July 24, 2016 § 3 Comments
The three of us huddled at the back of the passenger jeep, shivering from the cold and pouring rain. As the vehicle made its way up the slope of the road, I thought about the other crewmen left to unload the diving gear and how long it would take for their other jeep to reach them at the shore. It’s all in a day’s work for them I guess. “You and your ideas”, Ama finally told me while still visibly shaken from the whole ordeal. “Basta ako, my idea of a vacation was to relax inside a resort sleeping and reading a book”, Gab followed through. “Whaaat? I didn’t know there was going to be a storm”, I answered while seriously considering where to have lunch. A few minutes later, my dad vomited out some of the snacks he had on the boat. Looking back, it was a very fortunate day. The wind had been strong this morning, but the sun’s heat radiated through a relatively cloudy sky. Gab and I clocked in two dives – good ones at that (I had never seen that much giant clams in a single area; and there was a pawikan sea turtle as a bonus). But after surfacing from the last dive, as if on cue, the storm came pounding in. Our boat made its way against the current and we were repeatedly tossed by the waves as the rain whipped us on the trip back to the main island. It was quite an experience, but I was too busy trying to remember if I had experienced worse. The sensation of nausea and the desire to end the ordeal was familiar. Thankfully, we all got back safely and right on time for lunch. If we had needed to wait out the storm and thus delay lunch, it would have probably been worse.
Though I wanted to go elsewhere for my recent trip back home, Ama was hesitant to book flight tickets because July is monsoon season. I grudgingly complied and proceeded to look for nearby options and settled with Puerto Galera. Our trip started at 4:00 am at the JAM bus station in Buendia where we took a bus straight to Batangas port. We arrived before 6:00am to find out that they had canceled their early (yet published) trips since it was low season. Ama and Gab were not exactly amused that I woke them up too early just to wait in the terminal. The first boat was to leave at 8:30am but thankfully the terminal was clean and comfortable enough. I booked our stay at Aninuan beach, which was one of the more quiet options in Puerto Galera. It wasn’t the optimum location for diving, but I figured Ama would appreciate the more rustic and rural environment. We stayed at Bamboo House Beach Lodge & Restaurant where the staff was very nice and the food was also good. Their restaurant/lounge was a nice place to sit at, and they had hammocks by the beach where I spent some afternoons reading. They also had kayaks that could be borrowed for free, though you needed to drag them out and return them by yourself. I did not however find the bathroom comfortable – and it didn’t help that I’m very particular about bathrooms. Aninuan beach sat right at the foot of a low mountain (the name of which I am not aware of). The beach was a mixture of sand and polished rocks – not particularly amazing yet clean and pretty enough. The isolation from the usual tourist traffic may be appreciated by some. Most resorts were ran by families, where they did everything including the cooking. Food was usually prepared right when you ordered it and we had a satisfactory dining experience overall. I also noticed an ubiquity of Italian restaurants in the area, perhaps signifying a lot of Italians who found the place conducive for settling, and thus a prevalence of authentic pizza. My dad bought one before our trip back home. A pizza that he had to run for under the rain in order for us not to miss the boat – only to find out that the boat trip was canceled due to the inclement weather. This resulted to more than 15 hours of travel (van-ferry-bus-car) as we had to go to another port where bigger boats set off from. By the time we got home, I was thankful of finally being able to use our own bathroom and sleep on my own bed. Oh, and the pizza was quite good actually. I would have eaten more if not for the fact that the van trip from Aninuan to Calapan made me dizzy as hell. As we only spent a little more than a day in the actual island, we weren’t able to explore much. I would definitely consider going back as Puerto Galera did prove an easy place to go to from Manila, a good jump point for scubadiving, and a pleasant respite from the city.
The rest of my trip back home was filled with meeting friends and family, which is always good if not for the heavier traffic nowadays. It was painful to be on the road any time beyond 6am. We even got into a minor road accident (a motorcycle hit and dented the car while we were stationary in traffic, and he just rode off). I didn’t get to meet everyone I would have wanted to, but I was thankful I finally got to visit Sheena (I couldn’t make it to her wedding last December and she’s now radiating with a baby in her womb). I was also thankful that Ama insisted we spent more time visiting Grandpa and Mama Mila, as well as Lolo. It wasn’t until now that I actually thought about how fragile they are now, literally and figuratively. Two weeks seemed a long time removed from my research, yet it felt too short to actually feel like I was home. I was finally able to start a compilation of Ama’s funny quotes though, a project I’ve always wanted to document a long time ago but just never got around writing. My brother fortunately stayed home longer as he was in-between jobs. At least this time around, Ama didn’t have to take us to the airport together.
