The Uluru or Ayers Rock, Australia with Travel Tips

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The Uluru or Ayers Rock is the world’s largest monolith created over 600 million years ago. It is considered the “heart” of the Red Centre or the Southern Australian outback desert. It attained its World Heritage Site position on both cultural and geological categories, among few sites with two listings. (I have a habit of visiting World Heritage sites whenever I travel).

I was determined to visit the area because of the many stories about the place. I was so curious as to why it seems this arid desert resembles the red planet Mars. I’m fascinated with the mythical stories of the aborigines and on cosmic conspiracy theories (Uluru is cited as one of the places in the world with strongest energy fields). You see, too many stories to be immersed, too many interesting facts, myths or fictions to uncover. It’s a gold mine for stories whether cultural, historical or out of this world.

The rock is considered sacred by the Anangu (aboriginal tribe) because they believe that some of their ancients are living in the rock and some of them (during the creation) even became part of the rock. Thus, each boulder, crack or formation has a story. It has no plant growing on it unlike other rock formations. Its color changes from sunset to sunrise from luminous red to purplish maroon. These are just some of the fascinating facts to wonder! Some parts are forbidden to be photographed and out of respect, they ask tourists not to climb, litter or vandalize.

We opted for the 10.1 km full base walk with the sun on its full glory. It was hot (but windy) so bring lots of water and some food. The distances of the water stations are too far so always ensure to fill it up before proceeding. By the way, I don’t know what’s with the desert but there are too many flies! And they are very annoying.

When I first set foot on the National Park, I was already captivated but I became more enthralled as we walked nearer. I saw rock caves, small waterholes and ancient prints! We even met two Anangu ladies asking for water. Some of these tribe folks (dating back 10,000 years) are working in the Ayers Resort and you’ll meet/see them everywhere.

Some Tips for your Travels

  1. Don’t book via Agoda or Booking.com for your accommodation. It’s cheaper via voyages (https://www.ayersrockresort.com.au/)
  2. It’s much cheaper to rent a car than pay the bus.
  3. There is free hostel pick-up from the Uluru Airport. Just go outside the gates/entrance doors and the names of the hotels/hostels are printed as bus stations. Board the bus and it will take you to your new home hassle-free.
  4. Avail of all the free activities – painting, 3D cinema, astronomy, aboriginal dances etc.
  5. We arrived via Jetstar from Melbourne. Book your flights early because prices can dramatically go up!
  6. There is a supermarket so don’t worry much living on this desert. Prices are same with other cities/places of Australia (I compared it with Port Campbell and Melbourne).
  7. At the back of the Outback Pioneer Lodge (hostel) is a sunset Uluru look-out. You can see the rock at this area.
  8. There is free shuttle bus around the resort (does not include going near the Rock). If you want to see the Camel farm, ask the driver. Sometimes, their route does not include it.
  9. Touch the rock. They say, it brings good fortune because it connects you to the ancients.

Two photos must be credited to my travel companion Mary – the one with our faces and the IG shoes. haha

 

 

 

Kyoto – City of Solitude

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Kyoto is Japan’s City of Solitude where old traditions heavily cling on to the unstoppable blocks of modernity. It gives you both the best of the past and present worlds, a testament that there is no need to sacrifice art and culture in order to embrace modern society. You’ll find that the past and present exist with ease and harmony.

Summer in Ginza, Kyoto

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Even with the thrive of technology and concentration of crowd, the city’s urban landscape has not abandon the beauty of and benefits from mother nature. Parks, gardens, clean waters and forests are in sync with the shrines, temples and old houses creating a beautiful façade for the city. These should be replicated to urban cities – to have green spaces while allowing arts and culture to flourish with modernity.

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The combinations of these attractions make it one of the most photographed city in the world. It is cloaked with a sublime but not necessarily melancholic feeling. This is possibly because the city is the emperor’s residence for more than 1,000 years. You can really feel the serenity and simplicity of their living.

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Visit  Gion district to spot some geishas and hike all the way to Kiyomizu-dera temple. Be prepared to walk a lot to be immersed with their art, culture and way of living. The golden Kinkakuji temple is not to be missed. The entrance fee is worth it. Arashiyama bamboo grove is a little bit out of the way so make the most of it by visiting the Hozu river and the shrines surrounding the grove. One of my favorites is the Fushimi-Inari temple because it is a 2-hour hike from the base all the way to the top and back! We were fortunate to witness the sunset descending upon the whitish landscape of the city.

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The Great Wall of China, Badaling

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Rock solid walls that stretches beyond what the eyes can see

Rock solid walls that stretches beyond what the eyes can see

Steep steps to climb over

Steep steps to climb over

A peek in one of the holes

A peek in one of the holes

View in one of the tower stations

View in one of the tower stations

My 2016 in Photos and What I learned throughout the Year

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1.Treasure life. Value each and every moment you have. For you’ll never know when it’s going to stop. Look deeper and be thankful of what you have and what you had become.

