Friday, March 31, 2006


I again have acted very impulsively.

I wasn't really thinking that they'd grant me a Chinese Visa. I remember before that as a part of a t.v. crew, it took us weeks to get a 7 day duration in Shanghai. So when I applied for it here in Vietnam, I was really just pushing my luck.

And lady luck was on my side. Not onlydid they give me a visa but they gave me a multiple entry, sixty days one. I was actually was just intending to go to Guangxi Province but since I got a good price for my bus ride to Nanning, again on a whim, I decided to push through to Beijing - one of if not the number one foreign city that I've been dreaming to visit.

I had to braise myself for the journey though because it was no easy feat. 38 hours of bus and train rides were right before me. So I brokethe journey in to two. I decided that I'd be staying in Nanning for one night to rest and get the 28 train ride journey to Beijing the following morning.

So I said goodbye to Hanoi, my ethereal home for the last 10 days. I had the best time here not only because I got to see a dead body but the beer is such a tourist trap.

(My Green Bus)

(The surreal views from my bus window)

I took the four hour bus to Lang Son, the northern part of Vietnam and the border province to Guangxi, China. I was surprised to see that I'm the only backpacker on board. Most of them were Vietnamese traders and or Chinese returning back to China.

I got to meet this cool Viet dude who for some reason, his name always gives me the grin. K.Y. ( I don't know what it means) is a student who'll be studying in Nanning for two years to learn the Chinese Language.

He had a fair amount of English with him so we got to talk a lot about him being a student and him going to a different country for the first time. I told him that everything would be fine, and that for some reason, even though we all have different cultures, we just learn to adapt and co-exist with whatever culture or wherever place we want to relocate.

We reached the Friendship Gate (Border of Vietnam and China) by around 2pm. I was again kinda iffy, because they were having a long time scrutinizing my passport. Apparently, for that land border crossing, it was the first time that the immigration guy saw a Philippine Passport. I was explaining then that not many Pinoys would travel over land and they just usually use the airport.

I got out of Vietnam and in to the Chinese Immigration in an hour or so, and since we were just using a bus, everyone was waiting for me. I kinda felt awkward but I know that it wasn't my fault. So the journey continued and on we went to Nanning.

I arrived in Nanning relatively late already and I just realized that I don't have any Chinese money with me. And the banks are closed already for me to exchange currency notes.

I had to explain really hard to a cab driver, who didn't know a single english word (it's not his fault, I should have learned some useful Chinese words for me to survive but I was just too lazy that I didn't bothered), that I had to go to an ATM and withdraw some money, to wait for me while I'm doing it, and then bring me to a youth hostel. And that believe me took ages.

I got a good room in Yingbin Fabian, a big room actually for just 250 pesos or around 35 Yuan. Took a long hot shower and decided to go and buy a ticket to Beijing. The Hard Seat cost around 1500 pesos and the Hard sleeper cost 3500. For a 28 hour journey, guess what I took? Since I really don't have enough money, I decided that 28 hours sitting will just do me good. Surprisingly, it was really ok. Not comfortable, but I didn't die doing it.

The chair was cushioned but was really on a 90 degree angle, and you cant slide them down. I again took some sleeping pills and when I woke up, 12 hours had pass. I then just decided to pass time listening to some mp3's that I got in Hanoi. Bebel Gilberto (Brazilian) and Cesaria Evora's remixed albums really did the trick. I also finished (finally) THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA which I just so love. I have a dream cast for this already, but Hollywood decide to get Meryll Streep and Anne Hathaway instead. (Good choices but I would have loved to see Toni Collette and Anna Paquin playing the lead roles).

And after more than 48 hours of Journey, I got in magnificent Beijing in one piece. I checked in Jing Hua Youth Hostel, which is, to my surprise more cheaper than in Nanning. I'm just paying 140 pesos for a dorm type accomodation, I'm sharing it with these two cool Swedish backpackers as well - Easper and Linda. Had a few bottles with them and decided to call it a long day.

I am just so dead tired now that I just really want to go to bed and get that much needed sleep.

My love affair with Beijing will start tomorrow as I again will visit a corpse for breakfast. This time it'll be Mao Tse Tsung's.

