To Apply for an Australian Visa

There are only two visas that I have applied for since I started traveling : Korea and Australia. I was lucky that both were for official business (aka government related work) that I didn’t have to line up to get those precious visa labels.

Then, I decided to try on the tourist stream/visit visa/tourist visa for Australia last year. There were the usual form completion and submission of documents and a bit of waiting. The (first) second time I applied for an Australian visa was too toxic for me. The reason? I chose to cram when in fact, I have months to prepare since I already bought the tickets. Yes, I was so sure to go down under that I bought myself some AirAsia flights!

These are the steps I did on my road for an Australian tourist visa:

Download and complete Form 1419. It can be found at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. You can either print it and complete the form hand written or download, answer and print the complete form (somehow, you can not save the file with the answers unless you’re using Mac where you can download, fill out, save and print later). Yes, I tried it both for Windows and Mac-run computers.

Prepare the documentary requirements that will identify you and provide enough information that you can afford the the trip and you will return to your country of origin before the visa expires. On my end, I prepared the following:

Identification:

A photocopy of your passport’s biopage and the stamped pages
Birth certificate from NSO

Finances:
Latest income tax return
Bank certificate
Credit card billing statement

Reason to Return:
Certificate of employment and compensation
Approved leave form
Title of property

A proposed itinerary indicating the places you intend to visit on given dates

2 passport sized photos

Manager’s check (latest fees can be found at http://www.immi.gov.au/Visas/Pages/Pricing-Estimator.aspx)

Write a good letter of intent stating the reason why you want to visit Australia and when do you plan to depart and return from/to country of   origin. Also state why you need to back in your country at a specific date. If you have a sponsor, mention what the person will be providing on your visit.

Speaking of sponsorship, ask the sponsor to write a letter of invite addressed to the Consul stating he/she is inviting you for —– (insert reasons here). State your relationship with the sponsor. Much better if it is signed by their Justice of Peace (similar to a notary public). Attach in the invite letters proofs that the sponsor has the capacity to provide the necessary support (e.g. bank statement, house rental statement,  certificate of employment)

 You can either submit the completed form and attachments in person (which I usually do at the VIA Center) or arrange for a courier to pick it up.

The center informed me that the average processing is 1month. I got my previous visa in 2 days while the latest was processed within one week. It varies, I suppose on the case officer who handles your application and the nature of the visa.

It was the longest week ever since I had a fast processing experience back in October 2013. I had to call the contact center after 7 days only to learn it was ready for pick up.

My first application through business stream was no sweat, thanks to a different color of passport.

My first application through business stream was no sweat, thanks to a different colored passport.

In my experience, just be honest on your intent to visit (and emphasize that you will not be overstaying) and submit the complete documents. After that, just wait for the decision that will be handed on a piece of paper (unless you want a sticker label similar to the photo above).

Happy visa lodging!

To Gear Up : Outfits to Go

From the usual shorts and jeans from long time ago, I graduated to  wrinkle free and roll-able comfortable clothes when traveling. I realised that checking in and getting out of the airport take a lot of time when you have a check-in bag. With the travel light fares, moreover, it is wiser to pack lightly for one’s bag to fit in the overhead bin.

Gone are the days with my suitcase or a large backpack filled with denim jeans (or shorts) and large bottles of toiletries (or shall I call my bathroom buddies) . It is all about minimal weight and size of luggage without looking and smelling blah. Hey, even when I take my 4 wheel lightweight trolley with me for business travels, I still go with the “roll and wear” (and if sun permits, wash) outfits. I just pack a shawl. And wear the blazer to be business looking.

As of late, I pack a dress or two for informal work related trips (meetings, workshops) and those scheduled getaways. A dress is light, flowy and easy to pack. I scored my go-to dresses from St. Francis Square and tiangges all over the metro. When attending a formal business event, however, I go a bit beyond the tiangge quality (Hello, Dorothy Perkins when on sale!)

