Dec 29, 2013

How I Survived 3 Nights in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

After all the hustle and bustle and endless warnings to be careful, spending 3 nights in Ho Chi Minh City's Backpacker's District was a breeze, just like any walk in the park but with little twists. I survived Vietnam without a scratch and had fun. My friend though had a different opinion and said would not return to Vietnam. Well, I'll go back any chance I get :-).
Ho Chi Minh Musuem, Vietnam

To sum up, here are my reasons why:

  • Food is healthy, delicious and cheap. Anybody who wants to explore the sensory organs of their taste buds will have a great time in Vietnam. Worthy of mention is their rice, I can actually eat it alone. :)
Kim Cafe, Vietnam



Seafood galore at the streets of District 1

  • Vietnamese Coffee!!! Need I say more? ;-)
Vietnam Coffee at Ben Thanh Market

  • Shopping!!! You'll see authentic Kiplings, Fitflops and North Face sold at almost factory prices.You can check these out at Saigon Square while at Ben Thanh Market for souvenir items. There are lots of imitations too but anyone with a good eye for authentic stuffs can spot the difference. Also souvenir items are a  lot cheaper here than in Cambodia or Thailand, which are basically similar in make and design. Some if not most of the vendors at Ben Thanh market can be very persistent and at times irritating grabbing you by the hand. Don't haggle for prices if you have no intention of buying.
Vietnam's Kipling, Northface, Fitflops

  • Street crossing is already one kind of an adventure you can have for free. Motorcycles are the kings of the road and they are quite an attraction seeing them occupy the road in full force. Just be cautious always and signal your hands to alert the drivers of your intention to cross and remember they can appear from any direction. But then, after a while, you'll get the hang of it and become confident enough to cross streets like any local.
hordes of motorcycles in Vietnam


  • Cuchi Tunnels and the horrors of war and the resilient Vietnamese on how they manage to survive despite all the odds.

CuChi Tunnel Tour

  • CULTURE! It's always interesting to experience the cultural differences and similarities we have with our neighboring ASEAN brothers. One particular souvenir shirt in Vietnam, saw it in Cambodia and Thailand as well, suggests this, "same same, but different"! The almost similar built and features but distinct difference, similar food but with unique twists and cultural traditions of similar origin but with subtle nuances. Our tour guide for CuChi Trip mentioned the Vietnamese' penchant to drink, eat and be merry, doing it in-front of their homes on small tables and chairs as cultural tradition which explains their need to feel like a king but they act like a peasant ( well, I can relate this as our version for "tambays"). Photo below explains how tourists adopted to this tradition and enjoyed this form of entertainment.

  • It felt home staying at Hong Han Guesthouse and I sure miss the warmth and cheerfulness of the sibling tandem, Nhung and Ahn who are managing the place and of course the nice breakfast served at the 2nd floor terrace of the guesthouse. That's the pretty Nhung in cheongsam dress.
Hong Han Hotel, Vietnam

  • CYCLO CITY TOUR! I had the best view touring Ho Chi Minh/Saigon City on board a cyclo, checking out famous landmarks and crossing major intersections at slow speed while feeling excited and anxious at the close encounters with buses and motorbikes running at high speeds. Although we had a not so nice experience with our cyclo drivers trying to extort a big sum from us , in the end our fierceness ruled over. My cyclo driver is actually nice so I went easy on him and gave him his day's worth, the other guy who drove my friend is someone you'd like to punch in the face. A word of advice, ask your hotel's assistance for booking any tour you wish to experience. Our cyclo tour was not planned since we only wanted to do a city tour on foot. We were actually devising a plan on how to cross this major roundabout road when these guys appeared and sweet talked us to avail their cheap offer. Lesson learned: when an offer is to good to be true, there's definitely a catch at the end.
Cyclo City Tour, Vietnam

Also read :

I survived Vietnam without a scratch and had a worthy experience and so should you! ;-)


Dec 21, 2013

The 100USD INDOCHINA Backpacking Challenge

The challenge was to limit our individual expenses to 100USD each on Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand without skimping on basic comforts like nice and clean accommodation with ensuite bathrooms, good food and a little bit of shopping. Airfare is not included in the 100USD budget.

