Saturday, December 6, 2014

Boracay - Part 3 Philippines

After 2 days in Manila, I thought of going to 2 places first one was El Nido and second one was Boracay [pronounced ad Bo-Ra-Kay]. Boracay is south of Manila where it is said always in top 5 beaches of the world and after reaching there I know why.

You can reach Boracay through multiple routes
1. Go on a ferry via Batangas port to Catlican port which is 5 mins away from Boracay.
2. Go on a plane, land in Kalibo which is 60KM away from Boracay

I took the first option which was cheaper and heard some good reviews about 2Go Ferries. The ferry takes around 12 hours to reach from Batangas but to reach Batangas is almost 3 hours from Manila which you reach in an air conditioned bus for not more than 100 pesos. The route to Batangas is awesome, the highway is empty, there are lots of beautiful scenic locations on the way.

Once you reach Batangas port show the printed ticket at the counter with your photo ID and card which you have paid from. Enter the terminal and sit down, make sure you reach the place before 7:30PM that is when the boarding starts.

The 2Go ferry is huge which carries large trucks as well as good number of people, on the top deck there is live karaoke and drinking options. There are bunk beds which for tall people is not a good thing as you need to keep your bags on it as well, if you are lucky you may find the one below or above empty which you can use for storage.

After reaching Catlican at around 7 AM you see the beautiful blue waters and Boracay island just 5 minutes boat ride. But you will have to pass through a terminal which charges 75 pesos for entry, environmental fees for 100 pesos and boat ride 25 pesos. Get out on Boracay and take a tuk tuk, they know most of the hotels in Boracay, I had decided to stay in MNL Boutique again due to its rave reviews.

Now things one can do in Boracay
1. Jet Rides - Only 1100 pesos if you haggle
2. Banana Ride - If you go with your friends must do
3. Flying Fish - This is a must do
4. Scuba - Not an ideal destination but quite cheap
5. Snorkeling - Take an Island tour and you will do a lot of it. You will find many options but most of them are in range of 1200 pesos but only 4 hours max. I found one with 800 pesos with 6 hours of fun and lunch included.
6. Pub Crawl - For 990 pesos where it is whole lot of fun meeting new people and drinking
7. Partying - This is what Boracay is famous for, one stretch where you will find restaurant ranging from Indian to US cuisine and everything in between. When sun sets party starts and can go on till 3 AM or even early in the morning.

Boracay is divided into 4 stations, where station 2 is where the most happening things happen and station 3 and station 4 where you can just chill out on the beach.

If you are a party person this is the place for dearth of place to dance, eat, drink and make merry. But if you like something quieter then there is El Nido for you. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Trip to Philippines - Part 2 [Manila]

In the previous post it was all an overall information of Philippines but now comes the intricate details of the trip.

Let me start with Manila from which I had great expectations but it did not click, below you will find the details.
1. Well Manila is like Mumbai and I wanted to get out of Mumbai and after entering Manila it felt that I have entered Mumbai [I hope you are understanding all the stuff]. All in all if you want to get out of Mumbai do not enter Manila because it feels the same.
2. Traffic is crazy
3. Too many people, too many cars, too many malls.

After my frustrating evening trip to the hostel from the Airport, I thought of relaxing a lil bit the next morning and doing a chill pill. Well got bored soon and wanted to check out places and asked Ron from MNL hostel about the old Manila which has got some great things written about it. If you are a history fan this is the place to go but there are more interesting things.

As I was on a budget trip, I took the budget way of traveling over to Intramuros by Jeepney and Manila metro rail to Central Terminal and walk into Intramuros. But on the way I was swayed by the food and the love of Soft quail eggs which are fried famously called Kwek - Kwek which is dipped in Soya and vinegar sauce and cost for 5 small Kwek - Kwek is just 10 pesos. Also during the hot summer day you can try Boku [coconut water] for just 25 pesos for a big glass or Black Ice Tea for 10 pesos from any road side food.

Jeepney is like Tata Ace in small villages in India where they ply a specific road and charges are nominal. Comfortably 20 people can be seated in and max cost would be around 20 pesos it is quick but never sit near the exit as you will be taking in the most of the black smoke coming from the exhaust.

Intramuros means within the wall is the old part of Manila and for other things read up wikipedia. As for travelers there is a museum, spanish home, few more things, and 2 beautiful churches St. Augustine and Manila church. I suggest you can avoid everything other than the Church. Entry into St. Augustine church is 100 pesos and the place is so serene and quite. Sit there enjoy the great decore

Then the great Manila church where entry is free and again it is a huge church which has being build and rebuilt over and over again because it was destroyed due to earthquake and war.

