Drank my beer.

Sorry Mr. Coelho.

An ice-cold beer (and a few glasses of rum cola) is the most fitting reward after staying wide-awake and walking the whole day around Melaka.

It's a good thing that Melaka can easily be explored on foot. I was functioning solely on adrenaline and zero sleep, so walking was definitely a great idea. We got a map from the hostel, put our sunglasses on, and braved the hot December weather.

Walking starts at the A Famosa, a Portuguese fortress perched up on a small hill. This area is a mix of historical sites built by the Dutch and Portuguese who once occupied Melaka. It's impossible to miss the red color scheme of the Dutch glaring in the sun.

Christ Church - 18th century Dutch architecture

Melaka Art Gallery - seeing all red

We made another uphill climb that took us to the ruins of St. Paul's Church. The church had no roof, except for the area of the dead and their tombstones. I remember that there's a nice view of the city from the hill but since I was a zombie, I forgot to take photos.


St. Paul's Church
Melaka Town Watch Tower

It must have been the sun or the color red just did not really sit well with me because I just breezed through all the sites without really paying that much attention. But then we crossed the bridge to other side of the river and there I found my favorite part in Melaka! It was the quaint, little part of town and the street brimming with food.

Double cones on a hot December day

You see, I prefer my colors muted.


But I also appreciate the colors that suddenly pop out of the norm and surprise you.


I delight with the sight of old, little houses boasting of exquisite things.

From one of the museums along Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lok
 And I like streets with character also known as a little bit of chaos.

Jonker Street turns into a multipurpose street at night
After a day of eating our way through Jonker Street, gawking at each house/museum that we found, sampling chocolates, and rummaging through the bazaar, we decided to cool down and sit by the river. We watched the day turn to dusk, occasionally waving back at tourists on the other side of the river.  


And this is where I gave in.

I was to drop-dead that night but before I went out with a thud, I decided to stuff myself with beer and rum cola until the next thing I could remember is getting into a cab and falling asleep in my bed.

I slept like a baby for 12 hours and woke up the next day with all the energy in the world. Thank you, Melaka!
Since Nepal is the gateway to the roof of the world, it is easy to think of this country as a destination only if you are a serious, cross-that-off-my-bucketlist type of mountaineer.

I used to dream of setting foot in the Everest Base Camp and I was that person who kept on pushing it down the list because heck, I'm not yet ready (I don't think I'll ever be). Nepal was not a priority until a fortunate event happened that led me to booking KL-KTM tickets in less than a minute, without thinking twice. I'm thankful I did because Nepal was a great colorful surprise, even without doing my big dreams of trekking in the Himalayas. 







So whether your stay is just too short for a trek or trekking is really not your thing, you can easily come up with a week's worth of activities.


Watch the video for the summary of our week in Nepal:



Here's our detailed itinerary:

Budget: 650 USD (inclusive of food, accomodations, transportation, and miscellaneous expenses - pretty much everything except the souvenirs)

Day 0: 

5PM-10PM - KL-KTM via Airasia (Visa on Arrival - 25USD for 15-days stay)
9PM - Arrive at Kathmandu

Day 1: Kathmandu


6AM-8AM Everest Flight (optional) - 163USD
9AM-2PM Visit Kathmandu Durbar Square, Boudhanath, Swyambhunath
4PM- Travel to Pokhara (Travel Time: 6hrs)
10PM - Arrival at Pokhara


Day 2: Kathmandu/Pokhara

8AM-10AM Around Pokhara/Phewa Lake
11AM-3PM Paragliding - 85USD
5PM - Sunset at World Peace Pagoda 

Day 3: Sarangkot/Bandipur


5AM-8AM Sunrise at Sarangkot

9AM-10AM Visit International Mountain Museum
11AM - Leave for Bandipur (Travel Time: 3hrs)
3PM - Arrival at Bandipur
4PM onwards - Around Bandipur

Day 4: Chitwan


5AM - 6AM Sunrise at Bandipur

9AM - Leave for Chitwan National Park (Travel Time: 3hrs)
12PM - Arrive at Chitwan
2PM - 4PM Elephant safari
6PM - Sunset by the river
8PM - Cultural show

Day 5: Chitwan/Nagarkot


8AM - Bird watching

10AM - Leave for Nagarkot (Travel Time: 6hrs)
4PM - Arrive at Nagarkot - Hotel at the end of the universe

Day 6: Nagarkot


5AM - 8AM Sunrise at Nagarkot

10AM - Leave for Bhaktapur
11AM - 12PM Bhaktapur Durbar Square
2PM - Free time (Thamel area)
6PM - KTM-KL flight

**Travel time is even longer if you take the bus and the ETD/ETAs are quite unreliable too so if you are going with a big group, it is better to rent a van. It's way cheaper too. If you have any questions for your Nepal itinerary, send me a message over at See.Hear.Explore. and I'd be glad to help you out.

