June 30, 2011

PLANNING: Choosing a Hotel

Deciding where to stay on a trip is rather a painstaking task as we don’t want to experience the horrors of sleeping in tacky floral linens camouflaging every imaginable living organism that has set up residence.

We’re definitely no high rollers and although we like to stay within budget, we can’t call ourselves full-fledged backpackers either.Yet.

Our criteria in choosing a hotel are pretty basic actually. Dorm rooms are still a NO NO although we’re not beyond shared bathrooms anymore for other countries (e.g. Singapore),

having been confronted with reality (read: budget deficit).Sleep doesn’t come easy to me (Me being Kim) and I’m what you call a really light sleeper. A sound of a creaking bed, a closing of a door, whispered conversations would definitely wake me up and sleep is a precious commodity.

We usually book standard air-conditioned rooms with a private bath. The luxuries of a TV and even a hot and cold shower we could afford to forego, but clean white linens factors a lot in our decision making process. This is a shared sentiment – printed sheets scare us a bit. We’re admittedly sissies like that. We also prefer non-smoking rooms since we both don’t smoke (anymore) and the stench of cigarettes isn’t exactly my idea of a soothing aromatherapy. Location of course is very important as proximity to other establishments, attractions and commuting options can help save on transportation expenses; security can also be determined by the type of neighborhood.



And to round it all off is the price. Admittedly, if our style is not cramped by money, deciding where to stay would be a no brainer. But for our upcoming trip, we have grudgingly agreed on a ceiling accommodation allowance and we’ll try our best to stick with it as we can’t afford to foray far north of that magic number.

With regards to our guiding standards, hundreds of listings of hotels, hostels and guesthouses are meticulously reviewed for days. We’d cross reference the facts on different websites, and read all reviews including those that are phrased in such a way that the reviewers point becomes guesswork because when you’re on a tight budget, every adjective matter.

Booking sites that offers discounts and personal experiences of guests shared on their website has served as well on our previous lakwatsas. Based on our experience, agoda.com has always followed through. We get a no hassle cheaper rate, sometimes even up to 60% discounts.

While we’re only looking for basic resting necessities, in some countries and even in the Philippines, finding a room that meets all our condition is still not easy. Of course it always boils down to the price. Basic as they are, private rooms with ensuite bathrooms don’t come cheap.

The key then, is to work around our limitations and research extensively. Make use of online
resources, read up and be patient, and to bring disinfectants and incenses if the rigidness has to
be thrown out the window.

June 28, 2011

SARTORIAL WEDNESDAY

I may not be the most fashionable person but I think fashion is fun and should never be taken seriously. Add to that how I definitely want to stay as chic as I possibly can be on a third world paycheck and in residence at the suburbs. My sartorial taste might not be fasyon enough for you (read: baduy or uncouth) but its what I'm comfortable in. Sometimes, dressing up is enough pick-me-upper and I love looking at pretty dresses even if some of the clothes I’m lusting on sells for an amount that some people in my third world country could never amass in their lifetime.

June 22, 2011

MY PHILIPPINES: Rediscovering San Pedro Street, Davao

The lakwatseras are a bit embarrassed when Journeying James on the 5TH DAY OF HIS MINDANAO CHALLENGE finally set foot in Davao and we're drawing a blank where to bring him. It was his first time here and all we could come up with are stops that are dictated by our stomachs.We brought him to our personal favorite Italian (!) restaurant- SPIRALE in Damosa and a uniqely Davao coffee shop - Blugre with its signature Durian coffee but we wished to have shown more of the city to him.


So last Monday, in an effort to explore and know this city more, we joined the Davao Bloggers on their photo walk along the busy streets of San Pedro and as always, stuffing these lakwatseras faces (well, just the other half actually, just guess which one), with delicious and dirt cheap (no pun intended) street side delights was the highlight of the activity.










Visited Osmena Park, Davao City Museum (picture taking is not allowed in the museum) and San Pedro Cathedral as well. The cathedral, right across the city hall is the oldest church in the city but a service was on going and we felt it disrespectful to snap photos.

San Pedro Cathedral

Osmena Park

Osmena Park

Davao Museum










June 20, 2011

Kuala Lumpur Impressions

From SINGAPORE, it was a 5 hour Transnasional freezing cold bus ride to get to the cultural, financial and economic centre of Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur, formerly known as Klang Valley, is home to the impressive and tallest twin buildings in
the world - the Petronas which rises like guards in the heart of the city. Designed to symbolize strength
and grace using geometric principles typical in Islamic architecture. The largest city and the capital of
Malaysia populated with an estimated 1.6 million people who adores Jericho Rosales because of a soap opera and his reel (and real?) pairing with Malaysian actress Carmen Soo.

Petronas Twin Towers

We missed the tickets to visit the skybridge:-(

Souvenirs
Laksa? haha sorry, I forgot but it was delicious.

