Category Archive for Press
Here we are again… looking over our sunglasses at the year that was!
Can’t believe it is time again for the annual blogging Year in Review. In the past 12 months, I made it to some of my dream destinations and landmarks. These include India (Taj Mahal), Romania (Dracula’s Castle), Switzerland (HR Giger museum and bar) … and we mustn’t forget our pilgrimage to the Amsterdam Miffy store!
But before the retrospective… let’s look ahead to my upcoming travels in January 2018. Can’t wait to escape the winter by heading to three new countries: Cuba, Panama, and Dominican Republic!
I’ll be spitting time between relaxing on Caribbean beaches, and investigating the local culture. Get ready for stories about Havana vintage cars and Santeria rituals. As always, if you have travel tips for me (Havana, Punta Cana, Santo Domingo, Panama City), please leave me a comment or message.
2017 was a meaningful year, as it was my 10th anniversary of blogging! I can’t believe I’ve been at this for a decade now.
We’ve come a long way since the site’s original focus on Japan and Gothic Lolita. In fact, I didn’t step foot in Tokyo at all this year. Although I adore Japan and still get inspired by every visit, the subculture scene isn’t what it used to be.
But there’s a whole world out there to discover. This past year, I continued to partner with travel companies and tourism boards, which let me visit new destinations worldwide (including off-the-beaten-path places like Romania, above).
Crazy enough, I’ve been to over 60 countries by now. Still pinching myself that blogs and the Internet have let me live this life.
Other milestones include being interviewed for the BBC’s radio documentary about Goths, and winning the Best Blogger of the Year award from Auxiliary (as well as being on their magazine cover). Once again, a huge thank you to all of you who voted for me, and for your continuous support. Every comment, share and like makes a difference to me.
At the start of 2017, my friends and I were saddened to say farewell to Rose, who had long been fighting gastroparesis and complications brought on by undiagnosed Lyme disease. Many of you got to know Rose through our early adventures on this blog, and her spirit made an impact on everyone she met.
There’s a tribute to Rose here, which includes our boat trip to Sechelt, BC for her last hurrah.
I finally hunkered down and completed my apartment decor project, which I unveiled in my house tour. I was happy to hear your kind feedback on my interior design, which is inspired by Zen minimalism, mid-century modern and kawaii. (And yes, it’s always this clean and sparse… death to clutter!)
Since I’m a Miffy fan, I included a lot of the minimal Dutch bunny in my apartment. It was fitting that my next was to her home country…
The Netherlands! It was great to return to Amsterdam after many years, thanks to an invitation from the tourism bureau. I had come here over 10 years ago, but when I was a less experienced traveler, I stuck to the tourist landmarks.
This time around, I sought out the artistic, off-the-beaten-path districts including Noord (above, the EBM music A’Dam tower) and De Pijp. I also made it to the Miffy / Nijntje store, and Mr. Maria’s lamp studio. If you missed these Holland blog posts, find them here.
And then… Acropolis Now. I partnered with Visit Greece to showcase both the ancient and modern sides of Athens. This photo by Joey Wong is one of my favorites from this trip, since it captures the “Athena the Greek goddess” feeling of being here.
After, it was time for some sunshine in Santorini, Greece. There’s nothing like staying in a classic white villa, with a private swimming pool and patio.
We went sailing around the islands, and witnessed the magnificent sunset in Oia. I wore blue to match the waves at Perissa Beach in Santorini.
This year, I had the good fortune of meeting up with friends from over the years, in various places. I made it to Austin, Texas for the first time — I was keen to check out the alternative sights in Texas’ most liberal city. “Weird Austin” did not disappoint, with gems like Satanic karaoke and floppy disk bars.
Yukiro and I had long dreamed of making a “Passage to India.” This summer, we toured Delhi and Rajasthan in style (would you expect anything less from us?) Seeing the Taj Mahal was one of my favorite memories of the past year.
