Category Archives: Tips

TRIUND: The Implausible Affair

Standard

#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 🙂

Advertisements

Lost up North

Standard

#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

Standard

#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

Standard

#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.

The Southeast Asia Wandering (Route 3- The Flashpacker)

Standard

#SURFYOGADIVEbike #IndonesiaSingaporePhilippines #BikiniKindOfLife

Flying from Malaysia to Jakarta, train to Yogya just to reach Bali for less than $100. Only because I failed to book a promo round trip ticket from KL-Bali for the same amount  last August and by the time decision has been finalized, it was already $100 one way. It’s not too bad, after all, it was fate that brought me to Java before setting to Bali.

Bali, the budgetpacker lived a flashpacker’s life. Enjoyed the familiar in the uncharted zone.

One week of this :-)

One week of this 🙂

The familiar face having fun with something close to my heart! Photo by: Adri Assmarra

The familiar face (victim of my convincing charm) having fun with something close to my heart!
Photo by: Adri Assmarra

There are many ways to reach Depansar from Jogja like taking an expensive flight or some cheap stake bus/train ride for 18 hours. I chose the latter (before flashpacking starts), train to Banyuwangi then bus to Depansar (with ferry connection) with total expense of 90000IDR ($9). It was not a journey for the weak but those who’ll risk it are rewarded with a magnificent countryside tour of Java. Maybe I was lucky too, got seated to a bunch of kind locals who fed me with chips for the entire trip. Food was also available from the train’s restaurant. My seatmates talked to me in local language, of course I looked like one of them. But the moment my mouth started to move, they were all surprised and started interviewing me, instant celebrity feels, lol. Anyway, everything went well until one of my seatmates asked me to follow him to his house. I thought it was kind but didn’t realized it was something else. duh. He was so persistent that it felt awkward already. Although I knew that nothing worse can happen to me, declining it in a nice way repeatedly was my manner  of shouting NO WAY and just GO. He got the message and apologized then left. Whew, that was close! It did not end with that man, there were others too who helped me first then tried to take advantage. Bali, sadistic. Despite the series of mishaps upon my arrival, surrender was not in my vocabulary. Arrived in Bali around 4am with no transportation heading to the airport except a $20 cab ride. No, not yet. Asked around and some guys gave me directions to the terminal where I can get a local bus to the airport to pick up my surfmate, Janine. So I did but there was nothing yet. First trip to the airport was scheduled 6am. Instead of waiting, I just slept. Yes, slept in the street of Bali, who cares, nobody knows me there. My body was too harassed,so off to dreamland in a few minutes. Woke up to the honking of the vehicles and the sun was up! Went directly to the airport, that for the record was a better place to relax. Enjoyed the free wifi and comfy seat to sleep.Airports are my favorite accommodation,almost everything is free except food.

Yes this is BALI kind of Life

Yes this is BALI kind of Life Photo by Janine Jose

BALI (Indonesia)–where everything is more expensive except surfing items (yep with outlet stores for brands like roxy, quiksilver, billabong, volcom etc). All my expenses skyrocketed. But no regrets, every penny spent was worth it. All because this trip was for a dear sister. She owned this time. Yes, her name is Janine Jose, the culprit, lol. A chance for some luxury after living in budget-conscious life on the road.

flashy

with the Flashy Janine Ann Jose at the Monkey Village. Photo by: Janine Jose

Sunrise activity in Kuta Beach Photo by: Adri Assmarra

Sunrise activity in Kuta Beach
Photo by: Adri Assmarra

This is an island that most of its places to see are crowded with tourists coming from different parts of the world.Best to rent a motorbike/car to explore the entire island. We opted to do it with style, get a tour company to see some of Bali’s best for one day at $50/each with free buffet lunch and plated dinner. We wanted to go to Ubud but when we were passing by the center, we saw a huge crowd of tourists and I just said NO. We went shopping for some surfing items like bikinis, boardshorts and shirts. We also asked our driver to bring us to a traditional healer (aside from Ketut) but when we arrived at the place, she was no longer practicing.

Bali 1

Legian for a romantic sunset view with acoustic music

Bali 2

Cute Kuta street art

Bali 3

Part of the flashy tour, to see this legend. Just see because it was expensive to avail his services ($20)

Bali 4

Traditional Balinese temple

Bali 5

Why did I come to Bali? Surf!!! one week of surfing life in Kuta

Bali 6

Flashy Bali Tour Lunch with this view Photo by: Janine Jose

The best part of the Bali Flashy Tour--Coffee and Tea free taste

The best part of the Bali Flashy Tour–Coffee and Tea free taste Photo by: Janine Jose

Bali 7

Definitely flashpacking at Bali Chaya Hotel, comes with free breakfast and near Legian beach and shopping area. Yep thats me doing some Yoga Photo by: Janine Jose

Surfing– $10/hour with board and guide. Board rental $20 for whole day. The main beach for surfing is Kuta while Legian and Seminyak are better for hangout and drinks. According to some friends, Uluwatu beach is good for intermediate level. My surfer friend Wayan Sneper and his brother teach surfing for beginners and can serve as guides too.

