WHAT HAPPENED IN MOC BAI BORDER?

20200602_233157-01
Photo by vietnam-service.com

Whenever people asked me what my most memorable experience on the road is, I always mention them what happened on December 17, 2016 while I was crossing the border from Cambodia to Vietnam. Although it happened years ago my memory of this event is still clear.

Warning: This could be a bit of a horror story and you might see it as a negative side of Vietnam. I am asking you to look at my story as a travel experience and not as a backlash.

Disclaimer: This post is not in any way throwing shade or negativity against Vietnam. I love Vietnam! It is one of my favorite countries in Southeast Asia and honestly I am looking forward to living there again in the future. I am just simply sharing my experience in crossing the Vietnam- Cambodia border.

The Border

20200602_233249-01
Photo by sunrisehotel.com.vn

Mộc Bài is an international border gate between Vietnam and Cambodia located in Tây Ninh Province, Vietnam and Bavet border gate, Svay Rieng Province, Cambodia. It is a popular and the busiest gateway from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and vice versa.

I crossed this border thrice. The first two was when I was living in Vietnam and the most recent one was when I was backpacking in Southeast Asia.

For Philippine passport holders, we are visa free for both Vietnam and Cambodia for 21 days. If you are not applying for a visa on the border then your journey will be smooth sailing because the bus assistant will do the job for you. He will just simply collect you passport, guide you with immigration procedures then finally return your passport with entry stamp. However, if you are applying for a long term visa then that’s a different story.

My Story

C360_2018-10-29-22-18-04-042-01 

I was living in Vietnam for three months with a business visa. When my visa was about to expire, I am advised to renew it thru exit/ visa run. As per my agent’s advice to leave the country and go back after few days because it will be more costly and complicated to extend my visa without leaving Vietnam.

A month before my scheduled exit my friend told me that she paid $50 for her single entry business visa in the border. I got confused because to my knowledge it should only cost $25. I entered Vietnam thru Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi with the same visa and it only cost me $25 with a receipt. According to my friend she doesn’t have a choice because she was scared that her bus will leave her on the border. This alarmed me so I contacted my agent immediately. I told her about the situation that my friend had and she promised to look into it. Two weeks later I received a call from her. She notified me that my invitation letter is ready and reminded me that I should only pay $50 in the border.

*To obtain a business or long term tourist visa you have to get an invitation letter from a travel agency. The price varies depending on what visa and the duration of your stay. As for my second visa, I opted for 3 months multiple entry business visa which cost $200 invitation letter and another $50 for the visa sticker.  It is processed in the visa desk by the immigration officer in the airport or border.

*The fees are collected in USD.

The morning before we board our bus to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam after spending 3 days in Phnom Penh, we had a chat with my friend’s housemate over breakfast. We talked about the difference of extending visas between Vietnam and Cambodia. He mentioned that in Cambodia, it is cheaper to extend your visa in the immigration office without leaving the country. He also mentioned the small corruption that is going on. According to him he should just pay $30 but he paid $40. The $10 is for the immigration officer’s tip that is pretty common. I suddenly remembered my friend’s story from last month so I quite expected that I could be charge more in the border. I decided to screenshot an English phrase in google translator to Vietnamese language, “give me a receipt”.

 At 8 a.m we took the bus to Saigon. As usual, the bus assistant collected our passports. We also gave him our invitation letters. When we reached the border at 11 a.m, he called us to take the two motorbikes waiting for us. He told us in broken English that they are his friends. They will take us to Vietnam border to get our visas. Confused, I asked him why we are going with these guys and our stuffs are still in the bus. He explained that while other passengers in the bus eat, we should go ahead because our visa application will be take some time.  My friend who is with me starts to panic and doesn’t want to go on a separate ride so we squeezed ourselves in one tiny motorbike. It was a 15-minute muddy and dusty ride. We exited the Cambodia border pretty quick but when we entered the Vietnam border that’s when the drama happened.

As soon as we entered the building our driver nodded to some guys who are waiting by the stairs. Three guys approached me and the other two went straight to my friend. They started mentioning visa so I thought they were there to assist us. But judging the way they look, I don’t think they are immigration officers. They are wearing a dirty utility or construction suit. Even though I was doubtful, I still followed them. They led us to the side where the filthy lockers full of web are located. It looked so creepy but I tried to stand it. They collected my passport and invitation letter along with my 2×2 ID picture. One of them is filling up a form with the details on my passport. The form was in Vietnamese so I don’t understand what it said. When they were done they asked me money. I asked them how much. The guy with the form wrote “$70” on his palm. As expected I am being ripped off. I told them it should be $50. I also heard my friend having an argument with the other two guys to pay $50 when it is supposed to be just $25 for her Single Entry visa. I explained that my agent told me that I should just pay $50 but these blokes can’t speak English so they gestured that my visa is Multiple Entry. I insisted that I know everything and mentioned that the airport charges $50. One of the dudes argued in broken English “Moc Bai Border different. Airport $50, OK! Moc Bai $70.” It was an endless tiring debate until I raised my hand and loudly said. “OK OK OK. $70! Fine but give me receipt!” The three guys got confused. “Receipt?” They looked at me wondering what I’m talking about. I took out my phone out and showed them the screenshot of the translator I had before. “Give me receipt!” One of them responded quickly, “No receipt. Moc Bai, receipt no.” I looked at the three of them with my roundest eyes, my resting bitchiest face with my both hands on my waist and I screamed, venting all my frustrations. “NO RECEIPT?! NO $70!” They instantly realized that I am not here to be deceived so the man holding the form said in a trembling tone to give him $1 for the form. My face didn’t change as I hand him the $1 bill. As he intimidatingly received it, he pointed the small immigration office near the creepy lockers where we were. He told me to submit all my documents there. When I turned around I saw around 40 people looking at us. They must have been bothered with the commotion I caused considering how loud my voice was. I smiled at them as a sign that everything is fine.

