Life is A Beach

After some heavy rains and a bit of flooding, I wanted some sun time. It did not disappoint.

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Surf, a hike to the waterfalls, perfect sunset and cold, cold beers. Now that is what I call a perfect healing to an over-stressed body.

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Simple joys. Big gratitude.

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Eat, Drink, Travel, Say Thank You

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It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up.

Eckhart Tolle

I travel a lot for work and as part of my lifestyle. There are things that I pick from my meanderings that always gives me  a new sense of wonder, encouragement that the human race is not totally hopeless or simply in awe of beauty that I see, smell, taste and feel. Having said that I also deal with everyday living.

Everyday life means dealing with people from all walks of life – including  those who live on their own bubbles, those that feel the world is against them and those who prefer to stay in the box that society painted for them.

Lately, some people close to me, have been the source of toxic energy. And this makes me sad. Worst, that energy can also rub off on you. Now comes the arguments, the resentment and needing to walk away from them. During these times, I try to re-focus my energy into the positive. Like being grateful for the many things that are good.

I was looking at a sunset photo from  recent trip I took and I was like, hmm… it is not as pretty as my usual collection. But looking at it again, I remember the moment. I just finished a not-so-good surf session. I was tired, bruised and feeling defeated. But I feel grateful that I did not injure myself. That I am with my love one in a beautiful beach on a beautiful country. That there was a very cold beer waiting for me as the sun started setting. I am lucky. And I am grateful.

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A different day, a different place, a different perspective

So now during these days that negative energy seem to be everywhere I remind myself that despite it, I have so many grateful things in my life. Tomorrow is another day.

The Traveler in Me, Then and Now

Just a few months back, I had the chance to return to the very first countries I traveled to in my early days of backpacking. It was interesting at best.

I still remember my first foray into the strange unknown. Back then it will take me at least 6 months of preparation just to travel within Southeast Asia (I am based in the Philippines so it shouldn’t be that stressful as coming from any further away). Travel guides were the best source of information – Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, etc (yes, books – we had them in paperbacks kiddos!). Then you access the travel forums for the latest info. What time is the last boat to the island? How much can you rent a motorbike? Is XX Restaurant still open? That sort of thing.

Nowadays, it’s all about the apps. Internet made things easier now. You can book flights, accommodation, island transfers, heck even a real time access to camera streams, just by the touch of a button. The good thing about this is a smart phone takes less space in that 60L backpack. Now you only can arm yourself with 10 other electronic things to carry with you.

When I first did my mainland Southeast Asia route, I chose Thailand as my entry point. There were no budget airlines at the time so traveling around means flying to the main hubs – Singapore or Thailand then organize the border crossings from there. I had printouts of pages and pages of information that I copied and pasted from research along with my LP book to navigate my way around. Back then staying in places like Khao San Road made sense. When you are trying to get your bearings in a foreign land, the comfort of seeing other travelers doing the same thing as you makes the difference for a nervous, solo traveler. Plus, I don’t deny that any time you want to take a break from eating like a local, there are available familiar food around. Today, people reviews  and the numerous travel blogs can get you a sense of what to expect even before landing.

I recently entered Thailand through one of the land border crossings from Cambodia. Again, this is a vast improvement from many moons ago. There was only one border between Cambodia and Thailand at that time and it took me and a friend hours to haggle the best price for a taxi to get us from Aranyaprathet to Poi Pet and more hours traveling across. Border immigration then refused to acknowledge that my passport was visa exempt.

Now there are public buses and vans that go through several borders for less amount of time. Immigration is also not a hassle. Touts trying to carry your bag for an overpriced fee unfortunately still exist.

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Beautiful view at the border crossing between Koh Kong and Hat Lek

Of course the obvious change nowadays is the evident increase  of full on mass tourism. After a week of partying non-stop in Southern Thailand, I decided to take a break and take one of those brochure printed fast boat trips to  Koh PhiPhi and surrounds.  I imagined that being on a boat and doing island hoping is much better than returning for another day of beer pong or some other excuse to drink. The moment I showed up at the meeting point, I instantly regretted it. There was a massive crowd that were being herded by the organizers of the tour companies. People were cramped to some 50 or more fast boats and moving en mass from island to island. Now I know the how it feels to be led like a cattle in a herd. Jesus!

