To the people I have travelled with

Good travel companions are hard to find. It’s not as easy as asking the people you’re with every day out for dinner. You don’t just ask people in your network to join you for 3 to 5 consecutive days out there in the beautiful yet mad, mad world. With varying travel factors to consider, it brings out the best and ugliest in people. Being good friends in the city doesn’t necessarily mean two people would fit together in a completely different setting, especially when in transit for 10 straight hours. In other words, friends, travel is one big compatibility test.


Nikki Espartinez. You will always be my climbing buddy! (Mt. Pulag, Benguet.)


Smarla Angtuaco. To more prenup photoshoots together! (Valugan boulder beach, Batanes.)


AJ Matillano. Thanks for helping me find the right path! (Mt. Pulag, Benguet.)


Ayra Santiago. I miss you! Hope we can travel again… somewhere far from mountains naman. (Batad, Banaue.)


Byrone Fabiosa, Jemika Solidad, Osep Reyes, Guido Sarreal. Cheers to more culturally shocking adventures! (Sungco, Bukidnon.)

Dylan Chan. Salagdoong Beach, Siquijor.

Dylan Chan. The most chivalrous and generous person I know. Thanks for always hosting us in Siquijor. (Salagdoong Beach, Siquijor.)


Ebeth Acid. Let’s have more adventures like this one, gurlie! (Mt. Pulag, Benguet.)


Harris Pajimola. So glad you knew how to ride a motorbike! (Pulang Bato Hot Spring, Dumaguete.)


Jonas Roque. Abang abang ulit ng glitch? (Maadhoo Finolhu, Maldives.)


Kai Maron. We survived 8 days walking around Southeast Asia for hours! (Yogyakarta, Indonesia.)


Lai Mirasol. Cheers to an roller coaster ride of emotions in Vietnam and Cambodia! Hahaha! (Siem Reap, Cambodia.)


Marx Velasco. Selfie pa more! (Hulhumale, Maldives.)


Osep Reyes. Tour guide of the year. (Batad, Banaue.)


Renz Bulseco. We must go back to Vietnam! (Mui Ne, Vietnam.)


Six Gantioqui. Brodude. Tall and grande. (Sabtang, Batanes.)


Suzette Cuerpo. First time to meet you nasa airport na! (Maadhoo Finolhu, Maldives.)


Toney Sevilla. Gurl, you fab. First time backpacker and you never got scammed! (Mui Ne, Vietnam.)


Verna Cola. My hipsta-sistah! To more artsy stuff next year! (Pinto Art Museum, Rizal.)

Travel is only half about the destination, I believe. The other fifty percent depends on the people you share the journey with. So when I invite people out for a weekend adventure, it usually means I want to take the relationship to another level. And if I ask you out a second time, it means I thought you were an amazing travel buddy! Cheers to us!

So to the people I have traveled with in the last year: thanks for climbing the same muddy trails and watching the same sunrise as me. Thanks for sharing a tent or spending a ridiculous number of hours inside uncomfortable buses with me. Thank you for laughing at my jokes! For having the patience to take my photos even though it always takes five or more shots before I am satisfied and for lending me money when I ran out on the last day of our trip. Thank you for putting up with my mood swings and for leaving me be during my quiet alone times.

That’s a lot of shit to put up with but you survived!

There’s something about Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City. In less than 20 minutes after our plane landed at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, Lai, Renz, and I got scammed by a cab driver who apparently overcharged us for a less-than-10-minute ride to our hostel. And in our short stint in the motorbike-filled metropolis of Saigon, it wasn’t the last time a local attempted, and succeeded, to rip us off. Still, there was something about HCMC that appealed to me.
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Vietnamese food is a given. Lemongrass, basil, chilli, mint, ginger, lime. Fresh produce and minimal use of oil, yet their dishes are known for being packed with flavor and one of the healthiest on the planet. Nowhere in Manila can you find an “authentic” Vietnamese restaurant that can match the ones sold on the streets of Saigon. It will ruin you forever and the only remedy involves booking another ticket to Uncle Ho.