New Year 2016 in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

New Year 2016 in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

Christmas 2016 in Sichuan, China

Christmas 2016 in Sichuan, China

2. Life is never a straight course. It has kinks and spins. But, it’ll never stop you to choose happiness or the desire to live with courage and kindness. Choose to stand up and never to stand down.

Petchaburi, Thailand [Nov'16]

Petchaburi, Thailand [Nov’16]

3. If things are not going great, remember you’re tougher than what you think. Wallow in sadness but help yourself out. Slowly, start all over again.

Himeji, Japan [Oct '2016] then headed to HK and Macau

Himeji, Japan [Oct ‘2016] then headed to HK and Macau

Hong Kong [Oct'2016]

Hong Kong [Oct’2016]

4.Only you can define your limit. Or the things you are capable of. You can do anything if you have the will to want it. Badly.

Thailand [Sep'2016]

Thailand [Sep’2016]

Grand Canyon [Sep'16]

Grand Canyon [Sep’16]

 5. Generally, you always have the choice. No one can intimidate you unless you let them to. No one can make you miserable unless you let yourself be. Don’t let someone make you feel inferior or unappealing.

Pangsida, Thailand [Jul'2016]

Pangsida, Thailand [Jul’2016]

6. Never let the not-so-good things get the best of you. No matter what the world says to you or how the world sees you, be the person you want to be. With conscience, dignity and human decency.

Jeju Island [Apr 2016]

Jeju Island [Apr 2016]

Busan [Apr'16]

Busan [Apr’16]

Seoul [April 2016]

Seoul [April 2016]

7. If you think you’ll never be able to move on, push through beyond the memories. Heal and create new ones.

Halong Bay, Vietnam [Feb'2016]

Halong Bay, Vietnam [Feb’2016]

Luang Prabang, Laos [Feb'16]

Luang Prabang, Laos [Feb’16]

8. Learn to laugh again. Genuinely. Smile, not the fake ones but the real deal. Do this for yourself. You don’t need to have it all figured out. Just live. Enjoy.

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9. Put yourself first but be considerate of the struggles around you. Close your doors to negativities. Appreciate the people around you.

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10. Cherish the good times. Be grateful and let this new year be your year. 

Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Thank you to everyone that became part of my 2016. Cheers to more travels. Cheers to life.

 

 

Jiuzhaigou National Park, Sichuan, China

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Jiuzhaigou National Park is a testament to Mother Nature’s work of wonder. It gives you a serene feeling, that surge of happiness and the answer to why keep travelling. It is China’s beautiful surprise to travellers. I was surprised! Especially with all the negative travel publicities in my twitter news feed. I was awed that they’re able to maintain the unspoiled look of the landscapes.

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The National Park transports you somewhere in countryside Europe. The bus ride reminds me of Isle of Skye, the glassy waters bring back Interlaken, Switzerland and the sceneries are cut-outs from Bavaria, Germany. It’s more than beautiful. More than amazing.

The Park is part of the Tibetan plains occupying 700 hectares. It became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1992 and home to some Tibetan Villages. Don’t be surprised if some of the names are in Tibetan language and not the standard Chinese. Tibet border is only 2 hours away.

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They say winter is not the best time to visit but I disagree. The whiteness of the snowy winter was in contrast with the glorious loud colours of the blue mountains, mirror green lakes, cascading waterfalls and the autumn leftover colors of the trees. Some of the lakes and waterfalls were frozen and you can visibly see what was trapped inside.

Panda Waterfalls

Panda Waterfalls

Based on my research (I researched a lot before any travel!), there is only one route to Jiuzhaigou – the bus – and nope, it’s not a sleeper’s bus. You have to sit for seven to nine hours from Chengdu. The endless view, though, compensates for your aching ass and stiff back. I think they’re already constructing a train but no one knows when.

  • The nearest airport is in Chengdu.
  • Book a flight via Spring Airlines. It is cheap.
  • We took a taxi from Lazybones Hostel in Chengdu for CNY11 /US1.6 (if we took the subway, cost would be CNY3 per person or total CNY9).
  • Buy your bus ticket (2F) in Xinnanmen Bus Station for CNY154 /US$22 per person.
  • There is no overnight bus during winter. Only day trips. 

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I have low expectations of our China backpacking leg. I was looking forward to Mongolia but China came as an amazing addition to my travel stories. We never encountered rude stories or unfortunate acts from the locals. We were safe and had really fun. We met a family from Hong Kong with their two little kids following us everywhere. The nine-year-old boy wanted to be in our EVERY photo! What’s best, he became our tour guide! He was part of a tour group and could speak English well. We nicknamed him the  TNB (Tunay na Boss) or little boss.

Nourilang Waterfalls

Nourilang Waterfalls

On our way to the park, we met a Dutch couple and they told us to show any kind of ID to the inspector to avail of student discount. Sorry but we obliged. We saved from CNY180 to CNY120 that includes entrance fee and the bus (back and forth) to the top. No worries, the money went to a good cause – tasting their local beers. Tsingtao beer is totally recommended! We met the couple again in the restaurant for dinner with my friend feeling embarrassed to take out our left-overs (she got a little crush on him).

