Monday, January 30, 2012

The Cold, Clammy Hands of the Man from Varanasi

It did not matter that we have been traveling for more than 12 hours then. When we got to Varanasi that day, despite feeling exhausted and dizzy from all the chaos going about, we wanted to go out and start exploring. The thing with Varanasi is that, everything that is shocking and rattling about India, it's ten times more in Varanasi. The streets are busier with people and cars and rickshaws. The alleyways, which they call gali, are more pungent with all the trash, cow manure, incense, and flowers for the dead.

Varanasi is the picture you have of India where people descend down a wide staircase, which they call ghat, to bathe, wash and go about their daily business right at the banks of the most sacred river in all of Hinduism, the River Ganges. Thus, more importantly, Varanasi is where, in keeping with Hindu practice, they burn their dearly departed and let whatever charred remains there is flow down the river.

Varanasi, India

(More photos from Varanasi here: Photos from the Holiest of Holiest Places in India)

Friday, January 27, 2012

How to Apply for a Tourist Visa to China in the Philippines

UPDATED 06 January 2014—Having included China in the second half of my six-month itinerary, I knew there was one more reason I had to go home for the holidays. I had to take care of my tourist visa to China at the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines. It was easier for me this time. I was just basically renewing my Chinese visa. However, it would be for a slightly longer period: 30 days.

I wrote a step-by-step process on Chinese visa application a few months ago based on my experience as a first-time Chinese visa applicant. However, Chinese visa application rules have changed since then, as I found out on my second application. Thus, let me update that post right here: How to Apply for a Tourist Visa to China in the Philippines.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: Back on the Road

(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 the oftentimes insatiable feeling of starting another journey, whether it be for just a few days or a even a few months. There is nothing like the feeling of being back on the road.)

Rough Riding
Rough riding on a 4x4 through the sand dunes of Mt. Pinatubo

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Packing List Redux (A Much Needed Evaluation)

I should consider myself extremely lucky that I am able to sit back and evaluate the list of things that I have on my backpack halfway through the trip where else but in the comforts of my own home. Yes, I have been back home since the day before Christmas Eve and I am still in the Philippines. However, I am leaving very soon to continue what I set out to do August last year

Thus, it is only appropriate that I revisit my packing list. I have to pack lighter and bring only what I learned I needed the most. I need to ask myself:
  • How many pieces of clothing did I really use? Which ones?
  • What item was most useful?
  • What item I should not have taken with me in the first place?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why Travel Tuesday: Visiting Famous Landmarks

(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 something we all like to do when we travel: tick off famous landmarks on our bucket list. And if at all possible, goof off in the process.)

Goofing off at the Great Wall, Beijing, China

Saturday, January 14, 2012

9 Backpacker Districts Every Budget Traveler in Asia Should Know About

More often than not, when we talk about budget travel, we usually refer to traveling backpacker style. This usually means hostels instead of hotels, street food stalls instead of restaurants, and do-it-yourself sightseeing instead of packaged tours. There is a lot more flexibility nowadays, of course. But it is still well worth knowing which area in your next travel destination to check out when you want to find the cheapest options available.

In my travels around Asia, I tended to trod along the backpacker trail. (Why wouldn't I?) Thus, I had been able to see first-hand how each place checks out. I have my favorites and, of course, my not-so favorites. Let me list them all down here:

1. Pham Ngu Lao, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam

The very busy Pham Ngu Lao street juts out southwest from the Ho Chi Minh City Bus Station. That alone is a plus point for me. It's close to the center of everything. The area is a dizzying combination of street signs, bootleg book peddlers, sidewalk food courts, bright and gaudy bars and restaurants, and of course, motorcycles! I have been to Ho Chi Minh twice (thrice, if you count my transiting there from Cambodia) and I know I will stay in the Pham Ngu Lao area the next time I am in Ho Chi Minh.

Recommends: My My Arthouse (hostel's a bit tricky to locate but great value at 7 USD per bed)

Cheers to Saigon

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bangkok's Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Photo Essay)

Even though I was still hung over from the simple lifestyle and the mountain vistas that trekking in Nepal afforded me, I knew that I was already in another country with its own rich culture waiting for me to explore it. It was the first time, too, that I was traveling solo. My trekking partner has moved on to Vietnam, whilst I opted to stay in Thailand. So on that day, I decided to get out of the hostel and walk around Thailand's capital Bangkok.

Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok, Thailand

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Roomorama Has Got It Going On*

I first heard of Roomorama when I attended a backpacker event in Manila organized by the amazing duo of Lois and Chichi of We Are Sole Sisters. The concept was very interesting. People from all over the world rent out their properties via Roomorama to people who are looking for an alternative to hotel accommodation when they travel. I talked to the Roomorama rep present in the event and was offered to try it out for free.

At this point, do you really need to know why I signed up? Okay. If it wasn't for free, I can honestly say that I will still try it out. Here are six reasons why:

1. Easy to use website

I signed up on (which in itself is free, by the way) and found the website very easy to use. No need to read up or anything like that. The design is easy to navigate and you instinctively know where to go and which button to click on. Process was simple, too. Inquire to confirm availability of the property and then book. In my case, the owner of the property answered within 24 hours and in no time, I had booked a one-night stay in a decent-looking property in New Delhi: The Estate.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Big Six-Month Backpacking Itinerary (Part 02)

As it stands now, I have completed half of my originally planned six-month backpacking journey. And as expected, much of my plans for the first three months didn't really go as I imagined them to go. Few things:
  • India: Missed the train to Jaisalmer. So we went to Dharamsala and later to Amritsar instead.
  • Nepal: Flight to the jump-off point of the Everest Base Camp Trek was cancelled twice in two days due to bad weather. So we did the Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) Trek instead.
  • Southeast Asia: Opted to explore northern Thailand instead of hurrying to cover the length of Vietnam north to south in less than three weeks
Thus, in my first three months, I covered Singapore, India (Dharamsala, Amritsar, New Delhi, Agra and Varanasi), Nepal (Kathmandu, Pokhara and ABC Trek), Thailand (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pai), and Vietnam (Saigon). (See full map in my Where I Have Been page. Also, please stay tuned for more posts on these places!)

With an extended trip like this, there are just some things that are beyond one's control. So you learn to roll with the punches. That is one of the most important things I have learned traveling this long. That said. Here's Part 02 of the Big Six-Month Itinerary, the places I intend to cover early 2012. Operative word, intend. I am most definitely open to changes.