Warm and cold cultures

This is our friend in Ko Chang island in Thailand who built his bamboo house on the beach. His name is pronounced “Cheyap” and in the few days my friend and I stayed with him for $1.75 US a night, he so generously made BBQ for anyone who passed by, hosted jam sessions, and welcomed people to come and hang out. He is so hospitable and open and when he told us how sad he gets when people constantly come and go, I almost shed a year.

I’m back in Vancouver, Canada for one more week before I start my new role as a Marketing Executive for a travel company in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

In the year and a half I’ve traveled in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia and Mauritius (Africa), I’ve experienced the most open people and the coldest people. It’s amazing how you can really feel the openness and warmness of different people no matter where in the world you are by their body language and energy.

The funny and generous woman in the middle is Potae, as she said, “Like potato but without the ‘toe.'” She manages V.R. Guesthouse in Chiang Mai. She manages the guesthouse completely on her own so imagine our surprise when she was busy with other clients, she closed her guesthouse at the risk of missing new guests just so she could drive us 15 minutes out of own to pick up our big backpacks instead of us using our motto. Talk about exceptional service!

In the time I spent in Asia, I learned that I connect much better with the local people than I do with many expats, people from other countries who are temporarily or permanently living in a different country than where they were brought up. I found the local people I met so much more welcoming, helpful and open than many expats I encountered. Don’t get me wrong, I have some very close expat friends in Siem Reap, but they probably make up 5% of the people I hang out regularly with in town.

I was surprised to learn that I actually feel a lot more comfortable sitting around a table with local people while they are speaking their own language that I don’t understand than with a group of cliquey expats who speak English. The energy of many local people is so welcoming that it’s easy to talk to anybody. Expats tend to be more selective about who they hang out with and it often feels like you have to say something to impress them or make yourself worth to be part of their group.

A good example of the contrast between warm and cold culture behaviours was when I went to a Cambodian birthday party and then a Canada Day party the day after in July 2013. I had only been in Cambodia for a few months and when one of my Cambodian friends invited me to her birthday, I brought a cake and was expecting to see maybe 20 people or so. Then when I arrived at her house, there were probably 50 people hanging around inside her house and on the front yard with food and beer. I would have been surprised if they even had time to cut my small cake at any point in the night.

John, the guy at the bottom with the dog, is a master scuba diver, amazing musician, in the navy, has been to Haiti on a U.N. mission and a couch surfing host for the past two years in Palawan, Philippines. He has had over 300 travelers stay at his beautiful bamboo house. My friend and I stayed for a few days and when we asked if we could stay two more nights, he simply texted us back and said, “Sure, stay as long as you want.”

She kindly brought me a plate of food and everyone, 98% Cambodian, was very open and easy to talk to. What I love about the people in the country is even if we don’t speak a common verbal language, they still make an effort to try and speak to people.

When you become friends with local people in Asia, even after knowing you for less than a day, they don’t go the extra mile for you, they will do everything in their ability to make sure you are happy or get what you need. In North American culture, we often feel like we are, “bothering people” or other people make us feel that way. I thought I was a good host but now I’ve learned how much more I can do to help people out or make them feel even more welcome.

The next day, I went a Canada Day “party” at a hotel and it was so North American in the sense that everyone was in their own separate groups and not really interacting with each other. I’m pretty sure there were more people at my friend’s birthday party at her house, which is a much smaller space than the hotel.

Case and point.

Warm-cultured travelers

I was very happy to meet Lalha (right) on couch surfing in Jogyjakarta, Indonesia. She kindly hosted a few of us couch surfers, gave us rides, and spent time with us every night during the few days we were in town. When she couldn’t meet me the first day, she sent her friend to be her representative to hang out with me and offer me a place to stay.

I’m making a distinction between expats and travelers by the way. I’ve made amazing connections with open travelers around Asia and when you move where the winds take you on these adventures, you find people who share your values and curiosity of the world.

When I was in Vancouver, I loved having people at our place every week in our tiny kitchen making food together, meeting new friends and enjoying each other’s company. I told people they didn’t have to arrange a meeting time with me, they could just call me if they were around my area to simply say hi, have tea, shower or if they needed a place to crash. When I hosted people, it didn’t feel like work at all but people kept telling me I was really good at bringing people together and creating community, which I never thought of as being a talent.

