Mount Ijen National Park, (Indonesia)

“The blue lava volcano”

Mount Ijen, Indonesia, October 2015

The most unexpected trip we could ever have imagined we would be doing. And all it happened while having a chat with out driver we got to show us everywhere in Bali island, where the subject of blue lava came as a thread. I must be honest in saying I’ve never ever heard about this to be real or that any place in the world would exist with this but hey! The surprise kept us on a high knowing we were in fact not that far from one of the only 2 places in the world with blue lava! Yet things get even more thrilling after learning Mount Ijen is in fact, the only accessible of them 2. Merely for information, the other such volcano is in Iceland and it is inaccessible.

Giving up the splendid beach and pool at the resort we stayed in Bali was hard and kept us thinking if we should go ahead in doing this trip or not. Once I keep telling you then you will know why. This was not just getting there at any time and that’s all, but instead it required travelling in the night, and spend the entire night awake, hiking at terribly unsocial odd hours in the middle of the pitch black night. Then after sunrise, thinking on the same way back with a much longer driving time due to the heavier traffic. It took almost 24 hours since we were picked at the hotel and until we were dropped off.

Now if you ask me if the terrible tiredness, and extreme danger we were constantly when hiking up and down to the caldera of the volcano, I can tell you YES! Do it. Never think twice or you will regret not doing this. It is something so unique you might never have another chance in your lifetime, unless you travel back here on purpose. (more…)

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Jakarta, (Indonesia)

“Batavia”, “Big Durian”, “Jaya Raya: Victorious and Great”

Jakarta, Indonesia, October 2015

Ready for the next big holiday to a far destination. The 3rd one so far this year, or 4th if considering the long-weekend trip to Turkey in. And as I know it won’t be still the last for this year it means I remain excited and will remain happy even when this holiday is over after returning from Indonesia and looking forward to the next one; or well, not that much long to wait, just 5 more days until flying again for one of the usual weekend trips.

If last year was Philippines, this year is the turn for Indonesia. It does not really matter when in the year but there is always one trip to anywhere in South East Asia or far East Asia; and I hope to keep it going this way as it works really well while always escaping the bad weather back in Europe in search of sun and heat at destinations mostly within the Tropics. Not the longest daylight hours per day but hey! I cannot see any other “downside” point apart from that. The only workaround is starting the days very early in order to maximise the day, and rest in the evening once sunset.

Jakarta was our entry point and first encounter to Indonesia. This huge capital city is not what you might have though and been told on first instance. I’ve always heard from my friends who’ve been there before that there is really nothing to see and do and that everything is ugly and unorganised. This was in reality very untrue!. The city is instead very vibrant, day and night, and so vastly large there is always something to do and places to go. From the ultramodern skyscrapers mushrooming everywhere, to the more traditional Indonesian, and to the great Old Town, former Dutch colonial city which has retained majority of its buildings almost intact and unspoiled, nowadays beautifully restored to their former glory with a much larger ongoing project to recover more and more of these structures and make the city more tourist friendly.

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Taal Volcano, (Philippines)

“The Smallest Active Volcano in the World”, “One of the 16 Decade Volcanoes”

Taal, Philippines, April 2014

At just 7 hours after returning from Taipei back into Manila, our last day in the Philippines would become a special surprise thanks to our Philippine friends Bernard and Angelo who planned this day on our backs and told us just once we were about to take the plane back to Manila from Taipei the night before. What best way to end this great trip than spending the last day with them and enjoying these marvellous landscapes and nature just 2 hours south of Manila.

The heat again played against us, although I keep saying that I totally don’t mind the heat, but mind the cold. Was very refreshing and nice in the afternoon when out of sudden a short thunderstorm happened. It kept the rest of the day under clouds and fresh air.

Reaching this place is really straightforward and comfortable. For at least half of the way there is a good motorway (mind you will need to pay few times along the way) and for the remaining of the journey this will be a single lane in each direction road. With just some traffic near one mall you will pass along the way, there seems to be no complication at all. (more…)

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Boracay, (Philippines)

“Buracay”, “White Beach: One of the top 10 beaches in the world”

Boracay, Philippines, April 2014

On our next move within the Philippines we travelled southwest of the country to this little piece of paradise, the island of Boracay. It’s been just 4 months since I was in another piece of paradise on the other side of the planet, 15500 kilometres to the west of Boracay, 15000 of them being the vast of the Pacific Ocean; San Pedro Ambergris in Belize (or La Isla Bonita as it is better known). Thankfully in this occasion weather made a huge difference to what was back then in the Caribbean with a horrible one! Although our second day was quite cloudy I have to admit it was even a relief after the intense heat and unbearable sun from the first day.

The island of Boracay is located in the region called Western Visayas. It’s so small that the nearest airports are on the larger neighbouring island of Panay, but easily to commute from/to as described in the transport section below.

