Hanoi: In the Company of Strangers (Day 1)

To travel solo on a vacation has always been on my imaginary bucket list. While I may have conquered Hong Kong and Sydney on my own, these were for work and I’ve no choice but be alone. It was early this year when I finally decided to do this deliberate solitary trip as a birthday gift to myself. So two days after my birthday, I was on a plane to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Cebu Pacific Airlines has the red eye flights to Vietnam (both Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi); I was on the 1030PM flight and arrived in Hanoi at 1230AM (an hour behind Philippine time). Arriving alone in an unfamiliar place at an ungodly hour is a common plot in movies, so I decided to book a cab through the hotel I’m staying at just to be safe.

Tip:
The Noi Bai International Airport is about 35 kms away (estimated 45 minutes travel) from the city center. Save yourself the stress and book your cab through the hotel. It should cost you about US$16-18 for a private 4-seater cab. Therefore, if you travel in a group, it is way cheaper.

Some minutes later, I was dropped off in front of Thaison Palace Hotel. While it lacks the grandiose of a real palace, their warm reception pretty much made up for it plus the room they gave me is so huge for one person! I prepped for bed because I’ve yet to decide if I’ll go with the itinerary I prepared or take on the hotel’s suggestion.

For less than a P900 per night, this room is beyond my expectations.

For less than a P900 per night, this room is beyond my expectations.

The room was so spacious, I got a little too paranoid that I locked the closet and felt thankful that the tv was screwed up the wall that if ever Sadako comes out of it, she will fall. Hard.

The room was so spacious, I got a little too paranoid that I locked the closet and felt thankful that the tv was screwed up the wall that if ever Sadako comes out of it, she will fall. Hard.

I woke up early and headed to the dining hall for breakfast, expecting to have some quiet time to ponder on my itinerary for the day. To my surprise, the place was packed with Filipinos (with the exception of a lonesome Thai on a business). They were the ‘experienced’ group of Ed & Rose; Secenio & Linda; and Lourdes; the couple Celine & Ryan; and two more Filipino businessmen, whose names I wasn’t able to get.

It was a flurry of conversation about traveling, politics, schools, and just about anything in between. I knew from then, this is going to be a pleasantly different experience for me. I’ve always been wary of bumping into Filipinos abroad because some tend to be a little snooty and a tad too annoying. May angking kayabangan kasi ang ilang Pilipino kapag nasa ibang bansa. But this group? They are the reason why this is one of the most remarkable trips I’ve had. The group cannot be more diverse yet it was those differences that made the exchange of stories flowing and interesting.

Breakfast was such a delight that we had to pull ourselves out just so we can start our first day already. And before heading out, I thought to check the Halong Bay tour offered at the hotel. I was wheedled into getting the overnight stay (2D/1N instead of the full day tour) onboard The Viet Beauty Cruises and in the process, they computed my 2D/2N at the hotel and it all amounted to just US$200. They didn’t charge me for the very early check in at 2AM. Sweet deal!

With my itinerary on hand, I headed out and of course, managed to get myself lost several times in the first few hours of exploring the city by myself. I am the worst with directions. So I stopped by a coffee shop to mooch off their wifi, downloaded the map and saved it offline so I can just use the GPS. Worked perfectly!

Thaison Palace Hotel is within The Old Quarter but situated some 10 minutes away from the center, which is good because it's close enough to all the happenings but still give you the solitude you need at night.

Thaison Palace Hotel is within The Old Quarter but situated some 10 minutes away from the center, which is good because it’s close enough to all the happenings but still give you the solitude you need at night.

A mere 10-minute walk from the hotel is the Hoan Kiem Lake or the Lake of the Restored Sword and right in the middle of it is the Turtle Tower.

A mere 10-minute walk from the hotel is the Hoan Kiem Lake or the Lake of the Restored Sword and right in the middle of it is the Turtle Tower.

The Huc Bridge leads to the entrance of the 18th century Buddhist temple, The Temple of the Jade Mountain.

The Huc Bridge leads to the entrance of the 18th century Buddhist temple, The Ngoc Son Temple or The Temple of the Jade Mountain.

Main gate of the Ngoc Son Temple

Main gate of the Ngoc Son Temple.

I chanced upon some cute students wending their way to the temple.

I chanced upon some cute students wending their way to the temple.

To the left of the main gate, you will find this 1o-meter high stone structure. The symbols on the stone mean “Ta Thanh Thien”, which translates to “Writing on the clear blue sky”.

