Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Kuala Lumpur Itinerary for a Short Stay

My family and I were visiting Kuala Lumpur Malaysia but would only have a day and a half to explore so I've created this itinerary as our guide. We were coming from Singapore and originally, I didn't want to stop over at KL anymore and was very excited to travel straight to Cameron Highlands but my sister insisted on it. She had been to KL a few times and maybe she also want us, her family, to see and experience Kuala Lumpur even for a short period.   I've researched and picked the attractions that I thought maybe worth seeing the most then researched on how to reach these places from  Ceria Hotel (a beautiful budget boutique hotel) where we stayed for 2 nights. I thought it might be helpful to some who would be staying in the same area so I want to share it with you.

It was raining hard the afternoon we arrived in KL and it didn't really stop until we left. The rain was on and off so unfortunately, we didn't manage to see Merdeka Square and experience the food and ambiance of Jalan Alor at night. I feel a bit disappointed  about it but comforted myself in the thought that at least there's a reason to be back in KL someday. Besides, we were traveling with my 2 year old daughter and my old folks so we really had to take it easy.

Never the less, I'm grateful that it didn't rain continually the whole day. We got to spend Christmas eve in a bar restaurant located just behind Petronas  that has a sweeping view of KL skylines and it was a wonderful experience. I've come to see Petronas towers too. Just recently I was staring at it's much smaller replica in Meralco's Liwanag Park and then I was looking at and admiring the real thing!

If you're going to have a layover or would also be staying in Kuala Lumpur in a day or two, this itinerary and map of Kuala Lumpur railways might help you. Happy travels!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Top 10 Singapore Must Try Food

If you're going to this lovely garden city and is wondering what are the Singapore must try food, here's what I would suggest.

 Going to Singapore was very exciting for me and believe it or not, one of the top reasons of me wanting to go there is to sample their local food. I agree that food greatly mirrors how vibrant the culture of a specific place is and not trying the local fare is a complete miss on what could have been a total experience.

Prior to the trip, I was browsing and reading some tips on what food to try when I arrive in Singapore. From the vast lists I've read,  I've created a mental note on what appealed to me most and researched the best places to have them. Like with all my previous travels though, some plans had changed and instead of looking for the said places, I (together with my husband and my sister) ended up having our meals wherever we're near during lunch, dinner and siesta while wandering around the city. We ate mostly in hawker centres, (like a food court here in the Philippines) a place with several stalls selling different food choices from each other. These are great places offering sumptuous, clean and affordable meals. I noticed that in all hawker centres, there's just always one stall selling drinks.

Singapore is a multicultural city and country, something that is evident when you roam around. With Malay, Indonesian, Chinese, and Indian influences (I'd say Arabic too), no wonder why they have so much diversity in their local cuisine. That's something I truly appreciate during my stay in this modern yet culturally rich city.

I've stayed for ten days in Singapore and had eaten mostly Singaporean food. Based on experience, here's my list of Top 10 food I encourage you to try in Singapore, specially if it's your first time going there.

1.  Hainanese Chicken Rice
Do I need to say more? Maybe not because one can never utter the words Hainanese chicken without relating it to Singapore. Although it is said to have come from Hainan province in China, it is tagged as the "national dish" of Singapore. I've tried this at different stalls and the tender juicy meat and the gelatinous skin of the steamed chicken and even the roasted one never failed to wow me. Combined with the aroma and spices of ginger and chili dip, this is like heaven in my mouth.

The best I've tasted is in a stall located in the hawker center near MRT Braddell station where we stayed. I always notice a long queue of patrons whenever we're passing by. This stall was featured in several local newspapers for their Hainanese Chicken rice.

2. Satay/Sate
Meat that is seasoned, skewered and cooked in smoky flaming coals, who would say no to that? With Singapore's version, the spices used are just so distinct in flavor. Dipped into the peanut sauce, it absolutely is a winner. I could eat this everyday of my life. This dish is said to be an Indonesian and/or Malaysian influence.

 I also had tried this a few times and my favorite is the one being served in The Singapore Food Trail, a food station at the foot of the Singapore Flyer. Their version has a richer taste and a little bit spicy.

3. Chili Crab
This is another famous dish that Singapore is known for.  The crab is cooked with a savory sauce made mostly from chili and tomato sauce and egg I guess, based on what I had. I've read it's supposed to have a hint of sweetness on the sauce and has a perfect balance of spiciness but what we tried is really overly hot. A soft shelled crab was also used instead of a mud crab. Despite that, I still enjoyed the dining experience, just made sure not to dip it in too much sauce. I think it's not just me who enjoyed it, proof is my photo of the crab after we devoured on it. :D

The next time I go back to Singapore though, I'll surely head to the East coast where I've heard the best restaurants serving chili crabs as well as pepper crabs are located. Ours was ordered from a stall in Makansutra, a favoured dining destination and meeting place of expats and Filipinos (just noticed) in the city. By the way, a friendly reminder, bring a lot of tissue with you and a hand sanitizer if there's no where to wash your hands before eating and specially after dining, it surely will get very messy.

