Enthralled by El Nido

I found my paradise in the Philippines.

Spellbounding Siquijor

A brave girl's first ever solo trip was to this mystical island.

The Quiet Charm of Cagbalete Island

Outdoor serenity at its best.

The Rugged Beauty of Islas de Gigantes

The off-the-beaten rockin beauty of Northern Iloilo.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Kodingareng Keke: A Snorkeling Wonderland in Makassar

Makassar Day 2

My friend arranged the boat for our trip on our second day. Boat rental is a little steep at IDR 400,000. Well, this is a big boat that can accommodate up to 10 pax that's why. There are no available smaller boats for fewer number of people. We didn't mind this at all since we are staying with my friend and this is our first major expense in Makassar.

all of my favorite colors in Kodingareng Keke

You might be asking, but where is Makassar? Maybe it is your first time to hear about it. It is the largest city in East Indonesia and the provincial capital of South Sulawesi. I know this part of Indonesia is still unheard-of to other travelers. To give you an idea, look at the illustration below. Sulawesi is just located south of the Philippines only being separated by the Celebes Sea. There used to be a direct flight from Davao to Manado in the past!

It is a great jump-off point to several exotic destinations too. It has direct connections to Borneo, Flores, West Papua and Maluku (Moluccas aka Spice Islands). Yes, it is the Spice Islands Ferdinand Magellan was looking for kaya lang sumablay ang navigation nya, sa Pilipinas sya napadpad! All of these 4 places are in my bucket list so there is a very high probability that I'll be back in Makassar.

Map of Sulawesi, Indonesia

Now that you get a general idea of where this place is, let me continue my story hehe. We woke up at 7:00 AM to prepare for our beach trip. Since we were heading to an uninhabited island, we already bought our food and supplies before heading to the port.

sailing on a perfect sunny day

We did a quick stop at Pulau Samalona to rent some snorkeling gears. We paid for INR 100,000 for 2 pairs of snorkels and a pair of flippers. Not bad. We will also be visiting this island but we headed to Kodingareng Keke (KK) first, because we wanted to be there early in the day for better water visibility while snorkeling.

Beau checking our snorkels

Kodingareng Keke is about 45 minutes from the city. It is one of the many islands scattered off Makassar. Don't worry it wasn't a rough ride, though there may be times that you'll get wet by the waves.

we're here!!!

When we arrived, we did not check-out the beach first. We jumped from the boat and snorkeled right away! The clear water was that enticing.

let's go fish hunting :)

The first thing I've noticed aside from the very clean and clear water were the thriving corals. Being someone who'd been snorkeling a lot in my home country and some other countries as well, I can honestly say that they have a very vibrant marine life here.




The corals were so beautiful yet so fragile. I kept telling Beau to please don't, don't ever step on the corals. It takes years for them to grow! I don't take that many photos when under the water. I just love to stalk fishes, swim with them and get lost in wonder.





After a couple of hours snorkeling, we felt exhausted and hungry. That was only time when we get off the sea and head to the jetty towards the beach.

KK Jetty

Totally unpopulated, there were no shelters nor other structures in the island aside from the jetty and the wooden fences as seen in the left side of the photo below.



We just found a place under the shade of the trees, sat in the sand and ate there.

that was our packed lunch!

Our lunch munch that day was Nasi Kuning (Bahasa for yellow rice). It is an Indonesian rice dish cooked with coconut milk and turmeric. It usually comes with side dishes such as vegetables, fried anchovies and peanuts and shrimp in chili. You will also be asked to add other dish on it like chicken, beef or seafood.


Nasi Kuning @ INR 5750 (PHP 21)
We also bought water and a lot of snacks from Indomaret, my favorite convenience store in Indonesia haha. We had chips, coco jelly and Sponge Crunch Strawberry for dessert! Ikhsan and I raced to the shelves to get the last and only pack of Sponge left -but he won! :'(

If you are from the Philippines like me, you are only familiar with Oishi's Sponge Crunch Cheese and Chocolate flavors, right? Well, in Indo they have a strawberry one and it tastes like " strawberry heaven"! No wonder, Ikhsan won't give me the chance to have it! It is his favorite too. I was glad he shared it with us at the beach. Sorry, I can't help but tell that story haha!

back to the sea

just beautiful

We were back to the waters after feeding ourselves. We were the only people in the whole island. It was just me, Beau, Ikhsan and our boatman. How cool is that? :)

Fil-Indo Friendship Day in KK ;)

afraid to let go, too deep!
We circumnavigated the island in 30 minutes. It is just like a huge sandbar, so you can walk around it that quick. On this side of the island, it has fine white sand. On the other side, the sand was darker and a little bit rougher with some pebbles on it.



