Category Archives: Travel Review

Boracay!

As I mentioned before, as we are getting ready to leave the Philippines (in 25 days!!!), I was sad that we had never been to Boracay, the most famous beach in the country.

Stories of crowds and the partying atmosphere might excite some, but actually kept us from going there. Personally, I hate crowded beaches – I like my space, my quiet, my peace. To add to that, tickets to Boracay are just as expensive as international tickets, so we chose to go to places like Hong Kong, Taipei, Jakarta, Shanghai, Brunei, Kota Kinabalu, Seoul, Bangkok, (etc, etc) instead.

But splurging for a 5-star stay at the Shangri-la in Boracay sounded like the perfect way to end our time in the Philippines, plus an easy first trip with a newborn!

Ellie did great on her first plane ride, I nursed her on the way up and down, as everyone recommended in order to keep her ears cleared, and she slept the rest of the time.

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We got to the resort, and immediately fell in love…

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The view from our room didn’t hurt…

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We spent the next few days at the private beach in front of our room, the water and sand were gorgeous!

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And as Karl and Ellie took a few naps at the beach, I was able to explore the grounds and check out the pool (which oddly enough, was heated, so it was super uncomfortable in this sunny weather…).

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I also visited the other private beach, which was much smaller, but being next to the pool, also much busier…

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But from there we could see amazing sunsets… (No filters needed – actually, for any of these pictures, everything looks exactly as it did on my camera!)

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Traveling with Ellie was great too! I wore her on my Beco Gemini, which instantly makes her pass out, so we were able to go out to dinner every night, and she was completely oblivious to it! (I’m getting really good at eating above her head…)

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And to add to my joy, Ellie loved being on the beach!

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And she loved the water too!

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(Except when Karl held her…)

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We took advantage of the free shuttle and checked out the “real” Boracay as well…

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But around the beach area, and specially the boardwalk, it was all so noisy and crowded, we were relieved we decided not to stay there!

The only hard part of the trip was leaving this behind…

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I’m so happy we went to Boracay, and despite the extra expense for the flights and to stay at the Shangri-la, it was absolutely worth it! The place was paradise, and it was a super easy trip with a newborn too (after all, Ellie wasn’t even 8 weeks!).

We have one more trip scheduled before we leave, spending a weekend in Puerto Galera (which involves a drive + boat), and I ended up scheduling a trip with the girls from MADS back to Siquijor – 6 moms, 7 babies, 1 yaya. Now THAT should be interesting… Stay tuned… I’m also hoping procrastination to pack will give me a chance to finally catch up on all the trips I’ve taken in the last few months and failed to blog about!

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Filed under Asia, Foreign Service, Philippines, Pictures, Travel, Travel Review, Traveling in Asia, Trips!

Away at Sonya’s Garden…

After a failed attempt to spend a nice and relaxing weekend in Sonya’s Garden in Tagaytay, I’m looking forward to 3 full days enjoying the beach and (hopefully) sun in Boracay!  We leave in a few hours and I couldn’t be more excited!

I had such high hopes for Sonya’s, after all, their rooms are made for relaxation (if you ever go, ask for the Chamomile room below):

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And yes, Lily was welcomed too, which was a big plus (wish I could take my little puppy everywhere!).  Sonya’s is such a nice contrast from Manila, and having been there for lunch before, I couldn’t wait to spend the weekend (dogs are welcomed in the restaurant too!).  Who wouldn’t want to relax here?

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Entrance to our room:

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We had an amazing lunch at Antonio’s (everyone insisted that I’d go, I’m glad I listened!), wish I knew Lily was welcomed there too though.  The atmosphere at Antonio’s was also great!

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When we got back to Sonya’s we had a spectacular massage  (HIGHLY recommend their signature massage! One of the best I’ve had!).  We went back to the room to relax and read our kindles, when the super loud music started.

Yep, they forgot to mention they were hosting a wedding at the restaurant that is just a few steps from the rooms.  So we went from hearing the birds outside to feeling like we were in a club, ready for some fist-pumping…  *Sigh* 

I have no idea why with two big restaurants they chose the lower one near the rooms to host the party instead of the upper ones, which would have been far enough that the noise would not be bothering the guests.

It wasn’t even 6pm, and I knew the party would be going on until late, and I didn’t expect the wedding to be quiet (it’s their one day, you know?  I wouldn’t even think of complaining to keep the noise down!), so we decided to cut our losses and leave.  (Karaoke was starting up then, and though Filipinos are amazingly talented, not all of them can sing, and that was clearly obvious by the sounds of it!)

Sonya’s staff was wonderful and totally understood why we were leaving (and apologized as someone should have warned us about the wedding when we made the reservations – if we knew, we wouldn’t have booked it).  They refunded our 50% deposit without hesitation, and we headed in a 3 hour trek with traffic back to Manila.  It was still a nice day so it wasn’t a complete loss, but I was so so so disappointed that my weekend of relaxing in a quiet environment that smells like flowers (because the area really does smell like flowers – such a change from Manila!) was a fail.  And with less than 40 days until we leave the Philippines I wouldn’t get a redo.

I still highly recommend Sonya’s Garden if you want a relaxing weekend away from Manila, just make sure they aren’t hosting any events when you’re there.  We had dinner on our way out, and I was disappointed with the food.  Though the menu is the same, lunch was way better the few times we’ve eaten there, so if you just go for one meal, do lunch, not dinner.  (The food for the guests at the B&B is different though, but we never got to try it.)

Now hoping relaxation will finally happen in a few hours!  Boracay, here we come!

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NYE in Sydney, Australia!

I’m super overdue in blogging about all my other trips, but figured I shouldn’t wait too long to talk about New Year’s Eve in Sydney.

