My 2019

It’s the last day of the year and I’m writing this at my wooden desk at my guesthouse in Bangkok. I don’t want to bore you with a rundown of all that has happened this year. Let me just write about what was significant to me.

1. My first trip to Europe.

After Turkey and Azerbaijan last year, it was bound to be Europe next. Thanks to a conference grant, I made it to Spain and Portugal! Even better, my eldest sister and an aunt (who often come with me) joined me! It was an awesome trip that I wish I could have taken longer. My favorite part? Getting to try all the Spanish food I have been having at home— callos, paella, cuchinillo, jamon, and many more.

It was also interesting connecting to my Spanish heritage.

“You’re a Filipino? You speak Spanish?”

My sister said that with a Schengen Visa already, it worked be much easier to apply for another one in the future. Yehey!!

2. Not leaving on Christmas Day.

I used to fly out as soon as Christmas break begins which means either on the 21st or the 22nd. However, I have been staying home for past several years, flying out instead on the 25th. Last year, I had to sneak out of the house to get to the airport at 3am so none of our guests would know that I was leaving. Fortunately, the karaoke kept them busy, unaware that I had slipped out.

This year was even more radically different. I actually stayed after Christmas Day, flying out only on the 29th. What’s with the change? Well, after the European trip plus all the other mini trips, I figured, the Christmas trip was gonna be short and sweet this year in an umcomplicated place (Bangkok) I knew like the back of my hand.

In Bangkok, I skipped the modern city and booked my accomodations at Banglamphu instead so I can be near the river and take the boat. I also got to see the river at night for the first time ever after so many trips to this city.

3. A paid trip to Shanghai.

Thank you, Shanghai Conservatory of Music for taking care of my plane ticket and hotel so I can go to the workshop. Yup! After more than 10 years, I got to see Shanghai and eat at Yang’s Dumplings again!

Three things that made 2019 different for me. Happy New Year! Happy New Travels!

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The Museum of Siam is unlike any other museum in Bangkok. It manages to hold its own alongside tourist greats such as the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.

1. It’s unique!

How many museums in the world are devoted solely to the people’s identity? The Museum of Siam is all about “Thai-ness” and as the galleries show, it’s a lively discussion that everyone, even non-Thai can engage in.

2. The galleries are awesomely cool!

Nothing boring or old-fashioned here. Everything is presented in a hip and modern way and it’s not just scanning QR codes on your mobile phones. Wanna learn about Thai cuisine? Put one of the displayed plates on a scanner on the table and you get to see the ingredients being virtually loaded.

Everything here is interactive.

3. Everything you’ve wondered about is all here!

Want to know why boat noodles are called such and why they are always served in small bowls?

Just flip these plates and see the answers.

How about those small figures in Thai shrines?

There’s an entire gallery on Thai beliefs explained briefly.

These boxes contain artefacts used in certain practices. Feel free to get these, put them on the table, and explore.

4. Play pretend!

Take a seat in one of these wooden desks and pretend you’re a Thai student in a classroom.

You can also dress-up in some Thai clothes and have a photo taken.

5. The gift shop is awesome!

I enjoy museum gift shops as they often have made-for-them items. The Museum Siam’s is of no exception. There are many cute items and they’re not that expensive. Check-out the microfiber cleaning cloths and the hip t-shirts.

Getting There

The BTR Sanam Chan station is on the museum lawns. If staying riverside, get off at Tha Chang or Tha Tien (from Wat Arun) and walk.

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Loving IconSiam

The only time I ever go to a mall is when I’m in another country as it gives me a sense of people’s tastes, needs, and desires. The same reason I like checking-out convenience stores (hello 7-11s of the world!). Bangkok truly does super malls well. From Siam to Sukhumvit, these huge commercial centres offer a glimpse of Thai consumerist lifestyle with a little culture thrown in. Having frequented Siam Paragon and Pier21 for the past few years, I was excited to visit IconSiam. Since, I was staying at Banglamphu, the mall was just a boat ride away.My primary reason in going to IconSiam was to check-out the area called Sook Siam which promised everything Thai you could hope for from food to crafts. It did not disappoint.The area is vast and crammed with every imagineable Thai treat you read about in travel books and blogs. The street-food set-up meant you could graze from stall to stall. Being a holiday, the place was understandably crammed. Fortunately, I snagged a spot in one of the wooden benches scattered around so I can have my crispy pork (150 baht) in peace. One section was laid out like a floating market with vendors in traditional hats.I could have spent the entire day just trying everything. You could eat here everyday and get to try all the Thai street food to your tummy’s content. The prices are surprisingly low, just a few baht higher than stalls out on the streets.Some of Thailand’s best restaurants also have spots here for some sit-down meals.Getting ThereThere are free shuttle boats from the following piers: Ratchawongse, Si Phraya, and Saphan Taksin. The latter has the most number of people waiting to get on the boat as it is a BTS station. When I went mid-morning, there was a long line. Boats, however, are frequent. I only waited about 15 mins. If taking the shuttle at Si Phraya, do take note that the boat docks at the pier about a few meters away from the one used by the Chaophraya Express boats.Getting AwayJust line-up to go back to any of the 3 piers mentioned above. The Chaophraya Express boat (Golden Flag) and the Chaophraya Tourist boat also docks here. You can get a ticket at the booth near the dock.

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Have Line, Will Eat: Enjoying Shanghai’s Treats

Who doesn’t like Chinese food? For most, it’s probably the first foreign cuisine one gets to try the very first time thanks to centuries of migration and the hundreds of Chinatowns all over the world. China is a culinary destination in itself. Set aside the stranger parts of the cuisine (but what culinary culture doesn’t have a strange side?) and you’re in for a truly tasty treat. On this second trip to Shanghai, I made it a point to revisit some of my favorites plus discover new ones. Top of mind was Yang’s Dumplings. The popular dumpling shop is now all over the city with stalls even at malls. The steamed dumplings are still meaty and juicy and the bottom perfectly toasted. I could have it everyday. Their 6 piece sampler pack which included the fish and the crab versions let’s you try the different fillings. The latter is especially flavorful.Like Yang’s, Nanxiang Steamed Bun has also expanded outside crowded Yu Yuan Gardens. At the 3rd floor of Shanghai First Food Hall, there’s no need to line-up. I ate twice and both times, I had the pork dumplings and noodles with dried shrimps. Perfect combo!Tip: Shanghai First Food Hall at the Nanjing Pedestrian Street has both Yang’s and Nanxiang on the same floor. Yang’s is at the food court while Nanxiang has its own place.

Tried this large crab dumpling at Lu Bo Lang at Yuyuan. They have a stall outside the resto so no need to dine inside. Unlike xiaolongbao, this one is all soup which you drink with a straw. Fresh off the bamboo steamer, the broth was scalding.Shin De Chao is a popular resto at the corner of my hotel at the Nanjing Pedestrian Street. The noodle soup with pork and pickled vegetables was filling but not worth its price.Much better was the noodles with spicy pork at the Shanghai Noodle House also at the 3rd floor of the Shanghai First Food Hall. The serving was huge and the broth flavorful. One of my discoveries in this trip was the food court at the mall by the Qibao Metro. There was a huge food court with a stall that had a long queue of people getting viands placed on bamboo steamers. The servings were huge and judging by the lines, probably affordable and good too.Just a few meters away was a restaurant where I had a combo rice topping of Hainanese chicken, barbecued pork, and suckling pig which were all very good, albeit quite expensive at 50 yuan. The crispiness of the suckling pig was so worth it, though.Another food court discovery is at the mall by the South Shaanxi Metro. The pork belly in a flaky pastry-like bun was delicious! Lines are everywhere where there is good food. This traditional sweets shop at the Nanjing Pedestrain Street near the corner of Chunshenjiang Hotel always has a crowd.

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Qibao Ancient Town

Not really ancient as everything seems to be a reconstruction of the old water town. Nevertheless, Qibao, the nearest river town to Shanghai, still made for a nice morning wandering. Upon exiting the subway, I was surprised with the enormous modern mall on the opposite side of the street. But like many ancient streets or towns in Chinese-speaking countries, Qibao is tucked somewhere amidst all the concrete. Indeed, after 10 minutes of following my google map, I espied the entrance and joined the crowds cramming the narrow streets.The river looked rural enough making me forget that about 500m away was the huge mall.I mostly made my way around eating and eating and eating. Qibao was small in sights but definitely big on food.

Beancurd skins with peanuts and a light savory sauce.

I don’t know what this is but it looks kinda scary.

All kinds of meat from pig trotters to pork leg and chicken parts.

Getting ThereFrom the Nanjing East Rd station, I took Line 2 to Jing’an Temple. Transferred to Line 7 for Zhaojiabang Rd then another transfer to Line 9 for Qibao station. From Exit 1 took a left turn, crosed the street, turned right until the end, then left. The entrance is on the right side.The entire subway ride took about an hour.FeesNo entrance fees! The town is entirely free to enter. You will need to pay to get into some small museums, though.TipCome hungry! Time your visit with the puppet show at 1pm.

Categories: China

Hi Shanghai!

So it seems it’s Re-visit China Year this year. After my Macau trip last July with a sidetrip to Hong Kong, it’s Shanghai this time. My first and only trip here was way back in 2010 when 3 of my sisters and I went to experience the World Expo. I really enjoyed that one especially since I arrived ahead of everyone else and went to Suzhou and Hanjou for a few days.I’m all alone this time and it was a conference on sound archiving at the venerable Shanghai Conservatory of Music that brought me here. Oh yes, they also paid for my airfare and the hotel during the course of the conference. Like all conferences, I arrived for a few days ahead for a little wandering around.I haven’t had much of a sleep since my China Eastern flight was at 4:55 this morning (pleasant flight by the way) and after finally making it to my hotel, it was almost 12 noon and I was hankering for some dimsum. I just dropped off my luggage and went to the Shanghai Food Hall along the Nanjing Pedestrian Street which I passed by going to the hotel. Got 4 pcs of pan-fried dumplings at Yang’s Dumplings at the 3rd floor foodcourt and wished I had gotten 8. It was soooo good!Still hungry, I went to what looked like a promising noodle restaurant on the same floor and ordered a noodle soup with spicy pork and a fried pork rib. It was cheap and very satisfying.Headed to the Shanghai Museum for some Chinese art and jostled my way with the tour groups to see some ancient ceramics and bronzes. I was expecting to see some rain drums among the bronze artefacts on display but there were none, unfortunately. At the top floor was the Chinese National Minorities Gallery that had impressive displays of traditional clothing and acessories. The museum wasn’t very big but at least it was for free.Spent the rest of the afternoon looking for a jacket at H&M at the pedestrian street then had dinner at Shen Da Cheng where I had a huge bowl of noodle soup with pork and pickled vegetables.

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Calauit Weekend

I’m in Coron town as I write this; at the nice Acacia Garden Inn on a quiet road parallel the noisy highway. It’s been 15 years since my last and only trip here and I barely recognize the place. The two nights I spent at Calauit with the team facilitating workshops with the Tagbanua were wonderful. I never ever did any research in Palawan so I quickly grabbed the opportunity to join the team. I never had a better field site with so much food. Never was a fan of seafood but the fish was so fresh and I never had local octopus before.

It was an experience hearing samples of tablay, a traditional Tagbanua song and the Cuyunon carol, “El SeƱor Tagbalay” which I only ever heard through recordings. I got all these data via an impromptu “Tagbanua Got Talent” contest.

There are still so much to learn from the locals and they promised to bring some music instruments next time.

After our delicious lunch 8f crabs, octopus, and lomi, we set-off for the other side. We took a bigger boat this time which managed to fit all of us plus our stuff back to the pier on the other side. It was still high tide thus we managed to dock at the concrete pier which had much better steps. Another 2 hour bus ride and we’re back in Coron town.

I will miss the water and the beautiful sunrise that greets me each time I get up.

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Beautiful Calauit

I arrived at the small rickety pier at Quezon, a small town at one end of Busuanga. It was a little past 3pm and the tide had gone out exposing the tangled roots of mangroves and the sand.

I was with a team of 4 people from the university, our contact from one of the NGOs based in Coron town, and a few Tagbanua from San Isidro who were joining a worskhop we were facilitating. They had all met us at the airport from where we took the 2-hour van ride to this little pier after lunch at the eatery just outside the Arrivals. I slept most of the way, oblivious to all the bumps and the curves. From across the pier, I could see the island of Calauit. Nope, not the part of the island made (in)famous by the crazy dream of a dictator to establish an African safari in the tropics. We were headed to the other side where gentle dugongs swam and feasted on sea grass.

The most challenging part of the trip was getting down the bamboo ladder with rungs that were so spaced far apart.

Because the water was so low, the boats had to be pushed by two men from the pier to deeper water. We probably could have walked all the way to the other side. A few pushes on the shallow sea bed with his long bamboo pole and the boat had enough depth to start its engines. It took a while before the engine sputtered to life. One of the boats had already gone ahead and we were in the middle of the calm sea. What if we drifted out to the open? But the engine roared to life and we were on our way.

We docked at the small pier and headed to the Dugong Research Center, a 2-storey wood and thatch house where we were to stay for the next couple of nights. Never mind the very basic amenities, I was thrilled to be sleeping with the sound of the sea.

There was nothing much to do for the rest of the day so three of us decided to take a walk around the village guided by Bornok, a Tagbanua from San Isidro who has been to Calauit a couple of times.

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Back in Jogya

Jogyakarta, Indonesia’s center of Javanese culture looks remarkably different from when I first came here more than 10 years ago. It’s much busier now and Malioboro Street is lined with a few malls and some swanky hotels like the Ibis. Nevertheless, it still retains its provincial feel with people having picnics on the sidewalk on a Saturday night and loads of bakso food carts. I arrived in this city late afternoon last Thursday after an epic 15 hour bus ride that started at 1am in Jakarta airport. It was a loong journey that included 2 toilet stops, a breakfast and late lunch stop and a tour of Borobodur.

With me are a few colleagues and a busload of student performers for the Southeast Asia Music Education Exchange (SEAMEX) at the Yogyakarta National Museum (which isn’t a museum at all but an events venue). The road trip wasn’t boring though as it was just like taking a tour of the Indonesian countryside with rice paddies and little kampung. Of course, the stop at Borobodur was the aaah moment of the day.

The magnificent 9thc temple was still a sight to behold. Even the students enjoyed themselves immensely.

Fortunately, there weren’t many people when we arrived as it was close to noon time.

It took another 2 hours to Jogyakarta where we were finally dropped at our hotel

The past few days have been spent between the SEAMEX events and walking around busy Malioboro which was bursting at its seams Saturday night.Bought some toy gamelan instruments at super crowded Hamza Batik which has a good collection of all the stuff you’ll ever want to purchase for souvenirs. For large-sized people like me, they have a rack of batik shirts that are besar enough.

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Eating in Macau

As I discovered during my time in Macau, there’s more than your usual Chinese food. The cuisine is varied and for people like me whose taste buds do most of the traveling, there are lots to discover.

Porkchop in a bun

While in Portugal, I never got to try those hefty sandwhiches filled with fried fillets of fish. I was always too full with the main meals and sweets to have room for any snacking. Apparently, these sandwiches made their way to the Macau but instead of fish, it had pork chop (which I think made it even better). Locally called zhu pa pao, a thick slice of fried chop is placed in a soft bun and they’re found everywhere. The internet recommended Sei Kee in Taipa.

The long lines were justified. The meat was thick and tasty and the bun crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Sei Kee is also famous for its clay-brewed coffee which is really good.

Porkchop with Tomato Sauce

Our go to place for something quick, cheap, and uncomplicated was this eatery along the main road that led to Senado Square. There was an English menu and the portions were hefty. I had this boneless pork chop with tomato sauce on rice. It tasted quirky but good nevertheless.

Dimsum

What’s a trip to a Chinese city without some good dimsum?

Though there are many nice restaurants with good dimsum, they can cost quite a bit. The ones above were at 25-38 pataca. Cheaper are the ones in a large eatery we stumbled on one morning. Dimsum was just at 15 pataca. The staff are glad to open the bamboo steamers so you can point out what you want.

Rice and Noodles

There’s more to fried rice than yang chow. Lei Hong Kei’s version was meaty and had none of the oiliness that one normally gets in Manila’s Chinese restos.

We also had the rice with roasted pork and poached egg.

There’s also fried rice with dried scallops which I had at a nice resto near our hotel. Sorry, I forgot to take a picture.

Roast Pork

One night, I was hankering for some good old roast pork and we stumbled on this small joint. It was cheap and good.

But the best one was at Lei Hong Kei. The pork was tender and had the right saltiness. This restaurant is one of the few that still serves old Cantonese cuisine. Judging by the number of families at the large round tables, it’s internet reputation seems justified. Indeed, the yang chow and the sweet and sour pork hit all the right points.

Sesame Soup

While having soup for dessert might sound strange, it is not so in Asian cuisine. I’m particularly fond of black sesame soup with its smoky flavor. Best eaten hot. Had this bowl at Tim Heong Yuen just across Lei Hong Kei.

While it can be quite initimidating to go in one of the many eateries with no English signs, throwing your cares away and just trying your luck in ordering can be deeply satistifying.

We simply chose any place we fancied, went in, and hoped for an English menu. Oftentimes, someone would notice us peering inside and would beckon us to come in. We were never disappointed. Service was always friendly and in the absence of any English menu, we simply pointed to pictures or to the dimsum on display. Smiles and hand gestures go a long long way.

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