I lined up to the small booth. The motorbike driver followed me and asked me to pay him for the ride. With an irritated tone I asked how much. “$3” he replied I gave him 3. Instead of leaving he asked me for another $3 for my friend’s ride. “$3 for you, $3 your friend.” He said. My eyes got rounder again and place them closer to his face. Before I start saying something, he took off at the speed of light. People around me noticed it and started laughing. A co-Filipino told me that’s how it is in the border so I have to be extra careful with people approaching me because they usually take advantage of foreigners. A second later there was a tap on my shoulder. It was our bus assistant. He handed our backpacks to us. I was baffled. I held his hand and asked “Are you leaving? Wait for us. OK?” He just smiled and left. A foreign guy answered on his behalf “Don’t worry they will wait.” But that didn’t calm me because I can’t see him. Disturbed with the situation I asked around if there are buses from the border to Ho Chi Minh. Gladly, some people answered, there are and they don’t cost much but they advise me to be vigilant again of whom to inquire because some sees the situation as an opportunity to charge me three times more than the fare. After an hour or processing and waiting we got our new visa. We walked outside the building and good Lord our bus was parked on the side waiting for us. We walked in and saw dozens of annoyed people. We smiled and apologized for taking so long at the immigration and delaying the trip.

The Visa Process

PicsArt_06-06-03.33.49-01

The whole visa process from standing in line, submission of documents, waiting up to the releasing of visa took more than an hour. I am considered lucky because some people had to wait longer. One of them even complained to the officer when I had mine since he had been waiting for three hours already. I felt sorry for him and I understood how he felt but I am also not sure what the process is like as they just collect all our documents and we were asked to wait for our name to be called. While waiting I had a chat with some Filipinos whose been crossing the border many times. They told me that Asian passports are given more privilege and processed faster than the others. I don’t know if it is true since I only applied for a long term visa in that border once.

 

The Scam

Regarding the scam that I almost fell into, just in case I paid $70 they will submit my documents to the immigration officer and they (scammers) promised it will be piled on top and will be the first to be processed. That is what I heard as they desperately try to deceive other people when I was observing them. The building was quite small so I can pretty much see the movement of the people. Also, I ended up paying $60 to the immigration officer without receipt. I didn’t argue since I am already tired, hungry and just wanted everything to be done.

 

My Thoughts

You might think it is only $20 and that’s a dirt cheap amount of money. However in Southeast Asia $20 is a huge amount. You can do a ton of things with that money. I’m a budget traveler so my fund is limited. If we give in paying them $20 for me and $25 from my friend, imagine how much bucks they can get in a day considering the number of people applying for a visa in the border. It will also encourage them more to continue this kind of business and corruption.

LESSONS I LEARNED FROM TRAVELING

20190612_192902-01

Experience is the best teacher! I heard this for the first time when I was in high school. At that time, I just thought it is the normal cycle of life. We are born, study in school, graduate, get a job, build our home, start a family of our own, send our kids to school, grow old and eventually die. Coming from a small town in the countryside I must say my knowledge and experience in life was very limited. All the life lessons I learned are from the experience my mother, my teachers and what the church I used to attend taught me. However, things turned into 180 degrees when I started traveling. I got to learn things I haven’t learned from school and experience things I could have imagined. Some experiences are good while some are not but one thing is for sure it made me a better person.

*Disclaimer: These are all from my personal experiences that I am sharing. You may agree or not but just saying that we all have different experiences and situations in life.

Keep an Open Mind

C360_2020-04-05-19-24-10-836-01

I was raised in a conservative environment where certain standards serve as guidance on how to live and how to act in order to fit in. As a result, I was always confused on why some things are unacceptable when I can’t see anything wrong with it. Along my journeys I met the most amazing, accepting and non-judgmental people who would say nothing but good things. I learned to see the good things in every place, people and culture. Through them I learned to be more understanding on everything whether it is cultural, political, religious belief or personality difference. We are all diverse and that is beautiful. I realized that as long we are sensitive to people around us and respectful to our unlikeness we can all get along just fine.

Being Independent

IMG_0399-01

Being independent does not only count on traveling alone but also taking good care of myself that includes some adulting stuff. Traveling to new places, living overseas and exploring the unknown taught me to be resilient and to step out of my comfort zone without depending on other people. I walk places alone, eat by myself, take care of my finances and do things on my own without worrying what other people think.  It is the best and most liberating feelings I ever had.

Cultural Sensitivity

IMG_20141231_163339

It irks me when people would drop comments about something better in their country versus the country or the place they are visiting. Sure, it’s very common to compare but do you know what this place or people are coming from? I heard a lot of people being so judgmental on others’ cultural practice but have you dug deeper or talked to the locals about it? Remember that these cultures that we mock were practiced millions of years ago and people are just doing fine before we even encountered it. There are cultures that are deemed unaccepted to the culture we are raised to but it would be helpful to observe and learned first before opening your mouth.

