Category Archive for Press
A sunrise visit to Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar! Burma golden temple, Buddhist travel destinations.
I’ve been to temples all over Southeast Asia, but none has been as extraordinary as Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar. In this photo diary, Yukiro and I will show you why!
Before we begin our pilgrimage, I’m humbled and thrilled to announce that I won the Best Blog of the Year award! A zillion thank yous to everyone who voted in the Auxiliary Magazine awards. None of this would have been possible without your support throughout the years. Congrats to the other winners and fabulous nominees, and I am excited to keep on bringing alternative travel stories to you in 2017.
Yukiro and I are standing inside Shwedagon, with lovely locals. This huge golden Buddhist temple complex dominates the Yangon skyline, and is one of the most sacred sites in Myanmar (Burma). The name breaks down to “shwe” (gold in Burmese) and “Dagon” (the township where it is located).
That day, we met the kindest, gentlest Buddhist nuns, dressed in pink robes…
… and children with thanaka (sun-protecting face paint) on their cheeks. (All photography by Sniper Chau.)
Let’s begin our visit to Shwedagon Pagoda with a note on the dress code. Out of respect to those who come to the temple to worship, all visitors (male and female) should wear clothes that cover their legs and shoulders. Shorts aren’t permitted, but there are longyi that you can borrow at the front if you forget.
Despite the clothing restrictions, you can still glam it up — as we did! We wore long wrap skirts (mine is from Thailand), and lightweight tops that kept us from overheating in the humid weather. (Yukiro had the shawl over his arms except for this moment of posing!) Sunglasses are a must, as the golden glare hits hard once the sun rises. In addition to sunscreen, we painted some thanaka over our skin as well.
We met our ParkRoyal Hotel Yangon driver in the lobby at 6am, as we wanted to catch the dawn. It’s worth waking up early, as sunrise and sunset are the best times to visti Shwedagon Pagoda. (You also avoid the crowds and the high noon-time heat this way).
The temple is open from 4am to 8pm, and the entrance fee for foreigners is $8 (about 8000 kyat — make sure you have the local Burmese currency). Everyone must remove his or her shoes at the entrance, and go barefoot inside the complex. If you’re a foreigner, there’s a special rack where you can store your shoes (otherwise, you’d have to carry them with you).
We walked down the long corridor, and bought a fragrant strand of white flowers. It opened up into this mesmerising plaza filled with gilded architecture and colorful Buddhist statues — we felt as if we’d entered a new universe.
Shwedagon is a feast for the eyes and senses. It’s filled with an energy of compassion and happiness — as personified by these praying, chanting Buddhist children.
The pagoda sits on Singuttara Hill, and holds the relics of four Buddhas. The first version was most likely built by the Mon people between theb Shwedagon Pagoda was pillaged many times, rebuilt and expanded, and struck by earthquakes — but has stood strong, and is grander than ever.
Could there be a destination more fabulous than this one?
Shwedagon is the largest stupa in the country, at 99 meter high. It’s plated with over 20,000 gold bars, with a tip decorated with thousands of diamonds, rubies and sapphires. The various buildings hold treasures of Burmese art, including the Tharrawaddy Min Bell that weighs 44 tons.
(In the 17th century, a Portuguese adventurer stole the 300-ton Great Bell of Dhammazedi — but it fell into the Bago River and was never recovered.)
Myanmar is the world’s most Buddhist country, with most locals identifying as Theravada Buddhists. It’s a regular sight to see monks and nuns of all ages in the city, and we encountered many smiling faces here.
I think Yukiro and I fit in rather well with the decadent, golden art!
Visitors can spend hours wandering into the various buildings, where there are thousands of Buddha statues and relics to behold.
Although Shwedagon Pagoda is centuries-old, and has traditional architecture, you’ll also see modern incarnations. Such as this reclining Buddha with a flashing, electric cyber-disco halo around his head.
The spirituality is open and welcoming in Myanmar. We saw punk rockers praying, and monks with tattoos. Some locals choose to become monks or nuns for a short period of time (such as few weeks or months).
