December 11, 2017 § Leave a comment
End of year Malacca trip with labmates. :)
September 23, 2017 § Leave a comment
It was one of those trips that was more of the company rather than the destination. Three days was barely enough to scratch the surface of this beautiful country. Despite the constant tourist reminder to be wary of theft, our naive carelessness did not attract any untoward incident – thank goodness. I’m generally drained from my month-long hiatus from responsibilities, ironically, so I will just be listing my favorite memories from this trip and leaving a video of our moments.
- The food – a ton has been written about Vietnamese cuisine, I say don’t bother reading and just go out there and eat it. Every little shop is bound to be authentic and interesting the least.
- Teh Dar – we watched this cirque-like performance at the Saigon Opera House and it was well worth every dong we paid.
- The history – though I did not leave with a thorough understanding of why the Vietnam war happened, a glimpse of life during and after their wartime offered a better understanding of how their people fought for their independence and how the players from both sides had to live through the consequences.
- The buildings – So much boutiques and interesting shops lie in the seemingly old buildings in the city, we were lucky enough to run into 26 Ly Tu Trong where the Phong Tranh Nghe Thuat Art Gallery is housed. This was one of my favorite spots (the dark corridors and the vintage elevator that’s characteristically French) and I can only imagine the city has a lot more to offer that we never got to see this round.
- The company – I’m really weak in writing about really happy times, sad writer’s syndrome. So I guess this video and a big thank you to April, Gale and Marge will have to do.
Oh, another thing, I have reached my media storage limit for this blog which is why this entry has no photos. Still pondering if I should pay up or open a new blog. :(
September 8, 2017 § 1 Comment
I dragged my luggage closer to me as I rummaged for my passport in my bag. I needed it to buy a sim card. The man at the counter laughed and told me with a bemused smile, “Don’t worry, you’re in Nepal”. When I picked Nepal as my next travel destination, I never had the worried mindset that I was going somewhere less safe. All I had in mind were hopefully seeing the Himalayas, witnessing their colorful culture and eating authentic Nepali food. But when I caught my connecting flight from KL to Kathmandu, I got a bit intimidated by the fact that 90% of the passengers in my connecting flight from Kuala Lumpur were male. There was probably less than 10 of us female, and most of the women looked like travelers like myself. But I never did feel unsafe as most of the men were engrossed amongst themselves anyway and they didn’t really give uncomfortable stares. There was only the inconvenience (probably quite universal to all males hehe) that hygiene and proper etiquette is less important – and so I was unable to use the plane toilet.
I flew in to their capital, Kathmandu City, which was located in Kathmandu Valley. Just observing the night lights as the plane made its landing, I knew I was in for a different terrain. As I walked down the tarmac, my fellow passengers got away with taking multiple photos with the plane as we boarded the bus that took us to what seemed like a domestic airport outfit. I had expected cold weather – something in the range of 18 degC, which explained the relatively thick jacket I had under my arm. It was warm if anything, and I didn’t expect it to get cooler in the morning. I could have saved the jacket expense for extra momos. The airport was made of bricks, as with most buildings in Nepal. I had applied for a visa earlier at their consulate at Singapore so immigration was a breeze (and an extra 40 USD) for me. Rosh opted for the visa-on-arrival, which costs 25 USD and a few more minutes with the forms. The time I saved was unnecessary though as I spent it mostly waiting for the baggage to arrive. When I finally got my bags, I had to “fight off” with the other Nepali men who crowded the only money exchange counter open that night as there was no concept of falling in line. To my surprise I squeezed in easily and was alert enough to demand for the 10 NPR cheated out of me. I kind of regretted this anal attention to details later as I could have just given away that 10 NPR out of generosity. In any case, business should be conducted with honesty. And that was finally how I found myself at the NTel counter buying a sim card so I could finally tell my Dad that I was in the land of the sherpas.
Rosh arrived on a different flight later that night, so I settled myself first in our room and enjoyed the distinct taste of their Nepali welcome tea. “It’s really nice, but a bit sour”, I encouraged her later on as she pondered if she’ll get tea or not. “but I’m not sure if it’s because of the water or maybe the milk”, I added as a precaution. I tasted the rust from the pipes when I brushed my teeth upon arriving. She winced at the idea, but got herself one anyway.
Filled with mountain ranges, the valleys of Nepal offer spectacular views of these undulating and jagged peaks. We stayed in Thamel for our first few days, where most streets were unpaved and littered with both trash and construction materials and debris. They were filled with bustling life however – large and small stupas and temples, apples and pomegranates for sale, colorful souvenir shops, a mixture of people who, for the sake of reference and explainable by geography, looked like they could be from either China or India. There were also a lot of stray dogs who knew how to capitalize on friendliness. “They’re following us”, Rosh mumbled under her breath when we were taking a morning stroll at Nagarkot. I had made the mistake of saying “Hi” to them, and several dogs merrily trotted to follow us all the way to our hotel. “Don’t worry, they’ll probably stop at the foot of the stairs going up”, I told her. They didn’t. I wonder what the people thought when we brought up 4 dogs into the hotel grounds, the resident dog was clearly unhappy. Clothing was a mixture of the traditional and the modern too. Motorcycles and old cars typically plied these routes carelessly, although I never did witness any accident. It was muddy when it rained, and dusty when it didn’t. The people knew, and most of them had face masks on. I wondered when they started becoming conscious of the dust, or was the huge amount of dust an aftermath only of the earthquake 2 years ago. Rosh and I never did wear masks in our entire trip, though I’m pretty sure we both brought a couple. Something about putting on a mask made me feel I’d experience less of Nepal, or maybe I just didn’t want to be bothered.
