12 Things to remember when traveling to Singapore for the first time

(Featured image by Jared Ng via unsplash.com)

Who would have thought that I was once afraid to go to Singapore, when I have already been to this very progressive Asian country several times now? I was in high school when news about a certain Filipino was hanged there and that gave me a bad impression about this nation. I remember the case of Flor Contemplacion being the topic not only in class discussions at school, but also at church sermons (I was still a Catholic then), and certain public places. At home, my parents and I would also discuss it, watch the news together to see the development of her case, and even include her in our prayers. Hence, when my husband told me about a job opportunity in Singapore that he wanted to pursue several years ago, I was at a crossroads and had to pray so hard about it.

I believe I only began to see this country in a different light when a good number of my friends started going to Singapore to work, too. My husband has also convinced me that it was really a nice place to work in, even raise a family, since the country is peaceful, pollution-free, yet more advanced in various ways than our homeland. He would show our girls and I his surroundings via FaceTime or Skype and assure us that Singapore is a safe place to live in and the only time you should fear anything is when you break their laws. Moreover, he himself has started to make good friends with the locals and has earned the respect of both his co-workers and those working for their clients.

By the time I finally had the opportunity to travel to Singapore and visit my husband, all the negative thoughts and anxieties I used to have against this country and its denizens were gone. I must admit that I even felt peace and excitement from the moment I first glimpsed of this country from the plane. In addition, it seemed like all the people I encountered during my first visit to Singapore were rather friendly, and that must have made a huge impression on me. Every year, since 2013, I have looked forward to visiting my husband and seeing some of our friends (and relatives) who have come to work and stay in this country, too.

During my last travel to Singapore, I decided to stay a day longer than I normally would. Unfortunately, my husband couldn’t get a leave off work on the weekdays that I was scheduled to visit him, so I had willed myself to explore the country by myself and start learning their transportation system – the only thing that really bugged me before. As I prepared for my trip, I tried to recall the things that I already knew about Singapore to put my mind at ease, and these are the very things that I would like to share with you, especially if you’re a Filipino traveling to Singapore for the first time.

1. Safety. I’m sure you’ve already heard or read about Singapore being one of the safest cities on earth. Indeed, very young children could walk around the neighborhood and go to school by themselves, commuting, without the fear of being ran over by motorists or worse, kidnapped. You would also find CCTVs all over the country. Knowing this helps me feel much less apprehensive about roaming their streets alone.

Moreover, random interviews conducted by young police officers and college students in military training are a common sight at MRT stations and other crowded places, in the evening and on holidays. From what I’ve heard and seen, they tend to stop and question those who are rather noisy, look untidy or drunk, and seem to be wandering aimlessly. Of course, there may be occasions when they would just pick any foreigner at random, too.

Although there’s nothing wrong about being questioned, it could still be a frightening experience for a tourist, right? Remember to always bring your passport with you then, in case you get stopped and questioned by an officer, and do pay attention to your appearance, try to speak quietly when talking to someone, walk confidently, and make sure you’re not committing any infraction.

2. Language. Most people in Singapore are bilingual and can both understand and speak English, not to mention street signs are in English too. You might encounter some, however, who aren’t that well-versed in English, so you may want to speak in the simplest or shortest way possible. For example, if you must ask the bus driver to drop you off at Waterfront Park, simply say, “Waterfront, can?” If he replies, “Can” or “Can, can”, that means yes (whereas no means no). Continue reading “12 Things to remember when traveling to Singapore for the first time”

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Top 10 useful apps when traveling to Singapore

So, you have finally decided to travel to Singapore–great! 🙂 You still need more information, but you don’t have much time to figure out everything and organize your whole trip. Well, I can relate and I can help you with that…

I’ve been to Singapore several times already, since my husband works there as an expat. He comes home twice a year, while I would visit him once a year. However, it was only on my most recent trip that I was able to explore Singapore all by myself and stayed a little longer. I would normally go there on a weekend and have my husband accompany me, from arrival at the airport to departure.

On my recent trip, however, I simply had to stop relying on him for everything, especially that he had to go to work during the weekdays that I would be in Singapore–this was the longest time I have ever stayed in Singapore (without my daughters with me). Not to mention, there are still so many places that I would like to see and explore, and even if my husband has been working in Singapore for six years now–believe it or not–there are still so many areas that he has not been to or not familiar with at all. He is such a homebody!