my two grandfathers toasting bananas for the happiness of being with family
May 20, 2016 § Leave a comment
We finally made it to our first milestone! I called Mamow immediately when I received the news. I then texted Rhubz, because he’s about the closest thing I have right now to a boyfriend. I was ecstatic, not so much because it’s my first publication but more so because the endless nights of pounding myself if what I’m doing is any relevance has finally at least paid off (not that I’m convinced yet that it is relevant). I got busy telling a few other friends soon after that, to be honest. But as soon as I closed my lights and walked towards my bed, excitement overwhelmed me. In the darkness and solitude where I am always sure to find you, I told you that we nailed it. Just as how I rushed home to tell you years ago whenever I got an honor card at the end of every quarter, it was that exact same feeling that brimmed in me. In me is still the child who just wants to make her parents smile. Only now I had some tears in my eyes – partly for happiness and partly for sadness. If you were still here, I can imagine you’d send the link to all our relatives. I guess the prevention of that is the only advantage of you being not of the earth now. Otherwise, it would have been heartwarming if you were here in person to tell me I made you proud. Don’t worry about the link. I’m sure Mamow, even against my wishes, will take care of it.
May 16, 2016 § Leave a comment
Though my trip to Myanmar blandly started at the website of Skyscanner comparing air ticket prices, I’d like to think it actually started along stacks of bookshelves lined with yellowing pages about Southeast Asia. It was a Friday afternoon in the library when before leaving, I was suddenly gripped by the impulse of checking out a couple of books about Myanmar. Going there and ticking off on my list all the blogged-about activities certainly wouldn’t differentiate me from other casual travelers. But reading something more rooted and personal than the Wikipedia article might just do otherwise. I went to the shelf assigned to Myanmar, skimmed superficially through the decaying spines and plucked out several compelling ones that I subjected to another round of selection by reading a few pages of each. I didn’t want to be a pretentious history buff, nor did I want to commit to books I was dead sure I wouldn’t finish (i.e. too thick). In usual dating fashion, I bade “Sorry, it’s never going to work out” to all the titles I just forced myself to pick earlier and in the end checked out a narrative by one of my favorite Filipino writers (C.P. Hidalgo), a biography of Aung San Suu Kyi (B. Victor), and finally a historical guide book lined with much needed photographs to whet my curiosity. “28 days”, the lady told me as I asked when it was due back. “I can renew it online, right?”. “Can”, she said with a toothy smile. And with that, I flipped to the first page of Five Years in a Forgotten Land. Exactly a week later, I took my first step on the land where Orwell took inspiration for 1984 and where some of the best travel photos are often taken.
Upon landing in Yangon, the structure of the airport was nothing impressive. If anything, it was reminiscent of our own airport; though JM claims ours was way better now when I told her that. I haven’t been home lately so I wouldn’t know. We exchanged our USDs at the airport, as all the online blogs advised. You get better rates when you have 100s, so forget the 50s and 20s unless you really want to. And oh, don’t ever bring even just creased or stapled bills. They’re not likely to accept it. After counting almost half a million kyats (CHATS), we took a taxi to the city. Make sure to look for the official taxi stand when you do so. If you walk straight out of the door immediately like we did and commit to just any driver, you might get charged 20,000 kyats for what’s rightfully 8,000. We haggled and they brought it down to 12,000. I almost gave in, but JM was on a strict budget. And that’s how we found the deviously hidden official taxi stand by circumstance.
