Category Archives: Travel for everyone

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.

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.

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.

In search of drums and feathers

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PONCA CITY–The number one item in my bucket list when I visited Oklahoma a few months back is to shoot real cultural dancers from the Oklahoma Indian tribes in photos and video.

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I searched online and saw one that was scheduled for that weekend in Ponca City about two hours drive from Oklahoma so we started out early one morning and drove all the way through long flat interstate highway which I described later as “endless stretch of nothingness.”

The drive to Ponca City is uneventful because unlike the routes heading to Texas where the roads are bounded by rivers, lakes, mountains and hills, the road to Arkansas is flat and all you see are the roads looking like slender ribbons stretching to forever.P1340433

We and took the turn to Ponca City and started to wonder if we were in the right place. We had to rely on Siri for instructions until we finally saw the sign. I was expecting a whole campsite filled with “real Indians” but it did not look like that at all. Except for a couple of Indian tepees, the site was filled with modern regular camping tents and cars. It was siesta time and everyone was just milling around, except for a couple of kids were taking a bath from a hand water pump.P1340272

I could not call them exactly friendly and it was like we were like stepping into a private territory. I could not blame them. We “crashed” into the area with a GoPro mounted on the hood of the car, and I was rapidly shooting at everything alternately with two cameras—one with long and one wide lens. Everybody stopped and stared at us then went back to what they were doing like they saw nothing at all.P1340504

My buddy went down and bought sodas from a makeshift store but he got no information because no one was willing to say anything. We finally found a police car and parked right next to it. The friendly cop told us that all activities were going to start at 7 p.m. and onwards. There was no way we can wait and drive all the way back.P1340501

My search for drums and feathers finally ended up right where we started off—at the Noble Museum in Norman at the University of Oklahoma campus where a whole section is allocated to exhibits about the different Indian tribes of Oklahoma. The exhibits are something worth a visit. The shelves contain traditional clothing of the early tribes, accessories, footwear, bows and arrows, culinary items, toys, pottery, jewelry, feather bonnets, moccasins, and everything else that depicted the rich history of the different tribes.

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Fast facts:

The Sam Noble Museum is located at Chautauqua Avenue, Oklahoma City.

Operation hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed on holidays. Contact number is (405) 325-4712. Visit www.samnoblemuseum.ou.edu.

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.

Dallas: The X-Spot

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A spot in the middle of the road marked with a white X is the next focus of attention. This is the very spot where past US president John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963.

WHEN one is heading to Dallas, Texas for a visit, the most recommended and must-never-miss place is the Dealey Plaza at Elm Street, considered as the Front Door of Dallas and one of the most historic districts in Texas.

P1340006Stand on the curb of Elm Street and you can immediately identify visitors. They will all look up the windows on the fifth floor of the former Texas School Book Depository now turned JFK Museum, then down to the street below.

There is more to the place than just a park and ordinary street. It is a spot that carries volumes of extraordinary stories, a place where people come to “walk, feel, touch and experience history” all over again. It is a significant part in the history of the United States.

P1310526This is where Kennedy’s motorcade and his life ended while on his way to the Dallas Trade Mart to speak at a luncheon.

A spot in the middle of the road marked with a white X is the next focus of attention. This is the very spot where past US president John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963.

Despite the heavy traffic in this busy street, people risk their lives just to run and touch the white marker on the road and have their photos taken with the red brick historic building as the backdrop.

P1310539From the safety of the street, I took photos and watched a photographer mount a tripod on the roadside and make a dash for a ‘selfie’ shot standing near the white X mark in the middle of the road. Before his camera flashed, the traffic lights turned green and he had to run for his life.

My travel buddy and I circled the area in our car several times while we captured it all in GoPro attached to our windshield before deciding to check out the place on foot.

This Sixth Floor Museum tour will take visitors to a trip back in time through the precious historical collections of JFK’s assassination.  The collections include art, artifacts, audio, books, documents, films, magazines, newspapers, oral histories and photographs that you can go over to revisit that fateful day when bullets felled one of the US presidents.

