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Musings for the Season

Before I left for the holidays, this street corner with World Christmas gigantic displays caught my eye. This could possibly be the only part of Brunei that screams 'Happy Holidays!'

Brunei: First Impressions

Without any sleep and with tequila in my veins, I stepped out of the plane and met the glaring sun. It was a sunshiny Sunday when I first set foot in this little country located southwest of the Philippines. 
It took around 30 minutes to get from the aiport to the hotel and the ride reminded me of the trip from KLIA to Kuala Lumpur with long freeways eventually leading to the bustling city. The difference was that the long freeways ended in Bandar Seri Begawan, a city that was the complete opposite of bustling... it was calm and quiet, not a single street looked busy.

I could see the sky in all its blueness, without obstructions. The absence of skyscrapers make it extremely lovely to look at the vast horizon. A few minutes after arriving at the hotel, a colleague invited me for a trip to Muara beach. The bed was very tempting, but between sleeping and going to the beach, I knew sleeping could wait. ;)

Saigon On My Mind

The plane landed on the wee hours of the morning, there was nothing to see, and the empty streets could be compared to Recto during summer. It took time to find a cab whose driver would not rip off travelers who, though not Western, still had a few dollars in their pockets. The persistent warnings in travel forums has made us wary and this weird excitement that came out of it turned into a “Will we be scammed?” game.
Thirty minutes later, we knocked at the gates of the hostel located at a small street right behind a market. A sleepy receptionist welcomed us, ushered us in, gave us a map, and shoved hand-outs of group tours straight into our accepting hands. The next thing I knew, I was in Dreamland.
Although still lacking sleep, we started out early and found Saigon in its waking, bustling state. It may be the biggest city in Vietnam but that did not stop us from deciding to walk its streets and not take any form of transportation for the day. 
We first ventured into the streets near …

Baguio Rediscovered

The Bustling Stop-Over in the North, Baguio.

Baguio means downing a couple of beers at Ayuyang while waiting for the bus to Manila. Or having a quick boodle dinner at Kalapaw with a bunch of hungry and exhausted people. Or strolling at SM to buy sweets because you can't find them in the other parts of Benguet that you just came from. It's too crowded, too touristy, and too typical that NOT going further up north is unthinkable. It's Manila minus the humidity and the temperature a few notches lower. 
Over dinner on a hot holiday night, an idea came up.

Let's go to Baguio? Day trip? Tara. 

And off we went.
Who would have known that in this rare chance to see Baguio as a destination it would slap me in the face with its beauty?

First Antsybeersary!

A year ago, I had nothing better to do but revisit my old online presence elsewhere and immediately felt the urge to get back into blogging.
A year ago, I wrote about the first thing that came into my mind... summits and how I hate the feeling of gasping for breath while on the trail but loving the climb anyway
A year ago, I decided to self-medicate with writing as a cure to my short-attention span and proved that it did help me keep my focus for at least a few minutes a day.
What I'm trying to say is that it has been a year! Thank you to everyone who has been a part of the lovely year that was. 

I am celebrating because that, for me, is a real feat. Having started (and eventually forgetting!) a couple of blogs before, See.Hear.Explore. has been the only one that I have stayed with and kept, providing faithful (at least monthly) updates like that of a long-distance lover.
After sharing 47 posts, experiencing more than 10 major destinations, having 1 published article, and meeti…

Fang-Od, The Art of Traditional Inking, and Chickening Out

We all thought it rained throughout the night. That's what happens when you stay at a lovely inn right beside the river. After a few hours of refreshing sleep, it was time to go on our way to finally meet Fang-Od. We bid the ladies of the Sleeping Beauty Inn goodbye and said thank you to the gracious owner, the town mayor, who in return sent us his well-wishes.

Our guide, Francis, hailed a jeep to take us to Bugnay, the jump-off point to Buscalan. Thirty minutes later, we stood in the middle of the town with the lying-in clinic to the left and the trail to Buscalan on the right.

