Archive of ‘Travel’ category

Batu Caves, Malaysia

I know most you have already made plans for the summer but just in case you happen to be in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I know just the place you can go to if you like temples/religious historical site.

When my daughter and I found ourselves in KL last month, I made sure that we got to visit the popular Batu Caves which is located just north of the city. It is a good 30-45 minutes ride from our hotel, The Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur.

It is a limestone hill which is made up of a series of caves. It got its name from the Sungai or Batu River which flows past it. It is one of the most popular  Hindu shrines outside India and is dedicated to the Hindu Lord Murugan.  It is also the focal point of  the annual Hindu festival, Thaipusam  which happens during the months of January/February.

The world’s tallest statue of Murugan, who was a Hindu deity, is located outside Batu Caves. This imposing statue is said to have cost 24 million rupees.

Batu Caves rises 100 meters above the ground and is composed of 3 main caves and a few smaller ones. Visitors must climb the 272 steps to reach the top.  My daughter and I were deadset on reaching the summit despite our fear of the macaque monkeys who happened to be everywhere as it is believed that the Gods grant the prayers of those who pay respect at the Hindu shrines on top.

batu

batu 2

There is not that much to see aside from the golden statue or the hindu shrines on top so at the most you can see everything here in an hour. The place is relatively well kept.  I suggest that if you plan to  visit Batu Caves do it in the early morning like 8 or 9 am as it tends get really hot by mid morning to noon. It is a captivating site but like I said monkeys are everywhere so make sure not to carry plastics with you and keep away your sunglasses as they are said to be well trained to snatch these away.

Batu Caves can be easily reached by commuter bus available at KL Central Station.

 

 

Twin Towers

I just got back from my dreamy Kuala Lumpur trip last night and I am still reeling from all the excitement and happiness of the last three days. As you know this trip was a pleasant surprise, a wonderful blessing, an unexpected windfall. The fact that it was a trip that my husband and I dreamed of a couple of years back, a trip that I thought would never happen made it all the more special (click here to know the story).

Yes the Petronas. My husband once promised me that he will bring me there, and pleaser as he is, even in death, he still made it happen. I never really did understand though why it has to happen when he’s all gone, when we can’t see it together. Many times during the trip, I wished that he was there with me. The Petronas followed us wherever we went around the city, like how my husband was when he was still alive, yes it is that tall. The mere sight of it brought tears to my eyes.

petronas 2

But then as my daughter and I stood in front of the Petronas in awe, as we drank in its majestic sight, as we let its sheer beauty work its magic on us,  a thought suddenly hits me.  I realized that my husband made it possible for me to go there because he wants to tell me something and that is,  I wasn’t really meant to see it with him. I was meant to see it with my daughter, Bianca. He wanted me to know that WE, Bianca and I, are his twin towers and that no matter what will happen, we’ll always have each other. That night, as my daughter and I stood in front of the Petronas together, everything made perfect sense, everything made perfect sense.

petronas 3

So to my wonderful husband Nan, thank you for keeping your promise. Thank you for this wonderful trip.  We remembered you while we were looking in awe at the Petronas, while we were walking the busy streets of KL. We know that you were with us when we climbed the steps of Batu Caves and when we kneeled down to whisper a prayer at the Chinese temple. We felt your presence as the cold wind touched our faces at Genting Highlands and as we lay by the hotel poolside dreaming of great possibilities. And deep in my heart I know that you were there cheering with the crowd as I took my first brave walk in the runaway the other night. We miss you everyday, first trip without you was bittersweet. Know that you’ll always be in our hearts and that we love you to heaven and back. Yours forever, your twin towers–Blancs and Biancs

Miracles Do Happen and Love Never Ends

I am almost sad to see this week end. It was a week full of surprises, promises fulfilled, overflowing blessings, and divine providence. But then, I can’t wait for next week to come also. Here’s why…

About two years ago, my husband and I found ourselves at the Skypark of Marina Bay Sands, our dream destination at that time. And so this is how our conversation went:

