Filipine Frenzy

 

Manila – Pollution central

International arrivals – the Smart (local sim) people were so darn helpful, they even organised my Grab taxi (like Uber) to my hotel. I think it took about 45 mins to travel 6kms. 

Traffic is almost permanently gridlocked. I think the traffic is officially putting Bangkok and Vietnam cities to shame. The excessive volume of cars is helping the Grab/taxi drivers lose a lot of money I’m told.

A very poor public transport system adds to the chaos.

One day I was busy editing photos in my room then all of a sudden there’s an almighty siren, that was reminiscent of WW2 Air raid sirens (I’m not that old but I’ve seen movies). I go out to my little balcony to watch two large street blocks of businesses and appartments being evacuated. Surely, not again?! Loads of emergency services turned up surrounding the blocks, but I couldn’t quite figure out what was happening. I can only assume it was a bomb threat. Thankfully I wasn’t too close, but I was wondering how far a bomb blast would reach as I was only a block away from the action. Poor Ma, I keep texting her when these things happen. All these “events” are becoming a big joke to me now. There will be a blog on the events I’ve had along my travels.. it is funny and I’m one hell of a lucky solo traveller.

Domestic airport – terminal 4 is possibly THE worst airport I’ve encountered so far. What makes a bad airport?

Long fucking queues – there’s even a queue to get into the airport!

Slow operating personnel at check in, security checks (and there’s 3 of those), food stalls and the waiting area… blah! Many of us sat on the floor due to lack of space and delayed flights.

 

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Palawan – Puerto Princesa

A huge sigh of relief as soon as I exit the plane.. that was until the herd of sheep all decided to stand on top of me whilst I awaited my backpack. Whyyyyy? There was one man, a non Asian, who desperately tried to push in right beside me and 50 of my close friends. I suggested standing on the other side of the conveyer belt where the luggage was actually coming from and no people were standing.. but nope.. he just HAD to be where it was most inconvenient. Lucky my strong suit in basketball was defence. I kept blocking that dude – but he wasn’t giving up that easily.. so I moved. Is this an Australian thing where we are used to having plenty of space? I don’t understand the need to push and shove when there’s more accessible space close by.

Palawan Seaview Resort is pleasant. Again, I feel it’s pricey for such simplistic rooms but I’m guessing that’s because I was so spoilt for choice and quality at decent rates in Indonesia. The staff are forthcoming with incredibly helpful travel info. 

I was very sweetly sent a note to go out for dinner with an older gentleman that is residing at the hotel. Very old school letter invitation.. quite rare these days and very thoughtful.

We went to dinner in a food court at the local shopping centre (please try not to laugh – he paid). Interesting man – he is a law professor in Japan and predominantly deals with people (mainly women) whom have been wrongly incarcerated. FYI, he thinks there’s no doubt Schapelle Corby was innocent. I’m still not convinced.

Anyway, this guy (and numerous predecessors) prompted my new disclaimer that needs to be signed by EVERY male I meet…

 

Yes, I’m travelling solo.
No, I’m not interested.
Yes, I DO love being on my own. Lots.
No, I’ve never been married or had children.
Because I’ve never wanted to, simple.. no, you won’t change my mind – google menopause.
Yes, I am really 46 (mentally 26).
Just because I’m travelling solo doesn’t mean I’m desperate to find Mr Right or Mr You’ll Do.
Yes, I’m happy. Very!
Please don’t take my compliments or kindness as a green light.
I am a positive person and believe others (male or female) should be made aware of their positive traits.
This still doesn’t mean I’m interested in forming an everlasting relationship with you.
If you need viagra, you’re too old for me.
If you don’t need viagra, you’re too young for me.
Nope! Still not interested.
Don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re going to be told to back off – you are making me uncomfortable and I will throat punch you – Read my warning signs. 
You don’t need to tell me how good you are, I can figure it out for myself.
You are taking your life in your hands if you call me babe, bae, honey, darling etc etc….
Chew with your mouth closed or expect another throat punch.
Just NO!
Still want to talk to me? 
Sign here ______________________________________

 

 

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Away from Puerto Princesa city

Once again, it pays to talk to the locals. I was given directions to Nagtabon Beach and the beach was perfect. All the way over on the west coast of the island (I’m sleeping east side) and it’s more of a surf beach with only locals hanging out eating Sunday picnic lunches and squealing with pure delight while playing in the waves. Watch out for the sand flies though. Thanks Jerrold, you get a mention in the exclusive blog called Blinked Travel – just because he’s a hottie and gave me loads of insightful info. 

I decided not to head straight back to the hotel, instead in search of more secluded locations.. headed further North only to be met by big black rolling and thunderous clouds. I did a quick u-turn and flew like the wind. I even got up to 80kmph on my little 110cc scooter. I know! Such a speed demon.

As I got closer to home I noticed more big black clouds and that the roads were wet. Somehow, this time, Mother Nature wasn’t trying to kill me and I avoided all storms out on scooter.

2 hour Asian combination massage at the hotel was kinda brutal but feeling better for it now.. especially considering it only cost me $25 AUD – WIN!

I’m noticing lots of basketball courts around this island. For once, an Asian country that isn’t obsessed with football (soccer). Seeing Cavs and Warriors singlets are happiness to my basketball brain. I’m tempted to go play with some of these young fit basket ballers – only because they’re shorter than I am and I (wrongly) believe my body is still 26.

I joined a tour group to visit the underground river and whilst I was waiting for all the young softies to do a mangrove boat tour I jumped on the 750mt zip line across the crystal clear water. 🤘🏽

Surrounded by perfect azure beach on one side and lush green forest the other – we arrive at the underground river via boat just before the brief tropical downpour hit.

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River – a more recent addition to the natural wonders of the world and listed under UNESCO Heritage. Established/discovered in 1999, this underground river is its own eco system. She covers around 22,000 hectares but not all of it is accessible – mainly due to lack of oxygen further inland. Filled with marine life, bats and snakes (saw one swimming and eyeing me as its next victim) and some of the highest cathedral-esque ceilings complete with water carved statues of Mary and other Christian “mythical” creatures.