Pao meets Mao. I love it already. Hehe...

Monday, March 27, 2006


I've been in Hanoi for almost a week doing really nothing much.

I've seen the corpse (embalmed body) of Ho Chi Minh for breakfast the other day and that was such a trip. They were (the guards) very strict and we weren't allowed to were shorts, Duncan had to wear a jacket cause he was just wearing a tank top and we weren't even allowed to put our hand inside our pocket. It was so proper, formal to say the least, and I kinda like all these strict restrictions.

We then checked out the museum and saw all the cruelties of the imperialist Americans to the locals during the Vietnam-American war. That was such an
overwheming experience. Again, an eye opener. Until today I don't know what great a war can do but destroy everyone on both ends. Nobody really wins I mean.

I'm going further up north to China to Nanning, I'm not sure whether I could afford it but I'll see if I can get a train to Beijing. I applied for a Visa 3 days ago and I should be getting it by tomorrow. I think I'm becoming more impulsive with my itinerary. I was planning to go to Southern Vietnam to join Duncan but there's something about China that I really didn't want to miss.

Well, I've been to China two years ago with Wanggo. We went to Shanghai for a
shoot and I really fell in love with the place. I don't think I'll go to Shanghai in this trip, but I want to do is to go to the little village of Old China and just really escape the city.The day started so slow yesterday. We just ended up in the room watching the tellie, reading books, and planning our itinerary.

Duncan will go further up north in the mountains of North Vietnam and I'm planning to stay in China for another week and maybe continue my trip to southern Vietnam if I can afford it. But I really doubt because as it is I'm really scrimping on my budget.

Food is actually ok in Hanoi, dirt cheap, around 50 pesos for the fried noodle.

The service takes long though so I ended up taking some pics of the place (yup I finally have a digital cam, a crappy one though, I got it really cheap, so there you go, I really have to budget my way through if I'd still want to continue my journey).

Last night we got so pissed again. Nothing much to do so we ended up drinking another 10 bottles of beer Hoi each in this really hole-in-the-wall drinking place.

But mind you, this is such a tourist trap, everyone for some reason converge here. It's not even written on the books but it's a very popular place here called the BEER HOI triangle. The beer goes for 6 pesos, and that is just crazy.

I've met two Irish college guys who were on a vacation trip for three months. They're doing the other route and they're flying to Singapore then to Indonesia next week.

Then, there I was again, acting as ambassador of tourism, telling them to go to the Philippines because they will be missing a lot. Another guy Raymond told me that he was doing some surfing in Siargao the other year, and he went to Palawan too. I was so drunk I think I was inviting everyone in the hole to go to the Philippines, well at least I'm doing my part to help in my own little way.

Beer Hoi is just so addictive that I decided to just sit down beside the bartender so that I wouldn't have to stand up and get the beer, such a lazy lad I am.

I again didn't know how I got home, good thing was Duncan with me because the last time that I went home, it took me about an hour to locate my guesthouse. I'm so bad with direction, and even reading the map, so fuck it I always say. I'll just follow my instincts and my feet will lead me the way.

So far they never failed me yet.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


It's been 30 days since I've packed my bags and left on a whim for this unplanned journey and I'm loving every bit of it.

I'm learning so many things not just about the other countries and the other people that I meet along the way, but I get to really know my real self in the process. It tells me just how far I can go, my weaknesses, my strengths and my determination to just live life to the fullest.

Duncan and I decided that it's time to move on... We checked out the net and see how we'd get to Hanoi. The best way really was for us to get a flight, but I really don't think that I could afford it so we took the cheapest way. The cheapest way is actually synonymous to the "bus ride from hell".

12 hours of semi rough road to go to the border of Laos, get my stamp out , go to the Vietnam border, get my stamp in and do another 12 hours to go to the capital up north in Hanoi. So we did it. And my God, it's one of the most exhilirating experiences ever.

The minibus picked us up from the hotel at around 6pm, picking up other passengers on the way, another hour passed and we're on the southern bus station. Then the red dodgy "60's looking" bus bombarded me right in front of my eyes. There's no way I'm riding that shit - I told myself, but the locals were pointing us to that direction so we really didn't have any choice but to go deposit our backpacks and ride the dodgy red bus.

