Americas, North, Travel

Gangsters and Millionaires in Miami

Miami, the city of gangsters and millionaires, (or so I am told by the tour guide who delights in telling us about the rum trade that once flourished during the prohibition and points out the house that Al Capone once lived in). Honestly, it seems not much has changed, but both have gotten richer, and better at hiding it.

Miami at times, feels as if you are in South America, with everyone around you speaking Spanish it transports you from the stereotypical visions of America, to a multi-cultural cosmopolitan city in the sunshine. Many tourists forget that Miami is in fact a city, that it has a thriving city life and various neighbourhoods encapsulating local communities and cultures, just like any other major city; London, Paris, Berlin, Delhi, with each varying neighbourhood bringing its unique attraction. Rather, tourists picture the artificial beauty that resides in Miami Beach, the beautiful people, plush hotels and numerous dining experiences on offer, as if Miami beach is a microcosm of all the gloriously rich and gorgeous people in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some gorgeous people in Miami Beach, pruned and permed to perfection, but tourists also flood here in their thousands soaking up the sunshine and perusing the funky vintage shops on Washington Avenue for a good bargain. No visit is complete to Miami Beach without visiting the iconic Ocean Drive. Whether you choose to cycle, drive in a convertible, ride a Segway, roller blade or even wander along, Ocean Drive is a must to experience the relaxed attitude and soak up the Miami lifestyle.

At the end of Ocean Drive, we decided to stop off at Nikki Beach Miami, an international beach club encompassing food, drink, music and entertainment into one. Being frequent visitors to the residence in Marbella, we were intrigued to see how the glamourous Nikki Beach Miami would differ. Apart from the seal like surfers that pounded the waves nearby and the layout of the beach club, it turns out not much differed- you can still expect great service, white sofas in the sunshine and refreshing Mojitos.

If wanting to escape from the bouts of bad weather, wander into The Bass Museum of Art. Whilst I was there, Pascale Marthine Tayou’s exhibit “Beautiful” was running, which was an interesting blend of the museum’s more permanent pieces and his own cultural pieces added into the installation. Each exhibit was unique and does make you question the traditional norms of art and the values of contemporary art, so it is worth a visit.

Another neighbourhood, quite similar to the atmosphere of South Beach and Miami Beach, is one of Coral Grove, as if where those that visit Miami Beach actually reside. Houses and flats are nestled into quiet leafy suburbs amongst parades of luxury shops and quaint cafes on corners and restaurants serving brunch all day. Quayside Marina is wonderful to walk around and spot the various boats calmly bobbing along the horizon, although there is little to do in the quay itself but stretch your legs and breathe fresh sea air.

My favourite neighbourhood in Miami is Little Havana, where visitors feel as if they have been taken to the heart of Cuba. Old men sit in the street and converse about the weather in front of colourful mosaic tiled pathways and natter over a game of dominoes in Maximo Gomez Park, sheltering away from the strength of the wind. As many tourists come to visit Calle Ocho, there are numerous cigar companies lined up to the attention of any smoker that walks past or any tourist that fancies some novelty gifts. Cuba Ocho is an extraordinary bar filled with memorabilia and pieces of history, transforming this quiet watering hole, to a community space filled with art, which is wonderful to explore. Many order a fresh ice cream from the Azucar Ice Cream company or attend a salsa lesson on a Thursday or Saturday at the traditional salsa bar Ball and Chain, that brings rhythms and routines like nowhere else in Miami. If you want a truly authentic Salsa experience, Ball and Chain is the venue to learn some moves and submerse yourself into the music and way of life of Salsa.

Wynwood is also another fascinating area of Miami, originally an industrial district filled with warehouses, these warehouses have been converted into art spaces and craft breweries, the walls adorned with street art to entertain, amuse and engage, and the streets filled with quirky clothes shops. The best way to see all of the street art is to either walk around the entire district (if you have the energy) or hire a motorised golf buggy which allows you to explore the area of Wynwood at your leisure. Expect to jostle for space to gain that perfect picture at Wynwood walls and hip restaurants and art installations are a plenty.

