Winford Manila Resort & Casino – a review

Here I am in my hotel room, waiting to check out after four days here. Outside my window of my 20th storey room, I hear the beeps of motorcycles and roar of traffic from Quezon City. Every 18 minutes or so, a freight rail train honks repeatedly to signal its arrival as it traverses through tight neighbourhoods like a snake slithering in the crevices between rocks.

The hotel is new, barely a year old and housed a casino, probably targeted at the Chinese market since the Chinese characters of the name is featured prominently in the brand. In the lift, you don’t find the number 4, confirming the hotel’s connection to the Cantonese. Level 4 is replaced by B for ballroom, and level 14 is missing.

My room is comfortable and cosy. Having just spent 15 days in Ireland, this hotel, like many hotels in Asia, is generous with amenities, like shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser and toothbrushes. So I was surprised there’s no shower cap provided but housekeeping immediately provided when I requested. There was also no tea bags, only instant coffee. Again housekeeping rectified this on the first day but not subsequently.

The bed is firm, as it’s after all a new hotel but the pillows are too flat for me. As I spent yesterday in the hotel, I had time to channel surf and there were channels from almost all the Asian countries.

I love the bathroom with both rain shower and hand shower, shelves for shampoos and soap, and hooks and bars for damp towels as well as shelf space at the sink area for my toiletry bag.

The hotel has a casino, spa and heated pool. I can’t fathom why is the pool heated in a tropical country, which made swimming uncomfortable, according to my husband, who initially thought the pool was warm because of the 36 deg C temperature. But I pointed out this to him.

My room has a fabulous view of sunrise and the city. However, the noise at night could be disturbing as there is either a party or a pub closed by with loud music booming until late in the night. In the day, the regular honking of the freight train might be a distraction.

There’s a huge mall next door which is convenient for food, spa and beauty treatments. We were told not to wander around Quezon City or around the neighbourhood. Security is extremely tight in the hotel and mall as all visitors are subjected to bag check and body scan.

The hotel provides free breakfast buffet with typical Filipino breakfast. After many days of Irish breakfast, this is a welcome change as I tuck in garlic rice with corned beef and an assortment of Filipino meat. The restaurant has been accommodating to my friend who’s a vegetarian with wheat allergy, and even stored and heated up the dumplings she brought from home.

All the staff are warm and helpful and I think this is the way Filipinos are, which made us feel really welcomed. That is, until I requested the receptionist to help me post a letter. She was the only one who was unhelpful. My husband said nobody does snail mail nowadays so my request might be foreign to her.

Otherwise, this is a great hotel to stay in for a staycation, which can be seen from the many locals with children in the hotel during this summer vacation.

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The Copper Beech

I’d never thought of visiting Ireland until I read books by Irish writer Maeve Binchy. A friend recommended her highly in 1997 and I’ve read all her books except this book and Circle of Friends, which are her earlier books, because I had purchased these two in a single thick cover book which weighed a ton.Binchy passed away some years back and when I saw an advertisement promoting a yoga retreat in Ireland, I heeded the call. But first, I wanted to bring back that familiar feeling of Dublin as I had imagined it while reading Binchy and so, I went to the library to borrow these two books to see me through my fifteen days of travel through the Irish Wild Atlantic Way.

Like many of her other books which I had reviewed in this blog, the book comprises chapters of short stories on the lives of many characters, each bonded by a common thread, either a town, a holiday, or in this case, a school in a town called Shancarrig – the old rock in Irish. Each chapter spans from early 1930 to 1970, from which we learn the trials and traumas of each protagonist as they grow up in this small village, surrounded by people they’ve known their whole lives, attending the same school next to a beech tree, where each generation of graduates would carve their names on the trunk.

There’s Maddy, the school teacher who thought herself in love with the young visiting priest, Father Barry, and wanted to run away with him to a missionary in Peru, only to have him spurned her love. But then when she received a letter from him one day, begging her to take a train to Dublin to see him, her heart soared.

There’s the teacher couple, the Jim and Nora Kelly, who so much wanted a child but was denied, until Nora’s orphan niece landed on their door step. Would her Polish father living in the United States come and claim her one day when he’s saved enough for the freight?

Besides these adults, there are stories of the class of children growing up. Leo, who lives in the largest house there, called The Glen, who harbours a secret. Her friend Vanessa, whose parents run the only hotel there. Eddie, Foxy, Niall – how would these village lads grow up in an Ireland still draped in poverty.

