A Historical Trip in Cambodia

Aside from the Angkor Wat Temple, what other historical sites do you know in Cambodia? It pays to know which places to check out to get to know the rich history of the country. You want your trip to be educational as much as it is fun, although a huge part of Cambodia’s history is rather brutally sad. Nevertheless, taking a historical tour in Cambodia is surely quite an experience. To maximize your Tiger Airways/Cebu Pacific/Malaysia Airlines flight to this historic country, here are some suggested stops in the different provinces of Cambodia.

Choeng Ek Killing Fields

A memorial for those who perished in the dark Khmer days.

From the name of this site, you’d easily figure out that it has a dark contribution to the country’s history. A former orchard, the fields served as the site for mass genocides carried out by the communist government of Pol Pot. You can see around 8,000 skulls displayed behind glass. These skulls belong to 8,000 out of the 17,000 people who were killed in the Fields.

Preah Vihear Temple

A temple atop a mountain

A UNESCO world heritage site, the Preah Vihear Temple is Cambodia and Thailand’s Scarborough Shoal. Like how the Philippines and China are battling for the Shoal, both Thailand and Cambodia are claiming the temple as their own. Although it is on Cambodian territory, it is easily accessible from Thailand, hence the contention. It is also set atop of a mountain, making it even more of a hassle to visit. This is why the younger Angkor Wat temple is more popular.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

We remember.

A former high school building turned into prison by the Pol Pot led group called Khmer Rouge, which was turned into a museum after all the killings that occurred there. Like the Choeng Ek Killing Fields, the Touol Sleng Genocide Museum used to be a place where a lot of people met their end. While it is supposed to only be a prison, a lot of people didn’t have to be brought to the Killing Fields. Torture, starvation and other diseases would get them. In the museum, visitors can see the prison as it was before – torture tools and all.

Angkor Wat Temple

Captivating throughout the years.

No trip to Cambodia is complete without visiting this famed temple. But did you know that its history is more than just being the site where Angelina Jolie shot the movie Tomb Raider? Built in 1125 and estimated to have been constructed for around 30 years, the Temple stands as the icon of the whole country, reflective of its main religion Hinduism and of the influential people who were passionate about their faith in it.

What to Bring Home from a Trip to Thailand

Catfish salad and a good pad thai noodle dish straight from Bangkok. However, eating the best Thai food is an experience meant to be enjoyed in Thailand, not as pasalubong. For one, you might get cold and soggy pad thai and yucky catfish salad if you try to ship them to the Philippines. Also, you might even be allowed to take them inside the plane, whether you’re flying via Cathay Pacific or via Cebu Pacific.

So choose non-perishables instead – items which are really meant for you to bring home to your friends and family. It’s a guarantee you’d enjoy shopping in this country, as items and even services are relatively cheaper than in the Philippines.

Just take note that most items are a bit mommy-ish, so get creative in choosing the pasalubong items that your dad or your kid brother would like. When all else fails, there are keychains and shirts all around the country.

  • Thai Silk. Hand wash only, with lukewarm water, non-acidic detergent, and no wringing please. Thai silk is best given to your fashionista girlfriend who knows that it is a big deal to follow all care instructions in each piece of clothing that she wears.

Thai silk for that friend in the office

  • Ready to wear clothes. A lot of online sellers get their supplies from Bangkok because of the cheap prices and the huge selection of designs and makes. For P1,000, you can buy more than ten pieces of clothes. Even the cheapest brand in the mall can’t beat that!

Cheap thrills

  • Handicrafts. For your workmates, take home things that reflect the Thai culture, such as miniature Thai dancers in special garb, and incense boxes. They might not find so much good use for them, but these are the things that scream “Thailand”. And hey, at least you got them something!

Truly Thai.

  • Ceramics. These are for your mom who loves to collect dinnerware and display them in glass cabinets in your kitchen. You might never experience eating off the beautiful Thai plates and teacups, but the point is that you made your mom happy for a low-priced dinner set.

