Friday, July 31, 2009

Cagayan: Marian Voyage of Peace in Tuguegarao, Cagayan

The Marian Voyage of Peace was held in Tuguegarao, Cagayan last month which I attended to represent the North Philippines Visitors Bureau. The event was organized by the Cagayan North Convention and Visitors Bureau among others.

As part of the three-day Marian Voyage of Peace from June 26 to 28, ten Marian images from all over North Philippines were brought to Tuguegarao, Cagayan and some neighboring towns for public veneration. These included the Our Lady of Piat from Piat, Cagayan; Our Lady of Badoc from Badoc, Ilocos Norte; Our Lady of Guibang from Gamu, Isabela; Our Lady of Charity from Agoo, La Union; Our Lady of Namacpacan from Luna, La Union; Our Lady of Fatima from Valenzuela City, Metro Manila; Nuestra Senora de Caridad from Bantay, Ilocos Sur; Our Lady of Manaoag from Manaoag, Pangasinan; Our Lady of the Immaculate Concepcion from Malolos, Bulacan; and Nuestra Senora del Mar de Cautiva from Sto. Tomas, La Union.

Part 2: Cagayan: Callao Cave, Pinacanauan River and Iguig Calvary Hills
Part 3: Basilica of Our Lady of Piat in Piat, Cagayan

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Pampanga: Things to do in Clark Freeport and Pampanga

Clark Airport has become a major international gateway of the Philippines. Now people are asking, what's there to do in Clark? So I've come up with a list of Top 10 things to do while in Clark Freeport and Pampanga!

1. Eat Kapampangan!
You haven't been to Pampanga if you haven't savored its food. Pampanga's capital San Fernando, just 20 minutes from Clark, is home to Everybody's Cafe where everyday Kapampangan food is as exotic as it can get. Angeles City is the birthplace of sisig and make sure you taste the original at Aling Lucing's. The sisig at Mely's (San Fernando) and Mila's (Angeles) is also worth the visit. At the Historic Camalig Restaurant, Kapampangan pizza is topped with longaniza, salted duck eggs, and pickle relish.

The halo-halo in Pampanga is also suberb! There are three distinct varieties: Guagua (Razon's), Arayat (Kabigting's and Jurado's), and Angeles (Corazon's). There's also a row of kambingans (or goat restaurants) in the Bayanihan Park area (unfortunately, Mila's where Claude Tayag brought Anthony Bourdain, has temporarily closed shop). But Aryln's and its several branches will definitely not disappoint. Also check out the barbeque at Junjun's and Nathaniel's puto pao and buko pandan.

Speaking of Claude Tayag, you might want to bring a group to have lunch at his house Bale Dutung. But it won't be that easy. Finally, if you're willing to drive to the foot of Mt. Arayat, there is Abe's Farm, owned by the LJC Group of Restaurants of the late Larry Cruz.

2. Shop 'til you drop
There may just be a few of them left. But it's still worth shopping around for the best imported bargains. Lest we forget, Clark was the PX center of the country before imported stuff found its way to our supermarkets and department stores.

3. Go horseback-riding along the Sacobia River
One of the activities in Clark is horseback riding at El Kabayo Riding Stables. While you can take the horse around the area, if you are adventurous and up to the task, why not go for a ride down to the Sacobia River and enjoy the lahar canyons created by the Mt. Pinatubo eruption?

4. Take a dip at Puning Hot Spring
For PHP3,000, you can enjoy a visit to the Puning Hot Spring, complete with treatments. The price includes simple lunch, the 4x4 ride from Garden Restaurant to the hot spring and back, entrance fees to the hot spring and use of the facilities, sand steam (that's where they bury you up to the neck under volcanic sand), body mud pack, and a foot massage.

One of the attractions of the place is a steaming hot waterfall. The water in the stream was close to 90 degrees Celsius. And they divert some of the water into various pools with different temperatures ranging from 40 to 70 degrees Celsius. There are eight hot pools and one cold pool. So if one pool is too hot for you, you can take a dip in the next one.