What is odd is the inclusion of two new characters, both visitors to the village, Richard and a new couple Darcys near the end of the book. I would have thought there was enough people to add to the story without these people, although the story is still engaging its wanton way.

Binchy’s tales are easy to read, their characters likeable when you get to know their stories eventually, like everyone you meet. The impression created by another’s opinion is rarely the right one, and we learn this here in this book as we read how each character thinks about the others. The 50s-60s was a conservative period where chastity was valued and good girls don’t sleep around until marriage. Class behaviour and social division are obvious between the rich and the poor, even as the children attend the same school. The writer has a talent of weaving in incidents that connect between the chapters of protagonists, which I imagine her doing up in a chart. Most importantly, this book connects me to Ireland and Irish history as we drove pass ancient little villages, with its own schools, shancarrigs, and beech trees.

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7 Days – Thai Movie

I watched this movie on Qatar Airways between Doha and Singapore. Thai movies are shown on only Asian routes, although I feel they also deserve a slot in other routes, together with Chinese, Korean and Japanese movies.

This movie starts on a Monday when a narrator wakes up in a fat man’s body he didn’t recognise. A woman named Min accused him or stalking her, and Min realises he’s the man proposing to his girlfriend whom she met with her boyfriend Tan on the peak of a mountain in Chiangmai. Tan is now missing.

On Tuesday, the narrator who is Tan wakes up in his friend Gorgio’s body but he doesn’t know he’s Tan or recognises his girlfriend Min until the later when he starts recalling.

So for the next five days, he wakes up in a different person’s body and each person gives us flashbacks to Tan and Min’s lives.

They were both chefs and he had accepted an offer to go to New York to help a restaurant get a Michelin Star without consulting her which led to them quarreling and disappearing.

She realises this on the fourth day and they made the most of their time together, until they learn the reason for his disappearance.

The movie has snippets of their cooking which made me drool, with beautiful fusion food of Western and Thai.

The first part was rather draggy though, as I tried to make up what exactly is happening.

As usual, the Thai stars are good looking but the script could have been better. I can’t believe Min would kiss Tan in another man’s body, or laze in bed talking to Tan in her best female friend’s body and insinuating sexual desire with her female friend.

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Kingfisher Townhouse @ Dublin

See the red door? We didn’t expect the hotel/B&B to have such an inconspicuous entrance that when our GPS announced we had arrived, we couldn’t locate it and drove round and round. To make the situation worse, the hotel is located at a corner bounded by rail tram in the front and a whole row of bus stops at the side, where our car couldn’t stop or park. Dublin was raining and a cold 8-degree Celsius when we arrived and I had to wait at a double yellow line while Mike braved the chill and rain to unload two 25kg luggages and wheeled them to the hotel.

The hotel has no lift and our room is situated at level three, up three flights of narrow staircase. The pretty receptionist from Czech Republic offered to help but we declined. She helped with our cabin bag. What a lovely lady. She told us to enlist the help of the on-duty receptionist when we checked out, ‘he’s a strong man,’ she said. We didn’t and he didn’t offer.

The name Kingfisher Apartment is misleading. I’ve lived in hospitality apartments and I had expected a kitchenette but ours is just a small hotel room with hardly enough floor space to open our luggages.

My spirit lifted with the nice toiletries provided though, including shower caps, a box of tissue, which are common in Asia but rare in Ireland hotels, and coffee cookies.

The toilet has an easy to manage tap that blasted hot water immediately. How nice to not feel guilty at last for wasting precious water while waiting for hot water in the shower. I enjoyed a nice hair wash this morning.

The toilet also provided two railings for damp towels, plus a hook at the back of the door for clothes.

This hotel is located at busy Parnell Street where you get the convenience of shops and food and airport bus. But this also means we get noise from the traffic, which the hotel provided ear plugs but we decided to not use them as we need to listen for the alarm for our 5am bus ride.

Kingfisher owns the restaurant next door (green shutter down) which was renovating and a cafe beside, which they gave out free coffee vouchers to guest.

I would say the hotel scores an A for hospitality gestures but if you drive or have big luggages, you would be better off in another hotel with an easier access.

