Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pampanga: Ultimate Pampanga Culinary and Heritage Tour on November 7

We have a few slots left for our Ultimate Pampanga Culinary and Heritage Tour on November 7. As always, we'll be visiting Claude Tayag and savor his 5-ways of eating lechon. To read more about the tour, check out Claude Tayag's Bale Dutung, Everybody's Cafe and more from Pampanga.

It's Php4,000 per head inclusive of all meals, transportation and surprises. To reserve for the tour, please e-mail or contact Ivan Man Dy at +63 917 3291622.

Also check out the Ultimate Tours 2010 Calendar. Those who reserve for the Ultimate Batanes Culinary and Heritage Tours on or before December 31, 2009 get a Php2,000 discount from the Php34,000 tour price. Remember, the earlier you pay, the better your room at Fundacion Pacita.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Manila: White Hat Yogurt serves great frozen yogurt!

I've secretly been craving for a lot of yogurt lately. And The White Hat Italian Frozen Yogurt has satisfied my appetite the past few weeks. I've been finding time to write about the great yogurt they serve. And since they have a Celebrity for Charity event this Saturday, it's about time I did.

The first time I tried their yogurt was when I was doing research about healthy food for a TV guesting on QTV. And I've been a fan ever since because of the deliciously sour taste of their yogurt. Aside from the plain yogurt, they also serve strawberry and green tea flavored yogurt in some of their branches which is really good. They also have take home pints in various flavors. Ask if the store has black berry because that one is really good too.

And there are plenty toppings to choose from from the usual suspects to some unique selections. Have you ever tried yogurt with mochi, kiwi and granola?

Anyway, I'm looking forward to that Celebrity for Charity event on Saturday, October 31, 2009 since the beneficiary is UP Sagip Isko. Sagip Isko started out as a response to victims of Typhoon Ondoy, but which is shaping up to become a permanent disaster response program of the University Student Council. The celebrity this weekend is my brod Nico Ibaviosa (thanks for volunteering). So I'm inviting you to buy yogurt at White Hat SM North EDSA this Saturday, October 31, 2009 since a percentage of the sales for the day in that branch will go to UP Sagip Isko. If you come in a Halloween costume between 1 to 5 p.m., you can get a chance to win a two-month supply of White Hat yogurt!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Palawan: Great food at Bistro Coron & Seadive Resort

Coron has its own food surprises. And Bistro Coron most definitely tops the list. It has a really extensive menu which includes pizza, pasta, beef, chicken, pork, seafood, soups, salads, sandwiches and dessert, plus a bar list that includes close to seventy drinks and cocktails.

As always, pizza was one of the choices. They have nine kinds including one called a Panizza which is pizza on bread. We got the one called Bistro which has tomato, onion, garlic, mushrooms and ground beef toppings. They usually come in three sizes and cost Php179, Php249 and Php389 respectively. They served the pizza on a tray which reminded me of another really good pizza I had at the Romblon Deli.

The beef dishes are quite popular among the foreigners. And I'm sure you'll find something there that will suit your taste.

Since we stayed at Seadive Resort, many of our meals were at the restaurant. I was told one of their best sellers was steak. Of course, pizza and pasta was in our selection. One of their pasta has a ginger and coconut milk sauce. Unusual for pasta but it was quite good. You can also check out their blackboard for the special for the day.

Coron pasalubong
Cashew nuts or casuy is one of the things you bring home from Coron. And the place to get casuy is from Coron Harvest. It's close to the port area which a few minutes away from the town proper. Aside from the usual toasted or garlic cashew, the best buys would be Bandi, that is cashew with caramelized brown sugar; and Brittle which has both caramelized sugar and honey!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Palawan: Banol Beach, Twin Lagoon, Kayangan Lake and Siete Pecados Marine Park in Coron

Coron is simply stunning. Since we only had a day to go around, we decided to do both Culion and the Coron in one day. Remember that Coron Town is on Busuanga Island while most of the popular attractions are on Coron Island. Coron Island is characterized by massive limestone karst rock formations, lakes and lagoons and is part of the ancestral domain of the Tagbanua.

