Category Archives: Random Stories

The Two-Minute Dalai Lama Smile

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#FrozenToHim #UpCloseWithHisHoliness #TheSimpleMan

Yes, he was my because in why Dharamsala. One word, compassion.

At the TCV for the Dalai Lama lecture

At the TCV for the Dalai Lama lecture

Hate is not part of their vocabulary. I had the chance to speak to some Tibetans about their story. How cruel the world had been. Not noticing that they, among other nations were suffering in the hands of their invaders for more than 50 years. But never did one of them say terrible words. Especially their leader, the 14th Dalai Lama of TIbet.

I have been following the lectures and engagements of HH. Those interfaith conferences were my personal favorite. So there I was, chasing the man who, despite of old age, was very busy traveling around the world to share words of encouragement and hope. The journey was not easy. I got declined through email (ended up attending a public prayer he led and it was amazing) and missed an event for 5 minutes. Every day I would walk around Mcleod and to his residence with so much conviction but to no avail.But patience rewarded me with something after almost 15 days of hoping. His annual discourse at the Tibetan Children’s Village. Little miracle.

HH from afar Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin (Tibetan monk friend)

HH from afar
Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin (Tibetan monk friend)

It was a three-day event and the slots were limited. Some of the people I met discouraged me because it was not really for international audience. He was going to speak in native tongue. So what? Meeting some students in the guesthouse, we planned our route to the venue. Ended up with nothing, all because I woke up late! My friends went ahead, but nothing could stop me. Managed to grab a seat at the back with the monks. Somehow, my eyes were better that day. For I could see his smiling face clearly. I did not understand most of the lecture, but my attention never took a dive. He spoke a few English phrases which I noted:

  • “Tibetan culture is peace and compassion.”
  • “Sense of oneness of 7 billion beings.”
  • words like:  forgiveness, sacrifice, karma and global warming
The crowd Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin

The mixed crowd from all over the world. Philippines, represent!
Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin

He spoke for almost two hours, or maybe three always with enthusiasm and big smile. People around me were laughing. Those listening to the translator in their radios did too. I was a mere audience enjoying the calmness of the crowded open space. By the time he ended, it was almost lunch. While seated, trying to get myself together, others went flocking to where I was. Darn, HH car was parked in front of me. And I was clueless. By the time my senses came back, He was almost there. I took Ceedi out (GoPro H3 cam) and prepared to capture the moment. I was about to start shooting, when, there, the man whose words were my inspiration, stood 3 meters away waving his hands, facing me with a huge smile. Myself died. Minutes later, finally, my fingers moved to film. Or should I say, tried to film.

The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet  during his lecture at the TCV, May 2015. Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin

The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet during his lecture at the TCV, May 2015.
Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin

Five months had passed since that day but the overwhelming emotion embraces me recalling it. Teary eyed with full of gratefulness. No decent pictures to share though, only in my heart. Life, I could not ask for more.

Special thanks to my friends from Loseling Monastic Guesthouse who showed me the map to TCV. Credits to my friend Tenzin Tenzin for all the pictures. And to VK for accompanying me to the event.And everyone else who assisted me. Love and compassion to all beings 🙂

Ceedi trying to capture the moment Shot using: Go Pro Hero3 Silver Ed

Ceedi trying to capture the moment
Shot using: Go Pro Hero3 Silver Ed

Ceedi trying to capture the moment Shot using: Go Pro Hero3 Silver Ed

Ceedi trying to capture the moment
Shot using: Go Pro Hero3 Silver Ed

Watch out for my 8-Hour New Delhi Layover story soon…

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TRIUND: The Implausible Affair

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#HimalayanTREK #INDIAfromAbove #TRIUNDforLOVE

Yep, that's him (Felipe of Vagamundeando) camping in front of the Himalayas Photo by: Felipe Villegas Munera

Yep, that’s him (Felipe of Vagamundeando) camping in front of the Himalayas
Elevation: 2895 meters above sea level
Photo by: Felipe Villegas Munera

Originally, no idea. It was a fellow backpacker I met in Rishikesh, Felipe (travel writer for Vagamundeando) who invited me to take this trail. I mean, I was in Dharamsala for spiritual reason; not to indulge myself for some touristic activity. Nonetheless, Googled it and, voila, okay, it was a NO but days after seeing my friend’s picture, somehow gave it a go. No pressure, but I had to take some trial treks for me to complete the entire trail. It was my first time to go beyond 2000 meters above sea level.

Something to conquer the fear of heights...

Something to conquer the fear of heights…

The thing about mountains, they are too high and my fear of heights was just impossible to conquer. It was like Earth eating me. Also, with asthma , precautionary measures should be strictly observed. Slow ascent and always listen to my body. From what I have heard, the trail can be done for one day (back and forth) and it was easy. The word “easy” was subjective though and it was about to be tested.

Trial trek to Triund

Trial trek to Triund

It was on the fourth day (in Dharamsala) that I have decided the inevitable climb. It actually happened on the 18th, the day before my departure to New Delhi. Fourteen grueling days of trying to reach the peak. We had to take things slow and sweet, raveling in the beauty of togetherness, lush green view and soulful sunset. We tried different paths from our hostel only to be disappointed in the middle of the ascent. My breath became too short, dizziness attacked me. At some point, I told him, I can’t do it, he will have to do it alone. But he had more confidence in me than I had for myself. I can’t let him down. I can’t disappoint my trainer.

Triund what? just another trial trek lol

Triund what? just another trial trek lol

It had to happen. We have booked our tickets to Delhi, and before leaving, we had to do it. The inevitable and impossible hike to the Indian Himalayan Ranges for one day! We started with breakfast, lol. I thought, it had to be something I like, since it might be my last meal. And at exactly 8:30AM, the walk (I will always remember) started.

So I had my lovely guards while doing a trial trek. When they saw me from the forest, they followed me until the first tea house.

So I had my lovely guards while doing a trial trek. When they saw me from the forest, they followed me until the first tea house.

The trail began in the little tea house in Dharamkot just beside the Dhamma meditation center, but since we lived in Mcleod, we still had to walk at least 1kilometer (from our short cut). From the starting point, we had to pass through a forest, couple of tea houses and the rocky death road. We passed by a commemorative rock where an experienced mountaineer had died and we were almost at 2500 meters. And yes, the view was stunning, but I was just too scared to pander. I mean, I was not scared to die, it was more of “my parents doesn’t deserve a cold lifeless body,” thought. So here I was, walking, focusing and sweating. One little step at a time.Like meditation.

Off  to the mountains! Photo by: Ville Kananen

Off to the mountains!
Photo by: Ville Kananen

NO TALK! Photo by: VK

Me to him: NO TALK! Shut up. U go ahead and I’ll met you there!
Photo by: VK

Then we met a local tourist. He had map and itinerary in his hand, Triund was just part of his four day ascent. He was supposed to literally cross the Indian Himalayas to meet his friend. He was maybe in his forties, healthy and was excited to reach 6000 meters. While I was catching my breath. Life was unfair, lol. Then there were couple of more tourists descending, telling us it was a short trek, maybe 1-2 hours more while were walking for almost 2 hours. After another two hours, some tourists said just an hour, but after an hour, nothing yet. Hopeless. Doubt started creeping into my system. Finally, after four hours of endless walking, I saw the peak. Almost there. Maybe an hour more. Himalayan lunch as remuneration. Off I went, steeper and more dangerous now.

Took us 4 hours to reach the top. Rough rocky road Photo by: VK

Took us 4 hours to reach the top. Rough rocky road
Photo by: VK

See those rocks? Photo by: VK

See those rocks?
Photo by: VK

And there I was, teary eyed when I saw the snow mountain, half covered by clouds. Darn, Himalayas, too close. The cold breeze cloaked my fragile body. Hunger came in. A revolution of emotional and physical nuisance erupted. There he was, holding me and shouted, “ we made it.” And yet another whisper to inform me that my shirt was drenched with sweat. , Arrggggh, I had no extra. Well, he got one, so yeah, that number 23 was not only Jordan, LBJ  and Beckham’s, it became mine, my Snow mountain jersey.

Ahuh, tears fell down! Darn, I was alive! Photo by: VK

Ahuh, tears fell down! Darn, I was alive!
Photo by: VK

"The snow glows white at the mountain tonight...Let it go" Photo by: VK

“The snow glows white at the mountain tonight…Let it go”
Photo by: VK

Yes to lunch and the chilly afternoon of just gazing at the stunner. VK had an idea of crossing to the snow, another 4km walk. I had to say BIG NO. I was in no position to do another ascent. We were contented to have our noodles and enjoyed the moment along with other tourists and campers. The state of solitude and gratefulness. “Muchas gracias.”

