Yangon’s top travel attractions! Sule pagoda, Circular Railway, Kalaywa Buddhist monastery lunch, Le Planteur.
Ready for more decadent adventures with Yukiro?
I’ve been saving this final dispatch from Myanmar, since it was the most eye-opening destination we’ve visited together. We’ll give you a run-down of the best attractions in Yangon. The city has lots of fascinating sights, including the golden Karaweik Palace…
… and the lunch procession of Buddhist nuns and monks at Kalaywa Tawyakyaung Monastery.
We’ll also take you to Yangon Circular Rail. It goes all around the city in a loop, which lets you glimpse slices of life in Burma.
But first, the epic news… Yukiro and I are going to India and Malaysia!
This dream trip has been brewing for some time, and it’s finally happening. We’ll be visiting Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi and North India — including New Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal), Jaipur and Varanasi (Indian Golden Triangle, and holy city where the Ganges river flows).
Can’t wait to reunite with this queen again. Be sure to follow @lacarmina Instagram and Snapchat to see snippets from our Indian epic. And if you have travel tips, we are all ears.
To get you in the mood, let’s flash back to Burma. Yukiro and I were endlessly inspired by the local culture we encountered.
We fully embraced the Southeast Asian elegant fashion and languorous poses. We drew inspiration from the “longyi” skirts and “thanaka” yellow sun-protection paste, worn by both local men and women. (All photos by Sniper Chau.)
Many travelers know little about Burma / Myanmar (you may call it either, according to leader Aung San Suu Kyi) — other than that it’s the most Buddhist country on the planet. We wanted to learn more about the Theravada traditions, so our ParkRoyal hotel driver took us to Kalaywa Monastery, located about 20 minutes from downtown.
(Address: Naga Hlainggu Hillock, Yangon / Rangoon)
Aim to arrive around 10:30-11:30am, so that you can witness the Buddhist lunch procession. About a thousand monks and nuns line up, and walk through this food station run by volunteers. They gracefully receive hot food, vegetarian dishes and fresh fruit in their metal alms bowls.
For most of the Burmese population, Buddhism is an important part of their daily practice. These volunteers work together to prepare and serve the food, in the true spirit of loving-kindness.
In Burma, there are approximately 500,000 male monks, and 75,000 nuns. Lay-people often become “temporary” monks as well, such as by dedicating a month or so to living the monastic lifestyle.
Once they received their alms, the young practitioners walked over to the separate dining halls, where they sat and waited until everyone had been served.
They spend their lives in the kyaung (temple-monastery), where they devote every day to study and practice.
The Theravada Buddhist line of bhikkhuni (nuns) died out in Burma, so the women created a new type of lineage. These “thilashin” take vows, shave their heads and wear the pink robes — sometimes from a very young age.
(Many smiled gently at me, perhaps because of my matching pink hair and fashion!)
Over 1000 Buddhists live at Kalaywa Monastery. The community gladly supports their education and basic needs.
All over Myanmar, you’ll often see red-robed monks making their rounds for alms in the mornings. Even the poorest community members will prepare a dish of food, and dole out a serving into the bowl of each Buddhist that passes by.
Almsgiving is not a form of begging, but the local tradition that lets laypeople give respect to Buddhist monks and nuns, and support their spiritual journey.
When everyone was seated in the long benches, the monks clasped their hands together and chanted. Finally, it was time to break open the fruit and eat from the alms bowls, using their fingers.
We noticed a few cats walking around the tables! True to Buddhist spirit of of compassion, these young men made sure the kitties had something to eat.
We encourage you to visit Kalaywa Monastery to learn more about the Burmese Buddhist tradition. If you walk around the grounds, you’ll see some beautiful flowers and gardens as well.
Visiting Karaweik Palace is another way to experience Burma’s culture. Located on Kandawgyi Lake in central Yangon, this golden floating restaurant is based on the design of the Pyigyimon royal barge.
Only customers are allowed inside, so we stopped for tea and pandan leaf-flavored ice cream. (It’s also possible to order Burmese food, and there is an international buffet as well).
We enjoyed cooling off in Karaweik Palace’s golden hall, and watching an energetic puppet show on the stage.
The restaurant hosts a Royal Culture Show every evening, with all types of Burmese performances. Yukiro could easily be mistaken for one of the dancers!
We listened to traditional songs performed by this singer and instrumentalist, who is strumming the Saung-gauk (Burmese arched harp).
Near the entrance of Karaweik restaurant, this stylish woman did a thanaka demonstration. She showed us how to grind bark to make the yellow-white cosmetic paste, which is worn to soften the skin and protect it from sun damage.
