If a picture paints a thousand words, I'm pretty sure this one shows a happy lady on her bike, wearing a smile to mask a grimace.

A year and a half ago, I embarked on a challenge to finally learn how to bike at the age of 26. With the help of a friend who patiently taught me and who actually researched how to teach an adult to ride a bike, I was finally able to go around my neighborhood on 2 wheels, even braving the trail at Timberland. I also tried to bike around Manila, crossing Edsa from Magallanes to Makati, and that was probably the only day when I spit so many expletives, all aimed towards jeepney drivers.
I wanted to go for something bigger. The dream that I had in mind was to go biking in a busy place, where no one knows me. I wanted to bike in another country's busy streets. That specific country I pictured in my mind was Vietnam. 
Fast forward to November 2012, I finally step foot on the motorcycle-crazy streets of Vietnam. 
I did not dare find a bike in the streets of Ho Chi Minh, where the probability of being killed while crossing the street or even just walking on the sidewalk (if there's even one) is rocket high. Then we came to visit the small, ancient town of Hoi An where we emptied our pockets and splurged on great food. Since the town is a Unesco Heritage site, much of the place is protected, and most streets are closed to traffic, except for bicycles. Hoi An looked safe enough to go biking around.
So we declared our second day in Hoi An as Bike Day. We rented out bikes and went around the town early in the morning. It was such a joy biking around and stopping anywhere we wanted, taking photos of the shops that thankfully opened late in the day, and following the locals getting around with their daily lives wearing their conical hats. 
The good thing about Hoi An is, there are plenty of places to explore, all a bike ride's distance away. On our way to An Bang beach late in the afternoon, rain suddenly poured. We were already out in the open highway when rain started falling like pellets, and since I am almost always never ready for the rain, I was soaked even before reaching the beach. From being immobile in 2011 to biking in the open highway under the rain a year later, I felt like I have finally reached the pinnacle of my late bloomer biking dreams. I felt invincible.

An Bang Beach
The wind was cold and it was probably not a good idea to go swimming, and the sky looked like it was going to let another batch of rain out. We decided to make one last stop inside the town of Hoi An before finally calling it a day. I needed to have my photo taken: me on my bike, with the lanterns and shops as background. A photo that screams Biking in Hoi An.

We made our way back to the town, which always got busy with tourists at night. With many people out on the streets, it was quite tricky to maneuver past groups walking like they owned the streets. It was still good though since the streets were closed to vehicles. Feeling like I have earned a new badge in my biking career, I felt confident overtaking tourists walking slowly on the street. As I maneuvered to the left to try to overtake a group of 4 tourists, a motorcycle popped out of nowhere and was suddenly running close on my left side. In between running down a tourist and smashing against a motorcycle, my hand decided to go left, locking handle bars with the motorcycle, and in a split second, I said hello to the gray concrete street.

Imagine my ego crashing down with me. The whole afternoon I was elated with my biking skills, and suddenly, I got into a minor accident.

And just like a kid who does not want to be embarrassed in front of her friends, I quickly stood up, brushed myself clean, took my bag, grabbed my bike, and smiled to let everyone know I was fine. I made a mental note that the motorcycle and the driver crashed down with me (meaning I did not go down without a fight haha). That made me sound so evil but we were not really running at a high speed so the crash did not really harm us, except for the wound on my knee, a few scratches on my leg, and a bruised ego.

After putting some liniment on my wound, we decided to go ahead, take a photo, and go home. I was shaking when I rode the bike again, my legs turned to jelly, and paranoia dawned on me. Someone honked at me because I could not navigate through oncoming traffic for a few minutes.

Finally, we reached the spot.

I put a smile on and tried not to wince for the camera.

Biking in Vietnam will be remembered. And if ever I forget, I just have to look at the scar on my knee and be reminded.

Bike photo by Aaron Manila.

Sometimes you just want to sit and enjoy the easy life, never mind the price tag that comes with it.
That was exactly what I thought when we boarded the cab from Danang Airport to Hoi An. Taking the bus will only take 1USD but who knows when the next bus will come our way? Hailing a cab was so much easier, only it comes with a meter.  
And so there we were in the backseat with our eager cabbie pointing to us the beaches of Danang, asking for our itinerary while trying to inject some of the places that he wanted to take us to. Unfortunately for him, we had our eyes set on our destination and we would not be swayed. The cabbie did not get us to pay additional dollars for the sidetrip but he did get us to pay the meter at 23USD!
Tip: If you do not wish to wait for the 1USD-bus, book a private car with a travel agency for 15USD from Danang airport to HoiAn. A couple of dollars saved will go a long way!

