Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hanoi Trip 2014 - Day 3

Early morning the next day, we traveled back to Hanoi then I checked into Hilton Hotel. I was surprised that my HSBC credit card was declined during check-in but the bank immediately called me and informed me that they just unblock Vietnam for my card transactions. After that call, I was able to use the card and the check-in went smoothly. I rested for a while; it was a nice and comfortable room. After two hours, I went out and roamed around the city then saw this beautiful building structure, Hanoi Opera House. Then I bought some souvenirs and coffee (I love Vietnamese coffee). Also, I bought two tickets for the puppet show for that night's performance.

Next, I met Alena and we had a quick dinner before coming to the show. The food wasn't that outstanding but I loved their fruit shake. I forgot the exact name of the restaurant but I remember that they are serving Asian foods. From the restaurant, we walked all the way to the theatre to catch the 8 PM show.

The Thăng Long Water Puppet Theatre wasn't that big but the seats were comfortable enough. The place was filled with mostly tourists. The show started with some live music and the entrance of some of the characters. It was divided into 8-10 phases and some of them were funny. But overall, the show was great; we were entertained and learned a little bit of Vietnamese culture and tradition. What really amazing about the show were the movements and the choreography of the puppets and the effects of water to the lights.

The video above shows one part of the show. I would recommend you to go and see this show if you will visit Hanoi. It was a quick Hanoi trip for me but it was fun and very memorable. Not just because of the place but also the company. I flew back to Dubai the next day with a stopover in Bangkok.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Hanoi Trip 2014 – Day 2

My second day in Hanoi had an early call time. The guys arranged a trip to a tourist spot on which I had no idea how far from the capital. We had two cars and I was with Ha together with Alena, Cuong and Tung. While Son drove the other car with his son, Tu and his son and Zung. We went to this place called Tràng An, a scenic area near Ninh Binh. At an instant glance, I knew that it will be a boat cave tour. The place was so amazing and very beautiful.

We rented two boats and started the wonderful journey. It was so fun rowing the boat (and yes it was also tiring). The boat came with a native rower and ours was a very nice lady. The view and scene itself took away my breath and I couldn't believe that I was in that place. 

There were several stops and we even entered some caves and underground rivers and those moments became more exciting as it was a challenge to enter and pass those parts of the tour. Nevertheless, it was a magnificent experience. It took us more than four hours to finish the tour and on our way back, it rained and honestly, it was a very enjoyable moment even though we were all wet.

We then took our lunch to a restaurant which was more than thirty minute drive from Tràng An. We were all hungry that time and they ordered mostly goat meat. Fortunately, there was a chicken and egg meal so I was able to eat (yeah, I don't eat goat meat). I also liked this rice cracker (I forgot the exact name for it) that I even bought 3 packs of it.

After that, we drove all the way to Biển Hải Thịnh and checked in a hotel. The guys were so nice that I had my own room haha. So I rested while others spent some time in the beach. After a quick nap and shower, we looked for a place to have our dinner. The first thing that I saw was the number of beers that they bought and I wasn't surprised at all. The dinner was superb as it was a sumptuous seafood selection! We had shrimp, crab, calamares and fish. We had a lot of beers and a long enjoyable night.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hanoi Trip 2014 – Day 1

It was September 2009 when I first visited Vietnam (see the blog post here) but I only stayed one day in Hanoi. My only purpose that time was to experience the Halong Bay cruise. So after five years, I decided to come back and spend more time in the country's capital. Good thing I have some colleagues/friends who accommodated me very well and were so kind to provide me a quick but wonderful experience in this beautiful city. I landed on 27th of June at around twelve in the afternoon and since I didn't get much sleep, I made a quick nap in the hotel before meeting the guys.

The hotel I chose was very close to the Vietnam office so I was able to see it and for the first time, meet the rest of the guys. I have known Ha, Son and Cuong during our onsite project in Oman. So, I met Tu, Tung and incidentally, Elena was also there whom I've already met in Dubai office (she is from Russia office). Another guy, Dung, was out of the office that time but I was able to meet him the next day. After that quick "hi and hello", Tu accompanied me to walk around the Hoàn Kiếm Lake.

