Friday, September 26, 2008

Canada: Bonjour Quebec!

I was in Quebec, Canada to attend the International Forum of Young Researchers and Professionals in Cultural Heritage, the annual meeting of the International Cultural Tourism Committee of which I'm a member, and the 16th ICOMOS General Assembly.

Things have been so hectic since that trip and I haven't had much time for myself. So in the meantime, you can check out my photos which I update quite regularly:

2008-09-26 Quebec, Canada (Vieux Quebec)
2008-09-27/29 Quebec, Canada (Vieux Quebec)
2008-09-30 Quebec, Canada (Vieux Quebec)
2008-10-01 Baie-Sainte-Catherine, Canada (Whale watching near Tadoussac)
2008-10-02 Quebec, Canada (St. Lawrence River cruise)
2008-10-03 Quebec, Canada (Île d'Orléans, Montmorency Falls & Vieux-Quebec)
2008-10-05 Montreal, Canada (Old Montreal)
2008-10-06 Montreal, Canada (Olympic Stadium & Mont Royal)
2008-10-07 New York, USA
2008-10-08 Washington DC, USA
2008-10-10/11 Los Angeles, California, USA (Hollywood)

I still have one more post on Thailand so watch out for that. Come to think of it, I still have some Indonesia and Singapore posts from last year. So I'll throw that in as well before continuing with the Canada (Quebec & Montreal) and U.S. (NY, DC & LA) posts. But I'll work my way back and start again with my recent local trips. (November 2, 2008)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Thailand: Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha

The Grand Palace, which includes the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is one of the must visits when you are in Bangkok. It was the official residence of Thailand's kings up to the mid-20th century but is still as grand as its name implies. After resting a bit at the hotel, we took a cab to the Grand Palace.

As soon as we got off our taxi, a guy in a khaki uniform wearing a pin which looked like some kind of royal emblem approached us and pointed us toward a gate on the side. I was a bit suspicious since I knew where the main gate was having been there twice before. When we got to the smaller gate, I saw a sign which said "no entry" (obviously, it was not an entrance). Then a guy came out from the gate telling us that the temple was closed early today since it's prayer day for the locals and told us to come back tomorrow. Then he pointed to a tuktuk waiting by the gate and they started selling us a guided tour. Irked, I told shouted "no" to them and brought my family back to where we got down. We almost left but I decided to walk by the entrance I remembered and saw it was open. So I checked inside only to find out the Grand Palace was indeed open!

It's sick that such happens right at the gate of the Grand Palace itself. Were the authorities playing blind to such a modus operandi happening right at their doorstep? It was a good thing I had been there before. But I could just imagine other people they had fooled into taking those over-priced tuktuk tours. When we exited the palace, I saw the same guy in the khaki uniform still standing at the gate and I looked him straight in the eye with disdain.

Well, enough of that bad incident since any visit to the Grand Palace is a grand experience! The first thing you'll see when you enter is the Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. You'll need to be in proper attire when you enter the compound. No shorts or sleeveless shirts. It was good that they have long trouser and sarong rentals there since my mom was in shorts and had to rent a sarong to enter.

The Emerald Buddha is actually made of green jade and is clothed in gold. There are three sets of gold clothing corresponding to Thailand's three seasons namely hot, rainy and cool. And the king himself changes the clothes in ceremonies marking the change of season.

When you enter the main palace area, you won't miss the Chakri Mahaprasad Hall, a building influenced by the Italian Renaissance style but distinctly Thai. By the time we reached this hall, the palace security were herding people out for closing. So we were there just in time to have the area all to ourselves. We proceeded to Siam Paragon right after. But we had to go through Bangkok's snarled weekend traffic to get there.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Thailand: Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, Thailand

You haven't been to Bangkok if you haven't shopped in the Chatuchak Weekend Market! The locals usually refer to it as JJ Market. At 1.13 square kilometers and with 15,000 stalls, it is said to be the biggest market in the world. Make sure to come on a weekend because most stalls are closed on other days.

We went straight to the market right after breakfast since we wanted to maximize our time there. You'll find everything under the sun there including household items, clothing, jewelry, Thai handicrafts, religious artifacts, collectibles, food, and live animals and plants. It's one of the best places to get local handicrafts, silk and other souvenir items.

After making rounds of the different sections (we weren't able to cover the whole market due to time constraints), we went around the food stalls to try out the local dishes. We had noodles or course, but I especially liked the coconut milk ice cream served in a coconut shell with coconut shavings and peanuts.

We didn't stay too long since we planned to visit the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha late in the afternoon. So we proceeded back to our hotel to get some rest and freshen up before proceeding there.