We left Culion after lunch and began our trip around Coron Island. The first stop was an hour and 30 minutes away. It was a bit cloudy on the way to Coron Island but once we got to Banol Beach, the sun was out and perfect for a swim.

Banol Beach is a small beach and is perfect for a picnic. You can actually buy fresh seafood or meat at the market before leaving Coron and request your boatman to grill it while at one of the beaches. Remember though not to venture too far from the shore since we were warned Banol has a lot of sea urchins if you explore too far from the beach. Entrance fee to the beach is Php100. We didn't stay too long in Banol since we wanted to see the other attractions.

Our next stop was Twin Lagoon which is two salt water lakes separated by a narrow opening. It's best to swim with your life vest on since it gets really deep in some parts. At low tide, you can swim across the narrow opening to get to the other lake. But when the tide is high, the opening is completely submerged and you'll have to swim through it.

One option would have been to visit Kayangan Lake which is really picturesque. The lake, which is nestled amidst spectacular limestone kasrt rock formations, is simply stunning. But that needs at least an hour: 15 minutes to hike to the lake, at least 30 minutes for a swim, and another 15 minutes to hike back to the boat. So we decided to reserve the lake for another trip. Entrance fee to Kayangan Lake is Php200.

Our last stop was the Siete Pecados Marine Park which is very popular for snorkeling. The boatmen usually refer to it as Seven Islands. Like Coron Island, the islets of Siete Pecados are also limestone karst formations. To make sure that the coral formations don't get damaged, boats anchor on buoys installed for the purpose.

A favorite activity when snorkeling in Siete Pecados would be feeding the fish with bread. So don't forget to bring your supply since the fish literally swarm around you as you gradually release the bread. Entrance fee to Siete Pecados Marine Park is Php100.

Since the sun was starting to set, we headed back to Coron Town. It would have been a good option to climb Mt. Tapyas to watch the sunset. But we got lazy and decided to just chill in our hotel room. Food adventures coming up next!

Related entries
Things to do in Coron, Busuanga and Culion, Palawan
Coron hotels, transportation and more stuff to help you plan your trip

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Palawan: Culion Island, where the Philippines eliminated leprosy

Culion was called the Island of the Living Dead or the Island of No Return. Once the largest leper colony in the world, it stands today as a stark reminder of life in the Philippines when leprosy was still an incurable disease, and a testament to how leprosy was eradicated not just in the Philippines but in the entire world, and how technology and advances in medicine have improved and changed the way we live today.

Culion was selected as the containment area of all those with leprosy in the Philippines during the American Period. At that time, leprosy was still an incurable disease. And the only way to stop its spread was to isolate all those afflicted with it. People with leprosy were rounded up like criminals to be sent to the island, most certainly to die given that there was no cure. That is why it was called the Island of No Return.

The government apprehended lepers, detained them and sent them for isolation on Culion Island. Families knew that when a leprous member of the family was collected for segregation, that would be the last time they would see him or her. Ships brought patients to Culion every three months. And by its 25th year, there were 16,138 patients on Culion's roster making it the largest leper colony in the world.

Because of the large number of patients, Culion naturally became a laboratory for scientists around the world who had striven to look for a cure for leprosy. That's why Culion's legacy makes the Culion Museum worth visiting if you have both time and a budget for it.

Boats to Culion from Coron cost between Php3,000 to 3,500. But you could do visit Culion plus parts of the Coron Loop in one day. Or a Culion visit plus Banana and Malcapuya Islands. There are ferry services which leave at lunch and late in the afternoon. But that would mean sleeping overnight on the island.

We left Coron at 8:30 a.m and arrive in Culion at about 10 a.m. Culion Church, Fort Culion, the Culion Sanitarium and its museum are all in one area. From the port, it's a 10 minute walk up the hill where they're all located. But tricycles are available to bring you there.