In my previous trips to Singapore, I have explored the Marina Bay area, including a certain portion of Gardens by the Bay, Bugis, and Chinatown. I have also been to Universal Studios, Jurong Bird Park, River Safari, and visited a few malls and temples. This year, I planned to see more of their gardens and parks, including the Cloud Forest, and perhaps one or two malls that I’ve never been to, plus museums.

Since I didn’t have much time either to look up more information on the places  I wanted to see and how to get to each of them, I figured that downloading certain travel apps would be the most useful thing for me to do. I have downloaded quite a number of them before I left for Singapore, then deleted one by one those that I did not find useful at all during my trip.

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Some of these apps may already be present in your smartphones or a similar type may have come pre-installed with it, such as the Maps and the Weather app. I have included them in the list just the same in case you have deleted them for some reason and to emphasize their usefulness, too.

I suppose you would also find music, social media, and photography apps useful just like I do too, but I leave it to you to decide which ones to keep. For your travel to Singapore alone, I suggest you download the following apps and familiarize yourself with their features before your flight. Besides, I’m sure you would also find most of these apps useful when traveling to other countries other than Singapore.

1. Airline apps – In my case, I traveled via Cebu Pacific on my way to Singapore and via Tiger Air back to Manila. I was very particular with the schedule, but also had to consider the budget, so I opted to book flights at two different airlines. Hence, I both have the Cebu Pacific and Tiger Air apps on my phone. They were very useful to me, allowing me to easily retrieve my booking details and do web check-in, too. I believe every airline has an app now, so be sure to download yours, whichever you prefer. Do you know that you may now even book a flight directly from the app itself?

2. iChangi – I have not been to many airports in the world, but based on my experience, the reviews I’ve read online, and the stories of friends and relatives who travel overseas a lot, Changi Airport is one of the best airports in the world, if not the best. So, make sure you explore it upon entering or before you leave Singapore. In case you’re not aware, Changi Airport has so many things to offer aside from facilitating your entrance to and exit from Singapore. They have gardens, play areas, restaurants, shops, gaming stations, and more that you can explore.

The iChangi app serves as your ultimate guide around the airport, from Terminals 1 to 3, and its basic features are accessible offline. It also provides information on what’s happening in Singapore, including a big sale at certain stores and places to visit, helping you plan your itinerary.

In addition, the iChangi app allows you to connect to the airport WiFi easily, provided your mobile phone can receive messages, since it needs to send you a code first to access the Internet for free.

3. SG Buses – this app tells you the schedule of buses at all the bus stops in Singapore. If you happen to be standing at a particular bus stop, just click Bus Stops on the app, then either enter in the search field the bus stop where you’re at or scroll down and find out which buses (pay attention to the bus numbers) are supposed to stop near you. It also tells you the number of seats available, the approximate number of minutes before a bus arrives, whether the bus is accessible to PWDs on wheelchairs, etc. You may also look up information by bus number, roads, and bus stop number with this app.

4. SG MRT – I don’t know about you, but the huge MRT maps I see at the stations used to intimidate me. However, once I saw them simplified on my phone’s screen, I realized how silly I’ve been! Go ahead and download it too to see for yourself how simple it is.

The SG MRT app is particularly useful when planning your trips around Singapore via MRT–the fastest way to get around Singapore–and avoid missing a station, especially when the maps inside the train, which are supposed to light up to indicate your location, fails you.

By the way, don’t panic when people start telling you to go to the red line, yellow line, etc. to get to your destination. They just mean the routes the trains take; you won’t ever have to get out of the building either just to get to another lane. Just pay attention to the signages in the station, match the color on the map to the color of the station signs to make sure you’re on the right MRT lane, and listen carefully to the announcements while onboard the train.

I strongly suggest that you also check the map as you ride the MRT to familiarize yourself with the pronunciation of the names of places, such as Outram /ooh-truhm/, Clark Quay /-kee/, and Changi /cha-ngee/ (Oh, please, it’s not chang-ghee!)

5. Maps – What can I say, except that this pre-installed app on my smartphone helped me overcome my fear of the unknown? I may not be familiar with my surroundings, but at least I know the names of the streets that I pass by as I ride the bus or MRT or even as a walk, or stand in the middle of the street. Moreover, I just simply type in my destination to find out how to get there by bus, by car, or on foot, and even avoid missing the bus stops. Talk about the power of GPS, eh?

