Sunday, December 30, 2012

Why I Travel and Why I Traveled in 2012: Tiger Leaping Gorge of Yunnan, China

The soft, gray soil was proving too difficult to walk on with my worn-out hiking shoes, the same ones I wore to walk the trails of the same mountain range more than 1,600 kilometers from where I was at that moment, four countries away, to be exact. Although the load on my back was lighter this time, the same difficulties were making themselves annoyingly present. Legs sting every single step I make on the rocky uphill trail. Heart beats unrelenting and heavy as I try to breathe in as much oxygen as I can in the thin atmosphere of this Himalayan altitude. Never mind the cold wind blasting my already cold and sweaty neck. I look around and then I realize why I do the things I do.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Yunnan, China
Majestic cliffs of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, viewed from the Tiger Leaping Gorge

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Regular Travel Programming to Return Shortly

It's no longer a secret at this point that I have taken a short break from travel blogging this holiday season. The first half of December was spent traveling through the mountains of Mae Hong Son province in northern Thailand. The second half was at home doing a combination of your regular holiday merriment and good old work. Yes, even on Christmas Day! No complaints though. More work means more funds and more funds mean more travels! The good news is that regular travel programming in this travel blog will return shortly. Shortly than anyone might expect (assuming people still care or still read this travel blog). For now I leave you with a photo of one of the highlights of my travels this 2012:

Shangri-la (Zhongdian), Yunnan, China
Ganden Sumtseling Monastery in Shangri-la, Yunnan province, China

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: Yunnan Province, China

(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 sweet smile from an ethnic Bai woman in a place I am to finally blog about in the coming weeks: Yunnan Province, China.)

Bai Woman, Dali, Yunnan, China
The sweetest of smiles from my snacks lady
in Dali, Yunnan Province, China

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: Mountains of Mae Hong Son

(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 view from a above the clouds at sunrise in the Mountains of Mae Hong Son.)

Mae Hong Son Mountains, Thailand
View of the valley close to Pang Mapha from the mountains of Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Loy Krathong 2012 in Chiang Mai and the Most Fireworks I've Ever Seen Blown Up in One Week

If there was one thing I learned about how Thailand celebrates Loy Krathong Festival in the country's northern capital Chiang Mai, it is that the Thai people are very bold and loose with their fireworks use. I do not believe I have ever seen that many fireworks blown up in one single week and blown up so close to the ground, sometimes near my face, too! I don't think the Thai authorities enforce very strict regulations on fireworks manufacture. That's for sure.

Loy Krathong Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand
A week after and my ears are still recovering. Beautiful lights though, right?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: Yi Peng and Loy Krathong Festivals

(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 two of the loveliest festival of lights on the planet: Yi Peng and Loy Krathong Festivals.)

Loi Krathong 2012, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Lanterns big and small decorate parts of Chiang Mai old town
as part of the Yi Peng and Loy Krathong Festivals.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Magical Night of the Yi Peng Lanna Lantern Festival

Few, very few, events in this world fill spectators with such overwhelming sense of magic, spirituality, festiveness, and peace all at the same time. Those things all came together the night of November 24 when the Lanna Thais of northern Thailand and visitors to the northern Thai capital Chiang Mai went up to the open grounds of Mae Jo University to participate in and witness the great Lanna tradition of the Yi Peng Lantern Festival.

Yi Peng Lantern Festival 2012, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Magical release of the Yi Peng Lanna Lanterns

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Three of the Cheapest Destinations in Southeast Asia

It is by no means an understatement that Southeast Asia is a very cheap destination for travelers and, thus, the perfect destination for cash-strapped backpackers. Sam Hudson is a writer from the UK and is guest posting today. More importantly, he wholeheartedly agrees with me. He has handpicked the top three cheapest destinations in Southeast Asia, two of them my favorite cities. Sam, take it from here.

Backpacking is done best when it's done on a very cheap budget. This is why masses of backpackers embark to countries including Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia where they can enjoy life-changing travels for a fraction of Western prices. If you want to know where your budget will go furthest on the Southeast Asian backpacking circuit, check out my selection of three ultimately cheap and equally exciting destinations:

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi Night Lights, Vietnam
Hanoi is best experienced at night—chaotic, noisy, and bright.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: Hanoi Night Lights

(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 bright and lively night lights of Vietnam's capital city, Hanoi.)