Karaweik Hall is a bit touristy, but it’s a fun spot to take photos and learn about Burmese culture.
My ponytail reveals my cobweb undercut, or shaved and dyed hair tattoo! My hairstyle and color are by Stephanie Hoy at Sugar Skull Studio in Vancouver, as always.
As Seinfeld might say: What’s the deal with these “quacky” gold-headed ducks? Are they dragon boats, or rubber duckies?
In fact, they represent a mythical bird in Burmese folklore with a melodious cry, called the karaweik.
The golden barge gave us perfect views of Shwedagon Pagoda, Kandawgyi lake (with a tall fountain) and park.
Another top attraction is — surprisingly enough — riding the rails. Yangon Circular Railway is similar to the Yamanote in Tokyo: a local commuter rail that forms a loop around the city.
Operated by Myanmar Railways, the line stretches 29 miles and has 39 stops. We went to Yangon Central Railway Station to check it out. (Address: Kun Chan Rd, Yangon, Myanmar)
Yangon’s Circle Rail is extremely popular among the locals. There are about 200 coaches, which carry 100,000 to 150,000 commuters daily.
Yukiro and I enjoy seeing daily life, wherever we travel. Yangon’s central station had a Complaint Center… but there was nobody there to complain to! (Now that’s something to complain about.)
Many tourists ride the circular loop, which takes about three hours to complete. It’s a way to glimpse different parts of Yangon, and see what day-to-day life is like for the people who live here.
We decided the train journey would be a bit too hot and time-consuming… so we ended up simply visiting the Circular Train station.
As you can see, there’s no AC. The seats fill up quickly, so arrive early if you want to nab one.
Such cute and classic trains rolling through, with a choo-choo.
Yangon Circular Railway was first built during colonial times by the British. Today, the tracks have been modernized and expanded, and there are even ads on the front of the cars.
Each train ticket costs the equivalent of 15 cents! Ticket prices are kept low because of ministry subsidies, so this public transportation system is accessible to everyone.
Hello, boys of Burma…
(If you want to hop on this train with them, here’s info about getting tickets, timetables and more.)
Only in Myanmar, you’ll see people wearing thanaka (sometimes in intricate designs) on their faces.
The future of the railway is optimistic. Japan is currently working with Yangon city development to improve and expand public transport.
Yangon is a very safe city, and we rarely ran into touts or beggars. At the station, everyone we encountered was respectful.
Baby on board. (Images by Sniper Chau.)
Even if you don’t end up taking the three-hour ride, Yangon’s Circular Railway is worth checking out!
Another must-see is Maha Bandula Park, which features a fountain pond and sits next to Sule Pagoda. The park dates back to the late 19th century, and is currently named after General Maha Bandula who fought the British in the First Anglo-Burmese War.
During colonial times, the centerpiece of the park was a statue of Queen Victoria. After 1948, the queen was replaced by Independence Monument, an obelisk that commemorates Burmese independence from the British. (You can see it behind us.)
It’s impossible to miss Sule Pagoda, a glimmering golden dome in the center of Yangon’s downtown.
This spiritual site supposedly enshrines a hair of the Buddha. (It’s located at the junction of Sule Pagoda Road and Maha Bandula Road.)
Sule Pagoda was the focal point of many political demonstrations over the years. Protesters gathered here during the 1988 uprisings and 2007 Saffron Revolution, both of which faced violent pushback from the military government that was then in power.
Today, it’s a peaceful Buddhist temple where city-dwellers can meditate.
Sule Pagoda is about the size of a small block — much smaller than Shwedagon Pagoda, which we visited too. You’ll see Buddha statues and golden architecture in both places, but if you only have time to visit one, go to the magnificent Shwe Dagon.
Buddhists can place offerings in a miniature golden ship, which has the mythical karaweik bird at the front. With a system of pulleys, the boat sails up to the stupa.
This Burmese child seemed as earnest as her mother in her reflections.
Finally, you can’t leave Yangon without a fine meal. We headed towards Inya Lake, a popular recreational and romantic area. On the way, look out for Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound, where she spent years under house arrest. (We spotted the outside gate, which has a portrait of her father on the top.)
This photo illustrates the fun of driving in Myanmar. You’ll see “boys in the back” of trucks, lounging about. And when the vehicle needs to change lanes, everyone participates in the turn signal!
Yukiro and I were having dinner at the highly-rated Le Planteur. As soon as we saw this glorious French colonial manor, lit by lanterns, we knew we were in for a special meal.
Address: 80 University Avenue, Bahan Township, Yangon, Myanmar (Burma)
Le Planteur is all about beautiful service and thoughtful touches — such as this table by the water, covered in fresh rose petals.