Duncan and I were lucky cause we were there early so we got good seats, but by 8:30 pm the bus was already full. Bamboo mats were hanging in the compartment up in my head, some veggies were placed on the small space below my feet. Some Lao teens listening loudly to Thai pop in their mp3 players witht the speakers on. I was actually wondering why would people actually endure and take this 24 hour trip to go to Vietnam. I was asking myself even - and the reason, the price. For $16 that's definitely a bargain if you compare it to $150 plane ticket.

I went to a two-seater, Duncan did the same, and I know I was rude but I put my hand carry bag on the space beside me just so nobody can sit. I mean it's a 24 hour freaking trip and I don't want to wake up with all my stuff gone.

Ok, I'm a self confessed pill-popper. But I know I do it in moderation, and when the time really calls for it. So I got two V's, drank my last beer lao and 15 minutes after, I was a goner.

I woke up at around 5am, and it was so freaking called. I also noticed that the bus has stopped. We were in the border already, and we were two hours early. The immigration guys wouldn't be there till 7am, so we decided to get some hot noodles on the stalls beside the border. It was so freaking called becasue we where way up in the mountains, and I was just wearing shorts and a shirt, and I can't be bothered to get a jacket because it was in the big bag and it was already in the compartment.

When the immigration opened, we all ran to get our passport stamped out and since we didn't knew the process, we were really afraid that the bus will leave us and we'll end up in the border without our bags with us. It's almost like we're in Amazing Race, trying very hard to communicate with the litlle Lao language that we know so that we can get our passports as soon as possible.

It wasn't difficult in the Laos border to get out but to get into Vietnam was alittle bit tricky, they told us to get our bags from the bus, they did a thorough search on our bags and then we go to immigration. They were having a long time processing my passport, so I stepped in and asked what was the reason for the delay. The guy told me that I can't get in because I didn't have a Visa. Then it hit me - "Oh my freaking God, I didn't apply for a visa...".

I was so scared I thought I was fucked up. Then I told him, doing a reverse psychology. "I don't need a Visa because I have a Philippine passport." Honestly I didn't know if I could get away with it but I know that some Asean countries didn't need Visa. I didn't have Visa for Singapore, Thailand and Laos and I was able to get in.

Then the immigration guy, bless him, stamped my passport, and just like that I was permitted to stay in Vietnam for 15 days with no Visa. I was ecstatic.

We all then aboarded the bus to take the 12 hour journey to Hanoi. We got to Hanoi at around 7pm and it was just amazing.

I know everytime I go to a different place I always end up saying that it's the best place that I've been to, but Hanoi is really the cream of the crop. It's busy enough but just right to enjoy the local culture. I love the small streets, the French Quarters and the Old Quarters were a sight to behold.

Duncan and I decided to check out the Old Quarters. It's a chaotic square kilometer of ancient merchant quarters, dating back nearly five hundred years. As if mirroring Vietnam itself, the area's still intact maze of narrow streets and is a hive of industriousness and frenetic movement. We also got our hotel there for $6 a night. $3 dollars each, and it's just dirt cheap cause we have a fridge and a sattelite tv on our room.

After checking in, we decided to check the local night scene, and everything was just crazy. There must have been a million bikers circling the center of hanoi, and crossing the streets is already an experience worth writing about. We got ourselves BEER HOI, for 2000 Vietnamese Dong which is roughly around 6pesos. Man, Beer Hoi is lethal, I mean we ended up drinking a dozen bottles each I suppose.

Duncan met some other travels that he travelled with (I love this sense of community in which, you'd defenitely meet people that you've met a week or even a month ago while travelling). I met these two Danish guysthat I saw in Bangkok and we were exchanging stories of our travel. They went south of Thailand and I went up north and we met in Vietnam, what a coincidence, I mean.

I was talking to another guy who looked liked a mestizo pinoy, so I asked him wheter he's from Manila. He said he's living in England but his mother is Vietnamese and he has an Italian father. He's a deadringer for Dennis Trillo, if only I had a camera I'd take pictures of him. It was his last night in Hanoi and he's flying to London the next day so he wanted to get really drunk before he starts his school again.

