Tag Archives: travel

Exploring The City of Smiles (Day 1)

It has been weeks since my short trip to Bacolod, the City of Smiles, but the urge to go back and explore this quaint city again hasn’t died down.

The people here are just so nice and the places just as good. But what made me fall in love with Bacolod is the FOOD. We had to stop by museums and landmarks because these deterred us from trying all the restaurants we had on our list (thanks to dear friend, Nic for the fabulous tips! 🙂 ). In a nutshell, our 3D/2N in Bacolod turned out to be three days of glorious food tripping around the city.

DAY 1

From the airport, you need not worry about catching a cab to your hotel as there are shuttles that charge Php150/pax. This is a good deal already because the new Bacolod-Silay International Airport is quite far from the city.

We stayed at <a href="http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g298464-d1822204-r256418167-The_Suites_at_Calle_Nueva-Bacolod_Negros_Occidental_Negros_Island_Visayas.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT">The Suites at Calle Nueva</a>. They offer the basic necessities, huge room, free buffet breakfast and good location. And best of all, the staff; they're just wonderful! TripAdvisor has never really failed me when doing my research on places to stay. The feedback and tips posted here are legit and will help you plan your trip.

We stayed at The Suites at Calle Nueva. They offer the basic necessities, huge room, free buffet breakfast and good location. And best of all, the staff; they’re just wonderful! TripAdvisor has never really failed me when doing my research on places to stay. The feedback and tips posted here are legit and will help you plan your trip. 

After checking in, we walked to SM City Bacolod and crossed out one food destination on our list: Bob's. Their big serving of 2-piece satay barbeque is just Php117!  Namit gid!

After checking in, we walked to SM City Bacolod and crossed out one food destination on our list: Bob’s. Their big serving of 2-piece satay barbeque is just Php117! Namit gid! 

Once you get here proceed to the main house and look for Roger Lucero, the hilarious tour guide at The Ruins. It was his day off when we get there so I hope you catch him when you visit.

Once you get here, proceed to the main house and look for Roger Lucero, the hilarious tour guide at The Ruins. It was his day off when we get there so I hope you catch him when you visit.

Tip: How To Get Here-

From Bacolod City ride the jeepney bound for BATA, or ride the jeepney with the route Libertad-BATA. Tell the driver to drop you off at the nearest trike terminal going to The Ruins (there are at least two terminals there). They charge between Php25-30. 

Proceed to the main house and look for Roger Lucero (he’s the funny tour guide at The Ruins).

Visit The Ruins in the afternoon and stay there until sunset. There is a restaurant there where you can just lounge around and do people watching. Or there are stalls there selling fresh sugar cane juice.

Visit The Ruins in the afternoon and stay there until sunset. There is a restaurant there where you can just lounge around and do people watching. Or there are stalls there selling fresh sugar cane juice.

We had to drag ourselves from the magnificence of The Ruins to have dinner at another place on our list: Manokan Country.

Manokan Country is packed with stalls but I suggested Aida's because this one has a little stall in Makati Square that we frequent during lunch.

Manokan Country is packed with stalls but I suggested Aida’s because this one has a little stall in Makati Square that we frequent during lunch. 

Bacolod inasal is unlike the sweet inasal in Manila. It's spiced enough to taste good but so much better with dipping sauce of soy sauce, calamansi and chilis! Namit kaayo!

Bacolod inasal is unlike the sweet inasal in Manila. It’s spiced enough to taste good but so much better with dipping sauce of soy sauce, calamansi and chilis! Namit kaayo!

Manokan Country is within walking distance to the hotel so we just walked home and capped the night off with some sweets we bought from Calea.

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Day Hike at Pico De Loro

Scaling a mountain was something that I’ve always wanted to do but never really put enough fuel on that thought to get it going. Good thing a dear friend was very keen on doing it and we soon found ourselves booked for a day hike at Pico de Loro with Trailadventours.

It was uneventful ride to Ternate, Cavite. Only because I’ve slept through most of the 2-hour ride, which began at 4AM. Scroll through the photos and I’ll let you in on tips along the way.

Your shoes will define your trek.

Your shoes will define your trek.

