Ticao Island (Masbate, PH)

Masbate, an island province in the Bicol Region of the Philippines, is a land of many surprises. Before I was impressed with a group of islands in this province called Burias Islands, I was first smitten by the charm of another island of Masbate called Ticao.

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One of the 3 major islands of the province, Ticao is made up of 4 municipalities. One very notable town is Monreal. Found at the western tip of Ticao, Monreal is home to seemingly untouched beaches, and other natural attractions. The islets that look like emerald gems floating in the azure waters would melt any beach bummer’s heart.

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Swim inside the Bojo Cave, snorkel at the Halea Nature Park, bum around San Miguel Island, do a beach photo shoot at Borobongkaso Islet, or do a quick visit at Catandayagan Falls.

So feast your eyes on these photographs as if they are inviting you to come and experience the treasures that of Ticao Island in mesmerizing Masbate!

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Don’t be a wasted soul, be JUANderlust. Take it easy everyJUAN.

What’s in Your (Travel) Bag?

One particular thing I am asked about, as a frequent traveler, is regarding my packing strategy and what stuff I do pack. Packing your bag, perhaps, is one essential matter during travel. So here is a quick guideline on how I pack and what things I usually bring.

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First things first: I decide on my main luggage. Factors that dictate my choice of luggage include duration of travel, mode/s of travel (whether plane, bus, or even boat), and general itinerary (is it a local or international travel? Does my travel require hopping from one province or country to another?)

Generally though, I go for something that is lightweight (but big enough to contain all my basics) and physically more comfortable to carry around. So with these in mind, I would often use my travel backpack-slash-hiking-bag that has been with me for 12 years now. I like it since it is able to fit all my things and more importantly, it is easy to carry.

How about a “rolling luggage”? I am not a fan of rolling luggage. Having wheels could be very comfortable to most people I know but I don’t find it practical enough especially if my travel requires some “roughing out”.

If I have a short travel (a weekend trip maybe), I like using a duffel bag. Again, it is lightweight, and easy to carry. Also, most of the time, I have a hand carry/ carry-on bag that is usually a mail bag where I stash my most essential stuff (including my rosary). This is essential especially when you have multiple destinations.

After having thought of which luggage to choose, the next thing I usually do is make a checklist of the things I intend to bring with me. I have a notebook/ pad where I write everything I need. Some people resort to using their cellphone’s organizer but I’m pretty old-school, I like the idea of jotting down a list using my pencil, and crossing out some whenever the need to leave some.

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So what should one pack? Here is my basic list:

Lightweight clothing that can be layered Camera/ batteries/ charger/ SD card Travel pillow (neck pillow)
Long-sleeved shirts Pajamas/sleepwear Cell phone and charger
Sweater or cardigan or a windbreaker Mini flashlight Eye mask and ear plugs
T-shirts and tank tops Eyeglasses/ Sunglasses and glasses case Walking shoes
Pants and shorts (that does not require using a belt) Cap/ Hat Electric converters and adaptors
Socks/ Undergarment/ swim trunks (in case I’m swimming) Easy dry, lightweight towel Travel apps to help with language, directions (l like maps.me), & money conversion

PS: I also pack some energy bars and candies, and some little souvenirs I can give to new friends I’ll meet along the way.

And for a male (my) TOILETRIES bag, it contains the following:

Toothbrush, toothpaste,  mouthwash Sunscreen/ lotion Medicine kit (I have a separate post called Travel Pills and Elixirs)
Hair gel Mosquito repellant (lotion) Shaver
Shampoo Wet wipes/ tissue Nail clippers

Once I have enlisted them, I try my best to organize my stuff inside my bag in such a way that I am able to maximize every space. This can be challenging (and frustrating at times). I used to pack my clothes in a zip lock bag labeled per day. I still do if it is a short trip. But if it is a long trip, I do it differently. I pack most of my clothes still in zip lock bags of varying sizes and organized based on the kind of outfit. I usually roll them as I find this technique less space consuming.

Packing my toiletries in its bag is another thing. My choice of toiletry bag is something that is transparent, easy to wipe, and water-resistant of course. Always keep in mind to bring only a small amount of your liquid items. I also try to label each one of them to avoid confusion and for easy access.

Next thing I prepare are the essential travel documents, cash, and cards. All of which I place in a simple travel organizer that can hold my passport, identification card/s, ATM and credit cards (to which I remind my bank/ credit card company that I am going abroad if it is an international trip), boarding pass/es, money/ coins, and a pen. I also keep a folder for my travel insurance documents, print out of my travel itineraries (although I also keep an electronic form in my phone), a list of hotel contact information, emergency contacts and important addresses like that of a couchsurfing host, guide books/ maps, and my travel notebook.

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After packing everything, I check the weight of my luggage to make sure I won’t pay extra money during check-in. I also try to walk around with my luggage for my body to have a feel of its weight. That’s it. And by the way, don’t forget to prepare the most important things during travel — enough strength (physical, mental and emotional), and a happy, optimistic disposition.

