Chaya and Her Phuket

Apologizing for being a tad late, she led us to her car, which was double-parked in front of our hotel. She is Khun Kritchaya or Chaya for short, founder of Phuket Heritage Trails and a Phuket native.

Chaya-and-team.jpgChaya with my team

Spend a few hours with her and you will learn to appreciate Phuket. She talks about the people, its history and its food with a real passion for her town. In her little sedan, she drove us all over town proudly introducing her Phuket to us. She said she aims to promote the culture and history of her hometown in a responsible and educated manner, to present the essence and beauty of Phuket Town.

Tunk-KaOur first stop was lunch at an excellent local restaurant in Rang Hill overlooking Chalong and a bit of Phuket town. Rang-Hill-ViewTunk Ka Café is perched on the side of the hill and has managed to become an institution in Phuket since it opened sometime in the 1970s. Tunk-Ka-mealIt was an excellent sampling of local food in a beautiful surrounding with a magnificent view to boot.

From authentic Thai cuisine, we then moved on to a Sino-Portuguese house. Baan-ChinprachaAt Baan Chinpracha House, we had a peak on the lifestyle of the wealthy. Built in 1903 during Phuket’s economic boom from the mining industry. It is today a landmark as well as a cultural and historical center. family-photosThe property is still in the family and the current owner, a sixth generation descendant still live upstairs. Although occupied, the owner has opened up certain areas of the house to the public. chinpracha-kitchenThe ground floor somewhat acts as a museum.

Chinpracha-livingroomAs you enter the house, the living room greets with a little table and stools (reminiscent of that from my grandmother’s house, truth to tell). The main attraction and the most striking in the room, however, is the inner courtyard that opens to the sky for light and ventilation. chinpracha-courtyardA beautiful fish pond decorated with plants around it added to its charm. And I must say that it had me at the sight of the Machuca floor tiles.

Blue-ElephantNext door and another outstanding Sino-Portuguese house, the 100-year-old Governor’s Mansion is home to the Blue Elephant Restaurant and Cooking School, a famous cooking school from Bangkok.

Then we drove 6 kilometres out of Phuket town, passed a bridge to Ko Siray.  It is worlds away from the modern and swanky, teeming with sun-baked tourists of Phuket’s west coast beaches. swanky-resortsThis small island with magnificent hilltop views and scenic roads is home to the largest Sea Gypsy Village in Phuket. Sea-GysiesAlso known in Thai as Chao Leh, the sea gypsies are known to be the very first inhabitants of the Andaman coast regions of Thailand, Myanmar, and Malaysia. Due to their exposure to sun and sand, many of them have reddish colour hair. Facially, their features are quite different from the inhabitants of the lands they pass through. Today only a few thousand remains and only a small portion of them are still nomadic. sea-gypsies-happyThey live a simple life – they fish, they sell and they buy beer and they seem genuinely happy and content.

sea-gypsies-boat-makerI recall Chaya telling us how as sea people, they understand the behavior of the sea. During the 2004 tsunami where Phuket was one of the hardest hit, the sea gypsies were spared.  While the others stopped and observed, they ran straightaway to the hilltop for shelter when they saw the receding sea.

The island of Phuket is ethnically diverse and Thais are relative newcomers here. A flood of ethnic Chinese started coming from Malaysia and Singapore in the 1800s to explore the local tin mines.   Many settled in Phuket to run the mines and, later on, built the town hence the many shophouses in the Sino-Portuguese architecture similar to Penang’s Georgetown.shophouses The town today is a mix of of different ethnic race and scattered around the island are Chinese Taoist Shrines, Thai Buddhist Temples they call Wats and Muslim Mosques.temple Chaya’s itinerary had stops at a Chinese temple, a Buddhist temple and a fascinating nunnery where she temporarily resides at the time of the tour.nunnery

And before returning us to our hotel, we passed by Soi Romanee. This charming little street that connects Thalang and Dibuk Rd. is one of the oldest in Phuket Town. soi-romaneeIt was once stigmatized as a den of brothels and opium houses for the tin miners. Today, it is known as one of the most attractive lanes on the island as it was the first to be renovated. soi-romanee-guesthouseToday’s Romanee is a charming little street full of life and quaint little bars where you can sit and soak up the ambiance.   There’s even a jazz and blues performance that takes place on the last Sunday of each month from November to April.

