Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Slowing Down in Laiya

Summer is the time to troop to the beach, unwind in the sands, and swim in the sea. It's the perfect time to cool down. But going to the beach during the off-peak travel season has its advantages too. You can practically have the beach all by yourself in the off-peak travel season. During the off-peak season of June to October, resorts often offer discounted rates. I enjoyed both of these benefits when I went to Laiya, Batangas one day in August for a much needed rest and reflection. 

Laiya is a barangay in San Juan, Batangas known for its white beaches. Its proximity to Manila makes it a favorite getaway by many urban dwellers and neighboring towns. Whether you are a company looking for a venue for your team building, a family on vacation, or a solo traveler, you can find a suitable accommodation among the many resorts in the area. I found a rustic nipa hut for an overnight stay in Les Caraibes.

The long stretch of white sands
The water was very clear in the afternoon

                   The sunrise was a breathtaking sight  

                     Fishermen gather around their big fish net

For me, the sand, sea, and sunrise in Laiya was a soothing backdrop for reflection. A quiet beach in August is a convenient place to connect with God. 

For directions on how to get to Laiya and a list of some of the resorts in the area, visit Laiya Online

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Bring Me Back to Brazil!

The Rio Olympics brought back to me memories of my brief visit to Brazil, though not in Rio but in another major city that is Sao Paulo. By divine favor coursed through the support of family, friends, and an organization, I was able to attend an international publishing conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2006. Actually, that was my first time to travel overseas. I was a bit nervous but definitely excited to learn new things.  Here are the things I discovered about this biggest country in South America.

Brazil does not require a visa from Philippine passport holders. Yes, if you're a Filipino you can tour any part of Brazil without a visa for a maximum of 90 days. When I handed my passport to the immigration officer, I remembered being asked only one question and then was allowed to pass through.

Brazilians who can afford the cost beat traffic with the helicopter. Because Sao Paulo is such a huge city (in fact, it is the biggest city in Brazil) and traffic is always a problem, helicopters are alternative means of transportation. I recently found out (through Google, of course) that Sao Paulo is the first city in the world where commuters can avail the services of Uber helicopters.

Brazilians love coffee. In fact, it is the largest coffee producer in the world. When we went to a supermarket near Atibaia in Sao Paulo,  coffee was served for free.

Free coffee at the supermarket
A sumptuous Brazilian meal of rice, churrasco sausage
and lots of vegetables

When in Brazil, you say "Oi" and "Obrigada". That's "Hi" and "Thank you" respectively in Portuguese. Yes, the official language of this year's Olympic host is Portuguese although most of her neighbors in the continent speak Spanish. Brazilians would spell their country as Brasil because that's the way it's spelled in Portuguese. Want to learn Portuguese? Check this site.

At Guarulhos International Airport, Sao Paulo
I didn't have much time to explore Sao Paulo when I was in Brazil and my one-week stay was limited to the conference venue and surrounding areas to buy souvenirs. I bought coffee to give to family and friends, but for myself, I brought home two ref magnets. I still have the ref magnets and they remind me constantly of how God made a way for me to to travel across the globe to learn more about writing and publishing in the company of colleagues from all over the world. If favored once again, yes, I would love to say, "Bring me back to Brazil!"

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Book Museum cum Ethnology Center of Marikina City

Other than the Shoe Museum, Marikina City is also host to another impressive museum--the Book Museum cum Ethnology Center, said to be the first in Asia. The museum houses the personal collection of reading materials from around the world and Philippine artifacts accumulated by Atty. Dominador D. Buhain. Atty. Buhain's love for books is no surprise as he is Chairman and President of Rex Book of Companies. He has also held various posts in different publishers association and is one of the most traveled person in the world.

The entrance to the museum with baybayin,
the pre-Spanish Philippine script engraved on the door

Currently, only a quarter of the owner's collection of books are in the two floors of the museum. More are expected to be added later.

