SOLO TRAVEL: AN ADVENTURE WORTH TRYING
This is a year late but still the most important travel goal I achieved last year. Among my circle of friends and family, traveling alone was not a normal occurrence. This was also one of my goals before turning 30 last April. I opted to go to Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam. I chose Vietnam because it was a place I had not been to.
The hardest thing about traveling is wanting to go home and be with family yet still having the urge to continue moving forward and discovering new things. I know if it weren’t for my husband and son, I would probably just keep traveling until that thirst is fully quenched- which I know might never happen. I always get this wave of sadness as a trip comes to an end. It is something that I truly love and long to do everyday of my life. It is something that I know some people will never fully understand.
Traveling alone put certain things in perspective. It gave me the silence that I never thought I needed. It gave me peacefulness like I never knew existed within me. Like it said in Kent Nerburn’s book “You should spend time alone. I don’t just mean minutes and hours, but days and, if the opportunity presents itself, weeks. Time spent alone returns to you a hundredfold, because it is the proving ground of the spirit”.
I went to Vietnam not knowing anyone at all. But then realized that I was actually lucky to not have had friends there because it gave me that push to open up and talk to people. It was fulfilling. The good thing about this experience was it made me want to travel more on my own. It was not easy and it was very stressful at the beginning but at least I was able to do it and know that I’ll be able to do it again.
I also realized that other Filipinos are not used to seeing Filipinas traveling alone for pleasure (or maybe I just looked like a lost puppy). The ones that I talked to were quite shocked that I was on my own and immediately assumed I needed help and wanted to take me under their wing. This was also the case prior to my trip. Friends that I talked to about it wanted to know why I wanted to travel on my own and were quite bewildered that it was my own choice. It was sort of funny. But I’m truly grateful for all the kind people I met and got to spend time with.
The scary part of it all was being away from home when the big earthquake/tsunami hit Japan. My hotel room did not have a window and I could not help but think of the things that could happen. But like any other trip, despite the stress and frustrations I encountered (and the fact that there isn’t that much to do in Ho Chi Minh), I really had a good time. And though I don’t think I’ll have a lot of time to travel on my own again anytime soon, I would gladly do it again in a heartbeat.
I started this blog mainly because I wanted to write about my quest to visit 30 countries before I turned 30 last April. Unfortunately I was not able to do that until 1 month and 16 days after my birthday. And my 30th country was Russia.
Prior to the trip, I’ve heard so many things about this country. I never really knew what to expect. We booked a private tour and was met immediately by our guide Natasha. My first impression as soon as I got out of the airport was ‘I’ve never seen this much pollen in my life’. Coming from the Philippines and even though I’ve travel quite frequently, I’ve never experienced high pollen season. At most I remember being a kid and trying to catch one of these because they said that you could wish on it if you did. It was thrilling then. Pollen season in Moscow wasn’t.
After the initial shock over all the pollen, I was able to breathe normally without the fear of choking on pollen and I was able to enjoy the beautiful city. During our short stay in Moscow, we were able to visit the historical Red Square. This is the city’s main square where famous structures such as St.Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s Mausoleum can be found.
Moscow also has beautiful subways. I am not talking about clean, nicely structured subways but a few of the Moscow Metro stations are some of the most extravagant and probably magnificently designed stations in the world.
Despite having a hard time communicating with people it was fun seeing signs in Cyrillic script. It was also fun trying to learn how to speak Russian even though the only word I remember is vadah (water). All in all, I was pretty happy that this was my 30th. I’m now looking forward to the next 30 🙂
MY HUSBAND, MY SON AND I
I am grateful for the gift of travel. But I am more thankful that I get to travel with my family. We have been questioned about the decision to spend our money to travel the world as though it is a crime to love and appreciate what other cities have to offer. I can only say that I have no other excuse except that deep down in my heart I know that no amount of money can ever replace the priceless experiences I’ve encountered and we’ve encountered together. And if I could, I would spend almost all my money just to travel with my husband and son. I definitely look forward to discovering more places that will inspire me to love the world even more.
This is why our last family trip for 2011 to Krabi was more than memorable. We stayed at a pretty fabulous hotel and I got to spend a lot of quality time with my husband and son. We ate Thai food every chance that we got. We went to Hong Island and my son played at the shore for hours.
As mentioned in a previous post, we also went to the Phi Phi Islands. We went around Krabi town/Ao Nang and got drenched with a sudden downpour. We were soaked and had to take shelter in front of a jewelry store in Ao Nang. We were amazed at the kind staff from the store who went outside and gave us a roll of tissue paper. We had to change our son’s clothes and wrap him in a raincoat while he was sound asleep. We got to ride a luxury speedboat, a regular speedboat and an open truck.
We were able to snorkel and my son was able to see “100” fish from the boat. We saw elephants and my son discovered an array of insects much to my dismay. Add up all these experiences plus the beautiful town of Krabi and I got one of the best family trips I could ever ask for.