Kodingareng Keke is a beautiful island. This is my perception without comparison to all the other islands I've been to. It met my standards of a good island destination. It has great snorkeling spots, the coral reefs are intact, it has white sand, the water is unpolluted and it has all the colors I imagined of a beach paradise. I'm the one who would always choose an uninhabited island over a commercialized one.


abandoned kitties in the island


The not-so-good things I've noticed were just a few. But what I really don't like is the trash being left by the tourists. Since no one lives in this island, nobody's taking care of all the rubbish being left there. I hope people will take their trashes back and dispose it properly in the city. I also felt bad about the cats living there. For sure, somebody brought them there. How cruel. :(


"Looking at beauty in the world, is the first step of purifying the mind." ~Amit Ray

Before we left the island, I sat down in the jetty for a few minutes. I looked all around, hoping that I won't forget all the beauty that surrounds me and how happy I am being there. 

The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. ~Jacques Cousteau


This is Part 2 of my South Sulawesi travel series. 

Samalona Island and our expenses report, up next!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

How I Ended Up in South Sulawesi, Indonesia

Indonesia, I'm back!

It was September last year when I went backpacking alone in Indonesia for 10 days. It was a very short trip so I was only able to scratch a surface of this big country. I was amazed by how warm the Indonesians were. When I posted my arrival to their country in CS, I received a lot of responses from members coming from different parts of Indonesia. Many of them were even offering me a place to stay if ever I'll pass by their cities. Some of them offered help in case I'll need anything. The people I met in Jogja and Bali were overwhelmingly kind that I actually had separation anxiety when I already had to leave! At that moment, I knew I will be back.

touchdown Makassar

One of the very nice person I met was Ikhsan. He invited me to visit their city of Makassar in South Sulawesi. Unlike other parts of Indonesia, it is not as touristy so I definitely accepted his invitation. Air Asia only started flying that route from KL and SG, July of 2013. It was their fourth month of operation when we flew with them. This was not originally the plan after Chiang Mai. It was the second time I took Laos out of the equation. I'm so sorry, Laos!

Flight AK1316 KUL-UPG - full!

The Crazy Route

Our travel route was a little out of order so it looks weird on the map haha! I never had a hard time convincing Beau to replace Laos with this Indonesian island. When he saw the photos, he was sold. And I also agreed about going to SG even if I don't really like it, so he should really give me this one. Ha!

MNL-ChiangMai-BKK-KL-Makassar-SG-MNL


We knew we can just go to SG from KL by bus or the other way around. But exiting South Sulawesi via AirAsia can only be done through these cities so we decided to just do a separate visit to these two. It was much cheaper to go to SG from Makassar so we made it as our last stop before returning to the Philippines.


Beau's tasty chicken biryani

It was a good 3-hour flight so we thought we could use some yummy in-flight meal. :)


Touched in the Sky

It was barely just 2 weeks then since the Typhoon Haiyan devastation in the Philippines. Office Christmas parties and lavish celebrations were canceled that year. The funds which are to be used for these celebrations were just donated to the victims.

Our trip was planned a year ago (in anticipation of the Yi Peng Festival in Chiang Mai) and all of our reservations were already paid so no matter how affected we were with what happened, we had to push through with this trip.


terima kasih!

That time, AirAsia had a fundraising drive for the typhoon victims in the Philippines. When the flight attendants started to collect donations from the passengers and when I saw how they responded to it, I was really moved. You can easily tell how some of them were just ordinary people but still, they generously gave what they can. I did not see anyone who did not give anything.

I was so touched, I could no longer hold back my emotions - I cried (under my scarf)! Maya Angelou was right. People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Even remisniscing that moment while writing this still made me teary eyed. That was a memorable flight.


Makassar Day 1

Hello Makassar!

We arrived in Makassar at around 5:00 PM. We had a hard time getting in touch with my friend/host but I was never worried because I had another friend there who can help me just in case. I was so relieved that I was able to contact him after a while. We just asked for the directions and took a cab to his house. We later found out that mobile phone signal is intermittent in his place.

our "home" in  Makassar :)
When we arrived in his house, there was an on-going class. He started-up this project for young students who want to learn English. Like what my friend in Jogja told me, English is just being included in their curriculum during junior high. That's why they were late when it comes to learning this language.


