Sights from Saigon

One day in Saigon, three things on our laundry list: eat at Anthony Bourdain’s Lunch Lady, eat banh mi, and drink beer. We know, we’re very easy to please.

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The banh mi and beer were easy enough; the first one seemed less so, as we had no idea where we were and where she was, but seeing as Ho Chi Minh looked like a proper Asian city with good roads, neon signs, and Louis Vuitton shops, finding her location would be a walk in the park.

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But as the heavens would have it, we did spend a good chunk of our day getting lost around Saigon’s never-ending roads, with very little money and too many wrong maps at our disposal. It didn’t help that we didn’t have Internet connection on the go, and that most of our attempts at asking for directions were reduced to flimsy sign language and lame drawings.

In the end, our feet sore and tempers high, we did manage to finally sit on one of the Lunch Lady’s small plastic chairs and order a bowl each of her day’s specialty. We didn’t exactly worship it however, mainly because it had bamboo shoots (which both of us don’t really like). Portions were huge, and the broth was actually pretty good. We also ended up paying more than we thought we should, seeing as the stuff shoved into our tables (a plate each of fresh spring rolls and fried spring rolls, which we ate thinking they were included in our order of pho), turned out to be from the neighboring stalls, and, well, were not free. Almost cash-strapped, we walked (again) on the way back to our Airbnb rental — which turned out to be a good three kilometers away! — thinking out loud about our English teachers and how we are very thankful they came to our lives.

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Did we think Saigon was a bad job? Of course not.

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It is its own kind of crazy, but it’s actually one of those cities we think we could live in — streets are walkable, Internet (when present) is fast, food is glorious and cheap, and the ca phe sua da is f*cking amazing.

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Bone-chilling cold, 14% beers, and the 9-hour trek to Pulag

So here we are, after 10 years of living in Baguio — our first time in this part of the Cordillera.

So like everyone else in our group — two from Manila, one who’s just come home from two years in Saudi Arabia — Owen and I didn’t know a thing about what was waiting for us. Part of us was counting on a decade’s worth of living in the Baguio cold to withstand whatever awaited in the mountains of Pulag, but as the day wore on, as thick fog descended on our candy-colored tents and as darkness crept in, so did a kind of chill that was strange even to us.

Pulag, Benguet

We love the occasional serious adventure, and this — our year’s first trip — was as serious as any can get. We had everything every self-respecting tourist would have in serious times like this: emergency blankets (the flashy, noisy ones that will probably save you from the cold but not from the guilt of sleeping very noisily), sleeping bags, headlamps, a hundred layers of clothing, and the thickest damn jacket the ukay-ukay at Harrison can give.

Of course, apart from our stash of Andok’s chicken and Jollibee burgers, we also had beer to ward the cold off. Owen brought these canned Royal Dutch beers with 14% alcohol content in them — which turned out to be quite the perfect choice: very potent at a far less baggage. It was enough to give us a few hours of shut-eye (could have been more had one group of pesky tourists not decided to go shouting at midnight).

Pulag, Benguet

Pulag, Benguet

We were to start our trek at 1 AM directly from the Ranger Station where we were camped (the usual camping grounds halfway up the summit having been closed earlier due to heavy rains). Yep, we were going all the way to Pulag in one go. And back.

The reality of what we were doing dawned with every step we took in the darkness, with every layer of clothing that we slowly peeled away as we began to feel the brunt of the steady climb. For four hours, we walked seeing nothing but patches of mud in front of our feet — the only view that our headlamp could afford us. There was no sightseeing, no picture-taking.

Up we climbed, along endless grassy paths and slopes that steadily went from manageable to miserable. The last few minutes passed by in a fit of feverish climbing, all muscle pain forgotten as we pushed farther and faster, because the first of the morning was breaking in a gigantic sliver of orange. We didn’t go through all that trek only to reach the peak late.

And yet, we did not see the sea of clouds of Pulag.

We did see the sun rise, yes. But this sunrise was borne out of a clear day, its rays bathing us all gold — the grass, the slopes, the countless groups of people who had climbed with us that Tuesday morning. Its warmth was welcoming, glorious even. We sat there, looking over the vast mountains of the Cordillera as they slowly took shape.