He asked me if I wanted to check out one of the good clubs in town so I joined him together with the two Danish guys to check out FUNKEY MONKEY. It may sound like a seedy bar but I was surprised to see that it was such a cool club inside, it was their "house" night and the DJ was on fire. I kinda miss going to clubs and the night was such a great night out for me.

I woked up really late, at around 1pm I think. I didn't even know how I got back, navigating on the streets in Hanoi is just a nightmare, they all have this same sounding names so it's difficult to get to the right directions.

We missed the Ho Chin Minh museum which according to our land lady is open only till 11am. I so want to go to check out the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh (they usually embalm great communist leaders so that people can check them out, Lenin, Mao Zedong, etc.... Almost like checking out Marcos' body in the mauseleum in Ilocos). I really would want to see hUncle Ho and I know that this will really make my trip.

Oh well, I'll try to be sober and maybe I can catch him tomorrow.

I love f*cking Vietnam!

Sunday, March 19, 2006


For a capital city, Vientiane is pretty laid back.

Well, the whole Laos is very laid back in general. The streets are quiet, there's not much people really and the entire country is like a chill out lounge, where in, the only thing to do is enjoy a cold beer Lao, listen to chill out music and let time pass right your very eyes.

I really don't know what to expect cause I don't know much about the capital. All I know is that it's the center of commerce and the streets and the building are modeled like French Villas. Heck they even have their own version of Champ Elysee. It's Paris in Asia I suppose.

My roommate Duncan is a great bloke. He's English and he's been travelling for more than four three months now. Three more to go he said, and I manage to convince him to check out the Philippines too. I kinda felt good that I'm doing my own little way to help promote the country.

We decided to do some Wat Spotting and see more temples. Our first stop was Wat Si Saket and it's one of the most beautiful Wat that I've ever seen. Built in 1828 by the Siamese, it's the most well preserved Wat in the country.

We then went to check out another small wat just infront Si Saket and we were greeted by a nover of young monks ages 17 to 25. These are really cool monks, they were just inside the temple busy writing something. I was asked by another young monk to approach him and at first I was kinda hesitant because I though I did something but he talked to me and asked me where I'm from. I told him from the Philippines and he then started asking a lot of questions.

He told me that I look Lao but he knew that I wasn't because of the way I dress. Interestingly, he's ery good in English and knows some french. He's name is Noi and he's been in monkhood for more than 15 years, and he's just 25.

We talked for hours about everything, about their daily chores, about my work in Manila. He told me that they wake up at 4am everyday to do chores, clean temple, go to school and meditate. It's always a long day for them but they enjoy it. It's not just a devotion for them but a reason for living.

He showed me what he was writing and it was written in Laos. Apparently it's a novel love story. I kinda gave him the grin because I didn't know that monks could be such hopeless romantic.The story apparently is about these two introvert foreigners who met in Laos. They develop a pseudo platonic relationship as the day passes. In the end, the unrequited love that they have for each other have totally consumed them and when they are about to leave, they just can't leave because they know that the time and space between them will just kill them.

The thesis being that people can completely get lost in a place, that everything around them can be totally unfamiliar, but the instinct within them, their capacity to feel, to fall in love, to get hurt will always be the same no matter what because it's an instinct.

Noi will call his novel "Everytime the rabbit looks up the Moon". Apparently the rabbit and the moon are revered symbols in mythical Lao art.

I told him that it reminded me of movies like "Lost in Translation" and "Before Sunset", but of course he hasn't seen it yet. I told him that it's an interesting concept and that he should develop the tension between the two characters and that he should use Laos as the catalyst for bringing out the essence of his two characters.

I told him that It could even end up as a good film if the narrative of the story is really good. Before I left he handed me a note with his email and i did too. I promised to correspond with him and to check the progress of his novel.I enjoyed our conversation and I really think that this has been the best highlight so far of my trip because I got to talk and exchange ideas with a local.

You just can't buy that package in any tourist agency.

Friday, March 17, 2006


I've been travelling for almost four weeks now and I haven't met a single Filipino.

