BARCINO located in Placa Nova to represent that origin of the city's current name

Europe 2014: Barcelona

 

A view of the city from Park Guell

A view of the city from Park Guell (c/o Mar Corazo)

The second stop of our multi-city European adventure was Barcelona. Barcelona is definitely my favorite European city so far. It’s unassuming and charming. My male companions likened it to the “girl next door” versus the  sophisticated, more high maintenance girl that is Paris. We arrived the morning of Easter Sunday so our first stop was Barcelona Cathedral for Easter Mass. It was quite the challenge indeed to concentrate during the Mass having attended the Castellano service and being surrounded by the resplendence of the Barcelona Cathedral.

You can't blame me for straying once in a while during the Mass if this is what surrounded me.

You can’t blame me for straying once in a while during the Mass if this is what surrounded me.

It was a good thing we arrived on a Sunday: free entrance to the Picasso Museum! We lined up as early as 1 pm and ended up entering by 3:30 pm. One thing I learned – find travel companions who can find entertainment in the smallest of things. I’m not known to be  a very patient person and had I fallen in line by myself, I would not have lasted the 2 and a half hours! Time passed by really quickly as we talked and even played taboo while waiting in line and before we knew it, we were inside the museum. The rest of the day was spent exploring the streets looking for the best place to have tapas and churros – which is almost every corner of the city!

Barcelona's very own Arc de Triomf

Barcelona’s very own Arc de Triomf

The next day, we traversed to the home of FC Barcelona, Camp Nuo, where we were able to learn more about the roots of the popular football team that prides itself as being “more than a club”. Though we were not as big a fan as Mar is, we appreciated why the team based in the quaint city of Barcelona was able to capture the hearts of more than a million fans worldwide.

Mes Que Un Club (More Than A Club)

Mes Que Un Club (More Than A Club)

It was also more than a stadium, Camp Nuo featured a Museum where the entire history of the club – both in and out of the sports world, was detailed and all the awards they received were displayed. They even had corners dedicated to their most famous players such as Ronaldinho and Messi.

Pretending to watch a game (c/o Mar Corazo)

Pretending to watch a game (c/o Mar Corazo)

One of the things I loved about Barcelona is how it strikes the balance between it’s old-world charm and the eccentric architectural style of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. We were only able to explore three of his major works, but his designs could be seen scattered all around the city. We ventured up to Park Guell, which was literally an uphill battle. The park is located atop El Carmel which required us to take several escalators and walk up a curved path. I’m not a fan of upward climbs but I must say that it was worth it. Park Guell is filled with architectural marvels and a breathtaking view of the city (as shown on the first picture of this post).

Park Guell

Park Guell

We were also able to explore Casa Mila, also known as the La Pedrera. Perhaps it was the construction being done on its facade at that time but it felt well camouflaged for a building with such distinctive features. It did not feel out of place in the middle of the city. As you enter, you are welcomed by the atrium that provides the view of the clouds above.

Clouds~

Clouds~

The best feature of the building is most definitely the roof which is just full of indescribable designs – differing depths and unusual figures that are simply a feast to the eyes especially when viewed together with the beautiful blue sky.

The Roof of La Pedrera

The Roof of La Pedrera

Seated outside the La Pedrera, behind us the roads look ordinary while the extraordinary Casa Mila sits in front of us.

Seated outside the La Pedrera, behind us the roads look ordinary while the extraordinary Casa Mila sits in front of us.

The following day, we decided to delve deeper into Catalan history by visiting the Mercat del Born. A seemingly regular (by regular, I mean it by Barcelona standards – still an aesthetic marvel) building from the outside, the Mercat del Born actually houses the ruins of the destroyed Market in the el Born district during the capture of Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. Despite now being considered as part of modern day Spain, Barcelona still shows some deep attachment to their Catalan roots. In fact, in the surrounding area of el Born, there are still banners that call for the independence of the Catalan people.

Ruins of Mercat el Born

Ruins of Mercat del Born

After having lunch in the popular food market, Las Ramblas, we finally went to our third Gaudi for the trip – his magnum opus – La Sagrada Familia. From afar one can already see the majesty of this unfinished Church. Up close, it is truly an overwhelming sight – the size of the Church together with the intricate, yet meaningful designs both on the facade and of the interiors can be too much to take in at first glance.

Photo with La Sagrada Familia. It was so high, Justin had to kneel down just to get this shot. (c/o Cheston)

Photo with La Sagrada Familia. It was so high, Justin had to kneel down just to get this shot. (c/o Cheston Cornelio)

La Sagrada Familia (The Holy Family) is a complex Church. Every detail was there for a reason – there was no randomness in its design. One of the outer spires have the word Sanctus in plated lettering, while the names Mary Joseph and Jesus, the Sagrada Familia, can be found above the main entrance of the Church.

