One is either foolish or overly optimistic to think that a few days in Bali is enough.
One is either foolish or overly optimistic to think that a few days in Bali is enough. With only five days to spare for our family trip, I prefer to think we were the latter. Either way, we had to make do, which demanded very precise planning and a strict itinerary. Freediving and surfing were foremost on the menu so we spent most of our days out at sea, but I made sure to save one special day to see what dryland Bali had to offer, too. Without hesitation, we chose Uluwatu and its surrounds.
By: A. Murphy
Kauai, Hawaii – I recently visited one of the most gorgeous places one has ever laid eyes on. A green and red dream studded with blue water surrounding the island. To me, it looks like it’s the place where the Hawaiian Gods live.
Nicknamed the “Garden Isle”, Kauai is covered with lush greenery and tropical plants watered regularly by abundant rainfall. As the oldest amongst the Hawaii Islands, it has been transformed the most by the forces of erosion which resulted to natural wonders such as Waimea Canyon and Na Pali Coast.
We took a bi-plane tour on our second day to see the beauty of the island in aerial perspective. We chose the bi-plane for the experience of an open-air ride. Seeing the whole island up in the air was breathtaking. The view of the Na Pali Coast from above was absolutely stunning. Again, I will say it to emphasize more on its splendor – ABSOLUTELY STUNNING. The pilot then flew above the Waimea Canyon and Mount Waialeale. All those waterfalls coming down the cliffs of Mount Waialeale left me at a standstill to contemplate with awe and reverence the spectacle of the beauty that was right in front of my eyes.
Fact: Waialeale means “rippling water” in Hawaiian. Mount Waialeale is considered as the second wettest place on earth.
On our third day, we took the Na Pali Coast rafting tour to see it in a different sight. This tour is not for the old nor for those who are not physically fit. Along the way, we came across a group of dolphins and turtles which was amazing. The view of the Na Pali Coast is so grand that we find it hard to grasp the whole essence of it. Those sky scraping mountains and cliffs touching the clouds makes the island look like a citadel of pure beauty. A place protected by the Hawaiian Gods themselves.
In many ways, the island is different from all the other islands. It is almost you have stepped into a totally different place. Compared to Oahu and Maui, Kauai is less populated and more laid back. The aura the island brings makes you want to disconnect from the rest of the world. So peaceful and calm that it doesn’t get you too hung up on the pressure of being a tourist.
Seeing the cliffs of the Na Pali coast and the valleys of the island, you can’t help but hum the Jurassic Park theme song.
Our first morning in Yangon dawned bright and chilly. "Perhaps the famed Myanmar heat was just a myth," I thought to myself hopefully. We showered and had breakfast, and by the time we stepped out of our rented Airbnb apartment, I wondered if the cold from barely an hour earlier was just my imagination.
Welcome to Myanmar. Or "Mingalabar!" as the locals are fond of saying.
The intense heat made us scramble into the first taxi we saw, and for 2,000 kyat (about $2), we were transported in comfort to the Asia Plaza Hotel in Bogyoke Road, barely half a kilometer away.
Our instructions were to wait in front of the hotel, the designated meeting point for the day's tour. At a quarter to 8 in the morning, there was no one there, so we stood outside in the heat for a few minutes, unsure of what to do. Finally, a young Burmese man approached us and ushered us into the hotel lobby where we could wait in relative comfort. He introduced himself as Thuya Lwin from UrbanAdventures.com, and he was to be our guide for the day. He wore a traditional Burmese longyi and spoke great English.
After a few minutes, two young ladies from Canada and Vietnam joined us, completing our merry little band of travelers.
Before we left the hotel lobby, Thuya went through the basics of the tour for us, as well as the standard etiquette to observe while in Burma. He also talked about the fundamentals of navigating the streets of Yangon, which is rather important because Yangon drivers are crazy. With all the essentials out of the way, we were off! Our first stop was the Yangon Central Railway Station where we would board the Yangon circular train.
Basically, the train just goes around the city in a wide circle with stops along the way, making it a great way to really see into the heart of Yangon. The trains are hand-me-downs from Japan and Thailand, so it's a very slow journey—about 3 hours to complete the entire loop.
While waiting for our train, Thuya told us more about Yangon and its people and history. He talked about how in the early 20th century, Yangon was one of the most progressive cities in Asia. However, they went through many decades of civil and military unrest, so they were quite literally left behind by their neighbors. Right now they're still just shaking off the stupor of having been at a standstill for so long and doing their best to catch up.
