Manila, Philippines

Monday 15 September 2014 – Thursday 18 September 2014

The Philippines hit my radar about 6 months ago – previously I had never considered it as a holiday destination.  I had briefly looked into Boracay but that was it.

When I got the opportunity to check it out for work I jumped at the chance.  I was going to be in Singapore anyway and its only 3.5 hours to Manila.  So off we go – destination Manila.

We rock up to the Singapore Airport for our Singapore Airlines flight  – everything goes smoothly, check in the flight and before we know it we are in Manila. Whisked through customs and immigration and into the hotel car on the way to the hotel.

We had heard a lot of bad stories about Manila traffic and arriving at 5:45 in the afternoon in the rain we were expecting the worst.  But 20 minutes later we are at the hotel.

New World Makati

New World Makati

 

View from our hotel room

View from our hotel room

Check in happens seamlessly and courteously.  We quickly freshen up head out looking for somewhere to eat.

Makati is the business centre in Manila and luckily right across the street from the hotel is the Greenbelt Shopping Centre, which has a huge selection of upmarket shops and a good selection of restaurants.  There is a nice combination of locals and tourist (more locals).

Manila is a massive city – its actually a conglomerate of 16 cities that combined has around 25 million.  But is totally unlike other Asian cities we have visited.

Here is a summary of our observations:

Security – is tight every hotel, every shopping centre, every office block has security guards at the door that inspect your handbag or backpack.  Standard issue inspection gear is a drumstick or a mirror on a stick!

Food – is cheap

Booze – is very cheap – a 16 oz draft beef at a restaurant is A$2.5. A huge margarita is A$4.40.  At one restaurant they had bottomless margaritas for A$12.50.  That’s restaurant prices folks!

Locals – speak with an American ascent and the cultures is very Americanised.  Their favourite sport in the Philippines is Basketball which is hilarious as all Filipinos are short.

Transport is cheap – a 30 minute taxi ride will cost about A$3.50 – A$5.  Other option include air-conditioned buses, buses and Jeepneys.

Jeepneys – are the old World War 2 style Jeeps that have been transformed into cheap, blinged out public transport.  There are thousands on them on the road and they contribute greatly to the air pollution.

Taxi drivers – will try and rip you off

Traffic – we didn’t have a real bad experience with the traffic as we tended to travel in non-peak hours.  But its infamous and the drivers have very little regard for road rules (presuming of course there are any road rules).

TGI Frdays

TGI Frdays

Jeepney 2

Jeepney 1

Jeepney 1

Jeepney 2

Jeepney 3

Jeepney 4

J Cool - THE best donuts ever!

J Cool – THE best donuts ever!

Manila street

Manila street

Dancing Ice Cream Servers

Dancing Ice Cream Servers

Arab Town

Sunday 13 September 2014

Umm Sunday is Singapore …. what to do.  I know lets partake of the two Singapore favourite pastimes.  Shopping and eating!

So at a respectfully late hour (Singaporeans don’t do early morning) we head down to the Raffles Shopping Centre for a repeat performance at Nam Nam for breakfast.  The soup is soooo yummy!

I’m keen to stock up on my work clothes so we hit the shops again.  We hit pay dirt in one shop where two lovely little ladies pass me one outfit after another determined to get me into every dress in their section.  We hit a few more shops, drop my collection of shopping bags upstairs and then head outside.  Its mid afternoon and things are pretty quiet on the streets.  We head straight down North Bridge Road about a 1 km or so, to Arab Town.

Arab town is a step back in time, the pedestrian laneways are a small and charming.  The buildings are over 100 years old and there are many little shops selling fancy wares, beautiful fabrics, carpets and other Arabian wares.  We do a circuit of the streets and admiring the mosque and then head to the street full of middle eastern restaurants.  The tables spill out into the street and they are full of people smoking water pipes (no hash in Singapore).