Food/Drink– Warung vegan rice meals are cheap for $1. Fried rice would cost $1.5. A bottle of beer in a bar $5. Steamed/Grilled Corn $2. Plate of onion rings with big portion at $3. Fruit shakes ranging from $3-5.

Accommodation- no comment, lol. $35 for twin bed AC room with free wifi, welcome drinks, dryer and all demands from my surfmate 🙂

Transportation- everything in the beach and shopping area are walking distance. Going to the airport, best to take bluebird taxi or hassle yourself and take the public transport. From Airport to Kuta, we paid $5 whereas Legian to Airport $8.

Foreign Exchange Etc– Most establishments accepts Visa and Mastercard but with minimal fee. For the money changers, take extra caution as most of the smaller shops have better rates but with a dirty scheme. I tried this. Went to a smaller shops and asked if they can give me 100000 bills but most of them refused and asked if its okay to change with 20,000 bills, of course no. Its harder to recount the bills so when one shop agreed to change with 50000 bill I agreed. When he was preparing the money for $100 in front of me, I was checking his hands. And when I told him to put all the bills by twos for faster checking, he refused. And I insisted that I recount the bills before completing the transaction, he then asked if I can wait and he’ll talk to his boss. When he came back, he told me he can’t change my dollar because it was an old version. I just smiled and walked out of the shop.Their trick is to count the money in front of the client then by the time they hand the money, its not the same amount as what they were previously counting. Just go to the licensed money changers for safer transactions.

One week with this flashy tripper

One week with this flashy tripper

Then we have to part ways again. She had to fly back to Manila while I decided to stay for one day then proceed to the Gili Islands. Just one day, because I refuse purchase the ferry ticket in advance.So there I was, walking away from Legian trying to find my way to another hostel in Kuta, where I was meant to meet someone who would be part of my future life (nothing romantic, okay?!).

GILI AIR (Indonesia)-One of the three Gili Islands closest to Lombok, the other two are Gili Trawangan and Gili Meno. Trawangan is known as the party area while Meno is a place for the green turtle sanctuary. So why go to Air? It was just some random thoughts, lol. The idea came from some friends’ plan to visit the Gilis on 2015. As of this writing, this remains to be a plan, right Gwen? Moving on, the journey to Air was posh, instead of taking the public transport, took the shuttle ferry for $25 (250000IDR) for an hour ride. As this island is small, it was just a few hours of walk to see the entire silent and chill hideaway. After fixing stuff at 7SEAS Backpacker Hostel (70000IDR fan bed in a mixed dorm), it was time to explore and eat. Thirty minutes of walking led to a beachside restaurant (Warung) with a beautiful view of Meno and cheap food, it was time to feed the hungry soul with vegan rice meal and Mango shake without milk and sugar at $3. Then it happened, again, food coma, off to dreamland under the cold breeze and whisper of Gili air. Life is better in bikini. The sun was not happy about this so, it hit the sleeping body with a powerful kame hame wave, boooooom time to get back on track. It was almost sunset when the trail was completed, back to that dorm bed, dinner and meeting the roommie.It’s a four bed mixed dorm with only me and a Belgian banker named Amaury who had a heavier bag. What a mix, really, bankers in one room. So the entire night was about, darn, corporate professional life and so on.

Amaury, the other banker

Amaury, the other banker

Snorkeling in front of the hostel

Snorkeling in front of the hostel

It was supposed to be a one day layover, but then, the last boat to Lombok and Bali left just before we decided to stop snorkeling (gear rental at $2.5). We can’t stay in the same hostel though, so we moved to a bungalow for $15 with fan, double bed, wifi and breakfast. Like cash and stock transactions, we both had to go our separate route, him to Bali, me to Lombok.

Senggigi beach (Lombok, Indonesia)– bigger than Bali and the Gilis with an International airport that has flights to nearby SEA countries, also multiple domestic fleet.  Lombok is less touristy as compared to Bali with popular trekking and surfing areas located away from each other. Senggigi beach is none of both. Another brain freeze decision. From Gili Air, take the public boat to Lombok for $1 for an hour cruise. From the port in Lombok, follow the locals, as they will be walking towards the bus terminal 300 meters away. From the bus terminal, there are public buses, mini vans and private cars that go to Kuta, Airport, Senggigi and other destination within the island. Always bargain as the fare highly depends on this particular skill. Nothing spectacular except the peace from the beach next door. Another two days spent swimming, reading and meditating. Birthday blues.

lombok 2

just me, the beach and ebooks

while waiting for the bus to the airport

while waiting for the bus to the airport

Two books.two nights and an early two hour trip to the airport. Yes, it could have been shorter if I had stayed in Kuta. Sauce. Anyway, originally, the first trip was scheduled at 6am yet the bus came ten minutes before 7 and ETD of the Airasia flight was 9:50 AM. Another chasing flight story. Nothing serious, made it just before the check-in counter closed. Went directly to the departure lounge passing through that cute Indonesian Immigration officer, who greeted me with, “happy birthday and enjoy.” Blushed, too much anxiety erased the fact that its almost the 27th year. Sigh, flew to Johor Bharu, Malaysia for $15, crossed to Singapore on the same day.


