Flying SQ916 Singapore to Manila

Finally, after two years… I’m travelling to the Philippines! I mentioned in an earlier post the ten things I want to do during this trip. Hopefully I can do most of them.

The terminal assignments are still “different” and my flight to Manila on SQ is from Terminal 3 (normally it’s T1 or T2 I think). I remember that T3 had the SQ flights that are long-haul. Anyway, after having a quick lunch with PJ at Central Thai (public side of T3), I used the automated immigration gates to get to the airside. First thing that I spotted was this Louis Vuitton display. Lavish and… aquatic!

I only had ten minutes to spare before boarding. I didn’t get to look around much of T3. But happy to see that it was filled with passengers again. The stores were open and the food stalls too. I don’t think the Hard Rock Cafe re-opened. My flight was assigned to Gate A3 which is one of the gates that is combined with all the other ones (A1, A2, A3, A4, etc.).

Like in Hanoi airport two weeks ago, I was comfortable to sit further away from the crowds. Sometimes I don’t even think it’s about the pandemic anymore. I enjoy the peace and quiet while seated away from where everyone else is. Except that there was no time to read a few chapters of my book. Boarding commenced shortly after I arrived.

I normally fly Philippine Airlines on this route (Singapore to Manila, and return). But since this was my first trip to the Philippines in over two years, I fancied myself a seat on one of the world’s best airlines. I dunno, there’s something magical about seeing the Singapore Girl – and I don’t mean that in an sexist way obviously… but as a brand, an experience you trust… Singapore Airlines is a great way to fly.

I’m coming from a vantage point of appreciation. I enjoy flying on SQ.

SQ916 leaves Singapore at 1:30pm. Today, on a Sunday, it uses an Airbus A350 with a 3-3-3 seating configuration in economy. There’s a business class (about SGD 2,000++, is that even worth it for a 3.5 hour flight). Then there’s economy and I got my seat for less than SGD 500.00 this season. It’s typically in the SGD 600-700 range pre-pandemic. By comparison, Philippine Airlines on this route is SGD 350-400 pre-pandemic. I didn’t even check how much it costs this time since I was sure about flying on SQ.

Omg it’s Father’s Day and I almost forgot! I thought there’d be some type of teddy bear (I’m not even a dad! but something I could give to my dad perhaps?). But behind the sign were the headsets for the seats lol.

It was a PACKED flight – or in other words, normal and pre-pandemic already. I did select a seat (aisle as usual) and wanted to be closest to the front as possible so I could get off the plane faster lol. Meal service started about an hour into the flight and the choices were baked fish with potatoes or braised chicken with noodles. I picked out the baked fish (see picture below). Coffee, coke, and ginger ale as well. And guess what… for the first time ever… no alcohol! I skipped the sling, the wine, and the beer this time. I’m now seven months off of alcohol. ❤️

I really like the copy behind Udders’ ice cream:

I used the Singapore Airlines app to pre-select my onboard entertainment. I queued up House of Gucci, Belfast, Spencer, and a few other films. I ended up with House of Gucci (which I suddenly disliked! Lady Gaga was fine though). I was engrossed with Kristen Stewart in Spencer. But the plane landed about halfway through the film.

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Frankly, there’s no point spending SGD 500-600 on SQ for only a three hour flight to Manila when you can enjoy a decent flight on Philippine Airlines at about half the price. Of course the service couldn’t be compared – as SQ is in the league of airline gods while PAL is still catching up. But PAL is charming in its own way, it’s my preferred airline (except today)… and somehow it feels good to support the flag carrier. I did a review of flying on Philippine Airlines business class in 2019/2020… the last flight I took out of Manila before the pandemic.

Still flying on SQ was fine earlier. The inflight entertainment was loaded with films. I really think SQ is best when you’re flying long haul or flights over six hours. Or if you’re flying to San Francisco or London.

Bonus material: A blog entry from 7 years ago on SQ912

Vietnam: Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy Review (2022)

For someone visiting Hanoi for the first time with the Old Quarter as the center of the itinerary, Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy is a good place to stay at.

The hotel is on a quieter street that’s a five minute walk to the busier streets. It’s walking distance to everything in the Old Quarter you want to look at — including the area where the train passes by.

I booked the Deluxe Room (without window) and it was averaging SGD 30/night which I felt was a steal to stay in a prime location. However, when I got to the hotel, they gave me a room with windows on the top floor. The only gripe was that it was twin beds not a queen. It also came with a welcome note.

The room was clean and the bathroom and shower are separate from each other. The room comes with all the basic necessities of most hotels.

