48 Hours in Manila

So, before I left on my journey around SE Asia, all the info I found on Manila was basically telling me not to go. The capital of the Philippines does not have a good reputation, a lot of it is centred around the awful traffic, while other bits I read just said it was too vast, too run down to bother with. In my opinion, you’re missing out by not exploring this wonderful capital.

My plan was to spend just a couple of nights there, spend one day exploring and take a flight over to Palawan the next day. After checking hotels I decided to book one well in advance for my first night and stay somewhere really nice, at least that way I could enjoy the hotel even if I didn’t enjoy Manila that much. The thing that hit me immediately about Manila was that I had suddenly arrived in a place in Asia, that uses pesos as currency, has San Miguel adverts everywhere and my taxi driver was called Pedro. I was in love.

I arrived from Taiwan early and the first thing I did was get a sim card, I think it cost about £10 for 5GB of data, and I soon had the Grab app up and running, this time I booked a pool journey over to Makati as it was so cheap. It took about 45 minutes, and traffic was pretty congested as we got further into the City but I think being prepared for the worst helped me. The City Garden hotel was incredible when I arrived, great service, big comfy room and an amazing rooftop pool.

I decided to freshen up and head straight out, and Grab was a godsend during my stay in Manila getting me about everywhere for cheap cheap prices, I booked one to take me up to the old Intramuros area again this took around 40 minutes or so but cost about £4. The driver dropped me off at Rizal park and I had a great little wander around there, the Philippines has such an incredible history of Spanish colonialism followed by American influence and the destruction that WW2 wrought, and this park had tributes to some of the leaders of an independance movement.

Rizal was a key member of the Filipino independence movement who was executed by the colonial Spanish government after the Philippine revolution, which was partly inspired by his writings.

Realising I hadn’t eaten anything since morning, I noticed a fast food joint across the road from the park called Jollibee. I would later find out that this is a Filipino institution and is found pretty much everywhere across the country. I walked in and soon realised that there wasn’t much for a vegetarian so ordered a milkshake and large fries and tucked in. Refreshed and rejuvenated with the echoes of Jollibee songs stuck in my head, I walked up to the gates of Intramuros and Fort Santiago.

Fort Santiago is a citadel that was built around 1590 and is one of the only remaining historical sites in Manila. Built and occupied by the Spanish, it has also experienced British, American and Japanese rule. Intramuros is the surrounding area contained within the old walls, and I started my exploration of the area.

I realised I could walk along the old walls and immediately bounded up the steps, here I found beautiful views of the City and surrounding area. The old moat area has been turned into verdent golf course, lush with grass and plants and a sharp contrast to the ram shackle city towers.

I wandered along the walls, marvelling that this was free and apart from a few kids shielding themselves from the sweltering sunshine it was just me. After some time I decided to head back down into Intramuros, grabbed a beautiful pineapple shake for about 50p and found some very cool old colonial buildings and churchs as I wound my way towards the Fort.

I soon found the Fort and entered for around 75 pesos. There’s not a great deal to it, but it’s very beautiful, a long wide avenue takes you down to the main gate and walls, whuch you cross a small moat to enter. Then you find yourself in a big green courtyard with some amazing old walls, a few buildings open to explore and some more great views over the river and City. It’s also got a great museum centred around Rizal and his life and death, as he was jailed here in 1896 and executed.

As with most executions of political revolutionaries this only caused more strong will in the Filipino people for independence. The thing I appreciated the most about Rizal’s story, was his insistance that education and national identity were the main things in achieving freedom.

After around and hour and a half I had explored every inch of the Fort I decided it was time to head back towards the hotel but taking the long way around as an adventure. Little did I know just how long it would be. As I walked towards the exit to Intramuros I found some amazing street art which I had to get pictures of, and found some old artillery which was pretty cool.

Once out of Intramuros I took another grab to the seafront which I thought would make a lovely walk, how wrong I was, looking out across the bay it seemed the waves were made of garbage, and the small shacks dotted along the promenade were people’s houses. It was the first and last time in the Philippines that I felt unsafe and upset about the amount of rubbish.