Happiness came back! Ahuh ahuh! Triund what? Photo by: VK

Happiness came back! Ahuh ahuh! Triund what?
Photo by: VK

"It's not the mountain we conquer but ourselves."  Photo by: Felipe Villegas Munera

The Dhauladhar mountain Ranges View from Triund
“It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
Photo by: Felipe Villegas Munera

**Did I say this trail was almost free? Ahuh and yes, it was easy to follow. Prepare for expensive food on the way. And if planning to camp, cost around $10USD/night/person. This can also be paired with other endpoint around the Himalayan ranges. No need to hire tour guide.

Special thanks to Felipe and Ville for the photos used in this entry 🙂

Lost up North

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#TibetIsThisYou #NineteendaysAtTwoKHigh #MyBikiniKindaLife

Welcome to AlmostTibet

Welcome to AlmostTibet

I’d lie if I didn’t dream of one day making it to Tibet. May be I used to be from there. I don’t know why I have been fascinated by this little country up above. I have been planning my journey to experience it but I think I won’t. Nepal – Tibet border was too expensive for a frugal tripper. $1500USD for a week. NO WAY! Beijing-Lhasa train connection, only allowed to Chinese passport holders. All foreigners are required to join a tour. Who needs to go to Lhasa when I’m in Tibet! I mean, India with Tibetans.

With all due respect to historians and et al, I would like to point out that for me, Tibet is not a Chinese territory. It is country invaded by the latter for more than fifty years now. With its own culture, people, and bloody history. And by far, the Tibetans are the most calm and peaceful people I have ever met. Even after the Chinese brutality that led to the Tibetans leaving their own country, fleeing to seek refuge from their neighbors, the serenity of their culture is such a gift to Northern India. There I was, excited and scared inside the bus enjoying the picturesque sight of the Indian Himalayan Ranges greeting me with a cold snowy chills slowly letting go of gravity. Off to Dharamsala, the center of the Tibetan government in exile with an elevation of 1400 meters above sea level. No plans, not hostel, not so much information in the middle of a misty night under the mercy of faith. The bus dropped us (mostly tourists) in the main station. Far from my expected stop. No worries, we, the tourists had the same goal and destination, to experience Tibet and meet His Holiness, the 16th Dalai Lama. So can you imagine my excitement, when I heard one group talking about their unexpected encounter with HH while walking along the streets of Dharamsala.

Mcleod Ganj

The upper Dharamsala, with an elevation of 2000meters and houses most of the cheap accommodation and the Dalai Lama Temple. And this was my/our home for the next 19 days. We did not have pre booked place to stay, so we ended hiking along Tipa Road in search of a cheap and clean accommodation with our backpacks! We were so lucky to find the only available room in a monastic guesthouse run by Tibetan monks. For 300 rupees we had our clean beds with toilet and fan. Not to mention our lovely neighbors! Best accommodation ever! According to their manager and the tenants, the place was usually packed with students (monks) and pilgrims.

The neighborhood at Mcleod Ganj

The neighborhood at Mcleod Ganj

We decided to stick to Mcleod Ganj while exploring the nearby villages. After arrival, we hurriedly walked to the Dalai Lama house along the temple road. We were so lucky that we arrived five minutes after the Dalai Lama had finished his talk. Hai! It felt so bad. But hey, it’s not the end, VK met a monk who introduced us to the secretary of the Dalai Lama. He was kind enough to inform us that HH was having a three day retreat and will not be participating in any event. But maybe after three days, we can meet him but we need to send a formal request. Also our housemates told us that His Holiness usually visits the Tibetan Village nearby during his free time. We might just end up bumping into him. And that gave me hope.

Mcleod Ganj Main Square Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin

Mcleod Ganj Main Square
Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin

So what to do? hahaha walk walk walk! Surprisingly, the energy was different. The daily walks I had were peaceful. I mean, not so much touts only the honking cars of the local tourists. Goodness, was I in India? We enjoyed the Tibetan experience eating in local restaurants and talking to these wonderful Tibetans. History would portray these people that they have been in so much pain, crossing Tibet to India. But never did I see any anger in all of them. We made friends with the guys from the computer shop, Shangri-la Restaurant, Coffee shops, sellers and shop owners. They were so accommodating and always smiling.

One of our fave breakfast place

One of our fave breakfast place and one of my fave breakfast buddy (next to myself and familia)

Our early days in Mcleod were physically hard. VK got terribly sick and we suspected it was either altitude sickness or mosquito related disease (he was meditating outdoor before arriving in Dharamsala). He had to stay indoor and was closely monitored. And everyone in the guesthouse was helping us. They even cooked for him. Never asked for any additional fee. It was just pure kindness and my heart melted. Also the people in the street when we were asking for directions and forex rates. No hard selling. Not so India lol!.

Then there was the manager of the guesthouse who always asked me which tv channel would I want to watch every time I hangout at the lobby. Or gave me the English newspaper. One morning I sat and spoke to him. He told me about his story. He crossed the Tibet-Nepal border through the Himalayas at an early age to escape Tibet. He hasn’t seen his family for more than 20 years now and he just learned the death of his mother through a phone call. Now he has his refugee card that would allow him to go back home but if he comes back, he needed to get a Chinese passport. My tears came rushing. Maybe hundreds of thousands have the same story as his. But never did I hear him curse China. The staff (some monks) even took our laundry when it rained. Lent us utensils and provided us inside information from the Dalai Lama’s schedule.

DCIM112GOPRO

At the Tibet Museum located inside the Dalai Lama Temple.

Some days were just too lazy to walk and stayed in the guesthouse doing yoga, reading and VK started sketching. Or meditating. Often though we would walk around, watch people and went to the temple for the hope of meeting the Dalai Lama. But for a week we were just not lucky. Anyhow, life must go on for us. So we decided to stroll beyond Mcleod and we never regret that decision

His Sketch while in Mcleod

His Sketch while in Mcleod

  • Dharamkot

A smaller village home to the more hippie culture located few kilometers north of MCleod Ganj. First, we took the long route following the Dharamkot Road sign. Uphill trek for an hour and ended up at the tea house near the Vipassana Center. We loved the forest. I mean, Ville loved it. We even found a spot for our meditation. And discovered the path to the infamous TRIUND TREK! As we decided to go back to Mcleod, we uncovered a shorter way! wohooo! But we had to be careful with the monkeys or them to us! If only I can share the best and worst of Dharamkot…no maybe not at this point.

Off to the forest of Dharamkot

Off to the forest of Dharamkot

The sunset view at our spot in the middle of the forest

The sunset view at our spot in the middle of the forest

So near yet so far...Himalayas

So near yet so far…Himalayas

  • Bhagsu

Another cold breezy waters of the Himalayas. The road to this village is on the opposite of Dharamkot. No one can get lost since most of the honking cars were going to this direction. Goodness, if not for the waterfall, won’t even dare to go. The traffic was bad and the noise was so unlimited that we had to go up farther awayl to find our own space. It was also an uphill long walk and a stressful one. But as I took the same path again and again, I have gotten used to the noise and the dust from the tourists. Funny though, most of the people I saw walking or walked with us were either monks or foreigners. Ha, yeah backpackers love walking. We also found our new friend, Indian young artist Sakshi!!! Sorry but I can’t share her story as of the moment. But, our meeting opened a new perspective of their culture.

bhagsu 2

On the way to the waterfall

DCIM111GOPRO

Dipping in Bhagsu

bhagsu 3

#bikiniKindaLife

We met her in Bhagsu Photo by: Sakshi

We met her in Bhagsu
Photo by: Sakshi

Okay the waterfalls scene was a bit awkward for me. I’ve been wearing bikini for a loooong time but this was the first time I felt scared from all those unlikely stares. I forgot, I’m still in India. It didn’t matter though because I just didn’t care at all. I felt safe and belonged. It was like re-living a former life familiar to me. I could walk, eat and shop by myself with a huge smile. Constantly going from one shop to another without buying anything, contented of just looking, admiring. Just like how my heartbeat to my almost Tibet life.

our secret spot in Bhagsu

our secret spot in Bhagsu

Notes:

  • nearest major train station is Amritstar in Punjab
  • there are tourist buses that leaves Delhi and Rishikesh every day costs 700-1200 rupees each
  • Kangra Valley is a nearby tourist attraction
  • take a tuktuk from the train station to the bus stand around 50-70 rupees for the trip
  • Mcleod Ganj can be reached from lower Dharamsala by shared jeep, taxi, tuktuk and local bus.fee depends on your choice and negotiation skills. For share taxi, we paid 200 for the one way trip, shared jeep and local 20 rupees per person.
  • food is cheap even eating in a restaurant. rice + veggies = 100 rupees shared for 2 people
  • overcrowded during Indian holidays and summer season.

watch out for my Dalai Lama experience and Triund Adventure

Holy Waters of Ganga

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#ThePilgrimageWithVK #ChasingWaterFools #MyBikiniKindaLifeInIndia

What is India without one of the world’s largest and most polluted body of water? Okay, enough with polluted. The sacred river to the Hindus. This holy river starts from the Himalayas and crosses to the Indian soil until Bangladesh and associated with relevant Hindu ceremonies. Honestly, before heading to see the Ganga and experience its holiness, I had so much hesitation. I have heard stories of traveler dipping and getting sick. But as soon as we got out from the bus and landed in Varanasi, my energy changed. It went bad. The stingy, noisy and over crowded holy city just took away my sense of ME.