So, whether this your maiden solo travel or you are a seasoned wanderlust, I hope these simple guideline based on what I do, would be of help to you in a certain way. Have fun and always travel safe and with a smile.

Don’t be a wasted soul, be “juan”derlust. Take it easy everyJuan.

 

 

 

Anda: Bohol’s Kept Secret (No More)

Bohol, the 10th largest island of the Philippines, has always been a fascination to both local and foreign travelers. Together with the islands of Palawan and Cebu, this island province has proven to be a major tourism hub. Attraction drawers like the Chocolate Hills, Panglao Island’s exquisite beaches, the Loboc River Cruise, and the very charming primate tarsier have kept the visitors number increasing in this tropical paradise.

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And just like that… all the while we have seen the best of Bohol. It was during my 4th time in this alluring island when I got the chance to visit the north eastern town of Anda.  Being a secluded town, it isn’t that surprising that it has some of Bohol well-kept shorelines. And just like most Philippine beaches, it boasts off pristine, crystal clear waters, fine white sand BUT with a lesser crowd.  Sounds like the perfect spot, at least for me who isn’t into teeming beaches.

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My one-day stay in Anda, hopping from one beach to another, proved that indeed there is more to Bohol. So if you want to go beyond the usual Bohol itinerary, be willing to take on the extra mile by travelling up-north and enjoy this quaint town beaches like the beautiful public beach QuinaleBeach to the more secluded Bitoon Beach, and Bugnaw Beach. 

Also, the town have other attractions worthy of a visit like Can-umantad Waterfalls, Cabugnow Cave Pool, and Limanok Island. Twas quite unfortunate that I wasn’t able to visit these because of a heavy downpour during the rest of my stay. Well, there goes a good reason to go back to Anda.
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How to Get to Anda, Bohol

Anda is approximately 100 kilometers from Tagbilaran and it takes two to three hours to reach by bus or private vehicle. Several buses and V-hire vans available at Dao District also have several scheduled trips to Anda.

Anda Bohol Tourism Contacts

Municipality of Anda
Anda Tourism Office
Poblacion Anda, Bohol
Mobile: 0908-793-6643
Email: lgu@andabohol.gov.ph / toiurism@andabohol.gov.ph
Website: http://www.andabohol.gov.ph/

Lamanoc Island Tours
Operating Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Tour cost: Php300 pesos (inclusive of entrance, guided tour and boat trip)
Contact Numbers: (038) 510 8094 or 0917 3245917

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Special thanks to a very generous instagram friend of mine, @rey_of_light for allowing me to use some of his Anda photos. Follow him on his Instagram and you’ll be delighted to discover more of Bohol’s wonders.

Don’t be wasted soul, be “juan”derlust. Take it easy everyJuan.

The Story of a SURFvivor

Buzzy Trent (a pioneer of big wave surfing) once said, “Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear…

I wrote this blog in my Multiply account about 8 years ago, then published it in my TravBuddy account 5 years back, and now I am finally reposting (with some updates) it here in my WordPress. This entry is about my 1st surfing experience, and how I survived it.  DSC_0359

During my childhood years, I used to have this uncanny fear of water (any bodies of water for that matter). But despite the alarm, I also had these series of dreams where I’d go SCUBA diving, snorkeling and surfing. I didn’t even know how to swim, and is really afraid of the thought of drowning but there goes that yearning to be adventurous on and under water. Weird and ironic isn’t it?

Fast-forward: Some peculiar years later, I found myself marveling at the sport’s illusory unfussiness as I paddle out to the sea and grasping at the sides of a surfboard, the sea rolling underneath my tummy like a hyperacidic stomach.

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I had my first taste of riding a surf board way back 2009. La Union, a province in close proximity to my place, is home to one of the Philippines’ surf spot. So one weekend, a few of my friends and I planned on a weekend getaway before the start of another grueling semester (we study and work in a university). The more pressing questions that time were – “What to do? and Where to go?” And the thought of trying to do some surfing was one of the immediate things that came to my mind. (Yes it was yet another out-of-the blue idea of Lester)… Since we can’t afford to travel far distance just to surf because of several reasons (ie time, physical fatigue it may bring about and finances), we opted for the nearest and possibly the cheapest – SAN JUAN, LA UNION! (Claimed to be the surfing capital of the north).

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During the one hour ride to SJ, I wondered how I’d fair with my 1st surfing experience. There’s no arguing that the water activity seems fun. BUT, I was quite anxious because I personally have issues on standing (moreso balancing) atop a moving object. (You now when you are born with “talipes equinovarus” or clubfoot, things like this can come as a challenge). I also had doubts about my learning curve and the ability of my lanky body to carry me against the current.

We arrived at the Se-bay Surf Central in San Juan, La Union at about 8:30 in the morning. I wasn’t sure still if I wanted to try it out or just watch my companions fall off from their boards. (Cetrin, the only lady in our group was certain she won’t be surfing. She nonchalantly said she’ll just watch us fall off from our boards. (You know friends can be really this supportive. Haha). A few more minutes of contemplating, we finally worked up the nerve to sign up for a one-hour surf lesson (Php400/hour for a surf board and an instructor). After all, this is what prompted us to get out of Baguio that weekend.

