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Friday, April 19, 2013

A Review of Park Inn Radisson Davao and the Importance of Colors

main lobby of Park Inn Radisson (photo by interaksyon.com)
Let's be honest. No matter how grand the amenities are, now matter how posh and comfortable your hotel is. There is always this nagging feeling that you're somewhere unfamiliar.

You can't put a finger on it, but it's just the feeling of being somewhere you don't necessarily belong.

In Filipino colloquial terms, we call it 'namamahay" derived from the root word 'bahay' or house/home.new.

I always get this feeling when I stay somewhere away from my own condo unit. Although I usually get this feeling after a day or two. I still don't like to feel it in the first place.

After some observation, I realized that part of this feeling emanates from the fact that most hotels where we stay have the same dull, generic colors, mostly pale yellow, white, or cream.

These colors give the hotel a feeling of unfamiliarity and it's a glaring reminder that this is not your home, and you are just passing through.

Absent are the colors we use to make our personal space more personal and intimate. Case in point, my room wall is covered by pictures showing a barrange of colors. It gives me that warm feeling and it evokes happy emotions.


This awareness on the importance of color and the emotions it gives you must have been a top consideration in building the all new Park Inn Radisson in Lanang, Davao City.

Park Inn Radisson Davao is the latest project of SM Hotels and Conventions Corp., next to Radisson Blu in Cebu, Pico Sands Hotel in Hamilo Coast Batangas, and Taal Vista in Tagaytay among others. It is in partnership with Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, one of the largest hotel chains in the world.

This 204-bedroom structure is basically a businessman's hotel but it threw convention and stereotype to the wind by providing a burst of colors everywhere, resulting in a hotel that mimics  just your own personal space: that space where you can just relax and enjoy. A space where you can be you.

This is quite apparent as soon as you arrive. Park Inn Radisson Davao's main lobby is the most colorful lobby I have ever seen and that's saying something given the number of hotels/hostels I've seen here and abroad.

It screams you are welcome and you will instantly feel it

Once you get over the hues, you will notice the bits and pieces of furniture that makes the lobby quite warm and relaxing.

Because this is a mid-scale business hotel geared towards visiting business and leisure guests, who are always out touring the gorgeous sights and spots of Davao City, the rooms are not as big, but each one is equipped with the basic services you will ever need.

There's also a gym and a pool, which is actually not present in most business hotels.

Security is tight and you can only use the elevators through your electronic card key.

For dining, the rbg grill is located the left side of the main lobby. This also serves as the breakfast area of the hotel.

Park Inn Radisson Davao is located in Lanang, just in front of the newly constructed SM Lanang and SMX Davao so the location is quite convenient for those attending MICE events.

There's even a walkway from the second floor of the hotel to the mall.

It is also close to various attractions such as the Crocodile farm and the outdoor events center.

I was really happy with my stay at Park Inn Radisscon because it provided the basic luxury and amenities I needed during my three-day visit. And quite honestly, I never really had to get over that feeling of discomfort at another hotel because of the warm, friendly and familiar ambience the hotel gives.

Add to that the very accommodating staff and my stay was simply memorable.

When I visit Davao City, again, Park Inn Radisson will definitely be my hotel of choice.

 







Sunday, April 14, 2013

Weekend Food Trip at Yakimix, Robinson's Ermita

You know me. I won't back out of a good meal, regardless of the price.

I have braved the priciest hotel restaurant buffets in the metro, so I guess I can convince you that I am not a cheapskate, hahaha.

But I am also after value for money.

When my family asked me to try Yakimix at Robinson's Ermita, I was really hesitant. In my opinion, it has lots of similarities to Tong Yang, which I love, and which is much cheaper, so I was really having a second thought.

Why should I pay more if I can get something similar at a cheaper cost?

My family bugged me for two weeks, noting that Yakimix is always full of people whenever they pass by. A tell tale sign that it's worth my money.

I finally relented and decided to bring my family to Yakimix, and boy, I was really glad I did.

Contrary to my earlier assumptions, Yakimix is totally different than Tong Yang. While both restaurants offer smokeless grills, Yakimix's food offerings is mostly Japanese (duh), with lots of seafood choices.

