Merry Christmas!

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My Christmases are always spent in Manila. I will not have it any other way or anywhere else. It’s just different when it’s spent here.

For Filipinos, Christmas is a big deal. It’s well-celebrated and there’s just really this Christmas spirit that you feel everywhere. You literally feel it in the air. People are nicer, more generous, kinder. This is what I always want to feel every Christmas season.

I’m a Christmas late-bloomer. I really didn’t get to appreciate Christmas since a few years ago, not because I’m a Grinch, but because I always get into weird and sad predicaments during Christmas season when I was younger.

Barely 10 years old, I spent Christmas with my then neighbor-childhood best friend and it was just the two of us. I remember vividly that we were sad because both our families were too tired to wait for midnight to strike and celebrate. This is also one of the reasons why no matter how sleepy and tired I get, I wait for twelve midnight for Noche Buena because I didn’t want my daughter to feel what I felt (yes, it’s a personal baggage).

In my teens and my early twenties, I found myself either breaking up or being broken up with by a partner. There was even a time that I found out a boyfriend was cheating on me three-friggin-days before Christmas!

In my late twenties, there was a time that I didn’t come home and decided to stay in my Makati apartment to spend Christmas quietly…alone.

A recent ex-beau also walked out on me and packed his bags before New Year’s, leaving our plans and me – high and dry.

In no way am I implying that I have zero faults in the situation, but these are just illustrations of how my Christmases of years’ past sucked. That is, until things turned around 5 years ago.

Since then, I always made it a point to celebrate. I come home to Manila for a weekend on the first week of December to put the Christmas tree up and hang our Christmas lantern outside the house. By 21st of December, I make sure I come home for the holidays and celebrate with family and friends.

This Christmas is no different, and I’m sure glad I broke the pattern of having a sucky Christmas, when everyone else is into the holiday season and I’m just feeling depressed.

This Christmas season, I hope you’re having a wonderful celebration. May the holidays treat you well, may you treat others kindly and may you open yourselves and your homes to others to bring them joy, hope and possibly love.

Merry Christmas, everyone! 

Monday musings: Of Contemplation and Mindfulness

Monday musings_Contemplation_Bella Expatria

The consequence of a well-traveled life (not that I’m complaining) is very limited time for contemplation and mindfulness.

This entire month of December, I will be spending the weekend traveling. My weekdays, too, have been spent flying in and out for work. Just last week, I had to fly out twice in a span of 5 days for work.

Amidst the frenzy, everything needs to be deliberate. Planning, organizing, even moments to just sit down and think.

I like ending every year in moments of contemplation: to stop and think about how my year has gone and what I should be doing and preparing for in the year to come. Much as I would like to have peaceful moments when I can just sit down in solitude on my window sill, armed with a hot mug of brew, this scenario will remain a fantasy.

Seven days before Christmas, two weeks before the new year. Despite the craziness at work, I intend to stick to the plan. Some moments spent in silence to look back and reflect. Some moments of solitude to draw the game plan for next year.

I urge you to do the same, as it worked wonders for me for the past years. Right smack in the midst of our busy lives, there is always value in reflection.

Uluwatu and the Sacred Monkey


Monkey in Uluwatu, Bali

One of the forest monkeys who decided to hang out in front of my window in Uluwatu, Bali

As of this writing, I’m still editing massive amounts of photographs that I’ve taken during my recent trip to Uluwatu, Bali. MASSIVE.

While I’m still not done, I wanted to share this photo that I took of a monkey who decided to perch on our windowsill at breakfast. He was just there, hanging around early in the morning. At one point, he even stuck his face on the window, to seemingly say hello.

This is the lovely sight in one of the mornings I spent in Uluwatu: monkeys running around or just chilling, with the lullaby of the gentle waves and the bright blue sky. These are good enough reasons for me to want to go back.

Uluwatu, hold on tight. We have more adventures to come.

It’s always hard to leave you, Manila

“Ang hirap mong iwanan, Manila.”

When I’m in Manila, I always have a ritual a few hours before I leave for the airport: I lock myself in the masters bedroom to have a moment with myself to push the melancholy that I feel deep down into the recesses of my emotional pit.

An ultra emotional statement – but that is what I feel when I need to leave again.

Pack and go. Pack and go. Repeat. I do this all the time.

