My Personal Experience In Travelling To Manila During The Pandemic

Friday, 19 November 2021

A few weeks ago, I finally made the decision to go home after my father was hospitalised for an urgent operation. I know the world remains unstable and perhaps it was and still is not the best time to go home, but I know that I needed to see my parents sooner than later or I may not be able to forgive myself easily should anything happen to either of them, God forbid. I guess the universe was on my side during this journey because everything went smoothly as far as I am concerned. 

I would normally book my plane ticket directly from the airline, however on this occasion, I decided to use a travel agent as my flight was urgent and the only flights I could find online were business class. As much as I wanted to travel on business class (one day), this was not the right time. Mabuhay Travel was helpful in booking my flight and was very accommodating until after my transaction was completed. I still have reservations in using travel agents, so I would try my best to avoid them in the future.

Personally, my trip to Manila was not bad at all. I did my own research and made sure that all required documents were available in time for my departure, especially because I didn't have much time to prepare. As soon as I received my e-ticket, I booked an accredited quarantine hotel for 6 days via These two requirements are of course mandatory as well as the following:

1.  Covid Vaccine Pass
- I downloaded the NHS app (not the NHS Covid app) to obtain my Covid Vaccine Pass. I did this first before anything else because I wasn't sure how long it would take for them to send it. The application was easy and the pass came after 24 hours.  You can retrieve the result via the app.

2. Traze App 
- I am unsure if this is a mandatory requirement for other airlines but Etihad Airways required a screenshot of the app to verify my flight. Traze App is simply an app that uses a QR code for contact tracing in the Philippines. Registration is self-explanatory and it only takes a few minutes to complete.

3. Negative Covid-19 PCR Test Result
- A Covid 19 PCR test result that is valid within 72 hours of arrival in Manila is mandatory. Just to be sure, I had a swab at work two days before my flight and again, booked an express swab with Randox Health 24 hours before my flight. At £65, it was well worth it as the result came back within 2 hours on the same day. They also have different locations across the country so you can choose the location that is convenient for you.

4. One Health Pass
- All international travellers are required to have the Bureau of Quarantine's One Health Pass QR Code. You may be denied entry to the Philippines if you don't have this pass. Essentially, you will have to register your personal information, residence details in the Philippines, vaccine information, Covid PCR Test result, travel history, exposure history and clinical information. After I completed the registration, I was provided with a QR code. I took a screen shot of my QR code (and saved it in my phone), however I saw other travellers at the airport with a paper copy as well. Once the QR code was generated, I clicked a link at the bottom that took me to the Philippine Airport Diagnostic Laboratory (PADLAB) website. I assumed that this was the booking of my Covid PCR swab test on day 5 of my quarantine. I was asked to provide my One Health Pass QR Code even before boarding at the Abu Dhabi airport. 

Other online information advises to complete the One Health Pass in two stages, however I completed my registration in one go to save time at the airport. Each traveller, including children must have their own One Health Pass. I only managed to complete my One Health Pass registration the day before my flight because I had to wait for my PCR Test Result. This is required to be uploaded as well as the Covid Pass (or vaccine certificate as others call it). 

Etihad Airways also required me to complete the Case Investigation Form before my flight, however, there is also a paper copy provided on the plane before arrival to Manila, alongside the arrival card and the Bureau of Customs declaration form that you usually complete before landing.

As I am not a dual citizen, I used my British Passport under the Balikbayan program. I'm glad that I didn't stress at applying for a dual citizenship because they accepted my old Filipino passport that expired in 2008. I also brought my birth certificate as a back up which they didn't even ask for.

By the way, before my flight, I also bought a travel insurance with as recommended by my travel agent. I chose the basic cover for £75.

Arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport was seamless in my experience. A mandatory temperature check was conducted as a protocol however, we were scanned from afar and we didn't have to stop for it. I was directed to what I can only assume as the verification point. I was asked to provide my QR code and my Covid Pass. It was a quick check and then I went straight to Immigration where I was asked to present my Filipino passport. I wasn't asked any questions, but the Immigration Officer made a comment that my passport has expired a long time ago to which I just smiled. With no further questions asked, I went ahead to the hotel verification check area. I was asked to present my hotel booking confirmation and my One Health Pass QR Code. After which, I was instructed to collect my luggage. I passed by the Bureau of Customs but I wasn't asked to provide the completed customs declaration form as they did before. I made my way to the arrivals area where I was asked to present my QR code for the last time. At the terminal exit were a bunch of Coast Guards who readily helped me to locate the hotel driver that I pre-booked. I think you can also book your own taxi at the airport, but I chose an airport pick up via my hotel to save time and energy. :)

To be honest, I felt safe during the whole journey. I had a pleasant trip because everyone was so very helpful. The constant presence of the Philippine Coast Guards at the NAIA airport and their assistance was very reassuring. The airport was in my opinion compliant with COVID 19 protocols. When I arrived, the use of face shields was no longer mandatory, but some passengers still chose to wear them. 

