No matter how many times you come back to Binondo, there is always something different. Everyone can go on a food tour, but with the sheer number of places to eat along Ongpin and its side streets, each visit is always new.
Last Sunday, I joined my new friends Nalani, Jonats and Marjorie for a food exploration in Binondo. Costs were divided among the four of us and we added P5 each for tips.
Stop 1: Dong Bei
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Dong Bei’s one of my favorite places to go to when I’m in Binondo. It’s a small dumpling place off Ongpin. Here you can see the attendants make the dumplings and cook them in a pot of boiling water. You can be sure that what you are eating is freshly made. We shared a plate of the mixed dumplings, popped open a can of Wai Long Kat and got to know each other better.
Cost: PHP 65
Side trip: A bakery along Carvajal
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We were going to Quick Snack along Carvajal but it was closed (along with most of the establishment along the esquinita). We passed by this bakery where I bought some tikoy bread from during the Chinese New Year. I didn’t buy anything, but everyone else did. Everything was freshly baked, which added to its appeal.
Pictures to follow. Sorry! Photos added. Still a work in progress. 🙂
About two years ago, I went with Lornadahl for a Postal Heritage Tour around Manila. While it’s not an official tour of the Philippine Post Office, it was nevertheless an educational tour on the postal service and philately, as well as some places around Manila that isn’t covered by the usual Celdran tour. This tour is hosted by the Filipinas Stamp Collectors Club and guided by Lawrence Chan.
What makes this tour interesting is that you get a look into the very fascinating field of philately, as well as a glimpse inside the majestic yet sadly dilapidated Metropolitan Theater in Manila. The tour also stretches to include Intramuros but as the tour is flexible, it sometimes doesn’t even get that far. Still, it’s a trip that is worth the time and effort.
I joined Anne and her cousin for this tour. Rence said that it usually lasts until early evening, mostly because the participants are fascinated by exploring that it’s hard to stick to the time table. We met at Liwasang Bonifacio, the park in front of the Post Office that is more known as Plaza Lawton. The older generation would probably recognize it as Arroceros Park.
The fountain was being used for the Bourne Legacy shoot, and the crew had set up camp at the park itself. I tried to catch a glimpse of Edward Norton but I doubt that he was still around.
The Historical Post Office
We went inside the Post Office first. The Post Office is a small, self-sustaining compound. Because of the large fleet of vehicles it needed, they had their own gas station. There are also smaller buildings within the compound, but sad to say, more than half of them are in a bad state. One is the Post Office museum, but it’s currently closed. I had the chance to attend a philately lecture there during the last tour, but the building is off limits now because it’s structurally unsound.
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The Post Office building is an impressive structure. It is often used in many local productions as a setting for school graduations or law offices. Sad to say, there is news that the building will be sold in the near future as the postal company is losing more money than what they are earning. Fullerton Hotel is said to be interested in it.
Carlos Celdran shouldn’t be a stranger to any Filipino these days, thanks to his infamous protest at San Agustin Church a while back. It earned him the nickname “Damaso”, which people would shout to him when they seem him on the streets.
However, long before that, Carlos has gained a reputation for himself through his Old Manila Walk tours. A performer at heart, Carlos conducts walking tours around Intramuros, providing a crash course in Philippine history. His tours are among the first thing foreigners and balikbayans would go to upon arriving in Manila. His unique, no-holds-barred way of telling the story attracts people to listen, providing an insight to the often misunderstood Manila and its people.
I have long wanted to go on a Carlos Celdran tour (naks, parang brand name lang siya), but time and money constraints made it a little difficult. I was fortunate enough to be able to join a quick tour he hosted in part with Samsung. While interesting, it still didn’t have the full Carlos Celdran touch of theatrics and whimsey that I wanted to experience.
He occasionally throws out barter tours, where you can give anything you think is worth something in exchange. However, it is mostly held during the weekdays which automatically made it a no go for me. When he posted a call for another barter tour and I figured it was my chance.
A Crash Course in Philippine History
I expected the tour to be mostly barter attendees, but it turns out we were going with regular tourists as well. There were quite a number of Filipinos among the foreigners, many of whom were balikbayans on vacation. One was a man who thought it would be a nice way to pass time while waiting for his friends. Another was a group of women who had roots in Manila but hadn’t been back in decades.
I’ve been a member of Couchsurfing since February 2010 but have yet to participate in anything the local group would organize. With all this free time in my hands, I’m eager to join in activities that sound like fun and do not cost much. When an invitation to join the group in Binondo to celebrate the Chinese New Year appeared on my dashboard, well, I couldn’t pass it up. I dragged Anne, my usual partner-in-crime for such adventures and off we go.