6. Singapore Map – it works like the Maps, except it contains maps that you may download for offline use. Moreover, although it’s called Singapore Map, you may use it in places outside of Singapore too.

7. Weather app – Even if I would only be staying home, I find this app necessary, and much more so when I’m traveling. Needless to say, the weather app lets you know whether to bring an umbrella, wear a jacket, dress in loose, comfortable shirts, or simply avoid going to or going out (of) a particular place because it’s either going to rain heavily or going to be very hot at a certain time of the day.

8. Booking app – This could be Airbnb, Hotel, Expedia, or any hotel booking app you prefer. I normally book directly at their websites, but I keep their apps on my phone just in case there will be a need for me to modify my bookings or transfer to another hotel for one reason or another while I’m already abroad. Such apps might prove very useful to you too, especially if you are backpacking.

9. Grab and/or Uber – Although the buses and MRT in Singapore are very reliable, there just might come a time when taking a cab is more convenient, if not the only way for you to get to another place, especially when it’s already late at night. Such apps are also particularly useful in avoiding long cab passenger queues.

10. Communication app(s), such as Viber, Whatsapp, or Facebook Messenger – Sometimes, even with all those apps that are supposed to help us with finding directions and getting recommendations, asking someone who truly knows the area would be better. And more often than not, they are just one text away!

Even if I opted to buy a local SIM, I still prefer to use these communication apps, particularly FaceTime and Viber, when contacting my husband, friends, and relatives, who are both in Singapore (and other countries) and back home in Manila. Doing so proved to be economical, especially with the free 100 GB data allowance that comes with the StarHub prepaid SIM that I bought recently.

Do take note that in Singapore, if you are using a prepaid SIM, whether you are the one calling or on the receiver’s end, you will get charged, so you might as well use these apps when you need to contact someone. You may buy a local SIM card at Changi Airport Terminal 2 arrival lobby, by the way, and they would only require your passport, aside from payment, of course.

If you find other useful or must-have apps for traveling, do let me know, will you? Thank you so much, and enjoy your trip to Singapore! ❤

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(Featured image by Juja Han via Unsplash.com)

15 Things to do at Dewi Sri Farm

[Sponsored Post] Selected mommy bloggers, along with their kids, were recently invited to spend a day at Dewi Sri (pronounced as deh-wee sh-ree) Farm, a working farm in Victoria, Laguna. My daughters and I were privileged to have been part of this event, which was a Mother’s Day treat from Dewi Sri  Farm, Breville Philippines, and Gastronomy by Joy.

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With my newfound mommy blogger friends 🙂 (Photo by Tetcha of pensivethoughts.com)

Dewi Sri Farm is owned by the Laurentes, an OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers) family based in Indonesia. They were said to visit the Philippines regularly for a short vacation, but as much as they loved their hometown, the kids, especially, would miss their beautiful home in Indonesia. One day, their youngest daughter Dewi, after whom the farm was named, expressed her desire to have a home in the Philippines that looked a lot like the one they have in Indonesia, i.e., surrounded by nature.

In time, the family found a land for sale in Victoria, Laguna. Apparently, many individuals and corporations had already expressed their intention to buy the same property, but the original owner insisted that he would only sell it to someone who would not cut down the trees in it. Needless to say, the land was sold to Dewi’s family, who found it most convenient to keep the way things were and only added a few amenities to it. They turned the property both into a vacation home and a working farm, creating another source of income not only to their family but also to the locals of Barangay San Antonio in Victoria, Laguna.

The Laurentes’ vacation home eventually became popular, since they would offer it as a transient home to visiting friends and relatives, especially those from abroad. It didn’t take long before their farm also became a resort and was opened to the public.