Singapore– the safer home. Not to mention, the more expensive city life. With one heck of a story! Been here before, with my beautiful familia, cousins Andrea and Ello, grammy Lola Hely. We did the usual, Sentosa, Orchard and Little India. Another opportunity to reconnect with the past. The catch: staying at a friend’s (former boyfriend) place for four nights, enough time to celebrate the 27th. No, don’t try to judge. Not being defensive, it was purely platonic. Nothing romantic. I know what you’re thinking: ITS IMPOSSIBLE. I say, it’s possible. At least for me it was staying at a friend’s house shared by his other friends. Who wouldn’t stay in a posh condo unit with Olympic-sized pool near the beach and the airport. The swimming pool that confirmed something: panic can either save me or end my bikini kinda life. Yup, ME almost drowned, on the day of the 27th year. Beautiful almost disaster. Other than hanging out at the pool, it was the chance to meet with a good friend and chat the day away. It was a memorable reunion that started in HarbourFront Center that culminated in the Christmas themed Orchard road. Until that day, for the first time, I got kicked out of a house, without a fight, nothing but these words: my girlfriend is upset/crying. Good sh*t. Brokenness appeared like a ghost of the past, smiled and it went away. No time to waste, packed and booked ready to leave for Melaka where Nacho mucho was waiting to rescue a rain-wet soul.

we were kids again in Singapre

we were kids again in Singapore

Birthday treat from my angel Malou

Birthday treat from my angel Malou. Photo by: Malou Gatus

Yuh, flashpacker me before the big event

Yuh, flashpacker me before the big event. Photo by: Malou Gatus

who can say NO to this?

who can say NO to this haven?

Pardon for not talking about the kick-out issue, may be soon.


After a healing week in Melaka with Nacho, the inevitable was bound to happen. Flight back to Manila, for more bikini life. It was a pseudohomecoming, the comfort zone.

Anilao (Batangas, Philippines)- Got this post from Couchsurfing that someone wants a diving buddy, signed up. From the airport, went straight to the bus station to meet this stranger named Celine and her friend. Didn’t really understand that she was not Filipino but Malaysian working in the Philippines, hahaha clueless. Turned out, she’s a mermaid trapped in a human body. Her friend’s name is Abi, who became my buddy under the sea until upland. This acquaintance led to many more like our Padi instructor Jeroen Elout (Dutch by passport), classmate and self-defense teacher Jerry (German by nationality and language but a Filipino blooded skater) his cousins, our Dutch classmates Kuya Mauricio,Kuya Koen and Kuya Mark with one more Pinay power Aileen.

The powerhouse diving class Photo by: Abigail Lazaro

The powerhouse diving class
Photo by: Abigail Lazaro

Anilao is known for its beautiful underwater world. We had to do it, no I have to do it. They were all doing it, me, undecided. The non-swimmer me was scared. Not of the uncertainty but of drowning. Nevertheless, tried it for one dive (that eventually led to more dives) at P1800 which included beginner open water skills, equipments,dive log,lunch and free use of shower facilities. The experience was beyond words. Can I actually breathe underwater, more to say hangout with the corals, fishes and creatures I have never seen before. Being a non-swimmer, the support of my classmates made a difference. They all got their licenses except me and Abi, we were not ready to go down some more. Until recently, completed my Padi Open Water Diving course under Jeroen Elout.

with forever buddy Abi

with forever diving buddy Abi

From self-defense to diving to longboard, THE JERRY Photo by: Jeroen Elout

From self-defense to diving to longboard, THE JERRY
Photo by: Jeroen Elout

Describe Anilao: A for awesomeness

Describe Anilao: A for awesomeness

Cebu (Philippines)– For the infinite time,I am back. Still, reconnecting with the past. Met with a few good friends from previous job, Crissy, Franzel and Kuya Onat. And my parent by forced choice (dated seven years ago in Busan, South Korea), Ramces. What’s there to do? Babysit my parental while exploring Cebu like going to Mobydick again and hiking another waterfall. Plus the Mactan and Cebu city tour with my onscreen partner, lol, Daniel. That Kathrine Bernardo feels. Oh Cebu, with so much love from Dungog family, sigh. Oh Cebu, you made me feel insecure too. Those strolling escapades with Daniel that led to “you’re so lucky to have him,” conversation with strangers that crushed the ego of this wanderer.