Books from around the world
There are enough books to captivate you, most likely ones you've never seen in your life as they are rare.

The smallest book in the world
contains The Lord's Prayer in several languages

The smallest tablet visible only through
a magnifying glass

Visit the museum to see one of the oldest copies of classical books including Uncle Tom's Cabin and the second printed book in the Philippines, the Doctrina Cristiana Explicado. 

Filipino comics during and post-Spanish era 

But wait, I shrieked in glee when I saw these! I used to read these pocketbooks in high school.

There are other contemporary books in the museum classified under various topics including family, marriage, business, management, finances, religion, politics, and many others. Visitors who frequent the place are allowed to stay and read the books on display.

Outside the Book Museum building are two separate buildings where artifacts from Northern and Southern Philippines are on display.

Traditional wear of tribes from the north

Drums from Southern Philippines

It is so apt that the museum's symbol is that of a foot, signifying readiness, mobility, and progress. A readiness to learn through reading and traveling leads to an individual's growth and development, and a citizen that's continually improving can contribute to national and global progress. As an author of books and someone who loves to travel, I was inspirited by that tour at the Book Museum. I'm itching to write some more and to travel farther. Like other museums, the Book Museum cum Ethnology Center reminds us to preserve the past for posterity, yet it also challenges us to keep going and to keep learning.

The Book Museum cum Ethnology Center is located at 127 Dao St. Marikina Heights, Marikina City. Visit their Facebook page for schedules and other inquiries. Thank you to Ms. Sherleen Bautista for the warm welcome and tour. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Shoe Museum of Marikina City

Shoe Museum

Marikina City earned the title the Shoe Capital of the Philippines because it has the most number of shoe manufacturers in the country. Recently, in a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry and other government officials, President Rodrigo Duterte showed off his pair of leather boots made especially for him by a shoemaker from Marikina. But it was not the first time a national figure wore and publicly acknowledged using a pair of quality footwear from the shoe capital. During her time as First Lady, Imelda Marcos was provided with an average of 10 pairs of shoes every week by the local shoemakers and she actively promoted the Marikina shoe industry.

Some of Imelda Marcos' 800 pairs of shoes at the Museum

Today, 800 of her 3,000 pairs of shoe collection are on display at the Shoe Museum of Marikina City. The museum, initially called the Footwear Museum of Marikina opened in 2001 to highlight the city's shoe industry.  And here's a trivia. The building occupied by the museum has served various purposes in the past: an arsenal during the Spanish period, detention cell of hero Macario Sakay during the Filipino-American War, and rice mill of the Tuason family after the Second World War. Today the city government of Marikina owns and operates the museum.

The museum prominently features life-size diorama of shoemakers crafting footwear. Also on display are the tools and materials of the industry. Hundreds of shoe last (the master mold of a shoe) form a tall tower in the middle of the museum's ground floor. Other shoes on display are the ones donated by the country's past presidents, vice-presidents, senators, and movie and sports personalities. There's also an exhibit of shoes made in Marikina as well as unique footwear and traditional shoes from other countries.

Shoes of past Philippine Presidents

Brazilian clogs

Do you know when and where the oldest leather shoe was found? What's the oldest sandals made of? Want to see a replica of a Roman strap sandals? If you want to find the answers to these questions and look at the other shoes on display, go to the Shoe Museum of Marikina along J.P. Rizal St. in San Roque, Marikina City. An entrance fee of P50.00 is collected and you may request a tourism officer to give you a guided tour. Although the two-floor museum area is not that big and the shoe collections are properly labeled, the historical notes provided by the tour guide is really interesting.

Marikina City's version of "Walk of Fame": tiles with shoes bearing
the names of people who donated shoes to the museum

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Things I Did in Pratunam, Bangkok for Two Days

Last month, I had a one-week training in a Southeast Asian country. I've decided earlier that before returning to the Philippines, I would stay for two days in Bangkok. Together with a friend, we made the most of our brief time to taste and see what Pratunam in Bangkok has to offer.


