Thursday, February 25, 2010

something not travel-related

but i do believe it's important to keep informed.

and besides, the outcome of the 2010 elections will affect us all. it might spell disaster or good fortune to our tourism industry, so maybe it still is travel-related.

gma news offers podcasts of mike enriquez's interviews with our presidentiables at this link. check them out, and vote wisely. :)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 online reservations made easy

in a previous post, i had already mentioned how easy it was to reserve a room with it took us just a few minutes to confirm our reservations with island pacific hotel.

but reserving is just the tip of the iceberg. travel plans can change, and to be effective, an online booking engine must be flexible enough to give you freedom to modify your reservation without incurring extra charges. it should also allow you to put in your preferences and communicate these to the hotel.

and of course, at the end of the day, the point of reserving through these online booking engines is that they get you a room--at the rate they posted, and on the day you wanted to have that room.

with those simple, straightforward criteria, let's see how fared on my first online booking engine transaction.

modifying our booking
we had initially reserved three standard rooms at island pacific hotel for three nights. a few days before we left, however, we decided that we could save a few bucks if we just got two rooms and paid for an extra bed instead.

so i went to's self-service booking tool to make these changes. from my email, i accessed the mybooking tool by clicking on a link. it logged me into the system automatically, and presented me with options that i can make on my booking:

i clicked on modify my booking, and it showed the details of our reservation, along with a "cancel" link to each room that we booked. i clicked on "cancel" on one of the rooms. during the modification, i was also given a chance to key in any preferences during my stay.

i didn't feel confident at all about this part, because it was just a generic field where you type in your requests. i had more faith in specific options, where i can just check boxes and all that, because it means the site knows what their guests usually modify or prefer, but nonetheless, i typed in "please provide double bed for room # 1. for room #2, provide one double bed, and one extra bed. if it's also possible, please have the two rooms on the same floor."

i confirmed the modifications, and the total amount to be paid reflected one less room charge. since i had edited our reservations days before we left, we weren't charged for the canceled room, which is a huge advantage of using it really gives you some time to think about your options.

a day before we left for hong kong, a representative called us to confirm the changes we made with our reservation. she informed us of the charges on the extra bed, and told us that rooms with double beds will be subject to availability. afterwards, sent us an email with the reservation form:

this one reflected the changes we made, and includes our requests for a double bed and an extra bed. the total amount also reflected the added cost of the extra bed, which is great, because we already know the amount we're paying for.

at the hotel
so far, so good. modifications made and confirmed, but will we really have our rooms?

on the day we arrived at the hotel, i showed the front desk the print-out of our confirmed reservation. the hotel was able to reserve our room for us. regarding our preferences, though, i still had to mention this to the hotel representative despite them being printed on the booking form already. but we got our double beds (or "big beds," according to the hotel rep) and our extra bed, and our rooms were close to each other.

pretty much everything i needed from an online booking engine was granted by rates are also pretty competitive, but please note that prices are still subject to taxes. the part that i like the most is that i can modify my booking, and even cancel it a couple of days before i get to my destination. it's a great service guarantee, and because of this, i will most probably book my rooms through, provided that the rate is particularly succulent. :)

Monday, February 22, 2010

fly: hong kong express airlines

i'm going to start reviewing most segments of my trips so that i can provide more info to you guys. for this trip, i'm going to start with a review of hong kong express airlines.

i didn't quite know what to expect of this airline when we booked it via doljunts travel. all i was told was, it's not a budget airline (because they serve meals), and it takes off from NAIA terminal 1. but now that i've flown hong kong express, i can tell you a little more about it.

manila to hong kong
we arrived at NAIA at 545am, and was amazed at the long lines at the hong kong express counter (and most other counters, akshully). it took a while before we were attended to, but once at the counter, everything went smoothly. but maybe that's because none of us went over the baggage limit.

at 630am, we were given our boarding passes, and headed to immigration, but not before forking over P750 each for the terminal fee (i still don't get what this fee is for!). immigration and pre-boarding checks took a while. we cleared all of these in 30 minutes, just in time for boarding.

however, hong kong express didn't let us board until 730am, and i remember thinking that we were going to be late. after all, that's just 30 minutes to departure time, and boarding, with people taking so long putting their stuff in the overhead bins, takes a while!

amazingly, though, boarding was pretty swift, and we were taxiing down the runway at 8am. bonus points for hong kong express!

the flight attendants were nice enough, but service during the flight was nothing special. we were provided newspapers, blankets, and earphones. the food was below average. we were given a "chicken sandwich," which tasted like sour chicken adobo. my nephew franciz couldn't eat it at all, even though he told us he was really starving.