When I couch surfed in the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, I found people who were exactly like me and were even more open with their homes to new people than I was. One couch surfing host in Palawan, Philippines where we stayed had 300 people stay at his place in the last two years alone! In Tacomepai farm and Mindful Farm, I met the most open group of travelers than any other group I interacted with during the year and a half. My friend and I were only staying for a few days, but people spoke with us immediately, shared travel stories, expressed their deep philosophies around the camp fire and making meals together in the mountains.

This is my friend’s Sopheak’s mom in Banteay Meanchey in north Cambodia. I stayed at their house for a few days and even when her mom was extremely busy preparing for a pagoda ceremony and cooking for her newborn grandson, I was so touched when my friend told me that her mom took hours to prepare my favourite fish amok when she found out I was coming. That is hospitality at a whole new level.

Warm and cold cultures in Vancouver

I am extremely fortunate to have grown up in multicultural cities since I was a baby. I was literally colour-blind by people’s ethnicities because people mixing was the norm. When I was in high school and only hung out with one ethnicity on the rare occasion, I felt something was missing and I asked, “Where’s everyone else?”

I have learned a lot about various cultural practices and history just from conversations with my friends and it was such a rich experience to continue to work with different cultures in my professional life as well. I’ve experienced the vibrancy, expressiveness and passion when I interacted with former colleagues from the Philippines, Mexico, Singapore, Ethiopia and other backgrounds. When I spend time with them, I feel much more openness than from many other people who have grown up in Canada.

People outside of Vancouver city, however, are generally friendlier and more open. I don’t know what it is about the city effect that makes people much more cold.

I met a wonderful married couple a few days ago who came from Iran and they have been living, studying and working in Vancouver for the last 10 years. I have only met them three times in the past few years, but I can tell immediately by their energy that they are extremely modest, hardworking and kind.

The husband told me how it is still challenging to connect with people in Canada, he said, “In Iran people speak respectfully with each other and say hi and bye in the morning. When I say hi and bye to my boss and the people I work with, they don’t even answer.” That made me very angry and this breed of people exemplifies the coldest cultures that exist in Vancouver, and it’s often created and sustained by some company cultures, particularly if you work in law or some accounting departments. Would it really be so detrimental to at least have some courtesy to greet your colleagues in the morning?

I was even more angry to learn that his wife, who is an extremely genuine and kind person, encountered repeated bullying at her work. Her husband told me, “She is such a sweet person and we are very warm people I don’t know why this happened.” I told them if the problem can’t be resolved, they have every right to look for another job and not all companies are like this. There are places with more open people and every place has its own culture.

I’ve cherished all of the people who have spent time with me, helped me and given me gifts from their hearts in Vancouver and around the world. We are all responsible for creating community wherever we are and I want to spread the characteristics of warm and open cultures that I’ve been fortunate to experience wherever I go.

 

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Meet Lia, our lovely Couch Surfing host in Palawan

Lia showed us this beautiful painting she did while she was in high school during our city tour.

My friend and I had an unforgettable time in the popular island Palawan, Philippines, largely thanks to our wonderful couch surfing (CS) host Lia. This young woman is nothing short of incredible and gave a lot of her time to show travelers around her home island.

We spent six days couch surfing in Palawan and we were fortunate to see her almost every day. I admire Lia for pushing herself beyond her comfort zone to meet people from different cultures, which, as she explained, made her quite nervous at first.

Among her many other talents, Lia has her own business called Clia Fix and Wear Variety Shoppe, selling custom made products. She has also spent a lot of her time volunteering for environmental conservation projects and also founded the organization Aklat Para Sa Kabataan, which means books for youth in English. At the organization, her team taught children in remote and coastal areas on topics that included health and environment.

Oh yes, and she is also a university graduate who studied petroleum engineering.

I chatted with Lia about her experience as a couch surfing host.

We ran into the Shrek family during Lia’s now famous city tour around Puerto Princesa.

Why did you want to be a CS host?

Four years ago, my friend was a couch surfing host for locals and international travelers and he often invited me to dinners with his couch surfing friends. I found it interesting when they shared their stories, culture and different traveling experiences. But because I didn’t like speaking in English, I just usually stared and listened to their conversation. Despite of my interest, I didn’t continue to be involved couch surfing.

