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Trip to magical Cape San Agustin  

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(PHILIPPINES) If you ever want to experience the feeling of standing at the edge of the world, head out to Cape San Agustin, the southernmost tip of Governor Generoso in Davao Oriental, Philippines.

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Up at the very tip of this quiet municipality is one magical destination known to many but dreamed about by more and continuesto draw visitors from all over the world.

Pundaguitan is the last town in Governor Generoso where the buses either make the round trip to Davao City or sleep for the night. From the bus stop, my photographer buddy Arjoy and I hired one of the motorcycles for 200 pesos per passenger and up we went to passing barangay Lavigan heading to the famed Cape San Agustin.P1220473

I had been to the Cape twice in the past, but a lot has changed in the last decade. The once-rough road that I used to call stomach-churning, butt-numbing motorcycle ride as drivers try to reach the destination without falling into the deep ravine was now smooth and paved snaking its way up and around the mountain until we reached a clearing on top of the hill and then we were there.

There was no one at the Cape aside from a family with a small child who takes care of the property. I was back to one of the places I consider my favorite on earth.P1220391

I wanted to stand at the very edge of the Parola and watch the endless stretch of blue ocean merging with the blue skies, dotted by the red and yellow sails of a couple of fishing boats in the far distance but Arjoy and I got to work right away. For the next couple of hours, I forgot about everyone and everything and only my camera and the magical place I was in mattered.

A few meters away from the very end of the cliff we were standing on was The Islet which looked like a small piece of the island chopped and pushed off from the cliff a bit farther.P1220421

Under the cliff facing the Last Islet is a hidden cave that opens out into the ocean. The waves come in through the small openings in the rocks. The best feature of the Pagoda is the three lighthouses, with the oldest built in 1938 featuring an external spiral staircase

I was looking forward to climb hundred-plus steps to the top of the middle lighthouse but the door was locked and our guide/motorcycle driver told us the key keeper was out for the day.

The top of the lighthouse offers a 360 degree panoramic view of the Cape and the point where the raging waves of Celebes Sea blends with the peaceful calm of Davao Gulf.

From the Pagoda, we made our way down the hill under tall coconut trees to the Pagoda Beach below. The ocean seemed angry at the interruption and sent out huge waves rolling to the shore but it was not even scary, only mesmerizingly beautiful. A few hundred feet away is the Altar, an extra-ordinary rock formation believed to be the place where the Spanish missionary St. Francis Xavier, the Spanish missionary said his first mass in 1550. I’ve climbed it in the past but didn’t have time to do it on this trip as we had to catch the last bus that leaves at 3 p.m. to stay the night in a delightful fishing village but that is another story.P1220558

Half the fun is in getting to Cape San Agustin. The four-hour trip on a public bus from Davao City takes you through green lush forests and picturesque coastal views past quaint fishing villages, vast rice fields, jungles, limestone walls, mountainsides and breathtaking cliff lines. It is where goats and cows rule the road and won’t budge so that buses and other vehicles have to go around them to pass through.

When in the southern part of the Philippines, don’t miss a visit to Cape San Agustin. It’s a place that never ceases to mesmerize everyone.

Getting there

From Ecoland Terminal in Davao City ride any of the public buses to Governor Generoso. The buses travel daily from 3 a.m. to 2 p.m. at one hour interval. As an option, check out the L300 vans outside the bus terminal.  Travel time for L300 vans is about two and a half hours.

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I walked all the way from Thailand to Malaysia

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Crossing borders on foot

If I say I walked all the way from Thailand to Malaysia and you haven’t done that, chances are you won’t believe me but I did!

P1330284Traveling to Malaysia from Thailand is easy, especially if you are already staying near the border. I was at Narathiwat, Thailand’s southernmost city for a couple of days before I decided to proceed to Kuala Lumpur.

If you are in Bangkok, it’s another story though that involves a two-hour plane ride or 14 hours trip on a bus.

Narathiwat is only an hour away by van from Su-ngai Golok Boundary Post and the van dropped me and my buddy Rolly right in front of the immigration building. I joined the long line to get my passport stamped with “exit” then we walked across the border to Malaysia, leaving Rolly on Thailand soil. The Customs and Quarantine officers were friendly, asking light questions about the contents of my backpack (my only luggage) until I said I had a bottle of Excedrin. That was when the officers looked at each other and asked me to step aside. Then they inspected my backpack, something which they didn’t do to others and asked me if I was feeling okay and how many days I had been ‘sick’ and they need to take my temperature if I had a fever or anything contagious. Baffled, I explained that the Excedrin was for migraine and it had been in my backpack forever. One of the female officers touched my forehead, then let me go, apologizing for the delay.P1330277

Then I was on Malaysian soil for the first time, all alone on my way to Kuala Lumpur and without one single Ringgit in my pocket.

If you don’t have Ringgits with you, cross the street after you exit the immigration building and there’s only one money changer in the area. I exchanged all the US dollars and Philippine pesos and Thailand Baht I had in my wallet for Ringgits then crossed the street. Communication is a challenge. I asked four people and after so many frustrated gestures I understood they all said the fare to Kota Bharu was 500 Ringgits.

