Snapshots: Bantayan Island, Philippines






If you've been around this site, most likely, you would've already seen this picture. It was taken in the summer of 2007, the summer I graduated from college. I was on a graduation trip with classmates, and instead of going to the student-laden shores of Boracay, we opted for the more peaceful Bantayan Island in Cebu. It was a great trip, and you can read all about it here and here, my very first posts on this travel blog.

Snapshots: Hoi An, Vietnam






The ancient town of Hoi An, Vietnam was a very pleasant surprise from our Vietnam-Cambodia trip. To get there, we took a flight from Ho Chi Minh and arrived at Danang, where it took us about an hour to get to Hoi An by car. The three of us had very fond memories of Hoi An, from the 50's-inspired bikes we rode along its small streets to its amazing cafes and hole-in-the-wall shops that sold anything and everything. I will write a more detailed post about Hoi An soon, you can be sure of it!

Siem Reap, Cambodia (Day 2)







Being on top of Pre Rup with its spectacular view of the horizon begged for a moment of contemplation, and so the three of us wandered the top level of the temple separately, perhaps looking back and slowly starting to digest what we had seen and experienced in the past two days. I felt an immense sense of gratitude on my part – to have witnessed that much history, to have seen and touched and stood upon something that had been there for centuries, which someone in another time – another world, even – also witnessed and saw, touched and stood upon…well, I felt pretty damn lucky. This will sound strange, weird, cheesy or incredibly nerdy, depending on who’s reading it, but to be honest, being there, on top of an amazing centuries-old structure by an ancient civilization, I couldn’t help but feel a connection to an era that had long gone and that was not my own, and I really, truly felt the immensity and expanse of time.


April 6, 2009

One summer night on the year I graduated from college, on a beach miles away from home, I slept on the sand under the stars, Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” on my iPod, next to friends who were, as I was, leaving school behind in order to marshal in the rest of our lives.

A year later, still miles away from home, I sat atop a cliff under the scorching afternoon sun, helmet and gloves on, waiting for my turn to rappel down a waterfall, on a trip with newfound friends, a band of yuppies looking for an adventure and an escape (albeit temporarily) from office cubicles.

Only a few months back, still far away from home (as I always seem to be), I swam through a hole beneath a massive limestone precipice and found myself in a deep aquamarine lake enclosed by towering cliffs, as I floated effortlessly in its still, buoyant waters.

There are memories on a trip that just can’t be captured in pictures or on film. Such moments don’t just include a picturesque landscape, a daredevil activity or a funny tourist pose. Instead, they’re often a simple, otherwise commonplace moment on the trip, but for one reason or another, bring about a bevy of emotion – for me it is often the “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else” feeling, a feeling of genuine fulfillment born from a freedom from the worries and pressures of a life temporarily left behind at home for the discovery of a place unknown.

On our third day in Cambodia, we were up and about bright and early yet again, ready for another day of exploring centuries-old temples. We rode on Mr. Ou Houk’s tuktuk along Angkor Wat’s massive moat, its still waters reflecting the many trees that surrounded it. Eventually we turned into a road densely lined with trees on either side, which allowed streaks of the early morning sunshine to pass through them. There was a beautiful and subtle orange tint to our surroundings; the weather was cool and the sunlight warm on our skin. The sound of the tuktuk, much like that of a tricycle’s, would’ve been annoying except it wasn’t – perhaps it was the quiet calm of the surroundings that drowned the tuktuk noise away. Or maybe it was my iPod. Yes, I was listening to Snow Patrol that morning.

We passed by a centuries-old man-made lake, and through rice fields dotted with small houses. I’m very familiar with what provincial life is like in the Philippines, having grown up in the province, but Cambodia’s countryside was different – it was a lot more peaceful and quiet, a lot more backward, for lack of a better term, but not in a bad way. Cambodia’s countryside just felt more isolated from the developments and technologies of the modern world, which made it even more beautiful. As we rode on our tuktuk, exposed to the elements and with a constant breeze against our faces, it was evident that in this spot in the world, even the air seemed purer, and we relished every lungful we breathed in which we knew was free of smog and pollution.