But it never gets easier.

The thing is, wherever I go, my roots will always be in Manila. The meaningful relationships and friendships that I’ve nurtured through the years are mostly in Manila.

Sure, I’ve made a lot of friends in cities I’ve lived in. Being naturally gifted for making friends and socializing easily, it’s not difficult for me to build social cliques from ground up.

It’s just that the friendships that I’ve cultivated through the years are mostly in my home city.

I hate Manila’s traffic. I hate it that it takes me an hour and a half, or worse, two, to get from the south to BGC. Traffic has become so much worse. I absolutely abhor the political divide that’s been happening in my country. I hate fake news and all the political leeches taking advantage of the current political milieu. I hate taxi drivers who always try to rip passengers off.

But here I am, sat in my favorite Terminal 3 cafe, listening to Christmas carols, feeling nostalgic that once again, I have to fly out and leave.

There’s just something about you that sticks, Manila. My friendships. People who always smile and who are ever resilient despite whatever shit they go through. Your Christmas feels in the beginning of September. Your food. Your way of making people feel they belong.

Manila. You are nowhere near perfect and you will always be rough on the edges. But you are my city and I will always come back to you.

See you in a couple of weeks for Christmas, Manila.

Let’s do this Christmas together.


Uluwatu: my new favorite Bali destination

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Drone shot of Uluwatu, Bali

I can’t wait to go back.  Uluwatu is now my top destination in Bali, toppling over my once-favorite Seminyak.

I know, I know. I’m such a late-bloomer but I’m glad I re-discovered this paradise when I celebrated my birthday in Bali. This cliff-fringed coastline is so beautiful that I had to go back to it just a few weeks after I was there! I can’t seem to get enough of it.

A more detailed post on Uluwatu coming up this week, but just in case you are wondering where to go in Bali, you must definitely come to Uluwatu!

Because Bali beckons

At the risk of sounding a lot like a tourist cliché, this blog post is a rave about Bali, Indonesia.

I’ve been living in Indonesia for more than four years now, but Bali never ceases to fascinate me. Although I’ve been to this paradise island several times already, I still can’t have enough of it.

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Tanah Lot, Bali

Also known as “The Island of the Gods,” worship and religion reflect on every facet of life among the Hindu Balinese. This is also why Bali’s art and culture remain vibrant, attracting more tourists – local and foreign alike. Bali is the most popular island in Indonesia, although the country has a lot of idyllic and pristine beaches. So popular, in fact, that Bali always overshadows Jakarta, the country’s capital. Just ask my friends about it. When I invite them to Jakarta and even offer to host them end-to-end (with accommodations, car, driver and all), they will always tell me to just meet up with them in Bali!

This doesn’t surprise me, though. Can I blame them if I, myself, is still enthralled by Bali’s beauty?

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Bella looking at the crashing waves in Tanah Lot

Bali offers a plethora of activities for everyone. In Bali, visitors can experience a combination of clean, sandy beaches for lazing around and rolling waves for surfing. Set in a backdrop of an ancient culture famous for its warmth, hospitality and friendliness, Bali boasts of exotic temples and stunning palaces in the midst of picturesque mountains, volcanoes, rice terraces and green lush.

Tourist Map of Bali

Tourist map of Bali from

Geographically, Bali occupies roughly around 6,000 kilometers in terms of area. Located at the eastern tip of Java, it sits on the west of the island of Lombok, across the Lombok straits. It is flanked by the Indian Ocean on the south side and the Java Sea on the north. The island is eight degrees south of the equator, which explains its warm temperature (get your sunblock and shades ready!).

In October, I celebrated my birthday in Bali with Manila friends. Although Arshad and I acted like tour guides to our friends, my love for Bali was also rekindled during the trip. It reminded me of why I always come back to this place…especially for my birthday celebrations!


So here are my top 10 reasons why I continue to love Bali and why I keep on coming back: 

1. Daily and hourly flights from Jakarta to Bali. For Jakartans like me, Bali is very accessible. There are 8 local airlines flying to Bali on an hourly basis, which means if I want a quick weekend getaway, I can fly out at 8 or 9pm on a Friday night and come back to Jakarta on a 9pm Sunday flight and I still got 2 full days of beach glory!

For Bali flights, you can check out Google’s Flights or Traveloka.