Hanoi Night Lights, Vietnam

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Where to Stay in Vietnam - Tran Ly Hotel in Hue and May de Ville Backpacker Hostel in Hanoi

Normally, I don't make hotel or hostel recommendations. I find it difficult because what may be acceptable for my backpacker standards may not be so for some travelers or even other backpackers. There are two exceptions, however. One, the hotel or hostel stay is sponsored, like my my short-term rental in Chiang Mai, Thailand, sponsored by the kind folks at Roomorama. Even then I make sure I stay completely honest about my review. Then, there's number two: the hotel or hostel is so exceptionally and remarkably good that I cannot help myself but rave about it. Hopefully, what little promotion I generate by writing this post will help them continue their business and good businesses need to continue.

Let me start by saying that in no way at all did the two properties I will be recommending sponsored my stay, asked me to write about them, nor offered me anything in exchange for recommending them. That out the way, here we go.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Photos from the Imperial Capital of Vietnam: Hue

Before I started traveling, I did not know there was so much to see in Central Vietnam. The top two destinations in the country are located in the south (the largest city Saigon) and in the north (the country's capital Hanoi). Meanwhile, Vietnam's central regions have, apart from the beaches, quaint old towns like Hoi An, the prettiest one in Southeast Asia, and mountain retreats like Da Lat where Vietnamese coffee, among other agricultural produce, is largely cultivated. Then, of course, there is Hue. Spelled correctly as Huế and pronounced like way but with a quick breath in front. Thus, hway. So what is in Hue, Vietnam? Nothing, really. Just the grandest of Vietnam's structures: the Imperial Citadel.

Hue, Vietnam
The entrance to the imperial enclosure, which is surrounded by a moat, of course!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hoi An, the Prettiest Little Town That I Ever Did See


How do I love thee, the prettiest little town that I ever did see?
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My wanderlust can bear with that twenty-one hour journey in the dead of night.

Alright, so that's about all the Elizabeth Barrett Browning this sad excuse of romance poet can provide you. That's the thing really. When you are surrounded by quaint little houses, small cozy streets, and colorfully lit lanterns all in a relaxed riverside setting, you suddenly turn into the most romantic of romance poets, albeit a bit tired and worse for wear from that long bus ride. This is what Hoi An, a small little town in Central Vietnam, can do to you.

Hoi An, Vietnam

Friday, October 26, 2012

It's Not You, Halong Bay. It's Me.

If a long-term traveler or a backpacker tells you that he liked every place he visited because each place had its own charm and character, you can be sure that that is one big pile of BS. At the very least, some places will be mediocre while others spectacular. On the two times that I went to Halong Bay, the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is arguably Vietnam's top tourist attraction, I cannot really say I had a travel experience worth writing home about. Don't get me wrong. I thought the place was stunning and beautiful, but I found it inadequate to be considered as one of the highlights of my travels.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
You're beautiful, Halong Bay. So beautiful. But a highlight of my travels? Hmmm.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why I Keep Returning to Vietnam (Despite Tourism Statistics)

Consider these facts for a minute. Vietnam received 6 million tourists in 2011. Not bad for a country its size. In Southeast Asia, it comes right after the vast archipelago of Indonesia in terms of number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Vietnam has seven, Indonesia eight. Yet, despite these numbers, Vietnam still sees itself monumentally beat in terms of return rate. Only 5 percent of its tourists return. Dismal, especially when compared to Thailand's 50 percent. That's fifty! What that means, at least according to The Economist where the figures came from, is that barring the fact that Vietnam's tourism industry is very young (only opening for business in 1986), visitors' experiences traveling through the country is just not that exceptional, or downright bad or scammy even, for them to consider returning.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
It's not you, Vietnam. It's, well, it's you. This is all on you.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: Hanoi Bun Cha

(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 one of my top seven Vietnamese food favorites, one of the most delicious Vietnamese foods to ever touch my mouth: Hanoi Bun Cha.)

Hanoi Bun Cha, Vietnam

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Backpacking Itinerary: Saigon in One Day

Of all the cities in Asia, Saigon is the one place I seem to come back to over and over. Four times now I have been to Saigon. The first time I was here was actually the first time I traveled outside of my country. Not that I intended any of my return visits to happen. It's just a convenient stopover in mainland Southeast Asia to and from Manila. Needless to say, I have covered the basics of this city a few times now. Doing an DIY tour of Saigon's main sights is pretty easy anyway. Saigon isn't the kind of place you travel slowly in. It's chaotic. It's fast. And you'll want to get with the city's frenetic pace to experience it the right way. So which sights to see in Saigon? Here's a one-day Saigon itinerary. Yes, Saigon can be done in one day!

