Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Musings for the Season

Before I left for the holidays, this street corner with World Christmas gigantic displays caught my eye. This could possibly be the only part of Brunei that screams 'Happy Holidays!'

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Brunei: First Impressions

Without any sleep and with tequila in my veins, I stepped out of the plane and met the glaring sun. It was a sunshiny Sunday when I first set foot in this little country located southwest of the Philippines. 

It took around 30 minutes to get from the aiport to the hotel and the ride reminded me of the trip from KLIA to Kuala Lumpur with long freeways eventually leading to the bustling city. The difference was that the long freeways ended in Bandar Seri Begawan, a city that was the complete opposite of bustling... it was calm and quiet, not a single street looked busy.

I could see the sky in all its blueness, without obstructions. The absence of skyscrapers make it extremely lovely to look at the vast horizon. A few minutes after arriving at the hotel, a colleague invited me for a trip to Muara beach. The bed was very tempting, but between sleeping and going to the beach, I knew sleeping could wait. ;)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Saigon On My Mind

The plane landed on the wee hours of the morning, there was nothing to see, and the empty streets could be compared to Recto during summer. It took time to find a cab whose driver would not rip off travelers who, though not Western, still had a few dollars in their pockets. The persistent warnings in travel forums has made us wary and this weird excitement that came out of it turned into a “Will we be scammed?” game.

Thirty minutes later, we knocked at the gates of the hostel located at a small street right behind a market. A sleepy receptionist welcomed us, ushered us in, gave us a map, and shoved hand-outs of group tours straight into our accepting hands. The next thing I knew, I was in Dreamland.

Although still lacking sleep, we started out early and found Saigon in its waking, bustling state. It may be the biggest city in Vietnam but that did not stop us from deciding to walk its streets and not take any form of transportation for the day. 

We first ventured into the streets near Pham Ngu Lao, the backpackers area, to find some decent place to exchange money but were surprised to find stores with reprints of travel guides sold at half the price. The streets in this area are lined up with establishments catering to both local and Western tastes. Different as they may be, they all had one thing in common. The restaurants had tables set outside on the sidewalk, with all the chairs facing the street. 

Farther into District 1, the trees became taller than the buildings, the roads were busier, and the foreigners were lesser in number. Every now and then, we would pass by groups of people sitting at a street corner drinking iced black coffee, chatting and staring right into the streets. 

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Baguio Rediscovered

The Bustling Stop-Over in the North, Baguio.

Baguio means downing a couple of beers at Ayuyang while waiting for the bus to Manila. Or having a quick boodle dinner at Kalapaw with a bunch of hungry and exhausted people. Or strolling at SM to buy sweets because you can't find them in the other parts of Benguet that you just came from. It's too crowded, too touristy, and too typical that NOT going further up north is unthinkable. It's Manila minus the humidity and the temperature a few notches lower. 

Over dinner on a hot holiday night, an idea came up.

Let's go to Baguio? Day trip? Tara. 

And off we went.

Who would have known that in this rare chance to see Baguio as a destination it would slap me in the face with its beauty?

Rainbow to welcome even the most ungrateful of visitors

Thursday, November 01, 2012

First Antsybeersary!

A year ago, I had nothing better to do but revisit my old online presence elsewhere and immediately felt the urge to get back into blogging.

A year ago, I wrote about the first thing that came into my mind... summits and how I hate the feeling of gasping for breath while on the trail but loving the climb anyway

A year ago, I decided to self-medicate with writing as a cure to my short-attention span and proved that it did help me keep my focus for at least a few minutes a day.

What I'm trying to say is that it has been a year! Thank you to everyone who has been a part of the lovely year that was. 

The Year That Was - 2011 Collage

One of the few posts where
I feel the need to post a photo of myself! 
I am celebrating because that, for me, is a real feat. Having started (and eventually forgetting!) a couple of blogs before, See.Hear.Explore. has been the only one that I have stayed with and kept, providing faithful (at least monthly) updates like that of a long-distance lover.

After sharing 47 posts, experiencing more than 10 major destinations, having 1 published article, and meeting friends on the road (and online), I know that this one could only get better. I am looking forward to more years of experiencing the world, to having more opportunities of sharing and exchanging stories, to learning more, to continue meeting inspiring people on the road, and gaining more insight on the things that define me. 

A year later, my conviction to see, hear, and explore is stronger than ever.


