Travel Diaries

Hi! I’m Your Wandering Girl

Let me reintroduce myself. This blog used to be called “The Places You Will Go”, yes — after that famous children’s book. It was a nice name, nostalgic and easy to recall…but definitely not unique. And definitely doesn’t give you an idea of who I am and why I am here.

Well, my first ever blog post for this site briefly explained why I am starting the blog. See it here. But here’s a summary: I am in love with going to different places and will not hesitate to find ways to go on a trip — in spite my meager budget. You see, in spite of my fondest dream of leaving everything and seeing the world on a whim, I don’t exactly have the money of a Hilton or a Vanderbilt. At best, I have a bank account where I keep all money for travel. I balance my bank account according to three items: every day expenses, emergency and savings fund and my travel fund.

This is the same reason why I decided to rename this blog, who has enjoyed your generosity for quite a while now. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on travel. I know that I have been too quiet for a long time–I can assure you, my fellow travel fiends, that each and every time was spent plotting various forms of escape from our mundane day-to-day life.

Still cheaply, and with less expenses as possible, of course. Show me the way to the free attraction and I will gladly try it out for you.

Hopefully, I will get to have more opportunities to travel or in Filipino street slang language, “Lakwatsa” this year. I have come to realize that I have spent much of my time plotting my trips on foreign countries, but less on local destinations. I wish to correct this oversight. You see, the Philippines have a lot of great places to offer. Though in all honesty, I can flat out tell you that the rest of Manila is a jungle. Please, get out of the capital and see the rest of our country if you can. It is marvelous, I promise you. Yes, not only the usual haunts like Boracay, Puerto Princesa or Cebu City. Discover unknown places like the nice beaches of Coron in Palawan, the Bantayan Island in Northern Cebu and the off the beaten track that is abundant in any of our 7,100 islands. You will find something you will truly enjoy, I assure you.

So, yes — nice meeting you again. Here’s wishing for more miles covered, for you and for me.

WANDERING GIRL

July 2007, on board a Sentosa Bus, Singapore

July 2007, on board a Sentosa Bus, Singapore

July 2008 -- With my baby brother and my baby sister, at Hong Kong Disneyland

July 2008 — With my baby brother and my baby sister, at Hong Kong Disneyland

January 2010. A belated honeymoon and first anniversary trip with the Hubby. At the steps of Hong Kong Museum of Modern Art, TST.

January 2010. A belated honeymoon and first anniversary trip with the Hubby. At the steps of Hong Kong Museum of Modern Art, TST.

July 2011... with the siblings and Hubby at the boardwalk going to Sentosa, Singapore

July 2011… with the siblings and Hubby at the boardwalk going to Sentosa, Singapore

March 2012 - In front of the Main Train Station. Busan, South Korea

March 2012 – In front of the Main Train Station. Busan, South Korea

March 2012 - Walking the winding path going to the N Seoul Tower. Mt. Namsan, Seoul, South Korea.

March 2012 – Walking the winding path going to the N Seoul Tower. Mt. Namsan, Seoul, South Korea.

October 2012 - Celebrating mum's birthday in Hong Kong

October 2012 – Celebrating mum’s birthday in Hong Kong

March 2013. Buying tickets for two to the Observation Deck, Taipei 101. Taipei, Taiwan

March 2013. Buying tickets for two to the Observation Deck, Taipei 101. Taipei, Taiwan

September 2013. Wandering through Gardens by the Bay and back in Singapore.

September 2013. Wandering through Gardens by the Bay and back in Singapore.

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Singapore, Traveling on a Budget

Challenge: Singapore on a shoe-string budget

credit belongs to owner

credit belongs to owner

I know – Singapore and shoe-string budget are two words that doesn’t usually appear next to each other.

But what can I do? I was given marching orders by the family to prepare a family trip to Singapore with just a budget of PHP10,000 per person, exclusive of plane tickets and lodging.

The plane tickets and lodging — my sister and I paid for. We were able to get round trip tickets to Singapore via JetStar for PHP5,000 per pax all inclusive (minus the usual airport fees 😦 ) For lodging, we were able to book a family room on a guesthouse located in Perak Road at the boundary of Little India and Bugis. The guesthouse, Footprints Hostel enjoys nice reviews at Trip Advisor and we were able to score a family room for SGD120 per night (PHP4,200 on a SGD1=PHP35 exchange rate) or roughly PHP700 per person per night. Our four day night stay came to less than PHP18,000 — a feat, considering that hotels in Singapore are not exactly known for low fees.

