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Cruisin’ in the rain around Honolulu

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WHEN you are visiting Honolulu, Hawaii briefly and the skies welcome you with torrential rains, don’t despair. Rain is not a hindrance to enjoy a scenic albeit wet drive around the best parts of Honolulu and count on leaving the island with hundreds of photos captured during a rainy drive.

I was all set to shoot some aerials with my friend Doc Nathan who is also a pilot a few months back during a quick stopover from Denver.IMG_2529

The plane started to descent from 38,000 feet and weather was perfect good.  Alas, when we reached 8,000 feet I could not see a thing but dark clouds and fat raindrops started hitting the window panes. I learned a storm has just passed the island and visibility was impossible.

We didn’t have luck to fly the next day too  as it was still raining so we decided to make the most of it and have sneak peek of Honolulu, rain or not.

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Driving along Honolulu’s highways is a wonder by itself. The huge mountains shrouded by thick fluffy clouds in the early morning mist and the and scenic roads zigzagging around and through the mountains add a mystic feel to the adventure.

Rivulets of water streamed down from the mountaintops forming mini-waterfalls and adding to the beauty of it all.

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We drove through the Nuuanu Pali Drive while traveling up the Pali Hwy.toward the lookout—a very beautiful, 2-mile tropical rain forest drive through dense jungles it makes you feel like you’re in an enchanted forest.

Must-not-miss sites include the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout which looked unreal in the mist, located 1,186 feet up overlooking Oahu, and the scenic Makapu’u Lookout, Hanauma Bay, and the list is endless.  IMG_2847

All I had was a few hours’ quick drive through of the island. I haven’t scratched the surface and there is so much more to do and see around the islands that you won’t run out of things to do even if you stay there for good. Nature lovers, you have the best options of cruising around the island, hiking or walking, explore waterfalls, beaches and coastlines, see botanical gardens and more. The islands also house rich historical treasures and locations, and if you’re up for shopping and night life, you got it all.IMG_2875

Don’t be scared of rain. Next thing you know, you’ll be photographing the most spectacular landscapes that only Honolulu can offer. And oh, pack beachwear, flip-flops and sunscreen because you’re going to need it. Of course, it doesn’t rain  everyday.

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Destinations Malaysia Travel Asia Travel information Travelling tips

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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Road trip through the US ‘marshlands’

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Prepare to enjoy a very ‘marshland-ey, allegator-ey but breathtakingly scenic road trip from New Orleans, Mississippi (yey I spelled it right without Googling!), Alabama and Orlando, Florida.

?I always love road trips especially when all I have to do is ride buses and enjoy the views from my window and get short town to town stopovers along the way, but driving for over 10 hours in the interstate in a compact car is a totally different experience.

You can be in Orlando from New Orleans in an hour or so by plane but my travel buddy and I decided drive the 639-mile trip which he described as a “marshland-ey alligator-ey adventure” with lakes and rivers and marshlands all along the way from New Orleans, Mississippi, Alabama and finally Florida.

?We drove around the French Quarter a couple of times before finally heading out of New Orleans in a rented 2015 Volkswagen Beetle. I was having doubts how the little thing could take us all the way to Orlando and little did I know my doubts were not unfounded.

We were just crossing the bridge over Lake Pontchartrain when one of the lights in the dashboard began flashing. I fished out the manual from the compartment to check what it means and learned it was the water level and we were supposed to stop right away.

Not on the bridge and not just anywhere in the interstate though, unless we want to be towed. I’m an idiot when it comes to cars but women and their intuition is at most times reliable.P1330241

I suddenly missed driving in a small island like Saipan. We called the rental company and was instructed to drive on to their next outlet. It was scary driving on low water, knowing we could overheat anytime. We drove into Slidell and found the nearest Avis office and spent about an hour to change cars, this time a Kia Optima. It was far from clean as it was just returned but we didn’t have options.

We took to the road and five hours later were in Pensacola where we left the interstate and took the diversion toward Gulf Breeze coastal roads. We were expecting scenic views of the ocean for the next four hours but surprise! We found ourselves crawling along with the regular traffic as schools let out and we only saw glimpses of the blue sea from time to time.P1330018

After over two hours battling with the agonizingly slow traffic, we took the next exit out and went back to the interstate. We had to be in Orlando by 11 p.m. or else we will be charged for another day’s rental in our car and we were going to lose a paid night at the hotel we booked.