Now, I'll quit the drama and get back to my drink! :)


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fang-Od, The Art of Traditional Inking, and Chickening Out

We all thought it rained throughout the night. That's what happens when you stay at a lovely inn right beside the river. After a few hours of refreshing sleep, it was time to go on our way to finally meet Fang-Od. We bid the ladies of the Sleeping Beauty Inn goodbye and said thank you to the gracious owner, the town mayor, who in return sent us his well-wishes.

Our guide, Francis, hailed a jeep to take us to Bugnay, the jump-off point to Buscalan. Thirty minutes later, we stood in the middle of the town with the lying-in clinic to the left and the trail to Buscalan on the right.

It was a leisurely trek from Bugnay to Buscalan, with the views of Mt. Patukan (aka Sleeping Beauty) and the Chico river keeping us company. Francis entertained us with stories of the Kalinga culture and belted out to a few country songs for an added flair. We spotted several water falls on the mountain sides which I thought were probably nameless, so I took the liberty of naming the largest falls I saw as Ruby falls. No-brainer 'no?

By the time we walked along the rice terraces and saw people harvesting the grains, we knew we were nearing the village. It took us two hours to reach Buscalan, picture-taking and slacking included.

The moment we step foot on the other side of the fence, we were greeted by the people who were seating on the silong for some midday snacks. As it turned out, we were just in time to watch Fang-od and Grace tattooing 2 guests from Manila.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Silay City Walking Tour

Travelling on foot is still the best way to explore and move around a place, with the added benefit of toning your leg muscles while you're at it. It can be a guided tour, one with specific stops in mind, or just wandering aimlessly and seeing where your feet will take you.

When PTB came up with the Blog Carnival topic for this month, I thought of the best walking tours I had this year. Of course the Walk this Way Tour of Intramuros with Carlos Celdran was a contender but the Paris of Negros, again, won the battle.

You see, I'm a sucker for all things quaint.

Silay is a small, walkable city in Negros Occidental known for its ancestral houses and good food. Before heading off, I luckily found this convenient map on the internet. Thanks to Project 7107, planning for a walking tour in Silay was a breeze. 

Photo from Project7107

Here are the essentials for an enjoyable walking tour: An umbrella to protect you from the scorching sun or sudden rain, Google Maps for directionally challenged individuals like me, some loose change for buying drinks, and a satisfied tummy.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Tinglayan, Kalinga: Sleeping Beauty, Tattoos, and Babkals

To meet the last tattoo artist Fang-od in the village of Buscalan, one has to board a bus to Tabuk for 12 hours, and take a 3-hr ride from Tabuk to Tinglayan.

There are regular trips from Tabuk to Tinglayan at 7 and 8 in the morning, but since misadventures seem to love us, we missed both trips. At 10AM, we stood at the jeepney stop waiting for any form of transportation. I asked around if there were jeeps stopping by anytime soon but I was just advised to sit and wait. And so we did.

Luckily, thirty minutes later, a jeep stopped in front of us, the driver asked the people where they were headed, and finally, he nodded and decided to go to Tinglayan. On the way to Tinglayan we were greeted with sweeping views of the mountains with the endless flow of the Chico River at its feet. The jeep went further upstream for 3 hours.
Chico River

Monday, September 17, 2012

Shakespeare in the Park

Photo from here
The arts were not a huge part of my growing-up years. I stared at paintings without a vague sense of its depth, I saw ballet performances on TV and switched channels, I never tried to scrutinize minute details of sculptures, and the only theater play I thought to watch live was The Sound of Music (only because I loved the movie as a child). 

The first play I watched was Nick Joaquin's The Portrait of the Artist as Filipino in college. It was a  small school production that we were required to watch.

Fast forward to 2007, I was able to regularly drop by art exhibits in a mall. The exhibits were fun and refreshing to the inexperienced eye. In 2010, I found myself inside a deserted art museum in Kuala Lumpur. There was not a single soul in sight. I took my time scrutinizing the works.

Maybe those were signs. The arts and I. We stand a chance.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lessons from Long Weekends and Even Longer Bus Rides

There is absolutely nothing that could go wrong with a 12-hour bus ride. Or so I thought.

Earlier this year I took a smooth 13-hour bus ride to Tuguegarao. I boarded the bus and slept all the hours away. This time around, it was a different story.

It all started with a plan to go to Kalinga with a new friend we've met at Batad. I called Victory Liner a day prior to the long weekend and the representative said that there were plenty of seats in all four trips to Tabuk. For the life of me, I don't know what prompted me to think that pretty sure there will be seats for four. Tabuk is just too far for a 4-day weekend, right?

So there we were. 8PM on a Friday night. Four people standing at Victory Liner Kamias Terminal begging for seats along with a hundred more chance passengers bound to Tabuk.

