Tuesday, May 17, 2016

#BirthdayGirl 2016: Of Temples & Freedom

I have a confession. I'm a Grinch for birthdays. My own that is. For some silly reason, I feel less sunny rather than festive so it takes a little more effort to make this day count. I'm not huge on gifts either. I'm a sucker for quality time and conversations and experiences. So I've long abandoned throwing birthday parties and would rather spend my moolah on traveling. New places to see, experiences to remember, people to meet, lessons to learn. Sounds like a good way to celebrate another year of life and blessings.

Birthday travel tradition:

2011 - Hong Kong
2012 - Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
2013 - Boracay
2014 - Hong Kong & Macau
2015 - Break for my dear lola's passing. Traveled home to Philippines instead.

For 2016, I've set my eyes on one destination alone - CAMBODIA. And boy, it didn't disappoint. Aside from the unforgiving drought that turned the fields brown, Cambodia is everything I expected and more.

1. Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap is a great pre-temple destination to learn about Khmer history and the context behind the intricate art, monuments and carvings that you will see in the temples. It's a bit costly at USD12 (plus USD3 for audio device), but well worth the money. The artifacts are well-preserved and in good condition. There's also audio-visual presentations that you can play in several languages which is cool. The whole building is also air-conditioned and has a mini café. With Siem Reap's temperature reaching 40 degrees Celsius, a few hours in the museum is a welcome respite.

Photography is not allowed inside the exhibit halls, hence.

2. Angkor Wat Temple is as grand as I imagined it to be. In scale (the largest religious monument in the world), detail and history, it will leave anyone in awe. Aside from the famous Angkor Wat temple, the Angkor Complex also includes symbolic sites like the Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple and Ta Prohm which was made famous by Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider movie. A sunrise tour which consists of sunrise watching (of course!), visit to five temples, English speaking guide and round van transfer is only USD13, which to me is a really good deal. You only need to pay additional USD20 for a day pass to the temples.

3. Khmer cuisine is much like a fusion of everything Asian. Mix of Thai, Malay and Indian dishes. Not the most distinct to be honest, but there's two Khmer dishes that you should try. The Beef Lok Lak which is the Cambodian version of beef stewed in tomatoes and onions, usually served with rice and egg, and the Khmer Amok which basically is meat (often fish or chicken) cooked in curry and rich coconut milk. Both are flavourful, though having been living in KL for quite some time, I'm lacking on the spiciness so, extra chili please!

4. If you're a history geek, you'll know that Cambodia has been through a horrific war in the recent times. In fact, the war only ended in 1999! Spare some time and read about the brutal Khmer Rouge regime and decide for yourself if you want to include the Genocide Museum and Killing Fields in the capital city of Phnom Penh. I was content to visit the War Museum in Siem Reap instead. Here we met Moun Sinath, a war veteran who now works as a guide in the museum. He's known to many as 'the cat', as he survived multiple shots and a landmine injury before finally retiring from the army. Visiting the war museum is a natural eye opener and made me realize how fortunate I am to be born in a time and place of peace. I'm sure the rest of the tour visitors felt the same.

"The Cat" showing us shrapnels still inside his body

5. The rural life in Siem Reap reminded me of my mom's province in the Philippines, Pampanga. Spent the afternoon riding water buffalo cart, biking around and waving to kids, bullying the baby cows to take photos with me and just watching the sunset, magnificent as always. It was also the perfect spot to say a prayer of thanks for another year of life and the freedom that I've been enjoying immensely.

Channeling my inner yogi

Other important stuff to remember:
  • Beer is hellah cheap at USD0.35/mug. Cocktails are not bad either at USD1.50.
  • Contrary to my expectation, Cambodia is not a cheap city. Aside from alcohol and accommodation, everything else is a little pricey. Each meal will cost around USD4-6.
  • They accept USD everywhere, but conversion rate is up to the store. =P I came to a point when I already gave up computing my change.
  • Tuk Tuk is expensive at USD 2-4 for walkable distance around Pub Street and Night Markets. So start walking. It's healthier too!
  • It's hot. It's sticky. Be prepared with sunscreen, water, towel and hat if you may.
  • Wear sleeved top and pants/skirt below the knee. Otherwise, you cannot go up the Angkor Wat temple. Scarves/sarong won't make the cut.
  • Begging and garbage on the streets are quite common. Also, milk scam is still happening, unfortunately. Be aware and alert, especially if you're a solo female traveler.