I mean there's so many young people doing the backpack thing, I've met Israelians, Irish, Koreans, Japanese, Malasians, Australians, Americans, Canadians, but I still have to meet a Pinoy. And who would have ever though that I'd be drinking with a couple in Laos...

Yup, I did. Last night I got to the Capital at around 6pm. I was able to get a good rate in my hotel, got it for $6 which includes aircon and our own toilet. I met this cool bloke from England and we decided to share the room so that makes it $3 each. That's just 160pesos for a very grand accomodation in the Capital of this lovely country.

We then headed to the local bar - the hippest bar on town but superdooper cheap called KOP CHOI or "Thank You" and it was crowded. The famous beer Lao sells for $1. And that's not bad - you go to Embassy or Government and San Mig Light costs around 120pesos. I mean - in Lao you'll definitely feel like a king because everything is so dirt cheap.

Duncan, my room mate saw some of his friends who he travelled with in Bangkok and they were such a great group, and there was this cool buffed Asian Canadian guy who's been travelling for two months already - and syempre I knew that he's Pinoy. I just had the gut feel. So I kinda asked "Arnold" his name, where he was from and he said that he was from Vancouver, and his parents were formerly both from Manila but he was born and he grew up in Canada.

We ended up talking much of the pinoy stuff back in Canada, how he enjoys going to Goldilocks for a $5 pancit and stuff, and how he's so excited to go to the Philippines because he hasn't even been to the country ever. He kept on asking about how the war is back home, whether he'll be kidnapped by the NPA in Manila or whether the Abu Sayaf's near the city center. I just hate how the media have painted the country in a very bad light.

Everything is really out of proportion. I hate it when I see a lot of foreigners who're spending a lot of dollars travelling to the South East Asia and ommitting the Philippines in their itinerary just because of the "WAR" which is apparently happening back home. I just hate it.

Well, I told Arnold that I myself have been travelling extensively back in the Philippines and I know by heart that the country is one of the safest countries to travel. I'm not being nationalistic but yeah, I still feel that the Philippines have the best things to offer in terms of tourist sights.

On that note I promised Arnold that I'll actually show him around when he goes to Manila on the last week of April.Talking to him made me homesick a bit and I was already very drunk after drinking about 6 big bottles of the Lao beer when I heard a band (it was an open night mic, that night) singing a very familiar song. I was trying to hum the song and when it got to the chorus I joined in "Pagsisisi at nalaman mong... ika'y nagkamali..."

I said "Fuck"... the Lao guy is singing Fredie Aguilar's Anak... so I went up to them and asked how they know the song... and this guy who's sporting a Bob Marley dreadlocks said that he knows the song because it's a local song from his coutry. I was so drunk... I stupidly asked him "So they speak Tagalog in Vientianne too?". Then it hit me... and said "Putcha, pinoy ka?" and he said "From Olonggapo".

He asked me what I was doing here and I said I was backpacking the region and I've been in Laos for a week already. He on the other hand has been staying with some of his mates in the Capital now for a year, working on different bars as a vocalist for some bands.

I was just so happy to have been able to talk to and to meet talented pinoys. Galing!

Thursday, March 16, 2006


I really don't know how to swim but I just didn't want to pass Laos' greatest attraction, which was to go tubing in the great Numsong river.

But what exactly is tubing? Well it's this really cool activity whereby you jump in a giant tractor tube, or the salbabida and basically just float and be driven by the stream down the river. It was really great fun. I met a couple of Irish dudes the night I arrived the sleepy town and asked me if I wanted to join them for tubing the next morning.

But then of course, in a sleepy town there's really not much to do at night but drink, and the beer in Laos is pretty dirt cheap and really good too.

But I'd backtrack first to where it started. So I left Louang Phabang after checking out the great Wats (temple) and took the minibus to Viang Veng for about 4 hours. The view on the way is just spectacular, the mountains or the hills, I really don't know what they are called but all have interesting shapes that I haven't seen in my entire life.

When I arrived at Vangvieng though, I was kinda iffy because everywhere you look there's a lot of roads being constructed so it wasn't really a great sight. But once you head down to the river, the dirty town is really worth the travel.

