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The SMALL-TOWN GIRLS, MIDNIGHT TRAINS Travel Manifesto

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I will see the world with wonder, with gratitude, with respect.
I will strive to stay, though ever moving, right in the happy middle: the intersection of longing and contentment. I will not close my eyes to the harsh realities of life and will endeavor to respond with compassion and action, but I will keep my rose-colored glasses on hand, in my carry-on, and remember to count my blessings.

I will not count how many countries I’ve been to, though I won’t think poorly of people who do. I will try to resist the temptation to count because I don’t want the number to be my motivation. I don’t want to travel just to tick a place off a list. I don’t want to say: “My name is X and I have been to Y out of Z countries,” though there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. I just don’t want to feel like I’ve left behind the rat race only to join the passport stamp race. I’m sure the number is much less than I would want it to be and much more than majority of the people in this planet will ever have the means to achieve.

I will travel because I want to, in the manner that I want to, and I will allow others the courtesy to do likewise. I hope never to catch myself saying those who can’t leave behind the comforts of home should stay home. I hope never to become the sort of person who thinks I have the right or omniscience to dictate who should and shouldn’t travel, and how. I hope never to get sucked into “traveler versus tourist,” a distinction that may have started as a well-meaning attempt to describe different levels of interaction with a place, but is now too often a none-too-subtle ploy to pat one’s own back: a traveler is me and a tourist is someone not like me. I will always endeavor to dive deep into a place, to hear the hidden drum beat to which it marches. But I will not judge those who rush from place to place, for it may be the only time they have, with the wealth they have or lack thereof, to see the places they’ve always longed to see with their own eyes. I will not be the sort of self-validating traveler who thinks he is better than people who have never been outside their hometowns. I believe — no matter what Mark Twain says — that a person who stays in one corner of the earth all his life can still be capable of “broad, wholesome, charitable views of men.” I believe a person’s passport does not define his character. And I believe people who have truly sucked the marrow of the road will have hearts too full to find fault in others.

I will challenge myself. I will talk to locals and fellow travelers even though I’m someone who usually keeps to herself. I will try to capture an experience, in words and in images, the best way I know how, but I will also take time to just savor the moment, that even if my notebook gets lost or my camera gets stolen, the memory will have been burned into my heart to keep forever.

I will not stop dreaming. Someday I will see Antarctic penguins, northern lights, Scottish highlands, cherry blossoms, sunny vineyards, gloomy cliffs, pink beaches, purple trees, glorious lions in the wild…. And I will encourage people to dream. I will never tire of telling them: someday you will see Antarctic penguins, northern lights, Scottish highlands, cherry blossoms, sunny vineyards, gloomy cliffs, pink beaches, purple trees, and glorious lions in the wild.

I will inspire by being ordinary. There are too many inspiring stories of people who leave everything behind in order to travel the world. I will tell stories of people who stay, who find contentment in what would seem a humdrum life, who work and go home and save $10 a month in their travel fund, most of the paycheck having already gone to milk for their kids and educational funds and utility bills…and who, after 10 years, finally go on a whirlwind 5-day dream trip to Paris. I will celebrate the courage of working with what you have, the heroism of looking at the banal and saying: “This is my life and I am happy with it.”

I will travel whenever I can, for as long as I can, and while doing so I will create a home worth going back to. I want to be excited to leave and happy to return. I will create such a home that when my children and my children’s children go out, in their turn, to explore the world, no matter where their feet may take them, they will always feel that the best place on earth to be is still home.

 

The SMALL-TOWN GIRLS, MIDNIGHT TRAINS Travel Manifesto” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

 

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She took the midnight train going anywhere

SGMT
SGMT train station

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There’s nothing romantic about midnight trains.

Oh, there’s romance in the notion of stepping from a wooden platform onto a steel carriage, from solid ground to motion, to adventure, to the dark.

There’s nothing romantic about not knowing where, exactly, in the designated platform of a rather long train, two people with a ticket that says “CNL 1319, 2 Liegeplätze, Wg. 186, Pl. 55 56, 2 Oben, Abteil, Nichtraucher, inkl. Zuschlag” should stand to wait for their car; nothing romantic about expecting the cars to be ordered numerically all throughout, then finding out they’re not, then having to decide — fast! — whether to go forward or back; nothing romantic about deciding, at the last minute, to board a random car and searching from car to car for the right car and the right compartment; nothing romantic about dragging your luggage along narrow corridors and having to wait for rowdy groups of people to settle themselves into their compartments so that you can pass by to get to yours.

