Let me surprise you about Iran!

Posted May 9, 2013 by daphnego
Categories: Iran, Middle East, Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’ve been to my share of exotic places, but nothing roused the curiosity of my friends and colleagues more than Iran. And for a good reason. All we know about Iran are terrorism, nuclear plants, third world, etc. etc. Perhaps some are aware that Iran was once part of the Persian empire, which is majestic and amazing in its own way. But present Iran? No, all it provokes are fear and skepticism.

I was lucky I had a friend who went, and reassured me that Iran is a pleasant, safe place to visit. I am even luckier that I have an equally adventurous family to go with. So off we went, not knowing exactly what to expect.

In a nutshell, Iran is practically the opposite of what you think it is.

Misconception # 6. It is a war-zone. Stay away or you’ll get shot!

Any of the cities, Tehran, Esfahan, or Shiraz, is probably safer than most big cities. I observed that our tour bus driver rarely locks the bus when he steps out. You walk on the street and people will not harass you. Things don’t get stolen from the hotel. And no, apart from the occasional checkpoints in the highway, there are no remnants of it being a war city at all. No, people do not carry guns! Although their posters depict people carrying guns. But that’s about it.

"Army" poster - amidst a beautiful snowcapped backdrop

“Army” poster – amidst a beautiful snowcapped backdrop


The "infamous" Supreme Leader!

The “infamous” Supreme Leader!

Misconception # 5. Persian food must suck. Or at the very least, you must get tired of eating kebab day after day.

I loved a lot of the food we ate in Iran. One unforgettable dish is the saffron baked chicken which is absolutely yummy. The restaurant is an old Persian mansion adorned with mirror mosaics. And you know it is not a touristy place because it was packed with locals on a weekday lunch!

My favorite dish during our trip. Saffron baked rice stuffed with chicken!

My favorite dish during our trip. Saffron baked rice stuffed with chicken!


Kebab galore!

Kebab galore!


Hmmm... which is which...

Hmmm… which is which…


Kebab!

Kebab!

Misconception # 4. Cities in Iran must be dirty. It is such an underdeveloped country.

The three cities I went to are all very clean. There is absolutely no trash, and people are very disciplined about it. The only thing that “litters” their streets are rows and rows of flowers, especially roses!

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The garden in our hotel is full of what else??? Flowers!

The garden in our hotel is full of what else??? Flowers!


Garden in our beautiful hotel in Esfahan

Garden in our beautiful hotel in Esfahan

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Misconception # 3. Don’t think Persian or modern Iranian art is that big of a deal

Iranians are naturally artistic and their expression of art is all over tourist sights and their establishments. Even their bus stops are cute!

BC art in the National Museum in Tehran

BC art in the National Museum in Tehran


Restoration

Restoration

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Even the cutlery display is creative!

Even the cutlery display is creative!

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Typical Persian art - in Abbasi Hotel in Esfahan

Typical Persian art – in Abbasi Hotel in Esfahan


Artist at work. The artwork on the intricate vases are drawn by hand. We bought one!

Artist at work. The artwork on the intricate vases are drawn by hand. We bought one!

Never saw a prettier wall!

Never saw a prettier wall!

Even an old door is beautifully decorated

Even an old door is beautifully decorated

Trying to hail something. Actually, just posing for the camera :P

Trying to hail something. Actually, just posing for the camera πŸ˜›

This is a bus stop!

This is a bus stop!

Intricate drawings in Golestan Palace, Tehran

Intricate drawings in Golestan Palace, Tehran

Misconception # 2. There must be nothing to see. If there are, they must have been destroyed by the wars.

See for yourself πŸ™‚ I am thankful that there are not much tourists, so we were able to almost monopolize the sights!

Azadi square - the icon of Iran

Azadi square – the icon of Iran

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Milad Tower with a beautiful display of Iranian flags

Milad Tower with a beautiful display of Iranian flags

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I like the chandelier! Hmmm... will this fit into my room?!?!?

I like the chandelier! Hmmm… will this fit into my room?!?!?


Golestan Palace

Golestan Palace


Another angle

Another angle


Fascinating interiors of the Golestan Palace in Tehran

Fascinating interiors of the Golestan Palace in Tehran


Milad Tower in Tehran. The best place to see breathtaking bird's eye views of the city

Milad Tower in Tehran. The best place to see breathtaking bird’s eye views of the city


Another shot of Imam Square

Another shot of Imam Square


One of the beautiful bridges

One of the beautiful bridges


I love the beautiful arches

I love the beautiful arches


Mosque in Imam Square

Mosque in Imam Square


This square is so beautiful, I can sit here the whole day!

