Boracay

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.

20130722-174635.jpg

20130722-174718.jpg

Advertisements

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?

20130708-122015.jpg

20130708-122034.jpg

20130708-122107.jpg

20130708-122123.jpg

20130708-122143.jpg

20130708-122157.jpg

Phuket

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

20130708-114955.jpg

20130708-115016.jpg

20130708-115029.jpg

20130708-115042.jpg

20130708-115104.jpg

Bangkok

5 Jul

Bangkok

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.

20130705-112109.jpg

20130705-112133.jpg

20130705-112150.jpg

20130705-112203.jpg

20130705-112227.jpg

20130705-112243.jpg

20130705-112257.jpg

20130705-112315.jpg

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”

Translation:
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.

Bataan, Corregidor Island

6 Jun

History has always been fascinating to me, but being here has made me realize that the US and Philippines have been deeply intertwined for nearly 100 years since the Philippine revolution in 1898. We fight for them, they fight for us, and then we crash a mine sweeper on one of their precious reefs, due to “faulty navigation” ….but I digress. After a 3 month battle in Bataan in 1942 the Japanese army forced 60 to 80,000 Americans and Filipinos to march from Marivales, Bataan to Camp O’donnell. Known as the death march of Bataan, it is considered one of the worst war crimes in history.

After the third shift, at 7am, 13 of us packed into a 10 passenger van and drove from Quezon City, Manila to Marivales, Bataan. ( In case you’re wondering how we fit into said van, one American seat actually equals 2 Filipinos, so problem solved!) From Marivales we took boats out to Corregidor Island which has long been fortified to protect the entrance to Manila Bay. Corregidor also happens to site of two major WWII sieges and has been left unrestored in order to honor the soldiers that died there. We toured the island by jeepney and none of us realized exactly how big the island really is. Some of the hot spots include the Malinta Tunnel, the last stronghold of joint Philippine American military, the Filipino Heros Memorial, and the Corregidor Lighthouse, which is one of the oldest landmarks on the island. It seemed like we had the island to ourselves, and even though we were all exhausted, we managed to take an enormous amount of pictures, including jump shots.

Once back on the mainland it was time to find a place to crash for the night and drop off the people that were not staying the night. While we now had 8 people remaining in the 10 passenger van, this is where I get incredibly antsy. ‘What do you mean we don’t have a hotel booked?’ Perhaps it’s only the people I’m with on a daily basis, but they seem to have a difficult time making a decision. My interaction on a daily basis has been the struggle for where to eat lunch and what to order, and yet most restaurants have an 8 page menu. A typical interaction goes something like;
Coworkers: ‘ what do you want to eat?’
Me: ‘What do you normally order?What is the specialty here?’
Coworkers: ‘ umm anything, pork, chicken, beef, what kind of food do you want?’
Me: ‘I’m not sure what some of this is…what is palabok, what is lechon? well what are you getting?’
Coworkers: ‘umm I’m not sure yet, maybe we will go somewhere else’
Me: ‘ where do you want to go?’
Coworkers: ‘ where would you like to go?’ And on it goes.

You can imagine how the interaction went for picking a hotel. I was too tired to care where we stayed. I had faith in my US coworker and our driver, who has been our tour guide on the weekends. My US coworker was leaving for good on Sunday so this was to be her last hoorah. We settled at Villa Imperial, which did not happen to be on the list of hotels I had researched prior. Although there was barely running water and a flushing toilet, the food was excellent, and there was a videoke machine, which is very popular here. While I do not sing any type of karaoke, it was fun to watch, and with 26peso ($0.60) San Miguel beers what more could we ask for? We were provided with garlic rice at both breakfast and dinner, along with milk fish and Nilagang Baboy soup, which tastes like Eastern European sweet and sour cabbage soup. It has pork, bok choi, potatoes, and a type of white radish.