Nan: Be, san mo pa gusto pumunta? (Be, where else do you want to go?)
Me: Sa Paris, gusto ko makita Eiffel Tower (Paris cause I want to see the Eiffel Tower)
Nan: Ahahaha, di ata kita kaya dalin sa Paris, wala ba mas malapit dito yung mala Eiffel Tower? (I don’t think I can afford to bring you to Paris, is there any place close to here that is almost like the Eiffel Tower?)
Me: (while pointing at the whole Singapore Skyline) Dun, nakikita mo dun sa banda dun, sa Kuala Lumpur me Petronas, dun na lang. (There see that, there’s the Petronas in Kuala Lumpur, you can bring me there instead)
Nan: (habang nakatingin sa kawalan) Petronas, kaya kita dalin don. Pupunta tayo don. (Petronas, I can bring you there. We will go there.)

We never made it to Petronas together but it looks like I will be seeing it with my daughter, just like he promised.

petronas

Somehow I ended up a runner up in a writing contest sponsored by Fitflop Philippines and since one of the grand prize winner couldn’t make it, based on the rules of the contest, the runner up will take her place instead. And the prize? An all expense paid trip for two to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia with pocket money and other freebies. Never in my wildest dream did I ever imagine myself being the recipient of such blessings. Stroke of good luck, divine intervention, happy coincidence? Maybe yes but I do know and I do feel in my hearts of hearts that my husband had a hand in all this. Call me crazy but I would like to think that yes, miracles do happen, promises can still be fulfilled even after death and love never ends. 🙂

Photo source: http://google.com

Malcapuya Island (Coron, Palawan)

I went back to work the other day, summer vacation over for us teachers. Though I loved seeing my colleagues and friends from work after almost a month of not seeing them, I caught myself a couple of times today wishing for a much longer vacation. Would have loved to enjoy more staycationing time with my family or travelling to distant places.

I had a super great summer.  Though I did not do some overseas travelling this summer, I was able to visit one of the must-see places in my dream journal, Coron. I can just go on and on about how beautiful Coron is till your eyes fall off their sockets from reading for the place is simply amazing. But then again, I will just let these photos speak for themselves as words cannot clearly give justice to the beauty of Coron  the way these pictures can.

These are all photos of Malcapuya Island which we visited on the second day of our Coron Trip. This is a good 30 minute boat ride from Calanggaman Island where we spent our first night.

It has the finest white sand.

 

lost in tranquility

 

the clearest azure water

 

the cove in Malcapuya Island where we snorkeled and saw littles sharkies and clown fish

 

stunning view from the cliff

 

you can see how clean and clear the water is from the cliff

 

view of the beach from the cliff

 

simply breathtaking

I enjoy visiting new places, immersing myself in different cultures, and getting lost in a new city. I like feeling the excitement of being in a foreign country and relish  the thrill and giddiness of being in kiddie amusement/theme parks. But, I feel happiest when I am walking barefoot on sand, swimming freely in the sea  and discovering the treasures that lies beneath it. I’ve always imagine myself a dolphin in my past life since I absolutely love the sea so much. If there’s one place I rather live, it’s definitely beside it so I can ride the waves anytime I want to, pick as much seashells by the shore whenever I feel like it, and swim to my hearts content. My heart absolutely sings whenever I see even just a glimpse of the vast blue sea.

It’s very fortunate that we were able to visit Mulcapaya Island this summer.  There’s a big buzz going around in the that the owners would turn it into a private one and close it to tourists two years from now. Hopefully they will change their mind so a lot of people can still have the chance to visit this little island paradise.

Now I only see a vast sea of papers ahead of me. I had to wrestle with work and MA school for the next ten months before I am reunited with  my precious  sand and sea again. I guess in the meantime, I will just have to content myself with pictures of Malcapuya Island and of the beautiful places in Coron and hope that these will get me through the rough long months ahead.

OFWs, Are They Really Lucky?

Last week I was standing at the waiting area of NAIA Terminal 1 when my attention was caught by this family who obviously can’t seem to contain their excitement upon seeing a family member emerged from the airport. I can’t help but smile at the way they were shouting her name, Anna. An old lady, who clearly was Anna’s mom was even jumping with joy together with Anna’s nephews and nieces or children, while an old man, who I presumed was Anna’s dad, was wiping his tears with a hanky. If there were no metal barriers, I would have imagined them running and engulfing Anna in a tight big hug right then and there. But with the guards and the metal barriers restraining them, they just contended themselves with waving furiously and shouting her name over and over until she was finally with them. Anna I believed was one of the hundreds of OFWs arriving that day to be with their family.

