The Gift of Myanmar

A short trip in Myanmar (Burma) led me to explore different scenery. From the colonial city of  Yangon, to the fascinating temples of Bagan, the pine-tree covered mountains of Kalaw, the rolling hills of Pindaya , the beauty of Inle Lake, and more places in and outside of Mandalay. This country has a lot to offer, but the best thing it offers is the genuine character of its people. They smile and try to help whenever and however they can.

These kids at a temple followed me around and then one of them went to a mango tree and picked one fruit from a short branch. He then ran after me and insisted on giving me this mango. This is how I experienced Burma; simple, but everything comes from the heart.

Kids at the Temple

More stories to come about this trip soon. :)

Snorkeling Around Koh Tao and Koh Nangyuan

“I guess we are going to swim with turtles or sharks, whichever come close or show up!”

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 My internal dialogue started right when we stepped on to the ferry boat that will take us snorkeling around Koh Tao. Marianka and I were in a big ferry with many other foreign tourists who don’t have the time or courage to actually try scuba diving yet. After our initial registration process, we were given our snorkeling gear and off we started.  Along the shore line are many rock formations that looked like people looking out to the sea. It was a pleasant ride to our first snorkeling stop.

Stone formations along the shore line

Foreign tourists flock to this island on the western shore of the Gulf of Thailand because it is the most popular place to learn scuba diving. It has one of the cheapest rates around and has beautiful underwater views. Koh Tao translates to “Turtle Island” because of its turtle-like shape and is also an important breeding ground for Hawksbill and Green turtles.

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Shark Bay

Our first stop was Shark Bay. As exciting/scary as the name sounds, we had to be reassured that the only sharks to be found were black tip reef sharks, known for their timid nature. It is one of the most popular snorkeling spots on the island. The weather did not cooperate with us during this time because the water was rough and murky. Nobody was able to spot a shark which was actually a relief for me; although I’m sure others were quite disappointed.

On the way to Koh Nangyuan, the boat faced an onslaught of big waves. Then, one pair of my flip flop fell into the water! I wanted to ask the boat to stop but I couldn’t really find the courage to even tell that to the captain.

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Arriving on the island was the highlight of that tour for me. Koh Nangyuan was really pretty and astounding! Three islands connected by a sand bridge and all sides are great for snorkeling. It was like paradise. Since it is also really small, the only way to go around is by walking.

The walk to the view point was not that difficult because they paved the way but it was rather hot. There was a wooden bridge that led to the entrance of the path which made the walk exciting and easier for us. The climb was easy and we were rewarded with a great view of all three islands at the top. It was the postcard perfect spot to take a picture.

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Snorkeling at one of the bays was perfect too. The shallow and calm water provided a refuge for the many fishes and corals to survive. This gave us a clear view of the wonderful gems that are underwater. I did not have an underwater camera to show them, but seeing them with my eyes was enough. I may not have seen sea turtles or encountered any shark, but what I have seen already made me want to go back to Koh Nangyuan again.

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Before boarding the ferry back to the mainland with Marianka, Katie and Carla

 

A Glimpse of Bohol After the Earthquake

Home is indeed where the heart is.

I was out of the country when a tragedy struck my hometown Bohol in the Philippines. It was at the airport when a friend called me about a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that ruined many buildings, churches, homes and left loved ones with less family members. I immediately called my mom and was thankfully able to connect to her. Her voice was shaky and she was talking about my brother not being home. After a minute, her voice turned panicky because another aftershock is happening. I could hear her running and saying that they have to go out to an open space. That was about 30 minutes after the big one struck. I could hear people around her talking nervously about what they need to do. Then another shock came, and they were shouting and running again. It took about an hour to convince myself to put the phone down and that they’re going to be fine. At that time, the aftershock was almost every other minute. It was a blur of news and messages days and weeks after that.

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However, that was 2 months ago.