There is, I suppose, something romantic about the thought of going to sleep in Paris and waking up in Venice, as if transported by dreams in a drizzle of pixie dust.

In unromantic reality, you wake up when the authorities need to see your ticket and your passport, and again when they are returned to you. Or if the air conditioning is wonky, you wake up every 30 minutes or so: when it becomes too hot, and again when it becomes too cold. That is if you can sleep at all, in your cramped berth, your 1 couchette in a crowded car of 6.

And yes, it might be romantic: the idea of 6 strangers seemingly thrown together by fate, their life’s journeys interconnected for a time altogether too brief.

What’s not so romantic? Not being able to sit up in bed, having to creep into it, and staring at the roof of the train just a few inches from your nose, because a 6-couchette compartment in a 12-compartment 26-meter car does not a penthouse suite make.

So honestly?

There is nothing romantic about midnight trains.

Just the idea of them.

And yet…

I still love them.

I love that the experience is raw and real, not a smooth ride contrived for my paying convenience.

I love that they remind me of why I travel: to experience the unfamiliar, even when it’s uncomfortable.

And I love that they remind me of my favorite stories, the ones with happy endings. They give me hope that, someday, after the curveballs and the uncertainty and the discomfort and the pain, in the end I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.

(In Venice, sipping a latte.)
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Caledonian Sleeper_15

 

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What You Need to Know About Online Passport Application in CEBU (2016)

25 June 2016 | What You Need to Know About Online Passport Application in CEBU
DFA Cebu - Online Passport Application in Cebu

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Good news! You can now apply for a passport online in Cebu and elsewhere in the Philippines. Now there’s no need to start standing in line at the crack of dawn.

Previously, the DFA online appointment system for passport application/renewal only worked in selected DFA offices. Now, the online appointment system has been expanded to include the following DFA Regional Consular Offices and Satellite Offices in the Philippines:

  • Angeles
  • Bacolod
  • Baguio
  • Butuan
  • Cagayan de Oro
  • Calasiao
  • Cebu (yay!)
  • DFA Manila (Aseana)
  • DFA NCR East (Megamall)
  • DFA NCR Northeast (Ali Mall)
  • DFA NCR South (Alabang)
  • DFA NCR West (SM Manila)
  • Davao
  • Dumaguete
  • General Santos
  • Iloilo
  • La Union Legazpi
  • Lucena
  • Pampanga
  • Puerto Princesa
  • Tacloban
  • Tuguegarao
  • Zamboanga

Take note: you still have to go to the DFA office to submit the required documents and have your biometric data captured. The good thing about the online appointment system is that while most DFA offices outside Manila operated on a first-come-first-served basis before — prompting people to start lining up as early as midnight — now you can just show up at your appointed time. Plus, you can now fill in the necessary information online, which saves time at the DFA. Easy!

Online passport application in Cebu

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Here’s what to do:

  1. Go to the passport.gov.ph Home page to read the instructions.
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  2. After reading the instructions, click on Schedule an Appointment on the gray bar at the very top of the page (or just click HERE). There a few more instructions on this page. After making sure you understand everything, check the box next to “I have read and understood the instructions and information on this page, and agree to the Terms and Conditions on the use of this online appointment and scheduling system.” Then click on the blue boxes for either Start Individual Appointment or Start Group Appointment.
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    • You can book an appointment for up to 5 people using the Group Appointment function.
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  3. Fill in the necessary information.

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Where to Stay (or Staycation) in Cebu: 8 Newtown Blvd

SGMT | Cebu Airbnb
Where to stay in Cebu_8 Newtown Blvd_1200x630

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Last week, my family and I made the most of the final days of summer by having an overnight staycation at 8 Newtown Blvd, the three-tower complex of luxe condos located at Mactan Newtown. H is a little water monkey — he can spend hours frolicking and jumping into pools — so I was looking at either a beach resort or a hotel with a nice pool for our staycation. A friend of mine suggested booking 8 Newtown Blvd through Airbnb and it turned out to be perfect.

