Visiting Myanmar's Golden Shwedagon Pagoda
No trip to Myanmar is complete without a visit to the legendary golden Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. The huge 110-meter tall gilded pagoda, which lies to the west of the Kandagyi Lake on Singuttara Hill, dominates the city skyline. Its warm, golden glow and its intricately encrusted dome and stupa will leave you absolutely gobsmacked.
According to legend, the Shwedagon Pagoda is over 2,600 years old, making it the oldest historical pagoda in the world, and is Myanmar's most sacred Buddhist Pagoda. It is covered with gold plates, making it a spectacular sight when it catches the sun, and the top of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds—there's even a 72-carat diamond up there! The magnificent Pagoda contains relics from the past four Buddhas: the staff of Kakusanha, the water filter of Konagamma, a piece of Kassapa's robe, and eight strands of Guatama's hair. It started out at only 8.2 meters high, but now is a golden giant that will leave you standing there, mouth open, and eyes wide in wonder.
The Pagoda was originally created to house the eight hairs of Prince Siddartha who had just attained Buddhahood. Two merchant brothers, Tapussa and Bhalhika from Asitanjana came across the new Buddha who sat under a tree revelling in his newfound emancipation. They gave him honey cakes and asked for a gift in return. The Buddha took eight hairs from his head and gave them to the brothers, who gave half of the sacred hairs away to two kings they met on their way home. They then put the hairs on a pile of pearls shaped like a Pagoda and King Ukkalapa came to see them, vowing to return the hairs to their original eight. They took the hairs back to Asitanjana to add to the other relics they had, and built the Pagoda on Singuttara Hill, where it stands today.
As well as a place of worship and a focal part of the city's skyline, the Swedagon Pagoda is a place to keep and display art, history, and architecture. You can find out more in the Shwedagon Pagoda exhibit, a photo exhibit showing the history and symbolism of the Pagoda. The Shwedagon Pagoda plays hosts to religious festivals almost every month, during which time it is full of people from dawn until midnight. Some of these festivals are celebrated all over the country and all the pagodas are busy, but some are specific to the Shwedgon Pagoda. The Tabaung festival is especially important, as it commemorates the Full Moon Day of Tabaung that King Ukkalapa and the two brothers enshrined the sacred hairs.
The Pagoda is open 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, except for the important religious festivals of Waxing Day of Tabaung (around March) and Waxing Day of Wakhuang (around June), when it is open 24 hours.
You'll need to dress modestly. This means, trousers or at least a knee-length skirt or shorts, and enter barefoot.
Visit the U.K.'s Winter Wonderlands!
Sophie Gackowski writes for HomeAway UK For most tourists, the United Kingdom's best visited in spring, summer or autumn—after all, who wants to risk its tempestuous winter weather? But the truth is, things can only look up after the winter solstice in December: days are longer, the sunshine makes an overdue appearance, and light frosts make forests sparkle in white. Come winter, there's much more to our fair isle than pretty scenery, though it certainly takes pride of place: festivals, winter sports, shopping opportunities and celebration days make up the exciting agenda. Where will you find your winter wonderland? Pick up skills in Snowdonia, North Wales. Make no mistake: come winter, Snowdonia's an icy mistress, and not one to be underestimated. As challenging as the Welsh National Park can be during winter, however, it's a beautiful place for a holiday—there's plenty to do amidst the blanket of snow. Take your pick of ice-climbing operators in the area, and you could learn to use ice-axes and crampons, finally making your way up its majestic, snow-capped mountains. Enjoy winter walks and wildlife, Cornwall. It doesn't usually get as cold in Cornwall as the rest of the U.K., and snow isn't nearly as common—for this reason, it's a fantastic spot for those looking to get outdoors and explore. Thousands of wintering birds can be found as the Tamar Estuary, while Bodmin's Cabilla and Redrice Reserve is home to hundreds of roe deer. Walking amidst the patches of newly bloomed snowdrops has to be one of winter's simplest pleasures. Ski the Nevis Range, Scottish Highlands. When there's a great shower of snow in Scotland, head for the hills. Even seasoned skiers know the Highlands offer some of the world's best winter sports opportunities—when conditions are right. Glenshee, the Cairngorms and Glencoe are all great options, but the Nevis Range is by far the most spectacular. Enjoy coastal vistas from slopes over 3,800 ft, and some incredible off-piste terrain—all just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Glasgow. Hit the High Street, London. Hit up any of the United Kingdom's major cities in winter, and you're sure to find one thing: sales, sales, sales! In London, shopping's taken to a whole new level: everything from High Street brands to luxury designer labels are slashed dramatically in price following Christmas, so if you're brave enough to join the crowds, bag yourself a bargain at one of the capital's most famous stores like Selfridges, Liberty, Harrods or Harvey Nichols. Follow Sophie Gackowski on Google+