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By the way, we recommend our hostel YHA! The owner-receptionist upgraded us from a dormitory to a double room. He doesn’t speak/understand English but he would always find/call someone from his guests to help translate for us. He was very accommodating considering that we paid $5 each (105CNY) only (3 girls). Great location with 10-mins walk to the park and a neighbor to restaurants and convenience stores. Great value for your money.

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Cheers from us! if you have questions, ask away!

Tales of Mongolia

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Five days in the Land of Genghis Khan and I’m already planning of visiting it again. Its capital, Ulaan Baatar, is the coldest city in the world so our winter travel itinerary is actually a box of insanity. We bravely embraced the negative 30C temperature (swings to -50 at night) with thermal suits and layered coats. Still, what’s better time than the winter time. Imagine white snow draped over endless landscapes of green or brown ridges with cloudless blue sky or moonless starry night. Picture wild horses and camels traversing along the Gobi sands. Think of a city full of solitude with friendly smiles and tomato cheeks! A country rich with history. Freezing but fascinating.

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From Beijing, we took the cheapest but the hardest route of land border travel. We hopped on a sleeper’s bus in Muxiyuan Bus Station (180CNY) and arrived in Erlian (inner Mongolia) the next day. We then took a pick up to Zamyn Udd (75CNY) and crossed over the border (1hr). Here we got on the famous Trans-Mongolian train (22,850 MNT) to the capital for 14 hours. It looks simple but actually not.

Some tips for your future travel:

  1. I recommend asking the local passengers if you can tag along. They’ll look after you until the end.
  2. Use booking.com for your hotels (pay on arrival only). Check every once in a while if there’s a cheaper hostel and cancel/rebook your stay. Be smart. We stayed in a 3-star hotel for only 5$ per person. Yes, it’s good with a perfect view!
  3. In the train, linens/beddings are part of your train fee. Don’t let them bully you to pay for it.
  4. Don’t just accept anything they serve! Everything has a price. Once you use/drink/eat it, that’s the time they will ask for payment.
  5. Look for a driver who can speak English or tag with someone who can.
Three crazy girls spending the new year in Ulaan Baatar Square

Three crazy girls spending the new year in Ulaan Baatar Square

Chinggis Square

Chinggis Square

It was in this journey that we met some interesting people with overwhelming kindness to strangers – Tsuyoshi from Japan and the locals Tsengel, Altaa, Ugna (+boyfriend) and Gaya. Mongolia has one of the biggest black markets in the world so one has to be extra careful. Tsuyoshi who goes by his last name Abe never left us from Beijing to Mongolia and back to China even though we are 3 crazy girls with imposing attitudes. Tsengel, a Mongolian postgraduate student in Beijing, went home to his family only after he walked us to our hotel, exchange currency and settled to a local buffet. All through the night aboard the Trans-Mongolian train, he only slept after looking over us. Altaa, Ugna and boyfriend also helped us crossed the border and mind you, it’s not a friendly place for female travellers. This border is identified as a human trafficking hotspot. Many women disappeared and never resurfaced. So, I was really relieved and thankful that we made it smoothly.

Erdene Zuu Monastery

Erdene Zuu Monastery

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Erdene Zuu

From Ulaan Baatar, we moved to the 13th century capital of the Great Mongol Empire, Karakorum/Kharkhorin, to experience living in a traditional ger camp. The temperature was supposed to be a bit friendlier because it’s down south but we ended in a blistering cold (I was swearing at some point during the night even after chugging on some vodka). Still, the ger experience is one of kind. It offers a slice of the traditional lives of the Mongols. If you plan to visit it, pls contact Gaya and she will arrange everything for you. She has a magic wand to whip whatever you need! Her website is http://gayas-guesthouse.strikingly.com/ or send an email to gayas.guesthouse@gmail.com. She opened the Erdene Zuu Monastery for us!

Gaya's Ger Camp

Gaya’s Ger Camp

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On our last day, we had an unfortunate event. My friend’s wallet was stolen by a pickpocket in the bus station. Fortunately, her passport, phones and other valuables were not taken. Nevertheless, this incident can never eclipsed our amazing Mongolian experience. It was too short but fun – trekking the old silk road in Karakorum, seeing the Gobi desert, appreciating their culture and cuisine, walking on the paths previously walked on by the Great Mongol Empire and being at the receiving end of the local’s hospitality. It was actually an epic adventure, one for the books.

Happy Gaya

Happy Gaya

With our guide Gaya

With our guide Gaya

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I think you’ll appreciate Mongolia if you have knowledge of its rich history (Genghis and Kublai Khans, Marco Polo, Manchurias, Yuan dynasty, Silk road etc.). Else, you’ll find it as just one exotic country. By far, this is my coldest travel experience.