Most looked like they were seeing their families and they deserved a seat on the bus more than we did. I wanted to kick myself for not getting our tickets. I was racking my brains for Plans Bs. Cross the street to JAM Liner, ride a bus to Batangas and take a ferry to Romblon? Or to Puerto Galera and party all the 4-days away? Or why not go home and try again the next day? 

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Cooking Frustrations Can Lead to a Bucket List

This post is the result of Thursday night's thoughts on cooking.

Photo from
You see, cooking, next to dancing well, is at the bottom, of my skillset. I have cooked a few dishes in my life but I would rather eat it by myself than share, except for some some occasions when I prepared something more than a bowl of instant noodles for others. 

Yesterday, in an attempt to lessen dining out and make my food intake a little bit healthier, I decided to make a meal plan, cook what's on the plan, and stick to it. Somewhere in my planning I realized it would be really nice to whip up a nice dish and invite friends and family over for food and drinks. I adore my friends who are good in cooking, plus points for friends who magically come up with great dishes while camping

And so I thought that this should be added in my bucket list. (Which, by the way, does not exist in an actual written list.. until now.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I Was Meant For a Sunny Day

Dear Dumaguete,

Sometimes things don't go your way.

This video sums up what turned out to be a day's stay in your place. Forgive the disheveled, almost dying look. 

I was frustrated. But really, there's no arguing with the screaming human body.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cagayan Valley: The Nitty-Gritty

Choosing Cagayan Valley was a hasty decision for a Holy Week destination. I can no longer remember what convinced us to choose the province of Cagayan but I'm certain we almost did not push through because of the long lines at the terminal. Luckily, Victory Liner now has an online booking and reservation system for trips to Tuguegarao. Several airlines offer flights to Tuguegarao with a travel time of 1hour but if you plan to take the bus, prepare your arse for a long-haul journey! Or, if you're like me who can doze off anywhere, it's a perfect excuse for a 12-hour long sleep.

Where to Stay:

In Palaui: Bayanihan Hall 

Nothing beats homestays where one can experience living in a local community. When in Palaui, consider staying in Bayanihan Hall. Room rate is P200/head. If you plan to pitch tents, rate is P150/head for setting up tents in the yard. 

Charlie and Jenny also served freshly cooked meals. For PhP150 per meal, we were served with a huge bowl of steaming, hot sinigang na isda, several varieties of fish fried to a crisp, a plateful of rice, and a cup of coffee. The fish served was fresh from the morning's catch. If you plan to bring food, Kuya Charlie and Ate Jenny can cook them for you.

To inquire for the availability of the room, contact Charlie Acebedo at 63906.845.54.72. 

In Tuguegarao: Pensione Joselina

We stayed for a night at a creepy hotel no longer worth mentioning. Good thing we went around Tuguegarao and spotted a fairly new pension house with rooms priced at a cheaper rate as compared to that squeaky hotel. The double room was priced at PhP600 per night.

The place is at Aguinaldo St. Centro 6, right smack in the center of Tuguegarao City and near grocery stores and fastfood chains.

Contact them at numbers 078.844.7318 or 63906.930.1313.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Manila: Seeing the City in a New Light

And our past tells us that our geography dictates our destiny.

That was one great insight that I got from Carlos Celdran's Walk This Way Intramuros Tour. The walking tour is a great way of introducing Manila to visiting foreigners, and that was highly evident from the number of them in the group, but more than that, it also served as an eye-opener for Filipinos like me who have, in a way, neglected to see Manila for what it is.

Come to think of it, it is not unusual for some people to diss our culture and brand us as un-Asian. Compared to our truly Asian neighbors, our hodge-podge culture is sticking out like a sore thumb. At the end of the 3-hour tour, I left Intramuros enlightened and with a seemingly deeper understanding of Manila.

The tour started at 3PM with the group assembled at the gate of Fort Santiago. The sky was overcast and the rain threatened to pour but the group pushed ahead and started with the tour. Armed with a huge clear book of photos, small flags, an assortment of top hats, a wireless microphone strapped to his waist, and his theatrics, Carlos Celdran led the group by shouting "Walk this way!" for everyone to hear.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Remembering Myanmar: Sunrise in Bagan

No matter how awe-stricken I was when I stood in the middle of the huge Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, it did not prepare me for the experience that I was to face the next day. 

We took the overnight bus from Yangon to Bagan and arrived in the wee hours of the morning. The group spent some time having coffee and tea at a shop which was luckily open at that hour. A few drivers and their horse carts were at the bus terminal, eagerly waiting for us to decide what we wanted to do at such an ungodly hour. I honestly cannot remember whose idea it was to watch the sun rise on top of an abandoned temple but I'm glad we did.

