Tag Archives: backpacking

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…

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

Nepal: Drive to Memory Lane Part 2

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Ten days of noble silence in Dhamma Kitti (Kirtipur)

Note: This article is based on personal experience and understanding of the retreat not meant to be used as reference.

Aside from the Himalayan dream as well as the opportunity to taste a life of being a local, one of the most important experience  that Nepal surprised me was the ten day meditation retreat. Meditation was not new to me, my first experience was last year in Koh Samui learning Anapana which was mind concentration through observing and following the breath that goes in and out of the nose. With full of eagerness and pride, I decided to sign up for a ten day noble silence meditation course in Nepal. I told myself, “common, it’s just additional three days and it will be easier than my previous experience.” To which I found myself in total shock just after three days.

So you might ask, what is meditation? Merriam-Webster defines it as the act or process of spending time in a quiet thought. For me, its the process of peeling my ego and learning how to deal with my mind in a calm and objective manner. This retreat taught a new technique which was called Vipassana and had a taped discussion of a great teacher, SN Goenka. Vipassana is an ancient meditation that can be traced back to the life of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha. The daily schedule included almost ten hours of sitting meditation, 2 meal breaks (breakfast and lunch) and an hour afternoon tea time. This sounded easy and so with confidence, I came to Kirtipur to savor it.

Daily Schedule for Ten Days Photo by: Carmen

Daily Schedule for Ten Days
Photo by: Carmen

Kathmandu View from Dhamma Kitti Vipassana Center Photo by: Julia

Kathmandu View from Dhamma Kitti Vipassana Center
Photo by: Julia

Three days of silence, waking up early and almost thirty hours of mostly sitting, I came back from the afternoon tea exhausted and in pain (severe headache for the past three days),made a decision to leave the retreat the following day. But as I was so ready to pack my bag, a beautiful disaster happened. On the third night while watching the taped discussion, something came inside my left eye and got stuck there. It was one of the most painful experience I had, or so I thought. Something small and invisible to the naked eye but my eyeball could feel it. Help came rushing from both meditators and volunteers. By morning, the management rushed me to a nearby hospital and was referred to a specialist as the ER doctor could not see anything as well. With so much fear and uncertainty, I left my life to the hands of the wonderful volunteers who brought me to an ophthalmologist. The doctor then scrapped out (from my eyeball) what seemed to be fibers from a caterpillar. How unlucky me. But that incident, allowed me to practice what the teacher has taught us for the previous sessions, equanimity. Observing body sensation as it happens, no reaction (by that time I stopped crying lol) just being aware that there was something inside my eyeball. And when the teacher visited me in my bed, he assured me it was impermanent.

Our Vow for Ten Days Photo by: Julia

Our Vow for Ten Days
Photo by: Julia

And so I returned to the meditation hall just before the technicalities of Vipassana was discussed, physically half blind but mentally ready. The breathing, focus and concentration continued. And so was my struggle, not in physical form but in a psycho battle. I was in constant war with my mind. How in the world was this possible? So many thoughts and things flowed out from somewhere. In every consultation with the teacher, there was only pain or sometimes no sensation. It was horrifying, seeing my evil egoistic self unfolding while scanning the body for sensations. There were also the good ones. Those that the mind lingered. It started to hold on to these tiny and auspicious wraith, and as these  went away, sadness came. It was the mind that controlled me. Yet there was an assurance that whatever I was facing, it was in fact impermanent. Life itself is impermanent. Anicca. Just like the hail storm on that day, it was so harsh and loud. I was amazed by it (first time ko eh) but as soon as it stopped, I also had to move and go back to the hall and sit.

Every single silent day, there was always a reason to be happy. The beautiful sunrise just after the early morning meditation. Or the sumptuous meals prepared by the volunteers. Be fascinated with our daily visitors, the birds and the monkeys strolling around the compound. Sometimes, during the five minute breaks, I found myself admiring the sky while humming, in silence of course,  my favorite Ed Sheeran or The Corrs songs. In some sitting sessions, laziness just killed me dozing off to dreamland and next time I knew, the session was over. The nightly course discussion was also simulating. The way Mr Goenka treated each session was very practical, addressing the issues of the meditators without even talking to us (taped discourse of his previous sessions)! It was as if he was also sitting with us and had the same dilemmas. It was such a relief, that whatever happened during our sitting sesh were in fact part of the practice. It just differed from each of us and “from moment to moment.”