We explored the grounds, blooming with lush foliage and secret lounge areas. Many come here for cocktails and light bites.
How beautiful is the waterfront of Inya Lake? In the distance, there’s a rowboat illuminated in lights.
Inside, we were excited to see a high-tech wine dispenser wall! With a touch of a card, you could fill your glass with varietals from around the world.
Le Planteur pays tribute to the French colonial days. The manor is filled with glamorous private lounges, perfect for large gatherings.
The decor ranges from 19th century style red couches to a chandelier made from white feathers, framed by peek-a-boo vintage photography.
Founder Boris Granges was born in Switzerland, and brought his fine dining expertise to Myanmar. You may order a-la-carte, but I recommend Le Planteur’s degustation menu, which lets you taste the chef’s selection of the day. (It can also be customized if you are vegetarian.)
We started with delightful amuse-bouches of tuna, and ordered a second round of the freshly-baked brown bread rolls.
The French cuisine is five stars perfection. Le Planteur uses the freshest ingredients, with a focus on subtle vegetable flavors. Every dish is beautifully executed and presented. On the right, this is my favorite dessert of the year so far: a black chocolate dome with passion fruit heart and tonka bean biscuit.
Le Planteur is the place to be for an exquisite meal in Myanmar. (Be sure to browse the artisan shop at the entrance too.)
(For other restaurant suggestions, including homestyle Thai and Burmese food, check out this post.)
Did you enjoy our Yangon city guide? Here are all my Myanmar posts in one place — we hope to be back soon, to hang out with our new punk and Goth friends. But now, a new journey to South Asia awaits…
We’ll be exploring India and Malaysia! Add @lacarmina Instagram and Snapchat for the first peek.
Alternative Austin travel guide! Archer Hotel, Elysium Goth club, Sixth Street hot sauce, Congress bridge bats.
“Keep Austin Weird” is the motto of the Texas capital… and I think we certainly lived up to it!
I’ve long been curious about the Goth / offbeat attractions in Austin, Texas. Lauren and I took a weekend trip to visit our friend Sarah, and take a walk on the weird side of the city.
Looking for a Goth travel guide to Austin, Texas? Then read on…
We’ll court death at the Tears of Joy hot sauce store (above), watch the bats fly from Congress Bridge, encounter biker gangs on W.6th Street, and nightcrawl at Gothic music club Elysium.
Austin has become a young travel destination in recent decades, thanks to SXSW and startup culture. It’s a liberal, independent city in an otherwise conservative red state. As the saying goes, “Austin’s a blueberry in the tomato soup of Texas.”
Lauren and I had a magnificent stay at Archer Hotel, which perfectly captures the laid-back, artistic vibe of Austin. We instant fell for the boutique hotel’s mid-century modern meets Southwest decor.
Hotel Archer opened its Texas location only 8 months ago (they also have a New York property). All the spaces are beautifully designed and the staff was lovely, especially the concierge Steven.
(Address: 3121 Palm Way, Austin, TX 78758)
We loved the eclectic, modern Texan interiors (note the cow skull pattern pillows), and fun touches — such as the random elevator music that ranged from disco to soft rock.
Que paso? What’s happening in this neighborhood?
A lot, as the Archer Hotel is located in The Domain Northside. It’s an up-and-coming area lined with hipster shops and restaurants, and not far from the historic downtown. (I’ll give you a tour at the end of the post; make sure you scroll to the bottom).
The boutique hotel has 171 luxurious and fully-stocked rooms, which we loved coming back to after a long day of sight-seeing under the sun.
From our hotel, it was only a short Uber or Lyft ride to West Sixth Street — the famous Austin entertainment district. We were greeted by kitschy murals and men on motorcycles… our trip happened to coincide with the ROT Rally biker festival!
Bikers from all over gathered to hang out in downtown Austin. On W.6th Street, there are plenty of tattoo parlors, bars and pizza joints to keep them happy.
Also nicknamed “Dirty Sixth,” this street is the go-to for raucous nightlife and live music.
For fans of quirky oddities, there’s a lot to see on this strip. We stopped by the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz (historic theater dating back to 1929), and popped into the Museum of the Weird.
As a fan of spicy flavors, I was excited to visit the Tears of Joy hot sauce shop! (Address: 618 E 6th St Austin, TX 78701)
This family-run business stocks hundreds of salsas and sauces, which are fantastic for souvenirs (I picked up all the spooky bottles on the left). As you might guess from the coffin-shaped bookcase above, some of these can be tongue-burning hot.