Saigon Chaos
Chaos on Saigon streets? Nah. Just good ol' Saigon rush hour.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

How This Backpacker Handles Finances while on Long-Term Travel

I have talked about how a Filipino backpacker like me, a backpacker from a third-world country, can afford long-term travel. However, I have never really talked about how I handle my finances while traveling long-term. It is a something I never really pondered when I was planning my six-month backpacking trip around Asia (which has really extended to, well, almost a year now). Fortunately, a reader emailed asking for tips on how to handle finances for long trips. She specifically asked about how to handle pocket money for an extended trip around Southeast Asia. So it got me thinking. Here are a few things I have learned thus far on how to handle finances while on long-term travel. They apply to short trips, too!

Singaporean Dollars
Mine prrreeecccious Singaporean dollars


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Backpacking Continues: Fall and Winter Plans

I actually remember what I was doing this time last year. I was on the tail end of my preparations for the six-month backpacking adventure: preparing my packing list, setting up my first-aid kit for travelers, and figuring out how to travel to Singapore on a backpacker budget. So much has happened since then. Though I may have gone home a few times the past year, as I have been for the last few weeks, my backpacking adventure continues. One year now this October! Can you believe that?

Also, the backpacking adventure continues through my favorite time of the year: fall and winter. I don't have everything figured out right now (which destinations I'm heading to, how long will I be there, etc.) And I kind of like it that way. But since I like making travel itineraries, let me tell you about my fall and winter plans. Maybe we'll cross paths. Maybe you'll come with. Look me up!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Food Tour in Bangkok Chinatown

Frighteningly mad urban chaos, deafening noise, and sweltering heat can be unsettling when the last few weeks was spent walking in the remote mountain trails of the Himalayas. That is the impression that Bangkok gave me the first time I set foot on Thai soil and it has never left me ever since. People like large, chaotic Asian cities. I get that. Surprisingly, having grown up in one, I'm not one of them.

Food Tour in Bangkok Chinatown, Thailand
How can a man choose from this endless stack of dishes in Bangkok Chinatown?

However, Bangkok has a redeeming factor: food. But you know that already. Fortunately, an awesome travel blogger and fellow food lover like me, Mark of Migrationology.com, was kind enough to take me on a food tour in Bangkok Chinatown. With an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the Thai population having Chinese ancestry, a food tour in Bangkok Chinatown will involve some of the mind-numbingly great tasting dishes the whole of Thailand has to offer. Let's begin, shall we?


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

5 Chiang Mai Markets Every Visitor Should Know About

If there was one thing I absolutely love about Thailand, and I love many things about it, it has got to be the markets. The Thais love their markets and even the touristy markets are good. I kid you not. At least that's how it is in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai markets are yet another reason I fell in love with Thailand's northern capital. Chiang Mai markets are not just places to shop. There's also entertainment in there ranging from traditional musicians to drag queens. Then, there's the food, the spectacularly delicious Thai foods. How could food ever be absent anywhere in Thailand?

Sunday Walking Street, Chiang Mai, Thailand
The busy starting point of the Chiang Mai Sunday Walking Street at Tha Pae Gate

Over the course of the six months that I lived in the city, I have noted a few Chiang Mai markets that are worth a look and most definitely a taste for those visiting the city. Here are five which I think every visitor should know about and considering exploring while in Chiang Mai.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: King Mengrai Monument

(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 a monument dedicated to the most prominent historical figure of northern Thailand: King Mengrai.)

King Mengrai Monument, Chiang Rai, Thailand

Monday, September 17, 2012

My Top Twelve Thai Food Favorites

The Chiang Mai Gate Food Market was the first place in Chiang Mai that I ever sought out. Heck, food is probably the first thing I sought out the night I first arrived in Thailand. But I won't bore you with the usual Thai food dishes like Pad Thai or Tom Yum Soup. Having spent much of my travels in Thailand, northern Thailand to be exact, I discovered that there was so much more to Thai cuisine than stir-fried noodles or tangy, spicy soups.

