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Asia, Challenges, Destinations, Experiences, Travel Blog

Bumps on the Road: Why It’s Important for a traveller to Be Flexible

November 3, 2011
Travel-flexible

Here I am – three days before my flight schedule to Bangkok, a trip that supposedly will tick off country #22 of my 25-country travel list.  However, the trip remains to be a big question mark.

I’ve booked my ticket to Thailand five months ago and next week will be my first holiday after six months. And now, most likely this trip will be cancelled unless the flooding situation dramatically improves.

As you may have seen,  most parts of Bangkok are still underwater and are showing no signs of returning to normal in the next couple of days. The flood water was from accumulated monsoon water coming from the north in the past 2 months and has so far claimed more than 400 lives and billions worth of damages.  I’m watching the news 24/7 and the situation more or less looks like it’s going to remain in the next coming weeks.

Splashing on the StreetMy original plan was to spend a few days in Bangkok and then work my way to Chiang Mai just in time for Loy Krathong before heading back again to Bangkok.  Another option is to fly to the south to Krabi or Phuket.

To be honest, I am very disappointed about not pushing forward. I’ve been looking forward to going to Thailand for a while now – fuelled by excitement from reading various travel blogs and sorting out advice from fellow travel bloggers. And to add that this is the third time that my trip to Thailand will be cancelled. (once in 2007, second in 2009)

But who am I to complain? My rant and worry are nothing compared to the problems the floods have caused to the Thais.

It’s tough to accept but I have no other choice but to suck it up and face these changes.

As a traveller, we are bound to have our plans change.  Plans are mere guidelines.

Things will not always go our way.  It can come as an unexpected detour, a delayed flight, or a personal tragedy and we have to be prepared to face it.

For example, how many times have  have we hesitated on visiting a place but end up staying there longer than we expected.

Or planning an itinerary then ending up changing plans last minute because some of the people in the hostel wants you to join their road trip.

But what is an adventure without being ready for the unexpected. Changes and spontaneity make travelling exciting. Often it’s the spontaneity that brings the excitement and thrill of travel – the offbeat path, the hidden thrills and the spontanous night where you get drunk and hooked up with this hot Swedish chick 😛 . those are the experiences that, as travellers, we often best remember.

Changing plans test out our capability to adapt to a situation and seek alternatives if needed.

As for me,  I’m looking into a Plan B for my trip – the current list is between Hong Kong or travelling locally in the Philippines to the beaches of Siquijor, Boracay or Coron. I have yet to make the decision and may leave it to chance come this weekend.

And still, there’s a possibility of going to Bangkok on Sunday and braving the floods. Ground reports are saying that the situation in the center remains to be normal and other cities such as Chiang Mai, Phuket and Krabi are unaffected. So why not push forward with it?

Lille

Who knows what will happen? Even I can’t even make my mind and I’m going to decide maybe in a couple of days.

Life is not constant. Events will pop out that will and can change our lives. And travel has taught me to be flexible and accept these changes whole-heartedly. Change will come, sometimes when we least expect it but it’s up to us to face it and make the best out of it.

* Thailand flooding photo from Flickr norsez and is used under Creative Commons license.

Europe, How To Guides, Travel Blog

Tips on travelling in Europe on a budget

October 19, 2011
Dining with locals

Travelling to Europe doesn’t come cheap, we know that.  Airfare from Manila is already expensive costing at least 30,000 pesos return. It’s no wonder that trips to Europe are often reserved to those with deep pockets.

But travellers don’t despair, there more ways to travel than doing it high roll. You don’t have to be rich to experience Europe. For those adventurous and open-minded enough, here are a few simple tips you can follow:

1. Research before your trip

Planning on where to go in Bruges, Belgium

Doing good research before a trip helps in managing the budget.  Read travel blogs and forums as they offer tips on what to see and how much is needed to see them. Museum websites, for example, can give you dates to getting in free. Paris’ Louvre (first Sundays / Friday evenings for under 26) and Madrid’s Prado museums (from 6-8pm Tues-Sun)  both offer free entrances on certain dates and times. 

