Happy Holidays from Filipina on Flip Flops!

Happy holidays everyone! As a family tradition of sorts, the holidays are a time to spend at home with my parents, brother and relatives, so I rarely go places come December. The picture above is a little bit of an exception though - I took it in Macau in 2007, about a week before Christmas, if I remember correctly.

I would've wanted to post a picture of what Christmas is like in the Philippines (because Christmas here is awesome - we take it very seriously! So seriously it lasts almost the entire last quarter of the year), but this year the holidays have been insanely busy with work and parties and all the things that keep a single, twenty-something girl's life colorful and crazy, so maybe I'll be better prepared next year and will have pictures for you then. For now, cheers, and a very merry Christmas to you all!

Random Travel Tip #02: Yearly Promo Fares and Seat Sales in Asia

Promo fares and seat sales by various airlines in Asia abound in November:

This week alone, I've already booked three trips - all on promo rates - for 2010. I guess that settles it - here's to another year of travel!

(Speaking of which, I am looking for people to travel with to Calaguas Island, Daet, Camarines Norte on Feb. 5-7, 2010. Booked a PhP 1,000.00 flight to Naga on a whim. Contact me if you're looking for a travel buddy! :D)

Snapshots: Sunken Cemetery, Camiguin, Philippines

As a late Halloween post, an on-time All Saints' Day feature and an early All Souls' Day commemoration, this week's photo is one I took of the Sunken Cemetery in the island of Camiguin, Philippines.

The cemetery was buried underwater after a volcanic eruption in the island in 1871. Over a century later, a huge cross was installed to mark the location of the cemetery. You can actually take a boat and reach the platform where the giant cross is built, and from there, if the tide is low, you can look out into the water and make out some of the tombstones that were buried during the eruption - either that, or my eyes were playing tricks on me when we visited.

Random Travel Trip #01: Cebu Pacific Updates on Twitter

It pays to follow Cebu Pacific on Twitter. Otherwise, like my friends and I, you miss out on ALL the promo (aka "Piso Fare") seats.

I haven't been updating, I know, my sincerest apologies! A write-up is coming your way very soon, I promise. :)

Snapshots: White Water Rafting, Cagayan De Oro, Philippines

I know a lot of students will be having their sem breaks this month, so I thought I'd write about two sem break destinations perfect for a barkada. On Saturday, I'll be posting about our trip to Cagayan De Oro, Camiguin and Bukidnon last year. If your group is adventurous and - let's face it, you also have to be a little crazy - this trip is for you!

I've previously made a few posts about Mapawa Nature Park in CDO, but I've yet to share pictures from our white water rafting adventure - until now! White water rafting on the Cagayan De Oro river was definitely a great way to cap off our four-day out-of-office adventure, but I reckon it'll be just as fun for people taking a break from school.

Snapshots: Carlos Celdran, Walk This Way Tours, Manila

I think Carlos Celdran is an ideal portrait of the modern Filipino nationalist - intelligent, witty, unafraid to poke fun at the culture and people he loves and respects, and equally unabashed to air out its dirty laundry, whether from the past or from the present. However, his impartial view of the Philippines does not keep him from expressing his sincere love and concern for his country, and that's probably the best thing about him.

His walking tours around Manila are a hoot - my friend and I went on the one around Fort Bonifacio, San Agustin Church and Casa Manila one Sunday morning, and we had a great time.

I should also mention that Carlos Celdran has been very active in supporting numerous relief efforts for the victims of typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, so let's all sing it together - for he's a jolly good fellow! There should definitely be more Filipinos like him.

Carlos Celdran
Follow him on Twitter
Read his blog

Rain Love On Manila: Help The Philippines Recover From Ondoy / Ketsana

No travel posts for now as my country struggles to rebuild itself after Tropical Storm Ondoy/Ketsana.

On September 26, 2009 Tropical Storm Ondoy hit Manila, capital of the Philippines. To date, it has taken at least 300 lives and have displaced over 400,000 Filipinos.

Relief and rescue operations are ongoing - the fortunate ones whose homes and families were not affected by the typhoon have been manning these operations since the beginning of the week. I helped out last night and it was amazing to see so many people actively and passionately trying to help those in dire need in these times of tragedy.

Photo from rainloveonmanila.blogspot.com

Click here to see a comprehensive list of how and where you can help, wherever you are in the world.

After the Philippines, Ketsana also ravaged Vietnam and Cambodia. The ancient city of Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is currently submerged in floodwater, along with other Vietnamese cities. Hoi An, being located beside a river, is generally prone to floods, and from what I know, it does experience flooding every year. Hopefully this means that they were better prepared for Ketsana.

