The New Chapter Begins

I promised myself to blog again after the hell I’ve been through. By hell, I’m referring to school, graduation and the Bar Exams. The past two years just happened so fast – so fast, that I never even got to open my WordPress account.

Anyway, I wouldn’t bore you what happened then as I do not plan to remember the agony of what they call academic perfection and instead, I’ll tell you what happens next.

I will be traveling again! I’ll be going back to Seoul (for the third time) on November 18-22 with my two college friends. Thereafter I will be going to Durban, South Africa to visit my aunt on November 29 and will spend about 1-2 months there.

In the meantime, I’m in my couch-potato stage. I’m damn happy staying at home, watching TV and surfing the net. Sometimes, I go to the mall or meet my friends. That’s it! If you ever wonder when will I start working, my vague answer would be after South Africa.

Until then…

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The Heat is on in Saigon

It seems Mika, Marta and I have become de facto travel buddies this year because aside from going to Brunei last January, we went to Ho Chi Minh a few days ago for another 3 days 2 nights adventure. Unlike our previous trip however, we were accompanied by Mika’s two older sister – Ate Anne and Ate Malou – and our dear friend Maxine.

The vacation planning was done from scratch. We booked a cheap airfare courtesy of Cebu Pacific Air (again) and hotel accommodation at Agoda. We chose Grand Silverland Hotel & Spa located at District 1 near Ben Thanh Market. As for the tour and hotel transfers, I was able to contact Buffalo Tours for it. We were happy at their service because everything was well arranged even in such short notice.

The Travel

As expected, the 2.5 hours travel is another red eye flight. For some reason, I was happy taking a red eye flight to avoid air traffic at Manila airport. We arrived at Ho Chi Minh around 1 in the morning, local time. There is a one hour time difference between Ho Chi Minh and Manila.

One thing notable upon arrival at Vietnam is that tourist don’t need an arrival card for the immigration. Only valid passport is needed.

Going to the hotel from the airport could be a little tricky since we arrived in an unlikely time. I even read travel stories that a lot of taxis/vans defraud tourist at the airport. Good thing prior to our trip we arranged a hotel transfer. I was really happy that everything was hassle-free.

Thus, we took a 20-minute ride to the hotel.

When we arrived at Grand Silverland Hotel & Spa, our first reaction was “nice”. Considering the price we paid for, the hotel is worth the money spent. The place is not that big for a 4-star hotel but the amenities are okay considering it has a spa, gym and swimming pool.

We were able to settle down around 2am after checking in. We had an early day ahead so we went to bed right after.

Day 1

We availed a whole day Saigon City Tour which starts at 8am and ends at around 4pm. In short, we had to wake up early in preparation for the whole day ahead. In truth, I was looking forward for breakfast simply because I’M IN VIETNAM!!! The country is known for it’s delicious cuisine, so yes, as expected the food is great.

By 8am our tour guide, Thanh, picked us at the hotel lobby and this is where we went:

The Reunification Palace

Chinese Temple

The Notre Dame Cathedral

Old Post Office

Opera House

People’s Committee Building

War Remnants Museum

After the whole day tour, we went back to the hotel and rested for a few hours. We then went to Ben Thanh Market which is just a few blocks away from our hotel. We bought a lot of candies, coffee and other pasalubong for a cheap price. Good thing Marta has talent for haggling so we practically just followed her in dealing with the seller.

Ben Thanh Market

We went back again to the hotel to drop our things and roamed around the District for a good place to dine. We were adventurous that night so we opted the local ambiance. Ate Anne saw this restaurant where a lot of Vietnamese eating, so yes, we tried it.

Since the menu was in Viet, I don’t know how my co-travelers were able to order from the menu. Maxine was extra daring that night that she even ordered frog as an entree.

After eating, we went back to Ben Thanh Market for one last round to check out their night market and afterwards, to the hotel so we can hit the bed early. Thus, we went to sleep.

Day 2

We have no particular plans for our last day. In short, it’s killing time until we go to the airport later that night.

My friends and I slept the whole morning until check-out. After leaving our bags at the concierge we took a taxi to NowZone Fashion Mall and thereafter at Diamond Plaza. We were able to kill a few hours at those malls before going back to the hotel to wait for our airport transfer.

Thereafter, we went back to the reality of Manila.

