My Instant Family in Ho Chi Minh City

The Situation

I had a good job back in the Philippines, the pay was adequate, too, but I felt that there’s something missing, something I have yet to find. Purpose? Mission? Maybe. Love life? We’ll see. I have thought long and hard and decided to risk everything. So I quit my job and packed my bags for the “greener pasture.” There’s only one plan – that is, to land a job in Singapore before my tourist visa expires. 24 days later, I was still funemployed at the most expensive city in the world. You’ve read that wrong – it should be f’ing unemployed. But don’t curse, kids. Leave it to the adults, especially the jobless. Anyway, I needed to exit and so I booked the cheapest flight to Vietnam. I was all down, sickly and stressed the entire time I was in Singapore. I could easily say that was my lowest point – alone and far from my loved ones. To make matters worst, I learned that our puppy died back home mauled to death by her older sister and brother. Murphy’s law everybody!

There’s a famous saying from Mark Twain:  “…you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” But why do I feel like the universe is really determined to break me? Why do I feel like I made the wrong decision? A massive mistake.

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As depressed as I was, I had to move forward and pray. And by forward, I mean out of the country, else I might get deported. I prepared everything from my flights, to hostel bookings and itinerary. This way, I won’t have problems in the airport. I also posted my travel plans in Couchsurfing. I wasn’t expecting much from that app since I wasn’t able to find hosts here in SG but I was shookt with the responses from Vietnam. I got 2 hosts and a handful of local travelers willing to accompany me on my impromptu trip. I decided to cancel my hostel booking and accept Ricardo’s offer to host, I figured I can save money while living with the locals and learning their culture. I also didn’t want to celebrate my birthday alone roaming the crazy streets of Saigon.

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S A I G O N

I arrived at Saigon in a humid, Thursday afternoon, 26th of October. I took a Grab Bike from the airport to District 9. Lakas maka Hunger Games. Saigon boasts a lot of skyscrapers, soon to rise buildings (perfect for my rooftop climbs), and vast highways catering to the progressing economy of the city. The streets were overrun by motorbikes, undeniably alarming to a point when you’re literally rubbing elbows to a fellow commuter. But the riders were just chill and reserved, so I wasn’t scared at all – documenting the 22km ride through my Instagram stories. District 9 is situated 21km away from the more popular, touristy districts which only means it’s way cheaper here. Guhreat.

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Easy English Community

Finally, I met my host Ric and he introduced me to his cousins and students. Apparently, he’s a full time English teacher who rents an entire building for his company – Easy English Community.

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And yes, that’s where he lives and teaches at the same time. How cool is that? Later that night, I joined his classes and got to meet more of his students. They’re all warm and welcoming. I really felt that I didn’t deserve their kindness. This was the first time that I traveled with no concrete plans whatsoever. I just wanna get out of Singapore and get lost in Vietnam. But the Easy English Community found and took me in like I was no stranger. The following day, Paul brought me to all the famous spots in HCMC with his motorbikes, offered to treat me drinks then took me to must try restaurants and coffee shops.

I got to visit some of them in the University of Technology and Education (UTE) c/o Ric where we had small chit chats, a few get to know you’s and exchanged Ph to Vn cultures. They even greeted me a happy birthday which I really appreciated.

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From L-R: Diamond, Sally, Maria, Roger, Eric, Kid, Michael, Lufy, Paul, Dylan, David, Sarah, Julia, Ricardo, May and Richard. Whew!

The one thing I will never ever forget was the fact that Ric and his dear students prepared a mini party for my birthday, they cooked and stayed up late just to celebrate my birthday. They even let me watch them play Football.

Motorbikes in the City

The next day, I got not only one but four tour guides. They volunteered to join me as we all explore District 1. As it turned out, they are tourists in the city. Most of them didn’t have the time to see the famous spots and I was so happy they got to visit these places the first time with me. It also made the trip into an adventure slash Waze and Google maps dependent ride haha!

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Kicking it off with one of the many pagodas here in HCMC. Viện Minh Đăng Quang pagoda is such a beaut!

And then, I found out that Kid (this kid in white shirt) skipped his class to accompany me. More so, he can talk and practice English. Not an excuse but I’ll take it. Here’s a sneak peak of our fun times in Saigon Zoo.