The drive down Pyay Road was dotted with big mansions, which was a contrast to the multistory apartments in downtown Yangon. Our taxi driver that day had a good command of English and he answered my inquiries as I drew questions from the road. As democracy in Myanmar had only been formally attained a year before when they held their first election after years of being ruled by a military regime, it was a fascinating time to be there. Tourism mocks were already starting to appear, but a lot of its culture and history remains intact and observable. A lot of British structures were present, and the support of the Japanese was particularly evident in the vehicles, appliances and even the trains. For awhile, I also thought North Korea had captured their market which was historically illogical, turns out Nok Air was a Thai budget airline. I asked our driver if the people look up to Aung San Suu Kyi, and he quickly replied “Oh yes, the people love the Lady”. During the entire trip, I would recall threads of history I had read and was reading from the books I borrowed. Among the things we noticed was that majority of the cars were white. We presumed it might have something to do with religion or culture, but we never found out the real answer. The majority of the men also wore longyis (LONG-JIS) whether under normal shirts or branded polos, while women were oblivious to the opaque thanaka painted on their face to protect them from the sun. We reached the city in under an hour and we had the taxi drop us at Agga Youth Hostel. Technically, all we needed that day was a place to leave our bags and to take a bath. We were scheduled to take the night bus to Bagan in 10 hours. What was wonderful about Agga Youth though was that when I emailed them asking for day-rates, they told me we could shower and leave our bags for free. I was dumbfounded by their email. “Why would it be free?”, I asked JM in disbelief weeks before while I was doing the itinerary. “Isn’t it interesting that we’re shocked when people do something innately good these days?”, she replied. So we accepted the kindness and dropped off our bags there before heading out to the streets of Yangon under the uncomfortably blazing hot weather.
We took a path going to Sule Pagoda, while meandering here and there in between some side-streets. The people were nice in general, they were neither withdrawn nor imposing. Though not everyone knew how to speak English, they were courteous and pleasant. We didn’t feel like we were going to get mugged no matter how shady the place looked, and most importantly we never got mugged nor heard from anyone that they had any equivalent experience. Hygiene was a different matter though, so medicine and abstinence would probably be wise for the faint-gutted. For an hour while walking, what we wanted to spot most was a store that sold hats. We were a bit surprised that it took us an hour to find a stall selling hats when it was practically a necessity at that weather. After circling around interesting stalls and tea shops, we finally found a stall that specifically sold hats. *pure joy* I got the widest brimmed hat I could find while JM picked out the cowboy cut. “Bagay sayo”, I told her, whereas mine looked like my bolster pillow’s cover. I couldn’t care less, except for having to remove it every time I wanted a photograph.
Before reaching Sule Pagoda, we were already dripping wet from our sweat. The moment I saw blocked plastic letters saying “ICE COLD BEVERAGES” displayed in one of the old buildings, I quickly dragged JM to the other side of the road. It was a major road I believe, but J-walking was very much the norm. We both ordered cold fruit drinks and I got a couple of dumplings. That was our first juice in Myanmar, and we found them too sweet. By the time we had our last juice, we still had the same conclusion that their drinks must be laden with sugar. “Para akong uminom ng diabetes”, she said. After resting awhile within that restaurant’s failing air-conditioning, we walked out again to look for the Yangon Central Station of the Circular Train. This train goes literally around Yangon and is a good bet for people-watching if you have 3 hours to spare. It costs 100 kyats for the entire line if you want to ride in the non-AC carriage, and 300 kyats for the AC. We bought AC tickets, but I think you’ll do better buying the non-AC if it’s not that hot. It was right smack noon however in one of the hottest times in Myanmar when we got there. And to illustrate just how hot it was, as much as we felt like dropping dead on the pavement due to the heat and exhaustion, we didn’t dare to because the temperature of the ground was bound to be worse. When we finally spotted the train beneath that bridge that took us back to memories of reading 1Q84, we couldn’t be any happier.
We only did 5 stops on the train as we didn’t have enough time to spare. We even had to forego going to Feel Myanmar Restaurant, which I had been eyeing since I started reading about the local fares. We went down a station near the famous Shwedagon Pagoda (8000 kyats, free for locals) and proceeded there as our last destination in Yangon. The stupa of Shwedagon is visible from afar within the city and like other Buddhist temples, shoes are removed as a sign of respect. The temple was huge and glaringly plated in gold. There seemed to be more local people than tourists, which was great. I wondered though if they didn’t have to be at work at that time because it was just around 5 in the afternoon then. After Shwedagon, we went back to Agga Youth, took our free bath and bade the courteous and hospitable staff goodbye.
The taxi from the city to Aungminlar Bus Station took us more than an hour. The bus station was more far-flung than I had imagined from the map. On that note, I had booked 2 out of the 3 bus tickets we needed online before our trip. Given our time constraints in our schedule, it was a good and reliable decision. However, booking there itself would cost only roughly half of what’s online. The bus stopovers had become one of my favorite moments over the course of our trip as it was an opportune time to eat local fare. I was never disappointed, and in fact one of the best meals I had there was in a stop between Bagan and Inle Lake. Local food was not astounding, and I can only describe them as homely close to the heart. They seemed to be a fusion of Thai and Indian cuisine, which was not surprising given their geographic location. Oddly however simple, I loved their food. Their sauces were usually a very oily and mild version for curries, a lot of peanut and fish sauce for their noodles. Cilantro and chilis were a staple, haters beware.