Co-meditators during our last day Photo by Noa

Co-meditators during our last day
Photo by Noa

In that span of time, spending it in silence, made me appreciate the people around without the use of words and physical action. It was as if a bond was suddenly created. I had a discussion with a teacher and told him about my pain. When I came back to the room, there was a unopened bottle of Advil and another bottle of Ibuprofen capsules in my bed, hahahaha! Or when I was half blind, someone offered to wash my utensils and then someone lend me a headband so my eyes wont be irritated further with my hair. Co-meditators helped in providing and putting medical eye drops. And the moment the silence was lifted, all the different voices and accents emerged! Since then we never stopped talking, until this very day. Some of us even traveled with each other. Some went back home but we kept contact. Those short ten days converted strangers to sisters and brothers in this lifetime. And wherever this journey will take us, as we progress in our practice, we might find each other again, in the same road (hopefully not in silence).

Fanie and Annie (my roommies) in Agra after meditation retreat Photo by: Annie

Fanie and Annie (my roommies) in Agra after meditation retreat
Photo by: Annie

Carmen and Chiara (both my roommies lol) in Pokhara after the retreat Photo by: Carmen

Carmen and Chiara (both my roommies lol) in Pokhara after the retreat
Photo by: Carmen

Carmen, Chiara and Olga after the retreat in Boudha Photo by: Carmen

Carmen, Chiara and Olga after the retreat in Boudha
Photo by: Carmen

As my rumblings continue, the knowledge and understanding of my existence from this course will be my guiding light. Even the word love changed. It was far from what all the beautiful words a human can speak of. Love… one that is unconditional and one way. And with the love we have, compassion and kindness overflows extending it to all sentient beings.

For more information about Vipassana please visit http://www.dhamma.org

Nepal to ME: Bazingaaaaa!

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#TheSkyRoadLifeToNepal #TheMartinTheory

More than one year ago, the idea of getting to Nepal emerged through the crazy experience of this eternal dutch optimist named Martin. He was off to Bangkok with me to catch a flight to this country that did not blink any interest to my brain at all. He was going on a trek to the Annapurna circuit, that never sounded familiar to my small ears. Days after completing the trek, he showed us pictures and shared his journey to this amazing country of the Himalayas.

Annapurna Trek Photo by: Martin Wevers

Annapurna Trek
Photo by: Martin Wevers

So there, the little beating heart fell in love with the idea of experiencing the beauty of the Himalayas. But how, when? Very soon.Now.

Months of surveying flights and accommodations, finally, Nepal was about to happen. Booked the flight, made some friends and then packed a small bag from the diving course in Anilao with all the beach outfit. Off to a cold country, with 24hour stopover to Malaysia. Perfect plan,almost 100% execution then there it went.

Petronas and the public pool Reminds me of mother Alma

Petronas and the public pool
Reminds me of mother Alma

Minutes before leaving my host’s place in KL, the unlikely message from the airline came in. Fight has been cancelled and moved two days later. There was an accident in the Kathmandu airport and it was closed for some time. Saurav, my Nepali brother confirmed this and there, where now? Still in KL as my host agreed to take me in with so much kindness and offered me to visit Batu Cave, finally. Luck was just inside my pink backpack. But the anxiety  was just building up. Can’t even go out and enjoy the night life of KL, thus ended watching previous episodes of The Big Bang Theory. Yeah, if there’s one man, my little heart would fall, that would be Dr. Sheldon Cooper, and just the right distraction to this unwanted surprise. All those two nights stranded in KL were just Dr Cooper nights. Sigh, temporary relief, better than getting stuck at the KLIA 2.

Batu Cave, finally

Batu Cave, finally

The big day came, time to fly to Kathmandu. Can’t wait to see the Himalayas and my Nepali family. The airport scene was astounding. No way. In denial. Closed counters but the flight was still at 9:30pm and it was just 7pm. What?There was no way the plane left nor was it cancelled again (called the customer service hotline and confirmed my flight and online check-in). Right into my face, the associate confirmed this confusion, flight has been moved indefinitely as they are accommodating earlier flights than mine. BS with furious voice. There were more people waiting. But I needed to go, I had to. Fear came rushing, backup plan, zero. What now? It was an assurance that I was not alone. There were at least eight people with mad voices and faces. One was asking for the manager. The other one a confirmed seat in the next day’s flight. ME: I need to fly to Nepal.