But after a year, I decided to make an account after my amazing trip in Cebu and Bohol (island provinces in the PHilippines). We met some local couch surfers and it was really fun, especially since I didn’t have to worry about my grammar or having to think about English words. The Cebu locals showed us around and ate with us. But even though I had a great time with them, I still didn’t want to be a CS host.

Then last December, my friend who introduced me to CS spoke about his job interview in one of the prominent companies in the oil and gas industry. I asked him how was his job interview went and he said his interview was not stressful. He said being a couch surfing host really helped him a lot and he became more comfortable speaking to foreign people.

At that moment I realized that I had to try to be a host to improve my English and to gain confidence in speaking with other people from other countries. I also love learning about world history and other people’s social life and culture.

This past year, my mission in couch surfing was to answer everyone’s questions about Puerto Princesa (city in Palawan island) and show them the beauty of my place and the people.

Our entire couch surfing family spending an incredible day together at Nagtabon beach, the nicest beach in Palawan.

Have you had any challenges while being a couch surfing host?

Every traveller I’ve met has their own unique story and left me with a unique experience. I guess the challenging experience I had was meeting people who forgot the real meaning or essence of couch surfing and used couch surfing as a dating site.

But of all the people I’ve met, there has only one really challenging couch surfer I hosted and it was my first time hosting. I thought I should not give up and believed not all couch surfers are like the challenging person.

It got easier because I’m much more open and much more confident to talk to people. I realized because there is no difference between Filipino people and people from other countries. Sometimes I felt nervous because I thought some people would feel superior since we are from the developing world.

I believe you should respect others and they will respect you.

Our couch surfing posse ended another fantastic day by watching the Venga Boys ladyboy show in town. Not a bad show for the price of a drink.

You’ve hosted six couch surfers for full days this past week. Where do you get all of your energy from?

I guess my past work helps me as I used to work in research where I had to gather data and talk to people late at night for a week straight. When I was 17 I worked in Dunken Donuts and sometimes had double shifts from 2:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.

My colleagues asked me, “You are so energetic, how can you still smile? How can you still walk?” I just answered “I just make myself happy and enjoy what I’m doing.”

What inspired your business?

Maybe it’s in my blood because my family has been running a small business since I was young. We selI daily commodities like vinegar, soy sauce, oil and sugar in small stores in town. I usually do the delivery and customer orders.

When I was in college my brother gave me some money to finance my first business. I choose a lending business but stopped it after two years when I realized that this kind of business is not for me.

Then I started my online and garments business when someone asked for a customized shirts supplier. I tried to be the middle person during that time and organized the orders and it was successful. So I continued to cater a variety of costumized products such as IDs, button, pins, bracelets, lanyards, organizationl shirts, and uniforms and this because my full-time business.

What is your goal for 2014?

I was planning to build an eco travel lodge for travelers in my lot. I want to showcase the real life and culture of indigenous people in Palawan. I want travelers to experience a memorable vacation with the locals at the same time. It will be one of the greatest fulfillment of my life.

We enjoyed the beautiful sunset at Nagtabon beach.

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Post-traveler’s depression

Peaceful breakfast in the Mae Hong Song mountain in northern Thailand during our 600 km motto journey.

After meeting many travelers last year around Asia and speaking with my closest friends, every single one of them have a hard time transitioning back to their home countries. I’m talking about the people who have been exploring parts of the world for more than a few months, not two-week holidays.

Being able to travel is a huge privilege and it is most definitely not to be taken for granted, especially when most people you meet can barely afford to leave their own cities. So I realize me even talking about this is a problem of a minority of us.

My friend Sopheak generously invited me to her home town to stay with her family in Banteay Meanchey in northern Cambodia. Travel rule: when people invite you to their homes from their hearts, go. It will be among the most meaningful experiences of your journey.

I’m not trying to be condescending with people who don’t do long term travel or a experience a huge life transformation. All I’m saying is it’s hard to connect with people the same way. It’s like people who have a passion for World Cup can’t connect with me the same way because I’m not that interested in soccer as much as many other people. So for them to talk to me about it, I couldn’t contribute much to the conversation and share the same excitement.