 

A wall in Sagrada Familia containing the Catalan version of The Lord's Prayer, "Parenostre"

A wall in Sagrada Familia containing the Catalan version of The Lord’s Prayer, “Parenostre”

At the basement of the Church, there is a museum that contains several information on Gaudi’s life as well as blueprints and prototypes of the Sagrada Familia and other Gaudi works. The burial place of Gaudi can also be viewed from a small glass window.

The boys resting outside the Sagrada Familia

Resting outside the Sagrada Familia

We were fortunate enough to witness the Sant Jordi Day in Barcelona on our last day. The entire city was filled with stalls selling roses and books. As part of the tradition, ladies would give men books and men would give the ladies roses – like the Catalan equivalent of Valentine’s Day except even the boys get to receive gifts as well. We had our Barcelona City Walking Gothic Tour on that day as well, where we were able to walk around the city and learn about the history of the different buildings, Churches, and locations that were on our path. This entire trip has really helped me appreciate structured guided tours. Initially, I wasn’t fond of going in tour groups, but the lessons and stories that only locals can teach you are definitely part of the experience of visiting the city.

BARCINO located in Placa Nova to represent that origin of the city's current name

BARCINO located in Placa Nova to represent that origin of the city’s name

Despite having stayed in Barcelona the longest, it still feels like we were not there for long enough. As we all ranked our favorite cities at the end of our trip, this charming, picturesque city found its way on the top of most of our lists. I’m surely going to go back. The question now is when – perhaps when the La Sagrada Familia is finally completed. As it stands today, it already is quite grand. I can’t wait to see how it looks when it’s done!

Europe 2014: Paris and Versailles

Crew EU! Mar, me, Cheston and Justin.

It all happened so fast. Late last year, my friends and I were sitting in a living room discussing our desire to travel to Europe in the near future. Who would have thought that the near future would be as near as a few months after that? At the sight of relatively cheap travel fare ($861 or around 39,000 Php for Manila-Paris/London-Manila! What a deal!), we bought our tickets. In hindsight, it was a really huge risk – we had tickets but no visas – but definitely a risk worth taking! One of the biggest takeaways from the experience is to apply for the visas early and we had to apply for two: Schengen and UK. One of my favorite travel buddies, Mar (who was also with me in Cambodia), nearly missed the flight as he applied for the UK Visa late and received his visa just hours before our flight.

Being the young adventurous twentysomethings that we are, we opted out of getting a tour and decided to go DIY with a very loose and flexible itinerary. There was a long list of places we wanted to go to, but we decided that we wanted to give ourselves time to take it all in as well.

There could have been no better place to kick off our three week European adventure than in Paris. Everything was just simply beautiful – the art, the buildings, the city, the people. It’s no wonder so many people have fallen in love with this city.

We spent our first day roaming around the city and taking it slow as this was just day one of twenty and because we can be such cliches, the first thing we had in Paris was a crepe that was being sold in front of the Sacre Coeur.

Ah, the Sacre Coeur! Definitely something that should not be missed! It’s one of the most beautiful Churches I’ve seen during the trip. The church is located atop a hill, which is the highest point of Paris, so as you go up the steps, you’ll be treated to a view of the city.

Sacre Coeur

Sacre Coeur

We arrived in Paris on Holy Thursday, so we decided to drop by another Church, the famed home of Quasimodo – Notre Dame Cathedral. The lines were crazy going up to the top of the tower, so we weren’t able to go, but the interiors of the Cathedral were enough for us to appreciate the majesty of this Church. Don’t forget to drop by at dark as it illuminates like a brilliant star in the night.

The boys and the west facade of the Notre Dame

The boys and the west facade of the Notre Dame

The advantage of knowing people in the places we travel to is that we discover places that are not that touristy, yet add to the amazing cultural experience. Mar’s former boss was coincidentally also in Paris that evening and invited us to join them at the La Caveau des Oubliettes, an underground Jazz bar in the Latin Quarter. It was literally underground, hidden under the basement of a different bar which name escapes me. I was so mesmerized by the showcase of talent that I only realized how crowded the place has become when we got up to leave!

Jazz Band at La Caveau des Oubliettes

We decided that our second day would be our museum day. We had dropped by the Pompidou on our first day and had planned to take on the Louvre and d’Orsay in the morning before meeting up with my aunt, who had been studying French in Paris, for lunch. It was a good thing that we got to Louvre early, before the crowds had started to build up. I believe that it also helped that we took the train that was connected to the Louvre so we were able to get in through the underground entrance and avoid the hoards of Mona Lisa’s visitors being dropped off by tour bus companies.

As we walked around the Louvre, we felt the advantage of going through the Liberal Arts program: appreciation of the pieces of art that were displayed, many of which were discussed to us, so we were no strangers to the different artists and the stories behind their work.