Flying from Manila to Bohol, the view from the plane was beautiful and familiar. Those small mounds of rolling hills dotted with some brown areas where the land sunk in, the long white sand beach, small roads lined with coconut trees, and the small airport that always makes me nervous whenever the plane is landing. As the plane skidded to a stop, I breathed a sigh of relief. I am home at last.

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When I got to my parents’ house, I immediately saw cracks on the walls. However, those cracks did not really bother me. I was more bothered about how my family is doing. It was not the visible effects that I was concerned with; it was the emotional toll of the tragedy to my family that I wanted to know. The day after, I experienced an aftershock that lasted seconds. I was not scared but I was disturbed nonetheless. The aftershock made me realize how traumatic the experience was for my family and friends. A small aftershock can still rock a bed; I couldn’t imagine how the actual earthquake felt.

So then, I started asking questions. Expecting to hear sad anecdotes and heart-breaking stories, I tried to ask politely. However, the surprise was on me. When I asked people to recall their experiences, what I get are mostly funny anecdotes of how they ran for safety, or what they did. A cousin was talking about them running together to one place so that they can laugh and chat together. It is one of the characters of Filipinos to look at the brighter side of what happened. I have seen that before and was seeing it again.

Passing by some places that were heavily affected, I saw posters and signs saying thanks to those who helped them. Beside ran down houses and cracked walls and roofs, I saw children running and playing. The make shifts tents are the only proof that something really happened there. I saw old churches ruined, but people were having mass outside. I remember the priest saying that it is not the building that makes the church; it is the people who are the church. As long as there are people, a church is there. That is how a small island with mostly catholic people adapts to a tragedy. People help each other and laugh about it after.

It was a short but poignant visit that reminded me how time flies so fast. I met many people who I do not remember anymore because of how fast they have grown up. As I look around our house and at the neighborhood, I can still see the younger me; playing under that big mango tree, running around with my siblings and cooking imaginary food made out of flowers and leaves. Many things happened there, but I can still breathe that nostalgic smell of my room and be struck at how everything looked smaller. That is how home should always be like.

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As my Cebu Pacific flight to Manila lifted up, I looked down to the small island that I have grown up. It is an island that taught me all about family. The people molded me into someone who can take adventures to other foreign countries but still maintain that Filipino character and spirit within. It is a beautiful island with wonderful people, and I know that I will always bring a part of that island with me wherever I go.

Fun Time at Genting Highlands – Malaysia

(A continuation of  the post by my sister Holly about our trip in Malaysia)

“Are you ready to have fun?”

This greeted me when I woke up on our 2nd day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Always up for something fun, I hurriedly dressed up.

Now, if you’re looking for a post that will conscientiously guide you around the 12,000 acres Genting Highlands, then my friend this article is not that. I, however, will try to share how a then twenty-four year old child at heart, the same person who got lost around Kuala Lumpur Sentral, loves this colourful place. Let’s start with my confusion of pronouncing Genting.

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“ghe-n-ting”, I mumbled to myself with a hard “G”. “Or ghe-n-ting”, with the hard “J”. I looked around and no, google cannot save me this time. So I decided not to speak of its name. (I soon discovered the former was correct.)

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Known as the “Fun City Above the Clouds”, my eardrums popped literally with pressure change as we rode a van from KL Sentral and rose approximately 5,700 feet above within the Titiwangsa Mountains in Malaysia. Good country views as you near the mountains and upon going up, I saw the cable cars to and fro; knowing we will be riding one of those cars on our way back, I was excited to go home. But of course, I soon forgot about them as we enter the hill resort.

My eyes probably widened a little bit more than its normally wide size when the castle-like building, the sounds of laughter and thrill from an outdoor roller coaster ride and the colours of more huge structures filled my senses. Truly, the senses must feast while there is hunger. And I was famished.

“Wow, it’s a park!” I proclaimed ecstatically, its veracity undeniable as I had my picture taken beside the sign that reads “Hotel Theme Park”. This ladies and gentlemen is the place to be. Have you ever looked at a rainbow and thought how it must magically feel to be up there? The attractively colored buildings, the rides and displays give you a glimpse of it.

