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Faces and Phases of Yangon

July 7, 2014

Myanmar’s former capital, Yangon remains to be the country’s largest city and main economic hub. The city’s skyline is filled with towering apartment buildings, golden stupas, and Chinese temples. The downtown area is home to a number of British colonial period buildings, one with the highest number in Southeast Asia.

Yangon is still as charming as it was when I left the city in 2011. So much has changed in the last three years, owing it to the fact that the once reclusive nation has started opening up. But truth be told, I kinda miss the old Yangon when a visit to the Shwedagon means seeing people with heads bowed praying and not because they’re busy using the free WiFi, when afterwork dinners happen in teashops and not in fancy malls, or when a taxi ride from Hledan to downtown would only take 10 minutes and not an entire hour.

I’m afraid that by my next visit, Yangon will become just somebody (city) that I used to know.

Shwedagon PagodaShwedagon Pagoda


Swetawmyat ZediSwetawmyat Zedi

Kabaraye PagodaKabaraye Pagoda

Downtown YangonDowntown Yangon

More photos here.

Faces and Phases of Kuala Lumpur

July 5, 2014

Tucked between the lush forests of the Klang Valley is the city of Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia and one of Southeast Asia’s fastest growing cities. Of course, a trip to Kuala Lumpur wouldn’t be complete without a photo with the iconic Petronas Towers.

Petronas Twin Towers

KL night skies + haze

KL night skies + haze

More photos here.

Faces and Phases of Taipei

June 18, 2014

Situated at the northern tip of the island, Taipei is Taiwan’s largest city. It is home to a number of ancient Chinese temples and historical structures, as well as to sprawling neon-lit city streets, with the towering Taipei 101 as visible proof.

The last time I was in Taipei three years ago, I was terribly sick so I was not able to try the wide array of mouth-watering street food the city has to offer. Thanks to TLC’s Fun Taiwan: All-Stars, I had another chance to channel the inner Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern in me. And no better person to be with in checking out Taipei’s tastiest treats than with the best cook I know — my mom.

Aside from having the tasty xiao long bao and stinky tofu in Shilin Night Market, we also visited some of Taipei’s must-visits including the impressive Guandu Temple and the picturesque Liberty Square, featuring the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, National Theater, and National Concert Hall.

We also visited the port city of Keelung, 40-minutes north of Taipei by train. Seafood in Taiwan couldn’t get any fresher than in this city, the country’s second largest seaport.

0001Death by dumpling and dimsum in Din Tai Fung

0002Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall

0003Taipei 101 towering over the city’s skyline

0004National Theater, Liberty Square Main Gate, and National Concert Hall

0005Longshan Temple

0006The port city of Keelung

0007Guandu Temple

0008Shilin Night Market

More photos here.

Oscars 2014 Top Picks

March 1, 2014

Just like last year, I’m sharing my personal favorites from this year’s Oscars list.

As with last year, these were ranked as a fan of moving stories, persuasive portrayals, and visually-pleasing scenes — in short, by personal preference (See Reads & Reals List for 2014). I’ll leave the most-likely-to-win predictions to hardcore cinephiles and avid awards prognosticators. I’ve also listed some of my favorite films and performances not included in the nominees list.

12 Years a Slave
Dallas Buyers Club
Captain Phillips
The Wolf of Wall Street
American Hustle

Other notable films:
عمر (Omar), August: Osage County, Short Term 12, Rush, 7번방의 선물 (Miracle in Cell No. 7)

Alfonso Cuarón, ‘Gravity’
Alexander Payne, ‘Nebraska’
Steve McQueen, ‘12 Years a Slave’
Martin Scorsese, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
David O. Russell, ‘American Hustle’

Other notable performances:
Spike Jonze (Her), Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips), John Wells (August: Osage County),
Hany Abu-Assad (عمر | Omar), Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12)

Matthew McConaughey, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’
Leonardo DiCaprio, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Chiwetel Ejiofor, ‘12 Years a Slave’
Bruce Dern, ‘Nebraska’
Christian Bale, ‘American Hustle’

