From hours to minutes: How I book the right hotel quickly

I remember the time I was planning a trip to Spain in 2011. Booking air tickets and drawing up a rough itinerary were the easy parts. Then I had to book my hotel rooms.

I agonized over dozens of hotels in Barcelona, Sevilla and Madrid. I looked at so many options across so many websites, so many blogs and so many travel portals that it took me days to decide the hotels. If I had spent as much time in preparing for my college exams, I would have aced them all.

Anyways, when I finally selected the hotels, I promised myself I would never spend so much time on figuring out hotels for my trip. Of course, hotels are a very important part of my visit to a new place. I want comfort, I want easy access to public transport and I want to be safe.

But spending days, or even hours on hunting hotels? Sheer waste of valuable time.

Wora Bura Resort Spa Hua Hin

(Wora Bura Resort & Spa in Hua Hin, Thailand)

For my next trip, I tried to be a bit more systematic. I cut down from several days to just a single day on hotel research. But that was still too long.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. And when planning my holiday to Italy in December 2013, I was also planning my wedding (!) and so, I had very little time to ponder over hotels.

That’s when I hit upon my formula.

I’ve been following this method since almost four years now and it’s saved me a lot of time, stress and the end result has never been bad (touchwood).

Try it and tell me what you think.

Here’s how I do it.

Step 1: I decide on a budget

I break down the trip’s budget into all sorts of costs—from sightseeing to food. All are estimates, of course, but that works. After calculating all these costs, I arrive at a cost for my hotel stays.

Or sometimes, I just decide the amount of money I am willing to spend on a hotel room per night on that trip, such as $80 per night.

Time taken: 10-20 minutes.

Hotel Kempinski Nay Pyi Taw

(Hotel Kempinski, Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar)

Step 2: I pick hotels for that given budget.

I enter the city and travel dates into a hotel booking website. The booking website is usually one I find reliable and trustworthy. My preferences are usually agoda.com or booking.com. Once I get the search results, I filter by my budget, and now, I have a (long) shortlist. This doesn’t take long and the list could be anywhere from five to 15 hotels.

Time taken: 10 minutes

Step 3: I look up shortlisted hotels.

If there are too many (long) listed hotels could be dime a dozen, so I also filter out the hotels by the number of stars or ratings. The top ones stay on the list, the bottom ones are eliminated. From this shorter shortlist, I am now ready to research hotels. I look up traveller review sites like Tripadvisor for each hotel, and I especially pay attention to the bad reviews to get a balanced view. I then cut down to three hotels.

Time taken: 15-20 minutes

Step 4: I now have a final list.

With just three hotels on my list, I visit each hotel’s website and look up important details. For example, do they have a swimming pool and an elevator? Is it near the places I want to visit? Will I have access to public transport? How near or far is it from the airport?

Time taken: 10-15 minutes

Art hotel Chiang Mai

(Art Hotel, Chiang Mai, Thailand)

Step 5: And now, I have a winner.

I go back to my booking site and book. Or, if the hotel offers a “lowest tariff guarantee” I write to them informing them of my travel dates and the best offers I’m getting online. Most hotels respond within a day and they often give me a better rate (this is especially true of boutique and single/ standalone hotels).

I get the hotel I want, they get a paying customer. Win-win all around.

Time taken: 5 minutes (to email), 5 minutes (to pay)

How do you choose hotels for your holiday?

 

Throwback Thursday: Banteay Srei, Cambodia

This month I’ve been reminiscing about my trip to Cambodia last April. Yes, we did the obvious thing (i.e. visit Siem Reap and explore Angkor Wat), but every moment there was a revelation. Despite the insane heat and the crazy crowds, we made a little trek to Banteay Srei, just outside of the main Angkor temples.

Banteay Srei Siem Reap Cambodia

Banteay Srei may be much smaller than other temples in Angkor, but the intricate level of detailing is astounding. Built eleven centuries ago, the glorious stone carvings in the temple are not just fine works of art but also a journey into past Hindu glory in Cambodia.

Banteay Srei Angkor Wat Cambodia

Stunning stuff.

#ThrowbackThursday

A boat ride on Inle Lake, Myanmar

A lone fisherman in a conical hat flings his net into the freshwater lake. As the mist clears, I see miniature gardens of brightly-coloured flowers gently floating in the water. For miles, there’s nothing to see except water, a fisherman or two, the Shan hills in the distance, and the unfamiliar flowers and leaves beautifully meshed into the lake’s surface. The only sound is the dull throb of the boat’s diesel motor.