Aside from the massive collection of art within the Louvre, the exterior design of the museum is a work of art itself. We spent so much time taking pictures of and posing in front of the museum that we ended being so behind schedule (one of the downsides, but not really, of a flexible itinerary). My aunt had booked an after-lunch two hour city bus tour for us to be able to see more of Paris so we had to save Orsay for another day.

panoramic shot of the exterior of the Louvre + the huge volume of people waiting to enter the museum

 

Going on the bus tour felt like reading the table of contents of a good book. It helps in choosing the best chapters to read because you’re too close to the due date to read it all. Since we only had a limited number of days in Paris, we were able to see and have a short historical introduction of most of the tourist sites of the city and from there decide on which places we wanted to see in greater detail later on.

On the bus, approaching the Arc de Triomphe

On the bus, approaching the Arc de Triomphe

After the bus tour, we decided to explore Paris on foot, exploring the Opera and the surrounding area. We tried to go to d’Orsay but it was closed for admission for the day so we decided to head over to the most awaited Paris tourist destinations: the Eiffel Tower. Being one of the most visited, talked about, and featured monuments in the world, I was excited to finally see it in person. There was that fear in me that it would not match up to my expectations (I had a similar experience when I visited the Stonehenge in 2012), but the Eiffel Tower did NOT disappoint. In fact, it was an overwhelming sight.

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower from the park

We spent hours just marveling at its grandeur from two different vantage points. One was from the park across the tower and another from the Trocadero. We decided to have dinner at the Trocadero where we were treated to the nighttime hourly lights show while having our meal. The night was beautiful – but coming from a tropical country, we were not used to the cold midnight air. So right after we got to witness the blinking lights show, we made our way home to rest and warm up for our trip to Versailles.

 

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles

My friends make fun of me for my obsession in UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but  I know that they know the reason for my interest. They’re not singled out as heritage sites for nothing. The trip to Versailles on our last day in France was well-worth the time. In fact, the half day that we spent there was not enough to explore the vastness of the palace and the gardens which serves as a reminder of the opulence of French royalty. I would definitely want to go back and spend the entire day there.

The grandiose Palace of Versailles was definitely a feast for the eyes. Everything was covered in gold! Every room of the palace was so intricately designed with each room having a specific theme based on its perceived purpose. The some of the rooms were named after Roman gods and goddesses and would feature respective representative elaborate ceiling murals.

 

walls decorated with their own portraits, and they call our generation vain?

walls with their own portraits and we’re the selfie generation?

our own selfie with the elaborately painted ceiling

If I had more time in Versailles, I would have wanted to explore the gardens. It goes farther than what your eyes could see and we were only able to explore a small part of it due to the limited time we had left after spending most of our time in the palace. We weren’t even able to explore the maze so this is definitely a place we’d be coming back to.

Garden of Versailles

One of the many fountains found in the Garden of Versailles photo c/o Mar Corazo

Upon our return from Versailles, we finally visited Musee d’Orsay which we missed the previous day. We had to buy tickets as the two days of our museum pass had already lapsed. One of the advantages of visiting Europe before I turned 25 was that ticket prices are usually discounted! So, kids, visit Europe while you’re young😉. I personally enjoyed the collection at the Orsay more than at the Louvre, so I’m glad we decided to still go despite the expiration of our museum pass.

Three days (two and a half, since we went to Versailles) are definitely not enough to explore Paris! Sadly, this is all we had as we had planned to visit a total of five cities for the three weeks that we were there. No regrets though, as Paris was only the beginning of what I will forever remember as one of the best trips in my life.🙂

Posing outside the Louvre with the best travel buddies a girl could ask for

Posing outside the Louvre with the best travel buddies a girl could ask for

 

 

Bicol 2013 Part 2 – Calaguas

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Going to Calaguas was probably the most anticipated part of our Bicol trip. I had read much about how much of a beautiful paradise the island is and was really looking forward to seeing and experiencing it for myself. We had a run in with really bad weather in Legazpi, so we were so glad that we were blessed with clear skies on the day we went to Calaguas.

Getting to paradise was one of the biggest challenges of the trip. Coming from Legazpi, we had to take the two hour van ride back to Naga because there were no direct vans from Legazpi to Calaguas. From Naga, we rode the van headed to Daet – another two hours – followed by a 45 minute van ride to Paracale, where the port for the boat ride to Calaguas Island were located. We arrived in Paracale at 5 PM so we decided not to continue on to Calaguas until the morning because it was a scary thought to be lost at sea at night. Also, the boatmen were hesitant on taking people to the island because the trip would take another hour and a half! Basically, it would take almost 7 hours to get from Legazpi to Calaguas!

Since we had read that there are no restaurants, no hotels, no electricity and no signal in Calaguas, we had to buy our food and supplies from the Paracale market place before heading over to the hotel to rest after nearly 5 hours of travel.