For mom

  • Furniture. Don’t come home without anything for your dad who loves to collect souvenir items big and small. Although you will most likely have to pay for excess baggage, your dad’s faint smile will make it all worth it. Buy from One Tambon One Product in Bangkok to make sure that you get the genuine article, the high quality item fit for the king in your life – Daddy.

Passed Dad’s love for all things intricate.

Five Architectural Victories to Check out when in Europe

Here in the Philippines, we’re proud of all the natural wonders across all the 7,107 islands that we have. I personally believe that no beach matches Boracay, Bohol, El Nido and other yet-to-be-commercialized shores. But traveling isn’t all about seeing Mother Nature’s creations; it’s also about showing some love to the power of the human hands.

Much of the tourist spots in Europe are such marvels – buildings and structures that stand tall and proud as testaments to man’s boundless abilities. And while no one will ever go against the truth that natural wonders will always trump wee man-made concretes, it still is awesome to see huge structures and long-lasting buildings that amn made using his hands (and some machines and other tools). And because you can now get cheap airfare to Europe, it might not be long till you get to use this cheat sheet of the places you should check out in the continent that celebrates Nature’s greatest creation: humans.

Duomo di Milano

Image courtesy of Duomo Milano website

An arresting white cathedral with details that resemble a royalty’s crown, the Duomo di Milano is a fitting symbol of Milan, the fashion capital of Italy. It was created meticulously, like a couture gown created for the biggest socialite in town.

The Atomium

A memory of the past looking into the future

If the Duomo di Milan was created in the 14th century, the Atomium in Belgium is something that is relatively newer than other famous structures. Built only in 1958, it’s something that geeks will enjoy more than history buffs will. Why? It’s basically the shape of an iron crystal, but 165 billion times larger that the real thing. Go to the top of the structure for a stunning view of Brussels, and descend again to comprehend how in the world it symbolizes faith in humanity.

The Parthenon Tower 

For the love of Zeus

Standing tall in Athens, Greece, the Parthenon Tower was built around 400 BC. Now if you think about how long a time that was, you’d be amazed. That’s where democracy was born, for the love of Zeus! Check it out!

The Colosseum 

Get ready to scream “Sparta!!”

Wouldn’t it be epic to see the place where gladiators once rocked it out? Although you wouldn’t see the Colosseum in all its glory (it’s super old; what gladiators did back then are now considered strictly barbaric), you can still expect to feel a chill down your spine. Just rely on your imagination for all the action that happened right smack in the middle of it, as well as 50,000 people cheering and jeering for the gladiators. Better yet, watch the movie Gladiator. That would set you in the mood.

The Eiffel Tower

Fall in love over and over

Perhaps the most photographed tower in the world, the Eiffel Tower is Paris’ and France’s icon. It is more than 300 meters tall, very difficult to miss and too arresting to skip taking a photo of.

Southeast Asia Cross Country Trip

It’s one of my lifelong dreams to go on a cross-country trip in Southeast Asia. It seems pretty affordable (Americans say it’s freaking cheap; Filipinos, we just find it decently affordable), but personally I’d want at least a month traveling through these awesome countries! Join me as we take our pretend backpacks in pretend trains and pretend airplanes. This is my preferred route though, so nobody complains please.

Thailand: My main agenda is to eat authentic Thai food. I love Thai food made in Manila, I’d drop dead at the taste of it in Thailand!

A mixture of the new and old, that’s Bangkok.

  • Bangkok: the most happening place in Thailand; the heartbeat of the country

Island Getaway, Hideaway

  • Ko Phi Phi: the famous beach where the film The Beach (clever right?) was filmed. Based on what I saw in photos, Boracay is ten times more beautiful. But I still need to see it because Leonardo di Caprio. Get that?

Laos: I’m clueless about the place; I’m excited about the surprises!

