Tag: travel

Dumaguete on the Cheap

This year, I made a promise to my family that we would explore the Philippines more. We are avid travellers, but sadly, we rarely choose to go around places in our own country because 1) it is hot most of the time and 2) it almost costs as much, or sometimes more than travelling to certain countries with more pleasant weather. But, I told myself that I wouldn’t make any excuses this time and really put the Philippines in our travel agenda.

Dumaguete was actually our second planned trip around the country. The first one was to the Pagsanjan Falls in Laguna, which was really just a day trip so I don’t have a story for that visit.

Dumaguete surprised me with its natural beauty and accessibility. There are so many gorgeous places to go to in this tiny island of just over a hundred thousand people. But, as we were newbies, we took the more expensive route and hired a tour guide. You can skip this part, and benefit from my experience by reading along and finding a more cost-effective way of going around Dumaguete.

Transportation

As I’ve said, all the major attractions in Dumaguete are just 30 minutes to an hour away from the main city, so if you’re travelling in a group, just hire a van. This will set you back Php 3,500 per day, but the van is very comfortable and can easily sit 9 people, ideal for families and groups of friends. If you’re on your own, best to hire your own motorcycle guy to bring you to different places. Of course, you have to risk it because Dumaguete doesn’t require helmets for motorcycle drivers and passengers (go figure).

Accommodations

Our hotel was located at the heart of the city, and I still think it’s a good idea to do that since all sights worth seeing are just walking distance from the hotel. Next time though, I would opt to book a hotel facing the Rizal Boulevard because 1) the scenery’s great. You’re overlooking the sea and the island of Siquijor; and 2) all the major restaurants are lined up along Rizal Boulevard.

Rizal Boulevard
The Places to Hit

Siliman University- Apart from being one of the oldest universities in the Philippines, it also boasts of its very own anthropological museum and the biggest library in Dumaguete. The library is open to the public, while there is a small fee for entering the museum.

The sprawling campus grounds of Siliman University
Rizal Boulevard- For anyone who enjoys eating, or hanging out, the boulevard is the best place to walk through. More on what you can eat in this area later.

Twin Lakes of Balinsasayao- Oh my, this is probably one of the most gorgeous places you can visit. It didn’t even take us thirty minutes to get her from the hotel. Once you arrive, you can take a boat to see both lakes from a viewing point.

Manjuyod Sandbar- I’ve been to the Honda Bay sandbar in Palawan, but it’s tiny compared to the 7 km sandbar of Manjuyod. White sand, clear waters, boatmen selling fresh buko, who can say no to this gorgeous location? After you get your fill of walking (if you don’t swim) or swimming, they’ll whisk you off to the middle of the ocean to look for dolphins! Then there’s lunch on the boat where copious amounts of crabs, shrimp and fish will be served.

Pulangbato Falls and Sulphur Mountains- Pulangbato waterfalls is another easy-to-reach place in Dumaguete. You can swim here, so do bring your bathing suits along. Very near it is a hot springs resort that gets its heat from the sulphur mountains. The water is really rusty, and the stones are a magnificent copper color!

Twinning in Pulangbato Waterfalls
Eats Time to Eat!

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention all the wonderful food that you can eat and bring home from Dumaguete.

Budbod sa Tanjay – A good thing to snack on, and a cheap pasalubong to take home is Dumaguete’s version of suman (sticky sweet rice). You can choose from just plain suman, suman with chocolate (the one I got) and suman with mango. This is normally served along the marketplace. If you want to take some home, I suggest you refrigerate it, or store in the freezer until you’re ready to eat. I usually fry mine once I take them out in the freezer. Yummy breakfast!

Panda Fried Ice Cream-Located at Maria Cristina St. (very near Siliman University), this treat is like eating a donut stuffed with ice cream. I really liked it!

 Sans Rival Cafe – You can get cheap meals here (some are not even Php 200 a plate), plus you can take home a box or two of their silvanas and sansrival. This, and many more restaurants are found along the Rizal boulevard. That’s it! I hope you learned a thing or two! Happy travels =)

Chocolate silvanas? Yes, please!