Dresses that have travelled alot with me

Dresses that travelled alot with me

Sometimes, it is more comfortable to wear pants especially if you go running around. But hey, no denims still! I go gaga over cropped slacks that can be dressed up or toned down. And I got the jeggings that are not too tight for those cold wait in the airport.

Bottoms up!

Bottoms up!

What do you pair with your bottoms? Since knitted is too hot this summer, I go lacy and cottony. Just don’t forget to wear something underneath to avoid being racy.

Look, no wrinkles!

Look, no wrinkles!

Of course, when being on field —out in the sun, my ever reliable dry fit airy polo comes in handy. Not the most fashionable especially if I am wearing my arm protector but hey, it is very comfortable when you’re under the scorching sun.

Cool. Easy to dry.

Cool. Easy to dry.

Opposite for this is my other favourite – a heat tech shirt I got from Uniqlo. It was supposed to be a undershirt for guys but the v-neck and the comfort it promises paved the way for my loyalty to the brand :).

Unless I am going to the mountains, I always have my swimwear with me. I got this habit since my first job because you can never tell when an opportunity to dip in a pool or beach comes after a stressful day “in the office.”

Now, roll em and voila – you are all set.

What about you, what are your on-the-go clothes?

Ten Things to Squeeze in a Two Day Trip in Singapore

It was my official first visit in Singapore (not counting the layovers where I was stuck in the airport for four hours early this year). As much as I wanted to taste all the culinary extravaganza and do the historical walk in this island state, I have to squeeze in what a tourist would do:

1. A river cruise to see the famous sites while listening to a prerecorded commentary. It is the best way to see imposing structures of the country in an hour. Esplanade? Check. Circular Quay? Check. The Merlion? Check. The Raffles Hotel? Check.

Fastest way to see the sites.

Fastest way to see the sites.

2. A leisure walk at the Gardens by the Bay. To all flower lovers, it must be in the itinerary to stop and smell the flowers at the flower dome. The Rainforest dome, on the other hand, is a different experience for those who haven’t been to a real forest. The 5 Degrees show at the end of the tour is a must see to have a better appreciation of climate change and what we can do to adapt.

War of the Roses at the Gardens by the Bay's Flower Dome.

War of the Roses at the Gardens by the Bay’s Flower Dome.

The waterfalls inside tha Rainforest Dome.

The waterfalls inside the Rainforest Dome.

Lovely roses I wish I can grow

Lovely flowers I wish I can grow.

3. Since we are still at the Gardens, get on your back in one of the green patches to watch the light show of the Super Trees. Why on your back? The lights are astonishing and looking up for a couple of minutes will definitely hurt your neck.

Supertrees supershow

Supertrees supershow

4. Try out the rides at the Universal Studio Singapore. I am such a scaredy cat that I didn’t even join the crowd for the Jurassic ride or the Mummy. I can boast, though, that I have watched almost all the shows (except the one in the Diner)! My favorites are Soundstage and the Monster Rock,

Sesame Street babies we are not.

Sesame Street babies we are not.

5.Joyride at Sentosa –from the Waterfront to Imbiah to Beach Station. It was hot and humid that day but might as well enjoy what Sentosa has to offer…including….

Stitch scaring the Merlion at Imbiah.

Stitch scaring the Merlion at Imbiah.

The boardwalk at Siloso Beach.

The boardwalk at Siloso Beach.

6. A picnic by the beach. It was the best picnic ever with sounds from the nearby restaurant and tastiest meals from my cousins. Now, this is what a picnic at the beach in Siloso beach is for them. We had to forego boiled bananas and sweet potatoes, bagoong, liempo and grilled fish. It was a first world picnic in the imported sand.

01_beachwoman

7. Photoshoot in the city. The lights beckon one to have night shots in almost every corner.

From the outside

From the outside

01 mall

to the inside

8. Drowning yourself with kopi c partnered with kaya toast and soft boiled eggs. I love coffee. Period.

Having the traditional breakfast before a day in USS.

Having the traditional breakfast before a day in USS.

