Monday, January 28, 2008

In a few week's time...

I will be in another hectic trip. I have recently renewed my passport (which turned out to be a harrowing experience) and I have so far visited the DFA 3x just for a renewal (can you believe that?). Since i was a child, I have never set foot at the DFA. It was always through a travel agent. Now I gag at the thought of ever visiting the DFA again ... and those darn scourge of our lives - the "fixers"- may they rot in hell! Oops sorry. Got carried away. ;-) (P.S. The next photos are courtesy of some sites on Myanmar.)

On a more personal note, I have noticed that this blogsite has had a good number of hits in just less than a month. I started this blogsite last week of October, just a few weeks after my arrival from the mind-blowing Siem Reap and Phnom Penh of Cambodia; and Hanoi and Saigon in Vietnam. I had the intentions of documenting my solo travel in Vietnam and Cambodia, as well as sharing my travels to help other Filipino travelers with the little details that would help the anxious wanderlust. I didn't really care much if i had readership, although I did invite all my friends to visit this site to share my adventures with them as early as November. This will somehow serve as a journal. Besides, the pics look better when posted here than on an album, I dunno why?!!

Last December - during the holiday respite nearing the recent New Year - I decided to employ a "counter" to somehow document the number of hits. I was awed by the number of hits!!! I honestly didn't think anyone would "visit" besides my friends (I don't think I have THAT MUCH friends who would keep visiting too.) To my surprise, in a span of less than a month, this site actually got almost 500 hits! Deduct my visits (which is once every 3 days or so), it still is a good number for just a span of a month. In fact, just from yesterday, I have had a spectacular 34 hits/"visits" within 24 hours.

In relation to this, if any of you gets to visit this site, please do say hello, and tell me what's on your mind. Would be nice to have a friendly living being making their presence felt. If you have been to an amazing place that needs to be shared, I'd gladly feature it here so we can share them with others. I would appreciate details and tips that would be "useful" to other travellers. As you have noticed, this blog-site is also picture-heavy so I would encourage you to share those photos. I can't promise to post all of them, but I'll pick my favorites.

Lastly, I will be visiting several places in Thailand again (I've been there several times) but the more notable visit would be that of Myanmar (Burma). I just saw Stallone's "John Rambo" (the 4th incarnation) set in Myanmar, which "demonized" the country's situation. Of course I understand that dictatorship runs this country, but it can't be that bad. Either way, I will find out! (As a footnote, go watch "John Rambo", the action is amazing! And Stallone is back!!! Soooo back!)

The itinerary in Myanmar will be pretty exciting: Yangon (the former capital - I recently read that it's Naypyidaw now, some 300 kms from Yangon), Bagan (my most anticipated), Mandalay and Mount Popa. If Cambodia's Angkor boasts of some 50 temples or so, Bagan has an astounding 4,400 temples!!! And I am fraught with excitement!

If any of you has been to Myanmar, I would appreciate any tips! I am posting herewith some photos I saw from my surfing.

And yeah, do say hi!

These last 3 photos were taken from a well documented backpacking all over Asia, especially of Myanmar. Please visit the site if you enjoy GREAT PHOTOS and a prolific retelling of a travelogue:

Thursday, January 17, 2008

London's Kew Gardens

In relation to my visit to the gardens and palace in Bogor City, Indonesia, I am posting a piece to revisit Kew Gardens, since what made me visit Bogor was the heavy reference to the Royal Botanic Garden of Kew. It is claimed that the architects and designers of both places were the same. Of course this couldn’t have been possible since the whole premises of Kew dates as far back as the mid-1700s.

Kew Garden, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site like Ha Long Bay and our Banaue Rice Terraces, is a far visit from central London. Though it is accessible by trains, there are several train changes involving the tube (
Waterloo and District Line) and finally the British Rails (Silverlink services).

