Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bangkok Again. 3rd Time Is The Sweetest

I went to Bangkok again and I don't know why. Well it was actually my stop over on my to Siem Reap to see the Angkor Empire so I had to stay here for a couple of days. On my first trip to Bangkok back in 2009, I visited almost all of the temples so when I came back, I visited it again. The only change that has happened is that there are more and more tourists now compared 4 years ago. And most of them are the ever growing breed of the yellow people. But after this trip, I am pretty sure I will keep coming back.

The Golden Buddha Temple

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

BenCab Museum

So many things has been said about this place. I have checked BenCab's Facebook Page and hundreds of celebrities have visited BenCab Museum and everyone are just in awe on almost everything that they saw in the museum. I visited BenCab Museum last January 18 and I also had the same expressions with all the visitors. This place is amazing. I am glad that local artist like Ben Cabrera created such a place to display his contemporary works of art as well as other artists' work as well.

This is the kind of place that people should visit, not just because celebrities flock to this place, but to appreciate local works of art. We Filipinos, in general, seem to have forgotten our own roots and is just willing to embrace everything foreign, or putting it in layman's term "imported". We think that everything imported is always good and we forgot to patronize our own local artist. If we learn to appreciate our own culture, we will keep on loving our country. Patronizing places like this and helping it propagate and be known will  help our local culture grow and be known by fellow Pinoys and internationally.

BenCab Museum has a display of a lot of works in different genres that can reach all ages. I like the idea that it was placed a bit far from the city to get away from eagerly modernizing city of Baguio. I lived in Baguio in 1990 and I can say that things have changed drastically. It was not the pre-earthquake, pre-new millenium era that I enjoyed before. It is chaotic now and filled with construction and urbanization that will continue to ruin what was once a great place to live in.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Traditional Homes Swotha, Patan, Nepal

One of the many great things about travelling is that you get to see new places and meet great people. Our trip to Nepal started on a rough start with porters in the airport, the air pollution, the non stop locals haggling with you to be their tour guide for a fee and the good food that was quite hard to find. On our 5th day, we arrived in Patan was literally enchanted by this small but amazing hotel, the Traditional Homes Swotha. We only got one night to stay here because it was quite difficult to book a room here as they only have 6 rooms.

The place is wonderful. It is a very simple traditional home made of brick walls, wood and cement flooring but it is decorated with even simpler furnishings, frames and other cute displays. They have a simple heating system that uses gas tank. The bathroom is not that big but very functional. There was an absence of wardrobe but they provide a makeshift clothes hanging area on top of a table where you can lay your luggage. The height of ceiling is a little over 6 feet which maybe difficult for westerners but still, the general atmosphere of your room, the hotel and the cafe makes up for it.

We learned about this hotel as a top choice of stay in Patan area in the Lonely Planet guide. It recently placed 15 out of the best B&Bs and Inns in all of Nepal by TripAdvisor. If this place was already on the top of my list, I wonder what the other 14 has to offer.

We also met with the hotel manager Mr Shyam. He was kind and very helpful to us even though we only stayed for a night. I fell sick the following day and he was still helpful in arranging our transport even though we were already staying in another inn near Swotha. He was also very helpful in enlightening us about how Swotha started and about the traditional homes of Nepal.

Here are some of the pictures of the hotel for you to see.

The room of Traditional Homes Swotha

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Bookstores in Town: Mt. Cloud Bookshop

There is not a lot of great bookstores in the Philippines aside from the usual giant bookstores that we see in the malls. In Manila, it is quite hard to see a bookstore that once you enter, you will feel like being transformed into another place. When I visited Baguio, I made it a point to include a visit to Casa Vallejo where Mt Cloud Bookshop is located. And yes, this small, two level bookshop was indeed mesmerizing. Most of their collection are for children but they also other English and Tagalog Fiction and other books published by local press.

I just immediately loved the place upon seeing it. It was a different world when you enter. I love how they have a lot collection of Tagalog and Philippine-related story books. We have embraced the English language well that we have forgotten our own mother tongue. some people think its "baduy" to read books in Tagalog but what we are forgetting is that we were born with the Filipino tongue. For me it is not bad to learn to speak English or even other languages but do not forget to remember and love your own language.

Mt. Cloud Bookshop is a must visit for book lovers out there. And bring along your friends too and encourage them to read books in Tagalog and Philippine-themed books. I brought my friends there and they liked the place and love that they had such books that they never see in the usual bookstores in Manila.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

When In Nepal: Travel Tips You Need To Know

I visited Nepal for nine days in December 2013. I spent most of my time within the Heritage Sites of Kathmandu Valley. And during my travel, I have learned about things that foreigners should do when visiting Nepal for the first time. Here is a list of things you should be aware of:

1. WEAR A MASK. A dust mask for your face is required when you are travelling the city whether you are walking, in a motorcycle and even inside a non air conditioned bus. The city has bad air pollution problem and the air is thick with smoke and dust which makes it difficult for breathing at any time of the day.