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Saying that the streets of Saigon is busy is a big understatement. That verb is a big disservice to the frantic paved streets and sidewalks where even grannies carrying grocery bags and ladies wearing high heels can be spotted rocking the motorbikes that rule the roads. It’s not a surprise that accidents involving these type of vehicles are rampant in Ho Chi Minh and one’s carelessness can get you consecutive hits from these mini kings and queens of the highway. But maybe it’s because I spent my college years playing patintero with buses and jeepneys that ply the parallel roads of Taft Avenue and Vito Cruz that it seemed more of an exciting challenge for me to test my pedestrian skills there.

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It should also be noted that regardless of that country’s economic standing, there is very little garbage around the city. Proof that having little money does not necessarily equate to being poor. Vietnam, in what little I have seen of it, is rich with what most first-world countries don’t have.

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Months after our trip was over, I couldn’t stop thinking about Saigon and a looming curiosity over the rest of Vietnam. In the few hours I was able to visit the city’s main architectural attractions, I had a feeling that there were several secret corners and hidden streets left for me to discover.

Yes, we got scammed. And at one point, paid P300 for a tiny serving of coconut juice… not because the locals are evil, but maybe because we lack decent currency converting skills and a little bit of common sense (in my native language, we call it ’tatanga-tanga’). But despite possibilities of frequently getting ripped off or dying from motorbike collisions, there’s something about Saigon that felt like home.

For the love of Phở!

One by one I picked the basil leaves off from its stem, spreading a pleasant aroma around our table, before sprinkling them on the bowl of noodles sitting before me. My hands trembled in excitement as I decorated the clear broth with slices of Thai chilli peppers that would give the soup its subtle kick. With the help of my fingers, the wedge of lime graciously offered its blood to the concoction. I dipped my spoon into the brew and let the liquid flow into that tiny piece of silverware, then closed my eyes in preparation because for the first time in my life, I was about to taste authentic Vietnamese Pho.

Authentic Pho. I would kill for one of this again.

Authentic Phở. I would kill for one of this again.

I had an orgasm. The moment the flavors settled on my tongue and found its way to my taste buds, my head tilted back and I moaned an expletive to the high heavens. Each ingredient sang a different note that made up a well-orchestrated chorus. Heat from the chilli, the sourness of lime, the sweet, peppery basil, the added crunch from the bean sprouts that complemented the smooth rice noodles that almost melted inside my mouth, and the rich beef broth that must’ve taken hours to prepare, all fused together wonderfully in one humble dish that won’t cost you more than P100 in the streets of Saigon.


Phở Bắc + Bánh Mì + Beef Stew + Lemonade

Before this, my experience with this popular Vietnamese street food is comparable to my non-existent sex life. Chos. Instantly, it felt like my body was being cleansed one spoonful after the other. From a guy who used to despise the taste and texture of anything that sprouts from the earth, this green-filled dish is fucking delicious. My friends and I looked at each other in agreement and the empty bowls of it minutes after we started was enough proof.

It was the beginning of my love affair with Vietnamese cuisine and how they managed to blend all these strong flavors into healthy yet affordable dishes. Even their coffee is amazing and don’t get me started with Bahn Mi. But in the arena of Asian noodle soups, I definitely underestimated Pho.

My friends have testified that once you have tasted the real thing, you will hate yourself for it because nothing else will compare here locally. They were 100% accurate.

Agent Orange and the War Remnants Museum

“Fucking Americans”, I continued to murmur while shaking my head in disgust as I browsed through the disturbing photographs hanging on the walls of the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. When I first heard about the Vietnam War as a kid, I thought the Vietnamese were at fault because America has always been the hero in many history books. I should’ve known better. After reading the stories behind the horrifying images, what was supposed to be a light day around Saigon made me sick to my stomach instead.

The gallery has several themed halls displaying pieces related to the war. One of the most heartbreaking was a black and white photo exhibit consisting of 50 photographs by Thu An. These still moments captured the everyday struggles of Agent Orange victims as they try to cope with the crippling disease left by the Americans decades before they were even born.

Unfortunate people who were exposed to several bio chemical weapons including the Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide the US military sprayed over Vietnamese villages, suffered illnesses whose impact was said to last for generations, producing many stillborn babies and children growing up with deformed or missing body parts to this very day.


But it’s not all America’s fault. Before they got involved, Vietnam was already divided into the non-communist Chinese controlling the north and the south under the French rule. Then the rest of Indochina got involved in a battle for power and their so-called ‘reunification’ that resulted in 2 million Vietnamese deaths that included innocent lives, just because the US was afraid that communism would spread all over the world. It lasted for 20 long years and many Americans until now wonder if it was a necessary war.