This square is so beautiful, I can sit here the whole day!


Bird's eye view - I had to brave a construction site to take this shot!

Bird’s eye view – I had to brave a construction site to take this shot!


Imam Square during the day

Imam Square during the day


Typical Persian interior design

Typical Persian interior design


The famous and beautiful Imam Square in Esfahan at night

The famous and beautiful Imam Square in Esfahan at night


View from my room in Esfahan

View from my room in Esfahan


Tomb in Pasagard

Tomb in Pasagard


Little bazaar in Shiraz

Little bazaar in Shiraz

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Woman in prayer. She was actually crying.

Woman in prayer. She was actually crying.


Mirror mosaics!

Mirror mosaics!


You think this is pretty? Wait til you see what's inside

You think this is pretty? Wait til you see what’s inside


The walls are just beautiful

The walls are just beautiful


The family taking off their shawls for the picture

The family taking off their shawls for the picture

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Wall near the entrance in Persepolis

Wall near the entrance in Persepolis


Persepolis! If there is one sight you have to go, it is this!

Persepolis! If there is one sight you have to go, it is this!

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Hmmm... I forgot what this is called.

Hmmm… I forgot what this is called.


Mosque in Shiraz

Mosque in Shiraz

Misconception # 1. The people must be violent and harsh! It’s understandable, they’ve lived in that condition for such a long time

The Iranians are the friendliest people I know. And it really takes a big deal for me to say that because Filipinos’ friendliness is hard to beat. But yeah, finally, after visiting 80 countries, I concede. They are cheerful, helpful, and just naturally nice. Since they do not see a lot of tourists, they are fascinated with Asian “exoticism” and would politely request for pictures. I felt like a celebrity! Here are some pictures with the amazing locals.

Met the one and only Filipina during our whole trip. She was with her family - she married an Iranian guy and they have a son. And their common language? Japanese! They now live in Bacolod, Philippines but met while living in Japan.

Met the one and only Filipina during our whole trip. She was with her family – she married an Iranian guy and they have a son. And their common language? Japanese! They now live in Bacolod, Philippines but met while living in Japan.


The boys are cute, too!

The boys are cute, too!


Goofing around before the teacher "caught" me!

Goofing around before the teacher “caught” me!


Posing with school children

Posing with school children


School trip

School trip


Isn't the woman stunning? Mind you, she requested for the picture with us!

Isn’t the woman stunning? Mind you, she requested for the picture with us!


The kids are so beautiful!

The kids are so beautiful!

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Peace everyone!

Peace everyone!

A buffet of contrasts: Magnificently diverse Chile

Posted April 16, 2013 by daphnego
Categories: Chile

Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’ve never been to a country with so much variety until I visited Chile. People always say that different regions give you different flavors of what a country has to offer – for example, in Italy, Milan / Como would give you a totally different experience compared to the Tuscan region of Siena and Florence, and they are both different to the laid back attitude of the south in Naples and the Amalfi Coast. You can also say that Gaudi-decorated Barcelona is vastly different from gothic Madrid, and Islam-inspired Granada and Cordoba. I agree – but to a certain extent you see similarities – the piazzas, the churches, the food. And this holds true in most small or mid-sized countries around the world.

If you really want a real buffet of choices – go to Chile. Its geography makes it so – it is perched as a stretch of skinny long coast and also includes islands near French Polynesia. This makes Chile such a wonderful country to visit, because you’ll never be bored with such a variety.

1. Deserts and altiplanic lagoons

The northern tip, in San Pedro de Atacama, offers you beautiful scenery of deserts and altiplanic lagoons. Just like its neighbor Bolivia, the high altitude (2,000m to 4,200m above sea level) provides a landscape that is totally eerie and different. It has a very dry climate typical of any desert.

The highlight of the region is Valle de la Luna or Moon Valley in English. The arid landscape is dusted with salt deposits, resulting in a red and white scenery. The hikes are easy and pleasant, and just like the rest of Chile, tours are organized and easy (unlike its neighbor Bolivia!).