Finally, our train arrived and the mad dash to climb aboard commenced. Luckily, we managed to get seats near the rear of the train. There was a slight commotion when a lone tourist, possibly Chinese, got her head stuck in the closing train doors with the rest of her body still on the ground. Scary stuff, but luckily, the train is so old, slow, and rickety that she was extricated out of her predicament easily enough.
For the next 1.5 hours, our train meandered around Yangon. Inside the train, the sights and sounds of humble folk going about their daily routines surrounded us. There was a mother teaching her little boy his alphabet, a man reading the day’s newspaper then promptly dozing off, young people chatting.
Vendors wove in and out of the train cars, hawking myriad delicacies from fruit to quail’s eggs to deep-fried sandwiches.
Looking out the window, it was hard to deny the poverty. There were areas with rickety houses, and areas with old, crumbling apartment buildings. There were areas littered with so much trash that you couldn't see the ground beneath, and areas that stank of rotting produce. Despite all the squalor, though, what really stood out about the city was its spirit. People accepted their lot in life and made the best out of it, from what I could tell. Even with all the hustle and bustle, it all actually seemed quite peaceful.
At the halfway point of our journey, Thuya directed us to get off the train. We were at Danyingon where Yangon's busiest wet market was. At this point, we were going to see a typical Burmese market in action.
Now, being from the Philippines, I'm no stranger to wet markets. Danyingone, however, was rather spectacular -- or horrifying, depending on how you look at it. I found it to be a mix of both.
The sheer volume of produce and people was staggering, as were the sights, the smells, the textures. There was so much activity, so many people going this way and that that the market itself seemed like a living, breathing organism -- an ecosystem of sorts.
Oddly enough, it actually seemed quite organized. For instance, you would know exactly where to find root crops because they definitely won't be in the (stinky) section where they showcased fish and shrimp paste.
After about 20 minutes of going around the market, we made our way back to the train station. The next train wasn't arriving for another half an hour, so Thuya got us cold drinks to pass the time. He also demonstrated the Burmese habit of chewing on betel nut and tobacco. Now, it's hard to miss those telltale red stains on Burmese streets, so it's fascinating to know that it actually has a sort-of science to go with it. They take a leaf (I forgot what it was called) and spread some sort of white paste on it. Then they wrap up the betel nut and their tobacco flavor of choice in it and chew away. It produces this red liquid, which does a lot of disgusting damage to their teeth (and streets!), but hey, it's their thing, so live and let live.
Finally, the train comes, and once again, we scrambled on board for another 1.5-hour journey. This time around, we saw more ponds that grew watercress and nicer houses along the way.
Most Burmese folks wear paste on their faces as makeup and sunblock of sorts. It's a little disconcerting at first, like war paint, but after a while, you can see that it's actually quite nice. Especially on the little ones. They just look terribly cute.
We finally arrived at our last stop. We then rode on these awesome Yangon tricycles along Bo Min Yaung Road, which is an entirely different experience in and of itself.
Our last stop was at a restaurant where we had lunch before disbanding. It was quite a nice restaurant, too, by Burmese standards -- more Chinese than Burmese, if you ask me. While waiting for our orders, we were served snacks -- deep-fried samosas and spring rolls. The Burmese do love their fried food.
After that hearty lunch, it was time to say goodbye to our group. They were still going back to our meeting point to disband, but we were already in the same street as our apartment, so we opted not to go back. By this time, the midday sun was in its element, so a quick nap in our air-conditioned flat was definitely in order.
All in all, it was a great tour, but probably better suited for the tail end of a trip when one has gotten tired of pagodas and wants to see a different aspect of Burmese living.
Know that it will be hot, smelly, and uncomfortable. The circular train journey itself will also be uninspiring. But if you ask me, that's what makes it all the more interesting. Because it is normal—nothing more and nothing less. And being a traveler in this very strange land stuck in time, it can be a real joy to be part of something normal.
Iris Clamor is a writer and all-around Internet slave who is constantly on the verge of an existential crisis. She writes for thelostones.net and iriswrites.com.
Dec 23 2014.6 P.M. At Work. Mandaluyong.
I went to work with my travel backpack and ready to spend Christmas somewhere I haven't been to! My shift was about to end but I still didn't know where to go. As I handed my customer a Php20 bill for his change, I found my destination--BANAUE!