And then it was all over in a few minutes. We sat there, pink-faced from the cold and sore from the climb. We devoured stone-cold fried chicken shortly after, trying not to think too much of the very long way back.

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Two2Travel Mt. Pulag Benguet

Mt Pulag National Park, Philippines / Nikka Corsino - Two2Travel

Mt Pulag, Philippines / Owen Ballesteros - Two2Travel

Mt Pulag, Philippines / Owen Ballesteros - Two2Travel

Mt Pulag, Philippines / Owen Ballesteros - Two2Travel

Mt Pulag, Philippines / Owen Ballesteros - Two2Travel

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Photos by Owen and Nikka / Last photo by Ed Catapia
Check out our recommended Airbnb in Baguio HERE.

13 Mouthwatering Dishes at the Baguio Country Club

Dining at the Baguio Country Club is always a treat. As anyone who lives in Baguio knows well, food at the club is just superb and is in fact one of the best in the entire city. You can never go wrong with their classic, perfectly-baked-each-time raisin bread and brewed coffee — a combination so simple yet done so well that it is very hard to replicate.

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com
As it turns out, there were many new developments at the club introduced over the 2014 holidays, particularly in its already-ginormous kitchen: the club’s kitchen has a new head, the incredibly down-to-earth Executive Chef Kiko Tugnao, who has cooked up a storm during our stay. They also opened up a new wing just off the lobby for themed buffets.

Over at the Veranda, that classic all-wood semi-alfresco dining area overlooking the golf course, there is a formidable lineup of Chef’s Specials and classic favorites tweaked to perfection. We sampled some of these menu classics and newcomers and were blown away! We didn’t think food that’s already good can get a lot better, but that’s exactly what happened.

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If you’re coming over for Panagbenga, do try these fantastic dishes!

French Onion Soup Au Gratin

Rich beef broth enhanced by caramelized onions and sherry wine, covered with puff pastry and mozzarella cheese.

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Hands down one of our favorites in the lineup. We had this twice during our stay and it was perfect every time: the crisp puff pastry and the light but savory onion soup. This is the first thing we’d order on our next visit.

Cinnamon Apple Pumpkin Soup

Creamy puree of apple and pumpkin with a sprinkling of cinnamon for a twist on a classic recipe served in a bread bowl.

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Rich and creamy with a hint of sweetness, this is not your ordinary soup.

Grilled Cordillera Vegetables

Healthy starter of locally sourced vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, mushroom, and bell peppers) fire-roasted to enhance flavor

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Another of our favorites, this dish is a refreshing take on the way highland vegetables are cooked. We also love the presentation!

Moringa Pasta Gamberetti

Pasta with creamy malunggay pesto sauce, with grilled prawns.

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Whoever said the humble malunggay can’t be in the same plate as pasta and prawns? This dish is such a winner you’d want to eat it over and over again.

Pata de Paella

Boneless crispy pata roulade stuffed with flavorful seafood paella.

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Description says it all. The Pata de Paella—Chef Kiko’s signature dish—is not for the faint-hearted. You have been warned.

Salmon Belly Roulade with Hoisin Sauce

Grilled parcels of salmon belly, aromatic hoisin glaze, and Hainanese rice

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Salmon served with Hainanese rice? Now that’s something new! Light and savory, this fusion dish tastes as good as it looks.

Laing Espesyal

Crispy lechon kawali slices topped in gabi leaves in spicy coconut cream sauce and sautéed prawns accompanied by steamed rice.

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Laing and prawns are not exactly the most common of pairings, but this dish justified it quite well. Another winner!

Bagnet, Sayote, and Cordillera Wild Rice

Crispy pork belly slices paired with highland staples

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The pork belly was cooked perfectly — a tasty pairing with the light and fresh sayote and Cordillera rice. Pork belly serving is good enough for sharing too.

Beef Rendang with Biryani Rice

Fork-tender beef simmered in a variety of aromatic spices, lemongrass, and coconut milk; served with Biryani rice.