And that, is my favorite un-captured memory of our Cambodia-Vietnam trip.

Our first temple of the day was Banteay Srey with its beautiful and delicate carvings. And since I’ve rambled on long enough at the beginning of this post, I’ll let the pictures do the talking for this one:





After Banteay Srey, we stopped roadside to check out some stores that sold a gamut of local items – from sugar candies to woven baskets and what we fondly called “sumo” pants. It was also a chance to get to know the locals.





On this second day of our exploration of the Angkor temples, we spent quite a lot of time on the road from one temple to another, riding on Mr. Ou Houk’s tuktuk across the Cambodian countryside. We therefore spent the time getting to know Sokha, our tour guide. Although seemingly reserved and very serious at first, we found that Sokha was actually very open and generous when it came to sharing his life stories. We got a first-hand account of Cambodia’s recent brutal history, a recent past that still scarred Cambodia’s present, at least from the brief conversations we had with various locals, Sokha included.

We brushed on politics, and Sokha, who formerly served for the Cambodian army, enlightened us with his thoughts on the matter – while there was much that could still be done to improve his country’s government (which ranks as one of the most corrupt in the world, apparently), there is finally peace in Cambodia and for now, perhaps that is enough.


As with most conversations led by three girls, our questions eventually turned to Sokha’s love life, and I felt he had a simple but noteworthy take on the matter: don’t go marrying anyone for the wrong reasons, even if tradition would dictate that you belonged together. Marriage doesn’t always have to be the immediate answer to happiness – as long as you’re content, with a stable job and land to live on, you can live your life unhurriedly and wait for the right person to come your way.

Our second temple of the day is not a popular one but a personal favorite. Banteay Samre was perhaps the most hidden among all the temples we visited on our two-day trip, its location off the standard tourist route in the archaeological park. It had a grand ancient walkway that today leads to the forest, but in the past was perhaps the main route from the city to the temple.




The inside of the temple looked quite like an English courtyard, with its grassy lawn and the solitary tree that grew by the inner temple. We spent quite a while just sitting by the pillars that lined its inner walls, enjoying the serenity of the place, as unlike the previous temples we had visited, we virtually had Banteay Samre all to ourselves.

Above Photo by Tiff Orbien




Within the inner temple, Banteay Samre was even more beautiful, as it was covered in intricate carvings much like the grand temples of Bayon and Angkor Wat, but in a much grounded, much smaller scale that perhaps gave it a more intimate, more soulful feel. Upon leaving Banteay Samre, Tiff, Jen and I agreed that it was probably the most special of the temples we visited, and therefore called it our “happy place” (cheesy, I know, but it made sense at the time!).




After Banteay Samre, we had lunch at a restaurant in front of the man-made lake we passed earlier in the day. It wasn’t long before we headed out for our last temple – and boy, was it a grand one!

Above Photo by Tiff Orbien

Pre Rup is a massive temple mountain that predates Angkor Wat. Unlike Angkor Wat or Banteay Samre that slowly unravels itself to a traveler, Pre Rup is located on a street corner (albeit a street corner in the middle of the forest) and comes into view quite quickly, and because it’s so massive, it’s hard not to notice it. It’s so huge that on its top steps, the view across the Siem Reap forest is a spectacular one.


One cool thing I noticed about the temples within the Angkor Archaeological Park is that they’re so accessible to its guests. Except for Ta Prohm which had some areas cordoned off, we were free to wander anywhere within – and on top – of the Angkor temples. This meant that anyone could climb up the steep and narrow steps leading to the dizzying heights of Pre Rup, which offered a rather nerve-wracking climb that was rewarded by an amazing view of the forest of Siem Reap.