The thing is… when is war ever necessary?


Many villages were wiped out during air strikes and napalm bombings. Photos showing the final moments of Vietnamese women and children before having bullets embedded on their bodies can be found at the second floor of the museum together with fragments of actual war artillery that caused these brutal murders. These images of mutilated bodies swimming in their own pools of blood became a global outrage that caused anti-war protests back in America in hopes of putting an end to the conflict with diplomacy.

The war eventually ended in 1975, but it was too late for thousands of innocent Vietnamese who perished under the hands of those animals.


Sure, one might think the photographs may be too one-sided against the US, but how else can you view such acts of terrorism? Mixed emotions flooded the walls of the museum. I drowned in anguish. When I bought the tickets to this museum, I expected getting bored and getting out in half an hour. But for the entire two hours we spent inside the building, I hated those fucking Americans for the barbaric things they have done. And the worst part of the whole thing is many are still suffering because of something that took place more than 50 years ago.

Images documenting the brutality of war may have been displayed throughout the museum, but the real remnants of war can be found living in the rural areas of Vietnam. They continue to suffer in memory of man’s never-ending hunger for power. A life they did not deserve.

Scenes from the sandbox of Mui Né

When the 4×4 jeep we were in rolled on the national highway we could see nothing else but a sky of midnight blue. Our driver, Vu, disturbed the morning with EDM music blasting on the stereo and all I could make out of the surroundings were hazy silhouettes of trees and a hundred tiny lights floating on the sea beside the road. It felt like a music video for Avicii except it was 4:30 in the morning and all four of us were still half asleep and shivering from early morning chills.


Mui Ne is a coastal town in Southern Vietnam famed for the big waves on its beach and sand dunes.

The day we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, we immediately boarded a sleeper bus that would take us to Binh Thuan province. After an uneventful 6 hours of travel time on top of a 3-hour flight after a 5-hour delay caused by an outgoing storm in Manila, the four of us decided to take things slow for the rest of the day. We only had exactly 24 hours to spend in Mui Ne but everyone agreed that a leisurely stroll around town, a few hours in the resort’s lukewarm pool, and a strong dose of Pho are exactly what we needed to get our energies back up in time for our half-day tour the following day.

Our alarms simultaneously went off at 4:00 AM, and as schedules, Vu was waiting for us outside the resort thirty minutes later. Today’s agenda: Mui Ne’s famous sand dunes.


We rented ATVs to get around because it would take too damn long and tiring to explore by foot.

To avoid the heat, we chose to start our tour at 4:30 in the morning in time to catch the sunrise at the White Sand Dunes.

To avoid the heat, we chose to start our tour at 4:30 in the morning in time to catch the sunrise at the White Sand Dunes.

Each ATV rental costs around P700 and it's good enough for two people.

Each ATV rental costs around P700 and it’s good enough for two people.

I couldn’t help but sing some lines from ‘A Whole New World’ because aside from the sand, it really felt like we were outside Southeast Asia.

The sky gradually transitioned to a subtle periwinkle. Light emerged from the horizon and poured itself over to the white slopes of wind-ssculpted sand which we saw from a far distance. Soon enough, we found ourselves driving ATVs across a great sandbox, destroying the peace with the rumble of our engines and swooping past people who decided to explore the dunes on foot.

Lines from Aladdin’s popular romantic ballad played on loop inside my head, an unavoidable thing to do when you are surrounded by what seemed to be an infinite amount of sand. We went over, sideways and under on three wheels, instead of a magic carpet ride. I drove my ATV to the tallest hill and watched as tiny strangers created patterns with their footsteps across the vast landscape. The coordinates of where I was standing can be traced with a flick of my finger, but the scenery tricked my mind into believing I was in the middle of nowhere. But regardless of my position, I was clearly in awe. It was hard to believe we were still in the same country known for streets overrun by motorbikes. There, it was just us and that enormous Saharaesque landscape.

I was in the middle of a vast sandbox. I could just lay there for hours as long as the sand’s not too hot.


It was also my first time to operate an ATV and despite my dislike for anything too fast and furious, I had an amazing time on it.

While most tourists prefer renting motorbikes to get around Mui Ne, we opted for a 4×4 drive around the countryside. Besides none of us knew how to drive one.


