December 3, 2017

1 Month Solo Trip (Vietnam - Laos - Thailand)

It is possible.

Everyone who told us that we do not have the money, the time, the skills, or the rights to travel was lying. Everyone who told us that we will only be wasting our time, and that we have nothing to gain from traveling was lying. They never tried it. And so they discourage us to try it.

But I tell you it is possible. Go for it.

It took me two years to proceed with this trip, because of a thousand excuses, some I mentioned above. But finally, I did it :)


So here goes my travel notes for this trip.

Flight

I booked a few months before my trip. I didn't care where I was going, I just needed to go, so I looked for the cheapest international flight from Philippines. I booked one way at first because I didn't know when I wanted to go back (or if I wanted to go back at all, HAHAHA) But a few weeks after, I was convinced that it is best to go back, and be mature in my dealings with life.

Mnl - Hanoi - PHP 2099
Bkk - Mnl - THB 1789 = PHP 2819 (includes 15kg baggage + in flight meal)
Travel tax for Filipinos leaving Philippines - PHP 1620

Tip: Choose PHP (or other weak currency) when you're booking a flight, accommodation, tour, etc - when possible. The quote will be cheaper than if you use USD or other strong currency. But during payment, choose to pay using the local currency of the country you're in.

At least for my bank (BPI), if i choose to pay the local currency in the country, the exchange rate will be the prevailing VISA exchange rate. But if I choose to pay with my own currency then the establishment usually uses its own exchange rate which is more expensive.

Before leaving, check with your bank how you are charged for international payments.

Travel Documents & Baggage

I didn't need visa to these countries so I just brought my passport and copies of it in case of emergency. I got myself a travel insurance, but it is not important if you have HMO covering incidents outside your country. Check with your HMO provider your coverage, and how is the claims process.

Malayan Insurance - PHP 1600

* Take note that when reimbursing, you need to have proof that you got illness in your destination, and not your place of origin. For example if you got rashes and fever while abroad, but waited to go back in Manila to have it checked, they will not cover it - unless you have hospital records from your destination country that you had it checked there initially.

Baggage 

When I left, my bag was around 14kg, double the allowed weight for carry on baggage, but it wasn't checked when I didn't ask, so I was able to carry it on without problem. To be honest, I brought a lot of things I didn't need because I changed my mind regarding my itinerary halfway.

Some of the things I'm glad I brought:

Mini first aid kit - I couldn't bring hydrogen peroxide coz it is not allowed on planes.
Scarf - I used as wrap around for temples, or when I'm cold
Drawstring bag - I used for day trips, and then I just leave my big pack at the hostel
Sandals - I didn't bring shoes; sandals were enough coz I didn't do any hiking
Water bottle - I can refill water anywhere, and lessen my consumption of plastic bottles.

Things I Should Bring Next Time

Gauze and Meds for colds / runny nose / sore throat
Nail cutter / Ear pick (has to be checked in baggage?)

Things I could have left at home

Watch - I didn't care about the date and time at all
Plastics - I use old/used plastics for my dirty or wet clothes, BUT it is noisy. So at night when I am in a dorm, I cannot fix my bag because it will be noisy and my dormmates might wake up

Money Matters 

Do not, I REPEAT, DO NOT exchange your money in the airports. I don't know why I never learn. I say this after every international trip I have, but I still do it. Airports have the worst exchange rate. If you really need to exchange at the airport, just exchange enough money until you get to the city, and exchange there. Just get a few USD from Philippines in case you go to places that don't accept PHP.

Vietnam - The best rate I found was in Hang Bo or Hang Bac street in Old Quarter - on the right side if you're going to Hang Bo from Hang Bac. Sorry I forgot the name and number of the jewelry/money exchange store, since I wasn't organized at all in this trip :|

Laos - They don't accept Philippine Pesos (at least in Luang Prabang) so I used my dollars here

Thailand - Bangkok has better rates for PHP than in Manila so if you're flying to BKK, exchange there, not in Philippines. They have good rates in general, very minimal difference among stores. I lost just around 1 USD for 100 USD.

You can also choose to withdraw money. Check charges with your bank, but sometimes the atm itself has additional charges from what your bank charges (BDO and BPI are 3.5 USD). And your withdrawal limit might be lesser depending on the atm that you're withdrawing from. Charges range from 4USD - 7USD per withdrawal of up to 200 USD

Personally, I'd try to use credit card whenever I can. Next preference is exchange PHP to local currency in the city proper, or  withdraw max limit in the city - if I am not comfortable bringing in a lot of cash. I made a mistake of exchanging to a lot of USD and then exchanging USD to local currency so I lost at least 10 USD for my PHP due to double conversions.

A lot of the foreigners I met sworn by how outrageously cheap it is in Vietnam, Laos, or Thailand. Coming from the Philippines, I would say, it's okay, a bit similar with ours - except for accommodation - ours is more expensive. 