in-flight entertainment was also a dud. the only thing they showed were chinese videos, so we couldn't understand a thing. good thing it was just a two-hour flight. as for the plane, hong kong express uses boeing 737-800, which has a narrow aisle, but pretty good legroom when seated. lavatories for economy class are all the way to the back of the plane.

albeit those nega points, our flight landed earlier than the estimated arrival time. in my opinion, that more than makes up for the other boo-boos. for me, what really matters is i get to my destination on time. service and the other extras are just, well, extras.

hong kong express lands in a new wing of hong kong international airport, but they provide a bus to shuttle us to a gate in terminal 1, which leads straight to the immigration booths. this is very convenient compared to the other airlines i've taken to hong kong before, where you get to walk a long hall before reaching immigration. for me, this is one very great advantage to taking hong kong express (although arrival gates can change over time).

hong kong to manila

the flight from hong kong to manila departs at 930pm, which gives you a lot of time to do some last-minute shopping and sightseeing before you leave. however, we were a bit worried that we might have to lug our suitcases around with us in the city while waiting for our flight.

thankfully, hong kong express is one of the airlines that accepts in-town check-in at major airport express terminals (hong kong and kowloon stations). that means we could check-in any time within the day as long as we use the airport express to get to the airport. this really came in handy, and we enjoyed walking around the city without having to worry about pulling our suitcases around, or even rushing to make it a few hours before the flight to check-in, since we already had our boarding passes.

our boarding gate was also in the new wing, and it had slipped our minds that there was a shuttle bus to that other wing. shuttling to the new wing of the hong kong international airport came easy, though. as soon as you were at the gate, there was a bus waiting, and the trip took about five minutes tops.

boarding, once again, was late, but we left the airport on time as well. service this time around, however, was sloppy and a tad rude. the food was so-so (but better than the last, because my nephew was able to swallow a few bites), but again, the flight arrived earlier than expected.

service and food leave much to be desired, but the convenience of exiting right at the immigration booths at HKIA (could be temporary, of course) and the impressive on-time record might just make me a fan of hong kong express. it also doesn't hurt that the flight home leaves at 930pm, which lets you see more of hong kong, without letting you miss a day of work.

price-wise, i was lucky enough to get a Php 10,000 per person rate for the period right after chinese new year. but if it were any other season, i wouldn't get this flight for that price. but if i do decide to fly hong kong express again, i'd check with a travel agent first.

airline information
hong kong express
route: hong kong-manila, hong kong to other points of asia
reservation hotline: +852 3151 1888
email address:

i'm back from hong kong

the recent hong kong trip was a great departure from my previous trips to my favorite city. that doesn't mean, though, that i didn't have fun. :)

i spent my hong kong birthday trip with susie, my two sisters, my cousin girlie, and her son franciz. it was our first time to travel together, and what ensued was a hilarious four days in chilly temperatures.

it was my cousin's first time, and i got to see how hong kong is from the eyes of someone who's never been there before. she had the time of her life buying bargain after bargain, which got me into a shopping mood as well.

the walking extravaganza came as a shock to them, though. susie and i have prepared ourselves for four days of marathon walking, but my sisters and my cousin weren't able to arm their feet with the right walking footwear to keep them on their toes during the trip.

i was actually surprised that i didn't get tired as easily as before. i now have a newfound appreciation for my daily walks from the MRT to the office. thanks to my daily treks along julia vargas, i was able to keep up with the cantonese walking speed.

our hotel, the island pacific hotel, was a great choice. service was superb, but the location is not meant for first-timers. since there was no mtr station nearby, we always had to take the tram home, and for most of my group, keeping track of the stops wasn't easy. as a result, i would always have to be with them on the way back to the hotel. next time we travel, i'm going to book a hotel in tsim sha tsui, since they seemed to have a blast going to store after store in granville and the other little streets of TST.

we were all a bit taken aback that hong kong shops now charge for plastic bags. most shops, like bonjour and sasa, charge HKD 0.50 per bag, which is P3.00 each. after a while, that can amount to a lot of moolah, so make sure you bring your own shopping bag.

i didn't get to see everything i wanted to see, but it was great sharing my 28th with these people. there was some disastrous moments, but we all went home laughing about them. maybe next time things can go much more smoothly. haha!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

helpful hong kong sites

my brain is already on vacation mode, and all i can think about is hong kong, hong kong, hong kong!