The white sand dunes is located an hour away from the center of town but is certainly worth the trip. Half-day tours cost $10 per person during lean seasons.

What was supposed to be a 30-minute ATV ride extended to 60; but that single hour was all it took to make up for the stress we accumulated the previous day. The sun soon caught up with us and we decided to move on to the next spot in hopes of avoiding the morning rush of tourists. But in our heads we knew that was already the highlight of our day.

Unlike the white sand dunes, its much redder sibling is located just 10km away from the main resort strip of Mui Ne, making it more accessible to the public. And the more people it attracts, you are certain the more scammers flock the place.

It is populated by lady vendors making a living by balancing two plastic buckets of local delicacies on their shoulders, and a bunch of kids who are infamous for persistently offering plastic sheets to use for sandboarding. We avoided the pesky toddlers, because according to many online reports, they are notorious for stealing from tourists while pretending to assist them in the dunes. Instead, we approached one of the Vietnamese women who sold us their local version of taho, only instead of the sweet arnibal, it uses lemongrass and ginger syrup, which I personally prefer because of the play of sweet and tangy flavors on my palate.


The yellow sand dunes is closer to the main resort strip, but because it’s open to the public, there are more people here than its white, much bigger sister.


Flocks of middle-aged Vietnamese women can be seen wandering around the sand dunes carrying baskets of treats for the tourists.


One of the ladies was selling a dessert similar to our Taho, but instead of arnibal, they use ginger and lemongrass to achieve an interesting flavor.


These women barely understood any English so we weren’t able to get the names of what they were selling.

With the day’s temperature quickly rising, the four of us wrapped things up and didn’t bother any further explorations of the place. Based on experience, the sand would be scorching our soles in a matter of minutes after being exposed to too much sun. Besides, compared to the one we went to earlier, the red sand dunes seemed like it’s only worth a half-hour visit.

Vu then drove us to the quaint fishing village at the north end of Mui Ne bay but the lack of activity in the area made me feel like he just dropped us off at a random dirty beach where empty shellfish and plastic trash littered the shore. It was a Sunday in Vietnam and the fishermen were probably having their day off, leaving the beach bland and boring.

As the day progressed, the beads of sweat forming around my head doubled. The heat started getting its way into my nerves, making me more anxious to get back to the hotel than finish the rest of our tour. That’s the problem when you have too much fun way early in the day. Everything else seemed to fall short and there was no way to get the energy back after the morning’s adrenaline-filled activity.


Used shells and trash washed up on one of the fishing villages.


One of the few fishermen left by the shore.

Our last stop for the day is a stream that winds its way through sand formations that resembled a mini Grand Canyon. Barefoot, we treaded on ankle-deep water and followed the tiny river while looking at the striking colors that accompanied us on the way. To our left, red and white walls of sand towered over us while vibrant green vegetation with an occasional pop of lavender can be seen on our right. Above us, nothing but blue skies.

The scene came straight out of a fairy tale which is probably why the locals named it the Fairy Stream, only, at the time we were there the only fairy spotted was myself. Even though it only took us half an hour to enjoy the scenery, I left the stream feeling refreshed.


One of the guardians at the entrance to the Fairy Stream


This enchanting place got its monicker because it looked like it was drawn out from a fairy tale book.


Locally known as Suoi Tien, the Fairy Stream is a small river that winds its way through canyons made entirely from sand.


Toney and his head-to-toe poses at one of the mini canyons of fairy stream

Mui Ne delivers and is clearly one of the highlights of my Vietnam trip!

Mui Ne delivers and is clearly one of the highlights of my Vietnam trip!

Still playing his favorite club music at maximum volume, Vu parked his jeep in front of our resort around 10:00 in the morning. Glad that we still had a couple of hours left to burn before checkout, I quickly disrobed and jumped in the pool, recalling my satisfaction in the past day’s activities.

I liked Mui Ne and the fact that we didn’t have to rush despite the limited amount of time we had to fit everything in. 24 hours was just right for us at the time, but after coming back to Manila, I felt like I wanted to get to know the place more even for just another night. The place had enough sizzle. But it also has the ability to simmer you down like a lover that kisses you sensually after a hot, raunchy ride. It keeps you interested and curious for more. But you don’t feel the need for a second affair anytime soon.

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