Monday, March 10, 2014

Hong Kong: Dim sum at Tim Ho Wan & One Dim Sum

Hong Kong Dim Sum
Dim sum could very well be Hong Kong's national dish. So where can one find the best dim sum in Hong Kong that won't make a dent in your budget? Tim Ho Wan usually comes to mind when one asks about good but affordable Hong Kong dim sum. The restaurant (with various branches) has had a Michelin star since 2010; but prices remain affordable. Few visitors have heard about One Dim Sum, which had a Michelin star in 2011 and 2012. So I went in search of both!

My first stop was One Dim Sum near the Prince Edward Station (15 Playing Field Road corner Tung Choi Street). I went during the off peak hours (between lunch and dinner) and easily got a seat. They don't have a signature dish but everything is definitely good.

One Dim Sum, Hong Kong
Take note that the moment you sit down, you are served tea and charged HK$3 per person for that. It's called pu-ehr and you'll experience that in other restaurants including Tim Ho Wan. The paper placemat doubles as your menu. You are given an order sheet for you to write down your choices. If you need photos, they have a picture menu translated into several languages. There were a lot of things I wanted to try. I missed out on the glutinous rice dumplings which are too big for one person to handle. So since I was alone, I limited myself to three or four choices which were actually good enough for two people.

One Dim Sum, Hong Kong
The first order that arrived was the Char Siu Cheung or Steamed Rice Sheet Rolls with BBQ Pork (HK$18). They pour a sweet soy sauce over it. This was my favorite!

One Dim Sum, Hong Kong
One Dim Sum, Hong Kong
Then came in the steamed dumplings which included Choy Miu Gau or Vegetable and Shrimp Dumpling (HK$18) and the Chiu Chow Fun Gor or Chiu Chow Steamed Dumplings (HK$15). The wrapper of the Choy Miu Gau was so thin and delicate, so definitely good! With it came the Steam Sliced Chicken Meat Roll (HK$15).

One Dim Sum, Hong Kong
I spent HK$69 for all four including the pu-ehr. Not bad especially if there were two of you sharing it. And the good thing about One Dim Sum is that their last call is up to 12:30 a.m. So it's conveniently available for a late night snack.

Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong Dim Sum
Of course, I had to try Tim Ho Wan too. I was treated out by a member of the Filipino community. We went to the branch at the Hong Kong Central Station. Hands down, the main attraction are the Baked Buns with BBQ Pork (HK$19). That's definitely their best seller!

Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong Dim Sum
Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong Dim Sum
We also ordered Steamed Fresh Shrimp Dumplings or Ha Jiao (HK$26), Pan-Fried Turnip Cake (HK$16), Steamed Rice Rolls stuffed with BBQ Pork (HK$21) and Steamed Egg Cake (HK$15).

Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong Dim Sum
Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong Dim Sum
It took quite a while before we got seated since this is the more publicized restaurant. Make sure to register with the restaurant reception table. They will ask how many you are in your party and give you an order sheet with a number. So you can choose your order while waiting for your number to be called. They will call your number twice. The first time is to collect the order sheet so that your food can be prepared and served the moment your sit down. The second is when the table becomes available.

Have you tried these restaurants in Hong Kong? What other good value dim sum places in Hong Kong do you know of?

Monday, March 03, 2014

UK: Applying for a British visa in the Philippines

British visa
Philippine passport holders are required to apply for a visa for visits to the United Kingdom. Applying for a British visa will require you to prepare quite a number of documents. And completing these requirements is the first step of the application process. You’ll need to provide the following:

1. Current passport with at least one blank page
2. Two (2) passport size colored photographs. Make sure to read the guidelines since they are very strict with the photos.
3. Evidence that you can support yourself during your trip such as total monthly income from all sources (employment, friends, family, personal savings or property). You can submit any of the following financial documents:
- Bank statements or bank books covering the past six (6) months
- Bank letter or balance certificate
- Payslips covering up to the previous six months
- Tax returns (business or personal)
- Business bank account statements
- Evidence of income from property or land (property deeds, mortgage statements, tenancy agreements, accountant’s letters, land registration documents or crop receipts)
4. Details of where you intend to stay and your travel plans. Note that you shouldn’t pay for accommodation or travel until you get your visa. The documents you may submit include:
- Hotel booking confirmation (usually e-mail confirmation)
- Airline booking confirmation
- Travel agent confirmation of both
- Accommodation details with a supporting letter from the occupant confirming that you are able to stay there
- Planned itinerary including bookings or tickets for any excursions, trips and outings
5. Previous passports to show your travel history
6. Evidence of your marital status (marriage certificate, a civil partnership certificate, a divorce certificate or a death certificate)
7. Evidence of your current employment or studies
- For employees, a letter from your employer on company letterhead detailing your salary and the length of your employment, confirming that you have been given time off work, and stating whether this time off is paid or unpaid
- For students, a letter from your school on school letterhead confirming your enrollment and leave of absence
- For business owners, business registration documents confirming the business owner’s name and the date when the business started trading
8. Print out of completed visa application form filled-up online (see details below)