The theater

The theater

Salted Grand Canyon

Salted Grand Canyon

More views of Valle de la Luna

More views of Valle de la Luna

Worth the hike!

Worth the hike!

Beautiful sunset. Does the figure looks like road runner to you?

Beautiful sunset. Does the figure looks like road runner to you?

It has beautiful altiplanic lagoons, too. The scenery is a bit bizarre at the same time really, really beautiful.

Travel tips:

If you arrive before 2pm, suggest booking your tours in Atacama. There are so many agencies to book from so you get a good price. I probably paid more since I booked with an agent in Santiago.

Also, if you’ve seen the glaciers in Bolivia, skip El Tatio. They’re very alike.

2. Colonial metropolitan city

Santiago de Chile is one of the most metropolitan cities I’ve visited. Roads and public transportation are efficient. It reflects its colonial past with majestic plazas and churches. And of course, the hustle and bustle of a big city.

Cathedral - a deadringer to its more elaborate version in Santiago de Compostela in Spain

Cathedral – a deadringer to its more elaborate version in Santiago de Compostela in Spain

Really tall!

Really tall!

More statues

More statues

Travel tips:
– if you’re traveling on a budget, this is a place to not spend the extra dollars. Stay in Ibis Providencia for convenience , price , service and clean rooms. And make sure you don’t pay tax because tourists don’t need to!
– if you’re tight on time, don’t stay more than a day. There’s nothing much more than the plaza and cathedral. I only stayed half a day while waiting for my flight to Easter Island.
-No need to stay in airport hotels. They cost USD 200 per night. Take the airport shuttle which takes around 30-45 minutes and you get to see the city too.

3. The eerie ambience of Easter Island

For context, Easter Island is far from Mainland Chile. It is 4 hours by air. It’s more Polynesian than Chilean. Even the locals look more Polynesian than Chilean. So everything you see there is vastly different.

No one really knows how the moais were developed. There were many theories but none of them was proven. The reason why I ventured into Chile was to see them. I fell in love at first sight when I saw one of them in the British Museum. I told myself then that I need to see them in their “natural habitat”

Moais by the beach!

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Aren’t their hats cute?

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Sleeping moai

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Moais in a row

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This is my favorite site – different shapes and sizes perched on a hill

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I am sorry to UNESCO and all. But I just need to hug!

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Moai on a diet

Travel tips:
-Everything is expensive in this place, and efficiency and service leave much to be desired. So I did the right things to spend only two full days and exit as soon as I could on the red eye flight to Santiago.

4. Torre del Paine

This area is glacier-ville! Think snow capped mountains, pristine lakes, glaciers and ice on the lake. I don’t have the stamina to hike so I did the touristy route. But I was blessed to see the three peaks from the plane because it was one of the rare moments where we had clear weather!

I did a total of 3 day tours. Torre del Paine, Balmaceda glacier, Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, and a penguin colony tour.

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Aerial view of Torre del Paine on a clear day! A rare sight!

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My favorite travel buddies on my TDP tours!

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Awww so cute!

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Just beautiful wildflowers

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Balmaceda glacier… wait til you see Perito Moreno!

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Lamb chops

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A colony of penguins in Punta Arenas

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Another small glacier

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My favorite B&B of all time.

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Natural ice sculptures in Torre del Paine

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Another one!

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I love suspension bridges!

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Such beautiful scenery. Just outside our lunch spot

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Random scenery

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Another random one

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A small waterfall!

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Perito Moreno

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Perito Moreno

Travel tips:
– Perito Moreno is a must and worth the 11pm arrival from the day trip. It is one of the most breathtaking glaciers I’ve seen. Even better than the ones I saw in Alaska.

– Ditch Balmaceda. After Perito Moreno, it looks so tiny!

– Allocate only half a day for the Penguin tour. Leave full days for the other trips

– No need to stay in hotels in town. Your operator will pick you up from wherever you are. I stayed in the best B&Bs in both Punta Arenas (where the airport is, penguins are near) and Puerto Natales (they’re closer to the parks) and they’re scenic but not central. Two of the nicest places I stayed at in my travels. Only USD 40-50 per night. With cooked yummy hot breakfast. Beats a central soulless establishment.

Are you impressed with the variety? I sure was! Not sure if any other destination can beat this!