To the left of the main gate, you will find this 1o-meter high stone structure. The symbols on the stone mean “Ta Thanh Thien”, which translates to “Writing on the clear blue sky”. 

Taoist symbols guard the second gate to the temple; a tiger on the left and a Vietnamese dragon on the right. The temple may be closed at night but it sure is more gorgeous at this time.

Taoist symbols guard the second gate to the temple; a tiger on the left and a Vietnamese dragon on the right. The temple may be closed at night but it sure is more gorgeous at this time.

The third gate to the temple is closed at night but you can visit in the morning and pay US$1 or VND20,000. Meanwhile, enjoy the beauty and peace of this place at this time when there are less tourists to vie with for a good shot.

The third gate to the temple is closed at night but you can visit in the morning and pay US$1 or VND20,000. Meanwhile, enjoy the beauty and peace of this place at this time when there are less tourists to vie with for a good shot.

Just when you think you've seen enough of Hoan Kiem Lake, visit at night and be mesmerized. Locals and tourists abound the side of the lake to jog, eat, date, take photos, or just sit and take in the beauty of the place.

Just when you think you’ve seen enough of Hoan Kiem Lake, visit at night and be mesmerized. Locals and tourists abound the side of the lake to jog, eat, date, take photos, or just sit and take in the beauty of the place.

The Huc Bridge is one gorgeous sight at night.

The Huc Bridge is one gorgeous sight at night.

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Food Journey in Melaka

Malacca or Melaka, as it’s spelled in Malay, is a 3-4 hour bus ride from the Golden Mile Complex on Beach Road, Singapore. Travel time is dependent on which route the bus takes and the queue through immigration.

This is the first time that I’ll be traveling with an almost-local (well because he’s been mostly in other places that he’s hardly have enough time to be Malaysian) and I thought, it’s going to be a different experience altogether. For one, getting around is so much easier because communication is such a breeze; until they mistake me for a local and start talking to me in Malay and I start replying in English.The best part is having a tour guide all to myself, because I’m selfish like that. Insert evil grin here. I get insider information on the rather laid-back Malaysian culture, history and the local dishes to try, and what have you in between.

Traveling is not just about getting on a plane, capturing scenes and food with your camera; it’s about experiencing the place like a local. I realized I didn’t take a photo of the laksa and cendol dessert from Jonker 88 but I can relive the whole lunch experience in my head and even recall how crowded it was; how big that bowl of deliciously spicy laksa was and how delectably smooth the shaved ice was on that cendol dessert.

After that rather lengthy intro, let me start this food journey with the most famous street in all of Malacca, Jonker Walk.

Locally known as Jalan Hang Jebata but more famously known as Jonker Walk.

Locally known as Jalan Hang Jebata but more famously known as Jonker Walk.

Jonker Walk is so famous you won’t have a hard time finding it. If you’re staying at the center, I suggest you check Google maps first. Getting a cab in Malacca is almost similar to getting one in Manila; it’s because most tourist spots are within walking distance from each other that they will earn little if they don’t contract tourists for a fixed price that ranges from RM10-20. You might think it isn’t much but when you realize how near it was, you’ll rue spending it on cab fare.

If you eat all the local food from one end of Jonker Walk, you’ll end up stuffed by the time you reach the other end, which is a good thing. It’s cheap, tasty and a whole lot of fun. You’ll find the locals very accommodating and they will really encourage you to try without being pushy.

Nasi Kerabu

The blue pea flower, also known as clitoria flower.

The blue-tinged glutinous rice cakes are made with  blue pea flower petals and coconut milk. Definitely worth trying!

Pandan-infused sticky rice cake

Pandan-infused sticky rice cake

This delicacy has that ‘tikoy’ feel to it but you can taste the pandan and it’s really tasty. I think I would love this warmed and paired with coffee.

Colorful-striped glutinous rice cake

Colorful-striped glutinous rice cake

Another of these glutinous stuff and I’m seriously stuffed. And we’re just on the first stall.

Oh by the way, we traversed this street under the afternoon sun and while I prefer the sun to the rain, it was a little too hot for comfort. As people have started crowding behind us, we took that as cue to continue walking and found these absolutely cute street food.

Grilled ham and egg

Grilled ham and quail eggs

When these bad boys are done, they get dressed up with mayo and chili ketchup and I’m in heaven. If you’re in no hurry like us, wait for the freshly cooked ones; you won’t regret the wait.