It was a leisurely trek from Bugnay to Buscalan, with the views of Mt. Patukan (aka Sleeping Beauty) and the Chico river keeping us company. Francis entertained us with stories of the Kalinga culture and belted out to a few country songs for an added flair. We spotted several water falls on the mountain sides which I thought were probably nameless, so I took the liberty of naming the largest falls I saw as R…

Silay City Walking Tour

Travelling on foot is still the best way to explore and move around a place, with the added benefit of toning your leg muscles while you're at it. It can be a guided tour, one with specific stops in mind, or just wandering aimlessly and seeing where your feet will take you.
When PTB came up with the Blog Carnival topic for this month, I thought of the best walking tours I had this year. Of course the Walk this Way Tour of Intramuros with Carlos Celdran was a contender but the Paris of Negros, again, won the battle.
You see, I'm a sucker for all things quaint.
Silay is a small, walkable city in Negros Occidental known for its ancestral houses and good food. Before heading off, I luckily found this convenient map on the internet. Thanks to Project 7107, planning for a walking tour in Silay was a breeze. 


Here are the essentials for an enjoyable walking tour: An umbrella to protect you from the scorching sun or sudden rain, Google Maps for directionally challenged individuals lik…

Tinglayan, Kalinga: Sleeping Beauty, Tattoos, and Babkals

To meet the last tattoo artist Fang-od in the village of Buscalan, one has to board a bus to Tabuk for 12 hours, and take a 3-hr ride from Tabuk to Tinglayan.


There are regular trips from Tabuk to Tinglayan at 7 and 8 in the morning, but since misadventures seem to love us, we missed both trips. At 10AM, we stood at the jeepney stop waiting for any form of transportation. I asked around if there were jeeps stopping by anytime soon but I was just advised to sit and wait. And so we did.

Luckily, thirty minutes later, a jeep stopped in front of us, the driver asked the people where they were headed, and finally, he nodded and decided to go to Tinglayan. On the way to Tinglayan we were greeted with sweeping views of the mountains with the endless flow of the Chico River at its feet. The jeep went further upstream for 3 hours.

It was late in the afternoon when the jeepney pulled to a stop and told us that we were finally at Sleeping Beauty Inn. Francis Pa-in, our guide, came out to meet us an…

Shakespeare in the Park

The arts were not a huge part of my growing-up years. I stared at paintings without a vague sense of its depth, I saw ballet performances on TV and switched channels, I never tried to scrutinize minute details of sculptures, and the only theater play I thought to watch live was The Sound of Music (only because I loved the movie as a child). 
The first play I watched was Nick Joaquin's The Portrait of the Artist as Filipino in college. It was a  small school production that we were required to watch.

Fast forward to 2007, I was able to regularly drop by art exhibits in a mall. The exhibits were fun and refreshing to the inexperienced eye. In 2010, I found myself inside a deserted art museum in Kuala Lumpur. There was not a single soul in sight. I took my time scrutinizing the works.

Maybe those were signs. The arts and I. We stand a chance.


Lessons from Long Weekends and Even Longer Bus Rides

There is absolutely nothing that could go wrong with a 12-hour bus ride. Or so I thought.
Earlier this year I took a smooth 13-hour bus ride to Tuguegarao. I boarded the bus and slept all the hours away. This time around, it was a different story.
It all started with a plan to go to Kalinga with a new friend we've met at Batad. I called Victory Liner a day prior to the long weekend and the representative said that there were plenty of seats in all four trips to Tabuk. For the life of me, I don't know what prompted me to think that pretty sure there will be seats for four. Tabuk is just too far for a 4-day weekend, right?

So there we were. 8PM on a Friday night. Four people standing at Victory Liner Kamias Terminal begging for seats along with a hundred more chance passengers bound to Tabuk.

Most looked like they were seeing their families and they deserved a seat on the bus more than we did. I wanted to kick myself for not getting our tickets. I was racking my brains for Plan…

Cooking Frustrations Can Lead to a Bucket List

This post is the result of Thursday night's thoughts on cooking.