The Devil face excited to experience Ganga

The Devil face excited to experience Ganga

Strolling around Varanasi Photo by:VK

Strolling around Varanasi
Photo by:VK

From the bus/train station, we decided to stay near the Ghats to witness the Pujas. We took a rickshaw and paid about 60 rupees for both of us. The interesting streets of Varanasi teeming with people and things being sold greeted us.And yet again, got scammed by an Indian man who said he owns a hotel and near Vishwanath temple with clean ac rooms, wifi and cheap. I knew he wasn’t telling the truth. But hey, I was not alone.Yes just upon arrival in the “hotel”, it was clear that, he was not connected with the hotel and asked money from us because he “helped” us. Oh my Indiaaaaa! Whatever. The room was so so, AC room with toilet at 750 rupees. Non AC with squat toilet 300 rupees. Took the AC, it was just too much for me…I mean the place.

One of the Ghats in Varanasi

One of the Ghats in Varanasi

Too much exhaustion, I ended up snoozing to dreamland while VK had to get us food in the dark alleys of Varanasi. Yeah, at least I got to be a patient for awhile.

The next day, I gave it a try, a stroll and hopefully a dip in the holy river. Not until I got to experience the hottest event of my life. Forty three degree Celsius even before lunch! It was just crazy! So we ended up hanging out somewhere that served a very special and authentic drink.

This where the late afternoon puja happens

This where the late afternoon puja happens

The Bhang Lassi experience. A yogurt milk drink with weed! Okay no, not for me. VK tried it. Not a fan of weed, I mean, I don’t do weed. Not my thing. So I was there to witness and document it. Plus, I wasn’t ready to take too much Indian bacteria. I was dealing with tummy problem already. It wasn’t that bad according to VK. Things went slow. The Cannabis side effect.

That greenish drink is the legendary bang lassi

That greenish drink is the legendary bang lassi

Ganga and the Hindu Pujas are synonymous. So we wanted to see it across the river. For a fee of 50 rupees each we can paddle to the other side, take dip and then watch a puja. Was I ready? BIG NO. I was dealing with tummy issues and the hotness of the place. So I skipped it, but he went. Or so I thought. He ended up hanging out with a bunch of locals selling weed, which was according to him overpriced and smelled like horse shit. Wow, now that was new!

Missed the Puja, but not totally. The view from our AC hotel room

Missed the Puja, but not totally. The view from our AC hotel room

So nothing happened in Ganga. But I was eager to feel the energy of the Ganga river. Yeah, the safest way to do it, was where all the pollutants do not exist. Up in the mountains. But the Himalayas were yet far from my sight. Rishikesh, another sacred city.

RISHIKESH, INDIA

Located at the foot of the Himalayas. This town is also known as the YOGA center of North India. Two birds in one trip. Or so I thought. Yes, it was my spiritual decision to reach this town based on recos and purpose. If I didn’t make it in Varanasi, maybe I can do the Ganga holy dip here. And I just didn’t do the dip. It was splendor.

Way better to enjoy the spiritual river

Way better to enjoy the spiritual river

We went by train to the pilgrimage town of Haridwar but I didnt really bother to stop by. My goal was the hippie town. From Haridwar train station, the bus stand was just across, maybe a two or three blocks walk. We paid 600rupees each for a train sleeper seat. It was a grueling and grilling 18hour train ride. Believe me, the journey was worth it. We arrived early in the morning and was greeted by a beautiful and cold sunrise. Sorry not in the mood to take pictures. I was just reveling the moment. We were seated in the local bus on the way to Rishikesh with our new friend, the Aussie Timmy. It was literally following the waters of Ganga.

Small town but confusing for someone who was tired and no concrete plan. We were three now. We want to stay in an ashram but there were too many. We didn’t have the energy to go around asking. So we ended up getting a place from where the rickshaw dropped us. Yeah we still had to take the rickshaw from the Rishikesh bus station to the backpackers area. It was because of my idea that maybe, the further we go, the cleaner the water. India to me: Seriously?. We stayed near Laxman Jhula, a popular yoga and backpackers hub. We got a room from the main road for 500rupees per night for three people with toilet. No wifi. Who needs it when there were so much to do.

The Ganga spirit

The Ganga spirit

Food was amazing but not too cheap unless we eat raw. Like eating veggies straight from the market. Or meeting a bunch of hippies who live in the forest for like a lifetime. And I am not describing the Indian Babas. I’m talking about foreigners roaming around and telling stories about how they found meaning in life while visiting India. And yes. decided to stay in India, for good. Couldn’t blame them. I, too was falling. There was something pulling me towards the freezing waters. The fast current didn’t stop me to take a plunge and whispered my little prayer. Was it my imagination? I was totally enjoying the cold water. I was rejuvenated. Enchanted Ganga.

Yeah, India, here comes my bikini!

Yeah, India, here comes my bikini!

Everyday Ganga day! despite the freezing water

Everyday Ganga day! despite the freezing water

So what happened to the yoga certificate? Gone. I was too busy meditating and meeting people while hanging out at the river.SOLO. Yeah me time. A lot of it. My company? Timmy was busy walking to the other side. While VK finally met his guru. Indian Baba. He was busy hanging out with him. I wasn’t into it. I met my meditation teacher in Bohdgaya. Not interested in someone who doesn’t share the same values as mine. But I was happy he found what he was looking. Guess that’s love. Happy for someone else.

View from The German Bakery. overlooking the Ghats and ashrams of the other side

View from The German Bakery. overlooking the Ghats and ashrams of the other side

Solewandering. Walk to the otherside

Solewandering. Walk to the otherside

A little bit of yoga

A little bit of yoga

This could have been my paradise. But something happened. India, you never failed to scare me. I was doing my usual afternoon Ganga immersion when there were others. An local guy and a foreigner woman. Well, we started friendly. Conversation about life, relationships and labels (background). Until out of nowhere one baba came by and joined us talking about marriage. He was telling us, he fell in love with the other woman. And here came this guy, asking me to marry him. Goodness! This wasn’t my first time to be asked but it was scary and weird. We, women walked out. That was it. I needed to move. There was no way I’m hanging out here for long. I made my decision.But I couldn’t find my teammates. I knew somehow he was with his teacher maybe meditating in the cave. So I decided to speak with Timmy, and voila, we were going to the same destination, Dharamshala. To meet the Dalai Lama!

VK's teacher and yes, a French man who has been visiting India since God knows when Photo by:VK

VK’s teacher and yes, a French man who has been visiting India since God knows when
Photo by:VK

Goodness, India, it was not about the destination, nor the journey anymore. Not even the experience. Not just the people but most especially, their stories. The woman from Ukraine who have been living in the jungles of India for the past three years. Relying on friends’ help and the ashrams. Or the unlimited babas who were trying to convince me to go with them. Arggghhh. But the one that touched me was the story of the Russian woman who fell in love with India. She has been staying in India for twenty years and renews her visa every year. The only way to get a residence visa is to marry a local. Well, she has been asked so many times. She told me, her favorite reply was, “don’t bullshit me.” Why? Because most if not all of these men wanted to take her to bed. SEX. According to her, most Indian men see tourist women as porn stars or easy. She was speaking in a subtle and calm. While I was secretly hating that idea. The stares, eagerness to ask for facebook contact and the unwanted conversations. Oh dear India.

It was an honor :-)

It was an honor 🙂

Notes:

Varanasi

  • train and bus station are just facing each other
  • The Pujas are held every afternoon around 6pm
  • AC double room ranges from 750-900 rupees per night
  • rickshaw from stations to the Ghats cost 50-80 rupees per trip
  • Street food is recommended from 40rupee dal to expensive meals
  • 2-3 days stay should be fine

Rishikesh

  • Haridwar is the nearest railway station
  • bus to Rishikesh leaves every 30mins
  • tuktuk from Rishikesh station to Laxman Chula cost 200 IDR per trip
  • have a prebooked ashram, hostels etc
  • Food 100IDR per decent meal
  • water rafting adventure is available priced at 800rupees per person

A Mosey with Buddha’s Life and Love

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#ThePilgrimageWithVK #FromBirthToDeath #PrinceSiddharta

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

The first time I came across Buddha was during my pre-school activity visiting a Taoist temple in Bacolod City. The golden statue where some people bow to. For me, it was a religious rite. Never have I imagined that after 21 years, I’d be given a chance to know him. The man who lived, understood and shared a life that encompasses  lifetimes.

Let the Pilgrimage begin!

Let the Pilgrimage begin!

According to the Vipassana Meditation retreat I attended, there are four important places to visit to complete the The Buddhist Pilgrimage. Lumbini, Nepal as his birthplace. Kushinagar,India his deathplace. Sarnath, India where he first taught Dhamma. Bohdgaya,India where he attained nirvana. Yes, most pf these sites are located in India, a perfect place to be in a spiritual adventure!

