Bagan Travel Guide: Travel Tips for Your Next Trip to Myanmar

This Bagan travel guide contains affiliate links which means if you click on one of the affiliate links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you. All opinions in this Bagan travel guide are my own.

bagan travel guide

Much of our trip to Myanmar was focused around trying to find a connection to my family who had once lived there as part of the British Colonies. We visited Bagan though purely as tourists. We have traveled to Borobudur in Indonesia and Angkor Wat in Cambodia but there is something uniquely special about Bagan. There are more temples to explore than at Borobudur and it currently is much less touristy than Angkor Wat. Find some great tips in this Bagan travel guide.

family atop a temple in bagan

Tickets

Before we went to Myanmar we read a lot of posts from people online suggesting that tourists should not buy the entrance tickets to Bagan. The writers offered tips on how to avoid paying and they promised that no one would ask to see your ticket when you traveled around the city.

monks at a temple in bagan using cell phone

It’s still true that you probably won’t be asked to show your ticket. In 5 days we were only asked to show it once. There are now ticket booths before the exit from the airport in Bagan though so skipping out on paying the fee is not as easy as before. You would need some careful planning to avoid it and at a reasonable 25,000 Kyat or $22 USD per person (our 3 year old son was free) it just doesn’t seem worth the effort. We lined up, got our ticket and were out the door in less than 5 minutes.

ananda temple bagan in the mist at sunrise
Pagoda Phya That Gyi at sunrise bagan myanmar
small white temple with flowers bagan myanmar

Temples

Throughout the desert landscape of Bagan there are more than 2000 temples and other religious structures still standing from the 11th to 13th century. Some of the smaller ones can even be found in the backyards of homes with kids playing soccer around them. The atmosphere around the temples is pretty relaxed and visitors can climb up or go into, nearly any that they wish. But these are still places of worship and religious significance for many. Therefore, shoes must be taken off before you set foot on or in a temple out of respect and to help preserve the monuments.

sunrise temple bagan myanmar

Ananda Temple in bagan myanmar

On August 25th, 2016 a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Bagan damaging many of the temples. Restoration is underway and looks like it will continue for quite some time to come. With the devastation a bit of a silver lining has emerged for the city. Much of the damage that occurred was actually restoration work from the 1990’s which had been done quickly and not using original materials. As a result, Bagan did not qualify for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Aung San Suu Kyi has insisted that the process of restoration be taken slowly and under the guidance of UNESCO. Hopefully when the work is done Bagan will be better than ever and will hold the much deserved status!

shwezigon pagoda at sunset father carrying son with manduca baby carrier bagan myanmar

Temples in the mist bagan myanmar sunrise

Getting Around

Getting around Bagan is pretty easy and economical. We stayed in the Nyaung U area which is within walking distance of quite a few restaurants, shops, and some smaller temples.  You will need some sort of transportation to visit the big temples though.

cows and cart in bagan myanmar

Many places rent bicycles for less than $2 USD a day and some accommodations proved them for free. The area is very flat and so it is an easy ride if you set out early in the morning or late in the afternoon. When the sun is high in the sky the city is incredibly hot and options like e-bikes (around $6 a day) or a car with a driver (around $15 for half a day or $35 for the whole day) may be better options. There is even the popular option of taking a hot air balloon ride over the temples as the sun rise!

Many tourist sites recommend that you spend around 2 days in Bagan but we were there for 5 and we left wishing for more time to explore!

Htilominlo Temple hot air balloon bagan myanmar

Hot air balloon crew bagan myanmar

Hot air balloon crew returning after a morning flight

Bagan with Kids

We found Bagan to be really kid friendly! The side streets were quiet and our son joined other kids chasing bubbles and playing. People in Bagan love kids and they went the extra mile to make sure we were all ok. A group of men even showed him how to play a board game during their lunch breaks. Some hotels in the area have swimming pools as well so kids (and adults!) to cool down a bit from the afternoon heat.

board games street men

Going into and around the temples with kids is very easy but climbing up them is much more of a challenge. The many of the steps are very narrow and you have to walk down some of them sideways! We used our Manduca baby carrier to get our son up and down some of the more steep temples. Even then it was a bit precarious. Not all of them are this difficult though and it is completely doable especially if you just take it slow and steady.

temple stairs bagan myanmar

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Hue Vietnam Travel Guide: Tombs, Towers and Tanks

hue vietnam travel guide

Things To Do In Hue Vietnam

Once the national capital from 1802-1945, Hue Vietnam is home to the ancient Imperial City (Citadel) and the tombs of several emperors. The ancient sites around Hue Vietnam are spectacularly beautiful and it was well worth the visit. Learn more in this Hue Vietnam travel guide!

Hue Imperial City (The Citadel)

Emperors of Vietnam once lived in this walled fortress and palace. Much of the structure was damaged or destroyed by battles with the French in 1947 and American forces in 1969 with only 20 out of 148 structures surviving but it still remains an impressive complex with ongoing restoration.

Hours: 8am – 6pm

hue imperial city citadel
hue imperial city citadel

Hue Vietnam Provincial Museum (War Museum)

This small museum doesn’t appear to even get a mention in the guidebooks but if you are visiting the Imperial City next door and are interested in military exhibits it may be worth a quick visit. The museum is in bad repair. The grass hasn’t been cut in ages and there are large holes in the pavement leading down to the drains below. Staff scurried to turn on fans and lights when we walked in like they weren’t expecting visitors. Inside the museum some photos, small weapons and other wartime paraphernalia can be found.

The only reason we visited (twice!) is that out in front of the museum there is a collection of tanks, a helicopter, a plane and other military vehicles from the Vietnam War.  Each vehicle has a plaque with the name of the vehicle as well as the year and place it was captured from. Our son was THRILLED to see a helicopter so close for the first time and excitedly ran back and forth between each vehicle.