English class happening
It was fun! Guests can also volunteer to teach the students or participate in the class activities. It was nice interacting with these youth who are all very curious and willing to learn from you. :)

with my friend, Ikhsan :)
When the class was over, we went out for dinner in a nearby restaurant. Ikhsan is a really great guy. Being with him felt like hanging out with a fellow-Filipino barkada. He even emptied this room for us so we can have it.

our room, thank you Ikhsan!
We also shared his house with mother and child, Karen and Kai. Karen is from Wales and her husband who was in Bali at that time, is from Slovakia. When Karen has to do something, we do some baby sitting for Kai. We were quite a multi-cultural family there. I wished, we could have stayed a few more days with them.

our housemates :)

Would you share a house with people you just met? Why the hell not? It-was-awesome! ;)

***

I never thought I'll be back in Indonesia within the same year (after just a couple of months)! It took me 3 years to go back to Thailand! I've been going back and forth to Malaysia but mostly just for transit. It must be the Indonesian hospitality that will keep me coming back. :)


"Most travel, and certainly the rewarding kind, involves depending on the kindness of strangers, putting yourself into the hands of people you don't know and trusting them with your life." ~Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star


This is Part 1 of my South Sulawesi travel series.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Booking Indian Train Tickets for Foreigners


Unlike other countries, trains here get fully-booked months in advance. It is always better to plan and book ahead. I want to share the steps on how I was able to book our intercity train tickets in India. It's not very easy so you have to be patient.



1) Register or create an account with Cleartrip. An awesome booking website which is very simple and easy to use. When you're done with this, go to the next step.



2) You also have to sign-up with IRCTC (Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation). Fill out all required information (marked with red asterisk). Put in your real name as it shows on your passport as they will need it for verification purposes later. For the mobile number, just put in your real mobile number from your country. It wouldn't matter anyway.



When your done with this, you will receive an email from them containing your temporary password and a link to activate your IRCTC account. However, in order for you to do this you will also need a mobile verification code which was sent to your "mobile number". Obviously, you can't receive it since it's a non-Indian mobile number.


3) Here's what you can do. Send an email to their Customer Care at care@irctc.co.in requesting for your mobile verification code. Tell them that you don't have an Indian mobile number and give them your UserID. Attached a scanned copy or your passport (first page, the one with your info) so they can verify your identity. They will then send it to you so you can continue with activating your IRCTC account.


4) You can't book your train tickets directly in IRCTC if you don't have an Indian credit card. This is the reason why we created our Cleartrip account at the first place. Now, you have to link these two accounts so you can book tickets using your non-Indian credit card.

When you log in to your Cleartrip account and proceed to Search Trains and Check Availability, there will be an option for you to Link your Account to IRCTC, click that. You will receive an email with your Email OTP but then again the Mobile OTP was sent to your "mobile number" which of course you can't retrieve.



For this process, you have to email care@irctc.co.in again requesting for your Mobile OTP this time. Tell them your User ID and let them know you want to link your account to Cleartrip so you can book using your non-Indian credit card.

Once you receive it, you can go ahead and enter your Email and Mobile OTPs to the Cleartrip website. That's it! You can start booking your train tickets using your non-Indian credit card! :)


Please note that when you log in again to Cleartrip to enter your OTPs, just click the link at the left side, which is something like "Already received your OTPs". Do NOT try to link your account again because it will send you another set of OTPs and you would have to redo the process again!

It was quite a long procedure but I'd like to commend the IRCTC Customer Care for their prompt responses. You can finish this in 2-3 days. Not bad at all.


Latest Update 12/14/14


Other Options:

If booking ahead is not your thing or simply everything has been sold out, here are the other options left:

Foreign Tourist Quota (FTQ)

They do allot a few seats for foreign tourists who want to travel on a short notice. Tickets might be available a couple of days or a day before your desired travel date. But still, there's just a little assurance that you can get one especially if you're coming to or from a very popular tourist destination or if it's high season. Not all stations have this quota. Here are the stations in Northern Railways that have FTQ: Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Varanasi, New Delhi, Agra-Cantt and Mumbai.

We were able to avail FTQ tickets in Varanasi. We availed Varanasi Junction-Agra Fort tickets for the same day. Only one seat in AC2 was available so one of us had to be on the Waiting List (WL). Everything else was fully-booked so we took it! We were advised to return at least an hour before our departure that night to confirm the WL ticket. To book this, just look for the Tourist Assistance Office in the train station. Ticket prices were the same, no additional charges.


TATKAL

This refers to the tickets being made available only at 10:00 AM a day before the travel date. The difference it has from the FTQ is it has an additional charge on top of the ticket price. It ranges from INR 15-400 depending on the seat class. This can also be booked online.

We were also able to try this option when we had to reschedule our Agra-Jaipur trip. We booked this online via Cleartrip. Additional TATKAL charge is very minimal so we did this instead of going to the train station just to book it.  