Picturesque, isn’t it?

  • Luang Prabang: one of the most flocked places in the country, this place shows the fusion of French and Indochinese details, from the food to the arts.

Tubing down the river, I will.

  • Vang Vieng: where I will go “tubing” in the river and then buy for myself a souvenir shirt that indicates how successful I was in getting the task done. Everybody does this; why shouldn’t I?!

Vietnam: Seeing Saigon in person and visiting a country so significant in world history? 10 servings of Vietnam please!

Take me to yesterday.

  • Ho Chi Minh: This is the Saigon that the musical Miss Saigon sang about. Obviously. It is a place rich with the history of the Vietnam War, and a great venue for exploring the local culture.

Steeped in culture and fantastic sights.

  • Hoi An: It has a beach; it has bars where you and your friends can chill after a day of interacting with the locals. All in all, a very backpacker-friendly place.

Cambodia: I better pack a black tank top and cargo shorts, and then maybe my camera lenses can look like guns and ammo. Of course I’ll take my photo in Angkor Wat ala Tomb Raider! Angkor whuuut?!

My adventure begins here.

  • Siem Reap. For the Angkor Wat alone. This man-made marvel amazes all tourists with its intricate details and at its massive size.

Cosmopolitan Cambodia in my mind.

  • Pnom Penh: Cambodia’s Metro Manila, showing everything from poverty to holiness to culture and inequality. Prepare not only your mind but also your heart.

Malaysia: Aside from the famous Petronas Towers, what other exciting things can I expect in this country?

Commune with nature.

  • Penang: for a nature trip, check out the beaches around. For local culture, go to the different religious sites and marketplaces. For some history tripping, go to the British influenced Georgetown. What you get is a complete and colorful trip in such a little place.

Yes, twin towers!

  • Kuala Lumpur: For what else but the Petronas Towers and a souvenir photo?!

Singapore: Among all of the countries included in our cross-country trip, only Singapore has a check mark on my list. Because I’m a roller coaster junkie and also thanks to cheap flights to Singapore, I went to this exciting country a year ago with the main purpose of riding the Red and Blue Lines of the roller coaster ride called Battlestar Galactica. But of course, Singapore is more than just the Universal Studios!

Let’s shop, lah?

  • Orchard Road: After all the laid back sights and the grassroots culture in the last five countries, nothing else will make you feel more cosmo than Singapore’s Orchard Road. It’s basically a row of retail shops and other establishments.

Music in the Philippines

Music makes our world go round.

Everybody in the Philippines knows a tune or two. We’re born into the world with our mothers humming lullabies, our dads playing guitars during siesta time, and our friends singing made up play songs that go like this:

“Sasara ang bulaklak, bubuka ang bulaklak, papasok ang reyna, sasayaw ng chacha.”

There are a lot more variations to this nursery rhyme/play song, but the idea is that there’s a flower that closes and opens and that the queen enters and dances. As to why she chooses to dance the cha-cha, I’m not quite sure of that.

Point is, Philippine music is vibrant, rich and beautiful (although is sometimes absurd). If you’re interested in exploring this integral part of the Filipino culture, read on.

How It All Started

The Philippines is home to various cultures from around the world. Because a lot of explorers found the country to be beautiful, we have welcomed (although not always willingly) races and faces that came with musical instruments and notes to sing and play.

Who were they and what did they bring?