Out in the dark
The group patiently waiting for the sun

Imagine sitting on a loose brick atop an abandoned temple while watching the whole place come to life as the sun cast its rays on more than four thousand pieces of century-old temples, stupas, and pagodas scattered in every direction.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Eat.Play.Sleep. - A Panda's Version

Po from the movie Kung Fu Panda is adorable, but he comes nowhere near the charm of real-life giant pandas.

Meet Le Le and Ying Ying from Ocean Park in Hongkong! These 2 lovable giants are mainstays at the Amazing Asian Animals complex.

Pandas are proof that huge and cute are two words that go together. One look at them and you know you just can't resist that hug-inducing feeling. I could not stop gushing as I felt like a kid running towards these sleeping creatures. 

Le Le, the male panda
Ying Ying, the female panda
Is there any other animal out there that looks as sweet as these two when sleeping?

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Remembering Myanmar: Yangon

It has been a year since that trip and I still could not come up with apt words.

You know that quick judgment that you make the moment when you first set foot in a new place? That Ahh, this place is laid-back or This one feels busy and fast-paced.. that did not happen with Myanmar.

I could not put my finger on it at first. The country is poor but not depressed, quiet despite of people chattering, and a part of me wanted to think of it as uneventful but I could not dismiss the nagging feeling that there was something beneath the surface. Or maybe I was just being extra careful.  At the airport, my friend started to take a video but a guy came up to him and warned him to not do such things.

Looking back, I guess I felt an air of subdued anticipation and feigned obedience. The same way we behave when we know a secret and we're trying to hide the smile on our faces. Or that feeling when you just said yes to follow the rules only to break them.

I'm going to try and recount that surreal experience before a year passes by and I slowly forget.

First stop: Yangon.

In my mind, this is how Philippines might have looked like in the 80's. The rest of the world, with its neon billboards and bullet trains, have left Myanmar trapped in the past century. It felt like a trip back in time and I had no problem imagining Ferdinand Marcos as the ruler. I thought of Yangon as a cleaner version of Recto, with the throng of U-belt students replaced by men in longyi.

It is a country with a few skyscrapers in sight and hardly no ATMs.

ET Phone Home
It was a rainy day when we arrived. The streets were clean and litter-free but most buildings were dingy, to which I attribute the Recto-feel.

There were magnificent architectures in different stages of ruin. Below is a photo of The Minister's Building which used to be the home of the administrative seat back in the time when Yangon was still the capital of Myanmar. We walked around the block and was disappointed when we found out that the gates were closed. Then came another letdown: military men were washing and drying their clothes out in the vast lawn. Sure that huge structure can house troops but there seems to be other worthwhile things to do with a century-old edifice than let it crumble away. I bought a guava from a street vendor and munched on it on the way back.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is

I will start this off by saying that I am in no way an expert in these things. A few people have teased me about having lots of resources because they see me going on trips frequently. The truth is, they probably have more finances than I have. I live on my office laptop (my personal laptop was broken and I haven't gotten around to fixing it), I'm smarter than my phone (my phone is solely made for calling and texting), I have no extra gadgets except for that small mp3 player which I can no longer find, and I eat my favorite tuna rice, pancit canton, and Ministop chicken for dinner at least once a week. See! So who has more moolah now? :) And no, I am not complaining. I am happier with my lifestyle now than a few years back when I first started working.

The difference between you and me are our priorities. I have long realized that I loved walking inside ROX than poking at bags inside designer shops. I was happier when I got my P2K bike from Evangelista than the times when I get myself a pair of new shoes. It starts with knowing your priorities.

In an attempt to join PTB's Blog Carnival for June, I came up with the 3P's.

1. Prioritize

“Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.” -- H.L. Hunt
Deciding that you really want something means pushing that thing on top of your priority list. As for me, I have long decided that this "thing" is being outside and experiencing places. Three years ago, when I was still unsure, shoes, clothes, bags, and weekend dine-outs were a regular part of my monthly budget. When it finally dawned on me that I was happier when I put my money where my heart is, I have removed these from my list and only bought things on a per need basis. 

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Sagada and The Double Rainbow High

The first time I saw a double rainbow, I cried.