How to get there
Chatuchak market is adjacent to the Kamphaengphet station of the Bangkok Metro, or about a 5-minute walk from the Mo Chit Skytrain (BTS) station and Suan Chatuchak (Chatuchak Park) station of the MRT. Of course, you can take a cab going there. But after shopping, you'll definitely need to take a cab back to your hotel!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thailand: Back in Bangkok!

Bangkok is one of my favorite Asian cities. And I found myself back again in Bangkok for a family vacation. I'm not a fan of package tours for international trips. But in this instance, it was cheaper and more convenient, especially since my niece was with us. It was my first time to see Bangkok's impressive new airport, the Suvarnabhumi Airport.

We had a half-day city tour as soon as we arrived. We were first taken to a relatively new temple (I was not able to get the name since it's not in the usual tourist radar when visiting Bangkok). But for people who've seen a Thai temple for the first time, I'm sure it looked impressive.

Since we were to visit two temples, I had requested our guides to take us to Wat Pho, the oldest and one of the largest temples in Bangkok. Said to be the birthplace of Thai massage, it's most known for its gargantuan Reclining Buddha which is 46 meters long and 15 meters high.

Another element of this temple compound which I find equally impressive are four large chedis or stupas dedicated to the first four kings of Thailand's Chakri Dynasty, Rama I, II, III, and IV. Each is 41 meters high and intricately decorated with tiles.

And just like in any tour, they brought us to a jewelry shop! At least it wasn't as bad as our Hong Kong-Shenzen tour. We didn't stay up late since we want to be in Chatuchak Market early tomorrow to shop!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pampanga and Tagaytay food tours

Southern Secrets by the Spoonful! (October 12, Sunday)
Up up to the highlands! Let's us savor a smorgasbord as we explore the best international kitchens in the coolest city south of Manila! From the best buko pie to the tastiest banh da lon, let us cruise along this city by the ridge, taking in her scenic views, mountain weather and best of all, indulging in her undiscovered culinary delights!

More than the food, let us meet the people behind some of Tagaytay's most delicious dining establishments as we share the stories and behind the recipes. A tour to nourish your stomach and spirit!

The tour experience includes Ilog Maria Honey Bee Farm Tour, Bawai Vietnamese Kitchen, Chateau Hestia European Garden Restaurant, Yoki's Treasures and the Hydrophonic Farm, and T-house Dining. Tour fee is P2,800 per person inclusive of meals, transportation, and surprises. Maximum of 30 people; we have 15 slots left!

Pampanga in a Plate full! (October 25, Saturday)
Journey to the central heartland as we immerse ourselves in things Kapampangan! From Baroque to betute, its fun-filled day as we poke around and get intimate with the very best of Pampanga's cultural offerings. Gawk at the jewel-box of church in Betis while wading through the lahar-buried town of Bacolor.

We'll stuff ourselves silly with the best Kapampangan fare by one of the country's best known Pampanga chefs! A tour with nothing but Kapampangan cool!

The tour experience includes Betis Church, Bacolor Church, Claude Tayag's Bale Dutung, and Pampanga specialty shops. Tour fee is P3,800 per person inclusive of meals, transportation, and surprises. Maximum of 30 people; this is our best seller and all slots have been taken. But we might open more slots. So book now to be included in the wait list.

The Ultimate Philippines Travel Experiences is brought to you by Our Awesome Planet, Ivan About Town, Manila Boy & Old Manila Walks. E-mail for bookings.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Batangas: Intro dive at Dive and Trek in Bauan, Batangas

Who said you can't try scuba diving without a license? Well, if you're interested but are not yet sure if you want to make the investment, why not go for an intro dive? And that's what we did! We trooped to Bauan, Batangas to check out the life underneath the water at Dive and Trek Resort.

An intro dive is an opportunity for non-divers to experience diving and see for themselves what's actually down there. And you do it with a dive master who takes you around for about 30 minutes. All you do is relax and enjoy the view and the dive master will push you around the coral reefs. And if you like what you see, then you take the next step and get yourself a license!

The fastest way to Dive and Trek is via Tagaytay, and the towns of Lemery, Taal and San Luis, Batangas. Just a little over two hours from Manila, it's a really convenient drive down south. There is a designated parking area at the end of the road, just look for the sign. And from there, a pump boat picked us up to take us to the resort.

I've been extra lucky since this was my fourth straight sunny weekend in between typhoons. We booked our intro dive through Green Goose Adventure Tours and it was really worth it for a dive! Packages start at PHP2300 per head, inclusive of gear, use of the resort, buffet lunch and merienda.

Anyway, we went down two by two since there were two dive masters available. But since we had licensed divers in our group, they joined us as well. Marveling at the different species of fish, corals and other marine life forms was a really great experience!

