse drawn carriages and bicycles, men wearing longyi traditional skirts, and women and girls with thanaka smeared on their faces. ATMs, internet, and cell phone connections are few and far between. Colonial buildings have hardly been touched since their British heyday. Now, more than ever, people from around the world are beginning to see Myanmar for what it is: a truly fascinating and unique place to visit. Abundant in unspoiled landscapes, rich cultural authenticity, and friendly people, Myanmar is strikingly different from its neighbors in Asia and there has been a sudden influx of international investment since the government has begun making reforms. It is now possible to buy some imported goods, stay in a luxurious hotel, and hail a taxi off the street.
Yangon is likely to be your first stop in Myanmar, and it's not a bad option. Flying into Yangon International Airport (RGN) is recommended as land and sea border crossings can still be a tad insecure. Touching down in the country's largest city of more than five million people, the main economic hub feels nothing like Bangkok, Hanoi, or other Southeast Asian cities. The main sites in the tropical city actually cover a fairly small area and are manageable on foot, although taxis are available. Here are eight of my favorite places to visit.
Shwedagon Pagoda: The most important religious site in Yangon stands atop Singuttara Hill. While built and rebuilt several times since the 6th century, the large gold pagoda remains popular with local Buddhists and tourists alike.
Sule Pagoda: In the center of the city, the Sule Pagoda serves as a traffic circle in downtown Yangon. This 46 meter high octagonal-shaped gold pagoda is hard to miss.
Inya Lake: The largest lake in the city has a nice walking path around its perimeter. It is also the most popular date spot for young lovers.
Kandawgyi Lake: Located northeast of the city center, the lake is best known for the Karaweik, a replica of a traditional Burmese royal boat. Enjoy a drink at the small restaurant located at the water's edge for a view of the sunset and Shwedagon Pagoda in the distance.
Buffet Dinner and Dance Show: The National Theater hosts folk and royal dance shows as does the Karaweik located on Kandawgyi Lake, mentioned above. A night out to one of these two shows is guaranteed to please your eyes, and ears, and fill your belly with a wide array of food.
Chinatown: Located in the center of the city, Chinatown spans a few blocks. Street vendors sell a variety of items from goldfish to colonial coins.
Bogyoke Aung San Market: A good market to buy Burmese souvenirs, such as wood carvings and traditional fabrics.
Thingyan Water Festival: The most important public holiday, the Burmese New Year Water Festival, usually lands around mid-April. The Buddhist festival is celebrated for four or five days with intense water fights which metaphorically wash away sins from the previous year. It is the hottest time of year and a good dousing is welcomed by most.
Turn back the clock with a trip to this time-warped country, enjoy simple pleasures, and discover a culture unlike any other. Here are some good reads to learn more about Myanmar: The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason, Burmese Days by George Orwell, and Freedom from Fear: And Other Writings by Aung San Suu Kyi.
**Note: In 1989, the capital was renamed to its original Burmese name, Yangon, from Rangoon**
6 Places To Visit In Cairo
Article by Jennifer Gilligan. With thousands of years of history tied to the area, Egypt's capital is a spectacular place to visit, especially for those seeking a historic adventure. [Editor's note: If you decide to make the trip to Egypt anytime soon, please proceed with caution. Otherwise, a little armchair travel is in order.] Here are six of our favorite must-see spots in Cairo. Pyramids of GizaWhile the Pyramids of Giza aren't technically within the city, they aren't too far of a drive and are definitely a must-see if you're in the area. The pyramids are the only one of the original seven Ancient Wonders of the World still standing today, dating back to more than 2,000 B.C. Visitors can get an up close and personal look at these incredible structures and can even buy tickets to tour the inside of the pyramids. You can begin purchasing tour tickets on-site at 8:30 daily, but tickets for each tour are limited, so make sure to get to the ticket kiosk early to beat the crowds. Cairo Opera HouseEnjoy the performing arts in Cairo at the Cairo Opera House—with seven theatres, you can catch a show almost any day of the week. If opera isn't your thing, you can always catch a ballet or musical performance, explore the art gallery, opera museum, or music library, or grab a bite to eat at the onsite restaurant. Cairo TowerMake your way to the top of Cairo Tower to enjoy a spectacular view of the city. Standing 187 meters high, the tower features an observation deck and a rotating restaurant at the top. Entrance fees cost 20 L.E. (about $3) for Egyptian residents and 70 L.E. (about $10) for non-Egyptian visitors. During the winter, Cairo Tower is open from 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. and from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. during the summer. Egyptian MuseumThe Egyptian Museum in Cairo is the largest museum in Egypt and home to 160,000 items in 107 halls. Here, you can explore ancient pharaonic artifacts stretching back 5,000 years, and see mummies up close. General admission costs 4 L.E. (about $1) for Egyptian residents and 60 L.E. (about $9) for foreign visitors, but you'll have to pay a little extra to enter the Royal Mummies Room and the Centennial Gallery. Colossus of Ramesses IIMeasuring 10 meters long, the Colossus of Ramesses II is a spectacular sight. With a museum built around the lying statue to protect it, the site is especially well-preserved. You can inspect the statue up close from ground-level, or capture photos from a second-story balcony. Even though the statue is unfinished, visitors are still amazed by the craftmanship and attention to detail of this magnificent sculpture. While you're here, explore other artifacts in the museum or check out other structures outside the museum like the Alabaster Sphinx. The Colossus of Ramesses II statue is located in the Memphis Museum, located just south of Cairo in the village of Mit Rahina on the Nile's west bank. City of the DeadThe City of the Dead spans four miles and includes a wealth of tombs and mausoleums. One of the most unique aspects of the massive cemetery is the fact that some people still live there, some to be near their ancestors and others because they have no other choice. Visitors enjoy this site because of the marvelous monuments and structures, while others love discovering the cultural diversity of the area. If you want to explore Egypt's history, this is a great place to do it, where you can enjoy monuments, structures, and buildings, such as the Funerary Complex of Sultan Qaitbay.
