Thursday, February 24, 2011

Travel Photo - A Rural Village in Cambodia

This photo was taken in a rural village about 25 kms outside of Kratie, Cambodia. The previous night while taking an evening stroll along the Mekong River, I was approached by a young Cambodian male in his mid-twenties, named Sambath. To make a long story short, I befriended Sambath and the following day we commuted on his motorbike to his village located in rural Cambodia where he introduced me to his family and friends. A group of his friends invited me into a stilted wooden house where I suddenly found myself amongst friendly non-English speaking Cambodians. Despite that they didn't speak English, we were still able to communicate... because there was an ungodly amount of beer present - the true lingua franca of the world.



Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Say Hello to My Little Friend... The Philippine Tarsier - Bohol, Philippines

Once Sheila and I completed the Loboc River Cruise, we hired a motorbike driver to take us to the Philippine Tarsier sanctuary located just down the road.

A trip to Bohol wouldn't have been complete without seeing the tiny tarsiers. To face these fascinating little creatures eye to eye was one of the main reasons why I decided to travel to Bohol Island in the first place.

The Philippine Tarsier is one of the world’s smallest primates, about the size of my fist. Its enormous eyes can't move, but the tarsier has the ability to move its head 180 degrees. It’s nocturnal and eats insects and small lizards. A tarsier communicates with other tarsiers by making cute little chirping sounds. And when it’s not climbing trees it hops along the ground like a furry frog. I was lucky enough to see one of these furry frog impersonations shortly after we entered the sanctuary, and just before it found another tree to climb.

I thought the Philippine Tarsier was strictly indigenous to Bohol Island but, in actuality, they’re also found in Samar Island, Leyte Island and Mindanao.

An employee manning one of the large cages said, that the sanctuary leaves its cages open at night, allowing the tarsiers to wander off and hunt but that the tarsiers return during the day. He also said, that tarsiers are known to be suicidal - apparently, it will repeatedly bang its head against something - if caged in small confinements for long periods of time, or if they’re stressed. But I’m not certain if that's true or not. It would be interesting if it was, though.

Seeing the Philippine Tarsier was an amazing, eye-opening experience.

*Admission to the sanctuary is free.


Next Stop: The Chocolate Hills – Bohol, Philippines

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Travel Photo - Kuang Si Falls, Laos

One of the highlights of my trip to Laos was of my travels to Kuang Si Falls (sometimes spelled Kuangxi), located 18 miles (29 kms) south of Luang Prabang. There were numerous turquoise blue pools along the trail before reaching the main waterfall.

The Kuang Si Falls is a must-see if visiting the beautiful country of Laos.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Loboc River Cruise - Bohol, Philippines

The Loboc River Cruise is one of the main attractions on the island of Bohol. It’s about 24 kilometers inland from Tagbilarn City via jeepney. And the view through Bohol’s interior was amazingly beautiful with rolling hills, rice terraces, and lush green jungle. The incredible scenery made out for an enjoyable commute, to say the least.

Before we boarded the boat for the river cruise, we were greeted by a number of elderly locals who began playing a vast repertoire of songs which almost sounded like traditional Cajun music – which, being along the muddy riverbanks of Loboc and all, conjured images of New Orleans, Louisiana, my second home.

The hour long river cruise consisted of an all-you-can-eat buffet, live music, and an abundance of stellar views along the Loboc River.

Later we made a brief stop and boarded a floating raft where a number of men, women, and children were playing music and singing local songs. Everyone aboard our boat were encouraged to join and participate in the festivities – for a tip, of course.

The Loboc River Cruise including the all-you-can-eat buffet, costs 400 Pesos (or $9 USD).

So cheap. So worth it.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Life Lesson from a Tricycle Driver - Bohol, Philippines

After a week-long stint traveling with Jason, I caught a flight with Sheila to the island of Bohol, the tenth largest island in the Philippines. It’s located in the central Visayas region, and only about an hour flight from Manila. Through the Philippines' second largest flag carrier, Cebu Pacific Air, my flight to Bohol cost me a whopping $15 USD. So cheap.

Once we landed and exited Tagbilaran Airport, we were instantly surrounded with tricycle drivers soliciting our business. And because the drivers saw Sheila walking with a foreigner, i.e. yours truly, they tried to overcharge us.

“Ya’ll don’t know who you’re messing with!” I laughingly said, as the crowd of men followed and chased Sheila up the street.

Eventually a soft-spoken man approached us through the chaotic crowds of screaming men, and said that he’d take us to the bus terminal for the appropriate amount.