Tips For Traveling Solo Through South America
This article was written by Jody Hanson, an insufferable travel junkie who has visit 107 countries—67 on her own—lived in nine, and holds passports in three. She has visited all the countries in North, Central, and South America except for Venezuela, Guyana, Surname and French Guinea. She wrote this article on behalf of Tucan Travel, a travel company that offers personalized and packaged South America tours. It was about 2 a.m. when my legs started going spastic, jerking out in various directions. My head felt as though I'd been hit between the eyes with a brick and my breathing was reduced to short, somewhat wheezy gasps. Sit up? Forget it. Ah ha, so this is what altitude sickness is all about. I'd arrived in La Paz - the highest capital in the world at 10,500 to 13,500 feet (3,200 to 4,100 m) in the mid-afternoon and your body's reaction to the height generally sets in within eight to 24 hours. And as long as I didn't seriously need help I would be fine. I'd booked a home-stay online that was supposed to be a mother-daughter operation. As it turned out, the mother had died and the daughter—who was staying elsewhere with family—had come back to Bolivia to sort out the estate. The mother had owned all the houses in the run-down deserted compound. So there I was, somewhere in downtown La Paz. No mobile, no Internet and, no, my mother didn't know where I was. If I was able to crawl to the telephone would it still be connected? The only thing to do was ride it out and hope for the best. Dawn came and my condition stabilized. Why do South America solo? Such are the stories you collected when you travel alone. This sort of challenge just doesn't happen on a bus tour when there are 39 other people who look just like you in close proximity. And that is why I choose to go it on my own. As I see it, solo travel is the ultimate responsibility. And when things stuff up—as they will at some point—there is only one person to blame: yourself. Suck it up, learn from the experience and carry on. You will be a better traveler for it. South America is a bit of a cake-walk for solo-types when compared with, say, West Africa or parts of Asia. Chile, for instance, is an easy place to travel on your own. The infrastructure is in place, quite a few people speak English, and you can saunter into the Don Rodrigo bar in Santiago and order a pisco sour. The capital is also a good base for day trips. Argentina is ripe for the solo person as you can eat, drink, be merry, and take a tango lesson without a partner in sight. Buenos Aires may have the most sophisticated cafe culture on the planet and the cafe notables will have you imbibing history along with your coffee. And the hip-swiveling, lip-pouting, hair-poofing habits of the portenas—as people who live in the Federal Capital call themselves—will keep you amused for days at a time. For spectacular fine dining, check out the puerta cerrada, restaurants operated out of chef's homes. Want to disappear off the face of the earth? Some of us figure Uruguay is the place to do it. The banking system is so liberal that a considerable number of people from neighboring Argentina run their bank accounts there to avoid having to pay black market prices for USD. Montevideo is an easy place to get around in on your own. Relatively tourist free, the air is fresh and the locals still promenade. Charming. Do you long for the Leave it to Beaver days of the 1950s? Head for Paraguay and pull up a stool at The Libo Bar. The waitresses there wear pillbox hats kept in place by bobby-pins. Sweet. Foreigners are still a bit of a novelty; and if you are on your own people are more likely to speak to you. Brazil is massive so figure out what you want to do on your own and it is likely on offer. Check out an excursion to the Amazon. Really, why would you want to go to the Carnival with someone? Chances are you would get separated anyway and for some it would cramp their inclination to be decadent. Nature types love Peru and, yes, you can go to Machu Picchu on your own. Lima has some of the best restaurants in the world—hen making a reservation, insist that you want a good table for one to avoid getting slammed somewhere in the back between the men's loo and the kitchen. Ecuador is a country of contrasts. Besides the eternal