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South-East Asia (2019) Thailand

A (dreadful) journey into Thailand

At the airport near Amsterdam, the haul of hell to come had shaped its form through the airline Lufthansa declining my attempt at checking in due to a lack of proof of exit. Naive me had been cocksure that, similar to the precedent visit, no one were to bother controlling and thus clueless I marched the queue-less counter as I waved my passport. Soon after, my lady on the other side of the world armed with a laptop and I on my handy, scavenged the web for the cheapest exits possible. After all, it was unsure were I to actually depart on the particular date. Thank heavens then, when we found a bus hauling tourists over the border for a bargain of a price.

Fast forward through the weeks of apartment-sitting, meeting up with old and new local friends, a trip to KL and catching up with a mate under the comfort of drinks in a familiar town and then a final gloom gaze into the apartment. A period that had flown by followed by the final footsteps ticking on the floor of a place we called home as I exit one last time. Out of the premises and into the Grab taking me to the pick-up point where the journey away from home and into travels will commence. Fully aware of it being an excruciating long one, I had been more than slightly discontent with the humid heat striking onto backpack-wearing me causing an already drizzle of sweat to soak my shirt. But the heat is a fight fought on the daily in these harsh countries.

A minivan spurted passed and stunted into a halt before letting me board. A handful of foreigners greeted me and within the hours I learned that I was the only one with a drive into the double digits. What did I get myself into, I wondered, as the distance between Bangkok and I crawled shorter.

As a weary and lost bundle of people we made our way through customs and a hint of anxiety hung on our shoulders. Fortunately, the procedure had gone swift and smoothly and moments after the van was burning rubber on the potholed road of Thailand. A country massively distinct from the country of take-off and it filled my belly with an enticing excitement. The hour we drove to my stop I therefore spent glaring out of the window and at all that we passed by. After manoeuvring myself out of the van, the driver seated me into a wobbly, plastic garden chair for the hour to come. From this point on I would be the sole foreigner and from here I could join the locals within a double-decker carrying a blessed a/c. Now was the start of a dreadful ride passing the fifteen hour mark of head-bobbing, neck-breaking positions and constant switching of positions.

Then, at last, finally, the driver announces the arrival in Bangkok and my miserable joints get their longed for stretch as I stumble out of the vehicle. A crowd of vendors and taxi’s swarmed like seagulls hunting for food on a sunny day and I pushed myself away from the inflated rates and into the lobby. Although the ride had ended and the soil underneath me belonged to Bangkok, I was far from a shower and warm bed. What awaited me was a cruise to the airport followed by some hours of loitering and a tiresome embrace with Kath, who’d land some hours after my arrival. What was perhaps the least enthusiastic reunion followed by yet another hours-long drive into the city for the search of our hidden hostel located in one of the alleys minutes walk from Khao San Road. There, though asked to wait before entering our room, my body screamed relief as they allowed me into the showers. We were back, back into travels and it felt exhausting and exhilarating. Up next, we were to explore touristy Bangkok.

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Malaysia South-East Asia (2019)

A journey of Malaysia

Initially, I welcomed my girlfriend at Penang’s airport with Grab at dial. This was after roughly 2 months apart, which, for us, is a relative short period. Bearing smiles we had tread into our apartment and embraced our new, temporary home to give that ‘living together’, something we hardly got due to distance, a solid try. For weeks, we did our things together within the same confined space and took care of the daily necessities. We weren’t on an exotic island nor in a bubbly city, but a simple, regular town. Some eateries near, a supermarket a walk away and a mall within few arms length away. But that was it. We weren’t together under the guise of explosive passion and riveting experiences that peaked our adrenaline possibly clouding over what is a love existing purely because of the adventures. It is scary to think of, but it’s a possibility undeniable. However, living a regular life, though no day with this Filipina seems to be regular, has left me with nothing more but a longing. A longing of more dull evenings spent planning the coming day’s groceries or munching the local snacks during a binge-session. There is something about a soulmate that simply beats the wandering life in all possible ways – though it doesn’t mean the end of its spirit.