Being on top of Pre Rup with its spectacular view of the horizon begged for a moment of contemplation, and so the three of us wandered the top level of the temple separately, perhaps looking back and slowly starting to digest what we had seen and experienced in the past two days. I felt an immense sense of gratitude on my part – to have witnessed that much history, to have seen and touched and stood upon something that had been there for centuries, which someone in another time – another world, even – also witnessed and saw, touched and stood upon…well, I felt pretty damn lucky. This will sound strange, weird, cheesy or incredibly nerdy, depending on who’s reading it, but to be honest, being there, on top of an amazing centuries-old structure by an ancient civilization, I couldn’t help but feel a connection to an era that had long gone and that was not my own, and I really, truly felt the immensity and expanse of time. The first time I ever rode a plane, I looked out and saw a wide expanse of land and sea, and I couldn’t help but feel incredibly small. On top of Pre Rup in the forest of Siem Reap, I had a similar feeling, only it made me realize that I wasn’t just a speck in the world we live in now, but that I was also even more of a speck in the history of time.



But as profound moments are always fleeting, we had to descend from the enlightening heights of Pre Rup and were brought back to the real world as soon as we left the Angkor Archaeological Park. In the city proper of Siem Reap, we window-shopped for souvenirs and bought processed food at a huge convenience store. We then checked out a shop that sold accessories made out of crocodile skin – and let me tell you, bags with crocodile eyes on them are not a pretty sight. Tiff headed to the post office because she was contemplating buying a 50’s inspired bike to send home, while Jen and I wandered into the central market and bought random souvenirs. That’s the thing about travelling these days – even if you say you’re not a tourist, and that you’re a genuine, hardcore traveler, it’s hard not to give in to the temptation of retail therapy, or a nice clean bathroom, and the many other modern-world things that continue to spoil city folk like us. Yet you’ll always have memories of your profound, un-captured and enlightening moments, and that perhaps is good enough.

Dreaming of traveling to Cambodia? It's easy enough to get flights, accommodations, guided tours, and even a Cambodia visa online. So get started with the planning now! 

Snapshots: A Biweekly Photo Journal








It takes me a while to post entries about my travels, mostly because it takes me a long time to write, and to compound the issue, I don't always have the opportunity to just sit down and flesh out my journeys into words (you might then ask, "Why the heck do you still write a blog, then?" The answer, my friend, is simple - writing and traveling are my passions, and this blog affords me the luxury to put them together. So I might not have all the time in the world for them now, but someday I will, and until that happens, I make do with what I have...but I digress).

What I have a lot of, however, are pictures from my trips - heaps and heaps of them tucked away in folder upon folder within my trusty hard drive, gathering dust, or shall I say megabytes? So starting next week, I'll share two random travel photos with you every week for as long as I have pictures to post!

The picture above was taken in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia last year. I went on a three-day trip that cost my friends and I only PhP 13,000 each for everything - airfare, accommodations, food, shopping, and various activities. But more on that next time, and more pictures soon! For now, I leave you with this picture of my friend Carmeli's funky heart-shaped sunglasses - incidentally, it's her birthday today! Happy birthday Carmz, I miss you! And to everyone else, 'till the the next snapshot!

Siem Reap, Cambodia (Day 1)







There it was, the temple complex of Angkor Wat, its “beehive” towers standing ever so proudly yet solemnly in the middle of the forest of Siem Reap, as it has done so for centuries. Other than how immense it was, I was taken by its location, hidden deep in the woods, forgotten and untouched, its existence unknown to the outside world for years and years. I wondered what it must’ve felt like for the French explorer who re-discovered Angkor in the 1800s, to have found all that grandeur and to have undoubtedly been flabbergasted by the staggering thought that a place as massive and as beautiful as that could’ve been forgotten almost entirely by civilization. And while Angkor Wat and the rest of Cambodia’s temples are now renowned all over the world and are visited by crowds of tourists each year, on that quiet, wet and gloomy Sunday morning, standing on the bridge towards its entrance, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly fortunate to have been part of, and to have seen for myself, the “hidden” magnificence that is Angkor Wat.


April 5, 2009

We woke up bright and early on the second day of our trip to find that the weather did not match our buoyant spirits. It was still dark outside at a few minutes past five, and all we could hear was the gentle pitter-patter of the rain – not very good weather conditions for watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat. The thing about travelling is, on a trip that you’ve planned for and researched for hours and saved money and vacation leaves for, when something totally out of control like bad weather happens, you can’t be too frustrated, because it’s not going to do you any good. The best you can do is to keep your spirits up and hope that everything turns out right, which is thankfully what happened on the second day of our trip.

