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!

You should come to Brunei.
It won't be your usual busy place, but you should come because it's different. Brunei forces you to be calm and relaxed, and it even forces you to change your life.
I'm kidding of course. No place can change you without your permission.

If you ever find yourself in this little Borneo country, head on over to the Brunei River and schedule an afternoon tour, preferably just before sunset.

Visit Kampung Ayer, the world's largest water village

Kampung Ayer as seen from the Royal Wharf

From across the river, one might think that this is a slum area, much like what we see here in our country. But upon a closer look, you'll find a gasoline station, several mosques, and schools, all in stilts. Oh also, you'll find the houses with air-con and cable satellite dish installed.

One of the Kampung Ayer schools
Police Station
Cruising through the Brunei River
Oh and did I mention there's a government housing too?

Kampong Ayer is accessible via water taxis, found along the Royal Wharf in Bandar. You can hire a boat to tour around the village and to go deep into the mangroves to see the proboscis monkeys. If you have ample time, you can ask the boatman to wait for you as you explore Kampong Ayer on foot. Haggle with the boatman as they tend to have a high asking price. Mine asked for 50BND but I haggled for a couple of minutes before we finally agreed at 30BND. I heard some people were able to bring their fare down to 15BND though.


Historical Sites


The boatman will take you upstream and deeper into the mangrove. On the way you will pass by historical sites such as this one. The photo below is of the old Royal Cemetery, where generations of the Royal Family used to be buried.

On the river banks you will also see the Royal Family's jetty port as well as the dome of the Istana Nurul Iman, the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei and is recognized as the largest residential palace in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records. Interestingly, the palace was designed by Leandro Locsin, a Filipino architect. Too bad it is not open to the public and we can only see the dome.

Now, compare that speck of dome with the photo below.

That used to be the official residence of the Sultan, before oil was discovered in Brunei. See what riches oil can bring to a country?


Spot the Proboscis monkeys

AKA the long-nosed monkeys. Note that this specie is endemic to Borneo. You can find them half an hour away from Kampong Ayer. The area will grow quieter and you will be enveloped in an endless sight of mangroves.

The boatman will then try to spot where the proboscis monkeys are. They live in groups and are usually easy to spot. When you hear leaves thrashing and honking sounds, you will most likely find them there.

Monkey mob!
The Godfather

I felt funny after seeing a proboscis monkey. The resemblance of this specie to how some of us humans look like is amusing and eerie at the same time. Long nose and big belly, I'm pretty sure that would remind you of someone you know. Kidding!

The truth is, I'm quite scared of dark, murky fresh waters. I can't help but picture crocodiles and snakes lurking nearby. However, seeing the proboscis monkeys in their habitat from a few feet way entertained me more than I thought it would. Plus the novelty of seeing people luxuriously living in the water piqued my interest. And just so you know, most people who live in Kampong Ayer have their cars parked across the river. How cool is that?

Choosing Cagayan Valley was a hasty decision for a Holy Week destination. I can no longer remember what convinced us to choose the province of Cagayan but I'm certain we almost did not push through because of the long lines at the terminal. Luckily, Victory Liner now has an online booking and reservation system for trips to Tuguegarao. Several airlines offer flights to Tuguegarao with a travel time of 1hour but if you plan to take the bus, prepare your arse for a long-haul journey! Or, if you're like me who can doze off anywhere, it's a perfect excuse for a 12-hour long sleep.


Where to Stay:

In Palaui: Bayanihan Hall 

Nothing beats homestays where one can experience living in a local community. When in Palaui, consider staying in Bayanihan Hall. Room rate is P200/head. If you plan to pitch tents, rate is P150/head for setting up tents in the yard. 
Charlie and Jenny also served freshly cooked meals. For PhP150 per meal, we were served with a huge bowl of steaming, hot sinigang na isda, several varieties of fish fried to a crisp, a plateful of rice, and a cup of coffee. The fish served was fresh from the morning's catch. If you plan to bring food, Kuya Charlie and Ate Jenny can cook them for you.

To inquire for the availability of the room, contact Charlie Acebedo at 63906.845.54.72. 

In Tuguegarao: Pensione Joselina

We stayed for a night at a creepy hotel no longer worth mentioning. Good thing we went around Tuguegarao and spotted a fairly new pension house with rooms priced at a cheaper rate as compared to that squeaky hotel. The double room was priced at PhP600 per night.