For those reasons, when the final days came peeking around the corner, I felt a bit empty and sad to bid farewell to our apartment – though I’d be back for few lonesome nights later on – as we headed towards Kuala Lumpur for a weekend trip afore her flight. She was heading back to the archipelago for a wedding and we turned it into a fun trip. We got to burn our palette on spicy Indian before pushing through the humid heat to find our tiny hotel located in the corresponding part of town consisting of Indians. Now, as we were camped at the planned-to-detail perfect spot in town, for both getting around and an early exit to the airport, I had the perfect chance to make up for my last trip. On this side of Malaysia, the peninsula, I can confidently say that I have explored most of it. However it was the capital with its thick air and loud engines where I wasted little time and today we’d make amends. So, with an eye on the time, we rode the bus to the batu caves following the footsteps off all preceding tourists. We ambled up the stairs and back down to head into town as a darkened sky became the black blanket over us. Indubitably, as it was my love’s first visit, I guided her to admire the Petronas twin towers and take a swift shot whilst passing all the salesmen wielding lenses. Against the night sky’s black palette, the two towers stood magnificent and bright and precisely as I remembered.

That night, we squeezed one another extra tight. Because come morning, we rushed to the airport where we kissed goodbye once more. However, this time around it was a kiss less morose and leaning towards excitement. A wedding attendance for her would soon follow by a rejoice in Bangkok. But first, it was a man’s night out and the perfect town for it was miraculous Malacca. And what makes Malacca such a wonderful town is the same reason Malaysia gets all my appraisals; the ambience and the people. For they are the opposite of Butterworth – no offence. The moment I wandered back in the familiar streets amidst many a tourist and local all I faced were genuine and affectionate smiles and waves and greetings. Sitting at a diner for lunch, a local Chinese couple joins my table and soon we converse away before they paid for my meal. Waiters and waitresses carried broad smiles without the intention of a possible tip nor to come across professional. People here were loving and warm. Genuine. Transforming this historic town into a place where everyone can feel at home.

Though my return here was not for this reason. It was a cold brewski with an old friend of mine that called my name. And though I had been sorrowful that my preferred bar had changed owners and no longer carried the same homey feel with a push of interaction with others, for the short time it lasted it felt delightful to sip the same beer in the same old chair where my buttocks had left a print over a year aforetime. This with a guy responsible of a friendship that led me to Pakistan and a mind full of riveting tales on the island of Langkawi. A guy I gladly call a friend and if any, one of a lifetime long. I hope by now, at the time of writing, my fellow LDR-er has had the chance to go abroad just like I did.

Overall, my second time in Malaysia had been completely different. I stayed somewhere unknown and mainly visited the known. Introducing Kath to places I had been, people I had befriended and generally what I loved about the country. New places had been explored, however it wasn’t done in a traveller’s attitude, but one that resembles a weekend trip to the next town or a drive to the park. It felt more comfortable. Thank you Malaysia for allowing me diverse experiences.

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Malaysia South-East Asia (2019)

Our home away

Passing the friendly guards, you’d head to the right to curve around the main building and into the second with the big letter ‘B’. An elevator ride later and you find yourself on the fifteenth floor, from which you can see the distant wavy water bouncing towards the island. Coinciding, that same wind causing the mesmerising waves whooshes through the wide gaps of the building singing its song. During storms and huge downfalls it becomes an event more daunting, bringing the whole place to a shake. Heretofore, the monsoons had turned the hallways into a river resulting in the flooding and destruction of the elevators. Due to poor management, this could last months, but fortunately, we hardly felt affected by the weather or the indolent management. At least not to such extreme extent.