On our first morning, we decided to explore the streets of Thamel. We went to the Kathmandu Durbar Square (a melting pot of both Hindu and Buddhist influence in Nepal teeming with beautifully interwoven history), the Pashupatinath temple (one of the oldest Hindu temples in Kathmandu, and where one can witness open-air cremations), and ended the night with dinner at the Garden of Dreams (Kaiser Cafe – nice date place imo) and a night cap in one of the bars in Thamel with awesome live music. It felt like a really long and well accomplished day because we did manage to do almost everything on the schedule we planned out.
Took this early morning photo of Thamel by climbing to the the rooftop tanks of the hotel. Buildings are densely packed with mostly single lane (but 2-way use) streets separating them.
Rosh gamely posing for my attempt at amateur street photography
Couldn’t resist taking photos beside these miniature doors (which were by the way common in the houses in Thamel), because I’m finally as tall as the door frame.
People seeked the blessings of Hindu priests around the temples at the Durbar Square
apples and pomegranates seemed to be at season when we went to Nepal
Our guide related to us that some Nepali people still believe that lying in front of an image of Kaal Bhairav will result in the dishonest person vomiting blood; which is how he explained why a police station was located beside this 10-ft tall image to help get confessions fast.
cows are sacred, and pigeons are fed to gain good karma
on top of one of the many rooftop restaurants in Kathmandu. order yourself a Nepali Thali set, or a classic plate of momos, homemade yogurt or my favorite ginger-honey-lemon drink
Still haven’t mastered the skill of using squat toilets and was lucky enough that I only had to use these during our 11-hr road trip. Rosh opted not to use them at all and hold it in that long.
my Sadu misadventure at the Pashupatinath temple. our guide told us that these sadus have been living as sadus for almost half a decade and have been featured in a number of popular magazines like the National Geographic. they beckoned me for a blessing and asked for 2000 NPR subsequently. the guide told us they give away this money to less fortunate people, something we weren’t able to verify.
at the Hindu-version of the Mecca, the main temple at Pashupatinath (oldest Hindu temple in Kathmandu). our guide kindly gave me bindi as well on my forehead
although most of Nepal’s streets turn dark by 8pm or so, the streets of Thamel are an exception because of its touristy-culture
On our second day, we spent the morning at the Swayambhunath Temple, also known as the “monkey temple”. We then headed to the renowned Thamel Momo Hut to get another fill of momos for lunch and prepared for our 2 hour trip up to the hill-side town of Nagarkot. After having taken in the busy life of Thamel, we looked forward to the quiet life at the “premier hill station” (as often mentioned on their ads) of Kathmandu. The road to Nagarkot was again very bumpy but the views were spectacular. If only we had come during the September-December period, we would have been treated to great views of the snow-capped Himalayas here. Unfortunately, it was cloudy the whole time we were there. Nagarkot reminded me of Sagada in a lot of ways – food was awesome with most of the cafes overlooking the valley and the mountains, the ambiance was peaceful, weather was cool, and nights were long and dark. Nagarkot also felt perpetually wet – our sheets were wet and in fact all of our things were as well thanks to the fog that was present most of the day. We stayed at an ingeniously-named place called Hotel at the End of the Universe. Other than this place, we checked out equally wonderful inn/cafes like the Peaceful Cottage & Cafe Du Mont, as well as the Berg House Cafe. But I think Rosh and I would both agree that the best meal we had in Nagarkot was at the low-key Sherpa Alpine Cottage where we got this traditional Sherpa vegetable noodle soup and curried fried chicken. It wasn’t really photogenic so I don’t have a proper photo (aside from the fact that it was one of our longest waits for food in our entire trip; the waiter happily told us that he was the one who cooked it himself when we praised the dishes after). We also mistakenly ordered “Sherpa’s punch”, having thought it would be a light cocktail, but to our surprise it tasted almost like pure whiskey. We had probably 3 sips each and walked home crazily laughing and arguing about what a sherpa was. “Are sherpas a community or an occupation?”, I asked while a little bit light-headed from their punch. “Animals”, Rosh answered with abrupt confidence. “Dude?”, I said bewildered. The argument was settled when we finally connected to Wifi.
Swayambhunath Temple stupa
view from the top: the city of Kathmandu
me with the prayer flags and Rosh with the prayer wheels
momo feast at the Thamel Momo Hut! they had over 20 different types of momos, but we sadly only had space for 4 types: garlic-cheese, spinach-mushroom, buffalo and chocolate!
first dinner at Nagarkot at the Sherpa Alpine Cottage…
…with our best meal ever!
