Tag Archive: Asia



Just arrived for 2 nights in this lovely lantern town of Hoi An. An ancient trading port in Central Vietnam, it’s a melting pot of cultures expressed in its cuisine and architecture. Hue may have its temples, pagoda, royal tombs and Citadel but Hoi An is very quaint with its mustard-colored merchant houses, lazy canals and a Japanese covered bridge! Being Sunday, it looked like the entire population of 200,000 is out having a family day along with the many tourists agonizing where to dine in its many restaurants housed in old French-colonial buildings.

I’ve read about Hoi An being a lantern town, touristy and looking like a mini-Venice with wooden boats in lieu of gondolas. I was delighted to explore its narrow streets and alleys. My only regret is not using the free bicycles from our hotel to save me the 20 minute walk in this very humid evening. Still, it was a pleasant pedestrian tour of this heritage town. We reached the Japanese bridge just as the sun was setting and it sure was lovely.

Many Portuguese, Japanese, French, Chinese and other nationalities must have lived in this ancient trading port. Cooking classes housed in its many French colonial houses seem to be in vogue among the many tourists. Those round basket boats plying the waterways even add more charm to this heritage town that was mercifully spared from the ravages of war. Most hotels, even home stays, offer bikes to their guests. One can bike along quiet lanes or brave the old town’s streets dodging many tourists here and there, or be more adventurous hiring motorbikes and scooters to explore the fragrant rice paddies just outside town. Or perhaps do both. Our walking tour is set for tomorrow but we couldn’t wait. No brainer to explore on our own. One doesn’t waste time here, or you’d miss the charm of a village well-lighted with colourful lanterns or a canal where many boats take in tourists for a ride (literally and figuratively). You can even float lighted lanterns on the river and watch them glide under the bridge.

Though there are many dining options, I’ve heard many tourists asking for directions to Morning Glory restaurant. We found it very near the bridge and being rather early, found a table by the window. It was very hot and humid and most restaurants and shops were not air conditioned. Yet, many locals and tourists don’t seem to mind. Like an instant immersion into local life? The charm of this well-preserved town must have sent very positive vibes and they radiate in the way locals and guests behave even in very dry, humid conditions.

More to discover in our walking tour, I bet. Plus there are the beaches and rice and vegetable paddies to visit. Can’t wait to see where our lunch and dinner ingredients are sourced, or where we can dip our tired feet. Till the next blog, friends. 😘 Watch this page.


Whay. That’s how locals in this lovely provincial city say it. Just an hour 25 minute flight from Ho Chi Minh. We knew it can be hotter and more humid here but Hue welcomed us with pleasant, breezy weather on the day of our arrival. Not so the following morning, when we explored the Citadel or Forbidden City, royal tombs and the Thien Mu pagoda. We only got a respite when we took a small boat from the pagoda back to the city center, helped along by refreshments on board.

The Citadel is right in the heart of the ancient city of Hue. It occupies a wide area, counting 520 hectares on the Perfume River’s left bank. Our guide made us walk the first half hour till we insisted on taking the electric buggy around the “Forbidden City”. Long, our guide, advised that the walk would take 2 1/2 hours. We promptly took the buggy without much thought. No walking at high noon 🙄 please.

The Citadel run may have taken shortcuts but our bodies still took and absorbed all the heat and humidity. Buckets of sweat and hardly a wind to blow dry our wet clothes. We dripped till it was over. The Imperial City within the Citadel reminded me of the Forbidden City in Beijing. For sure, the first 2 monarchs from the Nguyen Dynasty chose the site very well. And just like it, geomancy played a part in its architectural design to invite harmony as well as guarantee protection from harmful elements.

As the sun sizzled, we moved around as quickly as we could. We could have lingered longer in the theatre, or in the house of the king’s grandmother’s, but migraine was threatening to cut our Citadel tour short. It was more pleasant when we explored the royal tombs earlier. More than beating the crowd, the heat was more bearable then. Still hot and humid, but bearable. We may have done more justice visiting the Mausoleum of King Minh Mang than the walled palace of the Imperial City.