And now that we're back home and doing our actual accounting, I'd say, yeah it's really doable. Though we exceeded a few dollars more, we're successful in keeping it to a minimum without any regrets.

How I fared with the Indochina backpacking challenge? Just read on and find out! :-)

Also read my INDOCHINA Itinerary

Here's a breakdown of how I spent the budget. Apparently, if I forgo shopping I'd stay on track but that's just not possible for me since bringing home souvenirs and homecoming gifts are traditions and part of the essence of sharing your travels.


INDOCHINA Expenses
click here for a bigger view


The accommodations I booked all exceeded my expectations as far as service, cleanliness, strategic location and value for money are concerned. Our bookings were all reserved through email correspondence without any need to shell out cash deposits or online booking payments. I will make a detailed review of each accommodation later.

The 100USD Indochina Backpacking Budget is really possible if the budget is really tight and you've set what your priorities are. Food is relatively cheap in Vietnam and you can have a healthy and delicious meal for about a dollar or two. There are a few times we splurge on our meals but prices are still very reasonable and affordable. For tours and transport needs, it's better to avail your hotel's services to avoid getting scammed and end up paying more. We learned our lesson in Vietnam and we already charged it to experience but on a positive note, that episode was really fun. :)

Related Stories:
OUR INDOCHINA ITINERARY
HOW MUCH I SPENT IN MY INDOCHINA TRIP
HOW I SURVIVED 3 NIGHTS IN HO CHI MINH CITY
OUR HO CHI MINH ACCOMMODATION : HONG HAN HOTEL
CROSSING BORDERS : VIETNAM TO CAMBODIA
CAMBODIA : CHARMED BY THE TEMPLES OF ANGKOR (Part1)
CAMBODIA : CHARMED BY THE TEMPLES OF ANGKOR (Part2)
CROSSING BORDERS : CAMBODIA TO THAILAND 

SIEM REAP ACCOMMODATION : MOTHERHOME GUESTHOUSE

Dec 2, 2013

Good Deal Finds Only in QUIAPO, Manila

Photography gadgets, affordable eyeglasses, beads and accessories, vintage items, electronic and hardware supplies and fresh lumpia are the main reasons you'll see me roaming the streets of Quiapo, scouring for good finds while making it a point to visit Quiapo church to say a little prayer afterwards.


Here's a small map to guide you where to locate the good finds I've mentioned above.

QUIAPO MAP

1.) CAMERAS and PHOTOGRAPHY GADGETS

This is no secret to most photographers and  photography enthusiasts and you'll see them converged on the streets of R. Hidalgo, P. Gomez and the corner of Carlos Palanca St. looking for the most up to date DSLRs, Point and Shoots, camera lenses and gadgets and anything photography related, even the vintage kinds. My usual routine when looking for something camera related is to canvas all the camera shops starting with Henry's at P. Gomez St and then a final stop at Mayer Photo located at the corner of Carlos Palanca St and more often than not Mayer Photo usually gave the best value for money, well, that's if you're dealing with Mang Ramon himself, the owner :) You can always haggle for the best offer and you'll get more discounts when you buy in cash. Prices here are usually 20 to 30% cheaper than mall prices.
Photography shops in Quiapo
This is Hidalgo St corner P.Gomez St

2.) WELLMANSON for your ACCESSORY NEEDS

At VILLALOBOS St, you can find stores selling beads and accessories for either wholesale and retail purchase. WELLMANSON is where I usually go when I find the need to update my accessories. The place has expanded quite a number of times and they've added more sections such as a kiosk where you can order something to eat while sitting comfortably and surfing the internet using their free wifi connection. It is well organized, with air conditioning and lots of presentable sales staff manning every nook and cranny. They are now open daily and that means even on Sundays :).

Wellmanson, Quiapo

Wellmanson, Quiapo

3.)  OPTICAL SHOPS/DENTAL SUPPLIES SHOPS along PATERNO ST.