The hotel has a restaurant on the 8th floor but it’s due to reopen only in July 2022 according to the staff I spoke with. There’s also a bar in the basement level called “The Den” but it’s also closed. Hearing that these will open again soon should be good news for the hotel and a sign of Vietnam welcoming tourists again.

Staff were great and very kind. Anne also gave me her number and suggested I reach out to her directly to get the best hotel rates. I noticed that two rooms can be combined to form one larger room so I think this is ideal when I bring the parents to Hanoi sometime in the near future.

Overall, it was a great stay at Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy. This was a no-frills place to stay and did not come with breakfast. But who needs to have breakfast at the hotel when you can just step outside and grab a banh mi at a nearby street. There’s a wonderful coffee shop right next to Trendy called Tranquil Cafe — and there eateries and drinking spots all within five to ten minutes walk.

Hanoi La Siesta Hotel Trendy is at 12 Nguyen Quang Bich Street in Hanoi, Vietnam. I stayed at this hotel in June 2022.

10 things I’m looking forward to doing in the Philippines

I’m visiting the Philippines again after more than two years away. This is the longest I haven’t visited the Philippines. I’m staying for a record 35 days and grateful my company allows me to work remotely. There are a couple of things I’m looking forward to doing. I made a list of ten!

See my family again. I haven’t seen them since Christmas 2019. But I’ve historically had more video chats with my mom in the past two years than at any point previously. I think we’re updated with each other’s lives. It’s the physical presence of enjoying dinner safely together in one room. I’m anxious though as each time I come home, I notice my parents looking physically older each time.

Enjoy bulalo and sisig in Tagaytay. There many glorious provinces in the Philippines and Cavite is… Cavite. Filled with industrial estates and regular roads, it’s not exactly as scenic or easy to traverse compared with other provinces like in the Bicol region or on my favourite island of Bohol. The Cavite-Laguna Expressway looks promising (and I’m convinced it can reshape the orientation of the province for everyday citizens and commuters), but is only a fraction complete. However, there’s trusty Tagaytay. The highlight of the province which earns its keep from views of neighbouring Batangas. My favourite thing to do here is enjoying a hot bowl of bulalo together with a sizzling platter of pork sisig.

Enjoy a rooftop bar in Makati. I don’t think I’ll be comfortable yet to walk inside one of Metro Manila’s crowded shopping centers during this pandemic. Instead I’d opt for a nice rooftop view where I can see the metropolis again after being away for almost three years. There are a few rooftop bars that were recently featured in an article from Nolisoli (Northern Living / Southern Living) which hopefully I can visit together with my friend who’s an editor at that same publication. I’m now seven months without alcohol (and plan to keep it that way). I’d love to try mocktails or order some barbecued snacks.

See the development of SMDC Light 2 Residences. Last year I invested in a unit at SMDC’s Light 2 Residences in Boni, Mandaluyong. I didn’t need to physically view the area since I was already convinced about the location and its proximity to the major business districts in the metropolis. Plus, I passed by Boni en route to Quezon City back when I worked in the Philippines. However, I’d love to visit Light Mall and Light Residences which are next to the construction site. I’ve watched YouTube videos of the development and I’ve followed posts on Skyscraper City so I’m familiar with how it looks like today. But I’d like to see it in person!

Visit the lot in La Union. Last month I filed paperwork to buy a small piece of land in La Union province. A group of friends purchased adjacent lots and helped take videos and photos of the lot to share with me. I still want to see it in person and also meet with the lot owner. This is also why I’ll be spending some time in La Union on my trip.

Spend time at the beach. Half of my trip to the Philippines will be by the beach. I’ve booked a co-working space near a beach and I’ve also booked some locations to stay at during the three weeks I’ve planned for. Without alcohol, I want to try coffee shops and beachfront eateries. I’m bringing at least two books so I can enjoy reading them while there. I rave about Philippine beaches and I want to experience it myself.

Spend my birthday with family time at a villa. The family is joining me in La Union and we booked a villa to stay at for my birthday. I’m not as keen to take the family to crowded restaurants so I’m hoping to make it a creative stay at the villa… with movies, video games, board games… simple bonding by the small pool. I’m looking for a projector we can rent so we can watch movies and truly catch up with each other. The last time we did something similar was when I turned 30 and we spent time island hopping in Coron.

Reunite with some friends. I miss so many of my friends in the Philippines but thankfully we’ve managed to keep in touch online in the past two years. There’s a handful I’d love to make time to meet when I’m in Makati. Plus, I haven’t seen one of my godchildren yet… so it’ll be something I’m looking forward to. Which reminds me… I should be buying a gift already for my inaanak.

