Surfers and MBA

I squinted my eyes towards the distance in the hopes of seeing an impending wave when I heard singing from afar. I looked east of me and found two local boys 100m away, bobbing up and down their respective boards.

“Slow day, huh?”  I shouted.

I was with my surfing guide, and we’ve been on our boards, bobbing up and down the West Philippine Sea (or South China Sea?) for a good thirty minutes in the hopes of catching a wave. I can feel the local boys on the same state of ennui.

The local boys paddled nearer my location and introduced themselves: one was called Miguel and the other called himself Janus. Shortly after we started exchanging stories.

island life la union surf postcardpretty.jpg

One of the boys shared that he just got a German girlfriend, a backpacker he met in surf school. The other boy just won his first local surf competition.

I told them I am currently in school and I was just five weeks into my MBA. I told them things I wouldn’t otherwise tell my family, or friends, or cohort-mates: that the normally cocky Rachel is having doubts of my aptitude, and whether or not I could survive business school.

Before I could go on in my litany of my frustrations, an impending wave approached us and the two boys caught it on time, while I was washed ashore.

“I’m done for the day,” I told my surfing guide.

I suggested we go have beer by the beach. The guys we met in the middle of the sea passed by, so we hollered them to join us–and they did. Soon after beer bottles were clinked, I didn’t lose time in continuing my tirade, taking advantage of my newfound friends’ curiosity.

“I feel like an oddball,” I shared. “I’m an island girl, and this whole corporate culture is completely alien to me. In the islands, there is no concept of time. My social circle is made up of artists, surfers and bohemians. Moving to Makati and going to business school–I don’t know about this,” I expressed my doubts openly.

“I wish things are easier. I wish I can just live by the beach and chase waves. I have no energy to rule the world.” I thought aloud, although I knew in my heart I lied. I was too bohemian for the city life, but too neurotic for the island life. Being too comfortable bored me to tears.

At 26, I had what felt like a quarter-life crisis. I felt stuck, like I’m not supposed to be part of this story. And so, I decided to go to business school (because that’s why everyone does their MBA, right?). After some eight weeks of GMAT self-study and a let’s-see-how-we-do attitude, I was suddenly whisked away from the island life to the corporate jungle of Makati.

Traded my surfboard for the keys to the boardroom

My arrogance thought I could just ‘wing it’, like I always do–I was wrong. I was completely stumped in business school. Everything was completely new to me. I was completely stumped, and would enviously look as my classmates breeze through Finance, Accounting and Business. The readings seem to me like they were written in Arabic.

I wanted some Rosetta stone to land on my lap and become magically fluent in this new, technical language. I was on the verge of giving up because my sheets just. won’t. balance.

The solo surf trips to the beach were what saved me from the point of neurosis. When the four walls of the case room started to shrink and close in, I treated chronic cabin fevers with a one-way bus ticket to San Juan, La Union so I can just stare at the endless horizon. Always worked for me.

The surfers were obviously completely clueless about everything I’ve been saying up to that point. One of them, Miguel, finally offered advice. “Hey, don’t worry. Everyone starts off as a beginner.” the other countered, “Even pro surfers look like awkward idiots when they first got on the board.” 

And just like that, we forgot about everything else.

rachel MBA life aim

That was the October of 2016; and I have since then graduated and got my MBA degree. Their words definitely saved me from my dark and doubtful place.

My new friends’ words were all I needed to come fighting back into the ring. I remember coming home relieved and ready to make mistakes. I was ready to stand on goofy; ready to be wiped out from my board.

The boys were right. Starting off a little behind everyone else can be discouraging. Most of us, after all, grew up where success, or being the best, is celebrated. We get brownie points from our parents when we excel, and school institutions reward the top students in academic excellence.

The problem with this mentality is that it can create an illogical fear for failure. The biggest victims are the overachievers. In high school, I equated my self-worth to my academic achievement–seeing my name on top of the list validated my being. Because of their anxiety in failing, overachievers tend to stick to their expertise and what they know best. This short-sightedness hinders their ability to broaden their skill set. They have scripted responses such as ‘I can’t dance’, ‘I’m bad at languages’, or ‘I have no sense of balance’ whenever they encounter something new. It’s always easier to say ‘that’s impossible’ rather than ‘that’s hard.’

I started to changing my mindset from being this anxious failure-phobic to learning for the sake of fun. Changing this mentality opened a whole new world for me: I learned to laugh at myself when my butt hit the floor, but I learned to dance. I learned to surf. I learned to speak another language. I learned to balance statements. I learned to do things I never imagined I could do before. Failure is part of life, so just enjoy the ride, and enjoy the learning process! 

My learning curve may have been longer than my MBA classmates. I might have studied harder and slept fewer hours, but my learning experience in business school was, I believe, more satisfying because of that.

In the end, it’s really not about getting the degree, it was all about the journey to getting to where I am now; and wondering how Miguel and Janus are doing now.



The multilingual Filipino

I finished my phone conversation with a silly grin on my face when I caught Nico* looking at me without disguising his curiosity.

“What language was that?” he asked.

The conversation was with my girlfriend from back home. We were sat having sandwiches outside the Fisher Fine Arts library in UPenn, where my friend and I normally studied. 

Visayan.” I said. “Why?”

“It didn’t sound like the same language you speak with Ryan.” he said, referring to another Filipino classmate of ours.

