Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Night We Lost In Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Scare and Thrill of DIY Travels

February 04, 2021 0
Hotel Luxury World, Phnom Penh

We all have unique, sometimes strange, travel experiences abroad, some are  funny, others are scary to remember. But this one bizarre travel experience I had during my trip in Cambodia is both scary and interesting. 

A unique learning experience. It tested my courage and resilience how far I could go in adventures. A litmus paper of my survival ability if I would thrive in a foreign city without close contacts. 

It happened one night in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, a not-so crowded Southeast Asian capital. We have spent the night in Hotel Luxury World because we will be visiting Angkor Park the next day. 

Siem Reap is an eight-hour travel from Phnom Penh and we did not take an overnight land trip because we were all girls, too risky, so an overnight stay in the capital was necessary.

Phnom Pehn street in the morning

I was traveling with my two female friends and on the night of our arrival in Phnom Penh we needed to go outside to look for a money changer outlet.

It was already night time. 

Phnom Penh is one place tourists should not supposed to get lost, because of two reasons, locals could hardly understand English, second, pickpocketing seems prevalent. 

But Phnom Penh should not scare tourists too. It has Tuktuk, a form of local transportation like tricycle in the Philippines, which can take travelers anywhere in the city.  It has taxis.  

Tourists will never get lost. It is a capital city with developed infrastructures, and streets are well lighted. But it happened. And on some terrifying circumstances. No local currency in our pocket, and our mobile phones could not access the google map.

No local currency in our pocket

How we ended up getting lost in a foreign city?

The story is as bizarre as the experience itself. That night, we just arrived from Saigon, Vietnam, in a tiring nine-hour land travel, crossing the border, enduring long hours standing in the immigration queue to have our passport stamped for an entry to Cambodia.

We underestimated the circumstances of waiting in the immigration office, and we left Saigon very late, around 9:30 in the morning. 

Our estimate was that we should be at Phnom Penh before 5:00 in the afternoon so that we could still buy Cambodian Riel, the local currency in Cambodia.

It did not happen that way.

We were three brave souls exploring the lesser known side of Asia, no tour guide, no friends in the two countries, nothing to seek help if things will go wrong. But it didn't bother us, we just wanted to go on adventure on our own.

And yes, we left Vietnam without anything in our wallet other than Philippine peso and Vietnamese Dong, currencies that were not acceptable in the country we were entering! Still, we courageously decided to go ahead with our plan!

It was so hard to find Cambodian Riel currency in the first place, we left Manila on the night of January 1, we could not find Cambodian currency in any money changer outlet in Metro Manila, not even in Ninoy Aquino International airport. 

We tried our luck to buy Cambodian Riel in Vietnam but no money changer outlets selling the said currency. Buying US dollar currency didn't enter our mind. And that was a mistake.

Entering Cambodia from Vietnam

So on January 3, we just proceeded to Cambodia as planned without Cambodian Riel in our pocket. We just thought of buying the said currency upon arrival in Phnom Pehn.

When we arrived in the Cambodian border at 12:30 afternoon, that's where the trouble sets in.  The bus made a stop for lunch in a small restaurant. And we could not buy food because we did not have a local currency. 

Despite our grumbling stomach, we endured the circumstances and just consumed biscuits and bread cuts we brought from the Philippines.

Tuktuk ride in Phnom Penh

We met a fellow Filipino in the bus, Reychel Mendoza, she came from Bulacan and worked in Cambodia, she advised us to buy US dollar as most establishments, even transportation in Cambodia accepted dollar currency. She also bought us hard boiled eggs for our lunch haha!

However, we arrived in Phnom Pehn very late! Almost six in the evening and all money changer outlets and banks were already closed. Nevertheless, we did not panic, we just relaxed like real adventurers. Reychel paid half of our Tuktuk fares and instructed the driver to bring us to Hotel Luxury World.

First sign of trouble

We knew then that locals in Cambodia can hardly speak nor understand English, you need to slow down your tone when you speak so that they can process the words and get what you mean. Their local dialect is Khmer, something that was not in our radar to comprehend. 

But Cambodians are nice people, they smile a lot, bow their heads when they greet tourists and try hard to communicate in a broken English. Nonetheless, it was a great learning experience, having been able to learn the local culture of Cambodia, such a fascinating cultural learning discovery.

Hotel Luxury World

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy but you can hardly feel the royal thing in its capital. In fact, it is a great contradiction to what monarchy looks and feels like. Phnom Penh is a bare city and far from a glamorous capital. 

It was plain, quiet and very ordinary. Not a bustling metropolis, no skyscraping buildings, no rush hour, no busy streets.  The common sight in the street is Tuktuk, a tricycle-like vehicle with extended body and elevated floor, similar, but not quite, to tricycles in the Philippines. 

No jeepney, but there are buses and taxis.

After securing our bags in our hotel room, we went downstairs to the hotel concierge to make an arrangement with the receptionists for our bus ticket for Siem Reap city the following morning. But they can only accept US dollar for the ticket fare. 

We were told to look for a money changer outlet outside to have our money converted to US dollar. At almost 7:00 in the evening we’re off to the street for an adventure to find a money changer outlet. 

Lost in the city

It was not still dark but the environment looked dreary. Lots of whistling and prying eyes from the locals. We just dismissed it and pretended we were one of the locals.