Funny but after a few minutes, that scene was replaced by me and my family jumping with joy too as my sister came into view. Yes, she is part of that hundreds of OFWs arriving that day to spend a week with us. Though she only works in nearby Singapore, the reality of not seeing her everyday and not being with her whenever she is sick or lonely is really quite hard. It didn’t help that she is living there by herself since she doesn’t have a family of her own yet and is she sick of diabetes. I imagine that it is a lot worst for other families though whose husbands/fathers work in far away Middle Eastern countries that have much stricter employment policies than Singapore and can only go home after two years.

The difficult plight of our OFWs in foreign countries is not something new to us. We oftentimes hear in the news how some of them have fallen into the wrong hands of drug mules and were being used as drug traffickers. How some have become victims of sex slavery and abuse. And how some have been forced to sign contract substitutions by their foreign employers that make them easy victims of employment malpractices. Aside from these, there are of course safety and protection issues that they have to deal with everyday. Like the case of our OFWs in Syria who have been the center of repatriation efforts by the government lately due to continued violence in that country.

Working overseas as I imagined it is indeed difficult as it leaves our OFWs vulnerable to cruelty and mistreatment everyday. I remember how I sat in horror as I listened to one of my closest friends in college share how she was aggressively stalked by a Lebanese admirer and how she was emotionally bullied and harassed by the guy’s powerful family after she had him put in jail in Doha, Quatar. It took the intervention of the Philippine embassy there, who secretly brought her back to the Philippines, to put an end to her ordeal. My friend obviously had the good sense to seek the help of the Philippine embassy but it made me wonder, what about the others who had no means of escape and had no way of knowing where to go to seek help. I am sure there are many of them who have the same or even worst case than my friend who have not been reached by help yet.

My cousin also relayed once in email how she and her companion were brought to the dark dessert when they rode a taxi in Dubai, and how the taxi driver took all of their belongings and made them walk the dark way home. It left her traumatized and it got us thinking, thank God they were only held up, it could have been worst.

And there are of course those OFWs who get sick in these foreign countries as work stress takes a toll on their body. My sister’s diabetes became worst when she started working in Singapore five years ago. My cousin’s husband has been battling cancer for the past months now in Kuwait too. Not to forget also Alfredo Salmos who got electrocuted while performing his job in Saudi Arabia late last year. Though there’s no denying that these countries probably have more advanced medical treatment facilities, being sick in a country without your immediate family by your side and without the necessary financial means are clearly daunting.

Threats to employment, protection, safety, medical issues as well as loneliness, alienation, stress, these are just some of the things that our OFWs face everyday in their earnest desire to provide their family a better life. People often think that OFWs are lucky for having that opportunity to earn dollars as compared to the others who are left working here. But it makes me wonder, are they really? Would you call it luck when the ones left working here enjoys the comforts of being with their family, of working with people who comes from the same race as them, and of living in the safety of their own country? It’s not luck really if you think about it but more of perseverance and sacrifice, for they obviously have to give up a lot just to earn the dollars.

Best Snorkeling Sites in Coron, Palawan

Last week I had the chance to visit Palawan again, this time my friends and I explored the northern islands of Palawan. While Puerto Princesa left me in awe when I visited the place two years ago, Coron simply took my breath away. I have been reading much about the place from travel blogs but still, nothing compared to seeing it with your own eyes.  The sheer beauty of the different islands of Coron as we toured and explored them truly captivated us. The limestone cliffs and pristine white beaches are simply breathtaking and so are the coral gardens underneath the sea. There simply is a whole new world out there and I was glad that I was given the chance to see that world myself.

 

We set aside one whole day for our snorkeling activity. We went to three of the best places  to snorkel in Coron and made two fantastic stop overs in between.

First stop was Coral Garden in the vicinity of Atwayan Beach. Here you will find corals of different kinds as well as  whole schools of fish  in different shapes and colors. We had fun throwing in some bread so they can come near us.

