Thailand Getaway: Part I (Temple Hopping + Khao San Road)

Three days are just not enough to experience the strangely beautiful and beautifully strange Bangkok. I had a lot of things to do on my list but sadly we couldn’t cram it all in our short trip. The least we could do was make the most out of it.

Days before the trip, we contacted the Bangkok tour guide named Benya referred to me by a friend. I got in touch with her via Facebook and we talked about our trip plans. She asked me which places and activities we planned to see and do and minutes later, she sent me our itinerary and their rates. It was a bit weird that she didn’t give us any official documents or receipts but she told us she represented a travel agency. She didn’t ask us any money beforehand so I didn’t have any problem with it.

Tropical storm Mario caused delay on our flight schedule but the travel agency didn’t mind. They’re flexible like that. I just updated Benya through Facebook from time to time. Our flight departure was moved from 6:30 am to 8:30 AM. It was a more than 3 hour flight so we arrived at 11:00 AM, Bangkok time. Remember: Manila is one hour ahead of Bangkok. Benya informed me she couldn’t go with us due to the arrival schedule but his brother, self-named Mr. Off, would go with us instead.thailand

I bought a Thai data sim card at the Suvarnhabumi airport for 299 BAHT ($ 8.93/ ₱ 400) that was valid for 7 days. After that, we looked for Mr. Off at Exit B. He was there holding a paper with my name on it. The tour package included transportation from airport to hotel so.. awesome, since it was really hot outside. Since we already lost two hours in the airport, we opted going directly to our temple tour before checking in our hotel.

Here’s the lineup of our temple hopping afternoon:

  1. WAT PHRA KAEW (TEMPLE OF EMERALD BUDDHA)
  2. WAT PHO (TEMPLE OF THE RECLINING BUDDHA)
  3. WAT TRAIMIT (GOLDEN BUDDHA)

While inside the van, Mr. Off gave us some trivia and background history of the temples. We didn’t understand a lot because of his accent so we just nodded and asked him stupid questions like “where does Mario Maurer live?”.

We stayed 2 nights in Sawasdee Inn at Khao San Road. The location was great but the hotel sucked. The staff didn’t speak English and we had the impression that they were always out on a company trip. Well, I didn’t mind since we were out most of the time. And budget travel is the best way to go for me, because I believe in the principle “spend less, see more”.

The crazy Khao San Road and Soi Rambuttri were just a few minutes’ walk away. They were so chaotic I don’t even know how to describe these places properly. There were so many stuff going on – street food vendors, street massage parlors, random street song and dance presentations, bars and restaurants, and random shops of souvenirs, clothes, weird trinkets and even fake IDs.

Malaysia Quickie 2014 Rundown

Accomodation

I recommend booking.com because most hotels offer free cancellation up to a certain period of time, normally up to a day before the scheduled stay. All you need is a credit card as a guarantee but it’s your choice if you want to pay with cash or card when you arrive at the hotel. They offer discounts as well especially if you book ahead of time.

We stayed at the V’la Heritage hotel located in Jalan Berangan, Bukit Bintang for MYR 264 ($ 74.12/ ₱ 3200) for two nights. The hotel seems new and location is superb. It is surrounded by a lot of pubs and restaurants but it can get a bit noisy until midnight. I even heard a Sexbomb song being played which was really weird and surreal. Perhaps, the DJ was a tacky Filipino dude. No wonder, there are lots of Filipinos here, even our hotel receptionist. Anyway, breakfast buffet was included but the wifi connection was horrible. Good thing I bought a U Mobile sim card with 3g data for my iPad.

Food

Our hotel was near Jalan Alor, famous for side-to-side street food stalls. This is a must-visit for street food lovers. This is literally what you call outdoor dining because under the red and orange Chinese lanterns are the plastic tables and chairs placed on the street. You can just imagine how narrow the road is for the cars and the people passing through. Here you can choose from Malaysian, Chinese or Indian food. We had chicken satay, some steamed vegetables and fresh lychee juice. You can eat while you listen to some local street bands who play for tips or just for a chance to be discovered.