The Princess of Wales Conservatory

In the far reaches of southwest London (even farther than the sleepy borough of Wimbledon), one has to walk a few blocks before reaching the main gate of the 120-hectare premises. On it still stands a Chinese pagoda which was constructed 1761. The grounds also house an almost-exact replica of Gateway of the Messenger of the Nishi Buddhist Temple situated in Kyoto Japan (which is a commemorative structure for the friendship between the UK and Japan).

Kew is a huge botanical garden, research facility and conservatory, as it employs about 700 employees. For the year 2006 alone, it boasted an annual income of 44 million pounds or $ 86.5 million. This is considering the fact that not a lot of foreigners know about Kew Gardens. The admission charge for adults is 12.25 pounds or $24 (Php 980) and is free for concessionaires (minors, students and elderlies).

The highlight seems to be the relatively new Princess of Wales Conservatory (a 20-year old structure specially supported and inaugurated by Princess Diana). The conservatory houses 10 perfectly simulated climatic zones all over the world, made possible by a computer-generated program. There are species endemic to several regions and climatic zones all over the world. I remember an area which had those Sumatran gigantic phallic-looking flowers (the same structures which surround the Monas in Jakarta). Some areas were very moist, some very humid; some even had “fumes” generated by contraptions.

My favorite is the outdoor grounds, with very colorful flowers jutting out of the rolling greens. I also like the magnificent architecture of the Orangery (constructed 1791) which houses a restaurant and the Kew Shop. The Chinese Pagoda and the Japanese Buddhist Temple are amazingly well maintained. There is a North Gallery which houses more than 830 botanical paintings of a lady adventurer who collected plant paintings from all the continents that she visited. Being inside the gallery was like stepping back into time, with antique bookcases and a stately Victorian ambiance.

Bogor Gardens is comparatively more “natural” and the selection of plants are limited to those endemic to Indonesia ; trees everywhere (huge ones in fact) and there are hiking trails that can’t be easy for the elderlies, the children and the handicap. Wheelchairs are available at the Victoria Gate of the Kew. Also, the floral gardens of the Kew are mind-numbingly beautiful and more breathtaking (as do “any” of the Royal Botanic Gardens of London – my personal favorite is the Rose Garden of Regent’s Park).

Giant Water Lilies are being seeded every year.

The Orangery

Chinese Pagoda, era 1761

The Gateway of the Messenger of the Nishi Buddhist Temple

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Comparison of Copenhagen and Bogor's "Little Mermaid"

I was fortunate to have chanced upon the Little Mermaid’s statue in the heart of Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen (which they locally spell Kobenhavn). In a low key area, by the city harbor, with not much fanfare, sits Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved fairy tale character. (Andersen’s statue - with a long hat and coat tails - also stands near the city square).

The statue, which is about 3 feet tall (including the granite boulder it perches on) doesn’t even have signage’s, and is very near the rows of palaces where the “changing of the guards” occur. I remembered taking my usual walks until I reached the boardwalk. Most of the nearby harbor walk was not notable.

Bogor's Little Mermaid.

Copenhagen is an ideal place for “walkers” - this is where the word “pedestrian” originated. I also chanced upon a majestic statue of David nearby. To date, Denmark, the southernmost Scandinavian country, is still not part of the newly expanded Schengen territory, but is easily accessible from Central Europe by train. From Hamburg (which is the northernmost central European city), the train is derailed from its land rails and loaded to a ferry boat that will traverse the icy North Seas. In about an hour, the ferry reaches the shores of Denmark. The Eurail train is re-railed to its land tracks, and travel to Copenhagen resumes.

Copenhagen's Little Mermaid. It was hard to get a good photograph of the statue's face, although it was obviously closer than the one in Bogor, Indonesia.

I am not sure if Bogor’s “Little Mermaid” has any important historical connection with Copenhagen’s little one. Probably the garden designers from London’s Kew Gardens got their idea from their Danish neighbor? Probably not.

I needed a good light to get a decent view of the statue's face. Aww!