dogs of Nagarkot
one of the things I’ll miss the most, the ubiquitous ginger lemon honey drink in Nepal! this one was at Berg House Cafe, but I basically drank it on every meal
images of Nagarkot
After two nights in Nagarkot, we hired a private van to take us to and fro Pokhara. We had expected a 6 hour trip, or 8 hours at worst, but we spent 9 hours on the way there and 11 hours on the way back. To say that the road was rough and bumpy was a grand understatement. We spent most of the trip silently enduring the constant up and down motion. I listened to my Spotify playlist come and go with the mountainside villages as signal was lost easily. Traffic in the city was also very heavy, but being a foreign place, it was amusing enough to observe everything between spells of falling into slumber. Upon arriving in Pokhara, we decided to treat ourselves to fancy meals for the rest of our stay there because the food prices were really cheap given the quality. A good meal would be around 500-1000 NPR, which is approximately 5-10 USD. I would still be eating in a hawker center at that price if I were in Singapore. Pokhara is a good destination for outdoor fun, but the only thing we opted to do there was paraglide (75 USD). We both got a good solid tan as we paraglided right smack lunchtime. It was a great experience though, especially the take off. Heights don’t scare me, but I became nauseous after a few minutes of gliding and so I asked my pilot if we could head down a little bit early lest I bless some unfortunate stranger my vomit. Other than that, it was nice strolling around the streets of Pokhara and checking out all the souvenir shops. The place reminded me of Langkawi this time, with so much restaurants and pubs side by side. We stayed near Fewa lake, though we didn’t do boating (I was still rather shaken from the entire road trip). We also tried to catch the sunrise at Sarangkot, which was a 45 minute drive from Fewa Lake, but alas even that was deprived of us by the clouds. Nevertheless, it was quite a relaxing two nights of just taking it slow. We needed the energy to go through the trip back to Kathmandu anyway. My favorite purchase in Pokhara would have to be the dried blueberries which we saw in some gourmet grocery there – I had wanted to bring it home for my dad but I ended up finishing the entire bag due to my PMS hunger pangs.
I took a break from taking photos at Pokhara so I mostly just have this we-woke-up-like-this photo for catching our failed sunrise and some boats at Fewa Lake. Paragliding images didn’t turn out nicely so not including them here lol.
On our last night at Nepal, we decided to stay at Boudha, which is another town a bit farther from Thamel. The Boudhanath Stupa, which is the largest in Nepal, was right here as well and I had read that this was a nice place to witness the morning and evening worship. Having had endured an 11-hour trip on the road, wherein at one point we found our van stuck at a dead end and skirting the edge of a road literally beside a cliff that ironically offered a mesmerizing view of the city lights below (the driver patiently maneuvered us out of that situation but we were honestly petrified of falling off the ravine), arriving at Shambaling Hotel in Boudha was like reaching an oasis amidst the road chaos. True enough, that was their exact description on their website. Staying at Shambaling was one of our best experiences in this trip (at only 75 USD per night for their deluxe double room), aside from the fact that being at Boudha was very much different from being at Thamel. I walked to the stupa that morning and saw people circumambulating the stupa, saying prayers and spinning the prayer wheels, while monks and beggars lined the outer circumference of the revolving population, waiting for donations from generous passersby. The structures around the stupa also encircled it, forming an enclave of rooftop restaurants with souvenir shops down below. Walking off into the streets, Tibetan cuisine was also quite famous here and so Rosh and I sampled a few (Laphing and Thukpa to be specific). Rosh quite liked the thukpa and I happily allowed her to finish most of it as my stomach was bursting from all the yogurt and ginger lemon honey I had prior to meeting her for lunch. We took it slow on our last day, spending most of our time buying last minute souvenirs – both of us particularly engrossed with singing bowls. They would definitely be my favorite from everything I bought there, and I’m pretty sure it would have also been Rosh’s, recalling how she checked out all the bowls she collected over our trip with childlike glee in the hotel’s bathroom since they told us that placing water inside would create a different sound and vibration. They even advised us to drink the water after letting the bowl create its characteristic tone. “One of them has a hole!”, she told me clearly upset. I was surprised that the metal bowl (made of around 5-7 different metals, as described by the shopkeeper) had a hole myself. “Ohwell, just give that one away”, I (in retrospect) lamely suggested.
Images of Boudha: definitely a recommended last stop for any trip to Nepal
I spent around 500 USD for the entire 8-day trip, plus an additional 300 USD for all the souvenirs I got, and lastly another 350 USD (bought only 1 month prior to the trip) for my airfare from Singapore. All of those numbers can be significantly decreased if you book your tickets ahead, stay in cheaper hotels, opt to buy less, and opt to eat less haha. USD is readily accepted everywhere in Nepal, even sidewalk vendors will willingly receive them as you’re usually at a loss if you opt to spend in USD, but money changers are pretty common anyway and open until pretty late in tourist areas. Either getting NTel or NCell simcards is okay as they were both not fully reliable, but it’s best to purchase your data plan at the airport as they set it up for you themselves – it’s pretty confusing to buy a data plan on your own or in smaller shops. We navigated easier thanks to Rosh knowing how to speak Hindi, and most Nepalese people understanding the language as well, but English was well understood by most people. Walking around seemed safe, although not knowing the correct prices of things can very well land you into spending 300-500% more of the actual value of things (souvenirs and taxi fares). Nevertheless, whatever excess you spend, you can just consider as contribution to rebuilding the city of Kathmandu from the aftermath of the earthquake a few years ago and helping their economy. While in Nepal, Rosh and I reflected how living in the Philippines was far more convenient and comfortable even with all the usual inconvenience and discomfort that Filipinos complain about. It was both a cultural treat and a learning experience.
