Stories in Siem Reap

Aw Khun Ch’ran Siem Reap…
That’s how they say “Thank You Very Much” in Khmer Language.
Me and 4 other friends spend 3 days/2 nights in Siem Reap, Cambodia last week because of a long Thailand public holiday.
I am glad the trip pushed through even if we only planned for it less than 2 weeks. It was discussed only briefly when our group had a mini-Pinoy party eating all Filipino Foods.
My friend, Tine said she will be going to Cambodia by land for holiday. In jest, we told her we want to join. Then suddenly we became excited with the idea of traveling cross-country by land and so what was supposedly just a joke became a reality.

Traveling from Thailand to Cambodia by land is a good option because road condition in Thailand is excellent and cost is a lot cheaper than flying. There is a van from Victory Monument in Bangkok that goes to Aranyaprathet which is the Thailand side of the border. Cost is around THB 230 per way. However, our friend Alek decided to bring his pick-up truck so we can just drive all the way to the border. It is definitely faster and cheaper. We left their home at 5:30 am and drove less than 3 hours. After securing our entry stamp we arrived in the Kingdom of Cambodia (Poipet Border).

From Poipet border, we travelled 2.5 hours to reach Siem Reap by taxi (which is actually an unmarked car, parked in their so-called Bus station). We paid USD 10 per person and the taxi dropped us off in our hotel. We stayed in Lin Ratanak Angkor Hotel, a 4-star hotel located only few minutes away from the Old Market. The lobby of the hotel is a bit dark and designed in a contemporary Khmer style decor. However, the staff were all very courteous, friendly and accommodating. We felt we are treated like Royalty considering we only paid around THB 800 per night (breakfast included). The receptionist suggested a good itinerary for us to maximize our stay in the city. We decided to hire their car for our tours because the price they quoted us is really cheap. The driver is also very friendly and professional.

During our first night, we had a dinner buffet with cultural dance in a local restaurant. Wide range of Khmer and International foods can be selected. Khmer dance is very similar to Thai including hand gestures and costumes evidently because they are neighboring countries so there are many aspects in their life that is influenced by the other culture.

We want to see the sunrise in Angkor Wat so the next day, we asked for a wake-up call at 4:30 am. We left the hotel before 5:30. Unfortunately on that day, the weather is gloomy and the skies very cloudy so we weren’t able to take a decent shot of the sunrise. The Angkor Wat is also undergoing restoration so big green drapes cover the temples and this sight is not so attractive to look at in camera. Anyway, this is  a UNESCO World Heritage site and naturally all efforts are being made to preserve this man-made wonder.

1 Day pass to Angkor is USD 20 per person. If you decide to visit for 3 Days, you can buy it for only USD 40 while the 7 days pass cost only USD 60. Since we have limited time, we just bought 1 day pass which I think is good enough as we are not a very hardcore temple fanatics.

Angkor Wat is the most popular and highly recognizable structure in the complex. The walls were designed intricately and you can find many artwork etched in it depicting various stories.  We then proceeded to Angkor Thom, which in Khmer literally means Great City. Angkor Thom is the last capital city of the Khmer Empire. We took many pictures and then proceeded to Bayon Temple. I like Bayon Temple because of the many ruins you can see in the complex plus the massive stone faces in many towers of the complex.

Next stop is Ta Prohm. This area was used as location for various movies including the hugely popular Lara Croft: Tomb Raider wherein the trees literally grow in the temple ruins some of which the roots of the giant trees literally enveloped the area.

After more than 7 hours of walking, taking pictures and being awed by the great Ancient Khmer civilization through the temples we’ve visited, it’s time for us to take our late lunch. We decided to dine in KFC, the only International Fast food chain in Siem Reap. The taste of chicken is not as good as in Bangkok or Manila but is ok cos the set meal price is cheaper.

Next, we went for a tour of Tonle Sap Lake. According to Wikipedia, it is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and covers a big part of the Cambodian map. Tonle Sap is unique because of the water mechanism happening in this body of water. During dry season, the lake shrinks to 2,700 sq. km. and 1 meter deep because the flow of water is drained in the mighty Mekong River. However during Monsoon season, the lake swells as big as 16,000 sq. km and depth up to 9 meters as the flow is reversed and the Mekong River pushes water into the lake.

