Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Rough Road to Lake Toba and its Rewards

The woman vendor at the pier kept repeating one word to me. "Habis," she was saying. Both her palms faced upwards. Even with my bare-bones Bahasa Indonesia, I felt like I should have understood her right then and there. Maybe I was just in denial of what that word might mean for me.

I was standing in front of her, carrying all my bags, tired from riding a crowded public provincial bus practically the entire day. I was asking her about the ferry to Tuk Tuk, the small town on Samosir Island where I was staying the next few nights, including that night, in fact. It was getting dark and I was starting to worry I would get there very late.

It was not until she pointed to the sole ferry in the pier and said, "Ferry to Tomok. Tomok go to Tuk Tuk," when I finally understood. There were no more ferries to Tuk Tuk that day. I would have to travel to Tomok, an adjacent town, and from Tomok, travel overland (hopefully, not on foot) to Tuk Tuk.

Being a popular tourist destination in this part of Indonesia, I never realized it would be this challenging traveling to Lake Toba.

Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia
The expansive and volcanic Lake Toba in North Sumatra, Indonesia

Monday, November 10, 2014

Photos from an Evening Walk in the Historic Old Town of George Town in Penang, Malaysia

The bench at the bus stop was calling my name. It had been a few hours after all since I began wandering aimlessly around town. I reckoned the afternoon heat and the humidity were only bearable because my eyes were treated to the small town colonial charm present everywhere I went. As I sat on the bench by the road, I realized just then that the best treat was yet to come. The sky both suddenly and slowly turned from grey to yellow to gold to pink before turning blue. All these colors were reflected in the shop houses and grand colonial structures around me, too. The sun had just set and I was being mightily impressed by George Town in Penang, Malaysia.

George Town, Penang, Malaysia
As grand as the golden hour gets. George Town in Penang, Malaysia.

George Town in Penang, Malaysia was one of the cities that formed part of the Strait Settlements of Southeast Asia, British-ruled colonies where migrants from China, India, and the rest of the Malay world moved to and settled for good having been urged by the booming trade in the region. Today, the Strait Settlements have a distinct, very colorful culture all their own, seen in the traditions of second or third-generation families (the Peranakans, for example), their delicious, delicious food, and the charming two-storey shop houses typical of the old towns of this region.

No matter how many of them I see, I never seem to tire of historic old towns, not the least bit this one on Penang Island, Malaysia. Fortunately for me, of course, I live in a region of the world that has them in spades. China has the ancient old towns of Lijiang, Hongcun, and a few others. Vietnam has the undeniably charming Hoi An under its belt. Malaysia has the equally gorgeous Malacca, and this one, George Town.

Armed with my trusty camera, I decided to walk around here in the historic center of George Town, Penang. Needless to say, I was charmed off my feet. Here be photos:

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Penang Food Post: the Foods I Loved in Penang, Malaysia

It had always been difficult for me to pinpoint a place when asked which city in Southeast Asia is the foodiest-foodie of them all. There's Singapore with its much beloved hawker center fare. There's Chiang Mai which has the best of Northern Thai cuisine. There's Saigon, too, with its street-side soup and noodle stalls. It was always difficult to choose which city is the best for food lovers, or in this case, travelers who'd travel just for the food.

That all changed, of course, when I came to Penang, Malaysia.

Lebuh Chulia Street Food, Penang, Malaysia
Lebuh Chulia in Penang's historic UNESCO World Heritage city—George Town—turns into a street food market every night. Definitely have dinner here at least once.

I always like to describe Penang as the city with the most number of delicious food choices per square kilometer. The quantity of quality food here is only matched by its accessibility, too. And by that, I mean, food here is cheap. Unbelievably so. A delicious, filling meal, you ask? Well, you can have one under three dollars US!

Let's not delay this any further. Here is my ultimate Penang food post: my list of Penang food recommendations and, more importantly perhaps, the places in Penang where you can stuff your face with them.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

That Weekend I Went on a Food Quest to Find the Best Lechon in Cebu

It should be written somewhere that I cannot do this, that I cannot simply jet off to Cebu one weekend, and spend the entirety of it eating nothing but that glorious, sinful, rich, and fatty thing for which the Philippines' second capital is known: lechon.

But I did. And I enjoyed every single minute of it.

Philippines: Cebu 2014
On to find the best lechon in Cebu! Did I find it? I'll never tell. Yes, I did.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Where to Stay in Dumaguete, Philippines: Island Leisure Boutique Hotel

Note: This is not a sponsored post. I paid my own way.

Dumaguete is a place I have waxed poetic about. This small town in Negros Oriental in the southern islands of the Philippines is laid-back and charming. The food is surprisingly good and cheap, too. And let's not get started on its proximity with beautiful islands like Siquijor.

But where to stay here? For that question, I put up for your consideration this hotel: Island Leisure Boutique Hotel.

Island Leisure Boutique Hotel, Dumaguete, Philippines
Island Leisure Boutique Hotel in Dumaguete, Philippines

Here's the gist of this hotel review: It's a nice place in terms of facilities, but its location and ambiance are some things you might want to consider more closely.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Myth, the Beauty, and the Island of Fire: Siquijor, Philippines

As soon as I stepped out of the gates of the small pier, five, six, seven men approached me.

"Where are you going?" one asked.

"Tricycle, motorbike?" another interrupted.

"Do you already have a hotel?" a man to my left spoke out.

"I'm going to Villa Marmarine. I'm booked there. Whose tricycle am I taking?" I said, smiling at the commotion every tourist coming here must cause.

I got on a tricycle and we drove past the Saint Francis of Assisi Church near the port. "Welcome to Siquijor," a big sign in front of the church said. From here, we got onto the circumferential road which snaked all around the coast of this tiny island in the Visayas.

Unsurprisingly, the road was empty, save for a truck or a motorcycle we'd meet every three minutes or so. "And this is high season?" I asked myself.

After about fifteen minutes, we turned onto a small gravel road towards the coast and into my accommodations for the night. I stepped out onto a wooden deck by the reception which served as a dining area. The deck overlooked a quiet, white pebbled beach, shaded by tall coconut trees, and then, there was the sea with varying layers of blue, turquoise, and green.

Beautiful sight, I told myself. So why aren't there more people here?

Right. I'm in Siquijor.

Siquijor, Philippines
Varying shades of blue, turquoise, and green. Siquijor, Philippines.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

There Is Something about Dumaguete

The bakery cafe was not as I remembered it. It was larger, able to fit six, seven big families, maybe. A number of servers walked around now, unlike being at the back of the counter like how it was before. The ambiance was more refined, but not pretentious, like you would expect a cafe to be in a learned (not to mention, moneyed) university town.

Dumaguete, Philippines
Dumaguete, you charming small town, you.