I didn't have a PCR test at the airport like what other people assume- because I came from a yellow country. You are automatically booked for a PCR Test on the 5th day of your hotel quarantine via the One Health Pass. However, I still called PADLAB on my 3rd day of quarantine to confirm that my test has been booked, and I'm glad I did because they needed my hotel room number and my mode of payment. As I write this blog, I just had my Covid swab test for P2500. You can pay either cash or card. I was informed that results can be available in less than 24 hours, so fingers crossed.

Also, as per ABS-CBN news, there is a plan to shorten the quarantine period of travellers arriving from countries on the Yellow list to only 3 days by December. So yes, hopefully things are really starting to get better.

I am thankful that I had a good experience in this journey. I hope that this blog will somehow reassure those who are also planning to go back home during this time.


Behind Some Of The Cafes I Visited in London Is A Story

Sunday, 7 November 2021

One of my favourite things to do in London is hang out in a cafe, alone or with some friends. Whenever I am in much need of a me-time, most especially when I am frustrated and stressed out from work, I would drop by a cafe to wind down before heading home. When I need some "clinical supervision", I would invite a work friend or two to join me. And when family and friends visit me in London, I like to bring them to cafes that I love to share the experience with them, or to a cafe that I have never been to, to make new memories together. 

To be honest, I have not always been a coffee lover. My love affair with coffee only started when I was 36. I was convinced that caffeine would keep me awake at our morning meetings, and therefore would buy it from a corner cafe every morning on my way to work. Since then, I have not stopped drinking coffee (although I was recently advised to reduce my caffeine intake).  Then I went to New Zealand where I drank some of the best coffees in the world, hence I fell in love deeper with the drink (hot or cold). And if I am not in the mood for coffee, alternatively, I would get my favourite cup of green tea.

Some of my trips to the cafe became very memorable and will stay with me for a very long time, whilst others are neglible. I recently went through some old photographs and was reminded of the cafes that I have been to before the pandemic, and so I decided to share them here to relive some of the memories.

1.  Saint Aymes, House of Fraser - 318 Oxford Street
- Before the pandemic last year, I frequented this cafe because it was close to where I used to work. I had a very challenging two months at work at that time and I found refuge in this cafe. I also worked there every now and again. Then one day, I was questioning my fate and asked for a rainbow (in any form) as a sign to reassure me that everything was going to be okay and voila, there was a rainbow on the cupcake!

2. Peggy Porschen- 116 Ebury St
- It's one of the most instagrammable cafes in London and therefore, one of the busiest too. When I first heard about this cafe, I didn't fall into the craze immediately because you know, sometimes you have to wait for the right person to go with. So, when Farrah visited me a few years ago, I knew I had to bring her there. I suppose the story behind this cafe is the fact that we had to queue up to get in and then it rained. I very seldom queue up in restaurants (let alone when it's raining), but I would sacrifice if I am with special people. 

Peggy Porschen has another branch in Chelsea which I have been to as well. Kristale was visiting from the Middle East and I thought I'd share the Peggy Porschen experience with her, too. Needless to say that we had a good laugh and enjoyed dining there. Mind you, the customer service in both branches is not the best, but perhaps I would go back again for what's in the menu and well, for its instagrammability - because who doesn't want a pretty backdrop in their photos, right? 😂 I went back to the Belgravia branch recently for a take away coffee after my morning run and quite disappointed with their take-away cup because it didn't live up to the Peggy Porschen brand, but well.

3.  Dominique Ansel- Formerly at 17-21 Elizabeth St
- I was sad to find out that Dominique Ansel Bakery in Elizabeth St is now permanently closed, as well as the Treehouse in Covent Garden. I've only been there a couple of times, but each time I had a good experience with their food and the customer service. No matter how busy they were, the staff were always friendly. The last time I went to their Elizabeth branch, I was with my friend Pearl. I was having a very difficult time at work during that time and I needed a "clinical supervision" so bad. However, when we arrived at the restaurant, my name was not on the guest list. Apparently, I forgot to confirm my reservation. I was impressed because they accommodated us immediately despite the fact that the cafe was busy. I particularly loved their cronut and Chocolate Chip Cookie Shots. Now, I may have to fly to New York to have them.

4. Elan Cafe- 9 Market Place, Oxford St
- I have been to at least three Elan Cafes in London but the one in Oxford Street holds a special place in my heart. This is where I used to hang out with my Atengs for a much needed catch up. We have been here a few times and it has always been a good experience because of each other's company. The service at times was slow, but it only meant more time spent with each other. 

5. The Parlour at Fortnum and Mason- 181 Piccadilly, St James's
- Every now and again, I go to The Parlour alone for a cup of coffee, most especially after my morning run. I haven't been for a while because I have been trying on other cafes that I recently discovered, but this cafe is my go to when I need a quick sit down with a cup of coffee. I try to go in the morning to avoid the crowd. Nowadays, it's a must to book a table to guarantee a seat.

6. Jardin du Jasmin- Great Portland Street
- Another cafe that my Atengs and I frequented. This was our cafe of choice when we needed a quick catch up after work. True to its name, eating here was like eating in a jasmine garden with the synthetic jasmine flowers all around. The food was always refreshing but my favourite was their selection of desserts. This cafe is memorable to me because it was the first Syrian cafe I've ever been to and it was a good experience. The only thing was that the smell of the food followed me home. Hehe. 