Though few tourists linger here, the Old Town is one of the more culturally interesting places on the island. It is an intriguing mix of old and new, simple and sophisticated. Phuket Town is an infusion of current art, music, and food attracting a style conscious crowd, mostly Thais. Once reduced to an abandoned shell, shophouses and homes have been refurbished into restaurants, bars, and guesthouses that are worth exploring and discovering.

And with this, I wish you all a Happy Hearts Day!

My New Paradise

AdamsCredits: JSprague Digi in Deeper course material.

Adams.  A familiar name yet peculiar for the Ilocos Norte, yes?  With names like Laoag, Pagudpud, Paoay… Adams sounds off.  The first time I heard of Adams was 16 years ago when Anton explored the river with fellow guides. He raved not only about the river but its natural surroundings as well.at-the-river

He went back several times to raft and to kayak the Bulo River but never with me. In 2009 on an Ilocos Road Trip, we attempted a visit to Adams to hike to the waterfalls. It rained, and we chickened out.  We never made it to the town.

2009-AdamsThis was at the junction where we’d take a habal-habal (motorcycle for hire) to take us to town.

view-of-the-townSprawling over a land area of 159.31 square kilometers on the northern coast of Ilocos Norte,

floraAdams is a treasure trove of rainforests with rare flora and fauna, centuries old trees,

hanging-bridgehanging bridges and waterfalls.

anuplig-fallsAnuplig Falls
cultural-danceWe were treated to a cultural show.

It is a small town of only one village but is a melting pot of ethnic groups composed of the Yapayao or Itneg, Ilocano, Igorot, Kankan-ay and Ibaloi, which explains why their cuisine is different from the Ilocano dishes we know.

local-produceWe had fried frog, udang (river shrimps), stir-fried pako, and mountain rice.

It is a hodgepodge of the various ethnic groups and what is locally available like gabi (Taro), crab lets, baby damo (wild boar), frogs, Udang (river shrimps), purple mountain rice, and my favorite, stir-fried pako (fiddlehead fern).

baguio-climateLike its name, it is a divergent from the rest of the region.  The climate is pleasantly cool especially at this time of the year, with temperatures just a few notched higher than Baguio.

I wish I had made more effort to visit this mountain-river town. It took me fifteen years to finally set foot here. My first trip to Adams was last year around this time. Ask me how many times I’ve been back since. Four so far. I have fallen in love with the area. Expect more posts from me. Meanwhile, here are some photos to whet your appetite for the place.  This is my new paradise.

bulu-riverThe Bulo River from a bridge.
enroute-to-anupligLush forest en route to Anuplig falls.
entertainmentHospitality to the hilt.  Entertainment provided by the villagers.
Ilyn's-HomeystayIlyn’s Homeystay: our home in Adams.
lover's-peak-2A beautiful point called “Lover’s Peak”
lover's-peakLovely grounds at Lover’s Peak.

Ubud

I’ll drop everything and hop on a flight with you just at the mention of the word. Ubud is one of the places I go to recharge (read my old post on Ubud here). The cultural heartland of Bali, surrounded by rice fields and lush greenery, is my place of rest and inspiration.

lush-greeneriesIt’s a town about 300 meters above sea level so it is comfortably cooler than the rest of the island. The main reason Ubud appeals so much to me is because it feed my needs. In Ubud, I get to relax, be artistically inspired by its art and culture, enjoy the good (but not necessarily expensive) food and be in the midst of nature.

