Friday, December 30, 2011

Best of the Best Travel Experiences of 2011

So the year is finally winding down. I can't really say that this year has not been good for travel. Because it has! It totally has. Probably, the most travel I have ever done in my life. I mean, I did decide to bite the bullet and go backpacking for six months. And I will say that it has been the best year ever. There, I said it. There were highs and lows, of course. But it's all good. It's all part of the adventure. I had the most rewarding experience, the most exhilarating, the most delicious, etc., etc.

As a way to commemorate all of them, and as my yearender of sorts, I decided to do my 12 best of the best travel experiences of 2011. Here we go.

1. Most Jampacked Trip

We only had four days to explore one of the biggest countries in the world, which happened to be one of the oldest civilizations in the world. So what are we to do? Jampack it all, tourist-style! In all four days, we covered two huge, and I mean, huge cities, three UNESCO World Heritage Sites, our first winter experience, a high-speed sleeper train experience and a super high-speed Maglev train experience. We went to China.

Great Wall, Mutianyu, China

(See more posts about China: China: Beijing, Forbidden City, China: Great Wall at Mutianyu)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Holy City of Amritsar and the Golden Temple

On our way down the mountain from Dharamsala, we figured we did not want to bus it to Delhi for another 14 dark, ass-numbing hours. We did our research and found a city worth breaking our journey in. Again, this was a part of India different from the rest of it primarily because of religion. We decided to stop by another one of India's holy cities on our way back to the capital. This holy city is not Hindu nor Buddhist. It is Sikh. And it is called Amritsar.

Golden Temple, Amritsar, India

I realized looking back that Michael Palin also stopped by Amritsar in his BBC series, Himalaya. First, we went to Dharamsala, it being our contingency plan having missed our train to Jaisalmer. Now, we were heading to Amritsar on a whim. Later on, we will be following his itinerary in the Nepal Himalaya. And that wasn't planned as well! Freaky.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: India-Pakistan Wagah Border Ceremony

(Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the bizarre India-Pakistan Wagah Border Ceremony.)

India-Pakistan Border Closing Ceremony, Wagah, India

Now here's a real treat for borderholics. When in the holy city of Amritsar, India, one of the more touristy things to do is to head to the India-Pakistan border in the village of Wagah at sundown. Wagah, split right in the middle between the two countries, is the only road border crossing between the rival countries. And every sundown, the village gets packed with people on both sides as there takes place a bizarre military ceremony between the India Border Security Force and the Pakistan Rangers.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Seeing the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala

If you, like us, found yourself in Dharamsala, India, with the rare chance to see the Dalai Lama, the most famous Buddhist in the world, the living incarnation of the boddhisatva of compassion, then better seize the opportunity. You are most likely just spending a few days in this little Tibetan town in northern India, just like the Dalai Lama himself, who circles the world seeing heads of states as well as Tibetan refugees scattered all over the globe for the better part of the year.

But the question is, how? How does one see the Dalai Lama? It's simple really. Here are seven simple steps to seeing the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India.

Portrait of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Museum, McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

Step 01:

Check if the Dalai Lama is giving a public audience (most likely, a lecture) anytime soon. You can do that by going to Yes, His Holiness has a website. If he is giving a lecture, check if it is open to the public. We had the good fortune of being in Dharamsala when a group of Korean Buddhists was also there for a lecture with the Dalai Lama, a lecture which they had earlier scheduled and opened to the public. I assume by now you get that the Dalai Lama is a very busy man so if you have the chance to see the Dalai Lama, take it.

Step 02:

Secure yourself admission into the Dalai Lama's lecture. No, they will not accept walk-ins. Security is very tight in and around his residence and the main temple, the Tsuglagkhang Monastery. So better have proper identification when you go see the Dalai Lama. First things first, make sure you have two passport-sized photos and a photocopy of your passport. If you do not have them, then McLeod Ganj is littered with ID photo stalls and shops. Walk in and have your photo taken and your passport photocopied. Simple as simple can be.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bungy Jumping in the Nepal Himalaya

Bungy jumping was something I was determined to do on this six-month trip. Hey, I was jumping out of my comfort zones anyway, so why not jump all the way. Plus, ever since two friends of mine, Angelica and Cindy, went bungy jumping a year ago, I knew I wanted to put myself on that ledge, like they did. My original plan was to go bungy jumping in India, in a place called Rishikesh, but the travel gods had other plans and I had to tweak my northern India itinerary and forgo Rishikesh.

Good thing there was another outdoor adventure facility along our way which fortunately enough offers bungy jumping. This outdoor adventure facility was in Nepal. I knew I had to go bungy jumping there. Else, it will be a while before I get the chance to go bungy jumping again. And wouldn't you know it? The facility's name is The Last Resort. I know, scary when I first heard it. Why would an outdoor adventure facility name itself that way? As soon as I got over the name, I signed up to go bungy jumping. The Last Resort has an office in Kathmandu's tourist district, Thamel. We signed up there and booked a day trip for around 86 USD. The cost will include, apart from bungy jumping itself, a round-trip bus to the outdoor adventure facility and a buffet lunch.

Bungy Jumping in Nepal

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Backpacking Story So Far

Another month has come and gone and yes, I am still on the road. Traveling. Clearly, I have a lot to be thankful for. I left home October and even though it has only been a couple of months since, I feel like a lot has happened already. And I'm only in my third country on this trip!

Unlike other monthly wrap-ups I have done on this blog, this one will sum-up, not the best content in the travel blogosphere (which are plenty), but rather the goings-on in this small world I call my travel life.


I started in Singapore, seeing, well, more like tasting it, through a few friends who have become locals there. Bash it all you want, Singapore to me remains to be the tiny 700 square kilometer island where you could sample all the best foods (and therefore, cultures) of Southeast Asia.

