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Michael Aquino

Southeast Asia Travel Blog


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The Philippines Trains Asia's Hotel Professionals through Teaching Hotels like This One.

Saturday May 24, 2014

bayleaf hotel room manila intramuros philippines

Image Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com.

More often than not, when traveling throughout Southeast Asia, you'll find that the hotel professionals serving you hail from the Philippines. I've seen it myself, mostly in Malaysia and Singapore. The bellhops lugging my furniture at the Ritz Carlton Millenia and the Parkroyal at Pickering? Filipino. The reservations manager at the Hotel Fort Canning? Filipino, too. Even the front desk personnel in hostels like the Fernloft in Kuala Lumpur and the Syok in Penang were Filipino.

Last week I had the chance to stay at the only boutique hotel in Intramuros, Manila, which also happened to be a teaching hotel for future hospitality professionals like the ones I've encountered. The Lyceum University runs the Bayleaf Hotel; about a third of the staff are Hotel and Restaurant Management students putting in some time serving actual guests before being dispersed to the four corners of the world, or at least Southeast Asia.

I've chronicled my experience in this review of the Bayleaf Hotel in Intramuros.

You're In Manila, but NOT in Manila. Confused Yet?

Saturday May 24, 2014

manila cathedral intramuros philippines

Image of Manila Cathedral Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com.

Don't be. "Manila" is in the eye of the beholder. It's the City of Manila - the capital of the Philippines, the 15 square mile political entity where tourist destinations like Intramuros are located - and it also refers to Metro Manila, the agglomeration of 16 cities and 1 municipality that covers almost 240 square miles around Manila Bay.

Luckily, with Metro Manila's methods of transportation - including the train and the iconic jeepney - getting around (whether in the City or throughout the Metro) is easier than you'd expect.

For more on this subject, read: When is Manila NOT Manila?


Spring has sprung: Sheraton Bali Kuta Resort slashes rates for early birds by up to 30 percent.

Wednesday April 9, 2014

sheraton bali kuta pool indonesia

Infinity Pool with Sunset View; image courtesy of Sheraton Bali Kuta Resort, used with permission.

Book your stay at the Sheraton Bali Kuta Resort (buy direct) at least 30 days in advance, and you'll enjoy access to the resort, its facilities and its excellent location in Kuta with slashed rates and free additional perks.

The special promotional rate available to early birds slashes 30 percent off all available rooms, and includes a welcome drink upon arrival and access to free WiFi throughout the resort.

"We welcome guests to come experience Bali in a unique, new way," explains Dario Orsini, General Manager of Sheraton Bali Kuta Resort. "Created expressly for Sheraton guests, our new resort, dining and spa offers celebrate our cherished traditions and international influences with unique experiences in a welcoming and beautiful setting."

Bookings start at US$140 USD plus tax and service charge, and promo rates apply for stays booked from now till December 29, 2014, for reservations made 30 days in advance. Blackout dates and other restrictions apply. For more details, visit their site: sheratonbalikuta.com.

For other accommodation options, consult our list of Bali hotels. For tips on how to maximize your cash while visiting the island, read our overview of Money and Money Changers in Bali.

Sunda Kelapa Wharf in Jakarta, Indonesia to benefit from Kota Tua revitalization program.

Tuesday April 8, 2014

sunda kelapa jakarta indonesia

Image Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com.

If Jakarta in Indonesia isn't on your next-to-visit bucket list, maybe it should - a more conscientious local government is planning to revitalize its old town, beginning with the Fatahillah Square, and soon, the Sunda Kelapa Wharf where the city first came to be. As the Jakarta Post reports:

The Jakarta Old Town Revitalization Corporation (JOTRC), a consortium of private and state-owned enterprises including state port operator Pelindo II, has agreed to make the trading port a proper tourism site. [...]
[JOTRC chairman Lin Che Wei] said that initially, the consortium would renovate three old warehouses near the entrance to the port. [...] Lin said it was also important to enliven the commercial activities around the port, like building seafood restaurants, souvenir centers and spaces for meeting, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) activities.
The analyst said the port was currently ill-maintained and in a state of disrepair, thus, much work was needed, especially if the purpose was for tourism.

Read the complete article here. Find out more about Visiting Sunda Kelapa Wharf, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Vietnamese cellphone provider gives tourists two choices in one SIM card.

Tuesday April 8, 2014


Image courtesy of Getty Images.

Tourists beginning their Vietnam itinerary don't have to leave their cellphones at home, provided that their cellphones work on the local GSM network; they can just buy a prepaid SIM card from local service provider Mobifone, which offers a prepaid Happy Tourist package worth VND250,000 (about US$12.50). As TuoiTreNews.vn reports:

Subscribers will be provided with two options: Happy Tourist Data offering data and SMS services or Happy Tourist Voice & Data offering calls, SMS, and data services.
According to MobiFone, the Happy Tourist Data offers 3GB of high-quality 3G data services. With this tariff plan, subscribers can send intra-network, trans-network, and international text messages for VND290, 350, and 2,500 respectively while its data service will cost VND9.77 per 50 kilobytes.
Meanwhile, users of Happy Tourist Voice & Data pay VND1,580, 1,780, and 3,960 per minute respectively for intra-network, trans-network, and international calls. It charges VND100, 250, and 2,500 per SMS and offers data at VND25 per 50 kilobytes.