9. Savoring the Indian platters in this place called Little India. It wasn’t my intention that I chose our hotel near that place that is dotted with restaurants that offer dahl, naan and tandoori chicken.

Manong and my dosai. A naan with curried potatoes stuffed in it.

Manong and my dosai. A naan with curried potatoes stuffed in it.

10. Enjoy the company of friends and family. I am so thankful that Tin and Carlo were there to keep us company and feed us along the way. For the tiny state, there is still a lot to see. In my next visit, I will try on the chili crabs and walk along the shophouses.

HCMC : Sweet as Condensed Milk

The long wait is over! After almost 10 months of preparing and researching, the much awaited backpacking trip came into fruition.

Six  hours of waiting plus flight time after,  the taxicab driver welcomed us in Tan Son Nhat International Airport with a signboard that was hard to miss. Being in the said airport just 3 weeks earlier, getting lost was not an option since I am very familiar of the nooks and cranny of the newly minted aeroporto (almost 10 hours of layover last time allowed me to explore the spaces). I think that HCMC is well prepared for the deluge of tourists arriving in their city.

Oh, the places  to stay!

Our hotel is located in the backpackers area in District 1, in between Pham Ngu Lao and Vu Dien. Being distinctly Vietnam, floor area per story is small but establishments (or in our case, hostel) can go as high as 4th floor.  Picking out a place of rest in Pham Ngu Lao was  a wise decision. It is a walking distance to everywhere – from the parks, Cho Ben Thanh (the famous market) to pubs and restaurants to coffee shops and bakeries.

One has a choice among high end, mid range and affordable yet comfortable types. Being in the backpacking area, affordable yet comfortable are the buzz words. Guesthouses, houses turned hostel and little hotels line up Pham Ngu Lao and Vu Dien streets. Hostels  generally provide free breakfasts which most likely consist of baguette, butter, jam and scrambled egg plus coffee and/or juice. Can’t say no to free breakfast, no? One has to note, though, that their 1st floor is actually a second floor. The first floor is really a garage slash dining area or receiving area, so be prepared for a long climb especially if  you end up at the 4th floor. Oh yeah, do leave your footwear by the stairs on the 1st floor, it’s customary.

Oh, the sights to see!

Ho Chi Minh connotes Vietnam War, Cho Ben Thanh, Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral and a whole lot more. One never runs out of places to visit in the city. Ben Thanh alone needs almost a whole day for those buying sprees of anything Vietnamese (hello, ref magnets, bangles, lacquer sets and wallets) and TNF and Kipling bags. If the market closes on you by 7 P.M., a night market will open beside Ben Thanh by 9 P.M. for uninterrupted shopping again. When I checked out the prices, they increased a bit but still cheap.

Notre Dame Cathedral

For history buff, however, the sights within District 1 is enough to satiate the historical craving one got upon stepping in the city. Unfortunately for me and my BFF, we never saw the shadow of the The Reunification, City Hall or Opera House. Boo-hoo for us! We made up for it, however, on the morning before we left for Cambodia. We took a short drive to Notre Dame Cathedral to gawk at its structure and color. Beside it, lo and behold was the Central Post Office. How lucky can we get?  We got to see a building designed by Mr. Eiffel!

Central Post Office

HCMC = Cu Chi Tunnel. This is the reason why we are in HCMC : to see, feel and experience Cu Chi Tunnels. Going to the area is a 2 hour bus ride passing through rural Vietnam. Dusty roads , rustic interiors followed by a rubber plantation – these are the sights on the way to Cu Chi.

A visit to the Handicap Handicrafts before Cu Chi Tour

Spider hole with Ty

As a background, Cu Chi is an underground system of tunnel with numerous levels and spread like a cobweb over 200 km. It became the base of the Cu Chi District Party which resisted the Americans. It was a place to sleep, eat and socialize ( if there is such a thing back then).  One can not fathom how the Vietnamese lived in tiny spaces for a long time, alluding American soldiers.

Entrance to a tunnel

Booby trap

I’m crawling down

Oh, the things to do!