The following are just some of the photos my twelve-year old daughter and I took during our day tour, along with the list of things that you can do at Dewi Sri Farm:

  1. Take a stroll in the beautiful gardens and even do a walking meditation
  2. Appreciate both modern and indigenous architectural/interior designs
  3. Enjoy a fusion of Filipino and Indonesian dishes
  4. Get up close and personal with some farm animals
  5. Feed and even catch some fish
  6. Smell the flowers
  7. Learn about different plant species
  8. Take a dip in the pool
  9. Have siesta or just hang out at their modern bahay kubo (the only area with WiFi)
  10. Take a ride
  11. Experience rice planting (must be requested ahead of time) and hydroponic farming firsthand, as well as learn about growing fruit trees, etc.
  12. Pick your own fruits and vegetables and pay for them at market price. (Of course, as special guests, we had ours for free–bloggy perks, indeed!) By the way, their organic produce is also available at certain supermarkets in Manila, particularly where organic vegetables are sold.
  13. Conduct seminars, team buildings, an educational tour for kids, or just go on a retreat – not only do they have the facilities, but they could also create a program for your group.
  14. Take staycation to a whole new level at one of the tastefully decorated houses on the farm.

  15. Host special events such as parties, a garden wedding, or a corporate and/or media event just like what Breville Philippines did.

I hope you liked what you’ve seen; more photos are up on SAHMot-sari and Big ‘n Lil Sis Facebook pages. If you ask me, this place is a must-see for city-raised kids and a haven for hard working adults. Who wouldn’t feel relaxed in such a beautiful place, anyway?

The Dewi Sri Farm also makes a perfect destination for field trips, especially for homeschooling families like us, as well as for youth camps.

For farm tours, events, accommodation, or weekend brunch specials, please visit www.dewisri.farm or call +63 917 524 5155 / +63 933 442 4571. ❤

Misadventures in Bangkok

If you’re just passing through Thailand and Bangkok is the only area you’d get to visit in that country, what would you do? Would you stay in one place, like the airport, or go out and explore the city? In my case, I did both, i.e., with my family. But, of course, doing the latter is more fun, so let me tell you about that now. (I’ll just share in a separate post the things we did while staying at the airport for about 16 hours.)

My husband, daughters, and I, along with my husband’s parents, who are both senior citizens already, and my husband’s sister, who was pregnant with her first child, were scheduled to visit my husband’s brother and spend Christmas with him in Vientiane, Laos. To get there, we decided to go through Bangkok, Thailand. This was my first time to visit both countries, by the way, and I don’t think I’d ever visit Laos if it weren’t for my husband’s relatives. (Simply because I knew nothing of this country and it wasn’t exactly a tourist destination.) We were in Bangkok for nearly 12 hours only, but I would certainly remember all those misadventures we had for the rest of my life!

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My travel companions at the Suvarnabhumi Airport, arrival area

Going through Bangkok, Thailand to Vientiane, Laos (rhymes with cow, without the s) may not be the easiest route to take, but it certainly is much cheaper and enjoyable, too. Apparently, buses leaving Mochit Bus Transport System (BTS) for Vientiane have only one schedule – evening (i.e., 7:30 PM if I remember it right). We took the 6:30 AM flight to Bangkok then, so we would have plenty of hours to tour the city before we head to Vientiane in the evening.

Our misadventure begins, of course, at Suvarnabhumi (cabbies pronounce it as soo-‘vuhr-nuh-boom) Airport in Bangkok. My first impression? It’s huge but not as grand as Changi Airport. Pardon me; it’s just that Changi has been my standard of what an airport should be, and I’m sure you would agree that it’s one of the best–if not the best–airports in the whole world.

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Probably the most decorated taxi you’ll ever see in Bangkok!
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Just like in Singapore, it’s also right-hand driving in Thailand.

My parents-in-law, who had already been to Thailand several times, acted as our tour guides. They warned us beforehand that the airport could be overwhelming in terms of size and the number of people going through it. What overwhelmed me though was my experience at the special counter for ASEAN travelers. There were just about 10 of us in line, but the immigration officer must be so meticulous that it took us about an hour waiting for her to stamp our passports. It was such a relief when she finally did it, especially there were about a hundred travelers or so in the non-ASEAN lanes and my family and I ended up being the last ones to cross the line. How’s that for being on a special lane?

With regard to my in-laws’ warning, by the way, don’t worry too much. Their airport may be huge–it’s a tall building, alright–but the structure is quite easy to figure out, unlike Changi Airport, where you could go round and round for hours if you’re not paying attention to your surroundings.

Interactive Information Board at Suvarnabhumi Airport
Interactive Information Board at Suvarnabhumi Airport

Unlike in NAIA (and Changi Ariport), many of the Suvarnabhumi Airport staff (as well as in many parts of Bangkok) do not speak English. Although there was this huge screen near the luggage claim area, where you would find directions and other FAQs about the airport and Bangkok in general, I suggest you download a translator app or a picture dictionary onto your mobile device(s) before you go to Bangkok (or other countries where English is not widely spoken), in case you find yourself in need to ask for some information.

