Tag Archives: travel

Ho Chi Minh City was formerly known as Saigon (and other stories in Viet Nam – 1st of 4 parts)

Favorable economic conditions and occasional promo fares have certainly allowed most Filipinos travel to places within and outside the country. It was February 2015, and the lunar new year in Viet Nam is set to be on the late night of the 18th (that was Wednesday going to Thursday). Lunar new year celebration in this country is very lovely as almost everywhere are flowers of various colors, sizes and arrangements, making even the most manly of men (like me *cough*) feel a little bit flowery inside. I’d say that one of the best times to visit Ho Chi Minh (HCM) is during this lunar new year season.

Two days earlier, we arrived in HCM, having been fetched from the Tan Son Nhat International Airport by a not-good-English versed, 40-something man. He wore a collared shirt, wore slacks and leather shoes, and walked in a bandy-like manner (medyo sakang ba). Around 5’2″ and a thinning hair line, he held a placard bearing my friend’s name. We approached him with a “hi, that’s me…” (while pointing at the name written on the poster) and without further ado, or even checking for our passports, led us straight to a white car. A friend did all the tour and hotel booking mostly through Agoda, and the hotel we stayed in provided an airport transport service. Although the car did not bear the hotel’s name, we put our luggage in the trunk nonetheless (while I secretly took note of the plate number), communicated further with gestures to the driver, and vroomed through the Philippine-like streets of Ho Chi Minh, feeling “is this the right transport service or not?” Oh yeah!

I wanted to interview the driver but unfortunately I can’t speak Vietnamese. I stared at the empty shops instead, a big “Fifty Shades of Grey” advertisement, litter (mostly plastic packaging), a group of drunk men walking away from a still open establishment, and dark street scenery typical at 2 am. Around 20 minutes later, the driver says “here.”

My friend wondered if we were at the right place, since the hotel entrance we were looking at did not match the pictures shown in the internet. Again with not much ado, the driver got some of our bags, walked away from the parked car and led us into a dimly-lit alley. Images from the movie “Taken” flashed in my mind, so I kept my guard up and passport ready, in case we will be trafficked to Paris. But my friend recognized the hotel’s name, so we will not be kidnapped, and we were in the right place. We stood in front Mai Vy Hotel, only that it was closed.

The driver pushed the doorbell button, and a young man, obviously just woken up, opened the collapsible metal doors. The two talked for about 6 sentences, and we entered the hotel. The driver went his way, and I said my first Vietnamese word for the day, “kamm uhn” to him. The young man also does not speak English, and we just communicated with gestures. There were a lot of slippers, shoes and sandals before the main entrance, and in this sense you would recognize a customary law of leaving your footwear outside before entering. My friend showed a print-out of the reservation for a room for three, and the young man led us to the 4th floor.

The room was ok, small but good enough for three backpackers. There were three large beds, a small fridge, some beer (YAY!) and three bottles of water. The TV showed mostly Vietnamese speaking dialogue, even foreign shows were voiced over in Vietnamese. Although I found it funny at first, it was a very cheap and efficient way for citizens to access foreign content. There was a single voice actor translating all the dialogue, for example, the video shows a female character speaking but a delayed male voice will say the dialogue in Vietnamese. We unpacked, washed ourselves, and caught some zzzzzzs.

If you booked a tour in HCM, you would surely go to the War Remnants Museum and be exposed to the horrors of war and the ease that peace and reconciliation brings; Ben Thanh Market and HCM’s personality; Handicapped Handicrafts and the ways victims of war strive for a better life; the Independence Palace or the Reunification Palace and too many to mention sights and sounds; the Saigon Central Post Office; and the Notre Dame Cathedral (Roman Catholic). All these places and more, we visited with other tourists from all over, although our group mostly came from Chile and the Philippines. (Shout out to the three recent medical doctors from Davao City who we met during the tour. I hope for the best in your careers and future travels, Alexa, Pat and Jeb! Siya nga pala ah, crush kita, *toooot*. Ah, kapag nagkasakit ako at ikaw doctor ko, tingin mo pa lang, gagaling na ako ah! *badum tsss*).