You can thus imagine how we felt by the time we reached Thien Mu or the Pagoda of the Heavenly Lady. Here you find the best view of the Huong or Perfume River from the Ha Khe hill, but one needs to scale steep steps to reach the scenic viewpoint. Mercifully, we climbed safely while sweating profusely. Our eyes hurt as beads of sweat ran down from our foreheads. Not even it’s iconic 7-storey pagoda nor the displayed car of the “protesting/burning monk” who immolated himself in 1963 Saigon helped unsettle our restless, sweating bods. We were just too eager to finish the tour in this high and dry temp. Our bods protested, just like the monk Thich Quang Duc burned himself to death in June 1963 in a busy Saigon intersection as an act of protest to South Vietnam’s persecution of Buddhist monks back then. We should have been thrilled to watch a couple of the 10 or so monks living within the pagoda grounds. But we’ve lost the enthusiasm, just as we found the young monks doing exercises by lifting weights. How could they…. in this heat?

From this pagoda, we took a wooden boat along the river. Just a short boat ride where we replenished our potassium levels with coconut juice and water. Tour’s over, and our late lunch is ready. The nourishment was another Vietnamese feast but we were just craving for the showers in our spacious, air conditioned, well-appointed hotel room. A day well-spent in Hue. Enough history lessons for my grandson. No more long walks and climbs for us. Phew!


Yes. It’s a wrap. All of 8 days and 7 nights. As someone in our group said, “Sri Lanka was a revelation”. There were some mishaps, some missed sites, some meals not making the grade, a few frustrations, but this trip was just marvelous. Sri Lanka has much to offer. I do not think they’re there yet in terms of promoting their country best but it should get a lot of attention soon. Hopefully too, tourism promotion does not adversely affect the character of the people here — smiling, helpful, charming.

We feel this trip deserves a repeat. I enjoyed the safari but won’t do it again unless my family is going with me. (Birdwatchers would!) Instead, I’d return to Nuwara Eliya in time for tea harvest, do a bit of hiking in Ella to view the Nine Arches Bridge and Adam’s Peak, climb Sigiraya Rock, visit the Royal Botanical Garden in Kandy’s Peradeniya (we missed it as we lacked time), take another scenic train ride, spend more time in Weligama and stay in the same Jetwing and Marriott Hotels we booked including those in Negombo and Kaduruketha! I’d also enjoy the same hotel breakfasts and dinners there and make sure to do better for our midday nourishment. 💕💕💕

Thank you, Sri Lanka.

(Just click on the links)

Dambulla Rock Caves

A Sri Lankan Safari

Ancient and Sacred Cities

A Scenic Train Ride

Budurugawala Temple

Stilt Fishermen of Sri Lanka

The Ramparts of Galle

Last Day in Colombo

Travel buddies, young & old

Different folks, Different strokes

Foodies, shoppers, culture vultures

Tell me, do we hold a future?

Morning strolls, cocktails by dusk

Chatting each day’s highlights in a flash

Oh what a journey with these peeps

As we discover food, places & pet peeves.


It was nearly a chore coming back to the city. We enjoyed the beach and countryside so much we had to brace ourselves for the humidity, traffic, heat, crowds, noise and chaos to be found in the metropolis. Colombo is no exception. The city is a mixed bag of modernity amidst remnants of colonial rule. Upon arrival, I felt disoriented but not disheartened. Colombo is very clean despite the “clutter”, and culturally rich. The temples and Buddha statues compete with highrise buildings for attention. The old and the new, stand side by side. There is an eclectic variety of foreign and local elements present in the many parks, lakes, monuments, districts, structures around the city.

. Independence Memorial Hall

A young republic, yet it is the oldest democracy in Asia. Two rival political clans represent the 2 biggest political parties in the country. In 1960, the world had its very first elected woman head of government. Sri Lankans are very proud of their first woman Prime Minister, serving twice, Sirimavo Bandaranaike from 1960-65 and 1970-77. She was the widow of Ceylon’s 4th Prime Minister. Among South Asian nations, Maldives and Sri Lanka rank highest in terms of Per Capita Income and Human Development Index. As visitors to this island nation, we see it in their infrastructure projects and high literacy rate. The road network is impressive, young Sri Lankans get free university education and heritage sites are well-maintained. Beat that!