“That’s Tagalog.”

“But this language Cebuano–it must be your first language, yes?”

I confirmed, and he shot a grin back in triumph.

He said he knew because everyone always sound angrier in their own language. He said I certainly sounded angry, but knew I wasn’t, because I was laughing after every sentence.

“Unless, you laugh in anger in your culture,” he mused.

I thought about what he said for a while. He made a pretty good point. We are always nicer and more respectful in another language, saying everything in a more gentle, question manner, unsure of ourselves; like we become children conversing to adults once again.

Come to think of it, I do tend to take up different personalities in the different languages I speak. I feel more professional in English, more gentle in Tagalog and Hiligaynon, and I’m a foul-mouthed, warfreak, drunken sailor in Cebuano.

Being Filipino, I grew up to hearing different tongues–sometimes simultaneously–that it was the only kind of world I knew of. In my hometown, we spoke both Visayan, and our Muslim brothers Maranao; my father’s side spoke Hiligaynon, and my mother’s side Tagalog. You know my grandfather’s temper is on the upside when you hear cussing in Spanish, English is taught in our schools from prep to college, and French…simplyfrom dating a few of them.

Sounds impressive, but not really. This is not unusual in a typical Filipino household. The country, after all, has 7,000+ islands, 300+ dialects, with frequent movement and diaspora; long colonial Spanish history, and then raised by Hollywood and 80’s love ballads. With this hodge-podge history, it is already given for every Filipino-born to be multilingual (or bilingual at the least).

We don’t really think about the multilingual aptitude much. But when you go abroad and realize that most people speak only one language.

Some weren’t granted the opportunity or exposure to other foreign tongues and cultures. Some by choice and refuse to learn any other language. And some are just simply crippled by the convenience of being born spoilt into a culture that didn’t have the necessity (I’m looking at you, America).

Foreign peers compliment me at how ‘good my English is’, like I’m not supposed to get my v’s and f’s right. And then revel at how easily I can switch from one language to another. It’s kinda nice to show off once in a while, pretending it’s some sort of superpower.

The truth is, you don’t really need to be fluent in the languages–you just need to know enough. You only need to know ‘hi, nice to meet you’, ‘beer’ and ‘cheers’ in a dozen languages for them to look at you like black sorcery. Kanpai!

Nico, being European, was also multilingual.

And so I played around with the topic and shot back a question: “Nico, what language do you think?”

His blue eyes danced, like he had been expecting the discourse. “The German language is made perfectly for a thinking mind, I believe. The vocabulary is just so exact and concise, there’s little room for error.”

I shot back the question to myself. What language do I think? What language do I feel?

On formal and professional scenarios, English seemed the default. It was my rationalizing language. But in the social and emotional aspects, Cebuano is my preference. 

Especially when it came to bodily feelings, I feel I could better explain myself in my dialect. How can you translate gigil? Kilig? Binhod? Panuhot? Pasmo? Alimungawan? How do you translate them to English in one word, without giving people the context or comparison? The nuances of languages tell us how the people and culture are characteristically; and on this–it seems like Cebuanos are very attuned to their bodies and feelings.

Nothing is more satisfying than swearing in Cebuano. I would write some of my favorites down, but they might not make it out on print. Sometimes, the F-word just don’t cut it, you know? There’s just more meat in our dialect, it’s just so wrong , dirty and crude.Especially the B-words…

Ah, nothing beats the B-words.

Now that I think of it, when I need to make more rational and moral decisions, I should probably not process my thought processes in Cebuano.

To art is human

Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. – Banksy

I could not take my eyes off the Ruscha.

Displayed in MoMA New York, I spent a good hour just staring at it; studying every detail of it– the static, the noise, the lull, the blandness; and finally finding solace in the familiarity and oddness of it.

My undergraduate is in Fine Art, but for the longest time I was not able to find my preferred medium until after graduation, years later: not in the comfort of my brushes, but in letters.

Writing to me is like going on autopilot. It felt intuitive. Natural. Like breathing. or flirting.

I wrote for myself first, for therapy; before progressing to publishing for a wider audience. However writing as a profession didn’t make much sense to me. I derive too much pleasure from it. To get paid to meander–it seems a little to selfish.

I find that ink is usually tinged with revenge, and pain or internal conflict, being the creative lubricant. If I were happy and in bliss, I become pretty useless on picking up a pen.

I recently heard in a podcast that da Vinci’s writings showed his psychological conflicts, how he had erratic mood swings. The speaker later noted that if Leonardo was born today, modern Western medical care would diagnose him with bipolar disorder and his shrink would put him on medication to neutralize Leonardo’s moods. Frida, Beethoven, Munch and van Gogh would have their own diagnosed mental illnesses too.

I don’t know what that implies; if human society should be thankful for modern medicine; but I am also a little sad about this common acceptance for muting what makes humans essentially human.

I do not know what I’ll do if I just let my emotions sit and die inside. Emotions get cabin fever, too.

And so I paint. I write. I dance. I create. I let myself have feels. Let the feels go on overdrive. Go in a trance, create, and hopefully, return safely back to the world of normalcy.

Art is a spiritual experience. It is no coincidence why the first priests in history: the shamans, were also the first artists, dancers, singers and performers. They create chants, cave paintings and performances; coming into a trance-like state–to communicate to the gods; seeking for a successful hunt or the absence of storms.