architectureThis town in the middle of Bali has been known for over a century as an artist village, a cultural center that draws those who seek crafted treasures and/or architectural inspiration. The cultural and traditional art in Ubud were preserved because when it became a Dutch Protectorate in the 1900s, the colonialists didn’t interfere much.

art-sceneIt was only in the 1930s when the Royal family encouraged foreign artists to Ubud did the modern era began in Ubud, eventually creating a dynamic art scene. Consequently, a treasure trove of museums and galleries now call Ubud home.

retail-therapyUbud is a haven for shoppers, truth to tell. Monkey Forest Road, Jalan Raya and Hanoman Streets are strips of retail therapy treats – from beautiful arts and crafts, local designer clothes and jewelry to unique housewares and antiques.

warungIt is also home to restaurants, cafes and warungs (local eateries), and a foodie’s haven. The whole island, in fact, has an exciting culinary scene and Ubud is right up there.

gastronomic-delight-At first glance, Ubud seemingly may consist of local eateries but it has its fair share of creative restaurants featuring a fusion of different cuisines. Every visit, I discover new jaunts but try to revisit one or two favourites.  More on Ubud Eats here.

rice-fieldsNature lovers will love the countryside feel of Ubud. Cafes and lodgings surrounded by rice fields abound.

resortThe view of the rice field from our resort, Munari Resort and Spa.

While birds and animal lovers will enjoy an afternoon in either the Monkey Forest or head out to Putulu Village for some white heron (kokokan) sightings.

Monkey-ForestThese herons, thousands of them, have inhabited the trees of Putulu since 1965.

white-heronsThey return to rest at around 6 pm every night so it is best to go an hour or so earlier, find yourself a warung and enjoy a few drinks of cold beer while you wait.

The one lure that calls out the loudest and the one I truly look forward to is the pampering. You can’t walk more than a few meters without passing a spa.

massageGetting a daily massage is a norm in an area swarming with spas – a traditional Balinese massage one day, a Javanese Lulur Scrub another and what about a four-hand massage or coffee scrub for that special treat before going home?

Ahh… just writing this post had me yearning for another de-stressing visit to Ubud. Sigh…

The Streets of Hanoi: Old Quarter Immersion

The capital of Vietnam and perhaps one of Asia’s most nostalgic. A sleepy town, Hanoi is not. On our arrival at midnight, the street was still or maybe already bustling with flower vendors unloading flowers for transport. The alley near our hotel, though seemingly winding down, scatters with people. And, of course, during the day, it is chaos.

coming-from-all-directions

Motorbikes, bicycles, cars, peddlers, and pedestrians whiz by in different directions, honking, and pushing.

street-of-hanoi

I anxiously brave through this confusion at first but comfortably got into the groove. “Just walk in a steady pace, do not stop.” We were advised. “Speeding up or stopping confuses the driver and you might end up getting bumped.”

traffic-at-the-plazaWe like watching this organized chaos from the balcony of a coffee shop .

Somewhat similar (but not as crazy) to how we Filipinos cross our streets and highways, actually.

flower-seller

Hanoi is noisy, busy and clogged with motorbikes as it is serene, cultured and delightful.

tranquil-lake

The tranquil lakes, excellent food scene, beautiful architecture, the old quarter and colonial architecture offset the madness.

excellent-food

This wasn’t my first time to Hanoi but coming back was something I knew would happen again and again. Seven years and I notice some changes, more charming boutique hotels for one and the night scene has gotten more packed. But many has remained the same.

We stayed in the Old Quarter, a nice boutique hotel in an alley too narrow for cars.

Le-Beaute-de-Hanoi

This district is the soul of Hanoi where travelers go to immerse in its historical labyrinth of 36 streets, each named after the trade it specializes in.

Lady-peddler

Similar to Morocco’s markets, streets in the Old Quarter are named Silk Street, Herbal Medicine Street, Appliance Street, Blacksmith Street, etc… you get the drift.