5. Fly over Mt. Pinatubo
We all know about the trek to Mount Pinatubo via Capas, Tarlac. But have you ever wondered how Mount Pinatubo looks from the sky? Thanks to the Mount Pinatubo Sky Tour of Omni Aviation in Clark Freeport, you can now do that at a very reasonable price.

It's PHP4,500 per head, regardless of the number of people who'll fly. That's because they have different sizes of planes. So if you're just alone, they can send you up on a two-seater Cessna 152 plane which I took.

6. Try the international cuisine along Fields and Don Juico Avenues
I already mentioned local Kapampangan food. But the Clark area is a mecca for international cuisine. And Fields Avenue brings you around the world with its international restaurants. Among my favorites are C' Italian Dining, Zapata's (Mexican), VFW, AC Rumpa and Subdelicious (American), Cottage Kitchen (Cajun/Creole), Red Sea (Lebanese), Hana-mi (Japanese)... the list is endless! There's even a Korea Town along Friendship Highway.

Maranao Grill in Oasis Hotel has the RST Buffet every Friday. RST stands for roast beef, roast lamb, sushi, sashimi and tempura. Inside Clark, Mequeni Cafe in Holiday Inn whips up one mean buffet as well. I tried their lunch buffet once and it's worth more than the price.

Now obviously, you can't eat at all these places in one day since that would be gluttony! So why not stay another day?

7. Do a museum and architectural heritage tour of Pampanga
Clark has a historical core from the days of Fort Stotsenberg and Clark Air Base. You can also start your tour in Angeles City at the Center for Kapampangan Studies in Holy Angel University for an introduction of the province. Then head on over to Museo ning Angeles, the Angeles Church, Pamintuan Mansion and the Founders' House. Take a calesa around old San Fernando, a treasure trove of ancestral mansions. Make sure you also visit the San Fernando Cathedral and the churches of Betis (a National Cultural Treasure), Bacolor, Lubao, Minalin, and San Luis to complete your visita iglesia of the province.

8. Swim in Mount Pinatubo's crater lake
Clark is relatively near Barangay Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac. So another must do activity when staying in Clark is to trek to the crater lake of Mount Pinatubo to take a dip. Also check out the Pinatubo Spa Town.

9. Play golf at Clark's many golf courses
Take your pick! There are golf courses in Mimosa, Fontana and Clearwater to suit your golf needs.

10. Try your luck at the casino
If you're a high-roller or just looking for some fun, the Clark area has several casinos including Casino Filipino Angeles, Casino Filipino Mimosa, Fontana Casino and Hotel Stotsenberg's Casablanca Casino.

11. Go wakeboarding!
This one is coming soon! But I'm putting it in the list anyway so that we have something to look forward to. No need to drive all the way to Camarines Sur to enjoy world-class wake boarding since the Philippine Tourism Authority is said to be building a wakeboarding facility in Clark.

Here's more to do in Pampanga...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Batangas: Seafood market in Calatagan, Batangas

There are many places to get fresh seafood here in the country. In a lot of coastal towns, there are a lot of small markets where you can find some of the freshest catch of the day. While in Calatagan, Batangas, we dropped by the Gulod Morning Market.

Located along a street corner along the National Highway in Barangay Gulod, you could easily miss it since it's quite unassuming, just a few vendors with some tables and containers (or palanggana) arranged on the shoulder of the road. But when you investigate it closer, you'll realize it has a great variety of seafood at very affordable prices, including a good number of crustaceans rarely seen in Manila markets.

They usually open at 5 a.m. and are gone by 8 a.m. Fishermen literally drop their catch here before proceeding to the main market in town. Which is why the stuff on sale was still moving when we got there. Anything that's unsold gets sold in the town market. So if you want more choices, it's best to wake up early and proceed there.

