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Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Roads Less Traveled: Secret Shopping Haunts, Exotic Fare, Tournament Travel and More

Whenever I go on vacation, I consult friends or relatives based in the area to get tips on fun activities to try and interesting places to visit. But when you don't know anybody who lives (or has lived) in your chosen destination, it can be challenging to spot the places frequented by and the activities loved among the locals if you just ask around when you're already there--especially if there's a language barrier! One thing you can do before your trip is read local blogs, websites and online forums, and browse through local or community-based online magazines to get inside scoop on things like hole-in-the-wall restaurants, hidden shopping haunts, and popular shows and activities. 

Thanks to my friends, family, and online research, I've managed to compile several ideas that you might also find appealing. I haven't tried everything yet, but most of these are definitely on my list.

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1. Shop
The Philippines is a treasure trove for ladies who love personal adornments. Different places in the country offer precious and semi-precious jewelry as well as less expensive but stylish accessories sold on the cheap. Davao is popular for its pearls, though you can also find them in Manila at reasonable prices. The Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan has rows and rows of stalls selling pearls. In Cebu, there is a "hidden" strip of stores where you can buy accessories made of mother of pearl, wood, and stones like turquoise and corals, among many others. I do not have the exact address, but it is walking distance from SM City Cebu and is near the Natasha building. The search is part of the fun, don't you think? If you're an accessory freak, you'll definitely enjoy this treasure hunt! 

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Countries with One Town, One Product (OTOP) programs such as the Philippines and Thailand offer items made of locally available materials that are produced by locals who have learned how to make their products from their elders. Their skills are passed on from generation to generation, ensuring the authenticity and good quality of their wares. During my last trip to Thailand, I stumbled upon beautiful handcrafted stuffed elephants made into toys and key chains as well as embroidered elephant purses in one of the towns we passed through. At OTOP product fairs held during some annual festivals, you can find different towns' offerings, such as food items, fabrics, and various handicrafts. You can check the Tourism Authority of Thailand website for festival schedules.

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Hong Kong, one of the world's top shopping destinations, keeps a lot of "secrets" that fashion mavens may already be in on. But for HK newbies, these places can be a revelation. One is high-end bargain shopping haunt Ap Lei Chau, which has been mentioned on Hong Kong-based sites like Sassy Mama and ButterBoomIt has also been mentioned on the Vogue India website, along with accessories haven Wing Kut Street and Li Yuen Street a.k.a. "The Lanes" where you can find Vicky's, a store offering made-to-order shoes, and other stores that offer made-to-order clothes in fine silk and various fabrics.

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2. Eat. 
If you're willing to eat anything offered to you in unfamiliar places, Anthony Bourdain would be proud. But if you have a weak stomach or if you're allergic to a lot of things (like me!) it is best to know your options beforehand. For food and restaurant recommendations, I refer to reliable sources like CNNGo and The New York Times Travel Guides. These references are very helpful because reviews are often accompanied by price range and other useful bits of information. 

3. Play. Competitions that are highly anticipated in certain places can be fun to watch, but participating is even better! Tournament travel allows you to take your hobbies a step further and explore new places at the same time.

One idea for those who love surfing and awesome Pinoy music is the Surf & Music Festival 2012 in Ilocos Norte, Philippines, which opens in a month. The event, held from October 31 to November 3, 2012, will have a surfing competition for beginners as well as performances from some of the best Filipino bands like Up Dharma Down, Radioactive Sago Project, Sandwich, and Sinosikat, among many others. (Check the poster above for more details.)

Another option that's perfect for poker fans is joining live poker tournaments. Ladies, take note that poker is no longer "a man's game" these days as proven by model, actress, and poker pro Lacey Jones, the poker Barbie, who shows us how to kick ass on the card table in style. Among the popular spots for poker tournaments are the Bahamas, Vienna, Barcelona, and Budapest, and the good news is that these competitions are just two to three hours long, leaving you a lot of time to tick off other activities on your vacay to-do list! Plus, there are websites that offer great tips on where and how to join. 


4. Engage. When I'm exploring a new place, I love learning about longstanding customs and traditions as well as the local pop culture. When I visited Thailand last year, I attended a monk ordination ceremony, checked out the goods sold at wet and dry markets, sampled authentic Thai cuisine, rode an elephant, explored the Khao Yai National Park, and trekked to the Haew Narok Waterfall. I also shopped at the famous Platinum Fashion Mall--which is pretty much like Divisoria Mall and 168 Mall in Manila but with more fashion-forward pieces at low prices. Oh, and even if I couldn't read the Thai editions of women's magazines Elle and InStyle and teen magazine Popteen, I still grabbed copies and got to discover local trends in fashion, beauty, and even lifestyle and entertainment.

I hope this post can help you come up with your own to-do list for your next vacay!

The CityLifeStylist

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