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 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

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!

Posted in Taupo

Taupo: Nature’s Ultimate Playground

Had we not plan to do a 10-hour road trip from Auckland to Wellington (New Zealand), we probably won’t realize how freakin’ly awesome Taupo is! Auckland to Wellington is approximately 10 hours drive so we decided to have a one night stop-over at Taupo which is what we considered the middle of our Middle Earth journey. We leave Auckland at around 8:45ish in the morn with a few pitstop every now and then for bubba’s nappy change so we reached Taupo at roughly one past noon. We only have about half a day to roam around so we didn’t waste any time and managed to visit 4 to 5 attractions which isn’t so bad considering that the weather wasn’t too cooperative that day.

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Cascading Water Flowing through the Huka Falls

 

On top of our list was the magnificent Huka Falls which is regarded to be New Zealand’s most visited and most photographed natural attraction. It’s an amazing 11-meter high waterfall in Wairakei Tourist Park, just a few minutes drive north of Taupo following the Waikato River. It’s crystal clear blue waters cascading through vertical rock walls is a spectacle to a multitude of tourists equipped with cameras and phones ready to capture its grand splendour.

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We were intrigued with the term “Craters of the Moon”, so we drove to Karapiti Road and paid $8nzd each as an entrance fee to this geothermal walk. It was a 45-minutes walk to a protected geothermal site complete with paved pathways and boardwalks so anyone can easily complete this loop regardless of one’s fitness level.

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Vents, and sulphuric steams

Since the bubba was sleeping, we leave her in the car with my mom so it was just me and hubby who visited this thermal wonderland.

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Moon-like terrain @ Craters of the Moon

 

Rugged, moon-like terrain, sulphuric steams and sudden bursts of volcanic vents  can be experienced as you go through the walk which added to the other-worldly feel that the place conveys. There are several lookouts as well for those much-needed selfies. Others were saying that this geothermal site was a bit of a let-down compared to the ones in Rotorua, but we haven’t been so Rotorua’s and we are those types who are easily pleased so we enjoyed the place nonetheless.

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Photo Wall @ Huka Honey Hive

 

We also visited Huka Honey Hive which is a store for all honey stuff with actual bees and beehives on display. I sampled some of their Manuka Honey and honey-flavoured Kapiti Ice Cream while my mom and hubby had their afternoon coffee break at their on-site cafe. Manuka Honey from New Zealand is said to contain anti-bacterial properties which is highly beneficial for digestion and over-all well-being.  Then we spent the rest of the afternoon at the lakefront just people-watching, strolling and taking snapshots of the Great Lake Taupo. Later on, we had dinner at one of the coolest McDonald’s in the world which housed an impressive decommissioned D3 plane as part of the restaurant and with actual seats inside for that authentic aero-dining experience!

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If you’re more of an adrenaline junkie, Taupo offers a bunch of activities such as tandem skydiving for as low as $299nzd which is said to be one of the cheapest in New Zealand and one of the most scenic as well as you will get to have a good aerial view of the Great Lake Taupo. A hike to Tongariro National Park, a dual world heritage site is highly recommended as well as it is heralded as the best one-day trek in NZ. You can opt to do a freedom walk or avail of guided services. Huka Falls Jet which is an half hour of pure thrill and adventure with 360 degree spins on the awe-inspiring river backdrop filled with native flora and cliff-like rock formations will surely suffice your cravings for excitement.

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by the Lakefront @ downtown Taupo

 

Taupo is indeed New Zealand’s ultimate natural playground with so much activities to offer either for those seeking to have a quick escape from the city’s humdrum, or those pushing themselves to the limit and go for that adrenaline-pumping escapades. It is an ideal place for a family getaway too as Taupo provides family-friendly activities such as hiking, biking, golf, and there are museums, indoor-playlands and different parks to choose from. Whatever it is that you fancy doing, Taupo is sure to fulfil it’s promise of good, clean fun and enjoyment!

Posted in Wellington

Weta Cave: A Geek’s Wonderland

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“It’s a dangerous business Frodo, going out of your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

This famous quote from the epic movie, The Lord of the Rings, echoed into my consciousness one nippy mid-day as my husband, bubba, mom and I approached the troll-guarded Weta Cave which resembles more like a hobbit-hole than a cave. Yes, I am a big (no, huge) fan of The Lord of the Ring series and when I discovered that the creative geniuses (Weta Workshop) behind the most-awarded movie of all time have a retail shop/mini-museum in Wellington, New Zealand I just have to go by all means necessary.

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Life-sized troll guarding the Cave

Weta Workshop is a Wellington-based design and creative works provider to almost all critically-acclaimed movies of stunning visual effects. It is said to be the center of New Zealand’s cinematic empire thus the term “Wellywood” was coined. Think of a movie that blew your mind with superb and other-worldly cinematic experience and they are most probably the hands behind its exceptional set design, props, costumes, make-up, etc. They designed the armours, weapons, prosthetics, miniature sets and other special effects of movies such as LOTR, The Hobbit, Avatar, The Adventures of TinTin, KingKong, Narnia, Spiderman, and the list just goes on and on. Their world-class design studio won several accolades from Academy Awards, Bafta, etc.

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Miniature Orc displayed on a glass-shelf

Entrance to the cave is free but to get the utmost experience you need to pay for several tours that they offer in site. Below are their rates as of this date:

Weta Cave Workshop Tour – $25nzd

Miniature Stage Tour – $25nzd

Weta Studio Tours Combo – $45nzd

There and Back Again (guided transfer) – $65nzd

There and Back Again (full-experience) – $85nzd

An Evening with Weta and Coco (with 3-course dining experience) – $145nzd

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Model of Smaug, the dragon in The Hobbit movie

We didn’t avail of any of the tours as they were way beyond our budget so we just got contended scrutinizing the jaw-dropping displays of models of  the different characters from LOTR such as Smaug, Lady Galadriel, Uruk Hais, and Gandalf.

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Frodo’s Hobbit-Feet

A display of Frodo’s prosthetics on glass-shelves as well as the different armours used in the movie Narnia can be viewed. There was also a cave-like wall at the far-end side of the store with an array of different LOTR miniatures. Wide-range of collectibles, apparels and publishings for LOTR, The Hobbit, TinTin, Chappie and the like are also available for purchase at the shop.

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Cave-like wall with LOTR miniatures

The cave was a bit underwhelming as it is only a tiny store so you can have a complete tour of it for less than 20 minutes but the obvious lack of space was compensated by the sheer vividness of imagination and unquestioned passion put into making each and every display as detailed and fascinating as possible. Weta Cave is not just for LOTR geeks but undoubtedly for anyone to feast their eyes on!

How to get to Weta Cave from downtown Wellington:

  • Take bus #2 from downtown Wellington to Miramar. Get off at Camperdown Road. You can ask the driver to drop you here. Weta Cave is located at 1 Weka Street.
  • If you are driving, you can see several signs at Miramar pointing to Weta Cave. Just follow the signs near the shops in Miramar and drive to Camperdown Road.