2014: Of Greatest Hits and Encore Visits

I honestly don’t know where my year went. One day I was cramming my 2013 year-end post at home in Manila, and the next thing I know, I’m sitting in a café in one of my favorite areas in Seoul writing my 2014 year-end post, which is exactly what I’m doing right now. It’s the last day of the year and I’m spending it in Hongdae, at least until we head out for a big New Year’s Eve party somewhere else in Seoul later. I’ve never been away from home during the holidays, so this New Year’s trip is a milestone, and it’s been a great one so far! 

More on this trip in another post, though. For now, I’d like to look back on the year that was, because I don’t think I’ve really had any time to reflect on how I spent it. Between so many changes at work, finally turning my tiny matchbox of a house into a home, getting into a new hobby / business venture, and taking so many random trips, it’s been a whirlwind of a year! It’s been pretty exhausting too, and I got sick for nearly a week this month (right when all the holiday get-togethers, parties and dinners happened! Friends, please don’t forget me! Let’s catch up in January) as a testament to the toll the year has taken. So this trip away from everything as the year ends is much needed, and I’d like to think, well-deserved.

I kind of feel the same way for all my trips this year, actually. Six holidays and two business trips and I didn’t plan a single itinerary for any of them. My trips this year were all pretty relaxed, fairly spontaneous, and all of them were repeat visits. And what I loved most about them was how unhurried all these trips were – there was no urgent need to get to anywhere quickly, and to pack a day with so many things to see and do, because technically, I had already been to these places. It was just about revisiting old favorites, without the pressure of getting nice pictures taken or finding anything “blog-worthy”. It was all about soaking up a place and living in that travel moment. I wonder if this is what it means to mature as a traveler?

I look forward to discovering new places in 2015, though. We have a big trip planned, an epic one I’ve been waiting to do for years, but it would be nice to do a short backpacking trip to an exotic place some time in the year too. Nepal or Sri Lanka, maybe? This year’s trips were all in cities and fancy hotels and resorts, so I would really love to be climbing temples and walking through dirt roads with my huge backpack again in 2015.       

And as far as the big elephant I’ve been ignoring in this post goes, yes, I do hope to blog a whole lot more in 2015. Too many things happened this year and I honestly just wasn’t able to find the time and I guess the drive to do it. And I have so much to write about! I’ll work on it. Next year will be a better blogging year, I promise!

Closing this out with a few pictures from my trips this year. We’re gonna head back to our hostel in a bit to take a disco nap before we head out for tonight’s festivities. Hopefully it’ll be an epic night! Have a happy new year everyone! Friends, let’s run into each other next year, in a tiny airport in the middle of nowhere, on a dreary red eye flight home, in an untouched, pristine beach, or at sunset in an ancient ruin. Dinner in BGC is fine too. Haha.   

A Guide to Macau

One of the upcoming destinations tourist are flocking to is Macau, a region of China. The area has had a massive rise to prominence in recent years, becoming famed for its fantastic historical past, vibrant entertainment and likeness to the bright lights city Las Vegas thanks to its casino culture. One of the most popular entertainment attractions in Macau is the DreamWorks Experience at Cotai Strip Resorts. The venue is a great place to take the kids, but also enjoyable for adults too, and has free entry for all ages. The park is open between 12-18:45pm on a daily basis and gives visitors are great experience at 3pm each day with the All Star Parade.

To take in the more cultural side of Macau’s history, a visit to the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral is a must. The 16th Century build is known as one of Macau’s most famous landmarks, featuring some excellent carvings by Japanese monks as well as a jaw-dropping façade, which will impress all of your party. Also worth visiting is the A-Ma Temple and the Guia Fortress.

