Fin Hostel: 5 stars out of 5


I’ve been a lazy blogger and I know it’s been over a year since I stayed in this hostel during my backpacking trip from Kuala Lumpur Malaysia to Thailand overland but I think it’s worthy to still share this review.

Fin Hostel in 5-10min walk to Kata and Karon Beach ang 15min drive to Patong.

I usually stay in hostels when I go backpacking and it’s just awesome that this was the first hostel I’ve been to with cozy pool and big projector screen. When you’re too lazy to go to the bar, just buy a bottle of red from the winery beside Fin Hostel and just chill by the pool.

I stayed in the female dorm for two nights and loved my stay.







100/20 Kata Road, Karon Sub District, Phuket 83100 Thailand

Contact Number:

Email Address:


Cafe Central in Lian Batangas


If you need a drive break on your way to Nasugbu or Calatagan Batangas, swing by Cafe Central in Lian. It’s a quaint Spanish house turned into cafe and restaurant located along Nasugbu road, in front of a huge sugar factory.

Their authentic kapeng barako and turon with langka is a killer combo!

12047055_955534104530564_5000999793634624776_n  12063376_955533684530606_6648171755702711172_n1926706_955533827863925_6989584068387463832_n12189085_955534114530563_6624013007514061233_n

Soloing Siquijor


It’s quite daunting to hear someone going on a solo trip to mystical Siquijor. A lot of times I heard people say the place is known for witchcraft and whatever wizardry they have there. I went anyway, though it’s my first time to travel alone in my own country. Because despite those stories I heard, I still believe in the goodness of people and more so, the kindness of my fellow Filipinos.12065912_10204951126926855_3715180086940641805_n_zpssmyqzszi

12115669_10204951127726875_8407656952718298061_n_zps1hiy6l6p11057922_10204938938142143_7218533604547839419_n_zpsjdrckngm12036963_10204938940582204_3505128573496163815_n_zpspoonyouwOn the ferry back to Bohol, I had a flashback of my trip in Siquijor. I had an awesome journey; enjoying the Tarzan jump at the breathtaking Cambugahay falls, touring the island on a motorbike, visiting old infrastructures, walking the pebbled beaches and talking to these friendly locals who have been part of my journey:

Irvin – the first I’ve met in the island who offered me ride to my hostel and tour on a motorbike. I was hesitant at first because I thought it’s too expensive so I asked for the town’s tariff just to make sure. He was so patient with taking my photos and me pleading to bring me somewhere I could watch the sunset. He didn’t mind wearing my hobo bag while I was enjoying the waterfalls. He has a 15yr old daughter and loyal to his wife. He said his daughter wants to pursue a course in the PMA and he said he would gladly support her. He’s been a guide in Siquijor for 7yrs and when asked how he finds his job, he said he loves what he does. If you plan to visit Siquijor, contact him through his mobile (0915) 890 3286 facebook account @Irvin Jay Bation

Eisen – (sounds like a German name huh?!) Eisen is a 5yr old kid I’ve met at the beach. I watched her while she wrote her name on the sand. She drew a huge heart around her name. I thought: that’s right, love and appreciate yourself Eisen. In time, you’ll realize how important it is to love and accept who you are. Eisen is really a German word which means “iron”. May she grow as tough as her name. I joined her writing names on the sand. Her dad’s a fisherman and her mom a housewife. She’s the youngest of her two siblings. She said she wants to be a teacher someday and I will never forget to include that in my prayers.

Marlo – the Baha Bar’s waiter with his authentic, broad smile. He noticed I was alone so he started a conversation and gave me tips on where to eat. He said Baha’s owner is a Filipina from Surigao and her British husband. The bar is fairly new and the first to have reggae and acoustics nights in the island. They celebrate Ladies Night on Wednesdays and drinks are 50% off. Damn, I should have visited on a Wednesday.

Casa Miranda family owner – I usually hang out on a hammock at the beachfront just beside their house. One night while their family was having dinner, and I lounging on a hammock, one of the kids invited me to join them. I remember they were talking to me in English when I arrived at the hostel, they thought I’m Japanese. Told them I’m from Manila, they said “Ah, Tagalog” and would refer to me as Tagalog lady since then.

The security guard at the port – I was checking in to get a seat number and he said I should pay the terminal fee first and that the ferry booth where to get the seat number is located more than 1km which meant I should walk under the blazing heat of the sun with my backpack. He offered to leave my backpack with him as I get my seat number, and I did. I trusted him and I got my bag back.


These are the humans of Siquijor. I’d say forget about the tales of spells and talismans that surround the island. The urban legend and semantics are irrelevant when you look at the macro picture and the most satisfying aspect of this trip was the glimpse of what it’s like to live in this place. If you go beyond such belief, you’ll discover that Siquijor is actually a hidden gem that every traveler should take time to visit at least once. Yes indeed there’s witchcraft here – and that’s the beguiling sights. This trip took a small leap of faith to trust that despite being a medium-sized Tagalog solo female traveler, I would nonetheless reap the great rewards from trying something new. With each experience, I’ve gained confidence to keep trying and my curiosity has only grown. With the stories of these people I’ve met, I wasn’t alone after all.

Daghan kaayong salamat Siquijor!


