Saturday, March 26, 2016

Binondo's Not-so-Hidden Secrets

(As published in the January 2016 issue of Hardware Zone PH Magazine) 

Better known as “Chinatown” of Manila, Binondo has so many things to offer, which may not be known to many, most especially to non-Chinese people. What you might not know is the fact that Binondo is the oldest Chinatown in the world, as it was established in 1594. Since then, it has been the center of trade and commerce for the Filipino-Chinese community.

I must admit that I am not really a Binondo person. Although I’ve had a couple of Filipino-Chinese friends from this district, I haven’t really gone around it and I still consider myself a Chinatown-newbie.  While I have visited Divisoria for a couple of times before, this is actually the first time I have explored Binondo. Let me share with you a couple of my discoveries in this quick tour.

1.     Lucky Chinatown Mall is both a good and bad idea. It’s good to finally have an upscale mall and a secure parking space in Chinatown; however, getting out of the parking building from the topmost floor could take up to 2 hours most especially during rush hour. Sometimes, taking public transportation could be a better idea.


2.     Chinatown Gold Center is like a gold mine! I’ve never seen that much authentic gold in my life, all in one place. There, they sell different karats of gold jewelries, which come from multiple countries – Saudi gold, Russian diamond, etc. – and they are selling it like a commodity. One can buy a simple 18K golden ring at around Php 3,500 or a small 18K golden pendant at Php 1,500. I have also learned that they have online sellers for those who cannot personally visit Chinatown; but I suggest you do because there are a lot of pretty items there to choose from.



3.     Authentic yet cheap Chinese food are just within the streets of Binondo. I have tried the Original Chicken Mami from the famous Masuki Mami House in Benavidez Street and it’s probably not the best mami I’ve tasted but it’s equally good. I actually like their siomai more. Don’t be surprised if it’s priced at Php 35 per piece because it is actually big and tasty. To satisfy my xiao long bao and hakaw cravings, I headed to Ongbin Golden Dimsum in Dasmariñas Street, as advised by a Fil-Chi friend. And good news, their food did not disappoint! I also passed by the oldest standing restaurant in Binondo, the New Toho Food Center, established in 1888, which can be found along T. Pinpin Street. I was too full to give it a try so you better go try it yourself to know why it has been there for more than 100 years already.


xiao long bao at Ongbin Golden Dimsum
huge siomai at Masuki
yummy Mami at Masuki
4.     Attract good luck with Binondo’s lucky charms. There are a couple of shops selling lucky charms, from small trinkets to huge Buddha statues. Their peak season is around January as people prepare for the Chinese New Year. They also share some forecasts for the incoming year so you would know which stuff to buy. 2016 is the Year of the Fire Monkey, and if you want to know which lucky charm would best fit you, visit these shops in Chinatown.



5.     Whatever you could think of buying can be found in Binondo. From gift items to furniture to clothing, you can all find them there, and at a way cheaper price. You can also avail of wholesale prices, and this would benefit you most especially if you plan to resell these items because people would usually pay for convenience. There are a lot of good finds in 168 Mall, 11/88 Mall, and 999 Mall, or just by the side walks and other shops within the streets of Binondo such as the Ongpin Street. Just don’t forget to haggle and enjoy shopping!

Just a few tips for you to be more comfortable and safe while touring Binondo: wear simple clothing and flat shoes, and do away with jewelries and branded accessories. Better to have someone with you and refrain from using your mobile phone.


And those have been my discoveries. Now it’s time for you to discover these “not-so-hidden” secrets of Binondo I have shared, and go find out more!

wasn't able to take much photos during this trip so I just took a selfie instead haha

Travel Tokyo on a Budget!

A Budget Traveler’s Guide to Surviving One of the World’s Most Expensive Cities
(As published in the December 2015 issue of Hardware Zone PH Magazine)

Oftentimes, fist timers and budget travelers get intimidated about traveling to Japan, particularly it’s capital city, Tokyo. It has been consistently listed in the top 10 most expensive cities for the past few years, which shies away budget travelers.

On my recent trip to Japan, I have realized that traveling to Tokyo can be cheaper than traveling to Hong Kong, which is the usual destination of Filipino travelers. But now, you have to know that Tokyo has fallen off from the top 10 most expensive cities due to the weakness of the Japanese Yen against the US Dollar. While this is bad news to Japan, this is good news for tourists as this would be the best time to travel there. Their government is very considerate to tourists now. I got my 5-year multiple entry visa in just 2-3 business days.