A post dedicated to my beloved country: Random ideas to place the Philippines on top of the tourist map

Posted April 14, 2013 by daphnego
Categories: Travel Philosophies

Tags: , ,

It’s really a shame that the Philippines is way behind its neighbors because tourists’ money is the best way to bring foreign money in. So much better than brain drain.

It’s not that tourism in the Philippines hasn’t picked up. Numbers have risen steadily at 10-20% over the past few years to 4.3 million tourist arrivals in 2012. My sister mentioned to me that groups and groups of Koreans started flocking to the Philippines. That’s a good start.

But if we compare that with Thailand, the Philippines pales in comparison – a staggering 22 million! Even Vietnam is ahead with 6.8 million in 2012.

So what should Philippines do differently? Here are my personal thoughts from my travel experiences. Department of Tourism, hope this gets to you.

1. More direct international flights please

Eveytime I try to promote our islands, every single foreigner asks this question: So how do I get there? After explaining that it requires taking a flight to Manila, then a domestic flight the next morning, then a boat, then a tricycle, they zone out. Why bother if Phuket and Bali offer straight flights? There are some friends of mine who overcame that hurdle and end up going back again and again, but we are at a negative competitive ground just because of this. I heard we started flying from Hong Kong to Caticlan (Boracay’s entry point). How about from Singapore? Bangkok? KL? I will consider visiting Boracay again if I can fly straight from Singapore. Cebu just doesn’t make the cut as a beautiful destination for me. If Palawan, Camiguin, Mindoro had straight flights I’ll be the first one to sign up. And no odd times please. I need my Friday night fly in and Sunday night fly out. Just how Bangkok, Bali, Penang, Jakarta, and Hong Kong do it.

2. Fix the local public transport system.

I am now in Phnom Penh airport killing time and if there is one thing I absolutely hate about PeaPea (my new nick for this city), it’s the ceremonial haggling with tuktuks. I am aware that anywhere around the world, cab/tuktuk drivers have the worst reputations relative to the rest of the population. But countries like Indonesia and Vietnam found a solution without spending billions of dollars on
an efficient MRT system. They
developed honest, professional taxi companies. It’s Blue Bird for Indonesia and Mai Linh/Vinasun for Vietnam. They’re efficient, honest, and convenient – call their number and the taxi comes right away. It makes traveling much more pleasant and removes the fear of being conned. Bangkok has a fantastic BTS system so that is not an issue.

3.Focus the marketing strategy on what makes us different

I agree that our beaches are one of the best in the world (so far I can only cite Maldives and Ta Chai/Similan in Thailand who can compare to ours), but a beach is a beach. A Spanish fort is a Spanish fort. And yes, only a person who has been to the Philippines will understand what friendliness and smiling really mean. We need a more controversial campaign that specifically mention what makes us standout.

Since I have an hour to kill, allow me to indulge on my crazy thoughts – here are some ideas for TV ads…

-When you need to ask something you don’t need a translator. Everyone speaks English. And no. You don’t have to stay in a five star hotel to experience that

-When we say swimming 100ft will let you see live corals and as many types of fish you can imagine in Coron, you will not be compromised with the yellow and black striped fish and fossilized corals in Thailand

-When we say white sand in Boracay we really mean white sand

-How Taal rivals Mt. Bromo

– And how Halong Bay’s water look dirty compared to El Nido. That’s what my Filipino friends tell me. I have yet to see for myself.

4. Promote our food

One of the factors influencing a person’s decision where to go is the food. Look at Bangkok and Hong Kong. But Filipino food is not as well known. People always ask me what Filipino food is. We have to be realistic that Filipino food will never be universally appealing, but there are some we should promote profusely. All of us know the saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” I would like to add the corollary: “The way to a tourist’s heart is through his stomach, too!”

What should we promote. I’m thinking…

– Mangoes. I’ve tasted it all. Nothing compares to the Philippine mango. And mango shake! Nothing compares to our mango shakes.

– Adobo. Our favorite stew. Need I say more

– Spanish delicacies. Just as Vietnam boasts of its French cuisine and their expertise of making French bread and pastries (they have the best croissants in Asia hands down. So Singapore, no, don’t blame your bad baking skills on humidity or ingredients. The Vietnamese do it well), we make the best Spanish delights in this part of the world – lechon, leche flan, ensaymada, polvoron, barquillos, paella, you name it. I tried them in Seville and ours are of the same quality. Everyone is aware that the Philippines is a former Spanish colony, but not a lot are aware that we have world-class Spanish food.