View as we approached calaguas

The next morning, we headed to the port. We were able to befriend one of the residents while doing our supply shopping and she was able to provide a boat for us for only 2,000 Php (all in, both ways! There were just two of us so we paid 1,000 each. Not bad considering the rates that we saw being posted on other websites). We left at 7 am and arrived a little past 8, and Calaguas definitely did NOT disappoint. There were other people on the beach but it still felt that we had the entire beach to ourselves. The water was so clean, so blue, so cold – that I spent almost the entire day just submerged in the water (I left Calaguas five skin tones darker).

On our little fisherman’s boat

If you want to get away from everything, Calaguas is definitely the place to go. No electricity, no WiFi, no mobile signal – just you and the beach. Of course there are some bigger sacrifices that had to be made. First of all, there was no decent bathrooms. There was no flush and you had to pay P10 per bucket of water for flushing and for taking a bath. Second, there were no hotels, no soft beds, no night lights. We spent the night in a tent. This wasn’t much of a problem since the sand was really comfortable to sleep on and I managed to sleep for a solid 10 hours.

With our backpacks and our tent!

With our backpacks and our tent!

After spending an entire day in paradise, we experienced probably one of the most frightening moments of my life – I’m not even exaggerating. Our boatmen woke us up at around 6 am by telling us “Neng, tayo nalang ang tao sa isla. May bagyo. Signal #2 (Girls, we are the only ones left on the island. There’s a storm – signal #2)” We bolted up and haphazardly packed up our tent and jumped onto the boat. All this within 10 minutes. The waves were turbulent. We were being rocked and pushed on the ocean and it was terrifying because we were riding a small fishermen’s boat that, with enough wave strength, could just capsize in any moment. It was like riding Log Jam but on a real ocean. Fifteen minutes into the trip, our fingers started to prune up from all the water that splashed us from the ocean, as well as the rain that was pouring from the sky. We could barely see anything in our surroundings. Both of us were heavily praying that our boatmen knew were to go. Thankfully, they did. We managed to reach the shore after two hours in the water. Props to our boatmen. They really did an amazing job navigating the small boat in the crazy waves and almost 0 visibility skies.

Despite this nerve-wrecking near death experience getting back to Paracale, I would not hesitate to go back to Calaguas. It’s that kind of natural beauty that you shouldn’t experience just once in your life. I’m being cheesy but the pictures don’t do any justice to how beautifully serene the island is in person. I would definitely do it all over for another day in paradise.

Gorgeous sunset in Calaguas <3

Gorgeous sunset in Calaguas❤

Bicol 2013 Part 1 – Legazpi

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On the first week of August, my good friend Kath and I spent five days in Bicol. I know, i know – it’s smack in the middle of typhoon season and we went to a region that was on the path of the storms. We expected that so the mid-day showers throughout our trip was no surprise for us. In fact, it added to the adventure and excitement of our trip!

We arrived in the Naga Airport with our backpacks on our backs and a mix of excitement and nervousness. We hadn’t completely structured our trip so we would be playing it by ear. After stopping by SM Naga for lunch and supplies, we rode the van headed to Legazpi. The van terminal was just across SM Naga and the ride was just a bit over two hours. Just like in my Siem Reap trip, we hadn’t booked a hotel so we asked our tricycle driver for his recommendation. We ended up staying in Night & Day, a newly opened budget hostel, for 600 pesos (300 pesos each) – not a bad deal as the room had air conditioning, a television, and two decent sized beds.

Since we only allotted one day to explore Legazpi, once we settled in our room, we headed out to see the sights. Our first stop was the Cagsawa Ruins. To our disappointment, the skies were pretty cloudy so we did not have the perfect view of the Mayon Volcano that we went to Legazpi for. Nonetheless, the Cagsawa Ruins are beautiful on their own merit, with or without a perfect image of Mayon in the shot. A few minutes into our picture taking session, it started to rain. We decided to continue our tour in the morning before leaving Legazpi.

Cagsawa Ruins

Giant cloud blocking Mayon

Raining!

Posing in the rain :))

We had dinner in Waway’s Restaurant because we were enticed by the 250 Pesos buffet that they advertised. It did not disappoint. For dessert, we headed for 1st Colonial Grill to try out their Sili (chili) and Pili ice creams. The Pili ice cream was delicious! The sili ice cream was definitely an experience. When it touches your tongue, you start to think, ah this tastes really good! But the moment it gets to your throat you feel the aftereffect of the spicy flavor in the ice cream.

Sili Ice Cream

On the way out of the restaurant, it started to pour. We didn’t have any umbrellas so we asked for plastic bags. They gave us the small grocery bags and just as we were running out with just the plastic bag over our heads, the very kind staff of 1st Colonial Grill approached us with giant garbage bags and made makeshift raincoats for us!

