Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Choose Aloha. Choose Scott Hawaii.

The quest for eternal summer is arduous and costly. It is neverending.

But the quest for quintessential summer sandals, for me, is over.

Three months ago, a Pualani pair was sent from the Aloha State to our doorstep in Sydney, Australia. It's my first Scott Hawaii sandals, and prior its delivery, I had not come across the brand. I unboxed and unwrapped and stared at them with slight skepticism. Sure, the plumeria detail makes it a charmer, but the bicast leather straps and insole don't seem like they can stand abuse.

And I'm a manhandler of things.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Pardon my ginger-esque hooves.

My Pualani pair traveled with us from Australia to Malaysia to Singapore and to Philippines. Unused. I assumed it won't be able to handle the ruggedness of our chosen trails. Plus, I randomly picked the wedge-heeled kind, I thought it won't be comfy for long strolls.

During our recent U.S.A. trip, I decided to give 'em a go for they were starting to collect dust under our bed in the Philippines. And I worried that the pair will start flaking.

Kailua Beach, Oahu Island, Hawaii. Ye, they traveled back to Hawaii.
My Pualanis traveled back to Hawaii and basked under the summer sun, fashionably sauntered in California's Bay Area, saw otherworldly tufa towers in California's Mono County, trudged along an ancient bristlecone pine forest, and hiked a bit in Nevada's Grand Canyon National Park.

They proved me wrong and swept me off my feet (thank goodness not literally).

I felt clumsy walking on them at first since I rarely wear heeled thongs, but got used to the pair quickly. They're lightweight, at the same time sturdy. I only wish they come in more happy hue combos that represent the colorful Polynesian culture.

Amongst tufa towers, Mono County, California. 

Scott Hawaii was founded by Elmer and Jean Scott in 1932 after they moved from Massachusetts to the territory of Hawaii. Their specialty was plantation boots for the sugarcane and pineapple field workers who were prevalent back in the day. It didn't take long for Elmer and Jean to establish a reputation within their community for they are from a long lineage of shoemakers.

During World War II, materials became scarce, and businesses catering to the U.S. military service were given priority access to such materials. And so Scott Hawaii began focusing on casual footwear.
My Pualani pair trudged along the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Inyo County, Eastern California.
No doubt, Scott Hawaii has come a long way and on a different path from its past. Yet the current products still embody the spirit of its predecessors by being functional and solid.

And it definitely speaks of Hawaii. Can't wait to get another pair.

You could win a pair of Scotts! Brewing an online contest open to US residents. Stay tuned for details!


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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hulhumalé, Maldives: A Newborn Artificial Island

Our low-cost airline flight provided an on-board entertainment that surpassed all others we've experienced... The spectacle of Maldives' islands, strung together like a jewel necklace, sitting oh so pretty in the middle-ish of Indian Ocean nowhere. It was one of those travel moments filled with imaginative swear words, muttered under the breath.

Hulhumalé's public beach. Frequented by Maldivians. 

The Republic of Maldives never made it to our bucket list prior the trip, because back then it was our choice not to afford it. Hubby and I keep our respective lists quite realistic. And Maldives is one of them countries we thought we'll only consider visiting when we're old and gray and subject to carbon dating.

We felt our few savings was better spent somewhere else.

Hulhumalé Inn, our accommodation on the island.

But we chanced upon an airline company website glitch last year — thanks to a tip that circulated within the travel blogging community which allowed us to book a cheap flight from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur to Malé for three. The total price, about $4. We took that as a sign. Cause really, we'd be stupid not to grab such rare opportunity. So we purchased tickets. Without worries whether we could fund the unplanned luxe getaway or not.

A Maldivian 'bench'. Dunno what they're looking at.
And two months later, there we were celebrating our fifth year of togetherness with our toddler Luna, thousands of feet above the ground.The flight itself exceeded our expectations. Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, or simply Malé International Airport, ain't much of a looker. But outside its arrival hall where the port for ferries to the capital and private resorts' speed boats is, one can have a quick taste of paradise. The water is a gorgeous aquamarine.

A more conservative approach to clothing on this inhabited island.

Queues at the immigration counters were long, took a while before our turn. And when it was, the officer simply stamped our passports. No questions asked. We grabbed our luggage and sped towards the arrivals. We arranged our pickup ($15 for all of us) through Hulhumalé Inn, a ten-room guesthouse on Hulhumalé Island, wherein we were booked for the night. We would have taken the public bus, but each passenger was only allowed a luggage each. After shopping in Australia, we had tons.
Public Bus Service On Hulhumalé Island 
A bus service runs between Malé International Airport and Hulhumalé island between 6:00AM to 2:00AM, operated by Maldives Transport and Contracting Company. It leaves Nirolhu Magu's (neighborhood 1) bus stop roughly every forty minutes to one hour and is a mere 15 minute-ride. Station at the airport should just be outside the arrival hall. Ask around. In the evening, bus may run every two hours. Each passenger's allowed only a luggage each at the time of our travel (2013). Fare is MVR3 or about US$.20.
Man-made beauty, this reclaimed island.