With this in mind it seemed like a good idea to head into the City and the general direction of the hotel, hopefully via a huge mural on the side of a building. I stopped at a 7/11 for snacks and pocari sweat to re-hydrate and carried on my walk. It took me through some very interesting areas to say the least before I finally found it, but I never felt unsafe. By now it was getting late and I realised I was walking along a triple carriageway on what barely counted as a curb.

So it was back to grab and what was a 30 minute walk on google maps turned into an hour and 15 minute journey by car, in all fairness it was rush hour, and I had a great chat to my taxi driver Carlos. Now extremely sweaty, covered in a fine layer of dust a shower seemed appropriate before heading up to enjoy the sunset and city lights of Manila from the rooftop.

An ice cold beer and a cooling dip in the pool was just what I needed, and I got chatting to two Canadian girls who had missed their flight to Palawan that day and had to book a last minute hotel. They seemed to be taking advantage of it as they ordered some more shots for us all. As we hung over the rooftop edge enjoying the heights and the sunset, we agreed to get ready before meeting up later for some drinks.

Now anyone who knows me, knows I take around 15-20 minutes to get ready, including a shower. This left me ready with time to spare before we met, so I went off in search of food, as my stomach suddenly reminded me I had barely eaten all day. The hotel is located near some really cool bars on and around Don Pedro street and I was excited to try them out.

I found a cute little kebab place that did falafel and rice, it was cheap, huge and delicious, in fact it was so big I probably didn’t need the fries I got, but they seemed to disappear quite quickly too. Fuelled up I walked back along the street to a great looking bar with a little terrace I had noticed earlier.

I found a little spot overlooking the street and ordered and amazing take on the old fashioned, the girls messaged me to let me know they were on their way, so I leaned back and relaxed. Once they arrived we ordered some of the bars locally brewed beers and swapped travelling tales. Beofre we knew it the bar called for last orders, so we discussed further drinking plans with a final beer.

The girls had noticed another street nearby full of bars, so off we trotted in search of more drinks. P. Burgos street was a complete contrast to where we had been, big bold brash and full of expats, I think the best way to explain it is by the first thing I was offered by a young man on the street….viagra. Not letting it deter us we stopped at one of the many bars along here sat down, ordered some beers and people watched.

Before long the night was up, so we walked back along to the hotel, making those sort of drunk plans to meet up further along the line that we all knew would never happen. Back in my big comfy hotel room I soon slipped off to a peaceful sleep.

The next day I moved hotels to a cheaper hostel called The Fort Budget hotel, I was in a sharing room which was fine for the price and they had an amazing rooftop area that you could enjoy. So I dropped my stuff off here and took a short walk to the Bonifacio area. It used to be part of the Philippine army camp, but after a lot of redevelopment it’s now one of the most financially successful areas of Manila, and a complete change of scenery to the metropolitan area I had walked around yesterday.

It’s all big shiny skyscrapers, wide avenues and lots of greenery. I actually thought it was a beautiful City inside a City but it’s crazy that all this wealth is in Manila but you still have slums everywhere too.

My main reason to explore this area was to check out some of the street art on offer here, I had found a really great map to follow which showed some of the more prominent works. I stopped for a quick pancake session at an IHOP, somewhere I loved back in the states, it also showed the relationship between the Philippines and the United States, a lot of American culture has been adopted by the Filipinos.

So filled with red velvet pancakes I was ready to go! I checked the map and decided to visit the American-Manila WW2 cemetary. It’s a beautiful and peaceful memorial to the lives lost in WW2 in the Pacific battles against Japan and subsequent liberation of the Philippines by the United States.

The grounds with white crosses spreading out in every direction was very sombre and impactful, while the main memorial in the centre was exremely informative about the battles that had happened. It’s something I didn’t have much knowledge of previously so it was good to learn a little more about the history of the Philippines during the war. It’s also free to enter and a great oasis from the metallic City surrounding it.