To participate in art is like coming to prayer: a commune between the human and the cosmos. Just like the prehistoric shaman performing chants and sacred dances in the bonfire; we are still enthralled when we witness the performance of the debonair pianist in the jazz club. Or the Lady Gaga Super Bowl performance, 2017.

Or, in my case, the silent impressions of the monochromatic Ruscha, The End, 1991.





The problem with writers

“Writing is, in the end, that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” – Pico Iyer

Writers are selfish creatures, master manipulators of the mind.

When you first meet them, they will hook you with their intense curiosity.

Do not mistake interest for friendship. Or romantic interest.

They’ve been known to keep people and relationships in their lives longer than they should– just because they make interesting character understudies for their next book.

They will look at you with inquisitive eyes, boring into your soul, trying to figure out your place in the plot.

They will shower you with attention, and soak information like a sponge–what you do, what you wear, what you say, and the inner workings of your mind–your drive, motivations, your dreams, your soul. What ticks you off? What makes you feel alive? 

Oysters open completely during a full moon, and when a crab sees one it throws a stone or seaweed so it cannot close again and becomes the crab’s ready meal.

Just like the oyster, be careful with the words you express when in company of a writer—they will hold on to every word you said and quote you on that, at that. They will then decide to be brutally honest, or cunningly deceiving–or both.

They will read between the lines, and if nonexistent and purely innocent, invent the words between the lines. Heck, they may even try to predict your future actions, or create and recreate plots and denouements. 

They’ve got you all figure out in their head. And if they’re wrong—isn’t that what the fiction genre is for?

You might find, in the middle of the date, the author paramour lost and elsewhere—sometimes lost in reverie; and sometimes, lost in the next table’s conversations.  They are notorious eavesdroppers who take mental notes of interesting lines and plot lines.

They will study the neighbors in question: they will take note of the man’s sweaty palms, and the texture of the woman’s hair and when it’s been last washed, the gaze, the body language—and conclude whether it is the first or the fifty-first date.

They will usually end up having their soup cold.

They have tendencies to exaggerate for dramatic flair; and exclude unimportant details because they are boring. They will paint the day with descriptions—they can skillfully describe a cheeseburger like they would describe sex, and in turn describe sex like it is the last meal of their life.

And yet, oddly and selfishly, writers do not reciprocate.

They refuse to give back as much as they take in. They are fiercely private, putting up glass walls to protect themselves; to keep control of their identities; to protect their stories. They do not wish to be at the mercy of the listener, unwilling to be subject to another storyteller’s liberties.

No other human finds comfort in ambiguity than a writer. They live for the ‘what-could-be’s and ‘could-have-been’s. The notion that there is no current conclusion is very beautiful; it gives us hope that we can always rewrite a better ending in the future. That’s how writers feel a sense of control in our lives, how we make sense of the world, by tricking ourselves that we take charge of the stories.

Jiufen & Shifen: Japanese spirits in Taiwan’s old towns

Did you know that Taiwan was actually Japan’s first colony? You can still feel it, once you step on the shores of Taiwan–you can feel a little bit of China, and a little bit of Japan… but don’t tell the Taiwanese that.

Japan wanted to show off to the world that they can also do the imperial colonizing thing like the Westerners can, and wanted to set Taiwan as a model example. You can still see the remnants of Japan especially in Taiwan’s old towns, particularly Jiufen and Shifen. If you want to experience more history and culture, these old mining towns give a feel of what Taiwan was like during the late 20th-century Japanese occupation.

In the late 20th century, gold was discovered in the area which ushered the gold rush and brought in a lot of people in that area. Mining was a lucrative industry in the hey-day: naturally rich in sulfur, gold, clay and gold. Nowadays, however, Taiwan now relies on imports to meet their mineral demands.

Jiufen and Shifen are good to visit in a day’s trip, as they are quite nearby and accessible. (Personally, I think it would be better if you allocate one day for each town!)

How to Get There?

Jiufen and Shifen is 40km and 30km away from the capital, respectively.

To get to Jiufen and Shifen, you need to get to Ruifang Train Station. You can also take the bus (approx $15-22 NTD/trip). . The commute is fairly inexpensive and easy to navigate, and takes approximately 40 minutes to 1 hour to get to your destination. The travel offers scenic views of the Taiwanese countryside.

shihfen flying lanterns

I should warn you that the commute back is a lot less pleasant. Queues at the bus station get pretty long after sunset. Day visitors often have to compete for a seat to the bus ride home.

So if you’re not the hustling kind, it would be better if you take the train (buying a roundtrip ticket in advance gets you a guaranteed seat) or simply hire a cab for the day. It will be more comfortable that way.


Jiufen is a charming little mining town in Northern Taiwan where time literally froze. It used to be a bustling gold mining town, until the gold depleted and it became a deserted, forgotten gem. There was a revived interest in the town when it appeared in the acclaimed movie City of Sadness, and it became a famous tourist attraction.

Although there is some dispute regarding this, Jiufen is said to be the real-life inspiration behind Hayao Miyazaki’s film, Spirited Away. If you haven’t seen the animated film, it’s about a little girl whose parents transformed into pigs and enters into a spirit world. Jiufen offers the magical backdrop of the film, from the winding, cobblestone streets  down to the  pork dumplings the Chihiro’s parents devoured greedily in the film.



