Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Today I park my wings...

...but it's just to refuel for our next stop (wherever that may be).

Today marks the end of my jet-setting lifestyle for now... where I was lucky enough to get paid to go places. I think what I did was one one the coolest jobs in the world... right up there with my dream of being a professional shopper or travel consultant.

In two and a half years, I was lucky to visit many, many, many countries from South Asia to South Africa. Some I have written about already, while some are just stories in my mind still waiting to be told. Join me as I reminisce, because the best part about travelling is savoring the experience, both while you are there and through the memories that you will always fondly remember.

My journey started in January 2010 when I spent close to 5 weeks in India visiting Chennai, Pondicherry, Mumbai, Goa, Delhi, Agra and Jaipur (7 cities) and bringing home 65kg of luggage including more than 30 pairs of nice Indian sandals of all colors and designs. In my defense, I thought I would never get a chance to visit India again so I did everything (and bought everything) that I wanted to... not realizing that I would be back three more times in the next two years.

1. India (Mumbai and 6 other places)

The Taj Mahal is so beautiful, it difficult not to take a good picture.
Agra, India
January 2010

It was in India that I learned that when someone says there are beautiful beaches, it doesn't mean we have the same thing in mind. 
In India, I also learned that women just don't go swimming alone, much less in a bikini.
Pondicherry, India
January 2010

I was always into helping the economy. I swear, I made him a rich man,
Goa, India
February 2010
South Bombay is where the pulse of the city.
Famous landmarks are the Gateway of India and the Taj Hotel.
Mumbai, India
April 2011

Next Stop in my tour of duty was Thailand. I've been there several times before but I had no complaints because the food and the shopping is always good. I was also able to visit two neighboring cities, Pattaya in December 2009 and I brought Sofia to Koh Samet when I brought her with me for work the following March.

2. Thailand (Bangkok and 2 other places)

I could eat this every day.
Sticky Rice and Mango and Fresh Spring Rolls.
Bangkok, Thailand
March 2010
The white beach at Koh Samet was beautiful.
Koh Samet, Thailand
March 2010
Sofia was so young then, and she already hated getting sandy.
We had a cottage facing the rockier back beach.

My next destination was Morocco. It's geographically part of North Africa but they like referring to themselves as part of Southern Europe. Though we were based in Casablanca, we were also able to explore Tangier and Marrakesh during the weekends.

3. Morocco (Casablanca and 2 other places)

In Casablanca we had our fill of couscous, tajine and harira.
It was really good till we got sick of it.
Casablanca, Morocco April 2010
The Seaside in Tangier, where you can see Spain on a clear day.
Tangier, Morocco
April 2010 
I loved the souks, the medina, and the mint tea that carpet sellers serve you so you'll buy.
Marrakesh, Morocco
May 2010

The next new place I visited was Cote d'Ivoire in Central Africa or French West Africa to be precise. I remember crossing my fingers, hoping I would be part of the team that was sent to Japan, but looking back, I was glad that I went to the real Africa because it's a place I don't see myself visiting again, especially on my own pocket.

4. Cote d'Ivoire (Abidjan and Assinie)

In Abidjan, we got on a public river ferry that drove around for hours in the river,
to take us to an Island where locals were celebrating their National Day.

Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire August 2010
The best part of the local tour for me was visiting CAVA, the crafts market.
Then we went to Assinie one weekend where we saw a local festival.
Assinie, Cote D'Ivoire
August 2010
The locals also love posing as much I loved taking pics with them.
We stayed at CouCoueLodge, which we fondly called CouCouLand.
It was beautiful because the main hotel had a lake
which you need to cross to get to beach front guest rooms.

The next country on my list was Pakistan. Because of the flight connections, I hit two countries with one trip because we took the chance to stop in Dubai, and one of my colleagues used to live there so he really made an effort to take us around.

5. Pakistan (Karachi and 4 other places)
My first trip to Karachi was memorable because even if it was designed to be a short one, we were there when a bombing happened 5 minutes away from where the office and our hotel was located. It gave me goosebumps to realize that it's all about luck, and how being in the wrong place at the wrong time may cost you your life.
We didn't get to do much sightseeing or shopping,
but I remember the food was good if you're a meat eater.
Karachi, Pakistan
November 2010
Fortunately, I needed to go back to Pakistan for a longer trip in February 2011, and during that trip, we were able to visit the cultural city of Lahore and the green city of Islamabad and the neighboring cities of Murree that reminded me so much of what Baguio used to be before the earthquake and Taxila.

The Fort in Lahore reminded me of the Agra Fort.
You can really see the mughal influence and
understand that Pakistan and India used to be one country.
Lahore, Pakistan
February 2011
For someone afraid of heights like me,
getting stuck on the chairlift (due to power outage) in the middle of a hail storm
will forever be a traumatic experience.
Murree, Pakistan
February 2011
We explored the ruins of Taxila,
where I scored this winner handcarved Buddha ring.
What's more memorable is that they found Osama Bin Laden
hiding in Abbottabad around an hour from here shortly after our trip.
Taxila, Pakistan
February 2010
6. United Arab Emirates (Dubai)

If I am not mistaken, this is Jumeirah Beach.
Shopping + Beach is my heaven.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates
November 2010
The Dubai fountain at rest.
The Dubai fountain in motion.

