stunning SaPa – makalaglag panty ang SaPa( tagalog translation)
Julie & I initially planned to travel to SaPa independently. But after checking the fare at the train station, we decided to drop the do-it-yourself plan and just go with a package tour since it was significantly cheaper. Package tour apparently cost a lot less. One of the few things I don’t get with Vietnam.
Train from Hanoi to LaoCai is around $58; a few dollars for the bus/taxi from LaoCai to SaPa on top of that. Package tour was $70 and that included transportation (all the way to Sapa and back), accommodation, meals, and treks (tours).
It turned out be a good move. Not only did we save a couple of dongs but we also met travel buddies who, later on, became good friends.
Randy tagged along last minute. I met him and Julie at the backpacker dorm in Hanoi, May De Ville Backpackers, some 8 days ago. We shared the same room.
It took me a couple of days and a bloody nose to adjust to these two native English speakers, especially Julie who happens to be a scot. Damn thick Scottish accent. I find it cute though.
The bus picked us up at the hostel at around 8 pm. Bus was 30 minutes late. So, to make up for the tardiness, the driver drove like a maniac. He could pass for a lead act in the next Fast & Furious franchise. He swerved and honked our way out of Hanoi’s busy rush hour traffic. I was smiling at first since I found his driving familiar and “cute” but after a couple of life-and-death swerves, I got scared. I noticed myself mumbling “oohs” and “ahhs” and my grip on my sit tightened. For someone to scare a Filipino- who grew up riding jeepneys(patok) in Manila- with his driving expertise, he must be some badass. Just saying.
The ride to Sapa was a smooth one but that’s for Cordilleran standards. I’m used to long bus rides, bumpy roads and zigzag highways in the sky. I guess when you tried riding on top of a bus traversing a single-lane rough road on the edge of 50 feet high cliff; it will have to take something special to scare you. Right?
The bus was comfortable. It was a sleeper bus. There’s a plenty of legroom for a comfortable stretch. Cozy for Asian standards (height-wise). (Yao Ming is not Asian, he is Chinese. lol) so German dogs Max and Steffen has to lie down with their feet on the head of the passengers in front of them.
It was a scenic ride especially the final stretch to Sapa. From LaoCai, where the final station of train is at, the drive shifted from easy ascends to a steep uphill jaunts.
As the bus’s engine struggled and roared, we sat back, relaxed, enjoyed and waited as the night gave way to the day. Stunning sceneries started to unravel from the thick fog that blanketed the place. The mountains began to reveal its shape and greens. Sunrays pierced through the clouds.
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. The listless provincial town was slowly waking up and so did the eager travellers. All eyes were glued outside. Cameras were drawn out and everyone snapped away to their hearts content.
We arrived in SaPa and alighted to a nippy midmorning. Air was crisp and fresh. Sun peeped out but not fully. It’s a perfect day for a walk or bike around this little charming town tucked in the mountains of northern Vietnam.
We checked in at Sapa Summit Hotel (part of the package). It was our home for the next 3 days. It was a lovely hotel perched on a cliff that overlooked SaPa’s stunning stairway-to-heaven’s rice terraces. On the backdrop was the mighty Fansipan. It is the highest peak in mainland Southeast Asia. The silhouette of the towering mountain ranges that lead to Mt. Fansipan was equally arresting as the rice paddies. We stood dumbfounded in the balcony.
The hotel was not too shabby either. It is fairly new, neat, and homey. The hotel’s restaurant has a patio perfect for al fresco dining. It leads to a garden nicely landscaped and coupled with tables and chairs and swings. Its perfect for lazy afternoon reads while sipping a hot tea or coffee. Factor in the sweeping scenery in front and the cool temperature and I bet any bookworm who chooses to stay here will find their selves holing up for days on end.
Julie and I settled into our room. We then met up with randy in the patio for a sumptuous lunch. I forgot what I ordered though I remember enjoying it. I guess, with this setting, they can serve me egg and rice and I will dine delightfully every time.
After lunch, we rented motorbikes. It was time to discover this hilly paradise that is SaPa.
