Saturday, December 29, 2012

I Love Bangkok

I've heard you either love Bangkok or you hate it. For me, it was love at first sight.

I expected Bangkok to be crowded, dirty, rowdy, and steaming hot. I expected my mind to be blown by the intensity of the city. I thought it would be packed full of people at all hours with wild tuk tuks blazing by and strange smells around every corner.  That's not how I found it (well, except for the hot part) and I was very pleasantly surprised.

I don't know if it's because I'd been living in Korea before traveling, but Bangkok was a lot calmer and nicer than I thought it would be. The airport was nice, the public transportation we took into the city was clean and air conditioned, and there didn't seem to be any more people on the street than in Suncheon. Seriously.

Everyone was super kind and smiley, the food was amazing, and the temples were all gleaming and beautiful. What more could a tourist ask for??!

Bangkok is such a cool city. Since it's an old city, there is so much character. There are great, fancy temples and tiny out of the way ones. There are gigantic malls and tiny roadside stalls. And the best part is, all are filled with happy, kind people. You are affected by the people around you, and I was so happy in Bangkok!

Bohol's Jungle

We set off into Bohol's jungle filled center with little expectation. I'd heard mixed reviews about the famous Chocolate Hills and wasn't expecting anything great. But before the Chocolate Hills, first we went to see the tarsiers.

Tarsiers are tiny, nocturnal primates that live on the island. They are endangered so we went to the Philippine Tarsier Foundation to see some. Apparently, there are some people who just catch them and then let tourists hold them and take pictures with them on their shoulder. This is illegal and those tarsiers die quickly. Not good for an endangered species, so don't do that, everybody!

At the Foundation, there is a small area with information about tarsiers, a video about them and the Foundation's efforts (which we didn't watch), and then a guide will take you out in the nearby jungle to see the little creatures. It was a pretty quick trip since we didn't watch the video and just went out to see them.

Then we got on the pretty bus pictured below and went to the Chocolate Hills.

Once we got to the Chocolate Hills we had two options, hire an overpriced tricycle to take us to the top or walk up. Even though we had our bags strapped on us, the walk wasn't bad at all. Actually, some of the best views we got were from the road...but that might have just been because we had to share the viewing platform with a Chinese tour group, who pulled up right as we reached the top.

The Chocolate Hills were pretty but the ride to get there was the real delight of the trip. The views from the bus were phenomenal. It was like a tropical dream.

All in all, I was underwhelmed with the touristy things to do on the island but loved the everyday aspects of it and the people were all super friendly so it was great. Sometimes, it really is just about the journey and not the destination.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Adventures in Siquijor

Following Lonely Planet's advice, we rented a motorbike to tour the small island of Siquijor. As promised, it was a really fun way to see the island and do things on your own terms without having to bargain with tricycle or jeepney drivers, which can quickly become tiresome.

What we didn't count on, was Spencer being incredibly ill. That morning Spencer wasn't feeling well but he still really wanted to go on the trip. So, we went.

We set off on the motorbike a bit shaky at first. We were wearing helmets and full of determination to make it a success. We planned on taking turns and I was driving first since I had some previous motorcycle experience from when my dad taught me to ride a quad (aka ATV). As I was starting out, I was a bit nervous but I kept hearing my dad say, “Listen to the engine! Hear that? Okay, let up the gas and shift!” We would have been doomed without those lessons from my childhood! (Thanks, Dad!!)

As we hit the smooth main road, things got easier and I got more confidence. We were doing it! We were riding a motorbike and it was scary, exciting, and absolutely beautiful. We passed fields of rice, countless coconut trees, thatch huts, brightly painted cement houses, goats, chickens, pigs, cows, schools, villages, and the endless, shimmering sea. I felt so free but at the same time, I was constantly clutching the handlebars and never going over 45 kilometres/28 miles per hour.

After stopping a couple times for Spencer to be sick, getting lost once, and asking for directions multiple times, we finally made it to our first stop: Cambuhagay Falls. We planned on our second stop being a beach, but we never made it. You'll see why later.

Cambuhagay Falls is a set of three cascades in a river headed for the ocean. The water is a beautiful shade of aqua and the biggest swimming hole comes complete with an old jungle vine to swing into the water. The swinging vine along with the lush, green jungle surrounding the falls brings up thoughts of Tarzan. It was like a tropical dream! It's a must see if you come to Siquijor island.

The beauty of the location was the exact opposite of how Spencer felt. He was miserable. I kept telling him we could go back to our resort but he kept saying no. Even though he was sick, he still wanted to see the waterfall and hang out. What a trooper! So, I went swimming while Spencer threw up some more. Then we both took turns on the rope swing.

After a while, Spencer couldn't tolerate it anymore and we got back on the motorbike and headed towards home. I was getting more and more worried about his inability to even hold down water so when I saw a sign for a hospital, I immediately turned into its driveway.

We had to wait about 40 minutes for the doctor to come but I was happy we did. While we were waiting, the nurses gave Spencer a pill for his fever and by the time the doctor showed up, he was feeling a bit better. The doctor was very kind, she spoke perfect English (as a lot of Filipinos do), and prescribed Spencer some probiotics and re-hydration salts.

