2013 was a year spent more on exploring places with friends. that made longer hours on the road matter less. all fun. from extremely hot summer trip in Bagan and extremely cold winter trip in China. all sun. from the beautiful Apo Reef to the quaint island of Alabat. defaced delight (Masinloc, Zambales)
place: i saw this place from Google Earth with a very interesting reef formation. it looked like veins crawling from the main Luzon island to the island of San Salvador. places like this i would usually go alone. no expectations. i just want to go.
experience: went there alone geared with a tent as i don't expect any hostel in the island. too bad that a typhoon just hit the area two days from my visit. so the shoreline of the island was damaged and water was blurry.
bonus: while taking the boat to the island, a family decided to bring me to their home for a sleepover but with not much to see along the shoreline and the area is still recovering from the storm, i decided to return to the main island. with a short time with the family, i was able to walk around parts of the island surrounded by mango trees. also on that day one of the youngest kid in the family celebrated his birthday. we ate suman and pansit. instant family. im definitely returning.
 eat all you can (Binondo, Manila)
place: if there's that one place where i can spend the entire day eating it would be Binondo. the Philippine's busiest China town is the country's
experience: eat all you can by day and shop all you can by night. we had the chance to do night shopping. i've never done this before. had a great time haggling.
bonus: my favorite temple in Manila Seng Guan Temple is just a short walk away. often missed out by tourists because of its isolated location but it's worth visiting.
 tea top (Antipolo, Rizal)
place: set on the hilly spot of Antipolo overlooking Angono and parts of the Metro. Loreland Farm Resort boasts its hanging gardens with infinity pools and water spa facility. it has a large area with lots of activities to do.
experience: it was just supposed to be a horror night for the group but ended up making the most of our stay by trying their spa and massage service. by night we had a long chat of sharing our stories of how we started to wander.
bonus: we get to have a merienda of what Antipolo is best for, suman, casew and a bonus of fresh farm juice.
post: loreland farm resort
 just being there (Alabat island, Quezon)
place: the island of Alabat is Quezon province's second largest island but is often just seen from afar through the highway. the island is mostly covered with forest with some few coastal villages.
experience: i've been wanting to visit this island but was actually just looking for the best time. until fellow travel blogger Allan and two friends from Lucena decided to join me. all of us for the first time in the island. we ended up befriending the locals in a small village on the eastern side of the island. enjoyed cycling within the village with some kids.
bonus: had the entire long seat of the boat both trips from Atimonan to Alabat and back.
 long quaint shoreline (Claveria, Cagayan)
place: a very wide coastal area with gray fine sands. despite being one of the most populated municipality in Cagayan province it relatively is still a quiet town. from here, one can already see Babuyan islands on a clear day. most people still move around town by motorbikes.
experience: woke up by the resounding waves hitting the shoreline. this was the last part of the Finding North's first journey and it was on this day when the sun finally came out. the placed that we stayed has an open balcony which gave us a 360 degree view of Claveria that extends to the mountain range of the province of Apayao.
bonus: place was peaceful and safe. so i had the chance to run early morning with a nice view.
 on your bike, get set, go! (Maarat, Rizal)
place: i was totally stunned at this hidden beautiful spot not so far from Metro Manila. this hilly scenic area of Maarat has one of the most exciting bike routes with a mix of rocky, slippery and flat trails.
experience: made me ask myself why have i just found this place now. by far my favorite Travel Factor bike trip. requirement is just you know how to bike. the rest is bike your way through the trails.
bonus: i enjoyed every part of the trail but the bonus was that the bike route ends with a long descend along a paved road of Timberland. two thumbs up to this!
post: bikeph maarat trail
 unlimited amok (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)
place: traffic and crowded like the city of Manila but there are those little spots of interest in this capital city. these includes the Independence Monument, the market place, and the national museum.
experience: while going around the city whether by walking or by tuktuk, i will always end up eating amok. from breakfast to dinner there's always amok on my order.
bonus: the hostel owner from Siem Reap recommended me to another hostel in Phnom Penh where i can leave my backpack to roam around in a day before leaving the city.
