Category Archives: travel

Why I wish I didn’t travel alone to Bacolod

Colorful masks. Genuine smiles. Authentic chicken Inasal. These are some of the words we associate with—yes, you guessed it right—Bacolod.

It was another awesome solo travel experience, although I wish I spent it with someone, with family, or with a bunch of friends, as there were moments that were far better shared. It was thrilling nonetheless.

A huge colorful mask on display outside a commercial building in Bacolod City.

Another thing that got me excited about my Bacolod trip was my first time to fly via Philippine Airlines, thanks to the promo fare that I chanced upon way back March, 2017. Roundtrip airfare for only P1,300 was absolutely a great deal. It’s not every day that you get to fly via the Philippine flag carrier for that amount. Plus, seat selection on the airline’s online check-in portal is free!
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Wandering around museums

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

~ Pablo Picasso
If you find reading books to learn about a country’s history and culture too tedious, go to museums. That’s a more exciting way of learning given that there are visuals to aid it. And museums, being (mostly) quiet, offer a break from the daily nuisance of a bustling city.
It seemed unlikely, but in spite of living in Baguio City for 9 months, I didn’t visit the BenCab Museum. When I went back to the place a year later in January, 2017, it was originally part of my itinerary. But curling up during chilly mornings in Baguio is irresistible, so instead of going out early, I heeded the bed’s call.
Being an item in my bucket list this year, it must be ticked off, so in May, when my friends and I went to Baguio (my second visit this year), we went to the distant museum despite the limited time we had.

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Out and about for adventure

Bahay ni Tuding is the place to go to if you’re traveling on a budget. Sure, there’s nothing spectacular about it. It’s like your old house-turned-boutique hotel, but it afforded me a quaint breakfast I enjoyed a lot.
The hearty meal was composed of toasted bread, jam, fruits and yogurt, and, of course, hot brewed coffee—something I couldn’t live without even when traveling. I was glad it was brewed coffee; not an instant 3-in-1 most budget hotels usually serve.
I had a nice sleep and since I got all the time in the world (well, for 3 days at least), I took the opportunity to wander around the place for a bit.
Except for the room bearing no windows, the hotel is nice overall. For only P1,000 a night, I enjoyed a nice bed, a bathroom with a water heater, hearty breakfast, and accommodating staff. You don’t get that much for a thousand bucks these days.
Oops, sorry for the quick review. Now, let me get down to business.
I allotted two days to go out and about for adventure in one of the cleanest cities I’ve been to so far. I did some research on the best spots to visit and the best places to eat at. My friend even found it hilarious that I got everything planned a few months back. She was laughing at me for being overly prepared for my Davao trip.
But, the thing about traveling is, not everything needs to go as planned. There’s always room for adjustment. I prepared a list of places I wanted to visit, but I ended up rehashing my itinerary.
Now, what follows is a list of the best spots and the best activities, and you don’t necessarily need to plan your trip according to it, but I bet you’ll have the best memories of your Davao trip if you tick everything off.
MUSEUMS
Museyo Dabawenyo
Never leave Davao City without paying Museyo Dabawenyo a visit. In fact, I suggest that you place this at the top of your itinerary, because this is one way of knowing and understanding Davao’s culture. Entrance is free. A guide will tell you stories about how Davao got its name, about the different tribes and ethnic groups in Davao, and many more. Take note though that you’re not allowed to take photos inside.

D’ Bone Collector Museum
Founded by Darrel Blatchley, D’ Bone Collector Museum houses hundreds (maybe, thousands even) of skeletons of various species. One of the most prized pieces is the skeleton of a saltwater crocodile named “Lolo.” It used to be the largest crocodile until its death in 2013.