I spent a total of 39k PHP (780 USD) for everything including flights and insurance for 26 days. The souvenirs I bought were mostly biscuits and snacks. I didn't do much shopping - I get happy just with window shopping :D I ate at hawker centers or on the streets, and slept at dorms or found people to share rooms with.

I was frugal but I wasn't skimping, but you know being a Tita of Manila :D I have certain fair values for services and products in my head, and if it didn't fit that, I didn't like it, so I'd amicably haggle down to get a local price, which I could! Hahaha yes yes I am such a Tita.

Tips

Do not put your cards and money in the same place. I met a couple whom got their wallet stolen, and they went through all these stressful things to get money from their home country.

Put out a travel advisory with your bank. Tell them you're leaving for this period and expect to use your credit and debit card in so-so countries. Otherwise they might think you lost it or your card is compromised so they will block it. It almost happened to me in Taiwan, but my mobile was in roaming so they were able to warn me before they blocked my card.

Universe forbid, but in case you have your cards stolen, have someone back home whom can help you arrange how you can block your cards, and get money in the next days.

If you think a service or product is already cheap, do not haggle anymore. And getting things a few dollars cheaper is not worth being rude or giving anyone or yourself a bad day.

Useful Mobile Apps

XE Currency - for currency converter
Google Maps - for navigation
Hostelworld - for accommodation (I like the feature on filtering via distance and price)
Traveloka - for flights booking
Couchsurfing - for finding other travelers or locals
Google Translate - for translating language
Whatsapp / Facebook - for connecting with other travelers or locals
Grab / Uber - for ride-sharing / ride-hailing (price is dictated by supply and demand)

Itinerary (Route, Activities, Accommodations, Budget, Going Around)

I flew to Vietnam and did land travel to Laos and then water travel to Thailand.

Vietnam (2 weeks)

I was to stay in Vietnam for only 1 week, and 2 weeks in Thailand because I planned to do diving there, but I enjoyed North Vietnam so much that I ended up reversing the time allotted per country.

Hanoi (4 days)

I arrived in Noi Bai airport a little past midnight. I didn't have any accommodation booked so I just decided to sleep at the airport until morning. Bus to Hanoi starts at around 6am, and costs 30k vietnam dong.


I stayed at GA Hostel whenever I was in Hanoi. It was a homey place, with a female dorm. There is a lounge by the reception wherein you can chat with the staff and other travelers. I liked my stay here because the place was social, but not loud. GA also offers free walking tours - free walking tours given by university students practicing English is popular in Vietnam. The staff also helped me get Viettel sim and 1 month data for only 140k as opposed to 250k at airport.

Vietnamese Women Museum (30k) - I'd skip next time, mostly photos of women and clothing/accessories/traditions exhibit without context, or with poorly translated narrative.


Hoa Lo Prison (30k) - was used for Vietnamese political prisoners during the French era, or Amercian Prisoners of War during the Vietnam War. It was a thought provoking place as it compels you to imagine how the prisoners lived in that small space.


Dong Xuan Market - busy local marketplace, mostly for buying in bulk. It reminds me of a smaller Divisoria. It is such a lively place! You feel like you want to work too when you see all these people hustling.

Long Bien Railway Station - nice place to take photos


Hoan Kiem Lake - Maybe the reason I like Hanoi is because there are pockets of nature in the city. There is a lake, and trees shading you, and yet you see the buildings and the busy people as well. It's like a place wherein man and nature have learned to coexist. Live and let live.



Old Quarter - There is a lot of souvenir and novelty items you can find here. Just walk around - in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, at midnight - there is a myriad of things to see! A very colorful, vibrant, hustling and bustling place! I get really excited at busy places wherein there is so much trade going on. The morning peddlers, the night markets, the drinking pubs (which I get stressed out after a few minutes of stay :D), the walking street on weekends, the street performers, the singing teenagers, the speeding motorbikes, the smell of street food, the place is sooo alive! I love it!

Ha Giang Motorbike Loop (3-5 days)

Honestly, I was just extremely lucky on this trip. I met so many amazing people, so I didn't really have to do everything myself. I am so sure I couldn't do this loop alone, and I wouldn't want to do it alone either.

We initially were 4 people (Khanh, Phi, Apis, and I) We found each other on Couchsurfing, and decided to do the loop together. From Hanoi, we took a sleeper bus to Ha Giang and stayed the night at Hotel Huong Thao 2 (300k / 4 pax), and then rented 2 motorbikes for the 4 of us (180k/bike/day).


On our first day together, we stopped by a river and took a quick dip. Another traveler, Danyel, took notice, and joined hesitantly after eager invitation from us. Since he was doing the same loop, we decided to all go together.


Not long after, we passed by two ladies who had a motorcycle accident. It wasn't serious, but accidents, no matter how minor, can cause mental trauma. Fortunately they were both brave and courageous souls, and they decided to continue on the journey, with us of course!