Hoàn Kiếm Lake is historical lake in the central Hanoi. The name means "Lake of the Returned Sword" and it is one of the major tourist spots in the capital. Tu and I took one round of walking and the sight of each step was marvelous. The calm lake was so beautiful that the reflection of the trees and a small light from the sun created a scene of magnificence. The dead big turtle was also on display and Tu told me that there was one remaining huge turtle inhabits the lake.

After more than an hour, we came back to the office. After few more minutes, their office hours were finished so it was time for dinner! Haha. Unfortunately, Tung was unable to join us for some reason. So we went to this restaurant and ordered some foods. But most importantly, an overflowing beer was required. The place was filled with customers and our table was also filled with beer! When they say 'Cheers!', you have no choice but to lift your mug and drink even though you just drank a minute before that. The foods were good but I think the beers were better; it was my first time to taste a black beer.

There was a stage that was setup during that time and of course with a stage, comes performers. There were singing and dance numbers. See the video above as a sample of what you can expect in this restaurant.

After that sumptuous dinner, the night wasn't done yet. We went to this karaoke bar and sang our lungs out. The difference of their karaoke bar in Hanoi is that you have to list down the songs that you want to sing and give it to a staff so that they can load it into your room's video system. They didn't have a prepared list of songs where you can select and choose a number. Nevertheless, we still enjoyed that singing moment. Our song selection included classic, boy band and love songs.

Oh no, the night didn't end yet after that, Ha, Elena and I went to a bar to have some cocktail and enjoy music. The bar's name was 'The Bank' and it was packed with a lot of people. Their DJ was a foreigner but the sounds and lights were great and flashy. And yes, after that, we got tired and sleepy so we decided to call it a night. Besides, my day 2 in Hanoi required me to wake up early for a road trip.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How to Apply US Visa from UAE

I was blessed to be granted with multiple entry tourist visa valid for ten years. The steps were not that hard but make sure to have your documents and references ready. Actually, I have two friends who informed and advised me that it is easier to apply visa in US Embassy in Abu Dhabi than the consulate in Dubai. So it's up to you where you want to make your application but in my case, I followed their suggestion.

So below are the steps on how to acquire tourist visa. Be reminded that these are based from my experience and their procedures might change.
  1. Make sure you have a passport picture that was taken not more than six months. Information on the correct photo can be found here: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/general/photos.html. Prepare a scanned copy of it and use the photo tool on this website to crop the required size and face dimension.
  2. Complete the online application (https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/). They call it DS-160 (Non-immigrant Visa Application). I would advise to prepare your resume and refresh your travel history. The application form will ask you about personal data, travel plan, family information, education, employment history, income and countries you have visited. After completing the form, it will give you unique number and a barcode.
  3. Next is to pay the visa application fee and make an appointment. Visit the page https://usvisa-info.com/. You will need to register and input all your details and I think the unique number from DS-160 form will be needed. On this step, you will be asked to pay and choose your preferred location of passport pickup.
  4. Lastly, make sure to arrive on your appointed date, time and location. I would advise you to go there one hour before your appointment and make sure to wear semi-formal attire.

On your date of appointment, make sure to have the following requirements:
  • A passport that is valid for at least six months.
  • Also, bring your old passport. It might contain stamps from other countries that you have visited.
  • Bring passport picture.
  • Bank statements for the last three months.
  • Letter from your employer stating position, start date and salary
  • Letter from your employer establishing purpose of travel.

In my experience, to be prepared, I brought all other important documents such as transcript of records, diploma, employment certificate and birth certificate. Though these were not required, it is still better to have them ready if the consul will ask for it. There were chances that they will still require further documents, proof and information.

So that's it, it isn't that hard right? So good luck to your application!

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Quick Muscat Getaway

I've been going back and forth to Muscat, Oman for almost a year now due to business trips. But on the 14th of February (yes, Valentine's Day) I had the chance to have a quick tour around Muscat. That time, the weather was still good (still winter season) so roaming around the city was not that bad. My colleague from Vietnam office (Son) and I met in the hotel before lunch time (I still had to do some work in the morning).

We took a cab going to Qurum and found ourselves in a beach area. The place was nice and the hotel structure near the beach was a splendid view. Son decided to feel the water and took some photos in a cave. I didn't join him because I didn't want to remove my shoes haha. But still I enjoyed the scenery and the view. After that, we took quick refreshment from Starbucks and rested for a while.

