Backpacking To Thailand, Laos and Vietnam For 10 Days

I don't want Tuk Tuk, Massage, DVD, Watch. Thank you very much!

I never imagined myself visiting Thailand this year. However, my friends Joanne and Joy were very persistent, inviting me to join them on their trip because one of their travel buddies cancelled her trip due to a personal reason. They have been flooding my Twitter feed almost everyday. And, they kept telling me that they might get issues when crossing the borders as they are females, very weak and that no one will help them out if something happens during their trip. I had no choice but to go out with them. After all, it would be our first travel abroad together. They're very good at convincing people, right?

I was browsing the internet when Joanne called me. She told me that she already booked my flight and that I have no more choice but to say yes, joining them in Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam for 10 days. Honestly, I wanted to see the famous James Bond Island in the next coming years but Joy and Joanne are making it possible this year. As much as possible, I want to complete my Philippine journey first before heading abroad. There are so many places worth-visiting here in the Philippines.

A day before our flight to Phuket, I met Joanne and Joy in Pasay over dinner. We talked about our itinerary, hotel accommodation and other stuff. I paid off my plane tickets to Joanne then head back home to pack my things.

We had an evening flight to Phuket through Air Asia. Upon arrival, we asked the security guard on duty to where the telephone booths were located so we can call our hotel for pickup. Unfortunately, Joanne failed to add an airport transfer as one of the services to our hotel accommodation. We had no choice but to get an airport cab.

I've noticed that there are booths offering tour packages at the airport. One of them offered us a tour package that includes an airport transfer to our hotel. Impressive, right? Unfortunately, we declined the offer because we can get cheaper tour packages nearby the famous Patong Beach. That's according to blogs we have read.

Prior to our flight to Phuket, I've checked online about the currency exchange rates and found out that Thailand has a better dollar exchange rates comparing here in the Philippines. We then exchanged some dollars to Baht prior to hiring a cab heading to our hotel in South Beach Patong.

I felt the warm welcome from the hotel staff. The receptionist speak English very well. After confirming our reservation, we were then assisted to our rooms which are located at the third floor. I spent my first morning in Phuket walking at the sea shore in Patong Beach. The beach is just a two-minute walk from our hotel.

Patong is considered a beach resort town on the West coast of Phuket Island, in the Southwest of Thailand. Bars and restaurants are all over the place.

"I don't want Tuk Tuk, massage, DVD. Thank you very much" -- you can hear this expression/statement from foreigners almost everyday in Phuket. Tip: If you don't want to sound bitchy and snob, buy a shirt that has this statement then just show it up to locals offering such services. Then, smile while leaving the place.

We booked our tour packages (Elephant trekking and James Bond Island tour) to Thai Aw Travel Company Limited through K. Brook Travel in Patong. Sai, the representative from the agency told us that the amount she quoted was discounted and that she was giving discounts to fellow Asians. Lucky us!

Buddhist Lent Day Observances

After spending four days and three nights in Phuket, we're now ready for our next destination: Bangkok, Thailand for a day tour. 

We purchased our bus tickets at the agency where we previously booked our tour packages. Sai told us that a van will pick us up at the hotel lobby. The driver was on time! Travel time from our hotel to the bus terminal station was approximately around 30 minutes. Tip: Be as friendly as possible so you'll get awesome discounts. 

Travel time from Phuket to Bangkok is around 12 hours. Yes, you read it right. Just imagine yourself sitting in a bus, trying to get some sleep while your bus is trying to overtake other buses along the way. There are no seat belts available. Scary!

Bus fare from Phuket to Bangkok is not that costly. Bus are air-conditioned having two stop over for dinner and early breakfast. A bottled mineral water and egg sandwich were given as complimentary snacks during the trip.

We arrived in Bangkok early in the morning. We had a hard time communicating to cab drivers here. They can't speak and understand English. Joanne, who visited Bangkok few years back, used her 'carabao english' directing a cab driver to Pratunam Market.

Pratunam Market is one of the busiest markets in Bangkok. It is considered a low-cost market where you can bargain mostly everything. Tip: Bargain politely because most vendors tend to be pissed easily. Pedestrians are crowded so take care of your belongings.

