10 Best travel moments of 2013

I started this travel blog exactly a year ago with 2 goals in mind. First, is to simply share my travel experiences to the world. And second, is to help travelers, who are planning trips to the countries I’ve been to, by giving them information, tips, and things to watch out for.

On 2012, my first year of travelling, I went to 4 countries in Southeast Asia – Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and (East) Malaysia. Last 2013, I was able to visit 6 countries in Southeast and East Asia.

I learned a lot of lessons, established many friendships, and discovered many things about different cultures in my travels last year. From the streets of Seoul to the beaches of Batangas, my 2013 was full of amazing adventures.

To summarize my experiences last 2013, here’s a list of my 10 best travel moments:

10) Vietnamese friends in Manila

One of the best things about travelling is that you get to establish friendships that span across cultural and physical borders. Whenever I go to different countries, my friends host me by touring me around or letting me stay in their homes.

So when my foreign friends visit Manila, I try as much as I can to return the favor. Last 2013, 2 of my close Vietnamese friends visited the Philippines and both of them stayed in my home.

I met Tran Nguyen (Venus), my Vietnamese best friend, in the ASEAN Student Forum (ASF) last November 2012. When I was in Vietnam, Venus took me to her hometown and even let me stay in her family’s house. She backpacked in Manila last July and she stayed in my grandmother’s house. The other Filipino ASF delegates took Venus around Manila (because I had work). Since I was only available after work hours, I took her to dine in some malls and see a movie or two.

Venus (rightmost) in Manila!
Venus (rightmost) in Manila!

Venus is a really beautiful and smart young lady. I hope she enjoyed her short stay in Manila.

My other friend, Hoang Do, whom I also met in ASF, visited Manila last December. He also stayed in my house. Since Hoang was the partying kind, I took him to some karaoke and night bars in Makati and Bonifacio Global City.

Took Hoang (rightmost) to a Karaoke bar in Makati with some of my friends.
Took Hoang (rightmost) to a Karaoke bar in Makati with some of my friends.

9) Davao City for the MovePH Disaster Workshop

I went to Davao City last August 26-27 for the MovePH disaster workshop and discussion in partnership with the Ateneo de Davao University. We talked with students, disaster responders, academics and social workers about the city’s disaster mitigation and response scheme and the role of media in disasters.

The participants and organizers of the workshop.
The participants and organizers of the workshop.

This was my first time to go to Mindanao. Though I wasn’t really able to tour around the city, it still feels great to experience being in the south part of the Philippines.

8) Spontaneous beach trips to Batangas

This year, I had 2 spontaneous trips to the beach with my friends. In both occasions, we went to Batangas, a province south of Manila known for its excellent beaches and diving spots.

The first trip was in October with my office mates in Rappler. We went to La Luz Beach Resort in Laiya, Batangas and stayed there overnight. The resort was beautiful and the price for food and accommodation was quite affordable. This was a good break from the stress we usually have in our everyday work.

Rapplers in the beach. (L-R) Me, Angela, Jum and Mia.
Rapplers in the beach. (L-R) Me, Angela, Jum and Mia.

The second trip happened quite recently. I went to Tali, Batangas with my college batch mates, Martin Medina and Andrea Siy, on a day trip last December 30. In 3 hours, we visited and swam in 4 beaches. The beaches, which were part of the same cove, had different kinds of sand – white, orange, and black. This was certainly a great trip to cap off the year.

A view of one of the beaches in Tali.
A view of one of the beaches in Tali.

These trips proved 2 things among others: (1) Spontaneous is good, and (2) beaches are more fun in the Philippines.

7) Da Lat with Venus

I initially wanted to go to the beaches of Mui Ne as part of my post graduation backpacking adventure. But after consulting with some of my friends, I decided to go to Da Lat, the capital of Lam Dong province in Vietnam and hometown of my best friend Venus. (See: Two days in Da Lat)

Had a photo shoot with Venus in the oldest railway station in Vietnam.
Had a photo shoot with Venus in the oldest railway station in Vietnam.

Da Lat is in a mountainous region so the weather was really cold. Venus took me around to see a couple of Buddhist temples, flower gardens, a waterfalls, an old train station and some lakes, among others. I also learned to ride a motorbike while in Da Lat.

On top of Mt. Lang Biang
On top of Mt. Lang Biang

During my last night, I cooked chicken adobo for Venus’ family, who hosted me for 3 days.

6) Pre-graduation trip to Seoul

A week before my graduation, my family and I went to Seoul, South Korea. This was a good break after finishing my last academic requirements in college and was actually the first time I traveled with my family since Saudi Arabia. (See: At the heart of Seoul)

The King's court in the Changdeokgung Palace.
The King’s court in the Changdeokgung Palace.

Even if I only stayed for 3 days (because I had to attend some graduation activities back home), I saw so much of Seoul’s beauty – from the Namsanggol Hanok Village to the North Seoul Tower to the 5 palaces inside the city.

The best part of the trip? Not spending a single Won! Everything was paid for by my mom and grandmother.

