July 4, 2018

Diary of a Wimpy Biker in Metro Manila

Bike to work wearing neon windbreaker

I'm a newbie biker.
I've only learned to ride a bike recently (at 20+ years old.)
I can't bike while standing, or with 1 hand only, or with mailman type of bag, or while keeping a conversation.

Basically I can't bike and do something else (so I just focus on the road)

I'm probably that biker you honked at, because I was slow at gaining my momentum after the light turned green. Or maybe I was too slow on an uphill? Worse, I'm probably that biker you almost hit because you couldn't wait 3 seconds for me to change gear and gain my momentum so you just tried to overtook me.

I'm probably that biker who almost fell at the gutter because you hogged the right side, because fuck it, that's your blind side right? No one should use that side.

I'm probably that biker you tried to scare by driving too close despite the clear wide road, just for the heck of it. It worked by the way, I was terrified and wondered the whole day if we actually knew each other, and maybe I wronged you, so you're getting back at me.

Yep, I'm probably that biker.

Going home wrapped because of heavy rains

But I hope you aren't that jeepney who tried to scare me, or that big black SUV who overtook me after a stoplight, or that nice sedan who hogs the right side unreasonably, or that cab who honks aggressively while on an uphill slow traffic.

But if you are, I sincerely hope you reconsider your actions.

I understand that I am super annoying too - lane splitting, overtaking tight spots, or maybe even counterflowing! Believe me when I say that I was forced to do it, and would never be so brave to defy traffic rules, and risk my safety and those around me if it weren't for certain circumstances.

I was in the middle because I couldn't transfer to the right side, bec some truck wouldn't let me pass after I crossed from the other side of the road. I was lane splitting, because some Mazda hogged the right side. I was counterflowing because that's what the enforcer gestured. And well, I don't really try to overtake.

But let's say I was really on the wrong - I'm sorry.
Can you please not get even by putting me in a precarious situation?

Forgot to wear shoes :|

Exactly because you are big, and you are 4 wheels, that you bear bigger responsibility on the road. To whom much (wheels) is given, much (responsibility) is expected.

Imagine if I accidentally hit your car vs you hit me.
Imagine the damage.
You could kill me instantly, and even run away from the responsibility.
The worst I could do to you is give you inconvenience, as I can't even hit and run.

I will do my best to not be a burden on the road.
I will do my best to be predictable on the road.
I will pay utmost attention when riding.
I will follow all traffic rules and regulations.
Please take care of me.
Please do not be so overbearing,
And be an ate or kuya on the road :)

Certificate for Motorcycle Riding Course at Honda Safety Driving Center

Sincerely,
Newbie Wimpy Biker

July 1, 2018

Letters from the Future (ft Bantayan Island)



Travel Notes for Bantayan Island, Cebu, Philippines

Transpo

- Cebu to Port Hagnaya (Bus) P140

- Port Hagnaya to Bantayan (Ferry) P170 + P10 Terminal fee
- Tricycle/Habal Habal around the city - P20-P30

Activities
- Land Tour ~P500 (but better to rent a motorcycle or bike and do it yourself
if the weather is good, rental is around P300 for motor and P100 for bike)
Ob ob Mangrove Eco Park - P50 entrance fee
Cliff Diving
Camp Sawi beach

- Island Hopping Tour for Virgin Island and Hilantagaan Island (P700 for the boat) - Our boat guide was polite and prepared with another boat engine when the first engine got busted - 0948 102 4950

You must absolutely go to Virgin Island. Entrance fee is steep at P500 for first 2 people and additional P100 for every additional person, but the island is beautiful and is worth it. You can even forget about Hilantagaan Island and spend the whole day or 2 at Virgin Island. Do snorkeling, beach bumming, cliff diving.

Budget
~P600 for basic fan room / night
~P100-P150 / basic meal

April 27, 2018

What Fishes Do on a Monday (Apo Reef, Philippines)

Part 1. Fish Do Not Complain About Monday

I squinted uncomfortably as I try to battle whatever is paining my eyes. I took a deep breathe, and spit. I tightened my grip onto the rope, and smacked my face back into the water.
 
"Incoming!"

I let go of my right hand and glided to the side. I was returning to my position, when suddenly, two wild jellyfishes appear! I was already too late to make any move so I closed my eyes, and braved the stung.

Dzzzcchhtt. dzzztttt. dzzzt. dzzt.

Hahaha, well there werent really any sounds like that, but if there were, it would probably be like that.

"On your left! On your left!"

I was ready to evade as I look to my left, but I saw large schools of fishes instead, and just above it are hundreds if not thousands of tiny fishes. I looked at my friend and nodded.

It was beautiful.

I can feel the stung and itch on my face, neck, hands, and legs, but I didnt dare put any effort in avoiding any more jellyfishes. 

I was mesmerized. The underwater world is truly amazing.

It was a busy street, but of colorful fishes in variant sizes, and with corals for buildings. There was organized traffic among them, as if there were invisible roads where the fishes swim and fly to. It was rush hour! Fishes going on their own ways - big executives in suits, kids in uniforms, couples strolling, and soloists doing a morning swim!

This is my most notable Monday ever! The hustle is real, and the fishes ain't complaining!

On my right was the open ocean, with corals getting deeper and deeper, and the ocean bluer and bluer, with the deepest part pitch black. Staring at it, I was both excited and scared.

The boat turned gently. The water changed from warm to freezing. Water was trapped in my snorkel and mask, I could not breathe. But I caught a glimpse of a sea turtle and was immediately captivated. Must. Hold. My. Breathe. And. Stare. At. This. Magical. Sea. Turtle. 