What we loved about it:

  • Location. Mactan Newtown is just a few minutes away from Mactan Cebu International Airport, which is where my father works, so it was very convenient for us. He could stay in, go to work, and then come back and enjoy.
    • The beaches of Mactan are also nearby, so 8 Newtown Blvd makes a great base for divers, people who plan to go island hopping, guests at a beachfront wedding…basically anyone doing anything in Mactan.
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  • Convenience. There are a lot of dining options within the Mactan Newtown development. Our favorite, only a couple of meters away from 8 Newtown Blvd’s lobby, was Conching’s, which serves delicious manok Bisaya (native chicken). There’s also a McDonald’s in the next building, a 7-11, a coffee shop, and ATM machines for various banks. We were staying at the 18th floor of 8 Newtown Blvd, so it felt like we could just descend to reality whenever we had to and find everything we need nearby, and then go back up to our little cloud and just chill.
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  • The people. The building staff were all very courteous and professional. It was obviously part of their training to always greet guests with a smile. And Seiko and John of Capitarise went out of their way to make our stay in their apartment comfortable.
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  • The apartment itself! We stayed in a unit with one bedroom, one bathroom, one toilet (separate from the bathroom), a living/dining area, and a small kitchen. The smart layout — together with the floor-to-ceiling windows and the liberal use of mirrors — made the apartment feel very spacious, even with four of us staying there. The windows also provided nice views of the sea and the distant mountains, which I loved; nothing like the sight of sunlight breaking through clouds and the varying hues of mountains beyond mountains beyond mountains to lift one’s spirits. There was a cable TV and DVD player; the WiFi was reliable. The kitchen had a huge fridge, an electric kettle, and a microwave. And the apartment had a legit Japanese toilet with all sorts of nifty buttons, which delighted me to no end. 😀
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  • And our favorite: the pool. The clean, new 60-m long infinity pool was perfect for doing laps, while the endless supply of green and yellow lounge chairs was perfect for doing nothing. There was a separate smaller pool for kids but even the big pool had steps and shallow-ish parts where kids can stay safely, gradually becoming deeper towards the “infinity” edge. And we had the pool to ourselves when we were there so…perfect.

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A few pics from our stay at 8 Newton Blvd:
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Where to stay in Cebu_8 Newtown Blvd_01

Where to stay in Cebu_8 Newtown Blvd_Pool_02

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You can book the condo we stayed in here.

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Where to Stay (or Staycation) in Cebu: 8 Newtown Blvd (Cebu Airbnb)
© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. Verified as of 14 June 2016.
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Where to Stay in El Nido: 15 Great Options

Need help deciding where to stay in El Nido? Here’s a quick guide to some of the best accommodations in the area — from budget to splurge.
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Where to stay in El Nido

Image by Fabian Irsara [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

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Our choice to stay at Spin Designer Hostel was unanimous and pretty much an instant decision. As I mentioned in El Nido, Nice and Easy: A Stress-Free 6-Day Itinerary for Non-Backpackers, Spin ticked a lot of boxes:

  • It’s centrally located — far enough to be non-chaotic but near enough for the beach to be walking distance.
  • Previous guests love it — the #1 specialty lodging in TripAdvisor (4.5 rating) and with a Booking.com score of 9.1 (out of 10).
  • It has an affordable twin room (PHP 2679) with ensuite bath, perfect for friends traveling together. Couples can go for the double room (PHP 2679), groups can stay together in the 4-bed dorm rooms (PHP 982 per bed), and solo travelers can opt for either.
  • The room price includes breakfast.
  • The property is new so there ought to be no problems with rusty pipes or anything like that.
  • It’s beautiful. Look:
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Where to stay in El Nido - Spin Designer Hostel

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You can book a room/bed at Spin Designer Hostel HERE.

If you can’t…

Here are other well-reviewed accommodations in El Nido — from budget to splurge.

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The 10 Best Puerto Princesa Hotels for Families

SGMT’s Best Puerto Princesa Hotels for Families

Image by RioHondo [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Image by RioHondo [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

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Whether you’re in Puerto Princesa for a few days or merely as a stopover to El Nido, you’ll need a decent place to stay for the night, especially if you’re traveling with family. Here are some of the best accommodations for families — or other groups — in the city:

To be included in this list, each hotel/B&B must have:

  • Rooms that can accommodate 3 or more persons
  • A rating of 8/10 or more in Booking.com
  • A rating of 4/5 or more in TripAdvisor

 

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El Nido, Nice and Easy: A Stress-Free 6-Day Itinerary for Non-Backpackers

SGMT

Image by Jdkoenig [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Jdkoenig [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

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I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person left in the Philippines who still hasn’t been to El Nido but it sure feels that way sometimes. Countless friends have gone and come back gushing about the paradise they found out west, in what’s been dubbed the Philippines’ last frontier. And it isn’t just Filipinos either — so many foreigners have found their way to this previously little known paradise that prices have, inevitably, adjusted themselves accordingly. Nonetheless, there are ways to vacation in El Nido on a tight budget — Rappler has a nice article detailing a 3D/2N stay for PHP 5,010 and Google will nudge you towards numerous other blogs’ budget itineraries.

