Category Archives: Country Hop

A Decade In The Making

If you have read my SG-entry posted last year, this is the “separate entry” I was talking about.

I know I’m supposed to be writing about my Chiang Mai weekend with my backpacking buddies, Pocklan and Maxie, however things became more interesting as the trip progressed. Let’s just say I saw a Panda, which I’ve been dreaming of everytime I see one being documented on Animal Planet, and my favorite male celebrity, VJ Utt.

I-Wanted-To-Be-A-VJ-For-God-Knows-How-Long

I think I lost track of time, but I can specifically point out that my tween years were spent watching MTV Most Wanted and MTV Asia Hitlist. Just watching these figures speak fluent English, crack up jokes, introduce the latest music videos, interview celebrities, host roadshows and events, mesmerized me. They were good-looking, classy, stylish, charming and entertaining. Their faces were on billboards in the Metro, pages in the magazines and newspapers, and TV ads. I wanted to be one for some reason –perhaps, because I wanted to be famous.

So I tuned-in to MTV as much as I could, practiced the way they moved and spoke. The brush I was holding in front of the mirror wasn’t for singing, it was for mimicking their pronunciation and antics. I wrote requests for Most Wanted as well, but I guess, they weren’t cool enough to be aired.

In 2003, I got my 15 minutes of fame on MTV Asia, where my brother and I joined MTV Start –a high-end version of Most Wanted where viewers can send in their most creative requests using Flash Animation, Animated GIF, etc. Since my brother is a genius and he thought the entries we’ve been seeing were “ugly”, I challenged him to send an entry. And he did. And he won. That Sony MiniDisc will always be more special than any of my Apple products. I tried taping the audio of that episode (sorry it was 2003, I wasn’t as savvy as today), but I think that cassette tape got lost in the middle of “spring cleanings” and typhoons. Even the copy of that request is gone, too. However, I will never forget how VJ Utt said my name for the first time. It was amazing.

So, you know, obviously, my heart stopped when I read this:

Heart-stopping

It was because my friends and I were also going to Chiang Mai for the weekend!

On-the-Road to Chiang Mai

I’ve always wanted to visit Chiang Mai because of the good things I heard about this place. For we are backpackers, we immediately took the next bus-ride to Chiang Mai for only THB400. Of course, it wasn’t all luxurious and comfortable but for that price, you get the most of it. We left Vientiane around 7PM and we were on the road for what seemed like forever. Around 6AM, we finally found a guesthouse in the town proper. It’s interesting how the rooms were priced. It’s like you will pay for the amenities in your-room-to-be.  We paid THB350/night because our room is in the 4th floor, with hot water and towels. Go figure.

After taking a nap, we can’t afford to waste any time. My friends immediately hailed the red taxi, bargained for the fare, and started our journey up to Doi Suthep and visited Wat Phrathat. It was gorgeous. Although, you can bet it’s a main attraction for it was teeming with tourists. I actually heard some tour guides speak in Spanish!

After spending two hours going around the temple, taking pictures and watching the locals dance, we descended the mountains and ate at the stalls in the parking area. Delish! While eating, because I got amazing DTAC, I read this:

Where the heck is 700th Anniversary Sports Stadium?!?! PAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIII

And thank God, my friends were actually up for it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know what to do. Imagine, I was in the same area where VJ Utt is. It’s been 12 years since I’ve been a fan of MTV, VJ Utt, for that matter. For every opportunity to watch him host an event, it’s either I wasn’t allowed to watch him or it was just bad-timing. He hosted Ms Earth in 2007 held in the UP Theatre in Diliman and I was at home, eyes glued to the screen. I’ve been visiting Bangkok for a couple of times and the most I’ve seen of him was on that huge-ass billboard for Epson Printers, the last episode of his Thai drama, and several magazines at 7-Eleven I took home with me.

