Veronica Travel LIVE – Mobile Monday Weekly Travel Tips Series

Join Veronica Jimenez for #VeronicaTravelLive every Monday for #MobileMonday Weekly Travel Tips as Veronica talks about exploring this wonderful world we inhabit!

This week:  Ep 04: Veronica discusses overpacking.
Bon Voyage,
Veronica

#VeronicaTravelLIVE
Exploring this wonderful world we inhabit!
Founder + President, New Concepts in Travel
http://www.newconceptsintravel.com/

 

 

 

Planning a vacation?  To get the most of your time off from your day to day routine I encourage you to ask yourself some questions on what you want to do with this time

 

  1. Lounge on the beach in St Maarten
  2. Go shopping in Argentina
  3. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda
  4. Zip Lining in Costa Rica
  5. Yoga /Meditation Retreat
  6. Women’s (men) Getaway.
  7. Sightseeing in Southeast Asia

 

There are so many options to  choose from. People call and ask me about vacations every day. That’s when I put my detective hat on and begin my research. Do you want to lay on a beach but also take cooking classes. Go to a Yoga/Meditation Retreat and  also partake in  fine gourmet dining.

Want to be around allot of people and party? Go to a semi private island  to commune with nature?  See the culture of –let’s say – Bali –along with some spa and massage options. Meet the people of the country you are visiting by enjoying a meal in their home- to really indulge yourself in their  lifestyle.

You get the point

You can mix it up to suit your individual needs.   There are so many choices this wonderful world we inhabit can offer. All you need is a want and imagination

It can all happen.

Let’s consider the options!

 

 

This most wonderful world we inhabit!

 

padmasambhava
Bhutan—my second time here—and I fall in love with this small land-locked country all over again. This mystical, pristine country with its rolling mountains, environmentally conscious government and way of life is a sort of utopia As you come off the plane you breathe in some of the freshest air on the planet. Surrounded by its neighbors—China and India—Bhutan has always gone its own way. Its constitution mandates that 60% of the land must be forest (actual figure 72%) which accounts for the beautiful countryside and ensures no over development.

On the flight from Nepal to Bhutan you can get a wonderful view of the Himalayas and Mount Everest when sitting on the left side. It is such a beautiful sight to see on a clear day. Approaching the city of Paro the flight takes a steep curve and you’ve arrived. It is said that only a handful of pilots can make this landing. The airport is very small and immaculate. It is shaped somewhat like the Dzongs one will see in each major city in Bhutan. A giant photo of the King & Queen adorn the outside of the airport. The monarchy is much revered throughout this small nation.

second-image
Once inside the terminal I am greeted by my old friend Passang who was my driver on my last visit. A shy fellow with a big smile made me feel very welcome. I was to stay in Thimphu for the evening where I would meet another old friend, Nima—my guide from my previous trip. The drive is approximately 1 ½ hours and I was immediately aware of all the construction taking place. I stayed at a new hotel—Tara Phenderling—one of many new additions since my last visit. The hotel was lovely and offered all the amenities you would expect. I took the trip with my sister and the day we arrived in Bhutan was her birthday. Nima had arranged a surprise party for her with all the bells & whistles.

third-image
The next town I visit is Punakha. The distance from Thimphu is approximately 3 hours. It’s quite a pleasant drive as the landscape is lush with trees. The mountains are dotted with homes and prayer flags abound. On the way I stop at the Dochula Pass and see 108 stupas standing as a memorial to the Bhutanese soldiers. The morning is foggy and the stupas are shrouded in a cape of mist. In the background—the Himalayas. The pass is located at an elevation of 10,200 feet.

Onward to the Punakha Dzong. A Dzong is a distinct type of fortress architecture found mainly in Bhutan and Tibet. The architecture is massive in style with towering exterior walls surrounding a complex of courtyards. It is divided into 2 parts—half to religious functions, primarily the temple and the Monk’s accommodations and the other government administrative offices. The Punakha Dzong is exquisite. This if referred to as the “palace of great happiness or bliss”.

fourth-image
Next is my visit to the Trongsa Dzong. The drive is approximately 5 hours from Punahka. Along the drive I can see yaks, monkeys and beautiful birds. I arrive at night and my hotel—The Yangkil—offering wonderful views of the Trongsa Dzong lit a night. As I sit on my terrace I am amazed at the still and quiet. It is so peaceful. The following day after breakfast I walk through the small town of Trongsa—past a lively marketplace with women bargaining their wares. Again I am amazed at the construction underway—streets being paved and widened—from my last visit.

