Saturday, February 7, 2015

What did I Really See in Cambodia?

Somebody asked me, what is your favorite place to photograph?  Tough question.  For me, it's not the photographs I take home, but the experience while taking them, especially the ones that move me, or led me to see things differently. 
Our recent trip to Cambodia and the boat ride to Tonle Sap Lake changed my perspective.  The people you'll find in this collection are gems because of the smiles they reflect back form the murky waters of the lake, because of how they appreciate their resources, and most especially they don't approach the boats for money from touriss.  Maybe because, they feel happier than us, or more contented than us.
I hope this will change your perspective too. 
It's no Gondola of Venice, but his stripes put a striking resemblance to a Venetian boat man.  Maybe to them, it feels like Venice, or even better. 

 "Crayola Boats" 
No fancy cars in the next 10 kms, but endless rows of Crayola boats.  These colorful boats have amazing handling capabilities even in choppy waters. 

I don't speak Khmer (Cambodian language) but from the way our boatman moves his boat in the lake while he looks at the horizon, pride is louder than the boat's roaring engine. 

 "Long Legged Ladies"
These stilt houses are ready for the rising of the tide when seasons rapidly change in Cambodia.  They also provide great ventilation from beneath the house and wise storage for firewood.  Just like a long-legged lady, in a red gown, yes?

  "Giant Playground" 
Kids in the lake make the most of what they have.  With no monkey bars to use, the lake is like a giant playground to them.

"Refreshingly Murky"
Though very mysterious, the waters of Tonle Sap Lake does not leave even a stint of bad smell in my shirt; and when the afternoon sun directly hits the water, it glitters like the fresh waters of Coron. 
 "Blame the Mangroves"
I am no biologist but mangroves taught us a lesson in Baler. If we don't take care of them, they don't take care of us.  The steady and fish breeding waters of Tonle Sap Lake is because of it's abundant mangrove covers while entering and exiting the lake. 
"Row before you run"
Learning to row before learning to walk.  Just like I learned how to ride a bike first before learning how to walk. 

"Himalayan Replenishment"
Tonle Sap Lake shares the same water flow with the Mekong River of Vietnam.  They are continuously replenished by the melting snow from the Himalayas. 
"Bus to School"
They ride the boat everyday just to go to school.  Some kids I know who have all means of transportation to get to school but still don't get the idea.
"Just Roll w/ the Punches"
There's no complaining, just rolling with the punches.  Even when bigger boats create wake that toss the boat of a fish vendor, she still proceeds to the market.

Fish paste from Tonle Sap Lake grilled in wrapped banana leaves are found in the streets of Cambodia as soon as the sun sets.  Matched with Khmer fish sauce, greens, noodles, and chili, it's one of the best and freshest rolls in Asia.

So, what are you complaining about lately? If you still think you don't deserve where you are now, think again.  Perhaps it's time to change your perspective, or the way you see things.

Like taking photographs, always look for a different perspective.  I am pretty sure you don't want to go home with identical photographs similar to other tourists.  Stop looking for the picture perfect and postcard like photographs.  Go for the ones that will change your perspective and change the way you see things. 

This is what I really saw in Cambodia.

Monday, December 1, 2014

My Love Affair in Cambodia

My search for the pure and uninterrupted dawn lighting is a love affair, it doesn't last forever and is very unforgettable.

Images found here are captured during an early trip to Angkor Wat Temple and Bayon Temple in Siem Reap.  Catching the drama of dawn lighting is not easy especially when few bottles of beer and European foreigners dancing in Pub Street dangle in my memory like a strange after taste.

Check 'em out and let me know what you think.

"Murky Mirror"
The ground where I chose to stand that morning was very soft and only inches away from a murky pond in the temple grounds of Angkor Wat.  However, when you change perspective, the dark water reflecting the five towers of the temple with water lilies adding foliage was an unforgettable shot.

"Legs & Pillars" 
Human legs carry the weight of a human body like these pillars carry the weight of Angkor Wat.  I like low key photographs that emphasize darkness and the soft introduction of light that blends well in this frame.
The sunrise in Angkor Wat does not only provide popular silhouettes of the temple's towers, but also provide great natural light for kids playing in the pond.  I remember taking this shot while the tourists around me were very busy taking pictures of the temple.  