If you can brave the crowd in Quiapo, you'll save a lot on eyeglasses. You can scour the optical shops lining the street of  PATERNO  for the cheapest offer. What usually would cost 2,000 TO 3,000 pesos at the malls, you'll only get it here at more or less a thousand pesos. Alongside, you'll find dental supplies shops as well.
Optical Shops along Paterno St, Quiapo


4.) EXCELENTE, Chinese Cooked Ham

Excelente is located along Carlos Palanca St and this place gets full packed a few days before Christmas and New Year. So if you're planning to purchase in bulk as part of your Christmas giveaways or just for your family's celebration, it's still best to plan ahead to avoid the crowd. 
Excellente, Chinese Cooked ham

5.) GLOBE LUMPIA HOUSE

It's a small hole in the wall with only a few seats available, no airconditioning and nothing fancy but people even of A-list status flock to the place because of the yummy fresh lumpia that only costs 16 pesos a piece. I think the price has not changed for a long time and the taste is still how it used to be. You're lucky to be able to find a seat if you go there on a weekend and if you're planning to take out some, ready yourself for the long wait. The place is located along RAON St near Quezon Blvd. Look for the sign GLOBE and it's fronting the electronics and appliance store DEECO.
GLOBE Lumpia House

6.) RAON SHOPPING CENTER/ BIKE SHOPS 

Along RAON St you'll see stores selling the cheapest electronic appliances, sound systems, karaoke/videoke players and the likes. Hardware stores also ply the street of RAON. When you cross Quezon Blvd using the overpass, you'll find bike shops like Cycle Art along that stretch. 
Raon Shopping Center

7.) SM CLEARANCE OUTLET QUIAPO

This is where the first ever Shoe Mart was built. It used to be just a small shoe store before but now everyone knows how huge and powerful SM has become. Today, SM Carriedo or SM Quiapo is more popularly known as SM Clearance Outlet Store where items are sold at a discount. This is where I usually buy Christmas gifts for the kids.
SM Clearance Outlet, Quiapo

8.) MANILA CITY PLAZA

2 level building with most stores selling accessories for cell phones of all kinds and of the cheapest kinds are available here. Take your pick and just be wary of the pickpockets.

QUIAPO just like DIVISORIA shares the tag as a bargain shopper's paradise but each one has their own unique characteristics that separates one from the other. What I listed above are just some of the major good deals you can find around Quiapo. You can also read my Divisoria shopping guide for more tips on how to stay away from pickpockets, on how to snag the best deals and where to find them.

ALSO Read :

Divisoria Guide Series : Do's and Dont's
Divisoria Guide Series : Find The Items Here (Part2)
10 Ways To Enjoy a Weekend While in Manila

Nov 26, 2013

Why staying in a Wan Chai Serviced Apartment is a reasonably priced solution

You can’t help but not love the beauty of Hong Kong, especially in the Wan Chai area. It’s bustling with so many things to do and to explore, that wandering around a day or two just won’t be enough. So if you’re thinking about staying in the region for a few weeks to a few months, remember to book your accommodation in a serviced apartment Wan Chai. You won’t regret staying in a managed apartment, as it’s always tailored towards being your home away from home.
photo link here
Why it’s smart to stay in a serviced lodging while in Wan Chai

Choosing to stay in a serviced lodging will always be a smart choice, especially if you have a set timeframe and lodging preference in mind. Moneywise, managed flats are usually offered at a much lower price compared to hotel rooms (you’ll typically get a 30% savings). They may seem like the cheaper option, but worry not about the quality of the rooms and amenities, as most managed flats are created with living spaces that are at par with hotel standards.

Furthermore, it’s a temporary dwelling place that can be availed to as long as 4 weeks to even 4 months (can also be chosen as a year long residence). Serviced flats are usually offered with flexible terms, so it’s definitely a good alternative to expensive hotel stays.

Avoid buying and spending for furniture and other fixtures when you avail of a serviced lodging

Serviced apartments in Wan Chai are generally offered with fully furnished units. So tenants will no longer worry about buying fixtures because this type of residence has already got things covered. Now, room configurations may vary from a studio to a deluxe unit. But each living space is definitely afforded with the usual bedroom, private bathroom, and kitchen. You’ll be surprised that most serviced flats offer fully equipped kitchenettes, as not all traditional hotels offer this type of facility in their rooms.

Serviced lodgings can be comparable to hotels

If you’re looking to find a temporary residence that offers the comforts of home and some of the luxuries of a hotel, then your best option is to avail of a serviced accommodation. And should you find yourself in the Wan Chai area then you should definitely book V Wan Chai. The serviced lodging offers some of the loveliest terraced garden apartments that open up to a beautiful outdoor dining area.