I walked from here to the art centre, with a few really cool murals hidden around it such as a giant astronaut and a cool bookcase showcasing aspects of culture from around SE Asia.

A lot of the next bits of art work were located in and around Bonificao high street, ranging from small pieces hidden down side streets to huge murals! I was really loving it and the high street was actually really impressive too. If you enjoy shopping it’d be a great place to visit, I had a great time visiting a huge book store, some interesting clothing stores and there was so much choice for food!

Back to the street art, I found an amazing Stranger Things mural and a really cool Filipino farmer mural. This self -guided tour had taken up most of the day, but even as I walked back to my hostel I found some more really cool pieces.

I got back to the hotel via a 7/11 with evening snacks and drinks, and I sat watching this vast City go by from the rooftop. I really enjoyed Manila, but it was time to head out for a bit of beach life and adventure.

Heading to Taipei, Capital of Taiwan.

Today I was off to my next Taiwan destination, the capital Taipei! It’s an easy journey from Taichung. I took the regular train which took around 2 and a half hours, but you can also take a bus or the high speed rail which only takes around 40 minutes!

I opted for the regular train from Taichung main station to save some cash but also to enjoy the Taiwanese countryside. If you want to take the high speed just hop over to Xinwuri and the high speed rail station.

The train journey was very comfortable and I arrived in Taipei around midday. The York hotel was just a short walk south of Taipei station on Nanyang St. It was also a bit of a shock! I’d only briefly glanced at the photos when I booked my room, so when I arrived I was given a key and room number and told to go down to the basement.

When I got there it was completely decked out like a nuclear bunker! It was actually pretty cool and fun after the initial shock and for less than £20 a night to have my own room in the centre was pretty good!

I dumped my stuff and checked my lovely planet guide and found an architecture walk I could take, so thinking I’d give it a try I headed out to explore Taipei.

The start of the walk was a little further from the hotel, so I incorporated the Huashan 1914 creative park into my little tour. It’s an art and film hub located in and around an old sake factory. It was pretty interesting to wander around with some cool exhibits.

So far I was impressed with Taipei, it was super quirky and futuristic but with a lot of traditional buildings around too. I started this self guided walking tour, and soon found myself extremely bored and regretting it. I’m not sure if it was my architectural ignorance or if it was just not very interesting.

The mayor’s residence art salon was ok, but probably the highlight. Luckily the tour didn’t take too long and it ended right by a much more interesting spot. First up was the East gate, a reconstruction of the old Japanese gate that once stood there.

Not far from here is Liberty Square. The central point of Taipei, not only is the Liberty Arch here but also the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall. Chiang is a controversial figure, a Chinese general who fought the Japanese in WWII but also ruled as a dictator. However he is seen as a hero on Taiwan for repelling the Communist advance from Mao.

It’s a beautifully created square, vast and open and I really enjoyed learning some history of Taiwan. It’s an interesting place as they take so much influence from both Japan and China. As you can see below the memorial building is amazing too.

From here I checked out the President’s office building and took a detour through the peace park nearby. Getting a little taste of tranquility in the big City.

My next destination was the north gate, and from here I wandered through a pretty interesting part of Taipei, with some great old buildings and a bit of street art to Ximen district and the Red house.

Built as a market in 1908 it’s now used as a theatre and for shopping, but it’s a pretty interesting building. Plus behind it is the main gay area in Taipei. Ximen as a district was also really cool, filled with little food stalls, futuristic shops and arcades and an awesome street art section.

It really reminded me of Japan, and the street art was out of this world, I probably spent an hour wandering the back streets finding more art stuff to look at, and I easily could have spent longer.

Once I’d had my fill of the graffiti, I needed my food fix. So I checked the maps and noticed a night market about 30 minutes all north. So off I went! On the way I discovered a cute little park that was a reservoir in WWII used to put out fires from air raids. A market was built on top of this and then demolished after years of decline.