Hours:  8:00-11:00 am, 2:00pm – 5:00pm (closed Sundays)

Hue provincial war museum

Hue provincial war museum

Thien Mu Pagoda

Built in 1601, Thien Mu Pagoda is the tallest religious building in Vietnam. This seven story tower is part of the temple complex on Ha Khe Hill just outside of Hue overlooking the Perfume River.

thien mu pagoda

Not only beautiful, the pagoda has strong historical, political and religious significance in the region. In 1963 the Buddhist Crisis in Vietnam saw the Catholic government cracking down on the Buddhists majority (70-90%) in the country and Buddhism. The crisis began when 9 unarmed Buddhist were shot by the army in Hue. Thein Mu Pagoda became a major organizing point for the movement.  In protest of this crackdown and the government’s refusal to meet calls for religious equality, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc drove to Saigon on June 10th, 1963. There in front of onlookers, reporters and supporters he conducted self-immolation by setting himself on fire.

]Self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức. Photo by Malcom Browne 1963

Self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức. Photo by Malcom Browne 1963

In the background of this world famous image by Malcom Browne the car he drove can be seen. It is presently on display at Thien Mu Pagoda.

Tombs in Hue Vietnam

There are 7 imperial tombs just outside of Hue but the most commonly visited are the Tombs of Emperor Minh Mang, Emperor Tu Duc and Emperor Khai Dinh. We did not have a chance to go to Emperor Tu Duc’s tomb but made it to the other two. When visiting the popular tombs it is best to get there early in the morning before the tour groups arrive or later in the afternoon when they have gone. It can get crowded! We visited Khai Dinh tomb before 9am because there are a lot of steps and we wanted to avoid climbing them in the heat. By 9:30 the tomb was packed with tourists arriving in tour buses. We then went to Minh Mang tomb and even around 10:30 the tour groups were just starting to arrive. Any driver you hire should be able to advise you on what times to go to beat the crowds.  The tour groups seem to have very set roots.

Khai Dinh Tomb

Khai Dinh Tomb took 11 years to build and was completed in 1931. Before his death he visited France resulting in the tomb being a combination of both Western and Eastern styles. Khai Dinh’s tomb is the last of the large imperial tombs in Vietnam.  The dragon sculptures along the sides of this temple were the largest dragons in Vietnam though the Dragon Bridge in Da Nang likely now holds this distinction.

khai dinh tomb hue vietnam

khai dinh tomb hue vietnam

Minh Mang Tomb

The construction of this tomb began in September 1840 but by January 1841, Emperor Minh Mang had passed away. The tomb was fully completed by 1843 under the watchful eye of Emperor Thieu Tri.  The burial grounds include landscaped lakes, and canals as well as beautiful architecture.

minh mang tomb hue vietnam

minh mang tomb hue vietnam

Is Hue Kid Friendly?

hue vietnam

We went to Hue when our son was 3.5 years old. In Da Nang, Hoi An and Hanoi we saw a lot of kids his age and some even younger but in Hue he seemed to be one of the youngest. There aren’t a lot of activities aimed at children in Hue and there are no beach resorts so it’s less appealing to parents traveling with really little ones. It seemed to be more popular with families that had kids 8 years old and up.

That being said, Hue is not unfriendly to kids! Many of the sites are free for younger kids. The Imperial City and Tombs offer a lot of space for kids to stretch their legs and to explore and as a vehicle lover our son really enjoyed the small war museum. We would go out early in the morning and then spend our afternoons in our hotel’s pool or playing indoors in our room. There’s a lot of walking so a good baby carrier that allows you to carry little ones on your back like the Manduca baby carrier can be a life saver if your infant to preschooler is too tired to walk. But short early morning trips, ice cream and swimming pools made Hue a great place to visit with a little one.  If I were to go back through it would definitely be in the winter months! It was 38 degrees the entire time we were there in July!

Getting In And Out

Private Car

We traveled to Hue by car from Hoi An through Da NangHoi An to Hue it is about a 3 hour drive and Da Nang to Hue around 2. The driver can take the route either along Hai Van Pass or through Hai Van Tunnel. At a length of 6.28 km, Hai Van Tunnel is the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia and it can save you between 30 minutes to an hour on your trip between Da Nang and Hue. Hai Van Pass though is much more scenic winding up the mountain and along the coast.  Most drivers and tour buses choose to dive the route along the coast and stop at the top for a break and to enjoy the views. There are shops and restaurants at the top as well.

Cost for a private car:

Around $60-$75 USD

Plane

There are direct flights to Hue Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City, Dalat and Hanoi. The flights from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi arrive daily but Dalat only has flights every other day. We decided to drive into Hue and then flew to Hanoi.

It is also possible to book a local bus, train or a tour bus between the two cities. Tour buses seem to be most popular with group tours that are only going to Hue for the day but your hotel should be able to help you make arrangements.

Getting Around

Walking

We were in Hue in July and it was HOT. Even in the evening it was hot so we didn’t walk around too much. They do though have a nice park and walkway area along the perfume river. In the evening little shops and restaurants open up and it’s a lovely place to take a stroll.

walkway along river hue vietnam

bridge across perfume river hue vietnam

Taxi

Taxis in Hue are cheap and your hotel can easily arrange for them to pick you up. When visiting the sites it is quite common to arrange a set price and have the taxi driver wait for you while you visit. This means that many of the taxis you see waiting may not be available.  A couple of times we did not make these arrangements and were unable to find another available taxi despite being in the city. We did not run into any large problems with taxis in Hue but twice we were brought to the wrong end of a site even though our hotel had arranged the pickup.

Private car

We arranged a private car to visit the tombs outside of the city and to take us to the airport. I wish we had used them our entire time in Hue! They were absolutely fantastic and reasonably priced. There are several companies in the area but here are two we had contact with.

We used this company both times. We were picked up on time (actually the driver was early) in a fantastically clean SUV. Our son was thrilled since he had never driven in a large SUV like this before. All 3 seatbelts in the back were working. Our driver was safe, friendly and knowledgeable.  We decided to use the same company when we went to the airport and had the same experience the second time as well.

Website: http://www.stopandgo-hue.com/
Email: stopandgocafetours@gmail.com

We did not use this company but I was very impressed with their customer service. Their reviews on TripAdvisor are also high. We needed to make a last minute reservation and they were very quick to respond. They also have baby car seats available for small children. Unfortunately I was not able to connect to the internet at our hotel in the evening and when I finally got through to them they were fully booked for the time we wanted to visit the tombs. They offered us a discount if we would go later in the day or offered to take us the next day instead. We were short on time though and wanted a very early start to beat the heat so we went with a different company.