Transportation

Kuala Lumpur is 4 hours away from Johor Bahru via shuttle bus. We mostly got around KL by taxi. It’s not the cheapest mode of transportation, obviously, but we didn’t have plenty of time to visit the attractions. Plus, did I mention already that it was motherfudging hot in Malaysia in July? Just don’t get ripped off by taxi touts though.

Must Sees and Dos

  1. Batu Caves: It’s one of Kuala Lumpur’s best-known cultural attractions. Actually, it’s not really in Kuala Lumpur but if you google “Things to do in Kuala Lumpur”, this one will be at the top of the list because it is really near. I’ve read that it’s accessible via train, but you can go via taxi as well if you don’t mind paying a little more. It’s a labyrinth of caves with big ass Hindu shrines and statues. There’s no entrance fee to the main entrance but make sure to wear pants or long skirts if you don’t want to be forced to rent a sarong for MYR 5 ($ 1.40/ ₱ 63).
  2. Petronas Twin Towers: A trip to KL without a photo with the twin towers as background is incomplete, or so they say. If you just want the cliché shot, no need to pay for any fee. You just have to find the best place outside the building, much better at night. They sell tickets to go to the Skybridge or Observation deck. You can visit https://www.petronastwintowers.com.my/ for more details.
  3. Jalan Alor: Get your fill of the best street food KL has to offer. This seemingly never-ending stretch of street food stalls is one of the most famous in Kuala Lumpur, for the locals and tourists alike.

Photo Diary of Cebu City

  1. First stop – Larsian BBQ aka barbecued intestine skewers paradise. But aside from isaws and barbecues, you can choose from a variety of grilled everything: squid, fish, chicken and even bacon-wrapped hotdogs. Be prepared for overwhelming vendors as there is a high competition among the stalls. Almost all sell the same, except some that have WiFi spots. LOL. No spoons and forks, just a plastic glove to eat the bbq with puso (rice cooked inside palm leaves).
  1. Public parks are more well-maintained here than those in Manila. This one, Fuente Osmena Circle, is one of them. It’s actually within walking distance from Larsian.
  1. Casa Escano – We stayed at this quaint B&B located at Juana Osmena Street. Large rooms, comfy beds and superb free breakfast. They held a garage sale during our stay and we scored some awesomely cheap imported goods.
  1. A trip to Cebu City is incomplete without visiting the Magellan’s Cross, or so they say. I guess you have to know the Spanish colonization history to appreciate it. Too bad it was under some renovation when we went there so there were some ugly wood supporting the cross.
  1. Basilica del Santo Nino – an old but well-maintained Roman Catholic church. You can walk from Magellan’s cross to get here. No short skirts to go inside the church so we skipped it.
  1. We actually didn’t go inside Fort San Pedro because you have to pay an entrance fee and we’re cheapskates like that.
  1. Go to Shamrock for pasalubong- from otaps to dried mangoes and all sorts of Cebuano delicacies.
  2. Cebu is considered as the lechon capital of the Philippines. So when in Cebu, you have to dine at CnT Lechon, or as the cab drivers say, Shenti.
  1. I thought Sutukil was a tagalized term for shoot to kill but it actually means sugba (grilling), tula (stewing) and kilaw (chopped raw then added with vinegar and spice). You can choose from the fresh seafoods at the mini-market located at the entrance of the restaurant. Then, you can also choose how you want them cooked.
  1. We didn’t leave the city so we were stuck with the ugly beach at Bluefins Resort at Lapu-lapu City. We just had a carefree night by the beach, drinking beer and singing old Eheads songs.

Singapore Travel Tips and Stuvves

Getting Around

  1. You may visit the SMRT website to check the shortest way via train to get from Point A to Point B. You can also see how much and how long the trip will be.
  2. Buy a Standard ticket if you won’t be using the MRT that much. A trip is valid for use on the day of the purchase. The ticket can be used for up to 6 times within 30 days. Simply charge the ticket at any General Ticketing Machine located in all MRT stations.
  3. I used the MRT a lot because it’s very efficient so I bought an EZ-Link card for 12 SGD ($ 9/ ₱ 403). You may buy this at the ticket offices in the stations or 7-Eleven stores. This is more convenient to use if you don’t like fumbling for change to buy one-way tickets. Like the standard ticket, you may recharge this one as well.
  4. It’s an unspoken rule to keep left on escalators if you’re not in a hurry. The right side is saved for those who are.
  5. Avoid taking taxis as much as you can if you want to save money. I only took a taxi when a. I had to go to the hotel from the airport for the first time, b. it was already late and the MRT was closed, and c. I was alone and I had to carry a lot of pasalubong from Bugis Street.