 

Proper Etiquette for Travelers

C360_2020-04-05-19-23-40-294-01

Putting your dish away in the hostel, asking permission before you take photos on sacred sites, people and with other people, observing proper dress code at sites, greeting and smiling back at locals, asking your fellow travelers if you can upload or tag them in your photos are some examples of right conduct while traveling. Not only to leave them a good impression and being polite but also to show sensitivity to the space we are sharing and acknowledging their presence.

 

Experience over Material Things

20200405_190859

You must have heard this from many motivational speakers and read it from many travel bloggers but it is true and I am living by this statement. In my first year in the working world, I used to go shopping every pay check to relieve my stress and be happy. Yes, the material things I owned gave me sense of fulfillment but only for a short time. When I embarked on a journey of packing my bags and catching flights I realized that the experience I have on the road, meeting new people and learning new culture are lifetime happiness and fulfillment that I need. I also gave up my old lifestyle of collecting things and choose to collect experience that would last a lifetime. Experience, I will share to people and to my future offspring hoping it will inspire them. Experience, I will cherish and will never regret when I reminisce in my grandma days.

 

Travel Responsibly In Terms of Environmental Consciousness and Exploitation

DSC06928-01

Something that I learned from people I met along the way and from what I see with my own eyes. Environmental deterioration is such a huge problem right now and admit it tourism play a big role in this. Being sensitive and caring for the environment is a responsibility of each and every one of us. We only have one world and we don’t wish our future generation not to witness its beauty. We have to be responsible even to our small gesture like keeping your litter until, you find a trash bin. Through the years I learned how to travel sustainably such as using eco-bags and bringing my own reusable straws, spoon, fork and chopsticks until I incorporate them to my daily life even when I’m not traveling. I know it is a bit of an effort but I consider it as doing my part to our world.

 

Another issue that we should be concern about is the exploitation of animals and people for entertainment and tourism. Most people are not knowledgeable about this dark side of tourism. It pains me whenever I see photos of elephant riding in Southeast Asia. My heart is also broken when people patronize tourist trap tours in villages run by third party agencies. I felt that I have the responsibility to educate people about responsible tourism. To my dear friends and readers anything involving animals and people in an unethical way for the sake of tourism and entertainment is not acceptable and should be banned. I am asking you to skip these activities. If it is a package tour do not choose these ones because if there are no consumers then there won’t be producers.

Disclaimer:  I am not in any way against village tours. They are worth visiting however, be sure to choose your tours well and do your research before going. Some tour agencies give very little money to the people of the village or they don’t give any benefit at all. Some ethnic minorities also are forced to do something they are against their will to attract visitors. They don’t have proper health benefit, income and education and most of them depend on the tip or “dollar money” given by tourists.

 

Realizing How Lucky and Privilege d I am

C360_2019-12-02-20-27-18-078-01

Being able to travel is a privilege. That’s a fact especially coming from a developing country. Not everyone can be able to step outside and see the world. In my culture, most of us are obliged to help our family financially so we prioritize to support our loved ones. I am grateful for having a very understanding family who supports my decision in traveling the world. This alone is a privilege of mine. For years of backpacking, I witnessed people who wish to travel and live a similar lifestyle of mine but couldn’t due to responsibilities. I saw people having no roof above them and struggle to make ends meet day by day. I also talked to someone who gambled everything he had to leave his troubled city and trying to survive doing dead end jobs. I seated next to locals on a train ride putting a smile on their faces while batching their products to be sold in the market despite the fact that 2 minutes ago they almost pass out carrying the 60 kg sack of vegetables into the train. I chatted with a very wealthy young heir who has all the material things he wants however he is not given the time and freedom to explore the world because he is pressured with responsibilities to run his father’s business. I had numerous encounters with women crying on a plane because they have to leave their family and their children as young as 1 year old in order to work overseas and make money for their future. These situations impacted me to be thankful with what I have in life. I will quote a statement of someone when I complained how life has been rough on me in the past. He said “Stop comparing your life to others! Think about those who struggle and unprivileged who wish who has your job, your experience, your health and your ability. All your experiences on the road could be equivalent to their lifetime experience or none at all because they are stuck in something they can’t go out.” Those are the words I live by up to now. I must say I am purely happy and contented with my life right now. With these privileges that I have, I promise to stop complaining, be kinder and be more emphatic to people’s situation.

 

 

TOP THINGS TO DO IN LAOS

Laos is a favorite of mine since the day I step on it. For five years traveling in Asia and nearly touched down all the countries in the Southeast, Lao PDR stood out and has a special place in my heart. With the country’s slow pace life, kindness of people, cleanliness, simple and peaceful living, I won’t mind coming back over and over. This underrated paradise sitting in the landlocked area of China and the rest of Indochina countries has a lot to offer. From food, nature, temples, water activities and parties, you definitely can’t ask for more. When you set foot here, it will surely be part of your top destination. For my two previous journeys from the northern to the southern part these are the top things worth doing.

Chase Waterfalls

DSC00985-01

Laos will never disappoint you with waterfalls. It has the reputation of possessing the biggest, tallest with clearest blue water worth chasing for. From Kuang Si and Tat Sae in Luang Prabang to Tat Fan twin waterfalls in Paksong Bolaven Plateau, you can’t help but to be amazed how postcard worthy the images are.