NOVOTEL BANGKOK PLATINUM

I had a short trip to Bangkok, Thailand with my mom for business. We stayed at Pratunam which is known as the shopping haven for retail and wholesale. We chose Novotel Bangkok Platinum because it’s a new 4-star hotel conveniently located beside Platinum Mall. Moreover, the place is walking distance to other malls around Pratunam.

So here are the photos of the hotel.

Novotel Bangkok Platinum

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executive room at the 23rd floor

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hallway

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6th floor lobby

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The Lounge (6th floor)

free breakfast

Positive:

  • Superb location
  • Very clean rooms…and the bed is very comfortable!
  • Friendly staff, especially the concierge
  • Free breakfast with outstanding choices
  • There is an escalator connecting the hotel and mall

Negative:

  • Separate floor of concierge (1st floor) and lobby (6th floor)
  • Need to interchange elevators at the 6th floor to go to the room

As for the negative part, I really don’t think that it’s a big deal but I have to put it there anyway for information purposes.

Verdict:

Mom and I really loved the hotel and we promise ourselves that we will book here again if ever we go back to Bangkok.

Aside

Cagayan de Oro, Bukidnon and Camiguin

I really don’t remember the real reason what opted us to go to Mindanao. I think the controlling factor would be: first, we’ve never been there, and second, Patricia lives there. Hence, this summer trip led by my friend Patricia as a default tour guide.

It was the six of us – Bea, Marnie, Chatti, Kajo, Patricia and I – who went to Bukidnon for four days and three nights. We stayed at Patricia’s place at Malaybalay, Bukidnon. Going there from Manila took us about half a day since we made a few stop-overs along the way. We took a domestic flight for 1.20 hr from Manila to Cagayan de Oro (Lumbia Airport) and another 2.5 hr car ride from there to Malaybalay, Bukidnon. There is no domestic airport in Bukidnon so all travels leading there must channel through Cagayan de Oro (CDO).

Lumbia Airport

As expected, the airport was nothing extravagant. I guess all domestic airports are like that in the Philippines. I don’t care about it though. What’s important is that we arrived at CDO safely.

Since we took an early flight, we arrived just in time for breakfast. Patricia has plans for lunch already so she suggested that we eat something light instead. Hence, we ate at the most popular fast food chain in the world – McDonald’s.

Upon going around CDO, I was surprised to see that the place is really urbanized. I mean, it really is a city! They have SM, Limketkai Mall, and even Starbucks! The weather was too hot though. It was crazy hotter than Manila (or any other place in the Philippines that I’ve been to!) Another noticeable factor to see there was the remnants of the typhoon Sendong – the ruined houses, the muddy river and devastated lands. Nevertheless, I still think that CDO did pretty well in reviving their city. It was beautiful (but very hot!)

Before going straight to Malaybalay, we went to Panagatan floating restaurant located in Misamis Oriental and Del Monte Golf Country Club Bukidnon. Those places, as Patricia said, were places that should be visited by tourist. Also, we don’t have time going there any other day since our itinerary was full.

Panagatan is such a cool floating restaurant. The view of the sea contrasting the roads of Misamis Oriental was quite a view. The food is good also and not too expensive also.

Kajo, Chatti and Patricia

Panagatan Floating Restaurant

After another 2 hr drive, we arrived at Del Monte Golf Country Club. We we’re still full from our lunch so we just decided to drink coffee and tea and share some french toast and pancakes. The french toast was so good! The pancakes were a bit dry though.

Alas, after a whole day trip, we arrived at Patricia’s place. We were welcomed by her parents and older brother. Her mom, prepared us dinner. In truth, we were still full from our lunch and snack, but we couldn’t pass out the prepared dinner…steak!!!

Patricia’s family owns a restaurant just across their house. Lucky her! So in times of hunger, all she needs to do is call the restaurant ask them to make her some food. In our case as being delighted guest, our dinner was served  with Wagyu steak, 2 kinds of pasta, a salad and dessert. All these food are eaten in the comfort of their home but with a waiter a few steps from the dining table. I mean, how cool is that?

Amadeo Restaurant (yes, that is a restaurant!)

After a very sumptuous dinner, we went to bed and took the time to advantage of our deprived sleep. The five of us stayed at their guestroom.