You always have the option to wear trekking sandals but on a hot summer day, the ground is dry and little rocks can creep between your sandals and your soles and that will hurt. DO NOT wear sneakers and flip flops as those will make you slip and slide… or worse.

I wore a pair of good running shoes with ridges on the sole and it worked for me. 😉

Yes, they have halo-halo on the mountain!

Yes, they have halo-halo on the mountain!

After an hour or so of trekking, I was surprised to see a little sari-sari store selling halo-halo! A tad weird and expensive too. Well, transporting ingredients from the base is really difficult so that accounts for the price.

Sneak peak of the gorgeous landscape after some two hours of trekking.

Sneak peak of the gorgeous landscape after some two hours of trekking.

From the Trailadventours site, the hike to Mount Pico de Loro has a difficulty of 4/10. But for a first time hiker, it could very well be a 6. Though the trail is very defined, there are a lot of steep ascents that newbies like me will find a bit daunting but still manageable.

Coby, one of the lead guides imparted some bits of trekking wisdom: take small but sure steps and when in doubt, use your ass. Very helpful tips I must say. Your goal is to reach the summit and go back to base in one piece.

We reached the campsite around 10AM.  On the photo   are Shie,a solo traveler from Mindoro and Kaye, a blogger and good friend who managed to keep in touch long after she left the company I'm still in.

We reached the campsite around 10AM. On the photo are Shie,a solo traveler from Mindoro and Kaye, a blogger and a good friend who managed to keep in touch long after she left the company I’m still in.

I have expectations of a campsite is and what I saw was a let down. There was too much litter and waste segregation bins are nowhere to be found either. It’s supposed to be a protected landscape, yet it looks as though it’s in dire need of protection. It made me wonder what the Php25 fee that hikers pay at the DENR registration. I’m thinking they should just charge Php50 so hikers don’t pay Php5 every time they use the restroom to pee or wash up.

I’m not very prissy but let’s just say that I need to be desperate to use the restroom there. It’s that bad. Putting up decent restrooms doesn’t mean defacing the mountain (maybe put up nipa huts to make it blend with the surroundings?). If makeshift stores are built there, then they can build these restrooms too, right? It doesn’t have to be hotel grade but it sure needs to be clean.

From the campsite, another half an hour and you'll reach the summit.

From the campsite, another half an hour and you’ll reach the summit.

The monolith is a challenge I will conquer on my next trip. I think the mere fact that I returned to Manila in one piece is already an achievement for me. 🙂

Tips:

  • Eat heavy breakfast and bring energy bars. This is your best excuse for carb-loading and chocolates. The energy bars really helped us as we didn’t bring lunch; we decided to grab lunch at Manong Wilson’s carinderia. Food is really good!
  • Bring just enough water. I brought along a liter because two liters is too heavy for me.
  • Wear comfy shoes and bring extra slippers.
  • Bring a complete change of clothes (including underwear) and toiletries; you’ll need this when you go back to the base.

From experience, this is something you can do on your own; you don’t need to sign up on a group tour. Being on an organized trek has its advantages as they guarantee your safety, you meet new people and the Trailadventour guides are really a fun bunch. But honestly, the Php1800 fee is quite steep given that it just includes transportation and tour guide fee. Should you ever do a DIY trek, I overheard a group that they paid Php600 for their tour guide. Not a bad deal! 🙂

 

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Why You Should Travel Solo (at Least Once)

This year has brought me a series of bipolar life episodes that sent me to cloud nine then sent me right back down to confusion. And in the midst of it all, I found the perfect cure for a reset: solo travel.

Of all that has happened in 2014, it was my solitary travel to Hanoi that really made my year. It was such a wonderful experience that I wish for friends and those who stumble across this blog to try traveling solo even just once in their lives.

Travel solo

You learn to love your own company.

Too often, we’re surrounded with family and friends and we love the happy chaos it brings. But when you’re alone, you learn to see just how wonderful your own company is.

It’s difficult at first. You feel stupid and awkward wandering or eating alone. You even feel scared; and that’s a good thing. Fear makes you more aware of your surroundings; keeps you on your toes and restrains you from doing anything remotely stupid.