This month I will finally get to visit El Nido myself. (Yay!) My Bali travel buddy Hershe and I were able to take advantage of a Cebu Pacific seat sale and bought round-trip tickets to Puerto Princesa for only PHP 1,322. (For those who don’t know, Puerto Princesa and El Nido are both in Palawan island. Flights to PPS are cheaper and more frequent, so most people fly to PPS and then take a bus/van/coach to El Nido.)

This time — cheap plane tickets aside — I’ve decided I’m not gonna be stingy. I mean, I’m not gonna go all out and stay in Miniloc or Lagen or even Vellago, but my theme for this trip will be nice, easy, and stress-free, even if I have to pay a bit more. That means, for example, pre-booking the van to El Nido and opting for hotel pick-up, even if I could presumably get a lower price if I go to the bus terminal and haggle. That also means, for example, booking a twin room with ensuite bath in the best hostel in El Nido, even if there are undoubtedly cheaper options. Again, the goal for this trip: nice, easy, and stress-free.

I’ve already crunched the numbers and will share my budget in the next article. First, let’s talk about what we will need to budget for. Here is our:

6-day Puerto Princesa and El Nido Itinerary

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Itinerary_Day1

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Our flight gets in mid-afternoon and what with possible delays (* cough * Cebu Pacific * cough *) and baggage claim, it might be late afternoon before we get out of the airport. Puerto Princesa to El Nido is roughly 6 hours by land. We could still get to El Nido before midnight but I figured it would be less stressful if we just spent the night in Puerto Princesa. It’ll be a good way to make the city’s acquaintance, however passing, and maybe try out one of Puerto Princesa’s best-loved restaurants.

I chose to stay at Orchid Lagan Place Palawan for several reasons. One, it’s well-reviewed at both Booking.com and TripAdvisor. Two, it offers free breakfast and a free airport shuttle. Three, it’s located in a street just off Rizal Avenue, which is where a lot of the good restaurants are; Kalui, for example, is only 450 m away and Kinabuch’s is even nearer (270 m). It seems Rizal Avenue is where it’s at, so to speak, so staying nearby will give us a convenient base for catching our first glimpses of the city.

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Itinerary_Day2

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El Nido Paradise is an incredible one-stop shop for everything El Nido. I was asking my friends for island hopping ideas and one of them mentioned El Nido Paradise. I checked out the ENP website and was impressed by their professionalism. With a lot of travel agencies, you’re immediately greeted by a busy, bold-faced barrage of all the tours they’re trying to sell you. In contrast, check out El Nido Paradise — you can tell they know what they’re doing and that they’re doing it in a classy way. They have a Blog section with a lot of helpful, practical articles about El Nido and their Activities section is extensive. Aside from the usual tours, they offer cool stuff like a cultural encounter, overnight camping at secluded beaches, and a drop-off/pick-up service where you can just pick an island in Bacuit Bay, have yourself dropped off in the morning, and then get picked up in the afternoon. All for reasonable prices too — read about the Combo Tour I booked later in this article.

Anyway, all that is a roundabout way of saying that I booked our van transfers with El Nido Paradise. The van transfer itself costs PHP 550 per person and there’s a PHP 50 surcharge for hotel pick-up. PHP 600 is pretty much the standard rate anyway, based on my research, though I suppose you can talk it down a bit if you want to go through the hassle of haggling.

For accommodations in El Nido, Hershe and I agreed right away that we wanted to stay at Spin Designer Hostel. As its name suggests, it’s a hostel but an upscale one, offering both private rooms and shared accommodations. It’s ranked #1 in TripAdvisor and is very highly rated in Booking.com (9.1 out of 10). The hostel is in the center of town — the beach and wharf are a walkable distance away — but it’s not too central as to be utterly chaotic. We booked a Twin Room with ensuite bath for around PHP 2,600 per night (PHP 1,300 per person) and the price already includes free breakfast. They also have a Standard Room with a double bed for roughly the same price — great for couples — as well as 4-bed female-only and mixed-gender dorm rooms that are a wonderful option for solo travelers as well as families or friends traveling together.

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Lastly, after check-in, we plan to take a tricycle to Marimegmeg beach. It’s a west-facing beach 4-5 km from town and will be a great place to witness our first sunset in El Nido.