We woke up in Bagan the next day. The driver stopped the bus unceremoniously and one simply figured out that you were wherever you wanted to go. It was also perhaps because I got the Normal option. Our experience was quite different for the last VIP bus where JM and I met the Myanmar girl that amazed us. Upon alighting, men (mostly half-naked) started swarming us. Again as with any country, they tried to charge us 20,000 kyats for the ride until New Bagan. Since I had asked Ostello Bagan how much the rate really is, I attempted to bargain to 8,000. The guy who cornered me wouldn’t budge and the other taxi drivers knew how to respect each other, so I proceeded to get another guy who offered a horse cart at 8,000. It took us 4 times longer than if we got a cab, but the sun was barely up then so the ride was breezy. Bagan was very different from Yangon. Stupas were far more common than people. The land was sandy and dry, and the town itself lulled you into a slower cadence. Upon reaching Ostello, we dropped our bags and rented e-bikes (which basically were old Japanese scooters, 3000 kyats for one-seaters and 5000 kyats for two-seaters) and proceeded to look for breakfast. We went to a local place that the map in the hostel listed as a “very good tea shop”. The food was good but not great, and JM remarked “kung ito na yung very good nila, ano pa yung iba?”. When we passed by that shop again later on, I realized that the place was named “Very Good” in fact. The misleading name gave us a good laugh. After breakfast, JM explored on the e-bike and I decided to stay at Ostello to continue reading on Aung San Suu Kyi and sip on more cold fruit shakes. The hostel was very dainty and there was a lot of free seats. The place was run by an Italian and the staff were very warm and helpful. Frankly, driving the e-bike also frustrated me, which was why I took a pass from going with JM. As much as I’d like to point out that the brakes weren’t working well and it was difficult to maneuver, I probably clearly just lacked experience on scooters/motorbikes. JM returned at noon and we proceeded to look for lunch. My fears soon took their form and while trying to run the e-bike at a sandy path, I accelerated by mistake, mishandled the wheel and successfully flung myself off the moving seat. Good thing I had a helmet on as the shield cracked instead of my face. I got a deep cut in my toe and a huge bruise that spanned half of my leg for the following 2 weeks. I gave up trying to look for the restaurant by the river and we drove to the nearest restaurant instead which proved to be a good decision. As JM said, “buti na lang nangyari yun no, at least nahanap natin to”. I smiled halfheartedly for though I was still shaken, the food was indeed really good. We had local curries, stir fried vegetables and a good 600 mL of cold Myanmar beer each. The place was quaint and the owner was nice. He kept refilling our plate of peanuts to apologize that the cooking took a long time. Puppets hung on the wooden ceiling and flowering plants decorated the place. Upon going back to the hostel to check-in, we took a shower and celebrated at the sight of beds.
As with any trip to Bagan, both the sunset and the sunrise are the moments you’ll never want to miss. Taking a photograph of the horizon with silhouettes of the stupas and pagodas outlining the skyline is a beautiful souvenir, alongside actually watching it. It’s good to ask for directions for temples with a good sunset or sunrise view as the temples are usually unnamed and deserted. What’s even better is if you have more than 2 days in Bagan to afford you the luxury to explore more temples and not flock to the common ones. Our sunrise temple was quite an experience as JM proposed that we get a bigger e-bike and I could ride at the back. It was pitch black when we left at 4am and the street lamps barely lighted the path. It was terrifying and fun for the both of us, though I didn’t dare laugh too much while she was driving as I didn’t want to distract her from driving. We couldn’t find the temple we wanted to go to at Old Bagan, but a good Samaritan brought us to an unnamed temple where we had it all to ourselves – a contrast from our sunset experience where the temple we went to was swarmed with fellow tourists. After the feat, JM was quite scared from driving the both of us further so we agreed to get separate e-bikes once again. The rest of the day, JM spent on the e-bike, and as you might have guessed, I spent walking around town and finishing my book. We also bought additional books about Myanmar from a local bookshop. The old lady manning it was so pleased we came back as promised that she gave us free bottled waters. That was 600 kyats saved. At that gesture, JM was compelled to get 2 books instead of 1. We caught a night bus to Inle Lake at the end of our 2nd day in Bagan.
