Category Archives: Southeast asia

An invitation to Vietnam

 

During my contract in Asia on my ship it was exciting to be given the chance to take tours in new countries and see things that were brand new to me. We docked in Da Nang, Vietnam which was about thirty minutes from the popular tourist areas along the beach. All I knew was that I was finally going to eat something out of my own comforts of pho.

Getting out of Da Nang

En route to Hoi An for some free time in the town and lunch at one of the best Vietnamese restaurants I really didn’t know what to expect. Before reaching Hoi An we stopped in the outskirts for a small town walk visiting a temple and a local neighborhood. Following my group from the back of the line I just soaked up everything. How people live. What their houses look like. What people wore. Listening to their language. We reached a huge space of what seemed to be rice paddies. Well this view was not so foreign to me because I once lived in the countryside of Korea and this was all that I saw!

Hoi An
Finally reaching Hoi An my mind was playing tricks on me. Wait, was I back in Bali again? Am I in Ubud? As both Hoi An and Ubud appeared to have many similarities I knew that I was in Vietnam. Hoi An reminded me so much of the heart of Bali; Ubud. With small art shops, beautiful pottery shops, locally made arts and crafts, colorful and exotic fruits on the side streets, small local venders cooking up noodles and dumplings I felt like a spell was put on me. I was truly in love all over again. With exquisite colors of fabrics, paintings, lanterns flowing down the street I felt helplessly in love. There was no turning back at this point. I was completely, magically, and helplessly in love with Hoi An. Walking past me was an older woman carrying large fruit baskets hooked onto a long rod that she held over her shoulder. Colorful dragon fruits, snake fruits, and star fruits jiggled in the basket as she walked past me. Lunch time was around the corner.

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As I thought that Pho and spring rolls filled with shrimps and basil were all that Vietnamese cuisine was all about, I was completely wrong.

Reaching our restaurant the chefs were preparing the dumplings, soups, and fresh salads in the entrance. As I made a special request for a vegetarian meal I was hesitant what I was going to be fed. As the other guests in my tour had the same meal I was the special case and I was hoping that I would get just as delicious food as them. Soon, warm dumplings filled with veggies and shrimp with a dipping sauce was placed in front of me. It looked too beautiful to eat at first then I slowly took my first bite. Then a big bowl of soup that looked like a combo of curry and pho was delicately placed on my table. Have you ever eaten a meal so delicious, ingredients so fresh, that you almost feel sad to finish your food? Each bite I took was small as I soaked in all of the flavors from this soup. I was sad to see it go.

 

Love at first sight

When I fall in love with a place sometimes I fall in love with every bit. The cafes, the people, the smells, the sights, the pace, and the nature. This happened to me once when I visited Bali and now I was experiencing falling in love immediately with Hoi An. Why? Because there is no place quite like it that I have ever been to. Korea doesn’t look like Hoi An. Singapore doesn’t have a small town like this that offers you everything to fall in love with.

I found Hoi An an enchanting town with the river that flows through the city with small fishing boats locals sail on and the yellow and red lanterns that line the town. The little touches the locals put into your experience. With my last thirty minutes of free time I sat and enjoyed what was the largest and most delicious coconut I ever drank out of. With that came a full bladder where I had to find a bathroom immediately for the bus ride back.

Hoi An is a place that made me fall for it all. It’s a place that I always recommend. It’s a place that when I think of it, it brings me peace and a smile on my face. There was so much solitude and joy I experienced by walking around just on my own, just as I like to. There is something to be said about places that immediately make you feel like you’re invited even though you never received an invitation. I think that is called grace.

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Have you ever traveled to a place that you fell in love with at first sight? I’d love to know. Share your comments below to get this conversation started!

Travel Guidelines in the Philippines

Mabuhay!

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Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental

If you love exotic beaches, landscapes that vary from the capital to the provinces, a cuisine with plenty of variety, and meeting very friendly locals who can speak English very well then maybe the Philippines is a place that is next on your list of destinations to visit. As the Philippines is a developing nation with plenty of resources and wonderful things happening in and around Manila the right precautions should be taken as with any place you plan to visit.

