Thursday, August 30, 2012

Out of the closet. 5 years and counting.

This may seem a bit out place in a travel blog. It isn't about my latest wandering to some island or something that I recently ate. For me, this is about a journeya personal one at thatof being true to myself.  

If I'm not mistaken, today marks the fifth year of my officially coming out of the closet. People are probably thinking: "Five years pa lang?!" IKR, but yeah. 

Admitting to the world that I'm gay has been one of the best decisions I've made. I was sick of pretending and I just wanted to be happy. While I've never been happier, I just hope that others are genuinely happy for me.

Here's an ancient blog entry that I dug up from my Multiply account.


"I Always Knew"

I always knew that I was gayor at least, growing up, "different." 

As a toddler, I would wear my mom's heels, experiment with her make-up, and would pretend that I had long Rapunzel-like hair. My parents found this cute, I suppose, which explains all the preserved photos and betamax tapes. 

Wearing Mom's heels!

"How do you solve a problem like Maria?"
Pretending that I was a nun from The Sound of Music. 

I liked dolls and would hug them while I sleep!

When my cousins and I would play with Ninja Turtles, they would smash and bang the Leonardo and Michaelangelo figures while I would treat my Donatello like a doll. We were 4 years old. 

I was never into sports or anything rough. Being under the sun, running around, and getting dirty wasn't my thing at all. I was always prim and proper. 

I was always prim and proper. (Up until now, I think.)

During my nursery-prep years, I never coined myself as a homosexual. That word wasn't even in my vocabulary yet. I noticed that I wasn't anything like my alpha male classmates but I never labelled myself. I saw no wrong in my mannerisms. I was just being me: Happy Henson. 

I was in Grade 3 when I officially knew and labelled myself. Being "different" went beyond being effeminate. I had my first boy-crush. At first, I had a crush on my classmate Jennifer, but I found it strange how I had an even bigger crush on her boyfriend. I kept this all to myself, though. 

My first-ever boy crush, Brady.
Since then, pabakla na ako nang pabakla. Of course, it was just recently that I confirmed it to almost the entire world (even if they already knew.) 

People would usually ask when I found out that I was gay. 

"I always knew." 

They find this amusing, bizarre, and in some cases, unacceptable.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wearing an Elephant Hat around Tokyo

I can't help but smile.
Still can't believe that I had the guts to sport an elephant hat around Tokyo!

Yay or nay?

(Photo by Tina de Torres)

(Photo by Don Quintos)

(Photo by Angelo Estrella)

(Photo by Robert Abueg)

Thanks to Tiff who lent it to me. The hat kept my ears warm!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Mekong Delta Tour

While planning my Vietnam trip, I already imagined myself wearing a conical hat while riding a rowboat along the Mekong river. It was that vivid.

I made sure that it happened.  

Exactly how I envisioned this shot to be.

I booked the whole-day tour of the Mekong Delta through my hotel. The Cai Be and Vinh Long districts were far from Ho Chi Minh City for a DIY adventure. The tour cost 357,000 VND (~Php 714), which included transportation and lunch.

The Cai Be district is highlighted in red. The blue parts below it is the Mekong river.
Going to Cai Be is a 3-hour ride from HCMC (upper right).

After three hours in the coaster, including a washroom break in between, we arrived at the Cai Be district to tour the Mekong Delta and see the floating market buyers.

Arrival at Cai Be district 

The boat that we rode to tour the Mekong river

Our tour guide.
And, oh, don't worry. There are life vests in the boat.

The floating market wasn't as busy as I expected it to be. It wasn't like in the photographs where the river was full of boats. I guess this happens early in the morning or maybe on weekends.

The item displayed on the rod in front of the boat indicates the item being sold.

Aside from seeing brown water, boats, more boats, and items being sold, I enjoyed seeing the houses and structures along the river banks.  

Look, a Catholic Church! (This was a rare sight!)

We got off this place where we enjoyed learning about how local delicacies were made! Very interesting! I wish I could have taken more notes to share with everyone.

A local version of what seemed like rice krispies.

This reminds me of lumpia wrapper but crispier!

We were taken through the steps on how coconut candies were made.

Treats that we had: rice wine, royal jelly, locally produced honey with tea, and local snacks.

Bees up close!!! 
I caused the boo-boo on the table. Whoops!
Friends I made that day: (L-R) Kjell from Norway, Chelsea(?) from Australia, Shang-Shang and Mike from China.

On the way to a semi-late lunch...

It was cute seeing the kids swim. Imagining how dirty the water is... well. Yikes.

Notice how deep the water is even if it's just a few meters away from the "shore".

Vietnamese ladies rowing the boats came to pick us up for lunch!

Rowing through shallow waters.
Conical hats are lent to tourists, though I bought one before the tour  for 20,000 VND (~Php 40).