Arab Town 1

Arab Town 1

Arab Town 2

Arab Town 2

Mosque

Mosque

Arab Street Eateries

Arab Street Eateries

We select a restaurant and after being ignored for 10 minutes move to another restaurant where we are also ignored.  Eventually one of the waiters decides to acknowledge us, only to tell us we can’t sit at the table that we were shown to and we have to move.  Ummm hospitality = zero.

After we obligingly move and quickly get an order for drinks and food before we disappear from their line of sight.  Drinks eventually appear and food quite some time after that.  The food is fine but by that stage all we wanted to do was get the hell out of there.

We walk back towards the hotel and stop at a bar for a few drinks at Luke Mangan’s “Salt Tapas”.

Tomorrow a new destination for us – Manila, Philippines.

 

Singapore Traditions

Saturday 12 September 2014

When in Singapore there are three traditions that we always follow – eat Chilli Crab somewhere, go to the Holiday Inn Atrium for a pedicure-manicure and check H’s favourite HiFi shop and go to China Town and invest in a TinTin figurine.  Sounds like a perfect itinerary for a Saturday.

But first breakfast, at about 10 we head down to Nam Nam in the food court for a Sliced Beef Pho, Lemongrass Pork Banh and a Vietnamese Iced Coffee with condensed milk for H. Very good indeed. Nom nom nom for Nam Nam.  Then a quick look at the rest of the shopping center before hitting the streets for a long walk over to the Singapore Flyer.

Rather than just hits the streets I navigate towards Singapore River and the old historic British Colonial buildings including  Parliament House, Raffles landing site, Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall and the oldest bridge in Singapore.

Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall

We continue down the river toward the Singapore Flyer – it is a sweltering hot day and the sun is beating down – my hope to catch a river breeze is short lived – no such luck.

Marina Sands and ArtScience Museum

Marina Sands and ArtScience Museum

Helping the locals

Helping the locals

The Singapore Grand Prix is on next week and the city is in full preparation for the race.  Streets are blocked off and huge spectator stands have been erected for the attendees lucky enough to get a ticket.  I’m told the races are at night as it too hot for the drivers and spectators during the day.

Grand Prix race track and stands

Grand Prix race track and stands

Because of the race preparations we have an obstacle course of barricades and overheads and underpasses to weave around.

Eventually, hot and bothered, we arrive at the Singapore Flyer.  At the base is a small food hawker centre set up like an traditional market – very cute.

Singapore Flyer food hawker stall

Singapore Flyer food hawker stall

The concierge at the hotel has recommended and booked us into Seafood Paradise which he has assured us has the best Chili Crab in Singapore.  As we enter the vast restaurant which is richly furnished we are surprised to find it empty.  Why did the concierge insist that we book – weird.  We are lead to a table for 6 by the window right next to the wait station so that the wait staff are constantly hovering behind our backs.  Seriously? Thats the table they give us?

The crab lady (who was in a crabby mood) serving us points out all the live seafood in tanks by the kitchen.  The selection is tempting – but we cannot divert from our mission – Chili Crab is ordered as well as Prawns in Salted Egg, Baby Kai Lan with garlic sauce.  She also assures as that we have to order buns to go with the Chili Crab (its traditional!).

Chili Crab is messy business

Chili Crab is messy business

Prawns and Kai Lan

Prawns and Kai Lan

What can I say – the concierge lied – its not the best Chili Crab in Singapore.  It was good but not outstanding.  Crab lady picked a nice fat female crab full of roe (cost a fortune) and she kept coming to the table (she only had to walk 3 feet) and heaping the roe into our bowls.  Problem is H doesn’t like roe (I’m not that keen either), so he kept heaping it into my bowl.  Luckily there was plenty of spicy sauce!

Stuffed to the gills we pay up and head back out into the humidity to grab a taxi to take us across town to The Holiday Inn Atrium on Havelock Road for our pedicure and manicures.  The place we usually visit has closed but we quickly find a shop open.  H only gets a manicure cause he has to go to the record shop (the real reason for our visit) while a get the full treatment.