You Like Satay

A few days after that, we flew to India, keen on seeing desert landscapes, mad urban sprawls, and peaceful temples. I got to see the last two, but due to Indian transportation misfortunes, we had to forgo Rajasthan. We, instead, opted for mountains and found Tibet in the heart of northern India.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Daytrek to the Dhauladhar: Prelude to the Himalayas

My first taste of the Himalayas was, in fact, not in Nepal, where I am now. No, I saw my first snow-capped peaks in the Indian Himalayas—the Dhauladhar Mountains. And this was a good thing. It was some sort of a prelude for what was to be one of the most rewarding and most breathtaking experiences, literally and figuratively, of my travel life. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Dhauladhar Himalayas in Dharamsala, India

Let's begin with our accommodations in Dharamsala, where the Dhauladar Mountains can be viewed and accessed from. Our hotel on this leg of our Indian journey was one that was a above the Tibetan town center of McLeod Ganj. Technically, it was not even part of McLeod Ganj, but rather in a village above it. We can either get a cab to get to our hotel. Or walk up to it, an effort which took 30 minutes as the trail was all uphill. The first time we did walk the trail was at night, which I was not a fan of. Night-trekking, I mean. But again, that's alright. It was beneficial, in fact. It gave me a taste of what it was like trekking in the cold air of the Himalayas. Also, have I mentioned it was all uphill? It was.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: the Most Beautiful Plane Ride in the World

(Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves.For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the most beautiful plane ride in the world: one long uninterrupted wall of the snowy mountains of the Himalayas.)

View from the plane flying into Kathmandu, Nepal

It was to be the third country in my six-month backpacking adventure and I wanted to do everything right. I read in Lonely Planet that when flying in to the Nepali capital Kathmandu from Delhi, India, request a window seat on the left-hand side of the aircraft, which was precisely what I did. When I got to my seat, however, someone was already occupying it requesting that I transfer to his seat by the aisle. Normally, I’d concede. But not this time. Which is a good thing. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had that shot. Or that experience for that matter. We flew right along the highest mountain range in the world and it was all we could see for most of the one and a half-hour flight. It was amazing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Keeping a Candle Burning for Tibet: the Norbulingka Institute

Preserving a culture's heritage is very important, especially now that the west seems to penetrate every modern city in the world. Preservation becomes even more important, I think, when the culture in question is exiled in another country. Fortunately, for the Tibetans exiled based in Dharamsala, India, they have the Norbulingka Institute.

Norbulingka Institute, Dharamsala, India

The Norbulingka Institute, named after the Dalai Lama's summer palace back in Tibet, is a learning institution dedicated to Tibetan studies, which includes the preservation of Tibetan arts (painting, embroidery, literature, etc.). The institute also has two guesthouses, a cafe, shops and a temple which houses a 4-meter high gilded copper statue of Sakyamuni Buddha.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Finding Tibet in Dharamsala, India

“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.”
~ His Holiness, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

And so it was that we missed our train to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, India. I was really looking forward to seeing a real desert town and from the pictures I have seen of Jaisalmer, the huge stone fort and the town that surrounds it, it looked straight out of the Arabian Nights. Like at any moment, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves would come storming over that mound of sand in the distance. But we all knew we had to let go of it. Something else was planned for us. We talked and hashed out a couple of places (Goa, Ladakh, etc.) until we agreed on Dharamsala in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India. The name alone sounded something else. And it was. I knew that it was a part of India that was completely different from the rest of it. I didn’t realize it until I got there.

McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Singapore Challenge Won

(Editor's Note: Post is in response to a challenge posed a few weeks back: The Singapore Challenge.)

We were sitting at the table inside this small kitchen with dirty white tiles, semi-new furniture, and a variety of food right in front of us. Our hosts, in true Filipino fashion, bent over backwards preparing and cooking just so they would have a nice meal to serve the new arrivals. It was our first time in Singapore and we were looking to make the most out of our four-day stay under a very limited budget. Almost inevitably, the conversation got to costs and how expensive things are in this city. So we asked, "What we can see in Singapore?" One of them, a Filipino-born Singapore-bred, replied, "This (pointing to our small kitchen) is Singapore. You want to see the rest, you pay."

At the back of my head, I knew he was right. But I was there to prove him wrong. And I did.

The total money I spent to get my *ss from Manila to Singapore and stay there for 4 nights and 3 days is:

7,626.38 PHP

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Jaisalmer Misfortune

Finally getting out of the city. Finally seeing a real desert, a bona fide sand dune for the first time. That’s because today, we are heading to Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. But before all that begins, we needed to sort out all our other train bookings in India. Best to reserve them early as the Indian transpo system gets extra congested this Diwali season. So we thought, why not get our tickets at the New Delhi railway station today while we wait for our train to Jaisalmer. Not the best plan, looking back.

New Delhi Railway Station
By dlisbona | CC BY

We went to the New Delhi railway station at around 1 in the afternoon, four and a half hours before our scheduled departure. Seeing as we arrived pretty damn early, we went ahead and dropped by the foreign tourist ticketing office (second floor, Pahar Ganj side, New Delhi Railway Station). There was a long queue but hey, we had a few hours to spare.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: Best Mystery Meat in Delhi

(Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features my first Anthony Bourdain moment on this trip: the Best Mystery Meat in Delhi.)

Karim's in Delhi, India

Monday, October 31, 2011

Kindness of Indian Strangers

There was one conclusion we reached two days into Delhi as we boarded our first inter-city bus to Dharamsala: we have been sheltered from the chaos that is India the past few days. Not that I did not appreciate what our Delhi host did for us. He practically toured us around and for the most part, it was at his expense. I mean, that goes above and beyond any guest could hope for.

But on that evening, as we tried to locate our bus in that small makeshift bus terminal, which was really a dusty unpaved piece of land adjacent to the Tibetan neighborhood of Majnu Ka Tilla in the Indian capital, we realized what was we got ourselves into.

Not unlike the bus terminal we went to
Photo by David de Mallorca | CC BY

Granted, as you approach the terminal, there will be people asking for your tickets. If they see that you are not a passenger of their bus, they will refer you to another. We were pointed to a middle-aged pot-bellied man in red shirt. We handed him our ticket. He glanced at it, returned it and then told us to wait. This exchange happened three more times before Angelica and I started getting worried.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Singapore Is People and the Food

Months before I came to Singapore, before I even knew I was going to Singapore, I realized that I was going there for two very important things. Beyond the sights and the attractions, I was there for the food and the people. Perhaps due to its geographic location—right at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, right when ships from the Strait of Malacca enter into the real "far east," they must first come to Singapore. Thus, this tiny port city grew to be the meeting point for many Asian cultures, particularly Indian, Chinese and Malay. And with each of these rich cultures come food, glorious food.

