My 2018 Travel List

2018 Travel List

What I love about being an expat: Travel becomes an integral part of your life. 

The challenge about being an expat in my industry: I’m not a travel blogger, nor do I make a living out of blogging. Ergo, I have limited vacation days and I maximize my travel by taking advantage of long weekends.

There is always a way to travel, limited vacation days notwithstanding, if you love traveling!

This year, I’ve made my list already:

1 .  Southern SpainI. love. Spain. This year, I want to explore Southern Spain more: Valencia, Cordoba, Granada, Malaga, Ronda, Cadiz, Jerez, Seville and the island of Mallorca. Arshad has pretty much outlined the itinerary for us (thank God for an equally-wanderlustful partner!).

2 .  Donsol, Sorsogon – because it was very rainy in Bicol last December, our Legazpi-Sorsogon tandem trip was cut short. We didn’t make it to Donsol, Sorsogon for the whale sharks, but we intend to come back in the summer!

3 . Bali, Indonesia –  does not even need an explanation. Before January ends, I’ll be coming back to the Island of the Gods and I’ll be exploring the Lembongan area to surf, do my yoga and just frolic in the beach.

4 . Penang, Malaysia – is always in my wishlist, but I never get to go. Perhaps because it’s near and accessible to me, so I take it for granted. A culinary paradise, I’d like 2018 to be the year the I finally go and stuff myself silly with char koay teow, Penang rojak and my classic favorite: cendol!

5 . Colombo, Sri Lanka – I’ve been to Colombo a few years ago for work. Regrettably, I didn’t get the chance to go around and visit the temples, eat more local food and visit the beaches. Wishful thinking that I can dedicate one long weekend for this, finally.

6.  Kathmandu, Nepal – is very picturesque. I’d like to be able to say one day that I’ve been to ALL Southeast Asian countries. Nepal is good way to start.

These are the cities, countries and places that I’d love to visit outside of work. Some of them, I’ve been to before, like Bali and Colombo, but I’d want to go back and revisit them again, because these places always light my fire and they always make me happy. The reason is that simple.

To my traveling and expatriate tribe and comrades, may 2018 be adventure and travel-filled for you. May it bring us more excitement and more places to discover. Happy New Year!

I keep coming back to Manila

A portion of my humble home in Manila

Four months. This is by far the longest time that I spent not going back home to Manila, which I dare not repeat. Four months seemed like forever to me and at some point, I felt increasingly depressed already, not seeing my family, not being in the comforts of my home.

I normally come back home to Manila every 2 months,  alternating with KL, but the early part of this year found me with a role expansion that quadrupled my team and responsibilities. Not that I’m complaining. It is a role that I have been looking forward to, which also needed more time and focus. Thus, the delays in my usual Manila trip.

our Dachschund Dinozzo and Himalayan ASH Manuel

Yesterday morning, as I opened the door of my home, it greeted me with the familiar smell of vanilla and honey candles, my daughter running to kiss me and hug me tightly, the noise of my dachshund barking and excitedly wagging his tail that his human is back, the nonchalant stare of my stoic Himalayan-Ash cat and most of all, the smell of my mother and yaya’s freshly prepared Pinoy breakfast, perfectly paired with warm pan de sal and a pot of aromatic brewed coffee.

Yas! I am home. The sensory assault makes the red eye flight all worth it. The hugs and kisses of my family, the warm embrace and the familiar faces of my long-time friends. It’s just great to be home.

with my daughter Abby enjoying gelato amidst the heat of Metro Manila

I love my job, I love being an expat and travel has always been second nature to me and my husband. I have long come to terms with my paradox that although I am a traveler and wanderlust runs through my veins, I always find myself amidst Manila’s discord. As crazy as that may sound.

With barely 36 hours in Manila, for now, let me enjoy my Mom’s sopas, tinapang bangus and ginisang monggo. Ahh. Definitely home.

Majestic Mount Bromo

Mount Bromo_wm

Mount Bromo: taken this morning a few minutes after the sunrise

Mount Bromo at sunrise: literally no filter. It is beautiful and majestic as it is.

I’m in Malang this weekend and will be posting about places I visited in this gem of a city in East Java.

Coming soon!

