Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Phuket - Thailand's Island Paradise

March 19-24, 2007

Last March, I attended a conference in Phuket along with the entire member of the Business and Consumer Insights Group of The Coca-Cola Export Corporation. It was a 5.5 hour flight via Singapore. By the time we reached our hotel, it was nearly 10pm, we were tired and hungry.

We were privileged to stay at the Le Meridien Phuket, a beautiful hotel with its own private cove. The restaurants serve mouth-watering dishes which we first discovered the evening we arrived. Unfotunately, we had a very hectic schedule which greatly limited opportunities to explore the beach. All pictures were taken either at sun down or evening. Sigh.

We were able to venture out on two nights and I must say that there's not much to see anyway. That is unless you favor watching women, or men who looked like women, or men dressed as women but who really looked like men (get it?), take off their clothes on a dark platform.

And the famous Patong Beach? Obviously, the people who made it famous have not been to the Philippine beaches. It pales in comparison with our very own Boracay, Bohol and even the beaches in Cebu.

I'm just glad we were tucked in a very quiet location at Le Meridien. I also loved the food in our hotel and in the two restaurants we dined in - 360 degrees and Joe's Downstairs. Lastly, the massage at the hotel Spa capped our stay. The expert kneading of their therapists lulled me to sleep. It felt so good I almost didn't want to go back to my room.
Enjoy the pictures!!!

Kuala Lumpur the Second Time Around

After 9 years, I was going to see Kuala Lumpur again. In 1998, I went to KL, also via Singapore, to attend a Qualitative Research workshop by Burke Institute. I stayed at the New World Renaissance Hotel which is right across the Petronas twin towers. I remember getting off the plane and seeing the newly constructed, very modern, international airport. I didn’t know exactly where to go but figured I had to get into the train to get to the arrival hall. I just went with the crowd and found myself in the other terminal where the immigration hall and the luggage claim areas are. I traveled alone that time and was not able to get around much. I was hoping I'll see more of KL this time.

Fast forward to 2007, I was privileged to be sent to the Asia Pacific ESOMAR conference to be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I was at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport by 5:15 am, a good three hours before my plane was to take off for Singapore. At this time, the airport wasn’t so crowded yet so checking in had been a breeze. I whispered a silent prayer asking God to bless me with a “good” seatmate – someone who would let me read my book or watch a movie in peace and not engage me in a conversation. God granted my request and I was seated beside a gentleman who didn’t bother me with unwanted conversation and frequent trips to the lavatory (I got the aisle seat).

As soon as the doors where opened, I had to rush out and find my departure gate for Malaysia. I decided to check out the stores on my return flight when I have more time. There was already a long line going into the waiting area for my KL flight. I again whispered a silent prayer that I may be blessed with a quiet seatmate. We boarded after just a few minutes and I thanked God for yet another peaceful flight. As I got out of the plane, I was greeted by a familiar sight – the modern structure of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It was already past 2pm when I got into the cab that will take me to the Shangri La Hotel. It was an hour-long drive to the city but I didn’t mind since the route was scenic with dense rows of trees and plants along the highway. The roads were in excellent condition and there was hardly any traffic along the way. I felt a bit sad for my country. In the Philippines, the first sights a tourist would encounter are the old and worn out airport and the bad traffic within the airport vicinity and probably even worse as they get to EDSA. Not a very good first impression.