Spending time with Mobydick in Oslob Photo by: Ramces Dungog

Spending time with Mobydick in Oslob
Photo by: Ramces Dungog

Crazy Beautiful Mactan with Daniel Photo by: Ramces Dungog

Crazy Beautiful Mactan with Daniel
Photo by: Ramces Dungog

Aguinid Waterfalls, Samboan Cebu

Aguinid Waterfalls, Samboan Cebu

Enjoying the local favorites ngohiong and puso with Lysa D Photo by: Ramces Dungog

Enjoying the local favorites ngohiong and puso with Lysa D
Photo by: Ramces Dungog

Cebu, totally still in love with you. For all the imperfections and beauty, you have been surprising this soul in every visit. Temporarily ending this trip with your embrace, see you again.

Too much drama. Who says its over? No, just had to take another flight down south. Back to the comfort of a simple life. To that warm embrace and infectious laugh. The existence that is forever ME. Spirits who look like ME. As I walked out of Tandag airport, a banderole in the form of a green kia SUV emerged and three angels came rushing to welcome this tripper with smiles and unique dialogue (their own version of Surigaonon). There at that instance, the flashpacking and volunteering continues with Sir Ninoy and Tatay Fuds, crossing Lanuza to Madrid Surigao del Sur. Never-ending traipse of a rambling life, covered and no bikini sighting this time.

back to this imperfectly perfect lafamilia

back to this imperfectly perfect lafamilia

The SouthEast Asia Wandering (Route 1)

Standard

#surfyogadiveBIKE

#LaosNorthThailandMyanmar

Packed. Ready to move. Destination: SouthEast Asia

Bangkok. Yes, start somewhere. Most of the backpackers start in Bangkok because its cheaper. I did too because it happened that a previous round trip ticket has been purchased with my cousins. It was a short layover. We explored the shopping areas except Chatuchack weekend market. We had the luxury to stay in a decent hotel near MBK Mall. Very convenient for a shopping trip. We also had the chance to taste both the local transportation and the ultimate ASIAN tourist trap, tuktuk. More of Bangkok in the second leg of my trip.

LAOS

Thailand shares border with some SEAsian countries and one of them is LAOS. Laos happened to be the only destination from Bangkok that could be reached with an overnight train. So what? Well, remember the first time Harry Potter got into Hogwarts? I did fancy that 🙂 and so it was a very Hermoineish experience with the overnight train to Vientiane. It was made more interesting when a group of monks were waiting too. The train is located in Hua Lamphong Railway station that could be reached by bus,  LRT-MRT and taxi. Aircon seat cost 600Baht ($20). Taxi from Bangkok City Hotel (Petchaburi Road) to Hua Lamphong reached 80Baht ($2.75). There are food stalls inside the train station however, there are more interesting restaurants outside. I was able to find a coffee shop just a few blocks from the main entrance of the station where I charged my ipad and treat myself to a sumptuous meal. The train departed at around 8PM and arrived 7AM the following day. Aircon ticket comes with a free blanket and they serve food and drinks with minimum fee. I had my single window seat instead of the usual double seater couch. It was a smooth train ride and woke up to a sunrise with a view of the countryside. Arriving at the Thai border, everyone was requested to transfer to another smaller train that was used to cross to Laos side cost 50baht. This border crossing was easy, just follow the other passengers and make sure to buy the border ticket first prior to boarding the smaller train. Upon arrival in the Laos side, fill out the arrival form and pay 30baht to the immigration officer and exit to the minivan terminal. The border is a bit far from the city proper so I had to bargain myself out for a good ride, settled at 100baht. Off we went. This border is special to me as I met my two sisters here, Motomi and Kotone.

Hua Lamphong Station Entrance

Hua Lamphong Station Entrance

The Hermoineish Train to Laos

The Hermoineish Train to Laos

Vientiane-– where everything and everyone seems to be in chill spirit. This capital city was a stunner to me, simple and old school. My favorite part of the city was the morning market with cheap fruits and trousers. Also the afternoon stroll near the Mekong River. Moreover, I met some great people who played important role in this rambling. Okay, with all honesty, i fell in love with and in this city. Stayed at Vientiane Backpackers Hostel at $5/night with free breakfast, AC bed and wifi also walking distance from everything. My food was not so cheap, lol may be around $5/day because i always bought so much fruits for five days. Places to visit were just within the city, try to walk around or rent a bike ($2/day) to stroll. Two days is enough but I stayed for five days. Yes that’s what love can do.I thought so.