As I have spent about three months in the Philippines between all my visits combined I have seen many places near and far. From the Intramuros fortress in Manila to the rice terraces in Banaue, down to Chocolate Hills in Bohol, I am truly in love with all the sights in the Philippines. I believe that I have the authority to share my top tips of advice for the traveler interested in the Philippines because from first hand experience I know what expats are going to face when finding their way around the first time. And one piece of advice concerning my two favorite things you must try; buko (coconut) pie and lumpia(spring rolls). They are my favorite. Enjoy!
1. Travel with Local Currency
As you go on your journey around the Philippines it’s important to keep in mind that you really need local currency on you because outside of the big malls credit cards are not going to get you very far. Compared to other Asian destinations where paying with a credit card is everywhere like in South Korea where I recently traveled to, it’s better to know this now before you are in for a big surprise in the Philippines. When taking public transportation such as jeepneys, tricycles, and buses not only do you need pesos to pay but you need small change and even sometimes exact change to pay. You don’t want to be paying for a tricycle ride with a 1000 Peso bill. You especially don’t want to hand your jeepney driver 500 pesos when getting out to pay. Traveling with smaller bills is especially going to help you when you find yourself on Session Road at the Baguio Market paying for a bag of apples.
Unfortunately, there are so many thieves and pickpockets around so have small change on you preferably in an easy to reach purse or even in your front pocket. This happened to me when I was at the Baguio Market last month and the shop owner actually tipped me off saying how many pickpockets there are so better I have coins on me and small bills on me that I can easily reach to pay and go.
2. Watch your belongings
Like anywhere you travel to around the world you always want to keep your eye on your things. With the growth of terrorism more recently you especially don’t want to keep multiple bags unattended for a period of time. This itself could set you up for some trouble. You always want to use your common sense whenever you travel but make sure that your electronics and cash are literally in plain view so that you know where they are. Don’t leave behind your phone next to your meal and get up and go to the bathroom. Don’t walk around busy areas including malls and public markets with your phone or a large stash of cash in your back pocket. These are all basic safety measures to ensure that you are taking ownership and care to your possessions.
3. Taking Precaution when exchanging money
I was tipped off by my boyfriend and his sister in Robinsons Manila Mall that I could get the best exchange rate for my USD to PESO conversion. However, I received some tips that I want to pass on to the next traveler who may need this. Really, I mean really, keep an eye out when exchanging money in the malls and outside. You many not be aware of who is watching you to see where you go next after you just exchanged $500 and now you have 23,250 pHp on you. Be critically aware of your surroundings for real. Sometimes people get followed without any idea that they are being followed. Also when walking around Manila try not have a lot of cash on you because it’s really not safe. If you are planning on going for a walk to get some coffee or a meal in the mall or nearby, realistically you don’t even need 2,500 PhP on you. It’s better to have small denominations on you such as 20,50,100,500 so that the cashier can make change for you to make the payment paying smoother. Going to Starbucks? Just pay with your card.
4. The reason for carrying PhP cash on you as backup
I had been paying with pesos the whole time I was in Manila until I literally ran out and decided to use my credit card this one time to pay for my Vietnamese meal in the mall. I was having lunch at Pho Ha at Robinsons Otis in Paco, Manila when suddenly the electricity went off for about ten seconds. Taking my time slurping on my pho noodles and enjoying each bite I had no idea that the credit card machines went down and only cash was being accepted at this time. With only 40 php in my wallet I was about the get myself tied up in a mess.
I asked for the bill and took my credit card out. “Oh, I’m sorry ma’m we are only accepting cash at this time because the credit card machines are currently not working because of the electricity outage”. I didn’t even have the equivalent of $1 to pay for my meal. “Better you wait a while for them to work again,” my waiter explained. With no USD in my wallet to exchange upstairs I waited the first hour watching time pass. Finally I explained to the staff that I understand the situation and that I have no pesos to pay for my meal but I can’t wait all day for the machines to magically begin working again. “Ma’m we talked with our supervisor and it’s ok if you come back later or tomorrow to pay”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This has never happened to me before and I couldn’t believe that the entire staff was letting me “walk off” without paying while trusting me enough to come back. “My name is Alana. I am currently staying at Peninsula Gardens. You can find me there if you don’t see me by tomorrow afternoon”. Was I really just telling the restaurant my current address?
Owing the restaurant 700 php I felt a heavy weight on my shoulders to hurry the hell up and exchange my dollars at Robinsons Manila A.S.A.P. When I returned the next day with my receipt in hand and the exact amount to pay I swear, the staff looked so proud and relieved to see me with big smiles. I felt like I had proved to them and to myself that I am a trusting dignified human being and that I would never take off from a restaurant without paying them back. Words of advice, it’s always best to have local currency on you for the unexpected.