Read the complete news article here. Find out more about Cellphone Roaming in Southeast Asia, or read our Vietnam Travel Guide.

Kuala Lumpur's Low Cost Carrier Terminal to close on May 9 - so why isn't AirAsia budging?

Friday April 4, 2014

lcct kuala lumpur malaysia

Image Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com.

With the new KLIA2 budget terminal in Kuala Lumpur about to open, the Low Cost Carrier Terminal, or LCCT, is quickly becoming redundant. Malaysia's deputy transport minister, Abdul Aziz Kaprawi, has declared as much, stating that operations at the LCCT will end a week after KLIA2 opens its doors on May 2.

Set to move to KLIA2 are current LCCT tenants Malindo Air, TigerAir and Cebu Pacific. Still not completely on board: the LCCT's biggest tenant, AirAsia.

In response to the announcement [...] AirAsia said that "all AirAsia and AirAsia X operations will still be based at the current LCC Terminal even after 9th May due to a number of unresolved pressing issues that still need to be addressed".
It highlighted problems with KLIA 2, including depressions on the taxiways, aprons and runways, which were mentioned in a recent report into the airport's readiness.
"This will prove to be operationally disruptive to a hub airline such as AirAsia Group which has about 400 aircraft movements in a day and at least 70 aircraft in its fleet in LCCT," the LCC said. "We believe it is crucial to ensure that whole remedial steps are undertaken prior to a transfer, which will mitigate risks relating to any potential aviation incidents."

Read the complete news article at Traveldailymedia.com. For more on AirAsia's bone of contention, read our overview of Malaysia's Low Cost Carrier Terminal.

Yes We Makan: a Penang Foodie Names His Top Three Favorite Local Eats.

Monday March 31, 2014

sri weld nasi lemak

Image of Sri Weld Food Court Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com

When visiting a food-crazy city like Penang in Malaysia, don't count on third-hand intel from travel sites or brochures. Instead, get a local to show you the lay of the land.

Mark Ng is literally in the business of introducing Penang's crazy-good food scene to visitors. As co-founder and partner of food touring enterprise Simply Enak, he's in charge of organizing an upcoming food tour of the city, projected to launch by the end of 2014. (Simply Enak already has a popular Kuala Lumpur street food tour in place; check out our experience of their Petaling Street food tour.)

So what's on Mark's top-three list for must-eat dishes in Penang? Read More...

What Went Down at Last Weekend's Intramuros Pasyal Sunday, Manila, Philippines.

Monday March 17, 2014

All images Mike Aquino, licensed to About.com.

The soul of old Manila, Filipino cultural activist and tour guide Carlos Celdran often says, died when Intramuros went up in flames during the Battle of Manila (Wikipedia). The old walled city, which was largely obliterated by American bombs in 1945, is only just getting its groove back, with reconstruction occurring in fits and starts over the past 60 years. (Read more: Travel Guide to Intramuros, Manila, Philippines.)

The task is hard going; the rest of Metro Manila has moved on. The city's shopping, dining, entertainment, and worship has largely relocated outside old Manila to the hipper outposts of Makati and Ortigas. But that hasn't stopped forward-thinking Pinoys into working to make Intramuros cool again. Read More...

New Name for Luxury: Orient-Express Hotels Launches Belmond Hospitality Brand.

Tuesday March 11, 2014

Image courtesy of Orient-Express Hotels, used with permission.

Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. launches its new brand identity, Belmond, this week. In one stroke, the company unifies its diverse collection of 45 luxury hotels and travel adventures, launches a stylish new site (belmond.com) and updates its social media presence to reflect the new brand across multiple channels, down to the new @Belmond profile and the hashtag #DiscoverBelmond on Twitter.

The brand itself is no newbie to the luxury travel world: Read More...

Baby Crazy: Bali Safari & Marine Park Announces Successful Giraffe, Elephant & Lion Births.

Friday March 7, 2014

Images courtesy of Bali Safari & Marine Park, used with permission.

The Bali Safari & Marine Park (www.balisafarimarinepark.com) isn't just a sprawling zoological garden for the tourists; its active breeding program has chalked up a few successes over the years, with three successes within the past few weeks: a baby giraffe, an elephant calf and two lion cubs have just joined the family.

The first of his kind to be born in Bali, the park's giraffe baby came into the world on January 2, 2014, weighing in at 65 kilograms and standing two meters in height. Its mother gave birth after a 15-month gestation period - as is typical of giraffes, the baby was capable of standing up on its own within an hour of its birth. "We've named the baby giraffe Kuqala, which means 'first born' in Zulu," comments William Santoso, General Manager of Bali Safari & Marine Park. Read More...

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