 

The woes of a traveler who doesn’t have enough time: part 1 

This year, I have 3 scheduled trips already, with booked and bought plane tickets:

  1. Spain and Portugal for our annual European vacation
  2. Malang, Indonesia – a birthday gift for Arshad; and
  3. Bali, Indonesia – a group trip that my inner circle booked so I can celebrate my birthday with them in October outside of Manila (ain’t it so posh to say you threw a party for your friends in Bali? Hahaha.)

This list doesn’t include the short trips that we normally make en route to Manila, KL and Singapore for weekends.

Sounds all exciting, doesn’t it? I am excited – super! The thing that worries me and gives me anxiety is the lack of time to research and prepare for the trips in a leisurely way that I want to.

Bella in Salzburg, Austria_wm.png

Bella in Salzburg, Austria (2016)

See, I’m a traveler at heart. It’s one of the major reasons why I decided to be an expat since traveling comes with the job. But the job also comes with long hours, 10-12 hours per day on the average, which either leaves me exhausted after a long day or requires me to fit my other activities in a very tight timeline: workout, bank errands, grocery and all the other usual daily grind.

And unlike some of my friends who became successful travel bloggers, I have a full-time job that takes me away from my passion for traveling. Don’t get me wrong, though. I love my job and the career that I have, which is also why I never had the intention of giving it up for other equally important passions. That, and it pays for the trips and the expenses that go along with it!

So although it may sound such a first world problem (though I clearly do not live in one), a traveler at heart with a full-time career has 2 dilemmas:

  1. Not enough time to plan 
  2. Not enough time for travel itself

For this blog entry, I specifically wanted to write about planning. For me, part of the joy of traveling is in the planning itself! The anticipation of traveling is what keeps me from being a trainwreck despite my crazy work hours as of late.

Here are some ways I do to get around my lack of time to prepare for the trip and to keep myself excited:

1.   Prepare way ahead of time. As in way ahead. This is most especially true when you are preparing for travels abroad that will require visa applications. Things you have to note on visa processing and requirements:

visa application

  • Bank references and bank statements – requests will have SLAs of 2 days to a week.
  • Visa appointment – depending on the country, some visa appointments, like for the US or the UK, can take 2-3 weeks to schedule.
  • Employment certificate – depends on how fast your company can provide this, but usually a day or two.
  • Confirmed flights and hotels – some countries requiring visas will also require that the plane tickets and accommodations have been booked and purchased. You definitely need to sit down on this to compare prices, book and buy.

At the same time, comparing accommodations, researching about restaurants, museums and activities require time. The longer the trip, the longer amount of time is required to prepare for it. For a European or US trip, I give myself 2-3 months to prepare and research, and this is crunch time already. For trips in Asia, a month is usually enough.

2.  Prepare to steal moments from your day-to-day routine to do some online research. Busy women like me fantasize about a lazy Saturday morning where we can just sit down, have a cup of coffee while browsing online to research. For most of us, though, ain’t gonna happen. There will always be pressing matters.

Whoever said, though, that there aren’t pockets of time in a day when this can be done? Reality is, we live everyday in a frenzy. If research must be done: beg, borrow or steal some time. In my case, I wake up half an hour in advance in the morning to do this, or I shorten my lunch break, lock myself inside my office and hit Google. If you’re stuck in traffic, thank God for 4G LTE so you can research faster through your mobile phone or tablet.

3. Lists. Lists will save you. Prepare checklists for almost anything and everything related to travel preparations. My personal favorite is to use Evernote and I have a notebook inside categorized as Travel. I have a checklist of requirements needed for a Shengen visa, so everytime that I need to renew or apply all over again, I have my Shengen list as reference.

trip list

from Stuff Asperger People Like

I also have a comprehensive checklist of items and clothes to bring depending on what kind of trip, where I am going and when. For example, I have a default checklist of summer essentials and what to pack on a beach trip, while I also have a checklist of what to pack for a Europe trip during autumn or winter time. It may sound extremely OCDC, but for seasoned travelers, it helps to have a default checklist to go back to, and seasoned travelers already know that there is a pattern for most kinds of trips, whether for backpacking, beach trip or cross-country.

4. Find a travel buddy who you can share the workload and planning with. Faaaaaaayn, I get away with it because my husband is an efficient travel planner. We make an effort (well, he makes the effort) to sit down and discuss our options: travel dates, whether to book a hotel or use AirBnB, what activities to do, etc.