Finally, I’m glad I took this trip with Rosh. We had recounted how in 17 years since highschool, we only had 4 additional meetings (and photos) together, even if we had spent most of highschool on the phone almost every day. It wasn’t really a planned trip, I had booked my tickets as a form of motivation and decision that I will go somewhere after submitting my thesis, and I had given my schedule to Rosh for her decision whether she wanted to come along or not. We never did plan traveling together well before this, and as we all know traveling with someone can be a make or break. The monsoon season flooded Nepal right about that time we were going there (Aug 24-Sep 1, 2017), and so up to the last minute we were trying to see how our plans would pan out depending on if the weather cooperates. I would say that although Rosh and I have different intrinsic traveling preferences, we mostly were able to tolerate each other for a week – and that success considering we both started our time-of-the-month at the end of it haha. Rosh still had to endure having her luggage lost on the way back to Manila, so she probably has more conflicted feelings for this trip. But I do hope the positive ones dominate – particularly the momo feasting, sleeping in an unsecured cabin and having weird lucid dreams, the mobile fast, the loooong road trip, the paragliding, souvenir shopping and a number of other things in between. Fortunately, the weather was more than nice to us, allowing us to do most of the things we planned. I’d definitely love to go back to Nepal, and this time in the correct season so I get more than just a glimpse of the tip of the snow-capped mountains. Thank you for coming with me on this trip, Rosh! =)
—–watch our travel video in HD below—-
September 12, 2016 § Leave a comment
I must admit I’ve never given much thought to Taiwan previous to my trip. Taiwan is a country familiar to Filipinos perhaps mostly due to all the TV series that were a massive hit in the Philippines several years ago. If not for that, news would usually mention about their illegal fishing activities in our seas – and so Taiwan to me was either the land of F4 or the land of fishermen. Sure, I knew a little historical background about this country and its complicated relations with China, but that was about it. Neither was it a destination I was particularly eyeing. So when I finally had the opportunity to see Taiwan because of a conference, I found every experience insightful. Every observation was a visual and cognitive treat.
Throughout my trip, I was impressed with how easy it was to navigate around even for non-Chinese speaking individuals like me. They had an Easycard which worked with most trains, buses, convenience stores, etc and this made things far simpler. Data was reliable as long as you get a 4G simcard, and at reasonable rates at that. Google Maps didn’t work as seamlessly as in Singapore, for one it kept giving me directions in Chinese ( eliciting a “you’ve got to be kidding me” from me most of the time) and travel time estimates were not accurate, but it was easier than having to have done so with a physical map. If your destination was something for tourists, you can almost always expect signs along the way. If they’ll be in Chinese or in English as well is a matter of popularity. I have to say majority of the tourists when I was there were Chinese so I really did have to ask and struggle with pronouncing Chinese words a few times to get around. Though I didn’t get detrimentally lost in Taiwan, I could imagine it would be easy to just decide where to go on a whim. Take a bus somewhere, visit the Tourist Information Booth nearby, and you can add an item to your itinerary on the spot. Knowing me, I did have quite a detailed itinerary to work with, but that didn’t prevent me from veering off from plans. That being said, fear not getting around in Taiwan. Though taking the bus can be a bit of an adventure as most bus stops were written purely in Chinese, you can always try asking the friendly locals and pray they understand English. The only thing I struggled with were the menus. because as much as I had wanted to eat as authentically local as possible, it was impossible for me to read the names of most stores, much less their menus. I found myself confined to food that had pictures or if someone else had ordered it (then I could conveniently point to it). At times I tried to make use of my brother’s Mandarin knowledge and send him pictures of what I wanted to eat and confirm if it was what I thought. But I ended up one time getting some bun with fermented vegetables and pork fat (no, I didn’t like it) when I wanted a pork bun so I just decided to resort to my more reliable method of pointing. Night markets, convenience stores and restaurants are a good bet for people who want to order easily. I also noticed that the streets were very clean and public toilets were also clean in general (thank goodness!). I still haven’t mastered doing it in a squat toilet though even after so many times of having had to do this in other countries, but if you’re in a tourist area you’d most likely find a toilet bowl. I could only wish the Philippines can follow suit. I read online that Taiwan lessened garbage bins in the street thus curbing litter and vermin. I was surprised to see clear streets even in areas where night markets are held (in Shilin itself!) so it apparently works. They also diligently segregate trash (with particular emphasis on plastics). With the Filipinos’ penchant of throwing trash anywhere though, I think this might make matters worse unless littering gets a heavier penalty. Another observation I made was that a lot of people wore face masks. At first I thought it was because they were scared of getting any contagious disease in public transportation, I found out later on that these people may have a slight cold and it’s their way of politely saying that they don’t want to infect anyone.
train stations in Taipei looked characteristically Chinese. It’s very easy to get around using their train, even to other provinces. They had both options for the traditional train system (TRA) and the high speed one (HSR). That’s me on the train platform from Ruifang on the way back to Taipei with my loot from Jiufen.
night markets are the place to be at night for food lovers like me! I went to a total of 6 while I was there! after I got tired of the night market staples (this may take a while for others as there’s really a lot of options), I wandered to other stores with crowds and I was never disappointed. My favorites were their melon bread, luruofan (rice topped with savory minced pork), braised beef noodles, dumplings (OMG yes), guava juice (perhaps it was in season this time), papaya milk and da chang bao xiao chang (grilled sausage and sticky rice). The infamous stinky tofu is also worth a try and for me though the fried version was a cinch eating and in fact was normal tasting enough, the stewed one was more queer especially with the duck blood (I tried a bit but the texture is really not to my liking. I miss our own version of chicken blood with rice – now that I’m crazy for).