Getting lost, sort of
I’ve been to Binondo many times, and I was confident that I knew how to get there. However, I would normally come from the Sta. Cruz church side and walk up to Ongpin. I forgot what jeep I should ride if I wanted to arrive in front of Binondo Church. In the end, I walked a long way just to get where I was supposed to meet Anne.
The Philippines has a long and rich history with the Chinese. Business relations had been on going long before the Spanish set foot in the country. The establishment of the Chinatown here was in the 1500s, making the the oldest recorded Chinatown in the world — outside of China, of course. An interesting read about Binondo can be found here.
Meeting the Couchsurfers
Anne and I have the shyness gene so it took us quite a bit before either one of us had the gumption to ask the group of mostly red-shirted people in front if they were the CS group. Thankfully, we got it right the first time and a flurry of introductions began.
The festivities had already started by the time our group of (my estimate) 40-plus people made our way through Ongpin. The street was clogged with people (tourists and locals alike) watching the dragon and lion dances. Hawkers lined the street selling lucky charms. Some shops were closed but many were open like a regular working day. It was easy to get separated from the rest of the group, which was what happened to me several times during the day.
After the fireworks and dance, the proprietors of a grocery store threw candy and other giveaways to the crowd. It was scary as people clamored to get something. To avoid getting crushed, I immediately left the area.
Baguio continues to surprise me. Even though I lived there for four years, every time I come back, there’s always something about it that makes it interesting all over again. I see new things in the places that I’ve been to and feel I know so well.
I discover charming nooks and crannies in a road that I pass by many times.
I taste something new and enjoy the freshness that somehow only Baguio and its nearby provinces can give.
Nez and I have barely recovered from the Amazing Race we did the week prior when she invited me to go along with her for a weekend trip to Cagayan de Oro. It seems that it’s becoming a tradition for the two of us to have last minute trips. Because of the expense and other worries, I nearly passed the opportunity. Thank God I didn’t.
We left Manila on Saturday morning. Travel time is about an hour and twenty minutes. From the airport, we went straight to Cagayan de Oro river for our white water rafting adventure. Thanks to the awesome crew of Red Raft for arranging to pick us up and take us on.
Not Quite Like the ride in Enchanted Kingdom
In theory, I know how to swim. However, I am prone to panicking when the water closes in on me, hence my fear of falling into the water. More so if I’m unfamiliar with the water and if I cannot feel the ground beneath me. My worst fear for this trip was a capsized boat and being carried away by the current. I immediately told our guide, “Kuya, kung matangay ako, rescue mo ako ha?”
We suited up with personal floatation devices (PFDs, or life vests) and helmet, and grabbed our paddles. Nez, Char and I were the last of the group to arrive. Everyone else was already by the river and being briefed by Alan, one of the guides. We were also the only girls in the entire group. The Red Raft team had four rafts: Two with three people each, the other two with more than six (I didn’t take count). Because of this, we were dubbed the “Tres Marias”. Alan, however, called us “boys”.
After being briefed for water safety (I made sure to listen well), we were off. Each raft had one lead guide and an assistant guide. They’ll be the ones to tell you when to paddle and what sort of paddle you should do. There’s three basic paddles: the forward, the fast forward (I’m not sure if that’s the real name, but it’s similar to the first) and back paddle.
Cagayan de Oro’s rapids range from level 2 to level 4, so it shouldn’t be hard for a beginner. Nez decided to pick the advanced course, which had me in a panic. However, at the end of the course, I feel like an old hand. I do admit that there were times when I’d scramble to find a solid handhold if I feel the boat will tip or if our guide had this certain grin that indicates he was up to something.
In the end, he pulled Nez out of the raft and into the water. I have to give him props for taking my fear into consideration and did not try to tip the boat (well, he did try once). We easily exchanged jokes with them, although when they start talking in Bisaya I feel they’re making fun at our expense. No problems though.
The guides of the other rafts were also game to joke around with us. Most of the other riders were quiet, and my best friend was very chatty (she commented on their quietness and the guide said, “Ma’am, we’re on a spiritual river tour. Nagba-Bible study kami.”). When their rafts would float near us, they’d talk to her and joke around.
Our last day came on a rather somber tone, what with the events of last night hanging over our heads. Plans of heading to the Philippine embassy was scrapped due to the lateness of the day, so it was decided that Nez and Everlo would go to the Singapore Tourism Board while everyone can do some sightseeing.
I didn’t really have plans for the day, as I was quite hesitant to go about on my own. I still haven’t done some things on my list, namely: eat Hainanese chicken, go to Funan, find some Pinky St. toys and explore Kinokuniya. We headed off to Orchard Road.
Orchard reminded me of Ayala and Buendia Avenue. Only instead of offices, the street is lined with malls and shopping centers. Our first stop was the Louie Vuitton shop near ION, where we bought a bag for someone back home.