It is also the most densely populated district in Malaysia and the streets are bursting with life and traffic jam. Bicycles, buses and foreign cars darting past us and clogging the streets, Abayas (traditional Muslim clothing) mingled with western dresses, the locals carrying grocery bags and bread and flowers wove around us tourists with our brightly colored holiday clothes and cameras slung on our necks trying to capture the curiosities of their everyday life.

Street scene in Merdeka Square

The landscape is an interesting mixture of modern and traditional charm as seen from our hurried
hopping on and off the tourist bus which is a great way to get around the city when you have a limited time.

 KL Railway Station

Changing of the guards at Istana Negara (Royal Palace)

Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) 

 Menara KL Tower

Constantly hopping.

Double decker hop on - hop off bus cruising along Chinatown

 We thought 24 hours would be enough to see all the highlights and move on to Penang and then eventually THAILAND but we have sorely underestimated the traffic jam. Oh well, another reason to go back.

June 18, 2011

WEEKEND POSTCARDS

Philippine Tarsier, Tagbilaran, Bohol
Read more about them and other Tagbilaran attractions HERE

June 15, 2011

ITINERARY: Vietnam in 5 Days

How we spent our 5 days and millions of Dongs in the land of beef noodle soups, drip brewed
coffees and motorcycles.


DAY 1: Arrival at Ho Chi Minh City
Tan Son Nhat International Airport lies 6 km of the city’s center. The airport code is SGN. If you’re a Philippines Passport holder, there’s no need for a visa but you have to fill in an arrival departure card. Most of the time it’s distributed by flight attendants on board, if not, you can find one at the arrivals lounge before you queue for the immigration.

Foreign exchange rate counters can be found after you clear immigration and claimed your luggage. At the time of our travel, PHP 1 is equivalent to VND 400 or USD 1 to VND 20,000, same rate on our hotel. So if you do the math, even with your meager travel dollars, you’re an instant millionaire in the Vietnamese soil.

There’s an official taxi desk (SASCO) and the fee is less than 10 USD to get you to the city. The cheaper alternative is the bus which leaves every 15 minutes from outside the departure lounge. Try to have the exact change when you take the bus.

Checked in at a cozy and clean standard room in Saigon Mini 1, the hotel is conveniently located in District 1 where most of the sights in the city can be found. Name and address of the hotel in the Vietnamese language: KHACH SAN SAIGON MINI 1 - 102/1A CONG QUYNH, QUAN 1.



DAY 2: Ho Chi Min City Tour
Had a steaming bowl of delicious pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup dish) and a really good cup of ca phe sua nong (Vietnamese hot coffee with milk) for breakfast, courtesy of our hotel to start our first full day in the city of Ho Chi Minh, formerly known as Saigon.

The MAIN ATTRACTIONS can be visited all within a day as most sights are concentrated in District 1, or the city center, and are within walking distance from each other except for the Chinese Temple at District 5 and the War Remnants Museum at District 3.


In District 1, The Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office are situated right across each other. Not too far from there is the former Hotel De Ville de Saigon turned into HCMC’s City Hall. In front of it is a beautifully manicured park with the statue of Uncle Ho.


Cab rides are inexpensive and metered provided you take the more reputable Vinasun or Mai Linh taxis. These two have the largest fleet and turns their meter on automatically. Be careful of other taxi companies who closely copy the name and logos and charges more than the usual rates.

Staying in the area of district 1 at 160 Pasteur Street, an old mansion turned into a well patronized restaurant QUAN AN NGON is lunch. The menu offer a huge range of international and traditional dishes on prices just a bit north of street side food prices. The food was fresh and absolutely delicious that we had to eat there again before flying out.


 

DAY 3: FROM THE CITY TO THE COUNTRY
To get a better grasp of another neighbor’s countries’ life and pace, we try to allocate a time to explore out of the city. For this trip, our fancy was caught by a coastal province 200 km northeast of HCMC with its landscape of sandy crescent shores and lively fishing villages, shallow streams and red rock formations and of course, its massive Saharan dunes and sand sledding.


We reached our destination via an open bus tour arranged through our hotel for USD 6. If your hotel does not offer that service, tickets are sold all over the tourist strips of District 1. Read here on how to get to Mui Ne : http://www.lakwatserangbayong.com/2010/07/road-to-muine-every-blogger-has-written.html

We left the city at 8 am and got to MUI NE 5 hours after. After hurriedly washing off the grimes off our faces and a quick bite at our front beach Thai Hoa resort , we hopped on an air- conditioned vehicle for 14 USD/person and proceeded to a scenic drive to explore this charming place.


We capped the night with a bottle of a local beer and a glass of mango daiquiri at the resort pool by the sea.

DAY 4: BACK TO THE FORMER CITY OF SAIGON

The day before, upon arriving in Mui Ne, we have arranged a pick up at the tourist center for 8 am. Exactly on time, a bus rolled off in front of our resort to bring us back to the city.

After checking back in at Saigon Mini 1, we walked around the area of a shopping square looking for lunch. Tucked in a narrow alley, we discovered the quaint Utopia café with its walls crammed with books. Sat on an al fresco table with our sandwiches and tall glasses of ca phe sa dua watching the Saigon world go by.

