Sunday, August 26, 2012

In pursuit of the sun in Macadlao

Aside from Magasang, there is still another rock formation in Biri, Samar that is on our list.  We left Villa Amor at 4:30am to catch the sunrise at Macadlao Rock Formation.  There was still no electricity during that time so the whole town was still dark and the only light that I saw were the ones coming from our habal-habal (motorbike) as we traversed the road to the rock formation.  Our guide told us that the landscape in Macadlao is reminiscent of that in Batanes so I'm sure that it will be good.  I have always loved to shoot sunsets but it was my first time to shoot during sunrise.  I know that it's going to be beautiful and I am excited.

The habal-habal stopped and I can already see Macadlao though it seems a bit far away.  Armed with our guide's flashlight, we walked through the mangroves and an almost knee-high water.  Our imaginations wandered and thought that it was like a scene from a movie where something can just come in from the mangroves and pull us off the track.  Yeah, it was a bit scary that's why it is advisable to get a guide if you plan to get there when it's still dark.  Before we reached the rock formation, I slipped and fell on the water!  Luckily, I was able to raise my camera or else the sunrise shoot would be over for me.

One needs to walk through the mangroves to reach Macadlao
We had to hurry because the sun was already showing itself.  Our guide showed us where the best spot is and we clicked our shutters.  The sunrise in Macadlao was one of the most beautiful things that I ever saw in my entire life.  Yes, it was an effort to get there but I'll just let these photos speak of how beautiful the place is:

Our knowledgeable guide who was just as excited to see the sunrise as we are

The sun slowly showing itself

Sunrise in Macadlao

Waves crashing to the shore offers a magnificent view

Me standing on top of what our guide calls as the "Lion King" spot

Mt. Bulusan can also be seen when you're in Macadlao
After the sunrise shoot, we went around the rock formation and took more pictures.  We saw some fishermen who are doing their daily catch.  There were also a lot of birds, egrets, I think roaming around.  Macadlao is also beautiful when the sun has already risen.

The area around Macadlao is also beautiful when the light sets in

One can also see Mayon Volcano from afar

Birds flocking and eating small fishes

Looks like th "Grand Canyon"

Monday, August 20, 2012

Biri rocks!

I am an impulsive traveler (if there is such a term).  Sometimes all it takes is a picture for me to get excited and plan for a new destination.  That is what happened when I read a blog post about the Biri Rock Formations in Journeying James.  I immediately researched about it and vowed to get to the next seat sale to Samar!  Lo and behold, a few weeks ago I found myself and a new travel buddy on a plane bound to Catarman, Northern Samar - the gateway to Biri.

 Biri is a small island located in the northernmost tip of Northern Samar, facing the San Bernardino Strait and the Pacific Ocean.  Airphil Express has daily flights to Catarman.  From Catarman airport, one can hire a tricycle going to the public market (Php15) and take a 45-60 minute jeepney ride to the town of Lavezares (Php50).  Ask the driver to drop you off at the wharf where pumpboats going to Biri Island is located.  The boat ride going to Biri Island is approximately 1 hour and costs Php50.

The main attraction in Biri are the large and beautiful rock formations.  The most famous of which are the Magasang, Magsapad and Macadlao.  But other rock formations that are also worth a visit are the Bel-at, Puhunan and Caranas.

Upon arrival at Biri, you need to proceed first to the Tourism Office and pay the EVF fee of Php50.  There are a lot of tourist guides offering their services when you arrive in Biri.  For us, we hired one of the famous guides there, Orlando Bulosan whom I have also read about in other travel blogs.  He charges Php300 per person, per day for the tour to the rock formations.  You can contact him at +639205246773.  I would really advise that you get a guide since going to the rock formations and climbing it may be a bit of a challenge.  The guide can tell you where to step and he can also take pictures of you as you climb.

 It was almost lunch time when we arrived in Biri.  We headed first to Villa Amor, our home for the next two days to freshen up and get ready for the trip to the rock formations.  Villa Amor charges Php600 per night for a twin-bed fan room with private bath.  It is important to take note that electricity in Biri is from 12 noon to 12 midnight only so charge your cameras and cellphones during these times.

We rode a habal-habal (motorbike) going to our first stop, the Magasang Rock Formation.  Fortunately, it was low tide when we came, otherwise we would need to ride a boat going to Magasang.  We walked through small mangroves and ankle-deep waters to get to Magasang.  Up close, Magasang is even more beautiful. I can't help but be mesmerized.  I looked so small whilst standing beside the humongous rock formation.

Our guide told us that the view above the rock is even more beautiful.  We made our way to the back of the rock formation.  The climb was really challenging because the way up was composed of uneven and slippery platforms.  Be sure to wear comfortable and skid-free footwear if you plan to go there.  I was even joking that we must've weighed ourselves before we climbed and compared how many kilos we lost after we climbed Magasang.  We reached the top in what seems like an eternity and my skin, despite wearing sunscreen and long sleeves got really toasted because of the scorching heat. I am so glad we made it because we were rewarded by a very spectacular view!

Majestic blue waves crashing to the shore, birds flying above and intricate designs on the rock formation are some of the things that we saw.  Words are not enough to describe it - it was so peaceful, so calm and so beautiful up there.