India is an onslaught for the senses, and we adored it. We got to meet hijira (the third recognized gender in India), dress in saris for the first time, see cremations on the banks of the Ganges, and take care of elephants at an ethical sanctuary in Jaipur.
All these stories can be found here, under the India category.
Yukiro and I also journeyed to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (crazy that I’ve been to most countries in Asia by now). Can’t complain about the pool and spa at the Ritz-Carlton KL.
We also enjoyed sipping dragonfruit cocktails and drawing pentagrams in the sand, in Langkawi Malaysia. All our adventures in Malaysia are compiled here.
I ended up spending more time in the US this year. It’s always fun to return to NYC…
… and see the Magic Gardens and Mutter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Right before Halloween, I was invited to Experience Bucharest, Romania (click for all stories). The land of Dracula and vampire lore was on my bucket list — and it was as dark and delicious as I hoped! (Above, I’m wearing Moitie and Peace Now inside Bellu Cemetery).
It was an honor to speak at the event for travel bloggers, influencers and media / tourism.
2017 was one hell of a year for Halloween. I reunited with friends in London, England; we haunted Highgate, saw The Exorcist play at the West End, and made an obligatory pit-stop at Cyberdog in Camden Market (above).
As an Alien fan, I couldn’t resist making a side-trip to Switzerland… to see the H.R. Giger bar and museum in Gruyeres! I haven’t released these photos yet, but above is a synthwave space-jacket outfit from Montreux.
I leave you with some bonus Xmas / holiday snaps from last year in Hong Kong. I bit into Frosty and Rudolph at Yum Cha, the cute dim sum restaurant.
At Yum Cha cafe in Hong Kong, you can order smiley-faced animal buns and other adorable “kawaii” decorated food.
And how cute are these Chinese Hello Kitty plush dolls, which look like daruma? These round, lucky figures are objects for goal-setting — a great way to prime yourself for the New Year.
Here’s to a soaring, successful 2018! Let’s all dream big, and make it happen in 2018.
As for me, I’m getting ready to fly to Havana Cuba, Panama and Dominican Republic! Let me know if you have travel tips for these places. I’ve also updated my Travel Destinations page (everything is listed by region and country). You can easily find all my travel guides / stories about each place I visited, such as Japan, Korea, Morocco, Iceland, Vietnam.
More by Morph8ne Clothing below, or click here to shop.
What were your favorite moments of 2017? Despite what my Long Clothing sweatshirt says… let’s make it a happy New Year!
I spoke at Experience Bucharest conference! Travel influencers Romania tourism event, Bellu Cemetery vampire fashion.
This little vampire had the best Halloween ever. I got to visit the ultimate Gothic destination… Bucharest, Romania!
Since I was a teen, I imagined myself haunting Romania’s cemeteries. This dream became reality, thanks to the hard-working team at Experience Bucharest — who invited me to speak at their October 2017 travel and tourism conference.
Over the course of several days, I got to meet dozens of fellow travel bloggers, influencers and industry professionals. We experienced the best of Bucharest through immersive activities (and some stayed on to see more parts of the country with Experience Romania).
Needless to say, I had the time of my life. I’m so excited to share these stories from the land of Transylvania –– starting with a waltz through Bellu Cemetery in my Japanese vampire cape. (All photography by Joey Wong.)
For a long time, Romania has been an overlooked destination. However, the tide is turning thanks to Experience Bucharest / Experience Romania, the largest independent project to promote tourism in this fascinating country. The passionate team of volunteers invited 100 top travel bloggers, vloggers, digital influencers and media to discover Bucharest’s many attractions, as well as take part in a day-long conference.
Above, I’m with Tudor Maxim (founder and one of the chief organizers) and Jeanette Ceja (travel TV reporter and expert), who spoke on the social media panel along with me.
The conference took place at the Novotel Hotel Bucharest, which also hosted my stay. It’s located by Old Town, with a balcony that had this lovely view of the city’s classic architecture.