I wasn’t too familiar with Burmese sculpture / art until I visited, and was in awe. In this tradition, Buddhas are smiling and friendly, and draped in golden robes.
We had no issues walking around barefoot, as the tiles are kept clean by volunteers with mops. Locals have always pitched in to preserve Shwedagon, taking part in activities such as sweeping the floor, washing the statues, and repairing damaged areas.
The stupa is a top Buddhist tourism destination. We saw a tour group of men and women in pink headwraps, travelling together on a spiritual pilgrimage.
I loved seeing the joy and tranquillity on everyone’s faces.
Burmese architecture ranges in styles. This reddish-brown spiky roof spoke to our Gothic aesthetics.
As the sun continues to rise, the tiles heat up. It’s good to go early (as we did) so that you can leave before high noon.
As author Rudyard Kipling described it: “Then a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon, a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun.”
Wearing cat-eye sunglasses by Moat House Eyewear, which match my pink hair and top.
A lot of locals came up to us, and gently asked to take photos together. We got nothing but compliments on our outfits and style.
We became fans of the elegant, traditional fashion — particularly these Burmese long skirts, or longyi. This group of women shows it’s possible to be chic while following the dress code.
Offerings of fruit and flowers for the Buddha, made by these young devotees.
Loved seeing the small moments of generosity all around Shwedagon Pagoda.
Myanmar has only recently opened to tourists, which means landmarks like these are still very locals-only. We saw only about 10 foreigners during this visit, and there weren’t any gift shops or touts.
Many Burmese also follow traditions that come from Hindu astrology. They pour water and perform purifications at their “planetary post,” which refers to the day of the week they are born on. For example, if you were born on “Wednesday Morning,” you would look for a basin with this signpost, and make offerings and wishes there.
On the left, you can see the sign for “Tuesday Corner.”
We didn’t know which day of the week our birthdays fell on… but the giant leogryph (mythical lion creature) looked like our spirit animal.
This protector lion being is a “chinthe”, often found at the entrances of pagodas and temples in Burma, Cambodia and Laos. Love the sideways-facing paws.
Snakes are another guardian, depicted with vampire-like fangs. The precise carvings found all over Shwedagon are impressive.
Photography is allowed in Shwedagon Pagoda. Anyone can respectfully ask monks or nuns if they’re willing to take a photo. However, as our guidebook counselled, one must not touch their robes (not even for a friendly pose).
As you can see — it’s ok to stand next to a monk after getting his consent to take a photo together. But langorous arm-draping is a no-no!
Burmese children grow up learning the founding legend of this stupa. Once upon a time, two brothers were traveling when they met the Buddha beneath a tree. They offered him food, and as a thanks, the Buddha gave them eight hairs from his head!
The brothers put the 8 hairs in a ruby casket and carried them back to Burma, where they started to build Shwedagon Pagoda with the help of their king.
There are other relics preserved in the temple complex, ranging from sacred robes to… an ancient water filter.
This sign illustrates the story of the Buddha’s journey to enlightenment. Love the rainbow colors, and the gorgeous Burmese script.
It’s apparent how much meaning the Buddhist teachings have to locals here, through each stage of their lives.
We’re very glad we got to spend time in Myanmar, a travel destination that people often overlook.
Such an interesting contrast between monastic simplicity, and golden richness.
When we saw these flares of light, we knew why “Shwedagon Zedi Daw” is also know as the Golden Pagoda.
Don’t forget to walk around the edges of the complex, which tend to be quieter, and filled with surprses. Such as: a bodhi tree.
Siddartha Gautama meditated under a bodhi tree until he attained nirvana. Perhaps this monk, crouched under the canopy, will follow his path.
We encountered this lion guardian on the outskirts as well. The pale pink claws are on point.
Shwedagon is heaven for people-watching and photography. (All images by Sniper Chau.)
The women we met were stylish and self-possessed. The Burmese are known for their welcoming nature, perhaps testament to the Buddhist culture.
This nun smiled at us as we passed by, and her group of children followed suit. Moments like this remind me of why I travel.
I hope this photo diary conveyed the magic of Yangon’s Great Dagon stupa. Although the pagoda is not a household name, it now ranks among my favorite wonders of the world (and I’ve been to Petra, Angkor Wat, Hagia Sophia and more).