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That evening, we found out our college classmate and friend, Kat, was on her way back to Legazpi for the long weekend so we made plans to meet up. The next morning, Kat picked us up from the hostel and after having breakfast in another buffet that was beside the airport, we went to Lignon Hill for a view of Mayon. This time, the sky was kind to us and we were able to view the Mayon Volcano in its entirety.

With Kat!

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Lignon Hill

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Posing in front of Mayon

The other side of Lignon Hill

Finally having seen Mayon, we decided it was time to go to our next destination: Calaguas. So we bid goodbye to Kat and rode the van back to Naga. Getting wet in the rain in Legazpi was just the beginning of our rainy Bicol adventure!

Bacolod 2013

My parents and other relatives often wonder where I get my wanderlust from because I come from a family of homebodies. My mom and my brother are very satisfied in just staying at home while my father has no special interest in getting on an airplane and spending on a three day trip to an unfamiliar location. This is why it pleased me when my mother booked a family trip to Bacolod City, which is a 45 minute plane ride away from Manila. It’s not as intense or adventure-filled as the trips that I take with my friends, but it’s a good change from our usual family trips to the Philippines which mainly comprised of staying at home and going out just for shopping or eating.

We only spent two full days in Bacolod, so we decided to visit all the sites on our first day. We decided to start our day early so we wouldn’t miss anything.

Our first stop was the San Sebastian Cathedral which has gained infamy for the giant Team Patay/Team Buhay tarpaulins that were put up during the election campaign period. Despite it being months since the National Elections, the tarpaulins can still be found posted on the face of the cathedral, which is a shame since it is such a beautiful church and all the tarpaulins do is distract us from its beauty.

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Most decent shot of the San Sebastian Cathedral I could take. Tried not to include the tarpaulin but a part of it still made its way to the picture.

 

Our next stop was the Mambukal Resort which is located at the foot of Mt. Kanlaon and is known for its hot springs. Being from Laguna, the scenery was not very different from what we saw growing up. Nonetheless, the place was beautiful. I wish we were able to spend the night in the resort so we could explore the area more. We were only able to walk around for a few minutes and visit the Butterfly Garden before heading off to our next destination.

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After our trip to Mambukal, we visited the Pope John Paul II Tower which was built to commemorate his visit to Bacolod in the early 1980s. There are seven floors in the tower and each floor is themed differently, with pictures, paintings, and even the Papal Chair that JPII sat on during his visit.

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We then had lunch in SM City Bacolod which is right across the John Paul II Tower. Afterwards, we left Bacolod and headed to Silay which is known for their beautiful colonial houses. Since we were pressed for time, we were only able to drop by Balay Negrense, which is the ancestral house of Victor Garson, son of one of the pioneers of the sugarcane industry in Negros Occidental. The house reminded me of the Syquia Mansion that my friends and I visited last year in Laoag. Basically, it was a house that was turned into a museum, complete with a tour guide who will tell you about how the family lived their life decades ago. I really have a fascination towards Spanish period homes and furnishings. Going into these houses really makes you feel like you’re being teleported to the past, or at least that’s how I feel when I visit one. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take a picture of the house, but here’s one of me with one of the displays: an old school motorcycle!

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After our quick visit to Silay, we went back to Bacolod to visit the Ruins. This was what I was most excited about because every time I told someone I was going to Bacolod, the first thing they would tell me was to visit the Ruins! This definitely did not disappoint. Despite really just being the remains of a burnt down mansion, the Ruins was such a gorgeous sight to see. It definitely is one of the most photogenic remains of a burnt down mansion I have ever seen. It’s amazing how it was transformed into a tourist destination. It was the most tourist packed location that we went to that day and most of the tourists were foreigners! The tour guide was very entertaining. He explained the history of the family and the structure itself in a very engaging manner. I didn’t stay long for the tour because I was too captivated by the environment. Ten minutes into the tour, I separated myself from the group and decided to go around and take photographs of the place. It was simply majestic. Hands down my favorite stop in our trip.

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My brother and me playing chess on the mini golf course that was opened right in the garden area of the Ruins

 

Our last stop for the day was the newly built Bacolod City Hall. By this time we were already very tired from the entire day and so we only took some pictures before heading back to the hotel. It looks beautiful at night with all the lights.

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We were so exhausted from the sightseeing heavy first day that we ended up getting up at 10 am the next day! Our second day was more of a food trip day. We had lunch in Bob’s, where they have the BEST brownies ever, and dinner in the Chicken House so that we could have some authentic Chicken Inasal. We had cakes from Calea for dessert. The White Chocolate Cheesecake was definitely my favorite.

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Chicken Inasal!

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Calea’s White Chocolcate Cheese Cake

 

I’m really glad that my family has decided to be more adventurous now. Even if it was just two days in another city, we were able to have some really fun and cultural family bonding time. I love traveling with my friends but it’s definitely a completely different experience traveling with family. My parents and my brother seem to have enjoyed this trip so I am very hopeful that this is not the last trip that we all go on together.

