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”

5 Reasons Why You Should Consider a Vacation Rental

While planning for our week-long Hong Kong trip earlier this year, I was once again faced with the challenge of looking for lodging options that can accommodate our small group, and more importantly, will fit our budget. 
 
I’ve searched high and low for family rooms, but guesthouses were either already fully booked, rooms were not available for consecutive nights on our travel dates, hotel rates were waaay beyond our budget or the rooms available were not in accessible locations. 

I decided to check any available vacation rental instead and that’s how I discovered travelmob – an online marketplace where you can find and rent unique homes from local hosts across Asia Pacific.

After hours of going through their listings, here’s 5 reasons why I think you should consider booking a vacation rental on your next trip:
 
1.  Perfect for families or groups of friends 

 
Over a year ago, I went to Singapore with 6 other people, 3 senior citizens included. The country is already expensive to begin with so we ended up bunking in a backpackers’ hostel. 

It would’ve been okay, but because we were 7 in a 6-bedroom dorm, my mom and I had to share a single bed. While we saved on lodging cost, the setup wasn’t very comfortable. We had to use a communal bathroom, too.


Pictured above are Hong Kong apartments with at least 2 rooms that can comfortably fit 6 or more people. I found several Hong Kong apartments that has a room with at least one bunk bed and with a sleeper sofa/sofa bed in the living room, too. 

 
2.  Has amenities not available in most hotels

 
Most vacation rentals listed are equipped with a WiFi router, kitchen(ette) and/or laundry facilities – amenities that are either not offered or something that you need to pay for extra when staying in a hotel. 
 
I think it’s very practical if you’re staying for more than a week (or two) because you can cook your own food instead of eating out. You can also travel light and save on baggage fees because you can do the laundry anytime. 😉
3.  More space, privacy & personality

 
In first world, read relatively expensive, Asian countries where space is at a premium, it’s inevitable that you will find yourselves in matchbox-like rooms. I once saw a Hong Kong guesthouse offering a single room that literally looked like a toilet – with tiled walls and exhaust fan – only with a bed instead of a toilet bowl. And don’t get me started on the clinical-looking rooms.

Sure, you’ll be out most of the day and working on a budget, but it wouldn’t hurt to get yourself a decent place to sleep in after a long day. 

For the same price as a hotel, booking a vacation rental actually gives you more space, therefore, giving you better value for your money.
 
4.  Discover unique accommodations – boats, cottages, cabins, even treehouses!

 
Whether you’re an intrepid traveler who wants to sleep under the stars while perched 23 feet up in the air in Bangkok or just want to spend some quality time with your significant other away from the tourist crowd of Bali, you can find awesome and unique vacation rentals that’ll make your trip more memorable. 
 

5.  Get to know your host and live like a local!

 
Traveling solo? Aside from apartment rentals, you can also book shared or private rooms.
A shared room means you’ll be sharing space with other travelers while a private is a room of your own. In some cases, the host will also be at the location while you’re there. 

In travelmob, you can check the property owner’s profile, read previous guests’ reviews and/or references and contact him/her directly if you need more information about their listing. Through a few message exchanges, you can then gauge if he/she will be a good host.
The host can offer invaluable insider tips on where to find the best places to eat, best bargains and off-the-beaten sites. In some cases, hosts also offer more personal service like free use of their bicycle or a local SIM card – things you’ll never be able to experience in a hotel.
 
Remember, there’s really no better way to learn about a new culture and gain a richer travel experience than from living with a local.  
 
***
 
And there you have it. I hope I’ve given you enough reasons to consider booking a vacation rental on your next trip. 

iPhone/iPad user? travelmob listings can be right at your fingertips. Click the image below to download their mobile app.

