Santosha Villas and Spa

Work has not had the best effect on my physical and mental health lately, so I wanted to go away for a few days keep my mind off things. With the privileges I’ve been given, I could have gone anywhere I wanted to but I chose Bali. Particularly, Ubud. The place is peaceful, popular amongst yogis, and heaviy strewn with villas in the middle of rice fields.

I wanted to be somewhere where I could only see green and blue, where I could just sit for hours staring at nature’s beauty and not get bored, and of ourse where I could only breathe in fresh air. Ubud was the perfect haven for me.

A friend of mine shared her experience with one villa called Santosha Villas and Spa, I was such in awe of what she had told me that I booked the same place for my little getaway. There were a few bad reviews about the place, but I couldn’t have cared less as long as I was in the middle of nowhere taking time for myself.

When I got to the villa, I thought of how perfect it was for me. The size of the room was enough for two or three people even though it was only me staying there. The bathtub and shower were situated outside and had a sunroof. A round wooden table was perched on the porch, perfect for a healthy breakfast and greeting the early morning breeze. The only negative thing about the place is probably the fact that you wake up to tiny lizard droppings, and when it rains, multiple insect wings. It’s understandable though when you keep in mind that you are in the amidst flora, the breeding ground for all the tiny forces of nature.

I’ll give the place a 4 out of 5 stars. Although the food choices were limited and there’s a certain stone-y, moldy scent in the bathroom, nothing beats the personal care that the hotel’s staff provide. They make sure everything you want is put in place. Need a Yoga instructor at 8 a.m. sharp everyday? Say no more. Want that breakfast delivered to your room while you shower at 9 a.m.? No worries. Need a taxi in 5 minutes? You got it. Want personalized tour that’s not even part of the hotel provided package? They’ll make it happen.

Santosha also perfectly set the ambience of the place that it’s become the main bait for me. From their yoga station, to their swimming pool you’ll hear calming music so soothing to the ears that it feels like the day isn’t going slow enough. Just reliving this entire experience makes me want to quit work and move over to Bali.

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Three of their seven villas.
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Yoga in front of this view? Yes Please!
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Swimming pool in the middle of the basakan
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Your Balinese breakfast is served.

One Day Itinerary for Tbilisi, Georgia

I read on multiple blogs that Filipinos, who have a US visa, can enter Georgia without applying for the country’s visa. On top of that, Filipinos who have residency in any Gulf country can enter upon showing our residency cards. Luckily for me, I happened to have both the card and a US Visa.

So off I went to Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city, for my four days off. It was wonderful. Basically, I did all the important things in just half a day and saw the extras on my second and third day. Here’s a sample of my first day’s itinerary for your perusal, should you have limited time to see Tbilisi in the future.

  • Arrive in Renaissance Hotel Tbilisi (a review to follow)

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  • 1 minute walk to St. Trinity Cathedral/Sameba Cathedral, the biggest catheral in Georgia and third tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the world (lucky for me, this was literally just outside my hotel)

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  • 6 minute walk to the Presidential Palace. (people are only able to see the back of the palace, and the area is heavily gated. There’s no way of seeing the front as how one would see the White House. Tourists can only see this while driving on the road or when on the Narikala Fortress)
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The Presidential Palace beautifully lit for the night. Behind it, the Sameba Cathedral
  • 2.50 GEL metro ride (+4 GEL for the card) to Marjanishvili Square for lunch
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On our way to the restaurant, we see these quaint buildings.
  • Lunch at Barbarestan, paid 59 GEL (24 USD) for good food.

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Megelian Kuchmachi, a spicy mix of pork and veal that reminded me of home
  • 2.50 GEL metro ride to the city center
  • 2.50 GEL cable car ride to the Narikala Fortress for an awesome view of the city (the metro card can be used for the cable car as the latter seems to be part of their usual “public transportation,” even though everyone using it is a tourist)
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while waiting to get on the cable car

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Kartlis Deda, otherwise known as the Mother of Georgia
  • went down the pathway to get to the I LOVE TBILISI sign. Yes, this is just right below the Narikala Fortress

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  • walked our way to VinoGround for some 10 GEL wine tasting. (I believe we ended up drinking with the owner -he refused to admit that he was the owner- and he vehemently wanted to waive our payments as a gift to us. But we refused and insisted we still pay.)