Let me share 10 tips to help you enjoy Tokyo without spending so much:

1.     Plan ahead! Make an itinerary, have a budget, make a shopping list, know what you want. This would help you save time and money as you go around the city. In Japan, everything is on time. I’m glad I brought my Veloci watch that got me constantly updated with the time.


Veloci Time
2.     Watch out for a seat sale! You would be surprised that my roundtrip airfare only costs around Php 4,000 (roundtrip Manila-Cebu-Narita), which I purchased during on April 2015. I took advantage of the seat sale and bought another ticket from Nagoya to Manila at Php 2,000, just so I wouldn’t have to pass through Cebu anymore.


a photo with Hachiko as soon as I arrived

3.     If you’re a solo traveler, CouchSurf! Not only you would meet new friends, you get a free accommodation too. Visit www.couchsurfing.org for more info.

4.     If you travel as a couple or a group, go AirBnB. This is way cheaper than getting a hotel room. You get to have your own place at the city’s top locations at just around Php 800 to Php 1,500 per person.

5.     Try a capsule hotel or a manga kissa for a unique experience. I don’t recommend this if you intend to sleep long hours. Most capsule hotels have a spa and you can stay there comfortably at a rate of Php 1,200/night. A manga kissa is a 24-hr internet café, where you can read manga books, surf the internet, use the shower, etc. for 30 minutes up to 12 hours. I have tried Manboo, near the Shibuya crossing. I paid around Php 580 for 5 hours, inclusive of unlimited drinks. Since the lights are out, I was able to use my Euroo LEDlit while I was searching through my stuff inside my assigned cubicle.

checking in at Manboo! Manga Kissa in Shibuya

6.     Get a Suica or PassMo IC card. It costs 2,000 yen but 1,500 yen is all consumable and it’s for a lifetime use. It is a reloadable card, which you can use for payments in the subway, convenience stores, restaurants, etc.

7.  Don’t miss shopping in Don Quixote, Daiso, and in shopping districts: Ueno and Akihabara. Don Quixote is a cool shop where you can buy a lot of interesting stuff. You can find one in Shinjuku and Ginza. Daiso, of course, is a famous 100-yen shop. Ueno is an area where you can buy clothes, perfumes, bags, chocolates, and everything Japanese at a cheaper price. For consumer electronics, Akihabara is the place to be. But after all the shopping, use a Euroo digital luggage scale to ensure you won’t exceed your baggage allowance.

Shibuya shopping district is the home of local designer brands
crossing the famous Shibuya crossing

You can buy these KitKat flavors from the stalls in Ueno
Found a lot of Totoro items at a Game Center in Ueno
fresh flowers at the Ueno shopping district
8.     Dine at hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Authentic Japanese food is not as expensive as you think. An average set meal would range from Php 200-Php400.


thanks to my friend Dra. Anika for the treat
we spent around 2000+ yen for these yakitori goodness

9.  You need not spend for good photos. You would spend a few hundreds for multiple subway rides but you don’t need to spend for admission fees all the time. You can visit the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku, Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, and the Tokyo Imperial Palace for free. You would only have to pay entrance fee if you would like to go up the Tokyo SkyTree and the Tokyo Tower.


this was probably my third time in Asakusa temple
Speaking of good photos, don't miss having a Purikura sesh! You may find them inside Game Centers

10.  Enjoy Tokyo! Go to Disney Sea, cross the Shibuya crossing, visit the giant Gundam robot in DiverCity, take a selfie with Hachiko at Shibuya station, eat at Tsukiji Fish Market, and more!


huge Gundam Robot at Diver City, Odaiba
Better come super early (like 5am) at Tsukiji Fresh Market to witness the fish auction but in case you miss it, you can still eat fresh sashimi anytime at the restaurants there

I survived with just 30,000 yen pocket money for 4 days and 3 nights in Tokyo and I challenge you to do the same. Game?

the colors of autumn


BONUS post:

While we were there, we were able to visit the Tokyo Big Sight for the 44th Tokyo Motor Show. The exhibit was too big that we weren't able to explore all exhibit halls, but everything we've seen was just amazing! :)


a futuristic car from Benz
While we were also there, we got to visit Maria Ozawa in her bar in Shinjuku. On my last night in Tokyo, I came back as Maria offered to send me off before heading to Nagano to visit my relatives.

with my friend Ly and Maria

Watch out as I'll be posting my Nagano-Osaka-Kyoto-Nara-Kobe adventure soon :)



Saturday, March 26, 2016

Binondo's Not-so-Hidden Secrets

(As published in the January 2016 issue of Hardware Zone PH Magazine) 

Better known as “Chinatown” of Manila, Binondo has so many things to offer, which may not be known to many, most especially to non-Chinese people. What you might not know is the fact that Binondo is the oldest Chinatown in the world, as it was established in 1594. Since then, it has been the center of trade and commerce for the Filipino-Chinese community.