7. Cutter and Squidge- 20 Brewer St
- This cafe was newly opened when I first went there. I had the pleasure to meet one of the owners and she unselfishly shared why they named their cafe Cutter and Squidge. I have been here a few times since and I must say that their seasonal black and red velvet cake and their signature biskies are my favourite. Of course, I have also tried their other cakes as in the photo below. They are all good and light, you won't feel guilty of finishing the whole slice. The biskies are also perfect for gifts. 

8. Java U- 195-197 Edgeware Road
- During one of the most difficult times in my life, Jave U became one of my constants. I would sit in the cafe for an hour by the window seat- people watching whilst I enjoyed my coffee (or smoothie) and piece of cake. Their cakes gave me comfort although temporarily, and they became some of my favourites.

9.  Festok- 14a St Christopher's Place
- I have been to at least a couple of Lebanese restaurants before but never had their ice cream. At Festok, I had one of the best ice creams I've ever had- it was simple, light and chewy. In fact, it was the first chewy ice cream I've had and I loved it. It was served on top of a hot kunafa which was equally delightful, then sprinkled generously with crushed pistachios and I think some edible rose petals. Then, I ordered their traditional coffee. I thought I'd try some coffee that I've never tried before and yeah, it was too strong for me in the end.

10. Swans Bar at Maison Assouline - 196A Piccadilly
- One of my favourite local places in our neighbourhood for coffees. Swans Bar is located inside Maison Assouline- an extravagant library where you can find the finest lifestyle and travel books. I love going there for coffee because it's often quiet. I guess not many people have discovered that in fact, you can actually eat and drink there. My favourite table is on the mezzanine, overlooking the library and the bar. I have been here alone a few times and one occasion with J and a friend. There is also a museum upstairs that houses some fine antique furniture. 

11. Ole and Steen-  56, No 2 Haymarket
- One of the cafes in the neighbourhood that J and I go to most of the time, more so during this pandemic. If you're looking for delicious Danish pastries and simple yet satisfying morgenmad, perhaps this cafe is one of the best places you can go to.

12. Said Dal 1923- 41 Broadwick St
- Before I fell in love with coffee, hot chocolate was my choice of drink. That's why when my friend suggested that we visit a cafe that serves apparently the best hot chocolate in town, I didn't hesitate. At Said Dal, the chocolate is excessive in everything! The triple chocolate drink aka mocha, the triple chocolate cake- all covered in milk, white and dark chocolate - even the cup! I actually struggled to lift the cup off the saucer because of the sticky chocolate that got stuck underneath. I mean, if you really need a chocolate fix, I suggest you visit Said Dal. Never mind the service, just go there for the chocolates. 😉

13. Tiger Cookies- 10 Shepherd St
- Okay, it was all about the tiny but delicious cookies. I first saw photos of the Tiger Cookies on instagram and they honestly looked mouth-watering and so I tried. Quite pricey for the size, but it's worth it for the yummy taste. 

14. Miel's Bakery- 57 Warren St
- There was a time when my stress levels at work were very high that one day, I asked one of my colleagues to accompany me outside amidst my shift to de-stress. We ended up in a local cafe across the road from work. There, I let all my frustrations out over a cup of coffee and pain au raisin. 

15. Kafi- 20 Cleveland Street
-  Someone once told me that I should at least sometimes try something that I haven't eaten or drank before. So, at the height of the Game of Thrones, I visited the then new cafe, Kafi in Fitzrovia. I ordered their "Night's Watch" which was activated charcoal, peppercorn and vanilla extract, borage honey and whole. The combination was as strange as the taste, but it was tolerable. It was like literally drinking charcoal. Would I have it again? Perhaps no.

16. J Evans - Warren St
- Another cafe perfect for "clinical supervision". I used to go to this cafe to meet up with a colleague mainly to talk about my frustrations at work. But don't worry, it was not all about frustrations, we also  talked about life in general. We liked the cafe because it was almost always quiet.

17. Queens of Mayfair - 17 Queen Street
- I had to think twice whether I should include this cafe on my list or not, but here we are. Post second lockdown, my friend Pearl and I visited this cafe because we thought it was going to be quiet but we were so wrong. The cafe was busy and it was only outdoor seating. As we were just getting out of lockdown, we were still very cautious. Disappointingly, social distancing was non-existent at the time. We were seated on the pavement, outside a shop that was presumably shut down due to the pandemic, and too close to the other diners. I was initially given a stool to sit on, but I demanded for a chair because I wanted to be comfortable. There were empty chairs at the next table, however, the staff didn't seem to bother. After waiting for almost 15 minutes, I decided to get the chair myself. We didn't have a good experience to say the least, but I would go back again because the cafe actually has good reviews. Perhaps we went there at the wrong time.

Unfortunately, some of the cafes closed during the pandemic and never opened again, however there are a few cafes that also opened post lockdown. I have been to some of them, however I probably will write about them separately next year.

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