My Top 5 ‘Buti na Lang!’ Moments When I Traveled Solo

As you can probably tell (or not) from the title of this blog post, Taglish ito because…why not? Gusto ko lang! Para maiba naman. There’s always a first time, pero limited edition lang ito kumbaga. Wow! haha

I remember nung nag-travel ako for 32 days nang solo, twice lang ata ako nakapag-Tagalog: when I met up with fellow travel blogger, Joshua, in Chiang Mai, and nung inampon ulit ako ni Riz when I went to KL. Hindi naman ako naubusan ng English pero nag-level up ang charade skills ko. :p
 
Anyway, ano nga ba ang ikkwento ko? Ahh, yung mga bagay na buti na lang ginawa ko nung bumyahe akong mag-isa. 

Kung inaakala mong ang post na ito ay isa sa mga ‘quit-your-job-and-travel-the-world’ posts, pwes, nagkakamali ka. Masyado nang gasgas yun. At sinasabi ko sa ‘yo, maganda lang yan pakinggan sa simula pero pag hindi ka na makabili ng kape sa Starbucks na dati eh inaaraw-araw mo, babalik ka rin sa corporate world. *evil laugh*

5 Itineraries to Help Kickstart Your Sourtheast Asian Adventure

Ever since I got back from my month-long Southeast Asian trip last August 2014, some friends have expressed their interest of doing the same, but don’t know exactly where to start.  

The thing is, when people ask me for my itinerary, I’m a bit hesitant to just give them what I used because it is customized according to MY traveling style. 
I found that it has changed over the years. I no longer feel the need to pack as many attractions as I can in day, and would prefer to pay more for convenience rather than sacrifice comfort for the sake of sticking to my budget. 

I also traveled solo, so my expenses were inevitably bigger than usual. And the only tickets I had pre-booked on sale were my Manila to Bangkok, Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and Bali to Manila flights. The rest of the flights, I booked when I was already on the road.

I actually traveled for 32 days

Continue reading “5 Itineraries to Help Kickstart Your Sourtheast Asian Adventure”

Review: Traders Hotel, KL

Before heading to Indonesia, I had the privilege of staying at Traders Hotel in KL, Malaysia.
 
Located in the heart of the city, Traders is the ideal base for business travelers and families, especially those traveling with kids, because KL’s attractions are easily accessible from the hotel.
photo courtesy of Traders Hotel KL
When I entered the ground lobby and asked to be checked in, the staff courteously told me that the main lobby is actually at the 5th floor. Another staff immediately escorted me to the main lobby and offered to help with my bags.
The main lobby was not as flamboyant as one would expect from a Shangri-la brand, but the moment the receptionist asked me to complete the check-in by signing on the tablet, I knew I was in for a different experience.

Main lobby at the 5th floor

 

I was then handed my room keycard.

No WiFi login details were provided because FREE WiFi is accessible throughout the hotel premises.

My Tower View room
The earth colors give the room a homey feel.
 
The room was modest in size, but space was utilized well and all the amenities you would expect of a 5-star hotel are there.
 
The bed was just the right size and firmness. There’s also a small sofa, and a lazy chair with foot stool near the window where I sat to gaze at the twin towers…while munching on my cupcakes. 

My room was on the 31st floor with a view of the Petronas Twin Towers and KLCC Park! There were mini cupcakes, a bowl of fruits, and chocolates from Gobo when I arrived. Sweet!

To avoid looking cluttered, they used sliding doors for the cabinet and bathroom. The mini bar, and coffee and tea making facilities, are ‘hidden’ under the writing desk.

Other room amenities include LED TV with satellite cable, electronic safe, umbrella, plenty of power outlets with built-in international adapters, iron and ironing board, and hair dryer.

The room may be simple, but the bathroom is definitely luxurious.

The amber glow makes the counter look ethereal, no?

Can you spot the lollipop? 😉

 

It has Johnson Suisse fittings, and TOTO toilet bowl with eco-washer (that automatic water spray that washes away the dirty stuff :p).

There’s also a generous supply of premium toiletries and complete grooming kit.