Trivia on the statue:

The statue (which was 4 years in the making) was created by the sculptor Edward Eriksen and was presented to the city in 1913 by the famous brewer of Carlsberg beer, Carl Jacobsen. Although many think that the statue is a symbol of the old seaport, the inspiration was Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”.

This is a postcard photo I bought from some newstand in Copenhagen.

In 1909, brewer Carl Jacobsen saw solo dancer Ellen Price dance in Fini Henriques' ballet interpretation of Andersen’s "The Little Mermaid" at the Royal Theatre. He was so taken with her that he asked her if she would pose naked for the statue. She agreed in principle, but was not very interested in posing without any clothes on, when she found out just how public the statue would be.

Instead, the
sculptor’s wife stepped in and modeled for the body. On April 23, 1964, the vandals decapitated the Little Mermaid and her original head was never found. A new head was made from the original cast. Most visitors to Copenhagen have their pictures taken next to the Little Mermaid. The statue's birthday is celebrated in various ways every year on August 23.

Nice views along the harbor where the Little Mermaid statue sits nearby.

Majestic statue of David. When my 5-year-old niece saw this, she said, "It is a boy, tito! Ewww!" Almost fell off my chair and laughed so hard!

Check out: Davao City's Little Mermaid here -

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bogor - The Garden and the Rain City of Java


On my 5th day in Jakarta, while I was coming out of my hotel room, the concierge asked me if I’ve visited outside the state. Truth to tell, I wanted to go somewhere out of Jakarta (which isn’t exactly a city but a province, thus Jakarta’s head of government is a governor). Though a little wary of the random horror stories I've heard about Gambir (the main train station), I was willing to find out.

Ummi, an Indonesian friend, gave the impression that most Jakartans would rather avoid the trains, “especially the ekonomi, commuter train”. She said, “I only ride train for long distance. It's the coal train (KA)one, not KRL. You might want to travel in executive class (with AC) because the business class doesn't have AC. Do not - ever - ride the economy class. Best choice would be the rapid train (the train name starts with Argo)."

Upon arriving at the station, it was hard not to notice the incandescent green and yellow-green panels, brightening up the chaotic place. There was a surplus of policemen in the area. Ticket inspectors roam during the ride so tickets have to be kept and presented for inspection. Buying a ticket was systematic, and though I wasn’t sure if I had the correct platform, all I had to do was ask the local commuters, five of them enthusiastically offered a variety of replies. The thing about Jakartans is that, once they get wind of your being a tourist, they feel protective against the big city’s perceived dangers.

Ekonomi tickets to Bogor costs Rp3,000 and its a 1 ½ hour ride by train. There’s one every 20 minutes between 6 AM and 7 PM. I took the Pakuan Express train, a business train that sets you back Rp13,000. It leaves Gambir hourly (6:30 AM to 6 PM). The carriage was a huge fully air-conditioned car. Though it doesn’t have the impeccable spotlessness and glisten of Malaysia’s KLIA Express, it is more serviceable than our decrepit PNR trains. We’d pass by a major university station (one of the 3-4 stops of an express train). Upon arrival in Bogor, the "Rain City", I had to get down the tracks instead of an elevated platform.  
Outside the station is a street with considerable hustle. There are sidewalk vendors and Angkots, a small fierra-FX hybrid, ply the streets (Rp2000). As the road got wider, we reached a roundabout. I got off at the other side for my destination - the Bogor Palace and the Gardens. Interestingly, the gardens is said to be patterned after London’s Kew Gardens who shares the same architect and planner. Verdict: It's the perfect place to unwind, a green lung of a city with a surplus of angkots roaming narrow streets. But the Kew Gardens it isn’t.

On Bogor, Ummi shared, “That's a nice place. Bogor is called the 'Rain City', because it's the home of the rain; it often rains even during the dry season. It’s also the current President's private residence. He and other top retired generals have big houses in the Cikeas area.” Lonely Planet likewise refers to Bogor as the "Garden City".