For more information on the Philippines check out my vlogs on Youtube where I cover the places I visited along with travel advice, and much more!

 

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Batad Rice Terrace; UNESCO World Heritage Site

Taking the unplanned route: Thailand on my own

I knew that I always wanted to visit Thailand, it was just a matter of getting myself there and having a plan. I was in love with my favorite Thai restaurant back home, Bangkok, and because of my curiosity I knew that I would eventually find myself there sooner than later. Looking around at all the beautiful deco and photos that the restaurant owners carefully placed around the seating areas I knew that I would pick Thailand as my travel destination during my winter vacation after settling into South Korea.

Sidenote: I recently found out that the owners of Bangkok in Danbury, Connecticut who inspired me to take my first journey to Asia on my own died in an airplane crash in 2015. I want them to know that because of their restaurant I was deeply inspired and moved to venture to Thailand on my own.

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Na Muang Waterfalls, Koh Samui

Fast forward five months later and there I was on a bone chilling morning still dark outside finding my way through the underground in Seoul on my way to Incheon Airport. I was so ready to be in a warmer climate, eat the delicacies of Thailand, find myself in  night markets soaking in all of the culture in Bangkok, and enjoying a proper Thai massage. In the midst of my own excitement I had done little planning because this was my first trip traveling Asia by myself. Two years prior I had backpacked my way around South Africa on the Baz Bus from Jo-burg to Cape Town but planning was minimal because all I did was have to pick my accommodation from the guidebook and I would be dropped off door to door.
There was something so scary to me at first about traveling to Thailand by myself without a plan. I didn’t know the language, transportation system, most visited destinations, and I felt entirely self conscious and overly nervous about this adventure that I found myself in a panic on the plane. With only my first night booked at a highly recommended backpackers in Bangkok, I had no outside knowledge of where I would be traveling to next or how I would get there.

 

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After checking in and dropping off my luggage I was out on the town riding a tuktuk and enjoying local pad thai at a night market with a fresh mango smoothie. On Ko San Ro there was so much to take in. Lots of street eats, massage parlors, shopping, and more. My first night was cool to take in but I knew that I wanted to get out of the capital and discover beautiful beaches and scenery. With Christmas and New Years only days away I browsed for accommodation online and found that most places were sold out. With a little more last minute research on a whim I booked at I-bed in Ko Samui not knowing exactly how I would get myself there. Following the sketchy directions from the hostel desk workers I arrived on foot to a bus station that would take my first to Cha-Am then onto Ko Samui. I spent my four remaining days meeting really cool people at I-Bed, toured around the island visiting the waterfalls, and enjoyed as much curry and Thai food as my body could handle.

I want to say that I fell in love with Koh Samui at first sight. This island is lush, beautiful, and has gorgeous beaches. The Celebrity Millennium tenders in Koh Samui and I so deeply hope that one day soon I can work on that ship with the chance to return to my type of paradise.

#Choose Philippines: Why I keep coming back

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Intramuros, Manila

Mabuhay!

I’ve traveled throughout the Philippines on four separate trips now and to this day I still recommend the Philippines as an excellent travel destination in southeast Asia. Why? Because Filipinos are warm and embracing people. Food is cheap and delicious. You can never run out of destinations to visit. The landscapes vary as you travel around. Nothing looks the same. You can ride a caribou in Puerto Galera. Come on people! There are 7,107 islands to be exact.

The Philippines offers cooler environs outside of sticky Manila such as delightful getaways such as Baguio, Sagada, and Banaue where you can enjoy caving, hiking, and explore the different cultures that the northern mountainous lands offer.

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Hiking in Banaue

Okay, so maybe I have a boyfriend who is from the Philippines but there must be a reason why I keep coming back and making travel arrangements near and far.

My first trip there was to the island of Bohol and it was this venture that I traveled there alone back in 2013 with one intention in mind: to see for myself Chocolate Hills. Bohol exceeded my expectations beyond measure. It is a place I hope to return to.

