A guide to going and staying in Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya is an ancient city around 80 kilometers north of Bangkok. Because of its glorious temples, it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, and subsequently, one of the most famous places to visit in Thailand.

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This was one of the first temples we saw in Ayutthaya. It was right beside the guesthouse we stayed in!

As soon as our plane landed in Bangkok, my best friend and I strapped our back packs in, put on our hats, and marched off to the connecting trains to get to Ayutthaya. Thankfully, Thailand has a great transportation system and we didn’t on the first day, at least have to go through all the hardships of taking buses and explaining to the non-English speaking conductor which part of Bangkok we wanted to go to.

How to get to Ayutthaya from Bangkok the cheapest way (a.k.a. the train way): Upon arrival at Suvarnabhumi Airport, follow the signs to the train station, and ride it up to Makkasan Station. Transfer to MRT station at Phetchaburi (an ample number of signs can guide you to there), then ride the train again until you get to Hua Lampong.

Our first pictures in Thailand consisted mainly of pictures in Hua Lampong Station, where we waited for a train to Ayutthaya. Since the trains to the north of Bangkok were older and a tad warmer than the city trains, it was naturally very cheap. On our way there, we took a rapid train that cost us less than 50 baht each.

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The old trains made me feel like Harry Potter waiting in Platform 9 and 3/4

The ride to Ayutthaya took a few hours, so J and I caught up on sleep, our hands securely wrapped around our backpacks. So by the time the train stopped at Ayutthaya, we had enough energy to bounce out the train, get on a tuktuk, and arrive safely at the place we would come to love:

Ayotthaya Riverside Bullet Review

Price: 5/5
Service: 5/5
Location: 3/5
Amenities: 4/5

J and I booked the Ayotthaya Riverside Guesthouse in Agoda because it was one of the places with the highest reviews AND an affordable price. And well, it was just perfect. The people were super kind and friendly people. They called a tuktuk for us when we needed it, they were more than willing to help us plan our Ayutthaya day, and they even gave us free toast with really good pineapple jam the day we had to leave.

The rooms were really good, too, especially considering the price. J and I paid around 400 baht for a single room with a big bed. Although there was no air conditioning, we still had a large fan, and we could keep the windows open in the night because there was a mosquito net around the bed. They have hammocks and dainty tables by the river: a perfect place to have breakfast in. And the toilet is this pretty wooden thing with no ceiling, so you can take a shower or whatever it is you want to do in the toilet literally under the stars with only a leafy tree blocking the way. Haaa, paradise. 

The only downside was the transportation. It was a bit of a distance from the central block where most of the temples could be found, but in the end this mattered little to us because almost all the locations in Ayutthaya are hard to get to anyway.

There are an ample amount of temples one can visit in Ayutthaya, and going through all of them would definitely bore you and take up too much of my study time, so instead, I’ll tell you about the top 5 temples we we loved in Ayutthaya. To go to all of these temples, we rented an Ayutthaya, paying around 400 baht for three hours, if I remember correctly. As for our entrance tickets, J and I bought the “All in ticket”, paying only 220 baht each as entrance to 6 temples, when it would have originally been 50 baht for each

1. Wat Chaiwatthanaram

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Siiiiiiiiigh. Isn’t it beautiful?

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Everywhere I looked seemed picturesque! Even the statues sitting peacefully on their mini temples

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That’s J basking in the glory of the place. Don’t the bricks look just beautiful?Wat Phra Mahathat

2. Wat Mahathat

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The eerily beautiful Buddha Head in tree roots. The signage beside it reads: The head was once part of a sandstone Buddha image which fell off the main body onto the ground. It was gradually trapped into the roots of a constantly growing Bodhi tree.

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This felt very jungle book-y to me. So beautiful.

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Yes. This milk tea will be part of my feature. We drank milk tea every single day we were there but we never got to taste anything that tasted half as good as the one we purchased in a small cart beside . A must try!

