Weekend in Mui Ne

Weekend in Mui Ne

I’ve been living in Vietnam for two years now and I could say it’s not enough time to travel to all the major and picturesque cities and towns in this country. Vietnam, indeed has too much to offer.

I have work on weekdays and weekends are just too short for a travel stint so I just usually take advantage of holidays or a one-day leave just to get away from the bustling Saigon.

And that rare chance I took advantage of last weekend to visit Mui Ne. My friend, Joey, flew in from the Philippines for a quick vacation so I have another reason to pack my bag and go to another place to explore.

Getting to Mui Ne:  

Mui Ne is originally a fishing village located in Binh Thuan province of Vietnam. It is approximately 4-5 hours bus ride away from Ho Chi Minh city. It’s easy to get to this hushed village since there are a lot of bus tours available that you can find along Bui Vien and De Tham street in Saigon particularly. I always book my tours with Sinh Tourist so I did just that with this Mui Ne Trip. The fare is just 109,000 VND per person for a sleeper bus. We left Saigon around 7am and we arrived in Mui Ne proper around 11:30 am. There are other bus schedules available but we just chose the earlier one so we can arrive in Mui Ne before noon.

The bus fare from Mui Ne to Saigon was 150,000 VND since we booked it in our hotel and we rode the Hanh Cafe bus, which is not really recommendable. I’d say Sinh Tourist is still pretty much the most reliable one.

Where to stay: 

I was actually expecting a Nha Trang-like scene in Mui Ne. But it was different. While Nha Trang is more festive and maybe more Miami-like (though I haven’t been to Miami, but just the feels!), Mui Ne I could say is more reserved and peaceful. I think the central beach area is the Nguyen Dinh Chieu street since it’s where most resorts are situated. It’s a long road where you could see resorts, hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and even residential houses on both sides. You couldn’t really see the beach since the resorts are covering the view. Nevertheless, I’d say it gave Mui Ne a different feel.

We checked in at Thao Ha Hotel and even if it’s not beach front, I’d say it’s a good choice. The place is clean and well-maintained and the staff are nice and very helpful. We only paid for roughly 45usd for a 3 days/2 nights stay with breakfast. I like it that they clean the room everyday and they replenish the toiletries daily as well.

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There are a lot of options for accommodations along Nguyen Dinh Chieu street. You can opt to walk-in or book ahead, but I think it’s better to book ahead since the price is slightly different when you just walk-in. Room rates also vary depends on the type of the hotel or resort you will book, but I think it’s still pretty cheap and won’t eat much in your budget.

What to do: 

If there’s one thing I didn’t like much about Mui Ne, it’s the beach. Sadly, it’s the beach. It’s not as nice as I thought it to be. We weren’t even able to swim on the beach because there were a lot of huge jellyfishes and the waves were too big. The shoreline is not as wide as compared to Nha Trang as well. So, I’d say I prefer the beach in Nha Trang better. Or maybe, it was the season of the jellyfishes going out of the sea? If there’s such a thing as that.

But anyway, even if the beach was not too nice to us, we were still able to enjoy Mui Ne through some sightseeing trip we did. We availed of the group tour package offered by our hotel which was only 140,000 VND per person for a group of 5. It’s a jeep ride tour of the four famous tourist spots in Mui Ne such as the White Sand Dunes, Red Sand Dunes, Fairy Stream and the Fishing Village.

 

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Fairy Stream

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Red Sand Dunes

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This spot is just perfect for photo shoot sesh:-)

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Fishing Village

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White Sand Dunes

 

This is actually a pretty good deal! Imagine being able to go around the main spots of this village for just less than 10usd!? And I like that we did the tour early morning (we started around 4:30am), so it’s not too hot and we were able to catch the sunrise at the White Sand Dunes:-)

The tour finished at around 9am so we still had enough time to stroll around the area. Another fun way to do in Mui Ne is to learn Kite Surfing, which I didn’t dare try because I’m not much of a water sports fan. But hey! It looks pretty exciting!

No frills, spontaneous getaway. 

That weekend in Mui Ne was pretty remarkable since we were able to just relax and enjoy the feeling of not doing anything or not be pressured to do something. We just did what we thought of doing at the moment. We slept, we ate, we swam, we watched KDrama to our hearts’ content, and I even almost finished a book during this quick getaway. I’m not sure if it comes with age but these are just the things I’m looking forward to in a vacation. I don’t like the hurried, let-us-visit-all-the-tourist-spots-at-once kind of trips anymore. So yes, maybe I am really becoming a member of the #titasofmanila now. Or an ahjumma? Oh please!

