Monday, August 31, 2009

Malaysia: Petronas Towers Skybridge, Aquaria KLCC, Istana Negara, and Tugu Negara

If there's one thing I have always wanted to do in Kuala Lumpur, it's going up the Petronas Twin Towers Skybridge on the 41st floor. But even if it's free, I never get the chance because you have to line-up really early for the limited tickets. So when I saw it in the itinerary, I was genuinely excited!

We were up early since we had to be in Petronas at about 9:30 a.m. for our 10 a.m. appointment, or else, we may lose our tickets. When we arrived, the line for the afternoon tickets was quite long. And by the time we exited the Skybridge just minutes later, there were no more tickets for the day!

As soon as you arrive, they let you in a mini-theater to watch a 3D film on the construction of the Petronas Towers. Later, we were divided into two groups based on the colors of our visitor IDs which they give to you upon arrival; and stuffed into a single lift that brought us all to the 41st floor at a speed of six meters per second.

The view from the Skybridge is nice. But it's not a 360-degree view of Kuala Lumpur. So you couldn't see KL Tower from where we stood. You just have a few minutes to take your photos and the guide will usher the entire group down to allow the next group to enjoy the view.

From Petronas, we walked into Suria KLCC, and further on to the Aquaria KLCC which is just a five-minute walk from the Petronas Twin Towers. A world-class next generation commercial aquarium, Aquaria KLCC is located at the Concourse level of the KL Convention Centre.

The highly-interactive exhibits focus on conservation and feature animal life not just underwater but also species in the areas beside the rivers and seas where these animals can be found. If you come at the right time, you might catch the caretakers feeding the animals. A favorite are the twice daily feeding sessions in the piranha tank and the thrice a week feeding sessions for the arapaimas. I actually got to watch the piranha feeding and they devoured everything in just 30 seconds!

After the Aquaria KLCC, we passed by the Istana Negara or the National Palace, official residence of His Majesty, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) of Malaysia. It's a popular stop if you have your own vehicle. But you can only take photos in front of the gate where members of the Mounted Royal Guard and Royal Guard stand guard. If you're lucky to pass by at 12 noon, you might be able to catch the changing of the guard.

We made one last stop at Tugu Negara or the National Moument before proceeding to Sunway Lagoon for lunch. The monument is a sculpture that commemorates those who died in Malaysia's struggle against the Japanese occupation during World War II and the Malayan Emergency. There is actually an older monument beside it called the Cenotaph constructed by the British to commemorate the wars and honor the heroes of World War I, World War II and the Malayan Emergency.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Malaysia: Back in Kuala Lumpur!

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is no doubt becoming my most-visited city outside the Philippines. I was here just last month and will be scheduled to return next month. So it was a pleasant surprise that Tourism Malaysia contacted me on short notice to fly back to Kuala Lumpur for even more adventure. Together with me on this trip are Ferdz Decena and Nina Fuentes.

We took a Malaysia Airlines flight from Manila. The only sad part is the traffic congestion at NAIA is so bad, our plane was delayed for 30 minutes just waiting to be given the go signal to take off. But the flight was really pleasant, economy seats very comfortable, and each with its own entertainment system. But what surprised me was that you could use your mobile phone on the plane, and call your friends or send them text messages. Partnering with AeroMobile, Malaysia Airlines is the first airline in Asia to host an inflight mobile phone service!

Since we arrived late, we missed the dinner buffet at Impiana Hotel KLCC where we are to stay for the next five nights. But the a la carte menu is equally impressive. And I got to savor their Char Kway Teow, Tom Yam and Curry Laksa Mee. The Char Kway Teow was really spicey but I loved it!

The rooms are wonderful and it's great we got the side with a view of the Petronas Towers and the hotel's infinity pool down below. I wonder if I'll get the chance to take a dip with our tight schedule. The breakfast spread is also impressive. And my favorite in the buffet was the unlimited supply of roti canai and curry. I'm so easy to please!