3. Wat Ratchaburana

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I know it’s far off, but this place made me think of the colloseum

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Window view

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This made me wonder if it was the body of the buddha’s head in the tree roots

What were your favorite temples in Ayutthaya? 🙂

 

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WHY PINOYS SHOULD STUDY ABROAD

Growing up in a middle class family in the Philippines, going abroad seemed like a dream for me. I always felt like going abroad to a far-off university was near off impossible. The school fees paid in other countries were almost a hundred times more than we paid locally (no kidding). It was a privilege only the richest of the rich could afford, else, it was only an impossibility that they show in the movies to make you hope you can get it too. There isn’t any statistics on it yet, but I’d say that a great chunk of the Filipino people never even get to go abroad in their lifetime. It is no wonder then, that when I submitted my application for a one-term exchange student opportunity in British Columbia, Vancouver, I had zero to very very very little hopes of being chosen. Aside from my cynicism, I studied in a university with a population of 10,000, and only five students would be accepted. I had just learned how to compute probabilities that sem, and I was trying to be as realistic as possible.

But like Harry Potter getting his letter from Hogwarts, I got a note from our university’s admin that I had qualified to go on exchange!

I’d wager a guess that a lot of university students were like me then. Maybe you had seen a post on facebook calling for applications to go on exchange, and you scrolled it down. Maybe you can’t even imagine yourself applying anyway, how would you even afford to go? Maybe you don’t see any point in it. Or maybe you think it won’t be worth the effort. So here I am, and I’ll try to tell you that it is.

1. It’s gonna put the whole world into proper perspective

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This is my friend peering at a telescope by a peer somewhere in BC

Staying in the same country for almost 18 years led me to be boxed into the limitations set to me by my local environment. Before studying and going abroad, my dreams seemed to me to forever be only dreams. It was only when I left the country and saw people actualizing what they sought out to do, that I knew there was a possibility for my hopes to happen. It was only then that I saw people actually becoming writers, or actors, or musicians. I spoke to people chasing these opportunities with a fearless resolve I lacked within myself.

And so it was only when I went that I saw as a truth, that the world was so much bigger than what I had painted it out to be. There were so many opportunities and so many possibilities in our lives that were more than we thought we had.

2. It’ll teach you how to better interact with people

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The English Bay in Downtown Vancouver at sunset

We naturally adjust to new ways of interacting with people when we are put in newer environments. It was the same when I went abroad to study, only this time around, it was in a whole grander scale. Aside from meeting people from Canada, I also met people from all over the world because there were so many international students at UBC. I talked to people of different cultures, saw how they acted and reacted, and heard their stories. And of course, being in a new environment that I would stay in for four months, I had to learn how to adjust to this new culture and people.

3. It will teach you so much about yourself

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Climbing Mt. Seymour

I’m gonna go out and say that going on exchange was one of the most life changing things I have done, mostly because it taught me so much of myself. I’m sure my other friends would agree. There is something about being in a different country, and giving time to discover a new place, that will teach you so much of yourself.

One of my friends decided that she wanted to be an actress, another found that she was actually beautiful, and the other saw that she needed to travel the world.

4. It will make you love your country more

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This is one of the first shots I took when I got back to the Philippines. I couldn’t help but notice that the sky looked more beautiful in my home country

This is the irony: we thought that being in a country that was so different from ours and being in a position that was so comfortable would further alienate us from our home country. But oh we were proven wrong, seeing the developments that was possible for our country, seeing how other people sang their love for their people made us realize that the same was possible for the Philippines.

 

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN SPELUNKING IN ARAN CAVE

DISCLAIMER: Forgive me for the low quality photos! It was incredibly difficult to get any good photos inside the cave because of the low lighting (it is literally pitch black inside, the only illumination we got was from the headlights) and the fact that we only brought one phone (we were scared to bring any cameras inside because we couldn’t be sure that it would get out still in one piece)

Here is a story: during the days of the construction of a road in the local province of Benguet, Philippines, some of the workers mysteriously went missing. Upon investigation, the locals claimed that these workers had been taken by the “big people” and bought to the caves under the mountain. The large caves were left largely unexplored, and in 1990, an earthquake cracked the mountain and covering the entrance. Today, a small crevice can be found at the side of a mountain which serves as the entrance. Inside is a cave that serves as a destination for adventurers, spelunkers, and brave tourists. They call it the Aran Cave, meaning “giant”.