Me and Elsie enjoying the magnificent view

Monday, August 13, 2012

Exploring Angkor Wat and Other Temples

Some say that the Angkor Wat complex is as huge as the city of Los Angeles.  Some say that it is even bigger than that.  From what I have seen when I came there, I must say that you need maybe at least 3 days to explore the entire complex.  Cambodia's national pride - the Angkor Wat is an image of how rich and vast their culture is.  To really understand it, one may opt to hire a guide so that they can explain to you the meanings of the images around the temple.

Part of the package we availed at Bou Savy Guesthouse includes a tour to the temples.  Our first stop was the Angkor Wat.  Be sure to bring your umbrellas or hats when you visit there during the summer months.  Or else, be prepared to buy hats from vendors outside the temple.  Try to haggle though, to get a good price.  Before you can enter the temples, one must secure an Angkor Wat Pass.  Prices are USD 20 for a one day pass, USD 40 for two days pass and USD 60 for seven days pass.  One doesn't need to change their US dollars to the Cambodian currency, Riel because US dollars are widely accepted in Cambodia.
Angkor Wat is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia.  It contains the remains of the Khmer empire and is believed to be designed and constructed in the 12th century during the reign of King Suryavarman II.  Most of the temples are made of sandstone and shows the magnificent craftmanship of the Cambodians.  Angkor Wat has been the main tourist attraction in Cambodia.

Angkor Wat Pass

The road to Angkor Wat is well-paved.  I can still remember how happy I was in the tuktuk knowing that in a few minutes, I will be able to see the Angkor Wat.  It's a dream come.

My first glimpse of Angkor Wat

In and around the Angkor Complex
I had the chills when we entered the temple - still high and in complete awe!  I have read a lot about Angkor Wat before I went to Cambodia and seeing it up close was surreal.  There were a number of images around the temple - soldiers in battle, people praying and the apsara.

Images inside Angkor Wat
An entire wall of images and stories
After the Angkor Wat, we made our way to the location of Angelina Jolie's movie, Tomb Raider. Huge trees seem to have eaten the temples because large roots have sprung on the temple walls.

The Banteay Kdei, also known as the "Citadel of Chambers" and the "Citadel of Monks"
Tomb Raider was shot here at Ta Prohm
The temple of Ta Prohm was built between the late 12th and early 13th century.  Unlike other temples, Ta Prohm was left in much the same condition as it was found - the combination of trees growing out of the ruins.  It was even made famous because Tomb Raider was shot there.

There were vendors selling different merchandise in the area.  I met a little Cambodian girl selling rice papers with Angkorian designs.  She speaks straight English and has very, very good selling skills.  She even explained to me how those rice papers were made.  I had a hard time saying no to her. Good thing though, she let me took a picture of her even though I didn't buy.

Some of the interesting things you will see in Angkor
After hours of touring around the temples, Ani, our tuktuk driver took us to a nearby eatery.  I ordered Amok.  According to Wikipedia, "This is probably Cambodia's most well-known dish amongst visitors; there are similar dishes found in neighboring countries. Freshwater fish fillet (commonly snakehead fish, or Mekong catfish) is covered with an aromatic kroeung (pounded shallots, lemongrass, garlic, kaffir lime), roasted crushed peanuts, coconut milk, and egg and then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed until it achieves a mousse-like texture. Unlike the Thai, Lao and Malaysian versions of the same dish, it is not intended to be spicy but rather fragrant, zesty and flavorful."

We ordered Amok and omelet
After a hearty lunch, we resumed with the tour and went to Bayon tample, famous for having intricate and gigantic smiling face carvings on the towers.  It is the last state temple to be built in Angkor.  I think Bayon is one of the most intriguing and beautiful temples we visited.  We even encountered some monks there.  It is a huge temple and I have read that there were approximately 200 faces around it.  Some say that the faces in Bayon has a great resemblance to King Jayavarman VII himself.

Bayon temple, the most beautiful I have ever seen

Bayon up close

Images on the walls
 My trip to Angkor has been interesting, intriguing and awesome all at the same time.  One can easily get lost and imagine how grand and beautiful it must have been years ago.  There was so much history in every temple, in every wall and in every design.  Truly, Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in our world today.

Posing before a beautiful backdrop

Basking in Angkor's beauty and splendor.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Cambodia Beyond Angkor Wat

As I have mentioned several times in this site, going to Cambodia has been a dream come true for me.  Not only because of Angkor Wat, but mostly about seeing Cambodia as a country and as a people.  When I told my friends that I'm going to Cambodia, they asked me, "Why Cambodia?" They said that there isn't much to see there aside from Angkor Wat.  I still pushed through because I know that there is more to Cambodia than just the Angkor Wat.

Cambodia has experienced more than 30 years of war.  Also, thousands of people died during the reign of Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot in an attempt to create a peasant farming society which killed 25% of the country's population at that time due to starvation, overwork and execution. Some of the remains of war are still in its soil. Victims of land mines can be seen in the Angkor Wat complex. The Khmers have seen their families die before their eyes during the war.  They have experienced oppression in all its cruel forms.  And yet, what I admire about them is their positivity and willingness to rise up.  Cambodians have been one of the warmest people I have ever met in my life.  When you see them, you wouldn't know that they have been through a lot of things in the past.  They have this positive and happy attitude that uplifts my spirit.  Angkor Wat is just a backdrop and the main stars are its people.

That's what I love about being able to travel.  Traveling has allowed me to see things beyond famous attractions.  It has made me experience first hand the people and culture of the places I have been to.  And Cambodia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world for me.  I would like to explore it more and experience it more.  Maybe someday, I can spend more time there to really get to know how wonderful that place is.