Saturday, December 28, 2013

Backpacking Itinerary: Indonesia in Three Weeks

I was on a minivan for the final leg of my backpacking journey in Indonesia when I started smiling uncontrollably. I just had some of the best weeks I could have ever hoped for in 2013, or in all of my travels for that matter. What I loved most about traveling in Indonesia was that I did not have any expectations from it. Traveling through Java west to east and a little bit of Bali, I was pleasantly surprised every step of the way, as I was with all the Indonesian foods I had the pleasure of eating here.

Below is the backpacking Indonesia itinerary I eventually ended up with during my few weeks in the country. It has information on getting in, things to see and do, and places to stay in. I'm hoping this will provide other backpackers and budget travelers valuable information for traveling to Indonesia.

Open in Google Maps
Backpacking Itinerary: Indonesia in Three Weeks

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Photos from That One Beautiful Day in Bali

As it turned out, it was not enough to see all of Bali in just one day. Of course, I already knew that. Having discovered that I could easily occupy all of my time in Indonesia traveling slowly and exploring as much as I can on Java Island alone, I decided to forgo Bali for another trip. The last thing I wanted was to rush things and not enjoy the experience. Then again, at the back of my head, I was already thinking that I wasn't really one to enjoy traveling in destinations as widely popular as Bali. How wrong was I.

Uluwatu Beach, Bali, Indonesia
Uluwatu Beach in Bali, Indonesia. There are clearly many reasons for which people have been coming here. I mean, look at that.

In just that one day I transited in Bali in order to catch my exit flight from Indonesia back to the Philippines, I clearly saw what millions of other tourists before me saw here on the Island of the Gods. Spirituality and religion were on display and it was beautiful. Its backdrop of tall cliffs and the vast Indian Ocean, even more so. To think, I was just here one day and I just stayed in the hilly southern part of the island—Bukit Peninsula. Yet I found myself totally enamored. Bali is as popular a travel destination as it is for a reason. It is simply beautiful here.

Here are a few photos from that one day in Bali, a place I am definitely returning to.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Why Travel Tuesday: Snowy Pine Trees in Shangri-la

(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 very Christmassy scene: Snowy Pine Trees in Shangri-la, Yunnan, China.)

Shangri-la (Zhongdian) in Yunnan, China
Snowy pine trees along the streets of Shangri-la in Yunnan, China

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Amount of Crazy to Get to the Blue Flames of Kawah Ijen

Below is a photo from Kawah Ijen in East Java, Indonesia. This volcanic crater lake, found at an elevation of 2,800 meters above sea level, has become an odd tourist attraction because of its open sulfur mine. Trekking up here in the cold of night, we saw miners extracting the sulfur from the crater walls by lighting them on fire. It burned bright blue as the sulfur melted away. Quite the sight.

Kawah Ijen, East Java, Indonesia
The otherworldly blue flames of the open sulfur mine in Kawah Ijen of East Java

It was not easy getting this photo. Let me tell you. Can I indulge a bit? Alright then.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Ultimate Indonesia Food Post: 24 Indonesian Foods I Loved While Traveling in Java and Bali

Indonesian cuisine was familiar, but it was surprising nonetheless. It was familiar because Indonesia and the Philippines (where I'm from) are very close neighbors, and therefore, ingredients tended to be quite the same. How those ingredients were used, however, to form delicious culinary creations I could have never in my life imagined, now that surprised me.

In this post, let me recount some of the foods I encountered while traveling in Indonesia. Let me feature not one, not even two, and you can bet it is not even three, but 24! That's right. Twenty-four of the best foods I had while traveling in the islands of Java and Bali in Indonesia.

Nasi Goreng
The humble nasi goreng (fried rice). A breakfast staple in Indonesian cuisine.

To be clear, when I say Indonesian food, I am referring to the foods I found in the parts of Indonesia I traveled to: Java and a little bit of Bali. Friendly advice: You may want to have a full belly before you even think of scrolling down. Let's go.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Foodie Friday: Indonesia's Babi Guling

(We all know I love to eat, so you know I am not kidding around when talking about food. On Fridays, let me torture myself and anyone who might stumble upon this travel blog with a photo of a delicious food I had in my travels. This week, Foodie Friday features porky goodness in the form of Babi Guling.)

Babi Guling, Bali, Indonesia
The glorious porky goodness that is babi guling

Monday, December 2, 2013

How to Plan a Budget for Backpacking in Southeast Asia

"How much money did you spend to go backpacking in Southeast Asia?"

Thus goes a question I often get asked. The truth is, I never have a definitive answer. When I first went backpacking in Southeast Asia, I had an initial budget for three months of travel. But that soon extended to six months, which then became a digital nomad life wherein I earned while I traveled. It was, and still is, difficult to identify an exact figure.

Then again, even if I knew my exact figure, telling it to people might not be useful anyway precisely because it is *my* budget. At the end of the day, we will differ in how we spend money as we all differ on how we travel.

