All Around Vietnam, Siem Reap, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur ’18

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Close the labs, because the RMTs went on a vacation. Haha, kidding. The RMTs had filed their respective leaves and were going on their first trip abroad.

We were college friends who had suddenly thought of doing a tri-city trip over a year ago. The original plan was that we’d all go together, but people had their different tastes when it came to doing trips. So we’d decided that one group would do a staycation type of trip. And for adventure seekers like me, we went on a rollercoaster of a vacation.

The target cities: Hanoi, Siem Reap, and Bangkok. But for our group, that would be Hanoi, Ninh Binsh, Dong Hoi, Hue, Hoi An, Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. We’re crazy. I know. But we weren’t the type to sit around and do nothing when you could do everything. So to each her own! The most important thing was that everybody’s happily enjoying their trips. 😊

And let me share to you the kind of trip that we did.

 

Duration of trip: 10 days

Kind of trip: Think Amazing Race type

Itinerary: Bizarre yet organized 😂

 

And here was how it went…

 

Manila International Airport (MIA)

January 6, 2018

Around 6pm, we were on our way to the airport from Alabang. We already did online check-in the day before so we weren’t in a hurry. But apparently, hearsay in the airport said that two of our friends, who each got 20-kg check-in luggage in their tickets, had to check-in at the same time. One friend was already in the airport. Us? We were stuck somewhere outside, circling around and trying to get inside the right terminal.

It was around eight in the evening when we finally arrived in the airport, and we instantly clarified with a Cebupac employee if the two who had check-in luggage in their tickets had to check-in at the same time. She said it wasn’t the case. That was a relief because two of our friends were still in Alabang, and they were going to share the 20-kg check-in luggage with us.

For people who had a 9:50 flight, we were too carefree. But even when we were in college, those two were always late. It wasn’t like we expected them to change all of a sudden. 😂

And this was how we did our trips. Aside from the 7-kg hand-carry allowance, in order to save up, we’d just share the allotted check-in luggage of one person and split the cost. For a group of nine people, we only got 2 20-kg check-in luggage.

So the trick was to always pack light. This was what we kept on repeating to ourselves. Some did. Some didn’t. But a luggage to her own. Carry it at your own risk. Pay the excess if you must. But everyone would have around 5kg if they wanted to check-in something.

Four of us would be doing the amazing race type of trip–Cha, Cris, Sherla, and yours truly. Cris and Sherla arrived at the airport at around 8:30pm, just as we were paying for our travel tax. So we still paid our travel taxes together.

After that, we panicked a little, because Cris brought a 13-kg suitcase. We didn’t know how to fit it in a 20-kg baggage allowance, but it somehow worked after several adjustments. But the thing was, after all the commotion, we were running out of time. It was already past nine in the evening, and we still hadn’t got our boarding passes.

Fast forward to when we got our boarding passes and we were at the immigration. As we were filling up a card (I forgot what they call them), a Cebupac employee was calling for those who were still going to board the 5J 744 flight to Hanoi. That would be us. The Cebupac employee sounded and looked as if the flight was going to leave soon.

So yes, we were frantic.

The Cebupac employee had told us to use a certain line, so that we wouldn’t take up a lot of time in the immigration. During this time, I really thought that we would be left by the plane. The immigration officer took her time about asking us what we were going to do there in Hanoi. Make sure you have a copy of your itineraries and tickets, so that you could show them to the immigration officer. It’ll make things easier.

After a few more questions, the immigration officer stamped our passports and we were good to go. But who would have thought that our boarding gate was so far from the immigration? It was at the other end. So yes, with only a few minutes left, we were running like crazy to the gate.

When I saw the gate, I hurriedly gave my passport and boarding pass to the Cebupac employee, telling them that we were on the 5J 744 flight to Hanoi. The only thing I feared at this point was that the Cebupac employee would tell us that the plane had already left.

That was when everybody laughed.

It was, like, we were pulled from a trance. When we looked around, our friends were sitting on one side, also laughing at us and telling us to take a seat beside them. When we looked at the Cebupac employee again, he patiently told us that our flight would be a little delayed.

Right.

So why was that employee in a hurry back in the immigration? He sounded as if the plane would leave without us. Why, kuya? Nagtatakbo talaga kami (We ran for our lives). 🤣

Imagine four people running like crazy to a boarding gate with a delayed flight. And then everyone on the same flight was around us, watching our little dramatic entrance. It wasn’t surprising that the laughter had continued for a while. But at least we made them all happy despite our delayed flight.

 

Scene at the airport

*inabot ang passport at boarding pass*

Me: *haggard at pawisan at habol hininga* Kuya, flight to Hanoi. Flight to Hanoi kami. 

Kuya: *krooo*

Me: *tingin sa kaliwa at kanan* Nakaalis na ba ‘yung eroplano?

Kuya: Ma’am, hindi pa po boarding. Delayed po ‘yung flight.

Nagtawanan sa buong terminal. Charot. Sa medyo one eight lang ng terminal. Basta lahat ng tao sa paligid namin na nakakita. Tuwang-tuwa sila sa amin, in fairness. Kami din aliw sa ginawa naming dramatic entrance. Pwedeng humakot ng award ung itsura namin. 🤣

 

About an hour later, we were finally on the plane heading to Hanoi. Shortly after, we dozed off. It would be a long trip, and it was best to catch an hour of sleep or two. 💤

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

January 7, 2018

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Xin chào, Vietnam!

We arrived at around two in the morning at their timezone. That was one hour earlier than our time here in the Philippines. I had made an arrangement with Hanoi Transfer Service to pick us up. They were on time. Only that I had made the arrangement to be two hours late, so that we would have enough time to eat and such. But the driver was already there. What could we do?

After doing some money exchange, we now had Vietnamese dong. The millions was still getting into us and made us all confused. Everyone’s a millionaire here in Vietnam.

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The transfer service was good. And the bonus thing was, since it was only a little after three in the morning, the transfer service company let us stay in the lobby of their hotel (Pavilion Hotel) for free while we were waiting for sunrise.

Their hotel was actually located in the Old Quarter. There were pubs around. But the tired and restless us mostly stayed inside the lobby.

After using their washroom as well, supposedly, we were on our way to Hoan Kiem Lake. But the infuriating thing was, we’d been conned as early as the hours of the morning.

Before we go on about this side story, let me just say that there are good taxis in Vietnam. It was just that we didn’t remember to use them. Use only Mai Linh (green) and Vinasun (white) taxis. No buts and ifs. They go by the meter, arguably more honest, and there’ll be a much lesser chances for you to be tricked like us.

We learned this lesson the hard way when we picked a taxi that was waiting right outside Pavilion Hotel. I think it’s safe to say that you should flag down a moving taxi instead of getting one that’s parked.

So anyway, here’s how the irritating story goes. We went with a taxi that was parked outside the Pavilion Hotel. He said he’d go by the meter. I hated that meter. The rate went up in a flash. And the thing was, this taxi driver wasted our time by going around the blocks.

We knew that he was doing it on purpose, because we went on a straight road to get to Pavilion Mall from the airport. Supposedly, it would only take a few minutes to Hoan Kiem Lake, but this taxi driver took his time and it was already 5:20am when we passed by the lake. He asked us if this was our stop. We said we’d get food on the other side of the lake. But the horrible thing was, he was going full circles again on the opposite side of the lake! We had it. We said that he should just bring us to the train station. And he still brought us to the wrong side of the train station.

Halfway through this horrible taxi ride, we already knew that we were getting conned. But we couldn’t do a thing about it, because it was still dark outside and we didn’t know anything about the place. So after paying him a hefty amount of 700k dong, we blamed it all to experience and hoped that not everyone was like this man.

But at least he didn’t harm us. At least we were safe.

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This was the wrong side of the train station. It wasn’t like the one in the pictures. But it turned out that this was kind of like the back side of Ga Ha Noi. The guards helped us get to the other side, which included us crossing the rails and such.

It was already 5:40am, and our train was supposed to leave at 5:50am. Imagine us losing our heads at this point. But with everybody’s help, we still got on the right train with just a minute or two to spare. We met good people in Vietnam from this point on. Great, even.

Speaking of train tickets, we had booked all our train tickets for Vietnam using Baolau.com. I would highly recommend it. Easy to book and make payments. They accepted foreign cards and had the same price as the train stations, with just about $2-3 service charge. It was a good deal compared to other sites who doubled the train ticket price.

It could also be possible to get your train tickets at the train station, but there’d always be that high chance that the train you had in mind was already full. If you have spare time to take chances, why not book at the train station? But if you’re on a tight schedule like us, get your tickets with Baolau. Just print out the ticket that will be sent to your email. We didn’t encounter any problem.

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This was the hard seat, but it was already okay for us. It was the one that was open when we booked our tickets. The soft seats were much better, with the reclining chairs and all. You could also buy all sorts of food on the train. There was a cart that passed by every now and then.

After several hours, we finally arrived at our first destination: Ninh Binh.

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First, we decided to get a room for several hours, so that we could take a quick shower and drop by our things as we went to the destinations we had in mind.

Just right outside the train station, there were already hotels. We booked a room with Viet Nhat Hotel, and they gave us a good price for about 12 hours. The room was good. The staff was very accommodating and friendly. But the most remarkable thing for us was their food. Their food was amazing. It was the tastiest we had in Vietnam. We even ordered their stir fried noodles for takeout, so that we could eat it on the overnight train.

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We also booked a tour with their hotel, since the tourist attractions for Ninh Binh were far apart. It was either we booked a tour with them or hire a taxi. Since we still had taxi phobia at this point, we decided to book with them.

Our original plan was to see Tam Coc, mostly because this was nearest. We highly considered the taxi fare. But there were no rice paddies at the time we were there, so Tam Coc would only be river and karst mountains.

We also heard that Trang An was way better (w/c later proved to be true) and less touristy. And if they were offering it w/ the tour, then there we would go. We also did a little bargaining before we ended up with $40 per person and it would include all entrance fees and lunch. Our itinerary included Trang An, Mua Viewpoint, and Bai Dinh Pagoda. We didn’t get the buggy (additional $3/pax) for Bai Dinh Pagoda. Tip: get the buggy.

We left at around 10am, since it took us a while to get prepared. We badly wanted to have a shower first. If we had left earlier, say 8am, then it would have been possible to do these three main attractions. We were able to do all three of them, but we didn’t have enough time for Bai Dinh Pagoda. More about that later.

So first off, we went to Mua Viewpoint. IMG_7659.JPG

It was approximately 500 steps. The thing was, we were all wearing leathery sandals, and it was a bit raining. Not a downpour, but like rain showers. It made the steps a little bit slippery. It would also be better if you were wearing hiking or running shoes or hiking sandals. But only because it was raining.

But still, we made it. Exhausted and catching our breaths. Even if it was foggy, the view was already amazing. We could only imagine what it would be like during sunny days. It must have been so breathtaking.

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After this, we went to Trang An!

The place reminded me of El Nido with the karst formations, only more on the jungle-side. It was also where the movie King Kong’s shooting took place. The movie set was still there.

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It was quiet here and there would be moments when you could have the place for yourselves. Also, going inside the caves was such a great experience. We applauded the lady boaters for their skills.

This is the cave entrance. For a moment, we wondered how we would fit inside. But we did. We did.

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When the lady boater told us to get off at Kong Skull Island, we thought it was the end of the trip. We already said goodbye to our lady boater. We weren’t interested in visiting Kong Skull Island. It felt like we’d seen enough beauty for one day. So we went around and around this temple without really knowing where the exit was located. It turned out that the exit was across Kong Skull Island. And it wasn’t the end of the trip yet. 😂

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After Trang An, we went to Bai Dinh Pagoda. We didn’t take the buggy, thinking it was only a few meters away from the entrance. How wrong were we. It was almost a kilometer away.

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Since it was also late, around 5pm, and the last buggy left right in front of us, we decided to take a picture at the entrance and go back to the hotel. We were craving for sleep at this point. The best way to do all our trips for one day was to have a decent sleep the night before. Allot at least two days for each place. First day – don’t do anything. Just eat, relax, and get lots of rest. Second day – sightseeing; start at around 6am and finish off at around 5pm. This was how we should have done it. That’s how you’ll appreciate each beautiful province in North and Central Vietnam. Next time. 😊

After getting a few hours of rest, we were off to ride our very first overnight train. Ha, we were so excited.