Website: http://www.tourfromhue.com/
Email: tourfromhue@gmail.com

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Memories of our Camel Safari in Jaisalmer, India

Recently our trip to India has been coming up in conversations for a variety of reasons over and over. The trip was a personal reward for completing my master’s degree and was also going to be our last big trip before we tried to start a family. Possibly the biggest highlight of the trip was the camel safari we took in Jaisalmer just across from the Pakistani border.

Girls parade in Jaisalmer India

We had started our trip in Delhi and then traveled by train to Varanasi, Agra, Jaipur, and Jodhpur before arriving in Jaisalmer. Instantly we loved the city. There was a slower pace here than the other cities we had visited and fewer tourists.

Cow in market street jaisalmer india


Booking Your Safari

Though the spectacular Jaisalmer Fort is one of the largest preserved fortified cities in the world, most tourists come to town to go on a camel safari. There are many tour groups and travel agencies in the area who can help arrange a safari. TripAdvisor is a great place to look for reviews by other tourists of the different camel safari companies in Jaisalmer.

Another option is to allow your hotel to arrange the safari and we went with this second option. We did an overnight tour and since we still had a room reserved with all of our things in it at the hotel for the night away, we were given a discount for booking through them. On our tour there was only my husband and I, two women and our camel handlers.

camel safari jeep jaisalmer india

The Desert Tour

Our tour began with a jeep ride to Bada Bagh which is a garden complex with beautiful cenotaphs just outside of Jaisalmer. After visiting for some time and exploring the small village area, we were driven about 2 hours into the desert to meet our guides and the camels.

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We waited while the camels were loaded up and then that was that. I’m not sure if our guides couldn’t speak English very much or just didn’t but not much was said for the next day really!

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dsc_0415We followed the path through the desert. There was nothing around. We noticed that the plants and grasses would change as we went through different areas but there were no buildings or people for as far as the eye could see. Suddenly though there were sheep! Lots and lots of sheep. Our camels to wait for this large group of sheep to pass across the desert path.

We got down off of our camels and some of the sheep sniffed us curiously as they surrounded us. After what seemed like ages we could hear a faint bell ringing. As it became clearer a single man came into sight. He was the shepherd of this large flock taking them who knows where across the desert. He and our guides exchanged greetings and then we just carried on our way.dsc_0420
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“Carrying on our way” is actually much easier said than done. Getting back up on our camels required holding on for dear life while it felt like you were going to topple over forward and then flip over backwards. Camels also smell quite bad and would relieve themselves constantly while walking. Every person in the line except the very first got to repeatedly witness the camel in front of them urinate and defecate over the 3 hours of our trek.

There was also the discomfort. Even with pillows, blankets and padding it was fairly uncomfortable for a woman. My husband though wondered if we would in fact be able to have children in the future (2 weeks after returning home I was pregnant).

We took our next break at a hand pump in the desert next to the path. There was a well where the guides filled up their canteens with water. We ran into another camel guide there and also a dog who was asking for water. After having a drink, the dog followed us along the path to where we would make camp that night.

From what we could understand, the dog just lives out in the desert. When someone comes to the well, he gets water. When tours come along, he follows them and gets a warm meal. Every day just walking along the desert path.
dsc_0447When we got to the dunes we were able to go explore while our guides made camp and cooked dinner. I have never felt sand as soft as the sand in the Thar Desert. It felt like silk running between our fingers. Though it seemed like nothing was there we discovered all sorts of small animals, birds and insects.
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dsc_0482We then gathered around the fire, ate our meal and after the sun went down we went to sleep under the stars. It was winter when we went but the blankets kept us more than adequately warm. I’ve heard that some tours include tents but we loved sleeping out in the open air.dsc_0469
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In the middle of the night our fire had died down and I woke up to find that I couldn’t move my legs. Something was definitely on top of my legs. I moved as little as possible and woke up my husband beside me. Through whispers I asked him to grab the camera from the top of my backpack and to quickly take a photo so we could see what it was without disturbing it by shining a flashlight on it and angering it.

The image showed that there was something black on my feet. I decided that if it was going to kill me, it probably would have done so already so we just left it. The next morning we found that the creature was a black dog. A very old black dog that was so ancient that every step was labored. She was hardly a threat.

Years ago she had likely also walked the trails like the white dog we had met but now she spent her days sleeping closer to the camps. When visitors set up for the night, then she would come.dscn4332After the sun had risen and our breakfast finished we packed back up and headed in to town. We had the option of riding for 3 hours again or being picked up by the jeep after about an hour and a half instead. We opted for the shorter camel trip as we were all having difficulty walking. We were all pretty quiet on that trip back to town. The desert has a wonderful ability to make everything quieter at the time and loud conversations didn’t seem appropriate. We then just said good byes and continued on our trip.dsc_0478

Hampyeong’s Herptile Eco Park

hampyeong herptile eco park

Hampyeong which is about an hour away from Gwangju, Jeollanamdo, is well known across Korea for its annual Butterfly Festival. Few people, even locally it appears, know about Hampyeong Herptile Eco Park (함평파충류생태공원 ). It’s hard to miss though once you arrive into the area of the Eco Park as the building is shaped like a giant albino Burmese python (they have a live one inside!).

I have not been able to confirm this, but I believe the Herptile Park opened only a few years ago in 2013. The facilities are new, well maintained and clean. The temperature is closely monitored and so on a hot summer day it was lovely and cool inside! There is a collection of more than 600 local and foreign snakes, frogs, toads, turtles, tortoise, and lizards primarily housed on 2 floors of the main building. Inside the main building there is also a theater area but there was no information about shows when we went. There is a separate building outside for some anaconda as well and a nice petting zoo and park area in the back as well.

hampyeong herptile eco park

I am not a big fan of zoos but the animals in these habitats seemed to be well cared for and the workers professional. We arrived at Hampyeong Herptile Eco Park at 9:30am on a holiday Monday and were the only visitors there at the time. They were still setting up for the day and it happened to be feeding time for the pythons. Upon seeing our 3 year old son heading their way the workers discretely put away the bucket of dead mice until he had moved past. Had he been older I’m sure he might have been really interested but I appreciated that they were sensitive to his age.

