Sunday, December 30, 2012

Jumping Places: My 2012 Travels

@ Sunway Lagoon, KL, Malaysia
I think 2012 was the year when I visited most places. It was a fun, exciting and an awesome travel year!

For me, places are like people. They live, breathe in their own ways. I meet them, get to know them, I fall in love with them, sometimes despise them, or pity them.  But always I learn something from them.  They give me different perspectives, making mine wider than it ever has been.  I miss them, and then rejoice in the sight of them again.  They also make me miss and love more my own place, where I grew up, where my loved ones live, whenever I am away.  I love places.

I have started the year fresh in the Queen of the South, Cebu!  It was the second APT event held in this laid back city, and I got the chance to explore it, pleasure after business. :)  Here's my blog post on this fun trip, click here.

Basilica de Sto. Nino

Crown Regency, Cebu

Finally, a pure holiday trip! KL-Bali trip was booked one year in advance with the TBs for obvious reasons (seat sale, what else??).  Unfortunately, not all of us were able to come due to some unavoidable circumstances so this became an all-girls escapade! I promise to finish the blog post about this wonderful trip as soon as I can!

Batu Caves, KL

Petronas Twin Towers, KL

From KL, we flew to Bali.  But before that we met Grace at KL airport.  Bali was such a lovely place, I would go back over and over!  It was so laid back, so relaxing, the culture so rich.  Click here to read about our all-girls Bali trip.

Sunset at Kuta Beach, Bali

I went to Goa, India this year twice, May and December.  I've been there thrice already, but still regret not having to see the Taj Mahal. Click here for a peek on our India trips.

Parasailing in Baga Beach, Goa

Baga Beach, Goa

I was then so excited to go back to Macau as I have missed this colorful and exciting gaming hub.  I went to Macau twice in the same month for pre-event meetings and the actual event.  I had so much fun in Macau even while working for the event.  All the people were so professional. 

Man-made Beach at Galaxy Macau

The Mauritius trip for another APT event was indeed fun.  We stayed in a super cool private villa with its own private heated pool, a garden and 3 bed rooms. We also had a "french maid" who prepares our breakfast and cleans our house everyday.  This went on for two weeks.  It was an awesome two weeks. :)  After the event, Rachelle and I grabbed the chance to go to La Plage Private Beach Club, why would we miss the beach in Mauritius??  It's a beach club exclusive to residents and guests of the Evaco holiday properties.  It was so quiet and relaxing.  The host of the beach club told us that we were the first Filipino guests she had.

But still, I must say that nothing matches the beaches in my home country (Calaguas in my mind right now).

La Plage Evaco Private Beach Club

Paradise :)

APT's first event in Cambodia, held in Las Vegas Sun, brought me to this part of the world for the first time.  We did not get the chance to explore Cambodia as going to Angkor Wat would take a lot of time than going to Ho Chi Minh , and our port of departure is in HCM. So it was a more practical decision to just visit HCM at that time for more hours of exploring than travelling.

Vietnam-Cambodia Border

Titan Casino in Cambodia

After the event in the Cambodia-Vietnam border, we made our way to Ho Chi Minh not to go home yet, but to extend for 2 more days to explore this city.  Click here to read the post about the city tour.

Saigon Central Post Office

Riding the cyclo around the city

I ended the year with my second trip to Goa, India on December to hold another APT event there.  I must say, it's one awesome year for travels.  I became so accustomed to airports, planes, hotels and foreign tongues (their speaking, that is).  I must admit, though I am having fun, I get to miss home so bad while I'm away.  Just imagine how eager I was to go home from my last trip to celebrate the holidays in Manila with friends and family.  Well, it makes me appreciate home more, while I get to see a part of the world one travel at a time. I hope that my blog posts in 2012 helped you with some of your travels.  Keep exploring, the world is ours! Happy New Year all! :)

Monique ♥

See all TRAVEL posts.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Keeping Up with Saigon's Energy

After the APT Asian Series Cambodia which was held in one of the casinos in the Cambodia-Vietnam border, we went back to Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon), Vietnam to get to know this popular tourist destination and bustling city.

When crossing the border...
On our way from Vietnam to Cambodia, we rode a hotel service car so the only time we had to get off the car was in the Cambodia Immigration to give our passports and pay USD 20 each.  This was not an official payment, but part of the twisted system, if you know what I mean...

Now crossing back from Cambodia to Vietnam, we had to walk quite a distance as the hotel car was prohibited to cross the border.  There were locals in motorcycles who will offer to carry your luggage across.  It was raining and it was really a hassle, so we agreed to have our luggage carried.  When we got to the bus which will take us to Ho Chi Minh City, the men in motorcycles were ripping us off with USD 10 for carrying our luggage, I refused to pay that. Good thing the guy from the hotel who went with us to assist us in immigration told us to only give USD 3.

