Archive for May, 2013

One balmy weather

Nothing like a big bag of Cheetos plus a good book to keep me occupied one balmy Friday afternoon. Of course I did not finish all the Cheetos nor the book, because the bed beckoned me to sleep. Still it was great to just chill, read and chomp on cheesy sticks then wash them down with iced cold Pepsi Max.

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Why I patronize Starbucks...

I got this free Mocha Cookie Crumble frap yesterday at Starbucks in Trinoma just by presenting to them a receipt that entitles me to a free tall beverage. It really is not just for this freebie but because the staff wherever you buy a beverage remain friendly and accommodating. So thanks Starbucks, I enjoyed the drink immensely. Until my next wet cappuccino. ūüôā

A lot of people are crying in disbelief about the results of the Philippine Senatorial Elections. I mean why even be shocked? There are those saying that majority of the voters are stupid. I did not get to vote because I was not registered in any of the precincts, still I think pointing fingers at the voters is not fair to those who did cast their votes in good faith. It just that there are just too many uneducated, that the only thing they hang onto is the name recall. As long as it is familiar they pick that name and add it to the list. Yes, it is that simple.

If we really want to change the people who get elected, maybe it is time for COMELEC to screen through the candidates. Okay, so Nancy Binay cannot even win a debate over an 8-year old then why did the supposed bright people allow her to even file for candidacy?  The same goes for Grace Poe. Great leaders like Gordon, Hagedorn and Hontiveros do not stand a chance even if elections will get held yearly. No chance just because undeserving people are allowed to run. The end result is not the problem, the whole farce of a having a qualification is.

Qualifications for Senator are found under Section 3, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, to wit:¬†‚ÄúNo person shall be a Senator unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines and, on the day of the election, is at least thirty-five years of age, able to read and write, a registered voter, and a resident of the Philippines for not less than two years immediately preceding the day of the election.‚ÄĚ

Given the above fact, everyone can qualify regardless of their competence. So since our government has not changed nor made stricter guidelines in filing for candidacy any Tom, Dick and Harry can and will run. Thus every election, we will just get all the clowns and their bag of tricks. Sadly no substance there, only tomfoolery and once the smoke screen of happiness abates the country will be left wretched.

 

Cambodia was everything that I expected laidback but charming. The rustic feel combined with an urban lifestyle make for a very relaxed ambiance. It does not hurt either that the people there are extraordinarily nice.

We thanked our lucky stars because we met the best taxi driver, Phalla Pes, when we rented a taxi from the airport. Of course coming in from Manila late at night and being delayed for more than 2 hours, you do not have the patience to endure any hard selling of his taxi services. Wary, we did not readily accept his offer of $30 for a whole day tour of all temples. We wanted to make sure that we wont be paying too much for something that can be had for a smaller fee.

Shorter version, we did call Phalla and we asked him to be our dedicated driver to Angkor Wat. Along the way, he told us about a concert with big celebrities and how big a fan he is of our very own Dingdong Dantes. Thus when the latter visited Angkor Wat with lady love Marianne, Phalla made sure he was there to see his idol in person. Dyesebel, he added, was one of the popular Filipino shows shown in Cambodia.

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Phalla brought us to the various temples and gave instructions each time where he’d meet up with us. The second drop off, we failed to find him in the parking lot. There were a number of Toyota Camry of the same color. The long walk and the intense heat of the sun drained us too much that we decided to just check out the items being sold in one of the shops. We probably looked parched that the pregnant lady minding the tables inside one of the nearby restaurants took pity on us and offered us seats. She assured us that we do not need to pay or buy anything. Bless her soul, she offered to call Phalla as well if we really want to leave.

Later on she, like Phalla, engaged us in a conversation about Dyesebel and Dingdong. But she was interested in Richard Gomez more. A round of cold drinks later, ¬†we bid her adieu to look for our dear lost driver (in this case, we were the ones very, very lost in a sea of foreigners and shuttles). We did find Phalla and he brought us to a great restaurant with the king’s vast pool in full view.

