Monday, February 19, 2007

Nibbling Around Chinese New Year

It was my first time to take a guided tour around Old Manila, and what a better way to spend it by taking a walking/eating tour around Binondo. How timely, it was Chinese New Year!
Ivan the Man showing us gecko wares around Chinatown

It's been featured at Lonely Planet, and several friends have already recommended taking Old Manila Walks - a delightful, quirky spin on a vibrant, often overlooked cultural hub of our sprawling metropolis.

When they said it's a walking tour, they really mean it - four hours of continuous walking; I did say it was an eating tour as well, and I was definitely filled to the brim by day's end (Will detail the dishes later).

You start at the Plaza (great, I already forgot the name) fronting Binondo Church, where our tour guide Ivan The Man quickly runs down the Chinese history in the Philippines. Interesting question: What is a Spanish basilica doing in the heart of the Chinese district? Closely look at the bell tower - is it similar to the bell tower in Paoay (featured in an earlier article), or does it more resemblance to the Thien Mu Pagoda picture I took in Hue?

Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue, Vietnam. Multi-tiered, with an octagonal base.

Binondo Church. Note the bell tower.

Ding! Epiphany moment!

What I particularly loved with the tour was that it was very comprehensive in many ways - it had dishes from the North, Uighur, Sichuan, Fujian, and obviously, Cantonese. There were dumplings, noodles, siopao, fish soup, and the ubiquitous lumpia. From the new holes-in-the-wall to the veritable institutions, there was definitely something for everyone. This is definitely for the foodie that's already tired of the regular lemon chicken and sweet and sour pork.

Remember the Fire of Hunan? This ain''t even close.

There were about 10 stops, and 8 of those were eat-ins. Sadly, none of those were for dessert - somebody really has to explain to me the concept of hot desserts. In the manner champorado is not dessert, bubur chacha, peanut soup, ginataan and related dishes are not desserts. Sorry, but I digress.

Anyway, I fully encourage you to take this tour, or at least visit the website, and see a delicious side of Manila. I'm already contemplating on having a date at the Chinese cemeteries.
Friday, February 16, 2007

I Can't Blog!

Just a quick snip: I cant seem to blog because I'm too busy at work. It's been so crazy here, I haven't been sleeping well even!

I normally write my blogs offline at home, but It's been a pressure cooker environment recently. Just so I don't forget what I'm supposed to write about, here they are: Scotland, The New Breed of Music and Tennis, and apparently, having a bad week at work.
Monday, February 05, 2007

That Zoo of a Menu

Another 24-hour bus ride! And I finally arrive in Saigon to the house of my CouchSurfing hosts, Vicarious Voyage Andrew, John and Batista the Monkey. Their neighbors Arthur, Natalie and Elke were also around.

Those guys are most definitely nice, and overly generous. The first thing the asked me, apart from "Hey, are you Ronnie?" was "Do you want to eat a horse tonight?"

Andrew holding the famed menu

So we headed to the famed bia hoi via cyclo om (When in Vietnam, do as the Viet do). The menu was fascinating, it had porcupine, dear (note the spelling), rabbit, doves and frogs. However, the clincher was they had weasel on their menu (with citronella!) Ah, my Dilbert instincts were jumping for joy at the thought of skewering weasels.

The following day was no less of a test for my stomach as we had snake. Eww. Snakes definitely rank high (if not the highest) in my Eew list, and eating them definitely sent it off the charts. The skin was gummy (ugh), but the meat was fishy - a muscular one.

The snake was killed to make snake wine. His brother was cooked into a soup. Ewww.

That was good, my favorite was the porcupine, while the least ones were the horse, it had a strange racetrack-aftertaste, and the snake. At least there was something that threw me off the safe path for this trip.
Saturday, February 03, 2007

A Cast Of Characters in Vietnam

So my travel narrative does not seem to be running a correct timeline. What I'm going to do, is narrate it by the people I met.

While I was busy pigging out in Hoi An, I met the other tourists I saw from previous points in Vietnam. I bumped into Team Korea, who were frantically waving at me from the riverside. I am now snapping my fingers why I didn't have a picture taken with them complete with flashing of the "V" sign. Tsk.

There was Miss India, who was from the Netherlands who absolutely love the Mekong cruise and Luang Prabang. She was so tired from the vacation, that she was looking for a vacation from the vacation.

Then there was the Russian couple, the girl looked like that crybaby Starr from Project Runway, and the guy looked like a thinner Mr. Bean. Go figure.

Thank you Mr. Honeymooner, this is a nice pic.

There was the newlyweds, a photographer from LA. He took that picture of me by a gate in Hue. There's a tip right there - alone? Looking for someone in the crowd to take your picture? Always pick the one with the fanciest camera, chances are, he's a professional, and it's almost always you'll get a nice picture. For free! By the way, his wife, Ms. Mexico, was hot.