So what are the delicious Thai dishes that stood out to me while living in Thailand? I can tell you right now that most of them are Thai dishes that originated in northern Thailand and that six of them are curry dishes. What can I say? I like them thick, spicy and hearty. Here we go.

1. Sai Oua (Northern Thai Sausages)

Northern Thai Sausages, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Jungle Flight Chiang Mai Zipline Experience and It Was Free!

When you are a resident of a certain city, you won't really find yourself doing the touristy things in that city. In the more than two decades I lived in Manila, I believe I only visited Manila Old Quarter Intramuros twice. When I started living in Chiang Mai, Thailand several months ago, I realized the same rule applies for cities you once a traveled to as a tourist but now live in as a local, or in my case, semi-local. Contrary to my belief before I moved here, I only got to play tourist very rarely, that is, when people from out of town visit or when the touristy activity is actually free. The latter is precisely the case with my Jungle Flight Chiang Mai zipline experience.

Jungle Flight Chiang Mai Zipline, Thailand

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: Chinatown Bangkok

(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 night lights in an especially lively area of Thailand's capital city: Yaowarat Road, Chinatown Bangkok.)

Yaowarat Road, Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Which Wat to Wander at in Chiang Mai

Upon arriving in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the first thing you will notice are the number of temples or wat this city has. Every neighborhood and every street in Chiang Mai will almost always have a temple. Some of the temples in Chiang Mai are huge, some small. Some temples are part of a large complex, some stand alone. Suffice it to say, there are so many of temples in Chiang Mai to cover in the few days any tourist will spend in the city. So you need to pick which temples in Chiang Mai to visit.

Having lived here for several months, I have grown fond of a few noteworthy temples in Chiang Mai, even photographing them at night when, in my opinion, these temples are at their most stunning. Here are six temples in Chiang Mai or wats to wander at while in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

1. Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Why Chiang Mai?

Suan Dok Gate, Chiang Mai, Thailand Being the de facto capital of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is a usual (if not, necessary) stop for many fellow travelers exploring northern Thailand. Despite my not being the most outgoing and approachable person in Chiang Mai (and the entire planet), I do meet and get to know a lot of these fellow travelers whilst here. Almost inevitably, when I tell them the online nature of my job(s) and that I can choose to live anywhere I wanted to, the question gets asked: Why Chiang Mai?

Pretty valid inquiry, I think. First, to clarify, I did not just jump on the travel blogger bandwagon as many travel bloggers that came before me had chosen to live in Chiang Mai for several months. Yes, I have my own reasons. Second, while one of my online jobs did need me to be based in Chiang Mai, I can still argue that there was still a choice on my part as it was I who chose to hunt for freelance jobs in Chiang Mai.

So why Chiang Mai then? Of all the places I have visited in Asia, why did I choose to stay in Chiang Mai the longest and live here for several months? I contemplated on creating a PowerPoint™ presentation but it reminded me of my corporate life a little too much. (Zing?) Alright, on with it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: Chiang Mai Tha Pae Gate

(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 center of the center of Chiang Mai: Chiang Mai Tha Pae Gate.)

Tha Pae Gate, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Tha Pae Gate in Chiang Mai Old Town during the Sunday Walking Market

Monday, August 27, 2012

How to Do a Successful Visa Run in Chiang Mai (Part 02)

Right, onto the business of that great backpacker tradition that is the visa run in northern Thailand. A couple of weeks back, I talked about how to extend your stay in Thailand with the first type of visa run in Chiang Mai. That visa run in Chiang Mai gives you 14 more days of travel time. But what if you want to stay longer? Take advantage of the cheap, and I mean cheap, cost of living in Chiang Mai? Be the hot-shot digital nomad that you are and base (or debase?) yourself in this great city in northern Thailand for a few months?

Thai Visa, Visa Run to Chiang Mai
A proper single-entry tourist visa to Thailand

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Five Travel Photos that Capture the Colour

Capture the Colour is a travel blogger photo contest sponsored by TravelSupermarket.com. I found out about the contest through a tweet by travel photographer Ken Kaminesky who is himself one of the five judges in the contest. Rest assured that his Capture the Colour post is just a sample. That's a tough act to follow.

The Capture the Colour Contest challenges travel bloggers all over the world to define what it is to "capture the colour" by posting five of their most stunning travel photos that capture the colors Blue, Green, Yellow, White, and Red. Each colour is a category and each of the winners in the five colour categories gets an iPad as prize. As for the grand prize, it's a whopping 2,000 British pounds! Interested yet?