I'm sure there are small makeshift markets similar to these all over the country that sell the catch of the day. Check out Seafood binge in Capiz for another place to get really affordable seafood. Do you know of any other places with these morning seafood markets?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Around Clark: Mt. Pinatubo Sky Tour at Omni Aviation


We all know about the trek to Mount Pinatubo via Capas, Tarlac. But have you ever wondered how Mount Pinatubo looks from the sky? Thanks to the Mount Pinatubo Sky Tour of Omni Aviation in Clark Freeport, you can now do that at a very reasonable price.

It's PHP4,500 per head, regardless of the number of people who'll fly. That's because they have different sizes of planes. So if you're just alone, they can send you up on a two-seater Cessna 152 plane which I took.

The best time to take the flight is early in the morning (at 7 or 8 a.m.) or late in the afternoon. Omni Aviation usually operates from sunrise to sunset so you won't have a problem being too early. You should avoid taking the flight close to noontime since the sun's heat creates pockets of air turbulence that make the ride bumpy. And that is something you'd like to avoid.

But rest assured, the view above the crater is magnificent! Make sure it's also a clear day since you wouldn't want to get disappointed when you're above the crater. While they accept walk-ins, it's best to call to find out if a flight is possible.

Mt. Pinatubo Sky Tour
Omni Aviation (Clark)
+63 (45) 8926664
+63 (45) 5995524

Monday, July 20, 2009

How to get to and from the Clark Airport

Clark Airport (CRK), or the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA), in Clark Freeport, Pampanga has become a major gateway for several international low cost carriers such as Air Asia (Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu), SEAIR (Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok), and Cebu Pacific (Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, Macau and Cebu).

SEAIR also flies from Clark to Boracay (it's the only airline that flies direct to Caticlan from Clark).

There are flights to Incheon, Korea and onwards to the United States with Asiana. While Spirit of Manila will soon be flying to/from Southeast Asia (Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur), East Asia (Taipei, Kaohsiung, Osaka, Hong Kong and Macau), the Middle East (Kuwait, Bahrain, Doha, and Dubai) and the Pacific Islands (Palau).

It's less stressful flying to/from DMIA since there are not that many passengers yet. The problem is the airport is at least an hour away from Metro Manila. So how does one get to/from the Clark Airport to the various tourist destinations?

Taxis from the airport can take you to Greater Clark (Clark Freeport, Angeles City and Mabalacat). But they're not cheap. Clark is a destination in itself, a culinary center and home to several golf courses, casinos and leisure estates. It's also a jump-off point for the Mount Pinatubo trek and the Mount Pinatubo Sky Tour. Also check out the Puning Hot Spring and El Kabayo. Plus there are a lot of hotels in Clark Freeport, Don Juico Avenue and Fields Avenue among many other areas. You'll never run out of things to do in Clark Freeport and Pampanga.

To/from Metro Manila, Philtranco has direct buses to the Clark Airport that leaves SM Megamall five times a day (2:30am, 7am, 11:30am, 1pm and 3pm). You can also catch the bus from their Pasay and Cubao stations. To/from Pasay, the fare is PHP350, and to/from SM Megamall and Cubao, the fare is PHP300 (schedule and fares at time of posting).

To/from South Luzon, from the Philtranco stations in Pasay and Cubao, you can switch buses to destinations in South Luzon, Bicol (Daet, Naga, Legazpi, Tabaco and Donsol), and even to the Visayas (Samar, Leyte and Panay) and Mindanao (Davao). Daet has a surfing beach, Tabaco has ferry services to Catanduanes, another popular surfing area, while Donsol is where you can swim with the whale sharks from November to May.

To/from North Luzon, you can now hop on a bus from the Clark Airport direct to various destinations in North Philippines. Partas has regular aircon and VIP buses to Ilocos (Laoag and Vigan) and Abra. If you plan to go surfing in La Union or Pagudpud, or explore Vigan, you can take these buses. If you want to go to Baguio, Partas drops off passengers at the Sison, Pangasinan station of Victory Liner. Partas VIP buses from the Clark Airport to Laoag cost PHP600 and to Vigan cost PHP484.