…and let’s not forget the taro balls, which you can eat a lot of at Jiufen Old Street. Let me just say that this is another thing I know of Taiwan, that it’s where Blackball Dessert originated from. As that’s one of my favorite desserts ever, naturally I had to try it in its place of origin. It was really good as well, though I prefer Blackball’s twist of putting in yam and taro chunks along with grass jelly and their signature coffee creamer much more. And yes, I did eat at Blackball Dessert in Taiwan. haha
Tamsui / Damsui / Danshui was the first place I got really familiar with as it was the venue of our conference. The Fisherman’s Wharf and the Lover’s Bridge are the usual spots to visit here. From the MRT to the harbor is a long street dotted with food, souvenirs, other places of interest and what not. A good discovery for me was bus F112 which offered free rides around the area. Something to note about the buses though is that some require you to tap when you enter, some when you leave, and some both upon entering and exiting. I haven’t quite figured out how to distinguish this, I suppose it’s written somewhere in Chinese. Nevertheless, always board the bus in front. Coins are still accepted but you should have the exact fare.
To get a good view of the city, I went up Elephant Mountain. It was a 20 min hike up, but don’t underestimate the continuous stairs that lead up. I initially planned on continuing further up if I had made it here earlier, but as exploring the night markets was a stronger urge in me rather than getting a better view of the city from on top, I headed back down after reaching the first viewing platform. It was a good idea since I realized I don’t do well walking down the stairs – I might have developed a little bit of climacophobia on the way down. Elephant Mountain is actually beside 3 other “beast” mountains that have interconnected trails and is a good activity option for those who have more time. After this, I decided to walk down to Taipei 101 and check out Tonghua night market which was supposed to be near Taipei 101 but it took me a good 20 minutes to walk there. @_@
My first destination after the conference was Yehliu. I took a bus from Taipei Main Station to go to the famous Geopark with their interesting limestone formations. When I got there, I found that the place was a quaint seaside neighborhood with a lot of seafood restaurants! It was a terrible pity that the bus ride left me dizzy so I wasn’t really in the mood to eat anything. I was reading off from my phone the stop list of the bus I was on, and this was what made my head spin aside from the intense heat that day. I became friends with another Japanese tourist traveling by herself, but as her English wasn’t good, we ended up mostly conversing in smiles and short questions. Talking to her did manage to make me change my plans of going back to Taipei that afternoon and instead I headed to Keelung, another seaside city.
All I knew about Keelung was their Miakakoku Night Market. But as I reached there a little after lunchtime, that wasn’t really an option. I went to the train station and saw the Visitor’s Information Center where a friendly grandpa who was working there showed me the map and all the options I had. I scanned the pictures and saw Badouzi – the beautiful view from the brochure was enough to convince me and I got the directions and straight away headed there. When I was already on the bus, it was only then I realized that I didn’t know where to go down and how exactly to get to Badouzi Wangyou Valley. I was actually on the right track when I tried figuring out the way by myself, but a few turns and the lack of English signs made me doubt my instinct and so I headed back to a Maritime Museum there where I decided to ask for decisions. The Maritime Museum was huge and beautiful that I almost felt bad there were barely any people there. It was probably so slow that day that when I asked one of their staff, he volunteered to leave his post and take me to the bus stop to go to the Valley. He even made sure I had an umbrella as it started drizzling at this point. The bus took forever though and as I was conscious of the time, I ended up taking a taxi instead. Turns out I should have walked straight on where I was earlier. Oh well, as long as I managed to reach it!
The view was worth it and I was lucky the rain stopped while I was there, allowing me to get a bit of blue sky on my photos. It was picturesque enough that so many couples were there enjoying the breezy afternoon by the sea. I contented myself by taking their pictures instead. haha. After taking in the scenery, I walked back to town and took a bus to Keelung and subsequently easily took a train back to Taipei.
When I got back to Taipei, I went to Dihua Street and Ningxia Night Market. Dihua Street is full of Chinese herbs and medicine – and a lot of stalls were selling fish roe. I wasn’t familiar with the use of most of these things so I just walked down the road and went inside some interesting shops that sold novelty/vintage items. There were also a few pastry shops down the road, but I was craving for something savory so I ate dumplings at Ningxia Night Market which is a 10-minute walk from Dihua Street. I should mention at this point now that the walk from the MRT to Dihua Street was also 10 minutes, and from Ningxia Night Market to the next MRT station was also 10 minutes. Needless to say, I was damn tired at the end of this day.
The following day, Gale had finally arrived and I finally had a companion going around! More stomach space too to try things since we could split everything. We went to some usual tourist stops in the morning (Longshan Temple & the Chang Kai-Chek Memorial Hall) and proceeded to Maokong thereafter to take the Gondola and enjoy our lunch with the view of Taipei. Although Maokong was quite elevated, it was terribly humid and hot still. There were a lot of dining options but we ended up eating somewhere with AC because there was barely any breeze and it was unthinkable to enjoy sipping tea in that weather. The gondola ride was enjoyable especially if you get the “Eye of Maokong” option which had a glass bottom. Not much tourists that day so no queuing for us yay! After Maokong, we went to Eslite, which is a 24/7 bookstore. It was huge and if not for the weak AC, it was paradise! There were books, food, clothes, toys, stationaries, even cosmetics. Most books were in Chinese though. Syntrend mall since Gale wanted to buy some gundams for her Mike. The mall was swanky and we especially loved how each floor had themes like “Create, Imagine, etc”. It was at this point that we realized that we needed to change money, but found out that the banks don’t allow currency exchange after 3:30pm. And there was no other option but the airport. So we actually had to go to Songshan Airport to change money. Money exchangers are practically non-existent in Taiwan so it’s best to estimate your budget beforehand or bring a lot of extra. We had plans of hiking Teapot Mountain at Jinguashi the following day (i.e. wake up at 4:30 am) so we were bewildered when we managed to do this and find out that the weather forecast that day was thunderstorms when we reached Ruifang!