2. Do Couchsurfing

Couch in Brussels

Couchsurfing  is a great way to meet local people and get free accommodation as well.  The website offers over thousands of hosts with “couches” to surf into.  It’s also a good way to experience local living. Giving out a simple gift or helping out with household chores often is enough to pay back for their hospitality.

3. Spend a day on parks

Park Cinquantenaire - Brussels, Belgium

Europe has the best parks in the world– and most don’t cost a Euro to visit. They’re beautiful and usually donned with trees, bike paths and old monuments and statues. It’s a good place to relax and still feel the city’s vibe. During summer, parks also play host to free concerts and street performances. My personal favourites – Parc Cinquantenaire in Brussels, Retiro Park in Madrid, and Vondelpark in Amsterdam.

4. Eat local and stack up at groceries when you can

Dining with the locals in UK

When in a new place they say to “do as the Romans do”. This comes with dining too. Avoid tourist dining establishments if you can. Find places where locals go and try some local flavour instead for an authentic travel experience. They serve good perhaps even better food at a lower price.

For those who want to take shoestring travel to the next level, head  to a supermarket and get ready-made salad or sandwich. Stack up on water as well for your day trips. Another cheap alternative is to cook at your hostel or at your host’s place.

5. Join free city tours

Free city tour in Amsterdam

Keep an eye for organisations like the New Europe tours, that offer guided tours around most big cities. It’s a great source of information about the city and a good way to meet other travellers. It’s completely free yet they do accept tips for those who enjoyed the tour (which is often the case).

 6.  Rent a bike

Bicycles in Amsterdam

Public transport is already a good way to travel cheap around but to those seeking a richer travel experience, best is to hop onto a bicycle. It’s a cheap (and healthy way) to jump from various sites. You can go around at your own pace and can control which route or area you want to see. Smaller cities like Amsterdam & Brussels can easily be navigated with a bicycle. In Brussels, check out Villo which rents out bikes starting at 1,50 euro a day.

What are your tips on travelling on the cheap in Europe? Share your tips on the comment section!

This article has originally been published for Discounts Philippines.  I wrote it together with another article on tips about Backpacking in Bohol. Grab a copy of their anniversary issue on most magazine stands and bookstores today. 🙂

Asia

Filipino Friday: Taal Volcano

October 14, 2011
Taal

Every Friday, I’m going to showcase something unique about my home country , the Philippines. It can be a place, food, experience, custom or tradition that highlights what we our 7,107 islands can offer. I remember that on my travels, there are some people who are still unaware of where the Philippines  is or what the country has to offer. So I hope that through these posts – I can help bring awareness about the Philippines,  it’s beauty, hidden sites, quirkiness and diversity.

For my first post, I’m writing about Taal Volcano.

The Mouth of Taal Volcano

Philippines is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and home to a number of active volcanoes (official count was 50).  Taal Volcano is one of the more famous  volcanoes and also one of the most active in the country. Don’t worry though as its last major eruption was in the 1970s.

So what is so special about this volcano?

Taal Volcano is most known for having the world’s largest island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island (phew!).

To better explain:  the center most island is called Vulcan Point which sits on the Crater lake, Crater lake is inside Taal Island, which then is inside Taal Lake on the Luzon Island.  Don’t believe me? See the photo below (hard to see Vulcan point from here).

Taal Volcano from a satellite – Wikimedia Photo

I recently spent a weekend with my family in Talisay, Batangas – on a resort along the lake with a great view of the volcano. And I must say that it’s nice to wake up and have this view on your window.  😉

taal volcano

Considering that it’s only a two hour bus ride from Manila, it’s a great day trip to include on itinerary if ever you’re coming from Manila.  You can go to the city of Tagaytay for a view from atop overlooking the lake. You can also go to the town of Talisay and arrange a hike to the top of the volcano island. It’s a 45 minute hike to the top and can be done on foot or on horse. View of the crater island is worth the climb!

