Tips for solo travelers in Hanoi and the must-try cuisines!

When I went to Pattaya, Thailand last year for my 25th birthday solo travel, I met Vietnam-based Australian teacher Warren Cowley (who graciously paid for our tuktuk ride!) and told him how I managed to solo travel Thailand on a dirt-cheap budget. He told me: “If you think Bangkok is cheap, Vietnam will make it look expensive.” And the rest, as they say, is history. When I returned home, I was itching to book my next solo travel adventure and by February 2016, ta-dahhh.. I finally booked that Manila-Hanoi plane ticket! 🙂

For the uninitiated and untrained eyes, Hanoi can be pretty daunting and intimidating. The solo backpacker that I am, I rode a public bus from Noi Bai International Airport to the Old Quarter in downtown Hanoi. and boy was I in for one hell of a motorbike experience! As mentioned in my previous “Why I ‘solo traveled’ Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand“, this is all part of why I did this trip, to go out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to know how far I can go.


Vietnam roads are heavily populated by motorbikes, it’s the country’s main mode of public transportation. I had a hard time crossing the streets in the fear of getting bumped by motorbikes which come out everywhere (yes, from all sides of the streets!). I couldn’t even properly cross the streets and thought “What was I getting myself into?” Hanoi traffic looks very chaotic, much worse than Manila. But after a few hours of roaming around the Old Quarter, Hanoi looked to me as if everything’s synchronized, something that non-local people and visitors would find hard to appreciate.

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The Old Quarter, as the name suggests, springs you back to the old Vietnam. Even though we’re already on the 21st century, the Old Quarter seemed to have retained its charm that will take you decades ago, which makes it very fascinating. And in this post, I will let you have a glimpse of lovely Hanoi from my own personal experience. When I research about a new travel destination, I usually break the budget and other details down to the following: accommodation, food and beverage, transportation, tours and shopping. Continue Reading

Why I solo traveled Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand – and why you should too!

They say that once the travel bug catches you, it never really goes away. Days after I came home from my eight-day solo travel to Phuket, Bangkok and Pattaya in Thailand last year, I have been itching to explore more destinations. I guess Michael Palin was right all along when he said “Once the travel bug bites, there is no known antidote and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.” Let me present to you: #RoadToIndochina: A Filipino Solo Backpacking Travel Series.

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No, this isn’t my backpack. I just borrowed it from fellow Filipino solo traveler Arenn cos it’s really lovely!

A week after being back in the country from my tri-country, five-city and twelve-day solo travel escapade across Hanoi, Halong, Saigon, Phnom Penh and Bangkok, my Facebook inbox is still bombarded with lotssss of questions regarding my trip. From the usual “How did you do it?”, “How much did you spend?”, “What places did you visit?” to “Were you soul-searching.. healing a broken heart.. finding love in a hopeless place? “. I will try to answer each of these questions in a separate post. For today, I would like to address the most asked question so far: “Why did you do it.. why did you travel solo on your birthday?” and my answer has always been : “Because.. why not!”

Last year, in my “#PatrikAt25: Lessons from eight-day solo travel birthday escapade in Thailand” blog post, I highlighted several lessons I learned from that trip: solo traveling is liberating because it allows you to do anything that you want to do, you are the complete master of your trip, it makes us realize that there is so much to see in the world, it makes us pause and contemplate about our life (yes, life!) 🙂

So why did I do it? Why did I solo travel Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand? There’s so much to experience in this world and I couldn’t emphasis this any better today. There are so many awesome people to meet, so many delicious local food to taste, so many amazing majestic temples and museums to visit, so many inspiring stories to hear, so many places to discover and explore, so many foreign languages to learn and speak, so many cultures to immerse yourself into.. the list could go on and on. And as a young professional in his mid-twenties (I feel awful saying that!), I see this time of my life as one of the most critical point for growth, learning and personal development.

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On my first day in Hanoi, I played volleyball with a group I found on Facebook. I met Kirby, Andrew, Fiammi, Marcus among others (they might hate me for forgetting the other players’ names!), I met the super friendly, hospitable and lovely people behind my hostel See You at Lily’s: Van, Trong, Duong, Duc Hoang. I had dinner and few drinks with my fellow solo traveler roommates Khaled Mohamed from Egypt and we accompanied our Spanish roommate Toto Naca in the bar cos he has been itching to dance salsa with local Vietnamese girls. I went to Halong Bay with my new found Chicago-based Filipino friend Kiana, who happens to be a Bisaya as well. During our day tour, we met another solo traveler Mickey Han from South Korea who shared a lot of fascinating stories about North Korea’s President Kim Jong Un.