NATURE AND MAN-MADE ENVIRONMENT

Samal Island
Truth be told, I didn’t go to Samal Island, because I was alone. I couldn’t imagine how I would enjoy the island on my own, without a (girl) friend to savor the moment with. But, you should go. Well, this serves as a note-to-self.
The Philippine Eagle Center
I felt a sense of fulfillment when I got the chance to gaze at the glorious Philippine Eagle. Aside from the fact that they are beautiful, their species is on the brink of extinction. They are critically endangered, as they can lay only one egg every two years.
There are other bird species and mammals in the center. You can take photos of all the animals you see, but make sure to not disturb them.
EXTREME ADVENTURE
Eden Nature Park
This one’s for the adrenaline junkie in you. Covering 40 hectares of land, Eden Nature Park offers Skycycle, Skyswing, and Zipline that will surely send the adrenaline rushing through your veins.
I tried Skycycle and pedaled my way through a 200-meter steel cable and back, 60 feet high up in the air. That, I’d say, was the highlight of my Davao trip. It was thrilling and nerve-racking at the same time. I almost backed out! But I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t push it. Plus, the fee was non-refundable, so there was no turning back.
You can also go horseback riding around the area, or play like a kid on the obstacle course. The park also boasts of hiking trails, so if you’ve got the stamina, go and savor the fresh air around the area. And you’ve paid a hefty entrance fee, so make the most out of it.

Challenge accepted! I would never say no to this adventure.

Okay, so it’s a giant swing. Wait, a GIANT what?

So, if you just want to be carefree, go to the obstacle course.

“Kumusta ang hacienda, Dodong?”

Art lovers will find this a real haven.
FOOD TRIP
Roxas Food Strip
Another note-to-self: Try some street food along Roxas Ave.
Eat durian
Davao City is famed for durian. In fact, on almost every street corner, there’s a vendor selling durian which you can eat right then and there.
Jack’s Ridge Restaurant and Café
Known not only for its good food, but also for its view deck, Jack’s Ridge is the perfect place to cap your last night in Davao.
Eat some seafood. Heads up though: minimum order is 300 grams, good for two. If you’re traveling solo like me, perhaps you’ll need to share some with a total stranger. Now, if you’re someone who can’t stand eating alone, then by all means, look for a companion. Trust me, you’ll never want to dine alone at Jack’s Ridge unless you’re someone like me who doesn’t really mind.
Drink pomelo shake, then end it with durian flan.
If the night is still young, hop to Karl Gourmet and Coffee, and sip from a cup of hot coffee with durian bits while watching the city below. The city lights make for a great spectacle while you live the moment and forget about the stress you’ve temporarily left behind.
After you’ve had your fill, head back to your hotel, get a good night’s sleep, and wake up to a beautiful morning served with toasted bread, jam, fruits and yoghurt, and a hot cup of good coffee.
All these and you’re ready to go home!

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First night’s mission: Experience downtown Davao