Pratunam is a popular shopping district in Bangkok with fashion malls like Platinum Fashion Mall, and hundreds of stalls selling clothing, shoes, bags, and accessories. The tallest building in Thailand, the Baiyoke Sky Hotel is also in the area. Pratunam Market is a shopper's delight because items are sold at very cheap prices. I was able to get a flared dress for 100 baht only, and a bracelet and necklace for 60 baht.

Open-air Pratunam Market


One never gets hungry in Pratunam as there are many restaurants in the area serving Thai as well as Asian dishes. There's an Indian restaurant a few steps away from the hostel where we stayed and a Filipino restaurant along Petchaburi Road. There are convenience stores too like 711, and of course ambulant vendors selling fruit juices, snacks, fruits, and other street food. On my last morning in Pratunam, I walked on a street serving a variety of breakfast dishes: porridge with meat, grilled sticky rice, rice with various dishes the names of which I don't know. After having slices of sweet papaya, I settled for rice with Thai chicken and cucumber as side dish. It was very tasty and I liked it very much that the skin was very crunchy.

My first time to taste pomegranate juice!

Thai Massage

I promised myself that when I get to Bangkok, I would get a massage. I often get a Thai foot massage back home, so I thought I'd try it too in Pratunam just to see if it's the same whether you're in Thailand or in the Philippines. It's pretty much the same, except that my leg and thigh got an extra stretching and beating. For 200 baht, that foot massage was a great relief, a perfect way to end the day after much walking.

Riding the Airport Rail Link

Since we didn't have time to visit other places in Bangkok, my friend and I took the Airport Rail Link to get a bird's eye view of the city. The Airport Rail Link connects downtown Bangkok with Suvarnabhumi International Airport. From Ratchaprarop station, which is walking distance from our hostel, the trip to the Suvarnabhumi Airport is only about 20 minutes. That was enough time for me to see Bangkok's skyline and traffic on the road.

Traffic in downtown
Sunset in the Land of Smiles
Shopping again

My friend told me there's a supermarket in Bangkok where items are sold in big discounts. So before heading to the airport, I stopped by the Big C Superstore which is behind the Platinum Fashion Mall. I was running out of time because I needed to check out of the hostel by noon, so I was only able to grab a few soap bars, a pack of seaweeds, and some snacks.

I also had a pleasant stay in Bangkok because of the friendly Filipino staff I met at Coop Hostel, especially Jenny. Filipinos really do bring with them a warm, welcoming spirit wherever they go. I hope to meet more of them the next time I travel again, whether it's only for two days or longer.

With  Jenny, Filipino staff at Coop Hostel 

Friday, March 11, 2016

What I Learned from Our DIY Trip to Ho Chi Minh

My daughter and I recently embarked on a do-it-yourself trip to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. With a limited budget and only our bags on our backs, we took our first trip to the land of pho and banh mi with much enthusiasm.

Instead of availing any of the tours, we created our own itinerary after researching online and reading recommendations from travel bloggers. As we took a DIY tour of the city, I learned some things that I feel are worth sharing. Here they are:

The statue of Ho Chi Minh with the
city hall behind it
Learn how to read a map, whether it's on paper or on your gadget. I rarely consulted a map in my previous trips because during those trips, I was either with people who knew where we were going or there was no time for me to explore the city by foot. My daughter and I walked for some 20 minutes from District 3 to District 1 and had to constantly look at the map and the names of the streets. Map reading is a skill any city explorer should have to find the way to a city's gems.

Notice not just the places you visit, but the people you meet. Of course, we made sure we passed by the famous landmarks of Ho Chi Minh (still popularly known by its former name, Saigon) like the Saigon Opera House, Ho Chi Minh City Hall, Notre Dame Cathedral, and Saigon Central Post Office. We also bought tickets to enter the Independence Palace (Reunification Palace) and the War Remnant Museum to get insights into the history of the country, especially the Vietnam War.