Again, if only for the visit to the museum at the Culion Sanitarium, the trip is worth it since it ably tells the story of Culion and makes you appreciate life as it is today. Museum fees are Php250 for foreigners, Php100 for non-locals, Php50 for locals, and Php20 for students with IDs. To be sure the museum is open, it's best to call before hand.

Culion Museum and Archives
+63 928 2812276
+63 921 5787152
+63 919 3779757

Where to stay in Culion
The Tabing Dagat Lodging House & Restaurant is situated right beside the port. Fan rooms start at Php450; while aircon rooms start at Php900.

Tabing Dagat Lodging House & Restaurant
Brgy. Balala, Culion, Palawan
+63 928 6757473
+63 920 2779327
+63 920 4056659

Related entries
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Coron hotels, transportation and more stuff to help you plan your trip

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Palawan: Things to do in Coron, Busuanga and Culion, Palawan

Coron, Busuanga and Culion, together with Linapacan and over a hundred more smaller islands comprise the Calamianes Islands of Palawan. You may have overlooked Busuanga as a holiday destination but take note, there are tons of things to do in the area. Here are 10 of the many reasons for you to plan a trip to the Calamianes.

1. Swim in Cayangan Lake, Twin Lagoon or Barracuda Lake
Three of the many lakes on Coron Island are favorites among tourists, part of the usual Coron Loop boat rides. These lakes are where salt and fresh water are said to mix. Cayangan Lake is said to be one of the cleanest freshwater lakes in the country. It's a fifteen minute climb up and down from the jump-off point. Barracuda Lake is a short but rocky climb, only for the adventurous. Twin Lagoon is easily accessible by boat. Dare to swim through the underwater tunnel to the other lake that cannot be reached by boat. Entrance fee to Cayangan Lake is Php200 and Php100 each for Twin Lagoon and Barracuda Lake.

2. Snorkel at Siete Pecados or the Japanese ship wrecks
Part of the Coron Loop is the Siete Pecados Marine Park or the Seven Islands which is a very popular place for snorkeling. But there are other areas around Coron where you can snorkel. Make sure to bring bread if you want to feed the fish! Entrance fee to the park is Php100.

Another option would be to visit the many shallow WWII wrecks around Coron. There the East Tangat Gunboat and the Lusong Gunboat which has good corals also. Entrance fees to each wreck is usually Php100. If you don't have a mask, you can rent one for about Php100 and fins for Php150.

3. Enjoy the sun and sand at Coron's beaches
Banol Beach is a small, clean, and quiet beach which is a favorite among tourists. It's perfect for picnics. But don't venture too far from the shore since there are a lot of sea urchins. Another recommended beach is Atwayan Beach. Entrance fees to the beaches is also Php100 per beach. CYC beach has nice snorkelling and no entrance fee.

4. Visit Malcapuya Island, Banana Island, or Malaroyroy Island
They may be a distance from Coron, usually an hour and a half or more by boat. But these islands have some of the best white sand beaches in the Calamianes. No wonder a lot of people visit them despite their distance.

Malcapuya also has accommodations for those who want to stay overnight. E-mail for inquiries or reservations. Boats to the island cost about Php3,500.

5. Experience the unique history of Culion Island
While we all go to Palawan to experience its natural wonders, tourists visit Culion for its history. Culion provides a stark reminder of how technology and advances in medicine have improved and changed the way we live today. Culion was selected as the containment area of all those with leprosy in the Philippines during the American Period. At that time, leprosy was still an incurable disease. And the only way to stop its spread was to isolate all those afflicted with it.

If only for the visit to the museum at the Culion Sanitarium, the trip is worth it since it makes you appreciate life as it is today. Work done in Culion by doctors from around the world is said to have led to treatments that eventually found a cure to the disease. Museum fees are Php250 for foreigners, Php100 for non-locals, Php50 for locals, and Php20 for students with IDs.