Visiting Miami, home to numerous world famous clubs that are open every night of the week until 6am with my Mum meant; rather than focusing our attention on dancefloors, we focused it on food (which is fine by me!) And just like the variety and quality of clubs, their selection of dining was incredible (sorry New Orleans, Miami beats you on this area).

In Wynwood, Black Panther is known for its fresh tasting coffee carefully selected for flavour from a number of different countries. Order your Peruvian latte or Moroccan tea here and sit out in their leafy gardens soaking up the sunshine with the other hipsters and digital nomads. Coyo Taco is a delicious street food stall where tacos and burritos are sold aplenty (and margaritas are served in their hidden bar too!) Harry’s Pizzeria in the design district also serves wonderful (you may have guessed) pizzas.

In Downton Miami, CVI.CHE is a unique Peruvian restaurant that conjures up fresh seafood with a selection of various sauces perfect for any varying taste bud. Many dishes aren’t for the faint hearted so arrive here with determination to try something new.

At South Beach, there are a number of restaurants along the beach front that are similar in style, selling fishbowl cocktails to please tourists and massive portions of sea food, we ate at Majestic for their Lobster Ravoli and cocktails ironically named South Beach (when in Rome).

YUCA restaurant and lounge is a lovely restaurant in South Beach to go to for both lunch and dinner for traditional Cuban dishes, expect electronic violins to be played whilst you dine on braised soft meat that melts in your mouth.

But my favourite restaurant in Miami, hands down is The Forge. Set in a traditional landmark of a blacksmiths work space, the restaurant has been totally transformed to a glitzy dining experience filled with ornate wood carvings, glamorous chandeliers and oh my the toilets- fit for a toilet queen! Service was attentive and the food was outstanding. Having a NY strip with a sweet potato mash with a dusting of cinnamon layer and served with a side order of creamed spinach with egg was enough to make your mouth water. But then topped off by a blacksmith pie: a cookie crust, chocolate ganache and vanilla custard? I think I may have passed out and woken up in food heaven.

Thanks Miami for making me fat.

Americas, Gigs, Music, North, Travel

The Sound of the Saints in New Orleans

Picture a city that resonates on the sound of live music echoing through the town, the sweet sounds of saxophones and the smooth sounds of soulful tones, colourful historical influences that haunt every street corner and an upbeat welcoming atmosphere, then you have New Orleans.

Seeped with French influences, this city has been fought over for years on who owned this hip swaying, hand clapping, foot stamping city, and it’s really no surprise when you visit and wander around the historical French Quarter. Bright and beautiful buildings house unique art galleries and tacky voodoo shops, you can spot the colonial architecture; the iron clad railings, the shape of the buildings, or the stone paved street names, each hinting at a past that been continued to be brought to life through the eclectic flavours of Creole food, the vibrant festivities of Mardi Gras, and of course, the bands that perform nightly to a heaving mass of enthused and inebriated bodies.

Going for a mindless wander around French Quarter is a must when visiting New Orleans, to soak up the revelling history and magical atmosphere. Big brass bands perform in the street, much to the amusement of tourists, and restaurants and bars are in abundance here. Jackson Square is a useful focal point, bordering the river and French Quarter. Admire the artist’s paintings that hang proudly on the railings and hitch a ride with a horse and cart or pedicab here, for a more informed tour of the place.

Two museums which I really enjoyed was the Cabildo and the Presbytere; both offer a discounted deal when buying one ticket, you receive a cheaper entrance fee to the other. The Cabildo was fascinating as it offered a perspective into the Slave Trade and the Civil War. Shocking facts are merged with portraits of families and materials from the time, highlighting the harsh realities for many African Americans. Napoleon’s famous death mask is stored here as well, which you were able to try on previously, however times have changed.

