Putanga – Life on the Road

Stories from my journeys around the world…

Archive for the ‘Philippines’ Category

Back in Manila

Posted by Monica Johansen on August 24, 2011

I keep living out of a suitcase. On Saturday afternoon I returned from a two weeks business trip to Australia, and already on Sunday I had to jump on a plane to the Philippines. I am not complaining though, I actually enjoy living life on the road, but every now and then I feel a little bit tired.

My home for the week

This week I am conducting a training class for a customer in Manila, and it is nice to finally be back on these islands. It is well over a year since the last time I was here, and I have missed the smiling Philippine people and these charming islands. One of the things I love about the Philippines is that when you walk down the street you will experience that total strangers wave at you and say hello with a big smile on their faces. It makes you feel very welcome, and it puts a smile on my face every morning when I walk to my customer.

At this time of year it is still wet season in Manila (the wet season here lasts from late May to early November), so it has been raining a little bit every day.  But luckily most of the rain comes down late in the evening or during the night, so when I wake up in the morning the ground is wet and the air is fresh but the sun is shining. It is actually quite pleasant.

The only thing I am struggling a little bit with is the food. Now, generally the food in the Philippines is excellent, but they eat a lot of meat and pork in particular, so if you don’t eat meat – like me – you might struggle to find something you can eat in the typical food courts and common lunch places. However, most hotels have great restaurants, so if you are willing to pay a little more you can get pretty much anything you want. For instance, early last year I wrote about the buffet in Dusit Thani Hotel, which is absolutely awesome and also quite affordable. I think I should pay them a visit sometime this week.

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Peruvian Food Festival in Manila

Posted by Monica Johansen on January 15, 2010

I would lie if I told you it has been an easy week, but at least I can say it has been interesting…

Dinner in Dusit Thani

Manila is known for many things, and bad rush traffic is one of them. Hence, on Tuesday I decided to take the train back to the hotel rather than being stuck in a traffic jam. One of the guys I am working with was going in the same direction, and he warned me about the crowd on the train during peak hours, but I thought that it couldn’t be that bad. After all, I am often taking the MRT in Singapore during peak hours, which can be quite crowded, and I have survived so far. However, I must admit I underestimated the meaning of crowded, because the trains in Manila are really packed during rush hours, and the MRT in Singapore can’t even compare. The worst part was that people were pushing to get in first when the train arrived at the station, and they wouldn’t even let people off the train before trying to get in. At every station there is a sign saying “No pushing”, which I found very amusing at first (frankly, it is something I would expect in kindergarten and not in the adult world), but I soon realized why the sign was necessary.

The interesting thing in Manila is that they have train carriages just for women. A lot of women have found it very unpleasant to be squeezed between a bunch of guys on the train, and after a number of complaints the first carriage on every train has been dedicated to women only. However, I haven’t really experienced any issues in the normal carriages, and I don’t think anyone would try to assault me since I am taller than most of the guys here, and I probably look at bit scary in my masculine business outfits with my hair tucked back in a knob.

The train is very, very cheap in Manila. It costs you only 12 Philippine pesos from one end to another, which is about 25 US cents, and shorter distances are even cheaper. No wonder why so many people prefer the train when they travel to work in the morning. It is quite convenient, and usually a lot faster than trying to get through the traffic jams in the morning, so as long as I have a chance to travel outside the worst peak I am more than happy to use the train.

Dessert buffet

Anyway, what I was really planning to write about today was my dinner last night. Just down the road from Intercontinental Hotel there is a Dusit Thani hotel with a fantastic dinner buffet. I am pretty sure it is the best seafood buffet in all of Manila, and I go there sometimes when I get bored with the food in my hotel. I decided to pay a visit last night, but what I didn’t know was that the hotel was hosting the Peruvian Food Festival. I have never had Peruvian food before, and it sounded interesting so I decided to try it out. Due to the Spanish influences, Filipino and Peruvian cuisine and culture share a lot of similarities. However, the food they offered in Dusit Thani, prepared by the Peruvian Chef Martin Velasco Trojan, had a very distinguished taste, and it was quite different from the Filipino food I have tried earlier. It had a lot of chili taste in it, but still not very spicy, and I believe it is due to the type of chili they use and the way it is processed.