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Road to Kharkhorin

Road to Kharkhorin


[Unedited version] Written aboard the plane yesterday from Taipei to Bangkok. My 1st journal for 2017.

Every person has its own story. Every story has its own ending. Every ending leads to a new beginning. Cheers to 2017.

Tips and Tricks When Visiting Japan

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Tokyo Tower

Tokyo Tower

This Samurai Country of Contrasts offers endless sceneries, adventures and stories. We backpacked 13 cities from urban to remote areas – from snowy-frosty places to summer-feel prefectures. Autumn is beautiful and so is the fall of snow. October is definitely the best time to visit.

Chitose, Hokkaido

Chitose, Hokkaido

I’m an introvert but when it comes to travel, you’ll see me pushing for things / experiences bordering to being an extrovert. Yes to exhaustion until you no longer feel your legs. Yes to meeting strangers and chatting with them until dawn. Yes to both quantity and quality of fun travel escapades!

Summer in Ginza, Kyoto

Summer-feel in Ginza, Kyoto

I don’t pay for travel just to sit on a fine restaurant or chill on a park. I pay to learn about myself, people around me and the places I’ve never been to. I can always sit, sleep and chill back home. I want everything when I travel and this is what I got in Japan… Everything.

Lake Shikotse

Autumn in Lake Shikotsu

Here are few tips and tricks for those traveling for the first time.

  • Japan is perceived as expensive but actually, costs are manageable.
  • Eat in local places (i.e. Dotonbori market in Osaka) and convenience stores (Family mart and 7-11).
  • Sleep in hostels or guesthouses (I recommend booking.com). We booked a 3-star hotel in Asahikawa for only $2 per person. Of course, if you know someone, free accommodation will always be the best! Thanks to Don for Kyoto and Eileen for Tokyo.
  • Avail of JR pass. It lets you travel on trains and buses for unlimited time. This is very convenient and economical. Use this JR pass website link because it’s cheaper than the others.
  • For Kansai areas (Kyoto, Himeji, Nara, Kobe, Osaka) use Kansai-thru pass. It has better coverages than the other passes.
  • Stay on the left of the train when your travel route is from south of Japan to north. For example, from Kansai to Tokyo, sit on the left to view Mt. Fuji.
  • No overnight sleeper trains from Hakodate to Sapporo! This is disappointing.
  • Free wifi places are scarce. No public wifi in most areas. No wifi in bullet Shinkansen trains.
  • Costs indicated in google map are precise. Directions are accurate.
  • Ask people if you need help. Japanese are generally friendly and you’d be surprised how organized, helpful and prepared they are! When we were in Sapporo, we asked for the directions to Guesthouse Waya in the subway station and surprise!!! They had a ready print-out for it! Same thing happened in Asahikawa.
  • Learn / ask about their culture. Be curious. Be observant. You’d be amazed how varied, unconventional and interesting their culture/history/stories are. I’m still amazed (lifetime employment, reserved/polite attitudes, eyebrows culture etc).
Hakone

Hakone

Gion, Kyoto

Gion, Kyoto

Kobe Port

Kobe Port

I wasn’t a fan of Japan before. I thought it was overrated but after spending more than 2 weeks from north to south, I can say, it’s worth visiting it. Next time, I’d love to go back to Totori and Nagasaki! And maybe, Wakkanai (can you really see Russia from here???) That would be another great travel to add in my list.


This is a long overdue post. We visited Japan last October covering Hiroshima, Miyajima, Kobe, Himeji, Nara, Osaka, Kyoto, Hakone, Tokyo, Hakodate, Chitose, Sapporo, and Asahikawa).

Chonburi’s Grand Canyon and Snow Mountain

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I’ve been away from blogging for almost two months now. I got a bit busy with some personal things. Also, I only have 2% remaining space with this blog site and I’m still thinking whether to register it at $18/year or time to stop and move on.

Anyway, I just have to share you my travel photos of the so-called Thailand’s Grand Canyon and Snow Mountain. I don’t usually post photos with people’s faces (friends and travel companions) but I am making this an exception. This could be my last blog post so why not. [After this post, it’s 0% space! haha]

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The so-called Grand Canyon in Chonburi, Thailand offers a good view of the surrounding mountains and of the man-made lake below the view-point. It’s actually a remnant of an excavation years ago then eventually shaped by nature to become what it is today. The place is not accessible by public transportation so you have to drive over or hire a cab.

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Train tracks

Train tracks

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The Snow Mountain is not really full of snow but of white rocks. It’s fascinating and offers a beautiful backdrop for a photo shoot. It’s great for a prenup concept!

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Side note: I and Dessa will be flying to Japan for 2 weeks in October (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Miyaji Island, Sapporo & Hakodate in Hokkaido, Fuji, and Nara). Our budget is only $1,300 (hopefully, we can make it alive!). Can anyone recommend a budget hostel and/or some tips how to survive in Japan? I’ll gladly appreciate it. Thanks in advance.

