London wears the crown

It’s supposed to be my last blog for the month for vacation spots.

As the saying goes, too many places, too little time.

The epilogue goes to London.  Charming with history etched in every architecture.  Pompous and beguiling.  This is a city of ideas and imagination.  And residence to the monarchy in England.  Like Toronto, this is a city that is deeply multicultural, yet unequivocally snotty at the same time.  Prim, proper and proud.  London, like its queen, definitely wears the crown to my blog on vacation stories.

Arriving on Qatar Airways.  Among the middle eastern airlines, I have always loved Qatar Airways. Great ambience, luxury seats and amenity kits, pyjamas onboard the biz flights, and the best food in the skies. After all, who serves Laduree dessert 33,000 feet in the air? Pampering takes a new level with this airline. And their lounge in DOHA provides excellent menu and amenities (shower and business centre) as well. The flights on biz class are not too expensive as well (flying from Manila-London-Manila on Qatar was $1000 cheaper than flying on Philippine Airlines). The only downside with the middle eastern airlines is that while they are not too expensive, few have alliance partners, making mileage accumulation difficult and sadly, useless.

This vacation to London was interrupted in between with a weekend to Edinburgh, Scotland.  Our first hotel in London was the Haymarket Hotel at 1 Suffolk Street on Piccadilly.  It is located right in front (walking distance) of the Philippine Embassy. Breakfast (at Brumus) at this hotel was outrightly awesome (and according to the waiter there, the Philippine ambassador frequently has breakfast here). As part of a Firmdale chain of hotels, the Haymarket was a show stopper by any standard! The gym, the pool, the room, the fragrance, the bed, the service, the breakfast!

We made it by foot to many of the touristy spots that gorgeous afternoon.  And the following day took the hop on/hop off bus to gallivant around London. London Bridge, The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, St James Park, Harrod’s (with a dedicated shrine to Princess Diana and Dodi) and a pitstop for meals at the Laduree patisserie in Harrods. On foot you can explore Nottinghill and 10 Downy street or stroll along Central London, Piccadilly Square or the British Museum. England has a deep and amazing history – like one out of a fairy tale book.

And a trip to London would never be complete without going to Warner Bros. Studio Tour of Harry Potter.  There is only one Harry Potter Studio in the whole world.  This is where they shot all the movie and its sequels for 10 years. Traveling from London, take the train from Watford Junction and arrive there from London Euston (a 20 mins journey) or Birmingham New Street (a 1 hr journey).  When you arrive, you will see the Harry Potter buses outside which will take you to the studio.

After a few days scouring London, we hied off to Edinburgh, Scotland for the weekend.  Because we booked another Firmdale Hotel when returned from Scotland, the hotel was more than happy to send our luggages directly to our next hotel and they kept our luggages for the 3 days 2 nights of our stay in Edinburgh.  We packed a few clothes and from London King’s Cross left a little past 11AM and arrived at Edinburgh Waverley station after 4 1/2 hrs.  The hotel was right on top of the train station in Edinburgh – so that was a plus!

Edinburgh, Scotland

The Balmoral Hotel was home to us for the weekend.  This hotel was a special request as J.K. Rowling had stayed in this hotel as she was writing the last book of Harry Potter.  She stayed in Room 552.

Draped across a series of rocky hills (and the climb to the top is a challenge and a must if you want to break out some serious sweat) overlooking the sea, this city is small enough to tour in a day, but must be enjoyed leisurely.  The Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Yacht Brittania, The Scottish Parliament Building, and that climb to Arthur’s Seat! This is one of the most spectacular cities in Europe.

After Sunday service, we had brunch. And were on our way back to London for finishing touches to our vacation.

Our second hotel was another Firmdale Hotel.  It’s sister hotel, the Ham Yard Hotel, was not only flabbergasting…I have never seen a boutique hotel as spectacularly amazing at this.  While its amenities were way above the Haymarket, the noise around the area was a turn off.  It’s located right at the Piccadilly Circus area and closest to all the shops and eateries.  It actually is a small fort within the city.  And I will let these pictures speak for themselves.

