There is something about summertime that drives our primal need to make journeys on both levels; of mindscapes and landscapes. We explore the ways that these travels, individually or simultaneously, compel us to revel in the discovery of new places, seek solace in our deeper thoughts and return to familiar sites.
View from my hotel suite at Shangri-La which was my home for nearly a month
As I'm typing this, I'm here at The Emirates Lounge in Brisbane International Airport waiting for my next flight back to Auckland. It has been a whirlwind month of traveling. From spending a few days in Sydney for an event, back to Auckland for one day, then back on the plane to Brisbane, Singapore, and finally Burma (Myanmar), I was literally on and off planes and switching between suitcases. First and foremost, this is not a 'review', not a food diary, but merely a reflection of my thoughts; a personal note. It will specifically focus on just my favourite moments and people because I am sure you would have all seen the endless tourist-type photos, let me save that for my Instagram. I left Burma when I was 3 years old, therefore my views and paradigms will be somewhat different to that of a Burmese girl living in Burma. In fact, I'm not Burmese. I'm of mixed ethnicities.
To those who don't know me yet, I'm Chanel. I graduated with two degrees from the University of Auckland. I studied Bachelor of Health Sciences (Public Health) and Bachelor of Laws (LLB). I then went to the College of Law to undertake my bar exams and subsequently, I was admitted as Solicitor and Barrister of the High Court of New Zealand. I'm a lawyer from Auckland, New Zealand and on the side, I like to do some blogging and obviously I love travelling.
I decided to visit Burma after not having been since 2009. To be completely honest, I didn't fully enjoy those previous trips. Having lived overseas all my life quite comfortably, I found the travel to Burma (on those ocassions) quite unbearable and almost painful and as a young girl, traveling to Burma was not my idea of a vacation. I was much younger back then and I always felt that going back meant I was isolated from the outside world; the concept of internet and mobile communication was a foreign concept back then in Burma, and it wasn't something that I was completely happy to part with (first world problems, I know!) Only recently, mobile communication became readily available and with the changing hands of leadership from the military junta to the NLD party, I was somewhat curious to see if I could see any changes and decided to take a leap of faith and explore Burma, before it becomes yet another, overtly sought after tourist destination in South East Asia.
It was in early September 2016, I remember that night (vividly) as I was booking my flights, I consulted with my then-boyfriend whether I should really go or not; after all I would be away for Christmas and possibly New Years from him. I had been dating him for just over four years and have barely been away from him for that length of time; and the thought of it at the time, was not appealing to me. However, we both decided that it would be good for me to visit the land that I originally hailed from and of course, sometimes absence can be a good thing! So, I took a leap of faith, purchased my air tickets and applied for an e-visa which is (now) a simple and swift process. I received my visa approval letter via email the very next day.
Rester, c'est exister; mais voyager, c'est vivre - Gustave Nadaud
To stay is to exist; to travel is to live
View of the stunning Shwedagon Pagoda from The Penthouse Rooftop bar
New Year's Day evening at the Penthouse. Snapchat: MissBurma
Beautiful flowers from a beautiful boy two days after I arrived in Burma. Jasmine, alongside roses and frangipani are my favourite flowers. I'm not sure how he knows.
The best things in life are surprises you'd never expected. I don't think I've received flowers on a first encounter before so, this was cute and I dried the jasmine and took it with me back to New Zealand.
Dom Perignon 2006 Vintage champagne in my Emirates First Class Suite. Traveling in style.
I love the gym at the Shangri-La as it's got everything I need for my training. So, there was no excuse for me not to train and keep fit.
As gold as it gets.
When I was younger, I never really appreciated visiting the pagoda, it seemed somewhat a chore to me and who really likes taking their shoes off to enter public places? I've always had strong views ever since I was young about many things in life and Buddhism was never really appealing to me, which didn't really help because my father's side of the family are Buddhists.