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Before going into the water, our surf instructors taught us the basics like the right way to lie on the board, how to and when to paddle out, stand up, and the like. Well, theoretically speaking, I was able to learn how to surf in ten minutes or less, but knowing is half the battle. And the battle involved far greater difficulties than just learning to conquer the waves. We were asked if we were ready and we all said “yes” dishonestly. The thought of drowning of crashing into the waves and drowning started to cloud my thought. But recalling what my instructor told me, that my leash would save me in case that happens, my spirit was momentarily uplifted.

The surf instructors then led us to the sea (The West Philippine Sea and its seemingly glorious waves) and told us to get on the board so we could start fighting the current and find a nice spot to catch a wave. I did so, trying to keep my eyes focused on the horizon ahead so I wouldn’t get giddy. What I saw was enough to make me want to start paddling toward the opposite direction: wave after wave of water that looked big enough to carry me off to the sea. To experienced (and professional) surfers, I’m sure the waves that day were absolutely nothing (as in nothing!!!), but I’ve never had to swim against waves like that in my life. True, I was relatively safe because my surfboard kept me afloat (and my leg is tied with a leash), but that didn’t keep me from being gradually more frightened with every wave that hit me. I was having difficulty catching my breath, and I was so anxious I’d fall off my board and get yanked out by the undertow. (By now you realize, my readers, how cowardice have been eating me up then).

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We were getting too far from the shore for my relief, so I asked my instructor if it was really that necessary to keep swimming out (I do not know how to swim FYI – okay I already mentioned that earlier). My heart sank when he said yes, but he speedily added that the nearer we are to the shore, the more unsafe it is because the waves come about too closely to each other. After what seemed like infinity, we finally stopped battling the waves and stayed at spot where “surfable” waves came less frequently.

I soon discovered that my instincts got in the way of learning to surf. And by “instincts” I mean I was just purely too afraid to let go of my surfboard. The instructor would give the surfboard a thrust when a wave came by, then tells me when to stand up. I was able to stand up, but only for a fleeting second. It was then that he must have realized that I was one of his worst (if not the worst) student ever. It certainly took a lot of effort going back to the same spot after the waves carried me closer to the shore. Meaning — I had to go paddle against the current again. I started to feel weary, especially my arms – I was too tired to paddle back properly, and I was too scared to do anything but hold on for my dear life.

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I did make a number of attempts to plunk up and surf, but I’d either be daydreaming and hear the instructor shout “TAYO!” (STAND) too late, or I’d be arguing with myself as to whether or not I should stand up. After half an hour I finally got sick of being the only one who haven’t quite learned how to surf. (My friends Monte and Sir Mak during those times were already enjoying themselves on top of their surfboards). The next time a wave comes, I told myself, I will stop doubting myself, stop asking questions, and just stand the fuck up like I’m supposed to.

And I did it! I eventually did it! I finally got up and rode a wave! Sure, I must have looked like a total idiot, especially since my total ride was interposed by a very strident “WHOAAAAAAAAAAAA!” But as soon as I found the nerve to get up, it occurred to me that surfing itself can actually be pretty easy. The wave just picks you up and takes you for a ride, and you don’t have to do anything but stand there and try not to fall. The whole thing must have lasted maybe five seconds or so, and it was right when I thought, “Oh shit, I’m falling… I’m falling…!” that I lost my balance and landed rather awkwardly into the water.

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I went back to try out again, just to make sure that I could already balance and stay on top of the board and prove Cetrin (who has been bugging me as to why I can’t stand) that my first successful balance and ride weren’t luck at all! And YES! I did it again. That is when I realized that it was just a matter of determination and concentration. “I was able to do so because I believed in myself and I wanted to make it happen”.

I was in the middle of experiencing the adrenaline rush of surfing when my instructor told me it was time. I wanted to extend my time but we had to leave now… But anyhow, I definitely would want to come back to La Union and do surfing again and be less wimpy about riding a wave.

Note: As of this writing, I have been going back to San Juan for several times now and my surfing has improved. Also, I am proud to say that I have surfed in some of the most notable surfing spots in the country like Baler in Aurora, Bagasbas in Camarines Norte, Guiuan in Eastern Samar, Cloud 9 in the world-renowned Siargao Island, and the most recent one is in Puraran, Catanduanes.

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With these experiences, I am beyond proud to say that I am a SURFvivor! Don’t be a wasted soul, be ‘juan’derlust. Take it easy ebri’juan’…

 

A Walk Through Singapore’s Southern Ridges Trail

Whenever I sense an overflow of negative emotions, I have always thought that it can be useful to “walk it off.” To me, walking is a cheapo, moderate peril and easy form of exercise. It is best combined with nature – verdant sights and scent of unsullied air – can be a very prevailing, under-utilized stress buster.

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On several occasions that I was in Singapore for work, I maximized my stay there by exploring various sites during weekends. One time, feeling the toll stress has brought against me, a few colleagues and I went to “walk off” along with The Southern Ridges.

