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14 Oct

(This post is way overdue..but here goes)

Konnichiwa! Leaving Manila was pretty upsetting and sad. I made great friends and had a fabulous time exploring the culture and living like an expat. My mom even made the journey, and I had very little time to show her around metro Manila and no time to travel to some of the other Philippine islands. I scheduled us to take the same flights back to the US and therefore we would be flying back to JFK via Narita, Japan. Neither of us had been to Japan before, and the Yen is such that its no longer as outrageously expensive as its been in the past, so we opted for a three day stopover in Tokyo. Fortunately, I have amassed a large number of Marriott points which allowed me to book us into the Ritz Carlton Tokyo. De-planing in Narita was easy, but traveling from Narita to downtown Tokyo was almost a 2 hour bus ride on the “friendly” Airport express. The whole bus experience was extremely efficient. They tagged all of our checked luggage and gave us the ticket stubs. They dropped us off at the hotel entrance and matched the stubs to the bag tags. The Ritz reception is located on the 45th floor and our room was on floor 51. The one luxurious / slightly unsettling thing about hotel check-in in Asia, is they typically show you to your room and explain all the amenities. I say unsettling because the entire time I can’t stop thinking, “there’s a stranger in a my hotel room…if you touch me… I kill you”. Its a brilliant idea, especially if something is broken or is not to your satisfaction, but it still makes me a little nervous. In Tokyo, I Lee, escorted us and she had a degree from the Boston University, go figure! I Lee explained that on Saturday nights in the summer we can see fireworks from the giant picture window in our room. This hotel could seriously not get any better, and we were very excited. After showering and professing our love for the heated Japanese toilet with all its fancy buttons, we went to the lounge on the 53rd floor for a delicious spread and a happy hour cocktail. Attached to our hotel was the midtown tower, with shopping, restaurants and a park. Our first restaurant experience was at a small sushi bar with the freshest sushi I’ve ever tasted. The waitress could barely understand us, but somehow we got everything we ordered, from an electronic pin-pad.

The next day we went to the Meiji shrine, dedicated to the Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shoken. Of course in advance of this visit we researched Japanese temple and shrine etiquette. But once we got to the main shrine there was a fellow tourist instructing her husband in exactly what to do. “Now wash your hands, no dip the scoop into the water and pour over your hands, now bow, now clap.” We felt bad for the poor guy and her sons, yet we couldn’t help following them to listen to her explicit directions. We were also able to witness a traditional wedding ceremony, which we hoped might happen. The poor wedding party in their traditional outfits and long suits in almost 32 C / 100 F degree weather! And like crazy people, we walked directly from the shrine in Shibuya to the Shibuya crossing and then to a beer garden, which was closed on Sunday. We were drenched, but getting that first glass of champagne at the Ritz lounge was definitely well earned. Going off the Tokyo blog, we made our way to Ebisu. There were three to four restaurants on the street we thought was mentioned in the blog, but neither of them had a name in English on the sign. We opted for the one mom chose, which turned out be an exclusively chicken restaurant, Momotaro. All of our food came out on skewers and was extremely tasty. I also tried the Shochu ( pronounced show-j-ewe)

On Monday we had booked an afternoon tour. After getting lost a couple times, and arguing over directions, we made it to the Intercontinental hotel for the pick up. Why they made us walk to the Intercontinental, when nobody actually staying at the hotel was taking the tour was annoying. It only got better from there…sarcastic tone included. We had one guy wearing a hat with a fish head coming out the front and an Angel’s baseball t-shirt, two very nice looking Indian families, two American guys (I thought it was a father and son but my mom seems to think otherwise), and another American family of six. The adults in the American family consisted of an older looking, hefty husband and wife, their daughter, and her husband who looked like he was probably in the military. Half way through our walk of the Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens, I realize the daughter is smothering a roughly 4 week old infant in between her breasts and a toddler. Why on earth you would tote an infant in record heat, I mean people were dying, around Japan is beyond me. I’m not a mother, but I’m pretty sure there is no way in hell I would take a one month old on a 4 hour day tour. And not only did the mother ask if the park in the middle of downtown Tokyo was affected by the tsunami (I mean seriously?!) but then on our river boat ride the daughter changes the infant on the dining tables and then proceeds to breast feed. Not to mention that fish hat guy was late to the bus after the first stop and did not shut up the entire time about how all the Japanese women love it when he tells them they’re beautiful. I really couldn’t make this up if I tried. We really did see some great sites, Sensoji Temple that we wouldn’t have seen unless we were on the tour, but do not see them on the Grey Line tour.

