Dubai, Dubai !

Dubai, Dubai !

Dubai is probably the city in the world that I’ve seen the most but have never actually been. I took this aerial shot while on board a flight to Cape Town, South Africa. I want to think that I’ve captured it well. I really hope to be able to step foot in the streets of Dubai soon. That would be wonderful.

Happy Halloween

It is the night before November 1, All Saint’s Day. It is an important holiday here in the Philippines.  This is the day when everyone remembers their departed loved ones by visiting them in their resting place. Millions of Filipinos travel to distant provinces and islands to celebrate or commemorate.  It’s a long weekend too so I bet everybody will enjoy their long vacations.

Though I’d definitely just stay home this year and light several candles for my father, grandfather and many others whom I love dearly; I just had enough of all the scary stuff being shown on TV from the cable networks to the local channels.

Seriously, I get it and since the start of this week the horror movies come one after the other.  Though I can’t say I did not like them (horror movies) and all that but I just really have to take a break and lighten things up with these photos of Halloween in the largest Theme Park in South Korea, The Everland.

This is perhaps the scariest I can go, yup, seriously.

This is the nearest I get close a dead tree with Casper above me.
If catching ghost is this easy, I’d definitely recommend it to the ‘Ghost busters’.
Want some pumpkin?
Pumpkin Soup anyone?
Now that’s really scary 🙂

Happy Halloween everyone, now who’s ready for a trick or treat?

Adventure in Southeast Asia

I embarked on a 12-day solo adventure in 5 southeast Asian countries exactly a year ago. It has been  the most adventurous travel escapade I had until now.

Unlike last year where I can hop-on and off from buses, running trains and sorts with ease; this time, I get to travel with my 62-year old mom, my best friend, closest friends and their families. All ten of us experienced an exhausting but fulfilling 9-day adventure trip in Southeast Asia.

After several days of thrilling fun and adventure we made it to Singapore.

We traveled more than 2,000 kilometers on land from Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam then crossing the entire Cambodia nation with a two-nights stop in Siem Reap.  Crossed the border to Bangkok in Thailand for a night and then rented a van to Penang in Malaysia.  An overnight bus to Singapore concluded our trip with an awesome escapade in Singapore.

Welcome to Vietnam, the Motorbike Capital of the World, and so it seem.
One has must cross the streets of Saigon with care. The motorbike drivers are the kings and queens of the road !
Ho Chi Min formerly Saigon is the historical hub of Vietnam. Make sure to visit the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels where the Vietnamese dig an enormous underground tunnel system to win the battle against the America.
Our historical guide (seated) claimed that he was a Vietnamese solider. The stories he told based from personal experience.
A relaxing river cruise along the Saigon River kept us busy while waiting for the bus to Cambodia. Saigon’s skyline glitters at night.

The trip consisted sleeping in buses and vans and getting caught in horrendous 9-hours queue to cross the 10-minute ferry ride across the Mekong river. We experienced first hand together with all the tourists on board our bus to bribe a traffic officer to help hasten our ferry ride to no avail.

This is the queue to cross the Mekong River, it was several kilometers long and kept us 9 hours behind schedule. The long weekend and the burial ceremony of the King of Cambodia made traffic in the key areas of Cambodia terrible.

Crossing international borders were not as smooth too as it was last year because of the surge of tourists to Thailand and a looming long weekend due to national holidays.

Siem Reap in Cambodia is home to the World Famous Angkor Wats

My mom and friend’s dream to cross the southern Thailand peninsula to Malaysia did not happen since outbound trains from Bangkok to anywhere are all fully booked.  We experienced to eat exotic (super spicy) street foods and practically dining in street corners and market stalls.  We slept in dormitories and hostels much to my mom’s shock and surprise since she had to share a room with a total stranger.  We experienced running while pulling and carrying our luggage that gets heavier after every major stop in a city.  And we endured the driving ability of a Thai man trying his best not to fall asleep to reach Malaysia in an overnight 12-hours ordeal. And to top it all, language barrier did not do much of course to ease our desire for a wonderful escapade, in fact it made it all the more challenging.

The best way to indulge in Thai cuisine is to dine in at the many food stalls found around the Grand Palace , like this one.
This is a must see in Thailand along with many other Wat and palaces in Bangkok.
If shopping is your deal, Bangkok’s Chatuchak market definitely got it all.
A short stop over to the historical Georgetown in Penang Malaysia became our gateway to Singapore.

After what seem like forever but truly an adventurous one, we made it to Singapore with a grand accommodation in a friend’s posh condominium and a big celebration in Singapore’s Universal Studios.  My mom and friends especially those who traveled for the first time abroad thrilled and surely will never forget our ordeal in an adventure to Southeast Asia.

The Marina Bay Sands
At the Merlion Park
A wonderful and fun night at Sentosa.

To cap the entire SEA trip, my mom and I enjoyed the rides at Universal Studios in Singapore.

I will soon post a per country escapade of our Southeast Asian adventure.