Independence is empowering.

As you slowly start getting used to your own company, you begin feeling confident. You even smile at a fellow tourist as you walk along or at a family seated beside you at a cafe.

You even start feeling smart! I am such a dunce with reading maps and directions that I manage to get myself lost around Marikina when I jog. But when I was alone in Hanoi, I’ve learned to map the places I want to visit using the offline map and GPS on my smartphone.

You loosen up and meet new people.

Traveling as a group gives you that ‘protective shield’ that closes you to the people around you. But when you’re alone, you learn to open yourself a little to the people around you. And you will learn the wonders of a smile or a simple good morning to the person in front of you on the breakfast buffet queue can do for you.

The people I chatted with during breakfast, gave me a ride back to the airport; went out with a couple for dinner, shopping and drinks! And those two buddies I met on the city tour, they went shopping with me for a backpack and helped me get a good deal for it.

Less things to worry.

Traveling solo simplifies your itinerary: You go where and do what you want when you want to do it. You stop worrying whether your companion wants to go to a particular place or if another is too tired to take another step. You just go.

Appreciate your friends and family more.

And since you’re traveling solo, you think of your friends or siblings when you see something funny and you don’t have anyone to laugh with. Or you ate a local dish and you thought they will love it too.

You also found a place where you can take your friends and loved ones and be their personal tour guide.

So for the coming year, conquer your fear of traveling solo. Start with having coffee for your me time and just do people-watching. Don’t hide behind a book. Take photos if you like. Then level up to going around the metro on your own. Try Intramuros. And when you feel you’re ready, go somewhere where you’ve never been before. Arm yourself with info on the place you’re visiting and a lot of good sense.

Travel by yourself. For yourself. One day, you’ll be thankful you did.

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Hanoi: In the Company of Strangers (Day 4)

It was a rather uneventful ride back to the hotel from Halong City and got dropped off at the hotel by 5PM and happily chatted with the couple I met over breakfast the other day. Over that bit of chat, they invited me out for a night out after we have rested for a bit. I was hesitant to go because I was billeted at a different hotel, given I checked out of Thaison Hotel for the Halong Bay tour, and upon my return, there’s no spare room and they will put into one of their ‘sister hotels’, the Parkson Hotel.

While our hotels are fairly near each other, I was unsure whether to go with them or not. They’re probably just being nice. But when Celine said that they really want to hang out, we decided to meet at about 8; watch the fireworks by the lake to celebrate Hanoi’s 60th Liberation Day; grab dinner; shop maybe or just head to a local bar.

That settled, Thaison Hotel offered to take me to Parkson Hotel via a motorbike. Seriously. It may be a short ride but I can brag and say, “I rode a motorbike in Vietnam and lived to tell the tale!”

The Saturday night crowd was huge and overflowing from the bars and the makeshift outdoor bars gulping on bia hoi, the local beer that costs less than P10/cup, or enjoying a bowl of pho.

The Saturday night crowd was huge and overflowing from the bars and the makeshift outdoor bars gulping on bia hoi, the local beer that costs less than P10/cup, or enjoying a bowl of pho.

Celine's boyfriend, Ryan has that look on his face that he really wants to head to a bar but didn't want to impose it on us. So when Celine and I finally agreed, he was like a kid whose gift came in October.

Celine’s boyfriend, Ryan has that look on his face that he really wants to head to a bar but didn’t want to impose it on us. So when Celine and I finally agreed, he was like a kid whose gift came in October.

What we saw in that bar will stay with us for a very long time. I was so surprised that it was the Asian women who were acting like the westerners  while it was the westerners who were acting like Asians. Those Asians were so wild it’s so hard to look at them. It was nowhere near sexy at all; it was downright sl***y.  Ugh.

But we got to give  it to them for entertaining us like so; all that’s missing is a tub of buttered popcorn to munch on.

Even with all that live rated-R show, that was not the highlight of the night. It never occurred to us that the 12AM curfew was strictly observed in Hanoi as it seemed to be non-existent in Ho Chi Minh City. The police usually do their rounds around that time and  remind bars to close down but because it was 1AM, we were ushered out by no less than the police themselves. It was a crazy experience but it was all good. What was unexpected was Ryan and Celine walked me back to my hotel before they headed to theirs. So sweet.

