Posted in Thailand

Bangkok (Not) Dangerous

Whoever believes that cheesy Nicholas Cage remake movie “Bangkok Dangerous” has never been to Manila. Despite that one particular scum of a taxi driver who managed to rip us off, we felt a lot safer in Bangkok and have not encountered anything close to being dangerous. Bangkok may be quite a tourist trap to be honest and the prices of tour groups may sometimes go off the roof – but which tourist spot isn’t? We just try to always keep in mind that the money we paid helped put square meals on their table or send their kids to school and we feel a lot better afterwards. But all those money spent are absolutely worth it. The richness of experience and adventure you will gain in this colourful city is priceless!

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Wat Traimit Temple

Bangkok has so much to offer that you can never run out of things to see and discover. You may even find yourself wishing to stay longer in this exciting and interesting city. Here are some of the highlights of our little adventure in this city of smiles.

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Chao Praya River Cruise

1.) River Star Princess Cruise. A sight-seeing boat cruise around the famous Chao Praya River in Bangkok highlighting the historic landmarks and vibrant sights while the cool evening breeze helps you feel more relaxed and refreshed after a hot and humid day’s stroll. This tour includes buffet dinner inside the luxurious boat with live bands and cultural performances. The boat cruise gives a high-roller feel that we somehow felt a bit under-dressed for the occasion. The vocalist of the band is a Filipina who is a total crowd-pleaser and cheerily gave in to our song requests from time to time. You can also leave your inhibitions at home as their stage is open for dancing and karaoke-style singing. So much fun!

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Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)

2.) Temple Visits. This is definitely a must and one’s travel to Bangkok is not complete unless you’ve seen the subtle yet intricate beauty of Thai temples. We managed to soak in the elegance of Wat Trimit (Solid Golden Buddha), Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha) and Wat Benchamabopit (Marble Temple).

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3.) Siam Niramit Cultural Show. Another must-see in Bangkok! Siam Niramit is a state-of-the-art 2000-seat theatre and the largest stage production per Guiness Book of World Records. We had a buffet dinner before the show and a stroll through the authentic traditional Thai village just besides the theatre. The cultural show in itself will give you a brief insight on the colourful Thai history and its rich heritage which are presented through specially crafted dance and musical numbers. The stage’s lighting, visual effects, design, cirque-esque stunts and over-all production is such a grand spectacle that will leave you amazed for hours! There are hundreds of performers on stage, live animals, a small river and even rain showers and lightning. It doesn’t get much bigger that this. If you were not on this show, you haven’t seen anything special in Bangkok, I tell you.

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Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

3.) Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. This maybe a tourist trap for some but for us it’s a once in a lifetime experience and didn’t mind paying a bit more. Floating market at Damnoen Saduak is the old traditional way of selling vegetables, fruits, etc. from a small boat. We hired a paddle boat to take us around the unique and bustling market situated in a river with wooden canoes filled with different produce, handicrafts, food specialties and whatnot. We didn’t buy much here except for some Thai spices and coconut ice cream as we know very well that their prices here are really very touristy.

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4.) Chatuchak Weekend Market. If you’re a bargain hunter and love to haggle to save your life, you’re in for a real treat! This is one of the most famous weekend markets in all of South East Asia and for good reasons — some 5000 to 6000 stall open selling pretty much anything. It seems to meet with mixed review — you either love the crowds, the hear, the noise and the bargains, or you don’t. We managed to bought two pairs of flat shoes, some souvenir items and shirts, Thai snacks and 5 kilograms of Thai jasmine rice despite the heavy crowd and scorching sun but we never regretted it since all are such a steal! One day is not enough if you main purpose of visit in Bangkok is to shop.

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Old temples in Ayutthaya

5.) Ayutthaya Historical Parks. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ayutthaya Historical Park incorporates over a dozen ancient temple sites and ruins which makes you feel you’re inside that once famous Temple Run mobile app game of Lady Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider. Ayutthaya is the old capital of Siam and a must-see if you have any interest in ruins or ancient culture as the temples are well-preserved and very fascinating.