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen in my life. I came to realize that even the term ‘grand’ is an understatement to describe this amazing scenery.

There are no words to describe the grandeur of the Grand Canyon.   I hope that these photos give justice to the awesome Grand Canyon.

Thanks to the bloggers who inspired me through their Grand Canyon photos and their recommend to see the Canyon from the South Rim.  Although further away from the nearest view decks, the drive was well worth it.

The five-hour drive from the Las Vegas, Nevada was spectacular.  I would have preferred myself as a passenger to enjoy these views at this time but we have no other choice.  Nevertheless, I had the ‘grandest’ time, adventure and thrill in my life.

The road to the Grand Canyon

I have experienced a lot of ‘firsts’ in this trip that I will definitely treasure, as always, forever.  First time to drive in the United States on a rented SUV and on my first 5 minutes after leaving the drive way, I was pulled-over by the police for driving on the other side of the road.

I had the shock of my life when I noticed that I am driving head-on the approaching vehicles, I made a U-turn immediately and in seconds a police car was behind me.  I was so nervous thinking that I might go to jail or my international driver license revoked that would eventually postpone our trip to the Grand Canyon.  But, just like the videos I see on TV’s Most Shocking,  the police who was very pleasant and polite forgave me and let me go.

It was my first to navigate through a foreign highway with stricter traffic laws with a GPS. I really followed speed limits and traffic signs.  I miss the voice of the ‘lady’ that commanded me to turn right, stay right and turn next left, etc.

First time to self-serve for gasoline.  I made so many gas-stops because I certainly enjoyed it.

I wish to thank the Mabanta family for letting us in their home in Las Vegas and renting an SUV for us free of charge.  And to their mom for accompanying  us to this wonderful journey to the great state of Arizona.

Indeed, the Grand Canyon is stunning, this is certainly not just the first.




The Hoover Dam on our way back to Las Vegas

My Vietnam Adventure

One of the perks of being in the academe is the chance to be on vacation at the same time that all students are on their semester-break.  I took this once in a life-time opportunity to explore Indochina and the Malay Peninsula, an idea that was conceptualized when I had nowhere to go.

I love world geography, as a matter of fact I teach it in the university.  As a Filipino who has lived in a country completely surrounded with water and no country to share a border with, I am always fascinated as to how one can travel from one country to the other by land.  The answer to this rather personal query came about in October.  I traveled a total of 12 days (originally 11 days, but was left by my home-bound plane). I accumulated a total of more than 3000 kilometers land travel within 5 countries and 8 cities in this absolutely adventurous solo travel to the crossroads of Asia.

The proliferation of the no-frills low cost airlines made my three hour flight from Manila to Ho Chi Minh (a.k.a Saigon, HCM) relatively inexpensive. The airline may have no free meals but with all the sandwiches in my hand carry seem as if I am in first class. My ticket costs 1,800 Philippine pesos (taxes included) or merely US$42. The absolutely infuriating airport fee and travel tax in the Philippines was even more expensive! (Total of about 2200 pesos). The plane arrived in HCM past 1AM, and there were absolutely not many people inside the airport. Getting some Vietnamese dollars before getting out of the airport would be a good idea, at this time, no other money exchange establishments would be open or you would have to pay everything in US dollars.   I hailed the first (only) taxi at the parking lot, the driver in his very crooked English, showed me the price I had to pay for the cab using a calculator.  My destination was downtown HCM and I knew that somewhere there was a place I could stay.  Part of my adventure is to check in a hotel without prior reservations.  The taxi driver asked for a contracted price of $15 for the fare, he claimed that downtown is about 45 minutes away, which was to my surprise only about 10 minutes from the airport considering that we were the only (moving) vehicle on the streets (at that time). My first rip-off!

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The taxi driver knew exactly where to bring me. The front desk staff of the hotel knew his name and gave him a tip before leaving.  The hotel is just one of the many lodging establishments lined-up in this street and as I walk around the next morning, I saw that tourists will not run out of choices as HCM is teeming with hotels from very cheap to the most expensive and luxurious ones.   For $15 a night, I got a fully air-conditioned room with cable TV, Wi-Fi, hot and cold shower.  It may lack standard amenities like shampoo and dental kit, I was sure it was just worth it. Just don’t mind if you see a folding bed in the middle of the lobby for the front desk staff, he was obviously in the middle of a deep sleep when I arrived.

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My first day in HCM began with a breakfast of traditional Vietnamese soup in Ben Than Market.

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Ben Than Market is haven for bargain shoppers and collectors.  My hotel is just a few blocks away from this market.  I find it a bit comforting to see many tourists around where I am staying; obviously I was brought to HCM’s famous backpackers’ area.  One can find an array of quality (this is relative) Vietnamese souvenirs and products ranging from food, fruits, spices to beautiful and colorful weaves, textiles and many more.  Most items are very affordable but I just had to haggle for the prices and I still get further down discounts!