As soon as we broke away from the crazies we began the frustrating adventure of trying to find the Shinjuku Washington Hotel and the restaurant Zauo. After more arguing over directions we finally found it. Why all that trouble for a restaurant? This wasn’t just any old Japanese restaurant where everyone just orders off the menu….boringgg. This restaurant gave us the option to catch our own fish and then select how we wanted it prepared. Half grilled/half sushied, all grilled, the choices were endless. We stood by the water with our poles waiting for any type of fish to bite. My mom thought it would be a good idea to swish the line back and forth in the water so the fish don’t realize the bait on the hook is dead. But nothing seemed to work until our waiter came by and gave us magical bait, which looked like steak. Mom caught a fish and our night was complete.

Going back to the airport was difficult. There was still so much to do and see and eat. The Delta Lounge in the Narita airport made life a little more bearable, Especially the amazing beer dispenser. After stocking up on green tea and cherry blossom kit kats, getting on that plane meant that my red hot south east Asian summer was officially over. All I can hope is that I’ll be back soon.

Hong Kong…the return journey

18 Aug

Since my departure to Southeast Asia was somewhat abrupt, and its summer time, it’s hard for people to make plans to visit me in Manila or meet me somewhere in Asia. My first trip to to Asia was also to Hong Kong in 2009 to visit a friend who was teaching English, so I am vaguely familiar with the city. It just so happened that my very first friend in the world was making her way to Asia for the first time to Hong Kong / Dauggon, China. It only made sense that I would go there for the weekend to meet up with her.

Landing in Hong Kong and traveling to the city is one of the easiest things to do. There is an Airport Express train which goes directly to the heart of the city, the IFC building, in 24 minutes, for less than $30usd round trip. Why there is nothing as efficient in NY or the US for that matter, is beyond me. The MTR in Hong Kong is equally as easy to use and just as quick and clean as the MRT’s in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile in Tsim Sha Tsui on Nathan road which is one of the tourist centers in the Kowloon area. It also resembles Canal street in that strangers approach you asking if you want bags, watches, and suits. For our first day we decided to get our shopping out of the way and were in the market for suits as well. I had a suit made in 2009 but I had left the receipt with the address somewhere in my parents house in CT. My dad had shirts made in 2011 and my mom had the information handy, so I emailed the tailor asking for an appointment. He never responded but my friend and I decided to go there in person and check it out. Turns out their office is now vacant and apparently they closed 7 months ago, but there was another tailor on the same floor, Vogue Tailors. We caught them on their way back from the US to take orders, always a good sign. We sifted through hundreds of samples, were measured from neck to toe, and told to come back at 6pm. From there we set off for Mongkok station and the Ladies Market. They have everything from Chinese amulets, phone cases, and paintings, to t-shirts, belts, and scarves. I really wish we had these kinds of markets in the US. We also journeyed over to the Temple Street night market which really starts opening in the late afternoon. Between negotiations we stopped to buy buko juice/coconuts and mangosteens which are abundant in Asia and very hard to find in the US. After our fitting we stopped to watch the “Symphony of lights” show at the star ferry harbor. The light show is every evening at 8pm and most of the buildings along Hong Kong harbour participate by arranging the lights on their buildings to music.

Another one of my favorite places in Hong Kong is Lan Kwai Fong and the Soho area. My friend used to live in soho right off the mid-levels escalator and frequented a restaurant called Wagyu, which I dragged my friend to for brunch one morning. Even since 2009 the area seems built up with more trendy restaurants and bars. One notable stop was the Hong Kong brew house with an extensive beer selection, live music, and reasonable prices.