I was super grateful that I spent two weeks on the relatively quiet beaches of Sihanoukville and Koh Rong before that. Best decision ever!

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A deserted Otres Beach in Sihanoukville

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Okay so maybe I have company. But he is more interested in playing with his shadow than me.

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I am literally 2 minutes away from the beach

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One of the many pristine beaches of Koh Rong

 

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Hiking over to the other side of the island

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Hopefully we have a few more years to get to see this before full development arrives in this part of Cambodia.

Now back to present day Southern Thailand. I blame the movie, The Beach for ruining the beautiful Maya bay. Imagine some 300-500 tourists visiting Maya Beach on a daily basis. It is sad.

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Plan on sun bathing here? Forget it.

Even the diving seem to be operated like a tour group. They sign up divers in small groups which is good. They then put those small groups in one big boat. Result? There will be some 50 or so divers going underwater all at once.  If there was one good thing about this experience and despite the rough waters and poor visibility, we still manage to see some marine life and not just diver fins.

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So here I am, sounding like a jaded traveler. Will I continue traveling? You can bet on that. Will I attempt to come back to places that I have gone before? I will be choosy about it.  If there is one thing that never stops it is the travel experience –  the nature, the locals and fellow travelers that you meet along the way, the people you fall in love with, the friends that you gain, the scents and colours, the food, the similarities and differences from one culture to another.. all these makes it still worthwhile to keep on traveling.

Satays, Beaches and More Beaches

Lombok Island is one of my favorite destinations in Indonesia. The first time I landed in Lombok was a little over a decade ago.  I was amazed. I decided then that I will come back. Well this time was the perfect time to do that and see how things have evolved.

Instead of flying to Bali I flew directly to Lombok airport and then find a transport to the Gilis.  After finding a couple of willing passengers to fill out a private taxi, the negotations began. You see, my Bahasa consists of 5 words. Thankfully one of them applies to ’empak orang’ and IDR 250.000 (IDR250.000 for 4 pax in a taxi. Get it?) After some haggling, off we go.One of the passengers I found out was spending only the weekend on the islands so I offered to share my cottage. Boat transfers followed and then before we knew it me and my new found friend were gulping down cold Bintangs on our side of the beach in Gili Trawangan.

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For over a week and a half a pattern has emerged – eat breakfast (pancakes), swim/dive/engage in some water activity/walk/bike, catch sunset and then the night begins.

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my home in the Gilis

Diving and snorkeling is the most popular activity on this island (apart from drinking obviousballs!). I’m a fan of tropical fish and corals so I made it a point to do a couple of diving. It did not disappoint. The green turtles are my favorites.

When you are feeling lazy there is always the chilling at the beach thing.

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Bikes abound to explore the rest of the island. I found the norther side to find the nicer beaches.

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Since most are based in Gili Trawangan, then you can always hire a boat to chill or snorkel at the other Gilis which I absolutely enjoyed doing.

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sunset point

As soon as the sun sets, time to ditch the bikes and find your way to the night market for some delicious meal.

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the famous night market

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fresh catch every day for dinner

Once the belly is full, then time to party!  Every night, a different venue will host the main party (that doesn’t stop you from picking your own bar/spot). Then before closing time which is usually 1AM, ask the locals where the after party is.

Okay I have to say that being a connoisseur of underground dance music, I find the sets a tad too Top 40’s in most venues. The exception is the Sama-Sama reggae bar and Ombak Bar that really does beach party music with good fire dancing even.  Anyway, make sure you are fully inebriated before going to the after party which will usually the Top 40 music. The party comes to a full stop on the island before the morning prayer.

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one of the mosques on the island

The Gilis of today has certainly changed from what I saw a decade ago. It has become a hectic island from numerous bikes, the depressing state of of the horse drawn carts and tons of people. The irony of mosques blaring calls to prayer while the island is surrounded with people in various state of undress and under the influence. Will I return again? Hell yes. To party.