Fisherman at Inle Lake Myanmar

We are sailing through Myanmar’s Inle Lake in Shan State. And the lake is nothing like any other I’ve seen before. It is the lifeline of villages and towns that live by the shore. It’s the means of income and the means of transport both rolled into one. And it’s a unique ecosystem (also a biosphere reserve) with distinct flora and fauna scattered throughout the 116-square-kilometres lake.

Plants at Inle Lake Myanmar

Pockets of civilization appear in the distance. Local Burmese men and women line up for a “shared boat taxi” for their daily commute to the market or places of work. We stop by a market on the lakeside to buy souvenirs. Bargaining is hard in Myanmar, most of the times both you and the seller know that the price is exorbitant, but it’s a question of who is more stubborn. So you win some, you lose some.

House at Inle Lake Myanmar

Further down the lake, houses made entirely of wood appear like islands. Some of these structures have artisan workshops, where local craftsmen weave fabrics from lotus stems (exquisitely soft silk!) and make silver jewellery.

House Inle Lake Myanmar

At one souvenir shop on the lake, I see some women making small souvenirs. They are like any other woman, except their long necks are stacked with brass rings. They are Kayan Lahwi or Padaung women, seated here to fascinate tourists with their exotic neck jewellery and peculiar anatomy. Of course pictures are welcome.

Later, we head to a pagoda just off the lake. It’s like any other pagoda in Myanmar, filled with throngs of Myanmar people praying to Buddha.

After a refreshing drink of fresh coconut water just outside the pagoda, we head back to our boat. The gentle morning breeze has made way for the afternoon sun. The lake is busy, as boats stuffed with tourists slice through the water to explore life on Inle Lake.

Tourists at Inle Lake Myanmar

But we head back to the hotel on the boat and relish the quiet moments of solitude. As I step off the boat, I suddenly have a wish. One only. That the lake is preserved, its animals and birds and plants kept intact for centuries. That we humans don’t destroy the lake’s understated beauty with our ever-present destructive tendencies. I wish. I pray.

Reaching Inle Lake: To visit Inle Lake, take a flight from Yangon or Mandalay to Heho. The airport is 35 kilometres from the lake. The nearest town is Nyaungshwe in Taunggyi District of Shan State, Myanmar.

Sunday Street Stories: Rangoon War Cemetery

In a quiet lane off Yangon’s Pyay Road is a square of lush green grass dotted with trees and flowers that belie the crazy traffic just a few metres away. Few people go there. Taxi drivers wonder why you would want to get off at that strange place.

That strange, quiet, manicured place is Rangoon War Cemetery, with graves of hundreds of soldiers who died in action in Burma during the Second World War. Maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the cemetery is a space where race and nationality don’t matter. Indian and African soldiers lie next to their colleagues from Britain, bound together by war.

Rangoon War Cemetery Yangon
This piece of history is not on any tourist map of Yangon. But this place is important. Because it reminds me of the damage that war has caused over the centuries. And the consequences of war affect all of us, no matter where or when we are born.

Rangoon War Cemetery Yangon Burma

Location: Rangoon War Cemetery, Yangon (Myanmar)

Date: December 16, 2016

Device: Xiaomi Mi 5

Sunday Street Stories: Yangon’s Living Restoration

Almost every colonial-era building in downtown Yangon has a spellbinding story to tell, though interest in aesthetic restoration is still fledgling. An unassuming building in Merchant Street now serves as a demonstration of how  a facelift can be done while keeping the original architecture intact.

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Taking into account the views of the residents and tenants, Turquoise Mountain set about renovating the building. They trained local workers, used quality materials and did it all on a tight budget. It’s a job well-done, and now there’s some hope that people living in historical spaces in Yangon will make an effort to preserve their inherent beauty. Fingers crossed.

PS- The project managers even restored the little altars outside!

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Pictures taken on: July 19, 2016
Location: Merchant Street, downtown Yangon, Myanmar
Device: Nexus 5

The wonderful Baltic Sea cruise

Several folks I’ve met believe cruises are for: 1) Old people 2) Families with kids 3) Lazy losers.

But I say, baloney to that! I fall in none of these categories, but I still enjoy a great cruise. While on a cruise you can catch glimpses of not one but several new destinations, while getting a chance to relax and not having to worry about packing your toothbrush, scrambling for an inexpensive meal or running to catch a train. And if you fall in love with a place, you can plan a longer vacation around that next time.

