Tag Archives: Travel Tips

Mount Pinatubo: Trekking up an Active Volcano

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I found myself well beyond my shire and on an adventure I wasn’t quite fit for. For a lethargic couch potato with a bad knee, the quest to the crater lake of Mount Pinatubo was daunting.

The confidence boost came from the knowledge that elder folk and kids would be joining the trek. I could keep up with them naman siguro… right? Haha!

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Bottom line is, I made it! So you can, too. In fact, you don’t feel the incline until the final stretch to the crater. And since you’ll be so focused on finding a trustworthy spot to place your next step, time dashes by.

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The trip begins early from the jump-off point with a bumpy hour on a 4×4 to the foot of the volcano. The trek to the crater takes around 2 hours. The most challenging section of the trip for me would be the staircase of, maybe, 200 steps to get to the lake.

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But oh, what a magnificent sight – still waters floating within the crater of a sleeping volcano! it’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; the treasure under the spot marked “X”; the pièce de résistance!

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The sights along the trail are also awe-inspiring, should you take the time to look up and around. Mountains of ash with remnants of mini landslides. Boulders and rocks and stones and pebbles. Cold streams – wide and tiny. Sulfur stains. Local tribespeople with smiling faces and genuine greetings… To think, this is the same volcano that gave us the second largest eruption in the 20th century.

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After 600 years of dormancy, Mount Pinatubo erupted in June 1991. Clouds of gas and hot ash burst into the air and flowing lava gushed out of the volcano. Hundreds of lives were taken and the world was stunned as the the global temperature dropped and the color gray rained throughout the Philippines and as far as Singapore. A river of volcanic mud ran through Central Luzon taking lives, livelihood, and homes while changing the landscape forever. Mount Pinatubo would erupt again throughout 1991 and 1992.

1991 Mount Pinatubo Eruption
The stillness of the crater lake, the calm sound of gentle streams, the permanent placement of boulders and smoothed stones, the delicate hills of dust… The beauty you find along the Pinatubo trail is a testament to the catastrophic Mount Pinatubo eruption in 1991.

1991 Mount Pinatubo Eruption
While trekking, naturally, you’ll be looking down and ahead most of the way. But do not forget to peel your eyes from the path and appreciate the glory of nature – sheer and brutal beauty. Step into the shot and take lots of photos and videos. Enjoy the scenery. Horror gifted us with this serenity.

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If you’re looking to go on your own Mount Pinatubo adventure, there are lots of tour providers from Manila. We used Allan Bognot, who also owns a pension house at the jump-off point.

Just some tips:

  • Doing the trek early in the morning was great! It got quite chilly (this was end-December).
  • Use sunscreen. Your trek back which will be around noon to 2pm and you’ll feel the sun much more then. I heard it’s extra hot on any other time of year!
  • Eat a big breakfast and bring snacks (my tummy was grumbling on the trek back).
  • Use comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting water and sand in. Hiking shoes would be best.
  • Check this link out for tips and an alternative tour package.
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A Quick Rundown of Dumaguete’s Delights

Big thank you to Green Cross (Total Defense) and Rajah Travel for the unforgettable trip! Check out my next blog post on the entire "Do Good Get Dirty" experience. :)

I found my taste buds rejoicing! One of the things to love about the Philippines is definitely food.

It was my first time in Dumaguete City, Oriental Negros, and we were greeted with a feast fit for a sweet tooth!

This was the appetizer –  hot chocolate with the native delicacy called budbud (just like sum an) and a sweet ripe mango.

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These are two varieties of the local delicacy called budbud. The one above is made from sticky rice and the one below, called budbud kabog, is made with bird seed. Though it may look grainier than the other, the budbud kabog had a smoother and softer consistency.

There are two varieties. One is typically what we Filipinos are used to, made from sticky rice. The other is a bit more unconventional called budbud kabog and is made out of millet (which is actually sold as bird seed!).

Believe it or not, I preferred the budbud kabog and I’m now wondering when I’ll taste its loveliness with poured tsokolate again… (Leads, anyone?)

Silvanas is a frozen cookie version of the Sans Rival cake. It's made with buttercream sandwiched by merengue-cashew wafers, coated in cookie crumbs.
Silvanas is a frozen cookie version of the Sans Rival cake. It’s made with buttercream sandwiched by merengue-cashew wafers, coated in cookie crumbs.