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On my birthday, I went to the Harry Potter-themed coffee shop, Always, with my two other French roommates. And while I was packing my stuff on my last night in Hanoi, I had a super inspiring conversation with another solo traveler Jacob, who has been traveling the world non-stop for eighteen months now and he does not intend to stop soon. After sharing all his wonderful stories, the beauty and exciting challenges of long-term solo traveling for about an hour (at three am at that!), I have never been so determined to also pursue the same path before I reach the age of 30. These are just some of the many awesome people I met on my four-day stay in Hanoi. I will expound this list on a separate blog post soon. 😀

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I live curious, set goals and turn them into experiences. Echoing National Geographic Channel’s campaign to Live Curious, I did this trip for a lot of curious reasons. I traveled to Vietnam because I wanted to see for myself the majestic Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Returned Sword) in Hanoi, I wanted to taste how delicious the popular Vietnamese egg coffee is and to know why food blogger Erwan Heusaff was going gaga over Vietnam’s staple food pho and bahn mi on his “Overnight in Hanoi” Youtube video. I also wanted to know if I can cross alive the busy streets of Vietnam, known for its notorious terrible motor traffic, I wanted to cruise around UNESCO World Heritage Site Halong Bay or Bay of the Descending Dragon, I also wanted to experience for myself the Cu Chi Tunnels used by the Vietnamese during their struggle in the mid-70s against the Americans.  I went to Cambodia because I heard Royal Palace is at par with Bangkok’s Grand Palace. You see, these are all goals I set last year which came to reality and finally experienced this year.. experiences, which I am very much willing to share to all my enthusiastic and curious family, friends and readers.

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My heart, mind and body are unanimous in seeking out for adventure. I got sick and tired of routine and predictability. When I was on my third day in Hanoi, I opened up Facebook and Twitter and read a few rant posts. One friend went shopping for expensive stuff in Greenbelt ‘to keep her moving’ for the busy week ahead, another one was ranting that she has not taken lunch yet because she was super busy at work, a college friend of mine took the day off after doctor advised him due to chronic stress. All these were happening while I was happily roaming around the lovely Old Quarter in Hanoi. Right there and then, I know I made the right decision to travel. 🙂img_2971

I needed a break from work. I reached the point where I could no longer productively work on my Excel files for eight hours in a day. I constantly find myself switching between tabs, from Excel to Google Chrome in search for my trip’s itinerary. That’s the time I figured, I really have to go and make this two-week solo adventure happen. While others choose to spend money on food, drinks and shopping, I choose to spend it on plane tickets, booking hostels and experiencing new culture, meeting new people, and learning a foreign language. There’s a whole world out there waiting for us see and explore. And every single day and destination is an adventure in itself.

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I have been wanting to get out of my comfort zone, challenge myself and know how far I can go. We are all curated differently. While some people prefer to stay at home and watch Korean or American series all day, I prefer to go out and explore. Sitting at your couch, surfing the net, watching the television make us live a very comfortable but predictable life. On the other hand, I love challenging myself by doing things outside of my comfort zone. Sure it brings us some discomfort and can be pretty daunting, but it’s rewarding because it’s only when we’re uncomfortable that we stretch ourselves, grow and learn. We have our entire lives to be comfortably sitting in the couch, surf the net and watch TV series and bask in the familiarity of it which leads to predictability and yes, for the lack of a better word, boring lives.

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Solo traveling across Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand is something that I’ve always wanted to do, something that I’ve always dreamt of doing and it feels surreal that I actually realized this dream of mine. I’d like to end this post by sharing with you one of my favorite quotes from Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now, you’ll be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do, than the ones you did. Sail away from the safe harbor. Explore, dream and discover.”