Driver helped us dump all our stuff in the van (Maldivians know so well how to give good service, in such regard, keep a stash of small bills to give away as tips). Our party of three was whisked to the guesthouse, not stopping for anything even when some locals signaled to hitch a ride. Upon arrival, we were handed welcome drinks. The staff brought our luggage up the room while we quickly filled out the check in forms. We couldn't wait to explore the hood.
Hulhumalé Inn Review
It did its job well in giving us a comfy pod to sleep in. Our simple double room priced at UD$70 excluding taxes and fees (Yep, welcome to the Maldives!) has an en suite bath and a small balcony. It faces the main street which never gets too hectic. WiFi was a pain, hair-pulling slow during the few times we were able to connect. A simple brekkie is included in the room rates. Egg and toast and cereal. Coffee and tea. Kitchen opens at 6:30-7:00AM. There are cafes nearby, and the beach is just a couple of blocks to the east. The guesthouse offers package tours. Staff was as warm as the Maldivian sun's rays.
Beach got busy as the day approached sundown.

Hulhumalé's role to us was not limited to being a transit stop. It served as an educator. It gave us a brief introduction to Maldivian culture. 

The island was constructed (completed in 2002) on a shallow lagoon in the same atoll as the capital's, and is linked to the island of Hulhulé. Its purpose is to address the country's growing population density. On our stroll around the neighborhood that afternoon, we passed by blocks and blocks of newly built (and under construction) residential buildings. Structures are mostly four to five stories high. Not all were occupied. Perhaps exodus has not commenced yet.

New flats. Cheaper rent compared to Malé's.
From the relatively busy Nirolhu Magu street, we walked two blocks to get to the shore. At the public beach, we let our feet sink into the white, powdery sand. I could not believe we were basking in artificial paradise. 

Hubby and Luna waded in the water while I watched a group of local women, all covered up, lie on/roll over the sand and chitchat and giggle like young girls. Islam is the official religion of Maldives. On inhabited islands, female tourists are expected to maintain a conservative approach to clothing. The thought of swimming in pants and shirt put me off (though I knew about this beforehand) since I didn't see any public changing rooms nearby. I'd have to saunter back to our guesthouse dripping. I don't know what's more unacceptable: Being in the water wearing a swimsuit, or being out on the street looking like a wet t-shirt contest participant. Nah to both.

  Access to public beach. Not a lot of seaside cafes here. Alcohol is only sold/may only be consumed in Hulhulé Island Hotel.
Before heading back to Hulhumalé Inn, we searched for a place to eat because the guesthouse doesn't sell food. There were only a handful of convenience stores and sai hotaa (tea shop) on the island during our visit. Like in India and Sri Lanka, the cafes are mostly populated by men. I was the only female at Cafe De when we dined. We ordered a fishcake which tasted more like a hot pepper cake, sweet sticky rice (apparently to balance out the spiciness of the pepper patty – I mean, fishcake), and hamburger (a safe order for Luna).

Fishcake. Or so we were told.

A cafe's a great place to start interacting with locals. In our case however, we weren't thrown random questions. We only received a lot of stares. I initially thought, perhaps because I'm female. But then the Maldivians, to me, didn't seem overly conservative. 

Maybe Hulhumalé's residents are simply not used to curious travelers. Not like the thousands deployed in other islands who were trained to entertain. Or maybe this newborn community a melting pot of sorts is still in the process of welding its cliques within. And still in the process of establishing their set of norms which has not tackled the subject of striking up conversations with foreigners. Or for all I know, we just didn't stumble upon a local who's intrigued enough.

The island of Hulhumalé, the newest kid on the block ( or make that, the newest island in the atoll), may be artificial, but it gives visitors a peek at real Maldivian life. Something you won't witness in a high end resort. Something worth experiencing even for a short while.

Missed our guide to backpacking Maldives? Click HERE.


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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Istanbul, Turkey Accommodations: Sultan's Inn Hotel Review

It was a smart move to organize a hotel pick up. Hefty at 25,00 €, but worth every dang cent. After a Philippines-Singapore-Malaysia-United Arab Emirates-Turkey transit, we were sleep-deprived and weary to the bones and bordering deranged. Our cabbie was at Atatürk International Airport's arrival hall on the dot, and in my head I wanted to run towards him and squeeze him in delight.