Anyway, our schedule is packed tight with activities and places to visit. And I'm happy that despite my many visits to Malaysia, these are attractions I haven't been to. Which is why I remind myself that "been there, done that" is impossible with so many things to do in the world!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Malaysia: Hawker food in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Hawker food in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is an adventure worth embarking on. Don't we just all love street food? Last month, I was in transit in KL on the way to Bali. So I decided to spend the few hours I had on a street food adventure.

Hawker food is actually an important part of life in these parts of the world. I noticed my Malaysian and Singaporean friends can drive kilometers to a single hawker stall, sometimes in dingy locations, simply because the food is excellent. And I can't blame them! So walking around Chinatown, I decided to chow on some of the food available. My stomach couldn't handle everything, so I took photos of the rest instead.

All around the Jalan Petaling area, hawker stalls sell almost everything from claypot chicken rice, roasted duck, beef noodles, bah kut teh, popiah, beef and chicken satay and other Malay dishes, and roti chanai and other Indian dishes.

For my afternoon snack, I decided to have some chicken and beef satay with a rich peanut sauce which reminded me so much of the one I had in Jakarta. Since I also was craving for roti canai and roti telur, I went to a nearby Indian restaurant for a serving, of course with my favorite Horlicks ais drink!

Later in the evening, my Malaysian friend Kenneth brought me to Jalan Alor to savor the famous Ngau Kee beef noodles. It's most famous for the minced beef which they top on the noodles of your choice since they have several types of noodles. If only too much food was good for us, then I wouldn't stop eating.

Exploring the hawker stalls and street food in Malaysia is an adventure in itself. And did I say we had mango loh for dessert at K.T.Z. Food in Petaling Jaya? Yummy!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

White House chef Cristeta Comerford visits Manila

White House Executive Chef Cristeta Pasia Comerford is here in Manila to receive an award from BPI. And I got to meet her yesterday since she was the latest honoree of Asia Society's Filipino and Proud series which was held at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel last August 25.

Chef Cris talked about her life and the road to the White House kitchen. It was a very inspiring talk where she talks about success and the importance of treating every achievement as a stepping stone for the next one, even if the next one is smaller or less important than the previous one. You can never be at the pinnacle of your career since what you are doing today is just a preparation for your next role in life. Always do your best, regardless of how menial or large your responsibility is.

It was a very intimate and private gathering with Asia Society members, renowned chefs and restaurateurs such as Glenda Barreto of Via Mare, Conrad Calalang of Intermezzo, Margarita Fores of Cibo, Jessie Sincioco of Le Souffle, and Claude Tayag, and serious foodies in attendance. And since they were all there, I got my Kulinarya book autographed as well!

Binondo: Carvajal Street is a food haven!

Carvajal Street in Binondo is another food haven for those looking for a different kind of culinary adventure. To any certified foodie, Carvajal can be a very intimate and charming street market. It's a really narrow street that has been closed to traffic. In fact, it looks more like an alley than it does a street!

Among the Binondo locals, Carvajal is still called Ho Sua Hang, which is Hokkien for umbrella alley. That's because the main product of the street used to be umbrellas rather than food. Well today, one can find seafood, fruits and vegetables, as well as ingredients for Chinese dishes. If you need a hard to find ingredients for a Chinese dish you've been wanting to cook at home, it must be in Carvajal!

But if you're too lazy to cook, stalls there also sell food that's ready to eat. Don't you just love Chinatown?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Binondo: Dong Bei Dumplings are the best dumplings in Chinatown!

I can't stop raving about Dong Bei Dumplings! It's along Nueva Street (well they call it Yuchengco Street now). There are times that I'd drive all the way to Binondo just to buy my stock of frozen dumplings and pancakes which I could easily cook at home when I crave for them. The dumplings are actually from Northern China (most Chinese dishes we see here in the Philippines are from Fujian Province).

You can choose what you want inside your dumplings, from plain vegetables such as kutchai and cabbage, to dumplings with mixed pork and vegetables, plain pork, or shrimp and vegetables. You can also order them steamed or fried. Both are actually good!

