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My Seven Links: 25Travels So Far

July 31, 2011
My Seven Links- Brussels

Starting My 7 links post was difficult as I don’t have much material to begin with. It’s been only a few months since I started theblog and with only 13 posts to date, there’s not much material to work on.

I’m not new to blogging and I’ve been writing my thoughts since 2005. But I’ve had moved from one blog platform to another, hoping it will bring the writing sparks back and 25travels was my latest – and my blog solely for travel.  I’ve written a few travel posts in between for my family and friends to read.  But for the purpose of this exercise, I’ll try to keep it within my 25travels posts.

Thanks to Ren of So Not Lost for the nomination.  🙂

My most beautiful post
My 10 Favourite Places in Brussels, Belgium

Grand Place, Brussels

I originally wrote this post for the Matador Network. However, I sent it haphazardly then forgot to proofread and it was eventually rejected (that’s why bloggers, it’s key that you proofread). I’ve since rewritten this piece and decided to upload it here instead.

I lived in Brussels for two years and it goes without saying that I miss the city and my friends there a lot. Writing this post brought back memories  from my time there. Brussels became my second home, and writing about a place where a part of you remains needs some thought and lots of crafting, that’s why I consider this as my most beautiful post.  I’ve put much thought in order to reflect my feelings for the city and the experiences I’ve had there,  hoping that people who haven’t been to Brussels will have the same feeling as I had.

My most popular post
Final Four: finishing my 25travels goal

Sahara desert Morocco, 25travels

My most popular to date is my recent post on countries to visit for  my 25-country goal. I’ve gotten my best amount of page views and social media sharing from this entry. At the same time, comments and suggestions from travel bloggers had made it useful for my upcoming trips. Now, I definitely am excited to boost my travels again!  Their advice will definitely help and I’m excited to pack and get myself back on the road again.

My most controversial post
25-country travel: Why That Travel Goal?

Bullfight in Madrid, Spain

The almost empty comment box on this post might not say anything about being my most controversial, but I do get lots of questions and emails about my travel goal of visiting 25 countries before I turn 25. Mainly, words of encouragement and well-wishes for my future travels. But I do get an occasional response that I shouldn’t ‘rush’ travel and force myself to visit countries for the sake of finishing my goals this year.  I’ve also received a feedback that  I don’t need to ‘count’ the countries and in order to ‘travel’ I should go beyond staying a few days in one city.

I do agree to some extent that travel should go beyond just a city visit and I would love to do so if money and time permit.

We all have our travel styles and unfortunately, long term travel isn’t for me yet. Some people dictate that there’s only way of properly travelling which is to immerse yourself through long-term backpacking. But unfortunately, not everyone has that privilege and capacity to do so. I want to do it DEFINITELY, but I can’t at this stage. And despite only being in Spain or in Austria for a weekend – that experience had inspired me to look into the world with a different perspective.

By starting this blog, setting this goal and working towards starting my travels, I’m hoping to inspire other people so see other ways of travelling. In the end, we are all travellers. Whether you have a full-time job, still in university, or a person short of money and time, nothing is stopping you from travelling and seeing the world beyond the confines of our four-walled homes. In the end, we all enjoy and reap the benefits of travelling – having an open mind and understanding that there is a world beyond our small piece of lot.

My most helpful post
How to: Travel by public transport from Manila to Clark airport

 

Philippine passport

This post comes from a horrible experience of having to go to Clark Airport ( Manila’s budget airport) early in the morning.  A normal route that can be done with a  2-hour drive took me more than 5 hours by public transport (includes waiting time, missing buses and haggling for the ‘better option’). Bus schedules are unreliable so I had to wait for an hour before it left. Shuttles run when they are already full of passengers, which at 5 in the morning is virtually impossible. I’ve extracted this post from my own demise and translated my frustrations into a short and easy to follow guide for those venturing out in the same way.

I’ve shared this post with many friends and travellers who will be doing this impractical journey to the airport from Manila and have gotten great feedback.