Well after checking out the places in the Old Manila, time to travel to other part of the country like Boracay and El Nido.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Trip to Philippines - Part 1

It was a sunny May afternoon where I got myself a few extra quids in my salary and that got me thinking what should I do about it, being a marwari the first thought was very simple INVEST!! and enjoy in the future then the traveler in me slapped the inner marwari and it was decided that I would be going on a trip a Solo trip to South East Asia. There were many options available Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Philippines. I was very fascinated by Laos and Cambodia and did a little bit of research and thought why not next year. Then googled up Philippines and I was blown away with the beauty of place and started going in deeper and deeper and with 1000 Filipino travel bloggers I had made my decision it was Philippines. I had to clear up a small hurdle first of getting a 15 days leave approval which is as we all know in India is very difficult but my bosses are awesome and they agreed the same though not in writing and I had that YAAY! moment.

One of the beautiful places
It was late evening of July the 3rd where I booked my flight tickets and before that searching for options on which flight to take etc etc ended up booking Cathay Pacific which has a 7 hour layover in Hongkong and then off to Manila.

Then started discussing the trip with friends and colleagues, first few questions are like this
1. Are you going with your family?
2. After hearing no, ohh with your friends then?
3. After hearing another no, so you have friends over in Philippines?
4. Another negative answer, why are you traveling alone?
5. Why did you choose Philippines, why not Thailand?
6. Ohh forgot this, which tour are you taking?
Well had to give a little bit of explanation of a solo traveler and how it is going to makes things easy for me.

Q: What is your schedule and where are you going to stay?
A:  First few days I have booked a hostel and then let see how things are will decide.

Come September 30th, after packing in food, lil bit of food, and lots of hope went on my way to the Mumbai International Airport and luckily that day it did not rain nor there was traffic reaching way before time which got me into an earlier Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong.

Few things you need to know
1. There are no direct flights from Mumbai to Manila, you will either have to stop at Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore and it will take you almost a day to enter Manila.
2. Currency is Pesos where 1 pesos = 1.33 INR, well we are behind in Philippines also in terms of valuation.
3. For vegetarians you can avoid this place or just eat fruits and few veggies like Corn and Coconut.
4. Time difference is 2.5 hours ahead of India
5. Yes, Filipinos speak English but it is also somewhat similar to what we have in India where most of them know it, most of them speak broken English and some do not speak at all.
6. Being a tourist country you may feel that you are being taken for a ride, get over it, it happens in all the countries.
7. Know how to swim, this can be helpful for you. No you will  not get drowned or something but the beauty lies inside the Turquoise water.

Let me start by my first few days of the trip. Well it was off season and things are cheap in terms of accommodation in Manila. So I booked myself a dorm room in MNL Boutique Hostel in Makati region which is around 12 Kms from the Airport. It was raining heavily when I landed in Ninoy Aquino International Airport passed the immigration without any fuss and collected my bags walks out and see a huge tout of people calling you over to get in their private taxi. There are 4 options to get out of the airport
1. Private car - they have fixed charge and are really really expensive.
2. Yellow Cabs/Taxi - They charge 70 pesos initial and 4 pesos for next 300 meters. Waiting is also 4 pesos for 4 minute
3. Airport Taxis - They are good, controlled by Airport, fixed charge but expensive than Yellow taxi
4. Buses - You need to know where you are going exactly, it is the cheapest option.

The start was really bad where I had to wait for a taxi for 4 hours because there was a huge traffic outside the airport and the traffic spilled on the airport also. So being frustrated and wanting to reach the hostel I asked for people waiting for the taxi if anyone is going near Makati area and found that 4 of them are. We had to haggle with the private car and it was finally 500 pesos for each and tips extra. After getting out on the main road I knew why there was dearth of cars in the airport the whole of Manila was stuck due to traffic, that should have being my first sign to get out of there fast. After driving for 2 hours for just 12Kms or so reached the hostel and was so happy to see the bed and shower.

MNL Hostel: This place is right behind Avenue Mall in Makati area and looks like a small colourful bunker from outside and inside it has 2 floors with mix of dorm and private rooms, depending on your budget. Walk out of your room and you see a common area and kitchen where they serve breakfast which is mostly eggs, breads, spreads, tea, coffee and milo.

Well Makati for me is like Bandra of Mumbai lots of places to eat and few other interesting "massage place" as well. But I kinda got kicked with option to eat at the street food place which is nice and cheap almost. Under one roof you will get fish, chicken, pork, beef mostly grilled.

Initial Food Thoughts: Well, saw mostly food being grilled and with gravy. Filipino love rice and they can have it with anything and whatever temperature it is in. Love pork, fish, beef, chicken, eggs and veggies in that order. Beer is just 40 pesos for a San Miguel Pale Pint which is super cheap and there is Tanduay Rum for 99 pesos for full bottle. The food stalls have lots of variety in terms of food and at times you would get confused on what to have and what not to. But that is a discussion for later.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Trip to Vaishno Devi and Places to Eat


My 7th or 8th trip to Vaishno Devi shrine and this one after 9 years was a refreshing trip with the family. Well, lot of them have asked on the itinerary of the trip, please note there shall be description of places to eat also in between so here it goes.