We checked in to a hostel along Pratunam Market to have a good shower and to leave our baggage while roaming around the city. While having breakfast to a food stall along the street, we heard two ladies speaking Tagalog. We greeted them (in Tagalog too) and asked them some tips, getting to the temples from Pratunam Market. They were on holiday too!

Through Tuk Tuk, we visited Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Benchamabophit, Wat Mahathat Yuwaratrangsarit, and other temples including the famous floating market.

Wat Phra Kaew is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Bangkok. It houses The Emerald Buddha. The place is really beautiful. Overall, a day tour in Bangkok is not enough. However, we spent priceless moments here. I will surely come back here and spend more days appreciating the beautiful city of Bangkok.

Padlocked Refrigerator to Convey a Message

After our day tour in Bangkok, we immediately headed to the agency referred by our Tuk Tuk driver to get bus tickets to Vientiane, Laos. The agency is just across a train station and is located near the Pratunam Market. 

Due to the Buddhist Lent Day Observances, the receptionist told us that we can hardly get a direct trip from Bangkok to Vientiane, Laos. However, upon checking the database, a direct trip was available. However, bus tickets were a bit pricey. Without flinching an eye, we grabbed it as we were thinking about the hassle of transferring from one bus to another with all our heavy backpacks.

July 31st marks the beginning of the Buddhist ‘lent’ period, a time when monks are supposed to retreat to their temples while new life springs forth. Businesses and government offices are closed on public holidays in Bangkok. However, tourist attractions and shops remain open to accommodate tourists.

After few hours, a service van from the agency picked us up at a restaurant near the Pratunam Market heading to the bus station. Upon arrival, the driver informed us to meet an old lady (I forgot her name. My bad!) inside the bus terminal providing us our bus tickets. I smell something fishy right away so I asked the driver to call the old lady asking her to meet us in front of the terminal station.

The old lady then handed our bus tickets. Surprisingly, she booked a bus trip from Bangkok to Nong Khai then handed few amounts for our bus tickets from Nong Khai to Vientiane. She should have booked a direct trip from Bangkok to Vientiane as what agreed at the agency. We were very disappointed. 

Joy provided the old lady options to either refund the full amount we paid or provide us half of the payment made and just continue with the trip to Nong Khai. That time, the bus was about to go. The old lady kept on stopping the bus as we were still discussing things. The old lady called the agency informing about our complaints and demands. She allowed us to speak to the receptionist and surprisingly kept telling us that we didn't booked for a direct trip from Bangkok to Vientiane. Goodness! This is unacceptable. Intentionally, I dropped the call and insisted the old lady to choose one of the options Joy provided and decide the soonest possible time.

The bus driver kept on asking us to get inside so we can leave early. I threatened the old lady to call the security guard and demand to speak to a police. She then started calling her husband asking for money to refund our payment. She agreed to refund half of the amount we paid. She asked us to sign a document as a proof to the agency that she did process a refund.

Yes, we were ripped off! We felt bad leaving Bangkok like were broken-hearted. Travel time from Bangkok to Nong Khai was around 8 hours. A bottled mineral water and packed dinner (fried chicken, rice and steamed vegetables) were given to passengers few minutes after leaving Bangkok.

We arrived in Nong Khai early in the morning. It was raining hard when we get off the bus. The conductor directed us to a Tuk Tuk driver heading to the border and have our passports stamped. After few minutes, a bus heading to Vientiane, Laos was approaching.

At the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge, the Lao immigration officer stamped our passports, providing us thirty-day tourist visa. I'm not sure how much we paid but the amount is depending on your nationality. They accept US dollars, Baht or Kip. Travel time from Nong Khai to Vientiane is approximately an hour.

We visited Pha That Luang, Patuxai, Wat Seb, the giant Sleeping Buddha and other temples. Pha That Luang, also known as the Great Stupa in Lao, is one of the most significant monuments in Laos. It has several terraces with each level representing a a different stage of Buddhist enlightenment. 

Laos is super clean. Vientiane feels like a relaxed riverfront town. Such a beautiful country. Ending our day tour in Laos was a heavy lunch at a restaurant in a busy street in Vientiane.