So instead of telling you how much money I spent to go backpacking in Southeast Asia (whichever of my trips you were referring to), let me tell you how I plan my budget for backpacking in Southeast Asia. It will provide more value, I think, for those planning their own short or extended trip in this region. Plus, it'll be simpler for me. Here are my five easy steps:

Singaporean Dollars
Planning a budget for backpacking in Southeast Asia? Easy!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Road Less Traveled to Mount Bromo from Malang (Part 2)

Note: This is the second of two parts. You can read the first part here: Mount Bromo from Malang (Part 1).

Three loud knocks on my room's glass windows and I was jolted awake. It was 3 a.m., still cold and very dark. I reckoned I had only slept for around three hours then, but the jeep we hired the previous night had already arrived to pick us up and take us to Mount Pananjakan. The peak was a popular viewpoint for witnessing the sunrise on the entire Mount Bromo volcanic complex.

We drove in complete darkness up to the peak. The narrow roads inclined steeply and zigzagged deliriously. When we reached the viewing deck, we quickly learned that we were sharing it with 300 other tourists who flooded in the area and blocked the views. I realized today might not be the day I get to witness Mount Bromo's famed sunrise.

Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Indonesia
The Mount Bromo volcanic complex.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Road Less Traveled to Mount Bromo from Malang (Part 1)

Note: This is the first of two parts. You can read the second part here: Mount Bromo from Malang (Part 2).

The jeep slowed down as it rolled through the narrow main road of a small farming village up in the mountains. The noon sun was shining high but the crisp, cool air seeped sharply through our lungs. We decided to walk around the village, so we got off the jeep and asked our driver to meet us up the road.

As we looked back at the hills where we just drove through, we realized we had already risen above the cloud line. In the distance beyond the trees, a thick layer of clouds shrouded the lowlands of East Java, Indonesia. We had just arrived in the remote town of Ngadas. It wouldn't be long now before we reached our destination that day: Mount Bromo.

Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, Indonesia
The collapsed, smoldering caldera of Mount Bromo contained in the vast crater of a supervolcano, the Tengger Massif. For scale, the huts of the village of Cemoro Lawang are perched on the massif's crater lip.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Where to Stay in Malang, Indonesia: Kampong Tourist

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

Traveling in Indonesia, I was pleasantly surprised by the number of excellent accommodations for independent travelers and backpackers I found here. In almost every city I went, I stumbled into at least one. Word-of-mouth brought me to EDU Hostel in Yogyakarta (probably the best hostel in Southeast Asia). Hostel booking sites led me to the solid, well-run Six Degrees in Jakarta. Then, there are the recommendations by good old Lonely Planet. When it's the travel guide's latest edition you're holding, it'll be hard to deny its value.

Kampong Tourist, Malang, East Java, Indonesia
Kampong Tourist, a pleasant backpacker lodge in Malang, Indonesia

I traveled to the breezy and laidback city of Malang knowing it was here where you begin the road less traveled to perhaps the most popular tourist destination in East Java, Indonesia: Mount Bromo in the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. Lonely Planet recommended that I stay in Kampong Tourist backpacker lodge while in Malang. So I did and I loved it. Here's why:

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

When a So-so Rafting Daytrip to Batu Turned into an Awesome Time at the Hot Springs

There we were. Standing at a corner of a relatively busy intersection of the mountain town of Batu, right outside the breezy and laidback city of Malang in East Java, lost and trying to retrace our way back to the city center. People on motorbikes and those in cars and angkot (minivans) amusedly stared at us—four bule (boo-leh, white foreigners) and one Filipino (me). We all had an identical clueless expression on our faces, so while completely capable to pass for a local, I was clearly not fooling anyone.

Kampong Tourist, Malang, East Java, Indonesia
Looking towards Mount Arjuno from my gazebo at the backpacker hostel, Batu situated on those vast slopes.

It had been a disappointing day, and we hadn't even done anything yet. Having set our minds earlier that Saturday into being "productive" tourists whilst in Malang, we decided to do a daytrip here in Batu, a city on the slopes of Mount Arjuno, to get our adrenaline pumping with some white-water rafting. Nobody knew where the rafting company in Batu was nor its contact number, so we had to find it ourselves.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Photos from the Breezy and Laidback City of Malang in East Java, Indonesia

The chill hit my face that morning as soon as I stepped off the night train from Yogyakarta. After a bumpy, seven-hour ride which unfortunately did not allow for much sleep, I had just arrived in Malang in East Java, Indonesia. Outside the train station, I hired a becak (a rickshaw) to take me to my hostel, which I did not bother navigating to myself even if I knew it was just close by. I was hoping the hostel accepted very early check-ins. Thankfully, Kampong Tourist, a charming backpacker lodge located literally on the rooftop of a mid-range hotel, did accept early check-ins. In fact, by the looks of it, staff expected backpackers like me to roll in from the Yogyakarta train every morning.