After you have these incredible experiences, what often makes the transition back to our home countries is not being able to express your experiences with similar types of travelers and most things seem the same after you’ve gone through so many meaningful experiences. When we meet similar types of travelers, we understand each other and listen to their stories all day.

I met Cheap in Koh Chang island in south Thailand. For just under $2 US a night, you can stay in his self-built bamboo house by the beach, join him anytime for a jam session and cook with him. One night he just made a huge BBQ for everyone who was passing by his place.

When we were on Mindful Farm, a meditation farm in northern Thailand, I met the most amazing and open group of travelers from around the world. We would share stories about some of our experiences throughout the day and soaked in their unique experiences. You will begin traveling with other people you met after a day or a few and meet up somewhere else in the world the same year, which I’ve done twice.

On the farm, I met a Jewish couple planning to live in a collective community in Isreal who also happen to happen to know two gay couples in California who are both raising a beautiful daughter together. I also met a traveling family from Switzerland. The parents took their kids out of school for a year so they could travel the world together while the mom home schools them. Their 9-year-old daughter formed a strong bond with the farmer’s 2-year-old daughter and they were inseparable for the three weeks they were on the farm. Where else could you have these experiences if you don’t leave the walls of your home?

I met my two adopted families in Marinduque island in the Philippines. They were extremely hospitable with us, showed us around the island and told us to let them know next time we come by so they can prepare properly for our visit and stay at their home.

I met a woman from the UK on a two-day elephant tour in Laos and she lived in Bangkok for a few years. She wasn’t looking forward going back to the UK at all and we both got annoyed when people asked us, “How was your trip?” after having a year or more of having diverse experiences. She said, “After going through so much, to say ‘amazing’ just doesn’t do the experience justice.”

One of my friends has been able to build her life so she can work while she travels. She is from the U.S. originally but spends more of the year working on projects in Laos and Cambodia. She said, “Every time I go back to New York, it’s the same thing. No one wants to hear your stories. They’ll give you ten minutes and then tune out. Then they’ll go back to complaining about their mortgage and problems with the neighbours.”

This is the best bathroom I’ve seen in my life. This club bathroom in Bangkok had a live jazz band for people who wanted to enjoy some music after doing their business. There were very comfortable couches and they played great music! And no it didn’t smell.

When you’re in another country and open to new cultures and experiences, the spontaneity of connections and all the different types of people you meet gives you a high. When we explore, every day is a new adventure and change becomes the new normal. When you have grown so much and share some of the experience with people who think the entire world is dangerous and judge you with their eyes for not working full-time instead, it’s very disheartening.

Another annoying thing with speaking with some narrow-minded non-travelers is  is when they think they know how a place or how a certain group of people are when they have never left their home town. They believe most people in the world want to steal from you or will attack you, particularly poor countries. Most people who haven’t traveled outside of their hotels are surprised when I tell them I felt much safer in most parts of Asia than parts of Vancouver or that I felt very comfortable stay in the poorest villages in Cambodia because people take care of you when you are friends with them. You never know what a place is like until you step foot in it and see for yourself.

These are my awesome friends I became close to while I was in Siem Reap. This is our Cambodian wedding photo shoot. You can go to a studio and they dress you up Cambodian-style.

Every time I have gone to a new place I’ve been forced to never assume anything about a place or its people and every place has its on complex history and situation. To oversimplify a country  or its people to say, “It’s dangerous there” or “People will attack you.” is offensive and is an unrealistic perspective of the world.

This wonderful homestay guesthouse is in Huay Xai in northern Laos. The American couple who founded this guesthouse works with women to empower them by teaching them life skills and family planning. The women and their kids live at the guesthouse and travelers support the project just by staying at this guesthouse. For a few US dollars, you can have as much as you want to eat of the meals they cook the nights you stay.

A few days ago I went to a wonderful beach wedding in Mauritius, Africa. It’s been 4 months since I’ve stopped traveling around on my own and have been living with family. By chance, I met a woman at my table who has been to many country and travels the same way I do, which is often going to non-touristy areas and connecting with locals.  She was on a work assignment in the third poorest country in the world and told me about the wedding she went to that was organized where people pull out chairs, no one dresses up and just dance and celebrate together. She felt very safe where she was and connected with families there. We spent most of our dinner swapping travel stories and my brain felt alive again.