Before lunch time, something weird happened. We were looking for a coffee shop that has a WiFi connection so we can check out the weather in Hanoi, Vietnam. Most coffee shops and restaurants we passed by doesn't have WiFi connection. We walked around from one place to another until we reached a newly opened coffee shop. We were very excited to get in. Unfortunately, the business owner doesn't speak English. She was just staring at us. We tried communicating with her through hand gestures and unluckily, she thrown us a blank face.

Joanne opened the refrigerator where soft drinks were located. She picked up a bottled mineral water and went directly to the cashier's to pay. Surprisingly, the owner brought out security chains and a heavy-duty padlock. As expected, she padlocked her refrigerator leaving Joanne very thirsty. Weird, really.

Cam On, Hanoi!

To save a night of accommodation, we took the 24-hour bus ride from Vientiane, Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam. We're so excited to try out a sleeper bus for the first time. The collector hardly understand English so he kept on smiling while writing on a paper the amount we should pay. We paid $25 each for our bus tickets. Buses from Vientiane are overnight buses, departing in the evening and arriving in Hanoi, Vietnam the next morning.

While waiting for the scheduled trip, we grabbed some food then slept for few minutes at the collector's area. Yes, you read it right. The collector offered their air-conditioned booth for us to get some rest. I feel bad coz I can't recall his name anymore. He may hardly understand English for now but his kindness is overflowing.

He's the friendliest Lao I know. There were times that our sleep is being disturbed as there were passengers trying to get bus tickets and asking about trip schedules. But that's alright. We're staying in an air-conditioned room anyway.

Before leaving the booth, I handed the collector 8 coins amounting to 20 pesos to show my gratitude for being very friendly and accommodating. Surprisingly, it was his first time receiving Philippine coins and he then promised me to keep them for a lifetime. We ended that moment with a selfie!

There was quite a bit of confusion as to which bus to get on but eventually, we found the right one. We were very thankful to the collector as he chose the best seats for us. We were seated at the right side near the rest room, having the convenience if in case we need to use it. Front seats were occupied by old and disabled passengers. Most seats at the back were intended for skinny young men. I have noticed that the upper half had sleeper berths while the lower half had seats.

I was convinced for a while that I was seated at the right place. I can take photos clearly along the way. I can watch movies on my tablet without interruptions. I can listen to music very comfortably. However, after few hours, the rest room became smelly, odorous. And, unfortunately, I was located a seat away from the rest room! Think about the travel time from Vientiane, Laos to Hanoi, Vietnam. Poor boy!

After few hours, the bus conductor relayed a message to a young lady using their language. Yes, both the conductor and the driver doesn't speak English. The lady then announced in English that we need to get off the bus, bringing our personal belongings and have our passport stamped at the border.

It took us almost two hours to clear immigration in Laos. Based on the blogs we have read, Asians won't be charged any amount passing the border because of a certain agreement between Asian countries. However, upon arrival, an immigration officer is asking for payment for him to release our passports. By the way, no need to fall in line at the immigration. Seems like most locals there doesn't know how to fall in line properly. We were pushed back several times having the opportunity for their passports being stamped right away.

I was very disappointed when an immigration officer mentioned that they do not accept dollars as mode of payment. We had no other choice but to fall in line at the money exchange center. No one anticipated that we should have at least kept some Kips while traveling to Hanoi.

The no man’s land between the two borders was a 300m walk up a hill. Rain started to pour while on our way to Vietnam border. Unlucky people. It took us few minutes at the Vietnam immigration. The process there was very smooth and organized.

We arrived in Hanoi early in the morning. We hired a cab heading to Old Quarter. We luckily passed by a travel and tour agency while heading to Backpacker's Street. We inquired about their Halong Bay tour packages then immediately booked for the next day.

Hanoi, Vietnam's capital, is one of my favorites cities now. You can dine at any corner. Coffee shops are all over the place. Its streets surge with scooters vying for right of way, making the city alive and beautiful. I will surely come back here!

Cam on, Hanoi!