After our lunch meal, out came the plates of silvanas and SANS RIVAL, the delicious desserts Dumaguete is known for. (SANS RIVAL is in all caps because it was HUGE. SOLID. INTENSE. And must be said and heard with a deep, monstrous voice.)

This is the famous Sans Rival from Sans Rival Bistro! Sans Rival is a Filipino dessert made of layers of merengue and buttercream and littered with cashews. YUM.
This is the famous Sans Rival from Sans Rival Bistro! Sans Rival is a Filipino dessert made of layers of merengue and buttercream and littered with cashews. YUM.

We were all in awe of the SANS RIVAL. And we all looked up to the heavens with a resounding. “Mmmmm,” after taking a bite. Duh-freaking-licious!

This is a chocolate version of the silvana. I didn't care much for it but it's still worth a try! Let me know what you think. :)
This is a chocolate version of the silvana. I didn’t care much for it but it’s still worth a try! Let me know what you think. 🙂

I suppose Sans Rival and Silvanas taste pretty much the same anywhere. I guess what gave these an edge was the consistency. The Silvanas had a heavenly crunch with every bite and the Sans Rival was so easy to slice. (My mouth is watering while writing this… and I just had a bar of chocolate!!!)

Dumaguete goes beyond dessert, of course. For a legit-happy-tummy meal, look no further than Lab-as (meaning Fresh)! We got to try the Dumaguete Express, which I found surprisingly yummy. Surprising because I don’t usually like food with coconut milk or gata. This one, though, blew me away. And because of this dish, I’m now more open to try other coconut milk-based food.

Dumaguete Express from the famous Lab-as restaurant
Dumaguete Express from the famous Lab-as restaurant – a mixture of fresh seafood and crispy chopped pork cooked in coconut milk with malunggay leaves and chili.

By the way, I heard Lab-as’s sister bar and resto serves the best pizza in town! Something to try out when I return to Dumaguete.

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Fish Pizza on Apo Island

Speaking of pizza, I must give a shout out to the fish pizza in Apo Island! Apo Island is a marine sanctuary with sweet sea turtles to swim with. Naturally, you’ll get hungry after all the snorkeling. ORDER THE FISH PIZZA!

For a quick and cheap meal, Scooby’s is the spot to run to! It’s Dumaguete’s very own local fast food joint. Their cheeseburger was pretty good! It reminded me of an improved Tropical Hut slash Mushroom Burger cheeseburger.

Cheeseburger and Siopao from Scooby's
Cheeseburger and Siopao from Scooby’s

But the pleasant surprise was their Asado Siopao. OH MY GOODNESS. I had this favorite Asado Siopao in Manila (from Chocful of Nuts in Greenhills). It was my absolute favorite. It made me so happy! But that’s all in past tense now. Scooby’s siopao superseded my expectations and overtook my past siopao experiences! It had shredded pork asado instead of big chunks, thick and tasty sauce, bits of pepper, and just the right amount of fat – strategically located. When am I going to taste this again?!? Ugh. It’s so sad that I’m so far away from my new favorite siopao. 😦

There are a whole lot more places to try in Dumaguete! This quick rundown of my food experience cannot do justice to the foodie city. If you have any tips of restaurants and delicacies to try, go ahead and leave a comment so I can try ’em out when I head back to hoard Scooby’s siopao. Haha! 🙂

Okie dokes! I'll leave you with this photo me and my fellow travelers in front of a giant budbud during the Buglasan Festival in Dumaguete. LOL. :D
I’ll leave you with this photo me and my fellow travelers in front of a giant budbud during the Buglasan Festival in Dumaguete. LOL. 😀

Prepping for a Backpacking Adventure

One of the most awesome things about being in the Middle East was the opportunity to catapult myself into Europe on a budget.

And so, I decided I was going to backpack around Italy on my own.

I booked a flight from Dubai to Venice for December 1st and a flight departing from Rome on the 9th.

“THIS IS CRAZY,” I thought as a huge grin appeared on my face. With a giddy giggle, I started planning my trip.

Choosing to narrow down my trip to just 5 cities was tough. I wanted to go everywhere! But I had to be strategic with my limited time and resources – and the fact that I had to make my way to Rome from Venice. I checked the top cities to visit in Italy and chose these 5 with the help of google maps.