Waterfalls Entrance Fee: ₭ 10,000- 20,000 (₱58- 115)

Catch the Sunrise and Sunset in Mt. Phousi

DSC01045-01

The most stunning ig worthy view is the sunrise and sunset of Mt. Phousi in Luang Prabang. Hiking up the temple on top of it will bring you closer to witness the huge sun rising and setting. I would advise to get there earlier because along the way you will surely stop to take photos and appreciate the overlooking beauty of Luang Prabang. Be sure to check out the temples you pass by while going up the hill and get a nice spot while waiting for the sun.

Entrance Fee: ₭ 20,000 (₱115)

Learn to Cook Authentic Laotian Food

DSC01056-01

Isn’t it frustrating to know that you can never have authentic Laotian food again once you leave? Well, might as well learn how to make it by signing up for a cooking class. Many restaurants in Vientiane and Luang Prabang offer 4-hour small group classes. The class covers picking ingredients to the garden or local market, learning about local herbs and produce that makes the dishes flavorful and interactive know-how discussion with local chefs to gain more understanding about the dish. It is a perfectexperience especially for those who love to cook. Who knows this might land to be your next business. *wink wink

Cooking class: $60-80 (₱3000-4000)

Tubing

DSC00909-01 Tubing is one of the signature activities in Laos. Vang Vieng Province, the center of water activities offerscountless package tours for tubing. There are many ways to enjoy this activity such as tubing through a cave, chilling in a blue lagoon and half day tubing activity in Namsong River. Sitting on a tube and letting the river flow takes you is the most classic and preferred by many visitors. This activity includes different stops along the river. Each stop has drinks and games you can play. It is an opportunity to meet and bond with other travelers. Although local guides are everywhere to check on people tubing, be sure to take care and make safety your priority. Be warned that the river flow might be rough in some parts. If that happens, hold on to the rope and make a stop at the side of the river and wait for the water flow to be calm again. When you book your tubing activity, you are advised not to consume too much alcoholic drinks. Bring waterproof camera or dry bag because you will be soaked in water and will surely leave all your things wet.

Half Day Package Tour: ₭ 50,000 (₱286)

Whole Day Package Tour with Lunch: ₭ 200,000 (₱1,150)

Party For Free in Vang Vieng

C360_2020-03-02-09-53-25-572-01For party goers out there Vang Vieng is for you. It is not only known for water activities but for parties too. It is comparable to our very own Boracay (before the close down). During the day, visitors are busy doing their water activities and at night the main road is lit with music from different bars and pubs. Two of the most popular are Sakura Bar and Vivo Pub. They offer customers wide range of upbeat music and FREE UNLIMITED whisky during their happy hour. Yes! You read it right. Drinks are free and unlimited from 9 to 10 pm in Sakura Bar and 11 pm to 12 midnight in Vivo Pub. They are just few meters away from each other. So be sure to arrive at those bars during their happy hours. Just head to the bartender and grab those free glasses.

Learn their History at Lao National Museum

DSC00850-01If you are a museum person and curious about how Laos evolved through the years, check out Lao National Museum in the capital city, Vientiane. Learn their colorful history, from colonial time to their current leadership. How Laotians started their country, its struggles, how they end up after the world war and their current political situation. It is mind blowing and very interesting. Reading their manuscripts will make you intellectual too.

Museum Entrance Fee: ₭10,000 (₱58)

Lie in a Hammock In Front of Your Bungalow along the River

C360_2019-10-03-21-21-17-514-01Don Det one of the three islands in Si Phan Don, South of Laos is known for the real slow pace Laotian life vibe. Backpacking or traveling long term can be tiring sometimes because of the amount of things to do and enjoy. For travelers looking forward to lazy days, making a stop in this island for a few days will address the issue. You can stay here to take a break from the busy activities during your journey. There are activities to enjoy in this island such as Irrawaddy dolphin watching and Li Phi waterfalls tour but the highlight of this place is lying in a hammock all day being carefree of what will happen throughout the day. It is an ideal place to totally relax and recharge by doing nothing. Imagine a day riding around the island by bicycle and lying in a hammock in a hot lazy afternoon. How does that sound? For me, it’s paradise.

 

LONG WEEKEND TRIP IN BRUNEI AND KOTA KINABALU: Free Things to Do plus Itinerary

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1235.

I am currently working on my goal to travel all the countries in Southeast Asia. As I hit Brunei, the second to the last country of my Southeast Asia leg, I also included another country nearby. If you’ve been a follower and a long time reader of mine, you know that whenever I have a chance to hit another country I go all in and travel it even if I have a very little time.

*This travel itinerary can be very chill to others but some may find it very busy and compact in schedule. It all depends on your preference but I still hope you will find it helpful.

BRUNEI

DSC07235-01

Abode of Peace as marketed by their tourism organization is still an unknown destination for many people. Some people would even find it boring as I read blogs while doing my research and talked to my friends who have been there. Most of them didn’t actually recommend it. However I know to myself that there will be something in this place that others may not find attractive but something worthwhile for me. It just all boils down to our preference. So I took a leap of fate and book the flights for a long weekend holiday.

How to Get There

Cebu Pacific serves 8 pm direct flights to Brunei from Manila on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays only, while Airasia flies twice a day daily. Average cost of round trip plane tickets may cost Php 3,000-5,000 depending on the season. In my case it was a New Year holiday so I paid ₱5,600 one way and ₱3,000 from Kota Kinabalu to Manila.