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This corner window at the Fifth Floor is marked as the spot where the gunman fired the shot that killed president John F. Kennedy. Photos by Raquel C. Bagnol

There are buses and tour companies that offer special JFK Tours as well as other historic sites in Dallas but if you are daring enough and have the luxury of time, this is a tour best done on foot, at your own time and pace.

Driving around Deleay Plaza and around Dallas at night is a whole new world you should experience. The city lights are just dazzling and there is so much to see. I missed the market fair as it only opens on the weekends.

Dallas is a mix of tourist attraction sites as well as back streets where my friend who was driving told us to “lock our doors and windows because she forgot her gun at home.”P1340053

If you come from the islands where the limit is 45 miles per hour, be ready because people from other states have told us that “Dallas drivers have a reputation of being “mad, crazy drivers” on the road.” From what I saw, I guess I can easily believe that.

This article was first published at the Guam Post Daily November 15, 2015 edition page 12. See the story here.

Discovering historic Guthrie

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At 9 a.m. there was barely anyone around and only a few cars were on the streets. I had a strange feeling that we stepped into a storybook set in the 1800′s.

IMAGINE waking up one morning and finding yourself in the middle of beautiful tree-lined city streets in historic Guthrie about 30 minutes drive away from Oklahoma City. You will rub your eyes to see if you are awake and make sure you haven’t stepped into a time machine.P1310867

I had no idea what I was in for when my travel buddy and I drove into Guthrie on our way to Ponca City some weeks ago. He just mentioned vaguely about stopping by to see some sights then we were in the center of a movie set, except that it is populated with real people.

At 9 a.m. there was barely anyone of the streets and only a few cars were driving around. I had a strange feeling that we stepped into a storybook set in the 1800s.P1310731

Guthrie, Oklahoma’s first capital is destination for history buffs, antique lovers and collectors. The streets were lined up with rows and rows of antique shops, thrift and resale stores, art galleries, and old-looking structures that house Oklahoma’s artifacts and collections. From the glass store windows the sight of various antique stuffs will lure any shopper in—old chairs and furniture, lamps, kitchen utensils, tapestries, and all sorts of knick-knacks.

Towers emerge from beautiful quaint buildings made of red brick and native sandstone, and don’t be surprised to see classic cars parked on the streets.

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Shopping in Guthrie is the most popular and must-not-miss thing to do but I never had a chance to do it, one more reason to return.

Guthrie has been in the limelight too often as the location shoot of several popular movies including Twister, The Rain Man, Fast Charlie…the Moonbeam Rider, The Gray Man, Public Enemies, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, Fingerprints, The Killer Inside me and parts of Outlaw Kingdom.

Flashback to the city’s origins, Guthrie was located in the Unassigned Lands of the Indian territory. The early settlers were among the over 50,000 people who lined to grab their piece of land from the available 2 million acres in the first land rush in Oklahoma in April 22, 1889.  A gunshot was fired, a cannon roared and horses and wagons sprang to life. Guthrie has become a tent city for over 10,000 people  and developments followed right after.

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On our way back, we drove by Guthrie again and stopped on the road to ask a guy talking where the best place to eat was.

He pointed at the building behind him and said “they serve excellent steaks down there at the basement,” and added “I know because I own the place.”

Instead of taking the elevator, we went down a rickety flight of stairs to the basement where another surprise awaited us. Gage’s Steakhouse, the sign said, and true to the owner’s word, they serve really good steaks but that is another entirely article. Watch out for it. P1310845

It was exhilarating walking and driving around the streets in a town that started as a tent city in 1889. Guthrie has preserved the rich architectural legacy while merging with the advent modernization. The magic aura of this unique territorial city continues to draw thousands of visitors from around the world each year.

This article first came out in page 23 of the Guam Post October 18, 2015 issue.

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