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Now I’m at 4 (out of 7 listed) natural wonders visited… but really, countless numbers yet to be seen and some that should be listed. 

 

Kay’s Hot Springs – only one pool that wasn’t going to cook me in seconds. Do people actually have no feeling in their skin and use those stupidly hot pools? Who doesn’t love the smell of boiled human flesh?!

 

Travelling back roads and met with surprised looks and smiles everywhere on my scooter. It’s taken a while to get used to being gawked at, but it’s fun now. I feel safe and if I smile at anyone they grin back and usually wave.

Out in town with locals – playing pool (potting balls from 1-14), drinking Red Horse beer.

Plus the tequila shot from 65 yo Rod, the Filipino visiting from Chicago (with his wife back in his hotel room) and offering me his services because he has needs not being met. Rod, please see above disclaimer!

 

IMG_7838

El Nido – I love you

Stayed at Lally and Abet… Location and breakfast great, large room with patio – simple accommodation. $70 AUD pn 

Nacpan beach – another perfect white sand and turquoise liquid filled location. A few more tourists than other beaches, but I didn’t have to fight for space in the water. Although, I had an entourage following to palm shaded spots on the sand. (Insert eye roll – my personal space is a fictional barrier apparently)

Snorkelling trip with a group of divers, instead of doing the tourist island hop tour with one small snorkelling opportunity, was the best decision. Note to self… pack sunscreen, dufus. My already noticeably large forehead looks like a red-light hookers beacon now.

Sava Beachside Restobar for beachside, sunset viewing PLUS 2 for 1 cocktails. Pina coladas served in coconut shells, both delivered at the one time. Nobody likes to rush these things, but when it’s this warm one needs to ensure drinks stay cool during consumption. My excuse, don’t judge.

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Filipinos can SING! Have seen many of them in Thailand, but I’m talking about staff and just about every local you walk past. They’re always singing.. and it’s beautiful to hear.

Meeting the lovely Al and having a private island hopping tour. Being taught to eat my rice and chicken like a local, using my hands as utensils, plus teaching Al to swim. All beaches secluded and empty.. except for some grouper, turtles and a vehemently protective fish – whom bit me twice (he even drew blood – dude, you’re no mosquito, I can’t help you with babies). I googled him.. I must have been too close to his house. It’s ok, I understand personal space, buddy. 

Food plentiful and ever so delicious. Wonderful Adobo spices (which I have just learned actually derive from the Spanish!) – in the sense of many flavours, not heat – is to die for, as was their bbq chicken that sat marinating in Asiatic spices for hours.

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Again, the giving Al looked after me by organising his friends to take me and my bags to the airport on motorbikes. Sorry Al, as beautifully kind as you are, you also need to read above disclaimer. (Al is the one wearing the white t-shirt below)

If you ever head to El Nido, I promise you that Al, Gregg and Regie will take the best care of you. I can’t wait until they have their own boat to do personalised tours.

 

Live music at Pukka Bar was great. A two piece ensemble – acoustic guitar and female singer with a hauntingly beautiful voice singing alternative tunes which melted my heart.

 

 

Is it only an Asian female thing to be that scantily clad and over friendly to entice the foreign men to buy them drinks and eventually marry, then take them back to new countries? I’ve seen it all too often in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar – and have asked why. It’s all about the perception of what fat, bald, western men offer. Money. Who cares if the ladies are unhappy – it’s easier selling your body to the same man each day, right? 

 

Cebu City

Its quite the industrial hub and waaaay bigger than I anticipated. Lots of traffic plus dilapidated housing for the happy and friendly locals.

Great thunderstorms here.

Didn’t get out much due to monsoonal rains. Ran back to Palawan instead.

There are many places to go on Cebu Island, but it’s just that wet time of year, sadly. On the upside, I will have to come back just to visit the other islands.

Back to Palawan just to be hauled up in my hotel room for days on end due to more rain. It’s that bad I’m contemplating popping home for a week or two. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! (Clearly I was THAT bored… I went home)

Estrella falls – a substantial 90km motorbike ride away (each way) from Puerto Princesa, but well worth it. Fresh, warmish water filled with slippery rocks and, I’m pretty sure, those little dead skin eating fish you see in tanks around Thailand and Bali. Cheeky buggers liked my feet.

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Ala Amid Bed & Breakfast – don’t be fooled by the “buffet” breakfast… its pretty dismal. But if you order a separate meal from reception it’s really tasty. Great, clean and comfortable corner room with handy undercover balcony over looking the pool – great for those rainy days.

Sesakot falls – too cold to swim this day, but still enjoyable relaxation sitting in a broken down hut listening to tunes and sipping Red Horse beer with my buddy, Jerrold.

Hanging with locals again out in town… STOP PLAYING THE NIGHT BEFORE FLIGHTS!

 

 

There are many reasons to love the Phillipines: 

It was once ruled by the Spanish – so many words derive from espanol, making signage and language possible to understand.

The women are stunning here.. I truly enjoy being insignificant. 

Even the boys and lady-boys are hot.

The importance doesn’t lie within how good a house looks, it lies within just having a roof over their heads. Happiness in simplicity.

Many parts of these islands are untouched, so you can have jungles, waterfalls and beaches all to yourself.

Perfect beaches that the locals care loads about. One of my local friends posted today on FB that El Nido boats aren’t allowed to carry plastic water bottles any longer! 👍🏽

A basketball obsessed nation. I believe Steph Curry was in Manila during my stay on Palawan. Had I known he was coming I would have stalked the poor boy.

Cheap, cheap, cheap.

Mostly perfect weather… well, you know, besides the biggest typhoon Asia had in recorded history.

Red Horse beer – meaty and evil! 6.9% alcohol content is a bit of a panty dropper. And at $2.50 AUD for a litre, it’s asking for trouble.