At nights, the youth hostel where I'm staying would show episodes of friends so I'd usually end up watching from 8pm to 12 of all the great episodes that I missed with a great cold beer Lao to beat.

I'm heading to the capital tomorrow, I've met a number of great travelers who's doing the opposite route. I'm heading south of Laos and their going up north. But then, that's the great thing about travelling cause you get to share stories about your adventures. I've given them some advice and in return they gave me some tips on the rest of my journey down south.

Can't wait to check out Vientianne, which according to some books is the Paris of Asia. Hope I'll not be disappointed.

More stories soon!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


The course of yin and yang was followed.

When something begins, something has to end...

When there's a celebration for joy, there's a cause for grief...

And when there's a hope of life, there's the inevitable death...

I opened my phone just before I was about to go to bed to set up the alarm. I was surprised because in the middle of the night, I heard it ringing. I though that I was dreaming because my roaming got cut off two weeks ago because my bills were overdue.

But when it continued ringing, I got off the bed and checked it out. There was an unregistered number on the phone and when I answered it I was surprise to hear the voice of my mom.

She told me that she took care of the bills and was asking me if I was doing ok and if I got my ticket booked already. I said to her that I took care of tickets and i'll be flying back by the end of the month.

There was a hint of sadness in her voice so I got worried and asked her if everything was ok... but I wasn't prepared for the next few words that she told me... I almost brokedown and cried.

Just five days ago, I was so ecstatic to hear that my healthy niece - Aeon had just been born. I was so excited to hear the news and I just couldn't wait to meet her. She'll be the first "apo" of my mom and dad, and my first "pamangkin". It's ironic because she's the daughter of my youngest brother who just turned seventeen. After hearing the news, I went to the market and bought a lot of pasalubongs for her.

This time though, my mom's voice wasn't as excited. She told me that three days ago, my other younger brother's wife gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, 2 months premature. I was so excited to hear that but before I could ask about him more, my mom said that his heart had stopped beating and he's no longer with us anymore...

I must have frozen for a minute and I didn't know what to say. The news had caught me by surprise that I just couldn't move. I knew for a fact that the baby was healthy, and that my brother's wife has her monthly visits to the doctor and everything was perfectly normal.

My mom said that the doctors couldn't do anything, they couldn't revive the cold beautiful boy who was dead apparently even before it was born.

My mom said that my younger brother Mike hasn't stopped from crying. My heart broke... I felt this unimaginable sadness and the regret that I wasn't there to console him in his time of mourning. Mike was very close to me.

I couldn't imagine the pain that he is going through right now. He so love his baby. I don't know how he'd be able to cope up. I can't imagine a young nineteen year old boy burrying his dead baby. I think it's the most painful thing a human being could ever feel... a father burrying his child. My brother is so young and he had lots of hope for his baby.

Mike, my brother, I'm so proud of. He took responsibilities for all the consequences of his actions. He got married at a young age because he believed that the baby should have a legal family.

And even though he's busy as a senior college student, he'd never miss the doctor consultation to join his wife and see that the baby is healthy.

Even though he had exams the following day, he would help me in my projects till the wee hours of the morning to earn extra money which he saves regularly, I know because he showed me his bank book one time. He said that he's starting early and he's saving for the future of his "little angel". He rarely goes out... and for a nineteen year old that's really unheard of... that's how responsible he is.

Now... It's very difficult for me to accept this sad news... I'm very sad for the baby, but I feel more bad for my brother and his wife because I know that they have sacrificed a lot for their baby. They have everything planned... the baby was their future. The beautiful boy would have been lucky to have them as parents.

I'm feeling so weak, but I know that I have to be strong for my brother. I haven't had the chance to talk to him yet because they apparently had just left the hospital and went to school so I'm trying to catch him in his free time.

I'm afraid that I wouldn't know what to say really... I don't know the right words that would lighten up whatever he's feeling right now. I would just want to be the older brother and just rescue him and just really stop the pain... but I know that this time around, I really couldn't do much but let him mourn and let him experience death as it should be.

Deep inside, I know that the pain will eventually subside and it'll just make him stronger in the end.

It'll be difficult to move on, but it wouldn't be impossible...

The spirit may be weak but time offers nothing but hope...