4. Popiah
If you love your vegetables, this is another dish you must try in Singapore. A Chinese influence, Singapore had made it their own. It is similar to a spring roll, well, really is a spring roll, with veggies wrapped in thin, soft, paper like crepe. It's their version of our lumpiang sariwa back here in the Philippines, somewhat similar but you have to give it a try because the veggies inside and the sauce tastes somewhat different from our version. Not to sound unpatriotic but I really prefer their version.

5.  Oatmeal Prawn
I'm in love with prawns and I think this is a brilliant dish! Tried this dish twice, loved it both times. Chewing the prawn and the oatmeal together produced an interesting texture and contrast in my mouth. The prawn was very succulent while the oatmeal was kind of  crispy. It tasted buttery, with a hint of garlic and a bit spicy. 

6. Murtabak
I absolutely don't have any idea about this food. Thankfully, while walking one afternoon along North Bridge Road on our way to Arab Street and the nearby Kampong Glam, we noticed several cars slowing down on the side of the road queuing up waiting to be handed a plastic bag from what seemed to be touts from a nearby food store. Curiosity got me and my husband so we stopped by the restaurant and checked their menu. The food they were serving aren't familiar at all. Without any idea what to order, we asked the server that we'd like to have whatever the person on the next table is eating.  We were told it is called murtabak. We decided to try both the mutton and chicken murtabak and requested that we'll have the food to go (take away in Singapore's term).

It was a good call trying it out. It was like a pan fried pancake with shredded meat of mutton and chicken.  It came with a thick curry gravy that added more flavor to this food.The aroma and spices of murtabak transported me to a middle eastern country although I've never been there.

7. Fried Oyster Omelette
As the name implies,this dish is cooked using beaten eggs that is filled with small oysters then pan fried. What I liked with what I tried is the hint of some herbs that was added into the omelette plus a little kick of spiciness. Here in the Philippines, I usually eat the oyster raw so eating oysters into it's omelette version is a fairly new experience.

8. Rojak
Here's another food I highly recommend. It isn't just one of Singapore's signature dishes but it's a healthy food for snacking considering the main ingredients are fruit and vegetable slices. I saw the uncle selling this cut up some artichokes, green apples, pineapple, cucumber and green mango that looked a bit weird. He then tossed it into a tangy brown sauce then topped with roasted ground peanuts. It got me  a few minutes to get used to the taste (because I swear this is so different from the tastes I was exposed to) but ended up liking it. It was delicious!

9.  Cendol
Cendol is a refreshing treat after walking in a sunny Singapore. It is a traditional dessert and is believed to be a Malaysian/Indonesian influence. Cendol is made of thinly shaved ice topped with green pandan flavored jelly noodles (never imagined noodles can be a dessert), grass jelly, sweetened red beans and sugar palm fruit then poured with coconut milk. It reminds me of a simpler halo-halo, our local concoction here in the Philippines. It's a creamy and cooling treat.

And last but not the least,

10. Hor Fun
This is the first meal I had upon arriving in Singapore. I'm a huge noodle fanatic and I just can't stop eating noodles. (as long as it's not instant noodles) Unlike what I usually order here back home and what we've tried in Hongkong, the hor fun in this corner stall in a hawker centre near Braddell Station is far from being oily. The thick rice noodles were al dente, the sauce has a smoky flavor, the variety of seafood used were so fresh and the chineses brocolli is cooked perfectly. The best hor fun ever. Maybe it's not really a Singapore signature dish but the fact that the auntie who swiftly cooked this is a Singaporean and considering how good it tasted, I think it should count. :D

So there's my lists. I'm thinking though, after we are satisfied with delighting on these lovely feasts, what would be the best way to end the meal? Well, don't miss on the famous teh (tea) to cap everything. Order teh tarik if you prefer hot milk tea or teh peng if your prefer cold. This is one brew that made me fall in love with tea.

I had a taste of all the food I had planned to eat in Singapore except for fish head curry and laksa (sadly). I'm thinking these two might have been included in my list if I did. I will not miss on those two when I get back to this gastronomically fulfilling city.