Day 1 has ended

The next day, it was Patricia’s older brother, Juan, who toured us around Malaybalay. The original plan was to go to the monastery, Nasuli Spring, Gantungan Falls, Kaamulan Grounds, and a bit of tour around town. Unfortunately, it rained hard around the afternoon so were able to hit the monastery, shooting grounds and capitol only.

Monastery

During the evening, we went out for a drink at local pub called Mindy’s. We were accompanied by some of Patricia’s friends and cousin, and ofcourse with Kuya Juan. I had to skip the first bottle of Jose Cuervo because I don’t like a tequila hangover. While they were doing shots, I was drinking a bottle of Tanduay Ice. I’m such a loser. After finishing the whole bottle in a jiffy, they got a bottle of Jack Daniels for replenishment. Now since Jack is good friend of mine, I decided to join the drinking. By the time I started to catch up, everyone else is getting drunk. I mean it! My friends are so hyper that I sat on the corner table to settle down since I’m palpitating from the mixed alcohol. Crazy right?

The party didn’t stop there. We went a drive to the Capitol and parked in front of the field. With the same group of friends, they started drinking beer this time. It was a fun and crazy night.

Day 2 has ended

Third day’s plan was to go to Dahilayan Adventure Park for the zipline. It was another long drive from Malayabalay so we left early in the morning. We arrived there around 11am and went straight ahead for the zipline. I was feeling under the weather so I did not join the fun. I guess the weather change of Manila, CDO and Bukidnon made me sick and got me the sniffles. Nevertheless, my friends enjoyed the Asia’s Longest Dual Zipline!

Last of the three zipline course

Afterwards, we decided to have lunch at Pinegrove Mountain Lodge, which is a new place inside Dahilayan Adventure Park. The food was good, but we have to commend the Mango cheesecake served there. It’s the best Mango cheesecake I have ever tasted!

Pinegrove Mountain Lodge

We were suppose to avail other activities at Dahilayan after lunch but the sky was a bit gloomy. Hence, we decided to call it a day.

Actually, the day was not yet over because it was also the birthday of Patricia’s father. There was a small celebration that evening so we have to back early.

Before going straight home, we stopped by a few shops in town to buy some tokens for the whole family. After all, we invaded their house for four days. There are few selections in town but we were able to give each of them a simple tokens. We gave it that evening during the party.

Fastforward, we had dinner and a few drinks at the party but around midnight we had to excuse ourselves in order to pack our things and sleep for a few hours before going to Camiguin.

Day 3 has ended

The last day is the most crucial of all. Turns out staying four whole days at Bukidnon is not enough to see all the  tourist attractions. And since my friends are such beach bums, Camiguin island is must go-to destination before leaving for Manila. Our flight back to Manila was 6pm at Lumbia Airport so Patricia has this crazy but bright idea to squeeze-in Camuiguin Island before leaving.

The idea was this: We leave 2 in the morning from Malaybalay to Camiguin. By 6am we will arrive at the port, take a 45 minute boat ride (taking the car with us) and take another 2 hour drive from the port of arrival to the beach. Most probably we will spend 1 hour or so at the beach and go straight to the airport for our flight back to Manila.

The plan was perfect but it can’t afford any error. Well it did. There were delays from the ships departure both going to and from Camiguin. Nevertheless, we were still able to catch our flight back to Manila so all is well. Our only regret is that we didn’t have much time to chill on the beach and feel the sun & sand.

White beach of Camiguin Island

Marnie and Bea

I would like to give a shout out to my friend Patricia who was the TL (team leader) of this trip and made everything possible. Thank you kapatid!