The main strength of Tong Yang is it's shabu shabu and the wide selection of meat products, but this is easily trumped by Yakimix but offering the same amount of meat products with the addition of better-tasting Japanese selections.

I wrote in my previous blog that the Japanese section is the main weakness of Tong Yang. But at yakimix, you won't have to worry about that.

The tempura is awesome and the supplies of sushi (salmon, tuna among others) is endless. The serving plates are always re-filled so you won't have to wait.

Japanese ramen is also available and you can mix your own toppings.

Their grill section is also impressive. They have tuna, tanguige, bangus, and other fish selections for grilling. They also have sausages, bacon, and chicken satay.

Surprisingly, Yakimix also served lechon macau which I totally love. They also serve pork sisig.

The dessert section offers halo-halo, ice cream and several cakes such as chocolate cakes, tiramisu and Japanese buchi.

Looking around, you can see that the customers are really enjoying their meals. In fact, I saw several Japanese tourists dining in groups and they seem to be having a great time. If actual Japanese folks are enjoying Yakimix, then definitely, I don't have any excuse not to do so hahaha.

What I don't like about Yakimix is their package does not include beverages and you have to order it separately.

We dined on a weekend, so the price of the eat all you can is P660 and another P75 for bottomless drinks. But if you dine from Monday to Friday, the rate for eat and drink all you can is P520 and the dinner rate is P620.

All in all, I had a really great experience and I was finally able to realize what the fuss is all about.

And much as I hate to admit it, I enjoyed Yakimix a lot better than Tong Yang. That's saying something since I've been an avid customer of the former for several years now.


Edit: Since we first tried Yakimix, we came back two more times.















Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Joys of Hostel Living

inside my dorm type hostel in Saigon
Whenever I am going out of the country, people always ask the same questions, how long will you stay there and where will you stay?

I often times give a vague answer, because most people are not yet familiar with the concepts of couchsurfing and hostels. I don't want them to end up confused.

Couchsurfing has been going in the Philippines but most people, including a lot of its new members have misguided notion of what it is.

On the other hand, the concept of hostels and dormitory type accommodations is gaining popularity in the country. Granted, most of the clienteles of these dorm type hostels are mostly foreigners and experienced travelers, but the increasing number of such facilities give me satisfaction.

At least, more and more people will be able to experience the joys of hostel living.

The Rock hostel in Koh Phi Phi
But what is it exactly that makes hostel ling quite an awesome experience?

Low, low, low

For obvious reasons, hostel living allows you to stretch you budget to remarkable lengths.

A 100 USD to will pay to a three to four star hotel, can be stretched to as much as two weeks if you know where to stay.

During my trip to Ho Chi Minh, I stayed at the Vietnam Inn Saigon, which charged me a whopping 5 USD per night in an airconditioned room with 10 beds.

My hostel in Koh Phi Phi meantime charged me 300 Baht a night.

Contrary to public perception, dorm type hostels are spacious enough. sometimes, each bed has its own curtain, electricity socket and reading lights. You each get a locker where you can leave behind personal stuff. It's not adviseable though to leave valuables.

In the process, you save up a lot of money, which allows you to travel farther and longer.

A Glimpse to the Whole World

Staying at a hostel also gives you a wider perspective. How wide you may ask. Well, let's put it this way. At a hostel, you will meet travelers from all over the world literally and you will discuss a host of topics ranging from the kibbutz system in Israel, to underground bars in Berlin, lesbianism, pity sex to dream trips in Antractica.

During my most recent Asian swing, I've met people from Maryland (not a farmland, hahaha, Acapulco, Liverpool, Frankfurt, Szechuan, Rio de Janeiro, Macedonia, Calgary, and Amsterdam.

Not varied enough? How about Trinidad and Tobago and Bratislava?

The world is so wide, and there's a lot of places to see, and people to meet. Those people I've met, I never would have met them had I stayed at a luxury hotel.

a shared shower room
Every night, the discussions swing from topic to topic close to our home nations, indicating our desire to share more of ourselves. It's really a breath of fresh air to hear the worries and issues that are plaguing other countries.