Nonetheless, it was a trip worth remembering. I could say it was one of the most relaxing trips I’ve ever had. And I’m glad that my friend, Joey, also felt the same way:-)

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Saigon Coffee Scene

Saigon Coffee Scene

Before I went to Vietnam, I’ve done quite a few researches on what to expect in this country. I tried to find out how life is in Vietnam, especially Ho Chi Minh city since I’m planning on staying there. And one of the top things that enticed me more into coming to Vietnam is its vibrant coffee scene. I didn’t know then that Vietnam holds the second spot in the best coffee-producing countries in the world. I didn’t even know how Vietnamese coffee actually tastes. But I must admit that just looking at the interior shots of those coffee shops in Ho Chi Minh city is already enough to make me want to go there.

And they didn’t fail me. Having been in Ho Chi Minh city for almost 9 months now, I could say that the coffee scene in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city) and in Vietnam as a whole is really vibrant, fascinating and so chic. I love how coffee shop hopping is such a fun thing to do here. My fondness for chic and thematic designs is being indulged in this country, especially in Saigon. I love how the ambiance of each cafe is different from each other.

I must admit, I’m really impressed. And surprised. Never had I imagined and expected that Vietnam has this really huge, vibrant and artsy cafe scene. I thought that these kinds of coffee shops can only be seen in South Korea or in Japan. Not in Vietnam. Definitely not in Vietnam. 

And yes, I was totally wrong. Man! I don’t need to travel all the way to South Korea just to have that chic coffee shop scenes I’ve always imagined myself to be in. I am actually having those scenes here, right in the heart of Vietnam — Saigon!

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Ngoi Nha So 7 Cafe, District 3, HCMC

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ID Cafe, District 3, HCMC

 

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Fig Cafe in Phu Nhuan District, HCMC

The styles of the coffee shops in Saigon range from traditional Vietnamese designs to chic, artsy, and modern ones.

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Vung Oi Mo Cua Cafe,  District 3, HCMC

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Cafe Coi Xua, Phu Nhuan District

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Cosmo Cafe, District 1, HCMC

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The Morning Cafe, District 1, HCMC

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She Cafe, District 1, HCMC

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Koneko Cafe, District 2, HCMC

Plus,there are also garden coffee shops that are nature-inspired to add a more relaxing, calming feel.

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Du Mien Cafe, Phu Nhuan District, HCMC

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Mien Dong Thao Cafe, Phu Nhuan District, HCMC

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S Cafe, Phu Nhuan District

These are only some, and I mean just SOME of the most fancied coffee shops in Ho Chi Minh city. There are still a LOT more! Believe me, my 8 months here is not yet enough for me to visit all those charming fascinating coffee shops in the city.

And yes, these coffee shops are one of my top reasons why I’m enjoying my stay here in Vietnam. I always feel like I’m in a K-drama whenever I’m in a coffee shop here.

Yes. That is weird.

Aside from having really eye-catching cafe designs, Vietnam also boasts off its world-renowned coffee taste. It is just so addicting-ly good and definitely for the win!

Being a self-proclaimed coffee lover, this city and this country is really satisfying my coffee taste bud and my love for chic designs. I just know that I am exactly where I should be at this moment of my life.

Thanks for the awesome coffee, Vietnam!

Crossing Cultures in Vung Tau

Crossing Cultures in Vung Tau

Living in Vietnam for more than 8 months now, I could say that this country is not done yet surprising me with its stunning and charming places. I could honestly say that I have never expected Vietnam to be this lovely.

Just last weekend, a Vietnamese colleague and friend, Rosie, invited me to her hometown in Ba Ria – Vung Tau province. This place is just two hours away from Ho Chi Minh city and could easily be reached by bus, van or even motorbike. And yes, even though it’s just near the city center, I didn’t have the luxury of time to visit this small province before. Not until last weekend. All thanks to my good Vietnamese friend who was kind and hospitable enough to invite me to her place.

On the road to Vung Tau

When the clock struck 6:00 last Friday, me and my friend  hurriedly turned off our computers, got our stuff and went straight to the ground floor and waited for a cab that will take us to the bus terminal going to Vung Tau.

It wasn’t actually a bus but a van that brought us to Vung Tau. A smooth, comfortable less than 2 hours ride for only VND 80,000. There was one stop-over on the way for those who want to go to the comfort room or buy something to eat.

We left Ho Chi Minh city around 7pm and we arrived at Rosie’s house in Vung Tau around 8:30 pm. While approaching the town proper of Vung Tau, I kept saying to my friend that that was not how I imagined Vung Tau to be. Before I had my eyes laid on this small town, I imagined Vung Tau to be very rural — like grass fields on both sides of the road, traditional wooden houses, not much people on the streets, and all the countryside images you can think of.