Places to Visit

DSC07246-01

Brunei has a lot of museums, art galleries and mosques to check out that are free of entrance. If you are looking for an authentic Bruneian experience check their 38 kilometer floating village. Want nature tripping? Go and see their proboscis monkeys via river cruise or hiring a water taxi driver to drive you around. You can also include Ulu Temburong National Park to witness their virgin rainforest while walking on the treetop canopies. But since this trip is only a long weekend holiday and the fact that Kota Kinabalu is squeezed in, I only settled in the capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan.

Yayasan Sultan Haji Hasannal Bolkia Complex

A nearby mall from Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque where you can get good angles for photos and sight of the mosque. It is just a typical mall where you can shop and chill to avoid the midday sun of Brunei with lots of shops and restaurants to choose from. It has a souvenir store called BWN Souvenir Centre worth checking out because of its lots of good finds to bring home.

Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

DSC07244-01

Built on artificial lagoon on the banks of the river, the mosque is a place of worship for Allah but also an attraction to visitors. This place is picturesque and not very tourist infested compared to the other mosque. In fact, when I was there I witnessed two local pre-nuptial photo shoots.

Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

DSC07294-01

It is probably the more popular mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan out of the two because of the influx of tourists when I was there. It is built in 1992 to celebrate the 25th year of the sultan’s current reign. At night, when it is lit, its golden domes are shinning and very stunning to look at. Just be aware of the schedule where it is open to have fully access of the mosque. Although visitors are still welcome around the vicinity and in front of the mosque even when it is closed, it is still better to have a full experience of the place.

*I checked the schedule of the opening hours thru google maps.

Istana Nurul Iman

DSC07238-01

The palace is the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei and the biggest private residence in the entire world with 1,788 rooms. However, it is only worth a visit during the Hari Raya public holiday where it is open to public and visitors have the chance to meet and greet his Highness and the rest of the royal family.

Gadong Night market

DSC07290-01

A place to quench thirst and satisfy hunger! With a lot of food selections to choose from, from Borneo cuisines to flavorful fruits at very affordable prices, it is surely the answer for your food trip.

Kampong Ayer

DSC07282-01

This is a must-see place when visiting Brunei. The century-old village on stilts above the water is a reflection of the ancient Bruneian life. The village has a mix of ancient and modern houses because a lot of them these days are made of 2 story concrete cement with attic. It also houses Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery where visitors can learn the history or the floating village.

Getting Around the City

DSC07262-01

Bandar Seri Begawan is a small city that you can actually walk from one site to another. However, the strong sun does not allow it. From the airport there is a public bus that can take you to the city center which only costs B$ 2 but it only runs from 6 a.m to 6p.m. After that your only option is to take the taxi which is B$ 20-25 (₱756- 943). There’s also no taxi app available in this city and the bus routes are not registered in google maps. So in taking the city buses, better ask the driver if it is going or passing by your destination. English is widely spoken there anyway so there’s no problem in communicating with the locals and asking directions. In case of tours, you can book with a travel agency or water taxi drivers would politely approach you and offer you an hour or more tour. The cost varies from B$20-35 (₱756- 1,312) depending on the site s you want to visit.

Traveling To Kota Kinabalu

Going to Kota Kinabalu from Brunei can be both accessed by bus or ferry. I chose the bus because it is the easiest, less complicated and most certain one. I booked a Jesselton bus thru Sipitang express online. The fare is MYR 100 (₱1,300). The bus leaves from its station in Jalan McArthur just be there 30 minutes before your scheduled trip. The journey is about 8 hours with 3-4 times entry and exit between Brunei and Malaysia territories. So if you want to collect stamps in your passport, this is the way to go.

KOTA KINABALU, MALAYSIA

DSC07319-01

The city is the capital of Sabah, Malaysia. It is known for its stunning beaches perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving and home for the 4,095m-high Mount Kinabalu.

*Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to explore this city too much and didn’t have the chance to check out any of the places mentioned above because I only stayed here for around 32 hours which means, I have to go back here. Anyways here’s my city tour and places I visited for the limited time.

Places to Visit

Filipino Market

DSC07304-01

I don’t know why it is called Filipino market because most of the products sold here are wide range of Malaysian produce. It serves clothes, accessories, gadgets and food so if you are on the hunt for some souvenirs you may want to check this place out.

Kota Kinabalu Waterfront

DSC07309-01

A one-stop dining and entertainment centre and a popular hangout place for both locals and foreigners. Here, you can chill and enjoy the beach view while waiting for the sunset.

Signal Hill Observatory Platform

DSC07318-01

The highest point in the city with an open deck area where visitors can witness an amazing view of the city extending until the beach. It is also a good spot to catch the sunset. It requires a little exercise when you hike up the 250m stairs, but if you are not up for that you can take a taxi going up the hill.

Kota Kinabalu City Mosque

DSC07322-01

The second main mosque in Sabah is another stunning attraction worth visiting. The mosque seems to float on top of the water but it is just a man-made lagoon nestled around the mosque that creates a reflection and illusion. This place can hold 12,000 worshipers. Non-Muslims can’t have an access inside but you can still view the mosque from the front. Be aware to dress modestly because this is a place of worship.