There were still many places to visit.  And so many shows to see.  While we saw The Elephant Man (with Bradley Cooper starring) and Sunny Afternoon (which was just okay), the icing to the cake was Gypsy (showing at the Savoy Hotel London). And Laura Stanton deserved that standing ovation!

The following day we decided to go take a trip to Stonehenge in Salisbury. It was a 2 hrs trip on the tour bus (which meant a whole 4 hours of travel time back and forth).  While there is a story to this place, I felt that it was just a bunch of rings of stones in a barren field in the middle of nowhere.  But don’t get me wrong. You will need to go through the history and mysteries that were concocted for this place in order to appreciate the trip.

But London was not all about the tourist spots.  Whetting ones pallet was definitely on our…uhmmm…menu as well. Whether we were binging on Chinese or a burger or fish and chips…the food scene in London is expansive, a tad expensive, but delectably good.

Relax. Recharge. Rewind. Repeat.


Vacations are all about stories we can tell. Over and over.

Bienvenue au Canada


Lonely Planet opens its description as

Don’t tell Toronto or Montreal but Vancouver is the real culinary capital of Canada. Loosen your belts and dive right into North America’s best Asian dining scene, from chatty Chinese restaurants to authentic izakayas…from farm-to-table movement…

And yes, I agree.  Not even Chinatown in downtown San Francisco could compare to the culinary spectacle that Vancouver brings to the table.

But Vancouver isn’t all about food. Our hotel against the backdrop of Stanley Park was enough to make us fall in love with both the hotel, the chilling in the city experience in this lotusland metropolis.

On our travel to Vancouver, we took Delta Airlines.  It was actually the last time we took Delta.  The travel on a US Carrier had become so costly you can fly to North America and Canada with their rates on biz class with other Asian or middle eastern airlines on the same biz class for 2! It was a Manila-Narita-Seattle-Vancouver leg (I know right? We were punishing ourselves). It’s sad that I’ve always loved Delta Airlines, unfortunately, economics would tell us to follow what is right.  The shorter flights.  The ones with less stops. The miles accumulated on the airline and its partner airlines. And of course, the cost.


We stayed at the Loden Hotel, which was conveniently located near Stanley Park.

The perks of the hotel was having bikes to use to get around for free! And what a welcome treat for those like us who took physical activity seriously.

If there’s one place that you should have dinner, it’s at Ringyo.  This hole in the wall Japanese restaurant packs one mean authentic Japanese fusion cooking! Even the salt came in three servings – Japanese, Utah, or Himalayan.

Aside from downtown Vancouver (which you can practically go around in a day), renting a car was the best way to go beyond the city to those snow-dusted mountains peeking and beckoning at you from the glass windows of your room. So off to Whistler Blackcomb we went.  The quaint town to the mountain peak alone was breathtaking.  And this was the site of the 21st Winter Olympics.

After a couple of days of debauchery and meeting some friends in Vancouver, the next destination was Toronto, on Air Canada.  And I thought only Philippine Airlines was “late”.  The plane we were taking had a delayed arrival from Sydney.  After getting delayed for over 3 hours we were finally boarded for Toronto.


Le Germain Hotel was home for the next few days in the most multiculturally diverse city in the world.

Interestingly is how this city alone is so culturally different with over 140 languages spoken and half the residents here born outside Canada live in harmony with one another.  Some call Toronto the New York of Canada.  Well, I guess to some degree you would say that, but it’s more of a sleepier laid back New York.  Unlike New York where life begins after dark, Toronto is more somber in its mood.  And like its sister Vancouver, the gustatory delights of Toronto will wow you!

Casa Loma, the CN Tower, St. Lawrence Market, and the Eaton Shopping Centre we definite musts in downtown Toronto.  Of course, why go to Toronto if you don’t drive to Niagara Falls.  That breathtaking view alone is enough reason to pass by Toronto! Thanks to my friend who took the time to drive us through the US Border (one throw to Buffalo, New York) for some retail therapy (the US is just plastered with so many outlets that there’s one right in the heart of Buffalo) as well.