But the Vung Tau I saw last weekend was way different from what I’d imagined. The town is more like a small city within the suburbs but very vibrant and full of life. You wouldn’t even feel you are away from Ho Chi Minh city, except for some areas where you can only see the sea and mountain.

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For a starter, my friend’s house is really gorgeous! It’s the type you usually see on TV series. It’s a modern Vietnamese house with really yummy colors. I even joked Rosie that her house is like a big ice cream for me.

The next day, my friend and her parents toured me around the town and tried various types of Vietnamese food I fondly call “Vung Tau hits.” I tried Banh khot for breakfast and Rosie’s mom’s special version of mon cuon  or rolled in rice paper dish, and cha ca or fish cake. Then for dinner, we had seafood hotpot that’s really ngon (delicious in Vietnamese)! And before we capped the night off, Rosie and her friend even let me have that Turkish ice cream and the banh bong lan (cheese cupcake) I’ve been raving to have! It was such a tummy-filled night!

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Banh Khot

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Enjoying my Turkish ice cream:-)

 

A memorable trip

The whole day might not be enough to see all the wonderful tourist spots in Vung Tau and experience swimming on its beach waters, but nevertheless, it was a tour worth having. Aside from the fact that it was a free tour– all thanks to Rosie and her family — I was able to see Vung Tau from the local’s perspectives. I actually felt not a tourist that time but more of a visiting relative from another part of Vietnam. That was what Rosie and her family made me feel that time. They were so welcoming, warm and hospitable. Perhaps, that was what made this trip really memorable. It might just be a usual tour along the countryside of Vietnam, but the people who welcomed me there made a lot of difference.

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with my Vietnamese friend, Rosie:-)

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That short Vung Tau trip made me appreciate Vietnam more, especially its people. It made me see the Vietnamese people in a different light. It was also a good chance for me to really get to experience the local’s way of life and how the local family treat each other. I realized that the Vietnamese and Filipino families are not really very different when it comes to how they value their families. Both countries give high value to family relationships and have a really close ties among the members. If not for the language difference, I would have felt that I’m actually just spending time with my close relatives.

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with Yen while buying my favorite custard cupcake:-)

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Vung Tau may not be as stunning or as famous as the other tourists destinations in Vietnam, but it definitely charmed my heart with its simplicity and laid-back feel. Moreover, the people who welcomed me there and let me in their humble abode made me realized how blessed I am to be able to experience another culture and be treated like I’m actually a part of the family. This trip is definitely one for the memory box:-)

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My Unexpected Love Affair with Medan

Medan, Indonesia.

I never meant to fall in love with you. I didn’t expect it at all. I never had any expectations when I first stepped my feet in your grounds. All I wanted then was to experience more of God in a different land. But you gave me more than I expected–definitely a lot than I ever prayed for.

We arrived at Medan morning of October 15. I didn’t have much expectation of the place because I was told that it’s just like Manila. But I must admit that the city has surprised me in many ways.

The Airport.

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The streets and some sights.

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Maimoon Palace

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For our entire stay in the city, we were booked at Danau Toba International Hotel. It is a 5-star hotel located in the heart of Medan. The hotel is conveniently located just 5-10 minutes walk to shopping places like Sun Plaza and 15-minutes drive to Cambridge Plaza. We booked two rooms in the hotel–one for our guy friend and one for us 3 girls.

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This room served as our official home for our two-weeks stay in Medan.  And yes, this room was witness to the fun moments I had with our team, the heartfelt talks, the sharing of thoughts and opinions, the once-in-a-while not-so-heated arguments which we were able to give peaceful resolutions to at the end of the day. This room was also witness to the happy moments we’ve spent with some of our Indonesian friends whom we grew so fond with.

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Universitas Sumatera Utara.

One of the largest universities in the city of Medan. Almost everyday of our stay in the city were spent in this university. This humble university welcomed us and made us feel very much at home. I will never forget the times we’ve spent at Perpustakaan Universitas (University Library)–meeting different students and making friends with most of them, sharing stories, playing UNO cards, and eating with them. Although I’m not really fond of spicy foods, the joy of eating with these students surpassed that pungent taste.

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Kantin Mahira.

This canteen located within USU is not really extraordinary of sort. But this place holds a special place in my heart. This place saw how friendships were built between people from different beliefs and origins. It was a silent witness to deep, heartfelt, and hearty conversations we had with our Indonesian friends. This was also the very place where I first had my taste of TEH BOTOL—a famous Indonesian drink which I didn’t like at first but eventually learned to love and crave for. Kantin Mahira may just be your usual school canteen but for me, it was made extra special because of the memories created here–the people, the moments.

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My favorite! Teh Botol!