We arrived at Inle Lake at 3 am and proceeded to Song of Travel. They offered day accommodations at a good price (6500 kyats) and the dorm was actually good. Each bed had a curtain and the shower cubicles were clean and new. Inle Lake is best known for the photographs of fishermen paddling with their foot and carrying conical baskets. Sadly, this practice is no longer done by the locals and though we will spot a fisherman seemingly doing that, it is only for tourists’ sake and much like our own Ifugao in Baguio, done as a way to earn money. We booked our boat tour at the hostel for 15,000 kyats each (I was totally sold by how they described their tour), which later on we discovered was quite a sham since you could split a 15,000 boat between 6 people. I knew that beforehand since I actually did research on it, but unfortunately I got carried away by the words “unique”, “customized”, “cannot be replicated”, etc. It was alright anyway as we made friends with an English girl, a Spanish couple and a large Vietnamese group of travelers who just met at an online travel forum. The boat trip started at around 6 am. Inle Lake was much larger than I had imagined. It was bordered with mountains on the side and both dotted and rimmed with villages, often on stilts on the water. What was most astonishing too was the “Floating Gardens”, where people dredged soil from one place and piled it into columns in another place, and planting vegetables like tomatoes and gourds on the lake itself. It was interesting to see the farmers tending their gardens on boats. Though the water wasn’t exactly clear, the people did their laundry and bathing in the lake itself. Even the tap water was from the lake, as brown water started running when I tried washing my hands at one of the stops. I saw water pumps and water lines in some villages, though because people barely knew how to speak English, I couldn’t ask how the water was, or if it even was, filtered before being distributed. I could only surmise that garbage collection was non-existent and so human waste probably goes to the lake as well. It was interesting how the people lived not just by the lake, but on the lake as well. Town borders were demarcated in the water by wooden gates passable by one boat at a time. And though cleanliness billboards were posted at regular intervals, most boats were motorized and powered by diesel. I was at first alarmed why nothing is being done yet to stop the lake from being polluted by the motor fuel, but I caught myself realizing that Myanmar’s democratic government is just about starting. A lot of places had regular power disruptions and tap water was not potable. Local TV shows reminded me of Philippine entertainment in the 90s and drivers drove haphazardly on the road. Shopping malls are not yet a thing, but a few fastfood chains were already present. Despite this, Facebook and sleek smart phones were everywhere. The internet was clearly the fastest moving equalizer, and so was KFC.
We left Inle Lake a little bit drunk. We only spent 15 hours at Inle and as we got to the bus station early, we went to a restaurant across the road for our last beer in Myanmar. It was only 1800-2500 kyats for their giant amber bottles, so it was a cheap place to be an alcoholic.
Our trip ended at Yangon again, where I took a cab to the airport while JM stayed on for another day. I don’t think we spent enough days at Myanmar, there was clearly so much more landscapes that it offered and culture to be discovered. As it was also the first time I had read more in-depth prior to going to a new place, it was fascinating for me to trace the places as I had imagined reading them, understanding what the NLD meant to the people, and why the military regime existed and persisted despite the terrible humanitarian acts they did. I’ve corrected my wrong notion that all people in Myanmar are Burmese, just as not all people in the Philippines are Tagalogs. Though I cannot claim to have fully grasped the Myanmar zeitgeist, I can say I’ve gained a notch deeper of understanding for the Jewel of Asia.
Here’s a rough budget breakdown of the prices at that time for anyone interested.
April 12, 2016 § Leave a comment
There’s still a fire in my heart, my darling. But I’m not burning for you.
March 15, 2016 § Leave a comment
Ask me to define romance, and this will be one of my answers.
March 10, 2016 § Leave a comment
The sun glazed down on everything as I held up my hand to hail a bus. Though it could have just been any other day in this place I had grown both distant and accustomed to, there was something ethereal about holding sheets of paper from Kazakhstan with Assel’s handwriting. I held on them tightly as the bus dragged the wind against me. It’s been awhile since I last went to the post office. For the sake of recognizing this memory, I confess that being in love is harmful to my writing. On the other hand, the
search and loss loss and search of it does wonders. It magnifies emotions and turns platitudes to wisdom.