My room looked like an upgrade from my previous hotel, well it should be. It was a tad inconvenient to be transferring hotels for just a night but I was thrilled at how HUGE the bed was and I have it all to myself. I love it!

My room looked like an upgrade from my previous hotel, well it should be. It was a tad inconvenient to be transferring hotels for just a night but I was thrilled at how HUGE the bed was and I have it all to myself. I love it!

I woke up early to have breakfast before the tour guide picks me up for the city tour. Minutes later, we arrived at our first stop.

Tran Quoc Pagoda

The Tran Quoc Pagoda is located in the West Lake and the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi; it was built in the sixth century.

Two of the ten shrines flanking the Tran Quoc Pagoda.

Two of the ten shrines flanking the Tran Quoc Pagoda.

The temple is home to a number of valuable statues.

The temple is home to a number of valuable statues.

The bodhi tree giving shade to the meditating golden Buddha statue is said to be a gift from the Indian Prime Minister Razendia Prasat who visited the temple in 1959.

The bodhi tree giving shade to the meditating golden Buddha statue is said to be a gift from the Indian Prime Minister Razendia Prasat who visited the temple in 1959.

The gorgeous wooden hallway inside the compound of the Tran Quoc Pagoda.

The gorgeous wooden hallway inside the compound of the Tran Quoc Pagoda.

Next stop is the Ho Chi Minh Complex that houses the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, House on Stilts and the One Pillar Pagoda.

Next stop is the Ho Chi Minh Complex that houses the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, House on Stilts and the One Pillar Pagoda.

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum taken from the back.

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum taken from the back.

The One Pillar Pagoda is another historic Buddhist temple in Hanoi. It's located within the  compound of the Parliament House. Locals believe that praying here will bless one with prosperity.

The One Pillar Pagoda is another historic Buddhist temple in Hanoi. It’s located within the compound of the Parliament House. Locals believe that praying here will bless one with prosperity.

With the group slowly drifting on their own, the tour guide designated a meeting spot and with the hot weather, I decided to go there early and found fellow tourist, Floja (I’m not sure I got the spelling right). She’s French and works for the government and was assigned for a week in Hanoi on business trip. We may be strangers but  we have same thoughts on traveling; going solo has its perks and we both love it.

Next stop is the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which doubles as a research center and a museum.

Next stop is the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which doubles as a research center and a museum.

An old Viet house. The exhibit inside the museum is very informative, but I found it a bit boring so after i gave the two floors a once over, I went out to explore the grounds and found the exhibits there more engaging.

An old Viet house. The exhibit inside the museum is very informative, but I found it a bit boring so after I gave the two floors a once over, I went out to explore the grounds and found the exhibits there more engaging.

Jarai Tomb House. This was built in 1998 by men from the Jarai tribe, one of the largest ethnic groups in Central Highlands. This tomb house can fit 30 dead people; broken plates, cups are placed inside because they believe in providing necessities for the departed in the after life.

Jarai Tomb House. This was built in 1998 by five men from the Jarai tribe, one of the largest ethnic groups in Central Highlands. This tomb house can fit 30 dead people; broken plates, cups are placed inside because they believe in providing necessities for the departed in the after life.

Surrounding the tomb house are sexually explicit wooden sculptures that depicts fertility and birth. These are sculpted using axes, chisels and knives.

Surrounding the tomb house are sexually explicit wooden sculptures that depicts fertility and birth. These are sculpted using axes, chisels and knives.

By now the midday sun has unleashed its fury and we’re just thankful that next stop is the Blue Butterfly restaurant back at the Old District for lunch. I sat with Floja, and Riza and Aiza, who are Filipina nurses on holiday. It was a hodgepodge of conversation amid a delicious meal that’s too much for four girls.

This is the main gate of the Temple of Literature; built in 1070 and one of the many temples dedicated to Confucius.

This is the main gate of the Temple of Literature; built in 1070 and one of the many temples dedicated to Confucius.