I believe that we are entitled to our own views and are entitled to exercise what we believe is rightfully so, and as a result, I decided from a young age that I would not follow Buddhism. I always felt that some of the principles and viewpoints were at odds with my views. I still don't understand why nuns would like to be men in their next lives and why women can't enter certain parts of the pagoda? I find it somewhat offensive and derogatory.
However, I decided to pay a visit on this trip with an open mind, after all it's one of the to-do list to cross off when you are in Yangon. My friend Kevin came to pick me up and off we went. I still don't embrace the religion however, I decided to appreciate the Shwedagon Pagoda for its beauty instead; in concoction with the dedication and commitment people displayed towards the religion that they followed so closely.
Candle in the wind.
The New Beginning
I don't really like to talk about my private life however, I just wanted to put it in context of this note that I am writing here. After spending four years with my then boyfriend Leonardo, we broke up about a week after my birthday in September, and out of respect for him and the relationship, I won't go into details about it. He was my best friend and business partner and regardless of the split, we still wish the best for each other. The way I look at these things now, is to always be thankful for the great times you shared with the other, but also to be thankful for the learning experience as well; the fact that your paths crossed and stars aligned for a certain period of time is simply enough. It has definitely made me a better woman and I'm happy and thankful!
And, looking back on it now, several months after the breakup, and upon reflection during my trip, I felt like this trip was meant to be one of self-discovery where it would prompt me to make significant decisions. For four years, I was in a strong partnership, and now it was time for me to take time out and ask the important questions in life and shift my focus to what does Chanel really want in life, what are her goals and what is next for her? I'm at that stage in my life where I am still having fun, but I am also looking to see who could be my potential partner to do life with and be the father of my babies.
I know that my summer trip would have been very different had I not split from Leonardo. But, I needed to grow and to take this holiday where I would need to go out there, meet new people and explore the unfamiliar sights and sounds. Those were exactly what my soul needed and yearned for.
If you know me, you know that I love the water and the beach is my second home. I'm forever chasing the sun and summer time makes me so happy. Naturally, I told myself that on this Burma trip, I have to get to Ngapali beach first and foremost. I took a flight from Yangon to Ngapali beach which is around $170 USD with Air KBZ. It's the best and quickest option; time is money and I don't have forever to be on the road.
In terms of food wise, the choices weren't as amazing as I had hoped, although there was a plethora of seafood. I felt that the cocktails (tried at the beach stalls and at my resort) were also very under par. I definitely believe they could improve on the quality of the cocktails, given that it's a resort town. It's quite an exclusive beach town so expect high prices. I stayed at the Hilton Ngapali Resort & Spa and I paid around $315 USD per night. I stayed for two nights and looking back on it now, I definitely wish I had stayed longer. It was so heavenly and picture perfect. I will definitely be back.
There's no place I can't take my Apple Watch 2 to. I can swim with it, tracking my fitness goals.
Wanderlust (n) a strong desire or urge to travel and explore the world.
Travelled to Bagan from Yangon with Air KBZ and from memory, it was nearly $300 USD! I stayed at the Aye Yar River Resort which was in Old Bagan (about $165 USD per night), I stayed for two nights which I believe is ample time to explore in Bagan. and I preferred that area as opposed to New Bagan. I felt the Old Bagan is definitely nicer. I made a friend there; Anthony who was from United Kingdom and we explored the whole day with my driver who was basically my photographer too!
I really enjoyed Bagan and would definitely recommend it. Even in the midst of ruins, one can find something magical about each of the pagodas and that was really special. Next time I return, I will be doing the hot air balloon ride and to venture out to Mount Popa.
Pre- New Year's Eve Champagne with Alex before he flew back to Germany
The best part about airports lies in what they symbolise. Airports are places of bookends: new beginnings and long-awaited endings, arrivals and departures, hellos and goodbyes. We start in one city to end in another hundreds or thousand miles away. You enter from a desert and exit into a blizzard. In from winter, out into summer. In from familiarity, out into something completely foreign. Or vice versa.
An airport is a place of transit, and not just geographically. I wish there was some sort of time-lapse to show how people change between departures and arrivals. When I arrive back home from being away, I'm never the same person as when I left.