"Window for the Soul"
When taking photographs inside a temple, I'd like to use frames that capture a patch of green paradise outside.  Since Angkor Wat is a really big temple, her structure provide frames that soothe the eye when all you get to see inside are gray stones and solid heavy structure.  
"Not Even A Nod"
Buddhist nuns when reaching old age shave their heads, use a simple white uniform, and volunteer to watch over temples.  To them, this is the purest form of happiness and service.  The light on the right side of the frame is from the morning sun on the eastern side of Bayon Temple.  

"Breathing Towers"
From total darkness, the sun slowly went up at around 5:30am.  I felt the towers move and wanted to document it.  The old "zoom-in-zoom-out" trick in slow shutter did the story.  This old trick in the bag never fail to add flavor to my photographs.

"Early Monks"
It was almost noon when these Buddhist kid monks showed up.  They were too willing for a quick photograph while I take advantage of the rim lighting in their head, shoulders, and emphasizing their saffron robes.

"Late Sunrise"
According to traveler's stories, the sunrise of Angkor Wat is one of the most epic sunrises in the world.  Hundreds visited the temple that day but when the sun blinded us, only a few stayed to photograph the sun directly.  An under exposed setting to emphasize the shapes of Angkor Wat, the color of the sky, and the reflection in the pond is an eccentric shot but a damn good unique shot.  

On your next trip why not go out of the usual shelf itineraries and veer away from groups itching to take one and the same pictures; because chances are you'll have identical photos.  Look for the unique ones.

I've always believed in finding treasures in thinking the opposite.  Maybe it's time to change your perspective too.  Because like a love affair, dawn lighting is hard to catch but can be very unforgettable.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

One Shot of Sake, and I’m Good.

“Are you still drunk?  Call me when you are sober.” 

Maria, my editor replied after she read my article about a drink called Lambanong.  It’s almost four years ago and the aftertaste of that clear drink from the mountains of Quezon still haunts me like a bottle was just emptied.

A fine drink is never about hangovers, and certainly never about unleashing your reckless self.  A fine drink should be able to take you places or take you in a journey within a journey. 

Coming back from a recent trip to Kyoto, Japan and when friends ask me what is my unforgettable moment in Japan; without even thinking about it, I still say it’s how, where, and why I fell in love with another clear drink called Sake. 


Kyoto is one of the regularly visited cities in Japan because of its gardens and temples.  In fact, most of the Zen gardens found in landscaping books are most likely found in Kyoto.

However, four train stations away from the center of Kyoto is a characteristic town called Fushimi.  While describing Fushimi, as clean & quiet town is an understatement since most of the towns in Kyoto are, what’s unique is when coming down from Tanbabashi Station are the bricked sidewalks, pebble-washed streets, and the maple-walled 16th century Sake breweries. 

Maple wood is a deluxe commodity because of its quality and scarcity; and what I fancy about the Maple wood is its texture and grain.  Seeing most of the houses in Fushimi clad in Maple wood that blend so well with its streets, and when touched by the sun creates the most beautiful contrast of colors, I can’t help but be intrigued what’s behind these maple-walled Japanese Sake breweries.

Indeed, “Nothing Beats Brewed”

Notice a Japanese chocolates’ beautiful packaging and a Bento box’s purposeful arrangement. Not only they are aesthetically served, but they also contain so much character, flavor, and history in every bite or shot; and not on missing quality, that’s why in Japan, quality does not come cheap.  I also remember a sign in one of the Sushi restaurants in Tokyo that says “no picture please and be quiet.”  Definitely not an anti-social note, but because Japanese chefs take things seriously and does not want to be disturbed. 

All the details inside a Sake brewery count.  During my visit to Fushimi, we got the chance to visit an old Sake brewery called Gekkeikan.  Gekkeikan Brewery has a long relationship with the town of Fushimi and has pretty much dictated the Maple walls of the town.   

Inside the Gekkeikan Brewery, visitors unconsciously lower their voices, and will naturally walk slowly.  Here people won’t mind your glacial pace, not like in some parts of Japan, walking as fast as a bicycle is highly advisable.  