Prizes notwithstanding, I really wanted to submit my entries as I really enjoy participating in travel blogger photo memes. Good thing Mark of Migrationology.com nominated me. Let's get started.

Blue

Capture the Colour: Blue in Calaguas, Philippines

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: The Banana Fritter Trail

(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 two photographs with the same subject, taken in two different countries, and equally delicious: Banana Fritters.)

Banana Fritter Trail, Southeast Asia
Banana fritters in Malaysia and in Thailand. Both crispy and sweet.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How to Do a Successful Visa Run in Chiang Mai (Part 01)

So you have been traveling in Thailand for a month now. You have swam, sunbathed, dived, and partied in the islands. You still have lots to see in Thailand but your allowed travel time is up. There's still the whole business of northern Thailand which is a destination on its own. So what do you do? Easy. Go on one of the great backpacker traditions in Southeast Asia: the Visa Run.

From Chiang Mai, de facto capital of northern Thailand, there are two (2) types of visa runs. Which one to do will depend on how many more days of travel time you want. One visa run in Chiang Mai will give you 14 more days of travel time. The other visa run in Chiang Mai will give you 60 more days of travel time with the possibility to extend for another 30. Let's discuss the first type of visa run in Chiang Mai.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Everything There Is to Know about Pai in Thailand

Everybody on the tourist trail in northern Thailand seems to want to go to Pai. This small town in northern Thailand used to be a "small town" in every sense of the word, predominantly inhabited by the Shan people, with a smattering of Hui, and getting regular visits from Hmong, Lisu, Lahu, and Karen hill tribes living nearby. As a travel destination, it was only the hippie, dreadlocked kind of backpackers that came here, a secret kept from the traveling world.

Pai, Mae Hong Son, Thailand

However, in more recent years, Pai, Thailand has grown to be a veritable tourist destination. This translated to a refurbished airport, increased hotel accommodations, and more 7-11 branches. Yes, that's a measure of development around these parts. Plus, ever since two Thai rom-coms were filmed here, local Thai tourists seem to want a slice of Pai, too.

So what is in Pai, Thailand that everybody seems to have the urge to head here? Luckily, Pai is very easy to figure out. Below are everything you need to know about Pai, Thailand.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

How This Backpacker Can Afford Long-Term Travel (10 Months and Counting!)

So it is August. When I started traveling October last year, I only planned to be on the road for six months, that is, until March this year. Obviously, those plans didn't pan out. For the better, of course. August will be my 11th month traveling long-term. 11th! Can you believe that? Sure, I went home a couple of times and if we were counting in weeks, my total time on the road would be closer to 8 months. Still, that's a huge feat for any Filipino backpacker. We're not exactly widely known as travelers.

Travel-Perfect Sunny Skies in Coron, Palawan

The question begs to be asked at this point. How can a Filipino backpacker, a backpacker from a third-world country raised in a middle-class family, afford long-term travel? I racked my brain out for this one. Allow me to share the things I did that allowed me to travel long-term. Hopefully, those contemplating on treading the same path may find something of use in these personal ramblings.


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: Chiang Mai, New City

(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 new city, coincidentally known in local language as New City: Chiang Mai.)

View of Chiang Mai, Thailand from Doi Suthep
View of Chiang Mai, Thailand from Doi Suthep

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Seven of the Most Beautiful Virgin Beaches of the Philippines (Part Two)

I believe I have said it again and again on this travel blog. I am a very big fan of virgin beaches. Forunately enough, I come from the Philippines, a country with more than 7,000 islands, many of which are remote and uninhabited. It's really inevitable that I come up with a list of Seven of the Most Beautiful Virgin Beaches in the Philippines.

The article remains to be one of the most popular posts on this travel blog. So I thought I create a follow-up. Since I am out of the country at the moment, I have asked my fellow Pinoy travel bloggers to tell me about the virgin beaches in the Philippines they have discovered in their travels.

Without further ado, here are Seven of the Most Beautiful Virgin Beaches in the Philippines (Part Two).

1. Panampangan Island (Tawi-Tawi)

First up is a virgin beach sent in by James of JourneyingJames.com. Located at the remote southeast corner of the Philippines, Panampangan Island may only be an hour and 15 minutes by boat from the nearest town of Bongao in Tawi-Tawi province, but very few people visit it. Although the area is peaceful, being on a remote corner of the Philippines means police escort is necessary. With waters of that color and clarity, however, I reckon all the trouble would be worth it.