There are many places to eat at the Suvarnabhumi Airport, and I was told that the fast food restaurants and cafés accept five different currencies as payment: US dollars, Japanese yen, Singapore dollars, Euros, and Thai baht. It’s best to carry bahts and dollars though. Some of the familiar establishments that you’d find there are Starbucks, Burger King, McDonald’s, and Subway. There are fine dining restaurants too, but if you prefer local dishes at an affordable price, you would have to go down to the airport canteen at the basement.

The Moraleses at Mochit BTS in Bangkok, Thailand
Inside Mochit Bus Transport System

Since it was still rather early for lunch and we weren’t really hungry yet, we went straight to Mo Chit BTS–our second stop–to purchase our bus tickets to Vientiane. We also decided to have lunch there, where I had my first taste of authentic (and cheap) Thai food. I’d say authentic because I was actually in Thailand and the person(s) who prepared the meal must be Thai, of course! Anyway, here’s a confession: I never had Thai food before because I was under the impression that authentic Thai dishes are spicy, and I do not like spicy food. I was surprised to discover then that there are mildly flavored or non-spicy Thai dishes, too. (TIP: If you’re not sure what to order, remember, steamed chicken with veggies is always a good option.) Continue reading “Misadventures in Bangkok”

Christmas in Laos

This is the first Christmas that my family and I are spending away from home. I have a feeling that this won’t be the last, though it would definitely take some getting used to. We’re in Vientiane, Laos, and earlier, we joined the staff of the Philippine Embassy here in their Christmas party. As my family gathered around a table, I realized how blessed we are that we are together and even able to visit my brother-in-law, who happens to be one of the two vice consuls representing our country in Laos. Many of the Filipinos here live by themselves, either unable to go home or bring their families here with them. 

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At the Philippine Embassy, Vientiane, Laos

 

It also shamed me to realize that I have come to view Christmas as a tradition, instead of a special day to celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. No, it isn’t right that we would only celebrate Christmas for the children’s sake, so they won’t forget about the tradition. Christmas is all about Jesus, how He came into the world, so we could have eternal life. It’s supposed to be a happy celebration, one that must be celebrated every day, actually, but this one’s supposed to be the grandest.

As we drove around the town this morning, I noticed that there were a few establishments that had put up some Christmas decors. I was later told that they were the ones owned by European entrepreneurs, especially French. Interestingly, the Laotians that we have met were familiar with Christmas, and they were even the first ones to greet us Merry Christmas! Sadly though, they use Christmas (and Holy Week) as an excuse to drink with friends all night long and not go to work.

At home, where we are currently staying for the duration of our vacation here in Laos, the Christmas cheer isn’t deeply felt either, despite the fact that we are a Christian family. We skipped the traditional Noche Buena and gift giving ceremony. Maybe because everybody’s tired; after all, we did a lot of sightseeing today.

As much as I am happy to be spending Christmas with my husband and daughters outside the country, I miss my own parents and siblings. This is the first Christmas that I am not seeing them both ever again (here on Earth). For the past couple of years, my family has been hosting the Christmas dinner, and that’s one family tradition that I had initiated. I could only hope and pray that my brothers and sisters are doing well, feeling the spirit of Christmas, thanking Jesus not only for the everyday blessings that we enjoy, but most especially for coming to this world to be our LORD and Savior.

There are so many things that I am thankful for. What I am most thankful for now, however, is having my own family with me, being able to celebrate Christmas with them. ❤

(Featured image from StockSnap)

Flying solo

Two years ago, I had the privilege to spend a weekend in Singapore with my husband. It was my first international flight, as well as my first time to travel alone by air. The whole experience of flying alone was exciting, scary, at the same time, boring. I think I stressed myself so much by willing for the flight to end soon, to get to my destination immediately. The bad weather did not help much as all of us passengers had to wait for nearly half an hour to leave the ground and be on our way to Singapore.

I’ve always enjoyed a window seat, so I reserved one as I booked my flight online. However, it was a rather unpleasant experience for me to sit by the window this time. Since it was raining, I felt so close to the lightning that would etch the sky from time to time. It’s a good thing I couldn’t hear them clapping, unlike when I would be on the ground when it’s raining.

