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…


Hanoi’s Charm


One reason I love Hanoi is this stunning lake. Serene, spellbinding, and picture-perfect – makes for a pleasant walk, and you will definitely walk by it more than once a day.  And because the Old Quarter surrounds it, it is a good reference point when navigating the city.


Hoan Kiem Lake is the heart of Hanoi.  Everything happens around it, from early morning workouts (think yoga, tai chi and even aerobics) to old men whiling away time playing mahjong and vendors selling their stuff.




Not to mention the wandering tourists that flock to this mesmerizing lake. Never a dull moment in this part of the city, that’s for sure.

What makes the lake so smashing is the striking red bridge called The Huc Bridge leaping out of the serene blue-green water.


It connects the shore to the Jade Island on the northern coast of the lake.


On the island stands the Ngoc Son Temple (the Temple of the Jade Mountain).

Legend has it that in the mid 15th century, Heaven sent Emperor Le Loi a magical sword, which he used to battle against the neighboring countries, driving away the Chinese from Vietnam. When peace prevailed, a giant golden turtle grabbed the sword and disappeared in the depths of the lake (named Thuy Qua then) inspiring the name Hoan Kiem , which means Lake of the Restored Sword.



Streets of Hanoi: The French Quarter


Ba Dinh District also called the French quarter is a pleasant interlude from the chaos of the Old Quarter (especially if you are staying in the Old Quarter like we were).


The area is home to wide tree-lined streets, French colonial buildings,


posh hotels, fancy restaurants and swanky shops.


On our way to lunch, we walked through Trang Tien, the main artery of the French Quarter, walking pass (but never entered) the famous ice cream store, Kem Trang Tien.


Elegant French style buildings and villas replaced the old Vietnamese buildings in this section (as the name suggests) when the French occupied Hanoi in the last 19th century.


At the end of Trang Tien, on the August Revolutionary Square, the Hanoi Opera House, stand proudly as an architectural, political and cultural symbol of the capital.

Lunch at Au Lac House along Tran Hung Dao was a pleasant default. We were headed to La Badiane (which we never got to try but came highly recommended) but were unfortunately closed for the day.   The reason is a blur to me now but because we were there during the Lunar New Year, it could be because of that, but I digress.


So, just a few steps away from La Badiane is Au Lac House, a large French Style garden house built during the French colonial period restored into an elegant dining venue.



The food was Vietnamese Specialty (a sudden mind-shift from the expected French lunch at La Badiane) and quite impressive too.  Truth to tell, Vietnam is always a gastronomical delight whether it be hole in a wall or high-end.


You can walk through the different stations with your server and point and choose and the food will be prepared and served accordingly.


The beautiful house and stunning interior with old photographs were icing on our cake.

Useful Info:

Au Lac House13 Tran Hung Dao

Opera House:  1 Trang Tien, Hoan Kiem

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.


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


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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


Another quirk that remained unchanged:


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


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.


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

Random Travel Snaps: The Orangutans of Borneo


Threatened by logging and captivity, their population dwindles through the years.  These so-called “men of the forest” are estimated to be as few as 10,000 still in the wild.

In 2007, I followed the path of a boardwalk that led me to a viewing gallery and a feeding platform.  There were a few orangutans on site but slowly, more emerged from the rainforest lured by milk and bananas.  Feeding time is twice a day – once in the morning and another in the afternoon.

No longer held in captivity (by various people and for various reasons), they are free to roam as they please around the 4,300 hectare Kabili-Sepilok Forest Reserve.  This is so they get used to their own natural habitat once more and this –in the meantime – is their sanctuary.

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre aims to return orphaned, injured and displaced orangutans back into the wild, back to the jungle of Borneo.  Orangutans are natives of Borneo and Sumatra in Indonesia.  The Borneo orangutans however, are only found in Borneo, and the centre affords a rare opportunity to see these endangered species up close.

The orangutans may be the star, but pig tailed and long-tailed macaques share a bit of the stage at the time of feeding.  They have learned that there is an easy meal available and show up too at feeding time.

A day trip to Sepilok is not possible from Kota Kinabalu but if you find yourself in Sandakan, a trip to Sepilok Sanctuary is a must.

Useful Info:

Getting There

If you are not on any tour, public buses and taxis are available from Sandakan town. The Labuk Road Bus Company vehicles leave from the front of the Sandakan Town Council (Majlis Perbandaran Sandakan or MPS) from 6.00 am onwards.

The Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan bus can also drop you at junction Jalan Sepilok, around 2.5km from the Center. Journey about 5 hours from KK.

You can hire a taxi for a return trip for about RM100.00 negotiable. The distance between town and the Centre is about 23km.

Opening Hours: 
Daily from 8.00am till 5.00pm

Exhibition Hall: Daily (except Fridays) from 9.00am till 4.30pm

Centre: Daily from 9.00am till 12.00pm and 2.00pm till 4.00pm Fridays 9.00am till 11.00am, 2.00pm till 4.00pm 

Batu 14, Jalan Labuk Sandakan Sabah,
WDT200, 9009 Sandakan Sabah

Kuang Si Falls

Picturesque and very accessible – Kuang Si falls, 29 km south of Luang Prabang, has become a popular attraction outside of the world heritage city.  Surrounded by lush forest, the falls is 3 tiered, all picture perfect.

The breathtaking main falls is 60 meters high while the rest, equally stunning, are 1-3 meter cascades that creates small aquamarine pools.

The water invites especially on a hot day, many take a dip, some even take to jumping off trees for some thrills.

A forest trail leads the top of the falls where you’ll find the source of the Kuang Si in a stream.

The surrounding area was developed into a lovely park with bridges, a picnic area with tables and even a changing room for those wanting to swim.  My journey to Kuang Si wasn’t as easy as taking a tuk-tuk to the entrance of the park.

It started when a van picked us up and dropped us off (an hour later) at a Hmong community.

There we learned the difference between the Hmong as compared to the rural Lao lowlanders.  To get to the falls, we trekked through paddy fields and pineapple gardens before entering a rain forest.

Halfway through our trek, we stopped for a simple Lao lunch prepared by the outfitter.

About 3 hours later, the hilly trail took us to a stream that we soon realized was the stream feeding the Kuang Si.

The view from the top looking down the pool below was spectacular.  Expecting to approach the falls the regular way from below, the realization of ending at the top was a wonderful surprise and quite memorable, truth to tell.

I made this trek 4 years ago with Green Discovery.  Spare an extra day for this if you can, it’s worth the effort.

A Leisurely Stroll Through Luang Prabang

Credits: Papers by Sahlin Studio’s Sweet Story Telling papers, Creativity by Crystal’s Room Collection Solids; Elements by Sahlin Studio Sweet Story Telling Kit.

It was a beautiful ordinary day.  No agenda, we just played it by ear, went with the flow.  The plan was to leisurely walk the streets and see where it takes us.

The serene atmosphere of this enchanting city begs for nothing more.  Having strolled down these streets before, it was interesting to see new ventures turning up while many stayed the same.

Luang Prabang lies in the heart of the mountainous region of North Laos.  Also known as the jewel of Indochina, the ancient royal city sits between the junction of the Mekong and the Nam Kahn Rivers.

And our nice little boutique hotel, Villa Deux Rivieres is situated somewhere near the junction in Kingkitsareth Rd.

Monks with their signature umbrellas in Sakkarine St. — a quieter part of town.

Great location as it really is just a short walk away from many places of interest and the main street, Sakkarine,

The busier street of Sisavangvong has more tuk-tuks and motobikes lining the streets.

which turns into Sisavangvong St. if you walk further.  We spent a lot of time in Sakkarine St. browsing, sometimes buying from the many little shops or relaxing in several of the cafes lining the stretch.

Café Ban Vat Sene across the charming Wat Sene and Le Banneton with its wonderfully crusted breads are our favorites hang-outs.  We sat outdoors and enjoyed the cool air and the easy going vibe of the town.

Those breads lured us to Le Banneton

Caruso Lao never fails to lure me in each time we walk pass it.  Beautiful stuff on display, a bit pricey but well worth the workmanship, me think.

And look what I have displayed at home.  There could have been more, if freight wasn’t so ridiculously high.

Comprising this enchanting little city are ancient structures, a Royal Palace, a National Museum,

Wat Sene along Sakkarine Rd.

and a concentration of golden temples they call Wats, all thirty-four of which have been listed for preservation.

Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, is undoubtedly rich in cultural heritage and has both historical and natural sites to boast.

Traditional wooden dwellings and old colonial style houses fused into a distinct cultural tradition with beautiful landscapes that surrounds.  Mount Phousi perched in the middle of town showcases stunning views of the surrounding temples and hills.