A post whose success surprised me
Two sides of the Cu Chi tunnels tour

 

Tank in Cu Chi

I wasn’t expecting that this post will be my one of the most popular but if we based popularity on numbers, then this was it. It got a good number of page views and clicks from external sources. It even got re-tweeted by Melvin from traveldudes.  But I’m not really sure what made it popular in the first place.  It’s a post I can describe as candid, it’s merely a telling of a story about the irony of the Cu Chi daytrip tour starting with a visit to Cao Dai temple and end up with shooting rifles in Cu Chi.  I guess there’s love online for a combination of church and guns.

A post I feel didn’t get the attention it deserved
El Nido: Our 48 hours in paradise

 

Bacuit Bay in El Nido

El Nido is paradise and  is my favourite place in the entire Philippines. El Nido is how I pictured it, pristine and almost secluded white beaches alongside grey limestone cliffs. I have all praises as well for the town’s atmosphere, food and local people and I can’t wait to come back there soon. It’s the perfect place for those seeking an island retreat or vagabond beachbum lifestyle. But I think the post was shabbily written and somewhat didn’t capture my emotions towards the place.  That’s the reason why I think it didn’t get the attention it deserved.  My writing had also become rustic these days and through this blog, I can hopefully bring back my passion and attention to content. But don’t let this mediocre post stop you from visiting it, go and go now. 🙂

The post that I am  most proud of
23 best travel moments at 23 years old

Riding a zipline in Loboc, Bohol

I’m proud of this post simply because of the travel experiences I’ve encountered over the past year. Looking back, it’s a good summary of what a great year filled with new  places I’ve seen and people I’ve met.  The fact that I’ve seen Angkor Wat, rode a zipline and experienced a great World Cup finals (even if the Dutch lost) – is something that I’m proud of. The world is beautiful and I’m happy that I’ve got to experience a lot during the year. Hope to continue this crazy adventure this year and the next!

Here are my five nominations:

Ally from The Further, The Better

Neil from Backpacks and Bunkbeds

Mica from Senyorita

Jade & James from The World is Our Oyster

Tina  from Tightrope traveler

Travel Blog

Six best experiences in Saigon

July 22, 2011
Banner in Ho Chi Minh

I never thought that I would like Saigon. For me, there’s hardly anything to like about another urbanised city in Southeast Asia – bad traffic, dirty, noisy and difficult to go around to. I wanted to leave Ho Chi Minh before I would have gone in.  It’s not a city that you’ll easily appreciate and enjoy.

But in a way, Ho Chi Minh had suprised me. Despite the presence of heavy traffic, polluted surroundings and dirty streets, I can say that there were more appealing factors that made me appreciate and enjoy the city.  I think our 5-day stay there was enough for us to live in the city a bit, and slowly check-out what it has to offer.

For me, here are the things that made it extra special.  Here are my top six experiences:

Pho: Step 3

(photo from Yvonsita)

FOOD

The heart is closer to the stomach, and surely Saigon’s food offerings had captured our senses. Staying in Pham Ngu Lao, we have street foods available on almost every corner. The fried noodles is to die-for and my personal favourite. There’s also the staple Pho , chicken fried rice, and banh mi to name a few. We sat down on small stool, and they made it fresh right in front of us. And the good part is that it hardly hurts your pocket as they can come very cheap.
Ben Tanh market - Saigon

SHOPPING

Ho Chi Minh is also a shopper’s paradise. We particularly enjoyed going around the Ben Tanh market. Products range from clothes, bags, various linen, jewelry, souvenirs, dried fruits and coffee –  you name it and probably they have it. This is a hot-spot for tourist, so the first prices are higher than the normal, so bargain down to at least 50 per cent of the price. Simply walk away if they don’t agree with the price, and they’ll likely to approach you with a sensible offer. This is a very busy place, so pickpockets lurk the market, so be very extra careful.

