Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's all about TASTE and Bugis District

Rise up and shine! 4 hours of sleep or so is what we had and we're rising again for a beautiful morning. The sun rises later down in Singapore as what we're used to back in Manila. By 7:20AM of that day, the sun is still hidden and just about to show itself.

A lot of things has to be covered that day. In fact because we'll be in the city for just a couple of days, both of them will definitely be jam-packed, or so we thought. After taking a shower and freshing up, we immediately went down to the restaurant of the hotel where they serve breakfast. The name of the restaurant - It's all about TASTE, which I believe is standard across Ibis hotels around the globe.

I expected the breakfast to be so-so and light but lo and behold! I was surprised to see a full spread of breakfast items in front of me! Cereals, rice, noodles, congee, meat, fruits - it's the usual heavy breakfast we have in full service hotels.

breakfast in It's all about TASTE

What I had for breakfast was congee, bread sausage, bacons and empanada..

.. and to finish it off, some fruits (pineapple, melon and watermelon).

For that morning, we're supposed to meet a friend by around 9:00AM at the City Hall MRT station so we left right after breakfast so we still have time to explore around. On the way out, we passed by the other side of the hotel lobby, this time with a different set of cool nifty chairs.

The sun was already up when we left the hotel. With a map at hand, we breezed through the streets en route to an MRT train station.

The nearest MRT station to us is Bugis station. On our way, we chanced upon a weekend flea market in the Bugis district. Little did we realize that the district is just right behind our hotel! Items like fruits and fresh produce, clothings, hangers, and miscellaneous stuffs were up for selling. Some of the stalls were still setting up because it was still early at that time.

a vendor of food and drinks

flowers sold at the street

There are also places of worship along Waterloo street (behind our hotel). Described by a fellow Singaporean blogger Eunice, it is common in sight to see different sects of religion in harmony and peace. Here is Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, dedicated to Kuan Yim, the goddess of mercy.

In front of the temple, a number of pigeons flock and stroll freely without anyone bothering them. At the back of my mind, if this was in Manila, I'm sure these pigeons will be scared off by the passers-by.

A few steps away and right next to it is Sri Krishnan, a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu.

One will be amazed to look at the beautiful details of carvings and inscriptions outside the temple.

Heading towards the MRT station, we passed by Bugis Street, an indoor flea market selling clothes and stuffs famous among the locals and visitors alike. However, since it was still early, the shops were still closed.

A few more walking and we finally reached Bugis station.

City Hall station is just next to Bugis station on the East West (Green) line of MRT. After paying SGD1.80, inclusive of SGD1 refundable upon returning the card, we went to the basement and boarded the train headed towards the direction of Joo Koon station.

Up next - nearby attractions and explorations around City Hall MRT station!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Escape to Singapore

Chester and I had long talked about taking a trip after all his school duties are done. Months ago we decided to pursue this and book our tickets but since we were both busy to plan for anything, most of the preparations were done the last minute. Our plan - we'll be in the city for a quick weekend of only 2 days (a little over 48 hours) and will try to squeeze in as much as we could in that timeframe. One thing in common that we agreed upon is that we'll try to stick to a budget and make the most effort to make this tour as affordable as possible, especially him, being a new graduate.

It was Friday last week when we left and it had rained in Manila for the past days. Weather forecast in Singapore says there will be rains and thunderstorms either. With our backpacks, my camera tripod and 3 cans of hot and spicy tuna (don't ask why), there's nothing much we can do but pray for a good weather and a good time and make the most out of everything we had for this sort of a backpacking trip.

Travelling via the no-frills offering of EconoLight class by Philippine Airlines means there will be no food service throughout the flight except for selected beverages. Chester booked for this class while I opted to take the lowest fare earning miles in an effort to regain my status in their Mabuhay Miles frequent flyer program. Because our flight is scheduled to leave Manila by 7:35PM and to arrive in Singapore by 11:15PM something has to be taken prior to flight. If you are a first timer in Centennial Terminal 2 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport, you will be surprised that there are not much food choices inside the terminal so we landed at Vin-Vin Kiosk as we are looking for a rice meal.

Hainan chicken, although it's more like the usual roasted chicken, previously prepared and frozen and served to us after heating in the microwave oven. It costed us PHP170 including drinks but it's understandable since airport food is really expensive.

Passengers boarded our plane a little over 7:00PM and we took off for Singapore just as scheduled.

For most of the duration of the flight I tried to catch sleep. Since we are arriving late at night, we'll be needing all the rest we can get for the next day. I only woke up when dinner was served to non-econolight passengers, a choice of chicken with rice or beef with noodles. I had the former.

After over 3 hours of flight time, our plane touched down in Singapore Changi Airport. I wasn't able to take picture, but I saw an A380 taxiing as we approach a gate. Because I'm located at the forward section of the plane, I was able to deplane first and waited for Chester outside. Looking around Terminal 2 of Changi airport, it's amazing to see lots of shops, free internet kiosks and other things that will keep you entertained while inside waiting for your flight.

It's actually my second time to be here in Singapore. My first was in a trip with my family almost 3 years ago.


Passing through the usual process of immigration and customs, we immediately headed towards the train station. It's very helpful that the airport is connected to the commuter train and there are informational signs everywhere that makes walking through and finding your way around a breeze.

It took us a 10-minute brisk walk to get to the train station, located at the underground.

Last train to the city leaves at 11:20PM, and it was already 11:40PM by the time we got there. We were disappointed at first but we don't give up easily. Following the again the signs, we decided to take the bus instead.

The bus schedule listing is detailed. However, there is no clear map, either that or we can't decipher. We just looked for a bus stop that appears to be near Bencoolen street, where the hotel we're checking in is, and saw Dhoby Gaut.