It’s my first time to enter an LV store. I’m not a fan of such designer labels, and I’m quite intimidated by them. A friend related a story of how her mother went to one LV store and the attendants looked down on her like she couldn’t afford to even buy the cheapest item (she can, and more). I was worried that we’d have the same treatment, especially since the attendants looked like they were earning more than I am.
However, we were warmly greeted as we entered the store, and someone immediately came up to us to ask what we wanted. She immediately showed us the bag, answered our questions and even helped facilitate a certain request. In less than thirty minutes we were done.
It was nearly noon. We just walked along the street looking at shops, stopping at a $1 ice cream stall. I spotted a Kinokuniya sign and told everyone that I needed to go there for a few minutes. Since there was a line for the ice cream, they let me go.
My kind of store
The building happened to be Takashimaya, a branch of a well-known Japanese department store. I made a beeline for the bookstore on the 3rd floor, and immediately went to look for Dianne Jacob’s “Will Write For Food”. As luck would have it, there was one copy left. I grabbed it, browsed a little more a wished desperately I had more than $50 left to spend. Kinokuniya is massive. While it’s not as big as the Fully Booked flagship in Bonifacio High Street, the selection here is massive. I found several books that I’ve been wanting to get but could never find in any of the bookstores here. However, due to budget constraints, I had to make do with this one book.
I decided to do a bit of exploring, so I headed up another floor. Here there were toy stores that had a lot of Japanese character products (no figures though, it was mostly plushies and cartoon characters). The best place on this floor was the massive art supply store called Art Friend. 10,000 square meters of art supplies. I wanted to genuflect and weep. Deovir had nothing on this place. The section near the entrance alone had me gaping in awe for a few minutes. Fabric paints of various sizes and brands had me imagining the projects I could do. Sadly, as I was pressed for both time and funds, I had to leave empty handed. I did promise to myself that I’ll come back and splurge heavily here.
Note: I wasn’t able to take any pictures because I didn’t know if it was allowed.
Lunch was at the Food Republic at Wisma Atria. I like how it looks like it’s all hawkers but it isn’t. The prices don’t seem very far from the ones you see in hawker places, so we settled on having lunch there. I ordered some roasted Hainanese chicken, and discovered that drinks really seem to be sold separately here.
Verdict on the chicken hasn’t changed. I still prefer tinola.
I woke up to the sounds of crinkling plastic. I tried to tone it out but it got the better of me. I peered over my bed’s protective guardrail and saw Belinda fixing her things. I also saw a foot — roughly size ten or more — dangling over the bed below me. I took a peek and hello, there’s a man. A really good looking, scantily clad and rather built young man.
While we were told that our rooms would be shared, it didn’t occur to me that our roommate would be a guy. Well, it sort of did but not this guy. I think we spent a good chunk of the morning ogling him and his friend, who was sleeping under the other bunk bed. Guys, if by some weird chance you read this, hi. I’m not crazy and I don’t bite. I just appreciate God’s beautiful creations. :p
Oddly enough, no one thought of taking a picture. Personally, I think we all felt it would be intrusive, as opposed to just looking and committing them to memory. Sadly, when we got back, they’ve check out. Either they were really moving on or we’ve scared them.
Our first stop was IKEA at Alexander Road. Belinda wanted to go there and since she was leaving later that day, we decided to go their first. When I was a kid, Mama had an IKEA catalog, and I loved browsing through it. There’s something about the clean lines of the designs that I really like.
We got off at Red Hill station and took the #33 bus. Can I just say again that I love Singapore’s transportation system? We purchased two day passes for the MRT and it works with the bus as well. All you had to do was tap the card on the receiver when you get on, and tap it again when you get off.
I have a rough idea why there’s no IKEA here. It would quickly put the furniture department of the local shops out of business. IKEA has an awful lot of things going for it: great design & quality, practical pieces, sturdiness and relatively affordable prices (I say relatively because if you take into consideration the other factors then convert the price, it’s pretty worth it).
The store is known also for serving great tasting Swedish meatballs. Goes to show just how ignorant I am. I didn’t know that IKEA had a cafeteria and that they sold food stuff. I only thought they had furniture and home appliance. We raided the small food section at the ground floor (I only got some chocolates), then headed back up to the cafeteria for merienda-slash-lunch.
Nez and I shared an order of Swedish meatballs and salmon with broccoli (I was looking for vegetables, because I feel that I’ve been eating nothing but meat for the past few days). I was surprised to see the meatballs were served with something that looked like strawberry jam, only it was less sweet. I later learned that it’s lingonberry sauce, and it complements the salty tang of the cream sauce that comes with the dish.