hampyeong herptile eco park

hampyeong herptile eco park

In the downstairs area there is a small climbing wall, and play and activity area for children. There are also some animals for them to interact with:  couple of birds out on a tree, a horned lizard, some iguanas and a tub of frogs. The frogs were upsetting. I’m sure they were very stressed with the kids reaching in. There was also an area where children can use nets to catch goldfish in two tanks and then rerelease them. Poor fish! Several times a day the Burmese python is also brought out for people to take photos with and interact with. It’s a lovely snake and the handler is good but a lot of people coming to see the snake were acting like idiots, screaming and yelling. The caretakers really need to inforce more calm behavior so as not to stress the snake out! But other than those things, everything and everyone at the place seemed to be working towards making sure the animals were well cared for.

hampyeong herptile eco park

In the back of the building is a small petting zoo with sheep, goats, chickens, and rabbits. It was the cleanest petting zoo I have ever seen! It’s free to enter and for 1,000 won you can buy food to feed the animals. The rabbits seem to have figured out that parents tend to give the food to the children and so one rabbit in particular kept chasing after our son. He was completely thrilled about this rabbit who wanted to run races with him. On your mark, get set bunny. Go!

hampyeong herptile eco park

hampyeong herptile eco park


Hours

0:900 to 18:00 (Regular)

09:00 to 17:00 (November to February)

Closed

Every Monday, New Year Day, Seollal and Chuseok

* If a public holiday is on a Monday the park will be open but the next day (Tuesday) it will be closed


Price (Discounts for groups)  
Adults 3,000
Children 1,000
Kindergarten 1,000
Under Korean Age 4 Free

Website: http://ecopark.or.kr/hp_snake/ (Korean)

Address: 전라남도 함평군 신광면 가덕리 306-1번지


Bus Schedule

* This schedule is subject to change. Call the Hampyeong Bus Terminal at 061) 322-0660 to confirm.

Hampyeong Bus Terminal → Herptile Park Herptile Park →Hampyeong Bus Terminal
6:50 7:35
7:50 8:35
9:05 9:30
10:20 10:45
11:10 11:50
11:30 12:30
12:00 13:35
12:55 14:45
14:05 15:35
14:30 17:05
16:20 18:05
17:25 19:40
19:00  

 

Dolmeori Beach in Hampyeong South Korea

Only about an hour drive away from Gwangju, Dolmeori Beach in Hampyeong is one of the closest beaches to the city. We usually make it out to the beach a couple of times a year but like many beaches along Korea’s west coast extremes in the difference between high and low tide can make it difficult to catch a good day for swimming. When the tide goes out at Dolmeori beach it goes waaaaaaaaay out! You were left having to consult tide times and charts if you wanted to dip your toes in the ocean.

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I think I can maybe see the ocean out there somewhere…

Earlier this spring we went to the beach for a picnic and found that the beach was gone! There were heavy construction vehicles digging up the beach and a giant hole was in its place.  To the left side of the lookout tower is a rocky beach with a little sand and it was great for our picnic but we were left wondering what had happened to the main beach! This month we were told that they had built two pools and we headed out this past weekend to check it out.

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They have built 3 new pools along the beach area and they are free to use. There is a very small splash pool less than half a foot deep. When we went there was no water in it. Beside it they have built a larger children’s pool that is about a foot to two feet deep. There is a shade covering for parents watching close by. This pool is chlorinated fresh water. 20160807_092845

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In the past Dolmeori beach did have a bit of an enclosure that helped to keep some of the water close to the beach when the tides were going in and out but it only made a small difference. When we visited on Sunday the tide was completely out but this new ocean pool was still full of water! It is enclosed only on 3 sides with the 4th side being the actual beach. They have also made the far end of the pool quite deep so more experiences swimmers can go for a proper swim.
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The water isn’t clear. It’s a bit murky with kicked up sand but despite this, I’ve been told that the water at Dolmeori may actually be cleaner than some of the beaches in the area with more clear water. I’m not sure at this point how they are filling the pool but even when the tide was out we could feel cold water temperature changes in some areas so the water was moving and not just sitting still there in the tank.

20160807_095527It is possible to go camping at the beach and there is a small area with trees with limited space as well as additional spaces along the sand. To rent an elevated platform area for the day or night it is 20,000 won – 30,000 won. Small tents are currently free but you are required to purchase a garbage bag for 3,000 won from them which they will dispose of when you leave. Larger tents may be required to pay a fee but they didn’t tell us the exact price. I would guess it possibly depends on just how big your monster tent is!

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How to Get There: There is a bus at the Hampyeong Bus Terminal that heads to Dolmeori beach. It runs from 06:40-19:30 every 80 minuets. It takes about 20 min to get to the beach from the terminal.

Address: 616-10, Dolmeori-gil, Hampyeong-eup, Hampyeong-gun, Jeollanam-do 
전라남도 함평군 함평읍 주포로 614 (함평읍)

Phone Number: +82-61-322-0011

Hoi An, Vietnam: Spending Some Time Around the Old Town

In 1999, the old town of Hoi An was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The narrow streets are lined with buildings from centuries ago and in the evening lanterns light their way. Hoi An is more than just this historic town though! Beautiful white sand beaches line the coast, fantastic restaurants can be found and it is about an hour away from the temple complex My Son. Found around 40 minutes south of Da Nang International Airport, Hoi An makes it an easy day trip or a logical second destination from Da Nang on your trip to Vietnam.

Accommodation

We booked our room at the fantastic Essence Hoi An Hotel & Spa. Just on the outskirts of town we were given a huge room with a fantastic floor to ceiling window overlooking the rice fields. Our son loved spending time just sitting in the window and watching the world go by. We witnessed some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen there and even saw some rare iridescent clouds one evening!

Though being outside of the main part of town may seem inconvenient it actually worked out really well for us! Essence Hoi An Hotel & Spa provide free bicycles for their guests to use and they do have seats for children. The busy main road can feel intimidating especially with kids in tow but right in front of the hotel is a small street that follows the path of the river. You can take this small road all the way right into the old town avoiding nearly all of the traffic!20160711_192259_HDR
Plan your trip to Hoi An with TripAdvisor! 