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8 Things Doctors and Nurses Need to Do During an In-Flight Medical Emergency

SGMT
Airplane wings sky_1200x630

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In all the times I’ve traveled, I’ve only ever witnessed one in-flight medical emergency. A middle-aged businessman had temporarily lost consciousness but was okay within a few minutes; altogether, nothing too serious. Still, there was a moment of heightened alertness when we all heard over the airplane’s PA system, “Is there a doctor on board?” I wouldn’t want to get sick on a trip — especially not while 30,000 feet above ground! — but if I were to have an emergency, I would hope that a doctor (or two, or three) would be on board to help me out.

Here are the things doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals need to do in case of a medical emergency on the plane, as compiled from tips by the Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA) and two studies on in-flight medical emergencies published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

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Before every flight, keep in mind that you may be asked to provide medical assistance on board.

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In-flight medical emergencies are relatively rare — a 2013 study published in the NEJM estimates that 44,000 such incidents occur worldwide every year, or 1 every 604 flights — but you never know when that one flight will be the flight you’re in. Researchers found that during an in-flight medical emergency, assistance is often rendered by healthcare professionals who happen to be on board as passengers, usually doctors (48.1%) and/or nurses (20.1%).
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Yikes! That’s S$4 not S$5.

Bloopers in my Singapore article (shame shame shame)
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SGMT Food Laksa

SGMT —
If you read my Rappler article on Singapore, you may or may not have noticed that one line had a horrendous bit of math in it:

Budget for food:
S$5 (₱175/meal) x 2 meals/day x 5 days = ₱1,400

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Short story

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That line should have read:

Budget for food:
S$4 (₱140/meal) x 2 meals/day x 5 days = ₱1,400

I was careless and now I’ve put all my Math teachers to shame.

* hides under blanket and never comes out *

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Long story

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For quite a while, I debated with myself on whether to set a budget of S$4 or S$5 per meal. It’s not a very big difference (just around ₱35) but if you’re a budget traveler, amounts like that matter, especially over several days. I went back and forth between “S$5 (₱175/meal) x 2 meals/day x 5 days = ₱1,750” and “S$4 (₱140/meal) x 2 meals/day x 5 days = ₱1,400” and eventually managed to muck up the equation upon submission to Rappler.

Sorry. 🙁

Why did I eventually go with a budget of S$4 per meal — or a total of ₱1,400 for 5 days?

First of all, S$1 goes to drinks, so that leaves S$3 for the food itself.

The Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry has this nifty online directory of budget hawker food. The list contains all the hawker center stalls that sell a particular dish (such as chicken rice) for a price at or below the 30th percentile price of that particular food. I shan’t go into a detailed explanation of what percentiles are but, roughly, the 30th percentile price of chicken rice means that 30% of hawker stalls would be selling chicken rice below that price.

In other words, it’s the price that us budget travelers would be interested in.

As of the second quarter of 2015, these were the 30th percentile prices of popular dishes in Singapore (this is according to the SG government, so you know it’s legit):

  • Roti Prata – S$0.80
  • Nasi Lemak – S$2.00
  • Vegetarian Bee Hoon – S$2.00
  • Char Siew Rice – S$2.50
  • Chicken Rice – S$2.50
  • Fishball Noodles – S$2.50
  • Lontong – S$2.50
  • Mee Rebus – S$2.50
  • Mee Siam – S$2.50
  • Minced Pork Noodle – S$2.50
  • Porridge – S$2.50
  • Wanton Mee – S$2.50
  • Economical Rice – S$2.70
  • Ban Mian – S$2.80
  • Duck Rice – S$3.00
  • Fried Kway Teow – S$3.00
  • Horfun – S$3.00
  • Laksa – S$3.00
  • Malay Chicken Rice – S$3.00
  • Mee Goreng – S$3.00
  • Nasi Padang – S$3.50
  • Nasi Biryani – S$4.50

As you can see, all dishes but two have a price of S$3 or less, including favorites such as chicken rice, duck rice, laksa, nasi lemak, and mee goreng.

That’s why I eventually decided on a budget per meal of S$4 including drinks. I figured it would make more sense to set a base budget of S$4 — anyway, that’s what most budget meals will cost — and then if someone can afford to buy more expensive food then yay!

Of course, that doesn’t take away from the fact that I did mess up the numbers in my actual article so…

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Mea culpa!

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I’m very sorry for the confusion. It’s still quite possible to go on a 5-day trip to Singapore for ₱9,500 — just fix the budget for food. 🙂