What I did in real life, as a greeting, was a mere grunt.

Sultan's Inn's rooftop, where guests can have brekkie.

With droopy eyes, I watched the Turkish world out my window as we whizzed towards the heart of Sultanahmet. The drive's about half an hour, and a part of our route unveiled a view of the Sea of Marmara. That certainly kept me up.

Our room wasn't available yet when we arrived at the hotel. But after a quick brekkie of menemen (which we grew an obsession for) at a nearby cafe, we were checked in when we got back.

Tight space, yet the bathroom's massive.

Like many other guesthouses and small hotels in Istanbul, Sultan's Inn has about four floors and a rooftop converted to a lounge area. Like the others, it doesn't have a lift. We were assigned a room on the fourth floor, and we were fortunate that the bell man was around to help us with the luggage.

Our double room has a colossal bed. Prolly too colossal that it ate all the floor space. The bathroom, massive. Air-conditioning is individually controlled and there's 24-hour hot shower. We were happy to have our own fridge though we didn't have much use for it. 

Brekkie spread.
Breakfast is served on the same floor. The spread's got a pretty good selection during our stay and one could apple tea all-you-want (which meant a lot for the hubby). Guests may bring their food up the last set of stairs to the rooftop that offers a view of the Blue Mosque on one side and the Sea of Marmara on the other.

In the afternoon, Sultan's Inn also provides free snacks. Usually pastries, plus coffee and tea. Also served in the brekkie hall.

View of Blue Mosque from Sultan's Inn's rooftop.

Price of double room with brekkie at Sultan's Inn is 55,00 € (single 50,00 €, triple 70,00 €). It was way beyond our budget. But because of its proximity to Sultanahmet's (the old city of Istanbul) sights, plus its great reviews online, we booked with them anyway. The hotel has a good range of tour packages but we didn't try any.

We didn't really have to. The main attractions are just a few blocks away from it. Sultan's Inn, though very near the city buzz, sits on a quiet street which makes it an ideal temporary abode. The streets we had to walk on from the hotel to our various destinations weren't dodgy. Not a single time did we feel unsafe in the hotel's hood.

Our fave nook on the rooftop.

Except for our dripping aircon when turned off and the nonexistent elevator, we loved everything else about Sultan's Inn. If we get the chance to revisit Istanbul, will definitely consider staying here again. And when the time comes, I hope the Turkish embassy in the Philippines lets me stay in the country for more than two weeks.

Sultan's Inn Hotel
Mustafa Pasa Sokak No.40
Kucukayasofya Mahallesi
Sultanahmet, Istanbul


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Thursday, July 3, 2014

AsiaRooms Blogger Awards 2014

Hear ye, fellow travel bloggers... It's back this year! proudly presents their second Blogger Awards which recognizes our favorite travel bloggers, photographers and filmmakers who have inspired us to dream, explore and discover the world.


How to join:

Nominate yourself (Yes you could!) or your favorite travel blog for one of the categories below. Most nominated blog will win. Quite simple, ei? Winners will be judged by nominations per category.


The prize: 

Winner per category will receive up to SGD300 worth hotel stay which must take place between 18 July 2014 to 18 July 2015. Hotel must be selected via website. The prize value (SGD300) must be used in one booking.

Wait, there's more!

For those who are nominated, you can get 10 extra votes by helping Asia Rooms spread the word about your participation through blogging.  Remember to link back to this page.

Want even more votes? Just share your post on Facebook and Twitter (10 and 5 additional votes respectively) and #ARbloggerawards.

You can also win even if you're not a blogger! Simply follow @asiarooms on Instagram, upload a travel photo and tag @asiarooms and #ARbloggerawards. Photo with the most number of Likes wins a hotel stay too!

Good luck everyone! 


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Sunday, June 29, 2014

2014 Thus Far: The Second Quarter

As of late, my mornings revolve around counting stars.

Stamped stars.

It's a Philippine pre-school thing. A visible "Good job!" remark, stamped on students' wrists by the teachers after an activity in class. Every time I fetch her from school, I find myself comparing the number of her stars with that of others. If she's got less, I question her. I probe.

Then in my head I go, "What have I become?!". A student's mom, that's what.

Tropical coastal town Cardwell, northeastern Queensland.
Since owning a shack (which we snagged on a spur-of-the-moment decision because we're the type), we've sorta sunk back into the "real world". You know... Mortgage, monthly bills, car maintenance, cooking shows on cable telly, snoopy neighbors, grocery shopping as therapy, Zumba as family bonding, and as previously mentioned, stamped stars. 

