Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Myanmar Trip - Yangon

After four hours of stopover in Bangkok, I arrived in Yangon at around 1:30 in the afternoon on the 30th of September and yes, I was in a rush. Because I have only half day city tour and sadly to say, it was the only time I had to roam the city so I made it sure that it will be worth it. I was picked up by a car courtesy by the hotel (Summit Yangon Parkview). After a few minutes of rest inside the hotel room, I immediately went out and asked for a map from a receptionist. The location of the hotel is really good as it was a few minutes of walk towards the famous Shwedagon Paya.

Shwedagon Pagoda or Paya is the single most important religious site of all Myanmar. The pagoda stands on the top of Singuttara Hill and according to legend, that spot has been sacred since the beginning of time, just before our present world was created. I entered thru the Eastern gate and I have to climb up about 100 steps to reach the top. When I reached the top, wow it was a picturesque and it felt like I was surrounded by palaces. Color gold is the ultimate shade around the area. I toured the entire area and I think there were about almost a hundred temples around the pagoda and all of them were really nice!

After my experience in that pagoda, I roamed the city by feet and after an hour of walking, I took a taxi that brought me to a money changer. The taxi was not airconditioned and quite old. Most of the taxis I saw were the same in such gesture. While I was walking after I exchanged for kyat, an Indian-Burmese approached me and was asking if I'm a tourist and I said yes.

His name was Dave and after a few minutes of talking to each other, I realized that he was a good person. I asked of a good place where I can eat special Burmese foods and he brought me to this carinderia type. The place was full of people eating and I was delighted to see lots of choices of foods. We ordered fish, chicken, beef, soup and some vegetables and they were all delicious and were something new in my taste, I truly enjoyed it!

He then led me to Sule Pagoda (Sule Paya) which is located at the middle of the busiest intersection downtown Yagon. It is a 46cm octagonal stupa that according to the local story, was built 2000 years ago to house a strand of the Buddha's hair. Same to other pagoda, an entrance fee for foreigners is required and the shoes must be left in the counter. The surrounding was very much like the Shwedagon Paya and still, gold is the brightest color. The vibrant flash on the top of the Sule Paya was really beautiful. Around it were several small temples on which some of the locals were praying. It was getting late that I have to bid goodbye to Dave and I took a taxi again back to hotel. But before I sleep, I took an hour to swim first as my relaxing moment. I will definitely return to Myanmar and will make sure that I will visit Bagan.

More Myanmar pictures here.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Laos Trip - Luang Prabang

After almost 12 hours of journey by bus, I have reached the World Heritage city of Luang Prabang at almost 9 in the morning. It is the former capital of Laos and as I have said, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and I was excited to roam the city. There, I met my tour guide Vang so we left the bus station and led me to a place where I can have a breakfast. It was a quick meal so we started our journey.

Our first spot was in this place (damn I forgot the name!) where there were at least 4 wats (temples) and numerous monks. I managed to get inside each of it and found several buddha displays. I was told that these buddhas were being protected by the monks living on those wats; also there were these pieces of paper where you can pick one but first, you have to choose a number to reveal a "lesson" that suits your personality.

After a few moments, we transferred to another place of temples, it was called Wat That Luang . Same to the previous place, it also consists of several temples with mostly gold structures with beautifully designs of buddhas. We also visited Wat Wisunarat of which another set of temples were found. By seeing those structures, I can say that they have a rich culture in buddhism and it was amazing on how they manage to preserve its original foundation. I had a super lunch afterwards on which I requested authentic Lao cuisine.

Our next destination were the handicraft and buddha curving areas. I was told that many of the people in Luang Prabang are working on this site. I was shown on how a certain silk was made, the process it went thru and the final output. There were also some parts of woods that were converted into paper and other useful things that are made out of paper, really nice! Not so far, I saw a man patiently curving a buddha image from a wood. Vang told me that most of them plant their own trees to use for their handicraft business.