Hair: My new purple/red/blue ombre haircolor is by Chad Evans at Stratosphere Salon in Vancouver, Canada. He cut my bangs into a vampire V, and did a fishtail braid in the back. So happy with this new hairstyle!
Outfit details: I wore Gal Stern tights with a silver skull pattern, Alex Streeter pearl necklace, Sleevey Wonders sheer sleeves, and a Moi-meme-Moitie graveyard dress (designed by Japan’s Elegant Goth Lolita icon, Mana of the bands Moi-dix-Mois and Malice Mizer).
I spoke at the “The Future of Tourism in Romania” conference, which brought together travel professionals from all around the world. This Eastern European country has modernized and opened up to visitors especially since 2007, when it joined the EU.
The local tourism organizers first shared success stories of tourism in Romania, highlighting the increasing interest of travelers in Sibiu (historical city in Transylvania), Mamaia (beach and resort destination on the Black Sea), Bucovina (scenic historic region on the slopes of the Carpathian mountains) and other areas.
Next, I stepped onto the Experience Romania stage to speak about “Best international practices in tourism and social media.” I was a speaker on this social media panel along with leading travel Instagrammers Altug Galip and Laiza Souza, and Jeanette Ceja who comes from a journalism background.
For about an hour, we answered questions from the audience and shared personal advice on topics related to travel, digital media, press trips, sponsorships and tourism trends. It was fantastic to hear everyone’s perspectives from their various backgrounds, and have a conversation with an audience of hundreds who are passionate about traveling.
I put together a few clips of my Q&A answers during the travel blogger panel. You can see the video above and here.
Many thanks to the Travel Massive Romania volunteers and local businesses for welcoming us bloggers, and showing us the best of Bucharest!
We got to go on walking tours of the city, try various restaurants… I’ll be showing you much more of my explorations soon.
More photos of this look at the end of this post, but first…
Is there any better place to wear a vampire cape… than in the land of Dracula?
I transformed into a bat and flew to Bellu Cemetery (part of the Bucharest Urban Adventures “Darkside Tour”). This graveyard, officially known as Șerban Vodă, is the largest and most celebrated one in the city.
Bellu Cemetery was particularly atmospheric during Halloween season, with autumn leaves on the dramatic coffins.
Address and access: Șoseaua Olteniței 3-5, București, Romania. If you’re traveling by subway, get off at the Eroii Revolutiei metro stop (two stops from Universitate Station in Old Town). Entry is free, and the graveyard is open daily from 10 am to 8 pm.
I got to live out my Dracula fantasies in this photoshoot, surrounded by wooden stakes and dark tombstones.
Outfit details: I’m wearing my Black Peace Now designer cape from Japan, and a Moi-même-Moitié dress.
The cemetery is located on a 54-acre plot of land, donated by Baron Barbu Bellu (hence the name). Many of the graves date back to the 1850s, when the Romanian graveyard was founded.
My friends and I enjoyed strolling through the many rows of tombstones, some with interesting and eerie statues.
We came across a memorial to someone named Putin, featuring two Sphinx-women carrying a globe on their backs. (Edit – actually, this actually translates to ‘a little’ and has a spiritism spooky story associated with it… see the first comment at the bottom for the history.) On the right, I half-expected a vampire to rise out of this thorny black coffin!
Many famous Romanians lie beneath the soil including writers, gymnasts and astronomers. Two of the most famous residents are the national poet Mihai Eminescu, and playwright / humorist Ion Luca Caragiale.
Count Dracula may have been imagined by Ireland’s Bram Stoker, but Romanians have long-established legends about the dead rising from the grave. According to the local folklore, these “strigoi” crave fresh blood and can transform into other animals, as well as turn humans into ghouls.
Nosferatu vibes… When you’re standing in Bellu Cemetery, it’s easy to understand why Romanian vampire legends have captured the imagination of millions worldwide.