The Presbytere offers exhibits on the traditional festivities of Mardi Gras, showcasing original designs of costumes as well as props from the past few years. The exhibit gives a real insight into just how long Mardi Gras has been running for and what it means to the people of New Orleans, evoking a community spirit and bringing a sense of unity between all people of New Orleans, and celebrating life and colour too. Another exhibit in the museum is devoted to Hurricane Katrina and the devastating effects it had on not only the infrastructure and land, but the local people too. The exhibit is filled with haunting memoirs, videos and photography, highlighting the magnitude of the destruction and the inadequate response of the emergency services to such a large scale disaster. It gave me chills, wandering around and seeing a destroyed violin, the shacks of houses that remained after the hurricane- mainly just wood and bricks, a mess on the floor. But what I also recognised, was the strong resolution and determination that the local people had, in not only helping each other during the disaster, but afterwards as well, supporting one another- physically, mentally and emotionally. Once again, reinforcing the community spirit and being able to see the destruction and devastation in a new light, which highlights even further, the real admirable strength of the people of New Orleans.  

Heading away from town, a popular tourist attraction is to take a traditional steamboat and float along the Missippi River. The boat is the main interest, as there is little to see on the river itself. I do think an evening cruise with a band might be a more enjoyable experience, as taking a two hour boat trip during the day just to purposefully sail on the boat, wasn’t as a unique experience as one might think.

Another similar experience is a swamp visit looking for alligators. We booked our trip with Cajun Encounters, the largest swamp tour operator, and although the river lacked in alligators, the tour guide made up for it with his detailed information and humorous perspective on life. Although we only saw half the head of an alligator dozing on a branch submerged in the river, we did see lots of birds of prey, raccoons and river snails, as well as some stunning natural landscapes of swamps and life by the river.

The other tours promoted throughout New Orleans is the plantation tour, where you explore a traditional Southern plantation or a voodoo tour, where you are taken to popular (or supposed) haunts of the French Quarter and nearby cemeteries, and are told the tales of the practised religion; voodoo. Unfortunately, it is unlikely you will come across a real practising Voodoo priest, rather the religion has been turned into a tourist attraction; with voodoo shops in abundance advertising “legitimate readings” and curses for your enemies. Although interesting to learn about, don’t be swayed into believing all is fact

One of the best ways to full appreciate the New Orleans culture, is by getting immersed into its many restaurants. In the French Quarter, food is largely French Creole and varies from mid range to opulent styles. Try a steaming hot broth of gumbo, rich in flavour and with rice in the middle centring the broth, its a filling dish. Alligator is surprisingly delicious too, savour the local crayfish and a traditional Jambalaya packed full with herbs, spices, and a variety of meats that adds different layers to the dish. We ate at Muriels in Jackson Sqaure, a place with wonderful Jazz on Sunday, Royal House, where the crab claws in a rich garlic sauce are heavenly, Rockafeller Oysters at Antonine’s Restaurant– where the dish and restaurant has been passed down from generation to generation, and where I tried to eat a whole crab deep fried, (yep literally everything, shell included), fried chicken at the classy but cold establishment of NOLA’s, succulent alligator at The Count Of Two Sisters and the mixed Jambalaya at Mr.B’s Bistro

After overeating and gorging yourself on fried or traditionally filling dishes, appreciating live music is next on your agenda. New Orleans is a non-stop party place, really only on a Monday does some local places close, but very rarely. Weekends, the city is filled to the brim with both national and international tourists, and during the week… it doesn’t stop. Speaking to a local pedicab driver, we were told that we were only visiting in the quiet shoulder season. I couldn’t fathom what it would be like in Mardi Gras, with the city having 5 times as many people; the streets literally flooding with visitors and bars heaving with bodies.

Bourbon Street, and all the bars on the street, are mainly created for the sole purpose of the tourists that come here, in their thousands. With drinks such as “Hand Grenade” and “Hurricane”, you can listen to any band and they will most certainly, deliver a decent cover. We found ourselves one night in Fat Catz, listening to a band that played everything from Chic to Black Eyed Peas to please the crowd. Although a fun night, if you really want to appreciate the true culture of New Orleans and experience a new band at the same time, head to Frenchman Street.

