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New life down under

It was only when I was already on the plane to Sydney that it started to sink in that I am moving here. Having gone through many ups and downs, I did not expect much of what my life will be like here.

Dawn above the sky

Sydney Australia

I left home on Friday at 6:30 and arrived in my new home in Sydney Saturday at 13:15. It was a tiresome trip from 30 degrees to 15 degrees. My body felt frozen but I still managed to grab groceries. I was ecstatic to find out that my area has a lot of Thai restaurants – I’ve passed by at least 6 of them – as well as Thai massage. The area is actually very Asian as most restaurants are either Thai, Chinese, Korean, Japanese or Vietnamese. But because I just came from Bangkok and my roommate Lavina from Taipei, we opted for Japanese food. I fell asleep at 20:30 still holding my phone.

I woke up Sunday feeling energised. Since Lavina has only a week in Sydney before moving to Macquarie University, we decided to be tourists for a day. We were lucky the weather was pleasant, sunny and not too cold. And on top of that, my place is close to the Sydney Harbour, just 10 minutes through a free bus! How cool is that?!

Sydney Harbour

Our first stop was at The Rocks along Sydney Harbour. It is known as the land of the Gadigal people and the first place of European settlement in Australia. During weekends there are stalls all over the streets selling various products so it is fun to walk around. There were also musicians playing soothing songs and instrumental. From there you can get a good view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.

Sydney Opera House

Mugs at The Rocks Sydney

Wall decor at The Rocks Sydney

The Rocks Sydney

Watch necklace at The Rocks Sydney

We had lunch at Phillip’s Foote, a hidden gem within busy The Rocks established in 1975. The restaurant is a bit hidden behind a pub, we would not have found it had Lavina not seen the ad on steak at $40 for two to commemorate their 40 years anniversary. We loved discovering this restaurant. With trees and plants around, you can’t ask for a better ambiance after a long day of walking. And their steak was just delicious. You have to grill it yourself which was an added fun.

Photo from Phillips Foote Facebook Page

Photo from Phillips Foote Facebook Page

My massive lunch!

My massive lunch!

After lunch we went to the Opera House and walked to the Royal Botanic Garden. This park is huge; a perfect place to chill out when readings and essays will begin to drown me. Across the park is the State Library of NSW. When I saw the library, my heart skipped a beat. I can’t believe I live close to everything that nurtures my soul!

Royal Botanic Garden Sydney

State Library of the New South Wales

From SLNSW we walked to St. Mary’s Cathedral the prettiest church I’ve been to next to Westminster Abbey in London. It was amusing though because just outside the cathedral there was an ice skating rink which I bet was only for the weekend.

Inside St Mary's Cathedral Sydney

Across St. Mary’s Cathedral is Hyde Park, another good place to relax. From there we walked back, dropped by the dirty market to grab fruits and headed home.

I had a dynamic life in Bangkok but moving to Sydney was a huge change, I still can’t help but feel uneasy. All I did in the plane when fear started to creep in was meditate. I told myself to live in the moment and deal with whatever challenges that will come with calmness and kindness. I let my expectations low so that I will be less disappointed. And as it turned out, the universe seemed to be conspiring to grant more than what I could hope for a home away from home including housemates that I am now so fond of. I can only wish Lavina will stay longer coz other than she is the sweetest, she also brings the vibe of positive change, new beginnings and adventures. But short was our time together I am grateful we found each other; two kick-ass women plunging into an ocean of risks and possibilities.

Sydney harbour with the Opera House


Why I fell in love with Bhutan

I was on cloud nine for seven days while in Bhutan. It took me another seven days to recover and get down to reality.

I can’t remember exactly how I got drawn to Bhutan. But I can recall watching a documentary and was captivated by the scenery. I also read about the Gross National Happiness, a concept very unique to Bhutan as it was the idea of His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. GNH speaks volumes of how Bhutanese value spiritual and well-being over economic progress or worldly materialism.

So why have I fallen in love with this Kingdom? Let me try hard to put it into words.

Up in the sky, Bhutan will greet you and bid adieu with exhilarating panorama of the Himalayas and snow-capped mountains. If you are flying from Bangkok, make sure you get a window seat on the left row (right from Paro).

