Weekends in Bahrain

The State of Bahrain is a small island off the eastern coast of AlKhobar, Saudi Arabia and can be accessed through a 25-kilometer causeway with border controls for both nations smack in the middle island of the Saudi-Bahrain (King Fahad) Causeway. This island is small enough for one to travel by car in its entirety for a day, not including the empty desert sections.  That will need a different time for exploration preferably with a local guide. Bahrain touts itself in its advert in CNN as “Business Bahrain”. Many international and middle eastern banks have their hubs in this country but Dubai, UAE may take that privilege in the future, I think.

Many expatriates working in Saudi Arabia would cross the causeway and spend a day or two just to feel “normal” again.  These two countries are in stark contrast with each other especially with societal freedoms and perks.  In Bahrain, gender mix is not a problem in public areas. There are excellent cinemas, restaurants, hotel lounges with bands, churches (of various denominations), beach parties, boat rides, desert dune buggy and every conceivable activity under heaven concocted by different clubs, organizations or simply groups of people who can always find a way to make the weekends worthwhile.

For shopping, there are way more items to choose from but there’s a catch, it’s more expensive here. In fact, many Bahrainis would crossover to Saudi Arabia and do their groceries with their SUVs fully loaded on the way back to Bahrain.

I spend weekends in Bahrain once in a while, if I am in the right state of mind to brave the weekend traffic at border crossing. It is still a puzzle why there is always the hour to 3-hour long traffic just to cross a 1/2 kilometer section that separates the Saudi Customs and the Bahrain Customs at its peak every Thursday late afternoon.

Oh yes, before I forget, Bahrain is the place to indulge in porcine meals provided al gusto by Filipino restaurants like Swan Lake, Bahay Kubo, Hot Pot, etc and while we’re at it, Al-Jazirah supermarket is the go-to place to buy fresh or frozen pork cuts (but do not take them back to the other side of the bridge please or your weekend memories will be spoiled altogether!) I guess this is one of the main reasons why Filipinos (bachelor groups and families) travel to Bahrain. Pork is also available in Doha, Qatar but they have a different way of dispensing it to the public (details in my coming blog on Doha).

For racing enthusiasts, the 2016 Formula 1 Gulf Bahrain Grand Prix season has arrived and that’s just the thing to see for some heart-pumping excitement (if you have the couple of hundred dollars to spare for a good seat).

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No Secret Anymore – Changi Airport’s Staff Canteen

I stumbled on this article at CNN Travel about staff canteens tucked away inside Singapore’s Changi Airport which is, by the way, 2016 world’s best airport according to Skytrax.

Good authentic Singaporean food, delicious and real cheap. The article writes:

“Airports don’t usually reflect what a country’s food is about … but the staff canteens have an authentic array of local food.”

The two canteens have become so popular,… that local families and foodies travel to the airport specifically to eat at them.”

The article continues about the canteens’ locations:

Terminal 1 has the biggest canteen, with more than 25 stalls and its opening hours are in line with that of the staff: 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Follow the signs for the restrooms (you’re looking for the ones with the red doors), then take the nearest lift down to basement 1. When you arrive turn right, and the canteen will be in front of you.

For the Terminal 2 canteen, locate Starbucks on level two and take the nearest lift to the car park at level 3: from here walk up the staircase, turn left and look for the unlabeled iron door.”

This is one good reason to come to the airport a couple hours before your connecting flight and enjoy the bargain (it is interesting to note here that Singapore also is 2016’s most expensive city in the world). Come on down (T1) or up (T2)!

Boracay Under the Sun

December 2013. Beach and everything else…

A smorgasbord in a 3-mile white sand strip – that’s Boracay. To some, that’s too busy a place, but for me who wants all conceivable amenities available, that is a boon! Flew via Cebu Pacific (delayed flight due to rain) and landed at Caticlan Airport followed by a short trip to the seaport and a 15-minute ride to Boracay island. It is convenient to book a meet & greet extra from your hotel which is what I did. This reduces the “what am I going to do next” moments between the airport, seaport and your hotel.