Going on the weekend to Frenchman Street will mean it is a lot busier with a much wider variety of bands performing, however going in the week, certain venues are still populated with enthused fans of bands, friendly locals and eager tourists. On the Sunday night, we saw some jazz artists at Bambala, but spent most of our night listening to a sassy soul artist singing with a brass band in Cafe Negril.

American football is a huge aspect of the culture and so if you are planning to head out on a Sunday, keep in mind a weekly football match will occur at 3pm, with countless TV screens in restaurants and bars dedicated to the sport. When we first hit Frenchman Street, community morale was high as “The Saints”, (the New Orleans football team) had just won and were now heading into the next stage of the football competition. For The Saints, and the people of New Orleans, the super bowl hosts more significance than meets the eye, it is more than just a football stadium, but once acted as a sanctuary for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Thus each try was sacred, and match won holds a poignant value, highlighting a success story for a once broken community. Going out on a Sunday after The Saints had won, Frenchman Street was filled with friendly, and very complimentary might I add, fans.

We also experienced Frenchman Street on a Tuesday night; starting off our night at The Spotted Cat, listening to some funky jazz, heading to Cafe Negril for some blues and ending up in The Blue Moon listening to an incredible funk band called Waterseed. I immediately fell in love with the sound of the band; their vocals, and unique style as individuals and as a collective. They were able to create an incredible rapport and collaboration with the audience, and their stylised dance moves really were the cherry on top. After they finished their set, we finished our night in Maison, listening to a live band that created a mish mash of hip hop, and RnB- a powerful and energetic performance.

Being an avid fan of live music (and food), I personally loved New Orleans and would implore anyone to go, just maybe not in Mardi Gras.


Asia, Human Rights, Myanmar, Travel

The Truth About Myanmar

The Truth

When telling others of my urge to travel to Myanmar, I received horrified looks, firstly for my safety, and secondly if I had any moral fibre within my body- why would I want to visit a country where rape, murder and brutality are more common than I cared to admit? Why would I dare to turn a blind eye and continue with my trip to Myanmar, ignoring the fact that a mass genocide is happening? Why would I ignore the fact that blood is being spilt on the same ground as the very same tea plantations I would hike up?

Honestly, I did feel quite the hypocrite.

Although, as I began to lose myself in the beauty of the country I realised that Myanmar is different to what I had perceived, or had been thought to perceive. The fear mongering news pin pointed one issue that the country has had for a number of years and focused on it until there is no other vision of Myanmar to see, a real trait for many journalists.

I am no expert in the historical and political situations of Myanmar, I only know the basic facts like any other visitor of Myanmar, but I do know how the racial segregation and injustice has been embedded within the Myanmar people and their society for many years and where attacks on either side have developed murdering each other, and no one is truly innocent. The locals that are brave enough to talk it about with me, shake their heads and remark on how awful it is, some reply in bewilderment as they realise that the local media has hidden vast amounts of reality from their own eyes, and others highlight just how many problems Myanmar has, and this is only one of them. Many are unaware of the fortitude in which the foreign media has propelled the racial segregation and hatred, they are unaware of the mass genocide that the government and military are forcing the Myanmar country to adopt, and they are unaware of how their underlying problems that have been in their country for decades, have now become the whole world’s concerns.

I myself, have seen the authoritative presence and power of the military, the “Orwellian” power and control that still reigns over the country and the people, either through the various checkpoints that travellers and locals have to shuttle themselves through or the restrictive zones that no one is allowed to pass. I am afraid I haven’t seen the horrors of the genocide by my own eyes, I haven’t seen the pain and suffering of the Rohingya people, which I am sure are aplenty and are atrocious.