But if you want to take in some of the finest casinos floors and play blackjack or craps, Macau is the place to be. The Casino Lisboa is built in the shape of a lotus flower is the best Macau casino if you just want to game. The poker room is particularly impressive, with high stakes tournaments involving very good players, while the members’ reward program may be the best of any Macau casino. There is little in the way of other entertainment though, so it’s not a place to take someone who doesn’t share your love of gambling. If that is the case for you, the giant Venetian Macau is definitely the best choice. Although the complex still offers games ranging from Texas Hold’em to Baccarat which you can also find at casino sites like CasinoOnline.co.nz , it also has a fantastic entertainment scene. Top stars such as Beyonce perform music concerts here, while there is also a golf course, a 1,800-seater theatre and fine dining. Here you can even top off the evening with a moonlight gondola trip along one of the canals, making it easily the most romantic casino on the island. END

Vinyl Street Bar, Hongdae, Seoul

As you might've read from previous posts on this blog, I have a love affair with Hongdae in Seoul, South Korea. I immediately fell for its youthful vibe and artsy feel the first time I visited the place a few years back, and have been back in Hongdae a couple of times since. Last year I went on a solo trip to Seoul and spent a couple of days walking around the city, and I of course made Hongdae my home base.

It was in one of my walks around Hongdae that I finally chanced upon Vinyl, a tiny, quirky street bar near Hongik University that sold cheap cocktails in ziplock bags. I had heard about it a couple of times before and had seen blogs rave about the place, but had never gotten the chance to look for it until my solo trip last year. It took a while for me to find Vinyl, but all the walking around in the cold while looking at Google Maps was worth it!   

Speakeasy Spotlight: Finders Keepers, Makati

With the rise of speakeasies in Manila, I've come to love a finely crafted cocktail. I don't know why, but there's something very rewarding about sitting by the bar on a Friday night after a long work week and watching a bartender work his magic on your drink.

Finders Keepers is one of my favorite places for a cocktail and a night of unwinding. The Love Juice is a simple but stellar concoction (gotta love Tanqueray!) and I honestly cannot have just one glass of it. Definitely one of my favorite cocktails in Manila!

There's plenty of other things to love about Finders Keepers - the place is unpretentious, the atmosphere laidback, the music a good mix of indie and mainstream, and you're bound to bump into someone you know.

Right next to it is Black Market which has a bit more of a club vibe, and right outside is Joe's Meatshack which sells some pretty good burgers, perfect to cap off a night of drinking and dancing (and for helping with that hangover).

Finders Keepers
La Fuerza Plaza, Don Chino Roces Avenue, Makati

48 Hours in Hong Kong: A Photo Journal

My first trip of the year was to Hong Kong for a weekend to catch Phoenix in concert (which I flailed about here. Best concert everrrr!). It was a short trip but a memorable one. There's something to be said about chill weekend solo trips - there's very little preparation to be made (for this one, it consisted of me cramming my booking for accommodations) and very little luggage to be packed (especially as I didn't pay for check-in luggage).

There's also something very liberating about a no-itinerary trip. There were only three things on my to-do list for this Hong Kong weekender: (1) find the mythical Prada outlet of urban legend; (2) attend the concert; and (3) eat, eat, eat.

Pictures from the trip under the cut. I actually went to Hong Kong again two weeks ago, for another weekender, and maybe I'll post about it soon.

Where is your favorite weekend getaway?

Seoul Searching: A Photo Journal

Last December I traveled to Seoul, South Korea on my first international solo trip. I spent nearly a week traveling on my own, solely on my own terms, and found myself falling into a routine - every morning I would head to this awesome cafe near my guesthouse to enjoy an unhurried breakfast and ask myself, "hmmm, what do I want to do today?", and start my Seoul searching.

I'll write a proper post about my trip to Seoul one of these days (or weeks, or months), but for now, here's a bunch of photos from the trip which I took on my phone.

Saying Goodbye to EXO's Boy Who Cried Wolf Concept Shop, Part 2

Check out Part 1 here, or check out the Principal's Office, the Classroom, and the Dorm Room below!

Saying Goodbye to EXO's Boy Who Cried Wolf Concept Shop, Part 1

After six months, SM Entertainment has finally announced that EXO's Boy Who Cried Wolf concept shop in Gangnam will officially close its doors in February. I got to visit the store on my recent trip to Seoul, right before they changed the decorations for the holidays, and I thought I'd share the boatload of photos I took of the place.

