Category: Travel

Three days in Singapore, lah!

My first overseas trip of the year (and for the better part of the last 27 months) has been to Singapore. Overall, it was fun. The trip made a huge dent in my bank account, but I had a good time.

Buildings on Singapore’s financial district are more impressive than the ones I saw on Wall Street. Of course, one could argue that New York’s financial district has a lot of history about it. 

In front of Ion Orchard on Orchard shopping district, which is also Singapore’s version of Times Square only less crowded, waaay cleaner, but much hotter. Evening temperatures must have been in the 30s, but at least you could stay outside without choking on noxious fumes other than those from cigarette smokers.

 Dhoby Ghaut MRT station. There is an entire city underneath this small structure. The five-level underground station’s corridors even have travellators due to the sheer size of the place and the amount of foot traffic it caters to. Take the North-East line (purple) if you’re going to Sentosa, and North-South (red) for Downtown Core.
I guess until I try the Swiss trains, Singapore’s MRT will always be my favorite. Everything is *very* clean; trains arrive on time and are not overcrowded; hand rails have no icky stuff left by commuters with sweaty palms. Those doors are kept close until trains stop at the station for alighting and on-boarding passengers, so there is no way that anyone would fall off a platform and onto an oncoming train. NYC subway is no match to the mostly “driverless” SMRT.
Doing a River Piedra on Raffles Boat Quay, except I didn’t sit down to cry. This ain’t no Pasig River, and I wish we didn’t lose our way the previous night looking for this place because we forgot to bring our map and the Information booth had a long line of Sri Lankan/Bangladeshi/Indian construction workers asking for assistance.
At 7SGD for one way and 12SGD for a two-way ride, the Sky Ride is bloody expensive, but it was kind of exciting. I didn’t know I was scared of heights until I hopped onto one of those swingings and found myself dangling several hundreds of feet above the ground. It gives a fantastic view of Imbiah Lookout and the rest of Sentosa, however, and because the Cable Car has been under repair, this is the best alternative to a cable ride.

In addition to Manny Pacquiao and Lea Salonga, SMB is a source of Pinoy pride, at least among beer drinkers. SMB in any place is an indication of the number of OFWs it hosts, and suffice to say, two staff at this rather pricey Chinese joint are Pinoys.

The YWCA on Fort Canning Road is a short walk from the Dhoby Ghaut MRT interchange and provides decent accommodation to budget tourists at SGD198 (roughly P6,200, depending on current exchange rates) for two nights for a standard twin room. My reservation was upgraded to Executive Twin, but I couldn’t tell the difference. The hostel also has a swimming pool and a tennis court, but then who would be brave enough to play tennis under SG’s infernal heat unless he has points to defend on the ATP tour?

The downside is that a certain front desk staff has courtesy issues. I would not have approached her for anything if I hadn’t absolutely needed to. Their Chinese staff, on the other hand, are friendly and helpful.

 What to do at the hotel? Catch up on American Idol, of course! I love Casey James.

“Free” breakfast buffet consists of Asian and Western dishes. Their noodles are so-so, but I liked the Yang Chow rice and the sausages, eggs, and baked tomatoes. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t so conscious about having a good fill of carbs, thanks to the miles of walking we knew we would take around the city.

 Doing some touristy bits. You have never been there unless you’ve had your photo taken beside the Merlion.

 The only homeless I found in Singapore, and as far as homeless people went, this woman didn’t look too downtrodden.

Singapore is so clean, it’s surprising to find litter along a foot path.

 Best reading material from 32,000 feet: The third installment of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest.