E-Republic Bar, where the locals go, is waaaay better than the touristy Tiki Bar. Some funny lady-boys and a live band, along with Red Horse Beer makes for a chuckle a minute… even if I didn’t understand most of the words.

One month is not anywhere near enough time to explore all these pristine islands. I’m going back. Sorry Thailand, I have a new favourite.

Hopefully dodging the super typhoon. Yup, just escaped that nasty, destructive beast by only a few hours.

 

It’s all about education of the mind, body and spirit… ok, maybe not so much education here, but the island hopping is sublime.

Filippine Frenzy – Philippines solo travel

Here’s how solo travel in Philippines went down…

Manila

Pollution madness

International arrivals – the Smart (local sim) people were so darn helpful, they even organised my Grab taxi (like Uber) to my hotel. This taxi ride took about 45 mins to travel 6kms. 

Traffic almost permanently gridlocked. Traffic here in Manila is officially putting Bangkok and Vietnam cities to shame. The excessive volume of cars is forcing the Grab/taxi drivers lose a lot of money, so I’m told by my drivers.

A very poor public transport system adds to the chaos.

 

Discovering I still want to live:

So here I was, busy editing photos in the room when all of a sudden there’s an almighty siren that was reminiscent of WW2 Air raid sirens (I’m not that old but I’ve seen movies). From my little balcony I watched two large street blocks of businesses and appartments being evacuated.

Surely, not again?!

Plenty of emergency services turned up, enveloping the blocks, however, I couldn’t quite figure out what was happening. I can only assume it was a bomb threat. Thankfully I wasn’t too close, but I was wondering how far a bomb blast would reach as I was only a block away from the action.

Poor Ma, I keep texting her when these life threateners happen.

All these “events” are becoming a big joke to me now. There will be a blog on the chaos I’ve had along my travels.. Amusing (now) stories – let me say that I’m one hell of a lucky solo traveller.

 

 

Domestic travel

Terminal 4 is possibly THE worst airport I’ve encountered so far.

What makes a bad airport?

Long fucking queues – there’s even a queue to get into the airport.

Slow operating personnel at check in, security checks (there’s 3 of those), average food stalls, the waiting area… blah! Many of us sat on the floor due to lack of space and delayed flights.

 

Puerto Princessa

Puerto Princessa

Palawan – Puerto Princesa

Exit plane, big sigh of fresher air and relief from chaos..

..that was until the herd of sheep all decided to stand on top of me whilst I awaited my backpack. Whyyyyy?

There was one man, a non Asian, who desperately tried to push in right beside me and 50 of my close friends. I suggested standing on the other side of the conveyer belt where the luggage was actually coming from and no people were standing.. but nope.. it was a necessity for him to be where it was most inconvenient.

Lucky my strong suit in basketball was defence. I kept blocking that dude but he wasn’t giving up that easily.. so I moved.

Is this an Australian thing where we are used to having plenty of space? I don’t understand the need to push and shove when there’s more accessible space close by.

 

Accomodation Puerto Princessa

Palawan Seaview Resort is pleasant. I feel it’s pricey for such simplistic rooms although I’m convinced that’s because of being spoilt for choice and quality at decent rates in Indonesia. The staff here are forthcoming with incredibly helpful travel info. 

I was very sweetly sent a note to go out for dinner with an older gentleman that is residing at the hotel. Very old school letter invitation.. quite rare these days and very thoughtful.

Dinner  in the local food court at the local shopping centre (no chuckles – he paid). A really interesting man – he’s a law professor in Japan and predominantly deals with people (mainly women) whom have been wrongly incarcerated.

FYI, he thinks there’s no doubt Schapelle Corby was innocent. I’m still not convinced.

 

Anyway, this guy (and numerous predecessors) prompted my new disclaimer that needs to be signed by EVERY male I meet…

 

Solo female travel disclaimer

 

True story, I am travelling solo.
No, I’m not interested.
Yes, I DO love being on my own. Lots.
Seriously, I’ve never been married or had children.
Because I’ve never wanted to, simple.. no, you won’t change my mind – google menopause.
I truly am 46 (mentally 26).
Just because I’m travelling solo doesn’t mean I’m desperate to find Mr Right or Mr You’ll Do.
Yes, I’m happy. Very!
Please don’t take my compliments or kindness as a green light.
I am a positive person and believe others (male or female) should be made aware of their positive traits.
This still doesn’t mean I’m interested in forming an everlasting relationship with you.
If you need viagra, you’re too old for me.
If you don’t need viagra, you’re too young for me.
Nope! Still not interested.
Don’t put yourself in a situation where you’re going to be told to back off – you are making me uncomfortable and I will throat punch you – Read my warning signs. 
Please don’t tell me how good you are, I can figure it out for myself.
You are taking your life in your hands if you call me babe, bae, honey, darling etc etc….
Chew with your mouth closed or expect another throat punch.
Thanks for your kind offers, but just NO!
Still want to talk to me? 
Sign here ______________________________________

 

travel Philippines

 

 

 

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0322.JPG

Away from Puerto Princesa city

Once again, it pays to talk to the locals. I was given directions to Nagtabon Beach and the beach was perfect. All the way over on the west coast of the island (I’m sleeping east side) and it’s more of a surf beach with only locals hanging out eating Sunday picnic lunches and squealing with pure delight while playing in the waves. Watch out for the sand flies though.

Thanks Jerrold, you get a mention in the exclusive blog called Blinked Travel – just because he’s a hottie and gave me loads of insightful info about Philippines travel. 

 

As I return closer to home I noticed more big black clouds and that the roads were wet. Somehow, this time, Mother Nature wasn’t trying to kill me and I avoided all storms out on scooter.

2 hour Asian combination massage at the hotel was kinda brutal but feeling better for it now.. especially considering it only cost me $25 AUD – WIN!

I’m noticing lots of basketball courts around this island. For once, an Asian country that isn’t obsessed with football (soccer). Seeing Cavs and Warriors singlets are happiness to my basketball brain. I’m tempted to go play with some of these young fit basket ballers – only because they’re shorter than I am and I (wrongly) believe my body is still 26.

