Monday, April 28, 2014

Sagada Diary 1. Getting There

Sagada. For a long time, it seemed like a far-off, unreachable destination. It used to be a 12-hour dusty ride on a rickety bus over the spines of mountains, solid rock on your left and a sheer 80-foot drop to your left. But not anymore these days; travel to sagada just got a whole lot easier. There are two options - to go from Manila, or from Baguio. We chose the Baguio route. You may check other websites to find out ways of getting there. As for us, we rented a van from Baguio, and the trip took a little over six hours, including rest and meal stops. 

We left Baguio at 6:00 am, had a quick breakfast at a fastfood in La Trinidad, and were soon on our way. Sleepyheads, be warned...if you so much as blink, you'll miss a lot of amazing scenery. Very soon, we were surrounded by vegetable gardens. No, not your ordinary vegetable gardens - they looked like this

Sometimes the fog rolled in and covered the mountains

We saw calla lilies growing by the roadside, along the edges of the farms, and just about everywhere - some planted in farms that supply Manila's florists, some just growing wild. Of course we were not able to resist them.


The vegetable farmers use chicken dung as fertilizer, so we could smell it everywhere.  Some sights along the way:

Farmers loading cabbage onto a truck

"Etag" (salt pork) drying in the sun

Vegetable vendors jostle for commercial space

Oh, those glorious mountains!

Pit stops for cofee, rest ...

..snacks, and restrooms

At one small town, we had to knock on the door of the tiny police station to ask if we could use their restroom. The two cops on duty graciously let us in.

How would it feel to live in one of the houses nestled among the vegetable terraces?

A quick picture at the highest point of the Philippine Highway System (7,400 feet above sea level)

A few waterfalls here and there

A river below us

Disturbing a "resting" potato plot

A few more turns and we were there! We're not sure which was more refreshing - the fact that we had arrived, or the promise of San Miguel. Well, both actually! 

"Oh the places we'll go..." - Dr. Seuss

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Our Group's Travel Rules 101-8. Put Down That Camera...for a while!

Or, How To Make Sure We're Still Talking To Each Other At the End of the Trip - 8

Sagada, Oct. 2012

Well, yes, of course everyone wants to take pictures! After all, in some places, they're the only things we're allowed to take. We take photos to help us remember, to preserve the moment, let us show family and friends the things and places we've seen.  

By the hanging coffins, Sagada

We take photos to show others where we've been, what we ate, what we saw, where we stayed....or, as Anna's King would say.."etcetera, etcetera!"  We take pictures of ourselves having fun, or just being there. 

By the entrance of Sumaguing Caves, Sagada

How many times have we come face to face with a centuries-old church, 

or a postcard-pretty river scene, or a waterfall gushing out of a rock by the highway

or a simple but beautifully-plated breakfast

and the first thing that comes to our minds is, "Facebook!"

But, picture this: you're on a small boat in the middle of Lake Sebu. It's just you and the lake, because you can't see anything else because of the fog surrounding you. Everyone on the boat  reaches for his/her camera, busy clicking away for facebook. In five seconds, the fog lifts, and you only notice it because the reflection of the sun on the water hurts your eyes. And you realize you missed the experience of being on a boat on a lake totally shrouded by thick fog. You were there, but you missed it. And worse, all you can see on your pictures is something like this 

(Photo from,_California.jpg)

Trust us, we're talking from experience and we learned from that. 

By all means, take pictures, lot of pictures!  But don't just take pictures of the locals;  talk to them. 

Vegetable vendor along Halsema Highway

Don't just "shoot" the food ....savor it, ask how it's made, how it's grown. 

Pancit Luglug, Bangkerohan Public Market, Davao City

Shoot the scenery, the windows, the beach, the mountain...but also stay long enough to just keep still and savor the moment....savor the view,  "swim" in the experience of being there. No, drown in it! 

so that there are as many pictures in your heart as there are in your camera. 

"Travelling - it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." - Ibn Batutta 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Our Group's Travel Rules 101-7. Now, About Baggage.....