While many have often scoffed at the limited tourist options that Singapore offers and at its relatively bland flavor compared to neighboring countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, or Thailand (and the Philippines, for that matter), its mix of First-World cosmopolitan and Asian features basically shows just how well it turned things around from its very humble backwater beginnings to one of Asia’s leading economies.  Aside from its modern architecture and urban landscape, its mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay composition makes it a lot interesting and vibrant.
One can say that in addition to the many industries that sustain Singapore’s economy, such as IT, banking, and trade/manufacturing, tourism is one of the areas that the city-state takes very seriously as a source of income generation for the government and its business community. There are roughly 7 million tourists that visit this tiny country annually, and thanks to the growth of budget airlines in the region, including Australia, more people are visiting the city-state for short-term travel. To serve the needs of tourists, it even built a budget terminal to cater to low-cost airlines, such as Cebu Pacific, Tiger Airways, and Firefly. Within the terminal itself, one would easily find assistance and information on how to get from the airport to the hotel, thanks to the shuttles, taxis, bus routes, and trains that take people from Changi to the city. 
While the immigration officers who check incoming visitors’ papers are scarier (they look imposing, trust me) than the ones stationed at, say, JFK, the service staff who will greet you once your papers are cleared are courteous and helpful. The senior person manning the Information station was very helpful in booking shuttle seats for us; he also gave us complimentary bottled water and tourist maps while waiting for our shuttle.  When the shuttle arrived to take us to the hotel, he took over our luggage trolley so all we had to do was take our seats. Of course, the shuttle service doesn’t come cheaply, but at 9.00 SGD per person, it’s even more affordable than the yellow taxis at NAIA. If you prefer the MRT, you can take the free airport bus that will take you to Terminal 2, which is connected to a train station.
At train stations, you can ask for directions from the people at information booths. I prefer trains to buses even if the latter allow for more sightseeing opportunities because trains are easier to figure out. It would take me days to get the hang of SG’s bus system, and I didn’t have days to do so on this trip. And as I mentioned above, their trains are impeccably clean and fast.  The Dhoby Ghaut station, which served as our starting point to all the attractions that we wanted to see, is a clean and efficient five-story underground city that serves thousands of commuters a day. In terms of size, the only stations in NYC that rival DG, as far as I know, are the Grand Central Terminal, the combined bus-and-train Port Authority Terminal on 42nd and 8th, and the 42nd and Times Square station. But if you don’t factor in the street performers who give some NYC stations a certain personality, how do you compare this to this? (BTW, you know that Nestea iced tea commercial with the Valencianos and some girl playing drums? I’d bet my last Singaporean dollar that that’s where the advert’s makers got the idea. Mga gaya-gaya ever.) Just like Eric Weiner, author of  The Geography of Bliss and who fell in love with the clean and efficient Swiss mass rapid transit system, I fell in love with the Singaporean MRT.

Wanderlust Planned

Since the start of the year, I have already resolved to get more stamps on my passport . I have been hoping wanting to travel these past two years, but I was either too busy, too distracted, or too poor to sign up for the next available seat sale. But so far in this quarter alone, I have booked three trips already; make that three-and-a-half if you throw in the ML-SG that KL-based Drop2 has hopefully booked for May 🙂

I’m off to Singapore with littlest sis next month, a Malaysia-SG sojourn with Titans badminton buddies (I absolutely miss going out of town with these crazy lovely folks!) in May, and then Hong Kong in November with my mother who, as of this writing, still doesn’t know that I have booked flights for us. I just hope she finally manages to get her passport application done, as I have been asking her to get one for three years already.

So thank you, Cebu Pacific, and let’s hope that I won’t have to go through those horror stories shared by unhappy customers. And let’s hope you ain’t no Zest Air either. I never want to get aboard those MAC-60 planes again, having read on an online forum that they haven’t received international aviation security certifications.

The downside of these bookings, of course, is that I’m up to my nose in credit card debt. However, that’s one inconvenience that I can live with.