So there's my top 10 food to try when traveling to Singapore for the first time.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Revisiting Puting Buhangin and Kwebang Lampas

It was 2010 when I first visited Puting Buhangin and Kwebang Lampas in Pagbilao Quezon. Back then, the owners of the cove didn't allow guests to stay overnight. It was sad leaving the cove after just a few hours of lounging at the shore. The place is nothing but captivating, your sweet respite from the hassle and bustle of an urban jungle. It's a joy when I heard that the new and current owners of the cove (current because the land ownership is still on trial with the higher court) already allows beach camping and overnight stay. Without second thoughts, I decided it would be the perfect place to bond with my husband's siblings before her sister goes back to US and more importantly, to have our prenuptial photo taken. 

The first time I went there, I took a boat from Brgy. Bantigue as stated in my previous blog. This time, I decided to try the other route suggested by other bloggers that would involve a short boat ride and some trekking. 

Commuting to Puting Buhangin and Kwebang Lampas

Ride any Lucena bound (city capital of Quezon province) buses from Manila. We rode Lucena Lines stationed inside Araneta Center in Cubao and paid Php217. JAC Liner and Jam Liner both in their Buendia and Kamias Stations have hourly departures too. Travel time is around 3 and a half hours

Alight in Lucena Grand Terminal. Look for the queue of jeeps going to Pagbilao town. Travel will take around 20 minutes and  fare is Php10. The jeep will take you directly to their jeep teminal in Pagbilao near the market

On the same area, ride a jeep bound Ibabang Polo. Inform the driver you're going to Kwebang Lampas so he can drop you to the jump off point where you can start your trek to the cove. It took us about 45 minutes to arrive and paid Php40 each. Once you've alighted, please ask the locals to point you the way to make sure you're on the right path. We did it and the locals were very friendly and very eager to help.

Fares may change. It is what we paid on our trip last December 2012.

The Trek to the Cove

The trek would start on a concrete road that would lead you to what looks like a barrier in the middle of the road (It looks like a checkpoint without people manning it). From there, you'll start walking on rough and unpaved road with interesting views of hilly terrain.

The only sad thought is it seemed there's an ongoing mining in the area (I could be wrong though) that left several pits and expanse of barren brown land. It took us about 20 minutes of walking before we saw few houses. Walking towards the back of the houses, we arrived in what seemed to be a lake or a pond.

The locals said we can cross the lake by walking as it is shallow and just thigh deep. It looked wide and a bit murky so we kind of felt concerned for the two kids trekking with us. We don't want to gamble our safety so we decided to ride a small boat that helped us cross the water for just Php10 each.

Arriving at the other end of the lake, we continued treading until we saw a very gorgeous view of the rocks and the sea with the Pagbilao Power plant in the background. We stopped for a while for some photos.

We continued traversing with the visible pathway until we entered a forested area, slowly engulfed in the  thickness of the trees.  The trail is quite slippery because of the previous rain but is not so bad, although proper care is still advised. Our two kid companions was able to do it without any problems, I'm sure adults would find it easy. We continued walking until we arrived in the area with coconut trees, the grounds for Puting Buhangin, that is. :)

On Pitching Tents and Fees and Some Reminders

We were greeted by Mang Lando, the new caretaker of the the cove. He allowed us to choose our spot where we can pitch our tents. He also offered a small open hut with tables and chairs but politely declined, it's just too much for me. That night however, while we were cooking using our tiny camping stove, it rained. We were using umbrellas while cooking as not to get wet. Kuya Lando approached us and offered us to use the hut for free. Who would decline such an offer right? I feel grateful for his generosity. You may contact Mang Lando at 09475911630 or +639475911630 (from abroad).

After setting up tents, I also asked him about their other fees. I don't want to get surprises, if you know what I mean. 

Rates as of December 2012
Entrance Fee Day tour                                        Php50
Entrance Fee Overnight                                       Php100/night
Open Hut with Table and Benches                          Php400
Fresh Water                                      Php50/pail or bucket (I find it unreasonable)
Pitching Fee (Own tent)                                         Php150
Tent Rental                                                         Php300-500 depending on tent size

They have functional bathrooms/shower rooms but it is not clean. There's water stored in their big containers used to flush the toilet but is not for bathing purposes, again it is not clean.  There's no available drinking water so it is a must that you bring your own. There's no electricity and bonfire is prohibited when we went there (There's even a sign posted on a coconut tree informing guests there's a fine for violating this) so make sure to bring flashlights or headlamps to be able to move around at night and a camping lamp for your socials. Like in other remote places, mosquitoes can be notorious so insect repellent is handy. Locals say there's a jellyfish season in Puting Buhangin but we we're lucky during our visit, that it isn't. One of our kid companions  still got stung by a jellyfish though that caused him pain, swelling and redness in his arms. It's a good thing we brought vinegar just for this purpose. We applied some on his arms and a few hours later, he was back wading in the water.

