Vientiane: V.W.X.Y.Zzz

PhiPhi paradise

friendly warning : this is boring. its not you Vientiane; its me. lol

Pre-Vent
i woke up in a beautiful island named Phi Phi. and as usual, i woke up late. that morning, i was bound to Laos; Vientiane.

that day, i was supposed to take the boat to Phuket then a plane to Udon Thani then a bus, or whatever, to cross the border to Laos. i was not following any strict itineraries at this time of the trip. one of the perks of long travels. the plan was  to wake up early before 6am to take pictures of sun-up along the beach. walk around. jog a little( lol). then, breakfast. a subtle plan for a somber morning.

but due to my defected body clock- it has something to do with the brain i guess- my brain was buzzed 3 hours later. at 8:30 i was still curled up in bed in a room at the foot of the hill 1 zillion miles away from the port where my boat ride awaited.  so i skipped the whole-somber morning plan, instead i was forced to a mad-frantic-dash. i flashpacked all my stuff, showered, got to the pier at 9am.  one minute later and i shouldve been subjected for rebooking charges for my ticket.
****

Crossing to Vientiane

the plane arrived in Udon Thani Airport early. the van terminal bound for Thai-Laos border- the Friendship bridge- easily. they are in the right just outside of the arrival area, conveniently situated. once i was in the van i started figuring out how to reach Vientiane since i have no itinerary, no map, no plans yet.

i was lucky to have ridden in the van with some helpful though shady characters. theres this lovely woman who was very kind enough to elaborate on how i can reach Vientiane and how to go around and enjoy the Lao Capital. she was beautiful and poise like a beauty queen. there was a certain grace in how she spoke and moved.. i carried her styrofoam box full of seafoods as we alighted the van down to the Thai immigration, passport stamped, then took the bus that crosses the friendship bridge to the Laos border.  we  met some people she knew in the bus which was good because that meant additional people to split the taxi fare with. From the friendship bridge, it is still a fair distance to Vientiane.

one of the guys appealed a little shady to me- literally and figuratively lol. he wore sunglasses inside the van and it was already past 6pm, past sunset so it was already dark. he and his friend are from Udon and they are headed to Vientiane just for a night out. an out-of-the-country night out, technically. beer is cheap, theres a casino, girls are cheaper compare to the ones in Thai, and hotels are cheap too he said. we decided to meet up later that night.

the guys in the van were kind enough to argue on where is the best accomodation for me. lol. they dropped me in Mixay.
****

Vientiane = Beer Lao

no-traffic town

Mixay is a good option in Vientiane. rates are on the cheap side($5/bed). friendly staff. free breakfast. great location.

I met Mike and Jake, both Aussies who happened to be in the same dorm. they were travelling south east Asia riding in bicycles. from the looks of their soiled backpacks alone, they sure had been to a lot of rough and rugged roads. i share the same passion in two-wheels.

i rented one for myself to explore the place. Vientiane is the national Capital but with a small town feel. most probably, because, uhm, it is small.

its a mellow option to kickstart a backpacking trip around the country.

bike rent is less than two-dollars. its a perfect way to explore the neat and laidback urbanscape. though it gets tricky maneuvering it in the highways. the leisure stride suddenly becomes like one traversing an obstacle course. motorcycles and other vehicles seem not be fond much of traffic rules. they run in high speeds and tend not to stop in red lights at times. i almost got run over in several occasions.

i love the food scene in this city. streetfoods are in abundance; cheap and clean( for my standards). come mealtime, i always go for places crowded with locals.  and 90% of the time its these noodle houses that attract lots of patrons. i love Pho and they have good versions of it here, though i try to shy away from soups for lunch since its humid but i found myself chugging down bowls nonetheless. and it would end up with bowl of sweat everytime.

i love their barbecue, subtle flavors. it goes well with their sticky rice.

and of course the best part of Lao… is Beer Lao. its not because the place is not beautiful, its just that the beer is really good. it has a good resemblance to Gold Eagle beer( my official beer when i was still living in Boracay)

**met Alex & Paeson on this trip which became good friends.

***no misadventures on this trip. it bores me a bit to look back on experiences with no hassles/drama. though, its also good, for a change =)