It’s a joy to browse through all the labels: the names / images range from frightening (Satan’s Rage) to goofy (Buhba’s Butt Blaster). Tears of Joy carries hot sauces from around the world, with a focus on rare items made in small batches with natural ingredients.
I’ve never seen such creative bottle designs, all in once place. Some entice you with skeleton and spider toys attached to the labels.
I gravitated to the scary spices, and made my final selection with the friendly input of co-owner Brian Rush.
He had a spread of tortilla chips and hot sauces in the back table, which anyone is welcome to try. We even dared to try The Source, a pure extract and one of the hottest sauces on the planet… Try one dot on the tip of a toothpick, and you’ll be reeling!
I encourage you to stop by Tears of Joy, for a date with the Reaper. They make their own products as well; the Red Fang is my favorite, and is sold on their online store along with many others.
On that note: nearby is the Treaty Oak, a sprawling tree that was the center of a poisoning mystery. (It’s located at Baylor St between 5th and 6th Streets).
This majestic Southern oak tree was the last survivor of the Council Oaks, a grove of 14 sacred trees where two native tribes would meet. In 1989, locals suddenly discovered that the tree was slowly dying… as it was being poisoned by someone.
The city banded together to save the Treaty Oak. After an investigation and trial, Paul Cullen was sentenced to 9 years in jail for poisoning the tree (he served three, and maintains his innocence). Today, the oak stands strong, although it no longer has a branch span of 127 feet.
As the sun sets, it’s time to release the bats! Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge is home to the largest urban bat colony in North Americas (the bats live in the crevices under the bridge). Every evening, they fly out in search of prey — although the best time to see them is in spring and summer.
Some visitors gather at Austin-American Statesman Park to see the bats, or take a boat ride into the waters. Lauren and I chose to stand on the bridge, and found a great spot right on the railing, above one of the posts in the center.
As the sky darkened, tiny Mexican free-tailed bats began to whizz out from under us. Don’t worry: these little brown creatures won’t hit you in the face.
Look out over Lady Bird Lake, and you’ll see an ominous dark cloud floating over the skyline. The bat colony is out on the hunt for insects. Quite the “Gotham City” sight, wouldn’t you say?
The bats got us in the mood for a Goth party. On the recommendation of many locals, we went to Elysium Goth club for a night of dark dance.
This is the top Austin venue for Gothic Industrial dance music, bringing in DJs and live bands. Founded in 2001, Elysium is a large club with multiple spaces and old-school purple-blue lights. (Address: 705 Red River St, Austin, TX 78701, USA)
Elysium has various themed nights and special events. That evening, we watched Blakk Glass perform (energetic darkwave from Seattle).
The concert headliner was Hexheart, a new project from Jasyn Bangert, the grandmaster of God Module.
The audience loved Hexheart’s mix of darkwave, synth and post-punk. Between the sets, the DJs played Gothic tracks for people to dance on the sunken floor.
Spooky selfie. (My top is by Disturbia Clothing.)
Finally, let’s talk a walk around the Domain Northside, where our hotel Archer is located. This is a newly developed northern area: most of the shops only opened a couple of months ago, with more on the way.
The Domain is becoming a one-stop shopping and dining destination in Austin. The public spaces are lovely, and the surrounding streets carry both local and national brands (such as Warby Parker and Free People).
We encountered large-scale colorful murals featuring Leonard Cohen, rats with wings and other trippy designs.
Here’s to giant public art installations. The Domain includes Rock Rose, a street with a mouthwatering selection of international restaurants (Thai, Indian, Mexican etc), clubs and bars.
Highlights from our stroll: the speciality candy store Sugarfina, and this open courtyard with scoop chairs.
A lot of the boutiques specialized in cute local-made goods.
Purse designer Kelly Wynne is from Texas, and opened her first retail location here not long ago.
Hiding among the butterflies, in my Live Long backpack by Long Clothing. These murals are part of the HOPE Outdoor Gallery project.
HOPE is a community paint park located at 11th & Baylor, launched by a team that includes street artist Shepard Fairey. It uniquely provides street artists the chance to create and display large-scale art pieces, and encourages educational initiatives.
I picked up a few things at Whole Foods. The natural grocery chain originated in Austin so its stores are gargantuan here, with a larger-than-usual selection of items. Outside the Domain Whole Foods, there was this pastel patio for Spun liquid nitrogen ice cream.
Back at Archer Hotel, we were ready for a meal at the acclaimed Second Bar + Kitchen, which also has a popular downtown location.
But first, cocktails. We went up to the pool terrace of Archer TX, for happy hour cocktails. It was only $6-8 for these outstanding drinks: a Painted Mule with meadow tea and ginger beer, and Green River with chartreuse, grapefruit oil and basil.