As well as bicycles to use free of charge Essence Hoi An Hotel & Spa also offers a shuttle service several times a day to the old quarter and the beach. If you aren’t feeling up to going to the beach they have a lovely pool on site! They can also arrange transportation and tours outside of town for a competitive price.  

The hotel has a great restaurant and will even prepare special meals to order at breakfast for people with special dietary needs. If you’re looking for something a little different a bike ride to the main restaurant area in the old quarter is less than 10 minutes away. We found ourselves getting dinner at the Indian restaurant Ganesh a couple of evenings while in Hoi An. Ganesh makes some of the best Indian food we’ve had anywhere, including India! It’s no wonder they were packed the first time we were there but luckily they offer take out as well. There are a fair number of child friendly items on their large menu as well.DSC_4868Best of all were the staff at the hotel! They went out of their way to talk to us, make sure we were ok and were exceptionally friendly. Everyone made an effort to learn our son’s name and to interact with him as well as with my husband and I. He felt right at home and needed to make sure to say goodbye to everyone before we left. Essence Hoi An Hotel & Spa is family friendly while retaining a feeling of class and professionalism. We highly recommend them!

Beaches

The two main beaches in Hoi An are Cua Dai beach which is closer to the old quarter and An Bang beach a little further north. Though many resorts can still be found at Cua Dai beach, much of this beach was washed away by erosion in 2014. Climate change, bad weather, hydropower dams, and sand mining have all been listed as contributing factors and sandbags lie in place of the beach in an attempt to prevent the erosion from continuing further. Due to the loss of Cua Dai beach, many tourists now choose to stay at beach resorts in Da Nang instead and those staying locally have now moved to An Bang beach. Though An Bang beach has been affected by erosion too, it is not to the extent that Cua Dai beach has and efforts are being made to help protect it. An Bang Beach remains a beautiful white sand beach.DSC_4810We visited An Bang Beach a couple of times during our stay in Hoi An. The chairs were free to use when we visited which we a good thing as it was exceptionally hot those days and there is little shade on the beach otherwise. Unlike Da Nang where there was no one trying to sell us souvenirs on the beach, An Bang Beach did have vendors and some were quite aggressive, one man so much so that he brought me to tears. Only when I was crying did he finally leave me alone. In all my travels, I have never run into a vender on the beach as unpleasant as he was. The others were persistent but not aggressive.DSC_4884There are a lot of restaurants around An Bang Beach and even some small convenience style stores which sell imported goods. I spotted Lays chips and Cheerios here and nowhere else on our travels in Vietnam. Our hotel’s shuttle dropped us off at the beach road near An Bang Beach Village Restaurant. The restaurant will take your order and bring your meal right out to your beach chair. That was a lifesaver when a certain 3 year old didn’t want to stop playing in the sand even though it was lunch time! We particularly liked their scallops and their fish wrapped in a banana leaf.

Old Town

In the evening, the place to be in Hoi An is the Old Town. The streets are closed to cars and motorcycles and as the sun sets the lanterns are lit. A ticket is required to visit the old town but despite the government’s efforts to make it clearer, there is a lot of confusion still. Previously a ticket was only required to visit sites within the old town and not to just walk around but it seems that now you need a ticket to wander the streets.  Each ticket costs 80,000 VND for locals and 120,000 VND for foreign tourists. The proceeds from the ticket sales go back into helping to maintain the town. We arrived fairly early one evening around the same time as a large tour group and so we were asked to purchase a ticket. The other days we arrived later in the evening or through other gates and were not asked to purchase a ticket nor did we have our ticket checked. We were told that the ticket is valid for 5 days and so we kept it on us each time we went just in case but I have also heard that it is valid for 10 days.

A night market is also set up each evening where you can buy souvenirs or one of the town’s famous lanterns for yourself! Don’t worry about how you are going to bring it home. They collapse down for easy packing! DSC_4816Some of the vendors will quote ridiculously high prices requiring a lot of haggling. One shirt I bought was originally quoted as being $30 but I got it for around $7 in the end. Checking out other shops to compare what they are asking for helps give you a good idea of what the going price is. Other items we didn’t bother to barter as it seemed like a reasonable price to us, though I’m sure locals pay less. Something we’ve never run into in our travels elsewhere but happened several times in Vietnam is that a vendor would quote a ridiculously high price and refuse to negotiate. In that case it is best to just walk away and forget about it…sometimes though it pays to go back.DSC_4768After being dragged around by mommy and daddy in the heat to the market our son REALLY wanted a cheaply made green backhoe toy, the kind you see at the dollar store back home. The woman wanted $7 for it and absolutely refused to budge on the price. We went off and wouldn’t you know, she was the only vendor with a green backhoe! Lots of yellow and orange ones but no green. Daddy went back to try again and the woman absolutely refused to budge on the price…until her elderly mother came by and told her to smarten up! He ended up getting it for about $2.50 which is still more than it’s worth I’m sure but our little boy was thrilled.DSC_4782

DSC_4784My Son Temple Complex

Built around the 4th century AD until around the 14th century AD, the My Son Hindu temple complex is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site just outside of Hoi An. Over 70 temples and tombs make up the site but it was badly damaged by carpet bombing during the war. Restoration and maintenance of remaining buildings continues to this day.DSC_4798Day bus tours from Hoi An cost around $5-$7, not including admission to the site. It takes about an hour to get to My Son from Hoi An and tours spend about an hour and a half at the site. Private cars can also be arranged but we decided to use the more economical option of a group tour. In our case a small mini bus picked us up from our hotel and brought us to the site. There was a guide included in that price but because we were traveling with a small child we told the guide that we would visit the site at our own pace separately. This was perfectly fine. It took us about half an hour to walk the complex, explore a bit and to sit under a tree to have a small snack. The tour group spent about an hour and a half.DSC_4799The site is well maintained and easy to walk around. There is also a lot of wild life around My Son. I have never seen so many large butterflies in my life! They were absolutely everywhere! We also saw a really cool lizard. It is not wheelchair or stroller accessible in some parts though. We did see a couple with a stroller but they had to carry it over some rough sections and up some stairs to get closer to the temple. If you can bare the heat, a baby carrier is probably a better option. DSC_4804As interesting as My Son is though, if you have visited any of the larger temple complexes in Asia like Angkor Wat in Cambodia or the Bagan temples in Myanmar you will likely feel underwhelmed. In the summer it is also exceptionally hot. Unless you are a really big fan of temples, I would skip it in the summer if you are traveling with small children. In cooler weather though it’s a great place to explore for an hour or so.