On doctor's orders, we skipped the beach and headed back to the resort. By the time we got back, Spencer was feeling better and even ate some toast for dinner. The day had not turned out how we intended but we had survived.

Christmastime in the Philippines

Even though it's hot and humid outside and doesn't feel like Christmastime at all, it still is, and it's nice to be reminded of it by decorations and Christmas lights.

In the Philippines if someone has a Christmas tree at their home, it's always a faux-tree and it's usually placed out on a front porch or balcony. It seems like people spend most of their time outside and from there they and others can enjoy it the most.

Near where we are staying in Tagbilaran, on the island Bohol, there is a public square with a big church on one side and the capitol building on the other. The park is decorated with all kinds of different Christmas lights.

A stroll through the park at night was a sparkly and wonderful way to be reminded that yes indeed, it is Christmastime, even though you are wearing as little clothes as possible and are still sweating at night! :)

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and lots of joy to all of those who don't celebrate either of those!! Happiness and love to all!!!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Serenity on Sugar Beach

After the hustle and bustle of Boracay, Sugar Beach was a welcome sight. We pulled up on the bright yellow Driftwood Village boat, named Surfy, to an nearly empty beach surrounded by hills crowded with jungle. It was perfection. Most unlike Boracay, there wasn't a single person trying to sell us stuff and we were so happy.

It's so peaceful on Sugar Beach that we were instantly relaxed, which was nice because it was a trek to get there. Sugar Beach is near the town of Sipalay on the west coast of the island of Negros. From Boracay, we took a bus to Iloilo (about 6 hours), a fast ferry (1.5 hours) to Bacolod (where we spent one night to break up the trip), then a bus from Bacolod to Sipalay (about 5 hours) and a boat from Sipalay to Sugar Beach (20 minutes), Phew! But it was worth it.

We were met with a smile and a handshake from the owner, Peter, who showed us to the reception area. There, we met the first of many extremely kind Filipino women who work at the resort. We asked for the cheapest room and she showed us over to a little thatch hut near the back of the property.

It wasn't much, but it would do. We had a bed, a shelf, a chair, a lock-box, a mosquito net, and a front porch with a hammock and loveseat. The bed was too short for Spencer's six foot three inches and I barely fit at five foot seven. I think if the bed was longer, we would have stayed longer because everything else was great.

The food was simple, filling and good. There was a large selection of dishes on the menu to choose from: western food, Thai, and Filipino. We ordered some drip coffee and it was incredibly bitter so I'd steer clear of that. Everything else we had was great.

There are tons of games to play and, with a view of the ocean, Spencer and I played chess all morning one day. They also had lots of beach games and other board games. Couple that with all the water activities you can do and you won't be bored at this place! There's diving, snorkeling, boat tours, etc.

The staff was incredibly nice and they invited us to play volleyball with them around sunset. It seemed like a nightly ritual and was a lot of fun! Afterwards, we jumped into the sea to cool off and wash the sand off ourselves from diving for the ball. The water was so refreshing after the match and the sunset that night was one of the best I've ever seen.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Beginning in Boracay

Here we are on this gorgeous tropical island of Boracay. It's breathtakingly beautiful here and full of tourists from all over the world.

The walkway along the beach is lined with shops and walking vendors selling everything you could possibly need while vacationing here; snorkels, sunglasses, dresses, flip flops, hats, souvenirs, and the most expensive sunscreen on the planet. We haven't bought much along this walkway because everything is more expensive here than if you just walk inland a little bit. The best thing we've done along this walkway was buy a coffee and a mango shake and just sit and take it all in: the people walking by, the brilliant sea, and the storm clouds rolling in from Typhoon Pablo.

Yes, there is a typhoon headed our way today! It's a big one, but it should be less strong by the time it reaches us, hopefully anyway.

The past couple of days have been super relaxing. We eat, we walk, we swim, we eat, we walk, we swim. The water is clear, cool, and wonderfully refreshing. We only go swimming around 3 or 4 in the afternoon to avoid the sun's harsh rays on our super white skin. We're wearing tons of sunscreen as well, of course.

Yesterday, we took some great photos underwater with our waterproof camera case and it worked flawlessly. It was super fun and we got some cool shots. I was so looking forward to uploading them but, unfortunately, our camera cord got lost in Seoul somehow. We have to find a new one now. :/

We've both agreed that this is a great first stop for our trip. It's relaxing and beautiful and also, since it's so touristy, it's kind of easing us into the travel lifestyle. We still have some of the conveniences of home, everyone speaks English, and the food isn't scary. Plus, even with the typhoon coming, it feels safe. The people are kind and the vendors and sales people aren't too pushy.

Our hostel/guesthouse is nicer than I anticipated. We have a good sized corner room which allows a nice cross breeze to roll through. We have a bed—that's really just a thick piece of foam on a frame, some shelves, a vanity, and a fan. We share the bathrooms and even though the shower is just dumping a bucket of cool water over my head, I don't mind it at all. I feel like a real traveler now, even though we've just begun!

I'm off to lay in the hammock on the balcony and read. The wind is picking up but we'll be okay.