Lumbini, Nepal

Coming from a week of holidaying in Pokhara (pls see previous post), Lumbini can be reached through either a local or tourist bus ranging from 1000-1200 Nepal rupees. From Kathmandu, ticket ranges from 650-1200 rupees with travel time 8-10 hours. We came from Kathmandu to pick up our passports from the Indian Embassy. The journey was interesting and total test of faith. Half way through the bus ride, we discovered that our laptop was missing! For the first time, we lost something in Nepal. The bus driver was kind enough to close the bus and brought everyone to the police station for the investigation. It turned out that there was another passenger who lost his brand new HP netbook! Everyone tried to look for the missing gadgets and one woman told the policemen that there was someone who went inside the bus while we were having lunch. He was not a passenger of our bus but she didn’t mind. Sh@t happens once in awhile.

Lumbini is a small town so everything can be reached through foot or bicycle. Since the bus dropped us near the entrance of the main site, we just walked a few meters to the backpackers area. It was off season, there were enough rooms that can cater to the different budget of travelers. The temples can also accommodate backpackers with a reasonable fee. We decided to stay in a good hostel for $6 a night for 2-3 persons.

Accommodation: Temples inside the main site costs $4-5 per person with 2 meals. Guesthouses $4-8 double fan room

Food: $1.5 per meal

Bike Rental: $1 whole day

Entry fee to the birth site: $2 for two days.

It was meant to be a couple of days stay but ended up leaving a day before our Nepali visa expired. A meditative stopover before heading to India that became a very interesting encounter with some unlikely personas. The French and Yemeni couples we always met at the same restaurant. The French woman Maya who was very vocal about her dislike with Vipassana that ended us almost sleeping outside our hostels. And the hippie Stefan, who shared a spiritual journey from his out of body experience.

Cycling around Lumbini

Cycling around Lumbini

DCIM111GOPRO

The Ashoka  Pillar

The birth site with other pilgrims

The birth site with other pilgrims

Days of cycling, watching the sunset and the unending “I am leaving you,” drama. It was a birthplace of both spiritual and personal meditation that started my experience with love. The wheel of unconditional love, just as how Prince Siddhartha once taught.

sunset in lumbini

sunset in lumbini

post meditation discussion

post meditation discussion

Kushinagar, India

Buddha’s  death place and the nearby site from the Indian-Nepal border. Crossing the border in Sunauli, we took a local three hour bus ride to Gorakphur and paid 100 Indian Rupees each. From Gorakphur, we took another bus to Kushinagar and paid 50 rupees (each) for an hour ride. The area was surrounded by different temples and limited hostels. We tried to stay in a cheap hostel but it was fully booked. Thank God! We ended up in Burmese temple with some pilgrims and monks. The temple accepts pilgrims coming from different areas of the world. They didn’t impose fee but it is highly recommended to give dana (donation) for the maintenance of the temple. It was actually just beside the “holy cremation site” of Siddhartha’s body. The room they provided was basic. We had our own bathroom. With so much kindness, they also provided us with food along with the pilgrims from Myanmar. This was our first exposure to India. And it was okay for a couple of nights and days of trying to understand and misunderstanding each other.Yeah, somehow I had a thought of leaving again. Haiiiiii, it was not my fear of India that stopped me. Not even conscience. It was something else that I couldn’t fathom.

The only picture I had in this place

The only picture I had in this holy place

Sarnath, India

Kushinagar, India

VK

VK in Kushinagar

Here I met some Thai pilgrims and a Vietnamese monk who were also completing the pilgrimage. They stayed in the Thai temple. We meditated for a few minutes and shared our experience. I have learned that the Thai woman is connected to the Suan Mokkh Meditation Retreat Center who knew the Abbot of my first meditation experience in Koh Samui. Small world.She was with two monks (one Thai and one Vietnamese) and a girl friend. We had so much fun talking that I ended up forgetting I was with someone. Who actually befriended a bus driver that agreed to take us to Bohdgaya for free the following day as long as we can manage to wake up early. Too bad, we woke up few minutes before he left us. So we were meant to take a plunge to the real India!

Sarnath (Varanasi), India

Okay, if this was not part of the pilgrimage, I would skip this place. Oh myyyyy gosh. This is the REAL INDIA. Anyhow, somehow I have managed to survive the 8 hour ass flying bus ride from Kushinagar to Gorakhpur to Varanasi loosing only my patience and comforter (blanket). So here came incredible India outsmarting us. We asked a bus personnel if there was a train to Varanasi from Gorakphur. And HE SAID NO TRAIN TODAY! So we believed him and went to the bus station to take a ride to our destination. Only to find out from some fellow passengers that there were 2 trains to Varanasi. Cheaper and shorter, just around 150 rupees for 6hour ride as compared to the 180 rupee trip we took. From the central bus and train station, we took another local bus that brought us 2km away from Sarnath. Then a tuktuk to the site.

sarnath india Photo by theberntraveler

sarnath india
Photo by theberntraveler

At this point we knew that we can stay in one of the temples near the holy ground. There were alot to choose from. We first went to the Burmese temple but it was closed. Then Mahabodhi  Society temple with minimum charge of 300 rupee for a basic but not so clean room. And then finally, the Tibetan temple! wohooooo! Clean, spacious room and we were surrounded with monks for 300 rupees per night. Plus a nearby meditation hall. We settled in and walked around. There I knew about the Dalai Lama’s schedule. Whew! And a surprise from mother nature, a tremble from underneath the core of the earth. I thought I was just hungry, but no, it was too strong that I froze in my bed blankly waiting for mercy. As I looked outside, the monks with calm smiles on their faces assured me, it was going to be okay. We felt the same earthquake that hit Nepal.

Keep Calm

Keep Calm

Just like the rest of India, despite being a holy Buddhist site where Buddha first taught Dhamma after attaining enlightenment, the place was surrounded by poverty. Beggars everywhere. Children asking for money or food. Parents bringing babies to beg. It was such a pain to watch. At some point, I didn’t like to walk around anymore. Not until I met, a fellow Filipino! Wohoooo! We were at one of those temples when I saw someone whom I can tell was ASEAN by ethnicity. I told VK (who was talking to an old man) that I think I found another ASEAN and I was guessing either Indonesian or Malaysian. But the moment we spoke to each other, I knew he was a Filipino. A researcher by profession, B became my tour guide and my temporary company. Yeah another argument came up about hiring that old man as a tour guide.  Thank you universe for sending me B! An afternoon of well deserved break from VK that started a friendship beyond India. We decided to hangout until he left to see the ceremony in the Ganga River. It was my first time to speak my thoughts about our trip in India. About how we manage things. Being a team.

Team Sarnath Photo by: TheBernTraveler

Team Sarnath
Photo by: TheBernTraveler

Bohdgaya, India

Prince Siddhartha attained nirvana while meditating under the Bodhi tree with the moon as his witness. I was hoping for the same. And hope was all I did.

Just behind the Mahabodhi Temple (we dont have pictures of the main temple because of the 100rupee fee we want to save,lol) Photo by:VK

Just behind the Mahabodhi Temple (we dont have pictures of the main temple because of the 100rupee fee we want to save,lol)
Photo by:VK

Coming from Varanasi, we took a train to Gaya station for about 90 rupees with no sure seats for a four hour journey. I thought it wasn’t too bad. First train ride. The sight of crowded and filthy train station lured my imagination. Well, it was not far from reality. Only that, there was someone who helped us buy our ticket and find our train. Even gave us sleeper seats that we can use for our entire ride. I had my first stranger touch experience. I almost erupted with disgust and rage, but I calmed down fearing that I would be thrown out of the train if I said or reacted to what transpired. I came by but with caution and the thought of KARMA.

the Indian neighborhood

the Indian neighborhood

Upon arrival in Gaya station, the touts were just argggghhhh craziest. Every person just informed us that there was no bus or shared tuktuk going to Bohdgaya. I knew this was another scam that we need to pass through. And we failed. Too much discussion of being a team. Ended up paying 180 rupees for 25km journey. And another scam came right after we got out of the tuktuk. We were suppose to pay entry fee of the tuktuk which would make our total bill of 200 rupees. Atleast this time, he said NO. And yet another scam. Two guys approached us telling us that Thai temples can’t accommodate us because we are not Thais. No way. So we got inside the first Thai temple we saw located at the back of Mahabodhi Temple beside the Bangladesh temple. The people were accommodating but unfortunately, the temple was fully booked because of the influx of Thai pilgrims coming for the Full moon celebration. So we were planning to check out other temples like the Bangladesh, Tibetan, Japanese, Bhutanese and Burmese but somehow those two Indian guys convinced him to check out their “cheap hostel with wifi.” I was not in the mood to do so. I was protesting. I knew it was a scam. Gosh India, please stop. In the middle of our walk, I stopped. And they stopped. He yelled at me, “let’s just see this.” And I said, I’m leaving you. Our next exchanges ended up with me loosing. Which also meant us staying in the guesthouse for 400 rupee fan room with toilet and no decent wifi. For a week. Days followed with my protest. I even packed my bag and planned to run away. There were some days that I spent by myself. Or him going somewhere alone. Until another scam came in. Argh! With the same guys. They offered us a tour, they said it was free. Until yeah the real deal came in. Overpriced weed and Buddha tour which included three sites visited by Buddha during His wandering in Gaya. It was too much already, I had to say NO. But again he insisted and offered to pay 70% because they were his friends. And I was not part of the team. BS.