As it turns out, 7ooth Anniversary Sports Stadium is far from the town. When we arrived in the scene, we can’t hear anything. My friends were teasing me that it was cancelled because of the rain, but when I finally heard booming speakers and screaming fans –and VJ Utt speaking in Thai –heckyeah!

That was a misleading post you know because when we arrived, people had tickets. But I guess it was just fate, we got in for free and they even stamped our arms “VIP”. We found our way to the rest of the crowd for MTV Exit. We watched Thaitanium, Slot Machine, Kate Miller-Heidke perform (we missed ETC’s perf) and the night’s highlight, where screaming fans painstakingly stood in the rain just to catch, Super Junior M.

Everytime Utt comes out, I gush and try to sneak a photo from where I stood. It was my first photo of Utt from my own camera! People around just glance at me whenever I scream ‘I Love You Utt’. I couldn’t care less. They just have to understand I waited 10 years for that moment.

Drenched and tired, we decided to go home, but I am never going to forget that day. That day I knew, dreams do come true.

Chiang Mai Day Two

We had to check-out at 12. Max decided to get out tickets back to Vientiane and get some more photography books, while PockLan and I decided to visit the Royal Park Rajapruek also known as the Flower Garden!

This temple looked familiar from afar; when we were walking towards it, I realized it was the pit-stop of The Amazing Race Asia (TARA) where Paula Taylor was dressed in full Thai regalia, saying “Sawasdee ka, Welcome to Chiang Mai”. Then PockLan and I had this outrageous idea that she should join TARA and for the first time, represent Lao PDR!

Around 6PM, we were on the bus to Vientiane. For some reason, I had this stabbing lower back pain that made the trip excruciating. It went away when we arrived at Nongkhai at 6AM –too little, too late now! We were off to the border and finally, home.

Backpacking with PockLan and Max–one of the highlights of my Vientiane adventure. Let’s do this again der!

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Of European Pavements and Overload of Cuteness: Cole Walks Anniversary Special

All I wanted was to see snow falling down from the sky, as usual, things don’t turn out as planned –because I got so much more.

Oh, The Agonizing Wait

So I was in Bangkok for 8 hours because my flight to Schiphol Airport got delayed. During check-in, my passport was examined by an officer; he flipped it over and over again trying to see if my Schengen visa was authentic. I know it’s like a protocol. But I was annoyed at how the check-in counter attendant questioned my luggage and when she asked her colleague if “A Filipino is allowed to go to the Netherlands for a conference,” Yes, people. I can’t speak Thai/Lao but I know enough to understand what she said. Her eyes were also twitching with an irritated glare at my ticket. When I asked her what the problem was, she snapped at me and was all “Just a moment, madaaam,” I swear to God, I love Thailand but really, snapping…not pleasing.

When the officer and his microscopics were finally satisfied with their investigation:

Officer: What do you do in Laos?

Me: I’m a travel writer.

O: Oh! That’s why you got a lot of stamps!

M: (to myself, you could’ve asked that first time around, saved you time flipping the pages) Yes, sir. *with a smile*

Then the attendant handed over my boarding pass. Thank you, job!

On board KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, I didn’t feel that I was on the plane for 11 hours. It was a pretty smooth ride, considering the weather, and service was good! When the plane finally touched down, I couldn’t see anything because it was 6AM. But then again, I had to be patient.

Schiphol, you guys!

At immigration, I asked the officer if I had to sign some entry card. I know, that’s very Asian of me, but he just laughed and answered “No, we don’t need anything like that here,” and stamped my passport the date of my first ever entry in the Schengen Area. “You do have a lot of stamps,” he said matter-of-factly. I just smiled and it was another opportunity for me to say “I’m a travel writer,”

“Ahh, that’s why,” and handed over my passport.

As soon as I fished out my luggage, I went straight to the doors. The wind gave me chills, in every sense of the word. I see blondes and brunettes, green, blue and hazel eyes everywhere, towering heights, knee-high boots, thick trench coats, mufflers and gloves. Yes, I’m in Europe!