Coming up: we’ll show you more of Yangon, including Sule Pagoda and art galleries. A big thank you to ParkRoyal Hotel for the driver and travel tips. (See our review of ParkRoyal Myanmar here.)
Have you heard of Shwedagon before? Isn’t this spiritual site inspiring? Thank you again to everyone who voted for me in the Best Blogger of the Year awards — none of these adventures would be possible without your love!
Better Late Than Never, Hong Kong: travel TV show with William Shatner, Henry Winkler! Sydney Opera House.
Thank you for your fantastic response to the Hong Kong episode of Better Late Than Never, the new NBC show travel TV show!
It was a dream come true to hang with The Fonz, Henry Winkler (of Happy Days fame)…
… and William Shatner, aka Captain Kirk on the original Star Trek. That is indeed me, dancing with Shatner in the streets of Mongkok, for this travel TV shoot! (Thanks to Thomas for this epic shot — full photo credits below.)
I’m very happy that “Better Late Than Never” has been raising lots of laughs and positive reactions! I couldn’t believe it when the producers contacted me to be part of the series. I was flown to Hong Kong and got to take part in this second episode.
This hilarious travel-reality show stars Terry Bradshaw (quarterback and broadcaster), William Shatner (Star Trek’s Capt. Kirk), Henry Winkler (The Fonz on Happy Days) and George Foreman (boxer and grill-master). Along with comedian Jeff Dye, these funny guys travel around Asia in search of adventures and Zen, with lots of mishaps along the way.
Their journey throughout Asia includes Tokyo, Kyoto, Seoul, Bangkok and Chiang Mai. I was thrilled to have them be in Hong Kong with me — my friends and family even got to join the big dance scene in Mongkok.
(My dress is Spider by Natalie Lam. I’m currently selling a lot of my personal wardrobe; let me know if you’re interested in any of my fashion/accessories! Take a look at my store listings here, and email me to let me know what you’d like.)
The weather was a little iffy that day, but the rain and clouds cleared in time for the big dance number. Believe it or not, we took over one of the busiest streets of Hong Kong!
The Fab Four arrived on the scene — Henry Winkler turned his camera on us for this shot. Terry Bradshaw whipped out a microphone and burst into song!
Then it was time to dance, dance, dance. I was impressed by their ability to pull off a choreographed number!
So much fun, to dance in the streets with Captain Kirk and Fonzie!
(All of the amazing photos above are by Thomas Sandfield of Sandfield Productions. Thank you for capturing this epic day.)
I was glad to have my local friends with me, to take part in the scene.
Chaos, color, song… that’s the spirit of Hong Kong! Can you see me dancing with William Shatner in the middle?
(Above two photos by K. Lau of Bright Production.)
I also filmed a scene on the minibus, where I talked about Hong Kong’s travel attractions and general awesomeness. (Love the V-fingers photobomb behind me.)
What a joy to joke and riff with Henry Winkler and George Foreman, for this TV scene. They’re truly kind and humble, and up for anything!
Here are more black and white images from Thomas Sandfield of Sandfield Productions. It was a genius idea to pair “culture and Zen” William Shatner with “let’s roughhouse and sing” Terry Bradshaw on a travel show!
We were dancing along to the Otis Day and the Knights song “Shout (You Make me Wanna).”
Above shots by Arthur Rash. Thanks to everyone who supported the TV shoot, and for watching NBC’s Better Late Than Never!
On that note… I never got around to posting about my travels in Sydney, Australia. But better late than never, right?
If you have me on your Snapchat (@lacarmina), then you’ll have glimpsed me taking selfies under Harbour Bridge, earlier this year. (Since many of you asked, I’m wearing Karen Walker sunglasses.)
I’m wearing a Black Milk top and skirt: this Great Wave maxi-skirt is one of my favorites (see me wearing it at New Zealand’s Hobbit Town). Blackmilk’s designs are fantastic for travel because they’re lightweight and don’t crease, and easy to pack in luggage. (And stylish, of course). My fuzzy purse is from Mercibeaucoup in Shinjuku.