From Qurum, we just walked to our next destination which was the world famous Royal Opera House. It is the renowned venue in Oman for culture and musical arts. We weren't able to go inside because there was no performance and it was closed. But still the view and the architecture style of the building is very elegant. The external finishing of the building was so delicately constructed resulting to a delightful scene.

After a few hours, we moved to Al Amerat Park via cab. Our client informed us that there will be some activities and exhibitions on that day. The entrance was free and there were numerous stalls and stage setups in the area. Also, some products and souvenirs from other countries were also on display (and of course for sale).

Other things we saw were some "mini" museum and a demonstration of the local culture and old ways of living. Some tourists enjoyed the free ride on a camel and a photo op near the locals. The weather was so perfect that time and the area and the view itself were wonderful in the eyes as it was situated near the mountains.

But the part that I really enjoyed that time was the group performance of the locals. It was like a parade of national dance and each culture's costume/dress. I had an LSS to one of the cheers and entire exhibition was so colorful. I was able to take a video of it. Though it was a very quick tour, I did enjoy it and at least I have experienced the other side of Muscat (not just work-related). I am sure that I will still visit some parts of Oman and right now, I am planning to go to Salalah by next month (hopefully).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Mom & Sis in Dubai

Last 24th of January (I know this is a very late post), my mother and my sister visited me here in Dubai. My mom flew in from Manila while my sister was from Bucharest. It was a one week vacation for them and also, it was a part of my birthday celebration here. I had to leave them on their first day since I had a church activity so they just roamed around the area near my apartment and spent some time in Mall of the Emirates.

The next day, we went to Abu Dhabi. It was a tour from an agency so the transportation was easy. We went to Grand Mosque, Corniche, Heritage Village and Ferrari World. It was a whole day event. The minibus also took us to some landmarks in Abu Dhabi including the Emirates Palace, residence of the Sheikh and dates market. We had our lunch buffet inside the heritage village and we bought some souvenirs.

We visited the Miracle Garden on their third day. It was my first time visiting that place and I was amazed by the numbers of flowers (maybe that's why it was called miracle garden) they had. The entire place was colorful and the designs they created were really nice. I believe this garden is open only during winter as it is impossible to maintain it during summer when the heat of the sun is superb. Later that night, we had a Dhow Cruise around Dubai Marina. Our buffet dinner was also served in that cruise. It only took around two hours to navigate the surroundings of the marina.

On their fourth day, we spent our time in the Global Village. It was also my first time there and also opens only during winter. It is a place where different cultures from several countries were displayed and exhibited. There were several areas and booths where you can experience a bit of each country's customs. It is a very big area and my mother got tired. There were also some stores and food counters so we tried some of them. My sister and I bought some perfume (it was on sale) and souvenirs to be sent to Manila.

Sharjah and Ajman were our next destination. Unfortunately, my mother chose to rest as she was so tired and insisted to stay at home. So my sister and I got into a tour of the said emirates (it was also my first time). In Sharjah, we visited the Gold Souq where we bought a necklace with cross pendant. We also made a stop in a beach and rested for a while. In Ajman, we visited their famous museum.

Day number six was a visit to the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. We went to the top of the building where we saw the majority of Dubai land. It was my second visit there; the first was with my father. After that, we had a quick visit around Dubai Mall and checked some stores. From there, we were picked up by tour agency that brought us to the Desert Safari. We just had our buffet dinner there and watched some performances (including belly dancing).

On their last day, we were able to squeeze in a quick visit near the Burj Al Arab (the only seven star hotel in the world) and in Atlantis. We went to the beach around the area and took some photo. Later in the afternoon, we drop my sister at the airport as she had an earlier flight than my mother. Then in the evening, my mother and I went to the airport, we had the same time of flight. She is returning back to Manila while I was heading to Muscat. It was a great and memorable experience spending quality time with them. Though it was short, it was still meaningful and my birthday week became better.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Airline Review Part 4

Qatar Airways – They call it the world's 5 star airline and indeed it was a great experience. The fleet was new and the seat was quite spacious. The entertainment was quite okay and there were numerous selections and options. The only thing I hated about my journey was that upon arrival, we had to transfer to a mini bus that brought us to the Doha airport (same thing for departure). I will understand this kind of setup if Qatar Airways is a budget carrier. Anyway, there was no much complaint with the service and it was a smooth and steady flight. (2013 Skytrax rating:  2nd world's best airline [behind Emirates] and world's best business class)