The sun set just as we entered Suwannee County and it was growing darker. When we reached the Florida panhandle, the weather changed. A thunderstorm was in progress and we were lucky it was not headed toward our direction. Soon rain started to pour in torrents and I couldn’t take anymore photos from the car window. Driving in the dark wet roads next to huge rigs and trailers is a bit challenging. My buddy had to drive all the way as my license already expired but I helped him by not going to sleep and supplying him with an endless stream of stories to keep him awake. We made it to Orlando Airport just after 11 p.m.P1330151

Road Tips: If you take this route, take the coastal road in Pensacola if you have the luxury of time. The long drive is worth the fun, and you get chances to shoot thousands of photos. Don’t sleep on the way and miss the tunnel to Mobile, Alabama. Just past the tunnel is the USS Alabama Battleship Park.

There are rest stops along the way where you can park and join the trailers and watch out for the road signs for the next exits, food stops, gasoline stations, hotels and yes, coffee stops.

Oh, don’t forget to have dollar bills and lots of quarters in hand. You will need them when you get to Orlando. The toll gates are just within shouting distance from each other. And no, we didn’t meet any alligators on the road although we were hoping for one just for photo and video ops. You might be luckier!

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Frisked in Beijing

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What they saw made them and everyone on the long lines gape. You will, too if you are looking at the accompanying photo. A confusion of wires and cables, batteries and chargers, external hard drives, videos and cameras, mounts and tripods, a shirt and a white underwear (thankfully it was new still with tags on it) and more chargers met their eyes. The impact wouldn’t have been so shocking if everything was packed neatly.

BEIJING, China—WHEN the Asiana Airlines I was boarding taxied into the runway of the Beijing Capital International Airport at 2 p.m. a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea that I was going to experience the most and super-thorough security body check that produced shivers and goose bumps for the first time in my life.

I followed the rest of the passengers up the first escalator at the arrival area and emerged into long endless, high-ceilinged halls that seemed to swallow everyone and everything inside.

Everyone has to pass a “temperature check” booth where we were asked to stop as the machine checks if we have fevers or high temperature. If you do, you will be quarantined.

I was too busy taking pictures as I queued at one of the long, slowly moving immigration lines. Looking up, I wondered why the lines at the left side moved faster and discovered those lanes were for Chinese passport holders only. Shooting I went, and only when it was my turn at the counter did I see the No Photos sign and a drawing of a camera with a red X on it. Dropping my camera to my side, I handed my passport to the immigration officer who checked it and returned it to me, pointing me to the longest of all the lines in the area. Transfers, it said.

I was in the wrong lane. Thanks to whoever invented absent-mindedness. Into the rear of the ever-slow moving line I fell along with all the other passengers who were transiting through Beijing—a merry mix of white, black, brown and yellow skinned travelers who all wanted to be out of that line as fast as possible. I didn’t do any advance research about Beijing airport on purpose so I wouldn’t know what to expect. Security was not tight. It was super tight.

The immigration officers checked and double checked connecting tickets before stamping it ok and the line slowly moved on. Breathing a sigh of relief, I thought I was going to start my airport adventures but I was wrong. The line led to an escalator going down, where longer lines of passengers waited.

We had to pass through more immigration officers once again who validated passports and connecting tickets. Bags went through the X-ray machines and passengers had to go through scanners.

At the end of the line, more immigration officers waited to conduct body checks and I believe me, it was the first of its kind I encountered. The officer did a raking and scraping motion through my arms and legs and body until I had to stop breathing so as not to scream. I am ticklish and it felt like they were feeling for chips planted in your body.

Then I heard a beep, and more beeps from my luggage. The officer looked at his monitor, and re-scanned my luggage. When it emerged, he instructed two more officers to open it, and in full view of everyone popped the results of panicked packing that morning when I just threw everything into the bag and ran to the airport.