It was past 3pm when I finally got into my room at the Shangri-La Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. As I always do when I am staying in a hotel, I checked the bathroom first. It was big enough to my liking, has a marbled flooring, with a separate tub and shower. The shower is enclosed in glass and there is a water temperature control knob (Our bathroom at home was actually inspired by a hotel bathroom like this, with a separate tub and shower, though ours has a Jacuzzi instead of the usual tub). The tub is the usual rectangular, all-white ensemble, with a separate faucet and hand-held shower fixtures. As with any five star hotel, the usual bathroom amenities are provided. The shampoo, hair conditioner and body lotion come in lavender scent. There’s a toothbrush, toothpaste, emery board, cotton buds and shower cap. The bath robes are too big for me, but the towels are just the right size - big enough to wrap around my entire body. Next I checked the closet and was delighted to find a personal safe, an ironing board and a flat iron – perfect if my clothes got too wrinkled in the luggage. There were enough hangers for all my clothes, and the personal safe is big enough to put my laptop in. The king-sized bed in all-white linen, soft duvet, and gold bed cover is very comfortable, and smelled of fabric softener. The four pillows are very fluffy and are of the perfect size. As I look at the gigantic bed, I am reminded of the four nights I will spend sleeping here alone, occupying probably just a third of the space, dreaming I am sleeping instead in our slightly smaller queen-sized bed, in the warm embrace of my hubby.
I heard my tummy grumble in protest and I was quickly reminded to check the room service menu. I settled with something familiar – a plate of pasta. As I was waiting for my late lunch, I quickly unpacked and contemplated if I should venture out on my own. I was still undecided when my “lunch” arrived and I quickly devoured half the plate. Once satisfied with my meal, I looked out the window and saw the clear skies and the beautiful sunny weather. That’s when I decided to check out the KL Tower and take pictures of the city from the view deck of the 4th tallest tower in the world. While the KL Tower is only a few blocks away from the hotel, I was advised to take a cab as it might be dangerous for me to walk uphill alone. I alighted the cab after just a few minutes of driving. I paid the entrance fee of RM 20 (about P300) and soon found myself in the midst of a bustling weekend tourist crowd. The sunny weather provided the right level of light to capture the vivid city landscape through my Canon Powershot camera. I had an unobstructed view of the Petronas towers and took a few shots from my vantage point. Satisfied with my city shots, I decided to go down to take a picture of the tower from below. I stayed for a total of about 30 minutes before heading back to the hotel.

With nothing else planned for the night, I decided to try the traditional Malay massage. Instead of having it at the spa, I asked for the room service. Soon, I was in massage heaven and my skin was slathered in lavender scented oil. As I was enjoying my massage, I couldn’t help but think of my hubby back in Manila. He also loves massages and every Sunday night, the two of us would indulge in an hour-long Swedish massage. Tonight, we didn’t share that experience. Instead, I was alone in a hotel room thousands of miles away. Sigh.

By Tuesday, I still had not ventured out on my own. It had been two room service dinners for me. I was able to “reconnect” with old ACNielsen colleagues and meet other people as well. Myls is a Filipina, connected with Good Thinking, Inc., a Manila-based research agency. I met a couple of others from around Asia Pacific – CC of HBO in Singapore, Sheila of Forward MRS in Australia, Athena of Buena Vista International in Hong Kong, to name a few. I decided to go with them and join the ESOMAR delegation for a dinner at the Menara Kuala Lumpur. That’s again the KL Tower. Yup, I’d been there, but I didn’t want to pass up the chance to take city shots at night. And that’s exactly what I did – had dinner and took night shots. Shortly after dinner, I left with some of the girls as we were already very tired from the day’s activities.
On Wednesday night, I joined Myls and a Malaysia-based friend of hers, Ato, for dinner at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center. This is at the Petronas Towers. I figured it would be a good opportunity to do a bit of shopping and to take a few night shots of the twin towers. We decided to eat at Chili’s. Finally, a familiar taste after days of Malaysian cuisine. We ordered lots of food. I went for my usual fare – Mushroom Jack Fajitas. We also ordered the side sampler consisting of the egg rolls, chicken crispers and the chicken wings. Ato liked the nachos with beef and cheese while Myls craved for the cheese steak sandwich. We shared everything and we were full before we even touched the sandwich. By the way, Ato footed the bill. I was so embarrassed. I just tugged along and he ended paying for dinner for three instead of just dinner for two. Thank you very much Ato!!! After dinner, at around 11pm, we went out to take pictures of the Petronas Towers. Check out my cool shots!!!
After four nights, I was excited to go back home. I was sharing a cab with CC (a delegate from Buenavista International based in Singapore) to the airport, but before that, we took a quick trip to the KLCC. I decided to buy the small gadget for cleaning contact lenses. I got it for MR99.9 which is roughly Php1,300. Basically, it has a small canister for the contact lenses.The canister is filled with the all-purpose fluid, attached to the battery powered base and then turned on for a 3 minute agitation to cleanse the lenses. After 3 minutes, the contact lenses are ready for use. A small suction tool is used to lift the lens so you can put it on without ever touching it. Pretty cool!!! The canister and suction tool need to be replaced quarterly for hygiene purposes. I bought a year’s worth of supplies. Hopefully by next year, it will be available in the Philippines.