And just for you, my dear readers, for a minimum booking fee of USD150.00, you’ll get a USD35.00 discount by using the promo code below:
Excursionista35
 
Promo is valid until JUNE 15
K
 
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Eat, Pray, Shop: Malaysia – Kek Lok Si Temple

After our tour of Pinang Peranakan Mansion, we went back to Hutton Lodge to check out. Since our departure is not until 10:30 pm, we left our bags in their office (free of charge) and spent the rest of our time exploring Penang. 

We took Bus 204 which goes to both Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si Temple. The bus will drop you off at the foot of the hill. There’s a small alley (in between rows of shops) you’ll have to pass through to get to the top. This alley is lined with several vendors (somewhat similar to Mines View in Baguio) so you can squeeze a bit of shopping after visiting the temple. You’ll also pass by a turtle pond which they call ‘Liberation Pond’. 
 
Pasensiya, walang wide-angle lens bilang point and shoot lang ang gamit ko dito. :p

Our third and final stop for the day before heading to Malacca was Kek Lok Si Temple. I can’t remember when and how my interest with temples and other places of worship began. I guess I’m just fascinated with the architecture and history, so I make it a point to always include at least one temple/place of worship on my trips. 🙂

Kek Lok Si is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. It has a 7-storey handcrafted “Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas’ that was completed in 1930 and a 30.2 meter bronze statue of Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) completed in 2002. It is also festively decorated with 200,000 lights and lanterns every Chinese New Year.


Anyway, enough of the talking writing. Just check out the pictures below. :p

If you look closely, there are tiny Buddhas inside.
View of the suburb of Air Itam (foreground) and Georgetown (background)
When you reach this temple, you can either go left (to take the inclined lift to the Statue of Kuan Yin) or right (to the Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas)

We went inside the souvenir shop and paid RM4.00 for the inclined lift to get to the Statue of Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy). 


Statue of Kuan Yin

There’s also another prayer hall and park within the grounds with some cute marble animal carvings.


Look at ’em cute dogs!
Some animal carvings of the Chinese Zodiac
It was almost 6:00 pm (closing time) so we didn’t get the chance to see the Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas. I just admired it from afar.


***
And I just had to include this: :p
 
Suffering from a broken heart? No worries. You will be given priority seat in Penang. LOL
 
K
 
Next post: Melaka series

Eat, Pray, Shop: Malaysia – Pinang Peranakan Mansion

After our instant walking tour of George Town, we finally reached Pinang Peranakan Mansion an hour before noon.

This mansion is a typical home of an affluent Baba (Nyonya or Straits Chinese) — though owned by Kapitan Cina Chung Keng Kwee (who’s not a Baba himself) — recreated to give visitors a glimpse of the opulent lifestyle in those days. Its architecture and design is a hodgepodge of Chinese carved wooden panels, English floor tiles, and Scottish iron works. It’s also a popular filming location for movies and television series.


The mansion’s side profile visible from the street
View of the second floor from the central courtyard with open air well

The first floor consists of the following areas: Central Courtyard, Game/Music Room, Western Dining, Study/Dining, Traditional Main Hall, and Dining Hall (Nyonya Tok Panjang). There’s also an external annex that houses the kitchen, and a secret passage outside that leads to the Chung Ancestral Temple. 
Inside the Study/Dining area
Check out the beautiful glass panels
Impressive marble sculpture in the study/dining area
 
Unfortunately, there were tour groups at the time of our visit, so to avoid the crowd, we decided to check out the second floor first.
 
NOTE: You have to take off your footwear before going up.
 
The second floor consists of the Family Hall where commissioned paintings of Kapitan Chung’s parents and grandparents are displayed; three galleries called bridal chambers from different eras of the 1900s to the 1950s; a gallery dedicated to glass Epergnes; and the Back Hall. Also displayed are the porcelain and jewelry collection.
 
I played with the 60s filter so I can blend with the setting. :p
The glass Epergne room
Reminds me of the glassware collection in Bangkok’s Vimanmek Mansion.

