Friday, April 14, 2006


I wish I had more time really, but work's piling up back home and It'll be irresponsible for me if I keep on extending my journey. So I had to put a deadline to this trip and have alloted days to my remaining itinerary.

Nevertheless, I still had a grand time in Vietnam. After spending the night in Hanoi, I then went to the ancient cities of Hue and Hoi An. Hue was an interesting stop because they had the oldest temples in Vietnam there. I got myself an open bus ticket for $20 and that gave me six tops to my disposal, at my own pace, at my own time.

Hoi An was magical. Probably the most scenic town that I've ever been, second only to Vigan. I almost used up all of my camera's memory because I was just snapping shots most of the time. It's also a mecca for shoppers. If I wasn't bringing a sack-of-rice-like bag back home I'd be tempted to get some suits and stuff, not that I've any used for it. It's really was just a steal, $40 for a complete three piece suit.

Oh, it was so hot in the middle of the week. I stayed 2 days in Nha Thrang to spend some time in the beach. Nothing grand, but the locals were breeming with life. Saigon was my last stop in Vietnam, I just had to stay there for awhile because there were some stuff to do.

I met two travelers whe were alse travelling on their own too - Harry from U.K. and Octavio from Mexico. We checked out the Cu Chi tunnels and it was the highlight in my Saigon travel. It was just so great to be entering the tunnels. It was not just a learning thing for me but it was very experiencial. I couldn't imagine how the Vietcongs were able to manage and to have inhabited the small tunnels. It was just so claustrophobic.

We have a very good guide who gamely answered all our questions. I was so careful not to be too political because I know that the American-Vietnam war is still a very sensitive subject in Vietnam, but our guide was dead pan about it. He even told a joke or two about how the South was won by the communist north (damn too politically incorrect that I don't think I have the guts to mention it here).

It was a different type of trip in Saigon and I'm glad that I went there. I was about to scratch it off in my itinerary but I've included it in the last minute. It was just really overwhelming. It made me feel good to know how resilient humans are in the face of adversity. Painful it is to remember, this part of Vietnamese history only makes their culture more colorful.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


The last few days was an awesome experience for me, and never has a country, or a city for that matter has taken me breathless.

Beijing would be an ideal place for me to live in. I love the weather, the people, the food, and the rich history never fails to amaze me.

But, as with any journeys, I have to move on and continue my chosen path. I'm going back to Vietnam in a few hours and It will be another long trip back. I'm really just gonna breeze my way through the 4,000km stretch. Beijing to Nanning, to Hanoi, to Hue, to Hoi An, to Nha Trang, and finally to Ho Chin Minh.

Liu Chang and I exchanged each other's email, it's always good to have met interesting people in your journeys. This has kept me more grounded than ever. It's good to know that half way around the world, life continues, that someone is also thrilled in pursuing their dreams and that parellelisms is bound to happen knowing that there's 5 billion people around.

I've pushed my limits in this journey and that's what really is what's it all about... testing the waters, being able to adapt, being able to see myself in everyone that I meet, being able to realize that the world is indeed small... that besides the difference and disparity, there lies a similarity in everyone.

It is always good to celebrate the diversity, true, but there is also a reason to celebrate the oneness of us all.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


It was never in my wildest imagination that I'd end up trekking the great walls of China.

(photo from China travel site)

I've seen the pictures of friends who went up to Badaling (Tourist Part of the Great Wall) but I never really got good words about it. They were saying that the place in itself is almost like a circus.

Lots and lots of people visiting (divisoria on a sunday -like), souveneir vendors scatterred around the path itself, and the wall is reconstructed that it almost looked artificial - like checking out a set on the backlot of a big film studio. There was even a cable car ride up to the wall which was just too Disneylandish for me. I want to see the great wall as it is, minus the tourist trappings.

Nevertheless, it was always with great interest that one day, given the chance, I too would walk the magnificent structure. After all, it's the great freaking wall that can be seen from outerspace right? It was really never in my intention to check it out during my visit in Beijing. I know that it was out of the way and I wasn't really prepared to check it out just yet.

(Photo taken by me)

Last night though, there were these two Australians who took the Secret Wall tour - 2 and a houlf hours north of Beijing. And they were bragging with their pictures how great the trip was, but also how dangerous the entire trek was. Curious, I asked them how they got there and they said that they had arranged this tour with the youth hostel which includes the bus fare, lunch, and a local guide.

(Photo taken by me)

I was amazed with the pictures seeing that there was nobody there except a group of 9 or so. And the walls looked so old, so unrestored, so wild that I knew I just had to be there. I asked Lischuang if it's a good idea, and he said that it's a little bit tricky, because it's really never endorsed by the tourism department because it's a bit dangerous to go. And when he said this, I then became too hesitant to check it out.

But I was having second thoughts. I'm already in Beijing I said, and I'm just two hours away to this secret wall that's not even found in the travel books that I've been reading. So, by instinct, I asked Lischuang if he can hook me up with the group who's doing the trek and if he can put me in. He then called the travel gorup and told me that they'll pick me up at 7 in the morning and the tour will roughly take us 10 hours or so. He told me to bring lots of water, extra food, and a trekking shoes because I would need it.