At the Changi Aiport, I had an hour to shop before heading to the boarding gate for my flight to the Philippines. I was able to buy a few chocolate bars and a perfume for my hubby. He loves perfumes and likes new scents each time. He doesn’t buy scents he already tried in the past. Fortunately, new scents are introduced periodically. This time, I got him the Chanel Allure Homme Sport. I was pretty pleased that I was able to get him something which I knew he would love. I also bought a hard cover book by Mitch Albom – “for one more Day”. I was trying to look for “the five people you meet in heaven” which had been out of stock in the Philippines but also didn’t find it in the bookstores at the Changi Airport. I was beaming with excitement as I boarded the flight back home. I hardly shopped in KL but managed to get a few items in Singapore. By 9pm on Thursday night, I was back in the arms of my hubby. There’s no place like home!!!

Viaje Del Sol: A Weekend Road Trip

Sometimes, you don't have to travel far to see beautiful places. Some of these wonderful locations are tucked quietly in nearby towns waiting to be discovered. One weekend, we packed our gear (not much, just our wallets and a pair of comfortable walking shoes) and headed south through the WAY OF THE SUN.

February 5, 2007

I had a great weekend!!! Went on a road trip with my cousins – the Starex adventure group as we call ourselves (Jo-Ann and hubby Alfred, Jojo and wife Richel, Me and hubby Ariel, Alfred’s parents Tito Tony and Tita Cherry). Ariel and I almost didn’t go. We’ve both been very busy at work and we just wanted to have a relaxing weekend at home. Thankfully, we changed our mind and decided to join the group. The route we were to take was that of Viaje Del Sol or The Way of the Sun. This route will take us south, to the artists and craftsmen of Laguna and Quezon. We read about it in a blog and we followed this blogger’s itinerary.

We started early on Saturday morning. We met at the Uy residence in Las Pinas at around 6:15am. We left for San Pablo just before 7am. Our first destination – the Patis Tesoro owned restaurant, Kusina Salud. By the time we pulled into the parking lot at around 9:30am, we were already famished and excited to try the sumptuous breakfast offerings. The guys ordered adobo flakes while the women went for longganisa except for Tita Cherry who opted for the omelette. I must admit that I had lofty expectations after seeing the pictures in the blogger’s website. The food was ok. Well, maybe I expected more for P215 a plate (including the coffee). They actually looked better in the picture but was pretty ordinary in reality. The adobo flakes weren’t really flaked, instead the meat was cut into bite-sized pieces. I’ve tasted better. The longganisa was average, though I liked the roasted tomatoes. The pickled papaya (atchara) was pretty good, too. The coffee (which was noted to be good by the blogger - I guess he is a better photographer than a judge of good coffee – no offense!) wasn’t so great, a bit bland for my taste (and my cousins agree). The hot chocolate was a bit watery and bland too. I thought I could do a better job with an Alfonso’s chocolate tablet (I’m sure my hubby would agree). Ok, so maybe breakfast wasn’t as great as I thought it would be. I savored every bite nonetheless. It was my first meal of the day, and I woke up at 5am! Next time, we’ll try the lunch menu.

What I found particularly endearing about Kusina Salud is the picture-worthy, rustic structure amidst a lush garden. I liked the soothing sound of the streaming waters at the nearby creek and the numerous water features around the garden as we enjoy quiet conversations. It felt like all the stress of a hectic workweek was washed away. It was only our first stop and I was already feeling so chirpy. Oh, and our photos look so good. Can’t wait to scrap them!


Next stop, Kinabuhayan Cafe.