Hostel Review: The Circle Hostel La Union


The huge round capiz chime on the hostel’s wooden gate was a welcoming sound like saying “welcome to the tropical paradise!”. Simple colorful paintings all around, hammocks, a tree house and e very laid-back ambiance would greet you and make you stay at the Circle Hostel. Quotes are painted on the cemented steps, on the native walls and on the locker doors. You could see summer art designs; surf boards, sun, waves, flip-flops etc. “paddle harder”, “the coast is clear” and “keep your spirit free” are just some of the quotes written on the huts stairways. Native brown mats cover the huts’ floors; single bunk beds are ready with soft mattress and a pillow, curtains and white mosquito nets. Bed cover and pillow cases will be given at the reception area so you will have to prepare your own bed.

The huge common area located on the right side of the compound is a hut where you would want to lounge lazily anytime ofthe day. Fresh summer breeze comes through, native mats on the floor, pillow cases all around, 4 hammocks, books to read, speakers where you can connect your ipod to play music, electric sockets to charge your gadgets and musical instruments like Ukulele and Djembe you could use to play and jam with other guests. On one of its corners, there’s a pulley with a basket connected down to the reception area. This is used when you want to buy something and you’re too lazy to go down. The tree house is now being built, I wonder if they would put a put a pulley there too.

There is hot shower, thank God! The comfort room has 4 shower areas, 4 toilet cubicles and 2 outdoor sink.

This place was built for adventurers, friendly surfers whether amateur or pro, carefree spirited guests and optimist. Optimism is shown through the paintings on the concrete and native walls. Backpackers on a budget, this is an ideal place for us who need bed and comfort room to crash for a surf trip.

As their tagline goes “there are no strangers”, the hostel set-up would really encourage you to smile, loosen up, talk to people, mingle and have fun.

It is located about a minute walk from the main road and 3-5minutes walk to the beach. Your landmark would be the newly opened Moonleaf Tea along the main road, right across San Juan Surf School. Circle is less than minute walk on the dirt road beside Moonleaf.

There’s always someone at the reception 24/7. Locker rooms are offered free for your valuables.

It is a hostel, the cleanliness of the place somehow also depends on the guests. Every morning someone cleans the comfort room and the common area.

There are 2 nipa huts with single bunk beds that can accommodate 45 people. If you want to sleep in a hammock, they have about 20 hammocks available for sleeping.

Bunk Bed – 450 Php per night
Hammock – 350 Php per night

The Circle Hostel La Union. Urbiztondo,San Juan, La Union, Philippines
FB: The Circle Hostel
Mobile Number: 0917 832 6253
Landline: 607-3796

How to Enjoy Boracay Island with a 5k Budget


view from Real Coffee Cafe. The subtle yet captivating Boracay sunset.

Disclaimer: These tips are for budget travelers, backpackers or flashpackers who keep coming back to be under the spell of Boracay charm again and again. For first timers, you would need more money as there are a lot of activities you should try there. 5k doesn’t include the airfare, but we got a 2-way ticket for only Php1800.


You’ll save a lot by traveling with friends and sharing the room. On this trip, I was with 3 of my long time travel buddies and I shared the room with them.

Villa Simprosa, located at Station 2 offers budget rooms with 2 big beds, hot and cold shower, kitchen and a veranda. The receptionists are friendly and the location is safe. I remember one night we left the door unlocked but we never lost anything and we’re left unharmed. 20 steps from the hotel (yes I counted it..kidding) and you’re already at the pristine Boracay Beach.

The kitchen also has cooking & eating utensils that can be used for free.

Wi-Fi is available at all parts of the hotel.

For bookings, contact them at: 09179333439


Do you know how to cook?

One practical way of spending less in Boracay is to cook your meals. There’s a food market at D’Mall but more options are available at D’Talipapa. During our 4D3N stay there, our lunch or dinner menu includes those easy to cook meals; Chicken Caldereta, Spanish Omelette, Buttered Veggies, Pork Chops and bread and fruits for breakfast.

Of course there are hours of the day when you just want your to laze up and want your meal served especially after spending hours on the water.

Eating at restaurants would still be within budget. Perhaps, my tip here would be: do not eat at restaurants that could also be seen in Manila or any city for that matter. Instead, eat at the local restaurants.

Smoke at D’Mall is highly suggested or better yet buy seafoods and have it cooked at some restaurants lined beside the wet market. They call it “Paluto”.

Coffee lovers, for God’s sake, you don’t go to Bora to have coffee at Starbucks. Try something new! Real Coffee Cafe is a MUST TRY! From Station 1 they relocated 2 months ago at Station 2. They are now on the second floor of a PADI dive shop. What’s good about their new location is that it’s a view deck for sunset and passersby. Try their “Real Coffee”, made from Philippines Coffee beans with a shot of espresso. Calamansi Muffin is also a hit. Mama Lee, the American owner, said she opened the café in 1998. More details on the café review I’ll be doing for her🙂

Crazy Crepes at Station 2 beside Cinnabon has lots of choices for crepe lovers. My top pick is the Mango Nutella crepe!

Wine on the beach? Possible! We brought a bottle of wine from Manila. Just make sure to advise the check-in attendants that there’s something fragile inside your check-in baggage.


