All posts by EJ Dangla

What happens next?

The sound of firecrackers, the sparkle of fireworks, and the flicker of Christmas lights came rushing in my head. There was an abundance of loud cheers, happy faces, tear jerking hugs and long kisses that welcomed the year. Then, boom! Here comes another one.

I hope you’ve noticed; it’s 2018. Time flies fast. Wasn’t it only yesterday that we listed our resolutions and goals for the next 365 days? Wasn’t it only yesterday that we lit the first sparkler that signaled the start of 2017? Wasn’t it only yesterday that we shared a sumptuous New Year’s Eve dinner with our family, clinked wine glasses, stared at our loved ones, exchanged “Happy New Year” greetings, and watched our neighbor’s fireworks light up the midnight sky?

And now, we’re doing these things all over again.

Continue reading What happens next?

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Why I wish I didn’t travel alone to Bacolod

Colorful masks. Genuine smiles. Authentic chicken Inasal. These are some of the words we associate with—yes, you guessed it right—Bacolod.

It was another awesome solo travel experience, although I wish I spent it with someone, with family, or with a bunch of friends, as there were moments that were far better shared. It was thrilling nonetheless.

A huge colorful mask on display outside a commercial building in Bacolod City.

Another thing that got me excited about my Bacolod trip was my first time to fly via Philippine Airlines, thanks to the promo fare that I chanced upon way back March, 2017. Roundtrip airfare for only P1,300 was absolutely a great deal. It’s not every day that you get to fly via the Philippine flag carrier for that amount. Plus, seat selection on the airline’s online check-in portal is free!
Continue reading Why I wish I didn’t travel alone to Bacolod

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Wandering around museums

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

~ Pablo Picasso
If you find reading books to learn about a country’s history and culture too tedious, go to museums. That’s a more exciting way of learning given that there are visuals to aid it. And museums, being (mostly) quiet, offer a break from the daily nuisance of a bustling city.
It seemed unlikely, but in spite of living in Baguio City for 9 months, I didn’t visit the BenCab Museum. When I went back to the place a year later in January, 2017, it was originally part of my itinerary. But curling up during chilly mornings in Baguio is irresistible, so instead of going out early, I heeded the bed’s call.
Being an item in my bucket list this year, it must be ticked off, so in May, when my friends and I went to Baguio (my second visit this year), we went to the distant museum despite the limited time we had.

Continue reading Wandering around museums

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Palatable adventure in Binondo

There’s something about Manila that lures me into exploring it. The atmosphere, perhaps?
Traversing the streets of Manila transcends a feeling of going back in time and watching the colorful culture circling the place. Despite the modern structures, moving around Manila feels like living inside a history book, seeing the historic capital described in it firsthand.
As part of my urban exploration, my friend and I visited the oldest Chinatown in the world—our very own Manila Chinatown in Binondo. Established in 1594, Manila Chinatown offers a one-of-a-kind dining experience.
How to get there
Well, I can only talk about how we got there, but this is still useful information.

 

From any southbound station, take the MRT and get off at Taft Avenue station. Then, take the LRT and alight at Carriedo station. We walked from the station going to Binondo, but I’m sure there are jeepneys headed that way. We just navigated the route through Google Maps and decided to walk since it’s a short distance. It took us 7 minutes or less to reach our first stop.
Ying Ying Restaurant
It was lunch time when we arrived and the two-story diner was full. There’s nothing spectacular about the interior. In fact, it’s akin to a school cafeteria. But it being jam-packed hinted that an exciting feast awaited us. The intervals between people coming out and going in were short.
We ordered braised beef noodles, fried pork dumplings, shrimp hakaw, and black gulaman. While waiting for our food, we helped ourselves with the house tea that sat waiting for hungry souls on the table. It was newly brewed, as the tea pot was hot.
A few minutes later, food was served. And indeed, it was an appetizing meal!
Braised Beef Noodles

