No Excess Baggage

The Leftovers of a Travel Experience

A Blissful Recluse in Microtel Boracay


The first time Boracay crossed my mind, I had second thoughts of going there. It’s not because it’s overrated; nor is it because of the popularity of the place. Partly, I wanted to be “in the know” and to really experience the “hype” about it- the white powdery sand and all. But I also wanted to experience Boracay in a different light.

I’m not a party person and I think everyone knows that. I prefer to chill out in a coffee shop than attend a rave party somewhere. And of course, I sort of contradict myself, saying I’ll go to Boracay but not attending a party there. I mean, I like parties sometimes, but it drains my energy to attend one. Perhaps I was just looking for peace and quiet.

In short, this affected my hotel booking because I wanted to stay in a hotel where I can retreat to once I get exhausted of the inevitable island crowd and parties down by the stations. I did find one, in this cove called Diniwid. The beach was a small enclave that is separated by a narrow land mass from the crowded and popular Boracay stations.


Microtel Boracay is perfectly situated in this place. It’s close enough to the stations and far enough from the noise and parties. I was able to grab a really cheap rate for three nights and I did not expect for the place to be really fancy. I guess I did not set high expectations but post trip and after looking at other hotels by the stations (at a similar price), Microtel did not disappoint.

The double room I got was so spacious, so nicely prepared.I was a stickler for bathrooms as well and this one impressed me. I also got a welcome drink and a necklace.


I got complete travel services from the hotel. They picked me up from the Caticlan airport to the jetty port, and from jetty port to the hotel. Going back was also the same. I never had to take public transportation with my luggage and a hotel service guy assisted me all throughout.

The stucco-style furnishings and ambiance of the hotel was really pleasing to the senses. And surprisingly, they also have some pretty decent food. Their American hamburger is worth trying out!

Overall, Microtel Boracay is perfect for introverts like me. You can read a book here, watch the sunset, hear the ocean waves… It provided me what I wanted, something that not all people get to appreciate- a piece of Boracay serenity.



Sentosa’s Gaudi-Inspired Park

PhototasticCollage-2016-06-18-21-49-40 It’s quite unusual to find something like this in a rigid, corporate city like Singapore. Whimsical designs, eccentric artistry, and crazy colors are usually reserved for cultures where self-expression is highlighted. Spain is no stranger to this, as with the likes of Pablo Picasso and Antonio Gaudi. And Gaudi’s work is very much alive at the Sentosa Merlion Park in Singapore.

It’s like walking inside a set of Alice in Wonderland. Odd curves and mosaics of varying colors distort a city landscape that is dominated by lines and predictable patterns. It recalls a time period when Art Nouveau was the trend in architecture. And Singapore seems to have embraced this kind of eccentricity, adding diversity to an otherwise straightforward landscape.

If you have the time to spare, do visit this nice little park. It’s also a gateway to the tallest Merlion structure in Singapore.

Bulacan’s Oldest Empanada Recipe


Filipino empanadas are common savory pastries served during merienda or afternoon lunch break. But in Malolos, Bulacan, one empanada place has earned its rightful place in Philippine History as it is not the most common type of empanada in the country. It’s one of the rare gems of Filipino cuisine and we found it at Mercy’s Empanada de Kaliskis.

This old snack house used to serve empanadas to several presidents and high ranking officials of the Philippines including Emilio Aguinaldo. And why the fuzz? Because it is best known for it’s crusty and flaky dough, like the fins of a fish or kaliskis in Filipino. The recipe, as the current owner tells, has survived the test of time. It has been passed on from generation to generation, even surviving World War II where the kitchen equipment were buried to hide it from the Japanese.

As far as I know, this is one of the last places where you can find this kind of empanada, much more that it carries a long history behind it. The flaky crust fills your mouth so gently as you bite into the chicken and raisin filling. Simply delicious. Now I understand why this kind of empanada was such a delight for former presidents!

More photos after the jump! Continue reading “Bulacan’s Oldest Empanada Recipe”

A Hundred Islands to Choose From


An hour away from the capital of Dagupan, Pangasinan is a popular tourist spot I’ve always dreamed of visiting. It’s the only place in Luzon where you can actually start counting islands in the Philippines, around a hundred of them actually. It’s in the name of the park – Hundred Islands.

We visited as a group, coming from our teacher training and workshops in Dagupan. From there you can take a bus going to Alaminos or a UV Express van. Because our group could fill one van, we opted to rent the whole thing for Php800 per trip. The driver was nice enough to leave his number to pick us up by the end of the day. Early morning would be the best time to leave (earlier if coming from Manila) as there’s a traffic jam when you reach the city center or bayan of Alaminos.  That’s the last stop over before reaching the docks where bancas are waiting to give you a tour.


Locals would usually suggest travelling in groups as boats charge by the vehicle and not per head. The costs could range from 800 to 1000+ pesos depending on how many islands you want to visit. It’s interesting that each island you hop to has a different activity to offer. In our route, here’s what we did:

  • Governor’s Island – View Deck and Sightseeing
  • Marcos Island – Beach and Cave Diving
  • Lopez Island – Snorkeling
  • Quezon Island – Merienda
  • Cuenco Island – Cave Exploration and Dock Jumping

I guess we could only stay for so long on each island considering it’s only a day trip for us. We did all of these from around 9 AM to 5 PM. The late afternoon waves are stronger so we had to go back the soonest.


See More Photos after the jump —>

Continue reading “A Hundred Islands to Choose From”

Lenten Rites at Cutud, Pampanga



Maleldo 2016 was an eye-opening experience on how Holy Week is celebrated in our country. This one in Cutud, Pampanga truly challenged my perceptions.But I only have respect for the people and culture of San Fernando as this practice has been apart of their lives since the 1950s.