We crossed two main streets and made many turns, but all money changer outlets were already closed. Hungry, wasted, exhausted with numbing feet, we crossed more streets, and corners, without any luck. 

Until we agreed to just return to the hotel, and do the transaction on the following morning and probably just eat biscuits again for dinner and sleep. We're dead tired from the long travel!

We turned back and started following the same path, but after crossing several blocks and corners, and streets, we knew we’re in great trouble. 

We could no longer find the street address of the hotel!

We crossed several dark corners, watched by curious locals who whistled us and tried to approach us. We just ignored them.  But after several attempts of asking bystanders, all hopes went into drain as all of them could not understand English! 

We continued walking, stretching our stares across dark alleys and spaces hoping to find a glimpse of Hotel Luxury World but to no avail. 

We're officially lost!

Helpless, tired, anxious, we could not reach out to anyone in the area. We could not ride a Tuktuk because we've no local currency, we tried approaching the police but they too could not understand English. Nightmare! 

For some reasons, our mobile phones could not access the google maps. Tense!

A courageous adventure

Nonetheless, we did not panic. We even found our situation funny and a bit odd. We joked at each other to flip back our shirt to find our way. You know, some regional superstitious belief in the Philippines that if someone is lost, shirt needs to flip back to find the right direction.

We walked in a street where there was enough light so that no one will grab our sling bags. Because pick pocketing in Phnom Penh is also prevalent. 

We asked some locals again how we could find the Hotel Luxury World, but they just shrugged and asked us to translate the words into Khmer or Chinese! Shocks.

We could not search the hotel in the google map, nor reach out to anyone for help. We did not have anything at that time but courage and faith.

Miracle in Phnom Penh street

Tired analyzing what to do next, we just walked slowly, albeit leisurely, chuckled a bit and trusted God we could find our way back to the hotel before midnight.

After crossing another street, we decided to halt walking, we were already tired and wasted, hungry and thirsty.  In a circumstance that seemed hard to believe, we chose to stand in a corner seemed far away from the world we know.  

Then a miracle happened!

When I turned my head left, my eyes popped in amazement! Just three feet away from where we stood, a signage of a Western Union outlet flicked, half-closed, with a bold streamer that reads "Money Exchange"! 

Closing time: 9:00 in the evening, We checked our watch and it was 8:30 in the evening. God is good!!

We jumped off like lost children finding their way back home. Then rushed to the Western Union, which by that time was preparing to call the night off. We exchanged our money to US Dollar. Then stepped outside, thanking God for His immense goodness and kindness and divine guidance.

A night to remember

We're both laughing after walking back to the street, with US Dollars in our pocket, as if we just found a treasure and ready for our next adventure. Such a night to remember. 

We sauntered back to the street to look for a small eatery where we could take our dinner. We wanted to try some local food, Cambodian style of dining, so we chose a small food stall offering local meals. 

We started asking the name of the food. But the lady just shut us with a blank stare with no sign she understood what we meant. 

But she kept on smiling, signaling us to sit down! One customer, who was in a nearby table, showed us her plate containing the same food that we pointed to the lady.

The mysterious food 😃

Having a difficult time communicating in English, the customer just pointed her food without saying anything. My two friends and I exchanged anxious glances again, What food is that? We wanted to ask. But held our tongue. They would not understand anyway.

I was looking for rice, but, oh God! They could not understand the word “rice”, they requested us to translate the word to Khmer, we told them that we're tourists from the Philippines and can't speak Khmer! 

Dinner after lost

Anyway to settle matters, we just ordered whatever food we found in the menu. Even if we have no idea what was that. We’re extremely hungry. No energy to argue with the name of the food.

Then I blurted another dangerous question (because we’re certain they would never understand it. How much per order? I stammered. I could not find any simple term how to ask a price. 

The lady behind the food bin just stared at me with a curious glance. Completely unaware what I meant. Uhmm, I kept blurting. I was searching for any price sign in the menu to point to the lady. My two friends were on the brink of laughing with my struggle.

Until the man, perhaps the husband of the lady behind the cooking bin, showed me his calculator and the price of the food. I breathed comfortably and seated.

We're not annoyed, we’re more than amused with this episode rather than scared. It made the adventure of discovering local culture even more exciting and thrilling. Just imagine experiencing this at one of your travels? Very memorable!.

Finding our way back to the hotel

After this amusing experience of dining, we walked back to the street, and to our amusement and relief, we have finally located the street of the hotel! 

I don't know how we have figured out the "lost street". It just happened. Whatever the circumstances of that night's adventure, only God know.

Finding the hotel at last!

When we retired to bed that night, we just could not stop laughing and sharing stories. I messaged Vangie's sister in England, Maria, via Facebook messenger, on what happened, she was in near panic, deeply troubled with our situation in a country not super popular to be explored.

Lesson of adventure

Being lost in Phnom Penh, so far, is my most unforgettable adventure in a foreign land. A little scary but something also that taught me the other side of adventure, exploring the unknown. 

In order to learn, we need to get lost, undergo a certain type of challenges that strengthen our courage and faith. One should never be afraid of discovering things and learning in the process, it's one way to uncover the wonders of the world.

Breakfast at Hotel Luxury World

"Not all those who wander are lost. From the ashes, a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadow shall spring". - J.R.R Tolkien's Lord of the Ring.