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Complete family picture in Mambukal🙂

Qal’at al-Bahrain

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One of the goals I have set for myself is to visit 25 UNESCO World Heritage Sites by the time I turn 25. I’m currently 23 and I have been to 11. The most recent one that I’ve been to is the Fort of Bahrain, which I visited with my family last month. I thought it was funny that I’ve lived in the Middle East for most of my life and this is the first time I visited a UNESCO Heritage Site in the area. We visit Bahrain on a regular basis, but we usually went there to go shopping or to watch a movie. in the 18 years I’ve lived in Saudi Arabia, it was the first time we went to Bahrain to go on a historical trip.

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Qal’at al-Bahrain or the Bahrain Fort has been built and rebuilt in the past and the fort currently standing has been around since the sixth century. It is considered as one of Bahrain’s most important archaeological sites. Bahrain is an island and the fort served as the region’s trading port from as early as 2300 BC. 

It was the first time I brought my family with me to a World Heritage Site visit. The previous times, I was usually alone or with friends. My family isn’t as into travel as I am but I’m glad that they were able to appreciate the history that surrounded the Fort. 

It wasn’t as grand as the other World Heritage Sites that I have been to but it’s amazing how well-maintained the fort is given that it was built around 2,000 years ago. What I noticed about myself whenever I go to these places is that I have a different energy in me. I feel stronger and more energetic and my family noticed this. I was able to go up flights of stairs with no complaint – something I dislike doing on a regular day because it tends to trigger my asthma. 

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I was able to climb up to the top of the fort and take a picture with the flag. The first thing I noticed when I got to the top was the contrast between the archaeological site I was standing on and the busy city center of Bahrain.  Image

 

When you enter the Bahrain Fort, you forget that it’s situated just 15 minutes away from the city center. The location feels old and it makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a barren desert land. It’s quiet and peaceful. There were not that many tourists visiting the area despite it being a weekend. I guess just like us, most people visit Bahrain for the malls and the city attractions. I’m so glad that I was able to visit the Qal’at al-Bahrain before leaving the Middle East. :) 

On Nancy Binay

There has been much flak thrown at Nancy Binay, throughout the campaign period and even more so after elections when her name appeared in the Top 6. Personally, I did not vote for her, but the online criticisms seem to have gone too far with people not only attacking her credentials but also her character and appearance. 

We talk about Nancy Binay being undeserving as a Senator as if the Senate has until this moment been a sacred group of lawmakers who have done nothing but push for the betterment of our laws when in fact the Senate is filled with self-interested politicians who have already proven their ineffectiveness as lawmakers and yet are still able to reclaim their positions each time they run. Not to say that all of them fit that description, but let’s not fool ourselves into believing that Nancy Binay is going to be the virus that ails the legislative branch. 

There was a tweet about Bam Aquino where he stated that it was the perfect time to be a new politician because he isn’t used to the old politics. Perhaps this will work out for Nancy Binay’s benefit. We have attacked her based on her incompetence and lack of political (or even corporate) track record. Let’s stop and think about those who have previously served us, those who possess outstanding political and educational backgrounds. How exactly have they helped in the improvement of our country? That being said, why won’t we give this political neophyte the benefit of the doubt?

While I, like many, have my doubts on how she will perform as a senator, the attacks on her character and her skin color have reached the point of disrespect. We cry foul when people like Lucy Liu make jokes about looking a little Filipino and yet here we doing the same thing in the most malicious ways possible. For such an easily offended nation, we sure can be big bullies. 

Never imagined I would say this but let’s give Nancy Binay a chance. I didn’t support her with my vote but right now I actually want her to succeed just to prove her detractors wrong. 

(On another note, I know we’re disappointed that she got in the Senate over those who we believe are more capable. That’s democracy at work. Hopefully, those who have become critics during the elections won’t lose that fire as the years pass by. Our duty as citizens doesn’t end on election day)

Visiting the Beautiful Sand Dunes of Shaybah

I have lived in Saudi Arabia for most of my childhood but this was the first time I was really amazed by the beauty that this country has to offer. Growing up, I’d mostly go to the beach in the camp or to the city center to go shopping. We never went to the desert – which is funny, because most people think that Saudi Arabia is just one big chunk of desert land. It’s a common misconception that I’ve heard from people, along with “Wait, so Saudi Arabia is not in Dubai?” and “Isn’t it very hot in Saudi Arabia?? (No, it gets freezing cold during the winter brr)”.