The Northern European cruise I did with Mom in May 2014 was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life—I visited a part of Europe we hadn’t seen before, saw some beautiful places and I ticked off a place on my bucket list—St Petersberg, Russia.

Day 0: Flying into Copenhagen, Denmark

Late night, we flew from Mumbai to Copenhagen via Brussels. (While in transit, we bought a box of Belgian chocolates to enjoy on the trip. :-D)

Day 1: Copenhagen, Denmark

We arrived in sunny Copenhagen mid-morning. I’d booked a Copenhagen Card which I picked up at the airport, so the Metro ride into town was free. We walked past canals and hip restaurants to reach our budget hotel in Borgergade.

After some rest, we headed out for a canal ride, admiring the brightly-coloured buildings, the Copenhagen Opera House and views of erstwhile royal residences. Then we hopped on to a local bus and headed to the country’s most famous amusement park Tivoli Gardens. While we were too tired to try the rides, we did enjoy the lively, familial atmosphere, the peacocks in the gardens, the food and a light comedy sketch (of which we understood nothing). We took a local bus back to hotel.

Copenhagen Denmark canal ride

Day 2: Helsingør (Elsinore) and Copenhagen

I’m a literature buff, so it was natural that I’d want to visit a place of literary significance. So early morning we took the DBS train from Copenhagen station to Helsingør (Elsinore). Our destination: Kronborg castle, also called the “Hamlet castle” for it’s supposedly the setting for William Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet. No one knows for certain if Shakespeare visited this castle, but he might have. And he most certainly had friends who did. While the castle looked grand and imposing as we walked there from the town’s small railway station, it was actually quite comforting once we were within its walls. It also had some gorgeous vantage points of Ørseund Strait (and Sweden!).

Elsinore Castle Denmark

After a guided tour of the castle and a brave solo trip of the cellar, we took the train back to Copenhagen and walked to Rosenborg Castle. I marveled at the gorgeous marble floors, the little pendants among the jewellery and the armoury sections of the castle museum. From there, we took a Metro ride to reach the to the aquarium Blue Planet. We got there just 15 minutes before closing time, but the staff was kind enough to let us in and enjoy the place at leisure. Though we were tired after such a long day, I wanted to visit the one of the largest no-car streets in Europe—Strøget. Since it was summer, it was a late sunset and we window shopped in fashion stores and the Lego store (yay!), till we got tired and decided to just people-watch instead. After dinner at a wonderful Mexican restaurant, we walked back to our hotel.

Day 3: Copenhagen and cruise

We had a few hours in the morning, so we took a bus to Christiansborg Palace, the seat of Danish parliament. Unfortunately it was closed that day but we could go into the courtyard and view the glorious façade. Then another bus ride to the National Museum of Denmark (free entry). There’s only one word for this museum—mind-boggling. I especially enjoyed the prehistoric and Vikings section, and the toy section. Too bad I didn’t have more time to see the entire museum. We headed back to the hotel to grab our bags and take a taxi to the pier where our Royal Caribbean cruise ship Legend of the Seas was docked. We checked in, had a leisurely lunch at the restaurant, then spent the evening exploring the ship.

Day 4: At sea

After the past two days of hectic travel, we finally had a chance to relax. We made the most of our time onboard—we watched a Broadway-style dance show, played Bingo, tried our hands at a cooking demo and sampled the complimentary snacks around the ship.

Day 5: Stockholm, Sweden

Next morning, we docked at Stockholm. On the way there, we passed the Stockholm archipelago—thirty thousand little green islands dotting the Baltic Sea. It was a bright sunny day in the Swedish capital, and our pre-arranged tour guide (Carlos from Mexico!), took us on a city tour. We first visited Stockholm City Hall where I gaped at the grandeur of the “golden room” with its high ceilings and walls bathed in gold. The hall also hosts the lavish Nobel Prize banquet every year.

Stockholm City Hall Sweden

We then headed to Gamla Stan, the old city centre with its narrow streets, closely-placed buildings and plenty of cafes and restaurants. After snaking our way through the winding streets, Mom and I headed to an Indian takeaway joint for a packed lunch. Sitting in the main square, I opened my lunch box and tasted the most delicious dal makhni and jeera pulao I’ve ever had outside India. After lunch, we headed to Stockholm Palace to witness the changing of the guard, briefly stopping en route for a photo op with City Hall as background. And then we visited the Vasa Museum—a unique museum that’s all about ships. I didn’t even know I liked ships till I visited this one. Back on board late afternoon, we headed for an evening snack, then rested up before dinner.