It is very important to stay alert at all times. If you can carry your own luggage across the border, do so.

Cambodia-Vietnam Border

It took us less than 2 hours to reach Ho Chi Minh.  We reached the hostel around 5PM.

Where we stayed...
While we were in Cambodia, I was Googling cheap hotels and hostels where we can stay in HCM. I had these two on my plate: Koniko Backpackers Hostel and Victory Hotel 2.  Both were located in Pham Ngu Lao district and have good reviews.  The former has breakfasts included, but the latter one seems to have much bigger room space.  We went for Koniko.

We stayed in a Triple Room (with 1 double bed and 1 single bed) which costs USD 26 per night (w/ breakfast).  The room was small, but it was clean, with a private bathroom and complete amenities.  The staff were really friendly, the girl even helped us out plan our city tour before we left the hostel the next morning to explore.  The entire hostel was so clean, you even have to take off your footwear when inside the establishment.

The location is very good, it's near restaurants, bars, travel agencies and shops. However, being in the midst of this busy street, you can also hear the noise at night.  We only stayed for 2 nights, so it was fine.  For our room for 2 nights, we paid a total of VND 1,326,000 (USD 63) (for the three of us).  The airport pick up cost us VND 39,000 (USD 1.90) (hotel shuttle from Cambodia dropped us at the airport).

Check out their website at

Koniko Backpackers Hostel
149, Bui Vien Str., Pham Ngu Lao ward, Dist. 1, HCM City

Tel: (08)8 38369548
Fax: (08)8 38369548

This is one reason why I loved the vibe in Pham Ngu Lao!  Flocks of foreigners hang out on the side walk (like "tambays"), sitting in tiny chairs and tables, while drinking the local beer from the stores.

There are just so many foreigners, families, couples, friends, enjoying the vibrant city.

On our first night, after having dinner in a resto near our hostel, we set foot to bargain in the Night Market.  It's a 15-minute walk from our hostel.

Ben Than Market - It's open during the day. At night this closes and the night market outside comes to life.

In crossing the roads of HCM, one must bear a brave soul.
It was just soooo hard to cross!

Flocks of motorcycles are some of the common sights in HCM.

The night market was full of different goods and souvenirs: clothes, shoes, coffee, tea, bags, etc.  Many brands of bags have factories in Vietnam that is why these are cheaper here.  Some bags are original, some are class A (pretending to be original).  You can buy a small trolley bag for as low as VND 280,000 (USD 13.30).  Souvenir magnets are at VND 10,000 (USD 50 cents).  Don't forget to bargain!

There are lots of food trips too!  Had we known it earlier, we should have taken our dinner here.  I will do a separate post about the food trips in HCM soon at I♥FOOD.


At first, we planned to sign up for a city tour in a travel agency.  In Lac Hong Tours, the City Tour only costs VND 165 per person which includes AC bus, tour guide, lunch and pick up.  They also offer other tours to Cu Chi Tunnel, Mekong Delta (where the floating market is), Can Gio Island, etc.  If you're interested, you can reach them at  You can also visit different travel agencies along Bui Vien St. to compare, there are lots!

However, it was too late when we decided we would go for the city tour. So we had no choice but to tour the city on our own, which turned out to be A LOT cheaper and fun.

The places we've been to were the same places in the itinerary of the city tour that we were supposed to sign up for.  All these places also were marked in the map provided by the hostel, you can grab one at the reception. The hostel also offer tours, but their prices are much higher than the one we found.

What we did was took a cab from the hostel to the farthest stop, which was the War Remnants Museum, and planned to walk going back to see the other stops.  The cab ride only cost us VND 48,000 (USD 2.30).

Stop #1
War Remnants Museum
Entrance Fee: VND 15,000 (USD 70 cents)

I am not so fond of museums, but while others were bored, this museum moved me.  The whole war era was presented up to the aftermath and the inspiring effort to recover.

War Remnants Museum

Lunch at Restaurant Ngon

We had lunch at this famous resto as suggested by the staff from the hostel - Resturant Ngon. From War Remnants Museum, we walked to this resto before going to the next stop which was the Reunification Palace (located just next to this resto). The location just suits our itinerary perfectly!

 It has a beautiful interior and the food was delicious.

Stop #2
Reunification Palace
Entrance fee: VND 30,000 (USD 1.42)

It's in the same location as the Restaurant Ngon. There's nothing much to see here.  Some tourists have tour guides showing them around, just follow them discreetly if you want to hitch ;)

Reunification Palace

Stop #3
Notre Dame Cathedral
No entrance fee

This amazing church was closed at the time of our visit, so we didn't get to see the inside.  I am sure the inside of the church was even more beautiful.

Add caption

I love it!

Stop #4
Saigon Central Post Office
No entrance fee

The post office is a must-visit stop too, it's just right next to the cathedral.  It's ancient beauty was well preserved.  It's a fully operational post office, and there were plenty of shops inside as well.