Shaybah is found in the Rub Al Khali or the Empty Quarters. It is the largest sand desert in the world, stretching over four countries – Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, and Yemen. It’s quite far from where I live so we had to ride an airplane to get there. It was a beautiful sight, probably the most beautiful one I have ever seen. The sand was pure and untouched. My family and I climbed up the sand dunes to witness the sunset. I’m asthmatic but I took on the challenge. Although it was quite difficult to climb, it was very rewarding. Every time I see the pictures we took from the top of the sand dunes, I am still amazed by its beauty.

I really don’t have enough words to use to express how awestruck I was by the view, so here are some pictures that we took from that day.

 

With my brother!

 

Sunset to twilight shots. All taken without any filter.  It was that beautiful. Last two pictures were taken with my iPhone 4S. 







I’m definitely glad I was given the opportunity to go on this trip! We almost didn’t go because it was just a few days after my Bangkok trip and the tickets were really hard to get (people were lined up for tickets as early as 4am!) I’ve always wanted to fly away to far off countries to see the beauty of the world. What I didn’t realize was that one of the most beautiful things I would see was just an hour away. I love this world.

 

Cambodia 2013: The Weekend Backpacking Experience

A few months ago, I wrote down my travel priority list. I’m proud to say that I have finally crossed out one from my list: to see the sun rise behind Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat Sunrise

The trip to Cambodia is definitely the most exciting and adventurous trip I have had so far. For starters, it was a very impulsive trip – most of the planning happened the night before. Mar and I discussed about going to Siem Reap on my last weekend in Thailand but we never really took the time to arrange the itinerary. We had a list of places we wanted to see and do, and less the 48 hours to accomplish it. Also, it was my first real backpacking trip to a different country!

We left the hotel at 5:00 am to catch the 5:30 bus to Aranyaprathet. Our entire trip was anchored on the assumption that we will find the casino bus at Lumpini Park, just as we had read on travel blogs. After several minutes of walking, we found the bus that was headed to Aranyaprathet! It was a five hour drive to the border but considering that we were headed to a totally different country, the bus ride did not feel that long. The bus was comfortable, so it was really not a stressful journey.

at the Cambodian boder

The bus arrived at the border at around 10:00 and we finally made it across to Cambodia where we were welcomed by a man offering free shuttle services to the transport building. At first it seemed a bit sketchy. We’ve read enough travel blogs to know that there are a lot of scams in the Thailand-Cambodia border, but we still went along with them. Thankfully, they got us to the transport building safely and we got on a shared taxi to Siem Reap. The taxi cost $12 per person for four people. We shared our taxi with two really nice American girls who had also been working in Thailand. It was a two hour drive to Siem Reap so we got to share a lot of stories with them while in transit.

We got to Siem Reap at around 1PM where a tuktuk was already waiting for us – very clever strategy for the locals. While we were seated in the tuktuk, we automatically got ourselves a tour organizer who offered to book everything for us. Given that we didn’t have any concrete plans, we just went with what he was saying. It probably would have been cheaper to have booked everything – the tuktuk driver, taxi to the border, etc., before heading to Cambodia. Nonetheless, it was comforting to know that everything else was already set for our overnight stay in Siem Reap.

On our tuktuk

They took us to a really budget (read:cheap) hotel that was a short walk from Pub Street. It was a bit sketchy and dark but it was also complete so we decided to stay there. While Mar and I were talking about the hotel on the way back to Bangkok, we both were actually a bit scared of the place at some point of our stay. I actually felt like I was in a slasher film waiting to happen! Well, at least we got out fine, but it honestly isn’t a place I would highly recommend people to stay in.

We headed to Pub Street for lunch. There are so many restaurants to choose from and I guess one of the sad things about staying there for only the weekend was that we weren’t able to try as many restaurants as we could have. We decided to eat at a pretty restaurant, the Kmher Family Restaurant. Their food did not disappoint.

After lunch, we finally headed to Angkor to get our day pass and witness the beautiful sunset at Phnom Bakheng. We had to climb a hill to get there, which was quite a challenge for me, but it was definitely worth it because I was able to witness this:

Sunset at Phnom Bakheng

Walking down the hill from Phnom Bakheng

It was a beautiful sight and definitely a prelude to what we would be seeing the next day.

We woke up early to see the Angkor Wat sunrise, but even at 5:30 am, there was already a huge crowd waiting to see it as well. No matter how many pictures of it I’ve seen online, it was still such a majestic sight to see. Nothing can replace seeing such a wonderful sight in person. Once the sun showed itself at around 7 am, we went into Angkor Wat. There weren’t that many people yet so we took advantage of taking pictures that didn’t include other people. On our way out of Angkor Wat, at around 9:30, was we saw the mass of people headed inside.

Mar amidst the crowds in Angkor Wat

We spent the entire morning exploring the Angkor Complex. We weren’t able to go to the smaller temples because we had to leave for Thailand at 4pm. We got to go to Angkor Thom where we spent most of our time at the Bayon Temple. We visited the Tomb Raider temple, Ta Prohm and lastly we went to Bantay Srei. By this time, I’ve been to several temples within 10 days but I didn’t feel too templed out. I guess it’s because all the temples I’ve seen were all different from each other.