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Bangkok is a city that should be in everyone’s bucket list and for all good reasons. It’s a modern city by all means yet their traditions, cultures, architectural wonders and authentic Thai cuisine are still very much intact. Again, we can’t help but sigh in frustration at how the Philippines is being left out again by our Asian neighbour.

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Posted in Vietnam

Saigon in a Nutshell

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People’s Committee Building – Ho Chi Minh City

After this trip, we found a whole new respect for Ho Chi Minh City, and Vietnam as a whole. We thought we will be bored at our wits’ end and just have a relaxing staycation, order some room service and just curl up in the airconditioned comfort of our hotel room while watching re-runs on HBO. But Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) surprised us in many ways. One can never run out of things to do and places to visit in this bustling city. From Buddhist temples, to museums of sorts, to interesting architectures of French influences and other famous landmarks. The only thing that could stop you from visiting all these places is the unforgiving heat, it can barbeque your flesh in an instant, but even that didn’t stop us from roaming around.

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Ho Chi Minh City is often coined The Motorbike Capital of the World

Saigon will not let you stay in your hotel, it will kick you in the butt and let you immerse into it’s chaotic yet charming and one-of-a-kind culture. Crossing the streets alone is an adventure in itself. Saigon is often dubbed “The Motorcycle City” since motorbikes are their primary mode of transport and they are just the king of the streets here. If crossing the streets of Manila is a challenge, it could be a spiritual experience in HCMC because you might want to pray for your life and call all the saints you know while crossing. It’s just that intense it will give you an adrenaline rush.

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Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon

And don’t even get me started on food. Saigon is just a foodie heaven! If you’re a sucker for street foods like me, you’re in the right city. It’s packed with immense flavour at every nook and cranny. You don’t have to make a reservation at some fancy resto to taste this world-revered cuisine.

Here’s my personal list of food you must try when you’re in Saigon. Just be ready to get your hands dirty and stretch your tummy  to fill in all this good stuff.

1.) Pho. This is a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, linguine-shaped rice noodles, a few herbs and meat. It is a popular street food in Vietnam and is primarily served with either beef or chicken. We tried this at Pho 24 which is a famous Pho Chain in HCMC. We chose this joint because of its close proximity to the attractions we visited but I’m pretty sure there are better versions of Pho somewhere else. Nonetheless, it still gave us an impressive introduction to Pho.

2.) Banh Mi. Banh Mi is a Vietnamese meat-filled sandwich on a banh mi bread or the more commonly known French bread/baguette. We had ours at Highland café and some street stall. You can have this anywhere in the city and it will be delish nevertheless.

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Delicious Pho noodle soup @ Pho 24

3.) Vietnamese Spring Roll. You can have this either fresh or fried with sweet/sour/spicy (take your pick) dipping sauce on the side. Either way it’s just addictive.

4.) Grilled Red Snapper (with spicy rub). One word: dynamite! We had this at an open-air hawker-style resto at Benh Than night market and the communal dining experience made it extra special.

5.) Ca Phe Da. Finely ground Vietnamese-grown dark roast coffee individually brewed with a small metal French dip filter into a cup containing about a quarter to a half as much sweetened condensed milk. It may be a little too sweet, but what the heck, I have a sweet tooth after all so I enjoyed it a lot.

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Suoi Tien Amusement Park

Aside from visiting all the touristy spots, we also had one good whole day at Suoi Tien amusement park. We just love theme parks! And this Buddha-inspired amusement park is just out-of-this-world! It’s even considered as one of the world’s most bizarre theme parks.

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Buddha-themed amusement Park

We spent a couple of hours on the pool and enjoyed every bit of it. The sculptures, the pure tackiness of some of the rides and its overall cheesiness put a smile on our face all day.

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Independence Palace

In a nutshell, we just had a blast in Saigon! The people are very friendly and polite. The shopping scene especially at Benh Than night market is not to be missed at all. The throng of tourists just proves that HCMC has a lot to offer. And you can see that their tourist spots are well-maintained.