Shrimp Hakaw
Wai Ying
We were hoping to eat Xiao Long Bao (pork wonton with savory soup inside), but it isn’t in Ying Ying’s menu, so we headed to Wai Ying after we chowed down on our food.
Wai Ying is another go-to restaurants when it comes to wonton and dumplings. Unfortunately, they’re not serving Xiao Long Bao either, so we ended up eating dessert instead. Their coffee jelly and buko pandan are superb!
We did not give up on our quest. We continued looking for a restaurant serving the savory dish. We tried our luck at Dong Bei Dumblings on Yuchengco St. The food joint has been receiving raves online, so it piqued our interest. Sure enough, the food joint serves Xiao Long Bao.
But there was one more problem: it was jam-packed and we were on the waiting list. And it seemed that we wouldn’t be able to get settled in the next half hour.
Chuan Kee
Since we didn’t want to waste our time waiting, we decided to buy hopia and other food items we can take home at Eng Bee Tin on Ongpin St.
After paying at the counter, we used the toilet located on the second floor. When I came back downstairs, my friend told me that the food joint adjacent to Eng Bee Tin had Xiao Long Bao in their menu. The food joint which we thought to be Café Mezzanine is in fact called Chuan Kee. They serve 10 pcs. of Xiao Long Bao for P170.
We knew at that point that our food trip in Binondo was drawing to a close since we had already found the highlight of our palatable adventure.
We placed our order, waited, and presto! Our eyes widened in glee as though we were presented with a precious gift.
We feasted on the juicy meaty goodness of each piece and savored the food trip’s finale one Xiao Long Bao at a time.
Xiao Long Bao
Expenses
The best thing about dining out in Binondo is, you don’t need to spend a fortune to get your fill. With less than a thousand pesos, your tummy will be happy. Here’s the breakdown of our expenses:
Expense per person
Ying Ying
P227.50
Wai Ying
P60.00
Chuan Kee
P138.50
Total
P426.00
You might spend more than that depending on your appetite, but that amount, I can say, is enough to satisfy your cravings.
Now I know what else lures me into exploring Manila: the sumptuous feast that you can find in places that marked our country’s history and have become part of our heritage.
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Out and about for adventure

Bahay ni Tuding is the place to go to if you’re traveling on a budget. Sure, there’s nothing spectacular about it. It’s like your old house-turned-boutique hotel, but it afforded me a quaint breakfast I enjoyed a lot.
The hearty meal was composed of toasted bread, jam, fruits and yogurt, and, of course, hot brewed coffee—something I couldn’t live without even when traveling. I was glad it was brewed coffee; not an instant 3-in-1 most budget hotels usually serve.
I had a nice sleep and since I got all the time in the world (well, for 3 days at least), I took the opportunity to wander around the place for a bit.
Except for the room bearing no windows, the hotel is nice overall. For only P1,000 a night, I enjoyed a nice bed, a bathroom with a water heater, hearty breakfast, and accommodating staff. You don’t get that much for a thousand bucks these days.
Oops, sorry for the quick review. Now, let me get down to business.
I allotted two days to go out and about for adventure in one of the cleanest cities I’ve been to so far. I did some research on the best spots to visit and the best places to eat at. My friend even found it hilarious that I got everything planned a few months back. She was laughing at me for being overly prepared for my Davao trip.
But, the thing about traveling is, not everything needs to go as planned. There’s always room for adjustment. I prepared a list of places I wanted to visit, but I ended up rehashing my itinerary.
Now, what follows is a list of the best spots and the best activities, and you don’t necessarily need to plan your trip according to it, but I bet you’ll have the best memories of your Davao trip if you tick everything off.
MUSEUMS
Museyo Dabawenyo
Never leave Davao City without paying Museyo Dabawenyo a visit. In fact, I suggest that you place this at the top of your itinerary, because this is one way of knowing and understanding Davao’s culture. Entrance is free. A guide will tell you stories about how Davao got its name, about the different tribes and ethnic groups in Davao, and many more. Take note though that you’re not allowed to take photos inside.

