About Me

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An occasionally belligerent mother of five and an autism parent / advocate who believes that traveling, good food and good company are vital to keep one sane. I've worked as a news writer/newscaster, a quality systems auditor, a ISO9001 consultant, an FM radio DJ, a Filipino tutor, TOEFL reviewer and have gone into the food industry both as an entrepreneur and as a mommy chef, giving a sponsored demo on healthy cooking in a mall and on local TV. My favorite job however, is being a mom and a wife.

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Monday, July 31, 2017

TMW Beauty Edition: Which Beauty Kit Source Is For You?

as a mom of 4 boys, my beauty regimen/makeovers are  done 90% at home and done by yours truly. This is why I have a closet full (yes, a closet) of beauty products that range from skin, hair and body care to various tools and products involving make up. Buying beauty kits is my one true addiction these days

In an amazingly fast fashion, curated beauty kits have increasingly been popping up. Because of social media and online shopping, getting your hands on the latest and most wanted beauty products from both here and abroad WITHOUT leaving the comfort of your room is as easy as counting 1-2-3.

I love beauty kits. And with this statement lies the crux of my problem: how to limit my purchases by sticking to just ONE source.

For this edition of The Mediocre Wanderer, I'll be talking about the my experiences after purchasing kits from Althea, Project Vanity and Glitbox (formerly known as Saladox PH).

**NOTE: all these sites sell individual products as well, but at regular prices
June's Saladbox, and yes, it came with those two boxes of hair color
1. GLITBOX (formerly known as SALADBOX) http://saladbox.ph/
- Saladbox caught my eye at the start of 2017. Here's the lowdown:


a. Affordable - at 500php /monthly box + 100 php shipping fee with items valued over 1000 php to 2000 php, I felt that this was a steal. If you subscribe a full year at 6000 PHP, box 11 and 12 come for free

b. Access to the latest products from great brands such as Benefit Cosmetics, VMV, Mary Kay and many more
all my unboxed Saladboxes are posted in my Instagram account. Feel free to check it out

c. If you like surprises, this is for you as you won't know what you're going to get until it arrives at your doorstep

d. Customer service is A-plus. Queries made by yours truly, are often addressed within the day or no more than 24 hours.
e. Ordering is pretty much straightforward and created the way one would order from an online seller. Pick which bundle you'd like, give your shipping info and pay for it in 24 hours or lose the slot.
along with the boxes of hair color, these products made up the June Saladbox

a. while I love surprises, there would be months when the products sent are stuff you wouldn't even want to try. Stuff that are readily available in nearby supermarkets and drugstores for the longest time, but have NEVER given me reason to buy it.

Case in point: the April 2017 Summer Girl Box. While the box's Farmstay Snail Cream made me a fan of the product, the Skin White roll-on deodorant and whitening lotion plus the Maxi-Peel exfoliating set were things that turned me off. I wasn't going to use it and no one I knew wanted to take it off my hands. 

Luckily, I was one of the lucky ones whose box had extras thrown in (Benefit and Mary Kay Samplers, among others)

Judging from the Instagram posts of folks who tagged Saladbox in their "unboxing" photos, not a whole lot of people were pleased with the items, considering the previous month's box consisted of items from Pond's and Dove (which are drugstore products that I could still work with). The company could benefit from conducting a survey on what their subscribers would actually want to see or at least curate a box with some upscale products thrown in with the drugstore items.

b. Shipping is normally done at month's end and can extend up to the middle part of the next month, but then again, you still get your stuff, albeit not in a timely manner.

ordered the "Beauty from Head to Toe" kit, the freebie (after checkout)  and some ceramide hair treatment

2. ALTHEA BOX https://ph.althea.kr/

- a Korean company that ships directly to the Philippines, the Althea box is a most sought after treat for the reasons listed below:

a. the themed box can range from hair care, beauty head to toe, makeup 101s and the likes. It has a little of everything, targeted and packaged specifically as advertised. You know what you're going to get BEFORE you decide to purchase it.The website also provides a quick info on what the included Korean beauty products are for.

