Category Archive for J-News

2018 Travel Blogging Summary! Year end review of my travels, Goth fashion blog outfits, Japan TV shows.

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Yikes, where did the year go? Can’t believe it is the end of 2018 already! I’ve recently been swallowed up by work, so my apologies for the lack of blog updates – but we have a lot of exciting travels in store for you soon.

Right now, I’m having fun revisiting adventures for my new travel writing job for Touring Bird, a site by Google Area 120! I’m the insider expert for Tokyo, Hong Kong, and over a dozen other cities in Asia. I’ve been writing insider travel tips and city guides, of course with a focus on offbeat, hidden, alternative, and cute attractions — like the Tokyo Trick Art Museum above. Can’t wait to share more with you once my Touring Bird cities launch.

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I have a lot to catch up on in the new year, including blogging about my recent adventures in Bangkok, Tokyo, Naoshima, and Hiroshima. And you can look forward to fabulous new travel stories soon… as Yukiro and I have a huge trip ahead in early 2019. Hint, cunning queens and cat worship! I’ll be hitting two other countries as well. Announcements soon, and you can always catch up on my daily life on Instagram @lacarmina.

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Let’s do a quick review of the past year, as we always do. I’ll also share some photos that hadn’t made it onto the blog.

Here are some snaps from an eerie new restaurant and bar that opened in Vancouver BC. Enclosed in a space with no windows, The Dark Manor fully immerses you into its haunted mansion theme. The upscale Victorian decor includes old ghostly portraits with eyes that follow you, and skulls and candles on a fireplace mantle.

This bar specializes in whiskey, and the craft cocktails have names like The Tight-Lipped Butler, The Baron’s End, and Danse Macabre. Each comes with a theatrical garnish: a “poisonous” vial, a cup of pills, a haunted house silhouette on egg white foam. The menu also has old-fashioned victuals like deviled eggs and pork medallions. If you have a Gothic disposition, you’ll love spending an evening here. (Wearing a lace bodysuit by UK Lingerie.)

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I also descended under the sea to Vancouver’s Laurence and Chico Cafe. With fluffy hooded octopus chairs, this is one surreal place to grab an almond milk latte! You can also browse the couture on display, and munch on delicate pastries.

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During Festivus season, my friends and I checked out the new Aurora Winter Festival in Vancouver. It’s a delight to drink hot mulled wine and pose amidst the Xmas lights displays.

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I’m keeping warm thanks to my slim white puffer coat by Snowman New York, and leather leopard print gloves by Moschino.

You can see more outfits and images like these on my Instagram @lacarmina, as I now frequently update there with OOTDs.

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Now, let’s go back in time to the year that was! I’m grateful I was able to travel with various close friends this year. (Click the links to each destination to see all the images and stories.)

I started out January 2018 in the Dominican Republic, as a guest of the exquisite Casa de Campo resort. Still dreaming of the tropical food and white sand beach.

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I did a quick stopover in Panama City, where I marveled at the futuristic skyline….

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… before getting immersed in the retro culture of Havana, Cuba. I wrote about my Cuban travels for Movato Home, a national print magazine found in newsstands all over Canada. I’ve been writing regularly for them, so look for my stories there in each issue.

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In the spring, I revisited San Francisco, CA with my “ghoul gang.” We shopped for Satanic statues, headbanged to synthwave, descended into Gothic clubs… just the usual shenanigans!

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Next up, I fulfilled my goal to see South America. In a dream project with LATAM Airlines, I spent time in several major cities — incuding Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil. (Here I am atop Sugarloaf Mountain.)

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Don’t cry for me, Argentina… Buenos Aires was a blast. The culture and food lived up to their high reputation.

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I haunted Recoleta Cemetery as the “woman in white,” and went to an Eva Peron (Evita) themed restaurant, among other explorations in BA.

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Then, I flew on LATAM to Chile for the first time. I took a quick jaunt to Valparaiso, a wonderland of street art and a place you must visit.

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I also explored Santiago, Chile – especially the hip LaStarria district. Random note: I get so many kind comments when I wear my Japanese post punk t-shirt!

easter island signs, statues wearing hats, funny cute moai easter island weird

Words fail me when I recall my time on Easter Island, land of the stone-faced moai! Rapa Nui has been my ultimate bucket list destination since I was a kid. Still can’t believe I got to see the mysterious icons for myself, thanks to LATAM.

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The island is one of the most remote in the world, and the landscapes are fascinating. If aliens ever came to Earth, I’m sure they landed on Easter Island.

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After, my pirate Naomi and I plunged into working on a new travel TV show, with me as host. We shot it this fall in Tokyo, Japan – I’ll never grow tired of this city. It’s interesting how life has changed since launching La Carmina Blog, but Tokyo subcultures remain at the heart of everything.

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The travel television episode (Joko und Klaas, Duel around the World) aired in late fall. We were chuffed to hear your reactions to the crazy challenge and mascots! Read about it here and see TV clips if you missed it.

hiroshima gate, miyajima red torii, hiroshima red orange temple gate

After finishing up the TV job, I traveled for the first time to Hiroshima with friends. Loved seeing Miyajima, the red gate, and visiting the Peace Memorial Museum.