Jiufen is filled with shops selling unique food and quirky things you will never find elsewhere. Shops sell trinkets, calligraphy art, peanut ice cream, shaved ice desserts… all sorts of things!


One particular shop had a handmade mask exhibit that reminded me again of another scene from the Miyazaki film.


The bathhouse is inspired by the A-mei Teahouse nestled in the highest part of the mountain. The teahouse is said to be a century old, where you could have traditional tea served with a good view of the town



Located in Pingxi Disctrict is another charming town famous for another thing: their magnificent flying lanterns. Annually, they hold the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival every February wherein thousands of sky lanterns are flown. I bet that is a sight to behold.

Once a bustling town with a railway that was a major player in Taiwan’s coal mining industry, the city is now best known for two things: the Shifen Waterfalls, lovingly dubbed as ‘Taiwan’s Niagara Falls’, and the flying lanterns, where visitors could send their wishes to the sky.


Wishes are color-coded and prices could vary from NT100-NT150, depending on the lantern you wish to send to the sky.


Just like most people, we wished for good health, love and more travels. Oriental characters on the flying lanterns seem more awesome than the English alphabet though… Watch our lantern go up in the sky!

It was magical to see your lantern fly up the sky and see your wishes reach the heavens… Unfortunately, I was told that the lanterns fly up for 10 minutes before it comes down to the ground. The lantern shops have workers whose job is to retrieve the fallen lanterns. Boo. Not as magical as I thought.

photobombing pixie sticks shifen taiwan

In the evening, we bought some fairy sticks and acted like kids. Who knew it was so much fun to light these things? Thanks fairy light photobombers for making this photo of me awesome! 🙂

So here you go! Do yourself a little favor and have a side trip to Jiufen and Shifen when you’re in Taiwan.

Siargao guide for non-surfers

This blog post was written on 2015.


The act of riding waves on wooden boards has been recorded as a human activity for thousands of years. The first surfers were the ancient Pacific Islanders and Polynesians who fish for a living, and discovered that riding the waves was an efficient way to get to shore quickly.

One of the First Known Photographs of a Surfer, 1800s. Photo from: Bishop Museum Archive
One of the First Known Photographs of a Surfer, 1800s. Photo from: Bishop Museum ArchiveSurfing and Siargao

Eventually riding waves transformed from a daily activity to a favorite pastime. There have been written records about people riding waves, from Capt. James Cook to Mark Twain. We can only guess how and when the modern form surfing was established, but one day some madcap decided it was a good idea to stand in his board during a swell and see what happens. The rest was history.

Surfing is now a sport and lifestyle that has taken a life of its own. Surfers travel around the world to catch the ‘perfect wave’. This is how the story of Siargao happened. Twenty years ago, two pro-surfers came to the Philippines to catch the fabled waves on a tear-shaped island called ‘Siargao’. Now known as ‘Cloud 9’, Siargao is acclaimed for her large, smooth and hollow-tubed waves that bring an international crowd of surfers every year. Siargao is now known as the Surfing Capital of the Philippines, and is the 9th Best Surfing Spot in the World (according to CNN).

But Wait! This Post is NOT for Surfers.

However, this post isn’t about surfing; I have no idea why I started my intro like that, but whatever. Of course, without surfing, Siargao wouldn’t be what it currently is now. Many surfers came for the waves, and fall in love with the island. Some never leave. The waves and the wonderful community is irresistible–making Siargao a little piece of paradise on Earth. I personally found the allure Siargao so seductive that I ended up booking another ticket to come back just a few days after I left!

In Siargao, surfing can be done all year round. There are different swells from different parts of the island, depending on the time of the year.


So What if I don’t surf?

Siargao is paradise for surfers— and non-surfers, too. If you don’t surf, there’s more to Siargao then just surfing. Of course, I would highly recommend that you make ‘learn to surf’ a top priority on your itinerary, but if it’s really not your thing, here are some activities you can do beyond surfing.

1. Magpupungko Tidal Pool

Magpupungko is named such from a unique rock formation in the area. The large boulder looks like it’s sitting on top of another flat rock. The beautiful pool only unveils itself during low tide.

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Be careful when you jump! The rocks are razor sharp!

siargao magpupungko

There’s also a beach right next to the pool with massive waves that will wipeout any entity who dared swim in it!

Photo by Chester Baldicantos. Yes, this really happened to John.
Photo by Chester Baldicantos. Yes, this really happened to John.

From General Luna, it’s a 40 minute car ride to Magpupungko. Entrance is 50 per person.

2. Island Hopping

Go island hopping and check out Siargao’s three nearby islands: Naked Island, Daku Island and Guyam Island. Depending on your negotiation skills, you can rent a boat to visit the three islands from P1,000 to P1,500.

Naked Island is just what you would expect–naked. On this island you would not find any trees or vegetation, just a stretch of fine white sand. Daku Island is, ‘dako’ or big, in terms of the other islands we visited. Daku even has its own barangay. (The ancestors were very literal and not very creative with naming their locale) We had our lunch in Daku Island before we went to our last stop, Guyam Island.

If you have the time, you can also check Sohoton Lagoon. Sohoton is famous for its jellyfish sanctuary and enchanting caves. Sohoton is three hours away from Siargao though and is closer to Surigao del Norte, so we decided to reserve Sohoton for another future trip.