Take a tour to Cu Chi, I must say. Our group was lucky to have Ty as our tour guide for Cu Chi. He is young, hip and funny. With an accent to boot! There was never a dull moment with him, for sure.  The tour, btw, was arranged through the hostel and the guide will pick each member of the group in their respective hostels. It was a half day tour composed of  looking and going into the holes Cu Chi people made, looking into traps (foot trap, body trap, leg trap—name it, they invented one), going through a portion of the tunnel and shooting real guns (for a fee, that is).

The highlight of the tour was walking inside the teenie weenie tunnel for good 25 meters in the actual tunnel size! Not the one adjusted for tourists. Thanks to Ty, he suggested to get into the actual one to experience the real thing and avoid the long line atthe tourist tunnel. WTG, Ty!

Another must do has something to do with a motorbike. No, it is not crossing the busy streets since one can get the hang of it. It is actually riding one! We were supposed to join the VespaAdventures that will tour the city at night via Vespa but it was too expensive at 75 bucks each. The next best thing came through the disguise of manong that took us to the Notre Dame via motorbike. Yes, it is like riding a habal habal. Yet, the new thing was that we were in Vietnam and manong drives like he is in a motorcycle race! Whew! It was an exhilarating yet exciting experience.

Joyride

To be authentically Vietnamese, take a sit at those low chairs, face the road and drink some iced cold coffee. Yes,the ultimate killing time moment. It is nice to see the world go by while finishing up  those last drops of sweetened milk.

Oh, the food to eat!

Similar to Ha Noi, one can get a fill of hot pho, banh mi and ca phe anytime one craves for some Vietnamese food. Added to the list, though, is the savory fried chicken with golden bread (a fried bun similar toasted siopao bun) sold outside Cho Ben Thanh. Partnered, with Saigon Beer (What else?!), it is the best beer match in this side of Viet Nam.

Bunsof chicken

Buns of chicken

Or something fried like the spring rolls can make for a relaxing meal.

Fried spring rolls in one of the foodstalls at the night market

Fried spring rolls in one of the foodstalls at the night market

One can never have enough of Ho Chi Minh. The hustle and bustle of downtown Saigon and the rustic feel of the countryside maybe worlds apart but in this city, you will gladly embrace the idea that they are made for each other. The tandem makes HCMC one of  the must visits in South East Asia.

What’s Eating Down Under?

I am a sucker for food. As much as possible, I will try to have a taste a place has to offer. Then, a visit to land down under was presented to me.

Fast forward to palate journey in Oz. The food was beyond the Aussie fare and I just can’t forget the sight, smell, texture and taste of these delish food:

10. Fish and chips. At last, I got to taste white fish bathe in beer batter with chips (or fries, as we American-ized call ’em) and a piece of lemon.

Fish and chips in Canberra
(photo credit: Tin Villarino)

9. Grilled burger. Yes, not the fried ones I am used to. Juiciest and largest pattie I’ve digged my teeth into.

8. German sausage with sauerkraut. Who would have thought I am having this meal straight from a German market in the middle of Brisbane City Center? Did I mention how I love mustard?

Half of the sausage

7. Meat Pies. I tasted my first meat pie in Brissy. Then in Sydney … and I can’t get enough of it especially the ubiquitous Face Pies with creamy mushroom and ham stuffed in the crust. Now, I have to make do with London pies from Eat&Go.

6. Hungry Jack. Yes, it is fastfood. Yes, it looks like Burger King. Yes, it is Burger King. (Search why it is called Hungry Jack downunder). Why HJ is unforgettable? It serves cappuccino in their bbreakfast meal without additional cost.

5. Malaysian Curry. I can’t get enough of the large plate filled with dahl, curries and roti while waiting for the rain to stop in downtown Sydney.

4. Indian vegetarian dish. Another curry made into the list. I just can’t help it…between anything else and an Indian dish, there is no doubt I pick the latter for the fireworks of spice it creates in my mouth.