Singapore People and Food

It’s a pity really. Many pass off Singapore to be an expensive city, a city where you catch flights, a sterile and plastic city. And as the adages go, it’s the amusement park with the seat at the United Nations, the Disneyland with death penalty. Really, few people take that extra effort to peel off its layers and see it for what it is—Southeast Asia’s true melting pot of cuisine and people. That is what Singapore has come to mean for me. Singapore is not Singapore without the people and the food.

Luckily, due to the country’s more relaxed immigrant laws and its growing need for talents, a lot of Filipinos have gone to Singapore for work. I say that’s lucky because I now know a handful of people who are now living and working there. And it was through them that I truly got to know Singapore and Singaporean cuisine better. Hopefully, as a way to pay my gratitude forward, the information here reaches other travelers wanting, needing a guide on some of Singapore’s good eats.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Night Life at the Marina Bay Sands

I have spent the whole day walking and sightseeing to cover all of Singapore’s places of interest. From Orchard Road, to Little India, to Chinatown and even Sentosa. At 6 in the evening, I knew it was time to wind down. So off I go and meet two of my friends from high school who just happened to be in Singapore at the same time as me. Granted one of them was now based there for work. Still, it was funny when we realized that not many years ago, we only did meet-ups at the nearby fast food joint. Now, we are meeting in poshy, first-world Singapore, at the Marina Bay Sands at that! We’ve come a long, long way.

Marina Bay Sands

The Marina Bay Sands Metro Station is a bit of a walk from the Marina Bay Sands area itself. There is only one exit but form there, you will be crossing two big intersections and one building block to get the boardwalk area. The way's pretty straightforward. Besides, just look up and find the three buildings with the big-*ss boat-like structure on top of them. That's the Marina Bay Sands building.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: the Dhauladhar Himalayas

Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the first snowy mountain I ever laid my eyes on: the Dhauladhar Himalayas.

Dhauladhar Himalayas in Dharamsala, India

Yes, contrary to the couple of entries that I have been able to post ever since I started my trip, I am no longer in Singapore. In the 10 days that I have been traveling, I have been to three countries and four cities. Imagine that. The photo above is of the Dhauladhar Mountains, a section of the Himalayas visible from the quaint little town of McLeod Ganj in Dharamsala, northern India. I chose to post this photo because seeing it every single day gets me excited. Coming from a tropical archipelago like the Philippines, snowy mountains are not something I grew up with. Seeing these mountains made me realize why I travel: to behold something absolutely new and different.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Singapore: Little India

It was our second full day in Singapore and we still had a bit of exploring to do seeing as we slacked off the whole morning the day before. We chose to do Little India first because it's close to Orchard Road where fellow backpacker Angelica and I met up. Plus, it will be sort of our practice for when we finally get to the real India in the next few days. So off we go and hopped on the nearest MRT station in Orchard and got off at Little India station.

Little India, Singapore

Getting to Buffalo Street, the heart of Little India, is easy enough to figure out. The street is on the other side of the food market building where the MRT exit opens up. If you still cannot find it, follow the scent. The fragrance of the thousand and one spices and of the burning incense will most definitely hit you in the face once you get off the MRT Station.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

How to Eat a Traditional Kaya Breakfast

The traditional kaya toast is a breakfast or snack food staple for many Singaporeans. Kaya toast is bread with kaya jam spread, on top of which is a thin slice of butter. For that extra richness, of course. It was brought to Singapore by the Hainanese who got it from from the British who originally had their tea with toast and jam. The kaya jam is a sweet spread made from coconuts. It is basically coconut jam. We do have coconut jams back home in the Philippines, but this was different. The kaya jam was lighter in color, texture and taste. I think I liked it better.

Traditional Kaya Toast

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: You Like Satay?

Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the beloved southeast Asian dish—Satay.

You Like Satay

If there was one thing I was looking forward to before coming to Singapore, more than the sites and tourist attractions really, is the food. Singapore is where Malay, Chinese and Indian food all melt into one delicious cuisine distinctly Singaporean. Satay, or various grilled meats on a stick, comes from Singapore’s Malay inhabitants. It was one of the things my hosts wanted me to taste on my first real night out here. So I dipped the stick on the peanut-curry sauce and had my first bite.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Excitement and Anxiety on the First Day on the Road

It has finally happened. I have left my home, Manila, and landed in mainland Asia, in Singapore. I am officially on the road. I cannot say that I am completely filled with the excitement of finally having started this six-month adventure. Not that I am not excited. I am. I guess, I just don’t allow myself to feel it for fear of bursting out giggling like a teenage girl in a Justin Bieber concert. Besides, the day of my departure was pretty uneventful by most standards, which is not to say not at all that exciting.

I have been warned by several people about how strict Philippine immigration has become these days. Filipino citizens are no longer allowed to leave the country without a return ticket. Even if you tell them that you are a foreign resident of the country you're going to, even if you tell that you are employed full-time by a company in the country you’re going to, they will not let you pass without a confirmed return ticket. Not an onward ticket, a return ticket. Aren't Filipinos allowed to keep their travel plans open and flexible nowadays?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

First Aid Kit Essentials for Travelers

One of the things that can ruin a trip is catching a disease while on the road. This is especially true if your version of travel involves a lot of physical activities: sightseeing, hiking, swimming, going out at night, etc. All things you cannot do if you are indisposed. Luckily, in the two years that I have been doing trips, I have never been sick. I may break that record though seeing as I’ll be gone for more than a week this time. Still, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Photo by Jamiesrabbits | CC BY

But for good measure, best be prepared. Fortunately for me, I personally know a doctor, a registered physician, by the name of Dr. Cindy Sotalbo, who is used to dealing with common tourist ailments having been assigned to Boracay in the Philippines a number of times. For my six-month backpacking trip, she recommended a few things that should be present in my first aid kit. The essentials, the must-haves, in any traveler's first aid kit. Let me share her recommendations here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Compulsory Packing List Post

Every backpacker going on his or her big trip, and documenting it, too, has one: a packing list post. I get the purpose, of course. It’s to be able to list down what I brought and evaluate by the middle (or end) of the trip what item I needed/used the most and what item I should whack my head for lugging around. More importantly, and this I can fully get behind on, it could serve as a guide for others thinking, pondering, ever-so contemplating on going on their own backpacking adventure. So this is my way of paying it forward. Posts like this helped me a lot in preparing for the trip that I’m about to do.