The Thailand-Cambodia border closes at 8PM so we had to rush back in order to make it before it closes because my flight back home was at 11 am the next day. This was probably the most stressful part of our trip. Our taxi driver arrived late and on the way to the border he started picking up other people despite the fact that we paid for the full taxi. It started raining really hard as we were nearing the border and by the time we made it, it was flooding! Our taxi driver didn’t understand our need to be dropped off at a place where there was a shade so we made a run for it. It was 7:15 pm. Forty five minutes before the closing of the borders. There wasn’t much shelter between the borders so by the time we got to Thailand, we were both soaking wet!! We almost didn’t make it to the bus, but thankfully there were still some last minute seats available. After missing our stop, we eventually found our way to Bangkok thanks to a friendly Thai man who would not leave until we got a taxi that would take us home and use a meter. We got home with wet clothes on our back and a hell of a story to share. 

It was a crazy adventure. Sure, there were unfortunate moments towards the end but I would never trade it for anything else. It was definitely part of the experience (and it makes a better story to tell).

Backpackers!

Chiang Mai 2013

Orchid and Butterfly Farm

I think that what excited me the most about my Chiang Mai trip is that it was going to be my first legitimate solo travel experience. Sure, I traveled solo in the United Kingdom but that was just for a few days because my good friend Ian Ricardo joined me and we had a blast! My Chiang Mai trip was very different in that it was just going to be me for the entire stay and I knew no one in the city!

I left for Chiang Mai the day after Henry and Justin left Bangkok. Chiang Mai is beautiful. It was definitely a nice break from the hustle and bustle of fast-paced Bangkok. In Bangkok, my friends and I jumped from sight to sight and our itinerary was jam-packed with activities. In Chaing Mai, on the other, I was able to take my time, walking and mulling along the quiet streets. I guess it helped that I was traveling by myself, thus I didn’t have anyone waiting for me.

On my first day, I decided to follow Mar’s suggestion and head over to Nimmanhaemin. He had been to Chiang Mai late last year and raved about the area. It was an entire street lined with restaurants and cafes. It was difficult to choose because all the shops looked promising so I ended up eating in Nimman Cafe at 3pm!!! If there’s one thing I have to work on when it comes to traveling alone, it’s eating at the right times. I tend to forget to eat whenever I’m traveling because I’m too busy adjusting to and observing my surroundings. I’ve traveled to many places but I always find each travel experience to be surreal.

I stayed in Baan Ouikhum which I found via AirBNB and the owners, Stephen and Ketsuda, were very accommodating and friendly. They advised me to drop by the Night Bazaar on my first night rather than my initial plan to visit it after my Chiang Rai. Thank God I followed their advice because I was way too exhausted after my Chiang Rai tour.

Chiang Rai is a couple of hours north of Chiang Mai. It’s a definite must-go place and I have been recommending people to visit it. In my few days in Bangkok, I had visited several temples – the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Ayutthaya – and I thought that I would be too templed out to visit Chiang Rai’s Wat Rong Kun, or White Temple. I was incredibly MISTAKEN. The White Temple was just STUNNING. It was really just completely white – a much welcomed contrast to all the golden temples that we see in Bangkok. It was celestial just being in the presence of the temple. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

Gorgeous White Temple

The next stop to my Chiang Rai tour was the Golden Triangle – the famed opium producing area and meeting place of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. We rode a boat along the Mekong River and visited Don Sao Island, which belonged to Laos. They served “special” whiskey which was made with reptiles such as the King Cobra and lizards which I did not have the stomach to try. It took me a lot of courage to actually get this close to take a picture of it:

Snake Whiskey. Yikes!

Another must-do when you’re in Chiang Mai is to visit the Mae Sa Elephant Camp! When my friends and I visited Ayutthaya, I was tempted to avail an elephant ride there even if I had already booked my Elephant Camp tour because most of them had done so. I’d like to think that my Mae Sa Elephant Camp was truly a different experience! The elephants were very talented, performing in front of the audience: dancing, doing tricks, playing football (!!!!!), and painting. It was such an amazing show! I was in awe the entire time that one of the people working there started laughing at how giggly I got every time the elephants did something amazing.

 

With my new pretty Japanese friend ^_^

Amazing Elephant Art!!!

I had second thoughts about going to Chiang Mai because my schedule was quite hectic in Bangkok and I felt like I’d be too tired for another adventure but I’m glad I pushed through with it! I feel like I’ve gotten even braver when it comes to traveling by myself. That, and the fact that I was able to explore another beautiful part of Thailand made me realize that I can never be too tired to travel.

Standing on the bridge of the beautiful Wat Rong Khun!