Why? The Old Quarter became a crafts area when King Ly Thai built his palace there after Vietnam’s independence. Not long after, craftsmen clustered around the palace according to their skills. These artists who worked and lived close together formed their respective cooperatives and the streets consequently earned its names, according to skills.

lacquer

These rows exist to this day and still buzz with commerce.  You can find about anything from the traditional down to the knock-offs.

Buzzling-commerce

Another quirk that remained unchanged:

extends-out-to-side-walk

The people of Hanoi do a lot of their living and working outside of their small tube houses or stores.

parked-motorcycles

And they make use of the sidewalk, which, of course, is also where they park their motorcycles and bicycles. People tend to walk along moving vehicles… on the street.

traffic-at-night

With its idiosyncrasies and all, Hanoi is easy to love. Stay with me and you’ll see why.

Segovia: An immersion in Architecture and Historic Treasures

SegoviaCredits:  Elements by Haynay Designs, Plum Dumpling Designs, Pri Rocha, Sahlin Studio, Trixie Scarp Designs, Wimpy Chompers; Paper by Wimpy Chompers; Alpha by MissBehaving 2011

A visit to picturesque old city Segovia was an excellent way to cap off this month-long West Mediterranean trip. We spent the day exploring a castle, devouring a roasted suckling pig, taking lots of photographs and people watching.

tourists

This once sleepy Castilian town had a lot to offer and had us in awe at every turn, suffice it to say that we had a fun stroll.

wandering

A UNESCO World Heritage City, visitors fill the twisting alleyways wandering around a multitude of historic buildings, churches, and monuments.

Located just 80 kilometers from Madrid, it is only a 30-minute high-speed train ride away. If you have the time, seize the opportunity and take a trip to the walled old town of Segovia.

town

It is a good way to travel back in time, explore the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage-listed city by foot.

The Aqueduct

aqueduct-2

An impressive aqueduct built sometime in the 1st or 2nd century supplied water to the small town of Segovia, perched on a steep isolated hill and joined by two rivers.

aqueduct

The magnificent aqueduct bridge carried water from the Fuente Frio River traversing about 15km before entering this town.

Aqueduct-4Today its boasts of being one of the most significant and best-preserved works of Roman engineering on the Iberico Peninsula.

Segovia Cathedral

Cathedral

On the highest point in the old town, fronting the historic Plaza Mayor (Segovia’s main square) stands the Cathedral of Segovia, one of the last Gothic Cathedral built in Spain and Europe.

Plaza-Mayor-and-cathedral

The construction began in the early 16th century to replace an earlier cathedral destroyed during the war of the comuneros, a revolt against the King. I am awed by the details of this church.

cathedral-up-close

Alcazar

alcazar-2

Now, this looks like a castle straight out of a Disney fairytale.

alcazar-4

The castle rises out on a rock between the confluence of the Eresma and Clamores Rivers, a testament to its original military status. Being the favorite residence for Kings of Castile, the Alcazar was transformed from a small castle into an extraordinary palace.

alcazar-3

It played a crucial role in Spanish history because it was used in various ways throughout history.

alcazar-interior-2

Originally built as a fortress, it had served as home to royals before it became a state prison, a Royal Artillery College, and a military academy. Currently, it is a museum and home to the Spanish General Military Archive.

Lunch at the Meson de Candido Restaurant

Plaza de Azoguejo 5, 40001  +34 921 425911

Meson-de-Candido

An attraction in itself, the restaurant was declared a national monument in 1941. Set in a delightful 18th-century building next to the aqueduct, it is most famous today for its wood-fire roasted suckling pig, cochinillo.

cochinillo-ritual

Served with a short speech and a ceremonial cutting of the pig with a plate,

cochinillo-ritual-2

this famous dish was a delight—crispy skin and flavorful and fork tender meat is hard to beat. Also, worth noting is their Sepulveda-Style Roasted Lamb.

Rich in architecture treasures, it was a joy to wander through this town. Presenting below a few more photos to delight in.