Going down the (very steep and  cold) hill/ mountain of Namsan.
Going down the (very steep and cold) hill/ mountain of Namsan.

I’d have to admit though that my trip wasn’t enough to fully appreciate South Korea. Hopefully, I get to go back to Seoul soon.

5) Sagada ‘buwis-buhay’ adventure

Right after the May 2013 Philippine senatorial elections, my colleague, Jericho Hong, and I went to Sagada to explore its famous tourist spots. It actually took us the whole day to reach the place.

Sagada is a municipality in Mountain Province, located north of Luzon. The places we visited were the Sumaguing Caves, the Bokong Falls, the Hanging Coffins and the rices terraces.

Inside the Sumaguing Caves
Inside the Sumaguing Caves

Aside from the chilly weather and the jaw-dropping sites, the food in Sagada were also nice. The beef pepper steak, the yogurt and the lemon pie are definitely worth trying.

My college batch mate, Naya Tuguinay, lives in Sagada. So on our last night in the mountains, we stayed in her house. She also took us to the waterfalls located near her house.

On the way to the waterfalls with Jeco and Naya.
On the way to the waterfalls with Jeco and Naya.

4) Kuala Lumpur with my family

My family and I went to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from October 29 to November 4. We stayed over my uncle who works there as an engineer.

The trip was really fun! The 4 of us went around the tourist spots of the city by ourselves. We all had our share of bloopers, clumsiness and getting lost. We also saw other Malaysian states since my uncle and his family also took us to Putrajaya and Malacca. (See: 10 places to see in Kuala Lumpur)

At the base of the Menara KL with my mom and siblings
At the base of the Menara KL with my mom and siblings

My friend from ASF, Shahrul Ameen, also took me out to experience the KL night life. We partied, literally, until morning. I also met some of his college classmates.

10) Bukit Bintang
With Ameen in a bar in Bukit Bintang

With this trip, I’ve now seen both East and West Malaysia and have been to 5 of the country’s 13 states.

3) DAJA in Tokyo

Top 3 goes to my short visit in Tokyo last November 20-23 to participate in the 2013 Developing Asia Journalism Awards hosted by the Asian Development Bank Institute.

This trip is special for a couple of things. For one, I won the Young Development Journalist of the Year award. I also presented my article “ASEAN Economic Community: Are we ready for 2015?” in front of older and more trained journalists from all over Asia.

2012wrap 11

Lastly, the trip was special because I was able to go around Tokyo with my Japanese friends, Masato Yoshizawa and Takahiro Minami, whom I met in Taipei. Even if I only had half a day to see Tokyo, it was really worth it because of these guys. (See: Half a day in Tokyo)

2013wrap 12

My first trip to Japan was too short. Surely, I’ll go back.

2) Backpacking: Saigon – Phnom Penh – Siem Reap and back

My top 2 travel experience this year is my most exciting one. This was when I embarked on a backpack trip by myself to see Vietnam and Cambodia (then Da Lat) after graduation.

Inside the Angkor Wat Temple in Siem Reap.
Inside the Angkor Wat Temple in Siem Reap.

For more than a week, I went from Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) to Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and back by land. I slept in guesthouses, ate in street stalls and set my own itinerary. My budget was only 200 USD with money for souvenirs included. (See: Missing Saigon)

The trip gave me the space I needed to discern what career I’ll pursue after graduation. It also gave me a much-deserved break after 16 years of studying.

Inside the Royal Palace of Phnom Penh.
Inside the Royal Palace of Phnom Penh.

I walked around Ho Chi Minh, biked around the Angkor Wat Archaeological Park, and cruised in the Sisowath Quay. The trip taught me so many life lessons and helped me sift through my own issues (e.g. trust). (See: A Tale of Two Cities: 5 places to visit in Cambodia)

While in Phnom Penh, I also met Veronica Na from ASF. She generously took me around the city in her scooter.

1) IDEA in Taipei

My top travel moment this year goes to the International Discovery Exchange in Asia (IDEA) Project in Taipei, Taiwan last August 4-10.

With my group mates in Ximending.
With my group mates in Ximending.

The culture camp was all about Taiwanese culture, tradition and history. We participants presented certain things about our own culture as well. The organizers also took us to many interesting places in Taipei as part of the program. (See: 9 things to do in Taipei)

But more than what I learned about different cultures and traditions, the many friendships I made makes this culture camp truly my best travel experience in 2013. I met youth from different parts of Asia and some of them became my really close friends.

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With other IDEA people at the gate of Xingtian Temple.

I actually miss my friends from IDEA. Hopefully, they’ll go to Manila soon so I can immerse them in Filipino culture.

My 2013

I visited 6 countries in Southeast and East Asia this year – South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, Malaysia and Japan. This puts my country count at 11, which means I only need 14 countries to reach my Project 25 goal.

I have 3 countries to go before completing Southeast Asia and 3 more to finishing East Asia.

2013wrap 17

2013 was surely a blast. I know 2014 will be much more exciting.

Thank you for continually being part of my journey! Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!

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