I had never been to Australia, and had very little time to explore. However, it was worth the trip to go down under and at least see Sydney. I’ll have to come back soon to see the Gold Coast, Melbourne and more.
As a first-timer, I had to visit the Sydney Opera House. I took the subway to Circular Quay, and walked over.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is also located here. Many travellers do the “bridge climb” where they walk on top of the structure for panoramic views. I’m not afraid of heights, but you aren’t allowed to take your own photos, and must wear a not-so-stylish jumpsuit… I’d prefer to pose below, wearing Black Milk!
Even from “down under” the bridge, you can’t beat these views of the harbor.
(My sunglasses are Karen Walker, similar to these round ones by her. More of her styles below.)
I don’t usually like to do “tourist” activities in cities, but I thoroughly enjoyed the Sydney Opera House tour. This guided tour lets you go inside the concert halls and see Jorn Utzon’s masterful architecture up close.
I learned, for example, that the “white” sails of the roof are actually made over a million chevron tiles, in two shades of cream. Our guide spoke about the politics involved in the construction process, and how the Danish architect eventually left the project. (He’s never even been inside the completed structure, which opened in 1973.)
I had the opportunity to see Jørn Utzon’s room, defined by concrete structural beams and a 14 meter long tapestry of his own design. On the opposite end, giant windows overlook the harbour waters.
Our guide spoke about how Utzon solved design problems in innovative ways, such as by peeling an orange to see how the curved sails could fit together.
As you can tell, I learned so much from the multimedia Opera House tour. Anyone who is interested in modern architecture should check it out.
I selected the Tour and Tasting Plate, which ends with an al fresco meal underneath the sails.
At Opera Kitchen, I got to try a three-tiered lunch set with a range of finger foods: sushi, mini burgers, dumplings, salad and more.
The perfect lunch for sharing with a friend, especially when paired with Australian pinot noir. I got to enjoy the sunshine, and bask in this uninterrupted view of the Harbour Bridge and waters.
From Circular Quay, it’s a short walk to the Royal Botanic Garden. This large park is filled with different themed gardens, and has a pond and Asian pavilion.
It would be tragic if went to Sydney and skipped out on Bondi beach. I rode the subway to Bondi Junction, and then hopped on the bus that runs frequently to the beach. When you see this curving cove of sand, you’ve arrived.
This 1 km long beach is classic Sydney. I watched surfers ride the waves, and walked barefoot on Bondi’s warm and soft sand.
Time to chow down. I’ve heard that Sydney is famous for its breakfasts, and found this to be true. This salmon eggs Benedict, with an almond milk flat white, was as good as it looked on my Instagram.
I loved the breakfast at Ceru Restaurant so much that I came back for dinner. (I went to the Potts Point location, but the restaurant is currently moving to a new spot.)
I was accompanied by my friend Leanne, writer at Trashtastika. We were charmed by the Middle Eastern ceramics near the windows.
British chef Tom Kime launched Ceru as a celebration of Levantine cuisine. He incorporates flavors and recipes from the Eastern Mediterranean, infusing them with a modern interpretation.
We started by sharing a spread of mezzes and salads. Beetroot and chickpea purees, with cucumber sticks and pita — everything is organic, and the menu is vegan and gluten free friendly.
Fresh pomegranate, mint, and pistachio add dimension to this lamb dish. These Levant spices pair marvellously with Ceru’s craft cocktails and cold-pressed juices.
I’m still thinking about Ceru’s honeycomb baklava ice cream… with flavors of burnt caramel and roasted nut. Possibly the tastiest and most creative dessert I’ve had all year.
PS – you can find out more about Better Late Than Never on their website, including viewing times and clips.
I leave you with a few more scenes from this huge network shoot. There were so many moving parts, but the team pulled it off.
“We-eee-eeel…. / You know you make me wanna (Shout!) / Kick my heels up and (Shout!) / Throw my hands up and (Shout!)”
Have a happy weekend!
Can you tell I was delighted to be in Brussels? I got an inside look at the local fashion scene, thanks to the special arrangements by Belgium Tourism Board.