even though we already have a rough itinerary, i'm still trying to scour the net for some last-minute recommendations on places to check out, and so far, these sites have been particularly helpful:

smart travel asia - hong kong shopping till you drop
i believe this is the first time that i felt excited about shopping in hong kong. i've always just enjoyed walking around and seeing the sights, but this time, i think i'm going to splurge. but i'm not going to spend money just anywhere; i may be splurging, but it should be worth it.

so i googled for shopping areas in hong kong, and found smart travel asia's extensive guide on shopping in hong kong. the article tackles every shopping district in hong kong, tells you what to expect, gives you the names of shops to check out, and even cites the URLs of the said shops so you can check out the products.

i spent a long time on this article because there was just so much information, and it also gives you an idea of where to go based on your preferences. through this page, i found out about homeless, a home accessories store that sells cute and functional home accents. i also got to really see just how many shopping malls there are in hong kong. the place is just overwhelming, but thanks to smart travel asia, i now know where to go.

eat drink hongkong
as the site says, this blog gives you the low down on where to eat and drink in vibrant hong kong. the blog gives reviews of several restaurants, complete with pictures and the address of the restaurant. entries are categorized according to area, cuisine, and name of restaurant.

i'm already thinking of going to adagio on wing lok street just to sample the mixed mushrooms with butter and cream and broccoli with bacon and cheese. OM NOM NOM.

discover hong kong
this is the first site i check out whenever i plan on going to hong kong. unlike other government tourism websites i've checked out, discover hong kong is pretty informative and organized. you can really see from the site that there's a desire to help, and not just to get you to go to tourism-approved restaurants and shops.

of course, this site works best when you're a first-timer who wants to see the most popular sights of hong kong, but i've found quite a few gems here for my previous hong kong trips. ayeen and i got to take a jewelry appreciation class here for free, as well as ride a duk ling, or a chinese junk, for free.

one of the best pages of this tourism website is the cultural kaleidoscope, where tourists and visitors can choose from a few activities that they'd like to try out, such as a tai chi class, an architecture walk (pretty tiring!), a feng shui class, or guided tours at a few select museums. just don't forget to read the guidelines, because, while some activities are free of charge, others, like the duk ling ride, are now paid activities.

as helpful as these sites, are, though, don't tie yourself down to the things that you see online. one of the things i like about hong kong is that there's something new to discover every single time. so make sure to keep your eyes open when you're walking around in this vibrant city--a unique and quaint little store might just be around the corner.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

ptaa travel and tour expo this weekend!

okay, it kinda sucks that i'm not going to be here this weekend for the ptaa travel and tour expo, but i'm not selfish enough to keep the information all to myself.

from february 19 to 21, travel and tourism trade practitioners will be at the SMX convention center halls 2, 3, and 4 to offer us wanderlusting folk pretty good deals on our desired destinations.

make sure that you bring enough moolah, because the deals, packages, and promo rates will only be available at the venue. at the same time, though, it's also a good place to scout around for possible places to visit next, and to look for a trusted travel agent (it comes in handy, too, despite the wealth of budget options the internet offers).

general admission tickets to the travel and tour expo are at Php 50/day, while senior citizens only pay Php 20.

for those who want to take advantage of the deals, do your research on your destination ahead of time. :)

be there this weekend, and tell me about it!

event details
17th ptaa travel and tour expo
what: travel deals galore
when: february 19 (10am-9pm), 20 (10am-9pm), and 21 (10am-7pm)
where: SMX convention center halls 2, 3, and 4, seashell drive, mall of asia complex, pasay city
how much: Php 50 (general admission), Php 20 (senior citizen)

also check out the philippine travel agencies association website.

Monday, February 15, 2010

chocolatissimo at the peninsula manila

i'm not a big fan of chocolates, but i'm sure a lot of you are. :) if you've got some moolah to spare (like, if you haven't spent all of it on your valentine's date), chocolatissimo! at the peninsula manila is one of the most indulgent chocolate experiences you can have.

it's a chocolate-themed, six-course dinner by executive chef adam mathis and pastry chef anil rohira. quite steep at Php 3,000 + service charge and taxes, but hey, it's chocolate. :) dinner will also be paired with wine depot's special wines.

chocolate+wine is a combination i've always wanted to try. too bad i'm going to be in hong kong while this is going on.

event details
chocolatissimo! -- the ultimate chocolate experience
where: old manila, the peninsula manila
when: 19 february, friday, 7pm
how much: Php 3,000 + 10% service charge and government taxes

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

booking my hong kong birthday trip

another year has passed, and soon, i'll be turning 28. what better way to spend another birthday than with another trip to hong kong? :)

the trip has actually been planned since last year. i promised my mother and my sisters a trip to hong kong: my mother will be using her PAL miles for our airfare, while i would shoulder the hotel costs.