The Gaya Desert, on the way to one of the caves where Buddha meditated

The 1000rupee tour package: The Gaya Desert, on the way to one of the caves where Buddha meditated

The Banyan Tree

The 1000rupee tour package: The Banyan Tree

The 1000rupee tour package: One of the oldest tree in Bohdgaya

The 1000rupee tour package: One of the oldest tree in Bohdgaya

The only good thing that happened was the main temple made up for all the shitty scams. There was a sense of belonging. Security. A voice telling me that everything was going to be okay. It was such a relief. Maybe it was still worth another chance. To be there. Accept things as they were, objectively.

After a week of silent protest, finally, we have decided to move to a temple. And yes things were starting to fall just right.We met people who helped us in our journey to understanding our experience in meditation. A deeper grasp of how it can free us from suffering. It was at this time I had my chance to walk around the temple by myself. Saw places alone. Meditated alone. And this was made possible by the Thai temple Wat Pa Bhuddha Gaya (for a small dana, the room came with a free breakfast rite with the monks and volunteers). How I missed my own company.

Celebrating Buddha day!

Celebrating Buddha day!

Yes, the pilgrimage was almost complete. We also celebrated and meditated during the Buddha day. We had the chance to share the experience with our new found friends and my teacher. We were ready to move to our next destination when something happened. He wanted to stay longer. And I don’t. I won’t. He was telling me he liked the place and blah blah so I said, okay. My next destination was the holy town of Rishikesh. Maybe it was time for us to part. It was not going to work. He found his place, I was still completing my adventure. He was not interested in getting train tickets and I was so eager to move. Even had the guts to tell me to get it on my own since it was my plan. It was Indian holiday and train tickets were sold out. But I needed to get one. I made a plan. I’ll get him one ticket  with a different travel date and escape. I was so ready to do it. I was telling the travel agent about this. But I was just too weak to do this scam. I just can’t. The fear was eating me and told the agent book me two slots to Rishikesh.

With my teachers and VK at the Wat Pa Bhuddha Gaya Temple

With my teachers and VK at the Wat Pa Bhuddha Gaya Temple

These four equally important places in Buddha’s life, showed me how I deal with my own existence. Running away. I was always trying to avoid complications, arguments and issues. Either I leave or allowed people to leave me. And I didn’t even care. EGO. Buddha and the universe was teaching me to face my very existence and the root of my suffering. MYSELF.MY EGO.And somehow, in all its weirdness, I woke up embracing the idea, that I could not run away from Love anymore.

At the temple's cafe hanging out. discussing our personal experiences with meditation

At the temple’s cafe hanging out. discussing our personal experiences with meditation

Note: I am no Buddhist nor an expert in Buddhism. This is based on my experience and personal understanding. Please do not use this as reference.

Crossroads: Clark Kent and Superman

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#PsuedoRomanticStuff #HalongBay

Note: This is not a romantic story, just one of those crazy happenings on the road. Different time and place but related occurrence.

Caffeine addiction can lead to heart failure. Not that kind of scientific health issues, yet it’s also deadly. The heart did not fail, but someone failed somebody’s heart then it stopped pumping blood. Real tragedy.

It all started with coffee, looking for another unique caffeine exhilarating experience. Vietnam. The plan was to discover this neighboring country through its coffee and tea products, maybe a little bit of beer? No expectation, merely there to be involved and blend in. Not too hard to do. Started with Halong Bay tour booked through Hanoi Backpackers Hostel at  $75 which included transfers, food and overnight stay in the boat a.k.a cruiseship (Asian style). To which I almost failed to catch, thanks to the nice hostel attendant who helped me take the last coaster to the jump off point for the Halong Bay cruise.

With not enough sleep, its time to chill and experience the one day not so cheap escape with all the free tea and coffee along the way. Halfway through it, I have already made three friends who are very eager to listen to the comparison I have made between Vietnam and my beloved motherland (newbie mistake,should not compare one country to another, all places are unique in its own beauty). We can’t just stop talking until we reached the port. That was when the tour guide announced that I am not part of this group but with another team. Sigh, another adjustment to make and my body was just drifting to insanity. The choice though was not mine to make.

Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay, Vietnam

So there I was with the new group, looking around, trying to fit in a younger crowd. It helped that one Australian family made the effort to reach out. Whew, that was enough to keep my feet back on the ground. Time to board the ship and take some lunch. There it happened, my first glance of Clark Kent.No he was not Clark Kent yet. He was one of those tourist who wants to exploit the Asian natural beauty. He was with his friend, David, both  were Swiss exchange students. David, was assigned in South Korea while him, China. Both were doing the big Southeast Asian trail just before they go back to their homeland. We were all in one table along side with a British History student and Architecture graduate. It was a smart lunch as we discussed the Asian economy like the GDPs, GNPs, population in relation to income and marginal advantages of each country. Almost nosebleed.

Was it the greenish water of Halong Bay or was it the sun? Or it was his green boardshorts and slender physique paired with normal eye glasses, Clark Kent emerged. Why Clark Kent? He reminded me so much of Smallville’s hero, oh my can I be Ms Lang? That moment when the world started moving slow and hearing him speak about Asia’s growing population and emerging markets just made me fall…back to my senses. He was actually talking to me. iiiiiiiiiiink speechless and looked stupid. Sigh, wish I could just turn back that time. I could have done better.

Part of the tour was to visit a nearby cave which was included in the seven wonders of the world. It was when we (me and the Swiss friends) started talking again, about how beautiful Philippines was. Imagine that shame when they actually told me how magnificent the Underground river was, compared to this cave. Clueless and just smiled my way out. It was a short trek and we were brought to the kayaking area. This also came with the package. I paired up with the Aussie kiddo who was actually a super athlete. No need to do some paddling, just pointing the areas I would want to see. Boss. If the water was more clear, I could have enjoyed the activity. Nonetheless, the scenery made up for what the water lack. More to say, the one hour conversation I had with my partner entertained me the whole time. Surfing in Aus, football, school and basketball.

Caught on Cam: The Clark Kent

Caught on Cam: The Clark Kent

Back to the ship, we were given time to soak in the sun at the roof deck. Watch the sunset with our drinks, mostly beer (mine was water). Trying to get to know everyone, as preparation for the night party. We were offered to do either night fishing or bbq party. We opted for the latter. And there came the inevitable,swim time. Everyone was so excited and were running towards the diving spot. Yes, swimming meant jumping from the ship to the water. Something I was not prepared to do, nonetheless, geared up to try it. Imagine the humiliation when I realized I was the only one with life jacket, oh my, I felt like I wanted to disappear  at that very instance. No backing down as most of my cruisemates jumped already and there I was still standing. Our tour guide, who did not have the plan to swim had to jump so he can catch me when it was my turn. But still, nothing from me. Everyone started to chant “jump jump jump, you can do it.” It was so nice of them, but I was frozen. Not until, Clark Kent, stood beside me, our eyes met and that little voice came out of my mouth saying, “will you jump with me.” There again, slow motion of his mouth that said, “ yes of course,” while taking my hand. It was almost perfect when all of a sudden a Vietnamese crew grabbed my hand and asked me to jump in 3, 2,1. I was still lingering in that moment when I felt the splash of the water and hands pulling me as if I was drowning. And there he was, Clark, jumped by himself. I had the chance but it was not meant to happen. Sigh.

By dinner, we had different companions. I was with a bunch of Brits who have been traveling for six months. They could not believe I was a banker and worked in a multinational company. It was a humbling experience hearing how they admired me for getting such a job. But my brain was admiring them, for being unemployed but still happy. We had rooftop party, but I did not join. Alcohol was not my thing, so I ended up with my ipad and John Green’s TFIOS again. Until the Vietnamese crews hangout with me and we talked about, surprise surprise, Gay community. To which I was proud to share that my country accepts and respects the members of the LGBT. That sad look on their faces when they told me how terrible it was in their towns. We ended the conversation by midnight.

The following day, we were off to Hanoi again, where I planned to stay one day before my flight back to Manila. It was another chance to hangout with him and David. But it never happened. I woke up with severe headache and the entire journey back to Hanoi was unbearable. By the time we all got off the coaster in front of the hostel, I had to rush to the reception to check-in, just when everyone was getting facebook contacts. I had to go, otherwise, I’ll throw up in front of them. I eventually did, inside the room of my hostel. Relieved to have done it by myself, not in front of anybody. In exchange of not getting his facebook. And I have never seen him again until this very day. My Clark Kent.