A Government Hospital

The attractions being far apart, we only managed to get off our bus to visit the Independence Memorial Hall and one temple. The Hall is in Independence Square, built to commemorate independence from British rule in 1948. A statue of its first Prime Minister — deemed Father of the Nation — stands at the head of the monument. Our motley group of travelers found it apt to have our picture taken here. If the Hall looks familiar to you, you may remember it being used as a pitstop in the popular “Amazing Race” series. Well, it wasn’t a race for us. But it was amazing!

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Gangaramaya Temple

While it was difficult adjusting to the city noise, we found refuge in 3 places. One is the temple. The 2nd is our hotel’s roofdeck bar. And the 3rd our last lunch in this island nation.

Gangaramaya Temple is both a Buddhist temple and education center. There are traces of Sinhalese, Chinese, Thai and Indian elements in the architecture of this most-visited temple in the capital. This was the last time we’d shed our shoes to enter a place of worship. A piece of Buddha’s hair is enshrined inside. Many locals were there to worship. Oddly, we also found donations in the form of dining furniture and vintage cars.

The old Victorian Cargills Department Store

If there are hostels, there must be a lot of backpackers

Being our last day, we were on the last few bars of our energy meters. Having found this refuge, we took comfort in the peace and quiet provided by this temple. We wished we were able to visit the Red Mosque as well but the guide said our bus cannot negotiate the narrow alley leading to it. And we weren’t really up for walking in the city heat.

Entrance to Gangaramaya Temple

Inside Gangaramaya Temple

Inside Gangaramaya Temple

2nd refuge: The roofdeck bar of Jetwing Colombo Seven with a panoramic view of the city is exactly what we needed upon reaching the last leg of our journey. There was a lap pool on the deck but who’d like to go swimming? Cocktails seem to be a better idea. Best time? Sunset, of course. There were other hotel guests and locals with us, but we seemed to be the only ones agog over the sunset. Well, we’re tourists 🙄

Photo Credit: Rick C

Photo Credit: Annabelle C

On our way to the airport to fly out of Sri Lanka, we decided on having lunch in 4-month old Shangrila Hotel’s Table One. Our last refuge. Located in Galle Face, the hotel has a commanding view of the Indian Ocean. Table One’s buffet spread offerred everything we wanted for a last decent meal in Sri Lanka. Crabs, prawns, lamb, curries, cuttlefish, squid, steaks, hoppers, noodles, dimsum, salads, soups, and an assortment of sri lankan desserts. I had a few pieces wrapped to eat on the plane as I wasn’t hopeful about the inflight meals. I brought them all the way back to Manila instead. And that coconut cookie with cashew nut was my morning upper! Swell 🤤


It’s been over 400 years yet the fort in Galle still manages to enchant its visitors. The Portuguese started it (16th century) and the Dutch fortified it (17th century). The old town of Galle and its fortifications – more commonly called Galle Fort – lying on the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka, has been declared a UNESCO Heritage Site. The ramparts made of granite stones and corals are its biggest attraction, along with its lighthouse, which unfortunately had too many scaffoldings at the time we visited to render a good photo.

The old town within the walls has the charm of an old European village combined with East Asian architecture. One finds multi-religious and multi-ethnic influences with robed men roaming the streets and locals sneaking in and out of mosques and churches. The settlers include Portuguese, Dutch, British, Sinhalese and Moors. All these add character to the Old Town of Galle. I can spend an entire day here walking aimlessly — on ramparts and along the narrow alleys — sneaking in and out of museums, quaint restaurants, cafes, the art galleries, handicraft and gem stores. If only we had time 😔

(If i knew we’d have a lousy lunch, I could have skipped it and walked around town instead, maybe while licking an ice cream bar)

Photo Credit: Annabelle

The signages I found were enough to intrigue me about living here. I’ve read half the population are Moors. The mosque I passed walking towards the lighthouse is most charming in its all-white exterior. So are the structures in Mediterranean colors with interesting wood carvings all around town. So colorful, just like its history. I can only feel thankful that this town was restored and preserved even after it was badly hit by a tsunami on that Boxing Day in 2004.