First thing to consider is the climate of the places I’ll be traveling to. This one was a headache. To say that the climates of the regions I’ll go to is varied is an understatement. Luckily, I’ll be going home midway through the trip to take a Christmas break, if you will. So I won’t need to plan for the whole six-months. Still, it’s a lot. Basically, I’ll be traveling to humid tropical Singapore, to the dry climate of northern India, to the even drier desert of Rajasthan, to the heights and chills (emphasis on the chills) of the Himalayas, and back to the humidity of Vietnam.

Basically, I will be lugging around all sorts of clothes and accessories. But I'm fine with that. I included that in the backpacker resolutions I made last month. Anyway, below are the items I will be bringing for the first three months of my trip.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Singapore Challenge

(Editor's Note: The Singapore Challenge was won! Read the full story here.)

The first stop in my six-month Asian backpacking trip is Singapore, the center of just about everything in Southeast Asia. I personally know a lot of people who have gone to Singapore on vacation and some who are now living and working in Singapore. Unsurprising, really. Manila is a mere three-hour flight away. Plus, ever since laws on immigrant workers were relaxed, and given that Singapore's demand for labor grows by the minute, Singapore-based companies have increasingly been hiring talented English-speaking individuals from nearby countries. Even I got a call from a company there a few months back.

SG Skyline
Photo by williamcho | CC BY-SA

Still, the sad fact remains. I have never been to Singapore. I have said this again and again. It just doesn't attract me. See, I was born and bred in an Asian city. So the thought to traveling to another Asian city isn't all that appealing. That doesn't mean, however, that I will not enjoy it. I've learned that about myself when I traveled to Saigon in Vietnam and Shanghai in China. Both big bustling cities which I did not really care for before getting there. Surprisingly, I found that they have crept inside my cheesy traveler heart. Singapore deserves the same openness. So, I booked a flight.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: Capturing the Sunrise

Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday is about Capturing the Sunrise.

Playa sa Sariaya

Friday, September 30, 2011

Off the Beaten Path - September Top Picks

September has come and gone. And boy, that was fast! Normally I am not that excited about anything this time of the year. But something big is happening this October. Something really big. That's because just a few weeks prior, I finally decided to bite the bullet and backpack Asia for six months (possibly longer). That's right. I've held on to this dream for quite a while now. I thought it's about time I realize it.

Part of my inspiration for jumping into this big endeavor is the travel blogging community. There are a lot of inspiring people out there. So as a way to give back to them, I will be doing a round-up every end of the month of all the blog posts I found to be worth sharing. This month, the theme I chose is Off the Beaten Path.

What does Off the Beaten Path Really Mean? (via Legal Nomads)

First up, I thought we define what off the beaten path really means. The writer, Jodi, helps us with that. She believes that off the beaten path does not have to be some place exotic, secret and unexplored. Rather, it's all in the experience. For Jodi, it's about truly listening, communicating and interacting with the people around you. Thus, off the beaten path may very well be your neighborhood metro stop. Think about it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Great Travelers Garage Sale

As if inspiring people with their adventures, photos and dance craze wasn’t enough, Filipina backpackers Lois and Chichi of We Are Sole Sisters have organized a GREAT TRAVELERS GARAGE SALE for those soon to follow in their footsteps. To them, it's not enough to inspire and encourage others to travel. They want to enable more Filipinos to go out there and see the world. It will be the best education you can ever give yourself. This is their small way of helping travelers kickstart their adventures.

Quite a noble cause, I say. Lucky for me and my travel partner Angelica, we were invited to join in. Impeccable timing, really. We are leaving for our big Asian backpacking adventure in a couple of weeks. Two weeks! So please, spare us some of your loose change. Every peso you spend will help us fulfill our dreams and fuel our passions. It might just ignite yours, too.

The Great Travelers Garage Sale will take place this coming Saturday, October 1st, at 88 Payna Street, Veterans Village Project 7, Quezon City from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Travelers Garage Sale

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: Bantayan Island Church

Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. I want to encourage people to travel because travel has shown me a lot of beautiful things, has acquainted me with a lot of amazing people, and has taught me lessons I will keep for the rest of my life. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the Spanish legacy in the Philippines in the form of the Bantayan Island Church.

Bantayan Island, Cebu

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Step by Step Guide to Chinese Visa Application for Filipinos

IMPORTANT NOTE: Guide to Chinese Visa application has been updated on 31 March 2013. See newer version of this guide here: How to Apply for a Tourist Visa to China.

So you have booked your flights to Beijing totally excited about seeing the Forbidden City and the Great Wall for the first time. You realize, however, China may very well be the first country you will be traveling to where you will be needing a tourist visa. That is because for most of Southeast Asia, Filipinos are not required a visa to enter. We can all zip in and zip out. China, however, does require most nationalities (Filipinos included) a visa prior to arrival. The good news is that China has a pretty organized visa application process. Having been through it, let me share what I learned about the whole thing.

Great Wall, Mutianyu

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: Vietnamese Coffee

Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. I want to encourage people to travel because travel has shown me a lot of beautiful things, has acquainted me with a lot of amazing people, and has taught me lessons I will keep for the rest of my life. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the strong and sweet Vietnamese Coffee.

Ca Phe Sua Da (Iced Milk Coffee)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Using Fear to Fuel Me Forward

We are T minus 26 days before the big backpacking trip begins and I’m feeling more nervous than ever. But that’s natural. Going into something as big as this would make anyone feel nervous. Okay, scratch that. I’m more than nervous. I’m terrified. I’m spending a huge part of my life savings (one might say all of it) to do this trip of a lifetime. And have I mentioned I’ve quit my job? Yes, yes I did. And I like my job.