When you’re in this side of Toronto, don’t forget to wine and dine at the Distillery District for a smorgasbord treat of what it’s like to welcoming the diverse cultures in the heart of Toronto.

Truly, Canada is one country that greets everyone Bienvenue!

Stereotypically wowed in Spain

Our final destination on the European trip was Barcelona.

Two years later, Barcelona, Madrid and Toledo were part of our itinerary on our return trip from South America.

Passionate. Sophisticated. La Vida Loca! y más!


Home to Catalan culture, modernism and the gastronomic feast of pure indulgence in eating with gusto! And as if traveling to one of the liveliest cities this part of the world isn’t enough, this city that rests its laurels on the architect Antoni Gaudi is home to Casa Milà, Casa Battló, and the famous Sagrada Família church.  The 1992 summer Olympic Games was hosted by Spain and held in Barcelona.

During our first trip, we stayed at the Ohla Hotel.  Swank and weirdly modern, the bathroom and shower was right in the middle of the room and the water closet hidden on a wall behind the bathroom.  It smelled so good and they serve champagne on check-in.  Their food at the Gastronomic Bar served excellent food!

Let me put it this way, every place we ate made our tastebuds tingle for more.  Your palate wrests on local Cava, sirloin steak in sea salt and pepper, tapas, mussels in white wine sauce, Sangria…what isn’t there to love when it comes to food in Barcelona? The word “diet” has no place in Spain.

There is a subway station right in front of Ohla Hotel and is in a more quiet area of Barcelona.  It is walking distance to the Hop On/Hop Off bus stop and located one block from the back of the hotel is the Barcelona Shopping Line, where you have over 5 Km of design and creativity.  It is Europe’s largest retail area and literally just a stone’s throw to the words “shop till you drop” district!

On our second trip we stayed at another boutique hotel called Omm.  This one was at the other end of the Barcelona Shopping Line and right in front of all the noise, chitter chatter, and night life of Barcelona! What better location than to be right beside Prada and Diagonal Exit Metro Subway. Of course, we got to explore more of Barcelona including La Rambla, where the Philippine Consulate is located.

The icing to the cake on this trip was courtesy of Hotel Omm.  They had a special feature for dinner during our stay.  And no, it wasn’t at their hotel.  We took a cab to get to Barceloneta Beach, where dinner was at the Pez Vela of the W Hotel.  And my God, what a spread.  This was dinner for two!

No wonder gluttony is so sinfully good.


Because technically, Madrid was a stopover en route to and from Singapore to Brazil, we made sure that we spent a couple of days in Madrid as well.  And it did not disappoint.  As a matter of fact, we loved Madrid more than Barcelona.  While Barcelona has that eclectic feel, that radiant vibe, that chutzpah as a city, Madrid is an artist’s palate of a city.   If you love the food in Barcelona, none of that matches the food in Madrid – and rightfully claiming the culinary capital of Europe. And the evenings in Madrid are made for fine arts and fine dining.  Never have I spent so much to taste food this great, and not regret a single Euro!

But eating is not the only thing that will captivate your hearts in Madrid.  From medieval mansions to royal palaces, from the lazy markets to the lovely garden Parque de Buen Retiro, none of the cities in Spain compares to how beautiful the city of Madrid is.


This can be either a day trip or a half day trip.  Take the bus from the market place in Madrid for this destination which is about 30 minutes by high speed train or a little over an hour by bus.  We took the bus.  And I would recommend just the half day walking tour.  Go first thing in the morning (so it’s not too warm), have lunch there and get back to the city.  The buses are every hour on the hour.

Dramatically set atop a gorge overlooking Rio Tajo, the stories have it that once upon a time, Christians, Muslims and Jewish communities co-existed peacefully in this place.  And you can tell during the walking tour of Toledo how deep that culture is. The forte of Toledo is the art of El Greco.  An impossible to classify painter, as synonymous as the city of Toledo.

