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Mt. Pulag's Akiki-Ambangeg Trai

A day hike to Luzon island's highest peak

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

5 Things To Know About Angkor Wat

If you ever get the opportunity to visit Cambodia, it’s likely that Angkor Wat will be high on your list of things to see. Though the country is also known for beautiful beaches and local culture, Angkor Wat is in a league with some of the most famous wonders of the world, and deserves every traveler’s attention. That said, it’s also a very misunderstood historical attraction, and it pays to know a little bit about a place like this before you visit. Thus, we wanted to write up a brief guide of things you should know about Angkor Wat.

1. Angkor Wat Is About 900 Years Old
Sometimes we lose a little bit of perspective when it comes to dating ancient wonders. For instance, we get used to the idea that things like the pyramids of Giza or Stonehenge are literally thousands of years old. Meanwhile, some other wonders like the Taj Mahal are far younger – in that specific case, only about 360 or 370 years old. But Angkor Wat falls somewhere in between ancient and modern wonders. It was built between roughly A.D. 1113 and 1150, making it roughly 900 years old.

That sounds nice, but when you really think about what was going on in the world around that time it’s rather incredible. In the 12th century, the Renaissance was emerging from the High Middle Ages, gothic architecture was first taking hold in France, and the Song dynasty ruled in France. It was during this time that the Khmer Empire in Cambodia was at the height of its power, which makes the structure of Angkor Wat seem all the more impressive.

2. It Was The Center Of The World’s Largest City
Unless you’re fairly sharp on your Cambodian history, you might not realize that the name Angkor Wat comes from the name Angkor, which was at the time of construction the capital of the aforementioned Khmer Empire. With a population that likely exceeded one million even in the 12th century – when there were still fewer than 500 million people on the entire planet. That made Angkor the biggest city on Earth for quite some time until the Industrial Revolution gave way to faster construction and bigger cities in the West. Imagining ancient Angkor Wat within this context gives it new significance.

3. It’s Not Indian
Clearly Angkor Wat is not in India, but there still seems to be a widespread misconception that it is of Indian origin. We do know that it was built originally as a Hindu temple, and thus in a way there was Indian influence. Some claim it was actually Indians living abroad who constructed the temple, such that the monument is often credited to Indian lore, right alongside the Taj Mahal. One modern gaming series even appears to use an Angkor Wat-inspired temple as background material. The games, hosted by Slotsource, follow an Indiana Jones-like adventurer to various ancient civilizations, and the “Pearls of India” game, while not exclusively using the temple, sure appears to glorify Angkor Wat.

The truth is simple. Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century (as mentioned) by ancient Cambodians who may have spent time in India learning about culture and architecture. Thus, while there is Indian influence, the building wasn’t actually conceived of or built by Indians.

4. It’s Still An Area Of Active Worship
This is a quick point, but one that may be of particular interest to prospective travelers. Angkor Wat is an ancient temple that is now primarily a tourist attraction and a monument to history. However, there are still active temples in its immediate vicinity – reminiscent of the city’s history, during which there were at times hundreds of temples serving the population. Thus, while it does receive a lot of attention from tourists, Angkor Wat is still a place for reverence.

5. There’s An Ancient City Beneath Angkor Wat
If it’s not already impressive enough to think of Angkor Wat as an enduring symbol of a 900-year-old city, recent research has indicated that the surrounding area was actually populated before Angkor became prominent. According to Baby Elephant, brand new laser technologies recently combed over the area, resulting in the discovery of the city of Mahendraparvata – a Khmer city that is dated to 300 years before the construction of Angkor Wat. That discovery came in 2012, and in 2016 evidence of even older cities in the immediate area emerged – some of them perhaps as old as 1,400 years. All of this only deepens the palpable sense of history you get visiting this incredible area.

Note : The above article was contributed by one of the site's guest writers. If you have any concerns about this post, please send an email to tine.fernandez@gmail.com. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Birthday Hike at Mt. Matutum (Tupi, South Cotabato)

I woke up at 2:30 AM, ahead of the alarm, excited to meet another mountain. I had just turned a year older. Thankfully, my youthful enthusiasm for nature remains unchangedThough I've been feeling the effects of aging with the slowing metabolism and white hair popping everywhere,  I'm happy I could still hike, though my pace is much slower than a few years back. :) This time,  I'm heading to Mt. Matutum, an active volcano in the municipality of Tupi, South Cotabato province.