Finally I made it to the market and was overloaded to the max with sights, smells and tastes. I had tasty vegetable gyoza, some more eggy pancakes, and ice cream to finish! It was late now, so I took the underground back to my hotel. After a little planning I was soon fast asleep.

24 Hours in L.A.

How do you spend a short amount of time in a City as vast as Los Angeles? Part of it depends on where you’re staying, and what you’re interested in.

Flying through from London on my way through to Melbourne, it almost felt like the pressure was off to see and do things in L.A. However, I was meeting Craig there and we had 2 nights and one full day to try and capture at least a small essence of California life.

Our hotel was a little far out (Woodland hills) and we knew traffic could be horrendous and time consuming, but after a chilled first night we were ready to go. The LACMA was high on our list, mostly for the amazing Urban Lights installation. A collection of lamp posts might not sound interesting, but check out the pics! Definitely an instagrammable spot.

The LACMA itself was actually closed on a Wednesday! So we had a little wander around the grounds, checking out some of the weird arty installations and the Brea tar pits, where I met a lovely giant sloth! I thought this was a cool little side quest to the main adventure of the day.

We then walked over to The Grove, an outdoor shopping area which is pure USA. We stopped at Sprinkles cupcake and picked the tastiest looking one.

Next up on our list was Monty’s burger, a purely vegan burger place that was recommended to me by a friend. Located in Koreatown it was so easy to take the bus along West 3rd Street. The best thing is that even the ‘plastics’ and containers are compostable.

Monty’s was amazing! A little pricey but the burgers and tater tots were soooo good, made from impossible fake meat patty’s we took 2 doubles and shared the tots. The vibe inside was very cool too. Another perfect Instagram moment.

Our next stop was downtown and the Arts District, so we hopped back on the bus, only costing us $1 each for the ride into the City. We got off near Pershing Square and walked over to 4th Street to start the Arts trail. This end of downtown is a little run down with some interesting characters, but there was some very cool street art to be found.

I had noticed a couple of brewery’s on Google maps and the Arts District brewery was out first stop. It’s located in an old warehouse and there’s plenty more street art to be seen around this area including a few pretty famous ones.

The beer was good, the weather was amazing and we sat outside watching the world go by. Angel City Brewery was next up and even better, their outside space is amazing, free water and some cool pieces of art to look at as you drink. I also had a great pineapple beer here and there was such a great vibe. If you are in L.A. for a while I’d definitely recommend it.

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Our plan was sunset at Santa Monica, and after getting a bus that didn’t really go anywhere, we checked and realised we could take a train the whole way. So we jumped on the blue line, and realised we were on the wrong blue line 😆. So we quickly got off and made our way onto the correct train.

It took about 45 minutes to get over to Santa Monica and there were some nice views over the City. We arrived just in time to get to Santa Monica pier for the sun to set. It was absolutely stunning and we loved wandering up the pier and being on the beach.

At this point we were starving, so we went to 800 degrees for pizza and salad, once you get over the weird ordering system the food was so good, it was pretty cheap, around £30 for mains and drinks total. After both of us flying across the Atlantic and Pacific respectively we were pretty tired so it was a cab ride home and bed.

The next day we only had a few hours to spare before flying on to Australia. So we decided to do the Getty museum, located on the 405 near Beverly Hills, it was built by the Getty family, a huge oil tycoon who loved art. The best thing? It’s free!

Our Uber took so long because of traffic, so always bear that in mind when planning L.A.

The architecture of the place is actually incredible, and there are some interesting pieces from Turner, Monet and Van Gogh. I liked the contrast of each building housing different examples of art such as photography or historical pieces.

The highlight for us was the central gardens, with beautiful landscaping and views over the City, we loved just wandering through looking at the different plants and flowers.

We had our lunch in the cafe, this was a nice food court type place with plenty of choice, even for vegetarians. Knowing the traffic could be bad we headed back to Woodland Hills and got some snacks and booze to take back to Australia from Westfield mall.