Part 2. The Retired Turtle and The Giant Clams

Apung wouldn't look her way, so she shouted and shouted. Apung turned around and jumped towards her. He was huge yet agile. Likha was startled and swam violently to the side.

Likha was furious so she went to the giant clams to complain.

"Apung is sooo rude! Why doesn't he tell me the secrets of the world!"

Mmm... the giant clams echoed in disinterest.

Likha looked at the clams and wondered why they were called giant, when she was obviously larger than them.

"Say giant clams, why are you called giants when you are not even bigger than I am?"

The giant clams closed their shells.

"Apung and the clams are rude!!! Why are all the creatures here rude?," complained Likha to the universe.

Part 3. Michael, the Human Guide

"You're one of the humans that Apung trusts, I need your help", said Likha to Michael.

Michael was busy carrying trashes left by humans in the island. Michael dropped a small plastic bag so Likha picked it up and followed him. Likha put the plastic on the table, and the boat started sailing.

"Oh no!" Gasped Likha in defeat, as the wind blew the plastic on the table to the ocean bed.

Swiftly, Michael changed the boat's direction to where the plastic bag has fallen. He picked the plastic bag from the ocean's surface, and tucked it safely among all his other collected trashes.

Likha was surprised. She loves the environment too, but would never change course just to pick up litter.

"You want to know the secrets of the universe, but you cannot keep a small plastic in check. You shall know the secrets, only when you can keep and protect it." Michael told Likha.

Travel Notes

Guys, Apo reef is beautiful. I was initially hesitant to go because it was pricey, but it's worth it. I promise.

Actually, even right now, I look forward to going back already. But I plan to learn freediving first, and have spare battery for my camera, and maybe wear graded contact lens by then.

In apo reef, you can ask the boatmen to do guided snorkeling wherein you hold onto a rope while the boat go around the island. You can also check out the lighthouse, mangrove park, and lagoon in the island. Just pls dont go to the restricted area where the sea turtles lay eggs.

Pls get kuya michael (+63 935 499 3319) as your guide, seriously. He is reliable, responsible, and trustworthy.

Expenses. 

I was only a joiner for this trip so I'm not sure with the breakdown of expenses but I spent 5700 total from manila and back from Friday night until Monday night. Permits, transpo (van - roro - boat), guide, and food was taken cared of by the organizer. I brought my own tent and snorkel set tho.

Because accommodation and food in Pandan is expensive, we stayed in apo reef island instead. There is no fresh water source so you have to bring your own. Bring food too as the island is secluded and there are no stores within.

January 1, 2018

Nagpatong Rock Travel Notes



Getting there

Jeep from Farmers Cubao to Cogeo - P24
Jeep from Cogeo to Cuyambay - P48
Habal-habal from Cuyambay to Barangay for registration - P25/head
Registration - P100
Guide - P500 / 5 person
Habal-habal from Barangay to jumpoff - P40 

Going back to Cubao

Tricycle from jumpoff to Cogeo - P50
Jeep from Cogeo to Cubao - P24

Difficulty

Easy to moderate. It just rained during my time of climb so it was very muddy, and it made each step heavier and more careful. The trail isn't long, but entails some rock and tree climbing so upper body strength will be helpful.

Hike Notes

Rocks are sharp so wear gloves if you have.

Bring jacket just to be sure, especially if you're like me - weak to cold. The jeepney ride was very cold, and so was the climb. I thought it would be a hot climb (as is the norm for Rizal mountains) so I did't bring any jacket or scarf. My hands were freezing the entire time T.T

1L of water is enough as the trek is short and quick.

Good for full body exercise (legs and arms) due to some rock climbing. There's also good mix of ascents and descents. Be careful when climbing the rock formations!

You can also do a sidetrip to Mt Paliparan from here. 


December 24, 2017

Bus From Hell (Vietnam to Laos)

“Don’t do it” my friend almost cried to me. She doesn’t want me to take the so-called hell bus from Vietnam to Laos.

“It breaks down. It’s not safe. It takes 2 days with no stopovers. Locals will scam you.” she continued.

I know it all. I’ve read all these horror stories online, and I’m ready to go. It was a sleeper bus with permanently reclined seats. The bus started, and the colorful lights inside were lit.

“Oh, it looks like a party bus now,” I thought. But as if on cue, the aircondition died, and lights shut off, the bus stopped in the middle of the highway.


An hour passed and we’re still parked, and sweating, or hyperventilating from the lack of air. The locals and the bus driver seemed to be having an argument. I looked at the travelers around me for some form of unknown support. All foreigners were asked to sit at the back – Malay, Japanese, Belgian, Danish, French, and myself, a Filipino. No one understood Vietnamese so we just lied down in our reclined seats and tried to conserve as much energy as we can.

Maria, the Danish girl, smiled mischievously and put out Uno cards. Kaz, Stefan, and I nodded approvingly and played with her. Apparently, we all had different rules from our countries, so Margot, who is not part of the round, mediated the rules.

The engine started again. There were sighs of relief, and everyone was back to his proper seat in no time. Kaz opened a book. Stefan put on his earphones. Maria wore her sleeping mask, Margot took out her phone, and I stared out the window.

Not long after, the bus stopped in an empty lot. The bus broke down, again.

Everyone got off the bus and sat around a small wooden table, and chat with each other as if we’re all traveling together. In his broken English, a local told us that we were waiting for a replacement bus, which will arrive in an hour or two. Meantime, everyone had beers or noodles - HOT noodles WITH EGG! – such is a luxury, when I was prepared to eat nothing but biscuits for two days.


The replacement bus arrived and it took us another hour to transfer all the goods to the other bus. The next 2 days, we all looked out for each other, and even stayed and traveled together upon arrival to Laos.

The bus was from hell, maybe, but it was now in Laos, and with amazing people in it!

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