Read : Celineism  | I Spend My Birthday in the Mountain

My hotel in General Santos city was next door to a 24-hour branch of Taps & Mix, a restaurant serving Filipino comfort food that has become a new favourite. The menu looks like something people enjoy eating when they have a hang-over.  Some of the items in their menu includes gambas, sisig, TAPSILOG, chicken wings & chopseuy . Though I did not get enough sleep the night before, I made time for brewed coffee and an early morning breakfast. #priorities :P 

At a little past 4:00 AM, the bus left Bulaong terminal in Gen San for Tupi. (Tip : Be at the bus terminal by 4:00 AM and ride the bus with a signage "MARBEL - 2 Stops". This is bound for Koronadal, Marbel's new name). After an hour or less, I arrived at Kablon crossing in Tupi where I met with my guide, sir Toto Mateo. (If you're not familiar with the area, just ask conductor or driver to let you off at Kablon Crossing. While there are no obvious markers, the crossing has a waiting shed and a habal-habal or motorbike terminal nearby.

The jump-off is 30 minutes away on rough road, passing Dole's vast pineapple plantation.  The view is beautiful and calming with Mt. Matutum as a backdrop.

start of our hike via Glandang trail
We had a short stop at the home of a barangay leader to show my permit. By 6:00 AM, we were making our way up the mountain via Glandang trail, passing Glandang Elementary school. At the time, only one other group was in the mountain and they had camped the night before.

The first part was not as easy as I expected. The trail is clear but narrow and gradually inclined. Add the lack of sleep and I was out of breathe early on. I adjusted my pace - slower with a max 10 second rest - just enough for my heart not to jump out of my chest. My guide, sir Toto could have effortlessly made his way up but he patiently waited for me. We were about 10-20 feet apart most of the time.  

The slower pace was enjoyable. Numerous times I paused to admire the fog, the fungi, moss-covered tree branches and the orange flowers along the trail. We even spotted a  bird perched on a tree. Thankfully, no snakes. Hehe! 

In 1 hr 47 minutes, we reached an area called Phase 1. It's a wide area that serves as a resting spot. By the time we get there, I was dizzy from hunger. All the food I ate that morning had left my system in the first 30 minutes of the hike! Sir Toto and I ate a quick breakfast, his first, my second. :P  I would have preferred to stay longer as we were ahead of schedule but it got so cold, we had to move again.

Mt. Matutum's mossy forest
After phase 1, the trail transitioned from steep to incredibly steep, making the hike up even more challenging, but seeing its beautiful forest, it was hard not to smile! The light rain and fog made the shade of trees and plants more vibrant. There's plenty of roots and branches to hold on to, I didn't slip.  The soil was wet but because not many people went up here, the ground is stable. We did see limatik but they were not aggressive. 

Our slow and steady pace worked. We barely stopped for a rest. After another 2 hours from phase 1,  we finally reached the summit! If not for the markers, you'd think it's just another resting area. Fog was everywhere and there was nothing to see. Still, I was elated to have reached the summit. Some 30 minutes away, there's another area called Peak 3 where view is supposedly awesome but with the bad weather and cold, we decided to head down after about 10 minutes. 

At Mt. Matutum's cold and foggy summit
Before 2:00 PM, we were already making our way back to downtown Tupi where we had late lunch. Farmers bread has delicious panic  lomi and bread. It's just across Tupi Public market and bus terminal where I rode back to Gen San. (Tip : If you love coffee, check out the public market for native coffee. There's a stall near the entrance selling it.)
post hike lunch at Farmers Bread with my new found friends from Tupi.
My guide, sir Toto is the guy in grey, while the rest of the guys are also hikers, his friends we ran into on our way
down the mountain.
This hike is part of my week long birthday trip. Hope you can also take the time to read my other posts on this. :) 
Leg 1 : El Nido Experience with Northern Hope Tours | Walking Around El Nido Town (to follow)
Leg 2 : Birthday Hike at Mt. Matutum (You're here!)
Leg 3 : Overnight in Maguindanao (Part 1) | Overnight in Maguindanao (Part 2)

Here's my itinerary and travel info:
Matutum Day Hike Itinerary via Glandang Trail (from Gen San)
Note : Contact guide ahead of your hike to schedule. In my case, I coordinated with my guide, one week prior. You will also need a permit to climb. If coming from out of town, he can process it for you. More details below.