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War Remnants Museum

Once again I feel sorry for Manila. The streets of HCMC are just cleaner, more organized and probably more developed that I can’t help but compare. It’s sad that we seem to be really left behind by our Asian neighbours. And Vietnam shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

Posted in Japan, Tokyo

10 Cool & Weird Things To Do in Tokyo

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Kitschy display of neon lights @ The Robot Restaurant

So a dozen of your facebook friends have been to Tokyo and you’re planning your trip in the next couple of weeks or months. But you want to stand-out. You want to be distinctive from the usual ramen-induced and sakura-obssessed instagram-photos that mushroomed around your circle of social media acquaintances. You want to experience something new other than having really kawaii shots at Tokyo Disneyland. Fret no more for here is a list of the cool things you can do while still enjoying the classic adventures when you’re in the capital of the so-called Land of the Rising Sun:

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arger than life Robots @ The Robot Restaurant

1.) Try some quirky and out-of-this world restos/cafes (Tokyo has dozens of it)! Go to the most insane one in town – The Robot Restaurant in downtown Kabukicho district. This is Tokyo at its highest energy and it’s truly an experience you wouldn’t find in any other cities in the world! It’s like Carnivale/Mardi Gras gone entirely insane.

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Bikini-clad performers @ The Robot Restaurant

I mean, seizure-inducing fusion of flashing lights, bright anime-style graphics and murals, giant LED screens, a bathroom embossed entirely in glossy gold, jaw-dropping electronic effects, a flying neon airplane, leather-winged dinosaurs, bikini-clad performers and of course some really cool larger than life robots! It’s like something out of a sci-fi movie and no expense has been spared in making it the wildest and weirdest show in town – well, maybe in the whole world!

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Mt. Prometheus @ Tokyo Disney Sea

 

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Water Parade @ Tokyo Disney Sea

2.) Be amazed by the absolute awesomeness that is Tokyo Disney Sea. Tokyo Disneyland is so ages ago, Disney Sea is the bomb! The mere sight of Mt. Prometheus (erupting every 2 hours at night) when you enter the park and not see the usual Disney castle, you know this is going to be something special. And…wait for it…it surely is! Tokyo Disney Sea is Disney Imagineer’s masterpiece, being the most expensive theme park ever built as of to date.

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Coolest ride in Tokyo Disney Sea: Journey to the Center of the Earth

 

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Tokyo Disney Sea never gets old!

The attention to details, elaborate designs beyond epic proportions, the technology/animatronics/robotics of every rides, the jaw-dropping architecture and landscapes, the sheer magnificence of it all – it’s mind-blowing! Plus the customer service given by the Japanese is unparalleled. This grand spectacle is sure to give any theme park in the world a run for their money! I mean they have a freakin’ volcano (What the?!!?)!!!

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3.) Witness the gyaru culture at Harajuku and Takeshita streets! Or better yet, dress like one and take part in the latest Japanese street fashion! You won’t be judged in Tokyo despite your flamboyance or eccentricity. In fact, the weirder your fashion sense is, the better. On these streets you will witness youngsters dressed in different anime costumes, thick make-ups, colourful wigs, and glamour resembling that of French actress Brigitte Bardot. This might be your chance at expressing your inner fashion diva so grab it while you can!

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Yellow Rapeseed Blossoms

4.) Appreciate the different spring flowers. The sakura or cherry blossoms festival gets all the publicity and limelight in Japan but yellow rapeseed blossoms also known as Nanohana are just as pretty and breath-taking. Showa Kinen Park, Sumida River and Hama Ryikuu Gardens are good places to see these blooms. Kasai Rinkai Park located in eastern part of Tokyo is another option to see these spring flowers.

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5.) Taste some authentic Japanese wines at Katsunuma winery.

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Vending Machine for drinks such as coffee, soda, tea, etc.

6.) Soak in the uniquely wonderful culture of Japanese vending machines. Japan has the highest per capita rate of vending machines in the world. You’ll be surprised by the array of strange yet interesting  things they offer via vending machine such as manga, underwear, bread in a can, toys, video games, etc. You just gotta give it to the Japanese and their flair for quirky stuff!

