Monday, November 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 31, 2014

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

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

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

"Where are you going?" one asked.

"Tricycle, motorbike?" another interrupted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right. I'm in Siquijor.

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

There Is Something about Dumaguete

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

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

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Photos from a Day in the Jungles and Caves of Pang Mapha

Pang Mapha is a smattering of small villages in mountainous Mae Hong Son province in Northern Thailand. It is about an hour from the very popular and touristy town of Pai, but not many people make it out here, oddly enough. Truth be told, I preferred it that way.

When I traveled to Pang Mapha, things remained quiet. And freezing cold. But mostly quiet. It was the perfect place to enjoy nature pure and simple. And enjoyed nature I did.

That day, fellow travelers and I were exploring the jungles and the many caves of Pang Mapha. After all, Pang Mapha is on the tourist map of Northern Thailand precisely because of these caves. Though I am no fan of caves, caving, or spelunking, these products of nature are something else.

The largest cave system is Tham Lod, complete with park offices and rafting tours (a river runs through some parts). That did not stop us from exploring the jungle and the other caves surrounding it, of course.

Here are some photos from that day in the jungles and caves of Pang Mapha.

Mae Hong Son, Thailand
The largest and most prominent of the cave systems of Pang Mapha: Tham Lod

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Day Trek to the Summit of Big Thumb of Pang Mapha in Mae Hong Son, Thailand

The hill side was thick with fallen dried leaves. The trail we were following up this mountain disappeared many meters behind us. At this point, we were really just winging it. Unsuccessfully, I might add. A couple of steps climbing up the hill and we slide down taking dried leaves, twigs, branches, and rocks with us. Not pleasant.

I looked back through a clearing in the tree line and see more hills, thick with the semi-temperate forests of this far Himalayan foothill. I had given up on the idea that we would be able to finish this day trek. It was getting late after all. So I just entertained myself with the thought that being so close to the Myanmar border, we might have already crossed it.

Of course, not that day. That afternoon, we were still trying to summit one of the many limestone karst hills of Pang Mapha in Mae Hong Son, Thailand. They called it Big Thumb.

Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Pang Mapha's Big Thumb sticking out like a sore, well, thumb. Views from up there, well, you'll see.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Photos from the Soppong Festival of Mae Hong Son, Thailand

The pick-up truck sped forward into the dark and narrow mountain roads. There were five of us huddled together at the back. We had to hunker down and shield our body from the wind which at that point can only be described as icy. I was so preoccupied with protecting myself from the cold that I almost missed looking up at the trees. Once in a while, the canopy cleared out, and what I saw was the clearest of the clearest night skies I had ever seen.

Mae Hong Son, Thailand
The clearest of the clearest night skies in Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Me, the Mountains, and the Mae Hong Son Sunrise

"We had to start setting up the bonfire nightly two days ago," the lady at the lodge said. A fellow traveler who had arrived a couple of days earlier confirmed it, too: the last couple of days was remarkably cold.

The dinners we ordered were being served as I and a few other travelers sat cross-legged at the low communal table of this large open-air mountain lodge. For the first time in the year, I donned my sweater plus my jacket just to cope with the 8°C weather.

Any place else I wouldn't have felt weird wearing so many layers. It was already December after all. But I was in Thailand. Nobody told me it got this cold in Thailand.

Which was why the next morning, I found it strange, almost unnatural, getting out of a warm, comfortable bed at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. (the coldest hour of the day), layering up, and heading out.

But really, how could I ever pass up a sunrise in the mountains?

Thailand: Mae Hong Son
Catching the sunrise in Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Monday, April 14, 2014

Let Me Tell You about My Favorite Place in Thailand

So let me tell you about my favorite place in Thailand. It is not my adopted city Chiang Mai, although I have waxed poetic about its lively markets and its Buddhist temples.

No. This place is further up north in Thailand, through winding mountain roads which look out to hills and valleys. It's so further up north that when people talk, you don't hear the gentle sound of Thai, rather the forward and rapid sounds of Tibeto-Burmese languages. It's so further up north that a few kilometers further, you might just find yourself in Myanmar.

I'm talking about Pang Mapha in Mae Hong Son, Thailand.

So what makes this place special? That is a question I will answer in the next couple of weeks through a series of posts about Pang Mapha. But as a sneak peek, here are some of my reasons.

1. The Sunrise

Mae Hong Son, Thailand
Sunrise in Pang Mapha, Mae Hong Son

Friday, March 21, 2014

Foodie Friday: Thai Curry Paste

(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 not food specifically, but an ingredient, really a hallmark of Thai cooking: Thai curry paste.)

Curry Paste, Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School, Chiang Mai, Thailand
From farthest back: Khao Soi curry paste, Thai red curry paste, and Penang curry paste. Things of beauty.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Why Travel Tuesday: Wat Lok Molee, Chiang Mai

(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 favorite temple in all the temples of Chiang Mai: Wat Lok Molee.)

Wat Lok Molee, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Colorful night lights of Wat Lok Molee in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Backpacking Itinerary: Shanghai and Huangshan in Five Days

The objective: Travel to a visually stunning place on this side of the world where, the season being winter, our Filipino tropical sensibilities would be jarred by freezing cold snow. The rationale: Get ourselves a travel experience far from our "ordinary." The real rationale though: Heck, who knows? Why would anyone trade comfortably warm in flip-flops for mind-numbing cold in clunky winter boots?

But we did. And our objectives? Glad to say, achieved and surpassed.

Backpacking Itinerary: Shanghai and Huangshan in Five Days

With only five full days in between round-trip flights to Shanghai, I seriously thought we would be pressed for time. I'd soon discover, however, that a schedule of five days was just right for this trip. It was a combination of trekking in the "Avatar" mountains covered in snow, lazily strolling through a UNESCO Heritage ancient village, and treating our eyes to the bright lights of China's largest city.

So without further ado, that this may be of service to other travelers out there, let me present a backpacking itinerary of Shanghai and Huangshan in five days.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Shanghai, China: A Birthday in the City that Ignited My Wanderlust

I only had a few minutes to myself before my travel companions and I reunited at the lobby. We had just settled into our accommodations for the night but I quickly rushed down as soon as I dropped off my bags. Fortunately, our hostel was steps away from one of the most impressive riverfronts on this side of the world. So I walked towards where the people and the glittering lights were and again saw the sight that ignited my wanderlust three years ago.

There, on the other side of the river, was the global financial center of Pudong. Skyscrapers filled the skyline and their lights flashed extra bright this cold winter night. I was back.

Welcome to Shanghai, China.

Pudong Skyline, Shanghai, China
I do heart SH. I really do.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why Travel Tuesday: Bali, 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 island of the gods: Bali, Indonesia.)

Bali, Indonesia
Scootering around South Bali equals a day well spent.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Shanghai Food Post: 10 Foods I Loved in Shanghai (and Anhui, too)

It took some effort to get up at 7 a.m. If there was one thing I loved about winter, it was staying warm and comfortable in bed. But today was a special day. It was someone's birthday. Mine. I didn't have anything planned, but this was Shanghai and that morning, I hear the city buzzing into life. More importantly though, my stomach was grumbling and delicious Shanghai food was calling.

So here are the top 10 delicious Shanghai foods I loved while traveling in the city. Alright, some of them I had in the adjacent province of Anhui, but still. Let's go.

1. Cōng Yóu Bǐng (Scallion Pancakes)

Cōng Yóu Bǐng, Shanghai, China
Street stalls selling cong you bing open very early in the morning. Very popular breakfast food this.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Hongcun, Anhui: The Day We Traveled to Ancient China's Countryside

The long wall stood five, six feet high, as tall as we were. It was made with packed earth—an untidy stack of dry mud with grass and loose rocks protruding in places—and topped with a mix of terra cotta tiles and iron roofing. Being the serial travelers that we were, we knew the wall was the perfect place to take a group photo. One by one, we lined up, posed with one hand raised (still unsure why), and got ready for the countdown: one...two...

Just then, a horse-drawn carriage rolled in and click: a group photo with horse ass in front of our faces.

That was when I realized, we weren't in a theme park or an outdoor museum. Though this place was a tourist attraction, we were, in fact, in a real, working village in the Chinese countryside: the ancient village of Hóngcūn.

Hongcun, where horses couldn't care less about tourists along its way
Photo by Ron of

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why Travel Tuesday: The Taj Mahal

(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 greatest monuments to love ever built by man: The Taj Mahal.)