November 2017 (Sunday)

4:00 AM - ETD Bulaong Terminal in Gen San
5:00 AM - ETA Kablon Crossing to meet with guide and take habal-habal to Sitio Glandang
5:15 AM - ETD Kablon Crossing 
5:45 AM - ETA, Sitio Glandang, show permit to barangay official, final preps, restroom break. 
6:00 AM - Start Trek
6:30 AM - Arrival at the only water source
6:45 AM - Start Trekking again
8:15 AM - arrival at Phase 1
8:30 AM - resume trek to summit
11:00 AM - arrival at summit
11:30 AM - start descent
1:30 PM - arrival at Sitio Glandang, dress up at barangay leader's place and take habal-habal back to downtown
2:30 PM - back in downtown, late lunch at Farmers Bread
3:00 PM - wait for bus back to Gen San
4:30 PM - back in Gen San

Expenses : 
Permit fee - 500 PHP
Guide fee - 1,000 PHP
Guide - Toto (Jefferson) Mateo - +63 (0920) 743 7135

Note : He can assist with your permit. You will need to send the permit fee via Palawan Express (Guide fee to be paid after the hike). Contact him ahead of time before sending the payment. As he will be processing the permit, please consider adding an extra amount on top of the permit fee to cover for his expenses. 
Habal-habal fare from Tupi to Sitio Glandang-100/person, one way. You will pay for the guide's fare.(to and fro, total is 400 Pesos if you're going solo)
Fare from GenSan to Kablon crossing - 40 PHP+/-* (aircon bus, first trip at 4:00 AM) - 
*I forgot the exact cost but it's around that amount.

Where to stay in GenSan? 

- I'm not able to recommend the hotel I stayed in because of noise issues. I do however, encourage you search for a hotel via Traveloka  app (super useful for last minute bookings on domestic travels!) or Agoda. Do check the reviews on the site, via Trip Advisor or run a search on Google. :) You can find rooms for as low as 500 Pesos/night but take note of the inclusions (aircon, private t&b, breakfast, etc) as well as location from establishments and distance from Bulaong Terminal where you will be taking a bus to Tupi. It's easy to get around GenSan via tricycle though some drivers may overcharge you. There's a minimum fare (I forgot if it was 8 or 10 Pesos) and tricycles are for sharing. The driver will pick up passengers that are along their route, unless you request for a special trip.

Side Trips 

You can combine this with a hike to Sanchez peak near Gen San or a trip to Gumasa beach in Sarangani (see Pinoy Adventurista's post here for travel info). 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Nature Lover's Bucket List to Thailand

Visiting a country that has so much to offer in terms of food, scenery and culture, it’s a challenge (but a very fun one), to squeeze everything on a single trip. While the country offers a variety of attractions, this post focuses on places (as you can already tell from the title :P) that will interest travellers with a penchant for nature at a relax pace.  

Here’s a list of places to get you and I started in exploring this beautiful Southeast Asian neighbour of ours, Thailand. 

If you have tips to share, please leave a comment or connect with me on my social media channels listed below. :)

Where to stay? Fortunately, travellers visiting to Thailand have a wide variety of options  on where to stay. From backpacker types to luxury Thai Homes, it's easy to find one that fits your budget.

Hike to Thailand’s Roof 
view from Kew Mae Pan trail (Photo from Douglas Perkins)
At a height of 2,565 meters, Doi Inthanon is the country’s highest mountain located within Doi Inthanon National Park, in the province of Chiang Mai. Though the only way up to the summit is by a hired vehicle or motorbike passing a concrete road, followed by a short walk to a signage that says “The Highest Spot in Thailand”, those who crave for a closer interaction with nature can explore the waterfalls and hiking trails in the area.  For a  rewarding hike passing a beautiful mossy forest and scenic cliff views, Kew Mae Pan trail is recommended. The trail is nearly 3 KM long and requires a local guide that can be hired onsite. Another hike is the Ang Ka Luang, a shorter boardwalk trail popular to birdwatchers. 