What I have seen, is the pure happiness and joy of the local Myanmar people when receiving visitors from all over the world, when sharing facts about the beauty of their country and their excitement on what tourism brings and what they hope continues to bring them in the future.

I have only seen the world that the government and military are happy to share with visitors, the stunning scenes of nature that leave you speechless and that is what I can report on.

The Country

Myanmar is a country unparalleled to any other I have been to. Okay, so the food may not be as delicious as neighbouring Thailand or India, and the scenery at times is reminiscent of Vietnam or Laos, but the hopeful optimism and positivism of the local people, despite their harsh and bleak history, is something else.

After years of dictatorship and living under a ruthless regime, local people beam with smiles and greet you with wide open arms into their country. Partly this lies with the tourism industry still being relatively new to Myanmar, still continuing to grow and on the whole, hasn’t consumed the country and transformed the minds and motives of the local people-yet. Of course, Myanmar has dramatically changed since it first opened its doors, with coca cola now being served in Myanmar, ATM’s everywhere (even in Pagodas!) and a sufficient tourist transport network. The country still has a long way to go before local people become entirely deflated by the arrival of visitors, thus local charm is overwhelming, although of course, time can change that.

The landscape is stunning and varies from an untouched archipelago, voluptuous mountains, serene beaches and ancient temples. Trekking and visiting the thousands of temples that are dotted all over Myanmar, are the most popular tourist attractions at the moment.

The Route

Because I had booked a hot air balloon in Bagan (which unfortunately got cancelled due to a thunderstorm, its best to book in November for a sure flight). I arranged my trip around the route Yangon-Hpa An-Inle Lake-Kalaw-Bagan-Mandalay so I could work my way up the country and organise my time to be in Bagan for the start of the hot air balloon season.

A more popular route is to start in Yangon heading into Mandalay or Mandalay-Bagan-Kalaw-Inle Lake-South-Yangon, thus flying in and out of two international airports and and making sure to trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake where it is a more popular route.

Other common destinations include:

Ngapali Beach

Hpa An (my personal favourite)

Hispaw  (for more authentic trekking and the famous viaduct)


Kyaikto (for the Golden Rock)

Naypyidaw (the new capital)


After much research, I found that I couldn’t get kyats outside of Myanmar, but only in Myanmar, thus dollars are recommended to bring in. Many guide books and travel blogs insisted dollars could be used anywhere, but what they didn’t highlight was the pristine condition that they had to be in,  which made using dollars extremely difficult to use. All ATMs give kyats and all places take kyats no matter the quality, so realistically it is much safer for you to pay in kyats and travel with some emergency dollars with you.


As I said before, the food in Myanmar is not as tasty as its neighbours, however luckily for the local people, lots of people move to Myanmar from surrounding countries meaning there is a rich diversity in food; with many restaurants serving Thai, Chinese, Nepalese and Indian food. Chicken fried rice is a cheap staple diet for a backpacker on a budget but if wanting to branch out try the delicious Shan noodles from the Shan state. It is also fairly common to choose a meat dish in a local restaurant and for that dish to come with rice, soup and a number of fermented vegetables- I warn you, their unique taste is not for everyone!


Most of the country is Buddhist, 90 percent in fact, followed by Sikh, Muslim and Christian. To respect all religions and the local culture, cover your legs and shoulders, especially when going into temples. The locals are not used to the sight of women in revealing outfits and were slightly horrified when seeing so, please do dress moderately.

Getting Around and Accomodation

Bus is the main mode of transportation and varies in style and price. You could be travelling by a local bus that stops at every stop, or a VIP bus that provides bottled water and takeaway meals, all vary in price and comfort, similar to accommodation. If travelling in high season, I do recommend to book ahead as it is still a developing country within the tourism industry and there are as not as many options as one would see in Thailand for example, which does make travel more expensive. You can find cheap guesthouse priced at as little as 5 thousand kyat although a little dirty around the edges.  A rough average is 7 thousand for a local guesthouse you may see nearby to a touristic area, whom has no website. On booking websites, the more expensive and website owned places are available to book, but like all countries in Asia, if you take the time to look a little more around the area, then you will find a cheap and comfortable alternative that suits you.