After seeing many places, you start to compare things to your home country from the weather to the friendliness of the people around you. And traveler’s often find their new homes and discover that home is not necessarily the place you grew up the longest but where your heart is most content.

No matter where we are in the world, if we are unsatisfied, it is no one else’s responsibility but ours to make the changes in our life that will make you happy. Now that we’ve have discovered what makes us happy, it’s up to us to not get trapped in an unfulfilling routine and live to other people’s version of a “proper” life. We are the drivers of our own life and if you need to make your life work so you can be in another country for awhile, then do it.

Koko’s recommended stay in Palawan: JLC Guesthouse

JLC Guesthouse is very clean and well-managed.

We booked two nights at JLC Guesthouse and it was so refreshing to meet the wonderful family who runs the place, particularly after a bad guesthouse experience in Manila.

The owners Jeanette and her mom were the first people who kindly greeted us, showed us a clean room, and we quickly became friends with them. We laughed at how different Palawan feels compared to Manila. There was Wi-Fi in the lobby and I spent a lot of time chatting with Jeanette and passing time.

Saying goodbye to our new friend Jeanette who manages the JLC Guesthouse.

JLC is walking distance from the main road and has a better price that many of the guesthouses in the area. It’s also close to Mugnet Cafe, a fantastic place to get great quality drinks, use Wi-Fi and see our couch surfing friend Jonathan play at night.

We introduced one of our friends that we met on the beach to JLC and she immediately liked it and switched guesthouses to stay there instead. They provided free coffee and tea as well.

I highly recommend JLC if anyone is looking for a comfortable place run by honest people, a good location, a good price and Wi-Fi.

They didn’t take it personally when we told them we are staying at a couch surfer’s place the rest of our time in Palawan but we kept going back to JLC just to visit them and say hi. The day before we left they said they’ll miss us and that we were always welcome.

 

 

Our awesome couch surfing host in Palawan

My friend and I were very fortunate to stay with Jonathan, one of our incredible couch surfing (CS) hosts in Palawan, Philippines. Almost every time I make a request to couch surf wherever I am, I usually message women first if I’m looking for a place to crash. But Jon had almost 300 positive references from other couch surfers, so figured this was safe since no women were able to accommodate my friend and I.

I love this bamboo colour.

On the map his place looked quite close to our guesthouse but we didn’t realize the last part was on a bumpy road, which is quite hard for our motto taxi to drive through. It was getting dark and we were unsure of the area and I thought, “I hope this is a real place.” Jon lives next to the navy base and only he and other employees are allowed to drive on a specific road.

When we finally arrived at his place the first night, we walked into his beautiful bamboo house. He gave us an orientation of the house and we found out there were a few other couch surfers at his place. He was very easygoing, has a calm energy and gives people the freedom to go in and out as they pleased. He has had over 300 people stay at his place in the past two years!

Why he wanted to host

Jonathan performs weekly at Mugnet Cafe and has an incredible voice among many other talents.

When I asked him why he wanted to be a CS host he said, “I was talking to a French girl at a vegetarian restaurant and she told me about it. So I started a profile. But it was very basic, I didn’t have a picture. Then people started responding and I said, ‘oh it’s serious.’”

He has new people almost every day and I asked him if it was tiring and he said, “Not yet, I have time.” I told him it was a nice set up because people can come in and out he said, “I like meeting new people. I want people to have their liberties when they are here and feel like home. If we have a curfew, then it’s not fun. If I had to do that, then I wouldn’t be a couch surfing host.”

When we needed to extend our stay by a few days, he kindly said, “Of course, stay as long as you want.”

A diverse background

This is Jon’s outdoor kitchen and where we cooked our last meal with our other couch surfing friends.

He was such a unique character with a diverse background. He used to be a monk, works for the navy, was employed by the UN in Haiti for a year, has a background in electrical engineering, a singer, Master scuba diver and a vegetarian (which is very rare in the Philippines). While we were staying with him, he actually had a year off from his work so he was working on building his own dive shop.

