Lately I’ve been thinking about Africa. I don’t know exactly what triggered it. Could it be the long summer days? My excitement over the recently-announced staging of The Lion Kingmusical in the Philippines? Whatever the case, the beauty of Africa has captivated me and I am longing to visit and see its wonders.
One of the countries I want to visit is Ethiopia. Ethiopia is rich in culture, tradition, history, and wildlife. In fact, the country has eight World Heritage Sites and is the home of Lucy, a fossil dating back 3.2 million years ago. Because of this, the country is being called the birthplace of humankind.
I started using Grab after I was held up on a bus ride in 2014. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, and one I would never want to go through again. At first, I would only use Grab at night, when commuting became more dangerous. Slowly, I got used to the premium service and convenience that I would find any excuse just to book a ride. Incredibly hot? Grab. It looks like it’s about to rain? Grab. About to run late? Grab. Now I don’t even make an effort to come up with one. I simply whip out my phone and book a ride.
Yes, it’s convenient and luxurious, but it’s an expensive habit. I live all the way in the south so my fare can skyrocket, especially during peak hours. While I happily sit in the car, my credit card is crying in my wallet. Luckily, I can still enjoy the Grab experience for less, because GrabShare is now in Manila!
One cannot go to Hanoi without exploring its rich past.
On my last day in the Vietnamese capital, I stopped by a bookstore and picked up a copy of A Brief Chronology of Vietnamese History, and was surprised by its troubled beginnings. The country has experienced wars since 218 BC, most famous of which are the Indochina Wars that shaped modern-day Vietnam. As a reminder of its past, the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long still stands and serves as a tourist attraction for those wanting to study Vietnam’s history.
One of the highlights of my trip Hanoi was the food. Vietnamese cuisine is known worldwide, and I got a firsthand experience of how good it was. I tried the staple banh mi, pho, and spring rolls, and I still crave for it today.
The trick to eating in Vietnam, and anywhere else, is to eat where the locals eat. Many of them eat in holes in the wall or on humble stands next to busy intersections. Most of the time, proprietors set up clusters of low tables with even lower chairs, a challenge for someone like me who stands six feet tall. The experience was definitely worth it.
In the six days I spent in Hanoi, my favorite meal would have to be the bún chả at Bún chả Hương Liên. It became famous when food authority Anthony Bourdain took US president Barack Obama, there and the food they ate became the Obama special: bún chả (fatty grilled pork in soup, vermicelli noodles, and loads of leaves), fried shrimp roll, and a cold bottle of Hanoi beer. Not bad for P180.
I am very jealous of Hanoi because it has so many museums. In my trip, I was able to go to seven, an impressive feat considering they are within (relative) walking distance to each other. The museums offer different things, which isn’t surprising considering Vietnam has a rich cultural history. I wish we could do the same for Manila.
I’ve noticed that I went to Hong Kong once a year since 2013. It’s not really surprising because I love how the city is a contrast between old and new, east and west. Hong Kong reveals a different side to me each time I visit, whether it’s with my family, alone, with my ex-boyfriend, or for work. One of the things that have been constant with the city is Ocean Park, which I visited three times already.
I was back this year for Ocean Park’s Halloween Fest, Asia’s largest Halloween celebration. I was sent by my editor last year, and I’m lucky to be the representative for WIM again. Last year’s Halloween Fest was a truly terrifying experience, where one attraction made you experience your own death (complete with a funeral and a cremation) and the different stages of hell. I was curious how different it would be this year.
This year’s Halloween Fest highlight is Ocean Park’s partnership with Ghostbusters. They recreated iconic settings from the franchise, such as the fire station, the subway, and Times Square. There was even a giant Stay Puft Man outside the venue! This was one of my favorite attractions this year.
Another favorite was Club Blood, where Taiwanese superstar Danson Tang plays a vampire who operates a club to get victims. I love vampires. They’re such elegant creatures!
Each year, Ocean Park comes up with a special attraction to celebrate its anniversary. Last year was H15 (for Halloween Fest’s 15th year), where we were tied to stretchers and led through the seven stages of hell. The scariest is how you can’t move from the ghosts coming towards you.
For Halloween Fest’s 16th year, they launched 16+, an unusual attraction for a family theme park. According to Kay, who does the PR for Ocean Park, it’s Fifty Shades of Grey meets Saw. 16+ is a burlesque club where the deeper you go, the more intense the fetishes are. It’s a fun show and I liked it, and is definitely a step forward from what I’ve seen in Ocean Park.
The executives of Ocean Park hosted a themed dinner at Cafe Ocean, and our main dish is a clever take on a cadaver, with pan-fried beef striploin, deep-fried chicken breast with brie cheese, roasted chicken fillet, chipolata sausage in tomato sauce, and seafood vegetables pate.
Last year, AirAsia flew me with Irene Perez of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Felix Suerte from the Philippine Star, Alecs Ongcal from Rappler, and Mark del Rosario from AirAsia. We’re still in touch and we bring up the experience whenever we run into each other.
This year, I was with PJ Enriquez from Inquirer, Marga Buenaventura from Star, Sara Fojas from the Manila Bulletin, Jamie Sanchez from Spot.ph, Nicole Muriel from Ardent Communications, and David Guison, who runs his own blog.
We were billetted at L’hotel Island South, which is located 15 minutes away from the park and is the ideal place to stay in if you want to visit Ocean Park. It’s a luxurious hotel with a view of the mountains on one side and the city on the other. My only issue is that there are no MTR stations nearby which makes going to the city inconvenient, but there’s going to be one soon. I didn’t mind, though, because our itinerary was packed so there wasn’t enough time to explore.
I wrote lengthy posts on my experience last year and this year. Check the links to read it!
I was supposed to go to Hanoi last February. I had booked my ticket and my hostel, and bought a new bag and camera. I was looking forward to the trip, but that month was busy and incredibly stressful, so I mixed up the date of my departure and went to the airport the following day. It was a painful (and costly) lesson in being fully-present: what else could I miss if I live my life in a constant state of preoccupation?
Luckily, another seat sale popped up. Actually, it was my friend Janessa who was looking for flights (it was also Janessa who was looking for flights when I booked the trip I missed). On a lark, I decided to look for flights to Hanoi and found a cheaper ticket. Being an impulsive cat, I booked a trip this September and made it!
My flight is part of a series of regular solo trips where I reflect on my current situation. Having no one to talk to, I am forced to examine the issues I put at the back of my mind and find solutions. In a way, it’s a retreat to “find myself.”
I love hostels. It’s an affordable way to travel and stay in cozy spaces that give you the opportunity to meet like-minded people. In 2013, I went on a solo trip to Hong Kong and stayed in Yes Inn in Causeway Bay (roughly P800 a night in the city whose shopping areas have the most expensive rent in the world). Last week, I stayed in the Vietnam Backpackers Hostel in Hanoi (roughly P1,000 a night for a spacious private room). Yes, hostels are now my go-to choice for traveling for their affordability and character.