I hope this helps you out in planning your trip to India. Feel free to comment if this post has helped you or if you want to correct or add something. Happy travels! :)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

KL Stopover: A Day in Kuala Lumpur


Hello Again, KL!

Lake Symphony in KLCC Park


Sleeping in Airport

There are no direct flights from Thailand to our next destination in Indonesia. Since we're flying with Air Asia, it's either we'll fly from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore to Makassar. We chose KL because Beau haven't been to Malaysia yet, so we planned a one day stopover.

LCCT at midnight

Our flight from BKK arrived at 12:00 AM. We selected this late flight because we kind of wanted to make sure that just in case we couldn't get an earlier bus from Chiang Mai, still we won't be late for our flight.

my supposedly in-flight meal

We no longer booked for a hotel that night and just slept at the airport. Even though we know that LCCT is not a very comfortable place to stay, why should I pay for a night if it's no longer worth it? It's like just paying for 12 hours.


Shopping

We left the airport at around 6:00 AM and headed to our hostel in Bukit Bintang. Good thing the beds were already available so we were allowed to check-in early. After the much need shower, sleeplessness defeated us. We just slept on our first 4 hours in downtown KL haha.

Pasar Seni

We woke up around lunch time and Beau wanted to visit the Central Market to do a little bit of souvenir shopping.


Of course, we don't go anywhere without sampling some local food. Their Putu Bambu is very similar to our Puto Bumbung. Ours is just colored purple. :)



Beau still wanted to eat something after the Putu so we went to the Food Court at the upper floor. He had his noodles while I had just my chai.

view from Pasar Seni Station

It was a rainy day so we weren't able to do some photo walk.


Sightseeing

Bukit Bintang is pretty much in the center of everything so we can just walk to some tourist spots or just take a short train ride. We took another stroll that evening.

The KL Menara Tower as seen from our hostel

The photo below is exactly taken at the front of our hostel. When you cross that street, you'll see lines of posh shopping malls and well-known brand boutiques.

Jalan Sultan Ismail and Bukit Bintang intersection
On it's right side is the Bukit Bintang Monorail Station and if you'll keep walking to that direction, there's the Sungei Wang Plaza for some cool fashion finds and if you'll walk further, there are still more malls that sells cheap stuff in that area.

Needless to say, we chose to walk towards the high-end shops.




Christmas was around the corner then so The Pavilion had these awesome yuletide decorations.



Even the locals were taking pictures so we joined the fun! :)



We heard that there's a walkway from there going to KLCC. Perfect! Beau wanted to see the beautiful Petronas Towers at night.

we found the path!

It was quite a walk I must say. 15 minutes on a fast pace, 30 on a more relaxed one.

KLCC Water Fountain Light Show


It was still raining when we got there and we don't have an umbrella! So we can only watch the fountain show from afar.

Petronas Towers - still lovely on a rainy night

I felt a little bad for Beau because it was his first time in KL and first time to see the Petronas but we couldn't even get a good photo because it was raining.

shot taken from Bukit Bintang mono station

We just took the train on our way back because the walkway closes at 11:00 PM. We lingered in the station for a bit because it was raining hard!


Street Food Eating

The other thing that made us busy in KL was eating! Oh yes, we are both a big foodie and we love trying out local food everywhere we go. We headed here as soon as we were able to leave the train station.

Welcome to the Food Street!

Another reason why Bukit Bintang is a good base when you're in KL is that it is very near to Jalon Alor. It is just two streets behind the Bintang Walk and can be reached by 5-10 minutes.


Jalan Alor is known to be KL's Food Street and it literally is! Tables and chairs are just set up in front of the restaurants right at the streets.



As soon as the sun goes down, this part of the city transforms into a food paradise!

Beau sampling some Roti Canai

From light snacks to fresh seafood, they have everything here. No wonder this place is always packed with people regardless of what day it is.

i know you want em too


choose anything you like

craving for dessert? try the turkish ice cream!
After going around trying out some local snacks, we decided to have a proper dinner in one of the restaurants. Here's what we got:


satays and pork belly
When I say proper dinner, in Filipino that means something with rice. We just can't live without rice.No, I'm not exaggerating.

and some noodle soup to keep us warm
We ended our day in KL with devouring delicious food! I would say this is one place in KL that I'll keep coming back to.

I love Kuala Lumpur. Next to Manila, this is the city where I felt at home to. Being here a lot of times for my transits made me feel very comfortable and at ease in this city. I'm sure I'll keep having a lot of layovers and transits here in the future. :)


This is a continuation of my Thailand-Indonesia-Singapore trip last November 2013.