Stayed at the highly recommended Jony’s (Station 1) for 4 days/3 nights (approx $160/day taxes included). Rooms are clean, sheets are crisp and smells good, hot showers are available but who needs that in a tropical country (probably senior citizen). Service with a smile and the staff are more than willing to oblige with your requests.  My room comes with a balcony handy especially for early morning sunrise. I do not recommend rooms near the road though if you are a light sleeper. They have their own two-storey beach-front restaurant with a good wide-angle view of the turquoise sea and serves palate-pleasing meals. The Boracay Fitness breakfast (fried egg white, greens, toasted wheat bread and papaya smoothie) is a blockbuster while their Lechon Kawali (deep fried crackling pork belly) is a must for lunch. The waiters can also assist you who to meet for your beach activities: snorkeling, diving, boat trips, etc.

Five minutes walk and you are in Station 2 where all the restaurants, bars, bands, karaoke, shops, travel agents and amenities are. A cacophony of nationalities converge here and it is good to meet and make friends, if you care.  Of course, expect prices catered more for tourists especially on seafood but you can’t get them any fresher than here. An example, four large prawns split ala butterfly and done in garlic and butter will cost 700 pesos (about $18). Once in a while you can catch a buffet that is worth every peso so when that happens, grab it!

During evenings when the tide is up, the beach fronts are reduced to half or less but its a nice walk especially on a night with a light breeze.

What did this trip mean for me: first, my brother Basant from Nepal enjoyed it and the beach was something he really wanted to go despite my lack of physical ability which limited our activities. Second, it was a better downtime for us after a year of work in the Middle East. Finally, it’s the privilege of knowing what Boracay is after reading about it from all over as being one of the best beaches in the world from various travel sites and blogs.

This entire trip, including two round-trip Cebu Pacific plane tickets, hotel, activities and food/souvenirs, cost 50,000 pesos (a shave above $1,000 at March 2016 rates). Don’t worry, it can be cheaper if you opt for budget accommodations and food.  So, next time you are in the Philippines, be sure to go here (preferably between December to May) whatever comments you may hear or read from others. Have a first-hand experience!  Maybe, I’ll get to meet you there. 😉

 

Winter in Nepal

December 2012.
Flight to Nepal from Bahrain via Fly Dubai was fine except for the 5-hour layover in Dubai’s second terminal where there is not much to see or do, so patience is a good travelling companion anytime-anywhere.

Gloomy days.
Winter weather has set in and I normally would appreciate the cool days and colder nights where winter apparel are available and fashionable. Bought locally made knitwear for the hands and the extra large pashmina shawls available in Thamel, Kathmandu.  Beware of fake pashminas from China; the Nepalese version is authentically using pashmina goat wool. Stayed at the Bag Packer’s Lodge (budget, clean, accessible and very friendly staff and manager – Krishna). Krua Thai is a stone throw away from the Inn and this is where you get authentic Thai meals in a very clean environment. Still further is the best Italian place in town, La Dolce Vita.

Met my Nepali brother (and “adopted son”) and moved to his hometown, Butwal City, after renting a whole Toyota Grandia just for us for only $200 (for an 8-hour road trip). Butwal’s weather was like proverbial London’s foggy days for the entire week I was there; it has become utterly depressing. Couple this with a total of 12-hour electric load shedding daily, I told myself never to be back in this place at this time of the year. But for what it’s worth, the marketplace was still vibrant despite the 8-degree Celsius midday temperature. For a couple of minutes, the fog would break, the sun shines through and a good walk is a must. Lunch time at the Hotel Sindoor where they serve smoke-dried porcine – a rare fare in this place as Hindus deem it “unclean”.  A couple of miles outside the city is the annual trade-fair where you can enjoy local fair rides, bargains, and funny skits (need a translator with you).  Interestingly, it reminds me of fairgrounds in the Philippines during my childhood days. We traveled back to Kathmandu in a small car, offered by an acquaintance, which was a bad choice.

Sick in Kathmandu.