Another thing that really caught my attention was the tiny dial on the bathroom wall which I discovered to be a volume control, so you can still listen to whatever program/movie is on the TV while you’re taking a bath! I find it really cool.
***
That night, I went to check out Traders Hotel’s famous SkyBar where you can enjoy a drink or two while chilling out to music spun by guest DJs.

“SkyBar offers guests the ultimate in refreshing drinks and intoxicating views all in a chic and cosmopolitan ambiance.”

The pool and the twin towers are beautifully lit up at night.
You can also watch KLCC’s dancing fountain show from here.

 My only concern was because my room was just two floors below SkyBar, I can somehow hear the music in my room. While it didn’t bother me that much, this might be a problem for light sleepers.

***

Breakfast is served both at Gobo Chit Chat and at the Traders Lounge.

If you want to try everything at the buffet breakfast spread, go to Gobo Chit Chat. If you want more privacy and less foot traffic, you can have your breakfast at the Lounge. However, breakfast choices in the latter is not as extensive as Gobo’s.

The buffet breakfast serves deli, homemade yogurt, cereals, pancakes and waffles, omelette, noodles, Japanese, Western, Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian cuisines, fresh bread (they have gluten free ones, too) and pastries, variety of cheese, cakes, fruits, and juices.

The gym, business center, and meeting facilities all have unobstructed view of the twin towers.
Traders Hotel is not about space, flashy furniture or fancy equipment. They put more attention into comfort and quality of service.

 

K

~~ I was hosted by Traders Hotel KL for a night, but all opinions in this review are my own. ~~

Kuala Lumpur City Centre, 5088 Malaysia
Tel: +60 (3) 2332 9888
Twitter: @TradersHotelKL
Instagram: @tradershotelkl

Review: Best Western Premier Dua Sentral, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

It had been raining daily ever since I arrived in Laos, so most of my planned activities went out the window. The internet connection was abysmal, too, so I wasn’t able to work on my deliverables the whole time I was there, so I’ve made the decision to fly to KL two days earlier than my intended travel date.
 
Thankfully, the guys at Best Western Premier Dua Sentral (now Ramada Plaza Dua Sentral) were able to accommodate my request to change dates on such short notice – even during peak season.
 
I arrived at the new and massive KLIA2 half past one, and took my sweet time wandering around the airport. And because I was so used to arriving at LCCT and taking the bus to KL Sentral, it didn’t occur to me that I could have taken the KLIA Ekspress located within the complex.
 
Well, at least now I know what to do next time I’m in KL.
photo from Best Western Premier Dua Sentral’s Facebook page

Embarrassingly, I arrived a couple of hours late than the official check-in time, and found out that the front desk actually called AirAsia to check if my flight got delayed.
So to avoid the same mistake I did (or if you’re arriving early and are not in a hurry), here are a couple of options of getting to the hotel from KLIA/KLIA2:
  • Take a cab – obviously expensive, but is the most convenient way;
  • Take the KLIA Ekspress (33 minutes, RM35.00) OR the Skybus (1 hour, RM10.00) then take the free hotel shuttle (depends on the schedule) at KL Sentral. If you miss the shuttle, you can hail a cab in front of Nu Sentral mall.

The Assistant Front Office Manager, Maggie, immediately ushered me to my 1-bedroom Club Suite upon arrival.

Meanwhile, the bellhop took care of my luggage.
I was pleasantly surprised with the welcome gift: an assortment of sweets like pralines, macarons, and petit cakes – all of which I really, really loved! 

My suite has a separate lounge equipped with flat screen TV – which you can control with your smartphone, by the way – a DVD player, and comfy couch.

There’s also a writing desk complete with stationery supplies, and has plenty of power outlets. This, combined with the fast and complimentary WiFi will definitely make any business traveler happy.
The writing desk faces the window with a view of KL’s skyline. Immediately noticeable is the beautiful Moorish-style KL Railway Station and Menara KL. 
The suite is equipped with a kitchenette (sans cookware), and coffee and tea making facility. It even has a CBTL machine.
The mini bar was well-stocked, too.
***
The bedroom is separated from the lounge by a wooden sliding door.