It was an interesting culinary experience, but I must admit that I prefer the normal buffet in Dusit Thani, which is the reason I keep coming back there although they more or less always are having problems with their credit card machines. It annoys me a little bit that they never can make these systems work properly, because after all it is a relatively large and recognized hotel. But still, the food is in fact so nice that I keep coming back. It is a place I would highly recommend if you are looking for something to eat in Manila.

By the way, I am cutting back in sugar at the moment, and I promise you that it has been a true test in self discipline to avoid tasting some of the fantastic desserts they make here. The Filipinos love sweets, and they make tasty cakes, puddings and other yummy desserts out of my favorite ingredients, mango and chocolate. I am very proud of the fact that I have managed to stay away from the sweets this week, but maaaaan, it has not been easy!

Tonight I am heading back to Singapore. I have had some technical difficulties on customer site this week, so I am glad to get a break, but I think I will miss Manila. The temperatures here at the moment are very nice, not too hot and not very humid, and I love the feeling of the cool wind towards my face in the evening. For my fellow Norwegians it would probably not be considered cool, considering that they have experienced temperatures down to minus 25 degrees Celsius (!) in Oslo lately, but for a Singaporean resident like me it is a nice change from the hot and humid climate I usually live in.

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New year, new adventures

Posted by Monica Johansen on January 12, 2010

After two really long and boring weekends during Christmas and New Year I am finally on the road again. This week I am back in Manila, and so far the trip has been quite enjoyable. My customer is a very easy going person who is fun to be around, and I tend to think of him more as a friend than a customer. It is always nice when you can combine work and pleasure.

Rizal Park in Manila

I am also very happy to be back in Hotel Intercontinental in Makati, where I usually stay when I am here. I think the main reason I like the hotel is that the staff knows me and they always welcome me with a huge smile. And this afternoon, when I had dinner in the hotel restaurant, the waiters came over looking like they were very happy to see me, and they told me that they had a couple of nice seafood dished on the menu (they know I don’t eat meat) and that my favorite table, in the corner by the window, was available. It almost feels like coming home to your family where you mum is cooking your favorite meal to make you happy and you find your good old spot on the couch.

I can understand why people love dogs (I love them myself actually). There is no feeling better than having someone waiting for you who are excited to see you. 🙂

Posted in Asia, Philippines, Travel | 2 Comments »

Finally a little bit of luck

Posted by Monica Johansen on September 27, 2009

I left Manila on Friday night and went back home to Singapore for the weekend. Just hours later the Philippines were hit by a typhoon that completely flooded Manila and surrounding regions, and that also killed lots of people. It actually started raining when I was on my way to the airport after work, and apparently it didn’t stop for quite some time. Within six hours an amount of water equivalent to one month rainfall fell down causing large damage to buildings and cutting off power supply.

I read about the typhoon this morning, and I can’t believe how lucky I was to get out of Manila in time. During the storm the airport had to close and lots of people were trapped by the water. It could have been me stuck at the airport with water to my knees. Both an earthquake and a typhoon within one month would have been really bad luck…

Hopefully I won’t be haunted by any more natural disasters in the near future…

For those of you who haven’t heard about the typhoon, you can read about it here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8276347.stm

Posted in Asia, Miscellaneous, Philippines | Leave a Comment »

The City in the Forest

Posted by Monica Johansen on September 21, 2009

Friday afternoon I jumped on a plane from Manila to Puerto Princesa City, which is the capital of the island Palawan, located west of the main Philippine islands. Pawalan is one of the larger islands of the Philippines, and the place can offer a diversity of landscapes and activities. You probably need at least one week to be able to explore the island, and unfortunately I didn’t have more than two days this time so it was quite limited what I had time to see and do.