Hop Tien Brocade Weaving Tribe

I met the artisan Vang Thi Mai. She founded the weaving cooperative of Hop Tien Tribe and helped popularized flax weaving, and give livelihood to the Mong women. Her smile was so charming that I asked to shake her hands. It was rough but warm, hands that know hardwork and love.


Ma Pi Leng Pass (Happiness Road)

The view in Ma Pi Leng pass or Happiness Road is truly breathtaking - figuratively and literally if you are careless. But its construction is one that is hard to look at. It took 6 years to construct, and needed thousands of young volunteers who had to work under harsh conditions and with primitive equipment. It is said that the finishing of the road called for a big happy celebration, because the provinces are not anymore as isolated, and because its construction was made possible by the dedication and sweat and blood of the volunteers.


Dong Van Karst Plateau

Here's the whole gang stopping by Dong Van (Actually I'm not sure if this part is Dong Van, but it looks like it :D)

Ha Giang Gang: United Nations Represent! Brazil, Vietnam, Philippines, US, Canada, Malaysia, Brazil
H'mong girl selling flowers

H'mong King's Palace

During the French era, the colonist recognized the H'mong king's rule over the area. The surrounding areas used to be a place to trade Opium with Southern China. This was how the H'mong king stayed in power. The place looks interesting especially the way the roofs and the house is built.


Quan Ba Twin Towers aka fairy bosom


There are other sights like Yen Minh Pine, Phuon Thien Cave, Lung Cu Flagpole, Shan Tuyet Tea Plantation, Dong Van Old Quarter, Hoang Su Phi Terraced Field, Sky Gate Viewpoint, Sung La Valley, and Quyet Tien Fair. That's the beauty of DIY trips, you can choose to see what you want, and skip things you don't mind not seeing.


Cao Bang (2 days)

 Apis and I went back to Ha Giang, then took the bus to Cao Bang via Thai Nguyen. It is a strange route since we have to go south first and then come back North, but we arrived in Cao Bang anyway, so all is well :)

We met Danyel again, and two other ladies, Leah and Jackie, while renting a motorbike at Cua Huang Thue Xe May. This was the cheapest motorbike rental we saw, just along QL4E road. Of course we all went together!

Ban Gioc Waterfalls (40k entrance, 5k parking, 50k raft)

Ban Gioc waterfalls sit at the border of North Vietnam and South China. I wanted to trek up the falls to get to China part, but Apis said that he tried already, and couldn't find the trail. Later on this trip, I met a Ukranian who said he found it, and kinda felt a pang of envy. HAHAHA! Anywaaay, it was truly a magnificent falls!



Cao Bang Crew!

Nguom Ngao Cave (40k)

Probably the biggest walking cave I've entered to date. I felt at peace here. It was so quiet - I can hear my own breathing, and the beating of my heart, sometimes I can hear as well the echo of my blood rushing through my ear's blood vessel. It was a place I could close my eyes, and be everywhere, or nowhere, or just there.

"I could hide deep in this place for a long time," I thought.
"But why would I hide?" It answered.


Halong Bay (2 days)

I booked a 2 star boat through Sinh Tourist at 30 Pho Bao Khanh, Hoan Kiem (65 usd + 3 usd for using credit card.) I'm not much a fan of luxury boats or anything luxurious in general so a two star would feel the same as 5 star for me as long as the place is clean. That said, I enjoyed my stay here - although, it has (again) a lot to do with the amazing people I was with!

Ha Long Bay was a much needed rest for me. Ha Giang Loop and Cao Bang were this fast paced, adventurous, adrenaline pumping, motorbike journey for me. Everyday, we were running, and running - which was absolutely fun! But I didn't have time to process my thoughts and feelings.

We arrived in Ha Long Bay lunch time. We did kayaking, had dinner and chat with everyone. The crowd was a good mix of nationality and age, so the perspectives of people are interestingly different from each other. It was an overall composed and relaxed group. Everyone social, and yet giving each other the quiet time they would want for themselves.


We woke up early for cooking, sunrise, and swimming. They all jumped from the top deck! And I really wanted to jump too, but was soooooo scared, as usual. I'm not sure how I managed to jump, but I did! Maybe partly because of everyone's cheering, and partly because I remembered how I felt one time I didn't jump. I was sooo happy! I tried to do again, but I couldn't anymore. HAHAHA! I'm such a wimp at this.


There were a couple of other things that I wanted to see, but didn't have enough time to visit: Mt. Fansipan in Sapa, Ba Trang Ceramic Village, Train Street, and Thang Long Water Puppet Show in Hanoi.

On Food: I'm not a fan of pho, but I've taken a liking to their fried rice, fried tofu, bun cha, and soy sauce!

Laos - Luang Prabang ( < 1 week)

I took the so called hell bus from Hanoi to Luang Prabang. It leaves Nuoc Ngam Bus Station at 6pm so I arrived earlier to buy my ticket - it was around 40 usd including my ubermoto to the bus station. Hostels and agencies sell bus tickets too from 43 to 65 usd including pick up from your hostel.