It really was spectacular!  Here is a video of the finale – it’s pretty short, so make sure to watch it until the end, because the fireworks get really really good then (if you want to watch it on HD, just click on the video to go to vimeo’s site).

We debated a lot whether we were going to face the crowds to see the fireworks or not.  After all, I was 30 weeks pregnant, and we knew that if we decided to go, it would be at least a 7 hour wait until the fireworks started.  Plus, most places in Sydney CBD were expected to reach capacity at 1pm!  1pm!!!

We had considered going to one of the restaurants with a view, but the prices for their New Year’s Eve parties were $400+  PER PERSON.  Since we’re not rolling in dough, I don’t need to mention how we didn’t consider that even for a second.

It was literally the night before when again while exploring our options and decided to give a go at North Sydney, at the very least, we would get in the train before the crowds from Sydney CBD.  One of my biggest fears was the crowded train on the way back.  From experience from July 4th in DC and past NYE in Singapore or Rio de Janeiro, I know that the stations are overcrowded, to the point you can’t even get into the station until a good hour after the fireworks are over.  We usually just walk to a station further away, and though that takes a good hour or so anyway, at least we’re walking away from crowds, versus being pushed and shoved into a crowded train.  But again, that was not an option at 30 weeks pregnant.

Anyway, we decided to give a go at Blue Point in North Sydney.  If it was too crowded or at capacity, we could turn around, go back to the hotel, say we tried and we’d be ok with that.

We got there and yes, near the water it was super crowded, but at 5pm there were still plenty of spots we could sit at and still have a view of the bridge.

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Look at the crowds!

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But our view wasn’t too bad, and we were against a fence, so no chance of being trampled from behind either!  I put my sarong down so we had a place to sit, brought snacks, bought some water and our kindles and we were good for the wait.  We even started chatting with a couple who sat in front of us who were American diplomats posted in Bangkok (what are the odds?), the Filipina next to us, and later with this group of very cool and chatty Australians who sat to our other side.  Time flew by and I didn’t even look at my kindle!

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We were going to stay for the 9pm fireworks, and play it by ear from there depending on how I was feeling, but once we saw the 9pm show, we decided that if they were that good, the midnight one for SURE was worth sticking around for, so we got to see the whole thing.  (The porta-potty situation was a pain, I’m not going to lie, the lines were ridiculously long, people kept cutting the line – if I’m 30 weeks pregnant and can wait in line, what are their excuse?  And calling them out made no difference, they were rude as hell and refused to move, and even wanted to fight!  WTF! – but once you finally made it to the porta-potty, they were surprisingly clean, had a flush, lights and plenty of toilet paper, so despite my pregnant bladder, it really wasn’t the end of the world having to pee 3 times during the night.)

And as you saw in the video, the fireworks were amazing!

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(Stupid girl photobombing the finale.)

P1080827And remember the crowded trains being my biggest fear?  We got into the station right away, they weren’t even charging for the fare (damn, we should have saved our money instead of pre-paying!), but that meant no line to get in, the first train that came went straight by us to Sydney CBD (nice to know they were sending empty trains to take care of the millions there), and the next train was mostly empty, we got a seat, and were comfortable for the ride back.  Of course, the train did get super crowded later, but being in North Sydney did help us out in that respect.

I know I’m late, but happy 2013!  I promise I’ll blog more about our trip to Sydney (and all my trips to the Marshall Islands, Pohnpei in Micronesia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Shanghai, climbing Mt Pinatubo here in the Philippines…) soon!

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Riding Elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand!

By far, my favorite activity in Asia has been riding elephants in Chiang Mai.  I had one it before with my parents, so back in June when Michelle’s plans to go to Chiang Mai almost fell through, I jumped in as a replacement friend! 

Nothing like having 2 days notice and riding elephants, no?

I tried booking the same spot I went to last time, but they didn’t get back to me until after another place had replied, and being last minute, I had already paid the deposit, so we went with Thai Elephant Home instead.  (If you’re curious which place to choose, I compared them at the bottom of this post.)

Now for the pictures!  That’s the fun part no?

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Thai Elephant Home was considerably more expensive than Ran-Tong Elephant Training Camp, that I used back in January. And months later, I still don’t know which place I would recommend over the other.  There are considerable differences between the two places, but is it worth the extra money?  I’m not sure.

Ran-Tong was definitely more bare bones, more rustic, a much smaller company.  It was also 2 people per elephant vs one person per elephant.  The trail was shorter, and the spot you went to swim in the water with them much smaller, not fitting more than 2 elephants at a time.  At Thai Elephant Home, you spend all day away from camp, but it was a much more grueling hike (for my parents who decided to walk more than ride – they’re old and more afraid of heights, probably because a fall would do more damage to their bones than mine – Ran-Tong was much easier for them to tag along with us). 

At Thai Elephant Home you also took a mud bath with the elephants which was a blast, but to be honest, being covered in wet mud on top of an elephant who was also covered in wet mud, was not a good combo.  I was slipping and sliding, and while on the way there I was having a great time, on the way from the mud to the river (all downhill) I was quite terrified, as I literally almost fell twice (my elephant liked grabbing plants from the side of the path and the jerking of her body, just made me slip a lot).

At the end?  They were BOTH worth it.  I don’t think you can go wrong with either of the places.  And the lunch at both spots was amazing Pad Thai, so you can’t go wrong!

All I hope is that this was not my last time riding elephants. I think 2012 would be a year I’ll always look back to fondly: I rode elephants twice, went diving with sharks and manta rays in Palau, and went to so many new places! The year is not even over and I’m already nostalgic!

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Filed under Asia, Pictures, Travel, Travel Review, Traveling in Asia, Trips!