Snapshots: Boracay

I think I'm more of a traveler than a vacationer; often my trips are hectic and exciting, with itineraries chock-full of destinations, destinations, destinations and numerous activities. I travel to get away, to get excited and to be overwhelmed, with a sense of urgency that makes me want to be able to do everything and anything I could in the short amount of time I spend in a new place. Rarely do I travel to simply slow down, do nothing, chill, and relax.

I guess that all changed when I went to Boracay this year.

My friends and I (the same friends I went to Hong Kong and Macau with) spent four days at the pristine beaches of Boracay, four days in which nothing - and I mean absolutely nothing - went wrong, and almost everything went beyond our expectations! You might call it the perfect trip, resultant from our firm belief that good things happen to good people. It was a most enjoyable and relaxing trip, and I learned that I really ought to take more of those - we're actually already planning another one for next year, and it couldn't come sooner!

Snapshots: Dive N Trek Resort, Batangas

Every summer, my family and I stay for at least a weekend in Dive N Trek, a dive resort in Bauan, Batangas. The shocking truth is none of us are divers - at best, we swim and snorkel. But the brilliant thing about this resort is that all you have to do is jump off the dock and voila - marine life! It's also a great place to rest and relax because it is literally in the middle of the sea and by the edge of a mountain, and can only be accessed by boat.

Here's a picture of some guests arriving at Dive N Trek. I took this picture as we were waiting for our turn to hop on a boat and sail home after a restful summer weekend by the sea - if only every weekend of the year could be spent the same way!

Snapshots: Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

My friends and I are off to the beach for the long weekend for some much-needed R&R! On Saturday we fly to the esteemed beaches of Boracay - certainly not the quietest beach in the Philippines, but I am hoping for some quiet "me" time to reflect and think about life in general, chori burger and margarita in hand. :P

In anticipation of the weekend, here's a picture of a beach in the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. I remember swimming a few meters away from the shore here and being able to feed and snorkel among schools of fish. It's a lot of fun until they start nibbling on your finger instead of the bread you're holding out for them. :)

And this is completely out of topic, but wow, WAY TO GO JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO ON WINNING THE US OPEN MEN'S SINGLES FINAL AGAINST ROGER FEDERER! I loved how, when he was asked if he was going to buy something to treat himself using his US Open prize money, he answered "Maybe cheesecake for my [21st] birthday." Too cute! I'm still a Rafa fan but I have to hand it to this guy, he's got nerves of steel for sure, and so young at only 20 years old! VAMOS DELPO!

Snapshots: Hue, Vietnam

With our Macau-Hong Kong trip over and done with and my Boracay birthday celebration fast approaching - not to mention the handful of other trips I've made over the last two years - I really ought to close the chapter on my Cambodia-Vietnam sojourn from early this year, so I can write about the rest of my travels.

Here's a teaser of my next post, which will be about Hue, Vietnam. On our last day there, right before we flew out to Hanoi, we were herded like sheep on a guided tour of its many temples, which were impressive in their own right, except the "herded tourists" factor (the semi-sleazy guide who kept hitting on us didn't help either) and the expensive admission rates for each of the temples (this took place nearly three quarters into our trip, which meant we were considerably running out of funds) threw us off a bit.

We ditched the tour early - after our third temple I think - but I was at least able to capture some fairly decent photos given the short time we spent at the temples. This is one of my favorites. I liked how the structures of the temples looked with a blue-sky background, so most of my photos from that day captured just that.

Snapshots: Rappeling Down a Waterfall, Mapawa Nature Park (Cagayan De Oro, Philippines)

In keeping with the thread of adventure pictures, here's picture #2 from our Mapawa Nature Park trek, and on this one I'm rappelling down a waterfall. It's not scary at all really, and all five of us got through it quite easily.

Once you get the hang of it, it's also quite fun to leap away from the rock over and over as you go down by the waterfall. There was also the sound of the waterfall crashing down the pool below which added a bit of a thrill. Quite a refreshing descent, I have to say!

Snapshots: Macau Tower, Pre-Bungy

Here's a picture of me standing on the glass floor at the Macau Tower viewing deck, right before I headed up to the AJ Hackett Macau Headquarters, where I threw myself off the edge and into my very first bungy jump - and at 233 meters, it's the highest bungy jump in the world! It was an amazing, exhilarating experience - the most insane seconds of my life, without a doubt! I need to save up and do that again soon!

Full account - and pictures, plus video of the jump - real soon!