If there is one country that one should just travel to (without having to hop from country to country), Spain is definitely among those on the top of my list.

The other two – Canada and Japan.

Grace & beauty of Monaco

The Vatican is the smallest country in the world.  The second smallest, at 200 Hectares is Monaco.

Located in the southern part of France is the Principality of Monaco.  It is home to notorious tax havens and the annual Formula One Grand Prix.  The James Bond movie GoldenEye was filmed at the Casino de Monte Carlo.  Prince Albert II from the House of Grimaldi have ruled Monaco since the 13th century.  And, while Monaco is located in Europe, and along the French Riviera, this country is not formally a part of the European Union but participates in some EU policies.

But Monaco caught the spotlight of the world when Prince Rainier married the American actress Grace Kelly in April 1956.  She would become Princess Grace of Monaco to the world, after retiring from acting at the age of 26.  Prince Rainier and Princess Grace had three children – Caroline, Albert and Stephanie.  In 1982, Princess Grace met a fatal car accident on her way back to Monaco from a vacation with her daughter Stephanie.  According to the doctors, Princess Grace had a stroke while driving which caused the accident.  Another stroke in the hospital was the cause of her demise.  The other theory, which was never popular, was that Stephanie was driving that fateful day.

Princess Grace was buried in the Grimaldi family vault at the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Monaco.  Prince Rainier never remarried and was buried alongside her in 2005.

It’s a 20 minutes train ride from Nice to Monaco, and a visit to this lovely enchanting opulent city in the French Riviera is a must when you’re in this part of the world.

The journey continues – the South of France

Thanks to the Philippine Consulate in Milan, I was given a passport to continue my journey.  Here’s a big shout out to you guys there.

We boarded the 330PM train from Milan and got to our next destination – the South of France.  The French Riviera, Nice was the first stop in France.  As it is described, before anything else, there was the Mediterranean magnetism along the beaches and no wonder, no place in France compares with Nice.  The simple joys of a balmy beach day and people watching along the Promenade de Anglais, Nice is a perfect hybrid of both Italian and French Culture. One must not miss Vieux Nice and the Cours Saleya Markets.

Arriving nearly past 11PM, our home for the next couple of days (but the pitstop for this journey) was the Hyatt Regency Palais de la Mediteranee.

The sight to the Mediterranean Sea from the hotel was the kind that would make you forget your troubles.  Paradise, after all, was made for the weary souls.

The Côte de Azur has always amazed tourists with its beauty and opulence.  Henri Matisse was said to have been so smitten with Nice that he made it his home for 37 years.  And so did the artists Chagall, Picasso and Renoir. And the food here is excellent! Dining is at its outstanding best and I could never forget the Boullabaise at Le Bistro des Viviers.

From Nice, it was a one hour trip by train to Cannes – home to the red carpet best movies and of course, it’s glamorous harbourside. The glitz and spectacle of this area does not fail to impress, not only the locals but the tourists at heart as well. We were there during the Cannes Film Festival! What luck!!

People watching on a balmy day, amidst all the opulence, chic beaches, and jaw-dropping yachts moored at the port truly made the trip to the South of France make me not regret moving on with this trip, rather than sulking on a plane back to Manila, worth it all.

Life, after all, is how we catch the balls thrown our way.

Defiled in Milan

We had been to Milan, Italy as part of our Greek vacation.

We had stayed at Campeiro Suites where a few steps away was Via Dante.

And the highlight of this short stop was the Duomo (which I don’t think will ever get finished in many of our life time.  Food was good.  Shopping was fantastic! But we were extra careful with those low life gypsies who made a living, off other people!

We would bump into several “kabayans” who would gather around the square on Via Dante after work hours.

The second time was not a visit to Milan. It was a stopover.

On this European trip from Rome to Florence, the next stop was Nice, France.

We actually pondered on whether we would travel by train or by air. I thought that perhaps we could get to see the countryside en route to our next destination.