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Underground River

No solo female travel in the Philippines would be complete without visiting the Subterranean River.

I joined a tour group to visit the underground river and whilst I was waiting for all the young softies to do a mangrove boat tour I jumped on the 750mt zip line across the crystal clear water. 🤘🏽

Surrounded by perfect azure beach on one side and lush green forest the other – we arrive at the underground river via boat just before the brief tropical downpour hit.

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River – a more recent addition to the natural wonders of the world and listed under UNESCO Heritage. Established/discovered in 1999, this underground river is its own eco system. She covers around 22,000 hectares but not all of it is accessible – mainly due to lack of oxygen further inland. Filled with marine life, bats and snakes (saw one swimming and eyeing me as its next victim) and some of the highest cathedral-esque ceilings complete with water carved statues of Mary and other Christian “mythical” creatures.

 

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Puerto Princessa’s Subteranean River now makes it 4 (out of 7 listed) natural wonders visited… but really, countless numbers yet to be seen and some that should be listed. 

 

Kay’s Hot Springs – only one pool that wasn’t going to cook flesh within in seconds. Do people actually have no feeling in their skin and use those stupidly hot pools? Who doesn’t love the smell of boiled skin?!

 

Philippines travel / solo female travel

Off the beaten path and safety

When you’re met with surprised looks and smiles everywhere whilst on scooter and it’s delightful. I confess that being gawked at in most countries has taken a while to get used to, but it’s entertaining now.

Safety is always important when you’re a solo female traveller. I can confirm that your security will rarely feel threatened here, consequently, make sure you smile at everyone as you will be met with such sweetness you won’t want to leave… ever.

Out in town with locals – playing pool (potting balls from 1-14), drinking Red Horse beer.

Include the tequila shot from 65 yo Rod, the Filipino visiting from Chicago (with his wife back in his hotel room), offering his services because he has needs not being met. Rod, please see above disclaimer!

 

IMG_7838

El Nido – I love you

Stayed at Lally and Abet… Location and breakfast great, large room with patio – simple accommodation. $70 AUD p/n. 

Nacpan beach – another perfect white sand and turquoise liquid filled location. A few more tourists than other beaches, but you won’t have to fight for space in the water. Although, there was an entourage following to palm shaded spots on the sand. (Insert eye roll – personal space is a fictional barrier apparently)

Snorkelling trip with a group of divers, instead of doing the tourist island hop tour with one small snorkelling opportunity, was the best decision. Note to self… pack sunscreen, dufus. My already noticeably large forehead looks like a red-light hookers beacon now.

Sava Beachside Restobar for beachside, sunset viewing includes 2 for 1 cocktails. Pina coladas served in coconut shells, both delivered at the one time. Nobody likes to rush these things, but when it’s this warm one needs to ensure drinks stay cool during consumption. My excuse, don’t judge.

 

 

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travel Philippines

 

 

 

Local humans are wonderful

Filipinos/Filipinas can SING! Have seen many of them in Thailand, however the staff and just about every local you walk past are sweetly singing and it’s fabulous to hear.

Thanks to Al for introducing himself to me to enable some of the best island hopping and local experience I could have hoped for when I travel Philippines.

There’s no requirement for eating utensils when you’re taught how to eat like a local, using hands only. As thanks I gave Al some swimming lessons.

All beaches secluded and empty.. except for some grouper, turtles and a vehemently protective fish – whom bit me twice (he even drew blood – dude, you’re no mosquito, I can’t help you with babies). I googled him.. it appears swimming near his house is tempting fate. It’s ok, buddy, I understand personal space. 

The food plentiful and ever so delicious during this solo travel expedition. Wonderful Adobo spices (which I have just learned actually derive from the Spanish!) – in the sense of many flavours, not heat – is to die for, as was their bbq chicken that sat marinating in Asiatic spices for hours.

IMG_7819

 

Once more the giving Al showed his true kindness by organising his friends to escort me and my bags to the airport on motorbikes. Sorry Al, as beautifully charitable as you are, you also need to read above disclaimer. (Al is the one wearing the white t-shirt below)

If you ever travel Philippines make sure you head to El Nido, I promise you that Al, Gregg and Regie will take the best care of you. By the time you get over there hopefully their operation will be even better once they buy their own boat to run these sensational private tours.

 

Live music at Pukka Bar was great. A two piece ensemble – acoustic guitar and female singer with a hauntingly beautiful voice singing alternative tunes which could melt even the coldest of hearts.

 

solo female travel

Cebu City

Its quite the industrial hub and substantially bigger than anticipated. Lots of traffic plus dilapidated housing for the happy and friendly locals.

Great thunderstorms here.

Didn’t get out much due to monsoonal rains therefore I ran back to Palawan instead.

There are many places to go on Cebu Island, but it’s just that wet time of year, sadly. I will have to come back just to visit the other islands.

 

Palawan again

Why come back to Palawan? Because I love it and Cebu had relentless rain. The rain is so heavy I’m contemplating popping home for a week or two. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! (Clearly I was THAT bored… I went home)

Estrella falls – a substantial 90km motorbike ride away (each way) from Puerto Princesa, but well worth it. Fresh, warmish water filled with slippery rocks and, I’m pretty sure, those little dead skin eating fish you see in tanks around Thailand and Bali. Cheeky buggers liked my feet.

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Ala Amid Bed & Breakfast – don’t be fooled by the “buffet” breakfast… its pretty dismal. But if you order a separate meal from reception it’s really tasty. Great, clean and comfortable corner room with handy undercover balcony over looking the pool – perfect for playing cards on those humid rainy days.

Sesakot falls – too cold to swim this day, but still enjoyable relaxation sitting in a broken down hut listening to tunes and sipping Red Horse beer with my buddy, Jerrold.

Hanging with locals again out in town… STOP PLAYING THE NIGHT BEFORE FLIGHTS!

 

travel Philippines

 

In conclusion:

There are many reasons to love the Phillipines: 

It was once ruled by the Spanish – so many words derive from espanol, making signage and language possible to understand.