Our last adventure was Victoria peak and the tram. In November 2009 there was virtually no one in que for the tram and we went right up. Now we were fighting Chinese and Korean tourists left and right. And by fighting I mean we pushed our way through adults and small children onto the tram car in order to grab a seat. Somehow we even beat a group of Germans who looked a bit nervous and were forced to stand for the ride up. The sky was crystal clear and we were able to see the entire city. Our feet were tired from all the walking so we went back to soho for a foot massage to end the day. I was sad to leave Hong Kong, I wish we had one more day. There is so much to do and so many good restaurants, it’s hard to get it all done in a weekend. I’m looking forward to getting the suit and dress I had made as a reminder of my second trip to HK.






9 Aug

Similar to KL, I was told Singapore is a giant mall and there’s nothing to do except expensive shopping and drinking…. I’m sorry, how is this boring? Anyway, this time I decided to take Singapore Air to avoid random flight schedule changes, and unwarranted flight delays. It also doesn’t hurt that the three hour flight included and adult beverages. I’m also getting the hang of living in a third world country… random chaos mixed with surprising efficiency. En route to the airport the cab driver in Manila turned off the meter….Oh no he di’int! The exchange went something like this:
Me: “Sir why did you turn off the meter, you can’t do that.”
Taxi: “Excuse me Ms. its a flat rate of $400 to the airport from Makati.”
Me:”No it’s not, turn the meter back on your not allowed to just turn it off.”
Taxi:”How much you pay before?”
Me:”I paid 120php last weekend, I’m not paying anymore than $140″
Taxi:”Fine, ok, sorry Ms.”
Me:”You can’t just turn the meter off, I wasn’t born yesterday, I know you’re not allowed to do that.”
Taxi:”Sorry Ms.”
After that I received a surprising amount of respect from the man who just tried to con me out of an additional…$7USD. Hey every bit counts right?

Fortunately the flight to Singapore and the taxi ride to the Sheraton Towers hotel was smooth sailing. The taxi even tried to give me change back! Wow. One of my awesome coworkers in Manila let me use her EZ link card for the SMRT, which was so easy to use and very clean and efficient. The EZ link card even works in the taxis and at some convenience stores. From my hotel it was an easy walk to Orchard road, the Michigan ave and Fifth avenue of Singapore. There I met a friend of a friend who was kind enough to meet me for coffee and take me downtown to the city hall area. From there I went to the infamous Raffles Hotel and the Long Bar where the Singapore Sling was invented. Even though it was late, taking the MRT at night and walking back to my hotel was very safe. Not once did I feel uncomfortable.

The following day we went to brunch at a great place called P.S. Cafe on Dempsey hill. The garden area outside was adorable and the food was every bit traditional Sunday brunch, which is something I hadn’t had in say…three months or so. Plus they had shoestring truffle fries which are a personal favorite. Outside of the restaurant there was, what looked like a koi pond, with some the largest fish I’ve every seen.

We continued our Sunday fun day to the Singapore botanical gardens, which is also easily accessible from the MRT. Apparently it was modeled after Central Park in the sense that admission is free and they encourage picnicking and outdoor activities. However, Singapore is brutally hot, so I would not suggest spending too much time exposed to the sun. The gardens are massive, we could have walked around all day. There’s also a Ginger garden and Orchid garden.

On a daily basis, the infamous Marina Bay Sands puts on a water show complete with lights, fire, bubbles, and sound effects. In the evening we made our way down to the staging area, which also has a full view of the central business district and the Merlion fountain. The show was pretty impressive, as is the Marina Bay Sands building, complete with a casino, shopping, theater, restaurants, a hotel, and supposedly the worlds craziest infinity pool. I was more obsessed with taking pictures of the actual building than paying to go all the way to the top, but we did ogle at the high end shops and enjoy some nice ice cream at Au Chocolat.

I wish I had more time to explore and experience the culinary delights, especially in La Passat and Little India, but I have a feeling I’ll be back.






Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

27 Jul

As I mentioned in my previous post, Zest airways is not not very reliable. I made sure to get to the airport well ahead of my 645am departure, even though my updated booking said the flight was 10 minutes later. I was a little nervous for this trip as well because it was my first time traveling alone to an Asian city, let alone a primarily Muslim city. Not that it means anything bad, but I always try to make sure I’m respectful and following the rules of other cultures. I had a general idea of what I wanted to do, but nothing booked in advance. However, I was fortunate enough to book the Renaissance hotel, which would give me all my Marriott perks, including a hotel concierge that could help me call local businesses.