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  • 3 GEL taxi back to the hotel and end the day (there is no Uber in Tbilisi, so I used the app Yandex.Taxi)

 

Lion and Safari Park

South Africa was never part of my list. You know, that list that we all make and tick off before we’re too old to do anything? That list. But I got curious. I’d been hearing about how good the meat is there, and boy do I love myself some juicy, tasty meat. So I went.

Not only did I help myself with a 480 gram Prime Rib, and another 280 gram Ostrich Meat, I also got to see and touch animals native of South Africa.

Lion and Safari Park is only one of the many wild life sanctuaries in Johannesburg -Kruger National Park being the biggest of all of them, boasting a 2,000,000 (yes million) hectare lot. But I made it a point to visit Lion and Safari Park because I knew it would be a guarrantee for me to see the animals that were advertised.

In this particular park, they have divisions keeping one animal species from another, making it safe for the herbivores from being eaten by the carnivores. To be able to see the animals, guests ride a jeep and enters into each division. The driver stops right where the animals are and gives a few fun facts about the creature on sight. If that sounds touristy to you, I won’t argue because it is. But it’s not so bad. I think it’s actually worth the money because I’ve talked to other people who’d done Kruger Park and they said they drove the entire day to see only two or three kinds of animals. Although, going to a 2,000,000 hectare national park is also something that’s worthy to be on anyone’s bucket list.

My Expenses: 

  • Transpo from Hotel to Lion & Safari Park + Entrance to Park + 1 hour Tour + Lion Cub Encounter = 800 South African Rand
  • Cheetah Encounter = 70 Rand
  • Tips for Tour Guide and Driver = 40 Rand
  • Fridge Magent = 59 Rand

Total: 969 ZAR

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5 Elephant Sanctuaries to Visit in Thailand (instead of a Zoo!)

I have a confession to make: I’m taking up a masters course and I’ll also be moving out of the country by the end of the month, which explains why I haven’t been posting as much. I’ve been doing assignments and reports, as well as packing all my things before I say goodbye, to my little city, for good. IT’S BEEN A CRAZY MONTH, I tell you. 

 

Published first on Tripzilla on July 19, 2017

Elephants – this is what comes to mind when many of us hear “Thailand,” right next to temples and street food. I love elephants; they’re such intelligent and majestic creatures. Unfortunately, these extraordinary traits can’t save them from being used for the country’s entertainment and tourism purposes. Thankfully, there are many organisations in Thailand that have dedicated their full-time efforts to saving and nurturing these acclaimed creatures. And they let tourists help for a day!

These said organisations run their facilities in such a way that can help you get close with the animals without having to ride or see them perform.

“But riding elephants is kind of a-once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

I know how exciting it is to tell your friends that you’ve ridden an elephant. However, elephant sanctuaries bring a more fulfilling experience because, not only can you see the elephants act in their natural environment, you can trek with them and bathe them yourselves! So if you’d also like the option of going the more ethical animal-loving route, please continue on scrolling down.

 

1. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

thailand elephant sanctuaries

Image credit: Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

On the very first page of their website, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary emphasises their no riding policy. Located about 60 km from Chiang Mai, this sanctuary is focused on taking care of formerly mistreated elephants. They currently have a little over 30 elephants on their watch. The place offers half day, full day, and overnight visits where you can feed the elephants, give them medicine, and witness their mud spa sessions.

Address: 119/10 Thapae Rd, Chang Klan, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand

2. Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park

Image credit: Elephant Nature Park

Also located about 60 km from Chiang Mai, this sanctuary’s been operating as a rescue centre for elephants since the 1990’s. Alongside these elephants, many other rescued species are also taken care of. Elephant Nature Park also offers elephant feeding, bathing, and trekking in their day’s activities, which are suitable for all ages.

Address: 1 Ratmakka Road, Phra Sing, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

3. Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

Image credit: Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

For those of you who can’t go up North, Phuket actually has a couple of sanctuaries of its own. The Phuket Elephant Sanctuary calls their preserve as a retirement home for the sick and injured elephants. They work together with the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, in participating in ethical elephant tourism programs.

This sanctuary allows their guests to interact with their elephants for half the day. Bathing and trekking are part of the itinerary, however, people can only observe the animals from the distance, during these activities, since the sanctuary emphasises on “natural” socialisation.

Address: 111/116, Moo 8, Saunneramit 1, Thombol Paklok, Amphur Talang, Phuket, Thailand

4. Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand’s Wildlife Rescue Centre

Wildlife Friends Foundation not only focuses on rescuing elephants from exploitation, they help every kind of animal affected by deforestation, illegal trade, and pollution. WFFT is constantly looking for volunteers, but if you can’t stay for good, you can help out at their Wildlife Rescue Centre. There they’ll give you a guided tour, let you walk with the elephants, and inform you of their stories. You’ll come home much educated about Thailand’s efforts in saving their elephants.