I am fascinated at the stories and legends I am told visiting each Dzong District. The Bhutanese people are deeply religious—Buddhist—and each temple has its own unique story of their creation.

fifth-image
Bumthang is the next District on the journey and literally translates to “Beautiful Field”. This area is considered the most historic consisting of 4 mountain valleys. The number of ancient temples is imposing. Each temple entrance is surrounded by prayer wheels which reminds me of the deeply held beliefs of the people here. The next few days are spent hiking and taking in the exquisite allure Gangtey, located in the Phobjikha Valley, surrounded by mountains was my next stop. This place took my breath away and must surely be one of the most beautiful spots in Bhutan. I stayed at the Dewachen Lodge which overlooks the valley with spectacular views. The rooms, all with wood burning stoves, made for a warm and cozy feeling after hiking. The Black Neck Cranes migrate to this valley from Tibet in the winter. In flight they are so elegant and graceful.

Onward to Thimphu, stopping in the small village of Haa, for lunch at a farmhouse. During my trip throughout Bhutan I can say that “farm to table” meals were the norm.

sixth-image
Tigers Nest—a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site—is certainly the highlight—and always taken at the end of one’s trip Bhutan. A very clever thing to do as you get accustomed to the altitude during your stay and the hike is not as strenuous. The, monastery is located 6.2 miles north of Paro Valley and hangs on a precarious cliff at 10,240 feet—about 3,000 feet above Paro Valley. The rock slopes are very steep and the monastery is built into the rock face. The path leads through a pine forest and colorful prayer flags abound. The views are spectacular as you ascend the mountain. Once you reach the top the Monastery stuns! It is absolutely striking and definitely unforgettable

Overall my trip to Bhutan was one of my best experiences. The trip—I stayed a little over 2 weeks—was outstanding and quite memorable. The people, beauty of the landscape and their customs will stay with me forever

 

 

nct_hero_image1
I like the vibe in Nepal – the energy is hypnotic. As you arrive at the airport you are at once caught up with the busyness – with many peoples of various cultures vying for the visa kiosks (you can get your visa upon arrival) The time goes quickly and before you know it you are out of the airport and into the bustling terminal. I saw my guide among the throngs of people jumping up with a sign to catch my attention. It is truly a sight to see! Once in the van we are hustled out the airport and onto the small crowded streets of Nepal heading towards the hotel. As I am whizzed through the streets I see people everywhere – in vans, motorcycles, bikes, buses and on foot. The traffic on the streets is incredible for the size of the city. Women’s flowing saris on the back of motorcycles carrying children and large packages amazes me as they maneuver through the streets. You’re immediately caught up in the life of the people who live here.

During the 1960’s and well into the 1980’s this was the place where the “hippie” generation made the pilgrimage to find themselves as they rejected materialism and money. The deep spirituality of the East provided the perfect outlet for self-discovery.

nct_art2
Upon arriving at the hotel, The Shanker, I am greeted by the friendliest of faces. The hotel is small and comfortable. This history of the hotel is quite interesting. Shanker hotel is a heritage hotel housed in a 19th Century palace. At a time it was the Royal residence of the rulers of Nepal from 1894 until 1964 when it was converted into a luxury hotel. The facade was kept intact however the interiors were redesigned. Some of the authentic objects of art have been preserved such as the caved windows displayed in the lobby bar that are hundreds of years old. The hotel boasts 23 rooms which are quite spacious and some of the outside grounds are being repaired caused by the damage of the earthquake that devastated most of the city in 2015. The meals are served in a huge old ballroom. I ate my breakfast there every morning and there was a selection of dishes—both Nepalese and American. The staff outdoes itself with excellent service. It is said that Mick Jagger stayed at the Shanker Hotel on his way to a Hindu wedding—his own.

