Sunday, 24 March 2013

Packing tips for Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda in Ynagon (photo from flickr)
Oh dear oh dear... This is the first time I'm actually planning what to pack.  I'm off to Myanmar this Easter holiday with Bettina and Hilda.  We've been warned that it's scorching hot and may go as high up to 42 degrees Celsius and basically, not to expect too much [modern comfort that is].

BBC Travel reporter Carmen Roberts said in her report that Myanmar now "is back on the tourist map" after its first free-vote elections in 20 years last year. Myanmar  was considered a 'pariah state' due to its isolation from the rest of the world. The release from house arrest of  pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi somehow lifted the unofficial tourism boycott. So now, it seems that everyone is headed to Myanmar!

AFP reported  that one million foreign visitors visited Myanmar in 2012, a 30%  increase from 800,000 the year before. Compared to us, the Philippines' visitor arrivals for the same year was 4.5 million or a 9% increase from 3.9 million the previous year.

Here's a clip of the Roberts' "report in 2012 on Fast Track, Burma opens up for Tourists:

As for me,  I'm starting off my packing list with medicinal supplies because it may be difficult to get by. These are:
- malaria pills
- antihistamine (I have asthma)
- aspirin, colds tablets and anti-diarrhea
- first aid kit which includes smelling salts, iodine, band aid
- sunblock
- anti-mosquito
- hand sanitizer

traditional Burmese longyi (photo from the internet)
Since we're mostly traveling by air to various cities - specifically, to Yangon, Bagan and Helo (Lake Inle), I am definitely traveling light!  This means pack to fit one carry-on baggage.  Top of the list are clothes that will cover my entire body - no shorts, no sleeveless - mostly dresses and capri pants. In case I have to cover my legs in temples and pagodas,  the first thing I'll do as soon as I arrive in Yangon is to buy a traditional Burmese sarong called longyi.

For footwear, it's definitely flip flops! Most of the temples require removing shoes and socks anyway. In fact in Bagan, I heard we're walking barefoot all over.

We've also been warned to bring crisp 100 dollar bills in pristine condition and enough to cover the whole cost of the trip - i.e. tour guides, restaurants, airfare, entrance fees, transport, etc. There is no ATM and no credit card facilities. Most of the dollar-Kyat exchange are done in the market (USD 1 = MMK 882.50).

Also, expect no use of the mobile phone for  texts or calls and even emails because there's no roaming arrangements with the telecom providers. And the internet service may be iffy   This may actually be a good opportunity for me to take a break since I'm online 24/7.

And finally, aside from my regular travel insurance, I've signed up for travel emergency insurance with international SOS.

I'm actually quite excited to go. My fave traveling chef, Anthony Bourdain has been wanting to feature Myanmar. He said in an interview with Jen Trollo of in March 2010  "I’d like to see the government change in Burma, in Myanmar; I’d love to shoot there."  Well, the premier episode of his new show on CNN called "Parts Unknown" is in Burma! Now I'm dying to find out where he's been to eat. Alas, the show premieres on April 14. Drats!

P.S.  The name changed from Burma to Myanmar in 1989 and the former capital, Rangoon also became known as Yangon.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Attempted Manila Post Office walking tour

Mercury must still be in retrograde because the walking tour that Lilo invited me to join around Old Manila didn't proceed as planed.

The walking tour is a monthly free tour organized by the Filipinas Stamp Collectors Club every 3rd Sunday of the month. According to our guide, club member Lawrence Chan, the walk is part of the Club's advocacy program to promote stamp collecting as well as generate appreciation for our country's heritage and history.

Lilo, Odel and I were there as early as 12 noon. The lobby was already set-up like a tiangge  with tables offering various vintage items such as Barbie Dolls, Coca Cola memorabilia, matchbox, baseball cards, marvel comics, magazines, vinyl records and several other collectibles. At the end of the lobby, the Selyong Pinoy Club was holding an auction. Stamps, coins,  bills, postcards, Pilipino classic comics, etc were being auctioned.