I arrived in Vietnam alone and lonely but in a matter of hours I gained friends, a family even, I never thought possible. That was the first time in a long time that I felt genuine happiness.

Hồng Ngự and Nong Lam

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Sally’s parents preparing food for the goats in a laid back afternoon in Hồng Ngự

Ric’s kindness is never ending – he brought me to Hồng Ngự, his hometown, which is a 5 hr bus ride from the city. I got to experience the country side of Vietnam. I will be featuring more of this on my next article.

His students were just as kind. Kid, Lassu and Yumi insisted on bringing me to another university – Nong Lam. We had photo shoots, long walks, a quick volleyball game, interactions with a few students, had some good street food finds and lots of laughs.

I Can Get Used To This

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Speaking time with Clinton

Thank you Ric for reaching out, for doing the extra, extra mile in making sure I am enjoying my stay, keeping me involved in your classes and to Diamond for teaching me how to make Vietnamese coffee. I love talking to your students, sharing a bit about myself, my hometown and helping them in my little way to be confident in speaking the English language.

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Typical Speaking night here in Easy English Community

To cap off my stay here, Ric decided to bring me in the early morning to the infamous Black Lady Mountain (996 masl) and later that night, I got to be a teacher to one of his classes. I really didn’t want to leave HCMC but I know I have to.

My first ever international students, we pulled it off guys and girls.

Ric, keep doing what you do best, who knows I might join you in the future! I know it’s hard doing everything all by yourself, just ask if you need help and always take it easy. Til our next adventure my brother from another mother.

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Ric and I hiking the Black Virgin Mountain before I return to Singapore

Thank you for accepting this lost stranger and kept feeding me baby duck haha!

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Not as instant as their coffee but here’s my instant family in HCMC.

I am still on the process of figuring things out, we all are. I don’t know where my feet will take me next. But I have a pretty good idea where I might be next month.

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For now, quickies out…

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Credits to Noob GFX for the Lightroom Creamy presets I used for some of my photos here. Follow them and see their awesome stuff!

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Parola Island’s Unspoiled Pink Sand

You read it right, there’s a pink beach and it’s near you. Well, technically a half day joyride. But I guarantee you, this destination will be your next escape.

Calaguas group of islands is undoubtedly the most famous destination in Camarines Norte. It will surely captivate your itchy, beachy hearts. The downside here is that it’s so touristy the solitude island life you long for is forever lost to oblivion. Not to mention the one hell of a boat ride going there.

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Enroute to this so-called pink beach.  Yes, this is how calm the waters are going there!

Worry no more, I always search for the off the beaten path and this is what I found – the unspoiled pink beach of Parola Island, some 40-minute peaceful boat ride away from mainland Camarines Norte.

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Breathtaking aerial shot from Come to CamNorte

It was scorching hot when our boat arrived, but hey I’m not complaining, in fact I’m thankful since I got to witness the beach giving a pinkish glow when the sun’s rays met the shore.

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I give you…Parola Island

We were welcomed with a bunch of tourists on their camp sites and hammocks while we settled in the one and only cottage in the island. I couldn’t care less if there’s no electricity, no sari-sari store, no accommodation, well there’s a portalet at the very least. My point is, all your second thoughts in going to uninhabited island will be eradicated just by looking at this view.

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100% Island Life, 100% Twinning

The island pose such a rudimentary lifestyle that when you want to eat, you can just stand near the shore and go fishing. No kidding. Just tie a hook on your line, attach any crawling bait you can find. Throw the line at probably 2-3 meters then wait until you feel the fish at the other end.

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Easy as 1, 2 ,3 fishing. No rod needed. Photo Credit: Darius Mirasol

Grab the line and voila, there’s your lunch right there.

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Here’s what I caught. Felt sorry for this fishy fishy though.

From my hook to being cooked. Freshness guaranteed. Well I didn’t catch these guys, they were brought by the local tourism officers of Jose Panganiban for us. We couldn’t ask for more.

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After lunch, you can take a quick nap just make sure you bring your tent or hammock with you. Me being resourceful, I can sleep on any flat surface with a makeshift sheets of leaves. And if I’m being honest, I don’t usually sleep after socials cause there’s no ending socials for me. Not unless, the sun’s out and time for me to take that gorgeous sunrise.

