Ten Thousand Strangers Travel Interview With Noel Cabacungan


In the Philippines, people leaving the country for the purpose of employment are classified into two categories — migrants and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW). Migrants, as we all know, are those who are able to obtain immigrant status in foreign countries; while the OFWs are those who are employed abroad with a valid work visa, but still consider the Philippines their home base.

I belong to the second group.

My first overseas job assignment was in a manufacturing company in Kunshan, China in 2006 to 2009. I got to go home for vacation twice a year, each for a week. In 2011, I was employed by another manufacturing company in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and, as of this writing, I’m still here. Very much alive and kicking.

Japan was the country I visited on my first international flight and up to now, remains the very country I would love to visit over and over again given the time and enough budget. And if there is only one place I’ll ever be allowed to visit, I’ll still chose this country over any other.


I am Noel Cabacungan from the Philippines, and welcome to this interview.


When and why did you start blogging

I started formally blogging during my expat day in China in 2008. But prior to that, I was already publishing my essays, or should we say journals, in different social media platforms such as Friendster and Multiply. Both of which shutted down with the advent of the social media giant, Facebook.

Sometime between 2012 and 2013, I permanently retired my first blog for personal reasons. Earlier this year (2017), I started writing again under the current domain and I was able to re-publish some of my articles from my early days of blogging.


What do you blog about? Any particular niche within travel?

As a travel blogger, I am mostly interested in narrating anecdotes about the strangers I encountered on the road such as conversations with taxi drivers, the funny things people do inside an airport, passersby that just got unusually stuck in my memory.

On my blog, I write more travel narratives than itinerary guides, though I’m not completely shunned on the idea. Sometimes you can get particularly enchanted with a destination and writing a destination guide is necessary to coerce others to go visit that place too.


How did you decide your blogs names

In ancient times, when counting systems weren’t as developed, people use certain numbers to denote infinite or uncountable objects such as 1,001 Arabian nights, 40 days and nights. In Ancient Greek numbers, a myriad is technically the number ten thousand and usually denotes infinite, uncountable things.

“Ten Thousand Strangers refers to the uncountable number of people I cross paths along the road”.

Back in 2009, I registered tenthousandstrangers.com with the intent of creating an online photoblog. The project didn’t materialize and the domain expired after a year. Earlier this year (2017), when I was thinking of reviving this travel blog, the domain was surprisingly available.


stormtroopers-abha-saudi-arabiaWhat plans do you have in the future for your blog?

I love airport layovers but I am not currently particularly interested in getting out of the airport for a day trip. There still are so many things to be explored inside the airports so exploring the cities surrounding them is not in my immediate priorities.

In line with this, I am planning to have a feature section on my blog dedicated for guest posts about layover itineraries around the major airports.

I will reach out to other travel bloggers for contributions to be able to curate the most informative and interesting airport layover guides. In return, I will write for them a freshly written travel article about a destination or topic of their choice which they could publish on their own blogs. It will be a post exchange of sorts with a very specific topic on my part.

2018 will be the year of cross blog promotions for me and for my blog.


Does your blog cover anything else other than travel? If so what?

Star Wars. Since I acquired my Stormtrooper helmet, I’ve been carrying it whenever I travel. I have been taking selfies while wearing it to fill my Instagram page.


Also, I recently did a feature on travelers running about the globe wearing their Stormtrooper helmets. It was a blast. And I know there are a lot of then all over the internet and I hope to meet more of them in person soon.


What can our readers find on your website?

Being a native of the Philippines, I mostly write about the interesting places to visit in my home country. However, as I have also been to Japan and have lived for a number of years in China and Saudi Arabia, I have written and will continue to write stories about these countries, as well.

As for my writings elsewhere, I was previously published on an interview at ExpatsOfLife.com for my expat experience here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. 

Also, I am a regular content writer for CabinZero, a travel-related e-Commerce site. You could find links to some of my previously published content on my HIRE ME page. 


peak-of-wushan-temple-west-lake-chinaDo you have any travel tips or advice for our readers that might want to start a travel blog?

Write primarily for yourself so you won’t bore yourself with your writing. Everyone else has already been pleasing everybody else. I’ve taken this dark path in the past and it only lead to the ultimate demise of my earlier blogs. I wasn’t able to keep up even with myself while pretending to be someone else.

Be different without losing yourself.


What are some of the highs and lows of travel blogging?

Though I wouldn’t mind students and non-profit organizations using my photos without giving credits, I cringe when other bloggers and mainstream publications use my works without consent and even proper attribution.


As someone who works full time  how do you fit in travelling around your work schedule?

I don’t work from 9-5, I work from 7-7. With paid overtime, of course. This is my curse for choosing to work in the manufacturing industry.

Which only means I’m not one with the multitude of people who left their jobs to travel full time. However, I get to travel long term during my yearly vacations. Usually 45 days, but during my last one, I was given 79 days off. On the other hand, I only receive vacation pays for 30 days, the rest are unpaid but it doesn’t matter.

I go for day trips on some weekends but usually leave the city for longer trips on long holidays such as the Ramadan and Hajj breaks.

camels-milkDo you have any favourite travel books you have read or use?

I’m not very fond of travel books, but I usually look for books set in places I wanted to visit. When I started to have interest in visiting Turkey, I bought two book by Elif Shafak — “The Architect’s Apprentice” and “The Bastard of Istanbul.” Both are set in, guess what, Turkey.

I have tons of Haruki Murakami books which are mostly based in different parts of Japan and I’m currently planning to visit key places mentioned in the book, such as the Nakamuraya Cafe (1Q84) and DUG Cafe (Norwegian Wood) in Shinjuku, Ueno Zoo and Pacific Hotel (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles), Nagano Ward (Kafka on the Shore), and so many other places. I’ll start in Central Tokyo, there are so many specific locations in Tokyo mentioned in his books.