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The beef was tender and packed with flavor, and the fragrant Biryani rice takes you straight to the Indian subcontinent where it came from. More Asian classics in Baguio please!

Oriental-style Fried Chicken

Fried chicken seasoned in a special blend of oriental spices, with fried camote and gravy.

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Light and crisp, this fried chicken dish is something you probably won’t want to share with anyone else.

Bacon Cheeseburger

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Hardly what you can call a shortcut to a full meal, the bacon cheeseburger, with its succulent beef patty and generous serving of the very well-loved bacon, is every meat lover’s dream-come-true. And it does have ample greens to cut off all the juicy fat, in case you were worried.

Lechon Wrap

Baguio Country Club Lechon Wrap

Anything with lechon in it does not need any more introductions! The serving on this one is good enough for sharing. Something new and something tasty always wins in our books!

Dessert: My Sweet Indulgence

Baked cheesecake topped with vanilla and chocolate ice cream, accompanied by berry compote and streusel bits.

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The cheesecake is to-die-for, and the serving is so big three people can share in one. Another absolute favorite!

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The man behind all the delicious plates,
Executive Chef Kiko Tugnao

The Cotterman

 

The club also offers buffets at the Cotterman. We love the careful selection of dishes on their spreads (we tried their breakfast and dinner buffets). Each dish we sampled was really good — something not all buffet-offering restaurants in Baguio can rightfully claim.

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Duck and melt-in-your-mouth steak at the carving station!

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Great wine selection at Par 7, right next to the Veranda:

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And some other photos from our stay:

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com
Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

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Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com
The club has an aviary, in case you’re wondering

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

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The new area for themed buffets

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What can we say — good food, fantastic Cordillera coffee, and that cozy mountain ambiance — the Baguio Country Club is everything we love about Baguio, in one roof.

http://www.bcc.com.ph
BCC on Facebook

Check out our recommended Airbnb in Baguio HERE. :)

Book flights to Barbados for romance and fun

I’d had high hopes before embarking on my trip to Barbados, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. One of the things that struck me most about this small but perfectly formed island in the east of the Caribbean was the sense of romance that seemed to pervade virtually every street, beach and bar. Benefiting from superb weather, stunning beaches, sumptuous cuisine and welcoming locals, it makes the ideal vacation spot for loved up couples.

Follow my Footstep to the Sunset. Barbados
Image by Berit Watkin , used under the Creative Commons license

Where to stay

I’d received mixed advice about where to stay on this sun kissed island. If it’s surf you’re after, head to the east coast. There, you’ll find stunning scenery and plenty of waves. However, like many of the people who venture to Barbados, my partner and I opted for one of the relaxing resorts on the west coast. This sheltered stretch benefits from beautiful sandy spots, calm seas and plenty of luxurious hotels and restaurants.

Take a picnic tn the beach

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Image by Shayan (USA), used under the Creative Commons license.

It’s easy to spend day after day simply sunbathing and swimming while in Barbados, but if you really want to make the most of your time there, it’s a good idea to organize the occasional special date. You certainly won’t be short of options. One of my favourite holiday memories involved taking a simple picnic to Gibbes Beach. This 300-meter stretch of sand has to be one of the most scenic on the entire island and it lacks the commercial look and feel of many of the other coastal spots. The beach is bordered by tall trees, adding to the sense of seclusion. This also means there’s plenty of shade if you want to escape the sun. Take along a picnic and taste the island’s famous rum.

Dine in style

No trip to this destination is complete without at least one high-end meal. You’ll be spoiled for choice when perusing the array of eateries on offer. Wherever you end up, look out for local delicacies like flying fish. Another unique flavour comes in the form of sea urchins, known in Barbados as ‘sea eggs’. Around 17 different species of these creatures can be found around the coastline and they are usually steamed, but if you’re feeling brave, you can eat them raw.