BRUNEI 101

Tips, guide, experience…

  • Brunei Darussalam is located at the north coast of the island of Borneo in South East Asia
  • There are two direct flights from the Philippines to Brunei. First is the Royal Brunei Airlines departing from NAIA terminal 1 and second is Cebu Pacific Air departing from NAIA terminal 3
  • If you’re flying Cebu Pacific Air, be ready for a red-eye flight
  • The money changer in the airport has better exchange rate compared to our hotel (The Brunei Hotel)
  • Taxi to and from the airport cost B$30
  • English is widely spoken
  • Brunei dollar and Singapore dollar are pegged in the same rate.
  • B$1 is about 33 Philippine Peso
  • Most establishment accept Singapore dollar, so no need to exchange currency
  • There are only a few taxi in Brunei so transportation is a bit difficult if you don’t know how to use the public bus service
  • It is more practical to book for a tour in a travel agency than doing the sightseeing on your own
  • There are only a few hotels to choose from, and their location is a bit far from each other. Hence, choose a hotel with great accessibility
  • Not a shopping country. You would probably spend money only food and transportation
  • Majority of the population are Muslim so don’t expect pork to be served at a restaurant
  • Wear conservative clothes. Despite the weather, I strongly discourage you to wear minimal clothing because locals will really stare at you.
  • There are no more people in the streets around 8 in the evening
  • No nightlife
  • There are Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Jollibee outlets around the city
  • Their food lacks a little flavor (or it’s just me?)
  • Although, they don’t say it, but you can really see that women are not in equal footing with men
  • Vehicles are right hand drive
  • You can safely cross the street. Drivers would really stop when there are pedestrians
  • There are a lot of Filipinos working there. Most of them are in the hospitality field such as in restaurants and hotels
  • Muslim people really take their prayers seriously. Respect them.

Brunei Darussalam

TRAVEL HISTORY

I went to Brunei Darussalam with two of my bestest college friends. We never had any plans of going outside the country that time, but when I saw a good deal of airfare, I just had to ask them if they want to go. When they said YES, we booked right away!

Brunei Darussalam is located south of the Philippines. Even though it is near, Filipinos seldom go there for vacation. Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok are the most-likely cities to be visited by Filipinos for vacation. So when my friends asked why Brunei? I just told them, we should go for the sake that we’ve been there. Something new… Something different…

EXPENSES

This trip would probably be the cheapest I have been so far. I got the roundtrip airfare for P2175.00 (using Cebu Pacific Air with a base fare of P488) and hotel accommodation for two nights at The Brunei Hotel for P3815 (agoda.com). We availed a half day city tour for B$55 (borneoguide.com). Taxi to and from the airport costs B$30 one way.

I have read in some other blog that food cost as cheap as B$1 in Brunei, but in my case, our food cost range from B$4-7.

There are no big-ass shopping mall in Brunei so I wasn’t able to buy anything… which is a good thing right?

THE TRAVEL

We arrived 2 in the morning from Manila to Brunei. Talk about Red Eye! The travel is about 2 hours. Despite the unlikely time, we we’re able to get a cab easily and arrived in the hotel in just a few minutes. The cab driver was even nice enough to show us the Mosque on our way there.

We were booked at The Brunei Hotel, which is a three-star hotel. The hotel is very nice, clean, newly renovated and with superb location. By the time we entered the lobby, the concierge knew me by booking name. He was expecting us to arrive…amazing! To my surprise, the staffs there are also Filipinos. It was easy to communicate with them, as we even asked for things to do in Brunei as well as information regarding our city tour.

Upon checking in our room, we slept and woke up around 10:30am. I didn’t get the opportunity to avail the free breakfast as I was more interested to sleep soundly the whole morning in preparation for our half day city tour in the afternoon.

Day 1

So around lunch, we we’re already prepared and dressed for the day. Good thing a few restaurants are just walking distance to our hotel. We had a good meal.

THE TOUR

I knew that the half-day city tour would cover almost all tourist attractions in the area since Brunei is not a big country to begin with. I was very excited to take photos of the Mosque and enter the Royal Regalia Museum since I have read so much about it.

So this is our tour itinerary:

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Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque

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Royal Regalia Building

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Jame Asr’ Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque

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‘Istana Nurul Iman’, the Royal Palace

Our tour guide, who is also the driver of our trip, was kind enough to let us stop over for souvenirs before dropping us back at the hotel. We didn’t buy any though…haha

One thing very interesting about Brunei is you can cross the streets safely without regard to the traffic light and pedestrian crossing. Our tour guide told us that zebra crossing is okay since cars really intend to stop when someone is crossing the street. Apparently, the criminal penalty in Brunei for those kind of mishaps is crucial.

Around 6pm, we were back at the hotel. Thereafter we went to Gadong, their shopping mall area, using the hotel’s free shuttle. The mall is quite disappointing. It is nothing compared to the malls here in Manila. So to kill the time, we just had dinner there, stroll the grocery for exciting stuffs and chilled at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf until the shuttle would pick us up back to the hotel.

Since the night was still early for us to sleep (that’s around 9pm), we decided to walk to Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque from our hotel which is just a few blocks away. We wanted to take a night photo of the mosque because of its impeccably beautiful lighting.

