Chapter 2: Unfamiliarity is a two-part series of Life in Transit containing snippets of my personal travel journal – from the baby steps we’ve taken into planning this trip, places we’ve been, experiences we’ve had and memories we’ve made over the course of 30 days across Southeast Asia.
Chapter 2: Part 2 covers the last leg of our trip – from Chiang Mai to Kuala Lumpur. Read about the Part 1 here.
Mode of transportation: Tuktuk or walk | Currency: Baht
Welcoming our mid-way adventure was a plane ride from Siem Reap to Chiang Mai, the northern part of Thailand. If you’re asking why we didn’t settle for Bangkok instead, it’s because apart from the civil unrest situation at the central part of Thailand, most travelers recommended staying in Chiang Mai instead – as it depicted “slow living” and the “chill life” at its finest.
At the airport, we met a Swiss traveler named Viviane who was also on her way to the city. She gladly offered to split cab costs (which was expensive for 3 people, mind you). The cab driver was really friendly and accommodating – and told stories of his own as we headed to the walled city.
I think the best part about our hostel was that it had a huge window (!!!). We’ve been secluded like prisoners during our stay at Ho Chi Minh, Phnom Penh & Siem Reap (read more about that part of the trip here) that all we wanted to do was sleep at our guesthouses. A fun fact – we planned our whole week in Chiang Mai the first day we arrived at the airport. LOL. Cramming!
I had most of my favorite days at Chiang Mai. One was staying in Free Bird Café for the whole afternoon – in silence, with only the sound of the rain, a bit of reading, and writing, and – fine, I couldn’t help it – planning my life once I returned to Manila.
There was also that morning we spent riding and taking care of elephants (thanks to Blue Elephant Thailand Tours for being so accommodating!) – one of the more unreal bucket list goals I’ve been able to tick off. As I’ve said, I’m not an animal lover – but this experience proved me wrong. (Apparently, I have a heart!)
That afternoon was spent doing lettering and a bit of work at Funky Dog, a café near our hostel. I admit that I had to sneak in a bit of work duties during the trip. Workaholic much, but I have no choice!
Another favorite was getting to know Chiang Mai’s cooking culture through a whole day cooking class we attended at Baan Thai Cookery School. I still remember ending the day feeling like a pig with all the delicious food we’ve consumed. Probably around 3000 calories, LOL.
I got to write about my culinary experience over at Pepper, by the way. Check it out here.
(lots of) Walking around the Walled City
We were at the point in our trip where temples don’t seem much impressive anymore (hello, Angkor Wat set the standard) – so while we did try to do a bit of temple visiting around the city, it wasn’t as fascinating as the previous ones we’ve visited (in Phnom Penh & Siem Reap).
Well, we did end up scoring disposable cameras (yay for that Fuji store near our hostel) and spent our nights shopping at the markets near Chang Klan road (which were a lot, by the way). My favorite one was Wui Lai night market (near the gate), which opens on Saturdays. Aside from getting to shop a lot, we scored really good (CHEAP) Thai food for dinner – winner combo, if you ask me.
Oh hey, selfie with the guard, LOL
Also, during our week-long walkathon in the city (we did not ride tuktuks, except for night time and if our destination was really far), we were able to stumble upon a few really nice cafes in Chiang Mai – Fresh & Wraps was my favorite. I’ll share more about ABC (Art / Books / Coffee) on the next chapter. :)
Mode of transportation: SMRT or bus (get an EZ link card!) | Currency: SGD
Aaaand for the third time last year, I returned to Singapore again. NGL, favorite country for life!
Now next to Japan, of course.
What makes Singapore a place I love visiting is not only the bookstores, art stores and shopping – but it’s where I meet up with most of my readers and some friends from Manila. Technically, it felt like home away from home.
We spent a whole day at the airport and in flight, so heading to our hostel and rest was our final agenda. We stayed at Matchbox Hostel, located 1km from Chinatown MRT station. It was okay. Nothing spectacular, but it was rather hard to find an inexpensive and accessible hostel in Singapore – so we figured it would do.
Being the crazy art hipster I am whenever I visit Singapore, I took Tricie to Haji Lane, Bras Basah Complex (ha, we scored a lot of books at Basheer), Duxton Road and Tiong Bahru (we got even more books at BooksActually). Despite traveling around the city and basking under the heat of the sun during daytime – which made us extra tired, we spent most nights chilling around the city, watching a movie (Begin Again!) and having really good dinners.