Same goes for the pancakes. You can pick what you like in them. But they're usually served fried. These posts are really making me hungry! I want to go to Binondo now!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Binondo: Wai Ying Fastfood serves great dimsum!

Binondo is a food paradise. And Benavidez Street is a treasure trove of restaurants and hole-in-the-wall stores which serve some of the best Chinatown goodies. If you want some cheap but delicious dimsum, troop over to Wai Ying Fastfood!

Everything is great! But since our stomachs could handle only as much, we couldn't pick them all. We had (1) kutchai dumplings, (2) hakaw, (3) thaipao, (4) beancurd roll, (5) beef mami and (6) wanton mami. Even with the black gulaman and almond jelly, our bill was less than PHP500!

Wai Ying actually has another branch in Binondo and one in Tondo (also along Benavidez Street), which is near Metropolitan Hospital. That's were we got to savor these delectable dumplings. Writing this post got me craving for even more dimsum!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cagayan: Basilica of Our Lady of Piat in Piat, Cagayan

The Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat is a major pilgrimage site of Cagayan Valley. I've been to Cagayan Valley several times but not to Piat since it's quite a distance from Tuguegarao City, 41 kilometers to be exact. So when I found out we were visiting during this trip, I immediately obliged.

Every June and July, Piat comes alive with two festivals. From June 23 to 30, the Piat Sambali Festival is held, centered on the sambali, a war dance of the tribes that were united and converted to Christianity through the intercession of the Nuestra Senora de Piat. The festivities don't stop since on July 1 and 2, the feast of Nuestra Señora de Piat is celebrated.

The venerated image is erroneously referred to as Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary (that was the original title) when it is in fact the Nuestra Señora de Visitacion (Our Lady of the Visitation). The Church of Piat became the Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Piat in 1997.

Outside the church is one big flea market where you can find rows of stalls and vendors selling religious images, tobacco and native kakanin among other items you can find in the usual provincial tiangge. You don't see tobacco sold in Manila that way. They're usually in reams, flip top packs or sold by the stick. Don't worry, I still don't smoke. I just wanted to try the tobacco for the fun of it.

The Piat Basilica is actually a great place to sample the local delicacies. Of all the kakanin they sold in the area, the best is the pawa, a kakanin made from ground sticky rice with sweetened ground peanut filling inside. While most vendors sell it for PHP20, I was not quite satisfied with them since they were not freshly-cooked. Later did I find out that the pawa sold in the Piat Basilica are of varying quality. There are some which make it really good and I recommend V. C. Pasinca's Pawa. A pack of this yummy treat costs PHP25. Make sure you also buy it warm to ensure the same heavenly experience I had munching on them.

V. C. Pasinca's Pawa
(0916) 7207180

Part 1: Marian Voyage of Peace in Tuguegarao, Cagayan
Part 2: Cagayan: Callao Cave, Pinacanauan River and Iguig Calvary Hills

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cagayan: Callao Cave, Pinacanauan River and Iguig Calvary Hills

Cagayan is known for its many caves, Callao Cave being the most popular. Many of the caves can be found in the town of Penablanca, which is just a short drive from Tuguegarao City. From the entrance of the Callao Eco-Tourism Zone, it's just a few dozen steps up to Callao Cave

Callao is most known for the natural cathedral in one of its chambers that was converted into a chapel by the locals. The cave actually has seven chambers which you can explore, several with natural openings on top from which the sunlight illuminates the chambers.

Another attraction of the area is the Pinacanauan River which is perfect for a boat trip. There are boats for hire below Callao Cave. There's an area a few minutes by boat from Callao where you can have a picnic. Which is what we did.

And we came prepared with meats and fish to grill. Just make sure, if you do plan to barbeque in the area, to clean up after and not leave any trash. After relaxing a bit and taking a cat nap, we went back to the jump-off point. And just in the nick of time since the moment we got in our vehicle, it started to rain really hard.

An attraction during sundown is the gargantuan flight of bats which leaves the various caves in the area. I was told that the place used to have a several eagles which would feast on the bats as they flew out. That was a regular sight before. But for some reason, when a military camp was constructed and located in the area, the eagles suddenly disappeared. I hope they didn't have a tinola feast!