You see, cooking, next to dancing well, is at the bottom, of my skillset. I have cooked a few dishes in my life but I would rather eat it by myself than share, except for some some occasions when I prepared something more than a bowl of instant noodles for others. 
Yesterday, in an attempt to lessen dining out and make my food intake a little bit healthier, I decided to make a meal plan, cook what's on the plan, and stick to it. Somewhere in my planning I realized it would be really nice to whip up a nice dish and invite friends and family over for food and drinks. I adore my friends who are good in cooking, plus points for friends who magically come up with great dishes while camping

And so I thought that this should be added in my bucket list. (Which, by the way, does not exist in an actual written list.. until now.)

I Was Meant For a Sunny Day

Dear Dumaguete,

Sometimes things don't go your way.


This video sums up what turned out to be a day's stay in your place. Forgive the disheveled, almost dying look. 
I was frustrated. But really, there's no arguing with the screaming human body.

Cagayan Valley: The Nitty-Gritty

Choosing Cagayan Valley was a hasty decision for a Holy Week destination. I can no longer remember what convinced us to choose the province of Cagayan but I'm certain we almost did not push through because of the long lines at the terminal. Luckily, Victory Liner now has an online booking and reservation system for trips to Tuguegarao. Several airlines offer flights to Tuguegarao with a travel time of 1hour but if you plan to take the bus, prepare your arse for a long-haul journey! Or, if you're like me who can doze off anywhere, it's a perfect excuse for a 12-hour long sleep.
Where to Stay:

In Palaui: Bayanihan Hall 


Nothing beats homestays where one can experience living in a local community. When in Palaui, consider staying in Bayanihan Hall. Room rate is P200/head. If you plan to pitch tents, rate is P150/head for setting up tents in the yard. 
Charlie and Jenny also served freshly cooked meals. For PhP150 per meal, we were served with a huge bowl of steaming, hot sinigan…

Manila: Seeing the City in a New Light

And our past tells us that our geography dictates our destiny.

That was one great insight that I got from Carlos Celdran's Walk This Way Intramuros Tour. The walking tour is a great way of introducing Manila to visiting foreigners, and that was highly evident from the number of them in the group, but more than that, it also served as an eye-opener for Filipinos like me who have, in a way, neglected to see Manila for what it is.
Come to think of it, it is not unusual for some people to diss our culture and brand us as un-Asian. Compared to our truly Asian neighbors, our hodge-podge culture is sticking out like a sore thumb. At the end of the 3-hour tour, I left Intramuros enlightened and with a seemingly deeper understanding of Manila.

The tour started at 3PM with the group assembled at the gate of Fort Santiago. The sky was overcast and the rain threatened to pour but the group pushed ahead and started with the tour. Armed with a huge clear book of photos, small flags, an assortmen…

Remembering Myanmar: Sunrise in Bagan

No matter how awe-stricken I was when I stood in the middle of the huge Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, it did not prepare me for the experience that I was to face the next day. 
We took the overnight bus from Yangon to Bagan and arrived in the wee hours of the morning. The group spent some time having coffee and tea at a shop which was luckily open at that hour. A few drivers and their horse carts were at the bus terminal, eagerly waiting for us to decide what we wanted to do at such an ungodly hour. I honestly cannot remember whose idea it was to watch the sun rise on top of an abandoned temple but I'm glad we did.

Imagine sitting on a loose brick atop an abandoned temple while watching the whole place come to life as the sun cast its rays on more than four thousand pieces of century-old temples, stupas, and pagodas scattered in every direction.

Eat.Play.Sleep. - A Panda's Version

Po from the movie Kung Fu Panda is adorable, but he comes nowhere near the charm of real-life giant pandas.

Meet Le Le and Ying Ying from Ocean Park in Hongkong! These 2 lovable giants are mainstays at the Amazing Asian Animals complex.

Pandas are proof that huge and cute are two words that go together. One look at them and you know you just can't resist that hug-inducing feeling. I could not stop gushing as I felt like a kid running towards these sleeping creatures. 
Is there any other animal out there that looks as sweet as these two when sleeping?