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We were all to busy looking at where we were stepping to take great photos, but it was beautiful inside

My high school friend wanted us to have a year starter celebration. And he wanted us to have an adventure. I almost refused: my sister had told her about her experience in Aran Cave, and how it was largely possible to be put into very dangerous situations once inside. But after promising myself I would go on more travels this year, I couldn’t say no. So one cool January morning, we packed our bags and headed for Aran Cave.

NOTE: Aran Cave is 30-45 minutes away from Baguio City center. If you don’t have a car, there are jeepneys that run up to 5PM, and they only cost PHP 35.00 per person!

The first thing we saw upon getting out of the jeepney was a small open shack with a registration table and Crocs hanging by the side. This is where you can pay for a guide and headlights, and also leave your things. This cost PHP 165.00 each. You also have the option to rent the shoes for PHP 35.00 each.

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This is a picture of the shoes I rented! It was reeeeally good. I felt like spiderman climbing rocks because it almost felt like it clung to the surface of anything I stepped on!

After changing into the proper attire (I recommend leggings, rash guard, and CROCS. You’ll be doing a lot of crawling and holding onto sharp rocks, and these clothes are best to protect yourself from random cuts. They’re also perfect for swimming—another activity you’ll be doing later on) and securing all your things with the admin at the registration table, the guide will lead you to the mountains opposite the ones you are in, and you’ll be crossing the river through the hanging bridge.

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The better views were before getting into the cave, of course, because of the great lighting from the sun!

You’ll then be walking through an uphill pathway of huge rocks, until you get to the small crevice that serves as an entrance.  Before we went in, the guide told us a few things:

  1. Aran cave was not a recreational cave, it was a more technical one, and the experience, especially for beginners was not going to be easy
  2. Being stupid (which in this case meant careless) was not allowed
  3. Follow the guide a.k.a.: if he walks, you walk. If he crawls through mud, you crawl through mud. If he wades across water, you wade across water.
  4. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, and something else (I’m pretty sure the complete quote can be found in google)

Here, I was forced to swallow the last traces of my fears. I was with a group of really outdoorsy friends, but I was not willing to be the person everyone has to slow down for. So we buckled on our headlights and started the journey.

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That’s me trying to get in, while my friend laughed at me from inside

The guide wasn’t lying. The entire trip was an experience. To get into the cave, we had to get down on all fours, and squeeze ourselves through the small hole. And that was the easy part. After a few moments of relative peace where we just had to walk through chambers, we then had to rappel down a sharp edge, wade through freezing chest-high water then squeeze into and climb down tiny holes with only the guide’s hands as a step. Then, after following a steady stream of water which eventually led to a creek, we arrived at a place which made me genuinely worry about my life.

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The brave guides held to the wall like Spiderman while they pointed at us safe places to put our feet on

We had to rappel sideways using only a rope (no helmets or any other safety equipment) through a wall while a roaring and God-knows-how-deep creek rushed underneath us. I’m pretty sure I was shaking through the whole experience, but the experience after it was worth it. After some more hiking, he reached two pools, the latter one with a small waterfall in it. And although the water was freezing, my friends and I couldn’t help but swim.

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The water was freezing cold, but we managed to smile it off for the picture

It is after the second pool that the guide led us back to the entrance, this time using a route that made us crawl through mud, slide our butts down rock, and lay ourselves flat (as in, like a worm) on the ground and push ourselves through a very small slit between two rocks. By the time we again saw the light of day breaking itself through the holes in the cave wall, we had already spent around 2 ½ hours inside the cave.

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Muddy, wet, and tired, but so very fulfilled.

We were naturally exhausted when we got out, but all of us agreed that the experience was one we were willing to repeat again, and again, and again (it turned out to be true, because two hours later we ended up rock climbing to find a waterfall…but that’s another story).

Have you ever gone spelunking? Do tell me about your stories, too!

 

Despite everything, thank you 2016! [Photo Gallery]

I’d hate to be all negative here, but 2016 was shitty. It gave the world President Duterte, President Trump, and lots of death. It gave me three boxes full of cases to finish in five months, coupled with a cough that never seemed to go away. It took from this world a person I have loved long before I knew what the word meant, and who loved me more than was possible.