There’s tons to do at the Archer, with an outdoor pool decorated with a Lonestar, and a fitness center. At the front, guests can pick up crafts by local artisans.
The lone star, found on the state flag and commemorating its independence from Mexico, also adorns the ceiling of Second Bar + Kitchen. The restaurant is run by Chef David Bull, and is all about seasonal, local, casual fare that is perfect for sharing.
We started with the outstanding meatballs, and unique cocktails: above is a gin with peach, honey and scoop of jalapeno jam.
Our server brought out off-menu selections, made fresh with the best ingredients of the day. The Texan heirloom tomatoes with smoked cheddar were our favorite starter. Second Bar + Kitchen takes comfort food flavors to new depths, with unique courses like pepperoni soup, and chicken tortellini in broth.
Since I was back in the South for the first time since New Orleans, I was keen to “get my grits on.” The black truffle grits with caramelized onions were the best I’ve ever had. We also loved the pizza with blue cheese, pork, medjool dates and truffles — an unusual combination of rich flavors that absolutely works.
I often don’t have room for dessert, so I was glad to see the menu had “bite sized” portions of sweets, such as the blueberry tart above. We always have room for another round, however: cheers to the Southern Bourbon Sour and Boilerplate Old Fashioned.
Without doubt, we kept it weird in Austin! (Demented Snapchat from our room at Archer Hotel.)
Have you visited any of these spots in Texas? There’s much more weirdness to come in the next post, and I’ll announce my next destination soon too.
Hello from one of the world’s most fabulous beach destinations: Santorini, Greece! The Mediterranean breeze made me look like RuPaul for a moment…
(I’m dressed in this exact Iron Fist skeleton bones jacket. More items from this fun Gothic brand below).
In my first post from Santorini, I took you inside my luxurious villa overlooking the Mediterranean.
In addition to securing us the perfect stay, Blue Villas Collection helped us arrange activities on the island (they have a concierge service for all their guests).
Before and during the trip, our Blue Villas concierge gave us personalized advice to make the most of our Santorini sojourn.
Thanks to her tips, we went to postcard-perfect Oia (Ia) during the best time of day, and relaxed on all the major beaches on the island. (All photos by Joey Wong)
I told our concierge that I wanted to do a sunset sailing trip (when in Greece, one must spend time on the water!). She immediately recommended a half-day cruise with Sunset Oia, the leading company for yacht excursions in Santorini.
♡ Outfit Details ♡ I’m wearing cat-eye sunglasses by Moat House, and a unicorn fringe top by Irregular Choice (it is from the wardrobe of my friend Rose). While my shirt is no longer found online, it’s similar to this Carmen pom pom top and off-shoulder white dress with rainbow pom-poms.
Sunset Oia has a handy shuttle service included in tour packages, which makes it easy to get to the starting point. A driver picked us up right outside our private villa, and took us to Vlychada port. Quite a few colorful, traditional Greek boats were tethered to the pier.
Ahoy, mateys — here comes our Sunset Oia catamaran!
Sunset Oia is a local organizer of luxurious sailing tours, ranging from small group day-trips to romantic private cruises. Their fleet of modern, luxurious yachts brings guests to beautiful spots all around Santorini, including the beaches and therapeutic hot springs.
Joey and I had signed up for a 5-hour water excursion, which departs in the afternoon and stops in multiple locations. We got to dine on fresh Greek food on-board, then watch the sun set while drifting on the Aegean.
Sunset Oia’s friendly and professional crew welcomed us on board, and walked us through safety instructions. We had to remove our shoes and put them in a basket for the duration of the journey — hence the barefoot photos!
For those of you who worry about sea sickness: fear not. We had a smooth ride throughout, with no choppiness. (However, the crew has ginger chews available in case you feel nauseous).
Our Sunset Oia trip stopped in several locations, starting with Akrotiri or Red Beach, famous for its rust-colored cliffs. We weren’t able to get off the boat, but guests had the opportunity to jump overboard and swim or snorkel for about 15-20 minutes.
(As you might expect, I didn’t go into the water — but used this opportunity to sit in the corner seat and take photos!)
On a different day, I took the bus to Red Beach and took these snaps. (Give yourself at least 15 minutes to walk from the bus stop to the beach, and even longer if you go up the hill and down to the larger stretch of sand).
The peculiar rocks originate from volcanic lava, hence the reddish-brown hue.
Akrotiri is also an important archaeological site; starting in the late 19th century, excavators discovered the remains of a Minoan Bronze Age settlement. Above is a curving white church that currently sits near the beach.