Gulf Air – This airline is so affordable! I was able to book a business class seat for a low price and the service wasn't bad at all. It was my tour in Nepal when I booked into Gulf Air. Though the total journey was only almost six hours (with stopover in Bahrain), the flight attendant ensured that I had everything I needed during the flight. I was all alone in the business class. What I really liked about this trip was the opportunity to use their lounge. There was a buffet dinner, free internet and sockets where you can connect your device/s to charge. Also, the seats inside the lounge were very comfortable and I was able to take a sleep (the layover was about 4 hours). Since I enjoyed this airline, I immediately enrolled to their Falcon membership. I will definitely use this airline again for my forthcoming Middle East trip. As of writing, I heard that they have terminated their route to Kathmandu. (2013 Skytrax rating: 3 star airline)

Royal Brunei – It was 2009 when I acquired this airline's service. It was also my first trip alone as I was preparing for my Asian backpack tour. What I remember about Royal Brunei is that before departure, they took time to pray before departure and so far, it is the only airline that does such thing and I think that it was a nice gesture as I felt safer and assured of a wonderful journey. Also, the fleet was new and was very clean. The flight attendants were very attentive and helpful. (2013 Skytrax rating: 3 star airline)
TAROM – This is the flag carrier of Romania and short for Transporturi Aeriene Romane. It was March 2013 when I booked a direct flight to Bucharest, Romania. It was very noticeable that the plane is quite old and not properly maintained. Honestly, I didn't like the uniform the flight attendants, it was very simple. I know I'm not an expert in fashion but it didn't fully represent the airline and the country. It was like plain blue and white. Nevertheless, the service wasn't bad at all but some of the flight attendants weren't smiling and if they were smiling, I think it wasn't genuine. Maybe they were tired that time. The in-flight foods and drinks were okay. Another good thing about this airline is that we departed and arrived on time and on schedule. (2013 Skytrax rating: 3 star airline)

See also:

Monday, July 29, 2013

Getting OEC in Manila is Easier than in Dubai

My vacation in Manila last June 28 was my first time not getting an OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate) from Philippine Embassy/Consulate. Being an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) for more than five years and a frequent returning Filipino resident (more than 10 times I think), it is a major hassle to get such certificate for various reasons. First, in Dubai, the consulate is not open during weekends compared to Singapore where you can get OEC even Sundays. So you don't have a choice but to file a leave of absence just to get such document in Philippine Consulate in Dubai. Even if you take early lunch, trust me, 2 hours is not enough to finish the process. Second, the queue is always a major problem. Though there is a ticketing system, still the number of people processing their OEC is superb! They call it by batch and it is 20 people by hour. Third, the consulate is not that accessible; there is no train station that is walking distance so the only choice is to take a cab.

One of the first things that I did when I arrived in Manila was to look for the procedures on how to get OEC in POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) in Ortigas. The procedure is well defined and explained in their official website (http://bmappointment.poea.gov.ph). In my own experience, I did the following easy steps: (1) set an appointment using the system on the website (2) fill up the online information sheet then print it (3) go to the designated office based on your schedule and don't forget to bring all the requirements listed on the website (4) a staff will point you to the next steps which are assessment and payment (5) get your OEC from the cashier and you're done. All in all, the process did not take more than 30 minutes. Also, you can get multiple OEC in Manila but not in Dubai. So for me, it is more convenient now to process the document in Manila.  

First image taken from pinoy-ofw.com

***** UPDATE 25/10/2014 *****
 You can now get OEC online by visiting their website: http://bmonline.poea.gov.ph/. Below are the steps that you can follow (from gulfnews.com):
  • An applicant must first register his or her details using a working email address.
  • After verifying your account, log in. Make sure you have your documents with you: passport and visa copy, original OEC – must be issued in the Philippines.
  • Note: OECs issued in the UAE or other countries will not work for now (you need to get an OEC at least once from any of the POEA or OWWA office in the Philippines).
  • Fill out the information sheet. Key in your date of departure.
  • You will be led to an e-payment facility where you can choose to pay using online banking systems but they use Philippine banks only.
  • You may also use GCash or iRemit so you can pay at accredited exchange centres in the UAE. You may need to enrol your online banking if you prefer to use it, which may take time for some banks.
  • Upon payment, you will be led to the “self-print” option. Print three copies of your OEC along with the system-generated certificates and receipts that will be sent to you.

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