The bus ride took us almost 30 hours because the bus broke down, and they tried to fix it for 3 hours, until they finally called for a replacement bus which took another hour to arrive, and then another hour for us to transfer all the  smuggled  goods in the other bus.

Kaz is sooo happy we have the "rescue" bus!

Everyone was stressed out, but it was fun for me since all the travelers, and even the locals got closer with each other during the downtime. In fact, I ended up spending my whole stay in Luang Prabang with 3 of my bus-mates. Just bring enough snacks and book to keep you sane.

The bus will stop at Vietnam-Laos border crossing so you can get your exit stamp from Vietnam side, and get your entry stamp to Laos. But the journey to Luang Prabang will still continue for half a day after everyone gets stamped.

Luang prabang is a little town, with quaint houses, and temples, and unobstructed view of the horizon. Despite the many tourists around, the place retains its own sense of purpose - like how the people are still living their own lives, and it does not exist solely for the tourists. In the morning, there is Alms Giving & Morning procession by the monks. While in the evening, you can see beautifully-created souvenirs at the night market. You can also eat at a buffet for a low price - I didn't like it much though because it seemed dirty, even by my Philippine-tried-and-tested stomach and standard.



Kuang Si Waterfall and Kuang Si Bear Conservatory (20k lao kip) | Phaluesi Cave (10k) and Spring

The falls, bear conservatory, cave, and spring are all in the same area. We decided to go to the top of Kuang Si Waterfalls first to see the Phaluesi Cave (10k kip) and Spring before swimming at the falls. We expected to walk maybe 30 minutes or so, but ended up walking almost 2 hours without clear signs of how near we were to the cave. We were discussing our survival rate and laughing our asses off on how we'd be on national TV the next day: 3 Female Tourists Missing in the Forests.

Kuang Si Waterfalls

We thankfully didn't get lost, and found the cave and stream - it was totally worth it. We celebrated our little victory that night and drank and played games with other travelers until closing time! I was surprised I was still sober enough to understand Google maps, and managed to get to my hostel without getting lost, but I was super tired from walking the whole day!

Phaluesi Stream - the owner of the restaurant beside the stream made a bet with all the foreigners, that he'd give something special if any of us is able to cross the bridge successfully! Hahaha I was volunteered by the other foreigners, so here goes!


Slow Boat to Pak Beng & Huay Xai 



If you go directly to the boat station (before 7am), you can get a ticket for 105k to Pak Beng, and another 105k to Huay Xai. You have to stay overnight at both towns, since no boats sail at night. But I didn't want to go through the trouble of finding and negotiating with a tuktuk driver to take me to the boat station so early in the morning - I was tired. That said, I just booked my hostel's slow boat package to Huay Xai for 290k.


Taking the slow boat along Mekong River was the most restful thing I did during this trip. I thought Ha Long Bay was enough rest already, but I noticed how exhausted I was when I was forced to stop for 2 full days.

Actually I had trouble sleeping since I arrived in Vietnam - it's as if my body was saying, "No you have to be productive, you're not allowed to waste time sleeping. You can get by with minimal sleep." I think this is the reason why I slept exceptionally well during the boat ride, because my body knows that there's no other thing to do, but rest. It made perfect sense because I slept well too on bus rides, and plane rides, places wherein I'm not expected to do anything aside from close my eyes.

However my exhaustion wasn't only physical, but also social. I was always surrounded with people - amazing ones! It was truly enjoyable, inspiring, and empowering for me to be with them, but I'm a highly introverted person - I need a lot of quiet time to recharge. Unfortunately, there are no single rooms in Pak Beng and Huay Xai, and I didn't like the prices of the double beds, so I asked a traveler, Nina, to share rooms with me for the next 2 days :) Lucky enough, Nina is a reserved person. She was perfectly comfortable with silence - I felt it! So we can switch instantly from earnestly discussing our favorite books and then be perfectly quiet and immersed into our own world until the next day.

The boat was filled with different people: locals who don't care about the foreigners, people like myself and Nina who can wander inside our own minds if left alone, hyperactive ones who invite everyone for a chat, and a couple of others who smile warmly, but generally keep to themselves. I deliberately stayed away from the hyperactive ones this time, and mostly stared at the river or the sky or read my book - which was also sooo enjoyable and restful for me!

I think my body was finally convinced that I was productive enough already - and I can do whatever the hell I want - even "waste" time sleeping, because after the slow boat, I didn't have problems sleeping anymore.

On Food: I liked their croissants.

Thailand (1.5 week)

From Huay Xai, we took a tuktuk to take us to Laos border, and then took a bus from there across the Friendship bridge and to the Thailand border.

Friendship Bridge connecting Laos and Thailand

Chiang Rai (White temple or Wat Rong Khun, 50 baht)

From Thailand border, we took a passing tuktuk to the bus station to go to Chiang Rai. I didn't book anything in Chiang Rai because I planned to head directly to Chiang Mai after seeing the White Temple. Once in Chiang Rai Bus Station 1, I took another bus to the White Temple.