Genesis buses take passengers to Baguio City and Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija as well. From Cabanatuan, you could find buses to Cagayan Valley and onward buses to Ifugao (Banaue). You can also get buses to the rest of the Cordilleras (Banaue and Sagada) from Baguio City.

Update (03/10/2010): Clark Airport/DMIA claims to have a 24-hour direct air-conditioned jeepney/shuttle services to/from the Dau Bus Station and SM City Clark. It's Php45 for the Dau Bus Station, and Php30 from SM City Clark. But it seems many people say they did not see any.

In case you miss any of these buses, you can always take a cab to the nearby Dau Bus Station where buses to various destinations in North Philippines and Metro Manila (Pasay, Cubao, Sampaloc and Caloocan) depart from. Sampaloc in Manila is the station closest to Malate where most of the budget hotels and backpackers accommodation can be found. In Cubao or Pasay, you could switch buses for other destinations north or south of Metro Manila.

If you are bringing a car, you can park at the Clark Airport and catch your flight. Overnight parking is PHP90 for every 24 hours, and PHP30 for the daily rate.

Philtanco schedule to/from Clark is Pasay-Clark 06:30, 07:00, 11:30, 14:30 (except Thursday) Php350; SM Megamall-Clark 07:00, 07:30, 12:00, 15:00 (except Thursday) Php300; Clark-Cubao/Megamall/Pasay 12:00, 13:00, 16:30, 20:30 (except Thursday). Philtranco numbers are (02) 8518077 to 79; (0918) 2288831; (0928) 4768203; or (0920) 7981422.

There is now a free shuttle bus service for AirAisa guests from Clark Airport to Marquee Mall and vice versa. Buses leave Marquee Mall at 09:00, 10:20, 13:00, 15:00, 16:30 and 19:00 arriving in Clark Airport after 20 to 30 minutes. Buses leave Clark Airport for Marquee Mall at 10:00, 11:00, 14:30, 16:00 and 17:40. Another free shuttle is for Dau Bus Station, leaving Clark Airport at 21:20. For more information, contact Victory Liner at +63(2) 5597735 or info@victoryliner.com.

Update (03/01/2013): Trinoma now has the Clark Airport Lounge. Buses leave for Clark at 03:30, 08:00 and 14:45; and leave Clark Airport for Trinoma at 07:00, 12:00 and 18:30.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Manila: Amano Bistro and Bar in Tomas Morato

Tomas Morato Street in Quezon City has become one of Metro Manila food havens. A new restaurant called Amano Bistro and Bar will be opening soon (in front of Mang Inasal). And we got a sneak preview of the Southern Tagalog fusion food they will have in their menu.

Among my favorites were the Laing ala Pinangat and the Cavite Monggo Soup. I definitely enjoyed the food. But the test a good restaurant is how good the food is when it's fully operational. So we look forward to what's in store.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ilocos Sur: Ilocos culinary adventure!

Ilocos can be a culinary adventure as well if you know what's there. I've already talked about the Ilocos empanada and the Ilocano fusion pizzas. But the our Ultimate Philippines tour of Ilocos last May was much more than that.

Dinner in Vigan was a feast. The group was hosted at an old house and served local Ilocano fare which included: pippian (a stew of Mexican origin), dinardaraan (or dinuguan), anakan, kalderetang kalding (or kambing), grilled Vigan longganiza, poki-poki (an eggplant dish), seaweed salad, utong and katuray salad, pancit musico (which I was told got its names because it was a snack usually served to musicians), grilled malaga, ipon (a really small fish), pinapaitan, sinanglao (beef innards soup), and inkalti (a molasses-based dessert).

Lunch the next day was at Hidden Garden, a few minutes drive from the city center. There we were served pinakbet, okoy, ensaladang rabong, Vigan empanada, bagnet, dinaldalem (a dish of pork and pork innards such as lungs, liver and heart), and dinengdeng (similar to pinakbet but more of the bagoong soup base).

Finally, merienda before going home followed the theme street food. We ate at Abuelita's Restaurant where we were served empanada (this one had cabbage), okoy, the local bibingka, patupat and miki.