– Any other I missed?

And this goes beyond telling people about it. We have to consciously make an effort to export and promote these products so that they’ll look for the better and fresher version back home.

5.Capitalize on our colonial past

In the Southeast Asia region, no one has better Catholic churches or forts than the Philippines. If we highlight this, travelers in the region who do not have the time or the budget to go to Europe will check us out. Focus on our church interiors: Manila Cathedral, San Sebastian, San Agustin. Our forts in the north. The haciendas in Bacolod. The list goes on.

6. At the same time promote things we are exceptionally good at

Whether it’s music, art, fashion, there still a lot of opportunities to promote our talent to attract tourists. We are good at entertainment but we really haven’t promoted well. Korea did a really good job at this. Now everyone goes to Nami Island just because Winter Sonata was filmed there!

7. Local travel agents. Please organize day trips or even short trips to the must see places. Be innovative with the tours to make the sights more convenient and accessible.

A friend, who loves to travel as much as I do, went to Sagada and Vigan. He does not want to rough it and take local buses, understandable, but he complained he had to charter his own car and driver which costs a lot. What Vietnam does really well is creating scale to run group tours. Economical and way better than taking public transport.

Why not take a step further. Chopper rides to the Sagada and back. I would be the first to sign up. And nice luxurious accomodations. Not homestays. Then I don’t need to settle with the rice fields in Ubud.

8. Restructure PAL. Or just open up the airline industry. Seriously.

I had my worst experiences with PAL. Perhaps I was just unlucky. I heard Cebu PAC got better but I also
had my share of bump offs. I’d rather fly Garuda or Vietnam Airlines. How can AirAsia, Tiger, and Jetstar do it well and PAL couldn’t? My flights are always delayed, the staff are always dominated with grumpy staff, and once they had to put tape on the outlet where the mask drops off.

I bet there are so many ways which we can contribute. I’ll try to start doing my share by revisiting Philippine attractions whenever I can. To those who are in one way or another part of the government or tourism industry, I suggest you see how others are doing it. And make it even better.

Hopefully the next time I don’t need to change flights to get there.

How to choose the best travel option if you are overwhelmed with choices

Posted April 6, 2013 by daphnego
Categories: Travel tips

Tags: , , ,

I face this often especially if I need to join a tour. I am overwhelmed with choices and not sure where to begin. And it is even more challenging if I am planning to go to places where not many have been. Just now, I am so confused as I plan my trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos. There are too many itineraries and too many ships! I learned a lot based on my experience planning my trip to South Africa (I am going in August 2013), and my trip to South America ( I went in February 2012). I did not encounter this challenge as much in Europe and the US as it’s so much easier to travel independently, and the choices are more with which sights to see, than which tour to join.

I thought I’d share with youΒ some tips that hopefully will help you plan your trip of a lifetime πŸ™‚

1. Prioritize what is important to you

Even before doing the digging, know your priorities and come up with a realistic list. If you are like me, traveling on a budget, you have to be very clear which parts you’re willing to sacrifice and which you are willing to pay a premium for. This will also help you formulate your questions to the travel agency. When I first talk to an agency, I do not start with questions. I want them to get to know me, and I usually describe my traveling style, what I prioritize, and what I can do without.

2. Consult online travel agencies first rather than direct service providers

When I was planning my trip to South Africa, one choice was to contact the safari lodges in Kruger directly (like &beyond) or going through a travel agent. I suggest your first step is to inquire with a few travel agents, as they can give you an overview of the landscape and options. Contacting a safari lodge as a first step is narrowing your choices too much.

3. Shortlist based on the website.

If the website looks too rudimentary I do not think the company is any good – as most people contact online and a good online platform is a good first investment. Look at the type of information they provide, and see how unbiased / thorough they are.

4. Call them.

A website is just pure content – it does not give you a real indication of professionalism. Even email doesn’t as everything is scripted. Almost all online travel agencies now have a US toll-free number – or ask them for it, if not, ask if they have Skype. You can call US toll-free numbers for free using Skype. Prepare your questions – and see how they answer. Focus on your first priority criteria. In my case, I specifically asked for animal sightings, if the private reserves are fenced, and if the rangers are top notch. I do not really care if they serve top-notch food (as long as the food is decent!) and if they’ll give me a butler! If they are not articulate and do not give intelligent answers, ding them.