The Southern Ridges is a 9-kilometre trail that connects various parks along the southern ridge of Singapore (hence the collective name). The trails boast off its greenery and connecting bridges. It is indeed a perfect place to go on a hike where one can enjoy the serenity of the great outdoors, and a majestic, panoramic view of Singapore City.

The Southern Ridges connect the following parks: Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park, Hort Park, Kent Ridge Park and Labrador Nature Reserve – all of which can delight any walking, photography, and nature enthusiasts.

Mount Faber Park is one of the oldest parks in Singapore and probably one of the most popular tourist destination because of the cable car ride. The park is connected to Telok Blangah Hill Park by Henderson Waves Bridge. The park houses the Marina Deck, Palm Plaza, Jewel Box, and Faber Point.

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Telok Blangah Hill Park is a 34-hectare park which is said to be a favorite site for wedding couples. With its semi-circular terrace garden located at the top, no wonder it is a favourite for photo shoots and prenuptial events.

The Henderson Waves is my favourite spot. This 899-foot long pedestrian, wooden bridge suspended at 118 feet above Henderson Road, is the highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore. It connects Mount Faber Park and Telok Blangah Hill Park. It is called such because the bridge has a waveform made up of seven undulating curved steel ribs that alternately rise over and under its deck. The bridge also has shelters with seats within.

Kent Ridge Park is a 47-hectare public park between the National University of Singapore and the Singapore Science Park. Due to its undisturbed habitat and abundant plant life. So if you are a bird-watching aficionado and a lover of plants, then a visit to this park might just amuse you.

There are several trails at the Southern Ridges. There are Marang Trail, Faber Trail, Hilltop Walk, Forest Walk, Floral Walk, and Canopy Walk Trails. Each of which offers a relaxing walk through foliage.

The Southern Ridges of Singapore is a “fresh air and greenery” personified. It’s probably all that and more. There is something about its great outdoors that gives walking, running a little kick. So when you find yourself in the Lion City wanting to commune with nature, and you want to feel more alive, energetic and optimistic – walk your way to the Southern Ridges.

Credits and Big thanks to a good friend and workmate, Allan (@kislap96) for some of the photographs used in this write-up.

Don’t be wasted soul, be “juan”derlust”. Take it easy ebri’juan’…

Nagcarlan Fun (Laguna, PH)

Just keep taking chances and having fun. — Garth Brooks

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A few days before Valentine’s Day this 2017, instead of sulking over the fact that I have no V-Day date (for the 7th consecutive year), I opted to join a group of nature-enthusiasts for a weekend getaway in Laguna. I have actually been joining random groups of people since the 1st week of January for some weekend climbs and more.  

So here are the things we did in Nagcarlan to have fun:

TREK MOUNT MABILOG:

Mount Mabilog
Elevation: 428 MASL
Difficulty: 2/9
Location: San Pablo & Nagcarlan, Laguna
Jump Off Point: Brgy. Sulsuguin, Nagcarlan
Features: Grassland, Banana, Coconut & Corn Fields.

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There are three established trails to Mount Mabilog. The western trail via Brgy. Sta. Catalina, the southern trail accessed via Brgy. Sto Angel (both in San Pablo town); and the eastern trail from Sitio Yambo, Brgy. Sulsuguin in town of Nagcarlan. Our group opted to take this trail since we wanted to spend time at Yambo Lake.

About the hike: The ascent is pretty easy and relaxed. One gets to pass by lots of coconuts, banana plants and even cassava plants. Since it rained the previous day, the trail was a bit muddy but manageable.

As one goes further up, the canopy of various trees culminates in a steep ascent that goes to a summit that serves as a campsite and a viewing area at the same time. From the peak, a stunning view of the 7 Lakes of San Pablo (with Yambo Lake as the most visible), and the imposing Mounts Makiling, Banahaw, Cristobal are seen. Other mountains like  Malipunyo Range, Mount Kalisungan, and Mount Atimla can also be viewed. Mount Mabilog is a desirable day-hike for newbies and can be very much visited together with other nearby attractions like the lakes and some waterfalls.


BALSA CRUISE at YAMBO LAKE:

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Yambo Lake, an oligotropic lake (one that is characterized by a low accumulation of dissolved nutrient salts, supporting but a sparse growth of algae and other organisms, and having a high oxygen content owing to the low organic content – in a more appreciated term, you can go and swim all you want, haha) is the twin of a  more popular lake called Pandin Lake. They are separated by a narrow strip of land, that may require a good 10-15 minutes. The place is suitable for swimming, “balsa” cruising, and picnicking. The ride may cost Php 180.00/ person, and if one opts to go food, it will cost one person Php 360.00.


SWIM at BUNGA TWIN FALLS:

Bunga Falls, 15-meters twin waterfalls located at Brgy. Bunga in Nagcarlan Laguna is a good place to cool down after a climb at Mount Mabilog or if one wants more swimming after some time at Yambo Lake. FYI: According to locals, it is called “Bunga” as it is named after a palm tree called betel nut.