I must admit that I am not really a Binondo person. Although I’ve had a couple of Filipino-Chinese friends from this district, I haven’t really gone around it and I still consider myself a Chinatown-newbie.  While I have visited Divisoria for a couple of times before, this is actually the first time I have explored Binondo. Let me share with you a couple of my discoveries in this quick tour.

1.     Lucky Chinatown Mall is both a good and bad idea. It’s good to finally have an upscale mall and a secure parking space in Chinatown; however, getting out of the parking building from the topmost floor could take up to 2 hours most especially during rush hour. Sometimes, taking public transportation could be a better idea.


2.     Chinatown Gold Center is like a gold mine! I’ve never seen that much authentic gold in my life, all in one place. There, they sell different karats of gold jewelries, which come from multiple countries – Saudi gold, Russian diamond, etc. – and they are selling it like a commodity. One can buy a simple 18K golden ring at around Php 3,500 or a small 18K golden pendant at Php 1,500. I have also learned that they have online sellers for those who cannot personally visit Chinatown; but I suggest you do because there are a lot of pretty items there to choose from.



3.     Authentic yet cheap Chinese food are just within the streets of Binondo. I have tried the Original Chicken Mami from the famous Masuki Mami House in Benavidez Street and it’s probably not the best mami I’ve tasted but it’s equally good. I actually like their siomai more. Don’t be surprised if it’s priced at Php 35 per piece because it is actually big and tasty. To satisfy my xiao long bao and hakaw cravings, I headed to Ongbin Golden Dimsum in Dasmariñas Street, as advised by a Fil-Chi friend. And good news, their food did not disappoint! I also passed by the oldest standing restaurant in Binondo, the New Toho Food Center, established in 1888, which can be found along T. Pinpin Street. I was too full to give it a try so you better go try it yourself to know why it has been there for more than 100 years already.


xiao long bao at Ongbin Golden Dimsum
huge siomai at Masuki
yummy Mami at Masuki
4.     Attract good luck with Binondo’s lucky charms. There are a couple of shops selling lucky charms, from small trinkets to huge Buddha statues. Their peak season is around January as people prepare for the Chinese New Year. They also share some forecasts for the incoming year so you would know which stuff to buy. 2016 is the Year of the Fire Monkey, and if you want to know which lucky charm would best fit you, visit these shops in Chinatown.



5.     Whatever you could think of buying can be found in Binondo. From gift items to furniture to clothing, you can all find them there, and at a way cheaper price. You can also avail of wholesale prices, and this would benefit you most especially if you plan to resell these items because people would usually pay for convenience. There are a lot of good finds in 168 Mall, 11/88 Mall, and 999 Mall, or just by the side walks and other shops within the streets of Binondo such as the Ongpin Street. Just don’t forget to haggle and enjoy shopping!

Just a few tips for you to be more comfortable and safe while touring Binondo: wear simple clothing and flat shoes, and do away with jewelries and branded accessories. Better to have someone with you and refrain from using your mobile phone.


And those have been my discoveries. Now it’s time for you to discover these “not-so-hidden” secrets of Binondo I have shared, and go find out more!

wasn't able to take much photos during this trip so I just took a selfie instead haha

Travel Tokyo on a Budget!

A Budget Traveler’s Guide to Surviving One of the World’s Most Expensive Cities
(As published in the December 2015 issue of Hardware Zone PH Magazine)

Oftentimes, fist timers and budget travelers get intimidated about traveling to Japan, particularly it’s capital city, Tokyo. It has been consistently listed in the top 10 most expensive cities for the past few years, which shies away budget travelers.

On my recent trip to Japan, I have realized that traveling to Tokyo can be cheaper than traveling to Hong Kong, which is the usual destination of Filipino travelers. But now, you have to know that Tokyo has fallen off from the top 10 most expensive cities due to the weakness of the Japanese Yen against the US Dollar. While this is bad news to Japan, this is good news for tourists as this would be the best time to travel there. Their government is very considerate to tourists now. I got my 5-year multiple entry visa in just 2-3 business days.