Calling them also gives you an indication whether they are a reputable agent or if they are a fly-by-night operation. When I was choosing the agency to buy my Rio carnival tickets from, I called them. It’s only when I am comfortable that they really know what they do that I chose them. It’s USD 600 for two tickets, so I don’t want to be a victim of a scam!

5. Ask friends (or shamelessly plug in Facebook).

After doing my intial due diligence for my South African trip, I recalled that a friend has visited just last year! She recommended her travel agent which is even better than any of the ones I contacted. But I suggest contacting a couple more just to reference the recommended lodgesΒ and prices.

I now need advise for Galapagos, so if anyone has been, I appreciate it if you can ping me πŸ™‚

6. Ding them if they do not respond within 48 hours, even with the time difference.

You want a travel provider that is responsive. That means they take your business seriously. They will also respond quickly if there is any problem during your trip.

I chose my Chile travel agency based on the professionalism and the timely response of the agency staff. He responds within 24 hours (even with time difference!), speaks perfect English, and is articulate and knowledgeable. They are a travel aggregator and do not operate the tours themselves, and I needed that since I am traveling across Chile. When a travel operator failed to show up for my transfers twice, they acted immediately and ensured the operator gave me VIP treatment from then on, bargained to give me USD 150 even if I didn’t lose any chance to join a tour, and also a free nice lunch. All within 1 day. You need that especially when you are traveling to remote, unfamiliar places!

7. Compare the aggregator with the operators / hotels directly

I do my double checks in pricing. That way I know I am not being overcharged. With Chile, I looked at independent travel operators and summed up how much it would cost. For South Africa, I contacted the hotel to see how much it is if I book directly, and if there are any promotions. Normally, the travel agencies I dealt with are fair and professional, but you’ll never know!

Hope this helps and wish me luck in planning my Galapagos trip!

When to fight for stuff and when to let go when I travel

Posted April 1, 2013 by daphnego
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: ,

One thing I am reflecting on recently is what makes an awesome travel experience. What I learned is when I travel, most things tend to not go my way. It is a fine balance between letting things go and fighting for what I deserve.

This balance is very different for everyone. But it is very healthy to know your own balance. And where do you lean towards. Are you the type to nearly always let things slide, or are you like me, a fiery soul whose first instinct is to fight for what I deserve?

Over time I tried both sides. And I had hits and misses. What I learned is that things are worth fighting for if they are these types of situations:

1. Unsafe hotel conditions

I remembered booking an aircon room in a B&B in Rome. It turned out to be a portable air conditioning unit which required the window to be open so that the vent is positioned through the window. What made things worse was the electricity tripped every 5 minutes because the building wasn’t capacitized for all aircon units to be turned on at night. We prepaid for 3 nights. I fought for it and checked out after one night and got our money back.

2. I didn’t get what I paid for and the experience between the two options is vastly different

I don’t have to recall too long ago. During our stay in Hue, we booked two beach villas. When we got there, only one was facing the beach. One was facing a villa!!! I told them there is no way I would accept the second one as that is a garden villa and not a beach villa. We got moved to a beach villa. The experience is totally different! Reading a book listening to waves and feeling the cool breeze are only possible with the beach villa!

3, I get shortchanged by being a woman or being Filipino or Asian

Sad to say this still happens. On one of my most recent trips to Bangkok, I was held up because I didn’t keep my boarding pass, while everyone else had already passed immigration. Why would I keep a boarding pass on a flight I already completed? I made a big deal out of it and the supervisor ended up apologizing. I make a big deal out of it because complacency has its implications. It means discriminating against people like me is fine. And they will do it again. What I did will not ensure otherwise, but provides a warning that not everyone will keep quiet.

4. When people lie and promise something they never plan to do

During my stay in Ho Chi Minh I had an argument with the owner. I won’t bore you with the details. But I gave up and told him if it is possible to check out one day earlier and refund the one night. He agreed, almost too easily and too fast. I demanded he write a note which he did. Lo and behold, he went back on his word and only refunded 50%. I scanned the letter to Agoda and they believed me and refunded the total upfront and they will take it up with the owner. These service providers do not deserve to be left alone.

When do I let go?