3. Food Trip!

Food is affordable and good in Siargao. General Luna has quite a few restaurants and cafes that are good, interesting and not cheesy. Locals like barbecue, and they have barbecue stalls even in their disco bars! You can get great comfort food at Pleasure Point Cafe, three-layered pizza at Aventino’s, sushi at Lux Siargao Sushi Bar, great coffee and view at Cafe Loka, barbecue at Mama’s, and more.

pleasure point
Food at Pleasure Point Cafe

Locals like barbecue, and they have barbecue stalls even at their disco bars! Siargao is not as touristy as Boracay, so you can’t find any big restaurant establishments here like fast food joints and international food chains. Heck, you can’t even find an ATM machine around GL!

Fresh seafood here abounds (it’s an island, duh). You can go spearfishing if that’s your thing and roast your catch, or if you’re more mainstream  just go to the local market and purchase their freshest catch and pay someone to cook it for you.

You can check out my blog post on some of Siargao’s Best Eats here.

4. Party

So you don’t surf–but you can at least hang out and party with fellow surfers and look the part! Surfers are among the most unpretentious bunch I know and will befriend just about anyone. Siargao parties here embody the vibe of the island–laid back and friendly. You can’t expect any EDM or hardcore parties here. They have great parties in Pagoda Beach Bar especially on Mondays (named appropriately ‘Monday Fundays’) so be sure not to miss that. Other local disco bars are Jungle Bar every Fridays and Stowaway Bar every Saturdays.


Other bars around the island include Reggae Bar, Nine Bar, La Luna Surf Buddha Resort (they also have acoustic nights on Thursdays). There are quite a few places to chill and drink around Gen. Luna especially around Cloud 9.

5. Explore the Island!

Aside from surfing, there are plenty of water activities you can do in Siargao. You can go diving, snorkeling and paddle boarding.


A fish out of water can find abundant activities on land, too. Hire a motorbike or bicycle and explore the island itself. I read that tarsiers are also present here, and unlike Bohol, these small primates still roam free in Siargao forests. Saltwater crocodiles exist in parts of Siargao — Del Carmen, Siargao is home to the largest mangrove forest reserves in Mindanao.

There’s so much more to discover–General Luna is just one municipality! Fellow traveler and colleague Radel strongly insist I come back to Siargao and explore Siargao’s west and north side.

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Motorbike rentals are typically Php 500/day.

6. Caving


7. Relax

Relax! Don’t try to push in too many activities in one day. Tomorrow is another day in paradise. So yes, you deserve an afternoon’s rest in a hammock by the beach.

Relax! Tomorrow is another day in paradise.
Relax! Tomorrow is another day in paradise.
Kona is chillng like a German Shepherd boss.
Kona is chillng like a German Shepherd boss.

Siem Reap, Cambodia and surviving on P1,000 a day

Siem Reap was once upon a time just a sleepy little town in Southeast Asia, virtually unknown and ambiguous to the world. Cambodia was extremely poor and still recovering from its scars from the horrors of Pol Pot’s genocide. Siem Reap was just a quaint little village in the northwest region with 900-year-old temples. No big deal, nothing to offer here.

All that changed when Angelina Jolie visited Cambodia to film the Lara Croft movie. The movie catapulted her to fame, and went with it Cambodia’s fame as the next big tourist destination.cambodia-travel-southeast Siem Reap is now a thriving resort city–boasting a number of hotels, resorts and restaurants for tourists. Siem Reap is the gateway to the Angkor region, where the famed Angkor Wat temple complex is located. While I personally haven’t seen Lara Croft, I was just as interested in seeing the beautiful country of Cambodia.

Is it possible to travel there with a budget? Of course! Aya and I spent 6 days in Siem Reap, Cambodia with only P6,000 pocket money (that’s 150 USD or 100 GBP, foreign readers), and survived! That’s a tight budget of P1,000 a day. Here’s how we did it:

1. Travel with someone with the same wavelength as you. The decision to travel to Cambodia was spur of the moment. It probably was a bit of post-partum, but early 2014 I felt like I was stuck in a rut. Feeling broke and depressed—I decided to book a ticket to Cambodia. I didn’t even stop to think. I had to do it. I invited one of my best friends, Aya, to come with me. Equally broke and depressed, she immediately agreed. 

I swear, our backpacks where worth more than what we had in our wallets.
I swear, our backpacks where worth more than what we had in our wallets.

Aya was the perfect travel buddy and soul sister–we’re both cheap, resourceful and fearless. We’re creative problem solvers (Hence, spur-booking a ticket to solve our poverty-&-depression-phase! Yeah, that made complete sense!) Two broke girls in a foreign country? No problem, let’s just wing it! #YOLO #wereoldbutnotthatold

‘Winging it’ is vital to survival when you’re two broke girls abroad. It takes a little bit of charm and boldness, and requires a bit of beauty and brains (oh snap was that a humblebrag?) to get away with getting sweet deals.

If you’re not rugged and cowboy, you can’t sit with us.
If you’re not rugged and cowboy, you can’t sit with us.