I took a deep breath as soon as I stepped out of the arrival area at the Francisco Bangoy International Airport (Davao City International Airport). It was both a feeling of relief that I made it to NAIA on time and of great satisfaction that I finally got the chance to travel again after a while. I’m blessed to be here.
Wasting no time, I hailed a cab to take me to the hotel where I was billeted at. I was in a dilemma at first though. I thought that if I took a cab at the airport, the driver might ask for a higher fare, just like what taxi drivers in Manila do most of the time. I thought of walking towards the gate leading outside the airport’s vicinity and hail a cab there instead, but I immediately dismissed the idea as soon as I realized that doing so would require much effort.
It was 7:45 pm and my stomach was starting to grumble, so I swallowed all bits of hesitation. The taxi driver was courteous enough to admit that he didn’t know where my hotel was located, so I just pulled out my phone and fired away Google Maps. I found the exact location and told the driver where to take me to. He obliged.
I initiated a conversation with him by asking a few questions, starting with, “Are you going to ask for an additional amount on top of the metered fare?” I almost sounded suspicious rather than inquisitive, but the driver willingly answered my query.
“Ay, bawal po dito ‘yan, Sir. Bawal pong mangontrata dito,” he said.
(“That’s not tolerated here, Sir. Demanding a fixed amount is not allowed here.”)
That’s great! My first impression: Dabawenyos are honest, obedient and disciplined.
We talked a bit more about the traits of Dabawenyos, the tourist spots, the food, the surroundings, and the bombing that shocked the nation, among others. That’s one way of getting to know the place—asking questions and seeing from the perspective of a local.
About 20 minutes later, we arrived at Bahay ni Tuding where I settled down for a few minutes before heading out for a night stroll. My mission: Wander around and experience downtown Davao at night. Oh, yes, Bahay ni Tuding is in the downtown area where you can find almost everything.
Since the hotel’s restaurant was already closed by the time I arrived, I opted to dine out. The receptionist advised me to try Kusina Dabaw. I obliged.
I found in the menu a dish that was new to my ears. Balbacua. I asked the waitress what it was, but since my stomach was already complaining, I placed my order upon hearing “beef.” Several minutes later, my order was served and, well, it was something I never expected. Apparently, balbacua is a thick soup dish with cow’s skin, seasoned with chives. I learned later on that it is a specialty dish in Davao and there’s a place in the public market called Balbacuahan, a strip of eateries serving the dish.
I didn’t like it though. Not that it wasn’t delicious at all; it just wasn’t my type of food.
As it turned out, I didn’t have a satisfying dinner, so I strolled around, looking for some redemption.
I stumbled upon a brightly lit old house that had been turned into a café and bar. Letting my curiosity take over, I entered Claude’s Le Caféde Ville.

Built in the 1920s, the old structure is owned by the Obozas, one of Davao’s highly esteemed families.The foyer was adorned with family mementos ranging from framed photos, plaques and trophies, and bottles of wine, among others.

Inside, it felt like I was transported by a time machine. A wooden floor, wooden walls, and old furniture made up the interior bathed by dim lights, adding to the serene and relaxing ambiance of the place.
They serve Irish coffee (I forgot the price), wines (P300 per glass) and cocktails (P250 per glass). I had a glass of Bacardi cocktail and a plate of cashew nuts. One thing I realized, though, was that the place is better enjoyed when you’re with someone, or with a group, because it is a place for a good conversation. There’s no live band; just some old music playing softly in the background.
A few minutes later, the waitress approached me and asked, “Sir, okay lang ba kayo? Kayo lang mag-isa?”
(“Sir, are you okay? Are you alone?”)

I just smiled and said that I was okay. In my mind, though, I screaming, “I don’t feel lonely. I’m just enjoying my time alone.” And then I left (of course, I paid the bill first).
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Davao adventure—my first shot at solo traveling

Part 1: Sprinting to the airport

All the seats by the window were taken, so I had no choice but to settle for a middle seat.
I thought I wouldn’t make it to the airport on time. At 3:45 PM, I was still on the MRT, wishing that it was a bullet train I was riding on. This is bad. My flight is at 6 pm!
At 4 pm, I was still at the station, trying to hail a cab to NAIA Terminal 3, but getting refused every time.
Damn Manila traffic.
I had to use my last resort: Grab Car. With a bit of hesitation, I pulled out my phone, clutched it tight in my hand—lest someone would snatch it—and ran a booking. At that point, I didn’t mind paying a higher amount, which was brought about by the price surge, just to catch my flight. While in the car, crazy thoughts were running in my head.
What if I don’t make it on time? Shall I book another flight? Shall I just stay in Manila and feel sorry for myself for a flopped trip? Shall I go somewhere else and just forget about all the plans I laid out, the paid reservation at the hotel, and all the crazy stuff I should be doing in Davao City?
Then my optimistic side toppled the pessimism. I will make it.
I arrived at the departure area a few minutes before 5. After getting through the X-ray machine and having my bags checked, I went straight to the self service check-in machine, half-walking, half-running and panting the whole time.

A beautiful Cebu Pacific personnel assisted me along the check-in process and in less than a minute, I got my boarding pass. I was then told to go straight to Gate 116, as boarding time was 5:15 pm.