Day 5: Tallinn, Estonia

Not too many people have even heard of this country in Northern Europe. Its capital Tallinn is a town steeped in medieval history. We went around the city by bus, taking time to walk around the cobblestoned streets in Old Town, spotting quaint churches and centuries-old walls. We later visited the stunning Kadriorg Palace, the entryway lined with gorgeous gardens and fountains. Inside the palace complex, I visited a small museum housed wonderful sculpture and paintings from around Europe. We later took a bus back to the pier.

Day 6: St Petersburg, Russia

Oh, how I’d waited to reach Russia! Despite the gloomy weather and continual rain, my day in St Petersburg is among the most memorable days of my life. Since we could enter Russia as a cruise visitor only via a guided tour, I’d signed up for one already. Our first stop was the amazing Peterhof Palace on the outskirts of the city. Despite the damage during the wars, the palace has been restored wonderfully and walking through the large halls to see the royal crockery, dining table and silks was like stepping back in time.

Peterhof Palace St Petersberg Russia

We then headed to the Hermitage Museum in the heart of the city. The building was designed in a typical Baroque style and I thoroughly enjoyed the classical Greek artifacts, Italian and Spanish paintings and Russian art. We then had a chance to ride the escalator deep down into the city metro just to see how the station itself is a work of art! Later we stopped for souvenir shopping (matryoshka dolls were on my list) and to the Church on Spilled Blood, named so after Emperor Alexander II was wounded here. Dead tired after this very exhausting day, we headed back to our ship for a dinner and rest.

Day 7: Helsinki, Finland

We were still recovering from the crazy day in St Petersburg, when we docked in Helsinki where it was cold and drizzling non-stop. The Finnish capital is a very charming city, and we bought a hop-on-hop-off bus ticket. We sat back to enjoy the ride around town, seeing places like Rock Church and Sibelius Monument. We then got off at Market Square to catch a ferry to Suomenlinna Sea Fortress, located on an island off the coast of the city. We walked through the fortress-island and stopped along the way to peek at little souvenir shops, experience cannons and take in the rocky-green landscape.

Suomenlinna Fortress Helsinki

Back in Helsinki, I bought a reindeer tooth bracelet to gift a friend, and walked to Senate Square to enjoy the neo-classical architecture and browse through the designer boutiques nearby. Our cruise took off soon after lunch so we soon headed back to port by bus, and our driver turned out to a chatty Brit with a thick Cockney accent living in Finland. Good times!

Day 8: At sea

We used this non-port day to recoup from the craziness of the last couple of days. The cruise’s head chef had invited some of us to visit the onboard kitchen and so we went for the mini-tour, cameras at the ready. I saw the chefs hard at work, some chopping skillfully, some loading the bread-making machines, some rolling out pasta dough. Despite the flurry of activity, the kitchen was sparkling clean. We spent the rest of our day reading on deck and enjoying the special dinner.

Royal Caribbean cruise kitchen

Day 9: Return to Copenhagen, flight back to India

Our ship docked in Copenhagen early morning. After a quick breakfast and checkout, we hailed a taxi to drive us to the airport. Our driver turned out to be extremely well-read and told me he was currently reading J Krishnamurthi. (Woah, that’s super intense stuff). At the airport, we boarded our flight back home, coming back via Abu Dhabi.

To check flights to Copenhagen and other Baltic destinations check out the listing of International Flights here.

Sunday Street Stories: It’s all about great hair

In Yangon (and most of Myanmar) women young and old have gorgeous, poker-straight hair. Their secret? Not their genes or diet or combing techniques… But regular trips to the beauty salon.

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So how are Myanmar women different from women worldwide? After all, almost every country has a vibrant and thriving beauty industry. Well, for one, it’s the number of visits women make to the salon (to straighten their hair, to colour their hair, to wash their hair, to massage their head, to blow dry their hair, and of course, paint their nails). So salons do brisk business. And then, the  sheer number of salons in business. Within just a 60-metre radius around my building, I’ve counted seven beauty salons. (Maybe there are more). If anyone did a worldwide survey of  beauty salons per capita or beauty salons per square kilometre, Myanmar might just win hands down. The salons here often work till late night,  staying open even after restaurants shut down!