Keep that fire of adventure burning! It will bring you to the farthest corner of the world and discover the wonders of it.

Believe me, we had a great sleep that night, quiet, smooth, undisturbed. woke up at 5:00 in the morning to peep at the window and brought my stare to the farthest corner of Phnom Penh. 

Such a quiet place, no blaring of horns of buses and jeepney or even train. It was a cool early morning with flickering lights below. Beyond the horizon, a misty sky stared at the bareness of the earth, waiting for the morning sun to spread its glow. 

I moved back to my bed. And sighed. Thoughts of our Angkor adventure in Siem Reap took over my mind, completely scraping off the misadventure the other night.

Soon, morning will break off in the horizon and we're off to another adventure. Life is just like that. An exciting adventure! Just dare to go. And share your story to the world.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Travel Musing 2021 And Why I Don't Have Plan To Go On A Trip This Year

January 26, 2021 0
That's when it is safe to travel again

The year 2020, where travel industry really bled to death, has gone. We're now in a year where hopes and many possibilities are greatly anticipated. 

The world slowly springs back to life, businesses are reopening and airline companies are offering low deals on its flight rates. Pretty enticing isn't it?

But is it convenient to travel? Is it really time to start fixing our travel goals and plan a trip once again? Is it safe? 

No one can exactly tell when the pandemic will end but one thing is certain, we are still in the uncertain times. We are still not out of the woods of COVID-19 despite the roll-out of the vaccines. 

Everywhere, the number of infection is surging, and measures to curb the disease are still very much in place.

We need to cooperate with the world's effort to combat the surging cases of the virus. Leisure can wait. When all these inconveniences are over, we are free to hop in for adventure but the first six months of 2021 is simply not ideal to start kicking off travel plans. 

Add to this uncertainty is the newly discovered strain of the virus reportedly started in the United Kingdom and South Africa and now quickly spreading everywhere. We need to be mindful with this health alert and as much as possible, stay indoor.

Not yet the time for adventure

Clearly, this year is not yet the right time to embark into an adventure. Even if we want to. Yes, we are fed up, we are emotionally and mentally exhausted with the longest quarantine period, we want to escape, we want to enjoy the sun, we want to experience life in another place.

But it is not just the right time yet. 

Armada resort, Magalawa island, Zambales

First, the environment is still not totally "cleanse" from the virus. Second, there's a new strain of coronavirus. Third, we are not helping the world to curb the disease if we go outdoor, we might be a super spreader instead. Fourth, so much inconveniences of travel with tons of complicated travel documents, then there are government rules to follow like wearing face mask, face shield, health protocol and social distancing. 

A hell of discomfort awaits us. I would never enjoy the trip, and it is just a waste of money and time and effort.

Everyone is exhausted with life in home quarantine

Yes, everyone is scrambling to get out and escape somewhere. After all, it has been a crazy year of isolation, long period of home quarantine, we have been pushed to the edge of life and we cannot wait to be on the beach or the island or the mountains. 

Jomalig island, Quezon province

It is an innate character of humans never to be trapped at home. We want to see the other side of life in a different place. We want to explore and discover life beyond our station!

But unfortunately, we are still in the time of pandemic. Despite local tourism slowly opening to tourists, it is not just safe to be out there. 

Traveling in the time of COVID-19

For passionate adventurers whose travel plans for 2020 were snapped by lockdown and long home quarantine period, this year, 2021, is the start of bouncing back to the road.

With the availability of the COVID-19 vaccines and the easing of travel restrictions locally, travelers are now eager to book a trip, never mind if there are complicated travel documents required by the authorities and resorts. We need to escape!

But wait, is it really convenient? After all, traveling means a leisure trip, enjoying the moment exploring a new place, new destination, new view, but how can we do that if there are too many restrictions and threat of catching the virus?

In the Philippines, vaccine jab has not yet even started. The public has been left in the dark when it will be rolled out. No schedule has been released. And that's something really worrying, something that discouraged me to go on a trip this year. 

With the inept action of our government officials to procure vaccines and their very slow response how to control the spread of the virus in the country, planning a trip, even locally, sounds crazy at the moment. 

I would not take any chances. I would not sacrifice my safety. Even if local tourism assures guest of safety and cleanliness, I will never enjoy the trip due to many restrictions and rules to follow. It defeats the purpose of adventure and the thrill of travel.

Torres Farm, Cavite.

It is still not safe. That's a glaring fact. Maybe in the last quarter of this year. But for the first six months of 2021, it's not really convenient to hit the road for a leisure trip. So better stay at home while herd immunity is not yet developed in the country.

When can we travel again?

Local destinations are now accepting guests, albeit, reduced capacity, provided they will present necessary documents and will strictly follow health protocols imposed by the authorities.

Resorts, travel agencies and airlines are offering tempting low rates. But whether we will be having a comfortable trip experience, that's a different story. Definitely, a leisure trip is out of the questions this year. 

White Beach, Puerto Galera

It is uncertain when can we travel again normally. Even health experts cannot provide an exact timeframe when these inconveniences and threat of catching coronavirus will be over. 

One thing we need to do is stay safe and stay indoor while the world is still in the process of healing. Fun of adventure can wait. Remember that we need to cooperate and help the environment stop the spread of the disease. 

The need to travel

Traveling will never be the same again post-pandemic, that's certain. There will be major changes the moment we hit the road again. Strictest protocol for sure will be imposed.

