Saturday, March 15, 2014

Instagram: Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) in Kerala, India

Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Kerala, India
We're currently on the Kerala Blog Express, touring the state of Kerala, India. Here are some photos from the city of Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), the capital city of Kerala. For more photos, follow @ivanhenares on Instagram.

Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Kerala, India
Only Hindus are allowed to enter the main sanctuary of the Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Trivandrum, Kerala, India. And there is a strict dress code. Men have to wear a mundu with their shirt off. While women have to wear a sari or long skirt
Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Kerala, India
Napier Museum, an Indo-Saracenic structure built in the 19th century, is among the many grand colonial buildings in Trivandrum, Kerala, India
Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), Kerala, India
Kathakali is a classical dance drama from Kerala, India known for the colorful make-up, elaborate costumes, detailed gestures, facial expressions and well-defined body movements. We were treated to a short Kathakali performance at the Vivanta by Taj Kumarakom

Thursday, March 13, 2014

India: From Poovar to Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum) in Kerala

It was a beautiful morning in Poovar, an isolated but spectacular beach town in the southern end of Kerala. We were up early since we had to check out then travel to Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum), the capital of Kerala, some 18 kilometers away.

To get to our bus, we took a boat from the Island Estuary Resort to a jetty were vehicles and buses of guests to various lakeside resorts in Poovar are parked.

It was a thirty minute ride through the backwaters of Poovar and the Neyyar River. Backwaters (a term for a wetland where rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches and the sea converge) define the landscape of much of Kerala. And we'll be seeing more of them in the coming days.

Poovar actually has a very rich trading history dating back to 1000BC. It is believed to be one of the possible locations of the port of Ophir mentioned in the Bible where the ships of King Solomon landed. He received a cargo of gold, silver, sandalwood, ivory, peacocks and precious stones from Ophir.

Our group was on our way to Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Trivandrum. On the way, we passed by a temple which was having a festival since it was the peak festival season which runs from October to March, especially the last two months. The night before, we also passed by a very colorful evening religious procession. But unfortunately, the bus couldn't stop for us to take a closer look.

It took us about an hour to get to Trivandrum from Poovar. Our first stop was the Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Trivandrum.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

India: Backwaters of Poovar, Chowara & Kovalam Beach in Kerala

Backwaters of Poovar, Kerala, India
A beautiful sunset greeted me as I relaxed at our resort in the backwaters of Poovar in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, India. We were on an island in the Neyyar River estuary where the river converges with a lake, a beach of golden sand and the sea, with thousands of coconut trees dotting the landscape. It was a great way to start an exciting journey around Kerala, India. To all those who voted, thank you for sending me to the Kerala Blog Express!

Estuary Island Resort, Poovar, Kerala, India
I arrived in Trivandrum (another name for Thiruvananthapuram), the capital of Kerala, after a short flight from Malé in the Maldives. I was met at the airport by the Kerala Tourism staff who took me to the Estuary Island Resort, my home for the next two days. As I walked in, I could hear the calls of crows, among the many bird species abundant in these backwaters. Egrets, kites, kingfishers and cormorants were also quite common. It was a fascinating place.

Backwaters of Poovar, Kerala, India
From my balcony window I could see the small lake that separated us from the beach. To get to the beach, one had to ride a boat which the resort provides for its guests. To the right was the Neyyar River which flowed into the lake. I went straight to lunch at the restaurant by the lake.

Backwaters of Poovar, Kerala, India
I spent the rest of the afternoon getting some rest, coming out an hour later only to see the beautiful sunset. We were brought to the beach by boat where we joined locals enjoying the same view. It was an unusual strip of sand which separated the crashing waves of the Arabian Sea from the tranquil lake.

Backwaters of Poovar, Kerala, India
Backwaters of Poovar, Kerala, India
The next day, we were brought to various resorts in three areas. We walked to the neighboring Poovar Island Resort for a sumptuous lunch. Then we boarded the boats that would take us to the jetty where our bus was parked.

Chowara Beach, Kerala, India
Chowara Beach, Kerala, India
From Poovar, we proceeded to Chowara, a fishing hamlet with many scenic spots. From the Somatheeram Ayurveda Resort, we had a picturesque view of Chowara Beach with its colorful fishing boats parked on the gold sand. At the resort, the group was given an orientation on Ayurveda. But the actual treatments had to wait as we were having them at another location in Kerala. We spent the rest of the afternoon just enjoying the view while having tea.

Chowara Beach, Kerala, India
Kovalam Beach, Kerala, India
We ended our day at Kovalam Beach where we watched the colorful sunset from the Leela Kempinski Kovalam Beach Hotel while having, you guessed it, tea! Tomorrow will be another long day! Catch updates on @ivanhenares on Twitter and Instagram. Also check out the hashtag #keralablogexpress.

Estuary Island Resort
Poovar P.O., Trivandrum 695 525 Kerala, India
Tel. No. +91 471 2229222

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.
Related Posts with Thumbnails