Entrance Fee: MYR 5

Getting Around the City

Similar with Bandar Seri Begawan, Kota Kinabalu is also a small city that can be accessed on foot. Public buses are also working but no visible route in google maps so better ask the drivers if the bus is passing by your destination. Again, English is widely spoken here so it is not difficult to ask for directions. Unlike Brunei, taxi apps are available too with friendly drivers to keep you entertain during the ride.

ITINERARY

Brunei

 Day 1: City Tour

  • Istana Nurul Iman
  • Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
  • Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Complex
  •  

Day 2:

  • Proboscis Monkey River Cruise (book through travel agency or water taxi driver)
  • Kampong Ayer
  • Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque
  • *Gadong Night Market

 Day 3: Travel to Kota Kinabalu

  • Arrival in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
  • Filipino Market
  • Cente Point
  • Kota Kinabalu Waterfront

 Day 4: KK City Tour

  • Signal Hill Observatory Platform
  • Kota Kinabalu City Mosque
  • Sunset Cruise (book through travel agency or hostel)

HOW TOAVOID GETTING OFFLOADED BY THE PHILIPPINE IMMIGRATION

IMG_20160101_140829_1-01

Offload is such a nightmare for every Filipino traveler. Your time, money, excitement, expectations and effort in preparing for your dream travel or overseas vacation is put to waste because of this. The Philippine Immigration is known to be very strict in executing the departure formalities for international travel. Don’t hate them. They are just doing their job to avoid undocumented Filipino workers abroad.

As for my personal experience, I have never been offloaded for my years of traveling but I experienced a very strict 10-minute interview with an Immigration Officer. It’s nerve racking! So, I am sharing with you useful tips for this nightmare not to happen.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated nor part of the Philippine Immigration. All the tips I will be sharing is based on my pure experience and encounter with Immigration interview.

Do Your Research

20180920_072709-01

When it comes to traveling, preparation is always the key especially when you are on a budget. The same is true with your immigration departure interview. Go to the Philippine Immigration website for the requirements to be presented on your departure interview, depending on your employment status. Also, it is important that the guidelines are coming from them so it means that it is accurate. Reach out to them too through Facebook. They are very responsive and would give you the right answers to your queries. You can also check blogs and YouTube videos on the web regarding other’s experience regarding offload and immigration departure interview. Learn from their experience, avoid the mistakes they did and follow the tips they give.

Get Your Travel and Employment Documents Ready and Printed

20180925_071320-01

These documents prove that you will just travel and not going to seek employment abroad. Also, these will back up your departure interview proving that you are employed and will come back to our home country. Immigration Officers usually look for your valid passport, return ticket and visa. But you can also include hotel/accommodation booking and itinerary just in case they look for them. For proof of employment, prepare your company i.d, Certificate of Employment (COE) stating you are currently employed in the company and Leave of Absence (LOA) form. Print them out and present them nicely to the Immigration Officer when they ask for it.

P.s. I write my itinerary at the back of my leave form to make it more convincing.

Practice Immigration Interview Questions

C360_2018-09-21-00-11-42-839-01

Since you already did your research and you heard others experience regarding their immigration interview, you have idea what questions the immigration officer might ask. With that, you can also start preparing your answers with the expected questions you gathered on your research.

For your reference, these are the common questions I encountered during my departure formalities. Some might make your eyebrow raise but let’s believe they have reasons for asking them.

  • What is your job?
  • What company are you working with?
  • Where are you going?
  • Where will you stay in (destination)?
  • Is the travel for work or vacation?
  • Is it your first time abroad?
  • Why are you traveling alone?
  • When are you coming back?
  • How long will you stay?
  • Who are you traveling with?
  • What will you do in (destination)?
  • Where did you graduate in College?
  • What is your major/ degree?
  • When did you graduate?

 

Be Confident and Honest

C360_2019-12-02-20-27-18-078-01

Remember, your confidence will show your honesty. If you keep on stammering and can’t answer the Immigration Officer straight, that might be a red flag and subject to offload. Always keep a confident tone of voice and look at them straight in the eyes while answering their questions.  Know to yourself that you have nothing to hide. You will just travel, explore new country, learn new culture and live your best life!

 

HOW I PLAN FOR MY TRAVELS: Step by Step Guide on Budget Traveling

 

C360_2019-11-04-21-44-36-938-01

“What? How?” These are the common reaction I get when I answer my friends questions about my budget on my travels. Most people think that traveling is expensive and luxury. Yes it is, but if you plan it carefully and prepare for it, you will save tons of money, time and can make travel smoothly. I am a planner ever since and I must say that not everything turns out how I want it to be but it works better for me than having no plan at all. If a sudden problem and changes occur at least I can call for a Plan B. For all the years I’ve been traveling whether a long weekend holiday or a month-long backpacking I always make sure to plan it right and set deadlines to make sure there’s progress on my planning. I am presenting to you my seven key steps on planning my trips both local and international.

Disclaimer: We all have our own travel style, not everyone is a planner or has time to plan. This post is made to showcase DIY budget traveling and for those who want to jumpstart their travels and backpacking but don’t know where to start.

  1. DOING MY RESEARCH
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0977.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0977.

Researching about the target destination gives idea about what to expect, do’s and don’ts, itinerary, cultural practice and also expected budget. Some blogs mention what airlines you can take and recommended areas to book your accommodation. The web is a huge playground for useful information that can make traveling smooth. Depending on my type of travel it takes me three to six months before the target date of my travel I am gathering the data I need.