I went back to the hostel 30mins before the scheduled bus pick-up time so i can take a shower and share one more round of beer with my swedish triad crew Peter, Jakob and Max. only to find out that the bus was ready to go, ahead of time. i asked if i can pull a 3minute quick shower( its a looong 12-hour bus ride i wanted to be fresh, clean and comfortable the least,ok don’t judge me if my idea of fresh and clean is a 3minute shower). but the driver said NO, we have to go.
so, with sweat from whole day of biking under the sun and some salt particles left on my hair/skin from swimming in the beach, i grabbed my backpack and hopped into the sleeper bus.
its time to leave the swedish triad in Hoi An and head to the Dustland Fairytale that is Mui Ne. at 6pm, we hit the road. *** High-Fiving with new buds
in the bus i met Maggie & Adrian and Manfred- the german franks and the spanish bread meet pinoy pandesal.
the scenery in the bus window was totally changed. it looked like a different country altogether. from the thick forest mountains of Dalat to the dry deserted dunes of Phan Tiet. from the nippy chill to humid, warm atmosphere.
i am in sheer amazement of how varied Vietnam’s topography. theres just no two place(at least to where I’ve been)similar landscape-wise. Sapa is mountainous and all but not a tad similar to Dalat.
sun was up. mid day. the thousands of pine trees that divides the highway and the beach were motionless. no wind from the sea. tall pine trees were as still as a lampost.
bus was at least faster than the ones i took in Northern Vietnam. but of course it was still slow when it comes to Negros’ Ceres bus lines standards.
*** High-Rolling in Mui Ne
How does Lacoste for Dinner sounds like? high-rolling, eh? i know its hard to picture that. me and high rolling just can not belong to one sentence. but this is a fairytale.
our accommodation was a PRIVATE room. on the topmost floor, make that a penthouse. and… and… we had Lacoste for late-dinner. posers wear that….us, it was our entree for dinner that night. juicy and tender. soft to the bite. almost-melt-in-your-mouth so unreptile-ish of it.
maybe, its the wagyu of the crocodile world. now thats high-rolling, right?
after dinner, we headed to this bar to taste its premium offering which happened to be a draft beer; San Miguel. the place was neat, a sports bar by the beach. it was a pleasant surprise to learn that they serve San Miguel. and it was the priciest among their beers. which my latino friend insisted that it is a spanish import. he was so damn sure about it that even me who grew up on this beer made me harbour second-thoughts(thanks to google, i, now, know it is a Philipine brand).
*** High-Balling in Mui Ne
we rented motorcycles to better explore this vast deserted plain.
a hearty serving of Pho was obligatory before we headed out. so a healthy, filling and cheap at 20k dongs was the best way that kickstarted our long day of dustland adventure.
the Fishing Village harbor is along Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street or Ham Dien; which is pretty much the highway where all the happenings in town..errr.. happens. Its a long stretch where the hostels & hotels and bars are located. It is on the northern part of Mui Ne bay. it was dotted with hundreds of traditional colourful wood vessels which were moored at the bay. it was a splendid view. it reminded me of old quaint european fishing villages( as per Game of Thrones)- very picturesque.
it was a hot-bike-ride(literally) going to the white dunes. its a little far from the town center. but the roads were well-paved and the view was scenic. the endless sand banks on the left and the infinite sea on the right.
we had so much fun running around and tripping down foolishly in the dunes. we were like hansels and gretel left in the house of sweets, fun. the sweltering heat was only noticed when our skins started to turn as red as the Vietnam flag. the view of the sea from afar was equally stunning.
we made several stops on our way back to Ham Dien. rock island. fairy stream, red dunes etc.
at night, we capped off the day’s oppressive heat with cool big slices of watermelon, the best watermelon. it was refreshing. nights were usually spent on the sports bar by the beach over beers and billiard games.
*** High-Flying in Mui Ne
Mui Ne is the watersports capital of Vietnam. para-sailing and windsurfing can be a wise alternative when the sun rays get really harsh for biking to the dunes.
there is nothing extra-ordinary about the beach but it does the trick. on a blue-skyed day when roaming around and playing watersports become too hot(literally) to handle; grabbing a good book and a cold beer on the beach can be a delightful option.