I love seeing how nature enhances the beauty of the chains and crosses. The leaves add a splash of blood-red to these resting grounds.
When night falls, who knows what might rise from these coffins?
(Of course, I also visited Bran Castle in Transylvania, associated with Vlad the Impaler… there’s a giant article to come out soon about it.)
Even if you aren’t captivated by vampire stories, you should spend time wandering in Bellu Cemetery. The local history, art and architecture are fascinating to behold here.
My V-bangs haircut and Black Peace Now cape helped me get into the spooky spirit. Bucharest’s graveyard is truly a Goth dream.
We saw several cats living among the dead. (Dracula’s fellow creatures of the night.)
Vampira vibes, in front of one of the largest and most elaborate mausoleums in Bellu graveyard. It belongs to Gheorghe Grigore Cantacuzino, a 19th century Romanian politician and lawyer.
Such a pleasure to tour this necropolis with my Romanian Gothic friends, Beatrice and Alex.
In love with the historic architecture and dark decay of the mausoleums.
Most of the burial ground is Eastern Orthodox, with well-tended graves topped with crucifixes and angel statues.
“Out of what crypt they crawl, I cannot tell / But every night I see the rubbery things / Black, horned, and slender, with membraneous wings / And tails that bear the bifid barb of hell.” – H.P. Lovecraft, “Night-Gaunts.”
This photospeaks for itself… Bucharest’s Bellu Cemetery is one of the most beautiful I’ve visited.
You can come here on your own, or join the Bucharest Urban Adventures Dark Side walking tour. It also takes you to other eerie parts of the city, including a serial killer’s alleyway and bloody buildings from the Communist era.
“To walk with me you must die to your breathing life and be reborn to mine.” – Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel
Bellu Graveyard is tended by citizens, rather than the government. Many locals come here to leave flowers and offerings, and maintain the tombs in good condition.
Although this is a huge plot of land at 54 acres, the graveyard has been filled up over the past century and half. The paths between the rows are narrow, which make you feel close to the dead (or undead?)
As you can see, Bucharest was everything this Goth girl imagined it to be… and far more.
I’m very grateful to the Experience Bucharest family for bringing me to their hometown, and having me take part in the conference’s 2nd Edition! (Above, with the lovely Anda Maxim who worked hard on the program, along with the other team members.)
Some of the invited bloggers stayed for an extra two weeks, and toured all around the country with Experience Romania. I’ll have to return soon to see more.
One my favorite parts of Experience Bucharest? Meeting dozens of fabulous travel storytellers, each with a unique niche and medium. (Facebook Live, LGBT, comedy videos, history blogs, desserts, you name it).
We hit it off with our shared love of travel; it’s such a joy to connect with others who walk a similar path. I left feeling inspired, and am sure I’ll meet up with many of these new friends somewhere in the world.
I leave you with some close-ups of my jewelry. My Morbid Debutante white skull and pearls necklace is by Alex Streeter (who created the pentagram Angel Heart ring, most recently worn by Marilyn Manson on the cover of several music magazines).
My vampire nails were bloody perfect for the occasion. Dripping blood, bats, Dracula, fangs, coffins and skulls, rendered by hand in unbelievable detail.
As always, these gel nails are the work of Keiko Matsui at Glam Nail Studio in Vancouver. You can see a close-up of the nail art here on my Instagram, and I’ll post more images soon. (My bracelet cuff is vintage Yohji Yamamoto.)
So thankful to Experience Romania / Bucharest for having me come to give a talk on the social media panel, and capture these stories and photos for you. (All photography by Joey Wong.)
“Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make!” – Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”
This is only the first bite of Bucharest. Many more travel tales to come, including a visit to Bran Castle, and alternative street art tour.
What are your impressions of Romania so far? Have you ever thought of visiting? If there was a land for Goths… I think it would be here!
Osaka, Japan Halloween shops! Japanese weird beauty products, costumes, makeup. Auxiliary Magazine modeling.
