Manila, the Philippines: a failed attempt at going anywhere
So, let’s talk about another annoying day on the road! We fly to Manila and from there, we have to get a bus from a certain terminal and then we’ll be on a 12-hour bus to Sagada, which is way up North. There, you can see the hanging coffins and zipline over the rice terraces, and on the way, you can find Mount Clitoris. I am excited about both things.
We wait for a metered taxi, which takes a while. Someone sings You’re Beautiful by James Blunt to us for the second time today as we get in the car. Our driver doesn’t know where the bus terminal is,so we drive around for a good 2 hours, our driver stopping to ask locals for direction every now and then.
We drive around a dangerous neighborhood and the driver asks us to lock the doors, so when we find a bus terminal in the neighborhood, we decide we don’t want to get out and wait for our bus there for the next 3 hours. So we ask him to take us to Lion’s Den Hostel. Of course we don’t have the address, since this is a spontaneous decision, but the driver keeps asking us anyway. Eventually, after another hour in traffic, we see a McDonald’s and ask him to drop us off so we can eat and find the address using their WiFi. It is around 7 PM by then. We walk into the busy place, the only Caucasian people around, with all of our luggage, so it’s safe to say all eyes are on us. After some food and getting the address, we walk outside and try to get a cab. Just like 20 other people.
Eventually, a trike stops and says he’ll take us to a taxi terminal. 5 minutes and 50 pesos later, he drops us off at a bridge and tells us to cross it. What a rip-off. So we basically end up just outside one of the airport terminals, where there is a lot of traffic, but no empty taxis. I am surrounded by begging children, and then two police officers come to our aid and hail us a cab. We try two drivers before one says he can take us to MNL Hostel – yes, like the one in Boracay – and one hour later, we arrive. It is basically opposite Our Melting Pot, which we stayed at when we first arrived in Manila, almost a month ago. We are put in a female dorm and pass out not too long after.
The next day, we head to Glorietta Mall and find an H&M – it’s one of those places I just love to go, because it’s familiar. Also, I need a new purse, since my other one got stolen back in Cebu, remember?
After buying a purse, we go to Forever 21 and I get a skater dress like the ones I used to wear at home, before packing all my stuff down and putting them in storage. I feel like me again! Even though I am not wearing any make-up for the first time in 10 years. I also buy a book, Gone Girl, because I miss my Kindle so much.
At night, we go to the street market, where they have stall after stall with chicken blood, intestines and liver on a stick. This was the reason why we never ate here a month ago, but the second time around, we notice some good fried chicken and STREET PAD THAI. YESS!! So we have that and we’re full and happy and we go to 7-11 and buy some alcohol and end up attracting a group of fellow backpackers and a staff worker back at the hostel. Sophie and I sing Let It Go with an Irish guy joining in, a Dutch guy tries to teach us how to dance to EDM, and then we’re off to go see midget boxing. Exciting.
The midget boxing happens at a bar on the Red Light District called Ringside. I think. I am pretty drunk by the time we get there. A few girls in bikinis are dancing like they hate their lives in the ring, and we sit there sipping on our overpriced beers, when Irish guy runs into the ring and starts dancing. Awesome.
I have a dance-off with a girl working in the bar right in the ring, and then everyone joins in and dance until the midgets start fighting. Then it gets kind of sad. For some reason, it just looks exploitative to us, so we get out not too long after that. Meanwhile, the weird American roommate from Bohol is staying at MNL as well, and he decides to show up at our table, so while we work out the bill, he and another American from our hostel are motorboating prostitutes. Classy and awesome.
I buy a hot dog at 7-11 and fall asleep by 2 AM. I wake up pretty hungover the next morning. We’re going to climb a volcano today.
Staff guy from last night, Rafael, Lucie, who was also drinking with us, and two English ladies, Susie and Toni get on a jeepney, a bus and a boat, and around two hours later, we’re on Luzon island where the Taal volcano is.
We walk through a small village full of tree huts and people playing basketball or staring at us, eyes full of curiosity. An old lady sells us the kind of face mask you always see people wearing in Japan or Vietnam.