It took me a few minutes to get over the change in plans but as it was very cloudy, I didn’t think it was worth it going through the hike and not seeing the view I looked forward to. So we proceeded to Jiufen instead. We were there by 8:30 am and so most stalls were still closed. It was a quaint town and fortunately it was only drizzling. I didn’t get a photo with the quality of a Spirited Away-inspiration, but walking in the town situated on the hill, one could get a feel of community and serenity of the place. Gale and I realized Jiufen would be a good place to stay overnight at if we had the chance of going back. The view from the lodges were nice and it was much colder up here. There was also so much good food again, and I will mention again: Taro Balls. After getting enough of Jiufen Old Street, we headed back to Ruifang and bought one-day pass tickets (80 NTD) for the Pingxi Line to go to Pingxi and Shifen. The main tourist attractions were along the old railway, and visitors usually released lanterns here as well as buy pretty souvenirs. Though we didn’t get to go to Teapot Mountain that day, the experience of riding their Tze-Chiang TRA train as well as at the Pingxi line left me a good impression of their railway system. People can actually eat on the train yet it was clean.
This is by the way the fermented vegetables bun I bought with the help of Gab’s Mandarin. I told him to consider going back to Taiwan to practice his Mandarin so I don’t end up eating such things and he told me to go smell the smelly people because it’s deemed respectable. Nothing as reliable as a brother’s advice, really. (sarcasm)
The next day, Yangminshan National Park was on our itinerary. The park is huge and beautiful and more importantly, just 20 minutes from the city center! I’m just really speechless. There are a lot of stops available inside the park, you can even opt to hike. But as we had to meet April that day, we just went down Qingtiangang. The road on the way up is quite curvy and steep. We took an S17 bus which stopped directly at Qintiangang. It was a minibus and that day most of the people on the bus were senior citizens probably looking forward to enjoy some natural scenery on a weekday. After that, we proceeded to Xinbeitou via bus as well from the Yangminshan Bus Terminal.
It was here that we met up with April and her friend. It was really fortuitous that my conference was almost the same time as when April just moved to Taiwan. She’s moved here for work and I’m happy Gale and I were able to meet her here before we gear up for probably a long time of not seeing each other again. Marge was supposed to go as well but she wasn’t able to make it. Xinbeitou is known for its natural hot springs, and it didn’t help that it was damn hot as well that day. We didn’t try the hot springs, but I can imagine it would be a good option on a cooler day. The public library at Xinbeitou is worth visiting though, it had full-length glass windows and wooden interiors. It would have been an optimum place to read had it not been for the droves of people playing Pokemon Go scattered all over the entire area! It was quite an eyesore, and I’m pretty sure they contributed to the heat. We had lunch at a tea shop and went to the Thermal Valley where steam can be seen rising up all year round. After that, we headed to Tamsui that afternoon to see the sunset. That night, Gale left and the next day though I had planned to go around the city area some more, the heat and all the walking the previous days discouraged me and I went to the airport 8 hours early instead. I didn’t really regret it as I got to eat my xiao long bao and do some leisurely souvenir window shopping. The airport was quite comfortable to hang out at actually. There were a lot of lounge-style seats even in the waiting area, not to mention charge points and restaurants, so it wasn’t that bad.
It was a wonderful experience, and if given the chance to go back I definitely will for the sights, the cuisine and the nice people. I’ll make sure to do this on a colder season though. I’m also really grateful for my Taiwanese friend, Jacky, who practically helped me translate and get around so many times when I was at the brink of getting hopelessly lost in translation. Xiexie~ (this is the only Chinese phrase I used and it somehow managed to go a long way)! Here’s my itinerary for anyone interested. 600 NTD budget per day for food would be good (you can’t drink from the tap but you can easily buy bottled water from convenience stores), accommodations are flexible – both cheap and pricey ones are available, and it’s easy to estimate your transportation cost using their train websites so I suggest you do this to see if you’ll do better buying their unlimited train/bus pass. I preferred buying an Easycard though. If I had more time, I would have included a visit to the Sun Moon Lake & Longdon as well. Even more time and I would definitely explore Central, East and Southern Taiwan! Hopefully at another time in the future!
August 7, 2016 § Leave a comment
I just got back yesterday from a 2-week course on Bioceramics and Tissue Engineering hosted by University Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta. When my supervisor emailed me regarding this opportunity, I wasn’t sure if I should really give up 2 weeks of lab work. It would definitely have been a setback to my schedule. But I eventually decided not to pass it off and the beginning of a really memorable academic/travel experience commenced. I won’t narrate it in detail (as there’s just too much noteworthy moments to tell about), but in summary – it was awesome and totally worth the 2 weeks. The hospitality of our Indonesian hosts was beyond measure, the guest lecturers and program was enlightening, the experiences were unforgettable, and most importantly the new friends I met made the entire thing all the more amazing.
I’ll miss these guys the most. Although I’m Filipino, my first set of friends were the Singaporeans.
One of the many group pictures we took. This was at the Java Man Museum as this site was where the first fossil of Homo Erectus was found.