After all, we would just have a single train change from Firenze, Italy to Nice, France. This would be in Milan.

And so the unthinkable happened.

Nothing makes a hard earned vacation feel as defiled as when you are robbed in broad daylight.

We got off the Milan station and just crossed one platform to take the train to Nice.

It was unusual that when we boarded our train, there were 2 women on our seats! And while we were busy arguing on who were the rightful occupants to those seats, there were two men that suddenly came from out of nowhere pushing and shoving my bag.

I felt a push. The a slight shove. And when I looked at my carry on bag, the zipper was open. I felt a lump on my next swallow of my saliva. I dropped my bag, looked for my wallet and passport. I couldn’t believe it. They were gone.

Gone in 60 seconds.

The men on the train were alighting. I told my partner that I think I was robbed. The women disappeared. The other passengers didn’t seem to care. And everything turned red.

Yes I was angry. For good reasons.

  1. The police station was right in front of the train station
  2. They allow non-passengers into the trains!
  3. The queue at the police station was filled with foreigners who were robbed at the train or the train station!
  4. The police was not much help.  They hardly spoke English.  And when I reported the crime, all they could tell me was to go to my embassy to seek help.
  5. When I informed the personnel at the train station my dilemma, all they could say was that I should just report my miserable situation at the police station.

In short, you cannot expect any help from the Italian police.

I was lucky.

It was a Monday.  The embassy was open.  The consulate was more than helpful.  They gave me a passport issued in Milan (good for 1 year).  And our “kabayans” had helped me get to the embassy and from the embassy, get back to the train station where my partner was waiting for the verdict – to discontinue our trip and fly back to Manila or finish this European vacation.

I didn’t want the thieves destroying our planned vacation.

We took the 3pm train to Nice and arrived after 6 1/2 hours.

On the train, all I could do was break down.  I felt defiled.  Everything that this trip was supposed to be felt me stripped of my humanity.  I was angry at the Italian government because the thieves were just lurking at the train station right in front of the police station!

They may have broken my wallet, but I resolved that my spirit would not be broken.

The tears I shed were those of frustration.

I pray that no other tourist had to endure the inefficient and indifferent police force in Milan.

That day I grieved my material loss.

Tomorrow, would be another day.  And another story to be told. Resilience in times of adversity will always be my resolve.

La Dolce Vita in Firenze

After a few days in Rome, we took the train to Firenze (Florence).  The little less than 1 1/2 hours travel by high speed train went considerably smooth.


Florence is the cradle of the Renaissance. This urban chic city while small, is packed in history and arts at every turn.  The narrow cobbled-stone streets, marble basilicas, world-class art and museums as well as the quaint shops that pack the super tight roads of Firenze is as charming and adventurous as it gets.  It may not have the pomp of Rome, but it has the class, autocracy and grace of the Renaissance period embellished in its city.

Hotel Brunelleschi, right at the heart (or should I say centre) of Florence, was home for the next few days.  The hotel is equidistant from every place – from the Duomo to the Palazzo Vecchio.  While it is an old refurbished hotel, you’d be surprised at its interiors and what the hotel has to offer.  (The breakfast was standard all throughout the stay.)

As you make your steps out of the hotel, the history of Firenze unfolds before your very eyes.  The Duomo, Palazzo Vecchio (with the exhausting climb to the tower), Ponte Vecchio, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Piazza Santa Croce and the basilica where Michaelangelo is buried, to the Piazza della Repubblica for shopping…so many places, so little time (we should have stayed a day more)!

And yes, the gelato stores were right in front of our hotel. That alone was worth the stay!

On the third day we decided to hie off to Pisa.  From Firenze S.M. Novella station, make sure you take the direct train trip (and while there are several trains that go to Pisa almost every 30 minutes, you wouldn’t want to board the one that has to stop at several stations), and it should take you there in a little under an hour (the 11am train took us 50 minutes). It’s a touristy area (but we are, tourists after all).