The Kuala Lumpur LCCT, low cost carrier terminal, does not connect to the commuter train which runs straight to the KL Sentral train station, so a taxi was pretty much the easiest option. Right outside the baggage claim I paid 75r for a one way to the hotel, which took about an hour. After freshening up, I bee lined to the concierge in order to plan my stay. While the Petronas towers are great to look at, I didn’t feel the need to queue up at 6:30am to get one of the 1,200 tickets that are available everyday but Monday. Although I now know that tickets are available online, or for a small fee the hotel will buy the tickets for you. I had a laundry list of other options, such as, the Batu Caves, Melaka, Kuala Gandah elephant sanctuary, and the Malaysia Heritage walking tour. I decided to head to the Batu caves via public transport. The MRT subway was comparable to Hong Kong, cheap and clean. The KTM komuter has train cars reserved specifically for women. I rode in these cars to and from the Batu Caves.

Many people on trip advisor say the caves are unimpressive. As you can see from my pictures, I tend to disagree. I’m also guessing many of those people don’t understand how important the caves are to the Hindu culture.

On my way back from the caves, two men, and when I say men I mean man-babies, were in the women’s car on the way back to Sentral. One of them gathered the courage to come over and ask me if I knew where Sentral was, I said “no”, then he asked what my name was and I turned away. He obviously didn’t get the hint, because he asked “Hello?” to which I informed him that he was in the women’s car and not allowed to be here. Clearly non-understanding, he asked if I wanted some nuts, to which I responded, “no, there’s no eating or drinking allowed on the train.” Thus the term man-baby, because he may be a grown ass man, but he certainly can’t think or act like one.

On my way back to the hotel I stopped at the Central Market. This is also where my Eat, Pray, Love walking tour with Be Tourist left from the following day. It’s touted as the oldest market in KL, but according to my tour it was actually relocated from its original spot a block or so away. However, buyer beware, the prices are not very cheap and not all the vendors are willing to negotiate. Now I’m obsessed with negotiating, so I really took my time to troll the area. The first night I met a great couple from Australia. They were truly genuine people and, as always, great travelers. I say great travelers because Aussies have the passion to travel and include everyone around in conversation. Hopefully their next trip will be to NY.

The Malaysian Heritage walking tour ended up being way more than I ever expected. Not only did we eat South Indian food with our hands in honor of the first money lenders in KL, but we also had local fruits, two kinds of roti and coconut pancakes, stingray and clay pot chicken with rice. We walked just as much as we ate, which was perfect because I wasn’t too full, but I also could not digest another food particle. Our guide also took us to three of the oldest and therefore important places of worship in KL culture, Masjid Jamek, a Hindu temple, Sri Mahamariamman, and the oldest Taoist temple Sin Sze Si Ya Temple. Since its still Ramadan, and therefore prayer is now 7 times a day, we did not enter Masjid Jamek, but the two temples we did enter both had fabulous history and very unique teachings. To cap off the evening, we went to a local pub to get to know each other better as a group. It was great. Together we represented, USA, Canada, Turkey, UK, Norway, Germany, and China. What a great environment to meet new friends. Before I went to KL it was represented to me as a boring city, but I beg to differ. I definitely hope to return and spend more time in Malaysia.











22 Jul

When I say I’m living in Manila, Filippinos tend to get really excited to know where else in the Philippines I’ve been to. One of the most popular and easily accessible being Boracay. My awesome coworkers decided we should all go together, as a couple members of the team had never been before either. We booked our tickets on Air Asia’s website and put three of the tickets on my credit card. Side note: when I saw the credit card charge it was only $131 USD…yes, for three people round trip. I mean jesus, I can barely fly myself from NY to Boston for less than $400 USD!

After finagling our work schedules, and literally pushing our one coworker out the door, we were off to NAIA Terminal 4. Turns out we were flying Zest Air, who is apparently a codeshare with Air Asia who we had booked through. Shockingly, there is a Seattle’s Best Coffee in this low cost carrier terminal, which has pretty darn good panini’s. I was so excited. Our flight landed in Kalibo and from there we needed to take a shuttle bus to the ferry dock in Caticlan, to Boracay. Originally, we were planning to stay overnight in Kalibo, since we would miss the last ferry. However, it was our lucky day. We landed on time and booked the bus and ferry at the airport. The bus took roughly an hour and a half to the dock at which we had to pay an environmental fee and a terminal fee and call a resort to book a one nights stay. We were booked into the Eco village even before we boarded the ferry, which took less than 15 minutes to get to the island. There is a much closer airport that does not require the bus ride, however the fares are typically more expensive.