Malang, East Java, Indonesia
A surprisingly chilly morning in Malang, a city between mountains and volcanoes in East Java, Indonesia

Over the course of the week I based myself in Malang, I would accomplish a number of things. Foremost of these is an excursion along the less traveled trail to one of the most popular attractions in the region: Mount Bromo. In between, I took in the cool, at times chilly, breeze and tree-lined streets of this old Dutch colonial outpost. Though this city was indeed popular with the Europeans during the colonial period, Malang had already been an established town way before Dutch conquest. Historical documents showed Malang was born as early as the 8th century.

Related Post: The Road Less Traveled to Mount Bromo from Malang

Hopefully, the few photos below provide a look into the pleasant and laidback character of what has become one of my favorite cities in Southeast Asia.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

EDU Hostel Yogyakarta: It May Just Be the Best Hostel in Southeast Asia

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

As with any backpacker who has traveled around Southeast Asia, I have had my fair share of hostel experiences. Some good, but also the bad and the ugly. Crammed dorms, filthy bathrooms, damp beds, etc. Now, I won't regale all of these experiences here but I am very, very happy to notice that modern, clean, and well-managed hostels are beginning to pop up here in my main stomping grounds.

EDU Hostel, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Yogyakarta skyline mural in EDU Hostel Yogyakarta. This may just be the best hostel in Southeast Asia.

I have seen some notable ones. Off the top of my head, you have May de Ville Backpackers Hostel in Hanoi, @Hua Lamphong Hostel in Bangkok, Grid 9 Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, and a few others I may have only mentioned in my social networks. Some of them are so new, in fact, that Lonely Planet has yet to list them down. The newest, most notable, and probably the best one I have encountered thus far is EDU Hostel Yogyakarta in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Let me explain this pronouncement in no less than 12 reasons. Here we go:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Why Travel Tuesday: Mendut Temple

(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 small but nonetheless enchanting ancient Buddhist monument: Mendut Temple.)

Mendut Temple, Magelang, Indonesia
Mendut Temple, an ancient Buddhist monument in Central Java, Indonesia

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Photos from the Royal Palaces of Yogyakarta: The Kraton and Taman Sari Water Castle

In the center of the cultural capital of the Javanese lie the white walls which house the royal residences of the Yogyakarta Sultanate: the Kraton. There are a number of kraton in Indonesia as it simply refers to any royal palace. Kraton comes from ka-ratu-an, or "where the ratu resides." The ratu is the title of the ruler, the head of state. To Filipinos like me, a similar title exists: datu.

The Yogyakarta Kraton was built in the mid-1700s and has since been the political and cultural center of the city, not to mention a fine example of royal Javanese architecture. I walked here from the Prawirotaman area in the south and learned (the hard way) how large this complex was. There are actually three primary sets of structures here (from north to south): the Museum Kareta Kraton, a museum for the sultan's chariots; the Kraton royal residences itself; and, the Taman Sari Water Castle, a recreation facility for the royal family complete with swimming pools and relaxation areas.

The Kraton is easy to reach from Sosrowijayan, Malioboro, or Prawirotaman, all located immediately around the city center's walls. Respectively, entrance fees are 5,000 IDR (5 cents US); 12,500 IDR (1.25 USD); and, 10,000 IDR (1 USD). Below are some photos I took from the royal palaces of Yogyakarta.

Kraton, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
The Pagelaran is the main entrance hall of the Kraton. Oddly enough, you cannot access the Kraton from here, just the Museum Kareta Kraton.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Catching the Sunrise in the Ancient Temple of Borobudur

I picked up the pace as I made my way through the landscaped grounds of the temple complex. The morning light already bathed the sky a faint blue, but the sun's rays were still nowhere to be found. The crowd of tourists I just escaped from was beginning to emerge from the entrance gates. The complex had just opened and we were the first set of visitors to walk in that day. I knew that if I had any chance of getting myself a decent spot on top of the lone ancient temple here to catch the sunrise, I needed to get there first.

I climbed up a set of stairs to get to the temple on top of the hill, and then climbed the steep steps on the eastern side of the temple itself. Up ahead, I saw some people already sat and settled on the edge of the circular platforms which formed the three highest levels of the temple. I was still catching my breath as I reached the lowest of the circular platforms when I suddenly heard the crowd exclaim in unison, "Whoaaa."

The sun had just risen on Borobudur.

Borobudur, Magelang, Indonesia
Catching the sunrise in Borobudur ancient Buddhist temple

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to Go to Prambanan from Yogyakarta

Prambanan is a complex of ancient temples dating back to the 10th century when Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms still ruled Java Island, Indonesia. It is located at the city limits of Yogyakarta and is thus very easy to reach from here. Coming from Yogyakarta city center, the Prambanan temple complex is the same direction as Yogyakarta Airport. Both are northeast of the city and are easily accessible from the Yogyakarta-Solo highway.

Before anything else, know that to get inside the Prambanan temple complex, foreign travelers will need to pay an entrance fee of 170,000 IDR (17 USD), independent of any transport costs.