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Shibuya Crossing

7.) Do some serious people watching at the world-famous Shibuya Crossing. Numerous films were made on this famous crossing such as Lost in Translation and Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.

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Ticketing station at Tokyo subway

8.) Take the subway and admire it’s cleanliness, efficiency and sheer confusion.

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Senso-Ji Temple

9.) Fall deeply in-love with Tokyo…It’s beautiful and polite people, it’s cuisine which is second to none, the culture of cuteness and efficiency combined, it’s postcard-worthy landscapes and scenery — the utter magnificence of it all!

10.) Plan your next trip as soon as you say “Sayonara, Tokyo.”

Posted in New Zealand

Top 5 Reasons Why Filipinos Move to New Zealand

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Mixture of old and new architecture @ downtown Auckland

Filipinos are a proud race thus the term “Pinoy Pride” is overly used on social media with the cloying #hashtag attached to it. We take pride on our world-class performers such as Lea Salonga, international beauty stand-outs like Pia Wurtzbach and of course Manny Pacquiao who’s ruling the boxing arena for years now.

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View of Auckland City from Mt. Eden

El Nido is often hailed as the most beautiful island in the world and Boracay the best beach there is. But behind these world-renowned personalities , pristine beaches and paradise of islands lies the fact that millions of Filipinos are unemployed, living under 2 dollars a day, and deprived of even the most basic of sustenance. Worsening traffic in the metro is enough to make you pull your hair in anger. Corruption in the government and crimes in the streets are daily news. This never ending list of socio-political issues and the slow economic growth which have been haunting the country for ages now resulted in the diaspora of Filipinos world-wide. Whichever country you go to, you are sure to find a Filipino working or residing there in search for a better future. And New Zealand is fast-becoming the top choice for Filipinos to move to.

So what are the reasons why 40,000 strong Filipinos decide to move to New Zealand?

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Flowers in full bloom @ Rotorua Museum

1.) New Zealand has the least corrupt government in the world. NZ holds this title for more than 5 years now and yet they are not being complacent and still targets to gain more public trust in the long run. There’s nothing like the comfort of knowing that the taxes you pay to the government from your hard day’s work is being utilized in the most efficient way possible; that the government is “actually working” to provide support and service to the people. Integrity, government transparency and public rights are top priorities here and everyone if fervently obliged to adhere to the laws.

2.) New Zealand provides greener pastures (both literally and figuratively). Okay to be honest, the cost of living in New Zealand is high, but if you have a decent job here you can surely provide for your family and still have a little extra for some luxuries or even holidays from time to time. And of course, it won’t hurt that you are also having the most awesome views of rolling hills, turquoise-colored lakes and snow-capped mountains on your way to work. Minimum wage in NZ is 15.25nzd/hour or roughly 550php/hour.

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Serenity and Peace @ Piha Beach

3.) New Zealand is family-friendly. Companies/employers in NZ are very lenient when it comes to family matters. Here, family comes first. You need to take a day off for your daughter’s ballet recital? No problem. You need to take a week off to tend to some family emergency? No problem. And even when you work in the retail industry, you can still enjoy a 9-5 job as most shops and malls here close at  5pm (to give everyone a much-needed quality time with the family). And during Christmas holidays, most companies are having a 2-week shut-down so you can have a full 2 weeks of vacation and Christmas break! How cool is that?

4.) New Zealand is very conducive for having/raising kids. As per the government welfare act, new mothers are entitled to up to 16 continuous week’s paid maternity leave and a further 52 week’s unpaid leave. Pre-natal care and costs of giving birth are also fully covered. Medical and dental check-ups for children are free until they reach 18. Tax credits, weekly allowances, school subsidies and housing supplements are just some of the support given by the government for working families. Plus (and this is a HUGE plus) safety here is second to none.

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Strawberry-picking is a favourite summer activity in NZ!