Panampangan Island (Tawi-Tawi)
© JourneyingJames.com 2012


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: That First Sunset

(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 moment I fell in love with travel and photography: that first sunset.)

Puerto Galera, Mindoro, Philippines

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Backpacking Itinerary: Nepal in Three Weeks


"Still I felt uncommonly happy at trekking once more behind a string of mules with their bright headbands, gaudy red wool tassels and jingling bells, over a road and country new to me with the promise of sixteen such days ahead. I felt I could go on like this for ever, that life had little better to offer than to march day after day in an unknown country to an unattainable goal."
HW Tilman, Nepal Himalaya

And so goes my favorite quote about Nepal. I will not say that my trip to the Nepal Himalaya was something life changing. I am still me after all. However, that trip did bring out the best in me, qualities I didn't even know I had. I was able to trek the Himalayas uphill and downhill for 10 continuous days. I was able to bungy jump and prove to myself that bravery is being scared shitless and doing it anyway. For all these, I am grateful. And by sharing this knowledge I've acquired about travel to Nepal, I am hoping that more people experience what I experienced and more in that amazing country.

Below is our backpacking Nepal itinerary in three weeks. This is the second in a series of itinerary posts I will be releasing. Hopefully, this will help future travelers to Nepal with their own itineraries and general planning.

Open Nepal Itinerary Map in Google Maps
Nepal Itinerary in Three Weeks


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Backpacking Itinerary: India in Three Weeks

There's the rest of the world, and then there's India. Simple statement, sure. Yet it encapsulates every traveler's experience in this vastly diverse and culturally rich country. As we were on an extended trip to India lasting three weeks, we knew we could see a lot of places. But we didn't. India is a huge country, a continent in itself. It would be impractical to run around trying to see everything all at once. We have learned early on that to really, really see a place, we need to travel slowly. We tried to cover the basics. However, the travel gods had other plans. Thankfully, they did. We experienced everything from Indian urban metropolis, Indian mountains in the Himalayas, to the vast northern Indian plains, and we covered four of India's great religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Sikhism.

Below is our backpacking India itinerary in three weeks. This will be the first in a series of itinerary posts I will be releasing. Hopefully, this will help future travelers to India with their own itineraries and general planning.

Open India Itinerary Map in Google Maps
India itinerary in three weeks


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: The Campus of the University of the Philippines

(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 beautiful campus of the University of the Philippines in my hometown, Manila.)

UP Fallen Fire Trees

Monday, July 9, 2012

How to Pass up a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Still Have a Rockin' Good Time

The city of Kathmandu, Nepal has a lot of interesting sites to see. There are at least 130 historic and religious monuments in the Kathmandu valley, an area listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Naturally, most visitors to Kathmandu go visit these sites.

Not us. While we did visit Kathmandu's Durbar Square, we figured we do something different on our last full day in this Himalayan capital. So we went to Patan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in itself. However, we didn't go to Patan's temples and palaces, or any place there tourists would usually visit. We passed up our opportunity to see what Patan is known for the world over and instead, went to a punk rock concert happening right in this Nepali neighborhood. That's right. A punk rock concert. More like a punk rock jam session, but you get the drift. And hell yes, we had a whole lot of fun.

So here's how to pass up a UNESCO World Heritage Site and still have a rockin' good time.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Beautiful Women of Chetana in Pokhara, Nepal

In many societies in Asia, women have always been the underprivileged group. This is especially so in male-dominated societies that heed to the caste system. Such is the case in Nepal. Women are discriminated against and underrepresented in many sectors of Nepali society. UNICEF figures indicate that only 65 percent of adult females in Nepal gain literacy. No education means a very limited source of livelihood, if any at all. Even if employed outside their homes, Nepali women are paid 25 percent less than that of their male counterparts and are traditionally relegated to more traditional, low-level jobs.

Chetana Women Skill Development Project, Pokhara, Nepal

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: Porters of Nepal

(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 a group of people whose job I have grown to respect while trekking up in the Himalayas: the Porters of Nepal.)