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We had booked hard sleepers for the night. Again, because it was the only one available right away. However, I think the only difference was that there were six beds in our room, and for the soft sleepers there were only four beds. As for the comfort provided, I think it was pretty much the same, just a little bit more space for the soft sleepers. But if you were going to lie down the entire night, I doubted anyone would notice. We were off to dreamland before we realized it.

I didn’t get a full shot of all the bunk beds, but it was cozy enough to sleep. The eight-hour ride to Dong Hoi was very fast. There were moments when the train would shake and we would suddenly wake up. But soon enough, we’d be sleeping again.

Also, there was a sink right outside the rooms. You could wash your face and freshen up a bit there. Also, the washroom was nice and clean and the flush was working well.

Riding an overnight train is a must when you’re in Vietnam. It’s a one of a kind experience. It also provides a spectacular view.

 

Dong Hoi, Vietnam

January 8, 2018

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Around six in the morning, we arrived in Dong Hoi. Yes, we’d been stuck in fog for about three days now. It’s been very cold at some point. But we also considered it a nice weather to stroll around here and there.

Our accommodation for the day was Nam Long HotelIMG20180108073128.jpg

The room was nice and cozy. What we remembered the most about this hotel was their shower. It was the best shower we had for our entire trip. Also, just outside the hotel, there were plenty of restaurants and stores at night. There was also a river and some place where you could walk around.

Also, this was where we bought a sim card. It was good enough for one month, 2gb each day, and for only 100,000vnd. I thought they were kidding. Vietnam’s internet speed was cheap, reliable, and fast.

When we were ready for the day, the hotel offered us a Paradise Cave Tour for around $60. It was a little bit pricey. And compared to Ninh Binh, this town had an organized bus system that we thought we could use. Only that, nobody told us how far it was from Dong Hoi to Paradise Cave. 😂

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Tip when using the bus station:

Just because it is a bus station doesn’t mean all the bus will stop there. Pay attention to the sign. Those that are indicated there are the bus routes. Make sure you’re waiting at the right station. Simple yet easy to forget when you’re caught up in the moment.

Still, we didn’t know that we probably wouldn’t be able to make it to Paradise Cave if we had gone by the bus to Phong Nha. But truly, God was kind to us that 1) we were at the wrong bus station 2) when we were at the right one, the bus didn’t arrive on time 3) just as we were waiting for the delayed bus, a Mai Linh taxi driver asked us where we were going 4) when we said we were going to take the bus, he even went down his taxi and offered us a cheap price 5) we decided that we didn’t have enough time to wait 6) so we rode the taxi 7) it was a relief that we did.

Why? Paradise Cave was still far from Phong Nha. We were supposed to do both Phong Nha and Paradise Cave, but we ran out of time while waiting for the bus. They said that Phong Nha Cave was amazing. But if they would have to choose between Phong Nha and Paradise, reviewers would undoubtedly say Paradise Cave. So we’d chosen Paradise Cave. Yes, it was amazing. So amazing that there were no words to describe it.

I think it was also more than 20km from Dong Hoi to Paradise Cave. There were no taxis going to and fro, unless you’d hire one. There were scheduled buses at Phong Nha Cave, but we would still need a taxi from Paradise Cave to go back to Phong Nha. The only means of transportation of the ones going there were bicycles or motorbikes.

Everything works together for good.

My advice would be this? Hire a Mai Linh taxi (never let your guard down; we flagged down green taxis all the way to Ho Chi Minh City) from Dong Hoi. We’d been quoted 800,000vnd to do both Phong Nha and Paradise Cave. The rate was for five hours. There was a surcharge of 30,000vnd per additional hour. But since it was already 11am and we didn’t have time, the taxi driver gave us Paradise Cave for 700,000vnd.

But we had doubled that amount when we paid him. If you’d experience the drive from Dong Hoi to Paradise Cave and back to Dong Hoi, it’d make you feel guilty if you would give him just the 700,000vnd that he had quoted. He also didn’t turn off the meter, so we saw that it was more around 1,400,000vnd when we had arrived back in Dong Hoi.

Qui, the Mai Linh taxi driver, didn’t impose that we should pay him more, but we wanted to pay him right for his wonderful service and initial concern for our desire to ride the bus to Paradise Cave. Qui didn’t really know how to speak English, but we could see how bothered he was with what we’d wanted to do. If he could only speak English well, maybe he’d tell us that what we were thinking of riding the bus would be impossible. And don’t worry if the taxi driver doesn’t understand English. They have a customer service that they use in order to translate everything. We also did body language, facial expressions, Google translate, and writing numbers on the paper. It could still work with just that.

If you were a group of four like us, 700,000vnd was a really good deal. If you would split the transportation cost between yourselves, it was already cheap compared to getting a pricey tour package.

I still wished that we’d seen Phong Nha Cave, too. But you could only work around a certain time for a day. And what we’d seen in Paradise Cave, it would last a lifetime. We were so mesmerized by the amazing works of nature.

Since there weren’t many restaurants near the bus station and also around Paradise Cave, this had turned out to be our breakfast/lunch.

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I didn’t know if we were just hungry, but the eggs were so tasty. Also, they had this salt with spices that was so good. I didn’t know what they called them. After devouring all the available boiled eggs, we finally went to Paradise Cave’s entrance.

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This time, we finally got a buggy. Hahahahaha. No, don’t get one. It was only a short walk until you reached the slopes that would lead you to the entrance of the cave.

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Yes, the slopes that would amount to more than half kilometer. So we went on hiking yesterday, and we hiked again today. Great. Just great. And yes, I was still wearing my sandals. But Mendrez was the right wrong sandals that would never let you down.

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Even when you get tired of going up the slopes, don’t turn back. Don’t tempt yourselves into thinking that it won’t be worth it. You’ll miss half of your life if you’ll succumb to your tiredness. Just push on. Hold the rails if you must. Go along. You’re almost there in paradise.

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Before we went to the entrance of the cave, we took a seat and ate some delicious icecream. Try the Merino brand. It was delicious.

So here we were. For some reason, it was unusually cold there at the entrance.

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Isn’t it amazing? These were only some of the pictures we took inside the cave. There was so much more inside there.

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And the view on the way back to Dong Hoi?

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We can live here in Dong Hoi. Take us back. We were even joking around (not really; we were a bit serious) that we should buy a land here and just live there. We even asked them for the price of land per square meter hahahaha.

Someday, I would go back to this place and stay here for a much longer time. I’d just look at the beautiful mountains and be amazed at how life could be this amazing.

After that, we spent the night trying different foods in Dong Hoi, walking around, and then we ended up at Tree Hugger Cafe. It was only a few meters away from Nam Long Hotel.

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Since it was already late at night, we couldn’t really order coffee, unless we’d be staying up all night. Ha, not the luxury we could afford. We badly needed to rest our tired bodies.

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I’m not really into alcoholic drinks, but Tree Hugger Cafe made me finish a glass. That was saying something. Because the only way you could make me drink was that if it was not beer (sorry, not a fan of the taste or the smell) or you mixed it in such a way that my taste buds would appreciate it. And that I wouldn’t be tipsy afterwards. But I could finish another glass of Bo Mau Nau, their bestseller in cocktails. It was so tasty.

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We also made a video call to our other friends who were currently fighting the coldness of Hanoi. I felt like we were already freezing in Dong Hoi (says my shorts and thin clothes), but it was much, much colder there. We really missed them. Even if it was only a video call, we felt like we had shared a meal together.

After that, we called it a night.

 

Hue, Vietnam

January 9, 2018

We took the morning train from Dong Hoi to Hue. I was asleep all the way. When we got off the train station, Khanh of Hue MotorBike Adventures was waiting for us. He was what you would call as a jolly good fellow. Khanh also speaks excellent English, so it made things so much easier.

We had booked a tour package with Mr. Vu’s office a few weeks ago. I had inquired here and there, because the tour we had in mind was a bit out of the norm. We wanted to visit the Imperial City, Thien Mu Pagoda and then the Khai Dinh Tomb. After that, we wanted to go straight to Hoi An, where we would be spending the night.

Mr. Vu made it possible for us. We were able do it all in one day.

Since we were starving, we decided to have some breakfast at one of the stores outside the train station. A very kind grandma accommodated us. She served the tastiest beef pho we had in Vietnam. I suddenly missed the taste.

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Also, their coffee was amazing. I thought that Vietnamese coffee was too strong for my taste, well, until I tasted their coffee. It was still strong, but of the good kind. Or of the kind that suited my taste.

After having some hearty breakfast, we were off to the Imperial City. Did I mention that it was raining that day? So we all rode the private car for a while, waiting for the rain to pass by.

When we got off at the Imperial City’s entrance, they provided us with purple raincoats. So cute.

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The Imperial City was beautiful. I wished we had more time to look around. We already spent, like, 2 hours there, but it still didn’t feel like it was enough.

Next was the Thien Mu Pagoda or The Pagoda of the Celestial Lady.

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Just outside the pagoda was the Perfume River.

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Next was the Khai Dinh Tomb. We were supposed to do two tombs, but the other one had similar structures to The Imperial City.

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After that, we were served with tasty barbecue lunch. We were also surprised that Khanh had searched for the food that we’d asked about earlier that morning and had bought it for us. They were all delicious.IMG_1297.JPG

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Banh ram it

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Banh nom

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Banh loc

There was also a unique kind of dessert that was sold in that restaurant. It’s kind of crispy with sesame seeds inside. Yum.

After that, we had to decide whether or not to ride the bike to Hoi An. It was still raining, and it didn’t look like it would stop anytime soon. But it would have been a waste to just go by car.

We asked Khanh if it was safe even when it was raining. He told us that they were experienced drivers. It would be up to us if we wanted to go or not. In the end, we went with the motorcycle tour. And yes, it was very safe, even with the rain. My only personal complain was that it was cold. And yes, I was wearing the wrong clothes and I usually got cold very easily. But it was mind over matter and Sherla lending me a new jacket halfway through and all was good.

I have posted a vlog below, which includes our Hai Van Pass experience. It was the highlight of the tour, and it really took my breath away. We went up and down the Hai Van Pass a little before sunset. When we were near Da Nang, it was almost sundown, and the view was spectacular. The clouds and fog were around us, the darkness, and the city light of Da Nang from a distance. When I close my eyes, I can still see it. I’m glad we went along with the motorcycle tour.

The riders/guides of Hue Motorbike Adventure were all professionals. They were also very kind and accommodating. They always paid attention to what we wanted and if we were okay. Also, they made sure that we were having a great time.

You can contact them here:

Hue Motorbike Adventure Office – Rental – Self Rider

Head Office: 29/103 Nhat Le . Hue
35/42 Nguyen Cong Tru str – Hue city – Vietnam

WhatApp (+84)(0) 985 005 113 message or call

Email: sale@huemotorbikeadventure.com – grouptravel_huecity@yahoo.com.vn

 

Hoi An, Vietnam

January 9 – 10, 2018

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We arrived in this quiet, warm and traditional town around eight in the evening. We had a booking with Tribee Cham and were readily accommodated. After putting down our things, it was so easy to call it a night. But since we only had one night allotted for Hoi An, we had to see the night market and the lanterns now.

And we didn’t regret it.

Hoi An was what you would call picturesque. This was the kind of place where you could have a breather.

And unusual as you would call it, we were craving for pizza at this point. A little walking and we found a nice place and had some tasty pizza and pasta.

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Their pizza was so good, especially this one with egg inside. I forgot the name of the place, but they were the ones that delivered pizza 24 hours a day.

After that, we rode the floating wish lanterns boat that would take you down the river.

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After making a wish, we went to the night market nearby. I went ahead and tried the street foods. My favorites were the potato that they sliced in circles, their ice cream (socola!), and their ice cream again. And potatoes again.

While I was busy eating street foods, my friends were busy buying lanterns.

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When they were through, I brought them to the ice cream stall across the street.

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And then we called it a night.

 

When morning came, we saw the lanterns again. They were still colorful and beautiful.

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Today, our agenda was just to walk around town. We got our entrance tickets from a ticket booth nearby.

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We went to see several tourist sites, before we got hungry. And then I saw the potatoes again. Patata-love.IMG_8432.JPGIMG_8433.JPG

And after having lunch, we spent the day idling around. We went a bit to the Japanese Covered Bridge. But mostly, we spent the afternoon sitting beside the river and just laughed and talked there. It was really amazing how just sitting there gave us some sense of fulfillment. I guessed that it was what Hoi An could do to one person.