Since we have tried almost all activities in our previous visits in Boracay, we only tried paddle boarding this time. Beware: they offer different prices. I suggest getting one at the Station 1 area and don’t forget to HAGGLE! I rented a paddle board for only 500 per hour.

The top reason for our almost annual visit here is definitely the BEACH. So top activities to do are, to swim and enjoy the turquoise sea, get a tan and lie on the powdery white sand, relax while watching the most beautiful sunset. THESE are PRICELESS!

My last tip would be – travel with the right people! Small group travel is like a relationship. It wouldn’t work if you don’t have that “chemistry” together. It wouldn’t work if your personalities are from the opposite ends of the spectrum. Well, I am just lucky that I have my boyfriend Wowoo and couples Kuya Ariel and Suzzie who have been my travel buddies for 5 years now. We share the same passion for adrenalin rush, budget trips, love for music, love for Nature and steady drinks.

On our last night of the trip, we talked about our travel plans for next year…where next? We’ll revisit the untouched beauty of the Calamianes Group of Islands.

Meantime, here’s for you to check out my list of expenses in Boracay:

Ubud, Bali: Gypsying Solo


“350 thousand” the driver in blue uniform said while I was getting a taxi from Ngurah Rai Denpasar Airport to Ubud.

I negotiated to 300 Rupiah, the driver smiled and said “Okay”.

He guided me to the parking lot to his fairly new blue Chevrolet taxi. I stuffed my backpack at the backseat and sat in front to sight-read the places on the way, as if it were a text. There’s an ID hung on the rear view mirror where I saw the driver’s name, Nyoman. Visiting Bali for the first time, I was so excited to see the place and know more about its people. And since Nyoman was the first Balinese I spoke with I had a lot of questions: best food to try, was it safe going around at night, how to say “thank” you in Balinese, places to see and shops to check out. While chatting with him, I noticed 3 rice grains on his forehead. I was bothered by it so I said “you have something on your forehead”. And since Nyoman spoke a little English, I was speaking and doing sign language at the same time. He said “it’s prayer”. “Oh”, I uttered. Good thing I didn’t remove it myself, I thought.

After almost two-hour drive from Denpasar, I arrived in Ubud, the capital of the so-called Theater State. As I wandered around looking for a place to stay, I had noted down the names of a few of the stores: Bali Sari, Suta Shop, Café Angsa. And after checking into a modest guesthouse, I had gone out in search of a meal. I ran across a pizzeria, a steakhouse and a slew of stylish Mexican cafes. Eventually, however, I wound up at Kafe, a local restaurant serving organic food and drinks.  Here I have met Ladan, a yoga teacher, an author, a fitness guru and solo traveler like myself. While we enjoy the fruit platter and Bali coffee, we talked about travel, yoga, meditation, men and how we should handle negative emotions and anger towards others.

in front of Kafe restuarant

Yoga Shop along Jl Hanoman

offerings along the street. Hindu believes this would bring them good luck.

At nine in the evening, almost all establishments in Ubud were closed. I didn’t really go there to party and get drunk anyway, so it’s good to know that nights were silent and streets were peaceful.

The next day I woke up to slanted rays of sun peeping through my window. I gently slid the light brown curtain and looked outside. My room was across the family’s shrine and there I saw Ayu, the owner wearing silk sarong and carrying a tray of colorful flowers as offering to their gods. I went outside and walked on a pathway with fallen white and pretty frangipanis all around. A bowl of watermelon, banana pancake and a hot coffee was waiting for me at the gazebo.

The weather made me even excited to see Ubud that day. After breakfast, I prepared my hobo bag, things I would need for the whole day and took off. I knew I’ll be out for the whole day. I passed through a market in Jalan Raya where they sell vegetables, coconut and colorful flowers. At 8AM, most establishments were still closed. I made my feet my best friend and had gone wherever my feet took me. I passed by hotels set among rice paddies and restaurants built atop dreamy lotus ponds. Balinese people were not selfish in giving their smiles. Women wore scarlet hibiscus in their hair and silken sarongs around their supple bodies. The soft-eyed local men seemed gods of good health with their dazzling smiles offsetting the flowers they tucked behind their ears. Even old women, were slender creatures who moved with a dancer’s easy grace. There was no friction in this land of song and dance; nothing unlovely: children to be taken as angels of purity descended from the heavens, were never scolded or spanked, crime was unknown and even cremations were festivals of joy. Everything was at peace.

After I oriented myself with the streets around, I arranged for a tour to the temples around Ubud. I was with a young Swiss couple and a French couple who were celebrating their honeymoon in Bali. I told the French couples “You know what? It’s ironic that Asians go to Europe, in Paris most of the time, to spend their honeymoon and you are here to spend yours. It’s really good to go out and experience the best of both worlds.”

Our driver brought us to Monkey Forests, Goa Gajah (the elephant cave temple), Tampak Siring (the holy spring temple), Sribatu Coffee Plantation, Besakih Temple, Kintamani, then we ended our trip by having lunch in Mahagiri Restaurant with Mt. Batur and rice paddies as our view.

Balinese lady roasting coffee

mom and baby monkey at the Monkey Forest

Tampak Siring Temple

Besakih Temple

rice paddies

Our driver brought us back to the Ubud Center and I, walked around again. My senses were so active and hungry to discover and learn about the place and the people around me.