At the fifth door going left, you’d pause, enter a code and then step into the humble abode. On your immediate left is a kitchen, straight is an incredibly spacious living room and to the right is the bathroom connected to the bedroom – which then again leads back to the living room. At the opposite end of the entrance is the glass slide door keeping out the humid heat. As you exit through the slide, standing on the balcony, you could lean over and watch the other inhabitants of the complex do their laps of swimming or you’d gaze further and watch a group of young children outside of the premises indulge in a game of football. Perhaps you can take a peak of the top floor of the ‘A’ building, reachable by going to the fifth floor where the swimming pool is stationed and crossing to the other side where another set of elevators awaits you. Flying up, you find a small gym. Personally, I do not partake in going to the gym – too many people. I have purchased my own minuscule set-up which, obviously, remained in the Netherlands. With that, I felt in luck with this, compared to mine, luxurious yet relative idle gym that was also within close enough vicinity. I even managed to make friends during the time span of my sessions. The only downside was the dress-code I at home wouldn’t abide by – shoes and shirt. That, and the downstairs neighbour stealing the machine’s pins turning it into a ‘Bring your own make-shift pin’-gym.

Mere a minute’s walk away awaits a haven of basic stalls seemingly coated with health code violations, however, upon close inspection, you find yourself in a wander in a heaven of foods. Uncostly meals ready in a whiff, once again served with the sweetest of smiles and with a taste uncanny bearing resemblance to the most lavish meal consumed. Except for the part where the pricey meal in the fancy restaurant with a table clothed and chairs comfortable was nothing but a disappointment and disgrace and the second the feared barrier of comfort was crossed, Utopia was found. Sitting on the wobbly, plastic chair, time after time they manage to wow you. Every food court is the same with every plate being the very picture of the previous ones, yet all tasted completely different. Finding the ones to cherish, you are in a state of absolute bliss, but the Chinese and Malay courts are not the only ones where the Nirvana of food rests, as a couple of minutes further up the road is a 24/7 Indian restaurant that spits out constant ravishing and extraterrestrial delights that had me and my missus gorging away as if our lives depended on it. I can type and type but the love I bear for half the feasts indulged in during my accumulated months on the peninsula remains indescribable and unending.

When not capable of beating the heat or simply aiming for a place further, the taxi-company Grab, the Uber of Asia, would at a bargain drive us anywhere we desired. Taking us to the nearby harbour for some sad pennies to cross for a day or hang out at the air-conditioned mall where we’d watch a movie. Go to a recommended restaurant some kilometres away or to further-away attractions, you name it, Grab is at your service.

All with all, this was perfect. The time spent there can’t be taken away. The morning toast with eggs as remembrance to my European roots, though the bread was an incompetent version, followed by daily eat-outs. All the while, we combined enjoying life and love together, going to the gym and for her working online whilst I did my courses. We both concurred that Malaysia would make a wonderful home.

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Personal Favourites South-East Asia (2017-2018)

Chasing Waterfalls in the Philippines

A truly young girl, barely in her teens had shyly approached us. Lorraine was the name. She was to bring us there. Last time we had a guide take us, I had objections. This time was different though, as, despite the misleading age of the girl, it was quite a hike away. It wasn’t the fact that it was far, but that where we were headed, Cataja Falls, was hidden away. So well hidden, that with clear descriptions we’d not be able to find it. On my shabby slippers I followed the young lady trotting away over the rocks. It wasn’t really a path, but it was obvious this wasn’t the first time someone tread over here. We had to pass through a few bushy trees whereafter we entered into the open. From here, we could already see the waterfall crashing down, though it was far in the distance. Truly massive. Water at large quantity ceaseless chugged down the mountain. It left a perpetual trail of cascading water trickling to the river we walked along. We had been told that we could reach way up, though it would require adding some hours on top of the initial agreed hike. My love and I agreed that a total of three hours – back and forth – would suffice.

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South-East Asia (2017-2018)

A MARBLE-OUS ISLAND

Romblon, known as the capital of marble, is home to a mesmerising marine life, picturesque beaches, a historic fort and over 38,000 people that are all but rude. It being one of the few islands with an actual tourist office, standing lonesome on the main square near the harbour, it is actually welcoming. Welcoming in the sense that a friendly – and chatty – woman awaits you with with advice on all surrounding islands, but also that wherever you venture off to, you are met with the smiles and waves of the friendly locals. Though the globetrotters come in scarce here, there are a plenty foreign, usually European entrepreneurs, having their business here. Therefore, even those that get overwhelmed by other cultures can find their peace here and enter a restaurant for a chewy German schnitzel or have a chat with the friendly Brit and Italian next door. If you wish to do a bit more than amble from diner to diner, worry not as this tiny island will surprise you with the beauties it beholds.