The women are stunning here.. Insignificance is my new favourite feeling. 

Even the boys and lady-boys are hot.

The importance doesn’t lie within how good a house looks, it lies within just having a roof over their heads. Happiness in simplicity.

There are many places to visit that are crowd free. So you have jungles, waterfalls and beaches all to yourself.

Perfect beaches that the locals care loads about. One of my local friends posted today on FB that El Nido boats aren’t allowed to carry plastic water bottles any longer! 👍🏽

solo travel

A basketball obsessed nation.

Cheap, cheap, cheap.

Mostly perfect weather… well, you know, besides the biggest typhoon Asia had in recorded history.

Red Horse beer – meaty and evil! 6.9% alcohol content is a bit of a panty dropper. And at $2.50 AUD for a litre, it’s asking for trouble.

E-Republic Bar, where the locals go, is waaaay better than the touristy Tiki Bar. Some funny lady-boys and a live band, along with Red Horse Beer makes for a chuckle a minute… even if I didn’t understand most of the words.

One month is not anywhere near enough time to explore all these pristine islands. I’m going back. Sorry Thailand, I have a new favourite.

Escaping the destructive typhoon by 3 hours – Yes, I’m still that lucky solo female traveller.

travel Philippines

It’s all about education of the mind, body and spirit… ok, maybe not so much education here, but the island hopping is sublime.

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Lombok – Lucky to be alive

After the recent Bali trip and meeting the locals at Gili Air – whom actually live on Lombok – I couldn’t wait to go test this island out.

What an excellent decision. 

Admittedly I went to the touristy spot to start with, Senggigi. It’s a far cry from the mega Aussie locations on Bali. It’s quiet, clean, peaceful and has the best view over to Mt Agung.

I hired a scooter and did some exploratory work. There’s something about cruising a tropical place on a bike with the warm wind through the helmet. Not being bound by any timelines or dictated to by a travel buddy.

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After a couple of days in Senggigi the lovely Sahrul (from Colour Cottages – Gili Air) came to collect me and take me on a real local Lombok experience.

Travel with Sahrul

There’s no better way of discovering that your nostril hairs are too long than being on the back of a scooter blasting through villages and tropical jungle.

Wednesday morning we jump on Sahrul’s scooter and head to his village, Taman Narmada, to meet the family. As someone who normally tries to learn some local lingo before travelling anywhere, I’m disappointed in my lack of learning Bahasa. Meeting Sahrul’s family made it evident that I’ve been lazy. A few awkward silences and a few charades, we got by. The hordes of kids and I had a ball playing games, even though we didn’t speak the same language there were loads of laughs.

Left my backpack with my new family and set off to gawk at some of the famous beaches around the island. Selong Belanak, Kuta, Mawun beaches were clearly normally surfing destinations, but today it was wild! Huge swell successfully stole 3 fishing boats and we witnessed one large fishing boat snap in two just from the shore breakers whilst the locals were trying to save it from being taken out to sea.

Lombok Wedding

After the beaches we headed back towards Narmada and landed in Sahrul’s village just at the right time to see everyone celebrating a wedding. What a beautiful way the Muslim Indonesians celebrate too. The streets are lined with everybody from the village wanting to have a look at, and perhaps have a photo taken with, the bride and groom.

As you can imagine, I kinda stood out… dressed inappropriately for a wedding in my shorts, thongs and singlet… oh, plus the blonde hair and only mildly tanned skin was a bit of a give away that I wasn’t from around these parts. I received LOADS of attention, all of it extremely positive. As I was trying to take footage and photos of the ceremony so many people were running up to me to say hello instead of focussing on the wedding party.

The happy couple come out of one house and walk together, a hell of a long way, to the bride’s house – all the while being followed by a massive entourage of villagers, photographers, a full rock band – complete with many drums, electric guitars, singers, keyboardist (yup) and dancers. There is a very large trailer that holds speakers even The Rolling Stones would be envious of, a generator to power all the instruments and everything one would need for a mobile rock band. It was AWESOME!

Sahrul and I walked most of the way with them, mainly so I could take photos and play with the locals. I think we got caught up in the spectacle for about 2.5 hours (and the Bride and Groom still hadn’t reached their destination by the time we left).

Kindest hosts

Finally leaving the ceremony, I was taken back to the family homes to share a magnificent beef noodle soup with most members of Sahrul’s large family. I know these kind people don’t have much in the way of money, but geez, they looked after me like I was royalty.

I was even given my own house to sleep in – whilst Sahrul and his brother slept outside like my body guards. Gawd that was awkward. I felt terrible, but they insisted that I get a good night’s sleep. Which I truly did!

The toys on the newly laid sheets was a gorgeous touch… my heart melted.

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A few new friendship bands added by Sahrul and his loving family.

Up early on Thursday morning – because it’s about 20 steps to a mosque and we know they’re up at stupid o’clock (4:30am) each day to chant through their crackly loud speakers.

Water parks

Sahrul and I walked back to Taman Narmada Water Park (which is where the Indonesian bottled water of the same name derives from) from the house – the same waterpark we had visited briefly the day before. This place is serene. A large, green, naturally filtered Olympic sized swimming pool – complete with lane lines – a big pond, a hindu temple, a bathing house that holds a fountain of youth, rectangle pools full of lotus lillies.

Back to the house for breakfast – an omelette cooked by Sahrul followed by a cooking lesson for his sister, Linda, of banana pancake (with condensed milk) plus fresh, organic, sweet, locally grown watermelon & pineapple. 

Sesaot Forest Water Park not too far from Narmada for a bathe / swim in the chilly waters. What a way to start the day! Lunch provided by more of Sahrul’s family whilst we were at the water park consisted of traditional sate’, nice ‘n’ spicy, with sticky rice cooked in banana leaf.

A bit of jungle riding and bush bashing to get to Air Terjun Lantan – a tall waterfall completely vacant of other humans. A great meditation location. 