And as if the gods of misfortune were looking down on us, rain poured on our way to Hoi An. Because we initially planned to look for a place to stay there, we decided to get off the cab and put a stop on the crazy meter at the first hostel that we saw -- Thien Nga Hotel. If only it was not raining, I would have stepped out and looked for a cheaper hostel (room was priced at 25USD/night) but the rain would not let me. I was fretting for some time, until I saw the room!

The room was cozy, the sheets were clean and soft, and the room had a nice veranda looking out over the street. Plus they had a reliable WiFi, complimentary buffet breakfast, and flat screen TV. The lovely hotel room at 25USD/night shut me up. I could no longer complain.

When the rain finally stopped, we finally had the chance to get some food for brunch. The first stop for the day was Miss Ly Cafeteria 22 at Nguyen Hue. We were the first guests of the day and Miss Ly's American husband warmly greeted us. Every item on the menu teased my taste buds but to make our stay authentic, we decided to get the local dishes. We wanted to try the cao lau (noodles), fried wontons, and white rose so we ordered the Sampling menu which had all three.

Fried wontons
Cao Lau - flat noodles with croutons, bean sprouts, and pork slices. The water used in its preparation comes from the Ba Le Well
White rose - steamed shrimp in rice paper

It was all so good that we came back the next day for dinner! Of the three dishes, I enjoyed white rose the most. And of all cities in Vietnam, I liked the food in Hoi An (actually, the whole of Central Vietnam) the most. It was here where I had the most delectable and succulent food that I have tasted in the entire week. The 3 dishes including drinks cost less than 15USD for 2 persons. That is considered pricey for Vietnam where everything is cheap, but Miss Ly's specialty cooking and her husband's warm welcome more than made up for it. The guy (too bad I forgot his name) even remembered us when we came back the next day.

It was a wet and tiring afternoon as we tried to battle it out with the rain to make the most of our time, but in the end we succumbed to another inviting restaurant at Le Loi. For dinner, we chose Streets. It might be that Miss Ly's was too high of a standard because I found the food at Streets not as spectacular but knowing that you are helping out disadvantaged young kids, it was easier to pay 20USD for dinner.

The only thing remarkable I tasted at Streets: Crispy Spring Rolls

After a considerably extravagant day in Hoi An, we decided to tone it down a bit the next day. We moved out of Thien Nga to a 15USD/night room which meant no complimentary breakfast, no WiFi, CRT TV, and stuffy sheets. And just when we thought we were successful in slumming it and cutting down costs, we ended up giving in to Miss Ly's for dinner the next day! The buns they sell on the street just can't compete with Miss Ly's cooking.

Share some of your guilty splurge stories!

The plane landed on the wee hours of the morning, there was nothing to see, and the empty streets could be compared to Recto during summer. It took time to find a cab whose driver would not rip off travelers who, though not Western, still had a few dollars in their pockets. The persistent warnings in travel forums has made us wary and this weird excitement that came out of it turned into a “Will we be scammed?” game.
Thirty minutes later, we knocked at the gates of the hostel located at a small street right behind a market. A sleepy receptionist welcomed us, ushered us in, gave us a map, and shoved hand-outs of group tours straight into our accepting hands. The next thing I knew, I was in Dreamland.
Although still lacking sleep, we started out early and found Saigon in its waking, bustling state. It may be the biggest city in Vietnam but that did not stop us from deciding to walk its streets and not take any form of transportation for the day. 
We first ventured into the streets near Pham Ngu Lao, the backpackers area, to find some decent place to exchange money but were surprised to find stores with reprints of travel guides sold at half the price. The streets in this area are lined up with establishments catering to both local and Western tastes. Different as they may be, they all had one thing in common. The restaurants had tables set outside on the sidewalk, with all the chairs facing the street. 
Farther into District 1, the trees became taller than the buildings, the roads were busier, and the foreigners were lesser in number. Every now and then, we would pass by groups of people sitting at a street corner drinking iced black coffee, chatting and staring right into the streets. 
I have a pretty good memory but it was no match for the street names in Saigon. How can you remember Cong Truong Lam Son, Nguyen Trung Truc, or Chu Manh Trinh after a single glimpse at the map? Only two names stuck with me: Pasteur, the only Western sounding street name that we walked on, and Le Loi, because it only had 2 syllables. 
We found all the places we have marked with an "X" in our map and our feet were more than happy to tread back home. The day ended with us sitting at a bar looking like it was plucked straight from Boracay (weird beach-y vibe), each of us with a bottle of Bia Saigon in hand. It was not a leisurely walk but it was exactly what we needed to see Saigon within a day.
Far from the nice and efficient cities that can leave you feeling stiff, Saigon is a breather full of roaring (literally) life. The streets may not be litter-free and following the stoplight is optional, but I found the warmth and festive mood of the city more comforting than that of highly-urbanized cities. Compared to busy Hanoi in the north, I found Saigon more endearing.
However tiring the day was, I drank my Bia Saigon with satisfaction. I like Saigon. Well, except for the bland food (and beer). Ask me to explain why and I would probably not come up with concrete reasons. Maybe it’s because of the motorcycles, maybe because of the parks and architecture, maybe because it’s just what it is. It’s easier to stop being rational, forget about putting reasons to words, and just say exactly what it makes me feel. 
Oh and about that "Will we be scammed?" game? It happened exactly at the moment this photo was taken. My sweet tooth must be blamed.

