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Exploring The City of Smiles (Day 1)

It has been weeks since my short trip to Bacolod, the City of Smiles, but the urge to go back and explore this quaint city again hasn’t died down.

The people here are just so nice and the places just as good. But what made me fall in love with Bacolod is the FOOD. We had to stop by museums and landmarks because these deterred us from trying all the restaurants we had on our list (thanks to dear friend, Nic for the fabulous tips! 🙂 ). In a nutshell, our 3D/2N in Bacolod turned out to be three days of glorious food tripping around the city.

DAY 1

From the airport, you need not worry about catching a cab to your hotel as there are shuttles that charge Php150/pax. This is a good deal already because the new Bacolod-Silay International Airport is quite far from the city.

We stayed at <a href="http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g298464-d1822204-r256418167-The_Suites_at_Calle_Nueva-Bacolod_Negros_Occidental_Negros_Island_Visayas.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT">The Suites at Calle Nueva</a>. They offer the basic necessities, huge room, free buffet breakfast and good location. And best of all, the staff; they're just wonderful! TripAdvisor has never really failed me when doing my research on places to stay. The feedback and tips posted here are legit and will help you plan your trip.

We stayed at The Suites at Calle Nueva. They offer the basic necessities, huge room, free buffet breakfast and good location. And best of all, the staff; they’re just wonderful! TripAdvisor has never really failed me when doing my research on places to stay. The feedback and tips posted here are legit and will help you plan your trip. 

After checking in, we walked to SM City Bacolod and crossed out one food destination on our list: Bob's. Their big serving of 2-piece satay barbeque is just Php117!  Namit gid!

After checking in, we walked to SM City Bacolod and crossed out one food destination on our list: Bob’s. Their big serving of 2-piece satay barbeque is just Php117! Namit gid! 

Once you get here proceed to the main house and look for Roger Lucero, the hilarious tour guide at The Ruins. It was his day off when we get there so I hope you catch him when you visit.

Once you get here, proceed to the main house and look for Roger Lucero, the hilarious tour guide at The Ruins. It was his day off when we get there so I hope you catch him when you visit.

Tip: How To Get Here-

From Bacolod City ride the jeepney bound for BATA, or ride the jeepney with the route Libertad-BATA. Tell the driver to drop you off at the nearest trike terminal going to The Ruins (there are at least two terminals there). They charge between Php25-30. 

Proceed to the main house and look for Roger Lucero (he’s the funny tour guide at The Ruins).

Visit The Ruins in the afternoon and stay there until sunset. There is a restaurant there where you can just lounge around and do people watching. Or there are stalls there selling fresh sugar cane juice.

Visit The Ruins in the afternoon and stay there until sunset. There is a restaurant there where you can just lounge around and do people watching. Or there are stalls there selling fresh sugar cane juice.

We had to drag ourselves from the magnificence of The Ruins to have dinner at another place on our list: Manokan Country.

Manokan Country is packed with stalls but I suggested Aida's because this one has a little stall in Makati Square that we frequent during lunch.

Manokan Country is packed with stalls but I suggested Aida’s because this one has a little stall in Makati Square that we frequent during lunch. 

Bacolod inasal is unlike the sweet inasal in Manila. It's spiced enough to taste good but so much better with dipping sauce of soy sauce, calamansi and chilis! Namit kaayo!

Bacolod inasal is unlike the sweet inasal in Manila. It’s spiced enough to taste good but so much better with dipping sauce of soy sauce, calamansi and chilis! Namit kaayo!

Manokan Country is within walking distance to the hotel so we just walked home and capped the night off with some sweets we bought from Calea.

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Day Hike at Pico De Loro

Scaling a mountain was something that I’ve always wanted to do but never really put enough fuel on that thought to get it going. Good thing a dear friend was very keen on doing it and we soon found ourselves booked for a day hike at Pico de Loro with Trailadventours.