b. Totally a steal since the boxes are valued from anywhere between 3000 PHP to 5000 PHP (sometimes even more) and retail for less than 2000 PHP. The products on their website are also MUCH cheaper compared to the ones sold in the Philippines. Freebies and promos abound too in their site as well.
some of the options that you may find at Althea. Note the original vs the discounted cost

c. Shipping is free for items bought amounting to 1000 PHP. Since all Althea Boxes cost a little over a thou, shipping is certainly free for your chosen box

d. Shipping, as mentioned after purchase, should take 7-14 days. My boxes have never taken longer than a week, so I'm pretty happy with the delivery time.
full-sized products and not samples come with the Althea box
e. Since I know what I'm going to get and how to use the items ahead of time, I am able to use the products I felt I needed, and save those I don't for later, to be given as gifts.


3. PROJECT VANITY http://www.projectvanity.com/

- I have only purchased one kit from this site. Aside from having an online beauty store, Project Vanity features reviews, and tutorials on make up, skin care and many more.

a. Ended up buying the Bridal Kit, which, in my opinion is one beautifully curated kit that covers the bare essentials needed for it's theme. All the items in the pack are usable and fabulous.

b.Valued at over 2000 PHP, the kit retailed for 875 PHP.

c. Customer service is absolutely the best. Tried to buy the kit while we overseas. The payment options given weren't feasible for me at that time. Thinking I had lost my slot to buy one of the kits, I forgot about the matter. A week after we got back, I received a text message from PV asking if I still wanted the kit. I did. Maam Marielle at PV also found ways for me to pay via my bank of choice. Got the item less than a week after.

a. kits aren't always available as these are special, one-time only events.

b. BPI is not a part of their affiliated banks when using the online banking option.

I'm pretty partial to kits from Althea, but have had good experiences as well with the other two. All three offer great deals and a wide range of choices. Whatever you pick, always remember to read reviews on product compatibility, both for your skin type and lifestyle.

From TMW, may all your wanderings be better than ours!!!

Monday, July 24, 2017

The HUONG HAI SEALIFE CRUISE : Exploring Halong Bay and Bai Tu Long Bay

I'm King of the World!!!
Perhaps one of the top things to do when visiting Hanoi is to take a peek at the UNESCO Heritage Site that is Halong Bay.

Late last year, upon finalizing our accommodations in Hanoi, Phil and I decided to go the extra mile and secure an overnight cruise via Agoda, to Halong Bay. We initially booked through an 8/10 star review company known as Fantasea Cruise .

If you've read up on our amazing hotel experience at Hanoi's Old Quarter (see link here of our stay at the Emerald Waters Trendy Hotel), you'll know that they arrange tours in and around the city. After having a chat with the Manager, we were utterly convinced to cough up a little over $100 (USD) extra to upgrade our cruise experience.
Thanks Pappy for taking us with you :*

Kelvin, the hotel manager suggested that Bai Tu Long Bay was much cleaner and less crowded than Halong Bay. To be fair, he was right.

We would still pass through (the somewhat polluted) Halong Bay, but our ride and our room in the ship would be much better than that from the first ship that we picked. We ended up booking an executive suite with the Huong Hai Sea Life Cruise.
up and about. Here's us heading up to the 7th floor for some breakfast
The pick up from The Emerald Waters Trendy Hotel was around 7:30 AM. By this time, we had already gotten our fill from the breakfast buffet of the hotel.
hotel pick up at 7:30 AM
The vehicle that picked us up was dubbed as a "limousine van". It sits 9 people (driver included) comfortably. Captain seats on the first two rows and the back seat (where we were), was just perfect for Phil, MAX and myself.

As is the norm in most places in Vietnam, the van had WiFi. The seats can be reclined comfortably, the AC was at full blast (I wore a windbreaker at this point), and there were charging ports on the side of the chairs. We were also given a cool bottle of mineral water each for the trip.