So, the PHP10,000 or roughly SGD285 roughly accounts for the per person budget, I have to make sure that my mom and dad’s first trip to the beautiful Red Dot will be worth it. Mum is celebrating her 59th birthday while we are in Singapore so I am already looking for simple yet enjoyable activities that will make my beloved Senior Citizens happy. Non-negotiables of course is the trip to Universal Studios and Sentosa, along with a visit to the Marina Bay Sands and the Merlion at Marina Bay. Other than that, I do not exactly plan on spending on attractions that my parents will not fully appreciate.

Let me share something with you, my parents are simple people. The mere fact that they were able to go to a foreign country (something they didn’t even thought to be wildly possible) is enough cause of happiness for them. This early, they already requested to see the Merlion, Sentosa and Universal Studios — those were the non-negotiables. My mum and dad are both kids at heart and would revel on seeings sights they used to see on TV will be conversation-fodder that would last weeks.

The first time we told them that we bought tickets for the whole family going to Singapore, they–especially my mum–were ecstatic. I don’t know if it’s right to share this with you, but the week after – they started saving money for it. My dad already has 80% of his personal budget in my safekeeping and my mum already filled two piggy banks with her savings. Last I heard, she even managed to top the personal budget and she kept on saving because she wanted to buy souvenirs for her friends.

Unlike our Hong Kong Family Trip last year where I was confident that we will be able to survive HK with a measly budget of about PHP8,000 per person, I am more wary with the Singapore trip. In order to limit the expenses to SGD 285 or SGD300 at most, I have already came up with the following ground rules:

1. We are not paying premium Singapore dollars for attractions that will easily bore the men in the family who all had short attention spans (i.e. dad, the hubby and the baby brother) – i.e. entrance to the Gardens by the Bay Conservation areas. We’d rather take pictures outside with the gigantic Supertrees in the background.

2. We will spend our budget on attractions that everyone will enjoy – For example, everyone will have fun swimming and trying out the water attractions of the Water Adventure Park but not everyone will enjoy Night Safari. This is actually a dilemma — between Night Safari and gallivanting around Sentosa, which is more enjoyable?

3. Spend money discovering the food. Let the parents discover hawker center and ice cream sandwiches!

4. Enjoy public transpo especially Singapore’s efficient MRT system.

5. Don’t be afraid to look for attractions or activities that are fun but cost less or are even FREE.

I will definitely let you know if I will be successful with this new challenge. But you know me, I thrive on making trips happen in spite impossibly restricting budgets. Wish me luck though, and feel free to drop me a note if you have suggestions!

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Singapore, Traveling on a Budget

Next destination: Singapore

photo not my property

photo not my property

We’re returning to our favorite fine (pun unintended) city in three months time to celebrate my mum’s big 5-9. Apparently, after celebrating her birthday in Hong Kong last year, our parents have grown a taste for travel. As much as it is expensive because my sister and I pay for our family travels, we have come to make it our goal to have our parents see as many countries as they can and as we can afford. I guess I have mentioned in my earlier posts about how both our parents grew up with really less in life and it is only now when they are older that they got to taste the little pleasures of life. My sister and I also vowed to spend as much as we can for them since we are aware that not everyone is blessed to still have their parents with them.

Sure, traveling with our oldies is not the easiest thing to do (they can be fussy sometimes) but seeing the joy in their faces (very apparent in HK last year) was worth every damn penny.

So, yep — I still owe a expenses breakdown of last March’s Taipei trip on this blog as well as more posts on that trip and yet I am already busy looking for a really good accommodation for the whole fam for “Operation: Mum’s SG Birthday.” After all, it is not exactly a secret that Singapore is expensive so I am racking my brains on where we should stay. We already have a few leads — a toss up on Bugis (where we stayed last 2011) or in Chinatown where our parents would enjoy the stalls and the tiny attractions here and there. If you have any suggestions, feel free to drop me a note!

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Asia, Traveling on a Budget

Hong Kong for less than PHP15,000? Let the challenge begin!