We do a 45-ish minute walk up a steep, dusty hill until we reach the top of the volcano, looking down into the lake right in the middle. We take some embarrassing pictures and just enjoy this amazing view. Plus, we’re kind of scared of walking down this steep hill.
Of course, we aren’t back until 8 PM, when we were supposed to be back at 6. We go to a falafel place nearby and have an amazing dinner with the girls. This is my second time eating falafel ever, and the first time was in Boracay! I am getting hooked. Anyway, full and ready to go to Lion’s Den, where we have a booking, we look for a cab that knows where it is. So we have to wait quite a while. Eventually, a guy takes us to the area, which is a gated community full of fancy villas(!), and he asks a few people for directions. We arrive, tired, full and just ready to go to sleep.
Our last day together, Sophie and I sit out by the pool and get some sun. I read half of Gone Girl, I’m so interested in what happens next. We get lost trying to find an ATM – the first and only one in the neighborhood rejects my very last credit card and I almost cry – and then we buy food at a supermarket. It’s very odd walking around a giant, very rich neighborhood after passing by so many tree huts and seeing so much poverty around. Back at the hostel, we watch Maleficent on TV at night and then we go to sleep.
I have a full day by myself, since my flight is at midnight. I just sit on the balcony of my room, eating mangos and writing this blog post and itching to get back to my book. Must. Not. Read. Before. Departure. I have an 8 hour flight ahead of me and nothing else to keep me entertained.
So, now that I am leaving the Philippines after almost a month, I should probably once again include my observations about this country.
First off, this country is much bigger than I expected. Looking at a map, I thought all these islands were relatively small and that they all had great ferry connections. I forgot this isn’t Thailand. I am sorry. Sophie and I did the thing you are never supposed to do when backpacking: pre-book the first few destinations. Hostelworld made all the hostels look like they were almost booked out, so we decided to book flights and hostels up until Boracay. We didn’t know the island of Palawan was that big – 6 hours from Puerto Princesa to El Nido! It messed up our plans a bit, since we needed to cancel a night in El Nido in favor of a night bus back to Puerto Princesa so we would make our flight.
Secondly, I have had the hardest time eating healthy (and cheap at the same time) here. McDonald’s, Jollibee, Burger King, KFC, they’re everywhere. Elgin, who we met in Boracay did tell us that the local fast food places, like Andok’s and Mang Inasal, had the best chicken. There is fried chicken everywhere, by the way. I even saw a poster outside of KFC of a hotdog (they love those, too) with fried chicken instead of a bun. I wonder how the locals keep fit, but of course there are healthier options. The salads are at expensive Western restaurants, and there are sketchy-looking street kitchens everywhere. I know those are usually great in SE Asia, but when the finished food is just lying on a silver tray all day with the cooks just shooing away the flies and scooping up a portion for you, buffet style, it doesn’t look too promising – or sanitary.
The locals are friendly and quite the opposite of shy. Not only did almost all of them greet me, even if I just passed by them, they also break into song. A lot. They really love karaoke and pop songs: Shakira, One Direction and so on. All the time. They are definitely curious about tourists, and I would say that even though some parts are very touristy, it still seems to be a kind of undiscovered country. I give it ten years though, and it will be the new Thailand.
Traveling with Sophie, whom I met through TravelBuddy, was fun! I am glad it worked out so well, and would definitely do something like that again if I am in a similar situation. It’s odd saying goodbye after a month together, because even though you have been clinging to each other for so long, there are still so many things you don’t know about each other, and you don’t know if you’ll ever see the person again. Saying goodbye was definitely weird for me. Luckily, I won’t be alone for long :-)
I did expect the Philippines to be Paradise on Earth, but I was too much around dirt and poverty and skyscrapers and giant malls to feel like I was in Paradise. I will say that nature is quite stunning, as long as you get far away from civilization. Trash, the sounds from a nearby cock fight, pollution and other things kind of ruin the surroundings, but as soon as you get on a boat to see islands around El Nido, or swim with Whale sharks, you forget the dirt and the noise and just enjoy this place. I know I did. Salamat, Pilipinas, from this redface!