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To get the facts straight, The Genting Highlands is not just a theme park. It includes the only legal land-based casino, the Casino de Genting; five hotels, including the eye-catching First World hotel which held the Guinness World of Records as the largest hotel in the world from 2006 until 2008, with a total of 6,118 rooms; Dining offers with different cuisines; nightlife; and performance venues that could hold events and concerts of international and local stars; The Genting indoor and outdoor theme parks, and the Genting Skyway. Whew! Children, gamblers, businessmen, stars, foodies, families and lonely people unite in a place where fun is spelled in capital letters in a spring like climate (sometimes reaching to 10 degrees Celsius) you can actually see the fog or clouds, whichever you prefer. It’s like a day is not enough to fill your appetite for fun.

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Getting inside the Resorts World Genting is even entertaining as it features huge replicas of famous world structures like Eiffel tower, London’s Big Ben, the Venetian Cruise, Vietnam’s houses, Ripley’s Believe or not (which I did not believe at first that it actually is Ripley’s) and of course famous structures like the Statue of Liberty standing with all its glory while the other rides a motorbike (that would be how Mother Liberty got her independence) ; Optimus Prime my favourite autobot, and an Oscar statue. Need I say more? Other rides and attractions are located in First World Indoor Theme Park, SnowWorld, Sky Venture, Genting Bowl, Vision City and Fantasy World Video Games Park. Sounds delightful huh? We chose to avail the unlimited outdoor fun rides, the Flying Coaster and Spinner were my personal favourites (even though I walked barefoot around after the Spinner ride to find my shoes because it didn’t stop exactly at my pre-ride spot!) but the Corkscrew drive was so cool I felt like a formula one racer constantly stepping on brakes. Haha! My freaking godliness it was one of the best days of my life (cue music: Best day of my life). A bonus visit to the Beryl’s chocolate house made me drool that I understood how Hansel and Gretel felt seeing the witch’s lair. I literally want to chunk the place and eat.

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They say that Genting Highlands is the wholesome version of sin city Las Vegas, although, sinner or saint, this place suits anybody well.

Some information:

Go Genting Express Bus leave from the Puduraya bus terminal and KL Sentral train station almost every 30 minutes. The first bus starts at 7 or 8 am. The ride takes about an hour and cost around RM 5 one way. The buses stop at the bus terminal beside the Skyway cable car and then it’s another 16-minute ride up to the summit of Genting.

There are cheaper options of buying a combined bus and cable car ticket for less than RM 10. Another option which we took was the Go Genting Golden Package which was valid for one day only and costs RM 47. It is available at the Genting ticket office on the second level of KL Sentral. It includes return bus journey, return cable car ride and buffet lunch at the Coffee Terrace or Outdoor Theme Park day pass.

Relaxing Railay

Railay is often thought of as an island by some people who don’t really understand why you have to take a boat just to get there. It is a small peninsula located between the city of Krabi and Ao Nang in Thailand and the high limestone cliffs cut off the place from mainland access. Rock climbers from all over the world are attracted by these cliffs too. With four main beaches that cater to different kinds of tourists, it is indeed a place to relax and enjoy.

Railay East

There are many points of access to Railay. Boats from Krabi town and Ao Nang ship passengers to and from it. There are many island hopping trips that also stop by Railay, that’s why it is busy during the day. Boats from Krabi town costs 150 Baht for a one way ticket and they stop running at 5pm.

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Railay West Beach

Upon arrival, I met up with Lorraine, Kirstin and Willow at the beach. They were already enjoying the sun and sand.  They were at Railay West – a white sand beach with shallow water. It is ideal for watching the rock climbers and just for relaxing. The bay stretches long and has massive limestone cliffs on both sides. We sat talking for a while and then went to Phra Nang bay.