While Jon was working for the navy, he was deployed to serve in UN doing logistics for 21 contingents, which could have as many as 155 people. He said every year two people go for peacekeeping missions. He applied and he was one of four candidates left and he was the most junior. Often senior people get the positions but the position was in his field. He was also in charge of welfare and when UN diplomats came, he would be the one to pick them up.

Jamming and dancing

Jon is our couch surfing host with the dog. The rest of these lovely folks are our couch surfing friends who hung out with us the week we were in Palawan.

The first night we stayed, Jon was kind enough to invite my friend and I to see him perform at the cafe and ended up dancing at another place. Jon had an amazing voice and was a wicked dancer. He has been performing weekly at the cafe since 2007.

On our last night in Palawan, Jon was so nice to open up his home and let us bring a few of our couch surfer friends to cook at his place. After two hours of cooking, we all jammed together and Jon and our friend Ira sang a beautiful duet. It was a perfect way to end the night at his place.

Our wonderful couch surfing friends and chefs Earl and Lia. They are amazing young adults who were so considerate, mature and great cooks.

 

 

Ways to use a lovely bunch of coconuts

A huge pile of coconuts in Marinduque, Philippines.

I was impressed with the number of ways people in the Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand used coconuts. I didn’t know that you could use the whole coconut in a variety of ways from the outer skin to the meat. Here are a few ways you can put coconuts to good use aside from drinking the juice:

Our Filipina granny showing us that coconuts can be used as hats, bras and knee pads.

A yummy coconut jelly drink made with the coconut meat in Marinduque, Philippines.

Coconuts can be burned and covered overnight to make charcoal. The family we stayed with in Marinduque used the charcoal every day to cook.

Coconuts can be shaved on the outside and be used as coconut bowls. Our wonderful friends in the Philippines were so nice and used their machetes to cut a bunch of bowls for our friend. 

Coconuts are great for machete practice. Though the local Filipina women were laughing at my horrendous ability to cut coconuts with a machete. It took me 10 minutes to cut one successfully. I would be so fired if I ever tried to sell coconuts.

Coconut meat shavings can be used to make a variety of desserts.

Coconut shavings can be used as kindling to start fires.

These coconut meat shavings were used in a salad at Mindful Farm in northern Thailand. The travelers who were staying on the farm cook every night together.

At Tacomepai farm in northern Thailand, the rougher parts of a coconut was smartly used as a sponge to clean dishes. On this farm, plastic is forbidden and residents and guests reuse as much material as they can.

 

 

 

6 days couch surfing in Palawan

 

18 lia and earl

Our incredible couch surfing hosts Earl (the only dude in the picture) and Lia (middle).

I am now a huge advocate for couch surfing (CS) and definitely plan to be a host to travelers whenever I get my own place. My experiences surfing in Indonesia, Thailand and Philippines have been nothing less than incredible. Couch surfing is the best way to connect with local people if you’re in a city for a short period of time.

While my friend and I were in Manila, we were messaging a bunch of CS hosts to see if we could stay with someone and also hang out with people. To my surprise, a young girl named Lia who lives in Palawan messaged me first when she saw a post that we were couch surfing in her city. She said she didn’t have a place to host us but she could give us a tour around the city. This was impressive considering 9.8 times out of 10, I’m the one who messages people first.

Pristine beach. It’s not as nice as Nagtabon beach.

What impressed me even more was the day before we arrived in Palawan, she called me to ask if we wanted her to make a reservation for us for an underground river tour, which was said to be one of the must-see sights on the island. So we were told anyway.

Meeting Lia

Lia painted this in high school. Wow.

Before we actually met Lia, who quickly became our wonderful friend, she was so considerate to call and ask us if it was ok if two other couch surfers joined the city tour she was going go give us. To do an actual paid tour of the places we went would have been 600 pesos (about $13 US).

We first met her at a coffee shop and got to know each other. I could tell right away she was very friendly and wanted to make sure we had a good time. We had no idea how long she would have stayed with us for the day, but our day was open and we appreciated any time she gave to show us around.

A beautiful sunset at Nagtabon beach.

The more I got to know her the more I was fascinated with her many skills and interests. She is a petroleum engineering student and also runs her own business, R&L Customized Shop, selling custom-made products and crafts.

I asked her how many girls there are in her engineering field and she said, “One out of every 10 students are girls. But I’m close to my friends and they don’t treat me any different. I don’t get any special treatment because I’m a girl.”

