All posts filed under: Places

The Stuff of Storybooks

Weeks before our family’s spring trip, a battle ensued. Which city should we drop from our must-see list? We had only 21 days to spend in Europe and 25 places we wanted to see. “Take out Rome,” I said. But my sister reminded me we were flying out from there—it had the cheapest fare to Manila. “How about Salzburg?” No. Our father was joining us because of the von Trapps and their Sound of Music. We couldn’t take out London either. It was our mother’s pick, and it was her birthday, the main reason were on the Europe trip in the first place. “Paris? Edinburgh? Florence?” I asked. Cities were crossed out from the itinerary one by one, but nobody dared touch Prague. The capital city of the Czech Republic is on every bucket list: Places to See before You Die, Best Destinations for 2016, Most Charming European Cities, World’s Best-Preserved Medieval Cities… The hyperbolic lists were endless. According to Euromonitor International, Prague is the fifth most visited European city after London, Paris, Istanbul and Rome. …

Wholesome Amsterdam

Cannabis, canals and carnal pursuits pretty much sum up the tourist’s image of Amsterdam. And you really can’t blame them when Google serves up “Tips for Getting Stoned like a Pro” or “Best Places for Cannabis Shopping” when you type in “Amsterdam travel.” In the capital of the Netherlands, you will learn the big difference between a coffeeshop, which sells weed, and a coffee shop, which sells coffee. You will see prostitution in a different light at the, well, Red Light District, and realize how everything is strictly business in this part of the world, just as it has been hundreds of years ago when the merchant city was built. But Amsterdam has Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Anne Frank, too. If, like me, you have little interest in smoking joints, fret not—you can still experience a high in Amsterdam. The city is loaded with interesting streets, colorful flea markets, great museums and cool places to just chill and watch those happy folk go by. Despite what people might think—with Amsterdam’s anything-goes attitude—safety is not an issue …

(Just a little) Love, Actually

Sometimes, we really should listen to friends. Like when they say, “Bring an umbrella because it always rains in London,” you MUST grab an umbrella even if the sun is bright and shining when you leave the apartment to explore. Because those Londoners are right – it always rains in their corner of the Earth. Another thing that’s always in London are tourists — all 17 million of them spending £11 billion like London wasn’t the sixth most expensive city in the world. Last year, London ranked the second most visited city, after Hong Kong.     At Heathrow alone, prepare to queue an hour or two for immigration clearance. It’s nothing like that famous opening scene in “Love Actually,” when Hugh Grant says in his perfect Love-me-I’m-British accent: “Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that… If you look for it, I’ve got …

Tacloban: The Tide Turns

  If you want to know how resilient Filipinos are, take the first flight out to Tacloban City in Leyte, an hour from Manila. By this time, everyone–Filipino and foreigner alike–knows the city by name. It is impossible to forget what happened to this place two years ago, during the strongest typhoon in history to ever make landfall. In November 2013, I was one of those who watched in horror, from the comfort of my living room in Metro Manila, as 300 kph winds and a seven-meter storm surge nearly decimated that historic city in Eastern Visayas. A few days later, as the winds blew another way, images of Tacloban revealed nothing but bloated bodies, ravaged houses, crying children, lost parents—the remnants of once happy lives—scattered on the streets. Imagine what I was thinking when a book project required me to travel to Tacloban, 16 months from that tragic day. “Do you think there are ghosts there?” I asked a friend, who knew that I feared only three things in life: big spiders, flying cockroaches …

The Highway 1 in my Head

It’s funny how memory works, or doesn’t work, in some cases. On non-working holidays like this, for instance, when I have to write a throwback travel piece about that California road trip we did in 2009, I beat my brains for details to make up even a half-coherent story, and my memory fails me. Where did we stay? What was that park? How many days, exactly, were we on the road? How many miles was it? Why did I take that picture—was that tunnel important? The drive along the famous Pacific Coast Highway, or California State Road 1, was a spur-of-the-moment decision—this much I’m sure of. My roommate, a Filipino nurse in San Francisco, learned that he would not be on duty the first few days of the year, my then-fiancé could take a day off, and my cousin, a teaching assistant, wouldn’t have class till the following week. I, well, I was soon headed back to Hong Kong—my home base then—and was looking for an awesome trip to end my six months in the …

When the Fog Clears in Kalinga

The journey to Tulgao began the night before, with a decision to not go to Tulgao, a small community tucked in the highlands of Kalinga in northern Philippines that should have been famous for its rice terraces but isn’t—at least not yet. The weather forecast for the following morning was thunderstorms, so a detour was necessary. Thankfully, there were more than enough photo shoot-worthy rice terraces in the Cordilleras. I pondered this as I found myself precariously balanced on the edge of muddy terraces the next day, trying, successfully, not to slip—three of the men I was with had already kissed the mud—but failing, unapologetically, to keep my temper in check. “We should’ve stuck to our earlier agreement. This is not a wise call. What if somebody gets hurt? We’re in the middle of nowhere. And this project does not even come with insurance!” I rattled on, all the time keeping my eyes on the trail. I was NOT going to fall. By the time we crossed a narrow gap that has been transformed into …

Bohol: Back on the Travel Map

The small island province of Bohol in Central Visayas is exactly how James Bond likes his martini—shaken, not stirred. Barely a year after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the province, killing more than 200 people and rendering thousands homeless, Bohol is taking back its spot on the tourist map. Its attractions—beaches, churches, beautiful people—may have suffered significant damages in the shaking but they have maintained their character. While recovery efforts are still underway and may take years to complete, fresh waves of travelers are already abandoning their fear of another disaster and heading back to one of the Philippines’ premier destinations. “I’ve been to places that were devastated like Bali and Phuket. Tourism is not only the fastest-growing industry, it is also the most resilient,” Bohol Gov. Edgar Chatto told visiting media during the Sandugo Festival in July. The USAID, through its project COMPETE, is helping Bohol position itself in the tourism market to aid in its rebuilding and development. Because of its heritage sites and island setting, Bohol is a natural destination for eco-cultural …