By listening to them, slowly but surely, you get a vision of a the world, which is far different from the myopic self-centered visions that you used to have.

Hello, Friend

It's true that great friendships are built over time. But if you are in a vaccum, away from your real environment, you let go of some of your inhibitions and worries, and you open up yourself a lot easier.

In a hostel setting, it's impossible to gain new friends. The fact that you share alot of similar travels and stories, creates an instant connection to one another. 

You start with a simple hello, and then before you know it, the conversation has been going on for about an hour or so. You then go to clubs, and landmarks together, sharing traveler jokes. All of a sudden, you become friends.

friends I met from my Thailand hostel
Friendships built during travels are very common, you will be surprised. I met this two backpacker guys in Laos and was very surprised to find out that they have become friends just two weeks prior. They were very close and nobody can suspect that they are in fact, new friends.

Relationships among travelers are also very common.

More than the sudden freedom, I guess a traveler becomes more open to friendship and love as they realize the world is so big and they're just too much to accomplish. Do away with hate, doubt and indecision and go ahead live your life to the fullest.



Hostel living, is not always a bliss. Bedbugs, snoring bunkmates, and filthy room, sometimes make your travel less enjoyable. But at the end of the day, the lessons, experiences and memories you share with your fellow travelers are definitely worth it.





Bangkok International (Suvarnabhumi) Airport to Hualamphong train station

ticket machine at the Airport Link
Bangkok is the gateway to Southeast Asia.

And while the city itself is a major traveler destination, Bangkok, formost part serves as temporary stop to both local and foreign tourists who want to explore the northern and southern regions of Thailand, or simply cross borders into other Southeast Asian countries such as Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia.

Majority of those transfering from Bangkok to other destinations, choose to go directly to Huamlamphong station as soon as they land at the Suvarnabhumi airport. Hualamphong station houses trains movingto Nong Khai (boundary of Thailand and Laos), Chiang Mai, Ayuttaya and Udon Thani in the north and trains to Surat Thani in the south.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous taxi drivers take advantage of them and charge a steep fee. As it is, taxi fares are expensive already.

A trip from the airport to the train station costs about 250 to 300 Thai Baht.

If your are one of them, worry no more, since transfering from the Bangkok International Airport to the Huamlamphong station is easy enough, if you have the patience and physical stamina for it.

After exiting the immigration office at the airport, go down to the basement level three towards the Airport Link.

There buy a ticket for the Makkasan Express costing 90 Thai Baht. This is non stop train to Makkasan and will by pass stops in Lat Krabang, Ban Tap Chang, Hua Mak, and Ramkhamhaeng. The train ride takes about 20 minutes.

The train is airconditioned and the seats are very comfortable.

At the Makkasan express, you will exit the terminal and walk about 100 meters to the MRT Phetchaburi subway station.

Hualamphong train station
The MRT system extends 20 kilometer to Bang Sue in the north and Huamlamphong in the south, near Chinatown and the Central Railway System.

The MRT ride takes another 10 minutes and costs about 30 baht.

If you are in a hurry to catch your train ride, then the fastest and most efficient way to get there is to take the airport link and MRT.

Taking a cab might be less strenuous but with the heavy Bangkok traffic jam, you'll always have that worry at the back of your head.

So to save time and money, this is the fastest route you can take.







Sunday, April 7, 2013

Exploring Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Ton sai beach in Phi Phi Don
You will feel it as soon as you take your first step.

At the Ton Sai pier, you will feel that palpable energy and buzz of hundreds travelers from all over the globe who know they are in for an unforgettable adventure.

After all, exploring the island group of Koh Phi Phi is one adventure every self-respecting adventurer must take at least once in his life. This is not an exaggeration.

Koh Phi Phi is the island superstar of Thailand and the things that justify its reputation goes on and on. But in a nut shell, this group of islands offer some of the most gorgeous white sand beaches in the world along with high visibility crystal clear waters, making it a mecca of surfers, divers and other watersport enthusiasts.