Share your love for Saigon!

Travelling on foot is still the best way to explore and move around a place, with the added benefit of toning your leg muscles while you're at it. It can be a guided tour, one with specific stops in mind, or just wandering aimlessly and seeing where your feet will take you.
When PTB came up with the Blog Carnival topic for this month, I thought of the best walking tours I had this year. Of course the Walk this Way Tour of Intramuros with Carlos Celdran was a contender but the Paris of Negros, again, won the battle.
You see, I'm a sucker for all things quaint.
Silay is a small, walkable city in Negros Occidental known for its ancestral houses and good food. Before heading off, I luckily found this convenient map on the internet. Thanks to Project 7107, planning for a walking tour in Silay was a breeze. 
Photo from Project7107

Here are the essentials for an enjoyable walking tour: An umbrella to protect you from the scorching sun or sudden rain, Google Maps for directionally challenged individuals like me, some loose change for buying drinks, and a satisfied tummy.

Since we were spending the night in Silay, our first stop was Hotel Baldevia, right in the heart of the town.

First Stop: Hotel Baldevia in Rizal cor. Burgos Sts. 

Staying in an old building like this never fails to liven up my imagination. The ghost stories safely tucked in the back of my mind slowly came out to the surface. The great thing about Hotel Baldevia though is that the place was clean and properly oiled, thus, there were no creaking stairs and doors. It's so easy to imagine things when I hear creaking noises.

Photo from Backpackboy
Right across Hotel Baldevia
It was after lunch when we reached Silay and in order to prepare ourselves for an afternoon stroll in the town, we headed off to El Ideal to stuff ourselves with some guapple pie goodness. On our way to Ledesma St., I noticed how every little nook in Silay exudes the vibe of the olden days. Surprisingly, the buildings are still fully functional.
An old-fashioned coffee shop and salon

Second Stop: El Ideal along Rizal St.

Perfect stop for a late lunch. I have read so many things about this bakery that has been serving good food since 1920s. Other things in the menu were forgettable but the guapple pie surely lived up to my expectations.

Ditch everything else but the guapple pie!
With full tummies, we slowly made our way to the Hofileña Ancestral House and saw some lovely old houses along Ledesma street. The houses, just like the old functional buildings in Rizal St., are all inhabited.

Third Stop: Ramon Hofileña Ancestral House along Cinco de Noviembre St. 

We rang the doorbell and met the most interesting man in Silay who graciously let us into his house, entertained us with glorious stories of the past, and gave  us a visual feast with the wide array of his painting collections. It was great to know that he was convincing other homeowners to open up their houses for a cultural tour of Silay.

We stayed for a couple of hours with Ramon and by the time we went back to the streets, it was late afternoon. We decided to visit one last ancestral home before we headed for some snacks.

Hofileña Ancestral House is located in 14 Cinco de Noviembre, Silay City.  Call (034) 495 4651 to set an appointment before visiting the house.   

Fourth Stop: Balay Negrense along Cinco de Noviembre St. 

Comparing Balay Negrense and Ramon's ancestral house, one can clearly see the difference between a house lovingly maintained by the owner and one managed by the government. Balay Negrense is almost bare save for some key pieces which were strategically positioned to make the place actually feel like a home. We should have heeded Ramon's advice and chose Jalandoni Ancestral House along Rizal St. instead.

The hot afternoon sun and the hours we spent walking around the town was enough for us to crave for cold drinks.

Last Stop: Cafe 1925 along Ledesma St.

Cafe 1925 maybe small but its colorful, funky interior made it a perfect place for winding down.

We finished the day's Silay City tour with an order of chocolate shake, mango sans rival, and a brownie ala mode.