Art and culture, as well as religious traditions, flourished here. Peaceful co-existence and harmony. I would love to stay a few days here. Perhaps meet anew that crazy jumper who poses for a buck. Free if you’re a young, charming lady. Ahem. Walking mindlessly, enjoying the seascape and the colonial houses with gables and verandahs. The streets have very curious names : Lighthouse, Church, Pedlar (peddler?), Hospital Streets. For sure, it would be very hard to get lost here. I even read that dining here can be a foodie’s adventure. (Not our luck) The mixed bag of hotels, coffee shops, jewelry stores, tea shops is an enchanting medley of European, Moorish and Asian influences. No wonder this town attracted many artists, photography buffs, designers and literary figures.

If Nuwara Eliya is Sri Lanka’s “Little England”, this must be their “Little Holland & Portugal”

We spent way too little time here, methinks. We’ve seen many monuments, the former moat surrounding the walks, the drawbridge, clock tower, Dutch Reformed Churches, and more bastions — on a bus. The bygone colonial era flashing across bus window panes in an area small enough to be walkable. 😭 A few likewise went for a stroll but had to head back to where we had our unforgettable lunch. Oh, Sri Lanka. I’m NOT done with you. Not just yet!

Not done! Not yet. 😭😭😭

No, he’s not one of the Crazy Jumpers. Just one photography nut. Can’t blame him. He’s married to one.

Took me a few minutes to roll out Buduruwagala without stuttering. Budurugawala means “the rock with the statue of Buddha”. It is the largest standing Buddha statue in the island’s Wellawaya in Uva Province and is actually all of 51 feet. Easily 5 stories high. It is also one of 7 rock sculptures to be found in this ancient Buddhist temple complex dating back to the 10th century. A trio of statues stand to the left and right of the 15m central Buddha. With that streak of faded orange, one can only imagine how this set of rock statues must have looked back then. Impressive now, it must have looked truly majestic then.

(Trivia: It is the tallest standing Buddha statue now after the Taliban destroyed the one in Afghanistan in March 2001)

Our bus brought us to the complex gate, after driving past a lake and through this very narrow bridge. Certainly required skillful driving and in that instant, I forgave our driver for all the times he alternated between speeding, overtaking on curves (omg!) and suddenly stepping on the brakes esp while I’m sleeeping. Pheww!

(Trivia: Sri Lanka’s crime rate is largely comprised of road accidents/traffic infractions. That plus adultery, according to our guide)

The complex gate entrance is a short and pleasant walk through a park to where one finds the 7 rock statues. Very well-maintained with a “zen ambience”. The walkways are hemmed in by full grown trees that provided shade on that otherwise hot and humid day. You hear birds chirping and find many butterflies around in this very serene complex. Two resident dogs were found sleeping just before the rock. Took a photo of the pair while my pseudo Buddhist friends paid their respects. Hmmmm.

(Trivia: Other historians have actually dated the statues to the 6th century)

To the left and right of the gigantic standing Buddha is a trio of rock-cut figures all belonging to the Mahayana school of thought. The one on the left is believed to be a Mahayana deity Alokiteshvara, flanked by an attendant and his consort, Tara. The trio of sculptures on the right consists of Vajrapani ( the Tibetan Bothisatva) flanked by Natha (the future Buddha) and Vishnu. The rock on which these were carved looks like a kneeling elephant with a head bent towards the ground. Tantric influence can be gleaned here as one finds Vajrapani holding an hourglass-shaped thunderbolt symbol of Tibetan origin. Of interest is the hole near the right foot of the central Buddha statue. Shaped like a flame from an oil lamp, it is always wet and smelling of mustard oil. There is not one explanation for this.