The following day I was greeted at the hotel by my guide and driver. As we headed to the historical sites I am once again thrust into the maddeningly chaotic traffic. My first visit is the Monkey Temple. I had been to Nepal before and the temple, for the most part, was still pretty much intact. I could see some of the devastation of the earthquake but it was not quite as bad as the other places I was about to see. Vendors were out selling their wares and bargaining was the norm.

nct_art3
My next visit was the Durbar Square. I was taken aback by the devastation there. Once beautiful temples were now reduced to rubble. However it didn’t take away from the indomitable spirit of the people as repairs were underway everywhere.

After the visit to Durbar Square I had lunch at a wonderful rooftop restaurant near the Boudhanath Stupa. The lunch was a gastronomical delight as are all the restaurants in Nepal. I feasted on traditional cuisine as I looked over the Temple grounds. It was a warm day and I was feeling the pulse of this wonderful country. Afterwards I visited the Stupa which was restored to its regal standing. I could see the worshipers going around the giant Stupa performing their prayers as they’ve done for years. Many shops surrounded the Stupa with Tibetan as well as Nepali artifacts. A shopper’s delight!

That evening I went to a cultural dance show at a local restaurant. I must warn you that some of these shows can be kind of hokey. Make sure you ask your guide for one of the better ones. I went to one in a nice cozy restaurant where we sat on cushioned seats with music gently playing, being served many courses of delicious food and the performances were not intrusive and quite enjoyable.

The following day I went to the infamous Thamel Street—a dream for shoppers! This narrow street has the best shopping—jewelry, cashmere, rugs, beautiful handmade throws, and artwork. Again bargaining is the norm, and a must see if only to experience the market.

nct_art4
Overall, despite the devastation of the earthquake you can feel and see the resiliency of the people—the dining, the city, the people and the shopping are a good reason to definitely visit this country.

I love the vibes….

  • As my flight took off from Laos to bring me to Yangon I was filled with anticipation and daydreaming of the different sites and people I would meet. Myanmar, being much larger than Laos, had peaked my interest ever since I was a little girl and read stories of the country once known as Burma. This mystical  and very spiritual country with it’s grand temples and stupas.The flight was quite pleasant- I connected through Bangkok – and was in Myanmar in no time. I was met at the airport by my guide who would be with me for my entire stay. It was pretty late by then so I went straight to my hotel – The Strand. The hotel reminded me of Old World charm with it’s high ceilings and regal entranceway. My room was very spacious and comfortable. I slept very well.  The next morning, as I sat by the window of the hotel restaurant,  I was able to capture the vibrancy of the city as it was waking up. I was here! I still couldn’t believe it. I almost pinched myself.

    The city of Yangon has over four million people and filled with so much history. I met my guide and we began my adventure. As I walked down streets I felt the presence of the country’s faded colonial past. The former Post Office  – a wonderful structure –  was now  the playground for children.  Next my guide had a special treat for me. I was taken to a ceremony for the young boys who were to be initiated as monks. The food, music and people were welcoming and filled with joy for this special event.

    Afterwards I visited the Sule Pagoda, walked among locals at the Mahabandoola Park , wondered at the Kyaukhtatgyu pagoda – known for the reclining Buddha that measures 70 meters in length, continued to the National Museum  and Bogyoke Market. I ended my day with a visit to the stunning Shwedagon Pagoda where many locals and Buddhists come to pray. This was truly spectacular! With it’s gold spire reaching so high – it is said this was built  2500 years ago.

    Ok, so I had my first taste of Myanmar and loved it and now I ready for more. After an early breakfast I was taken to the airport for my next city to visit –  Bagan. Bagan, formerly Pagan, was the capital of several ancient Burmese Kingdoms. There are approximately 2200 temples remaining in Bagan. It is truly an amazing sight. You could walk for hours and  never tire of these beautiful structures. The temples interspersed with stupas was amazing.  That evening I climbed on top of a Stupa to see the sunset. The views were magnificent! As far as my eyes could see I saw the sun setting over numerous temples and stupas creating quite a vista of colors and shadows. I put away my camera knowing that I could never capture the beauty in front of me. It was indeed a spiritual experience!