While we were taking photos, drivers of the cars passing by really stare at us. I mean, they really stare! I guess it is really a shock for them to see three young women in casual clothing out by night taking photos in the streets.

So, thereafter, we want back to the hotel for a good night sleep.

Day 2

We have nothing scheduled for this day so we slept the who morning. Again, I passed out breakfast since we over-slept. Our plan is originally to go to Kampong Ayer and take a water taxi to tour around the area, then a late room check-out, and drop by The Empire Hotel ans Country Club before going to the airport.

After eating at KFC, we went to Tamuh Kianggeh (market place located at the banks of Kianggeh river), which was just across our hotel. Unfortunately my friends and I decided not to take the water taxi after seeing it. We’re not in the mood to be adventurous that day because the clothes we were wearing are the same clothes we will be wearing going back to Manila.

So we just went back to the hotel, watched television until our check out.

After leaving our luggage in the lobby, the hotel staff helped us get a taxi going to The Empire Hotel and Country Club. The same taxi also picked us up and drop us off the airport. The taxi fare to and from The Empire Hotel cost B$35 one way. It is even more expensive than going to and from the airport.

The Empire Hotel, as I’ve heard, was a 6 or 7 star hotel. I saw their rates in agoda before when I was browsing for a hotel to book. Their rates are not that steep considering their 7-star status. I, however, did not book this hotel simply because of the location. We wanted our hotel somewhere in the city center for better accessibility.

So back to the story… The Empire Hotel was really luxurious. The architecture was a mix of contemporary and Muslim design.

After taking a few photos, we had early dinner at the country club.

So somewhere in between that time, we got really bored. This is the part when we realize, there is really nothing much to do in Brunei. To our consolation, at least we were there for only 2 nights.

We then went back to the hotel, and thereafter, went to Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf which is just a few blocks away. We literally killed time waiting for our flight back to Manila. Thanks to our ipods and the free wi-fi that we we’re able to survive the boredom.

So there, around 11pm we went to the airport and went back to Manila!

To my lovely friends Mika and Marta… ‘Till our next trip to Vietnam!!!

KOTA KINABALU 101

I know it’s a little late but I just have to take note of tips, guide, experience, etc. while I was in KK.

  • Kota Kinabalu is also known as Sabah located south of the Philippines. It is part of Malaysia
  • There are two direct flights from the Philippines to KK. First is Airasia departing from Clark airport. Second is Cebu Pacific Air departing from NAIA Terminal 3
  • If you’re flying Cebu Pacific Air, expect late departure due to air traffic
  • Don’t expect a grande/luxurious international airport when you arrive in KK. It’s a typical/simple airport
  • Finger printing is done in the Immigration
  • English is widely used
  • 1 MYR is about 14 PHP
  • Taxi coupons are bought at the arrival area. They have a flat rate of 30 MYR from airport to the hotel
  • Almost all the tourist attraction, shopping malls, hotels, spas are within the vicinity. You can even walk around KK to reach your destination. However, due to the hot weather, it’s more convenient to take the taxi
  • Taxis in KK have meters but is not often used by the drivers. Make a deal first regarding fare before riding.
  • Taxi fare usually cost 10-15 MYR depending on the destination. Haggle!
  • Hotels in KK usually offer free breakfast
  • Most of the hotels offer tours as well
  • However, I discourage you to book for an Island hopping tour through a travel agent because you can a avail a cheaper deal at the Jesselton Point.
  • Renting a speed boat at Jesselton Point would cost around 65 MYR per person
  • Pearls in the Filipino market is more expensive compared to the ones sold at Greenhills Shopping Center in Manila
  • Batik cost 12-15 MYR in the Filipino market
  • Shopping malls offer great items especially when they are on sale. It’s even cheaper in the Philippines
  • Chicken Rice Shop is always full
  • Try the Malay milk tea and Borneo coffee
  • Avail the best foot massage in South Sea Sanctuary
  • Go to KK on a Sunday..so you can see their Sunday market
  • People in KK are very nice and hospitable!!!
  • There are a lot of Filipinos who migrated to KK from Zamboanga and Sulu.
  • Chinese Restaurant offer pork
  • If you’re flying Cebu Pacific back to Manila, expect a late departure as well.