Golden Stuppa

CW: free breakfast of Mixays; sticky rice; barbecue chicken
Patuxai
IMG_1746
a bowl of happiness
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best beer

since its a boring a post. i am going to try to be helpful at least. lol
-there are vans from Udon Thani that goes to Lao border. terminal is just outside of the airport arrival area.
-there are buses that cross Thai border-Lao border. 20,000 kips
-you can share a ride with fellow travellers in the taxi ride from Lao border(friendship bridge) to Vientiane. there are local buses but not available late afternoon onwards.
-Mixay dorm room rate(2011) is less than $5 USD
-Bicycle daily rent is 8,000 kips(around 1USD)
-there are vans/buses that go straight to Chiang Mai. travel time is roughly 12hrs. bus exchange at the border

BASILAN: YODO – You Only Die Once

real.deal

there goes the story of the fake ticket, fake ID and THE one real, palpable, so-near-i-can-breath-danger  type of D.A.N.G.E.R.
Prequel of this story here (anong sinabi ng twilight may prequel prequel pa ako nalalaman.hehe)

I arrived in Zamboanga City safe and sound. Flight went smoothly, and none of those  shady-armed-men-terrorists showed up to welcome me in the airport- to my delight. *Though they were very much present in my nightmares for several days prior to the flight; whew!

Zamboanga City is the jump off place for people coming from Manila to Basilan- the main destination of this whole backpacking trip. There are no direct flights from Manila to Basilan Island. i am not sure if theres an airport even.

the plan was to spend two days in Zamboanga before heading to Basilan. just enough time to settle and calm myself down from the whole idea of braving Basilan single-handedly, flying with fake identity and the thought of simply just being in western Mindanao.

since i am not the type of traveller(person in general) who is good with plans, i got stuck in Zamboanga for 7 days not because i was scared of Basilan(ulol) but because i enjoyed getting drunk and looked down to every night with new-found friends.lol

Jeez, chavacanos(not all) are a bunch of condescending bitches. Not a night of drinking passed by without them reiterating their superiority  amongst other pinoys(its the whole Spanish thing they say). in this case, i am the only “other pinoys”, i guess, since i am the lone non-chavacano in the drinking table. i, actually, did get their point the first time they explained it to me. i mean, all three of them took a shot in incessantly explicating the matter. just saying.

one night, while in the middle of a drinking spree, out-of-the-blue, they bursted into a chorus of Zamboanga’s anthem-patriotic much. But, hey, as long as theres free beer, theres no issue with me- i succumbed my lords(*on a game of thrones tone).

finally, after that night of drinking when i tried so hard(argh) to convince them that we are all equal(chavacanos, tagalogs)-which i failed miserably- i decided to stood up and be brave(Kalinga tribe reprezeeent! lol) and pursue that daunting task of travelling solo to Basilan.  YOLO. uhm. YODO. You Only Die Once. yeah, none of them wanted to cross to Basilan.

i woke up at 4:30am. Benj( friend/ host) walked with me to the jeepneys heading to where the port is. He wasn’t allowed by his partner to travel with me.

the jeep brought me down to the street next to the port. it was a looong walk-not sure if its the distance or the scare that started to well inside me.

this, back then, was the most sensitive trip i have gotten myself into. Basilan is pretty much known to all of the Philippines as the island you would not want to bring yourself to. heck, you wouldn’t even want to get near to( of course, unless a rifle is being poked at the back of your head then you should not fight back and just go) lol.

it is believed to be the home of local terrorists(aside from Jolo i think). this is one of those don’t-tell-my-mom’s destinations.

so breaking in to Basilan was like a top secret  agent’s mission-
critical,
sensitive and
insanely stupid.
yeah, what can i get from doing this aside from bragging rights? yeah, none. lol.

i wore worn-out shirt, basketball shorts and slippers. totally the vibe you get from your typical neighbourhood hobo. which happens to be my look even when dressed-up. =)

i arrived at the port 45mins ahead of what Benj told me was the boats scheduled departure time, 6am. yeah, am i excited or what!?

then a man approached me to my surprise horror bearing news that there was a fast craft/vessell thats about to leave and that its only 50pesos more expensive. (well, its very warm of Basilan to come up with these circumstances just to meet me ASAP.)
Aaah the warmth of friendliness… left me froze with terror. lol. i said to the man “uhmmm yeah, sure, why not chocnut”

i told myself,  if theres one time that i shouldn’t be exhibiting fake bravery then this is it. this is it pansit. but, yeah, my mind was already afloat, i said I’m taking it.

with utter carefulness- more like paranoia- couple of rules i made and observed: never make eye contact to anyone. no speaking. if asked, talk only in my broken bisaya, short and sweet in a hushed tone. always stick with group of people. no going to toilet. no camera. no phone. and DO NOT MAKE ANY SCENE(as much as i love attention, this was apparently not the place and time.)