Following Maria Kirilenko traipse around posts...

I was trying to get a picture of this girl who looked like Maria Kirilenko (damn!), but everytime I get a good angle, his big menacing boyfriend would pop in, with a glower in his face (yaiks!). I did have some stolen shots of her though, hehehe.

The bus from Hoi An to Nha Trang was an overnight one, and when we got off to switch buses in Nha Trang I had a chat with Mr. Germany, whose only knowledge of Filipinos were of religious maids (Watch them gather by the church every Sunday!) and delicious lumpiang Shanghai.

By the we were supposed to board the bus to Saigon, I met Roxette from Hanoi, and another Swedish couple. Four Swedes and what do you get? Right, Abba! And for the next 2 hours, that's what was playing, inside the bus. Mama Mia! Dancing Queen! Chiquitita! Super Trooper! Fernando!

Ooh, it's actually funny that I know that many Abba Songs. Thank you for the music, but no thanks - as I plugged my earphones on.
Friday, February 02, 2007

Food Tripping in Hoi An

Yes, based on the previous entry, you should not skip Hue should you ever visit Vietnam. It was a wonderful surprise - but I have to keep trodding on.

My next stop was Hoi An, in South-Central Vietnam. It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, basically due to the yellowed buildings and common architecture in the area.

At this point, I think I've had my share of Chinese temples, antique houses, and sweaty tourists. So, I went on a food trip. Hoi An has a lot of little cafes, but the most popular one would be Cargo Club. There was not a single Starbucks that I have seen (Highlands Coffee was the nearest approximation, where I had, duh, an Italian soda. Yummy though.) through out Vietnam, so I definitely had to try their local and famous coffee.

There was strawberry tart, pineapple caramel cake, chocolate croissant. I almost never left that blasted cafe. The local coffee was, for lack of a more colorful description. strong. Okay, let's use the power of print on that one - it was STRONG. Their latte tasted like espresso, and I'm starting to think that their version of espresso would be chewing the actual beans.Ooh, yummy!

I was never a fan of Vietnamese cuisine - I thought that the food was sweet without reason, it had nothing but noodles (badly made ones at that), and there were too many unnecessary greens in the soup. Okay, I take all of that back. Their pho was fantastic - I loved the idea that the rice noodles were a little gummy, a good departure from the usual ramen, and the lemongrass gave the soup the appropriate sweetness.

If I was to recommend one dish from there, I would recommend the white rose. *looks up the food guide to find the local name* Aaah, Banh bao. It's like ravioli, but it's pork wrapped in rice dough, splashed with a lemongrass-citrus dressing, then topped crispy shrimp slivers. Mmmm.

So there, try Vietnamese food, give it a chance, I didn't, and now I regret it. Like one menu claimed, it's not as spicy as Thai, not as greasy as Chinese!
Thursday, February 01, 2007

Well, Rough Guides Hasn't Failed Me Yet

Inside the Citadel in Hue
Just as I was about to drop my 15,000 dong in the beer bucket, my cyclo arrived at my hostel to pick me up and bring me to the bus station for my overnight bus ride. I meet a pair of Swedish girls (whom I will now call Roxette), and a pair of French grannies, now known as well, the French Teabags.

The French Teabags are on their way to Ninh Binh, just 2 hours south of Hanoi, to experience nature, rice paddies and mountain trekking. No thank you, we got lots of that where I come from. Roxette, on the other hand had the same destination as I did, Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam.

The bus ride is uneventful, until the bus driver decides to mock the passengers dying to get a piss. He pulls over to a petrol station and as soon as the passengers rise from their seats to deboard the bus, he steps on the gas and the bus careens off, throwing the now-standing and the almost-standing passengers hurling backwards. He did this about four times, and all we can do is scratch our heads. Okay, I was laughing like a hyena, hehehe, and they couldn't see me because it was dark.

Save for a brief chat with Miss Israel (first time to see a traveler from the Philippines, got scared in Cambodia, and returning from Laos), I spent most of the time sleeping.

Hey, it was an overnight bus ride, and I was bored.

Wasting no time, I check in a guest house, take a bath, change clothes, and book a tour to see the tombs. Rough Guides hasn't failed me yet - my hotel in Hanoi was 7USD and had free internet, breakfast and hot showers. My hotel in Hue had the same amenities, but had a bathtub! Sweet!

The food selection is amazing too, as I ate over at Cafe on Thu Wheels, and the selection was reasonably priced. You even get to choose which CD to play from her selection.

Take the recommended sites/hotels/eateries from Rough Guides, I think they make a great fit for solo travellers and backpackers.