Porters, Annapurna, Nepal
The porters of Nepal and the backbreaking work that they do

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Top 12 Places to See Tibet Outside of Tibet

Tibet has always been one of the few places in Asia that truly fascinate me. It still does as I have yet to set foot on the Tibetan plateau. It fascinates because the Tibetans are a peaceful people with a stunningly rich and colorful culture hardened by one of the most inhospitable environments in the world. Unfortunately, Tibetans are some of the most oppressed people in the world. The oppression continues with recent news about Tibet being closed to foreign travelers in light of recent self-immolations and protests happening in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Authorities are still seeking to control information and news about Tibet that could leak out to the rest of the world through foreign visitors.

While this is unfortunate, I don't believe this should stop anyone from learning more about the Tibetan cause or at the very least, understand Tibet, Tibetan culture, and other related Himalayan cultures. Here are some suggestions for places to see Tibet outside of Tibet. (Do note that I have only been to some, not all, of the places listed here. These are mere suggestions. I would love to learn your thoughts on the matter in the comments section!)

1. Dharamsala

McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: Annapurna Base Camp

(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 a classic shot of prayer flags and Himalayan peaks: the Annapurna Base Camp.)

Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal

Monday, June 25, 2012

When Temples Were Cool Again: Durbar Square of Kathmandu

If you travel to quite a few places in Asia for an extended period of time, temples and other such places of worship would at some point begin to lose their magnificence and splendor. You would at some point be, as most travelers would call it, "templed-out." Having seen the Forbidden Palace in Beijing, the Khmer ruins of Angkor, the Tibetan temples of Dharamsala, and the Mughal masterpieces of India, I was beginning to lose interest in similar such places. Great! Another temple. I would often hear myself sarcastically say. Sad, really. There I was standing in some of the world's greatest heritage sites and the experience was lost on me.

It was not the case, however, in the temples in Kathmandu, Nepal. From the tourist district of Thamel, we made our way south along the narrow and chaotic streets of Kathmandu, one of three UNESCO World Heritage cities (the other two being Patan and Bhaktapur) situated in the Kathmandu valley, the widest piece of flat land in all of the Nepal Himalaya. After a few minutes of walking, we found ourselves in a holy place where time seemed to have stopped a long time ago. We found ourselves in a land full of pigeons and red wooden pagodas. We had just arrived in Durbar Square of Kathmandu.

Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal
Land of pigeons and pagodas, the Durbar Square of Kathmandu, Nepal.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Hunt for Anthony Bourdain's Lunch Lady in Saigon

To say that Anthony Bourdain was one of the inspirations for my travels is a huge understatement. Don't get me wrong. There were quite a few times when I loathed the man's guts what with his strong opinions on food, politics, and everything in between. I saw him as a pompous, self-indulgent celebrity chef cum traveler cum writer, who scoffs at anything that didn't pass his self-righteous standards. Then I realized, that's precisely the same reason why I like him so much. His I-got-an-opinion-about-everything-especially-food-and-travel-so-go-f*ck-yourself-and-deal-with-it attitude endeared him to me. The foodie cum traveler cum writer in me wanted to emulate those qualities.

So when the opportunity came that I was once again passing through Vietnam, a country Anthony Bourdain loved so much he considered moving his family here, I knew I had to hunt for at least one of the foodie joints the man gushed about. I found the perfect prey: Anthony Bourdain's Lunch Lady in Saigon.

Anthony Bourdain's Lunch Lady in Saigon, Vietnam
Anthony Bourdain's Lunch Lady in Saigon, the lovely Nguyen Thi Thanh.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: Northern Thai Sausages

(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 one of the reasons I love Chiang Mai so much: Northern Thai Sausages.)

Northern Thai Sausages, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Kathmandu, I Love You

There are just some places where you feel it. Where you are not even off the plane, yet you know that the country you are landing in will leave an indelible mark on your very core. Then, you step off the aircraft and you feel that crisp, alpine air coarse through your nose all the way to your lungs. You feel cold and warm at the same time. You begin to walk on the tarmac and look up on the clouds and realize they're not clouds. They're the magnificently white peaks of the high Himalayas. They are stunning, spectacular, and magical.

I was only a month into my six-month trip around Asia at the time but I was beginning to lose that sense of wonder for the places I was treading onto. I was so thankful that Nepal came when it came. What can I say? It was love at first sight.

View from the plane flying into Kathmandu, Nepal
View from the plane flying into Kathmandu, Nepal

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: The Other Side


(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 talks about seeing the other side of the travel coin.)

