Monthly Recap: March 2017
I cannot believe that I've already been gone five months. I don't how else to express this except to say that time has truly flown by. I feel like this journey has been a time-warp because everyday I'm abroad seems to go by 10x faster than everyday I was at home. Maybe March particularly flew by because I was on the move a bit more than I was my first four months abroad, so I don't know what that says about the next five months and the fact that I hope to visit ten more countries in that time.
Where I've Been
- Manila - 15 nights
- Dumaguete - 2 nights
- Banaue - 2 nights
- Coron - 2 nights
- Malapascua - 4 nights
Singapore - 4 nights
(plus 2 overnight buses)
This is absolutely cheating, but I loved staying at the Shangri-La at the Fort in Manila. I was born in Las Vegas and lived there until I was 13. I celebrated birthdays at The Bellagio and once spent at night at the MGM Grand as part of a "camping requirement" with my Girl Scouts troop. I have always appreciated luxury hotels, and the Shangri-La fits neatly into that category. This hotel opened in 2016 and features a multi-level gym, a beautiful tea and coffee lounge, a spa, and outdoor pool. My dad and I only stayed for one night for $200/night, but I continued to return to the Shangri-La during my time in Manila so I could get work done and enjoy a good cup of coffee.
But if we go back to my hostel lifestyle (in other words, what I can actually afford), my favorite bed would be Seahorse Guesthouse in Coron for $12/night. It had a very central location, friendly staff, and the best included breakfast I've ever had at a hostel! Plus, the showers were hot, which was a nice surprise (I am so used to cold showers at this point, but I still hate them).
I wouldn't say the beds were particularly awful, but the Malapascua Budget Inn was definitely the most basic hostel I've stayed at in a long time for $8/night. To be fair, the entire island was very basic, so I shouldn't have expected too much. But the dorm rooms were extremely small with 10 beds that were more like "pods" built into the walls. JoJo, the manager, was extremely nice and he played movies every night with free popcorn.
Staying with friends in Singapore - I didn't know what to expect from Singapore, but I absolutely loved exploring the city with two high school classmates who are living there. My favorite part of Singapore was wandering through Haji Lane in Arab Street. I stumbled upon a photography shop and picked up a few photos of Singapore that I am going to frame when I get home.
Spending time with my family - I loved getting to know my family members in the Philippines, including my aunts, uncle, and cousins. I stayed at my aunt and uncle's condo while in Manila and they always made sure I had a ride to the airport for all my trips and that I was well-fed. I'm very grateful for my trip to the Philippines.
Trekking the Batad Rice Terraces - I actually have two blog posts written about this experience, I just haven't gotten around to posting them. But I am so glad I ended up going to Banaue and Batad despite my reservations about traveling there alone. The rice terraces were unlike anything I had ever seen and the locals were beyond kind. I had an awesome guide and I loved the owners of the hostel I stayed at. This was one of my top travel experiences.
Buying things for cheap - Asia, I love you. After four months of sweating over every dollar spent in Aus because it's such an expensive country, it was amazing to be back in Southeast Asia. Dinner? $2. Coffee? $1.30. Fun dive? $20. Bus ticket? $8. Bottled water? .30 cents. Malaysia and the Philippines aren't even the cheapest countries in SEA - Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos take that top honor, so my trip is only going to get cheaper from here on out.
Finding seahorses on a night dive - Look at these incredible photos of the two seahorses I saw on a night dive! I couldn't believe we actually found seahorses; they are rare to find because the are usually hiding in seagrass. I could have watched these beauties for ages. Photo credit to my diving buddy, Alexander Dahm.
Taking a bubble bath - I love taking baths. Seriously, when I look for my next apartment, the first thing I have to evaluate is the bathtub. So four months of no bath tub and cold showers meant that all I wanted to do was relax in the bath with a magazine. Enter the Shangri-La! I took a wonderful bath, with plenty of bath salts and hot water.
Taking Carlos Celdran's famous walking tour - I did this tour of Manila with my dad, and we both learned a lot about the city that we didn't know. It also gave me an amazing opportunity to hear about my dad's personal experience of World War II, which I repeatidly asked him questions about throughout the rest of the trip. Celdran's tour is recapped in my Part II blog post; my dad's story is still coming...
Comparing flights for the best deal - I spend a lot of my time trying to find the best prices for plane tickets. I got excited when I found a flight from Manila to Singapore for $108 on Momondo on a budget airline, but when I finally walked through all the steps, the total came out to $190 with hidden fees! I ended up buying a ticket for $200 on a better airline with a better departure time with checked baggage fees included.
Missing my original flight from Manila to Coron - I had a hard time booking this plane ticket because of poor wifi and I couldn't find accommodation last minute. When I arrived at the airport to check-in, the ticket agent said, "Uh, ma'am, your flight was yesterday..." I had booked my plane ticket for the wrong day, and had to pay $50USD to jump on another flight that evening. Now I triple check the dates for all my bus, train, and plane tickets!
Getting lonely in Malapascua - Yes, I get lonely sometimes! Malapascua was a particularly quiet island and the hostel I was at wasn't really set up for social interactions. Plus, most people were diving during the day. I got bored on the island because I wasn't meeting a ton of people and I did end up eating most of my meals alone, which isn't typical.
Clearing my mask - I have always hated clearing my mask while scuba diving, which is why I actually quit on my first day of scuba diving certification. I started struggling with the skill again when my mask was kicked during a dive in Belize, and decided to ask for help with the skill while diving with Thresher Shark Divers in Malapascua. Darren, an instructor with 12 years of experience, took time out of his busy day to give me 1:1 instruction. He helped me visualize the skill, then we put all our diving gear on, plus tanks, and practiced clearing my mask in the shallow water. I nailed the skill immediately, which goes to show how mental blocks can be so annoying. He had me practice many more times until I felt 100% confident, and later on during a night dive, I cleared my mask twice with no problem. It's really important to me to become a more confident diver, so I'm glad I asked for help with this skill.