Sort out my balikbayan boxes and my Cavite room. I’ve sent 2-3 balikbayan boxes to Cavite in the past two years and I’d need to do some organising of which items to hand-down and which items to keep. My room in Cavite is overdue a renovation and I’ll take this opportunity to study the space and see what I can do to make it better for my parents who actually sleep in it.

Meet with journalists / get sh*t done. Since I’m already in Manila, I’ve asked my company if I can turn my last week in the Philippines into a networking trip. I’ve met numerous journalists in the past two years, and it would be great to meet some in-person over coffee. I wouldn’t mind a newsroom tour as well!

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Other things I’d be curious to see or do include popping by the new SM City Tanza which is opening in a few months. It’s a large shopping mall that’s five minutes away from our family home. I haven’t booked anything yet, but it would be great to cap the trip with a stay at a hotel in BGC or Makati with my family. Since it might be a few months until I get to see them again. I’m thinking Grand Hyatt Manila? Suggestions are welcome!

I’m sure I’ve missed many other things I can do. Send your suggestions!

I finally threw away my 2017 planner

Soooo I’m preparing for my upcoming trip to the Philippines and I’m taking the opportunity to send some old clothes, shoes, and trinkets back home as well.

I’ve created two sections: a balikbayan box (these are the boxes that overseas Filipinos send back to their families in the Philippines… usually filled with chocolates and soap, except mine is filled with hand-me-downs) and my luggage. What goes into the balikbayan box are things that I won’t really need in the immediate. The luggage, obviously, all the things needed for the upcoming epic holiday.

While opening my bulky clamshell Samsonite (the logo fell off years ago), I uncovered some dusty boxes filled with photos from my days working a contract role for a tech company. The box also had pride pens (happy pride!), stickers, and handwritten best wishes from colleagues. As I was sorting which items I’d keep and which items to trash… I found my Passion Planner from 2017. To me, 2017 is aka “the forbidden year”.

I was anxious to open it but I recall that I sealed off an entire section that covered most of those triggering months. The months I’d rather just wipe clean from memory. True enough, as I opened it… about a third of the pages in the diary were sealed using washi tape I picked up at Tokyu Hands. The only thing protecting me from those pages was blue washi tape. The washi tape had dolphins on it.

I did good. I had sealed it from the top and bottom. Even so, my heart started to beat differently… and the anxiety that I’ve learned to deal with, was making itself felt. I had a clear objective to throw away this planner, finally. But I wanted one final look.

The sections that were not sealed included a handwritten note by my friend Rye (who is one of the podcasters behind The Shippers). I read his note… and my bubbling anxiety suddenly turned into some warmth. Here, a friend was writing a silly note to cheer me up.

However, when I checked what was in the inside pocket at the end of the diary planner… I found a printed picture of the guy who made me feel most human… aka the guy I was in love with. There, in his tropical polo tee, aviators, and smirk… with the backdrop of the Ocean Park in Hong Kong. Fuck.

I suddenly remembered that day quite clearly. I remember the umbrella we shared as a storm hit the park. Or walking around with him and looking at the animals in both the aquariums and gift shops. I remember how happy I was to have time with him, away from his colleagues and away from our dragon boat team. Almost like a video game where I’m the main character in an RPG, and he would just follow me around. But that’s exactly it, it was exactly that. He was just there following me around. The Ocean Park, in hindsight, was my idea. I think he was just “supportive”.

I ripped the photo in half. And feeling the heat of the moment, half simply wasn’t enough. I ripped each piece further until the small photo was a small pile that looked like confetti. I sprinkled it into the RedMart box which was designated as my trash.

After taking the snapshot of Rye’s quote, I gave the little planner one last look… and noticed how my handwriting at the time was actually cute and neat. Then finally, something I couldn’t muster to do previously, I put the entire planner in the trash box. There are years in our lives we would like to move on from. And this one, was one of them.

PJ carried a box of old pillows and together we went downstairs to basement 1 to toss the bulky trash into a larger green bin. Back upstairs, I’m washing my hands and moving onto the next thing to clear.

PS: I don’t hate the guy. I just don’t want to be reminded of him.

Hello from Hanoi

Landed at the airport, got picked up by the hotel, and now… taking a GrabBike (motorcycle) to get to a street food tour here in the Old Quarter.

A part of my budget goes into Grab deliveries and taxis in Singapore. So taking the motorcycle equivalent “GrabBike” was a treat. I was so giddy I couldn’t help but take a selfie with the driver!

