Friday, September 26, 2008

Canada: Bonjour Quebec!

I was in Quebec, Canada to attend the International Forum of Young Researchers and Professionals in Cultural Heritage, the annual meeting of the International Cultural Tourism Committee of which I'm a member, and the 16th ICOMOS General Assembly.

Things have been so hectic since that trip and I haven't had much time for myself. So in the meantime, you can check out my photos which I update quite regularly:

2008-09-26 Quebec, Canada (Vieux Quebec)
2008-09-27/29 Quebec, Canada (Vieux Quebec)
2008-09-30 Quebec, Canada (Vieux Quebec)
2008-10-01 Baie-Sainte-Catherine, Canada (Whale watching near Tadoussac)
2008-10-02 Quebec, Canada (St. Lawrence River cruise)
2008-10-03 Quebec, Canada (Île d'Orléans, Montmorency Falls & Vieux-Quebec)
2008-10-05 Montreal, Canada (Old Montreal)
2008-10-06 Montreal, Canada (Olympic Stadium & Mont Royal)
2008-10-07 New York, USA
2008-10-08 Washington DC, USA
2008-10-10/11 Los Angeles, California, USA (Hollywood)

I still have one more post on Thailand so watch out for that. Come to think of it, I still have some Indonesia and Singapore posts from last year. So I'll throw that in as well before continuing with the Canada (Quebec & Montreal) and U.S. (NY, DC & LA) posts. But I'll work my way back and start again with my recent local trips. (November 2, 2008)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Thailand: Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha

The Grand Palace, which includes the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is one of the must visits when you are in Bangkok. It was the official residence of Thailand's kings up to the mid-20th century but is still as grand as its name implies. After resting a bit at the hotel, we took a cab to the Grand Palace.

As soon as we got off our taxi, a guy in a khaki uniform wearing a pin which looked like some kind of royal emblem approached us and pointed us toward a gate on the side. I was a bit suspicious since I knew where the main gate was having been there twice before. When we got to the smaller gate, I saw a sign which said "no entry" (obviously, it was not an entrance). Then a guy came out from the gate telling us that the temple was closed early today since it's prayer day for the locals and told us to come back tomorrow. Then he pointed to a tuktuk waiting by the gate and they started selling us a guided tour. Irked, I told shouted "no" to them and brought my family back to where we got down. We almost left but I decided to walk by the entrance I remembered and saw it was open. So I checked inside only to find out the Grand Palace was indeed open!

It's sick that such happens right at the gate of the Grand Palace itself. Were the authorities playing blind to such a modus operandi happening right at their doorstep? It was a good thing I had been there before. But I could just imagine other people they had fooled into taking those over-priced tuktuk tours. When we exited the palace, I saw the same guy in the khaki uniform still standing at the gate and I looked him straight in the eye with disdain.

Well, enough of that bad incident since any visit to the Grand Palace is a grand experience! The first thing you'll see when you enter is the Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. You'll need to be in proper attire when you enter the compound. No shorts or sleeveless shirts. It was good that they have long trouser and sarong rentals there since my mom was in shorts and had to rent a sarong to enter.

The Emerald Buddha is actually made of green jade and is clothed in gold. There are three sets of gold clothing corresponding to Thailand's three seasons namely hot, rainy and cool. And the king himself changes the clothes in ceremonies marking the change of season.

When you enter the main palace area, you won't miss the Chakri Mahaprasad Hall, a building influenced by the Italian Renaissance style but distinctly Thai. By the time we reached this hall, the palace security were herding people out for closing. So we were there just in time to have the area all to ourselves. We proceeded to Siam Paragon right after. But we had to go through Bangkok's snarled weekend traffic to get there.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thailand: Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, Thailand

You haven't been to Bangkok if you haven't shopped in the Chatuchak Weekend Market! The locals usually refer to it as JJ Market. At 1.13 square kilometers and with 15,000 stalls, it is said to be the biggest market in the world. Make sure to come on a weekend because most stalls are closed on other days.