Batanes: The Philippines' Most Beautiful Island


One early morning in Siquijor, while enjoying our sumptuous American breakfast, I asked my friends on where would be our next destination this year. We usually discuss our upcoming trips while having our last meal in a certain hotel. We've been travelling together for almost three years now.

Richard, Christine and Mike mentioned the places they have never been to and then narrowed down the list, making sure everyone will enjoy the place for the first time. Surprisingly, Batanes came out as our top choice.

Traveling to Batanes is relatively costly. The air fare could fly you out to a certain Asian country. However, breathtaking, overwhelming combination of majestic landscapes and moody weather are waiting for you in Batanes.

Surely, these will make you fall in love with Batanes.

Geographically, Batanes Islands are almost as close to Taiwan as they are to Luzon. One interesting facts is that when you turn on the radio, you'll be tuned in to a Taiwanese radio station loud and clear comparing to the local radio stations from nearby provinces where you get stuttering, buffering and really terrible connections.

Batanes, the northernmost island in the Philippines, is composed of ten tiny islands, offering craggy cliffs, emerald hills and legion of cows and goats.However, these islands are sparsely populated and are subject to frequent typhoons. The three largest islands namely Batan, Itbayat and Sabtang are the only inhabited islands.

Weather in Batanes is really unpredictable. According to our tour guide, February is the coldest month there. Batanes is also considered as the reference point for all the typhoons entering the Philippines. Biking is the best way to discover the beautiful islands of Batanes. You can leave your things anywhere you want as Batanes is known for zero crime rate. Yes, you read it right.

Hello, from the other side of the Philippines!


Few months before heading to Batanes, Christine and Mike lined up for a Travel Expo in Mall of Asia Arena to get the cheapest flights being offered by different local and international airlines. Luckily, they were able to book the cheapest package from Philippine Airlines. The package includes air fare and accommodation at Amboy Hometel for three days and two nights.

There are two major airlines flying directly from Manila to Basco, Batanes and vice versa. Aside from Philippine Airlines, you can book a flight through Skyjet Airlines. Regular round trip tickets ranges from 13,000 pesos to 16,000 pesos ($270 to $333). Getting cheap flights would save you a lot on your budget.

Travel fair is one the perfect venues to book the cheapest flight a backpacker would ever imagined.

However, it is being attended by thousand of travelers so expect the worse in terms of falling in line and getting those discounted plane tickets. Remember, the early bird gets the worm!

Three days before our scheduled flight to Batanes, Metro Manila was experiencing heavy rains. Cancelled flights were reported on television, making me worry, uncomfortable about our scheduled flight. I have been dreaming of this trip for years and I didn't want to have it cancelled or re-scheduled at all.

Luckily, when I left the office early in the morning, heading to the airport, the forecasted weather was generally stable and fine. The excitement came back and I can't wait to witness the beautiful, breathtaking Batanes!

The reported scheme that allegedly involves the airport’s security personnel who plant bullets on bags of passengers to extort money was still a hot issue that time.

Forum on planted bullets on bags to extort money in NAIA. In a way, this issue bothered me. So, the moment I get off from the cab, I immediately grabbed my backpack's waterproof cover. After checking in, I directly went up to a coffee shop to grab some food. Minutes after, Christine was calling me informing where to meet them. Joining us on our Batanes trip were newly-wed Ysa and Kenchi, Christine's friends. We were six to conquer Batanes! 

We left Manila early in the morning. After few minutes, from above, I saw the tiny, beautiful islands of Batanes. The waves from the Pacific Ocean were inviting. I never imagined looking at greenly islands being surrounded by the largest and deepest ocean in the world. That moment, I thanked God for this opportunity, witnessing such a beautiful place.

We arrived in Basco Airport very timely for breakfast. One hotel staff picked us up then immediately head to Amboy Hometel. Batanes has moody, unpredictable weather. I needed someone to hug that time!


The moment the hotel staff opened the room, I immediately turned on the lights then grabbed my tablet to take photos of the bed, the rest room including the views from the window for review purposes. After few minutes, I decided to unpack my things then organized them at the closet.

While having our heavy breakfast at the restaurant, I have noticed paintings displayed on the walls. They are all beautiful. According to one of the hotel staff, those were painted by the young Ivatans in return of having money to finance their schooling.