Having Kopi Joss along Jalan Malioboro (Ben, Mohsin, Si Ning, Patricia, Akshaya, Charmay & Kenny)
Kopi Joss is made by placing a lighted charcoal in a glass of coffee. I don’t drink coffee but as I’m always up for new experiences I didn’t miss this chance. I liked the gritty texture and smoky flavor.
Watching the open-air Ramayana Ballet with the lighted Prambanan Temple at the backdrop
At Mangunan Forest. Best part were the tree houses!
At Borubudur Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the world’s largest Buddhist temple).
with fellow Filipinos in the course, Prof. Leo & Prof. Rizal
Having dinner at one of the Ayam & Kepiting roadside stalls at Jalan Malioboro with new friends (Tag, Dollah, Si Ning, Ben, Patricia, Charmay, Kenny & Ram)
Cheapest supper ever, so cheap that Ben fearlessly treated all of us girls after an affordable massage at Jogja City Mall. We’re eating our dinner boxes at the mall as UGM provided us 5 meals a day without failure.
Some moments in class, with my groupmates for our Capstone Project (Syu & Di Chang) as well as with prominent experts (i.e. celebrities) in the field of Bioceramics & Tissue Engineering. It was truly inspiring to listen to them.
And the most unforgettable part of all – the entire Mount Merapi experience! From the grueling 6-hour hike up in the dark (11pm-5am), multiple shooting stars and star-filled night sky, reaching the peak of the crater, the punishing 5-hour rush down the mountain, the legendary road trip to get Mohsin to the airport, and getting back to the hostel still covered with Merapi dust. Thankful for Dr. Mohsin who initiated the entire thing, Dr. Oki for being our local guide and did so much things to make the whole experience possible, and of course to Kenny, Dollah and Akshaya. Without all of them, I doubt I would have had it in me to finish the ordeal. The only thing I regret was having a pimple right smack on my nose that week – almost ruined my pictures if not for the unbeatable breathtaking views on top of Merapi.
view from the top: a sea of clouds
I’m extremely thankful to UGM, especially to Prof. Ika and her team. Also, to my supervisor for extending the invitation in the first place. I’ll definitely go back to Indonesia, and would even consider going back to Yogyakarta itself.
P.S. Interestingly, I guess this is the final nail to the coffin of my moving on – Indonesia finally meaning something else for me. Though the ending still did break my heart, a little.
Here’s a video of TEAM SAPI on top of Merapi :)
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 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.
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)
December 31, 2015 § Leave a comment
Don’t have much time to narrate my December this year (as work is already waiting for me to narrate as well), but I’ll try to do that in a few pictures.
First of all, I was lucky to witness my one and only Kuya Raffy (*tears of joy*) marry Ate Jam <3
and I got to be bridesmaid, while my shoulders were frozen to death in the chilly LA air
my good-looking cousin, Josh, was the bible bearer, while his uber cutie brother, Justin, was the ring bearer (Tita Shirley was a godparent)
went on a 5-hour drive with Tita Wowie, Uncle Edwin, Erin and Erika from Arcadia, CA to Sequoia National Park
rainbow pass (I think we saw 10 rainbows during that drive ,by far the most in any single trip I’ve ever seen) while driving through stretches of almonds and oranges surviving the Californian drought
and woke up to this beautiful white Christmas scenery
my beautiful cousin, Erin, enjoying a light snow fall
and her adorable sister, Erika (snow tubing)
made my first snowman with Erika and Erin
t’was the night before Christmas
5 layers of shirts and 2 layers of pants after (plus breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets – god help me lose all of this before Valentine’s at least haha)
in the land of the giant trees, sequoias (with trunks as wide as 30 ft and as high as 400 ft, some of these trees have lived for more than 4000 years)
welcomed by the warm Kok family :)
my grandma, Mommy Auring
morning in Arcadia
If I could fill this post with pictures of Josh, Justin, Erin and Erika – I would have, because this vacation has been mostly about them. I loved the time I spent with my younger cousins, and my only wish is that they remember me as they grow up. This was my first Christmas away from Ama and Gab, but it was a Christmas well spent with my family in the other side of the globe.
Other things worth remembering but will not expound as of now
- married life of my aunts
joggingconversation with Kuya Alex
- life abroad
- that one should not sit on the snow for an extended amount of time without proper insulation
- I should really start writing real letters again
July 23, 2015 § Leave a comment
Tired of the usual Batangas trip as one of the nearest options from Manila, I decided to explore the things to do in the Laguna and Quezon area. This was the first trip for leisure that we took as a family ever since Inay passed away. And since the task of planning itineraries for family trips was always done by our mom, this time I had to do it.
Upon picking me up from the airport, Mamow, Fubz and I headed straight to our accommodation in San Pablo (Laguna) – known for its seven lakes. I chose our hotel from Google Maps because it was the only one sitting right beside a lake.
Tahanan ni Aling Meding is actually an ancestral home converted into a hotel because all but one of the 11 siiblings who funded it are based in the USA. Instead of wasting away the property, they decided to have people rent it instead so that at least the maintenance cost for the place will be covered. One of the owners, Mr. Wilson Borja, lives there and we had the pleasure of meeting him during our stay. He told us about their family as well and how they all together migrated to San Francisco as a family back in the day. I guess comparing other options in the area, this was the better choice. But being a house to begin with, the facilities weren’t that great – specifically the low water pressure in the shower. Breakfast was bare minimum also. But the saving grace of the place is the really nice owner and staff, as well as the unobstructed view of Sampaloc lake (which wasn’t as good as I expected since they’ve been raising tilapia in the lake and the perimeter is congested with houses). After dropping off our things, we headed to our first stop: Lake Pandin.