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We enjoyed being the only ones in the car because it made for a more convenient and flexible ¬†tour of the various temples in Angkor Wat. Although I must say I agree with most of the comments that once you see one temple, you’ve seen them all, you will still be in¬†awe of the classical style of Khmer architecture. Since we did not hire any tour guide, probably the most apt description¬†would be the one I lifted from Wikipedia “Architecturally, the elements characteristic of the style include: the¬†ogival, redented towers shaped IMG_8443¬†like¬†lotus¬†buds; half-galleries¬†to broaden passageways; axial galleries connecting enclosures; and the cruciform terraces which appear along the main axis of the temple. Typical decorative elements are¬†devatas (or apsaras),bas-reliefs, and on¬†pediments¬†extensive garlands and narrative scenes. The statuary of Angkor Wat is considered conservative, being more static and less graceful than earlier work.” ¬†The most exciting part for me was being able to be in Ta Prohm mainly because it was where the Tomb Raider was shot and then there were those trees that have become part of the ruins, the trunks and roots intertwined with the walls give it a surreal feeling. Too bad we were not able to stay for long, there were hundreds of tourists that got in the way of being in the moment just because they flock, shove and take shots without nary a care to other people (namely us) whose there to imbibe Ta Prohm’s rich history. Well we still tried to have our fill of the Elephants Terrace, Bayon, Deads Gate, Pr. Prerup and ultimately the magnificent Angkor Wat. During this time, water and the shade were our dear friends because long walks under¬†the sun can zap out your energy instantly.

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We decided to wrap up our little expedition and head on back to our hotel. When the temperature became bearable, our night time adventures involved walking along the Sivatha Boulevard where the Old Market, Pub Street and Night Market are located. Our hotel, Mandalay Inn, was just right smack in the middle of it all that we did not have to ride a tuk-tuk to get anywhere for a bite or some shopping. We found it amazing that there were several lounge chairs filled to the rafters of people who want a massage. Even the aquariums had a number of people with their feet submerged inside getting nibbled by the fishes.

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It was the most relaxing three-day stay ever, good food coupled with a very quiet environment proved to be the right combo before we head off to Ho Chi Minh. We did not think that we would have a harrowing experience en route to Vietnam just because of the wonderful time in Cambodia. Alarm bells were ringing the moment I failed to book us seats in Mekong Express, which apparently was booked until the following week. Since we do not want to shell out $211 per head for airfare, we opted to go for the sleeper bus and paid $20 per head. 

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Mandalay Inn staff helped us book a ride from Virak Buntham transport. Since it was a very cheap rate, I dare not feel crestfallen when the inside of the bus was like¬†¬†being inside a very cramp dormitory on wheels. To add insult to injury ¬†the dispatcher, driver and conductor badly needed social skills. We were not told where to go and whether the bus was our bus. They kept making angry gestures when asked if the bus was the one going to Ho Chi Minh and if we can already bring our luggage in. Although confused as hell, we just followed and positioned ourselves on the top bunk. I do not know if my brother and mom managed to sleep but I was half asleep as I get tossed about on the “bed cum seat” because the driver’s devil maycare driving just zoomed through the rough patches on the road. Six hours later, the sun was already shining, the bus stopped in the middle of the road with only an empty patch of land around us. I asked for a toilet and the conductor pointed to the barren land, of course I did not dare pee as there was nary a bush or tree to seek a bit of cover from. I had to hold my pee an hour more before the sleeper bus finally came to a stop. Me and my mom hopped off to find a toilet so when we came back we were again faced with the conundrum of what the hell was going on as most of the passengers left and there was only my brother in the bus. Turned out, we were supposed to wait for another bus that would take us to Ho Chi Minh.