 

Photos by Carmela Hernandez

 

Photo by Mildred Ravalo Yap

Second stop was the Skeleton Wreck where you can go about 5 miles deep into the sea to see the wreckage of a fishing boat that sunk during the 1940s. It looked kinda eerie down there so some of us  just contented ourselves with feeding the fish while others in our group had fun testing how far they can go deep by diving down the wreckage with the help of the bouy rope.

Skeleton Wreck

After Skeleton Wreck, we made a stop at Atwayan Beach for our lunch. It is actually a small beach, perfect as rest stop if you want to dock and eat in decent cottages in the middle of your snorkeling trip. There are a lot of these pocket beaches around Coron as I would later realize.

Atwayan Beach

 Before heading off to our third and last snorkeling site, we stopped by Twin Lagoon to check out this interesting site. On the way, we saw a lot of beautiful limestone formations. The Twin Lagoon are both accessible through this little hole on the cliff, an underwater tunnel. Since it was low tide when we reached the second lagoon, we were able to pass by the tunnel easily to go to the first lagoon. We had to get back though since the first lagoon is where the bancas usually stay. The water in the second lagoon was calm and tranquil so we were able to  enjoy a leisure swim around before we headed to our final snorkeling stop.

Twin Lagoon

Last stop for our snorkeling adventure was Twin Peak near the Barracuda Lake. This spot is much deeper and has more corals than the Coral Garden in Atwayan Beach. You have to be careful not to touch the corals or stand on the rocks though since sea urchins are all over the corals. There are a lot of different fish species here around too. Fish wise, this spot is much better than Coral Garden.

Twin Peak

Photos by Carmela Hernandez

Photo by Mildred Ravalo Yap

Photo by Mildred Ravalo Yap

It was my first time to snorkel that long, imagine a whole day. It was a great great experience. I was taken by the wonderful treasures that lie underneath the sea of Coron. It felt surreal being there, snorkeling there. I felt humbled, lucky, and blessed to be given this opportunity to see these wonderful sea creatures up close.

I know that come June, when I get back to the classroom and start teaching the natural resources of the Philippines to my class again, I will talk about it differently. I will be more passionate as I talk about preserving and conserving our natural resources. I will be more intense as I talk about safeguarding our waters against things that might destruct the marine life. For I swam with the fishes and paid homage to the corals. I bore witness to the beauty that God has blessed and entrusted us with. Coron definitely changed me.

Culion Island

During my recent trip to Palawan, we visited Culion Island, the former leprosarium of the American Commonwealth Government. It is found on the northernmost part of Palawan and is part of the Calamian Group of Islands together with the municipalities of Busuanga, Coron, and Linapacan.

One of the sites that caught my attention as our boat was drawing near the shore was the Purisima Concepcion de Nuestra Senora. It proudly stood perched atop a cliff and is set against the clear blue sky. Immaculate Conception Church as it is known today is one of the oldest buildings in the island. It was constructed in 1906 by a group of Augustinian priest. Now it is being run by the Fathers of the Society of Jesus.

It sits right across the Culion Sanitarium which once was a leprosy segregation camp.

Its watchtower and fort were constructed by the Augustinian Recollects as defense measure against the Moro Raiders which used to harass the whole island.

It has the most breathtaking view of the sea and of the shoreline of Culion.

Though we didn’t get to see much of the island, I noticed the presence of old traditional houses and buildings as well as the lack of modern facilities here. It gave me the impression that life here still remains as simple as it is. As our boat was pulling away from the shore, we were treated to the most beautiful sunset.

Clearly, its sheer natural beauty as well as its rich history are what gives Culion Island its old world charm.

Culion Island can be reached by an outrigger. It is an hour and a half travel by sea from the town of Coron.

Cebu Pacific Phone Booking Service

Most of you are probably planning your summer escapades by now what with the different airlines coming up with online seat sales almost every week. Currently, travel period of the latest seat sales are right smack in the middle of summer, March-May.

But then, most of you would probably agree with me that in most cases, booking on-line during a summer seat sale in Cebu Pacific Air is a bit stressful. With the sudden surge of online hits, errors in connection occur. I remember last year when I was booking my family for our inbound flight from Singapore, I was so tensed the whole time because the seats were selling like hotcakes and my wifi connection chose at that moment to go haywire. I thought I was gonna faint from all that suspense, excitement, and frustration. I was never really good in dealing with stress.