Whew, thank God I made it. Now, I wait.
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Bucket list in blissful Boracay

“Wow!”
That exactly was the first word I interjected when I saw Boracay’s enticing blue water. The island is such a beauty no one can ever resist and a destination no one can ever ignore. It boasts of pristine water and powdery white sand—it’s no wonder why people keep going back to this paradise.

It was my first time on the island last month. Before, I could only see it in photos and read about the place over the internet, and it took really long before I got to visit the island, so when I was there, all I did was focus on my precious vacation.

I want your Boracay getaway to be perfect just as mine was, so I prepared this Boracay bucket list for you.

1. Travel as a group.

Plan your vacation with your family, or your friends. Either way, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it a lot. Activities on Boracay are not meant to be done alone, so don’t go there alone (unless you’re King/Queen Congeniality, or the Master of PR who has a knack on making new friends anywhere you go). Spend your vacation with the most precious people in your life and you’ll surely have one of the best travels ever. Moreover, it helps a lot in cutting down costs, as you can bargain for lower rates for activities and food.


2. Cook
Nothing’s more delicious than the food cooked with love by your family, or your friends. You can do other things while preparing food like talking about funny stories, cracking jokes and planning your itinerary for the next day. And it’s less expensive than dining out.

3. Scream while riding the flying fish…

…so the operators will know when to slow down. I must admit, it was more nerve wracking than Star City’s Star Flyer. The sharp turns and the speed will surely throw you off the ride if your grip is not strong enough…and yeah, if you don’t cry out, “Kuya, slow down!” My legs and arms were aching after that and I’m not sure if I’ll do it again when I go back. There was only one thing I had in mind during the entire ride: I must not get thrown into the water. It was extreme, but I still recommend it because it’s something you don’t get to experience every day. And with that, here goes the next one.
4. Do something crazy.
Yes, something crazy—anything like exclaiming, “GOOD MORNING, BORACAY!” from the veranda of your hotel.

5. Ride the banana boat.

After the exhausting flying fish experience, we went for something a little less extreme—banana boat. We just sat, relaxed, enjoyed the view and savored the wind touching our skin. But (SPOILER ALERT), be prepared for the unexpected sharp turn towards the end, because you will inevitably get thrown off the boat. That’s the climax.

6. Spend three hours on Puka Beach.

If you’re a nature lover, you’ll surely enjoy this area a lot, because of the few establishments—a great place to commune with nature. There are sheds where you can lie under while listening to the melodic sound of the waves rushing to the shore.


7. Close your mouth while sailing on paraw.

Don’t forget that, because the waves will hit you straight in the face and you’ll get wet all over. Salt water is the last thing that you ever want to drink. But, it was definitely an exhilarating experience, sailing on paraw—it was like riding the waves while the wind carries you.

8. Go on a night out.

Don’t leave Boracay without hitting the bars and the clubs. You can drink till you drop, or just chill out with a bottle or two of beer. Listen to an acoustic band, or groove to the DJ’s reverberating music. Watch the fire dancers and have your photos taken with them. Dance. Some of you may not be party goers, but don’t worry. There are a lot of options to choose from.

9. Enjoy.

You went on a vacation to enjoy and get replenishment of energy, so focus on that. Forget about work. Forget about the people and the things that stress you out. Forget about the hassles of life. You’ll have enough time for all of those things when your vacation ends. Just indulge in the activities on the island, savor the luscious food, revel in the exciting night life. You’re not living a fantasy; you’re living your life, so don’t waste your getaway by worrying around. Just enjoy.

Final reminder:

Please bear in mind that it’s our responsibility to protect and care for the environment. You don’t need to be a part of a big cause to do that. By simply disposing of your trash properly, you’ve contributed a lot to the environment. Do not litter. Be a responsible traveler. The Earth is your home. You surely don’t want an untidy one, right?

Credits to Jesus Espiritu for some of the photos used in this blog.