Must-Sees and Dos

  1. Universal Studios Singapore – Make the most of it by going to all the themed zones: Hollywood, New York, Sci-fi City, Ancient Egypt, The Lost World, Far Far Away and Madagascar. Decide which rides are worth the long wait. For example, is the 5-minute Transfomers 4D ride worth standing and queueing for 2 hours? Yes, definitely.
  2. Marina Bay – Ride the Singapore River Cruise at night to see some of the great sights like Singapore Flyer, Opera House, the Merlion, Clarke Quay and the financial centre skyscrapers around Marina Bay area. You can also just stroll along the bay and take in the Singapore vibe and atmosphere.
  3. Gardens by the Bay – My favourite spot in Singapore. The place is so lovely with all the giant trees surrounded by purple and green lights. The park is open 24 hours, I think, since we went there at 1 AM in the morning. No entrance fee to get in. Watch the lights and sound show at the Supertrees Grove as they come alive at night.
  4. Singapore Art Museum and National Museum of Singapore – Singapore knows how do things right, and their museums are not an exemption. Visit SAM if you’re curious about Singaporean contemporary art and National Museum if you’re more interested in SG’s history and culture.
  5. Haw Par Villa – It really is Singapore’s most WTF place to visit. This theme park is all sorts of gruesome and bizarre, I love it! You wouldn’t believe that these statues and dioramas are actually meant to teach young children about traditional Chinese values e.g. courtesy, family interdependence, and filial piety. Admission is free and nightmares are guaranteed.

Food

  1. Makansutra Gluttons Bay – Singapore street food haven around Marina Bay area. Eat chili crabs, grilled everything and other street food for a more affordable price.
  2. Lau Pa Sat Festival Market – A more sophisticated hawker centre at the heart of Singapore’s financial district. There are lots of great choices, from Indian to Chinese, even Japanese or Indian cuisine.
  3. CMK Eatery – Here’s the best place to eat out in Little India because a lot of Indians eat here all the time so you’re sure food’s always fresh.
  4. Liang Seah Street – A food hub in the Bugis area. These restaurants are more expensive than, let’s say, the hawker food centres that are very common in Singapore.

Shopping

  1. Orchard Road – From luxurious shops to bargain stores, Orchard has it all.
  2. Haji Lane – The stores don’t open until 4 in the afternoon. I love the independent vibe of these stores but the stuff they sell are usually overpriced. Worth a visit at least for window shopping.
  3. Bugis Street – I usually buy my souvenirs at I Love Bugis Street and chocolates at Bugis Confectionery World at Bugis Street. I don’t recommend buying clothes from the boutiques. They look cute when displayed but they look weird once you try them on. And the catch is, you can’t try them on inside the store. Plus, they’re not cheap at all.
  4. Mustafa Centre – It’s an amazing multi-storey department store located in Little India that’s open 24 hours full of cheap perfumes, electronic parts and stocks of all kinds of stuff.

More Budget Tips

  1. Eat in hawker centres. Singapore is loaded with them, from malls to food strips to every corner of the city. Food is much cheaper, you can eat a full meal with drinks for under 3 SGD ($ 2.27/ ₱ 100). This will be your food paradise if you’re fond of Chinese or Indian food.
  2. Stay with a Singapore-based friend or make a new one. Singapore is pretty expensive, accommodation included. You will save a lot if you can stay with a friend or a relative. If you don’t have one, try Couchsurfing. I actually haven’t tried that one but it sounds promising if you don’t mind staying with a stranger.
  3. Make the most out of free attractions and activities e.g. Gardens by the Bay, Haw Par Villa, Merlion, Jurong Gardens, and other parks and temples.

Enjoy-lah!