It was uneventful ride to Ternate, Cavite. Only because I’ve slept through most of the 2-hour ride, which began at 4AM. Scroll through the photos and I’ll let you in on tips along the way.

Your shoes will define your trek.

Your shoes will define your trek.

You always have the option to wear trekking sandals but on a hot summer day, the ground is dry and little rocks can creep between your sandals and your soles and that will hurt. DO NOT wear sneakers and flip flops as those will make you slip and slide… or worse.

I wore a pair of good running shoes with ridges on the sole and it worked for me. 😉

Yes, they have halo-halo on the mountain!

Yes, they have halo-halo on the mountain!

After an hour or so of trekking, I was surprised to see a little sari-sari store selling halo-halo! A tad weird and expensive too. Well, transporting ingredients from the base is really difficult so that accounts for the price.

Sneak peak of the gorgeous landscape after some two hours of trekking.

Sneak peak of the gorgeous landscape after some two hours of trekking.

From the Trailadventours site, the hike to Mount Pico de Loro has a difficulty of 4/10. But for a first time hiker, it could very well be a 6. Though the trail is very defined, there are a lot of steep ascents that newbies like me will find a bit daunting but still manageable.

Coby, one of the lead guides imparted some bits of trekking wisdom: take small but sure steps and when in doubt, use your ass. Very helpful tips I must say. Your goal is to reach the summit and go back to base in one piece.

We reached the campsite around 10AM.  On the photo   are Shie,a solo traveler from Mindoro and Kaye, a blogger and good friend who managed to keep in touch long after she left the company I'm still in.

We reached the campsite around 10AM. On the photo are Shie,a solo traveler from Mindoro and Kaye, a blogger and a good friend who managed to keep in touch long after she left the company I’m still in.

I have expectations of a campsite is and what I saw was a let down. There was too much litter and waste segregation bins are nowhere to be found either. It’s supposed to be a protected landscape, yet it looks as though it’s in dire need of protection. It made me wonder what the Php25 fee that hikers pay at the DENR registration. I’m thinking they should just charge Php50 so hikers don’t pay Php5 every time they use the restroom to pee or wash up.

I’m not very prissy but let’s just say that I need to be desperate to use the restroom there. It’s that bad. Putting up decent restrooms doesn’t mean defacing the mountain (maybe put up nipa huts to make it blend with the surroundings?). If makeshift stores are built there, then they can build these restrooms too, right? It doesn’t have to be hotel grade but it sure needs to be clean.

From the campsite, another half an hour and you'll reach the summit.

From the campsite, another half an hour and you’ll reach the summit.

The monolith is a challenge I will conquer on my next trip. I think the mere fact that I returned to Manila in one piece is already an achievement for me. 🙂

Tips:

  • Eat heavy breakfast and bring energy bars. This is your best excuse for carb-loading and chocolates. The energy bars really helped us as we didn’t bring lunch; we decided to grab lunch at Manong Wilson’s carinderia. Food is really good!
  • Bring just enough water. I brought along a liter because two liters is too heavy for me.
  • Wear comfy shoes and bring extra slippers.
  • Bring a complete change of clothes (including underwear) and toiletries; you’ll need this when you go back to the base.

From experience, this is something you can do on your own; you don’t need to sign up on a group tour. Being on an organized trek has its advantages as they guarantee your safety, you meet new people and the Trailadventour guides are really a fun bunch. But honestly, the Php1800 fee is quite steep given that it just includes transportation and tour guide fee. Should you ever do a DIY trek, I overheard a group that they paid Php600 for their tour guide. Not a bad deal! 🙂

 

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Hanoi: In the Company of Strangers (Day 4)

It was a rather uneventful ride back to the hotel from Halong City and got dropped off at the hotel by 5PM and happily chatted with the couple I met over breakfast the other day. Over that bit of chat, they invited me out for a night out after we have rested for a bit. I was hesitant to go because I was billeted at a different hotel, given I checked out of Thaison Hotel for the Halong Bay tour, and upon my return, there’s no spare room and they will put into one of their ‘sister hotels’, the Parkson Hotel.