Ready for pampering

Ready for pampering

A couple of hours later wearing my new glittery thongs (can’t put my flats back on until the polish is dry) we head toward Chinatown to visit the TinTin shop and then grab a beer or two.

China Town

China Town

TinTin and Snowy

TinTin and Snowy

Its now getting dark and things are cooling down so we opt to talk back to the hotel and admire the amazing Singapore architecture.

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Electronics Shopping Centre

Electronics Shopping Centre

Not being able to face another big meal at 9:00 we go to the food court in the shopping centre with the locals for a light snack/dinner – Hianese Chicken and Rice (yummmmm), dumpling soup and green onion pancakes.

Quick departures

Friday 12 September 2014

Adios Seminyak – we won’t be back.

By 10:00 we are packed and waiting at reception for our transfer to the airport.  We squeeze into the hotel van with another couple with a little girl who coughs and splutters up germs for most of the trip.  It’s a slow, uncomfortable trip.

Check-in, paying the exit tax and immigration is a breeze. Seriously I think its about the quickest we have ever experienced and a vast improvement over previous trips to Bali.  Love the efficiency of the new airport but now its just like any international airport – big, bland and overpriced.

Our Indonesian Air Asia flight is delayed by 1 hour and 15 minutes. The flight is blissfully quick and bippty, boppity, boom we are in Singapore in a taxi heading toward our hotel – Swisshotel The Stamford.  Our room is 6364 – yes we are on the 63rd floor.  God I hope there isn’t a fire!

The hotel is actually a part of the Raffles Shopping Centre and we are very happy to discover there is a Din Tai Fung in the food court area.  YES!  We quickly freshen up and head back down stairs and go directly to the restaurant and straight to a table.  We order pork and shrimp dumplings, stuffed green chillies, noodles with mushrooms and pork sauce, deep fried prawn dumplings, stir fried dou miau (green vegi) with garlic.  On my goodness – its all amazingly good.

Sated we head to the shops for some window shopping – the shops are open every night until 10:00 pm.

It’s great to be back in civilization again.

Last day in Bali

Thursday 11 September 2014

We are oblivious to  Greg and Katrina’s dramas of the previous night as we wake up, go to breakfast and have our second in room massage.  Its an extremely lazy day!  About 3:00 we venture out and decide to check out what there is to see if we head the other way down the street – answer broken pavement, smelly sewers and traffic congestion.

5:00 sees us heading over to Katrina and Greg’s villa to have a couple of drinks and say goodbye.  They have decided to cut their trip short by a day and leave Bali tonight.  To make matters worse Greg has left his cash card in an ATM.  They are both disillusioned with Bali.   Can’t say I blame them – we too are looking forward to leaving in the morning.

We head back to our Villa and decide to eat close by at Warung Bonita which was good and not expensive, then home to bed.

Temple blessings and thieves

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Today we are returning to Seminyak.  We are a bit sad to leave both Ubud and Alaya.  After breakfast the others head out to arrange a car to take us back to the coast, while I hit the computer and catch up on my work emails.

Alaya has been abuzz for the last two days as they are planning for a temple blessing ceremony – those who have been to Bali know that every hotel, every shop, every home has a temple.  Offerings to the gods are everywhere – on the steps outside shops, on footpaths, perched on steps.  At the hotel it seems that no expense is being spared for the ceremony.  Yesterday a couple of stages were erected and decorated, and this morning elaborate offerings start getting piled up around the temple and a large band is playing traditional music.  Everyone is dressed in their finest traditional attire.

Ayala temple offerings

Ayala temple offerings

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Suckling pig

Suckling pig

There seems to be a bit of confusion about when it’s starting we have been told 12:00, 3:00 and 1:00.

At 12:00 we say goodbye to the paddy field ducks that have kept me amused for hours, check out and head up the road for lunch .

Goodbye little ducks

Goodbye little ducks

We end up in a organic joint with a laid back Byron Bay feeling.  There is everything you could possible want on the menu – from smoothies with buckwheat shots to toasties, Mexican, Italian, Indonesian, Thai, Middle Eastern – you name you can get it!  All choices are decidedly  delicious.