There are about 800 families along the Tonle Sap community  according to our boatman/guide named Ki, but I think it could be more. This community is considered the poorest in Cambodia. They rely only on fish and seafoods caught in the lake but during rainy season it is very dangerous to fish and they say many fishermen had died in the past because if they are out there in the middle of the lake, they will not know if there is a heavy rain or thunderstorm coming in so some of them drown in the lake or boats capsized.

This not-so-typical tour of the lake opened my eyes as well as that of my friends on the reality of life in Cambodia, considered one of the poorest nations in the world. Because they are so poor, they don’t have access to clean facilities, their small boat houses is where their living, dining, kitchen bedroom and bathroom are all rolled into one. They don’t have toilet so they just put their wastes directly into the river connected to the lake. We even saw one guy after soaping and shampooing himself, rinsed himself by jumping into the river which is full of mud, wastes and water hyacinths.

They also don’t have access to clean drinking water. If they have money, they will buy water from the refilling station but if none (which is the fact in most cases) they will just get drinking water from Tonle Sap (without even boiling) so a lot of them especially kids have poor health and are malnourished.

While we traverse, many of the families try to beg for USD 1 to buy some food and drinks. Ki is honest enough to discourage us giving these people money because if some others will know, all of them will just flock asking for alms. On the way back he took us to the only primary school in the community where he used to study and now 2 of his siblings were studying. The floating school is small but 200 children are studying. There are 3 small classrooms so they have to do classes in different shifts to accommodate all the students. Many of the children have no families so the school also serve as their home. When we went there less than 20 children were there (because it was a Sunday and almost sunset). We also met the Vietnamese volunteer teacher who is really kind and selfless for doing such deed.

There are many Vietnamese who went there during the Khmer Rouge time to help and a lot of them decided not to return to Vietnam and just settle in Cambodia specifically Tonle Sap area so in school they have to teach in Khmer, Vietnamese and English. Since we didn’t have enough money as we never expected this scenario in our tour, my group and I were only able to buy over 50 bottles of water and some treat. It may be small but we know it could help the children in some ways. We were discouraged to donate money because of rampant corruption in the country and we also felt it’s best to give goods or school materials next time we go back.

Before reaching the jetty port, we realized that Ki’s left arm is missing. We didn’t noticed it earlier because he is wearing a long-sleeved shirt. He told us he lost his arm when he was 11 years old because of landmine. At 21 years old, he is about to finish secondary school. He wants to go to college and study English so he could become an English teacher someday. Because of his physical condition, he cannot do some work so being a teacher is ideal for him because he can perform his best while helping the poor children learn English (we noticed a lot of them speak good English and can catch up easily even those children and sellers on the street). He said he used to have a Filipino teacher and that he love watching Filipino series (surprisingly many Cambodians know Pangako Sa’Yo and Marimar of Marian Rivera translated in Khmer language).

His perspective in life is good as I did not see or hear him sulk or complain about his life a bit and he still have a positive disposition despite his physical handicap and social condition of his community.

After our Cambodia trip and we were back to the busy streets of Bangkok, I just find it so surreal that in one part of the world many people are hungry and impoverished while in many other places life is very convenient and good. This fact made me feel very blessed and fortunate and I am very thankful to God for being in a better position. And this should remind us to be more compassionate and giving to our less fortunate brothers.

I saw the sun set in Tonle Sap but I did not fret, because I know the same sun will also rise above them the next day. This made me felt assured that there is always light after the darkest hours of these people.

Singapore Sojourn (2011)

Last week, I had a quick business trip to Singapore (sorry Ms. GBP, didn’t have the chance to contact you so we could meet up). As usual, Singapore never cease to amaze me as it always offer something new every time I visit this highly-urbanized City State.

The last time I was there was February 2010 and in a very short span of time, a lot of new developments had happened.

Of course we all know that Marina Bay Sands, Resorts World Sentosa and Universal Studios Singapore are now open which was partly still under construction last time I was there so I did not miss the opportunity to see these hot attractions.

I stayed in Park Regis Hotel, a new hotel conveniently located in Clarke Quay. The location is great as it is less than 5 mins. walk to MRT station as well as the Central Mall and all those nice night spots.

The room is good but a bit small. But never mind as I am not in the hotel most of the time.

The meetings of the 1st 2 days of my trip was very rigorous if not tiring but it was a good exchange of ideas from various heads of different countries.