D’ Bone Collector Museum
Founded by Darrel Blatchley, D’ Bone Collector Museum houses hundreds (maybe, thousands even) of skeletons of various species. One of the most prized pieces is the skeleton of a saltwater crocodile named “Lolo.” It used to be the largest crocodile until its death in 2013.

NATURE AND MAN-MADE ENVIRONMENT

Samal Island
Truth be told, I didn’t go to Samal Island, because I was alone. I couldn’t imagine how I would enjoy the island on my own, without a (girl) friend to savor the moment with. But, you should go. Well, this serves as a note-to-self.
The Philippine Eagle Center
I felt a sense of fulfillment when I got the chance to gaze at the glorious Philippine Eagle. Aside from the fact that they are beautiful, their species is on the brink of extinction. They are critically endangered, as they can lay only one egg every two years.
There are other bird species and mammals in the center. You can take photos of all the animals you see, but make sure to not disturb them.
EXTREME ADVENTURE
Eden Nature Park
This one’s for the adrenaline junkie in you. Covering 40 hectares of land, Eden Nature Park offers Skycycle, Skyswing, and Zipline that will surely send the adrenaline rushing through your veins.
I tried Skycycle and pedaled my way through a 200-meter steel cable and back, 60 feet high up in the air. That, I’d say, was the highlight of my Davao trip. It was thrilling and nerve-racking at the same time. I almost backed out! But I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t push it. Plus, the fee was non-refundable, so there was no turning back.
You can also go horseback riding around the area, or play like a kid on the obstacle course. The park also boasts of hiking trails, so if you’ve got the stamina, go and savor the fresh air around the area. And you’ve paid a hefty entrance fee, so make the most out of it.

Challenge accepted! I would never say no to this adventure.

Okay, so it’s a giant swing. Wait, a GIANT what?

So, if you just want to be carefree, go to the obstacle course.

“Kumusta ang hacienda, Dodong?”

Art lovers will find this a real haven.
FOOD TRIP
Roxas Food Strip
Another note-to-self: Try some street food along Roxas Ave.
Eat durian
Davao City is famed for durian. In fact, on almost every street corner, there’s a vendor selling durian which you can eat right then and there.
Jack’s Ridge Restaurant and Café
Known not only for its good food, but also for its view deck, Jack’s Ridge is the perfect place to cap your last night in Davao.
Eat some seafood. Heads up though: minimum order is 300 grams, good for two. If you’re traveling solo like me, perhaps you’ll need to share some with a total stranger. Now, if you’re someone who can’t stand eating alone, then by all means, look for a companion. Trust me, you’ll never want to dine alone at Jack’s Ridge unless you’re someone like me who doesn’t really mind.
Drink pomelo shake, then end it with durian flan.
If the night is still young, hop to Karl Gourmet and Coffee, and sip from a cup of hot coffee with durian bits while watching the city below. The city lights make for a great spectacle while you live the moment and forget about the stress you’ve temporarily left behind.
After you’ve had your fill, head back to your hotel, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up to a beautiful morning served with toasted bread, jam, fruits and yoghurt, and a hot cup of good coffee.
All these and you’re ready to go home!

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Satisfying food experience at Novotel Manila

Food plays a big role in our overall hotel experience.

One of the greatest things I looked forward to at this year’s Blogapalooza was our two-night stay at Novotel Manila—a first for this annual event since its inception in 2011. The relatively new hotel, which is part of Accor Hotels, is located at the Araneta Center. It’s perfect for both a leisurely stay and a business-related trip.
The hotel boasts of stylish posh rooms with soft beds, carpeted floors, elegant toilet and bathroom, and a view of the bustling city. I had a rejuvenating comfortable sleep, but truth be told, what I loved the most about the hotel was the Food Exchange Manila buffet breakfast.

The feast was a mixture of Asian (Filipino, Indian, Japanese) and Western (American, English, Italian) cuisines that created a flavorful revelry in my mouth. Even the coffee, which was served in a French press, added fun and excitement to my breakfast experience.
Appetizing salad greens and other colors!

