Friday, October 30, 2009

Updating The Big Dip

I am in the process of consolidating my blogposts. Bear with me as I upload entries from my previous travels here in The Big Dip in the next couple of days. Hope you enjoy reading these as much as my other posts.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Revisiting Brunei

Brunei Darussalam is located in Southeast Asia, on the north coast of Borneo. It used to be a powerful sultanate until it fell into the hands of the British in 1888. A century after, it regained its full independence and discovered crude oil in its very own land becoming one of the wealthiest countries in Asia.

I first visited Brunei 14 years ago after our exchange program in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. I still remember being mesmerized by the gold plated lamp posts, patterned tiled sidewalks, and the glistening palaces which I thought only existed in fairy tales. And of course, who could forget Jerudong Park, Brunei's own version of the Disneyland at that time, only even better because there was no entrance fees and the rides were for free (sadly, the park has not been maintained for so many years that most of the rides have already worn out or are already for sale)!

A lot of things have changed in Brunei but one thing still remains the same, it is still a very rich country with resources other than crude oil to help sustain it's population for the next years to come.

Here are some interesting things to note about the place:

1) No tinted cars windows are allowed except for the Royalties. And that when the Sultan's convoy passes by, everyone is expected not to slowdown, but to stop, as a sign of respect.
2) Gasoline is so cheap that it costs only 50 cents per liter (1 Brunei Dollar = 1 Singapore Dollar).
3) There are almost no cabs, buses or any form of public transportation. Almost, if not, everyone has cars. I was told that the government even gives vouchers for car purchases!
4) Government subsides for housing that residents can only pay as low as 500 dollars (some even lower) for a 3/4-bedroom flat. And all other household costs are not that expensive either.
5) Kampong Ayer, the older part of Bendar Seri Bengawan, is still an active community with houses still on stilts but with high-end cars parked on the shore (easily accessible through speedboats).

If you are going to Brunei for a visit, note that the places of interest are not very accessible to tourists as there are no means of going around except if you have friends/relatives over there, take the guided tours offered by the Brunei Tourism (they have booths at the airport) or arrange your trips with your hotel. Luckily for us, we have good family friends there which took us around.

Here are some photos from that recent trip. Just a note, Brunei is more than just the golden mosques and palaces. It also has rainforests/jungles, beaches and other natural attractions that we were not anymore able to explore given that we were only there for 2 days.

inside the Royal Regalia

a tribute to Brunei's first billion

Jame'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque

Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

Learn more about Brunei

Friday, September 4, 2009

Melaka: Visiting the Land of the Forefathers

I have been wanting to travel to Melaka (Malacca) and La Familia's visit was a good excuse to set foot on what my father jokingly claims to be the land of our forefathers :) Melaka, once an important port in Asia, is dubbed as Malaysia's historical state with both the Dutch and Portuguese influence evident in it's culture, food and architecture. It is located on the southwestern coast of the Malay peninsula and just 4 hour bus ride away from Singapore (either via Delima or Singapore-Malacca Express).

one of the bus options to Melaka: Malacca-Singapore Express

We took the Delima Express at 830AM from Lavander/Bugis Junction in Singapore and arrived at Melaka Sentral at around 1PM. One way bus fare costs 20.80SGD and albeit the bus being a 40-seater coach, it was actually quite roomy and comfortable. No food was served but there was a 30 minute stop in Johor Bahru to allow the passengers to lunch on Malay dishes (food price ranges from 4RM-7RM) and to freshen up before continuing with the trip.

with La Familia at the entrance of the Historic Town

Once in Melaka Sentral, we took a cab (actually two cabs as there were five of us and they only allow four persons per cab) to Hotel Puri. Taxi fare in Melaka is not metered but is fixed at 15RM/cab from the central terminal to the historic town and 20RM/cab on return (as per hotel staff, fare to the central terminal from the historic center is more expensive due to the longer route the cabs follow on the way back).

Hotel Puri, Melaka

Hotel Puri is a quaint boutique hotel along Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock, right at the very heart of the historic town. It is walking distance to the famous landmarks such as the Christ Church, Jonker Street, Stadhuys, St Paul's, etc. I liked the interior of the hotel and it's old world charm despite it not having lifts (it is after all an old building which dates back to the Dutch and Portuguese rule).

inside Hotel Puri

I booked for a family room for 355++RM (310RM for the room with 2 queen size beds and 45RM for the extra bed) for the five of us. The room was a bit overrated given the photos at their website but it is clean and big. However, due to some unforeseen technical problems at the hotel (electricity and water supply went off with NO generator and ETA on when the problem would get fixed), we had no choice but to transfer to the other boutique hotel just across the street. I did not want us to spend countless hours waiting for them to fix the problem when we were only staying there for a night.