i kept reminding her since november to start booking our trip, or to at least check her miles so that we can start booking our flights. well, it seems my mother also has a procrastinating side that i didn't know about. she failed to inquire, and by the end of january, the seats for mabuhay miles users have all been taken for flights on february 18 to 21.

after hearing that, i started panicking and scoured the net for cheap airfares. no go, february 18 to 21 is the first weekend of the chinese lunar new year, and it seems everybody wants to be in hong kong for the festivities. fares ranged from php 12,000 to php 14,000 per person. my hong kong birthday trip was about to be flushed down the drain.

travel agencies save the day
as a last resort, i googled a list of travel agencies in manila, and listed down their names and phone numbers on a piece of paper. on my free time, i sat by the phone and called each of them up, asking for hong kong packages for february 18 to 21, and even february 25-28. most the packages they gave me were for hotels that i didn't particularly like, and the prices started at USD 398 per person, which includes airfare and hotel accommodations for 4 days and 3 nights.

sounds like a good deal, right? the catch is, these packages also include a compulsory city tour, which i've been on once and sworn to never take again. i also don't want susie, my sisters, and my cousin to go through that ordeal. sure, they take you to a couple of sights, but at the end of the trip, they shuttle you from one shop to another, somehow forcing you to buy something from the place. it's the perfect way to waste a day in hong kong.

so i decided to just ask travel agents for flights to hong kong. after all, i can find a good hotel deal online anyway. most of them, however, offered pretty expensive airfare, some even reaching USD 300 just for the airfare alone.

i lucked out with doljunts travel. mari, the agent who handled my booking, was able to get me a flight for february 18 to 21 on hong kong express, which leaves at 8am on the 18th, and flies back to manila at 930pm on the 21st. the fare cost USD 183 per person (USD 152 for children), which already included the hong kong tax that was charged by most agencies. philippine travel tax of Php 1,620 wasn't included yet, though.

it was the cheapest deal i could find, and my mom, who had been calling up agencies as well, agreed that doljunts was the cheapest we found. so finally, we booked the tickets (though my mom decided not to go with us anymore), and now susie, my sisters, my cousin, my nephew, and i are off to hong kong in a few days!

booking a hong kong hotel
after securing our tickets, it was time to book a hotel. susie and i fell in love with the western district last year when we stayed at the bridal tea house hotel. this time, though, i would be with a bunch of people who aren't open to staying in hostel-like places, so i had to scour online for decent hotels with affordable rates.

i checked agoda for some hotel deals and found that they had good rates for island pacific hotel hong kong along connaught road west. i checked out hotel reviews from tripadvisor, and found that people were generally satisfied with island pacific. the general consensus was that it's a clean hotel with great service. it's also a little out of the way, but the tram made going to central pretty easy. besides, the hotel has a shuttle that can take you to central, too.

before booking on agoda, though, a friend recommended that i check out the site is like most online booking engines, except my friend has experienced cancelling a reservation and was not charged at all for the transaction. asks for credit card information for verification purposes only, and everything has to be paid for at the hotel when you check out. i felt that it was a good option, even though i wasn't planning to cancel. it's still a good feature just in case something comes up and you do need to cancel.

so i went to, found that their rates for island pacific are actually better than what i found on agoda, and booked them as well. upon confirmation of your reservation, the site gives you a link where you can modify or even cancel your booking. it lets you see the information you've provided and modify that as well. they also have an area for remarks or notes that you'd like to communicate to the hotel, so that they can meet your preferences. check out the dashboard of their self-service tool:

it was my first time to reserve with a booking engine, as i make it a point to always book direct with properties that i stay in, but my experience with so far is making me reconsider that approach. seems to offer better deals than booking direct, and also gives me the freedom to modify my bookings. it also has other features, which allows you to add your booking to your google calendar, check for driving directions, and even gives you a link to a tomtom download.

so there you go. two more tips to booking your trips when your travel google-fu has failed you. most budget travelers would scoff at the idea of consulting a travel agent, but it looks like they're also a good option to consider. at the end of the day, we all want to get the best deal, and travel agents sometimes have access to great ones. just don't forget to compare their offers with what you've found.

travel agency information
address: suite 1032 cityland mega plaza tower, ADB avenue cor. garnet road, ortigas center, pasig
look for: mari diaz
phone number: 6872808, 6872984
mobile number: 09207893648

booking engine information
read more about it here: about

hotel information
address: 152 connaught road west, hong kong
phone number: +852 2131 1188

soleil bazaar at rockwell

suit up for summer at soleil bazaar at rockwell on february 27-28!