We went straight to the market right after breakfast since we wanted to maximize our time there. You'll find everything under the sun there including household items, clothing, jewelry, Thai handicrafts, religious artifacts, collectibles, food, and live animals and plants. It's one of the best places to get local handicrafts, silk and other souvenir items.

After making rounds of the different sections (we weren't able to cover the whole market due to time constraints), we went around the food stalls to try out the local dishes. We had noodles or course, but I especially liked the coconut milk ice cream served in a coconut shell with coconut shavings and peanuts.

We didn't stay too long since we planned to visit the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha late in the afternoon. So we proceeded back to our hotel to get some rest and freshen up before proceeding there.

How to get there
Chatuchak market is adjacent to the Kamphaengphet station of the Bangkok Metro, or about a 5-minute walk from the Mo Chit Skytrain (BTS) station and Suan Chatuchak (Chatuchak Park) station of the MRT. Of course, you can take a cab going there. But after shopping, you'll definitely need to take a cab back to your hotel!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thailand: Back in Bangkok!

Bangkok is one of my favorite Asian cities. And I found myself back again in Bangkok for a family vacation. I'm not a fan of package tours for international trips. But in this instance, it was cheaper and more convenient, especially since my niece was with us. It was my first time to see Bangkok's impressive new airport, the Suvarnabhumi Airport.

We had a half-day city tour as soon as we arrived. We were first taken to a relatively new temple (I was not able to get the name since it's not in the usual tourist radar when visiting Bangkok). But for people who've seen a Thai temple for the first time, I'm sure it looked impressive.

Since we were to visit two temples, I had requested our guides to take us to Wat Pho, the oldest and one of the largest temples in Bangkok. Said to be the birthplace of Thai massage, it's most known for its gargantuan Reclining Buddha which is 46 meters long and 15 meters high.

Another element of this temple compound which I find equally impressive are four large chedis or stupas dedicated to the first four kings of Thailand's Chakri Dynasty, Rama I, II, III, and IV. Each is 41 meters high and intricately decorated with tiles.

And just like in any tour, they brought us to a jewelry shop! At least it wasn't as bad as our Hong Kong-Shenzen tour. We didn't stay up late since we want to be in Chatuchak Market early tomorrow to shop!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pampanga and Tagaytay food tours

Southern Secrets by the Spoonful! (October 12, Sunday)
Up up to the highlands! Let's us savor a smorgasbord as we explore the best international kitchens in the coolest city south of Manila! From the best buko pie to the tastiest banh da lon, let us cruise along this city by the ridge, taking in her scenic views, mountain weather and best of all, indulging in her undiscovered culinary delights!

More than the food, let us meet the people behind some of Tagaytay's most delicious dining establishments as we share the stories and behind the recipes. A tour to nourish your stomach and spirit!

The tour experience includes Ilog Maria Honey Bee Farm Tour, Bawai Vietnamese Kitchen, Chateau Hestia European Garden Restaurant, Yoki's Treasures and the Hydrophonic Farm, and T-house Dining. Tour fee is P2,800 per person inclusive of meals, transportation, and surprises. Maximum of 30 people; we have 15 slots left!

Pampanga in a Plate full! (October 25, Saturday)
Journey to the central heartland as we immerse ourselves in things Kapampangan! From Baroque to betute, its fun-filled day as we poke around and get intimate with the very best of Pampanga's cultural offerings. Gawk at the jewel-box of church in Betis while wading through the lahar-buried town of Bacolor.

We'll stuff ourselves silly with the best Kapampangan fare by one of the country's best known Pampanga chefs! A tour with nothing but Kapampangan cool!

The tour experience includes Betis Church, Bacolor Church, Claude Tayag's Bale Dutung, and Pampanga specialty shops. Tour fee is P3,800 per person inclusive of meals, transportation, and surprises. Maximum of 30 people; this is our best seller and all slots have been taken. But we might open more slots. So book now to be included in the wait list.

The Ultimate Philippines Travel Experiences is brought to you by Our Awesome Planet, Ivan About Town, Manila Boy & Old Manila Walks. E-mail for bookings.
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