Tuesday night, I get to meet my former Philippine colleagues and had a sumptuous dinner in a Hawker centre overlooking Marina Bay Sands. It is very ironic that the other country heads were having dinner at Marina Bay Sands during that time (which I had to pass so I could meet my former colleagues) and we were just looking at the grand structure while eating tasty foods outside.

After dinner, few of us headed straight to Chijmes to cap the night with a few drinks and good music.

Next day was the day of our flight back to Bangkok. We still had a meeting over lunch but after that, I get to enjoy Universal Studios Singapore even for a few hours (as we had to rush to the airport for our flight). Luckily most of the rides have short queue or none at all since it was a weekday.

I really enjoyed The Mummy ride and the most sought after Battlestar Galactica. It was one helluva scary ride but I will definitely try it again next time.

Didn’t get the chance to go shopping or go to the Bak Kuh Teh shop near our office where I tasted the best one in Singapore. I just consoled my self with a bowl of this food bought in Vivo City en route to the airport.

I’m looking forward to going back to Singapore again very soon.

Sharing you some of the pics here..Pardon me I inserted some pics with me in it..lol.

 

Christmas in the Sky

For the 3rd straight year, I am celebrating Christmas away from home. I just came back home for a very brief holiday beginning of December so I am not too emotional not having to spend Christmas with my family. In Facebook, I can read many of my friends working overseas and not spending their holidays at home are posting all those comments about missing their families for Christmas, being alone in a faraway land which makes it more difficult, etc.

The fact of life is that most of us working abroad decided to have this kind of life for our dear families in the Philippines so we just have to make the most out of our situation.

Fortunately for me, 2 of my friends are staying in Bangkok for Christmas. Most decided to fly back or spend the holidays somewhere so the 3 of us decided to experience Christmas the GRAND way.

We booked 2 nights in Lebua Hotel, a 5-Star luxury hotel located near the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. Because of some connections, I managed to get our room upgraded. We were assigned in a 58th floor Suite with a very spacious living area, a kitchenette, luxurious bathroom with Bulgari toiletries and a balcony overlooking the magnificent river. We felt like a total VIP!



We had dinner in a Pizzeria near the hotel as it’s almost 10 PM and there was also a bit of traffic jam on the riverside area perhaps due to Christmas festivities in the hotels within the vicinity (most of the hotels along the Chao Phraya River are 5-Star International chain hotels). We were deceived by this restaurant because from the outside, it looked quite well and have a good number of selection.

The food served can be forgotten as it is not tasty at all. The Pasta in white sauce I ordered seemed more like a stew because of overflow of sauce that made it tasteless. My friend ordered a glass of Red wine and it was served chilled (which is not the correct way) and tastes like the wine cooler “Spy” than an actual Red Wine. Only thing good was the Caesar’s Salad I ordered but I can’t say it is outstanding. Anyway, for the price that we paid, we can’t complain much (price range almost the same as Pizza Hut)…and we just console ourselves that the highlight of our Christmas Eve celebration is a drink in the signature bar of Lebua- – Sky Bar.

After Dinner, we called home and greeted our families. It is midnight in the Philippines and is quite difficult to call. After few attempts, we managed to speak to our loved ones back home. It was such a good feeling spending time with family over the phone and asking them about their celebration and vice-versa no matter how short the conversation was.

Suddenly, there were fireworks near Shangri-La Hotel which is few minutes away from our hotel. It’s the signal that the world is already welcoming Christmas Day!

After the fireworks, we headed to the 64th floor (roof top) of the hotel to a bar called Sky Bar. Sky Bar during Christmas Eve is teeming with people (foreigners mostly). On the edge of the bar are glass panels which serves as the walls of the bar. Since I am afraid of heights, I am a bit uncomfortable in the beginning especially with cool winds blowing and less space to walk around.

Anyway after getting our cocktail drinks and having a few sips, I felt easy. We took a few snapshots though most of the pictures didn’t come out quite good because we failed to bring any DSLR cameras.


We decided to sit in a corner of the bar and while me and my friends are talking, we were able to witness an actual marriage proposal at the Sky Bar. The couple are just few meters away from our spot and we realized it was a proposal when the 2 just started kissing each other and the lady was so happy and they are looking at the ring just worn in the hands of the wife-to-be. It was such a romantic venue to do a proposal.

