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:


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.


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.


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 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!

Baguio City, Philippines

A laid-back Baguio Adventure

Baguio, a city located in the Cordillera Administrative Regio (CAR) in Northern Philippines, was labeled as the “Summer Capital of the Philippines.” Maybe it’s because of the cool-weather climate, usually playing between 17-10 degrees celcius during the summer season. The temperature can be attributed to the fact that Baguio City is located 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) above sea-level and is considered Luzon’s tropical pine forests ecoregion conducive to the growth of mossy plants and orchids.

Baguio is a go-to destination of many Filipinos even before the whole cheap-airfare fads began or the ubiquitous “Summer at Bora” became a by-word among Filipinos. Incidentally, I hate it when people call it “Bora”. Geesh, it’s Bo-ra-cay — 3 syllables, one word. As if calling the island “Bora” will make you ten thousand times cooler (and the Aklanons hate it either when people call the island “Bora”). But let’s save the rant for another post.

Usually, fond summer memories among generations of Filipinos are made in Baguio. Whether it’s the pony rides, the trip to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) grounds and eyeing cute cadets or the strawberry and ukay-ukay (flea market) shopping near Burnham Park.

For our family, Baguio has become very synonymous to the Queen (my younger sister) who finished her bachelor studies at the University of the Philippines Baguio a decade ago. That time, we spent a lot of summers and Christmas vacation going up the mountains to spend time with the sister. Now, after ten years, she came back to continue her communications career. She now lives and works in Benguet (a good 45 minutes away from Baguio City).

I decided to spend my last birthday in Baguio, taking the opportunity to get away from work. Since we have been to the city countless of times before, we decided to take our own sweet time and just go to the places we want to go, and have no set itinerary in mind.

If you’re family is like mine — adventurous but a very loud and complaining bunch, up for anything except anything that will cost them too much and easily gets bored with the usual scenery — why don’t you try to adapt our itinerary when we were at the Summer Capital last May? This itinerary applies to those who have been to Baguio at least once and have done their share of doing the usual “touristy” stuff.

1. Always drop by Cafe by the Ruins – to appreciate artworks from Baguio and Cordillera-based artists and enjoy the freshly baked herbed bread!

Freshly baked herbed Basil bread with herb cheese spread/dip, PHP80 per order

The cafe is located at Shuntug Road and can easily be found. Just ask the locals or even the friendly cab drivers and they’d be glad to bring you there. The name Cafe by the Ruins is because the Café was built by the ruins of the gazebo of the 1st American-Governor of Benguet AND the Café is built AROUND the ruined walls of the house of Phelps Whitmarsh, the late American Governor of Benguet. The walls were ruined during World War II, and the remaining walls (with bullet marks and all) was beautifully preserved and incorporated in the place, complimenting the various ornamental plants and the artistically designed interior of the cafe itself.

world war 2 ruins

The remaining walls of the original structure…now part of the cafe interiors

For my birthday lunch, we ordered their Special Kare Kare, Baguio Bagnet and Cheese Lumpia Straws, plus six orders of rice. We haven’t eaten a decent meal after leaving Manila and we were famished!

cheese lumpia

Cheese Lumpia Straw, PHP120 per order


Vegetarian Kare Kare

2. Discover the art of Tam-Awan Village – is located in Pinsao Proper and is quite a long taxi ride from the city proper. The village contains original native houses transported from their original location in Ifugao. You can also find the so-called Garden in the Sky on top of the carved mountain side (it’s a long and slippery trek but the view up in worth it). Tam-awan is also a venue for artists’ exhibits and cultural shows. Entrance to Tam-awan Village is PHP50 for adults and PHP20 for children.


“I think we’re alone now” – lovers in Tam-awan Village

If you have senior citizens within your group, it might be a bit tricky going up the Garden in the Sky. For folks with really weak legs, I suggest you skip going up and just enjoy the sights offered at ground level or on the lower part of Tam-awan, though it really depends — my dad is 62 years old while my mom is 58, both managed to climb. Going down is another matter all together due the slippery slope. My mom slipped, but it’s all good since she didn’t hurt herself and we managed to have a video of her slipping and hugging a tree. It was funny. Point is, ask the oldies if they’re comfortable going up.