*** Dustland Fairytale
these famed dunes and harbor are dreamy and stunning. they make striking subjects for photographs. I’m sure even non-photography enthusiasts would admire the lovely landscapes and seascapes.
in this fairytale, there is also a witch. the witch was the girl in Hoi An who sold us bus tickets for HoiAn-NhaTrang & MuiNe-Saigon(HoChiMinh). we paid for sleeper bus rates but she tricked us by issuing ordinary bus tickets as per advised by the booking office in Mui Ne. information on the tickets were in Vietnamese. we were subjected for extra dongs to upgrade for sleeper. witch bitch.
and just like any fairytale, theres a prince -charming and thats me( lol).
sharing the adventure with these nomads made the this trip more fun. as the maxim goes: we all start as strangers. later on the trip, me and the spanish bread travelled south to Saigon then east to ChauDoc etc etc then Bangkok. til he eventually visited Manila. the german franks still keep in touch. this dustland story and just like all the other fairytales, it ended up with a happily-ever-after.
*dustland fairytale is a song from The Killers. fave band.
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
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 =)
CW: free breakfast of Mixays; sticky rice; barbecue chicken
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
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.
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
yes, i am a big fan of Ethan Hawke’s “Before” series. and, i guess, i experienced my own version of it. the night i bumped into the sexiest Thai girl i ever met in this City of Angels.
the day before…
the mid-day buzz of this urban jungle that is Bangkok woke me up. and with the sweltering heat of the summer sun, i woke up with sweat-soaked shirt.
clock ticked a few minutes after 12. high noon. my head was still buzzed from the alcohol binge at PostBar the night before, my go-to place in Bangkok for hang out. it was quite a fun night. food was flowing and it was free. it sure is true that best things in life are free. lol. it was the birthday of one of the bar’s patrons and he brought in some serious thai dishes. it was free for all. nothing beats spicy food and cold beer. to sum it all up, it was an awesOOOme night.
afternoon was spent contemplating on whether i should go out and see as much of Bangkok as i can since it was my last day in the city or should i just keep it down-low. i opted for the latter and did some writing, just chilled-out and relaxed in the apartment.
all the afternoon heat was gone by night time. i knew i can not pass on the chance of dropping-by PostBar on my last night so i pulled my ass off and headed out. i intended to just dropby and finish 1 beer as i have an early trip, and its a long 13-hour ride. i took the 505 bus to Samsen rd.
the night before…
i approached the bar and ordered a big bottle of Chang. a girl across the bar caught my eyes. she wore casual clothes and a megawatt smile… and with that thai-sun-kissed skin… she glowed.
she had her hair down and was clearly enjoying the lazy sunday evening with her friends which occasionally broke to burst of laughters every so often.
the bar was scarcely filled. i chatted with two of the owners and other regulars. i frequented this watering hole in the last one and a half months so i knew and became friends with a couple of hippies here. *separate post for PostBar.
the sun-kissed girl would occasionally go and sit outside for a smoke.
i was sitted outside with Pul when she went out again. i striked a conversation with her- a quick one- then we headed back inside to our respective tables.
i knew there was something in that first dialogue. so i waited, spotted and joined her next time she went out for a smoke. we talked, and talked. she did not bother going back inside immediately to her peers this time around, to my delight. that was a feat for someone who is torpe.
the night went on spontaneously. i drank with my guards on since i have an early trip to take. i was leaving the city and Thailand in general early the next day.
conversation spun around travelling, and islands, and other things. other beautiful things.
it was past midnight when the sexiest thai girl and i decided to leave the people and her friends in Post Bar-coolest bar in Bangkok( i should get Changs for this next time i go there.)
we walked to Khao San rd. strolled in this street of battered backpacks, hippie wanderers, perpetual youth and padthais.
she is a nature lover. she spent two weekends in an island in Andaman coast a couple of months back. a remote retreat that is Similan island. the beach is divine, delicate and bewitching. just like her.