I waited with other passengers at the roofed walkway where Bus 29 stops by every 30 minutes or so, and when the bus came, I boarded it, not sure if I had enough money. Passengers are required to pay the driver as soon as they board. I showed the driver all the bills I got from the money exchange and he looked at me with a funny expression then peeled off five Ringgits from the wad of bills. I have never felt like a stupid tourist in my life.P1330300

The bus ride to Kota Bharu is about an hour and will take you through several interesting towns and villages. I reached the bus terminal just right after sunset and waited for the next bus to Kuala Lumpur for three hours.

The trip to Kuala Lumpur took eight hours in a freezing bus with centralized A/C so if you can’t stand the cold, bring a blanket. These buses usually don’t hand out blankets and water and snacks, and there are no restrooms onboard either, so you have to take advantage of the short stops in between. It’s a trip where people sleep. Shortly before sunrise, we entered Kuala Lumpur and everything yelled civilization. Here is a city where everyone still mistakes me for a Thai but where almost everybody speaks and understands English.

By the way, the border from Thailand to Malaysia is less than half a mile away and crossing it on foot is no big feat. I got you there.

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Singapore Quickie

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IF you ever get a long layover in Singapore, look it as a blessing and not as something drastic you have to endure. Changi International Airport is a dream. One of the world’s most modern airports that you would appreciate being stranded in for even a whole day and there is so much to do it’s like having a free vacation in a luxurious resort.

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You can hop from terminal to terminal which features different attractions to occupy your time. Changi Airport showcase a wide selection of shopping, theater, gardens, dining, relaxation and entertainment options—name it and the airport have it. There is just so much to do and see. WiFi is fast and free and terminal seats have chargers installed, including outlets for USB.

Set an alarm because you might lost track of time and miss your connecting flight.

If you only have at least six hours stopover, grab the chance for a quickie tour of the flower city for free. At the Changi Airport Terminal 2, look for the booth that advertises free tours and join the line. The only requirement is you have to have a passport, a forwarding ticket to your destination and visa, if necessary.

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You can go on the Heritage Tours or the City Sight Tours at night, but you can’t have both. I opted for the heritage tour and went through immigration check out along with 18 other travelers from different countries. We boarded a bus printed with lovely flowers all around it advertising Free Singapore Tours and off we went. Our tour-guide gave us explanations of where we were but no one was really paying attention. Everyone was busy taking pictures through the huge glass windows. The Heritage Tour brings visitors through the Singapore’s past and present architectural showcases with a 20-minute stopover at the city’s famous landmark—the Merlion Park where you squeeze your way around with a thousand other visitors for quick photos. Too ‘touristry’ for a photographer but a visit to Singapore won’t be complete without posing for a photo at the Merlion Park, by this mythical creature that symbolizes the city’s beginnings.

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We wheezed by Singapore’s cultural districts – Chinatown and Little India but the second stopover in Kampong Glam was what I liked the most. This is one of Singapore’s most colorful districts with rows of Malay and Arab restaurants and roadside boutiques selling souvenirs from fans to keyholders to bright colorful shawls and everything else, massage parlors, art galleries, coffee shops, craft stores, and more. You can’t miss the Masjid Sultan or Sultan Mosque at this stopover—the venue for the fasting month of Ramadan.

The two-hour and a half tour is indeed a quickie. If you’re hoping for a leisurely stroll where you can take photos for as long as you like, then these free tours are not for you. Check out the City Sightseeing open-top bus tours and other options of going out on your own. Oh, I’m coming back for the city lights tour. Soon I hope.

Destinations History Photo Galleries Thailand Travel Asia Travel for everyone

Twilight at the ‘Dawn of Happiness’

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With a backdrop of the setting sun, the sight of the old bricks and stones and Buddhas which used to be the Thai capital during the 13th century was surreal.

P1300259 OVER seven hours bus ride away from Bangkok will take you to the old city of Sukhothai— one of the most impressive World Heritage Sites and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Thailand.P1300202

Located at the lower northern Thailand, the most famous ruins of the ancient city of Sukhothai is a must-never-miss in one’s itinerary. Nestled amid lush jungles, lakes and neatly manicured lawns, the ancient city of Sukhothai which means “the dawn of happiness” is a history buff and a photographer’s dream.

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When we got off the bus at the Sukhothai terminal, my buddy and I rode a songthaew, a long wooden jeepney that transported us to the Old City about 12 kilometers away. We picked one of the hotels right across the street from the Sukhothai Historical Park and hurried to catch our first real glimpse of temple ruins.

I discovered there are just too may temples and ruins to visit you can’t walk all the way. We rented a motorbike for 200 baht good for 24 hours, but there are lots of bicycles for less than 100 baht.

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When we reached the nearest temples or what was left of it, my jaw just dropped. With a backdrop of the setting sun, the sight of the old bricks and stones and Buddhas which used to be the Thai capital during the 13th century was just surreal. P1290957

Historical records show that the Old Sukhothai was the first capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom from 1238 to 1438. Since the 1960s restoration work has been done to preserve the ruins, but I learned later that if you follow the unmarked tracks, it will lead you to more temple ruins in their untouched state. We drove around some more after dark and got a real taste of fear when we stumbled into more ruins in some territory we haven’t seen in thP1300593 copye maps that sent us going around in circles for a long time.