This week also marked one of my coworkers birthdays. In the US when it’s someone’s birthday, we all buy dinner for that person, or pay to go to an event of their choosing. In Asia, the birthday boy or girl pays for all their friends to go out. What a great idea! The birthday dinner happened to be traditional Filipino food at a place called Gerry’s Grill, (there are two locations in California)known for their sizzling pork sisig. We had beef care-care, crispy pla-pla, beef kaldereta, and tanigue kilaw. Some people may be grossed out when they discover what some of the food is, but don’t knock it ’till you try it. To cap off the dinner, we went to Conti’s for mango bravo cake. I love anything with mango, and mango bravo is officially my new favorite dessert here.

Tagalog word(s) of the day
Tawad- negotiate
Mahal- means expensive, but it also means love…love is expensive 🙂

20130606-121954.jpg

20130606-122037.jpg

20130606-122140.jpg

20130606-122159.jpg

20130606-122236.jpg

20130606-122256.jpg

20130606-122323.jpg

20130606-122350.jpg

20130606-122407.jpg

20130606-122418.jpg

20130606-122444.jpg

Going Local

29 May

As is typical at nice hotel everywhere outside of the US, there is a full buffet breakfast with almost anything you can possibly imagine. At the Edsa Shangri-la this means a create-your-own soup station, omelet station, fruits, yogurt, jams, sushi station, beef tapa, crepe station, panini’s, waffles, Indian, garlic rice, danishes…basically anything your little heart desires. Thus no matter what time I get home from work, 1am or 4am, I will wake up for this divine breakfast. At the sweet breakfast station there is bibingka, which is a type of rice bread that I’ve come to fall in love with. My coworker was kind enough to introduce me to Rico, who runs the omelette station and continued to spoil me every morning with an elaborate crepe filled with everything from mangos, and jam with fresh strawberry sauce, to mangos, bananas, marshmallows and white chocolate pieces. I miss you Rico!

While staying at a five star hotel is nice and fancy, I think for the long term I would start to resent it, and so I started looking for something a little more homey. I looked at service apartments and condos, and after two weeks of debating, one of my local coworkers found me a great service apartment in Makati, the central business district. While it is farther away from work than the Edsa Shang in Ortigas, it has a more active and social atmosphere. Once I moved / settled in to my new digs, my coworkers came over to show me around the Glorietta and Greenbelt mall areas and to take me grocery shopping! I think one of my favorite purchases is the 24 quail eggs I purchased for 40P ($0.95)…wow what a deal. Everything I thought would be expensive, was fairly cheap, and everything I thought would be fairly cheap was pretty pricey, go figure.

Some of the other popular foods I’ve tried are halo-halo, which literally means “mix-mix”, and is one of the most famous ice treats, especially from ChowKing. When my coworker explained to me what was actually in it I thought it couldn’t be true…how can coconut, purple yam, beans, corn, rice, jackfruit, bananas, pearls, and palm fruit taste good? Magically it does, and I can’t wait to try it again.

Jollibee is the most popular fast food chain, BEFORE McDonalds which comes in a far second. I have yet to try the burger, but the chicken joy with palabok was mighty tasty and not too big.

My other coworker, who also moved out of the Edsa Shang, wanted to cook a typical Tex mex dinner. It was fabulous! Even though eating out here is often cheaper than cooking in, everyone likes a home cooked meal.

Our final stop for the evening was the infamous Hobbit House bar, one of the 7 most bizarre bars according to Lonely Planet. While the place was fairly dead on a Sunday night, there is live music daily and imported beers from all over the world. Where else can you get a Duvel and Blue Moon in Manila? Even though this bar felt slightly exploitative, the music was good and the beers will have us coming back again.

 

20130529-140154.jpg

20130529-140212.jpg

20130529-140230.jpg

20130529-140258.jpg

Binondo, Divisoria, and …Balut?