 miniaturized by the giant caverns (Miri, Malaysia)
place: when one says Borneo, i imagine large stretch of forest. this side of the island particularly the area of Miri in the region of Sarawak has a number of cave interconnections. this can be accessed from the small city by road. other interesting spot is the city fan park and the grand old lady oil drill monument.
experience: i was really impressed at the long walkway built within the Niah National Park. this helped reduce the effect of trail damage caused by the tourists accessing the giant caves. saw some unusual creatures and towering trees along the way.
bonus: we got the chance to meet some of the indigenous people of Miri, the Iban locals. they are selling handcrafts and fruits in the old city market.
 trails above the clouds (Kabayan, Benguet)
place: the country's second highest point and Luzon island's highest summit. at this height, it is the climber's paradise to experience the coldest temperature in the country. if you don't get to see its famous sea of cloud, no worries. in exchange to that, you'll get to see the extremely beautiful view of the Cordillera mountain range in 360 degrees.
experience: on our ascend, it was raining and foggy which meant colder environ but we were rewarded with a clear sunny day and a sea of clouds the next day.
bonus: bonded with new friends including a family who trekked in response to their father's dream of trekking Mt. Pulag. best to check out Travel Factor's regular climb to this summit.
 giant steps (Hungduan, Banaue)
place: one of the five rice terraces in the Philippines listed as a UNESCO heritage site. i like its location and its wide flat terraces. other than this there's a small hot spring basin beside a river. believed to have been the last hideout of the Japanese General Yamashita during the World War II.
experience: like any rice terraces that you'll visit in the Philippines, it would require a lot of walking. but we were rewarded with the chance to sleep in a traditional Ifugao accommodation. five of us in one small hut. shoulder to shoulder sleeping didn't matter.
bonus: despite being small and the only accommodation in the middle of the terraces, every time we had a meal it was served on different location.
 unplugged (Nagsasa, Zambales)
place: undoubtedly beautiful. Nagsasa cove is one of the places in the Philipines that i don't mind returning many times and do nothing. great mountain view by the beach with a lake that runs out to the sea. just go there. do nothing. that's how awesome a place like this can be.
experience: we slept in tents and spent relaxing over hammocks under the hissing Agoho trees. next to this we walked around looking for an overlooking spot and waited for sunset.
bonus: traveling by dawn has its own reward of seeing beautiful lights emitted by planktons on our way to the cove. you might miss the mountain view when traveling under the night sky but i would trade this for a neon light show of the sea.
 enigmatic (Yangon, Myanmar)
place: the city with the most number of colonial structures in Southeast Asia and home to the holy Shwedagon Pagoda. it is easy to notice that you're actually in a different country. majority of the people here wear longyi and htamein even when driving a motorbike.
experience: Shwedagon Pagoda by its shape will look like most of the pagodas one would find around Yangon. but to be there and sit around the area that surrounds it, is enigmatic. i can easily spend three or more hours just staring at it. best time to be there is from sundown to night time as its golden
bonus: now an open city yet it remains less touristy making this time one of the best time to visit Yangon. but this won't be too long.
first day in yangon
mingalaba myanmar - guide to going around yangon
why am i going to myanmar?
 chasing waves (Burgos, Ilocos Norte)
place: great beaches, stunning landscape and historical landmarks. all these Ilocos Norte offers the best. on places like this, you won't have a hard time tagging me along.
experience: traveling during a typhoon can make you stay inside the house but not on this trip with team Finding North. we braved ourselves and visited Bangui windmills. the furious waves gave a surreal view of these tower fans. we literally chased and run with the waves. after this we found ourselves crossing the Patapat viaduct hardly seeing the strip because of the heavy rain. all fun.
bonus: sleeper bus is now available from Manila to Laoag. leave by night and by the time you wake up you're already in Ilocos.
 urban delight (Shanghai, China)
place: bought a guide book to Shanghai thinking that i might someday visit this city. after browsing, it gave me the impression that this is a boring city. not until i found myself booking for a trip there that i started reading the book. found so many interesting things about the city including its direction in regaining its title as the largest and most prosperous city in the Asia.