Pisa and the Baptiste, the Cathedral and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  The latter has an odd but interesting story which you will learn during the trip.  The tower was started in 1174 for the campanile cathedral and the baptistry. The engineer (Bonnano Pisano) had laid a marble foundation for this. It took them 176 years to complete this, but it was embarrassingly crooked. This was because the land where the marble foundation was soft because it had a lot of water. The foundation was only 10 feet deep. When the first floor of the tower was completed, it began to sink. The builders tried to save the tower by building the columns and arches on the south side one inch taller than the north side. By the time they got to the fourth floor, they were making the south side columns 2 inches higher than the north. Several decades (up to centuries) and several floors later, no matter what the engineers did, the tower still kept leaning.  And when it was finally completed two centuries later (1372), the tower was still leaning.

On our return from Pisa back to Florence, we decided to take a secondary trip from Florence to the Barberino Designer Outlets. There are multiple shuttle buses outside the Firenze station that leave almost every 2 hours.  Getting back from Pisa we were able to make it to the 4PM shuttle (with return at 8PM – and you know the sun is still shining here at that time).


After all, a true vacation should always involve some retail therapy!

But Florence isn’t all about sights and shops.  A gourmet Tuscan cuisine is worth the trip alone.

Two places I would highly recommend for Florentine dining.

The first is at Dei Frescobaldi Ristorante & Wine Bar.  It’s not a high end restaurant but great food as we dined on scallops for hors d’oeuvres, fettuccini in truffle for the first course and pigeon for the second course.

We splurged on the second restaurant.  I highly recommend the Michelin starred restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in Florence, called Il Palagio.  The food was the star of the show! While this may set you back a few bucks, the culinary delight was a vacation in itself!

As the Italians would say, buon appettito!

La Dolce Vita is best experienced in Florence (Firenze), where even standing on a bridge in Arno will make you appreciate the beauty and dazzling spectacle of every shade of orange, pink, and amber.  The lifestyle here is laid back and is like the gradual turn of the clock, placing time in slow motion…to appreciate life and living it…

When in Rome…

The capital of Italy is home to one of the world’s most romantic and inspiring cities.

It was also the first stop in our whirlwind summer vacation going from Italy to France then finally Spain.

From Manila, Philippines, we took a night flight on Emirates Airlines with one stop in Dubai and changed aircraft to an A380 (double decker) for our flight from Dubai to Rome, Italy.

All flights from Manila were on a 777-300.  Unlike the lounges in Manila, the Emirates lounges in Dubai were sprawling.  And the upper deck of the A380 had its own access during boarding.  It was an experience on its own.  Food was good, amenities were great, entertainment was non-stop, and yes, this plane had a bar on its own for its first and business class passengers. Emirates is also the first airline to offer limousine service for passengers flying on biz or first class to and from the airport, to your final destination on arrival (in our case, our hotel).

Sofitel Hotel Villa Borghese was home to us for the next few days.  While it may not seem too fancy, it was comfortable enough because of its accessibility on foot to many of Rome’s quaint destinations. The Hermés bath amenities were two thumbs up!

For a country that is deeply rich in history and artistry, a trip to Rome is about living dolce vita lifestyle and embracing the arts and culture, people watching, sitting by the cafes and watching people drift by.  Oh, and yes, for the tourists like us, from the Fontana of Trevi to the Colosseum to the Pantheon, appreciating Rome on foot was an exhilarating experience.

It’s a great reminder that in the midst of the grandeur of Rome, lies a grander city, the Vatican City, where the seat of the Catholic Church lies.  St. Peter’s Basilica is the Vatican’s epic showpiece of Renaissance architecture. Take one whole day to appreciate the Vatican City (which is a country in itself with the Pope as its titular head of state) and immerse yourself with the history and feel of being at the pulpit of Catholic religion.  A guided tour is a must in order to appreciate your trip here.