Diving in Coron - I hate small spaces.
Not being able to be there for a friend - One of my best friends has been going through a tough time recently and I felt awful at not being able to be there for her in person. Had I been in Indy, I would have dropped everything to be at her side. Instead, the most I could do was send sincere FB messages and mail a small gift home that made me think of her. It made me realize that even though I wish I could be there for my best friends on their happiest days, it feels more important for me to be there for them when times are hard.
Getting paranoid about skin cancer - I am OCD about my health when I'm abroad and noticed that I was developing sun spots on my chest. The sun spots are from sun damage, but they're benign. They will fade once my skin color returns to normal (I get really dark when I'm in the sun). I actually have not gotten sunburned at all since I've been on this trip, but I suffered a really severe sunburn a year ago in Belize and I think the sun spots are a result of that. I've got an appointment with a dermatologist for when I get home, just to be safe.
I added this fun section so I can share all the different cultural quirks I've experienced!
Standing ovation at Wicked - My family and I went to go see Wicked in Manila. It was my second time seeing it, and as the cast gave their final bow and the crowd applauded, I instantly stood up for the standing ovation. Except... I was the only one who stood! There were a few others standing, but certainly everyone else was sitting. My aunt said standing ovations aren't a thing in the Philippines because Filipinos are much more reserved.
Everyone gets a ride! - Public transportation in the Philippines will literally pick up every single local on the side of the road until the bus or minivan is completely full. Makes for a real fun time on a four-hour bus ride over unpaved roads.
Removing your shoes - In Asia in general, it is customary to remove your shoes before entering a household. I've had to do this in Singapore, the Philippines, and Malaysia now. In hostels, shoes are pilled up in a "shoe closet" and I always have to remember not to forget my shoes when I check-out!
Standing on the left in Singapore - I instantly recognized that Singapore society is super orderly and organized. On the escalators, everyone stands on the left so that people can walk on the right. On the MRT, there are lines on the ground to show where to stand as people get off the metro. It's rude to cut people in line, shove in front of people, or disrupt this order in any way.
I'm including Singapore in this month, even though I didn't leave Singapore until April 3. But I think it's easier to see total costs by country whenever possible. All costs are in USD!
Philippines - 28 days
Internet / SIM: $12
Total: $1000, an average of $35/day
I stayed with family in Manila for 15 nights for free, including food. And then my dad covered the flight from Brisbane to Manila. I covered all the costs when I traveled on my own outside of Manila. The majority of my money in the Philippines went towards paying for flights between the islands, as well as a $60 private transfer to Malapascua Island.
Singapore - 5 days
Internet / SIM: $23
Total: $161, an average of $36/day
Monthly Total: $1,361, an average of $41/day
Tessa and Kevin were super kind to host me or else a hostel in Singapore would have been $15-20/night. They also gave me a spare MRT card to get around the city. Food was expensive because we ate out at restaurants, but I'm glad I experienced Singapore as a normal tourist and not as a budget backpacker.
I finally hit my writing streak again!
How To Use Your Phone Abroad with a SIM Card - A practical how-to guide on how to use your smartphone abroad by buying a SIM card.
Part I: My Manila - My personal thoughts on my time in Manila, ranging from what I thought about the language, the food, and the city.
Part II: World War II Manila with Carlos Celdran - A recap of the fantastic tour my dad and I took with Carlos Celdran through Old Manila, with a particular focus on how Manila was impacted by WWII.
Island Hopping in Coron - What happens when you arrive at the pier in the morning, all alone and with no boat tour to join? You make friends, of course!
Why I Hated Diving Shipwrecks in Coron - This was March's most read blog post. I guess I'll have to keep facing my fears!
A Piece of Home in Singapore - A recap of one of my most favorite cities (and countries!) in the world, plus how a mini-high school reunion came to be.
Monthly Recap: February 2017 - The usual recap!
Books I've Read
You Are a Badass: How To Start Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living An Awesome Life by Jen Sincero - I don't normally pick up self-help books, but this was recommended by a friend and I needed a book to download on my new Kindle. I worked through this book slowly, reading only a couple of chapters at a time. I liked Sincero's straight forward narrative, short chapters, and how she drills self-love and self-respect into the reader. Some of the topics were a little over my head, like connecting with Energy, but I did highlight a lot of her quotes.
The Girl Before by JP Delaney - This is a thriller that I devoured in two days. It's an interesting plot that switches narratives between two women who come to live in a house with a very unique set of rules. It is very similar to The Girl on the Train and is already being made into a movie directed by Ron Howard.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Housseini - What a stunning novel. I picked this up in the hostel and read it in a day. I had read The Kite Runner years ago and was just as touched by this novel. I was amazed by the strength of the women in the novel and it was a stark reminder of a culture that I still know very little about.
What's Up Next
I feel like my journey is shaping into two parts: Australia and the Philippines, which was the first five months and relatively easy by all means. I moved from city to city quite slowly. And the next five months? I'll be in 2-3 countries a month. If I get burnt out, I'll drop a country. I have a general plan of all the countries I'd like to visit, but nothing is booked.
For now, I'm getting a feel for Malaysia and am pleasantly surprised by how modern and comfortable the country feels. I'll be spending the next two weeks in Peninsular Malaysia. After Malaysia, I fly to Melbourne for a week. I'll spend a few days in Tasmania, then will officially leave Aus to journey to New Zealand!