“Konitsiwa”. “Arigato”. The sellers and motorbike drivers greeted me while walking along Monkey Forest road. They thought I am Japanese so I just smiled back. After two days of walking around, I realized I was the only Filipino in the area. I haven’t seen any Filipino around, I wonder why. Most of the women I came across on the streets were solo, checking out yoga shops, buying peasant skirts in the bohemian stores, trying out vintage turquoise rings in silver shops and waiting for their turn in spa houses. While enjoying my watermelon shake in Warung Laba Laba along Jl Hanoman, I was thinking, so that’s why solo travelers love this place. Ubud was suitable for solo travelers as it’s easy to orient yourself with the main streets, it’s safe to just walk along even at night, locals respect foreigners and other foreigners respect other travelers.

My last morning in Ubud was spent walking, again. I fell in love with Ubud I even had second thoughts of leaving and just rescheduling my plane ticket. The morning air with a hint of incense and smell of fresh flowers greeted me while I walk the hills and curved Ubud streets. In Ubud every house had its own shrine and every village had three temples. Ever y day, women in sumptuous silks were sashaying through the early morning sunlight, stately and unhurried, piles of fruit on their head to be placed as offerings to their gods.

With all the magic I saw in Ubud I got lost in time. So I hurriedly went back to my room, got my backpack and left for Kuta, my next destination.

Facts and Tips on Bed Bunking


Many travelers, especially backpackers, prefer bed bunking or staying in a hostel rather than in middle class or high end hotels. Why? For one obvious reason, it is cheap. And for a more practical reason, you would spend most of your time discovering the outside world anyway and you just need a bed to stay. So what really happens in a bed bunking scene? How things are and how should you handle it?

Fact 1: Do not expect COMFORT. There are hostels that have private rooms and dorm rooms. But though you have your own room, you will be sharing the comfort room with other guests. TIP: If you’re the type who doesn’t want to be bothered while doing your thing in the comfort room, do it during the wee hours of the morning when everyone’s asleep. Same with taking a shower, if you’re the type who doesn’t want to rush it, do it while others are already out in the morning. BUT, if it’s rush hour please also be mindful of other travelers waiting on the line for you.

Fact 2: Do not expect PRIVACY. Some hostels have dorm rooms with bed bunks. If you will go out at night to get drunk and would come late, make sure that you don’t mess up with other people who are already sleeping. Just go to your bed soundly and sleep. Puking drunken travelers should sleep at the comfort room.

Fact 3: Wash your own dishes. You will be sharing the kitchen. You might have midnight snack of have a cup of coffee in the morning, make sure you clean your own dishes and clean the tables.

Fact 4: You will have limited space. But please do not put your things on any other bed, other than the one that’s assigned to you.

Fact 5: Keep it clean: the room, the comfort room, the kitchen and the common area because you are sharing this with other people.

Tip 1: Bring waterproof pouch with handle to put your bathing necessities on. Some hostels don’t have trays where you can put it in. This pouch you can hang on a hook instead.

Tip 2: Light should be dimmed during the sleeping hours. You may bring your headlamp in case you want to read a book on your bed.

Tip 3: If you’re not the type who doesn’t want sharing eating utensils, you may bring your own. Mug specially, if you’re a tea/coffee drinker (like me).

Tip 4: BE FRIENDLY. You don’t know how interesting these other travelers are. You can learn from their stories and they would with yours too. Never be selfish to share your smile and help. They might be needing it badly. Who knows, this could be a start of a good friendship.

Why we Travel by Pico Iyer


can’t help but share this nice read….

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more. The beauty of this whole process was best described, perhaps, before people even took to frequent flying, by George Santayana in his lapidary essay, “The Philosophy of Travel.” We “need sometimes,” the Harvard philosopher wrote, “to escape into open solitudes, into aimlessness, into the moral holiday of running some pure hazard, in order to sharpen the edge of life, to taste hardship, and to be compelled to work desperately for a moment at no matter what.”

I like that stress on work, since never more than on the road are we shown how proportional our blessings are to the difficulty that precedes them; and I like the stress on a holiday that’s “moral” since we fall into our ethical habits as easily as into our beds at night. Few of us ever forget the connection between “travel” and “travail,” and I know that I travel in large part in search of hardship — both my own, which I want to feel, and others’, which I need to see. Travel in that sense guides us toward a better balance of wisdom and compassion — of seeing the world clearly, and yet feeling it truly. For seeing without feeling can obviously be uncaring; while feeling without seeing can be blind.

Yet for me the first great joy of traveling is simply the luxury of leaving all my beliefs and certainties at home, and seeing everything I thought I knew in a different light, and from a crooked angle. In that regard, even a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet (in Beijing) or a scratchy revival showing of “Wild Orchids” (on the Champs-Elysees) can be both novelty and revelation: In China, after all, people will pay a whole week’s wages toeat with Colonel Sanders, and in Paris, Mickey Rourke is regarded as the greatest actor since Jerry Lewis.