After the thirty minute dive, I rested a bit on one of the lounge chairs before heading to lunch. And lunch did not disappoint! Since our dive master was a classmate at the Ateneo, I asked if we could go down one more time after lunch and we did! It looks like I'll be getting a diving license in the near future since I definitely enjoyed it. But maybe after all my international trips this year.

On the way back, we experienced turbulent waters but it was not too much a hassle. Before returning to Manila, we had dinner at Mano's Greek Taverna in Tagaytay. Wonderful food! I'll talk about it in my next blog entry.

Green Goose Adventure Tours
Ryan Guzman (0928) 9067151

Monday, September 08, 2008

Benguet: Mt. Pulag, the rooftop of Luzon

I could not believe it! I was standing on the rooftop of Luzon, 2,922 meters above sea level! Just months ago, I was wondering if I could reach the summit of Mt. Pulag given my physical limitations. But a spur of the moment decision to go to Pulag changed all that. We planned our Pulag trip barely a week before our actual climb. In fact, we bought all our gear at R.O.X. the night we left.

It was a long and tiring drive to Baguio. We got there at 7 a.m. where we had breakfast. We tried to leave Baguio as early as possible so that we could start our trek early. But since we were all first-timers, we didn't know which direction to take, went the wrong way and found ourselves in Halsema Highway. Our GPS had taken us to the shortest route off Halsema Highway which was a really rough road, so we had to turn back, return to Baguio City and find the road via Ambuklao.

There are five major roads leading to Baguio namely Kennon, Marcos, Naguilan, Halsema (via La Trinidad), and Ambuklao. It was my first time to use the Ambuklao Road. And thus with this trip, I've finally passed by all five. Not only that, I also used all five within the week - Kennon Road on Tuesday, Naguilan on Wednesday, Marcos, Halsema and Ambuklao on Saturday and Kennon again yesterday!

The Ambuklao Road is as picturesque as Kennon, especially when you drove past the Ambuklao Dam and Lake. The trip from Baguio to Ambangeg in Bokod, Benguet is roughly three hours. Most of the roads are well-paved except for bumpy parts at Ambuklao Dam and from the Bokod Poblacion to Ambangeg.

First thing you have to do before climbing Mount Pulag is to register at the Visitors Center (DENR Office) in Ambangeg. We paid PHP175 each. Then from there, you need to go up 10 kilometers to the Ranger Station where people start the trek up to the summit.

Only a 4x4 can do that trip so if there are just a few of you, you could hire a habal-habal to get you there (if you hired a jeep from Baguio, that could bring you up as well). You can also opt to hike up, but that is even harder than the trek from the Ranger Station to the summit of Mt. Pulag itself! Since there were not enough motorcycles, my companions Lemuel, Mike and Caloy decided to trek, and they had a lot of "fun" going up! So it's best to find a ride up. Our plan was to pitch a tent at Camp 2 and stay there for the night. But since it was getting dark when the three arrived at the Ranger Station, we decided to sleep there. And boy was it a good decision!

For some weird reason, the temperature dropped suddenly while I was waiting at the Ranger Station. It was quite warm when I took a nap late in the afternoon. And I suddenly woke up shivering from the cold. The locals told us that winds brought in the cold temperature. Imagine if we did stay in a tent at Camp 2, we might have suffered from hypothermia even before the climb! Even inside the Ranger Station we were freezing!

We had some canned goods and bread for dinner before an early lights out at 8 p.m. Since we were behind schedule, we had to leave the Ranger Station at 12:30 a.m. (instead of leaving Camp 2 at 4 a.m.) to reach the summit by sunrise.

It was still cold and we also had to trek all the way in the dark which made it even more difficult. We reached Camp 1 at 1:45 a.m. and Camp 2 at 3:30 a.m. It was an ordeal for me but thanks to the cold temperature, it wasn't as hard as trekking under the sun. I finally made it up to the summit at 5:45 a.m. just in time for the sunrise!

The view at the top was surreal. You could see the entire Cordilleras all around you. From there I could also see Magat Dam, Ambuklao Dam, and the mountains of the Sierra Madre as well. But the winds brought in a shivering cold that hit us right down to the bone. And we had to sit behind small bamboo bushes to shield us from the cold winds.

After about 30 minutes enjoying nature's couch, our guide signaled to us that it was time to go down. He told me if we stayed any longer, we might suffer from hypothermia. Now that the sun was out, we could see the trail. And boy did it shock us since we also saw the deep ravine right beside the trail. You really had to be careful, especially if trekking in the dark.

