Cordillera

I’ve been wanting to go to the Cordilleras and the Rice Terraces for quite a while, and finally got the chance to go this past week.  Dad and I went for an adventure driving up the mountain ranges, hiking the rice terraces, sleeping in backpacker hostels, meeting locals, and visiting some historical sites.  My dad had a tough time with some of the hikes, but he was a trooper and still made it up to the peak.

On the way back, we had problems with car and it just stopped working mid highway.  The gears wouldn’t shift! There was no way we could drive back home. So in the middle of the night, we waited 3 hours for a tow truck and rode with them to Manila. Talk about adventure!

The view of the mountains as we drove through Mt Halsema highway, at 7000ft it’s the highest highway elevation in the Philippines.IMG_1161

We woke up at 4am to hike up Mt Kiltepan in Sagada. It was breathtaking to watch the sky change colors and directly greet the sun and the clouds for a new day.IMG_1195 IMG_1196

One of my favorite photos, the sun shining through the trees like blessings of hope and love being bestowed from above.  This was close to the Sumaguing Caves in Sagada

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The famous Banaue Rice Terraces from the viewpoint. Imagine those steps that were hand carved in the 9th or 10th century.  We were surrounded by its natural beauty!IMG_1561 IMG_1578

Angkor Wat

Ever have those experiences in life you thank yourself for?  Seeing all these beautifully hand carved temples was an experience I won’t forget.  Angkor Wait has about 200 temples spread over 10 miles.  Each temple is dedicated to a different king and tells a different story that varies from intricate carvings, stone, marble, landscapes Buddhist images, Hindu statues, lighting, worship practices etc.  Wow! Our group walked all day to see the main temples, but I went back the next day for some more temple hopping.

I took too many photos because I was in awe, so I hope you enjoy them!IMG_0975 IMG_0980 IMG_0982 IMG_0987 IMG_0989 IMG_0939 IMG_0944 IMG_0961 IMG_0955 IMG_0950 IMG_0948 IMG_0947 IMG_0945 IMG_0967 IMG_0968 IMG_0998 IMG_1002 IMG_1005 IMG_1019 IMG_1016 IMG_1014 IMG_1032 IMG_1038 IMG_1044 IMG_1048 IMG_1052 IMG_1053 IMG_1066 IMG_1071 IMG_1095

 

 

Finally some solo touring!

Although I started this trip solo, I’ve been with the tour group 24/7 and really needed some time to myself.  Don’t get me wrong, some of them are great company but my roomie, well….she’s more than a handful.  Imagine the brattiest person you know, add a lack of travel experience and pompous white privilege and that’s precisely her.  Not to mention being around her 24/7 🙁 I already complained to the tour guide about her, but understandably, there isn’t much he can do about her.  So I decided to skip the group activities today and explore on my own.  So glad I did because I sure needed the refresh.

First thing I noticed about touring solo – it’s very easy and tempting to take a ton of selfies. I normally avoid them, but what the heck I’m a traveler.  Who cares!

So I went to tour a silk farm, and on the way over my tuktuk driver was excited to show me some cockroach, worm and spider snacks. GROSS!!!!  He had me tried it though, and the tiniest bite I took had be gag immediately.  I suppose if I wasn’t vegetarian it would’ve been more appetizing.

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The silk farm was really interesting.  The tour showed how silk was created from cultivating worms, gathering their cocoons, spinning thread (as shown below) and then weaving them into beautiful cloths.

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Then I treated myself to a huge lunch and a much talked about fish massage.  The concept sounded weird, but it was actually soothing.  There are huge fish tanks like this…IMG_0904

…and it was $3 for however long you could stand all those little fishies eating the dead skin off your feet. Yikes!  Here’s me trying to look relaxed while eating a coconut with my feet soaked.

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Then I just walked around the many shops and markets in Siem Reap, grabbed a beer and chilled by my hotel pool before bed.

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Ahhh….thank you! Now I think I’m ready to do some more trips solo (not with a tour group).  Although it can feel weird to walk around an unfamiliar by myself, it was actually refreshing to make the most of it.  Next up – a much awaited tour of Angkor Wat!

Homestay

A part of our tour package is an overnight homestay in farming community called Chambokville.  It was an eye opener for the others, but just like camping for me.

The night we arrived, these kids performed their native dances for us. So so cute!

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The families hosted us and let us stay in their Nipa huts.  We slept under mosquito nets in their rooms while they slept in hammocks under their huts. Felt awkward,, but they said they prefer sleeping outside anyway. (Not pictured: outhouses with no toilets, eek!)