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Medan left me very special memories of the places I’ve been to when I was there–Sun Plaza, Cambridge Plaza, Aviation School, 061 Bistro, Maimoon Palace, Waroek Nenek, Kopi Ong, Coffee Cankir, Coffee Box, the A&W near USU, the Feng Huang Spa, Hermes Plaza, the restaurant where we ate Kwetiaw, Koki Sunda, Waringin, and of course, Solaria and Carrefour. I could still vividly recall the special moments created in every places mentioned and those moments were like my happy pills during my time of reminiscing.

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And how will I ever forget my Koro-Koro experience in Happy Puppy? Koro-Koro is Indonesia’s term for videoke/karaoke. Along with our Indonesian friends, our team sang to our heart’s content to the songs of Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, The Script, Bruno Mars, Backstreet Boys, One Direction, Christian Bautista, and many others. We even sang Regine Velasquez’s Pangako and our Indonesian friends sang some of their local songs, too.

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My Medan, Indonesia experience was definitely beyond compare. It was two wonderful weeks that I will never ever forget. I am grateful beyond words to Father God for allowing me to experience this overwhelming adventure. And yes, I was able to really encounter Him in that city more than I ever imagined. My sojourn  in this city may be quick but I could say it was experience-full. I learned a lot of things through this journey that I am certain to keep forever with me. I discovered things about myself which I never thought I have. I battled with fears, insecurities and anxieties but through the grace of God, I won over all of them. I welcomed the differences in every person and embraced the truth about individuality. And yes, I believe that this journey to Medan has made me an even better person than what I was before I stepped my feet on this city’s grounds.

I have to thank the people who have been instrumental in making this Medan experience a really awesome and unforgettable one. These people have caused a different kind of stir in my heart and in my life.

I will forever be grateful to the special people who served as our mentors while we were in Medan. These people carefully guided us on the various things we needed to do while in the city. All our special moments together, the random talks and sharing that really encouraged us, and all the hearty laughs we shared—I will certainly keep them locked in my heart forever. You never know how much you’ve inspired and encouraged me and my friends. If there’s a word that weighs more than THANK YOU, that would be my word for you guys.

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This whole Medan episode in my life wouldn’t be that unforgettable and remarkable if I haven’t met these Indonesians and became friends with them. You made me believe that even people with different beliefs, customs, and values could really be friends. Thank you for welcoming us in your city and for making us feel like very much at home. Thank you for all your ready smiles, the laughs at our jokes, the amused and fascinated look every time I talk about something ridiculous, the interest in my Korean stars fascination, your attentiveness whenever I am in the mood to talk about serious stuff on life and love. Thank you for always making time to meet us and spend time with us despite your busy university schedules. Thank you for the wonderful friendship you offered to me and my friends.

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To the four students whom we got to spent a big chunk of time while in Medan–Dina, Fanny, Ingrid and Nova–Thank you! You keep telling us that we made a big impact in your lives, but really, it was you who created a lasting impression in our hearts. Thank you for all the times you spent with us, assisting us, bringing us to different places and letting us experience riding an Angkot. You might not be aware of it but all four of you have inspired us in many ways. Your unpretentious and humble heart to really know more about God is just so overwhelming. We’re as excited to see you soaring higher with Him. Thank you for being our younger sisters while we were in Medan. All the moments we’ve spent together are kept in my jar of happy pills. Whenever I think of Medan, your faces always flash in my memory. I will always remember each of your laughs, your distinct characters, and all the special moments I’ve spent with each of you. Thank you for introducing me to Teh Botol and Solaria, for giving a new meaning to “Impartation,” and for bringing me to Carrefour 🙂 Each of you has a special place in my heart ;). And thank you for making us feel special, too 🙂

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Medan is just a regular city to me until you all became my friends. You made me look at this city in a different light and love it even more. Terima Kasih! Thank you for never making us feel like a foreigner in a foreign land.  I will never ever forget all of you 🙂

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Jeff Goins wrote:

“Traveling will change you like little else can. It will put you in places that will force you to care for issues that are bigger than you. You will begin to understand that the world is both very large and very small. You will have a new-found respect for pain and suffering….While you’re still young, get cultured. Get to know the world and the magnificent people that fill it. The world is a stunning place, full of outstanding works of art. See it.”

With conviction, I would say my life is never the same again after Medan. Yes, it may seem like a simple travel to another country for some, but it left a significant mark in my life. I may walk the same road again but I know in my heart that  I will look at that same road in a different light now. 