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We then hopped over to Bangkok (tons of stories to come), and Laos. The tranquil Luang Prabang charmed us with its warmth and food. 

That’s 12 countries this year, if you count US and Canada – not bad! As I mentioned, there’s a massive trip coming up in February… so stay tuned for exciting visuals and stories.

long clothing hexagon geometric skirt, nu goth fashion, goth girl pink purple hair

I’ll end with some outfit snaps from the past year. I’m wearing a Morph8ne top and Long Clothing skirt, while lounging on my Crate and Barrel love seat (you know I love mid century modern design). My pink shoes are for sale on my Depop if you’d like to snatch them up.

silver irregular choice ankle boots, black bat wing top, batwing shirt

I had pink hair for the first half of 2018. Wearing a batwing top similar to this, an Erbert Chong bag and silver Irregular Choice ankle boots.

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For my birthday party, I wore Print All Over Me skull black overalls and a Chinti & Parket striped top. (If you want to see more images from my minimalist mid-century modern apartment, click here.)

fashion blogger long legs, three quarter length thigh high tights, morph8ne sweater

Time for a hair change! I’m going to stick with longer and darker for a while. My shoes are Jeffrey Campbell, similar to these boots. My three quarter length are floral Oroblu thigh highs from UK Tights.

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Goth fashion, always. Wearing a faux fur coat and bone barrettes with a Killstar dress. It’s similar to this to this pentagram star straps dress.

I’m still selling my wardrobe on Depop @lacarmina – where I’m now a verified official seller! If you’d like anything from my personal collection of Goth / alt fashion and accessories, I’d be glad to send you a package. Simply see what I have listed here on Depop and contact me (gothiccarmina att gmail dotcom).

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Leaving you with a final pic from Easter Island, wearing a House of Holland dress. Feeling gratitude for being able to see places like this with my own eyes.

Farewell, 2018 — here’s to a fulfilling and peaceful 2019! Happy New Year, everyone!


Filed Under Fashion, J-News

A sunrise visit to Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar! Burma golden temple, Buddhist travel destinations.

Shwedagon pagoda gold temple

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 awardA 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.

female buddhist monks pink robes

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…

burmese children wearing thanaka face paint

… and children with thanaka (sun-protecting face paint) on their cheeks. (All photography by Sniper Chau.)

burmese makeup, burma style

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.

Shwedagon pagoda tickets, entry fee

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).

Shwedagon pagoda yangon myanmar

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.

buddhist children praying

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.

travel bloggers myanmar tourism

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.)

smiling buddhist monks

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.

Shwedagon golden temple burma

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. 

reclining electric buddha statue

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.

punk rocker buddhists

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).

burmese sculpture, architecture

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.

buddhist pilgrimage, sweeping floor

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.

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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.

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I loved seeing the joy and tranquillity on everyone’s faces.

burmese rooftops, architecture

Burmese architecture ranges in styles. This reddish-brown spiky roof spoke to our Gothic aesthetics.

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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.

Shwedagon pagodas silhouette

As author Rudyard Kipling described it: “Then a golden mystery upheaved itself on the horizon, a beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun.”

visit rangoon burma temples

Wearing cat-eye sunglasses by Moat House Eyewear, which match my pink hair and top.

myanmar temple tour, travelers

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.

burmese women lonyi fashion skirts

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.

buddhist kids girls shaved heads

Offerings of fruit and flowers for the Buddha, made by these young devotees.

indian beggar donation

Loved seeing the small moments of generosity all around Shwedagon Pagoda.

Shwedagon gold pagoda yangon

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.

burmese water purification ritual

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.

leogryphs, cinthe

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.

burmese lion statues, cinthes

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.

burma snake temple, snakes

Snakes are another guardian, depicted with vampire-like fangs. The precise carvings found all over Shwedagon are impressive.

travel tips visit myanmar temples

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).

young buddhist boy monk

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 traditional makeup

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!

Shwedagon buddhist temples pagodas

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.

blue leopard print top, skirt

There are other relics preserved in the temple complex, ranging from sacred robes to… an ancient water filter.

buddhist storyboard, illustrations

This sign illustrates the story of the Buddha’s journey to enlightenment. Love the rainbow colors, and the gorgeous Burmese script.

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It’s apparent how much meaning the Buddhist teachings have to locals here, through each stage of their lives.

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We’re very glad we got to spend time in Myanmar, a travel destination that people often overlook.

red robe monks burma

Such an interesting contrast between monastic simplicity, and golden richness. 

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When we saw these flares of light, we knew why “Shwedagon Zedi Daw” is also know as the Golden Pagoda.

myanmar bodhi tree Shwedagon

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. 

buddha monk meditating bodhi tree

Siddartha Gautama meditated under a bodhi tree until he attained nirvana. Perhaps this monk, crouched under the canopy, will follow his path.

Shwedagon lion statues, protectors

We encountered this lion guardian on the outskirts as well. The pale pink claws are on point.

praying burmese monk

Shwedagon is heaven for people-watching and photography. (All images by Sniper Chau.)

burmese ladies dresses

The women we met were stylish and self-possessed. The Burmese are known for their welcoming nature, perhaps testament to the Buddhist culture.

happy buddhist children school

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.

buddhist travel, destination

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).

southeast asia travel blogger

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!