Other notable performances:
Joaquin Phoenix (Her), Michael Douglas (Behind the Candelabra),
Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips), Ryu Seung-ryong (7번방의 선물 | Miracle in Cell No. 7),
Matthew Goode (Stoker)

Meryl Streep, ‘August: Osage County’
Cate Blanchett, ‘Blue Jasmine’
Sandra Bullock, ‘Gravity’
Amy Adams, ‘American Hustle’
Judi Dench, ‘Philomena’

Other notable performances:
Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks),
Kal So-won (7번방의 선물 | Miracle in Cell No. 7), Brie Larson (Short Term 12),
Adèle Exarchopoulos (La vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 et 2 | Blue Is the Warmest Colour),
Julie Delpy (Before Midnight)

Jared Leto, ‘Dallas Buyers Club’
Jonah Hill, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’
Barkhad Abdi, ‘Captain Phillips’
Michael Fassbender, ‘12 Years a Slave’
Bradley Cooper, ‘American Hustle’

Other notable performances:
Daniel Bruhl (Rush), Faysal Ahmed (Captain Phillips), Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby),
Samer Bisharat (عمر | Omar), Paul Dano (12 Years a Slave)

Lupita Nyong’o, ‘12 Years a Slave’
Julia Roberts, ‘August: Osage County’
June Squibb, ‘Nebraska’
Sally Hawkins, ‘Blue Jasmine’
Jennifer Lawrence, ‘American Hustle’

Other notable performances:
Amy Adams (Her), Scarlett Johansson (Her),
Léa Seydoux (La vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 et 2 | Blue Is the Warmest Colour)
Sophie Kennedy Clark (Philomena), Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)

Blue Jasmine
Dallas Buyers Club
American Hustle

12 Years a Slave
Before Midnight
Captain Phillips
The Wolf of Wall Street

Faces and Phases of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh + Five Cardinal Rules for Solo Travelers

January 19, 2014

This post is republished on Thought Catalog.

You probably have read recent articles on the web telling you why you should travel alone at least once. I’m pretty sure you’ve even retweeted and reposted these in all your social media accounts, then added to travel solo in your never-ending list of things to procrastinate with.

I could give you a thousand more clichés on how exciting and empowering it is to travel on your own. But I’m sure you’ve heard enough from others that say traveling solo provides the perfect opportunity for self-discovery and all that metaphysical, new age-y stuff.

Exploring a new city by yourself has that certain je ne sais quoi.

Just recently, I visited the cities of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh in Cambodia and (re)discovered the joys of going solo. ‘Seeing the silhouette of the Angkor Wat outlined by the picturesque sunrise behind it’ is now ticked off my bucket list.

While all these may sound too idealistic, traveling solo still has its own perils. These concerns — getting lost, safety issues, and the dreaded table-for-one dinners — easily intimidate many. But with ample preparation and some common sense, going solo may turn out to be that once-in-a-lifetime adventure you’ve been dreaming about, even if you’re thinking of doing it on a shoestring budget.


Connect with locals and other travelers.
The phrase ‘traveling alone’ is actually a misnomer. When traveling solo, you’re actually not traveling alone. You have the locals, other travelers, and more importantly, you have yourself. You are never alone.

Engage in conversations with the locals and other travelers. Listen to their stories and ask for useful tips and recommendations.

In Siem Reap, I was hosted by Olga Shuruht, a Russian travel guide and teacher based in the city. Olga’s passion for the Khmer culture and language is quite admirable. It’s not often you find someone who’s willing to embrace a lifestyle totally different from what they’re used to. It was charming to see her exchange banters with the locals and talk about her love for Cambodia for hours.

As a backup option for a place to stay, I also contacted Bou Savy Guesthouse before my trip. Although I ended up staying at Olga’s place, Bovorn, Bou Savy’s owner, and his staff treated me like I was a guest. They made sure I had the best time while in Siem Reap, from the free airport pickup to helpful assistance in bike rental and tuktuk tour.

On my way to the Angkor Wat, I met Couchsurfers Sirkku Isokangas and Patryk Szambelan and we ended up sharing a tuktuk while going around the temples of Angkor. Patryk was in the middle of his solo Southeast Asian tour, while Sirkku was in Cambodia to celebrate her birthday.