Snapshots: Mapawa Nature Park, Cagayan De Oro, Philippines

Here's a picture from a trip I had with friends from work - Ayi, J-anne, Jon and Nill. We met when we were fresh grads trying to get into the Management Training Program of the company where four out of the five of us still work today. We went to Camiguin and Cagayan De Oro with a side trip to Bukidnon on one of the most adventure-filled trips of my life so far.

This picture was taken during the trek we did at Mapawa Nature Park, where we were slid off a waterfall (as the picture depicts), told to jump from a 20-feet cliff into cold, deep water, and made to rappel down a waterfall. The experience was exhilirating, the views were amazing, and the entire trip made for a great bonding experience for five yuppies trying escaping the rat race for at least a long weekend.

Snapshots: Macau (2007)

I'm off to Macau tomorrow! My friends and I are spending the weekend in Macau to watch Zaia and to bungee jump (hopefully!), after which we'll head to Hong Kong - two places that are definitely very tourist-y, but hopefully the bungee jump and the street food will keep the long weekend from becoming just an out-of-the-country shopping trip.

So I took this picture on my first trip to Macau around two years ago. It was one of those small alleys within Senado Square that led to nowhere. I thought it made for a nice picture though.

That's it for me this week, back on Tuesday then! Won't be able to write about my HK-Macau trip just yet but I'll definitely be posting some pictures or something, we'll see. :)

Snapshots: Batangas, Philippines

I've shared a lot of photos from trips to other countries, so to shake things up a bit, here's a picture that was taken closer to home, in Laiya, San Juan, Batangas. Being only a few hours' drive from our house, our family used to always head for the beaches of San Juan, regardless of the season. As you can probably tell from the photo, this was a trip that wasn't exactly a nice summer's day out on the beach.

But I must say that going to the beach on a gloomy and cloudy weekend also has its own charm- to begin with, you most likely have the beach to yourself on days like this, and the sea and the sky provide a different kind of peace.

One of these days, I really ought to drive to Laiya on a whim.

Hoi An, Vietnam

...In all honesty, to get how amazing Hoi An is, you have to be there and experience it for yourself, preferably with friends you love (a significant other will do, too!) who are travelling with you not to be able to get their pictures taken in as many tourist destinations as possible, but who are there to just live for the moment and enjoy it; to spend time strolling leisurely, gelato in hand, admiring the tiny stores and the little trinkets of things that they sold, smiling at strangers from different parts of the world. I hate to sound like a sappy romantic, but what can I say, memories of Hoi An bring that out in me.

April 9-11, 2009

In travel, as in life, I’m not an obsessive-compulsive planner. I don’t need to get all the details of my trip down pat. I’m pretty specific when it comes to my goals, but as to how I would achieve them is a different story. As long as I’m comfortable and have peace of mind, I would be fine to let my fairly minimal plans move along a general direction into my goal – no further planning necessary. I believe that it’s when you allow a little freedom into your life that the best things happen - a Leeway For Providence, one may call it. And when indeed providence takes over is when something magical and amazing happens that can leave you no less than pleasantly surprised.

At the beginning of our trip, our nearly three-day stop at Hoi An, Vietnam was a hazy blip in our itinerary, penciled in because it was part of the open bus tour we availed of from Sinh Café that would take us from Ho Chi Minh City upward to Hanoi at a reasonable price. We had virtually no expectations of the place: assuming the worst and hoping for the best, whatever “best” might possibly be. Thankfully, the Leeway For Providence filled up quite nicely during our stay in Hoi An, which turned out to be a romantic old town that completely took us by surprise.

We left Ho Chi Minh less than 24 hours after we had arrived there from Phnom Penh. Our Vietnam Airlines flight took us to Da Nang airport, where somebody picked us up and drove us for about an hour to Hoi An. The drive to Hoi An was a strange one, as we passed mostly empty lots and an occasional row of small houses and establishments. Da Nang’s wide, well-paved roads that could rival decent enough freeways in other cities were virtually empty too - odd, considering Da Nang is supposedly the fourth largest city in Vietnam. A recurring sight while on the road at Da Nang also consisted of massive, half-dilapidated - or half-finished, depending on how you see it - structures and the billboards that announced them to the world, with promises of progress and wealth from a tourism industry that could’ve been – or that will be, I’m not quite sure . I honestly couldn’t quite tell if Da Nang’s ghost town of a beach community was already past its prime or just getting itself built from the ground up. It all depends on perspective I guess. In any case, the wide empty roads and a driver who did not seem to speak a word of English did not in the least bit help bring clarity to our next destination. It was all getting very strange indeed.

