You may have already read a little bit about my trip to the Philippines, which had a pretty big impact on me. You also may have seen my endless posts about the delicious, cheap street food in Malaysia (which I need a break from – I’m all rice and noodled out).
But for the sake of consistency and picture-sharing, here is a more detailed recap of my last two weeks!
On April 27th, I flew to Manila and spent a night in the Shangri-La Hotel, where my cousin Daniel was put up for a business trip. We went over to the City of Dreams casino and played some craps and blackjack. It was a successful night (by my gambling standards: I left with about 100 extra pesos in my pocket, or a whopping $2.24)!
The following morning, I took a bus to Batangas, then a one-hour ferry to Sabang in Puerto Galera. Along the way, I met a traveler named Kevin from Shanghai who was on his way to the same island to take a scuba diving course. We chatted the whole way and even met up a couple of times in Sabang for dinner and drinks.
Sabang is a small island known for being a tourist’s scuba diving heaven. I have never dived and needed certification to partake, so instead I spent most of my time in Sabang chatting it up with some locals and ex-pats at Floating Bar in the harbor. The bar also had a second deck, slide, snorkel gear and hammocks so I took full advantage of those. It truly was paradise!
I met a bartender named Claudia there, who I wrote about in my blog linked above. She was a joy to talk and laugh with during those long, warm days. Even though we only had a few days, it was pretty sad to leave someone I’d gotten to know pretty well in a short amount of time!
Some of the ex-pats were interesting characters themselves, including an artist named Marko, originally from Northern California, who was living with his Filipino wife. He was open about his disdain for America, strangely enough, but was planning for a trip back to the States in June. Marko has been married to his wife for seven years, but this trip will mark the first time any of his other family members have met her. She was lovely in her own right, even though she peer pressured me into trying chicken feet! Verdict? Nope.
Lorenzo was also a main subject of that recent blog – and he served as the bartender/handyman/receptionist at Paddy’s Hotel, where I stayed for three nights in Sabang. He was a really interesting guy who loves boxing, women and construction (not necessarily in that order). From the stories he was telling me, it seems that Lorenzo clearly enjoys the perks of being an attractive, young bartender at a backpacker hostel (especially when young European ladies came to town, he said…), but he stressed that he was looking for love. Over beers a couple of times at the hotel bar, Lorenzo divulged that he didn’t have enough money to support his own family, let alone a wife or girlfriend but ached to be in that position. He also wants to go abroad, amass a fortune, and move back to the Philippines someday.
The hostel itself was pretty cool; a bar on top of a set of rooms. I had an individual room with a loud, pointless fan to keep me cool (it didn’t do its job very well). The facilities were definitely the most basic I’ve had in a hostel thus far (no hot water, no hand soap, no toilet paper, etc.), but that’s what I expected from a tiny hostel on top of a huge hill on an island.
After three relaxing, eye-opening days in Sabang, I ferried my way back to Batangas, rode back to Manila and checked in at Cozee Monkey Hostel in Manila, just around the corner from the airport. Interestingly, this hostel was built inside a gated community, but ran right up next to a slummy village in which we could hear sub par karaoke emanating through the night for hours. Apparently Filipinos love them some karaoke. My kind of party people.
I met some cool folks at Cozee Monkey, too. Though I’m surely butchering the spelling of his name, Yedlin from Denmark was the first person I connected with. We sat and talked for hours the night I arrived. I found out that he and his boyfriend (from San Francisco!) had been in another hostel in Manila, which had recently burned to the ground in an accidental fire and they lost a few of their belongings and most of their money. Now, they are working for accommodation at Cozee Monkey, but likely won’t be able to fulfill their dream of teaching English in Japan in the Fall. Yedlin has been debating whether he wants to go back and give college a shot (he’s only 19), but prefers to do his learning while traveling the world.
Sunday was Fight Day in Manila. Hometown hero Manny Pacquiao against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. One of the other employees of the hostel, Carlo (“Pancho”), was from a nearby neighborhood and offered to take a group of us to watch the fight at a viewing party in a garage in that neighborhood. We rode over there, met his sister, and paid 40 pesos (less than $1 – suck on that, Pay Per View!) to sit with about 100 locals and cheer on Pacquiao.