Prambanan, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
The main set of temples in the Prambanan complex: Loro Jonggrang

Monday, October 21, 2013

It Started with an Old Photo of Prambanan

It all started with a photo, an old photo of my cousins from when they traveled to Indonesia back when their dad still worked in the country. My cousins were still kids at the time, as can be seen from their genuinely wacky poses. The photo has been a part, a staple really, of family albums and later on family reunion slideshows for longer than I can remember. It was always something that we as a family, my three cousins included, liked to amuse ourselves with.

Old Photo of Prambanan
Wacky poses back when wacky poses were not invented yet
Photo by Rely Baluyot

Growing up, I have always been curious about the photo and the intriguing place where it was taken. For some reason, I have always believed it to be Borobudur, an ancient temple in Central Java. I would soon discover I was wrong, of course, something I would only realize too late. The photo was actually taken in another ancient temple in Central Java—Prambanan.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Foodie Friday: Eating Masakan Padang Style

(We all know I love to eat, so you know I am not kidding around when talking about food. On Fridays, let me torture myself and anyone who might stumble upon this travel blog with a photo of a delicious food I had in my travels. This week, Foodie Friday features the glorious culinary tradition of Masakan Padang.)

Masakan Padang,  Indonesian Food
A sumptuous dinner in a Masakan Padang restaurant

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

And Then There Was Yogyakarta

"Why have I not been here before?" I asked myself a few days into traveling through Yogyakarta, an independent city in Central Java, Indonesia. It has everything I love in travel destination: a strong culture, a rich history, and good food.

I guess there are just those places, those places that pleasantly surprise you. Yogyakarta was one of those places for me.

Kraton, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Yogyakarta, cultural heartland of the Javanese

Friday, October 11, 2013

Foodie Friday: The Humble Nasi Goreng (Fried Rice)

(We all know I love to eat, so you know I am not kidding around when talking about food. On Fridays, let me torture myself and anyone who might stumble upon this travel blog with a photo of a delicious food I had in my travels. This includes food I made myself. Yes, I cook. This week, Foodie Friday features the humble Nasi Goreng or fried rice.)

Nasi Goreng, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
It is good, simple, and filling: the humble nasi goreng (fried rice).

Friday, October 4, 2013

Capture the Color 2013: The Bright Colors of Asia

Once again, I am joining in on the fun at this year's Capture the Color Photoblogging Competition organized by Travel Supermarket. I normally shy away from photography competitions because most involve popularity contests (likes, retweets, etc.) or a long list of requirements. This one does not involve either.

The instructions are simple. In your travel blog, post five travel photos which capture the colors blue, red, green, white, and yellow. Nominate five other travel bloggers. Submit your entry. That is it! Five esteemed judges, whose work I already admire, will then choose five category winners (one color, one category) and one overall winner after the competition period ends.

Collage for Capture the Color 2013
Capturing the bright colors of Asia

Friday, September 27, 2013

Foodie Friday: Chai Masala

(We all know I love to eat, so you know I am not kidding around when talking about food. On Fridays, let me torture myself and anyone who might stumble upon this travel blog with a photo of a delicious food I had in my travels. This includes food I made myself. Yes, I cook. This week, Foodie Friday features an Indian drink I and many other travelers like me have grown to love: Chai Masala.)

Chai Masala, Penang, Malaysia
At last, we meet again, chai masala.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Photographers' Trek to the Eerie Crater Lake of Kawah Putih

A fallen tree trunk was strewn across the uphill trail, blocking the way from just below my chest down. Thick leafy shrubs lined both sides of the path fit for only one person. I climbed a mound of soil on one side of the trail and straddled the obstacle one leg at a time in order to get through.

It was about six when we started trekking through this mossy forest. The morning dew in these mountains left the leaves wet, the trees damp, and the trail slippery. On any given trip, I would be more than glad to go on nature walks like this. This time, however, I was unprepared. Having to work until the wee hours the previous night and leaving for the mountains very early that morning meant I only had about an hour of sleep. Not knowing some trekking would be involved that day, I wore jeans and walking shoes with traction so little you could easily glide through the ground with it.

As soon as I arrived at the forest clearing on top of the hill, however, it all paid off. Below us laid an eerie-looking, constantly steaming lake gleaming in an opaque teal color—Kawah Putih.

Kawah Putih, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
The eerie-looking, constantly steaming lake of Kawah Putih.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Getting Lost in Bandung: Not the Best Welcome in the Paris of Java

While looking at maps, it seems it is always those places which I have absolutely no clue about that intrigue me the most. What the place looks like on the ground, who lives there and what their history and culture are like, what food they eat, and what climate they have are just some of the things that run through my head.

That was what Bandung, capital of West Java, Indonesia, had come to be for me. I saw this city, attractively nicknamed "the Paris of Java," as a proper pit stop in my west to east jaunt of Java Island.