The place is at Aguinaldo St. Centro 6, right smack in the center of Tuguegarao City and near grocery stores and fastfood chains.

Contact them at numbers 078.844.7318 or 63906.930.1313.


Itinerary:
Day 0: 
3PM - Board the bus to Tuguegarao

Day 1: Palaui Island
4AM -   Arrive at Tuguegarao - Breakfast by the road - Walk a few meters away from Victory Liner Terminal to Brickstone Mall and wait for van to Sta.Ana
10AM - Arrive at Sta. Ana - Once you get to Sta. Ana, ride a tricycle bound to the port. At the pier, take the boat to Punta Verde, the jump-off point for trekking to the lighthouse.
11AM - Check in at Bayanihan Hall
12PM - Brunch courtesy of Bayanihan Hall
1PM -   Trek to Cape Engano Lighthouse
4PM -   Boat ride back to Bayanihan Hall
7PM -   Dinner

Sta. Ana Port



Note:  For boat rates to Palaui and nearby islands, contact Berly at 63927.785.4547. Boat rate to Punta Verde is P750 (round trip) , up to a maximum of 8 persons per boat.

8AM -  Breakfast courtesy of Bayanihan Hall
9AM -  Trek to falls
11AM - Boat back to Sta.Ana
12PM - Lunch at the van terminal
1PM -  Catch the last trip back to Tuguegarao at 1PM. First trip from Sta.Ana-Tuguegarao is at 3AM.
6PM -  Walk around Tuguegarao


Note: There are also vans bound to Aparri from Sta.Ana Terminal. See schedule above.


Day 3: Tuguegarao/Penablanca
12PM - Brunch at Budyok's
1PM -  Found our way to Penablanca Terminal
2PM -  Visit Callao Cave
4PM -  Back to Tuguegarao
7PM -  Dinner

Day 4:
3PM -  Ride bus back to Manila

Here's my expense notes for the Cagayan Valley Trip (all in PhP):

My total expenses amounted to PhP 5500 for a 4-day Holy Week trip to Tuguegarao. It could have been cheaper but considering that Cagayan Valley is a hot, hot city, I did not pass up on the chance to get a huge cup of halo halo and I did guiltily stock up on bottles of soda. ๐Ÿ™‚
Tips to get cheaper rates: 
- Visit Callao Cave a early in the day to ensure that there will be traysis waiting for you at the other side of Pinacanauan River. The traysi will charge the same PhP60/head rate. If you go late in the afternoon like we did, chances are there will be no available traysis and you will have to rent the whole traysi for PhP300.
- Do not check in at the first hotel you see ๐Ÿ™‚ I know it's hot but just a few blocks away are cheaper and nicer accommodations.
- Tuguegarao is a traysi city. If possible, always go to the traysi terminal to get cheaper rates. 

It's unmistakable. Bacolod is the most laid-back the word 'laid-back' could get.  I like Bacolod City. Try googling Bacolod and you'll find out that it once ranked Number 1 as the Most Competitive Mid-Sized City in 2005 and was named as the Best Place to Live in the Philippines last 2008 by Moneysense magazine, with Makati as second and Manila down at 11.

If one believed in signs, a flight delayed for 7 hours might have been the end of it. Good thing I don't. Instead, I made good use of the time we've camped out at the airport to catch up on my reading. Thanks to Airphil Express, we had  to scratch everything on the itinerary and worked it out from there.

Where to Stay:

We finally arrived at the Bacolod-Silay Airport at 10PM. We saw flyers of Pension Bacolod, which according to the flyer, has been awarded 5 times as the Best Pension House in Bacolod. Their aircon room is priced at P395.  The AC rooms were all rented out so we took the double non-AC room priced at P315. The room was close to the restaurant which had free Wi-Fi. Pension Bacolod is perfect for those who need a cheap place to crash in at night. If you want to stay at something more luxurious, check out L'Fisher Hotel or Saltimboca Tourist Inn. Pension Bacolod is located at #27 11th Street, a short walk from Lacson St.

The pension house looks like a small castle with flags displayed outside. It's indeed 'international' since we saw mostly foreign guests. Contact them at (034) 433-33-77.