Bunga Falls Information:
Entrance Fee: Php5.00/person
Cottage Rentals: starts at Php200.00
Overnight Accommodation (cottage rent): Php400.00
Life Vest Rental: Php70.00
Activities: swimming, camping, water tubing
Parking Fee: Php20.00 (vehicles), Php15.00 (motorcycles)

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VISIT the UNDERGROUND CEMETERY:

A unique attraction in the town (since it seems to be one of its kind in the Philippines) is the Underground Cemetery. This is a burial site located beneath a church that used to serves as a secret meeting place of Filipino revolutionaries or Katipuneros during the late 1800s. There are no fees collected. It is open from Tuesdays to Sundays, 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Taking pictures is allowed, however, the use of flash is strictly prohibited. One may find the place eerie but I think that adds up charm to the place.

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This fun-filled weekend getaway was made possible by a group of nature and “voluntourism” advocates spearheaded by Sir Ralph of We VolunTours. I have joined his group already on several occasions and I must say that there’s has to be one of the most organized, enjoyable and adventure-packed. Thank you to all new friends I have met. Special shout out to Baguio peeps I have come to know in this trip.

Don’t be a wasted soul, be ‘juan’derlust. Take it easy ebri’juan’…

 

Yangon: City of Golden Pagodas (Myanmar)

Yes, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision to visit Yangon, Myanmar’s capital. And it was literally a 24-hour stay in this emerging Southeast Asian city without bringing with me expectations and whatnot.

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Yangon, formerly Rangoon, is one of Myanmar’s (formerly Burma) most busy and developing cities. Besides being dubbed as the City of Golden Pagoda, I really didn’t have much in mind on what to anticipate. But after my brief stint, I could say that Yangon is a city that is filled with charm and eccentricity (in a good way). And I believe that it is one of those Asian metropolitan that doesn’t always get the attention it merits.

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So what exactly did I see, taste, experience and feel when I was in Yangon? Read along:

The Shwedagon Pagoda: One of the most important religious sites not only in Yangon but the entire Myanmar. The 99 meters high golden chedi of the pagoda (that glimmers more during the daylight) is a landmark that is visible all throughout the city (reminds me of the Sky Tower in Auckland that is all seen wherever you are in the City of Sails). I admire how the Burmese people are able to preserve this sacred, cultural monument. Definitely one of the first things a visitor must do when in Yangon.

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How to get there: The easiest way to get to the Shwedagon Pagoda from downtown Yangon is to take a taxi. From the center, I took a taxi for 2,500 Kyats
Open Hours: 4 am – 10 pm daily (but closed during holidays)
Entrance Fee: 8 USD/ about 6, 000 kyats

The Sule Pagoda: Another pagoda worthy of a visit is the Sule Pagoda which is a notable historical and navigational pagoda landmark in Yangon as it is right in the middle of the major thoroughfare in the city. It is in close proximity to a number of government buildings and workplaces. I have read that the grounds near the pagoda is also a place for political activities and even protests. It may not be as massive and impressive with that of the Shwedagon Pagoda but still a sight to behold.

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How to get there: From central Yangon, it is located at the main circuitous intersection right in the middle of downtown. I actually walked my way from my hostel.
Open Hours: 6 am – 8 pm daily
Entrance Fee: 3 USD

The Botataung Pagoda: Located on the river banks of downtown Yangon is one of the city’s well-regarded temples. Botataung, which means 1,000 military leaders, is a 40-meter high golden pagoda that houses a sacred hair relic of the Buddha and is open to the public.

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How to get there: Take a taxi from downtown Yangon to the Botataung Pagoda which would cost between 3 to 5 USD. Actually, from Sule Pagoda, if you are into walking, you could make your way to this pagoda on foot.
Open Hours: 6 am – 10 pm daily
Entrance Fee: 3 USD

Chaukhtatgyi Paya (Chak Htat Gyi Buddha): More commonly known as the Reclining Buddha, Chaukhtatgyi Paya is a humongous, 65 meters long reclining Buddha (hence the name) that is housed in a giant metal shed. One will surely be mesmerized with the bejeweled crown of the statue as it is adorned with various gems.

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How to get there: Take a taxi from central Yangon that may cost 2,500 to 3,000 Kyats
Open hours: 24 hours open
Entrance Fee: Free

Please note that as in any Burmese temple, kindly please remove shoes and socks before entering the temple.

Kandawgyi Park: I kinda have a soft spot for parks that offer a view. Admittedly, I was sold when I saw the wooden walkway/ boardwalk that goes along the lush green, man-made lake. I went here at night and early morning. And it was both a beautiful experience. A number of restaurants abound the park, including the lovely Karaweik Palace – a seemingly floating dining place. A visit here tops my favorite things to do in Yangon!

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How to get there: If you are coming from the Shwedagon Pagoda, you can just walk your way to this place. If you come from downtown Yangon, take a cab for 2,000 Kyats
Open hours: 4 am – 10 pm daily
Price: 300 Kyats ($.30) for restaurant area, Boardwalk – free.