White Temple is definitely attractive, but it was so hot, humid, and crowded during my visit that it was hard for me to appreciate the place fully. I had to find a shade and a bench to avoid passing out from the heat. But it is still worth checking out if you're near the area or if along the way. I wouldn't recommend it if you will be driving or commuting up to 3 hrs one way just to get there, and it is your only agenda.

Chiang Mai (Mostly Temples, Night Market, Red Light District)

From White Temple, I took a passing van to Chiang Rai Bus Station 2, and then took a bus to Chiang Mai. There's not much to see in Chiang Mai city itself, aside from temples, night market on weekend, and the red light district with the boxing ring.

I wanted to see an elephant, but in the wild and not in captivity so I skipped all the elephant tours being offered in Chiang Mai.


Pai

From Chiang Mai, I took a van to Pai for 180 baht. There are also public buses that you can take to Pai for a much cheaper price.


Pai is indeed a beautiful place, like a paradise - there were small huts, wooden bridge, blue sky, quaint stores, unusual trinkets, chill walking street, people playing and singing country music, pretty faces laughing, and food everywhere. You can even smell the flowers at dawn. It is very beautiful. I don't know why though, but I felt that it wasn't real. I felt as if everything was made to please tourists, and that it's a place where you'd hide your children so they can live on with their ideals and shelter them from the world - only that the children are the travelers - escaping reality.

Nonetheless, I love Pai! I love it because it is the place where I first truly rode a scooter on my own! My heart was pounding with joy while I was driving on wide cemented road, or through muddy road with views of rice paddies and blue sky. I was very grateful and happy.


I drove to Mor Paeng Waterfall, Pam Bok Waterfall, Bamboo Bridge, Pai Canyon, World War II Memorial Bridge, and around town - on my own! :D I guess a lot of people wouldn't make a big fuss of it, but I've always wanted to ride a motorbike, but close friends and family always discouraged me, and told me that it was dangerous. And I believed them, and never really tried.




But here, everyone was empowered to rent a scooter and drive on their own, even if they've never rode before. Everyone was understanding and considerate, because they know that it may be your first time riding. Even when gassing up, they know that you may not know what to do so they just ask for your keys :D Shout out to Vespai Rental for giving quick lessons on riding, the guy there was very professional and caring - I wish you good business and good health all the time!

I would have stayed a few more days here and explored around more, had I not needed to fly back to the Philippines already.

On Food: Oh how I loved the food in Pai - fried rice, mango sticky rice, pad thai, green papaya salad, chocolate crepes, grilled anything, fruit shakes, fried noodles, wanton soup, everything! It was not even lunch time yet, and I would have eaten a lot already.

I genuinely love Pai - despite my saying that the place feels surreal, or fake, whichever fits your perspective.

Bangkok

To get to Bangkok, I had to go back to Chiang Mai first, and take the sleeper bus from there. The van from Pai (160 baht) left at 4pm, and arrived at Chiang Mai station at 7pm. From there, I took the last bus to Bangkok (480 baht) departing at 8:30pm. The bus ride includes free water, and food coupon.

Bangkok looks a lot like Manila - big shopping centers (Platinum Fashion Mall, Isetan, Central World, Indra Square, Big C Supermarket) and colorful local markets (Ratchada Night Market, Chatuchak weekend market, Indra morning market), terrible traffic, noisy buses, small living spaces, booming night life (Khaosan Road), etc. They are both hideous if you look at them head on, but you see everyone is hustling, and giving their best to survive. These are places where people haven't given up yet. I admire people with grit and determination, and I always see them in Manila, and in Bangkok too - it's hard to look at sometimes, but I will always look at it, and salute to it.

The cheapest way to get around Bangkok is via bus. Ask your hostel for the numbers of buses that go to your drop offs. You can also take Grab and Uber in the city, or hail the orange vest motortaxis. Their skytrain is convenient too. I took mostly the buses, but sometimes traffic is so bad, or the train is too crowded so I just take motortaxis.

Wat Pho (100 baht) / Wat Arun (50 baht) / Grand Palace (500 baht)

By the time I got to Bangkok I was already sick of seeing Buddha images, since I visited a lot of temples in Chiang Mai and Laos. When I got to Wat Pho, it all looked the same to me already. It didn't help that the places were packed with buses of tourists and school children. I ended up sitting on the grass outside because I was too overwhelmed by the crowd - it was shoulder to shoulder inside premises and when passing through entrances / exits! I was beat. I enjoyed chatting with random travelers who sat by the grass more than the place actually.

Reclining Buddha

I only took photos of roofs because if I don't I'd only be capturing the crowd :|

MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) - 250 baht

Go early so you will have ample time to read on the artworks and appreciate it better. It was almost closing time when we arrived so we were a bit rushed. This place is a little out of the city so be careful in taking cabs.