At the lobby of The Villa Siem Reap, we were greeted by the two locals who would join us for our two-day exploration of the Angkor temples: Mr. Ou Houk our tuktuk driver, a nice, middle-aged man who always (and I mean always!) had a smile on his face, and Mr. Sokha our tour guide, who seemed more reserved and serious than the former but just as friendly, and as we would find out in the two days we would spend with him , a very wise, happy and contented man. (As you read through this you will find that my friends and I were very happy with the tour they organized for us and highly recommend them should you decide to go to Siem Reap – head on over to the Vietnam-Cambodia Complete Trip Information post for their details and contact numbers).

We hopped on Mr. Ou Houk’s tuktuk and in the 5 am darkness of Siem Reap braved the unlit roads and the downpour to head for the Angkor Archaeological Park.

We paid USD 40 each for a three-day pass to the temples of Angkor and were required to have our pictures taken for our tickets. If you’re a victim of horrendous ID photos like me (oh, the horror of my passport photo!), I feel obliged to tell you that you really shouldn’t have your picture taken on a bleary and very early Saturday morning (especially when you’ve had little sleep the night before) unless required by law, which was sadly the case on that day. Anyhow, our passes would allow us entry to all of the temples within the archaeological park, and we used them immediately, heading to Angkor Wat first to catch the sunrise.

Off we went on Mr. Ou Houk’s tuktuk, passing through roads thickly lined on both sides with slender trees that grew ever-so-closely alongside each other. Maybe it was the early morning rain, the abundance of foliage and the lack of urban pollution, but as we ventured away from the city proper and into the forest that housed Angkor’s temples, the air began to have a distinct, indescribable aroma, perhaps the scent of…nature? For a few minutes there was nothing to see but the trees that densely lined the road, until the trees and the road opened up to reveal Angkor Wat’s immense moat. After a while, we found ourselves right at the entrance into Angkor Wat.

Above Photo by Tiff Orbien

Above Photo by Tiff Orbien

There it was, the temple complex of Angkor Wat, its “beehive” towers standing ever so proudly yet solemnly in the middle of the forest of Siem Reap, as it has done so for centuries. Other than how immense it was, I was taken by its location, hidden deep in the woods, forgotten and untouched, its existence unknown to the outside world for years and years. I wondered what it must’ve felt like for the French explorer who re-discovered Angkor in the 1800s, to have found all that grandeur and to have undoubtedly been flabbergasted by the staggering thought that a place as massive and as beautiful as that could’ve been forgotten almost entirely by civilization. And while Angkor Wat and the rest of Cambodia’s temples are now renowned all over the world and are visited by crowds of tourists each year, on that quiet, wet and gloomy Sunday morning, standing on the bridge towards its entrance, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly fortunate to have been part of, and to have seen for myself, the “hidden” magnificence that is Angkor Wat.

By this time the dark sky had already changed into a pale blue, softly accentuated with streaks of light pink. We didn’t venture deep into the many chambers and hallways of Angkor Wat yet, because Sokha told us we would save that for later in the afternoon. We were instead to head out and explore the other temples first, but not before a little breakfast.

Cambodia and Vietnam are part of the well-trodden backpackers’ route of Indochina, and as such, its tourism industry is well-prepared for a modern traveler’s needs. We had breakfast at a makeshift eatery across the road from the entrance to Angkor Wat, and from the sight of the place, you wouldn’t be able to guess that it offered a wide variety of both Western and Eastern dishes in its menu. I had bacon and eggs, Jen had an omelet, and Tiff was on the second day of her noodles-in-soup diet. After breakfast we headed out to our second temple for the day, Ta Prohm.



For centuries, the jungle has slowly been reclaiming the ruins of Ta Prohm, and these temples have only been recently restored, and only partially, in order to maintain the area’s rather eerie forest atmosphere. Massive trees grow out of windows and on top of the various structures within the complex, yet a lot of the temple’s intricate carvings are still intact.