Will be leaving for Hong Kong on Thursday for our first ever family trip.
After careful planning, checking and re-checking of itinerary, I managed to whittle down the budget (per pax!) for just PHP7,000.00 (roughly USD169). The budget already includes entrance to Disneyland, The Peak, Ngong Ping 360, food for 4 days, and payment for transportation via the Octopus card.

If we are to include contribution per person for the guesthouse and the unfortunate Philippine Travel Tax and terminal fee, I think we can make it. Of course, this does not include the plane fare which was purchased four months in advance from Cebu Pacific for only PH3,500 (return) per person (inclusive of fuel surcharge,etc)!

The ingredients for a successful budget trip usually include:

AFFORDABLE AIRLINE TICKETS FROM BUDGET AIRLINES

a reliable airline with affordable rates
(picture not mine)

I always ride JetStar or Cebu Pacific wherever I go, maybe because I always travel using heavily discounted tickets. So far, I had good experiences on both airlines. JetStar has efficient but slightly snobbish airline stewardess while CebPac has one of the nicest flight crews around yet their planes are a bit delayed. In spite these observations, I will gladly travel with both airlines any opportunity I get. Honestly, it is through budget fares that I manage to see countries I used to only dream about when I was young. Before, air travel gave a certain vibe that it was only for the managed class, but thanks to the rise of budget airlines, even ordinary people like me get to see new places and experience new culture. The rise of the budget airlines, I must say, also gave birth to the seasoned budget traveler.

CLEAN, SAFE AND RELIABLE HOSTELS AND GUESTHOUSES

a clean and safe place to sleep – double room from City Econo Guesthouse
(picture from City Econo Guesthouse website)

I love staying in boutique hotels, hostels and guesthouses.

In Singapore, I had very fond memories of South East Asia Hotel located in Bugis. The room is clean and comfortable and the free breakfast is filling. The aunties and uncles manning the counter are friendly and not aloof (as mentioned by some in TripAdvisor). And most of all, the room is dirt cheap. Of course, the hotel is old and has seen better days, but it is well maintained as much as a family-owned establishment can muster.

In Seoul, Zaza Backpackers is a good place to stay, especially when you want something that is in the middle of the action (Myeongdong) but is strategically located away from the noise. Affordable, safe and clean, Zaza Backapackers is located in a good neighborhood not far from Namsan Tower.

For this HK-trip, I am booked rooms at City Econo Guesthouse, located in Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. The guesthouse earned rave reviews on Filipino travel sites and well-recommended by Pinoy budget travelers. One of its owners, Ms. Jenny, is lauded for her kindness and efficiency. In a place like HK where finding an affordable place to sleep in is like finding a needle in a haystack, guesthouses like City Econo is heaven-sent for budget travelers like me.

EFFICIENT PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM

The efficient Hong Kong MTR (photo not my property)

The best way to know the city is to memorize its public transportation system. This is how we survived in HK, Singapore and Seoul. Always get a saved transportation card where you can always top-up the value. Learn how to read signs and navigate your way around the labyrinth beneath the city streets. It’s fun and an experience in itself.

CHEAP EATS

cheap eats in HK (photo not my property)

“Dai pai dongs”, “hawker centers” and cheap restaurants — look for the places where locals converge. My brother, on his first trip to the Lion City last year, simply couldn’t get enough of the 2SGD set meal which he finished in one sitting. He loved the explosion of flavors and the fact that it didn’t burn holes in his pocket.

Lastly, I really think that you should bring along a good sense of humor and a certain knack for adventure. It also helps when your companions are not kill-joy or too high maintenance, who preferred five-star hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants.

I’ll give you a report once I get back if I am successful on this challenge. Will also upload my breakdown of expenses for the four-day trip.

Wish us luck!

..and oh, if you have tips on how I can stretch this budget (and the cheap places to eat in the TST-Nathan Road area), do drop me a note! Would love to try out your suggestions!

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Asia, Singapore, Travel Diaries

Taking the first steps towards a lifelong love of travel

I glanced furtively on the white paper labelled “Disembarkation Sheet” as the pretty yet uptight airline stewardess from JetStar handed two pieces for my sister and I. My sister, sensing my discomfort, said “You will have to fill that out. We will submit it once we enter Singapore immigration”. 