Even though Pacquiao lost and the fight itself was pretty boring, the experience was exactly what I’d hoped for. The locals all cheered raucously whenever Pacquiao so much as took a swing at Mayweather. And after the result, most were proud of how Pacquiao fought and truly believed he was robbed of a victory. There wasn’t as much agony as I’d expected, maybe because this fight was way overdue and Pacquiao had been struggling lately anyway. In fact, it looks as if Filipinos are doing just fine with the result (and damn it I missed the parade!). Either way, it was a memorable way to end my time in Manila.
After spending one day recovering, napping and re-packing in Singapore, I was back up the following day to head to Penang, Malaysia. I spent about seven full days there, which was definitely more than I needed. Luckily, it rained a couple times and I was able to take advantage by catching up on my planning for Europe and some freelancing projects. The hostel I stayed at in George Town, Penang was right in the heart of “old town.” Mercifully, it had air-conditioned rooms and fans so it was relatively comfortable (minus the loudly snoring roommates – I thought one of them was choking on his own snores).
I spent two days exploring George Town and took in some really cool historical sights — mosques and temples seem to dot every other corner in Penang — and wandered along the waterfront. Once there, I spotted a massive monitor lizard and followed it before it jumped into the water and started swimming around. The thing was massive and swam with its little arms spread on its back, using its tail as a rudder. Very cool, even if it wasn’t a baby dinosaur like I originally expected.
I also made my way over to the Clan Jetties, which is a small community that was there before Penang became more modern and is connected by old boardwalks over the water.
Some of the coolest places I stumbled upon while exploring Penang include the reclining Buddha at Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram, the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple, the Balathandayuthapani “Waterfall” Temple (513 stairs from the bottom to a stunning view of downtown Penang) and the Kek Lok Si Temple (which dominates one hillside and has a Buddha statue that towers over Penang). You can see some shots from those places here:
I spent one day at the beach in Batu Ferringhi, which is about a 45-minute bus ride West of George Town. The beach was basically abandoned, save for a few other tourists and some locals who were trying to sell things like boat rides, jet ski rides and parasailing. I did get a pretty cool timelapse of my section of beach on that day:
The most memorable day in Penang was spent walking to, and then up, Penang Hill. I checked a few travel websites for reviews on the hike before taking off, and the consensus was that it is steep in parts, but levels out after the first kilometer. Easy enough! I walked about an hour through Penang to get to the Botanical Gardens at the base of Penang Hill. I stopped to take some photos of the monkeys that were everywhere (stupidly, I only took some on Snapchat so don’t have any to share here…), before continuing on.
But approximately 43 seconds later, any joy I’d taken in seeing real, live, wild monkeys up close was crushed as I began the trek up Penang Hill.
Those reviewers were lying bastards.
Three hours and 5.1 kilometers of vertical switchbacks later, I was on the verge of death and basically crawled the last hill to the top. A few times, I truly thought it was either time to just call it quits and somersault back down the hill or live among the monkeys on the side of the road. I couldn’t believe the hill just kept going up and up and up like that, but it seemed to never end, and very rarely flattened out. I learned later that Penang Hill is 735 meters above sea level (for context, Mt. Diablo is about 1,173 meters above sea level). The view was well worth it though, and I took some time at the top to catch my breath (like, 2 hours…) and have a really good lunch.
Other than a lot more of the aforementioned delicious street food (food carts and hawkers everywhere – it was awesome!) and trying my first dragonfruit (also delicious), that pretty much sums up my time in Penang. Now I have a couple of days to lay low in Singapore before officially ending my time in Southeast Asia.
I learned that this region is full of natural and architectural (not to mention culinary) wonders and some of the most outgoing, hospitable people you’ll ever meet. I spent time in cities and countryside and on islands with people of all ages, religions and social statuses, and found almost every single one to be a genuinely kind person.
Right now, I need a break from the humidity and the starchy food, but I’ll be back someday. After all, there are still some areas in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia that I’d really like to visit.
Now, I turn my attention to the weekend. I’ll be landing in London on Saturday morning for a few days of sightseeing and couchsurfing before heading up to Saga Fest in Iceland next Wednesday. I’ll likely spend a couple of weeks or more in Iceland, and based on the pictures I keep seeing of the landscape, I’m going to fall in love very quickly up there. The festival itself is going to be an amazing getaway and I’m expecting to meet a lot of new people while I’m there.
If you’ve liked my pictures so far, just wait until I get that timelapse and pano working on the glaciers, waterfalls and geysers of Iceland.