It’s getting close to Halloween! To get you in the mood, I’m doling out two Treats from Asia. (And no Tricks, promise.)
1) Scroll on to see dozens of cute photos of Halloween shops in Osaka! As you’d expect, Japan celebrates the October holiday in kawaii-scary style. Read on to see the spooky beauty products and costumes found only in Japanese stores.
2) And… I’m thrilled to finally release my Hong Kong photoshoot, which was published in the spring issue of Auxiliary Magazine!
I look forward to taking a black cat bubble bath, and fizzling the glitter pumpkin, monster and “Lord of Misrule” bath bombs in my tub.
Also perfect for Goths: the Black Rose lip scrub and gloss (which appears black but turns pink), and Goth Fairy shimmer bar. The Hedgewitch and Magic Wand soaps promise to leave you with “boo-tiful, spellbinding skin!” There’s a video on my Instagram with close-ups of Lush’s spooky collection — which one is your favorite?
Now, let me share one of my favorite photo editorials to date. The images are by the brilliant Hong Kong based photographer, Rose Conway.
As always, my hair cut and color are by Stephanie Hoy (you can tell that we took these photos a while back, as my hair is pink and longer now).
We shot these photos in – where else? – the streets of Hong Kong. I’m standing in front of a Buddhist temple in Kowloon.
I’m wearing these exact Michael Kors black suede pumps. More items from my outfit below:
Hong Kong truly has a Blade Runner vibe: alleyways lit by neon lights, juxtaposed with old Chinese signs. My Lovecraft “Necronomicon gate” top is by Disturbia Clothing.
It was an honor to have these photos appear in the Spring 2017 issue of Auxiliary Magazine.
An absolute pleasure to work with HK based photographer Rose Conway.
We looked for interesting storefronts and colors to shoot. This Chinese shop sold statues of folk gods, incense, and other ritual items. The flamboyant owner insisted on coming out to pose for a photo!
Red and gold are the signature lucky colors of Hong Kong. (The brick wall matches my devil horns as well).
I’ve been going to Hong Kong since I was a child, and certain scents and images are quintessential to the city. The Chinese butcher, with BBQ duck hanging under bright lights, for example.
I like how you can see “real world” Hong Kong in these images. Citizens live in close quarters, and carry themselves with an upfront attitude. It can seem brash at first, but you grow to love it for what it is.
Kawaii culture and street style are as popular in Hong Kong as they are in Japan. I paid tribute with a cat-ears headband and a white tulle skirt.
A curtsy for a hunk of meat? (Find my Michi top here.)
Perhaps Lady Gaga got her “meat dress” from this Chinese street market vendor!
Major thanks you to Rose Conway for photographing me in Hong Kong! Hair is by the fabulous Stephanie Hoy, and makeup / styling is by yours truly. You can get copies in print in the current issue of Auxiliary Magazine (and stay tuned for the next one… I’ll be doing something more with them!).
If you like what I’m wearing, click below to shop my look:
Now, let’s get you excited for All Hallow’s Eve — the best time of the year! When I was in Osaka last September, I took lots of snaps of the ghoulish-sweet items found in Japanese stores.
The Sanrio store puts a whimsical Halloween twist on Hello Kitty and Friends. Above, you can see Dear Daniel as Frankenstein, and Hello Kitty and Pompompurin (the yellow dog) as witches!
Sanrio’s favorite “kawaii” characters get a spooky makeover, while retaining their adorable look. On the right, Kuromi yells “Noooo!” while surrounded by smiling pumpkins, and Chococat with a cobweb.
The usually sweet bunny Cinnamonroll transforms into a red-eyed vampire. Pom Pom Purin gets a sewn-up skeleton look, and a deathly green pallor to his fur.
Sanrio releases a special Halloween collection each year in Japan. However, the store continues to sell its regular pastel cute merchandise as well. Witness Gudetama (the lazy egg) in many forms, and what appear to be… My Melody Crocs meets Uggs slippers?