Schiphol is such a nice airport, it’s like a mini-mall. Although I was tempted to check out the Shoe Store with a wide array of boots I’ve never seen before, I had to walk toward the red and white box in Schiphol aka the Meeting point. I met my host and after some more waiting time, it was time to drive all the way to the Hague, roughly an hour drive from Amsterdam. On the way to the Hague, we’ve passed by Leiden, with all those beautifully-structured houses I only saw in magazines. I couldn’t help but gawk at the snow brought about the day before’s blizzard –the one I was afraid to jeopardize my flight. My host said that the temperature the day before I arrived hit -7 degrees Celsius. We were actually lucky that it turned 5 that day. Although, I was kind of disappointed because I really wanted to see snow falling from the sky, but hey, it’s better than nothing.

Then I was in the Hague, a quaint little town with the same fascinating architecture I’ve passed by. I hopped off the BMW limo and checked-in at Hotel Ibis: Den Haag Centre. No time for jet lag and other hangups on weather, I met with Nishant, Maesy, Momin and Jasmeen at the hotel lobby and went to a Japanese restaurant named Shabu Shabu. Eat-all-you-can Sushi, you guys!

Quick reminder: Ah, the Netherlands has those two-contact sockets. I think CEE 7/16 or 7/17…whatever, those blunt and rounded tip power plugs are essential. My hair was limp for two days because my straightener has a different plug and would you believe, shops and the hotel ran out of plugs?? Get some at your place or at the airport! 🙂

After lunch/dinner, we strolled along the streets of the Hague. I wasn’t dressed properly (apparently, my coat was flimsy) so I felt really cold but I liked it so much. I mean come on, it was my first taste of Winter…I didn’t want to ruin the experience. Then it was drinks night for the organizers and the participants of the Thinkathon, the reason I was there in the first place.

The next days were devoted to the Thinkathon which requires a separate entry. Fast-forward to the day we explored Amsterdam!

Going Metro

Okay, so Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands –very metro but still charming. We hopped on the train from Den Haag Central to Amsterdam Central and walked our way out in the city. We tried out the boat tour and had an hour-cruise to get a glimpse of the place. After the cruise, we found our way toward De Wallen aka Red-Light District. Shut up, we didn’t do anything in there!

As we go walking around the city; we had some pancakes and stumbled upon a Christmas market. We tried out some gluhwein, one of the few drinks Maesy likes (mulled wine, usually red with some spices like cinnamon and a little other liquor). Then off we go to Vondel Park (where public display of affection, in all forms, are perfectly fine).

After some drinks, we walked back to the train station. But before going back to Hague, we shared a slice of Winkel Cafe’s famous apple pie. It was really good, very Holiday-ish. It was a tiring day but you know why it’s fun? It was because you’ve spent it with amazing people! And I mean that (I’m not just saying this because I am forcing Maesy and Prabhas to read this, and no, I’m not defensive HAH!).

The next day was dedicated to exploring nearby towns from Amsterdam. We went to Volendam first (just take the bus from the Central Station), a harbor in Northern Netherlands. The sea was frozen, hence. it was so much colder than the city. But the town is just the cutest thing ever. You will feel like you’re walking in a movie set because everything was just really, manicured and cute!

From Volendam, we took the bus back to Monnickedam. Hopped off the bus stop and wait for the next ride to going to Marken. What’s in Marken, you ask? Well, for one, my friends saw two black swans. Apparently, they thought it was a myth. Second, you can check it out here, it’s Prabhas’ dream to do so. And third, it’s just really cute!

From Marken, we went back to Amsterdam, and explored Openbare Bibliotheek: Central Library aka the coolest library I’ve seen. Seven floors of sleek and minimalist interior, millions of books, movies, and music. Mac desksets in every floor, comfy couch, modern architecture and restaurants. Really, if the libraries are like this one, I know I would want to study more!