Looking back, I find it funny that one of my closest friends told me at the end of 2015 that 2016 was going to be my year. It obviously was not, but it certainly has been the most interesting and that, despite everything, is something to be thankful for. It’s taught me not to not waste my efforts doing stuff that bring nothing but superficial happiness, and to invest some of it in things bigger than work or play. More than anything, it’s made me realize the fragility of time, and how possibly beautiful moments can slip away so easily if you don’t make the most of them.

I would also say it’s been a pretty good year for travelling, though I (predictably) didn’t get to all the places I had dreamed of going to. There were a lot of milestones, though. For one, I finally got to travel to another country with my best friend. I had many spontaneous trips in the locality. And just this December, I was able to revisit my roots and culture by visiting the mountains of Cordillera.

That being said, here are my favorite five places of 2016:

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The majestic Wat Chai Wattanaram in Ayutthaya, Thailand

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Khaosan Road in Bangkok, Thailand: “The centre of the backpacking universe”

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Historical Fort Santiago, Manila, Philippines

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Mountains of the Cordillera, Philippines

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In Mainit, Mt. Province, Philippines boiling hot water gush out of the local village walls to form springs

 

 

 

Sky High Bar Bullet Review

We wanted to celebrate the end of the semester feeling like we were on top of the world, and Sky High Bar seemed like a good place to do it. Sky High Bar is located at the top of Ace Hotel & Suites, in Pasig City, Philippines. It felt great just chilling and sipping cocktail drinks with the beautiful sunset, and later night lights, view. The prices for the cocktail mixes were also relatively cheap for a high rise lounge, but I did feel like the food could have been improved a notch.

Ambiance: 4/5
Food: 3/5
Drinks: 3/5
Service: 5/5
Price: 3.5/5

Note: We were able to get some seats just in time for the sunrise despite not being able to reserve, but do so just in case!

6 things to keep in mind before visiting Thailand

Last May 2016, my best friend (J) and I booked our tickets to our very first out of the country trip together. The second we received our booking confirmation, all the excitement hormones surged through our bodies and we sat staring at our screens deliriously happy and broke.

We were on our way to Thailand!

Locally, not a lot of Filipinos choose Thailand as a vacation spot, but I’ve heard so much of our neighboring country from a lot of my friends from the West. So basically Thailand, The Land of Smiles, is a country in the Southeast Asia. It’s incredibly popular for its beaches, temples, and palaces, but also because of its proximity to other countries. From Thailand, one can easily take a train or another plane to Myanmar and Laos in the North, Cambodia in the East, and Malaysia in the South.

The country was absolutely breathtaking and colourful. I loved it to bits. Everything was cheap (yes, even for my country’s standards!), there was so much to do, it was tourist friendly, and it was just so… alive. 

But anyway, after booking, J and I had roughly one month to plan and prepare (and save up again). I had thought then that I utilized my time well, but by oh golly, Thailand proved me wrong. So since I’d rather not let anyone go through the inconveniences I went through due to my unpreparedness, here are some tips to remember before visiting Thailand:

1. Exchange your money to Baht before leaving for Thailand

Unless you have an ATM that would work abroad, do exchange your cash before going to Thailand. Just to clarify though, there are banks and independent money changers practically everywhere but you would be wasting precious time queuin up to get your money exchanged. I also realized that the rates in the Philippines are actually a lot better than the rates they had offered in Thailand. Best to check the exchange rates before leaving, so you can strategize where you get the best out of your money!

If worst comes to worst though, from my short stay in Thailand, I’d say the best bank to get your money changed is at Siam Commercial Bank, or for even better rates, the independent money changer Super Rich.

2. Book accommodations online

Being the perfect procrastinators, J and I failed to book accommodations for our night in Bangkok. We shrugged it off, even as we got on board the plane to Thailand, because we were confident that we’d find a decent one anyway, what with all the hotels and hostels and dormitories in Thailand.

Again, Thailand proved us wrong (and we promised ourselves we would never procrastinate again). When we arrived in Bangkok it was already 11 PM, and most of the accommodations we had searched in advance were fully booked. In the end, we settled with a dodgy hostel that I do not dare remember. Seriously, guys. It was traumatazing, but we were desperate. So the lesson is: book your lodgings in advance! You can find hundreds online!