Bandung Shopping
Nicknamed "the Paris of Java," Bandung is Java's busy bargain shopping capital.
By Phalinn Ooi | CC BY 2.0

From the chaotic Indonesian capital Jakarta, I boarded a train one cool, foggy morning at Gambir railway station. Bandung was a comfortable, three-hour ride away. The train snaked through wide expanses of lush hills at times dotted by terraced crop plantations. After having been in Jakarta for a few days, I was only glad to be surrounded by nature again. Things were looking up.

That changed quickly.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Backpacking Itinerary: Planning the Trip to Penang

Allow me to pause for a minute getting all wrapped up writing stories and sorting photos from the three-week backpacking trip to Indonesia. We will make time for those later. For now, let me draft my plans to travel to a place many consider one of the most culturally rich cities of Southeast Asia: Penang, Malaysia.

Penang, Malaysia
Penang, Malaysia
By Marcus Tan | CC BY 2.0

Penang is a popular travel destination in Southeast Asia. Like Malacca and Singapore, Penang has always been one of the most important cities in the historic Malacca Strait. Suffice it to say, I have heard a lot about this island. As I see it, it has increasingly become an injustice to myself that I have not yet traveled to Penang.

So I am going on a short backpacking trip to Penang at the end of this month. Here are the things I plan to experience.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Why Travel Tuesday: Tea Hills of Bandung, Indonesia

(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 photo from the cool tea hills just an hour outside the busy capital of West Java: Bandung, Indonesia.)

Cool Tea Hills, Bandung, West Java, Indonesia
The cool hills of West Java, around the provincial capital city of Bandung, is a tea-growing region.

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Few Practical Travel Tips for Jakarta, Indonesia

The Indonesian capital Jakarta is not the easiest place to be in for travelers, but it does grow on you. If you let it, you will discover spectacularly majestic yet very tranquil spots like the largest mosque in all of Southeast Asia—the Istiqlal Mosque, or delicious street snacks like the savory egg pancake kerak telor. I did let the city grow on me and by the time I left, my first impressions of Jakarta were already gone.

National Monument, Merdeka Square, Jakarta, Indonesia
Located in the center of Jakarta is Indonesia's symbol of its independence—Monas (Monumen Nasional).

I have noted a few practical travel tips for Jakarta that helped me make my way through the city. Hopefully, these might help other travelers, too, most especially Pinoy travelers like me. Here they are:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Jakarta, Indonesia: Where First Impressions Do Not Last

Reluctant. I was reluctant leaving the first-world comforts of Singapore and my growing familiarity with Singapore food delights that rainy morning. I was flying for the first time into a country I was unfamiliar with, even though its culture, language, and ethnic origins resembled mine the most. It did not help that I was flying into its capital Jakarta, which was notoriously congested and polluted, in many ways more than my hometown Manila. I crossed the equator for the first time, but did not realize it until I looked out the window and finally saw my home for the next three weeks—Indonesia.

Cikini-Menteng Area at Night, Central Jakarta, Indonesia
Chaotic streets of evening rush hour in Jakarta, Indonesia

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why Travel Tuesday: Jakarta, Indonesia

(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 photo from the notoriously dirtiest and most congested city in Southeast Asia: Jakarta, Indonesia.)

Cikini-Menteng Area at Night, Central Jakarta, Indonesia
The evening rush hour chaos and traffic along a street near Central Jakarta, the Indonesian capital.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Largest Mosque in Indonesia and in All of Southeast Asia: The Istiqlal Mosque

A large white building with a spherical dome on top was visible from the street by the central train station. I had just reserved a train ticket for the next day and I decided to walk towards the tall structure. It would not dawn on me until I reached the main building's interiors—its open and spacious five-storey prayer hall—that I had just walked in largest mosque in the largest Muslim country in the world—the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Istiqlal Mosque, Central Jakarta, Indonesia
The largest mosque in the largest Muslim country in the world: the Istiqlal Mosque

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why Travel Tuesday: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Singapore

(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 photo from a stunning corner of Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.)

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Singapore
The stunning golden interiors of Singapore's Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Where I Do a 180 and Declare My Love for Singapore and My New Singapore Food Favorites

Maybe it was arriving yet again at the best airport in the world, Changi International Airport. Maybe it was landing here 40 minutes ahead of schedule. Maybe it was the fact that it was the first time I was out of the country again after being confined back home in the Philippines for six months. But as I made my way out from Tanjong Pagar Station towards the hallowed halls of Maxwell Food Centre, never mind that it was a hot and humid midday or that I had been up since 2 a.m. to catch my flight, I was feeling particularly giddy and overall happy that I was once more in Singapore.

Marina Bay, Singapore
One of the best places to go in Singapore in the evenings: Marina Bay

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ramadan in Indonesia and Celebrating the Breaking of the Fast in the Largest Muslim Country in the World

"It is usually the fathers and the sons whom you will see hugging each other and crying. It is very touching, Paul," my host Ericka explained to me as we joined the large throng of faithful Muslims all handsomely dressed in traditional Javanese clothing out in the streets that morning.