Only thing that is unappealing are the huge crowd in the bar at that time which makes the place very noisy. Nevertheless, it is the thought of asking someone to marry him and on the other way around her replying on the affirmative that matters most.

We headed back to our Suite almost 3AM, tired but full (of food and drinks) and satisfied. Next day we enjoyed a buffet breakfast feast in the Hotel’s coffee shop and headed to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. Later at dinner, we went to Narai Hotel to try Buffet in their Thai Restaurant wherein the food was superb! It really compensated for the lousy dinner we had on Christmas Eve.

It was such an enjoyable and unforgettable Christmas in the Sky with friends.

What about you, what is your Christmas Story?

A year after Typhoon Ondoy…

October 26, 2010, exactly one year since the destructive Typhoon Ondoy wreaked havoc to Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon. This day will not be forgotten by  many people including my Family, some relatives and friends because we are included in the list of victims of nature’s wrath through a typhoon named Ondoy.

It was a typical Saturday. Early in the morning, it was raining but not so heavy yet. My Mom and Dad went to the local market to buy a week’s stock of food. Only my 2 sisters, brother in law and nephew (then 7 months old) were left at home. The rain started to pour heavily.

Our car was stucked on the road due to traffic (since some roads became impassable).  My mom became worried that the water might go inside the car but nothing they can do since the traffic is not moving for an hour. She needed to use the comfort room and since they realized there will be no way the vehicles will move soon since the rain becomes heavier, they decided to leave the car on the road and go to my aunt’s (father side) house which is close to where they were stranded. Soon the flood becomes deeper and deeper that it went inside the house of my aunt. They had to transfer to a neighbor whose house is 2 stories high.

Back home, my siblings are in panic because they can’t contact my parents and the waters are rising very fast. Our home is bungalow type though it is built higher than the road and in the 20 years that we lived there, never did the floods reached inside our house…if the flood waters reached our gate, it is already above waist deep.. Except on that day when the waters reached inside up to the window pane.  My sister said the flood waters rise very fast and the current so strong, it seems like seeing the Southeast Asian Tsunami videos. They had to climb a stair to reach our next door neighbor who’s Townhouse is 2 stories as well.  They had to do it quickly and cautiously because they are carrying a baby. All the appliances and furniture tumbled down as the flood entered our home.

These events were happening while I am totally unaware of since I am in Bangkok and the weather is so sunny that time.  Never did I expect a typical typhoon to directly hit Manila since it has been raining constantly in the country during that time but it is expected in a monsoon season anyway. I even watched a movie with few friends that day.

I did not receive any single message from family members about the predicament simply because it was so quick and they are totally unprepared. They had to contact each other (my parents, my other siblings, relatives who are mostly living in Marikina or Pasig–all flood prone areas) so in a short while, all their mobile phone batteries went dead.

I was only able to check my Facebook after dinner. I got the biggest shock of my life when I opened Facebook and the wall of my friends are literally flooded with messages about the disaster, re-posting call for help from those affected and prayer requests.

Then I checked the news website and found out how big the destruction is. I got goosebumps and my heart beats faster. At the back of my mind, I am praying nothing wrong happened to my family. I tried contacting our landline as well as the mobile phones of all my family members and relatives. All are unreachable.

I was so restless but cannot do anything. I tried messaging my cousins in the US and Canada if they have any news about our families back home but unfortunately they cannot contact their respective families as well. All of us overseas waited in vain. Just imagine the frustration and anxiety we are feeling back then. All we had to do is pray.

I asked a favor from my ex-GF to try contacting any of my family members since it may be easier if the call is from Metro Manila. Fortunately, she is able to contact my brother in law and got updated that all members of the family including some of our relatives nearby are all ok. Only thing is that they can’t contact my cousin staying in Pasig so they are also worried if they are ok.

The family was able to contact my cousin after a few days. When the flood subsided, my family entered our home and everyone thought they are in a nightmare especially my parents who worked hard to build our home and improve it over the years but all these hard work, savings and memories (including our pictures and documents) are washed away in a few hours time.

I actually asked them to take pictures of our home but they all don’t want to remember it by a picture so I wasn’t able to see exactly how our house looked like then. All I know is they spend few days (if not weeks) to clean and disinfect the house, throw away the appliances, clothes and items that are no longer usable. Our car also had to be on queue for fixing because majority of Marikina are submerged in flood and vehicles needed to be fixed. Our consolation and for which we must be truly grateful for God’s mercy is that everyone in my family, relatives and friends are all safe.