Nonetheless, we still need to travel. I mean, the idea of going out there, exploring the world, discovering new places, enjoying the beach and nature and road trip. Having fun in the sun, watching sunrise in another place. It's a human desire. 

Enchanted river, Hinatuan, Surigao del sur

It is an innate character of a person to escape and go somewhere else to breathe, to relax, to de-stress. Our emotional and mental self needed it to find our balance. Life is not meant to be spent in one place, worst, at home. We need to go out and enjoy the outdoor view.

It's part of our nature to connect, to socialize, to explore, to see the other side of life, be with friends, have some fun. These are part of being human and no virus-threat could ever stop this human desire. 

Traveling is a therapy. It heals emotional wounds and mental anxiety. It bridges the gap of connection and fun and excitement. It is a great escape from a tedious life. A liberating getaway.

However, timing is everything. 

Since traveling or going out on a trip somewhere is a kind of leisure and adventure that we are supposed to be enjoying, convenience and comfort must always be considered. 

The first six months of 2021 is not really an ideal time to travel. Perhaps in the last quarter. We can start planning a trip. But not now.

Why I am not thinking of planning a trip this year

I resolved to never travel this year. Apart from the complex travel documents need to present to authorities and destinations, I am mindful what I can contribute to the community. 

I might add to the statistics of infection. I might spread unconsciously the disease. The scare of catching the virus is all over my system. And I am afraid I might infect others too.

Island trip!

Staying safe, staying at home, faithfully following the social distancing and other health protocols are the best way to curb the spread of the virus. And for this year, that's all what I needed to do.

It can wait. Leisure can wait. My appetite towards adventure can wait. I am not in a hurry to explore the world and enjoy traveling once again. 

For now, staying out of the traveling wagon is the best way to help the world fight off the disease. I will just save this year for a liberating trip next year.

Triggering point

Just today, while taking a break from writing this article, I read a heartbreaking news published by Daily Mail UK, about a dying COVID patient, describing what his painful ordeal fighting the disease: "Absolutely terrible, It's very, very frightening".

He added, "If people would have taken a lot more care when this come out and had not ignored it, we would not be in such a mess we're in. We would not have had so many deaths, so many people who are critically ill".

The man, unfortunately, died a day after the interview. How devastating and painful it was. The man was full of hope he could recover. 

He was anticipating to get reunited with his wife and family. But he did not make it.

It hits me in the gut. I feel guilty thinking about travel when the rest of the world is reeling with agony, heartbreak and pain due to the virus. 

It's through these circumstances that I resolved never to travel this year until the virus is put in control. We need to cooperate and help get rid of this pandemic. 

We need to help our health workers who are already exhausted with the surging of COVID patients treated in the hospital. We need to be patient. Someday, things will get better and we can get over this misery.

Definitely, going out there for a leisure trip, won't help anything.  

Traveling for 2021

We need to ponder hard if we really want to go for a trip this year. Now is the time to never think of our personal pleasure but the situation itself. Now is the time to think what contribution we can really give to the environment. 

There would be inconveniences as resorts and hotels, even vacation rentals need to implement strict health guidelines. It would be a nightmare accomplishing requirements to adhere to health protocols.

This year, therefore is not really an ideal time to reconstruct our travel plans. The disruption of services, controlled mobility and complicated travel requirements to accomplish will give us a headache going somewhere for leisure.

Government protocol in traveling is still very much in place, though restrictions are slowly easing down, it is still not a completely free world to enjoy a trip.

Budget-wise, it would be an expensive adventure due to travel requirements. Reduced capacity in accommodation means high rates.

New Normal in Traveling

As the world slowly bounces this year from lockdown, businesses reopen also. Travelers are eager to spring from life. We've just came out from a very stressful year that our desire to go somewhere to relax and enjoy the weather and adventure with friends is very much in our system.

But it is not just safe yet to travel.

Wearing face mask is here to stay

Whatever in store for us this year, one thing is certain, traveling will surely change. The way we travel in the new normal will have a major shift.

Here are some of the major changes and inconveniences:

  • Strict security screening everywhere which may delay the trip and lengthen the travel time.
  • Lots of travel and health documents are required. 
  • Facemask and face shield are still required. Very inconvenient.
  • Expensive accommodations due to the level-up service they will provide and the reduced capacity of guests.
  • Restrictions and limited exposure in the destination to ensure everyone is safe during the trip/

The best time to plan a trip again?

No one can exactly tell when these inconveniences will be over but definitely the first three quarters of 2021 still not the best time to plan a trip.

Rates in accommodation or even flight tickets might be low, but risk would be too high. And yes, we are not helping to stop the spread of the infection, we are even making it worst. 

The best time to start planning for a trip might be this coming autumn. September to December 2021, the last quarter of the year. Hopefully, by then we can build a herd immunity with the vaccine roll-out in the country. And can finally start planning a trip.

I am thinking of just going home in the last quarter of the year, see my parents and be with them instead of going somewhere for leisure. I will just think of traveling again by 2022.

Stay safe everyone!


Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Year Travel Bled to Death And Why 2021 Not Yet The Time For Adventure

January 02, 2021 0
The world in the time of pandemic

The year that altered the way we lived, changed the way we moved, and shutoff the travel industry, has finally gone, but can we celebrate its departure?