Wishing everyone more travels!

One week from our Nepal trip and I'm still hung over.

I wonder why would anyone ever trade such lovely views of the Himalayas and the cool morning breeze with the smog in the city and the endless honking of cars? Existential thoughts ran through me as I sipped my coffee while gawking at the breathtaking horizon.

Nagarkot

We caught our last sunrise at Nagarkot. The great Himalayas spanned out before us, from Annapurna in the west to Everest in the east. "It was cloudy the past 3 days", one of the guides said. Luck must be on our side as the sun shone on the Himalayan ridges. We stood there and bathed in the warmth. No one seems to mind that Everest is just a tiny, little dot. Compared to the magnificence of the whole Himalayan range, Mount Everest's peak is just an added spectacle.

The sun coming from behind the Himalayas - From Nagarkot, Mount Everest can be seen as a little peak


Snow-capped Ganesh

Overlapping mountains that stretches far into the horizon, the rays of the sun touching the peaks, the hues playing before our eyes, and the chilly wind at the tower made the experience unreal and overwhelming. The Himalayas is nature's masterpiece meant to make you cry. Or laugh. Or make you think about your choices in life.  I'm on the edge of being overly dramatic here but yes, the view of the Himalayas even from afar is a memory that you will always hold dear.

View from Hotel at the End of the Universe in Nagarkot

Bandipur

Not all sunrises are the same. Let's rewind to a few days earlier in Bandipur. After a late night session, we dragged ourselves out at dawn towards the huge clearing at the end of the road. It was a hazy day and we were ready to be disappointed. While the Himalayas decided to hide itself that day, the sun rose like an egg yolk emerging from the steam as if telling us that "Hey, you came for me right?".


And the sun did make a stunning appearance that day, despite of the 'less' stellar backdrop.


Sarangkot

Finally, we found our first Himalayan sunrise in Sarangkot, 45-minutes away from Pokhara. We did not know what to expect. You see, we spent the past few days in the town of Pokhara hating the hazy weather - we were almost desperate. My friend called out to the universe and and wished for clearer skies.



And the universe obliged.

We stood there and saw the Himalayas, Machhapuchchhre and Annapurna, come to life for the first time. The sunrise at Sarangkot was the start of a week of waking up at dawn and chasing more. We veered away from the loud crowd at the viewpoint and found ourselves a nice little clearing that we shared with a local family. While the rest of us took our time in taking selfies, contemplating, and going crazy with several Go Pros, two of our friends retreated to the small hut behind us and quietly got engaged.

Engaged by sunrise!

Just them and the Himalayas and seemingly clueless friends standing nearby.

More awesome sunrises for you guys! :*


Indeed, sunrises make way for wonderful beginnings.

Let me put it out straight. Do not believe everything you see or read about Ha Long Bay cruises. I say cruises because Ha Long Bay itself is beautiful and spectacular at times. Others might say that limestone formations here go pale when compared to El Nido and the waters of Ha Long cannot, in any way, compete with the turquoise waters of El Nido. But still, Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site worth seeing... if only you know what to expect.
***
The 'oriental junk' you see in the photos is nowhere to be found..gasp!


EXPECTATION
Photo from http://indochinagoldhotel.com/

I did not see a single junk that looked like this.

I overheard a guy complaining that the actual boat did not look like the same boat in the photos the agency showed him. Well, sir, you've just been punk'd. Every agency will show you a photo of a nice oriental junk with all its sails up and once you get to the port, you will see dozens of white regular-looking boat. If you paid over a hundred dollars, you might as well complain.

The photos we were shown were like the photo above, but when we got to the port, we were ushered to a white boat, definitely without sails.