Bridal Chamber c. 1930 – 1950
Bridal Chamber c. 1900 – 1920
Jawdropping jewelry
View of the Traditional Main Hall from the second floor

Closer view of the Traditional Main Hall

Behind the colorful glass panel is the Western Dining area
 
At the external annex near the kitchen
 
From the external annex, we took the secret passage which led us to…
Chung Keng Kwee Ancestral Temple’s courtyard
Chung Keng Kwee Ancestral Temple’s entrance
Collage of my favorite carvings 
(Clockwise) One of the ceramic figurines in the temple depicting dramatic scenes from Chinese legends;  close up shot of the intricate wooden carving on the door above; metallic carving on one of the furniture; wooden carving embellished with gold leaf on the main hall panel. 

It’s quite obvious they really put attention to every single detail in this house. Every nook and cranny is photogenic. It’s definitely a visual feast! Though we had a hard time finding its location, this place is certainly worth visiting.
 
By the way, six of the staff here are Filipino. 🙂 There’s also a gift shop near the main entrance of the house. 
 
 
29 Church Street, 10200 Penang, Malaysia
 
Visiting hours:
Daily from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm
 
Admission:
Adult: RM10.00
Child: RM 5.00 (below 12 y/o)
(Child below 6 y/o – FREE)
 
 
K

Eat, Pray, Shop: Malaysia – Gorgeous George Town

The Historic City of George Town
 
On 7th July 2008, George Town was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. Founded 200 years ago, the city has an impressive collection of historic buildings representing the cultural heritage of Penang’s various ethnicities: Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Malays, Achehnese, Siamese, Burmese and Europeans. – text from Penang Traveller’s Map.
 
Our first agenda for the day was to visit Pinang Peranakan Mansion. We rode the free CAT (Central Area Transit) shuttle that stops in front of 7/11 along Jalan Penang. The bus takes a specific route from KOMTAR to Jetty and it won’t pass any street near the mansion so we had to get off somewhere and just walk. We actually got lost trying to find it, which is a good thing because we had an INSTANT WALKING TOUR! 😀
 
They kind of look like Larry Alcala’s work, don’t you think?

 

We got off Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling and immediately saw one of many street arts in George Town. (1) Aside from beautifying the streets and doubling as street markers, these installations are also informative; giving a glimpse of life in Penang.
 
Here’s the text written on the installations:
 
(2) Parrot astrologers were Indian fortune tellers who used green parakeets to foretell a person’s future. – King Street
(3) Seck Chuan Lane was a distribution center for market produce. Many itinerant hawkers took advantage of the crowds by plying their food here. One of the favorite food sold is Ting Ting Thong or rock candy – a hardened mixture of sugar, ses (I’m guessing it’s sesame) seeds, and nuts loved by kids. It has to be “chi” and “hammered” to break it into smaller biteable pieces. – Seck Chuan Lane
(5) Tok-tok Mee is so called because hawkers would strike a ‘tok tok’ sound to signal their presence. – China Street
 
More street art can be found in Armenian Street featuring works of Ernest Zacharevic. And while you’re there, you can also visit clan temples Cheah Kongsi and Khoo Kongsi. Too bad all these are more than a couple of blocks away from where we were. We were also pressed for time because we need to go back to Hutton Lodge around noon to check out. 
 
St. George’s Church
 
Just across Kapitan Keling Street is St. George’s Church. It was built between 1817 and 1818 making it the oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia.
 
And just a few meters from St. George’s Church is the Goddess of Mercy Temple. This temple is dedicated to Kuan Yin. Also within the vicinity are the Cathedral of the Assumption and Penang State Museum. I imagine we could have covered most, if not all, of the attractions in the Core Zone if we had more time. 
 
George Town is such a laid back place. People are friendly and helpful. I could probably spend hours just sitting at a quaint cafe sipping my Teh Tarik while marveling at the parade of colorful trishaws passing by.