We filmed stories in three very different boutiques: glasses, jewelry, designer couture. I also found out why Brussel’s Dansaert shopping street is known as one of the coolest in Europe.
PS – if you want to buy this Miffy shirt, it’s available on my Depop shop along with many new items… Email me (gothiccarmina att gmail dotcom) and let me know what you’d like from my clothing sale, before it’s all gone!
First stop on my Brussels fashion tour — a unique eyeglasses shop.
These days, glasses have become a style statement. Lunetier Ludovic is the vision of Ludovic Elens, a Belgian optometrist who crafts distinctive frames by hand.
We loved the vintage vibe of Lunetier Ludovic boutique (Address: Ernest Allardstraat 14, 1000 Brussel).
I’m a glasses-wearer myself (although you usually see me in contact lenses), and quite picky about frames. My favorite styles come from Europe — where the designs tend to have a minimal, modern aesthetic.
Ludovic’s glasses stand out because of his handcrafted techniques and quality materials, sourced from around the world. I tried on a few frames made out of Buffalo horn and cellulose acetate.
Lunetier Ludovic’s storefront displays his own collection, as well as other indie glasses brands.
He is passionate about offering a bespoke experience for his clients. In the age of machines, Ludovic’s work is a throwback to the days when artisans used their hands and simple tools to craft spectacles, from raw materials.
I loved the unique shape and speckled pattern of these eyeglasses.
Ludovic told me that he didn’t feel there was a single style that best suited certain face shapes. Instead, he aims to make glasses that reflect his clients’ personalities.
We went downstairs to his workshop. Ludovic showed me how to cut silhouettes from raw acetate slabs, and polish them to perfection on a spinning tool. He often spends weeks refining a single pair of glasses, as each order is individually made and customized to the client.
So cool to see the artistic process from start to finish, at Lunetier Ludovic. The Belgian designer has a knack for capturing the customer’s individuality through his handmade designs.
The inspiration continued at Bel’ Arte, a lively boutique run by a young couple. Everything here is made by independent Belgian designers. (Address: Rue de Flandre 53, 1000 Bruxelles)
Bel’Arte has the goal of highlighting local artisans, who often don’t have the opportunity to display their goods in stores. I browsed one-of-a-kind jewelry, leather goods, furniture, lighting and other design items.
Very impressed by the skill of these young Belgian artists. These twisty rings and earrings would be fantastic gifts, as they can only be found here.
(All photos by Borderless Media – and our travel video will be out soon.)
I wore a Miffy outfit that day (it’s available for sale on my shop!), and found my bunny boyfriend at Stijl — a famous boutique for Belgian designers. (There are separate shops for men and women; the latter is at Rue Antoine Dansaertstraat 74, 1000 Brussels).
In the 1980s, this neighborhood had very few attractions. Stijl opened in 1984, and transformed Dansaert into the cutting-edge fashion destination that it is today.
I interviewed Sonia Noël, the founder and owner. She wanted Stijl to be a platform for young Belgian designers to show their works.
Stijl carries the latest collections of these now-famous names. However, the store remains true to its original goal, and always gives space to up and coming Belgian designers.
(Below are designs you can find at Stijl; click the images for details)
I loved seeing the sleek couture of Maison Martin Margiela and the “Antwerp Six”, beautifully displayed in a single boutique. Stijl is a must-visit for those who appreciate fine fashion.
The entire Dansaert district is worth browsing. I spent hours looking at vintage and modern clothing stores, book shops… and even found this old building facade, next to Chicago Cafe.
I’ll leave you with a look at the classic architecture in Brussels. The tourism board took us to lunch at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM), known for its collection of over 8000 instruments.
You know I’m obsessed with Art Nouveau… what a treat to look out from the museum’s rooftop! This swirling steel and glass structure was built in 1899.
We had lunch by the windows: a feast of Belgian specialties like French fries, Liege meatballs and tartines (open face sandwiches).
This is only an introduction to the spectacular food we ate in Belgium… There’s much more to come, including a video and a chocolate tasting.