In case you don’t know yet, by the way, I both have astrophobia and electrophobia, i.e., fear of lightning and fear of being electrocuted.  They are related, and I’d say it’s terrible to have both, especially if you’re flying (solo) on a bad weather. It’s a good thing, I guess, that my husband’s an aeronautical engineer and it’s their company that manufactured the plane that carried me to Singapore and back to Manila. He assured me that it’s safe to fly and all (modern) aircraft have been designed to withstand lightning and bad weather as a whole. I suppose everybody knows that, but I just had to be reassured.

While onboard, I couldn’t help reminiscing my first plane ride. That was when I went to Boracay with my work colleagues, more than a decade ago. We were traveling for free, since it’s a company outing, and we stayed at our boss’s first beach resort in Boracay, somewhere at Station 2. We were to be its guests on its grand opening day! How cool is that?

My flight going back to Manila from Singapore was no better though. The wait before take off was much longer because the plane was not ready yet, and the bad weather was apparently to blame again for the delay. Worse, we were in a smaller plane, and the size had contributed, I guess, to the bumpy ride. The only consolation I had was being on the same plane with someone I know–a high school classmate–and being surrounded with jolly passengers, mostly foreigners, as well as having friendly flight attendants.

This year, I’m not sure if I’ll be going out of the country again as much as I would like it to be an annual experience. (I suppose this is the reason I’m recalling these things now.) If yes, it looks like I’ll be on my own again, though I couldn’t complain. Last year, I traveled with my daughters and my parents-in-law and flying had been a much more pleasant experience, save for the kids seated behind us on our way back home, who kept on bumping against the back of our seats and made a lot of irritating noise while their mom’s face was glued to her mobile gadget with earphones stuck to her ears. (Really? I’m a mom with two kids, too, yet…!)

Anyway, next time I travel again by plane, I’ll remember to check the weather forecast first before booking a flight. I wouldn’t want to travel on a rainy day–no, not again! And, in case I get seated once more near a parent with annoying kids, whom he/she refuses to pacify, I’ll be sure to speak up and try to help. Looking back, how I managed to stay quiet at that time is a miracle to me now.

Revisiting the Manila Ocean Park

Summer vacation’s already halfway through–at least here in the Philippines–and while my girls feel that they still haven’t done enough, I am worried that I’ve already indulged them so much. Let’s see… we go to the malls almost each time they feel like it. We’ve been shopping and dining out, depending on the extra money we have on hand. So far, they’ve had dance lessons–a crash course on ballet and Hawaiian–and have already performed before a crowd at the mall for their first ever dance recital. When we’re home, they would stay all day in their mini pool, which I usually set up in the veranda, and they would even invite some of their friends over. If not, they would stay inside the house, watch TV or movies on DVD, play with their toys, read their books, do various art activities, or just sleep. Sometimes, when it’s not so sunny, I let them go out and run around the neighborhood or on scooters with their playmates. And on other days, the three of us would head to a park, especially after attending a Sunday afternoon church service.

Last May 3, we trotted to a different kind of park, that is, the Manila Ocean Park for Zoe’s 5th birthday. Thanks to my sister, we got our tickets at only PhP500 each, which originally cost around PhP1, 500/each or higher. (Such tickets were exclusively offered to certain companies like theirs. Based on the posters I saw at the lobby of Manila Ocean Park, however, ticket price starts from PhP330/head, depending on the package a person or a group would choose.) It was our second time to be there; the first time was when it was still fairly new, in December of 2008, and the girls and I were with my late mother. So I guess I was also sad to see the place again, especially that I have lost my camera phone a few months after our first visit without being able to save the last pictures and videos we had with my mother, that is, when she was in a better condition and was still unaware of her pancreatic cancer, stage 4. Nevertheless, with the tranquility that the sea creatures bring, I soon found myself enjoying the place, and with the girls a little older now, they were able to appreciate things much better.