Once inside and after opening that solid maple door, there’s a strange comfort of feeling calm, especially when entering the pocket gardens of the brewery.  Maybe because of the natural aura of the brewery that tells you that it has been here for more than 400 years already.  The sound the wooden flooring makes, the whistling of the 5-degree Kyoto wind when romancing the pine trees, the sound of the pebbles grappling with each other when walked upon, just simply blends together.

Inside you’ll only hear a Japanese chant they use when brewing Sake.  These chants do not only entertain the Japanese brewers, since they work in long hours, but to make better Sake.  According to some stories, songs in those days were nothing great, but to keep the rhythm and natural flow of Sake brewing in tact.

Sake brewers were not to be disturbed.  During the production months, women were not even allowed to loiter and socialize with the men inside the brewery.  Simply because they don’t want to be distracted.  I guess this is the only place in the world when sometimes women and drink don’t mix.

The brewing and fermenting is complex as well.  Trying to write it down here might not only spill the secrets too much but may also produce errors that are so much unworthy of the drink.  Simply put, after mixing mineral-free water (only from a well or natural source) with rice, it has to be drained, transferred to a steamer called “koshiki”, then put on a pot filled with boiling water.  

During it’s boiling, steam is separated and enters a hole in the “koshiki.”  The rice is now steamed for one hour.  Then this should be ready for fermentation.

Not only the brewing was sacred and pure, but also the choices of the paramount ingredients come to play when brewing.  From the select rice, to the mineral-free water used to mix with yeast during the fermentation, to the kind of baskets the brewers use when storing the Sake; all these are important ingredients when combined with the sacred and old process of brewing Sake, makes the Sake another clear drink to remember. 


I prefer to stay indoors this time.  Cafes and pubs, when in a different country, sometimes is a must to explore as much as you can.  After our time in Fushimi, inside the Gekkeikan brewery, and after buying several bottles of Sake to try, who wants to go out the heated hotel room to put on layers of jackets because of the 4-degree-ish cold temperature in Kyoto?

If steak is best with wine, and beer with pizza, I say Sake is definitely a match with Sushi and Sashimi.  My favorite is the Bizan Super; because of its 25% alcohol content (most Sakes have 18-20%, wine has 10-12%, and beer has 4-9%), it’s smoothness, warmth, and an insanely good match with our choice of Sushi.  Only few and uncounted shots, has left me in talking spree while having to enjoy the cold Japan gust sipping and whistling into the window of our hotel room that night. 

You see, Sake, to my personal experience, did not give me a hangover to ruin the rest of my stay in Kyoto.  Maybe because of the way we socially consumed it; but also finding out how it was made, the environment where it was made, and the great amount of respect for the people who made it.

Now I can say, just one shot, just one shot of Sake, and I’m good.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"Discovery Adams"

Tired of the usual Ilocos road trip and taking photos similar to other tourists?

If you want a more personal experience of Ilocos and make a difference, "Discovery Adams" should be your backpacking itinerary. It is a real off the beaten path adventure and photo safari trip in a rarely visited destination up North.

Our journey to Adams starts by leaving the cemented roads the national highway of Pagudpud to use an off-road track, cross free flowing rivers and hanging bridges, via a 45-minute motorbike ride traversing the mountains of Ilocos and Cagayan Valley.

Because of its high elevation, clean mountain air, and rich soil, the valley of Adams is home to some of the most flavorful and rare fruit wines of the Philippines made from different exotic berries, passion fruit, just to name a few.

Meeting the different indigenous tribes of Adams while they give us a personalized tour of their wine cellars and wineries, is one of the highlights of this trip. An afternoon wine buzz in the cool climate of Adams wouldn't hurt at all!

If we are not tasting exotic wines and having endless chats, we are hiking w/ a local mountain guide to visit one of Adam's hidden water falls.

After the hike, refresh yourself by water-tubing on pristine main river, then a tribal show matched with local food specialities paired w/ a bottle of wine over a sulu-lit dinner by the river.

Saying good bye to your favorite hotel room is easy while staying in one of Adams' home stays. Each home stay comes with breakfast and hot chocolate grown in their backyards to start your morning right.