Anyway, before going back to Tuguegarao, the group decided to visit one of the Marian images which was housed in the Iguig Chuch as part of the Marian Voyage of Peace. Of course, the major attration of the town is the Iguig Calvary Hills, life-size tableaus from the Stations of the Cross scattered behind the centuires-old church building. Notice the flying buttressess behind the church, a good example of earthquake Baroque architecture.

After resting a bit, I decided to try out the local Pancit Batil-Patung for merienda. For dinner, we were served Pancit Cabagan.

Part 1: Marian Voyage of Peace in Tuguegarao, Cagayan
Part 3: Basilica of Our Lady of Piat in Piat, Cagayan

Monday, August 17, 2009

Manila: Corner Tree Cafe, best vegetarian restaurant in Makati

Corner Tree Cafe in Jupiter Street was an eye-opener for me to the world of vegetarian food. I've always thought vegetarian food was mostly composed of vegetables and everything bland. But that's changed going through their selection of vegetarian dishes.

For starters, I got the Corner Tree Starter Plate (1) which is basically dukka and white bean hummus, a personal favorite of mine. It's the first time I tried dukka, an Egyptian snack made of spices and ground nuts and served with extra virgin olive oil and chunks of whole wheat bread.

On their soup menu was something new, Spinach and Pechay Chowder (3) which is basically pureed leafy greens and potatoes with a dollop of organic yogurt on top. This was really good if I may say.

For my main course, I got two dishes. The first was North African Vegetable Stew (2) which is stew infused with saffron and Moroccan spices served over couscous topped with almonds and fresh coriander. On the side, they also serve some spicy harissa (the Moroccan version of hot sauce) and greens.

But my personal favorite is the Baked Tofu Walnut Burger, simply unbelievable! It's a burger patty made of baked tofu and walnuts of course, served in a whole wheat bun with mint yogurt sauce, with sweet potato fries and mayo on the side.

Although I wasn't able to try it, another best seller is the Kare-kareng Gulay which is served with organic red rice and you guessed it, vegetarian bagoong! Another must try is the Spaghettini with Brocolli and Pine Nuts. Vegans can omit parmesan cheese.

Corner Tree Café
150 Jupiter Street, Bel-Air Village, Makati
(02) 8970295 / (0917) 8481004

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Top vegetarian restaurants in the Philippines

The top 10 vegetarian restaurants in the Philippines were named by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Four of the restaurants in the list are in Metro Manila, two in Baguio, and one each in Batangas, Boracay, and Palawan. Vegetarian food and restaurants will be another series in my blog. So watch out for it. Anyway, here's the list:

Corner Tree Café
150 Jupiter Street, Bel-Air Village, Makati
(02) 8970295 / (0917) 8481004

Greens Café and Restaurant
92 Scout Castor St., Quezon City
(02) 4154796 / 3762781

Daily Veggie N' Café
540 Banawe Street, Quezon City
(02) 7118209 / 7113214

Bodhi (also known as Evegreen)
SM Cubao, SM North EDSA, SM Megamall
SM South Mall, SM City Manila, SM Makati

Outside Metro Manila

Bliss Café
Hotel Elizabeth, Gibraltar Street corner J Felipe, Baguio City
(074) 6190367 / 09178464729

Azotea Greens
Second Floor, La Azotea Building, Session R, Baguio City

Hapilife Healthy Food Corner
8 Corpuz St., West Tapinac, Olongapo City
(0921) 8720258 / (047) 6110249

Ima's Gulay Bar
46 Fernandez Street, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan
(0920) 5333210

Mandala Spa
Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan
(036) 2885858

The Farm
119 Barangay Tipakan, San Benito, Batangas
(02) 696-3795

Related entries
Corner Tree Cafe, best vegetarian restaurant in Makati

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tagaytay: Loumars, Ilog Maria, Bawai's Vietnamese, Chateau Hestia, Yoki's and Antonio's

Tagaytay is a favorite tourist destination because of its cool climate. It's a food haven, with its many restaurants, cafes and farms, plus a wonderful view of Taal Volcano. But it still keeps many secrets, some tucked deep in the outskirts of the city. Ultimate Philippines organizes regular food tours to Tagaytay.

The first stop in the morning is Loumars, best known for their buko pie tarts and mango crumble. And it's best freshly-baked and served hot from the oven. This is our pick for the best buko pie tarts in Tagaytay.

After Loumars, the group proceeded to Ilog Maria Bee Farm in Silang, Cavite, said to be the best bee farm in Luzon with a cult following. And their honey products such as soaps, shampoo, bath gel and the like are the main reason why people come back for more. Sad to say, they no longer have honey for consumption since global warming has taken its toll on the bees.

For lunch, we proceeded to Bawai's Vietnamese Kitchen, also in Silang, Cavite to sample authentic Vietnamese cuisine prepared by Bawai herself, a Vietnamese lady married to a local. We got to try out goi cuon (fresh Vietnamese rolls), and chao tom (pounded shrimps on sugar cane skewers) among others. It's open only on weekends and remember that it's strictly reservations if you want to eat at this place.

From there, we walked to nearby Chateau Hestia for dessert and to sample their limoncello, the best local wine made in Tagaytay.

Another afternoon stop was Yoki's Farm. It's quite a drive from Tagaytay. But this hydroponic farm is more popular for its collection of antiques, cultural items and other oddities, literally anything under the sun. Don't forget to take a lucky picture with what looks like the biggest Buddha in the country!

Of course, the farm produces a lot of vegetables with the use of hydroponics. If fact, you can also purchase some, fresh from the farm!

For dinner, we all trooped to Antonio's Fine Dining, arguably the best restaurant in Tagaytay! In fact, it's so good, it's been named one of the Top 10 restaurants in Asia by the Miele Guide! Chef Tony Boy Escalante is also such a gracious host, moving around the restaurant when he can to greet his guests.

For dinner, we had Steamed & Nori Wrapped Tempura Scallop, Mesclun Salad w/ Coriander Viaigrette; Beef Fillet on Plancha w/ Black Pepper Sauce, Pappardelle, Toss Baby Arugula w/ Honey Lemon Truffle Vinaigrette with soup and guava sorbet in between; and Felchlin Maracaibo Chocolate Terrine w/ Double Cream & Roasted Pistachio for dessert. Such long names and the sound of it makes it difficult to choose from their large menu. But one thing is certain: the food and ambiance is heavenly perfect!

Bawai's Vietnamese Kitchen


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pre-war travel films on Manila

Those were the days when romantic Manila was a favorite stop of cruise ships. It's so sad the city was totally destroyed during the Second World War. Which is why we should endeavor to protect the architectural heritage that still stands in the city. Let us not waste the tourism potential of our heritage by allowing the continuous destruction of our old buildings that have defined and continue to define the character of our capital city.

Because of the strong economic potential of our heritage, there should be a real effort from our national government and the City of Manila to restore our old buildings and landmarks. Maybe in the future, we could even slowly rebuild some important landmarks of Manila. In fact, in Intramuros, the reconstruction of the Ayuntamiento de Manila and the Casa Mision of the San Ignacio Church are already underway. And it's also about time we transform Manila into the garden city that it once was! It's not too late.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Batanes: Valugan Beach, Vayang, Nakamaya Burial Grounds, Diura Fishing Village and Naidi Hill

Valugan Beach in Batanes is best viewed during sunrise. So for our last full day in Batanes, we woke up at dawn to watch the sunrise from the Valugan (or Chanpan) Boulder Beach, a beach characterized by boulders and large round stones weathered by the strong Batanes tides.

A sumptuous breakfast picnic followed after viewing the sunrise. We then proceeded back to Fundacion Pacita, our home in Batanes to freshen up before more exploration in the morning.

We were going to visit the Nakamaya Burial Grounds. But before that, we made sure to pass by Vayang which is most known for its rolling hills and cows grazing. On a clear day like today, one is afforded a spectacular view of the South China Sea, the western part of Basco, and even the northern islands of Batanes, including Itbayat which I hope to visit soon when the airport there is reopened.