Segovia-CathedralThe Cathedral from afar.
alcazar-interiorStained Glass wall at the Alcazar
view-from-the-alcazarA view from the Alcazar
Aqueduct-3The Aqueduct up close
plaza-medina-del-campoPlaza Medina del Campo
Azoguejo-Square-2The Azoguejo Square with the Aqueduct as backdrop
Plaza-MayorPlaza Mayor of Segovia
from-the-castleA view from the castle
peddlersPeddlers line the periphery of the aqueduct
Iglesia-de-San-Martin-2Iglesia de San Martin
narrow-roadNarrow winding road of Segovia
Iglesia-de-San-MartinIglesia de San Martin
Juan-BravoA statue of Juan Bravo: a leader of the rebel Comuneros in the Castilian Revolt of the Comuneros.

Romancing with Sintra

Sintra-collageCredits: J Sprague Photo Collage Template version 3; Paper by Wimpychompers Creations

If you have an extra day in Lisbon, I suggest you head out to Sintra. It’s just a 45-minute train ride from the Rossio Station and well worth the trip.

first-glimpse

Walking into Sintra is like treading on fairytale land, more so on a gloomy day as when we were there. Known for its many romantic 19th-century architectures, Sintra is an outstanding reference for Portuguese culture.

fairytale town

Royal castles, mansions, and chalets scatter around the verdant rolling hills and peaks of the Sintra mountain range. The long sections of walls winding around the high peaks of the Serra reminds of century’s past.

stonewalls-of-the-moor-castle

The Moors Castle high above Sintra

Here, at the Central Western Portuguese coast, at the northern-most stretch of the protected Sintra-Cascais Natural Park, history, archeology, architecture and natural beauty meld into a beguiling and magical town.

It’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed center, the Sintra Vile is a 15-minutes walk from the train station.

Palacio-Nacional-de-Sintra

The Palacio Nacional de Sintra dominates the old town. Its iconic twin conical chimneys can be seen from far away. We, however, only had time to visit 2 Castles that day:

Sintra Castelo dos Mouros (The Moor Castle)

Castelo-dos-Mouros

A classic ruined castle set amidst the lush forests of the Serra de Sintra. Established by the Northern African Moors during the 9th century to guard the town but fell into disrepair after the Christian conquered Portugal. The castle was restored and transformed into a romantic ruin in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II.

Pena National Palace

Pena-exterior

On top of a hill stands an eccentric palace built in the 19th century for Dom Fernando II, an artistic king who wanted the palace to resemble that of an opera. Despite the hodgepodge of styles, the castle looks surprisingly harmonious and the use of yellow, pink and purple colors completed the “fairytale” quirkiness of the palace.

Pena-interior

A Protected National Monument, the Palace is considered to be one of the world’s best examples of architectures from the Romantic era.

medieval-streets

The medieval streets of Sintra Vile lead to many treasures – craft shops selling a host of local artisan specialties, a range of cafes and restaurants or even townhouses that exude the air of past glories.

Cantinho-Gourmet

In one of the narrow streets, we found a small café (Cantinho Gourmet) for a pretty good lunch prepared by an old lady. In another part of town is A. Piriquitos.

traveisseros-and-queijadas

Here we had the famed delicacies of the village, Queijadas de Sintra and Travesseiros. Delicious treats not to be missed.

Pena-Palace

In this region north of Lisbon, the center town of Sintra is only half the story. A must-do day trip but if time permits, a few nights stay is ideal to spend time exploring the surrounding beaches and the many seafood restaurants. The other half is a spectacular stretch of Atlantic coast with rugged cliffs, crashing waves and near-empty stretches of sandy beach, which calls for another visit in the future, perhaps.