My bed was just the right size and firmness, and I love the fresh and fluffy sheets.

 They were generous with the pillows, and even have a Pillow Menu so you can have it changed according to your preference.
The en suite bath is in an ‘open concept’ fashion with only a frosted glass separating the tub from the room.
There’s a separate shower stall with rainshower head, too.
I also appreciate that they have a retractable clothes line in the shower stall because where else would you hang your wet swimsuit, right? Other hotels with pools haven’t even thought about that.
Plus points for the toilet with hand held bidet with adjustable pressure.
Clean and simple, but classy bathroom
Hairdryer: check! Dual sided swivel vanity mirror: check! Premier toiletries and grooming kit: double check!
Their toiletries are some of the best I’ve used among all the hotels I’ve stayed at!
Bathrobes, plenty of plush towels, and slippers are provided.
Inside the closet are plenty of hangers, iron and ironing board, and electronic safe.
But what I appreciate most are the small details – things I don’t often see in other hotels like bath salt, sewing kit, shoehorn, and the potpourri in the lounge.

***

In terms of food, there are plenty of dining options within the hotel.

TOP: Apple Quencher mocktail, teh tarik, stawberries & cream
BOTTOM: smoked salmon bruschetta, parfait, scones, and petit cakes (not pictured)
On my first night, I went to Punch Bar & Lounge, and tried their Apple Quencher mocktail. I rarely drink alcohol, so their mocktail selections were just perfect for me. I enjoyed it while chilling at one of their colorful art deco chairs.
The following day, I also got the chance to try their English Afternoon Tea (only offered on weekends). I didn’t know that the set was good for two people, so I had a hard time finishing it off. In fact, I was so full after that I had to skip dinner.
Also on my first night, I had dinner at Hugo’s on 6 which is located at the pool area.
 
The theme was BBQ Sensation so I gorged on chicken and beef satay, grilled lamb, shawarma, grilled corn on the cob, among others.
Fresh salads, seafood, paella, fruits, desserts etc. were also served.
There was even a saxophone player who performed that night, so guests enjoyed dinner while simultaneously entertained by the music and the view.
A quiet Kembali Kitchen at noon. Guests have either checked out or already wandering about in KL at this time.

 

Now, let’s talk about one of my favorite hotel breakfasts ever served at Kembali Kitchen!
Kembali Kitchen pays homage to Malaysia’s multicultural society by highlighting Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian dishes. Western, and even Mediterranean fare are available as well. Additionally, there’s live omelet, pancake and waffle, and noodle stations.  

 

I’ll tell you a little secret: I pigged out on roti canai paired with either hummus or baba ganoush every breakfast. :p

My stay coincided with Hari Raya so you can just imagine how busy it was at the buffet breakfast, but the staff tried their best to manage the queue. They were also quick to ‘bus out’ tables, and food warmers were constantly replenished.

 

I also had the privilege of trying out Bhuvana Spa Luxe. It was a real treat for my weary body. Imagine the torture my back and shoulders suffered after lugging my bags for 2 weeks through Thailand and Laos.

I had a one-hour aromatherapy massage which started with gentle stroking, kneading and rubbing of tight muscles using essential oils to release tension.

My therapist, Yana, was really really good. Even without telling her, she started with my back, and I think I actually heard my spine pop as if it was suddenly properly aligned. haha I immediately felt the tension went away and my muscles started to relax.
It was a really blissful experience.

***

 

Everyone at Best Western Premier Dua Sentral was really nice, courteous, attentive, and were dedicated in ensuring that guests have a pleasurable stay that I didn’t go out the whole time I was there.

 

K
~~ I was hosted by Best Western Premier Dua Sentral for 2 nights, but all opinions in this review are my own. ~~

 

8 Jalan Tun Sambanthan
50470 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: +60 (3) 2272 8888
Twitter: @bwp2sentral
Instagram: @bwpduasentral

 

Travel Essential: Para’Kito Natural Mosquito Protection

One of my travel must-haves, especially when my trip involves beach activities and other outdoor stuff, is a mosquito repellent.
Being out and about all day, travelers are more prone to disease-carrying insects. But with the rising cases of Dengue and the discovery of Chikungunya, everyone should double up on their protection.
 