Dropped in on a kind lady (a wife of one of many of Sahrul’s friends) whom had the coconut trees that Sahrul raided for our thirst. A new treat for me was to have the juice mixed with fresh lime, also picked at the time, and natural palm sugar… then scoop chunks of young coconut flesh and place them into the juice. Hello nirvana!

Peresean Fight

How on earth do I explain the next few hours… Peresean is an Indonesian traditional stick and shield fight in a gravelly boxing ring – which, by day, looks like it poses as a carpark.

There are a couple of entertaining men in the ring (doing some practice moves – of the fighting and dancing kind – sounds like a country bloke’s night out in town) that try to convince kids to give this fighting activity a whirl. To start the afternoon’s activities there are young teens that have to pretend to be macho in front of their mates by duelling unknown contenders from the opposing side of the ring. These opening bouts were short due to bruising welts and tears, (scarcely) being held back from the boys trying to be men. The real fighting begins by asking the fit (and sometimes not that fit looking) men to step into the ring against an unknown opponent.

It was a battle of South Lombok vs West Lombok.

It was a battle of two minds.

It was a dance mixed in with violence.

It was mesmerising.

It was captivating.

It was brutal.

I think a wet tea-towel flicking contest would be like a gentle massage compared to this altercation.

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Thanks Sony A7Rii for making me look like a pro. photographer

These sportsmen are given rupees when the occasional individual from the hordes of onlookers enter the ring and drop money at their feet. Somehow, Sahrul convinced the organisers to allow me in the ring to do this… I was the very first and had no clue whatsoever on what I was supposed to do with the notes I was clinging to as a security blanket in the middle of the ring – all whilst being cheered at by the crowd. A kind man saw my dilemma and came out to show me how it’s done – proof that not every super hero wears a cape.

We head back to the family home for some dinner and photos before saying sad goodbyes and heading back to Senggigi.

Earthquakes

I’m sure by now most of you are well aware that I was in Lombok when the first earthquakes hit this peaceful oasis. Possibly the most terrifying experience I’ve had. The initial “what is going on?” lasted a split second, before that “faaaaaaark” realisation and running out of the hotel (naked – no time to consider my options at this stage), then running back inside my room to put clothes on. All whilst the 2nd floor wobbled like a leaf in gale force winds – then include the sound of an army of trucks blasting through the hotel – frightening stuff. Bolting downstairs to an open area away from buildings and watching the buildings and pool distort, creating decent waves, all made for some serious adrenaline action. I’m always impressed at how people react in certain life situations..

There was another lady staying at Cafe Wayan, Lucie, she also came flying out of her ground floor room in just a tshirt and undies. The initial response when in life threatening situations is to “save yourself”  and “who cares what you look like” and “leave everything you thought you REALLY needed in the room”! I can’t help but wonder if Mum would put her best black frock on, pearl necklace and hair manicured into a beehive bun in similar circumstances? 🤔 (insert mental image of Audrey Hepburn gracefully flitting about, delicately dodging falling buildings)

Lucie, one Cafe Wayan staff member and myself had a nervous chuckle about it by the warped, wavy pool… until the next tremor.

They say a bond made through terror will last a lifetime.. Lucie and I are still in touch.

Then the large aftershocks hit. I believe there was a total of 100 of them. By the third major tremor I started researching my escape route out of Indonesia.

Check the heart rate and the size of the aftershocks – no wonder I was a nervous wreck!

To explain what these aftershocks were like; to any sufferer of motion sickness, it’s like that. The feeling of the earth moving even after you have completed that bumpy mode of transport – but an army of trucks are still heading for you… yup, that’s it. I felt ill – do I need to reiterate my inability to snorkel without my ginger drug of choice – travelcalm?

For those that don’t understand motion sickness… imagine surfing what you thought was perfectly stable ground, without a surfboard.

Would you believe I decided last minute NOT to hike Mt Rinjani that first fateful weekend… and for no real reason either. You all know how much I love a good hike in nature so it was an odd choice not to go – even at the time of invitation I questioned why I kept saying no – hindsight proves that it was the correct decision.

My poor Mum, Aunty Rena and Aunty Carol had to read my messages, as I was going through this and lived every tremor with me. They kept me calm plus constantly checked on me and I thank these three pillars of our family for being there for me (as they always are for any of us, without hesitation, any time)… and convincing me to get the hell outta there.

My nerves were completely shot for a couple of weeks. And even now, away from Lombok, any sudden loud noise makes my heart jump. I had downloaded an earthquake app after the first quake – which gave me up to the minute info on the quakes.. I had to turn the notifications off because I was in tears and covered in goosebumps each time one came through on Lombok, this was due to knowing my friends and their families couldn’t escape the trauma… and there were a terrifying amount of tremors for them to deal with.

Having given you my take on the events, nothing will ever compare to the absolute devastation the next two major quakes caused these remarkable people. I know my buddies are safe but are sleeping in tents in rice fields with their children and older family members due to the fear of more tremors (even still as I edit this they are sleeping in tents). It’s distressing to know these giving souls are out of work, money and food right now whilst I had the ability to fly away. So terribly heart wrenching.

Both accommodations I stayed at; Colour Cottages on Gili Air and Cafe Wayan Cottages in Senggigi are both closed due to collapsed buildings. And the friends made at both places are now out of work.

Perhaps we can pool some money together and send a care package to 
the kind people of Lombok? Who’s in?

OR

Maybe we can help set Sahrul up with his own tourism company to show the ‘real’ Lombok? What are your thoughts?

Tell me about your earthquake experiences. Just that constant living in fear and not knowing what will hit next is terrifying and taxing on the nerves.

….. just like that, I’m back to positive Ali and truly appreciating how freaking lucky I am. Note to anybody considering travelling with me… check Ma Nature’s movements before booking any flights… or just avoid the places I go!

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MALAYSIAN BORNEO – Nature lovers paradise

Finally, another destination bucket list tick! There’s only one thing on my mind… ORANGUTANS (and more recently, thanks to my buddy, Molly… the sun bears)

Left scary Lombok for chilli crab in Singapore for 3 days.. now I’m here.

