Category Archives: Travel

Travel Flashback: Sydney, Australia

It’s been a year and a half since my visit to Sydney. It was a surprise business trip slash holiday, one I never expected to have when I signed on to join Canva.

Off to Sydney!
We’re off to Sydney!

I knew a little about Sydney thanks to my aunt Ruth and her daughter Miel, both of whom visited the coastal city before. I learned a lot about kangaroos, koalas, and Cadbury chocolates, but none of their stories prepared me for the awesomeness of the place. I had fallen in love with the city from the get-go.

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In front of our hostel, before exploring Taronga Zoo. Photo by Thea Cinco.

I suppose part of the attraction had something to do with the fact that our trip wasn’t purely a tourist thing. We had plenty of locals (our Sydney counterparts) who took us around their favorite places, often away from the usual tourist destinations. Sure, we did what tourists did, but we also did what locals did.

I loved every place we went to, but my favorite places were Katoomba, Newtown and Surry Hills. Katoomba reminded me of Baguio, only smaller, neater, and much colder. Newtown was like Cubao X on steroids. Surry Hills was near the CBD, but still laid back enough for you not to feel hurried.

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Sightseeing in the Blue Mountains

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Bondi in autumn. Empty and cold.

In fact, Sydney on the whole didn’t feel very much like a city I’m used to. The whole vibe was laid back and chill. By day until the evening, people went about their business. However, since shops closed by 5 pm, there were less people around. On our last day we walked along the streets and was surprised that it was empty by 2 am. In Metro Manila, things were just starting to get lively by then.

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Walking along the streets of Sydney at 4 AM

The best part of the whole trip of course was getting to know the Sydney team. As a newbie then, it helped me become more familiar with the people I was working with, not just the local team, but also the one across the ocean. We totalled to about fifty or so then. Now, the number has doubled.

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When we could still easily fit into one frame

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Selfie before heading back to Manila

More than a year after, I still can’t forget Sydney. I’ve done a lot of things in the two weeks but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Here’s to another opportunity to visit.

Eating in Kota Kinabalu (Part 2)

Continued from Eating in Kota Kinabalu (Part 1): Cultures Crashing

One of the things I loved about Kota Kinabalu is that the food was very affordable. On the average, the meals we ordred cost us around RM 8 each, and that’s with drinks. We splurged a bit at Kedai Kopi Lotus and Upperstar, but it was still well within a reasonable range. The servings are also good, so we didn’t feel shortchanged. We forgo eating at fast foods, the only time we did was when i ordered a Zinger from KFC to get rid of the quesy stomach I had after drinking teh tarik one time. In my opinion, skip the fast food and go eat local.

Kedai Kopi Lotus
I was beginning to think that most food places around Kota Kinabalu are called “kedai kopi”, so long as they have coffee and tea to go with the other stuff.

This place was outside of the KK City Center. I wouldn’t have gone if our friends didn’t bring us here. It’s a restaurant, but stalls owned by other cooks are stationed outside. One offers dumplings, another sells grilled seafood and chicken wings. Order food from any of them, and once it’s delivered, you pay on the spot. It’s a popular place for the people who live nearby, and many of them drop by to buy food rather than cook.

I never got the name of the dishes we ate. We had an almond pudding, a noodle dish with some chicken and veggies, dimsum, chicken wings, and grilled fish with shrimp paste and kang kong.

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We also had dinner at a similar place a day later. It had a fascinating story, because it was located in a place in KK where the houses were on stilts.

More noodles
We had a free day, so we decided to strike out on our own for lunch. We decided to try Kedai Kopi Yee Fung along Gaya Street. Luckily, it wasn’t crowded. I wanted to try the claypot chicken, but it was out of stock so I decided to try their yee fung ngau chap. Had a glass of kitchai ping go to along with it. The noodle serving was smaller than Nountoun’s, but the drink was in a tall glass and I was happy.

