Food tourism in Hong Kong

3:50am. Never a fun time to be awake. But this is when I had to set my alarm for to catch our flight out of the Philippines. We were driven to the airport and for our final meal we went to Jollibees for breakfast. It seemed like a fitting end to our visit to the Philippines. Filipinos are really into fast food.

Andy at Jollibees

Andy and the Jolly Bee at Jollibees

Back in Hong Kong we went straight back into holiday mode. Somehow staying with Warwick and Rose felt like a relaxing holiday in the middle of our travels (no gardening to do here). We had planned to visit one of the outlying islands but in the end the poor weather and the long travel distances put us off. Instead we spent a not inconsiderable amount of time sitting reading and playing with Tomi.

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The IRRI Gene Bank

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is home to one of the most famous gene banks in the world. They have collected thousands – I think about 128,000 – different types of rice seed and they store them to protect the genetic diversity. People from all over the world have contacted IRRI with different rice varieties. There is even rice from North Korea and New Zealand (who knew we had rice?) It’s a charity, so anyone at all can write to IRRI and request a type of rice seed and they will get sent 10g for free to use for any non-commercial purpose.

Mum had asked her friend Charmian to give us a tour. Charmian’s husband is the head of the gene bank and she is also a biologist herself and very knowledgeable about rice. Any inaccuracies that follow are totally mine.

Map of where rice has come from

These are all the countries that have given rice to the gene bank

The tour started with a corridor of photos of all the famous people that have come to visit the gene bank. Various country leaders, all of the Philippine Presidents. Apparently the new US Ambassador had just come through the day before.

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An island, within a lake, within an island, within a lake, within an island

We returned to Los Baños to a sick Pete, who had also been struck down by food poisoning. Mum was the only one who escaped and she is limping around with a crutch while recovering from a hip replacement. We made a bit of a sorry bunch. Fortunately Andy and I were feeling a lot better by this point, halfway through courses of ciprofloxacin.

We spent a couple of days relaxing and hanging around IRRI. I joined in on some Zumba classes while Andy went to the gym. We attended a lecture on the impact of IRRI germplasm in Indian rice varieties (people at IRRI are really into rice). Mum even conned us into doing gardening for a day.

On Saturday, some of mum’s friends from IRRI were heading out to visit a volcano so we decided to tag along. We drove a couple of hours to reach Ta’al Lake which is actually the crater lake of a huge volcano. Not as big as Lake Taupo but along the same lines.

Boating across Ta'al Lake

Boating across Ta’al Lake

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The worst day of our trip *knock on wood*

On Sunday Andy wasn’t feeling so flash (think sitting on the toilet regularly), so we weren’t up to much. I think we actually watched a movie in the hotel. We had lunch then said goodbye to Pete who had to fly back to Los Baños for work. We did head back out to Las Cabañas Beach to see the sunset, along with half of the tourists in El Nido. After such a negative title I’m going to uplift the mood of this post by putting in the best photos. Keep scrolling down to view some of mum’s photos from our time in El Nido.

One of the lagoons near El Nido (Photo: Jacky Challis)

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El Nido Island Hopping

The next morning we had to get up early again to catch a flight from Manila Airport to El Nido on Palawan Island, in the west of the Philippines. After passing through security we were asked to follow one of the Air Swift staff members. What do you know, she led us into the VIP room. We had made it into an airline lounge!

We have no idea how this happened. It could be for all Air Swift passengers, although not everyone on the flight was in the lounge. It could be because mum was using a crutch following her hip replacement. Our best guess is that it’s because Pete checked into the flight using his diplomatic card from work. (Mum also has a diplomatic card, she should definitely use it more often.) In any case, it was pretty awesome. Probably about on par with the New Plymouth Koru Lounge. We got free club sandwiches, free drinks, comfy chairs and extremely efficient wifi. I made the most of the opportunity by uploading as many photos to the blog as I could.

Andy in the VIP lounge

Andy in the VIP lounge

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Flying (gasp) to the Philippines

My mum and her partner Pete are currently living in Los Baños in the Philippines so we had previously booked flights to pay them a visit. This was kind of a strange feeling since we have been travelling overland since Singapore. However we had bought return flights to Hong Kong so we are within our rules of ‘no net progress by flying’. Turns out we’re out of practice – security took ages and the terminal was HUGE – so we ended up having to run to get to the gate on time. Oops.

The flight was fine and immigration into the Philippines was a breeze. No visas required. We were travelling on our secondary passports (Canadian and British) since our NZ passports were en route to the Russian Embassy in Wellington. There’s nothing wrong with this, I am legitimately Canadian, but I still feel like a bit of a fraud writing it on official forms. Maybe I need to get a Canadian flag to put next to the NZ one on my backpack.

Mum picked us up in a car with a driver – the perks of living in the Philippines. Also traffic in Manila is terrible and intimidating to drive in. We headed to her house in Los Baños which is about 1.5-2.5 hours away depending on traffic. It was great returning to mum’s cooking.

Mum's house

This is where my mum has been living in the Philippines

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