From Attractions

The Budget Travel Guide to Alice Springs and Uluru, Australia

Australian Outback Travel Guide

When we began our journey across Australia’s Red Center, our tour guide-slash-driver handed us a marker and told us to write our names on the window of the van. It’s a way for everyone in the group to easily remember each other’s name.

Since then, every time I looked out the window, I saw my name etched in every dawn and dusk, every starry sky, every vivid picture that sped past me. Through the glass, every place is a canvass. Every moment a masterpiece. The Outback is a wild, insane artist.

Our destination: Uluru, Australia’s most iconic landmark. Regarded by many as the heart of the Outback, Uluru is located almost at the center of the continent. The nearest major town is Alice Springs, where our trip began.

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The Rock Tour: Camping Trip from Alice Springs to Uluru, Australia

Australian Outback

“We’re in the middle of nowhere,” I whispered as I picked up another stick.

Middle of nowhere. No other collection of three words had been as overused since we first set foot in the vastness of the Australian Outback. In this part of the world, almost everywhere is the “middle of nowhere.”

Our group was divided into pairs, all collecting firewood in between low trees and tall shrubs, sparsely fringing the red dunes. It had all the makings of a tragic thriller: temperature dropping, light dwindling, and dingoes howling in the distance. Every stick we picked up from the ground was followed by a deep sigh (or a silent prayer, had I been a theist). It was always a relief not finding a venomous snake or spider underneath. Australia’s deadly reputation is hard to shake off.

I wrapped my left arm around a stack of half-dozen sticks and dragged a whole slender tree trunk with my right to the side of the road, where our van was parked. Then, we broke the big, long branches into smaller pieces before handing them one by one to Nick, our tour guide, who stood atop the trailer and ensured that every firewood, down to every last twig, was in place.

“We’re gonna need these to sleep soundly tonight,” Nick said as he jumped off the vehicle. “We’re spending the night in the middle of nowhere.”

There’s that phrase again.

“And by ‘middle of nowhere’, I mean the middle of fckin’ nowhere,” he added before climbing back to the driver seat. We followed suit, finding our spot inside the van, where we spent the next hour wondering where the hell we were. Soon, the concrete road turned to dirt and the van shook as we headed straight into pitch darkness. After several minutes, we pulled over and braved the cold.

“Welcome to the middle of nowhere,” he said as he started a small fire, allowing us a look at our home for the night. And he wasn’t kidding.

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La Union Food Trip: Where to Eat in San Juan

La Union Food Trip

The municipality of San Juan in La Union has been hit by a series of waves.

The first wave of tourists was composed mainly of swimmers and sun-worshippers. For decades, San Juan was known simply as a beach town, just one of the many that freckle the map of Northern Luzon. But as roads stemmed deeper into the more remote corners of the island, the ever-fickle tourism shifted its focus to several more dazzling coves, including those in Pagudpud to the north and in Pundaquit to the south.

The next wave brought with it a new breed of beachgoers — surfers. From July to March, the shores of San Juan are slapped with swells of five to six feet, pumping new life to the sleepy town, paving the way to become the region’s surfing capital, and putting La Union back on the tourist map.

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Corregidor: 5 Reasons to Stay Overnight (Other than Ghost-Hunting)

Corregidor Tour

We watched as the sun took a dive, leaving behind a luminous, honey-colored splatter across the sky. Spending most of my time in big cities, I have learned to appreciate every moment I am treated to a clear view of a glorious sunset. And I stood there, atop the cliff, just taking it all in, not minding at all that I am in what many consider one of the most haunted places in the Philippines. Darkness was creeping in, but our tour was just beginning.

Corregidor is known by many nicknames: “Fort Mills” during the American era, “The Rock” for its terrain and fortifications, and “Gibraltar of the East” for its resemblance to Mediterranean Sea’s peninsular fortress. Because of its strategic location, at the mouth of Manila Bay, it played a pivotal role during the Pacific War. Its fall signaled the start of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines (1942-45). Thousands of souls from both sides perished in the island: most killed during battle. Others chose to end their lives instead of waving the white flag.

This violent history has made the island notorious for eerie, creepy encounters. Many choose to explore the island on a day tour and refuse to spend even just one night here. Who can blame them, really? It is the picture that media has painted, scaring would-be visitors and restricting many of those who dare to short day tours. And it’s a shame. While this island offers a lot of enlightening insights and picturesque vistas under the sun, its best is served in the dark. Here are five reasons to stay overnight in Corregidor.

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8 FREE and Cheap Things to Do in Essaouira, Morocco

Essaouira

As soon as we hopped out of the van, he drove off. Our driver dropped us off where the road almost meets the sea, and just left us there with no explanation, no suggestion on where to go or what to do, no fcks at all. I looked at my equally confused co-visitors and let out a gentle laugh. We all thought we signed up for a tour. Apparently, what they meant for tour was simply a ride.

For a brief moment there, I doubted whether we were in the right city. Although along Morocco’s Atlantic coast, Essaouira looks more like a Mediterranean town with a North African attitude. The citadel is predominantly white, rising from a rocky shore, accented by cerulean boats. Gelato shops mark some corners, and European restaurants punctuate some streets. Yet, a walk is impossible without running into locals clad in djellabas and being treated to the aroma of cumin-mixed tagines. And while it is home to multiple ethnic groups, it is distinctly, undeniably Moroccan.

“So where do we go?” said one of the Londoners in our group. Shrugs were our response.