Culion is a 90-minute boat ride from Coron. Don't forget to visit the Culion Church and the ruins of Fort Culion right behind the church. Boats cost about Php3,000. There are ferry services which leave at lunch and late in the afternoon. But that would mean sleeping overnight on the island.

6. Go on a safari in Calauit Island
We've all heard about this Marcos creation. While the Calauit Island Wildlife Reserve is a far cry from a real African safari, it's the best one available without having to leave Philippine territory.

There are three ways to get to Calauit from Coron. If you're on a tight budget but with two days to spare, a public bus leaves Coron at 11 a.m. and arrives at 4 p.m. in Brgy. Buluang, 14 kilometers further away from the Busuanga town proper. Bus fare is Php140/person. From Sitio Macalachao in Buluang, it's a ten minute boat ride to Calauit. There's a Php400 rental fee per boat.

Arriving late in the afternoon also means having to stay overnight on the island. There are four rooms with three beds each at Php200/head. Contact Froilan Sariego for the rooms (0921) 2155482. Make sure to wake up for the 7 to 9 a.m. feeding time of the animals. Celphone signal is available from 9 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m.

If you only have a day, then van rental is recommended. It costs Php6,000 per van plus the Php400 boat rental fee. The van can leave Coron at 4 a.m. for the three-hour trip to get you to Calauit in time for the feeding. The last way is to take a boat from Coron all the way to Calauit. And that would cost you Php7,500 for up to 5 persons.

Rates are Php350 for adult foreigners and Php250 for children below 11, Php250 for Filipinos and Php150 for children below 11, Php150 for NGO and government workers with IDs, and free of charge for senior citizens and the disabled.

7. Climb the 719 steps to the top of Mt. Tapyas
It's great exercise climbing up to the cross and view deck on top of Mt. Tapyas. The views are best during sunset. If you're not satisfied with that, try out Mt. Tandalara at 936 MASL, the highest point in Northern Palawan. It's a five hour hike up and down.

8. Take a dip at the Maquinit Hot Springs
I was surprised to find out that this was a salt water hot spring. Water temperature starts at 40 degrees Celsius. It's best to come after 6 p.m. when the air is cooler. The pool closes at about 10 p.m. You'll need to hire a tricycle to get there and back. It would cost about Php300. While the entrance fee is Php100.

9. Explore Coron by kayak or paddle boat
For the physically fit, this is one adventure you should try out. Single kayaks can be rented out at Php250, while double kayaks go for Php450.

10. Go scuba diving!
I've saved the best for last. But you'll need a license for this one. Coron is ranked among the top dive sites in the world. So this is something you should not miss!

If that's not enough for you to do, El Nido is 6 to 7 hours by ferry from Coron. Ferry fare is Php2,200 one-way. Have fun!

Related entry
Coron hotels, transportation and more stuff to help you plan your trip

Monday, October 12, 2009

Palawan: Coron hotels, transportation and more stuff to help you plan your trip

Coron, Palawan, named one of the Top 10 dive sites in the world by Forbes Traveler, ranks among Philippine destinations that we can truly call paradise. It's no doubt a world-class diving destination! But Coron is not just about diving. And the past few days that I've been here, Coron has not failed to impress. Here are some tips to help you plan your Coron trip.

To get to Coron, you could travel by air or by sea. From the Coron Port, you could easily get a tricycle to the center of town. But the Busuanga Airport is another story.

There are several airlines that fly to Busuanga. The Busuanga Airport is about 30 minutes away from Coron. Unless you've pre-arranged pick-up with your hotel, you might have no choice but to hire a van to take you to Coron which is about Php1,500.

Like in most of my trips, I just walked out of the airport and asked around. It turns out, there is are shuttles which you could take for Php150/head that drops you off at your hotel in Coron. If you still don't have a hotel, you can ask help from the driver.

I went around and here is a list of some of the hotels I liked. We decided to stay at Seadive Resort since it's close to the market and the center of town. Plus, if you're low on cash, they accept credit cards for rooms, food and diving services.