As soon as I clocked out, I rushed to the bus stations only to find out that they were fully booked! Of course, it was Christmas Eve the next day! What were you thinking, Glen?! But I was hell bent to go to Banaue. I asked around and found an alternative route. Lucky me! I found the last bus and got the last seat. Unluckily though, it was at the center aisle, which meant no uninterrupted sleep. Fortunately, the bus collector I had made friends with, did not charge me the fare! A pamasko (Christmas gift) for the lone traveler! Awesomesauce!
Dec 24 2014. 10 A.M. Christmas Eve. Banaue, Ifugao.
Reached the town! Got myself the last available room. Luck is on my side!
Since I always, always pack light and wasn't ready for Banaue's cold weather, a little holiday shopping wouldn't have hurt. Bought some warmers and beanies. Now, properly clothed, I was ready to leisurely enjoy the rest of my day, with the tourist map on my hand. I went on an uphill quest to get to the viewpoint and finally see in person what I usually just see on postcards, textbooks, and on that Php20 bill--- the famous Banaue Rice Terraces.
There's a sad story behind this smile. These old natives mostly stay under the sun, drizzle and cold to make money from donations from whoever would wish to take pictures with them.
I felt so bad for him, gave him a generous amount, and then realized, Gah! There goes my budget for Noche Buena. I didn't mind eating porridge and that smile was worth every cent.
Where's the view? There wasn't much. Too foggy. I was feeling disappointed, then a local told me, "May iba pa ma'am" (There's another viewpoint)
Tip: Take pictures after giving a tip. The smiles are better! Christmas or not, be generous!
Old man on the left already had a stroke, but still needed to make a living, which explains why he was wearing warmers. While resting and catching my breath on the bench beside them, he had already told me his whole life (and love) story---telenovela-worthy! And nope, this still was not "the" viewpoint.
This, is "the" viewpoint! According to locals, it would've been best if I had come before the harvesting season. It would've been lush and green. Nevertheless, it was equally breathtaking! Carving these steps with the available technology 2,000 years ago, makes these ancestors brilliant engineers.
I rarely join in the pictures but these natives insisted that I should, and even offered the seat! (Which I reluctantly took. Who takes a seat from old ladies?!). Later, I found out, it was because I was the most generous tipper that day. Well, honestly, people have been kind to me since I started this trip, I was just paying it forward. I'm not Christian, didn't know if they were, but I was celebrating the season! It's the season of giving!
You've probably seen these faces in NAIA posters! They're popular ya' know!
So I've been to, and seen the highest viewpoint. After a 3-hour cold leisurely walk (with rain showers and chatting up the locals in between), I rewarded myself with an inexpensive cup of hot instant noodles then descended. Back in town and looking around for something else to do, I stumbled upon a Batad tour. I signed up. Why not?!
I did some more snacking and eating-- my favorite past time, then headed back to my hostel. And, hey! They were just putting up a few shiny Christmas garlands. While most Filipinos put up their Christmas decors as early as September, they did theirs on Christmas Eve. Come to think of it, while walking around Banaue the whole day, I rarely, rarely saw homes festively decorated with Christmas trinkets. I couldn't even remember hearing any Christmas song. Despite all that, I don't think their Christmas is any less happy.
I dove into my bed for a quick nap, the next thing I knew, it was 9 PM and dinner time! Well, accurately (almost) Noche Buena time. I only had hot tinolang manok (chicken stew), but for a famished kid, it was as yummy as Cebu lechon! I wasn't alone, I had my family back in Cebu over the phone.
"Hey Mom! Guess what? I'm in Banaue! You know where the Banaue Rice Terraces are? I saw the real thing!..." I was telling them of my misadventures since the day before and my plans for the next.
Dec 25 2014. 9 A.M. Christmas Day. Batad, Ifugao.
We were dropped off, then we trekked our way to Batad. I was with 2 Germans, 4 Israelis and 2 Americans. Except for the guide, I was the only (short-legged and obviously unsporty) Filipino. One step for them was equivalent to two for mini me! I had to keep up--double time! With my best buddy, Mr. Walking Stick, I made it!
Amphitheaters are really more fun (and challenging to go to) in The Philippines!
We went down and over the valley to see Tappiyah waterfalls. And man! Those steps were not meant for Filipino legs! And I'm not kidding when I say that I bruised my chin and knee going back up because they often met.
Was it worth the trouble? Let the picture speak for itself.
After seeing the falls, we enjoyed lunch overlooking the Batad Terraces (What a view!). You can't have that everyday. Then we trekked our way back to the drop-off point.