Photo source

1st Philippine International Pyromusical Competition

If I’m not mistaken, this pyromusical competition was supposed to have been staged at The Fort grounds late last year, but safety issues brought by typhoon Ondoy caused the organizers to cancel the event. Now, SM Mall of Asia’s Seaside Blvd. will be the new venue of the event, happening from February 14 ’til March 14. Of course I’m skipping Feb 14, with or without a date.

philippines pyromusical

There have been many other pyro-olympics events here over recent years, but I wonder why everything is tagged as “first”. Each one is called either pyroolympics or pyromusical, so what’s the difference and why is it called first everytime an event of its kind is being held in Manila? Baffling.

Seat-All-You-Can

Malacañang cancelled the order for a P1.2-billion “presidential jet” that would have alleviated worries that riding in a civilian airplane “poses high-security risk that may jeopardize life and limb of the President.” As if that wasn’t exactly what Filipinos wanted Macapagal-Arroyo to do.

Here’s a nice tip to Malacanang, courtesy of Philippine Airlines.

This is a slap in the face of local carriers that have enormously helped local and regional tourism prosper by providing affordable rates so Filipinos could travel to various destinations in the country and Southeast Asia. What does Arroyo think makes her different from the rest of us? Oh yes–a $20,000 feast for a “working visit” to the US. Using tax payers’ money. Maybe Lucio Tan and the Gokongweis should not make any contributions to the campaign funds of Arroyo or her party. Hindi daw safe ang eroplano ninyo.

Source: Jet purchase too ambitious for leader of a poor nation (PDI)

UPDATE:

I have just found the best airplane for La Presidentita:


39 Hours on a Summer Trip

It took us more than a month to finally have the trip push through, starting with an idea about an “outing” that came up during one of those semi-regular Friday lunches with Paul. I guess we were talking about taking time out to travel while we could (i.e., while we still have employments to fund such trips, while our work and personal schedules allowed, while not everybody else had kids), and that it would be great to get away from hot and humid Manila in the summer. We knew right then that planning a trip could turn into a nightmare, as we had had experiences of having things almost agreed on only to find out later that one or two or all couldn’t make it, so we egged on Beng about the idea.


While everybody else was sitting on the thought of going out of town, I went ahead with my Boracay plans and took the trip with my youngest sister. I needed to take the trip if only just to visit Boracay again, and not to meet some random stranger, as some guy friends-slash-colleagues implied.

As summer progressed towards April, someone magically realized that we were supposed to be cooking up a trip to somewhere out of Manila. With two weeks to prepare for a Holy Week journey, we booked with the first resort Beng could find on the net, and thankfully, it was a resort that was just a five-minute boat ride to Putipot Island…and 267 kilometers away from Manila! That’s 7 hours of butt-numbing drive on fine roads.

Picture-picture! with Paul and Gary

Beng, Paul, and I planned our itinerary (maps! directions!), transportation (Paul’s newly acquired CR-V), and other necessities (food and booze and swimwear!). Gary re-emerged from the depths of his donut obsessions and decided to join us on a short notice, and that meant having someone to provide a lot of the comic relief that the rest of us boring old fogeys wouldn’t muster in a million tries.

Day 1, 5:00 – Leaving for Zambales. We left Manila very early on Good Friday. As I was already late, they decided to pick me up at Kingswood instead of having me go all the way to our original meeting place.

I love these stopover spots! Shell-NLEX has Starbucks, Cinnabon, KFC, Chow King, Krispy Kreme, and Jollibee.

6:00 – Stopover for breakfast at Shell-NLEX. The place was already festive and brimming with people who were escaping from the hot and humid discomforts of Manila. We couldn’t decide where to take our breakfast, out of so many available restaurants and fastfood joints at the station. But I guess old habits die hard, so Starbucks became everyone’s choice even if we could have opted for traditional (and cheaper) Pinoy breakfast at, say, Jollibee. The stopover also became an occasion for picture-taking and figure-watching.