2. Ease to find accommodation. Bali offers a wide range of accommodation: basic homestays, no frills surf camps, traditional Bali houses, villas with their own pools and international five star hotels generously dot the island. You can choose from these variety of accommodation in the areas of Jimbaran, Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Nusa Dua, Sanur, Candidasa and Lovina.

There are also mountain resorts in Bedugul and Kintamani, while the art village of Ubud can offer accommodation in traditional Balinese houses or resorts located at the heart of rice fields.

Normally, I prefer to stay in the villas within the Seminyak area, as it is very close to restaurants, clubs and shopping jaunts that I frequent. For my birthday celebration, my friends and I stayed in a 5-bedroom combined villa in Seminyak, which I found in AirBnB.

Lately, though, my interest in surfing has been resurrected and I’ve been enamored by the Uluwatu area because its beaches are more conducive to surfing (feeling surfer dudette, but I’m honestly a greenie!). Arshad found several villas and surf camps that were both quite comfortable and reasonably-priced.

Just last weekend, we stayed at the Blue Point Bay Villas and Spa, primarily because it was near Single Fin, my favorite surf bar in Uluwatu and the Uluwatu beachfront itself. Just check out their infinity pool with an amazing view of the Uluwatu beach!

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Bella’s top view drone shot at Blue Point Bay Villas and Spa in Uluwatu, Bali

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Blue Point Villas and Spa’s pool facing the Uluwatu Beach

3. Ease in getting around Bali. Going around Bali is easy. As soon as you land, there are airport taxis with standard rates waiting outside the airport. You can also ask your resort to pick you up.

There are also drivers who own their cars – usually a Toyota Avanza that can sit 6-8 people – who can be rented on a daily basis. They usually speak English so it’s common to get a driver-tour guide in one, for the price of Rp 600 thousand for 8 hours (USD$45, Php2,300). For a driver and tour guide combination, I’d say that’s a steal!

For driver recommendations, leave me a message and I can send you the contact details. I personally like Pak Robot (yes, his name is Robot), because he has spunk, he can communicate and drive well.

4. Ease in communicating. English is widely-used in Bali.  You can talk to pretty much anyone in English: front desk, waiters and waitresses, drivers, surfing coaches, etc. Although Bali has its own native language (Balinese, which is Malayo-Polenesian), most of them can also speak and understand Bahasa Indonesia. Given the pervasiveness of both languages in the island, getting around, asking questions and getting help won’t be difficult. This is perhaps one of the distinct advantages of Bali compared to the other Indonesian islands.

5. Vegetarian food and seafood are everywhere!  Since there are a lot of resorts and yoga retreat houses in Bali, it also became host to a lot of vegetarian, vegan and organic restaurants. You can also “vegetarianize” a lot of the dishes in mainstream restaurants. You just need to request for it.

This is a definite plus for me, as I don’t need to go out of my way to get my vegetarian fix.

Indonesian food and dishes use a lot of vegetables, which makes the cuisine very vegetarian-friendly. My personal favorites include gado-gado, ketoprak, tahu gejrot and sambal matah salad.

For pescatarians and seafood fanatics, Jimbaran beach has an entire stretch of restaurants offering fresh seafood that are very reasonably priced. We went to Teba Cafe in Jimbaran for an early dinner to watch the sunset and we were not disappointed with the food and drinks. If you want the best spots, which are the ones on the beachfront, either reserve or come early.

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A sumptuous seafood feast at the beachfront of Teba Cafe in Jimbaran

6. Sprawl of beaches. Bali has a wide array of beaches, which are destinations on their own. If you prefer white sand coasts with palm and coconut trees, head out to the south coast: Kuta, Nusa Dua and Sanur. If you love surfing and hidden shores, check out Uluwatu, Padang Padang, Dreamland and Bingin.

I used to favor the white sand coastline until my interested in surfing got piqued once again, thus the exploration of the Uluwatu and Padang Padang beaches.

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Drone shot: aerial view of Uluwatu and Padang-Padang beaches

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Bella and her Manila friends at Jimbaran beach

7. Variety of things to do. If you want to just laze around with a margarita in tow on the beach front or you want to explore marine sports such as surfing or diving, Bali is the place to be. Travel packages can also include adventure tours, such as trekking, cycling and white water rafting.

