Monday, January 14, 2008


Copyright © 2008 by Chester B. Cabalza

Angkor, Bali, Boracay, Borobodur, Phuket, and Penang: these are but few of the hundreds of tourist destinations in mainland and insular Southeast Asia. White beaches, mountain havens, tropical forests, underground rivers, marine sanctuaries, Buddhists temples and prehistoric ruins – name it and Southeast Asia has it. Among the millions of people living the place are many distinct racial, cultural, linguistic, and religious groups, each with its own historical and political significance. The countries of Southeast Asia, for a long time, struggled to resist foreign domination and slowly strive to show the world the rich natural resources and diverse cultures that they have. Since ancient times, Southeast Asia has been an important crossroads for world trade. Great kingdoms, such as those of Funan, Sukhothai, Madjapahit, and Sri Vijaya, developed as early as the sixth and tenth centuries A.D. This shows that the region has a legacy when it comes to tourism and offers great expectations with respect to its historical and archaeological sites, finest tourist attractions, and destinations blended with diverse cultures, and its over 500 million people is very heterogeneous economically, politically, culturally and socially.

Travelling for me in Southeast Asia means a lot: in terms of cultural heritage, soul searching, natural wonders, modern landscapes, food tripping, and urban adventures with socio-political relevance - this part of the world has plenty of it! The first time I traveled outside the country was in Bangkok. It's a gorgeous city especially its awesome architecture and royalty. The food is kinda great too. No wonder they call it the 'City of Angels' - yup! the word angel may be symbolic, too. If you go to Pat Pong and Khao San Road, you're gonna meet a lot of angels! peculiar kindsof angels. The best part of Bangkok would be its majestic grand palace. It's like stepping in to the great kingdom of Sukothai. But that palace complex was built the same as when Intramuros was also constructed. Anyway, I have fond memories in Huan Hin, the beautiful beach resort of Thailand in the south. It's much more developed than our Puerto Galera because five-star hotels flank near the beach. Pattaya is pretty warm beach resort and the 'in' city for nightlife. Thais are gentle and beautiful people, smiling as well. I feel certain cosmic relation with the Thais in terms of their traits; it's like meeting Filipinos but with different accents and humor. For me I would rate Thailand as one of the best Asian cities - no wonder a lot of Caucasian tourists come to their city because of spicy food and kind people. In terms of sights, my beloved Philippines still have the potential wealth of wonders but Thais are good strategists in promoting their amazing kingdom. I would love to return in this splendid and beuatiful Buddhist city. Actually, I was also amazed at the Gulf of Thailand, especially when I was in Songkla, at the southern tip of Thailand, where Thai-Muslims inhabit. Usually, at night if you're a beer drinker and party-goer, it's gonna be a boring place. But for backpackers, you will appreciate the culture of Muslim people here. I have my vivid imagination about the place because of its unforgettable picturesque and warm people.

Malaysia has improved a lot. Right now, it stands as the leading tourist place in Southeast Asia. In my own assessment, in terms of infrastructures, they have the best roads, especially if one is travelling in their countryside. And most of the time one has to wonder looking at their rubber plantations. Beautiful Indeed! I really appreciated the aercheological musuem, somewhere in Kedah, the state province of Mahathir. Penang is beautiful and a historic city especially if you stroll along Georgetown. I appeciated Penang! But, if you're in Kuala Lumpur, the fusion of different cultures is apparent. Basically, Malaysians call their country truly Asia - well, maybe because you'll be able to meet numerous Malays, Chinese and Indians. Three great races in one location - mingling together - and for a tourist like me, it's really a diversity of cultures. I have been twice to KL but just the same, I wandered to same places like the Petronas Towers, the KL Tower, although there's a new amusement park in KL which I haven't seen when I had been there. I also like their new and beautiful airport! It was unfortunate though, I wasn't able to see Malacca. During my second trip to KL, I was looking forward to visit the historic Malacca, but my hosts brought me to this idle and kingdom-like political abode of Malaysia - the Putra Jaya. Well, it's beautiful but I don't see any historical relevance in my trip. I'd prefer to visit Malacca...

