Remembering Australia (part 1/?)

I’m finally getting around to organizing the photos from my trips these past few years in preparation for finally getting them printed in their respective photo books. The process is both time-consuming and rewarding. The one I’m working on now is for a trip to Australia in 2010, where my friend and co-worker Rima and I attended a conference in Townsville, went on a post-conference field trip to Cairns, then flew back to Sydney for some R&R. It wasn’t my first time in Australia (visited Sydney and the Gold Coast in 2005) but it was my first trip abroad with a friend instead of family.

Our itinerary was pretty packed:

Day 01 – Manila-Singapore, layover in Singapore, leave Singapore in the evening
Day 02 – arrive in Sydney in the morning, transfer to Townsville, conference meet-and-greet
Day 03 – conference proper, dinner at The Cultural Centre
Day 04 – off-site session (I got to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef!), dinner at the hotel banquet hall
Day 05 – conference proper, dinner at the the Billabong Sanctuary
Day 06 – conference proper, farewell dinner
Day 07 – post-conference trip to the Cardwell Bush Telegraph Heritage Centre and the Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walkway on our way up to Cairns
Day 08 – snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef with Quicksilver Cruises
Day 09 – Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park
Day 10 – fly to Sydney, visit the Sydney Aquarium
Day 11 – the Sydney Opera House (of course!), the Sydney Fish Market, and The Rocks
Day 12 – Wild Life Sydney (it was still Sydney Wildlife World when we visited), Sydney Tower, Manly, and Darling Harbour
Day 13 – fly back to Manila via Singapore. Awww πŸ™

Day 01: Singapore

Rima gave me free reign over our entire itinerary (MWAHAHAH!) so I chose the Singapore Airlines flight with an 8-hour layover in Singapore before proceeding to Sydney. Why the heck would anyone choose to have a long layover? Because Changi Airport is freaking awesome, that’s why πŸ˜›

  • They offer free city tours to folks with layovers of 5 hours or more (my main reason for wanting the long stay).
  • They have a bajilion duty free shops and restaurants.
  • They have shower areas! And free Wi-Fi! And free computer stations! (I got to shower and change before the Singapore-Sydney leg.)
  • They have a butterfly garden, movie theaters, and super comfy couches. And a giant slide. Did I mention the giant slide?

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Day 02 – Townsville!

Singapore Day 4 – shopping in Sim Lin Square

Well this is embarrassing. I’ve already gone and left for China and I haven’t even blogged about my last day in Singapore yet. Gah. *facepalm*

Anyway, the pertinent parts of the story are:

  1. My parents and two youngest siblings’ flight back to Manila was at 10am while mine and Rob’s was at 5pm. Rob and I ate breakfast at the McDonald’s in Bugis Junction, went to Sim Lin Square, ate lunch at the McDonald’s in Bugis Junction, then caught a cab to the airport. The concierge at Ibis kept our bags after we checked out at 9am so that we could wander around.
  2. I bought a BlackBerry Curve 9300 in Sim Lin Square! Yahoo! Got it for around Php 4,000 less than what it usually sells for in Manila. Now the downside: we spent three hours going around the place and I lost my patience with two vendors. My infuriating experience prompted me to write an article detailing how I to get f*cked over while shopping in Sim Lin Square. Read it here.
  3. The departure area of Singapore’s Budget Terminal was a nice place to wait. But then again, I’m used to NAIA so an airport with comfy chairs, clean bathrooms, and decent food already passes with flying colors. LOL. My only complaint is that there were too few chairs. Bought siopao to eat on the way home.
  4. Dear Philippine Customs Officer, young man + young woman + traveling together DOES NOT EQUAL A ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP. JFC the customs guy thought Rob was my husband. EWW EWW EWWWWW!!!

Singapore Day 3 – Singapore Zoo and the Singapore Flyer

We got a later start that day, having lunch at the Bugis Junction mall before my brother Jay and I separated from the rest of the family to go to the Singapore Zoo. I was the only one who hadn’t been to the zoo – they went there during the Singapore leg of their Asian cruise last 2008 – but Jay went with me anyway because he wanted to see the animals again.

The Singapore Zoo is out of the way compared to the other must-visit places in Singapore, requiring a 30-minute MRT ride from Bugis to Ang Mo Kio station and another 30 minutes on the 138 bus. What the guides don’t tell you is where the bus stop for the 138 bus is – it’s the big bus terminal across the street from the MRT station. We ended up taking a taxi to the zoo from the station (S$9. 40) after not finding the right bus stop after 15 minutes of looking.