In traveling, walking around is the best way to immerse yourself in the newness in front of you. Friedrich Nietzsche hit it spot on when he said: "All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking."

This is my entry for the PTB Blog Carnival for the month of October 2012, 
dubbed as "Memorable Walking Tour", 
hosted by Glenn Martinez of Traveler on Foot.

To view all the previous Carnival posts,click on the logo below.

To meet the last tattoo artist Fang-od in the village of Buscalan, one has to board a bus to Tabuk for 12 hours, and take a 3-hr ride from Tabuk to Tinglayan.

There are regular trips from Tabuk to Tinglayan at 7 and 8 in the morning, but since misadventures seem to love us, we missed both trips. At 10AM, we stood at the jeepney stop waiting for any form of transportation. I asked around if there were jeeps stopping by anytime soon but I was just advised to sit and wait. And so we did.

Luckily, thirty minutes later, a jeep stopped in front of us, the driver asked the people where they were headed, and finally, he nodded and decided to go to Tinglayan. On the way to Tinglayan we were greeted with sweeping views of the mountains with the endless flow of the Chico River at its feet. The jeep went further upstream for 3 hours.
Chico River

Kalinga Tribes

It was late in the afternoon when the jeepney pulled to a stop and told us that we were finally at Sleeping Beauty Inn. Francis Pa-in, our guide, came out to meet us and ushered us in for a late lunch.

While waiting for lunch, Francis, who by the way is one of the few guides in Kalinga, pulled out a map and drew our game plan. My heart sank when I realized we would not be able to fit everything in. There were several things that we could experience and visiting the different Kalinga tribes alone could take 2-3 days, and taking a dip at the Palan-ah Falls and hot spring would take half a day. Sadly, we had to choose our battles.

I roamed around the place and was puzzled by the fact that nearby stores also had Sleeping Beauty in their signage. Why is this town so hooked with Sleeping Beauty? Turns out, I didn't get to research the fact that the mountain right behind us in the photo was named after the Disney princess. See how the ridges look like a side view of lady lying on her back? 

The town center is smaller than that of Sagada, and only a few houses offered lodging. I think I only spotted two and one of those was Sleeping Beauty Inn, owned by the town mayor (who also owned Sleeping Beauty Restaurant and Sleeping Beauty Grocery, because tough guys dig Disney princesses!). We chose the inn because of its nice location, right smack in a piece of land in the middle of the river. If ever you have fears of crossing hanging bridges like my friend Lea below, you will probably get over it by the time you leave Kalinga. There were no other guests that day so we had the whole house to ourselves.

Sleeping Beauty Inn
Another noticeable thing about this Sleeping Beauty town is that pigs rule the streets. Pigs were roaming around walking like your usual askals. There were more pigs in the streets than dogs. Tinglayan was Babe territory. We were still fascinated about this fact until the day we left that we already thought of a name for them... babkals (no surprise). What's more fascinating is that the native pigs that all look the same can all find their way home. Francis said there's no trouble with the similar-looking pigs since the owners know their pets and the pigs know their owners. Must be love!

We own the streets!
Cozying up for warmth

Since it was late in the afternoon and it was drizzling, we asked Francis to take us around the small town. From one hanging bridge to the next, we made our way to the village of Old Tinglayan donning our rain gear. After 20 minutes, we found the marker for the village. There we met our first tattooed Kalinga woman.

Meet Tu-yo. A woman who when asked about her age would say that she does not know because she did not learn to count. She was cooking for dinner when we came and her daughter and grandchildren also came out to meet us. We sat with her at the kitchen and talked with her for a while, with the help of Francis who was translating for us. She was the first person to urge us ladies to get a tattoo so we could get married. Fact: In the olden times, men of the tribes found ink-decorated women attractive.

What we saw in Old Tinglayan was a primer of what we were about to experience up in the village of Buscalan. We left Old Tinglayan before the sun set and slowly made our way back to the town center. It was still raining and it was starting to get cold so we gladly accepted Francis' invitation of coffee followed by a few shots of Tanduay and Coke to warm up the night. He regaled us with his stories of more than 10 years of guiding guests in the province of Kalinga.

After a couple of rounds, we called it a night. We brought our headlamps out and crossed the hanging bridge for the nth time.

The next day was a big one. Time to finally meet the famed mambabatok.

How to Get to Tinglayan:
1. Board a bus to Tabuk. (via Victory Liner in Kamias)
2. From Tabuk, ride a bus or jeepney bound to Tinglayan or Bontoc.

Francis Pa-in- Kalinga Guide- Contact him at 0915.769.0843

**Superb photos by Aaron Arvin Manila.