i ran to the boat- ran pa talaga- because it was about to board and sail. i went straight to a vacant seat in the corner. there i seated( honestly i wasn’t really sure if i would sit, or jump out of the boat- my brain was confused. but, yeah, my heart on the other hand, was so sure to jump out of my body)

since this was a secret mission, my priority(for my dear life) was not to attract any attention. be discreet, blend in and play it cool.
failed.
hence, i stood out like a sore thumb because i sweated like a pig.

i tried earnestly to composed myself. and i did it by listening to Snoop Dogg’s Young, Wild and Free. i listened to it a couple of times. though i restricted myself from breaking to a Hip Hop swaggin dance( which i am prone to do whenever i hear it blasted on the radio)

“Livin’ young, wild and free” i hummed. it worked like a charm. =)

it was a smooth sail. sea was placid. sky was clear. sun’s soft morning rays felt warmth to the skin. it was a subtle morning(of course that is we discard the case of my then-troubled-heart which almost jumped-out not only from my body but from the boat altogether.)

an hour passed and from afar, the outline of the famed and feared zone started to take shape. it was mostly flat terrains. the sleepy island’s silhouette was accentuated with fine gloomy streaks of fog.  the sight was serene and tranquil. least words one would associate Basilan with. there was a definite calmness in the air.

shady silhouette

i started to contact Basilan’s Tourism officer that was assigned to meet me in the pier. we had a lengthy phone conversation the night before and that actually sealed the deal. it is safe he guaranteed and that he will be inside the pier waiting for me the next day.
i phoned him.
no answer.
the.guy.did.not.answer.my.phone.call.

*my most feared scenario is, actually, to alight from the boat, walk to the arrival area and have no one to fetch me. if this happens in a different place i will not even be bothered but this is Basilan. that would make me feel like im a meat thrown inside a cage of mad dogs with thick saliva drooping from their mouth.

you know how it is the arrival area, all eyes on you. in this case, even terrorist eyes could be on you. even terrorist eyes hunting down for their next victim could be on you. even terrorist eyes hunting down for their next victim wearing dark glasses, sahal, belt of ammo and an ak-67 could be on you. ohboy, my wild imaginations fukced me straight up with a devilish grin.

my then-calm composure brought about by the cool Sulu Sea air, subdued summer sun, and the landscape that has peace written all over it was suddenly unrattled again.  i decided i will not alight the boat unless i received a text or call from the tourism guy. id rather stay in the boat and go back to Zamboanga City and just lie about travelling around Basilan altogether. haha. but the tourism guy, Jason, finally texted.

and it was all good vibes from then on.
*well, except for the lady guide who hinted was expecting a treat because apparently the previous visitors were of affluence. they feasted on thousand worth of seafood  etc. i said, the only seafood she can expect from me is a fancy fried fish(daing na bangus). very fancy, eh? (yes, they are my good friends Nik and Ton. its not their fault that they are rich. and its my fault that im “under-privilege” lol. yes, i know that. demmit)

it was a rollercoaster of feelings this travel experience caused me. the high highs and looow lows were so extremes. from disturbing to delightful.

the beach in Malamawi Island is definitely amongst my top beaches in the Philippines alongside El Nido’s and Babuyan’s Sabang. Though i must say Malamawi has way more “ooomph” and ANGAS(not sure if theres an english translation).  I mean, the lifeguards here don’t carry rescue cans, they carry rescue guns! and by guns… i meant those things that fire.

Basilan(Isabela) is a city marred with terrorism and violence. A place condemned with a long history of bad press which is utterly wrongful/unjust for the friendy people and the stunning island place. Its a shame that Basilan graces frontpages of newspapers wherein its more suited for travel magazine covers.

Come on Mindanao, let’s give peace a chance!
Visit this side of the country if you can. its worth it. and because YOLO – you only live once( and that once can end here. lol)

*this trip was mid 2012
*the Zamboanga peeps are good friends. well, unless they change their minds after reading this. bunch of fun, cool people. hehe
*Nik and Ton are not your typical rich conyo travelers. hehe
*the guy from the Tourism office Jason Arcan is a very cool guy. everyone travelling to this island should look for and get him as guide.
*and you should give generous tip.
because, i did. generously. of course, but thats on  my standards. lol

that ass is me. adjacent is catholic church bombed several times already.
pristine sands
white sandy beaches