[Friends, if you want your photos to be deleted, send me a message.]

The Pantheon (Rome, Italy)

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Portico

Portico

Rome’s Pantheon in Italy is one of the most beautiful and impressive structures that dominate the archaic Roman landscape. Its architectural brilliance will surely capture anyone’s interest. This ancient 2,000-year-old pagan temple by Emperor Hadrian was converted to a Christian church in the 7th century. Though, originally it was dedicated to the victims of the Battle of Actium, the last war forcing the defeated lovers Marc Anthony and Cleopatra to commit suicide. Currently, it is being used as a church and tomb to prominent figures like the first King of Italy. [Note: entrance is free!]

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The Great Eye / Oculus

DSC_0494 copyThe first thing that you’ll notice is the building’s grand portico (entrance). It has eight massive Corinthian columns with elegant inscriptions bearing the name of Marcus Agrippa, the original builder. When you enter, look upward to the most spectacular sight of the Pantheon, the dome’s oculus or sometimes referred as the Great Eye. It’s the hole at the top of the ceiling supported by a series of arches. Its natural light beams straight on to the entrance at some precise moments. This led to some people’s belief that the Pantheon is a colossal sundial. It’s really beautiful when the sun rays create a white spotlight as if you are walking on hallowed grounds.

I guarantee that the structure’s grandeur will surely consume you with astonishment. The frescoes of saints above the ceiling are just too extravagantly illustrious but note that these are modern additions to the old Pantheon.  The high altar adorned with beautiful pieces of chandeliers, gilded candle holders and other Catholic embellishments is beautifully spread out on the central chapel. In some of the niches, there are numerous striking paintings hanging behind brick walls like Madonna of Mercy and the Assumption. Surely, this is the best place for art junkies, architecture enthusiasts and history buffs.

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Entrance / Portico

The gilded and lavish sculptures inside the rooms are too imposing along side ostentatious marble interiors, granite columns and fancy bronze doors. This is a beautiful manifestation of Roman Empire prowess and wealth. I learned that some of the materials were imported from the Egyptian desert to the Nile River through the Mediterranean regions and finally to Rome. That would have cost a great deal to Rome’s coffers.

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One of the engineering marvels of the Pantheon is the strength of the dome and how it stood centuries without toppling down into the ground. Much of the composition of the structure’s concrete still puzzle modern architects and builders. All of Pantheon’s construction and positioning techniques make it an architectural feat that could go down as one of the world’s bests.

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Raphael Tomb

Raphael’s Tomb

By the way, did you know that the great artist Raphael is buried in the Pantheon with his fiancee? This is more than the motivation needed for me to push whatever is necessary to make it happen. I’ve seen most of his exceptional works in Vatican so it’s imperative to see him or his burial grounds. I guess, for me, it’s just fulfilling. Oh, and Raphael died in the hands of his lover/model Margarita Luti, a baker’s daughter, never got to marry his fiancee, Maria Bibbiena, the cardinal’s niece. One of those tragic love stories during their time. See, there’s too much historical information and graphic details inside the Pantheon that you should definitely uncover!

Thanks and until the next post.

 

My Top 10 iPhone Snapshots

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Bern, Switzerland

Bern, Switzerland

Old Gate, Prague

Old Gate, Prague

Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

Malaga Bay, Spain

Malaga Bay, Spain

Seoul, South Korea

Seoul, South Korea

Alhambra, Spain

Alhambra, Spain

Vatican museum steps

Vatican museum steps

Prague Dancing House, Czech

Prague Dancing House, Czech

Sevilla, Spain

Sevilla, Spain

Malaga, Spain

Malaga, Spain

Rom Mai Sai Than Restaurant

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There are only few good restaurants around Chachoengsao, about 70 kms away from Bangkok, Thailand. But, its position along the widely stretched Bangpakong River makes some restaurants looking like romantic and serene destinations. Usually, their specialties and recommended dishes are fresh seafood. So, if you want a place with a relaxing ambience and good food, I recommend Rom Mai Sai Than Restaurant.

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The Rom Mai Sai Than is a garden restaurant with a nature-inspired theme. It is a quiet space that provides tranquility far away from the hubbubs of crowds or urban settings. The melodramatic appeal at dusk when the lights are turned on and the stillness of the river make it more cozy, inviting and full of warmth. This is a perfect getaway if you just want to hang around and breathe peacefully.

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I love the concept from the designs to the selection of wood items, nature elements and brick materials. Comfortable wooden furniture, roof, dividers and other items blend well with the natural texture and feel of the whole dining area. Some species of animals like peacocks and exquisite birds are hanging behind thriving trees. Flowering plants, canopied trees and beautifully-shaped shrubs promise a dining pleasure in a casual open- air way. It throws everything to create a rustic garden with fountains, bamboo trees and forest flora. It is simply cool with a fresh feeling.