If a Mongolian restaurant seems exotic to us in Evanston, Ill., it only follows that a McDonald’s would seem equally exotic in Ulan Bator — or, at least, equally far from everything expected. Though it’s fashionable nowadays to draw a distinction between the “tourist” and the “traveler,” perhaps the real distinction lies between those who leave their assumptions at home, and those who don’t: Among those who don’t, a tourist is just someone who complains, “Nothing here is the way it is at home,” while a traveler is one who grumbles, “Everything here is the same as it is in Cairo — or Cuzco or Kathmandu.” It’s all very much the same.

But for the rest of us, the sovereign freedom of traveling comes from the fact that it whirls you around and turns you upside down, and stands everything you took for granted on its head. If a diploma can famously be a passport (to a journey through hard realism), a passport can be a diploma (for a crash course in cultural relativism). And the first lesson we learn on the road, whether we like it or not, is how provisional and provincial are the things we imagine to be universal. When you go to North Korea, for example, you really do feel as if you’ve landed on a different planet — and the North Koreans doubtless feel that they’re being visited by an extra-terrestrial, too (or else they simply assume that you, as they do, receive orders every morning from the Central Committee on what clothes to wear and what route to use when walking to work, and you, as they do, have loudspeakers in your bedroom broadcasting propaganda every morning at dawn, and you, as they do, have your radios fixed so as to receive only a single channel).

We travel, then, in part just to shake up our complacencies by seeing all the moral and political urgencies, the life-and-death dilemmas, that we seldom have to face at home. And we travel to fill in the gaps left by tomorrow’s headlines: When you drive down the streets of Port-au-Prince, for example, where there is almost no paving and women relieve themselves next to mountains of trash, your notions of the Internet and a “one world order” grow usefully revised. Travel is the best way we have of rescuing the humanity of places, and saving them from abstraction and ideology.

And in the process, we also get saved from abstraction ourselves, and come to see how much we can bring to the places we visit, and how much we can become a kind of carrier pigeon — an anti-Federal Express, if you like — in transporting back and forth what every culture needs. I find that I always take Michael Jordan posters to Kyoto, and bring woven ikebana baskets back to California; I invariably travel to Cuba with a suitcase piled high with bottles of Tylenol and bars of soap, and come back with one piled high with salsa tapes, and hopes, and letters to long-lost brothers.

But more significantly, we carry values and beliefs and news to the places we go, and in many parts of the world, we become walking video screens and living newspapers, the only channels that can take people out of the censored limits of their homelands. In closed or impoverished places, like Pagan or Lhasa or Havana, we are the eyes and ears of the people we meet, their only contact with the world outside and, very often, the closest, quite literally, they will ever come to Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton. Not the least of the challenges of travel, therefore, is learning how to import — and export — dreams with tenderness.

By now all of us have heard (too often) the old Proust line about how the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new places but in seeing with new eyes. Yet one of the subtler beauties of travel is that it enables you to bring new eyes to the people you encounter. Thus even as holidays help you appreciate your own home more — not least by seeing it through a distant admirer’s eyes — they help you bring newly appreciative — distant — eyes to the places you visit. You can teach them what they have to celebrate as much as you celebrate what they have to teach. This, I think, is how tourism, which so obviously destroys cultures, can also resuscitate or revive them, how it has created new “traditional” dances in Bali, and caused craftsmen in India to pay new attention to their works. If the first thing we can bring the Cubans is a real and balanced sense of what contemporary America is like, the second — and perhaps more important — thing we can bring them is a fresh and renewed sense of how special are the warmth and beauty of their country, for those who can compare it with other places around the globe.

Thus travel spins us round in two ways at once: It shows us the sights and values and issues that we might ordinarily ignore; but it also, and more deeply, shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty. For in traveling to a truly foreign place, we inevitably travel to moods and states of mind and hidden inward passages that we’d otherwise seldom have cause to visit.

On the most basic level, when I’m in Thailand, though a teetotaler who usually goes to bed at 9 p.m., I stay up till dawn in the local bars; and in Tibet, though not a real Buddhist, I spend days on end in temples, listening to the chants of sutras. I go to Iceland to visit the lunar spaces within me, and, in the uncanny quietude and emptiness of that vast and treeless world, to tap parts of myself generally obscured by chatter and routine.

We travel, then, in search of both self and anonymity — and, of course, in finding the one we apprehend the other. Abroad, we are wonderfully free of caste and job and standing; we are, as Hazlitt puts it, just the “gentlemen in the parlour,” and people cannot put a name or tag to us. And precisely because we are clarified in this way, and freed of inessential labels, we have the opportunity to come into contact with more essential parts of ourselves (which may begin to explain why we may feel most alive when far from home).

Abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love. We live without a past or future, for a moment at least, and are ourselves up for grabs and open to interpretation. We even may become mysterious — to others, at first, and sometimes to ourselves — and, as no less a dignitary than Oliver Cromwell once noted, “A man never goes so far as when he doesn’t know where he is going.”

There are, of course, great dangers to this, as to every kind of freedom, but the great promise of it is that, traveling, we are born again, and able to return at moments to a younger and a more open kind of self. Traveling is a way to reverse time, to a small extent, and make a day last a year — or at least 45 hours — and traveling is an easy way of surrounding ourselves, as in childhood, with what we cannot understand. Language facilitates this cracking open, for when we go to France, we often migrate to French, and the more childlike self, simple and polite, that speaking a foreign language educes. Even when I’m not speaking pidgin English in Hanoi, I’m simplified in a positive way, and concerned not with expressing myself, but simply making sense.