 

#Du30: Give Duterte a Chance, Give PH a Chance

Disclaimer: This is not a paid post, nor is this a political campaign material. The views and opinion expressed in this post are solely mine and do not, in any way, represent the views and opinion of any company I’m connected with. In the interest of full disclosure, be it known that I was born  and have lived in Davao City for more than twenty-three years and is currently living and working here in Makati for almost three years now.  First post of this #Duterte2016 series, “Why Manila should be very afraid of Duterte” gives non-Dabawenyos a fundamental understanding of who Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is and how he has performed as top executive of Davao City for two decades.

It’s been a day after the second leg of COMELEC’s PILIpinas Presidential Debate and the whole country is still very much into it. A lot has been said and I believe this will go down the memory lane as the most followed and most intense presidential election ever. Election-related opinion and memes have dominated social media platforms Facebook and Twitter all day. Thanks to the ever-growing power of social media which allows everyone to be part of each and every issue which practically makes everyone instant political analysts. But this post is not necessarily about what transpired in the debate yesterday as I’m pretty much certain that you were able to watch it. Allow me to share with you my few cents regarding this whole political fiasco.

The Poe, Binay and Roxas common denominator

I’ve been following all the political drama leading to the May elections and I just noticed one thing in common among Binay, Poe and Roxas. Despite the barrage of corruption issues, Binay remains unfazed in his political campaign from day 1 of his being a vice president until today. Bombarded with incompetence and trust issues, Roxas remains steadfast and self-asserting. Threatened with disqualifications due to legality of her citizenship, Poe battles it out with all her legal might. If there’s one thing that makes these three look the same, it’s this: they all ‘lust’ for the presidency. Binay and Roxas have long been salivating for the country’s top political post while Poe has always said she wanted to continue FPJ’s legacy (whatever that legacy is apart from Panday and other action-packed films.. Mabuhay ang Panday!).

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#PatrikAt25: My eight-day solo budget travel in Thailand — and why I almost died in Phuket!

This is the second part of my #PatrikAt25 blog post series. This part will talk about the first city in my tri-city adventure in Thailand.. Phuket! For those who missed, the first part “Lessons from 8-day  solo travel birthday escapade in Thailand” talked about the exciting and challenging experiences I’ve encountered throughout my journey. In this post, I will be talking about the places I’ve been to, where I’ve eaten and everything else in between. And yes, prepare for lots of pictures!

Ever since my Thailand trip, my Facebook inbox has been bombarded with lots of questions from friends and relatives about the places I have visited, the cuisines I’ve tried and how I managed to get by my eight-day long solo journey. This post will try to cover everything about my journey, except my.. well, ‘adventures’ in Bangkok’s famous Red Light District. *wink* 🙂

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For everyone asking, this trip was a celebration of a myriad of events: more than anything, it’s a celebration of my 25th birthday last August 24. Add to that, I got promoted in SGV as a Senior Associate after being with the firm for two years (hired August 2013); it’s also a celebration of working in the country’s financial district Makati for two years (arrived in Manila July 2013) and my second year anniversary for having passed the Certified Public Accountants’ licensure examinations (passed May 2013). This pretty much explains the long eight-day journey.

Mini movie summary of my Phuket solo travel escapade! #Thailand2015 #ILovePhuket #25thOnThe24th

A video posted by Jan – Patrik Birondo Laroya (@janpatrik) on

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#PatrikAt25: Lessons from my 8-day solo travel birthday escapade in Thailand

This is the first in my #PatrikAt25 series of blog posts since I realized my eight-day journey cant be encapsulated satisfactorily in a single blog post. In this post, I will be talking about how it feels to solo travel and other whatnots you may face along the way.

When I first posted on my Facebook account that I’m going to Thailand for an eight-day solo travel in time for my 25th birthday this August, I was bombarded with questions wondering if I were that crazy to go on my first out of the country trip alone. To go on a solo adventure has always been a bucket list item for me, the reason why despite many unsolicited advice from workmates and travel advisories following the two consecutive bombing incidents in Bangkok, first at the Erawan Shrine which killed more than twenty people and second at the Phra Arthir Pier, I worked my way to make this happen. Of course, I was a bit petrified with the idea not only of solo travel but to do it in a foreign country with an entirely different culture and language! But then I reckoned, it’s my quarter life birthday and this makes this trip all the more exciting.. and yes, equally nerve-wrecking. So screw it, whatever happens, happens. And by all means and at all costs, THIS HAS TO HAPPEN.