After breakfast, the hotel staff introduced us to our tour guide and van driver. The guide educated us about our itineraries that day. I have learned that there are two kinds of tours being offered in Batanes, the Batan North and Batan South toursWe started discovering the beautiful, breathtaking Batanes through the Batan North Tours. The tour includes the following destinations.

Mt Carmel Church, also known as the Tukon Chapel, is considered as the church of fulfilled dreams. Most people consider Batanes as the home of the winds, where you can feel God's whisper. This chapel is designed based on the traditional Ivatan stone houses. I have noticed that the roof of the chapel is made of concrete red bricks. I didn't leave the place without praying and making some wishes. I'm hoping that these wishes will be granted soon. After all, I prayed it at the church of fulfilled dreams.

I also fell in love with Sto Domingo de Basco Church. This is one of the first buildings made of limestone during the Spanish regime sometime in 1812. Yes, this church has survived so many typhoons and other natural disasters for decades now. According to historians, this church was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.

Aside from the beautiful churches, Batanes offers other kinds of attractions. One of these is the Radar Tukon. Interestingly, this was used as a United States' weather station. The tower provides breathtaking and magnificent views of Batan and Basco islands including the South China Sea and Mt. Iraya. Currently, Radar Tukon houses the Basco Radar Station.

Decades ago, Batanes was occupied by the Japanese, taking over the territory from the Americans. During the Japanese occupation, they built the Dipnaysupuan Japanese tunnel which is hidden in the hills of Tukon. It was used for the refuge of Japanese soldiers and for lookout purposes.

While on our way to the Boulder Beach Valugan, our tour guide mentioned that Valugan means 'east' in Ivatan language. When Mt. Iraya erupted, it scattered andesite rocks around the northern half of Batan, creating the boulder beach. Seems like the waves from the Pacific Ocean polished this beautiful boulder beach. To date, Ivatans call this as the Valugan

Just like my friends, I also enjoyed the nature and the spectacular views in Vayang Rolling Hills. This is the perfect place to witness the beautiful West Philippine Sea. Imagine those stunning seascapes, the fresh air, the cows all over the area... jaw-dropping! I felt so blessed being in that place. I'm having issues describing this place. God, this place is so beautiful.

The Batanes Lighthouse is waiting for you at Naidi Hills. From the top, you can see the whole Batan island while enjoying the breathtaking views. This is the perfect place to witness the sunset. The Basco Lighthouse is a 6-storey building with a viewing deck on the fifth floor. 

Before ending our day tour, we headed to Fundacion Pacita to have some snacks. We were very hungry when we reached the restaurant. The restaurant staff was very friendly as were the only customers at that time. The food served is delicious but for me, they're a bit pricey. Though it is quite far, the place offers breathtaking views of the island. Flowers are all over the place. According to our tour guide, Fundacion Pacita was formally opened to public to finance the scholars being supported by the late Pacita Abad, a native Ivatan and National Artist.

Check out my review about this restaurant later.

We had a very organized day tour as we were strictly following the time frames on each tourist destinations. Our tour guide and the van driver were very knowledgeable and with sense of humor. I have learned a lot from him. I will have a separate journal for our tour guide as he deserves a shout out for his kindness and for being so proud of his hometown. I remember, he was teary-eyed when he mentioned a certain incident involving his fellow Ivatans few years back.

Overall, our first day was filled with so many memories we'll treasure for a lifetime. Indeed, Batanes is worth-visiting. As I mentioned earlier, it is the Philippines' most beautiful, safest place ever!


So, this is our second day in Batanes. As expected, we're still excited to explore this beautiful place. With excitement, our tour guide informed us that the South Batan Tour is the most recommended tour because it has the most breathtaking landscapes and historical sites.

Chawa View Deck offers beautiful views of the western cliffs of Batan island. It faces the West Philippine Sea so imagine how beautiful the place. Chawa View Deck is the first place to visit for the South Batan Tour.