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  • Venice
  • Verona
  • Milan
  • Florence
  • Rome

In retrospect, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. And I would highly recommend starting in Venice and ending in Rome for anyone who has never set foot in Italy (or in my case, Europe). Pure love. ❤

Apps

Every time I travel, I download these 2 apps – Triposo and my fave language app.

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Apps to download: Triposo and this language app!

Triposo used to have separate apps for each country. But I think they’ve condensed it into one humongous FREE app! What’s great about Triposo is that you don’t need an Internet connection to use it. There’s also a map with notable sites plotted. And it even tracks your location via GPS – such a huge help in navigating through city streets!

For basic conversational phrases in Italian (and other languages), I always go for this app that I don’t know the name of. It says “Learn Italian” or Japanese or French or whatever other language. The photo is above. The categories are SO useful for travel with Directions & Places, Transportation, and Eating Out. You can listen to how the words are pronounced. Plus, you can “favorite” a phrase and go to the saved list any time!

Luggage

I will admit that there were moments I wish I brought a trolley instead of a massive backpack. There are backpack-trolley hybrids now. I think that might be a good idea – if they aren’t crazy heavy.

Here was my luggage set-up:

A Huge Backpacker’s Backpack for all my clothes and toiletries. It was the beginnings of winter so this island girl had to pack in some serious thermal wear, scarves, and gloves. I settled for just one coat. And I had to lug around an extra pair of boots! Backpacker_Fotor(Come to think of it, winter is not a great time to “backpack”. It’s so difficult to pack light! Good thing it was the onset and not the height of winter.)

I also had A Sling Bag for my coat and my boots. Sadly, they couldn’t fit in my big backpack anymore. Otherwise, I would’ve done without it.

A Baby Backpack for all my valuables and navigation tools. I would wear it in front of me so it’s extra protected from thieving fiends. In this little polka dotted treasure chest, I had my passports (yes, plural 😉 ), money, mobile phones, camera, gloves, scarf, shades, map, booking printouts, train tickets, chargers, crackers, and water. If this bag were stolen, I’d be in big, big trouble! You can only imagine how careful I was. I even hugged it while I slept in hostels just in case my roommates were kleptomaniacs!

Bags and SnacksWhen it came to cash, I had two pouches in my baby bag: one with a bit of Euros and one credit card, the other with my stash of USD and larger Euro bills.

I also stuffed USD and Euros deep into my socks, just in case. HAHAHA.

Big Bag Packing Tips

  • Pack light – easier for me than some other girls because I’m not one to freak out about my outfit repeating or what shoes I’m wearing. Shoes are heavy.
  • Plan out what clothes you’re going to wear and pack it in order (with tomorrow’s outfit on top and so on) so you don’t have to dig through your bag everyday
  • Keep your undies, socks, gloves, scarves, and accessories separate. I kept mine at the top pouch and side pouches of my bag.
  • Fold and roll dirty clothes that you will no longer be wearing. Stuff them all on one side of the bag, keeping the other side for the clean clothes. Place plastic in between so they don’t mix!
  • Keep toiletries in one pouch and pack it last, on top of the clothes.

Accommodations

I stayed in hostels the entire time. But I was lucky to find a cheap room all to myself in Florence. And thanks to last minute changes, I was granted my own room in Verona at no extra cost! YEAY.

HostelBookers.com was my website of choice in canvassing for places to stay – for rates, photos, and reviews. The hostels I stayed in were all so different! So if you’re planning to stay in one, it’s important to check for photos and reviews before you book – Hostel Bookers has both.

Here’s a quick review of the hostels I stayed in plus the rates back in 2012:

See that bridge that leads to a green door? That's the entrance to The Venice Fish Hostel!
See that bridge that leads to a green door? That’s the entrance to The Venice Fish Hostel!

The Venice Fish, Venice

1 night for USD 30 / EUR 22 / PHP 1,300

I stayed in a room for ladies only with 3 single beds. You get one pillow, a blanket, and a towel – presumably clean. Haha. There’s also breakfast the next day (I think I had cereal).

However, this place is not for the picky. It’s an old apartment with a timeworn bathroom you have to share with the rest of the tenants. I liked it, though. It served its purpose and the location was great!

Guesthouse Castelvecchio, Verona

1 night for USD 26 / EUR 20 / PHP 1,132

Here's the pretty kitchen and dining area at Guesthouse Castelvecchio in Verona.
Here’s the pretty kitchen and dining area at Guesthouse Castelvecchio in Verona.

This was an apartment with its owner still living in it! She had her own room separate from the 2 other rooms she leased out to tourists. You share her pretty kitchen and dining area and have access to biscuits and coffee and bread and spreads! The bathroom was shared but there are 2 you can choose from and both are very clean and quaint. I would highly recommend this hostel! The location is perfect – between the train station and Verona’s coliseum.

Hotel Panizza, Milan

2 nights for USD 47 / EUR 35 / PHP 2,045

I stayed in a room for 4, girls only. This hostel is inside an apartment building. It has multiple floors and the “lobby” was a separate floor from my room. The interiors are pretty, well maintained, and clean. However, it isn’t very close to a subway station.

MilanTourist House Liberty, Florence

1 night for USD 34 / EUR 25 / PHP 1,480

A room all to myself! The location was great, too. It was pretty close to the train station and to the Duomo and magnificent statue of David. There were also restaurants and delis close by. Thumbs up!

POP INN Hostel, Rome

USD 23 / EUR 17 / PHP 1,007 per night on weekdays  & USD 33 / EUR 24 / PHP 1,420 per night on weekends 

The location is right next to the train station – which is great! Plus, when I was leaving for the airport, the buses to the airport arrive right in front of the hostel’s building. They’re also very lenient when it comes to check in time and the staff are friendly.

Transportation

Traveling by TrainI traveled from city to city via the Intercity Trains. I would book my train ticket online the night before and I’d choose based on time and rates. (Check out the website here.) If you aren’t familiar with traveling via train, this might help!

Within the city, you can get around via Bus or Subway. But honestly, the only time I took public transport within the city was when I was in Milan. The rest of the cities, I walked everywhere! And I never even took a cab. 🙂

Rome is a different story, though. It’s huge and there are just so many places to go! I booked a 3-day pass on a Hop-on Hop-off Tour Bus. Should I find myself back in that glorious city, I’d probably take a regular bus or use the subway instead.

Other Tips

  • Wear comfortable shoes. Lots and lots and lots of walking will be had!
  • There were advantages for going to Italy during winter. There were less people than usual. And people weren’t so sweaty (therefore they weren’t so stinky! Or maybe people’s coats hid the smell?). I think there were also less pickpockets! But it would rain and it was so cold and so difficult to pack light. Soooo… think about which season would be best for you.IMG_4958
  • I kept being warned about pickpockets and thieves and scammers. Yes, there are a bunch of scams so beware! Do a quick search online on the recent scams in Italy before heading there and be wary of your valuables at all times. It’s always better not to wear any expensive jewelry or bags as that will put a target on your back. And try to act like you know where you’re going – another way the Triposo app came in handy!
  • Be careful who you ask to take your photo. I would listen in to conversations and when I’ve determined the couple or person is a tourist, then I ask if they can take my photo. I take theirs, too. 🙂 I also used my timer-cam a lot! No selfie-sticks yet back then. 😦
  • It’s so easy to lose track of time. There are so many places to see! So if you don’t have the luxury of time, choose sights thoughtfully and try not to get too lost. :p
  • Not sure where to go? Ask the front desk of your hostel for tips! They usually give you a map, encircle the position of the hostel and a bunch of sites you can visit.
  • Bring along a bottle of water and snacks. You never know when you’ll be rushing to a train without time to buy a meal. I remember being in the Boboli Gardens, not realizing how huge it is and being oh so very hungry! Good thing I still had crackers and water!

I’m sure there are loads of other tips. So go ahead and type them out at the comments box. 🙂

As for the sightseeing, I’ll be writing blogposts for each city!

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Dubai: Sightseeing

Some members of mi familia are heading to Dubai for a vacation. My mom asked me for a list of things to do... Thought it might help you, too. (Hello, Mama!)

Also check out for my post on travel tips (I scattered food photos there!). I also posted an opinion/reflection-type piece, if that interests thee.