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam (in front of my hostel)

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam
(in front of my hostel)

One year after, I was in Laos. In the capital city, Vientiane, I met someone. He was not the superhero kind of person. He was just normal traveler who loves beer, weed and party. He stayed in the same hostel as me. We hangout with some other tourists, mostly his friends. He was a volunteer in a farm in Vang Vieng and has been staying in Laos for more than a month. The first time I met him, I did not like the way he spoke with authority. We were having dinner by the Mekong River with three Italians, one Eritean, one Canadian girl, two American-Japanese girls and me. The dinner was fun, just listening to their travel stories but we (me and the AJ girls) went ahead to check the night market and eventually slept. Kotone and Motomi went to Luang Prabang the following day,and I decided to stay to check the city center with the Canadian girl. We had one day cycling adventure in the temples of the city, but we never saw the big golden pagoda I was looking. She went ahead and booked her bus ticket leaving at night going south of Laos. I was left behind. So I hangout with them, Jemal (Eritean) and Anatol (Swiss). He was, at that time seeing someone, a Pakistani teacher working in Laos who I met in that same day. We hangout the whole night with some other people from the hostel and the owner of this Japanese Restaurant. We went to see the nightlife and got some unwanted attention from the ladyboys waiting on the road. It was past midnight when we head back to our hostel, me and him. He asked if we can hangout, like talk. I said yes. There I knew what happened to him and his passport. He lost it a few days ago and was coming to the city to get some help from the consulate office. But he was unlucky for two days in a row. First day, he went but the office was close due to Swiss public holiday and was advised to come back the following day 9-11am, and so he did but the officer was not around. So I agreed to help him out the following day. We both woke up and went with the plan, he was able to talk to the consul officer and got the instructions for his temporary passport which involved going to the police. It was one week of hell, just going to and from the police station, until the day he finished everything. The same day that I broke my itinerary (not going to Vang Vieng), and went with him.

Where it all started (Vientiane, Laos)

Where it all started
(Vientiane, Laos)

It was in Vang Vieng that superman came to life. From the crazy river tubing, to not forcing me to drink (alcohol and mushy) and smoke, I felt safer. Always ready to respect, help, protect and appreciate me and my ideals. He was there to make me feel these emotions that I failed to enjoy from the corporate life. We barely have anything in common except the idea of respecting each other’s opinion. We had our bad days too, endless arguments that would end in our “pacute” faces. Which led to, me asking God the purpose of this meeting, like it was such a perfect plan. I never saw myself falling in trip. I made sure all my walls were up and sturdy. I have been traveling by myself for years with no such issues. I can’t seem to fathom what was happening. Until the day we went biking to the blue lagoon.

The tree slide with Superman (not the tree jump yet)

hang time with Superman
(not the tree jump yet)

Superman, til we meet again :-) (Bangkok, Thailand)

Superman, til we meet again 🙂
(Bangkok, Thailand)

There I was, standing on top of a tree, with tourists cheering for me to jump to the river. I tried but I always stepped back. There he was,waiting in the cold water to catch me ( I was not wearing a life jacket and I don’t know how to swim). The tourists started to go and the sky loosing light, but still nothing. The two friends we went with, both were already discovering the nearby cave, yet there I was, still standing. Just below, I saw him braving the cold water, waiting for me. And with all might, I asked him to just jump with me. Like a real superman, ready to rescue, he climbed the tree and whispered some words of encouragement. He gave me the liberty to signal our jump and assured my safety. But I refused his offer, instead, I awarded him the authority to control our jump, me letting myself go and entrusted him my life. He held my hand tight, kissed me as I closed my eyes and in 1,2,3 allowed myself to be pulled by gravity towards the embrace of mother nature with his warmth. He pulled me up and made sure I was okay. I have never felt safer with our eyes full of laughter.

St Joseph Cathedral (Hanoi, Vietnam)

St Joseph Cathedral
(Hanoi, Vietnam)

The universe has its own way of making things happen, unanticipated. Everything made sense, as if things were bound to unfold and it was just me who did not know. With all its imperfections, life has never failed to surprise the wanderer in every step, jump and roller coaster ride.  Story of my life.

The SouthEast Asia Wandering (Route 2)

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#surfYOGAdiveBIKE #CrazierStories #BolderAdventures

#ThailandMalaysiaJava

So did I ever get to take the flight back to Bangkok after taking so much alcohol? Surprisingly, made it with the help of Apple and a very considerate driver. Flight was scheduled to depart Yangon at 8am, woke up at 6am took my bag went running like crazy. Outside the building, I was just hoping for the best. Then there was a taxi parked in front and I took my chance to take it, only wiTh $4 in my pocket. Not enough to reach the destination with a cab, it was just a miracle when the driver agreed and took the route to the airport. Miracle. Hangover in an international flight, woke up in Bangkok (Don Mueang International Airport) scorching.

Thailand (writing this story while listening to Let Her Go by Passenger as a tribute to my friend Tom Upfield)


BANGKOK- Again. Yep whatever route to take, it always come back to this capital city. So this time, I took the chance to be a tourist (yep, not a traveler) for a couple of days. The result was unbelievable. So where’s the best place to be a turista in BKK? I say, KHAO SAN ROAD! For the reason that everything is here, cheap food and accommodation, places of interests (temples), tour companies and party til down places. The first time I was here was a layover from Cambodia before taking my flight back to Manila. This was introduced to me by a good friend, Martin Wevers. But honestly, I decided to stay here because my hangover froze my brain that I can’t think so much aside from imagining an AC room with a good bed. So from the airport, took the bus to Mochit Station (just ask around how to get to Khao San Rd) for 35baht and transferred to another non AC bus (i think Bus 3). To my surprise, there was no one to take my fare from Mochit to Khao San Rd in the non AC Bus. There are also buses in Mochit station that go to Cambodia and Thai countryside. The Chatuchak Market is also located near the bus stop. So there I was inside the red bus still scorching, dizzy and telling myself, “I will not drink too much again (repeat nth times).” Reached Khao San Rd, tried to check some hostels however I was just too weak to walk more and settled in one of the places along the main road that costs $6 for an AC bed with wi-fi and selfish roommates. Yes, those two women talking loud and did not share the fan (the AC was turned off during the day) added to the undesirable weakness eating my spirit. So I slept for a few hours and woke up to their noise (b*tch*s). Guess I accepted the life of a budget tourist which includes this kind of perks. I strolled around Khao San for a few hours and decided to look for a better bed (or should I say better roommates), I found one just a few blocks from the entry point of Khao San fronting a 7-11 shop (hahaha more yogurt drinks!). Apology for forgetting the names of the places I stayed, hangover. The following day, I immediately packed my bag and transferred to my new hostel. My active roommies, Puerto Rican and Japanese guys and an Israeli girl, also the AC was better lol. The next five days, spent rambling the old city center. Yep, everything was roaming distance, like the Grand Palace, Reclining Buddha, Parks and bus stop (where I took the red bus to MBK if I had enough with the old stuff). The highlights of this Bangkok chapter were my adventures with Tom (my friend from Laos trip) and the unlimited pad Thai/spring rolls. Tom, being a man of his words allowed me to watch THE PING PONG SHOW, with his supervision along with a bunch of other male tourists. Good thing though, my new roommate (Brazilian Girl) decided to go with us. The show was expensive, priced at 500baht first  but the guys bargained and we took it at 300baht ($10) in a VIP room.

  • PINGPONG Show I have this feeling this is not legal in Bangkok as we were brought to an unknown, with not many people area and was searched thoroughly before getting inside a dark room with a small stage in the center. The next thing I knew, I was seeing something I could not even describe. Guests (mostly guys, tourists and a few locals) with astound faces, so was ME. First run, I was in disbelief of how these women (performers) can do so much with their pelvic muscles and vagina. To be honest, the it felt like WOW there’s so much to learn from this show and it felt like women can do more things than men. As the show went on, I saw a different aura. Women, with sad faces being forced to this kind of activity to earn money and survive. I was thinking, did they even have a choice before they got into this, will they ever make another way of living with that choice? The men were cheering and my friend was just…ahm enjoying himself. My heart bleed profusely. We headed back to Khao San after the second re-run of the entire pingpong show. Until that midnight, me and my Brazilian roommie discussed this show with disgust and disbelief.
  • TEMPLES (more than one can count) and Market– Yep, once in Khao San area the Grand Palace, Reclining Buddha etc are just walking distance. Most of the temples have fee like GP for 500Baht, RB for 100baht and so on. There were some free temples too but you need to walk around and go to the alleys. We decided to take the reclining buddha, and it was well worth the 100baht. I could have done better though (pretend to be local) but nevermind, i might get busted lol. Also the nearby Wat Arun was worth the visit for a sunset feels. I did not do any floating Market trip, too lazy and not interested in shopping as Khao San itself is good enough.
  • FOOD, Drinks and Accommodation– there is an unlimited supply of clean street food ranging from barbecue, local Thai rice meals, fruits and of course Pad Thai and spring rolls ranging from 25baht to 60baht. Also fresh fruit shakes, juices and teas are just around every corner costing 20-30baht. This area is also flooded with both hotels and hostels. AC bed in a hostel cost 180-200 baht while non AC can go as low as 100 baht, be patient in looking around.
Wat Arun, Bangkok

Wat Arun, Bangkok

Reclining Buddha, with THE Tom Upfield

Reclining Buddha, with THE Tom Upfield

Khao San Road gift

Khao San Road gift

After the pingpong show encounter, I decided to slow down and reconnect with my soul. Enough of being a tourist, be a traveler, a wanderer an old soul living for the moment with fun and caution. It was time to get into something spiritual, Meditation retreat. With the help of the internet, I was able to find a retreat down south scheduled few days from the time I read about it. Signed up and prayed to God I would be able to get in. I badly needed it. So there, the universe conspired, with an email informing me to get ready and go to Dipabhavan Retreat Center in Koh Samui.