I'm in mourning for the loss of my nephew, but I shouldn't forget that my niece - Aeon is also a cause for celebration.

It's hard isn't it? How difficult it is to experience joy and grief at the same time. But I just really have to live with it.

I, the living, has no excuse but to live my life to the fullest, and with my utmost best.

Death will come no matter what... for it is only in death that we can really appreciate how beautiful life is.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


One good thing about travelling alone is that you're only answerable to yourself.

control your time and if something gets screwed up you but you alone will have to suffer the consequences.

The best thing about it is that you follow your own pace. If you want to spend this amount of time to this location, you're free to do as you please.

You meet a lot of people. You get to learn more things from them. People are more open to you because you're less intimidating than let's say when you're in a group.

I was roaming again the quiet streets of Louang Phabang this morning to witness again the young monks receiving their alms from the village people. I saw that a number of them were converging and were heading towards a temple up on the hill.

"Phou Si" or the sacred hill is the spiritual center of the city. It's a miniature Mount Olympus of Hindu-Buddhist cosmology.

It was by means no easy climb. Halfway through the 200 steps or so I was already having the difficulty of catching my breath. And when I reached the peak, I was rewarded to a stunning panorama of the charming old city.

Up in the hill is Wat Pa Houak, a little temple that contains fascinating murals of Lao inhabitants of Louang Phabang.

I must have stayed there for ages... hours just contemplating on the magnificent view provided by the sacred hill. The great river to my left and the majestic mountain to my right, and the hill was the great crown dividing the breattaking sights.

I approached a young Japanese guy who was also there contemplating and taking pictures. I wanted to srike up a conversation and he was friendly enough to indulge me. I'm just fascinated with travelers who are travelling alone. A month ago, I don't think I'd have the audaucity to embark on one.

Yoshi is in Laos for the second time around and he has also fallen in love with the place. It's his fourth country and he's been travelling since January. He first went to Fiji, then to New Zealand, then to Bangkok, then to Laos and he'll be going up north to cross the borders to China.

He's an engineer in Fukoka, he's unlike the metrosexual japs that was with me during the trek. He's very laid back, was wearing board shorts, faded sirt and he has this Maui-boy vibe going. When I saw him I thought he was around 21-22, to my surprise, he was already in early 30's.

He invited me for a beer (LAO BEER is definitely a highlight of my trip), and we shared our travel stories. He told me that he likes travelling alone because of the freedom that he feels whenever he's just by himself. Having said that, he's rooming in for the night with another Japanese guy to save room fee, but he says that during the day he's pretty much alone just wandering around.

It is very common in Japan, well for young Japanese guys to work for three years and save and travel a year round. This has been his third "around-the-world" travel so far and he said that he's learning alot from it. He's planning to speand six months in China to learn the Language.

I've met a number of young people who're taking their time off to travel and learn from different cultures of the different countries that they visit. This I think is one of the major advantages of first world countries because their youth is lucky enough to experience this. And the community of travellers is growing, it's a pity too that Philippines is being ignored in the travelling community. We're not even part of the travellers itinerary, I've talked to a number of them and they never even considered in putting it in their plans. That's a bummer.

One guy asked me where I was from and when I told him that I was from the Philippines the next question he asked me was "Isn't there a war going on right now there?".

In the end it all boils down to politics. And I can't blame them for the bad impression that they get from the news. We are all to blame. At first I wanted to be apolitical but really in the end, we really have to participate and really start to make a difference if we want this country to progress.

In the end, it's as easy as stopping to blame someone and start doing our part.

Monday, March 13, 2006


I am still in awe with what I just have witnessed today.

I'm in love with the beautiful quaint town of Louang Phabang. This town according to UNESCO is the most preserved town in whole of Asia. As if time has stopped and the village is still in the Indochine era.

Old French villas lay majestically beside each other on the quiet streets of the old town. All the sights are well within strolling distance, as the historical heart of the town is on a kilometer long peninsula.

I woke up at 5:30 in the morning to be greeted by this cool air around. I wanted to see the daily giving of food to young monks which is part of the town's charming daily event and has become a tourist attraction in itself.