This feels wrong on so many levels :|

Wat Bang Phra for Sak Yant Tattoo

I had no plans to get a tattoo on this trip, but after meeting someone who told me about a tattoo she got from a monk, I was intrigued. She didn't have to say anything further, I was sold. Game! Where do I go!

Sak Yant is a blessed tattoo said to bring the wearer luck, wealth, health and protection from evil, but there are rules that one must follow in order for that to happen. There are some weird sak yant rules which I cannot (because I do not want to) follow, but I think the main rule really is just to be a good person. The tattoo is done by a monk using bamboo. You can get this tattoo through Ajarn masters who were given the permission to do genuine sak yants, or you can get this from Sak Yant Master Luang Phi Nunn of Wat Bang Phra Temple.

To get to Wat Bang Phra, I took a bus to Sai Tai Mai bus station from Bangkok, and then took a van to Nakom Chaisi (50 baht.) Then, I took a motortaxi to Wat Bang Phra (100 baht.)

I left Bangkok at 6am, and arrived 9am. There were around 30 people already, I put the incense (25 baht), cigarette (25 baht), flower (25 baht), and small change to the silver plate in front. Immediately after, the ritual of offering started - I was the last one for the 1st batch. A guy in front handed out the offerings to Luang Phi Nunn and everyone gathered around, bowed, and each held the person in front of him.

Afterwards, Phi Nunn took out his tattoo gun, needle, and ink and started. He stopped using bamboo apparently. I must admit - I was disappointed momentarily, but I moved on immediately because the atmosphere was too intense for me to back out now. Phi Nunn moved fast, each movement deliberate and purposeful. Each person not taking more than 10 minutes of his time. There were no queues, and no talking, people look at you when it's your turn. You go in front, take off your shirt, bow three times, and put out your back to Phi Nunn. It is up to him where he puts your tattoo - or what design he makes.

When it was my turn, I did everything except take off my shirt - which is only expected of females in the temple. Phi Nunn has 2 assistants so they will hold you and your clothes in place, until the tattoo is finished. It wasn't painful for me, but I felt that it was intentionally made to hurt more than my other tattoos - or at least there was no holding back for sure. You know how tattoo artist make their hands as light as possible for you, he doesn't do that - which is fine really. You feel it better.

I grinned ear to ear after getting my sak yant.

For those who want to get sak yant, I'd like to remind you that Phi Nunn uses shared needle and ink. I wasn't sure what made me continue despite knowing this, but you know I'm rarely sure of anything anyway. Yeah, yeah, I'm stupid. My choices in life are questionable. I hear ya! Hahaha!

Needless to say, when I returned, I had my blood checked for Hepa B and HIV - which totaled almost 9k! Good thing my insurance covered all these blood testing costs, albeit receiving ten thousand sermons for it :) from the insurance coordinator, the nurses, the cashier, the doctor, and even the eavesdropper! Hahaha what an experience.

See you around!
Arlet

September 24, 2017

Buts After "I Love You"

Part 1.  Hey, Let Me Talk About Him

It's been a long time now. I did not know if it was real love. But for a time being, I was happy, and excited, and my thoughts were full of him. And then I was hurt, crying every night, cannot function at all, and was generally conflicted.

I am genuinely happy for him - that he is now in the place where he needs and wants to be, happy that he is doing the right thing, happy that he seems well, because I genuinely want the best for him, even if that doesn't include me.

He is, after all, my first love.

I am genuinely happy for him.
But I want to be happy too, not for others, but for myself.

But, Hey, I'm moving on. Finally. Hopefully.

It is damn difficult,
Even when I am a strong, independent, capable woman.
But when I come home, and is alone in my room, when I shower, when I walk the streets on my own, and in those other little moments of silence, I am devastated. I weep. I question. I die.

Those who leave us never really leave us.

They stay...
- in our memories
- in our hearts
- in the spaces between our fingers
- in the emptied sofa
- in the jokes we've shared
- in the places we've visited
- in the clothes we've worn
- in the dates we've bookmarked
- and in all the other things that they've occupied

They linger.

And we try to hold onto it.
And it hurts more.
It hurts a lot.

I hope he isn't hurting, as I am.
I hope he isn't in pain.
I hope he isn't feeling what I am feeling.
Because I never ever would want to hurt him.
And I never would wish anyone, especially him, to feel this way.

But I hope he learns something. At least I serve as a lesson.
I hope he grows from this.
I hope something good would come out of this.
Someday, when these feelings are not as intense,
I hope for us to smile, and not hurt anymore, at the thought of each other.

I love him.
But, Hey, I'm moving on. Finally. Hopefully.

I know it is far.
But if I start walking now, it will get nearer.
And I will eventually get there.

I love him.
But I am moving on.

Part II. You, Let Yourself Miss Him.

You miss him.