Many of these designs can be only found in Japan (they aren’t sold online, as they are produced here). If you’re a rabid Hello Kitty fan, it’s reason enough to make a pilgrimage to Japan.
I went around to various Osaka beauty / 100 yen stores, especially in the Amerikamura and Umeda districts (two of my favorite shopping hubs). Since it was mid-late September, there were lots of Halloween designs available — such as these “come on!!” Halloween stick-on nails.
Fancy eyelashes and colored contact lenses remain very popular among Japanese youths. When I saw the Disney “Evil Queens” collection on the right, I thought of Yukiro.
I love how creative Japanese makeup can be. In spooky season, there are tutorials on how to use “hypersharp eyeliner” to create Day of the Dead, spiderweb and undead effects around the eyes and lips.
The Korean makeup brand, Etude House, is big in Japan as well. How sweet are the heart-eyed pumpkins and pink skulls, which contain product inside? The panda and kitten keychains also stole my heart.
More examples of Halloween cosplay makeup. This time: how to be a cute cat, or a Snow White witch.
Disturbed, yet cute as a button. That’s the spirit of Japanese Halloween! (These female models are showing off glitter and rainbow face / body tattoos.)
From bloody wounds to fake blood, Japanese dollar stores have you covered.
Jelly moustache, anyone? For 450 yen ($4), why not.
My friends and I tend to stock up around Halloween, such many items (like the dark eyeshadows) can be used year round. Not sure about the impractical stuffed animals clinging to the smartphone cases though…
Japan also gets into the Halloween mood with themed food. At Chococro, the addictive chocolate croissants come in a haunted house box.
Namba-Land (the Osaka arcade and amusement park) has Halloween celebrations each year. Above, the same flyer advertises a pumpkin pudding and tart that made my mouth water.
Now, let’s look at some street fashion in Osaka. The neighborhood America Mura is your best bet for Gothic Lolita and underground styles. There are several secondhand stores dedicated to these style tribes here…
… as well as department stores that cater to youth fashion. Snoopy on the left; pumpkin-printed Sweet and Goth Lolita outfits on the right.
Follow the white rabbit to cute stores. Oversize pastel and monochrome garments are everywhere recently.
No matter how many times you visit Japan, you’ll undoubtedly encounter something that leaves you scratching your head. At Funky Fruit, I was perplexed to see sweatshirts… with giant, heavy nooses around the necks!
You saw it here first. Hangman-chic.
Funky Fruit carries all sorts of fetish-Gothic fashion, like these chokers with silver rings.
Punk and fetish influences, combined with sportswear. Weird.
Around Halloween, many of the Goth / Lolita / Kawaii labels put out spooky-themed garments. The Jack-o-Lantern print top on the left caught my eye.
Rydia / World Wide Love remain one of my favorite designers. I tried on the “Night Wander” devil-ghost on the left, and left a note in the black cat post office box on the right!
Vampire fangs, floating ghosts, crescent moons, plaid and leopard print. You can tell why I’m into Rydia / World Wide Love.
I also made a stop at EST, the Umeda department store by Hep Five and the Osaka Ferris wheel. Inside EST, you’ll find indie boutiques with out-of-the-ordinary items — like these vintage-style cat carpet bags.
Near the entrance, I found this eccentric pop-up.
These colorful critters have chains through their nostrils… more creepy than cute, in this case.
Trick or Treat — Halloween in Japan is sweet! Did you enjoy these snapshots from my trip last year in Osaka? Have you stocked up on any bat, ghost, zombie, Dracula or pumpkin goodies yet?
PS: If you’re looking for a Halloween costumes — I have some of mine for sale on my Depop! Above are some of the many available (size small), which you may recognize from past Halloweens. If you’d like any, shoot me an email at gothiccarmina (att) gmail (dott-comm) and I’ll send it to you. More details and prices here on my shop; lots of clothes available.
Here’s to the spookiest time of the year!
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!