Berlin, MD, Leads Our Coolest Small Town Voting!
Congrats to the folks in Berlin, MD, who have organized a great early turnout in our Coolest Small Town 2014 voting! After Buckhannon, WV, shot to the top in the early days of voting last weekend, Berlin steadily built a lead. While we consider every one of our 15 contenders cool towns, the final results are now in the hands of folks like you all over the U.S. (and, really, all over the world) who visit us each day to cast a vote for their Coolest pick. In past years, we've seen incredibly devoted boosters organize worldwide campaigns to propel towns like Lititz, PA; Beaufort, NC; and Hammondsport, NY, to the toppermost of the list. Voting continues till 12:00 a.m. on Tuesday February 25 (that's more than four weeks away), and you're allowed to vote once each day. Got a fave town on the list? Vote early, vote often! And check back here at This Just In for regular updates. As of Sunday night, here's how our 15 contenders stood: 1. Berlin, MD 2. Buckhannon, WV 3. Mathews, VA 4. Travelers Rest, SC 5. Cazenovia, NY 6. Rockport, TX 7. Kelleys Island, OH 8. Galena, IL 9. Nevada City, CA 10. Elkin, NC 11. Estes Park, CO 12. Deadwood, SD 13. Pahoa, HI 14. Huntington Woods, MI 15. Everglades City, FL
Vote Now for America's Coolest Small Town!
Budget Travel knows a cool town when it sees one, and these 15 finalists—the result of weeks of nominations from BT's online audience—are now vying for bragging rights to the title of Coolest. This year's 15 contenders—which stretch from upstate New York to Hawaii—have a few things in common: populations under 10,000, beautiful locales, thriving downtowns, outstanding community spirit, and a noteworthy food, wine, art, or music scene. One thing they can't share is the top spot in our 9th annual America's Coolest Small Town contest. CAST YOUR VOTE—up to once a day!—between now and 12:00 a.m. on February 25, when one town will be crowned Coolest. Here, our 15 contenders for the title of America's Coolest Small Town 2014: Berlin, MD (Population: 4,563) Like the scenery in the films Tuck Everlasting and The Runaway Bride? You'll love Berlin, MD, where both movies were shot! Downtown is a National Register Historic District that plays host to fun events all year long, from a regular farmers market to one-of-a-kind bashes like the Berlin Fiddlers Convention, Victorian Christmas, and, yes, even bathtub races. Buckhannon, WV (Population: 5,645) Smack dab in the heart of West Virginia, Buckhannon received the most nominations of any town in this year's Coolest Small Towns preliminary round. With an artsy Main Street (with specialty shops, antiques, and galleries), historic downtown, and a paradise for nature and wildlife lovers just outside of town, Buckhannon just may be "the little town that could." Cazenovia, NY (Population: 2,756) If Central New York isn't already on your travel radar, get ready for a big, and very pleasant, surprise! Cazenovia, on the shores of Cazenovia Lake, may make you feel like you've discovered the perfect small town you thought didn't really exist. Stroll down Albany Street for a trip back in time, and drop by the Scottish-themed Brae Loch Inn for its exceptional Sunday brunch. Deadwood, SD (Population: 1,263) These days, the "wild" in "wild west" has more to do with gaming, fine dining, and having fun than white hats and shootouts on Main Street. Take a tour of the Broken Boot Mine, visit any number of historic homes and shops, and even visit the graves of real-life western legends Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok. Elkin, NC (Population: 4,024) Here, you'll find just about every outdoor activity you might like, including hiking, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, bird watching, and cycling. But when you're ready to relax after a day in the wild, the town's galleries, historic sites, shops, theaters, wine trails, and restaurants will make you feel that you're in a town more than twice the size. Estes Park, CO (Population: 6,017) When your town is the headquarters for Rocky Mountain National Park, you've got a pretty good head start on other cool burghs. Skiing and snowshoeing the surrounding mountains is a must in winter, and rafting, fishing, and wildlife viewing are on tap in warmer months (if you're lucky, you'll catch a glimpse of the iconic bighorn sheep with its curved horns). Everglades City, FL (Population: 403) This lovely, tiny town is truly the gateway to the unique