Dressed up grilled quail eggs and ham

Dressed up grilled quail eggs and ham

We finally surrendered to the blistering heat and headed to an open bar. We ordered cold beer to wash down our skewered find and I thought that was the best idea of the day. Something I wouldn’t have said years before because I hate the bitter taste of beer. I would’ve chosen iced tea or soda but washing down all those glutinous rice cakes and grease with beer felt strangely good.

Suan Pan  Zi

Suan Pan Zi

After some bit of catching up and having been considerably cooled down, we headed out of the bar only to find this almost extinct delicacy quietly daring us to try it. Had I been alone, I would’ve just passed this by and not have known that this dish is almost ‘endangered’ because one can hardly find it even in food courts. Suan Pan Zi or Hakka Abacus Seeds has yam, dried mushroom, pork flakes (I think), spring onions and of course, chili. It has different layers of textures and flavors that’s just really good together.

More local dishes to try

More local dishes to try.

After much needed freshening up, we headed to a local restaurant near Dataran Pahlawan for dinner. I forgot the name but it looks nondescript from the outside but you’ll be surprised how packed it is inside; a testament that food is indeed good.

Old Town Cafe

Old Town Cafe

We managed to get our caffeine fix at the Old Town Cafe in AEON Bndaraya Melaka Shopping Centre. If I have the resources, I will bring this franchise home, leave my job and sleep here and breathe the delicious coffee aroma of this quaint coffee shop.

Lao Qian Ice Cafe

Lao Qian Ice Cafe

Since the sinfully creamy Old Town instant coffee is available in groceries here, I decided to purchase Lao Qian coffee, a famous local brand. The Lao Qian Ice Cafe is located inside Shan Shu Gong, which you cannot miss because it’s smacked right at the head of Jonker Walk. The coffee shop also doubles as a souvenir shop where you can buy these Malacca goodies to take home with you.

We capped off our food adventure with probably one of the best cakes I’ve ever had.

Our hotel may be a bit of a walk from the malls but it is merely a few steps from this gem of a cake shop. We went on a Sunday morning but it’s starting to get packed as early as 10:30 AM, merely half an hour from opening.

Strawberry Mille Crepe for dessert after breakfast.

Strawberry Mille Crepe for dessert after breakfast.

This is actually layers upon layers of very thin crepe with light strawberry cream in between. The sweetness and tartness are so balanced and the cake so light that I think I can actually finish three slices in one sitting had shamelessness ruled me over.

Some say that one visit to Malacca is enough, well I think it’s worth another because this little town has charmed me into coming back. Alone or otherwise. ;)

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For the Love of Coffee

The horrible traffic jams in the metro has unsweetened the commute for us lowly taxpayers and it takes more than sunshine-y disposition to win in this losing battle every single day. Well, traffic jam is one equalizer and seeing an annoyed guy driving a luxury car stuck beside the van I’m in made me a little thankful that I can doze off whenever I want while he sits there hopelessly fuming behind the wheel.

But I didn’t doze off. My mind wandered off to punchlines, comebacks, coffee and how relative it is to love and attraction. ;)

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I’ve always thought that waiting for my colossal cup of brew is worth the wait. I rather wait for a fresh brew than settle for what’s left on the coffee pot. Never settle. I cannot stress that enough.

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I like how being with you perks me up like a good cup of coffee in the morning.

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Oh, you like it black?  How fitting for your  personality.

Bitter and dark.

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I like my coffee hot and strong. Like you.

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This iced coffee reminds me so much of you. Cold.

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Cold nights. Hot coffee. Warm hugs.

Just perfect.

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Stale coffee is thrown away because it leaves a bad taste in the mouth;

As you should to those toxic and negative people around you.

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Enjoy the last few hours before the daily grind begins. Cheers to a new week! :)

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That Scramble To Sydney

Three months earlier….

It’s been a crazy and lazy three months but I thought I post something on this week-long Sydney assignment because I’ll be off on vacation soon and there’ll be new places to see and photos to post. :)

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Just one week into my new project last May and I had to rush to Sydney. I’m trying to make that sound like a complaint but I was only too happy to take over the tasks that a colleague is leaving me with. Few  get to have that kind of project handover anyway. So yes, I was giddy-stressed going through all my requirements for just a week’s notice before my flight.

It only took three days to get my business visa. And I was surprised that it's just on paper and not the usual visa label on passports. If you still require it, then it will cost AUD150.