It wasn’t really a problem. Essaouira is quite small, and many of the key attractions are within a few minutes’ walk. Some of us followed the crowd to the beach. Some followed the walls to the medina. But we followed the irresistible scent of grilled fish, which led us exactly to the place we wish to visit in this side of Morocco — the ramparts.

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The Budget Travel Guide to Pahiyas Festival in Lucban, Quezon

Pahiyas Festival Travel Guide

The first thing I said to myself when I stepped in the town of Lucban was “OMG, I belong.” I’ve always loved anything bright and vibrant. It’s like if I die and I get reincarnated into a Philippine Festival, I’d probably be Pahiyas. (Not that festivals are living things. But you get the point.)

The Pahiyas Festival is celebrated every May 15 in Lucban, Quezon, in honor of the municipality’s patron saint, San Isidro Labrador (St. Isidore the Farmer). It’s the locals’ way of giving thanks for the bountiful harvest over the past year. After an early morning mass at Lucban Church, a parade goes around town, passing by houses that are adorned with vegetables, fruits, handicrafts, and kiping, leaf-shaped paper-like decors made from rice. The grander, the better. The more colorful the house is, the more people it attracts.

If Pahiyas is your kind of festival too, make sure that you’re well-prepared for a visit.

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10 Unspoiled, Uncrowded Beaches Near Manila

Top Beaches Near Manila

Almost every decade, a new destination rattles the world of Manila-based beach chasers. In the 1950s, Matabungkay was put on the tourist map after two German travelers “rediscovered” it. In the 1970s, all roads led to Puerto Galera after UNESCO declared it a protected area. In the late 2000s, the hype was all about Anawangin, reborn 20 years after the catastrophic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo.

The search for the nearest it beach paradise doesn’t stop. We always need a go-to destination where we could forget about the constant jolts of the city — traffic, noise, air pollution. Who could blame us, really? The more people Metro Manila takes under her wing, the more we want to escape her claws. We love Manila, yes, but when it comes to beaches — let’s face it — she will break your heart (and poison you, if you swallowed enough). Sometimes, all we want to do is run away from her and have an affair. With nature, that is.

But where do we go now? The things we have loathed about the city have snuck their way out to the countryside. Matabungkay, trash problems. Puerto Galera’s White Beach, overdevelopment. And Anawangin, ah, some boatmen in Pundaquit now call it Divisoria for a reason. We’ve expanded our search to a couple of hours further to include outlying islands. Some of them are a bit difficult to reach and requires multiple transfers. A few of them can still be a bit swarmed during summer weekends, but they’re not as insanely crowded as the popular ones.

If you’re always on the lookout for a beach destination that will make you feel like you actually left the city, here are 10 suggestions.

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Cafe at the Ranch: Where to Eat in Taal, Batangas

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It’s funny how, sometimes, we know so little about the places closest to us.

I grew up in a small Batangan municipality called Lemery, next to the more famous historic town of Taal. Lemery and Taal have always been twin units: Lemery used to be part of Taal during the Spanish era. Their poblacions lie next to each other, separated only by the narrow Pansipit River. My sister owns a house in Taal. My nephew goes to school in Taal. During my teen years, I was there every weekend. It’s practically my second home. Yet, when someone asks me for a restaurant recommendation in Taal, I usually don’t know what to answer.

The truth is, when I’m in Batangas, I don’t eat out. And to be fair, there are not that many options. Taal hasn’t really exploded as a tourist town (yet) and most locals would rather cook at home or dine at one of those fast food chains. So when we were driving and spotted an inconspicuous signage that read “Cafe at the Ranch,” I had to stop. We turned onto the dirt road next to the sign, which led to MGM Ranch. In the middle of it stands an old bahay-na-bato, the traditional dwelling of noble families during the Spanish era, which houses a restaurant. It looked like your typical ancestral house, which confused us a little bit. For a moment, we thought we made a mistake or maybe the cafe wasn’t open for business anymore, so we had to ask somebody. Open it was! Lucky, lucky us!

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Yufuin Japanese Restaurant: Where to Eat in Angeles City, Pampanga

Yakiniku-Grill Meat

I had never felt the carnivore in me more alive than on that Black Saturday. After a week of avoiding meat in observance of the Lent, I decided to end it with a bang. But finding a good Japanese restaurant in Pampanga isn’t that easy, as options are rather limited.

I was born and raised in Pampanga. When I finally moved to Manila, people always tell me that Pampanga is the Philippines’ culinary capital. But when I’m asked what Pampanga’s culinary capital is, I’m always taken aback. But I’m sure Angeles City is a top contender. Angeles City’s primary draw is its food. It harbors a number of notable restaurants that Manila-dwellers travel two hours for. It is also the birthplace of sisig, a dish that has made its way to dining tables all throughout the country, among others.

It’s no wonder that when gluttony takes over my entire being, the first thing I do is drive to Pampanga’s City of Angels. And drive we did that Black Saturday in search of a good meatshack. What we found instead was a Japanese restaurant, Yufuin.

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Cappadocia, Turkey: Hot Air Balloon Ride at Sunrise

Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon

As with many other first times in life, I was mostly excited and a little bit scared. Before the big moment, I imagined that a gazillion silly thoughts would run through my head. How long will it last? Can I film the entire thing? What if the balloon pops? Is it worth it?

But I had none of them. While you’re probably thinking about another equally enjoyable activity, I’m talking about hot air ballooning. You see, it was my first time hot air balloon ride. To my surprise, all worries evaporated as soon as we rose an inch off the ground. There was just no room left in a mind already getting filled with awe. As we went higher, the view revealed more of the surreal landscape. I had to hold my jaw in place, lest it drop to the snow-white hills below.

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