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Phra Nang bay late in the afternoon

Phra Nang Bay is on the southern tip of the peninsula. It is crowded and busy most of the day because of long-tail boats with tourists that stop over for one of the island hopping tours. It is a lovely beach with dramatic scenery. There are some boats that sell food and drinks that can provide nourishment for those sun-kissed bathers. I personally liked this area most because of the great sunset view. It is also great for swimming!

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Sunset at Phra Nang Bay

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Perfect sight to end the day

The night life at Railay is chilled. There are a few restaurants that cater to mid-range tourists and if you’re into fine dining, there are places to go too. It is one of my favorite places to escape to in Thailand.

 

New Delhi Travel Experience

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Arrival

The main aviation hub of New Delhi is the Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL). All international flights arrive here and it’s a big and modern airport. It is about 16 km away from New Delhi city centre and is the busiest airport in India. At the airport, there are many available taxis that can take you to your destination. There’s an official ticketing booth outside of the arrival area. Passengers can go there and give their destination and they’ll issue a ticket for your taxi. This is considerably safer than talking to the many touts that would greet you. However, the best way to get to your hotel would be to book in advance for an airport pick-up directly from your hotel. The price is fixed and you will have the peace of mind especially if it’s your first time in the country. Based on our unfortunate experience, we just took a taxi from the official booth. However, we noticed that the driver sneakily took us around a place that was actually just a big park; we had to pay for those extra kilometers when we got to our hostel.

Where We Stayed

Delhi is the capital city of India. It is said to be one of the oldest existing cities in the world, along with Jerusalem and Varanasi (another state in India). We decided to stay at a backpackers’ place in Paharganj. Paharganj is an area in Central Delhi and very popular among travelers. This area is packed with people, dusty and really not on the cleaner side of Delhi. However, the main advantage of staying around this place is that it is really close to the New Delhi Railway Station. This station connects with the Delhi Metro and is the main station to get train tickets for any destination around the country. There are so many affordable places to stay there, try checking out TripAdvisor for some places with good reviews. If you’re really on a tight budget, try Hotel Payal. It is a cheap but reliable option with basic rooms and hot water. Expect to pay around 600 rupees per night. The owners are helpful and friendly too.

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View from the rooftop of our hostel in Paharganj

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Around Paharganj

Booking Train Tickets

Trains are the fastest and cheapest way to get around India. All trains are operated by the government run-Indian railways. It is the third largest rail network in the world that ferries about 20 million people every day. There is an online booking system but we couldn’t do it because they asked for Indian credit card and information. We went to the New Delhi Railway Station and arranged our train travels around the country. The International Tourist Office is located on the second floor of the building. It is open for foreign nationals and non-resident Indians everyday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. Please note that most first class or air-conditioned sleeper or seats are fully booked because of advanced online bookings. The only available for us were the non-air conditioned sleeper class and seats.

Here’s the story of my first time taking the overnight train.

Things I learned:

  • Tickets can be booked at the train station the day before your departure.
  • There’s a separate booth for foreign nationals so there’s no need to queue with the locals
  • For shorter travels to popular destinations, taking the bus is also a great option
  • Don’t believe travel agencies when they say that the trains are fully booked, unless you go to the train station by yourself because foreign nationals can get that reserved seat which isn’t available to local travel agencies.
  • Sleeper class fan berths are uncomfortable but they’re good enough for an overnight travel. Try to book the upper berths for safety.
  • Some reliable trains we took are Rajdhani Express, Poorva Express, Kalka Mail, Chambal/Shipra Express

Navigating Around Delhi and Where We Went

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Traffic is large and horribly congested around Delhi. The smog was also suffocating especially when riding an open air vehicle. Navigating around was an adventure for us. To get to the tourist places from Paharganj, we decided to use an auto rickshaw because they’re everywhere around the city and most of them are at Old Delhi district. They’re yellow and green and they’re much cheaper than taxis. The rickshaws have meters so make sure that you ask the driver to punch it when you take a ride. However, most drivers will quote ten times the going price to a tourist. It is best to agree if you want to use a meter, or just hire him to take you to the places you want to go and then have him quote a price. Shorter journeys cost Rs 30 – 40 but Rs 150 is the maximum we paid for any trip within the city.