Remembering Myanmar: Yangon

It has been a year since that trip and I still could not come up with apt words.

You know that quick judgment that you make the moment when you first set foot in a new place? That Ahh, this place is laid-back or This one feels busy and fast-paced.. that did not happen with Myanmar.

I could not put my finger on it at first. The country is poor but not depressed, quiet despite of people chattering, and a part of me wanted to think of it as uneventful but I could not dismiss the nagging feeling that there was something beneath the surface. Or maybe I was just being extra careful.  At the airport, my friend started to take a video but a guy came up to him and warned him to not do such things.

Looking back, I guess I felt an air of subdued anticipation and feigned obedience. The same way we behave when we know a secret and we're trying to hide the smile on our faces. Or that feeling when you just said yes to follow the rules only to break them.

I'm going to try and recount that sur…

Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is

I will start this off by saying that I am in no way an expert in these things. A few people have teased me about having lots of resources because they see me going on trips frequently. The truth is, they probably have more finances than I have. I live on my office laptop (my personal laptop was broken and I haven't gotten around to fixing it), I'm smarter than my phone (my phone is solely made for calling and texting), I have no extra gadgets except for that small mp3 player which I can no longer find, and I eat my favorite tuna rice, pancit canton, and Ministop chicken for dinner at least once a week. See! So who has more moolah now? :) And no, I am not complaining. I am happier with my lifestyle now than a few years back when I first started working.
The difference between you and me are our priorities. I have long realized that I loved walking inside ROX than poking at bags inside designer shops. I was happier when I got my P2K bike from Evangelista than the times when I g…

Sagada and The Double Rainbow High

The first time I saw a double rainbow, I cried.

I would not have been that emotional if the setting was somewhere else, but of all places that two rainbows could pop up, it had to be in Sagada. This is a small town up in the Mountain Province whose charm has captivated me ever since I first set foot in December 2008. I went with three of my friends and even while we were still on the way to the town proper, I was already swept away by the amazing view of pine trees and rice terraces.

Everything Sentosa

Day 1 in Singapore was Turista-sa-Sentosa Day. We started the day early by having a huge breakfast at Killiney Kopitiam. I had second thoughts on visiting Universal Studios Singapore. I don't know where I got the idea that USS was Disney-ish, with mascots and cute kiddie cartoons stuff.  (A little backstory: in choosing between Ocean Park and Disneyland in Hongkong, we picked Ocean Park.)  I want rides, rides, rides. I want the kind that gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach. I adored Enchanted Kingdom's Anchors Away and I would always sit at the end row where I could feel like I'm almost tipping over. Exhilarating!
Aaron got our tickets prior to Thursday using Mastercard at SG$68 each. A bit pricey if you ask me but good thing it already included a SG$6 voucher for food and another SG$6 voucher for retail purchases. Just add a couple more dollars for lunch and you're good to go.
We went straight to ride Battlestar Galactica: Cyclon at the Sci-Fi City. Rollercoaster…

Ate My Way Around Singapore

I absolutely enjoyed Singapore's food. Everything suited my palate, from the coffee, kaya toast, and soft-boiled eggs breakfast at Killiney Kopitiam on my first day, up to the sumptuous steak lunch at Marche's on my last. (That's everything except for KFC's hot and spicy chicken, because ours taste better).
KILLINEY KOPITIAM Breakfast was the first order of the day. A few blocks away from the hotel was Killiney Kopitiam. An unassuming, traditional coffee shop lined up with the other restaurants along Killiney Road. The ambiance reminded us of Bacolod's Kaffe Sadtu
At 9 in the morning, all the tables were occupied by Singaporeans and foreigners alike, all dressed for work. We shared a table with a lady who was poring over the morning's paper.