    My next day in Bagan I was taken to Mount Popa – about 1.5 hour drive from Bagan. Rising 1,518 meters from the plains of the surroundings of Bagan this is considered the sacred home of the spirits. A visit to Taung Kalat temple, which sits atop like a plug in a volcano is home to 37 nats (spirits) of Myanmar, which are displayed at the base of the temple. Once I climbed to the top of  this temple the views were incredible ! They say on a clear day you can see the city of Bagan.  That afternoon a visit to Yoke-Sone-Kyaung is a must. Built in 1882 on the eastern banks of the Ayeyarwaddy River, this monastery is famous for its spectacular wood carvings.

    Well, always ready for more, after another early breakfast I was on a short flight to Mandalay. This city remains the economic, cultural and religious heart of upper Myanmar. A visit to Mandalay Hill, home to many religious sites and the memorable views from the 230m high summit then onto the Golden Palace Monastery famous for its teak carvings of Buddhist myths. Ending the afternoon with a stop at the Kuthodaw pagoda built in 1857 and home to the world’s largest book  and Maha Muni pagoda which is regarded as the holiest site in Mandalay.

    The next day was truly an experience. Amarpura , Ava and Sagaing are all former capitals of the old kingdom of Myanmar. I started in Amarpura, where the country’s largest monastery is located – Maha Ghandayon.  As I continued to walk I crossed the magnificent teak bridge of U Bein which is over 200 years old. It is the longest teak bridge in the world. Crossing the Ayeyarwaddy River I then headed for the picturesque Sagaing Hill.  This area houses an incredible amount of pagodas and monasteries and is home to over 3,000 monks and 100 meditation centers. It was so very interesting to see the monks and how they lived – their daily lives in all its simplicity. I watched as the monks cooked huge vats of food for their daily communal lunch and gathered together for the breaking of bread and prayer. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.

    That afternoon I boarded a horse carriage in Ava and took a ride to the wooden Bagaya Monastery and the remains of the Royal Palace.

    What a day!

    Ok now for the finale!! And what a phenomenal finale –  Inle Lake. This freshwater lake is Myanmar’s second largest and measures about 70km. Located at an altitude of 880 meters, the lake is also the highest in the country with a wonderful climate and fabulous flora and fauna.

    Beautiful homes on stilts, farmers in  their boats cultivating small above water crops , fisherman doing one leg rowing  were a few of the sites I marveled. As my boat came closer to  the hotel I was to stay, I noticed we were actually floating through lotus blossoms  before docking. The hotel-which was  surrounded by a cluster of  cabin like suites on the lake (which I stayed in one) had spectacular views of the rice paddies , sunset and sunrise.  That evening, as I sat on my deck, overlooking the rice paddies, I was so relaxed experiencing such an idyllic setting.

    My last day in Inle Lake was a full day trekking tour in the hills surrounding the Lake. My trekking guide, a young man ,who, when he smiled had teeth stained red from chewing betel , was an excellent guide. We started the trek through a village open air market  where we picked up some local fruits &vegetables(among other food items I hadn’t a clue) for our lunch . They we began our ascent. It was truly amazing! Once we were about halfway up (about 7 miles) we stopped at a small hut. The monk who lived here  took care of the small temple located not far from the hut. He offered us water and a place to rest – never speaking a word! The view of the lake was spectacular from this vantage point!

    After we filled put hearts and eyes with such beauty we then proceeded on our journey. Upon reaching the top of the hill  I was invited to eat at my guides friends’ family home. I must say I was very cautious climbing up the ramp to the home (the house was on stilts). The family had a very simple lifestyle  and was extremely  friendly to me. We shared a wonderful home cooked meal. I must admit I didn’t know what  I ate but I do know it was scrumptious!

    So my journey ended the next morning as I woke up at dawn to take the small boat from Inle Lake , which was about 20 minutes from where the car was waiting for me to whisk me off to the airport. Four changes of planes and approximately 24 hours later I was home, in New York, but I was still in Myanmar.

    It was the absolute best!!!!