So we quickly hopped into his tricycle and left. And the tricycle drivers whom had just moments before tried ripping us off, pulled up next to us as we were driving away and said they would now lower their price and match our driver's.

Thanks, but no thanks.

As we were commuting to the terminal our driver told us that, at the end of every day, the tricycle drivers who attempt to cheat tourists always end up with nothing – that essentially the people they wind up cheating are themselves. And because of this, unlike his comrades, he is able to return home every night to his family with money in his pockets.

We made sure to tip him once we arrived at our destination. He was gracious, and said that it would go towards his son’s allowance.

I don't know about you, but I think his son might just turn out alright.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

San Juan Beach, La Union - A Surfer's Haven.

Since Jason was keen to surf I suggested that we travel to San Juan Beach, a popular destination for surfers located in the province of La Union. If you recall, I traveled to San Juan Beach this past September with Sheila and had a great time.

I’m not a surfer by any means – I think the last time I surfed was when I was 19 years old while visiting California – but I didn't mind relaxing near the beach while Jason got his surf fix. Anyways, I was only going to spend one day here as I had to be back in Manila the following day.

I was surprised with how different San Juan Beach looked from the last time I was here. It looked like another beach. Apparently, my last visit here in September was during the off-season for surfing. The waves this time, however, were noticeably larger and many more people were surfing.

[Above picture was taken in September 2010]

[Above picture was taken in January 2011]

After some lunch and a brief stop at the Internet café, Jason grabbed a surfboard and headed out to sea.

The following morning Jason and I caught a bus back to Manila where I enjoyed a day of rest before departing to Bohol Island.

It was quite the week of traveling with Jason.


Next Stop: Bohol Island.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hundred Islands National Park, Philippines

After a series of unfortunate events, Jason and I arrived at the Hundred Islands National Park located off the coast of Alaminos City, Pangasinan. The Philippines consists of about 7100 islands. And of these 7100 islands, the Hundred Islands National Park comprises a total of 123 (124 during low tide) of them.

But don’t come here expecting to see beautiful stretches of sandy pristine beaches. They don’t exist. Well, I take that back, there are a few beaches present. Notice the emphasis of the word “few."

The Hundred Islands, which scatter along the Lingayen Gulf, are remnants of 2 million year old coral deposits. And after thousands of years of erosion, these limestone islands have formed into muffin-top shapes – and are mostly inaccessible. In fact, there are only three islands that have been developed for tourism. These include Children’s Island, Governor Island, and Quezon Island.

The town of Lucap, the launching point for the Hundred Islands, is a sleepy hamlet that lacks any sort of nightlife. And since Jason and I hadn't slept in over 24 hours, once we arrived in Lucap we went to straight to sleep. Oh, and I should mention that it was 3 p.m. And we didn't wake up until 7:30 the following morning. That may have been the longest I've ever slept in my life. It was sleep much needed.

The following morning we hired a boatman to take us to the Hundred Islands, about 20 minutes from Lucap Wharf, where we snorkeled, explored caves, and anchored at a few uninhabited beaches.

Good times.


Next Stop: San Juan Beach, La Union.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Travel Photo - Mui Ne, Vietnam

[click to enlarge]

I took this photo in Mui Ne, Vietnam, as I was walking along its harbor in May 2010.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bowling for Bolinao.

From Puerto Galera, the plan was to loop around Mindoro and commute to Pandan Island, just a short ferry ride off the coast of Sablayan, Mindoro. However, as we all know, plans are subject to change – especially when you’re traveling.

The ferry from White Beach, Puerto Galera to Abra de llog – a town only reachable by boat from White Beach - was cancelled due to rough waves along the coast of Abra de llog. And not wanting to stay in the ladyboy infested town of Puerto Galera for another night, we agreed to return to Manila and leave the following morning for Bolinao, a town located at the northwestern tip of Pangasinan province.

Visiting Bolinao seemed to be a viable plan due to its relative proximity to the 100 Islands, another destination that I had not yet seen but was eagerly looking forward to visiting.

To reach Bolinao we took a basic, non-aircon local bus which departed at 3 am. And once we reached Bolinao, Jason didn’t hesitate in describing the excruciating 8 hour commute as “the bus ride from hell.” I couldn’t really argue with him; it was pretty bad.

Once we arrived, however, we still had to take another 30 minute ride via tricycle to reach Patar Beach.