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The next morning we hiked and bathed in the nearby waterfalls.  I even found a flower crown for myself, how dainty.

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Tomorrow we’re going to a beach party town called Sihanoukville. I’m guessing it’s like Boracay, so I’m curious how it compares.

 

Phnom Penh and the Killing Fields

I figured I’ll just do my trip entries with story photos so you can share the experience.

From Saigon our group took a 8 hour bus ride to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The border crossing was so unorganized. There were no lines, no control, and no proper instructions. We gave our passports to a guard, then stood with a sea of people waiting for our names to be called, squashed our way to get our passports stamped, then walked through a very long hallway leading across the border.

From the border to Phnom Penh, the highways looked a lot like the Philippines, complete with farmland, peddlers and random food stops along the way.  Upon arrival in Phnom Penh, we checked in to a cute guest house with no elevator. We roommate and I were assigned to the 5th floor and the narrow stairs on the way up were harsh! So glad I packed my light.  My roomie, on the other hand, packed her whole closet and hyperventilated as she carried her things up.

That afternoon, we checked out the King’s monument park.  This is a park right next to the Royal Place where locals often play and hang out after work. Caught awesome lighting at dusk too!

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Meet my new friends, Sharni, Kate and Rachael, 3 out of the 11 others in my tour group. We’re being silly wearing table napkins as hats.  (Fun fact: majority of the tourists here are Australian that the locals speak and sound just like them).

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The next day, we took a short bus ride to the famous Killing Fields where the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot orchestrated mass killings and genocide during his regime.  Because he wanted complete control over the country, he ordered all educated persons killed.  Or anyone against him actually.

Below is a mass grave, basically a plot where 400 people were burned and their ashes still remain.  There are about 10-20 of these scattered across the killing fields.

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Though the genocide was in the 1970s, bone fragments and clothing are still evident on the ground. I felt the fragility of life as the pieces crunched with my footsteps and these bone fragments and clothing begged for attention.

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This is a stupa of skulls of the victims, arranged in order as women, children and men.

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After the Killing Fields, we went to the Cheoung Ek Museum, a former school that was used as a concentration camp during the Pol Pot regime. Each classroom was converted into prison cells, divided by bricks with no bathrooms and no windows. The school offices were interrogation rooms where officers beat up prisoners who they assumed knew intelligence against Pol Pot.

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This is a gallow where prisoners were hung and their heads were dunked into jars filled with feces and foul water until they confessed or admitted what the prison guards wanted.

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There were only 7 that survived this concentration camp, among them is the man I met below. He had quite a compelling story.  He was a mechanic jailed by the regime because they taught he was affiliated with the CIA. The poor man didn’t even know who or what the CIA was, he was simply a smart mechanic to liked to fix things.  The prison guards didn’t believe his story, so the beat and imprisoned him for “lying.”  After a year or so, the guards had trouble with their typewriter so they tested the mechanic and had him fix it. If he could fix it, they promised him his freedom. It was an easy fix, and here he is many years later sharing his story.  Such a humble, friendly and inspiring man!

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This was one of those experiences that reminded me of my fortunate freedom and respect for history, well worth the trip here.

 

The heat is on in Saigon

They say an important part of solo travel is keeping people updated of where you are and your next itinerary. So I’ll do my best to update this as I go.

Arrived in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh today and settled into a hotel in their central business district. Took a nap, met my Australian roomie and then explored the war museum, reunification museum and giant public market this afternoon.  Below are a few photos from today’s galavanting:

Crossing the street in Ho Chi Minh is no joke.  Not only do they ignore stoplights but they are so relentless you just have to squeeze through the attack of scooters.

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Went to the Vietnam War Memorial museum that featured the remnants of the US-Vietnam war.  It was very intense.  It showed all the leftover artillery, the dramatic demotion and rebuilding and worst of all, the gruesome effects of agent orange.

Here’s me surrounded by all the US tanks.IMG_0639

Looking like a commie…

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10 super skinny buildings in one block, it was crazy!

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And don’t you worry, I know who to be friends with.  Here’s my BFF for the day, he stopped traffic so I could cross the street, helped me get a cab to the museums, and best of all, suggested the most delicious dinner spots. At no charge or flirt too! I wish I could take him everywhere.

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I also met the rest of my tour group tonight.  There are 4 Americans (including me), 2 British and 5 Australians.  So far everyone seemed friendly, but let’s see how the rest of the tour goes.