These is how the 'junks' all looked like:

REALITY


The prices range from dirt-poor to luxurious


The prices would range from 30USD to over 100USD for an overnight trip. And you wonder why since you're all cruising in the same bay, you're all seeing the same things, and you're all staying in identical-looking boats.
It has to be with the food they serve on-board. Dinner time came and since the whole thing is planned by the minute, our boat was in the middle of the bay next to another boat. The other boat had better and bigger meals so I could only guess that they paid higher. Based on my experience, it is better to book once you are in Hanoi so you can haggle, ask questions, and haggle some more. Remember that you are all going to have the same Ha Long Bay experience so it's better to know what the extra dollars are for.

Kayaking
Dine with a view

If you get an expensive cruise, you will be definitely be served with great food, probably a luxurious bed, sheets with higher thread count, and a nice bath but basically, the whole experience - cruising, kayaking, caving - is the same. 


Your cruise gang
And there's another point of booking a boat with fun cruise mates, especially if you're a solo traveler. Book an expensive cruise and you will join families and their kids who would retreat to their rooms early in the night. Book a cheap cruise and aside from the crappy food, you'll get a crowded boat. 

A crowded junk

It all depends on what you want. If you would like to mingle with fellow cruise mates but still have a room for yourself, book a mid-priced boat. If you prefer to have your quiet time, go for the higher priced ones.

We booked a 50USD cruise and luck was on our side. We boarded a boat with a great mix of fun people. A girl solo-traveler crossed over from another boat to ours because she paid a hundred and the night ended early on their boat. The boats were anchored so near to each other that the girl just crossed a short plank from their boat to ours.

Ha Long Bay itself

I have not been to El Nido so I could not compare, but even so, I saw Ha Long as a low-contrast photo that if given the chance, I would have turned up the contrast a sharp higher and tweak the image sharpness too. The waters were gray and not inviting at all when we were there. I read some people would dive and swim and I wondered.. why would you even want to swim in dark, murky waters?

Watching the sun slowly setting behind the karst, however, was a different story. It's one of the Ha Long Bay memories that I chose to keep. The next day, I curled up with a book and soaked under the sun with the limestones hovering over the boat.

***

A beautifully manipulated photo combined with nice words can easily fool anyone. Traveling is never without glitches and Murphy's Law is always in effect. The trick to this, appreciating Ha Long Bay and any other place for that matter, lies in researching to get an idea of what to expect, preparing for it, and aiming to have a great time regardless if things don't go your way. Pretty soon, you will find something amazing.

I will most likely not go back to Ha Long Bay anytime soon, but even when I was a tad disappointed, I would still say that one needs to visit this place at least once in this lifetime.


This is my entry to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers' April 2014 Blog Carnival entitled When Fact is Really Fiction hosted by Kaiz Galang of Miss Backpacker.

A few weeks ago, I felt like dark clouds were settling in and that I was starting to get stuck in a serious rut. Life seems to be going nowhere, and unfortunately, I do not have any fight within me to beat it.

It got me thinking why I never felt that way when I was on the road. What is it about traveling that makes your serotonin shoot up through the ceiling and allow you to see the world as your playground, consequently throwing you into delirious happiness?

I have learned that the fastest way to get out of a jam is to summon my traveling state of mind and try to recreate it in my 'other' life.

What happens to us when we travel?

**This post is mainly me giving myself a pep talk

We find a lot of amazing things 
The feeling of being in a new place leaves us breathless. We listen closely and watch people intently. All our senses are heightened and we find ourselves in awe of the people, things, and culture that surrounds us.

Amazed by the golden Shwedagon Pagoda

"Familiarity breeds indifference", Aldous Huxley once wrote. When you know a place so much like an old lover, it loses its magic. Think about the people who grew up by the ocean - are they still amazed by the crashing waves and the view of the massive sky everyday? Remember that feeling of being at peace when you saw the Buddhist monks in Myanmar perform a solemn ritual? Do you experience the same feeling when you witness the rites performed here?  I don't. We can all agree that it's a matter of perspective.

How to do this today: Always find something amazing. The key is in paying attention to the little things - the ones we usually never bother to notice. Take the time to look at the trees on your way to work, or notice how clearer the skies are after raining. That view by your office window, that's neat right? You used to think that view was great until you saw it hundreds of times in the past 5 years and then it meant nothing. Try to look a little closer surely you'll find a new patch of green.

