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Palawan, Philippines

2017 August 9

The fifth and last stop of the trip (if you don’t count the return to Taipei) was Palawan in the Philippines!  Palawan is a large island surrounded by a bunch of smaller islands and we specifically visited the Coron area, which is in the northern part of the main island.

It was quite a trip when we landed at the small airport. First of all, the airline gave us umbrellas to use as we walked onto the tarmac in Manila and onto the plane, cause it was that sunny and hot.

And then, on our little plane, we sat in the first row, which usually wouldn’t be too weird, except we were turned around and were FACING all of the other passengers. Pretty weird perspective haha, but I guess not unlike sitting that way on a train.

When we landed, the airport was tiny: pretty much just one big room and no conveyor belt for luggage.

But once we got our bags, we stepped out into a van from our hotel and were whisked away into the town of Coron. We opted for a boutique hotel called the Funny Lion, which was great and we would highly recommend.

That first afternoon, we went on a tuk-tuk tour where we checked out a few sites around the town. We climbed up 700 steps to get to the top of Mt. Tapyas which had a cool view of the island and surrounding water. We also stopped by a cashew factory and took a nice twilight dip in the Maquinit Hot Springs.

On a couple other days, we spent them on a small boat taking island tours and snorkeling. It was a lot of fun and the sites were amazing and beautiful.The crystal clear waters and backdrop of rocky cliffs were exactly what you would think of for a picturesque island vacation. The view at Kayangan Lake is what dreams are made of:

One of the snorkeling sites was at a sunken Japanese shipwreck from World War 2, which was fascinating and a bit freaky to see up close. But I was most excited when during our last snorkeling stop, I spotted some anenomes and a family of clownfish (Nemos!) hiding in it.

Another highlight from our days at sea was when our tour group formed a “human centipede” chain in the water and floated through a narrow opening in the rocks between the Twin Lagoons.

An unfortunate but interesting thing that came up during our stay in Palawan was hospitality. My girlfriend got hurt after slipping and falling on some poorly maintained wooden planks, and was quite hobbled from it. People immediately rushed to help and our hotel had a manager personally escort us to the local hospital.

Being a public health and healthcare guy, it was fascinating to see how medical care was done in a small rural town. This hospital was pretty beat up and had maybe ten rooms in total, but they made due with what they had. The hotel manager had to walk across the street to buy film that we gave to the doctor in order to perform the x-ray. There were also detailed workflow diagrams and public health posters all over the hospital, which was awesome to see!

But all of the attention for the injury made me realize that emerging tourist areas must pay so much attention to security and reputation, because even a few bad reviews and non-recommendations could likely doom a large part of their local economy. We certainly appreciated the help though.

Palawan felt like one of those places that will become a hot travel destination soon, much like Iceland and Thailand were recently. It is still a little undiscovered, but is absolutely gorgeous and a great place to relax and see some awe-inspiring parts of nature.

 

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Manila, Philippines

2017 July 27
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by Stanley Quan

Fourth stop of the trip was a quick half day in Manila, Philippines.

This wasn’t originally on our itinerary but it ended up being a convenient stop on our way to the Palawan Islands. We took the afternoon to get a taste of some local flavors as well as see some historical sites.

Manila didn’t feel that safe, as we found out quickly when our cab had to go through two security checks and us through a metal detector before getting into our hotel. Also, locals tended to get a little too into personal space trying to get you to buy stuff or take their tours.

Nevertheless, we checked out Plaza de Roma and Fort Santiago, which was built back in the Spanish colonial period.

For food, we went to a few local favorites- Max’s restaurant for some fried chicken and Razon of Guagua’s for halo halo, both of which were delicious. We also splurged on sushi at Nobu in our hotel just to try haha.

Manila was a quick pitstop before the island life!

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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

2017 July 19
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by Stanley Quan

Third stop on the trip was Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

When we got there, we ran head on into crazy bumper-to-bumper traffic during rush hour. Apparently there’s terrible traffic here all day every day.