It's the only PADI certified dive center in Coron and the only resort in Palawan with a certified recompression chamber. That's why it's rated Gold Palm 5 Star by PADI. They have a good restaurant, plus many of the best restaurants in Coron are just a few meters away. Rooms start at Php400 for Fan Rooms with common bathroom to Php1,400 for the Deluxe Room.

Busuanga Seadive Resort
+63 920 9458714
+63 918 4000448

Coron Ecolodge Hotel

+63 906 4556090
+63 919 2048824

A few hundred meters away, along the National Highway and close to the town plaza are other good options for accommodation. Coron Village Lodge and Darayonan Lodge are beside each other. While Princess of Coron is a few meters inside. But they have some of the better rooms and a swimming pool too.

Coron Village Lodge
+63 2 8053414
+63 928 2020819
+63 916 4200252

Darayonan Lodge
+63 917 5866098
+63 2 4375785
+63 917 8811151
+63 908 7732964

Princess of Coron
+63 919 4095548

The best hotel in town is no doubt the Coron Gateway Hotel which is right beside the market. The spacious and luxurious rooms however aren't cheap but definitely worth the extra pesos. In fact, the bathrooms alone are bigger than some hotel rooms in Coron! Each room is a Junior Suite. Those with one queen bed cost Php3,500. Those with two queen beds cost Php5,500. While the Presidential Suite, complete with living room and kitchen are Php7,500 a night. But being a new hotel, they still don't accept credit cards. So you'll have to bring a lot of cash.

Coron Gateway Hotel
+63 2 8877107
+63 48 7231659
+63 921 7232456
+63 929 7955049

GMG Hotel
+63 2 7363187
+63 919 5961172
+63 918 9475871
+63 939 8456837

For budget accommodation, you may also try the following:

Balaibinda Lodge
+63 927 9072164
+63 908 2185181
+63 922 4512441

Coron Reef Calamianes Pension House
+63 919 8877151
+63 9194501606

Getting around Coron and the nearby islands is very easy since there are a lot of pump boats for hire. While the Calamian Tourist Boat Association has standard rates, they may vary depending on the season, your haggling capabilities and the condition of the sea (since larger boats may be needed if the waters are not as calm as they should be).

But to give you an idea, there are three different rates depending on the size of the boat which could accommodate 1 to 5, 6 to 8, and 10 to 15 persons respectively. Here are some of the suggested rates for the small boats which could accommodate 1 to 5 people:

Coron Island and vicinity - Php1,500
Culion Island - Php2,500 (Php3,000 is still a good price)
Malcapuya/Banana/Malaroyroy - Php2500 (Although I haven't found anyone who would agree to this rate. It's usually Php3,000 to 3,500)
Calumbuyan Island - Php3,000
Calauit Island - Php7,500

Tricycles rates start at Php8 per head. But if you'll hire one for Maquinit Hot Spring, it would cost you up to Php300 round-trip since they'll wait for you there. More Coron adventures coming up.

Related entry
Things to do in Coron, Busuanga and Culion, Palawan

Monday, October 05, 2009

Malaysia: Bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Penang, Malaysia

Penang, Malaysia is a cultural gem. Exploring its narrow streets, one can feel the diversity of Malaysia.

The most convenient way to reach Penang by bus from Kuala Lumpur is to catch a bus to Butterworth. While there are buses to Penang, the Penang Bus Terminal is very far from the historic center of Georgetown. So it's best to take a bus to Butterworth, walk to the ferry terminal next door, and take the ferry to Penang which docks right in the historic center of Georgetown.

Right beside the Quan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) Temple in historic George Town is a small Hindu shrine dedicated to Ganesh and stalls selling beautiful and intricate garlands to honor the gods. Beside the stalls are shops of joss stick makers. Further down the street from the temple is the Anglican St. George's Church. As I walked towards the church, a nearby mosque echoed its call to prayer from loudspeakers atop its minarets.

Such is the intricate fabric of Penang, a melting pot of Asian cultures, a city where centuries-old structures remain intact, standing as colorful testaments to the rich history of this trading city.