I saw the Facebook note of my cousin detailing her and 2 children’s ordeal while stucked in their home in Pasig. It is very detailed that I can picture them like in Titanic trying to move around in deep waters. Fortunately for them, their home has 2nd floor. They consider the present as their 2nd life already since during that time, only few inches away and the flood will reach the 2nd floor of their house where my cousins and 2 little children were. Their village was submerged in water for few days without food, water and electricity which makes it doubly hard since the little one one is still a toddler then.

When I went back home few months after, there are still some traces of Ondoy in our home (some of the doors and cabinets are not fixed yet that time).

After 1 year that Ondoy “visited” the Philippines, the memory still remains. Let us just pray that catastrophe of this magnitude will not happen again.

Sharing some pics I got from this website: http://www.typhoonondoy.org/tag/ondoy/

Goldilocks Bakeshop now in Bangkok!

The Philippines’ favorite Bakeshop, Goldilocks is now in Bangkok. News said there will be several branches in Bangkok but yesterday I was trying to locate the one in MBK Centre but even as I go through all the floors, it wasn’t there. It may be open soon.

However, today I was lucky enough to find a branch in Siam Square in a newly opened mall called Siamkit Building (earlier thought the building name is Benjakiti) just in front of Novotel Hotel at Siam Square.

I was able to take picture of the mall but not the frontage of Goldilocks cos I was kinda shy to take pictures up close..hahaha. I’ll try to take picture soon if I am with my friends.

The location of the shop is very good, in the Ground Floor, the first store beside the entrance and opposite Starbucks.

I really took my time to look for the place because as a Filipino, I am proud to see the Philippine brand in a foreign country. In addition, I am missing the bakery products of Goldilocks specifically the Mamon, Puto and brownies. Unfortunately, there is no Puto in the product line yet.

When I entered the store, the 4 tables of the bakeshop are full of Thai families which is a good start for the newly opened store (I think they opened only beginning of this month). Some spaces of the mall hasn’t opened yet.

They have opening promotion as follows:

Free 1 pc classic polvoron for a minimum purchase of 100 baht
Free 4 pcs classic polvoron for a minimum purchase of 300 baht
Free 1 package (10 pcs) classic polvoron for a minimum purchase of 500 baht.

However, I was lucky enough to be given 4 pcs of classic polvoron even if I only purchased around 200 baht of products. Maybe because I smiled at the crew members.  Ha ha ha!

I believe Goldilocks will be popular in Bangkok because Thais love bakery products and sweets including cakes. With the very lovely cake designs they make which is incomparable with existing cakes being sold in normal bakeshops here, I’m sure people will troop to the stores soon.

Hope Jollibee and Chowking will be here too sooner than later. 🙂

Update (as of March 14, 2011): I saw the complete list of Goldilocks branches in Bangkok from Ensogo.com. Last week, Goldilocks had a promotion in this website (around 50% disc. for bakery items if you buy vouchers via Ensogo).

– 1st floor Siamkit building, Siam Square, opposite to Novotel Hotel Tel. 02-250-7560
– Ground floor Chamchuri Square Tel. 081-733-3102
– Ground floor Column Tower Soi Sukhumvit 16 Tel. 02-258-2262
– Ground floor IT Square, Laksi Tel. 084-710-8282
– Chidlom BTS Station Tel. 081-733-3270

An intoxicating weekend…

This weekend has been great if not intoxicating so to speak. I used the word intoxicating but not meant on a negative way. Intoxicating in the sense that me and fellow Filipinos and some foreigner friends enjoyed good food, countless Karaoke songs, long and interesting stories and of course some hearty laugh.

It has been quite a long time that I joined some get-together in a friend’s house because many of us became quite busy and some of the people in our group either moved back home, went to other places or working in some provinces of Thailand.

We planned this party as a sort of house warming/despedida (Bon Voyage party) for one of our friends. Since they are a fan of my Kiko’s Kitchen food blog, they asked me to cook which I gladly obliged.

For the party, we decided to prepare favorite foods that we missed a lot. Later on, we realized all the foods that we selected are very complicated to prepare. We selected Pancit Palabok, Dinuguan and Lumpiang Shanghai. The easiest  dish in our menu is Kinilaw na Talaba (Oyster).