In Bogor Gardens (Kebun Raya), you could hang down your hat. It has gigantic trees lining the paved lanes; a lake filled with water hyacinth; a royal palace (Istana Bogor) with a replica of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid. Unfortunately, their “Little Mermaid” is out of reach. The whole graden grounds could be checked out in two hours.

Before going back to the train station, I passed by the Ramayana Mall, a medium-sized shopping center that’s more upscale than Plaza Bogor’s tiangge commercialism. I bought scarves at Rp17,500 each (down from the original selling price of Rp30,000). I got my mother a blouse (Rp75,000) as well as several shirts for my brothers. By 2 PM, I got hungry so I went to Moka Hoka Bento and ordered a delectable meal at Rp32,000. Once I got recharged, I decided to walk along Jalan Juanda.

I found a stall selling handicrafts and got interested with a tribal mask that set back by Rp50,000 – but I was pleased with myself. At the Soeharto Hatta Airport, the same mask was worth Rp150,000.

I was told that there’s a Robinson’s nearby, but I had to catch my train. I headed towards the Post Office to drop my postcard (Rp5,500 for stamps). Thereafter, I hopped onto an angkot again, not quite sure if this was going to the train station. Then I met a serious-looking guy named Fadil who took the time to accompany me to the train station; bought the express (economy) ticket for me, and even offered me a bottled water. He has been a texting friend ever since. (Fadil works at a chicken poultry whose boss is Filipino.) Once back in Jakarta, I got a text message from him asking if I found my way back; and that he was sorry he couldn’t help me further. How nice is that?

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The Little Mermaid fronting the Istana

Istana Bogor

Solitary walks

As an update:

Tourists can now head straight to Bogor from the airport via a DAMRI Bus, which are airconditioned and very comfortable buses. The trip takes 3 hours. This cuts the several connections when you're heading to Jakarta’s Gambir and taking the train to Bogor. Consequently, the business class train service has been scrapped altogether so people taking the train would have to make do with the economy train which isn't so bad. The ride is short and it’s fun rubbing elbows with the more hospitable locals.

Gigantic trees with roots I could hide behind.

Water hyacinths flourish at the lake of Bogor Gardens.

Bogor Market

At the Moka Hoka Bento in Ramayana Mall.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Adventures in Indonesia

The rain was pounding the roof of Soeharto Hatta International Airport the day I arrived in Indonesia. It was 2 AM and my mind was racing like snippets of ideas charged by sudden bolts of electricity. Again, I was alone in a strange country. The past months, I had been so preoccupied that I was caught less prepared with this pre-scheduled trip. Thus, I was anxious. My immediate concern: Where do I sleep?

I hired a limousine taxi service that was worth P1,000 (or about 180,000 Indonesian Rupiah), and mentioned to the driver the first hotel that came to mind from the last 2 days of devouring infos from Lonely Planet and web readings. I was fidgeting during the whole 1 hour ride to the city center, as I didn’t know what awaits me.

A circus of fountains in the major rotund along the business center

Post-midnight Adventures

Lo and behold, the heavy downpour pierced like spears on the Jakartan pavement. Moreover, the hotel I picked was fully booked. So, imagine me, at 3 AM, with luggage on my back, drenched in the torrent, hopping – yes, on foot! - from one hotel to the next – and no room was to be found! Four hotels later, I found myself detouring to a street called Jaksa (which literally means “Lawyer” in Indonesian Bahasa – and there is an interesting sidebar to the name ).

The limo driver earlier advised against my staying in the street- the delegated Backpacker’s Street of the city. He said, “Dere is menny hippies. No good to you.” He was referring to the scruffy backpackers and budget travelers all over Europe and North America. Short of the straw – I found my one and only room in the “only” hotel in Jalan Jaksa (there should be 2 “hotels” now by the time this gets posted). (The stretch has inns, lodges, motels, apartments, dorms, strictly for budget travels. The amenities are basic, but the populace is nothing short of a U.N. convention.)