K

Eat, Pray, Shop: Malaysia – A Slice of Penang

Touted as Malaysia’s food capital, without a doubt, you will never go hungry in Penang.
I can’t say enough how I wish we stayed longer in this lovely island (specifically George Town).  But I’m glad that in the short time we spent, we were able to sample some of Penang’s famous dishes.
Our first meal upon arriving in George Town:
char kway teow penang
Char Kway Teow – fried flat rice noodles with chili spices, shrimps and cockles, RM4.50
Watermelon (?) and Apple Juice, RM2.50 each
Fried Spring Rolls and Quekiam
If I remember correctly, this hawker center is at the corner of Penang Road and Lebuh Chulia.
The following day, we had brunch at OldTown White Coffee before we went to Pinang Peranakan Mansion.
old town coffee penang
Cozy interiors of OldTown White Coffee
Lot 2&4, Lebuh Gereja, The Whiteaways Arcade, Beach Street, Penang

Breakfast sets are reasonably priced (drink already included).
I got MyBreakfast #22: Mini Prawn Meehoon Mee with Kaya and Butter Toast with White Coffee (left), RM9.50
I think my friend ordered MyBreakfast #8: Peanut Butter Toast w/ Soft Boiled Eggs (right), RM6.50
Mini Prawn Meehoon Mee
Rice and egg noodles with hard-boiled egg, prawn, bean sprouts, and water spinach in a spicy prawn and pig bone stock.
Tastes like a spicy version of our Kare-Kare. It’s even served with bagoong (shrimp paste)!
For dinner, we decided to try the Nasi Kandar near Hutton Lodge.
Tandoori Chicken & Nasi Kandar with Beef, RM4.70
How I wish we could have tried some dessert too, but alas! Oh well, at least we were able to save our bodies from additional pounds. hehehe
 
K

Eat, Pray, Shop: Malaysia – The Road from KL to Penang

During this trip, I developed a love-hate relationship with Malaysian buses. You’ll soon find out why.

I woke up around 7:00 am with an aching body from last night’s shopping spree. Good thing there’s no need to rush since we’ve already packed our bags before we slept and I had already booked our bus tickets to Butterworth (Penang) via BusOnlineTicket.com. Sure, you can just go to Pudu Sentral (Puduraya Terminal) and buy your tickets there, but since we only have more than a day in Penang, we don’t have the luxury of time to take whatever bus trip is available. When I checked the seat availability online, there were only 5 seats left for the bus leaving at 10:00 am so I booked it right away. 


Email confirmation of booking
Original fare is only RM33.00 per head plus some transaction fee
 
After breakfast, we hailed a cab to Puduraya. It only took 10-15 minutes and we shortly arrived at the terminal. The terminal has several levels: the main level where you’ll enter serve as the ‘waiting’ or ‘boarding’ gates, if you will. Second level is where you’ll find the different ticket counters. And lastly, the basement or parking, where the buses are located.
 
So we went upstairs to look for Counter 42 or 45 as indicated in the email. I handed over the printed confirmation and the guy issued our tickets. We then went to our respective gate and found the bus. 
 
Okay, so this is where I started to despise their ‘system’. I presented our tickets to this guy from Alisan Coach. After acknowledging it was the right bus, he asked us to stow our bags in the luggage compartment. My friend had a huge luggage and a backpack, and I have a backpack and duffel bag, and we had to put our bags in the compartment ourselves. Okay, so that’s not really a big deal…not yet.
 
The bus was still half empty so my friend went to the ladies’ room first. I was getting settled on my seat when the bus conductor asked me to get off and transfer to the first bus since it’ll be leaving first. It was only 9:30 am, and while it’s good that we can leave early, I didn’t appreciate that this bus conductor was rushing me to get off the bus and unload our bags from the compartment without helping me. As soon as my friend arrived, we transferred to the first bus, and it left shortly.
 