The driver was English speaking and was both careful and efficient in his duties as driver / tour guide (sort of) and time keeper.
on the road
The ride was mostly uneventful, or as uneventful as being on the road in Vietnam goes (visualize counter flowing vehicles, trunks driving like its a race and lots of horn honking). After about an hour or 2 into the trip, we ended up in what I lovingly call "Tourist Trap #1 aka TT1".

It's an embroidery factory/gift shop that sells lacquerware, handicrafts, clothes, local food products, bags, jewelry as well as foreign snacks (chips, sodas, candy, etc). It also has a restaurant in it's premises. It's also government-owned.

We were given 15 minutes to shop around, grab some grub and go on our respective bathroom break. I ended up with a Kipling bag, a pack of cherry Haribos and lotus seeds for the road.

After about 3.5 hours, we arrived at Ninh Binh, where the Vinashin Tourist Harbor and Hon Gai International Harbor is located at.

We didn't immediately board the ship as it was only around 11 AM. Boarding the ship was slated about an hour after. Instead, we were dropped off at the front of Huong Hai's Executive Lounge.
inside the lounge
An air conditioned room with WiFi, clean bathrooms, comfy and clean surroundings and a round of free ice cold tea was given to us. Drinks (Vietnamese iced coffee and sodas, among others) were sold too in the lounge.
and we're walking..we're walking

A little before noon, we were told that it was time for us to board the ship. A 500 meter walk to the pier (our luggage was loaded ahead of time in the ship) ensued.

We then proceeded to board our spacious transfer motorized boats that would take us to our ship. The boat ride probably 5-10 minutes. Wearing a life vest on this boat is coastguard required.

Entering the ship for the first time, we were all instructed to receive the cruise orientation at the dining room. The ship was spotless, made with hardwood interiors, had huge picture windows and dotted with traditional Vietnamese decor.

Cold towels and welcome drinks were handed to over to us as we fund our seats for the orientation. Our cruise director, Viet, had given us copies of our itinerary as well as a quick rundown of what their brand was all about. It was quick and friendly.

As we set sail, we were told that we could go to our rooms. Our room keys had been issued during the orientation and we were told that our luggage had been brought up to our front doors as well.

Walking up to the 3rd floor, lovely seating areas and decor was to be found in every turn we made.

Our room was found at the end of a short corridor. At the end of that corridor was a door that opened out to the ship's helm (where our captain was busy getting us out of the harbor).

Stairs on the left and right of the the room that housed the helm led up to the sun deck. Without even going up to the sun deck, the view was seriously stunning from our room's level.

OUR ROOM (Rating this a 5/5!)
Upon opening the doors of room 301, the 3 of us were quite ecstatic on how everything turned out. Here are pictures of our room and a rundown of it's amenities (I'm going to let the pictures speak for themselves):

even better with the curtains pushed back!

overcast skies did not dampen our day

a whirlpool tub in our ensuite bathroom

there was WiFi in the ship's common areas. No TV signal but USBs with movies, cartoons and what have you can be borrowed from the front desk

it's easy to appreciate the scenery when you have your own balcony :)
Meals were quite varied and plentiful. If you feel that you're not getting enough (we had a sit down dinner), just tell the cruise director. Here's what was served (meals included were 1 lunch, 1 dinner, 1 breakfast and 1 brunch):

brunch and a view

the early morning breakfast before we set out to the fishing village was quite light. The bread in Vietnam, however is European in every way

long line at the pho station

Copying the itinerary from their website with minor revisions based on what we did, I've included comments and pics on what went down:

(the rest of) DAY 1: Vinashin Tourist Harbor - Bai Tu Long Bay -Thien Canh Son Cave- Cong Do Sleeping Area.