Sweet, Sweet Osaka

I ‘discovered’ Osaka in 2010, and since then, have made it a pilgrimage country, one that I keep religiously going back to on an almost yearly basis. Here are the top three reasons why I love Osaka:

  1. I love Osaka because it has a proliferation of Daiso/Seria stores, my favorite fabric stores and oodles and oodles of craft supplies. Yes, it might be weird for other people to see that this is my top reason to go back, what with Daiso stores being available here in the Philippines. But, guys! The Daiso stores here are Php 88! The Daiso stores in Japan are just Php 45-50 (depending on the exchange rate). Plus, the stuff available there are really not available here (particularly craft supplies!). So do you understand why it’s the first thing I go to when I arrive in Osaka? (I imagine people shaking their heads at me…hehehe.)
  2. I love Osaka because of the proximity of very interesting places surrounding it. It’s a train ride away from Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara! It’s the home of Universal Studios, the home of Harry Potter! It’s where the Kaiyukan Aquarium is! Castles, temples! They have it all!
  3. I love Osaka because of the food! Every time I’m there, I just have to order gyoza, katsu and karaage. Not the most adventurous set of meals, but I always get a kick out of how authentic the taste is. I have yet to find a gyoza place in the Philippines that can rival Osaka’s vendo gyoza, the cheapest gyoza you can find there! And the desserts are so plentiful! Methinks Japanese, like Filipinos, love their sweets.

So, on to my actual article. On this trip, we really wanted to sample more desserts. This was the first one I tried–a cream bun from Hop Chou ala Creme in the Shinsaibashi-Namba area. The outside looks like its hard bread, but looks can be deceiving! Inside is yummy, cool and creamy filling! I chose a chocolate-flavored one because you can’t go wrong with chocolate. The thing though is that it’s not heavy on the stomach, so you could be tempted to eat more than one bun. Plus there are many flavors to choose from, which is another temptation.
The next dessert I sampled was the waffle-on-a-stick at Maison de Gigi (Shinsaibashi Suji, Chuo-Ku). We each ordered our own flavor, and I again got the chocolate-flavored one, while Bumbum got the strawberry-flavored waffle. Okay, note that this was spring time in Osaka, which may have accounted for the waffle being a bit cold. But that said, the chocolate on mine was very good, dark (the way I like it) and the waffle had the sugar crystals that gave it a bit of crunch. Bumbum polished hers off in no time.
Finally, we ate the small cheesecake tarts in Pablo and the big premium one as well. I wasn’t able to take a picture of the premium cheesecake (too busy stuffing my face with it), but here is how it looks like:

*photo borrowed from http://mogmog.us/category/review/106/

I really loved the premium cheesecake with the creme brulee-esk top. Honestly, if left alone with this cake, I could probably finish off half of it. The burnt sugar top gives a wonderful flavor to this cheesecake.

I wish I could tell you that I ate more desserts, but sadly, I did not. After all, I’m always on a diet 😜

 

Airline Review: Emirates

Although not intentional, I’m glad that I got to try a lot of different airlines this year, making it seem like my posts are cohesive and well-planned =). 

For a family trip to Germany, we opted to take Emirates. When we were scouting for airlines, we originally planned on getting Singapore Airlines again. But, since we are a big group and Emirates was cheaper, we decided to give it a go. I was dreading it a bit because I really didn’t like the Dubai airport we stopped over in our trip to Greece, but thankfully, I was proven wrong because Emirates apparently had its own terminal, which was much better than the one we landed in the first time around. All the shops were open 24 hours and there was even a live band playing at one point.