"Discovery Adams" supports travel volunteerism and community based tourism endeavors. During our stay, we can share ideas on how to improve tourism, donate our pictures, or lend extra hands (depending on the season) in making their chocolates and wines. This will surely go a long way.

Check out other details below -

Duration: 3 days, 2 nights

  • Trip to Adams
  • Wine tasting while visiting cellars and wineries
  • Sulu-lit dinner and tribal show by the river
  • Stay in a cozy home stay
  • Hike to Anuplig Water Falls and Lover's Peak
  • Water tubing
  • Use of Panzian Resort, Pagudpud
Great For:
  • Backpacking away from the crowded tourist spots of Ilocos
  • Travel writing and photography enthusiasts
  • Travel volunteerism
Group Size: Minimum of 5 and maximum of 10 travelers

Required Fitness Level: 1-2

Levels based on frequency of exercise per week:
  • 1: Once
  • 2: Twice
  • 3: Thrice a week
  • 4: Four times a week
  • 5: Daily
Meals Included:
  • 3 breakfast meals
  • 3 lunch meals
  • 2 dinner meals and 1 outdoor dinner
Transportation Included:
  • Overnight bus to Pagudpud and back to Manila
  • Motorbike from Pagudpud to Adams
*Coaster or van from Manila to Pagudpud can be arranged upon request.

Accommodation Included: Home Stay

  • Thursday night, for a weekend trip.
*Any day of the week upon request.

Important Notes:
  • It's a backpacking trip so packing light is wise.
  • We are not staying in a hotel. Concierge, etc., can be waived off for now while trying the unforgettable Adams home stay hospitality.
  • Trip is good for all kinds of camera types, point and shoot or DSLR.
  • Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.
  • It's time to experience Filipino culture, have a free flowing travel vibe.
Price: Php 8,700.00/traveler
* tax included

"Discovery Adams" is one of photographer & writer Jeck Simbulan's favorite destinations he explored when completing the story "Wine Tasting in Adams" found on Issue 2/Volume 2 of "Republic of 7107 Island Travel Magazine."

Jeck developed a special relationship with the wine makers of Adams that enabled him to discover details that can make another traveler's experience personal and unique.

Call Jeck at 09178402439 or email at if you want to book now or customize an itinerary according to your group's needs.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bliss Found Me

Peace and serenity within does not happen by chance. If you don't look for it, it will not happen. Sometimes the serenity we are looking for is just right outside our window but we refuse to welcome it. In my days of stay in Baguio, I searched for peace and received it in seven folds.

While finding a hotel in Baguio is easy via Google-ing it, then after booking a hotel along Session Road in advance, I still feel incomplete and uneasy. You know the feeling of "it will just be the usual hotel..."? That's how I felt.

The story I was doing for 7,107 Island Travel Magazine is about BenCab, the Philippines' national artist on visual arts. I wanted a place to stay to set the mood before I see BenCab.

I want to be psychologically ready, not intellectually ready; and write a story readers haven't heard of yet about BenCab. I hope not to throw usual questions like "how long have you been an artist?" kind of questions. Because usual questions yield usual answers. If you want the usual, Wikipedia should come in handy.

So my shelter for the next few days will be important. After searching for art galleries and spaces in Baguio, I finally came across Bliss Cafe, a vegetarian cafe with a gallery or an art space.

Get this too, the owners turned the basement of their house into an apartment flat for visiting artists for only php 400/night. Food for the eyes, for the heart, and warm shelter for the cold nights, all in one plate.

I immediately got in touch with Jim and Shanti Ward, owners of Bliss Cafe. Just from the sound of Jim's voice, the positive vibes were much present already especially when he said "you'll love the vibes of the flat, artists and writers have stayed there to complete their work and escape from it all." To Jim and Shanti's terms, I agreed and took the flat.

Back at Bliss Cafe, I tried their Bountiful Tofu Burger, Red Flower Tea, and their "No Oink" Sisig (a popular beer match). It was good like you don't want to eat meat burgers anymore! The flavor is there and the protein content is just so present in every bite. Plus the hot and sourness of the Red Flower Tea, I didn't want to let go of the warm cup anymore while Baguio's breeze pinched every grid of my skin.