14.30 : Visit and explore the well-hidden Co Cave (known as  Thien Canh Son Cave) where you can go hiking to the middle of the mountain to see the wild and mysterious beautiful cave, contemplate numerous  sparkling  stalactites  appear  like 'hanging  lamps’  inside  the  Cave.  (No swimming).  We skipped this activity and the kayaking as we a. wanted to rest and not walk through the path leading into the cave..it's supposed to be 1000 steps or so and b. was worried as to how MAX was going to handle riding a kayak and not a regular boat, where he's sitting with either Phil or me.
the rest of our ship mates, returning from their kayaking and power walk through stairs in a cave. See that white spot below this photo? That's a jelly fish. PS There was a LOT of them in the water, just below our balcony

huuuge AF jellyfish!
Return to the boat and enjoy Happy hour. You will have 30% discount off from the special menu drinks including of cocktail, mock-tail and mixed drinks (from 16.30 pm to 19.00 pm.). 

16.30: Enjoy kayaking and relaxing on the cruise in Cong Do Area.

18.00: Attend our chef’s cooking demonstration and try your skills in the art of traditional Vietnamese cooking (spring roll). I love cooking so this was clearly a fun activity for me. Still making them spring rolls to this day

19.15 : Dinner is served in the restaurant. You can enjoy the charm of Bai Tu Long Bay at night. see pictures above :)
squid fishing at portside

21.00 : Enjoy evening activities (Squid Fishing, Movie Night, Board Games, Massage & Spa services) or relax at the leisure then overnight at private cabin at Cong Do area. - predictably, we rested
Bai Tu Long at 5 AM - woke up to the gentle thumping of drums, waking us up to join the ship's tai chi class

DAY 2: Cong Do Sleeping Area - Vung Vieng Fishing Village - Vinashin Tourist Harbor.
early morning tai chi lessons
06.30 : Welcome a new day with an amazing dawn on Bai Tu Long Bay. Refresh your body and soul with a Tai-chi session on the sundeck.

07.00 : Catch the morning view of seascape while enjoying the breakfast with cookies and tea, café in the restaurant.

07.30 : Visit Vung Vieng fishing village - the famous fishing farm by bamboo boat and discover life of local people living on the surface of Halong Bay. (No swimming). a beautiful boat ride on a wonderfully scenic route. Saw the floating fishing village and went on a side trip to the pearl farm.

08.30 : Pack up the luggage and check out of the cabin.

09.30: Enjoy the brunch in the restaurant while cruising back to Vinashin tourist harbor.

11.00: Disembark from boat.

12.00: Your driver takes you back to Hanoi. The trip ends.

The entire staff of the Huong Hai Sealife Cruise was very attentive, polite and informative. The Cruise Director, Viet and the ship's Chef were the stars of the cruise, as they made sure that everything was more than A-OK. 

Marketing this trip as a "luxury cruise" was quite accurate, despite the totally packed itinerary and certain individuals that joined the cruise. If the cost wasn't quite pricey for us Mediocre Wanderers and we had the chance to do this again, I'd opt for an extra day to get rid of that harried feel.

But then again, we had an 8 hour long city tour the day before the cruise, so being exhausted when we joined the trip was quite unavoidable.
the ship as it picked us up from the pearl farm
I enjoyed the food. Extremely pleased that concessions were made for our MAX's food preferences which we mentioned to our hotel manager, after booking this cruise (ASD parents will relate to this. MAX got to eat fries and fried chicken during the cruise but we were pleased to note that he also tried out some of the local dishes), and our room and it's amenities was top notch.
last one off the ship because saying goodbye is always the hardest thing to do
I enjoyed the activities that we participated in but would probably rate our whole experience as an 8.5/10 (compared to the 9.2 rating they've been getting from booking websites).

We docked points off what could have been a perfect experience up until unruly kids kept on running, crying and screaming at the corridor in front of our room. Since we were a floor below the sun deck, the same stomping and running kids could also be heard inside our room. Luckily, this did not persist when bed time came.

Those kids were able to penetrate through what Huong Hai Sealife Cruise described as a "soundproof" room. For the record, our 9 year old didn't spend time pounding walls and doing all the other things those unruly kids were doing, but instead, enjoyed the peace and quiet that our room's private balcony, had to offer.

For the record, I'm blaming the kids' parents and not Huong Hai Sealife, as the latter provided exemplary service.

From TMW, may all your wanderings be better than ours!