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).  🙂

Can’t get enough of Chiang Mai….

I just came back from a very memorable trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand. Last week there was a long holiday due to the Makha Bucha Day which is an important day for Buddhist. It falls on a Sunday so the holiday was extended till Monday. Because of that, I took the opportunity to make quick arrangement for a trip to Chiang Mai. Few days earlier, I was still undecided because of some problems in my Visa which I would know the result Feb 25. I had a strong feeling that it will be fixed so even before Feb 25, I just took the risk and buy the train tickets to Chiang Mai. Anyway, if my Visa problem was not resolved in time and I cannot travel to Chiang Mai, the ticket cost is not that expensive if compared to air tickets so I just crossed my fingers. Fortunately and Thank God, I received a good news last Feb 25 so off I go to Chiang Mai. I quickly booked my hotel and made a tour arrangement. 

My train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai leaves about 1800H (Friday) so I had to work the whole day of Friday and clear a lot of jobs in preparation for the trip and I just took early leave 1 Hour so I can be at the train station on time. The Hua Lamphong Train station is actually very convenient cos I just have to take the MRT and the last station is actually the Hua Lamphong station already so from MRT, I just have to walk a few meters to reach the provincial trains.

It was my first long-haul train ride so I was very excited. In my life, I only ride the City trains which is not the train that Harry Potter and Gang usually take going to Hogwarts. So off I go… There were several platforms and my train platform is not too difficult to find. Only thing is that I booked the 2nd Class Air conditioned sleeper train and it is at the farthest end of the train (few coaches away from the driver). Normally, the better train classes are in front (near the driver) so you have to walk a bit farther than the rest. Luckily I only have light luggage so it is not a problem.

The train promptly left the station 1800H. However, along the way sometimes it stops in other train station longer than the supposed time. For the sleeper train you can choose either the upper or the lower deck. The lower deck is a bit more expensive and has wider bed if compared to the upper deck. Moreover, only the lower deck has a window so if you plan to travel by train, you need to purchase tickets in advance so you can select the lower deck. Since my trip was on a long holiday and I booked only few days before the trip, I can only have the upper deck (air con) going to Chiang Mai and upper deck (Fan) going back to Bangkok. The Fan coach is ok since the breeze is cool along the way and since travel is towards night time but when you are about to sleep and the bed were set up with individual curtains, it can get a bit hot especially during the summer nights. In addition, if you are not used to sleeping in a bumpy road, better not take the train as it is bumpier than taking the bus. It is like taking the flight that encounters a turbulence all throughout.

The porter prepares the bed as soon as the sun is out and dinner was consumed (for those who bought dinner in the train). After that, it’s a very long travel so better prepare all the things that would keep you occupied like your iPod or music player, a good book to read or board games.

We arrived in Chiang Mai in the morning. After the breakfast, I headed to my hotel. The hotel I stayed (Imm Hotel Thaphae) has a very good location, just across Thaphae Gate- the centre of the old walled city.

The vicinity of the Thaphae Gate is where most of the major activities like Songkran Festival (Thai New Year), Loy Krathong or other local events are usually held. Every weekend, a part of the area is converted into an instant Weekend Night market wherein they closed approx. 2 km. of road where all the streets are lined with goods, foods and almost all the whatnot you can think about. You will never get tired and hungry as the road is teeming with food stalls and foot massage chairs.

I also went to Doi Suthep, the most popular temple site in Chiang Mai, located 3,500 feet above sea level. There is a viewing deck in the Temple overlooking the city below. Really nice view.



The next day, I went into a Thai Cooking school called Baan Hong Nual. Since I am fascinated with Thai cooking and now that I have my own food blog, I made sure I enroll in a short Thai cooking class during the trip. They pick you up at your hotel, send you to a local market to buy some ingredients and give some introduction to some basic information about Thai cookery then you proceed to the school afterwards. Prior to deciding what to buy, the teacher will give you a selection of recipes you can cook. Once you selected, the ingredients had to be bought. On that day I was the only student (that day being a Sunday and a Buddhist Public Holiday). The previous day my teacher said they have over 20 students in the class so it was actually my advantage since my class is a one-on-one session or like a VIP class (which is definitely more expensive than normal joined class). For my course, I cooked 4 recipes namely: Pad Thai, Tom Yum Goong, Thai Green Curry and Som Tam. After cooking, I get to eat what I prepared. Tastes like real Thai cooking..Yumm…(Btw, I will not be posting my cooking in this blog..If you want to see the picture of the foods I prepared, visit: http://kikokitchen.wordpress.com)