The usual order was coffee or tea, with 4 slices of kaya (coconut egg jam) toast, and two soft-boiled eggs. I had to figure out how to eat a soft-boiled egg. Apparently, you crack the egg and put it in a bowl, add s…

Crystal Beach: Quick Camping Fix

And an excuse to take a shiny, red pickup truck on a roadtrip.
We were toying with the idea of visiting the municipalities around Laguna de Bay. But the planning was a bit too tedious. So, we ditched the plan and opted to visit Crystal Beach in San Narciso, Zambales instead.

After a few U-turns, shouting bouts with the GPS, almost driving through a couple of boats straight to the sea, and waking up a fishing community in the process because the truck was stuck in soft sand, we finally made it to Crystal Beach at 5 in the morning. By the way, for some reason Google Maps shown the shore as a road. With everyone of us not knowing where to go, we naturally followed Google maps and ended up almost kissing the sea. See the tire tracks here? We went all the way. The moon was so bright it looked perfect for a melodramatic suicide scene.

The guard accommodated us and assisted us in choosing the spot to pitch our tents at. We were the first to arrive and the place was deserted.  Camping rate i…

Cagayan: Caving Capital

Spelunking is a highly challenging activity, but the awe-inspiring experience I get in return is more than enough a reward. The stalactites and stalagmites that meet to form a column, the life inside the cave, and the thought of vast connections underneath the land that we walk on never fail to amaze me. That is coming from someone who has only done spelunking twice, both in the famous Lumiang and Sumaging Caves in Sagada, and watched Discovery Channel's Planet Earth's Final Frontier: Caves in HD.
Cagayan, with more than 300 caves, is aptly named as the Caving Capital of the Philippines. The original plan was to visit Sierra Cave, as recommended by Ivan Henares during the Asia Society Philippine Foundation lecture. I called them up prior to going to Cagayan but I was informed that it is necessary to secure a permit from the DENR office to explore the Sierra Cave. Unfortunately, we were going to visit on a holiday and government offices were closed.
We decided to visit Sierra&…

Tuguegarao: Hot and Humid Pancit Country

Believe the weatherman when he says that the temperature is highest in Tuguegarao.  

We woke up early morning in the island of Palaui and after a quick breakfast, we proceeded to see the falls. The falls is easily reachable by a short 30-minute trek from the Bayanihan Hall.  
A few photos here and there then we made it back to San Vicente port. We decided to eat lunch at the carinderia near the van terminal. It is interesting how there is a pancitan (noodle shop) in every corner. Cagayan is one of those places where there is a widespread love for a particular food, much like Iloilo, where I marveled at how manukan/inasal (grilled chicken) businesses prosper with each of them sitting side-by-side in every nook.
We were eating Pancit Batil Patung when a family came in. When it was time to order, all the 4 kids screamed "Pancit! Pancit!". Cagayan really is a Pancit Country!
Pancit Batil Patong

The Island of Siargao

Perfect setting for murder. That was the first thing that came to mind when I saw Cloud 9 in Siargao at night. The sound of the crashing waves will drown out screams, the pitch black night sky will conceal the act and the perpetrator, and the huge waves and the reef breaks will ensure that whoever you want to kill will be dead before dawn. Shove someone off the planks and poof! Gone.
That's my criminal mind talking.

From our island-hopping activity, we proceeded to Cloud 9 around 6PM to drop-off our new Taiwanese friend and check out food options for dinner. I was expecting a vibrant night life comparable to that of Boracay since this is a popular surfing turf, but I was surprised that the shore was free from crowded establishments. The only thing loud is the sound of the waves. Visiting the Surfing Capital of the Philippines in December is a quiet escape from the holiday bustle. Think of the usual province where there's coconut trees, sand, and occasional houses, then somewh…

Negros Occidental: The Nitty-Gritty

It's unmistakable. Bacolod is the most laid-back the word 'laid-back' could get.  I like Bacolod City. Try googling Bacolod and you'll find out that it once ranked Number 1 as the Most Competitive Mid-Sized City in 2005 and was named as the Best Place to Live in the Philippines last 2008 by Moneysense magazine, with Makati as second and Manila down at 11.
If one believed in signs, a flight delayed for 7 hours might have been the end of it. Good thing I don't. Instead, I made good use of the time we've camped out at the airport to catch up on my reading. Thanks to Airphil Express, we had  to scratch everything on the itinerary and worked it out from there.