Our flight back to Manila was set at 5AM so we opted to stay near the airport on our last night.  We chose the Baldevia Pension House, located in the heart of Silay. Their non-AC double room is priced at P450. Contact them at (034) 496-51-40.

We were able to adjust and fit most into our shortened schedule, but we had to take Danjugan Island off the list. Danjugan Island is a marine reserve and wildlife sanctuary found off the coast of Sipalay, south of Bacolod. That's another reason (aside from food) why I have to go back!

Itinerary:

Day 1:
10:30PM -  Provincial Capitol Park and Lagoon - Can easily be found along Lacson St. Best seen at    
                        night!
11:00PM -  Dinner at Aida's in Manokan Country

Provincial Capitol
Lagoon



Day 2:
06:00AM -  Cathedral of Bacolod - Located at Rizal St., near SM City Bacolod. I forgot which jeep
                         route we took but most jeeps pass by this area. 
07:00AM -  Breakfast at Kaffe Sadtu

08:00AM -  Luzuriaga Family private cemetery which is apparently listed in the Guinness Book of
                          World Records as the the only cemetery in the world at the intersection of two highways
                           -- That was exactly what we saw and nothing more. The cemetery can be found at
                           Lopez Jaena corner Burgos St.
09:00AM -  New City Hall with the majestic Mt. Kanlaon as background - Located at the 
                          Circumferential Road. 
10:00AM -  Endangered species at the Negros Biodiversity Conservation Center
11:00AM -  Negros Museum 
12:00PM -  Negros Showroom for some pasalubong
01:00PM -  Lunch at Bob's
02:30PM -  Cake Time at Calea
03:00PM -  Balay ni Tana Dicang at Talisay -So far this is the best ancestral house in the region.
05:00PM -  Pope John Paul II Tower - near SM Bacolod
06:00PM -  Rest, rest, and freshen up!

Note: The Negros Museum, Negros Biodiversity Conservation Center and Negros Showroom are all located near the Provincial Capitol along Lacson St. It's best to do a walking tour of Lacson St. The whole length of this street is closed for the annual street party during the Masskara Festival.

Bacolod City Hall
Bacolod Cathedral (San Sebastian)
                     Pope John Paul II Tower                                       Flying Fox at the Conservation Center
Bacolod's version of M Cafe
Sugar Laboratory Display

Day3:
06:00AM -  Rode the bus bound to Victorias City
07:30AM -  Breakfast at Andrew's house
08:00AM -  Penalosa Farm
09:00AM -  Church of the Angry Christ - Located inside the VMC Compound
10:00AM -  Hawaiian-Philippine Company
11:00AM -  Rest, rest, and freshen up!
12:00PM -  Lunch at El Ideal
01:00PM -  Hofilena Ancestral House
03:00PM -  Balay Negrense - Here's a tip: Visit the Bernardino Jalandoni Ancestral House instead.
03:30PM -  Cake Time at Cafe 1925
04:30PM -  En route to The Ruins
05:00PM -  The Ruins - Located at Bata. Ride a jeep bound to Bata from Bacolod City. There is a
                         terminal where you can hire a tricycle to take you to The Ruins.
07:00PM -  Dinner at The Ruins

The Lovely Ruins - Photo by Aaron Manila
Here's my expense notes for the Negros Occidental Trip (all in PhP):

Jeepney fares not included.

There are cheaper alternatives to this. 
* We arrived at 10PM and had no choice but to take the van. A cheaper way is to ride a tricycle just outside the airport to Silay (P10 each if you're sharing the ride with other passengers). From Silay, you can take the bus bound to Bacolod at P15. At the Bata Terminal, cross the street and ride the Bata-Libertad route. The jeep will pass through Lacson St., where most hotels/pension houses are located.
** Ride a jeepeney going to Mandalagan and get down when you see SM City Bacolod. Manokan is along Fr. M. Ferrero St., right across SM.

Commuting is easy in Bacolod. There's a jeepney route in almost every place we visited. The minimum jeepney fare as of Feb.5 is P7.50.

I shelled out a total of P3904 for this trip, including pasalubongs and groceries. That's really cheap for a province that has lots to offer. 

Seeing the balloons gave us a natural high, but by 8AM, it all dwindled down. We've looked up several activities to go with watching the balloons fly. We even thought of visiting Corregidor but the boat rental at Bataan is too pricey for a group of 5, plus given our sleepy and sluggish condition, all we could do was eat.