Seriously, if I had traveled with someone else, I’d probably be too shy to let her sleep in a room without AC, or to have her eat cheap food. I would never tell her ‘Let’s not eat there, I can’t afford it.’ Unfortunately, traveling with someone with the same wavelength has its pros and cons. In our case:

Aya: Where do you want to eat?
Rachel: I don’t know, wherever, you?
Aya: Wherever, you?
Rachel: No, I don’t mind, you?
Aya: Your turn to choose, I chose last time
Rachel: … (let’s just starve to death)

I would like to take this opportunity to thank our tuktuk driver Kapouv for making most of our dining decisions and taking us to great places to eat.

2. Book on Cebu Pacific.

To get to Cambodia, you’ll have to fly via Cebu Pacific. The airline pioneered direct Philippine-Cambodia flights They run  Manila to Siem flights Reap four times a week.

We were able to get a P399 promo to fly to Cambodia, or P4,150 roundtrip with VAT, etc.Other expenses not inclusive: travel tax (you have to pay P1,620 at the airport) and Terminal fee (P700). We did not avail of food or check-in luggage (because backpackers).

Cebu Pacific may get a lot of bad press with customer service and delayed flights… but a backpacker like me cannot thank Cebu Pacific enough. Because of Cebu Pacific, it’s now easier for every Juan to fly.

I advise you to bookmark Cebu Pacific and set it as your browser home page to get the latest updates on their promos. I’m such an avid Cebu Pacific flyer I could recite their puns at the back of my head. Cebu Pacific, Nothing Com-FARES to you!

3. Go to

If you’re unfamiliar with the travel concept, couchsurfing is a global community of travelers. Hosts offer travelers to crash in their homes for free. Ideally, hosts are also couchsurfers when they’re traveling abroad, and vice versa. Couchsurfing significantly reduces your travel costs because accommodations are made free!

Even if you don’t have plans to couchsurf, you can still check out the site to meet like-minded people, have dinner with fellow travelers, go on a day tour with the locals. CS groups hold frequent meet-ups in several cities worldwide. Couchsurfing has a great and thriving travel community.

We met our tuktuk driver Kapouv through the site. He gave us a really good deal on a daily flat rate. His tuktuk also offered shade and free water for his thirsty riders. He was nice, patient and insightful. I would recommend Kapouv to anyone.

kapouv-tuktuk-driver-siem-reap We also met party boy Kuwait-based Berlin Calderon who was solo-backpacking across Southeast Asia. He later joined us in Siem Reap on our third day.

Berlin, Aya and I
Berlin, Aya and I

Berlin was the life of the party! Sometimes he made us feel like grandmas. It was good he came with us later on because he made the decisions and eased us off the burden of our undecided-ness.

4. Stay at Mad Monkey Hostel

The room we booked was a double private room with bathroom for 14 USD a night. The room didn’t have AC, but it had a fan and sufficed.

But be warned, this hostel does not sleep. But the managers sure know how to throw a good party. Mad Monkey boasts a rooftop beach bar, a pool, sundeck and a three-meter beer hose.

Mad Monkey crowd is young, with all the energy and blissful ignorance. Mad Monkey is like spring break for the I’m-a-university-student-from-a-first-world-country-currently-on-gap-year-searching-for-an-epiphany-so-I’m-traveling-to-a-third-world-country kind. It is tempting to just stay in all day, gawking at people.

Guests of the hostel are given one free craft beer every day of their stay which you can redeem at the banana bar or rooftop bar. If you ever get the chance to stay here, do the grenade shots! They keep a scoreboard by the bar that keeps tabs on the number of grenade shots done by country. Netherlands and USA was on the lead during our visit, and Philippines only had a meager 9 points. Help our country redeem itself!

5. Food

Khmer cuisine is great, I can attest to that. Khmer cuisine shares many characteristics with their neighbor counterparts–infusing influences from Thailand, India, China and Vietnam. The Khmer palate is, for the word, ‘subtle’ in comparison to other neighboring cuisines. This doesn’t mean Khmer food is inferior at all. It’s neither as spicy as Thai, not as rich as Indian, not as umami-loaded as Chinese, nor as salty as Cebuano. Cambodian tastes are subtle but the flavors feel ‘purer’. Fresher.

What’s interesting to me is how Cambodian restaurants, even the humblest karenderia-types, have a complete array of condiments and accessories for their customers. In every table, you’ll see a dispenser with floral-scented napkins, hot water, utensils, chopsticks, and the condiments black pepper, salt, lime juice and their special Khmer fish sauce. Below our table is a small trash can where we can dispose our rubbish conveniently. Philippine restrooms can’t even provide toilet paper and working tap water. We should be ashamed.

When in Cambodia, you’ll have a high time with their famed ‘happy pizza’. Basically, it’s pizza garnished with cannabis. Yep, they’re pretty lenient with that stuff here. Locals use hemp for cooking some dishes or as a therapeutic herb. Best of all, you get to choose on how ‘happy’ you’ll want to be, from ‘miserable’ to ‘extremely happy’. We chose the latter, but instead of being ‘extremely happy’ we became extremely drowsy instead. You’ll find several happy herb pizza places around Siem Reap’s Pub Street. Happy pizza normally costs US $6-$8.

Image from

Food in Siem Reap isn’t expensive and cost somewhere between US $2 to $5 in restaurants. Popular dishes are the Fish Amok, a national dish made of fish, coconut milk and curry paste, and Lok Lak, stir-fried beef in brown sauce.

Street food in Cambodia is cheap and delicious! My street food favorites are the Khmer banana pancakes, fried bananas and good ol’ stir fried noodles.