I’m a pirate at heart, and love the feeling of sailing o’er the seas. But leave your tricorn hat at home, as it would blow off from the wind. Instead, I wore layers (as it can get chilly), sunglasses, and lots of sunscreen.
– My unicorns top is by Irregular Choice, who are best known for their wildly original shoes. They have heels that look like Cinderella, Snow White and Star Wars Darth Vader for example! Scroll more mind-blowing designs:
Sunset Oia took us to intriguing spots on Santorini that are only accessible by boat. One of my favorites was this little hideaway, which is inhabited by one hermit. Doesn’t this look like a scene from an alien movie?
The white church and yellow boats stand out starkly against the dark cliffs. It must feel like being on another planet, living here…
Sunset Oia pipes music out onto the deck, and makes drinks available at all times. This is my happy place: sitting on the tarp, sipping ouzo, watching the horizon…
High up above, we spotted the ancient lighthouse. A day cruise is well worth it, if you’re in Santorini — you can only see views like this here.
Yarr for pom-pom fashion. More designs from Irregular Choice here and below:
The ship’s crew prepared a spread of Greek food for us, including fresh BBQ. I filled my plate with dolmades, tzaziki, Greek salad, Mediterranean pasta… and washed it down with plenty of anise-flavored ouzo, the Greek aperatif that is similar to absinthe. Dessert was slices of green apples, drizzled in Greek honey and cinnamon — so good!
Santorini’s sunsets are infamous for their beauty. I can’t begin to describe the joy of watching the sky change color, from the vantage point of the sea…
As the light faded to black, the catamaran pulled up to the historic port of Ammoudi in the village of Oia. Time to disembark, and board the shuttle to return to our villa.
On another day, we traveled by bus to Oia / Ia (pronounced “Eee-yah”), the picturesque village at the top of the island. I suggest coming in the afternoon and making the most of golden hour, before enjoying the sunset.
We came right before the start of the spring tourist season, and turned out to be the right decision. The off-season meant we had the streets mainly to ourselves, and didn’t have to jostle with tour buses and tourists. At the same time, the sun was shining on the blue church domes (cupolas).
Oia’s pastel and white colored homes are layered onto the high cliffs, and connected by snaking stairs. It’s like gazing upon an MC Escher drawing that meets the laws of nature.
I’m sure you have seen photos of this village before, with classic blue and white Greek Orthodox churches, and an old Aegean sea windmill.
It’s a delight to explore Oia by foot — walking up and down the cobblestone steps, browsing Greek art stores, finding scenic points tucked around corners. Instead of following a map, simply wander and enjoy.
The cozy cave homes look out over the Aegean sea (Blue Villas has vacation rentals here as well). The Cycladic architecture is perfectly suited to its environment, and has lasted throughout the centuries.
I stopped by a cafe to eat a Greek salad, and watch the clouds pass over the caldera (volcanic crater sunk into the sea). The resident foofy sheepdog stole my heart!
Can you imagine living here, and having these views of the caldera and clear waters year-round?
Santorini’s other major village, Fira (Thira), has equally magnificent viewpoints. I shared photos and took you inside my accommodations, in Part 1 of Santorini.
Magic hour begins, as the sun begins to sink. (Photos by Joey Wong.)
The skies transform into pink, matching my hair.
Not bad, right?
Santorini layers archtecture, cliffs and waters great
No filter needed: the skies naturally turn into these rich, warm hues of pink. However, I suggest that you check the specific sunset time in advance, to avoid rushing and missing out.
Millennial pink and rose gold fans would feel right at home in Oia / Ia.
The best sunset viewing locations can get very crowded, especially during the high season. Try to avoid the pack of tour groups, which head to the same spot across from the windmill.
Joey and I found a side street that provided just as magnificent a view. There were only a handful of people next to us — hooray for unobstructed views and no chatterboxes to ruin the moment.
No wonder a Santorini sunset is on the bucket list of many a traveler. The light is radiant and dramatic, and one couldn’t have designed a better natural setting.
One final must-visit spot: Kamari beach, located 10km southeast of Fira and easily reachable by bus. Kamari is known for its black pebbled beach — how Gothic!
Kamari is next to a little village that is worth a stroll. I said hi to this cat outside Atlantis Books, and stocked up on tins of sardines at the neighborhood grocer.
Kamari has a long, black stretch of beach beneath the gloomy mountain of Mesa Vouno. The water is deep and blue, which gives the shore an unusual contrast.
In 2002, locals discovered an archaic sanctuary dedicated to Achilles. Kamari’s dark volcanic rocks, which range in size from minuscule to massive, are even older.