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Solo travel lets you meet new friends

While solo travelling is not something unheard of, it isn’t pretty much a popular concept here in the Philippines. Imagine going to a foreign country, meeting new people using an entirely different language.. all that on your own. At times, you will have to seek people’s help most especially in directions. When we were young, our Maria Clara-inspired parents would always tell us “Never talk to strangers”. While it is true in most cases, sometimes, deviating from that popular norm does us good. You see, we often see ‘strangers’ with a negative connotation, which shouldn’t always be the case. Note that we are also ‘strangers’ from the perspective of other people we don’t know. But, do we embody the ‘stranger’ our parents warned us about? Continue Reading

Why I choose Uber over GrabTaxi: A transport apps review

For the uninitiated, Uber is a San Francisco, California-based transportation network mobile app which seamlessly connects riders to drivers through the app on people’s smartphones. GrabTaxi, on the other hand, is a Malaysian-based mobile app and is by far, the fiercest competitor of Uber in the South East Asia region. I am writing this post under the assumption that you guys know how this app works.  Under the conventional taxi ride, one hails a cab outside the street and see if it’s available for a cab service. If it’s a rush hour, luck can only have you on board.

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In a fast-paced world that we have right now, people would most often than not, go for the most convenient mode of transportation. This is where Uber comes into play. With your smartphone and mobile data or WiFi connection, you can electronically hail (e-hail) your private driver via Uber at your fingertips at the comfort of your room/office or wherever you are, as long as you show up at your  designated pick up point once your Uber driver arrives. That is what Uber is about.. convenience. It’s as simple as ordering your favorite pizza via food delivery mobile apps or purchasing your fave sporting apparels via Zalora. And oh, it’s worth mentioning that you can get the free Zalora App on Google Playstore.

Payment methods

What I like about Uber is having to book a cab without bringing cash. This is most important especially for people like me who don’t usually bring cash and prefer to pay everything using a credit card. I like getting off in my Toyota or Honda sedan car without having to shove my hands in my wallet for fare payment and having to wait for the driver to hand me out my change. For rewards points purposes, for convenience and what have you.. but using credit card as mode of payment pretty much spells out  the word convenience. According to the grapevine, GrabTaxi is already in the process of introducing  Uber-like cashless payments to make it at par with the competition. Continue Reading

Why Manila should be very afraid of Duterte

Disclaimer: This is NOT A PAID POST, nor is this a political campaign material. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are my personal thoughts on the matter and does not, in any way, represent the views and opinions of any Company I’m connected with.

In the interest of full disclosure, please know that I was born and raised in Davao City and have lived there for more than twenty years of my life. Since I was eligible to vote in the elections, I voted Rodrigo Duterte once as vice mayor in the 2010 elections and as mayor in the 2013 elections. If ever he will run again in the local post come the 2016 election season, without a doubt, I would still be voting Duterte. For everyone’s information, Duterte has served as mayor of my city from 1988-1998 and became the vice mayor in the May 2010 elections and gave way to his daughter Inday Sarah Duterte for the top local political post. Yes, in case this needs special mention, I voted Inday Sarah also and I love what she has done in the city. Rody Duterte regained his mayoral post in the 2013 interim elections.

Needless to say and without batting an eyelash, I am a satisfied voter and a staunch supporter of Duterte.

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Credits: TV5 News Media

Digong, as he is more fondly called in Davao, is known to be feisty, straightforward and no non-sense talker-type of politician who already witnessed many political fiascos in his decades of service in the political arena. These past few weeks, Mayor Duterte’s name has spread like wildfire on national television, broadsheet papers, local tabloids and all over social media. With his ongoing heated exchange of tirades with DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima and CHR Etta Rosales, he became controversial and is the favorite topic of many, from tricycle, jeepney drivers and parloristas to Starbucks baristas and yuppies working in Ayala – Makati Central Business District.

Known as the ‘proud Dabawenyo’ in our office, I often receive random Lync chats from random people asking me random stuff about Digong. While there are those who became instant fans after his expose on the rice-smuggling controversy where he was summoned by the Senators, there are those who are utterly disturbed by his recent strong remarks. Being the pro-Duterte that I am, I felt obliged to defend my mayor against all the unfounded criticisms and baseless accusations being bombarded at him especially on how he manages Davao City with strict ordinances being implemented all throughout his jurisdiction. Continue Reading