Address: Moo 6,Tambon Thamairuak, Amphoe Thayang, 76130 Petchaburi, Thailand

5. Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary

But if you do have time to stay in Thailand and volunteer to help the elephants, BLES is the place to call. Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary welcomes guests for their homestay program. Not only will volunteers get to feed the elephants, but they’ll actually gather the food themselves. And aside from walking with the elephants, visitors are encouraged to camp with them in the middle of the jungle! Sounds like an enlightening experience to me.

Address: 304 Mu 5, Baan Na Ton Jan, Tambon Baan Tuek, Si Satchanalai, Sukhothai 64130, Thailand

 

So, on your next Thailand getaway, STOP riding elephants and start taking care of them, will you?

Thailand Day 3: Things you need to know about Bangkok’s Dream World

Here it is! Day 3 of our Thailand Trip. FINALLY.

This day was meant for the kids. Previously, we’d mostly been doing adult stuff like shopping (obviously), and the children had been quite patient throughout those days. I guess you could consider this as a reward for good behavior. So on this day, we went to one of Bangkok’s amusement parks called Dream World.

Dream World Bangkok

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Three Things That You Should Know About Thailand’s Dream World:

1. They’ve got a “puppy room”

At least that’s what I call it. For 100 Baht per person, you can go inside their little airconditioned room and play with their diverse collection of puppies! This room is located inside Dream World’s Animal Corner. Don’t worry, the ticket counter will give you a map of the place!

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My dad was the only one who went in

 

2. The Food Pavillion

This is where all scheduled group tours are assigned to eat – that is, if you include lunch in your tickets. The food’s not bad at all, plus it’s a buffet!

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3. The Mini Market

They have boutiques that sell souvenirs, shirts, and other necessary “amusement park items.” But more importantly, they have an entire hall that sells items that you would normally see in Thailand’s weekend markets. They’ve got elephant pants, key chains, and Thailand t-shirts. These are clearly important if you’ve failed to buy a few items during your previous market visit. Also, the price is more or less the same as they would be outside, which is impressive.

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More Pictures!

 

I Watched The Siam Niramit Show in Bangkok and It Was Intense.

“The Highest Stage in the World,” that’s what greets guests at the doors of the Siam Niramit Theater. They hold a Guinness World Record to prove it.

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I’d never heard of this attraction until the moment we were brought to their complex/ theater. I didn’t know what to expect, but I relished not knowing. It gave me a good opportunity to be surprised. So instead of googling the moniker, I followed my family to the banquet hall that stands adjacent to the main building of the complex. Our tickets included a free buffet dinner, which was what I was looking forward to. When we went inside, it looked like everybody who bought a ticket had access to the food.

The-siam-niramit-show-bangkok-thailandSiam-Niramit-Bangkok-ThailandThe Siam Niramit Bangkok Thailand

It was busy in the other side of this room.

But all was good since refills for food came in like rapid fire. Nonstop. We were all there from 6 p.m., just scooping food after food onto our plates until 15 minutes to 8 p.m., which is when the show started.

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Before it did though, we were treated to a cultural dance presentation by some of the group’s performers, outside the venue. If I hadn’t known that we still had to go into another building, I would have thought that this was THE show already. The dancers didn’t hold back on their skills and their dresses. They all looked so elegant.

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This is part of Siam Niramit’s complex 
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free rice crackers

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When 8 came by, the guests were then allowed to go through the (now open) glass doors to the theater. Inside, we were asked to deposit our cameras and ipads to avoid any disturbances during the show. Sadly, yes; I don’t have a single picture of the production. I wish I did, because it was the craziest theatrics that I’ve seen and it would have been nice to share it with you through visiuals.

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And let me tell you, I’ve seen a myriad of stage shows: Matilda on Broadway, Cirque du Soleil in Vegas, an Opera in Vienna, local musicals! I’ve also seen intense and daring demonstrations like The Great American Circus as well as China’s version of that. None of those came close to the Siam Niramit Show.

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I wish I could fully explain to you the dynamics of the performance and its development, but I can’t for three reasons. The first one is that my poor writing skills won’t give the production justice. Second is that I was too focused on the props and the costumes, that I failed to follow the story. The third reason is that there was too much movement on the stage at every scene, and absolutely zero speaking lines, that it was hard to keep up.

