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 ❤

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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 🙂

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!