1. When fighting for it means I lose time on what matters

During my trip to Bolivia, the agent assured me that there are bathrooms and showers in each hostel, and it will only be shared with people within my party of six. Totally untrue. But fighting for it means I have to spend time when I’m in Chile calling them when I am on tour. Totally not worth it.

2. When they’ve done good service recovery and ensured it won’t happen again

During my trip to Chile the local tour operator forgot my private transfer twice. After mentioning it, they immediately made sure to confirm my transfers, gave me a free lunch, the manager called me personally to apologize. Given the situation, I think they did the best they could. I didn’t escalate it further even if it caused me a lot of stress!

3. When fighting for it head on means you’re just “playing the piano in front of a cow” (in Chinese, ε°η‰›ε½ˆη΄)

When I was in Easter Island, the driver, greeter, and reception staff are very passive aggressive and disrespectful, not to mention inefficient. However, I read in Tripadvisor that the manager is just the same, so there is no point escalating it. I focused my attention on what really matters and let it go. My situation will not change and I will just get even more upset. I just wrote a really bad review in Tripadvisor instead.

4. When the compensation needs to come from the staff’s own pocket

When I realize this means the staff needs to pay for it, as much as I can, I’d rather not. I will try to ask the manager if the hotel or restaurant can shoulder for it, if not, I just let it pass. I do recognize that these people are paid very little. Hopefully they will be more careful next time.

I think it is helpful for me to be conscious of my own balance to make the most of my vacations. This means I am happy with what I fought for and do not care enough for things I let go.

How to have a full time job and travel around the world

Posted March 31, 2013 by daphnego
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A fried of mine suggested I write about the overall theme of my blog. Yeah I guess it’s about time I did πŸ™‚

I’ve read so many blogs of people who quit their jobs and start traveling and blogging full time. While it sounds so “sweep-off-your-feet” romantic, it is not practical for me, and I believe it isn’t for most of you as well.

While I am single and do not really have much responsibility than taking care of myself, I hate the uncertainty of not knowing what lies ahead or where my next meal will come from. I also do not like traveling on a shoestring. The Filipino-Chinese in me is not comfortable asking for donations of some sort, especially since this is purely my selfish conquest. And last but not the least, I do not want, or at least not yet ready, to give up the daily intellectual challenge from my current banking job. So yeah, as a Chinese saying goes, my feet are in two boats (θ…³θΈε…©ζ’θˆΉ).

How do I do it? It’s really no rocket science. I just need to ensure I have enough energy, funds, and curiosity to keep me going.

1. Plan ahead

Those reading my blog for a while will be tired of this – but planning ahead makes sure I get everything relatively cheap, go to my first choices, and maximize my experience. Have an excel calendar of all your travels.

2. Put some variety

Anything monotonous will be mundane. I think the reason why I love traveling so much is I spice it up with variety. Shopping in Hong Kong, nature in South America, architecture in Europe, food in Southeast Asia, animals
in Africa – these are just a few of the themes I play with when I plan my travels.

3. Allocate leave dates to far locations.

One of the main constraints everyone has is the number of leave days from work. So if I can take off for 9 days, I don’t go to Thailand or Vietnam. I leave that for Europe. If I have three weeks, I’ll go to South America. That’s the only way I can maximize my opportunities to go to farther places.

4. Travel on all long weekends

I don’t let any opportunity pass. There is no chill long weekend for me. If there is a holiday, I am somewhere!

5. Choose a job that will make you earn enough to support your passion, but not enough to wear you out

This is a bit tricky. But what I learned is even if I have the opportunity to travel, working 80-100 hour weeks will just wear me out, leaving me no energy left to pursue my travels. So balance is key πŸ™‚

6. Be fit

I also cannot stress this enough. My energy comes from 4-5 times a week of cardio, and 3-4 times a week of yoga. When my friends ask me where my energy comes from, my fitness routine is the answer πŸ™‚

7. Make sacrifices

Traveling often means I have to put off a big ticket purchase, or not shop as much. But it’s all worth it!

8. Read, read, read

Why don’t I run out of places to go to? I read. My favorite books are DK eyewitness books and Lonely Planet. I have the Tripadvisor app. Yes, I am a travel nerd πŸ˜› But the kick I get of traveling to off the beaten track places is just amazing!