So please, if you’d like to know more about the group, visit their website 🙂

The fact that I saw an adult elephant and a baby elephant, not even halfway through the show, just blew my mind. They even had the two walk on the big aisle, in between the lower and upper seats of the audience. They also had at least four goats and a couple of chicken running on the stage in some scenes. It was adorable, but I can’t help but think “animal abuse.” And that’s a topic for another post. 

At some point in the show, water appeared on the stage to form a river. I’m still not sure how I missed that during the performance. I guess I was too distracted by the bright lights and the overwhelming chaos of movement, that it was easy for me to miss the water accumulating on stage. It still confuses me though, because I didn’t even notice the reflection of the lights on the water, which was difficult to unsee after I did. This river was deep too, since one character was able to jump into the water, his whole body lost in the submersion. It’s either that, or he just sat down at the bottom to make it seem so.

But I couldn’t dwell on that thought for long, because by then a huge – no – a behemoth of a ship came passing by from one end of the stage to the other. This is why I wished I could have taken a video of this show, because I can’t possible explain to you what I saw. I’m not exaggerating. This ship might as well have been the real deal. It’s height took up the entire the stage, from its “ground” to the ceiling. It’s length just as equally long. I wondered how they were able to fit it backstage, or even at the sides of the stage for that matter.

To top that all off is the background; how it changed so quickly once the lights blacked out, how enormous pseudo mountains and houses could be moved so smoothly, how the materials were layered to create depth, and how said materials could act as screens to simulate rain or lightning.

And just like that, I knew that The Siam Niramit was a show like no other. Nothing that I’ve seen can compare to Thailand’s greatest production, especially in terms of beauty, complexity, and elaborate backdrops. Not even Cirque du Soleil can compete with Siam Niramit’s crazy.

After Show Appearance

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A Filipino’s Guide to a US Visa Online Application/ Appointment

I applied for this tourist visa three times before I got approved on my fourth try. Twice, I did the process by myself. Last April, I was asked to set an appointment for my aunt. Just today I got asked, once again, to set an appointment for an uncle.

So I guess you can say that I know my way around this whole online application thing.

Since I’m setting an appointment today, I thought, why not summarize everything for those who need it? And if you still can’t stand the process, it’s best to announce now that I can do it for you for a fee. lol

If you’d like to read the a more intensive overview of the application, please go to http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ph/ph-niv-visaapply.asp

Step 1: Pay the application fee

us visa application for filipinos

  • See here for more details on visa fees
  • The Deposit Slip $160 MRV Fee link should bring you to a page like this

us visa application for filipinos

  • Your copy will have the actual receipt number (I deleted it here to minimize confusion)
  • Pay via either BPI or Bancnet, the bank will give you back the customer’s copy that looks exactly the same, with the same receipt number. This receipt number is important, so guard the receipt with your life.
  • BPI ASKS FOR A COPY OF THE APPLICANT’S PASSPORT UPON PAYMENT

Note: The slip has an expiry as to when you can still pay for the application. Make sure you pay for it before then – friendly reminder 😉

Step 2: Complete your DS – 160 Form (online)

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The next page will need you to provide a security question, which they can use to ask you the next time you open your unfinished form.

The page after that is your DS 160 form, which you will need to fill up until the last page.

***You will be asked to upload a digital (NOT SCANNED) copy  of your picture after the last page of the DS Form. ***

Note: Make sure you have a 2×2 picture that passes the required standards of the US Embassy for Visa Application. 🙂

  • After you submit your picture and your application form, the page will bring you to your confirmation page. 
  • Print the confirmation page, you will need to bring this during your interview. The people at the gates of the Embassy will ask for this page before you can enter.  

You do not need to print your application form, since you have already submitted it online. It will already be in the Embassy’s system during your interview. 

Step 3: Schedule your appointment!

  • Go back to http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ph/ph-niv-appointmentschedule.asp and choose Schedule My Appointment under More Actions
  • This will bring you to a page where you will be asked to make a new account before the website can allow you to make an appointment.
  • After you make such account, choose New Application/Schedule Appointment. This will allow you to fill in information pertinent to your booking.

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  • Once you have done so, you will be asked to put your receipt number. This is where your very important receipt, which you have already paid for, comes back in.

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  • After typing down the numbers, you will be directed to a page where you can choose your date and time of interview. 
  • After submitting your schedule, you just have to print your appointment confirmation page and you should be good to go!

Hope you found this lengthy, step-by-step information useful!

Love,

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