Two and a half days of Hanoi and I’ll be staying here in the Old Quarter. There are coffee shops, bahn mi, bun cha, and other Vietnamese food I’d love to try.

First time to fly in… over two years

Hello from the air side of Changi Airport!

The terminal is packed with travellers and I’m trying to get used to it. It really is “business as usual”. I’m wide-eyed looking at parked planes and people getting off and on walkalators. Think about this, all I’ve seen much of these past two years are almost the same… bus, MRT, Grab taxi, bus, MRT, Grab… and of course some cycling.

Hello again, A321s!

I’m scooting over to Hanoi for the next few days where I hope to load up on Vietnamese food and coffee.

What’s your favourite thing about Vietnam?

It’s June!

I want to write more this month.

I’m flying off to Hanoi first thing tomorrow. It’s my first overseas trip in over two years. I’m giddy! A friend from the United States is visiting Southeast Asia and I thought of making a quick backpacking trip out of it. I’m excited to try the egg coffee, visit the museums, and take in a vibrant scene. It’s also to get myself comfortable again with putting myself out there. The pandemic has not ended. But life must continue.

By the way, this song and accompanying music video is brilliant:

What else is happening?

Our company shifted to a new office space yesterday. We’re now taking space inside an actual WeWork. When they announced we were moving into a WeWork, I couldn’t help but smile. No, don’t get me wrong, Anne Hathaway has nothing to do with it. It’s because a few years ago I was attending these networking events at WeWork. They had talks, workshops, you name it. WeWork is a subtle step back into this glossy tech-ish world. I remember my days at LinkedIn – free beers, snack attacks, colourful walls, hi’s and hello’s – and here it is, again.

It’s also an upgrade from our current office space. Here’s a ✨ before and after ✨ for you. I welcome it. I think it’s time to add colour again after two years of white and grey.

I’ve moved forward with the lot purchase in La Union (which I mentioned in a recent post). We’re now working on paying for the survey and getting the right-of-way completed. I don’t think we’re going to have it paved. It’s too soon. But I’m excited, really. I own a piece of land!

Lastly, Hanoi isn’t the only destination I’m going to. I’ll be in the Philippines at the end of the month. After two and a half years away from my family, I’m coming home. ❤️

Time for… a haircut

Where do you get your haircut?

I’ve been getting my haircut at Sultans of Shave since we moved to the east. It’s one of the things I allow myself to splurge on. Other men can get a haircut for only SGD 12.00 to 15.00 at a ten-minute haircut shop. But here it’s SGD 45.00 to 55.00. It’s guilty pleasure. I like the scent of sea salt being sprayed into my hair. I also love that rich lather while getting my hair washed.

I need to make changes to my spending habits after this piece of news. I’ll eventually have to say goodbye to the hour-long haircut ritual (yes, the barbers take their sweet time… I sometimes find myself falling asleep!). Hello again vacuum suction thingy at the MRT haircut shop. Hello… again.

Also been fiddling with the ‘image compare’ feature on WordPress. Here’s a before and after of today’s haircut. I love keeping my hair short these days.

I feel fresh!

Sultans of Shave has branches across the city. But the one at Jewel Changi Airport is on the fourth level (#04-240) near Mellower Coffee and LeNu.

I bought a piece of land

I’ve started the process of owning a piece of land!

My friends in the Philippines took photos of the lot

One of my life goals is to own a piece of land before I turn 40. The paperwork will take about a year. If there are no problems, I’ll be 38 when I hold onto a title.

Where is it? It’s in La Union, a hilly coastal province in Northern Philippines. It’s about 20 minutes away from a popular surfing enclave facing the West Philippine Sea. The coast is facing the west which means it has postcard-perfect sunsets. I couldn’t stop from scanning through people’s Instagram stories of the sunset in the area. It’s glorious to think that I can own something that’s 20 minutes away from that kind of view. I wouldn’t be lying if I said this was like a dream coming true.

What happens next? There’s much to get done including paving a right-of-way and installing a proper drainage to the area. I’m thinking of putting up a small wire fencing around the lot. If I can afford better, I’ll put up a proper wall to secure the perimeter. I’m already studying possibilities including which architects from my personal circle to work with. I’m also part of a group so it’s really about saving and helping pay for common area expenses (right-of-way, drainage, etc.).

What’s my motivation? I like the feeling that I’m responsible for something tangible beyond saving up for another iPhone or going on a vacation. I like the feeling that the money I’m earning from my career can now slowly be funnelled into things that are more future-oriented like retirement. To think, I’ve been paying rent for twenty years. I want to put aside money that goes into something that I can build a house on in the future. The idea excites me. And in hard times, it’s good to envision a future.