Might I add that I did my fair share of hoarding while I was in Art Friend? Yup.
You can read more about the awesomeness that is Bras Basah Complex on my post about where to go art hoarding in Singapore – click here.
Needless to say, we also managed to be kids again for a day and spent it at Universal Studios. The Mummy and Transformers are still the best rides I’ve ever ridden in my entire lifetime – so far. HAH.
Coffee Crawl (yet again)
More coffee crawl happenings because who can’t say no to coffee, right?! There have been a lot of cafes popping up in Singapore (I managed to do some cafe hopping too, during my solo trip) and we decided to try out of some of them.
Of course, the winner was Forty Hands. Because Forty Hands, hands down, has the best coffee I’ve ever tasted – and obviously it left me palpitating like crazy and getting a migraine after (it was relatively humid that day), but no regrets, for the love of good coffee.
Museums, merlions – and memories
Aside from getting crazy over art, books and coffee, we did more touristy stuff over our week-long stay. It was my first time visiting both Singapore Art Museum and the Merlion Park and all I can say was…ugh they’re so beautiful.
Both Tricie and I love museums, and despite my coward ways (sorry, some parts were really creepy!) I managed to appreciate SAM so much, from the beautiful architecture to the fascinating art pieces and installations.
Merlion Park was quite a long destination, and the area was definitely designed for tourists.
I particularly liked this area full of flowers. Hah, typical me.
But what made Singapore extra memorable was seeing some of my readers (hi Chloe & Dorcas!) whom I met earlier last year. They were kind enough to tour me around the city during my solo trip, so we decided to meet up again this time. I also met up with my childhood friend Arielle for dinner and Peter (whom I did not expect to meet up with!) for brunch – it was definitely a wonderful morning catching up.
Our departure from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur via bus was quite crazy, because our alarms didn’t work! We literally rushed to the bus station (brisk walking with a heavy backpack is not exactly the best combo) and crossed our fingers that we would still be able to make it.
In a nutshell, the bus trip wasn’t exactly a good one – but I did end up finishing a book. I hated how we had to stay on the road (stop, rather) for a few hours due to unexpected bus engine defects. We arrived at Kuala Lumpur exhausted and moneyless (we forgot to change to their RM currency!), adventure much, lol.
Mode of transportation: Taxi, train (but we didn’t bother cause I found it sketchy) or GoKL free bus service, which we ended up using the whole time we were in KL | Currency: RM / Ringgit
Spending our last week in Malaysia was relatively OK. Nothing much of a difference from all the places we’ve been – but it was quite a memorable experience.
We stayed in Container Hotel, which is a few blocks from Pavilion mall and the Petronas towers. I remember Tricie stumbling upon this particular hostel during one of our travel meetings – and we really insisted on staying here because the place was really quirky and rates were very cheap. True to our expectations, everything was spot on! I loved as well that the receptionist was Pinoy. Made home feel a wee bit closer, but not quite.
The first few days in KL were literally boring. It was either we walked to Pavilion or head to KLCC and do regular malling stuff (which is similar to Manila) and I got sick for a day, which made it even more dragging.
Our calendar included a break from the week-long stay at KL by taking a 4 hour bus to Georgetown, Penang.
I’d like to think that decision definitely made the trip extra awesome.
We stayed at Georgetown (a UNESCO World Heritage city) for 3 days and 2 nights, which we found quite enough to take tours around the city and do some self-exploration.
Our hostel was 33 Stewart Guesthouze – the folks were super hospitable, and it was relatively near the central part of Georgetown so I definitely recommend staying here.
Of Cameras & Street Art
What really excited me for Penang was – of course – the street art. They were painted by Ernest Zacharevic. Interestingly enough, majority of the pieces are situated along Armenian Street, which was one of my favorite streets. The architecture looked very vintage and oriental. I felt like I was transported to China at some point.
We also got to visit The Camera Museum, which houses a huge selection of vintage cameras. There was also a darkroom inside and a few interesting facts about the evolution of photography. Definitely a place worth visiting for photography and art enthusiasts.