Our transportation from the dock to Eco village consisted of 7 of us, and our luggage, piling on a tricycle. There were a couple questionable moments going up the hills and through some street flooding, but we made it in one piece with all seven luggage bags.

Boracay has become a very popular resort and party-going island, with restaurants and bars right on the white sand beach. Eco village is located north of white beach and tucked into the mountain. We spent the first half of the day at Puka beach, which was quiet and relaxing with coral sand. Going from Puka to strolling White beach in the afternoon with all its activity, was a different change of pace. One place off the beach I absolutely loved was Jonas fruit shake and snack bar. The banana chocolate peanut shake and the mocha rhum shakes, were fabulous. That night we had the best Italian food I’ve had since leaving NY. Restaurant Aria had great pastas and wood fired pizzas. But the night wouldn’t be complete without some beachside dancing at some of the popular beach bars.

The following day we set off on a relaxing sail around followed by watching multiple groups of Koreans wearing child’s swimmies, water jackets, and pearl necklaces in the water. (?) Don’t worry I definitely took photos. My coworker told me the swimmies are apparently a fashion trend, when I pointed out that the women using them were actually swimming and not just floating. Hmm. Certainly a bizarre fashion statement. Our final dinner was spent at the regency buffet, (my friends really like buffets). I’m usually not a huge buffet person except for the fact that this buffet had medium rare NY strip, garlic mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables. Sold. I had no idea how much I missed it. They also had three lovely ladies who, of course, sang cover songs new and old beautifully…damn them…and a fire show, that happened to have a lady boy flame thrower. To cap the evening, we had masseurs waiting for us at the hotel for the whopping price of 350P, $9 USD, and a bottle of wine. None of us wanted to leave.

Zest Air is a low cost carrier partnered with Air Asia. On Sunday evening one of my coworkers received an email that her was flight was cancelled and she was rebooked on a flight which was over an hour earlier. We thought it was suspicious that the other two reservation holders hadn’t received an email. Sure enough, in the spam folder, there were notifications, however some of our flights were rescheduled to over an hour later than originally scheduled. What happened to picking up a phone? Four of us left at 230am and the three of us intended on leaving around 7am. But, 7am turned into 8am after we finished with breakfast, and we ended up missing our flight. My first time ever. Fortunately, there are many flights to/from Manila, and we were able to get the next flight at no cost, but I was a little concerned since I booked with Zest for my flights the following weekend to Kuala Lumpur. Out of curiosity, I did a search on Air Asia and saw that the flight times were different then originally scheduled. Hmmm. I tweeted at both Air Asia and Zest, but only Air Asia responded and had me direct message my booking number. They then took 2 days to respond telling me to email them. Ugh! They finally sent me an updated itinerary the day before my flight. Moral of the story… You get what you pay for when flying budget airlines. The cheaper the ticket, the greater the risk.



Koh Samui

8 Jul

Escaping the rains of Phuket, we landed in paradise, otherwise known as Koh Samui. A couple years ago I read an article about Koh Samui and knew I had to go. Once we landed we were bused in open air shuttles that looked like they drove off the Disney lot to the main terminal. We took a shuttle bus to the hotel, Buri Rasa Village. I found this hotel using Trip Advisor and Amex travel. While of course there were some negative reviews, the key reasons I chose it was A) it was right on Chaweng beach and the main strip B) the same people had been going back for years C) it was described as peaceful and romantic with a good buffet breakfast and hotel prices that weren’t as overpriced as say the JW Marriott Phuket. Our expectations were fully met. The hotel staff brought us coconut water while they checked us in, showed us to our room and even helped us book our excursion for the following day. To top it off, every evening there was a local treat, such as flowers made from leaves, or homemade carmel candy waiting for us next to the bed.

