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Spontaneity led me to an unforgettable adventure

It was a day just like any other day that had gone by except that I woke up later than usual because I was on leave from work. I’ve spent the past days on meditation at a forest monastery and other me-time which comprised mostly of cleaning and organising my room whilst also doing some internal cleansing. I have four more days left before I go back to work and I had no idea what to do with those remaining days. It was during those bored moments that my impulsiveness struck again because the next thing I know, I was in a train going to Aranyaprathet where I’d cross the border to Cambodia.

The decision to travel to Siem Reap didn’t involve so much fuss. I just got up from bed, scroll on my Facebook newsfeed, and exclaimed “I’m going to Cambodia!” I didn’t see any Cambodia-related posts on Facebook. I just thought Cambodia is the nearest I could travel given that I only have four days to spend. All I did was check what time the train leaves from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet, packed and headed to the station. I was literally backpacking contrary to most of my travels which involved dragging a stroller to the airport, a pre-arranged pick-up and a booking to some five-star hotels. The change was a breath of fresh air. I was ecstatic!

It was the first time I travelled without doing any research. I didn’t know where I’d stay, how do I actually get to Siem Reap or how much it would all cost me. I just sat at the train and enjoyed the scenery. I’ve always loved long train rides. It gives me the chance to just live in the moment and soaked it all in, the scenery, the sounds, the smell of places we passed by.

We arrived in Aranyaprathet at about 5PM. I asked someone how to get to the border but I was having a hard time getting a ride. I was also concerned that evening was approaching and I didn’t know if there are places for me to stay for the night on the other side of the border. I decided to spend the night in Aranyaprathet instead. I found a place which only cost THB200 (approx. USD 6) though they didn’t have air-conditioning but at least there was an electric fan. I dropped by backpack, took a shower and went for a walk around town to explore and find dinner. I liked it in the province with its slow-paced lifestyle in stark contrast with Bangkok.

I was going to take the bus to Siem Reap but I met two travellers, an Italian guy and Argentinian lady, who were also going there so we hired a cab instead and paid 20 US dollars each. Since I didn’t know yet where I’d stay, I got off with them and walked through the streets to find accommodations too cheap that you’d never find them on the internet. I found one at the end of the street from where my two companions were staying –their place has been booked up—and got a room to myself for only $10 a night.

I rented a bike that cost only $1 a day and spent the afternoon and evening exploring Siem Reap with it. I was extremely scared whenever I went on a busy street because I’ve never ridden a bike in a long time. But I was determined to overcome my fear so I went on. When I got tired of roaming around, I found a cozy place to drink and people-watch before I headed to the evening market.

The next day I explored Angkor Wat Complex by bike and spent only $1 as compared to the $10 tuktuk. If you’ve ever been around Angkor Wat Complex, you’d know how crazy it is to bike your way around with all the muscle pains afterwards because it is so huge! Still, I had so much fun exploring it by bike because I could enjoy the scenery better and it made me feel more attuned with nature. The second time I went was with colleagues, we had our tour guide provided by the Parliament and a comfortable ride but the experience was nothing compared to the fun I had with my bike.

I’ve always been fascinated with ruins and the nostalgic feeling I get when around them. And by nostalgic I meant that feeling of deeper connection with the past, the wisdom that ruins exude and the amazement at the sight of a masterpiece. I was particularly thrilled to visit the spot where they shoot the film Tomb Raider in Ta Prohm.

My most adventurous experience though happened on the way back. It started raining and there was no sign of it ever stopping. I was concerned because I have my passport and DSRL camera in my backpack but if I would wait for the rain to stop, it may not stop until dusk. I placed my passport inside the camera bag and wrapped the bag with the scarf and placed it at the bottom of my backpack. I then stacked the chips and souvenirs on top, hoping heavens that the bottom part will remain dry. I pedaled and stopped to rest then pedaled my way back for almost two hours before I reached my accommodation.

I was exhausted. I can no longer feel my legs. But I was extremely happy. For some reason, the experience felt extremely liberating. My passport was safe. My camera got a little wet. The rest of my bag was wet but I didn’t care. I was happy and I never felt as alive in a long time. I took a long warm bath and took some rest before I headed out to have dinner and hopped in the bus that left Siem Reap at midnight and brought me back to Bangkok before lunch the next day.

