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!
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.

The state of Penang may just be 5 hours away from Kuala Lumpur by bus but the difference in how I felt roaming the streets of these two were worlds apart.


Here's a little history: Penang served as a trading port between the East and the West during the British Era. With the presence of the British culture, combined with Chinese, Indian, and Islamic elements, Penang has developed a distinct character evident in the city's architecture and culture. Compared with the modern, Times-Square-ish vibe of Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur, Penang is laidback and feels like a haven for the arts.

George Town at dawn

We say that real beautiful women look their finest when they wake up in the morning sans the make up, au naturel. Penang therefore is a lovely lady aging gracefully.  At 4AM, while the world is yet to be disturbed in its sleep, George Town, the heart of this state, held us in its quiet beauty. 

Restoran Tho Yuen serves good dimsum, plus they open early too!
Starting at 4AM had its perks but by 5AM, we were all hungry. We found ourselves looking for some good food at an odd hour and luckily we spotted a Chinese restaurant along Campbell Street opening it doors. The place, with its tiled walls and floor, reminded me of Chinese eateries in the movies.

There was no itinerary for the day except that we go roaming in the streets because the inner city of George Town is best explored on foot.

Walking has a lot of perks. Aside from the calories burned, walking around George Town gave us the chance to read artsy street descriptions. Each street had a significant role in history. For example, Love Lane street was the sailors go-to place for brothels in the 19th century. It is also believed that the rich Chinese men from Muntri Street kept their mistresses on this street. Our hostel, Old Penang Guesthouse, is a refurbished heritage house located at this street. Who knows, it might have been more than a sleeping place that time. Love Lane now is a street where most hostels are found.

Walking is a treat!

Another good thing about walking is that you'll never know what you will end up seeing. We traversed a few blocks north of the hostel and we ended up facing the waters.

The view along Gurney Drive
Then we stumbled into a street of restored commercial buildings that looked like they were plucked straight from a Hollywood studio. Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai) is the high-end district of Georgetown where upscale restaurants and shops are located. This time I could not stop gushing about how much I already love Penang. I have repeatedly said that I am a sucker for all things quaint, and Penang has hit all spots - quaint, artsy, relaxed.

I would never forget the street arts that subtly pop out of nowhere. It made me wish we had the same pleasant surprise in the streets of Manila. Several museums can also be found in the Inner City ranging from a state museum to places for hobbyist, like the camera and chocolate museums.

I like how the Inner City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been restored in a way that the area is intact, functional, and informative without making us feel like we stepped into a huge tourist trap at the same time.

At the end of the day, we were tired and hungry from all the walking.This is not a problem in Penang since this state is the food capital of Malaysia (and that's according to my taste buds!). Everyone deserves a good feast after a whole-day workout. Penang food deserves another lengthy post.

Share your Penang experiences too!

** The map below is useful when coming up with your own Penang Walking Tour.

Map from http://www.pulaupinang.com/2011/03/penang-georgetown-world-heritage-city-cultural-city-map/
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.

We had no detailed plans for this trip, except to see the terraces and Tappiyah Falls. We told Dandy, our awesome guide (contact him at: 0910.346.5310), of our bare plan and he told us that if we weren't in a hurry, we could hike to Cambulo. Thank you Dandy!  I have not heard of Cambulo, a neighboring community reachable by 2-3 hours of trek.
That was the masterplan.
Finally, it was time to walk along the terraces.
We went on the month of August, and the village was in the middle of the harvest season. That explains why some fields are empty while others still have lush green stalks. The rice terraces is at its greenest during the months of April-May and October-November. For more info on the planting/harvest seasons, please visit Meanne's post.

Notice how some of the huts' roofs are made from GI sheets? The roof of a traditional Ifugao house is made from cogon grass, but this needs to be changed after several years of wear and tear. The practicality of using GI sheets win over the effort of maintaining a cogon grass roof, so here comes the dilemma: when should we choose preservation of millennia-worth of culture over the convenience of  modern technology?

We passed by a hut with animal skeletons hanging on the walls.  In the olden times, this signifies that the family is wealthy. However, nowadays, these people who stuck with the culture are no longer the richest. The family who has kids who finished college and now working in the city are the nouveau riche. 

It's a sad tale of how the government does not provide enough, enough for the people to be inspired to keep and preserve the heritage.

Ok. Back to the trail. After more than an hour of balancing on the terraces, we finally heard the strong gush of water nearby.

We passed by a fork where the water from the falls flows around a curve. From afar, it looked like an elephant with its tusks and trunk.

A few more steps away, we finally saw Tappiyah Falls in its majestic glory. The current was strong that day because Typhoon Mina was raging in the highlands.

I think this was the time when my Canon G10 started showing signs of giving up on me. See the drops of water on the lens? 🙂 Well, I kinda forgot that G10 is not water proof when I saw the falls. 

The guys went nearer but I stayed behind, too afraid to lose my balance. I couldn't swim either, it was too cold. There were no other people around except for the three of us, so I just sat on a huge rock, dipped my legs into the water, stared at the falls and let the sputter of water drench me. That explains the emo photo above!

On our way to back to Mang Ramon's, we saw a carving of Bulul, an Ifugao rice god. I was fascinated by the simple way they have fashioned their god. The figure of an all-knowing man with both arms resting on his knees has calming effects on me.  I keep one on my desk at work.
We made it back to Mang Ramon's homestay in time for lunch.
Photos by Aaron Manila, except of course, the ones he's in. 🙂

Call Ohayami Transit for your bus reservations. Manila-Banaue tickets cost P450 as of August 2011. Contact Number: (632) 516.05.01
When in Batad or in neighboring rice terraces, contact Dandy Umhao, our knowledgeable and accommodating guide. Contact Number: 0910.346.5310
This is part of the Day 2 of a long weekend trip to Banaue: