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Hungry? Food treats to love in Hungary

May 2, 2012
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As the saying goes, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”

The same thoughts go for my travels as well. Sampling the local food is a surefire way to immerse into a new destination.

I’ve done a big share of that here in Brussels, sampling the Belgian culinary offers with dangerous consequences. 😉  But hey, it’s food, so who I am to say no?

My recent trip to Hungary had us going through the Budapest nightlife, getting the best out of the amazing ruin bars experience. But after every party, there is the usual appetite for some food.

Hungary is not really known for its culinary prowess but it’s not an excuse for a chow. Here are some of my favourites and in my opinion, the must-tries!

Langos

Lángos

This is the food to die for … and literally death looks imminent after finishing one langos. Why? Langos is made with deep-fried dough smothered with your choice of toppings. It’s like pizza but deep fried and gleaming with oil. Like our favourite Italian dish, it comes with various toppings like ham, cheese, garlic, yoghurt and cream but you can also order it without any toppings. The sour cream and cheese combination is the most popular.

Langos is best experienced after a long night out as it’s good for draining all the alcohol out of your body.

Pogacsa

Pagachel / Pogácsa

Moving on to healthier pastries, we have pogacsa. It’s a round pastry baked with cheese often mixed with the dough. The cheese makes it taste salty and sweet at the same time. It can also be baked with pork skin, cabbage and onions. It’s great for breakfast but can be consumed as a snack too.

Pogacsa is a popular and staple food in the country. They are so well-regarded that they even have festivals for it. And they have reasons for celebrating this sumptuous bread. Travellers in Hungarian stories are usually depicted carrying pogacsa when they go on their trip!

Retes

Hungarian sour cherry strudel

Retes is Hungarian’s answer to the German strudel (more like equivalent). It’s a pasty pie cooked with plums, strawberries, apples, cheese or chocolate as filling. It’s then topped with confectionery sugar.

One fun fact: Did you know that the round version of rétes was also known as “lie-in” rétes, because it was given to women who just had come from child birth. 😉

Kolbasz

Mangalica-Kolbasz

Kolbasz are better known the English-speaking world as “Hungarian smoked sausages”. They are often prepared with paprika, and eaten dried and in small pieces. Kolbasz is prepared depending on the region where it came from. Gyulai and Csabai are the two most famous ones. It’s my favourite food from the bunch – and has this special ingredient that makes you want to eat more (maybe it’s just me though).

Turo Rudi

Desire

Hungarians are so crazy for Turo Rudi’s that they even ran out of stock when we attempted to buy from one of their supermarkets (and it wasn’t even zombie apocalypse).

And what is there to go crazy for? Honestly, I don’t know.

Well, Turo Rudi is a chocolate candy filled with curd and can come in a variety of flavours. It literally translates to English “curd bar”. Doesn’t sound very appetizing though. But believe me this polka-dot packaged delight is a treat. 🙂

That’s it – I don’t think you’ll be rushing to Hungary anytime soon with this post. But with a good ruin bar nightlife, amazing sceneries and now good food, I don’t see any reason not to go! Bon appetit!

Images from helmsjan, 1yen, JuditK, robot-girl and Backpack foodie – under creative commons at the time of posting.

Have you sampled any of these Hungarian culinary treats? What are the other must try delicacies of Hungary? Share them below.

 

Travel Blog

Secrets to a travel-filled lifestyle while on a full-time job

January 27, 2012
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One question I often get asked is: How come I get to travel across the world and still get to keep a job?

There’s nothing special about me really. I am the same as most young people my age. I work full-time from Monday to Friday, pay my bills, do grocery shopping, study and sometimes have a bit of social life.

But I travel – and travel a lot.

After my trips,  I come back every Monday morning and continue my daily work routine.

My desk on my first day at work

I read travel blogs and I get inspired by people who have left their jobs and travelled the world. It’s an amazing feat and I want to do that as well someday. Often, there’s this voice saying that I take the same leap, but my practical mind always wins and says that it’s not yet time.

Why? There are many reasons and it’s possible that you may have the same hesitations.  I’m young and I have just started my career. And perhaps I’m too scared or practical to afford such a big leap. Besides, I enjoy what I do for work and as of now, I have no plans of leaving. I have debts to pay and I think I’m not yet financially stable to take such a leap.

So how can you  travel and still get to keep your work? 

First make a choice to actually WANT to travel.

 

They are right. Why not TRAVEL?

Every new year, my Facebook feeds contain resolutions from my friends and their desire to travel. Everyone seems to want to travel. But the drive fades out because of work, money or other reasons. And as the year ends, some would sigh and say “Oh, I will make  travel happen next year”.  

BREAK THE CYCLE! Plan ahead and make it happen.


Plan in advance when is the best time for you to take a break from work and ask your boss for a vacation leave. Merge it with public holidays  to save on your holiday counts.

Book a flight (even months in advance), buy a guidebook, research and even book hostels or search for a couchsurfing host. Do everything that will force you to travel. If you can, book trips with friends so you have people to plan a trip with. If you can’t find anyone to go with, go by yourself and make friends when you get abroad.

SAVE.  Don’t use lack of money as an excuse not to travel.


One of the excuses I often hear is that people could not travel because they don’t have the money. You don’t need to be rich to see the world.

Money is crucial in our lives but it should not be used as an excuse from achieving our dreams.

Control your spending. Do you need the newest iPhone? Think twice. Use these savings to plan a big trip. Or if you are really short on cash, travel small and visit a neighbouring country, island, state or city.

Arrange if you can ‘work virtually’.


Thanks to the conveniences of the Internet, virtual offices are possible.

I’ve worked ‘virtually’ for one and a half years in the Philippines. It was a positive experience for me; working away from an ‘office desk’ didn’t have any negative impact on my productivity and output level (I hope so 😉 ).

And working abroad means that you have the weekday evenings and the weekend to explore and travel.

Changing environments often encourages you to be motivated. Why sit in front of your boring desk if you can do work in the beaches of El Nido, for example. There is the downside of course that you have to work – but with a view like this, I don’t think you’ll regret it!

If you have to work with a view like this, then YES

Ask your boss if you can work for 1-2 weeks virtually, and often if they trust you enough, they would say yes. You can do almost everything  virtually – check and answer emails, make phone calls, attend meetings and even do presentations. 

Travel doesn’t need to take long –do it on weekends.


You don’t need to fly 12 hours or take a month-long holiday for it to be considered as ‘travel’. There’s no standard duration nor distance for a trip to be considered well, a trip. For me, the essence of travel is when you take the extra step in order to know and discover a destination regardless of the time spent nor the location.

I’m a fan of weekend travels and I’ve done it on several countries in my list.

There are times when I think that these days weren’t enough. It’s true –  but there’s no stopping you from coming back there again.

Travel does not dictate any location nor destination

You can go to a neighbouring city or a country across the border and still do what all other travellers are doing: exploring, ‘travelling local’ and getting drunk. 🙂

And finally, if you have an option: WORK ABROAD.

 

Find a job abroad that you like and apply. There are lots of opportunities available for people to work abroad. The salary may not pay well or the position may not be as prominent – but hey, at least you are in a new destination!

I’ve done most of my travels in the past four years while having a full-time job. I never stopped from actually having one. And if I add all the travels I’ve done in the past four years,  it will equate to almost one year of being on the road (yup, almost equivalent  to me travelling for one year around the world). For me, there are no differences whether you travel for one year or one weekend.  

But I still manage to earn a living, go forward with my career and be happy. There are no secrets really. Happy travels!

How do you balance work and travel? Do you have any other tips or advice to share? Feel free to comment below!

Travel Blog

Filipino Friday: Backpacking experiences in Bohol

October 28, 2011
Bohol

Bohol aside from being home to tarsiers and Chocolate Hills, is one of the most ecologically rich places in the Philippines. Travellers flock here  to experience its natural wonders. Most avail of group package tours when travelling, but for those seeking something different can look into “backpacking” for an alternative experience.

Loboc River view from the top

Backpacking and independent travelling usually doesn’t involve arranged tours, airport pick-ups, and tight itineraries. Free yourself from these and you’ll be in for a unique experience, a less-stressful vacation, and a way to travel cheap and sustainably.

For those who are clueless on how to begin, here are some suggested backpacking experiences to make your trip to Bohol more enjoyable:

Tarsier

* Photo from spamangr used under Creative Commons license

Visit Tarsier Sanctuary at Corella

 

At all cost, avoid the tarsiers along the town of Loboc. Many, if not all of them, are kept out of their natural habitat and instead made to fit onto small cages. Tarsiers easily suffers stress from continuous exposure to humans and are known to commit suicide in captivity.

If you want to view them in a more sustainable manner, head on to the Tarsier Foundation in the town of Corella. The sanctuary allows you to view the creatures in their natural habitat. Paying a visit helps in their conservation efforts too. The sanctuary can easily be reached via a Sikatuna-bound jeepney from Loboc.

One of the huts at Nuts Huts

Back to basics at Nuts Huts

Tuck within the jungles of Loboc, Nuts Huts offers accommodation alongside the Loboc river.  This no-frills (no airconditioning, hot water, TV and wifi) backpackers place are for those who are ready to leave the comforts of a hotel, and are ready to roughen it up in the jungle. It’s not for everyone but it’s a definite experience for those seeking something unique.

Getting there can be thrill on itself. From Tagbilaran, take a Loboc bound jeepney and ask to be dropped you to Sarimanok for a 15-minute ride to their place. For those looking for a cheaper alternative, take a minibus to Carmen and ask them to drop you at Nuts Huts (around an hour from Tagbilaran). From there, it’s a 750 meters walk and another 100 steps down to the reception and another 150 to get to the huts (getting to paradise isn’t easy).

But once there, you’ll be rewarded with great views of the jungle and the river. Plus, the Belgian owners can help you fix some activities to do around the area (hike, zipline or mountain bike). Standard room for two costs 700 pesos a night.

Chocolate Hills Bohol

Take public transport to the Chocolate Hills

In Bohol, a visit to the Chocolate Hills is a must. To get there, ditch the private vans and take public transport instead.

Public transport are cheap ways of going around. It also gives you a chance to interact with the locals. And for those adventurous enough, you can ride on top of the bus for a majestic view and a thrill from dodging powerlines and tree branches.

Buses to Carmen run every hour from Tagbilaran and takes 2 hours. From the bus stop, it’s another motorcycle ride away to the viewpoint. From there, you can also opt for a habal-habal tour around the hills itself.

Jerick & his friend, Dennis atop a bus in Bohol

About Filipino Friday: Every Friday, I’m going to showcase something unique about my home country , the Philippines. It can be a place, food, experience, custom or tradition that highlights what we our 7,107 islands can offer. I remember that on my travels, there are some people who are still unaware of where the Philippines  is or what the country has to offer. So I hope that through these posts – I can help bring awareness about the Philippines,  it’s beauty, hidden sites, quirkiness and diversity.

Are you a travel blogger? I’m inviting you to take part of Filipino Friday with me. All you need to do is post something about the Philippines every Friday. Contact me if you’re interested.

How To Guides

GUEST POST: A Roundup of the Best Travel Guidebooks for your Trip

September 21, 2011
Guidebooks

Considering not only my profession (as an English teacher), and my absolute love of reading (my personal goal each year is to read 100 books!), it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to discover that I have a small crush on travel guidebooks. 

While it may be true that the majority of information in travel guidebooks can be found on the Internet, I’m of the opinion that there’s not much comparison between the two options; and when it comes down to it, I vote for the guidebook as the final source of information. 

For the most part, they’re reasonably priced, easy to find, and you have a multitude of options for whatever destination you’re planning on visiting.  On top of this, there is something about the feel of a new book that is unbeatable (at least to literary nerds such as myself).

Guide Book

The only small problem that arises is when you step foot in your local bookstore, face the travel section, and find 6 books on your next location.  Oops.  Which one do you choose?  I’m pretty sure buying 6 guides for your trip isn’t the most logical decision, which is why I’ve put together a bit of a “review” of some of the major travel guides available.

Rick Steves

Rick Steves’ guidebooks focus on Europe, so they don’t have the largest market.  What they lack in worldwide reviews they make up for in accurate, easy to understand information.  When spending a few days in Rome last year his guidebook was invaluable to me (along with almost every other tourist I saw there).  The books contain a ton of maps (both regular maps and “hand drawn” ones), and the format is easy to follow.  Steves also focuses on helping you see things on your own by giving detailed self-tours.  There is no large push to use certain tour companies, which is fantastic.

Let’s Go

Is there anywhere in the world that Let’s Go doesn’t review?  Unlike Rick Steves, who has such a small market, Let’s Go travel guides cover everywhere from North, South and Central America to Europe to Asia to the Middle East.  The guides focus on budget travel that is still safe and enjoyable.  Each book is geared towards a large geographical location, and then broken up into smaller areas (think of a US state as the main focus, and then counties as a smaller division).  This really allows you to get an overview for the area and what to expect; they even include recent updates and what’s changed recently just in case this isn’t your first visit to that location.

Moon

Although they only cover the Americas and the Caribbean, Moon guides are another of my favorite (most recently used for our trip to Yosemite).  Like the Let’s Go books, they organize their book by looking at small sections of the overall location.  They’re honest though (because I don’t find that all travel guides are created equal), and integrate all of their information into an easy to read, concise format.  There’s maps and pictures, and details on some historical and pop-culture information aspects thrown in; which in the end makes you very, very excited for your upcoming trip.Guide books

Fodor’s

Fodor’s is probably the brand of travel guidebook that I use the most often, and for good reason.  They are one of the most popular companies out there, and they produce guidebooks for practically any destination you could dream up.  They’re insights are detailed and useful, they just tend to be a bit dry for me.  It often feels like reading a textbook, while other travel guides paint more of a story to me.  Depending on what you’re looking for, this may be the right choice for you-they’re both factual and well researched.

Frommer’s

To me, one of the best part of Frommer’s is the way they include sample itineraries, along with a section titled “Best Of”.  When you only have a limited amount of time in a location, these can both be fantastic resources to help with planning.  The guidebooks themselves remind me quite a bit of Fodor’s, and are geared toward a wide range of travel interests; anywhere from sitting on a beach to hiking to exploring a city.

 

* Photos from fotologic and jystewart and used under creative commons license

Do you find guidebooks useful for trips? Which guidebook gives out the best travel advice?

 

This is a guest post by Kayla Mundy.


Kayla Mundy is the founder of traveLove, a website created to chronicle her travels with those she loves (who make up her travel companions).  An avid traveler in her plentiful time off (one of the perks of being an English teacher), she dreams of traveling the entire world one trip at a time. Follow Kayla on twitter

Travel Blog

HOW TO : Get the best deals when booking flights

August 30, 2011
Airplane flight

One question I get often is how come I get to travel a lot. The answer is: Aside from being a passion, I travel cheap and take advantage of anything that I can save on. As I said, there are many ways to travel cheap and you don’t have to be rich to see the world.

One of my biggest savers is booking cheap  flights. I’m a sucker for it! Finding a cheap flight allows me to save money for other travel expenses & more rewarding experiences. Savings can go up to 80% from the normal flight cost if you booked at the right time.

The examples I’ll cite come from experiences in booking Philippines / Southeast Asia flights – but the advice goes for anyone keen on saving. Feel free to share your advice on the comments section.

Here’s my personal advice on how to get & book cheap flights:

Be on the know

 

Flying back to Europe -

The most important tip is to be alert for flight deals & promotions. Airlines run promotions and deals for flights often so check their websites regularly. Opt to subscribe to alerts & newsletters if they have one.

Also, I prefer to use social media particularly Twitter to get update on deals. Compared to newsletters, twitter allows you to get the information real-time.  Follow & “like” their pages. Here’s my list of twitter handles of Philippine & Southeast Asian budget airlines.

PERSONAL TIP:  Cebu Pacific often announce their promotion deals between 12-2 in the afternoon and 12-2am in the morning so make sure you check the site / twitter feeds that time.

PERSONAL TIP 2:  Some airlines adjust their fares online depending on what time you are accessing the site. For example, checking for flights during lunchtime can yield more expensive flights than checking let’s say at 3:00pm.

Ask yourself: What are you willing to sacrifice?

And often time & distance are the things you have to fore-go. Two things:

    • Flights very late at night or very early in the morning are often cheaper.
    • Flying from low-cost airports are also usually cheaper.

In the Philippines for example, Clark Airport is 2-3 hours away from the main NAIA airport in Manila and can add extra hours of travel & transportation. But flying in and out there can save you more than 50% on costs. If you don’t mind waking up early, sleeping on airports or travelling longer to save costs, then follow this advice – I’m sure that the savings you’ll make can pay-up for an hour massage!

Plan early

Tangier Airport

Flight are cheaper when booked months in advance. As the travel date goes closer, the prices go higher.  So if you can afford to book flights early, then go do it!

Fly on weekdays

Flying on weekends can be expensive, so avoid it if you can. Flights fares are the most expensive usually on Fridays and returning flights on Sunday nights or Monday mornings. So if you can afford, avoid these dates. Weekdays like Tuesdays and Wednesdays are generally cheaper.

Ask yourself (again): What do you REALLY need?

Flights work nowadays on a pay-as-you-want scheme, where you pay for “extra” for insurance, luggage, food etc.

Baggage - Puerto Princesa Airport

Do you really need a 20kg luggage allowance for a weekend trip?  Chances are you don’t.  Luggage usually costs 500pesos-1000 pesos  (10-20€ for a return flight), which can be 30-50% of your flight cost. And if you only need it to pack your third pair of shoes, then it’s time to reconsider what YOU NEED TO BRING.

My advice? Travel on carry-on – it’s cheaper and gives you no room to over-pack.

For purchasing insurance, it  depends and I go both ways on this. I usually don’t purchase insurance – but I see that it has its value. Though, if you’re flying on summer and on a 2 hour flight, then the flight insurance will serve you no purpose – so better scrap it. But if you’re flying on typhoon season using a small plane, then better think twice and snag that insurance. It’s not that expensive anyway.

Use common sense: Flights can’t be cheap forever

If you are trying to book flight a week before, chances are you won’t get in cheap. So don’t assume that you’ll get it cheap.

Flights can go only as cheap, so don’t expect to find a 500 pesos (10€) international flight often. Flight fares can only go as low – so if you manage to find a flight to Bangkok from Manila for 4,000 pesos – snag the deal. To enjoy, you have to spend somehow right?

Happy flying!!

What do you think about the tips? Do you have any other tips in mind? Suggest them below!

Travel Blog

My Seven Links: 25Travels So Far

July 31, 2011
My Seven Links- Brussels

Starting My 7 links post was difficult as I don’t have much material to begin with. It’s been only a few months since I started theblog and with only 13 posts to date, there’s not much material to work on.

I’m not new to blogging and I’ve been writing my thoughts since 2005. But I’ve had moved from one blog platform to another, hoping it will bring the writing sparks back and 25travels was my latest – and my blog solely for travel.  I’ve written a few travel posts in between for my family and friends to read.  But for the purpose of this exercise, I’ll try to keep it within my 25travels posts.

Thanks to Ren of So Not Lost for the nomination.  🙂

My most beautiful post
My 10 Favourite Places in Brussels, Belgium

Grand Place, Brussels

I originally wrote this post for the Matador Network. However, I sent it haphazardly then forgot to proofread and it was eventually rejected (that’s why bloggers, it’s key that you proofread). I’ve since rewritten this piece and decided to upload it here instead.

I lived in Brussels for two years and it goes without saying that I miss the city and my friends there a lot. Writing this post brought back memories  from my time there. Brussels became my second home, and writing about a place where a part of you remains needs some thought and lots of crafting, that’s why I consider this as my most beautiful post.  I’ve put much thought in order to reflect my feelings for the city and the experiences I’ve had there,  hoping that people who haven’t been to Brussels will have the same feeling as I had.

My most popular post
Final Four: finishing my 25travels goal

Sahara desert Morocco, 25travels

My most popular to date is my recent post on countries to visit for  my 25-country goal. I’ve gotten my best amount of page views and social media sharing from this entry. At the same time, comments and suggestions from travel bloggers had made it useful for my upcoming trips. Now, I definitely am excited to boost my travels again!  Their advice will definitely help and I’m excited to pack and get myself back on the road again.

My most controversial post
25-country travel: Why That Travel Goal?

Bullfight in Madrid, Spain

The almost empty comment box on this post might not say anything about being my most controversial, but I do get lots of questions and emails about my travel goal of visiting 25 countries before I turn 25. Mainly, words of encouragement and well-wishes for my future travels. But I do get an occasional response that I shouldn’t ‘rush’ travel and force myself to visit countries for the sake of finishing my goals this year.  I’ve also received a feedback that  I don’t need to ‘count’ the countries and in order to ‘travel’ I should go beyond staying a few days in one city.

I do agree to some extent that travel should go beyond just a city visit and I would love to do so if money and time permit.

We all have our travel styles and unfortunately, long term travel isn’t for me yet. Some people dictate that there’s only way of properly travelling which is to immerse yourself through long-term backpacking. But unfortunately, not everyone has that privilege and capacity to do so. I want to do it DEFINITELY, but I can’t at this stage. And despite only being in Spain or in Austria for a weekend – that experience had inspired me to look into the world with a different perspective.

By starting this blog, setting this goal and working towards starting my travels, I’m hoping to inspire other people so see other ways of travelling. In the end, we are all travellers. Whether you have a full-time job, still in university, or a person short of money and time, nothing is stopping you from travelling and seeing the world beyond the confines of our four-walled homes. In the end, we all enjoy and reap the benefits of travelling – having an open mind and understanding that there is a world beyond our small piece of lot.

My most helpful post
How to: Travel by public transport from Manila to Clark airport

 

Philippine passport

This post comes from a horrible experience of having to go to Clark Airport ( Manila’s budget airport) early in the morning.  A normal route that can be done with a  2-hour drive took me more than 5 hours by public transport (includes waiting time, missing buses and haggling for the ‘better option’). Bus schedules are unreliable so I had to wait for an hour before it left. Shuttles run when they are already full of passengers, which at 5 in the morning is virtually impossible. I’ve extracted this post from my own demise and translated my frustrations into a short and easy to follow guide for those venturing out in the same way.

I’ve shared this post with many friends and travellers who will be doing this impractical journey to the airport from Manila and have gotten great feedback.

A post whose success surprised me
Two sides of the Cu Chi tunnels tour

 

Tank in Cu Chi

I wasn’t expecting that this post will be my one of the most popular but if we based popularity on numbers, then this was it. It got a good number of page views and clicks from external sources. It even got re-tweeted by Melvin from traveldudes.  But I’m not really sure what made it popular in the first place.  It’s a post I can describe as candid, it’s merely a telling of a story about the irony of the Cu Chi daytrip tour starting with a visit to Cao Dai temple and end up with shooting rifles in Cu Chi.  I guess there’s love online for a combination of church and guns.

A post I feel didn’t get the attention it deserved
El Nido: Our 48 hours in paradise

 

Bacuit Bay in El Nido

El Nido is paradise and  is my favourite place in the entire Philippines. El Nido is how I pictured it, pristine and almost secluded white beaches alongside grey limestone cliffs. I have all praises as well for the town’s atmosphere, food and local people and I can’t wait to come back there soon. It’s the perfect place for those seeking an island retreat or vagabond beachbum lifestyle. But I think the post was shabbily written and somewhat didn’t capture my emotions towards the place.  That’s the reason why I think it didn’t get the attention it deserved.  My writing had also become rustic these days and through this blog, I can hopefully bring back my passion and attention to content. But don’t let this mediocre post stop you from visiting it, go and go now. 🙂

The post that I am  most proud of
23 best travel moments at 23 years old

Riding a zipline in Loboc, Bohol

I’m proud of this post simply because of the travel experiences I’ve encountered over the past year. Looking back, it’s a good summary of what a great year filled with new  places I’ve seen and people I’ve met.  The fact that I’ve seen Angkor Wat, rode a zipline and experienced a great World Cup finals (even if the Dutch lost) – is something that I’m proud of. The world is beautiful and I’m happy that I’ve got to experience a lot during the year. Hope to continue this crazy adventure this year and the next!

Here are my five nominations:

Ally from The Further, The Better

Neil from Backpacks and Bunkbeds

Mica from Senyorita

Jade & James from The World is Our Oyster

Tina  from Tightrope traveler

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Six best experiences in Saigon

July 22, 2011
Banner in Ho Chi Minh

I never thought that I would like Saigon. For me, there’s hardly anything to like about another urbanised city in Southeast Asia – bad traffic, dirty, noisy and difficult to go around to. I wanted to leave Ho Chi Minh before I would have gone in.  It’s not a city that you’ll easily appreciate and enjoy.

But in a way, Ho Chi Minh had suprised me. Despite the presence of heavy traffic, polluted surroundings and dirty streets, I can say that there were more appealing factors that made me appreciate and enjoy the city.  I think our 5-day stay there was enough for us to live in the city a bit, and slowly check-out what it has to offer.

For me, here are the things that made it extra special.  Here are my top six experiences:

Pho: Step 3

(photo from Yvonsita)

FOOD

The heart is closer to the stomach, and surely Saigon’s food offerings had captured our senses. Staying in Pham Ngu Lao, we have street foods available on almost every corner. The fried noodles is to die-for and my personal favourite. There’s also the staple Pho , chicken fried rice, and banh mi to name a few. We sat down on small stool, and they made it fresh right in front of us. And the good part is that it hardly hurts your pocket as they can come very cheap.
Ben Tanh market - Saigon

SHOPPING

Ho Chi Minh is also a shopper’s paradise. We particularly enjoyed going around the Ben Tanh market. Products range from clothes, bags, various linen, jewelry, souvenirs, dried fruits and coffee –  you name it and probably they have it. This is a hot-spot for tourist, so the first prices are higher than the normal, so bargain down to at least 50 per cent of the price. Simply walk away if they don’t agree with the price, and they’ll likely to approach you with a sensible offer. This is a very busy place, so pickpockets lurk the market, so be very extra careful.

Park in Saigon / Ho Chi Minh

GREEN AND HEALTHY LIVING

I like that despite the city’s urban lifestyle, there’s still a place to enjoy a greener and healthier lifestyle in HCMC. There are parks and green trees all around the city, the most convenient is the one near Pham Ngu Lao. There are also parks worth a visit like the ones close to the Reunification Palace and the Tan Dinh district. Food as well comes with various greens. Even KFC meals come with a side of cucumbers and tomato.
Saigon beer

COFFEE & BEERS

Vietnam is the place for coffee lovers, it’s cheap and as delicious as the one you get from Starbucks. Any restaurants usually have iced coffee which goes well with different kinds of pastries & banh mi. If you fancy brewing your own, head to Ben Tanh, get a pound of coffee and also the Vietnamese coffee maker. If coffee is not your thing, tea also scores some good points.

At night, enjoy a cheap Saigon beer (10,000 VND per bottle) in Bui Vien. It’s not really strong nor crisp as other beers, but for the amount you’ll pay for a bottle – this is an example of quantity being a better option than quality.
Motorcycle traffic in Saigon

MOTORCYCLE RIDES

Going around HCMC’s traffic is an experience itself,  and the best is through taking in a motos or motorcycle taxis. It’s a different kind of adrenaline rush once you strap into the motorcycle with the driver whisking you through the city’s busy streets. I won’t advise to drive a motorcycle yourself in the city as some experience is needed in order to manoeuvre around. For taking in a moto, bargain with the driver to around 30-40,000 VND.
Helicopter at War Remnants Museum - Saigon, Vietnam

CITY’S HISTORIC BACKGROUND

I enjoyed Ho Chi Minh as it offered many avenues offering access to the city’s rich yet tumultuous history. The city has two main sites – the War Remnants Museum & the Reunification Palace. It’s great starting place in order to understand where Vietnam had come from – though some of the facts they’re presenting are skewed towards a pro-communist/anti-American sentiment. Both the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum are close to the tourist circuit so you can arrange an afternoon to see both.

Have you been to Ho Chi Minh? Do you have any other experiences you want to add? Feel free to share them below!

Travel Blog

My 10 Favourite Places in Brussels, Belgium

July 11, 2011
Brussels - Grand Place

Brussels, much like the country where it sits in, can be small enough that you can cover many places in a single day.  It’s often overlooked as merely a crossroad for travelling between Amsterdam,London and Paris, but stay longer in Brussels and you”ll be in for a treat.

I was lucky to have lived here for two years – and with possibility of coming back for an extended stay soon. I must say that Brussels has a special place to me. 🙂

Here are my favourite places in the city:

Grand Place - Brussels

Grand Place

This Brussels attraction is a tourist hotspot and was voted as the most beautiful town square in Europe. Grand Place’s (or Groot Market’s) preserved Medieval architecture easily transports you to Brussels’ small town beginnings. Stand in the middle of the square and rotate 360 degrees to view the old guildhalls, the breadhouse and the towering Brussels City Hall. Try asking  locals to tell you the conversations of the statues on top of the Grand Place buildings and you’ll be in for a funny treat.

The restaurants in the square are pricier than the usual but if you don’t mind spending 1-2€ extra for a drink, sit and order a glass of biere blanche while you people-watch. Though, I best enjoy it by relaxing and sitting in the middle of the square with a supermarket- bought red wine (quality is still very good) and a platter of cheese.

Grand Place is also the city’s most happening place with the Brussels flower carpet  happening every other year in August and the Brussels Jazz Marathon every May.  But do visit in winter during  Plaisirs d’Hiver as the city hall becomes the façade of a stunning music and light show.

Gare Centrale - Brussels

Gare Centrale

I have a love-hate relationship with Gare Centrale. I hate it because it often stinks of garbage but love it because it serves as the gateway to everything in Belgium. With three hours or less of travel time from Brussels to anywhere in Belgium, get a Go Pass (10 train rides for 50€ for under 26/ 74€ for those over 26) for an easy daytrip to various Belgian towns.

Don’t just leave Brussels yet. Wander around the Gare Centrale and catch the street musicians along the main hall for cheap musical treat. And if you are not into classical music, the Brussels from Lady Gaga to the Beach Boys, which is quite relaxing especially after a long day at work.

Parc Cinquantenaire - Brussels

Parc du Cinquantenaire

On my first day in Brussels, my host took me for a five minute walk to this park and I was amazed that I live so close. And since then, Parc du Cinquantenaire, with its triumphal arch and stunning arcade, became part of my Brussels daily life. This is where I walk on my way to work in the morning, jog in the afternoon and go to read a book or chill-out with my friends on weekends.

Place Poalert - Brussels

Place Poelaert

Brussels doesn’t have a great cityline, however it is a treat to see the city’s Medieval and modern rooftops from Place Poalaert. Try spotting Brussels city hall or Brussels’ own Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. And if you have perfect 20/20 vision, let’s see if you can spot the Atomium.

In summer, it transforms as one of the locations for Apero Urbains, but don’t get too drunk as the Brussels’ Palais de Justice is just on your right (though, I wouldn’t count on getting imprisoned as it has been in “restoration” for a long time now).

Centro Cabraliego de Bruselas - Brussels

Centro Cabraliego de Bruselas

Just a few metres away from Place Poelaert, Centro Cabraliego de Bruselas, a Spanish tapas place, is a testament to how Brussels is a melting pot of cultures. Here, I can order a Belgian beer and Spanish tapas to a French-speaking bartender and listen to a Scottish guy with bagpipes. And I come with my American, English, French and Taiwanese friends to make our own mini United Nations.  But in spite of our different nationalities, we all agree that with its one-euro beers and cheap tapas, this place is worth a weekly visit.

Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels
(Photo from natsu)

Brussels’ Musical Instruments Museum

Upon entering the Musical Instruments Museum, they’ll give you a wireless headphone and pamphlet. Many people, including me, did ask: “What am I going to do with this?” From the headphones come the instruction: “go next to a displayed instrument, and the instrument tune will play automatically”.

The interactivity of Brussels’ MIM is entertaining and helped me appreciate the hundreds of musical instruments on show.

A friends” tip actually was to start the tour in the morning and finish the day with a drink from the atelier on top of the museum enjoying a stunning view of Brussels rooftops.

Maison Antoine
(Photo from magnusfranklin)

Friterie Chez Antoine

One lesson I learned from two years living in Brussels  is to never call fries “French”. This classic favourite didn’t originate from France but from Belgium.  Belgians love their frites and the best place to enjoy it is in Friterie Chez Antoine.

There are other places to get fries in Brussels, but this local place comes on top of my list. You may wait in line for 10 minutes before you get to order but the queues are there for a reason.

Once you ordered, your fries will come in a cornet and sauce. TIP: Go beyond the usual catsup or mayonnaise and order it with sauce andalouse or the spicy delights – sauce brasil and samurai.

Delirium taps
(Photo from Travlr)

Delirium

In one of Brussels’ small alleys, you can find Delirium.  Delirium holds the world-record for having the most number of beers served from a single establishment.  Ask for “Une bière s’il vous plait” and they’ll give you a two-inch thick beer menu.  Browse the pages to see its 2000 beer selection and take your pick from coconut flavoured beers to Homer Simpson’s favourite beer – Duff. If you’re still clueless,  ask the bartender  for their advice and you won’t be disappointed.

Le Corbeau - Brussels

Le Corbeau

By midnight, this small bar turns into a local club where the furniture becomes the dance floor.

Stand on one of the tables and chairs and dance until the morning. This place also offers international and French dance mix rarely found in other clubs in Brussels.  Specifically watch out when they play a dance mix of Louise Attaque – J”t”emmène au vent as everyone just goes crazy.

This is a place where local and young expats party on weekends  so better come before midnight and  reserve your dancefloor  table.

spare-ribs à volonté

Amadeo Restaurant and Rue Saint-Catherine

Spot the cow while walking along Rue Saint-Catherine and you’ll enter this quirky restaurant – Amadeo. The interior looks like a library and an American western saloon combined. Get rough and tough (and try to come with an empty stomach) to take full advantage of their affordable eat-all-you-can spare ribs.  Truly, the meat-lover in me wasn’t disappointed in Brussels.

After your first rib rack, raise your hand to receive your next one. Though don’t fill yourself with ribs, as the delicious baked potato and its unique sauce should also be sampled and enjoyed.

Try to beat my record of eating seven racks of ribs. Let me know once you get to do it!

Not much into meat? Sample Rue Saint-Catherine’s other restaurants. My advice: head on to Hong Kong delight for its delicious roasted duck, steamed vegetables and its huge dimsum selection.

Have you been to Brussels? What are your favourite places?

Education

23 Best Travel Moments at 23 years old

July 2, 2011
Riding atop of a bus in Bohol

I’ve recently turned 24 this week. And with this upcoming new year, I’ve decided to take a look back at the past year and relive the 23 best travel moments I had last year. Looking back, I’m really thankful for the great year I had and travel memories I’ve spent with old and new friends alike. In a year, I felt that I’ve experienced a lot of new things – and this post is a testament to it. Lots of things happened this year, including moving back from Belgium back to the Philippines, that significantly affected my travel and personal life.

On any case, I’m looking forward to start this new chapter of my life. I will definitely aim on continuing and finishing my travel goal. I hope for more moments like this, and definitely I’ll make sure that I’ll have the same or even a better year ahead!

  • World Cup Finals in Amsterdam

Celebrating the World Cup Finals in Amsterdam

  • Shopping at the Sunday Market in Lille, France

Shopping at the Sunday Market in Lille, France

  • Volunteering for Serve the City Brussels

Volunteering for Serve the City Brussels

  • Paying for the cheapest (0,20 EUR) and most expensive (22 EUR) for a bottle of beer

Belgian Beers

  • Seeing the Grand Place Lights in Brussels for the Belgian National Day

Grand Place Lights for Belgian National Day

  • Going home to the Philippines

Going home to the Philippines

  • Taking a Canoe Trip to Pagsanjan Falls

Taking a Canoe Trip to Pagsanjan Falls

  • Swimming on El Nido bay lagoons

Swimming on El Nido bay lagoons

  • Visiting the Puerto Princesa Underground River

Visiting the Puerto Princesa Underground River

  • Surfing for the first time in San Juan, La Union

Surfing in La Union

  • Accepting Edge Coaster & Skywalk challenge in Cebu City

Accepting the Edge Coaster & Skywalk challenge in Cebu City

  • Riding on top of the bus in Bohol

Riding on top of the bus in Bohol

  • Seeing the Chocolate Hills

Seeing the Chocolate Hills

  • ZipLine in Loboc, Bohol

  • Christmas in Manila

Christmas in Manila with my fami

  • Starting 25travels.com 🙂

Starting 25travels.com

  • Watching a friend take on the Burger Challenge in Singapore

Watching a friend take on the Burger Challenge in Singapore

  • Day drinking in Tanjong Beach in Singapore

Day drinking in Tanjong Beach in Singapore

  • Reaching the 86th floor of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia

Reaching the 86th floor of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia

  • Seeing & climbing the temples of Angkor

Seeing & climbing the temples of Angkor

  • Drinking buckets of redbull vodka and partying in Siem Reap

Drinking buckets of redbull vodka and partying in Siem Reap

  • Shooting a rifle in Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam

Shooting a rifle in Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam

  • Meeting old & new friends alike during my travels

23.Meeting old & new friends alike during my travels

Travel Blog

HOW TO: Travel by Public Transport from Manila to Clark Airport (Updated 2012)

June 19, 2011
Travel by Public Transport from Manila to Clark

After my recent “challenge” going to the Clark Airport (Diosdado Macapagal International Airport) for a 07:40am flight, I thought that it’s worth doing a “how-to”  guide for people who in future will be doing the same. Here’s a short guide on how to get to the airport in the early morning from Manila.

I’ve updated this post as of August 2012. Feel free to post new routes or advice on the comment box below.

Clark Airport (Diosdado Macapagal International Airport)

For starters, there are no direct Philtranco shuttle buses this early to Clark Airport. The earliest bus leaves at 07:00am. But if your flight is not early (10.00am onwards), your best bet is to take the direct shuttle from SM Megamall. This is more convenient and brings you directly in front of the departure gate.  The fee is 350 pesos one-way as of 2012.

UPDATE (as of August 2012): apparently there is a direct bus from Philtranco starting at 2.30am in Megamall / 2.00am in Pasay.  I haven’t confirmed this route so best to call the ticketing office – (+63) 02 851-5812.

But for an alternative route for early morning flights, your best bet is to take a bus from Manila to Dau Bus Terminal in Pampanga then another shuttle/private jeep to Clark Airport.

Here’s my experience and advice for those opting to ply this route:

LEG 1: BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY (01.30AM)

Wake up, have a coffee and a light snack. Make sure your tickets and passports are in your luggage.

LEG 2: YOUR PLACE TO CUBAO BUS STATION (02:30AM-03:00AM)  

Take a cab and ask them to drop you off in Cubao, Quezon City – at the Dagupan bus company, which is along the main road, EDSA. If you’re coming from far south like Pasay, Las Pinas and Muntinlupa, your best bet is to leave at 02:00am just in case of traffic caused by road construction or accidents. You can also check if there are buses from the Pasay bus terminal (+632 851-5420) running this early.

LEG 3: CUBAO BUS STATION TO DAU BUS STATION (03:00AM – 04:30AM)

There are several buses that ply the Cubao-Dau road but on my initial experience, the Dagupan bus company has buses leaving the earliest. Victory Liner also has a bus that goes to Dau but leaves Manila at 04:30am – expect to get into Dau by 06:00am if you take this bus.

Confirm at the ticket office what time the earliest bus to Dau Bus Terminal leaves as its possible that schedules can change. Based on my experience in 2010, the earliest was a non-airconditioned bus leaving at 03:15am.

Tickets for the bus to go to Dau Bus Terminal is at, by the time of publishing, at 98 pesos. Expect to pay a bit more for an airconditioned bus.

Travel time is around 1-1.5 hours.

Dagupan Bus Co. Inc. 232

Ask the bus conductor to drop you at the Dau Bus Terminal. All buses stop here from NLE (North Luzon Expressway) so for sure you won’t miss it. You can grab breakfast at  Jollibee if you’re hungry. 🙂

LEG 4: DAU BUS TERMINAL TO CLARK AIRPORT (05:00am -06:00am)

There are two main options you can take to go to Clark airport from Dau:

A. Itinerary: Shuttle Jeepneys in Dau directly to the airport

There are shuttle jeepneys (coloured green & white) that ply the Dau – Clark Airport route. Fare costs 100 pesos per person and ONLY leaves when there are 5 passengers on board.

Expect to wait for the shuttle to arrive as they are as rare  at this time. Plus if there’s a shuttle available, there are hardly any passengers to fill out the 5 passenger quota. You can pay for the entire shuttle ride for 500 pesos or divide the amount if you are already 2-4 on shuttle. The shuttle goes directly to the airport.

My experience: The shuttle arrived at 05:30am and I was waiting until 06:15am for other passengers to come, and I eventually left as no one came and I’ll miss my check-in time. So I took the other option – Option 2.

B. Itinerary: Dau Bus Terminal -Clark Main Gate – Clark Airport

From the Dau Terminal, walk for 100 meters to the main road where you can take a jeepney going to Clark Main Gate. From Jollibee, turn left passing through the road where the shuttle vans are parked.  Then turn right on the corner until you get into the highway where you’ll need to cross the road. There’s a map to the jeepney stop inside Jolibee or just ask the people around to give you directions to the stop for jeepneys going to Clark Main Gate.

After walking, take a jeepney going to Clark Main Gate. They have signs on the dashboard window either saying Clark Main Gate / SM Clark. Fare should be 8 pesos and you’ll get to Clark Main Gate in 5-10 minutes.

Alternatively, you can get a tricycle from Dau Bus terminal to bring you to Clark Main Gate – and expect to pay 50-80 pesos.

Once you get into Clark main gate, ask the jeepney drivers for jeepneys that goes to the clark airport. In most cases, they’ll offer you to get on a special jeepney ride for 250 pesos and that will bring you directly to the departure area of the airport. Travel time is 15 minutes.

Alternatively, they said that it’s possible to take a jeepney and pay 10 pesos, and then walk for 10 minutes to the airport. I have yet to find any information on this but I will update this blog if that information comes in.

UPDATE (August 2012): Thanks to my readers – apparently, this jeep exist and can be taken from the same terminal. The jeep route is yet to be confirmed. 🙂

As for me, I would advise to go for Option 2 to save roughly 280 pesos on fare, but if you get lucky – the shuttle bus won’t be that bad.

Anyway, I manage to get into the airport after almost 4 hours of travel time. An exhausting challenge and spent more or less around 500 pesos from the journey from Quezon City to Clark.

Useful numbers to call:

Airport

DMIA (Clark Airport authority) – +63 (0) 45 599.2888 loc.119

Airlines

Air Asia – +63 (0) 2 588.9999 (call centre)
Cebu Pacific – +63 (0) 2 702 0888 (call centre)
Sea Air – +63 (0) 2 849.0100 (call centre)
Tiger Airways – +63 (0) 2 884.1524 (call centre)

Bus Services

Philtranco – +63  (0)2 851 – 5420 // 851 – 5812 // 851 – 8077 // 851 – 8079
Victory Liner
Partas

Have you tried flying from Clark Airport? What was your experience? Any tips you want to share?

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