We next visited the Mount Phousi on which I was required to climb up to the top by stairs with over 300 steps! It was really tiring that time as it was almost 2 in the afternoon and it was so hot. But when I reached the top, it was worth it as the view of the entire Luang Prabang was breathless. It was kinda cool on the top and quite refreshing. On the top of Mount Phousi was the Wat Chom Si.

On our way down, we passed by on several buddha images. I saw some footsteps and I was told it came from buddha. Some images are inside a cave, on top of a rock and they were all designed in a nice presentation. Really cool huh?! After this trip in the provice of Laos, it was time to return to its capital Vientiane to catch my plane for Myanmar with a stopover in Bangkok. I had to sleep again on the bus on my way back and again, the travel period was almost 12 hours!

More Laos pictures here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Laos Trip - Vientiane

On the 28th of September, Vietnam Airlines flight number 841 arrived in Lao capital past 9:30 in the morning. I immediately looked for a money changer to get some LAK. It was very hot that day and I was a bit tired so I called for a taxi that took me to New Lao Paris. As for the hotel, it was quite old and seemed to be very dark. The atmosphere wasn't that good and there was no elevator.

I did not waste time so I just freshened up inside the room to prepare for my city tour. I asked for a map from the receptionist but I failed to have one. So I bought a map in a store near the hotel and the map was quite good and informative. My first destination that time was this Morning Market and you can see all the things that you need from personal use to souvenirs and shirts. But in the end, I didn't buy anything from that store as I was thinking that maybe there is a cheaper place.

It took about 20 minutes of walking before I reached Patuxai or the Victory Gate. This building was built as a dedication to those who fought in the struggle of independence from France. It has a general resemblance to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Based on the funding history, the money used to built it was intended to build a new aiport but eventually, the Loatian government chose to built this historic piece. On the outside, I can say that it is properly maintained but inside the core of it, there was this small store that I think shouldn't be there. After taking few pictures, I left the place to look for a place to eat as I was really hungry that time.

I came to this certain carinderia (hawker in Singapore) and I found some interesting foods that quite similar to Filipino dishes so I chose some meat and a soup. As for drinks, I asked for Coca Cola but the vendor smiled and offered a Pepsi instead. Then I realized that Lao has this funny motto: "No Cola, Pepsi Only" that I read in an article before starting my backpack. I really don't know the history behind why Laos doesn't sell Coca Cola but since I was hungry that time, I just focused on my food and enjoyed it.

After that fulfilling meal, I walked again and looked for Lao's most important monument and national symbol, the Pha That Luang or Great Stupa. It is a gold covered large Buddha stupa and was built in the 3rd century. Based on the history, this monument has been destroyed many times but only in 1900 that French government decided to restruct it in it's original design. The area of the stupa is close to the traffic and I saw some tourists enjoying the view.

Around the Pha That Luang was several temples that showcase the Lao culture and identity. It was also a great place to take a rest and a perfect position to take some pictures.

Just outside the vicinity of the stupa, there were these tuk-tuks and jumbos that offer several destinations for the tourists. I checked it out and hired a tuk-tuk for 90,000 LAK (almost 15 SGD) that brought me to Xieng Khuan or Buddha Park. It was almost 2 hours of drive and I got the chance to take a nap. When I arrived there, I have to pay about 5,000 LAK for entrance. I saw several tourists that went up to the top of a big structure so I followed them and stayed there for a while. From there, I was able to see the entire park. As for it's name, the place was full of Buddhas in different structure and representations.

The tuk-tuk then brought me to this Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge that is situated over the Mekong connecting Nong Kai provice in Thailand with Vientiane in Laos. As for the history, it was funded by Australian government for 30 million USD to show that Australia is capable of making full structure in Southeast Asia. If you are asking if I had quick cross to Thailand, well I didn't.