Kinabuhayan Cafe is another charming food destination in the South. It’s located in Dolores, Quezon, just a few minutes away from San Pablo. The place has a rustic feel and is modestly decorated. There are two huts behind the main café, each one furnished with a cushioned bamboo couch and a hammock on the slightly elevated first floor. There’s a bed covered in mosquito net on the second floor. The garden is not professionally landscaped but there are some fruit-bearing and ornamental plants all around. A multi-level (I think it has four floors total) tree house is built upon the mango tree beside the main café. It was a simple yet charming destination.
Since we were still full from breakfast, and we have a lunch reservation at noon in Tiaong Quezon, we decided to just take a quick peek and leave. My cousin Jo-Ann and I were first to enter the premises. We were greeted by a guy in shorts, oversized t-shirt and long graying hair. He looked like a local movie’s portrayal of an ermitanyo. He greeted us in straight English with an American accent. Our jaws might have dropped to the floor at that instant. It turned out Jay Herrera, the owner and chef, is an artist of sorts. Well, he worked in show business for years as a set designer before deciding to settle in Dolores. We were so charmed by his hospitality that we weren’t able to refuse when he asked us what we wanted to order. We decided to get a pot of coffee and Jay suggested a plate of chapatti (sorry, don’t really know how to spell it) to go with it. While the coffee and chapatti were being prepared, we were served with some welcome drinks - glasses of orange juice. After a few minutes, Jay came out of the kitchen all covered in flour, with our pot of coffee and a plate of freshly prepared chapatti. The coffee lightly flavored with pandan leaves was great and the chapatti paired with the eggplant dip even better. Jay never ran out of stories, and he was generous enough to share his recipes. Will surely try the chapatti and the eggplant dip at home!

The highlight of our visit though, in my opinion, was meeting Muning and Toothnik. It was love at first sight. I was totally enamored. Muning is 1 year old and Toothnik, still a baby at 3 months. They are the cutest, friendliest and most adorable dachshunds I’ve ever met. I got smothered with wet kisses the first time I held them. How sweet is that?!
Everything said and done, Kinabuhayan Café is one stop I wouldn’t miss the next time I find myself in the Viaje Del Sol route. Charming place, gracious host, great stories, special food and adorable pets. Oh, did I mention that we paid a measly P200 for everything? That’s P200 for all of us. P25 each. Real value for money. Who can ask for more?

Lunch at Ugu Bigyan’s

I was so excited to go to Ugu (short for Augusto) Bigyan’s place. While I’ve heard great reviews about the food, I was more thrilled to finally get the chance to see his work up close. I’ve read so much about his pottery in home magazines so he is some kind of a celebrity in my book.
It was almost two in the afternoon when we pulled into the parking area. The place was huge, with a well-maintained garden, country inspired brick structures, and well-constructed wood and concrete huts.
We were briefly introduced to Ugu who made his way to the kitchen to personally prepare our lunch (found out later that he also bought the ingredients himself). We were directed to the biggest of the huts where we were to be served lunch. By that time, we were the only guests left so we were able to roam around a bit while lunch is being prepared. We went to his shop to check out the items for sale. Before long, lunch was served. It was a treat just to look at them. A plate of green paco (fern) salad with salted egg to start the meal. Then there was the banana heart in coconut cream, topped with edible purple flowers – yummy! One of my favorites was the crunchy deep-fried large fish (talakitok) with a sweet-tangy sauce made of cubed ripe mango. The calamares was one of the best I’ve tasted - perfectly crisp and tender, seasoned just right, and paired with a sweet and sour dip. The sautéed shrimp was really fresh and tasty with its light-flavored sauce. Lastly, the pork ribs were grilled to perfection, fork-tender, and very scrumptious. I skipped the rice to have more of the mouth-watering viands which we all devoured with gusto. Throughout our lunch, we were constantly refreshed with free-flowing icy buko juice. For dessert, we were served a platter of deliciously sweet fresh ripe mangoes, a perfect ending to our sumptuous gustatory experience. At P400 each, it was all worth every centavo. Ugu is as great a cook as he is a potter. We stayed for a bit more time, lounging around in the huts, taking pictures and checking out the rest of the place.
I met two dogs on our way out, two cute and friendly mini pinschers. I also took home a small souvenir – an Ugu Bigyan oil burner. We promised to come back in August for Ugu’s birthday sale – he’s turning 44 and he’s offering 44% off on most of his items. We all wished he would live to be 100 so he can gladly give his stuff away for free!


Last stop, Carlito’s Workshop

I’ve never heard of Carlito Ortega. I’m not really part of Manila’s artistic crowd. But that’s not to say that I don’t appreciate art. All I knew is that Carlito’s workshop is a great destination because of his beautiful home and garden. I figured, our last stop can give us great photo opportunity before we drive back home. I was in for a big surprise.