Outside the post office there were beautiful pop-cards being sold.

Stop #5
Ben Than Market
No entrance fee

For sure we wouldn't miss the famous Ben Than Market of HCM!  From the post office, we took a cab to this day market.  Cab ride cost us VND 24,000 (USD 1.14).

Ben Than Market was just so huge!  It's like Divisoria in Manila, but way cleaner and more organized.  It's indeed a haven for shopaholics!

The Cyclo, bow! 

After buying some more stuff to bring home, we rode the Cyclo going back the hostel.  This also gave us the chance to see the city while just sitting pretty. :)  I have been wanting to try this even before we arrived in HCM.

The cyclo was a bit pricey, we paid for VND 100,000 (USD 5) for a quick short ride back, but I definitely recommend this.  It's also perfect for elders who wish to tour the city, but does anymore have the energy to endure exploring the city by foot.  The cyclo is driven by old locals, and is running slow so you would have a good chance to look around and take photos and videos.

Cyclo ride in action :)

For the hotel to airport transfer, we found a cheap fixed cab rate of USD 7 in a travel agency just along the street where we stayed.  There are so many options so no need to worry about transfers.

Here's a quick summary of our itinerary:

Day 1 - Arrival day at HCM (night time)
  • Dinner in a resto along the street
  • Night Market (outside Ben Than)
  • Drink, food trip and hang out on the street side walk with other tourists
Day 2 - City Tour (we left the hostel at around 9AM)
(refer to the map below)
  • War Remnants Museum (cab from hostel)
  • Lunch at Ngon Restaurant (walk) - It'not shown on the map.  You will pass by this resto when walking from the War Museum to the Reunification Palace. It's a perfect lunch stop over!
  • Reunification Palace (walk)
  • Notre Dame Cathedral (walk)
  • Saigon Central Post Office (walk)
  • Ben Than Market (cab)
  • Cyclo back to hostel (Wer'e already back at 4PM) 
  • More shopping at the shops along the street

Here's the map which City Tour itineraries I have marked to guide you on your very own city tour. Enjoy! :)

Exploring HCM was very cheap.  Not including the air and bus fares, I only spent USD 100 in this trip, that includes the accommodation, shopping, food, and tour.  As always, I take pride in spending the least I can whenever I travel. :)

The currency exchange rate at the time we visited was:
USD 1 = VND 20,800 (big notes)
USD 1 = VND 20,700 (small notes - less than 100)

Our quick stay at Ho Chi Minh was indeed well spent.  It was such a vibrant and energetic city you have to keep up with.  I am definitely coming back to see more of Vietnam. 

See all TRAVEL posts.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Italian Dining Pleasure Al Fresco at Buon Giorno Tagaytay

Looking for a perfect spot in Tagaytay to hold intimate Christmas gatherings with friends and family?  Here's one for the holidays!

Yan and I celebrated our anniversary in this relaxing Italian restaurant overlooking the Taal Lake - Buon Giorno Caffe and Bistro in Cliff House Tagaytay.  We arrived at 11 AM, before everyone else, for lunch so we got the benefit of picking the most sought for seat in the house, the Opium Bed.  There are two of this seat in the resto, the one which we chose was located at the far end of the outside dining area with the magnificent view of the lake, while the other one is just beside the entrance of the restaurant.

The opium bed at Buon Giorno - best seat in the house!

We had Baby Back Ribs, Spaghettini Aglio Olio and New York Pizza.  The Baby Back Ribs option prevailed over Rib Eye, next time we'll try the latter.  The Aglio Olio was a no-brainer, it's always my default pasta choice. ;) I looove pasta in oil. Both were very good. The pizza was so-so, not as wonderful as the other two.  Servings were in small portions and is good for only one person, maybe two if you are sharing more than two dishes. I like the bread as well, which was complimentary and which basket was kept refilled throughout.   There were balsamic vinegar and olive oil for dip.

Baby Back Ribs (PHP 598)

Spaghettini Aglio Olio (PHP 272)

New York Pizza (PHP 295)

The stunning view from the opium bed.

Buon Giorno Caffe and Bistro at lunch time

Outside dining, this fills up first before the inside of the restaurant.  Well, that's why you're in Tagaytay right?

Inside the restaurant where diners go when the outside area is already full.

The complete menu for your picking!

For the dessert, we opt to buy some ice cream at the ice cream station just beside the restaurant (near the bathroom) which we still enjoyed at the opium bed. :)   Buon Giorno Caffe and Bistro is located inside Cliff House Tagaytay in General Emilio Aguinaldo Highway, Tagaytay City. Phone number is (046) 413 210.  It's open from Monday to Sunday, 7:30 AM to 10:30 PM.

We enjoyed Buon Giorno's meals, its ambiance and the service, and we'll definitely come back for more!  ♥

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