We got there are around 1:30pm, leaving us 4.5 hours to look around (the zoo closes at 6pm). Basic entrance is S$20 per adult, though you can opt to get the Zoo-per Saver pass (S$27 for adults), which gives you admission + unlimited boat and tram rides, or the Park Hopper pass (S$58), which gives you admission to the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, and Jurong Bird Park. If you’re going to be in the zoo for the entire day, I suggest getting the Zoo-per Saver pass. The tram saves you some walking time between exhibits and the boat ride takes you around the perimeter of the park (and it looked like a lot of fun too).


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Singapore Day 2 – Universal Studios Singapore


We left the hotel at 8:30am and got to Universal Studios Singapore at around 9:30am. TIP: even though the park opens at 10am, be at the gates by 9:30 at the latest as the lines going in can and will get longer closer to opening time. Once inside, ride the attractions that will have the longest lines later in the day:

  • Battlestar Galactica – the world’s tallest dueling roller coasters at 42.5 meters tall! Choose either the Human or Cylon track: the Human track is a seated coaster that travels at 82.8 kph but with no inversions, while the Cyclon suspended coaster goes through five inversions, including a corkscrew and a cobra roll. My sister and I rode the Cylon track first, caught our breath for 5 minutes, then rode the Human track with our brothers. Have I mentioned how much I love roller coasters? πŸ˜€ Though looking back, I would recommend a 10-minute break between rides.

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  • Return of the Mummy – a roller coaster ride in the dark. Basically it’s Space Mountain but with physical effects like fire and great set design.
  • Shrek 4D theater – a 3D movie with special effects. Nothing unusual here. There are stationary seats inside the theater for people who’d prefer not to get shaken around. The host just outside the theater doors was highly amusing.
  • Jurassic Park Rapids – a water ride with a long plunge at the end. To be honest, the only exciting part of the ride was the flume at the end.

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Singapore Day 1 – getting to Singapore and the Budget Terminal

Well technically, we didn’t have a “Day 1” since we landed in Singapore at 1am on May 21 as were were on the last Cebu Pacific flight out from Manila. My mother thought that my brother Robbie would choose to work on Friday and only take the next Monday off so she booked the two of us for the 9pm flight. I got roped into taking the late flight so that my brother wouldn’t be alone. Had dinner in the Japanese place inside NAIA Terminal 3 (the food was so-so) before flying out. Reminder: just because you checked in online and don’t have baggage to check doesn’t mean that you don’t need to show yourself at the check-in counters.

I landed at 1am and experienced the Singapore Budget Terminal for the first time (my last two visits to Singapore involved Singapore Airlines so I passed through Changi Airport). Of course the Budget Terminal isn’t as awesome as Changi Airport (how do you compete with free WiFi, computer terminals, and city tours, floors of duty free shops and restaurants, lots of comfortable chairs, and a giant slide?) but it certainly wasn’t shabby. In fact, the Budget Terminal reminded me of NAIA Terminal 1 but better: better lit, better food, and better airconditioning.


It’s very disheartening to know that the Philippines’ main international terminal is equivalent to the budget terminal of our neighbor.

We arrived at the Ibis Hotel on Bencoolen by 1:30am. Robbie was ecstatic when he found complimentary WiFi in the room. As my brother wasn’t going to let me use his precious MacBook, I was ecstatic to see free Internet terminals in the lobby. The room was just right for the two of us, though I wished for a little more space between the foot of the bed and the wall with the TV. The amenities were scarce – only shower cap, soap, shampoo/body wash, towels, coffee and tea service, and in-room safe – but the room was only US$125/night (no breakfast) via Agoda so I can’t complain. The hotel has a great location. It’s very hear a Hindu temple, a Buddhist temple, and Chinese traditional medicine stores if you want to soak up some culture. The Bugis MRT station is about three blocks away. Bugis Market, Singapore’s answer to our Divisoria, is only two blocks away. We zonked out after washing up but were rudely awakened at 7am by a too-loud telephone to go to Universal Studios.

How to shop in Sim Lin Square (Singapore) without getting f*cked over

Sim Lin Square in Singapore is a well-known gadget haven, boasting of six floors of stores selling nothing but the latest computers and consumer electronics, including laptops, tablets, mp3 players, mobile phones, audio equipment, and the like. While the vast array of shops leaves you spoilt for choice, this also leaves you open to unscrupulous sales personnel. Yes, even Singapore has its share of con artists. Based on my own shopping experience, here’s a short list of tips to avoid getting suckered in Sim Lin Square or any other shopping area in the world:

Buddhist monks shopping in Sim Lin Square

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