it was getting late. 1:30am. morning was nearing and so was my departure.
we walked to Burger King in Khao San rd intersection. she said i can crash her place for my remaining hours in Bangkok if i want to. she hailed a cab and off we went to her place, her apartment in Silom.
i was drawned to her. the way she spoke with her thai accent was endearing. the way she moved, way she flipped her hair, way she smiled, her gaze, her supple sunkissed skin. charming.
moments would go slo-mo but not time. it raced. like my heartbeat.
it was already 4am when i took notice of time. i was still at the sexiest thai girl’s place and we have not slept yet.
i can not bring myself to say my goodbyes for we only have started. it was bittersweet. i was glad to have met her. but sad that i met her on my last night in this city. this city of angels which was my home for 40 days.
it was 5am.
finally, i got up, bade goodbye, and sped off.
took a taxi to bigboy’s apartment in Pratunam, my home in Bangkok. i only have 1 hour to rest, gathered my stuff and got ready to hit the road again, onwards to Malaysia.
that night, i stayed out longer than i intended to. no, i am not complaining. it was beautiful.
aaahh the romance of being on the road. the hellos and goodbyes and those fleeting blissful moments in between. life’s surprises. i live for those =)
the story started with a free ticket, a fake ID, and one poor, adventure”ful” ass. yes, thats mine me.
i never intended to visit this side of Mindanao. eastern side.
plainly because its the favorite setting of news men when reporting on kidnappings and bombings. and as much as i would want to appear on tv or newspaper, well, certainly, not on these circumstances.
but, during one stormy afternoon. Nic of www.pinoyontheroad.com gave away his round-trip ticket to Zamboanga. and being the happy-go-lucky cheapskate, adventure”ful” ass that i am. i said yes, even before my brain comprehended what it entailed. you know, like, actually, going to this side of Mindanao and be, physically, in those backdrops i only see on Tv Patrol.
since i am not fully knowledgeable about the geography of this part of the country, i googled some maps and to my surprise horror, Zamboanga city is apparently 1 centimeter away from Basilan, an inch away from Jolo etc etc.
i kept this trip a secret since i do not want anyone to worry about my travel stupidity. you know, incase, there are, actually, people who feel that way.
all i said at home was i’m going out for a shoot and hike in Bicol. and that i’l be gone for a few days.
the day before the travel, my stupidity, apparently, started to kick in(mala “Liu Kang’s flying kick). and it did scare the hell out of me.
after all, it is the first time i am travelling with a different name and a fake ID to a place i had only seen glimpses of during 2-minute-Newsflashes or excerpts from TV Patrol or sometimes on a front page of a newspaper. not very enticing, right?
but i knew that if i let this opportunity pass by, i will never be able to get myself there, ever.
and since i love giving myself a good scare, at times. i single-handedly braved this trip.
i had two options Zamboanga-Basilan-Tawi tawi and Basilan-Zamboanga-north-west-south Mindanao. i followed the latter.
so how did it go, you say? well, i am back in Manila and still alive, obviously, so thats good news… right? oh yeah, of course it is. =)
-the airport scene that played in my head prior to my flight wherein some suspicious men with shades and sahal would follow me and my every move until finally cornering me outside the airport in Zamboanga didnt actually happened. buang.
-was able to fly with a different name and a fake ID. i dont advise this though =)
-zamboanga is the sh*t. i would walk in the streets back to my hostel past midnight, drunk, its safe.
-even my new-found friends in Zamboanga got scared to go with me in Malamawi in Basilan.
-Merloquet falls is charming. Malamawi is the best beach in the south( but thats just me). Tinuy-an Falls looks better in photos(opinion ko lang din yan). Had a good swim in Hinatuan enchanted river. failed to get awed by Glan… for the second time.
-dont camp by the beach when a storm is brewing.
-Greenwindows dormitel in Davao is the best backpack accomodation in the PI( wasnt paid to say that, but if you guys are reading this, i wouldnt mind a free sleep next time.) affordable at 188. its clean. safe. airconditioned. =)
-buses in western Mindanao are better than those on the eastern side.