I visited next the Lao National Museum and it was the last place where this tuk-tuk left me and to be on my own again. Well, the building was quite old and same to all other museums, camera is not allowed inside. The museum was quite simple but you will see the proudness of Lao people boasting their culture and proud about their roots and origins. Since the museum is quite near to the hotel, I walked to reach it and checked on some travel agent and decided to leave Vientiane that night, freshed up again and checked out from the hotel and started my 12 hour bus ride going to Luang Prabang.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Vietnam Trip - Halong Bay

Second day of my backpack began by preparing all our things to checkout from the hotel. We had an early flight (6:30am local time) to Hanoi and that time, we were very strict with the time and fortunately, we were right on time and did not miss our flight! Anyway, it was almost a two hours flight from Ho Chi Minh City to the capital Hanoi. Our arrival time in Hanoi was 8:30 in the morning and there, we met our tour guide Dung and we immediately got into the car for a three hour trip to Halong City.

About 12 in the afternoon, we reached the Halong port and Dung went inside to office and retrieved necessary tickets and chose a boat for us. It was a medium sized boat with 4 staffs and we were the only passengers. It was indeed a private tour and as soon as the boat started to move, we saw the breathtaking scene of Halong Bay. It was a nice view, very peaceful and calm. It was also a time to take a rest as we were informed that it will take two hours to reach the center of it and the beautiful cave.

Before arriving on the cave called Hang Sung Sot, we first had our lunch inside the boat which were mostly seafoods and freshly cooked. Dung said that we need energy to reach the top of the cave. We then came to the mouth of the cave after many steps reaching the top. When we came inside, whew! It was so beautiful and the rock formations were really nice. There were some stories and sometimes funny stuffs that Dung presented to us. The way to the end of the cave was very tiring but worth it.

Upon reaching the top, wow! The sight was really cool, very refreshing and seemed like we don't want to leave the beautiful scenery. We rested for a while then it was time for another steps but that time it was easier as the path was downward. We saw some locals selling fresh seafoods and other stuffs in their boat and Dung bought something but I forgot what it was called.

We came back to the boat, Ann and I decided to do kayak and we really had fun! At first we were unstable but eventually, we were able to grasp the technique on getting it perfectly. It was a very tiring moment yet very enjoyable. I think we spent almost two hours on that activity. After the long hours of visiting the famous bay, we headed our way back to port at around 5 in the afternoon and we had super nice rest on the top of boat while observing the sunset, it was a picturesque and we were happy we experienced that moment. More Vietnam pictures here!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Vietnam Trip - Ho Chi Minh

My first backpack started in Vietnam last 26th of September and I admit, it wasn't perfect. I woke up so early to prepare and waited for my dear friend Ann to pick me up in my block. She was so late that we missed our flight. I was quite mad but eventually, we booked a ticket for the same day but on a later time and she paid it all so I was a bit relieved that time. So we were in Lion Air at around 11 in the morning and arrived in Ho Chi Minh City after 2 hours of flight. We were about to wait for her older sister's arrival but even her sister missed her flight in Tiger Airways. So we took a taxi going to the hotel and surprisingly, it was quite nice for a very cheap price! It was called Hoang Phong Hotel.

Since we were running out of time, we immediately went out of the hotel to check the city. Our first stop was in War Remnants Museum and it primarily contains exhibits relating to American phase of Vietnam war. It was so depressing looking on those pictures, mostly were the victims of war and how they were treated like an animal. I felt a sad atmosphere during that time and most of the tourists were showing the same expression. The museum also shows some equipments used on the Vietnam war. We next visited the Reunification Palace, it was the site of the official handover of power during the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. It was then known as Independence Palace but unfortunately, it was closed that time that we just took the picture from the outside. Afterwards, we walked to the Notre Dame Basilica which has two bell towers, reaching a height of 58 meters. It was a French architecture and all the original building materials were imported from France. Nearby, we found the Saigon Central Post Office where we bought some postcards and sent them to our family in Manila. The building was
constructed when Vietnam was part of French Indochina in the early 20th century and has a Gothic architectural style. It was designed and constructed by the same archict of the famous Eiffel tower.