"They fight and quarrel with each other all year, but today, they come together and ask for forgiveness."

We had just heard a very special morning mass celebrated on this very special day here in the small town of Bondowoso in East Java, Indonesia. The crescent new moon had been spotted last night marking the end of puasa or month-long fasting. Ramadan was officially over and this day, Muslims around the world would celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the festival of the breaking of the fast.

Idul Fitri (End of Ramadan) in Bondowoso, Indonesia
A Muslim girl in Bondowoso in East Java joins the large throng of people to hear mass in the morning of Eid al-Fitr, the festival of the breaking of the fast.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Backpacking Itinerary: Malaysia in Four or Five Days

I knew I was not in for anything much during my few days visiting Malaysia. At the time, I had already gotten used to slow travel that grasping all that Malaysia has to offer in four or five days would be quite difficult. Malaysia is after all quite a diverse nation, and a country whose history forms a significant part of the history of the whole of Southeast Asia. I came in knowing that I will only be, to put it in cliché terms, scratching the surface. Still, the visit yielded a few surprises for which I was very happy.

Hopefully, this short backpacking itinerary of Malaysia in four or five days will help those planning a short visit, too.

Backpacking Itinerary: Malaysia in Four or Five Days

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Why Travel Tuesday: Malang in East Java

(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 photo from my current whereabouts: Malang in East Java.)

Malang, East Java
Sun setting behind a 3,300-meter high volcanic massif. Now isn't that something?

Monday, July 22, 2013

One Fine Full Meal (or Two) in Malacca, Malaysia

Malacca surprised me in more ways than one. I came here thinking I was going to get my dose of history and with it, photogenic colonial architecture. I did not realize that the food, the amazing food, was going to leave a lasting impression on me, too. Lasting enough that I still crave for the flavors of Malacca, and those of the Strait Settlements of Southeast Asia, after I've come home. Lasting enough that I went so far as to recreate one of the dishes that I had there. Lasting enough that I have actually made plans to return and explore the delicious food landscape of this culturally diverse region more. But that's for later.

Popiah, Malacca Old Town, Malaysia
The best foods of Southeast Asia are prepared right on the streets. Malacca is no exception. This is a stall serving delicious spring rolls called popiah.

Today, I tell you about some of the best foods I had in Malacca. After having laid out some of the best food I had in Thailand as well as in Vietnam, it was time I do the same for Malacca. Here is one fine full meal (or two) in Malacca, Malaysia.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why Travel Tuesday: The Supertrees of Singapore

(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 photo from a place I have been to more than once but having arrived again here today, I found myself immensely enjoying my time. I am of course talking about Singapore. The newest attraction: The Supertrees of Singapore.)

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
The Supertrees of Singapore in the Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Photos from the Historic and Charming Little Town of Malacca in Malaysia

I like Malacca. Let me rephrase that. I love Malacca. This UNESCO World Heritage Site forms part of Southeast Asia's historic Strait Settlements along with Penang and Singapore. Despite being very touristy, Malacca still manages to successfully retain what in my book makes for a great travel destination—a colorful history, a rich diversity in cultures (and thus, food), and a slow pace of life. More often than not, the same elements make for great photographs, which I love, so I love Malacca.

Malacca is just a couple of hours south of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. However, it is a very unique place in Malaysia because of its history. Strategically located in front of a body of water—the Malacca Strait—which connects the Indian Ocean to the entire Far East, Malacca became a prosperous trading port. The Malays, the Chinese, the Indians, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British, they were all here. Walking around this old town, I saw remnants of each of those cultures. Here are photos of the things I saw.

Malacca, Malacca
The Malacca Sultanate Watermill was built to commemorate the first civilization that saw the potential of Malacca as a trading port—the Malacca Sultanate. The sultanate ruled much of Peninsular Malaysia as well as a considerable chunk of Sumatra Island, on the other side of the Malacca Strait, during the 1400s.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Impressive Kuala Lumpur Public Transport System Is Impressive

There was one thing that surprised me about the warm, humid, and busy capital of Malaysia Kuala Lumpur. It is not the beautifully preserved historic and religious structures, which Kuala Lumpur has in abundance. It is not even the high supply of good Kuala Lumpur restaurants. I had known for a very long time that Kuala Lumpur locals loved to eat. Food-loving KL-ites mean a plethora of good Kuala Lumpur restaurants. At the end of the day, it is the Kuala Lumpur public transport system that impressed me the most.

Terminal Bersepadu Selatan
Not an airport. That is a bus station. Terminal Bersepadu Selatan. The best bus terminal I ever set foot on.