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This is a Thai restaurant so the selection of meals is mostly local dishes. The food is undeniably good for any occasion. Honestly, I am not into Thai cuisine so I am picky to appreciate good ones. Value for money and ambience are the best features of Rom Mai Sai Than. Try it and give me a shout out/comment after.

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Address: Pak Khlong Tah Raj, Phra Satoop Jedi Road, Bang Khla Subdistrict, Bang Khla District, Chachoengsao, Thailand

Phone number: 0-3854-2794 or 0-86155-7111

Opening hours: 10:30 am to 11:00 pm

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Quote for the day:

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Framing Photography (France, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Slovakia, South Korea)

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Eiffel Tower (France)

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Looking outside the Louvre Museum (France)

Looking outside the Louvre Museum (France)

Naples Hill (Italy)

Naples Hill, Italy

Cathedral of Toledo (Spain)

Cathedral of Toledo, Spain

Yonggungsa Temple, Busan, South Korea

Yonggungsa Temple, Busan, South Korea

Seville Cathedral, Andalusia, Spain

Seville Cathedral, Andalusia, Spain

Elisabeth Bridge , Budapest, Hungary

Elisabeth Bridge , Budapest, Hungary (taken from Liberty bridge)

Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain

Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain

São Jorge Castle, Lisbon, Portugal

São Jorge Castle, Lisbon, Portugal

Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain

Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain

Bratislava Castle, Slovakia

Bratislava Castle, Slovakia

UNESCO’s Pangsida National Park

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Pangsida

The Pangsida National Park is sprawled within the thick forest of Sa Kaeo Province, Thailand. It is one of the most common camping sites for trekkers and nature enthusiasts closest to Bangkok. Who wouldn’t love it when you have jungle animals, bursting waterfalls and scenes carved out from a countryside movie? It is less popular and far less-trekked area than its neighboring Khao Yhai National Park but it has long retained its authenticity as a sanctuary.

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The aA Photo Club organized the trip for THB999 ($28.5)/person (with a free shirt). The original plan is to do camping for 2 days and 1 night but the month of June’s rainy season altered it to just a day of a road trip. We were looking forward bent high on an expectation of a day filled with fun and the best of nature’s captivating visuals.

Original camping plan

Original camping plan

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DSC_92The park is known for its exquisite and various species of butterflies. I think there were hundreds of them swarming all over the area. They look beautiful with their intricate patterns in vibrant and powdery colors. Their wings are designed like miniature scales flapping from one stretch to another.

See my butterflies photos.

We missed the viewpoint or observation hill of the whole reserve because suddenly the sky opened on us. This top spot showcases rich verdant forests stretching limitless with patches and strips of mist over the edges of the mountain ranges from east to west. The landscape offers a breathtaking spot for sunrise and sunset.

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0573From the butterflies on a walking distance, rests a waterfall. It is not something extraordinary but with the cuts of mossy rocks and a fresh pool underneath, it has its appeal. It has a certain allure that makes you appreciate nature more. The water makes its way from the mountains vertically into a rocky eroded path and cascade over smoothly on shallow grounds. The evergreen rain forest frames the waterfall on all sides creating a rugged and unspoiled-look scenery. There are other waterfalls located deeper into the forest and if we had more time, I think it’s worth the hike. With the unfortunate bleary and rainy weather, it’s hard to have a perfect shot but you just have to take in the view and feel satisfied.

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It was so hard taking photos because the rain is pouring on us so I had to balance taking photos while holding an umbrella. Black ants were crawling inside my pants and I got some red blotches when I checked inside the van. A little bit exhausted and my throat is craving for coffee making me agitated.

Untitled890There were wildlife animals thriving on the grasslands but we only visited buffaloes. The park lives up to being a UNESCO bio-reserve with a rich flora and fauna. Thailand is increasingly dedicating its efforts to nature and wildlife conservation against tourism-related wildlife exploitation.

I just have to add that this mouth watering grilled chicken liempo at the entrance of the park is a must-taste. It’s juicy with generous amount of herbs and spices. It’s sure to leave you wanting more. It’s unusually very good grilled and its along the road but don’t be too fussy on the location and the interiors of the small place. Served with a beer, it’s the ultimate lunch for an ultimate trekking experience.

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At the end of the day, it is a little bit regrettable that we didn’t make it to Lalu rocks or the so-called grand canyon of Thailand. Our travel companions have insisted that it’s 65 kilometers away and with the dusk falling ahead, it will be a waste of time. Oh well. They are from the area so they know best.

Thank you to the aA Photo Club for letting us string along.

Top Five Picks for Madrid

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Madrid is the capital of the Spanish peninsula oozing with a vibrant feel that makes the city’s charm even more fascinating. I’ve met some travellers that prefer Barcelona but I’m more drawn to Madrid. There’s so much more history and culture to unravel. The whole city is rich with captivating places that one should not miss whether you are just strolling along narrow alleys or gawking at the architectural brilliance of buildings aged hundred years. The City of Madrid will leave you wanting more as you indulge yourself with a beautiful travel experience.