A time when you no longer miss him may or may not come, but there is nothing you can do for certain to stop missing him now. There is no way around it. You will just have to wake up everyday missing him, until the time comes, hopefully, when the pain of missing him is no longer as intense.

You can push through, even if it is embarrassing and scary, and lonely, and arduous, and painful. You can push through, even if you'd rather just disintegrate into thin air. You can push through, little by little, towards today, towards tomorrow, towards the light.

You can push through, even if you do not really know what lies ahead. You can push through, until you've gotten used to moving, until it is no longer painful. And then you'll see, hopefully, that you've healed, even a little.

I know you are sad. But just go through it. Process the sadness. There is no choice but to ride it out. 

Adieu. All is well,
Arlet

September 9, 2017

Enjoying Words I Do Not Speak (Mt Manunggal - Mauyog, Cebu Twin Hike)

"A person's name is to that person, the most important sound in any language." 

As with every trip I make, I try my best to study the local language. But I tried especially hard with this one, because I've always loved Cebu, since it was the last place I went to before the universe told me that I have to grow up and act mature

But I never really mastered any languages other than English and Filipino, so I try to remember the names of people instead, even if I suck at it. I still try.  

April. Mae. Helen. Stella. Brandon. Rico. Diana. Alvin. Chen - This is me trying 😅

Thanks, you guys for letting me join this climb! Special thanks to Diana for letting me, a complete stranger out of nowhere, sleep with her in the tent!

Mt. Mauyog Peak

I. On Expensive Registration Fees. Do the right thing, even if it is troublesome

We arrived at the registration area of Mt. Manunggal after more than an hour from Ayala Center.


There was an P80 total registration fee being collected per person (it's for the Land Owner, Barangay, Local Cooperative, and DENR.) Note that registration fees normally costs P20 only, so we insisted on getting a receipt and seeing the ordinance that states that collection of this fee is legal.

But the locals said that the fee was decided only that day so they haven't printed receipts yet. There was a lot of disagreements of course, and it took a while before the gatekeepers finally let us through without paying the fee until we spoke with the Barangay Captain, and hears why such rule is implemented without proper documentation.

Phew! I was glad I didn't speak the local dialect so I didn't need to argue with the locals too. But the group I was with was amazing! They were able to insist their right on getting a receipt if they pay, otherwise not pay at all. Normally, visitors would just give in to avoid the hassles, but this proliferates a culture of graft and abuse if left unchecked. Way to go, team!

II. On Socials. In the mountains, everyone has the same heartbeat, and speak the same language, even if no actual words are spoken.

Due to time taken at the registration, it was almost dark when we left for Mt. Manunggal peak from the campsite. After a few minutes of trekking, we decided to go back and just continue the next day since majority do not have headlamps too. And so we went back to the campsite to pitch our tents, have dinner, and socials.

Introverted as I am, I dreaded socials. I think it is the most tiring and stressful part of hiking, but I enjoy people-watching! I like listening to other people's stories and somehow knowing them. I just get stressed when they expect me to talk about myself too, or when they expect me to respond to / act on whatever they say.

Alcohol was passed around. Make shift disco light was turned on. Pop music was played. Stories were shared. People were laughing in chorus. It was so lively! But I probably got around 30% of the stories only since they were mostly speaking in local dialect - which means less pressure for me to contribute to the discussions. Yey!


Cheers to being comfortable of not understanding everything!

I looked up, the sky brightly lit with stars.
I closed my eyes, the wind gently touching my face.
I can hear everyone's laughter.
I opened my eyes and smile.

At least, I can understand happiness 100%.

III. On Strangers. Everyone is interesting and amazing given the chance to know them. 

These people have such unique stories, and I have the privilege to hear it already, despite knowing them only a few hours ago:

Diana was a teacher for 5 years. When she asked the "universe" for signs whether she should continue teaching, the "universe" continually gave her signs to teach, even if she feels in her heart that it beats for something else. A few weeks ago, she stopped listening to the "universe," and started listening to her heart.

Helen is from Netherlands. She fell in love with a Filipino during her volunteer stint here in the country. She came back here to try and make their relationship work, because she has a son with him, but their differences proved to be too great for them to stay together at the moment.

They were both such strong women, for believing in themselves, and pushing through with the unknown no matter how scary it seems. I'm sending my positive thoughts to you, ladies!

IV. On Fear. Do things that scare you, repetitively - until it is no longer scary. 


Everyone woke up late for sunrise the next day. It took us less than an hour of climbing sharp limestone rocks to Manunggal peak from campsite. The view from the top was beautiful.

There was a part that I wanted to climb, but fear got the best of me. I've accumulated so much fear lately that it feels stupid already. But it's also because, I've become lazy, and undisciplined.

Arlet, you need to train more, know more, and understand more, so that you may fear less. 

Mt. Manunggal Peak

As the crowd was building up, and the heat becoming more intense, we went down and continued to Mt. Mauyog. Going there from Mt. Manunggal was strenuous for my knees because the road is concrete rather than soil. Also, along the way, there were various colorful flowers by the roadside.