Doesn’t this look like a prehistoric dinosaur egg? The black rocks are polished by the waves into smooth circles and ovals.
A Goth beach requires a Goth outfit, don’t you agree? I’m wearing this exact Iron Fist jacket; find more styles below…
There’s something about being by the ocean that thoroughly rejuvenates me. Do you feel this way too?
The sun sets on Santorini — but there’s still one more post to come, from Greece.
I’ve saved the Acropolis for last... check back soon for photos from the ancient Athenian temple. And you can see previews of my Austin, Texas trip right now on Instagram @lacarmina.
XXX marks the spot! We’re holding crosses because they’re the symbol of Amsterdam. But of course, I made them a tribute to Miffy the Dutch bunny (with her mouth shaped like an X).
My friends and I love experiences that weave together fashion, art and creativity. While in Amsterdam, we stayed in two boutique hotels with rooms customized by artists, ranging from one to five stars. Let us take you inside the stylish Hotel The Exchange…
…and Lloyd Hotel / Cultural Embassy, which feels like a living art installation!
At Lloyd Hotel, I sat down for coffee with co-founder and artistic director Suzanne Oxenaar. We immediately clicked over my Miffy bag, which led to lively conversations about meaningful art, the connection between Dutch and Japanese culture, and her projects around the world.
I loved hearing about Suzanne’s ground-breaking work: she did a pop-up Tokyo “LLove Hotel” with mood-themed rooms by artists, and established a residence for artists at a Netherlands psychiatric institution.
In the mid-1990s, Amsterdam was keen to rejuvenate the Eastern Docklands area, which had become abandoned to squatters. Suzanne and Otto Nan accomplished this by opening Lloyd, the world’s first 1-to-5 star hotel that doubles as a “cultural embassy.” They designed the public spaces to host creatives and guests from around the world, encouraging the exchange of ideas.
(Address: Oostelijke Handelskade 34, 1019 BN Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Artists from around the globe come here for residences, or to curate exhibitions. We met the Japanese photographer who created the portrait above. (All photography by Arina Dresviannikova)
Hotel Lloyd’s cultural programs let innovators from different countries connect and collaborate. Most of the works are presented in multi-use spaces that are free and open to the public.
In love with the high ceilings and clean, modern design. Suzanne put care into each detail, such as chairs that were refurbished to be more functional and comfortable, while retaining the original skeleton.
I’ll have to come back to try a meal at Lloyd Restaurant, which serves classic European dishes made with sustainable and organic products.
Lloyd’s meeting rooms and halls are designed to inspire. Guests are encourage to use the spaces however they like, even as exhibition spaces or concert halls.
I felt like I was in Japan during sakura season, thanks to this “Under the Cherry Blossom Tree” installation by Eiko Ishizawa (made from silk screen on textile and wood).
Suzanne walked me through the fascinating history of Lloyd Hotel. This historic building was originally commissioned by Royal Holland Lloyd (cargo ship line) to house immigrants. It later became a WWII detention center and refugee camp, and then a prison for young offenders. The space transformed into a collective of artist studios, and finally a design hotel.
Chikako Watanabe, the first artist in residence at Lloyd Culturele Ambassade, made a commemorative installation based on a 1920s room at Lloyd. Families slept on a tiny cot like this, while awaiting their journey on a ship.
I’ve stayed in art / theme hotels before — but none were as creative as the ones at Lloyd Hotel! The 117 rooms are all different, designed by Dutch designers and ranging from 1 to 5 stars (to fit all needs and budgets).
I flopped down on this 8-person bed, inspired by the shenanigans of rock musicians. This “Rough Music Room” is by Joep Van Lieshout, and an example of a five-star deluxe double room.
Every room in Lloyd Hotel is unique. When you make a reservation, you can pick the “star category” (which has a corresponding price). The exact room you’ll be staying in is a surprise, unless you make a specific request in advance.
Some of the rooms are very experimental. The one above has a folding, modular hinged wall — which lets you re-arrange the bathtub, closet and partitions as you please!
Lloyd Hotel encourages you to let go and have fun. How could I resist swinging around this rustic attic-style room, with a built-in swing?
(If you like my alien fashion, check out the items below:)
This is not just a dust ball. It’s “Dust Ball,” an art piece by Japan’s Suchan Kinoshita. Like the Katamari video game, she rolled traces of the hotel’s past into this mound — a preservation and reflection of the building’s many transformations.
Even a 1-star room (top right) is cozy and designed with flair. Each floor contains different room-types, so guests from all backgrounds can mingle.