While our hotels are fairly near each other, I was unsure whether to go with them or not. They’re probably just being nice. But when Celine said that they really want to hang out, we decided to meet at about 8; watch the fireworks by the lake to celebrate Hanoi’s 60th Liberation Day; grab dinner; shop maybe or just head to a local bar.

That settled, Thaison Hotel offered to take me to Parkson Hotel via a motorbike. Seriously. It may be a short ride but I can brag and say, “I rode a motorbike in Vietnam and lived to tell the tale!”

The Saturday night crowd was huge and overflowing from the bars and the makeshift outdoor bars gulping on bia hoi, the local beer that costs less than P10/cup, or enjoying a bowl of pho.

The Saturday night crowd was huge and overflowing from the bars and the makeshift outdoor bars gulping on bia hoi, the local beer that costs less than P10/cup, or enjoying a bowl of pho.

Celine's boyfriend, Ryan has that look on his face that he really wants to head to a bar but didn't want to impose it on us. So when Celine and I finally agreed, he was like a kid whose gift came in October.

Celine’s boyfriend, Ryan has that look on his face that he really wants to head to a bar but didn’t want to impose it on us. So when Celine and I finally agreed, he was like a kid whose gift came in October.

What we saw in that bar will stay with us for a very long time. I was so surprised that it was the Asian women who were acting like the westerners  while it was the westerners who were acting like Asians. Those Asians were so wild it’s so hard to look at them. It was nowhere near sexy at all; it was downright sl***y.  Ugh.

But we got to give  it to them for entertaining us like so; all that’s missing is a tub of buttered popcorn to munch on.

Even with all that live rated-R show, that was not the highlight of the night. It never occurred to us that the 12AM curfew was strictly observed in Hanoi as it seemed to be non-existent in Ho Chi Minh City. The police usually do their rounds around that time and  remind bars to close down but because it was 1AM, we were ushered out by no less than the police themselves. It was a crazy experience but it was all good. What was unexpected was Ryan and Celine walked me back to my hotel before they headed to theirs. So sweet.

My room looked like an upgrade from my previous hotel, well it should be. It was a tad inconvenient to be transferring hotels for just a night but I was thrilled at how HUGE the bed was and I have it all to myself. I love it!

My room looked like an upgrade from my previous hotel, well it should be. It was a tad inconvenient to be transferring hotels for just a night but I was thrilled at how HUGE the bed was and I have it all to myself. I love it!

I woke up early to have breakfast before the tour guide picks me up for the city tour. Minutes later, we arrived at our first stop.

Tran Quoc Pagoda

The Tran Quoc Pagoda is located in the West Lake and the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi; it was built in the sixth century.

Two of the ten shrines flanking the Tran Quoc Pagoda.

Two of the ten shrines flanking the Tran Quoc Pagoda.

The temple is home to a number of valuable statues.

The temple is home to a number of valuable statues.

The bodhi tree giving shade to the meditating golden Buddha statue is said to be a gift from the Indian Prime Minister Razendia Prasat who visited the temple in 1959.

The bodhi tree giving shade to the meditating golden Buddha statue is said to be a gift from the Indian Prime Minister Razendia Prasat who visited the temple in 1959.

The gorgeous wooden hallway inside the compound of the Tran Quoc Pagoda.

The gorgeous wooden hallway inside the compound of the Tran Quoc Pagoda.

Next stop is the Ho Chi Minh Complex that houses the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, House on Stilts and the One Pillar Pagoda.

Next stop is the Ho Chi Minh Complex that houses the Presidential Palace, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, House on Stilts and the One Pillar Pagoda.

Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum taken from the back.

Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum taken from the back.

The One Pillar Pagoda is another historic Buddhist temple in Hanoi. It's located within the  compound of the Parliament House. Locals believe that praying here will bless one with prosperity.