Apart from hiking trails, other must see attractions in the park are the temples, Twin Royal stupas and its surrounding gardens . It can also be combined with a side trip to The Royal Agricultural Station, a research centre supporting the livelihood of tribes men. 

Check out my other hikes here.

Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden
A visual treat to plant lovers is Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden in the Mae Rim district of Chiang Mai. Sprawling 1,000 hectares at the foothills of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park,  it is Thailand’s first international standard botanic garden. Here, visitors are introduced to curated gardens showcasing the country’s flora as well as plants from overseas, arboretum trails and ornamental gardens.
Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden (Photo by Amada 44)
An exciting attraction onsite is  Canopy Walkway. Suspended over a lush forest, it allows visitors to stroll over tree tops. There’s also a 30-45 minute trail passing Mae Sa Noi waterfalls to ornamental flowers and the Thai Wild Orchid Nursery. The waterfalls has 10 levels and can be visited on a separate trip.

Visit an elephant sanctuary in Chang Mai
Thailand’s national animal is a hit among travellers, with elephant riding as one of the top activities, but have you heard about how these pachyderms are tortured to do tricks and give rides? This post from PETA explains in detail, Why You Should Turn Down Elephant Rides.
Elephant Nature Park (Photo by Elemanxx)
Elephant Nature Park is one of the reputable animal sanctuaries in Thailand, allowing its visitors to meet its rescued elephants and volunteer. Aside from these pachyderms, dogs, cats and other animals are also in the centre.Guests must book through their website before visiting.  

Travellers however must be wary of places masking itself as a sanctuary. Do your research - ask around, read reviews online before booking a tour.  

Wat Khao Hua Jook 
This temple with a big Buddha is on the northern side of Chaweng lake in Koh Samui island. Sitting on a 90 meter hill, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of Chaweng lake,  nearby islands and watch airplanes take off from Koh Samui airport. In the afternoon, it is a good spot to catch the sunset.

Not commonly part of tours, visitors can take a motorbike to get here or take an arduous walk on a steep hill. From Chaweng beach, the wat is about 1.9 KM away, on the road leading to Q Bar Samui.
Chaweng Beach in Koh Samui (Photo : Jacques.samui)
A more popular temple, thus attracting crowds, in the northeast side of Koh Samui is Wat Phra Yai or commonly referred to as Big Buddha. It  also has a view deck, albeit less scenic, offering views of the water and the structures around it. 

Hin Ta & Hin Yai Rocks
A section of Hin Ta & Hin Yai (Photo by Dirk Enthoven)
Also in Koh Samui, in a rocky coastline about 1.8 KM from Lamai beach,  this popular attraction features wildly interesting rock formations, in the shape of male and female genitals. Its name translates to Ta for grandpa and Yai for grandma, the subjects of a tragic Koh Samui folklore. According to the story, a couple, Ta Kreng and Yai Riem had a son who had just entered the right age to marry. To formally ask the daughter of Ta Monglai in marriage, the couple traveled by sea. Unfortunately, they encountered a storm, capsizing their boat. The couple did not survive and turned into rock formation, the shape of which serves as proof of their intention. 

Nai Harn Beach
Phuket's Nai Harn Beach (Photo : ADwarf)
Developed but not congested with tourists, this beach near the southern tip of Phuket is charming.  While there is no shortage of places to stay or eat, with restaurants offering a wide variety of International and Thai dishes,  visitors are able to enjoy the beach in peace.  It is however, not isolated. Ao Sane is only about 5 minutes away , a small beach with a good snorkelling spot. Patong, the most famous beach in Phuket and where you can find the crowd is only about 18.3 KM away. Other worthwhile places to visit include Promthep Cape for sunset viewing and Kata View point, a hilltop with a view of Kata Not, Kata, Karon and Koh Pu islands. 

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