Going down was easier but it was only then that we realized how far we had trekked. Backtracking, it made me wonder how I managed to climb up all the way to the top! As soon as we entered Camp 2, we were greeted by the forests of Mt. Pulag. The name Pulag in the Kalanguya languange means bald mountain since trees could not grow near the summit due to frost. Anyway, the forests at Camp 2 were also a wonderful sight!

Walking down, it was enriching looking at the different species of trees, plants and flowers. God really knows how to color the world. I finally reached the Ranger Station at 10:30 a.m. after 10 hours of trekking!

After lunch, we left the Ranger Station for Ambangeg. Going down from the Ranger Station to Ambangeg is another ordeal if you take the habal-habal since you'll be holding on for your dear life! They had to bring us down in two trips since there were just two of them. The ride itself is about an hour. So we took a nap at DENR while waiting for the rest. We had dinner at 50s Diner in Baguio City before proceeding back to Manila.

For the detailed Ambangeg itinerary, check out Pinoy Mountaineer.

Friday, September 05, 2008

R.O.X. is the biggest outdoor store in Southeast Asia

Talk about last minute! We're leaving for Mt. Pulag tonight and we only bought our gear a few minutes ago at R.O.X. The good thing about R.O.X. is that they have everything we needed.

I even got myself an oxygen canister when I get really exhausted during the climb. And since they closed at 11 p.m. today, even those who had some unfinished work at the office were able to catch up. That's why they're highly recommended! Check out the biggest outdoor store in Southeast Asia at Building 1 of Bonifacio High Street.

Baguio: North Philippines road trip

For day 2 of our North Philippines road trip, we had a meeting with Mayor Bautista of Baguio City and a working lunch meeting with the Baguio Convention and Visitors Bureau (BCVB) at the Panagbenga office. Of course, we feasted on a packed lunch from the Baguio Country Club (BCC). They may have been in plastic containers, but the food from BCC was delicious!

Outside the Baguio Convention Center, students from UP Baguio were protesting the cutting of trees by a proposed SM project. If you remember, SM City Baguio is a graveyard of trees, since many pine trees were cut to built it. As I always say, wherever SM is built, people will go anyway. So they could have picked a less-congested location (away from Session Road) where heritage structures would have been preserved (Pines Hotel was demolished to build SM) and the least number of trees would have been sacrificed. Well, at least young people in Baguio are speaking up!

Our next meeting was in Bauang, La Union with the La Union Convention and Visitors Bureau (LUCVB) at Villa Estrella. The fog was heavy in Naguilan Road where we passed to get to La Union. The views from this road are also picturesque. It was a pity I did not have my camera the last time we visited BCVB since the views were clearer.

As soon as we arrived in La Union, I dressed down, prepared for a swim in the beach after our meeting. The highlight of the day was watching the wonderful La Union sunset from the resort's restaurant.

For day 3, we drove down to Tarlac City to meet with the Tarlac Convention and Visitors Bureau (TCVB) at the La Maja Rica Hotel. They used to have an Italian chef so their pizzas are worth trying. If you don't know what to have, their Four Seasons pizza will let you have four flavors of your choice.

To end the day, we had several meetings in Angeles City including one with GCVB again.

Of course, we passed by the SCTEx to get back to Pampanga which was a real time-saver! I'm finally back home. With at least three meetings a day in three different cities everyday for three days, not to mention travel from one city to another, that was indeed a tiring road trip!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pampanga: C' Italian Dining, another sumptuous dinner!

After so many months of waiting and all those mouth-watering text messages from Chef Chris about their new dishes, I finally got the chance to have dinner again at C' Italian Dining! And indeed, it was filling as always.

We were first given one serving of panizza, the restaurant specialty, and a glass of Carménère red wine to go with it. Then we were served C' sausages, a selection of fennel, garlic and herb, and calabrese. Chef Chris also brough out oriecchette with pomodoro, and onion roasted potatoes with rapini, a kind of brocolli. We could hardly finish everything when Chef Chris came out and asked us, "Are you ready for the main course?"

It was just too much to handle and we had to politely decline whatever that dish was. So we were given some sweet endings, a serving of crème brulée and tiramisu! Yummy!

It's a mystery how we were able to drive up to Baguio with a full stomach. Yup, were staying overnight in Baguio since we have a meeting here early tomorrow. Today was day 1 of our road trip around North Philippines. We're visiting the different convention and visitors bureaus to check how they're doing.

After our regular morning meeting in MNTC, we joined the Pampanga Convention and Visitors Bureau (PCVB) for their courtesy call to Governor Ed Panlilio in the afternoon. In the evening, we met with the Greater Clark Visitors Bureau (GCVB). And in between, we had a staff meeting in Clark. Now, we're here in Baguio to meet with the Baguio Convention and Visitors Bureau (BCVB) tomorrow morning.

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