I was so happy to have finally arrived at Patar. It had been a long, arduous journey. I hopped off our tricycle and immediately walked to the beach, which was flooded with local tourists as it was the weekend.

There was only one problem: there were zero inexpensive rooms along the beach.

Zippo. Nadda.

The cheapest accommodation that we could find were these wooden, bamboo constructed rustic huts with leaf roof thatching for 1500 pesos (or $35 USD).

Again, like I’ve mentioned in my previous blog, accommodation in the Philippines is insanely overpriced. And this is an area absent of foreigners, too. I saw zero white people here.

We had our tricycle driver take us down the road where we hoped to have better luck.

Nope. No luck. Zero. Zippo. Nadda.

The woman at the resort initially charged us a whopping 3000 pesos ($70 USD). And get this… for a dormitory room! I told her that we would stay for 1000 pesos ($23 USD) – still ridiculously overpriced – but she refused. The lowest I could get her to come down to was 2000 pesos ($47 USD).

I don’t think the people around Patar Beach understand the logistics of negotiating. So instead of earning 1000 pesos for the room, plus the money we would've spent eating there, she received the grand total of… 0 pesos.

Congratulations. Thank you for playing.

And we left.


Next Stop: The Hundred Islands

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Food For Thought: Beef and Mushroom Penne Rigate with Stuffed Pell Pepper.

I think I may begin a series documenting the food that I've been consuming in other countries.

Could be interesting.

I'll start with this photograph (it's not your typical traditional Filipino dish, I know), a delicious meal that Sheila prepared for yours truly, consisting of beef and mushroom penne rigate with stuffed bell pepper.



Monday, February 7, 2011

Ladyboys Galore in Puerto Galera.

The day after Jason’s arrival in the Philippines we immediately went traveling. We had a week to travel together before I had to return to Manila to catch a flight, as Sheila and I had another trip planned for Bohol and Cebu.

After scrambling for ideas, figuring out what route Jason and I should take, we agreed to travel to the island of Mindoro and Coron. It seemed feasible to be able to see both of these islands before returning to Manila.

Sounded like a plan.

It was going to be interesting traveling without Sheila. It had been awhile since I traveled without her.

At the ungodly hours of the morning, Sheila kindly drove Jason and I to the bus station where we took a bus to the city of Batangas. Once we arrived at Batangas we boarded a ferry to Puerto Galera, located on Mindoro Island.

We stayed at White Beach.

Whenever a beach is called “white”, I always seem to envision the beach being… well, white. But it never seems to live up to its name. The beach is always an off-white, like a grayish or yellowish color. And it’s always a letdown, because I always hold on to the belief that I’m going to see a truly white, white beach.

Just call it like it is, dammit, and enough with the false advertising.

But I digress.

However, I have to admit, white beach or no white beach, it was… a nice beach.

Once we found a relatively affordable hotel room, and after we were offered a few prostitutes by one of the hotel employees – “Would you like a few girls,” he asked us – we set off to find some food as we were both starving.

First I should note that, contrary to what you may have heard, accommodation in the Philippines is NOT cheap. Despite a few hostels in some of the major cities like Manila or Cebu, rooms are typically at least 500 pesos ($11.60 USD). For backpackers like myself, this is quite expensive, especially for anyone traveling solo who can’t split the price.

And despite that you’re paying more, the quality of the rooms here are much lower than its neighboring countries. For instance, here, in the Philippines, 500 pesos won’t get you a room with a flushing toilet (it’s a 50/50 chance), air-conditioning, hot water, or a shower head (expect bucket showers). However, with 500 pesos in, say, Thailand, Laos, or Vietnam for example, I would be living in luxury.

While Jason and I were searching for some food, an old English bloke recommended that we eat at a restaurant called Paul's Restaurant. Or was it Paul's Place? In any case, it was delicious. The chicken adobo that I ordered may have been the best adobo dish that I've had during my travels in the Philippines. Yes, it was that good.

Since the title of this blog is "Ladyboys Galore in Puerto Galera" I guess this would be a suitable time to begin talking about that.

So, as the title of this blog implies, there were a lot of ladyboys present at White Beach. Seriously, I'm not lying when I say they were e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. And the ones who weren't frolicking along the beach were working at the restaurants - EVERY restaurant - and pestering us for our business.

"Not that there's anything wrong with that."

I have nothing against gay people or ladyboys; however, these ladyboys were so freakin' annoying and always in our faces, touching us and making sexual innuendo jokes. They didn't give us any room to breathe. Not joking.