Let me share 10 tips to help you enjoy Tokyo without spending so much:

1.     Plan ahead! Make an itinerary, have a budget, make a shopping list, know what you want. This would help you save time and money as you go around the city. In Japan, everything is on time. I’m glad I brought my Veloci watch that got me constantly updated with the time.


Veloci Time
2.     Watch out for a seat sale! You would be surprised that my roundtrip airfare only costs around Php 4,000 (roundtrip Manila-Cebu-Narita), which I purchased during on April 2015. I took advantage of the seat sale and bought another ticket from Nagoya to Manila at Php 2,000, just so I wouldn’t have to pass through Cebu anymore.


a photo with Hachiko as soon as I arrived

3.     If you’re a solo traveler, CouchSurf! Not only you would meet new friends, you get a free accommodation too. Visit www.couchsurfing.org for more info.

4.     If you travel as a couple or a group, go AirBnB. This is way cheaper than getting a hotel room. You get to have your own place at the city’s top locations at just around Php 800 to Php 1,500 per person.

5.     Try a capsule hotel or a manga kissa for a unique experience. I don’t recommend this if you intend to sleep long hours. Most capsule hotels have a spa and you can stay there comfortably at a rate of Php 1,200/night. A manga kissa is a 24-hr internet café, where you can read manga books, surf the internet, use the shower, etc. for 30 minutes up to 12 hours. I have tried Manboo, near the Shibuya crossing. I paid around Php 580 for 5 hours, inclusive of unlimited drinks. Since the lights are out, I was able to use my Euroo LEDlit while I was searching through my stuff inside my assigned cubicle.

checking in at Manboo! Manga Kissa in Shibuya

6.     Get a Suica or PassMo IC card. It costs 2,000 yen but 1,500 yen is all consumable and it’s for a lifetime use. It is a reloadable card, which you can use for payments in the subway, convenience stores, restaurants, etc.

7.  Don’t miss shopping in Don Quixote, Daiso, and in shopping districts: Ueno and Akihabara. Don Quixote is a cool shop where you can buy a lot of interesting stuff. You can find one in Shinjuku and Ginza. Daiso, of course, is a famous 100-yen shop. Ueno is an area where you can buy clothes, perfumes, bags, chocolates, and everything Japanese at a cheaper price. For consumer electronics, Akihabara is the place to be. But after all the shopping, use a Euroo digital luggage scale to ensure you won’t exceed your baggage allowance.

Shibuya shopping district is the home of local designer brands
crossing the famous Shibuya crossing

You can buy these KitKat flavors from the stalls in Ueno
Found a lot of Totoro items at a Game Center in Ueno
fresh flowers at the Ueno shopping district
8.     Dine at hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Authentic Japanese food is not as expensive as you think. An average set meal would range from Php 200-Php400.


thanks to my friend Dra. Anika for the treat
we spent around 2000+ yen for these yakitori goodness

9.  You need not spend for good photos. You would spend a few hundreds for multiple subway rides but you don’t need to spend for admission fees all the time. You can visit the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku, Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, and the Tokyo Imperial Palace for free. You would only have to pay entrance fee if you would like to go up the Tokyo SkyTree and the Tokyo Tower.


this was probably my third time in Asakusa temple
Speaking of good photos, don't miss having a Purikura sesh! You may find them inside Game Centers

10.  Enjoy Tokyo! Go to Disney Sea, cross the Shibuya crossing, visit the giant Gundam robot in DiverCity, take a selfie with Hachiko at Shibuya station, eat at Tsukiji Fish Market, and more!


huge Gundam Robot at Diver City, Odaiba
Better come super early (like 5am) at Tsukiji Fresh Market to witness the fish auction but in case you miss it, you can still eat fresh sashimi anytime at the restaurants there

I survived with just 30,000 yen pocket money for 4 days and 3 nights in Tokyo and I challenge you to do the same. Game?

the colors of autumn


BONUS post:

While we were there, we were able to visit the Tokyo Big Sight for the 44th Tokyo Motor Show. The exhibit was too big that we weren't able to explore all exhibit halls, but everything we've seen was just amazing! :)


a futuristic car from Benz
While we were also there, we got to visit Maria Ozawa in her bar in Shinjuku. On my last night in Tokyo, I came back as Maria offered to send me off before heading to Nagano to visit my relatives.

with my friend Ly and Maria

Watch out as I'll be posting my Nagano-Osaka-Kyoto-Nara-Kobe adventure soon :)