Taj Mahal, Agra, India
The ultimate monument to love: The Taj Mahal

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Guide to Traveling to Huangshan, China

Located just a few hours from the largest city in China is one of the most beautiful natural tourist attractions in a country so full of them. Huángshān, or Yellow Mountain, is a mountain range in Anhui province, China, about 330 kilometers west of Shanghai. The mountains were formed when granite rocks rose from the floor of an ancient sea and were then carved by glaciers millions of years ago. The national park, often referred to as Huangshan Scenic Area, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

China: Huangshan, Anhui
Huangshan served as subject for many Chinese paintings (for very obvious reasons).

Before planning my trip to Huangshan, I never realized how relatively easy it was to travel here. We trekked to Huangshan in winter through snow and fog. As difficult as that was, I found that every freezing minute we spent up in those mountains was completely worth it. Especially since we were granted sunny skies the following two days we were here.

To help other independent travelers and backpackers travel to these magnificent mountains, let me present a guide to traveling to Huangshan, China.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why Travel Tuesday: Chinese New Year, Manila Chinatown

(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 celebrations during this year's Chinese New Year in Manila Chinatown.)

Philippines: Manila Chinatown Binondo
One of the primary streets in Manila Chinatown, Ongpin, filled to the brim with people during this year's Chinese New Year celebrations

Friday, January 31, 2014

Photos from Our Winter Mountain Trek to Huangshan, China

As it usually goes with me and my travels, it only takes a photo, a good one, to compel me to get my gears running. A year ago, I came across this post by Fiona Reilly of Life on Nanchang Lu, a travel and food blog I avidly follow. The first of her photos from a snowy Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), located in Anhui, China, did it for me. And then came another photo. And another. Wanderlust fully ignited, there was only one more thing to do: Go.

So it was really lucky that a month before the weekend leading up to my birthday, the same weekend I was planning to go to Huangshan National Park, I discovered some fellow Pinoy travel bloggers were headed there, too. Itineraries adjusted and I ended up tagging along with them. Great decision.

China: Lotus Peak, Huangshan, Anhui
Visitors on Turtle Peak look out towards Lotus Flower Peak. With an elevation of 1,873 meters above sea level, Lotus Flower Peak is the highest point in Huangshan National Park.

From Shanghai, I and my travel companions Ron, Agnes, Chyng, Dong, and Lauren headed west to Anhui province, took a cable car car ride, and began trekking on foot through snow and fog in Huangshan National Park. As most of us grew up in the tropics, the freezing cold proved to be a challenge. The confusing mountain trails and poor visibility certainly did not help. You can read about our unexpectedly difficult trek here: A Wintry, Snowy Mountain Trek to Huangshan, China.

Today though, let me present the photos I took the following couple of days, when weather was definitely better, as we walked around exploring Huangshan National Park.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Wintry, Snowy Mountain Trek to Huangshan, China

The tunnel provided some respite from the biting cold outside. This concrete, man-made structure stretched a few meters up through the slope of a mountain. Posted on the tunnel walls were photos of these same mountains taken when weather was better, more tolerable. Up ahead outside stood a building.

I took my time climbing up the tunnel to prolong my being shielded from the snowy fog. We had been walking for almost an hour then, fully exposed to the freezing breeze which, at times, became frigid winds. The cold dried out my eyes, numbed my face, and turned my hair white (apparently from the temporary loss of melanin). We reached the building at the end of the tunnel hoping that it was one of the hotels on top of these mountains. It wasn't. Rather, it was a broadcast tower.

Weather outside was worsening and dark fast approaching. We did not get decent sleep last night and we had been traveling all day just to get here. Yet there was still more than an hour of walking to do.

Trekking through Huangshan, China would be harder that I expected.

Huangshan, Anhui, China
Huangshan in Anhui, China

Friday, January 24, 2014

Foodie Friday: Pad Kra Pow (Stir-Fried Meat with Thai Holy Basil)

(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 my definition of Thai comfort food: Pad Kra Pow, or Stir-Fried Meat with Thai Holy Basil.)

Pad Kra Pow
Pad kra pow, or stir-fried meat with thai holy basil. Notice the two cups of iced water. It is by default very spicy.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

That One Time I Got Lost Trying to Find a Panda, so I Went to IKEA Instead

Getting lost seems to be a recurring theme in my travels. On one hand, getting lost is one of the best ways to truly get to know a travel destination. Walking around direction-less brings you to places you would not encounter otherwise. On the other hand, aimless exploration does not really work when you need to get to a specific place in mind.