So travel, for many of us, is a quest for not just the unknown, but the unknowing; I, at least, travel in search of an innocent eye that can return me to a more innocent self. I tend to believe more abroad than I do at home (which, though treacherous again, can at least help me to extend my vision), and I tend to be more easily excited abroad, and even kinder. And since no one I meet can “place” me — no one can fix me in my rsum –I can remake myself for better, as well as, of course, for worse (if travel is notoriously a cradle for false identities, it can also, at its best, be a crucible for truer ones). In this way, travel can be a kind of monasticism on the move: On the road, we often live more simply (even when staying in a luxury hotel), with no more possessions than we can carry, and surrendering ourselves to chance.

This is what Camus meant when he said that “what gives value to travel is fear” — disruption, in other words, (or emancipation) from circumstance, and all the habits behind which we hide. And that is why many of us travel not in search of answers, but of better questions. I, like many people, tend to ask questions of the places I visit, and relish most the ones that ask the most searching questions back of me: In Paraguay, for example, where one car in every two is stolen, and two-thirds of the goods on sale are smuggled, I have to rethink my every Californian assumption. And in Thailand, where many young women give up their bodies in order to protect their families — to become better Buddhists — I have to question my own too-ready judgments. “The ideal travel book,” Christopher Isherwood once said, “should be perhaps a little like a crime story in which you’re in search of something.” And it’s the best kind of something, I would add, if it’s one that you can never quite find.

I remember, in fact, after my first trips to Southeast Asia, more than a decade ago, how I would come back to my apartment in New York, and lie in my bed, kept up by something more than jet lag, playing back, in my memory, over and over, all that I had experienced, and paging wistfully though my photographs and reading and re-reading my diaries, as if to extract some mystery from them. Anyone witnessing this strange scene would have drawn the right conclusion: I was in love.

For if every true love affair can feel like a journey to a foreign country, where you can’t quite speak the language, and you don’t know where you’re going, and you’re pulled ever deeper into the inviting darkness, every trip to a foreign country can be a love affair, where you’re left puzzling over who you are and whom you’ve fallen in love with. All the great travel books are love stories, by some reckoning — from the Odyssey and the Aeneid to the Divine Comedy and the New Testament — and all good trips are, like love, about being carried out of yourself and deposited in the midst of terror and wonder.

And what this metaphor also brings home to us is that all travel is a two-way transaction, as we too easily forget, and if warfare is one model of the meeting of nations, romance is another. For what we all too often ignore when we go abroad is that we are objects of scrutiny as much as the people we scrutinize, and we are being consumed by the cultures we consume, as much on the road as when we are at home. At the very least, we are objects of speculation (and even desire) who can seem as exotic to the people around us as they do to us.

We are the comic props in Japanese home-movies, the oddities in Maliese anecdotes and the fall-guys in Chinese jokes; we are the moving postcards or bizarre objets trouves that villagers in Peru will later tell their friends about. If travel is about the meeting of realities, it is no less about the mating of illusions: You give me my dreamed-of vision of Tibet, and I’ll give you your wished-for California. And in truth, many of us, even (or especially) the ones who are fleeing America abroad, will get taken, willy-nilly, as symbols of the American Dream.

That, in fact, is perhaps the most central and most wrenching of the questions travel proposes to us: how to respond to the dream that people tender to you? Do you encourage their notions of a Land of Milk and Honey across the horizon, even if it is the same land you’ve abandoned? Or do you try to dampen their enthusiasm for a place that exists only in the mind? To quicken their dreams may, after all, be to match-make them with an illusion; yet to dash them may be to strip them of the one possession that sustains them in adversity.

That whole complex interaction — not unlike the dilemmas we face with those we love (how do we balance truthfulness and tact?) — is partly the reason why so many of the great travel writers, by nature, are enthusiasts: not just Pierre Loti, who famously, infamously, fell in love wherever he alighted (an archetypal sailor leaving offspring in the form of Madame Butterfly myths), but also Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence or Graham Greene, all of whom bore out the hidden truth that we are optimists abroad as readily as pessimists as home. None of them was by any means blind to the deficiencies of the places around them, but all, having chosen to go there, chose to find something to admire.

All, in that sense, believed in “being moved” as one of the points of taking trips, and “being transported” by private as well as public means; all saw that “ecstasy” (“ex-stasis”) tells us that our highest moments come when we’re not stationary, and that epiphany can follow movement as much as it precipitates it. I remember once asking the great travel writer Norman Lewis if he’d ever be interested in writing on apartheid South Africa. He looked at me astonished. “To write well about a thing,” he said, “I’ve got to like it!”

At the same time, as all this is intrinsic to travel, from Ovid to O’Rourke, travel itself is changing as the world does, and with it, the mandate of the travel writer. It’s not enough to go to the ends of the earth these days (not least because the ends of the earth are often coming to you); and where a writer like Jan Morris could, a few years ago, achieve something miraculous simply by voyaging to all the great cities of the globe, now anyone with a Visa card can do that. So where Morris, in effect, was chronicling the last days of the Empire, a younger travel writer is in a better position to chart the first days of a new Empire, post-national, global, mobile and yet as diligent as the Raj in transporting its props and its values around the world.