The 23, 000 Steps Day
I have an app called Argus on my phone which tracks my daily steps – and I think this 23,000 steps day broke the record. LOL. Daring ourselves to walk the whole day during our second day (aka full day in Penang) was pretty much a challenge we took (seriously). But either way, it was a rather fun day of adventures and explorations!
Tricie played tour guide (I swear, I don’t know how I’d survive without her A+ navigation skills), so we got to visit some notable places around town – the Chew Jetty clan by the sea (the old saleslady there was really nice, and spoke Mandarin), a few notable religious establishments (did you know that 3 religions are present here? Catholicism, Buddhism and Hinduism), the local park, and Esplanade, which was a long stretch (Manila Bay vibes) of land by the sea.
Obviously, my favorite was spending the last few hours of the late afternoon sitting by the Esplanade and looking out to the sea. I’ve never felt that kind of freedom (and silence) in quite a long time, and I loved how everything seemed to slow down at that very moment.
It’s funny how I remember those little things I never get to write on my journals. But I guess that’s what makes it extra memorable, right?
Mornings and evenings were spent either scouring cheap local fare by the side streets (Kimberley and Chulin streets were full of them – and they were really delicious) or hiding at hipster cafes in the area (this, of course, I preferred most). The place transports you to the old times, and the people there weren’t as populated (it was actually kind of creepy that I’d not want to live there, to be honest) and unlike most cities, it was extra quiet and slow here. The slowness that makes you want to live in the moment and not really miss out on what matters.
I would say spending 3 days in Penang was pretty sufficient. We rode a bus back to KL and stayed again at Container for the last days of our trip.
(back to) Kuala Lumpur
Heading back to Kuala Lumpur with happy hearts, we tried out Jalan Alor food street for dinner. It was relatively festive (and very Chinese) and fun. Aside from that, we did end up doing our usual KL duties – malling, eating out, catching up on (a bit of) city living and slowly preparing for our return to Manila (after 30 days!).
This deserves a special part because aside from visiting Central Market’s Old Town coffee stall, it was another eureka moment for me and coffee. White coffee was lovely. While incomparable to Vietnam coffee, it had a distinct flavor and aroma that really made me appreciate this coffee variant as well.
And we ended up spending the afternoon talking about life, which is always insightful and interesting – and something I rarely like talking about, but I did, at that specific time and place.
Okay, I’ll talk more about this soon – but it was bittersweet, definitely.
So the damage of a 30-day trip: 10 books, tons of pasalubong for friends and family (we had to carry a whole lot of paper bags during our flight, jeez), new clothes, souvenirs – and additional kilos. LOL.
No regrets, though. It was an adventure to remember. And definitely one of the best adventures I will ever have in this lifetime. <3
Whew, that was quite a handful, right? If you were able to finish, then congratulations and thank you for reading!
* * *
I wrote an acknowledgement page on my Southeast Asia diary and to express my appreciation for these people, I’m adding it here.
Special thanks to the following people:
- Of course, first and foremost, to my travel buddy / achi (“big sister” in Chinese) / manager Tricie, who deserves an award for being the best navigator and companion throughout the trip – thank you for taking this adventure with me. The dream was realized!
- To my travel loving friends – Lois Yasay, Aleyn Comprendio, Mikka Wee, Jayme del Rosario, Katt San Juan, for all the advice and tips and questions you all answered. I appreciate your efforts to help me out on this.
- To my cousins Jan Jizelle Ang and Anne See, as well, for giving recommendations and “ate” advice
- To my mom, who let me in on this and allowed me to explore what was out there (despite being hesitant at first, because her daughter is now adventurous, lol) for me to see the world on my own terms
- My music heroes: Ed Sheeran, Birdy, Keira Knightley, Kodaline, Bon Iver, Sam Smith, The Naked and Famous, for the bus trip and post-midnight feels. LOL
- Spotify for extending our playlist to 5SOS, Timeflies, Today’s Top Hits and all those mainstream stuff, which technically summed up our Life in Transit playlist. LOL
- Wikipedia and Google for always giving the answers
- Lifesavers: Agoda, TripAdvisor, Cebu Pacific Air and Air Asia, for making our trip possible.
(I am going to pat myself on the back for actually finishing this entry. Y A Y!)
P.S. We are making Life in Transit, our e-book, available in print by the end of January! Would you like to have a copy? Let us know in the comments below.