Case in point: I missed seeing the most lovable creature in the world—the giant panda—in the city they have the utmost celebrity status, Chengdu.

But let's back up a bit.

Aren't giant pandas the cutest? Yes, they are. Look at that face!
By Paul Wolneykien in Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Thursday, January 16, 2014

There Ain't No Party Like a Dumpling Party Because a Dumpling Party Is Chengdu-licious

(Yes, I went there. What of it?)

Light rain began trickling down as I was walking around one of the old quarters of Chengdu. Only a few tourists like me were out today braving the wet winter cold of the usually gloomy capital of Sichuan in Southwest China. I did not want to leave yet but the rain was making things impossible to walk around, much less take a decent photo. So I resolved to make my way back to the hostel.

I made the right decision.

China: Chengdu
I want to go to there.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Photos from New and Old Chengdu

Across the street from my hostel near the center of Chengdu was a small local restaurant. Tiled floors, white plastic tables and swivel chairs bolted to the floor. As soon as I arrived in the Sichuan capital, I dropped my bags and headed here. I realized that this province in Southwest China was known for its literally mouth-numbing spicy food, so I took pains to point out in the English menu the spice level I wanted for my dumpling soup: "mild."

It took two seconds for me to realize after I took my first sip that I should have ordered "not spicy." I coughed as I felt the Sichuan pepper-infused oils of the soup creep though my mouth, my tongue, and my throat, and then numb them. It was weird, and it was wonderful.

The experience will forever define my first impression of Chengdu. To the Sichuanese, mild means a bold and strong punch in the throat. On that note, let me present a few photos I took in the very short time I transited in the city. The couple of days I was in the bold and strong Sichuan capital was enough to get a taste of both new and old Chengdu.

China: Chengdu
The center of the center of Chengdu, Tianfu Square

Friday, January 10, 2014

Foodie Friday: Bun Thit Nuong (Grilled Meat on Noodles)

(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 one of the all-time favorite dishes: Bun Thit Nuong, or Grilled Meat on Noodles.)

Bun Thit Nuong, Hoi An, Vietnam
One of the all-time favorite dishes: Bun Thit Nuong

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

10 Asian Travel Destinations on Top of My To-Do List

It is not a secret that I am utterly enamored with Asia. Heck, this travel blog is dedicated to Asia. I feel extremely lucky to have been born here and to have had the chance to travel to many of Asia's most beautiful corners: from the golden temple of Amritsar to the ocean-swept shores of Bali. Because of the size of this continent, however, I feel like I have yet to make a dent on it. There are still so many places here I desperately want to see.

So to start off the new year, let me present the 10 Asian travel destinations that found themselves on top of my to-do list. These will happen this year and in the next few ones. I swear it.

1. Ladakh and Spiti, India (Location)

The first time I saw a photo of Ki Gompa located in Spiti, I knew I had to see it in person at some point.
By Carlos Adampol Galindo in Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Sunday, January 5, 2014

21 Memorable Travel Photos from 2013

All this time, I kept thinking 2013 was a mellow year for me in terms of the amount of travels that I did. Really, for the better part of the year, I mostly just stayed put, working (well, more like trying) to build a career in travel writing and to earn a living in freelancing. Only now when I look back on all of my photos from 2013 do I realize that I had it all wrong. I traveled a surprising amount still. That's good, right?

Here are my top picks for 2013, the most memorable photos I took in the year that was.

Mount Pulag, Philippines
Having trekked to above 2,900 meters above sea level and having withstood near freezing winds, I witnessed the sunrise in the Philippines' third highest peak: Mount Pulag.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A Quick Note about the Year that Was and to Hopeful Endings

To be honest, 2013 was just an okay year for me. Then again, I really should give the past year more credit. I did fulfill one of my absolute dreams last year and that is to have my travel stories and photos regularly published in various publications and websites: Travel Leisure and Adventure, Wild Junket Magazine, Melted Stories, etc.

It was a great year, sure, but if we are being honest and candid here, I did struggle. Being a freelancer and having the lifestyle that comes with it, you get your ups and downs a lot. This last year was filled with more downs than ups, unfortunately. It was my fault for not doing enough, for not pushing myself more. I was distant and closed-off, too, because often I was unsatisfied about the present and uncertain about the future. At the end of the day, I often asked myself at which point do I get my happy ending. (Get your mind out of the gutter. Not that "happy ending.")