There are day tours that will offer exotic temple tours, including Tanah Lot, Uluwatu Temple and Besakih Temple being the most popular. Inland, you can also find volcanoes, jungles and monkey forests.

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My vlogger extraordinaire friend Nomadic Mike in Uluwatu Temple

Seminyak also offers a good venue for shoppers who would like to hunt for batik and other traditional fabrics, leather goods, wood carvings and antiques. If you are an art collector, Ubud is the perfect place to score reasonably priced but amazing paintings of local scenery, cultural dances, etc.

The sun sets on the Uluwatu and Padang-Padang side of the island. Around late in the afternoon, restaurant and bars sprawled in these areas get packed with people who want to watch the sunset with beer, wine or cocktails.

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Bella and her Manila friends at Teba Cafe’ for a seafood feast

Late in the night, Bali also boasts of good clubs with packed dance floors, most of which are in the Seminyak and Kuta areas.

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Single Fin bar at night

My preferred activities in Bali include just getting my tan while reading a book and sipping margaritas around lunch time, taking surfing lessons, shopping, trying new restaurants and visiting good bars and clubs.

8. Culture and art trip. What I love about Bali is the culture vibe that I always get whenever I set foot on the island.

On the road side and even on the beach, it’s always lovely to see canang sari – the daily offerings made by Balinese Hindus to praise and thank Sang Hyang Widhi.

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Canang sari: the daily Hindu offerings you will see around Bali (photograph courtesy of Gemma)

Canang sari can be seen in the Balinese temples (pura), on small shrines in houses, and on the ground or as a part of a larger offering.

For those who want to explore Balinese culture, you can check out traditional dances, watch a fire dance in Uluwatu, see how batik is painted or go to museums and art exhibits in and around Bali.

9. Commercialized but clean and well-maintained. Despite the swarm of tourists year in and year out, Bali maintains its cleanliness. I can’t help but compare it to the Philippines’ Boracay island, which seems to be degenerating yearly because it’s too small an island yet the influx of tourists are not regulated in any way.

All over Bali, you can see the signs about keeping order and cleanliness. There is a Bali Parliament Special Committee in charge of maintaining Bali’s cleanliness and hygiene in the island’s popular tourist destinations.

Balinese people are aware that one of the reasons why tourists keep on coming back is because of the island’s lush greens and ambience. For this reason, the local government is quite strong in terms of enforcing Clean and Green programs for Bali.

10. Reasonably priced. Majority of the tourists in Bali come from Southeast Asia and Australia. That being said, a lot of my Indonesian and Filipino friends are actually complaining that the influx of Australian tourists are hiking the prices up in Bali. It may be partially true, but comparing to other beach destinations, I can say that the budget for a Bali vacation is more flexible, considering the plenitude of options.

Accommodations vary from low-end to high-end (see point number 2). Both food and transportation are relatively cheap, too. The only caveat is that Indonesia has a more expensive price tier for alcohol. Bali is no exception. However, a good workaround is to sample Indonesia’s local beer: Bintang, Bali Hai and Anker. Bali also has several vineyards, which came as a surprise to me when I found out several years back. Given this, there are cheaper alternatives if you are a wine drinker. Bali’s rose’, chardonnay and moscato wines are quite notable.

Overall, Bali to me is a holistic experience. It appeals to my being a culture vulture, my love for the beach and blue skies and the serenity of a lush, green environment. It also taps into my adventurous side when I want to go surfing and my desire for tranquility when I feel like I’m about to burn out.

Will I go back to Bali again? I’ve been to the Island of the Gods twice in a month recently. I guess that says it all.

For more information on Bali, I like visiting these sites:

Bellaism: Sense of Entitlement

Sense of Responsibility

It’s a common comment that I hear amongst my friends and colleagues lately: they meet people or worse, they work with several who have very high sense of entitlement but very low sense of responsibility.

That’s quite paradoxical, isn’t it?

Sense of entitlement gets a lot of flak because of some people who wrongfully use it.

Entitlement should always come with effort, with the hard work required to deserve it. 

Before the granting of “special rights,” it merits to be more self-aware, realistic and more in tune to others.

Sometimes, we just need that realization: the world does not revolve around you. 

Truth. We all can use a reality check every now and then.