Or, How To Make Sure We're Still Talking To Each Other At the End of the Trip - 7

We all know that most promo/budget fares include no check-in baggage  allowance, and excess baggage fees are .....excessive. Passengers are usually allowed 7 kilos as carry on baggage, although smaller planes such as those that fly to Caticlan (Boracay) allow only 5 kilos. At first we balked at this, and thought it was impossible to pack for a 4-night trip with just 7 kilos. But we did it, and have been doing it for years, so we thought we'd share some tips with you.

Good for 5 nights, 2 people

First, get a lightweight carry-on trolley that weighs 1.5 kilos or less. We each got a cute, China-made one for only P450.00, and the bags served us for many trips. Our only complaint is that the wheels made such a racket that we could hear CLACK-CLACK-CLACK in our heads long after we had disembarked from the plane. Like a last song syndrome, except that this was all percussion. After three years of frequent use, they're still working fine except for a few frays in the fabric.

The P450.00 trolley bags

Sure, you could always buy baggage allowance - the rates are reasonable especially if you buy way ahead of your flight. However, you may stretch the 7-kilo carry on allowance a bit more by bringing along a backpack in addition to the trolley. No, not the one that looks like you're going on a 2-month trek to the Himalayas. Just your regular backpack (which sometimes can also carry 7 more kilos!)/  Now, the airline staff are not consistent about this...sometimes they weigh all handcarried items, sometimes they let you get away with it. Of course it would help if you could walk without keeling over backwards from all that weight. 

Different airlines have different weight restrictions, but even if your carry-on weighs under 7 kilos, some airlines would still insist that you check it in if it exceeds the allowed luggage dimensions. Generally, it should not exceed  56 cm. x 36 cm. x 23 cm. all around, but for smaller planes, the dimensions may be smaller. This is because some overhead stowage bins are really narrow, as in Pal Express' Bombardier planes. It pays to check with your airline and your flight before you start packing. 

Image from USA Today in the Sky

Next, pack clothes that are made of lightweight material. They're not just light, they're usually quick-drying too, so it's a plus if you intend to do a little laundry while on tour. Also, don't bring whole bottles of shampoo and conditioner and other essentials; bring sachets or travel sizes. Or you may want to wait and see if your hotel provides them, and then buy whatever else you need at your destination. 

And lastly, check out which things you can share (no, not toothbrushes...not towels either!). Agree among yourselves who should bring the hairdryer (you don't need one hairdryer EACH, do you?), the tripod (unless you're on a photo safari!), phone chargers, portable water heaters, etc. so you save on space and weight. 

Now, if you really need to sneak in a few more kilos, you could probably try wearing cargo pants...

Image from could stuff hand towels and T-shirts in those pockets ;-) .  And if you wear those pants with this vest..

Image from

..then you'd get away with 10 more kilos! There's no guarantee you'll be able to walk from the pre-departure area to the plane, though, much less sit on the plane! But you could try.

"Let your memory be your travel bag." - Alexander Solzhenitsyn

For more information on baggage allowance, check the websites:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Our Favorite Budget Hotel in KL

Once again, location and convenience are the key criteria that make Lodge Paradize Hotel our favorite budget hotel in Kuala Lumpur. If you're taking the bus from the KL airport or from Singapore, the bus will let everyone off at KL Sentral. From there, the monorail station is a few meters away. Take the monorail all the way to the Raja Chulan station, and when you get down and out of the station, Lodge Paradize Hotel will be right across the road. The other landmark is the all-white Hotel Istana on the other side of the road.

Photo from Merdeka Online

You may also take the free (yes, free!) purple Go KL bus - it stops about 100 meters from the hotel.

Photo from Malaysia Public Transport

Lodge Paradize has an open, old colonial-style lay-out that makes the place airy and bright. Sure, the place could use some sprucing up, and the pool was under repair last time we were there, and there was construction that has been going on for a long time, but it had the basics we were looking for - clean, safe, accessible and reasonable. The hotel may look a bit rundown from the outside, but hey, it's sitting on what's probably the most expensive piece of real estate in KL, and there is always somebody cleaning up!

The rooms are basic - airconditioned, with large toilet/shower rooms, and plenty of space for hanging clothes in the bedroom and shower room. 

Yes, they add extra beds upon extra charge. 