My unending gratefulness goes out to all the people who allowed themselves to be used by God and be instruments for this remarkable journey. You never know how much your YES meant so much to me and for this trip 😉

And for the people whom I spent almost 14 days with (or maybe more than since we’ve had weekly meetings before Medan)—the H.A.R.D team–I am just so happy that God put all of us together in one team. We may have differences, we may had moments when we couldn’t stand each other, but I know I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. I couldn’t imagine myself going to Medan with a different set of people. Thank you for letting me be myself with you and for accepting me for who I am. All our talks, our sharings–they all meant so much to me. I am glad to get to know more the other side of each and everyone of you while we were in Medan. Thank you for the friendship 🙂 And indeed, it’s Medan and beyond 😉

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From all of us in the team: Terima kasih! Sampai kita bertemu lagi.

(Playing Anna Kendrick’s “When I’m Gone” while writing this piece 🙂

Chestnuts of My Bangkok Trip – Day 1

Ever since I started my love affair with traveling, I’ve experienced different types of packing stuff and airport or bus stations kind of excitement. From preparing things and putting them inside the traveling bag, to that taxi ride going to the terminal or the airport, to the departure time, to that arrival on my destination and finally setting my feet on that happy ground—each place and experience truly has a different feel each time. But I guess I had the most frenzied feel in my recent out of the country expedition—I’m finally traveling with my family! Guess it’s just a different kind of high when you know that you’re going to ride the plane and travel to a foreign land with your family—my mom, sis, and my cousin Percie. It just felt awesome!

And for this trip, we’re flying to Bangkok baby!

We actually owe this trip to Father God. He blessed us with cheap fares, favors in the hotel accommodation, and provisions for the entire trip.

DAY 1:

We arrived in Bangkok, Thailand morning of July 7. The long queue of tourists in the immigration in Suvarnabhumi Airport was just sooo overwhelming. I really wish to see that long line at NAIA’s tourist immigration, too! if I could just comment, I just found some if not most of the Thai officers in the airport to be a bit snotty as compared to the other international airports I’ve been to. One incident to prove that was when I asked a lady stationed in some sort of reception area where the exit is. That lady happened to be playing some mobile games with her friend that when I asked her, she looked apathetic at me and answered me in a quite not-so-good-to-my-ear-tone. I don’t know if that’s just the usual tone of their voices but it just sounded irritating to me. But of course, I didn’t go there to piss myself with negative stuff, so I just shrugged that incident off. There were some other incidents that followed which made me conclude Thais are not really that hospitable as compared to us, Pinoys.

Part of the add-ons in our booking at Nest Boutique Hotel was the free airport transfer to and from the hotel. I actually had to call the hotel (goodluck sa bill ko!) twice because the hotel staff who was supposed to pick us up was not yet there when we arrived. We had to wait for almost 30 minutes for them to pick us up and bring us to the hotel.

Alright, so the first few moments at Bangkok were not really as blithe as I expected it to be but that didn’t dampen our travel spirits.

Nest Hotel is located just 10-15 minutes away from Suvarnabhumi Airport. It was a bit far from the city proper but nevertheless, I could say the hotel was a good choice. We got a good deal of 3 nights booking at Nest for only 2136Baht (P2,982) via AsiaRooms. What’s good about this booking was we didn’t have to pay in advance. We only had to provide some pertinent information and then we could pay upon arrival at the hotel.

The room was actually only for 3 pax but it was big enough to accommodate us 4. The rate we paid for didn’t come with a breakfast but we didn’t mind at all. The hotel was really highly recommendable especially if you have a midnight flight since you don’t have to rush your way to the airport. Plus, the staff were very nice and accommodating, too. The only stuffy thing about it was that it’s a bit far from the city center–like 20-30 minutes away via train.

The hotel is actually located in some sort of rural residential area in Lat Krabang. They will provide you with a map to show the cab drivers since it’s not that easy to find. Once you became familiar to the place, however, you wouldn’t be needing that map anymore since the hotel’s location is easy to remember.

After we left our stuff in the hotel, we rode a Tuktuk to go to the Airport Link’s Lat Krabang station. The Airport Link actually starts from the Suvarnabhumi Airport and then goes up to the Phaya Thai Station of the BTS Skytrain Line. People coming from the airport need not worry about the hustle of traveling from the airport to the city center, all thanks to the Airport Link.

Here’s a map of the Bangkok’s transportation services (Airport Link, BTS Skytrain, MRT) which are actually interlinked to each other at various points for the convenience of the commuters.

Since we arrived in Bangkok on a Sunday, we decided to put Chatuchak in our first day itinerary so we could experience the Weekend Market.

Note: I got these photos of the Chatuchak Market from the net since I wasn’t able to take some photos that time.

Photo credits: http://www.adventurouskate.com

photo credit: gobackpacking.com

Chatuchak Weekend Market’s really a total shopping haven! It actually looked like the dry market inside Sunshine Plaza in Baguio City but the prices of the goods here were really cheap as compared to the other shopping areas in Bangkok. In fact, I was able to buy a dress here for only 100Baht.