Now, aside from a presence in the cuisine, Europe has wiggled its roots in the history of many a island including Romblon, leaving various historical and heritage structures after Spain’s reign. The historic fort San Andres stands out the most as it looms over the city and sea, making it the absolute perfect spot for a sunset view. Since the climb there is on a set of tall, steep steps, the time the sun sheds its final lights is indeed best, as these steps paired with the Asian heat can be more than harsh. Expect to be met by the head of the organisation for reparation and maintenance, aka the guard and his friendly pup. This man, indubitably, will welcome you and if the place is not too hectic give you a free tour – but do tip. He will show and tell you all about the crumbling fortress that due to the massive and diligent restoration with the help of copious local as well as foreign volunteers remains to be a highlight of the petite island.

Of course, one does not go to these parts of the Philippines to solely admire the remainders of European influence. Though we did not get to experience the outer islands or any water-based activities due to harsh weather, we did get to tour around the island. On this ride-around, we came upon what in my opinion is, after Cresta de Gallo, the allurement of these waters; Bon-bon beach and Bang-ug island. Depending on which way you go around the island, this is either the final or immediate stop being close to the main city Poblacion. After stalling the scooter we rented for the day, we arrived on a long stretch of glistening, white sand. Sauntering along the water, the two of us headed for the island. Since the stretch is a fair walk, a ton of sunscreen is necessary to leave unscathed. Because the sun shone bright, at times feeling like a scourging whip of heat, but adding to the picturesque view that was sand, sea and sky. As if it was not enough, a rocky island of greenery fills the view with a breathtaking walkway of sand leading you through the sea at the right tidal. To our surprise it had been us, and us alone to admire the piece of art and without a queue or wait we took some of my favourite pictures before continuing.

Though this visit will leave the stops to follow in the dust, it is worthy to follow the not-so descriptive map and try to navigate yourself around the island in the search for the competing beaches, a lighthouse, a waterfall and to pass by the quarries before making your way back to the city or your accommodation. Romblon, of the Romblon province is a challenge alone to get to, but aside from dismaying the mass, has got an arsenal of sights. And upon departure, there is a world of souvenirs to take with, as the islet brings a strong game in the marble universe with competitive quality and for a reasonable price. Time to stuff your bag with gifts for the family!

How much effort would you put in to getting somewhere lovely but hard to get to? Or are you one that would put in effort not to have to go there and rather relax at the beach of your hotel?

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South-East Asia (2017-2018)

A Roaring Ride on Romblon

As the boat docked, vendors as well as human mules awaited from shore, readily prepared to sell their goods or services. The air was thick and humid, and both of us longed for a long shower. We had just arrived at our third island of the journey. Waving away the thought of another plane, we had taken about every mode of transport there was in the Philippines commencing from Imus, Cavite to get via Mindoro into the Romblon waters. Today, we had embarked the ferry from Tablas to Romblon, the marble capital of the Philippines. Tablas had quadruple the size, yet none the appeal the tiny brother had. But since the sun had already gone down by the time we set foot on land, our fatigued heads had no means for exploration aside from tonight’s and tomorrow’s accommodation. Dashing the initial trike-drivers, avoiding the peak in charges, we wandered a bit before boarding a metal carriage that would take us around on this search. Neither of us being on the picky side, we had soon settled for a place and had taken that coveted wash.