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Maha Bandula Park: Just right across the Sule Pagoda is a public park called Maha Bandula Park or Maha Bandula Garden. Formerly named Fitch Square or Fytche Square, the park features a 150-feet Independence Monument, that was put up to commemorate Burmese independence from the British. It also has a rose garden which offers a view of the city hall, other government colonial buildings, and the Sule pagoda.

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How to get there: If you are coming from downtown Yangon or Sule Pagoda, just walk your way.
Open hours: 24 hours daily
Entrance Fee: Free (but according to some, there is a 500 Kyat entrance fee for foreigners only (apparently, I wasn’t asked to pay, maybe because I look like a local) 

Other places of interest you might want to visit if you have more time are as follows:
• Ngahtatgyi Paya
• Bogyoke Market
• Bogyoke Aung San Museum
• Aung San Suu Kyi’s House
• Surti Sunni Jamah Mosque
• Sri Varada Raja Perumal Temple
• National Museum (Yangon)

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And by the way, if there is one food place you must try when in downtown Yangon, go to 999 Shan Noodle Shop. It is a restaurant at No. 130 B 34th Street, very near the city hall and Sule Pagoda. It is not impressive in terms of its interior, but the food is certainly delicious at a very affordable price. Thanks to my friend Karlene for bringing me here.

I wish I had more time. It could’ve been great to have fully explored the city and experience the seemingly surprising Burmese ways of life. During that brief stay in Myanmar, I have truly felt how genuinely friendly and good-hearted the people are. Looking forward to trying more of their food, seeing more of the stunning attractions, and experiencing more of their culture.

Don’t be a wasted soul, be “juan”derlust. Take it easy ebri’juan’…

Stobosa Murals (Benguet, PH)

There are three specific places I would like to see in Brazil one day. One, the gigantic Christ, The Redeemer statue; two, to trek the Amazon, and three, to have a photo shoot at its famed favela — slum in Brazil within the urban areas turned into a giant mural.

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I am a sucker for anything artsy that is why I included the favela. While that dream of going to Brazil seem to be a far-fetch reality as of this moment, I am more than glad to learn that La Trinidad – Benguet’s capital and the closest municipality to Baguio, is slowly turning several communities into one humongous mural.

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Passing by Benguet’s capital would mean enduring the traffic especially along Kilometer 3. I used to grudge about it since you’ll get stuck without any form of entertainment (unless you are preoccupied with your phone). Now, with the multi-hued Stonehill community just above the Balili River turned into a favela-like masterpiece, getting stuck in traffic becomes more pleasing, at least to the eyesight.

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The Stonehill community is comprised of 3 sitios. These are Sitios Stonehill, Botiwtiw and Sadjao (all part of Brgy. Balili). This mural project has been called Stobosa, named after the three sitios. According to an article, I have read, there are about 180 houses in this area. With the supervision of Baguio City’s Tam-awan Art Village artists and the sponsorship from a paint company – the once dull set of houses sitting along the mountains of La Trinidad have become more delightful as they are converted into a humongous painting.
Today, La Trinidad has a new moniker because of this. Besides being known as the vegetable capital and strawberry capital of the Philippines, the town is being promoted as the “Valley of Colors.” It is worthy to mention that the residents of these sitios have actively involved themselves in this project. The project is almost into its completion. Tourists who flock Baguio, have also considered checking out the mountain of houses in various colors.

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I went to see it myself one sunny day. It could be easily spotted when you are on your way to La Trinidad town proper. While I was thrilled to see it, there are also some other things that caught my attention. I like the idea of turning the houses into this big mural – yes I do. What I didn’t like are the many electrical wires hanging. I don’t know if there is a solution to this. More so, I hate that a giant tarpaulin of the paint company that donated the paint used in this project is more distinguishable than the houses themselves. It is such an eyesore! Well, they could promote their product in a way that it wouldn’t take away the beauty of the place. Lastly, I have noticed some garbages along the road fronting Stobosa (actually a turn-off). I hope the locals and tourists alike, would do their fair share of keeping the place clean.

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Nonetheless, the project is a good start and such a good welcome treat when one is making his/her way to the strawberry farm, or would go to Atok and Sagada. Maybe, soon, they would also consider painting the opposite side so that the area will be bursting with so many colors.

Good job to the REV-BLOOM campaign of Department of Tourism (DOT) Cordillera which aims to promote a more sustainable tourism in my beloved CAR!
¬Don’t be a wasted soul, be “juan”derlust. Take it easy ebri”juan”.

Apo Reef (Occidental Mindoro, PH)

When you set out on your journey, pray that the road is long, full of adventure, full of knowledge.” — Constantine P. Cavafy

I was excited when the month of March came. It was my birth month and I have planned a number of getaways. Days and weeks passed by only to realize not a single plan I’ve made was put into fruition. I’ve been way too busy with work and other commitments. And that made me feel terrible.

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To make up for that one month absence from traveling, I made sure that April would be a different story. So, when an opportunity to FINALLY experience the world’s second-largest contiguous coral reef system (and the largest in the Philippines) came about, I immediately grabbed it without batting an eyelash.