2014 has come and gone quickly. Just this time last year, I was preparing for my final exam and packing up my things to put in storage. I was daydreaming of colourful sarees, paradise beaches and freedom. Now, a year later, I am doing almost exactly the same. I have booked a flight to Cambodia early next year, and have been granted a Working Holiday Visa for Australia. I am excited, nervous and poor. I still have a lot of planning and purchasing to do before I’m ready for departure.
As everyone sits down to reflect on their year (usually with that stupid Facebook feature), I’ve created a list (yes, another list) of some accomplishments/experiences that I found worthy of sharing with someone. I clearly live an exciting life.
THIS YEAR I
- Visited 10 countries (if you count Burma)
- Was (only) reported for pornography on Facebook twice
- Made this website
- Ate bull’s testicles (read here)
- Tried mead, the drink of Vikings
- Got really fat. Again.
- Read 4 books in one week, because I am bored and unemployed
- Rode a camel and ripped my pants (read here)
- Danced on stage in front of the entire city of Udaipur (read here)
- Was kinda sexually assaulted by a group of men and managed to laugh at it (read here)
- Threw colors at people (read here)
- Motorboated a lady boy (read here)
- Danced on stage at a stripclub (read here)
- Ran away from my friends during a pubcrawl to look for 7-11 toasties
- Lived on pad thai and banana lassis for almost a week
- Rode an elephant and almost passed out while sitting on it (read here)
- Was hit by a tiger’s tail (read here)
- Had my name written by a vagina on a piece of paper (read here)
- Got into my first fight (read here)
- Rode a scooter for the first time and cried about it (read here)
- Fell off a scooter. Twice.
- Puked on myself and could do nothing about it for 12 hours (read here)
- Donated blood at a children’s hospital (read here)
- Became addicted to laughing gas (read here)
- Ziplined (read here)
The Pink Palace
- Peed on a door on Aga’s birthday
- Bought an inflatable crocodile, just so I could say “Is it your crocodile?” (watch Chris D’elia’s drunk girls parody around 2:11)
- Pretty much quoted all of Chris D’elia’s jokes all summer
- Crashed at a friend’s room, and did “the walk of shame” with a strap-on in one hand, the crocodile in the other
- Was hit on by a straight man and a lesbian at once, and ended up going to bed to cuddle with the crocodile instead
- Made the summer a bit too much about my crocodile
- Got so drunk off mimosas during a breakfast shift, that I ended up staying at the bar DJ’ing most of the day instead of working
- Drank retsina on the beach bar roof and saw shooting stars
- Sat next to a foul smelling dog and talked about it for an hour
- Pretended to be American and was busted several times by a group of Danish girls that had been there last year. And I still denied it.
- Dressed up as a pirate for the booze cruise
- Was forced to do my first body shot on the booze cruise. Wasn’t happy about it.
- Did a 12 people, 3 AM ouzo circle that was absolute shit and amazing
- Sexually harassed a shy co-worker for fun
- Yelled at a family at dinner
- Had a cake fight on Aga’s birthday
- Forced myself to accept #CTMO
- Planned a Full Moon Party that was so fun, our boss made us have as many Moon parties as possible
- Got tons of free ice creams and compliments from Dr. George
- Went to Jumbo like every week
- Fell on my face all the time
- Pretty much only drank champagne from the bottle and blacked out everytime
- Sold an overwhelming amount of blowjob shots. To guys.
- Dyed my hair pink
- Danced to Martin Garrix – Animals every morning
- Drank mimosas almost every morning, too
- Pretended to be 17 and related to a guy from Chile
- Had my hands full of beer steins
- Was served breakfast, which was really just beer, through a funnel
- Stole a pretzel for Hollie from the guys sitting next to us at one of the beer tents
- Watched a drunk Asian woman try to run away from the medics
- Bought myself a unicorn
- Cuddled with Aga and Hollie to keep warm, while Aga was puking
- Tried to watch The Other Woman three times, but kept falling asleep
I’ll end this post and this year with some of my favorite photos, just to prove I haven’t just been on the couch these past 365 days.
Happy New Year! 2015, come at me.
