My Time Capsule


Užupis : The Peace-Loving Republic

Vilnius, October 2017

"Did you know that if you stare into the eyes of the Užupis Mermaid, you will be under her spell and you will stay in this place forever?" Jolanta, my Lithuanian friend asked me.

"Mermaid? They have mermaid here?" I looked around excitedly. You know, mermaid is my favourite mythical creature besides unicorn and I have always wanted to be one when I was a kid. Few people could have guessed it when they saw my red hair.

Jolanta smiled mysteriously and said, "Let's meet her. But I can not help if you fall under her spell".

Previously, Jolanta has asked me whether any particular places I wanted to visit in Vilnius and I promptly replied I'd really love to visit the Republic of Užupis! Once home to a Jewish population decimated by Holocaust, this creative community of artists, musicians, and intellectuals declared independence from Lithuania in 1997. The residents celebrate their independence day annually on April 1 (yes, intentionally on April Fool's Day) and they named it the Užupis day. Despite its tiny area of less than 1 sq km within the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, Užupis has its own president, government, currency, and interesting constitution. The President of the Republic of Užupis, Romas Lileikis himself is a poet, musician, and film director.

Fun fact: you can even get a visa stamped into your passport at their 'immigration office'. Let's cross the bridge to find out, shall we?

artsy piece everywhere 

the Mermaid of Užupis

It began to drizzle when I walked on the bridge over the Vilnia River but it didn't slow me down. Jolanta pointed something under the bridge and there I was, face to face with the mermaid that she was talking about. The bronze mermaid was created by sculptor Romas Vilčiauskas and the local believe it's her who lures all the visitors from around the world. Those who surrender to her charm will remain in Užupis forever. The bare-chested, fish-tailed lady stared blankly into my eyes and I was expecting something to happen. I don't know...maybe I would turn into a stone? Wait a sec, I think I misunderstood the mermaid with Medusa's spell. I kept looking at her eyes for another minute, still nothing happened. Maybe she didn't want another mermaid to live there? I shrugged my shoulders and continued walking.

main square

the Angel of Užupis

Just a few minutes walking from the bridge and we already arrived at the central square where I saw a 9 metres high statue of Archangel Gabriel. The bronze Angel was also created by sculptor Romas Vilčiauskas and erected on the square in 2002. It's the Angel of Užupis, a symbol of growth and rebirth with his trumpet indicating a new free thinking age for the nation. The creative community also created their own version of holidays. One of them is the Day of White Tablecloths that celebrates around Easter. It is when the residents gather together at an outdoor terrace to share their Easter dinner leftovers. There's also the Days of Wind when they have concerts and events to keep their spirit up during the cold depressing winter in November. They sounds like a super fun people to be around, don't you think?

a republic where a dog has a right to be a dog

If the mermaid can't convince you to stay then maybe their quirky constitution can. The constitution's 41 clauses has translated into more than 70 languages since it was created in July 1998. Dozens of the constitution in various languages are printed on large mirrored rectangles and hangs along the road known as the Avenue of Constitution.

Here's the clauses:

1. Everyone has the right to live by the River Vilnele, and the River Vilnele has the right to flow by everyone.
2. Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.
3. Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
4. Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
5. Everyone has the right to be unique.
6. Everyone has the right to love.
7. Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily.
8. Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown.
9. Everyone has the right to idle.
10. Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat.
11. Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies.
12. A dog has the right to be a dog.
13. A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need.
14. Sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties.
15. Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not an obligation.
16. Everyone has the right to be happy.
17. Everyone has the right to be unhappy.
18. Everyone has the right to be silent.
19. Everyone has the right to have faith.
20. No one has the right to violence.
21. Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance.
22. No one has the right to have a design on eternity.
23. Everyone has the right to understand.
24. Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
25. Everyone has the right to be of any nationality.
26. Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday.
27. Everyone shall remember their name.
28. Everyone may share what they possess.
29. No one can share what they do not possess.
30. Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.
31. Everyone may be independent.
32. Everyone is responsible for their freedom.
33. Everyone has the right to cry.
34. Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
35. No one has the right to make another person guilty.
36. Everyone has the right to be individual.
37. Everyone has the right to have no rights.
38. Everyone has the right to not to be afraid.
39. Do not defeat.
40. Do not fight back.
41. Do not surrender.

the Avenue of Constitution and the flag symbol

A blue hand with a hole in the middle is the symbol of the Užupis flag which was designed by Valdas Neimantas and there's 4 different colours for every season. It is interpreted in many ways...most popular is that the palm symbolise friendship and the hole means the whole world which becomes not so important if you have a friend. The hole is also supposed to mean that it's unable to accept bribes or they have nothing to hide in their hands.

How to get to Užupis?
There's actually some borders to enter this tiny republic from Vilnius and Jolanta took me to Uzupio Undinele or the main bridge. It was merely 5 minutes easy stroll from St. Anne's church in the Old Town of Vilnius towards the river. After crossing the bridge you will come across this red brick cafe (above picture) with an Užupis flag on it. If you want to get your passport stamped, head to the narrow path next to this cafe and walked until you find the souvenir shop a.k.a immigration office. Sadly it was closed when I got there so no passport stamp for me 😭

Would I recommend you to visit Užupis?
Well if you are keen of bohemian vibes, laid-back atmosphere, free thoughts and smart jokes then it could be your Disneyland-kind-of  place. It's good to know that despite living in this getting-too-crazy-too-chaos-too-fake world, there's this little dot where we can relax for a while, not to take life too seriously and be ourself. Heck, even a dog has the right to be a dog and everyone has the right to be happy....or unhappy if they wish so! I can't think of any country with a better constitution than this.

I'm signing off now to pack and to move to Užupis with all my doggos!