Ann and I felt a need for some food so we decided to have our dinner in Ben Thanh market but on our way to this place, we saw the famous Ho Chi Minh City Hall. It was built in 1902-1908 in a French colonial style but it is not open to the public and tourists. It is now formally branded as People's Committee Hall, the statue of Uncle Ho in the front is a very popular place for photos. Afterwards, we went to this certain restaurant near the market and we had our dinner. We both had noodle and eventually satisfied with what we ate. So the shopping began in Ben Thanh Market where we bought some shirts, a cap, souvenir, ref magnet, keychains and other stuffs. We were busy shopping but the rain fell and we decided to go back to hotel to rest as it was a bit late and we still have an early flight the next day to Hanoi.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ondoy + Backpack

Last 26th of September, I started my very first backpack series on which I travelled five countries (Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand & India) to experience the culture and see the wonderful and sceneric spots that each country is proud of. It became a bittersweet trip when on the same day, a super typhoon striked Manila and I was very worried about the situation of my mother and sisters. On the first night of my trip, I immediately called them but I failed to contact them. I was then informed that telecommunication is not possible on that day to our area. I called my father in Riyadh to get an update on the situation but he himself wasn't able to contact them. I searched the internet and saw the devastating effect of typhoon Ondoy in the metro. Some of them were seeking help from the roof of their home as their entire house was flooded by Ondoy.

I can't really enjoy my vacation that time but after few days... I don't know but I felt such a relief maybe it was because of my positive thinking about the situation and that I am a very optimist person. During my trips, I met these wonderful people that even for a little time that we spent together, I have learned a lot of experiences and lessons about their country and on how to be more confident in travelling alone. I met Dung from Vietnam, Jack from Laos, Dave from Myanmar, Soni from India and another solo traveller Brad during my connecting flight from Kolkata to New Delhi. I can say that eventhough my trip wasn't that perfect, I am proud to say that I have gained confidence, learned a lot of strategies, experienced several cultures and that I am a real survivor. When I got back in Singapore, I immediately called my mother and I was right, they were just doing fine, no harm and were in good condition. Think positive and always trust to God...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

September Quicky

Last Saturday, 19th of September, I made a quick visit in Manila for three major reasons. First was to visit my grandmother as I have been hearing news that she is suffering from health complications. My lola is almost 90 years old and she is still fighting for her life. Her eyes problem resulted into her blindness and most of the time, she is sleeping. She is very weak but her medications are still on going. We still want to fight for her life even if many are saying that since she is so old, we should prepare ourselves for something bad. But we will always be by her side until the end. The second reason for my surprise visit was because of my youngest sister's birthday. There were foods when I arrived, my mother cooked mostly chicken meals and pansit bihon. My other sister prepared tiramisu for dessert. It was raining hard when I arrived at home but I was very happy seeing them again. We went to Enchanted Kingdom the next day to celebrate more her birthday. My mom was in the "kiddie mood" and was acting like a little kid and enjoyed every rides. It was such a lovely day as it did not rain and we all had a great time. Finally, the last reason was that I really miss them. On my last day, I had a date with my mom and my favorite auntie who used to take care of me when I was a kid while my mother was at work. We first had lunch then we watched a movie and can you believe that they wanted Kimmy Dora? Hehehe... It was such a funny movie anyway. Afterwards, twas time for some grocery for their household needs. It was a very quick visit but I made sure that those days are only family days...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Tourists: Misys Friends

On the last week of August, dear friends from Manila who were also my former officemates in Misys came to Singapore to spend holiday and to forget the world of fixing even for just few days. The whole cast were Harold, Ryan, GJ, William, Tamie, Shelley and Megi. I picked them up at the airport at around 5:30 in the afternoon on a Saturday. Also present that day to pick them up was Tamie's brother JP and was in charged of the accomodation of the girls.

I brought them first at the Esplanade and Merlion parks. We spent almost 2 hours on that place as three of them were included in the massive era of photography and as expected, there were almost a hundred shots on a single spot... hehehe... After a while, Louisa showed up (supposed to be included in the group but went ahead of them with her other close friends) to spend special times with Harold. We were all hungry afterwards then we headed to Clarke Quay to have our dinner in Jumbo Seafoods Restaurant. We ordered a lot so in return, we were all satisfied with the foods and the main meals that we had were Chili Crab and Black Pepper Crab.