Lake Pandin is one of the seven lakes in San Pablo, where they offer the option of having lunch on a bamboo raft. It was a 15 minute drive from Tahanan. The lake is not that big, but it was well maintained thanks to the cooperative of women operators who see to it that they keep the beauty of their surroundings. We left our car in the parking lot and had to walk 15 minutes to reach the lake. Upon reaching the main shore, we were greeted by the serene view of the lake. Several bamboo rafts floated by the shore, and the local people politely invited us to take a seat as we waited for them to prepare our raft. They move the bamboo rafts by pulling ropes they have tied from one end of the lake to the other. At the opposite end of the lake, there is a grotto where a small spring also produces fresh water. We we’re lucky as there was no one else when we arrived and so we had the lake to ourselves. The food was also excellent provincial food – pako salad (my favorite!), ginataang small shrimps (really good except for the fact that the shrimp heads were scary to eat as I felt they might pierce my tongue or throat), and grilled tilapia (not a fan of tilapia, but I missed this). The shrimps and tilapia are raised in Lake Pandin itself, but the pako is bought from the market. People can also swim in the lake, but the water is cloudy and you can’t really see the bottom. It was daunting to get in, but since my brother went in, I also followed suit. I tried to placate my fears of suddenly getting attacked by some lake monster from below and lasted around 15 minutes in the water. Ate and Kuya who manned our raft were also very pleasant, always reminding us to be careful of slipping in the bamboo raft, and not to swim too far out (as if I would even dare). There was a cool breeze in the lake, and after an hour idling at the far end of the lake, we decided to go back to the hotel. The rest of the afternoon was spent sleeping, and we had dinner at a nearby restaurant, Clyde & Josh Grill & Restaurant, which was also by the perimeter of Sampaloc Lake. Since I missed gata a lot, we opted for ginataang kuhol, and this traditional ginataang tilapia recipe in the area which I forgot what they called. We also had ensaladang talong and Gab wanted grilled squid. The food was good and the staff were very polite. We were the only ones again in the restaurant since we woke up late for dinner. They closed soon after we left. On the way home, I noticed that the area around the lake wasn’t that clean to be honest, owing to the fact that it was full of establishments and houses. But it wasn’t that dirty either – signifying they’re probably implementing a cleanliness scheme which, although prevents total chaos, can be made better. Gab ate balot on the way home. I, on the other hand, waited until we reached the hotel wherein I ate a kilo of ripe mangoes by myself. Philippine mango heaven. :3
The next day, we left around 9am for Tiaong, Quezon. The goal was to go to Ugu Bigyan’s Secret Pottery Garden – a place my mother had always wanted to go to.
I had only ever heard of Ugu Bigyan from her, but apparently Ugu is a renowned potter. The place lived up to its name of being “secret” as there was not a single sign pointing to it. Thank goodness for Google Maps. We reached Ugu Bigyan’s secret enclave after a two hour drive and we’re very much delighted at the beauty of the entire area. There was something to adore in every little corner, and I especially loved the embedded ceramic fishes on the pavement. Ugu Bigyan’s store was situated inside, and there we were greeted by Ugu’s sister, Heidi. I bought a blue ceramic coaster for myself, while my brother got a mug. Then we choose this pretty plate with fishes in memory of my mom. After that, my dad suddenly went into a shopping spree for our relatives since it was very hard to go to Ugu’s place and the novelty and pride in owning an Ugu Bigyan piece was also something to take pride on. It’s just tricky to know if people will appreciate it though since pottery can come across as something abstract and commonplace to some. Especially if they’re not aware of how it’s made and how long it takes to make. We got to see Mr. Ugu Bigyan himself on the way out as there was a delivery guy looking for him.
After Ugu Bigyan’s, I checked the map and suggested to my dad that we can either return the same way, or complete the circle around Mt. Banahaw and pass by Kamay ni Hesus on the way home. There was also this dampa-style restaurant, Kamayan sa Palaisdaan, that I wanted to try near that area. Since we weren’t rushing and everyone was in a mood for a road trip anyway, we took the longer route circling Mt. Banahaw.
Gab, at the peak of Kamay ni Hesus – sadly, the place was too commercialized to be a sacred place. It was more of a tourist place already.
We passed along the main national highway for the most part of the trip, and the fact that it had one lane for each direction was both frustrating (traffic was a procession), but also a good deterrent from commercialization of the provincial beauty. The lack of proper and correct road signs was completely annoying though. There was one point we encountered a sign saying “to Manila”, and thanks to Google Maps (once again), I saw it led to Lipa which led even farther away. We got home around 9 in the evening, and I was once again able to sleep in my own room. The rest of my 5 day vacation was a whirlwind, and I left Manila missing my family even more. Nevertheless, it was 5 days well spent with people who matter.
P.S. Oh, I should also mention here that since I took Tiger Air this time, which meant having to go to NAIA Terminal 1, we went into this place called Salem Complex where we found this carinderia which served lutong bahay food. Since I wanted to eat vegetables, I opted for that rather than the other fastfood restaurants in the area. I ate 4 pieces of tortang talong, bopis and tortang ampalaya – and my dad was rather happy that I ate a lot. haha. Gab had grilled pusit again, it seems like he has a fixation for that these past few days. We just paid 235 for 5 different viands – oh how I miss the cost of living in the Philippines.