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Da Nang, Vietnam

January 10, 2018

We had our booking for the night with Barney’s Hostel in Da Nang. Making things less complicated, we just booked for a transfer with Tribee Cham (450,000vnd). It took, I think more than an hour, to get to Da Nang from Hoi An.

 

IMG_6599.JPGDa Nang was what I would call as a fancy city. We didn’t get to see much of it, since we had an early flight the next day. But when we passed by the malls and other establishments, the city was truly posh and sophisticated.

Despite our several misadventures during our trip, we did a great job when it came to booking for a place to stay. Barney’s Hostel is a backpackers’ hostel, meaning that a room is shared between backpackers. But since we were a group of four, we had the room for ourselves. It was a such a nice room, and it was a shame that we only stayed there for just a few hours.

Who had a five o’clock flight to Hanoi? Us! Why did we do this to ourselves? I don’t know. 🤣

But we were still able to fulfill our original plan of going on a cruise in Da Nang. The staff of Barney’s Hostel helped us a lot. A Grab taxi later and we were on a cruise!

It was actually a river tour. The entrance fee was about 100,000vnd. There was a restaurant inside where you could order food.

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It was cold. It was terribly cold. We weren’t ready for this hahahaha. We kept on leaving our jackets. Why?! But the lights and the view were amazing. We still enjoyed it, mostly by staying close to each other.

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Da Nang was such a sight to see at night. The place was vibrant with colors and they were pleasing to the eyes. We stayed up late and went around the city until 10pm. And when we got back to Barney’s Hostel, we barely had time to sort out our luggage for our early flight tomorrow. We were only able to get two hours of sleep that night.

 

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

January 11, 2018

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We were on the earliest Vietjet flight from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City. Surprisingly, the plane ride was very smooth, considering the very cheap price.

Also known as Saigon, this city resembles Metro Manila in many ways. It was so different from North to Central Vietnam. Now we were just in the city.

We stayed in Khoi Hostel 2. We had the family room and it was nice. Their hostel was located in a street filled with hostels, so it was safe and the streets were bright at night.

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Tired and sleepless, we tried our best to stay awake and finish the walking city tour. However, we were only able to visit a few sites. But I was glad that we were able to go to War Remnants Museum.

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I couldn’t talk about the War Remnants Museum in details. I think that the only way to see it is to be there. There had been moments when all the visitors had tears in their eyes. After a while of going around, we also put our cameras down and just read about this horrible history that this country went through.

At the end of the day, we are with these words.

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With our remaining energy, we passed by the Independence Palace and went to visit The Postal Office.

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After that, we had lunch with the Lunch Lady. And then, we dozed off again. 😴 We went around the night market when we got up. Sadly, we didn’t make it to Oc Dao to eat seafood. So it was mostly a newfound love for seaweeds when nighttime came. They were really cheap here and we bought a ton. Try their chips and bottled drinks here in Vietnam. I really liked them.

 

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

January 12, 2018

As bizarre as our itinerary went, we’d been sleep-deprived for about five days. And then, for the next day, all we had to do was sleep. This was when I was on full masandal, tulog mode. Like when the bus started moving, I’d just find a comfortable position to sleep. Next things I knew, our attention was being called as we were approaching the border.

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We were given an arrival and departure card by our bus coordinator. He told us to keep it in our passport and don’t lose it. We felt at east during the entire border crossing thing, mostly because Giant Ibis was a good company. There were many scam stories when crossing the borders. We’d done a lot of research before we’d chosen to go along with their company. Thank you to those who made those detailed blogs. Yes, I also believe that Giant Ibis is one of the safest ways to go.

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We booked tickets with their office for both Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh and then Siem Reap to Bangkok. I can personally recommend their office. They were always there to guide us. They were honest as well. They’d tell you where the scams would likely occur. Most of the time, it was out of their control, but they’d do their best in order to stir you away from it or at least let you be aware how it usually went.

But this was not yet the case for us. It was more notorious in the Poipet Border. Crossing the Vietnam-Cambodia border was easy.

So it was an eight-hour ride from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh. We left Ho Chi Minh City at around 7:30am and arrived at the border during lunchtime. Exit Vietnam. We paid $2 each for this one; not sure for what and we also forgot to ask. But we didn’t line up for anything after that. The Giant Ibis employee got all our passports and he did everything for us. We just waited, before we got our passports back and were instructed to exit the building.

We had a quick lunch at a duty free shop. You could also use your USD or other currencies here and then ask for a change in the currency of the country you were going to next.

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And then, after that, we lined up at the border to enter Cambodia. It was just a little way from the duty free shop. Getting across the border was pretty straightforward. Just listen carefully to the instructions given to you by your bus coordinator. Mostly, you only had to fall in line, wait for your turn, hand over your passport, and then have your fingerprints taken.

After that, we dozed off again as we were on our way to Phnom Penh.

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You knew you were in Cambodia when the buildings started to look like this. We didn’t stay long in Phnom Penh. After getting off the bus at past three in the afternoon, we went straight to Larryta Express’ office. It was only a little way from the Giant Ibis office. There was no need for a tuktuk. Yes, the tuktuk drivers would insist that they’d take you by tuktuk, but there was no need for it.

If you’re facing the Giant Ibis office, the Larryta Express’ office was to your right. Just walk a little bit. Turn around the corner to your left. You will see the river at this point. Walk straight ahead. If you’re lost, don’t hesitate to ask around. We usually asked people who worked in offices or restaurants instead of random strangers around. Less scam this way. Also much safer.

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We’d chosen to go by Larryta Express, since they had a minivan to Siem Reap departing every thirty minutes. The schedule of Giant Ibis bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was 10:30pm. We wanted to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat and wanted to arrive in Siem Reap earlier.

When we arrived at Larryta Express’ office, we just paid $11 (if my memory serves me right) each and were asked where we wanted to sit. The minivan was comfy. There was no wifi, although the poster said that there would be. It was only available at their office. But setting that and the mosquitoes aside, their service was okay. There was also plenty of mosquitoes in Cambodia. Even our accommodation gave us mosquito coils every night. So wear mosquito repellents.

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Siem Reap, Cambodia

January 12-14, 2018

It was another six hours from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. Another six hours of sleep. But we were able to witness our first sunset in Cambodia. The skies were the pretties here, of all colors and shades.

We arrived in Siem Reap at around past nine in the evening. Taking a tuktuk, we went to our accommodation, The Luxury Concept Hostel. We actually booked a room that was supposed to be finished by the time we got there, but it was still under renovation. But they fixed it up for us and gave us a discount. We only paid $16 for each room instead of $22. Not bad at all.

The location of Luxury Concept Hostel was very near the night market and the pub street. It was also safe to walk around that street, even during late at night. The owner also told us that the government had heightened the security around the area and had placed CCTVs around, so it was very safe. True enough, that was the case.

So for our first night in Siem Reap, we headed to the pub street. Actually, we ate at a restaurant near the Pub Street because we were very hungry. Everything was expensive here in Cambodia, especially when you just came from Vietnam. A meal would roughly cost around $7 – $10. So keep that in mind and plan accordingly.

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Pub Street lived up to its name. We stayed there until 12am and then headed back to our accommodation.

 

The funny thing about waking up after four hours of sleep was that there was a chance that you wouldn’t be able to hear your alarm. Also to be considered was the fact that I somehow put my phone on silent mode. It was vibrating from a distance and not really helping much.

So when we heard a knock on our door, Cha was the first one to get up. I was still half in dreamland when Sherla told us that it was already 4:30am. Our tuktuk driver would arrive at 5:00am!

It was a good thing that I’d prepared my clothes the night before. After taking a quick shower, we headed off to greet Soeun. You can search for him on Facebook (Soeun Angkor Driver). He was a great tour guide. He also gave us loads of wet tissue and water bottles for free.

After some quick introduction, Soeun drove us to the ticket office first. For Angkor Wat, wear the appropriate clothes. No bare shoulders and knees. Or else, they wouldn’t give you a ticket. Sandals are okay. See more of their guidelines.

The ticket office was quiet in the morning. The staff was also friendly. After getting our tickets printed out, we headed to Angkor Wat temple to see the sunrise.

It was a good thing that the sunrise was around 6:30am. We still had time to look for a good spot. There were a lot of people there during this hour, and we were all waiting for the same thing.

You shouldn’t miss the sunrise at Angkor Wat. It was one for the books.

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After that breathtaking experience, we grabbed some breakfast nearby. It was delicious. By this time, we already accepted the fact that every meal would be expensive.

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When we were finished, we headed straight to Angkor Wat temple. For this temple, since it was the biggest one, we hired an English-speaking tour guide for $20, so that we could understand it more.

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He explained to us the temple’s history. How its purpose constantly changed from Hinduism to Buddhism, depending on the belief of the reigning king. Actually, if we had more time, it would be nice to buy the guidebook that was being sold here and really get in depth with the temple’s history.

We spent three hours going around the place, meeting vendors who accepted Philippine peso, and enjoying fresh buko while waiting for our friends while they did their shopping.IMG20180113110235.jpg

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Locals would try to sell you everything, from an overpriced photo to anything you could think of. Just say no. We learned this the hard way when we had agreed to a photographer to take just one photo of us for $3. She was really persistent. And then we thought why not take one as a group?

We closed the deal with one group photo. But after that, she innocently insisted on taking solo shots, even nodding her head that when we said we’d just take the group photo. We just posed and wanted to get it over with.

We told her that we only wanted the group photo. But when she came back, she had developed everything and insisted that we paid her $15. We told her that we would only take the group photo that we’d agreed on, and she was mad about it. She was raged. Ha. Funny how she was the angry one. We just told her we didn’t have enough and settled with $12 for everything. She took it. We were really set on leaving her w/ the excess photos if only she wasn’t fuming about it.

So just say no. Take your own photos. Also, your tour guide might know how to take that kind of shots for free. The thing about tour guides was that they were also good photographers. Try asking and give them a tip afterwards.

Angkor Wat Complex had plenty of temples to choose from. But for us, visiting Angkor Wat was enough. It was a must see place. Like everything you needed to see. Maybe we were also exhausted that we only took a seat in the other temples and let time slip by.

It might be better to buy the 3-day pass and take your time visiting each temple. You would be able to appreciate it more instead of squeezing everything into a single day.

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We went back to our accommodation at around four in the afternoon, after thanking Soeun for his great service. The tuktuk fee was $25 for four people. This included the sunrise plus until around 5pm, which was the temples’ closing time. We gave him a little bit more, mostly for his kindness and all the free drinks that we’d consumed.

 

After resting for a few hours, we were off to the Night Market this time. It was just right across the Pub Street. There was a show for the ones getting a massage there. And for some reason, it was very entertaining. The impersonators were so funny. We stayed there and watched them, while we were waiting for our personalized keychains.

There wasn’t much to see at their Night Market, aside from the usual pasalubongs. We already saw everything that was sold there in Angkor Wat temple.

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So after having dinner nearby, we stopped for some fried ice cream (which was very delicious!). And then we went to a grocery shop. It was fun going around the grocery shop and seeing all these new products that were being sold there. If you were into balms like me, try smelling their balms. We all grabbed one, whichever scent we liked.

Tip: If you were planning to stay in Siem Reap for a much longer time, you could save yourselves a few dollars by buying things from the grocery shop instead of eating at the restaurants all the time.

Bangkok, Thailand

January 14 – 16, 2018

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The funny thing about us was that we were always catching up with time. I couldn’t blame us because we really had a hectic schedule.

So we had made a reservation with Giant Ibis, and the bus would depart at 8am. By 7:45am, we were rushing to the bus station. Only that, there was actually two Giant Ibis stations in Siem Reap. We really thought the one near our accommodation was where we would get on. We even searched for it the yesterday.

But when we got to their office near our accommodation, it was when we came to know that the bus was at their other office. I thought we were doomed, but their employee made a call to the other office and told them to wait for us.

We had to ride the tuktuk in order to get to the other station where the bus was waiting. It took us about 10 minutes to get there. We arrived at exactly eight o’clock. It was a relief that the bus waited for us. If not, we would have to find another way to go to Bangkok.

 

If it had been easy breezy crossing the Vietnam-Cambodia border, it was a little tricky for the Poipet border. It was still the same process in the immigration. We were asked to get off the bus; leave our things there, except for our valuables; and then fall in line at the immigration. When it was your turn, an officer would stamp your passport and get your fingerprints.