We spent the rest of the night by roaming the vicinity of Clarke Quay and their curiosity was awaken by these two rides namely GMAX Ultimate Bungy and GMAX Xtreme Swing. Since I had this headache (wushu palusot), I decided not to join them on riding these machines. In the end, the brave ones who had the courage and strenght to face the challenge were Shelley and the lovers in Clarke Quay Harold and Louisa. I saw on their face that they really enjoyed it while the "matatakutins" (I'm not included since I had a headache) were just sitting and staring at them. It was so late so we decided to call it a day and took a rest. The boys stayed in my room and thank God walang naghihilik!

The next day was a rainy morning and we were supposed to hear a mass but the boys woke up so late. So we had breakfast first in McDonald's and moved towards to Chinatown where we waited for the girls. When the gang was complete, they had a quick shopping around the place. They took some souvenirs and "pasalubongs". The next mission was to have lunch and our feet took us to Funan Digitalife Mall and it's food court was the answer to our cravings. The very rich kid Ryan bought a laptop after the meal and we went to JP's flat to leave some things and of course the laptop of the very rich kid Ryan so that touring the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari will be comfortable for them. I left them on the bus stop took them to the animal kingdom and as for me, I took a nap in my house as I was very very tired. I met with them again at around 9 in the evening and had a late dinner at McDonald's Lucky Plaza. I was informed that Harold did not enter the zoo and safari, instead he met his love of his life Louisa and they became lovers in Orchard.

On the third day, it was a short stint with the gang as most of them went again to JP's place to leave some things and we all met (with the exception of Louisa) in Vivocity. I treated them in this restaurant called "Bosses" and at first we were all intimidated as most of the people there were wearing formal suites and dresses while we were in shirts and jeans. Also, we kept on taking shots inside the place but it was not allowed and we were advised by this certain order taker. We ordered a lot compared to others who were very solemn on their small amount of foods. Well, we don't care, we enjoyed the food and the heck, we don't know them. After that super busog lunch, I accompanied them on the ticket booth for their Sentosa adventure then we parted ways as it was time for me to rest as I'm not feeling well that time. After that Sentosa moment, it was time for them to leave Singapura.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Good Enough

1. The Hangover - The movie is really funny! I have to say that the story was pretty good, creative and exciting! This movie was designed to be an adult comedy and it excels. The acting was greatly delivered, those comedic acts were really convincing. I have to say that I really loved the ending credits. The compiled pictures were perfect for the finale and up to the last minute we were all laughing inside the cinema. It can be considered as a great classic comedy as the ideas, expressions and phasing of the movie were really fresh. Watching this movie was really addictive and I was wishing that this is the hangover that I would wish never end... :D

2. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra - This was the movie that I have watched in Brunei during my visit on the Gadong Mall. On the special effects department, I really enjoyed it. The action scenes weren't that full packed but it was still entertaining as some of them were mixed with some comedic scenes. The twist was quite surprising but I found the overall plot as not that really good. The phasing technique was also weak but on the other hand, the actors were really good, they did deliver. Overall, it was still an enjoyable movie. I heard that there will be a sequel and I am hoping that it will be filled with actions!

3. The Proposal - With these times of crisis, comedy films are really the best cure. It's been a while since I have watched Sandra in a movie and she was still beautiful on this clip. Anyway, I can say that they did had a good chemistry and they performed well on their role. The moral lesson of the story was the importance of family. On the other side, the plot of the movie wasn't that interesting as you will know what will be the ending. Nevertheless, the movie was really funny, I was laughing out loud in the cinema. This is a feel good movie.

4. The Final Destination - I have watched most of the series of this movie and I can say that the previous ones were better. This time, some of the scenes were quite unrealistic like how a gas was just beside with explosives at the back of the cinema? Also, is it that powerful to suck a person in a pool? Maybe I just need some explanation. On the other hand, the movie was still frightening and the effort to scare the viewers was appreciated. The main characters were the same to previous ones like a couple who survived and in the end being chased by their own death. The writer should have made new lead characters.

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