Taxi cabs in Samui need to be negotiated in advance as they have no meter like the cabs in Bangkok (even though the taxis in Bangkok don’t want to use the meter). The hotel receptionist helped us to negotiate reasonable rates. Our first dinner in Samui was a place called the Larder. While pricy, the food did not disappoint, especially the peanut butter martini I got for desert.

Chaweng beach is full of many typical beach activities such as parasailing and jet skiing. However, there are also $12usd massages with tiger balm and vendors selling everything from bracelets to Japanese corn. Of course our trip would not be complete without a ride on an elephant. Lucky for us, we were the only people on our excursion at Island Safari. We rode an elephant, watched an elephant show, a monkey show, learned how to make papaya salad, had our feet cleaned in a fish spa and had a private jeep safari tour of the mummified monk and Na Muang waterfall. After our adventure we went to Fishermans village. On Fridays you can pick up a 50/60baht cocktail while browsing the vendors and restaurants on the water. (Yes once again we’re shopping!)

Our last order of business on the island was to get suits made. Many of the websites suggested a tailor near the Centara hotel, and said that anyone standing outside the store was probably a “fake”. The suit guy next to Centara got the job done in 4 hours. We walked in the store for measurements at 5pm and came back at 9pm for a fitting. Talk about professional! For our last dinner on Koh Samui we ate at our hotel, and once again, had the whole place to ourselves. Wow. The food was great and the atmosphere relaxing.

The following morning we made our way back to the open air airport that is Samui international. Once again we were shocked at how relaxed and easy it was to walk around to the shops, go through security and be treated to a Bangkok Airways “coffee bar” with free wifi. The only downside were the flies, the fact that we were leaving and the absolutely horrendous outfits some people wear to get on a plane. We were fed on the 50 minute flight to Bangkok and serviced by no less than 5 airline stewards (also did I mention that none of these flights were full?).

Samui is definitely some place I would go back to simply for the fantastic service, peaceful atmosphere and good shopping. Maybe next time I would stay on Koh pha ngan … Full moon party anyone?








7 Jul

The Thai airways flight from Bangkok to Phuket was one of the most seamless flights I’ve ever taken. No disrobing was required at security, no one bum-rushed the gate to board the plane, and whether the flight is 40 min or 4 hours, the airline serves a drink and a snack. We gathered our checked luggage in Phuket and made our way to the Marriott booth. We had not prearranged transportation since it’s usually outrageously expensive, but we asked the guy working the desk how much a taxi was and if he could help us arrange one. 20 minutes later we were checked into the JW Marriott Phuket resort and spa and wasted no time settling in at the bar with a couple of Lychee martinis and deciding what activities we should plan. Phuket is a lot larger than we originally thought, so we had to plan our two full days carefully.

The following night we took the hotel shuttle to Patong beach, where the booze is cheap and the sex shows abound. Regardless if you’re a woman or man, every hawker on the street tries to hustle you into a ping pong show. (Ill let you look it up). We did not partake, but we did catch some really good live bands. (There goes the singing again).

Early the next morning we took off on an excursion to Maya Bay, the secluded island where the movie The Beach was filmed. Given the rainy season weather, the sea swells, clouds and rain can be unpredictable. Our guide must have warned us at least 3 times that we might not be able to make some of the scheduled stops due to the choppiness of the water. He said it so many times as though he was trying to talk us out of going. But we kept thinking positive thoughts and our prayers were answered with stops at Maya Bay, Phi Phi Island, Monkey Beach etc. The boat ride was rough and a couple people lost their breakfast, but the sun was out and the water was gorgeous. At times it was as warm as bath water. Apparently, capturing and selling swallows nests is a big business out here. It’s supposedly healthy and gives that nice white glow that symbolizes Asian affluence. Our stop for lunch included a nice noodle soup, some Chang beers and a full buffet. We left in a bit of a hurry because we could see the sky turning dark and what looked like rains heading our way. Just when we thought we were in the clear, we made one last stop on a small island beach 10 min from the marina. The downpour finally caught up with us and we all had to pile into the boat and make a run for it. Despite being soaked, we arrived at our hotel just in time for the firelighting ceremony! To cap off our last evening in Phuket, we journeyed out to the Thai restaurant in the hotel, running through puddles and frogs to enjoy a last Phuket dinner. The following day we were leaving on Bangkok Air for Koh samui!20130708-114937.jpg