Started in Kota Kinabalu.. thankfully it rained lots so I finally edited some of my 21 folders full of images.

 

KOTA KINABALU

City is named after the local mountain.. which is a beautiful sight when it’s not covered in cloud. Surprisingly much bigger than any other mountain I’ve come across here in Borneo.

Meh, KK – it’s a small city… more like Geelong but with skinny, tanned people and less visible butt tattoos.

The waterfront could use a revamp, but there are some cool restaurants and bars over looking the water and islands. It’s a great spot to watch the sunset.

I was “stuck” in bar because the rain came in horizontally, so being undercover outdoors wasn’t going to keep me dry.. inside I go and I think the rain stopped around midnight.. well, let’s stick with that guess. Chatted to another Aussie who had just come back from Uncle Tan’s Wildlife trek – (Bee (my bro) had only just mentioned this very same trek earlier that day) so after that chat I was sold and booked my tickets the following day.

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Breakfast of champions – substantial weight gain in Malaysia, the food is spectacular!

 

Uncle Tans Wildlife trek

Being covered in sticky, smelly and pointless bug repellant – the fuckers even attack through clothing and two layers of repellant.

The catfish jumping in the water around the huts sounded bigger than they actually were.

The tree roots that look like they’re shrouded in a greenish sheet and pretending to be ghosts at Halloween.

The birds! So many exotic, chatty, colourful birds.

Evil macacques, lots of evil monkeys.

ORANGUTAN in the wild.. not a rehab centre behind glass.

Probiscus monkeys – they look like someone stuck a penis on their faces

Squirrels – black ones and brown ones. Saw one in the camp’s resident cat, Putut’s, mouth and taken into someone else’s hut.

Mutant bugs that sound like airborne chainsaws.

The night noises so much louder than during the day – mainly teeny tiny frogs.

Being the only person in my tour ‘group’ – this place can hold up to 80 people.. I’m currently the only one here during the 5 hour transition of new and old groups.. so I get undivided attention and extra long safaris

Iddy biddy Bats dive-bombing you at night as you and your low battery torch find your way back to the hut or bathroom along the rickety, wooden, large gapped footbridge/track over water.

Being impressed by the guides that can spot an inch long frog in the dark (with torch) from 50mts away in a moving boat.

Bugs. So. Many. Bugs.

Learning which tropical plants are edible and which are topically medicinal.

Butterflies that float and actually glide in the breeze-less, thick tropical air as though they were eagles searching their prey whilst using the thermals to use less energy and keep their high vantage point.

No shower for 3 days – all weight gain from here was purely sweat, mosquito bites and repellant.

Bright starry skies at night without light pollution and no moon.

No rain starting from the day I arrived – finally Mother Nature’s weather isn’t trying to scare me off – just her mutant tropical bugs tested me.

Singing karaoke whilst the staff play drums – drums being the loose floorboard in a certain spot at the table along with the table top and tambourine – acoustic guitars and more tambourines.

I SAW A SLOW LORIS! Big hi-fives and even a hug in excitement from Otto for finding this little beasty.

Everything is damp. I mean clothes, but those parts of the body that don’t see much daylight didn’t see dryness the whole time as well.

Mosquitoes absolutely smashed my calves on my morning trek.. and I was wearing full length pants with one layer of repellant underneath and one on top. I’ve recently found out that it’s the female mozzies that bite and that blood extraction is purely to produce children. I can officially say I’m an egg donor and have children all over the world. On top of this new knowledge, these blood suckers have a thirst for beer swilling blood providers. Basically, I’m screwed.

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Fireflies. Little dancing fairy lights in the darkness.

Bioluminescent fungi! These little mushrooms, unassuming by day, lit the pitch black forest at night like Christmas trees

Honestly, I’m unsure if there’s anything that makes my soul happier than being in nature.

Is there anything Peppermint can’t do? This little oil has stopped itchies from mozzies in every country, and it is immediate relief.

The palm oil plantations… everywhere! Something like 80% of Borneo (Indo and Malay) was logged and turned into palm oil plantations. Now there are only 3 primary forests – but currently 10 secondary forests that were rebuilt starting in 1987 and hopefully more to come.

My hero, Otto, used to work in conservation and with the WWF, so he’s helped a lot in Malay Borneo to rebuild the forest and save the animals from extinction. A very knowledgeable man.

 

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Simple accommodation – usually shared, but I had this to myself. 🙂

 

THE ROAD TO SEMPORNA

An hour boat ride out of the jungle to the port we saw a few crocs along the river banks. The Spanish couple with me were so excited about 1-2mt crocs.. 😏 As we Aussies know, they’re just little ‘uns!

The Spanish couple had organised a car pick up so it’s just me to travel in the 22 seater bus alone (again) with the driver.

It’s an hour and a half trip to do the 100+kms into Lahad Dahtu. Pretty uneventful trip so I spent a lot of time frowning at all the palm oil plantations that have successfully ruined 80% of this island’s forestry.

I arrive at a petrol station to meet with my next bus. My driver, I’ve named Uncle Noddy, has been waiting just for me. There are only 5 of us making the journey to Semporna.. a measly 150kms away.

I’m given more royal treatment by being allowed to sit up front with Uncle Noddy and there’s a young Malay man who sits in the first row of the back of the bus and chats non-stop most of the way. Thankfully his English was pretty good so he acted as a translator at times with Uncle Noddy – whom spoke very broken English.

The chats turned to me being a solo traveller and not having a husband or children on so many occasions along with offers from him (36yo) and Uncle (60yo) to be my boyfriend. Uncle Noddy made sure I was aware of his.. umm.. stamina and power by using hand/arm actions!

After about 70kms, which has taken about 2hrs thus far due to the old bus’s ability to travel at approx 40-50kms p/h – any faster she’d overheat – the conversation has dropped off and I’m grateful for not being in the spotlight. That is until I see Uncle Noddy drifting off to sleep at the wheel.