One of the best things about traveling unprepared is that you are forced to talk to people. I was thrilled at the idea of letting things unfold without giving much thought into its preparations but I was more thrilled to be interacting with people. Humanity is indeed full of kindness if you open your eyes to it and especially when you are a stranger at the receiving end of another stranger’s benevolence.

My spontaneous Siem Reap trip was one of my most unforgettable experiences. I didn’t spend time planning it so there were no unfulfilled expectations, no overthinking or what have you. It was all spontaneous and because of that, it was filled with surprises.


The day I circled an island

My previous work and even life at grad school involved a lot of traveling and most, if not all, of those destinations were packed with tourists. This is what made our trip to Divinubo Island special because we were the only tourists in that small island town. Within a day, we were able to circle the island, climb at the old lighthouse and drink fresh coconut juice while interacting with the locals.

Divinubo Island is only 15 minutes by boat from Cogon Lalawigan in Borongan City, Eastern Samar. If you are lucky to catch the scheduled boat trip, the fare is only PhP14 (approx .28 USD) per passenger whilst special trip costs PhP300 (6 USD) per way, though after 6PM it will increase to PhP500 (10 USD). There are two resorts in the island though when we were there, both were unable to accommodate us so we slept at a hostel in the city and went to the island the next day. The island is so tiny it only takes 1.5 to 2 hours to circle it.

The locals knew we were tourists the moment we docked on their shore (the island is small after all and everyone there might know everyone) so they suggested we take a guide who could lead us to safer tracks. Our guide was 72 years old Manong Moloy. We gave Manong Moloy PhP300 as a gesture of thanks for his time and generosity. He pointed to us the areas affected by typhoon Yolanda in 2013. We also saw the on-going construction of accommodations. I can imagine that in a few years’ time, the island will be flocked with more tourists.

Divinubo is not what I had expected at all. I imagined an uninhabited island with just infrastructures catered for tourists. On the contrary, Divinubo island is, in fact, a small town with a primary school, several houses both native and modern, wooden and concrete. The island’s beautiful surprises, however, are found around it. We went at low tide, the perfect time to explore. The scenery was beautiful and I extremely enjoyed watching schools of fish on hollow areas with clear, turquoise water. My iPhone’s photos can never do justice to such magnificence but here are a few of Divinubo’s beautiful scenery.

Tips: Circling the island involves climbing on the rocks and walking on slippery areas so wear appropriate footwear. Travel light. The sun can be extremely hot so wear a hat if you are lazy to bring an umbrella. And never forget your sunscreen!


Cheap and artsy place to stay in Panglao, Bohol

Being a Boholana, I’ve traveled to Panglao island in Bohol several times mostly on day-trips to the beach, though on several occasions I stayed overnight and paid over a thousand pesos for accommodation. After living abroad for over 7 years, I found that the island has significantly changed. There are more hotels, restaurants and shops now. I always had this perception that accommodations there are all expensive because it is one of the most famous beach destinations in the country with its very fine white sand. Little did I know that there already exist cheaper options for backpackers.

A friend who traveled with me to Panglao suggested D’ Backpackers’ Barn; what I shame though coz I’m the one who’s from Bohol yet I don’t know much information. I was hesitant at first because it is so cheap – at 400 pesos (approx. 8 USD) per person for a dorm-type room for 4 people. I imagined a poorly maintained place with dirty toilets. I thought I’d stay somewhere else but got lazy to do the research myself and decided to stay there.

I fell in love with D’ Backpackers’ Barn right away. It’s definitely my kind of place, totally opposite to what I had imagined. It’s a place that has a ‘character’. I loved how artistic it is, with life quotes spread all over which got me all pumped up. I even asked the receptionist where they got their decorations and who did their lettering so I can get some for our house. I particularly loved the mini-living room. We spent the night talking there with my friends. It felt so comfy; the rustic feel of the decors added good vibes because I love anything vintage-like. Most of all, I loved having breakfast there and sipping my coffee while looking at the plants at their backyard. Oh, and their toilet is clean too!

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Totally forgot to take a photo of the room itself but you can check their Facebook page here.