flatWe waited at the terminal for two hours before a shuttle brought us to where the bus was parked. It seemed there really was no terminal where buses are parked as the one we got on was just located at one of the streets. Two hours in the trip, we heard a very loud bang and steel hitting concrete. We were lucky that at our speed and how badly the tire blew up, the bus did not turn turtle. We all waited inside and then all of a sudden the conductor was making noises and sort of shooed us. Three times we tried to get our bags but he pushed us away. We really could not make out anything he was trying to say except for 25 minutes. Since we were too spent, we just followed our fellow passengers to another bus which after a couple of minutes stopped over a restaurant. Half an hour later we were again inside our bus, shooed down two hours later at the boundary of Cambodia and Vietnam for the customs check. It was 14 hours all in all when finally we reached Ho Chi Minh but without any map we do not know where we can go down straight to our hotel. We felt we cannot ask our conductor as he had been very rude since we got on the bus (we feel he does not like tourists very much or he hates his job). Thus the first taxi driver who was there became our ride off the streets of Ho Chi Minh. I was thumbing through the research I did about bad cab drivers who dupe their passengers. This one did, he not only went round and round the city when we asked him why his meter was very fast, he switched from broken English to Vietnamese. To get more money out of us, he said he did not accept dollars only dong and brought us to a pawnshop. This must have been their modus operandi as the one there did not accept anything below $50 and exchanged our money from $50 to just 700,000 Vietnamese dong. We did not antagonize him anymore since we do not know how many of his “friends” were there.

Lesson learned the hard way we made a promise that we wont ride anymore taxis or anything else in Vietnam unless we rented it out through Saigon Mini Hotel. We felt more cheated when we saw the hotel’s sign that it only costs 190,000 dong for a ride to the airport. Also that our hotel was just a block away from where the bus dropped us off. Good thing our hotel was very lovely, it took some of the negativity of the day’s ordeal. Like Mandalay, even when it was right smack in the middle of the city, the hotel was quiet that we slept late until the next day.

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Saigon Mini Hotel 6 with a city view.

We ventured out and searched for Saigon Square where we met two ladies who gave us a lot of discount for our loot. We got Kiplings and North Face brands in the form of back packs, belt bags, shoulder bags, laptop bags and wallets. We haggled until we were blue in the face. It was a bargain to find some genuine items at reasonable prices. There were some imitations but the sales people would tell you which ones are the real articles and which ones are merely imitations. We promised to be back just because we know we would be getting a lot out of our peso there. Next time I’d get some dresses and T-shirts.

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Ho Chi Minh has a different feel from Siem Reap. There were several notices tacked on several posts about being careful as there are a lot of robbers around. Even our very own hotel had the same warnings. We would had been duped again by a seemingly friendly buco vendor when he supposedly accompanied us to the museum only to just thrust in our hands a buco juice for 60,000 dong! We stood our ground and kept saying “No” then we moved away from him. So tip: be extra wary,learn to discern if their being friendly is real or not.

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Be warned: Keep your bags closed to your bodies, even your wallets. Robbers are everywhere.

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The buco juice vendor who thought he can fool us.

Trust only two companies:

Trust only two companies:¬†Vinasun and Mailinh. According to Trip Advisor they have a lot of imitators who will copy the logo colors, or have a name that’s very similar to these companies, or have phone numbers that are very similar. Do not get into any other taxi, because even if the driver turns on the meter, it will jump by 50,000 to 200,000 Dong when you’re not looking. And you won’t have much luck arguing with the driver. If you do get into a non-Mailinh or non-Vinasun taxi, and you notice the meter jump inexplicably, get out of the taxi immediately and take another one, otherwise it might jump again.

Also crossing the streets was very scary. You do not know whether to look right to left or left to right as the mopeds were everywhere and anywhere. But once you get the hang of it, you can cross the street with ease. Remarkably my brother told me that there are no known reported incidents with a moped here. Huh. Incredible. 

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I enjoyed both countries regardless of the incidents in between. But I miss my home. There really is nothing like being back in Manila. ūüôā