Hello electric cable wires
I would not have been that emotional if the setting was somewhere else, but of all places that two rainbows could pop up, it had to be in Sagada. This is a small town up in the Mountain Province whose charm has captivated me ever since I first set foot in December 2008. I went with three of my friends and even while we were still on the way to the town proper, I was already swept away by the amazing view of pine trees and rice terraces.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Everything Sentosa

Day 1 in Singapore was Turista-sa-Sentosa Day. We started the day early by having a huge breakfast at Killiney Kopitiam. I had second thoughts on visiting Universal Studios Singapore. I don't know where I got the idea that USS was Disney-ish, with mascots and cute kiddie cartoons stuff.  (A little backstory: in choosing between Ocean Park and Disneyland in Hongkong, we picked Ocean Park.)  I want rides, rides, rides. I want the kind that gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach. I adored Enchanted Kingdom's Anchors Away and I would always sit at the end row where I could feel like I'm almost tipping over. Exhilarating!

Aaron got our tickets prior to Thursday using Mastercard at SG$68 each. A bit pricey if you ask me but good thing it already included a SG$6 voucher for food and another SG$6 voucher for retail purchases. Just add a couple more dollars for lunch and you're good to go.

We went straight to ride Battlestar Galactica: Cyclon at the Sci-Fi City. Rollercoasters attract me like magnet. According to the park brochure, Battlestar Galactica: Human vs. Cyclon is the tallest dueling rollercoaster in the world. There were only 3 people who took the ride before us (we were there early) and I did not hear them screaming nor did I see them frazzled when the train came back. So I thought.. Pfft.

Battlestar Galactica: The tallest dueling rollercoaster. Blue=Cyclon, Red=Human
But I was wrong. When our turn came, I cursed the whole time. The ride was altogether a different experience because it was a suspended rollercoaster, and there was nothing solid beneath my feet except for the hard cement dozens of feet below. It felt like an eternity. When it was over, I felt a bit dizzy and we laughed all the way out. That was unexpected.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Ate My Way Around Singapore

I absolutely enjoyed Singapore's food. Everything suited my palate, from the coffee, kaya toast, and soft-boiled eggs breakfast at Killiney Kopitiam on my first day, up to the sumptuous steak lunch at Marche's on my last. (That's everything except for KFC's hot and spicy chicken, because ours taste better).


Breakfast was the first order of the day. A few blocks away from the hotel was Killiney Kopitiam. An unassuming, traditional coffee shop lined up with the other restaurants along Killiney Road. The ambiance reminded us of Bacolod's Kaffe Sadtu

At 9 in the morning, all the tables were occupied by Singaporeans and foreigners alike, all dressed for work. We shared a table with a lady who was poring over the morning's paper.

The usual order was coffee or tea, with 4 slices of kaya (coconut egg jam) toast, and two soft-boiled eggs. I had to figure out how to eat a soft-boiled egg. Apparently, you crack the egg and put it in a bowl, add seasoning, and eat it like porridge.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Crystal Beach: Quick Camping Fix

And an excuse to take a shiny, red pickup truck on a roadtrip.

We were toying with the idea of visiting the municipalities around Laguna de Bay. But the planning was a bit too tedious. So, we ditched the plan and opted to visit Crystal Beach in San Narciso, Zambales instead.

After a few U-turns, shouting bouts with the GPS, almost driving through a couple of boats straight to the sea, and waking up a fishing community in the process because the truck was stuck in soft sand, we finally made it to Crystal Beach at 5 in the morning. By the way, for some reason Google Maps shown the shore as a road. With everyone of us not knowing where to go, we naturally followed Google maps and ended up almost kissing the sea. See the tire tracks here? We went all the way. The moon was so bright it looked perfect for a melodramatic suicide scene.

The guard accommodated us and assisted us in choosing the spot to pitch our tents at. We were the first to arrive and the place was deserted.  Camping rate is at P150 per head. It was dark and we all decided to catch some sleep first. When the sun rose and and shone, we went ahead and bought food supplies from the town's market.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Cagayan: Caving Capital

Spelunking is a highly challenging activity, but the awe-inspiring experience I get in return is more than enough a reward. The stalactites and stalagmites that meet to form a column, the life inside the cave, and the thought of vast connections underneath the land that we walk on never fail to amaze me. That is coming from someone who has only done spelunking twice, both in the famous Lumiang and Sumaging Caves in Sagada, and watched Discovery Channel's Planet Earth's Final Frontier: Caves in HD.

Cagayan, with more than 300 caves, is aptly named as the Caving Capital of the Philippines. The original plan was to visit Sierra Cave, as recommended by Ivan Henares during the Asia Society Philippine Foundation lecture. I called them up prior to going to Cagayan but I was informed that it is necessary to secure a permit from the DENR office to explore the Sierra Cave. Unfortunately, we were going to visit on a holiday and government offices were closed.