5 Jul


Our first couple days in Thailand were naturally in Bangkok, which apparently beat out Paris to be the most visited destination of the year. The morning was spent taking in the Grand Palace with the Emerald Buddha, along with Wat Pho, the reclining Buddha. The excellent concierges at the St. Regis Bangkok helped us plan our day and before we got into a taxi the doormen cautioned us against getting into taxis without a meter running and not to believe anyone that told us the sites were closed. We had no trouble getting into the Grand Palace especially since we were both wearing pants and had covered shoes and shoulders. Being seasoned temple goers from our experience India, we were prepared to take off our shoes, put away our cameras and resist the urge to roll up our pants.The palace was magnificent. Every building had attention to detail. The only place we could not take photos was inside the Emerald Buddha.

Going from the Grand Palace to Wat Pho, the reclining Buddha, required some google mapping, given the high walls of the palace and surrounding side streets, not to mention that everyone we talked to wanted to take us to big buddha or somewhere of their choosing. When we finally made it to the walls of Wat pho, the outside vendors kept pointing in different directions for the entrance and saying it was closed until 4pm. False. The key is to not listen to anyone. We eventually found the entrance and thus the giant reclining gold buddha.

We could have spent all day going from temple to temple and Buddha to Buddha, but it was hot as hell and the infamous chatuchak weekend market was in full swing. We opted for pad Thai and shopping in the afternoon. A cab driver outside wat pho told us there was too much traffic to the chatuchak weekend market so it would be… 500 baht! No way, we told him to run the meter. He countered saying 200baht and we’d make one other stop. Gee I wonder where he was planning to take us? We walked away. The cab drivers definitely do not want to run the meter. The second cab said 200baht “because of the traffic” we agreed. We knew we were probably overpaying a bit, but at 30baht to 1usd we weren’t going to argue, plus this cab driver sang old school American tunes the entire way. What more could we ask for?

Side note: I noticed in the Philippines as well… Asians love to sing. And by sing I mean randomly bust out in song with really good singing voices. I wish this was as socially acceptable in the US as it is in Asia.

The weekend market was huge! After some shrimp pad Thai ($1 usd), we bought silks, spices, t shirts, and leisure pants, which everyone seemed to be wearing at the temples. We could have spend all weekend there. They sold everything from souvenirs to furniture to puppies. Instead of going back to the hotel via taxi, we wanted to experience taking a tuk tuk. We’d taken one before in India, but wanted to see what was different. This tuk tuk was more like a motorcycle with a back seat. After negotiating the fare, we hopped for a high speed ride back to the hotel. Our goal for the evening involved finding a rooftop bar for drinks and pictures. The concierge of course recommended the four seasons restaurant. Apparently our dishelved sweating faces somehow gave the impression that we can afford the best Thai restaurant in the country. Unfortunately one thing we did not count on was the dress code at some of these rooftop bars, especially Vertigo where the hangover II was filmed. Instead we went for thang long, a very cute and reasonably priced Vietnamese restaurant and the rooftop of Hotel Muse called the Speakeasy. Mai Thai’s came in mason jars and the view was exactly what we had hoped for.









The Land of Smiles

30 Jun

My mom has one of those decorative stone heads sitting in our living room. You know the ones with the long ears and curly cue hair that comes to a point, or bun, at the top? I must have asked at some point, but I really have no idea how it came to reside in our living room, yet for some reason I associate that head with Thailand.

This trip came about a couple ways. A) I’m currently residing in Asia, specifically Manila, thus Asia is my new oyster. B) Earlier this year my grandma broke out an album of a trip she took with her husband and friends to Thailand and Malaysia in the early 80’s and the pictures were fabulous…even with a non-digital camera C) two of my travel buddies and I were discussing where to go on vacation and Thailand overruled the Greek isles.

Planning the trip became a bit difficult simply because there is so much to see and do. It’s impossible to pack in a whole country in one week, especially if your coming from the other side of the world. Ultimately we came up with a basic tourist itinerary including Bangkok, Phuket, and Koh Samui (which has been on my list of must-go’s for about 3 years). Shopping, street food, temples, Buddhas and beaches here we come!