Guide showing us pictures of Old Manila
It seemed like all sorts of collectors  - philatelists, bibliophiles, numismatist, deltiologist, you name it - were going through the various lots. We had to nudge Odel out who was glued to the postcard section looking at  picture postcards of  Munich dating from the 1970s.

At 1pm, we went across the street to Liwasang Bonifacio plaza to meet the group. The plaza is named after national hero Andres Bonifacio and has become a regular rally site for action groups. Similar to Carlos Celdran, our guide pulled out a picture book containing photos of the Old Manila.  We then walked back to the Philippine Post Office, a neoclassical structure built in 1926 and designed by architect Juan de Guzman Arellano, the same architect of the Metropolitan Theater and Jones Bridge.

At the post office, we were asked to wait. The tour was supposed to take us around the building including the compound area and after, walk to the Metropolitan Theater (we were told to bring flashlights for this) and end in Chinatown's Binondo. Honestly, it was too hot to be walking outside and thus, it was a blessing in disguise that the guards changed that day and wouldn't allow us to go further than the lobby.

Lilo and I watching the auction (photo taken by Lilo)
While waiting we chitchatted with the other tour participants. I found out from one that Singapore's Fullerton Group backed out of the plan to convert the historic building into a 5-star luxury hotel. He added that the government may condemn the building soon because of its escalating maintenance cost.

I posted this possible occurrence on my facebook wall to which Boo Chanco commented: "According to [Tourism Secretary] Sec Mon J, they have to relocate the Post Office before they can plan what to do with the building and the Met [theater]. All will be part of the Intramurous development plan."

Well, I do hope so. The government should as much as possible preserve our heritage and this means saving this 87-year old building. Note that aside from the converted Singapore Post Office, they should look into Chicago as a model. Chicago's old Post Office is currently being developed into a retail complex that includes a 40-storey hotel and two residential towers.

Anyway, we got tired of waiting. At 2:30 pm, we decided to leave and headed out to SMX where it was for sure air conditioned! Luckily, we were able to visit the Manila Fame 2013 which was on its last day. It's a 3-day annual event, showcasing the country's best of the best furniture and furnishings, fashion and accessories.  I was surprised to see two French companies among the exhibitors - a porcelain tableware company and furniture-designer.

Alors, hopefully our next attempt to join the Phil Post walking tour will not be in vain.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Pinky Amador as the legendary Edith Piaf

Woohoo! BFF Pinky Amador will be celebrating her 30th year in show business this year and will mark her milestone playing Edith Gassion in Atlantis Production's staging of Pam Gem's critically acclaimed musical  "Piaf".

The story revolves around the life of the legendary French singer nicknamed  La Môme Piaf  (or baby sparrow) as a self-destructive, promiscuous, alcoholic junkie. The title of the play comes from her signature song which I'm sure everyone is familiar with La vie en rose.

According to Atlantis, in this new Piaf version "Gems has reworked her classic 1978 play, vividly capturing the glamour and squalor the rise and fall of this complex, fragile and enigmatic performer."

I'm excited to see Pinky onstage and curious on how she will play Piaf which has been her dream role for years! In the last couple of years, she has been relentlessly studying and training for the role. She even went to the extent of perfecting her French, diligently studying in Alliance Francaise. Early this year, she flew to Paris together with the director Bobby Garcia to pay homage to Piaf and  ask permission to play her part. Apparently, some actresses who have were doing or attempting to do the role have gotten into accidents.

Mind you, Pink  is very very busy. Aside from Piaf, she juggles being a full time director of the Theater Arts department of the Meridian International or MINT College and plays a villain role in the hit teleserye of ABS-CBN "Be careful with my heart".

Gina Alajar, Pinky Amador and Bobby Garcia
Piaf will run until March 24 at the Carlos P. Romulo auditorium, RCBC Plaza (purchase tickets online at ticketworld). The play is directed by Bobby Garcia who is also celebrating his 20th year milestone as stage director. Also in the cast are: Giselle Töngi-Walters as Marlene Dietrich,  Ima Castro as Toine,  and the men of Piaf as played by Jamie Wilson, Reuben Uy, Altair Alonzo, Hans Eckstein, Mako Alonso, Nel Gomez and Sandino Martin.