Put down your camera.
I hate to break it to you, but no one wants to see 100+ sepia-toned photos of the sunset or of what you had for breakfast. Just put your cameras down and stop spending so much time choosing which Instagram filter you’re going to use on your next awkwardly-angled selfie.

I’m still a bit guilty with this one, so what I do is I intentionally leave my camera charger at home whenever I travel. That way I’ll be forced to take fewer photos. I instead take rapid mental notes and photos, somehow similar to how Benedict Cumberbatch does it in Sherlock.

Limit the photos you take and pay attention to what’s actually going on around you. Savor these moments.

The most likely the reason why millions visit Siem Reap is to see the majestic temples of Angkor with the fabled sunrise as a backdrop. Aside from our innate fear of the dark, the prime reason why we love watching the sun rise is because we all yearn for that familiar warmth — that reassuring embrace — reminding us that we’ve still got the time to make things right.

Finding that perfect spot in the temple area of Angkor to watch the sunrise or sunset alone is almost impossible. These thousand-year-old structures, which seamlessly blend with the surrounding forests, are popular for a reason.

Hundreds of visitors, with their necks craned and cameras in hand, will fight for the best spots. As charming as these temples may be, the scorching sun and the hordes of tourists — half of them awestruck and the rest just plain rowdy — may easily overwhelm even the most-experienced travelers.

Instead of visiting ALL the temples, spend more time in some (including Bayon, Ta Prohm, and Baphuon). Choose quality over quantity. Don’t mind the other tourists and, instead, bask in that communal sense of wonder and delight.

Once you’ve got your fill of the Angkorian temples, rent a bike, try the local Khmer delicacies in the Old Market, and visit the small yet equally appealing temples in downtown Siem Reap.


Channel the inner Anthony Bourdain in you.
Granted, we may not be as witty as Mr. Bourdain or be as adventurous as Andrew Zimmern, but channel the inner food/travel junkie in you and try out food items you’ve never had before — be it the stinking tofu in Taipei, sizzling crocodile sisig in Davao, or even the fried silkworms in Yangon.

My only rule whenever I try a new food item is that it has to be fresh out of the pan or it’s freshly picked, caught, or prepared.

Don’t miss the chance to taste the local cuisine. And please, don’t be afraid to take yourself out for dinner. You’ll be surprise how fun it is to have yourself as your own date.

In Siem Reap, Olga brought me to some of her favorite places to eat. My favorites: somlor ktiss in Navy Khmer Kitchen, pumpkin soup in Rina Rino, and butter masala paneer in India Gate.

Also when in Cambodia, buy genuine Kampot pepper, considered as one of the world’s finest peppercorns. I brought back several packs and still use them until today.


Use all your five senses.
The best way to get to know a new city is to do it using all your five senses. Every sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch reveals the character of the city you’re in. Going to a new city should always be a feast for all your senses.

After spending a couple of days in Siem Reap, I hopped on a bus to the capital city of Phnom Penh and stayed there overnight. At first glance, Phnom Penh may seem to be your typical Asian metropolis — its skyline filled with towering buildings and gleaming temple rooftops, the usual cacophony of roaring motorbikes and chanting monks, and the savory smell of roadside noodles and an array of grilled animal parts. But Phnom Penh’s hustle and bustle is more subdued as compared to other Asian capitals, retaining much of the laid-back charm of its French colonial past.

Among the must-visit places in the city are the impressive Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, and other smaller wats, all just a good walking distance from the banks of the mighty Mekong. A visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum also offers a glimpse in to the country’s dark past under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. It’s easily one of the most depressing places I’ve been to.


Have fun.
One of the joys of traveling solo is that you can travel at your own pace. You can go wherever you want and do whatever you want to do. You wouldn’t feel guilty checking out the city’s red light district. No one will judge you trying out Siem Reap’s happy pizza. No one will know if you’ve been wearing the same pair of jeans for days. To some extent, you have an excuse to be stupid.

The most important thing to do whenever visiting a new city is to have fun. Live in the moment. Don’t be afraid to get lost; it lends perspective. Do things you haven’t done before but always be safe. Take calculated risks.