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Scenic Sagada

My 2015 planner has this list called “101 Things to do in 2015.” First thing on the list reads, “Enjoy the view in Sagada alone.” When I read that part after I bought the planner in November last year, I thought to myself that it was perfect, because first, I really needed some time alone and was planning to spend it someplace that offers peace of mind, and second, Sagada was my dream destination in the first quarter of the year.

Going to Sagada and appreciating its picturesque views while reconnecting with myself and pondering on things that really matter was the perfect idea to jumpstart the year. The thing is I accomplished neither within the time frame I set.

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C Boutique Hotel: Where your dream staycation comes true

If you’re looking for the pefect hotel in Baguio City, read this and be captivated by the beauty and coziness of C Boutique Hotel

At about 5,000 feet above sea level, you can find a jewel that promises an indulgent staycation treat, providing you with the modern comforts of home sans the boring feeling of staying at your own address. C Boutique Hotel in Baguio City is the perfect location for this kind of adventure.

Situated on Arellano St., cor. Moran near Mines View Park, C is not just another hotel; it is the epitome of a rewarding coziness that you’ve always been searching for which is way too evident in their room choices. Once you enter the place, you’ll feel the successful fusion of a modern home’s ambiance and an old Baguio house’s rural tranquility—something that you don’t usually see in the places you visit.

Studio Suite

C’s Studio Suite is a perfect sanctuary for a lone traveler, or for an enthusiastic duo. It is equipped with a queen size bed, inviting enough for a good slumber. Wood accents adorn the interiors, giving it a more relaxing impression.

Enjoy Baguio’s cool weather on the balcony with an outdoor table-for-two set up where you can enjoy conversations with a beer in hand. If you’re not a drinker, order a soothing cup of espresso, or hot chocolate from the hotel barCharley’s Barwhere an array of sumptuous food selections are also available for you to devour.


Family Suite

C values the importance of family bonding that’s why they also offer a special place for them to stay in—The Family Suite complete with a loft. Measuring 50 sq. m. in total, the room is spacious enough for family members to move around. With a single-sized and a double-sized bed on the room’s first floor, and another double-sized bed on the loft, it can accommodate a family of five. It also comes with a balcony that affords occupants views of pine trees and foggy environment.

All rooms of C are equipped with a cable network, wireless internet connectivity, hot-and-cold water facility, mini bar and a safety deposit box.

On the hotel’s second level, the warmth of the fireplace will embrace you amid Baguio’s natural cool climate coupled with the pouring rain. Called The Foyer, the area is not a boring space to lounge at. It is where you can enjoy a game or two of Tic-Tac-Toe and other board games. It is also embellished with paintings that will make an art lover a happy kid.

For reservations:

Landline: (074) 619 – 0158
Mobile: (0917) 534 3818 (Globe)
(0999) 886 2755 (Smart)
(0932) 886 2340 (Sun)
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Sungyan Grill: Happiness on a river

A calm river is an irresistible place to many. In its enchanting serenity, one finds peace of mind and a sanctuary to regain inner strength.
Hal Boyle once said, “What makes a river so restful to people is it doesn’t have any doubt—it is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn’t want to go anywhere else.”
But aside from all the metaphors related to a river that feed the soul and replenish lost energy, one can also indulge in an abundant feast that makes the tummy happy. Eating on a scenic river is an idea which sparked the business of Sungayan Grill Floating Restaurant. Opened in 2013, the restaurant embarked on its maiden cruise along the Balingasay River and has become the go-to seafood diner in Bolinao, Pangasinan since then.
How to get there
Once you are in Bolinao, never forget to give this place a try. Before reaching the town proper, turn left on the street located before Carmak. Stay alert and read the signage on either side of the road, which also leads to Patar White Sand Beach, the most frequented spot in the small town.

Entrance to the restaurant is situated a few meters before the bridge over the river.
The pathway made of bamboo will make you appreciate the picturesque view bordering the water.