And that folks, sums up my week in Cambodia. I'm one happy #BirthdayGirl indeed.

Love and light to every one,

Thursday, April 7, 2016

An Ode to Bali


I haven't been traveling as much as I should the past months. Life happened in 2015. A whole lot. A quick, 3-day getaway to Bali may not sound much, but it's all I needed to align my stars, lift my spirit and indulge in the wonderfully odd feeling of going somewhere unfamiliar, doing something new, smelling the air and everything in between.

Bali, I raise my glass to you, with  warm, sweaty skin and sandy hands!

For the opportunity to see more of this amazing world, indulge in its culture and nuances
For meeting new people, hearing differing thoughts, getting inspired by innocent displays of bravery and free spirits
For helping me understand myself more, convinced that I can be alone and not lonely - but that I'd rather be with someone: a friend, a lover, a random stranger, an island dog 
For making new friends, lending a helping hand, receiving one in return, learning a thing or two however, whichever way possible
For letting me rebel in my independence, my freedom and complete control
For willingly letting go of that control
For celebrating friendships, of both days and decades
For learning how to follow lead and for the unfamiliar feeling of warmth and protection
For failing,understanding and waking up still bright-eyed and wanting
For realising that I needed something more, someone more, than my seemingly efficient, sometimes oblivious self 
For painlessly pulling my guards down, and for finally accepting that there's nothing wrong in receiving

Friday, December 4, 2015

365 Days of #BigGirlMoves

Waking up to this beauty | Brunei Nov 2015

November 30 marks my first year of living solo and working overseas. It's odd that I'm spending this day in Brunei rather than my second home in KL. But it's never just about the place. It's about decisions, dreams, people. It's about learning and bravery and love. It's about knowing one's self, and what human soul is capable to achieve if we truly and honestly believe in something.

I have very little time to blog these days because I'm too busy discovering my new city. But I'm extremely enjoying living offline, I guess it's not a bad thing after all. Looking forward to more of this adventure, and hopefully, be able to share more in this humble space.


Monday, August 24, 2015

TRAVEL LOVE: Cool Down Cameron

I made it a personal goal to travel around Malaysia as much as I can. Why not, it is after all my second home now, and what better way to immerse myself in its wonderful culture than to do what I love best. So much that when I saw the cinema Ad of Emirate's campaign 'Be There,' that celebrates curiosity, wanderlust, and the adventure that comes with travel, I immediately felt like a soldier on a mission.
My recent solo trip to Penang was nothing but wonderful. Georgetown is bustling with interesting architecture, unique art and awesome food fusions. There's so much things to see and do so I was on the go 90% of the time. On the other hand, Cameron Highlands offers a sanctuary of peace and down time. One of Malaysia's most extensive hill stations, Cameron Highlands is most noted for its cool weather, 18 degrees Celsius on average, but can drop to as low as 13 degrees at night and high reaches. It was discovered by British surveyor William Cameron in 1885. The British who flocked to the area, mainly to escape the crushing heat of Malaysia, soon realised the potential of Cameron Highlands' fertile soil to grow tea which was then considered a prized commodity. Malaysian-British entrepreneur J.A. Russel founded the BOH Tea Company 86 years ago, and it still remains to be the number one tea in Malaysia today. I hope you like history!
If Penang's a girl, she would be the adventurous go-getter who likes to entertain people with her own brand of art and music. Her polar opposite would be Cameron Highlands, the zen sister who's a little shy and introvert with a profound oneness with nature. She's nurturing but feels perfectly comfortable alone and in silence. A friend asked me which place did I like better as she's planning a trip for the long weekend, but I can't name one. To me, you have to meet them both. Penang will fire up your senses while Cameron Highlands will provide a sweet cool down. It boils down to what you need at the moment.