A couple of months ago, I wrote about the train ride from Flåm to Myrdal aboard the Flåmsbana. In relation to this, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen is Flåm. We took a short cruise from Bergen to get here. It’s not a loud and happening place nor is it a place to go to if you want to do something every minute of the day. It’s just a small village surrounded by fjords. It was peaceful, relaxing and I was captivated by its beauty. Sometimes when we travel for weeks at a time, I look forward to finding a quiet place such as Flåm, just to take a break from our usual fast paced journey. And I usually enjoy places such as this more than the typical urban cities. It is also a wonderful place to stay if you want to go around the different fjords because there are a lot of tours from this part of Norway. It’s a pretty good starting point/home base. You can also take short walks or hike around the surrounding areas. I am looking forward to the day that I can spend a longer time here and the rest of Norway.
The Beach. Leonardo Dicaprio. That is what Maya Bay was all about. It is part of the Phi Phi Islands of Thailand. Yes I know going here was very “touristy”. It was the ultimate definition of being touristy. But it was still beautiful despite the number of people (you could literally step on someone while walking along the shore).
We booked a tour through Sanan, the cab driver that brought us to the hotel from the airport. The tour group was called Ao-Nang Photo Travel. If I remember correctly we were charged 1,200 Baht for each adult (our son was free). The speedboat was big and clean. We we around 20 in the group – a mix of kids and adults. The rate was inclusive of lunch, snacks and transfers to and from the hotel. Our guide was kind and enthusiastic so we were quite happy with them.
I’m probably just die hard Leo fan but it was fun being able to see where the movie was shot and to actually see that it was as magnificent as it was in the film (despite the controversy of how the landscaping for its filming damaged the island’s ecosystem) . The sand was fine and powdery. The water was clean and clear. It’s as simple as that. I wish that I could go there with less people so I could enjoy it more. The sad thing was because it was commercialized we realized a little too late that it was not as safe as the other isolated islands. My husband lost his sunglasses when he left it on top of our towel and while I was sitting right beside it. Nevertheless, I really hope that I could visit this place again and other spectacular islands of Thailand.
My favorite thing about going around Europe is being able to travel by train. I love the hours I’ve spent watching views change from city to city. I love having that time to read, listen to music or watch movies. But regardless of where we are or where we are going to, I realized that train problems would always be a part of the journey.
To get to Olso from Flåm I had to change trains at Myrdal (Flam to Myrdal, Myrdal to Oslo). I remember thinking how my trip was ending in a few days and I could not believe that I still had not encountered a single transportation problem. The train from Myrdal was on time and everything was going smoothly when suddenly I realized that we started stalling for minutes at a time. Apparently the whole electronic system of their railway was not working properly and trains had to be stopped. We had to be get off at Nesbyen, a small town that I never heard of until that moment. I had no idea where I was nor did I have an idea how far away I was from Oslo. We were told that buses were requested and we were going to be picked up. We were divided into 2 groups (2 destinations) and most of the people had to go to Oslo. The buses started arriving one by one. As soon as they did, there was chaos. No system was implemented and a lot of people tried to get in first. I met an old couple from New York and I really felt bad because no one was letting them go first. We all couldn’t do anything but wait. Finally they were able to get on but I opted along with my companions to just wait until last bus.
One thing that I admired about people in Norway and Scandinavia in general was how helpful they always were. It seemed as though it was second nature to them to help other people especially tourists. There was one guy trying to help the tourists figure out what they were going to do while waiting for the buses. Since he spoke English very well, he went out of his way to approach people to ask if they were okay and if they needed help with anything.
I was able to catch the second to the last bus and found out that we were a couple of hours away from Oslo. This incident was memorable for me because despite the stress, it showed how organized first world countries were. Sure it was chaotic but anywhere else it might have taken forever just to figure out a solution to the problem. Another great thing that came out of it was I met great people along the way. Despite all the problems I’ve encountered in the past, I definitely still look forward to my next European rail experience.
THE OCTOPUS QUEST
My trip to Busan and Seoul, South Korea last October was memorable as a whole but one very particular experience stood out. As soon as we arrived in South Korea my husband told us right away that he will not leave Korea without eating an octopus. Raw octopus is a famous Korean delicacy. They can be eaten chopped up or whole, depending on what you want or what you are used to. So during our last day in Busan, we went to the Jagalchi Fish Market in search for this special meal.
We ended up eating at the second floor of the indoor market (which I assumed was a tourist area since the prices were a bit steep). We ordered a lot of food and it was delicious! We had raw fish/sashimi (that was wrapped in greens with chili sauce), abalone (sooo gooood!!), fried fish and a lot more.
We were served a chopped baby octopus with seaweed and drizzled with sesame oil. I think the waitresses were afraid to give us something bigger since we obviously did not know what we wanted. It was still alive when they served it and did not stop moving until probably around 20 minutes later. My husband and friends eagerly tried it despite the crawling yet chopped tentacles. I tried it only when nothing was moving on the plate. I really didn’t expect to like it but it was pretty awesome. I was glad that they literally forced me to try it, otherwise I would have missed out on an experience of a lifetime.