What they saw made them and everyone on the long lines gape. You will, too if you are looking at the accompanying photo. A confusion of wires and cables, batteries and chargers, external hard drives, videos and cameras, mounts and tripods, a shirt and a white underwear (thankfully it was new still with tags on it) and more chargers met their eyes. The impact wouldn’t have been so shocking if everything was packed neatly.

They had my bag go through the X-ray machine twice more times. Then they checked my shoulder bag, and out came two more cameras—a big one and a small one, a video cam, more batteries, cables, iPad, cellphones and even a recorder. Into the X-ray machine my shoulder bag again went. The silence in the long lines was deafening and all eyes were on my bags as they did a final check and I was told to go over the scanner again. I was already sweating by the time they finally decided I was harmless.

The rest of the passengers breezed through security but I noticed a couple of turbaned passengers received almost the same scrutiny as I did, but mine was still the worst.

I couldn’t blame the security people if they thought I was going to assemble a bomb right there. Anyone would, after seeing the jumbled contents of my bag, but then Incheon security was not that strict.

I was eating a leisurely McDonalds take-out in Garapan when I got a text message from buddy Patrick asking if I was on my way to the airport. I panicked, realizing I was about to miss my flight. I thought I was flying out the next day and had barely time to catch the 2:30a.m.flight.

Travel Tip:

If you transit through Beijing, pack your bags well and check in unnecessary accessories like batteries and chargers. Come with me next time on a quick tour inside the Beijing Capital International Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world.

Travelling tips

What Is A Package Holiday?

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It may seem like a strange question – “what is a package holiday?” – but it’s one that is searched for by search engine users with surprising regularity. The term ‘package holiday’ has become such common usage in modern society that few people ever explain what they mean when they use it, but for those who don’t know, here’s a quick guide.

The term ‘package holiday’ is used to describe the kind of holiday that takes care of everything itself. You book the entire holidays: flights (or whatever mode of transport you will be using to reach your destination) and hotel package holidays are the most common. These usually include transport to and from the airport; so essentially, it’s the simplest way to go on holiday, and is booked ‘all in one’ rather than paying for the flights, hotel and transfers separately.

What Is A Package Holiday?

What Is A Package Holiday?

Package holidays, however, can mean more than just flights and hotels. They can also include sightseeing or theater trips in the overall price, usually at a discounted rate. Sometimes package holidays can include transport to and from the airport in your home country, so everything really is taken care of.

The beauty of package holidays is the simplicity of them. You simply choose your destination, and the travel agent – be it online or in store – will put together the rest for you. You don’t need to worry about getting to the hotel from a foreign airport, and everything is included in one lump-sum price for ease of budgeting. It’s no wonder, given the convenient one-stop-shop method of holidaying they offer, that package holidays are so popular.

Travelling tips

A Guide To Caribbean Cruises

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Planning to go on a Caribbean cruise? You need to decide two things in advance – when you’re going and where. Read on for useful information to help you make those choices.

Many people say that the Caribbean islands are best enjoyed during summer, but keep in mind that Caribbean cruises during this time are usually jam packed. This is when families, tour groups, and even corporate assemblies prefer to visit the islands, so if you’re planning to join the pack, be sure to book your cruise in advance. The average cruise length is about seven days.

If you want to enjoy big discounts, though, then try Caribbean cruises during the fall. Rates are substantially lower (sometimes half the regular rate), and you usually don’t need to wait in line for slots to free up.

A Guide To Caribbean Cruises

A Guide To Caribbean Cruises

 

When deciding between Eastern or Western Caribbean, your decision should depend on what you intend to do during the course of the cruise. As a general guide, you should go for a Western Caribbean cruise if you want to spend more time sailing (rather than going on land for other activities). Western Caribbean cruises start in either in New Orleans, Texas, or Florida, and then make their way to Palaya del Carmen in Mexico, the Caymans, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Costa Rica, among many other destinations. There are many things to do in a Western Caribbean cruise, and topping the crowd favorite are tours of the Mayan ruins.

If you want to do more shopping, though, then you might enjoy an Eastern Caribbean cruise better.  This way, you get to see the shopping spots and fantastic beaches of the Bahamas and Puerto Rico (among others). 

If you can’t decide, it might be a good idea to buy guide books to Caribbean cruises. Many books offer you great advice on the itinerary and the cruise ship to tally with your goals and interests.

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