During our visit, there were a loads of students having a pictorial. According to our tour guide, this temple is a favorite venue for graduation pictorials. Quite appropriate, I must say, since this is one of the temples dedicated to Confucius, the sages and scholars. During our visit, there were a loads of students having their pictorial for graduation. According to our tour guide, this temple is a favorite venue for graduation pictorials. Quite appropriate, I must say, since this is one of the temples dedicated to Confucius, the sages and scholars.

During our visit, there were a loads of students having a pictorial. According to our tour guide, this temple is a favorite venue for graduation pictorials. Quite appropriate, I must say, since this is one of the temples dedicated to Confucius, the sages and scholars.

The Temple of Literature has five courtyards and it would’ve been nice to explore it all at leisure but since this is a guided tour, we’re pressed for time. Soon enough we found ourselves back in the Old Quarter to explore Hoan Kiem Lake. I’ve been here on my first day so I skipped this and went shopping with Riza and Aiza. 🙂

That was the last in the itinerary and I was finally dropped me off at the hotel. I freshened up for a bit and fixed my stuff and went to the last place on my list.

St. Joseph's Cathedral, also known as the Hanoi Cathedral, was built in 1886 and is the oldest church in Hanoi. The structure resembles that of Notre Dame de Paris.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral, also known as the Hanoi Cathedral, was built in 1886 and is the oldest church in Hanoi. The structure resembles that of Notre Dame de Paris.

The stained glass windows were produced in France before it was transported to Hanoi.

The stained glass windows were produced in France before it was transported to Hanoi.

The cathedral is a short walk  from the Hoan Kiem Lake and is part of my itinerary. I thought it’s the perfect way to conclude this four-day solo trip; to be thankful that I was safe and had an experience that will stay with me for a very long time.

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Hanoi: In the Company of Strangers (Days 2 and 3)

I woke up early for the cruise the next day, had my breakfast, checked out from the hotel and waited for the bus to pick me up. I decided to check out since I’ll be staying overnight on the boat and paid for my entire stay as well. In total, I paid US$200 for 3D/2N at the hotel (inclusive of breakfast) and the overnight stay on the boat, inclusive of welcome drinks; lunch & dinner for the first day; and breakfast & lunch the next day. *Pats myself on the back for such  a steal of a holiday.*

Tips:

  • TripAdvisor.com is your best bet for legit reviews of hotels and sample itineraries. 
  • Whatever hotels you find on agoda.com, booking.com or similar sites, cross-check it with TripAdvisor. So far, this site has not let me down yet. 
  • Feel free to bring your swimsuit and sunscreen.

Instead of me blabbing away on the 2D/1N Halong Bay itinerary,  I’ll post photos to take you through my overnight journey to one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites.

After about 1.5 hours of traversing the road to Halong City, the bus will make a mandatory stop  at a handicraft store for about 20 minutes.

Pier

More than an hour later, we arrived at the Bai Chay Pier in Halong City.

After the tour guide has purchased the tickets, passengers will then proceed to the wharf to be transferred to the Viet Beauty Cruise via a small ferry.

After our tour guide has purchased the tickets, we proceeded to the wharf to be transferred to the Viet Beauty Cruise via a small ferry.

The boat doesn't come to you. You come to the boat. And you do it via these small ferries. And no matter how short the distance, wear the life jacket. It's a hard rule.

The boat doesn’t come to you. You come to the boat. And you do it via these small ferries. And no matter how short the distance, wear the life jacket. It’s a hard rule.

This is the view from the dining hall. While there is a wifi onboard, it's very unstable since we're in the middle of the bay. I barely cared. I have my camera. I'm good.

This is the view from the dining hall. While there is a wifi onboard, it’s very unstable since we’re in the middle of the bay. I barely cared. I have my camera. I’m good.

Right outside the dining hall are small tables lining up the lower deck.

Right outside the dining hall are small tables lining up the lower deck.

The cabin in The Viet Beauty Cruises is cozy and equipped with hotel grade bathroom facilities. Except for the water taking a bit of time to go down the drain, I've no issues with the room.