It also didn't help that Jason and I arrived during the middle of the week, so there weren't many other tourists present. It's safe to assume we were fresh meat.

After one night at White Beach, Jason and I were ready to leave. I think we would've had a much better experience if we would've visited White Beach in a group and on the weekend.

So it was fitting that a rainbow appeared over the sea that evening. A rainbow flag, if you recall, is the international sign that represents gay pride.

Oh, the irony.


Next Stop: Pandan Island (or so we thought)...

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Red Palm Reunion.

In November 2009 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, my brother and I met heaps of cool people at the hostel, Red Palm. If you recall, this was the hostel where I met Sheila. And through social network services, such as Facebook, we've managed to stay in touch with everyone.

Fast forward one year.

Recently, it was sort of a Red Palm reunion as my Canadian friend Jason, who, after leaving Malaysia and spending one year working in Australia, came to visit Sheila, Elaine, and I in the Philippines. Jason will be here through mid-February before continuing his travels to South America.

However, the reunion wasn't complete with the absence of my brother, Marc, and Tess, who’s from Australia. However, a few months back, Tess and Marc had a bit of a Red Palm reunion of their own when she visited Marc in California while traveling through the US.

Facebook has really played an integral role during my travels, allowing me to keep in touch with people that I've met.


Travel Photo: Marijuana Traveling from Myitkyina to Mandalay in Myanmar.

[click to enlarge]

This is a photo I took of Marijuana (yes, that's her real name), a Romanian-German who I traveled with for nearly a month, while boat hopping down the Irrawaddy River from Myitkyina to Mandalay in Myanmar (formerly Burma).


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Apocalypse WOW: Road Trip to Pagsanjan Falls.

The highlight of our road trip where we passed through three provinces – Rizal, Laguna and Quezon – was of our travels to Pagsanjan Falls, one of the Philippines’ most prized waterfalls.

Fun Fact #1: Stretches of the Pagsanjan River was used in the filming of the movie Apocalypse Now.

Fun Fact #2: Pagsanjan Falls isn’t really located in Pagsanjan, but in Anglas, Cavinti, Laguna. And the people of Cavinti refer to the falls as Magdapio Falls, or Cavinti Falls.

Once we arrived in the town of Pagsanjan and asked for directions to the falls, we were bombarded with illegal flaggers – in other words, unaccredited boatmen - who approached our vehicle trying to arrange a trip to the falls in their boats. We quickly rolled up our windows and made a U-turn towards the town’s tourist office as men wildly chased us on foot and bicycles.

After we made it inside the town’s tourist office, glad to have escaped the erratic behavior of the touts from outside, we were told that Pagsanjan Falls was only accessible by bangka (canoe) – and for the hefty price of 1200 pesos ($28 USD) per person, excluding entrance fees and tips.

Psh! There had to be another way, I thought.

After viewing a map, I noticed a road that followed the river all the way to Pagsanjan Falls. Not believing that the falls was only accessible through an expensive canoe ride, I suggested to Sheila that we drive as close as we could to the falls then simply ask a local the best way to access it. Overhearing me suggesting this to Sheila, the employee from the tourist office mentioned that there was, indeed, another way but that it was dangerous.

Calling her bluff, we said we’d take our chances and left.

[Knock, knock. Anyone home? Sheila asking for directions]

Just like I’d suspected, there was another way to reach Pagsanjan Falls (found in Anglas, Cavinti) – and for much less than the cost of hiring a boatman.

How much less, you ask?

Get this: The cost was only 150 pesos ($3.48 USD) per person. This included a guide, harness equipment for safety, and a free ride on a bamboo raft to – and through – the falls.

Whoa. Now that’s more like it.

But, that said, the trek down the ravine isn’t for the lighthearted by any means. It’s a strenuous trek, down steep steps and a few enclosed 90-degree metal ladders in which you have to be strapped onto a harness for safety.

[**Warning** Avoid massive spiders in between handrails]

Once we made it to the bottom of the ravine, I could see why director Francis Ford Coppola chose to film Apocalypse Now in this location. Pagsanjan Falls is situated in between a massive gorge, and the river snakes its way through beautifully green scenery.

After a tiring trek to the falls, we took a bamboo raft THROUGH the phenomenal falls and into a cave that hid behind it. Quite refreshing, indeed.

Pagsanjan Falls or Magdapio Falls or Cavinti Falls, or however the heck you want to call it, is a must see destination if visiting the Philippines. I'm so glad I got to see it.

You'll leave the falls saying, "Apcocalypse WOW."