Head inland

Another top date tip is to head inland to the island’s lush interior. Boasting fields of sugar cane and beautiful botanic gardens, this rolling terrain is superb for a romantic stroll. It’s also well worth checking out one of the island’s plantation houses. For example, right at the heart of the island lies the 350-year-old Fisherpond Plantation House. Set in immaculate grounds, this fascinating building lets you step back in time to the island’s colonial past. We missed it, but if you’re there on a Sunday, you can also sample a planter’s buffet lunch while listening to live piano music.

Time your trip

To get the most from your holiday, it’s a good idea to book your flights to Barbados and time the trip carefully. Travelling in the winter, we enjoyed virtually unbroken sunshine. January through to April is generally considered to be the best time to visit the island as these months are the coolest and least humid. Of course, you don’t have to restrict yourself to this window, but if you don’t want to get wet, avoid the official hurricane season. This runs from June to November.

With a little planning, you can enjoy a romantic break like no other in this corner of the Caribbean.

Japanese feast at Baguio Country Club’s Hamada

Who does NOT love ramen? (If you’re one of them, then you have a very big problem.)

This classic Japanese dish consists of noodles swimming in a rich stock, topped with an assortment of meat and vegetable ingredients that create a medley of flavors, making ramen such a well-loved dish all over the world.

And here in Baguio, the best bowl of ramen we’ve tasted yet is found, unsurprisingly, at Baguio Country Club’s acclaimed Japanese restaurant, Hamada.

Hamada revamped its ramen offerings late 2014 and began serving this new lineup only over the holidays. We have not tried their old ramen recipes so we cannot compare, but those we had recently were amazing.

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The all-new Tonkotsu Ramen at Hamada Restaurant — named by the Philippine Tatler as one of Baguio’s (and the country’s) best restaurants

Tonkotsu Ramen (pork bone broth)

Rich, savory, and extremely satisfying, Hamada’s Tonkotsu Ramen is definitely something to beat in Baguio. The stock alone takes three days to prepare, and the thin pork belly slices were tender and flavorful. A bowl of this—especially in this chilly Baguio weather—is perfect.

Hamada’s other ramen recipes include Tonkotsu Miso Ramen, Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen, Tonkotsu Shio Ramen, and the Chef’s Special Ramen. Also worth noting for all the ramen lovers out there: Hamada also lets you put your own ramen together with its Make-Your-Own-Ramen option. We’re guessing a weekend visit is not enough to try all these (which is why we’re very thankful we live here!).

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

Hamada’s warm and inviting interiors

Tonkotsu Ramen, Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

Tonkotsu Ramen, Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

Big bowl of flavor—and happiness—right there

Tonkotsu Ramen, Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

Hamada is also quite known for its teppanyaki. Its teppanyaki chefs are extremely well trained and are very entertaining (although you may not want to get too close when it’s time for flambé). We saw all types of diners—from groups of adults to families with young kids—all looking impressed with their own teppanyaki show.

We tried their Yamamori Special, which consists of US Angus beef, prawns, chicken, salmon, grilled vegetables, and Japanese fried rice.

The course started with miso soup, a rather filling piece of cream dory, and salad before our teppanyaki chef, Caesar, started sending vegetables and eggs and butter flying around. The entire performance took around 40 minutes, and we ended the course with a refreshing fruit salad.

The entire course left us full to bursting with good, tasty food. We especially loved the salmon, beef, and salad. Another teppanyaki worth trying is the one with a US Angus beef ribeye. Alternatively, you can choose which ingredients go into your teppanyaki course.

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Your chef doesn’t cook this way: Our teppanyaki chef Caesar serving us Japanese fried rice, which moments previously had been a beating heart. You have to see it to believe it.

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

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Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

Baguio Country Club / © Owen Ballesteros www.two2travel.com

We loved everything we had at Hamada and we can’t wait to go back! Do try any of their ramen or teppanyaki dishes—they offer value for money and are really delicious!

Hamada Restaurant
Baguio Country Club
Country Club Road, Baguio City
Opening Hours: 10 AM – 2 PM; 6 PM – 10 PM
http://bcc.com.ph

Check out our recommended Airbnb in Baguio HERE. :)

One of Life’s Greatest Architectural Designs: The Asian Las Vegas

Asia had longed to recreate something of the same ilk as Las Vegas’s notorious and world-renowned Strip. After years of planning and many leading architects and engineers sniggering at the prospect of building something on reclaimed land, the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino opened its doors in 1999 in Macao.