Abu Dhabi Tour: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

If there is one thing to see in Abu Dhabi, it would have to be the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. I was in awe of this structure! If you have the time, there’s a whole Abu Dhabi tour you can do. Check out “Others” below for more Abu Dhabi sights… But the mosque is the one I highly recommend! Go during sunset. ❤Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

Desert Safari

Experience being right smack in the middle of the desert with non-flying carpets, camels, henna, and belly dancers! Desert SafariGetting there is a treat, too… Unless you’re not the type who would like riding a 4×4 vehicle up and down sand dunes. The food wasn’t great. But the experience was! Just beware of this guy with a falcon. Taking a photo with his bird will cost you! :p

The Dubai Mall, The Dubai Fountain, & The Burj Khalifa

Burj KhalifaSave an evening for these giants – the largest mall, the largest dancing fountain, and the tallest building! They’re all in one area. How crazy is that? You can stand in a spot and see all 3. Haha! Have dinner in one of the restaurants in Souk Al Bahar overlooking it all… And go and have your flavored shisha!

Should you go up the Burj Khalifa? I didn’t. But if it interests you, then go for it! I suggest you purchase your tickets in advance.

Bastakiya Area & Dubai Museum

These two are right next to each other. Bastakiya is a restored neighborhood of past pearl traders from Bastak, Iran. It’s a wonderful peek into Dubai’s history, before all the glitz! If you enjoy learning about a country’s history, I suggest going through the Dubai Museum then making your way to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Learning for a free tour of Bastakiya. Check out the website and give them a call for the schedules. There are little  quirky shops where you can get interesting souvenirs! BastakiyaAnd right on the perimeter is a nice tea place (Arabian Tea House Restaurant & Café) and the camel burger restaurant (Local House Restaurant). Ask around about the Spice and Gold Souks! They’re around the area. I’m sure you’ll take some pretty and colorful photos there.

You can also walk along the Dubai Creek and find yourself an abra (boat) to take you around. (You’ll learn how important the creek was to the development of the city at the museum.) You can actually Dubai Creekhave a lunch or dinner cruise along the creek on the bigger dhow boat. But the food is not great so I don’t recommend it. (A wonderful experience on a dhow would be a day trip to Oman! Jump off and swim in the salty Musandam sea; plus you may even see some dolphins!)

Save half a day or more for Bastakiya. Remember, the heat of the desert takes a toll on you! You may not be able to explore out in the sun as long as you usually do.

Atlantis, The Palm & Aquaventure

Photo from the net. Click image for the link.

Atlantis is a hotel and entertainment complex located at the Palm. (Yes, the Palm is the iconic palm-shaped reclaimed area you see from ze sky.) One of its facilities is the Marine and Waterpark.

The waterpark is loads of fun with crazy tall and winding slides! Plus, it incorporated its marine park so some of the slides have you entering a tunnel surrounded by an aquarium. Pretty trippy! There is another waterpark in Dubai called Wild Wadi. I didn’t get to go to that one. But I was happy I chose Aquaventure instead.

Photo from the internet. Click to visit link.
It’s important to note that I’m not certain where Atlantis stands in terms of animal rights and environmentalism. They've been criticized by environmentalists for keeping a young whale shark. But I found an article with Atlantis' statement saying they’ve released it. Still. After seeing Blackfish, I no longer wish to go to any zoo or animal park. I'll be supporting animal sanctuaries and nature reserves instead.

Friday Brunch at “The Walk” Jumeirah Beach Residences

Work weeks in the Middle East start on Sunday and end on Thursday (Though I believe they used to only have 1 day off per week). Basically, their Friday is like our Saturday.

IMG_3600Anyway! A brunch tradition has started in Dubai and loads of hotels and restaurants offer Friday brunch buffets. You can even opt for bottomless champagne! I suggest looking for a place near the Jumeirah Beach Residences (JBR) so you see the shopping boardwalk and maybe hang around by the beach. (Yo, Filipinos! There’s a ChowKing somewhere here! HAHA!) Here’s a list of the top Friday Brunch spots in Dubai.

Burj Al Arab

The Burj Al Arab is the iconic 7-star hotel in Dubai designed to appear like a ship’s sail. It is also built on reclaimed land and connects to the mainland through a private bridge.