So imagine our surprise when we entered the arches into Hoi An and saw its many small buildings and houses, and its narrow streets that looked like they were old and steeped in history but still alive and actually thriving. After checking into our hotel, Than Binh III (which was also part of the Sinh Café package), we immediately began exploring its winding narrow streets.

Tiff had been in love with the 50’s-style bikes we had been seeing everywhere since we started our trip, and we all finally got the chance to try them out in Hoi An. It seemed a good idea to rent out the bikes to explore Hoi An – seemed, because as it turned out, it wasn’t a very good idea for me. I think I had the most trouble with the bikes – they were so freaking high (or I’m just really short) and I couldn’t figure out how to break and dismount without killing myself! It was all very dramatic and funny at the same time, and just part of the experience of Hoi An.

Siem Reap and its amazing temples made for a profound experience, and the grandness and history behind Angkor Wat and the other ancient structures we visited were overwhelming in their own amazing way. Hoi An, on the other hand, provided a different experience – the simple houses and narrow streets were not grand in anyway, but instead quaint and charming. Walking along them wasn’t an overwhelming experience, but a very relaxed one – our jaws didn’t drop at the stateliness and grandeur of the place, but the romantic simplicity of everything did make us smile.

In truth, there isn’t much to be said about Hoi An, apart from it being a charming ancient city by the river that’s been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with narrow streets lined with old French-inspired houses with oriental flair and tiny boutiques that sold all sorts of quirky things. But that is perhaps the beauty of the place – in all honesty, to get how amazing Hoi An is, you have to be there and experience it for yourself, preferably with friends you love (a significant other will do, too!) who are travelling with you not to be able to get their pictures taken in as many tourist destinations as possible, but who are there to just live for the moment and enjoy it; to spend time strolling leisurely, gelato in hand, admiring the tiny stores and the little trinkets of things that they sold, smiling at strangers from different parts of the world. I hate to sound like a sappy romantic, but what can I say, memories of Hoi An bring that out in me.

My best memory of Hoi An is probably sitting at one of the tables on a balcony overlooking the river in the late afternoon, the sky in that faded, light orange color that I adore so much, just talking to Jen and Tiff over coffee and some amazing dessert, thinking and talking about life – past, present, future, taking a few pictures here and there, and just…being. Being relaxed, being happy. Again, I hate to sound like a sap, but it’s so hard to not be happy in Hoi An. I don’t know if my pictures do justice to the place, but here’s to trying:

Tam Tam Cafe, where we had lunch. They had really good spring rolls!

My favorite picture from Hoi An!

Our second day in Hoi An was spent on a quick tour of the My Son relics, temples that apparently pre-dated those in Cambodia, but were bombed heavily by the Americans during the Vietnam war. Also included in the tour was a visit to an island whose residents made a living by making beautiful wooden carvings. It was a fairly enjoyable tour (with some amazingly funny moments owing to the fact that Filipina girls can easily be mistaken as Vietnamese) but to be honest, throughout the entire tour we couldn’t wait to go strolling along the narrow streets of Hoi An again, which is exactly what we did, up until the evening, when we had an amazing dinner at a great restaurant called Cargo Club, again on the balcony overlooking the river.

It takes a very secure man to carry around a pink purse!

Of course, as we are girls, there was a lot of shopping – and we bought all these random things! Jen got a beautiful jade ring from a gorgeous young Vietnamese lady and her expat husband. I bought a beautiful tapestry in anticipation of me moving into my new place within the year. Tiff bought what seemed like an entire winter wardrobe – and who could blame her? The clothes she bought were tailor-fit and cost so much less than the clothes she would’ve bought in Australia. We also bought Vietnamese paintings, tea sets, and custom-made footwear – sandals for Jen, fancy pumps for Tiff, and boots for me, in anticipation of my Hong Kong trip for later in the year (and because I’ve always fancied owning a nice pair of boots).

Our stay in Hoi An ended too soon, but we were on a tight schedule as we moved north to Hanoi and couldn’t make any extensions. If it was any consolation, our trip from Hoi An to our next destination, Hue, was on a sleeping bus that had beds instead of seats! So very Knight Bus in Harry Potter.

In saying goodbye to Hoi An, we were halfway through our Vietnam-Cambodia trip, and we were also set to explore our third stop in Vietnam, the city of Hue.

Snapshots: Puerto Galera, Philippines (2007)

I took this photo on my first solitary trip to Talipanan Beach, Puerto Galera. I needed to walk from Talipanan to White Beach in order to catch a boat home and chanced upon this girl who I assumed lived in the village along the road. I thought her billowing dress and her dainty walk made her a great subject for a photo.
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