  1. BOOKING A FLIGHT

DSC02053-01

This serves as my stepping stone and my motivation in my upcoming travel. It convinces me that my travel is really happening. I start searching for available flights and routes that I can take. Since I am subscribed to social media accounts and websites of different airlines, it is easy for me to know if they have seat sales for my target destination. I also check fare compare apps like “skyscanner” and “cheapoair” to give me more airline options.

  • Usually it takes me 1-2 weeks of stalking and checking on my target flight just in case the price would be cheaper. After every search I delete my search on my google search history because airlines’ websites use cookies that can recognize my previous searches and it will not change the plane ticket price or worse will make it higher.
  • I check and book flights in the middle of the night or dawn time as early as 4 a.m because they change like magic during these time.
  1. BOOKING FOR ACCOMMODATION

DSC02455-01

I’m done with my flight, I am all set to book my accommodation. I usually choose accommodation in the city center because all the essentials for my travels such as restaurants, convenient stores, banks, travel agencies (for day tour package), money changers, and even visiting sites is just few distance away. That way, I can save time and money for transportation. I am more of a hostel person than a hotel one because aside from being cheaper, some of them even have free breakfast. They also have everything you need from money changing, day tour packages and bus tickets to your next destinations. I use booking.com to book my accommodation since they offer book now pay later system. You can pay in the hostel when you arrive for either cash or card, depending on the hostel system.

P.S: If I transfer from one city or country to another through land travel, I always opt for a sleeper’s bus so I can save a night cost of accommodation.

  1. PLANNING MY ITINERARY

 

DSC02759-01

Since I already determine how long will I stay in my target destination then I list down the visiting sites that I want to go. I read and search about every visiting sites and cities I am going. That way I can estimate how long I will stay in one city or country especially for month long backpacking. I search how to get there, if there are entrance fees, how much would they cost and what is the appropriate attire for that site. I set my routes from the sites nearest to my hostel to the farthest. That way, I can determine which sites I can walk and which sites I can take with public transportation. If the site is quite far or outside the city I book for a day tour package with travel agencies or my hostel. As I mentioned before, hostels offer package tours. If there’s none, I do my Plan B which is to be friendly with my hostel mates, hoping they would tag along with me especially if they drive motorbikes and we can split the cost. For five years of traveling in Southeast Asia it always works for me.

  • If you drive motorbikes, this is the best way to go around the city or take a day trip outside the city. Most countries in Southeast Asia offer motorbike rentals for only ₱ 300 a day. The cost of diesel is not so high plus one advantage is you can stop anytime to rest or enjoy a perfect view.
  1. SETTING MY BUDGET

IMG_20140612_120721-01

Planning the itinerary helps me estimate my budget for the whole trip and set my daily allowance during the trip. In case that my budget for the day exceeds the settled amount, I must do free things the next day to balance it. In Southeast Asia I can live by ₱ 500- 1,000 ($10-20) a day depending on my activities.

 

  1. SAVING UP FOR THE TRIP

DSC00939-01

Although I already have my travel fund that I use for every trip, I still make sure to save up when I have remaining time. Since I already know my target budget, I set aside a percentage of my every paycheck so I don’t have to pull out much from my travel fund.

  1. PREPARING MY TRAVEL DOCUMENTS (For International Travel)

DSC07145-01

I usually do this a week before my trip for immigration purposes. For Filipino travelers there is a thing called “offload” where you cannot board your flight because you were not able to comply with guidelines on departure formalities for international travel. To avoid this, back up your immigration interview with travel documents such as return ticket and accommodation reservation also include employment certificate, company I.D and leave form plus itinerary.

P.S: I write my itinerary at the back if my leave form that way I can prove more about my travel to the immigration officer. It’s better to be over prepared than under prepared.

HOW I BUILD MY TRAVEL FUND: Ways To Save Up for Travels

C360_2019-10-03-21-02-30-506-01

I got asked a lot of times how I am able to travel. How do I afford to go overseas when I don’t make much? Some of my close friends would even joke I have a secret sugar daddy who is sponsoring my trips which I just laugh about since it is NOT true.

Traveling is deemed as privilege and luxury especially to where I am from. That’s a sure thing if you are hustling an 8-5 job and you are not paid well, you have bills or loans to pay or a family to support. Traveling would be your least priority.

I am lucky enough since I am making decently more from standard living cost. I don’t pay rent and I don’t have much responsibility so I am able to save up and build a stable travel fund. It also takes a lot of cutting back and sacrifices but it’s a matter of priority and consistency. I am sharing to you the following ways I learned from my personal experience in order to save up for my travels and might work for you too.

HAVE A SEPARATE BANK ACCOUNT FOR YOUR TRAVEL FUND

DSC07145-01

As an adult who works hard to make ends meet at the same time preparing for the future, it is practical to have multiple bank accounts for your investments, long term or short term goals, emergency fund and also your travel fund. Treat it like money dedicated just for traveling. In that way you won’t feel guilty when you are traveling since you are being responsible and smart in your finances. You won’t be broke too after every travel since you know you have your other accounts filled. If you have a bank account only for traveling, you don’t have to re-adjust your budget, pull out money from your savings or worse borrow from someone.

  • I would suggest you use a passbook over an ATM so it won’t be accessible whenever you are tempted to withdraw it and use it in unnecessary things.
  • I’m not sure if there’s a psychology behind it but whenever I see the numbers in the passbook, it makes me happy and motivates me to increase it.