Lunch

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Eating in Kota Kinabalu (Part 1): Cultures Crashing

The food of Kota Kinabalu has elements of the familiar mixed in with the novelty of new flavors. Perhaps this is so because our similar roots, and that the climate and topography is also quite like ours, their ingredients are quite like the ones we use ourselves.

Kota Kinabalu has a strong Chinese community, with many restaurants carrying Chinese dishes alongside the Malay and Indian ones. They have European influences too, particularly British, as the Malaysia was a colony of the United Kingdom for a long time.

Food was not something Shabby and I planned for on this trip (then again, not a lot of it was really planned). Like our activities, where and what we eat was done on the fly, and was mostly based on the recommendations of our hosts. We went to places that the locals particularly liked, and more often than not, it was almost always packed.

Day 1
Our first meal in Kota Kinabalu was at this small kedai kopi (which I believe translates to “coffee shop”) place near our hotel. It was open 24 hours, so it was a good spot for us to grab something to eat when hunger pangs striked. The food was laid out carinderia style, but you can always order rice meals off the menu on the wall.

First meal in KK

I don’t remember the names of the dishes that we ate. We had noodles, hainanese chicken, some cold cuts, and a dish of pork innards that went really well with the noodles. For drinks, we immediately got teh tarik, the famous pulled tea that Malaysian food is well known for. Over ice, it was refreshing.

First meal in KK

Of course, no one really told us that the area we were stayingin had a somewhat seedy reputation, which was probably why some people looked at us funny when we went there for a midnight snack. Anyway…

Tanjung Aru Beach
According to our friend and erstwhile guide, Tanjung Aru Beach is the to-go place for everyone who grew up in KK. Think of it as that resort everyone has to go to at least once in their lives. We went there to complete a mission for Ingress, but as it began to rain we decided to hang out for a while and let it pass.

Tanjung Aru Beach 1

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Kota Kinabalu: A Lesson in Hospitality

I’m coming clean. When Shabby broached the idea of going to Kota Kinabalu last April, my first thought was, “What’s there?” Sure, there’s the nature part of the place, where you can climb Mt. Kinabalu and enjoy Sabah’s natural beauty. Other than that, I knew nothing.

Terrible, I know.

We purchased the tickets anyway, and did sporadic research about the place in the succeeding months. I felt I wasn’t giving the place and the trip much attention, as I didn’t even save much for expenses. The total money I had at that time was P8,000.

One thing I never expected when we got to Kota Kinabalu was the extent of the generosity and kindness of the people. Shabby plays this game called Ingress, a location based strategy game that has millions of players all over the world. When the KK players found out that she was coming, the volunteered to pick us up from the airport and lend us a pocket WiFi device.

That for us was generous enough, but it went beyond that. Chua, a photographer and a member of KK’s conservation board, acted as our guide the whole time. Through him, I learned a lot about KK’s history, development, politics, even their music and art scene. We got to visit local hangouts and taste specialties that were probably out of the way for most tourists. He also told us about the events that KK will be hosting in the future, including festivals and holidays.

We also hung out with some other Ingress players. Mostly it was just to farm and run some strategy. Sometimes they’d ask about the Philippines, but in relation to the game. I also ended up signing on for the game, and I managed to reach level 3 before we left the country. I also finished my first mission.

I was amused when they made us eat all sorts of delicacies, but then I’d realize that it was just a version of a Chinese dish we have at home. They were surprised that I knew what matchang, siomai, and kiamoy are, that my grandma cooked chicken feet the traditional way, and so on.

In so many ways, neither culture knew much about the other. And the exchange of ideas was pretty fun.

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I learned so much from our new friends. Kota Kinabalu may be small, but they value and respect it, and take pride in their culture. The know that they have power over their government, and they can fight for their rights and get a positive response. They take pride in their heritage, and they welcome visitors to their humble place.

It is not perfect, however. It had its own foibles, much as I’ve learned from the stories and from what I saw with my own eyes. But Kota Kinabalu has so much to offer its visitors. Take the usual tourist spots, but if you can spend time to do as the locals do, you will find yourself enriched.