View of Himalayas on flight to Bhutan-001

Photo taken on flight from Paro to Bangkok

Usually, the drive from the airport to a city is dull and tiresome. It took us about 1 hour and 30 minutes from Paro to Thimphu. But nope, it was not boring at all because we drove along hills with lots of apple trees in bloom; I thought they were cherry blossoms. How about this old house above the riverbank?

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Paro to Thimphu Bhutan-001

Photo taken on the way back to Thimphu from Paro the day before my departure

I just loved to look at the fog-covered mountains. It’s the same sight I would marvel at on my journey to Punakha. But with the forest filled with blooming rhododendrons, I felt I was in Pandora. Remember Avatar?

Rhododendron bloom in Bhutan on the way to Punakha-001

Very few countries in the world can match the richness of Bhutan’s flora and fauna. Thanks to their serious environmental protection and conservation I enjoyed watching a monkey sitting on the side of the road; a huge colorful bird that hopped on a tree, I can only wish I knew its name. But when I saw the yaks (I had mistaken them for takins, Bhutan’s national animal and known to be an extremely rare mammal) I had to ask the driver to stop the car so I can run after them up in the hills.

Takin Bhutan's national animal-001

I have this strong affinity with ruins. A lot of people find them uninteresting, lifeless. I find them full of wisdom, exuding aura of the ancient times. I’ve been to ruins in India, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia so I didn’t want to miss Drukgyel Dzong in Bhutan. I was dumbfounded. I have no words to describe and will rely on the cliche, “a picture paints a thousand words.”

Drukgyel Dzong in Paro Bhutan-001

Bhutan may be full of natural beauty but hey, the country is not just about that, it is full of art masterpieces too! In Punakha Dzong I have seen the world’s most magnificent temple. We were not allowed to take photos, sorry folks. I like it that way though, to keep its sanctity and solemnity. But here are some photos around Punakha Dzong showing very intricate designs.

Punakha Dzong Bhutan-001

Punakha Dzong interior-001

Punakha Dzong-001

I also had a bit of a shock when I saw penises, lots and lots of them, either painted on the walls of buildings and houses or carved on woods. My friend, understanding my amusement, explained that phallus is a religious symbol and is believed to ward off evil and brings good luck.

Phallic drawing Paro Bhutan-001

carved phallus Bhutan-001

Above all these, what truly captured my heart are the people. The Bhutanese are very warm and hospitable people. They are calm and patient. Around them I feel so at ease, it must be because they emit positive energies. With them I was reminded to savor the moment and not rush through life.

Mary Antonette Abello_Bhutan-001

On weekends they go out to play while most of the time I slack in front of the TV or drown on the internet. I passed by people playing different sports but when I saw an archery tournament, I let my driver have snacks so I can watch the game. I felt bad to have him wait at the car.

Bhutanese playing archery-001

I’ve seen a lot of young Bhutanese hone their crafts at the 13 Traditional Arts School (Institute of Zorig Chusum). I learned that most students came from underprivileged families. The school is financed by the government including their board and lodging. I asked one boy why he got interested in tailoring. He said he wanted to be an international fashion designer. They may be poor but why do they look more content and happier than those rich kids who showcase fancy items out of mommy and daddy’s pocket?

13 Traditional Arts School Bhutan-001

Institute of Zorig Chusum Bhutan-001

 

Photo taken at a ceramics shop in Paro

Photo taken at a ceramics shop in Paro

I admire how spiritual Bhutanese are. You will see many of them turning the prayer wheels, both young and old. They have a prayer room in their house; light incense for each morning’s prayer. Prayer flags are found all over the place.

Prayer wheels monk Bhutan-001

Prayer flags in Bhutan

I rarely see Bhutanese who wear modern clothes. Most of them wear their traditional dress, gho for men and kira for women. This makes the cultural experience in Bhutan distinct because at this modern period, you will see how Bhutanese go about their daily lives the same way from many decades ago.