Refreshing drinks
One of the food choices that I will never forget is the shabu-shabu. It would have tasted better, though, if I added more spices to it.
Experiment with as many flavors as you can to make your finished product more exciting.

The homemade corned beef is one for the books as well. I’m not a fan of corned beef, but I really enjoyed Novotel’s a lot.
Juicy and chunky corned beef–perfect for meat lovers.
Then there’s the taho. Yes, it’s everywhere here in the Philippines, but mixing the ingredients all by yourself is another great experience in itself. The homemade soya milk was rich and flavorful.
When I was a kid, I would always wait for the vendor’s reverberating voice exclaiming “taho” on the streets. Upon hearing it, I would hastily grab a mug and ask for P5.00 from my mom, so I could enjoy this morning treat. Twenty four years later, I experienced not only the joy of eating it, but also the fulfillment of making my own cup of taho.
The Filipino food, on the other hand, was nothing out of the ordinary, but it was worth a try as well, so on the second day, I dug in some sinangag (fried rice), longganisa (pork sausage) and tinapa (smoked fish). Usually, I give Filipino food a pass at buffets, but I really wanted to stuff myself with rice, so why not?
One of the choices I wished I had tried was the Indian food. Too bad only the photos I took are my memories of it.
Conclude your breakfast experience at Novotel by taking your dose of fresh fruits, or fresh fruit smoothies.
Here’s a tip: To fully enjoy the buffet, get a little of something to get a taste of everything.
Thank you, Blogapalooza and Novotel, for another palatable dining experience!
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Uniting PH at Blogapalooza 2016

In politics, what do you do to dominate the race? Get the right numbers.
And how do you get the right numbers? Unite your allies.
While this post is not about politics, this strategy seems to be what Blogapalooza has implemented in preparation for year 2017 dubbed as “The Domination.” On November 5, 2016 at Novotel Manila AranetaCenter (more about my Novotel experience on my next post), the event-turned-company gathered bloggers from Northern Luzon, National Capital Region (NCR), Visayas, and Mindanao to unite them as one collaborative organization of bloggers.
From being an annual event which kicked off in 2011 with the aim to connect businesses and bloggers, and which used to be organized by When in Manila, Blogapalooza is now a company headed by its chief executive officer, Ace Gapuz, who is nicknamed “Blogamomma.”

She said on her welcome address that she was “serious about getting to know each of the bloggers.” The aim now is not only to connect businesses and bloggers, but also to connect all bloggers to one another. And that, perhaps, was the reason why instead of getting famous personalities and internet celebrities, Blogapalooza invited representatives of Pangasinan Bloggers, Cebu Bloggers, Davao Bloggers, and Cagayan de Oro Bloggers to form the panel and discuss what blogging on the countryside looks like.
Some of the key points tackled were the history of groups they were representing, how they met the pioneer members and how the core groups were formed, their purposes for blogging, and what they do for a living, if blogging is not their primary source of income. Well, generally for most bloggers, blogging has never been a source of income since writing for or promoting the products of a company often means free trials, product samples, and gift certificates in exchange.
The panelists agreed that their groups started with passion and that’s what has been driving them for the last several years in continuing their undertakings despite the fact that they’re not earning real money from blogging. Each group’s chief aim is not to make business, but to allow a convergence of their interests. They don’t demand any amount to be paid by companies who ask for their services, but they don’t refuse if they’ve been offered.
Speaking of companies, various brands have once again graced the event to offer bloggers product samples, gift certificates, and trial vouchers and to find partners in campaigns that will help them gain more exposure.
Krispy Kreme treated bloggers with their design-your-own-doughnut activity. All the bloggers needed to do was to download their app, create an account, type in a promo code to get a virtual coupon and redeem the coupon to get their turn in designing their own doughnut.

I can’t thank Vaseline enough for the free facial wash product they’ve given away.

Vita Coco is great when ice cold. Refreshing, cool and healthy drink.

Oh, somebody’s happy he’s got several months’ supply of pens!