I had sent a letter to Assel shortly after coming back from my year-end vacation. The created reality of the “new year” helped me break away from the doldrums. Along with that, I sent a slow trickle of other long overdue letters as well. There’s always something beautiful about reading posted letters. Just like how we see the light of stars that had long gone – reaching our eyes at a time past when it appeared, but nonetheless a sign of its existence. There is something resplendent in the desynchronization of the space-time of the sender and the recipient. Here she was talking about a celebration she looks forward to, and me realizing that the said celebration was in fact yesterday. Here she was talking about looking for a job while me proud of the fact that she told me a month ago that she’s found one. Here she was telling me how surprised she was of the news of my failed conquest of love, and me slowly becoming indifferent to it. And just how physicists solely rely on electromagnetic waves to learn of celestial objects light-years away, we are sometimes just as dependent on words. I’m happy I’ll be stashing in another envelope in my letter box in my dorm. I’ve collected 2 shoeboxes-full now since moving to Singapore. The magnitude surprises me not because I never expected I’d receive as much, but because knowing how slow mail arrives, I have not been aware of how fast time had been running. The idea that I’ve only a year til I hopefully finish PhD excites me (and scares me). Will I still be in this place then? Will I miss it? I wonder.
February 20, 2016 § 1 Comment
“And I feel light for the very first time. Not anybody knows that I am lucky to be alive. I don’t know where I am, or where I’ll go. Or where to even begin when I know what lies behind makes no sense in my mind. But I know that it’s time to let go.” – Aurora
February 10, 2016 § Leave a comment
“Bagalan mo kumain please lang”, Kat told me from across the table.
I ended up finishing first anyway. In my defense, my order was smaller. This was where we found ourselves after a 6 hour bus ride from Singapore and a 1 hour taxi ride – eating nasi lemak in KLIA2 while waiting for our flight to Langkawi. In retrospect, we should have bought straight flight tickets from SG to LGK, but we both had an appetite for adventure and saving, and so the adventure was to begin but the saving was going to be replaced by spending.
Our flight departed around 8:30AM and we reached Langkawi in less than an hour. Kat had booked all the plane and bus tickets while I booked the 3-night accommodation and prepared the itinerary. We checked in at Tubotel, which was tucked at a quiet place a few minutes away from the busy Pantai Cenang beach. The only downside was that we literally had to live inside a tube, not much space for anything else besides a bed. The shared bathroom could have also been improved, but the redeeming factor was the view and the lounge area by the beach which was relaxing both in the morning and the evening.
Our first agenda upon arriving was to eat lunch and head out to Panaroma Langkawi for the SkyCab (cable car) and the SkyBridge. It was a cloudy day which was good for our skin but not so much for getting great pictures. I didn’t know Kat had a serious fear of heights until we were there, but she conquered it by letting me take charge of the itinerary. The view and the altitude was better and higher than I expected (and to think I had always downplayed Langkawi in my list of places to visit in the past). Even if it was a Saturday, we just had to wait for a little over an hour – which we killed by taking pictures and eating ice cream. I ACTUALLY ATE ICE CREAM. I don’t usually do this given my lactose intolerance and the fact that we had the entire day ahead of us – but I did. I felt carefree that I was with Kat and that I drank a charcoal tablet before leaving. Kat didn’t mind my incessant burps too much…I think. In addition, the ticket had a complimentary viewing of some 3D and 4D shows. With the recent weakening of the RM, it was very much worth the price. The only thing to note here is having to walk through a dirt path with haphazardly placed rocks as stairs from the SkyCab to the SkyBridge. It was cheaper than taking a lift to the bridge, but it was honestly very tiring and dangerous (if slippery).
After this, Kat wanted to drop by the Telaga Harbor when she saw the parked yachts while we passed by. Despite the fact that it was raining, she wanted pictures beside her dream vehicle (which she will take back after our boat ride the next day).
We spent the rest of the afternoon in town feasting on seafood (Happy Happy Cenang Seafood) (oh how I missed real fish) and relaxing by the beach. The water and the sand wasn’t remarkable, but the atmosphere was relaxing enough. We did notice though that cars freely drove through the sand at the beachfront – not a safe practice in my opinion. The streets in Pantai Cenang was dotted with multiple restaurants ranging from local, to Thai, to Syrian, to Turkish food, along with miscellaneous stores, a tailor, souvenir shops and spas. I wasn’t able to determine the time they close since we pretty much were home by 10 at the latest everyday. Good girls.