We decided to visit Sierra's more popular neighbor instead, Callao Cave. This is probably one of the most visited caves in the country. From Tuguerarao City, we hired a traysi (the usual tricycle) to the Penablanca Traysi Terminal and from there, we waited for 4 more passengers to load the traysi bound to Penablanca.  A traysi can fit up to 7 passengers.

Penablanca is almost an hour's ride from Tuguegarao City. We were cruising half of the time along a national road and the next half was spent on a dirt road. We passed by the Pinacanauan River, packed with families taking their sweet time swimming in the river. The driver took us to the Callao Caves Resort. 

Callao Cave is located across the Pinacanauan River. Boats take guests from both sides of the river for P20 per way. Across the river, guests are met by tour guides of the Callao Eco Tourism Zone. 

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Tuguegarao: Hot and Humid Pancit Country

Believe the weatherman when he says that the temperature is highest in Tuguegarao.  

We woke up early morning in the island of Palaui and after a quick breakfast, we proceeded to see the falls. The falls is easily reachable by a short 30-minute trek from the Bayanihan Hall.  

A few photos here and there then we made it back to San Vicente port. We decided to eat lunch at the carinderia near the van terminal. It is interesting how there is a pancitan (noodle shop) in every corner. Cagayan is one of those places where there is a widespread love for a particular food, much like Iloilo, where I marveled at how manukan/inasal (grilled chicken) businesses prosper with each of them sitting side-by-side in every nook.

We were eating Pancit Batil Patung when a family came in. When it was time to order, all the 4 kids screamed "Pancit! Pancit!". Cagayan really is a Pancit Country!

Pancit Batil Patong

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Island of Siargao

Perfect setting for murder. That was the first thing that came to mind when I saw Cloud 9 in Siargao at night. The sound of the crashing waves will drown out screams, the pitch black night sky will conceal the act and the perpetrator, and the huge waves and the reef breaks will ensure that whoever you want to kill will be dead before dawn. Shove someone off the planks and poof! Gone.

That's my criminal mind talking.

From our island-hopping activity, we proceeded to Cloud 9 around 6PM to drop-off our new Taiwanese friend and check out food options for dinner. I was expecting a vibrant night life comparable to that of Boracay since this is a popular surfing turf, but I was surprised that the shore was free from crowded establishments. The only thing loud is the sound of the waves. Visiting the Surfing Capital of the Philippines in December is a quiet escape from the holiday bustle. Think of the usual province where there's coconut trees, sand, and occasional houses, then somewhere in this setting, add gigantic waves and killer reef breaks!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Negros Occidental: The Nitty-Gritty

It's unmistakable. Bacolod is the most laid-back the word 'laid-back' could get.  I like Bacolod City. Try googling Bacolod and you'll find out that it once ranked Number 1 as the Most Competitive Mid-Sized City in 2005 and was named as the Best Place to Live in the Philippines last 2008 by Moneysense magazine, with Makati as second and Manila down at 11.

If one believed in signs, a flight delayed for 7 hours might have been the end of it. Good thing I don't. Instead, I made good use of the time we've camped out at the airport to catch up on my reading. Thanks to Airphil Express, we had  to scratch everything on the itinerary and worked it out from there.

Where to Stay:
We finally arrived at the Bacolod-Silay Airport at 10PM. We saw flyers of Pension Bacolod, which according to the flyer, has been awarded 5 times as the Best Pension House in Bacolod. Their aircon room is priced at P395.  The AC rooms were all rented out so we took the double non-AC room priced at P315. The room was close to the restaurant which had free Wi-Fi. Pension Bacolod is perfect for those who need a cheap place to crash in at night. If you want to stay at something more luxurious, check out L'Fisher Hotel or Saltimboca Tourist Inn. Pension Bacolod is located at #27 11th Street, a short walk from Lacson St.

The pension house looks like a small castle with flags displayed outside. It's indeed 'international' since we saw mostly foreign guests. Contact them at (034) 433-33-77.

Our flight back to Manila was set at 5AM so we opted to stay near the airport on our last night.  We chose the Baldevia Pension House, located in the heart of Silay. Their non-AC double room is priced at P450. Contact them at (034) 496-51-40.