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I asked Kenneth to pose for the camera against this instagrammable jungle backdrop.

How to get here:

You can drive from Manila to Daet by car, rent a van or take a bus that will take you 8 hours. Check buses and fares here. There used to be a direct flight from Manila to Daet but have long discontinued their services. What you can do though is to take a local airline to Naga, Camarines Sur which is 2 hours away from Daet via public utility vehicles.

Once in Daet, hop on another bus or van going to Jose Panganiban. Or waze your way here.

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Another jaw dropping drone shot from Come to Cam Norte

Suggested Itinerary for 2D/1N
Day 0
07:00AM – ETD Manila – Jose Panganiban, Cam Norte

Day 1
07:00AM – ETA Jose Panganiban | Breakfast @ Evias
08:00AM – ETD for Tailon Island (Parola)
10:00AM – ETA Parola Island
Set up tent / hammock / air beds
Explore the island
12:00PM – Lunch
01:00PM – Free time (explore three nearby islets if low tide, swimming, snorkeling)
06:00PM – Dinner
07:00PM – Socials
10:00PM – Lights out (not for me)

Day 2
06:00AM – Wakeup call
07:00AM – Breakfast
09:00AM – Break Camp
10:00AM – ETD Jose Panganiban
12:00NN – Lunch / swimming @ Turayog Resort
02:00PM – Surfing in Bulalacao beach
05:00 PM- Rest
05:30 PM – ETD Jose Panganiban – Manila

Inclusions:
– Port Fee
– Environmental Fee
– Boat Transfer
– 3 camp meals (buffet)
– 1 plated meal at Turayog Resort
– Resort Entrance fees
– Life Jacket
– Unli Cocktail drinks (Mobile Bar) uhmm hells yeah!
– Land transfers from port to Turayog and Bulalacao Beach

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This is Bulalacao Beach!

Package Rates:
Php 2,200.00/head pick up Jose Panganiban (min. of 12pax)
Php 2,500.00/head pick up Daet (min. of 12pax)

DIY It!
Alternatively, you can ride a bus taking you directly to Jose Panganiban. Or rent a van which usually cost you around Php 12,000 round trip for 12 – 14 pax. Go to Larap Port in Jose Panganiban, from there you can rent a boat going to Parola island that will cost you about Php 4,000.00 to Php 4,500 which is good for 30 to 40 people. You have to be granted permission to visit the island by the local tourism office. Contact info below.

More so, you can side trip to Bulalacao beach to surf and Pag-asa beach to chill.

For more information: Please contact the Jose Panganiban tourism office or Ms. Ruth Marie Forteza at +63910-827-3547.  For your van transfers, inquire at Northlink Events and Travel Services under Sir Darius Mirasol. Tell them Dean of The Quick Escape sends his regards. Haha!

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Not only you get the beach to yourself, but this well maintained tropical walkways, too.

I’d still recommend Calaguas, for sure, it’s one of the beaches with long stretch of finest sand and turquoise waters, but way too touristy. If you opt for serenity,  Parola Island is definitely on top of my mind.

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Be back soon!

Quickies, out.

DIY Travel Philippines goes to my hometown

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If there’s one Facebook group that I am most engaged and hooked – it would be DIY Travel Philippines. DIYTP was indeed a  lot of help when I was travelling over the past year. Seriously. If not for this group, I won’t have tipid travels from Mike of Tripidito Travel. (I had the pleasure of getting their services for my mom’s birthday in Palawan and my Be Whole in Bohol escapade). There would’ve been no discounted tours, no random weekend getaways, not to mention the guides I have contacted for my Cebu adventures, Rizal hikes and of course – the friends I gained along the way.

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Speaking of friends, here they are to name a few, L-R: DIYTP Admin Midas, Dwynn, JP aka The Rustic Nomad, Redg, Ynoh, Mommy Edna, Wilbert, Joyce and another admin Bryan.

For the longest time, I have been planning on bringing my friends to Isla Verde.  There were plans, chat groups, official hashtags, even memes, but it never panned out. I can even fill an entire sketch pad with our island life drawings. Well not until last November 2016 where I actually brought three of my closest friends at work in my hometown. So – I wasn’t planning of returning anytime soon. However, there were recent unforeseeable events that literally blew me in a bad, bad way. For me to cope with it, I had to do something, I needed to be anywhere. I had to forget and think things through. Then, the DIYTP Summer Getaway happened.