Myanmar: Chasing Sunrise In Bagan

Bagan, November 2018

I think the word 'magical' is understatement to describe how stunning sunrises and sunsets in Bagan are. Like most visitors who plan to explore Bagan, I too did a little homework - searching where's the best places to watch sunrises and sunsets in Bagan. A lot of information I found are not so accurate anymore since now the officials prohibited the climbing of all pagodas in Bagan, the following month after some accidents including an American tourist fell to her death. It's understandable because these pagodas are nearly 1000 years old and have suffered a lot of natural disaster. Specially after nearly 400 pagodas were severely damaged in the massive earthquake in August 2016.

the beginning of twilight before sunrise

It was 5.30 in the morning when Zaw, my tuk tuk driver picked me up at the resort I stayed in Old Bagan. We met at the lobby and I was stunned when I saw him wrapped tightly in a thick heavy poncho with a beanie, shawl, wool socks, and stuffs. In the other hand, he was stunned when he saw me wearing a sleeveless top layered with a paper thin cardigan, a capri pants, and a pair of sandals. Well I knew it was in the middle of winter months in Myanmar but it can't be that cold, right? Or so I thought. As my tuk tuk rocking on dusty bumpy street of Old Bagan, I instantly regretted my choice of clothes. Turned out the temperature was merely 14℃ and it surely felt waaay colder. My sister and I were shivering as our toes turned blue. We should have checked the weather and brought a blanket from hotel room!

Irrawaddy River in Bagan

There are plenty of great sunrise spot scattered around Bagan and some of the most popular ones are very crowded. So on my previous emails, I've specially requested Zaw to take me to a less crowded spot. He steered his tuk tuk to a narrow street behind Aye Yar River View Resort towards the river. He took us to a viewing mound near U-Sauk-Pan-Hpaya Temple (scroll down for the exact position on google map). It was still pretty dark when I climbed up the mound with only few people around. I set up my tripod and camera then I sat down, enjoying the tranquillity (still shivering) while waiting for the sun to wake up.

U-Sauk-Pan-Hpaya Temple

sunrise in Bagan

It wasn't long until the sky started changing colours as the dawn had broke. A shimmering, gold disk began to shine through next to Dhammayangyi temple afar. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the first hot air balloon floating just barely above the thousand years old temples - towards the sun. About a dozen other balloon started to float behind, catching up with the first one. I was stunned and my mouth kept repeating "WOW" like a broken radio. I've seen tons of amazing pictures of hot air balloon and sunrise in Bagan on Internet but experiencing it myself is another story. I just couldn't find the right words to describe how stunning it was! It's just mind-blowing, really.

hot air balloons, an aeroplane and birds

hot air balloons in Bagan

I was busy with my camera trying my best to capture the view when I got chills all over my body and my vision became blurry. At first I thought I was about to faint because of hunger or hypothermia. Then I got choked up and tears began to run down my cheeks. The view and peaceful ambiance were overwhelmingly extraordinary that I got a rush of dopamine in my brain. Yes, I clearly have a soft spot for beautiful things or experiences. Sometimes I even cry when I listen to music. Perhaps it has something to do with being a HSP (Highly Sensitive Person)?

a serene morning in Bagan

It could have been my perfect sunrise moment in Bagan. I've visualised to write 'as the sun began to rise, I watched a bunch of hot air balloons drifting serenely over the plains of Bagan. All I could hear was the birds chirping. Such a peaceful and magical morning.' - on my blog post. In fact, all I could hear was a middle aged guy chirping talking loudly non-stop as he was trying to flirt with a lady who sat next to me. None of us at the sunrise point had a peaceful morning obviously. Including the oor lady, judging from her grumpy face. But I wouldn't let this tiny hiccups ruined my day. It was almost a perfect sunrise moment but stunning and unforgettable nevertheless.

my yellow Mercedes Benz

Temple View Hotel Bagan

I stayed 3 days at Aye Yar River View Resort in Old Bagan before I moved to Temple View Hotel in the edge of New Bagan. Besides I wanted to get a glimpse of another side of Bagan, it's also closer to Nyaung U Airport. It was more convenient to catch my morning flight. Temple View Hotel is a brand new hotel with room rate starts from USD 20 per night including breakfast. I opted for a bigger room with a balcony facing to temples at USD 40 per night. While breakfast menu was pretty basic, the sunrise view from the rooftop terrace made up for it.

breakfast view at Temple View Hotel Bagan

I set my alarm earlier because I wanted to enjoy my last sunrise in Bagan before flying to Inle Lake. Around 6am I went up to the rooftop terrace, fixed myself a cup of hot coffee and toast, and sat down at the table, facing the temples. I smiled as a chilly morning breeze swept my face. I was grateful to be able to enjoy a peaceful morning with rosé tainted skies with birds chirping sound (finally!). My smile got bigger when I saw some hot air balloon floating behind the temples towards my direction.
It was a nice surprise to find out I could actually watch the hot air balloons closer from this rooftop terrace. At some point the balloons floated pretty close that I saw some passengers were waving hands at me. I couldn't ask a better way to end my stay in this magnificent land of Bagan!

Tips: There's only few pagodas and temples that can be climbed up for sunrise and sunset. You'll need to venture off the main streets and find smaller temples. The best bet is asking the locals like tuk tuk drivers or hotel staffs who definitely know the area better. Myanmar people are one the most kind hearted and helpful people I've ever met. I was even taken to some hidden temples which can't be found on Google map.

breakfast with a view in Bagan

If I were asked whether sunrises in Bagan worth waking up in the wee hours and a pair of panda eyes later? I would wholeheartedly answer, YES! Absofu*k*nglutely! For me, I will not forget those precious mornings I experienced in Bagan. At least not for a very long time.


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