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The APO REEF NATURAL PARK is one of those protected areas in our country. Moreover, it is one of the most popular dive sites in the Philippines. Apo Reef is described to be a triangular coral atoll formation that is separated by two lagoon systems. While its primary physical feature is submerged, there are three uninhabited islands/ islets visible on the surface. Apo Island is where visitors/ tourists stay during an Apo Reef visit. The island features a lighthouse, a white powdery to coraline sand beach and a mangrove forest.

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A modern 110-foot tall, white painted lighthouse with solar-powered lights is what will greet you upon approaching the island. Then, the boat docks at the pristine shores of the island with crystal clear waters and ivory sand ideal for an all-day swim and basking under the sun. The island’s best kept secret are its mangrove forest and lagoon. They are best viewed when you trudge your way to the lighthouse but are best experienced if you go for a short walk along an improvised walkway bordered by mangroves. A short bamboo raft cruise along the lagoon per se will make the serene experience more memorable.

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Of course the best things the place offers are seen under the sea. Take your snorkeling gear or SCUBA tank or maybe just your goggles and dive into the waters of Apo Reef. You will be stunned with the many colorful and diverse marine species you get to see. Swim with a shark, a sting ray, a turtle and more. The marine life is teeming with beautifully intricate corals. (Just don’t touch them, okay?) Too bad, I am not that good of a swimmer hence my tolerance to stay under water can be very, very short.

And oh, did I say that the island also offers a stunning – spectacular – amazing view of both the sunrise and the sunset?

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Aside from the main Apo Island, there is also Apo Menor or Binagaan Islet which is chiefly composed of rocks. This limestone island has little vegetation. Cayos del Bajo or Tinangkapan Islet is also made up of coralline rock formations without any vegetation. On the way to Apo Island, one can drop by Parolang Putol Shoal. Some people consider it a sandbar but to me, it looks more like a shoal as it is just a mound of corals seemingly floating atop the emerald water. The shoal seems to be a favorite spot for a flock of birds as there were a number of them when we were approaching the area. The surrounding area also boasts off some stunning marine view.

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Unlike any other beaches and marine ecosystems in the Philippines, Apo Reef hasn’t been frequented much by travelers maybe because of the long travel time to reach the place.  And that is what I like about my Apo Reef experience. I went on this 3 days, 2 night breakaway with a large group of travel and nature enthusiasts like me. Nonetheless, it still felt like I owned the place by myself. I was able to lie down on the shore, allow my feet to feel the cool, clear seawater, wait for the sun to rise and set, and marvel at the ostensibly infinite merging of the sea and sky.

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It has been a while the last time I went for a trip with a bunch of people. I am more than glad to have shared this trip with the people of WeVoluntour (check out their FB page for the group’s future travel events) spearheaded by the always jolly and gracious Sir Ralph (whom I met 4 years ago). Thank you for allowing me to tag a long even if it was a spur-f-the-moment decision to come. If not for this experience, I would have not met more awesome people who share the same passion as I do – that is to travel and live life with or without hugot.

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Special shout out to the group of HSBC peeps who adopted me to be a part of their super happy group… For allowing me to eat with you, laugh with you, camwhore with you, jam with you, sleep in your tent/hammock, pull some hugot lines and be cheesy and free! Thank you Bien, Quennie, Vlad and Kia. Thank you Ate Jhopay and Mam Beth. Thank you for this wonderful experience!!! Looking forward to sharing with you more awesome (and responsible) adventures.

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How to Reach Apo Reef:

Apo Reef Natural Park is located two hours (or so, depending on the sea condition) away from mainland Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro. To reach Occidental Mindoro, from Manila, ride a Batangas bound bus that goes to the Batangas port. There are RORO vessel that travel from Batangas City to the town of Abra de Ilog in Occidental Mindoro. Travel time is usually 2.5 to 3 hours. Outside the port, there are vans and buses going to Sablayan. Travel time is around two hours. However, if you want a faster means, book a flight to San Jose (still in Occidental Mindoro). Once in San Jose, ride a van or bus going to Sablayan.
Upon reaching Sablayan, visitors are required to register at the town’s Municipal Tourism Office. You may look for Ms. Sylvia Saldago, the town’s local tourism officer. Arrange a boat ride wherein each chartered boat trip costs around P9,000 to P15,000 depending on the number of passengers and the purpose of your visit (snorkeling or diving).
Take note of the following fees: Environmental Fee (P300/head) and tour guides (P1, 000) for a group of 5 when visiting Apo Reef.

 

***Thanks to Quennie, Sir Bien, Vlad, Sir Ralph for I used some of your photos for this write-up. 😉

So there…

And as I always say, don’t be a wasted soul, be ‘juan’derlust. Take it easy ebri’juan’…

TREK Aurora (Casiguran & Dilasag)

Okay, so today is throwback Thursday. So I decided to re-blog/re-post a write-up I have made some 8 years ago. This is about the concept of “voluntourism”. Voluntourism is a form of tourism in which travellers participate in voluntary work, usually for a charity. At its very core, voluntourism is the desire to help others.