Koh Samui (or Samui)– one of the three more popular Thai islands in the Central Gulf Coast in Southern Thailand. Almost twelve hours away from Bangkok with bus and ferry ride priced at 620baht. I got my ticket from the bus station itself  but its even cheaper to get it from some of the travel agents around Khao San, at least no need to pay for fare from Khao San to Bus station and the agency usually include transfer from hostel to the bus station. Wrong move. The trip from Bangkok to Koh Samui was smooth, traveling around Thailand has always been easy and safe. From Nathon pier where the bus stopped, I still had to take a 100baht  songthaew ride to my hostel located to other side of the island. This place was too touristy and rude. People tried to rip me off every time I got out of my hostel. So I decided to buy stuff in the market and decided to hangout inside my 150 baht double room with toilet, tv and strong wifi. I had to restrain myself from going to the beach to avoid changing hearts for the meditation.

  • Dipabhavan Meditation Retreat– This is a seven-day silent retreat held in the mountains of HuaThanon, just the perfect place to calm the mind and rejuvenate the soul. The retreat included yoga so I had to sign up when I saw this. This activity made so much impact in my journey and life wandering. People who organized this were kind and knowledgeable with the technicalities of meditation, yoga and Buddhism. Simple but significant way of spending seven days. Moreover, I came to appreciate the vegan world. The best part, meeting strangers who became my brothers and sisters to this wonderful world. Sign up now and feel the soul re-emerge from the darkest deepest sense of being.
  • Samui Beach Life– After seven days, yes I was back in the cruel scene of touristic island life. A day after I got out of the retreat, I got sick. Guess my body was not used to the unclean existence but hey, this is life. Not ideal but real. However this imperfect life brought me some memorable experience and strangers. One of them was Noah, my roommate and theflashpacker who was trying to be a backpacker. We shared good times together like shopping (normalflashpacker activity) hanging out over food and paddle boarding.Guess I was lucky to have met the right people to be with.Samui was  a bit expensive, with AC dorm bed at 220 baht (Checksamui hostel), food ranging60-100baht, fruit shake 60 baht and glassmojitos at80baht (street prices). Four days in this place, Noah along with his friend Alfie decided to move to nearby island KohPhangan for the half-moon party. Coincidentally, my brothers and sisters from the retreat invited me to join them in the same island. So all three of us traveled to KohPhangan for200baht one hour ferry ride.
    Samui Beach

    Samui Beach

    Dipabhavan Meditation Sisters and Brothers Photo by: Dipabhavan Facilitators

    Dipabhavan Meditation Sisters and Brothers
    Photo by: Dipabhavan Facilitators

    Paddle Boarding in Samui with Noah

    Paddle Boarding in Samui with Noah at 200baht/hour

Koh Phangan-–A.K.A the full moon party island. Nope, just the full moon, also the half moon, the jungle and whatever party one can think of. But more than the parties, this island boast attractive and quiet beaches.Unlike Samui, where tourists are everywhere, this place is just too big for all the partying visitors. Best place to settle in the beaches of Sri Thanu for affordable cottage 200baht for fan double bed with toilet with enchanting sunset right outside your place. For hostels, better to stay in Thong Sala or Baan Tai area. I would strongly recommend to stay in Hard Road Hostel for 150baht (non peak rate, for more information, please visit their website http://www.hardroadkohphangan.com/hostel.php) per night, this backpacker accommodation has swimming pool, billiard table, football field, table tennis facilities and has the best pre-half/full moon parties. Also, its near the beach and some cheap restaurants.

  • Full/Half Moon Party-– The first day we landed in Hard road, it was the half-moon party. Originally, we (me and my roommates Noah, Alfie, Adri, Ofir, Rotem and Noy) planned to go. However, something alarming happened to me that led to missing the half-moon party. Stalker issue (for real). However, the full moon party was a different story. I decided to go with my meditation sisters Elena and Natasha and roommie Adri. Entry fee was 100baht but if you came after midnight, its free. It was a night full of coffee and dancing. Yup, there’s no way I would take alcohol to be able to enjoy this party. But be ready to take a plunge into a different party scene.The party was located in stretch of Haadrin Beach with most of the tourists bringing alcoholic beverages. We just danced the night away, like meditation. The morning scene though was awful. Wasted party goers sleeping at the beach full of trash, strangers making out and stoned people still partying.
  • Beach hopping–this is an everyday activity and after ten days, I can still say that time was too short to be able to see the entire island. We went as far as the beach up north and passed the Haadrin beach down south. We went to places that we were the only people sitting in the white sand while admiring the peace. Best sunset with the love of family. Also free snorkeling in some areas if you bring your own gear.
  • Food and fresh fruit shakes (every day)– Yup, its right. I still had some 7-11 days but the Thong Sala food market was too hard not to fall in love with. Lanzones for 25baht/kilo, coffee, vegan food and fresh fruit shake for 30baht. Or  rice meals with big portions at 50baht.
my personal spot in one of the many secluded beaches in KP

my personal spot in one of the many secluded beaches in KP

Full Party til morning with Natasha, Elena some new friends

Full Party til morning with Natasha, Elena some new friends

Then one day, I realized my visa will be expiring soon (like 48hrs or so). Panic galore. Where to go? KRABI. Another town south of Thailand just near the border to Malaysia. Ferry and bus ticket combo cost 560baht. Two nights in Krabi, enough time to say good-bye to my beloved Thailand.

KRABI- did nothing. hahahaha Plan.Eat.Yoga.Walk Around repeat for two days. Me and two German guys (Tim and Cenan) who were actually my roommies in Hard Road just went around and planned to go to Ao Ng beach on the last day, but yeah we were too lazy to do so. Instead, we just hang out in our hostel with our gadgets.The best thing about Krabi was the kind family who brought me to my hostel from the bus station. It just melted me when I paid for my ride and they told me ” No, just enjoy Thailand.”  I knew, I did. So before I get busted, I had to go.Away from Thailand crossing to Malaysia.

Notes:

  1. Rent a bike or a motorbike. Way cheaper to go around, 100baht/day + fuel. This can be shared by three people.
  2. Eat/drink outside the hostel/bar.
  3. Stay on the safe side and be with trustworthy people
  4. Party responsibly and do not bring valuables to the beach/party.
Normal sunset in Happy Bungalows in Sri Thanu

Normal sunset in Happy Bungalows, Sri Thanu Beach, KP

One of those hidden escape in KP

One of those hidden escape in KP


MALAYSIA (Life Happens by Brandon and Leah for my Coouchsurfing friends Sami, Kla, Azwin, Katie, Roy, Nacho, Csabi and that Argentinian roommate in Love Lane)

:-) Very interesting Malaysia

🙂 Very interesting Malaysia

Pulau Pinang, Malaysia– Island near the Thai border and center of street art for Malaysia. I am no artist, but I was treated to a creative one month stay in this place. No, not just the drawings, paintings in the street, but most especially the food culture. From beach to mountains to the colorful streets, Penang was a beautiful surprise to my aching heart when I left Thailand. The city of Georgetown fascinated me with street art and food. Whereas the countryside seemed like a copy of what I saw during my travel in the Philippines. Tears, no, just teary eyes. Most of all, the people I met here made me feel I was home. We went around eating simple Malaysian dishes (from Indian to Chinese to Malay to specialty vegan food). We also went to some areas not written in the lonelyplanet books and reviews, thanks to the knowledge of KLA and Chen. Who would have thought that I could be a volunteer in a specialized restaurant that liberated me from the social prison I was in.