Will 2021 be the year traveling rise from its ashes? Perhaps not yet. We are still in the time of pandemic. 

Though vaccines to fight the disease that brought the world down to its knees in 2020 are already out, it's still not yet  safe to say we are finally out of the woods of horror from COVID-19.

It's still very much out there. The threat is still dangerous, thus, traveling in comfort this 2021 might still not be the norm. It may take a while before we can enjoy preparing travel itinerary and truly get back to adventure.

It's still uncertain when can we travel again without the fear of being infected with the virus. Plus there is a new variant of covid-19 quickly spreading everywhere.

Having vaccines is not an excuse to be lenient with health protocol. One thing is for sure, even if some countries will open its borders, life will never be the same again for travelers.

A lot of changes can take place. Apart from the complex travel requirements to be imposed, there would be a massive shift in accommodation arrangement and tour packages. Health protocol would still be in place by that time. 

These circumstances will shape the way people viewed traveling and planning a trip, reconsidering options that adhere to health guidelines.

There's going to be a major change in the travel perspective of many adventurers and the travel industry needs to adjust its services and approach to fit the demand of the new normal.

The Casualty of COVID-19

The year 2020 has brought so many catastrophes across the globe, but nothing more fatal than the way COVID-19 impacted to the whole travel and restaurant industries. Its devastation was so disastrous it bled profusely every facet of the travel and food sectors.

Apart from the death toll and number of infection around the world related to coronavirus, the year 2020 is a fatal roller-coaster ride of the food and travel businesses. Many were forced to halt its operations. And lots had lost their jobs. 

Airlines, even the biggest names, were forced to shut off globally, the luxury cruise trips and travel tours were abruptly stopped and visiting a restaurant, even local fast food. was prohibited. 

It's so hard to imagine how these industries absorbed the loss and the catastrophic ordeal but they needed to adhere to government regulations to curb the spread of the disease.

Eventually, service-oriented industries would soon to follow the list of coronavirus casualties. Hotels, tourist-inns, beach and nature resorts and amusement parks were also forced to cease its operations.

COVID-19 sounded like a death emissary that crawled to every doorstep of these industries. Along this devastation, came a bleeding economy as mobility of people and some industries like schools, shopping malls, and transportation were halted.

For nine months, the world watched itself tumbled in pain and misery as the infection and deaths rose to an alarming level in all six continents.

The year of being stranded abroad

As more countries closed its borders and issued a "do not travel" advisory, more travelers were stranded abroad in 2020 and could not come home. Many had to beg for help to put them on the next flight. Others were forced to sleep in the airport or terminals. 

The inconveniences of these unfortunate circumstances prompted travelers to make the most of what they only had, even sought the help of locals to let them stay during the duration of lockdown, making their travel experience truly a nightmare for the year.

The year of nightmare requesting a  travel refund

Being stranded somewhere was not the only agony most travelers experienced in 2020, getting refund from airlines and traveling agencies for cancelled flights and trips also became a traumatizing ordeal.

Due to shutdown of the operations many of these entities could not release refund right away and just offered travel funds or credits. 

Others were forced to agree with this arrangement but some travelers insisted to get the money back, making the situation unbearable to both parties. 

Towards November, some countries slowly open its border to travelers to revitalize its dying tourism industry, but the strict requirements of getting to places prevent travelers from planning a trip. 

Traveling supposed to be a time where we need to be comfortable exploring the environment but how can we do that if there are restrictions imposed? Clearly, not yet a time to pack our bags and go somewhere.

The year of travel inconveniences

The year also defined how we should travel in the new normal. The health protocol where wearing facemask is a must, the social distancing rule, the tons of requirements and documents we need to accomplish and present to authorities, the restrictions on many borders and places.

All of it sum up a punishing and strenuous year of traveling. Plus, the constant threat of catching the virus. Surely, no one wants a disastrous travel experience for the sake of just, uhmm, traveling.

Twenty-twenty has been a year where all things went crazy. From our job setup, daily activities, and the way we moved in public. Everything changed drastically. The feeling of being trapped at home was suffocating. We felt like being punished harshly from the mistakes we never did. 

People are socially-inclined creatures who are not meant to be shut off from the world. The pandemic altered this natural facet of a human existence. Suddenly, we were immobilized, controlled by authorities and scared all the time we might encounter the unseen enemy. 

Traveling in the future

No doubt, COVID-19 has transformed the way we live and travel in 2020. From tucking alcohol and sanitizers in our pocket all the time to wearing face mask and face shield. Everything was strange.

For long distance travel, there's swab testing requirements not to mention the complex travel documents needed to be presented to authorities. Everything really brought unprecedented discomfort and sufferings. The once liberating escape to beautiful destinations suddenly became a hideous ordeal we don't want to be in. 

So what would be traveling looked like in the year 2021 and beyond? Can we finally go back searching cheap flight rates again for a trip somewhere?

The new normal is here to stay. That's for sure. Though the year 2021 could be the start of slowly getting back to our feet and for travel and restaurant industries to bounce back, it is still not the best year to spread our wings and explore the world.

The world is not yet fully "cleanse" from the virus, despite the availability of vaccines. The environment has not fully recovered yet. Safety is not yet guaranteed. Vaccines are still in the infancy period and experts are still monitoring its long-term efficacy result. 