In the mid-19th century, the British famously sent the Bible and Shakespeare and cricket round the world; now a more international kind of Empire is sending Madonna and the Simpsons and Brad Pitt. And the way in which each culture takes in this common pool of references tells you as much about them as their indigenous products might. Madonna in an Islamic country, after all, sounds radically different from Madonna in a Confucian one, and neither begins to mean the same as Madonna on East 14th Street. When you go to a McDonald’s outlet in Kyoto, you will find Teriyaki McBurgers and Bacon Potato Pies. The placemats offer maps of the great temples of the city, and the posters all around broadcast the wonders of San Francisco. And — most crucial of all — the young people eating their Big Macs, with baseball caps worn backwards, and tight 501 jeans, are still utterly and inalienably Japanese in the way they move, they nod, they sip their Oolong teas — and never to be mistaken for the patrons of a McDonald’s outlet in Rio, Morocco or Managua. These days a whole new realm of exotica arises out of the way one culture colors and appropriates the products of another.

The other factor complicating and exciting all of this is people, who are, more and more, themselves as many-tongued and mongrel as cities like Sydney or Toronto or Hong Kong. I am, in many ways, an increasingly typical specimen, if only because I was born, as the son of Indian parents, in England, moved to America at 7 and cannot really call myself an Indian, an American or an Englishman. I was, in short, a traveler at birth, for whom even a visit to the candy store was a trip through a foreign world where no one I saw quite matched my parents’ inheritance, or my own. And though some of this is involuntary and tragic — the number of refugees in the world, which came to just 2.5 million in 1970, is now at least 27.4 million — it does involve, for some of us, the chance to be transnational in a happier sense, able to adapt anywhere, used to being outsiders everywhere and forced to fashion our own rigorous sense of home. (And if nowhere is quite home, we can be optimists everywhere.)

Besides, even those who don’t move around the world find the world moving more and more around them. Walk just six blocks, in Queens or Berkeley, and you’re traveling through several cultures in as many minutes; get into a cab outside the White House, and you’re often in a piece of Addis Ababa. And technology, too, compounds this (sometimes deceptive) sense of availability, so that many people feel they can travel around the world without leaving the room — through cyberspace or CD-ROMs, videos and virtual travel. There are many challenges in this, of course, in what it says about essential notions of family and community and loyalty, and in the worry that air-conditioned, purely synthetic versions of places may replace the real thing — not to mention the fact that the world seems increasingly in flux, a moving target quicker than our notions of it. But there is, for the traveler at least, the sense that learning about home and learning about a foreign world can be one and the same thing.

All of us feel this from the cradle, and know, in some sense, that all the significant movement we ever take is internal. We travel when we see a movie, strike up a new friendship, get held up. Novels are often journeys as much as travel books are fictions; and though this has been true since at least as long ago as Sir John Mandeville’s colorful 14th century accounts of a Far East he’d never visited, it’s an even more shadowy distinction now, as genre distinctions join other borders in collapsing.

In Mary Morris’s “House Arrest,” a thinly disguised account of Castro’s Cuba, the novelist reiterates, on the copyright page, “All dialogue is invented. Isabella, her family, the inhabitants and even la isla itself are creations of the author’s imagination.” On Page 172, however, we read, “La isla, of course, does exist. Don’t let anyone fool you about that. It just feels as if it doesn’t. But it does.” No wonder the travel-writer narrator — a fictional construct (or not)? — confesses to devoting her travel magazine column to places that never existed. “Erewhon,” after all, the undiscovered land in Samuel Butler’s great travel novel, is just “nowhere” rearranged.

Travel, then, is a voyage into that famously subjective zone, the imagination, and what the traveler brings back is — and has to be — an ineffable compound of himself and the place, what’s really there and what’s only in him. Thus Bruce Chatwin’s books seem to dance around the distinction between fact and fancy. V.S. Naipaul’s recent book, “A Way in the World,” was published as a non-fictional “series” in England and a “novel” in the United States. And when some of the stories in Paul Theroux’s half-invented memoir, “My Other Life,” were published in The New Yorker, they were slyly categorized as “Fact and Fiction.”

And since travel is, in a sense, about the conspiracy of perception and imagination, the two great travel writers, for me, to whom I constantly return are Emerson and Thoreau (the one who famously advised that “traveling is a fool’s paradise,” and the other who “traveled a good deal in Concord”). Both of them insist on the fact that reality is our creation, and that we invent the places we see as much as we do the books that we read. What we find outside ourselves has to be inside ourselves for us to find it. Or, as Sir Thomas Browne sagely put it, “We carry within us the wonders we seek without us. There is Africa and her prodigies in us.”

So, if more and more of us have to carry our sense of home inside us, we also — Emerson and Thoreau remind us — have to carry with us our sense of destination. The most valuable Pacifics we explore will always be the vast expanses within us, and the most important Northwest Crossings the thresholds we cross in the heart. The virtue of finding a gilded pavilion in Kyoto is that it allows you to take back a more lasting, private Golden Temple to your office in Rockefeller Center.