But there was a catch. For Philippine passport holders, you might or might not have to pay $3. The officer who had stamped my passport didn’t ask me to pay for anything, but three of my friends were asked to pay $3 each. Of course, my friends had insisted that as Philippine passport holders, we didn’t have to pay for anything. But the officer just went on with the $3 thing.

The Giant Ibis coordinator was waiting for us outside the immigration office and guided us where we should walk and such. Earlier on, he had told us that we didn’t have to pay for anything. So we asked him why three of us had been asked to pay $3 dollar each. He was a bit embarrassed to admit that it was something like an under the table thing. He said that it was a lot more for other foreigners. Sometimes, it could go as high as $40. So it’s a tricky thing. You meet the right people and sometimes the wrong ones.

For this border crossing, you had to walk past all these buildings until you see the arch. Just follow all the other foreigners around. You wouldn’t miss it.

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Since it was a Sunday, there was no traffic. We’d arrived in Bangkok at around 3pm. It was two hours earlier than our expected time of arrival.

Bangkok taxis were also known for being notorious. Sadly, there were no Mai Linh taxis here. So we secured a sim card first with some internet access to see how far we were from Smile Society Hostel, our accommodation. This was an epic fail because the sim card we got was so slow we didn’t really get to use it. Don’t bother getting a sim card w/ internet if you were not going to buy the 299baht one that was good for one week. That’s the one w/ an okay internet access. The one we got was around 150baht and we could barely open Google. Take me back to Vietnam! 😂 We missed our fast and reliable internet that was only 100k vnd and good for one month.

So enough of our internet access misery. We had a fast internet access in our accommodation.

In the end, we still hired a taxi. Of course, he didn’t turn on the meter. It was about 12 minutes from our location to Smile Society Hostel, and the driver quoted us 400baht. After a little bargaining, he agreed to take us there for 300baht. Still expensive.

From here on, we only walked around, haha. No more taxis. And the reason why we made a booking with Smile Society was because it was near the train station. We only needed the train station to go to the tourist spots.

So what’s the best thing about Bangkok? The food. When in Bangkok, you just eat and shop at the night markets. Their servings were also big, and you could share it among yourselves. Also, everything we ate here was very tasty.

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But like in every other place, watch out for people who will likely scam you. It’s everywhere. When we were in 711, we were approached by this foreigner who was asking about Manila and such. He showed us a lot of dollars and asked if we had peso. Hahaha, bad news was that we had spent a lot in Cambodia just by existing, so we were pretty much broke at this point. And like he was asking for Filipino food and was pointing out to a curry pack. Or an Ajinamoto pack. I didn’t know which one. But seriously?

After a while, a girl in her early twenties came and she was talking in Filipino, but you could see that she wasn’t fluent and was stammering for words. She asked where we were from, what province, etc. We were just going along, wondering what she was up to. But we also kept our bags secure, just in case she was an experienced pickpocket. Be wary. And then she was asking for our Facebook account. We said we didn’t have Facebook lol. Then an older guy also arrived, and he was doing the same thing. And when they were all saying nonsense, we just ignored them and walked out. We were too tired to be scammed.

Actually, we also witnessed a much terrible thing in the DMK airport. It was two days later and we were on our way back to Manila. Since we had an early flight, we were at the airport at around 5am. As we were getting out our things from the taxi’s trunk, a girl was crying and shouting near us.

We thought she was having an argument with someone, because we couldn’t understand what she shouting. But it was off. Who was she arguing with? We couldn’t point it out.

When we got inside the airport, my friend told me that she must be Taiwanese, because she was crying ‘No!’ in Taiwanese. That was the only thing she understood. It was then we realized that she must have had her bag stolen and was left with just her small body bag.

Because when we gave it a thought, she was looking past our direction, crying and shouting. There must be someone who ran off with her things. We also didn’t notice any guards at the airport during that time. Imagine it happening to you. We really felt sorry for her.

So yeah, be careful when in Bangkok.

But more about our Bangkok experience. So the following day, we rode the train to the boat station. And yeah, we also got lost a bit and went to the other direction. We did ask the guard which train we should take, and for some reason, she pointed us to the other one. I also got separated from the group. The door closed right before my friends were able to hop on the train. They went to me me at the wrong station. And after asking around some more, we found the right train.

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Life’s an adventure. Embrace it.

IMG_1644.JPG So we went to the boat station and got ourselves a one-day pass. If you were going to look around all day, it was cheaper compared to getting tickets everytime. And it was really helpful, since the one-day pass served as a priority pass of some kind. We didn’t have to fall in line and were always the first ones to get on the boat.

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Street food!

Tip: Do visit the Grand Palace first. It closes at 3pm. The other places close at around 5pm.

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After sightseeing, we met Sherla’s friend, Nai. She brought us to the authentic pad thai restaurant that’s very famous in Bangkok–Thipsamai.

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Go here. Eat this. It’s one of the best tastes in the world.

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After that, we went around Chinatown. Since it was Monday, there wasn’t much streetfoods. But we got to taste some, like roti. My friends liked it.

Nai also brought us to one of the oldest cafe in the city. We were really thankful to Nai for showing us around.

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

January 16, 2018

We had different flights for the day. But somehow, we both ended up getting ready at four in the morning. Even if we had an earlier flight, we said goodbye to Cris and Sherla first. They had some things to fix at the airport.

Insert my earlier airport story here.

Cha and I had a layover in Malaysia. It was the reason why we’d chosen to go with Airasia. This was also the flight where the cabin got fumigated before and after entering the Malaysia. I wonder why.

We landed on KLIA2. From there, there was an express train that could bring you to the city. Ride it! Such a great experience.

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IMG_1735.JPGIt was the purple line (KLIA ekspres). If you got a return ticket as well, you would get a discount. And if you got the tickets using their kiosk machine, you would get a 10% discount. We’d been informed about this by the lady who sold the tickets. She also helped us with the kiosk machine.

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After riding the KLIA ekspres train, we arrived at KL Sentral. It was where all the other train lines interconnected.

We at late lunch first, before we went to Batu Cave. You only had to ride the commuter train from KL Sentral to Batu Cave station.

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After that, you would have to ride any train that would stop at KL Sentral.

In order to get to Petronas Towers, you would have to ride the LRT train and get off at KLCC station. Walk across the mall. And tada!

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After that, we grabbed a taxi to a nearby market, which was also near the MRT line. A little street food eating side-trip, before we went back to KL Sentral. After that, we rode the KLIA ekspres again back to KLIA2, where our flight to Manila was waiting for us. Or rather, the other way around.

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And we were on our way back home. 🇵🇭

 

Our vlog:

 

Tips:

  1. Book your flights early. We took advantage of the promo fares.
  2. Pack light. Make sure that you still have some space left in your bag. There are many interesting things/clothes along the way. You’ll be tempted to buy some.
  3. Use a backpack. It’ll make things easier for you. Some roads are not paved. Some alleys are too small or very crowded. Like us, you can also be in a rush to catch your flight or the train.
  4. Don’t forget your padlocks. Keep extra ones. One of my padlocks got broken when we arrived at Hanoi airport. On our way back to Manila, we didn’t have any spare padlocks for our check-in luggages.
    • Haha, katwiran namin ay susumbong namin sila kay Duterte pag ninakawan nila kami. And in fairness, wala naman mananakaw sa chineck-in namin. Bitbit namin ung lanterns! Pati ung mga packs ng pad thai!
    • Maawa naman sila kasi tig-iisang magnet lang per place binili namin. ‘Wag na nilang kunin. 😂
    • Good news–walang nawala sa gamit namin. 
  5. For Vietnam, use Baulao.com for booking train tickets. When riding taxis, choose Mai Linh or Vinasun.
  6. For crossing the borders by bus, book your tickets with Giant Ibis. It will put your mind at ease.
  7. Bring US dollars. $100 and $50 have better exchange rate than smaller bills. However, there will be instances wherein you will have to use small dollar bills, like for tipping.
  8. Also, in Cambodia, they usually charge in US dollar, but you can also pay in riel. Download an offline currency converter. All the conversion will get you confused.
  9. The ATMs usually have a $5 – $6 fee every time you make a withdrawal.
  10. For Bangkok, exchange your money in the BTS stations for a higher exchange rate.
  11. Usually, they only exchange US dollars. But for larger cities, like Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok, you can exchange your Philippine peso to their currency.
  12. Surprisingly, there are stores in Angkor Wat temple that accept Philippine peso. They can also give you a change in peso. There’s also a kid there who knows how to speak a little Tagalog. You can bargain with him.
  13. In Vietnam, the locals said that you can bargain up to 40% of the original price.
  14. Internet in Vietnam is cheap and fast. Enjoy it. Cambodia, costly and moderately slow. Bangkok, expensive and the speed depends on how much you have paid. But know that your accommodation will likely have a very reliable and fast Wifi.
  15. Download maps.me. It’s an offline map app that’s very helpful.
  16. Download Google Translate and the languages of each country that you would go to, so that you could use it offline.
  17. When all else fails, use body language and a calculator. It works like magic.
  18. Bring a mosquito repellent. You’ll need it in Cambodia.
  19. Don’t forget to check the weather of the places that you’ll go to.
  20. Stay in each place for at least two days. Also, read blogs. It was how we finished our itinerary.

 

What you shouldn’t miss:

-Paradise Cave

-Overnight Train in Vietnam

-Hai Van Pass by motorbike

-Hoi An

-Sunrise in Angkor Wat

-Angkor Wat Temple

-Food in Bangkok

Special thanks to Cha, Cris, and Sher for the pics that I also included here.

For questions, just leave a comment. I’ll try to answer them to the best of my knowledge. I can also send you our itinerary and our budget for this trip if you want to have an idea.

North and Central Vietnam are the places I want to go back to one day. I want to see more of it. I want to stay longer there. This will be another dream that I will hold on to.

So until then! Thanks for reading. 💛

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Mt. Ulap (Into the Clouds)

Ulap is the Tagalog word for cloud. And in the most literal sense, we were in the clouds for almost the entire length of our hike, including the overnight camping.

Expectations were this:

-Sea of clouds

-Waking up early to watch the sunrise

-Milky Way

Well, reality had some other plans. But even if we’d been ‘fogged’ and rained and all that, it was still a memorable experience for all of us. We could have asked for a nicer weather, but then again, the rain and the cold wasn’t so bad.

But first, if you’re planning to go to Mt. Ulap, these things, based on experience, are a must:

-Dri-fit clothes; anything other than cotton 😂

-Extra slippers

-Lots of socks

-Gloves (2 pairs in case the other gets wet)

-Bonnet

-Cap

-Thermal jacket or raincoat would do just as long are wearing something warm underneath it

There are a few stores (that sells hot coffee, rice, canned tuna, ulam, noodles) at the camping area, so you don’t really need to bring food aside from the ones you need for the hike. There’s also a CR, don’t worry. It’s very decent and fit for your personal needs. I doubt that anyone takes a shower at the camping site, given the temperature.

We originally thought that since it was still summer (or just very the start of the rainy season), it wouldn’t be that cold. We were so wrong. We got rained a lot and it was really foggy. So expect the unexpected and bring those jackets. Don’t forget your raincoat.

Let’s start from the top. It all started at 1 in the morning; location: Cubao.

It was a long weekend, which, again, slipped our mind, so getting a bus ticket was a tough call. The earliest trip to Baguio City at Victory Liner was 11am. They weren’t the only bus station offering a ride to Baguio. So we kept on walking, hoping to buy a ticket, until we were approached by someone (this might be dangerous but then we were walking at a very crowded street and this really happens outside the bus terminals) and said that there was a van going to Baguio waiting to be filled.

We checked it. It was parked right outside Chowking. Then we decided that this might be the only ride available, so we went ahead together with a few group of friends who were also heading to Baguio. (Van fare: Php 600; Bus – Php 475)

It was around five in the morning when we’d arrived at Baguio City. We were hungry, so we asked the cab driver to bring us to a nice place to eat. He brought us to Good Taste, which was open 24/7. It was later on when we’d found out that it was a good thing that we went there early in the morning and got a seat, because the place was always full.

When the food was served, we realized why the cab driver brought us here. Their food is tasty and budget-friendly. We felt like we ate more than what we had paid for. Another cab driver told us later on that the owner had a farm, so he could offer the meals at a much lower cost.

After that, we went to the market to buy some things we needed for the hike, like gloves and bonnet and food. We didn’t know there was a store at the camping site. So yes, I would gladly inform you that you didn’t need to buy tons of food and take it with you. Saving you all the trouble, there were two stores at the camping site and you wouldn’t go hungry.