I started using insect repellent lotions, but I don’t really like piling it on my skin with sunblock (plus I always get confused which one to put first lol). Then I used the spray which was nice since it’s very easy to apply, but I can use up a bottle within 3 days because of constant reapplication especially when in-and-out of the water.
Before my week-long trip to Myanmar, I was given these Para’Kito clip and bands and was so excited to test them out.
Para’Kito natural mosquito repellent clip and bands
Para’Kito diffuses a blend of 7 essential oils extracted from plants which naturally repels mosquitoes. However, these oils are very volatile and disperse quickly which has always limited it as a viable round-the-clock solution. With the Para’Kito™ impregnation technology, it allows for the slow release of the oil providing a continuous protection for 15 days.
And because the active pellet does not contain DEET or IR3535 and does not come in contact with the skin, it is very safe for pregnant women, young children and recommended for individuals susceptible to skin allergies and irritations.
Wearing Para’Kito in (clockwise): Putrajaya, Malaysia | Dhammayangyi Temple, Bagan, Myanmar | Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar | Shwe Nandaw Golden Monastery, Mandalay, Myanmar

We took overnight bus trips, arrived in the wee hours in ancient cities and entered countless thousand-year old pagodas/temples, but I didn’t have to worry about being protected 24/7 because I wore my Para’Kito bands and/or clip.

Para’Kito loose band (Lizard) and clip in Red

The pellets are also waterproof, meaning that swimming, heavy rain or any contact with water does not affect the product’s efficacy.
The fun, fashionable wristbands come in a range of bold colors including blue, fuchsia, yellow, orange, black and white.
 
New for this year, Para’Kito™’s collection of cool graphic bands bring your wardrobe to life.
 Designed to make a difference, the graphic band is available in Love, Camo, Flower, Paw, Heart and Lizard graphics.
The bands can be worn on the wrist or ankle, day and night to repel mosquitoes.
Color clips are also available in a range of six colors and can be attached to clothing or hand luggage for a convenient and smart way to fend off the mosquitoes.
Each band or clip already comes with 2 Para’Kito pellets that can last for 15 days each giving you 30 days of protection. Refill pellets can be bought at these stores or online through AVA.

LEGOLAND Malaysia

When I did our Singapore itinerary, a LEGOLAND side trip wasn’t included. To be honest, I’ve read in some forums that it wasn’t worth it. In fact, it wasn’t also highly recommended by our guesthouse based from feedback of their previous guests. But my companions were eager to visit it because, as they said, we’re there anyway…and it’ll be an additional passport stamp, too.
I know it would be a lot cheaper to take public transportation from Singapore to Johor Bahru, but to save time and for the convenience of the elders hehe, we availed of the bus services of WTS Travel & Tours for SGD20 per head (exclusive of the LEGOLAND day pass at RM140). By the way, the price also includes a RM5 food and drink voucher. I chose this agency primarily because the pick-up and drop off point is the Singapore Flyer. That way, we’re hitting two attractions in a day. But if you still prefer to DIY, you can download the directions here.

Malaysia’s first international theme park and the first LEGOLAND Park in Asia
I think the reason why most people get disappointed and think that LEGOLAND is not worth it is because they compare it with Disneyland or Universal Studios. First off, it’s very clear that this park doesn’t have any cartoon characters that we all grew up with nor does it have extreme rides and characters based from box-office Hollywood movies. Having said that, I feel it’s unfair to pit it against those two.
Mom and me with the snoring LEGO guy
My camera was just a month old then so I was super excited to use it and practice my (non-existent) photography skills. Nevermind that it seemed like 40º that day. Armed with my hat and sunnies, I started snapping away. To my horror, out of 300+ pictures, the photo above is the only picture of me in LEGOLAND -_-
We lined up for half an hour, if not more, for a 2-3 minute train ride. So yeah, they weren’t kidding when they say ‘express’.
MINILAND
 