There are only so many fake coughs one can do to help keep him awake and the rest of us alive. I offer lollies in the hope a sugar hit will liven him up.. nope. So I employ the help of youngin in the back to keep Uncle awake. A few slaps on the arm and more talking were starting to fail. Next option?

“Hey Uncle! Let me drive and you sleep.” Using charades and simple words to get my point across. He seemed keen on the idea so I waited patiently for him to stop and let me drive. After some time I kept pestering him and my translator to pull over and let me drive but the damn translator wanted to be dropped off before he’d allow a woman to drive.

Finally, we’re 60kms from destination and translator gets off. I take my chance – after the selfie request by translator – and jump into the bus’s drivers seat.

It seems Uncle Noddy has changed his mind and is nervous so we discuss for about 5 mins whilst I reassure him I can drive a manual (didn’t tell him that I’ve never driven a bus before).

Uncle gets into passenger seat after much reassurance from me and we’re off!

The remaining people on the bus (we had collected a few more along the way by this stage) were all wide eyed and staring at me in a nervous panic. The smoothest gear changes (I’ve possibly ever done) convinces the passengers and Uncle that I know what I’m doing.. all is well with the world.

Uncle kindly shares his snacks with me on our road trip – which I’m grateful for due to tight schedule and missing lunch. He’s much better as a passenger.

I do all the pick ups and drop offs, including into Uncle’s narrow laned village to drop nappies and snacks off to his family.

As I dropped one of the original passengers off I asked for his $35 ringgit – he found that extremely amusing.

Many people in cars, buses and on the side of the road clearly know Uncle and his van as he does this trip every day (and at that pace) so when they saw me driving there would be huge smiles or clapping.

Each time new passengers got on board their eyes popped when they saw who was driving.. until I take off.. then Uncle ever so proudly turns to the new passengers and gives them the nod. I think he’s proud of me and showing off a little!

After my 60kms we arrive at the bus terminal around 4:30pm and receive lots of smiles and hi-fives. Even an older female, original passenger, shakes my hand and says thanks.

I ask if I’m to catch a taxi to my homestay from here but uncle wouldn’t hear of it. He personally drove me in the bus to my accommodation.

Win! Although, I was still charged full price $35 ringgit.

And damn funny. I am now the latest of Marvel’s superheroes after the lives I saved.. they call me Blonde Bus-lady. Wonder Woman is envious I’m sure.

 

 

 

SEMPORNA

Even though this a tourist location I still seemed to be the only blonde wandering the streets. I finally understand what Tom Waits meant when he sang “I’m big in Japan”.. I’m so tall here!

Not much to the town. It’s dilapidated with many homes and shops scantily covered in rusty corrugated iron sheets and plastic.. and boasts a substantial amount of seafood eateries by the water. Makeshift markets taking up narrow laneways making the walk to certain areas longer than necessary due to the bottleneck of people shopping or trying to pass through.

Homestays seem to be the go.. maybe because most of Semporna is booked out with Chinese tourists – surprisingly something the locals don’t like. They prefer western tourists from what several of the locals have told me.

Hosanna Homestay was quite simple yet pricey for just a room with a bed with aircon.. bathroom was shared with 3 other rooms. The hosts very helpful and were in the process of prettying up the place.

$70 AUD p/n. Dependant on the type of solo traveller you are, there’s a room to suit your needs and budget with these homestays.

Kampung massage – Bayu Spa & Beauty – yesssssss!! More perfect SE Asian Massage. They tried to turn me away, but upon seeing my sad face they decided to look after me. On top of the awesome massage the very kind therapist gave me a small Aura Seri Spray to help with my stress. (May have something to do with Mother Nature trying to kill me… or the bus drive). More selfie requests from the staff made me feel special.

 

Officially THE worst “toilet” in SE Asia so far.

 

THE WATER

Went out for a day snorkelling trip with Borneo Speedy Dive tours and once again, this lucky solo traveller was assigned a guide all for myself. The lovely Victor was so sweet, kind, helpful and just as excited about finding the biggest turtles I’ve ever seen. If he had front teeth I’d consider being his wife #2. (Never mind the fact about becoming a Muslim)

I swear the more I snorkel the better the reefs and diversity of marine life… We swam with huge turtles that would have been close to my height – that’s if they were actually ninja turtles and could stand.

Saw a multitude of fish – tuna, crocodile fish, all the usual tropicals, angel fish as big as my head, a moray eel and the really punk (spikey) lion fish.

My super guide, Victor, took control of my new GoPro Hero5 – it’s friggen AWESOME! – and gained a lot of exceptional footage because he’s a free diver that can hold his breath much longer than my piddly 30 seconds.

What a day! They had to force me out of the water (Total of about 3 hours swimming over two locations) because all my Chinese counterparts wanted to go home. I suggested just leaving me there – this water is home to me.

The reefs are in great condition around these islands. Brilliant and bright colours showcased against the aqua expanse. These Malay people are wise enough to not allow people to wear sunscreen (other than a natural one), no standing on or touching any coral – even though I’m told it’s hard to control “so many stupid Chinese”! Not my words.

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I really wanted to visit Indonesian Borneo, but, due to my hasty exit from Lombok and not having time to research, it was too hard to get from Semporna – which is stupidly close to the Indo border – into Indonesia without going all the way to KL first. Madness I tells ya.

Overall I found Sabah kinda pricey for a SE Asian country that didn’t have the usual perks – like decent accommodation. But as usual all the locals are super friendly, kind and the guides I had went above and beyond to make sure my solo butt was well cared for.

A big shout out to Otto and Eim at Uncle Tan’s and for Victor at Borneo Speedy Dive tours. These guys all made me feel well looked after.

It’s funny how one day out in the ocean can make you change your mind about a place. Maybe, because I’m a water lover, my want to never leave the pristine coral and marine life made this place special.

 

 

What are your thoughts on Malaysia? I have a ticket to fly back there, but into Kuala Lumpur, and would love more feedback on where to and what to do… off the beaten path of course.

 

Its all about education of the mind body and spirit…. and being a water baby.