Saigon Opera House
But several people we met made an impression on me too. Like the two septuagenarians, sisters in their 70s who are still traveling by themselves for some sightseeing; the French tourist with an atlas who showed us the way to the Notre Dame, a Romanesque structure constructed by his countrymen who colonized Vietnam; and the elderly vendor who helped us cross the street when we were obviously intimidated by the throng of roaring motorbikes (well, actually, it was me, and not my daughter, who was hesitant to cross the street). I realize that as you travel, it's not just the landmarks that amaze you; the individuals who inspire and help you surprise you too.

The Notre Dame Cathedral
Even with less money, you can travel outside your country. Of course, you have to be patient, resourceful, and willing to move out of your comfort zone. After staking out at Cebu Pacific's website for months, we were able to book a flight on a promo fare six months prior to our travel date. We also found a private room through Airbnb for only 30 euro (around P1,600.00 including other fees). It is not a hotel, but we had the basic necessities like a good bed, air conditioning, wi-fi, toiletries, even free bottled water. Plus, we had the chance to have conversation with our local hosts.

Food in Vietnam is unbelievably cheap yet truly savory. We ate street food, but also savored Vietnamese dishes in restaurants and cafe, and sipped ca phe sua da and drank tea many times! (Instead of serving water, restaurants usually serve tea with your order) Except for a few mien, candies, and postcards, we didn't buy souvenirs. Call us frugal, but we went home rich with experience.

Our breakfast of bun bo hue (soup with rice vermicelli and beef)
at a Saigon eatery
Banh mi at 15,000 Vietnamese dong (PhP 31.00)

We also had an unpleasant experience with two motorbike drivers, but after that incident, serendipity led me to this quote written on the wall of a cafe where we had our lunch: "Freedom is not worth having if it doesn't include the freedom to make mistakes." We can't have a perfect trip no matter how carefully we plan, but we can decide beforehand to have a right perspective to enjoy what's at hand. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Four's Food Trip in Binondo

Our family of four went to Binondo to savor Chinese food. Yes, Binondo, otherwise known as Manila's Chinatown is the place to go to for delicious Chinese cuisine. Established in 1594, it is said to be the oldest Chinatown in the world. After doing our online research on the places to visit, we went on a do-it-yourself Binondo food tour to satisfy our palate.

The Filipino-Chinese Friendship Arch, entrance to  Chinatown

Our first stop at eight in the morning was Mei Sum Tea House along Ongpin St. I love their sweet egg pie Hong Kong style! Their hakaw is a delight to the tongue because while the wrapper is soft, its shrimp is cooked al dente.

Egg pie
Hakaw or shrimp dumpling
Hong Kong style fried noodles

After sampling Hong Kong fried noodles, beef ball siomai, hakaw, and egg pie Hong Kong style, we moved on and stopped by a grocery store with a fruit juice corner called Healthy Options for some drinks.

We found a small stall along Ongpin cor. Bahama Streets selling Shanghai fried siopao at P18.00 each and a variety of siomai and kikiam. Perfect pasalubong!

Siomai and kikiam

My man loves vegetables so we didn't pass the opportunity to chomp on some greens at New Quanyinchay Vegetarian Food Garden also on Ongpin St.

Okra and polonchoy at P55 each

After wandering and peeking at several Chinese restaurants, noodle houses, Chinese deli shops, we gave up on scouting the entire place and decided to enter the next restaurant we found. At Four Season Cuisine we tried the more familiar fresh lumpia and added dishes that are out of our ordinary diet--fish cake guisado, sea cucumber, and turtle soup.

Sea cucumber
Turtle soup
Fish cake guisado
Fresh lumpia
There's still much to savor in Binondo and a day is not enough to try all the dishes Manila's Chinatown has to offer. We certainly want to come back.

If you don't want to walk, you can see Binondo aboard a calesa

Pink bougainvilleas

The violet fire truck across Eng Bee Tin where you can
buy hopiang ube