Made famous by the first Tomb Raider movie, Ta Prohm is one of the most popular temples within the Angkor archaeological park, and because of the numerous tourists that visit it regularly, wooden walkways have been put in place within the complex and some areas have been cordoned off. Still, it isn’t difficult to imagine what Ta Prohm looked like when it was still untouched by man for hundreds of years after it had been built, when only nature took part in shaping it.



Next up was Angkor Thom, the great walled city of the empire of Angkor. Spanning three kilometers and having had a population of as much as a million, Angkor Thom had five gates, each of which is crowned with four giant faces. We climbed on the side of one of the gates (thanks to Sokha who knew all the best spots to take photos) and had a ball taking pictures with the massive heads.




Various structures can be found within the walled city, but perhaps the grandest structure within Angkor Thom’s walls is the temple of Bayon, located right at the center. There are two things I will remember most about Bayon temple – unsurprisingly, the first is the collection of massive stone faces that make up the temple:




… and the second are the bas-reliefs on its lower
walls that depicted battle scenes as well as the everyday lives of the residents of Angkor Thom. Sokha was an expert on the bas-reliefs, and loved the intricate details on them – through the carvings, he weaved stories and helped us imagine what life would’ve been like for a citizen in Angkor Thom so many years ago.

Above Photo by Tiff Orbien


We had lunch in one of the eateries within Angkor Thom, where we encountered another offshoot of a robust tourism industry – souvenir sellers, a multitude of them, majority of whom were children. We met a few of them as we waited for our food, and were surprised that they were quite feisty – they pitched their goods to us endlessly, tirelessly, pulling out all the stops just to get you to buy something from them. One girl had a little game – if we were able to name the capital of Madagascar (or some other random, little-known place on earth), we wouldn’t need to buy from her. But if we didn’t know the capital of Madagascar and (of course) she did, we would need to choose and buy from her collection of Angkor-inspired fridge magnets. The strange thing is, while they pushed and pushed their products, it wasn’t to the point that it got annoying, and we didn’t get angry – if anything, the relentless selling just felt so desperate and frantic, as if their lives depended on it (which it probably did, one way or another), that you couldn’t help but feel the need to help these hardworking children out.

Eventually we decided to buy a few fridge magnets, postcards and some Buddha beads – the latter a popular accessory in the early 2000s (at least in the Philippines) that seemed to never run out of style in Cambodia, where it no doubt originated from, but definitely not as a shallow fashion trend. One of the girls who sold me the bracelets also gave me a piece of paper she had drawn on – it had her name on it, Chura, written amongst flowers, a big heart, and a smiling sun and two clouds. I kept it safely in my passport, and it’s still there right now.

The thing about travelling to any tourist-laden destination is, any time you’ve bought something – a trinket or a big-ticket souvenir - it’s hard not to feel like you were ripped off, even if you were able to haggle to some extent. A tiny voice in your head will try to say, “If you had stayed home, in your city, you would’ve never even considered buying that, let alone actually buying it – do you really need it? Will you ever find use for it?” Yet so many of the things that we do when we travel are not the usual things we do at home, and that’s exactly the beauty and joy of travelling. So I allow myself some slack when shopping for random trinkets on a trip or splurging on a good meal – the experience and the memories these things will give me probably have as much value to me as the food it will put on the vendor’s table for her and her family.

After a thorough exploration of Bayon temple, we were back on the tuktuk and headed for Angkor Wat again, where we were to spend the final hours of our first day. The weather had changed at noon as the day became bright and sunny, and this continued until the afternoon. The nearly cloudless bright sky made the perfect backdrop to Angkor Wat, which we again marveled at from the outside.



We then finally entered the Angkor Wat temple complex and found more walls with bas-reliefs, deep but empty pools, and lots of and lots of steep steppes. At the back of Angkor Wat, we climbed one of the libraries – a steep climb to the top on tall, narrow steps (the first of many in the two days we would spend exploring the temples of Cambodia).


The sun was already setting by the time we got out of the temple, and soon we headed back to The Villa Siem Reap.


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