The other hotel, The Baba House, is newer compared to Hotel Puri. It doesn't have the old world charm that makes Hotel Puri so picture-perfect but it has lifts and generator and cheaper rooms rates! The manager of Hotel Puri kindly arranged two Superior rooms for us which was charged to their hotel (after all it wasn't our fault that they were having technical problems) and just charged us 188RM for the booking at Hotel Puri. Not bad considering that we got to save over 100RM!

cuddling outside the Baba House while waiting for our hired cab

Melaka is such a small town that you could tour it on foot (assuming you don't mind walking). Armed with a map from the hotel, we went off to check out The Baba and Nyonya Heritage House (entrance fee + tour = 8RM), Stadhuys, Christ Church, St Paul's Church, Jonker Walk, St Francis Xavier Church and various souvenir/antique shops. The town reminds me of Europe but with a distinct Asian twist. The canals and the string of old house along them is similar to that of Venice (minus the gondoliers and perhaps the stench of stagnant water). We were supposed to take an hour tour via their colorfully decorated rickshaws (20RM per rickshaw for 1 hour with driver cum tour guide included) but this was cut short due to heavy rains.

Christ Church, Melaka

colorful rickshaws

Venice of Asia

the houses along the canals

Just a note if you're traveling to Melaka: go there over the weekend (Friday included) as the small town comes alive at that time (with the night markets and the bustle of tourists). We went there on a weekday and there were a few tourists making going around the place easier and hassle-free but the thing is, most restaurants were closed and the town turned activity-free at the night that there was nothing much to do but to welcome slumber land.

Jonker Street on a Thursday morning

The next day, we headed back to Melaka Sentral to take the Transnasional Bus (28RM for a one way trip) to KLCCT for our flight to Brunei. I will post another entry for Brunei Darussalam after this. In the meantime, here are useful links/info should you wish to visit the land of my forefathers one of these days:

Hotel Puri Website
The Baba House Website
Melaka Trip Photos from Multiply
Hired Taxi (to go around Melaka Town):
Ismail : 013-3848214 or 0176577406


Friday, June 19, 2009

Air Supply Live in Asia

I love their songs but I never realized I am such a fan of the group until I saw them perform live last night.

Russ Letizia showing off his stuff

Their songs suddenly came alive and before I knew it, my friends and I were singing along loudly and acting every bit as a groupie -- chasing them around the concert hall when they got off stage (as far as the marshals would allow, that is) and springing upfront when they told the crowd that we can move closer to the stage! And here I thought I would only do that in Gary V concerts(I am a huge fan of Garv Valenciano since childhood)! LOL

Here were some of the favorite songs during the concert:

1) Goodbye
2) Even the Nights are Better
3) Here I Am (Just When I Thought I Was Over You)
4) Two Less Lonely People
5) The One That You Love
6) Every Woman In The World
7) Just a Little Bit More
8) Lost in Love
9) I'll Find You
10) All Out of Love (my all time favorite!)

Everyone in the group was awesome: Frankie Moreno on piano, Russ Letizia on guitar, Mike Zerbe on drums and of course, Graham Russell (in his silky hawaiian shirt and noncholant humour) and Russell Hitchcock (in his old school blue vest and his groovy dance moves) on vocals.

saying goodbye to the crowd

Checkout more photos in Air Supply in Asia.

Such a good deal given our 61SGD tickets. And boy, we really did get up-close!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Paradise in Malaysia

We were supposed to go to Bali. But then as our busy schedules would have it, we weren't able to book our hotel nor our flight. So upon a friend's recommendation, off we went to Perhentian Islands in Malaysia without exactly knowing what to expect when we get there.

Perhentian Islands is a group of islands at the north eastern side of the Malaysian peninsula. It is composed of Pulau Perhentian Kecil (the small island) and Pulau Perhentian Besar (the big island), both known for its diving spots and exquisite unadultered beauty.

a crude map of the islands

The Long Beach in Perhentian Kecil is a favorite among Europeans. It has a nice long stretch of white sandy shores and a variety of dining options within walking distance. It has the right amount of noise and buzz to keep the island alive especially at night.