Vientiane, Laos

Vientiane, Laos

Vang Vieng— this was not part of my original itinerary. Again blame it to ahem emotional imbalance, lol. Anyway, bus from Vientiane to Vang Vieng depends on the quality, cheapest was $3 (30,000 Laotian Kip). Trip is around 3-4 hours. My hell on Earth. Sorry A, Jemal and Tom, but I’ve said this before, I never liked this place.This was a place for party, drinking, drugs and sex. Although I had my best times here, like biking with no light except the moon, jumping off a tree to a river, best sandwich for $2 and a cool place to hangout.Paid $8 for a triple fan room (less than $3/night each bed) at Johnny’s GuestHouse with own toilet, wifi and unlimited crazy people to goof around. Also we went on a water tubing at $6 with unlimited party along the riverside. Stayed for f*cking seven days, yeah, couldn’t believe it too.

Vang Vieng View from a restaurant

Vang Vieng View from a restaurant

Luang Prabang–the expensive Laos. Everything was just 2000kip more! Although most of the interesting places to see are biking distance. The best part of it was the Kuang Si waterfall trek as well as the morning Monk parade. Also, the night market was crazy with buffet and expensive souvenir. Imagine eating a $1 vegan dinner buffet with noodles, veggies, crackers, fruits and rice. Just bring water/drinks. Also a good place to watch the sunset and LP city center is Mount Phousi. Make sure to please stay in SpicyLaos Backpackers hostel for $3 fan dorm bed with clean toilet, free activities like countryside picnic, swimming pool excursion etc. And a place to hangout with both locals and tourists. Stayed for four days and take note of the next destination as the bus stations are outside the city center and trip would cost 30,000Kip ($3). Opted to take the night bus to Huay Xai to cross the border to North Thailand. Unfortunately, the night bus from LP to Huay Xai was a nightmare. I had a male local seatmate who tried to touch and get hold of me while i was covered with blanket and sleeping. But I did not allow it to happen and fought hard. I tried to shout but he pretended to be asleep and so were the other passengers. So I was awake the whole night and every time he tried to hold me, I hit him as hard as I can until he stopped. By the morning, when I was about to get off the bus, I pushed him one more time.

Kuang Si Falls, near Luang Prabang

Kuang Si Falls, near Luang Prabang Photo by: Anatol Noser

Early morning monk procession in Luang Prabang

Early morning monk procession in Luang Prabang

North Thailand– The mountain area separated by Mekong River from Laos and Myanmar from the Golden triangle area. From the town of Huay Xai, its easy to get to Chiang Rai with a Thai bus company at 320baht.

Chiang Rai- my personal Thai favorite in terms of temples and fruits. This was a quiet place and a good place to do temple hopping without having to worry about entry fees. The food especially the fruits were cheap! Although the dorm rooms were cheap, the quality is not as good as in Laos. Also, places of interests can be reached through public transport like the Golden Triangle (50 baht one way) and the elegant White temple (25baht one way). Just go to the old bus station inside the city center and make a choice. I stayed with a family owned hostel to which I was the only customer. The wifi was awesome (i think the best of Thailand). Food would cost $1/meal for rice and veggies, around $3 for rice and meat. Local fruits rambutan, lanzones, mangosteen and longan were at less than $1. Dorm bed 90baht ($3/night). Also most signs have English translation.Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai bus cost 144 Baht ($5)

The White Temple, Chiang Rai

The White Temple, Chiang Rai

The Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle

Chiang Mai- where the past sits beside the present. This town is divided into the old city center (enclosed by the old walls) and city proper. This town is home to Thailand’s most nature activities like trekking, animal farms and waterfalls among others. The best part of this town was my couchsurfing experience with Carol’s place. Also, the Sunday walking market was my personal favorite as it showcased different locally made unique products and cheap delicious pancake and pad Thai :-). Also, most of the oldest temples were just around the corner and free. For the first time too, I was able to watch an English movie and paid less than watching it in Manila! Also 7-11 was the best option for cheap food and drinks. Oh how I got used to drinking yogurt every meal, lol! But I got sick here, fever and then after a week, food poisoning. But my admiration to this touristy town did not fade. There are many options to where to go next, Pai or Chiang Rai but I opted to rush to the Thai-Burmese border in Mae Sot as my visa was set to expire. From, CM, take a bus to Tak then a minivan to Mae Sot.

Chiang Mai Old City Center

Chiang Mai Old City Center

Banana Mango Pancake

Banana Mango Pancake

the walk to the Doi Suthep Temple located on top of a Mountain

the walk to the Doi Suthep Temple located on top of a Mountain

Mae Sot (Thailand)- Myawaddy (Myanmar/Burma) Border Crossing: If planning to use this border to get to Myanmar, check the calendar as the way in and out of Myawaddy has a schedule patterned to even and odd days.