Getting stuck in Kota Kinabalu because of typhoon Ruby brought many repercussions. However, the experience I had with these people, and the kindness they showed us is something I would not trade for anything. I look forward to extending to them the same generosity when they visit Metro Manila, and I hope they have a favorable experience as well.

The Hassle of Cancelled Flights and Messy Airlines

Being a chance passenger on a bus is not as nerve-wracking as being a chance passenger on a plane.

Because of Typhoon Ruby (international name Hagupit), our flight back to Manila on December 8 was cancelled. The storm had slowed down by then, but Air Asia took the precaution of canceling all flights from December 7 to 9. We had no choice but to extend our stay for two more days.

The stay itself wasn’t so bad, as the hotel was able to accommodate us for two extra nights. The problem was that my friend and I had only taken vacation leaves for two days (one day for our departure and the other for our return). We were able to inform our respective workplaces, but we were worried about the repercussions of the other days.

Another problem was that we were already beyond our budget. I had asked my family to send me money, but I hoped I didn’t have to use it.

The main concern was how were we going to go back. We tried contacting Air Asia through it’s various portals (call, social media, satellite office, etc) but we kept getting mixed responses.

My main contact was through the Twitter of Air Asia Philippines. I saw that they were accommodating rebookings for other passengers (though probably for different flights), so I took the chance. After providing the flight number and the booking number, I was told I have to go to their website to file for a rebooking. This was Sunday night.

I tried again the next day, this time through a direct message. I was then told that the only flight available was for December 15. I replied that it was not acceptable, and asked if they can facilitate a multi-city transfer, like Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Lumpur to Manila. I was informed that they cannot accommodate the multi-city option, and that since my flight was cancelled I had the option to rebook the flight and gave me specific dates.

I responded in Tagalog, telling them that neither options are acceptable as we needed to go home ASAP. We were on vacation only, and we had jobs and responsibilities to go home to. Plus the fact that we were running low on funds.

I asked of there was any compensation for the inconvenience, such as a refund or repayment of expenses. I was told to fill up an online form, and that was it.

On Tuesday, we went to the airport to ask what were our options. We were told nearly the same thing as to the availability of the flight. The attendant placed our name on a list, and said that those were the names of the people who were also trying to get a seat. I saw that we were number 6 on the list, and we were advised to be at the airport two hours or so before the flight.

We went back to the city, and listed our other option, which was to look for flights to KL or Singapore then get a connecting flight to Manila. Our goal was to get home on December 10, with the least cost possible.

We were at the airport by 8 AM. Again we were told that we were on the list, but I was surprised to see that we were number 9! That got me worried. But since we couldn’t do anything we went off to have a second round of breakfast.

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Back at the airport, we joined a few people who were all waiting for a chance to get on the flight. We talked to the staff again, and to opt for the multi-city we had to get a full refund for this trip and rebook a flight. They said can’t switch flights since it wasn’t the same track (or something like that). That seemed like such a hassle so we thought we’d play it by ear.
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Travel Flashback: Hong Kong

Travel Flashback: Hong Kong
Date Visted: March 2012

More photos to follow 🙂
Hong Kong was my first pseudo-solo trip. I say “pseudo” because I wasn’t alone during my stay. At most I had less an a day to myself. As I wrote before, I was in Hong Kong for the L’Arc~en~Ciel 20th Anniversary World Tour, and while I made the flight there on my own, I was with my friend Karen for almost all of the time.

Language
I had apprehensions with Hong Kong, mostly because of the language barrier. Unlike Singapore, I wasn’t confident that there would be a strong population of English language speakers. I had some difficulty making myself understood by the hotel security guard when I arrived late (nearing midnight), but everything went smoothly at reception when I checked in.

Navigating around Hong Kong is not a problem, as many signs were written in English. We didn’t really encounter problems when ordering in restaurants or asking around at stores, but at one point we had difficulty getting directions even from the concierge at Harbour Point. We even got some “Not local” replies when we tried asking some passersby for help. Funny though, an older security guard was able to help me find my way even though both of us had difficulty saying what we wanted. I guess hand gestures do help.