The island's party scene is also renowned, rivaling the popularity of Haad Rin beach in Koh Pangan, another island heavyweight in Thailand's long list of gorgeous island jewels, which hosts to the world famous or infamous monthly full moon parties,

Technically, Koh Phi Phi is a group of islands located near the Andaman sea and is governed administratively by the province of Krabi. There are six islands in the group, including Phi Phi Ley and Phi Phi Don, which is the most heavily populated.

The pier along with the hotels, hostels, restaurants, travel and tour shops are all located in Phi Phi Don.

The Maya beach, the site where the movie "The Beach" was filmed, and the Monkey island meanwhile are located in Phi phi Ley.

There are daily tours around the main islands of Koh Phi Phi but the most famous and frequent are tours around Maya beach.

Party Scene

Partying is mostly centered in Phi Phi Don.

Beachfront bars along Ton Sai beach, such as Slinky's, Woody's, Aloha and Tones, offer nightly entertainment to the endless list of tourists visiting Koh Phi Phi.

The party usually begins with fire dances and fire jump ropes and fire limbo rocks. Once the clock strikes 10 or 11pm, the beach becomes a virtual stage for tourists who are dying to let thei r hair down, or find a partner for the night.

Unlike Koh Pangan who comes alive and becomes busy during full moons and the days leadingto it, Koh Pangan hosts parties every night, thus explaining the non-stop flow of visitors.

And also unlike the said island, Koh Phi Phi is not famous fir its drug problem. The only thing the two islands have in common are the Thai-patented buckets, liquid death mixtures of rhum, whisky, tonic and red bull or anything you want to add.

There are also bars located inside the island. The most famous is Jordan's Irish pub which shows UEFA and All English Premiere League non-stop, attracting a host of visistors from the UK and the Commonwealth islands.

Reggae bar meantime, features live Thai fighting (a very noisy affair)

Banana Bar is a rooftop bar which offers free movie showing. I got there on my first night and they were showing "The beach". hahahah


Dining

Like everywhere else in Thailand, dining is not a problem due to the endless rows of restaurants and food stalls. But being and island tourist destination, prices are not necessarily cheap compared to those restaurants located in other parts of the country, say Khao San Road.

I had the opportunity of dining in some restos around Phi Phi Don and here are my recommendations:

  • Basil Bistro (Thai owned, a bit out of the way, but the tomyum and the grilled food are superb.
  • Tom Yam  (Also out of the way, and very small but the green and yellow curry are to die for)
  • Unni's (Reasonable price but very friendly and accommodating staff. Food is so-so)
  • Italiano (located in front of Harmony tours. The food is expensive but good)

If you're really on a tight budget, go buy food at the stalls located along and inside the Tsunami village (named so because the area is composed of houses, devastated by the 2004 Asian tsunami)

Hotels

I can't tell you much about hotels since I am a backpacker but I can tell you that you should make prior reservations in Phi Phi Don. The owners of the hotels and hostels love walk ins coz they can easily fluctuate prices and the average asking price is 1,300 to 1,500 Thai Baht for a small non-airconditioned room.

There are mixed dorm types offering 500 to 600 Thai Baht bunk beds.

 Getting There

Reaching Koh Phi Phi is not necessarily an easy journey.

Sure you can easily purchase tours in Khao San Road for only 850 to 900 Thai Baht but the long road trip makes it really challenging.

From Khao San Road, you will take a 14 hour drive by Songserm double-decker bus Krabi.  

You will then take a two hour ferry trip to Phi Phi Don.

If you're not really willing to travel by road that long, you can take a flight from Bangkok to Phuket and then take a four three hour ferry to Koh Phi Phi.
















Saturday, April 6, 2013

Crossing the Thai-Lao border, new fees enforced

Laos immigration office in Thanaleng
Considering from my most recent post, this must really come as a surprise.

Before any misconception is made, I am making myself clear on all fronts.

I am against the proliferation of drugs and illegal substances but I fully support the growth of the Laos tourism industry.

The drugs and the drunk tubing may have been gone, but the town of Vang Vieng remains as gorgeous as ever with its towering karsts hills. Floating down the river sober is still encouraged and there remains a host of activities waiting for your in Vang Vieng such as spelunking down its caves, and kayaking among others.