I know. I know. KL-ites would readily enumerate to me the ills and problems of their city's public transport system. But you have to admit, it is an impressive infrastructure for a metropolis of more than five million residents. The Kuala Lumpur public transport system certainly makes it easy to get around for the nine million tourists who visit the city yearly. That includes someone like me who grew up in a similar Southeast Asian city—Manila—except our public transport system is leaps and bounds behind that of Kuala Lumpur. Maybe that's why I was impressed as much.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Venturing Off Track for East Coast Eats: How I Found Anis Putri Corner in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

It all started with a tweet. The next thing I know, I found myself wandering around in a quiet, deserted residential area of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. I was sweaty, feeling very desperate, and hopelessly lost. Minutes later, euphoria came over me seeing a long line of trays filled with various delicious-looking foods and a large vat of dark and oily curry. This roller coaster of emotions was too much for a food-loving frazzled traveler like myself.

Anis Putri Corner, Kuala Lumpur
Anis Putri Corner. Nondescript as it looked, it was the setting of the best meal I had in Malaysia.

A few hours ago, I was sat in my hostel researching good restaurants in Kuala Lumpur, i.e., the most recommended restaurants in a city whose 5.7 million residents loved to eat. That is when I received a tweet from a local, a KL-ite. She recommended Anis Putri Corner, a Malay restaurant which features dishes originating from East Coast Malaysia. This highly-recommended restaurant in Kuala Lumpur is in Pantai Dalam, a largely residential area located southwest of the city center. Clearly, it was way off the tourist trail. However, knowing myself and my fondness for food quests, I ventured out.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Photos from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Its Subtleties

Malaysia had big shoes to fill. I had just concluded a month-long jaunt in Yunnan, Southwest China, a trip I immensely enjoyed, when I landed in the rather drab low-cost terminal of Kuala Lumpur International Airport. I shed off my winter threads and shoved them well inside my backpack. I was clearly never going to use them in the tropical rainforest climes of Malaysia. I did not have high hopes, no, but in the one week I was in the country, Malaysia revealed its agreeable qualities very, very subtly.

The capital of the Federation of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur (KL), was naturally my first stop. I thought it was a grittier version of Singapore. It had the same cultures and flavors, but less sanitized, which I liked. There weren't much spectacular, sweeping views in this Southeast Asia hub, and I was not expecting any. Maybe that is why I appreciated Kuala Lumpur as much as I did. Let me talk about how exactly in my next few posts. For now, here be a few photos of Kuala Lumpur, the same ones I took during my first few days walking around in the humid, drizzly, and balmy Malaysian capital.

Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur
No other landmark of Malaysia is perhaps more well-known than the twin structures of the Petronas Towers. At 452 meters in height, the Petronas Towers are the tallest twin buildings in the world.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Backpacking Itinerary: Yunnan, China in One Month

I dreamed about it. I planned it. Then, I made it happen. That is how I will always remember traveling and backpacking in Yunnan, Southwest China. It was, as cliché as it sounds, a travel dream come true. I spent almost a month traveling in Yunnan that you would think I covered a lot of ground. Well, I did and I did not. Yunnan is a huge province, the eighth largest in China, superseded only by provinces whose main features are vast, arid deserts. I like to think that as vast as those other provinces are horizontally, Yunnan is vertically. Yunnan is after all part of the easternmost bastions of the Himalayas.

Looking at the map of Yunnan, I see not only the regions I covered but also those I was not able to. I did not stray too far off the beaten path. To do so would have been too costly and would have taken a lot more time. Plus, I travel really slowly. With places as laid-back as Dali, you would really have to. So to round up all these travels, and hopefully in the process, serve as guide to those intending to travel to this corner of China, let me present my backpacking itinerary of Yunnan in one month.

Open Backpacking Itinerary Yunnan in Google Maps
Backpacking Itinerary: Yunnan, China in One Month

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Why Travel Tuesday: Chiang Mai Sticky Waterfall

(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 place especially beautiful during the monsoon rain season: Chiang Mai Sticky Waterfall.)

Capture the Colour: Green at the Sticky Waterfall, Thailand
Chiang Mai Sticky Waterfall. Minerals has given traction to the rocks, hence the name.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Food Tour of Manila Chinatown

The area of Binondo, otherwise known as Manila Chinatown, does not have a lot going for it in ambiance and charm. Roads are narrow and street vendors vie for what little space there is with cars, loud Filipino jeepneys, and the local version of the tuktuk, the trike. Fumes billow out of mufflers and mix with the potent stench of the polluted Pasig River and its tributaries. There aren't any historic Chinese heritage buildings here either. Most of the structures in the area are modern, if uninspired, because it was bombarded several times during the British takeover of Manila in the 1700s and because Manila was practically bombed off the map during WWII.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that Binondo could not be the setting for some of the most delicious foods you would ever encounter in the Philippine capital. After all, for many local eateries around the world, where ambiance is only second priority, food more often than not is exceptionally good. In my experience, that proved true in my food tour of Bangkok Chinatown as well as my visit to the street-side eatery of Anthony Bourdain's Lunch Lady in Saigon.