Some people call it barbaric and it is likely that the Catholic Church does not approve of it. But witnessing it was not for me to judge but to understand such tradition in order to reflect on my own meaning of sacrifice.

The blood was immediately arresting to onlookers and it spattered everywhere the penitents walked. This is underscored by the sweltering heat of the sun, close to unbearable temperatures. Seemed like sacrifices were being made by everyone present on the site.

I walked away not just with pictures but a widened perception on the things we are willing to do for our faith. I remember that for Catholicism, sacrifice is a big tenet. That is why Catholics revere the Christ on the cross.

Thank you Travel Factor and Tour coordinator Che Sasoy for bringing me closer to this unique Holy Week experience. ‪


See the gallery of pictures after the jump.

Continue reading “Lenten Rites at Cutud, Pampanga”

Outback Steakhouse


I’m not a huge steak fan but when you are in a place like Australia, I guess it is pretty inevitable to end up eating steak. Beef is quite common in Aussie dishes, perhaps reflecting the abundance of meat in the Outback. Their steaks are very thick slabs of beef and mostly char-grilled depending on your preference.

I got a chance to visit the Outback Steakhouse in Sydney back when it was still new (circa 2010). I really loved their fried onion blossom aside from its pretty presentation and huge size. We also tried some sloppy fries (no picture as it looked sloppy, duh) and their yummy baby back ribs. To make things appear healthier, we had some salad with grilled fruit. As you know, everything is bigger in Sydney so a family of four might have a hard time devouring all of the dishes we ate!


Inside the Winery There Are…


Barrels. Hundreds upon hundreds of barrels that contain fermented grapes.

Going inside one of Hunter Valley’s wineries wasn’t so phenomenal (maybe perhaps I did not fully appreciate wine at that time) but it was my first time to see where wine is kept to age. We had various wine tasting sessions and I tried to learn how to discriminate tastes and flavors. But the only thing I really learned was swirling, of which was an utter failure the first time because I swirled too hard and the wine spilled out of the glass!

Nonetheless, it was interesting to see the huge barrels stacked on top of each other. Too bad, these pictures were taken before selfies were invented so our shots were terribly shaky.

Occupy Beach Street


A Sunday in Penang is pretty laid-back and the streets are not so crowded except for Beach Street. From early morning to midday, red tents are pitched on both sides of the passage and cars are banned. The center lane becomes a boardwalk where people can shop, chat, and be entertained by the various things going on all at the same time.

This is called Occupy Beach Street and I was lucky enough to experience it! I presume this was taken from the “Occupy Wall Street” event in 2011 and the organizers had a play on words to come up with “Occupy Beach Street.” Though it was not an resurgence of the 99 percent versus the one percent, this Malaysian version was 99 percent entertaining and one percent surprising.

Locals were peddling their goods including locally brewed teas (delicious Chrysanthemum tea), interesting ant-eater carnivorous plants (bought by Vince), toys and candies, balloons, and different home-made foods.

There were also entertainers there street dancing, making people laugh, and this one guy who used recycled items to make instruments. The showstopper though was that he was a one-man band! He did a really sweet rendition of the classic “When Will I see You Again.” All of these were really entertaining,  but I was particularly surprised by the cleaver massage where meat cleavers were being used to massage the shoulder of a woman. Strange but true!

There was also a man teaching Chinese calligraphy and there’s a huge snakes and ladders board on the street. We tried to play it but it was too hot by that time.

This was a really good stop to hang out on a Sunday in Penang!


22 Foodtastic Penang!


Penang is a food mecca. It’s the place of convergence  for dishes coming from all over Asia, influenced strongly by Chinese, Thai, and Indian cooking traditions. I lost myself in this place as I was basically just inhaling all the food around me, thanks to my travel companion Vince.

I only had a couple of days in this wonderful island, but I took in as much as my stomach could. And my heart was just so happy trying out all of these wonderful dishes. So go print out this list once you plan to drop by Penang. Vince, who’s been in Penang for quite some time, helped me out in coming up with this list of 22 food places to try. I guarantee that I have tried all of these and they are all good!

Jemput makan!

1. Springly Dry noodles with Chicken Chop – Old Town Coffee
2. Alu Ghobi Masala – Kapitan
3. Cendol – Lebuh Keng Kwee
4. Nasi Lemak – Nasi Lemak Ali at Lebuh Pantai
5. Chicken Floss Bread – Any Malaysian Convenience Store
6. Twiggies Tiramisu – Any Malaysian Convenience Store
7. Apple Fruit Drink with Aloe – Any Malaysian Convenience Store
8. Milo Nuggets! – Any Malaysian Convenience Store
9. Dimsum – Tai Tong Restaurant
10. Durian Ice Cream – Kek Seng Coffee Shop
11. Salted Egg Lotus Biscuit – Seng Seng Heang at Ayer Itam
12. Dry Wantan Mee – Lebuh Aceh
13. Bottled Lemon Drink – Huey and Wah Cafe
14. Lo Bak – Kheng Pin Cafe
15. Wantan Mee Soup – Lebuh Aceh
16. Tea C Peng Special or Three Layer Tea – Most Hawker Centres
17. Nutella Cake – China House, Georgetown
18. Laksa – Jalan Penang
19. Lotus Biscuits – Ming Xiang Tai
20. Pork in Black Vinegar – Pit Stop Cafe at Lorong Chulia
21. Specialty Fried Chicken – Pit Stop Cafe at Lorong Chulia
22. Pad See Ew – Pit Stop Cafe at Lorong Chulia

Vincent Ian Zabala is a Filipino-American based in Malaysia. He is a food enthusiast and an avid traveler like me! 

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