After that, we rode a jeep going to Ampucao Elementary School. The road was right beside the mountain cliff. But it was fun and safe. The locals were also very friendly. With no sleep at all, we dozed off for a while and they looked after us and our things. And then they made sure that we wouldn’t miss our stop. It was around an hour ride to Ampucao Elementary School from Baguio City. (Fare: Php 31)

At the Ampucao Elementary School, we registered for the hike and paid the fees. See their FB Page for updated list of fees: https://www.facebook.com/mtUlap/

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There, we had a short orientation and the mountain was introduced to us. We had been assigned Kuya Daniel as our guide.

Also, at the elementary school, if you’re a first-timer when it comes to hiking or a beginner, go buy that stick that they’re selling. It’s only Php 25. It will be a great help.

So yes, after the orientation, we were on our way and the raindrops started falling… just a little bit.

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See that heavy bag? We were in a rush to prepare everything that the porter would carry; that was why most of my stuff didn’t make it to the bag that they would bring to the campsite. And together with almost 3L of fluids, I was panting for air on our way up. Let me remind you again that there are stores at the camping site. Do yourselves a favor and just bring a small bottle of water and/or a small bottle of Gatorade. It will do. You can buy the rest at the store. 😂

So yes, eventually, we reached the start of the hike. To think that this was just the start. It was no joke climbing up here.

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After a few minutes of walking, we finally saw a glimpse of the sea of clouds from afar. We jokingly told ourselves that we could go home now because we already saw one.

 

This was when the walking saga resumed. Mt. Ulap was an easy trail, just up and down the hills. The only difficulties that we’d encountered were the rain and the heavy fog. It made the path slippery. We had to keep a close watch on our steps, or else we might slide down. Our guide, Kuya Daniel, made sure that we’d end up in one piece. We owe him a lot.

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This was the first scenic rock formation that we’d encountered. We honestly thought we were already at the Gungal Rock with all the walking we did. Nah, we hadn’t even reached the first peak. So much for our wishful thinking. 😂

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You know trouble is coming because the fog was closing in. Like what they said in the Hunger Games series…. fog is catching. 😂

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A few more hills later, we finally reached the first peak. This was when it got really, really cold. Raindrops started to fall again and the fog was closing in. In fact, by the time we were walking to the second peak, the fog was upon us.

With raincoats and gloves, we continued. The air was cold and strong at some parts of the trail.

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We made a stop and ate our late lunch at 3pm. We only had jellyace in our bags. 😂 All our foods had been carried by the porter to the camping site. We forgot to pack at least some breads. #magaling 😂

After eating jellyace, we went ahead and pressed on to the second peak.

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The fog covered the Gungal Rock when we got there. This was the second peak. The rock itself was also slippery. And yet, my friends climbed up there. 👏

I didn’t risk it because my backpack was so heavy and it was hard to put down without removing my raincoat and consequentially getting wet. Cold and wet was not what you were aiming to be with this kind of weather.

So I sat there and waited for them.

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After that, this was when we met the cows. They were so healthy. It was the first thing we’d noticed. Cows and cows later, we were on our way to the second campsite.

So yes, the path became tricky from this point on because of the rain. I slipped once, but gladly stayed on the path. Same for my friend. The muddy path made it hard to walk. Kuya Daniel pointed where we should walk instead. As much as we could help it, we walked on the grass.

 

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A few hills later, we finally arrived at the second camping site, just beneath the summit. But with the fog and rain, we didn’t get to look around the place that much. Plus we were so tired and sleepless. As soon as we ate that cup of rice and canned tuna, we got ready for bed.

We rented two tents, and that was where we were supposed to sleep. But given the strong winds, Kuya Daniel, whose cousin-in-law was the store owner, let us sleep inside the said store.

They were so kind and accommodating to us. 😭 If we slept inside the tents, I doubted if we would have any sleep at all. Even inside a room, it was still soooooooo cold during the early hours of the morning. I woke up several times because of it.

At this point, I’d already given up on seeing the Milky Way. I woke up at 11pm the night to use the CR and there was no star in sight. Oh, and the camping site was very safe and you didn’t have to worry about a thing, other than your tent getting carried away by the wind. There was a tent that got destroyed that night because of the wind.

The morning after…

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So yes, with almost zero visibility around us, we didn’t get to climb up to the summit and see the sea of clouds. We were in the clouds instead. They were around us.

By this time, we put on whatever clothes were available. My previous jacket got wet and I didn’t have that much choice but to put on my other remaining jacket that I was intending to use for Baguio and whatever shirts were in my bag.

After eating rice and canned tune again (we loved this combination), we packed our things and the porter carried them down ahead of us.

And then, we were on our way down… yes, all wrapped up.

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Let me show you a video of how thick was the fog and the strength of the wind:

Even if the weather was like this, it was safe to go down. You would see where you would be walking, plus there were steps. So even if the path down was steep, you only had to go step by step.

It was a new thing they’d placed because of the incidents of people slipping down, especially during the rainy season. Now, you didn’t have to worry about slipping. Just be careful going down the man-made stairs and you’d be fine.

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The scenery was also something. It felt like we were in a movie.

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Finally, we reached the end of the hike. We made it. 😍

There was a shower area at the end of the hike. That was also where the vans and the jeep were located. You could rent a van if you were in a hurry. But we rode the jeep and waited for it to be full. The fare was Php 50 back to Baguio City.

It took a while for the jeep to be filled and so the fourteen of us just divided the remaining fare among ourselves so that we could go back to Baguio City. We paid Php 71 each instead, and we were back in Baguio in an hour.

When we’d arrived in Baguio City, we headed straight to our lodging house, Lyn’s Trasient Homes, located at 79-B City Camp Alley, Baguio City. The first warning sign was this: When I was inquiring for room availability and such, their replies were fast. After I placed the deposit, they didn’t bother replying to any of my messages. This was the first red flag. I believe it’s only fair to warn fellow backpackers out there.

So yes, even if they didn’t reply after my deposit, we grabbed a taxi and went there. Maybe they were just busy (for the past three days) because we’d been accommodated when we got there.

The room we’d been assigned was Room 2-C. It was located at the second floor. For the amount of Php 1500 per night, the room was okay and worth it. The CR was clean and shower’s working.

After settling in, we hurriedly went to Bencab, because it would close in about two hours and we wanted to see the museum. The cab rate, including the waiting and picking us up because it was out of the usual way for cab drivers, was Php 300/hour.

We stayed for more than two hours and went to have our very late lunch/dinner. Our kind and witty cab driver brought us to 50’s Diner at Kennon Road. There were two 50’s Diner, but the other one was always full so he brought us to Kennon Road. And true to his words, we got a seat.

The food here was budget-friendly and very tasty. I don’t know but maybe all the food in Baguio are like this. 50’s Diner is a must for a hungry barkada.

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After that, we headed to Victory Terminal to get a bus ticket for tomorrow. The earliest we got was 5:05pm. We took it. Tip: buy tickets right away. We should have brought ours before climbing Mt. Ulap. We were aiming for a 2:00pm ticket.

And then we headed to the night market.

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The night market was really something. It is a must-try for those who are going to Baguio City. Fun and one of a kind experience. Plus, if you know how to look, you’ll get awesome bargains for a very low price.

After going around the night market, we reached the end of the road and saw the food stalls. We dared ourselves to eat the 1-day old chicken. 😂

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The vendor removed the bile for us, so that we wouldn’t be that traumatized. He wasn’t able to remove everything, but it was a dare-worthy try. The vinegar was very yummy, though. It neutralized everything. 😅

So yes, after this, things got really, really exciting. From vacation mode to action/thriller movie real quick.

So yes, we went back to our transient house. It was around ten at night. We turned on the TV and watched. After several minutes, we’d decided to call it a day and sleep.

It turned out that there were no blankets in the room, so we went outside to look for one. That was when we had heard it, a fight ensued outside amongst the locals who were drinking and several people we didn’t know. Later on, we’d found out that the victims were occupants of the same transient house where we were staying.

Based on the stories, the fight started when a taxi driver accidentally hit the table of the locals drinking right outside the transient house. And because the taxi driver was already out of the scene, a drunk local turned their anger to the ones who got off the taxi. Poor guys. They could have been us, to be honest. We also got off the taxi a few minutes ago.

We saw it ourselves because we were at the veranda and witnessed the whole thing. This certain man was shouting at two (?) guys across the street. Those two looked so terrified. We thought it was only a petty fight and the man would sober up a bit and go home. But then things got rough, and then we heard what seemingly sounded like gunshots.

Alarmed, we went back to our room and turned off the lights. We could hear people screaming outside and there was crying. We locked the door; there was no double lock and it could easily be kicked down if anyone would try. So we took our phones and hid inside the bathroom.

There was someone who climbed up the stairs and we didn’t know who it was. We also thought we had heard someone trying to open the doors. We were terrified.

Shaking in fear, we called the police. We told them where we were and what we heard. Their response had been quick, but those few minutes of waiting had been agonizing. We didn’t go outside until we could verify that it was safe; that those people were really the police.

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The police didn’t believe that those were gunshots and insisted that maybe we only heard it wrong. Thankfully, no one got hurt from what we saw. The locals also suggested that it must have been a broken bottle or something. But no, it was the sound of a fire after another. We could never be too sure, but we heard it and we wouldn’t be at peace staying for even a few minutes at that place.

This was also when we’d found out that there was no caretaker at the building. We were by ourselves, and the gate was open for anyone to go in and out whenever they wanted. It was very unsafe. The contact number they’d provided us was also unreachable at that time.

The police also insisted for us to stay, saying that they would be patrolling the area. But with the building like that, we told them that we would like to look for another room.

We packed our bags in a hurry. Getting on the police car, the police helped us find a safe place to stay that night.

The policemen were very understanding and kind. They patiently knocked from one transient room to another as we looked for a place to stay. We never thought that we’d be riding the police car at one in the morning.

One thing they’d suggested that we should do if we were looking for a transient place is to contact the police station and get a recommendation. True enough, the place they’d brought us had gates that were locked at night. The neighborhood was peaceful.

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Here’s the calling card of the place where we stayed:

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I would highly recommend this place. The rate was Php 2500/night. It was good for eight to ten people. They lock the gates at night and the rooms were clean. Very spacious. Plus there’s a double lock on the door.

With our minds at ease, we soundly slept that night. Come morning and we were strolling around Baguio City before departing later that afternoon.

While looking for a place to eat, we stumbled at this eatery–Panadero Street Bakeshop and Eatery. It was near the public market. Their food was so affordable and so, so good. I definitely enjoyed their adobong pusit. Awww, I suddenly craved for it. And Baguio’s kapeng Barako is a must try. I’m not sure if it’s the same one at Batangas, but I’m forever a fan of kapeng Barako (a local vareity of coffee beans).

And the flower shops around Burnham Park! I especially loved the carnations. So pretty.

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With the lack of time, we didn’t get to visit the other tourist destinations like Mines View Park and Botanical Garden. But we’ll be back here for sure! Except for what happened that night and the fact that it could happen anywhere, all of the people here are so warm and friendly. The weather was just right, so good. And who knows, we might go back for a sight of the Milky Way Galaxy, Mt. Ulap, when the weather’s fair. 💛

Bohol and Cebu 2017 (A Solo Trip)

It started as a group trip. But unfortunately–because one of us wasn’t able to come due to work reasons–it ended up as a couple x couple plus me.

Deciding to give the couples a chance to have some quality time together and for reasons that I couldn’t join the canyoneering activity, I went on a solo trip.

And it got me so excited. This would be my first solo trip, and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen.

And here was how it went…

DAY 1

We arrived at the airport at around nine in the evening. After grabbing some dinner at Jollibee, we went ahead to get our boarding passes and checked-in.

After an hour plane ride, we arrived in Cebu at around one in the morning.

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And then we went straight ahead to Oslob. I didn’t get much sleep on the van, as I’m the type of person who hardly gets any sleep unless resting on a bed. But it didn’t even matter (at least for the first few hours), as I was used to staying up since our internship days back in college.

We arrived in Oslob at around 4:30 in the morning. The stars were bright. It was still early and the whaleshark watching activity started at 6:00am. While they were sleeping inside the van, I talked with our driver and the tour guide. They told me about the places I should go to during my solo trip and a few things about Cebu itself.