Urap Pakis - Fern Tip Salad

Urap Pakis – Fern Tip Salad

The drive to Seminyak is pleasant at first – through small villages and paddy fields but before long we are stuck in traffic in Denpasar.  But eventually we make it back and are dropped off at Kaya Raja Villas.  Greg and Katrina continue to the Bali Ginger Suites where they have a villa for 2 nights.

For dinner we are making our 3rd attempt to go to Sarong a fancy restaurant very close to our place.  The hotel has tried to book 3 times and have been told that the only available time is 10:00 – bugger that.  Greg has managed to get onto the owner who has said to just turn up at 7:30 as they always keep a few tables for walk-ins.  And sure enough we arrive and Greg and Katrina have snagged a table and are already into the chili and lime margaritas.  Umm better get me one of those!

Katrina and Greg

After some confusion about what and how much to order we make our selection.  The menu has a strong Indian influence but covers most of Asia.  Everything is delicious – we can see why this place is in such demand.  Our selection includes:

• Naan bread stuffed with lamb & yoghurt
• Signature crispy pork belly with sichuan chilli salt, tamarillo and tamarind sauce
• Sichuan style red braised pork cheek with black pepper soy lotus root chilli and Sichuan pickled cucumber
• Southern Goan curry of prawns with okra curry leaves fenugreek yoghurt and kerala spices
• Tandoori snapper pahadi marinated in mint chutney yoghurt garam masala and green chilli
• Sauteed green beans with sambal ulek
• Naan bread
• Jasmine rice

The décor is very swanky and a luxurious retreat from the hussle and bustle of Seminyak.

We only have a short walk back to our villa and Greg & Katrina head in the other direction.  They had only gone about 100 meters when Katrina’s bag is snatched from her arm by some punk on a scooter.  She was dragged several meters and ended up face down on the footpath/road.  Cash, credit cards, purse, phone, camera – all gone!  They then spent the next several hours at the police station filing a report and then cancelling  cards etc.  The police confirm this happens all the time – every night in Seminyak.  But usually not that early in the night. Bali is changing for the worse!

It could have been me! Anyone.

Dala Spa

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Our first morning in Ubud and, another big breakfast.  The good thing about Alaya is that it is not buffet style, so we are not tempted to eat our body weight (again).  Over breakfast we decide the boys (Howard & Greg) will go for a walk out to a villa that Greg’s family stayed in on their previous visit – this turns out to be a 3 hour trek.  Katrina head up the hill to look at the shops and I tag along.  There are lots of yoga gear shops and small shops all selling slight different versions of the same thing (or are they all the same – I’m not much of a shopper, so I’m not paying that much attention).  Couple of hours, a dose of heat stroke and one blister later I head back to the hotel for my Empress Facial.

The Dala Spa is tucked away at the back of the hotel grounds overlook a small stream.  After a friendly greeting and a glass of some excellent ginger / lemongrass tea, Siriyana takes me down to the Cala Lily room.  First she washes my feet in a fixture of herbs, spices and flower and explains the treatment process – we are using just natural products.

Dala Spa

Dala Spa


Cala Lily Room

Cala Lily Room

As the brochure says “This royal facial uses fresh and natural ingredients.  The face is cleansed and exfoliated with a lavender, chamomile and honey scrub.  Sliced cucumber is used to tone the skin and then sweet almond oil is slowly massaged into the face.  The ritual continues with a steaming mini pouch followed by a traditional Indonesian rice pearl mask.  The chilled surface of a jade roller is then used to caress the skin and close pores.  A soothing balm is applied to the lips.”

Sounds good doesn’t it. 75 minutes of pure indulgence.  By the time they finish I really do feel like an Empress!

We spend the rest of the afternoon on our balcony looking out over the rice paddy fields, reading and watching the ducks.