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Location: Hledan Street, Yangon, Myanmar
Date: June 25, 2016
Device: Google Nexus 5

Sunday Street Stories: Yangon Stock Exchange

Tall columns, a neatly-designed façade, delicately ornate with a smooth finish, this beautiful colonial-era building in downtown Yangon is a stunner. Obscured from view by a cluster of trees, I barely noticed it though I’ve passed it several times while in a taxi.

But last week, I finally saw it up close. It’s just one of a handful of well-preserved Yangon buildings, and reminds me of Mumbai’s RBI building on Mint Road. Turns out this one is the Yangon Stock Exchange.

Yangon stock exchange

The stock exchange began operations only last December and the first company listed this March. With all the rapid changes happening in Myanmar, there’s so much interest in investing here and hopefully the stock exchange paves the way for a robust financial sector.

While potential investors are looking for business opportunities, I’m trying to figure out if I can go inside.

 Device: Google Nexus 5

Date: May 15, 2016

Location: Downtown Yangon, Myanmar

Earth-friendly fashion, food and travel

Last week was Earth Day. I usually don’t pay much attention to such “days” because most of them are mere eyewash, but Earth Day got me thinking. Can I really make a difference in building a better future for a greener planet?

I assessed my passions (fashion, food and travel) and I figured- sure, I can make an impact, and quickly sat down to make a rough list. At the end of an hour, I re-read the list and scratched out a few unfeasible ideas. But a handful of practical and pragmatic earth-friendly ideas survived. An inner voice said, “Hey, this can work!” So I decided to take the list public and share it with you all.

Here goes:

Fashion

Biba kurtas

Shop within a limit. And I don’t mean your credit card limit. Plan your shopping and decide what you need to buy before you head to the mall. Even with just a dozen tops and half a dozen pants, you can be trendy and stylish. Sure, end of season sales are tempting and a wonderful excuse to buy the orange top or pink dress on your wishlist, but do you really need Blouse No. 52 in your wardrobe? Instead, do a thorough wardrobe cleanse over a long weekend, then only add new clothes and accessories to replace an older one that’s worn out.

Recycle and reuse. I’ve been hearing this mantra for years now, but never followed it. Late 2014, I reused my mom’s wedding dupatta with a new ensemble and made a modern-looking blouse to match her traditional sari, I realized that this formula works. You can transform a large silk scarf into a top or stitch neutral-coloured sari blouses to wear with well-preserved saris. Besides, you get bragging rights to declare, “I’m wearing vintage!”

pink dupatta

Buy locally-made clothes. Here’s how the supply chain of most fast fashion brands (like Zara) usually work: Clothes are manufactured in Country A, then sent to home country and dispatched around the world. Or the garments are shipped directly to warehouses or stores in Countries B, C, D and so on. Working on tight deadlines and short turnaround times, manufacturers often dispatch the merchandise via air. With hundreds of manufacturers and dozens of countries, you can imagine the amount of emissions a single brand’s business could generate. A simple thumb rule (broad generalization): the shorter the distance a garment travels, the more planet-friendly it is likely to be in terms of emissions. Buying clothes made in another part of the world may often be the easier (read: cheaper) option, but do try to opt for a local brand when possible. India has dozens of clothing and accessories brands that source and manufacture locally. “Made in India” seems appealing, doesn’t it?

Buy good quality clothes and accessories. You bought a cute pair of chappals from Linking Road and a stylish cotton kurta from Lajpat market for a steal. Both get worn out in a few months. And so you want to buy new chappals and another cotton kurta. Instead, how about you pay a bit more and buy chappals and a kurta that last longer? This way you generate less waste and save money in the long run. Think of each purchase as an investment of sorts, and calculate the returns in terms of how long it will make you happy. True, better quality may often mean more strain on your wallet, but when you’re buying fewer clothes and shopping less often, the extra bucks you spend are actually working to save you money in the future.

Food

Fresh local produce Chaing Mai Thailand

Eat local produce as much as you can. Of course, that’s not always possible. You don’t get great India-made feta or miso paste, but local fruits and vegetables are always the freshest and have travelled much shorter distances to reach you. Besides, seasonal fruits and vegetables are often delicious. So, if you have a choice, buy local.

Carry your own shopping bag. A cloth or jute bag or locally made basket is super handy in the market. My granny had gifted my mom couple of hand-woven baskets several years ago which she still uses. Myanmar has some lovely woven baskets as well, and I’ve bought not one, but two of them!

Use cloth instead of plastic and paper. Replace kitchen tissue with cloth towels to dry pots, pans and plates in the kitchen, or wipe your hands. There are some “highly absorbent” options which you can use for several days before throwing them for a wash. (Yes, I use just such a towel!). And oh, I prefer to use a handkerchief instead of paper tissue.