23 May

The April version of hemispheres magazine on united airways featured three perfect days in Manila. One of the places recommended is Lord Stow’s Bakery, which I first discovered in Hong Kong. They make great egg tarts, so of course I had to go. Fortunately, a coworker that’s staying here is adventurous as well and with the help of a local friend we took the MRT and LRT to Binondo, the worlds oldest china town. After our egg tart fix we walked around china town and made our way to the markets of divisoria. When I tell the people at the office that I went here they all think I’m crazy. It reminds me of the markets in India and Hong Kong. We walked around to buy souvenirs, I bought a new umbrella and by some miracle I found two dresses that fit! I say by some miracle because a) the clothes tend to run smaller and while I am short I’ve got nothing on some of the people here, b) the clothes run skinny, and these hips don’t lie, c) there are not always fitting rooms so its more a “hold it up and see” and d) they like this concept of “free size” or “one size” thus implying that it fits most Filipinas. So you can imagine my excitement when I found a store in divisoria that had a dressing room and free size dresses for people with hips. And then something awesome happened… I saw someone with a Cotton On bag. Which might have you thinking, “what in the world is cotton on and why is it awesome.” I first discovered cotton on in Australia and bought many a clothes there due to the fact they are reasonably priced and timeless, almost like American Apparel with flare. The second time i found Cotton On was in Hong Kong, and by some act of god I stumbled upon one in the Galleria Mall in Dallas Texas. Every time I find a Cotton On i have shopping success without regretting the hit to my wallet. The local I was with was kind enough to indulge me by hunting down the location and we were led to the new Chinatown mall where I promptly ran around the store with glee.

After that we were pretty shopped out and quickly made our way back to the LRT via tricycle. A tricycle here is basically a bike or motorcycle with a covered side carriage. It’s a little scary because its low to the ground and weaving in and out of traffic, but once you get over the initial shock it’s loads of fun!

Our evening plans consisted of a roof top pool party with some other coworkers that are here temporarily as we’ll but managed to find condos. On our way home from pool partying it up, our local friend remembered that I want to try balut. When you Wikipedia balut you may want to gag, but to me it just tasted like hard boiled egg and a hard plasticky shell, and I think it was worth the potential street cred I might now possess.

20130524-104337.jpg

20130524-104359.jpg

20130524-104416.jpg

20130524-104430.jpg

20130524-104446.jpg

20130524-104507.jpg

Manila City Tour

22 May

We started early in order to take a private city tour through the hotel. Typically I refuse to spend money on these types of tours mostly because they are overpriced. But we also didn’t have the luxury of shopping around for the best option. So promptly after breakfast we braved the Friday rush hour traffic to Makati courtesy of Frank, and yes that’s his real name. We got to escort his daughter and adorable grand daughter Chelsea to Makati where they were going shopping and we were picking up a German-French man who happens to be living in Atlanta. The first stop on our tour was the American cemetery which is shockingly more impressive than Arlington. The grounds are incredibly meticulous and the mosaic maps detail major WWII battles in south east Asia. I can’t wait to see what they do for Memorial Day.

Frank then drove us through the brand new and modern financial district and Forbes Park, home to the rich and famous, including the controversial Imelda Marcos who is now back in the country and a congress women to boot. After driving through the “reclaimed” land, home to the Mall of Asia, the third largest mall in the world and the largest mall in Asia, past the US embassy and the Manila hotel to Intramuros. This is the old Spanish capital and where the national hero Josè Rizal was tried and executed in 1896 for starting the philippine revolution against Spanish rule. Within Fort Santiago you can see Rizal’s last steps. Right outside of this fort there is a government store that will issue you a certificate with your pearls, which of course means they’re legit right? Apparently they are having a 60% off sale, but $650 usd for a pearl necklace, earrings and bracelet are not exactly a deal to me. I bought a couple of postcards and called it a day.

Earlier my coworker had been joking that if Frank got us a coconut off the street then we would right him a really good recommendation. This was all said as a joke, biro, in Tagalog, but all of a sudden frank pulled to the side of the road and got us a coconut! And not only the juice, but the meat too. What a guy! It was hard to go to work after a morning like that.

20130522-161716.jpg

20130522-161648.jpg

20130522-161805.jpg

20130522-161837.jpg

20130522-161844.jpg

20130522-161855.jpg

20130522-161901.jpg

20130522-161914.jpg

20130522-161925.jpg

20130522-161933.jpg

20130522-161949.jpg