I know I am going to have the time of my life. I know the experiences I will be jumping into will probably stay with me forever. Still, the future-looking, stability-yearning, responsible me pops up every so often hounding me on what I will be doing after the trip. And the truth is, I don’t have an answer to the question (yet). I have plans, sure. One of them is to continue traveling. How will I achieve that, I’m still figuring out. So, really, the second half of my 2012 is currently looking quite blank. And that’s frightening.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Massive To-Do List before the Backpacking Trip

I looked at the calendar today and it's the 15th of September. This same day next month, I will be taking my flight out of the Philippines for a six-month backpacking trip around south and southeast Asia. I have declared my reasons, made the travel resolutions and planned the itinerary. It is definitely invigorating and satisfying knowing that I got this far. There is just one thing I have to do. Well, more like 50. Before the all this travel begins, preparations have to be done. I have exactly thirty days.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: Mount Pinatubo

(Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph of a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. I want to encourage people to travel because travel has shown me a lot of beautiful things, has acquainted me with a lot of amazing people, and has taught me lessons I will keep for the rest of my life. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the powerful Mount Pinatubo. Yes, that's right. What you see below is a photo taken when we went trekking to the Mount Pinatubo crater in the Philippines.)

Pinatubo Caldera

Sunday, September 11, 2011

5 Reasons Why It's Important to Meet the Local Travel Community

I began travel blogging a couple of years ago. However, only recently did I start taking it seriously what with my six-month backpacking trip happening in less than five weeks (yes! and see the destinations in my itinerary here). Eventually, I ended up discovering the great travel community online: travel bloggers, photographers, videographers or simple travelers who share the same passion as me.

Two travel bloggers I stumbled upon via my travel partner, Angelica of Angge Turns 26, are the dynamic duo of Lois and Chichi of We Are Sole Sisters. These two Filipinas (yes, they’re Pinays) quit their jobs and traveled throughout India and Southeast Asia for six months having only 100,000 pesos in each of their pockets. That’s around 2,350 US dollars. I don’t know about you but that is one amazing feat!

The Sole Sisters

Their journey started early this year and this August, they’ve come home to share their stories in an event they’ve called From Glampacker to Poorpacker, a travel photography exhibit and travel talk series aiming to empower Filipinos by encouraging them to travel and choosing their own adventures. Of course, I attended. It was I think the first travel blogging event I went to. So yes, these girls popped my travel blogging cherry!

Through the event, I got to connect, network, meet the travel community who are right now in my city. And I realized that that is very important. Here are five very valid reasons why:

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Big Six-Month Backpacking Itinerary

Note: I have gone through this backpacking trip and back. Hopefully, it has ushered me into the Filipino backpackers club (which I invented just now). But see, Filipino backpackers exist! We, Pinoys, can do long-term travel. To read some of the highlights of my ever-evolving backpacking trip (which at some point already transitioned more into a travel-filled, nomadic lifestyle), do head over to the Where I Have Been page. Thank you!

I have a confession to make. I am one of those type A planners when it comes to travel. For every trip that I do, everything has to be planned, down to the last detail. What transportation we are going to take, how much it will cost and how long will the ride last, yep, I got all all those covered. You can just imagine the stress I am feeling right now planning and arranging for a six-month trip around Asia with only five weeks til D-Day.

But there is hope for me! That may be hard to believe considering the amount of detail I've set on the map above, but yes, there is hope. I have resolved to stop sweating about the small details and just have a general idea of what places I want to visit. Thus, what you see above is a very rough itinerary. And it covers just the first three months. I may go to this or that place, I may not. With that said, let me talk about the destinations I am very much looking forward to setting foot on.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: Angkor

Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph of a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. I want to encourage people to travel because travel has shown me a lot of beautiful things, has acquainted me with a lot of amazing people, and has taught me lessons I will keep for the rest of my life. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the ancient city of Angkor.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Photography Gear I Never Travel Without

My interest in travel photography developed only recently. I first discovered it when a few friends and I went to Puerto Galera in Mindoro, Philippines, back in 2007. Not the most scenic place, I know, but it did give me my first scenic sunset. The following year, when the same group of friends went to beautiful Bohol island, I knew I was hooked. I hijacked my friends' point-and-shoot cameras (again) and started shooting. I fell in love with the whole process: beholding an amazing scenery, appreciating it, and as my travel partner Angelica says, you eventually start clicking away producing good photos.

Puerto Galera
The moment I fell in love with travel and photography

Ever since then, I made it a point to bring my own camera when I travel. I've since changed cameras and various other camera gears. However, after my trip to China early this year, I think I have found myself the right set of gears—my best set of troops with whom I am entrusting the task of documenting my travels. Disclaimer: From here on out in this post, I will be geeking out on photography. But I think those who are thinking of getting a camera and photography gears or those with a growing interest in photography may find value in this post. So there.

By Bill Bertram | CC BY-SA
1. Nikon D90 Camera

I knew when I bought this late last year that this may be the last camera I will be using for a long time. And that's something coming from me. I;ve bought and sold two cameras in the last four years before I got myself this mid-level Nikon camera. Buying this, I knew I have found my match. It's not entry-level and it's not professional-level. Just right, I think. It has the right amount of bells and whistles. This means, it does not exactly treat you as a beginner but it still assists you as you make your way deeper into photography. And if you google reviews for it, you will find out that many agree that this may be Nikon's best DSLR ever.

2. Nikon 18-200mm Superzoom Lens

Blue Moon New Year 2010
Once in a blue moon

First things first, the "18-200mm" part refers to the focal length of a camera, the "zoom" of a camera. The wide side is the 18mm, the telephoto side the 200mm. It's called a superzoom because it covers a huge focal length: wide to telephoto. With my Nikon D90, I carry a Nikon 18-200mm superzoom lens attached. I opted not to get the kit lens that the Nikon D90 normally has on it, the Nikon 18-105mm, because of this lens's dismal reviews online. I couldn't have made a better decision! The Nikon 18-200mm was worth the extra bucks. I've had another superzoom before—the Sigma 18-200mm, but it wasn't as great as I wanted. I liked it, sure, but its sharpness wasn't doing it for me. I cannot make the same complaint, or any complaint for that matter, about the Nikon lens. Even if it has a bit of weight on it, I'd gladly carry it around on my travels.

3. Small Prime Lens

Pai, Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Everyone loves a good bokeh.

A prime lens is a lens with a single focal length (ex. 35mm, 50mm, 85mm) as opposed to a zoom lens which covers a range of focal lengths (ex. 18-55mm, 50-200mm). I like carrying one of this around because it is so useful. When I was still using a Canon, I had the 50mm F1.8. When I got my D90, I got the 35mm F1.8. They are extremely versatile, especially in low-light conditions, like say, when going out at night in your travels. It proved very useful to help me capture Ho Chi Minh and Siem Reap’s night life. They’re great with portraits, too! I mean, you could not make a mistake with this kind of prime lens. The best part is, they are cheap, well, relatively cheap. But worth every penny.