spring of Quito and the constant heat and humidity of Guayaquil, Ecuador uses American greenbacks as their currency. And any country that gives Julian Assange asylum—which has cost the British tax payers about three million pounds for round-the-clock security—must have a sense of humor. When going out for lunch on your own, order the guinea pig. Although it has a reputation as being a rich person's retreat, the Galápagos Islands can be done cheaply on your own—with a bit of planning. Colombia is coming into its own as "the" new place to go. You don't need to be hand-cuffed to someone to wander around La Candelaria—the historical and cultural heart of Bogotá—or lay on the beach at Medellín. Want some eco-lessons? Check out an innovative home-stay. Venezuela is off the radar screen for travelers, solo or in a group. Until things stabilize there, it is a good idea to spend your time in other countries in South America. I was once kidnapped in Pakistan and can attest to the fact that it isn't any fun. My tips for going solo: • Just go; expect the best, but prepare for the worst. • Pack light. • Scan your passport and tickets to an internet address and email them to yourself as back up. • Set up a check-in system with someone you trust to act in your best interest if you are worried about it. • Relish your freedom and the sense of independence that encourages you to collect amazing travel stories. • And if you are landing in Quito or La Paz or Bogotá, don't forget to pick up some mate de coca for altitude sickness.
Super Bowl Mania Hits New York City
All eyes will be on the Tri-state area this weekend thanks to Super Bowl XLVIII, happening Sunday, Feb. 2nd, at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Whether you're in town for the big game—The Denver Broncos take on the Seattle Seahawks this year—or planning your next trip to the Big Apple, we've rounded up some fun attractions you won't want to miss! ManhattanIf you're in Manhattan Friday or Saturday, stop by Times Square, aka. Super Bowl Boulevard, an interactive football-themed playground set up from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Broadway between 34th and 47th Streets. Kick a football through goalposts set up between 45th and 46th Streets, visit the Vince Lombardi Trophy (between 43rd and 44th Streets), take a souvenir photo with giant Super Bowl XLVIII roman numerals (between 42nd and 43rd Streets), watch 10-minute videos of NFL footage projected on the outside of Macy's at Herald Square, take a ride down the giant Tobaggan slide (tickets are $5; between 40th and 41st Streets), and stop by the Autograph and Concert Stage between 39th and 40th Streets to meet former NFL players and see a performance by Blondie at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1st. Stop by the NYC & Company Welcome Center, located on Broadway between 43rd and 44th Streets, to find out about more Super Bowl events happening around the five boroughs. If football isn't your forte, take in a Broadway show—you can save money this weekend with 2-For-1 tickets during Broadway Week. And mark your calendars: NYC Restaurant Week is coming up from Feb. 17th thru Mar. 7th and will feature three-course lunches for $25 and $38 three-course dinners at some of the Big Apple's best restaurants. While you're in the neighborhood, visit NYC's other boroughs—Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and the Bronx. QueensI'm a Queens girl—born in Floral Park, raised in Hawaii and Florida, and now back in Bayside. There's a lot going on in Queens, New York City's most ethnically diverse borough, and if you have time, take a $2.50 ride on the 7 train from Times Square for a chance to visit Astoria (you'll need to switch to the N or Q train at the Queensborough Plaza station), Long Island City, Jackson Heights, and Flushing. In Astoria, the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden is worth a visit, as are the Museum of the Moving Image, The Noguchi Museum, and any number of restaurants and bars in the area—stop by Cronin & Phelan's Saturday nights at 11 p.m.for Starlight Karaoke, a legendary experience involving the Irish bartender who runs karaoke while performing stand up comedy and magic tricks in between sets. If you're a foodie, don't miss the opportunity to explore Jackson Heights—the epitome of the phrase "melting pot," where you can find Indian, Middle Eastern, Himalayan, and Peruvian food all within a few blocks—and Flushing, home to NYC's largest Chinatown. If you're short on time, Vayable.com offers several Queens Food Tours to choose from—I took the Queens Tastes of the World tour last summer, a three-hour guided walking tour for $59 per person that includes all your food samples and non-alcoholic beverages; truly a delicious way to spend a day. Tours can be booked online and usually take place Monday thru Friday around 1:30 p.m. BrooklynWe've already written about why Brooklyn is worth checking out, but it bears repeating. Roam the hip and trendy Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods, a great spot to find indie bookstores and boutiques; see a concert or a game at the Barclays Center; get some culture at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Brooklyn Museum; picnic or go for a walk in Prospect Park—kids will love the Prospect Park Zoo!