Every morning at 6:00am, different monks would line themselves to get food from different families. At the break of dawn, it is an impressive sight to see the Buddhist monks from all the temples walking in the streets, elders first, and receive their alms from the population. They are not supposed to eat for the rest of the day, although rules are rarely observed rigidly.

It is expected from any young Buddhist man in Laos to spend some time in a monastary as a novice monk, preferably before his marriage. Because of that, there is a strong monastic life all over the country.

It was such a wonderful sight and it is very well participated by the whole town itself.

I pretty much just did nothing the whole day and just walked for hours watching as the laid back town unfold itself.

Armed with a good book I grabbed a good coffee in one of the rustic French colonial type coffee shop and let the day pass.

After lunch I checked out the century old palace turned museum and saw how important the small town was in helping the shape the country as a nation.

I'm really in love with this place. I might just stay for a bit for a few more days before I head south to the capital of Vientianne.

But before that happens, I'll just indulge myself a little and enjoy this little piece of paradise on earth... finish a good book and a good latte to beat.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


I'm proud to say that I have conquered the great Mekong River.

The journey migh have been the most tedious and the most ardous part of my journey so far but it was definitely worth every single Thai Baht that I have paid. The adventure is definitely one of those "must" in one's life.

The Thai- Lao journey took more than 33 hours all in all. I woke up early in Chang Khong, Thailand - at around 7:00 am I was having a full breakfast knowing that the journey will be long. At 8:30 I was in the border already, having my passport stamped for exit to Thailand. I had to cross the river to the Laos border which was at Houaxai. Took the jetty boat and was in the border after 10 minutes.

It took a bit long for me to get my Laos entry stamp because the immigration guy thought that I forgot to get a visa, but he wasn't familiar maybe with the Philippine passport and when he double checked he understood that as a Filipino I didn't need a visa to enter.

At 9:30am I was in the boat already. I was so excited. The imagery that has come before me was immaculate. The great river separating the majestic hills of the two countries was one of the best views I'v ever set my eyes on.

There were a number of backpackers who joined the boat and everyone was busy with their camera trying to document the amazing sight.

The boat was really uncomfy, the hard slab of wood is literally a pain in the ass so I had to get my jacket to sit on it the entire journey.

We arrived in the small village of Pakbeng, Laos at around 6:00pm just before the sun was about to set. I had to check out my backpack because there was just so many kids running to me to ask if I needed help with my bag. I said I was ok and started to ask for directions for some of the guesthouses. The village was really very nice, it was up in the hills and the climate was a bit chilly. The electricity though runs only from 6-11pm.

A couple of Irish backpackers (I met them during my busride to Chang Kong) asked me if I wanted to join them with their friends for dinner so eventually I did. We had fun talking about the difficult but rewarding journey to Laos, and ordered a couple of Beer Laos to end the night.

Then a couple of teen Laos joined are group asking if we were ok. I noticed that they were the same guys running my guesthouse. We all nodded yes and thanked them for their warm hospitality when the Laos boy asked if we needed to smoke, we all knewwhat they were refering too. We politely excused ourselves, I was thinking though that I could have said yes if the trip to Louang Phabang the following morning wasn't early, but the boat will leave at 8:30 and if I want to get a good seat I should be in the boat by 7:30.

It was funny because the boy was bent on inviting us, asking if we want ganja, or opium, and I really think that it was this that made Pakbeng famous to a number of young backpackers.

I was tipsy so I best decided to go to bed at 12:00midnight. It was really dark because there was no electricity anymore. I manage to wake up at around 6am, got a good breakfast and went to the boat as soon as possible.

The journey to Louang Phabang took us 9 hours, the journey now was more comfortable because the boat was larger and there were less of us because some of the backpackers decide to stay for a few more nights in Pakbeng.

I reached the lovely small town of Louang Phabang at 6pm, had a great dinner and checked out the great night market near the Palace. I got some gifts for my new niece, I called my mom and she told me that the girlfriend of my youngest brother gave birth a few days ago to a healthy young girl - Aeon. I'm so excited with the news so I got a number of trinkets for her.

I'll be waking up early tomorrow to check out the young monks that made the town of Louang Phabang famous.

More stories of my adventure soon.