4. Graduated Neutral Density (GND) Filter

Port, Honda Bay
The GND filter kept the sky correctly exposed on this one.

A GND Filter helps you control the differing light levels in your shot. This is especially useful for landscape photographers because in a landscape, the sky is almost always brighter than the ground. Without a filter, you either get an overexposed sky or an underexposed ground in your shots. So, in order to compensate for these differing light levels, you place a GND Filter in front of your lens. The upper part of the filter (the part where the sky is) is darker than the lower part (the part where the ground is). Thus, it gives you well-lit composition.

I once read in a photography magazine that this type of accessory is crucial to any self-respecting travel photographer. As I like to pretend that I am one, I got myself a GND Filter. Honestly though, I don't use it that often. However, if I need it and when I use it, it can prove very useful. I used it the most when I was in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. The sky was too cloudy to give enough light on the ground. Yet, if I take my shot, the sky still appears overexposed. The GND Filter proved my life-saver here.

5. Circular Polarizing Filter (CPL) Filter

Great Wall, Mutianyu
Bluest of the bluest sky. People tell me that's quite rare in China.

I will not pretend to know how to explain how a CPL Filter works. It's too scientific, to say the least. But if you would indulge, please read this very technical Wikipedia page. The gist of it all: it can reduce light reflected on your subject, like say, the amount of sunlight reflected on the surface of the sea, and it can saturate the color of the sky. Thus, it gives you a photo with really deep, brilliant colors. This is why I love my CPL Filter. I love really strong contrasts and intense colors in my photos. Which is why my CPL Filter is almost always attached to my lens.

There you have it. These are the photography gears I cannot travel without and they will most likely be the same things I will be bringing in my RTW starting next month. As a final note though, I would like to say that you do not need all these gears to take great photos. The most basic DSLR would definitely be enough for any travel photography enthusiast. However, as I like playing with stuff, experimenting here and there, I got myself these gears. To each his own definitely applies here. Another great thing about photography, I think. Not only can you decide how to take your photos, you can also decide on what to take your photos with.

What photography gear do you take with you on your travels?

Hi there, traveler! Did you like this post? Got any comments? Do leave me a message below. A RETWEET or a LIKE would be very much appreciated, too. Sharing buttons can be found at the beginning of this post and below.
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Thursday, September 1, 2011

8 Backpacker Resolutions I Am Making Here and Now

So last week, I finally made the announcement that I am going on a six-month backpacking trip around Asia staring next month. I have informed my family and the people at work. I have also started to make the necessary preparations: finances, gear, documents, visas, work, etc. But before all that starts rolling into one big stressful mess, let me take one step back and ask myself: Is backpacking really for me? Is this the kind of travel lifestyle I want?

I know. Really bad time to even be questioning myself about this. But it has to be asked. I think, the question is not that easy to answer. Contrary to what many are inclined to believe, backpacking is not like going on vacation. Unless you have a trust fund from your millionaire parents, backpacking will be an exercise in frugality. You don't really think about that when you're on a trip lasting a few days to a week. The trip won't last that long so you tend to be generous with your spending. With backpacking, you're on the road longer. Thus, you find ways to spend less so you can travel more. Needless to say, there are a few sacrifices to be made to stretch out your budget and generally make this backpacking thing work.

So to usher in this lifestyle I will be adopting even if only for a few months, let me make a few resolutions—backpacker resolutions—here and now.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: Baguio City

Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph of a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. I want to encourage people to travel because travel has shown me a lot of beautiful things, has acquainted me with a lot of amazing people, and has taught me lessons I will keep for the rest of my life. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features Baguio City.

Baguio: Oh My Gulay

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Inspiration to Travel - August Top Picks

As a way to give back to the travel blogging community, both local and international, a community to whom I owe so much in terms of travel inspiration and ideas, I will be doing a round-up every end of the month of all the blog posts I found to be worth sharing. This month, the theme I chose is Inspiration to Travel.

You Don't Have to Be Rich to See the World (via

First post is by a friend of mine, Jerick, who points out that to travel you don't really need to have deep golden pockets, that "there are more ways to travel, and all you need is to keep your desire and dedication to see the world." I completely agree!

Fake It Till You Make It! (via

I loved this post because it totally reaffirmed my belief that bravery isn't really about having no fears. It is more about being scared sh*tless and doing it anyway. Traveling by yourself to a foreign country is scary as hell. But many people, including myself, are doing it. We're frightened, sure. But that definitely won't stop us.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I Decided to Bite the Bullet and Backpack Asia for 6 Months

So after years of preparation and months of contemplation, I am finally doing it. I am backpacking Asia for six months starting October this year. This kind of independent, long-term traveling has really been a dream of mine for many, many years now. I just never thought I could actually come up with the resources and muster the guts to do it. Apparently, I could. I knew it, determination is the key.

This decision was never really easy to make, more so explain, even to myself. It took me a while to actually uncover why I wanted to do this. To date, I have come up with five reasons. Not that I need any of them. Chasing the dream is reason enough for me. But for good measure and as a way to remind myself each time the thought of backing out crosses my mind, I am laying them down here.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Seven of the Most Beautiful Virgin Beaches of the Philippines

I have added another seven virgin beaches in this list. Find out here: Seven of the Most Beautiful Virgin Beaches of the Philippines (Part Two).

In the few years that I have been traveling, I have seen the most beautiful beaches here in the Philippines. It is what we are known for and I do believe we live up to our reputation. You think tropical paradise and you need not really go far. Some of the best beaches in the world are within an hour-long flight from Manila, the Philippine capital.

But I am not here to talk about Boracay or whatever is first on the list of beaches in the Philippines. In fact, being the non-party-goer that I am, I tended to avoid popular (which usually translated to party) beaches. I tend to go for the quieter, middle-of-nowhere, you-probably-did-not-know-existed type of beaches, that is, virgin beaches in the Philippines.

Below are seven of the best virgin beaches of the Philippines I have seen thus far. The list does not at all claim to be comprehensive nor representative of all the regions of this country. All I am saying is, of all the virgin beaches in the Philippines I have gone to, these seven are the ones I found to be the most beautiful.