2. SLEEPING. During my 9 days in Nepal, I have read news about 2 gas poisoning incident both caused 2 casualties in two different occasions. Most traditional guesthouses uses gas heater and if your room is air tight, this may cause gas poisoning when you are asleep. Our guesthouse owner advised that I turn on the gas heater while awake and make sure I turn it off when the room temperature is warm enough before I sleep.

3. AVOID OILY AND FRIED FOOD. If you have tasted Indian food, Newari (Nepali) will not be a strange feeling on your tastebuds. But locals advise that foreigners should avoid fried and oily food as Nepali cooking oil may upset the stomachs of people who are not used to it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Surviving Kathmandu, A Note On Being Dead In The City.

Top View of Kathmandu Durbar Square
Upon arrival in Kathmandu, I was half-expecting that the airport would not be that impressive as it is known as a poor country. But I admired how they constructed their airport using bricks which I later learned that it was the most basic foundation of traditional and contemporary homes in the whole of Nepal. When I entered the city, I was dismayed by the situation that appeared to me in the streets. It's dry, dirty, chaotic and was just a big mess. As I get to know the place and as I get deep into the cultural heritage that this place has to offer, I was already concluding that people did not really know about how such an important place is this for their history.

In general, people (or locals) are just busy getting by for the day. They flock the durbar square, at any day of the week, begging for one rupee, begging for food and when they have food, they will just throw the wrappers and plastics in the streets without even caring who clears up the mess they made. The streets are filled with motorcycles, rickshaws and people pushing carts selling fruits, spices and everything making a strenuous traffic snaking around the entire city. Taxis are plying in and out of the narrow streets including tourist vans and cars contributes to the congested traffic everyday.

Pigeons are also a source of mess in the durbar squares and places nearby as their shit are just all over the place and smells so bad. The entire city is dusty that were scraped off from bricks used in the buildings and houses. Not to mention the sort of developments being done in the city and constructions using bricks as foundations and walls are also adding up to the suffocating smog built from dust. The roads are not cemented and cars and buses add to the air pollution. Being an elevated city in the valley, fog is one of the regular visitors which mixes with the dust and smoke present almost everyday making it really difficult to breath heavily. Almost everyone uses a mask as a protection from this.

In the 9 days I spent in Kathmandu, I felt like the air condition made me weak and got me sick for a day and a half. I thought the city was dead as the locals did not seem to bother at all at the cleanliness and livability of their home city. They were all just busy trying to get by with their daily lives. Yes the country is poor and the capital is a mess but if people did not take care of it, who else are they supposed to blame. Even though arrival of tourists is high, I have noticed that tourists are more cautious nay cognizant on how to take care of the place than the locals themselves.

On the last day, I really though the city was dead and thought there is not part of the city that has eluded the dirtiness of it in and out until I visited Pashupinath. I called this place Temple Of The Dead. I did not research about this place and just saw this on the Lonely Planet guide. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a wall surrounding the whole area which says World Heritage Protected Site. This is the seventh and last place of WH Protected Site I visited. My expectations for this place is very high as the entrance fee is NR 1000. The best place I have been so far before this was Bhaktaphur Durbar Square which costs  NR 1100 which was really an impressive and well preserved place although air pollution was still present.

When I reached the center of Pashupinath, I saw a ceremony, sort of, for a dead man, who was in a shipped casket, which I am assuming from overseas, and being prepared to be cremated in open air. Nothing prepared me to see this kind of ceremony. Locals still perform this centuries old of Buddhism tradition in this sacred place. But I never thought they would do the cremation right in front of every one, including tourists and bystanders, to witness a what should have been a very private family ceremony. I have heard crying of people who I am assuming of course relatives of the dead man. As the men, probably relatives as well, prepared the dead man to be bathed in the holy river in the temple that passes through the center of the Pashupinath before burning the body, I left.

I left with a thought that despite how disappointed I was for the entire trip, there is still a bit of life living within the locals. They may not have taken care of their city but at least they still managed to maintain that sacred tradition, that belief of afterlife, that a dead man will be reincarnated after cremation and will live a new life. There it was, a little life at the temple of the dead.


J Gerald C Legaspi is the Filipino author of and is currently working and travelling in and around South East Asia but spends most of his time in Jakarta, Manila and Singapore.