Cambodians enjoy sour fruit too! They like unripe fruits (like mangoes and tamarind) sprinkled with a chili and salt mix.

Still, there are better options to stretch that buck: stay away from the tourist traps. Go where the locals go!

On several occasions, we asked Kapouv to take us somewhere with good and cheap food. Kapouv led us away from Siem Reap central and into the outskirts of the city. He took us to Siem Reap’s local hangout called ‘Route 60′ where we got to experience the local life. You’ll see the Khmer people having picnics and barbecues with family and friends. There are family-friendly carnival rides and a la budots music blaring on the speakers.

Sunset at Route 60, Siem Reap Cambodia

Here you won’t find westerners here gawking at the area like a tourist attraction. Since Filipinos and Cambodians look alike, we blended in easily. Route 60 is the best way to experience Cambodia the local way. Authentic Khmer food was sold at US cents price! 

A personal favorite of Aya and I are their chive cakes or Nom Ka Chai. You can get stuffed here for US 25 cents or 1,000 Cambodian Riel.

At Route 60, we also got our first taste of fried insects. The street vendors sold juicy crickets, beetles, silkworm, red tree ants, snakes, frogs and tarantulas—all at a very good price.


6. Angkor Wat Of course you can’t travel to Cambodia without seeing the Angkor Wat. It’s a magnificent (and massive!) temple complex built in the early 12th century as the then-king’s state temple and eventual mausoleum. The Angkor Wat is the national symbol of Cambodia, and is represented in their flag. It is the largest religious monument in the world.

In Angkor Wat you will witness beautiful sunrise and sunset views. I advise to see it at sunrise (leave 4:30 am) to catch the beautiful sky hues. angkor-wat-temple-cambodia-asia The only expense we couldn’t escape was Angkor Wat. For US $20 (one day pass), it was the highest expense of our trip.

If you can’t afford a tour, follow one of the several group tours and pretend to be part of the group. There are group tours done in several languages (English, French, Spanish, Nihonggo) in case you want to learn a new language too.

Fortunately we weren’t that desperate and decided to get a tour guide. There are official tours and group tours, and also hustling locals waiting outside the temple offering their services. We got a local guide who was a young university student to take us around for $15. I’d like to share more about the history and culture behind Angkor Wat and Pol Pot, but I’ll go more into detail on a separate blog post. For now, here’s some pictures we took while in the temple complex.

7. Shopping

Shopping in Siem Reap was heaven for us. Their bazaars have a cool array of clothing and souvenir items: antiques, crocodile leather, paintings, Cambodian silk and more.

The Cambodian pants they sold in bazaars were lovely, and Aya and I bought three for $3-$5 each. We bought a few pairs to use while touring around. It’s hot and humid in Cambodia plus you can’t really wear shorts when visiting temples. The Cambodian pants were perfect for touring around because they’re comfortable, airy with the right skin coverage.
We also got these nice rice sack / cement sack bags handy for keeping our money, phone, camera and water bottles in place.

While these items can also be found in flea markets of nearby Southeast Asian countries, I appreciate how the Cambodians are still nice and timid, and shoppers don’t feel pushed to buy. They aren’t as aggressive, pushy or demanding like the Chinese in Hong Kong gadget shops or their Thai neighbors. No one yells or gets furious at you.

8. Partying

Of course most tourists travel to Siem Reap to see ancient temples. But if you think there’s not much to do in Siem Reap after dark you’re wrong. The city is a tourist area and has a very lively nightlife.

Because we don’t have enough moolah to afford to see a traditional Apsara theatre, we opted to see a free performance at the Temple Bar in Pub Street instead. The full Apsara show is at the second floor and begins at 7:30 in the evening–but come early as the restaurant gets packed. traditional-dance-cambodia-women-girls After the show, you can take pictures with the dancers and continue chilling. We did so before transferring to another bar across the street, ‘Angkor What?’

Angkor What? is the liveliest bar in the street and claims to be ‘promoting irresponsible drinking since 1998’. Apart from their repetitive and somewhat outdated playlist (the dance music were from five years ago), it’s a good place to meet people. Angkor What? is famous for their beer and cocktail buckets (around $4-$5) and energetic crowd.

9. I admit, we cheated a little bit.

While we lived the broke backpacker lifestyle for most of the trip, it’s nice to treat yourself once (or twice during) a trip. And if you want to cheat, do so at Blue Pumpkin.

So we only brought P6,000 cash, but a credit card on hand can call for an unplanned cheat day. We didn’t say we regret it though. Blue Pumpkin food is soooo good. Their desserts are heavenly.

I swear, Blue Pumpkin furniture are built for customers to stay there forever. It doesn’t help that their couches are way more comfortable than our hostel bed.

10. Practice #ResponsibleYOLO.

While it seems like we’ve done a lot of crazy things on this trip, it pays to know your boundaries. Maturity teaches you that you can’t do everything recklessly. So even if you’re YOLO (excuse me for using that horrible word), practice Repsonsible YOLO.

Be wary of people who want to take advantage of you. You’re vulnerable especially because: a.) you’re a girl, b.) you’re broke, c.) you look gullible or d.) all of the above. This means avoiding douchebag French-Cambodian sons of corrupt politicians (they have it there, too!). It’s telling off homophobic, rude backpackers who should’ve stayed home in their suburbs. Responsible YOLO means being mature enough to know how far you can push it.
We were able to cover a lot of things on our six-day vacation in Siem Reap, Cambodia and make the most of our buck! What are your favorite things about Cambodia?

