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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Our Group's Travel Rules 101-6. We Look Out For Each Other

Or, How To Make Sure We're Still Talking To Each Other At the End of the Trip - 6

Part of travelling together successfully as/with a group is looking out for each other.  True, we have informally assumed roles in the course of our travel adventures: Nancy and Tony look out for promo fares and book them for us, Millet checks out locations, hotels and van rentals. On the day of the trip, Beth brings sandwiches or snacks for everyone (which we all begin eating as soon as we arrive in the pre-departure area!).

One time we arrived at our hostel in Hongkong to discover that the room assigned to Tony was just a little bigger than a broom closet; immediately, Beth and Boy whisked him off to their bigger room.  

Looking out for each other means packing only what you can carry, although the husbands in the group sometimes gladly carry stuff for their wives ;-)  

Looking out for each other extends to sharing chores among the group members. For example, Tony and Javy are the official photographers by virtue of their fancy cameras and thingies.

Javy and Mats try to catch the waves in Batanes

Tony shoots the hanging coffins in Sagada

However, we make sure they get in the picture sometimes, or we take pictures of them, too, so that they have something to show the folks back home.

Viewing Mt. Kalawitan in the Cordilleras

Snatching a few zzzs in Pandan Island, Palawan

Sometimes we even let them face the camera.

Looking for tree spirits in Sagada

Trying to pole dance on a boat in Honda Bay

On one trip to KL, Tony discovered that the best way to take a shot of Boy and Beth with the Petronas Towers in the background was by sprawling at an angle on the pavement. Of course somebody had to support him...

...and support him some more.

That's right, we look out for one another. 

"A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles." - Tim Cahill

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Batanes Diary 7. Eating Our Way Around Batanes

Do not expect gourmet-anything in Batanes. No fancy frappes and smoothies either. If you're a coffee connoisseur, bring your own beans because chances are, "cappuccino" in 3-in-1 sachets are the best you can find in Basco. Curb your burger and chip sign of the golden arches there, not even Jollibee or Minute Burger. 

What Batanes has is plenty of seafood -dried and fresh, vegetables-dried and fresh, organic, home-grown or wild.

Like these wild mountain ferns that we asked the staff of a small canteen to cook for us the way they'd cook it in their homes - they boiled some meaty pork bones and added these ferns just before serving.  Yum.

There is not much choice of foodstuff around Batanes. The locals make do with what is in the market everyday, or what they have in store, so the rule is, what you see is what you get. Most of the basics like pork, chicken and vegetables come from the mainland (Manila or Tuguegarao). 

A lot of fish is dried and stored for the rainy season. We saw this man in his front yard preparing the day's catch of dibang (flying fish) for drying.

We saw fish drying from clothes hangers..

..from wires strung between houses

..and even from street signs!

Other types of seafood are plentiful, although these days, the prime ones are reserved for tourists, like this huge rock lobster accompanied by smaller slipper and rock lobsters.

The Ivatans like turmeric, and they slice and dry them on the streets...

..then pound them into powder which they add to rice to make the elegantly-hued Ivatan rice

The freshest ingredients are cooked very simply. Here are some of the dishes we had:

Mountain snails cooked in light coconut milk and wild ferns - this was really yummy!

Uvud balls. Our guide told us these are made with  ground pork mixed with the root portion of banana plants. They are cooked in a slightly salty broth. 

A whole parrot fish steamed with soysauce and ginger

Coconut crab, a Batanes delicacy which we later found out is already on the endangered list! Sad. And no one seems to be in charge of controlling the catching of these. 

Beautiful large onion shoots and flowers which were stir-fried - this was one of our favorites!

 Here's what a  typical food store in Basco looks like

No hypermarts here

But they offer to cook the goat meat for you!


Three beautiful words sum up typical Batanes food - fresh, organic and healthy!

"Make voyages. Attempt them. There's nothing else." - Tennessee Williams

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Our Group's Travel Rules 101 - 5. Leave Your Comfort Zone (But Bring Along Your Creature Comforts)

Or, How To Make Sure We're Still Talking To Each Other At the End of the Trip - 5

We travel to get away from it all. Well, not quite. Travel always takes us away from our comfort zone no matter how luxurious our hotel/resort accommodations may be. It may be the Four Seasons, but it just isn't home. A little unsettling may occur along the way. If we're in a tiny hostel, or in a remote island, the unsettling may be major.

Some people embrace new situations with wild abandon, immersing themselves in the environment as if they had lived there in their past life, while some are able to sleep in a hotel room only by their third night there. 

Our group believes that part of the thrill and learning that occurs whenever we travel is brought about by this new-ness, the change, and the difference from our accustomed lifestyle, and how we cope with it. Not that we've waxed philosophical about it; we just know better than to leave home without some creature comforts. 

All of us are creatures of habit in some way, so there's certainly nothing wrong with bringing along a few creature comforts. If you want your coffee as soon as you wake up at 6 and the hotel does not start serving until 7am, then you'd be a lot happier if you bring along a handy electric water heater and sachets of instant coffee, like Mats does. 

Or, if you insist on eating your breakfast eggs with tomato catsup and nothing but, just tuck a foil pack of catsup in your bag, as Nancy does. Trust us, so many places in the Philippines stock banana catsup only.

If you're like Millet who likes to read in bed before sleeping, bring along a small reading light (the type that you clip on to a book or e-reader) that can also act as a flashlight. Not all hotel rooms have reading lamps and side tables. 

Some people, like Tony, want an extra pillow, and this may be hard to come by in budget hotels, so the best thing to do is to bring along a small pillow or neck pillow. It works for the head, back, butt, legs and..oh yes, the neck.

Scared of cooties in hotel towels? Get one of those microfiber bath towels that sell for P100 each at SM; they're very light but absorbent.

Scared of cooties in hotel sheets? Or roughing it up and not sure if there's privacy in the beach/forest/tent? Bring along a malong/sarong so you can cover up. 

Photo from

Not sure if the hostel/dorm has hot water in the showers? Bring along a portable water heater and ask the hotel for a pail and dipper. 

Bring all chargers for phone, camera, tablet, and such. Check beforehand not just the voltage output (110 or220 volts) in use in your destination, but also the type of electrical outlets used. Some Asian countries, for example, use a three-hole outlet, so you will need to bring a 3-pronged outlet adaptor like this for your electricals:

All this stuff is lightweight and don't make a dent on our 7-kilo carry-on baggage allowance, but they certainly pack a punch in terms of making for happier trips. 

We have another secret stash of creature comforts. After a day of "feeling-like-20" trekking and exploring, nothing soothes "so-feeling-like-55"  tired muscles like a  rubdown using any of our group's preferred "perfume of the night" (all kinds of liniments and salves). Take your pick!

"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone". - Unknown