It only took three days to get my business visa. And I was surprised that it’s just on paper and not the usual visa label on passports. Australian visas are electronically recorded so you won’t need the visa label anymore. If you still require it, then it will cost AUD150.

 

Skyview of the gorgeous sunset on the way to Hong Kong.

Skyview of the gorgeous sunset on the way to Hong Kong to catch my flight to Sydney.

 

After the 2-hour flight to Hong Kong; 1.5-hour waiting time for the connecting flight; and 9-hour flight to Sydney, I was home at last.

After the 2-hour flight to Hong Kong; 1.5-hour waiting time for the connecting flight; and 9-hour flight to Sydney, I was home at last. Sitting for hours made me so tired I actually fell asleep on the couch minutes later; and completely missed a meetup with my friend.

Tips:

  • Sydney is just two hours ahead of Manila so there really is no jetlag. It’s the hours of sitting on the plane that will really tire you out.
  • Getting a cab ride from the airport to the hotel in the center will cost you about AUD50.
  • Alternately, you can take the airport shuttle which will just cost you around AUD14 I think. The concierge will advise the nearest stop to your hotel in case it’s not the shuttle’s designated stop.  You can take this option if you travel light since you will have to lug around your suitcase to your hotel. 

I woke up around 4PM and had to scramble yet again because it’s a Sunday and shops close early and my stomach is rumbling. Plus I need to check our office location because getting lost on my first day is not an option.

The Sydney Harbor is within walking distance from the apartment.

So a quick check from the reliable Google maps and I headed out on foot to check the neighborhood. Some ten minutes later, I found myself at the Sydney Harbor; completely forgetting I was hungry.

And because I’m so horrible with directions, I managed to get myself lost and took the long and winding route to the office. Had I merely turned right, I would’ve found it immediately; less than five minutes away from the apartment and housed in one of the landmark buildings in the area, 1 Martin Place.

The preserved landmark buildings makes Sydney truly charming and worth coming back to.

The iconic landmark buildings are so charming and so irresistible that you just go trigger-happy with your camera.

Between being lazy and not having enough inspiration to blog, I hope I can put up another post on places to visit in Sydney because this is a very picturesque city and even with their cold weather, I am surprised at how warm the locals are. I wasn’t able to capture that with a photo but the experience surely made this short deployment sweeter than I could possible imagine.

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How to Not Feed a Racist Troll


Google decided to take down the offensive site. http://technology.inquirer.net/37035/google-removes-singapore-hate-blog-against-filipinos

PLEASE hear me out before hitting the Share button on that blogpost on Bloodstained about Filipinos.

The troll has its five-point guide on showing displeasure to Filipinos and I thought to tap on our objectivity before our (often) overly-sensitive side get the better of us.

1.     “Your English sucks…”

Surely you do not believe this nonsense, right? Because why on earth will BPOs setup shop here if that were the case?

Our English proficiency may have dwindled but even Manong Magtataho or Manang Fruit Vendor can help a tourist who badly needs directions. That’s how good we are.

2.     Accidentally step on them or shove them.

If someone ever does this to a person regardless of race, it says nothing about the ‘victim’ but a lot on the ‘perpetrator’. Nuff said.

3.     Create an artistic mess on your plate.

“Toss food into your mouth, chew thoroughly, then spit it out….Do this till your plate is a masterpiece of regurgitated nastiness…”

If someone does this in a Filipino resto, it should offend us Filipinos? Hell, no!

Again, this does not reflect anything on us and everything on the person who will ever do this. Only someone obtuse and devoid of social graces will publicly display such a juvenile act.

4.     Never help Filipinos involved in serious traffic accidents.

After this troll’s previous statements, do we actually expect it to do something nearly humane?

5.     Pray for a flood of biblical proportions to descend upon Orchard Road on 8 June

This troll has conveniently forgotten that Orchard Road is in Singapore, therefore, they will just be as affected as we are given that this place is haven to retail stores, hotels and businesses.

All these in point, will you still share that article? I didn’t even link it here because the troll is probably enjoying the traffic on his hideous blogpost already and I’m so not giving it the satisfaction of seeing its stats go up. Regardless if there are but a very few people reading my blog, I will not care to add those numbers to its stats.

I’ve been to Singapore a number of times and I cannot recall a bad encounter with them; in another Asian country,  maybe, but not in Singapore. 

The troll is merely counting on our over-sensitivity and social media proficiency and enthusiasm to gain popularity and infamy.

So please, DO NOT SHARE that link.

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