We were only the second group of people she was providing full day city tour for by herself and I couldn’t believe she was giving four full day tours in one week with other travelers! She is an incredibly generous, intelligent and very mature person. On top of all of these great qualities, she is a wicked pool player.

Lia’s City Tour

I clearly took too long to get ready.

Lia spent 10 hours with us the first day, I was surprised. She took us to the a vegetarian restaurant, Cathedral, war memorial, Baker’s Hill, a viewpoint, bay walk and finally a restaurant until 10 p.m. I couldn’t believe she was going to give this tour to a few more groups in a week spending the whole day with people. She has her own business so her time was flexible. But to give so much of her time and energy is so generous. We felt so lucky to be on her city tour with Lia on a sunny day. One of our friends went on the paid city tour and it was quite boring and they were sitting in a van on a rainy day.

We found our Shrek family.

I wanted to eat vat a vegetarian restaurant so she took us to one place and met Danius and Roman, two CS guys from Lithuania. After we ate, Lia took us to a few places around the city and stayed with us right until dinner. During dinner Lia was adorable and told us that she was a bit nervous meeting us for the first time because we have a different culture. I told her it’s admirable that she pushed herself to give a city tour to travelers on her own. She told us, “If I had time, I would have picked you up at the airport.” She went to pick up another couch surfer another day. Top notch hospitality. 

Needless to say, we bought some baked goodies.

Non-stop fun

Venga Boys ladyboy show. Great value: buy a drink and enjoy the entire show.

Since we met Lia, we met other fantastic couch surfers. Every day was an unplanned adventure. We cooked together, went to a few beaches, saw a ladyboy show, went out dancing at a local club and went for local karaoke together. This was such an easy group to hang out with and we also hung out with two guys who were staying at another Couchsurfing host’s home.

Earl, Lia’s Filipino friend, was also very kind to spend time with us every day since we met. He helped us whenever we had questions and is a very good help and cook in the kitchen. Compared to many 23-year-olds in Canada, he is extremely mature, considerate and articulate.

Beautiful burning sky.

On one of the nights, Lia and Earl took us to a local karaoke place and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. I have never been to a karaoke place with only one microphone and you have to sing in front of everyone. Thankfully it was mostly our friends and just four other Filipina girls. But of course, after you listen to an incredible Filipina girl singing, you pretty much don’t want to follow that up!

We hung out here after a full day tour with Lia before we went to dinner.

One of the days we went out, we checked out a ladyboy show and it was the very firs time the Lithuanian guys had seen a show like this. And just their luck, of the 150 people in the room, the ladyboys chose to pick on them. In front of everyone, the ladyboy said, “You are so cute like a lollipop. Do you like boys or girls?” Our friend was so caught off guard he didn’t even answer and was laughing uncomfortably.

Our awesome couch surfing group.

After the ladyboy show, we all went to the local dance place that Yunis and I checked out earlier. It looked kind of shady from the outside but Yunis and I wanted to see what it was like. There weren’t many people but we enjoyed the music enough to have fun on our own.

The highlight of the night though was when we met this very flamboyant 20-year-old gay boy on the dance floor. He was absolutely fun and hilarious. He kept saying to us, “I am miss Philippines 2014” and kept looking at our friends and said, “dannnnnnce!”  with a strong Filipino accent. When my friend told him, “You must do yoga you are so flexible,” he replied, “No, it’s all natural.”

Our energetic and hilarious Filipino gay friend we met on the dance floor. Totally highlight of our night.

Trying duck embryo for the first time

Yes, that’s right, duck embryo is a very popular food in the Philippines as well as Cambodia. It’s called, “balut” in Tagalog. Because Lia was kind to us, we couldn’t’ say no to her when she insisted that we try balut. She purposely waited until it was night so we wouldn’t have to look at what we were eating, and that was definitely for the best.

Pristine Beach

The kids who were so friendly to chat and play with my friend and I. They live close to the beach and returned back to their families after spending some time with us.

One day we were at the beach for the day and there were a few young kids between 9 and 12 began talking to my friend and I. They asked what our names were, laughed and played with us for some time until they had to go back home.