Our long honeymoon/babymoon/familymoon seemed over. Oh how hard I tried to channel my inner domestic diva which I have come to believe is nonexistent. And the universe might have sent me a sign saying this is indeed a fact via an oven glass door explosion while I was baking a french toast casserole at home. 

The real world has a charm of its own. Has a fun of its own. It's quite depressing to realize that this world just isn't ours anymore. Because truth be told, there are days that I really feel like a foreigner to my own society. My opinions sound askew for them. And the rules I create appear out of hand.

Sometimes I fear of me not belonging. Of my daughter not belonging. The hubby has always been socially awkward so he doesn't give a dang.

2014's second quarter was rather sleepy for I took these fears into consideration in laying out our April, May, June plans. We spent more time growing roots than spreading wings. Here's what went down this second quarter:

First week of April saw us traversing Queensland and New South Wales, Australia aboard a hired (almost for free) station wagon.

Mini reunion with the hubby's Persian family in Australia. Luna did Easter egg hunting for the first time in Sydney.

Built new partnerships with New York-based lifestyle brand Yak Pak, casual footwear manufacturer Scott Hawaii and DTC Mobile.

Visited the sister in Singapore with an itinerary that's solely concentrated on food. Did a side trip to Legoland Malaysia. 

Was invited to the Sarangani Bay Festival 2014, the biggest beach festival in Mindanao. Not only did we party for two nights, we also had the chance to do the white water tubing in New La Union, Maitum. I now know how it feels like to be in a washing machine.

Received the awesome news that my piece Sulu Sojourn: Reconnaissance won as one of the finalists of Wego's "Life Changing Travel Story Contest".

Staycation with me mum at The Linden Suites. A quickie "vacation" she longed for and deserved

Joined Melo of and on a Chevy Spark road test. The little beast brought us to La Union, Vigan, Paoay and Batac.

In June, we enrolled Luna in kindergarden (she managed to skip nursery after a quick assessment conducted by one of the teachers) primarily cause she said it herself, "I want to go to school.". We thought it would be great for her to learn discipline and to acknowledge the authority of others. Good to know she's able to keep up with the pace. Unfortunately, just a week and a half into her schooling, she's already bored of it. Lucky for her, she's only doing this for a month. Why? 

Because this is what we are up to...

The hubby's got a business conference in the United States and Luna and I are going with him. It's just a two week trip, but we're joining anyway so that we could do a little exploration within the region. As for Luna's studies, well, she's gonna be roadschooling (just a term I use which basically means homeschooling without a 'home') for the next two to three months. It ain't so much of an issue for us because in Australia, where we intend to reside 2015 onwards, school officially starts in the sixth year of the child's age.

We got plenty of time to diddle daddle.

And we can't wait to tell you more stories of diddle-daddling.


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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Photo Essay: Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal

Gray clouds swiftly drifted athwart the celestial blue sky. As we strolled our way from Planet Bhaktapur Hotel to Durbar Square, I silently prayed to the universe not to let them hang around. Why we were traveling Nepal during the monsoon season, well, it was the most practical home-bound route stopover (from Caucasus to Southeast Asia) we found at the time.

It was our first of only a few mornings in Nepal. We had to hit the ground running.

The entrance that we used to access the square does not encounter a lot of tourists. Its ticket booth wasn't even manned when we arrived. We waited for about a quarter of an hour until someone came  to collect our payment and issue a ticket (Bhaktapur Durbar Square admission fee $15).

A screenshot of a map, saved in our point-and-shoot, guided us through deserted back alleys. The scenery was a stark contrast from the highly urbanized setting of Yerevan, Armenia where we flew from the day prior. It's a backdrop that an overwhelm. That can overjoy.

We traipsed by ourselves for a while, up till a local offered to show us around for a reasonable rate. Hubby and I let go of skepticism and entrusted the wheel to a stranger. It was to be a day of exploration of the old Bhaktapur Kingdom — or whatever's left of it after the 1934 quake. It was to be a day of chasing our two year-old in and around a living museum.

The Nyatapola Temple, one of the tallest in Kathmandu Valley. Constructed in 1702, during the reign of King Bhupatindra Malla.

Like stepping out of the TARDIS and into the past.

Fasi Dega Temple. Guarded by elephants, lions and bulls. Luna was upset we didn't let her sit on the elephant.

Perched on the top plinth of Fasi Dega Temple.

Fave activity in Bhaktapur Durbar Square: People watching.

55 Window Palace. The guide led us through the Golden Gate and all the way to the royal pool. Some areas are off-limits. No admission fee.

The royal pool/bath inside the palace.

And there are times when you could feel the power of aged walls.

View of Taumadhi Square from Nyatapola Temple.

Near empty Durbar Square at noon. Just what we needed.


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