Food ruled the roost once again, as Malaysia’s location makes it an great place to get different delicious cuisines. It was a lot of fun going to Jalan Alor for food and Jalan Changkat (pub street) for drinks.

The city is an interesting and diverse mix of different cultures. Similar to Singapore, there were distinct neighborhoods of Chinatown and Little India.

We visited Batu Caves and climbed the 700 steps to see the temple within the limestone caves.

Kuala Lumpur also had a few very tall buildings that literally towered over the city haha. KL Tower and Petronas Towers:

Out of all our destinations, KL was the most difficult with calling Ubers and Grabcars (a competitor). Ride sharing is a new thing here and it was frustrating trying to hail a car. Coming from the Bay Area, which might be the most tech-connected place in the world, we are spoiled and this in a way served as a reminder of how tech takes a while to take foot.

The pace here was slow but definitely a fun place to visit. The sights didn’t disappoint!

 

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Singapore

2017 July 3
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by Stanley Quan

Second stop of the trip was Singapore! First impression was their airport, which is amazing.

After checking in to our hotel, we stepped out to explore a bit. That afternoon was blisteringly hot. Instantly started sweating right when we stepped outside…

But that couldn’t stop us from exploring Singapore’s interesting food scene.

I loved going to the hawker centres, which are large open-air cafeterias with a bunch of different food stalls. These were originally set up by the government to better regulate street food.

Now they serve a wide variety of cuisines, including Hainanese chicken rice, which is one of my new favorite dishes. It’s as simple as its name: some chicken, rice (which is cooked in chicken stock), and a little vegetable. Basic but delicious.

We went to a handful of hawker centres to sample other staples like chicken satay and mee goreng, washed down with some local Tiger beer, which is also surprisingly good. I could drink that on tap.

 

One of the other highlights was checking out Gardens by the Bay, which is part of Singapore’s greening project to become a “City in a Garden.” The indoor cloud forest and outdoor supertree light show at night were awesome. We also explored more of the culturally diverse city, including Chinatown, Little India, and Haji Lane.

 

 

 

 

 

Before leaving we grabbed a few Singapore Slings at a cool bar along the bay. A little history: the Singapore Sling was invented in 1915 as a way to make it more socially acceptable for women (#nastywomen) to drink in public! Though we didn’t get to experience much of the nightlife, Singapore seems like it would be a fun city to go out in, with its many bars and clubs (return trip!).

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Taipei, Taiwan

2017 June 28
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by Stanley Quan

5/20-5/22, 6/2-6/3

First stop (and last stop) of the trip was Taipei, Taiwan.

Taipei was all about the FOOD. First place to go upon landing was a night market, of course. I honestly imagined they would be bigger. But they were fun nonetheless with the large variety of food stalls and vendors. We sampled many foods on sticks, dumplings, and boba.

Over a few days, we seemed to just walk and eat all over the city, dining on some other Taiwanese staples like soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung’s birthplace, green onion pancakes, shave ice, pineapple cakes, and beef noodles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suffice to say, we left with full stomachs.

Besides the food, we checked out:

  • Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial- beautiful national monument steeped in history.
  • Maokong Gondola Ride- really cool trip up the mountain and above the trees. So green!
  • Elephant Mountain- hike was a lot steeper and strenuous than we anticipated, but had an awesome view of Taipei 101 as a reward at the top.

I also got a foot massage cause everyone seemed to be getting them. Bad idea. It probably has something to do with my feet in particular, but it was one of the most painful experiences of my life haha. Will not do again.

Another interesting experience had to do with language. Based on how I look, most people there tried speaking Mandarin to me. Though I understand and speak Cantonese much better, I did try to use my limited and rusty Mandarin. More often than not, I unfortunately had to end up with a “wo bu dong” (“I don’t understand” in Mandarin). It was a nice challenge in linguistics though.

Leaving Taipei the first time was quite frustrating due to a personal mistake. I’ll just say this: If you ever book a redeye flight, double, triple, quadruple-check the departure date and time!

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