Malaysia Quickie: Part II (Batu Caves + Petronas Towers)

Day 2 of our Malaysia quickie was spent visiting the main tourist spots of Kuala Lumpur. First stop: Batu Caves. It was boiling hot outside and we didn’t have the blood sugar to take the train. While walking along Bukit Bintang to hail a cab, a lot of taxi touts offered to drive us to the caves for a rip-off price. I don’t know what happened but we just agreed to one who had the least aggressive attitude. We even asked him to fetch us 2 hours later.

From afar, you can already see the big ass Lord Murugan statue at the entrance. I was wearing a short dress so I was stopped by some ladies at the entrance. They asked me to rent a sarong to wrap around my waist for RM 10, with RM 5 as deposit that you can claim once retuned. It’s a long way up to the top and there are cheeky monkeys trying to steal anything that resembles food from your grasp.

More kitschy Indian art at the top.

The cab driver fetched us at 1 in the afternoon and instead of going home, we decided to visit the Petronas Twin Towers first. It’s definitely better to visit this at night but we were already there so we just had our pictures taken. You can actually go to the top of the building or the skybridge that connects the two towers but it was already closed when we got there. There is a mall inside though where you can chill after being exposed to the sun just to have that cliché tourist photo of the twin skyscrapers.

Since we couldn’t get to the top of the twin towers, we decided to go to Kuala Lumpur Tower, another tall tower in KL, obviously. We actually had to walk from Petronas, because Google Maps told us it was near. Maybe it was near, but ugh, the heat. When you get here, there is a shuttle bus that you can wait for to bring you to the entrance of the tower. I forgot how much was the entrance fee and you can choose from a lower and a higher floor. The lower floor was cheaper, so we chose that. From here, you can see the Petronas Twin Towers and a good view of the city. Not breathtaking, just good.

We decided to stay one more night in the hotel and ride a plane instead of bus back to Singapore. We booked an Airasia flight from KL to Singapore for Monday morning. We also asked the hotel to find us a cab that will bring us to the airport at 5 AM. We took care of all of that before having dinner at Bukit Bintang and then back to bed. We checked out early in the morning and headed to the KL Airport. Singapore was just an hour away by plane so we still had time to take a nap before my friend went to work.

Malaysia Quickie: Part I (Legoland + Bukit Bintang)

Like I mentioned in my last post, I went back to Singapore two months later. I was given a two-week break from work so I took advantage of it to fly back to SG. Since we weren’t able to visit Legoland Malaysia last time, we made sure we’d be able to do it right the second time around.

Since it was a Saturday, I bought two one-way tickets to Legoland from Singapore for S$24.50 from the same bus company, Superior Coach. No need to hurry back to Singapore the following day. I tried to book the Legoland Theme Park tickets in advance since they offered 20% discount 7 days before the date of visit. I wasn’t able to successfully pay online, not sure why, so I sent them an email. They made me fill out a manual form and later on gave me a pre-booking number. I was informed that I could pay RM 224 ($ 62.89/ ₱ 2792 for 2 persons) at their counter on the date of visit, still with the 20% discount.

I flew to Singapore the day before, had dinner at CMK (Little India) and went to bed. We woke up early to catch the bus at Lavender Station, this time, at the back of Wendy’s. It was a Saturday so the bus was crammed with kids. We left the station at around 9:30 AM and arrived in Johor Bahru, Malaysia at around 10:30 AM. Since we were crossing borders, we had to get off the bus and go through immigration and have our passports stamped. The bus guide instructed us on where to go after immigration so we could get on the bus again without getting lost (which happens a lot according to them). We arrived at Legoland at around 11:00 AM.

Legoland seems to be geared mostly to very young kids. No extreme rides like in USS. But the park looks really cool and the intricate details put into each display were quite amazing. The miniature of Asian cities in Miniland might be my favourite.

We tried some of the attractions like Legoland Express (if you want to see the sights in the park without walking under the scorching sun) and Lego 4D studios (if you want escape from the extreme heat). I’m a fan of theme parks but not of that kind of weather. So we left the park at 5 PM and hopped on our booked bus to Kuala Lumpur.