-10,000pesos is enough to circumnavigate the main island of Mindanao( ala true blue explorer.lol)
-satti is delicious. and so is knickerbucker.
-slept in a bus for several nights to save on accomodation. sayang. pangBeer din yon. lol
-things will not always go smoothly. there will always be that one stranger who will fukc things up.
-if you want friends, first, be a friend.
-i dream of time when people would go to Mindanao without hesitance, just pure excitement.
El Nido swept me off my feet the first time i set foot on it. Nacpan made me fall.
Pinas has more than 7 thousand islands, so chances of coming across a beach is likely, uhm, say, around 7 thousand. fairly easy eh? just like running into a cunning cab driver when in Manila. easy.
an island hopping in Taiputan strait was scheduled that day but due to bad weather conditions, boats were shut out from sailing.
since getting stuck in our cottage was not an option, we rented a motorbike(heres the complete bike adventure), braved the rough roads despite the looming dark clouds on the horizon.
Nacpan should be less than 30kms away from El Nido town. a little over 30mins by bike depending on weather and rough road conditions. rough roads could get rougher during rainy seasons.
it was a muddy, bumpy ride nevertheless scenic as we passed by green and budding rice paddies.
oftentimes we stepped down from our humble bike for extra push and pull just to get through the muddy road. after 38mins and 39 mud slips and slides(with-bike included), we reached the beach. barefoot-with our slippers tucked onto our wrists(parang bata lang).
then, there we were, standing under a coconut tree(laglag brip) pleasantly surprised. all smiles. all covered with mud.
we knew there is a beach on that place, but we did not know it was that… nice.
its kilometers of powdery sands(its like Boracay minus the thrash and thriving blocks of concrete), clean waters, gradual slope of the beach, 3 islands in the backdrop, all serene and secluded. it actually is… more than nice =)
in the long stretch of the beach, there was nothing aside from a single bungalow.
Nacpan beach is 4kms of unspoilt natural beauty. need i say more
*unfortunately, Nacpan is not very photogenic at all( either that or i just suck at photography) *this is definitely on my list of favorite beaches
i was coming from Kalinga and my friend Angelika( haha, Lek) from Manila, we decided to meet up in the coastal town of Claveria(our jump-off to Calayan Island, Babuyan) around 5am the next day. btw, online data about the island are scarce and inaccurate( parang yon kampo lang ni Claudine Baretto sa latest NAIA mishap).
plan was to catch the last trip of vans from Tabuk(Kalinga) to Tuguegarao, Cagayan 5:30pm. but, then, i missed it by a few minutes( very typical of me,lol). i had no choice but to rush to the next terminal and hope that one passenger is tumataepa just so i could catch the trip. called my dad, hopped in his motorcycle, then we speeded up to the van terminal in the next (mini)town.
the adrenaline of backpacking, the excitement of being on the road, ooohlala, was ignited again. felt my backpacking mojo was back alive and kicking. sweeet.
reached Tuguegarao after 45mins. then i took the last bus trip that passes by Claveria, 7:30pm J&Wbus, and and just hoped that there are 24/7 burger joints or eateries in Claveria where i could wait til morning for Lek and the boat.
*** Of Dogs and Baboys
the bus dropped me off on the national hi-way in Claveria. the street was poorly lit and dark. and at 11pm, its empty. no people in plain sight. its a 10-minute walk to the town center. but those 10fukcin minutes were long and scary and doggy.lol. the minute i started walking, which i did as discreet as possible as not to attract any unwanted attention, the dogs on the first house started barking… or should i say howling. it was loud enough to awake all the ten thousand barking animals of the town. they swarmed the street. i walked with caution as those furry creatures were following and trailing behind close enough to bite my ass, if not only for my karate stance.
i arrived in the sleepy town center safely( karate stance was believable at least for the dogs).
things continued to go against my luck. all the town’s establishments were closed, not a single convenient store or burger joint.