9. Join travel groups

Sharing experiences with people who have the same traveling passion as you do keeps you going. If my schedule permits, I attend the presentations of sgtravelcafe.com because they present off the beaten track places and experiences. Most of the time, the places are not my cup of tea, but they make me realize what types of travel I prefer and understand my traveling preferences better.

10. Just go. Period.

When I talk to people one of the reasons they can’t go to a place because of considerations that stop them. Oh, our company’s travel advisory told us not to go. Not sure if it is the right season. I will just do it next time. Procrastinating means you travel less, and let go of opportunities. Talk to locals, make your judgment. If I survived Brazil, remote Indonesian provinces, and hopefully Iran and Africa this year, you will, too!!!

Let me know if you become a part time traveler like me, too πŸ™‚

A single gal’s trusted travel gadgets

Posted March 30, 2013 by daphnego
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Hello from Hoi An, Vietnam! While relaxing by the pool I thought to share some travel tips on what to bring to make your trip fun and relaxing, even when traveling alone!

Traveling alone is a daunting task. Sometimes it is even more challenging for a girl. Let’s face it – we have less physical strength than guys. Furthermore, sometimes we do feel lonely traveling by ourselves.

Through my travels, I learned to love some of the stuff I bring with me. They make my travels easier and worry-free.

1. Four-wheel Samsonite suitcase

This is the second-best luggage a girl can have-if you do not want to spring for a Rimowa version. It makes lugging it around so much easier. I have it in three sizes. The hand carried version for my weekend trips, medium for a week, and large one for my long trips. Don’t skimp on this one. Your arms and back will thank you for it.

2. Deuter backpack with wired frame

I bring this in combo with the large suitcase for my long travels. If you have a bad back like me, your back is protected with the frame. No need for something big. Just 22 or 24 liters would do. I put my essentials there. And if I do an overnighter and leaving my large luggage somewhere else, I put my overnight clothes here.

3. Tripod

Get the lightest and tallest one you can afford. This will make sure your solo pics look awesome and are not just the products of someone feeling obliged to take your photo. You are in control of the composition of your pictures. Also, you will get better night shots! It will also serve as your weapon of choice. See my post on Krabi πŸ˜›

4. Bose Quietcomfort 15 noise-cancelling headphones

If you travel so much like I do, and just hate noise, this will be the smartest USD400 you will ever spend on. A baby crying on the plane? It doesnt bother me now!

5. Le Sport Sac overnighter

In my European trips, this sturdy, lightweight, and really cute bag folds nicely into my suitcase. When I fly home, it is filled with my loot! The zipper works really well, and it is reasonably waterproof. No fakes for me!

6. Kipling sling handbag

This is a girl traveler’s beat friend. Put it in front of you always and your stuff will be safe! And the slingstrap is so comfy on your shoulder, too! Zipper will never fail you. This beats a Prada nylon bag anytime! And I sling this first, then put the Deuter knapsack on top, so I have two hands to lug my large suitcase, or hold on to something. Handy!

7. Tablet

On long plane, bus, and train rides, I am entertained with many TV shows. This makes surfing easier too.

8. A good compact camera, and a spare

I never lug my DSLR around anymore. It is too heavy. But a normal compact camera is not good enough. My two faves: Canon G1X and Sony RX100. Portable and good for low light. It is worth investing in a camera worth more than USD 500! And I bring both, especially on long haul trips. I learned the hard way. My Canon S90 then konked out when zoomed in during one of my trips to Spain. Not fun!

9. Kindle

There is nothing better than curling up with a good book when I am in the mood. Books are heavy. Kindle is light, compact, and glare-free!

10. Medicine

In my long haul travels, I carry the essentials: paracetamol, non-drowsy cold medicine, betadine for wounds (I’m a klutz!), white flower oil for headaches, backpain, or insect bites.

11. Swimwear

It doesnt matter how cold my destination is. I bring a pair at the least. You never know if there is a good pool. It is light and does not take up space. You will be bummed if you cant enjoy the water just because you did not bring your bikini!

12. Shades

For the glaring sun, that cool look, and the prevention of more wrinkles πŸ˜›

13. Flipflops

For the pool, doubles as your bedroom slippers, and I bring them in the shower if I end up in an unforeseen icky hotel. Triple purpose!

14. Long-flight gear

For long haul flights, my perfect comfy warm attire. T-shirt, leggings, socks (when I am on my seat), comfy jacket.

These are my essentials. What are yours?