It was 6:00 am and the place was filled with people. I didn’t expect to see that much people for an activity, considering that it was early morning. There were around 100+ of us there at such an hour. Wow. I got stressed out for the whale sharks/butandings. Too many tourists for these sea creatures.

After some briefing, we paid for the activity (Php 500/snorkeling + gears) and waited for our schedule. I think we were the fifth group to go there. Rules were sunscreen was not allowed (w/c probably explained the early goers) and no flash photography and no getting near the butandings.

After thirty minutes, it was our turn to get on a boat. There were around twelve of us in a boat. Someone was feeding shrimps to the whale shark to make it come closer to our boat.

It didn’t take long until we’d seen the beautiful sea creature. It wasn’t as big as the others, probably a little smaller than a jeep. But the whale shark was so gentle you didn’t really have to panic when they were around, even if their mouths could probably swallow you whole. Maybe.

Underwater picture taking ensued. It was exhausting, since we had to let go of our life vests. You wouldn’t necessarily drown, but the waves kept on crashing on you. My greatest worry at that time was my glasses. I put it inside my shirt and I didn’t want to lose it. Why, why, why didn’t I leave it on the boat? I truly wonder. It made things so much harder for me.

Either way, I found the whale shark intimidating at first, but then it was so gentle. A friendly sea creature. There was nothing to be afraid of… unless you were probably seeing one as large as three-storey building.

After the whale shark activity, we went back to the shore and hunt down some breakfast. I didn’t have appetite that day (for the entire day, actually), so I only had coffee.

Taking a shower after, my friends and I parted ways. They were going to Sumilon and I was headed for whatever the day would bring.

To be honest, I didn’t do any island hopping activities for this tour. My heart is still in El Nido, Palawan. Like I close my eyes and I remember the beautiful beaches of El Nido. I don’t know. I feel like I’m not ready to see other beaches anytime soon. 😌

So yes, my itinerary consisted of going to unusual places and whatever the time permitted. My friends’ tour guide arranged a habal-habal ride/motorcycle for wherever I would like to go.

I wanted to see the Tumalog Falls. I’d seen pictures of the different falls there near Oslob, but Tumalog had the appeal that I was looking for.

My habal driver didn’t want to take me there at first, because it was almost summer and the falls didn’t have that much water at the time. He said that there were other falls with, perhaps, stronger water current, but I wasn’t interested with them. I didn’t want to see the current. I wanted to see the cascading water of Tumalog Falls. And it was a wise decision. Tumalog Falls was the prettiest falls I’ve seen in my entire life.

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The Promise of El Nido: Beaches. Coves. Lagoons. 💚

A paradise for sea lovers.

Acclaimed as the most beautiful island in the world, Palawan has a reputation that speaks for itself. During the five days we’d spent on this island, it was hard not to fall in love with the luscious forest and white sand beaches. And of course, the most remarkable of all–the lagoons. Small, big, blue, secret, hidden, not so secret… majestic lagoons.

And this was how it all started…

A year ago, a piso fare promo went up on the Air Asia website. My high school friends and I had traveled here and there, but mostly we just went to places like Quezon, Zambales or Ilocos. These were places that could be readily reached by the bus. But like all travel enthusiasts, we all wanted to go to El Nido, Palawan. It’s a highly recommended, ultimate getaway destination. So when the opportunity came, we went ahead and grabbed it.

Fast forward to July 23, 2016.

10:00am

Scenario: Heavy traffic on the way to the airport.

Other scenario: We’re hungry.

Other, other scenario: We’re soooooooo excited.

It was my first plane trip in the last ten years. The last one was so eventful that I never forgot it. I kind of expected the same thing to happen. I was preparing my mind for turbulence or air pocket. Hahaha, thankfully there had been no such thing. It was a comfortable ride to and fro Palawan.

Thanks, Air Asia! What a budget friendly yet comfy way to get to your destination.

So the bags were ready and off we go. According to the weather forecast, it would be raining for the next few days. But anyone who lives in the Philippines knows how to hold on to some hope. As long as there are no typhoons, there’s always a chance that the weather will be good. But yes, it was a bit raining when we got to Puerto Princesa, Palawan, where we would take a van to go to El Nido, Palawan.

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#rainyafternoon

There are several options on how to get to El Nido, Palawan. We chose the van option because… well, it was already there when we got out the airport. Haha! Well-thought. Well-thought. One thing that never gets old when it comes to creating fun memories during trips is doing things the spontaneous way. Like you know where you’ll be going, but taking chances on the how to get there is actually the fun part.

It was around three in the afternoon when we landed in Puerto Princesa airport. We made some arrangements for the van ride (which was expected to be five to seven hours). A little food hunting and off we go…

…or at least that was the plan.

We waited a bit more for a few more passengers to fill the van. So while waiting, we came up with this ‘brilliant’ idea–to draw the drawing friend who said he would come but he didn’t. 😂 ‘Drawing’ is the term we use whenever someone says he will do something but ends up not doing it, or when he says he will go but will not come all of a sudden. It’s literally like drawing on a piece of paper and that’s it. It won’t materialize. In the end, it will stay as a ‘drawing’.

Thus, the term.

So while idling around, Derrick (left part of the photo) started drawing Jem on pictures, as if he was with us. Wish you were here moment hahahahaha. And this was the first one:

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Eventually, this drawing event became known as the ‘Chronicles of Jem’. And wait for it… El Nido Arc! We were so proud of ourselves. 😄

Oh, and in the end, they had transferred us to another van, where a family was already waiting. So instead of sending off two half-filled vans, they all placed us in one.

At around six in the evening–for real this time–off we went to El Nido, Palawan! 🙊

We traveled on the long and winding (x1000) road. Keep a tablet of Bonamine (anti-motion sickness medication) ready. You’ll need it. Or sleep for the entire ride. Whichever way worked. Sitting beside the window did the trick for me. As long as I kept my thoughts entertained by the view outside, the rough ride to El Nido was somehow forgotten.

We had two stops. One was two hours later to grab some dinner. I doubted that we had enough appetite, but we did eat. Next was unremarkable because most of us were sleeping. But if you needed to use the toilet, this would be of some help.

Moths and one bat casualties later, at around eleven in the evening, we finally arrived at El Nido, Palawan. We had a reservation with Casa Cecilia, and five warm beds were waiting for us when we got there. Casa Cecilia was actually one of the nicest accommodation we’d had in all our trips. I’ll highly recommend it. It was just a few minutes away from the beach and located right in the heart of the small town of El Nido, Palawan.

There are three options when booking accommodations in El Nido, Palawan.

  1. Corong-Corong.
    1. Pros: A nice stretch of golden sand beach, and an amazing sunset view.
    2. Cons: The shore, where the island hopping trips starts, is a tricycle ride away.
    3. I’ll recommend this if you want to spend more time at the beach than go to island hopping tours.
  2. Town proper
    1. Pros: You’re in the middle of everything–souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, etc.
    2. You don’t get to see the shore right when you open the window.
    3. I’ll still recommend this one out of the three. After all, the beach is just a few minutes away.
  3. The beach area.
    1. Pros: You see the beach 24/7.
    2. Cons: The beach is crowded during the day, when all the activities start.
    3. I’ll recommend this if you want a bit of nightlife.

So there you go. Calling it a night after one rough van ride, we were asleep before we knew it. 😄

 

July 24, 2016

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Hello, El Nido!

 After breakfast, we went ahead to our first tour. The first ones on our list were Tour C and D. It was an all-in-one package. They gave it to us for the price of one. I didn’t know if it was because we would do all the tours or what. Instead of just one tour package, they combined it. Maybe there was really such a thing.

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And you know what we did all day? We went from one beach to another. It was a beach hopping galore. Imagine the perfect beach, and then imagine another one after. It was like that the entire time.

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Helicopter Island

Aerial shot of this island–drone, where you; right, I don’t own one–would give you a helicopter-like shape of the island. It’s also known as Dilumacad Island.

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That’s me sitting on the rocky shore. For day one, I didn’t get to take a dip in the water. Take a guess and you’re probably right why. Imagine the feeling of just watching my friends enjoy the water and go from here and there, while I stayed on the boat (taking pictures and falling asleep until I remembered that I’d brought my headset with me and wished I had an audiobook on my phone and listened to music instead). Bookworms! I suddenly remembered that an audiobook would be perfect for the five hour ride from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. It would also be helpful if you were, like me, stuck on the boat or on the shore while they enjoyed the waves.

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Someone’s enjoying the sea so much.

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#tropagoals

After Helicopter Island, we passed by Matinloc Shrine. We didn’t get off, but instead we went ahead to the Hidden Beach. This was the start of my agony. And don’t even remind me of the Secret Beach. 😭

But I did enjoy taking pictures of them.

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From a distance, there’s the Hidden Beach. You have to swim all the way there or use a kayak.

Wish I was there moment…

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And from the view while sitting on the boat:

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Majestic. That was one word to describe these wonderful works of nature.

 

Lunchtime! I didn’t know where we were, but it was another beautiful beach. And happy me was able to go down and have a moment to sit on the white sand and take in the beauty of the place.

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Did I mention that we had a clear fine day for the first day of our trip? See? Ditch the weather forecast and hold on to hope when here in PH. 😂

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I could stay here on the shore for hours. Wake me up when you guys were done snorkeling.

We had a wonderful lunch (that was so well-presented). Unfortunately, no picture had been taken because we were so hungry at this point that Instagram was altogether forgotten.

p.s. Phone signals were good at some islands.

After this one, we headed to another beach… or they did. This was the Secret Beach. 😭 You have to swim all the way there and inside a little cave-like entrance.13738316_10208755533237638_86129336911722663_o.jpg

Next stop, Cadlao Lagoon!

This was my absolute favorite for our first tour. I was seriously mesmerized. I wished we could have stayed longer, but our boatman only drove us around the lagoon for several minutes. And of course, we hurriedly took pictures! 😁

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The jade-colored water was sparkling. And I seriously had no idea how that could be happening. It was like entering a fairyland.

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This shot was close to the real thing. The sun was resting on the waves as it glowed. Another more…

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That was why Cadlao Lagoon became one of my absolute favorites in El Nido, Palawan.

And after we exited  fairyland, we were off to another beach.

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This beach had the finest sand. It would remain unnamed until I’d be able to locate what it was called using Google. 😂

But if I was not mistaken, this might be Paradise Beach.

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If it was truly Paradise Beach, I wouldn’t be surprised. You could see how amazing and scenic the view had turned out to be in picture. A paradise, indeed.

Next, we went to Pasandingan Beach.

This was where I met the white crabs. And I was so holding a grudge because they didn’t let me take any picture of them. They were so fast. While my friends were swimming/snorkeling, I was hunting down those white crabs.

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The forest was so alive in this island.

And of course, the long stretch of white sand.

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And one more beach stop before we called it a day.

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#LifeinElNido

A candid shot. Not seen in the photo: a dog that Derrick was playing with. I was walking on the white sand, lost in wonder. The couple was talking near the boat. And Joyie was the one who took this picture, while she was enjoying her time in the ocean.

And a random drop off of passengers before going back hahahaha. Because they couldn’t get enough of the ocean, our boatman decided to let them enjoy the blue sea for the last time that day. Into the blue scenario.

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They were so terrified. 😂 They literally couldn’t see anything. It was like in movies when a shark would appear out of nowhere and take you alive. But you could see that they were enjoying it just the same.

For me, I watched the sun and the sea, a few minutes before dusk.

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Later that night, we were searching for a place to eat. Joyie randomly mentioned Art Cafe out of nowhere. I suddenly remembered Shim’s post about her eating in that cafe. So deciding that it might be a good place to eat, we went there.

It was a few minutes walk from Casa Cecilia. And that, my friends, led to us calling that place our hideout in El Nido.

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When in El Nido, this restaurant is a must try. You won’t regret it. We ordered five different meals that night and all of them tasted delicious. Service was also awesome.

Do order their bestseller–Seafood Pasta. And no one would ever forget their avocado ice cream. We ordered two scoops of avocado ice cream with one scoop of cheese flavored ice cream. It was so good.

And yeah, don’t ask what we did for the next two days. Clue: it involved  lot of avocado ice cream scoops. 😍

 

July 25 2016

The best Monday ever!

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El Nido during the day.

Don’t worry about toiletries and such. There were groceries stores here, even pharmacies if you suddenly felt a bit unwell.

So today was the day when I could finally join in the water activities. Agenda for today: Tour A. It was all about the lagoons.