Suzanne brought us to the library, open to both guests and visitors for exhibitions, lectures, or plain relaxing and reading. The classical space contains a typewriter and furniture by De Bazel, a Dutch architect and contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright.
I couldn’t help but smile at “The Family Portraits,” an exhibition by Michiel Voet. His photos communicate family stories, and the impact that migration has on society.
The immigrant portraits are a study in friction and togetherness throughout the generations. Now I want to do a family portrait, standing on chairs and with spacesuit-jars over our heads!
What’s the deal with the XXX, which you’ll see all over Amsterdam? This symbol is from the city’s coat of arms, and represent three vertical St. Andrew’s Crosses. The saint was martyred on an X-shaped cross in the 1st century.
Amsterdam is known for adult entertainment in the Red Light District, which gives “XXX” a coincidental meaning as well. For me, it represents the X-mouth of Miffy, the Dutch mascot!
Hotel The Exchange’s name refers to the weaving together of fashion and interior design, making these rooms one-of-a-kind.
This boutique hotel’s location is ideal for travellers: right in the city center, and within walking distance of all the major sights. (Address: Damrak 50, 1012 LL Amsterdam, Netherlands)
In the spirit of playful collaboration, Otto Nan and Suzanne Oxenaar commissioned students from Amsterdam Fashion Institute to create rooms “dressed like models.” The lounge sets the whimsical tone, with has pillows made from fabric swatches and a selfie #nofilter mirror.
Hotel The Exchange is actually made up of three narrow buildings (one dates back to the 17th century), which were connected while retaining the original framework. The winding staircases and unexpected passages make this a fun space to wander through.
(All photography by Arina Dresviannikova)
Once we checked in, I spread out my belongings on my bed.
We stayed in the top-level Rembrandt Room, featuring this superb view and a bed surrounded by what looks like a giant, old-fashioned ruffled collar.
Closeup on Leyla’s cute accessories: a Hello Kitty ghost ring, and Dutch Pikachu. She uploaded a vlog about our adventures at Lloyd hotel; The Exchange footage is coming soon.
Hotel The Exchange has 61 unique rooms, each with its own theme and designed by a young graduate of AMFI. Like at Lloyd, they range from one to five stars (reflecting the amount of amenities, views and square footage).
The rooms are dressed like models on a catwalk — draped in hand-crafted designs that reflect a particular vision of Amsterdam fashion. In a world filled with cookie-cutter hotels, it’s heartening to stay in a place where you wake up feeling stylish and inspired.
I was impressed by the diversity of design. The “Mattress Room” by Roos Soetekouw deconstructs a bed into its foam, box-spring and textile parts. These pieces are re-worked into 3D furniture and textured decor. I think my Miffy purse looks quite at home on this hanger rack, made out of bed-springs.
Even the room numbers get a twist: each is a hand-embroidered disk, made up of X’s in the hotel’s signature orange-red shade.
Malu Gehner called her room “Epaulettes,” after the shoulder decorations found in military attire. Her room is decked out in braided rope trimmings.
Many of the artists incorporated special fabrics developed in collaboration with the Textile Museum in Tilburg for the project.
Roos Soetekouw created one of my favorite rooms, “Misunderstood Creatures.” This is not for everyone, but you can understand why Goths would feel right at home.
The sinister fantasy installation includes portraits of three troubled yet lovely creatures. The black ceiling seems to be crying dark tears.
I love the dark side of fashion, and The Room of Misunderstood Creatures spoke to my aesthetics.
If you look closely, there are colorful sequins encased in the floor — adding a magical sparkle to the twisted gloom.
Sofie Sleumer was inspired by the tales of the brothers Grimm. She used the walls of her small room to tell the story: a collage of nature, insects, eggs and other fairytale imagery. She also sourced broken furniture from small markets, mending the broken parts to add to the feeling.
Hotel The Exchange has several common areas for guests. This one has a wide selection of fashion and photography books, and two working sewing machines, fabric and threads!
Every morning, we looked forward to having breakfast at hotel’s Café Stock located next door. The well-lit space has illustrations from the room designers on the walls.
Arina and I couldn’t get enough of Cafe Stock’s Dutch apple pie, baked fresh and served with real hand-whipped cream. We always ordered the XL sized lattes and cheese pancakes, and the national “stroopwafel” (two pieces of thin, baked waffle with caramel syrup in between) is a must-try.
Would you stay in a fashion hotel like this one?
Don’t forget to check out Leyla’s vlog of our hotel tour, and more of my travel tips from the Netherlands here. And I’m now off to a new destination… check out my Instagram to see where I’ll be. Hint, yee-haw!