1. Puntod Island (Bohol)

An hour boat ride away from the very famous Panglao beach in Bohol is Puntod Island. I do not really know why it was called that—puntod, which in Tagalog means "cemetery grave." Maybe locals used it as a cemetery at one point or another, I am not sure. What I am sure about, though, is how stunningly beautiful this place is. I mean, look at it! It is the definition of paradise!

Puntod Island, Bohol

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Few Insights on Travel (and) Photography

(I initially asked a friend of mine to guest post on this blog regarding her insights on travel and photography. I am glad she said yes! The post below is by Angelica Cruz, fellow lover of travel and photography. She is one of the few photographers I personally know who likes to keep her photos beautifully real and raw. Follow her and her adventures at

A Few Insights on Travel (and) Photography
by Angelica Cruz

Discovering my love for travel has introduced me to the wonderful world of photography. Being surrounded by wonderful places and people has unearthed in me the need to capture them in photos, either to share them to encourage other people to travel or just to have something to remember my travels by.

Three years of consistent traveling has taught me a few important things about travel photography and photography in general.

Let me just say beforehand that you will not find here tips on travel photography. Rather you will find here my insights on travel photography and the few important things I keep in mind when I travel and take photos. I'd like to think that I am a traveler first before a photographer.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What If Your Worst Travel Fears Were Realized?

I like to think that I am a brave traveler. Maybe it's because unlike most of my western counterparts, I never really had to think about the fears you can have when you're traveling. For one thing, I was born and have lived all my life in a third-world country. So I know first-hand that safety and security in any given third-world city are not really as exaggerated as one might get from the international news media.

But once in a while you do get grim reminders. It's August 2011. Around this time last year, eight travelers from Hong Kong on a tour bus in the Philippine capital Manila abruptly lost their lives in a hostage crisis. It was witnessed by millions of people around the world as it happened. I remember that so clearly because one, they were travelers, and two, I was actually traveling when it happened.

I realized that while the world is not as unsafe as the news media make it out to be, terrible and horrible acts that cost the lives of innocent people do take place. So as a traveler, where do I go from there?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Changing My Blog Address

So I have decided to change my blog address. It will be the same blog with the same content. The only thing that will be different is the address, i.e., the URL. I just thought I made the announcement here before carrying out any changes, which all take effect this weekend. Do check back Sunday or Monday.

The new site address will be As for the old address (, I will create a new blog for it. I did pay for the domain for one year anyway. I will use it as a redirect site, i.e., all past posts there will contain a link to my new address.

For RSS subscribers, no adjustments necessary as I am not changing the original feed address. Though you might have some trouble accessing past posts. For Blogger followers, no adjustments necessary as well. It's still the same blog on Blogger. Only it has a different URL and name.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Five Tips for Train Travel in China

When we made our trip to China last March, we made Shanghai our base. That is, we get in the country through Shanghai and get out through Shanghai. While this city may be a wonderful city in itself, I felt like I had to do my duty and see the "basics" first. Hence, my resolve to do a roundtrip run to the country's capital Beijing in the cheapest, fastest and most efficient way possible.

China Railway

Fortunately, China has one of the most developed railway systems in the world. Hey, they even have Maglevs there! Something quite novel to a Filipino like me who lives in an archipelago. Fortunately too, the folks at have an outstanding and comprehensive guide to train travel in China. Which is why I do not need to elaborate on all the little details here. What I would like to share here are the things I discovered and believe to be useful, if not essential, to any budget traveler using the Chinese railway system. Let's begin.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Basics for Using a DSLR for Travel Photography

I am all for everyone exploring the photographer in them, and with DSLR cameras becoming relatively less expensive these days, many now get the chance to realize that skill. Lately, however, I have been observing that the more advanced the camera a person gets, the more said person tends to think that such advanced camera will do all the work for him. While this may sometimes work, I do think it is completely misguided. Why some do not even bother learning the basics for using a DSLR, I will never understand.

Your camera, however advanced it is, will never be able to replace human judgment and creativity in capturing the beautiful scenery before you. Your DSLR gives you, not great photos, but the tools to take great photos. Trust yourself enough by using your camera's manual settings. I did and while my photos were not exactly NatGeo material, I still revel in the fact that it was me, not my camera, who took those pictures. Armed with the basics for using a DSLR, I took it slowly and got better and better at it.

The basics for using a DSLR are very easy to learn anyway. Once you get a grip on each, you will find yourself discovering the joys of photography. I know I have. So let me share what I have learned so far about the three basic components of photography in the few years I have been a DSLR user.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Fuel That Is Determination

I am not really sure if what we are about to do could be classified as long-term travel or an RTW trip. I mean, it's just three months. Two months and a week, if we're really being exact. And we won't really be going 'round the world. It will just be a small area of a huge, huge continent.

But, following the running theme of this blog, I am saying, the hell with it. Besides, very few Filpinos my age have done or will do what we are about to do. Many will opt for the well-trodden path of school, job, marriage, house, and kids. Not necessarily in that order, of course. (I am not saying that's bad and I fully respect anyone who makes that decision.)

More than that, though, it's that many Filipinos my age will never have the option to even consider extended travel simply because many just cannot afford it. I am one of the fortunate ones to have had higher education and the opportunity to acquire a highly valued skill.

Even then, I don't think that's enough. If you really want this, then you really have to make this your priority. You really have to be determined. And you have to sustain that determination day in, day out. But, as I recently discovered, that's not necessarily a difficult thing to do. In fact, after deciding that I am doing that trip, how I handle my finances just became a lot easier.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Travel Log: Going Big, Going High

I guess it all started a few months ago. For me, at least. A friend and I plan to travel, dare I say, backpack, for at least a month around India. While that may seem too short too little to our western counterparts, it is a big deal to middle-class wage-earning urban professionals from a developing Asian country.

We plan to cover India's classic golden triangle, albeit with some modifications, starting with the forts and temples of Delhi, on to the Taj Mahal in Agra and the ghats of Varanasi, and finally to the desert fortress of Jaisalmer. After that, and funds permitting, we plan to see the planet's biggest and tallest mountain range, the Himalayas. Now this was something I was looking forward to. I suppose you can call it "the Palin effect," which I subsequently learned is a legitimate affliction.