What’s been some of your favourite destinations & why? 

Tokyo will always take that special place it my heart. It was the first ever city I visited on my first international flight. My first train ride in Tokyo triggered so many childhood nostalgia. Growing up with anime and Japanese robot superhero series, being in Japan is like being in all those TV series I grew up with.

But if there is one place I had visited several times and would love to visit over and over again, it would be the West Lake in Hangzhou, China.


What’s the TOP blog posts on your page? 

My all-time top hitter is my article about the Laiya Beach Resorts in Batangas, Philippines. It doesn’t have daily views but the traffic really pours during summers. In terms of regular traffic, my post about our Vicente Manansala (National Artist for Visual Arts) and the Fishball Sauce Recipe don’t let a day pass without several views.

When it comes to social media shares, the post about Tokyo Disneyland Parade is my Pinterest Superstar.




kawagoe-saitama-japanDo you have any tips or suggestions on how bloggers can earn an income from blogging?

I no longer aspire to be able to monetize my blog. From my experience, that only leads to a level of depression. Though I have not totally shunned the idea. In fact, there still a strip of advertising space on my blog.

What I do strive for, currently, is to be able to receive more writing gigs through my blog. I actually created a page to advertise my content writing services while featuring some of my best works I did for previous clients. You’ll find it on this page should you need to hire me.


Top 5 Bucket-list Destinations?

These rank at the top of my travel bucket list.


(1) To reach the summit of Mount Fuji, (2) to hover above the fairy chimneys on a hot air balloon in Cappadocia, (3) to visit the all the places in Japan where the characters in Haruki Murakami books have been to, (4) to live in one of the attics in Prague and just marvel at the uniform-colored roofs around the city, and (5) to do the Gringo trail in Colombia (the Netflix series Narcos has a lot to do with this).


Do you have a money saving travel tips?

There were times that I chose a particular destination because of food so I had to make some compromise. To be able to splurge on food without breaking the bank, choose a particular meal to pig out and go cheap on the others. Say you choose lunch to eat as much as you can, have lighter, cheaper meals for breakfast and dinner. I usually chose to eat like a king on dinner time so I always just have coffee and bread for breakfast and fill my bag with bread and crackers to last me until the night.

Never take a taxi when Uber or any other ride-sharing system operates in your location. Taxi drivers usually charge you more just because they didn’t have to provide official receipts and the regulating bodies do not really regulate them. If there are buses and other public transport systems available, do not take taxis or Uber if you’re not really pressed for time.


What’s in your travel bag? Name 5 travel essentials always in your bag?

Whether I’m traveling or not, these things will always be found inside my bag: Nikon D3100 + Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens, you’ll never know when you’ll need a better camera; forever taking away my limelight are my two Star Wars Black Series 6” Stormtrooper action figures named Trevor and Kevin; and a 10,000mAh power bank + lighting cable + charger + my iPhone.

What travel apps do you use and why?

I case I’m travelling to where English and Tagalog (Philippines) are not widely used, I always pre-download language packs on Google Translate App. Google Maps is essential when navigating unfamiliar places.

I also use Hyperdia when taking trains in Japan and CouchSurfing when looking for strangers to hang out with, but they’re really not as necessary as the two apps I first mentioned.

What are 3 things travelling has thought you?

While Google Maps is your only friend when navigating unfamiliar territories, you can’t dismiss your instinct and common sense. Sometimes, Google Maps will tell you to take a hundred meters elsewhere only to realize your destination is just a stone’s throw to your right.

Also, your peers will never always agree with your choice of destinations so most of the times you’ll have to be traveling alone. When traveling solo is the only option, sooner or later you’ll realize it the best option.

stormtrooper-abha-saudi-arabiaHave you encountered any travel mishaps or scary moments if so what happened?

We were on a two-week vacation in Japan in Spring of 2015. We spent our last day (or last hours) shopping for knick-knacks at a nearby Don Quijote branch (it’s Japan’s most popular one-stop superstores), it’s open 24-hours so we literally shop-till-we-drop until around midnight.

Upon arriving back at the place we were staying, I got the shock of shock to find out that our flight would leave at 1:30AM instead of 1:30PM and even if we rush to the airports with all our stuff yet to be packed, we can’t reach the boarding in time. To make things worse, we have to leave Japan on that same day or we will be penalized for overstaying.

Fortunately, there were flights available that same afternoon but we have to shed another hundred dollars each. There were five of us.

The lesson learned here is that it’s okay to be OCD when it comes to checking your flight tickets are often as everyday if you’re not willing to pay for flight changes.

Do you have any recommendations for cities and beach places that you have visited and loved? 

If you’re visiting Tokyo in Japan, I can not recommend enough that you set aside a day for a quick trip to Kawagoe in Saitama Prefecture. As CNN Travel described it, Kawagoe is “the Japan of your historic, samurai dreams. Kawagoe has maintained the architectural characteristics of the Edo Period and it’s the perfect day trip if old architecture is your thing. This small city is only an hour away from Central Tokyo by Train, 30-minutes if you’re coming from Ikebukuro Station.

If in Philippines, be sure to explore the beautiful beaches of Zambales in Central Luzon (about four hours from Manila by land). There were enough pristine beaches and white sands that you don’t have to squeeze yourselves in Boracay.

Now, Saudi Arabia does not pop up as often when talking about tourism as the country has yet to release tourist visas to foreigners. However, if you happen to be in the country either for work of pilgrimage, be sure to visit the south-western region of Abha. It’s surprisingly a tropical paradise in the desert midst.


Travel Interview

Please share one travel quote you love or one you have made up?

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Master Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back.



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