George Town, the historical core of Penang, is the other city inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the Cities of the Straits of Malacca. Since I mentioned Melaka already, I felt it would be best to jump back two months and write about a recent trip to Penang.

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur on an evening flight from Bali. Since I didn’t want to waste time in transit, I decided to go straight to the Puduraya Bus Station to catch the first bus to Penang. By the time I arrived, the main terminal was closed and the only way to get on a bus was through agents moving around the area. Don’t worry, they’re not difficult to find since they would immediately approach you to sell bus tickets. I was worried at first since I wasn’t sure if they were for real. But when other locals got tickets, I felt a bit safer.

It was 12 midnight and the earliest bus was at 2 a.m. So I stayed in KFC while waiting. By 1:45 a.m., I decided to wait outside. At 2 a.m., no bus. To make the long story short, a bus finally passed by at 3 a.m. and we were ushered in by the agents. Bus schedules are non-existent in the wee hours of the morning since the agents simply rely on buses passing through KL (communicating with drivers by mobile) with space to take passengers in. The important thing is I arrived in Penang.

I was in Penang way back in 2003 and I remembered that the last stop of the buses was the KOMTAR Building in the center of town. Unfortunately, they moved the terminal several kilometers outside George Town. When you arrive, the only means of transportation that will greet you are taxis. But if you’re on a tight budget, you simply have to cross the street and get on a public bus that will take you to KOMTAR.

The better option, I would later learn, was to get off at Butterworth, the stop before Penang. The Butterworth Bus Station is right beside the ferry terminal. And the good thing about the ferry from Butterworth to George Town is that the terminal on the other side is right smack in the heritage area. So no need for costly taxis or long bus rides to get into town.

Part 2: Exploring the Penang heritage trail on foot

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Pampanga: 1st Annual Clark Freeport Horse Festival Calendar of Events

Pampanga will be full of festivals and events this November and December. And the list keeps on growing! Mark your calendars for Horse Fest 2009: 1st Annual Clark Freeport Horse Festival from November 28 to 29, 2009.

It will be an event-filled weekend (it's a four day long-weekend from November 27 to 30, 2009) for serious horse enthusiasts, families and regular visitors. There will be polo matches and equestrian competitions as well as tilbury races.

Try out the Next Frontier Trail Ride, a 4 to 5-hour horse ride that goes through the Sacobia River and its outlying hills. There will also be carriage rides, magic and puppet shows, family games and contests at the Trade & Food Fair, free lessons on feeding and grooming of horses, and free lessons on basic horse riding (for kids only).

What's more, check out the Great Clark 3-Day Sale happening at various establishments within Clark Freeport and selected establishments outside, from November 28 to 30, 2009. Below is a tentative schedule of major events:

November 28 (Saturday)
9:15 a.m. - Grand Parade (from El Kabayo towards Clark Parade Grounds)
10 a.m. to 8 p.m. - Trade & Food Fair
1 to 2 p.m. - Polo Competition (Clark Parade Grounds)
3 to 5 p.m. - Equestrian Competition (Clark Picnic Grounds)
8 p.m. - Grand Fireworks Display

November 29 (Sunday)
8 to 10 a.m. - Equestrian Competition (Clark Picnic Grounds)
8 a.m. to 8 p.m. - Trade & Food Fair
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. - Tilbury Races (Speedway Venue)
4 to 6 p.m. - Equestrian Competition (Clark Picnic Grounds)

November 30 (Monday)
8:00 a.m. to 12 noon - Trade & Food Fair

This event is hosted by the Clark Development Corporation (CDC), Greater Clark Visitors Bureau (GCVB) and the Clark Freeport Tourism Association (CFTA).

Friday, October 02, 2009 of Black Eyed Peas takes you to the Philippines!

Did you know that of Black Eyed Peas is from Pampanga, Philippines? It's very much evident if you listen closely to the lyrics of Take Me to the Philippines where he invites everyone to visit his hometown Pampanga.

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