It is a city where time seemed to have stood still.  The old town (their historical district) in particular has an old world charm,

reminiscent of the 1940’s where bicycles dominate and colonial style interspersed with traditional houses line the streets with some vintage cars even.

Small enough to explore by foot, we started our stroll at our hotel in Kingkitsarath to the bank where Khan and Mekong meet. The street, as in many in Luang Prabang, becomes Khem Khong or Mekong Rd at some point.

At the confluence, a path led to the river below where a wooden bridge stands.  Across is a handicraft and weaving village that one can explore but we didn’t venture out there anymore.

Instead, we continued on Khem Khong to get to Wat Xieng Thong – perhaps the most magnificent but definitely the most important and impressive of Lao temples.  There is a cluster of  ancient buildings dating back to the mid 16th century.

At the back of Wat Xieng Thong is a tree of life mosaic in colored glass.  Anyone with a keen interest in Lao history should not miss the religious artworks and artifacts housed here.

When it was time for lunch, we went for L’Elephant, an institution in its own right in Luang Prabang.  Menu was mostly French.

For starters we had a refreshing Carrot and Orange Salad and a superb Escargot baked in Garlic and Parsley Butter – cooked the way we like it.  For main, I had the Mekong Perch in Coriander Sauce and A had Stuffed Roasted Boneless Quail.  I say fine dining at its best in Luang Prabang.

The laid back, open-air atmosphere with high ceiling fans half expects you to see Rick Blaine come out and entertain.

In between lunch and a traditional lao massage, we explored more of Khem Kong, definitely a very quiet street where many upscale hotels are located.

Khem Kong facing the Mekong

 One of many roadside restaurants with a view of the Mekong or the Nam Khan

We then visited the Haw Kham, which is now known as the National Museum.

Once the Royal Palace, the building is a fusion of Traditional Lao and French design.  It houses an impressive collection of royal memorabilia and religious artifacts.

Every night, Hmong people come dowm from their villages in the mountains to sell their hand-made products,

typical Lao arts and crafts that include appliquéd blankets, silver jewelries, embroidered bags and a lot more.

A short walk-through here is more than adequate if a bargain hunter you are not.  They  have interesting and tasteful designs at a bargain, the quality is another thing though. But I guess you get what you pay for.   🙂

Many of the stalls here sell Lao street foods but we had our eyes set on Mango Tree in a quieter part of Sakkarine St.

Suffice it to say that dinner was fabulous.  Superb Lao dishes plated beautifully and served in a casual garden setting.

An extraordinary meal to cap an ordinary day, I must say.

So tell me, how can you not fall in love with Mekong’s jewel, its beautiful people,

its heritage and its shabby chic French fused Lao architecture that is so uniquely Luang Prabang?

Useful Info:

Villa Deux Rivieres
Kingkitsarath Rd., Ban Khily
Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 207737 8575
Cafe Ban Vat Sene
Sakkarine Rd.,
Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 71 252 482
Le Banneton
46 Sakkarine Rd., (opposite Wat Sop)
Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 21 217 321
L’Elephant Restaurant
Ban Vat Nong
Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 71 252 482
Mango Tree
Sakkarine Rd.,
Luang Prabang, Laos
+856 71 253 750

Wat Xieng Thong
Khem Khong Rd.,
Luang Prabang, Laos
Admission: 20,000 kip
National Museum
Sisavangvong, Luang Prabang
+856 71 212 122
Admission: 10,000 kip

Early Morning Alms

I am not a morning person and waking up early can be such an effort.  Laos somehow has managed to get me up at the crack of dawn, and for good reasons.  When we snuck out of our hotel’s gate fence one early January morning, the streets were still quiet with only street lamps lighting our way to Old Town, as Luang Prabang’s historic district is called. Here, the day seemed to have started already.

Villagers found their spot, kneeling on mats, waiting with a basket of sticky rice, fruits or sweets.

Vendors likewise positioned themselves near tourists, waiting for an opportunity to sell.

We sat at a corner with our camera watching the day progress.

Every morning, between 5 & 6AM, the monks of Luang Prabang’s 30 or so temples collect alms from the kneeling pilgrims and some early rising tourists.

Barefoot, they parade through the picturesque streets single file from oldest to youngest in their burnt sienna robes carrying alms bowls over their shoulder.