It was kind of spooky going around the ruins especially when darkness fell, with the orange glow casting shadows. You get this uneasy feeling that someone is watching you from behind the pillars and stones but I guess it is part of the mystery and attraction that lures thousands of visitors from all parts of the world every day.P1300428

Accommodation in Sukhothai is not a problem. Hotels and guest houses abound and at whatever budget suits you.

Sukhothai is a place where life starts very early in the morning with vendors selling food in carts and tables on the sidewalks, and where you see hundreds of monks in orange ply the streets in the early morning hours.

Getting to Sukhothai from Bangkok or other parts of Thailand is half the fun and you get to explore the Thailand countryside. The long bus rides are worth it but you can check out other options like trains and airplanes.

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Kuala Lumpur quickie tour

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The Hop-on Hop-Off city tour is your best bet to explore this city with is skyscrapers, mix of towering  buildings and colonial architecture, mosques and temples on your own.

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IF it’s your first time to visit the bustling city of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, the best way to get the most of it is to buy a ticket for the hop on, hop off bus and explore the city at your own leisurely pace.

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After failing to find a tour agency at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 a couple of weeks ago, I boarded the Express Train to the KL Sentral about 30 minutes away to try my luck. I had one day to spend and I was not going to sit it out at the airport, no matter how world class it is. I was really planning to visit Malacca but the tour agencies I found only do hotel pickups.

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The Hop-on Hop-Off city tour was my best bet. I bought a ticket for 45 Ringgits which was good for 24 hours—one ticket to see it all and explore this city with is skyscrapers, mix of towering  buildings and colonial architecture, mosques and temples on your own.

I waited at the spot where P1340479 - Copythe bus was supposed to stop and hopped on along with a handful of other tourists.

The Hop-on Hop Off tour will bring you to sites that will cost you more and more sites than you can cover in a day if you go out on your own. A voice over narrates a brief history of your current as you drive around.

The city tour will bring you close to over 70 attractions including the Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur Tower, National Museum, Bird Garden, Little India, China Town, Putra World Trade Center, Parliament House, museums and more.  The route will also stop by the rows of hotels, night clubs, restaurants big shopping malls are as well as bargain shopping centers and coffee shops. You can hop off at one street, shop till you drop and hop on the next bus to get to your next destination.

This is your ultimate city tour where you’ll never have to spend much for taxis or tour guides and you can snap thousands of photos along the way.

As long as you know how to read, you will never get lost.  English is a widely spoken language in Kuala Lumpur so communication is not a problem.

The buses go around in 20 or 30 minute intervals so you can take as much time as you want in a certain attraction or hurry up to the next.P1350106

I decided to do it lazy and stayed onboard for the whole route, and did yet another round. The fun of shooting photos minus the hindrance of a bus roof and windows is a big bonus.

Travel tips: Instead of hopping during the busy afternoon hours and spend time in the traffic, you can do your sightseeing in the different attractions. And oh, prepare for a stiff neck. Kuala Lumpur City is all about tall buildings.

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Tuk-Tuk: Thailand’s ride of a lifetime

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Remember that 2002 Visa card commercial where James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) rode a tuk-tuk to cut through the traffic and catch up with his date Zhang Ziyi in Bangkok and how the tuk-tuk collapsed to the ground from fatigue? Now i know why James Bond picked up the tuk-tuk.

The first time I rode a tuk-tuk last month, I had visions of going around Bangkok streets in a leisurely pace while I shoot photos to my heart’s content. Little did I know I would spend the next few minutes in that half-sitting, half-squatting position holding on to my bag and camera and for life. A couple hundred bahts was the magic word and the driver sprung into action and careened down the streets like it was the end of the world and we were racing against it. That moment I understood why a lot of the tuk-tuks have screens around them–so passengers or parts of them won’t fly on the streets.

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Until you have ridden a tuk-tuk–those sputtering, open-air three-wheeled motor taxis that ply and clog the streets of Bangkok and all over Thailand is one wild, daring ride that you should experience, you can’t fully say you have experienced Thailand. Tuk-tuks never die, but you will if you don’t hold on to the railing and keep your bags and hands and feet and head intact and safe inside.

One advice–don’t ever ride a tuk-tuk without first agreeing on the price. Learn to negotiate and haggle. It’s funny how the word tuk means “cheap” in Thai, but tuk-tuk rides are never cheap. You’re better off and more comfortable riding airconditioned metered taxis. If you really need to ride a tuk-tuk better hail one passing on the street and try to avoid those who are waiting outside tourist sites.

I gave it a couple more chances, and it was still the same. Different drivers, same madness, same sky-high prices. Maybe not all of them are mad drivers but i guess i picked the ones who are. Tuk tuks has become a symbol of Thailand and though they don’t have the best of reputations it’s worth experiencing one wild ride in your lifetime. Don’t leave Thailand without riding in one.

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