The One Pillar Pagoda is another historic Buddhist temple in Hanoi. It’s located within the compound of the Parliament House. Locals believe that praying here will bless one with prosperity.

With the group slowly drifting on their own, the tour guide designated a meeting spot and with the hot weather, I decided to go there early and found fellow tourist, Floja (I’m not sure I got the spelling right). She’s French and works for the government and was assigned for a week in Hanoi on business trip. We may be strangers but  we have same thoughts on traveling; going solo has its perks and we both love it.

Next stop is the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which doubles as a research center and a museum.

Next stop is the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, which doubles as a research center and a museum.

An old Viet house. The exhibit inside the museum is very informative, but I found it a bit boring so after i gave the two floors a once over, I went out to explore the grounds and found the exhibits there more engaging.

An old Viet house. The exhibit inside the museum is very informative, but I found it a bit boring so after I gave the two floors a once over, I went out to explore the grounds and found the exhibits there more engaging.

Jarai Tomb House. This was built in 1998 by men from the Jarai tribe, one of the largest ethnic groups in Central Highlands. This tomb house can fit 30 dead people; broken plates, cups are placed inside because they believe in providing necessities for the departed in the after life.

Jarai Tomb House. This was built in 1998 by five men from the Jarai tribe, one of the largest ethnic groups in Central Highlands. This tomb house can fit 30 dead people; broken plates, cups are placed inside because they believe in providing necessities for the departed in the after life.

Surrounding the tomb house are sexually explicit wooden sculptures that depicts fertility and birth. These are sculpted using axes, chisels and knives.

Surrounding the tomb house are sexually explicit wooden sculptures that depicts fertility and birth. These are sculpted using axes, chisels and knives.

By now the midday sun has unleashed its fury and we’re just thankful that next stop is the Blue Butterfly restaurant back at the Old District for lunch. I sat with Floja, and Riza and Aiza, who are Filipina nurses on holiday. It was a hodgepodge of conversation amid a delicious meal that’s too much for four girls.

This is the main gate of the Temple of Literature; built in 1070 and one of the many temples dedicated to Confucius.

This is the main gate of the Temple of Literature; built in 1070 and one of the many temples dedicated to Confucius.

During our visit, there were a loads of students having a pictorial. According to our tour guide, this temple is a favorite venue for graduation pictorials. Quite appropriate, I must say, since this is one of the temples dedicated to Confucius, the sages and scholars. During our visit, there were a loads of students having their pictorial for graduation. According to our tour guide, this temple is a favorite venue for graduation pictorials. Quite appropriate, I must say, since this is one of the temples dedicated to Confucius, the sages and scholars.

During our visit, there were a loads of students having a pictorial. According to our tour guide, this temple is a favorite venue for graduation pictorials. Quite appropriate, I must say, since this is one of the temples dedicated to Confucius, the sages and scholars.

The Temple of Literature has five courtyards and it would’ve been nice to explore it all at leisure but since this is a guided tour, we’re pressed for time. Soon enough we found ourselves back in the Old Quarter to explore Hoan Kiem Lake. I’ve been here on my first day so I skipped this and went shopping with Riza and Aiza. 🙂

That was the last in the itinerary and I was finally dropped me off at the hotel. I freshened up for a bit and fixed my stuff and went to the last place on my list.

St. Joseph's Cathedral, also known as the Hanoi Cathedral, was built in 1886 and is the oldest church in Hanoi. The structure resembles that of Notre Dame de Paris.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral, also known as the Hanoi Cathedral, was built in 1886 and is the oldest church in Hanoi. The structure resembles that of Notre Dame de Paris.

The stained glass windows were produced in France before it was transported to Hanoi.

The stained glass windows were produced in France before it was transported to Hanoi.

The cathedral is a short walk  from the Hoan Kiem Lake and is part of my itinerary. I thought it’s the perfect way to conclude this four-day solo trip; to be thankful that I was safe and had an experience that will stay with me for a very long time.

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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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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. 🙂

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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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