When traveling with friends, assign the tasks. In my circle, we usually assign tasks depending on what we’re good at. Someone with a huge credit card limit can book the plane tickets, another one can plan the itinerary and someone else can research on which Michelin star restaurants to try. My specific competence, for obvious reasons, is planning trips for Indonesia and Malaysia. At the same time, since I’ve done the rounds for vineyard tours and whiskey flights, so they normally leave these things up to me.

5. Package tours. For the lazy ones, the pragmatists or those who are really running out of time, package tours is always the way to go. Package tours will already have everything: transfers, guided tour, food, detailed itinerary and even prepaid entrance tickets for museums, churches and other places of interest.

tour packages

The tour package approach, though, is not for people who want to try traveling off the beaten path. This is more for those who prefer organized travel with less risks of uncertainty.

For some, it can be a safe choice, but not as exciting and not as spur-of -the-moment.

6. Digitize and appify. Thank God for Google and all the emerging travel-related apps that can simplify research! They make life less complicated, saves me a lot of time for research and I can store everything on my mobile phone or notebook!

Here are some of my favorite travel apps and sites that I always use for research and planning:

Skyscanner

  • Skyscanner – to search and compare flights
  • Agoda and AirBnB – for accommodation
  • TripCanvas – for Indonesia and Thailand  places to go to and things to try
  • TripAdvisor – for pretty much everything about travel (including reviews)
  • Time Out – one of my favorite city guides on art, entertainment, food, drinks, film and even theater. Go figure why I like it!

7. Lastly, find joy in the experience of planning a trip. It’s very simple. What you find pleasure in, you will always make time for. Cliche’ but true: It’s the journey, not the destination. And part of the journey is planning the trip.

To the busy Bellas with wanderlust that never goes away, have fun in planning and traveling. There will always be time for these things for us. Come hell or high water, off we travel!

 

 

 

 

Weekend hits: What to do in Jakarta when you’re staying in the city

Last weekend was the very first semi-sane weekend that I spent in Jakarta, which was exactly what I needed: to stay put and have some quiet time after a work-week inundated by nothing but meetings and boardroom presentations.

I always get these questions from friends in Manila: “So what is your typical weekend in Jakarta? What is there to do in Jakarta? Is it still traffic during the weekends?”

To finally shed light on what’s happening here in my side of town (yes, it’s still traffic in some parts of the city), I’m sharing what a quiet Jakarta weekend looks like. Here’s my initial weekend top 5:

1. Healthy Saturday breakfast. In South Jakarta, my go-to restaurants for great coffee and avocado toast are Saint ALi in Setiabudi and Lucky Cat Coffee and Kitchen in the Plaza Festival complex.

Saint ALi is originally from Australia and luckily, Jakarta is the first branch outside of it. Their coffee game is strong and they offer a lot of variety. The baristas definitely know their coffee and you can ask for recommendations. I regularly order their flat white with Dama almond milk paired with my favorite Avo on Toast.

Another great news for those who love macarons: Saint ALi also partnered with La Maison Patisserie. There is an array of colorful macarons to choose from, with eccentric flavors, too. I tried the salted egg yolk and the salted popcorn and they tasted good, in a weird way.

On the other hand, Lucky Cat is currently one of the hippest coffee shops in town (yes, there is always a line and you can’t make reservations). They’re open 24 hours, too! They have a much shorter menu for both coffee and food, but if you’re into flavored latte or affogatto, this is the place to be! I prefer their mushroom and avocado on toast over Saint Ali’s, to be honest. It’s creamier and more savory, but since this place is one of the newest, it also runs out pretty fast.

Side bar: I don’t know why, but Indonesia seems to have better-tasting avocados, compared to the Philippines. Theirs is more buttery and sweet-tasting, you just can’t have enough of it.