The end of the year led me to my favorite part of the world, Europe. I had to go to London for training (and luckily for several more times in the two and a half year period), as well as Paris - normally just for a day or two, just because I absolutely had to squeeze it in since I love it so much.

7. France (Paris)
Paris has been and always will be considered home.

Paris in the winter was something new to me.
It was  -3degrees and I still loved it.
Paris, France
December 2010 
But Spring in Paris is still the loveliest season.
Picnicking by Le Tour Eiffel with Jay, Lia and Jillie.
Paris, France
April 2012

8. United Kingdom (London and 3 other places)
London feels like my second home in Europe, because it was there that I got my dose of family, visiting Auntie Stella, Uncle Joel and Jacob, when I was living in Paris.

The toppled phone booths are a landmark of Kingston upon Thames.
Kingston upon Thames, London, United Kingdom
December 2010
We went to Windsor for the Legoland (and not Windsor castle).
It was Sofia's heaven.
Windsor, United Kingdom
April 2012
We went all the way to Bourneville
so my chocoholic daughter could visit Cadbury World.
Birmingham, United Kingdom
May 2012 
I loved looking at the River Thames, our office is in the background.
London, United Kingdom
April 2012
 9. Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru)
It's funny because I had planned to go to Kuala Lumpur several times in the past with tickets booked and all, but because of some reason or the other, I always backed-out of the trip leaving my travelling companions to go on without me. So finally, I was able to make it there early last year with a longer trip planned at the end of the year (which also did not happen).

A picture of the Petronas Twin Towers
from my one and only time in Malaysia's capital.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
February 2011
A surprising discovery for me, was how close and convenient it was to go to Johor Bahru, just across the border from Singapore. We discovered convenient tours that take you end to end, and we also learned how to commute for when the tours are not available, all for the love of shopping on sale. Hahaha.

Johor Premium Outlets Rule!
But don't go too often so they get a chance to replenish sale stock.
Johor Bahru, Malaysia
April 2012

10. Egypt (Cairo, Giza and Luxor)
I didn't really get a chance to go to Egypt for work because our trip got cancelled due to the political unrest, but because of work, I made some really good friends, and one of them invited us to her wedding in Cairo. I made sure that I attended that one, even at the height of the political issues and we had loads of fun.

My dear friend Mennat, and her husband Sherif.
The wedding ceremony is changing the wedding band from one hand to the other.
Cairo, Egypt
May 2011
The best way to see the pyramids, one of the 7 wonders of the world, is on a camel.
Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
May 2011
In one of the temples in Luxor with hieroglyphs.
It's such a common sight, after you've seen one it feels like you've seen them all.
Luxor, Egypt
May 2011
On a felucca in the Nile River at sunset.

11. South Africa (Durban and Capetown)
One of the countries on my bucket list that I was able to visit was South Africa. After seeing North and Central Africa, it was such a pleasant surprise. The country was very first world, but poverty was very much apparent too and we had to be really careful with out safety so it was a dichotomy of sorts.

This was part of the view from my room.
Three weeks staying here made work feel like a holiday.
Umhlanga, Durban, South Africa
June 2011
We made the trip all the way down south to Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope.
Capetown, South Africa
June 2011
At Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Capetown.

12. China (Shanghai and Beijing)
My last experience of China was when Sofia was in my belly, and I remember declaring that I would not go back to China willingly, unless if someone paid me. Hahaha. So I guess having to go there for work counts too. It makes such a difference when friends take you around because this time, I ended up having so much fun.

The bund at night.
Shanghai, China
August 2011
This was my outfit for scaling the Great Wall.
Beijing, China
August 2011

13. Indonesia (Batam)
During our longer stays in Singapore, we wanted to explore some of the nearby destinations, one of which was Batam Island because of an attractive deal online which includes the ferry, hotel accomodations, all meals and a 90minute massage for an insanely low price. It was only when we got there that we realized that there wasn't much to do so it turned out to be more of a staycation than a vacation.

Sofia enjoyed taking the ferry to another country.
Batam, Indonesia
The most memorable thing for me was the avocado coffee
with chocolate shavings and ice cream from Excelso.

14. Brazil (São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro)
The reason I skipped out of my longer trip to Kuala Lumpur was because I was offered the chance to go to Brazil!!!  Woooohooo. The whole family came too because Sofia convinced her grandparents to celebrate her birthday (and her gammy's) in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro with us.