On the next day, with no tours outgoing, afflicted by weather, the plan was to find our way around the island. As usual, the cheapest option being to rent a scooter. Due to the problem of our hotel requiring proof of license, -which both coincidentally forget to bring each and every trip -we had to rummage through the town on the hunt for the perfect, in tip-top condition bikes. At last, we had stumbled upon a hotel storing exactly what we sought for. My eyes widened in excitement, watching a powerful beast, but before I managed to make my pick, the lady on my side had shook her head. She questioned my driving capabilities and was reluctant to get on the back had I gone for flashy and swift. Agreeing in fairness, we had gone for safe. The only, minor kink being that none of the indicators worked. But, all those pointers distract too much anyways, who truly needs to know how much gas is inside or the current speed you are going at. So, with manual signals, we spurted off into the traffic

Tightly I gripped the handles, speeding off to our first stop. Once out of the town, we broke free from traffic and had, for part of the ride, a smooth ride for us alone. Roads that are steady and undisturbed in these parts was a rare sight. Most of the work on these islands, without a joke, goes to maintenance. Broken roads and torn houses due to poor infrastructure, mudslides and floodings is one of the main issues in these areas. At times, entire families leave us in the dead of the night as a mudslide crashes entire homes and everything that had belonged to them. Every island carries dozens of warnings and multiple safety centres for victims of the cruel acts of nature. Everyday, workers build along the roads in attempt to fight the nature and protect the people. Therefore it was rare to us to see a road hardly being worked on and relatively experiencing a tranquil ride, even if for a short period.

At least, it was an uneventful drive until few hours in, when steering became increasingly challenging. Already nearing the end of our day with most sights visited – which is a subject I will return to – the bike began acting up. It seemed that the defectiveness of the motorbike did not only lie in the indicators as the bike pushed us to a side for which I had to overcompensate. This had began to happen on the rougher, rockier roads and I, with my scooting experience had managed to safely manoeuvre our way until we rejoiced with the even road. There, with the help of a couple of intellectuals pointing out the source, we unravelled the mystery and discovered a flat, back tire. In quite the quandary, we understood that continuing further than we already had would not be wise. Let luck be on our side, when meters away was a mechanic that would fix this situation. Him and his assistant were in quite the laugh and shock when they pulled out a worn out and on numerous spots punctured tube. This tube had been mended a many times that I lost count after the 14th patched up hole. The silver-lining, as they replaced it with a new one, was that my reckless riding most definitely had not been the reason – and could thus continue as we finished up our tour.

I choose to write about Romblon, because it is a place I love and felt welcomed. Mindoro, Tablas, they both are a must if you have time and are near! They too are absolutely wonderful islands with lots to do. If you happen to wander there as well, feel free to ask advice. Do’s and don’ts, the few details you won’t find online or simply for a more opinion-based advice.

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Personal Favourites South-East Asia (2017-2018)

A brick of the wall of fear

Back in my lover’s arms, it was not long before I dragged her with me from island to island in the beautiful archipelago. A short flight had taken us to the well-known Cebu where both of us would, without truly realising it yet, face our fears. Though it would be under mild conditions, nonetheless it required a big swallow and hopefully it is a brick in the build-up of the real deal. For my lovely Filipina, it is the water she fears. No, she is not scared of the kiddie-pool or anything to that liking. It is the depth of the endless oceans and seas as well as the big creatures within that intimidate her. Nonetheless, time after time she had proven herself to be bigger and stronger through the swimming and snorkelling we had done up to that point. But, today would be different, today would be a terrifying day for her.

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South-East Asia (2017-2018)

A Filipino Household

A beach seemingly endless with sand shiny from the bright sun hanging at twelve in the clear sky. A sky mesmerising blue. Then a small whiff of the fresh air enters your nose with a pinch of the salty smell that comes from the sea. A sea with water so clear it is hard to tell how deep it goes. Taunting you with its alluring waves gracefully crashing onto the beach. You share this galaxy of sand and sea with few, whom are scattered either basking in the sun or bathing in the refreshing water. This, is the Philippines. Staying in a little hut or cottage, chasing after waterfalls and the many water-based activities. The heaps of beautiful islands and beaches, is what majority who has ever been to this archipelago will remember. But, crushing that paradise picture, it is not the Philippines I will be taking you to now. No, I am talking about quite the opposite – although for me a tiny paradise nonetheless. Imus, Cavite, a suburb of Manilla. Quite the distance from the capital, yet the same jungle of rip-roaring tricycles, jeepneys and usual traffic. Coming from my teeny town with scarce traffic, this mayhem of continuous honking and dashing vehicles left me quite bedazzled. The house had been right on one of these crazy roads, but, believe me or not, the traffic wouldn’t be the main issue. No, it wasn’t the endless sound, it was the daily heat during Philippine’s cool period. A humid heat arising from late morning until the end of the afternoon would leave me blazing the fan as I laid like a dried up frog sprawled out on bed. This hot madness, was where I would be staying for a large amount of the time.