Why you should choose V Wan Chai as your second home

Other than the fact that their bedrooms are always prepared with crisp starched linens, feathery soft pillows and premium Simmons mattresses, they also created each of their en suite bathrooms with Italian-designed faucets, Corian-made bathtubs, and rain shower stalls. And if that’s not enough, each apartment is also built with a kitchen that comes fully supplied with complimentary herbs, and a nice set of Le Creusset cookware. On top of that, every living space is also furnished with cable-ready 42” Plasma TV’s, DVD players, and Wii consoles.

V Wan Chai also affords their residents access to their V Play (free use of their BBQ facilities), and business center. They also provide daily housekeeping, and a 24-hour security watch. They offer airport limousine pick-ups as well (amongst other conveniences).

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This is a guest post from Angela
Angela is a frequent traveler and enjoys sight seeing and blogging about her travel experiences.

Nov 5, 2013

BLOG GIVEAWAY : 3 Winners to WIN 5 Pairs of ALTA Flipflops

ALTA Flipflops and Shie Went to Town teamed up to bring you the coolest chance to own 5 pairs of Alta flipflops. 3 Winners will be selected to each take home 5 pairs of Alta flipflops.

Alta is a newly established Filipino brand committed to offer high quality and fashionable flipflops at very friendly prices. The owners long experience in the footwear industry is an assurance of their commitment to constantly update and improve their know-how in technology and designs so as to make ALTA locally and globally competitive. A greater part of their vision and mission is to help uplift the lives of less privileged individuals as a result of every sale of ALTA products.

ALTA flipflops are available at selected leading department stores nationwide.

ALTA Flipflops

How To Join :

1.) Like ALTA on FACEBOOK and follow them on TWITTER.

2.) Like Shie Went To Town on FACEBOOK and follow her on TWITTER.

3.) Visit the web page of ALTA at http://www.altadelmundo.com/ and browse through the products page.

4.) Comment on this post with your Full name, Facebook and Twitter handle and the 3 styles of ALTA flipflops you would like to receive (the product list can be found either on the ALTA website or its FB Page). You can specify your slipper size too.

The 3 Winners will be picked via RandomPicker.com and will be announced on Dec 1, 2013 here on the comments portion and on Shie Went To Town's FB Page. This giveaway is open to everyone with a Philippine postal address.

Oct 25, 2013

Christmas Gift Ideas For Travelers

Christmas is just around the corner and I bet everyone is now thinking of what gifts to buy for their family and friends.

Recently, I stumbled across this online shop while searching for things I need to buy for my upcoming travels. LAZADA Philippines turned out to be a one stop shop where you can find most of the stuffs you can possibly think of. Below, I’m putting up a list of some of the things every traveler will find very useful. Although most of us find joy in shopping at the malls, sometimes it's just not possible because of busy schedule and the reality that shopping during Christmas season means going through horrible traffic, chaotic crowd, long queues to the cashier and extreme exhaustion.  Well, smart people know how to do it right and that is shopping in the comforts of their home.

10 GIFT IDEAS FOR TRAVELERS

1.) SPECIALTY/UNDERWATER CAMERA

It's an adventurer's must have camera, versatile enough to capture in still or in motion all meaningful experiences while on the road, while hanging in the air or swimming with the whale sharks. It's small, it's lightweight but it's mighty.

2.) BACKPACK

For a serious adventurer and a smart one at that, a sturdy, lightweight and comfy backpack with excellent features can spell a big difference in getting us from point A to point B with the least amount of hassles. If you know how to pack right then you know what backpack to get. 