Saint ALi
+6321-52906814
Price Range is around Rp300k for 2 people
Hours: 7am to 8pm
Address : Setiabudi Two, Ground Floor, Jl. HR Rasuna Said, Setiabudi, Jakarta
Lucky Cat Coffee and Kitchen
+621-52961475
Price range: Rp300k for 2 people
Open 24 hours
Plaza Festival, South Parking, Jl. HR Rasuna Said, Kuningan Jakarta

 

2.  Books! When I was a newbie in Jakarta, I had a hard time looking for English books. I didn’t know where to go. Indonesia has Gramedia bookstore but majority of the books they sell are in Bahasa Indonesia. There were English books but quite limited, in terms of bestsellers and new releases line-up. Luckily, I discovered Periplus in Plaza Indonesia in one of my cardio window shopping spree. Periplus branches are modest in size but they pack a lot of bestsellers and popular authors.

A weekend well-spent is a Periplus shopping spree and an afternoon spent in a coffee shop reading one of the bestsellers you just bought. In my case, I usually go to the Lotte Shopping Mall in Ciputra World since it’s in my ‘hood.

3. Batik shopping. My love for Indonesian batik is infamous among my friends. I wear them everywhere, for any occasion. For cheap batik shopping, Ambasador and ITC malls in South Jakarta are the places-to-be. One of my secret shopping jaunts though is the Bellagio Mall. There is always a bazaar in the middle of Bellagio Mall with around 5 stalls selling batik from Solo, Yogyakarta and Bandung. It’s very near my office and apartment so I end up buying whenever I pass by (or whenever I can come up with reasons to do so!). Price ranges from Rp150k to Rp300k.

For the bold and the brave, Thamrin City is the best place to buy batik coming from all over Indonesia. Imagine 5 floors of batik shops! I always, always get lost whenever I go, but I never get tired of going. You can find batik fabrics, RTW, shoes, bags and handicrafts. There are 2 main caveats: beware of pickpockets and traffic is a b*tch. Better to park your car if you’re driving in Plaza Indonesia or just go take Uber or Blue Bird taxi.

4. The most underrated but most divine treatment: Crème bath. Crème bath is essentially a hot oil treatment, with a pleasant twist: the head and scalp massage lasts for an hour! For someone like me who loves a scalp massage more than any kind of spa treatment, this is my best stress reliever! Most salons would have this treatment, but my favorite spots are at Alfons in Lotte Shopping Mall or Hair Code at Epicentrum, Rasuna Said.

Jakarta also has a better blow styling method that is longer lasting. Whenever I have to go to a Sunday brunch, I head to the salon first to get my crème bath treatment and a blow-dry after.

Alfons Salon
+621-298890677
Hours : 10am – 10pm
Lotte Shopping Avenue
Jl. Prof Dr. Satrio Kav. 3 – 5, RT.18/RW.4, Karet Kuningan, Setiabudi, Jakarta Selatan, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 12940
Hair Code Epicentrum 
+621-29889292
Hours: 10am – 10pm
Jl. Prof Dr. Satrio Kav. 3 – 5, RT.18/RW.4, Karet Kuningan, Setiabudi, Jakarta Selatan, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 12940

 

5. Speaking of my most favorite thing: Sunday champagne brunch at Hotel Mulia. Back in 2011 when I was still single and bored with nothing much to do during the weekends (except for the top 4 above), my girlfriends and I made it a habit to have Sunday brunch together with free-flow wine and champagne.  Jakarta boasts of several hotels offering Sunday brunch, but I am most fond of the restaurants in Hotel Mulia, specifically, Il Mare.

First of all, the interior design of Hotel Mulia with its grandiose staircases makes me feel like a queen when I descend the stairs to go to the restaurant. Mulia has this old, elegant look that makes you feel like you’re an aristocrat of the olden days about to partake in a sumptuous feast of fresh oysters, lobster and champagne.

Oh yes, did I mention the fresh oysters already? What’s good about Il Mare is that the buffet spread is just enough in terms of size, but it doesn’t shortchange the customer. The buffet packs in a lot in terms of diversity in their offering – fresh seafood, sushi, sashimi, steak, pasta, grilled food, cheese and all the desserts you can think of.

I love the buffet brunches in Mulia, so much so that this deserves a separate blog entry!

Il Mare buffet with free-flowing wine and cocktails go for around Rp638,000.00++. Reservation is a must and when there are occasions such as Christmas or Chinese New Year, it’s always better to call a week ahead.

IL Mare, Mulia 
+621-5747777
Hours: 12pm – 2:30pm for brunch, 6pm – 10:30pm for dinner
Jl. Asia  Afrika, Senayan, RT.1/RW.3, Gelora, Kota Jakarta Pusat, Daerah Khusus Ibukota Jakarta 10270
This is my first Top 5 weekend hits in Jakarta. I will be posting more of my favorites soon. For now, it’s time for a lazy weekend.