Testing our luck, knowledge and willpower, we boarded bus 36 and kept our fingers crossed. Not sure about the fare, but we paid SGD2 since the driver doesn't keep spare change.

My previous memory of Dhoby Ghaut as well as a map at hand helped us a lot. Even before we reach Dhoby Gaut, we stopped the bus and alighted in near YMCA, opposite the Cathay building. Walking towards the direction of Bencoolen street, I saw this street post and thought too much information like this can be confusing also.

I noticed that the weather was hot the minute we stepped down from the bus. It was already past midnight and I was expecting a cooler air.

After 15-minutes of walking, by 1:00AM of early Saturday morning, we finally reached our hotel - Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen. We got a good exclusive promotional rate of SGD120++, which includes breakfast for two and complimentary internet access (online rate is around SGD128 - 148++ without breakfast), although it's not as cheap as how others got theirs when there was a promo (I read from posts and blogs that others got theirs for SGD10 or even SGD1 a night). I previously thought of staying at a hostel or other low rate accomodations but the rate we had is a bit irresistible for me for its convenience. Anyway, it's still cheaper than the usual ones and the hotel classify itself as an "economy hotel".

The cool and modern design of the hotel lobby strucked me as we came in. I liked the hip and funky design of the lobby area.

front desk and reception area

We got room 1225, at the 12th floor because of a prior request of "high floor with a nice view". Inserted the key for us to press 12 from the elevator buttons and off we went.

hallway to our room

So this is our room with two single beds. My first impression was that it was rather small and basic. But as you look closer, you'll be amazed that it has everything most known hotel has en-suite.

On the shelf to the left is a small safe, hot-water kettle with coffee cups and mini-refrigerator. An LCD TV with cable programming is on the right. Everything here is neat and space-savvy.

Even the bathroom is space-conscious! Inside it is a small but sleek toilet bowl.

Beside it is the shower area, which is also compact. The dispenser on the left is for the hair/body shampoo.

Our room view is facing the Bugis street and nearby temples and establishments. A vibrant area accessible to our hotel I thought. More of this will be explored as we continue our sightseeing around Singapore in the coming days.

It has been a long day so after shower and last-minute checking of emails we decided to snooze and take that deserved rest for sunrise.

Coming up next, our escapades in Singapore!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Samal Beach Adventure and back to Davao City

This activity was what I was looking forward to when Jojo and I made this trip to the Garden City of Samal.

As we are staying in Hof Gorei, we were literally left with no choice but to book for this from our resort, and I'm glad that we did! Walked on the plank (actually a long, floating jetty) and boarded a small boat by mid-morning..

.. and off we went for the island hopping adventure!

Because Jojo do not understand the local dialect and I can only converse in simple ways, for the first part, we were completely oblivious where we were headed to. 30 minutes later, we saw this white sand beach resort and was expecting to alight in this area.

Our boat parked beside the resort. The boatmen stopped just to pick up gasoline and this is not actually where we are going for a swim. Bad!

After refilling, we crossed the water and went to another island. An hour more later and we saw again another beautiful white sand beach resort. This time, it's our actual destination.

On the left side of the beach is a secluded area, with a few boats and a Havaianas banner.

Right beside it is a big boat carrying a large group of passengers.

Further right is where we stopped, a side where no other guests are staying or swimming.

The name of the place is Babu Santa beach, located in Talikud Island. A picturesque view of the place can be seen wherever you look. Perfect place for laying back and relaxation as well as people-watching.

man cleaning the shores

"Welcome to Babu Santa Beach Resort"

On the other side of the place are huts and cottages. Families and friends bring and cook their own food here for a picnic-style get together.

coconut trees


unobstructed view of the sea

Lunch is included in our island-hopping activity. I saw the chairs and utensils with us on the boat but little did I know that it will be served at the beach side, complete with glasses, china and silverware. It was a complete table setup waiting for us, with our tour guide turned waiter!

And we started digging in for our lunch - grilled chicken, pork ribs barbecue and milkfish stuffed with onions and tomatoes. There were also mango, watermelon, melon and pineapple slices.

Stayed in Babu Santa for only a couple of hours and went for snorkelling, right after lunch. Shown here is Jojo with our guide on the right holding to a lifesaver for safety purposes.

As usual I stayed on the boat but since the water is so clear, I can literally see everything below from the boat up to meters away.

Check-out time was 3:00PM and since our resort is still a little over an hour away, we headed back immediately after snorkelling. On our way, we again passed by a number of strange-looking fishing boats.

There were also floating huts (or are these houses).

As we checked out of the resort, we headed back again to Davao City to catch our flight later that night. Since the sun was still up and we are still have a few minutes time, we checked out Ramon Magsaysay Park, which is beside the Sta. Ana pier, for few photos.

around the park

Across the park is Chinatown. However, we do not have much time left and we plan to eat early dinner so we didn't explore the place anymore.

Jojo has mentioned a number of times this restaurant that he wanted to eat at and since we're there already, we decided to drop by Ah Fat, a chinese seafood restaurant near Victoria Plaza.

inside the restaurant

Ordered for crispy chicken and steamed lapu-lapu fish. When asked how we want our fish, live or frozen, Jojo said to the waiter "cooked". Of course, since we're there already, we wanted to get the fresh one and opted for a live one. This fish tastes "sweeter" when fresh.

We headed to the airport to catch our flight back to Manila thereafter. It was bad enough to know that the departure was delayed for over an hour but its worse that in the middle of the flight we have to be diverted to Cebu and stay inside the plane for 3 hours inland because of a plane stuck at the runway in Manila airport.

I wish I had gone to Samal City and the surrounding islands a couple of years back when I was in the city. I didn't know these places are very accessible and trust me, pictures do not do justice in telling how beautiful the place is - you need to be there yourself!