The Elephant Ear Fish was the highlight of our lunch! This was freshly caught from the river. While it tasted like the regular fried tilapia, how it was eaten was its charm: lumpia style!

Elephant Ear Fish
Price: 170,000 VND (~Php 340) Good for two to three people.

The cost of the fish is on top of the tour package. The tour guide mentioned this a lot but there were some foreigners in our group who never got it. Such commotion over fish!

After eating lunch came another highlight: biking! Reminded me of Eat, Pray, Love! It's been more than a decade since I last rode a bicycle.

Attempting to ride a bike after more than a decade! 

Biking around the village.
The most interesting thing I noticed: tombs in the back yard!

We continued on boat to Vinh Long city to see a really huge market, though it wasn't that interesting. The bus going back to Ho Chi Minh City was waiting for us there.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pet Peeve: Vandalism in Nature

Vandalism is ugly and immortalized forever whether it's on rocks, trees, or corals. 

Seeing vandalism on rocks, trees, or on corals is a major pet peeve while traveling.

Why should I care if a certain James loves Erika or if a guy named Endo was there? It’s sad and ugly—not to mention permanent!

Admittedly, I've been guilty of this when I was younger. At the time, I hoped that one day, I'd be able to find my carvings and then take a picture of myself with it. Lame, I know. Thinking about it now, I don’t even remember where I carved “Henson was here” but it’s there forever. Totally uncool and pointless.

Looking back, I wish I felt content with having a photo with that famous rock or tree rather than etching something on it and literally damaging it. Really, vandalism takes beauty away from that place, not to mention the enjoyment of others trying to appreciate it.

I hope that others realize this, too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thuan Duc Hotel | Ho Chi Minh City

Thuan Duc Hotel is a great deal for
~Php 520 a night!
Regardless of one's budget, finding accommodation in Ho Chi Minh City isn’t a problem. The city never seems to run out!

Here, the locals usually live in four to five-storey buildings with narrow openings that run deep inside. Most of these have many rooms, which the owners convert into a hotel. Talk about putting resources to good use!

If you’re looking for a place that’s decent, affordable, one that’s pretty near major landmarks, and is in a “happening” place, try staying at Thuan Duc Hotel along the backpackers’ area.

This is ideal if you’re traveling alone or in a small group.

I stumbled upon this through

General Info:

1. Single room has bigger-than-normal double bed, aircon, fan, fridge, hot/cold water and WiFi!
2. Cost per night for a single room for 1 person = 236,250 VND (~Php 520)
3. 10-minute walk to Ben Thanh market
4. Along backpackers’ area: food trip galore, lots of places to drink, and souvenir shops!
5. Fair exchange rate at front desk: $100 USD = 2,080,000 VND
6. Book tours: City tour, Cao Dai temple, Cu Chi Tunnels, Mekong River, etc.

The Single Room is very straight forward.

Great deal for ~Php 520 a night! 
Basic washroom with hot and cold water.
There's soap provided but I suggest bringomg your own, including shampoo.

House rules


The view from the 4th floor

The backpackers' area is very alive at night! This is Bui Vien St.!
Getting to Thuan Duc from the airport: 

1. 25-minute taxi ride from the airport. Cost = 150,000 VND (~Php 300) 

Ride the Vinasun Taxi

2. Official address is at Pham Ngu Lao St., but request to get off at Bui Vien St. It’s easier to get to Thuan Duc from there without getting lost in the alleys. 

Bui Vien St. during the day

3. At Bui Vien St., get off at Mini Stop 

Get off here! There's only one Mini Stop along Bui Vien St. 

4. Walk into an alley directly across Mini Stop. The entrance of the alley has a blue sign. 

Directly across Mini Stop. Walk into this alley!

5. Just go straight until you reach the end of the alley. Thuan Duc hotel will be on your left.


Note: Alleys may be a bit scary at night. Although it seems safe, it’s still best if you’re with a friend.

Quick Tips:

1. If you’re arriving late at night (like I did), inform the hotel. Even if the hotel seems closed when you get there, just ring the doorbell on the wall to the right. They’ll be waiting for you. 

2. Thuan Duc (“Twang Duc”) is named after the small town where Mrs. Loh is from. 

Mrs. Loh owns the hotel and she's always at the front desk.
3. Request for the lower floors. Since there are no elevators, travelers may have a hard time bringing luggage up to the 4th floor.

4. Pay 10% DP online through credit card, then pay balance upon arrival in USD or VND 

Travelers will need to fill in this form upon arrival.

5. Bottled water is cheaper in the hotel!

6 VND for the big one (~Php 12), 3 VND for the smaller one (~Php 6)

 219/26 Pham Ngu Lao St., Dist 1, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Tel: +84 8 38374219
Book here!