After you have completed the requirements, you should now proceed to fill-up the visa application form online. Avoid filling-out the form without completing the requirements because some of the questions will require answers from the other documents you will be submitting. Note that you have to accomplish the following steps:

1. Register for an account
2. Fill in the application form in English
3. Pay for the visa fee via credit card online (£80)
4. Print out your application form
5. Book and attend an appointment at a visa application centre. Note that this requires personal appearance since you’ll need to have your fingerprints and photograph (known as ‘biometric information’) taken at the visa application centre as part of your application.

Once you have printed out the application form, you can now proceed to schedule an appointment with the visa application centre. There are two ways to set an appointment. First is online by visiting the following link:

You can also contact the VFS call centre to make your appointment. Their number is 1-909-885-VISA (8472). Note that you are charged Php32.00 for each minute for landline calls (excluding VAT and applicable NDD charges for calls made outside Metro Manila).

Once you have made your appointment, bring all your documents to the visa application centre on the date and time of your appointment. Make sure to come at least thirty (30) minutes early. The application center is located at VFS Services Philippines Private Inc., Mezzanine Floor, Ecoplaza Building, Unit 606, 2305 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati City. You can find a map here.

It takes a minimum of two (2) working days to get your visa, especially for frequent travelers, which was my experience. But most visas (if approved) are delivered between five (5) to fifteen (15) working days from the date of submission. So make sure to apply well in advance. You will be allowed to apply up to three (3) months before your trip.

Note also that VFS only collects the documents and the staff have no influence on whether your visa is approved or not. It will still be the UK Border Agency which decides if you are qualified or not.

Regular submission is from Monday to Friday between 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. There is a prime time service from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, but this requires an additional Php2,100 fee. Collection of passports is from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. for regular submission, and 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. for prime time. You may also opt to have your passport couriered for an additional Php380.

There is also a VIP premium lounge service if you want privacy and to avoid the lines for an additional Php2,000 for each visa applicant. The VIP service also includes refreshment and snacks, personalized attention during submission and the biometric process, plus free passport photo and photocopying (up to 50 pages) if necessary. To book the VIP appointment, e-mail and request for an appointment indicating your name as it appears on your passport, your passport number, the visa category you are applying for and the desired appointment time or call (02) 5013217 between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Indonesia: Lake Toba, Samosir Island and the Batak people

I've heard so much about Lake Toba (Danau Toba) in North Sumatra, Indonesia, the largest volcanic lake in the world. To give you perspective, it's more than twice the size of Singapore. But I didn't realize finding out how to get to Lake Toba from Medan was not going to be easy.

I was expecting there would be frequent tours to Lake Toba leaving from Medan. Bus after asking around at many local travel agencies (they mainly sell flights and outbound tours), I found out there were no tours and the best you could get from them was to hire a private vehicle, cost starting at Rp600,000 if you are lucky. But at least one gave me advice on how to get there on my own.

Getting to Lake Toba by bus from Medan
Regular and frequent bus trips leave the Amplas Terminal for Parapat, a resort town on the shores of Lake Toba. There are scheduled VIP or deluxe buses, as well as vans trips that cost up to Rp150,000. But more frequent and much cheaper are the non-aircon buses that cost between Rp32,000 to 35,000 for the five-hour bus ride. Just tell your angkot driver you want to go to Parapat and they'd point you to the bus. I ended up taking the non-aircon bus for Parapat that left at about 6:30 a.m. and arrived at 11:30 a.m. just in time for lunch.

There are a lot of hotels, resort and budget accommodation in Parapat. I was easily able to find one that fit my budget, maybe because it was a weekday. After settling down and a late lunch, I walked to the Tigaraja Pier to catch a ferry to Samosir Island.

What to see in Lake Toba
One of the main attractions of Lake Toba is Samosir Island, which is home to the Batak people. From the Tigaraja Pier in Parapat, there are ferry services to Tuk-Tuk and Tomok on Samosir Island.