*Photos from deckchua & therealbrute under creative commons license

Have you been to Taal? What were your experiences? SHARE them below!

Are you a travel blogger? I’m inviting you to take part of Filipino Friday with me. All you need to do is post something about the Philippines every Friday. Contact me if you’re interested.

North America

Seeing snow for the first time

October 3, 2011
Snow in Brussels

It’s often the simple, unnoticeable things that makes travel moments special.

A good example would be the first time I saw snow.

For some this may not be milestone,  but for most people coming from tropical countries (or at least from people I know), there is an unavoidable excitement that comes out once you get to see and touch snow.

December comes in the Philippines but we never see a single snowflake – perhaps I’ll never see it happen here at least in my lifetime.

So as a kid, I had ways to “create” snow.  I used to scrape our fridge freezer lining to get the ice out and play around as if it was snow. I also used to take old boxes and scrape the styrofoam to create small bits.

So I was delighted to find out that I’ll get a chance to see snow on a trip.

My first encounter with snow was on a trip to the US in 2002 –  also my first trip abroad. We went on a 50-day trip across the country – from California, Texas, New York, Virginia and Florida.

It was a trip of many firsts. Aside from being my first international trip – it was also the time when I first got to drive (it was a truck) and first to ride a rollercoaster. It was my first time to eat a turkey leg and first time to see sunset at 10 in the evening.

My aunt drove us up to Squaw Valley Ski Resort in California the day after we arrived in San Francisco from Manila.

The drive from San Francisco was scenic – making the four hour drive passed quickly.  I remember passing through Napa Valley (made famous for me by Parent Trap).

Squaw Valley, the site of the Winter Olympics back in 1960, was a pretty epic place itself. We took a cable car (another first for me too) to go up to the ski park. We got out, and just saw white.

Squaw Valley Ski Resort

Me, my sister and grandfather on Squaw Valley’s Olympic podium

 

There it was – a white field that glistened like glass. The ground shone so much that I had to wear dark eyeglasses. It wasn’t that cold thanks to the thick jacket and snow pants that I borrowed from my aunt. Well, it was April, the beginning of spring, so it was a cool 8C.  I knelt down, removed my gloves and touched the snowy ground – it’s not like ice where you feel wet & slippery but more of a powder.

Squaw Valley Ski Resort

Every time I stepped on snow there was a thrump. I was wearing shoes that weren’t snow proof so as I step on the ground tiny bits goes inside my socks and got it wet. But I didn’t complain, I didn’t want to ruin the perfect day.

Snow Tubing in Squaw Valley

Snow Tubing in Squaw Valley

We went to do snow tubing where we rode a tube and  slid down a small hill.  I wanted to ski but there was no time as we were there one day.

After snow tubing, we went on to do ice skating. Luckily Philippines, despite its year-tropical weather, has a few indoor skating rinks so it wasn’t much of a novelty. I had slight problems standing and gliding across the ice, but we were tourist so we were allowed to be clumsy.

We took lots of photos – souvenirs that I was looking forward to showing to my friends back in the Philippines. The day passed by quickly – in the end we were  tired and slept on our way back to San Francisco. Despite being tired, I remember feeling that I’ve accomplished something  extraordinary.

It was the day where I went out and experienced things that are different – a philosophy that I took on as I continue my travels. They maybe something as simple as snow, but you take on and enjoy the moment.

North America

That day in 2002 when I visited NYC’s Ground Zero

September 8, 2011
P1040019b

I remember the day I learned about the September 11 attacks in New York. It was a Tuesday about 9:30 in the evening in Manila, when my grandma called us to turn on the television and watch CNN.

Immediately, we saw people covered in grey dust and dried-up blood running across the streets and falling from the towers – a scene as if from a clip of the disaster movie Independence Day.