It rapidly boomed in tourism being one of the most visited islands in the Philippines without doubts for its worldwide renown pristine beaches of fine white sand and turquoise waters. But something almost the 100% of first time visitors to the Philippines do not know is that there are by far much better islands and beaches elsewhere across the countless the country is formed of. (more…)

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Laoag, Paoay and Santa Maria, (Philippines)

“Samtoy, Sao mi itoy: This is Our Language”, “Sunshine City”, “City of Lights”

Laoag, Paoay & Santa Maria, Philippines, April 2014

On our next move in the Philippines after Manila we headed to the northern region of Ilocos Norte, flying to it’s capital city, Laoag, where the only commercial airport for the whole region is located. The night we landed and the following day would be extremely packed with a very explicit visit of Laoag in the night, Paoay in the morning, then the drive south towards Vigan, highlight for this trip but not before an unexpected surprise stop over by Pangil, an ancient dead coral reef and the UNESCO World Heritage listed Santa Maria Church; passing through countless tobacco fields plantations and beautiful landscapes; then back again towards Laoag for a late evening departure flight to Manila.

So right upon landing, our friend came to pick us from the airport and gave us a small tour around the landmarks of Laoag. Few minutes after we were already on way to the neighbouring village of Paoay where we drop our bags at the hotel and then enjoyed an amazing Northern Philippine dinner where we sampled the incredibly good Ilocano dishes. That was a great feast! Thanks Bernard and family once again. We will always keep these great memories!

So here they are the key reasons in getting to this region: meeting my Philippine friend in Paoay, and of course, getting to visit the best preserved and almost untouched Spanish-Oriental colonial city in Asia, Vigan, a fascinating city like no other, and yet another UNESCO site visited in our growing list.

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Manila, (Philippines)

“Distinguished and Ever Loyal City”, “The Pearl of the Orient”, “New Kingdom of Castille”

Manila, Philippines, April 2014

Finally the date has come! 10 months waiting for this moment since we booked our tickets, now a reality. And thankfully as we found a good air fare in hotukdeals app on our phones (remember you can also check the website version here, just type flights in the search box). Although originally on a split flight from London to Abu Dhabi with Etihand, and Abu Dhabi to Manila on Philippine Airlines (both companies do code-share on this route); the flight times dramatically changed for the Philippine Airlines leg meaning we could not make the connecting flight in Abu Dhabi on time. Luckily for us in this case, Philippine Airlines rebooked us instead on the direct London to Manila which they recently introduced after the ban for flying over European skies was lifted due to their new planes and good safety records.

If you are the kind of person who cannot sleep on long haul flights then try to make everything possible to get some sleep on the outbound flight (always any flight from west to east); otherwise the jet lag will be definitely terrible. If you can or have someone who can get for you sleeping tablets then that’s your lucky bet. Of course remember those are highly addictive, obvious reason why a GP won’t prescribe it to you unless you have serious anxiety or sleeping disorder. Thankfully I managed to get some a while ago, and the flight was just marvellous! Not to mention they gave us a full row of 4 seat to each of us as the outbound flight was half empty. As a note, both flights were the longest direct I’ve ever done, while the returning leg is also on the list of the longest flights in the world.

Our plan on this trip was not only visiting Manila, but some other places during the 9 days in total we stayed across the Philippines plus Taiwan. For instance, our stay in Manila was shortened to 2 days on our arrival and 1 last day before our departure back to London. The rest of the places we would visit are Taal, Laoag, Paoay, Santa Maria, Vigan, Boracay and Taipei.

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Malacca, (Malaysia)

“Historical City”

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Malacca, one of the most historical and most visited cities in Malaysia is without doubt the little gem awaiting to be discovered. Often forgotten by visitors, yet still terribly overcrowded with countless foreign visitors, it is together with George Town in the island of Penang and of course Kuala Lumpur, the greatest highlights for anyone visiting the country. These are in any case just a small example of the incredible beauty and countless landscapes, lush jungle, historic cities or amazing idyllic islands and beaches scattered all over the nation.

Gladly, this is a second time for me in this city. And while back in 2013 it was a terribly rushed day trip from KL where we did only spend 3 hours wandering the streets, considering 2 hours to come and another 2 to return by bus, it was certainly not enough. On this occasion, it was well enough time and much better planned ahead hence a great chance for also updating this travel guide and bringing it in line more descriptively and complete.

A few notes on history, it was founded in the 14th century by Sumatran prince Parameswara, who escaped to the Malay Peninsula when the state-city once he ruled, Srivijaya in the island of Sumatra, fell to the Majapahit. The Portuguese soon saw the potential on such a strategical location at the confluence of the river and the Andaman Sea in a natural harbour on the Straits of Malacca, and conquered to their empire in order to grow their colonies in the hyper profitable trade route, yet not for long. The Dutch came after taking over the Portuguese and as last, the British in the 19th century until Malaysia’s Independence in 1963.

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