3.) SLEEPING BAG

It’s a must when heading outdoors and camping on higher altitudes. Choose the quality that you will be most comfortable with.
Sleeping Bags

4.) BEACH BLANKET

An eco-friendly beach blanket you can use for multiple purposes is a great gift idea for your traveler friend. LAGU is proudly Philippine made, I must say.
Beach Blanket

5.) POWER BANK

Most of the times our smartphones run out of power while on the road and we realized how important it is to own a power bank to recharged our batteries so we won’t miss important calls and instant moments to capture.
Power Bank

6.) PORTABLE SPEAKER

It’s handy and it’s fun way to enjoy music with your friends. A traveler will surely appreciate getting one for Christmas.
Portable Speaker

7.) MULTI TOOL 

A handy and precise multi-tool to address your basic personal needs that we can carry around anytime is an ideal gift suggestion.
MULTI TOOL

8.) DRY BAGS

It’s important that our belongings are safe and dry while we’re out on an adventure. We can dip in the ocean or walk in the rain without worrying about our stuffs getting wet and ruined.
DRY BAGS

9.) TRAVEL ORGANIZER

To make our baggage more organized and less chaotic, travelers will find these items very useful in putting stuffs in order and finding them easily when needed.
Travel Organizer

10.) COMPASS

Well, sometimes getting lost is necessary to find our “true north” literally and figuratively speaking and a compass is there to point us to the right directions. ;)
COMPASS


A gift doesn't have to be expensive but a well thought out one is always better appreciated. Here are travel gift ideas we can buy online from Lazada PH.

Oct 19, 2013

The Right Way To Fly : My AirAsia Zest Destination Wishlist

If the travel bug hasn't hit you yet, don't wait further because now is the perfect time to travel, AirAsia Zest is providing us the right way to fly.

Air Asia, awarded as the world's best low-cost airline for the 5th time as per Skytrax, and Zest Air, a local low-cost airline have merged forces to make flying easy and affordable for every Filipinos. From Clark, AirAsia Zest now flies from Manila at NAIA Terminal 4.
AirAsia Zest logo

Here's their press release:
MANILA, 20 September 2013 – Zest Air is now flying with AirAsia, The World’s Best Low Cost Airline. The Civil Aeronautics Board (“CAB”) approved “AirAsia Zest” as the new brand name of Zest Airways, Inc. CAB also approved the new logo of Zest Airways, Inc., wherein the Zest name has been incorporated into the iconic red hot circle, which is the signature logo of AirAsia. 
AirAsia Zest Chairman Mikee Romero said, “We are excited to introduce AirAsia Zest, and what it represents. With our alliance, we are well positioned to offer our guests the strength of our combined network of domestic and international routes and unrivalled daily low fares, proving a world class travel experience that every Filipino deserves. 
We hope this brand new look is the first of many steps towards making AirAsia Zest an airline that continues to revolutionize air travel in the Philippines. We are geared up and committed to ensuring that AirAsia Zest lives up to the same incredibly high standards of AirAsia,” Romero said.
Aren't you excited yet? I am because right now I'm listing down my Top 3 AirAsia Zest destination wish list around the Philippines and Asia hoping to snag return tickets of my choice.


TAGBILARAN, Bohol


I've been here twice and the place never gets old. The last time was with my family and together it instantly became our fave destination because of the gracious people and the diverse attractions and activities the place has to offer . But by now we've all seen how in bad shape Bohol is after the strong earthquake and it bleeds my heart to see them in this unfortunate condition. However, it never diminished my faith that Boholanos can rise up to the occasion through their resilience and determination with the help of fellow Filipinos to once again reclaim the old beauty of Bohol. For now I'd like to go there not to explore the place but to offer help in whatever way I can.
Bohol

PUERTO PRINCESA, Palawan


Puerto Princesa is the gateway to one of my bucket list destination, the breathtaking  El Nido.  It's also the place where the famous Underground River is located, the attraction that puts us prominently in the world map being one of the world's New 7 Wonders of Nature. Tell me, who wouldn't want to see the beauty of Palawan?
Flickr Image

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia


Malaysia remains my favorite Asian destination to date. I've seen a few outstanding Asian countries but nothing beats the place where you've experienced many firsts. I already had my 2nd time here and a 3rd visit is in order, while a 4th, 5th and so on are not remote possibilities since Kuala Lumpur is Air Asia's gateway to most of my must visit destination. As I've said many times, there's always a reason to revisit Malaysia and the right way to fly is through AirAsia Zest.
Flickr Image
Travel in the Philippines and travel in Asia are now easier and more affordable with AirAsia Zest (Air Asia dares you to compare prices) with domestic and international routes from Manila to Cebu, Davao, Kalibo(Boracay), Puerto Princesa, Tagbilaran, Cagayan de Oro, while to Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, Shanghai and Incheon in Asia.