Though many are already vaccinated, it's not yet a full guarantee that we are finally free from getting infected this year. It's still a dangerous year to go on adventure. It is better safe than sorry.

However, in case we should decide to travel this year, for the sake of our soul recovering from stress, it would be surely a different scenario and experience. There would be some discomfort along the way.

Government protocol in traveling is still very much in place, though restrictions slowly ease, it is still not a completely free world to enjoy a trip. 

There would be changes, big changes in the travel requirements we need to accomplish should we decide to travel this year. And we will shell out a lot of money to accomplish additional requirements like swab testing. 

Budget wise, it would be an expensive adventure due to travel requirements. Reduced capacity in accommodation means high rates. 

Additional health services also means added financial burden to guests as businesses will pass through customers and clients the added cost of its specialized packages to ensure safety. 

New normal in traveling

As the world slowly reopens this year, there are some who are considering to push through with their travel plans. It's really been a stressful year and we need to breathe somewhere to get rid of tension.

But the question now: Is it really safe to start planning and booking a trip in 2021? The new normal of mobility gives a glimpse how the world of traveling and dining outside would look like this year. It would be an entirely different setup. 

Wearing facemask is here to stay and perhaps it would not be lifted until autumn this year. So we will be traveling and exploring the places in facemask, and worst, the inconvenient face shield in some countries like the Philippines.

The new normal also means a shift in travel accommodation. Vacation rentals will now be favored than hostels and hotels because it will provide a safer environment than staying in crowded places like tourist inns.

Dining outside poses a lot of inconveniences too as family or group of friends cannot stay close to each other in a table but will be required to spread across, making it a bit uncomfortable to engage in a conversation.

Whatever in store for us this year, we can only hope it is for everyone's advantage. It's quite uncertain to predict the future of travel at the opening of the year, but one thing is certain - traveling will surely change. The way we travel in the new normal will have its makeover. 

Here are some possible scenario the way we travel in 2021

  • Strict security screening in the airports and terminals
  • Tons of travel and health documents, like medical certificate, swab test result that you are negative from COVID-19, to be required in all establishments, airlines, hotels, resorts, etcetera.
  • Long queues everywhere due to security scrutiny
  • Facemask, face shield, PPE might be required.
  • Expensive accommodations due to the level-up service they will provide to ensure safety.
  • Flight ticket, even bus ticket might be more expensive.
  • Restrictions and limited exposure in the destination to ensure everyone is safe during the trip.
  • Reduced capacity per room or tour due to social distancing. Limited capacity means expensive packages to cover up the entire cost of the trip.

Going Local

Due to travel restrictions and scare of infection, it would be best to go local for the mean time. Exploring near destinations has many benefits to offer. Both for travelers and local tourism. 


We have the opportunity to see our beautiful local destinations, discover local culture and taking pride on the charm of the local heritage we have not discovered before the pandemic.

Going local means we don't need to fly, cross the ocean or travel more than five hours to reach the place. It means nearest destinations.

It could be a local resort nearby, a vacation rental next to our neighborhood or a quaint town to get lost in its charm.

Armada beach resort, Magalawa island, Zambales

The purpose of going local is to minimize our exposure in the environment. The longer we stay outdoor or travel, the more chances of catching the virus.

It will also help bounce back our domestic tourism, which carried the brunt of the pandemic in 2020 when most of the establishments and resorts shut off. This is our chance to give back to our community and help boost the local tourism industry.

Whatever awaits for the travel sector this year, for sure there will be changes, a huge shift in the concept of traveling. And the local tourism is projected to shine as more travelers are considering the option of going local.

What was once considered a dying industry, now expected to boom under the new normal. 

The domestic travel is the answer to adventure-hungry folks who could not wait to get back on the road again.

Luljetta's Hanging Garden and Spa, Antipolo City

In the Philippines, rural areas are not short of destinations to amaze local travelers. The country is endowed with rich natural resources, beautiful beaches and relaxing countryside scenery. 

Everywhere is an endless beauty of calmness, adventure and stunning discovery. Local tourism will be in full swing this year as resorts slowly reopen to local guests. 

Though strict regulations will be implemented, it would be an exciting idea to know we can go back traveling again.

Tinuy-an falls in Bislig, Surigao del Sur

There are wonderful places in our neighborhood worthy to be explored while the world tries to gravitate from the devastation of COVID-19.

Traveling in 2021

It might still be too early to hatch a travel plan or say anything but the year 2021 is a year we need to ponder if we really want to go for a trip.

For sure there would be inconveniences as resorts and hotels continue to implement strict health guidelines. It would be a nightmare accomplishing requirements and adhering to health protocol.

So 2021 might not yet a great year to plan a trip as far as comfort in traveling is concerned. The disruption of services, controlled mobility and complicated travel requirements might give us a headache going somewhere for leisure.

Pearl Farm in Davao del norte

If we do not want the idea of traveling local this year, perhaps, we just save the money for a grand trip someday. 

We do not travel just for traveling itself. We travel to experience life in another place. We travel to heal. We travel to relax, explore a free world and see wonders without restrictions.

The time of pandemic is arguably a difficult period to experience all of it. There are changes. There are complex guidelines to follow. 

Unless the trip is very necessary, like business or going home in the province, or unless you consider escaping to a local resort as a therapy to heal your "wounded self", it is better to just postpone it some other time when traveling is safe again without strict regulations.