Me, the host and another friend troop to the local market to buy fresh ingredients. I am not a fan of the local markets here because I am worried that since I don’t speak really good Thai, I might find it hard to buy. But actually it’s not because you don’t need to talk much..just point at what you want to buy and ask how much is it (Tao rai krub?) Basically I already know the numbers in Thai so I can easily know the price of the item and also it helps that many of the products have their “price tags’ displayed.

We went to the market in the afternoon so naturally there was no pig’s blood available. We actually had our plan B menu just in case we are unable to buy the pig’s blood.

In the market, we saw fresh squids and since all of us love Adobong Pusit, we bought some extra (Squid is also part of the Pancit Palabok ingredients) for our dinner. We headed back home and eat dinner.

We started preparing the ingredients like cutting, marinading, boiling, etc around 9pm. There were only 2 stoves running and with lots of things to do, we finished our Mis en place at around 2:30 am and went to sleep.

The alarm clock rang around 7 am. We had to wake up early so we can buy the Pig’s blood in the market. Without having breakfast or coffee yet, we headed to our destination. Fortunately, we were able to find our “precious” ingredient– the pig’s blood.

As soon as we arrived home, the 3 of us busied ourselves in the preparation. I started cooking the Pancit Palabok sauce, while the other two are busy wrapping Lumpiang Shanghai. After cooking the Palabok sauce, I then prepared the Dinuguan.

I’ve never tried cooking this dish before though it is one of my favorite dish. I would see my mom cooking it and since I know how it tastes, I just copied her procedure and cooked it. Fortunately, it tastes like Dinuguan and not something else..  🙂

Since we advertised in Facebook that it was a lunch party, guests arrived on time. Luckily we had just finished cooking all the dishes and already starting to prepare the table when they arrived.

It was a small and intimate party among friends totaling to just 8 guests (including 3 foreigners). The foreigners were brave enough to try the Dinuguan even though many would find it quite disgusting from the color of the dish alone (looks like mud) and more so if they learned that it is made of Pig’s blood. Surprisingly however, they enjoyed Filipino foods.

It is very nice to hear your friends enjoying the food and giving praises on how delicious it is. Many of them had 2-3 servings which is actually a feast!

We plan to make our get-together cum pot luck  a regular habit (at least once a month). As early as now, we are looking forward to it and are already thinking what foods to prepare next time. Hope it is the easy ones. 😛

Pumasyal sa Pilipinas kahit puno na ang Jeep…

Many Tourism promotions always highlight that the Philippines has 7,107 islands…Too many islands to explore right? But the million peso question is “Where are all the Tourist gone?”  According to a tourism report, tourist arrival grew to 5.2 million. This is actually a positive sign if compared to the past years but I believe this figure includes Balikbayans or Overseas Filipinos visiting Philippines for Holidays. So even with the positive figure, why does it sound like I am whining?

Thailand enjoys over 14 Million visitors a year, Singapore in March alone enjoyed a brisk arrival of 928,000 and projects tourist arrival to 12.5 million at the end of this year especially with the opening of new Integrated resorts like Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands. Malaysia tops the list of SEA countries in terms of visitor’s arrival at about 21.5 Million in 2009.

Figures don’t  lie ayt?

Why am I highlighting these facts? Simply because the Philippines has all the factors to be the Tourism Haven in Southeast Asia (perhaps even whole Asia).

1.) We are the 2nd largest English-speaking nation in Asia (2nd to India). Everywhere you go even on the boondocks, locals can more or less communicate or understand English. Very Tourist friendly. In Thailand, some of those working in the hotels or restaurants cannot converse fluently in English. But Tourist still flock.

2.) We have the Sun, Sea, Sand and smiles. Activities and attractions are endless. Boracay still remains a big draw to tourist with its talcum powder-like sand and party atmosphere all day and night. Palawan is simply the best and so is Bohol, and Batanes, and Camiguin and Cebu and Davao..the list goes on and on.

3.) We are a melting pot of cultures. It’s true some countries have very strong and easily recognizable culture and heritage like that of China, India, Japan, Thailand. However our uniqueness lies on so many cultures and traditions to explore and experience at such a smaller place than the former mentioned places.

