Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hong Kong Trip - Day 1

I just returned from a trip to Hong Kong, a destination that I've always wanted to visit and despite of the issues we had to deal with, it did not disappoint. My cousin Bryan accompanied me on this trip and our flight into Hong Kong departed Manila at 5:45 AM, meaning that we would be zombies on our first day.

We had some free time before the tour started and we took the hotel shuttle to the MTR (subway system), where we hunted for food. We wanted an authentic experience and had a delicious lunch at a local noodle house. The tour started at Victoria's peak, and we rode Hong Kong's oldest form of rail transport to the top, with the ascent at 45 degrees at times.

Once we were atop, we checked out Madame Toussaint's wax figures, which was moderately entertaining. I was cautiously optimistic about the view, the real reason I wanted to go up to Victoria Peak. It had been foggy all day, and I was worried the famous view of the city would be obstructed. However, the lights would not be dimmed that night, and we managed (to the best of our ability) to capture some cityskapes.

The next stop was Mong Kok market, notorious for it's affordable yet counterfeit wares (similar to Greenhills in Manila). I wanted to sample more local Hong Kong cuisine, but that gesture never came into full fruition. After I purchased some grilled squid, the vendors exclaimed, "arigatou" to me. They were not locals. They were Japanese expats selling their native delicacies. 

The market tour concluded right before 10 pm and we were shuttled back to our hotel. We previously talked about sampling the nightlife, but since we only had 3 hours of sleep, just called it a night.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Travel Updates

Greetings reader(s) from Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Philippines. I am joined by my cousin Bryan as we await our flight to Hong Kong at 5:45,, which is in about 5 hours. We made ourselves a spot here on the hard floors of the airport and will remain here until check-in which is in approximately 3 hours. It will be a long night, but it will be worth it once we are in Hong Kong. Next post should be about our adventures there.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Golf at Intramuros

From a previous post about exploring Intramuros, I noticed there was a golf course at the old Spanish city and thought it inappropriate, using the word tacky to describe it in my post. Does having a course within the vicinity of the execution of approximately 600 American and Filipino troops during World War II seem appropriate? Additionally, the cell in which the national hero Jose Rizal spent his last days is also close by, along with his memorial. It just bothered me, and while rummaging through hundreds of pictures, I found one of the said course.

Boo! Perhaps I should disrupt their play

I am not a 1960s socialist, condemning golf as a display of bourgeois decadence. I just think that we need to be reverent of this location because there is much History here, both honorable and infamous and we need to respectful.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Roughing it in Baguio

Our next domestic destination is a city known as the Philippines’ summer capital and where Manny Pacquiao spends some of his training camp. The city lies at a high altitude and consequently the climate is much cooler and is perhaps why it is considered as the republic’s summer capital. I was not too eager to go, because of how rough the trip was the last time we went in 2008. The drive was long, we had to constantly pass tricycles, it was a daytrip and the traffic within the city overwhelmed me. The roads were narrower, steep and were crowded.

We managed to secure a place to stay for the night from a distant relative, and it was roomy enough accommodate our 12-person party that ranged from tweens-late 70s. Unfortunately, the water pump was not functioning consistently and we had no running water. Not a big deal for a small party, but presents a problem for 12. My uncle, a former engineer and my older cousin tried their best but the pump refused to work consistently. Fortunately, there was a reservoir that we could collect water from to manually flush the toilet and boil for drinking water.

The city itself did offer a nice change of pace from the oppressive transition to the Philippine summer. It was much cooler in Baguio and felt like a mid to late October in North Carolina. For dinner that night, we ventured to a restaurant that specialized in steaks. The popular order for our party was the Australian Porter House, a great bargain (to me) at P265, roughly 6 USD. However, traffic was once again murder in Baguio and had to scour for parking spots for our two vehicles, which took about 30 minutes.

View of Baguio City, the summer capital

The night was uncomfortable as the weather became much cooler. It was the coldest I have ever experienced in this country, and everyone else was far more sensitive to it. Then there was the issue of running water and we had to keep fetching water from outside, which made going to the restroom an ordeal and showers/baths impossible. Needless to say, I was ready to leave that place in the morning although very grateful that it prevented a daytrip for most accommodations were booked.

The next few hours were very busy. The first stop was the fairly large Baguio marketplace where my aunts did a large amount of shopping. Because of Baguio’s climate, there are an assortment of produce that are sold at the market, which are unavailable elsewhere and for at a bargain, sometimes 70% cheaper than in Pampanga province. 

With relatives at the Baguio market

The next stop was the Botanical gardens where I was hustled by a native Ifugao. I took a picture of her and she demanded payment, and I caved. And since I paid her, she encouraged me to get in a picture with them, so I did. Unfortunately, a different Ifugao then asked me for payment and which my cousin ended up paying. 

Can this picture get anymore awkward?