No one judges anyone
When traveling in a foreign land, no one knows you and you don't know them - at least at first. We postpone judging, just drop our thoughts, and let life happen. No stereotyping. Part of the excitement while traveling comes from meeting people on the road. Not everyone will end up as a long-term friend, some will be our companions and most likely be forgotten in a few days, but everyone we meet affects us in subtle, little ways.

Now back in the homebase. If you grew up in a society where people have created nice, little spots for everyone, it can be hard to break out. Once we are in our designated spot, it can be daunting to venture out and the thought of having to explain ourselves is twice as stressful.

How to do this today:  The golden rule does not apply, not judging won't stop others from forming an opinion about you. There really is no other way to put it. Quit judging and quit minding those who judge. 


We don't hesitate to share a part of ourselves

In a sea of travelers, each one stands out and becomes an ambassador of the place he came from. How many times does your country take the spot in conversations? When we believe in something, we passionately share stories about it. Talking about one's homeland or skills need no rehearsing, it all comes out spontaneously.

How to do this today: When things are all too familiar, our interests wade and relationships go stale. Make an effort to reach out and share your insights about that new project you are working on or about the group you've just joined. Build on your new interests and continuously make yourself a better person.

We have at least an idea where we'll be in the near future 
Also known as an itinerary. When traveling, it doesn't necessarily mean that we have to follow our plans down to the dot and kill spontaneity, but most of us do have a rough idea where we will possibly be in the next few days.

Libona, Bukidnon at 6AM

In a place of comfort, we usually do not find ourselves looking for something else. However, comfort can equate to stagnation too and that's the voice that just won't quit nagging. When was the last time you penciled in a goal for your career or personal life and you actually did something about it? And that time when you missed great chances because you were so focused on that one thing you thought you wanted? That doesn't happen with your traveling mind. What's good about traveling is we can make plans and scratch them. Draft plans but make nothing definite.

How to do this today: Make tentative plans and throw randomness in. Will you have a lot of free time over the weekend? Plan to create things with your hands, to pay a surprise visit to your friends and family (suprise is key here), to cook your favorite chicken dish. If something comes up and you need to go to some far-flung place for an overnight trip, drop your makeshift plans and go!


We're up for absolutely anything 
When on the road, we take every opportunity and rarely think twice about it. Jump off the cliff to the sea? Why not! Start being serious with surfing? Go hang out with the locals? Get inked by the monks? Trek to the Everest Base Camp? Hmm.

In our 'other' life, we tend to have more reservations. We're hounded by the intricate plans we made and the judging voices in our head. In the absence of worrying about judgments and of ditching plans, we open a window for endless possibilities. Chances are we will have a grand time with whatever we come up with and if turns out to be one of those what-was-I-thinking moment,  it will still be a great story to tell.

Mt. Ugo - After a 7-hr trek

How to do this today: Say 'yes' to anything that you have even the slightest inkling too.. within the bounds of reason of course! My mantra has always been to try everything at least once. If you're feeling lazy about an activity, think trekking, push yourself through the door and still do it. You will like yourself more once you're done with it.


Your mind is always open to learn

"The more that you learn, the more places you'll go", said Dr. Seuss. Learning is exciting and it keeps us on our toes. Being in a foreign place always brings out the curious cat in anyone. We find ourselves reading about the Vietnamese War and the French Revolution. Watch Les Miserables and follow it right up with a fun one, maybe like Amelie. Maybe learn a few Gaelic phrases. We'd go as far as finding out the best chicken tikka masala in town. It's the thrill of learning that keeps us wanting for more.

Back in the non-traveling life, it's easy to lose one's self in the daily routine. The commute sucks but it could also mean the time to read. The innate need to learn and to keep ourselves interested will propel us through the tough days.

How to do this today: Learn new things. Always thought about cooking your own meals? Google a quick recipe. Pickup a phrase book and utter 'I need to eat something' in Spanish. Take home a bit of new knowledge everyday.

**

I evoke my traveling state of mind every single day. So if suddenly I ditch my plans or I seem zoned out, please do understand that I'm trying to get by. 😉

Any thoughts on how travel affects you? Share!