Tayid Lighthouse in Mahatao is very different to the Basco Lighthouse because it is hexagonal. Unfortunately, the lighthouse isn't open for tourist anymore as it is being repaired. According to our tour guide, the lighthouse offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean and the West Philippine Sea. By the way, Mahatao Town has less than 2 thousand people. It is considered a 6th class municipality.

Racuh a Payaman, also known as the Marlboro Country, is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Batanes. The place is super beautiful as it offers breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. You'll see cows all over the place. It is one of the many places where you can just sit and relax while appreciating the beautiful nature. You'll have the most picture-perfect view of the Tayid Lighthouse to the left and Mt Iraya to the right. The Diura Beach is just in between. Indeed, the most beautiful place. Absolutely stunning! And, oh yes, this is the perfect spot to shout out your heart aches.

The Ruins at Sitio Songsong, San Jose Borromeo Church, Diura or the Fishing Village, Fountain of Youth, the Mahatao Pier, the Uyugan Town, the Ivana Town, the San Jose de Ivana Church are among the places included for the South Batan Tours. You'll definitely fall in love with Batanes once you have completed these places. Luckily, we did! Cheers!

Walking Barefoot In Patong Beach, Phuket

The Patong Beach is considered as Phuket's main tourist resort and luckily, it was just a 2-minute walk from my hotel. It was no surprise that Patong Beach has soft, white sand and crystal clear waters. The beach is truly breathtaking especially during sunset. You better wait for it while walking barefoot along the beach.

The famous Patong Beach sunset. Beautiful, right?

If you're looking for fun and party, Patong is the perfect place. Local bars and restaurants are all over the place. However, most international restaurants and brands take the lead. Foreigners mostly dominate the business scene here. There are couple of imitation shops here offering cheap items and souvenirs.

The Patong Beach is just across the street. It is long enough for a morning run and a beach walk. The beach is clean and very relaxing. I fell in love with its fine, white sand. The water is warm. As early as 10 in the morning, tourists  started to flock the area for sun bathing including extreme activities like riding the jet ski, banana boating and parasailing. Americans and Europeans mostly dominate the crowd.

Food and drink vendors are all over the place too. There is a place here where you can have a Thai massage for a reasonable price. "I don't want Tuk Tuk, massage, DVD. Thank you very much". You can hear this statement from foreigners almost everyday in Phuket. Tip: If you don't want to sound bitchy and snob, buy a shirt having this statement then just show it to the locals offering such services. Then, smile while leaving the place. 

I will never forget the beautiful sunset there. Patong Beach is indeed beautiful... one of the must-visits here in Phuket.


REVIEW: Catanduanes' Alon Surf Stay

Baras, Catanduanes, Philippines
+63 916 225 0165

Alon Surf Stay, located in Baras, Catanduanes, is one of the few hotels nearby the famous, isolated cove Puraran Beach. The beach is known for its fine cream-colored sand and raw, unspoiled seaside rock formations. You can sit all day by the shore as it hardly gets crowded. Puraran is also blessed with swells that draws surfers from all over the world. Seasoned surfers enjoy the Pacific waves that goes six feet and over during the typhoon season.

Alon Surf Stay, Baras, Catanduanes, Philippines

Staying at Alon Surf Stay was one of the highlights of my travel. I stayed here for three days and two nights. I will never forget enjoying a cup of coffee here while the sun is rising, overlooking the beautiful, majestic Puraran Beach. Only Alon Surf Stay offers this breathtaking view as it is the tallest building in the area.

The food was exceptional and the staff were incredibly attentive. Inform them the food you want to be served ahead of time and they'll cook it for you. Royal treatment, isn't it? Two thumbs up to Jhen and Carlo, the couple who manages the hotel.

Alon Surf Stay, Baras, Catanduanes, Philippines

I have learned that they're both from Manila, making me feel more comfortable roaming around the island. We shared so many stories including our thoughts on the current national issues. They have lovely, respectful kids named Clea and Ruppa.

Alon Surf Stay is very cozy, well kept and is very well run. The hotel has an infinity pool, overlooking the Puraran Beach. I will surely come back here. I could not have been more pleased with my weekend getaway!

Alon Surf Stay, Baras, Catanduanes, Philippines
Alon Surf Stay, Baras, Catanduanes, Philippines