MYANMAR/BURMA

HPA-AN- is the stop over town in southern Myanmar, four  to five hours away from the Myawaddy border. Small but very interesting. The journey to Hpa-an though was challenging and watery.Rough road and heavy rain were not a good company during my trip. From Myawaddy border, walk a few meters and then a couple of locals will be ready to offer a sit in their private car for as much as 10,000kip (990 kip=$1) or take a bus straight to Yangon for 12 hours at 15000kip. Unfortunately for me, my pocket had (or pretended to have) 7000kip. Nobody wanted to take ME. But there was this man who saw my desperate plea and asked me to follow him a few meters beyond the group of private cars. Yeah, he took me but with a twist. ME, the foreigner, had to pretend to be a local in every check point we had to go through on the way to Hpa-An. No sweat but hell, I was scared, made it in one piece. So how do you pretend to be a local? Wear sunglasses  and act asleep with open mouth, lol. Although it was raining, ME did not stop from exploring the place which led to meeting my uncle Ben. Uncle Ben who took me to a motorbike adventure under the rain around nearby places of interest like Saddar Cave and Temple, Kyauk Ka Lat Lake but we missed the famous Zwegabin Hill. We had to brave through the ugliest rough road with mini mud lakes yet every difficulty became the ultimate adventure. Not to mention the good spirits we met along the way. Too bad I had to leave very soon to Yangon where my couchsurfing hosts KimAndAlisa were excited to meet me :-).

hpa-2

Saddar Cave with the kind-hearted monk who gave me his raincoat 🙂

HPA-AN

Kyauk Ka Lat Lake

YANGON- The journey from Hpa-an lasted for roughly 6 hours with a low quality bus that cost 6000kip, not bad. Please note that the bus station in Yangon is outside the city center but almost near to Yangon airport. Condition is not good either, with chaotic system. Upon arrival, and with the instruction of my crazy hosts, I chose to take the local bus to the city center. The backpacker section is located near the Sule Pagoda, the final destination of the bus from the Aung Mingalar Bus station (overcrowded city bus costs 200kip or $0.25). My hosts’ abode was located in Pearl Condominium, just on the way to the center, I did realize this when my bus passed through  the area. Instinct told me to stop and get down, but lo and behold, my tongue was tied and the muscles in my mouth were immovable, ME ending in the city center, away from my original destination. To my beautiful surprise, the streets of Yangon were oozing with sexiness, crazy! I fell in love. No words can express my emotional disaster. Whew, the faces of the world right in front of me. Also, the Burmese were just soooooooo kind and friendly.It was already almost dark and I can’t get a bus and a cab to top it all, my energy was just depleting. But the universe was ready to take me out of the boiling misery, a group of strangers standing beside me trying to get a cab, approached me and asked my destination and yes, fate had that we were all heading to one direction. They were students going back to uni to attend a class. We got into the cab and because I was too happy, offered to pay the half of the total cost ($2). The walk around the city center was fascinating with a perfect blend of Burmese culture. I could say that I felt safe too. I was walking around 8pm just after watching the Myanmar-Philippines Football game in one of the restaurants and everyone was so nice and helpful. Although the Philippines lost that game, the Burmese crowd in the restaurant were friendly and still congratulated me and did not ask for any payment nor any order from me during the duration of the game (kapal ko di ba). But the most exciting activity was when I pretended to be a Burmese (of course with complete costume, a local skirt I bought from the infamous Bogyoke Aung San Market for 3000kip). Almost all places of interests in Yangon ask for a certain fees, the most expensive is Shwedagon Pagoda (8000kip). So I tested my costume and my Asian beauty. I followed a local going inside the Pagoda and kept all my touristy stuff like camera, water and shades. Act like a local, pay like a local. So I did, almost. After spending some time admiring the Pagoda under the heat of the sun, I decided to go out, and then just like that, someone spoke in English. My brain just reacted and well, they got me. The guides interviewed me and as they were wondering why I was not wearing a tourist badge, I went away as fast as I can as if I used a teleportation spell like in that Harry Potter movie. The next test was at the People’s Park just near Shwedagon. At first attempt, total failure because they spoke to me in Burmese, no clue. Okay, another idea, use the backdoor. Again, epic fail. They saw my camera and spoke to me in Burmese, again fail.Paid more than the entry fee.Okay, consoled myself by making a mental note that the $5 saving from Shwedagon was used to pay for the lake for $3 so I still saved $2 plus a new skirt. One more test was to purchase the ticket from Yangon to Bagan just near the ooooold train station. To be honest,I could get that $10 bus with a local price but the agents just refused to because they might get busted once I would give my passport for identification. Tried asking the reason for the fare difference and they told me because Burmese people are poor, told them and myself, “so do I.” It wasn’t too convincing. But still, refused to get into a bus that would make me feel bad, so I asked around and found out that there’s a new bus company that offers the equal price regardless of nationality but more expensive though. Just to calm my bleeding ego, I took it, $15. Yeah yeah but more than expensive bus ride and the accommodation, the food was just crazy cheap. One dollar meal included unlimited rice, veggies, fish, curry and one liter of mineral water. But the fruits were expensive, so more rice meals for me, hahahaha! Also the public transport with Yangon was easy to learn just like how it works in Philippines and also affordable. Taxis were not expensive either. More to say, the streets of Yangon was just so full of faith, of all types coexisting peacefully. It was heaven on Earth for me. Awwwww tears tears.