As will all our stops, we called ahead to let Mr. Ortega know we are coming. Rightly so since we will be invading his private residence. It took some time to find his place as there were no perceivable landmarks (the directions said to look for a corner with tricycles!) and some locals we asked didn’t know his place (we asked a few hundred meters from his gate!). The entrance was a bit intimidating. The iron gate was gigantic, with a vine of variegated lilac bougainvillea in full bloom on the left side. The doorbell wasn’t working so we had to call him through our cellphone. We were led to an estate sitting on 1.5 hectares of land.

The garden was scenic with a mansion sitting right in the center. Carlito gave us a warm welcome and he led us to his workshop. He unselfishly demonstrated how he does his metal sculptures using sheets of brass, a blow torch, and several hammers. It was hard work! I’m not surprised that a small piece would sell for about P90,000 in the art gallery. A few minutes into the discussion of how he started and I am already a fan. He is a self-taught artist. He devoured anatomy books to hone his art. I liked the level of detail in his work – the intricate form of the human body, the characteristics of each muscle group, the detail in the hair, and most of all, the vividness of the facial expression. I also liked his horses and how realistic they looked even with metal as his medium.

We then proceeded to a small gazebo where afternoon snacks awaited us – ginatang halo-halo and brewed coffee. As we savored the tasty merienda, Carlito kept us entertained with his funny stories. We marveled at his plant collection – rare ferns (some he sold for P100,000 to interested celebrity guests!), palm trees and the biggest bromeliads I’ve ever seen. He even gave us tips to care for the bromeliads. Talk about multi-talented – engineer turned businessman, and now sculptor and gardening enthusiast. Before we knew it, the sun was already setting and we had to bid our host goodbye. It was another well-spent P100 for each of us.
This day turned out to be a wonderful surprise. What I thought was just a regular road trip with good food along the way ended up to be a far richer experience. We got to meet some of our talented artists and craftsmen, we tasted delectable dishes, enjoyed some scenic spots and took lots of pictures. To top it all off, we enjoyed each other’s company in yet another Starex adventure. Can’t wait for our next trip!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Summer 2007 Plans

I can't believe it's summer. Our life as a couple is marked by summers. We got married on a warm summer afternoon six years ago. This April 18, we will be celebrating our 6th wedding anniversary. I can't believe it's been six years. Time indeed flies when you are having fun!

As with every summer, Ariel and I will embark on another adventure to discover a new destination. This time, we will go to the beach! Last year, we discovered the serene beauty of Batanes. We stayed seven days and explored the major islands - Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat. This year, we will explore two beautiful islands in Cebu - Bantayan Island and Malapascua Island.

Bantayan Island is 4-5 hours away from Mactan International Airport, 3-4 hours by car and another hour by boat. We're staying 3 nights at Marlin's Beach Resort. Check it out at
www.marlin-bantayan.com. Then, we will take a 2-3 hour boat ride to Malapascua where we will be staying another three nights at the Malapascua Exotic Island Dive and Beach Resort. Check it out at www.malapascua.net. Then it's another 4-5 hour trip back to Mactan. We're staying overnight at Cebu City because my hubby wants to buy a Cebu-made guitar (he already has three, two of them top of the line - but when you are a scrapper hoarding lots of scrapping materials, you can't complain when your hubby wants a new guitar).

I can't stop myself from checking out the websites over and over again. I'm so excited!!! For this trip, I promise to keep a travel diary so I can record the names of the places we will visit and the food we will get to try. Watch out for my account of our anniversary trip!

Beaches and Beyond: A Travel Journal

When I started blogging, it was mainly to practice my writing skills. I didn't realize I would enjoy it so much. Not just writing. The whole package - arranging the layout, choosing the font type, color and size, adding page elements, etc. Anyway, since I enjoyed it so much, I've decided to start a new blog. This one will be dedicated to travel. My other blog, scrap-my-life, will be about my scrapbooking hobby.

My hubby and I enjoy going to the beach. It is our ultimate dream to be able to see the best beaches of the Philippines, and eventually, the best of the world. We started six years ago, shortly after we exchanged our wedding vows. Since ours is a lifelong partnership, I guess we have a lifetime to fulfill our dream.

Other than beaches, we generally love to see new places, taste new dishes, and basically experience new things. Hopefully, this blog will capture those experiences and help me remember thoughts and feelings during those escapades.