Well, you’ve just made my mom happy, Pond’s.

They also prepared exciting games and gave cool prizes to those who won. The event culminated with the introduction of Buzzin, the much awaited big reveal and the newest platform which allows businesses and bloggers to connect with one another in a faster and easier way, bringing Blogapalooza to everyone every single day.
To see more about what happened at Blogapalooza Horizons 2.0, watch this video by Keng of the World.

Gapuz said that four years—2011 to 2015—of exploration was over. This year meant opportunities for Blogapalooza and all the bloggers who took part in it. And next year, the domination begins.
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First night’s mission: Experience downtown Davao

I took a deep breath as soon as I stepped out of the arrival area at the Francisco Bangoy International Airport (Davao City International Airport). It was both a feeling of relief that I made it to NAIA on time and of great satisfaction that I finally got the chance to travel again after a while. I’m blessed to be here.
Wasting no time, I hailed a cab to take me to the hotel where I was billeted at. I was in a dilemma at first though. I thought that if I took a cab at the airport, the driver might ask for a higher fare, just like what taxi drivers in Manila do most of the time. I thought of walking towards the gate leading outside the airport’s vicinity and hail a cab there instead, but I immediately dismissed the idea as soon as I realized that doing so would require much effort.
It was 7:45 pm and my stomach was starting to grumble, so I swallowed all bits of hesitation. The taxi driver was courteous enough to admit that he didn’t know where my hotel was located, so I just pulled out my phone and fired away Google Maps. I found the exact location and told the driver where to take me to. He obliged.
I initiated a conversation with him by asking a few questions, starting with, “Are you going to ask for an additional amount on top of the metered fare?” I almost sounded suspicious rather than inquisitive, but the driver willingly answered my query.
“Ay, bawal po dito ‘yan, Sir. Bawal pong mangontrata dito,” he said.
(“That’s not tolerated here, Sir. Demanding a fixed amount is not allowed here.”)
That’s great! My first impression: Dabawenyos are honest, obedient and disciplined.
We talked a bit more about the traits of Dabawenyos, the tourist spots, the food, the surroundings, and the bombing that shocked the nation, among others. That’s one way of getting to know the place—asking questions and seeing from the perspective of a local.
About 20 minutes later, we arrived at Bahay ni Tuding where I settled down for a few minutes before heading out for a night stroll. My mission: Wander around and experience downtown Davao at night. Oh, yes, Bahay ni Tuding is in the downtown area where you can find almost everything.
Since the hotel’s restaurant was already closed by the time I arrived, I opted to dine out. The receptionist advised me to try Kusina Dabaw. I obliged.
I found in the menu a dish that was new to my ears. Balbacua. I asked the waitress what it was, but since my stomach was already complaining, I placed my order upon hearing “beef.” Several minutes later, my order was served and, well, it was something I never expected. Apparently, balbacua is a thick soup dish with cow’s skin, seasoned with chives. I learned later on that it is a specialty dish in Davao and there’s a place in the public market called Balbacuahan, a strip of eateries serving the dish.
I didn’t like it though. Not that it wasn’t delicious at all; it just wasn’t my type of food.
As it turned out, I didn’t have a satisfying dinner, so I strolled around, looking for some redemption.
I stumbled upon a brightly lit old house that had been turned into a café and bar. Letting my curiosity take over, I entered Claude’s Le Caféde Ville.

Built in the 1920s, the old structure is owned by the Obozas, one of Davao’s highly esteemed families.The foyer was adorned with family mementos ranging from framed photos, plaques and trophies, and bottles of wine, among others.

Inside, it felt like I was transported by a time machine. A wooden floor, wooden walls, and old furniture made up the interior bathed by dim lights, adding to the serene and relaxing ambiance of the place.
They serve Irish coffee (I forgot the price), wines (P300 per glass) and cocktails (P250 per glass). I had a glass of Bacardi cocktail and a plate of cashew nuts. One thing I realized, though, was that the place is better enjoyed when you’re with someone, or with a group, because it is a place for a good conversation. There’s no live band; just some old music playing softly in the background.
A few minutes later, the waitress approached me and asked, “Sir, okay lang ba kayo? Kayo lang mag-isa?”
(“Sir, are you okay? Are you alone?”)