Undoubtedly, the park’s centerpiece is Miniland. These are recreations of Asian landmarks (on a scale of 1:20) made using 30 million LEGO bricks! Each landmark has an info box, and with just a press of a button, watch as some parts ‘come to life’. Some of my favorites are the Bollywood dance scene in the Taj Mahal, the dragon dance in Beijing, and water spouting from the Merlion.
click image for bigger version
 
TOP LEFT: Taj Mahal, Agra, India
TOP RIGHT (clockwise): Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, Brunei; Angkor Wat, Cambodia; Tanah Lot, Bali, Indonesia; Hall of Supreme Harmony, Beijing, China
BOTTOM RIGHT: Karaweik, Myanmar
BOTTOM LEFT (clockwise): Patuxai, Laos; Merlion Park, Singapore; Hoi An, Vietnam; Wat Arun, Thailand

Bolinao, Philippines


Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaOther Malaysian landmarks: Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and Port of Tanjung PelepasPirates! Arr!

I think I spent probably an hour or more just taking pictures of MINILAND. If you take a closer inspection, you’ll be doubly impressed. Even the tiniest details are just amazing.

Reminds me of Enchanted Kingdom’s Jungle Log Jam :p
Moving on to explore the rest of the park, we passed by the Land of Adventure which consists of Egyptian- and jungle-themed attractions. I’m not a big fan of theme park rides so forgive me if I can’t share information about that. Let’s just say do not set your expectations too high. Definitely not as extreme as the ones in Universal Studios, but at least the whole family can enjoy it. 🙂
Imagination – this area is more for the true blue LEGO fans. You can build and play with LEGO bricks here.
Okay, so this is the part where I lost my companions…or as my mom puts it, uhm…they lost me because I was too busy taking pictures. They were ahead of me and I know where they were headed so I was surprised when I got to the Observation Tower and they were not there. Well, I waited for half an hour or so but saw no signs of them so I just went on exploring the park on my own.
LEGO Kingdoms
 
I went to LEGO Kingdoms since this was just beside Imagination. Strolled for a few minutes and when I didn’t see them there either, I figured I better go back to the Observation Tower before going back to the entrance.
360º view of LEGOLAND
TOP: The Dragon – probably the most ‘extreme’ ride in the park.
Lower right: Project X – this one boasts of an 18-meter high drop.
Some of my favorite LEGO creations
 
Still no signs of my companions, I had a snack at The Cafe then strolled again. This time around, I found some of them and got told that my mom was waiting for me at the park entrance. So I went back to ‘The Beginning’ where I saw her speaking to a Park Ranger. She was asking for a public address system because I was ‘lost’ BAHAHAHA! Needless to say, she looked worried and furious at the same time.
 

If you’e like me who grew up with toys like Play-Doh (oh, how I love Play-Doh!)and LEGO bricks, then better bring your kids here. Those days, kids’ toys were meant to encourage and develop kids’ creativity and imagination, unlike in today’s world where kids are so used to ‘playing’ with just their…uhm, index finger.

Eat, Pray, Shop: Malaysia – Malacca/Melaka

Malacca (Melaka in Malay) is such a compact but vibrant city. I love how everything is just walking distance.
 
After leaving our things in the room, we freshened up a bit then headed to Jonker Street for lunch. We only had a few Ringgits left, and conveniently, a money changer is situated in the corner of the street. And just across it was Restoran A Famosa where we had lunch.
 
Restoran A Famosa is quite uhm…famous as evidenced by the queue. We had to wait a while to get a table. I’m guessing both locals and tourists flock here for their specialty: chicken rice balls. As soon as we got a table, one of the waitstaff handed us the menu. I think we ordered half roast chicken, a cup of rice each, and some rice balls just to see what the fuss was about. Sadly, the rice balls were nothing to write home about. Our very own puto is even better. It was filling nonetheless.  