In July of 2013 I set off to Bohol because I was dying to see the beautiful mounds of Chocolate Hills and the tarzier creatures with the big bug eyes.  After a short flight from Manila, Bohol greeted me with the dreaminess of Alona beach and all of the beautiful people, surroundings, and foods on  “White Beach” similar to Borocay. I fell in love with it at first sight. Dining solo with tea lights on my table I never truly felt alone. In fact, all of the waiters kept asking me where my husband was. The Philippines is a bit obsessed with coupling. Don’t you think?

Chocolate Hills

Why I keep coming back! (Travel longer-travel cheaper)

Compared to many other southeast Asia destinations the Philippines offers cheap travel around the country through ferries and buses, exotic and tasty food, and beyond affordable accommodation throughout the country. Think cheap massages, simple food (very inexpensive), beaches never too far away, many English speakers, and sincerely kind people. I’m pretty sure that when I was in the Philippines last September I was getting some sort of spa service on a daily basis for under $5 per hour. Back home it’s at least $60 minimum for an hour massage. Imagine that.

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Lunch @ Leslie’s in Tagaytay

Just a short list of my reasoning alone makes me want to plan my next trip to the Philippines because there is always something new to learn about Filipino culture, new places to explore, and unlimited foods to try. There are still regions even more north of Sagada that I haven’t explored yet.

It is the Philippines as a travel destination that I highly recommend to anyone who is thinking about jet setting to southeast Asia. If you are searching for something off the beaten path from what many tourists have done include the Philippines in your future travel plans.

Batad Rice Terrace
Batad Rice Terrace

Fast Facts

Culturally speaking the list of what you can experience in the Philippines is endless. From the delicious cuisine with exotic fruits to yummy street foods such as lumpia, ice cold halo-halo, loads of smiles from the locals (especially upon walking into a store) fried bananas, and buko (coconut) juice.

The landscapes of the Philippines drastically change as you travel from the overpopulated capital of Manila to the outside provinces and to the islands. The Philippines consists of  7,107 islands! With these many islands you are never bound to get bored or run out of places to see. If you thought that seeing Borocay was all the Philippines has to offer guess again.

What truly has highlighted my experience of traveling the Philippines has been caving in Sagada and walking through Echo Valley to witness the Hanging Coffins up on the mountain  to quiet Alona Beach in Bohol . The Filipino people have truly made each trip to the Philippines of mine very special to me. Oh gosh, now I am salivating thinking about lumpia.

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Enjoying a birthday celebration in Bohol

The dark side of paradise

It’s very easy to let the negative side of stories of  getting scammed, robbed, or getting a bad first impression of Manila upon arrival (the traffic, air pollution, and the overwhelming poverty). I can admit that yes I have been scammed by taxis and tricycle drivers before but that has not deferred me from wanting to keep coming back to the Philippines to see what else is out there.With that said, I’m here to shed the light on what the Philippines really has to offer as a travel destination. There are all good people in the world near and far. I have met all different kinds of people throughout the world and all throughout southeast Asia, however I haven’t met such  accommodating people in all my life since discovering it in the Philippines. The people of the Philippines has stuck with me as my main reason for what sets this destination apart from other places.

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hiking in Mt. Tapyas

With every destination you visit of course there is always the good and bad parts. For example someone can love the cuisine in India but the traffic and pollution in the cities could be the deal breaker from coming back. I loved cycling around Kyoto on my own but I felt very frustrated by my two trips there when I really couldn’t find my way around Kyoto because there really weren’t many English speakers to talk to. In Manila the traffic, overpopulation, poverty, and smog that fill the capital is such a pity and downer to me but I still love the people. The Philippines truly has to much to offer in terms of sightseeing, landscapes, diversity, languages, and cuisine. It’s been four trips now and I am starting to think when I will be back. As much as I have been offered the chance to live there it is much better for me to visit. The Philippines will always be a place that I can visit and I have many reasons why I can keep coming back.

For more information about travel and life in the Philippines check out my vlogs on Youtube here.