I just smiled and said that I was okay. In my mind, though, I screaming, “I don’t feel lonely. I’m just enjoying my time alone.” And then I left (of course, I paid the bill first).
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Davao adventure—my first shot at solo traveling

Part 1: Sprinting to the airport

All the seats by the window were taken, so I had no choice but to settle for a middle seat.
I thought I wouldn’t make it to the airport on time. At 3:45 PM, I was still on the MRT, wishing that it was a bullet train I was riding on. This is bad. My flight is at 6 pm!
At 4 pm, I was still at the station, trying to hail a cab to NAIA Terminal 3, but getting refused every time.
Damn Manila traffic.
I had to use my last resort: Grab Car. With a bit of hesitation, I pulled out my phone, clutched it tight in my hand—lest someone would snatch it—and ran a booking. At that point, I didn’t mind paying a higher amount, which was brought about by the price surge, just to catch my flight. While in the car, crazy thoughts were running in my head.
What if I don’t make it on time? Shall I book another flight? Shall I just stay in Manila and feel sorry for myself for a flopped trip? Shall I go somewhere else and just forget about all the plans I laid out, the paid reservation at the hotel, and all the crazy stuff I should be doing in Davao City?
Then my optimistic side toppled the pessimism. I will make it.
I arrived at the departure area a few minutes before 5. After getting through the X-ray machine and having my bags checked, I went straight to the self service check-in machine, half-walking, half-running and panting the whole time.

A beautiful Cebu Pacific personnel assisted me along the check-in process and in less than a minute, I got my boarding pass. I was then told to go straight to Gate 116, as boarding time was 5:15 pm.

Whew, thank God I made it. Now, I wait.
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The new ride in town

One Saturday afternoon, without any plans of where to go after my friend and I completed our errands, I saw this rather new mode of public transportation in the metro, the Point-to-point bus service or more commonly known as P2P.
I’d seen the bus plying the length of EDSA a few times which got me really curious what it felt like to ride on it. The interior was not visible from the outside, as the windows are tinted. The windshield’s size is much taller than the one I see on jam-packed buses. The exterior looks fascinating and judging from it, I inferred that the inside would be cozy.
Giving in to my curiosity, I told my friend to come with me for a joy ride to Trinoma, the sole destination of the bus which would depart from Glorietta 5 in Ayala.
On weekdays, the trip costs P55 per person, but it’s lower on Saturdays, P40, and on Sundays, P35. We paid P40 each and hopped in.
The interior is far from that of a deluxe bus’s, but it looks fine. Who needs a luxurious 30-minute to an hour ride to Trinoma, anyway? There are two faux leather seats in each row on either side. Each seat has a recliner which makes it more comfortable. Two LCD monitors are installed–one for the front part, the other for the elevated portion in the back.
The AC works fine as well, which makes the ride more relaxing. The bus waits for all the seats to be filled in (no standing passengers on the aisle) and leaves once everyone’s settled. Since there is only one destination, you can take a rejuvenating nap on the way without the hassle of being disturbed by alighting passengers.
Overall, I give the ride a 5-star rating despite the fact that it is more expensive than a ride on a regular passenger bus. But, the extra amount is what you pay for convenience which you deserve, so don’t fuss over it.
Also, as its route is along EDSA, don’t expect to not experience the volume of vehicles. The only difference is that you get to experience the ride along the crowded highway without feeling stressed. You get to enjoy it as though you were riding in your private coaster.

So, if you’re one who regularly travels from Makati to that part of Quezon City like myself, I recommend this comfy mode of transportation to avoid the hassle of jam-packed buses that stop everywhere to pick up and drop off passengers, and the fast but irritatingly smelly and sometimes defective MRT.
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