  • Indigenous folks. Before the Philippines was discovered by settlers, the native tribes were already playing their own music using instruments made of bamboo, such as tongatong and topayak. Most tunes were used in tribal practices, such as to offer thanksgiving to the gods.
  • Settlers. Neighbors from Asian countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia contributed too, introducing string instruments and new note progressions.
  • The Spanish. Thanks to the 333 years they spent in the country, much of the music that we consider as “classic” are heavily influenced by music in Spain. Harana, for instance, is a courtship activity wherein the man plays kundiman, a tune resembling Spanish songs, to woo the love of his life. Other forms of music from Spain that rose in popularity include the rondalla, an assembly of string instruments played in harmony. Until today, such tunes and forms of performing music are widely popular in the country as subject matters and references, and not much in modern music.
  • The Americans. Of all the influences in Philippine music, the Americans had the most impact. In fact, as I’m writing this article, I’m listening to Beyonce’s latest album. Local artists can be loved not because they create great music, but because they perform American artists’ songs excellently. More importantly, much of Original Pilipino Music (OPM) songs are patterned from American tunes, both in terms of lyrics and musical genre.

What to listen to

If you want to listen to iconic songs that shaped Philippine music, here’s a list of tracks you must listen to:

  • Anak by Freddie Aguilar – translated into different languages around the world!
  • Pilipinas Kong Mahal – nationalistic song that is usually sung during a school flag ceremony
  • Paru-parong Bukid – folk song that portrays a Filipina maiden as a beautiful butterfly
  • Balita by Asin – referenced by the band Black Eyed Peas in one of their hits, this anthemic song tackles politics and its effects on the Filipino people
  • Any song by Eraserheads – the band defined and redefined Philippine music by introducing alternative, easy-listening songs with honest lyrics that are sometimes borderline brutal and frank. You shouldn’t be so surprised hearing their iconic songs in various places in the country, from the Caticlan Airport to SM Megamall in Mandaluyong. They are that famous.

Southeast Asian Arts: Where to Go

Southeast Asia, which the Philippines is part of, is a region composed of countries with an immense diversity in culture and the arts. In fact, the only thing we might share with out neighboring countries is our physical appearances. Go to Singapore or to Indonesia and you’ll blend in just fine.

If you’re traveling to any part of the Southeast Asian region, it is well worth your time to check out the art pieces that define and show local culture and history. Artist or no artist, you owe it to yourself to get educated in the arts. It is something deeper than simply taking photos of yourself against scenic backdrops. Take your travel to another level by checking out the following venues in these different Southeast countries:

Vietnam

Vietnam Silk Painting from vietnamwartravel.com

Chinese plus French influences equals Vietnamese art. Two strong countries with distinct and influential arts clash, or rather, marry, to produce modern Vietnamese art pieces, although the French influence is more obvious in larger areas such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.

Check out the Vietnam National Museum of Fine Arts in Hanoi for a trip through time as shown by paintings and other works of art.

Thailand

Thai painting from thibautvs.com

Thai art is mainly religious. Expect to see artists’ depictions and versions of various elements in Buddhism, the main religion in the country. You might get weirded out by the images, especially if they are interpretations of the already absurd images associated with Buddhism. Keep an open mind and let what you see liberate you. Afterwards you can always find comfort in Thai food. Mmmm…

For a comprehensive take on Thai art, go to the National Museum of Thailand in Bangkok.

Singapore

Image courtesy of Green Orange (http://greenorange.com.sg)

Among all the Southeast Asian countries, Singapore is the youngest. This is evidenced by the art pieces in the country, which are greatly influenced by Western styles and principles. “Modern” is the best word that can describe the arts in Singapore, and taking a tour in one of the many art galleries in the area can give you a refreshing take on Southeast Asian arts. Make sure that as you board your Air Asia flight to Singapore, you come with the intention of checking out the arts scene in the country.

Singapore Art Museum houses pieces by local and international artists, most of which are young and advocates of modern art.

Philippines

Image courtesy of Reflections of Asia (http://www.reflectionsofasia.com)

If the French largely influenced Vietnam, then Philippine art is a mish mash of different influences. Of course, the biggest influence comes from the Spanish occupants who stayed in the country for 333 years. And although most of the artists in the Philippines look to Western influences, the mark that the Spanish left will be forever etched in Philippine arts.

The Philippine National Museum provides an overview of the evolution of the country’s art scene by showcasing artworks by distinctive masters.