i chanced upon the solely awake soul, the security guard of a pawnshop. last resort was to strike a conversation with manong guard and stretch it til dawn, so strike and stretch i did. i half listened to guards litanies about his boss whom he suspects has a thing on him( pero 9yrs na siya dun at la pa din nangyayari, labo lang).
after 11 times of him repeating the same story,( i had to be nice, and being nice takes a lot of effort on my case, i wasnt born nice i guess. lol) he let go of the 12th time and offered his bench for a sit and nap. since its a small bench, even too small for him to lay down, i declined and used my old malong instead and laid down on the concrete tiled floor. malong was too thin for the cool ocean breeze and the cold cement floor. i curled up, cold and hungry, and hoped for time to tick fast. ahhh backpacking.
*** of Majinbo and Baboys
i, 10 pandesals & 2 ensaymadas went to the fish landing at 5am and by 6am leck arrived. we bonded with other 2 waiting passengers by sheer absence of other options. lol. there was the curvy mom with two kids and majinbo. majinbo was on the phone 7 of the 6hours we waited. she just cant take away the phone from her, then, red and swelled ear =) . she phoned gaudily her family( every single one of them: nico, alex, mama, papa, kuya boy, tita baby, ton ton, tan tan, tin tin, ten ten etc) and asked them every 30 mins if they had eaten. just by listening( she was loud and we had no choice) to her calls, we already mapped out her entire family tree up to their 11th generation. lol.
and as if sleeping outside of a bank on a cold night and listening to majinbo wasnt bad enough, things worsened. no boat was leaving for the island that day. wow.
*** Of Boats and Baboys
we returned to the fish landing the following morning. at 5:00am, the curvy mom and majinbo were already there, plus some new peeps including the two anorexic pretty nurses on the waiting line. every one was ready and eager for the cruise except for the boat’s motor whose paddle was missing.
after some 30mins and majinbo dashing to the convenient store on the last minute for pic-nic foods, we were ready to sail. Its a small boat that has 3 noticeable passenger seats. i asked the boatman if me and lek could still tag along since majinbo, curvy mom and one of curvy mom’s daughter already occupied the 3 apparent seats. he said yes.
then after some more minutes… on the humble boat, there we were all 14 adults, 2 children, 1 bicycle, 19 bags and 3 roosters; jam-packed. thats a lot for a small boat eh? obviously, theres no room for say… another 16 life-jackets( i heard Babuyan with his evil life at this time, ride at your own risk he chuckled)
backing out was never an option. there were many things i sacrificed and heading back home was just not acceptable.
16 unsecured souls, 1 humble boat and 1 vast Babuyan channel. wow. i know i am not the best tourist, as im a cheap backpacker, and no stash of money can Babuyan squeezed out of me( but, Babuyan, really? youre not being friendly, your acting like a pig. hmmmp)
in fairness to Babuyan, it was a warm welcome. i mean, on a boat, no vest, Babuyan channel, of course, i sweated profusely.
since i was life-jacketless, i made sure i had a firm grip on the stern the whole 7hours while our boat shuffled through the Babuyan Channel( supposedly 4hour ride, if not for one of the boats motor breaking down)
plus, the Cagayan sun was scorching that day( just like any other day really). the sun was ruthless, and to make matters worst, our boat was roofless. we were like fishes getting all dried up. dang. danggit.
*** Of Baboys and Ooohs and Aaahs
we conquered Babuyan channel and reached Calayan island past 3pm.
then, tables turned, the island paid back all the horrors(kababuyan). and left us gaping in awe for the rest of our days in the island. just look at this
*will post all the pictures and stories of our Babuyan trip next fin~
Babuyan 101 its only Batanes thats being mentioned when people would speak of northern Luzon islands. i, myself, admit know next to nothing about it prior to my visit. well, actually that is aside from the assumption of the abundance of baboys(pig) in the island( i mean… uhm. right?)