Set your travel non-negotiables. These are things that you do or items that you bring in order to make your trip as fun and comfortable as possible. Some travelers have their favorite travel blanket or pillow. Others are picky when it comes to choosing their beds or toilets. I know people who can’t start the day without sipping their favorite coffee or without taking 30-minute showers. Whatever floats your boat, it’s all good.

My personal travel non-negotiables include bringing a copy of the Lonely Planet guide and buying a SIM card for mobile Internet. I usually ‘invest’ in these items because it makes me feel at ease whenever I’m in a new country.

If you have time, you can also participate in voluntouring activities whenever you’re in a new city. It’s a fun way to give back to communities and at the same time get to know the locals.

Weeks before I went to Cambodia, my friends from the UNESCO Youth Peace Ambassador program and I set up a relief drive in Phnom Penh for communities affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. The group was able to raise funds and collect 10 kilos of relief items and school supplies.

These are just a few tried-and-tested tips on traveling solo. Don’t get me wrong, I also like traveling with family and friends. But sometimes, you just have to satisfy your body’s craving for the thrill of the unknown and the euphoric feeling of absolute freedom.

Now, do yourself a favor and start mapping out your own solo adventure. The world is waiting.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Thom’s moat


Ta Prohm

Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace

A torture room in Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

With CS host Olga Shuruht

With UNESCO youth ambassadors Kanitha Chroeung, Lina In, Kimsan Seong, and Tin Kolmen

More photos of here and here.


December 31, 2013

Capping off 2013 with this obligatory year end post. For this year’s entry, here’s a rundown of some of my favorite photos and tweets this year.

JANUARY: With fellow UNESCO Youth Peace Ambassadors from the ASEAN region in Manila |  FEBRUARY: February Fair in UP Los Bańos |  MARCH: Visited the National Museum for the first time  |  APRIL: PEMSEA’s 20th anniversary kickoff; special anniv publication also launched this year |  MAY: Voted again after missing two previous elections |  JUNE: Went to the Malacańang Palace and met the President for the first time |  JULY: Traveled to Hong Kong and Macau with high school friends |  AUGUST: Holiday break in Davao |  SEPTEMBER: Keeping the GCM fire burning with fellow GCMs Jecel and Tom; British Council’s Global Changemakers program officially ended this year |  OCTOBER: Celebrating my birthday in Borobodur in Indonesia; travel entry published in Thought Catalog and Maptia |  NOVEMBER: Exploring the Angkor Wat in Cambodia |  DECEMBER: Dizon-Ronan family reunion

You can be there for somebody, but you cannot be somebody’s everything. Leave some of you for you. #notetoself

Hey you, look up at tonight’s full moon and let’s pretend we’re staring at each others’ eyes.

I may not be a big fan of Catholicism, but there’s no denying that Jesus’s journey is one of the greatest stories ever told. #easter

#HappyEndings remains to be one of the most underrated shows on TV today.

Riding the MRT/LRT and jeepneys during the rush hour should be declared as an Olympic contact sport. #ThisIsSparta

Find that place “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” #notetoself

Just because there’s a ladder presented in front of you doesn’t mean you need to climb it. Go find the right ladder. #notetoself

Vicious cycle of a #cyberheartbreak: Secretly like someone. Stalk all social networks. Add/follow. Die a little. Read all posts. Post witty replies. Pretend you’re in a perfectly platonic relationship. Discover s/he is seeing someone. Denial. Anger. Acceptance.

If there’s one thing UP taught me, it’s resilience. Malaglag ‘man, tayo kaagad pero mas may angas. #UPFight

Now sitting under a tree at the foot of Borobudur. It’s just me, the temple, and birds chirping. #spaforthesoul

Feeling down lately? Carry out random acts of kindness to strangers or even to people you know. Start that chain of positivity. #YolandaPH

When we were in college, we also had something similar to ‘The Elbi Files’ where we can rant, share secrets. It’s called having friends.

Wrath of Haiyan (Yolanda)

November 13, 2013

Donate or volunteer if you can. Carry out random acts of kindness to strangers or even to people you know. Start that chain of positivity.

Here are lists of ways to help affected communities collated by CNNRappler, and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA).

Infographics by UN OCHA.


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