It cost a whopping 2.4 billion to build according to Twisted Sifter. The architects have enthused the casino grounds with smatterings of cities from around the world. Take its spin on Venice for instance: a plethora of gondolas, a faux St. Mark’s Square and the Venetian’s very own take on Venice’s magnificent Grand Canal, and you get the picture that this casino wasn’t built on a whim.

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Photo from wikimedia.org

The Venice-themed part of the Venetian alone has space for over 1,000 rooms, which contributes to their considerable amount of hotel suites that make the Venetian the biggest hotel in the world.

It also has a Canyon Ranch Spa Club that spans a staggering 65,000 square feet and 16 restaurants that serve cuisines from around the world. It also is a regular for high-profile boxing events. There are also two museums on the grounds of the Venetian: the Guggenheim Las Vegas and the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum.

But its original purpose for being built was to offer visitors and residents of Macao a gaming mecca to be proud of. It would later be dubbed the Las Vegas of Asia—and the biggest casino in the continent by some way. It features a gaming floor of 546,000 square feet underneath a spectacular domed ceiling, making it the largest gaming floor in the entire world. There’s also live entertainment day and night at the Venetian.

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Photo from wikimedia.org

Undoubtedly, apart from the architectural splendor of the Venetian, its main appeal is the myriad of entertainment options that it offers its patrons. The Las Vegas Sands, who owns the Venetian, knew that they’d have to offer guests more than just gaming to help maintain healthy profit margins – something Vegas casinos have struggled to do over the years.

When the groundbreaking InterCasino ushered in online casino gaming in 1997, casinos had to rethink their business models to compete with the more convenient online options that gaming enthusiasts were now presented with. This is why many began offering a wide range of entertainment options – something Las Vegas Sands didn’t want to fall foul of when they created the Venetian. And that’s where the beauty lies with the Venetian: its many creations and live shows.

So if you think you’ve already enjoyed everything Las Vegas can offer, try something Macao on your next holiday. The Venetian is one of the most spectacular sights of architectural brilliance you may well come across—and it’s only a 30-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong. It’s an experience that’s definitely one for the books!

Postcard: Back from Saigon

Lady on the street of Saigon, Vietnam by Owen Ballesteros

We had a day in Vietnam after almost two weeks in Cambodia, and what can we say, Ho Chi Minh really is on a league of its own. But for all its chaos, this city does have its quiet moments.

For now, we’re finally back home after 16 hours on the road. We’ll be back with more stories and photos soon!

<3 Owen & Nikka Photo © Owen Ballesteros

BDJ x Two2Travel: 2015 Navi Planner Giveaway

It’s been a very busy last few weeks (or make that months!). Nikka visited Northeast India in October, and we finally managed to revisit Coron, one of our absolute favorites, soon after (none yet on the blog about these recent trips though, but we’re working on it!). So while we all wait, here’s a little treat — a first on this blog — from our friends at Belle De Jour Power Planners: we’re giving away a 2015 Navi Planner to one lucky reader!

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Continue reading “BDJ x Two2Travel: 2015 Navi Planner Giveaway”

Tips for your trips: La Union

La Union — We’ve been here, literally, since birth. We’ve stalled previous attempts at writing a guide (I am rolling my eyes as I write this) for so long because we really didn’t think there was enough around here to let anybody stay.. until of course recently, when, all of a sudden, we have a festival (what?!), a night market, and so many new restaurants mushrooming all over town. I mean, if people are eating here, there must be something going on.
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Baguio Resto Roundup: Canto

Baguio Resto Roundup: Canto

Welcome to our Resto Roundup features! We love good food and we’re always on the lookout for great places to have them. But we are not gourmands, so we’ll keep things here nice and simple. Enjoy!

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but thank God for ketchup.
Continue reading “Baguio Resto Roundup: Canto”