Useful Info:

A Piriquita: Rua Padarcias 1/7; +351 219 230 026

Pena National Palace: Estrada da Pena; +351 219 237 300

Castelo dos Mouros: Parque de Monserrate, Estrada da Pena; +351 219 237 300     Opening Hours: 9:30AM-8:00PM; shorter hours in low season

Alfama: The Home of Lisbon Blues Music

“Alfama” recommends Hossein. For an authentic fado vadio, our “unofficial” guide guaranteed that this place is it, writes down the name and address of the bar, then points it out on our map.

A-Tasca-do-Chico-signage

On Rua Dos Remedios, we found A Tasca do Chico. It was Fado Vadio (amateur fado singers) night.

A-Tasca-do-Chico

The small joint only had a few tables, perfect for intimate and informal performances.

tapas-and-sangria

Dinner was simple but we were there for Fado anyway. It was an absolutely enjoyable evening of soulful music. A must in Lisbon.  Really.  Don’t leave Lisbon without a live experience of Fado music.

Fado

So what is Fado? I too, have  never heard of it until I read up on Lisbon. It is a music genre traced back to the 1820s and 1830s at best. Although difficult to trace, it seems to have its roots in the merging of Portuguese, Moorish and African culture. Fado songs can be about anything but it is a traditional form of urban folk music. The Portuguese language has a word, saudade, which roughly means nostalgia or homesickness with a bittersweet longing. Fado music is exactly that. It often conveys a yearning for what could have been or what cannot be. Most of its lyrics are about lost or unrequited love, jealousy and passion, death, and the lives of the Fadistas (fatalists).

There is no better place to experience the nostalgia of Fado than in Lisbon’s oldest district, Alfama. But it is not only famous for its Fado music as to visit Alfama is to visit the architecture, sound and smell of old Lisbon.

And so we went back the following day. Alfama is Lisbon’s most symbolic quarter. The oldest district of Lisbon spreads down the southern slope from Castelo de Sâo Jorge to the River Tagus. The Mouraria and Alfama (both old districts) were relatively spared during the Great Earthquake,

narrow-street

thus remains the charm of winding narrow streets and crumbling walls.

castelo-de-sao-jorge

A walk through the old-fashioned residential neighborhood is like stepping back in time.

Alfama

It’s a village still made up of tiny spaces, whitewashed houses with iron balconies adorned with pots of flowers and drying laundry.

The best way to get to know Alfama is to wander around.

view

The outstanding views, the churches, and the breathtaking panorama of the city from the castle were worth another trip back the next day. Some scenes from our wanderings:

from-castelo-de-sao-jorge

Although we didn’t have time to explore, Castelo de Sâo Jorge is a Moorish castle occupying a commanding hilltop overlooking the historic center of Lisbon and Tagus River.

IMG_9367As in from Baixa.

It can be seen from almost everywhere on the city.

Miradouro-de-Santa-Luzia

Miradouro de Santa Luzia is a romantic terrace by the church of Santa Luzia with a view of the river and Alfama. On the outside wall of the church are 2 tiled panels, one of Gomercio Square before the quake and another showing Christians attacking the castle.

Miradouro-das-Portas-do-Sol

A few steps away from Miradouro de Santa Luzia is a balcony that opens to the river offering spectacular views over Alfama.  A statue of St. Vincent holding a boat and 2 ravens also stands proud watching over the district. Miradouro Das Portas Do Sol.

Sao-Vicente-de-Fora

From the balcony, one can spot Sâo Vicente de Fora Monastery, an exceptional 16th-century monument located outside the city walls. “De Fora” means on the outside.

Santa-Engracia-Church

Church of Santa Engracia or Portugal’s National Pantheon. This 17th-century monument was converted in the 20th century into the National Pantheon. It is now the burial-place for a number of Portuguese personalities.

approaching-alfama

entertainment

IMG_9665

Useful Info:

Getting There: 

tram-28

Walk from Rossio or take tram no. 28

A Tasca do Chico (Alfama)
Rua Dos Remedios, 83
+351 965 059 670
 
 
References:
Portuguese Fado Music 101 – About. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://worldmusic.about.com/od/europeanjudaica/p/PortugueseFado.htm