Anyway, last Thursday, I found myself in a rather uncompromising situation. My booking for our summer trip (imagine I was the only one in our group) was cancelled by the travel agency due to miscommunication, so I had to book my flight myself (the good side of this though is my fare is much cheaper than the rest. Hehe). There was an on-going Cebu Pacific seat sale that day so I was in my “no precious time to loose” mode. But since christmas happened, the limits of my credit cards were down to a big fat 0, I had to find another alternative.

I called 720888, Cebu Pacific customer service hotline, to inquire if they accept debit card in online transaction. Actually I knew the answer to that so it was sort of like “wishful thinking out loud” on my part. Of course, they don’t . BUT I discovered one of their services that I can try, phone booking. I am sure this isn’t something new to some, but it was my first time to actually use this service so indulge me. My first concern was if the prices quoted in their online seat sale are the same as that of phone booking because if I remember it right, there are certain seat sales that are available to online transactions only. I am happy to share that it is. Like online booking, you can pick the best deal for you, and one good thing about it is that a customer service agent will be there to assist and do the booking for you. They will collect your general information as well as your chosen flight. You can either make a reservation for yourself if you are still unsure of the date and time, or book it right away. You will be given 24 hours for your reservation and then they will automatically cancel it if you don’t respond. If you book it straight away, you can pay through credit card or deposit the payment in any BDO bank. If you choose to deposit your payment, they will provide you with an account number. You have to deposit the payment before 11:59 pm of the same day otherwise booking will be cancelled. Once payment has been confirmed, they will send you your Itinerary Receipt via email at 12 noon the following day. I paid through BDO and so far, my phone booking transaction was successful. I received my itinerary receipt at around 9 am the following day.

I don’t see any downside to this service. It was not hard calling their hotline number, after pressing the right buttons my call was put through. All in all my transaction took only 15 minutes to complete. The customer service agent, Ms. Serena was cordial and patient. For me, it actually is far better than doing online booking yourself especially if you don’t have an internet connection at home or a stable and reliable wifi signal. Saves you the stress and trouble of wondering if your online booking went through after your computer screen went blank and you didn’t receive the confirmation message.

For this service alone, I am giving Cebu Pacific Air three thumbs up. This service is definitely a good Juan (one)! 🙂

Teaching to Love the Philippines Through Travel

I love teaching and travelling because both activities enrich you in a way that you would always emerge from every experience a changed person. My favorite topic of discussion in class has always been “Landforms and Water Forms in the Philippines.” Yes, I am a Social Studies teacher. You could say that I am passionate about sharing the beautiful wonders of the Philippines with my grade two students. I love how they would become eager to see more of the Philippines after wrapping up this lesson. I enjoy exciting them with my travel stories and pictures especially of my top three favorite local destinations:

1. Palawan

I love the beach and Palawan has a lot of them, the most beautiful ones too. I also admire how the locals put so much effort in the preservation and conservation of the environment and wildlife there. Something that I am always proud to share to my students in the hope that they would also do the same.

Honda Bay, Palawan

2. Badian Island, Cebu

I love snorkeling and Badian Island’s Coral Garden gave me my best snorkeling experience. It left me in awe of the wonderful underwater treasures that can be found underneath its water. I am glad that some of my students have taken a liking to snorkeling as well.

Coral Garden (Badian island), Cebu

3. Tagaytay

It is for me the perfect weekend get away. It has everything you need for a good time—quaint shops/restaurants, great view and cool weather (plus it is just a mere two-hour drive from Manila). An ideal place for parents to bring their children to for some family bonding.

Tagaytay, Cavite

I always believed that for children to appreciate the country, they must see it with their very own eyes. It is only when they get the feel of a certain place that they would learn to love it. So bring your children around and join Sago in his many travel escapades and adventures. Let’s Go Sago!

This serves as my official entry to Let’s Go Sago! 3rd Anniversary contest. Share your travel experience or your dream destinations / Philippine tourist spots and get that free Boracay accommodation for two in one of the islands’ best and more!

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