Kuala Lumpur is 4 hours away from Johor Bahru via shuttle bus. The bus was comfortable enough and it was dark outside already so we mostly slept through it. The hotel we booked, V’la Heritage was located in Bukit Bintang. I booked the hotel via booking.com for MYR 132 ($ 35/ ₱ 1582) a night for two persons. There are lots of pubs and street food stalls along this strip with a variety of cuisines to choose from. My friend wanted to watch the World Cup match that night so we looked for a restaurant where it was being watched. We found this Indian eatery with lots of Indians watching the match so we ate chili crabs and chicken rice there. The hotel was within walking distance from this very lively strip. Advantage: lots of things to do here. Disadvantage: very loud, you can hear the tacky music until midnight.

A Week in Singapore: Part III (Jurong Gardens + Haji Lane + SAM)

Legoland Malaysia is accessible from Singapore via direct coach services. Since I’m a sucker for theme parks, well any kind of park, I wanted to go that Sunday. We booked 2 Superior Coach roundtrip tickets online for S$44.50 (₱ 1477/$ 32.77) the night before. We woke up early since the departure time was 8:31 AM. We arrived 8:00 AM at the Lavender Station, nobody seemed to be waiting for the Legoland bus so we ate at Wendy’s while waiting. We waited until 9:00 AM but nobody came. My friend left his phone at home so he called their office on a payphone. They told him that they were calling him to inform us that they changed the departure point from in front of Wendy’s to the back of Wendy’s. They argued for a while as they didn’t want to give us a refund, telling us it’s not their fault we didn’t bring the phone. Bummer. So there were no other ways to get to Legoland at that point, so we decided to do other things.

Although disappointed, we hopped on the train and went to Jurong Gardens, located in Jurong East. It’s divided into two, Japanese Garden and Chinese Garden, connected by a bridge. Everything was nice, just nice. Nothing exciting. Also, it was blazing hot so we didn’t stay long.

After a glorious siesta, we went to Marina Bay area to have dinner. We rode a ferry around Marina Bay and got off near the Esplanade Opera House. Here you can walk to the Makansutra Gluttons Bay, Singapore street food haven. For me, it’s always better to eat at hawker centres like this one than at restaurants. It’s way cheaper and you get to choose from a variety of food choices.

Of course, you can’t leave Singapore without trying their famous chili crabs. We also ordered shrimp paste rice and some spring rolls.

Since my friend worked Mondays to Fridays, I explored Singapore on my own during the day. I visited the eclectic Haji Lane, one of the places I really wanted to see. Stupid of me, I went in the morning, which was almost senseless because the stores don’t open until 4 in the afternoon. The only advantage was I got to take pictures of the shops, which was prohibited according to the store signs. It reminded me Cubao X, artsy fartsy independent local stores which sell rare and specialty products, usually expensive. I also passed by Arab Street to take pictures of the Sultan Mosque and look at some jewellery and textile shops.

The following day, I decided to see what Singapore art was like. I took the MRT and got off the Bras Basah station. From here, Singapore Art Museum or SAM is within walking distance. Non-Singapore residents must pay S$10.00 (₱ 332/$ 7.36) to get in. It’s a contemporary art museum with nice art installations and interactive exhibits. The love letter playlists exhibit was particularly my favorite. It’s one of those I could have easily done it, but I didn’t type of art. After that, I bought some souvenirs and chocolates at Bugis Street.

Early morning the following day, I had to catch my flight back to Manila. We went to the airport by their very efficient MRT. I loved Singapore from how clean and safe the streets to how culturally diverse it is. I swore I’d be back.. so I did two months later haha.

First Out of The Country Trip: Macau + Hong Kong Quickie

I know this post is more than a year late, but I’ve been thinking about blogging about my trips. I’ve been so busy ever since I’ve been a corporate slave, but I’m looking forward to a life-changing opportunity this year and I wanted to organize last year’s photos and memories before I move on. So these are the confessions of a first-time traveller abroad. I think I was so helpless and gullible at that time since I practically knew nothing about travelling. I was dependent on my travel buddy from making the itinerary to talking with the locals and deciding where to eat.  