Trips from Tigaraja to Tuk-Tuk start at 8:30 a.m. with the last one leaving Tigaraja at 7:00 p.m. While trips from Tuk-Tuk to Tigaraja start at 7:00 a.m. with the last one leaving Tuk-Tuk at 5:30 p.m. Trips from Tigaraja to Tomok on the other hand start at 7:00 a.m. with the last one leaving Tigaraja at 7 p.m. While trips from Tomok to Tigaraja start at 6:30 a.m. with the last one leaving Tomok at 6:30 p.m. I spent Rp10,000 for the ferry ride from Tigaraja to Tuk-Tuk.

At Tuk-Tuk, I hired a motorcycle driver to take me around the different cultural attractions. We made two stops. The first one was the Tomb of King Sidabutar. King Sidabutar, Raja di Huta was ruler of the Batak village of Tomok. Legend also says he was the first settler on Samosir Island.

From Tomok, we proceeded to Huta Siallagan in Ambarita Village. Along the way were views of verdant green rice fields and hills behind the. Samosir is quite large, you forget that you are on an island within a lake.

In Huta Siallagan, there are several Batak houses in the compound plus stone chairs carved from volcanic rock which was where King Siallagan and his council governed the village and decided the fate of criminals.

Greeting us at the gate were figures carved from volcanic stone. Huta Siallagan is a fantastic example of a traditional Batak village, definitely among the places you have to see when visiting Samosir Island.

We arrived in Tuk-Tuk just in time for the 5:30 p.m. ferry back to Tigaraja. Samosir Island also has a lot of accommodation options for all budgets. Many visitors opt to stay here for a night or two and explore the rest of the island or proceed to other towns along the shores of Danau Toba. One of the resorts I particularly found charming was the Silintong Hotel in Tuk-Tuk (; 0625 451242) which I would have enjoyed staying at if I had the time.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Visa-free countries for Philippine passport holders

Philippine passport holders can visit 58 destinations without the need to secure a visa before arrival according to the 2013 Henley & Partners Visa Restriction Index. Add the new visa-free access to Myanmar, that brings it to a total of 59 destinations where Philippine passport holders can enter visa-free.

There however seems to be conflicting reports as to which countries and destinations are actually included as well as the length of visa-free access. In fact, there are more than 59 in the list below. I've personally experienced that the length of visa-free access for some South American countries published online are not accurate and are shorter than stated. Length may also vary depending on your port of entry. Some countries give longer visa-free stays for airport arrivals versus land border crossings.

In all cases, make sure to verify with the diplomatic post (embassy or consulate) of the country since policies may change. For example, Philippine passport holders can no longer enter Kosovo without a visa as of July 1, 2013.

The following countries and territories allow visa-free access to Philippine passport holders traveling for tourism purposes:
Bolivia (30 days)
Brazil (90 days)
Brunei (14 days)
Cambodia (21 days)
Cook Islands (31 days)
Costa Rica (30 days)
Dominica (21 days)
Ecuador (90 days)
Fiji (4 months)
Gambia (90 days with prior approval from Gambian Immigration)
Haiti (3 months)
Hong Kong (14 days)
Indonesia (30 days)
Israel (3 months)
Laos (30 days)
Macau (30 days)
Malaysia (30 days)
Mongolia (21 days)
Morocco (90 days)
Myanmar (14 days)
Niue (30 days)
Peru (60 days)
St. Vincent and the Grenadines (1 month)
Singapore (30 days)
Suriname (90 days)
Thailand (30 days at airport; 15 days at border crossing)
Vanuatu (30 days)
Vietnam (21 days)

The following countries and territories grant visa on arrival to Philippine passport holders. Make sure to check for requirements with the embassy or consulate of the country:
Armenia (E-visa can be obtained through website; 120 days)
Burundi (30 days at Bujumbura International Airport)
Cape Verde
India (E-visa required)
Iran (E-visa pre-approval code obtained via e-mail from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and arriving at Chah-Bahar, Qeshm, Kish, Mashad, Esfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz and Tehran)
Kyrgyzstan (30 days)
Madagascar (90 days)
Maldives (30 days)
Marshall Islands
Mauritania (at Nouakchott Airport)
Nepal (See Nepal visa on arrival instructions)
Palau (30 days; proof of sufficient funds, at least US$200 per week)
Papua New Guinea (60 days)
Sri Lanka (must secure Electronic Travel Authorization)
Saint Lucia (6 weeks)
Samoa (Entry Permit on arrival; 60 days)
Seychelles (Visitor's Permit on arrival; 1 month)
Somalia (pre-submitted invitation letter required; 30 days)
Tajikistan (45 days)
Timor-Leste (30 days; US$30 visa fee)
Togo (7 days)
Turkmenistan (to be arranged by tour company registered in Turkmenistan)
Tuvalu (1 month)
Zambia (90 days)