After my cooking class, I transferred to another hotel, The Small Chiang Mai., It is a design hotel (Boutique Style) with stylish interiors in the room. The room assigned to me has 2 angels painted on the wall. The location of this hotel is also convenient (less than 10 minutes walk to the Night Bazaar and about 10 minutes walk to Thaphae Gate and Weekend Market). Around dinner time, I had the Traditional Chiang Mai Dinner called Kantoke Dinner. Kantoke Palace is the largest restaurant offering this kind of dinner in Chiang Mai. The restaurant has over 80% foreigners on that night enjoying the food and the cultural dance presentation on stage. At the end of the performance, they invite some guests to join the dancers to perform the traditional dance. I was one of the chosen few…hahaha.

The next morning, I went to the Maesa Elephant Camp. Again, it was a private tour with only me plus the driver and the tour guide so it is a better experience. The tour would let you see Elephant closely during feeding time and shower time. Seeing these big animals taking a bath in the pond is a very cute scene. They seem to enjoy being watched while taking a bath..LOL.  After the shower, we were entertained by the Elephant show wherein the elephants parade first followed by various acts like soccer playing, elephants playing the harmonica, hoola elephant, one elephant bursts balloons using darts in competition with someone from the audience, a log show wherein a group of elephants work to stack together heavy logs…I was told that the Elephants in Thailand during the olden days up to now are a big help to the farmers or locals since they help in agriculture and even helping to carry logs from the forest sent downhill. However, the highlight of the show is the Elephant painting. About 5 elephants showcase their art skills by painting using their trunk. One elephant created a colorful abstract design, 2 elephants draw bouquet of flowers, another one draw a landscape of mountains and a forest and the last one draw a portrait of an elephant face. They say the Elephants in Maesa Camp are the most talented in painting. There was even a museum displaying the very large painting made by several elephants and said to be the most expensive painting created by Elephants that was sold in public as awarded by the Guiness Book of Records. Not sure though how much it cost since it was not indicated in the museum. Moreover, no cameras were allowed inside the museum so I am unable to share to you the masterpieces. After that,we went to the nursery to see the youngest elephant in the camp (only 26 days old but weighs over 100 kg).  You cannot go close to the Baby elephant because the protective mom can get wild. I then took a picture with a cute but very large adult elephant who gamely posed cross legged while I sit on it’s legs then the trunk was wrapped around my body.

A short drive from the Elephant camp would take you to the Hill Tribe Village. The highlight of this tour is the visit to the Long necked women of the Padong tribe. This is very popular and I only get to see in National Geographic Channel before and now am able to see in flesh with close up picture even..such a great experience. Wearing brass ring around the neck are their long tradition and considered beautification process for the women. My guide said a set of brass ring can be as heavy as 5 kilo. I even see little girls wearing the ring around their necks.The village is actually home to other tribes like Karen, Lahu, Hmong, etc. Their livelihood is mostly weaving or agriculture. In the village you can find a Catholic Church. I was surprised that the Long Neck tribe are Catholic and can speak Thai (they are not native Thais but are minority group from Myanmar).

After the Hill tribe visit, we went to an Orchid Farm where varieties of Thai Orchids can be found. These exotic flowers are such good tropical ornaments to one’s garden and the flowers can last longer than other flowers and is not too difficult to maintain. The farm also make gold plated jewelry from Orchid bloom which is something unique. After the Orchid Farm visit, we enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of Khao Soi a traditional Chiang Mai noodle with curry. It is very delicious and not spicy at all.

We then went straight to the Train station for my trip back to Bangkok which unfortunately was delayed for 1.5 hours. Anyway, even with the delay and a bit uncomfortable sleep due to the fan-cooled coach, I am grateful cos I arrived in Bangkok safe and sound.

I really enjoy travelling cos it gives me a different perspective of things and I get to experience the culture, tradition and food of that place. Moreover, I believe travelling gives you a different kind of maturity and independence especially if you travel alone or free and easy and not following a very strict itinerary. I am now looking forward to my next travel!