Reuse (yes, again!). I saw bamboo straws in Cambodia, and regret not buying them. They were reusable and very cute! Conscious foodies often carry reusable cutlery such as forks and chopsticks instead of using the disposable ones found in takeaway joints or fast food restaurants.

Travel

Boat ride Copenhagen

Use public transport. This one’s a no-brainer. And besides, if you’re using a local bus or public ferry you’ll get a better feel of local life. Better still, cycle around town.

Carry a reusable water bottle. Invest in a sturdy good-sized water bottle. In several countries, you can fill up your bottle with tap water (especially across Europe) or from a water dispenser in airports or malls. I carry my reusable water bottle all the time- when I’m going shopping or to a movie, so I’m not tempted to buy water or cold drinks, usually sold in paper cups, tin cans or plastic bottles. Besides reducing possible wastage, I avoid the extra calories in cold drinks. 🙂

Avoid takeaway. Takeaway meals are usually packed in plastic bags and cutlery, thermocol boxes and disposable plastic boxes for sauces etc. Instead, try to relax and enjoy your meal at the restaurant. You’ll savour the food experience a lot more.

Indian thali food

Book online. And don’t print your ticket, if it isn’t required. Save it on your phone or tablet instead. There are several museums, airlines, theatres, trains and other touristy places that don’t need a paper ticket. We once travelled in an overnight train from Rome to Palermo with the ticket on our iPad without a problem. And when I booked a ticket on the IRCTC website from Vapi to Mumbai, all the TT asked for was my ID proof. Most hotels are fine with electronic booking vouchers as well.

Carry e-copies. When my mother and I first travelled abroad in the late 1990s, we were advised to carry multiple copies of our passports, visas and tickets in case something went wrong. Now we save the scanned copies of our documents on email and in our phone’s photo gallery, so it’s accessible even without an internet connection. Do the same. Save paper and ink!

Stay earth-friendly and chic!

Myanmar’s beauty secret

Walking through the streets of Yangon, I see painted faces. Not the kind smiling down from giant signboards advertising vitamin supplements, but real people faces. Painted. Women young and old, little boys and girls and (some) men sport the paint like it’s part of them, as natural as wearing clothes or applying moisturiser. In the sundrenched streets, in the bustling wet market, at the airconditioned supermarket, in packed buses, I see cheeks and foreheads sporting circles and streaks of ochre, like a sort of war paint.

Myanmar girl in Thanaka

This “war paint” is thanaka or thanakha (pronounced tuh-naa-kaa), and it functions as a potent weapon to protect Myanmar people from the harsh sun.

Myanmar folk believe thanaka is a wonderful antidote to the harmful effects of too much sun. It keeps their skin de-tanned, safe and non-greasy.

Made from the bark of the wood apple tree that grows across Myanmar, thanaka paste has a gentle fragrance that vaguely reminds me of Indian sandalwood. Market vendors sell chopped pieces of thanaka bark at different prices, based on size. You choose your bark, take it home, and pound it into a paste with some water in a special grinder called kyout pin (pronounced chow-pi-ye).

Here’s the bark I spotted in my neighbourhood wet market (Hledan Zei):

Wood apple or thanaka bark Myanmar

And this is the grinder (kyout pin, picture courtesy Myat Su San)

Thanaka grinder Myanmar

If you don’t own the grinder (like me) or don’t know how to make the paste, you buy ready thanaka paste from the supermarket (like me). It’s less effective than home-made thanaka but still works, according to this experiential feature in Myanmar Times.

Thanaka in Yangon supermarket

Thanaka in Myanmar supermarket

Take some paste with a spatula or fingers, apply on your cheeks and voila! You’re ready to soak up the sun. You can also apply thanaka on your forehead, arms or any body part exposed to the sun. Some artistic Myanmar moms paint flowers on their daughters’ cheeks with thanaka. So cute!

Thanaka can stay on all day, but I’ve only used it for short periods of time, and my skin feels radiant, soft, bright and fresh after washing it off. Most importantly, I don’t get a post-sun headache and my skin feels cool when I’m in the sun. So yes, I believe it works. And the nearly blemish-free, bright skin I’ve seen on most Myanmar people is proof enough for me.

When people ask me what thanaka is, I say it’s sunblock, sunscreen, gentle exfoliator, face pack, cream, all rolled into one. You only need to try it to feel its magic!