the bazaar will have more than 80 stores, which means more choices for us! i'm pretty excited about this, and can't wait to find the perfect summer outfit for my beach trips.

see you at soleil bazaar at rockwell!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

sun cellular now has prepaid roaming budget text!

i haven't traveled abroad since may of last year, so i haven't had the need to check any roaming services offered by the telcos. but now that the hong kong birthday trip has been confirmed, i'm looking for other roaming options that i can take advantage of.

don't get me wrong, i'm pretty happy with globe's roaming service. and since it's a postpaid plan, i know that i can use it should i encounter emergencies abroad. but it also encourages spending, and i lose track of my texting when i'm abroad. the resulting bill does not make me happy, and i'd like to have a way of controlling my roaming expenses when i'm abroad.

sun prepaid roaming
i have been using a sun cellular prepaid SIM for about two years now, and i'm very happy to find out that they now have roaming for prepaid subscribers. in order to activate, just text ROAM ON and send to 222 at least one hour before leaving the country. currently, sun's prepaid roaming service is only available in china, hong kong, singapore, macau, and malaysia.

this is definitely good news for me! i can now just load a certain amount of credits on my phone and make do with that amount for the rest of my trip. this way, i have more control over my budget. i also read that there's no maintaining balance needed to keep using the roaming service, so even if i run out of load, my sun friends and family can still text me.

sun budget roaming text
yet another great development for sun prepaid is budget roaming text, which is a "menu-based roaming text alternative." by using budget roaming text, you can text to the philippines (both sun and non-sun cellular subscribers) for just P5/text. balance inquiry is also free, and the menu allows you to check your sent items as well.

to use sun budget roaming text, dial *111# and press call or send. a menu will appear on your phone. press "answer" and choose the number that corresponds to the transaction that you want to perform. e.g. press "answer" and "3" for balance inquiry.

it's important to note that in sending text messages using budget roaming text, you should key in the number in this format: 09221234567, and NOT +639221234567.

the downside to this is, you can't use your phone's address book to retrieve their numbers--you have to manually enter their number every time you send a message. if you plan to use this, make sure you list down the numbers of the people you text frequently on a piece of paper. you also have to have a P5 maintaining balance to keep this service active. you can read more about sun budget roaming text in their FAQ.

a bit complicated, sure, but hey, it saves you a few bucks! :)

service information
to activate: send ROAM ON to 222 at least one hour before leaving the country
balance inquiry: dial *221# then press send
destinations: china, hong kong, macau, malaysia, singapore

to use: dial *111# and press send
rate: P5 per text message sent to the philippines (you can send to both sun and non-sun cellular numbers)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

carna manila 2010 at the rockwell tent

want a different kind of valentine's? take your special someone to carna manila 2010 on february 13 at the rockwell tent for an electrifying date.

the event features performances by nyko maca + playground (who will also be releasing their USB album dubbed digital niyog), brigada, eileen sison e guarana, and ebc philippines.

of course, no party is complete without some food and drinks. chef carla abaya has prepared brazilian treats for everyone, and havaianas beach bar will be giving out free drinks. carna manila 2010 is promising to be one hell of a party!

ebc philippines will also be holding free workshops on february 10 and 11, at 8pm, as part of carna manila 2010, so for those who want to try capoeira out, now's the best time to do it!

hope to see you dancing and bouncing at the rockwell tent on february 13!

event information
carna manila 2010
when: february 13, saturday, 7pm
where: rockwell tent, power plant mall, makati
sponsored by: power plant mall, the embassy of brazil in the philippines, havaianas, in cooperation with SOFA and brasilipinas.

Monday, February 1, 2010

wine depot presents "a tuscan toast"

wine depot presents "a tuscan toast: banfi wines at chelsea," yet another event for us this week!

on february 6, wednesday, at 7pm, head over to chelsea in serendra and join wine depot in celebrating castello banfi's 11th consecutive year as italy's premier vineyard estate (VinItaly). to tempt you further, take a look at the menu they've prepared:

ticket price for this event is P950 per person, inclusive of dinner and wine, which is quite a steal, since you'll be paying for about P2,200 worth of food and drinks. to get your tickets, you may email, or purchase them at any wine depot store. you can also get tickets at chelsea, located at the serendra piazza, fort bonifacio.

event information
a tuscan toast: banfi wines at chelsea
when: 6 february, wednesday, 7pm
where: chelsea, ground floor, serendra piazza, fort bonifacio, taguig
how much: P950 per person, available at any wine depot store or at chelsea.