For dessert, Bel shared this delicious chocolate cake. With our stomachs happily full, we headed off to our next adventure. However, while crossing the street to go to the bus stop (I had once again forgotten that SG traffic goes the opposite way), more “SALE” signs at the building across caught my friends’ eyes. Needless to say we just had to go there.
Cotton On, Crocs, Charles & Keith and even Pierre Cardin were among the few stores that had products on sale. I browsed a little at Cotton On and got a pink shirt, but while my friends were enjoying themselves trying on shoes at C&K, I spent a few blissful minutes resting my feet.
We got up early to wait for the sun to rise. Well, if you can call 6:30 early. By our standards, the sun should’ve been high in the sky by then.
We went for a final dip in pool and spent a few minutes relaxing in the jacuzzi before heading to eat. Breakfast was a hearty meal at the Mediterranean restaurant where we had our breakfast the day before. The Filipno crew greeted us and gave us the best service we could ask for. Our party was seated very near the edge, with a wonderful view of the sea and under the full glare of the sun. Like it or not, I got a tan.
There really wasn’t much to do from here on, so we fixed our things and prepared them for the crew to take off the ship. While we waited for our turn to check out (they had to stamp our passports and we had to pay the whopping tax), we did a final tour around the ship’s shops (again, mostly manned by Pinoys), lounged about at the deck and played bridge.
It felt weird to leave the ship that had been our home and playground for three days. We bid farewell to the friendly and helpful staff and made our way back to terra firma.
We took the MRT to our next destination: our hostel, where we’ll be staying for the remainder of our stay. Sky Orchids Axis is located a short walk from Aljuned Station. I didn’t do any research because I didn’t have an idea where we would be staying until we arrived in Singapore.
The hostel is pretty much like a boarding house. Rooms are mixed, so you’ll never know who your roommate is (something we discovered when we woke up the next morning). It’s great for backpackers or folks who aren’t expecting much from the place, but I wouldn’t recommend it to families or people who have certain requirements when it comes to accommodations. There’s free Internet (you can use the common PC or connect through Wifi), bathrooms are clean and a simple breakfast of bread, coffee and cereals are offered. Laundry services are also available for a fee. If you’re not picky and you just really need a place to crash for a few days and you’re on a budget, this is a good place for you.
The slight smell of curry wafted up my nose, making me think our room was near the kitchen. Being very tired the night before, I didn’t notice it, but now it somewhat bothered me. I got up, grabbed my camera and journal, and climbed back to my bunk bed.
I peered outside the cabin’s window. The sun was just rising, lighting up the sky. I estimated it to be around 6 AM or so. My bunkmates were still asleep, which gave me enough time to jot down my thoughts in my journal.
Soon, everyone was stirring. Someone was knocking on our door. It was Caryl, telling us that we should head down to the Mediterranean deck for breakfast. Right. We got ready, and I was surprised to see that it was already around 8. I had forgotten the difference of the sunrise and sunset.
Breakfast was buffet, and while I was admiring the pastries, one of the cooks greeted me “Magandang umaga.” I kid you not about the number of Pinoy crew on board Virgo. I think they outnumber the other nationalities combined. It’s easy to identify them though, not just by their looks, but also by their name tags. Aside from names that you can easily recognize, the word “Philippines” is written underneath it. In fact, the entire staff had their home countries written underneath their names. The staff is generally friendly and accommodating.
Breakfast: Round 1
Members of our group slowly trickled in to have breakfast. We were discussing last night’s adventure, where one cousin was missing for a few hours (he fell asleep inside the movie house), and our plans for the day. Someone wanted to go around Malacca which was one of the ship’s stops, but it turns out that because we woke up late, we actually missed it. So plans for a quick stop at Kuala Lumpur was made.
But first, we make use of the ship’s ammenities. We went exploring first, checking out the various places, restaurants and services the ship had. There was a library (which I ironically wasn’t able to visit!), a spa and beauty wellness center, a gym and a dance hall/bar. Of course, there’s an onboard casino which Resort’s World is known for.
Everyone wanted to try the pool and the slide. As I didn’t really like swimming with a lot of people around, I said I’ll just go for the slide. It shouldn’t be scarier than the one in Fontana, but there was a part that was hanging over the boat. Not only that, you’d be sliding through clear glass. If you were going slow you’d be able to enjoy the view of the sea twelve stories below, but generally, you’d be going too fast to appreciate it.
I went for two rounds on the slide before I decided I was good.
We decided to skip the tour the ship was offering. At SGD 77 per person, we would rather explore on our own and use the money to buy souvenirs. We docked at Port Klang and from there, took a cab to Kuala Lumpur. The trip took one hour, sort of like from San Pedro to Manila. Continue reading →