Unfortunately, you cannot simply walk into the hotel and see it’s crazy luxurious interior. You would have to pay to see! You don’t have to pay for a room at the hotel, which costs at least USD1800. You can, instead, dine at the Skyview Lounge or the Junsui Restaurant.Dubai Beach

Woollongong Beach or Kite Beach / Burj Beach

If the Burj Al Arab rates turn you off, you can enjoy the view of the iconic hotel instead! Look for Kite Beach or Burj Beach. Take time to catch the sunset. 🙂

Others

IMG_0162Souk Madinat Jumeirah is an interesting mall near the Burj Al Arab area. There are also some restaurants and pubs.

Ski Dubai at Mall of Emirates has the indoor ski slope and other activities if you want to experience snow in the middle of the desert. If you end up in this mall, try out the restaurant “Al Hallab”. Good food!

Skydive Dubai is also an option for you thrill seekers.

Post It UAEFerrari World in Abu Dhabi is another attraction for speed demons and roller coaster lovers. It’s the world largest indoor theme park! Lines can get long, though, so try going on a weekday.

There are other trips you can take outside of Dubai. You can go catch a camel race, for example. There’s the “Oasis City” Al Ain. Or you can step into the future with driverless cars and renewable energy at Masdar City.

Dubai Travel Tips

FOOD

HummussssssThere are some wonderful food in Dubai! Do some research and make sure you have Indian, Lebanese, and Moroccan cuisine! I had the creamiest hummus I’ve ever tasted in my life in Zaroob. Also remembering Gazebo for Indian food and Al Hallab for Lebanese. I’ll scatter food photos around this post to tickle tastebuds!

TRANSPORTATION

Taxis. Taxi rates are reasonable. While there is a train system and some buses… gas is CHEAP. Seriously. You’ll probably post a photo of the gas prices on Instagram. Also, you wouldn’t want to walk in the heat of the desert. You might think you can because you like walking around. You walk around everywhere! But not in the desert. Trust me.

Al Hallab Goodness
Al Hallab Goodness

Rent a car. This might actually be cost effective if you’re a group. Plus, there’s no limit to where to go. Again, gas is cheap! But you will have to pay toll fees, which aren’t as cheap. Also, KNOW THE ROAD RULES. You won’t see many traffic cops but they have loads of sensors and cameras everywhere. And they will issue you a ticket, even without you knowing. Fines are expensive! So be sure you know the rules and strictly abide by them.

Trains & Buses. You can also take the Dubai Metro and their feeder buses. It isn’t the most extensive public transport system. But if you find your destination very close to a train station, then go for it! I took it a few times. The train and the stations are cool, but beyond the stations – walking in the desert heat is a major downer. (For more info, check out the Dubai Roads & Transport website or this unofficial site for the Dubai Metro)

OTHER TIPS

Gosht Hyderabadi Biryani at Gazebo
Gosht Hyderabadi Biryani at Gazebo

ONE: Before anything else, let me say that I LOVE GOOGLE MAPS. It isn’t perfect. But it is a huge, huge help whether you’re driving yourself, checking if the cab driver is taking you to the right place, or figuring out the public transport system. Google Maps is one of my best friends. Use Google Maps.

TWO: If you have a spare phone or if you don’t mind changing your sim card for the trip, you can purchase prepaid sim cards in Dubai. That way, you can stay mobile and online throughout your trip. (And you can use Google Maps the entire time.)

THREE: Keep your eyes peeled for booklets, maps, etc. with coupons! It can save you money on entrance fees and tour packages.

FOUR: SUN PROTECTION. Bring legit sunglasses – you can barely see without them. Wear sunscreen. You can bring an umbrella, too, if you’re extra afraid of the sun.

Moroccan
Moroccan

FIVE: Be mindful of what you wear. Don’t show too much skin. While they do tolerate foreigners wearing shorts and sleeveless tops (They even allow bikinis along the beach.), it’s best not to wear anything too short or revealing while walking around the City to avoid offending the locals. Also note that they’re a tad less liberal in Abu Dhabi.

 

(Did I make you hungry? Good. ‘Coz I’m starving after editing those photos!)

If you want to learn more about my experience in the Emirates, check out my post on sightseeing and my sort-of-review.  Also, if you have any more travel tips, thoughts, or whatever, feel free to use the comment box below!