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I didn’t quite realize how much the island changed the last time I was here – maybe because I was excited to tour my friends back then. But now, those “recent” events took me to a dimension like no other, a perspective no one should see. There was this certain gloom that loomed in the island. Perhaps since most of the people I know were either dead or relocated in the city.

Yes, this is a happy post, an eventually you-will-feel-good write up. Bear with me.

We arrived at Surface Interval resort around 3:00 pm. Some of us were tired and hangry (I think, aka me), but the DIY admins were very apologetic and accommodating you were not gonna be mad at them. Oh come on, we’ve been in their shoes – organizing, planning an event then things spiraled out of control.  We understood. And boy, the admins made it up to us big time. Feeding us with lechon, raffling off loads of stuff, tours to Cebu / Pangasinan / Sagada among others, travel gadgets and the coveted Trip for 2 to goddamn freaking Maldives! Thanks, Dragonfly Holidays #BakaNaman. The items to be given away were too many, we ended up getting one or two (or more – hello Mark with the three power banks). Thanks also to the organizers that sponsor the event, Robin, Geri, to name a few. Even Kim of TripZeeker was there, too!

The funny thing was, the first item to be raffled was a GoPro lanyard. The first ‘casualty’ to receive this item was a 16 year old girl named Joy. Little did we know, Joy would be the last. Yes, she got the grand prize! How lucky can she get, right? From lanyard to Maldives, real quick. Congratulations Joy!

Props to Midas and Jad who aside from hosting the program, made us laugh all the way through. Such fun times!

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DIY Admins preparing the feast. (L-R: Rach, Mich, Jad, Gold, and Midas)
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And by feast, I mean these!
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Everyone got their prize/s – now waiting for the announcement of the grandest prize of them all – Trip for 2 to Maldives c/o Dragonfly Holidays!

What did I win? A free trip to Hundred Islands from LMTA for one. Yes, I guess I’m going solo. Rub it in, DIY.

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Gimme some Open Forum vibes before Socials (pina susyal na term for walwalan)

The part I was looking forward – the walwalan portion. I had shisha c/o Muhamed, free flowing drinks, and this ingenious card game which will defo get you drunk. Thanks to Midas the mastermind. What more can I ask for! We were done at around 6am. Oh yeah, we drank, laughed, shouted, cursed more than we should, sang a few songs and maybe cried a little bit, the entire night. After we cleaned up the area, I took a nap on a bench and had breakfast on light head.

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I spent a total of 3 mins inside this tent. So much for walwaling.

The island tour began – first off to Bgy. San Andres where my father grew up. My brother and I used to go here almost every summer during our childhood days. I sort of toured some of the DIYers in the area and brought them to the light house, yes, it’s a photo ops spot.

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View from Lighthouse

Next spot, the infamous Sampalukan corals. We snorkeled and free dived – it was exhilarating! Not that this was important, but these corals happened to be a few meters away from my cool Lolo’s place.

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Sampalukan Sunset

Want to DIY Isla Verde? See my itinerary and expenses here.

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Sunset view from Surface Interval

Before I forget, the reason we’re doing this summer getaway was because DIYTP reached another year! We are now 2 years old with over 459,000 members and counting. So if you’re still not part of our community,  go ahead and join this wonderful bunch. Not only will you get access to countless itineraries, events, tips and promos, you’ll definitely gain new friends!

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Even Facebook took notice! Hi Tim and Mommy Edna who I met here in this summer getaway…
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Lighting up candles for that, congratulations DIYTP!

To know more about DIYTP, kindly visit this link. Yes DIYTP is expanding. Stay tuned for some exciting news.

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“Buti pa yung kahoy, may picture” #SquadGoals #KuyaKamiNaman

Let’s take it to the top, shall we?

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drone2Thank you JP for giving me permission to use your sick drone shots! Perhaps I bored you with words – let me show you some live visuals then.

Video credit to the amazing Tim of The Secret Adventures of SkywalkTim.

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Til my next escape to Isla Verde…

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Quickies, out!