The cabin in The Viet Beauty Cruises is cozy and equipped with hotel grade bathroom facilities. Except for the water taking a bit of time to go down the drain, I’ve no issues with the room.

Since I was travelling alone, they gave me the option of adding US$40 so I don’t have to share the cabin with a stranger. I scrimped and decided to tough it out and go for the shared cabin. It’s just for a night anyway. I wasn’t prepared to share it with a late 50-ish English guy. I thought that since I’m a girl, they’ll pair me off with a girl too. Unfortunately, there was no other girl travelling solo so, I’m stuck with him. Thankfully he was decent and that the only time we were in the cabin together was when it was time to doze off for the night.

Once we’ve freshen up, we started our tour and first stop is the Sung Sot Cave or the Amazing Cave.

Sung Sot Cave is a famous tourist stop in Halong Bay and since it's peak season, you can just imagine how busy this place is.

Sung Sot Cave is a famous tourist stop in Halong Bay and since it’s peak season, you can just imagine how busy this place is.

So maybe, this is why it's called the Amazing Cave. *insert naughty grin* And of all the colors to light up this VERY interesting rock formation, they choose red.

So maybe, this is why it’s called the Amazing Cave. *insert naughty grin* And of all the colors to light up this VERY interesting rock formation, they choose red.

We spent about an hour going through the different caves, with our tour guide pointing at more interestingly shaped rocks and stalagmites. In my head, no other rock formation can be as interesting as that photo above.

The tour is finally done and we headed back to the boat again to go to a spot for kayaking. I decided to skip this out because the heat got me and I don’t feel good anymore.

I decided to nap and about 20 minutes later, I decided to go up the sundeck and enjoy some quiet time.

I decided to nap and about 20 minutes later, I decided to go up the sundeck and enjoy some quiet time.

The local vendors make for an interesting addition to the Halong Bay scenery. They sell chips, cigarettes and sweets.

The local vendors make for an interesting addition to the Halong Bay scenery. They sell chips, cigarettes and sweets.

As we wait for our dinner, we had cooking class and they taught us to prepare fresh spring rolls.

As we wait for our dinner, we had cooking class and they taught us to prepare fresh spring rolls.

I was the lone Asian in the cruise, save for the Vietnamese junk crew and tour guide. I thought I will feel awkward but it was so much fun chatting with Irish travelbugs Emma and Karen; her mom, Helen; and Jeremy, the Englishman in Hanoi. 🙂 After chatting some more, we headed to our respective cabins and called it a night.

The following day, those who were able to wake up early joined the Tai Chi class held at the sundeck. I skipped that and headed straight to a light breakfast. Few minutes later, we are on our way to Soi Sim Island, a mere five-minute ferry ride from where the boat anchored for the night.

Soi Sim Island is ok but having been to our glorious beaches, the beach did not impress me. It was a small stretch and the water doesn't look inviting; maybe Cat Ba Island is better but it's not included in our itinerary.

Soi Sim Island is ok but having been to our glorious beaches, the beach did not impress me. It was a small stretch and the water doesn’t look inviting; maybe Cat Ba Island is better but it’s not included in our itinerary.

For me, Palawan sets the bar for gorgeous beaches and the Conde Nast Traveler placed a stamp on that for naming Palawan as the top island in the world for 2014.

And so I decided to hike towards Soi Sim Hill.

It's a 400+ steps up this hill and while the sign discourages older people from hiking, I still found some elderly couples heading up the cemented steps.

It’s a 400+ steps up this hill and while the sign discourages older people from hiking, I still found some elderly couples heading up the cemented steps.

The elderly people hiking up inspired me to get to the top but with the lack of exercise, I was catching my breath by the time I reached the top.

The elderly people hiking up inspired me to get to the top but with the lack of exercise, I was catching my breath by the time I reached the top. But the haze that morning diluted the beauty of the beach from the top. Oh well.

An hour later, we’re back on the boat to check out and have our buffet lunch. At this time, we have new companions onboard as they are the ones checking in for the night. After lunch, we headed back to the pier to board the bus back to Hanoi. Back to the crazy city of speeding motorcycles but this time, I went back with new Twitter and Instagram friends.

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