  1. Take the Swaraj Express train from Mumbai to Jammu Tawi [For train info click here]
  2. Make sure to do the following, get down at Ratlam to have their famous hot Poha from the station which has their special Ratlam sev
  3. Then next day the foodie fun starts, have Kulcha and Chole at Ambala Cantt [only Rs. 20 for 3 Kulche and bowl of Chole]
  4. Then get down at Ludhiana to have another dose of hot Puri and Chole
  5. If you still have some place left to eat get down at Jalandar for the same
  6. Get down at last stop Jammu [You have no other option now] and do not find any food here. Get to the Taxi stand which is just outside the station.
  7. Pay Rs. 1000 and get yourself an Indica to go to Katra. 
  8. Tell the driver to stop at Ashok Restaurant near Nandini Tunnel for some awesome crunchy Paneer Pakode [Rs. 70 per plate]. The guy maybe be snobby but the paneer is super soft inside.
  9. Have some Goti Soda from a store nearby.
  10. Reach Katra, find a place to stay. Please note you will get rooms ranging from Rs. 5000 per night to Rs. 500 per night so depending your budget. [Note: Every taxi driver has connection with some Hotel or the other, never go there as the prices may be inflated because Taxi wala get their cut]
  11. Refresh yourself and take hot water bath. And then walk or take a rickshaw towards the main market depending on the distance you are from the hotel.
  12. If it is your first time, ask where Mayur Hotel is, place is nice and clean and food is really awesome. Ranging from Dosa to Paratha to Sandwiches
  13. If you are interested in local food, search for Maa Vaishno Dhaba near Subhash Hotel [lane before 6x6 Bikaner Chaat Bhandaar]
  14. Enter the Hotel, check the menu on the wall and order the all the parathes. Lemme tell you, you can have 3 of them and not feel full and total cost would not come more than Rs. 500
  15. Roam the market, feel the energy and enjoy the window shopping. 
  16. Next day, get up early morning around 6:30 am, get fresh and ready. Have some tea with toasted bun and lots of amul butter [Rs. 20 per piece]
  17. Go to the parchi counter, stand in line [new rule: everyone now has to stand in line to get the parchi]
  18. So if you want to do helicopter booking, do it now as it gets full [Shrine Board Link] or go to Banganga in rickshaw. You will be haggled for horses [do not talk to anyone there] and pithus [pithus are helpers who carry your stuff and each one has an ID which they give to you. If you are carrying a bag or two suggested to take one as they are very helpful]
  19. Reach Banganga, go through the security [Note: No ciggies, lighter, tobacco, guns, bullets, alcohol allowed]
  20. Now starts the main decision point, take a horse or walk 12 KMS to the Bhavan. Well if you think you are fit, I suggest start walking or if you are not fit then take a horse. Every horse has a fix rate ask them to show the board where prices are written down. 
  21. If you walk up, avoid the stairs which are more than 100 because it will affect you later. There are few with 500+ steps AVOID THEM
  22. On the way, have chat, Chole, Goti Soda, Salads [note: Garlic and Onions are never used in any food item in Katra]
  23. The walk would end in 4 hours max. [Note: There are battery cars which charge Rs. 300 for 5 Km ride but you will reach the Bhavan in 15 mins. Worth it if you are in a hurry]
  24. Go to the cloak room, remove everything except your clothes and dump them in the locker. Keys will be with you.
  25. Start walking through the security and you can feel the energy [if you want more energy make sure you take bath in the naturally chilled water flowing from the mountains]
  26. Complete the Mata Darshan...and then have lunch at one of the dhabas.
  27. Take a Ghoda to Bhairav Temple [Why ghoda the 2 KM feels like 10 kms due to the steepness till the top]
  28. Do Darshan at Bhairav Temple. Take some photos, soak up the sun, enjoy the view.
  29. Start to walk down, pass Ardhkuwari and make sure you have some hot samosa or gulab jamun.
  30. Reach Banganga and shout JAI MATA DI!!
Next blog will be about trip to Shivkodi......

Friday, January 17, 2014

Banana Leaf - Idli with a Difference

Please say 'Aye' if you are a fan of hot pipping Idli which when dipped in super awesome sambhar taste even better but Banana Leaf located at Versova, near 7 Bunglows has changed the full definition of the Idli what we used to eat.

First visit was few months ago after a night out with friends and one of them was insisting we should try it, and after bowing down to her wishes we reach Banana Leaf on lazy late Sunday afternoon and luckily got seats in A/C section which my friend says is minimum waiting of 40 mins during peak hours.

The setting is nice, tall ceilings and enough place between the 2 tables so you do not overhear other people conversation. We started off with Rasam Soup which is regular Rasam with huge quantity of black pepper [If you have a sour throat this is the soup for you forget Hot and Sour or Manchow soups]. Then comes the magic of Banana Leaf the Idlis which is cooked in variety of masalas, I guess around it takes around 3 big idlis per serving cut in 4 pieces we started off with
1. Hyderabadi Tomato Idli
2. Chef Special Dakshin Masala Idli - This one was everyone favorite
3. Mulgai Idli

If you are the ones who love to try out different things well start off with this place and you shall not be disappointed.

For dessert you can go the regular Payasam route or try out the Nutella Walnut dosa which is a must try.

The overall cost per person came around Rs. 300 and it was totally worth it.