Now some of you might wonder how I wound up in a Filipino home so far off the beaten path to begin with. To those unaware, three years ago, through the wonders of the internet I came upon a tiny Filipina by the name Kath whom managed to charm my heart and leave me enamoured enough to plan a visit. So, fast forward a year later when I had begun my Asian travels, indubitably, her chaotic suburb had become part, if not the primary destination, of my travels. Something that kept me up at night, was that I would be spending my time in her family’s house. It had made me nervous, to say the least. With hindsight, the anxiety was just. I remember when the mascot of Jollibee made me dance to “Baby Shark” in front of dozens of Kath’s relatives. Seeing how every time that we entered a Jollibee anywhere one of these mascots would be there, and as only white guy attention was oft on me, I was not the biggest fan of this food chain. Especially with regards to their horrible menu. Though I am a great advocate of pineapple on a pizza, I’d keep it off a burger and the mushroom gravy turns the burger into a soggy gravy-yard.

Speaking of Filipino food, I strongly believe, to truly experience the local food, you’re best off in a Filipino family. Though you will taste plenty during your travels, the surely authentic food remains within the households. Though no Malaysia, I have indulged in some of the greater meals within the four walls of my lady’s family. And one thing they did best was make sure I was fed. The whole house would echo “Kaiiin, kaiiiin” at the voice of the mother when food was served. I did have to get used to having rice multiple times a day however. Usually, we’d eat as a small group in the home, but at times we would be outside sharing the food with a bunch. I had soon learned my favourites. A plate of sizzling sisig with a smell alone that gave me a watery mouth or a plate of delicious garlic rice and some longganisa. It is when intestines, livers and pig’s blood is brought to the table that I fancied a break.

Then there is Kath’s family. A family unaware of a visiting lover until last minute. The house was quite full, with a younger sister, an older one, an older brother, her parents and grandmother. Coming from a place where we all have our own space and privacy, it was an interesting change to be in a home where most is shared and where I have slept at least once in every possible room during my two stays. From crashing on the couch to at times even sharing the room with others. But once you are nearly spooning the grandmother of the family, well, you become family. That, they did very well. They made me feel at home and welcomed into a new home. The younger sibling teasing me with a meme I am a “lookalike” of while the one older asks about our travels and future. Both the parents would joke around, the mother making me join in on a game of bingo whilst the father would urge me to drink the local whiskey with him. On Sundays there would be either Korean shows or karaoke. The latter being the national thing, occurring during weddings and funerals, birthdays and pub brawls, everywhere in the Philippines you will find karaoke. Thus even in this household.

Then there is the grandmother. She is a special one. She would wave at me, shouting in Tagalog and gesturing as if today I knew what she meant. Then she’d laugh and point at my face. That, or she would try to sway me into finding her an “Americano” prince for “dollah dollah”. She reminded me of my own grandmother, also fairly cuckoo but sweet at heart. The only tough nut to crack was the brother – who was often away at work. He had been protective of his younger sister who now all of a sudden had a boyfriend from the other side of the world. But truth be, I have sat down and talked to them all and staying there has gained me a whole other family. Even to the point that the oldest sibling long moved out had granted me with the status of god-father of her (then) unborn child. It has been a blessed experience and I am extremely grateful for everyone I have met in the Philippines.

Have you ever fallen in love through the internet, or are you currently in a long-distance relationship? How do you deal with the distance?