3. Sweet and Sour pork. Very Pinoy. After 3 days of not eating rice, my colleagues were in dire need of the ultimate carb. After searching high and low, we found a nondescript food stall (reminiscent of a carinderia) inside a train station in Brisbane. It was the next best thing to truly Pinoy food.

2. Nuts and nuts. I had them for dinner in Sydney. I traveled with a pack going to Bondi. Ultimate pantawid gutom. I am going nuts with all the different nuts available – macadamia, walnut, peanuts, pecan…eerrr, coconut? (yes, they do have the dried diced coconut meat mixed with the various nuts :D)

1. Falafel. And my love for Alibaba just can’t be denied. I love the falafel in pita wrap. I had it fried with hot sauce. Thoughts of falafel as I write now make my mouth water.  Chick peas (or was it gigantes?) mashed, mixed with spices, formed into balls and fried are so yummy, I had them 2 nites in a row back in Canberra. That is how I love the texture and taste and everything else about the real Mediterrenean delight.

Inside Alibaba in City Centre, Canberra

Scribbles: Bantayan Island

Pimp my ride : Bantayan Island is located in the northernmost part of Cebu Province. From Manila, take an early flight or an overnight sea trip to Cebu City. Ask the cab drive to take you to the North Terminal for a land trip up north. A bus trip to Hagnaya is approximately 5 hours with a fastpaced peek of the countryside. Upon reaching Hagnaya, proceed to the pier (which is just a stone’s throw away) and purchase a ferry ticket to Sta. Fe. Another hour or two savoring the seaside on board the roro.

When you don’t have a free resort transport, don’t fret. Just flag down a tricycle or pedicab to take you to yor temp home in the island.

Around Bantayan, tricycles are available to take you any place in the island Or you can rent a motorcycle for a day.

Savor Flavor: There are numerous eat-all-you-can offerings in Sta. Fe. Just walk along the restaurant row and there are buffet specials left and right. Wherever you will be having your dinner buffet, always savor the grilled bamboo shells and scallops. These go best with a nice bottle of iced cold beer.

For the not so hungry pack, try out the grilled stuff infront of the bakery. It is a makeshift stall selling bbq-ed chicken and chorizo (pork sausage). The queu might be long but the juicy chorizo is worth the wait. It is best eaten with one’s hand plus a serving of puso (rice wrapped in coconut leaves).

For the rest of the day meal, aka breakfast and lunch, order at least once- the danggitsilog. Danggitsilog is composed of fried dried boneless danggit, garlicky sinangag (fried rice) and uber fresh sunny side up. When you’ve tasted Bantayan’s egg, you will agree why the island is called the egg basket of the region.

Since the island also has a couple of local eateries, one can try out their tola (sour broth with local fish) and seaweed salad called lato. Dang, the two are actually play of words! And if one is too picky, head out to the wet market. Buy some seafood and let your resort or the nearby eatery cook it for you the way you like it (probably fried or grilled) with a minimal fee.

See Oh See: Bantayan is not limited to lounging around Kota Beach or enjoying the sun and sea in the sand bar. There are numerous activities one can enjoy…and they are not strenous!

1. A visit to Sts. Peter and Paul Church and its museum.Oldest church in the area with a museum that has a relatively extensive collection of Catholic religious items. Looking at the walls makes one imagine gargoyles guarding the premises,btw.

2. A half day tour in Sta. Fe and Ogtong Club to have swim in the Ogtong Cave. If one is lucky, you got fish as swimming buddy. If chlorinated water is your thing, a large pool is waiting near the tiny cave. One can also flex some muscles by kayaking in the calm water of the resort.

3. Jumpshot in Sugar Beach. It may not be sweet but definitely fine sand to rival Boracay’s and Panglao’s.

4. Kill time in Virgin Island. Crystal clear water. Secluded area. Lush garden. If swimming with starfish and nemo’s friends is your aim for the day, head out to the island to enjoy some quiet time.

5. Market Day. Haggle your way to score the best deal of dried daing or tocinong isda. Located in Sta. Fe town proper, it is the must go to place for a first time or frequent visitor.