Park in Saigon / Ho Chi Minh

GREEN AND HEALTHY LIVING

I like that despite the city’s urban lifestyle, there’s still a place to enjoy a greener and healthier lifestyle in HCMC. There are parks and green trees all around the city, the most convenient is the one near Pham Ngu Lao. There are also parks worth a visit like the ones close to the Reunification Palace and the Tan Dinh district. Food as well comes with various greens. Even KFC meals come with a side of cucumbers and tomato.
Saigon beer

COFFEE & BEERS

Vietnam is the place for coffee lovers, it’s cheap and as delicious as the one you get from Starbucks. Any restaurants usually have iced coffee which goes well with different kinds of pastries & banh mi. If you fancy brewing your own, head to Ben Tanh, get a pound of coffee and also the Vietnamese coffee maker. If coffee is not your thing, tea also scores some good points.

At night, enjoy a cheap Saigon beer (10,000 VND per bottle) in Bui Vien. It’s not really strong nor crisp as other beers, but for the amount you’ll pay for a bottle – this is an example of quantity being a better option than quality.
Motorcycle traffic in Saigon

MOTORCYCLE RIDES

Going around HCMC’s traffic is an experience itself,  and the best is through taking in a motos or motorcycle taxis. It’s a different kind of adrenaline rush once you strap into the motorcycle with the driver whisking you through the city’s busy streets. I won’t advise to drive a motorcycle yourself in the city as some experience is needed in order to manoeuvre around. For taking in a moto, bargain with the driver to around 30-40,000 VND.
Helicopter at War Remnants Museum - Saigon, Vietnam

CITY’S HISTORIC BACKGROUND

I enjoyed Ho Chi Minh as it offered many avenues offering access to the city’s rich yet tumultuous history. The city has two main sites – the War Remnants Museum & the Reunification Palace. It’s great starting place in order to understand where Vietnam had come from – though some of the facts they’re presenting are skewed towards a pro-communist/anti-American sentiment. Both the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum are close to the tourist circuit so you can arrange an afternoon to see both.

Have you been to Ho Chi Minh? Do you have any other experiences you want to add? Feel free to share them below!

Travel Blog

Two sides of the Cu Chi tunnels tour

July 16, 2011
Shooting at Cu Chi tunnels

As any traveller would say, itineraries change and original plans become more of a suggestion once you get into a destination. The same applied for us in Vietnam.

Originally, we were supposed to go to the beaches of  Mui Ne, but we changed plans and opted for the closer Cu Chi complex instead. Nen got sick so an overnight trip with 10 hours cumulative bus travel would not work for us. Also, after an interesting experience at Saigon’s War Remnants Museum, getting on a historic and cultural experience was, in this case, better than lounging on the beach. 😉

At Pham Ngu Lao, tours to Cu Chi were sold as much as Pho were on the streets. It costs 6USD for a half-day tour and 9USD for a full day with an added visit to Cao Dai temple. We were easily sold into it and opted for the latter.

First stop was the Cao Dai temple – a 2-hour road trip from Ho Chi Minh City. The practice of Cao Dai is a combination of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism – and as many religions promote, it”s dedicated to good living and charity.

Cao Dai temple, Vietnam

The colours of the temple were bold and striking. Red, blue and yellow were everywhere from banderitas,  robes of their high priests, even the emblems inside the temple.  Nen and I actually matched the occasion as we were also standing out with our bold blue and red shirts.

Cao Dai temple, Vietnam

After the short visit, it was another two and a half  hour bumpy ride to Cu Chi tunnel complex.

Once we arrived, we got into the briefing room that was designed during the time of the war. Again, we were bombarded with more anti-American point-of-view, which honestly got tiring.

The actual park was bigger than I imagined, but the tunnels themselves were definitely not for claustrophobics. Nen and I were brave enough to go onto the hole the size of a shoebox. I imagine how hard it was living in such small quarters. But if it’s between life and death, then I think being comfortable wasn”t on the top of their heads. We got to go inside a shorter series of the tunnels too (actually slightly made bigger for the tourists coming).

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It’s ironic actually how the whole tour progressed – from the good teachings promoted by Cao Dai, then a sudden shift to the horrors that was Cu Chi.

Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam

They showed us traps the Vietnamese used to brutally kill their enemies. From Trap swing doors and rope swings – it was ingenious to be honest.