experience: our first look at the central area of Shanghai was during night time. the bustling Nanjing road came into view as we came from the subway. it was a surprise seeing all the lights with the lofty Pearl Tower from afar. it was easy to move around the city through the subway and walking with a 4C temperature won't be tiring.
bonus: xiao long bao is cheap! need i say more.
 turtle haven (Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro)
place: one of the largest healthy reef in the country at a size of 67,877acres. that's one third the size of Metro Manila. the good thing is that the number of visitors per day is limited. this helps the place to be preserved.
experience: 3hours bus ride. 3hours boat ride. 3hours bus ride. 4hours boat ride. that's how we did it to get there. it was tiring yet it was all worth it. snorkeling around this small island - infinite. i had a great time when our boat stopped over this large shallow area of clear waters in the open sea. i imagine the place like its best for a football size water hockey.
bonus: to swim with the giant sized turtles and the chance to see them crawl in the beach area.
 block upon block (Siem Reap, Cambodia)
place: it does not matter whether you see it from afar or upclose. you will appreciate the magnificence of the Angkorian ruins. the intricate details in macro and the massiveness on a wide scale.
experience: intrigued by the influence of each temple's features which is a mix of Buddhism and Hinduism. we forgot what it meant to be tired. the experience of being prayed by a monk, enter an undisputed area, and eat a barbecue frog made it all fun for this trip.
bonus: on a long journey to the temples Preah Vihear and the pyramid-formed Koh Ker, i said "it will most likely be a long time until i get to return to Siem Reap". if there's one reason that i am returning, it would be to see Kulen massif where it is believed to have been the source of the rocks used to build the temples. just after saying that, i saw a hilly range and asked the driver what is that hill and he mentioned that it is Kulen massif. what a coincidence. we stopped over and made sure to capture its grandeur.
 empire of temples (Bagan, Myanmar)
place: Bagan's remoteness and the country's prolonged communism has kept it almost . though the number of tourists is increasing, it's so easy to escape the touristy sites and find oneself lost in a middle of nowhere. rarely does it rain there and temperature can be so cold at night but too hot by day.
experience: "these is just too many" i kept on saying as we entered the Old Bagan temple grounds. how could they build so many temples? what more during its golden years with about ten thousand temples and pagodas. exploring even a portion of the remaining two thousand temples can be exhilarating. temperature can reach 39C by midday and dust can be inches thick but it was worth it. most unforgettable part was to bike at total darkness.
bonus: my favorite side trip was the visit to the sacred temple Taung Kalat above a hill near Mt. Popa. awesome view from the top that requires walking barefoot up hundreds of steps passing by shops, small sacred chapels and some not-so nasty monkeys.
an extended bike trail around old bagan
shwesandaw pagoda bagan
thatbyinnyu and around
the charm of new bagan
on the road from yangon to bagan
tharabar gate hotel bagan myanmar
bagan central hotel
 (Huangshan, China)
place: rising like camel backs carved by glaciers to over hundred million years. the granite rock peaks of Huangshan are among the most enchanting in China and dubbed by UNESCO as the loveliest mountain in China. declared a world heritage site in 1990.
experience: while on the plans for this trip i can't believe that off-peak season in Huangshan is winter. growing up in a tropical country and being a fan of snow, i always thought that the best time to see Huangshan was during winter. fast forward, we found ourselves lost when we reached the mountain top. snow storm. steep steps. extreme cold. then the sun showed up the next day. majestic mountain views. tastiest apples. buffet breakfast Chinese food. no coffee. sunrise beautiful. best cable car experience. sunset awesome. fun chats. endless photo shoot. red carpet walkways. all these made it the best memorable trip this year.
bonus: side trip to the heritage town of Hongcun. one of the location of the movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. still cold but just right to explore this well preserved old village and get to share laughter with some locals while having our feet warmed by a wooden box heater.
not just another ordinary year in travel. i want to say the best year yet but there's so much to see. we might have a small world that we get to meet friends along trails and trips but it still is too big to explore in a lifetime. to travel and be happy is a choice.
the years in travel bloggingMost Memorable Trips of 2011
Most Memorable Trips of 2012
Most Memorable Trips of 2012
Most Memorable Trips of 2010
Most Memorable Trips of 2009
Most Memorable Trips of 2008