The following countries and territories allow visa-free access to Philippine passport holders traveling for on cruise liners:
Bahamas (only for cruise ship passengers; entry and exit must be by cruise ship)
St. Kitts and Nevis (if stay is less than 24 hours)
Aruba (if stay is less than 48 hours)
Bonaire (if stay is less than 48 hours)
Curaçao (if stay is less than 48 hours)
Saba (if stay is less than 48 hours)
St. Eustatius (if stay is less than 48 hours)
St. Maarten (if stay is less than 48 hours)

Some countries also allow conditional visa exemption to Philippine passport holders provided they have valid visas to other countries. Valid means it's a multiple entry visa that has not expired. For European countries that allow visa-free access on a Schengen visa, take note that since they are out of the Schengen area, you will require a multiple-entry Schengen visa to reenter the Schengen area. Countries that give conditional visa exemption with valid visas to countries in parenthesis include:
Albania (Schengen, type C or D only, US, UK)
Andorra (Schengen)
Antigua and Barbuda (US, Canada, Schengen, UK)
Bosnia and Herzegovina (Schengen)
Bulgaria (Schengen)
Croatia (Schengen)
Cyprus (Schengen)
Dominican Republic (Canada, US, Schengen)
El Salvador (Canada, US, Schengen)
Guatemala (Canada, US, Schengen)
Honduras (Canada, US, Schengen)
Mexico (US)
Macedonia (Schengen with approval from Ministry of Interior)
Montenegro (Ireland, Schengen, UK, US)
Nicaragua (Canada, US, Schengen)
Romania (Schengen)
Taiwan (Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Schengen, UK, US but must secure Online Travel Authority)

Here is how to apply for a Schengen visa in the Philippines and how to apply for a British visa in the Philippines.

China allows visa-free access to Hainan for Philippine passport holders who are part of a tour group organized by an accredited tour company based in Hainan. China also allows visitors to Hong Kong and Macau visa-free access to the Pearl Delta River (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen, Zhaoqing, Huizhou and Shantou) provided you are part of a tour group organized by a Hong Kong or Macau-based travel agency and tour is six days or less.

For the rest of China, here's how to apply for a Chinese visa in the Philippines.

South Korea allows visa-free access to Jeju Island only for stays of 30 days or less.

For the rest of South Korea, here's how to apply for a South Korean visa in the Philippines.

Jordan is said to grant visa-free entry through Aqaba provided you leave the from the same border and within 30 days or less.

The following countries grant online visa applications: Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and São Tomé and Príncipe

Again, in all cases, make sure to verify with the diplomatic post (embassy or consulate) of the country since policies may change. This list was created to help travelers plan their trips and we will not be responsible if you are denied entry in a country for not having the necessary requirements. Happy trip!

Pag wala po la listahan, malamang kailangan ng visa. Dahil maraming insidente ng TNT sa mga Pinoy, kailangan natin ng visa para makapasok sa karamihan ng mga bansa. Ito ay para mapigilan ang ilegal na pagtrabaho sa mga bansa nila. Kung gusto niyo magtrabaho sa ibang bansa, kumuha kayo ng tamang "work visa" at siguraduhing maayos ang mga papeles bago umalis ng Pilipinas.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

We all live to have a brighter life

Have you ever considered what a brighter life is? In a world where we all have to make choices, giving up one thing for another, how can we achieve a brighter life? For me, getting to live comfortably and happy, experiencing different cultures and new places, is enough to have a brighter life.

The Brighter Life Philippines website was shared to me by my friends at Sun Life Financial. We all have financial issues that we need to overcome, maybe not of the same magnitude, but definitely a burden we all need to let go off. The website was created to inspire and educate Filipinos toward financial security. They obviously vary depending on your own personal circumstances. But there is definitely an invaluable piece of information for every situation that requires financial decisions, from personal to family affairs or career to lifestyle concerns. Check out the Personal Finance section for articles on finance written in layman’s terms. There’s an article there entitled “Pinoy style financial planning” for some money tips for our situation.

For more tips about personal finances, visit
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