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Murphy’s Farmhouse B&B, Killarney

We managed to book this a few days before arriving through as we didn’t want to stay in the city centre and be caught with traffic and parking problem. Situated about 30 minutes from Killarney City, the farm house was fully booked on the day we checked in, and parking extended to along the road.

The smell of farm greeted us, grassy and earthy. This was our second B&B in Ireland and was bigger than the previous one and ran professionally like a hotel, which meant missing the homely atmosphere and friendly chatters of the host.

Our room was decorated in country loveliness, with plush quilts and enough pillows although the metal bed squeaked noisily upon lying down.

Full sized bottles of left-over shampoo and shower gel were provided, as if you’re borrowing from the host. The shower is not as strong as I had expected from reading the review but it was adequate. There’s a small heater which was fully utilised.

The problem I have with most hotels is the lack of hanging place for reusing the towel to stay green, especially when we stay for more than two nights. This is a triple sharing room and I can’t fathom where the host expects us to hang our damp towels for the next day when there’s no hook behind the door, just a short rod enough for a hand towel.

The breakfast was sumptuous with a choice of hot dishes from the menu, although the selection stuck mainly to different combos of sausages, bacon and eggs. What was different from elsewhere is that they offered smoked salmon.

Dining area was locked outside breakfast time, and the sitting room was empty, cold and dark. There was not much garden area for my yoga either.

The lady at breakfast was helpful with info for us as she warned us of a motor rally in town, but I missed the friendliness of John from the last B&B and the easy chats we had. (check out my last post

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The Wild Atlantic Way – Connemara Loop

To get to Renvyle near the west coast of Ireland, we drove inland westward from Dublin, exited the toll way to a two-lane road with a dangerous speed limit of 100km/hour. The drive was scenic as we passed green pasture of farmlands, distant mountains and blue lake.

The nearest town to Renvyle is Tullycross, where beautiful thatched cottages still stand amongst more modern houses.

At Renvyle, we came across our first castle ruin, a tower built of rocks overlooking the coast.

We didn’t know then but these ruins are commonly found along the Wild Atlantic Way, many of which have certain parts already toppled, either by bombs or weather.

We braved the cold to walk along rocky beach, littered with pebbles, seaweeds and odd shells.

The Connemara Loop runs around the peninsula, hugging the nature reserve. One of the stop around this loop is the Kylemore Abbey, a beautiful castle built by an Englishman Mitchell Henry for his wife Margaret in 1864-1871, but then lost his fortune and sold it to the Manchesters, who also met with financial trouble. The Benedictine nuns finally bought it and turned it into an Abbey.

Around the castle is a walled garden. On the day we were there, we were greeted by the typical Irish weather of rain and wind, adding an authentic Irish atmosphere to the historic building.

We spent two nights at Renvyle before moving off to our next destination, Galway City and the southern coast.

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The Wild Atlantic Way – Castle House B&B

I had left it to my husband, Mike, to book our accommodation and he selected this B&B for the ‘ocean view’. I was disappointed when I first saw it. There was no garden for my yoga. I had expected a nice Irish country cottage, not a roadside shop house.

This roadside shop house used to house the town post office. Owner John Daimond was the postmaster here for twenty six years and only retired last year. He had taken over the job from his late mother. He told me that he felt sad going through the door to the post office next door to the house. He would be sealing the door when he has completed converting the post office into a rental apartment.

Youngest of seven children, John said this house has been with him for three generations. Built by his grandfather in a castle design in early 1900, the house is cozy with memories. Photos of the house with a horse drawn carriage parked in front, and that of his grandparents and parents adorn the walls.

We were the only guests there and was given a small girlish pink room with an attached bath.

John is the first Irish man I’ve met and he is as soft as the Irish weather. A bachelor, he runs the B&B single handedly. I was amused by the feminine touches around – vases of flowers are placed in many nooks and corners. I complimented him on his domesticity as he cooked our tourist Irish breakfast of sausages, eggs, bacon and Irish pudding.

On another day, he cooked me his regular breakfast of oat porridge with cranberries and raisins.

During breakfast, he shared history of Ireland and his family, his travel to US to visit his cousins and their return visit to him. Half of the population of Ireland emigrated during the great famine as well as during the economic downturn in the 80s. It was lovely hearing him tell his stories, and made our visit to Ireland more intimate.

Castle House B&B is along the Wild Atlantic Way and indeed, I have a beautiful view of the mountains and ocean from my room. I can’t ask for more.

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