I wanted to see Champagne showers but Alex elegantly opens the champagne bottle and said it's actually not that spectacular! Haha!
On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, I was checking out Kandawgyi Park with Alex. Being so sick from the food poisoning the night before, it was torture in the heat but I soldiered through it and walked quite a bit (well, it felt like that anyway when you're extremely sick!). I did not eat ANY street food while I was in Burma, so I highly suspect that it must be the milk from the Burmese dessert at Shan Yoe Yar restaurant. We totally avoided any milk after that awful encounter!
While walking under the blistering sun, we met a Spanish crew and they were shooting for CNBC; they were doing a segment about Burma for that respective channel. Alex (he's friendly and all!) decided to chat with them and one of the crew asked me to model for the opening shots. I was going to say No, thanks I'm literally so sick but I reminded myself that I have to say Yes more! So, I did and of course the photographer said it looks like I've done this before as I looked natural in front of the cameras. I just smiled and Alex got some nice behind the scene shots from his phone. Thanks Alex, how thoughtful!
The show will air in February 2017 on CNBC across Asia Pacific. Stay tuned, I'm looking forward to seeing it as well.
As I made friends with other tourists throughout this journey in Burma, I was constantly told by them just how kind, honest (in comparison to other countries in South East Asia) and generous the people of Burma are. There are also worldwide surveys to support that observation. Of course, I experienced first hand too while I was visiting and at times, I was completely dumbfounded by how far they'd go to assist me and please me. A friend of mine was even assisted at 1am by three people to find the place he was looking for.
Sitting by the pool at the Shangri- La Hotel, my friend and I talked about how we really do hope that they'd retain those values, regardless of how fast the country is finally developing. In a constantly changing environment, it's so vital to be true to who you are and our wish for the people of Burma is to continue to be who they've always been and what they're so known for. We agreed that we'd take back all these good, kind and positive vibes we've felt on this trip and hopefully to pay it forward when we return to our respective countries.
New Year's Eve.
I found myself at the AVA Music Festival, one of the world's top DJs; Martin Garrix was the main act. One tip of advice, don't bother buying the VIP ticket, because simply put, you are so far away from the stage area and you don't really get any amazing perks with it at all. It was about 120,000 kyats (over $100USD) and just not worth it. Had I known I would have bought the GA only (55,000 kyats) because in the end, I ended up partying right by the stage area. Why would I shy away from the stage area? I was there to dance and have a good time! Loved it.
Thank you to each and everyone of you for looking after me on this trip. Thank you for the fun times, happiness, smiles, laughs, kisses, cuddles, and adventures that I will never forget. You know who you are. It's not a goodbye, it's a see you soon.
What I didn't like:
Once upon a time, it was one of the wealthiest nations in Asia, and as the country has recently just opened up, obviously it has a lot of work to do and catching up to do. However, I believe it will get there as the land is filled with talented, ambitious and diligent people.
It was definitely sad (but not surprised) to see the huge disparity in the socioeconomic status. I feel that it's a slightly comfortable place to live in only if you've got significant means; even then the chaos, the pollution, the sub-standard hygiene levels and the poorly developed roads in Yangon frustrated me at times! But I came prepared for it all and ensured that I was living comfortably at hotels wherever I went. It was like my home away from home.
What was sweet:
Generally, people were super kind, friendly and helpful. I also made friends for life, had the best New Year's Eve of my life, and I left Burma a better woman because of everyone's friendship, kindness and love during my stay. Looking forward to visiting again in the near future and exploring other parts of Burma I have yet to see.
Sorry I couldn't include everyone that I had an amazing time with on this trip, in this piece. I had to work with a strict deadline as I am returning to being a lawyer on Friday and my schedule will be tight. After over 200 revisions, I am satisfied with this piece. This is the most personal note that I have written on my blog but I wanted to share it with my friends and followers. I've been blogging for nearly three years now and my blog has grown from strength to strength. I hope you all enjoy it and let me know what you all think. Connect with me on Instagram: PinkandSparklesNZ