Maybe walking away was the best thing to do and just come back the following day, with no assurance though. Or stay at the airport and sleep in my yoga mat with free wifi and food. Getting a hostel was not an option, with 35RM left in my pocket. Called up my host but he declined, he was hosting a family. Too bad. Messaged my friend Kla all the way from Penang to ask for help, he has friends in KL, for sure lol. After hours of talking to some passengers and friends in facebook while secretly praying for miracle, the guy from Malindo Airline asked for passports. Too bad my hands were fast and there in a matter of seconds, he was holding my maroon book. Still confused,  along with some passengers we followed him. After 10 minutes of running, walking to and from the check-in counter to the departure gates, I finally had the nerve to ask him, “ what are you going to do with my passport?” And he replied with an irate voice while looking at me (I noticed he was cute, lol), “you wanna go to Nepal, right?” Okay, accepted the fact that we are at the mercy of this man. Whatever, this must be the miracle I asked earlier. Then I found myself, some passengers  with empty boarding passes and crew of the airline running towards the departure gate, through the immigration and the final checks. No time to check in my luggage which included toiletries for two months (bottles with more than 100ml). Darn, these stuff will be confiscated at the final checks. The Malaysian guy who was scheduled to do a trek to Mount Everest base camp had more issues, he got a bigger bag, even heavier than me and my luggage combined. At the final scan, I was ready to let go with my J&J baby milk bath and lotion, conditioner and toothpaste. But lo and behold, the scanner was silent, though the guy had to give up two bottles of something out of possible 5 or 6. Not bad and he was smiling while giving it to the airport staff.

Poshy flight with Louie

Poshy flight with Louie

Still confused and blank but smiling, I was running towards the boarding gate. I can’t believe we are flying to Nepal with empty boarding passes. Maybe we will be sitting at the aisle for five hours, no idea. Then there, at the boarding gate, they filled out our boarding passes, guess what, Business Class seat! Whew, found myself smiling like a monkey with my seatmate Louie. This was my first business class experience and my first flight longer than three hours. God, I almost cried. All I wanted was a normal flight, but this was too much. So after fixing our seats, we enjoyed the posh way of traveling to Kathmandu. Free movies,games, series and songs. Delicious food and unlimited drinks with Haagen-dazs ice cream and assorted nuts, just feeling every breath of the moment. And yes, another Dr Cooper night for me. Now I wonder, “is Sheldon following me?” Bazinga!

Another Sheldon night

Another Sheldon night

Spell BLESSED

Spell BLESSED

More than five hours later, we were passing by the Turkish airline plane that crashed the runway few days ago, the culprit (but in a good way for me). Lining up to the immigration with other passengers from five airlines. Yes, there were more and more plane landing, which means more people. It was not too bad, so I thought until the baggage area emerged. OH MY GOD. It was like a small pond with overcrowded fishes trying to find luggage. Some people had been waiting for 12 hours, some two.Total chaos. Honestly, I felt bad for everyone. It was mere coincidence that my baggage was with me. But my seatmate Louie had to look for his along with the hundreds of passengers. There out of chaos I met this girl who flew from Oman but her accent showed she was from the UK (just guessing). We shared our experience and opinion about what was happening. But the best that we can do was just wait and help our respective seatmates who became our friends. We became like a team, us the girls, guarding all the found luggage and the others looking for theirs. Buying water for each other. Showed support and assurance that those stuff were not lost. From midnight to early morning, then it was time to give up. It was in that chaos that foreigners and locals were helping each other. It was such a misery but a good one. A beautiful nightmare.

Kathmandu Airport Scene with new friends Photo by: Ville Kananen

Kathmandu Airport Scene with new friends
Photo by: Ville Kananen

Wandering and sleeping despite all the chaos Photo by: Ville Kananen

Wandering and sleeping despite all the chaos
Photo by: Ville Kananen

Then it was broad day light, still nothing. So we decided to give up and just come back later. Take some decent rest and maybe another miracle might just happen. As we walked out of the airport, the cold breeze reminded me, Nepal. And in that sleepy chinky eyes emerged the beautiful portion of the Himalayas that awakened my being. Time to get up from a beautiful disaster, coffee time and then the welcoming smiles of my brother Saurav and his friend Chili. And so Nepal was happening, then the song came in “And if I didn’t see that the joke was on me.” I could hear his voice shouting with his funny face : BAZINGAAAAA!

Finally, NEPAL. Love Photo by: Helene

Finally, NEPAL. Love
Photo by: Helene

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)

Standard

#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. 🙂

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…