Nonetheless, I was fraught with content – I had an inexpensive airconditioned double-bed room at the mezzanine with glass windows directly facing Jalan Jaksa, and a clean HUGE bathroom. I struck gold! Thus this started my whole trip which plied through planes, trains, automobiles, and
becak (Thailand has their tuktuk, Vietnam has their cyclo). (They also have their ancot –mini-FX/fiera – and ojek – motorcycle taxis.)

Gambir Station (the main train station where I took a Pakuan Express to the city of Bogor)

The walkway ramp to the city bus lines


I am always fascinated by the idiosyncratic digression that abounds in each country, like – during Mondays, the whole Thailand is bathed by a field of yellow. Everyone would don a yellow garment to profess their love and respect to the well-revered Thai royalty (the royal couple looks like Presidents Ramos and GMA together – no kidding!); that the Malaysians elect their Prime Minister every 5 years, and change their King every 3 years, which means that in a span of 20 years, they would have had close to 7 kings!!! (Not to mention a bevy of royal family members.) Or that the cable-car ride at the Genting Highlands is an almost 4 kilometer-travel over a dense gargantuan rain forest; that the most expensive city to travel in Asia (for non-tour packages) is probably Hong Kong. ( their YMCA’s -aka “The Salisbury”- single room, during off-peak season costs P5,000 a night.) Turns out that there are indeed several guesthouses in Hong Kong that I didn't know about that are rather affordable for strictly backpacking budget!

Venus-fly-trap replicas surrounding the Monas (which is a horribly designed structure, if you ask me.)

Charlene Gonzales (Miss Universe runner-up) once stood confident and proud of our 7,100 islands, the Indonesians have so-far been nonchalant about their 17,100 islands (this includes famed Bali) – and this I refer “at high tide”. The whole country is so large that if it is 10AM in Java, it is 11AM in Borneo, renamed Kalimantan. It is the largest archipelago in the world. The downside to this is the poor delivery of government services to far-flung areas, like East Timor, which brings turmoil and, eventually, desire for self-governance. This also means that the south eastern tip of the country is just an hour away from Australia- from the northwest city of Darwin! G'd day, mate!

The pseudo-souvenir shop which turned out to be a movie set (read earlier post) at the Jakarta Old Town (aka Kota)

Airconditioned transjakartan city bus from city center to Jakartakota at Rp3,500

Pollo Campero, a fastfood restaurant in Plaza Sarinah. I ordered a 2-piece crispy chicken at Rp 26,000 (about Php 236). This includes nasi goreng (fried rice).

Culture Shock

Before flying off from Jakarta (which is officially a provincenot a city – thus ruled by a governor), I made sure I had my fix of KFC chicken. Along
Thamrin Road, I found one in the middle of a busy metropolis of tall buildings a la Makati. This road stretches into blocks and blocks of skyscrapers – an EDSA with the skyline of Ayala. At KFC, I was mildly surprised to have noticed that everyone was cupping their rice and licking their chicken with bare hands (nagkakamay) – and the place was packed! Years later, I have realized that most other cities in Asia enjoy their KFC chicken with bare hands - Thailand, India, Malaysia, etc. We Filipinos mostly use utensils.

Merdeka Square and the phallic Monas

What can I say! I was really hungry! So I ordered hotel room service at Hotel Karya Behana. Yummy! This cost me 75,000 Rupiah. Had a hard time ordering coz the waiters didn't speak english and neither did the menu. That's just Bihon guisado (of sorts), chicken wings, french fries and iced tea.

The old 12th century Portuguese port of Sunda Kelapa.


Hotel Karya Bahana

Jalan Jaksa No. 32 – 34
Phone: 021-3140484, 390 7119, 3150509
Fax: 021- 314 2781

Update: As of, April 2010, Hotel Karya Bahana has already closed shop, so call if you have plans of staying here.

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