We only had a day to stay in Delhi, so we were not able to go to so many places. We took an auto rickshaw to Qutub Minar Complex. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a minaret that was the tallest”skyscraper” in the world when built in 1193-1368 and is the tallest minaret in India today. Entrance is Rs 25 for locals and Rs 250 for foreign nationals.

My ticket for Qutub Minar!

My ticket for Qutub Minar!

It is made of red sandstone and marble and surrounded by several other ancient structures and ruins. The complex is fascinating and popular among Indians. The intricate designs and calligraphy are really beautiful. I think this place should be on the list of places to visit when in Delhi.

To sum up, we did not really get to see much of what Delhi has to offer. With the smog and limited time, we decided to leave the city to go to Jodhpur by train.

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Qutub Minar Complex

Here’s a post of our visit in Qutub Minar.

Sun and Fun at Kuta – Bali

A trip to Bali ended with us staying at Kuta for our last night. This is the best known beach destination in Bali. However, like Phuket or Pattaya in Thailand, this place has become too touristy for me.

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With narrow lanes filled with cheap cafes, surf shops, boutiques and souvenir stores, Kuta is unmistakably catered for tourists. It is loud, brash and with the exceptions of some religious offerings on the side streets, it would be right at home at many western cities. While the place is not for everyone, it is the right place for party goers and night owls. It has big night clubs that cater to just about any kind of scene you are into. A popular club occupies a whole 3-story building with different kinds of activities on each level, you wouldn’t feel the need to go somewhere else.

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The Bomb Memorial

Walking around Kuta early in the morning is not that bad. The big malls aren’t filled with people and the beach was still clean and spacious. As usual, there were many touts offering surfing lessons and beach umbrellas for a fee. We did not stay for long but was contented with exploring more of the surrounding area.

We visited the bomb memorial, walked to Discovery mall and bought some souvenirs. If I sum up my opinion about Kuta, it would be just a place to stop over for a night or two. Explore the many night clubs if that’s your thing, go shopping and have some great food but don’t be trapped there. Go to Lombok for pristine beaches, to Ubud for the cultural experience and Gili Islands for some sun, sand and party. For me, the trip was more memorable and fun because of the people who I was with. With different personalities that really blended well, that was what made my Bali trip really fun.  Selamat bersenang-senang!

A Year of Happy Blogging!

Happy Anniversary To Me!

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I just got a notification from WordPress that it has been a year since I started blogging and being in this wonderful community. I can still remember my first post about starting something new. The main purpose for me at that time was to see if I can commit myself to doing something that I really thought of doing years ago. I am happy to say that I am still here, writing whatever I can think of and posting photographs that I have taken. I have learned so many things from my fellow bloggers and have improved my skills through learning from other bloggers that are generous enough with their time and skills to share them with me.

So, for this, I want to say a big THANK YOU to all my wonderful followers here, and in Twitter and Facebook, for inspiring me so much. It is not the numbers on my stats or the number of likes on my posts that keeps me going. It is your wonderful words and comments that make me realize that I do want to belong and share this community.

I have been to more places and have met more people the past year. The experiences made me thankful for the good and not so good things that happened. For this second year of blogging, I hope to inspire and be inspired by more people. I hope to improve my skills and experience more wonderful moments in life.

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Here’s me saying, thanks everyone!

Amazing Sunset at Tanah Lot Temple, Bali

In Balinese, Tanah Lot means ” Land in the Sea”.  This temple sits on the top of rock formation that was form by the ocean’s tide. It is a very popular temple located around 20 kilometers away from Denpasar, Bali and is one of the seven sea temples around Bali’s coast. Locals believe that poisonous sea snakes guard the temple from evil spirits and intruders.

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Tanah Lot was our last stop and we really saved it for last. It was our last night in Bali, and so we decided to view the sunset of Bali’s most popular temple. It did not disappoint, it was a wonderful end of our trip in Bali.

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