Did the style scene in Brussels surprise you? Are you familiar with Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten and other local designers? (Shop a selection below…)
PS – Thank you to Buzzfeed Travel for featuring me in a big article about Tokyo bizarre travel! It went viral and trended for days.
PPS – Since there was so much demand, I’ve added new Japanese Lolita dresses, Miffy tops and more to my Depop shop. My best items are now up, so come take a look and email me quickly to let me know what you’d like. I’ll gladly do exact shipping, and discounts if you get more than one item. Have fun!
Come shop La Carmina’s wardrobe sale here.
Hosting a Travel Channel TV series in Tokyo! Using Happn app to meet new people through everyday coincidences.
Tokyo remains one of my favorite cities on the planet. There’s always something new (and usually cute!) to discover here.
I recently filmed in Japan with a new Travel Channel TV series, and am delighted to finally share behind-the-scenes from the shoot.
As we whiz through Tokyo’s coolest districts, I’ll also introduce you to a fabulous French app called Happn, which seizes everyday coincidences and lets you meet the people you cross paths with!
(“Tokyo’s Cute Culture” airs again on March 29th at 8:30am. Soon, the show will be available for download on Amazon.)
The Travel Channel team and I filmed all over Tokyo. Can you imagine how many people I must have walked past, during this TV shoot alone?
I snapped this photo in busy Akihabara, and it made me think. People are always on their phones, and yet, it can be hard to start up a real-life conversation.
I was excited to learn Happn was launching in Japan, as it’s a brilliant way to bridge these gaps.
This free app lets you give a second chance at a first encounter. It first launched in Paris in 2014, and is now is in over 35 cities worldwide.
Happn is all about facilitating real-life connections. Every time you cross paths with another user, their profile appears on your app: a starting point for getting to know someone new.
On a busy day like my Travel Channel TV shoot, I’m sure I walked by or near tons of interesting people. (The app connects you with users within a 250m radius.)
However when we’re caught up in work, or in a hurry to reach the next location, there’s no time to interact.
We filmed an intro at Hachiko dog statue, near the busy Shibuya crossing. As many as 2500 pedestrians cross this street every time the light changes!
So many people gather here in Shibuya — but are often too shy to strike up a conversation.
Happn lets them see the number of times they’ve crossed paths with someone, as well as the time and approximate location of the last encounter.
Wouldn’t it be fun if the fellow behind me was checking his phone, and finding me on Happn?
If there’s a user who you want to get to know better, you can Heart their profile (the person doesn’t get a notification, so it’s private). If that person Hearts you too, you can then start up a conversation.
You never know… one of the people you cross paths with could be a special guy or girl destined for you!
I love how Happn lets me meet new friends with common interests. As you know, I’m an animal lover… and was in my element when we filmed at Deco’s Dog Cafe.
Owners bring their puppies here to dine on gourmet food, and see other dogs.
In Japan, locals can be reticent about conversing with people they don’t know. An app like Happn breaks the ice.
“Hi, I was at Deco cafe too! Where did your poodle get her cute dress from?”
“Perhaps we can exchange cooking tips for organic dog food!”
I have a feeling Happn will be especially popular in Akihabara, the high-tech otaku district.
Maid cafes are big here, since they let customers talk to the staff about manga, anime and other “nerdy” interests.
No need to be shy when you can first chat about shared hobbies on the app.
As you can see, I went to all types of neighborhoods for my Travel Channel shoot. We filmed a segment at the Odaiba hot springs, Oedo-Onsen-Monogatari.
The final “decision scene” took place at a verdant Shinto temple.
In the end, did my “relocation” clients decide to move to Japan? You’ll have to tune in to find out. (“Could I Live There”? airs regularly on Travel Channel.)
I think anyone new to Japan would have fun using the French app Happn. It’s a charming way to meet people, from real life encounters.
Who knows — you could bond over your passion for kawaii mascots, creepy accessories, or a heaping plate of pasta!
Perhaps you’ll even cross paths with me! (If you’re intrigued, here’s where you can find out more about Happn.)
Hearts for all of you — I wouldn’t have these opportunities in Japan without your support. More Tokyo coverage to come, and I hope you enjoy the Travel Channel show that I hosted.