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After graduating in college, a few of my colleagues introduced me to the mountaineering sport. After my 1st climb (Mount Pulag in 2004), the desire to climb more mountains just grew eventually becoming a hobby. Along the way, I have met lots of new people. Some of my earliest and fondest memories were with a group of mountaineers called SABIT. It is through this group that I got the opportunity to first set foot in Aurora Province AND do some “voluntourism” work.

Read along:

May 2008. TREK or Trails to Empower Kids (as I understand it) is a group of like-minded mountaineers serving isolated communities in the Philippines (particularly children and some indigenous groups). Organized by good-spirited, generous souls from the SABIT group (Mam Kelly, Sir Jong, Mam Mimay to name a few), the group has devoted time and passion reach out to these various people in far-flung areas. The first TREK Project was made in Itogon, Benguet wayback (2007). This time, the 2nd TREK Project’s recipients are the AGTA, an indigenous tribe in the outskirts of the Province of Aurora.

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I have heard of this very good project from the people of Sabit. They have sent invitations to people who are interested in joining them in this noble activity. At first, I was kinda hesitant if I’d be joining. Not because that I don’t like humanitarian, rather, I was worried because of work schedule. Nonetheless, I ended up deciding to be absent from work and join this event.

Being the only person coming all the way from Baguio, I made my way first to Cabanatuan in Nueva Ecija to meet up with the group.

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DAY 1: Nueva Ecija to Aurora

When I arrived at the meeting place, I immediately noticed the three vans packed with goods and good hearted people. And so as early as 4 in the morning, off we started our twelve hour or so journey to Brgy. Cozo, Casiguran, Aurora Province. It was a gruelling travel along jagged, winding and some unpaved paths. But, it was also great since we were not devoid of magnificent sceneries – verdant mountains, and the stunning view of the Pacific Ocean. I never thought that Aurora was that beautiful. The only thing I knew of the province then was that of Baler — that is a good surfing spot.

After several hours, we reached Casiguran, where we have to take 15 minuteboat ride to reach Brgy. COZO — the place where the Sentrong Paaralan ng mga Agta or SPA, is. We have to camp out at Cozo. Since we arrived pretty early, it was an opportunity to further get to know the people who came to this trip.

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Day 2: TREK to SPA

During this the day, we were headed to the Sentrong Paaralan ng mga Agta – the indigenous group’s school. It was about a 45-minute walk through streams and verdant foliage. Upon arrival at the SPA, we were greeted with a welcome song from among the students. They were even in a costume. We have prepared a lot of things for them like games, food, prizes, school stuff like books, gadgets and a lot more, It was very heart-warming moment when they sang Thank You (a song I knew because my mom taught when I was a kid). It made me feel and realize how lucky I am as a person, and it really felt good to help someone.

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After lunch, we went back to the camp, packed our things and off we went for another roundabout journey. Now that the “volunteering” part was done successfully, it was time to explore some of Aurora’s not so touristy and best-kept secrets. We headed our way to Aurora’s morthernmost town – Dilasag. The travel was more fun than yesterday’s since we were perched atop a jeepney. If you want to experience a first class way to travel and marvel at the sceneries – TOPLOADING is definitely a great alternative.

We arrived at Dilasag with the clouds ready to pour its angst. Nonetheless, the place where we camped out – the pristine Canawer Beach, was great. I spent several time just walking along its unspoiled shore. Night time came and we had socials. It is always a wonderful feeling getting to know people. I went to sleep a little earlier to rest my tired body. Besides, the following day’s activity requires an early wake up call.

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Day 3: Dilasag to Casiguran

Woke up pretty early. Got my camera and wandered along the beach. Then off we went to this spectacular place in Dilasag called Tariktik Point, where there were natural pools and awesome rock formations. We had a chance to swim and marvel at how beautiful the waters of Aurora are. After several hours, we went back to camp, had lunch before setting foot into our next destination — Casapsapan Beach in Casiguran. The beach was equally beautiful as Canawer. This beach was memorable because it was here where I first learned snorkelling. Special thanks to Mark Fer and Ate Lily for teaching me.

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Day 4: Babye Aurora

Twas time to leave Aurora and the people I have shared with this super awesome experience. It was yet another long trip. Mine was even longer as I was to go back to Baguio. I had a lot of realizations from this trip. It was not the usual travel that I do. The experience provided me with new perspective and balance. It felt like I was able to interact with people and the destination itself in ways that had previously existed beyond my capacity of expectation. It was a travel that united my purpose and passion and ignited my interest in ways incredible.

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Thank you TREK. Thank you people of Aurora.

***As of this re-blogging, TREK has already made around 17 TREK missions/projects. Kudos to all the people who have relentlessly shared their passion, time and resources for the success of this noble group’s activities. Hopefully, I would be able to join again a future project.

If you want to learn more about TREK, check out www.trailstoempowerkids.com or you ay also visit https://rubycomm.wordpress.com/category/trek-trails-to-empower-kids/

***Sorry for the poor photo quality. I didnt own any good camera way back then. Grabbed some from my TREK friends and some from my old Nokia phone cam  🙂