I woke up early today and I was so thrilled that finally I'll be able to check out the great wall. I was the first guy on the bus and we stopped in two more hotels and picked up nine or so people that will also join in the trek. We really didn't know what to expect because it's not written on the books, nor on the internet. It wasn't Badaling, Mutanyu, Huanghua or Simatai - the four parts open to the tourists. We we're all very excited but at the same time a bit weary that we really don't know where we are going.

2 hours later arrived on this small village. I still didn't see a sign that we were near the great wall. We started to be briefed by the assistant guide, saying that we all need a hiking or trekking shoes because the path is a bit tricky, he also mentioned to us that there's just one way out of the trek, and that is to finish it. There's no cable car to help us if we get tired, there's no hand railings or harnesses to assist us when we go up or down the steep angles of the wall. I was very hesistant to continue really, and I was already thinking what have I gotten myself into.

So we started to climb. It was very, very cold. I was freezing. But the spectacular view of the start of spring up in the mountains was amazing. Flowers were starting to sprout, and wherever you look, it's just so great to take pictures. 350 meters on the way up, and as we went pass the chesnut bushes which covered the hillside, we saw our first glimpse of the great wall... and trully what a great sight it is to behold.

(Photo taken by me)

I thought that that was it. That the trip was just a good photo-op, our guide was pointing to the farthest direction of the wall (which was literally on the otherside of the mountain), I was having second thoughts on what's going to happen next. With his little English, he told us that we're all going there.

My first re-action was - this guy's joking. There's no way we can go up to that part. First, the path is almost unpassable, with big thorny bushes that seemingly occupied the entire way for itselves. Second, the wall is really amazing, beautiful as it is, but it's so unrestored that I think it will collapse anytime if we dare crossed it.

The guide just continued going up so we had no choice but to follow him. I tell you, it's the most difficult thing I've ever done, because first, The climb was just so steep, it's almost like climbing on an 80 degree angle. There was no room for error, a miss on the stonestep or if we slide down the dirt, will find ourselves down 700 meters below. I don't want to end up just like that. The trip for me was haphhazardly done and I just had to hold on dearly to my life and finish this crazy trek that I had joined.

I was probably taking too much time because I can't see the guy ahead of me already. But I told myself it's better to be slow than to fall down. And then miraculously we reached the highest peak - 1500 meters, and the view again was just amazing. More photo-ops and then we finally reached the great wall. We were on the great wall itself, walking and trying to find our way the thorny bushes, trying carefully not to fall the steep wall.

Two hours had passed the trek, and I was really getting thirsty and I was almost having difficulty in breathing because we were just so high above that I thought I was having altitude breathing problems already. So I asked the group if we can stop and just rest for awhile. Two more hours to go our guide said - I thought I will die. My feet was so numb already, and it was just so freaking cold.

An hour and a half later, we went down the wall and I saw this mysterious bright white path down below which was slightly covered by some trees so I really can't see what it was from up above. And to my surprise, as we got nearer, it became more clear to me what the path was. I can't believe it at first but it was a frozen lake. The guide then told us that we had to cross it to get into the otherside. It was so slippery, and it was just so funny because I had to crawl a bit so that I wouldn't fall.

After crossing the frozen lake, we then continued our journey to a number of rock formations. That was neat, I haven't been to Switzerland but the scenery kinda looked liked the ones in the Swiss chocolate bars that you get out of the rack in the supermarkets.

The trekking ended with a late lunch in a small village and I was then dropped off at the youth hostel by around 7pm. I was just so tired that I didn't even bother to grab a bite for dinner. I'm just so excited about the journey and what had transpired today. I really got good pictures too.

I pushed myself to the limits again. The journey was difficult but definitely worth it.

(The Brave Ones)

Mao Tse Tsung once said that if you haven't been to the Great Wall then you haven't been to China at all. Well not only did I climb the great wall, I conquered it... and that's just sweet.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


I wasn't ready for the beauty that was before me.

The Forbidden City was like nothing I've ever seen before. To say that the place is big would definitely be an understatement. Titanic temples gather around the walled kingdom to serve just one - the emperor. This is opulence, power and pride to the max.

The imperial palace is the symbol of all things great in ancient china. The architecture, the detail, the assymetry, the beauty is nothing short of immaculate.

This mammoth-like structure was divided into two parts, the northern half, or the Outer Court where emperors executed their supreme power over the nation and the southern half, or the Inner Court where they lived with their royal family. It housed 23 emperors in the course of 500 years and was forbidden to everyone to enter.

I woke early again because I was told that the Imperial Palace turned Museum is enormous and a day going around it will not be enough. I got some bread again for a quick bite and went to catch the 66 bus to Qianmen. I was really saving so I can't afford the taxi. For 1 yuan or roughly 6-7 pesos, the bus is definitely a great option. But it also means that you have to take some time figuring out how the system work. How to pay, where to get off, what to say to the bus driver, how to cross the street, etc... etc.