A few tips from me.  Don’t eat in any crappy sidewalk cafe.  It’s really not worth it.  We had dinner of one pizza and one pasta for 50euros for two on our first night. Insanely, it was horrible food.  In short, don’t short change yourself with a lousy meal by eating on the roadside cafes.  Never again. Second, be careful of gypsies.  They’re all over.  They will distract you, and before you know it, your things are gone.  And they’re good.  Very very good. And that is part of the story of this European trip. Finally, make sure you have great walking shoes.  Rome is a small city.  And transportation is most efficient by taxi…or walking.

When in Rome…don’t look and act like a tourist.  When in Italy, be uber careful with your belongings.  And no matter how careful you get, here’s one country where you can’t get much help with the police.  Know the address and contact number of your embassy.  Believe me when I say that this will come in handy…in Italy.

Crazy Rich in Singapore

I wish we were crazy rich.  But Kevin Kwan has touched the tip of the socioeconomic class in Singapore.


An island city-state off southern Malaysia, Singapore has risen to be a global economic powerhouse to reckon with.  In this highly urbanised and cosmopolitan city, transportation is highly efficient.  And moving from A to Z is a breeze!

Under all that economic boom and development, this country has the resilience to withstand what other nations has to offer.  And show the world that with sheer determination, it can be done.  It’s architecture alone is a sight to behold.  Even when the world had just began to realise that remodeling a city to be a “green” one is one way to save Mother Earth, Singapore had started its redevelopment urbanisation plans way ahead of all its Asian neighbours.

With several nature preserves (Bukit Timah and the Central Catchment Areas where you find the Singapore Zoological Gardens), this country combines western development with eastern culture perfectly.  Amidst all the lush of nature, stands the most interesting modern and ancient architectural structures.

Almost 1/4 of the people living in Singapore are expatriates or foreign workers from all over the world.  Many of the domestic helpers are Filipinas. Frontline work force in many hotels and restaurants are Filipinos.  There will always be a “kabayan” (countryman), at every nook and cranny.  Even the healthcare industry in Singapore is highly competitive with those of the western world, making the University of Singapore, a postgraduate destination for many Filipino doctors who would like to pursue fellowships and further training in their medical profession.

Rich in culture and history, Singapore has its own story of life, liberty and sacrifice to share.  This tiny island literally rose from nothing.  Take a trip to Sentosa and find out the heartbreaking courage of the people in this tiny nation.  To say that worked to be where they are today, is an understatement.  If only many countries could learn from their sheer determination, discipline, and unabashed love of country – every country would be as successful as them.

Singapore is notably known to be a “fine” country.  Every violation of minor laws require a “fine”.  And can range from a hefty cash just merely spitting or chewing gum, to caning when caught defaming their pristine walls.  The drug trade is practically unheard of in this country.  On all flights to Singapore, prior to landing, the flight attendant will announce that drug trafficking is a criminal act punishable by death.  And for the record, Singapore has never missed putting to death any criminal found guilty for this.

But beyond the immaculate laws of the country, Singapore stands out to be a beacon of tolerance in other matters.  There is an active gay community, an efficient tourism industry, a hub for technology (they have the most rapid digital system and is the most wired country in the world), a spotlessly clean and green environment, and yes, the cuisine is to literally die for!

There are several hotels and hostels one can stay in when in Singapore.  Our favorite is the Naumi Hotel, which was a great find on  Naumi Hotel is located at 41 Seah Street (right at the back of the Raffles Hotel) and a stone’s throw from many shops and food stalls.  Since our stay, they have renovated this hotel’s interiors (I loved the older version because the rooms were bigger) in order to accommodate more guests. If you have the urge to splurge, this oasis is simply the best luxury boutique hotel in Singapore.

And while you’re splurging at your vacation spot, you can also pig out at the restaurant a few doors down…cheap and authentic Singaporean cuisine.  And you don’t have to speak Mandarin.  Just do what the Singaporeans do.  Look at the other table and order what they have.  The Singaporean milk iced tea shouldn’t be missed.