What’s my plan for the lot? It’s residential. Perhaps a vacation house up north. Or in this era of teleworking, an actual house to live and work from. It’s near the beaches and near the planned extension of a popular expressway that links up to the ones leading to Metro Manila (about 5 hours away). I’m studying the roads that will be developed in the area. The group is treating the area as a retirement commune.

YouTube already knows the kinds of videos I enjoy watching since this pandemic started. I’ve been obsessed with watching videos about tiny homes, country houses, tropical villas, and life living off-the-grid. I don’t think I’ll be living off-the-grid, but I’m happy an idea is being planted today.

We have to start somewhere. ❤️

I’ll write about my experience buying land and I’ll document that journey here.

Thank you heaps to my friends T&M, R, TJ&M for helping with the initial paperwork in La Union this month (May 2022). Thank you to my parents and my brother for their support.

A Day Trip to Pulau Ubin

We went to Pulau Ubin over the weekend. Pulau Ubin is a small island off the northeast coast of Singapore. It’s accessible via a 10-minute bumboat ride from Changi Point Ferry Terminal.

What I love about Pulau Ubin:

  • It’s a great place to bike on trails.
  • It has a countryside appeal that’s opposite of urbanised Singapore.
  • There are camp sites for people looking for some adventure.
  • There are rocky beaches to quarries to explore. There’s also hiking on hills.
  • It makes for a perfect day trip on a weekend.

I share more in this week’s uncut video.

Have you been to Pulau Ubin? Tell me about your adventures on the island.

We met up with our friends S and E at the hawker center in Changi Village. The place was packed with cyclists. It had a happy and energetic vibe. I ordered butter toast with kopi C — tbh, it can’t get better than that on a humid morning.

Afterwards we walked over to Changi Point Ferry Terminal to meet up with our other friends. We went straight down to queue for the boats. There was a long queue already as many people wanted to take advantage of the long weekend.

The bumboat cost is S$4.00 per head, one-way. Cash only.

It was a perfect sunny morning and the ride to Pulau Ubin was smooth. When we arrived, we headed straight to the bike rental shops. Mountain bikes were going at S$15 for the older ones, $25-30 for the newer ones. We went for the old ones. Make sure to try them out near the rental shop before you take them.

This mountain bike costs S$15 to rent for the whole day (until 6:00 PM).

If you’re asking why we didn’t bring our foldable bikes, I thought it’d be better to rent for a few dollars than to spend on repairing our bikes which aren’t quite built for rough trails. I also didn’t want to go through the hassle of cleaning my foldies… as they’re expected to get dirt and gravel on them from Pulau Ubin.

Soon after we followed our friends’ itinerary and rode westward from the main village area. The route had numerous cyclists, fisherfolk, and people who opted to go trekking. Unlike our first visit in 2020, we were now allowed to keep our masks off during the entire time while outdoors.

We reached the quarry at the furthest end on the west… where we also wanted to take a trail up a hillside but had to turn around since the ground was muddy. We reckoned it wouldn’t be worth it and instead headed back towards Puaka Hill to enjoy the signature overview shot of Ubin Quarry.

By this time the sun was high above and we were hungry. We made our way to the main village and got a table at a seafood restaurant. There’s only a handful of eateries to choose from which adds to the appeal of the place. We ordered sweet and sour pork, sambal kang kong, cereal prawns, and fried rice.

It felt like we were there for two hours since the food took forever to serve (given the place was packed with customers and it appeared they only had two cooks in the kitchen?). I was enjoying this “holiday” feeling so it didn’t bother me much to wait.

After eating we got back on our bikes and rode towards the east side of the island. We didn’t get to see this side in our visit in 2020. I quite enjoyed this route more because of the many trees. The route is more within the island than the eastern side, which is slightly more coastal. Also, I wouldn’t like to be here after dark omg.

When we got to Chek Jawa Wetlands, you could already hear a thunderstorm coming. I was worried but thought there were shelters at different parts of the route in case of a lightning storm. We walked towards the wetlands area and noticed many monkeys and wild boars.

Shelters you can find throughout the island

It started to drizzle so we headed back to the main village afterwards. I’ll say that the right side (eastern side) is my favourite. We unfortunately didn’t have enough time to do actual trails. I think I’ll visit the island again soon to do some type of trail.

After returning the bikes at the shop

Overall it was a great day trip, save for the thunderstorm that arrived right as we got on a boat back to Changi Village. Overall on my Strava, we covered just above 12km on roads. I’d like to double that next time!