The place wasn’t crowded at all when we arrived at around 2 PM, that is, compared to the first time we were there. Some of the must-see creatures were moved to another location and new attractions have been added like the Musical Fountain Show, the Habitat, the Dancing Sea Fairies, Shark Attack, and the Sea Lion Show. There’s also a pool now that’s open to the public who’d like to take a dip amidst the scorching summer heat. It’s open until 5:00 PM and costs less than PhP200/head. The same pool turns into a nice backdrop for their bar which opens at 7:00 PM. There are also more restaurants now, which not only serve famous Filipino dishes, but international dishes as well. More food stalls have been added too for those who’d prefer light snacks. A small indoor theme park and 3D arts center have also been constructed upstairs. Along with the Manila Ocean Park gift shop, boutiques and small toy stores are now also open to those who would like some souvenirs or simply enjoy shopping. Moreover, just before the entrance, a mini bungee jumping site has been erected. Anyone who weighs no more than 120 lbs may try it may try it for only PhP120/head.

My little girls certainly loved seeing all the fish and other sea creatures at the Oceanarium. It felt so peaceful to look at them. We were given the opportunity to touch a live star fish and we took photos of nearly every creature we found there. They would always shout with glee whenever a sting ray would pass by overhead, claiming that each was smiling down at us. The sharks were also a sight for them, although there seemed to be fewer sharks now. They are now in a separate tank where one could dive in and experience being with them for a few minutes, while enclosed in a cage of course, for a fee of PhP900/person.

We also liked the Sea Lion Show, although I’m sure we could’ve enjoyed it much better if it did not rain. The sea lions were simply lovely! They were well trained and friendly and smart enough to be able to follow a script! For a PhP500 fee, we were able to have our pictures taken with them, which were copied onto a CD as souvenir.  We had also seen them swim freely and lounge at the Habitat.

In between each activity, the girls and I were either having some snacks or changing clothes. The weather was so hot that day and not all areas were with air conditioning, of course, so we were soaked in perspiration. As much as we wanted to sit down and have a nice meal at one of the restaurants, we couldn’t sit and rest for more than 15 minutes for fear of missing a show. The food and drinks offered in the food stalls seemed good, but a little pricey, I think. For example, a bottle of water that would normally cost PhP18 at mall stands, cost PhP30 at some stores in the Ocean Park, while a hotdog sandwich with only ketchup and mayo on it, which would normally cost around PhP45 somewhere else, was PhP60 from one of the food stalls there.

The Musical Fountain Show, which starts at 6:30 PM, was also a must see. The combination of neon lights and water fountains in sync with the music was fantastic. My little girls thoroughly enjoyed the show, especially with mascots completing the program. They also had their pictures taken with them, this time for free. However, by the time the show was over, only the restaurants and the 3D arts center were open. We decided to go home then and just come back before the week’s over.

On our way out, we saw some kids bungee jumping (using a trampoline) by the main entrance, and my girls insisted that they try it, too. I was worried that once they reached the highest point, they would cry and suddenly ask to be released for fear of heights. They promised they won’t cry and assured me that they would enjoy it. I finally gave in to their request, especially when Zoe started crying, and allowed them to experience it–something that I probably will never try myself now that I’m older. Much to my surprise, they both enjoyed it thoroughly, shouting even more with glee the higher they went up into the air. I even saw some of the onlookers taking a video or pictures of them, especially of Zoe, probably because she was much smaller and younger, and was shrieking with so much delight than any child who had tried it.

On May 6, we visited the place again, since our ticket included five shows and we were not able to use all of them last May 3. This time, we saw the Dancing Sea Fairies (jelly fish) enclosed in different aquariums with lights changing into various colors. They were simply mesmerizing! Zoe kept trying to make me promise her that we would have our own aquarium filled with jelly fish despite Ali repeatedly explaining to her that we shouldn’t have one because jelly fish could sting and kill.

The girls also tried the Furzeball (it sounded like that, at least), which looked like a giant inflatable wheel with openings on each side, allowing children to stay inside and move about above the water. They enjoyed bouncing and somersaulting in it, and again, they were shrieking with delight. However, before the girls were able to enjoy this activity, I had to lose my temper first. Tickets to this activity cost PhP50 each and must be bought from the nearby Quiosk, where food and drinks were also sold. Apparently, I wasn’t sure whether I was at the right counter since there was no sign that I must buy the tickets there. I have already called the attention of  two attendants behind the counter, who both pointed me to a vague direction. The cashier who was supposed to take my money was chatting with them. When she finally took her proper position behind the counter and I stood before her, a family of three cut before me and started ordering food. I let it pass. But when it was obvious that the cashier was ignoring me, attending to newcomers when I had stood in front of her for about five minutes already and had held my money up high for her to see, that’s when I lost my temper and told her loud and clear how she had ignored me. I immediately asked for the OIC to report the cashier’s rude behavior. The OIC apologized on her behalf, but the girl was obviously insincere in her attempt to try to make me feel better. Seeing the kind of ticket I was holding, the OIC and the other staff immediately became solicitous. So far, that was the only thing that would probably keep us from going back to Manila Ocean Park, or at least, from that particular area. If anything, I easily get upset with lousy customer service.