Kpop boyband of the moment EXO (or more like SM Entertainment's Creative Directors and Marketing Managers, I suppose - what I wouldn't give to get their jobs!) collaborated with popular Korean street brands like Liful and Peace, Love and Understanding to create Boy Who Cried Wolf, a concept store that sells clothing and merchandise in line with EXO's album, XOXO. In keeping with the album's "school" concept, the shop is setup as such, with a gym, a cafeteria, a library, a classroom, a principal's office, and a dormitory area. The clothes and accessories sold in the store reflect EXO's street style (and expensive taste - the stuff at Boy Who Cried Wolf do not come cheap).

I loved the whole idea of Boy Who Cried Wolf and how well it tied together with the concept behind EXO's promotions last year. SM Entertainment seems to have some pretty brilliant individuals working with them to have come up with such solid concepts for their groups in 2013. You can check out an interesting interview with Min Heejin, SM Entertainment's Visual and Art Director here, but I'm quoting what she said about EXO's winning concept last year below because I think it explains the context around Boy Who Cried Wolf better:

How is EXO’s recent comeback’s ‘Growl’ concept? 
Street is the primary part of the concept. The moment I heard the song, I was sure it had to unwind with a school uniform. School uniforms and street looks probably don’t match, but the way they fit sentimentally made me pay attention to it. First of all, the first official album concept was unraveled largely at a school. And so, the hakwon (private educational institute) reference was drawn out with notebooks and graduation photos for the first album, and extended it to the streets for the next song. Like linking young boys’ daily lives going from school to after school in one album. I wanted to show this group EXO’s image in a friendly, yet individualistic, way through this threaded drawing. 

Anyway, enough about the marketing geekery. The other main reason why I was dying to go to Boy Who Cried Wolf was obviously because of the fangirling! Take a virtual tour of Boy Who Cried Wolf with the photos below!

48 Hours in Hong Kong: Phoenix Live at AsiaWorld Expo, 19 January 2014

I was supposed to write this elaborate post about my 48 hours in Hong Kong but that will have to wait, because I can't contain my excitement and have to post about the main reason why I flew to Hong Kong in the first place: the Phoenix concert!

This is mainly a photodump, and I don't think I'll be able to write a full-fledged fan account anymore, so hopefully the pictures below tell the story of how epic the concert was.

I also went to their concert in Manila last night, which was crazy! All of Manila seemed to be there and the band seemed pretty happy with the massive crowd. Everyone was singing along and when Thomas left the stage and ran through the audience everyone went wild. Solid night! Thank you Captain Morgan Philippines for one of the best concerts I've ever been to!

Sending a hello to Chau, whom I met at the Hong Kong concert. I was on my own so I was really glad to have found someone to fangirl with! Hope you like the pictures!

Start the New Year Right (and Healthy) with Juju Eats!

The start of a new year often means new resolutions, and a lot of holiday weight gained over the last month of the previous year. Nothing quite disproves the saying "past is past" like the holiday weight that spills over your jeans and threatens to tear apart your shirt sleeves after Christmas. Clearly, you did not leave your family's noche buena in the past.

Fortunately, many helpful souls (and enterprising individuals) have made it easier for people to start the year right. Detoxing is all the rage in Manila now, because it's a quick way to kick start a healthy new year and to lose a bit of weight.

Located along Pasong Tamo extension in Makati is a dieter's heaven - Juju Eats. They serve fresh, healthy food and juices that taste pretty good, making it a lot easier (and enjoyable) to eat healthy. 

2013: Lessons Learned from the Road

So I'm starting 2014 with a 2013 year-end post that's five days late, but I'm cutting myself some slack because as it turns out, I've been writing year-end posts since 2006. Over the holidays I was too busy being lazy (hehe) and just didn't have the drive to blog. I don't want to make excuses so early in the year, so maybe we just let this one go, yes?

Anyway, as this is my 8th year-end post (and that fact doesn't make me feel old at all), I'm running out of ideas on how to make this different from the previous year. I had half a mind to just make a picture collage from my trips, but 2013 had been such a great year and it deserves much more than that. I thereby present my last minute attempt (and last ditch effort) at a creative concept, in which I share with you five things I learned from the road to sum up all my travels from the year that was.

A blessed and fruitful new year and new travels to all of us!

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