Had spine surgery 2 years prior and the same L5-S1 disc started seriously acting up sending lightning bolt pain down my entire left leg a day after reaching Kathmandu.  Need to fly out and had to book a new flight with Etihad Airways (thankfully) to Bahrain where a colleague will meet me and drive me all the way through the Saudi-Bahrain Causeway towards the hospital. There were other troubles too in Kathmandu but on a different nature and I really felt sick and drained mentally. By the way, FlyDubai sucks because of their sudden flight cancellation two days before I flew out of Kathmandu due to operational reasons. But I would have cancelled it anyway since I do not want long layovers considering my physical condition at that time. Still FlyDubai won’t be on my list for another millennium!

As I write this, it has been 5 years since and all the emotions would still flood in. I honestly feel it dampened my enthusiasm for future trips in this country unless something better comes up. I still do get two sets of invitations and maybe…

Places and Laziness

Five years…quite a handful. Been through a few countries: Nepal (again), Bahrain, Qatar, Singapore and UAE, and a couple of days stay in Boracay, Philippines. But alas, I was so busy and so lazy to write about highlights and tidbits for these trips.

I could go into all the psycho details for my reasons why I stopped blogging here, but I sense that I need to continue this blog gain (I hope)…with a little more convincing.

Let’s see 😉

I’m back!

Been out on certain corners of the blogosphere over a year and now back from another trip. Will be posting highlights on trips to various sites in Nepal soon.

Recent trip to the Philippines

 

This is a late post…returned from home a month ago.  Nothing much but enjoyed my time with my mother and sister, and a distant cousin who did some housework for us during my stay. As usual, we would eat out and try some place we have not gone to before.  This time it was Yellow Cab at my mom’s insistence and eventually, to her dismay (told her that its just another pizza joint 🙂 ).  One restaurant worth mentioning is “Manoy Bicol” which has 3 outlets in the SM chain of department stores.  Serves authentic cuisine from the Bicol region.  Tried the following:

  1. Kinurot (meaning ‘seared by fire) – fire-roasted grouper (lapu-lapu) flakes cooked into coconut milk – delicious!
  2. Laing – taro leaves also in coconut milk (creamy and a spicy-sweet)
  3. Roasted skewered salted pork – generous portion (always yummy!)
  4. Non-greasy stir-fried crispy anchovies (dilis) – my mom likes this one
  5. Plain rice (always order plain rice – not greasy, less calories and is a good base for the rest of the meal).

Manoy Bicol outlet at SM in Sta. Rosa

Service is good and the staff are very friendly.  So if you are in an SM chain and they have an outlet there, go and try. We spent P1,000 (including tips) for 4 persons.  Soup, by the way is a mixture of coconut juice and chicken stock with malunggay leaves – free, so ask for more, oh yes.

Tipping the waiters/waitresses is a good thing.  The ‘service charge’ you see in your bill goes to financing the consumables of the restaurant (soap, cleaning water, etc), and nothing to the staff who try to do their best.  Just in case they don’t meet your expectation, remember they get tired too. Normally tips should be 10% of your bill. So, just tip out of the generosity of your heart.

Backpacking

 

Backpacking is a term that has historically been used to denote a form of low-cost, independent international travel. Terms such as independent travel and/or budget travel are often used interchangeably with backpacking. The factors that traditionally differentiate backpacking from other forms of tourism include but are not limited to the following: use of public transport as a means of travel, preference of youth hostels to traditional hotels, length of the trip vs. conventional vacations, use of a backpack, an interest in meeting the locals as well as seeing the sights.

over-the-top backpacker

The definition of a backpacker has evolved as travelers from different cultures and regions participate and will continue to do so, preventing an air-tight definition. Recent research has found that, “…backpackers constituted a heterogeneous group with respect to the diversity of rationales and meanings attached to their travel experiences. …They also displayed a common commitment to a non-institutionalized form of travel, which was central to their self-identification as backpackers.” Backpacking as a lifestyle and as a business has grown considerably in the 2000s     as the commonplace of low-cost airlines, hostels or budget accommodation in many parts of the world, and digital communication and resources make planning, executing, and continuing a long-term backpacking trip easier than ever before.