My dad immediately called my titas  and tito (aunts & uncle) in the US and fortunately, they were safe. We watched the scenes until we finally saw the towers, once landmarks of New York City, disappearing from the NYC skyline.

My dad, who had been inside the World Trade Center a year before the attacks, took out after a photo album and showed me and my sisters photos from their visit. One of the photos, had my dad and grandpa standing stiff, as if imitating the towers themselves. He also told us that you can almost see the entire Manhattan from the viewing deck on top.

Ground Zero in 2002

A few months after the attack, I never thought I’ll get to see Ground Zero.

It was May 4, 2002, eight months after the attacks of September 11, when we visited New York and Ground Zero. I was 14 years old and on my first trip abroad in America.

It was school vacation and my Tita Lucy sponsored a 50-day to tour across the US. We left Houston after a month of staying in my Tita Angie’s place and arrived afternoon at my Tito Junji’s place in Hauppauge, Long Island. We were to stay there for a week, and my tito, being as organise as he is, already have an itinerary in place.  Our first day was in New York City.

He drove me, my sister and my Uncle Tommy to the local train station to catch the train to New York City. We made it to Grand Central after an hour.

Tito Junji handed me and my sister a map of the New York city subway. I have never seen a map as complicated as the NYC subway – criss-crossing colours of and train numbers – with stops at almost every street in the area. On the map, there are the familiar stops – Wall Street, Central Park, Rockefeller Center – and the station once belonging to the World Trade Center.

We have an itinerary in place including Broadway and Times Square but Ground Zero was our first stop. We got off at the subway station prior to the Ground zero and walked towards the memorial.

It was early evening and the sun was just setting down turning the sky dark purple. It was a cold 10C, the coldest weather I’ve been then.

The way going to Ground Zero was quiet apart from the sound of sirens coming fire trucks and construction vehicles. Along with the chilly weather and purple sky, the near-silence elicit a somber feeling.

We passed by a church with its steel gates filled with tied flowers, ribbon bows, posted pictures and messages from people. On the photos, there were couples kissing on their wedding, parents with their children in vacation on the beach, and brothers and sisters with arms over their shoulders. The people in the photos were all smiling hoping that they may be remembered on their happiest moments.

Ground Zero in 2002

Below the photos were messages of love, prayer and longing. The most heart-breaking perhaps that I saw  was “I should have told you how much I love you”.

The messages and photos continue up to wooden platform going towards the view deck. We went slowly up the ramp, continuing to read the messages on the walls.

We finally got on the view deck and saw what were the remains of the once mighty World Trade Center towers. There were two big holes with trucks cleaning up the remaining rubbles.  Gone were the cinder blocks, dust clouds, bent steel bars we saw on TV. But I felt that the emotions were still there and I can’t help but feel heavy and gloomy.

We stayed there for a couple more minutes and gave a short prayer for the victims.

Ground Zero in 2002 - monument

As went our way down the ramp, we passed by a monument placed in honour of the iron-workers who worked long shifts to clear out the rubble. It was a steel bar with 11-men sitting on it and on its right side it was written: “The tribute to the Hard Hats of WTC – America’s forgotten heroes.”

My visit to Ground Zero was an emotional experience. Writing this post, even after nine years since this visit, a memory of my visit still remain strong.

On one of our photos on the platform (top picture), we were all staring up as if the towers still exist, imagining how high it may have been or how it may have felt to be on top of it.

The colour of the sky was reflective of the feeling we were all having that instance – dark but with a faint of orange light peeking out. It’s reflective of our thought that day that despite the darkness, hope and love still remains.

We need to live the moment and to cherish the love ones every given day that we have.  Our life is very fragile. We live in a delicate balance of life, and it is up to ourselves to live everyday as if it’s our last.

Have you been to the Ground Zero memorial? Share your thoughts and experiences on our comment box below.

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