Binondo, Manila's Chinatown, Philippines
One of the loud and busy entry points to Binondo in our food tour of Manila Chinatown

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Quick Note for RSS Subscribers: Google Reader Bites the Dust

I read an insane amount of travel blogs and other online publications. One way I keep up with them is through an RSS reader. If you are unfamiliar with RSS, it means "really simple syndication." Your RSS reader is a tool which receives "news" feeds from websites and blogs that you regularly read. Your RSS reader then delivers all these feeds to you in one simple page, like a newspaper you read in the morning.

Naxi Wind Chimes, Lijiang Old Town in Yunnan, China
Naxi wind chimes in Lijiang Old Town. The amount of travel blogs I subscribe to outnumber these by a mile!
(No, not really.)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Backpacking Itinerary: Planning the Trip to Indonesia

Note: This is the rough draft of the backpacking itinerary for Indonesia. Curious which places I eventually and successfully traveled to? Here is the final draft, written after concluding my amazing trip to Indonesia.

I guess there is no better way to convey my excitement right now than saying it upfront. So I am going backpacking in Indonesia for three weeks and I am terribly and hopelessly excited! Obviously, I will not be able to cover the entirety of this 17,508-island archipelago. That is just too much (and too costly) to cover in three weeks. My initial plan was to backpack through Java, the most developed island, and Bali, the most popular. Finalizing the Indonesia backpacking itinerary, however, I realize there is far too much to see in Java alone. I thought it would be wise to save Bali for another trip (maybe Sumatra for another, and Sulawesi for another). So I decided I'm spending my entire three weeks in Java island, just in Java island. Having traveled so much in the last two years, I now have a better idea as to how I travel, which is to say, I travel slowly, taking in the sights at my own slow pace.

That said, I still included a lot of stops in Java island. I want to see them all! Below is a rough Indonesia backpacking itinerary. Of course, I will not be following it to the T. One thing I have learned in my travels is that not everything goes as planned and sometimes the things you experience off-track can turn out to be exceptionally better than your initial plan. (We got to see the Dalai Lama this way!) So without further ado, a rough Indonesia backpacking itinerary:

Open the rough Indonesia backpacking itinerary map in Google Maps
A rough Indonesia backpacking itinerary

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why Travel Tuesday: Calatagan, Batangas

(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 destination I never realized would impress me enough to post about it. Chalk it up to summer's pleasant surprises: Calatagan, Batangas.)

Calatagan, Batangas
The perfect family summer day trip from Manila: Calatagan, Batangas

Friday, June 7, 2013

Foodie Friday: Best Hits of Singapore Food

(We all know I love to eat, so you know I am not kidding around when talking about food. On Fridays, let me torture myself and anyone who might stumble upon this travel blog with a photo of a delicious food I had in my travels. This includes food I made myself. Yes, I cook. This week, Foodie Friday features some of the best foods I had in the tiny gastronomic island-nation of Southeast Asia: Singapore.)

Singapore People and Food
Best hits of Singapore: ayam panggang, chee cheong fun, and char kway teow.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Day in the Village of the Last Tattoo Artist of the Kalinga

She picked up a small wooden bowl containing a thick, black ink made from soot. From a compartment under her house, she retrieved her tools—a bamboo stick not longer than her forearm with a short and thin pomelo thorn sticking out of one end, a slightly larger and sturdier bamboo stick, a thin leaf of dried grass, a piece of cloth riddled with splotches of the pigment she uses, and a tiny bottle of oil she rubs on the skin as treatment. She set down her tools in a small area right outside her house and began layering on her work clothes—a pair of brown cargo pants and a purple coat, both of which looked worn out and ink-stained. When everything was ready, she stood upright, turned to us smiling, and asked in her native tongue, "Who is getting a tattoo today?"

Busacalan, Kalinga, Philippine Cordilleras
Whang Od, 93, in her element. She is the last mambabatok (tattoo artist) of the Kalinga.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Photos from the Mountain Town of Sagada in the Philippine Cordilleras

Sagada is a small town in Mountain Province, one of the six provinces making up the Philippine Cordilleras. The town sits at an elevation of about 1,500 meters above sea level. It has become a very popular tourist destination over the last few years because of the relative respite it offers from the unbearable heat of the coastal areas of the Philippines. More importantly, however, it has become popular because of the wide range of outdoor activities that can be done here. There's trekking, rafting, spelunking and many others. It's certainly what we endured dangerous roads and chicken buses to come here for.

I would like to tell you that we did all those activities and enjoyed it, but that would be a stretch. As we are wont to do, we explored whatever it is in Sagada we could explore in the one day on our own. We walked, sometimes scrambled down mounds of earth, got up, got lost, climbed up, had lunch, and continued walking. We may not have seen whatever it is that drew and continue to draw people to Sagada, but I was happy and grateful to just be there. Sometimes that is enough.

Below you will find a few snapshots of what we saw and experienced during our full day of walking around the mountain town of Sagada in the Philippine Cordilleras.

Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Sagada, Philippine Cordilleras
Found in the center of town is the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. It is owned by the Episcopal Church of the Philippines as majority of the locals here are Protestants, in contrast to the overwhelming number of Catholics in the Philippines.