***
 
What I loved about the bus: There were only 27 seats so that means you have plenty of legroom and seats can be reclined. It’s definitely more comfortable than Cebu Pacific’s. WiFi is also available. Towels (yes, towels and not blankets) were also provided in case you get cold. My favorite though – even if I wasn’t able to use it – was the power outlet. 

Photo from Alisan Golden Coach’s website
 
***
 
About 20 minutes after we left Puduraya, we stopped at a gasoline station for a restroom break. When I got back the bus, I asked the driver our estimated time of arrival in Butterworth and he said we’d be there by 1:30 PM. I figured I’ll sleep first since the trip will take more than three hours. I had a good nap for about a couple hours, but woke up because I felt the bus was taking a zigzag road, and saw that we were passing by mountains. 

Woke up just in time to snap this view.
 
I think I saw a sign that says ‘Ipoh’. My heart skipped a beat and I tried to picture the Malaysian map in my mind trying to remember if we were supposed to pass by Ipoh. Then it hit me…there’s WiFi onboard. Idiot. So I Googled. Relieved to find the answer, I slept again. It was already around noon so I’m quite confident it’ll only be another hour or so and we’ll be in Butterworth. 
 
We made a stopover and I thought it would only take 15-30 minutes so passengers can go to the restroom or have some snacks, but no, we spent about an hour or so. To make things worse, the driver turned off the air conditioning because they seem to be fixing something. My friend and I were chatting when this lady seated in front of us started a small talk. She’s Filipino as well and we found out she was planning to tour Southeast Asia. So we were giving her pointers on where to stay in Bangkok when the driver started calling out ‘Butterworth’ (which we can hardly decipher from his accent). He approached us and asked again ‘Butterworth’? We said ‘Yes’. He said ‘Come’ gesturing to follow him. ‘Hurry! Hurry!’ he said. Nagmamadali? May lakad ka kuya? 
 
So we were wondering why he asked us to get off the bus. Turns out he wants us to get our bags (yes, we had to unload the bags ourselves — again) and transfer to this other bus going to Butterworth. What the heck?!? Is he telling me we were on the wrong bus the whole time? So we loaded our bags to this other bus’ luggage compartment while he and this other driver were conversing in Bahasa. Meanwhile, me and my friend were standing under the scorching heat of the sun waiting for them to finish their conversation. One wouldn’t let us board his bus while the other was trying to get rid of us. GREAT! 
 
After their argument, they seem to have finally reached an ‘agreement’, and the driver let us back the first bus saying (in his broken English) ‘Hurry! Hurry! Take your bags.’ and looking irritated and all. Aba! Siya pa talaga ang may ganang ma-bwisit #$@#$@#!!! I swear, I would have kicked this driver in the face if not for fear of being charged with assault and being detained in a foreign country. I mean, we paid tickets to Butterworth so why the hell would he bump us off? 
 
Anyway, after the brouhaha, we continued with the journey. It was already an hour after we left the stopover (past 2:00 pm) and I still don’t see any signs of Butterworth that I wanted to ask the driver ‘Kuya yung totoo, papunta ba talaga itong Butterworth o Thailand?’ But with what happened earlier, I figured asking him was futile. I just prepared myself in case we end up in Hat Yai, Thailand. haha
 
Finally, I started seeing signs of Butterworth. So when the bus stopped and people started to get off, I asked if it is already the ferry terminal and he confirmed it. So we got off and, again, unloaded our bags from the luggage compartment. 
 
We walked for a few minutes until we reached the Penang Ferry Service where we paid RM1.20 each for the ride to George Town. The ferry just left so we were the only ones in the waiting area. After 10-15 minutes, people started pouring in. The waiting area was already full to the brim when the ferry arrived. 

Ferry service to and from George TownFinally, first glimpse of George Town with the mighty KOMTAR Tower.

For information on where to stay in George Town, Penang, check out my review of Hutton Lodge here.
 
 
K