Long Beach, Perhentian Kecil

Pulau Perhentian Besar on the other hand is the quieter, more laid back island frequented by locals. It provides a perfect solace for anyone who wants to get away from all the stress of the city life.

dusk at Perhentian Besar

From Singapore, we flew to Kuala Lumpur then from KL took another flight to Kota Bahru. From Kota Bahru, there was an hour ride to the sleepy town of Kuala Besut then finally a 30-minute speedboat ride to the islands. We stayed at Coral View Resort at Perhentian Besar for 3 nights. The resort was very laid back and comfortable, the chalets simple but clean and well maintained. Coral View Resort is not exactly a posh resort but for an island accommodation, the chalets are way, way better than our usual accommodations when we go surfing in Philippines :) I suggest though that you choose the sea view chalets to save you the walk to and from the beach. But if you and your group would want a more secluded and private chalet then the hill view ones would be okay (wouldn't take you 10 mins to get to the beach).

chalets at Coral View Resort, Perhentian Besar

Coral View also has an internet room which you can use for a minimum amount, a nice dining area (overlooking the sea) and very accommodating and friendly staff. We were forever requesting for anything and everything (extra towels, extra mattress, room relocations, etc) and the people there really found time to quickly attend to our needs (special thanks to Ayi and Faiz -- hope i spelled your names right :)).

dining at Coral View Resort

The restaurant does not have a wide variety of dishes to choose from but the food was good and you can easily explore the nearby resorts for other dining options. No alcoholic drinks are offered in restaurants across all resorts (except for some in Long Beach) as it is part of an Islamic state but you're welcome to bring your own drinks and have your usual night cap in your chalets.

It wasn't my usual beach or surfing trip but overall, it was an amazing experience -- I saw sharks, turtles, swordfishes, flying fishes and lots and lots of other fishes. I had a fun time swimming and exploring the islands via water taxis (I can't get over how beautiful it was to ride the water taxi in the stillness of the night with a blanket of stars for your light). I nearly had a heart attack while jumping off the lighthouse in the middle of the sea (it was the longest 12 second jump of my life when everything suddenly turned slowmo). I have met new friends who made the trip more fun.

with Nora, Sufi, Azah and Jill at Long Beach

with Faiz and the manager of Coral View Resort

But the highlight of it all was witnessing one of the most magnificent sunsets in all my years of traveling -- such a humbling experience to be in the midst of His grandeur.

sunset at Perhentian Islands

If you're interested, you might want to check out these sites

Coral View Resort

You may drop me a note too if you have questions, I'll find time to answer them :)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Surf's Up!

I am into sports all my life but I have never really tried any serious watersport before. And I didn't know I would actually love one until I tried surfing with my Citi friends. I can't get enough of it eversince :)

Once a month, we try to head to La Union for a weekend of fun, sun and sand. We usually stay at surf camp and head to Bacnotan for friendlier waves. And believe me, it is a challenging but equally amazing experience trying to paddle on your own, balance on your board and drag(or paddle) back to the sea to catch a new wave.

One important lesson learned though --Do NOT apply too much sunblock on your forehead because when you get wet and the water starts dripping down your eyes, your eyes will start to hurt and you'll spend the entire time squinting and trying to see through the waves! Believe me, it makes balancing on the board more difficult!

Aside from the perpetual tan that we seem to have acquired, the once a month trips to La Union gave most of us a much needed exercise. Hopefully, we get to have those washboard abs soon! ;)
Should you wish to go surfing, let me know. I'll introduce you to our surfing contacts.

Finally, Boracay!

Pam, my bestfriend from high school, and I spent the November 1 - 4, 2007in Boracay. After years of planning to travel together, this was our first time to finally do it! And what made this trip even more fun was that it was also our first time in Boracay!

What did we do in Boracay? Check this out!

1) Did the 15 shots at Cocomangas. It was a blast trying out all the shots and having our names in their hall or fame!
2) Tried the shakes at Jonah's. We loved Mocha Rhum and Banana Vanilla Shakes!
3) Walked the long stretch of White Beach. It started out as an evening stroll but ended up as a search for the Cocomangas!
4) Went island hopping, went to the Crystal Cove caves and Puca island
5) Snorkeled
6) Watched the sunset thru a paraw
7) Had a tattoo (sun tattoo for me and a chinese character for pam) and had our hair braided (atleast pam's hair) while watching a fire dance right infront of us
8) Had a massage (although not a good one)
9) Went sea walking.. it was an amazing experience walking on the sea bed and having all the fishes swim around you!
10) Rented an ATV and toured the island.
11) Strolled thru D' Avenue
12) Sampled their restos and sat in some bars
13) Swam and got ourselves sunburned
14) Watched the sunrise (finally! after our failed attempts to wake up early!)
15) And of course, took hundreds of photos :)

Not a bad checklist for first timers huh? :)