Bhutanese girls-001

I have not seen nor experienced a wild nightlife similar to that in Bangkok during my whole stay in Bhutan. Although I did relish this stunning view of Tashichoo Dzong and Thimphu skyline.

Thimphu in the evening

In Bhutan I was able to reconnect on a deeper level with mother nature, with my spirituality and immerse into the quintessential of human connection that our technology-driven world has so often neglected.

And just like in temples where I was forbidden to take photos, my most memorable experiences with people very dear to me are beyond words. I will just let my heart keep it locked in until I come again.

More photos are available in my Facebook. Click here.

P.S. If you want to visit Bhutan, I recommend Almost Heaven travel agency. It’s owned by a friend so I can guarantee you are in safe hands. If you are in Bhutan, I encourage you to watch my friend’s latest film Kushuthara – Pattern of Love. And if you are a bookworm, then grab copies of Sonam Kinga’s books!


Bike your way around Thailand in Muang Boran

Muang Boran or Ancient Siam, known to be the world’s largest museum, is one my favorite places in Thailand. I always recommend this place to friends and tourists who have limited time to spend in Bangkok because it offers a glimpse of what Thailand has to offer; from the golden temples, ruins of Ayutthaya, floating market, reclining Buddha, to the monkey temple up in a hill. Muang Boran is a vast land of over 200 acres in the shape of Thailand where miniatures of historical and tourist attractions are located at their exact spot in the country.

Ancient City garden-001

Ancient Siam-001

John Teo Abello-001

Cycling in Bangkok-001

I visited the Ancient City last weekend with my friend Pat who was on a 2-day transit from Kathmandu to Manila. It was my second visit since 2011 when I took my mom there. So much have changed since then, including a hefty entrance fee of THB700 (21USD) as compared to the THB400 fee before. But since I have a work permit, I was able to get the Thai rate which is only THB350. The fee includes the bike rental but if you don’t know how to bike, you can also take the tram.

How to get there
Depending on where you are in Bangkok, the best and most convenient way for me is to take the BTS to the last station Bearing. From there you can take the taxi which will cost about THB250 (8USD). This will work best if you travel in a group and share the cost. Otherwise you can take the bus but since I haven’t tried this option, it’s better you check their website.


I was in awe at this Ancient City that the first time I went there I just savored the feeling without ever thinking where it is coming from. But last weekend I am able to reflect some of the reasons why I will never have enough of it.

Communing with nature
I am a nature lover and living in metropolitan Bangkok makes my heart yearn for green things, lakes and cool breeze. Some tourist destinations make me feel exhausted at the end of the day but Muang Boran is such a stress-reliever. Imagine lying on a grass with a cool wind kissing your cheeks! And cycling is a good de-stressor, and with a pinch of yoga oh I just had an awesome Sunday. Here’s a photo of me trying to do the crow pose and another photo in the office showing my progress 5 days after, yeehaaa!

communing with nature in Thailand-001

Muang boran thailand-001

crow pose at muang boran-001

crow pose in the office-001

Cycling in Muang Boran-001

Stunning historical structures
For someone like me who fancy anything old or vintage, much more ruins, Ancient Siam offers stunning architectural structures which bring century-old stories in it. You will also be amazed at how intricate the designs are which reflect Thais’ stellar craftsmanship.

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Ancient siam golden temple-001

Ruins in Ancient City-001

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Anicent City Thailand-001

Omar Piamonte Jayag

Beautiful gardens
There are several gardens around Ancient Siam which come in different styles. Some have fountains, human-sized figurines, hanging plants and various ornamental and flowering plants.

Garden Bangkok-001

Hanging plants Ancient Siam-001

Ancient city garden 2-001

Ancient siam lake-001

Local food and cultural experience
It was during lunch at the floating market where we contemplated that Muang Boran does not just offer a taste of local food but also offers a cultural experience. And since I believe that a cultural experience is something we acquire on a personal basis, you have to get there to experience it yourself.

Floating market muang boran-001

It is needless to say that Muang Boran or Ancient Siam with its grandiose beauty will make every photography enthusiast salivate.

If you want to visit the Ancient City and you’ve got some questions feel free to drop a comment.

Muang Boran-001