(Last photo: Thanks, Angel R)

Buddhists, Pseudo Buddhists, Buddhist-wannabees and non-Buddhists will all enjoy the serenity of this place. So peaceful, so quiet. You may visit way too many temples and shrines in Sri Lanka, but please don’t miss this if only for a few minutes of calming silence. Besides, you don’t need to take off your shoes here. 😊


It took 3 hours via train that meandered through mountain ranges, tea gardens and the occasional water falls.Nuwara Eliya is such a revelation. As is the entire Sri Lanka! We drove south from hot and humid Sigiriya and Kandy towards the largely Muslim Nuwara Eliya where temps dove to as low as 14 Celsius. We arrived late afternoon in this land of the Ceylonese Moors. Pretty, pretty. The lush green tea plantations blanketed this cool hill country as we zigzagged up just as the fog cleared. Swathes of lush tea bushes greet you in Nuwara Eliya. The aroma of tea gardens puts you into a mood that cocoons you off all negativity and hostility. The serenity embraces you. Trust me on this 😊

(Photo Credit of the Falls: Topper R)

We only wish we could stay longer in this rather odd hotel with so much wasted space. Not that we’re complaining, but a room for 2 with a maid’s room, a powder room, washing machine, a kitchenette, three toilets, a massive dining table and living set? It may not be as tastefully done, but we felt like royalty. And the dinner buffet which included local food and our own chicken adobo (they must have Filipino kitchen staff?) plus the inviting spread of yummy desserts sealed a happy, sweat-free weekend in Nuwara Eliya. Back on topic though (how I digress…), we could have taken the 60 km bus ride in an hour instead of the 3 hour train journey but heck, why miss this majestic scenery, pray tell? The nearest train station is Nanu Oya, just 15 minutes away. By itself, the train station provided a glimpse of life here. Many European tourists joined us on this train ride, as did school children in their starchy white uniforms. Come boarding time, we dodged our way among the strawberry vendors and the resident sleeping dogs. In the first 30 minutes as the train chug-chugged out of Nanu Oya Station, all hell broke loose. There was a frenzy to slide down train windows to get better views of the gardens and falls. It was drizzling but no one cared. The more adventurous opened train doors to literally hang out of the moving train. The view, the entire scenery has that effect on everyone.

(Thanks Topper for this photo.)

(Thanks, Iyay, for these “hanging” photos)

Those 3+hours breezed by and we found ourselves with so many photos of the train, rail tracks, tea plantations, and more. There was a break among the hills and the trees as we waited to snap more good photos but the mist fogged out all the views. Before we knew it, we were already in Ella. Warmer now, but eager for more adventures. Oh, Sri Lanka — you pulled out so many surprises for us! 💕💕💕


Six plane rides. Long drives. A choice of horse or ox carts. Countless boat rides. Yes, it was tiring but the Bagan temples, gold-domed pagodas, innumerable Buddhas, skirted men, tribal women, placid lake of Inle and insights into a monk’s life kept us going.

 

 

 

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In Myanmar, it is a natural consequence to be awed and stupa-fied. Listed below are my blog entries on these adventures.

 

 

TEMPLES, MONASTERIES, PAGODAS AND STUPAS

Bagan: A Plethora of Stupas

More Temples, Pagodas and Monasteries

Yangon’s Shwedagon : All That Gold!

Bagan Thande Hotel

 

 

Photo Credit: Maricel Buhain

Photo Credit: Maricel Buhain

 

 

LAKE INLE ADVENTURES

Sun-Baked In Inle Lake

Happy Birds of Lake Inle

Indein Village

The Long-Necked Women From The Padaung Tribe

Shwe Inn Tha Floating Hotel Resort

 

 

Padaung Women

Padaung Women

 

 

THE ROAD TO MANDALAY

U Bein Bridge & Temples of Mandalay

The Monks of Myanmar

 

 

THERE’s MORE TO LIFE, INDEED!