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In love with the Philippines

The Island of Gods

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Bali was always place that I wanted to visit after reading Eat, Pray, Love (like three times). I can remember laying on my hammock and dreaming about getting lost in Bali. Eating lots of exotic fruits, making local friends, and thinking that my life would fall into place after discovering myself. I wasn’t drawn to Bali because I was recently divorced or experiencing a critical heartbreak in my life but my own curiosity was leading me to a place where I could disconnect and set my own pace for what I wanted to do. A calling in my life was leading me to The Island of Gods.

It was December of 2010 and I was sitting in front of my heating fan in Korea freezing like I was in the tundra. I had just purchased my flight to Denpasar and could not have felt more thrilled. I got down on my yoga mat in child’s pose with Balinese gamelan tunes softly playing in the background and was over the moon for my adventure to come.

Escaping the frigid conditions in Seoul I was on my flight to Denpasar, confident and in control of my second solo trip. My first impressions of Bali started in Sanur is a quiet homestay near the sea. A typical breakfast of fresh fruits, banana pancakes, and coffee next to the sea were waiting for me. I was in Bali.

A typical Balinese breakfast

Peace, solitude, and acceptance wrap up my understanding of how I felt about Bali based on my immersion in the little gem of Ubud. Morning yoga at run rise at the yoga barn,fresh fruits at the Ubud Market, and setting the trip at my own pace are what resonate with me when I reflect on my Balinese adventure. It was this trip that set my spark on fire to begin traveling alone and continuing on that journey around Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Hong Kong.

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A five course Balinese cooking class in Ubud

Going solo

Did you know that Bali is one of the top solo destinations in the world? For the curious solo travelers, Bali is a unique destination that I always recommend. Why? Because it is so easy to navigate your way around this small enough island with more than enough to do in a one week getaway. With plenty of homestays on the island you can have your own room with breakfast included (banana pancakes, fresh fruit, and coffee). Your homestay host can help you plan day tours and outings with the help of a local guide. In my case the homestay hosts were very helpful when helping me plan.

img_9190Don’t miss Ubud

The heart of Bali, Ubud, is a peaceful playground that attracts the kind of people who practice yoga, create and practice artist, and those who are curious enough to leave the popular sites like surfing spot Kuta Beach behind to discover a layer of Bali that you cannot experience in an expat playground such as Kuta.

Of course if you read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love then you must be familiar with Ubud. Located in the center of the island surrounded by rice field terraces, lovely nature paths, monkey forest, and pleasurable dining venues and cafes this place has plenty of offer. You can’t miss Monkey Forest Road, a long strip with local shops, artists, bistros, and cafes. For those in wanderlust mode you won’t fall short of pleasurable things to enjoy, even if that means enjoying smoothie overlooking the rice fields.

Ubud is where I spent most of my time on the island. After settling in my first night there I realized that I wanted to slow down and explore as much as I could on foot and through some eco-tours. I didn’t want to run my self down touring the whole island with a short amount of time. Ubud will always hold a place in my heart.

 

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At a very beautiful temple near Ubud

The sunrise is one of the coolest sights that you can’t miss to get your day started in Ubud. I took an early morning yoga class at the Yoga Barn where our class overlooked the rice paddies at the sun rose over the treetops. Stretching and holding positions in silence at the Yoga Barn taught me to slow down and stay in the moment. It was truly mesmerizing. The beauty of this experience is one that I will always treasure.

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Why I would go back to Bali

Bali is so dear to me because it’s the first place that I traveled to alone where I felt at home. I felt at peace navigating my way around while I was in  search of beautiful spots to soak in. Away from the main drag of where expats like to hang out in and around Monkey Forest Road I always found myself on a long stretch of paths that led me to beautiful sunsets where I completely took in my surroundings of exotic flora, locals selling colorful fruit and it was here where I felt so lucky to witness what I had thought of the landscapes, a painting. For the curious traveler I hope that you day you too take home a piece of Bali for yourself.

Getting there

Getting to Bali means flying into Denpensar (DPS) and then navigating yourself around the island through a taxi, motorbike, or through the Perama Bus. I used the Perama bus as it was reliable and cheap transportation. For US citizens it is $35 visa on arrival. Make sure you have US dollars on you.

Getting Around

Points of interest such as Sanur, Ubud, Canidasa, Senggigi, Lovina, and Amed can all be reached by taking the Perama Bus. You can also hire a driver if there are places you want to see around the island.