We reached the registration area of Mt. Mauyog, and paid P30 disturbance fee, and P300 for every 5 people for 1 guide. It was a quick 30 minute pure ascent from registration to Mt. Mauyog peak. The view was beautiful, similar to that of Mt. Manunggal's peak.

V. Expenses

P4500 / everyone in the jeep - Jeepney from Ayala Center to Mt. Manunggal (Day 1) and from Mt Mt Mauyog registration to JY Center (Day 2)

P300 / 5 people - Guide for Mt. Mauyog
P30 - disturbance fee for Mt. Mauyog
P20 - Washroom use fee for Mt Manunggal campsite

P80 (Disputed, we didn't pay anymore) - Total registration fee at Mt. Manunggal

VI. Other Notes

- There are small residential houses / stores in Mt Manuggal campsite. You can ask them to cook rice, noodles, and canned good for a fee. You can also buy brandy here. Note that the price is a bit pricier.

- On the way to Mt. Manunggal peak, there was a sign of "no trespassing" on the correct trail to the peak.

See you around!
Arlet

August 12, 2017

Travel Notes: A Day in Jakarta

Of course a day isn't enough to explore a place as big as Jakarta. But it doesn't mean it's not enough to enjoy it. Happiness, after all, is something you can dictate internally :)

Okay, okay! So here's a rundown of my 1 day itinerary for Jakarta.

Arrival & Currency

Upon arrival at Jakarta airport (Soekarno Hatta Airport), I noticed that it was 10% - 15% cheaper to buy Indonesian Rupiah in Jakarta airport than in NAIA.

Their currency is so big in amount that there's even a bill for 100k Rupiah - which is roughly around P500 only - it was confusing! but try this trick I used:

Exchange rate at the time of travel (.0047 PHP = 1 Rupiah)
Trick - Divide the first 2-4 digits of the amount into 2, and then take note of below:

Thousands - max of P50
Ten Thousands - max of P500
Hundred Thousands - max of P5000

Once I've moved on with the fact that I'm a millionaire in Jakarta, I got a local sim for calls, text, and internet (150k Rupiah for 1.5GB and calls/texts.)

It's difficult to get a grabcar/uber from the airport, because the pick up is outside the arrivals area. And may also be because the place is dominated by local taxis. If you are unable to get a Grab car or Uber, just queue at Blue Bird taxi area. Get a number, and make sure the taxis read blue bird. Blue Bird is known to be the most trusted taxi brand in Jakarta.

Lodging (Fraser Place Hotel Setiabudi)

Their rooms are fully furnished and huge - there is even a walk in closet! There's a pool, a gym, and a recreational area. Food is good too, thumbs up :)




Cuisine

I like their food in general, because it is tasty. Some food joints tho may go overboard and make it too salty or sweet. If you are not a fan of MSG or sugar, advise your servers to go easy on the seasoning.

Jendral Sudirman Street

Since it was a Sunday, Jalan Jendral Sudirman (a major thoroughfare in the business district of Jakarta), was closed for vehicles to make room for joggers, cyclists, street vendors, and even street performers. It was such a lively place to stroll around! But better be early, since the road will be opened up again by 11am. Walk towards the direction of Grand Indonesia as the crowd build up (which includes street performers and vendors) is there. Lots of bicycle gears for sale here!



Grand Indonesia Mall

I wasn't able to go around that much here, but it seems like a typical mall with mid range branded items.

Pasar Baru Market

Pasar Baru is a local marketplace for general merchandises (apparel, shoes, cameras, sports / music items, etc) I enjoyed this place since it caters mainly to locals, and isn't that crowded and overwhelming for tourists. I was able to find a non-branded lens cap for my Sony Camera! Price here is comparable to Philippine SRPs too.


Wayang Museum 

Wayang Museum houses wayang or flat wooden puppets in all sizes. It was interesting to see such intricate artworks in this dusty building. There's even a performance on Sunday, but it was in local language. I heard there is an English performance too, but I wasn't able to see it.


The puppet collections were difficult to contextualize, because the translations are either missing or confusingly written.

It takes everyone to do a puppet show, not just the puppet master. What you see in the screen is not all of the work being done - there are musicians, singers, light directors, props director, and even the audience is partaking in the whole experience.

Isn't it very similar with our achievements? Whatever we achieve, is not from our own efforts alone. There is a always a myriad of help we get from others and the world - whether we realize it or not. And I hope we do realize it, and say our praise for it :)


Overall, I enjoyed my quick stay in Jakarta. Some tourists may get overwhelmed by the busyness of its streets, but coming from Manila, I felt at home in Jakarta. The streets look similar, the people look similar, the attitudes of the people feel similar - everything gives off the Manila vibe! I guess the main difference is just that people do not speak that much English in Jakarta. But hey who cares, a smile bridges all this language difference anyway :)

See you around!
Arlet