What to expect
Staying idle on the riverside is the main dining area which is a floating restaurant in itself, but four wooden structures tied to plastic drums that make them float are being launched to the river.  Pulled by boats during a cruise, they can accommodate varying numbers of people.
Credits to CommAsia

Their menu offers various seafood choices, but their main hit is sungayan or unicorn fish; thus, the restaurant. Study the picture and you’ll know exactly the reason behind the fish’s name. Its natural salty taste is all over, and its meaty goodness is similar to that of hito or catfish
Credits to CommAsia
A platter good for three to four contains either grilled sungayan, or bangus (milkfish), crabs, shrimp, grilled liempo, seaweeds, and mangoes with onions and tomatoes. Just add P1,000 for the river cruise and your eyes will feast on the majestic site filled with all things green while devouring your sumptuous lunch.
A big group, on the other hand, can enjoy an assisted buffet at P250 per person for grilled bangus as main dish, or P300 for sungayan. Both prices are inclusive of river cruise.


The activity lasts for about an hour, which is enough time to enjoy your meal and take in all the wonders of nature transpiring around you. Don’t forget though to document the experience by pressing the shutter or recording the whole scene. Sure, you can enjoy your seafood anywhere else, but doing that while cruising on the river makes much of a difference.
Sungayan Grill Floating Restaurant is located in Balingasay, Bolinao, Pangasinan. For reservations, contact Maan Ria Celeste at 0912-3534433.

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Tracing back history in Fort Santiago

Every travel starts with an aim. And ours was to wander around and get lost in history.

History classes told me stories of the past. Tales during the Colonial time, the American invasion, the Japanese occupation. Through history, I learned that the Philippines was under Spanish rule for 333 years, that Filipinos cowered in their own country, that men who fought for liberty were punished and executed.
 
Through history, I learned about Dr. Jose Rizal and Fort Santiago–the national hero’s final days in the fortress.

Fort Santiago has always been part of my lifetime traveler’s itinerary. And recently, I ticked the destination off my list, as I officially set foot on the historical site with an equally adventurous and always curious friend.

We rode on the Pasig River ferry on our way to Intramuros, an experience we quite enjoyed, not only because it was our first time, but also it was indeed exciting. But what awaited us in Intramuros was far more exhilarating.

Fort Santiago is a military structure built in the 16th century during the Spanish Colonization. It is within “The Walled City,” or Intramuros which literally means “within the walls.” (Places “outside the walls” were called Extramuros.)

One of the things that truly amazed us was the outfit of the guards stationed around the place. They were wearing the grey uniform worn by Filipino and Spanish soldiers before complete with a hat. So, aside from the historical atmosphere set by the old structures, and the horse-drawn carriages (Kalesa) taking tourists around, the guards will also make you feel that you’re living during the Spanish Era.

Upon our entrance to our trip’s highlight, our hearts jumped in glee and our blood raced through our veins–a clear indication that we were getting closer to the place where one of the greatest men in the world spent the last days of his life before his execution. Entrance fee is P75.00 for adults and P50.00 for children and students.

The rustic ambiance set our minds to reminiscence. We didn’t hire a tour guide which was better, because we had the liberty to roam around and take all the attraction and information in at our own pace without pressure.

Rizal’s hat and trench coat
The national hero’s alcohol stove

The Dungeons
Literally following Rizal’s footsteps.

And since we didn’t have to follow a schedule, I had the luxury of letting my quirky side take over. It didn’t have to be an all too serious trip, did it?

Well, I just thought of teaching these guys some modern technology…
…and having some massage for my aching back.
Meanwhile, here’s another propagandist.
***

The Rizal Shrine in Fort Santiago will tell you a lot of stories about Dr. Jose Rizal through mementos displayed, and the representation of his prison cell and the trial complete with life size mannequins. Seeing the things that belonged to him and touched by his very own hands hundreds of years ago was an exceptional experience quite different from learning about him through history books and classes. It was like an up close and personal meet up with one of history’s greatest men. Only he didn’t talk back.

Photos courtesy of Jen Decena.

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