After a week and a half of partying non stop it’s time to get out from lalaland and do some actual surfing. I based myself in Kuta in Lombok in a nice Balinese villa. Kuta is tame compared to the Gilis. It is something I needed after the craziness a few days before.

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the rare Balinese themed villa in a predominantly Muslim area

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pool a few steps from my room

I got lucky to meet some crazy local surfer dudes who took me to the nicest spots around the mainland. Of course mad driving was part of the adventure. Luckily no animal or human was harmed and lots of laughter and fun was had.

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one of the popular surf spots for beginners and intermediate level

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In between surf breaks, the beach which was a few minutes away from my cottage was a perfect spot to read a book and just chill.

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Overall I had the best time in Lombok. I wish I had more time to explore more of the island. That would be another reason to come back no?

Olá and 再見

I recently spent a week in Hong Kong and Macau for a work gig. It’s good to be back. I’ve always liked Hong Kong. Back in the day when I was just starting my career, I’ve always gone there often on business trips and ultimately build some friendships and fond memories.

One thing about small countries is that its is so packed you can accomplish many things in a couple days. Yes, no need to remind me that they are prefectures of China yada yada.  I still consider them a country of their own.

First off, Macau has been designed to be the Las Vegas of Asia. So all the big hotel/casino names are here in all their grandiosity and glamour. Much of what you see here is a replica of The Strip in Vegas.

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My day time is usually full so I only get the chance to walk around at night. The crowd of holiday-ers are noticeably less than Vegas so you could walk around with much less weaving in and out. Also majority of the visitors are from mainland China so they tend to be in groups and only come out at day time (they spend the nights in casinos).

It is relatively safe to walk around alone. Of course you don’t leave your wits and street smarts in your hotel room safe. If you want to get away from the fancy restaurants in the hotel resorts Taipa Village is the place to go. There is a smorgasbord of restaurants and stalls offering Portuguese and Chinese delicacies. Ah yes, and the famous egg tarts. And slabs and slabs of jerky. Pork, Beef, Stuffed… they have it. And the best thing is they offer you slices as samples. Next stop to sample are the pastries. Macau is also known for their pastellerias. There are also hawker type stalls for your street food fix.

Funny thing is I came across the only store that has people lining up. When I checked it out everything was written in Chinese. Also most of those lining up where from the mainland so yeah there was some lost in translation going on.I joined the cue for a bit but then decided since I don’t really know what are they buying and no pricing in Arabic numbers, I decided to bail out. Needless to say I was curious.

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What are you guys lining up for?

So most nights I would walk around this area, occasionally stopping for  food or beer. Amidst the Portuguese designed buildings are small pockets of restaurants offering a fusion of Portuguese and Chinese food.

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There is no shortage of restaurants – Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, French, etc. Oh yeah and a pub. How can I forget the pub!

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Going beyond the main tourist area, it is lovely and peaceful.

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street art

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Next stop, Hong Kong

The ferry crossing to Hong Kong was uneventful. Well except some girls loudly discussing the season finale of Game of Thrones which I haven’t watched it at the time. Talk about spoilers!

It was raining when I arrived in Hong Kong. That basically set the tone for the remainder of my stay. So instead of planning for a beach day I spent some time reacquainting with my old haunts. Needless to say I did a lot of walking. And crossing streets.

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Hong Kong is so jam packed I like weaving in and out between the main and smaller streets to get to your destination faster.

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Oh yeah and Victoria Peak just because I was close by the Peak tram station.

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The off and on rains prevented some quality beach time. Oh well.

Then its time to have the reunion with friends. Just like any other major city hub there is a vibrant night life   that needs to be taken advantaged of. Needless to say, there was a lot of fun along with consumption of copious amounts of alcohol.

Then off to catch a plane with a hungover. Yeah tell me about it. I’m getting too old for this shit.

So long Hong Kong and Macau. Thanks for the good time.