Sarnath, Varanasi, India

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Much Needed Escape to Sarnath

One of the most interesting places to visit in India has got to be Varanasi. Everything that is shocking, rattling, and sensory-assaulting about India is magnified ten-fold in this most sacred city in all of Hinduism. The cow dung, the heady incense smoke, the dizzying alleyways. It didn't help that I was scammed here, too, just a couple of days ago. My breaking point was nigh. (Yes, nigh!)

I knew my travel buddy, Angelica, was about to break, too. And that afternoon, she did. First thing the next morning, she says, she was heading to a place a fellow traveler recommended. Only 40 minutes from Varanasi, but worlds away from it. I was not planning on going with her, but that night, when it suddenly reeked of gas from the busted propane-powered shower heater close to our room, I made a decision. The next day, we headed to Sarnath.

Sarnath, Varanasi, India

Monday, May 28, 2012

Photos from the Adventure to Fatehpur Sikri in Agra

Right. Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. And who doesn't know about the Taj Mahal? The greatest monument to love ever built by man. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and definitely a place you can see in just one day. Given this, much of the tourists you will see in Agra are only on a very short stay. With the Indian capital Delhi just two hours away by train, some don't even spend the night. Personally, I think that's a mistake. That's because only an hour or so from Agra's city center lies an equally enchanting site: Fatehpur Sikri.

Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, India

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Anomaly That Is the Filipino Backpacker

Filipinos are known for a lot of things. We export, not our products, but ourselves as laborers abroad. Our heritage produces talent like no other. I need only cite boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, or Jessica Sanchez on the latest season of American Idol as example. Yes? Yes? Then, finally, we have some of the most beautiful tropical virgin beaches in the world. Here's proof.

Being backpackers or long-term travelers, however, now that is something we are definitely NOT known for. Filipino backpackers? Nah. Never heard. For one, the Philippines is a third-world country. And those of us who have the means to travel long-term rather use our resources on more tangible investments: house, car, higher education. Completely understandable.

Of course, there is the select few, the few who choose to abandon all conventions and choose a travel-filled lifestyle, the few who said, "Heck yes! I want to be in the Filipino backpackers club!" So what's it like backpacking as a Filipino and backpacking as a Filipino in Asia at that? Here's my experience.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: Fatehpur Sikri


(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 Persian-Indian wonder that is the Fatehpur Sikri.)

Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, India

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Trek to the Annapurna Himalayas in Nepal: The Take Away


"Still I felt uncommonly happy at trekking once more behind a string of mules with their bright headbands, gaudy red wool tassels and jingling bells, over a road and country new to me with the promise of sixteen such days ahead. I felt I could go on like this for ever, that life had little better to offer than to march day after day in an unknown country to an unattainable goal."
HW Tilman, Nepal Himalaya

Have you ever read something so simple, so straightforward, that you feel every single word resonating in every bone of your body? I think I have. When I read that passage, I was sitting alone in my room in a mountain lodge after a particularly grueling day, the eighth in our trek to the Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal. I was suddenly overwhelmed with all kinds of emotions. I realized tears started flowing down my eyes.

I saw mules, and goats, and cattle, and was even asked to slap one on the butt as it was blocking the stone staircase. I marched the mountain trails day in, day out and felt the truest and sincerest joy of being there, of being at the moment. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before.

Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, Nepal

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Calaguas: What Makes a Perfect Beach

Beach Snob. That is something I inevitably slip into whenever the topic of tropical beaches and islands dominate a conversation between fellow travelers. I can't really help it. I am from a country that has 7,107 tropical islands. And I have been to some of best of them. I guess it's only natural that I then define what makes for a perfect beach. Thankfully, I have just the most fitting example. Here are reasons why Calaguas in Camarines Norte, Philippines, in particular, the wide stretch of beach locals call Mahabang Buhangin (Long Sand), is my definition of a perfect beach.

1. It takes at least two hours to reach.

The Calaguas Islands are a group of tiny islands off the coast of Camarines Norte, a province southwest of Manila. It takes two hours to reach the island from the nearest port town of Paracale. That is on a good day. When weather is rough, as it usually is in the typhoon alley of Bicol, a region facing the Philippine Sea and the Pacific, a boat ride can take up to three to four hours, something I experienced the first time I went there. By the way, there aren't any tourist boats in these parts. You hire small fishing boats to take you there. But really, that's alright, when the reward is something as beautiful.

Calaguas, Camarines Norte