The next day was the supposed highlight of our trip – scubadiving! My last dive was 6 years ago and it was Kat’s first time so we opted for the intro dive. We booked our trip with East Marine Holiday and paid quite a sum thinking it was of good quality as we read from reviews. I was disappointed with the boat they used to bring us there though because there was around 100 passengers. As Kat described it, we were like refugees in a boat. It was great we didn’t opt for snorkeling or we’d be part of the unaccounted majority of the passengers who were simply ferried to and fro Pulau Payar Marine Park. The ones on the dive tour thankfully got preferential treatment upon disembarking the ferry. The waves were quite strong (we both got seasick and Kat said she didn’t want a yacht anymore) that day so visibility was poor. I still had a good time though because I was surprised I pretty much knew how to dive still. And we got to see a huge moray eel, groupers, parrot fishes, trigger fishes, angel fishes and lots of other fishes I couldn’t identify. Macro viewing was impossible however because of the poor visibility. The coral reef was not that impressive either. But I was glad Kat enjoyed as well considering she was a bit apprehensive initially. In afterthought, I don’t think I’ll recommend East Marine because of poor briefing, the mass transportation issue (which ate up a huge amount of our time) and the unappetizing lunch.
Since we were tired that day, we treated ourselves to meat at a Syrian restaurant (Yasmin), which was good. I had been drooling for kebab the moment we got there and I got lamb kebab that night. Service and food was great.
The next day, I had minimal expectations for the tour save for the excitement of kayaking, but this will turn out to be the highlight of our trip for me. We booked a Mangrove Kayak Tour with Dev’s Adventure Tours and from the moment they picked us up til they dropped us off, I was impressed with their service. Our guide, Jerome, was a naturalist who emphasized the importance of protecting the environment. All activities were environmentally-sustainable and friendly, and we learned a lot – things like bats always turn left upon leaving the cave, what mangroves are, that the eagle feeding activity at Langkawi is not good (it’s akin to the whaleshark feeding at Oslob), macaques mate a lot in a day, and so many other things. The view of the mangroves at Langkawi was spectacular, and to kayak itself was an experience – our shoulders were tired as hell in the end. We had lunch at a floating restaurant (Hole in the Wall) and ate the local fare. Overall, it was really a great experience and I would give them 5 stars. It’s totally worth the extra money compared to just having gone around the mangroves in the boat, even if it required more muscle work.
After the mangrove tour, we were contemplating on skipping on our plan of parasailing (since we couldn’t do it together…we’re not really clingy but yeah haha) and just spending more on food. We went back to Tubotel first to rent bicycles since we were getting tired of riding the taxi. We ate at a local restaurant (Bella Restaurant) which was okay, and on the way home Kat suddenly had the urge to try the spa which we initially planned on but decided to cancel to stick to a budget. Since we had extra money from the canceled parasailing, we headed to Alun-Alun Spa and were amazed at the affordable price considering the excellent place, atmosphere and service. Kat got a shoulder massage while I got a head massage and earwax candle (which when I researched afterwards was supposedly dangerous according to western standards haha). If only we had another day and more money, I think we would have gone back there. We cycled home in the dark, which was quite an adventure too since the streets were not well lit. It wasn’t a brilliant idea, but the most memorable moments are seldom well-thought.
We spent the night hanging out by the beach one last time and talking to Charlie, who was a British guy with an interesting story and working part-time at Tubotel. He gave us free pizza, which was really nice of him. The next day, we woke up late and went back to KL via Airasia. We spent the rest of our money there on food, our bus got delayed but it was surprisingly really comfortable, complete with an entertainment tablet per seat and dinner (and the price of KL to SG was actually half of the SG to KL bus) (Nice Bus Liner).
Kat busy taking our selfie while I was preoccupied checking out the Entertainment Tablet (she got separate seats because she knew we would be tired of each other by the 4th day).
We spent a total of 600 SGD each for our trip including all transportation costs, which I think is okay considering the activities we did and also the fact that it was during the Chinese New Year Holiday. This trip is special because Kat and I have always celebrated the day we first met each other (8th of February). This is our second year anniversary (the first one we spent getting a food coma at a Korean buffet) and I’m already excited for our next one. :D We literally spent several weekends working out for this trip, which was useful not for the bikini but for the kayaking and the walking up the SkyBridge. Kat was a great travel buddy, as long as I didn’t get on her nerves. haha, peace Kat. :p I’m proud and happy you did a lot of firsts with me! :D (kasama na yung “tayong dalawa sa kama” hahaha)