Also Nearby
Da Nang is only 40 minutes from the ancient city of Hoi An. Click here to read about what we did in Da Nang!

Vietnam travel guide - 13th edition, 13th Edition Aug 2016 by Lonely Planet

Vietnam travel guide – 13th edition, 13th Edition Aug 2016 by Lonely Planet

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips – hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets – eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience – history, people & culture, food & drink, arts & architecture, environment Free, convenient pull-out Ho Chi Minh City & Hanoi map (included in print version), plus over 86 maps. By Iain Stewart , Benedict Walker , Nick Ray , Anna Kaminski, Jessica Lee , Brett Atkinson . 13th Edition Aug 2016. . 520 pages, 192 pp colour, 93 maps.


Manduca Baby Carrier Traveling With Kids Review

When our son was 3 and a half years old we made a trip to Vietnam.  As I start to pack there is noticeably less “stuff” that we are bringing this time. Our stroller is staying at home. We don’t really use it any more. Completely toilet trained, there are no diapers. No booster seats, sippy cups or travel sterilizer bags. And I have become aware that this would likely be the last trip for our Manduca baby carrier.

7 month 7 unjusa templeBabywearing isn’t really a trend in South Korea where we live. It’s more just a normal, everyday thing that parents do here until the baby can walk. The city roads are busy, sidewalks bumpy and a lot of businesses are completely wheelchair or stroller inaccessible. I’ve had to carry my sleeping son in his stroller up 10 steps just to get to the bank machine! Carrying your baby without the stroller just makes a whole lot more sense sometimes.

It’s also very much tradition in South Korea. It’s not uncommon to see 70 or 80 year old grandmothers carrying their grandchildren on their backs in a modern style podaegi (blanket wrap style carriers) like they once did with their own children. So, when I became pregnant back in 2012 finding a good carrier was much more on my mind than checking out the latest trends in strollers.

The very first baby iten that we bought for our son was our Manduca baby carrier. As an excited new mom I shared the news with my friends and family who are online just to have one friend pipe up and tell me that I could have bought a similar Korean carrier for half the price. I was confident though that the quality wasn’t the same. After all these years I still consider it the best investment in an item for childcare that we bought and worth every penny spent!

The Details

The Manduca carrier can be used for newborns up to children weighing 20 kg. One of the things we liked about the carrier was that the newborn insert is sewn right into the carrier. There was no need to buy an additional insert! The back also extends to give older children more support. It has wide belts at the hip and shoulder and is adjusted to fit the person doing the carrying easily and quickly. The carrier fit both my husband and myself comfortably and we could switch the carrier to the other parent in seconds. It can be used on the front, back and hip. We never found any need to carry our son on our hips but that option is there if desired.

23 month 23

Travel

I don’t think there is a carrier out there that I would have liked more for traveling. Every country we visited we ran into other parents who were also using the Manduca baby carrier in their travels. At one point we purchased a metal frame hiking carrier. It fit my husband fine but cut into my back and it took up so much space in our baggage. The Manduca carrier though was nearly always comfortable to wear, weighs only 600 g, took up about as much space as a pair of jeans in our luggage, and it held up fantastically after many many many washes.

26 months 2015 indo (3)

Quite some time after we bought it I accidentally closed the buckle for the waist strap in the car door. It cracked but still held up perfectly! When our son was 3 years old we decided to buy a new (used) Manduca from a friend. We were going to be climbing up temples in Bagan, Myanmar with our son on our back and were a bit concerned about all the weight on the crack now that he was older. At that time, other than a little fraying at the edges and fading of the fabric everything else about the carrier was still fine.

38 months DSC_4107

38 months DSC_4163

This trip will likely be our last one with the Manduca carrier. Our son is tall for his age and is reaching the upper weight limits. It’s going to be a whole different experience when we can no longer just put him on our back, grab our bags and go! We’ve hiked mountains in Korea, climbed Borobudur in Indonesia at sunrise, and visited the snow monkeys in Japan all with the help of our Manduca carrier.

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manduca baby carrier

Genealogy Search Brings us to Mandalay, Myanmar and Hitting the Research Wall

Prior to our trip to Mandalay, Myanmar a woman on Tripadvisor had told us that St. Mary’s school where my great grandmother had worked as a matron was now NO. (8) Basic Education High School. A volunteer working for FIBIS also provided us with the same information (from the same source unfortunately). I also found on a post that most of the cemeteries had been moved out of the city to Kyar Ni Kan Cemetery ages ago but that some gravestones had been collected prior to the move and were still behind St. Thomas Aquinas Pre-Major Seminary in Mandalay. So, these places were the focus of our search when we arrived in the city.

Planning our trip I made a fatal mistake. Since we had important work to do I decided to choose a hotel which belonged to a reputable international chain. Based on their reputation I was sure that the employees would be highly trained and would be able to assist us in where things may be located and such. Unfortunately though, by the time we arrived in the city the hotel was no longer affiliated with this company and though many of their employees remained the same, they were having serious training issues. One employee was absolutely amazing and helped us as much as he could but he was doing the work of 10 people at the hotel. 

Going to Mandalay, Myanmar? Search for hotels here! 

The hotel was a bit out of town. In Yangon our hotel had also been a bit out of the city center and it was no problem at all. We easily and cheaply got taxi rides to and from the hotel at any time. In Mandalay though there were no taxis near our hotel ever. Instead we needed to hire a private care each time we went out into the city. The hotel was 20 min from the city center in moderate traffic and at $10/hour the cost of transportation quickly added up. We soon ran out of our remaining available transportation funds so each trip to investigate needed to be short.

The day before we headed out the first time to find the school I did some more digging around about No. (8) Basic Education High School. From what I could find online I had a feeling that this was not the correct school. It looked like this school had used to be St. Joseph’s and not St. Mary’s. The manager at the hotel called the school and the person who answered the phone said that they were not sure and to come on by. 