  1. Buen Retiro Park

This park spans 350 acres, the largest in Madrid. It is filled with museums, towering sculptures, galleries, fountains, fancy gardens and a peaceful lake perfect for a laid-back day or kayaking. Don’t miss the Rosaleda garden and the Crystal palace at the edge of the lake!

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2. Temple of Debod

IMG_2981Can you imagine an ancient Egyptian temple in an Iberian peninsula? It’s a surprising sight to visit in Parque del Oeste where a beautiful panoramic view of the capital awaits.

3. Palacio De Real 

1DSC_1131_0This is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family with 3,418 rooms! It astonishes you with its grand architecture, exquisite interiors and interesting historical facts dating back to 1735.

4. Plaza de Cibeles

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This houses the City hall and has become an iconic symbol for the city. In the center stands the famous fountain of Cibeles, the goddess of nature and protector of Madrid. It has long become the meeting point for football fans where championships are usually celebrated.

5. Plaza Mayor

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This plaza used to host Spanish bullfights but what I love are the traditional shops and cafes around it where you can enjoy beers and tapas! The whole square is bustling with activities and an engaging crowd. Perfect place to end your day.

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Palacio de Cristal (Madrid)

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This is a glass structure in Madrid, Spain built in 1887 intended to showcase Filipino race, culture, arts, flora, fauna etc. It is located at the edge of a lake in Retiro Park.

I really cannot explain my feelings that day. I was looking at a structure that is an evidence of Spanish conquest and oppression to the Filipino people. I am tracing history. It’s no longer just words but I can now match them with vivid images. The Madrid 1887 exposition was much more of degradation and not of appreciation. Sigh. Anyway, it’s worth seeing. Fantastic architectural piece By Bosco.

London For A Day (Travel Itinerary)

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I’ve been in London a few times and I was asked by a friend Susan what to do / see if you only have one day free time.

Walking, for me, is the best way to explore a city so I recommend an itinerary that somehow looks ambitious but still achievable. She wants to see majority, if not all, tourist attractions that symbolizes London. So, I hope this itinerary will cover this idea.

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Most of the must-see London images are on the banks of Thames River. So if you walk around it, you’d be able to tell yourself you’ve conquered London! (to an extent haha) Your starting point should depend on your hotel’s location but through this guide, you’ll visually understand my idea of circling the Thames River (by walking) to make the most of London.

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St Paul's cathedralI suggest to start in St Paul’s Cathedral to leave a tiny prayer of day’s guidance. This is one of the oldest churches in the world with a baroque architectural theme that houses the Bishop of London. Do you know that there is a whispering gallery inside? Whispers can be heard 112 ft or 34 meters away! The nearest station is St. Paul’s.

London Bridge

This is London Bridge believe it or not.

Later, walk towards the Thames River and pass by the notorious London Bridge made famous by the song of same title. London bridge is different with the Tower bridge that has become an iconic symbol of the city. So don’t confuse yourself. Grab a coffee in one of the local café’s along the river to boost your energy. You are just beginning your walking marathon.

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Move forward until you reach the Tower fortress where Anne Boleyn (and other notable prisoners) was executed on incest and adultery. She’s the so-called most-influential mistress of King Henry VIII who later became Queen made possible by the King’s declaration of a new church independent from Rome. (There is this almost hidden passage near the fort where the history of the Tower is recounted on its walls but I don’t remember how we pass by it.)

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Following this route, cross the river into the other side (don’t miss the stairs at the end of the bridge going down the embankment). This area across the Tower fortress is one of the best spots to take photos. So, take more time and just click!

Notice the modern glass building on your left? That is the highest skyscraper in the UK – the Shard. No kidding here! It doesn’t look like it but yes!

Continue walking for five minutes to one of the bests, Borough Market, and replenish your travel zest by sampling street foods. Move on to find a retired galleon (ship) on public display called the Golden Hind or formerly the Pelican that navigated the world in the 16th century. Leave some kisses to its captain, Francis Drake, and walk over to the ancient ruins of Winchester Palace. There’s nothing to see so don’t linger.

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Next on the list is Globe Theater! I never get the chance to look inside but it doesn’t lose its appeal of making you feel one step closer to the genius William Shakespeare. Nerd fact: the shape is called icosagon or 20-sided polygon. 🙂

BridgeJourney doesn’t end here so wander over to the Millenium Bridge and if you are into museums, get inside the Tate Modern standing nearby. This is the world’s most popular modern art museum. If you are an art junkie, you have to see the exhibitions and displays. It’s free anyway. Now, what’s next? Just the red Lambeth Bridge perfect for taking some few minutes of rest. Take in the beauty of London and gaze over the towering St. Pauls’ dome.

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When revitalized, continue walking until you reach London Eye and City Hall. Personally, I don’t recommend riding it. Nothing amazing will come out from it other than a simple brag that yey, I spend cash! By the way, the best spot to take a London eye photo is on the other side.