It can be pretty cold in January (well, compared to the Philippines) which was actually great because we had to walk a lot. I had to wear two jackets and tights to bear the chilly weather.  Dinner was beef noodle soup sold by a Chinese couple from a street cart. Well, I don’t know if they’re a couple… didn’t bother to ask.  We headed to the Wynn Macau to catch the fountain show. It starts every 15 minutes from 11:00 AM until midnight. It’s cute with the dancing water, lights and music and all but it’s just another show. But do watch it, it’s free after all.  Macau is Asia’s gambling paradise. There’s a casino anywhere you look. The casinos are considered some of the main tourist spots even if you don’t gamble. You can enter and look at their glamorous displays in the lobbies for free. Getting around is really easy too. These big casinos offer free bus rides from one terminal to another for more convenient casino hopping experience.  You can use HKD in Macau but Macanese Pataca is not accepted in Hong Kong. So better exchange your pesos to HKD as it is accepted in both. Also, make sure to have coins when riding normal buses. Good thing we met a nice Filipina lady who gave us Patacas to be able to ride our way to the hotel. That ends Day 1.

A trip to Macau is incomplete without visiting Ruínas de São Paulo (Ruins of St. Paul). It’s basically the remaining façade of the original 17th-century Portuguese Jesuit chapel. To get here, we had to walk along Largo de Senado (Senado Square). We actually saved money for breakfast because every store along the way gave us free beef jerky to taste. By the time we got to the top where the ruins were located, we were already full.

The place gets really crowded and a little challenging to get a decent photo without someone photobombing the frame. But it’s really worth the uphill walk because I did feel the East- meets- West vibe: the Western architecture adorned with kitschy Chinese lanterns.

I didn’t know before that Macau had a lot of Portuguese influence or that it was a former colony of Portugal. All the street signs are written in both Chinese and Portuguese. It was actually really helpful because my travel buddy and I speak Spanish and can understand a little bit of Portuguese.

We checked out of the hotel after and met with Father Ed, a priest who has been living in Macau for more than a decade and a friend of my travel buddy. We ate at a Chinese restaurant (forgot the name) and ordered a dangerous amount of food. And can I just say, hands down the best hakao I ever tasted.

After fuelling up with yummy Chinese food, we headed to the Macau Ferry Terminal to reach Hong Kong via turbojet. It was a one-hour woozy trip which costs around 150 HKD (one-way). Since we’re crossing another border, we had to fill out another immigration form upon entering. Too bad, HK and Macau don’t stamp passports anymore. They just give out tiny papers as proof of entry.

It was my first time riding a tram and boy was it fun. We checked into our tiny hostel, Hong Kong Hostel, which I think was made for backpackers. It’s interesting that the hostels are located on the top floors of upscale stores like Burberry, Gucci, etc. We went out again for some shopping and headed to The Victoria Peak to get a spectacular view of the city at night. It’s free to go up there and take pictures or even look through the binoculars.

Communication was quite difficult. We went to a restaurant before going back to the hotel. They had a menu in English but when my friend asked for a spoon and a fork, things got a bit crazy. To cut it short, he had to go to the kitchen and find the utensils himself because they didn’t understand him.

A tiring day, it was.. so I really wanted to hit the sack but my friend wanted to go into
a club.

It’s just not my type of nightlife, it’s actually more like this. That ends Day 2.

We had to check out early from the hostel because we had to meet my buddy’s mom in the Tsim Sha Tsui area to have breakfast, and it would be a hassle to go back to Causeway Bay to get our stuff and go to the Hong Kong ferry terminal.

The Avenue of Stars didn’t do much for me. It’s Hong Kong’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I’m not a big fan of Hong Kong cinema, maybe except for Dumplings and Chunking Express. It’s still worth the visit though because of the great view of the harbour and the city skyline. And also, because it’s free.

I was actually more thrilled to visit the H&M store in Tsim Sha Tsui (at that time, there were no H&M stores yet in the Philippines).

I wanted to visit the Hong Kong Space Museum but we had to rush to the terminal or we might miss our flight in Macau. It was a very quick trip to Hong Kong, I wasn’t able to explore it as much as I would have liked to.

We hopped on the ferry back to Macau and proceeded to the Macau Airport to catch our flight back to Manila.

I’ll be making a rundown of this trip in the next post: from accommodation, food and transportation to the must-sees and dos.