On to the good stuff: First, I noticed that the Emirates crew made an effort to be friendly. They gave warm towels before the plane took off, which in my opinion is always a good sign.The stewardess even tried to chat with my daughter. Unfortunately, it was not reciprocated because once she is strapped in, she is in entertainment-mode and is primarily concentrated on how to figure out the screen in front of her. Speaking of entertainment, Emirates had enough movies to keep me busy and not bored with the very long travel time (7 hours MNL to DBX and another 7 from DBX to Germany). The meals were quite edible, with my daughter enjoying her kid’s meal and snack pack; and daddy giving his thumbs up on the double chocolate chip cookies. By the way, my daughter’s freebies included a lunch kit, a travel blanket and a strapped bag loaded with stuff to read and craft. And while this is a small thing, it was very relaxing for me to see that when the crew dimmed the lights, the plane had a lot of pin lights overhead, mimicking a very starry night. Maybe it was to comfort the kids, as the plane was never completely dark, but for whatever reason, it looked quite beautiful. Hubby was also pleased with the leg room (he’s about 6 ft tall). I, on the other hand never seem to notice leg room because I fit anywhere! Hahah, the benefits of being tiny.

But, in spite of all those good things, Emirates would not make it to my Top 3 because of the following reasons: First off, while daughter is happy with her freebies, mommy was not happy at all because she didn’t even get a free toothbrush! They didn’t give away a basic hygiene kit, and they didn’t stock their restrooms with any either. A good airline would either have a basic kit, or have some stocked in their restrooms. A great airline would have both =). Second disappointment was the restroom. I don’t know if it was just coincidence with Middle Eastern airlines, but just like Qatar Air, the bathrooms in Emirates weren’t very well-cleaned. 

Overall though, I’d still recommend Emirates, especially when they have a good deal on the price of the ticket =)

Fukuoka Food Delights Part 2

ramenA food trip to Fukuoka would not be complete without ramen. Hubby researched that Ramen Stadium was a good place to pick our ramen meal, and so off we went! Ramen Stadium is a floor located inside a beautiful mall, called Canal City Mall, so yey to hitting two birds with one stone! As hubby is very sensitive to certain meats and veggies (no cabbage, beansprouts, potatoes and beef), we had to be extra careful in choosing our ramen. We went to Marufuku Ramen (I hope I got the name right…all signs were in Japanese) and selected via their vendo a Tonkotsu Ramen. Of course I’ve had these before so was really curious what the difference would be. For 800++ yen, we got a bowl with two pieces of chasu, kelp, an egg and nori on the side. We noted that the aroma of the ramen was a bit stronger than what we were used to. Methinks its because the chasu was smoked. It did not disappoint. The flavor of the broth was very rich, the chasu was so soft it was like chewing butter. Noodles were nicely cooked, not soft or soggy, rather on the firmer side. Even Brie polished off her plate! Maybe next time, we shall order more meat, but again for the price, quite a satisfying meal.

I’m sure it will also be worthwhile to visit the other famous ramen places at the Ramen Stadium, Canal City, Hakata.

Fukuoka Food Delights Part 1

To celebrate our 15 years of marital bliss, hubby and I decided on a less familiar, but still familiar travel destination: Fukuoka, Japan. Why Fukuoka? The answer: food!We’ve always been a great lover of Japanese food, so it was a perfect opportunity for us to see what Fukuoka had to offer. Incidentally, we discovered that some of our fave Jap food in the Phil (Uncle Tetsu for cheesecake and Nagi Universal Ramen) originated from Fukuoka.

Just so you know, we’re not really foodies. We don’t do in-depth research on the places to eat in. We’re kinda the “let’s-get-lost-and-go-into-the-resto-with-nice-food-pics” people. So on our first night, that was exactly what we did. Our hotel wasn’t really in the busy and tourist-y district so no English translations. When we entered Ten Jin Cha Han, we pointed to what looked good, while our very gracious waitress tried to understand what we were attempting to say. I ended up with a set meal composed of thinly sliced beef steak cooked in garlic sauce, cha-han (fried rice with pork bits) and vegetable salad. Hubby ended up with cheesy cha-han and Brie got her safe, but sure karaage. Since I got the house specialty, I assumed it would taste decent. And boy, was I wrong. It wasn’t decent…it was obscenely delicious! The beef required very little chewing and was flavorful, so good choice on the garlic sauce (the other option was Wasabi sauce). Although I’ve always been a “well-done” kind of beef-eater, I have to say that their medium-rare is heavenly. Didn’t taste a drop of blood, no slimy aftertaste. Each slice had a bit of pesto, which added a very interesting flavor. And it paired nicely with the cha-han. Hubby also gave a thumbs up to his meal and said the karaage was flavorful and crispy. To top it all off, it didn’t cost an arm and a leg. It was actually a very cheap meal (1,600 Yen, or about 800 Php) for ALL of us. Yup! That’s what I call a successful first day!