Some pre-dinner drinks with the Robson’s and then its out for dinner.  Katrina has selected LaRoMona Tapas – it’s a bit hard to find and when we do get there its very small, hot and crowded. We escape quickly and decide on Pica a South American restaurant.  I know “South American” in Ubud?  Well, you can’t eat Indonesian ALL the time (there is not that much variety).

Pica turns out to be a pretty good choice, – the margaritas are delicious (if a bit on the small size), the bread and salsa is really good, the empanadas (two types vegetarian and meat) yummy and our mains of octopus (for H) and fish (for J) are beautifully presented and perfectly cooked.

Fish - Pica style

Fish – Pica style

Octopus

Octopus

We decide to have a few more drinks at a nearby bar to listen to a local musician singing some old classics before we head back down to the hotel.

Ubud here we come

Monday 8 September 2014

Today we are forsaking Seminak for a two day stint in Ubud.  Lets get outa here! So we pack up a small bag and go to reception.  The taxi driver from two days ago is already waiting for us in the carpark as pre arranged. We made the arrangments when he dropped us off from Nusa Dua – we couldn’t remember what he looked like, didn’t exchange phone numbers, didn’t even know his cab number – but there he is waiting. I hope its him!

It is a 1.5 hour drive to Bali – the distance is not great but the traffic is very slow.  We have asked him to stop at a temple along the way.

What this says

Whatever this says is where we are!

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As far as Balinese temples go this is pretty modest and we quickly return to the car and had off to Ubud.

Alaya Resort on Jalan Hanoman, Ubud is great.  The staff are once again very friendly and greet us as if they are actually pleased we are staying with them.  We are quickly checked in, and find our friends Greg and Katrina from Sydney in the restaurant having a snack.  We keep them company while they eat and then take off to explore our rooms.

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We have a private balcony that overlooks paddy fields, it is end of the dry season and the fields have already been harvested and look a   bare and brown. But this does not detract from their attraction – it is very peaceful watching the swallows dive over the fields and the ducks foraging amongst the rice stalks.

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The other great surprise in the room is a great big round bath with a bamboo water sprout.  I’m definitely going to indulge in a looooong soak later!

It’s now time to grab some lunch.  Greg leads the way down the street and around the corner to a café called Tropical View, an open plan café that also looks out over paddy fields.  Bintang for the boys, margaritas for the girls and a selection of dishes – my chicken in banana leaves is fabulous and the sate sauce is something very special – very dark and packed with flavor.  The bill is only about $A60 for the four of us (and that includes 4 cocktails and 2 large bintangs) not bad for the best meal we have had in Bali to date!

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Back at the hotel we decide to head down to the pool for an hour or two.  Afterwards a freshen up and duty free in room drinks with Greg and Katrina on their balcony.

Drinks with Katrina

Drinks with Katrina

We then head off to find Wayun Café, which turns out to be a twenty minute walk.  This restaurant has some good recommendations.  We are escorted through the large airy restaurant to the rear gardens – they seem to go on forever.   Our table is on a patch of grass, surrounded by tropical plants and a small water feature nearby.   We select a range of local dishes including crispy duck (crispy and stringy).  The food is pretty good but not nearly as good as that at Tropical View.

Cafe Wayan

Cafe Wayan

We decide to walk back to the hotel the other way around the block and once again Greg forges the way.  There are some twists and turns, a shortcut crossing a playing field and we are all wondering if we are even headed in the right direction. Eventually sense prevails and we ask where we are – yep we are on the right street headed in the right direction.  Woohoo!  Before long the hotel is in sight and we are home safe and sound.

Seminyak at Sunset

Sunday 7 September2014

The villa has a hard bed – real hard.

In the morning we spend the morning exchanging some exciting news from home and lazing by the pool before we head up to the restaurant for the buffet breakfast. Then its back to the villa to wait for our 2:00 in-room massages.

Relaxing by the pool

Relaxing by the pool

At about 5:00 we head out to the beach to watch the sunset and have dinner at Gado Gado. The traffic leading down to the beach is unbelieveable – the road to Seminyak Beach is a little lane that is barely wide enough for two cars to pass and has cars parked on both sides as well. Our taxi has to squeeze down the middle while avoiding scooters going in every direction.