Inle Lake

Extreme Sports in Myanmar 

As you may be aware, I am a massive fan of extreme sports and anything adrenaline filled, the extreme sports activities you will find in Myanmar at the moment are:

Hot Air Ballooning






Asia, Myanmar, Travel

The Capital: Yangon

Yangon: a city you could spend some time in, but the question is, would you want to?

Being a city lover myself, I was unsure how long I wanted to stay in Yangon, thinking it may just be like any other big city in Asia, and in some aspects I was right. It’s easy to lose yourself amongst identical looking streets with wires hanging precariously low, home to numerous pigeons and shops selling handicrafts from everything to electronic ware to home ware. Streets turned into market stalls with fresh vegetables and caught fish laid out in full glory for sale from a passerby, or occasional lost tourist.

Of course, the more time you spend in Yangon I am sure, the more you appreciate it. Art galleries hidden around street corners, museums filled with useful and interesting information that shines a light on life in Yangon and various neighbourhoods highlighting different communities, are all something which you will see in abundance if you invest time and energy into exploring Yangon.

But the aim of my trip was to escape the clutches of a city, to run away from the smog of traffic and continuous hawkers cries. I wanted to be whisked away to majestic landscapes, scenes of culture and recluses of calm, thus I left Yangon to be my last destination, when both time and money were against me.

Of course, heading to Shwedagon Pagoda is a must when in Yangon. The temple complex is huge and filled with intricate designs and pagodas praising the archaeological Buddhist days of the week, with various elements of Buddha himself (like his sacred tooth or 8 hairs) and four alternative stairways ornately designed and decorated leading to the towering, empowering Buddha. Locals merge with smock wearing monks and colourful tourists in awe and astonishment of its splendour, gazing at its sheer size and colossal amount of gold.

Do remember which entrance you come from as you will leave your shoes there, which if forgotten is a bit of a nightmare. Entrance to the pagoda is 8 thousand kyat and make sure to cover both legs and shoulders for men and women.

The Bogyoke park nearby to the pagoda acts as a perfect retreat to the hectic heaving mass of worshippers at the pagoda. Although the lake is artificial (and a little cheesy with an amusement park titled “Happy World” and swans you can pedal around in on the lake) it is still is a wonderful place to catch your breath and people watch.

Chinatown is also a fascinating neighbourhood to wander around in, as is Little India– especially if craving that cuisine. Although nice to have a stroll around, I wasn’t taken aback by anything within the neighbourhood, which was only home to a few temples and souvenir shops as well as restaurants. Which was a shame, as I really enjoy exploring Chinatown in different countries around the world. Get used to the sight of crumbling colonial buildings too, as they make out years of history with their faded curls of  paint seeping out tales of another world.

A sunset drink at a rooftop bar was something I was recommended (Sakura rooftop bar on the CB Bank Tower) although running out of funds, I swapped the rooftop bar for a local watering hole where a 8 year old boy served sleazy sleepy men, swaying from side to side and slurring their words. Smoke circled the room as men lit up around me and dirty tables shouldered next to even dirtier walls. They looked at me in awe, as to why a blonde white woman would enter such a dirty dive. Honestly, I did question quickly why I was there, but I was swayed by the price of cheap beer and my fellow backpacker friend nodded to the 8 year old for service, we were there to stay.

As Yangon is such a sprawling city, bumping into other tourists doesn’t happen often, unless at major monuments, so locals are still entertained by the sight of westerners. Accommodation; as like the rest of Myanmar, varies in style, price and location. Plush hotels line the city centre, whilst more affordable accommodation is based in Chinatown near the Sule Pagoda. I stayed in Agga Bed and Breakfast which for a bed in a 6 bed dorm, cost 6 dollars, it was clean but a little rough around the edges- but it served its purpose of one nights accommodation before my flight back.