Where to Stay: We finally arrived at the Bacolod-Silay Airport at 10PM. We saw flyers of Pension Bacolod, which according to the flyer, has been awarded 5 times as the Best Pension House in Bacolod. Their aircon room is priced at P395.  The AC rooms were all rented out so we took the double non-AC room priced at…

Travel Time: 16 Hours to Palaui Island

The long bus rides to and fro Tuguegarao were reminiscent of the nights we spent on the bus going around Myanmar. This is by far the longest bus ride I ever took in the country. Various airlines offer flights to Tuguegarao but because the trip was a last minute decision (meaning no seat sales), we chose to take the bus instead. I have no trouble catching sleep on the bus so the 13-hour trip was not a biggie. Scoring the bus tickets proved to be a challenge though. The lines in Victory Liner were too long 2 weeks before the Holy Week.

Thank goodness Victory Liner now has online reservation and booking system for trips going to Baguio and Tuguegarao from all terminals in Manila. I reserved seats, paid at Metrobank, and had the tickets delivered to my office. No sweat!

We laid out 2 possible itineraries. Plan A was to check first if there was a ferry bound to Calayan (part of Babuyan Islands) from Santa Ana to join Ed of Eazytraveler. Plan B was to proceed to Palaui Island and visit the…

Singing Kids and Dancing Fireflies at Cambulo

Back from our morning trek to Tappiyah Falls. We came home to Mang Ramon's Homestay, with our lunch of steaming brown rice and crispy porkchop waiting for us. 
The day's second agenda: visit Cambulo. A village located north of Batad, reachable by 3-4 hours of trekking on rice paddies and terraces. I didn't know a thing about Cambulo but Dandy mentioned guiding a group to the village the previous week. So we said, "Sige kami rin!", gaya-gaya mode ON. He said there's no electricity in Cambulo so there will be no meat for our meals. Patay. I can't live without meat.. yet. So I asked Irene to fry me some porkchop for my baon.
Thankfully, the sun was not shining so harshly when we left Batad.  We listened to Dandy's tales of the trail but most of the time we walked quietly (or hummed a tune) and let ourselves be engulfed by the serenity brought by all the shades of green.

Ridge
Trekking along the landslide ruins
It drizzled halfway through the trek and we were …

Tappiyah Falls, Musings on the Trail, and the Bulul

We had no detailed plans for this trip, except to see the terraces and Tappiyah Falls. We told Dandy, our awesome guide (contact him at: 0910.346.5310), of our bare plan and he told us that if we weren't in a hurry, we could hike to Cambulo. Thank you Dandy!  I have not heard of Cambulo, a neighboring community reachable by 2-3 hours of trek.
That was the masterplan.
Finally, it was time to walk along the terraces.
We went on the month of August, and the village was in the middle of the harvest season. That explains why some fields are empty while others still have lush green stalks. The rice terraces is at its greenest during the months of April-May and October-November. For more info on the planting/harvest seasons, please visit Meanne's post.

Notice how some of the huts' roofs are made from GI sheets? The roof of a traditional Ifugao house is made from cogon grass, but this needs to be changed after several years of wear and tear. The practicality of using GI sheets wi…

Going Local at Ramon's Homestay

'Go Local!'

We saw Mang Ramon's catchy slogan on the trail to Batad. We made no reservations prior to the trip, but luckily, Ramon's Homestay still had an available traditional Ifugao hut. For P700, we were able to experience living in a 'no-nail' house.

We were drenched by the rain and the almost 4-hr trek made us hungry for dinner at 4PM. Good thing we didn't have to walk outside to find decent food because Ramon's Homestay offered home-cooked meals for a reasonable price. They served us brown rice, from the grains harvested from the terraces in front of us.  
Our home for the night.