THE Shwedagon Pagoda

THE Shwedagon Pagoda

Yangon by day

Yangon by day

Helene as Burmese

Helene as Burmese

Sule Pagoda Yangon,city center

Sule Pagoda Yangon city center

BAGAN–Majestic. Just it. And a lot of biking 🙂 Seriously, this was like Angkor Wat multiplied 10 times but less expensive, $15 for five days. Bike rental cost $2 per day.Also the entire town can be cycled even until Mandalay, next town. Just be prepared as the sun can kill. Though this place is crowded with all types of tourists, the people are distributed to the many unique pagodas scattered within the town (you can even choose your own place to watch the sunset alone). The sunset was crazy but Ceedi was just not ready to capture, but my heart did. Before the biking story, let me go back to the bus ride I took from Yangon to Bagan (maisingit lang). So this fifteen dollar overnight bus came with a blanket, reclining seat, toiletries and food (coffee/tea and cup cake) with a cute seatmate :-). Since I had previous negative experience, I was more careful. But my heart melted because I felt that my seatmate was so cautious and careful not to even touch my side of the seat, awwwww. Every single instance that I opened my eyes because of some small movement, he apologized. So I thought, if I would get the chance to talk to him, I’ll make pa-cute to the nth level (boompanes). It never happened. And to my surprise, the bus station in Bagan was located outside the city center and not walking distance.Holy green, since I had a good sleep, walking was the only option. Stupid decision however ego kept on  reminding me to go on. Okay walk, walk, walk. Another option was hitchhiking, failed. Until a private car (used as taxi) offered a free ride, I gave in. The driver brought me to my hostel just cycling distance from all the prominent pagodas. I still gave the driver $1 for the gasoline, hahaha conscience. The next couple of days were spent cycling around the town enjoying the magical world constantly bumping to my cute bus seatmate, who would smile at me. Also discovering the places, not included in my itinerary. These incidentals were even better than the original plan. However, on my second day, the heat was just too much that I experienced extreme headache. So I decided to go back to Yangon to wait for my flight back to Bangkok the following day. Paracetamol was not able to ease the pain. Food was slightly expensive compared to Yangon. On my last day in Bagan, I woke up to a simple breakfast and joined two German uni students. The next thing I knew, it was already 6pm and my bus to Yangon was waiting for me. We were talking the whole day and the topic was Asian vs German culture. It was educational and fun too hearing so much similarities between our countries. Then I had to hop inside an overcrowded bus to Yangon.

Unlimited Pagodas

Unlimited Pagodas

One of the Incidentals

One of the Incidentals

Just another magical moment in Bagan

Just another magical moment in Bagan

My own pagoda :-)

My own pagoda 🙂

Bagan Cloudy sunset

Bagan Cloudy sunset

After another overnight bus ride, I was back in KimAndAlisa’s beautiful home. Too sick and tired, I ended up sleeping the whole day. Woke up to Ally’s voice asking me if I would love to join them for a Friday’s happy night out. I did. With a new experience: drinking my first tequila shot and the cheapest mojito (less than $1/glass). Yes, being a very alcoholic tourist, I got drunk, wow so me, few hours my flight back to Bangkok. No way, too dizzy to be able to change my clothes, I felt my body landed in what felt like the softest bed I had. And the world became blurr…zzzzzzzzzzz

Notes and Prices

Duration: July 31-Sept 10, 2014

Accommodation Type: Hostel (Mixed Dorm) $3-5 or Couchsurfing

Food: $2-3/meal

Transportation/Activities (total): $150

Total Cost:$400-500

Was I able to catch my $50 flight back to Bangkok? The SouthEast Asia Wandering continues…

Dumbfound in reel

Standard

Have you ever been broken? What happened? Why? Where?How? Impossible! All of these ideas came rushing to a mind that was still trying absorb this unwanted emotion. Pain.

Oh noh, not that kind of pain. Not just the romantic pain. Yes, there are many types of pain, and this story is a normal mid twenties heartbreak and its aftermath.

me back

Photo by: Ramces Dungog

Have you ever felt betrayed? Or told that you ain’t good enough? Maybe accused of lying to cover immature decision/s. Or questioned your financial capacity? All if these done in one instance with, guess who, the people you care the most. The souls you trust and see everyday. Those you never expected to hit you hard. And yes you still love them, we all do.

Define broken. (Note: this is based on experience) It’s a state of being shattered, not physically but in the intangible aspect of self. It comes with unwanted pain that feels like the chest is about to explode or overflowing of water from the eyes (called tears, the act of flowing tears is crying). Yet it does not happen in an instant (at least for me). It can be a result  of (mis)calculated decision or an admission of unexpected reactions/expectations. Whatever. Pain (of any form) is human nature. But it is totally different from suffering. Just to be clear, suffering is prolonged pain.