mangrove estuaries and 10,000 Islands of Everglades National Park, not to mention a prized destination for tasty stone crabs (reserve a table at the Seafood Depot, a nice eatery housed in the town's 1928 train station). Galena, IL (Population: 3,400) Nestled among rolling hills along Illinois's Galena River, this bustling town, once home to Civil War general and 18th president Ulysses Grant, has a thriving downtown with unique boutiques, antique shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Visit one of the area's three local wineries, hike the easy, beautiful hills just outside town, kayak the gentle rivers, and golf at one of the state's most prized courses. Huntington Woods, MI (Population: 6,288) Ranked one of America's friendliest towns by Forbes and one of America's top 10 suburbs by MarketWatch, Huntington Woods is a quiet suburb of Detroit (with a small piece of the Detroit Zoo within town limits!) appropriately nicknamed the City of Homes. Kelleys Island, OH (Population: 313) Located in Lake Erie, about 12 miles from Sandusky, Kelleys Island proves that good things come in small packages: Spend a long weekend here (it's a 20-minute ferry ride from Marblehead) and you'll likely agree, especially if you like getting up close and personal with nature. Mathews, VA (Population: 8,884) Mathews is not just a town but also Virginia's smallest county, with just 84 square miles and no traffic lights. But we know "small" and "cool" go together like beaches and cottages. Speaking of which, Mathews includes miles of Chesapeake Bay shoreline that make it a prime summer destination for beachgoers, bird watchers, cyclists, fishermen, and kayakers. Nevada City, CA (Population: 3,046) Nevada City may be a little off the beaten path (60 miles northeast of Sacramento, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains), but residents value the Gold Country town for its music and art scene, food, and proximity to some of California's amazing rivers, lakes, and the Sierras. Pahoa, HI (Population: 945) Located on Hawaii's Big Island not far from Hilo, Pahoa has unique shops, a retro mid-20th-century vibe, and puts you in beautiful volcano country, a short drive from dried lava fields and about an hour from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Rockport, TX (Population: 9.133) Never heard of Rockport? Well, we hadn't either, which just means it's now not only a candidate for Coolest Small Town but also for one of our best-kept secrets. Here, artists, saltwater fishermen, and birdwatchers have been lured to Texas's warm Gulf coast. Travelers Rest, SC (Population: 4,750) Travelers Rest gets its travel-mag-ready moniker from the pioneer days, when travelers followed a trail dotted with the occasional tavern or inn. But the town offers not only restful, comfy lodgings but also world-class outdoor activities.
Cazenovia, NY, Makes An Impressive Leap in Our Coolest Small Town 2014 Contest!
Wow! Cazenovia, NY, has rocketed to second place in our Coolest Small Town 2014 contest, passing (at least for now!) the folks in Buckhannon, VA, who had held first or second place since the contest began in mid-January. (Berlin, MD, still holds the top spot.) Cazenovia, a charming upstate hamlet that's home to a vibrant downtown, lovely lake, and a variety of distinctive architectural styles, has received nice publicity from media outlets in central New York, including Syracuse,com. That, in turn, has clearly inspired the town's fans to spring into action and vote daily. Congrats, Cazenovia! So, how does a town with a population of fewer than 3,000 zoom to the number-two spot? Well, keep in mind that Budget Travel is all about, well, travel. The towns on our list were nominated by our audience because they are not just cool places to live but also cool destinations to travel to. Translation? The winning town will grab the title of Coolest by organizing its fan base—whether they are in town, in state, or even across the U.S. or the world!—so that each person casts one vote per day until the contest closes at 12:00 a.m. on February 25. (We allow up to one daily vote per IP address to prevent "robo-voting.") Here's where our 15 contenders currently stand: 1. Berlin, MD 2. Cazenovia, NY 3. Buckhannon, WV 4. Mathews, VA 5. Travelers Rest, SC 6. Galena, IL 7. Rockport, TX 8. Kelleys Island, OH 9. Elkin, NC 10. Estes Park, CO 11. Nevada City, CA 12. Deadwood, SD 13. Pahoa, HI 14. Everglades City, FL 15. Huntington Woods, MI