The Cove

They say an experience could never be created twice and I agree with that. I know however that one thing can create a wonderful experience twice or more, it might not be on the same level but has the same intensity at some extent. I was mesmerized by Puting Buhangin and Kwebang Lampas when I first visited. (Please chick here to read my previous blog.) My second visit still left me in awe. It still is my happy beach - secluded, serene, beautiful. The emerald green water is still sparkling. The sand is still as white as ever. The shore is devoid of any debris or trash. The cave still has an amusing effect on me. My only disappointment is the vandals who left their names known to all guests by inscribing it in the stone walls. That's very irresponsible and uncivilized. Deep in my heart, I'm hoping this stops soon.

On the lighter note, I'm glad that Puting Buhangin retained its raw beauty. I could still sit in one area for a while just looking at the beauty before my eyes. It consumed me. Our several hours of travel was worth it. We stayed for three days and 2 nights and my favorite moment is the evenings when the full moon radiates it's glory to the sea and the white sand underwater illuminates and makes the sea sparkle against the dim night. The second night, the moon seemed to shy away leaving only the stars flaunt their beauty on the dark sky. It was priceless and romantic.

Our last day had the best weather so that's when we have our prenuptial photo shoot done. I didn't wear any make up. Fresh from swimming, I just slipped my dress and combed my salt water drenched hair. My then boyfriend (now husband) did the same and in a few minutes, we were wearing our best smiles and comfortably posed together in front of the camera. The photos turned out lovely, probably because our background is beautiful and we felt hopeless romantics in this gorgeous beach.

As the clock ticks on the third day, I am left quite sad knowing we'll be leaving soon. Our three days in this beach made me a kid again, carefree and spontaneous. Puting Buhangin and Kwebang Lampas is and will always be my happy beach.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Hongkong-Macau Itinerary for 3 Days

I want to share the Hongkong - Macau Itinerary my sister and I used on our Hongkong trip. My sister booked a round trip ticket for both of us to Hongkong November  last year. I didn't really plan on any major travels or backpacking trip that time since my now hubby and I were saving up for our upcoming wedding that happened early this year. Sweet as she is, she planned this as our last bonding experience together before I say goodbye to being single. It was her gift for me and believe it or not, she never allowed me to spend a single Hongkong dollar in our entire stay in Hongkong. I felt like the luckiest person in the world! Imagine traveling for free? Up until now, I am very grateful to my sister. It was my first time to travel outside the Philippines and we all know, a trip to Hongkong isn't cheap.

The only thing she requested me to do is to take care of all the details about our visit in Hongkong. I embraced the challenge and lovingly researched. I first looked for an accessible, affordable and decent place to stay for the three nights. I don't want her spending too much for this trip, specially I know accommodation can be really pricey in Hongkong.  After I found one, I started researching on the attractions we would be visiting. It was a challenge since I learned that there are too many to see yet we have a very limited time to visit, added the fact that she would also want to see Macau. I wasn't sure how to compress everything in a three day stay. So I just chose the places that based on the numerous articles I've read would be fit for first time visitors. I made a draft on the attractions and grouped them based on their proximity from each other. So my Hongkong Itinerary would show that in each day, we visited places that are quite near to each other or at least, within the same direction. I then browsed the web for info on how to go from one attraction to another and the approximate travel times. It was time consuming but patience proved to be useful. It was a breeze going to different locations and we saved time by not getting lost because of the guides. :) Lastly, I created a list for projected expenses.

I want to share this 3 Day Hongkong itinerary for those who are planning to go to Hongkong and would prefer not to spend a fortune and would want to maximize their stay. I have to remind you though that this is a very tiring itinerary and I wouldn't recommend this to travelers who are with elderly and kids. This itinerary is fast paced and would include a lot of walking. If you think you are fit enough and is game for a bit of an "amazing race" experience, this will work perfectly for you. Please click on the image to make it bigger and readable.

This is a doable itinerary. We managed to see and do everything included here except for the Symphony of Lights on the second day and dining in Tim Ho Wan on the third day. To get the most of your money's worth in paying entrance fees though, I would advise you to have one whole day each for Disneyland and Ocean Park.

I hope this 3 day Hongkong-Macau Itinerary will serve as a guide in creating your personalized itinerary. :) Have a happy trip!