Then off to the Hague for some drinks, it was also my last night. I so didn’t want to go home, but you know, reality bites. The next day, we explored the Escher Musuem and then it was time to go home.

Walks and talks in their full glory. One of the reasons why this trip will be unforgettable, apart from the fact that this was in Europe, because it was spent with good friends, laughs, and randomness. As much as I want to blab about my Holland-Walkabout, my photographs are enough to tell the story. Good times, good times.

PS If hangover can last a lifetime, I think this trip will be it 🙂

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Miss Saigon, the Ao Dai and Pho

As of this writing, the author wants to slit her wrists for sending off her much-awaited-fit-to-boot ao dai to her parents cos it can no longer fit in her luggage back to Vientiane. It’s so damn difficult to find a pair for her size –and she did, and it looked great on her. Did she have to send it back to the Philippines?


Instead of going out and blowing candles, my 22nd birthday turned into a flight out from Vientiane to Phnom Penh then off to Ho Chi Minh City. I was waiting for my luggage at some carousel then I realized the passengers around me didn’t look familiar. I cannot afford to waste any minute because in an hour, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office – HCM (TECOH) will close and that’s the worst thing that could happen. As soon as it occurred to me that I was at the wrong carousel, I squeezed my way out of the Korean crowd; from afar, I saw my red luggage already fished out of the conveyor belt.  With my rollie in tow, I aimlessly searched the crowd for my Welcoming Committee–where the hell are they?!— that I almost hit another passenger, as if my clumsiness hasn’t embarrassed me enough in this lifetime (I once tripped at the main intersection in Vientiane during rush hour, flat on my face). I then spotted my dad waving at me. Thank God.

Hello, Ho Chi Minh City, with a scary mass of motorists cutting one’s vehicle’s way. I really thought I was going to have stroke at that time –no traffic lights, rain started pouring and we only got an hour left before the consulate closes. This workshop, I thought to myself, is definitely something, alright . We went straight to TECOH, picked a number and waited patiently for my turn. In between my review of papers and payment and annoying bangs falling down my face, my parents and I had fun catching up. And they said the magic words: Pumayat ka (trans: you lost weight).

The consul was keen about my papers. I was trying to read her expression and all I can hear was What’s a Filipino doing in Laos, applying visa  in Saigon to go to Taipei? I smiled at the thought and was ready to answer. But she just peered throguh her spectacles, and  asked if I was really working in Laos. I showed her my ID and work permit, hot-off the presses from the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare. She asked her assistant to photocopy my documents,  issued me a receipt and instructed me to go to the cashier. I can get my passport after two days –finally, my Taipei Workshop’s a go. A fantastic birthday gift, that is. With my visa being taken care of, I had my days devoted to myself and exploring the town. Project Vietnam is on the way!

Since I made a ginormous mistake of failing to take a picture of my ao dai, I would not want to talk about shopping. No–shut up—shusssh! There’s nothing to buy in Saigon except for the beautifully-made ao dai. There’s nothing special in Saigon except those delicately-embroidered bags and handkerchiefs. There’s nothing exquisite in Saigon except those wonderful handicrafts, trinkets and iridescent scarves. No shopping. NO! (Go to Cho Ben Thanh, it’s right across Saigon Square, a block next to Saigon Centre…And you didn’t hear that from me!)

I did nothing but eat in those three days. In Laos, pho is quite a staple. Why not try the pho from where it came from? Why not taste the fusion of Vietnamese spices with a Western twist? Why not smell the deliciously good aroma of Trung Nguyen Coffee and Highlands Coffee?

And with that, y’all…Welcome to Saigon!

Four days in Saigon, a 7-hour waiting time at the airport, flew back to Phnom Penh and then finally to Vientiane. It was mad! The following day, I was off to Taipei –and things have never been the same after.

Facebook is blocked in some parts of Vietnam. Some say you can access it using proxy sites, OpenDNS or whatnot…I accessed it through my phone. So yey, Samsung widgets! 😀

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