A time to reflect and hope

We can only hope for a peaceful earth, free from virus this year 2021. Now is a great time to reflect on what we can do to help make this world a better place to live in. 

As travelers, we all have a chance to help get things better. We have seen the world in other places. We have seen its beauty. We have experienced the thrill of adventure. We have witnessed how locals behaved.

Bantayan island in Cebu

The year 2020 gave us a grim picture what will happen to our planet if we are unconcerned the way we treat our environment and wild species. If we keep on abusing them and never cared for its existence, we are always in the losing end.

On a personal note, I really wish the world will get back to normal again. I want to see our environment bounce back to its natural charm. No restrictions. No closed borders. No facemask. Just a free world spreading its loveliness and good vibes to all.

I wish to be in different places again where environment is timeless. I love to take long walks in an unknown town, exploring cultures and landmarks and local history.

Getting lost in adventure, discover new language or recipes, enjoy a cup of coffee in a bistro, relaxed in a public park, taste local dishes.  

I wish to experience a free life in a far away place again, travel to an island, feel the warmth of the morning sun falling at my back, walk barefoot in a beach, chase the waves, gaze at the horizon while enjoying the crisp breeze rolling from the ocean, lay in the sand and wait for the sunset to come. 

A sound retreat. A great escape. A welcome respite from weariness we all experienced in 2020. A beach trip would be a relaxed reclusion from the distress, scare and uncertainty brought by the pandemic.

beach trip surely be my first adventure

Soon, planning a trip and packing for adventure will be the  norm again. Beach trip will surely be my first adventure. Beach atmosphere is so liberating. 

The view of the mighty ocean. The sounds of the billowing of the waves as it rushes to the seashore, the warm morning sun, the dramatic sunset, the smell of salty hair, the sand beneath the toes. It feels everything is so relax and calm when we're in the beach.


Hoping for a free world this new year sounds like the highlight of the holiday season. We are truly grateful we have survived the disease.

Wishing everyone a prosperous New Year! Happiness often comes in small packages. Let's appreciate what we have right now and be thankful we have come this far in life, safe and sound.

Until our next travel and food trip! Thank you for being part of our adventure in food and travel.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Year-end Gourmand Trip: Alfresco Dining at Blackbird Restaurant

December 23, 2020 0

It's been a crazy year for all of us. 

Everything has been put into a halt since March this year and even in the final stretch of 2020, the threat of the pandemic is still swarming across the globe. 

The travel industry has not yet fully recovered. But the dining sector is slowly getting back on track,  just in time for the holiday season. 🎉

This is the season to cherish life and appreciate what we have right now. We've been through a lot this year, but it shouldn't be dampened our spirit for the holidays. Celebrate it with luscious meals! 

We need to pick up our lives somewhere and keep moving and hoping for a better life ahead and remind ourselves that it's not yet the end of the world. 

Despite the pandemic, it's still the most wonderful time of the year! Let's celebrate life's moments and be thankful that we have reached this far, alive and healthy. And that's enough to be grateful and feel festive this holiday season. 

Though gatherings of large groups are prohibited under the GCQ guidelines, we are allowed to sneak to a restaurant with our family, friends or colleagues, as long as we observe the health protocol imposed by the government.

There are trendy resto in Metro Manila that offer a comfortable venue for a special gourmand trip this holiday season, a food destination that truly let us feel normal even just for a day. 😀

Blackbird restaurant in Makati is one. 

Entrance area of. Blackbird

Chic, classic interior, with earth tone furnishing, it is just beside the vibrant Ayala gardens. The scenic view of nature and breezy surroundings make this dining destination a great place to chill over sumptuous meals. 

Reception area 

And to get the most of the comforting  view of the environment, Blackbird offers an option for an Al fresco dining. It's right in their garden with two bar lounges.

Garden lounge


It is located within the Ayala Triangle at the heart of Makati, surrounded with verdant trees and cool atmosphere, making Al fresco dining a terrific option for a relaxing gourmand adventure.

McLarens team year-end lunch 

Blackbird is housed at Nielson Tower, Manila's first international airport and historic landmark, along Salcedo Village, just a throw stone away from the scenic Ayala gardens.

Al fresco dining

The interior 

Yeah, before talking about food, let me tell you first about the interior. I'm always particular with the restaurant's ambiance when choosing a place to relax over meals and long conversation, because it speaks volume for a good foodie mood. It makes the dining moment more satisfying.

Outdoor dining

Blackbird has an awesome interior, stylish art deco, elegant furnishing, warm tone and quissential oriental vibe. It instantly draws interest among diners, fa. Elegance is an understatement. 

The food and service 

Just like most fine dining restaurants, Blackbird has a great customer service with staff warmly guiding diners to their respective tables. And they're extra accommodating to diners' requests.

Blackbird offers an intercontinental cuisine, combining sumptuous western fares with contemporary Asian dishes. Big flavors in generous servings!

A great place to chill with colleagues 

We spent our year-end lunch here the other week and we chose the outdoor venue to make the most of our time, getting cozy in conversation while enjoying the food.

Happy Holidays!

Items in the menu might be highly westernized with complicated terms but its flavors have typical Asian taste, familiar to a Filipino palate.

The Menu

Dishes in the menu are segregated based on the hour of dining. Brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, but diners can take any of those dishes anytime of the day. Opening time is at 10:00 in the morning, so brunch is ready the moment you step inside. 