So, we took the car to the school and there were signs everywhere saying that it used to be St. Joseph’s. I don’t know how the person who answered the phone had not been aware of this. If someone is looking for St. Joseph’s though the people who work at this school were very friendly and welcoming and they have a booklet of history and old photos of the school available for people who visit. 

One woman at the school told us that there had never been a St. Mary’s School in Mandalay. Another woman said that there was a St. Mary’s school and it had been just down the street. So, with our driver we went down the street and found St. Mary’s church but no school. An old blind woman at the church told us also that there had never been a St. Mary’s school but then asked if it had been Catholic or Anglican. I told her it was Anglican. Suddenly she said “Oh yes!” there HAD been a St. Mary’s school next to St. Andrew’s school and her own father had attended it. She said it was now No. (1) Basic Education High School. 

So we found No. (1) Basic Education High School. There were 3 ladies at the front gate who were very nice but then suddenly a man came up and wouldn’t let us talk to anyone anymore and wouldn’t answer any questions. We just wanted to know if this school had been St. Mary’s. He told us to go away and to get a pass from the school’s office a few blocks away. So we went there and they told us that the person we needed to see was in a meeting and would be unavailable all day. They suggested that we talk to the school chairman who was back at the school. We went back to the school and they told us that he wasn’t there. We asked if we could perhaps call him and the same man at the gate told us that he didn’t have a phone number and ushered us out of the gate area. We finally got out of him that we should try asking at the school’s main office a few blocks away. 

We went to the main office and they told us that we should come back later in the afternoon to speak to the chairman. No one at the main office could tell us if the school used to be St. Mary’s or not and they also would not call the chairman. Our driver suggested that rather than coming back in the afternoon we should come back on Monday at 9am. Classes would be starting then and so someone would have to talk to us. 

Instead we went to find St. Thomas Church to find where some old grave stone of the British have been kept. When the military took all the old graves out of the city a priest saved a few stones there. We had been given the wrong address and had been told that it was not a seminary but a church. It IS in fact a seminary and eventually we did find it. Only around 30 stones remain there and most are in pieces. After 3 hours we were exhausted and had found nothing. 

St Thomas Seminary-2 St Thomas Seminary (2)-2 St Thomas Seminary (3)-2

The stones that remain at St. Thomas Seminary

On Monday we set out on our search again. Unfortunately they fantastic driver we had had before the weekend wasn’t available to help us on Monday. This second driver was not as um…”dedicated to the search” as the previous man had been and asked few questions.

We were sent to an old Methodist school/church, which sent us to a church next to the YMCA. They sent us back to St. Mary’s church which in turn sent us back to No. (1) Basic Education High School. They in turn ended up sending us back to No. (8) Basic Education High School where we had started our search originally on Saturday. A nun there sent us to a Baptist Church where she believed the school had been and her sister had apparently even attended the school there! The people at the Baptist Church told us there was never a school there and didn’t offer any additional leads. 

Mandalay Palace (6)-2

We know that St Mary's school was on the South side of Mandalay Palace

We headed over to the Mandalay Cultural Museum and Library but found that it was closed on Mondays. Probably for the best. Costing nearly $5 per person, Lonely Planet describes the museum as “This dowdy, poorly lit three-room collection displays archaeological finds, Buddhas and a bullock cart. It’s ludicrously overpriced”. I doubt a trip there would have helped in our search. We decided to skip going to Kyar Ni Kan cemetery on this trip. I think it is our best bet for finding my great grandfather’s grave there but we couldn’t even get a straight answer as to whether there are still British graves there. We had run out of enough time and money to spend our day searching the stones as the following day we had to leave Myanmar. 

I strongly believe that St. Mary’s School may still be in the city. In our round about search we were sent to numerous colonial era schools, churches and buildings but what each one once was has been lost to the general public. Some have little plaques with dates and names. Others, the current occupants hold the history and information like the nuns at the school that once was St. Josephs. Mapping it all out and recording it all would be a great and worthwhile project! Perhaps someone has already undertaken this task but we were unable to find the information.

We’re hoping to make it back to Mandalay in the next year if possible to search again. Online I think I’ve hit a brick wall. I have not been able to find out any new information through the genealogy sites in ages. I’ve recently been sent a message that the location of the old St Mary’s School is now St. Mary Language School between 77 & 78 roads on 26 Street in Mandalay but I have not been able to find any information about that school yet. So, at this point our search is on hold until new information arises or we can make the trip back to Myanmar.

Things I am still wondering:

  • Who was Gladys Edith May’s mother? 
  • Who was Gladys and where did she go after marriage?
  • Where is St Mary’s school?
  • Where is the grave of Joseph Plato Cooper?
  • Is there any additional documentation that shows Joseph is the son of George James Cooper?
  • Are there family photos from the time?
  • Where did the sisters do their nursing training?
  • Audrey said she was in Calcutta at one point nursing. How did she end up there?
  • Is there any documentation of my great aunt Heather at the time? Where was she born?
  • The family visit that took place in the 1950’s, what were they doing there?
  • What were they all doing in their lives there?
  • And anything else that may come up in the search!

​Click here to read how the search for our family history in Myanmar all began!

3 for 2 on all Books, eBooks and Digital Chapters

Myanmar (Burma) travel guide, 12th Edition Jul 2014 by Lonely Planet 

Gamami Beach – Great Beaches in South Korea!

*Update June 21, 2016* – Photos of the new water park added!

Nearly every weekend, especially once the snow is gone, we try to take a road trip locally. Traveling with a 3 year old who has a ridiculously early wake up time, we usually head out early, travel 1-2 hours from Gwangju and spend the morning at our destination. After lunch when it starts to get too hot and the crowds arrive, we head back to town as our son takes his afternoon nap in the car.

We spend a lot of time in the summer exploring local beaches and this past weekend we finally made it out to Gamami Beach. We had been in the area before to visit other sites but this was our first trip to this section of the coastline. I’ve been hesitant to write about it for fear that it might become too popular. Gamami Beach is by far our favourite family friendly beach close to Gawngju to date!

It is easy to make a trip to Gamami Beach an all-day affair. The drive to the beach takes you through Beoseong Port in Yeonggwang where the specialty is gulbi. The dried fish can be found hanging from ropes on either side of the street and restaurants abound. Either stop for a meal or grab some fish to bring with you to the beach!