You step on the rice field, BAM!  A metal trap waits to capture you.

You open someone’s door, BAM! You’ll be hit with a wooden swing drilled with nails.

The “bad-assery” definitely peaks at the shooting gallery and you get to shoot some enemies yourselves.

The Cu Chi tunnel shooting gallery allows you to shoot using various different rifles – AK47, M16, M4 carbine.  Prices start at 10 USD for 10 rounds of bullets – with the price increasing depending on the gun you”ll use. We only got the carbine – which was the cheapest one.

Shooting range, Cu Chi

 

BOOM BOOM BOOM!

 

Nen & I got 5 rounds each. The feeling? must say pulling the trigger was exhilarating –  as if you suddenly release a big burst of energy.

But well I was not as bad-ass as I thought, perhaps because the target was too far that I don’t even see if I shot something or not. So definitely, no Top Shot or a casting on Wanted 2 yet for me. But it’s something I want to try again!

I love activities with adrenaline rush – and those that can somewhat potentially break your bones. But despite this, I am peaceful and usually all about harmony.  And definitely this tour has in a way brought the good and the bad out of me. 🙂

 

Education

23 Best Travel Moments at 23 years old

July 2, 2011
Riding atop of a bus in Bohol

I’ve recently turned 24 this week. And with this upcoming new year, I’ve decided to take a look back at the past year and relive the 23 best travel moments I had last year. Looking back, I’m really thankful for the great year I had and travel memories I’ve spent with old and new friends alike. In a year, I felt that I’ve experienced a lot of new things – and this post is a testament to it. Lots of things happened this year, including moving back from Belgium back to the Philippines, that significantly affected my travel and personal life.

On any case, I’m looking forward to start this new chapter of my life. I will definitely aim on continuing and finishing my travel goal. I hope for more moments like this, and definitely I’ll make sure that I’ll have the same or even a better year ahead!

  • World Cup Finals in Amsterdam

Celebrating the World Cup Finals in Amsterdam

  • Shopping at the Sunday Market in Lille, France

Shopping at the Sunday Market in Lille, France

  • Volunteering for Serve the City Brussels

Volunteering for Serve the City Brussels

  • Paying for the cheapest (0,20 EUR) and most expensive (22 EUR) for a bottle of beer

Belgian Beers

  • Seeing the Grand Place Lights in Brussels for the Belgian National Day

Grand Place Lights for Belgian National Day

  • Going home to the Philippines

Going home to the Philippines

  • Taking a Canoe Trip to Pagsanjan Falls

Taking a Canoe Trip to Pagsanjan Falls

  • Swimming on El Nido bay lagoons

Swimming on El Nido bay lagoons

  • Visiting the Puerto Princesa Underground River

Visiting the Puerto Princesa Underground River

  • Surfing for the first time in San Juan, La Union

Surfing in La Union

  • Accepting Edge Coaster & Skywalk challenge in Cebu City

Accepting the Edge Coaster & Skywalk challenge in Cebu City

  • Riding on top of the bus in Bohol

Riding on top of the bus in Bohol

  • Seeing the Chocolate Hills

Seeing the Chocolate Hills

  • ZipLine in Loboc, Bohol

  • Christmas in Manila

Christmas in Manila with my fami

  • Starting 25travels.com 🙂

Starting 25travels.com

  • Watching a friend take on the Burger Challenge in Singapore

Watching a friend take on the Burger Challenge in Singapore

  • Day drinking in Tanjong Beach in Singapore

Day drinking in Tanjong Beach in Singapore

  • Reaching the 86th floor of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia

Reaching the 86th floor of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia

  • Seeing & climbing the temples of Angkor

Seeing & climbing the temples of Angkor

  • Drinking buckets of redbull vodka and partying in Siem Reap

Drinking buckets of redbull vodka and partying in Siem Reap

  • Shooting a rifle in Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam

Shooting a rifle in Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam

  • Meeting old & new friends alike during my travels

23.Meeting old & new friends alike during my travels

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