Related articles
Viva Vigan! Binatbatan Festival, Tres de Mayo and more Vigan festivities
Road trip: Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pancit Batil Patung of Tuguegarao, Cagayan

Pancit Batil Patung or Batil Patong is a noodle dish unique to Tuguegarao, Cagayan. It's something you have to try if ever you get to visit the warmest city in the country.

I got to try the one at Paul Louis in front of the old city hall. I asked if I could see the pancit being made in the kitchen. I guess the reason behind the name is that the sahog is simply placed on top of the noodles.

The meats include ground pork, beef or possibly even carabeef. They also add sauteed vegetables, crushed chicharon and fried egg. If you get the mega or jumbo size, they throw in liver and hotdogs. It's PHP40 for the super size which I had, and the mega and jumbo are PHP50 and PHP60 respectively.

They usually serve chopped onions and calamansi with the pancit. Make sure to ask the servers how to mix the onions, calamansi, vinegar and soy sauce with the pancit.

Gretchen's is another pancitan in front of the old city hall. Another suggested pancitan is Long Life in Barangay Tanza in front of Panacal Village. In many of these restaurants, they also sell Pancit Cabagan, which is the native pancit of Cabagan, Isabela but very popular in Tuguegarao.

Main article: Pancit, mami and other noodles dishes of the Philippines

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Tarlac: Pinatubo Spa Town and more from Capas, Tarlac

Pinatubo Spa Town is among the best places to get a shiatsu massage. I've been there twice and both shiatsu sessions were unbelievably great, especially after a tiring trek to Mount Pinatubo, or in our case, a medical and dental mission in Barangay Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac.

The complete spa treatment has three components. The first is the sulfur sand shower where you are buried up to the neck under volcanic sand from Mt. Pinatubo for 30 minutes. They say it's good for the skin, opens up the pores, and you release toxins while you sweat. But isn't sweat the same with or without being buried under the sand?

After taking a cold shower, the next component is the sulfur mud pack. It's actually a funny feeling since you basically cover yourself with volcanic mud and wait for it to dry up, again to open the pores.

Finally, after rinsing off and one last shower, the last component, and the best if I may say so, is a shiatsu massage treatment in an open air pavilion in the compound. Each component is individually priced at PHP500. But you can get all three at PHP1000, which is quite good a bargain. The lunch is also good and filling. But it's PHP350 per head.

Anyway, Tambayayong 2002, my Ship for Southeast Asian Youth Program (SSEAYP) batch, organized a medical and dental mission last July 4 in Capas. We realized after looking at the registration that we serviced over 500 patients!

Thank you to Mayor Rey Catacutan of Capas, Tarlac for being such a gracious host and for taking us around. We got to visit the New Asia Golf Course and the Capas National Shrine after closing hours!

Thank you so much to all those who attended and contributed, especially those who donated funds and medicines (we got so much and have supply for our next one in Novenber). I specifically want to thank Unilab whom I personally begged at the last minute. They gave us tons of Diatabs, Biogesic, Medicol and Hydrite.

Thank you to the doctors and interns who attended: Joseph Lachica, Ryan Guinaran, Tina Langit (all three were chairpersons of the UP Med Student Council at one time), Gideon Lasco and Ria Santos. Thank you as well to the Strada Club of the Philippines for the dentists. I hope I didn't miss anyone!

Related entry
Trekking and 4x4 to Mt. Pinatubo

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Pampanga: Apu Iro Fluvial Procession in Apalit, Pampanga

When I was still fresh out of college, I'd try to attend all of the festivals in Pampanga. One of those annual trips was to the town of Apalit every June 28 to 30 for the Apu Iro Fluvial Procession or libad.

While the actual feast day of Sts. Peter & Paul is on June 29, the fluvial festivities are held the day before the fiesta, when the centuries-old ivory image of St. Peter or Apu Iro (sometimes Apung Iro or Apung Iru) is brought from the chapel in Sulipan to the town church; and the day after the fiesta, when the same image is returned to the chapel, in grand and festive fluvial processions along the Rio Grande de Pampanga.