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You are now nearing the end of your Thames River self-guided tour. Can you see the Big Ben? No, you can’t! There is a misconception about this. What you are looking at is the Elizabeth tower (or clock tower). The Big ben is the bell inside not visible from the outside. Cross via the bridge and congratulate yourself infront of the Westminster’s Palace where the House of Lords and House of Commons meet to discuss state’s affairs (Big Ben is at the north end). We tried asking the guards to let us in but they said we need a special permit from the parliament! Hahaha At least we tried. Be careful on this area because it is the paradise of thieves and snatchers.

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Next, stroll on the cathedral just few struts of hips and you are on hallowed grounds of Westminster Abbey, a traditional place of coronation, royal weddings and burial site of British monarchs. Do you know this is where Prince Charles married Diana and later on, his so called “mistress” Camilla Parker? Prince William and Catherine also took their marriage vows on the same cathedral. Do you know the scandalous American Wallis Simpson? King Edward VIII gave up his throne for this infamous lady to be her 3rd husband and was later married inside this abbey. (Okay, too much so I’ll stop here).

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DSC_0905_0At this point of your self-guided tour, you have to make a decision. It’s not really a life-changing kind of thing but will determine the level of your stamina. Either you go back to the Thames River into Cleopatra’s needle and Egypt’s sphinx OR continue to Buckingham palace. Both require 16 minutes of walk but on opposite directions.

The palace is the Queen’s official residence. If you see the Royal Standard flag hanging outside, it means the Queen is residing in London (Doesn’t mean that she is inside the building as far as I know but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe she’s having tea with James Bond in Somerset instead). If you want to experience the changing of the guards, then you need to adjust your itinerary because it is 45 minutes daily at 1130 am until end of July.

DSC_0322_0Now that you’ve reached the end, I assure you that you’ll be overwhelmed with satisfaction Tired but tingling with fulfillment. This is it! You already completed your London one-day list! By the way, you can start in Buckingham palace and reverse the itinerary. It all depends on you!

Don’t forget to take home a perfect English shot! And maybe, a man to decorate your arm? Kidding. Just enjoy and feel the city’s vibe. It has so many things to offer.

If you have more time, I’ll give more suggestions:

  1. Visit Greenwich Island for the Prime meridian (and Queen’s house). If you are fascinated with Science, you’ll surely find yourself jumping on the invisible line that divides the earth into two – eastern and western hemispheres. Take either the ferry near Westminster or the tube.
  2. Nature lover? Get some air in Kensington or Hyde Park (this is a 30 minute-walk from Buckingham Palace and 3-minutes from the Marble Arch). If you read classics and historical fictions, this area is popular as one of the most used settings.
  3. You like shopping? Go to Harrods if you have deep pockets (the former owner is the father of Dodi, Princess Diana’s lover). My favorites are Oxford Street and Covent Garden for a wide array of selection of brands and trinkets within the budget.
  4. Arts and culture enthusiast? I suggest V&A Museums or National Library (in Trafalgar Square). Please try to be fascinated with Van Gogh’s sunflowers! Fancy taking a peep in Sherlock museum? Or how about a night in West End? Les miserables, anyone? Can I add the famous black door of 10 Downing Street here?
  5. How about food gastronomy? Not my area of expertise but I’ve been told about afternoon tea in Hotel Cafe Royal; lunch/dinner in Angler or budget Balls and Company. Actually, street foods are the best!

 

The Veil of Self-Truths

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In a world full of self-entitled snotties, it is not surprising that everyone has enveloped themselves with the veil of self-truths. We tend to survive amidst an egotistical generation that deceitfully defines self-worth to an exceedingly abhorrent pedestal of self-gratification. We shamelessly dismiss threatening fractures as multiple products of other people’s despicable envy, delusions and lunacy. We are obsessed with our confirmation biases to alter truths and even fabricate fictions out of facts. Because we believe the Universe only conspires to whichever suits us best. Selfishness. Hypocrisy. Vanity.

We claim to be open-minded but, in truth, we open our legs more than our minds because it’s easier to spread them than to strike thoughts. We fill ourselves with the knowledge that we embody superiority or even flawless perfection carrying it on our sleeves as if the world owes us something. It is not erroneous to define ourselves but what and how we lay it down can be as mind-blowing as a nonsense guttural sound of a simpering pussy cat.

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We imbibe this persona of oscillating between half-truths because we can only take as much. We never let ourselves be subjected to its entirety. We choose to don a blanket of haze and a cloak of pretense far away from the grasp of what we considered loathsome or simply, unacceptable. We decree truths based on self-preservation. For us, only “I” matters and nothing else.

It is not wrong or sad that you let yourself wallow with your imperfections and the world’s. It is tragic if you do not let yourself be confronted with it. Scale your value without your aggravating cock-and-bull stories. Scale truths without prejudices. Because how you see the world may not be how the world really is. And that is the reality.