L.A. is so big it can feel a little daunting to get around and see things, but it’s definitely worth making that extra effort. If the weather has been a little less windy on our first day we would’ve hiked up to the Hollywood sign which is still on our list! I hope this gives you a little inspiration of things to do with limited time and budget.

Back once again in Bangkok.

Waking up in Chachoengsao I packed up the few things I had taken out of my bag and Liam, via 5 minutes of driving down the wrong side of the road got us to the station.

The ticket cost about 10 Baht to take us on the hour long journey to central Bangkok. I got some tasty coconut batter snacks for the train and we began our short journey. It was so pretty as we passed rice fields filled with storks and the scenery starting to become less country and more City.

Liam had recommended a hotel near Asok train station so we alighted there and ten minutes later we were checking in. It was a really nice hotel and I had splurged for the executive lounge so we could get breakfast, afternoon snacks, and free drinks in the evening.

After a chillout by the pool with a Pina colada we got some free lunch at the lounge and headed towards Siam Square for the magical rainbow cheese toastie. Bangkok is pretty easy to navigate with its metro and SkyTrain and along with 7/11s they make a nice reprieve from the heat.

We arrived at Siam Square and found the Hokkaido Cheese Toastie shop on the ground floor of the mall. We ordered some drinks while we waited for the rainbow toastie and then realised they were cheesy drinks! Actually they were delicious, Liam had strawberry and I went for matcha and they had a cheesecakey float on the top.

Then the rainbow toastie arrived and it was everything we were hoping for and more. So pretty but also super weird as the different colours are different fruity flavours. But cheese.

We wandered around the mall for a bit checking out the randomness of it all, then found the Hello Kitty cafe. I was super excited but it was actually a bit disappointing inside, and the menu was overpriced so we didn’t stay. Instead we walked along the skywalk, checking out Erawan shrine from above and finally jumping the SkyTrain back to Nana for a beer and to people watch.

We sat here for a while watching ominously as dark grey clouds closed in on us before the heavens opened up. It was past 6 at this point and we wanted to enjoy the free drinks and food at the hotel, and after a soggy 40 minutes of being packed into the SkyTrain and metro like sardines we made it.

The food was great and they had plenty of vegetarian options, Liam was super happy he could drink white wine too as it’s something of a luxury for him. Feeling a bit tipsy we got changed before heading to Tuba antique restaurant and bar. A cool little place off the beaten track that Liam had suggested.

We arrived via taxi and it was pretty cool, lots of random objects dotted about the place and tasty cocktails which were huge! We sat at the bar and chatted through the night till I was too tired to talk. So we walked slowly back to the hotel and I passed out almost immediately.

I woke early in the morning, and went for a refreshing swim before trying literally everything vegetarian on the breakfast buffet. I waited for Liam to wake up and we got ready to head out. We wanted to head to Chang Chui market with its cool abandoned planes but realised it’s closed on a Wednesday.

Instead we headed to Jim Thompson’s house as a last minute decision, and it turned out to be pretty cool. It wasn’t super expensive about 200 Baht, this includes a tour of the house in your language. It was cool seeing this snapshot of post WW2 life for an expat and the gardens and decor were stunning. It’s also easy to get to, just take the SkyTrain to National Stadium and it’s a 5 minute walk from there. We also checked out the canal just past the house.

e took the BTS down towards Lumphini park, this place is famous for its water monitor lizards though unfortunately Bangkok council had the majority of the big ones removed as they were becoming a nuisance in the City, including one casually walking into a Tesco.

The park itself is a nice break from the city and you can rent bikes or pedalos. We visited in 2015 and it seems like it’s in a constant state of fluctuation. We enjoyed the lizard hunt and were rewarded for our endeavours by spotting a big one eating an even bigger fish.

From here our plan was to take the BTS around to Sala Daeng and hit the unicorn cafe, but Liam dropped his phone somewhere in the park. Luckily a local found it and we managed to get it back but by this point it made more sense to walk down to the cafe.