A Whiff Of Mirth In Myanmar

Eating Around Myanmar


Monday delights. Left Manila at noon via Thai Airways, made a brief stop in Bangkok, then flew onwards to Phuket. It’s the biggest island in Thailand and we found our retreat here in Mai Khao. The beach resort is blessedly isolated and away from the tourist crowd. Very much self-contained with an option to do some retail therapy in the nearby TurtleVillage. But who wants to get out? A 2-room villa with its own plunge pool tempts you to stay in. In fact, we opted to dine in and used the well-appointed kitchen to cook our pasta pomodoro dinner to go with a bottle of good shiraz. L.U.X.U.R.Y. Pure luxury. This is the life! Happiness 🙂

 

 

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JW Marriott Phuket

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It is tempting to just stay IN in JW Marriott Phuket Resort and Spa

 

 

In the end, we decided to skip the shiraz. It can wait till tomorrow. We turned in early to prep for a whole day of activities tomorrow. The stroll around the lovely resort hotel can wait too….. and so with a dip in the plunge pool. It could have been perfect. Four friends around the pool, each holding a glass of wine, chatting like there’s no tomorrow, while keeping their heads dry and the rest soaking in the pool. Holy cow! We must be getting old. All we wanted to do after dinner is to climb into our heavenly beds.

 

 

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One of 2 villa bedrooms in Marriott Vacation Club in Mai Khao, Phuket.

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That’s the plunge pool right outside the room in Marriott Vacation Club

 

 

This is NOT an advert. But MARRIOTT VACATION CLUB in Mai Khao, Phuket is a lovely place to stay in. The 2 bedroom villa with a well-appointed kitchen is a sanctuary for weary bodies and tired souls. The plunge pool is a bonus. Easily, the villa can accommodate 6 pax. Maybe even 8 pax. Best for families or good friends. You can even choose to stay in, buy your supplies from the nearby Turtle Village, cook and dine in. Tonight, that’s exactly what we did. Tomorrow and days after, we’d be in serious search for Pad Thai and some curries. 🙂

 

 

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Who’s cooking dinner tonight?

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Towel elephant on my dining table!

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The Living Room. Marriott Vacation Club. Mai Khao, Phuket.


Just an hour away from Thimpu. We passed this site and drove another 1 .5 hours to reach Punakha just a couple of days before. No chance to get off the car to count the stupas. But you can bet your bottom ngultrum (Bhutanese currency) that they do number 108. No more, No less.

 

 

There you go. All 108 Chortens.

 

 

Dochula Pass sits right along the road on the way to Punakha from Thimpu. It was built to honor the casualties of a recent war resulting from a conflict with rebels from the South who wanted to secede. The King himself personally led an army of about 7,000 volunteers to drive out tens of thousands of rebels. Not one to glorify war nor their victory, the King had this monument built instead to honor both the dead soldiers and dead rebels from the conflict.

 

 

I can sit here all day. But do throw me a blanket!

 

 

At 3,150 meters above sea level, you can ID a number of mountains from the Himalayan Range on a clear day. But I’m telling you……… even on a cloudy day, it is still a worthwhile trip to make it high up here. Just a short walk from the Pass, have a cup of steaming coffee or tea at the Dochula Cafeteria. In our case, we had lunch. I am not exactly a big fan of Bhutanese cuisine, but one thing’s for sure. They grow their vegetables and grains organically. The mountain rice tastes better. The dumplings filled with cabbage and cheese dipped in some spicy sauce called MOMOS are so simply made, and tastes “healthy”. I passed on the fish, knowing that Bhutan is landlocked and assuming that the fish must have been transported all the way from India. The vegetables were cooked just as simply. Nothing fancy, really. But no worries. Altitude has a way of making you feel funny. It also affects one’s appetite, so I hardly complained.

 

 

Just a short walk to watch a cultural performance.

 

 

Just a few hundred meters from the Pass, we walked along a dirt path lined with prayer flags to watch a cultural performance. Since the dance routines have not been watched by the King yet, no photographs were allowed. Such is the rule in this land. Seated in an open-air site in 6 Celsius temp, we watched in amazement how some half-naked dancers can stand the cold. Mind you, the performance lasted well over an hour! I am borrowing some photographs here to give you an idea of Bhutanese dance routines.

 

 

 

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Where's the BLANKET????