Singapore sojourn

Exactly 1 week ago, I went alone to Singapore for Holiday. It has been over 3 years that I not visited Singapore and many things has changed since I last visited though what remains constant is Singapore’s clean surroundings and lush greens all over. It is such a refreshing respite considering it is a very modern city and not a beach destination. I took the AirAsia flight. It is my first time to travel via AirAsia and I have to admit that it has been a generally pleasant and safe journey. Flight is on time, staff are friendly. No wonder it is such a big hit in Southeast Asia. I arrived in Changi Airport about 3PM Singapore Time. After the long queue at the Immigration counter, I started my “exploration” of the city as a Free and Easy Tourist. It was quite late and the first meal I took was just a bowl of Oatmeal for breakfast. At that point, my tummy is rumbling and I had a slight migraine. Since I want some adventure, I did not exit to the nearest Taxi stand for convenience. Instead, I asked where the MRT station is. The lady at the information counter gladly instructed me how to reach the other terminal where the MRT Changi Airport Station is located. MRT in Singapore is a bit more complicated than in Bangkok as there are several lines. I carefully screened the map to check where I need to drop off. My friend Gly informed me I had to drop at City Hall, transfer to the other line and drop at Dhoby Ghaut station. From there, I can walk to my hotel.

The MRT ride is a bit slower than taking the taxi cos there are many stops and since I need to transfer it took more time. However, the ride is good. I get to see more of Singapore and the normal people’s way of life as well as get a lot of savings. My fare from airport to Dhoby Ghaut is less than SGD 3.00. Had I taken the taxi, maybe it will cost me about SGD 15-20. I checked-in at Hotel Rendezvous, a nice 4-Star Hotel with a very convenient location. The reception staff was very professional and helpful. Only thing is there is no luggage porter to help you go up to your room. Fortunately, I only have a light luggage. I was given a Junior Suite which is 1 category higher than the one I booked so I’m quite impressed with the arrangement. However, my happiness is a bit short lived when I realized the hotel does not provide complimentary drinking water. I have traveled in many places and stayed in many hotels and it is a basic free amenity in all the hotels I stayed. Later, my friend informed me maybe because water is so expensive in Singapore the reason why they charge the bottle of water in the room. To think the only available bottled water in my room is Evian which is way too expensive!

Since it was already 5PM my tummy is really complaining like crazy. Fortunately, just across the hotel, there is a hawker called Kopitian. I bought the Chicken Rice Meal because many people say the best Chicken Rice is in Singapore. However, after tasting I feel the chicken rice I usually buy in the streets of Bangkok are better. Or maybe because I did not try the Chicken Rice of the restaurant specializing in this food. After my very late lunch..I met my former colleagues and friend in Orchard Road and we have few bottles of beer, Chicken and Pizza, we headed to eat some desserts after dinner courtesy of Roel and Gly. I am so lucky they even game me some cheesecakes for take-away to the hotel.

Next day, Me, Mel (my long time friend since University time) and Boni my other good friend residing and working in SG went to Singapore Zoo. We were supposed to go to Sentosa but since Mel has an afternoon class (she is studying in Singapore), it is not convenient to go to Sentosa and stay there for 1 hour only considering the traffic was quite bad that day. Singapore Zoo is pretty much similar to Night Safari (which I enjoyed the last time I was in Singapore) but since it is daytime, it tend to be really hot even if the zoo has a lot of trees.

My next stop was shopping in Orchard specifically Lucky Plaza. In here, you can buy perfumes at a cheaper price (cheaper than in Manila or Bangkok I think). I was able to buy 4 bottles of perfume and my friend gave me another bottle as Birthday gift. Later on, I got another bottle from my former colleagues. How lucky can I get ayt? After dinner in my friend Boni’s house (which btw I cooked the Beef Caldereta as special request), we went to Dempsey Hill, the new watering hole in Singapore gaining popularity. Then proceeded to Esplanade, Merlion along Marina Bay and Fullerton Hotel.

Next day, I went to Sentosa Island with Mel. Pity that Resorts World Sentosa is not fully operational. Universal Studio is still not open but only the hotels in the complex. We take pictures in Hard Rock Hotel Singapore and I bought a Souvenir Shirt. Personally, I think Hard Rock Hotel Pattaya is better and the staff livelier and friendlier. The whole time we were in Hard Rock Singapore, not even 1 staff greeted us which is totally opposite Hard Rock Pattaya where you can feel the warmth and hospitality of the staff.