It was about a 25 minute walk from Lumphini to Silom district where the cafe is and it was totally worth it. Bright and garish it was like a crazy acid trip, with unicorns hanging from the ceiling and the most colourful desserts menu I have ever seen.

We ordered some iced drinks and one of the rainbow waffles, the drinks were so sugary and sweet we had to wait for the ice to dilute them a little but the waffles were incredible.

Buzzing from the sugar rush we wandered up towards the main street in Silom near the BTS and grabbed a couple of beers. We were going to head to some of the gay bars but they didn’t open till 6pm and like needed to get back to Chachoengsao.

It turned out we probably could’ve gone there as the BTS was full of commuters so we decided to risk the Bangkok traffic and take a taxi for 100 Baht. Google maps said it would take 45 minutes but almost 2 hours of bumper to bumper cars we finally arrived at the Avani.

Liam quickly sorted out a taxi back home and I prepared for my morning departure to Myanmar, the first official leg of my tour.

48 Hours in Hamburg

Hamburg is only around an hour and a half from most major UK airports. Germany’s second largest City, it lies in northern Germany just south of the Danish border. It’s famous for it’s canals and waterways, typical German architecture and slightly seedy red light district! Here are some tips on what to see, where to go and what to eat.

Explore Strandkai and Hafencity

Wander through the old warehouse district, with bridges criss-crossing the water ways it makes for some great photos.

You can also check out the modern Elbphilharmonie building, it’s free to enter and you can get great views of the City from up there.

Miniatur Wunderland is also located here, it’s a bizarre mix of central Europe’s most famous sights mixed with top industrial spots. It’s actually quite fun to walk around and there are some weird sights to find. It gets pretty busy so it’s good to book in advance.

Walk along the promenade and grab a beer and bratwurst, we got a great German hotdog from here and sat in deck chairs looking out over the water.

Rathaus and Aubenalster lake

Check out the beautiful Rathaus (town hall) and take some time to relax in the market square in front before taking a walk around Aubenalster lake for amazing views and a break from the bustling City.

Reeperbahn

For an interesting night life head to the busy Reeperbahn, filled with bars it’s the Cities Red light district. I’m not going to lie and some parts were pretty seedy, but it’s also just a good night out. We ended up singing in a Thai karaoke bar after doing a mini pub crawl down the street.

Wander around Sternschanze

This bohemian neighborhood is full of vintage shops and cool bars/eateries and a good way to spend a morning. On Saturdays they have a great market popup to visit! There’s also interesting street art to find.

Take a boat tour of the waterways

We did late evening tour, it took us around the shipyard and docks which wasn’t so exciting but entering the City waterways was definitely worth the wait.

Top places to eat in Hamburg

We found so many nice places, first off my best advice is to stop at any little place for bratwurst and currywurst, they’re a mainstay of quality and good for a quick and easy lunch.

Xeom Vietnamese

We love Vietnamese food and this place couldn’t do it any better, the whole vibe made us feel like we were back in Vietnam and the food was incredible and full of that flavour that the Vietnamese are famous for.

Pizza Bande

Hidden away just off the Reeperbahn, this place does the most amazing Pizza, you just order your toppings from the extensive menu and they cook it from scratch right in front of you. Mix that with a good selection of beers and a bohemian vibe makes this place a little gem in an otherwise slightly seedy area.

Brooklyn Burger Bar

We were a bit hungover and craving something really messy and dirty and this restaurant served it up for us. Loads of burger choices, excellent fries and most importantly, tasty dips to accompany it all. We loved the décor here, the friendliness of the staff and it was busy which is always a good sign. The food was delicious too, with huge portions.

That’s how you spend a few fun filled days in Hamburg. I’d love to go again in the Summer when they have their artificial beaches and bars out on the waterfront. It’s a cool City and a cheap destination if you’re looking to get away for a weekend.

Lets face it, who doesn’t love a big German sausage?