It was June 2007, I was also 27 years old and traveling out of the country for the first time. A few months before, my 24-year old sister scored super cheap tickets from Manila to Singapore, for about PHP6,000 each (that was considered cheap then) and asked me to join her. I was simply elated that I booked a ticket that same night. The same night, we also found a hostel through the internet but were skeptical with the address. Later on, we learned why we were iffy with the accommodations booked for us.

After carefully copying details from my newly minted passport (encased in a yellow, plastic Winnie the Pooh passport cover – don’t ask me why), I leaned on the cramped seat while glancing beyond the airline windows. I couldn’t see anything outside except for rows and rows of fluffy white clouds. I closed my eyes –the pilot just announced that we will be landing in a few minutes.

SINGAPORE! I couldn’t believe it. I have no idea what to expect–except that, based on my research–the country is gloriously clean and that it is a bit hot and humid just like the Philippines. Then it hit me, I was traveling out of the country for the first time, with ten thousand pesos in my pocket and a new suitcase which I had to check through the gate. Inside were clothes and shoes good enough for a two week stay.We were staying for just four days

breeze through immigration

2007 – I was still thin and had black hair. Just breezed through immigration

I breezed through Immigration and was given the 30-day stamp. I was simply elated and couldn’t believe that I was a thousand miles away from the family and the (then) boy friend. My sister and I took the MRT out of the airport and hopped on the cab at the Tanah Merah station for Farrer Park where we booked a room on a local boarding house. Inside the cab, I noticed that credit cards were being accepted for paying the cab. Immediately, I was beyond impressed.

cabs accept travelers cards

no need to worry about cash. these cabs accept cards

I remember that I kept saying to my sister, “Imagine they accept credit cards! And the cabs — the cabs were of the Mercedes Benz variety!” My sister was amused of how I managed to find something to say just about everything. For someone like me who never went anywhere but the familiar streets of Makati and the idyll of the various Philippine provinces I’ve been to, the cleanliness, the clockwork efficiency and the(then) newness of Singapore was simply too much.

We found the boarding house and was surprised that it was a dormitory housing college students. This was our first lesson learned when booking accommodations via the net. The place was a mess, with a smell that seemed to permeate the nose. Rooms open to reveal half-naked college boys eating noodles and playing on their PC. In the room assigned to us, the beds were thrown haphazardly, empty candy wrappers and soda bottles littering the floor. In one corner of the room, someone’s worn underwear was crumpled in a heap. My sister and I looked at each other and plotted redemption. There was no way we are staying in this house.

Redemption came in the form of K, one of my sister’s dearest friends who lived and worked in Singapore. One look on the chaos surrounding my sister and I — and she announced that we will be staying with her on her apartment in Tampines. We spent four days sharing the room with her and her two Filipina room mates.

lost in Singapore

Getting lost in Singapore, circa 2007

We managed to get the money we deposited on that God-forsaken dormitory, but we were also charged for one day’s stay, in spite the fact that they deceived us with the details of the accommodation. This incident made me OC with booking accommodations over the net, to the point of emailing contact persons repeatedly for confirmation, obsessively checking and rechecking room details and reviews over the net and my innate love of TripAdvisor.com.

love of travel

Unniechan, my travel angel — the one who encouraged my love of travel

Four days passed by like a blur. I did the usual touristy things: posed for pictures with the Merlion, had a trip to Sentosa to watch the Pink Dolphins and see the fishes at the Singapore Ocean Park (there was still no Universal Studios back then), prayed on the Fountain of Wealth for abundance, shopped like there’s no tomorrow (or for whatever my minuscule budget afforded me) and simply enjoyed the sights, sounds and taste of Singapore.

traveling young

we were so young

sentosa cable car

On our way to Sentosa onboard the cable car

It was my first time to ride a cable car, and to say I was scared was an understatement. But when the cabin started moving towards the island and I saw the ocean and the huge ships underneath us — the fear vanished. To this day, this is one of my fondest memories when I first traveled.

Singapore Zoo

Do I measure up?

Siloso Beach

Sitting in the famous Siloso Beach Sign

It was my first time to ride a cable car, and to say I was scared was an understatement. But when the cabin started moving towards the island and I saw the ocean and the huge ships underneath us — the fear vanished. To this day, this is one of my fondest memories when I first traveled.

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