I admit, all this was the brainchild of my friend, not mine. She has been dreaming of and planning for this trip for longer than I have. I am just tagging along. Which is why I am hatching a plan of doing something on my own.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

UP Diliman: Spring Sunflowers in Summer

There's something to be said about the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines in summer. This is the time of the year when flowers, in all shapes, sizes and colors, bloom. One flower most especially--the big, bright and reminder of all things summer, the sunflower.

UP Diliman: Spring in Summer

Here in tropical Philippines, summer comes earlier in the year. It begins around late March and ends around late May. That's when the monsoon season kicks in. So we do not really have a "spring." Nonetheless, the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines in Quezon City make do with its own bloom season--a spring in the middle of summer.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Camarines Norte: Calaguas Islands

Summer comes quite early in the year for countries here in the tropics. It has been getting a little bit hotter now, especially in the daytime, rising up 32 to 34 degrees. Quite warm. This is precisely the cue city-dwellers take to start planning trips to the many famous beaches the Philippines is known for. Not us though. We went to the beach, yes. But not to one famous.

Calaguas, Camarines Norte

The Calaguas Islands are a group of several islands located two hours from the eastern coast of Camarines Norte, right within the Philippine Sea. One of the two major islands in the group, Tinaga, has this long stretch of untouched beach with blindingly white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters. Locals simply refer to it as Mahabang Buhangin (Tagalog for "Long Sand").

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Shanghai Nights and Chinese Promises

And so we go full circle back to Shanghai. We get in and get out of China through this city. Squeezed inside our itinerary was our two-day trip to Beijing via sleeper trains. Given this hectic schedule, we did not get a chance to explore any night life whatsoever. We had one night in Beijing but we were too tired from walking around the city all day to even think of going out that night.

Fortunately, our flight from Shanghai to Manila leaves a few minutes after midnight. So we had a few night-time hours to kill. We took that opportunity to see head to the Huangpu River again. I am quite glad we did. The Pudong Skyline at night was just spectacular. It's an icon of modern China. You see it on postcards, on travel magazines, and on posters. It is fulfilling that I was now getting to see it for myself. Then, if I look behind me, there's the Bund to see the old colonial-era buildings buildings again. At night, they seem to take on a whole new persona.

Pudong Skyline, Shanghai
Iconic Pudong skyline viewed from the Bund across the Huangpu River in Shanghai

The Bund at Night
Art Deco to Neo-Classical. Impressive.

Swatch Art Peace Hotel, Chartered Bank Building & North China Daily News Building on the Bund, Shanghai
From right to left: Swatch Art Peace Hotel, Chartered Bank Building, North China Daily News Building

When we came here to the Bund in our first morning in China, I was very impressed with the architecture of the buildings. Much more impressed, I think, were my two travel companions, as one was an architecture graduate, the other a licensed interior designer. From what I read, the Bund showcases the greatest hits of western design, from Neo-Classical to Gothic to Art Deco. They were beautiful in daylight, but I think I like them more at night.

The Bund at Night
Heritage building after heritage building on the Bund in Shanghai

North China Daily News Building, The Bund
North China Daily News Building

The Bund at Night
From left to right: Yangtze Insurance Association Building, EWO Building, Glen Line Building

Each of these beautifully-designed buildings along the Bund have numerous lights on them, installed very orderly along their little nooks and crannies. They illuminate a small portion of a wall, a pillar, a cornice, or an arch just right, not too dark and not too bright. In doing so, the design of each building is accentuated by a play on light and darkness. It's chiaroscuro, really. Maybe that's why I like them so much. The buildings here on the Bund look like paintings at night.

HSBC Building, The Bund
Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) Building

Customs House, The Bund
Customs House

The Bund though was not our last stop in our last night in China. There was one more thing to see in Shanghai. Plus, it was dinner time and we were hungry. It was the perfect stop—Nanjing Road. It is easy to get to from the Bund. The Bund literally passes by it. However, since we had extra RMBs to spend and did not want to bring out our city maps in the dark of the night, we simply took a cab going there. That was a very short ride.

Nanjing Street, Shanghai
Super busy shopping district Nanjing Street at night

Nanjing Road is a pedestrianized street in Shanghai considered to be the city's main shopping destination. And where there's shopping, there was dining. The street was full of local and international shops. Some brands we recognized, some we did not. The street was full of people, too. The chaos wasn't stressful though. In fact, it was invigorating. You suddenly find yourself feeling the full energy of Shanghai in this six-kilometer strip.

Nanjing Street, Shanghai
Odd shape. Hmmm.

For dinner, we ended up in a very "local" hole in the wall Chinese restaurant in one of the smaller streets jutting out from Nanjing Road. It was the kind of joint we normally see in the Chinatown of my city Manila. Tiled floors ran a bit dirty from grease and other food residue. Faded walls are decorated with traditional Chinese charms and dust-gatherers. Basic chairs and tables covered in plain white cloth. And though the food was greasy, we liked them. We had fried spring rolls, fried rice, stir-fried vegetables, and stir-fried pork. It was probably the first and only time we actually liked what we ate in China.

Nanjing Street, Shanghai
Saying goodbye to China on Nanjing Street and promising to come back

When I first got to China, I found it hard to penetrate the culture and the landscape, that I began to doubt if I could actually have a great travel experience here. For one, the language barrier hit me straight in the face. Plus, navigating through the country, I find myself questioning if I am on the correct street, if I got off the correct subway stop, if I exited the correct gates, etc. There is just too much of everything around you. You sort of got to stick it through and trust your instincts, and your companions' at that.

It gets easy along the way. And the pay off, well, I got to see first-hand how a country steeped in thousand-year old traditions has moved forward and how it is continuing to move forward. Needless to say, China is a very rewarding travel destination. And I know I just scratched the surface. There are more things to see and discover in this vast vast country. Which is why it is only fitting that I make a promise to come back. And I will. I most definitely will.

For more photos in this set, please visit my Flickr set: China: Shanghai Nights

Have you been to China? What impressions did the Middle Kingdom leave you?

Hi there, traveler! Did you like this post? Got any comments? Do leave me a message below. A RETWEET or a LIKE would be very much appreciated, too. Sharing buttons can be found at the beginning of this post and below.
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