SpongeBob: Stay away from Coron, Palawan!

[photo courtesy of PalawanIsland.org

In a surprising news yesterday, Nickelodeon announced that it will build an underwater resort theme park in Coron, Palawan.

Aside from the political goings-on in my country today, it is very rare that I get pissed off with news that I read. What else is new, right?

But this. This is a low blow.

Palawan is one of the last ecological frontiers in the Philippines. It is a marine sanctuary. It is one of the few pristine beaches that you can confidently swim in where the waters are crystal clear and you do not fear of chemical contamination.

Who in the world thought of this? Worse, who in his right mind approved it?

Nickelodeon has the gall to say that development will “advocate ocean protection.”

Ocean protection my ass.

This will ruin Coron.

I have very fond memories of Palawan and I choose to come back to it regularly because the beaches are clean and fresh.

I love Coron as it is.

To my fellow environmental advocates, to those who love Coron, Nickelodeon has no business to be in Palawan!

Please be part of the petition and sign up.coron-is-not-bikini-bottom

[Image courtesy of Save Philippine Seas]

What Christmas is like for a Pinoy Expat in Jakarta

3 days before Christmas: Work is still up to my ears here in Jakarta.  Whilst Manila is already on holiday mode, I’m in back-to-back meetings, with a Christmas tune in my head (Chestnuts roasting on an open fiiiiire…).

To be fair to Indonesia, it’s not all that bad. Luckily for the expats here, although Indonesia is a Moslem society, there is more religious tolerance compared to other more conservative countries.

christmas-tree_wmYes, people, we are allowed to celebrate Christmas here, in case you are wondering. Both my office and apartment buildings have towering Christmas trees.

I usually come back to Manila for the holidays, but this is the first time that I’ll be touching down in Manila exactly on the 24th, so I will be missing a lot of the Manila festivities.

How does it feel, apart from getting homesick? I had a few realizations and musings, between wrapping Christmas presents, rushing to meetings and daydreaming of chocolate batirol.

  1. You miss the pre-Christmas party lunches, dinners and reunions. For the friends and friends_wmex-colleagues who miss you, they either Photoshop your face on the group photos, or in my case, they made videos and placed my name on their group shots. The upside of missing out? Less calories to burn post-holiday season.
  1. You miss Simbang Gabi. Ergo, you miss all the other good stuff that come along with it: bibingka, puto bumbong, taho and that Christmas cool air that greets you when you go to church at 4am. There is this distinct Christmas air that you feel in our country that you won’t feel anywhere else. I know so, having been able to celebrate the holidays in other countries. It just feels…different.
  1. You create your own Christmas traditions with your circle of friends in your second city. As you cultivate friendships along the way and create your own inner circle, you get to create new Christmas traditions. In my case, it’s the annual Christmas champagne brunch where I get to exchange Christmas presents with my friends and one-on-one Christmas lunches with other colleagues before we all fly out to our home countries.
  1. When you finally, finally come back home to Manila for a very short holiday break, you get to appreciate all the little things that make Christmas such a huge deal: misa de gallo, hot chocolate and queso de bola for Noche Buena, the mess of ribbons and wrappers after opening the presents, little kids singing Christmas carols in the streets, the shopping rush at S&R a few days, or even a few hours, before Christmas – all of it. You miss all of it.
  1. In the end, though, your sense of gratitude for being an expat throttling between two cities heightens. I miss Manila and I will always miss it, but being an expat increased my gratitude for all the things that I experience and even the things that I miss out on. I get to miss my favorite things in Manila, but when it’s time to face the music again, I feel great that I can go back to the other favorite things that I became fond of here in Jakarta. Would you believe that I’ve been chowing down sambal and Indonesian food in the past few days because I’m gonna miss it when I come home to Manila? I guess I will carry this dichotomy for as long as I call these two cities my home, and truth be told, it sits with me just fine.

To all my fellow Jakartan expats, enjoy all the lechon, queso de bola and kakanin back home.

To everyone, may this season bring you and your families joy, faith, hope and love. Maligayang Pasko sa ating lahat!