Already, the four of us have hit a few minor snags due to rainy season delays, visa issues, and airline mechanical problems, but we’re hopeful that in the next couple days we’ll all be together and telling battle stories… Like the woman sitting next to me on the plane who is under the impression this seat is in her living room. And the sweet check in girl at the airport who is now following me on twitter. Can’t wait to see what vacation brings!

Lessons Learned in the Philippines

16 Jun

I’ve been here for a bit of time now, and I’d like to think iv been learning some inside secrets, including the fact that it is possible to have a conversation using only one syllable.
Example: Elevator opens,
Person outside elevator: “baba ba?”
Person inside elevator: “bababa”

Q: “Are you going down”
A: “Yes, going down”

Fascinating, right? Anyway, here’s a couple of other things I’ve learned so far.

Iwas means avoidance and Filipinos are very good at avoiding certain situations, both social situations and while driving. I know this sounds vague, but once you experience it for the first time it all makes sense.

It is very difficult to be a vegetarian in then Philippines. Pork and chicken are especially hot commodities, as is high cholesterol and thus heart attacks. Many of my Indian coworkers cook and bring their own food from home.

It is considered inhumane not to have recreation and nap rooms in the office. It is also customary to take a one hour lunch break. (I could really get used to this).

Being called ‘exotic’ is an insult. You might as well have just called the person an ugly mountain critter.

The invention of voicemail does not exist here. You may have to call the same office multiple times in order to get the person you’re looking for. However, an unlimited cell phone plan (talk, text, and data) is about $40USD a month. Yes, even for an IPhone.

There are number coding systems on the license plates indicating which days your car cannot be driven. If a license plate ends in 1 it means the car cannot be driven on Mondays during rush hour, and may only be driven between 11am and 3pm. Motorcycles have no restrictions.

When it rains, it often floods streets, but it might not be raining 5 minutes down the road.

Many of the people I’ve met cannot swim. “What?” You say, “but they live on an island, and the country is made up of 7,000 islands, and it floods!” Any you would be right, but I suppose the same goes for people born and bred in NYC. You wouldn’t exactly throw a child in the East river or the Hudson for a swimming lesson, and no one would voluntarily swim in the smelly, polluted Manila Bay.

Almost everyone asks your age. No keeping that a secret. It’s one of the first questions asked, along with “what do you do,” and “how are you liking it here so far?”

Apparently, no one here has a pointy nose, a cleft chin, or an eye color other than brown/black.

Most Asians want to be whiter. Now I knew this before coming here because in India and Hong Kong many people avoid the sun and use whitening face cleansers. BUT did you know that there is such a thing as whitening deodorant? And whitening face and body lotion?

Spas are an all day event. ‘Huh’ you ask? Allow me to elaborate….Over the weekend we went to Wensha spa spa. It’s open 24 hours and has an all-you-can eat buffet, massage, steam bath, sauna, mani, pedi, basically any type of pampering you could wish for. We entered in the afternoon and stayed the maximum amount of time, which just so happened to be 9 hours. (Yes, you read that correctly). Our first treatment was a one hour massage. Now I specifically asked if there would any type chest massage involved. In Austria, after graduation, I had stayed at a spa for a couple days and the European massage had been more…shall we say, invasive, than massages in the US. I was assured this was not the case. Boy was I in for a surprise! Not only was my butt given a thorough massage, but also my stomach, and pretty much the entire front of my body. Oh but the fun didn’t stop there. My masseuse also walked on my back, and did stretching, which included rocking me on top of her to stretch my back. It was intense. Probably the craziest massage I’ve ever had, to the point where my back was sore for a couple days because every single knot was rubbed out of me…literally. After the massage, nap time. Yup, I was covered with a blanket and passed out for a good 2hours. Next stop was our one hour foot massage. And by foot massage I mean another body massage, but in a laz-y-boy. The one mistake I made was getting a mani/pedi without a foot spa. In the US when you have a pedicure it automatically includes soaking of the feet and getting all the dead skin off your heels. Here, they are two separate services. Lesson learned. So for about $45 USD I had a one hour body massage, one hour foot massage, manicure, pedicure, nap time, lunch and dinner, oh and the steam room. I could definitely get used to this.

Lastly, everyone is really friendly and incredibly hospitable. All the people I’ve become close with here want to show me a good time and make sure I’m safe and have everything I need.