Airline Review: Singapore Air

On our trip to Rome, we flew via Singapore Air. The flight was from Manila to Singapore and then, Singapore to Rome. Upon entering the aircraft, you were greeted with smiling and svelte stewardesses (yes, that’s the correct plural form of it, according to Wiki =), wearing the traditional Sarong Kebaya. Before the flight even began, we were each handed a hot towel, which I thought was quite relaxing. Leg room was adequate, the entertainment was good (better on the newer planes) and the staff provided a basic vanity kit (socks, toothbrush and toothpaste). Plus points for Singapore Air is that the stopover is always at Changi, which is probably one of the best airports in the world. If you have enough time in between layovers, I seriously suggest you take advantage and go around. From now until some time in 2017, Singapore Air is also giving passengers 20 SGD shopping money at Changi, which is enough to buy quite a lot of chocolates, as I found out. It’s also a perfect stopover for kids because the airport had indoor playgrounds. And if you love shopping, Changi is a good place to buy branded items at a discount.

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Kid’s packs included Zootopia kits

Now, going back to the airline, another thing I liked is their activity packs and meals for kids. My daughter always seemed to eat what they served. I liked the meals as well (on 2 occasions, they served ice cream for dessert, which I think my husband enjoyed thoroughly). For long flights (6 hours and upward), I would definitely recommend an airline of this calibre.

Spotting Authentic Italian Cuisine

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The peppers and pointy tomatoes hanging in this local Napoli restaurant are for realz, y’all! You can’t get more authentic than that!

I was going to do a restaurant review of one of the many great places we ate at in our brief stay in Rome and Naples, but in my excitement to eat, I failed to take down where we actually ate. So, instead of doing that, I thought of just writing about the things I observed in the Italian way of preparing two of our favorite meals: pizza and pasta.
According to our guide, a pizzeria is the equivalent of Italian fastfood. Everywhere you look, especially when you’re in a major tourist spot, you will find a pizzeria. So, how do you know if it’s a good quality pizzeria? You observe who eats in it. If you find the people in it are mostly locals, then better step inside because you’re in for a treat.

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Messy, but so worth it!

Pizza

The crust of authentic Italian pizza is always thin. So the thick ones we see in Pizza Hut and Shakey’s are probably the American version. Its sides are crispy because it is a little bit burnt, and it is always sloppy, with the cheese literally falling off it when you carry it to your mouth. Italian pizza is never served sliced. I failed to ask my guide why it wasn’t served sliced since they never give you a sharp enough knife to slice it, but methinks its meant to be torn, and not sliced. But don’t trust my word for it.

When you order pizza, the server will tell you that is meant for one person only, but they will give you an entire wheel of pizza, and not a slice. Although the crust is really thin, I still think that it is a little bit hard to finish on my own.

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Pomodoro, with the pointy tomatoes Naples is famous for

Pasta

There are many lovely pasta dishes in Italy. What we see in most of the Italian restaurants we go to everywhere in the world are pretty standard in Italy. However, what I did notice that in all the restaurants that we went to, the noodles are consistently al dente. I don’t know if its because they make better pasta, but it is really cooked perfectly. Another thing I’ve observed is that their pasta is always bursting with flavor. And I think it has something to do with the many different spices they put in it, not to mention the copious amount of tomatoes. My daughter ordered a Pomodoro in Naples and it was filled with many small and pointy tomatoes that burst with flavor in every bite. And of course, let’s not forget about the cheese they put on the pasta. I think the ones we ate in all served freshly grated parmesan, which really does improve the taste. I don’t think I can eat pasta again without comparing it to the ones I had in Italy.

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This is where my selfish self came out as I almost didn’t want to share my gelato!