What are you waiting for? Head now to their site and book your flights to your must visit AirAsia Zest destinations and experience the right way to fly.

Oct 13, 2013

Bucket List Update : Ticking Off 2 Destinations Soon

    I published my Bucket List to remind me of what I intend to do in my lifetime. I doubt if I can do all but a written list will sure come in handy. It never occurred to me that a reader will actually take notice and challenge me to fulfill 2 items (#1 and part of #4) from the list. Actually it's now 3 items, recently he volunteered to give assistance when I'm ready to embark on #7. :)


The turn of events reminds me of my favorite Paulo Coelho quote that says:
"When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it."
I guess my lucky stars were all present when this reader searching for something was directed to this blog site. :) Well, you might be curious so I'd let you in how the exchange of comments started. An anonymous commenter left an intriguing comment in my ISDAAN post and since I moderate all the comments, my first reaction was to ignore it and not published the comment but since he raised a valid point, not a spammer and took his time to read the post and leave a comment, I realized the most decent thing I need to do was to published it and give my reply. Below is a snippet of our first exchanges.

I'm just glad I did what I ought to do and that is to always treat everyone the same way I want to be treated. You never know, they could be an angel in disguise. Right, Mr Patrick? ;)

In the next few days, he showed up in some more posts and I can sense his attentiveness to details. I never saw it coming but the next comments were surprising and he's no longer Mr. Anonymous. :)


and then the offer came ....


"When a GREAT ADVENTURE is offered, you don't refuse it" - Amelia Earhart
Of course, it's a no brainer, I accepted the offer! :) Now, I have no more reasons to postpone these activities! The travel funds were transmitted in no time, the basic gears and more which I'll be using during the Mt Pulag climb were provided as well and now in transit coming from the US. I already booked my flights to Batanes and will also get the chance to stay at the expensive Fundacion Pacita (this was just a secret wishlist before, yay!). He's one generous soul, who offered more than what's necessary. I just hope, he'll be very pleased once I write down my experiences and showed him the beauty of these places.

Thanks a lot Mr. Patrick P., as I told you in my email, may your kindness return to you tenfold. :) Cheers and may we all live meaningful lives.

Shie Went to Town will soon tick off 2 from her Bucket List destinations. Yehey to that!!!

You can check my Bucket List here.

Oct 5, 2013

Sushi Overload @ Sakae Sushi

The idea of unlimited supply of Sushi rolling on the side of your table through a conveyor belt piqued my interest to try Sakae Sushi restaurant at Robinsons, Manila.
Sakae Sushi
You can choose to eat all you can or just pay for the ones you ate . Check the prices of each sushi plate according to its colors indicated below. The red and purple colored plates are the more expensive.
Sakae Sushi

It's more practical to do eat all you can for 399 pesos and get all sushi in the red and purple colored plates. Sushi buffet comes with  miso soup and hot or cold green tea. 

But since I wasn't paying attention on the plate's color coding and only realized it later when I'm already full, I ended up getting mostly yellow plates.


Sakae Sushi


Sakae Sushi


Sakae Sushi


Sakae Sushi


Sakae Sushi

Sakae Sushi





Sakae Sushi
Sakae SushiThe freebies; green tea and miso soup if you decide to eat all you can. 

I just go by eye and didn't pay attention to the color of each plate when I pick the one's to eat. The color coding scheme of the plates is a good indicator which one to avoid and which one has more value. The taste of that one in the blue plate sucks. ;) .

If you are expecting good quality Japanese sushi here at Sakae Sushi, you might be disappointed. The rice portion (which is not as sticky as the usual Japanese rice) of the sushi is so big, it will fill you up easily. The soy sauce dip and the tempura dip are also lacking in taste. I guess it was watered down more to meet the volume they need. I was also reminded to avoid leftovers or I'll be charged the actual price.

However, considering the offered price, I'm not really expecting authentic Japanese fare. One thing I can assure you though, expect to be full after dining here. 

Sakae Sushi Branches:

  • Robinson's Manila
  • SM Mall of Asia
  • SM North Edsa

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