We were able to adjust and fit most into our shortened schedule, but we had to take Danjugan Island off the list. Danjugan Island is a marine reserve and wildlife sanctuary found off the coast of Sipalay, south of Bacolod. That's another reason (aside from food) why I have to go back!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Travel Time: 16 Hours to Palaui Island

The long bus rides to and fro Tuguegarao were reminiscent of the nights we spent on the bus going around Myanmar. This is by far the longest bus ride I ever took in the country. Various airlines offer flights to Tuguegarao but because the trip was a last minute decision (meaning no seat sales), we chose to take the bus instead. I have no trouble catching sleep on the bus so the 13-hour trip was not a biggie. Scoring the bus tickets proved to be a challenge though. The lines in Victory Liner were too long 2 weeks before the Holy Week.

Thank goodness Victory Liner now has online reservation and booking system for trips going to Baguio and Tuguegarao from all terminals in Manila. I reserved seats, paid at Metrobank, and had the tickets delivered to my office. No sweat!

We laid out 2 possible itineraries. Plan A was to check first if there was a ferry bound to Calayan (part of Babuyan Islands) from Santa Ana to join Ed of Eazytraveler. Plan B was to proceed to Palaui Island and visit the famed Cape Engaño lighthouse. This is Plan B.With that set, we exited Manila along with the majority of the population who wanted to spend the 5-day weekend in the provinces.

After 13 hours, we finally walked the streets of Tuguegarao. I enjoyed a cup of coffee on the sidewalk while we waited for a couple of hours for the first trip of the van to Sta. Ana. The 3-hr ride to Santa Ana was brimmed with views of endless rice fields coupled with mountain ranges as backdrops, plus occasional glimpses of the vast Cagayan River.

The last kilometer marker up north is found near the San Vicente port (or SanV as the locals call it) in the municipality of Santa Ana. 642km from 0 point in Luneta!

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Singing Kids and Dancing Fireflies at Cambulo

Back from our morning trek to Tappiyah Falls. We came home to Mang Ramon's Homestay, with our lunch of steaming brown rice and crispy porkchop waiting for us. 

The day's second agenda: visit Cambulo. A village located north of Batad, reachable by 3-4 hours of trekking on rice paddies and terraces. I didn't know a thing about Cambulo but Dandy mentioned guiding a group to the village the previous week. So we said, "Sige kami rin!", gaya-gaya mode ON. He said there's no electricity in Cambulo so there will be no meat for our meals. Patay. I can't live without meat.. yet. So I asked Irene to fry me some porkchop for my baon.

Thankfully, the sun was not shining so harshly when we left Batad.  We listened to Dandy's tales of the trail but most of the time we walked quietly (or hummed a tune) and let ourselves be engulfed by the serenity brought by all the shades of green.


Trekking along the landslide ruins

It drizzled halfway through the trek and we were drenched again on our second day. On our way, we ran into a man with a rifle, with a kid trailing him for a sidekick. Tall, dark, toned, and and yes he was a handsome Ifugao, with a rifle slung on his shoulders, wearing a brown vest. I muttered, "Wow, action star!" I swear he looked like one! May kasamang sidekick pa kasi.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Tappiyah Falls, Musings on the Trail, and the Bulul

We had no detailed plans for this trip, except to see the terraces and Tappiyah Falls. We told Dandy, our awesome guide (contact him at: 0910.346.5310), of our bare plan and he told us that if we weren't in a hurry, we could hike to Cambulo. Thank you Dandy!  I have not heard of Cambulo, a neighboring community reachable by 2-3 hours of trek.

That was the masterplan.

Finally, it was time to walk along the terraces.

We went on the month of August, and the village was in the middle of the harvest season. That explains why some fields are empty while others still have lush green stalks. The rice terraces is at its greenest during the months of April-May and October-November. For more info on the planting/harvest seasons, please visit Meanne's post.

Notice how some of the huts' roofs are made from GI sheets? The roof of a traditional Ifugao house is made from cogon grass, but this needs to be changed after several years of wear and tear. The practicality of using GI sheets win over the effort of maintaining a cogon grass roof, so here comes the dilemma: when should we choose preservation of millennia-worth of culture over the convenience of  modern technology?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Going Local at Ramon's Homestay

'Go Local!'

We saw Mang Ramon's catchy slogan on the trail to Batad. We made no reservations prior to the trip, but luckily, Ramon's Homestay still had an available traditional Ifugao hut. For P700, we were able to experience living in a 'no-nail' house.

We were drenched by the rain and the almost 4-hr trek made us hungry for dinner at 4PM. Good thing we didn't have to walk outside to find decent food because Ramon's Homestay offered home-cooked meals for a reasonable price. They served us brown rice, from the grains harvested from the terraces in front of us.  

Our home for the night.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Road to Batad

Hearing a French man based in Singapore say that Batad is the best place he's ever visited in Southeast Asia is heartwarming but knowing that you haven't set foot on the rice terraces yet is just, well, sad.