We also had the first taste of the authentic Thai food at Chatuchak.

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Chrysanthemum-flavor Iced Tea (10Baht)

I totally forgot the names of the food we ordered but our bill for this meal (good for 4) was approximately around 200baht only, inclusive of bottled water and Chrystantemum Iced Tea.

After a little more window shopping, we decided to go to the Siam malls (Siam Center, Siam Paragon) located in Siam. Since the fare in BTS was a bit expensive for us 4, we decided to just ride a bus to go to Siam. Apparently, that was a not-so-nice idea since the policeman we asked direction from didn’t seem to understand us and gave us the wrong bus number to take. Good thing the conductor was nice enough to tell us that we need to get off at a certain bust stop and just ride a taxi from there. Nonetheless, riding a bus wasn’t that bad at all since we were able to do some sightseeing of the city and experience a bit of Bangkok traffic.

After some turns and re-routes, we finally arrived at Siam Square.

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A look inside Siam Center

And as much as we would love to experience the yummy goodness (according to reviews) of After You Dessert Cafe, the line of waiting diners was too long for our already grumpy tummies so we decided to try other cake shop.

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After doing another round of walks around the ground floor of Siam Paragon and having some free tastes, we decided to eat at Cafe De Tu.

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We ordered Macadamia Cake (105Baht)…

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Red Velvet Cake (105 Baht) and 2 Toffee Latte (95 Baht/each)

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Coconut Cake (105 Baht)

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and Oreo Cake (120 Baht)

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Their cakes were not actually as tasty as they looked like but I loved their Oreo cake.

After Siam Paragon, our next stop was the Pratunam Street. I thought that it’s just near Siam Square since basing on the train map, Pratunam is very close to Siam. But lo and behold, it took us about 30 minutes to get there from Siam Square! We had to go up the over pass and walk and walk and walk till we reach the Isetan Mall and we walked up the over pass again to go to the other side of the street. Okay, so that was a lot of walk! Good thing we were entertained with the different things we saw on the streets–bargain shops, busy people, etc..–that we didn’t find that too tiring (okay, I’m lying. That was really tiring!).

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We first looked for a money exchange shop since we’re running out of Baht. We didn’t exchange all our pesos to Baht at the airport since the buying rate was too low–P1 = 0.48 Baht. At the Pratunam street, we chanced upon a money changer with a good buying rate–P1 = 0.52 Baht.

If Chatuchak Weekend Market was the shopping haven, Pratunam market was my happy place! I actually bought more from this strip than in Chatuchak 😀 I was even able to buy 2 dresses for only 30 Baht each (me and my Ukay-ukay instinct!).

photo credit: mytour.vn

The food in Pratunam was also awesome! There was this particular restaurant in that long strip of side street restaurants along Pratunam which we really love, but which of course we didn’t know the name because it’s written in Thai.

Maybe you can just look for this signboard in that long strip 😀 They have the best Phad Thai (65 baht) ever! I just don’t have a photo of that 😀

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This one was just sooo yummy I couldn’t seem to forget the taste but I just forgot the name 😀

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(60 baht)

Burp!

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Coca Cola (15 baht)

After we gorged on these yummy treats, we felt the need to go back to our hotel already. We ended the first day of our Bangkok adventure trying on the stuff we bought at Chatuchak and Pratunam markets, planning and budgeting for day 2, and a really satisfying sleep 😀

Useful TIPS:

Getting to Chatuchak from Nest Hotel, Lat Krabang:

– ride a Tuktuk from Nest Hotel to Lat Krabang Station Airport Link (60 baht)

-take the Airport Link going to Phaya Thai Station of the BTS Skytrain line (45 baht/person)

-from Phaya Thai, take the BTS Skytrain going to Mo Chit Station (34 Baht/person)

-from Mo Chit, you can already see the Chatuchak Park; walk through the park and you can already see the weekend market.

getting to Nest Hotel from Pratunam:

– You can actually just walk from Pratunam to Ratchaprarop Station Airport Link (about 15 minutes)

– you can also ride a taxi from Pratunam to Ratchaprarop

– from Ratchaprarop Station, take the train going to Lat Krabang Station (around 25-30 baht/pax)

– from Lat Krabang Station, hail a taxi, give the hotel map to the driver going to Nest Hotel (approx 40-50 baht)


Food expenses:

a. Chatuchak Market – around 200 baht

– 50 baht/person for the meal

– bottled water (10 baht)

– Chrysantemum iced tea (10 baht)

b. Cafe de Tu – 865 baht

c. Pratunam market – 310 baht

– Phad Thai (65 baht)

– rice (15 baht * 5)

– fried shrimp something (the one in the photo above) (60 baht/order)

– fried pork (60/baht)

– coke (15/bottle *4)

-bucket of ice (5 baht)

Laid-back Weekend at Dzone Silang, Cavite

I am not a beach person. I like it when I see it and I’m looking at it while sitting on the sand and contemplating on various things, however, it’s not on top of my list when I think of a place to go to when I need to unwind. The sight of trees, greenfields, and mountains relaxes me more and helps me unclutter some thoughts off my head.