But first, the Seven Commandos Beach.

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I was so excited to finally be able to join them in their underwater activities. So while Joyie was swimming and taking pictures (and she took off her life vest and snorkeling gears), I played with it, making it a flotation device here and there.

Until this happened…

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Um, that was my fault. I didn’t even notice that it fell while I was playing around with her life vest. We tried to pick it up using our foot, but to no avail. We had to call our boatman and ask for help. He got it in one dive. Okay. So much for our mundane struggle. 😅

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This was such a rare shot. Because one, I was afraid of underwater activities–fishes and all. The only thing that gets me interested when it comes to underwater stuffs are the corals. But we did see a lot of small jellyfish here. So tiny that you would readily miss them.

After the Seven Commandos, we went to Small Lagoon. This was my personal favorite for the day. I really did enjoy kayaking while sightseeing and gawking at these magnificent works of nature.

See vlog below for our 360 degrees turn. It was funny because we did it the first time and it turned out that the camera wasn’t recording, so we had to go back again and do it all over. It was fun.

And the place was so magnificent. My greatest regret was thinking that there wasn’t much to see, so I didn’t bring my camera. It turned out that the place was so beautiful for words. Never judge a lagoon by what you could see outside. Once you entered inside, you’d be out of words.

Lunchtime again! This was slowly turning to be our favorite time of the day. 13668642_10208756294936680_4239445064288250010_o.jpg

Menu for the day:

Liempo

Grilled fish

Pineaple

Watermelon

Rice

Crabs!!

After that wonderful meal, we were off to Big Lagoon!

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Need I say more? It was beautiful.

Um, shortly after, our boat encountered a small malfunction. It would have been nice to be stuck there in the Big Lagoon, but the boat untimely broke down a few distance from the exit of the lagoon.

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Well, aside from taking lots of pictures, the best person to see was the ice cream man, who was riding a boat, and yeah, selling ice creams. And the best thing to do? Enjoy a chocolate popsicle under the heat of the sun in the middle of nowhere.

A few minutes later, the boat was up and running again. We headed to the Secret Lagoon.

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It was a lagoon where you had to enter a small opening to get inside. Inside the Secret Lagoon:

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After that, snorkeling!

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Where there were fishes, you wouldn’t be able to find me. 😂 The fishes and I, we weren’t meant to be located together. I freaked out whenever they were near me. But my friends enjoyed this so much. You could tell by the amount of pictures with fishes that they’d taken.

 

Later that night, we were planning to try a local specialty here–the crocodile sisig. But funny thing was, when we got to the restaurant, they were close on Mondays.

Epic timing.

But we went ahead with our other plan: sunset viewing at Corong-Corong. It was a tricycle ride away from the town proper. And apparently, it had one of the best sunset views in El Nido.

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The golden sand of Corong-Corong. It was raining a bit where we were sitting.

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Why do you use an umbrella when watching sunset in El Nido during the month of July?

a. It was raining.

b. It was hot.

c. All of the above.

d. b more than a

Our answer: d  😂

So after the sunset viewing, we went back to town and searched for a place to eat. We badly wanted to go back to Art Cafe and end the search, but we’d decided to try another place.

We ended up in Squido, a local restaurant that had squid specialties. We ordered their bestseller–Mixed Seafood Curry. And yup, it was worth the long wait.

But then again, we couldn’t let go of Art Cafe yet. It’s dessert time!

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During our stay in El Nido, I think we were able to taste everything from the dessert menu. The technique was that all five of us would order different desserts and then we would taste everything. But I think that out of everything, the avocado ice cream won our hearts, hands down. And the espresso with ice cream. And the cheese flavored ice cream. And… well, you get the picture.

There was a thunderstorm happening a few miles away from where we were, but you could see it from the cafe’s veranda. I tried to take pictures of it, but to no avail.

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El Nido at night was peaceful. There was also a BPI ATM machine if you needed some cash.

And a view of the port:

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July 26, 2016

Last day! Sepanx kicked in a day before we actually left the place. This escapade was coming to an end, and you knew that you’d surely miss the place even before you left.

Tour B was all about caves and snorkeling and some more lovely beaches.

First stop, lunch. We were late for the last day of the tour. So the boatman brought us to Entalula Island and let us enjoy the beauty of the place while they prepared our lunch.

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It was simply breathtaking. And there was one funny story that happened to me while here on this island.

I really adore taking pictures. So they went ahead to snorkel while I took some more pictures of the place. I took my time, enjoying the scenery and going here and there.

When I was ready to catch up with them, I got bitten by something. It looked like a fly or a really unusual bee. It didn’t feel itchy or anything, but I got a bit paranoid because the bite was a bit painful compared to your average mosquito bite. And then I saw a reddish bump and a minuscule amount of blood. Nothing to worry about…

…well, until it decided that I was its prey for the day and wouldn’t let me be. It kept on biting me for some reason. I had no choice but to go back to shore and remove my life jacket. It turned out that it was attracted to my life jacket at first. And then, when I went to the other side of the shore, it kept on following me!

When I submerged myself into the water, it somehow decided to let me be. Finally, it went away. In the end, I didn’t get to join my friends while they snorkeled, as I got held back by this insect. Okay, I Googled it. It was a horse-fly. That painful bite! 😂

After that horse-fly incident, we went to Snake Island!

It was supposed to be a sandbar. But then, the water was high (up to waist-deep) that day and it was a bit raining at some places. So we got this situation instead:

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But whatever the situation was, when you were in the right company, you’d find ways to enjoy it. Like this one:

Now that’s what you call relationship goals. 😂 They weren’t real couple, but instead were childhood friends and neighbors. Derrick decided that it was tiring to walk all the way to the other side, so he asked Joyie to drag him.

On the way back, he was enjoying it so much that he buckled his life jacket with Joseph’s life jacket. 😂

Next one was Cudugnon Cave. The first cave for this tour. On the island, we saw some locals cleaning up the shore. We had a chat with them and asked about the place. You could actually rent the rooms on the island (I forgot for how much; I think it was around 12k Php) or camp overnight for only Php 200.

When it was our chance, our tour guide set up some life jacket in order for us not to get hurt by the rocks. Getting inside the cave was the tricky part.

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Forget about the cave smell (as all caves usually had the same smell), and take in this view.

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Creepy. LOL. That was the first part of the cave. It got better where sunlight was able to get in. Okay, it was still creepy there, for some reason.

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After this, another cave was waiting for us. Cathedral Cave!

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We were only allowed to pass by the cave and have a look. When my friends asked if they could snorkel, the answer was a big no. Our guides told us that there were sea snakes on this part of the ocean.

And last one on the list: Pinagbuyutan Island.

Coconut trees were everywhere. IMG_0665.JPG

However, the beach and the view remained splendid.

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With a heart full of memories and sand in the pockets of our shorts, we went back to shore washed over with melancholy and happiness just the same. 😊

 

And now, for the most-awaited crocodile sisig hunt. On our way to the restaurant for the second time, we met this friendly tricycle driver. And for the first time, we actually met a real tour guide. During the short trip from town to the restaurant, he told us stories about El Nido.

The original name of the place was Bacuit. I didn’t know if his succeeding story was accurate, and even the tour guide sounded unsure himself. But he said that the reason why it became Bacuit was that when the Spaniards first asked the locals about the name of the place, the local replied, “Bakit?” That was a Tagalog word for why. And so the name Bacuit.

“On June 17, 1954, Republic Act No. 1140 was approved changing the name of the town from Bacuit to its present name El Nido after the edible nests of swiftlets (collocalia fuciphaga), found in the crevices of its limestone cliffs. These nests, nido in Spanish, the main ingredient for the gourmet nido soup…” (from Wikipedia)

If only it was still early, we would have probably end up hiring him to take us on tour with his tricycle and just tell us stories. He was currently setting up a tour office with a relative of his. If he was the tour guide, I was certain that every trip would be enjoyable.

His contact details:

Mark Louie

0907-496-3413

Back to the crocodile sisig…

After a few minutes of waiting while watching Dolce Amore, the sisig was finally served. The texture was really good. You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference right away, but it sort of had the same texture as chicken.

And guess what? We went back to Art Cafe to grab some dessert. This time, we got a table at their extension, the one facing the shore. It was such a tranquil place.

The avocado ice cream was so popular among us that we ordered everything with one scoop of avocado ice cream on top. 😁 This was what you called as panic buying. LOL. It was superb.

We had a great chat, which touched the topics of relationship, life, and eventually, ghost stories. There was no escaping this one. We stayed at the cafe until it closed at around eleven in the evening. And then we strolled around town some more before going back to our accommodation.

And you wouldn’t believe what happened later on.

We were watching the news and preparing to sleep, when all of a sudden, the lights went out. Hahahaha! What a great timing. We finally experienced the blackout in El Nido. And given our previous topic during dinner, we all huddled together on one bed. After a few minutes, the lights went on again. This time, it was the generator that had taken over while the blackout persisted.

I shortly fell asleep after. Two remained awake. One was using the bathroom when another blackout happened. LOL. Imagine that. Thankfully, our accommodation had a generator. The lights were back after a few seconds. And yeah, no ghosts or anything.

 

July 27, 2016

Goodbye, El Nido.

After having breakfast, we prepared for the ride back to Puerto Princesa. We left El Nido at around nine in the morning, and we arrived in Puerto Princesa at around two in the afternoon.

We had an ample time to see the city, before our 7:45 flight later that evening.

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We went to Baker’s Hill, a famous place here in the city. They were known for their breads and pastries. But we also came here for their…

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…which we didn’t get to eat. It was out of stock that day. Tamilok are shipworms. I was up for the challenge, but it was sadly unavailable. Maybe next time. Puerto Princesa City also has so much to offer.

Off to buy pasalubong (souvenirs).

Things to buy when in Palawan:

-Cashew Nuts

-Dried Squid (all kinds; they were all good)

-Breads and pastries from Baker’s Hill

-Crocodile sisig. The store could be found in the market. This one’s preserved and could last for three days w/o refrigerator or six months in freezer. Soooooo good.

-Pearl earrings

-Palawan rainmaker

-And whatever you feel like buying. Buy everything. 😂

 

For dinner, upon Janine’s recommendation, we went to Rene Saigon to grab some chaolong. It was a Vietnamese dish, which was very popular in Palawan. One word: delicious. And the staff were very friendly.

 

After that, it was time to say goodbye to this paradise. ‘Till we see you again, Palawan! ♥️

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THE CHRONICLES OF JEM (EL NIDO ARC)

#wishyouwerehere

Credits to:

-Joyie for her lovely pictures and videos that I also included on this blog.

-Derrick for the pics and for editing most of the pics in “Chronicles of Jem”.

We had a great laugh. 😄

 

Rough breakdown of expenses for those who are interested:

1,200 – Plane tickets (back and forth)

3,000 – Accommodation for four nights w/ free breakfast

1,400 – Tour C and D

1,000 – Tour A

1,000 – Tour B

1,000 – Van ride to El Nido (back and forth)

2,000 – Food expenses (Art Cafe, Squido, Crocodile Sisig, etc.)

300 – Tricycle rides expenses

Total: 10,900 Php

 

We did all tours when people usually do just Tour A and/or B. And then, when it came to food, we went all out. Told you, desserts. 😂

 

And here is the vlog:

 

Until next trip,

Freesia 💛

 

Nagsasa Cove and Capones Island ’16

I was back to Zambales for the weekend! I missed the place. It’s so easy to get there, and the beaches are so serene and relaxing. For a day or two, we get to experience a sense of tranquility, being close to nature, and setting ourselves free from the the usual life that we know, with all its rush and rumbles.

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Nagsasa Cove

This time, my friends and I headed to Nagsasa Cove. Go camp! And beach bumming, of course. The following day, we went to Capones Island and other islets. We got back home all tanned and happy. 😊

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It was summer. The sun was high in the sky and the temperature might drain you a bit. But for Nagsasa Cove, the gush of wind would cool down the place from time to time. There was a certain kind of wind that I only got to hear and feel in that place. I don’t even know what it’s called. Like it was catching strength and gradually releasing it. This got more pronounced as nighttime settled in.

I also experienced this whooshing gust of wind in Anawangin last year. I’m the type of person who doesn’t sleep much during trips. The one who’s awake while others are sound asleep. One, because I’m not familiar with the place. It takes a while for me to get to know the place haha. Or, like after we’d climbed Mt. Pinatubo late last year, exceptions happened when I was knocked out to even consider familiarizing myself with the place. And two, for Anawangin, it was really cold and the wind was biting. For Nagsasa, the sand was uneven. I woke up at 2am and my body was all sore. So I moved to the cottage. I was able to catch a light sleep, before we woke up at 5am. I should have used the cottage bamboo bench in the first place.