The Rice Terraces in the Cordillera Administrative Region are collectively acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Note that the Rice Terraces is tagged as a RED cultural site, meaning that it is included in the list of heritage in danger.  The listing includes five clusters of terraces: Nagacadan in Kiangan, Hungduan, Mayoyao, Bangaan, and Batad Terraces.

Frequent landslides have threatened to damage the 2000-year old work of the Ifugaos, the last one reducing one section of Batad Terraces to a rubble. With that in mind, I vowed to visit Batad on the next long weekend. Pushing it far back in my calendar might mean not seeing it in its pristine form.

On August 26, Thursday night, we set off for Banaue. We made reservations with Ohayami Trans for the bus scheduled to leave at 10PM. It was a good choice to call ahead because the place was packed with people buying tickets at the last minute. The ride usually takes 9 hours, however, typhoon Mina decided to come with us to North Luzon, so the bus had to take extra caution in avoiding muddy landslides on the road.

We finally arrived at the Ohayami Bus Terminal at 9 in the morning, Friday. We were met by our ever reliable guide, Dandy Umhao, at the station. (Thanks to Chyng Reyes!) Dandy herded us to the People's Lodge and Restaurant for a quick breakfast. There we were joined by a group of 4 other travelers.

This what I love about Benguet and its neighboring provinces like Mt. Province.  They serve brown rice and fresh, crisp veggies! I'm not a fan of vegetables but whenever I'm up north, I transform into a veggie gobbler!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Boracay for P5000

I'm writing about this because the sun is scorching hot.

And this humid weather reminds me of this:

The 4-km long, powder-fine, white sand beach of Boracay! 

When I first visited the island, I did all things the Boracay way -- got myself a henna (and almost had my hair braided), did the zorb, ate a lobster, drooled on cakes and shakes, and bought sand art and wood carvings from the lucky peddlers who happened to ask me, the eager guest. I just had to get all those touristy things done.

The next time I was there, I'd like to think that I was wiser. Boracay, with its grand establishments, need not to be expensive. There are a lot of things to choose from and prices vary from the tourist trap fancy to the backpacker-friendly rates. But hey, if you want to spend, go ahead and do it. 

Going to Boracay during off-peak months gives me almost 25% savings from accommodations and activities. Plus there is no need to worry about the crowd which usually flocks the strip of heaven during summer and long weekends (Well, except for our Korean friends. It seems that they favor the beach all-year round.) Reservations are not necessary and the usual walk-in inquiries and check-ins work. Haggling powers are especially effective during lean months.

The goal for August 2011 trip was to stay in Boracay for 3days and 2nights and get to experience parasailing, for under P5000.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Best Boracay Find - Red Pirates Pub

The search is over for my favorite place in Boracay. 

We were walking along the stretch of the island's fine white sand towards Station 3, with the goal of finding a good spot to see the sunset, without the crowd, vendors, and loud thumping party music.

And there it was, almost at the end of the shoreline, past Angol Point. A stone throw away from the haunted-looking abandoned villas and a 5-minute walk from the last resort at Station 3, Asya Suites. 

It was nearing sunset when we saw a hut with blaring reggae music.  Red Pirates Pub almost looked like a shack from afar, and with trinkets and fishing paraphernalia found all over the place, I felt like walking straight into a pirate's isolated cove. There's an overgrowth of shrubs and vines in front of the hut and when we stepped inside the bushes, we found seats made of driftwood. On the shore were several chairs and tables, mats, and hammocks too - strewn all over the area.

Local fishermen and foreign guests alike were having their bottles of ice-cold beer on the pirate shack.  Beer was sold at an happy hour rate of P40 per bottle. It suited our Boracay-for-P5000 goal (including the parasailing fee -- more of this in another post). 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Notes on the Asia Society Philippine Foundation - Travels on a Shoestring Budget Lecture

From Asia Society Philippine Foundation's page
This poster caught my attention last week. I travel cheaply and I very much enjoy a full-packed (almost no idle time) itinerary. There really are things that you need to be frugal on just so you could have 15 minutes of parasailing, unless, of course, if you want to give it all away and splurge. I like listening to stories and researching for tips on how things can be done the budget-friendly way.  There's a certain satisfaction that I get whenever I pull out my notes at the end of the day to calculate my expenses and finding out that I just spent a fraction of the budget. This lecture was just perfect. I needed some pointers.

The lecture was started off by Harvey Keh, Executive Director of Asia Society Philippine Foundation.