Alms giving have been practiced here every morning as townsfolk provide the monk’s daily sustenance for hundreds of years now.  They say that the monks are only allowed to eat food given to them in the morning of each day hence the daily ritual.

Those that give, they also say, earn merits for the good deed.

Cultural aside, this century old tradition is a spectacle on its own – waves of mandarin clad monks flood the streets contrasting the green trees and traditional white structures.  And as soon as it has started, it is over, and people start going their way.  We head for breakfast.

Café Ban Vat Sene.  We had coffee and dessert here last night and were instantly drawn to the place – the atmosphere relaxed with a Parisian café vibe.  But you see a lot of those as Luang Prabang has a natural laid-back atmosphere with a large French influence from architecture to restaurants and bakeries.  The cool January air summons us to sit outside for breakfast and watch the last of the procession.

They make wonderful French breads– baguettes, croissants, pain de campagne… with homemade jams

and a freshly brewed pot of coffee – my day has officially started.

Useful Info:

This religious ceremony is one of Luang Prabang’s major attraction, tourists must learn to be courteous and respectful of this tradition.  Please click here to know what and what not to do.

Cafe Ban Vat Sene
Open daily from 6am – 10pm
For reservations, call: +856 71 252 482

Soaring High in Vang Vieng

With most of Vang Vieng still asleep, we sauntered down before the break of dawn to the hotel lobby half asleep ourselves.  The ride came at 6 in the morning as promised and drove us to an empty lot where another vehicle with the basket and balloon arrived almost the same time.

They flipped the basket sideways, inflated the balloon with a giant fan and simultaneously flames it to give out that required hot air.

“You’re taking the VIP ride”, said a Chinese man in a coat to us.  Essentially, he meant that the basket can fit 4 but with no one else booked, the basket was ours for the next 40 minutes.  With their GPS and radios checked, we were asked to climb in.

By now Vang Vieng was waking up.

The balloon slowly lifted us up allowing us a bird’s eye view of this picturesque town.

With the air still misty, the mountain peaks looked mystical, like a painting almost.

The rice fields stretches out of the town and into the foothills.

The Namsong River beautifully snakes through Vang Vieng, manifesting its charm even more.

From the top, we see that the empty lot is actually the old airstrip and close to it is the road leading to Luang Prabang.

The beauty of Vang Vieng so captivated me; I forget that I was afraid of heights.  Tranquility fused with a rush of adrenalin was an experience unlike any I’ve had.

Hot Air Ballooning over Vang Vieng seemed to have blown away the cloud looming the town lately.

On the bus to Luang Prabang later that morning, I take one last look and say adieu to a town I have, in less than a day, become enchanted with.

Useful Info:

The Ballooning Company
Ban Vang Vieng, Laos PDR
email: info@laoballooning.com
website: http://www.laoballooning.com

Fun and Frolic at the River Namsong

Credits:  Papers by Jessica Sprague (Bright Stripes paper), Carina Gardner (Coqu flirt 16), ITM Tricolor (Red tiny dot), QQ Knotty Girl papers; Elements by Carina Gardner (daisy paper bits)

Once a peaceful and quiet town, Vang Vieng used to appeal only to adventure travelers wanting to rock climb, explore caves or to simply enjoy its tranquil surroundings, its people and culture.

Surrounded with striking karst rock formation, the Namsong runs through it contributing to its serene setting.

Since the launch of inner tubing in the mid-2000, the quiet town of Vang Vieng has never been quite the same.

The Namsong now appeal to “partying” backpackers.

The town today is most know for “tubing” down the Namsong and with it came

many bars along the riverbanks catering to those floating downstream either in rubber tubes or on a kayak.

The townsfolk once farmers are now owners of bars and guesthouses – predominantly made up of chill-out bars and dance shacks all offering cheap booze,

some offering more thrills in the form of swings and ziplines.

Along with the bars, lodgings of various types line both sides of the riverbanks.

A short afternoon cruise up and down the river on a motorized boat reveal all these.  It is the easiest way to watch the goings on around the river.

Foreigners partying or simply floating down the river dominate local scenes along the river.

The “party” scene may have appealed to me years ago but today, I prefer the relaxed atmosphere of the down river part of the Namsong.

Watching the sunset over cocktails after a long day is my idea of a good time.

This looks like fun… so we booked a sunrise ride over Vang Vieng on a Hot Air Balloon… on my next post.