Thus, when I want to loosen up and break free from the hubhub of work and city life, I would always look for places which has plenty of greens anywhere I set my eyes on. Baguio and Sagada are actually two of my favorite retreat places in the world, but to go there everytime I want to simmer down is just way too expensive and travel toxic.

Good thing I live in a country which is undoubtedly blessed with abundance of natural resources, especially trees, that I need not travel too far to feast my eyes on fields of green and hang loose.

Less than 2 hours drive from Manila, there is a silent sanctuary nestled in the quiet town of Silang, Cavite—DZONE Backpackers Inn Tagaytay. It actually has two branches, the other one, which is more backpackers friendly, is located along E. Aguinaldo Highway in Tagaytay. The one located in Mataas na Burol, Silang Cavite is actually much conducive for serene relaxation and silent retreat.

I had the chance to experience the serenity that Dzone Backpackers Inn in Mataas Na Burol has to offer through the invitation of its owner, Arvin Dizon, who is actually a friend of my cousin.

How can you say no to such a charming place as this, right?

Dzone in Mataas Na Burol used to be just a resthouse of Arvin’s family. As per Arvin, usually they go here on a weekend to relax and have a feel of the country life. The family, however, decided to open it to the public last year since they could see potential in the place as a perfect retreat house for couples, big families, friends or even small to medium organizations in need of a place for teambuilding. Since then, they’ve been entertaining guests who were all charmed by the laid-back feel of the place.

At present, Dzone in Mataas Na Burol has 4 nipa huts for rent which is good for 2 persons. The huts don’t have air-conditioned units installed in there and no TV as well, perhaps to make guests really veer away from the usual comforts of the city life. But don’t worry because there are electric fans provided in every room 😀
The price pero hut is P1000 /night for 2 pax and that’s already inclusive of breakfast. Happy deal, right?

Guests are also allowed to bring in tents especially for big groups since the place could only accommodate up to 12-15 persons for now. If you want to bring in tents, there is only a fee of P100 per tent.

If in case you can’t really live without the aircon or TV, DZONE also has a small villa for rent which could house up to 4 pax per night.

And this is my favorite spot in the villa 🙂 Makes me wanna grab a book and read have some  fresh buko juice 🙂

Rate is P3000/night for the entire villa and also includes breakfast for 4 persons. Guests are also allowed to bring in their baon. They also have a mini kitchen provided just a few steps away from the villa just in case you want to cook.

They also have a main hall where guest could hold special functions/events. A little dress up on this hall could already make it look grand for special occasions.

And yes, they have this old-school squat toilet which gives off more country living feel.

Arvin also toured us in the lettuce farm located inside the place as well.

Now I know why the lettuce they used to garnish our breakfast in the morning tasted very fresh 😀

Dzone Backpackers Inn, Mataas Na Burol could really be a perfect silent sanctuary especially for individuals who yearn for quiet, modest country life every once in a while but could only go to a not so far outskirts of the city. Did I mention that it’s in this place that I first saw fireflies? That experience really made me feel like I’m in the music video of Owl City’s Fireflies!

Tagaytay is also just a 10-15 minutes ride away from the place so you can also enjoy the cool weather of Tagaytay at night if you wish to.

How to get to Dzone Backpackers Inn, Mataas Na Burol from Metro Manila:
Ride any bus in Lawton/Pasay/Cubao going with the signage going to Tagaytay/Olivarez/Mendez/Alfonso/Nasugbu. Ask the conductor to drop you off at Kilometer 48/Balite Bus stop. From there, ride a tricycle going to Mataas Na Burol. Dzone Backpackers Inn is at the fourth gate to the right from the Mataas Na Burol ark.

Fare: (Bus from Lawton to Balite bus stop) P76
Tricycle: P10-P15 per pax

For reservations or more info, you can text or call +639228189144 ; (046)5441035 or send email to dzonebackpackersinn@yahoo.com. P

The Hidden Beauty of Lake Pandin

I’ve always raved about the beauty and wonders of my beloved Philippines and I have to admit that there are still a lot of really majestic places I’ve yet to discover in my country. Thankfully, there’s Mr. Google (or Miss?) who’s ever so reliable when it comes to exercising one’s researching prowess.