  • Walking Tour— Stroll around George Town by night and be surprised with how street art is giving this city vibrancy. Do the museum, temple and mosque tour in the morning  be surprised that some flyers can pass as postcards. Try to get to the old Chinese fishing village near the port or go to the Monday market.Ask my friend KLA, he brought us to places only locals know. Also try to trek the Penang Hill. We tried but failed because the police did not allow us, we were all foreigners.
  • Food Escapade– This is just everywhere. Start at the Chulia Road, great mix of food for as low as 3RM ($1). Try going to hawker stalls and get the famous CENDOL. Or enjoy the Indian snack, Naan with garlic. Maybe some Cantonese food in Chinatown? or traditional Nasi Lemak with Kopi. Try some vegan restaurants too like Sushi Kitchen, hahaha I can eat here every day (or I did for almost 10 days).
  • Couchsurfing– Penang has a big CS community so get involve. Meet the helpful souls from Penang. Not for free accommodation but real experience of living in Malaysia.
  • Shop– hahaha okay guilty. There’s Little India and the traditional market that offer souvenirs and inexpensive clothes. Or if lucky, and its Diwali season, try shopping in the malls with imported brands like H&M, Polo, Giordano, Levi’s and many more. Yeah, i got bikinis from H&M for five dollars
  • Activities– beach time in BatuFerringhi or head to the next islandLangkawi, be respectful. I did not wear bikini as a show of respect to the women in Malaysia. Or go wall/rock climbing with the owners of Sushi Kitchen. Be a volunteer. Visit the nearby towns like Alon Star.
    Enjoy the street Art of Penang

    Enjoy the street Art of Penang

    The Old Chinese Fishing Village with Couchsurfing friends Kla and Azwin. With my Team Cambodia Ella and Sam Photo by: Azwin

    The Old Chinese Fishing Village with Couchsurfing friends Kla and Azwin. With my Team Cambodia Ella and Sam
    Photo by: Azwin

    Weird and beautiful Penang

    Weird and beautiful Penang

Melaka- Another heritage town south of Malaysia four hours from Singapore. Yep, I came to this town when I needed a place to crash because my host in Singapore kicked me out of his house. Stayed for a week in a beautiful condominium unit in the heart of Melaka. Thanks to my couchsurfing host (now friend) Nacho Lazaga. This town is  smaller than George Town, with a different vibe. It felt like I was in Dutchland. The Dutch influence was everywhere. Best to walk around and feel the past. Don’t forget to eat in Jonker Night Market or in any local restaurant. Sorry, I had nothing much to say because I had explored the area for one day, spent five days just hanging out in the swimming pool of my hosts’ place and in the nearby mall. Nacho was too kind to bring me to some food hubs and our favorite was the local restaurant near his unit lol! Also, I enjoyed my movie time for 8RM (close to $3), Dracula Untold. It felt like I was living in Malaysia for awhile. I just hate to leave.

Dutch in Malaysia

Dutch in Malaysia

Just One day Melaka

Just One day Melaka

Notes:

  • Average food expense $2 (6RM)/meal
  • Malaysia is safe and respects women, so dress appropriately
  • Train travel is cheaper than taking the bus (Penang to KL was 18RM/$6
  • Accommodation can be as cheap as $5 for non AC bed in a hostel
  • Penang has no city train, only city buses with number codes for specific routes
  • There’s a bus from KL Sentral Station and Melaka Bus station that goes to KLIA 1 and 2
  • There’s a nearby place for trekking in Melaka (according to Nacho).
  • Sushi Kitchen accepts volunteers, please check their facebook page for more information.

After one month in Penang, I had to leave for Indonesia. And after one month of being away in Malaysia, came back through Melaka for a week then flew to Manila.


INDONESIA (Thinking out loud dedicated to my surfmate Janine Jose and my Team Bali Zoe and Jorden)

Jakarta- another crazy capital city that I would want to avoid, but just couldn’t. The plan was to reach Bali for less than $100 from Penang. With this in mind, bought a flight to this city from KL for $30 from Malindo Air (includes 30kg baggage allowance). Originally, I will stay for a day but my host in Yogyakarta told me that it was not a good idea. So it was just a a seven hour layover. I prepped up for an ugly scene based on what I have read, but surprisingly my arrival was hassle free. I even had the chance to chance clothes in the clean airport toilet. Also there’s a bus on the left side of the arrival area exit that goes to the city center and nearby towns. I had no plans of strolling in Jakarta so I decided to take a bus (35000 IDR or $3.5) that goes directly to the train station. I was planning to buy overnight train tickets to Yogyakarta, sleep at the station while waiting for my departure. Upon arriving at the Gambir Train Station, I got lost. By asking around, I found my way to the ticket section. It did help that the guy assisting me was patient to look for the cheapest ticket to Jogja. He was hesitant though to get me this trip as the departure was on the dark side of Jakarta, Pasar Senen station. No way, I wouldn’t pay for a $25 train just because I was too scared to walk in the cryptic street of Indo. So I convinced him to book me that $19 seat. Now my dilemma was how to get to that station safely. Just when I was in the mood to plan, my tummy started talking to me, geh I need to eat. So I did and then I met two Indo students who were convincing passengers to help their organization through donation. I got interested and listened to their spiel. However, that intention led to us three hanging out in the nearby National Monument Plaza. They were kind enough to offer to bring me to some attractions but at that moment, I was just too tired from Train-flight connection. It was not a wasted afternoon though as we witnessed another stunning sunset. Then I had to go. They were too worried for me, taking the train in Senen, I started to worry too. But its too late now. One of the students handed me his excess train card so I can take the city line to Senen. Such an angel. In the station, I was surprise by the group of passengers trying to get into the train, sh*t it was like taking the MRT-LRT lines in Manila during peak hours. Survival of the strongest. I waited until there’s no more crowd, but it was futile. People kept coming in and pushing around and my train to Jogja will leave soon. So, just like how I brave the Manila lines, I got through the next train and survived it. Getting off at the destination was even more cruel, my gosh, my body was already outside the train while my backpack was still inside. I had to pull it with all my strength. Victorious but clueless where to go next, lol. My brain was in coma for a few minutes, no Senen station in sight. So here comes the panic attack and miracles. First was the attendant telling me the direction to the station and the short yet unsafe distance I had to walk. Relieved, my legs started moving to a low lighted street towards my destination. Fifteen minutes later, I was walking in darkness whispering my personal prayer of gratitude and safety with people staring at me as moved pass them. My body was shaking in fear and alertness. Yet another miracle appeared, a police officer telling me that I am almost in my target. And he was right, there it was, beaming with light, Senen Railway station. There I was almost in tears for what it felt like my worst walk.The train ride brought me to dreamland that I missed my original stop, ended up at the last station where my CS host picked me up.

my first Indonesian friends at the National Monument

my first Indonesian friends at the National Monument

Jakarta Final Destination--Senen Railway Station

Jakarta Final Destination–Senen Railway Station

Yogyakarta– the home of the Marlioboro Cultural street. Traditional healers. Stunning temples. Good-hearted friends. Reunion site for my Myanmar CSMate Taryn. My host invited me to meet his cousin who owns a travel agency who never persuade me to buy his services but I did when I saw my friend’s name on the list of the people taking the Borubodur tour the following day. We took the morning tour to avoid the group of tourists during the day time so we had the temple to ourselves until people started coming in and asking pictures of my two foreigner friends (yep I looked like a local). There were students trying to ambush us to practice their English skills. We gave in for a while but it was too exhausting that we had to decline the other invitations. By the way, the entry fee was $20 (with a cup of coffee or tea) but if you have a student card (with no expiry date), a 50% discount is available. Hey, I got mine, seven-year old ID from Silla University (South Korea). Although I have seen equally magnificent icons for the past months, this did not fail me. It was magical in its own way.However, like all other tourist destination, sellers flock this area. It’s also located outside Yogya city center but could be reached by a motorbike or bicycle but I opted to get the transport for 70000IDR($7) with free breakfast. On the same day, I also had the chance to enjoy a long walking meditation along Malioboro street. Just observing how a normal Javanese life happens, getting that odd look from the locals I would pass. Too local to be a tourist. Miracles just kept on arriving at my doorstep. The owner of the agency, offered to take me to a traditional healers to try their method for my previous back injury but we have not found one practicing at that time. We drove to the countryside the whole day but did not find one.It did not feel that bad, just hanging out with these two locals and talking about traditions were more than enough to compensate the unfinished project. The same friends allowed me to take a plunge in the local food culture, eating in the streets of Jogja with less than $1 meal. I could have stayed for a couple of days more but I had to reach my next destination.

Eat local.Pay Local

Eat local.Pay Local

THE MARLIOBORO Street

THE MARLIOBORO Street

Bells bells in Borobudur

Bells bells in Borobudur

Borobudur Temple

Borobudur Temple

Notes:

  • Duration (Route 2): September 10-November 7 2014
  • Total Expenses: $600
  • Accommodation: Couchsurfing; cheap bed cost at $3
  • Food: $5/day

More than three months on the road and having fun! Simply enjoyed every waking day and the company of different personas. But it’s not done yet. The daily unfamiliar became the comfort zone. Maybe its about time to reconnect with someone and something familiar and close to my heart. 🙂