QR style menu

The brunch meals offer a global taste of some European fanfare. Sausages, grilled English bangers, bacons and mushrooms, toast, potato salad, steak, smoked salmon. 

The afternoon tea is a quissential English and French delights, an assortment of finger sandwiches, savory pastries, freshly baked scones with cream and jam, tarts and cakes, served with a pot of classic tea. 

Dinner menu is an array of a resplendent cuisine for a splendid night complete with wine and sparkling champaigne. 

Roast salmon, Kerala fish, grilled ribs, lamb cutlets, smoked trout, pasta, soup and starters like crispy soft shell crab, cheddar and leak souffle. Dishes that make your evening extra full and relax.

Our dining experience 

It was an extravagant Al fresco lunch for us, an opportunity to bond after months of not seeing each other, and a great moment to loosen up over great food and long conversation.

The Al fresco dining venue sets in the garden lounge of the restaurant so our year-end bonding was extra delightful, breathing on the coolness of nature while enjoying meals. 

It was a great lunchout moment with colleagues. We'd so much fun sharing stories and laughter over sumptuous dishes. Soft mid-morning air gently swirling around, blending with the aroma of delightful dishes.

It was the first time we dined outside as a complete team (although we have one colleague who is based in Cebu. Sorry Ben 😂) because most of us are on a work-from-home setup due to the pandemic. 

Peppered tuna steak 

Sir Efren and Sir Vic made a room for their schedule to come to the office for this year-end lunch. And because we're in the garden, we didn't require to sit arm-length from each other. 

With Sir Efren, our Property manager 

But we're minding with the government's protocol on social distancing and health guidelines. We entered the restaurant with our facemask and faceshield on but after we seated, the food crew gave us a paper pounch each to secure our facemask.

The crew handed us the menu that's QR-ready and we just scanned it with our mobile phone to generate the list. 

Prawn scotch eggs in betel leaves 

For starter, we sampled a set of prawn scotch eggs, betel leaves and coconut chili sambal. Php280 good for two. It tastes like some breaded meatballs with hard-boiled eggs.

Salt and pepper squid and shrimps 

We also tried the salt and pepper squid and shrimps with sweet soy and ginger starter. Php460 good for two. This one is really flavorful, very Asian taste. Crunchy and savory.

For the main course, we have Peppered tuna steak, warm potato and bacon salad, caper aioli. Php720 per plate good for one, and has no rice. According to my colleagues, it tastes awesome, with some spicy tang. 

Peppered tuna steak  Php720

I opted for Salmon fillet with green goddess potato salad, asparagus and leak, because I love grilled salmon. Php890 per order but has no rice so I ordered one cup separately.

Salmon fillet and green goddess potato salad, Aspagaragus and leak Php890

If you like salty, peppery dishes, this may not be a good meal for you. I find the recipe a bit bland, not flavorful enough to fascinate my very Asian tastebud. But I love the green goddess potato salad, it's so creamy and tasty. 

Kerala fish curry, basmati rice and papadum Php720

My colleagues chose Kerala fish curry with basmati rice and papadum (Php720). Tiger prawns in Kombu butter, sauteed spinach and nori rice (Php1, 080).

Tiger prawns and nori rice Php1,080

Despite my reservation on the bland Salmon fillet dish, Blackbird offers a great dining experience. With its fascinating ambiance, cool surroundings, classic interior, and delectable recipes (don't mind my not-so positive review on the salmon fillet), it's a relaxing place for a casual dining to celebrate life's moments over terrific meals. They've plenty to offer that suits everyone's palate. 

The Budget

Dining at Blackbird is such an awesome experience. And extra romantic with all the setup and style. Sumptuous and flavorful cuisine in big servings! So expect a pricey menu.

Vanilla panna cotta Php380

Budget per head starts at Php1,000. Main course servings usually don't have rice. If you're a typical Asian and can't live without rice during lunch or dinner, you need to put some extra budget. Rice per order is Php90.00.

Mango, passionfruit and orange shake 

For drinks, budget usually starts at Php100 for a can of soda. Fruit shakes per glass picks at Php160 while dessert like vanilla panna cotta with Black currant sorbet costs Php380.

Dark chocolate and Hazelnut 
semifreddo Php480

Another dessert we tried, the Dark chocolate and Hazelnut semifreddo (Php480) is so decadent and extra chocolatey, ideal for all chocolate lovers. 

Overall, Blackbird is a great dining place to celebrate the holidays over meals, or any special occasions. Great food, nice service, cool atmosphere. 

Me chilling at the garden lounge

Truly, an ideal place to relax over food this holiday season. An awesome gourmander destination. You'll momentarily forget the chaos of the pandemic outside. 

For more information about their menu, and reservation, you may visit their webiste, click this LINK or at mobile number +639178892782.

This wraps up my gourmand trip this year. Here's to a better world, better goals, better life, virus-free 2021! May the coming year will be finally an awesome period to explore the world of adventure and flavors.

Photo credit : Sarah, Sir Aldean, Sir Efren.

Merry Christmas and happy Holidays everyone! May your home be filled with all things this season brings: peace, love, joy, harmony, abundance and unity. 🎉

Until our next adventure! Thank you for being part of The Gourmand Travel Guide journey this year. 🤗 


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