Microtel Puerto Princesa at low tide

Microtel Puerto Princesa at low tide

I stayed at Microtel Puerto Princesa, which is a quite new hotel located at Emerald Beach about 7 km from Puerto Princesa Airport and the city. The hotel was very clean and neatly decorated with straw furniture and shell adornments. The lounge had three areas, and the main area was at the reception. Another lounge area was facing the beach and the large doors were opened most of the time so when you sat there it was almost as you were outside on a terrace. The third area was located in a corner between the reception and the terrace, and it had some nice armchairs where I comfortably could read my email and work on my photos. The lounge area had free internet access, and since I am addicted to the Internet I spent a lot of time in my favorite corner in the evening when it was too dark outside to run around and take photos. There was also a couple of comfortable straw hammocks on the beach, and one of them ended up being another one of my favorite spots.

Saturday morning I had a chat with the hotel tourist guide, and she managed to book me on one of the island hopping tours the same day. We were picked up at the hotel around 8 AM, and dropped off at Honda Bay where bancas were waiting for the tourists. The boat trip turned out to be a really nice experience, not only because of beautiful nature, but also because of the friendly staff and the nice people who joined, who in fact all appeared to be from the Philippines. I didn’t see many Caucasians at all on the islands, and I got the impression that Palawan is mostly a holiday destination for the locals. On the tour I was booked on, I also met a bunch of people from the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA), and they invited me to have lunch with them since I was alone. I gave them my email address and they promised to send me some hot travel tips and destinations I should check out in the future.

Our island hopping boat

Our island hopping boat

It started raining on the way back to the hotel, and the rest of the afternoon and evening I was just relaxing in the hotel lounge with my laptop and some snacks while I was listening to the calming sound of the rain outside. The staff in the hotel was extremely friendly, and they were always making sure that I was happy and enjoying my stay. It was an unusually pleasant experience, and I don’t think I have felt so relaxed in a very long time.

Sunday morning I was originally planning to join the underground river tour. The underground river is one of the most famous attractions in Palawan, and it is one of the things you should see if you go there. However, it is a full day trip since the caves are located about two hours drive from Puerto Princesa City, and I had a flight in the afternoon that I couldn’t miss. The tour guide was not confident that we would make it back in time for my flight, so I decided to cancel the plans and jump on a city tour instead. I ended up on a trip with three guys and a girl from another hotel, and I had a nice day visiting different tourist attractions around Puerto Princesa City. The highlight for me was definitely the crocodile farm where I had the chance to hold a baby crocodile. They are aggressive, but absolutely gorgeous animals, and it was interesting to feel how soft and smooth the skin was. They look at bit rough, but touching them was almost like touching a snake (which is also very smooth and soft).

Baby crocodile

Me with a baby crocodile

Palawan is a paradise for nature lovers and adventurers. The province is enforcing strict penalties (fines and jail) for littering in the attempt of keeping the island clean, and the government will provide free land to people who want to be farmers and produce food to keep the area self provided. I was also surprised to discover that the local prison, the Iwahig penal colony, is a low security work farm with over a thousand prisoners living and working around a central village square. This colony has no major walls or barriers to keep prisoners in, and the small size and remoteness of the island of Palawan is the primary factor which discourages escape. A factor which encourages prisoners to stay is the living conditions, and the inmates are even welcome to bring their wives and children to share their incarceration. They also have a little tourist shop where they sell jewelry and other items made by the inmates in the prison. I ended up buying a necklace made of the horn of a goat and shaped like a crocodile tooth.

One thing that I found a little bit annoying on the trip was that everyone kept asking me who I was traveling with, and they always got very surprised when I told them that I was alone. I agree that it is a shame to be all alone in a paradise like Palawan, but for me the alternative would be not to go at all, and that would be even a bigger shame. It would of course be great to share the travel experience with someone else, but at least I get to experience the many beautiful destinations in this region, and for that I am grateful.

Today I am back in Manila, and since it is a public holiday I am just relaxing in the hotel. Tomorrow I am back at work on customer site, and I have four more days to complete before I can go home to Singapore.

By the way, pictures can be found here

Posted in Asia, Philippines, Travel | 4 Comments »