After half an hour of watching people, taking photos, and gulping morning coffee, we hit the road again for SCTEx. A shorter route via San Fernando was available, but having taken that road on another trip years back, I knew that traffic along that highway would set us back by hours, so I recommended the traffic-free, although pricey, SCTEx. We reached Subic in a little less than 2 hours, passed by several towns, and then briefly stopped at Iba, Zambales to buy sea foods for the evening.

The fun part, as it was a Good Friday, were all those flogging processions at San Marcelino town. The processions caused a huge traffic jam, so our travel was delayed by about half an hour. If you’re squeamish at the sight of blood, the way Pinoys–or Catholic Pinoys–observe Holy Week is not for you. By the time we passed through San Marcelino, Paul’s CRV was splattered with blood from the err…flogging devotees.

12:00 – Dawal Beach Resort. With Paul driving between 80 and 100 kph all the way t0 Candelaria, Zambales, we reached Dawal Beach Resort at a little past noon. Check-in was still 2 hours away, so we decided to have lunch at the resort’s restaurant. Food was decent and relatively cheap, and breakfast meals were served throughout the day. I don’t know if the practice is something that one could find “onli in da Pilipins,” but that’s how it is around these parts, and we love our breakfasts and second breakfasts served throughout the day.

After taking a brief dip in the pool, waiting around the reception area, and getting bluffed to by the front desk staff about room availability (we thought the cleaning staff had already prepared our rooms), we finally checked in. Accommodations were not 5-star, but they were decent enough for a resort that was tucked in god-knows-where. Plus, what else could we expect from P1,700-a-night accommodation aside from so-huge-you-could-dance-the-salsa-in-there room, working AC, hot/cold shower, cable TV, and a fridge.

Putipot Island. In the distance is the coast of Candelaria.

15:30 – Off to Putipot Island. We rented a boat to Putipot Island, which was the entire coastal area’s main attraction. Putipot is a tiny, tiny patch off the coast of Candelaria. The first time I went to the island was in 2006 with my badminton buddies, and back then, it resembled a forest instead of a mini-resort. There were no huts nor even CRs (yuck! yuck!). Three years later, the only thing that reminded me of old Putipot was its distance from Manila and its size; you could walk around the island in half an hour.

Our hired boatman picked us up at exactly 17:00. These guys were prompt! Round trip boat rides cost P400.

18:30 – The shower situation. After half an hour of swimming at Dawal beach, I decided to head back to our room, shower, and nap, as I had only half an hour of sleep the previous night because either I was too excited about the trip or the neighbors upstairs decided that it was fun to move furniture around their unit at 1-bloody-AM! I was glad, though, that I went ahead of everyone. Water pressure was terrible around the time the rest arrived, so there was no water coming out of the shower. The room staff were helpful, though. It was the first time I ever saw room staff haul buckets of water through 2 flights of stairs so guests could still take their shower. That would never happen in Manila.

19:00 Dinner preparations – Dinner While our senoritos were fast asleep, Beng and I grilled the squids, tuna, and prawns we bought at Iba. Dinner was a feast of seafood, tomato ensalada, sweet yellow mangoes, beer, and wine. As usual, the boys provided much comic relief about work, gimmicks, relationships, people, sports, and entertainment, and that added to the many things I was thankful for. There was much fun made about missing Beng and I when they woke up, they thought they’d order food from the restaurant instead.

Day 2, 8:30 – Morning swim It was already way past breakfast time when I woke up. I followed them to the beach after having my morning coffee, stayed in the waters for 30 minutes, then prepared for the trip back to Manila. While we gave the boys some time to rest, Beng and I finished the leftover cabernet sauvignon from the previous night.

12:30 – The looong drive back We left the resort a little past noon. Lunch was had at Iba, and then the long drive back to Manila.

17:30 – Stopover We made a brief stop for coffee at Gloria Jean’s at a festive Caltex station on NLEX. I like these gas stations on NLEX where you can also stop for coffee, food, and items you need for a long drive.

20:00 Home sweet apartment. Paul dropped me off at my apartment building.