But before all that happened, here’s how we got to Nagsasa Cove.

Cubao

Time: 12am

Scenario 1: Long weekend and the elections coming up, there were a lot of passengers heading home that Friday night. We decided to leave early (12am), instead of catching the 3am trip to Olongapo as previously planned.

There are different ways to get to San Antonio, Zambales, where Pundaquit is just a tricycle away. One, from Cubao, ride a bus going to Iba, Zambales. You could get off at San Antonio, Zambales. This was the most direct trip you could get, but the trips weren’t that frequent.

Or two, you could go to Olongapo. Iba, Zambales buses are available there anytime.

Or three, like us–since we couldn’t find a bus that would leave right away to Olongapo–we went to Dau Terminal in Pampanga.

When we arrived at Victory Liner early Saturday morning, there were a lot of passengers waiting, and the next available trip going to Olongapo would leave at 4am. We expected to be caught in traffic, so we opted to look for another bus line.

Time: 1am

Scenario 2: We walked a bit to Dagupan Bus terminal. Most of their ongoing trips were headed to Manaoag, Pangasinan. Good thing we’d asked the kundoktor if there was a trip to Dau Bus Terminal, Mabalacat, Pampanga. He said that there would be one later.

We waited for several minutes before one of the buses heading to Manaoag departed and it gave way to the bus heading to Dagupan. This one would have a stopover at Dau Terminal.

Dau Terminal

Time: 3:30am

Scenario 3: So why Dau Terminal? Because there are buses that are going to Olongapo there. And here’s another good reason to consider Dau: there are UV Express vans going to Olongapo that leave at thirty intervals. So convenient. Another catch: they use SCTEX, which makes the trip so much faster.

Olongapo

Time: 5:00 am-ish-not-so-sure haha

Scenario 4: Early morning fresh air feeling. The bus heading to Iba, Zambales was right beside the van’s terminal. So we boarded. After several minutes, we were heading to San Antonio, where we would get off.

And this was where we tasted the most delicious puto and kutsinta. For only Php2, you would get to taste them from the manongs na naglalako/puto vendor. My advice: buy a lot. Being a puto and kutsinta lover, it’s just ❤. To the point where I consider going to Olongapo at the wee hours of the morning and hunt those vendors. I know, it’s a bit extreme, but they were really delicious.

So moving on before I make a separate blog about rice cakes. 😂

San Antonio, Zambales

Time: 7am-ish

Scenario 5: Off to the market to buy our camping foods and supplies. After that, we were picked up by a tricycle, arranged by Ms. Precy, our contact person. Here’s her number if you want: 0977-321-7899.

Pundaquit, San Antonio, Zambales

Time: 7:30am-ish

Scenario 5: Boat ride to Nagsasa Cove!!! 😁

Nagsasa Cove was roughly an hour away from Pundaquit’s shores. It was a long trip, but so worth it. I would recommend it over Anawangin. Don’t get me wrong, we did enjoy our trip to Anawangin last year. So much. But when I saw Nagsasa, I thought to myself, ‘How could it get so much better?’ I couldn’t imagine it myself.

Our boatman brought us to Pamimi Campsite. There were several campsites at Nagsasa Cove. I would recommend Pamimi Campsite because of its clean comfort rooms and very nice vibes. It was also less crowded there. Maybe it’s because it was located at the farthest side of the shoreline. But then again, the beach area was so good.

Cottage was only Php100. *throws confetti* Anyway, so we prepared our food. Or my best friend, Peny, did that. Cooking is not and I don’t think it will ever be for me. Joyie and I kept ourselves busy doing other things. I couldn’t remember what we did exactly. Whatever it was, it wasn’t as helpful as cooking our food. 😝

We three are actually elementary/high school friends. We’ve been friends for around twenty years now. Childhood friends. Sisters, mostly. F4 as they called us. One couldn’t make it, but hopefully all four of us would be able to go on a trip like this again someday.

At ten in the morning, we all ended up taking a nap. It was noontime and too hot to swim at the beach. Plus, we didn’t get much sleep if nothing at all. Thankfully, the wind was soothing at some point, despite the summer humidity and heat.

Funny thing was, we mostly spent extra cash on buying cold beverages all day. It was so hot and we didn’t bring an ice chest with us. Please do so if you’re planning to camp during summer. A cold bottle of Mountain Dew was Php25. An ice cream stick was also Php25. A 500mL of water was Php50. Life savers. Thirst quenchers.

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A few minutes after two in the afternoon, we started walking around. There was a swamp at one side of the beach. And it turned out to be the perfect place to take pictures.

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…and take jump shots.

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We were back to the shore… heading for a short trek to get a good view of the cove.

The trek was easier compared to the one in Anawangin. You didn’t even need a guide, as the path was already set and all you had to do was climb up. Entrance fee was Php10/person.

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The view from three-fourth of the trek. We didn’t get to climb up to the top because of certain circumstances revolving around fear of heights and slippers not working properly and not enough time. But from where we stood, it was enough to get a good view.

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We went down just before sunset. There was a buko stand a little way from the start of the trekking point. While enjoy sipping buko juice, the sunset slowly unfolded in front of us.

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Insert nighttime story here. When the sun had set down, we ate dinner and set up our tent. We should have done this earlier that day, but where was the fun in that?

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We had brought so many hand-carry lights with us (three, to be exact) and those lit our cottage until the morning came. Oh, and we also went for a swim before washing up and calling it a day.

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Sunday morning arrived and we prepared to leave Nagsasa Cove and head for Capones. We told our boatman that we would leave at 6am. At the said time, we’d just finished setting up our breakfast. We left at 8am hahaha.

Hi, Capones’ shore. You’re very rocky. Yeah, lot of rocks. Waves. We had to walk in the water to go to the shore because that was as far as the boat could take us. But lighthouse? We ain’t complaining. Or that was mostly me. I have a thing for lighthouse. The two wanted to swim. But the lighthouse was what the island was known for, so to the lighthouse we went. 😊

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There were actually stairs. It was easy to get to the lighthouse from the rocky shore.

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Oh, there’s the sun. It’s shining like that. You could imagine how hot it was that day.

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But the view was priceless.

A little way from here, there was the lighthouse.

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Did I say that it was abandoned? Yeah, pretty creepy. 😂

It was built during the 1890s. There were no tour guides. We were pretty much on our own, aside from the other tourists. This was the part where I would tell you that we forgot to take a picture of the entire lighthouse. I could cite certain reasons, but they were no excuse. My camera still weeps. The moment was there. How could I forget? *shakes head in disappointment*

But here’s what we got…

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We climbed up the rusty staircase. It was a bit shaky… um, okay a lot shaky.

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It was funny because this was when our fears became more distinct. Joyie was afraid, safety measures wise. She couldn’t make it to the top, utterly doubting the stability of the lighthouse. She had a point. Peny was afraid of heights. Simple as that. I, on the other hand, was a thrill seeker and there was no stopping me. But when I saw the secluded room that led to the top of the lighthouse, I freaked out. It was really creepy and eerie and I was afraid to go alone and probably see a ghost by myself. Yup, I was afraid of ghosts.

My best friend, being her kind self, she went with me to the top. I was really insistent because it was a dream come true to be here in this place. I have a thing for lighthouse like the way I have a thing for books. There’s no explaining it. And after much deliberation and convincing, here’s the view…

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My lifesaver… 😘 Hihi I wouldn’t be able to make it to the top if not for her. See for yourself the stairs to get here…

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They should maintain the majestic structure more. At least renovate the stairs. It was too beautiful to go to waste.

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Island hopping for a bit. Or more like beach hopping. From one shore to another.

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How’s the shore? Good, actually. I’m even holding on to the boat. Fully equipped w/ life jacket.

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I would probably keep on coming back to this place. Truly enjoyable.

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This is my summer story for 2016.

This is my travel diary.

Until next trip.

❤,

F.L.

 

 

 

Art In Island

What to…

BRING = Camera and your squad. The more, the more. I mean, the merrier. And don’t forget the spare memory card and battery. 😁

DO = Take pictures.

WEAR = Dress up (we should have dressed up).

 

Destination: ART IN ISLAND

It’s an interactive art museum located at 175 15th Ave., Brgy. Socorro, Cubao, Quezon City, 1109 Metro Manila.

 

When to go…

On your birthday. Free entrance fee! Yay! 😂 Hahahaha. So as we were reading the policies, posters outside the museum, I saw that the entrance fee (Php 500.00 for adults and Php 400.00 for kids) was actually free for those whose birthdays were a day before, the same day, or the day after. And yup, since it was a day after my birthday when we went to the museum, it’s on them. Their friendly staff even greeted me happy birthday.

We really enjoyed taking pictures for hours. Going to Art In Island is like being pulled in a time warp zone. You won’t realize how long you’ve been taking pictures. Well, not until you get to the exit (after a decade hahaha) and see that it’s already nighttime.

 

So how does it work…

  1. Bring your camera. I mean, I don’t know what you’re going to do there if you don’t bring your camera. It’s an art museum, but you will appreciate it more if you see the effects on your phones or cameras.
  2. Be prepared to go barefooted. Wear nice socks and leave the ones with holes at home. Or go barefooted. And yeah, clean your nails. But either way, I bet that everyone there is busy taking pictures to even notice if your socks got holes or you haven’t got a pedicure in ages.
  3. Pay the entrance fee and you’re up for a very fun adventure in a two-storey building.

 

How to take the pictures…

  1. There are instructions. Plus, they also put several examples or poses you could do.
  2. The staff are friendly and they will offer to take pictures for you.
  3. Put on your most dramatic face because you will be eaten by dinosaurs and sea creatures over and over again. Practice your scared look. It would be a great help.
  4. Be creative. Try all sorts of things. Have fun.

 

Some of my favorite shots:

 

Check out our vlog:

 

 

Let’s Get Lost in Zambales

In the most literal sense, our escapade last weekend was indeed a nature trip. We were far from civilization. There were no cellphone signals. No electricity. It was an escape to find more about life. To discover who you are in this vast world, perhaps. To see more of what life has to offer. To watch a falling star–catch it in your hands if you could. To talk with your friends underneath the moonlight. To feel the cool wind of the night on your skin and let the cricket’s lullaby hum you to sleep. To stretch out your hands closer to the fire and warm your body as the temperature went down early morning. All these things and the memory it brings. A trip like no other. Let’s get lost in Zambales. It’s a beautiful place.

 

DESTINATION 1: MOUNT PINATUBO

Going there…
1. From Cubao/Manila, take any bus that will pass by Capas, Tarlac. There are tons of them out there. There’s always a trip every twenty minutes. Get off at Capas Junction (look for McDo and Caltex). (around 3 hours)
2. From Capas Junction, ride a tricycle to Sta. Juliana. Trike’s terminal just across the street from McDonalds. (30 minutes)
3. Coordinate with the tourism office and book a 4×4 ride. In our case, we took a package tour, including lunch, 4×4, guide, and all the fees.

Honestly, the ride from Laguna to Cubao took longer than the one from Cubao to Capas, Tarlac hahaha. Or that was how it felt. We were stuck in traffic for hours. We arrived at Cubao at around past 11 in the evening. We stayed in a budget hotel for a while to get an hour or two of sleep (which I didn’t).

Then at around 3 in the morning, we went to have a quick breakfast. And then around 4, we were on our way to Capas, Tarlac.


What we did right: nothing… haha just kidding. We were so good at running and begging the tourism office/coordinator to please let us climb that day lol.

What we did wrong: Eat breakfast at 3 in the morning in Cubao. We should have gone straight to Tarlac and ate breakfast at the McDo there.

Friendly advice: leave Cubao at around 3 in the morning. Without traffic, you will get to Capas, Tarlac at around 6 or 7. Just enough time for the 30 mins. tricycle ride to Sta. Juliana.

Anyway… it was fun and it turned out to be for the better. Because there was a slight rainfall that day–ulambon, as we call it. The covered 4×4 ride (last one that was available for that day) really came out to be handy.

Yes, our bags were all packed up and ready to go. We were up to climb Mount Pinatubo… without a reservation. LOL. Okay, so here’s the deal. When it’s peak season or a lon