Friday, April 26, 2013

How to Create Your Do-It-Yourself Trip

I remember back in high school, our class adviser asked us to write an essay entitled "Who Will I Be 10 Years from Now?" With a happy heart, I composed my essay saying that in 10 Years, I'm already in Law School, pursuing my dream to be a pro bono lawyer for my beloved countrymen. (I ended up taking Accountancy instead and worked in the BPO and Hospitality Industry)  One by one, we all read what we've written in front of the class. It sounded like the usual chant of being professionals and being successful. It's understandable. Coming from a bunch of 13 year old minds, everybody have high hopes and soaring dreams. Then suddenly, one of my classmates stood in front of the class. With a confident voice, he professed that in 10 years, he had already traveled the whole world. It really took my attention. At first, I thought it was silly, not to mention impossible but for some reason, I couldn't take that out of my mind. It was an idea that had lingered up until now. Maybe because secretly, in what was then my young mind and up until today - I secretly wish to travel the world too. I hope that someday, I might just would. Who knows? For now, I am happy and contented in discovering the wonders of my homeland and it's neighboring countries through my do-it-yourself travels. DIY travel gives me a chance to go to different places without breaking the bank and it allows me to truly immerse myself with local culture of a certain place for I have the luxury of time and capability to decide where i want to spend it.

So how do I go about creating my Budget DIY travels?

First, I plan ahead
I avoid traveling on a whim. With this, I am able to take advantage of seat sales and discounted rates from various airlines and hotels. The philosophy here is simple, the rates are cheaper if you book in advance. 

The second key is Research
This is crucial. This is the part where you will base most of your decisions for the trip. Once you've decided where to go, start making the web your best friend. We're lucky that in this generation, we are likely to find everything we want to know through the net.

Researching on Flights: 
As mentioned earlier, planning ahead is better. There are times though that we have to leave right away and I learned that most of the time, it is cheaper to book with flight search engines. I had worked in the hospitality industry for a while and the concept is these companies buy in bulk that they're able to get big discounts. Naturally, their prices are cheaper too, that is how they pass the big savings to their customers. So if you must travel indefinitely, it wouldn't hurt to check out  flight search services like Flight Network for considerably lower rates.

Researching on Accommodation:
I first check on hotels with the lowest rates then from there, I do my research. I also consider hostels, inns or homestays. I prefer budget accommodations - cheap but at the least, decent and safe. Unless a trusted family member or a friend have assured me that their stay in that place is seamless, I make sure to check all the reviews I can find about a specific hotel/resort online. Reviews are subjective so be sensible too and trust your instinct when choosing where to stay.

Researching on Places to Visit: 
Let's face it. Traveling isn't the only thing we do in life. Usually, we are only presented a very limited time to travel so why not spend it wisely? That's when blogs of fellow travel bloggers come in handy. Their insights about a specific place give me an idea whether an attraction is worthwhile. It helps me decide whether to still go or just skip a destination. I take note of everything that seems interesting then list them in order. That way, I'll not miss to see what interests me the most.  Then, to further avoid losing that precious travel time, I try my best not to get lost (although it proved to be so much fun when it happened to me once). Some blogs even share directions on how to hop from one attraction to another. That is mostly useful. Just be patient in searching for these guides.

Third, I Set a Reasonable Budget.
Having made your research, you will now have an idea of how much money you would need to set aside for the trip. Mostly, expenses would be comprised of transportation,accommodation, food and entrance fees. Depending on where you're going, there are sometimes other fees like environmental fee, guide fee, the occasional tips and taxes for custom duties. You don't have to sweat searching or guessing for an exact amount, a ballpark figure would do but don't forget to bring extra for contingencies.

Lastly, I think positively and stay flexible.
I have to admit it. There were several times that what actually happened during my travel is different from what I originally planned. Typhoons, getting lost and other circumstances substantially changed if not totally expunged my original itinerary. Don't have a heavy heart when this happens. Having an itinerary is ideal but sometimes,  it's even more fulfilling when you have to roll with the changes. These circumstances along with what you witness around you are the experiences that will truly open your eyes and enrich you as a traveler. 

More than ten years had passed since my classmate and I started noticing our dreams of traveling the world. Neither of us fulfilled it - yet. Despite that, I'm really happy right now that in this hard times when earning isn't easy,  I'm still able to travel and doesn't have to spend much of that hard earned money. I'm thankful that I learned the concept of Do-It-Yourself travels. If not, my purse might have already hit the rock bottom purchasing expensive package tours since I can never give up traveling. Worse, I might have ended up not traveling at all. 

I hope to continue doing budget DIY travels in the future and have more beautiful travel memories to share in this blog. I hope you all do too. :)

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