São Paulo is expensive and not really safe but the Picanha is to die for.
São Paulo, Brazil
October 2011
Caipirinha is Brazil's National Cocktail.
We celebrated Sofia's birthday at Bar do Juarez.
Please don't judge me. That's where the picanha is to die for!
Happy Birthday Dear Sofia!
Family + Strawberries and Cream = Very Happy Sofia
October 12, 2011

Unfortunately, after spending three weeks in São Paulo, the weather turned really bad during the last weekend where we already made plans to go to Rio de Janeiro.

I insisted on still going up to Corcovado to see Cristo Redentor,
but as you can see, we could barely see each other!
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
October 2011
With patience, you get to see the whole silhouette,
when the clouds thin, which makes Cristo seem more mystical. 

15. Japan (Osaka and Kyoto)
Towards the end of the year, I took an impromptu food trip with my favorite travelling friends, Jem and Tim, for a week in Osaka, Japan's eating capital. We ate so well and had so much fun we're going back again in October with family this time.

Glico man by the river.
Osaka, Japan
December 2011
Even street-side Tokoyaki stalls are so good.
Yummy 24 hour Ramen Place.
Okonomiyaki for Midnight Snack.
Aerial view of the sushi conveyor belt place.
Autumn in Japan. We did a day trip to Kyoto for something more cultural than just eating.
Kyoto, Japan

16. Sri Lanka (Colombo and 2 other places)
Some people love Sri Lanka for the shopping. They are known to sell export over-runs that are as good as the originals because there is some law that allows them to sell a percent of what the brand's factories make in the local market, but figuring out whether or not something is authentic has no actual science, so you may very well be buying original fakes, which is not really my kind of thing.

Sri Lanka reminded me of Manila a lot.
The park in front of our hotel on Galle Face Road looks like Luneta or Roxas Blvd
 and beside it there's a beach.
Colombo, Sri Lanka
We had a really nice lunch in an old house turned into an Aman Resort.
Galle, Sri Lanka
January 2012
My gracious hosts who took me on a day trip to Galle.
We went to a seaside resort 2 hours away
(along the same coast as our hotel in Colombo).
Bentota, Sri Lanka
Giant Kande Vihare Buddha Statue in Bentota.

17. Maldives
The most important thing on my personal to-do list when I found out that I was going to Sri Lanka, was to plan a weekend to go to Maldives, another place that was on my bucket list! Going there is tricky, since there seems to be no way to do a "budget friendly" trip to an island where the point is luxury and beauty, but I was very happy with the way we planned it.

Maldives is exactly what I expected it to be - Paradise.
Sheraton Hotel, Maldives
February 2012

Maldives is so beautiful and we had so much fun, it would be a struggle to choose what pictures I want to include, so I will just leave you with the link to all my posts about Maldives instead.

18. Australia (Sydney, Hunter Valley and 2 plane stops)
I enjoyed Sydney a lot because I have visited in before, where we did all the normal touristy things to do. This time around, I spent part of my time there staying with close family friends who treated my like their own daughter so I was able to just relax and get a feel for the place.

On a ferry with the Sydney Opera House in the background.
Sydney, Australia
March 2012
We went to the Vineyards in Hunter Valley.
Thanks for taking such good care of me Tita Tess, Tito Boy and Pami.
I also adopted two bears. Hahaha.

19. Korea (Seoul)
Of all my business trips this year, Seoul was the one I looked forward to the most because it was a last minute addition to my schedule, and the first new country that I visited for work. I loved the food and the shopping... and the food... and the shopping... hahaha, no need to say more.

I loved the cultural aspect,
as well as the occasion to wear winter clothes.
Seoul, Korea
April 2012
The best bulgogi in soup I had was from
a simple traditional restaurant in Insadong.
We tried all the street food that looked instresting and most of them were good.
Masks, cosmetics and freebies (not in picture) galore.
Korean BBQ FTW.

20. Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh and Vung Tau)
I've also been to HCMC before but watching the water puppet theater was new for me.
It helped that my friend who brought us translated for us.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
May 2012
We went to  Ben Thanh Market quite a lot.
Sofia and I enjoyed getting our nails done together.
I love Vietnamese Iced Coffee so I hoarded a lot to bring home.
We took the ferry for a day trip to Vung Tau.
It was nice, but it's quite a challenge if you don't speak the local language.
Vung Tau, Vietnam
May 2012

21. Cambodia (Phnom Penh)
One of the places we explored from Vietnam was Phnom Penh. We went because we've never been to Cambodia, and also because we were also in danger of over-staying in Vietnam without a visa not realizing that Filipinos are only allowed to stay for 21 days until we arrived with plans to stay longer than that.

Our first over land and over (the Mekong) river journey to cross borders.
Bloom Cupcakes.
Beautiful and yummy creations made by women who used to be victims of sex trafficking.

We didn't get to do much real sight seeing,
but the Cambodian architecture is everywhere.

50 destinations in 21 countries in 30 months is quite good. 
I think it's just the right time for my wings to take a rest... so we can soar again to new heights in time. just saying.

1 comment:

  1. Wow coley! pwede ka na magsulat ng travel guide!