As soon as the image of Apu Iro nears the decorated pagoda, a mad splashing and water fight along the river banks ensues. The Apu Iro Fluvial Procession is one of the many water festivals of the Philippines (and Southeast Asia). So expect to get really wet!

Notice also the Knights of St. Peter in yellow uniforms swimming in the river, tugging onto the rope and pulling the pagoda towards its destination.

It would be great though if you know someone in Apalit who will be renting out a boat since the view from the water is much better and you can witness the whole procession. I wanted to attend this year since I have not seen it for quite some time now. But unfortunately, I was doing my rounds of North Philippines. So I asked for photos from the Center for Kapampangan Studies instead.

Main article: Philippine festivals and other cultural celebrations

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Iglesia ni Cristo Day is a special working holiday!

Just to let everyone know, July 27, 2009 was declared Iglesia ni Cristo Day commemorating the founding anniversary of the sect. The question is whether it is a special working holiday or a non-working holiday since the Inquirer and Philippine Star are reporting it differently. If it is, that adds to the long weekend calendar for this year. For more on this year's long weekends, read Philippine holidays and long-weekend schedule for 2009.

Update: I contacted a friend in Malacanang. Sorry people, but it's a working holiday. I was told the PDI print version also says that. Now there goes the credibility of Inquirer.net!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Alternate route to Baguio

Alternate routes to Baguio are being sought due to the worsening traffic along MacArthur Highway. I don't know for how many years they've been trying to repair the roads in Urdaneta, Pangasinan. But they never finish it. And it gives me the impression that they don't intend to and that they'll keep constructing until they milk government coffers dry. As a result, traffic there is horrible and it can delay you for as much as an hour especially during the day time.

One option is the Magilas Trail via Rosales, Sta. Maria, Asingan and back to MacArthur Highway at Binalonan. This bypasses the traffic in Villasis and Urdaneta City.

But another option is to take an alternate route from the Tarlac City SCTEx Exit itself. Instead of making a left back to MacArthur Highway, I made a right and took the alternate route to Baguio via La Paz, Victoria, Guimba, Cuyapo connecting to the Magilas Trail in Rosales. This skips traffic along MacArthur Highway from Tarlac City all the way to Binalonan, Pangasinan.

It's a bit longer but faster. Roads are relatively good plus vehicles are scarce. So there's less stress driving since I didn't have to worry about driving in crawling traffic or overtaking slow vehicles except for the occasional tricycles which occur much, much less than along MacArthur Highway. Travel time from the Tarlac City SCTEx Exit to MacArthur Highyway in Binalonan (97.4 kilometers total) via this alternate route is under two hours.

What's good about the route is that it's clearly marked by directional signs both ways. On the way to Baguio, just make sure you pick the route via Guimba as you exit Victoria since the other option via Pura, Ramos and Paniqui will bring you back to MacArthur Highway and Urdaneta City traffic.

Remember though that this alternate route is good only for the day time when traffic is bad along MacArthur Highway. Also make sure you're gas tanks are full and that you've eaten or have supplies on board since there's nothing much along the way. In fact, you don't even pass by town propers except in Victoria, Tarlac and Rosales and Binalonan, Pangasinan.

Going up Baguio, Kennon Road is my choice during the day time and when it's not raining. It's shorter, faster and very scenic. I enjoy the view of its many waterfalls which become all the more evident after it rains.

Sadly, GI sheets started to mushroom all over the place. There are now two houses at the base of Bridal Veil Falls destroying the view. And Camp 6 in Tuba, Benguet is the most horrible! The local government of Tuba should start doing something to protect the wonderful view of this historic road.

Also remember that there is ongoing road rehabilitation in the Camp 8 segment. So Kennon Road is one way in that area. So going back down to Manila, you'll have to pass by Marcos Highway or enter Kennon Road via Loakan.

Related entry
Waterfalls along Kennon Road
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