I’ve always loved places which is not yet very commercialized and only those with a heart to really get to know more about the Philippines could discover. And the latest revelation to me was San Pablo Laguna’s Lake Pandin. All thanks to my sister who was really the one who discovered the place and was very excited when she shared it with me and my cousins. We could feel her excitement and we even shared it with her when we Googled for Lake Pandin’s images. Right there and then, we planned for a one-of-a-kind summer experience with our cousins.

Lake Pandin is one of San Pablo’s seven lakes (the other 6 are Lakes Bunot, Cabilato, Yambo, Palakpakin, Muhikap and Sampaloc). It is just approximately 2 hours away from Manila, which is another happy factor since you don’t have to go that far to experience serenity that Lake Pandin could offer.
There’s actually a water rafting tour being organized by the wives of the fishermen in the area and is supported by the local officials. According to some blogs I’ve read about Lake Pandin, it was the fishermen who built the rafts to give their wives something to do and earn from. These rafts are now being used to take the tourists from one point of the lake to another.

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How refreshing can it get to be welcomed by such a beautiful view as this?

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Tourists need to contact Aling Siony (I supposed the leader of the fishermen wives’ club) and reserve with her a balsa or raft. Her mobile number is 0929.9789565. The fee is P180 per person. You can also opt to avail of their lunch package for an additional P180 per head. The lunch package includes grilled tilapia, ensaladang pako, small shrimps, rice wrapped in leaves, and fresh coconut juice. Their lunch package is highly recommended because they are really yummy, plus you won’t have to bother bringing bulky tupperwares for your baon.

Before you have a view of the pristine water of Lake Pandin, you will have to walk/trek the road going to the lake for around 10-15 minutes. Aling Siony’s apo met us by the parking lot where we got off from the tricycle ride coming from the town proper. He was also the one who guided us during the trek.

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The bus and tricycle ride and the somehow long walk were all worth it once you get to Lake Pandin. You will be welcomed not only by the picturesque view of the place, but also with the spirit of “bayanihan” among the community dwellers. When we arrived at the place, we were welcomed by Aling Siony and we sincerely felt like we were their relatives visiting the place again after a long time. They were all smiling and assisting us as we made our way to the big balsa.

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our hearty lunch :D

our hearty lunch 😀

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Two women rafters paddled our balsa going to the other point of the lake where we had lunch and had a quick but satisfying swim. Lake Pandin has an area of 20.5 hectares and a depth of 63 meters. It was quiet scary to jump into the water at first knowing its depth but since we were all wearing life vests, we plunged in anyway. Just a precaution to those who are not good swimmers, don’t try to swim farther from your balsa or dive hard since 63 meters (206 feet) is no joke.

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Lake Pandin Pandin has a twin lake known as Lake Yambo. The two are only separated by a narrow strip of land so you can opt to visit Lake Yambo as well after enjoying Lake Pandin. According to folktales (and wikipedia :D), Pandin and Yambo lakes were named after two lovers. Pandin was cursed not to step on land or something bad will happen to her. Yambo is Pandin’s lover who did not know about the curse and had made her step on the land. The moment Pandin’s feet kissed the ground, a terrible noise was heard and a heavy downpour followed which converted the area into twin lakes separated from each other by a bare strip of land.

It was indeed a brand new experience for me and my cousins. It was the first time we went out on an adventure like that together and we really had awesome fun. In fact, we’re planning on completing all the 7 lakes of San Pablo in our next summer adventure. The only drawback of the place was that they don’t have a bathroom to clean up after swimming in the lake. They only have a changing room and if you wish to take a bath, you would have to ask the boys there to fetch water for you from the lake, too. So you will have to take a bath using the lake water as well. I, however, don’t see it as too much of a drawback since it even added a little spice to the experience.  It’s not everyday that you get to bathe with lake water 😀

The whole Lake Pandin experience is something I would definitely look back to and smile about whenever I want to feel calm and relax. Seeing places like that in the Philippines makes me feel so thankful that I was born in this country which is so blessed with lots of natural resources. Plus, it’s great to know that Lake Pandin tour is not being run by big tour operators but of the humble and accommodating fishermen and their wives living by the lakeside.I just hope they would be able to maintain the serenity and untouched aura of the place.

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Going to Lake Pandin:

If you’re going on a commute, just ride a bus bound to Lucena in LRT Buendia (fare is P127). Ask the conductor or the driver to drop you off at San Pablo Medical Hospital. From there, you can either ride a jeepney bound to Ilog near San Pablo Church and ask the driver to drop you off at Sto.Angel, Lake Pandin for only Php17, or ride a tricycle on a special trip for P150.