There is a lot to see in HCM, it was just that if you are on a group tour, you all have the same schedule, with a lot of places packed in the itinerary that it is not enough to appreciate and read all the exhibits, smell all the aromas, and internalize the curves, arrangements and movements of all the places. I definitely would have spent more time in the Museum, Palace, and the Post Office. Probably next time. Soon.

The tour finished around 3 in the afternoon, and we went back to our hotel for some rest. There was still sunlight so we decided to stroll around, exchanged some of our limited-edition, hard to earn US dollars (we changed our peso into USD back home) in the hotel for 21,000 Dong to a dollar. We walked out the hotel almost millionaires and visited the nearby park, (our hotel, which was in District 1 was near a park), saw more flowers, and hiked a few minutes more to a local market. A place where you can see a lot of Deuters, Jansports, North Faces and other famous brands like they were the real thing. They looked authentic indeed, but cost much less. There were also souvenirs like key chains and ref magnets, coffee and more coffee and lots of cheap stuff. But it’s wise to budget and canvass the best price, and so that we did, and walked from stall to stall.

You can haggle by the way, but only for the next lowest price. If you lower your price further, all you’ll be hearing is Vietnamese. It’s wise to have visited all the shops you can, find the best price available, go back to your choice stall, and then buy your item of interest right away. Or just ask for the next lowest price for the item you like in the first stall you visit.

While non-food stuff are cheap, the food was just a bit expensive relative here in the Philippines. That’s okay though, since the food we had was great! And to cap the whole day off, a bottle of beer! Beer is cheap in HCM!


It was a fun-filled 1st day indeed, until I found out that I lost around 560,000 Dong (around 25 USD or P1,100). We still have 3 days left, and of course I travel with low budget. Will I survive the next three days without beer? I just gave my kamm uhn to God because I had a great day! (Interested to know what happened next? Check: https://makkosadventures.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/hcm-2nd-of-4-parts/)

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Finding Flora, Apayao [part 1/2]

Apayao amazing geographical fact or fiction?!

Traveling with us in Apayao was ma’am RCB, telling us that the geographical boundaries of Apayao looked like a human head in side view, like so:

Amazing! And if you will include Kalinga, it would really appear like the bust of President Ferdinand Marcos in side view. A contributor in Wikipedia [hehe] even suggests that it was positioned like so, to portray the late leader was onlooking his home province. Too bad, such things have not been discussed in our history classes. On a personal level, I’m curious as to how the president tasked his men, budgeted the project and managed other processes involved in permanently etching his profile on the Philippines. [Calling on pareng Ambeth Ocampo! and other historians out there!]


It’s unfortunate that regions in CAR are not adequately road-connected with one another. So starting off from Abra, we had to pass through the provinces of Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte and Cagayan in order to reach Apayao. That meant making side trips to stroll around Vigan City, viewing windmills at Bangui, and having lunch at Patapat Viaduct.

As we were all first timers to Flora, Apayao, finding the entrance to Flora along Maharlika Highway involved a lot of will to stay awake, and scanning intersections here and there. We asked a lot from locals, even slowing down along road signs to check if we were on the right track. And then, around ten hours on the highway and behold, a weathered and miniscule signage, indicating that we were near the entrance to the municipality of Flora.

Upon arriving at the next intersection however, all were doubting. Is this is it? An un-concreted road? Seemingly leading to just another barangay in the area? As they say, when in doubt, ask.

We saw a provincial bus ahead of us, and it brought relief, as it definitely assured the group that we were nearing our destination. Indeed, it was the right path.

As we were still in the territory of Cagayan, our navigator noted that it may be the reason why the highway was not concreted – that we were in Cagayan. And certainly, as we reached the arc welcoming us in Apayao, was the welcoming comfort of a smooth and concreted road.