After the girls had their five minutes of fun at the Furzeball, we finally tried the Fish Spa. This time, I was the one who enjoyed the most. As soon as I stepped into a pool filled with doctor fish, a school of fish went after both of my feet, eating away dead skin cells. I was so happy that the doctor fish seemed to have smoothed the soles of my feet and the big toe on my right foot–apparently, I have developed an allergy from my last foot spa at a salon in our village and have not had a foot spa since then. I think I’ll look for doctor fish the next time I visit a pet shop and get some both as pets and my personal foot spa specialists.

Indeed, the place is so much better now and they also offer packages, especially for groups, to make it more affordable. In a month or two, another attraction called the Antarctica is expected to open. One of the employees told me that the Manila Ocean Park would be importing real penguins for that. I wonder if that’s true. I’m sure that would be a good reason for us to visit the place again, next to trying the Shark Attack and consuming my free ticket to their evening poolside bar. I only wish that my husband would be home to accompany us next time.

* * *

Reminders to those who would like to visit the Manila Ocean Park:

  • Make sure you’re full and have already relieved yourself before you begin the tour, especially the Oceanarium. It takes about an hour to see and enjoy the entire marine collection AND re-entry is prohibited. By the way, although you may take pictures as much as you want, cameras with flash are not allowed in the Oceanarium.
  • Bring your own bottle of drinking water. Aside from being a little pricey, (food and) drinks are only sold in certain areas. A 1-1.5 L of water for each adult may be sufficient for a half-day tour on a very warm day.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, and even bring extra shirts, flip flops, and an umbrella. You’d be doing a lot of walking and not all areas have good air conditioning. In fact, there are open areas where you’d find yourself directly under the sun, so it’s so easy to become sore and irritable, especially on a very warm weather. You’d also either be soaked from perspiration or from the “Musical Fountain,” and yes, even from the rain like we experienced when we were watching the Sea Lion Show at the arena. (The weather that day was indeed crazy! One minute, the sun was shining so brightly, the next minute, rain was pouring! In that case, although they did provide free disposable rain coats, not everyone was able to receive one in time for him/her not to get wet from the drizzle.)
  • Check out the Manila Ocean Park (MOP) website (www.manilaoceanpark.com) so you’ll have a better idea on how much money you should bring, which ticket you should buy (there are packages to choose from and prices vary), as well as where to eat in order to save time. (For the kind of dishes a restaurant at the MOP offers and how much they cost, you may google their website separately or follow the links provided in the MOP website–see the options under the Entertainment heading.)
  • In our case, i.e., for my two little girls and myself, a PhP2,500.00 pocket money was enough for a half-day tour: PhP240 – taxi (from Buendia-Taft to Manila Ocean Park and back); PhP120/head bungee jumping; PhP50/head Furzeball; PhP500 photo opportunity with a sea lion (photos in CD); PhP 250-300 snack consisting of  three hotdog sandwiches, cotton candy, and two bottles of mineral water (in addition to the 1L of water that we brought); PhP360 worth of souvenirs for the kids (a small-sized stuffed toy that Zoe chose for herself, PhP250, and a fish lunch kit for Ali, which she also picked herself, PhP110); PhP300-350 light dinner (pork barbecue, pancit bihon, and refillable iced tea) at a Filipino restaurant across the Manila Ocean Park.
  • Try to come in the morning or as soon as they’re open, so you won’t have to go back to see everything and spend twice on transportation and food like we did 😦 Moreover, try to avoid visiting on weekends and holidays or when more people are expected to come.
  • Make it your goal to enjoy all the sights and activities the whole time you’re at MOP. There will always be nuisances–people who would try to get ahead of you or stay too long in the same spot where you would like to have your picture taken, etc.–so do your best to overlook them and avoid ruining your day with your loved ones and those loveable marine creatures 🙂