3. Spend time at Burnham Park just chilling out and taking pictures – you don’t have to do everything just because you’re at Burnham Park. When we were there, we spent time sitting on the benches eating various Baguio delicacies and street food (strawberry taho, anyone?). We also took photos and just chatted. You might get tempted to do the time and tested “boat rowing” which is almost synonymous with staying at the Park. You can rent one of the boats (with their animal-shaped Paper Mache heads) for roughly PHP60 for 30 minutes. Tried this when I was younger and it’s a fun activity with friends. Or better yet, ask your crush or girlfriend/boyfriend to ride the boat with you and have your mini “MTV” moment while rowing in the waters of Burnham Park.

Burnham Park

Spending an idyllic afternoon…rowing…(Boats for Rent, Burnham Park)

Instead of going the usual route of restaurants and fast foods, why not try the rows and rows of canteens and food houses inside the park? We did, and it was a pleasurable dining experience. We spent about a PHP 1,000 for a mid-noon meal for a group of six and we had more than enough to fuel us for the trip going to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA).

4. Play soldier and remember our nation’s heroes at the place where they were educated and molded, The Philippine Military Academy (PMA) – Entrance to the PMA, the country’s premier military institution, is free but you have to register at the gate. Also, the PMA does not allow its visitors to enter the campus in slippers or sleeveless tops (for women). They follow a strict decorum in terms of the attire and the behavior of its guests. As the training ground for future soldiers and military officers of the country, its visitors are expected to follow the ground rules.


Welcome to the Philippine Military Academy

I mentioned that this blog is for a “laid-back Baguio adventure” but a trip inside the PMA is a test of endurance because you will have to walk or hike (if you don’t have a private vehicle). This is especially tricky when the sun is shining its brightest. Despite this, I assure you that it’s worth it. Upon entering, you will see many statues like that of the young Filipino general and hero, Gregorio del Pilar as well as the PMA Cadet’s hat which is located in the middle of the road. Worth checking out is the Monument for the Fallen Alumni which contains the names of PMA graduates who went ahead of their “mistahs.”

The best place inside the campus is the Relic’s Point, containing tanks, humvees and canyons that will make any war buff salivate (like the Queen), nearby you will find the Korean War Memorial Monument.

Relics Point Philippine Military Academy

My little brother, acting like he was 10 years old, playing on top of one of the tanks at Relic’s Point, inside the Philippine Military Academy (PMA)

Fallen Alumni

A touching tribute to the Fallen Alumni

Fallen Alumni Monument

Saying a short prayer to the Fallen Alumni

The Philippine Military Academy is located at Fort del Pilar, along Loakan Road. Learn more about the PMA here.

Of course, there’s a lot of things that you can do in Baguio, like visit The Mines View Park, The Mansion, the Lourdes Grotto, hear mass at the Baguio Cathedral, among many others. The above activities are the things we did during my birthday celebration last May. For a more comprehensive list of Baguio attractions, you may go here.

Lastly, I will tell you a secret.

It’s about this awesome Chinese restaurant along Session Avenue, near the Baguio Cathedral and located on the second floor of an old building.

vintage baby chair

A vintage toddler’s chair

Eating at Mandarin Chinese Restaurant

I love the Wong Kar Wai-ness of the picture

Mandarin Chinese Restaurant

empty table at Mandarin Chinese Restaurant, Session Road, Baguio

Mandarin Chinese Restaurant is one of Baguio’s oldest restos serving top-notch, quality Chinese food at affordable prices. The first time we went here, two years ago to be exact, all five of us had no idea what to expect as my brother lead us into the second floor of a really old building. Inside is a chinese restaurant that seemed stuck in the 1950s with its old decor and vintage furniture. The menu was a no-nonsense list of some of our favorite Chinese favorites while the servers looked like they’ve been with the restaurant for the last 30 years.

But if you will go past the old decor and the feeling that you are stuck in an old Wong Kar Wai film, you will notice how the old server (he is also the one who served us when we went back last May) is kind, efficient and very helpful. The food is served warm and fresh. The vegetables were very crisp, the viand tasty and filling.

Inside Mandarin Chinese Restaurant

I didn’t have any food shots because we were very famished when we had our dinner that the food didn’t stand a chance as soon as it was placed in front of us. For a group of six, we paid roughly PHP1,400.00 for a set meal.

* All information indicated in this blog is correct during the time it was written. All photographs are the property of LM Suzon, otherwise, due credit is given to source.