What happened next? Tsk! Part 2 would be a photo essay of the Flora adventure. 😀

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Travelling 2011: 5 Memorable Adventures

Thinking of the five topmost places I travelled to last year, it seems that these were the only places I have been to (well, aside from going to Manila) in the first place! 🙂

Pinaka una nung 2011: Besao and Sagada, Mountain Province

through Wikipedia

It was May and we attended a social research workshop organized by UP Baguio. Aside from the really cool set-up of the workshop, was the equally interesting location  – Besao, Mountain Province.

Well, it was interesting for me because this was where my maternal grandfather originated. Ironically, though growing up in Sagada (a nearby municipality), I had never been to Besao, which is around 30 minutes when driving from Sagada Central. Well, it seems these sorts are the usual ironies of life (locals taking for granted locals). Hmmm…

St. Benedict Parish

through Wikipedia

It was a hands-on experience, as we did field work to gather community data. Hiking for hours (ok, minutes siguro diay), and seeing flowers, birds and bees in between.

And, what would you do after a hard day’s work (after a conference is over? Partey partey syemps! And by partey partey, I meant touring caves, echoing valleys, and huge waterfalls at… Sagada! So, together with new found friends, we went to (just to name a few) Sumaguing Cave, Echo Valley, and the big falls near our place, Bomod-ok.

You’d see this along the road to Sumaguing Cave


Fidelisan Terraces

Pangalawa: Cagayan de Oro, Misamis Oriental

through Wikipedia

By August, I was again carrying some under wears (two briefs to be exact, plus the one I wore :p) to CDO for an academic conference. Well, maybe not FOR an academic conference, but AS WELL AS an academic conference. I also met fellow presenters, Jerr and Vicpher, two great fellows from Cebu and Zamboanga del Sur during that trip.

So again, what to do after a hard day’s work? White, este, brown water rafting! Well the water was really brown due to the silt-rich quality of Cagayan River. Anyway, it was my first time rafting, kaya ang saya-saya!!

Starting station for the beginner’s rafting course

Checking in at Traveler’s Pod was also great, a hotel that let guests sleep in rectangular “pods” (meaning, being separated from fellow travelers with a curtain).

Traveller’s Pod

Most of all, it had clean restrooms!

Pangatlo: Baguio City

Yep, I’m from Baguio, but what made me see another of Baguio’s soul was because of Neha. Neha is a community organizer based in India who came to the Philippines for an NGO conference. As she had free days to travel after the conference, she chose Baguio, Sagada and Banawe as some of the places to go. (She made the right choice. :D)

What made it memorable for me, was, the enlightening conversations I had with her. As I’m into these sorts (enlightenment, even thought about becoming a Buddhist :D), she had a lot to say about it, and about life in general. Anyway, I could blog about those enlightening thoughts some other time.

In addition, we were just randomly walking around the public market when, she was so surprised to ask me about a signage of a Hindi temple (she’s Hindi by the way) at a public market. I had only known then that a Hindi temple exists in Baguio (pala), which makes sense, since a number of Indians live here.

And it was my first time going inside a Hindi sacred house. Hehe!

It’s around Baguio’s public market

Pang-apat: Going to Angeles City, Pampanga

A friend invited me to inspire students in AUF about biodiversity and solid wastes last October. Incidentally during that period, Central Luzon was flooded due to Pedring and Quiel. Though the general atmosphere of media reports seem to discuss because-of-this and because-of-that logic behind the catastrophe, I’m sure man’s careless attitude about the environment is the root cause not just that flood, but for almost all the floods happening. So, again, let’s be more environment-conscious ok?

Tambay sa hayuway

Pinakahuling napuntahan noong 2011: Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte

Why? Let the pictures speak for themselves. 😀

1. Get awed and mesmerized

2. Discover and explore

3. Get tired, so rest for another adventure.

So where would Makko’s adventures be this 2012? Op kors, sa great outdoors! 😀

I hope your itchy traveler’s feet be scratched by stepping on to new lands this year and beyond! Enjoy the places you go and always be enlightened. The essences of life are waiting out there to be discovered. By you. 😉

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