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Walking in and around HCM is exciting but you have to be careful when crossing the streets.  There does not seem a strict traffic law on driving a bike.  Truly I should say that Vietnam is the motorbike capital of the world.

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Everyone from teenagers to old folks, to office ladies to men working in a field owns a motorbike.

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It is amazing to see many of them balance piles of house doors, sacks of rice and tin roof on a person in a bike. The possibilities are endless, so the culture shock would be endless too!

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There are packaged city-tours offered in hotels and travel agencies at the city center.  Just like hotels, there are many options for this too.  Be vigilant for fixers and people promising something but given something else.  Be careful also when bikers offer a tour around the city.  The safest way to go around would be of course with other tourists in a van or bus.  But if you feel like really adventurous, make sure to really scrutinize what people offer and be ready to pay the price, if you are unlucky.

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Here’s what happened, after I shop in the market I walked around the busy streets of HCM, if you like people and fascinated by a foreign culture, do this, its fun.  I obviously look like a tourist because of the camera that I carry, the shopping bags and of course my (hiking) outfit.  I was approached by a man, maybe in his 40’s and offered me a tour around the city in his motorbike for $10 per hour.  I thought it was a good deal and a total cultural immersion. So I inclined.  He brought me to another market until he offered to bring me to the Chu Chi Tunnels, of course I wanted to.  What I did not know is that the Chu Chi Tunnels is right outside Ho Chi Minh about 60 kilometers away.  It started to rain and he bought me a raincoat (charged to me later on). I was mostly concerned with my passport not to get wet.  (I can’t leave it in the hotel because I found it unsafe).  In the middle of nowhere, about 40 kilometers away, with thunders as my background he said (in a very crooked English, suddenly he couldn’t (wouldn’t) talk or understand English!), “I cannot bring you to the tunnel its far, but I will bring you back to CHM you pay 2 million dollars! ($100).” I was really shocked, I was being robbed nicely! Somewhere really far, in the middle of what seem like endless farming area, rain and thunders, no other vehicle in sight, I was being robbed. I argued…until I haggled (using his calculator), then I begged, and then I agreed because it was getting late and who knows what else could be in store for me if I do not agree.   But, I told him that I do not have cash and I will only withdraw in the city, I thought of getting money from the ATM near my hotel so I could report him to the police, much to my surprise, not very far from where we stopped was an ATM!  Anyway, he was still true to his word that he will bring me back to HCM, and I made it there.  I’m glad to see HCM again, this time, the sun was shining.

I saw a tourist bus that offers a $9 tour to Ho Chi Minh Tunnels; I booked for the next day.

That night, with nothing to do and still thinking about losing my $100 (I keep telling myself that I will just charge it to my experience) on the first day of my adventure, I booked myself in a Dinner Cruise along the Mekong River for $29.  It would last about an hour. I was picked up by the travel agency where I booked from the lobby of my hotel and brought us to a Puppet Show (it is not really nice and I do not recommend it). But if you just want to experience it, why not 🙂

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After which, a tuk-tuk which was waiting outside the venue took me to a ride around the city towards the harbor.

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A tuk-tuk ride is a must, you get to see HCM at night, and you would feel it resembles (somehow) Paris, particularly if you see their version of the Notre Dame Cathedral (with the same name).  The ride took about 30 minutes and we were brought to the harbor where this well-lit cruise ship awaits.

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The 5-course meal was nice, authentic Vietnamese cuisine was on the menu of course.

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There were beautiful maidens dancing to the tune of some Vietnamese music that entertained all the passengers during dinner.

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After the meal has ended, one of the girls offered a souvenir kit for $5.  She looks nice and friendly so I bought one, when I opened it my hotel that night, it contains a CD, necklace made of plastic bids, a chopstick and a tea cup! (Charge to experience!)

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A visit to the Cu Chi Tunnels is a must when visiting HCM. I did it very early the next day; reminiscing the Vietnam War was humbling, sad and disturbing all at the same time. To think that it had to happen, that it claimed so many lives and all that is just, just… I’m out of words.

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The sights, sounds and colors of Ho Chi Minh is one for the books as it truly showcases Asia’s authentic culture.  The Vietnamese people are generally pleasant, the food is amazing (my breakfast in the market) and the whole Vietnam adventure was humbling.  I will surely go back to Vietnam to reminisce my moments in my 5 country adventure where it all started!

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TIPS for a mind-boggling adventure travel (especially for women, girls, faint of heart, amateurs like me and for the rest who were just a plain thrill-seeker)

  1. Research in advance where you are going, where do you plan to stay and how far away it is from the airport. They are all available in the internet.
  2. Learn the local dialect, basic greetings or important questions like how much? How far? And others will come in handy.
  3. Learn to say “NO” in a local language of the place you’d like to visit and try to haggle on prices (if you are on a tight budget).
  4. Ask around for options, do not just grab the next (possible) opportunity that comes your way, and be vigilant and observant.
  5. If you are on a budget, stick to it no matter what!