Even funnier, I was asked directions by someone who looked like a local herself. I could only shake my head and apologize. Continue reading

Hong Kong: A Cool Surprise

It’s hard not to set any expectations when you travel. These days, it’s very easy to research information about the places you want to go to. Do-it-yourself trips are pretty much the norm instead of leaving it all up to a travel agent.

My trip to Hong Kong was not a spur of the moment decision. Afterall, I had a specific event to go to , so it took a few months of planning to make it work. Where to stay, what else to do and what to bring. I even asked friends what to expect weather-wise when I get there.

Someone mentioned that it would be cold, as March was between the end of winter and start of spring. Given that the coldest weather I’ve ever experienced was Baguio weather, that would be my only benchmark. The weather forecast for the week of my stay in Hong Kong was around 21 to 24 C, which didn’t seem so bad since I’ve experienced 10 C and less in Baguio several times. So I left Manila with the same clothes I use to for that climate: one jacket. I was confident that I’d be OK.

Big mistake. The moment I stepped out of the Hong Kong International Airport, I knew I miscalculated. The numbers were right, but it didn’t match the actual feel of the temperature. It was more than nippy, and it didn’t help that the cold would seep through my jacket and my jeans when the wind blew.

I was happy that I brought along my bonnet, which helped. When I got off my stop in Wan Chai, it was drizzling. The walk to the hotel warmed me up, but I knew that it was imperative that I get a new jacket.

In the morning, I dressed up as warmly as I could by layering my clothes, zipping up my jacket and donning a bonnet. However, it was much colder now, with the slight rain and the winds blowing. Getting a jacket became a priority, but I had to consider my budget too. In the end, I bought a scarf because it was cheap and I always wanted to have one (good enough reason, right?). And surprisingly, it was able to keep me warm.

Lesson learned. Better to bring an extra jacket and be comfortable. Although, I do love my scarf.

Why I went to Hong Kong: L’Arc~en~Ciel 20th Anniversary World Tour

A week after and I still think of the L’Arc~en~Ciel concert as some sort of a dream. It was a trip that was made of so many firsts: first time to go out of the country on my own, first time to organize a trip by myself, first time to travel abroad for the sole reason of watching a favorite band perform. To think that I don’t even understand what they’re singing about.

Warning: Long, rambling post ahead.
I thought I was going alone to the concert, but my online friend Ren said she wanted to go too. We thought it was funny that we’ve been online contacts for a while now, but our first meeting would be in Hong Kong. We agreed to book one room in order to save money, and we were happy with the hostel that we got.

We didn’t really plan anything for the trip. I guess we both had the mindset of “concert first, bahala na whatever after.” In fact, we spent the afternoon before the concert just going around Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui. Around 3 PM we headed towards the Asia World Expo Arena. It was actually quite a distance away from where we were, but because Hong Kong’s trains are very efficient, it wasn’t a difficult trip.

In the train, we saw a few other concert goers. There was a pair of Japanese girls who said that they followed the band from their previous location, and will continue to Taiwan and the other places. They also had various memorabilia on them. Talk about hardcore. Ren talked to them and I just smiled at them because I couldn’t really understand what they were saying (I still need a bit more levelling up on my Japanese skills).

When we arrived at the arena, I was surprised that there wasn’t much people yet. I mean, I had expected that there were more people loitering about. My first goal was to find the merchandise table, but I didn’t find what I wanted and the CDs were sold out. I ended up not buying anything, which is fine.
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Ready…

Not exactly the best photo I can get right now, but that’s what my view is (at least, about thirty minutes ago).

I’m here at NAIA Terminal 3 and trying out the free wi-fi courtesy of Globe (this is not an advert, by the way). Flight’s going to be called in a few minutes and in two hours or so, I’ll be in Hong Kong.

I’m pretty excited for this trip. It’ll be my first time to see the Hong Kong, and I’ve done virtually no research about it. Well, maybe a little. The place we’re staying in is far but it looks great. And tomorrow… L’arc En Ciel! 😀

I hope I can get some sleep.