Gulbi Jeongshik yeonggwang

Gulbi Jeongshik. A table full of Korean side dishes where gulbi is the feature.

Gulbi yeonggwang drying

Rows of drying gulbi

Also along the way is Beopseongpo (법성포) which is the birthplace of Baekje Buddhism.

Beopseongpo Baekje Buddhism

Beopseongpo, the birthplace of Baekje Buddhism

Gamami Beach has a pine tree camping and picnic area and a large sand beach. Kids can run freely, a game of volley ball or soccer can be played or just sunbathe on the beach without worrying much about getting in the way of others. Even when the tide is still out the water can be reached if you are willing to walk a bit. At low tide digging for clams is a popular pastime. We saw people quickly gathering full buckets of large clams to bring back to their camp. When the tide is in, the water near the shore is only 1-2 meters deep for quite a distance.

Gamami beach yeonggwang

Tide is still out. The rocks directly in front are covered when the tide comes in.

Gamami beach yeonggwang

Exploring the rocks

There is no amission fee to use the beach and during the off season camping is available for free on a first come, first served basis. Starting in July the fees for camping range from about 10,000 won – 50,000 won depending on the site you want to camp in and the size of your tent. During July and August making a reservation ahead of time is recommended.

Gamami beach yeonggwang

The site is also currently going through some renovations. One of the shower and toilet areas is being repaired and a new playground and waterpark are being built. It is expected that they will be completed by July.

Gamami beach yeonggwang water park
Gamami beach yeonggwang water park

Gamami Beach is around a 1 to 1.5 hour drive from Gwangju, Jellonamdo. Alternatively a bus can be taken from Gwangcheon Bus Terminal (U-Square) to Yeonggwang. From the Yeonggwang terminal a local bus can take you to Gamami Beach.

Address in Korean: 전라남도 영광군 홍농읍 가마미로 355
For more informaiton visit Yeonggwang-gun's English website here!

Click here to find out about World Nomads' 2016 Travel Writing Scholarship!

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Grieving a Loss or Death as an Expat Far from “Home”

DSC_0140

Agni Pooja infront of the sacred Ganges river. Those who are cremated on the banks of the Ganges or who die in the city of Varanasi recieve instant salvation.

I found out through Facebook that my great uncle in Canada is expected to pass away in the next very short while. I knew he was sick. He hadn’t been doing well recently but then suddenly there in my facebook news feed was a post that today may be his last day. Sitting in my office at work during a break I was instantly reduced to tears. He was the last of my grandfather’s generation still holding on and active to the end. As a child I always adored him. In a family full of chaos he was a constant calm. He was always a gentleman whom no matter what our age treated us with respect.

But here I am in Korea. Distance and cost make the trip home for final “goodbyes” impossible. In 11 years abroad this isn’t the first time I’ve found out about passing of friends and family online. I found out about an old teacher’s passing from condolences on his facebook page. Confused, I scanned through them only to find that they weren’t for someone he knew but for my friend himself. Another time I went to send a message to an elementary school friend I hadn’t spoken to in some time only to find out that she had passed away 2 years earlier. Because we hadn’t spoken in a while, Facebook had filtered her posts not to appear in my newsfeed. I hadn’t even known she was sick.

I also got an email about my grandmother passing after she had already been buried and her things divided up among her children or sold off. I got a message from the mother of the boy who I consider to be my first love. We were best friends for years but had drifted apart when I went to university. We had just reconnected online when I got the message that he had passed. Since it came in an online message it was even harder to believe than usual that it wasn’t some crew joke. Even the passing of one of our very good friends here in Korea was announced online. I turned on the computer and there it was.

None of this is unique to expat living. In this “digital age” finding out through social media of the passing of loved ones has become more and more common. And rather than one tragic phone call or letter, the news is announced to us over and over each time we turn on the screen. As an expat though, the distance in time and space complicates things even further. Family may gather but we are unable to attend. Whose death do we return home for? Can we return home for anyone? How do we mourn?

As an expat it can be incredibly difficult to get enough time off of work to return home. You may get a few days off but that only covers the trip itself and leaves no other time for arrangements. I know of more than a couple of people who have had to give up their jobs abroad since they had to suddenly go home for an extended period for emergencies like an illness in the family. It is not a stretch that some would be on shaky terms at work if they needed to leave for a week or more for deaths in the family.

In countries like the Philippines where so many traditionally work abroad, viewings and funerals can last around 3 weeks but even then it isn’t always easy to return. When my husband’s lola passed away in 2006 he had just started a contract at a new job and wasn’t allowed any time off yet. We can’t quite remember why we didn’t return at the beginning of 2012 when his lolo passed away as well. But it was around the time I was finishing up my degree, we both had work, were either in or heading on a trip through Northern India and I was either pregnant or we were trying to become pregnant. It was a busy time. My husband’s parents are getting older now. Both my husband and I know that if we move to Canada in the next few years and they pass away he likely won’t be able to make the trip all the way back home for their funerals.

DSC_2315

Finally visiting lolo's grave 2 years after he passed

If we don’t attend there is the guilt of not showing enough sacrifice and love for the family, of not helping enough during this difficult time. This is coupled with the guilt of being far away before they passed and of not sharing in enough events over the years. One of my friends died young and tragically. If I had been at home could I have perhaps guided him to a better path?

More often than not these days, mourning ends up taking the same approach that the announcement did. We change our profile photo, post pubic condolences, and maybe post a little memory of the loved one. Then we internally debate about when we can change our photo back, if it is appropriate to share something else in our news feed yet and if it is ever ok to “unfriend” someone who has passed if they had a social media account.

When my grandparents moved abroad it would have taken months sometimes for them to get the news through mail. All this digital connection has given us opportunities for those of us far away to connect nearly instantly and to mourn together over social media but it all feels rather empty. While those around me can relate to the loss of a loved one, no one around us actually knew them. There are no past stories to be shared over drinks.

There is no finality of the funeral. No seeing them one last time. In our minds they remain as they were the last time we saw them. There is no good bye or closure. The act of mourning seems to be missing in formality and in return we are either cursed or blessed with their image of them forever young, as they were when we left our homes to go abroad.