Personally, I found Agoda really helpful for booking places in Hua Hin and Ayutthaya.

3. Have a rough idea of your travel routes

Nothing beats preparation.

Thailand has a pretty decent transportation system. But it can save so much time and effort if you have a rough sketch in your mind of all the places you want to go, and how you plan to get there. Especially if you plan to use the public transpo system.

Print a copy of the railway routes in Bangkok; search “how to get there” blogs on google; jot down important details in your travelling notebook. There are so many things you can do.

4. Bring mosquito repellent

A week after we got home from our visit, J got dengue fever. It’s a kind of fever that’s transmitted by mosquito bites. It was only the minor type, so she was fine after a few days. While it was entirely possible that she got bit when we got home, it’s always better to be safe than sorry right? 

You’ll want to be out and about touring the streets of Thailand even from the late afternoon til night time–and these are the hours when mosquitoes will be hunting out to feast on your blood. Thailand is very warm, so you won’t enjoy wearing sweaters or long pants to protect yourself thus, mosquito repellents! You’ll be able to buy them at local drugstores and supermarkets (also, remember, keep them in your luggage and not in your hand carry bags!).

5. Practice your negotiating skillz

While I’ve told you that things in Thailand are cheap, you’ve got to know that they can even be cheaper. Prepare your negotiating skills so you can be ready to ask for lower prices from your tuktuk driver (this is very important), night market vendor, and, well, almost everything that doesn’t have a fixed price labeled on it.

Condition yourself to politely but assertively ask for cheaper prices. While we were there, I had offers that started out from 120 Baht but went down to almost 40 Baht after we were done talking, that was 33% of the original price. Most tuktuk drivers we talked to also always began with giving us amounts that were double what we ended up paying.

6. Schedule and plan well

We stayed in Thailand for four days and four nights. In those four days, we visited three towns. And even though we enjoyed every moment of it, we were dead tired  when we finally got on the plane back to the Philippines. We surely had made the most of our trip, but then it seemed then that we maximized it too much? 

Believe the forums when they say you’ll need at least two weeks to really have a legit vacation in Thailand, people. They don’t lie!

There were lots of places I would have wanted to stay in longer, but couldn’t, because we were pressed for time. Don’t make that same mistake. There are loads of info you can find online about Thailand, so don’t hesitate to read up on those first so you know which places you’d like relax at. Even if you’re up for the up all night, adventure all day kind of wanderer, it would still help you loads to read up on the places so you won’t be struggling as much when you finally get there. Besides, planning for the trip (yes, even the transportation part- See tip #3) can actually be very exciting!

That’s all I can cook up! What tips would you give for anyone travelling to Thailand?

Note: This is the first part of my Discovering Thailand series. Stay tuned! 🙂

national museum in photos: going back in time

The National Museum of the Philippines was my attempt to go back in time.

On September 21, 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law throughout the whole Philippines. It was a floodgate to years of abuse, torture, killings, and disappearances. On November 18, 2016, that very architect of the Philippines’ dark days was buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’Cemetery). There was no announcement. No news. We only learned of it an hour before they laid his body beneath the ground. On the same day, I joined my very first street protest. I tried to find solace in the thrum of the drums, shouts of the youth, and clenched fists against the sky. On that day, I learned that I did love my country, and hours later, when I was finally out of my fresh-from-a-rally dress, kitten heels, and blazer (we were all taken unawares), I decided that there was a need to revisit my country’s past.

The National Museum of the Philippines exhibits works of art, specimens, and cultural and historical artifacts that represents the country’s rich culture, patrimony, and history. It has recently become free of charge, and has thus become more accessible to more people. It has numerous galeries, featuring everything from historical to contemporary paintings, sculptures, and photographs, and various other kinds of art. It’s a haven for artists, an inspiration  to all Filipinos, and an eye-opener to visitors.

Please note: These are only very few of the collections that one can find in the National Museum. Nothing will ever beat the experience of actually visiting the gallery.

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NOTE: The National Museum is also right beside the Rizal Park–a park serving as tribute for the country’s true heroes, including the National Hero Jose Rizal (There’s not much to see there, to be honest. I just needed to visit to remind me that the true heroes would have wanted us to not give up on everything that’s been happening in the world)