—treat yourself to a tasty lobster roll in Red Hook; spend the day along the Atlantic at Coney Island; or explore scenic Brooklyn Bridge Park for great views of Lower Manhattan. If you're short on time, Brooklyn Bike Tours is a great option with several themed, guided trips to help you get a taste of this fascinating borough. The BronxThe northernmost borough is home to Yankee Stadium (guided tours are available during the off-season), Fordham University, the Bronx Zoo, The New York Botanical Garden, Edgar Allen Poe Cottage, Bronx Museum of the Arts, and Arthur Avenue, a Little Italy-esque area where you can find delicious Italian food along East 187th Street. There's also a free Bronx Culture Trolley that stops along the South Bronx Cultural Corridor, home to many artsy venues, galleries, theaters, and museums. For amazing seafood and views of Manhattan, visit City Island, a historic seaside village that feels more like something you'd expect to find in Key West rather than in New York City. Bring your appetite and be ready to eat your weight in crab, lobster, and clams at any of these restaurants. Staten IslandTreat yourself to a free ride on the Staten Island Ferry from the bottom of Manhattan (take the R train to Whitehall St. or the 1 train to South Ferry) for gorgeous views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and visit St. George neighborhood, one of New York City's hidden gems and home to the historic St. George Theatre, the Staten Island September 11th Memorial, the Staten Island Museum, and starting in 2016, it will feature the New York Wheel. For an interesting day trip, stop by the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden to explore 23 historic buildings, nine botanical gardens, and 10 acres of natural wetlands. You can also take the Staten Island Ferry and transfer to the Staten Island Railway for a day trip to Tompkinsville, otherwise known as Little Sri Lanka, for a chance to explore this rich culture and its delicious cuisine.
A Little Valentine's Day Inspiration
Our friends over at AirFastTickets.com, a brand new online travel booking site aimed at uncovering the best prices, recently conducted a survey to find out how women around the country really feel about Valentine's Day travel. According to the survey, 78 percent of women would rather take a romantic vacation anywhere in the U.S. than receive diamond earrings, a brand new designer purse, or have a private dinner cooked and arranged by a top chef. Out of a head-to-toe makeover by a famous makeup artist, a sweet serenade by Adam Sandler on guitar a la The Wedding Singer, or puppies to play with at every seat, which do you think women would rather have while flying? You guessed it, puppies. (Who wouldn't?) The most surprising responses were centered around communication, something that seems to be a lost art nowadays. While 95 percent of women polled said they'd never met a person they ended up dating while on a plane or on a cruise, 42 percent did say they would be willing to at least give out their phone numbers if they were single. (So, guys, take a chance, because, hey, you never know!) The final question offered a more depressing response: almost half of the women polled said getting a text message at the airport from your date saying that the trip was cancelled and it's time for a break would be the worst thing that could possibly happen to them on Valentine's Day. Those polled were also asked whether or not they would accept a free trip to Australia on Valentine's Day if they had to spend the entire 16-hour flight seated next to either Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eliot Spitzer or Anthony Weiner. One out of three women said no. In case you're suddenly in need of a little vacation inspiration, our friends at Room77.com have a list of getaway deals created especially for this Valentine's Day—you can score hotel discounts in Washington D.C., Seattle, Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Long Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and New York City—and have a nifty list of chairlift pick up lines available, you know, just in case the opportune moment strikes on the ski slopes. Whether you're planning a last-minute romantic getaway with your significant other or celebrating being single, we want to wish everyone a Happy Valentine's Day. We want to know: will you be traveling at all this V-Day? What romantic place would you like to be in this Valentine's Day weekend? Tell us about it below.