How to apply for your baby’s Philippine Passport

This post was written on 2014.

At some point, a mother will start to worry about applying for their child’s passport. Maybe you needed to see family or friends abroad. Or maybe you just want to take your little one to Disneyland! Summer is around the corner and travel is the best experience you can give to your child. I got my baby’s passport when he was barely two months old so that he can visit family abroad.

caleb at 5 months old, macau to cebu flight

By the way, I applied for his passport more than a year ago so my memory is kinda foggy on details. I do remember that it was quick and easy though–I remember being in the DFA center and leaving for only 30 minutes! I am surprised that the Philippine agency is very baby-friendly and convenient.

Starting this July 2016, the only walk-in applicants allowed will be infants, PWD, senior citizens and pregnant women. Other applicants will have to apply and book an appointment online. To find out, read my blog post on How to Apply for a Philippine Passport Online.

I. Requirements

  • Personal Appearance – you’ll need to bring your baby to DFA as applicant. Either of the parent must also be present (if legitimate) or the mother (if illegitimate).
  • You don’t need a confirmed appointment – minors ages below 7, senior citizens, pregnant women and handicapped can come right in and go to the courtesy lane.
  • Birth Certificate – an original NSO birth certificate will suffice. When I applied, Caleb’s NSO birth certificate wasn’t available in NSO yet (him being born a month or so ago). I had to bring his original birth certificate and had it certified at the Local Civil Registrar.
Local Civil Registrar in Cebu City
Local Civil Registrar in Cebu City
  •  NSO Marriage Certificate of Parents (if married)

    – If the parents are married, minor applicant will need a parent’s consent letter from both parents. If the parents are not married, minor applicant will only need a consent from the responsible parent (usually the mother).

  • Original and photocopy of passport of the person traveling with the minor.

– Original passport and copy of either parent will do or of mother (if illegitimate).

  • Notarized Affidavit of Support and Consent to Travel

– You will need a notarized affidavit from both parents (if legitimate) or mother (if illegitimate). I had the  notarized by my good lawyer friend Atty. Janjan Perez.

Additional Requirements:

  • If the child or minor applicant is not traveling with both his parents, you will need additional requirements:
    • Travel clearance form issued by DSWD. Original and photocopy will be required (blog post to follow on how to secure this)
      • Note that minors will not need to acquire the DSWD clearance if parents are living abroad or are immigrants, or in the Foreign service. Proof needs to be provided that parent/s are living abroad.
    • Affidavit of Support and Consent by either parent (mother, if illegitimate)
    • Passport copy of the person the child will be traveling with.

II. Appointment

DFA in Cebu is located at the 4th Level, Pacific Mall – Metro Mandaue, U.N. Avenue, Mandaue City, Cebu, Philippines.

Pacific Mall – Metro Mandaue

Since Caleb was still an infant, he didn’t need a scheduled appointment. The perks of being a baby mean that you can bypass the long queues of disgruntled applicants through the Courtesy Lane. It won’t save you from their dagger looks, but cut them some slack for they’ve probably been queuing up since 4am. The courtesy lane accepts babies, senior citizens, pregnant women and handicapped applicants. I haven’t tried this (but I have thought of it), you can push it even further and try to apply for your child’s and your passport renewal. (hehe)

Step 1: Make sure to come to DFA with all the documents complete and organized to make the passport application process swift and hassle-free. Bring original copies and photocopies of all required paperwork. Once you enter, the guard will give you an application form you need to fill up. Just wait inside for a few minutes and once you’re up, submit your documents and form to the official assigned who will review them and make sure documents are in order.

Isn’t he big for a one-month-something old?
Big and strong too! 🙂

Step 2: Line up to give payment at the cashier. It’s Php 950 for regular processing and Php 1,200 for 7 days express processing. As of writing, express processing is temporarily ceased and the regular processing takes a minimum 6 weeks. Waiting times will be much shorter and you will be directed to pay at the courtesy lane. After you’re done with payment, you will be given a number and directed to another room where the applicant’s picture will be taken.

Step 3: Picture-taking time. Process is again fast and painless as there were probably 30 or so counters in front–in a few minutes, we were asked to go to a counter to have baby’s picture taken. Being only two months old, he could not sit up on his own yet so he had to be laid down in the table in a blanket. If you’re worried about hygiene issues, you can bring your own light blue blanket.

Picture-taking took a longer time than expected. The applicant had to be looking at the camera with eyes open. That’s not exactly easy for an infant to do (especially if he’s sleepy or hungry!)–so the person in charge had to take several pictures and sighed in frustration.

We finally got Caleb to look at the camera after a dozen attempts. It wasn’t a very flattering photo (he looked like a mochi!) and wanted the staff to try again… but the guy didn’t want to be bothered. We left DFA roughly thirty minutes when we came in–I honestly didn’t expect it would be that easy!

Step 4: Waiting time. I didn’t opt for the delivery service so I came back to DFA exactly 6 weeks after application. I got it as promised. Thank you DFA for a swift and easy process for the little ones!

Doesn't he look like a mochi?
Doesn’t he look like a mochi?