No, not just physical pain :-)

No, not just physical pain 🙂

Once in a blue moon so to say, we break. All of a sudden, seeing ourselves into tiny facets of who we are in the face of other people and our own reality. We’re not machines, we have brains that take control. It’s not too bad nor embarrassing to admit that yes we are broken (again not too often lol).No blaming nor pointing fingers to anyone, its of no help at all. Sh*t happens and its inevitable (at some point). Embrace it, do not deny nor indulge in that state.

Then, its now time to answer this, “so what now (instead of the overused cliche Where do broken hearts go)?” Pick your choice. It could be doing something or nothing. Just a reminder, the pain and state of being broken can blind the senses and can lead to further damage or maybe healing. The brain is a complex being but controllable, take extra caution when evaluating the current state.

As for me, it led to something unexpected: live on the road for months. The universe conspired with me, it was meant to be. Imagine, the original plan was two weeks and will be just around Vietnam-Laos-North Thailand-Myanmar. It did not happen, it was crazier. More to say, that pain created ME, a wandering soul who chose to walk away from the comfort and opinion of the common rascals hovering around. ME who decided to admit the state of being broken and embraced it. However, pain was not the only deciding factor, there were a couple of things too. For example, the lingering feeling of life on the road and the idea of living the dream. Holy molly, being broken resulted to a SouthEast Asia PsuedoRambling, just like that.

So how did ME prep up (of course aside from packing and booking a flight):

1. Decide to quit and start somewhere. To quit is to stop too much thinking and worrying. Listen to the universe, its always talking. Don’t try to justify, its useless.

2. Financial Analysis. Yes, just to start the journey and to ensure all liability/ies is/are settled (if applicable). Also, its good to have lifestyle check to maximize the budget. Study currency exchange and bank rates and notes to minimize unwanted expenses. It’s good to have a steady income while away, but it does not give too much freedom. Do not worry too much about the future, it will come. Carefully map out the money line like minimum/max average daily expense.

3. Plan/Research the route/places carefully. Visa fees and restrictions are important. Border immigration rules vary. Transportation/Accommodation costs can be minimized through public information. Check on the prices of commodities and places to see also look into tourist traps and the way to avoid it. Best to read blogs of travelers who have taken the same route.

4. Get a lifetime sturdy and trustworthy partner. No, not human. A bag, that thing which can carry what’s inside the closet, or at least half of it. Don’t, please, do not bring excess baggage. This will be physically painful. It doesn’t have to be fancy or branded, make sure though that it can stand in all weather and road conditions. Know the bag by heart for optimal usage.

bag n me

Me and my Backpack

5. The clothes and shoes.Once the route has been carefully studied, pack accordingly. If the route is more beachy, then by all means put all the bikinis and boardshorts with flip-flops. Otherwise, bring some decent clothes and towel that can easily dry. Or if planning to trek, hike, camp most of the time, then be ready. Take some toiletries too but do not leave it hanging around mother nature.

6. Do some medical examination. Just know the common sickness and bring medicines a.k.a first aid kit. If possible, get an insurance for the duration of the journey. Also, be physically fit and ready to eat, walk, cycle, swim and sleep anywhere anytime.

7. Gadgets and Gizmos but don’t bring too much. Decent camera will do. smartphone is okay. Take what’s needed. Most of the hostels have free computers and WiFi. If the route is good for specific activities like surfing and diving, bring flexible cameras. Also, long term travel needs more storage device and battery, so bring extra. Otherwise, do the shoot, post and delete (repeat nth times).

Ceedi--the GoPro Hero 3

Ceedi–the GoPro Hero 3

8. Security assessment. Paranoia is good. At least store the important numbers like police, embassy, family in case of emergency. Best to avoid places with current negative reports and read news about the place/route. Also maintain a social media account and record the entry and exit activities. It is also good to tell someone from home the current whereabouts so if something happens, it is easier to start the investigation.

9. Final check: Yourself. Assess values/lifestyle/state of being. Outline the negotiable and non negotiable.

Example:

Non Negotiable: trying new things except drugs of any kind and form. partying but taking no more than 1 glass (okay, or two) of mojito. Clean cheap food and drinks (excluding alcohol). ETC
Negotiable: Camping (for couple of days only), running away with someone. changing routes. ETC

Always remember, broken but not blind and stupid. In temporary pain but not rushing to heal.Do not do things that would cost a life.

love me

However, despite all of these preparation, there was still that level of uncertainty that caused some doubts and fear. Ineluctable. There’s nothing else to do but to LET IT GO. LET IT BE. Like holding a balloon and releasing it to the wind. Allowing it to be blown away and be one with the universe. Waking up one day reeling slowly and still dumbfounded in the new reality.