Singapore is really a clean city but for me I find it a fake city during my first visit. I don't know why! For a tourist like me, I have this perception that Singapore is not warm with its visitors. But to be fair, the city-state is clean, futuristic and efficient city. Cab drivers are proficient in English and really efficient. I frequently use the word efficient because it is indeed an efficient city - in all systems! But all things changed during my second visit, seven years after. Snub Singaporeans that I mingled before changed a lot to becoming amiable and genrous Singaporeans. For this reason, my first impression changed and loved them even more. I like going to little India, although, I have regrets eating out there. Some of my friends recommended the food because they say it's delicious. Well, I should have tried it! Orchard Road is great! I love shopping in that area - although it's thriving to be a cool city. In fact, it's expensive in Singapore but I really appreciated their effort and adored their efficiency. The National Museum in the Philippines is much better than Singapore's collections in terms of artifacts and paintings. We have the best artists and painters as well. Whah, I really appreciated the Changi airport - I deem it's one of the best in the world! Awesome! Great! The street foods are also great in Singapore! It's a small city but has rich culinary culture. On my second trip, I wandered the famed Sentosa Island with my mom, undergoing a major facelift again in which casinos will soon rule the island. Luckily, I also saw its great night safari and amazing open zoo.

Jakarta is a large city and has numerous buildings than Makati! Well, it's more beautiful than Makati or Ortigas, but you're gonna think twice to travel there because of some recent terrorist acts years back. For sure, Bali would be great although its granduer was tainted by two massive bombings. But I believe it's recovering now! Of course no one would still beat Bali in terms of enchanment, culture, surfing, and panorama! We're talking here about the famed and mythical Hindu culture...and that's Bali!

Siam Rep is a cheap city but beware of prostitution and drugs. Well, it's an archeologiical wonder! Imagine that, it was once a grand and great ancient city! Golly, you'll be be amazed at its spectacular lotus-figure, phallic symbol, temples. Really amazing! Imagine this - it had great kingdoms such as Funan and the world-renowned Angkor! The bayons are really a work of art and the Angkor watts are human achievements in terms of royalty, elegance and sophistication. Angkor is the best.

Saigon is cool for any military escapades. Vietnamese should be grateful that they kicked the ass of those bastard Americans during the Vietnam War! Really cool! The best place for French bread...

Of course, my beloved Philippines is still the best in terms of wealth of wonders and its over 1,700 islands (low tide) are even beautiful than Boracay. Of course, Bora is emerging as the capital and premiere tourist destination in the country, but again I suggest you should see other places. For soul searching, that small, chilly, laid back town of Sagada is the best. Baguio is also an alternative and so with Tagaytay. But Banawe is well recommended especially if you believe that Filipinos are great agriculturists and artisans. The Rice terraces of Banawe is really awesome, most especially if you trek the mountains to see Batad, it's like you're in communion with God and nature! One of the best places I'd been to in the north. The beaches of La Union would be great for surfing, too, although the premiere beach for that water sport is Siargao. I was totally amazed when I was in San Juan, La Union, I felt I was in Hawaii...beautiful! Well, Ilocandia - Vigan and Laoag are also gorgeous and good for long-hour driving! It has amazing churches, sumptous empanada and delicious longanisa!

So far, we have great festivals in the country like the Masskara, Dinagyang,'s kinda great if you attend one of those festivals. It gives you a sense of history. It's not only merry-making but also you discover how great and beautiful our race is! Palawan is somethin' memorable to me! Beautiful and clean city. It got beaches, primary forests, underground caves, kayaking, prisoner's camp in Iwahig, Vietnamese village with savoring noodles and French bread. The chimps and monitor lizards, the view, and beutiful limestone hills - truly a paradise for me! Of course, nothing can beat Bohol with its tarsiers and chocolate hills. Bohol's famed river and beaches are also legendary. Its churches are also mighty. Then Camiguin, one of the beatiful islands in the Philippines I'd seen. Beutiful! Awesome! Davao is also an emerging city! Thanks for the Durian. But I really like the ambiance Cagayan de Oro, with its simplicity and silence. Cebu is also another planet if one has to discover its beauty and culture! Very charming and religious! But of course, I would never forget the beauty of Callo Caves and the mighty Cagayan River up north. Well, thank God he blessed and endowed my country with so much natural beauties, warm and cool people who knows how to party...

Very well said then, I cordially invite as well as encourage you to see and appreciate the diverse beauty of Southeast Asia. This is a region that has plenty of relics and wonders. Before you visit the US, or Hongkong and even Europe for that matter, you should at least see some of those wonders in the region - the simple yet alluring beauty of Southeast Asia. You will not only be enchanted and amazed and say wow by its beauty - in unity this is truly Asia! You will not only increase tourism receipts but this will also add up to the 10 percent GDP which tourism contributes to the economy of this region...I really love Southeast Asia!