After filling our tummies, we wasted no time and started checking out the stores. Just across Restoran A Famosa is Jonker Gallery. This store is such a wasteland. I plunked down RM30.00 for souvenirs only to find more Jonker Gallery every 20 meters or so.
 
wasteland (n.) shop/store full of cool and cute stuff you have no use for but end up buying anyway, thus, wasting money.
 

I also find it amusing that some of these shops are renovated shophouses where you can enter from Jonker Street and exit on the other side of the block (Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock based on Google Maps).

Dutch Square or Red Square


Anyway, we finally dragged ourselves out of Jonker Street into The Dutch Square or more popularly known as the Red Square (for obvious reasons). Situated in the heart of Malacca/Melaka are: (clockwise) The Stadthuys or the Museum of History and Ethnography which is said to be the oldest remaining Dutch colonial building in Southeast Asia; Christ Church (arguably the most photographed); and the clock tower.

We immediately moved on to St. Paul’s Hill. For some reason, going up was reminiscent of Mt. Tapyas in Coron…only the steps are tiled. Nothing much to see here except the ruins of St. Paul’s Church with Dutch and Portuguese tombstones inside, and the statue of St. Francis Xavier outside.
Why must a church ruin be always named after St. Paul? If you’ve been to Macau, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Google ‘St. Paul’s ruins’ and you’ll find that there’s also a monastery ruin in the United Kingdom. Clearly, someone’s got issues with structures named after the saint.
‘This church was originally a small chapel built by a Portuguese Captain called Duarto Coelho in 1521 A.D. and called “Nosa Senhora – Our Lady of the Hill”.
When the Dutch took over Melaka from the Portuguese, they changed its name to St. Paul’s Church and used it for 112 years until the Christ Church was completed in 1753.
 
Old tombstones found inside the ruins bear silent testimony to the final resting place of several Dutch and Portuguese nationals.’ – some excerpts from the stone marker outside the ruins.
Menara Taming Sari (revolving observation deck)

 

From St. Paul’s Hill, I could see the revolving observation deck and the galleon or the Maritime Museum (Muzium Sumadera; not in the picture). It looks kinda close but I figured it was quite a walk, so we went back to The Stadthuys and thought maybe we should hire a trishaw instead.

 Colorful trishaws
Frustrated sagalas :p
 
For a five-minute ride, the RM10.00 per head is unreasonable. But hey, it’s not every day you get a chance to ride a colorful trishaw with Ricky Martin songs blasting on the speakers.
 
Replica of Portuguese ship: Flor De La Mar
Maritime Museum (Muzium Samudera)
 
For a minimum admission fee, you could go inside the museum but we’re happy just taking its picture from outside. Our original agenda, anyway, is the Melaka River Cruise. The jetty (Muara Jetty) is just a few steps away from the Maritime Museum.
 

TIP: There’s an arcade (Medan Samudera) just across the museum which sell cheaper souvenir items than the ones in The Stadthuys. Malaysian snacks can be bought for 3 packs at RM10.00. Kids’ shirts are at RM10.00 a piece and of very good quality.

Melaka River Cruise at RM15.00

For me, the highlight of our Melaka tour was the Melaka River Cruise. The cruise starts either at Muara Jetty with a view of the posh Casa del Rio hotel on the other side of the river bank or from Taman Rempah Jetty (other end of the river).
Jambatan Old Bus Station
The round trip cruise takes 45 minutes. As you go along, you get to listen to a recorded narration explaining the significance of each section of the river in Melaka’s history.
       
You’ll also pass by a modest amusement park aptly named Pirate Park.
The park consists of a Ferris wheel, swinging pirate ship, flying fox, rock climbing wall and trampoline.

   Near the end of the river (if coming from Muara Jetty) is Kampung Morten which is a traditional Malay village and living museum (Villa Sentosa). Most of these houses are already hundreds of years old.
 
My favorite has got to be the murals along Melaka River
Melaka River Cruise at night as seen from our window
 
I would suggest doing the river cruise at night when the structures along the river (especially Pirate Park) are illuminated with colorful lights. Then the next morning, walk along the riverbanks so you can appreciate the murals up close like what we did.
 
 
 K