Complimentary bottles of water and standard toiletries are provided. There is free internet wifi but we found the signal weak except in the reception area. 

A separate 2-storey building houses the budget rooms - no refs and TVs here, but the rooms and showers are spacious.

Photo from the Lodge Paradize website

The last time we were there, we paid the equivalent of P5,000. for 3 nights for one budget room, with free buffet breakfast for two persons. One may choose a typical Malaysian breakfast of rice and several dishes, or congee with various condiments, or a simple continental breakfast, or everything on offer.  

Did we say the location was excellent? The hotel is situated in an area that is commonly called KL's "Golden Triangle", meaning, the high-end shopping/dining/commercial area of KL. Bukit Bintang, home to Malaysia's classiest malls, is a short walk away. 

There is a covered elevated walkway that leads to KLCC (KL City Centre),where the Petronas Towers are located. Right outside the hotel are restaurants, coffee shops and 24-hour convenience stores. 

If you're standing across the street from the hotel, you see the top of the KL Tower to your left...

and the Petronas towers to the right.

That's us just across the hotel

"Travelling - it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." - Ibn Batutta (from

Check out Lodge Paradize here:

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Our Favorite Budget Home in Singapore

Lodging in Singapore can be expensive if you don't know where to look. Tony found this hostel on the 'net, and was intrigued by its quaint name - 5footway inn. It's a chain of hostel-type inns across Singapore and now, even Macau. We had never stayed in a hostel before, so we were thrilled, curious and a bit scared before we went. 

We chose the Chinatown branch, or Chinatown Project, as the owners call it, and it was a wise decision as it was only a few steps away from the Chinatown -Pagoda St. exit of the MTR. Very, very convenient!

The inn starts on the second floor, and the stairs from the street level may be hard to find because it's behind souvenir stalls, but all the store clerks know where it is. Great location, alright - it's in the heart of Singapore's Chinese heritage area, and naturally, the shopping and dining area, too. 

Don't you just love the view from our bedroom window?

But location is not the only attraction of 5footwayinn. It has a lot more to offer. 

There were seven of us, and we chose a room with 8 beds. We opted to pay for the extra bed because we didn't want a stranger sharing our room. True, the front desk is small, but they have nice decorative touches like that green furry wall, the lighted counter and the old-fashioned telephone at the end of the counter...

The corridors were narrow, but who cares to lounge in a corridor, anyway?

What it lacks in space, it makes up for in cleanliness and neatness. All rooms are fully airconditioned. Our room had four sets of bunk beds. 

Each bed was equipped with privacy curtains, very clean sheets and towels, a reading light and two power outlets (behind Nancy).  It was our first time to stay in bunk beds! Girls on the lower bunks, guys on top. And yes, the guys negotiated those ladders really well!

And while our room did not have an en suite toilet and bath, there were several toilets and shower rooms down the hall, all very clean.

What we loved best was the breakfast area on the open terrace.

The room rate includes an unlimited continental breakfast... bread, cereal, jam, peanut butter, fruit, milk, etc.

There are standard kitchen utensils and equipment, a coffee machine, microwave oven, water heater, toasters and a fridge. You need to wash your used plates and utensils. 

The terrace even features a small vertical garden.

On the third floor, there's a cozy lounge with tables, laptops and free wifi, and comfy beanbag chairs and floor pillows, and interesting paintings and objets d'art. 

Can you see we how much we loved this place?

Lazing at the lounge after a long day of touring

The hotel is very close to heaven ;-) ..foodie heaven, that is...

..and more heaven...

Since our first stay, 5footwayinn has opened other branches all over Singapore and Macau. The Bugis Project even has single rooms,and rooms with en suite bathrooms. 

Room rate was a little over P700/person/day (SG$23 or so), with free breakfast and all these conveniences.  For accessibility, cleanliness, convenience, value for money and friendliness of hotel staff this hotel tops our list.

"It's better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times." - Asian Proverb according to

For inquiries and booking, you may check out their website and/or FB page:

Disclaimer: This is not a paid ad for 5footwayinn...we paid our own way, and they don't even know we're writing about them, but we've recommended the place to many friends and they've enjoyed their stay there.