The next stop was “The Mansion” which I have already seen during my 2008 visit. After that, it was the Mines View, a great view that is similar to the outlooks of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Boone, NC. The view was gorgeous and I managed to snap a picture of the Mines View St. Bernard taking a leak, and since I did it clandestinely, I was not demanded a fee.

A local celebrity, the original Mines View St. Bernard! ..taking a leak

Mines View

Lastly, we had lunch at one of the venues around Bernham Park, where we incurred a number of parking violations and our tag confiscated. After dealing with the local authorities, we were finally on our way back to Pampanga, an ordeal that pushed us back another 45 minutes. On the way back, we got stuck in traffic and moved at most 5 km in an hour.

Needless to say, it was rough excursion from beginning to end. I was just overwhelmed by how crowded and how brash the drivers were. Apparently, I also like running water. Baguio city is having a flower festival next week and the main road will be closed for it. Imagine how much more crowded that place will be. 

Monday, February 14, 2011


Had a blog post ready about my trip to the summer capital of Baguio City, but forgot my external hard drive, so I will post later. The upcoming week should be fairly busy. We are trying to tour the Tagaytay region to see Mt. Taal, a volcano with a lake within the crater. We also heard that one of the longest ziplines in Asia can be found in Tagaytay. My first experience with ziplines was great and I cannot wait to hop on this one.

Anyways, will post later. Happy Singles Awareness Day to my friends that are stateside!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Spanish Manila

On Monday, I accompanied my aunt to her office in Manila, within the vicinity of some notable sites in Manila. We got to the office and hopped online, uploaded pictures, sent messages and e-mails then headed towards Intramuros for a break. The first site was Manila Cathedral, first completed by the Spaniards in the 16th century. The cathedral despite being historic is still in function and there was a mass ongoing during our visit.

The next stop was the walled city of Intramuros, also built by the Spaniards in the 16th century. There were numerous horse-drawn carriages among the avenues, along with old tunnels, dungeons and churches. In addition, a golf course. Very tacky in my opinion considering there is World War II mass grave within a short vicinity.

Intramuros was gearing up to celebrate the National Hero, Jose Rizal's 150th birthday, and we stopped by his memorial shrine. I took some pictures inside but only with my Droid. I was unprepared and neglected to buy batteries for my camera, so half of the Intramuros visit, I was unarmed.

Quote at Rizal shrine

My favorite part of Intramuros was Fort Santiago. I thought it was imposing and I got to visit yet another World War II memorial depicting the atrocities of Imperial Japan.

Fort Santiago

Below is part of the memorial for the approximately 600 American and Filipino soldiers that were found in a mass grave- a dungeon. The description stated that many died of suffocation.

World War II memorial at Fort Santiago

Enjoyed touring Intramuros and the old Spanish section of Manila. Just hates the existence of that golf course in the middle of Intramuros.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Historic Bataan Province

During World War II, there were significant fighting in Bataan province between the Filipino-American forces versus Imperial Japan. You may have heard of the Bataan Death March and we visited sites that memorialized those who died.

The first site is  memorial that is visible kilometers away. The cross is around 92 meters high and one can ride the elevator to the top and enjoy the view and the light breeze.

This is the Filipino-Japanese friendship tower, presumably donated by Tokyo to amend their actions towards Filipino and American POWs during World War II. Sadly, this memorial is in need of maintenance and has been damaged by vandals, particularly on the bell inside.

There were also Bataan Death March kilometer markers along the road, but was too shy to ask my uncle to pull over. The next day, historic Manila!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Journey

Hello reader(s)! I am now in Pampanga province, Philippines after a long journey that started early Tuesday morning. I missed my connection from Houston to Honolulu due to thunderstorms in the Houston area. Our plane was forced to land in Baton Rouge and pick up more fuel and by the time we were able to land at George Bush International, my connecting flight to Honolulu was long gone. My consolation prize was a hotel discount which was still over $50 so I just decided to spend the next 24 hours at the Continental terminal at the airport.

That night was rough and slept maybe 3 hours while draped over my belongings in an effort to shield it away from potential thieves. I was finally on my way almost 22 hours later and the Hawaiian leg was incident-free. Landing in Hawaii was among the best experiences, as the islands looked gorgeous from the air. This was the last chance to send texts and make phone calls and I made several in the span of 30 minutes. 8 hours later, I arrived in Guam. It was dark and the islands were barely visible.

After a short layover, we were on our way again, a 3 hour and 15 minute flight to Manila. I was relieved, we were on schedule and it was the last leg of the journey. Then the pilot made an announcement: The aircraft experienced some technical difficulties and was required to turn back around and land in Guam. I was pissed the rest of the night and after an hour of waiting in the terminal, the staff was finally able to ready a different plane and journey onwards to Manila.

The 22 hours in Houston was miserable but if I was a more experienced traveler, I would not be so frustrated. I am taking today (Friday) off and will begin sight-seeing once I am rested.