So enough of the read my friend and call Jim and Shanti of Bliss Cafe and ask about their home stay. Just remember, it's a home stay ran by a Buddhist (that's Jim and yeah I picked up a lot of good stuff from him), an Ananda Marga Yoga practitioner (that's Shanti), and of course ran by the wonderful vibes of compassion. Jim is also an avid Baguio mountain biker whose environmental advocacies for Baguio are endless. So if you want to bring your bike, I say go for it.

Bliss Cafe is located at the lobby of Hotel Elizabeth, Gibraltar St., Corner J. Felipe. The home stay is only 3-5 mins away from the cafe. Call Jim and Shanti at 0917-8464729 and 0917-5281166 and feel the positive vibes.

I'd like to close this write up with a quote from a book by Tilak Hettige entitled "Safron Robes" which I picked up from Bliss Cafe. It said "...some forsake everything in favor of wandering, meditation, and teaching. Seeking personal enlightenment, they become pilgrims..."


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Nose for China Town

Do you remember a place by how it smells?  I do. San Francisco is brewed coffee and cinnamon, a dive vacation is Beach Hut's SPF 15, and family lunch is the unforgiving Filipino dish Adobo.  

When we were small, Dad used to take me to his office.  When stepping out of the building, there's this distinct mouth-watery smell of good food and flavor which made me pull his hand for merienda several times.  He used to work in Quintin Paredes St., or in China Town.  

So when we came across Ivan Man Dy's Big Binondo Food Wok, I knew that this will be another hand-pulling merienda jaunt not only for the nose and tummy, but for the eyes as well.  I brought the old-timer and trusty Canon EOS 620 with me, packed with it a Kodak T-Max 400 Black and White Film to capture street action, old style.

The alleys of China Town, even at day, remains dark, mostly shaded, with only little light coming in, but is where some of the best street food can be found. The windows found in each alley exchange eastern aroma from different kitchens with milestone specialties like Chinese lumpia, congee, fresh dumplings, and fried siopao!

When exiting each alley, watch out for pedicabs playing Daytona with jeeps, while delivery boys crisscross their way carrying tonnage and assortment of loads from giant TVs to fruit crates like they were on rails.  

Our first stop was at Dong Bei Dumplings. I say these dumplings are made in heaven, boiled 5 minutes, then served in it's glorious white fragile form! Not to mention the authentic Chinese cook (who moves away for a photo wearing his spanking white sando) who prepares these dumplings in a dark, smoke-filled room. Who cares what happens in there, all I care is Dong Bei Dumplings are darn good!

A hole in the wall gem and fantastically cheap, php 100 for 14 pieces! It's can even be a vegetarian's dumpling or for the healthy bud in you, cooked with chives, celery, cabbage, bell pepper, then little pork (what's life w/o pok, or pork?)

Meow-pao...a popular urban legend born in Manila! They say that the best siopao is made of cat meat. As in cat-woman-michelle-pfeifer-cat-meat! But believe it or not, the most delicious from of siopao is not a cat of course! Not even little traces of it! The siopao we found in China Town is fried to it's tenderness...just right to add a glitter of oil in the dough to let the flavor come out. Here you can see Ivan holding the siopao attesting to its goodness. Go ahead take it home!  But good luck to finding it because there's no name yet for the store that's located in Benavidez St., across Manila China Town Hotel. Php 15/piece! Affordably good!

Finally, a great way to end the Big Binondo Food Wok, is to feast on the authentic Chinese lumpia worthy of a podium. Visit the popular restaurant in Quintin Paredes Street, New Po-Heng Lumpia House, and go through another dark alley (let the smell lead the way) ending in a naturally lit courtyard, and grab that Chinese lumpia! For only php 50 a piece, time to forget your next meal because it's very filling! 

Let's end this write-up with an egg, a lucky round object to welcome the new year, according to the Chinese. Make sure you have one of those in your dinner table when the clock hits 12 on new year's eve. 

Make sure also we remember places in our country which play an important piece in our history's puzzle, like China Town! Let's stay Pinoy and study more our history. 

Get a small bite of China Town and drool for some more! Call Ivan Man Dy and check out his Big Binondo Food Wok.

Do you smell it now?

Xie xie!

That's "thank you" in Mandarin Chinese :-)