At the beach we are blown away by the crowds walking, playing and just lazing. There are dozens of bars set up along the beach front with bean bags and low tables, packed with tourist enjoying the sunset, while locals are crowded by the water line playing football and other games on the sand.

Beach bars

Beach bars

beach bars

beach bars

and more beach bars

and more beach bars

We walk down the beach for a while in an attempt to work up an appetite. When we come to a creek (it smells dreadful) outlet running across the beach and into the water we turn around and head back to the restaurant.

Seminyak at sunset

Seminyak at sunset

Attention - dirty beach

Attention – dirty beach

Gado Gado has an open deck that looks out over the beach. Unfortunately there is a walk way between the deck and the beach and there is a horde of noisy scooters, golf buggies and people on the walkway. Its not exactly peaceful.

Ah the serenity

Ah the serenity

After the serenity of the Conrad at Nusa Dua we find the hectic, noisy, bustle of Seminak quite annoying. Luckily as the sun sets the traffic on the walkway dies down and we can sit back and relax with our drinks. I’m indulging in a “Spicy Beach”, a yummy combination of vodka, ginger, lime and chilly.

Dining at Gado Gado

Dining at Gado Gado

We can clearly see the stream of planes approaching Denpasar from the south west and we entertain ourselves speculating which one contains our friends Greg and Katrina from Sydney whom we are meeting in Ubud tomorrow.

For dinner H has the Slipper Lobster and the Croquettes, I have the Fricassee salad of squid, chorizo and cannelli beans, and the Pork “3 Ways”. Everything is absolutely delicious. With the ++ on the price that we are getting used to it ends up being a quite an expensive meal (in Bali terms) but well worth the money.

H & J

H & J

There is a sign in the ladies toilet cubical that cracks me up…., only in Bali! How can you shower in a toilet? Wait, I don’t want to know.

Ladies toilet sign - WTF?

Ladies toilet sign – WTF?

Back to Reality

Saturday 6 September 2014

Its Saturday and we are leaving the Conrad and heading over to the Kayu Raja Villas at Seminyak.   The reason we came to Bali this year is because we took a deal with Scoopon for a week in Bali.  Or as H likes to put in 7 nights in hell!

Before we check out we head down the beach to see what’s around.   Within 100 metres of the resort grounds real Bali become apparent.  Up  to now we have been cloistered in groomed luxury.  Reality is piles of rubbish, overgrown derelict lots, half built sidewalks, air pollution and mangy dogs.  Welcome back to reality.

Its all too much and we return to the resort for our remaining few hours.  We had a quick swim at the Suites pool, breakfast and in room checkout.  Very cool.  The hotel arranges for a taxi to take us on the 30 minute drive to Seminyak.

We arrive around 1.00 pm and check in to our not so luxurious room.  Oh well, you can’t always be the King!

Our one bedroom villa is a townhouse with a private pool.  The lounge/kitchen area is totally open at the back and overlooks our  pool.  As we arrive the pool boy is there retreaving an empty bottle of vodka from the pool.  Ummm someone was have a party!

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We decide to go out for a walk.  It’s been years since we have both been in Seminyak and its typical frantic Bali.  Terrible footpaths, lots of cars and scooters and tattooed skanks from the western suburbs.  We stop off at Petitenget for a few drinks and then continue our walk.  J decides she must have a pedicure and manicure and we find a small salon with a some lovely girls who do a great job and are very friendly and receptive.  H even gets a bonus foot massage, the chubby girl from Suribaya had him howling and cringing, much to everyone else’s amusement.  We have a great time.  We head off and find another bar and a few more drinks.  Its getting late-ish and we head back to the hotel for a change and off to dinner.  The restaurant J has picked out (Sarong) is full so we continue down the road a bit and get a table at Warung Bonita.  The food is good, a bottle of local wine, spring rolls, king prawns in rendang with rice and nasi goring.  All up about 480,000 rupiah – about A$45.