Vang Vieng needs tourists for its restaurants, travel agencies, tour operators, hotels and hostels to remain viable and survive. The recent policy changes, have discouraged a lot of would be tourists from visiting Vientianne and Vang Vieng, but I hope that this is just a short spell.

As part of my contribution tothe growth of the Laos tourism, I am making this step by step border crossing from Thailand to Laos.

Crossing the border now is very tricky since they have implemented border pass fees.

departure area of Hualamphong train station
Bangkok to Vientianne

The best way, and I mean this to be the most cost-efficient way of getting to Laos is by land trip, crossing the border through the northern eastern tip of Thailand.

First, you have to get to the Hualamphong station, which is about an hour from Suvarnabhumi airport. You can take the Airport-Train Link located at the third basement floor of the airport. (see another post for this).

At the Huamlampong train station, go to any ticket counter and purchase a ticket to Nong Kai, this the northeastern portion of Thailand before crossing to Laos. 

Travel time from Bangkok to Nong Kai takes about 12 hours, and they have a 6;30pm and 8:30pm trains.

lobby of Hualamphong station
The ticket varies depending on the class and the berth. Thefirst class sleeper to Nong Kai costs about 1, 217 Thai Baht or USD37 while the second class sleeper costs 788 THB.

Because I was on a limited budget, I decided to take the ordinary seat inside the non-airconditioned coach which costs about 498 THB. This was a big mistake.

Guys, if you have money to spare, take the airconditioned sleeper coach.

At the ordinary coach, you have to spend 12 hours sitting on a hard two-seater facing strangers. I was sitting beside the train window so it wasn't that hot but during the train stops, it was humid.

I forgot the number of train stops, because I was partly sleeping but Nong Kai is the very last stop so you won't miss it.

Nong-Kai to Thanaleng

By the time I arrived in Nong Kai, I was feeling hungry and grimy. I barely slept because of the hard seats so I was willing to soldier on all the way to Vang Vieng but I found out there are new rules in crossing the border.

There is supposed to be a train connecting Nong Kai train station to Thanaleng but the first trip leaves at 10am. I wasn't willing to wait for another three hours for a short train ride.

I had to get out of the Nong Kai train station and hire a tuk tuk for 50 baht to take me to the Thailand exit immigration office.

After that, I had to pay 20THB for a bus that will cross the Friendship Bridge and take me to the Laos arrival immigration office.

At Thanaleng, I was greeted by touts who kept offering me private vehicles to Vientianne and I just ignored them.


border fee costing 10,000 kip
I come from the Philippines, which is a member of the ASEAN trade region so I am not required any visa to enter Laos. However, most foreigners are required to have a visa and you can secure it upon arrival by paying $35 or 1,500 THB.

But I was surprised to find out that all tourists, regardless of visa status, will have to pay another 10,000 kip or 1.3 USD to cross the border.

By then, you can exit the immigration office and proceed to your vehicle going to the Vientianne bus station.

I was backpacking so I made no prior reservations so I had to pay 50 baht for a large tuktuk from the immigration to the bus station.

Be careful, some of the tourists I was with was charged 100 THB or 150THB.

It was a 13-kilometer ride from Thanaleng to the bus station but the trip was smooth sailing.

Vientianne to Vang Vieng

Here comes the tricky part. There are no buses going to Vang Vieng at that station. Apparently, there is another bus station at the northern portion of Vientianne where you can take busses to Vang Vieng.

What's available in the bus stations are private mini-buses or large vans going directly to Vang Vieng. They are privately owned so the prices that will be asked of you vary depending on the car operator and sub-operators.
I was asked 50,000 Kip while others were asked 35,000 and 45,000.

The trip takes another three hours. So all in all, you will travel about 17 hours from Bangkok to Vang Vieng including the immigration stops, crossing the Friendship bridge and going to the Vientianne bus station.

I know that for many, this many be a turn off but once you start seeing the karsts surrounding Vang Vieng, all your worries will disappear and you will start looking forward a new kind of adventure available only in Laos.

The karsts of Vang Vieng


crossing the Friendship bridge

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