 Here's a list of Cool Down Must Dos in Cameron Highlands:  

1. Breathe Easy. Silence your Heart.
I'm city girl by heart. I live in a building beside a mall and in front of a major highway. I'm used to the noise and pollution. But Cameron Highland's fresh air is a welcome treat for the lungs! Hearing birds chirping instead of tires screeching before bed is also a novelty that I absolutely loved. 

2. Smell the Blooms
Cameron Highlands is peppered with beautiful flower farms. You can literally just stop and smell the blooms. I visited the Cactus Valley in Brinchang town which, aside from cute and weird cactus plants, also housed a wide variety of colorful pretty flowers that you can purchase. If only we had a car, I would have purchased flower pots for our veranda.


3. Eat Fresh
While Penang tops the list for the most popular food destinations in Malaysia, Cameron Highlands does not disappoint either. The night market in Brinchang is a haven for fresh and organic produce. From strawberries, honey, freshly cooked seafood and vegetable goreng (fried) to steaming Fish Laksa. Brinchang is also flooded with Steamboat restaurants. Steamboat is similar to Shabu-Shabu, where you boil and cook different goodies - from meat, noodles, tofu to veggies - in a base soup (herbal, Tom Yam, Chicken etc.) The only difference is that it's cooked in charcoal and not the usual electric pots. I'm not a fan but I get the appeal, and it's indeed a perfect choice for the cold weather! Usual Malaysian fares like Nasi Lemak, Char Kwey Teow and Nasi Kandar are also abundant. Plus, scones, pies and freshly brewed tea make the perfect 'Little England' experience in the heart of Asia. 

4. Buy Organic
Aside from strawberries and flowers, the rows and rows of green, crispy lettuce also caught my fancy. I was tempted to just pick and toss them in a salad bowl. Luckily, you can just order freshly made salad from the farm café. Pair it with a glass of strawberry lassi, and your afternoon is complete. Tourists usually bring home organic produce back to the city. It's fresh and really cheap (i.e. 3 HUGE packs of strawberries only cost RM 20 or Php 240!), you have nothing to lose. 

5. Meditate 
Cameron Highlands offers plenty of opportunities to empty your mind. I chose a good spot in the BOH Tea Plantation TEAteria with a stunning view of the hills covered in tea shrubs. It's tricky since the place is popular and hardly empty, but it's a magnificent place to meditate on a good day. Otherwise, get a hotel with a veranda and a good view, and you have the perfect backdrop for your morning meditations. 

Some useful tips to remember when you're traveling to Cameron Highlands:
  • Bus tickets sell fast especially on holidays. I suggest you buy online and just claim your boarding pass at the station. I booked via BusOnlineTicket.com (nope, this is not a sponsored post) and went to the Pudu Raya/Pudu Sentral Bus Station 30 minutes before departure.
  • The nearest LRT station is Plaza Rakyat. Cost is RM 40 (Php 480) per way including insurance. Travel time is anywhere from 3.5 to 4 hours including a 10-minute restroom stop.
  • Buses stop at Tanah Rata. You can take a taxi to Brinchang for only RM 10 (Php 120). Buses are not reliable so better hop on the cab, or if you are up for it, hitch a ride with caution. 
  • Taxis are regulated in Cameron Highlands. You can rent one for RM 25 (Php 300) per hour for a minimum of 3 hours. So plan your trip to maximize your money. I met a really nice taxi driver/tourist guide, PM me and I'll give you his mobile number. :) 
  • Most 2-3 star hotels do not have air conditioners. My friend K and I asked about it, the receptionist looked puzzled and thought we're crazy. When the sun set, we understood why. It was freezing! 
  • Jackets, leg warmers and closed shoes are recommended, depending on your tolerance. But no shorts and flip flops for sure!
  • Places we visited, and you should too: Big Red Strawberry Farm, Cactus Valley, BOH Tea Plantation at Sungei Palas, Brinchang Night Market. 