Dessert

Yeah, I didn’t tell you I was going to mention this, but who would want to skip dessert? Like the Japanese swirly ice cream, you must not skip Italian gelatto. It is a mountain of heaven piled on a cone or a cup. It doesn’t hurt my throat, I don’t know why because I am notoriously weak in eating regular ice cream. I think all adults should try a limoncello as well. It is an alcoholic beverage that is made from lemons. I thought it was a perfect after meal drink to balance all the flavors of the meal.

Yeah, if that didn’t make your mouth water, I don’t know what will!

Bien-Etre Patisserie

There’s always room for dessert, no? Right after having lunch at home, we decided we needed to go out. We decided to try out this neighborhood cafe (far from us!) that is getting a lot of good reviews.

Bien-Etre is a small sweets shop that sits about 10 people. When we arrived, there were already 3 couples seated and so we chose the bar seats where the drinks are being prepared. I think it was the first time Little A smelled coffee! It was wonderful but we aren’t coffee drinkers so we asked for really cold water instead.

There were about a dozen or so cakes and entremets to choose from. I chose 2 desserts and Little A chose hers. DrG doesn’t get to pick! Hahaha, oh well!

Little A’s choice is Harmonie. She likes that it’s purplish!

The innards. The raspberry mousse sandwiched between biscuit and chiffon cake layers then covered with blueberry mousse and blueberry glaze on top. The blueberry tartness was prominent which I think gave the cake a loud personality or else it’d be just a standard off the mill mousse cake. Oh, is it obvious? I’m not a fan of mousse based cake (except for Sugino’s!).

The Mille Feuille au Ceresis.

I was surprised that the layers were still crispy — Little A said, “It’s crunchy!” I felt that the custard cream was only there to hold the cherry and crust together. It would’ve been nicer if there was more of the cream but I think it’s the reason why the crust is still crisp. You can’t have it all. Nevertheless, delicious!

The third cake–Melon Shortcake. I suppose this is a seasonal treat instead of the standard Japanese strawberry shortcake. The cake was moist, the nama cream light and the melon sweet. I think A Tes Souhaits still makes the meanest shortcakes. But, this one is good enough!

It took a bit of a walk to get to this shop and it was so hot that day! We weren’t ready to go out of the airconed shop yet so we decided we can still make room for another dessert. We chose to have kakigori– never mind that we were still coughing. Shhhhh!

Kakigori is basically shaved ice topped with delicious fruits and sauces. I have tried going to kakigori-ya’s in the past but have always been shut down by DrG. He said, “But it’s ice!” I am proud to say I have converted him to a kakigori-liker (not an addict, not yet!).

We ordered the peach kakigori and was surprised to find ‘treasure’ inside. Hidden beneath the layer of peach, peach sauce and ice were crushed preserved plums! It was a nice contrast to the delicate dessert. I wish the peach cubes were chilled though. The ice is finely shaven– once you spoon it inside your mouth, it instantly melts!

There’s another patisserie to visit in the area, Asterisque. Come with us?

パティスリー ビヤンネートル BIEN-ÊTRE PÂTISSERIE

Address: 〒151-0064 Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Uehara, 1−21−10 上原坂の上21番館 1F 
03-3467-1161

 

 

 

 

My Dream, Luang Prabang

If you find yourself travelling to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang one day, consider staying at the quaint and very reasonably-priced My Dream Boutique Hotel.

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A few months ago, I visited Luang Prabang at the peak of its Pi Mai Festival – the less-crazy-but-still-crazy equivalent to Thailand’s Songkran Festival.  As it happened, getting a room in the center of town at that time of year became difficult because of the tourist influx.  I almost always stay in a place close to the action – especially when I am travelling alone – because I like the idea of not worrying about the commute back to the hotel when it’s late at night.  That was not the case for me, however, in this visit.  But I am sure glad I ended up in the outskirts of town.

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My Dream Boutique Hotel is located on the opposite side of the Nam Khan River from the center of town.   Upon entering its grounds, I felt very much at home. The small complex of villas was built and furnished using natural wood and other local material giving it a very comfortable and lived-in feeling.