It's almost like being back to kindergarden, but this time, there was nobody to guide you, the guard or the police didn't even speak a single english word. You just really have to find your way and try to end up on the right side of the road, and not to get lost in the proccess.

My patience paid off and I got into Tiananmen with ease, but going inside the Forbidden City was actually a more difficult task. Where do I get the tickets? What entrance do I go through? Are they strict with the cameras? All these simple questions and nobody can answer me quite easily.

I trusted my instinct, went through the Tiananmen Gate, saw a long queue ( then I knew for sure that I was on the right track). 60 Yuan to enter ( that means goodbye dinner for me). Additional 40 Yuan for a recorded English guide cassette that you rent out to help you around the palace. I opted not to rent it out since I was really on a tight budget. That also means that I'm on my own, 9,999 buildings to check out before 4pm when the walled city closes.

Going inside without a guide wasn't as bad as I expected. I just literaly walked around the enormous perimeter and followed the other tourists with rented guide cassettes, that was I think a smart move for me because I knew that I'll not get lost. Each of the buildings have an English written explanation just before you enter so it pretty much described what the building was for.

Buildings such as Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Preserved Harmony, Hall of Central Harmony, Palace of Celestial Purity, Hall of Terrestial Union, Hall of Ancestral Worship, Palace of Tranquil Longevity, Hall of Joyful Longevity, and a hundred more... all of which I really didn't understand what type of purpose do they serve, and all of these were built for the use of just one person, the great emperor. I felt that I just walked in a Bernardo Bertolucci film set. I had to pinch myself and remind myself that this sign of profusion was indeed for real.

I left the palace just around 4pm. Time went by so fast, 5 hours passed by just like that. Sometimes I was just sitting for hours just staring in one of the buildings, imagining what it would have been like to live in this walled city during its haytime.

Nevertheless, the visit left me in awe. The beauty exceded my expectations. I felt that I was so priviledged to be living in time where to step on this forbidden crib is forbidden no more.

History never fails to amaze me.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


I'm so interested about Mao Tse Tsung.

The atrocities that he did during his regime is unforgivable and yet the majority of the Chinese revere him almost like a saint. I think his face is the most recognizable ever, next to Che Guevarra, all thanks to Andy Warhol who's silk screen painting of his portrait put Mao into the heart of mainstream pop culture.

I then was so thrilled (I'm not into necrophilia and that shit, and I don't want to be morbid about it) when I saw in my Chinese travel book that his embalmed body can be seen in his mammoth-like mauseleum free of charge.

I woke up very early due to the advice of my landboy (the assistant of my landlord, hehe) Lischuang . He told me that getting into the mauseleum is almost like getting into an Eminem concert and there are literally thousands of visitors everyday who line up for hours just to see him. And the visit is actually quite short, the guards would usually guide the queue of visitors and all in all the quick glance will last only 5 minutes.

I've really been into the extremes in this journey. Two weeks ago, in laos, the weather was around 40 degrees (the hottest recorded in years), and last night here in Beijing, it was freezing cold. I forgot that it's still winter - going to spring here and I didn't have winter clothes except a jacket with a jeans-like material.,, and it was reeeeeeally cold this morning.

The leaveless trees are just amazing here, all the more because it was enveloped by a thick fog. The morning in Beijing created an aura of mystery, quite haunting really - and to think that I'm visiting a corpse, the whole thing was really quite eery.

When I arrived in Tiananmen Square , there was this big mural of Mao hanging on the entrance gate. I had to cross the street to reach the mauseleum. I must have been too early because the line wasn't just as bad as I was expecting it. But the guards were very strict. Bags and cameras had to be deposited for 5 yuan. I was just again to lazy to do it because it meant that I had to go out of line and walk 200 meters to the deposit area so I just simply hid my camera in my jacket.

I was lucky enough to get through the guards and low and behold, there were hundreds of visitors carrying flowers with them. A giant staue of Mao greeted us just before the dark room where his body lies. And it was really interesting to see the old visitors almost sobbing and teary eyed.

Maoism is Marcosian for us pinoys, and It's interesting to see the Chinese to be so kind to him even though his misgovernance cost the country millions of lives.

I ended just around lunch time and I decided to just check around the city and take pictures of whatever gets my fancy.

Beijing is beautiful but I find it too polluted. What I thought was fog in the afternoon was actually a smog created by a number of coal powerplants around the city that actually supplies their energy. The smog makes a great filter on the sun though, and makes taking pictures so cinematic.

Beijing is a really good setting for a movie, it's ancient meets mod. The telephone booths are just so retro-sixties and the buildings are so art deco.

It was getting cold in the late afternoon so I decided to get back to the hotel and call it a day. I wasn't too adventurous with food so I just got some bread for dinner which actually did the trick. Got to the bar (the bar is just bside my room, no kidding, hehe) with Lischang and asked advice where to go next...

The agenda tomorrow - the Forbidden City. The gargantuan palace that housed the emperor and was off-limits to everyone for 500 years...

Amazing! Can't wait!

(Note: I'll be just posting pictures taken by me from my camera from now on just to make the journal more personal, hehe...)