When we got back to Banaue, I had some drinks with new-found German and American friends over the American's hostel. They were just two but they had a four-bed room with a view! We sat and chatted, killing time while the Germans and I were waiting for our bus back to reality. And just so you'd know how small my world is, after all the chatting, I found out that one American was actually a friend of a good friend.
Dec 26 2014. Reality. Ugh.
After spending 12 hours in the freezer bus, we made it to the urban jungle of Manila without turning into a popsicle.
This Ifugao Christmas definitely wasn't my normal Christmas, but it made it on my list as one of the best!
If you are planning on doing this trip, here's a list of other things you can do:
-After enjoying the viewpoint, trek your way back to town through the terraces.
-Trek Tam-an, Poitan, Matanglag and Bocos
-Visit the Museum of Cordillera Sculptures and Banaue Museum
-Try rice wine
-Enjoy the culture
So how far can a Php20 bill take you this Christmas? It took me all the way to Banaue. Well, not exactly, but you know what I mean.
"Molokai - A WORLD THE REST OF THE WORLD DOESN'T KNOW EXISTS." - Marlene Freedman
Molokai is an odd place. It's like a rural American county with no highway. And it's surrounded by ocean. Coming from Oahu it's a perplexing situation to arrive after a 30 minute flight to an isolated air strip in the middle of what appeared to be west Texas.
The one rental car company on the island rented us a Wrangler at the typical tourist rate. I didn't dwell on it. Instead I was enthused about experiencing a 'newish' car and a plethora of terrains to dominate with it. If this were the only experience this scruffy paradise offered I could see myself pleased with the adventure.
Making the most out of Molokai
We did not make any hotel reservations in Molokai as there were not a lot and most of them are extremely expensive for a homegrown super laid-back island so we camped out.
After setting up our tent in a Pala'au State Park we went straight to Kalaupapa Lookout which was only a few minute drive. The lookout will give you the view of the historic Kalaupapa which was a leper colony (Hansen's disease) and the only leper colony in the United States. It also includes the trail to the sacred phallic stone.
If you are expecting a busy island like Oahu, you won't see it in Molokai. One extreme way to have fun in the island is to drive around any trails of dirt road that you come across and see where it leads you to.
Driving around to some dirt road trails led us to places with some breathtaking views.
Hiking is a must in Molokai. The island has one of the most beautiful valley Hawaii could offer, the Halawa Valley. Like they say, the valley is the closest thing to Shangri-La this side of the Himalayas.
Take the 32-mile scenic drive from Kaunakakai to the easternmost tip of the island.
Bring plenty of food and water because you're leaving civilization way far behind.
Warning: The road can get into a single-lane, twisting and winding, climbing your way to Halawa.
Molokai is so different. When you're in the island it feels like your time just stops. You get to forget how life in the city can be so hectic and crazy. It's like lying down in a hammock all day under a tree by the beach/shore without any worries about life at all. I literally felt 'Hakuna Matata' during my 4-day stay in this special island.
Life is a beach in Molokai. And yes, I did lie in a hammock under a tree by the shore and loved each moment of it. Indeed, it is a world the rest of the rest of the world doesn't know exists.
El Nido was the most unforgettable vacation I've ever had. Getting there was long - from a 45 minute flight from Cebu plus a 5-6 hour land trip (PPS Airport-El Nido). The driver makes a few pit stops for some lunch or snacks and for those who needed a bathroom break. With the long drive one could think about anything. I for one had a lot of things on my mind. I couldn't stop imagining the bed awaiting us. I couldn't wait to sit on it or just lay there straight on my back which was already aching from sitting a long time in the van. I wouldn't also deny the fact that regret came to my mind on why I went for this trip considering the long land trip but going back was already too late. You're already in Palawan. Just keep in mind all those stuff that you read about El Nido.
The moment we arrived in El Nido, it took my breath away. I stood by the beachfront of the hotel we were staying and just stared in awe the beauty of the place. The next day was even better where we went island hopping. We toured around the different islands and was amazed with the skyscraping limestone cliffs. It was like traveling to a place completely untouched by our common world. It's beauty brings you to a state of nirvana. El Nido - a secret paradise. So beautiful that one would think it only exist in fantasies. That such a place could only be possible in our imagination. Its beauty is so majestic that its like the Grand Canyon of the Philippines. The vista left me breathless.
Getting there was hard but PATIENCE definitely has its price.