Breakfast

Several blog posts recommended dining at AC Rumpa, a restaurant located just outside Clark. It seemed to be the perfect spot to get an energy-boosting breakfast. We thought we were going to eat in a restaurant in the midst of the red district in broad daylight,  but thank goodness for GPS, we found our way to AC Rumpa.

How to get there: From the Omni Aviation Complex inside Clark Freeport Zone, take the Manuel Roxas Highway (main road) to exit the gates. Turn right once you reach the Manila North Road/McArthur Highway. Turn right at Surla St.  AC Rumpa is just near the corner, on the right side of the street.

AC Rumpa stands for Angeles City Retired US Military Personnel Association

Several items were on the menu, and I've read that their tacos and BBQ Spareribs are really good, but it was breakfast time so we all ordered the classic Pinoy breakfast of tapsilog, tocilog, and an omelette and French toast. Only Joahna had the appetite for some tasty baby back ribs. The tapsilog was good but I regretted ordering it the moment I saw the ribs!

The servings are huge and all are reasonably priced.
You'd think that a restaurant with a small, unassuming sign wouldn't attract that much customers, but AC Rumpa was packed for breakfast. That's the power of the word of mouth.
We were energized, yes, but the food made us a lot sleepier. ๐Ÿ™‚  We stayed for almost 2 hours, eating and dozing off on the table. Thanks to AC Rumpa for not throwing us out!  

We were thinking of the next stop for the day and Shiela found the star of our elementary field trips, Nayong Pilipino. Off to the next stop!

Nayong Pilipino

We took out our GPS and looked up the park's location, and after almost 20mins of driving, we found no park. Some prankster marked someone else's house as Nayong Pilipino in Google Maps. Clever! When using GPS, look for the Nayong Pilipino inside Clark Expo. Entrance fee is P30 for adults.

I've seen the old Nayong Pilipino at Pasay probably 15 years ago and I remember being awed by the miniature Banaue Rice Terraces, Mt.Mayon and the Cagsawa Ruins, and Chocolate Hills.  Sadly, these are not in the new park.  The park's theme is centered on pre-Colonial (the Ifugao, Kalinga, and Aetas villages) and Colonial era (plaza, Barasoain Church, Rizal's house).  
We saw a group celebrating a birthday at some part of the park and I suddenly felt like I was in a resort. I wouldn't have been surprised if I saw a pool. I thought the idea of Nayong Pilipino was to experience the country's culture and see the country's best spots in one afternoon, but it just felt like walking in a random assortment of themes. We saw several ongoing constructions in the park so the management might still be  in the process of developing it. I really do hope they improve the park and include more interesting miniature displays.
An announcement for the 11AM cultural dance presentation saved the day. We trooped to the plaza and let the Nayong Pilipino Dance Troupe entertain us for almost an hour of engaging folk dances (singkil, kapamalong-malong, pandanggo sa ilaw,etc). The dancers are all commendable for their performances. 
After the much enjoyable dance presentation, we decided it was time for the next meal of the day.
Lunch
Since Pampanga is known for it's Sisig, we flocked to Aling Lucing's in Angeles. And now I'm never going back.
No restaurant should ever make their customers wait for an hour for the food to be served, even if the food's the most wonderful experience to ever happen to taste buds. In the case of Aling Lucing's, it was not the best sisig I've ever tasted and to wait an hour at a poorly ventilated carinderia for something like that was just too much. If they just served our food a little earlier, I'm sure the food would have tasted better. The longer the customers wait, the more anxious they become, and the higher the expectation gets.
We wolfed down our meal and thought of something more fun to forget the unfortunate lunch and end the day with a happy note.
Halo-Halo
Good thing there was Kabigting's at the nearby Robinson's Mall.
The great thing about halo halos from Pampanga is that they don't have many ingredients. Think of Razon's Halo Halo without the usual mumbo jumbo of ingredients, just saba, macapuno, and leche flan.  Kabigting's use sweet beans, pastillas, and corn.  I'm not a fan of corn but I enjoyed Kabigting's delightful dessert.
We did not want to get stuck in heavy traffic so at 3PM, we finally called it a day and headed back to Manila, with full tummies and satisfied cravings. 
This is a continuation of  the hot air balloon post.