Since I am meeting another friend in the afternoon, I had to cut short getting around Sentosa. And it is very hot anyway so to avoid the discomfort we decided to go back to the city centre. I had my Bak Kuh Teh for the 2nd time after our brief Sentosa Island trip. That night, we strolled along St. James Powerstation which is also a popular place with lots of bars and restaurants. This complex is near Vivo City, Singapore’s biggest shopping mall.


The next day, we had a short trip to Johor Bahru, the neighboring Malaysian city of Singapore. JB as it is popularly known is teeming with Singaporeans mostly going there to refuel their car or do some shopping. I tasted some Malaysian food and I can say it is good especially their local desserts. Then I was able to buy a pair of Sta. Barbara Polo and Racquet Club shoe which is half the price off. Around dinner time, I proceeded to the airport for my flight back to Bangkok which again was on time courtesy of Air Asia.

As I reached Bangkok, I felt I’m back to my 2nd home..same familiar roads, sights and sounds. However, I cannot deny that my last Singapore trip was great. Though I travel alone, I did not feel bored at all. I have many friends who took good care of me. They are very generous as they don’t mind paying for some of the bills and even sent me gifts or souvenirs. But most important of all, they really spend time (some even took leave from work) just to meet me. I guess when you have dome something good, there will definitely a payback later.

If I were Manny Pacquiao…

Disclaimer: The list you are about to see is a hypothetical and wild (but I believe is sensible) idea how I can spend PHP 576 million I just won if I were Manny Pacquiao:

If I were Manny Pacquiao….

1.) I will donate money to build a big airport in Manila. Infrastructure is the most essential tool to a country’s development. Our International airport is dilapidated and definitely cannot compete with most airports in Asia like Suvarnabhumi in Bangkok, Changi in Singapore, Chep Lap Kok Airport in Hong Kong. It desperately need a face lift or a total make over. Tourism and other industries will benefit and will generate millions of Pesos in receipts. Does Manny Pacquiao International Airport or maybe Jinky Pacquiao International Airport sound appealing to you? Lol.

2.) I will donate money to build a subway train in Metro Manila. Metro Manila is too populated, streets are jammed, mass transport is packed even during supposedly lax hour. What we need is a ultra modern, state of the art subway train system to address the ever growing need for mass transport of the Metro. Why a subway, we already have the MRT and LRT anyway? All major cities of the world have subway trains. They built subway not sky trains because they can maximize the space or roads where the subway line passes by. Of course it would build humongous traffic jam during the construction but we can all see the positive effect once it’s completed.

3.) I will help Build a large Stadium (similar or even better than the Bird’s Nest in Beijing) and a Centre for Sports Development focusing on various sports discipline (not only Boxing and Basketball!). Manny is a sportsman and will always be a sportsman. Building a large sporting facility would not only give credibility and recognition to Philippines as a major sporting destination (as we can host a big sporting event) but having a Centre for Sports Development would ensure we can build a nation of world-class athletes. It would mean our youth will have sports as a hobby and not think of drugs, alcohol, sex and other vices as their past time.

4.) I will donate money to help preserve our country’s Natural attractions
such as the Banaue Rice Terraces, Chocolate Hills, Mt. Apo- these natural wonders may not be seen by our children and their children’s children if we don’t do anything to preserve it. Preserving it need some financial assistance which unfortunately, our Government cannot fully give and would need private institutions to sustain the conservation projects.

5.) I will buy big lands to turn into rice fields, animal farms, fruit plantations and sell it in the market at highly subsidized price
– Not only will converting idle lands into these highly productive areas bring thousands of jobs to Filipino people, but by doing so it will help eradicate food shortage in our country. We will be a self-sustaining nation and can bring more income to the country’s coffers if we export these products once our production is over the demand.

You may say why most of the above suggestions are about donating or helping to support various activities considering Manny Pacquiao is a private individual, not a Politician even. But as a public figure idolized by millions, I think Manny has a social responsibility to fulfill. He doesn’t have to be a politician to fulfill these social obligations but by being the same humble but highly disciplined athlete that he is, he can help make our country a better Philippines..

On a separate note, as a normal human being– I have material desires as well….so if I were Manny Pacquiao, I will buy my own private jet to take me and my family to the best places in the world during my training break.