Hello from me and my adventure bud, K :)

On to the next adventure. Happy start of the week! 

Much Love,

Monday, August 10, 2015

What I Learned Today: Inspirations from TEDxKL

This year's TEDxKL theme
I draw inspirations from a lot of things. Books, movies, websites, everyday conversations, the sky, my dog. Name it. I'm a firm believer of lifelong learning, that there's always something new and valuable to pick up even from the seemingly mundane things.
One of my favorites is TED videos. The first time I discovered the TED App on iOS, I spent the whole day on the couch watching speeches and presentations from all kinds of people across the globe. The thing I like the most about it is that on top of known personalities, the TED stage has also been an avenue to showcase ordinary people with extraordinary contributions to the society. Be it in the field of technology, energy, business or simply fighting for causes such as gender equality, right to clean water or even child marriage. It has revolutionized the way we share and celebrate inspirations, and who to draw them from. Age, race or PhD requirement is unheard of.
Thankfully, my company sees great value in exposing employees with these kinds of events and agreed to sponsor me and my colleagues to attend the second TEDx in Kuala Lumpur. It's been a while since I've drawn so much inspirations in a day, it would be a shame to keep it to myself. As TED puts it, these are ideas worth spreading.
Here are my favorite takeaways; may you be as inspired as I am, today and always!
Afdlin Shauki: actor, comedian, director and activist

  • "I'm excited to be wrong because it means I will learn something right."
  • "You don't lose anything by adding value to other people's lives."
  • "Visiting India, and other rural places while directing my films taught me that you can be happy without having a lot of stuff."
  • "If you want to live an extraordinary life, never accept the status quo. Think about the perceptions, and challenge them."
I love this guy, and not only because he's funny. Sure, he makes a living making people laugh. But starring and directing films in Tamil (India) and Thai when you only know Malay and English is no laughing matter. He came from a poor family who could only send him to school 50% of the time. He had to alternate schooling with his siblings. When everyone told him that he wasn't cut for the big screen, he challenged the perceptions of what actors should be, and proceeded to making and directing films that would eventually win awards internationally. More so, he put his fame and fortune to good use and set up his own foundation and started a mission to help the refugees of Syria in Jordan. Big guy with a bigger heart.
He said a lot of good things, but I can relate best with his statements on "being wrong." Not really proud of it, but I'm an obsessive compulsive perfectionist, and I find it hard to stomach that being wrong is not a mortal sin, that it's actually alright. In fact, mistakes can lead to better outcomes, because it stretches people's limiting beliefs, or perceptions of such. The most successful people are not the ones who don't commit mistakes, but the ones most quick to recover. I want to belong to the latter.

Irshad Mobarak: naturalist, conservationist, Mr. Awesome

"Be fast when it's needed, be strong when strength is required, but remember that the most adaptable always survives."
Irshad spoke about nature's natural relationships (namely commensalism, mutualism and parasitism) and related it to human behaviors. The evolution of man, history, war, even genocide! He said Hitler wasn't a glitch of nature but a product of convoluted idea that the fittest (in this case, the superior race - blonde, blue-eyed Aryan) survives, or should survive. I've always been intrigued by the Nazi era and its ethos, and wondered how it was possible for human beings to be so corrupted and consumed by the ideas of superiority and playing god. I've read several books about concentration camps and such, and have watched documentaries, but it's my first time to hear its co-relevance with nature and evolution. I clapped so hard, my hands hurt!
Catch this guy in his responsible wildlife tours in Langkawi. I've heard it's a must!
Meanwhile, install the TED App or subscribe to the website and get random inspirations daily. It's addicting, so consider yourself warned. Have a good week ahead!

Spot the Edelman logo. 
 The venue (Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil) is 12 stations and 1 cab ride away from my place, hence the tired eyes, but it's all worth it! :)

Much Love,