Each room opens to its own balcony – with lush greens that somehow provided much-needed privacy.  It was such a beautiful sight, with the sunlight streaming in, that I kept it open the entire day.  I was happy waking up to that sight the 4 days I was there.

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Breakfast is served in an open-air pavilion that looked out to the small pool.

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It was really more of a dipping pool but it seemed quite adequate for the place.  Everything in Luang Prabang seemed so relaxed and easy that I did not feel I needed a big pool to do laps or exercise.  I would spend an hour or two a day just floating and looking up at the sky.

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Although a bit far from the center of town, it was still fairly easy to go around.  The hotel had service shuttles that went in and out of town at reasonable intervals throughout the entire day until late evening.  For the adventurer, they had service bikes ready for use.  While for other adventurers who, unfortunately, cannot ride a bike to save their life (ehem), there was an option to take a 15-minute pleasant walk through a pedestrian bamboo bridge.

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My favourite part of the hotel has got to be the garden that overlooked the Nam Khan River.  There was a perfect spot for coffee and meditation.

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And a perfect spot to take my book and fall asleep in the middle of my reading.

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If Luang Prabang wasn’t such a charming town, I would have been happy to spend my entire 4 days in the hotel!  It was truly a dream!  A peaceful, serene, zen dream =)

 

 

Easy, Sleepy Luang Prabang

Easy, Sleepy Luang Prabang

Laos, wasn’t exactly in any of my travel bucket lists.  But it’s great how a single visit can completely change your mind about a place.  As the saying goes, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Visiting the sleepy town of Luang Prabang, Laos, has definitely reshaped the way I view travel.  I tend to search for places exotic, exciting, with bold sights, sounds, and flavours…and I still do. But once in a while, it’s also good to just step back, let the day run its course, and revel in the relaxed state of having nothing in particular to see, eat, or do.

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So that was sort of the theme of my recent Laos visit.  I had a business trip to the capital Vientiane and since I was already in the country, I thought I might as well take a side trip to the UNESCO Heritage town of Luang Prabang.  But I was too busy to make real plans and was not exactly excited to make any plans as well.  I just decided to play it by ear.

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Working in Vientiane
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Last day in my hotel in Vientiane before heading to Luang Prabang 

So what did I end up doing in Luang Prabang when I had nothing planned?

One.

I ended up taking a 10K trek through farmland, jungle and mountains to see the Kuang Si Falls. The falls were beautiful (no doubt about that!) but extremely cold.  Still, after the 3-hour trek in all that humidity, it was rewarding to take a cold dip in the multi-layered pools.

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But most rewarding was the realization that I could actually do a 10K trek!  I was never an outdoorsy person and treks were never my thing.  Plus, since this was not exactly planned, I didn’t have the shoes to pull it off.  I trekked in beach slippers but I pulled it off!  I was with a group of new friends who had the gear but I did not slow them down!  That was a proud moment for me!

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Two.

I walked around town at the height of the Pi Mai festival and got soaked to the bone. Pi Mai is Laos’ equivalent to Thailand’s more crazy and popular SongKran Festival.  The concept is the same and there was a bit of craziness here and there.  But the town, overall, was pretty laid back.  People tend to seek your approval first before they water you down – especially if you seem to be a decent tourist.

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Three.

I ended up practising yoga in a deserted bar/yoga retreat. Utopia, has developed quite the reputation among backpackers and yogis alike for its bohemian vibe and fantastic location along the banks of Nam Khan river.  Being a new yoga enthusiast, I decided when I woke up one day that I wanted to check the place out.

It was a bit hard to find but when I finally found it…it was closed for Pi Mai!  What luck!  But, the place’s caretaker, seeing my disappointment, offered to let me chill at the place and practice some yoga.  We even had a beer together!

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Four.

I woke up early to see Buddhist monks humbly accepting alms from the homes in our hotel’s neighbourhood.

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Five.

Oh! And I crossed the river everyday to and from my hotel to the main town. Much better than taking the tuktuk!

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Sometimes, no plan is the best plan after all!