Our Couchsurfing friend Roman started chatting with a 20-year-old boy who was an elementary school teacher. He said very wisely, “Anyone can be a teacher by profession but not by heart.” He because a teacher at first because his mom wanted him to follow that profession then he grew to love it. 21 teacher meesa

While we were in the shade, we met a fun Finnish girl named Ira who was very adventurous. She traveled to India alone and was going around Asia for a few months. She said many Finnish people are shy at first and aren’t so adventurous. She is not a typical Finnish person. She came back to town for lunch with us and hung out with us every day until she had to leave. We would later discover what an amazing singer she is.

Nagtabon beach

Nagtabon beach is considered the best beach in Palawan by the locals.

We were told Nagtabon is one of the nicest beaches in Palawan so we decided to spend our day there. We had a hard time finding enough scooters for everyone to get to Nagtabon, about an hour away, so Earl and Lia arranged to share a van to take 11 of us to the beach. She got a discount price for us. Locals are always have the best hookups.

Oliver is building a small resort and uses solar power.

Nagtabon was nice and quiet and we shared food for lunch. It was a perfect way to spend the day with the group. Earl had a friend who was building a resort on the beach that was five stories high. The top of the building had a beautiful view of the beach and surrounding areas. His friend was nice to offer us as many shots as we wanted when we were visiting his place. He also gave two of us a short boat ride. You could rarely have an experience like this if you come on your own with a group of backpackers.

Calm waters.

While most of us were in our happy place, we ended our time at the beach by watching Ira, riding the resort owner’s white horse on the beach during sunset. What an incredible way to ride a horse for the very first time!

Ira’s new horse friend.

Cooking at Lia’s

Eggplant, spaghetti, fish, mashed potatoes and other yummies.

Lia was nice to open up her home to us so we could cook a meal for her and Earl who have been doing so much for us. Earl helped Zu, my friend, and I shop at the local market. Zu noticed that the vendors were staring at Earl and Lia because they were hanging out with us Westerners. I guess not many foreign people spend much time shopping at the local markets.

Zu noticed that vendors were quite confused trying to figure me out because I looked like a local Filipina girl but was wearing Western backpacker clothes like the white people they are used to seeing.

Earl: wannabe musician, cook, weightlifter and couch surfing assistant host.

We just needed Lia and Earl to help us shop for the ingredients and just wanted them to relax once we got home. But because they have high standards of hosting in their blood, they helped us with most of the cooking and also contributed a soup dish and grilled eggplant.

In all, we ate spaghetti, mashed potatoes, grilled eggplant and soup. It was a fantastic meal. In all it cost about $4 US for a few of us to make all of that food. After that massive meal, Lia let me take a hot shower and sleep on her bed to take a rest during the afternoon.

Last day

We were so comfortable in Palawan that we lost track of what day we were leaving and we realized the day before our flight that we only had one more full day when we told our friends we had a few more days on the island. So we invited people at our Couchsurfing host Jon’s place to cook together one last time.

Jon was so nice to open up his home for us. I really appreciate our friends making time to cook and eat with us one last time before we left. I always believe that the best gift you can give to someone is your timeAnd the friends we have made in the Philippines spend time with us from their hearts.

We had an amazing last night with our wonderful friends at Jonathan’s bamboo house.

Me and two other friends split the cost of cooking for 10 people, including our friends where we were staying. Earl and Lia helped us shop at the market one more time and we all went to Jon’s house together. As usual, Lia and Earl helped us with most of the cooking and we shared a delicious meal.

After dinner, we had a memorable jam session and Jon and Ira also sang a beautiful duet. It couldn’t have been a more perfect way to end our night there.

Flexing with Earl at Nagtabon beach.

It was still early in the night so a few of uswent to the café to check the internet for a bit. We told Earl and Lia they didn’t have to stay, especially if they had school or work the next day. But they said, “No it’s ok. It’s your last night.”

So while we were checking our email at Magnut café, we had one more karaoke session and Lia and Ira shared their beautiful voices one more time. Lia was so sweet and gave each of us a customized gift from her company. On our last nightI texted her, “I wasn’t sure if we should come to the Philippines because I was tired of moving around. But you’ve mad our trip very worthwhile I will keep your gift forever.”

Our last sunset in Palawan.