Early tomorrow morning, we catch a bus for an 8 hour ride to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.  I’m not one for long drives, but looking forward to the journey. Will keep you posted!

Hello World…

I’m coming for you! Leaving Baguio today, a then backpacking SE Asia in 2 more days. I’m seriously excited, anxious, happy and hopeful. I do know this is precisely what my soul needs and I pray for Providence and support as I go through it  

Batanes of My Roots

I’m writing this entry a month after my trip, and the whole experience still feels so vivid.

Dad and I were looking for rejuvenation after the heartache of losing Mom so we decided to spend 2 weeks in Batanes, an island province in the northernmost Philippines. Although my dad’s heritage and roots are from there, I have never been able to visit because of the unpredictable weather and cost of going to such a remote island.  Finally took a chance in February, and still in awe and grateful for the opportunity.

To give you a brief background, Batanes is group of sparsely populated islands that are closer to Taiwan than the Philippines. It’s quite rural, with very few cars and buildings but filled with farmland, cows, jungle and ocean views. It’s often hit with strong typhoons and as a result, their economy is more focused on local sustenance than trade elsewhere. Best of all, it’s a literal paradise that makes you fall in love with the simplicities of life.

I could go on and on, but of course pictures would make it real for you too.

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Mt. Iraya, the volcano that formed the island

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Fields upon fields upon fields…….no flat land but endless hills of fields

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The lighthouses looked somewhat Scandinavian

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I went on a hike and my guide had to bring a bolo (sword-like knife) to cut through the trees to make a path for us.  Below is what our hike was like, we pretty much walked through the jungle.

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Once we made it through the jungle, we were greeted by the most wonderful view at this private cove at the end of the island.

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Our family home in Batanes.  To protect from typhoons, the house is built with stone and walls 3 feet thick. I should also note that Batanes is such a safe and trusting community that most windows and doors are open all day. Security is never a doubt that police are bored and jail cells are unoccupied playgrounds for kids.

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The fresh seafood delivered straight to our door from the fishermen’s boat.

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The chuches built in the 1700s by the Spanish are in pristine condition and very well respected.981

An overview of my family’s hometown of Mahatao, a small town with a population of about 1500 people and hundreds of relatives.

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Since there were only a few cars, most people had motorbikes and gas was sold in Coke liter bottles and convenience stores as shown above.

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Another church built by the Spaniards, filled with real gold details inside712

A painting  of a lady farmer wearing the traditional head gear to protect from the wind and sun775

The town plaza -sports by day, movies at night

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We joined the locals for community farming, where the men would plan and the women would cook in the field.  No money was exchanged, food was considered payment and crops were shared once harvested. They didn’t sell their crops outside of their town, but shared among themselves.

Overall the trip was simultaneously introvert and social, a warm commune with myself and with a welcoming culture and community. I’m glad we were able to go.  It was a beautiful place to fall in love with life and gather hope again.

We climbed a volcano today!

As you may know, Baguio is the Philippines summer capital known for it’s cold climate, Pine trees and endless hills.  We have the most majestic mountain and valley views within a very short drive from home. The most popular among them is a dormant volcano, Mount Santo Tomas, that towers 7,400 feet above the city.  It houses 2 big radars that supposedly provide telecommunication support for the city.  As a child, I used to think of these radars as “giant fans” that cooled the city.  It used to be a long, off-road, dangerous trek up, but now the roads are well paved and it only takes 15 minutes to go up to the top of the volcano.

We’ve been wanting to drive to the top since we August, but hesitated to do so because of mom’s health.  This morning, she woke up in a very good mood, got us up early and asked if it was possible to drive up even for just a quick trip.  We were hesitant at first, but after weeks of cabin fever we figured the fresh air would be good for all of us. So dad and I packed up mom’s portable oxygen tank, wheelchair, crutches, water and snacks then ventured up the volcano.

It only took us 30 minutes from our home to the top, but it was such a refreshing trip for all of us.  Dad loved driving the mountain curves, Mom enjoyed the fresh air, and I was in awe of being at the level of the clouds.  It was also really nice to see Mom still had a fervent spirit of adventure, eager for the outdoors and nature’s spirit lifting enrichment.

Below are a few photos from our trip (taken 7,410 feet above sea level!), We loved the trip so much, we all decided to make it a regular part of mom’s therapy.

Here we are leaning against the ledge of the view deck.

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Overlooking Baguio in between the trees

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The giant “cooling fans” aka radars of the city

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And of course, the majesty of being at the level of the crowds.

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