India: Delhi → Goa → Mumbai → Gujarat → Saurashtra → Pushkar → Jaipur → Delhi → Agra → Varanasi → Kolkata
Thailand: Krabi → Koh Lanta → Koh Phi Phi → Patong → Phuket → Koh Samui → Koh Phangan → Koh Tao → Hua Hin → Pattaya → Bangkok → Chiang Mai → Mae Hong Son → Chiang Rai → Chiang Khong
Laos: Luang Prabang → Vang Vieng → Khammouane → Vientiane
Cambodia: Siem Reap (2 weeks of volunteer work) Battambang → Koh Kong → Kompang Son → Kampot/Kep → Koh Thonsay → Phnom Penh
Vietnam: Saigon → Nha Trang → Hoi An → Hue → Hanoi → Sa Pa
India: Delhi → Vagator → Arambol → Hampi → Mumbai → Udaipur → Jaisalmer → Jaipur → Amritsar → Rishikesh → Agra → Varanasi → Kolkata
Thailand: Krabi → Koh Phi Phi → Patong → Koh Samui → Koh Phangan → Koh Tao
Chumpon → Bangkok → Chiang Mai → Pai → Chiang Mai → Chiang Rai → Chiang Khong
Laos: Pakbeng → Luang Prabang → Vang Vieng → Vientiane
Vietnam: Hanoi → Hue → Hoi An → Nha Trang → Saigon
Cambodia: Phnom Penh → Sihanoukville → Siem reap
Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur → Taman Negara → Cameron Highlands → Georgetown
When I started planning for this trip, I was in a bad place. Dumped by a boy. Stuck, both in school and in general, desperate to get it overwith so I could escape. I think my trip was just that – an escape.
I so desperately want to find my passion in life, be ambitious about something, but how could I possibly do that without knowing myself? To be honest, I have always felt that I was in between every personality trait – shy but social, smart but dumb, trusting but cynical. One thing I always knew for sure, was that I am selfish and dependent, and I hoped that this trip would force me to throw that away with my extra luggage.
In some way I guess this would be an Eat, Pray, Love-kind of experience. And by that, I mean I would deal with my issues, develop some strong personality traits and gain more confidence. Then I would discover my passion in life, and go back to accomplish something.
While this all sounds very unlikely, it was what had helped me in the past. Everytime I have been away from home since my parents divorce 4 years ago, I’ve become a little more independent, a little less shy, and a little more sure what I wanted to do in life: travel. Being away for 4 months however, was something I had never done until now, and it didn’t feel right as soon as I actually left. Maybe it was our choices of countries (where people could sometimes be rude, the food awful, and the cities dirty and loud), but it could also be because my travel partner and I turned out to be incompatible.
Of course, this all just sounds so negative, and of course this experience hasn’t been at all. I’ve gotten to see amazing places – many that I want to return to – and met some great people, and that is what I wanted all along. I finally got over the guy who dumped me, which gave me a lot fewer lonely nights and fits of anger.
Basically, I had some great highs and awful lows that made me see things only a tiny bit clearer, but I am on my way. I learned that I enjoy the simple things in life, like a sunset or a little kid waving at me, because deep down, there is a war in me, and I never know which side will win. Some days, I think I am a fun and outgoing person, always seeing the best in people. Other days, I don’t dare talk to people, and I think I am destined to live a life of sadness and loneliness. That is why I rely on the only ones that understand, my best friends. Away from them, I felt hopeless and less “free”, and I know that this is something that I have to get used to as we start to move in different directions.
This post will probably forever be a mess, like my feelings about my trip. There is so much I want to say, yet nothing I can think of. It was the experiene, but not the time of my life – at least not as often as I wanted it to be.
113 days away from home
18 things crossed off my bucket list
13 books read
7 countries traveled (if you don’t count Burma)
Not nearly enough hangovers.
Cambodia is a country I could see myself live in someday. Not permanently, of course. Prior to coming here, I read the book Survival in the Killing Fields, which got me really interested in the country’s unbelievably sad history. It is creepy in a way, seeing all these people on the street, knowing a lot of them have survived this awful event – or been a part of the Khmer Rouge. Despite this, they are among the most friendly people I have ever met. They are good at English, and the kids are adorable. No, really, I am adopting a Cambodian kid someday.
I would love to do social work here one day – especially in Siem Reap – but the party scene is so tempting too! Who knows, all that is certain is that I’ll be back someday!