Babuyan Islands is consist of five outlying islands namely Fuga, Dalupiri, Camiguin, Babuyan Claro and Calayan. Excluding Fuga, the four islands comprise the municipality of Calayan(Fuga is part of Aparri; a town in mainland Cagayan) and Calayan island serves as the capital.
van Tabuk(Kalinga)-Tuguegarao: 80pesos bus Tuguegarao-Claveria: 210pesos other jump-off points to Calayan, Babuyan Island: Sta. Ana, Aparri Claveria takes the shortest boat-ride time at 4-5hrs, fare at 500 *there are no definite boat schedules. all depends on weather, the sea, passengers and gin blue spend the night in Agri-Base in Claveria; 75/person/night. 150/person/night if room with tv.
hey Malaysia, its not me… its you( and your freakin tricks… i mean the lost wallet, c’mon)… bye. lol.
clock ticked 4:30am and my taxi was waiting downstairs. off to Sungai Nibong terminal, 20rm, to catch the 5am van to cross the border to Hat Yai, the southernmost part of Thailand.
i purchased the 30rm ticket, Penang-Hat Yai, the previous day in the terminal.
i was quite surprised the trip was on time, 5am, more so i was the only passenger at that time. it was like i hired the whole van to accommodate my lone ass. sweet.
the van was fast and the driver was furious. jeeez we werent cruising the hiway, we were flying 123 fukcin knots. nuts! much to my liking though, really. who wants a 5hr trip when you can get it for 3. what safety. hehe
just before 6am, we arrived at the Malaysian border. got my passport stamped. next, Thailand border. stamped. good thing most southeast asian countries dont require filipinos for visa. it makes travelling SEA easy, breezy, fun. lol.
good thing i read from a blog about touts who frequent the terminal in Hat Yai. the van dropped me off right smack at it. and when i was checking the buses and vans someone approached and showed me their office. the van to Krabi(320baht) wasnt leaving not until some 40mins later. so i told the ticket seller i will walk around and grab some breakfast. indeed it was a travel agency.
instead, i went straight to the buses and vans parked in the terminal. i asked the drivers, and their prices were 100bahts cheaper. one bus was about leave, Hat Yai-Phuket, i asked the driver if he knew any buses also leaving at that same time which passes by Krabi. and he said “hop in” because they are going there. and the ticket was cheap at 170baht.
inside the bus, i met a couple of very friendly locals and Ate A( Thai’s version of the famed pinay actress Tiya Pusit =)), from Phuket, was a stand-out, a real character. a very curious woman with so many questions. her with curly hair, dark lipstick and not-so-perfect teeth while munching on peanuts. when she learned that my ticket was only bound to Krabi, she said i better skip Krabi and head straight to Phuket. which she clearly pointed out 998 reasons why Phuket is more beautiful and that i will just waste time and money in Krabi. she was selling Phuket like she owns it. enjoyed the conversation much.
as much as i was convinced that Phuket was the most beautiful place in Thailand, actually on earth, at that time… and that she owns it. =). but i just had to stop by in Krabi since its along the way. pursued the Krabi-PhiPhi-Phuket gameplan instead.
we had our brunch in Trang. around 10am in a small streetside eatery, just to my liking. and you know how i go about in times like this, its point-and-shoot and shoot a lot i did. lunch over some spicy pork dish, some spicy vegetable dish, etc plus rice and milk tea.
the eatery also sells local snack delicacies( parang yon mga bus stop sa Bulacan lang except may sili lang lahat lol)… the peanut brittle though is more like a jawbreaker. too tough to chew.
it was a spicy first meeting with Thailand. sweet.
Thais do know their chillies. and boy, they know well. my meals always ended up with a runny nose and a tear shed. gotta love those spicy shiznits.
we arrived in Krabi a little after lunch, around 1pm. one of the women in the bus had a motorcycle waiting for her and she was kind enough to dropped me off in Pak-Up hostel in Maung Krabi/Krabi Town. nice would be an understatemnt to describe Pak-Up. clean, spanking new, soft beds, neat toilets, wifi, bar on the rooftop… just over-all pakking charming =). best part is its only 180baht/bed/night.
since i still have half of the day, quickly threw down my bag into the locker and bolted out. its time to brave the paradise that is KRABI.