And even as the world seems to grow more exhausted, our travels do not, and some of the finest travel books in recent years have been those that undertake a parallel journey, matching the physical steps of a pilgrimage with the metaphysical steps of a questioning (as in Peter Matthiessen’s great “The Snow Leopard”), or chronicling a trip to the farthest reaches of human strangeness (as in Oliver Sack’s “Island of the Color-Blind,” which features a journey not just to a remote atoll in the Pacific, but to a realm where people actually see light differently). The most distant shores, we are constantly reminded, lie within the person asleep at our side.

So travel, at heart, is just a quick way to keeping our minds mobile and awake. As Santayana, the heir to Emerson and Thoreau with whom I began, wrote, “There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar; it keeps the mind nimble; it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.” Romantic poets inaugurated an era of travel because they were the great apostles of open eyes. Buddhist monks are often vagabonds, in part because they believe in wakefulness. And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.

About the writer: Pico Iyer is a contributing editor of Salon Travel & Food. His new book is “The Global Soul.” He is also the author of “Video Night in Kathmandu,” “The Lady and the Monk,” “Falling off the Map,” “Cuba and the Night” and “Tropical Classical.

Disappointing facts about Puting Buhangin and Kwebang Lampas


Apologies for not being able to write about this sooner than I should tell my fellow travelers as I was busy with work and I had no time to write the past weeks.

So here it goes and I’m sorry that I would be a devil’s advocate this time.

I went to Padre Burgos in Quezon with friends last March to enjoy summer and soak up in the sun. This was my second time in Dampalitan so we decided to stay and camp there for a night. Though there were already groups when we arrived, they were courteous enough for all of us to enjoy a peaceful and quiet beach. Some has changed after a year of not visiting the place; the small store is now selling halo-halo, ice and cooked rice which I don’t have anything against as that’s a little something where they could get their money from. These locals are able to maintain the cleanliness of the beach and I see that they take care of their place. At night, the moon shines peacefully with gazillion of stars entertain us. Lying on the beach we watched the constellations and lights of the fishermen boats far in the horizon, the next thing we know, we were waking up for the sunrise and early dip on the beach.

The second day was a good sunny day to visit some other islands around. Our boat fetched us after breakfast. I haven’t been to Puting Buhangin and Kwebang Lampas yet, so I asked the boatman to bring us there first. I have read a lot of blogs about this place and all talked about the beauty and solemnity of the place.

When I saw the red and white tower, I thought this is it. This is what I saw on the photos. We’re near and I was more than excited to see the place. About 200m from the shore, I couldn’t notice how white the sand was because it’s…..peopled!!! Tents pitched along the shore, groups of people hanging out and kids and adults enjoying the water. I consider myself friendly and not that I didn’t want to socialize but the beach couldn’t contain the number of people there that day. I was a bit disappointed but I still decided to check out the beach and see the cave at the end of the island. As soon as I set my left foot on the sand, a lady approached us and said we need to pay 50 pesos as an entrance fee. 50 pesos for just walking along the beach??? Do you have golden sand for you to charge that expensive?? I thought. We wouldn’t want to argue so we paid. The beach isn’t safe for swimming as the boatman told us there are a lot of jellyfish that season. The cave is even peopled and filled with vandalism in all fonts and sizes.

The bloggers I read probably had some nice time here but I left the island disappointed. We took off and headed to Borawan.

They said Kwebang Lampas is a private beach. Charging that much is okay as long as we see the efforts in maintaining the cleanliness of the place. That effort I didn’t see in whoever owns that beach. And to those irresponsible travelers who go there, do you think writing your name on the rocks inside the cave is one heroic act?? Oh so you might be thinking, you and your friends name written on the rocks could be a tourist attraction which would invite more people to go there?? The answer is a big NO! It would brush them off. And when you realize vandalism is wrong and you regret writing I Love You ____ because you don’t love the person anymore, can you go back and erase it or better yet replace the huge rocks that were there for millions of years? Well, I wish you know the answer.

To positively end this post, let me share one of our sunset shots in Dampalitan, good vibes!

Born to Love the Beach


“Tin-tin…Joanne!” Our grandmother shouts irritably at the end of the shore.

We run fast with our shirts dripping wet and lifted up to carry a number of seashells we have collected at the beach. My cousin Joanne and I go to the beach in the afternoon when its low tide to play and collect all kinds of seashells till sunset. We sit and stumble on a moist sand and we would giggle and laugh in excitement. Damp sand is forced between our toes. We wait until we see a bright ball starting to hide down like a red-orange lollipop on the distant horizon. Small waves crash against the shore while soothing gentle breeze rustles through our hair.

My grandmother’s house is in a small town in a coastal area where life is simple and people are all friendly. The house has been the usual getaway for me and my cousins during summer breaks. It’s a spacious house with sliding big capiz windows, shiny wooden floors and high ceilings. Electricity hasn’t reached the area so every night we would light the candle and start counting and grouping the seashells. One time I accidentally tapped the candle and it fell down on the shiny clean floor. The hot melting candle streamed all around and my lola became so mad at me and threatened she would spank me if I go to the beach again and bring home these shells.

Turned out I’d still go even if I know I’d get some scolding and spanking when I get home.

And today, after 20 years, whenever I go to the beach, I always find myself walking around looking for seashells.

I guess that’s how it is, we’re born to love the beach. It has been part of our lives that we would always go back there like sea turtles.