History

While there is no definitive answer as to the precise origin of backpacking, its roots can be traced, at least partially, to the Hippie trail of the 1960s and 70s, which in turn followed sections of the old Silk Road. In fact, some backpackers today seek to re-create that journey, albeit in a more comfortable manner, while capitalizing on the current popularity of the green movement. Looking further into history, Giovanni Francesco and Gemelli Careri have been cited by some as one of the world’s first backpackers.

While travel along the old Hippie Trail has been rendered complicated since the early 80s due to unrest in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran that continues today, backpacking has expanded to most regions of the world. In recent years, the increase of budget airlines and low-cost flights has contributed to this expansion. At present, new “hippie trails” are being formed towards Northern Africa in places such as Morocco and Tunisia and other destinations being reached by low-cost airlines

Technological changes and improvements have also contributed to changes in backpacking. Traditionally backpackers did not travel with expensive electronic equipment such as laptop computers, digital cameras and PDAs due to concerns about theft, damage, and additional luggage weight. However, the desire to stay connected coupled with trends in lightweight electronics have given rise to the flashpacking trend, which has been in a state of continuous evolution in recent years. Simultaneous with a change in “what” they’re carrying, backpacking is also becoming less and less reliant on the physical backpack in its initial form although the backpack can still be considered the primary luggage of backpackers.

 

Types of backpacking

 

Flashpacking

Flashpacking is a neologism used to refer to an affluent backpacker. Whereas backpacking is traditionally associated with budget travel and destinations that are relatively cheap, flashpacking has an association of more disposable income while traveling and has been defined simply as backpacking with a bigger budget.

urban backpackers

A simple definition of the term Flashpacker can be thought of as backpacking with flash, or style. One school of thought defines the flashpacker as a rapidly growing segment of travelers who adhere to a modest accommodation and meal budget, while spending freely, even excessively, for activities at their chosen destination. Another school of thought defines flashpacking as an incongruous mix of ‘slumming it’ and luxury; of adventurous travel with those on a budget by day and sedate dining and comfortable accommodation by night. Flashpackers have been further defined as tech-savvy adventurers who often prefer to travel with a cell phone, digital camera, iPod and a laptop, although none of these is required in order to be a flashpacker. As with other forms of travel, the term flashpacker is mainly one of self-identification. The origin of the term itself is obscure.

The term also reflects a growing demographic of travelers who are forsaking traditional organized travel, venturing to destinations once the reserve of more adventurous backpackers, and the increasing number of individuals who leave well paid jobs or take ‘career breaks’, using the time to travel independently, but with greater comfort and many of the gadgets they are accustomed to at home. As a result, hostels are evolving and offering more up-market accommodation and facilities to those still traveling on a budget[in order to obtain their business. Hostels have realized a need to evolve in order to meet the changing demands of travelers.

Gap-packing

“Gap-packing” is a neologism used typically to refer to younger people, usually of European descent, who backpack to several countries in a short period of time whilst on their gap year between school and university, or between university and their first job.

Megaloping

Megaloping is a neologism to refer to backpacking using only public transit.

 

Culture

Of importance in backpacking is a sense of authenticity. Backpacking is perceived as being more than a vacation, but a means of education. Backpackers want to experience the “real” destination rather than the packaged version often associated with mass tourism, which has led to the assertion that backpackers are anti-tourist. There is also the feeling of “sneaking backstage” and witnessing real life with more involvement with local people.

 

Original article taken from Wikipedia; click here

Nepal and fastfoods…

In my last trip to Kathmandu, I enjoyed the local fare so much that I took to cooking their food myself. Love their local momos (cross between a Chinese siomai and Japanese gyoza) – plus a real spicy dip!

But I am sooooo glad that, finally a few days ago, KFC (oily and yummy!) and Pizza Hut opened in Durbar Square. One comment in Kantipur Online highlighted the Nepalese curiosity for these new western outlets but culture will eventually prevail as everyone would go back to their tasty momo and the daily dhal-bhat-tarkari (lentil soup, rice and curried veggies).

Also, 2011 is Nepal’s Tourism Year so if any of you out there are planning trips, do mark Nepal as a favored destination and I guarantee that you’ll love it!