Singapore may be a small country, but this is one country that’s definitely NOT going to bore you.  There are so many things to do, and so little time.  I wouldn’t really bother with recommending a trip to Universal Studios (sorry, it was a yawn).  There’s also the cheap-hawker fare Michelin starred restaurant – Hawker Chan – that has quite a queue. Binging with food in Singapore is a must and every corner (from China Town to Little India) has something to whet your appetite.

If there is one thing that one must do in Singapore, aside from eating, is to shop till you drop.  Orchard Road alone should have you shopping to death for a day or two. From local finds to uber luxe items, swinging in Singapore makes it mandatory for you to wear your shopping shoes!  And these malls are filled with fabulous dining delights in the basements or the upper floors, depending on which mall your tired feet land you at. If you’re closer to the Marina area, there are added malls there and a trip to Vivo City is mandatory as well.

It’s a 3 hrs plane ride from Manila, Philippines and there are multiple flights on Singapore Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and AirAsia.  Even when you’re in Singapore for business, you will surely find the time to mix a little pleasure in between.

And Kevin Kwan was spot on for making this country the backdrop of his novel (and the movie), Crazy Rich Asians.

This is one country that can proudly boast – it has ARRIVED!

p.s.  Now if only for the weather…it’s really hot and humid and rains on most days in Singapore.

Food tripping in Taipei

It’s the other China. The one that has a 300 years history that blends a bit of other Southeast Asian countries and Japan.

It’s known history dates back to 1709 with the Han Chinese settling in the Taipei Basin.  When China loss the Sino-Japanese war, it ceded the entire island of Taiwan to Japan in 1895.  The occupation of the Japanese on Taiwan is the reason why much of the architecture of Taipei dates back to the Japanese era.  When the Japanese were defeated in the Pacific war and eventually surrendered in August 1945, Taiwan was taken over by National troops.  In 1947, the Kuomintang government under Chiang Kai-Shek declared martial law in Taiwan.  On December 7, 1948, the Kuomintang government under Chiang Kai-Shek established Taipei as the provisional capital of the Republic of China after the communists forced them to flee mainland China.


And it’s a compact city where food tripping is a must! It’s top souvenir item is their pineapple shaped sponge cake!

Food here is cheap, tasty and, well…a lot of fun. Where else can you find a country where eating is the best way to understand being a native?

The National Museum in Taipei is home to the world’s largest and finest collection of Chinese art.  The various floors/levels of the museum is divided into:

  1. Level 1 – rare books, Qing and Ming dynasty furnitures and gallery orientation for the overview of dynasties
  2. Level 2 – paintings, calligraphy, history of Chinese ceramics and famous paintings
  3. Level 3 – bronzes, weapons, carvings, stunning Jade collections and the Jade Cabbage
  4. Level 4 – Sanxitang teahouse (dim sum and tea).  There are several other restaurants in the museum (Silks Palace on the ground level and a food court in the basement

Of course, there is Taipei 101, once held the title as the world’s tallest building for a few years.  Standing at 508 meters (until 2011), it held the title of the world’s tallest green building. Get off at the 5th floor of the shopping mall and take the pressure-controlled lift that takes you up to the observation deck on the 89th floor at 1,010 meters/minute (or a mere 40 seconds from ground to top).  If you’re lucky, with weather permitting, there’s an outdoor deck on the 91st floor that is open to the public as well.

But a trip to Taipei will never be complete without a visit to the Tonghua Night Market and the Ningxia Night Market.  They are a few of Taipei’s liveliest night markets and are an experience all to itself for shopping, street food, and binging on rows and rows of food.  To get the the Ningxia Night Market, take the MRT stop at Shuanglian Station and you’ll find hundreds of street stalls tempting you with local delights.

Then there’s the restaurants.  And South Beauty should be mandatory on your list for gastronomic delight.

We stayed at a boutique hotel, Hotel Eclat.  It may be a few blocks off some of the more commercial areas but is accessible by a short stroll and is highly recommended, if even experiencing the bone china wares for your meals!