Postscript:  Pinky, the director, the whole cast and crew were absolutely brilliant! Bravo!!  Note that the play is rated PG due to the strong language and sexual situations.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Mandy's Posing Safari in Batanes

employees at the top of the hill
That's what we did all weekend - pose!  My officemates were more inclined to be the subject with the breathtaking view of Batanes as the background than the other way around. I'm now calling the trip last weekend - Mandy Navasero's Posing Safari.

It was the first time for the 30 employees [and family] plus the four guests [German couple Klaus and Silke,  Tess and Nenette from Pampanga]  to visit Batanes and also their first time to join Mandy's photo safari.

They absolutely had fun posing of course. Those who were not accustomed to walking or running, enjoyed trekking the hills, even dared enter the Japanese tunnel, attempted jumpology and some wanted to do a Dawn Zulueta "lift" in the scene of the movie Hihintayin ktia sa langit.

inside the japanese tunnel
Yiessa posing for Mandy outside the Japanese tunnel
trekking the hills

Mahatao lighthouse taken from the plane
Batanes, located at the northermost tip of the Philippines, is comprised of ten islands, three of which are inhabited. It is by far,  the purest destination that I've ever visited. The  distance from Manila (659 km) and being surrounded by rough seas - South China Sea and Philipine Sea- has pretty much isolated it from the rest of the country. The people called Ivatans are generally peace-loving and friendly having only a population of 16,000 distributed in six municipalities. There's hardly any pollution, no blaring karaoke noise and zero crime rate.

Mandy teaching 13-year old Joachim how to take jumpology shots in Marlboro Hills
Honesty Cafe, proof of zero-crime rate in Batanes
I've actually teased Mandy that it's her doing  for making Batanes popular. She was the first to bring a herd of  tourists every summer with her photo safaris. She coined most of the tourist spots like the 'Dawn Zuleta Hills' (original name is Lorrance), Marlboro Hills (Payuman), the Fountain of Youth, etc..  I was one of the first 21 students who joined her initial foray to Batanes on April 13, 2006. Back then, there were only three flights a week and there were no others tourists. The weather was so unpredictable that Batanes gained notoriety for its frequent flight cancellations.

Fundacion Pacita Abad
A lot has changed since my last visit  in 2008 which by the way included a trip to Itbayat. There are now more hotels with Fundacion Pacita's bed and breakfast being the most posh; our lunch in Marlboro Hills is no longer a picnic but inside a hut; and our lunch in Sabtang beach is also inside a hut.  Batanes though still continues to amaze me with its  picturesque terrain, charming stone cottages, lighthouses, white sand beach with giant boulders and golden sunsets. I still manage to come home taking more than a hundred photos! In fact, some people mistake my photos for Scottland, Ireland or even New Zealand except that when they take a closer look, they see carabaos grazing in the background.

Carla waves onboard the faluwa

A must visit is Sabtang Island,  declared by the Department of Tourism as one of the 12 Best Destinations in the country. Typical Ivatan homes line up the streets, people walk around wearing uvuds (traditional raincoats). To get there is a bit tricky because the sea is usually rough. It is a 30-min faluwa boat ride from Basco. The window to travel is from 5am to 8am from the Port of Ivana and out of Sabtang at least by 2pm.  We definitely experienced a roller coaster ride heading back to the island.

Coconut crab

And lastly, while in Batanes, don't forget to enjoy its culinary delights!!!  My favorite must-eats are coconut crabs (order a day in advance though), my favorite lumpiang dibang (flying fish),  dibang-silog for breakfast which is dried flying fish with sunny side up egg on rice, giant squid calamares, lobster (order a day in advance) and kamote!!

To join Mandy's Photo Safari, email Mandy at or call (+63-2) 896-3208.

Jumpology shot