Done with lunch, squandering our millions of Dongs away for souvenirs and pasalubong shopping is what’s next on the agenda. But I got to tell you, we may be certified millionaires in the land of pho’s, but still a pauper in spending power. The must buy souvenir red shirt with a single yellow star printed on it costs 100,000 Dong (5 USD). American brands over run shirts costs around 200-500,000 Dong.


SAIGON SQUARE 1 - small, too crowded, better haggling chances, almost feels like Greenhills’ tiangge on a Christmas season. Here you will find a traditional Vietnamese clothing and souvenirs, few designer knock-offs, over run shirts, bags and luggage’s (Roxy, Crumpler, Kipling) and a lot of The North Face merchandise. Address is Nguyen Thi Minh Kai St, District 1.

SAIGON SQUARE 2 – bigger and better air-conditioning. A lot of American brand over runs, dvds, accessories and watches. Address in Ton Duc Thang St, District 1.

BEN THAN MARKET – un air-conditioned maze of stalls filled with every souvenir item you could think off but display more of their locally made produce. Don’t inquire about prices if you’re not too keen on buying as their marketing strategy is overly aggressive and a bit on the physical side to the point of tugging forcefully on your shirt and slapping your shoulders if you walk away not buying anything after asking.

Laden with shopping bags, we made our way back to the hotel to drop off our newly acquired stuff and dinner before proceeding to Rong Vang Theater at #55 Nguyen Thi Minh Kai, District 1 to catch the 8 PM WATER PUPPET SHOW. It is a historical and cultural showcase of an old Vietnamese tradition that started in the 11th century and one you shouldn’t miss when in the land of phos.



DAY 5: LAST DAY IN VIETNAM

Although HCMC is the most populous metropolitan area in Vietnam, the pace of life seems unhurried and on our last day we tried to emulate the locals and just take it easy and soak it all in. Sipped and savored glasses after glasses of ca phe sa dua and warmed and filled our tummies with phos anywhere we can get them because its criminal not to and just wandered around aimlessly.

Mid day with the oppressive heat and to pass away the time before our flight, we ducked into a curiously unique WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM at 28 Vo Van Tan in District 3. A walled yard with a series of buildings with war memorabilia on display.


FANNY'S ICE CREAM is a good place to cool down to and get my bearing after the encounter with that unique museum with their ingeniously presented sorbets and ice cream.


Last minute packing and we’re off to Tan Son Nhat International Airport. If you’re on an international flight,  proceed to Terminal 2 as Terminal 1 is for the use of Domestic flights. Duty Free shopping and dining places are quite limited.

June 12, 2011

DINING: Quan An Ngon, HCMC, Vietnam

Holidays seem to be the perfect excuse for excess. We’d save our money so we can afford to be buttered up and be deliciously sloshed overseas that when we come back, we’re almost always full of exotic cravings. There’s a shared unspoken belief where we consume a lot and feel half as guilty.

Lucky for our frail livers and cholesterol concerns, Vietnamese cuisine tips the scale on the healthier side. The Vietnamese are largely known and admired for their use of fresh ingredients with an abundance of fruits and vegetables and a whole universe of herbs. Most meats are only briefly cooked to retain their original color and grain. Fish sauce and soy sauce are used to season their dishes. As it is, every bite is a delightful mix and contrast of texture and a fusion of flavors.

Like any parts of Southeast Asia, you can get your fill of palate pleasers anywhere. There’s a wide range of places to eat at in the former city of Saigon and you can be spoiled for choice. From boiling pots of phos on the pavement, mobile food carts with roasts and banh mi, street side cafes to upscale restaurants - from local Vietnamese cuisine with French influence to international epicurean delights.


But Quan An Ngon hands down was a favorite; the food is undeniably good that we had to eat there twice. Housed in an old mansion located at 160 Pasteur Street in District 3, the menu offer an extensive range of international and traditional dishes on prices that won’t make quite a dent on the budget.

The 2 times we we’re there, the place is always full with a jolly mix of locals and foreign expats.

TIP: Try not to hit the lunch or dinner hour rush without a reservation, as you might not get seated right away.



Our distended bellies were satisfyingly stuffed some more with these.

Goi cuon or fried salad rolls with vermicelli noodles sprinkled with nuts

Pho bho or Vietnamese beef noodle soup.

Spicy grilled beef on skewers served with lime, pepper and sea salt on a bed of greens.

Fried fat chicken wings in fish sauce with a side dish of pickled vegetables.

Tart and sweet prawns in herby tamarind sauce.

Rounded up with seafood fried rice

and washed down with heart stopping ca phe sa dua


Good eats and vacations are inextricably linked.

CUISINE: International and Traditional Vietnamese
PRICE RANGE:15000 VND - 30000VND
LOCATION: 160 Pasteur, 8th Ward, District 3


HOW TO GET THERE: the restaurant is located at 160 Pasteur, 8th Ward, District 3and can easily be reached by a cab.


View Larger Map
 

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