5.) The Kiwis (New Zealanders) are the kindest in the world! You will be surprised at how a Kiwi will go to great lengths just to help you. There was one time when I got lost and asked for directions when one Kiwi offered to just drive me to the place! You are also sure to get smiles and hellos from people on the streets. At work, Kiwis often start the day with some chitchat of how your weekend was, your plans for the weekend and just about any random stuff to lighten up your mood. The Kiwis are also known advocates for gender and race equality and diversity in the workplace is embraced here. You will feel welcomed in New Zealand regardless of your skin color, accent or beliefs.

Here are just a few reasons why thousands of Filipinos chose New Zealand as their second home. What about you, what are your reasons for moving to New Zealand or other country? Are you planning to move to New Zealand soon? I will be happy to hear your story.

Posted in New Zealand

Hobbiton: The Quintessential NZ Must-Do

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Hobbit-holes, Green Meadows and Neatly Lined-Tress

For J.R.R. Tolkien fans or so-called “Ringers” walking through Hobbiton is like stepping into a dream. Imagine being inside a Hollywood film set but instead of seeing makeshift houses that looks like empty wooden boxes everything here is real and not just a product of some computer-generated visual effects!

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Rolling hills and beautifully landscaped terrains leading the way to the Shire
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Multitude of flower pots making the already colourful hobbit-hole more vibrant!

Hobbiton is an out-of-this-world movie set location for the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series which is found in Matamata New Zealand. It is a vast piece of estate with real patches of green meadows, rolling hills, meticulously-manicured flower beds, crystal-clear lakes, vegetable gardens, neatly-lined trees, native bushes and grazing sheeps and cattles. The hobbit-holes are not just some small-scale replica of the ones seen in the movie, but are actual “hobbit-holes” where you can have a peep inside (though, it’s empty), take some selfies or really cool photos and instagram-worthy shots!

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Pristine and Crystal-clear Lake

The Hobbiton Movie Set Tour usually starts at the Matamata I-site or at the Shire’s Rest Café then a bus will bring you to the location. The buses leave approximately every 30 minutes. It is wise to book for this tour ahead of time to avoid any hassles and since walk-ins are not allowed on the actual movie set. The fee is around $79nzd which is a bit of a tourist-trap for many but the experience of witnessing this natural as well as man-made grandeur is truly worth it! Sounds cliché but it is a classic must-do when you’re in Middle Earth even if you’re not a fan of the movies.

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Which way are you up to?

The tour guides will usher you to each section of the Hobbiton Movie Set location and provide really fascinating facts about the place and fun trivia about the movie. According to them, this farmland was discovered on 1998 when a location scout was having an aerial search of the perfect place for the movie LOTR and when they happened to saw a “party tree” near the lake complete will rugged hills and mountains, they instantly knocked on the doors of the Alexander family and the rest is history. The construction of the “Shire” even involved the New Zealand Army as heavy earth-moving machineries were required to shape and contour the lands.

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Loaves of bread, anyone?

If you’re lucky enough, you can even see cold-blooded LOTR junkies clad in their extravagant “Gandalf” or “Lady Galadriel” attires or a 6 feet tall man in a full hobbit costume parading the place!

After the tour of the whole place which takes around 30 minutes or so, you will be directed to the intricately-designed Green Dragon Inn (pub frequented by hobbits) where you can relax and have some complimentary Girdle Fine Ale, Sackville Cider, Oak Barton Ale or Southfarthing Ginger Ale. There are also some light snacks offered on their menu if you are hungry from all the walking or you want something to match your free booze. Once a week, there’s a special tour wherein the guests are treated to a feast in the inn like a true hobbit!

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Relaxing by the fireplace with a warm mug of ale and cider
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Unlike the hobbit-holes, Green Dragon Inn was built inside and out!

Russell Alexander, the owner of the estate is a true genius for deciding to make this movie set location a permanent tourist attraction. Thousands upon thousands of visitors flock the site each year and are left dumb-founded by the sheer magnificence of the place making it one of the most visited locations in the country. It is indeed a quintessential New Zealand experience wherein you can marvel in nature’s beauty and be awed by the artistic hands behind it’s grand display of imagination and creativity!