4.) We have several of the biggest shopping malls in the World. The newly renovated SM City North EDSA is the 3rd biggest mall in the world. SM Mall of Asia, SM Megamall and many others are also included in the biggest mall list.  Why simply can’t we be the Shopping Haven of Asia? Why are so many Pinoy businessmen into retail business buy clothes and accessories in Bangkok, Hong Kong or mainland China?

5.) Our country has the geographic advantage.  We are in the heart of Asia and the Pacific. Easily accessible to the rest of the world.

On the other hand, there are also critical reasons why we do not get the numbers that we want:

1.) Lack of infrastructure- our Airports and sea ports cannot compete with our neighbors. Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Incheon Airports are highly recognized for efficient service, cleanliness and all the awards you can think of. Not to mention the size of these airport are simply humongous. Our road network also needs face lift. Few years ago, I was on the way to the Underground River in Puerto Princesa. The scenery is simply breath taking if not out of this world. Imagine a river traversing under a mountain and tourist is underneath this mountain for about 45 minutes going in and another 45 minutes going out. Really awesome. But to reach that spot, you have to travel by land for about 2 hours from the city and an hour of which is on a very bumpy road. The tour guide would always joke it is a natural body massage cos you are literally shaken and twisted by the rough road. Even thousands of tourist flock the Underground River, the road badly needs cementing or even asphalt for many years now.

Our public transport like MRT, LRT and even Bus or Jeepney transport are not tourist friendly. Either it is too crowded, or needs to be pulled to the garage especially a lot of public Buses and taxis.

2.) Lack of Promotion. Some months ago, I was dining in a Seafood Restaurant in Bangkok with a friend and beside our table are a couple of Hong Kong citizens. We tried to be friendly and asked if it is their first time in Bangkok and what is the purpose of their trip. We were surprised on their answer. They said it was not their first time and the purpose of their trip is just to eat Seafoods! WTF! Eating seafoods but you have to spend on airfare, hotel and travel 3 hours? But it is understandable because seafood in Hong Kong is very expensive. They can enjoy seafood dinner ever day or night while they are in Bangkok but the price is nothing compared to having just one full seafood meal in their country. And Thailand is actually earning a lot on Culinary Tourism. Cooking schools in Chiang Mai are very popular. Thai cuisine has been one of the factors why tourist visit this country.

Malaysia is very good in their PR campaigns to promote their tourist spots. Every time I meet a foreigner and I told them I am from Philippines or Manila, they usually ask me, what can you do in Manila or Philippines? Is Manila in an Island or near the beach? Many other questions. It is due to the fact that our Tourism related campaign is either insufficient or lacking of magnets to lure the tourists.

3.) Traveling in the Philippines is expensive. It is good now that Cebu Pacific has started the trend of budget airfare across the country which paved the way for the healthy growth of Domestic Tourism. Hotel accommodations in tourist spots in the Philippines are very expensive and so are foods and souvenirs in these areas. Going back to my story earlier about the couple traveling to Bangkok just to eat, I believe many of our fresh sea foods are being exported to Hong Kong, Japan, China and nearby countries wherein the prices if served on the table are triple or quadruple than the local price before being sent overseas. If we can only find a way for these seafoods or even fruits to be enjoyed here in the Philippines and no need to be sent for export, not only will the prices be cheaper but everyone will be able to enjoy (tourist and locals alike). If tourist go to the Philippines, airlines will be full, hotels will be occupied, restaurants can cook. Many establishments will benefit.

There are many more advantage and disadvantages. Maybe my blog is not enough. However, I still believe our country is great and we can show it to the world. The Aquino administration is coming in and there was a recent controversy about a rumor that President-elect Noynoy Aquino is considering Talent Manager, Boy Abunda to become the next Department of Tourism Secretary which got some nods and some flak from supporters and critics alike. But come to think of it, why not put former DOT Secretary Richard Gordon in this post again? Not so familiar if the law would allow it, but if this is possible then he is the best man for this post since he is outgoing Senator anyway and I believe he performed well during his stint in the DOT or even at Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. Btw, He was my Presidential bet. Unfortunately, he lost.

Tourism is very important. Tourism creates business. Tourism brings money to our coffers and contributes to our GDP. I just wish the time would come that tourist arrivals will full our sights to the rafters similar to the picture above..and so us OFW will not have to work abroad cos many jobs are waiting for us.

So bring in the millions (of tourists).  🙂