ALLOT A SPECIFIC PERCENTAGE OF YOUR PAYCHECK ON YOUR TRAVEL FUND

IMG_20140612_120721-01

I was asked a million times before how to save up for traveling and I always tell them that it is like a tithes in the church, or monthly insurance that you deduct on your paycheck. You set a percentage and you have to be consistent in depositing it in your travel fund. There are many ways on how to divide or allot your paycheck on the internet. There’s a 20-30-50 rule, a 10-20-20-50 rule and a lot more. There are tons of financial advice that you can read or watch on the web depending on the goal you are achieving and the lifestyle you are living. You just have to live below your means to make ends meet and be religious on putting that money on your travel fund.

DO SOME SIDE HUSTLE OR HAVE AN EXTRA INCOME

My Preschool Students-01

In today’s world where inflation is fast and high, you hustle a lot but it seems you still don’t have money then consider making money on the side. . Anything that can be turn into extra cash, whether a hobby or a passion you have been working on or simply selling your pre-loved items is extremely encouraged to build or increase that travel fund. In my case, I teach online in the evenings or weekends when I’m free. I also do sponsored product reviews and freelance writing gigs. Even though I don’t make much on these side jobs but it can pays my get together with my friends, daily expenses for a week or increases my travel fund especially if my travel is fast approaching.

KEEP TRACK OF YOUR EXPENSES

20191003_211717

The number one advice I would give whenever people ask me how to start saving up. Whenever you keep track of your finances you will realize how much you are spending on unnecessary things. Then you will realize what if I just put that on my bank account or use it for my travels. There are many money tracking app you can download. I personally use “money manager” because I can set my budget on each month. It has calendar where it shows how much I spent that day, week or month. It also has statistics categorized how much you are spending on households, social life, apparel, beauty, health etc. You can also input your savings so you can monitor how much money you are making, saving and spending. With this simple tip you can jumpstart your adulting 101, improve your budgeting skills and also increase your travel fund.

CUT BACK ON UNNECESSARY EXPENSES

C360_2019-10-03-21-21-17-514-01

Along with tracking your expenses, it will also make you cut back on things not part of your necessities. A lot of my friends told me it’s difficult to save. I always answer, yes! It is difficult to save when you always get your coffee every morning to collect your stickers to get a free planner. It is definitely difficult to save when you go shopping every paycheck. It is totally difficult to save when you eat out three to four times a week.  And it’s more difficult to save when you are always queuing in the cinema just to keep up with the latest movies.

Disclaimer: I am not shaming those people who do these. You have all the right to spend your hard earned money to whatever you like but if you are saving up you might want to do some sacrifice by cutting them back or having these in moderation. Before buying or doing something, weigh it first if it’s a need or want and you will be surprise how much money you can save.

MINIMIZE EATING OUT OR TAKEAWAYS

DSC00939-01

Surely, there are pros and cons of eating out especially for those who don’t cook like me. It is delicious, convenient and time saving. But think about how much money you kiss goodbye in one sitting on your favorite restaurant compare to making it at home. One of the tip I learned when I was saving up to finance my travels is to make my favorite food in small batches at home. That way, when I crave for it, it is ready to be made or reheat. I realized the three meals I make is equivalent to one meal I pay in the restaurant. Sure thing, we can’t get away with eating out especially with get together but if you can make it two to three times a month and just put those bucks on your savings since you will be eating out when you travel anyway.

P.S: I’m a huge snack person so, I buy my bulk of snacks in grocery store good for a week plus I make my own drinks. That way, I don’t spend a lot on grabbing these food in cafe or cafeteria.

DON’T BE A SLAVE TO CONSUMERISM

DSC04517-01

Yes gurl!! Been there, done that. Youtube, instagram and my favorite celebrity made me buy stuff. My friends have these cool things so I should also have them and so much more reasons to buy stuff that aren’t really working or needed in our life. The power of digital marketing and influencers these days makes us have this “buy buy buy” notion as if we “need need need” them not thinking it’s just a “want want want” instead of just “save save save” to make travel happen.

HAVING AN UPGRADE IN INCOME DOESN’T MEAN AN UPGRADE OF EXPENSES

received_853701131507004
The Team! Photo Credit to Mr. Abel Sanyver

The title says it all. It happens especially to single young adults and professionals who got a promotion or salary increase. We tend to think since we have more money so we can now upgrade our phone, our car, our wardrobe etc. We miss the point that as long as our stuff is still running or hanging in there and we are still surviving with the lifestyle that we have, we don’t need to upgrade. We don’t need to change our old stuff and old lifestyle just because we have more money. Our extra money, we can use it for investment, savings or add it to our travel fund.

HAVE A TRAVEL JAR

C360_2019-10-03-21-14-16-178-01

I would credit this tip to Laureen Uy. I learned it when I was watching her youtube video about saving money for traveling. She mentioned that at the end of the day, whenever she has loose change she always put it in her travel jar so that whenever she travels, she use those coins for food and drinks. I do that too. I set a daily budget and when I have something left for that day I put on a jar in my room and I use that money for food or additional budget for souvenir shopping when I travel. You wouldn’t realize how far those coins can get you. It might even fund your transportation allowance for your next travel.

So these, my friends are the things I learned and I am practicing for five years of traveling and having a wanderlust lifestyle. I hope it helps you and motivates you to start saving up for your travels.