After taking our photos in Vayang, we proceeded to the jump-off point for the short hike to the Nakamaya Burial Grounds. The trek was about a 30 minutes and relatively manageable since we had senior citizens in the group. But they had to be assisted by the guides in steep areas.

At the site, a wooden sign board explains the significance of the place: "The stone boat-shaped burial grounds shaped in the traditional wooden boat of Batanes called tataya are testimonies to the values of the prehistoric Ivatans who believed in life after death. The general direction of the boat-shaped burial grounds face the sea which, according to an old Ivatan folktale, is the final resting place of man.

"Radiocarbon testing on the human skeletons discovered inboat-shaped markers in Chuhangin show a date of practice of these burials between 355-70 B.P. (before present) or approximately A.D. 1600s."

After the trek, we proceeded back to Fundacion Pacita again to freshen up before proceeding to the Diura Fishing Village and the Fountain of Youth in Racuh a-Idi where a picnic lunch was going to be served.

Diura is a tiny village of Mahatao facing the Pacific Ocean. It's around three kilometers east of the town proper. Diura is most known as a fishing area for mahi-mahi or dolphin fish which is called dorado in Batanes. To signify the start of the fishing season, the fishermen perform the Kapayvanuvanua ritual.

I was not able to join the rest of the group in Racuh a-Idi since I had to accompany some of our guests to the airport who were leaving by private plane.

After lunch, the group proceeded to Basco to do some shopping. During my last trip, I got explore Basco town. So I decided to rest first since I was going to judge an art competition later in the afternoon. So you can check out Batanes, undiscovered paradise up north for more on Basco.

In the evening, we had sunset cocktails and dinner at the Naidi Hill Lighthouse. And even more lobster! The view was spectacular, a the activity was a great way to end a sunrise to sunset itinerary in Basco. Naidi is said to be the best spot to take a Basco sunset photo.

The next day, we flew back to Manila. Anyway, I'm looking forward to my next SEAIR flight back to Batanes!

Part 1: Batanes adventure: Mahatao, Ivana and Uyugan
Part 2: Batanes adventure: Chavayan, Savidug, Nakabuang Beach and more from Sabtang

Related entries
Batanes, undiscovered paradise up north
Marlboro Country, Mahatao Church and more from Batan Island
Batanes stone houses in Savidug and Chavayan, Nakabuang Beach and more from Sabtang Island
Batanes hotels and restaurants plus exploring Batanes by bike

Monday, August 10, 2009

Batanes: Chavayan, Savidug, Nakabuang Beach and more from Sabtang

Sabtang Island is a must-visit for anyone who wants to experience Batanes. The last time I was in Batanes, the waters were rough. So the trip to Sabtang was an ordeal. But when I was there in May, the waters were calm.

In Sabtang, we visited the villages of Savidug and Chavayan. On the way to Chavayan from Savidug, you'll be able to see an idiang, the ruins of an old stone fortresses on top of which early Ivatan settlements were built. For more details on these, check out Batanes stone houses in Savidug and Chavayan, Nakabuang Beach and more from Sabtang Island.

Lunch was at Nakabuang Beach where tables were set-up for the group. A staple dish in most Sabtang lunches is lobster. So if you do get to visit, make sure to tell your guide you want to have lobster for lunch. I'll discuss what we ate in another post.

It's best to be back in Batan Island early in the afternoon since the water tends to get rough the later it gets. There's actually another village worth visiting is Sumnanga. But you'll have to stay overnight if you want to visit it since it's a bit far. The tourism office of Sabtang has a few rooms for tourists who decide to stay on the island for a night.

As soon as we got back to Batan, everyone went for a rest in Fundacion Pacita. We had a barbecue dinner planned there in the evening plus a cultural presentation. The locals performed the Palo-Palo Dance, an Ivatan dance which reenacts the conflict and eventual reconciliation between the Spaniards and Ivatans (a big part of local fiesta celebrations), and serenaded us with local Ivatan folk songs.

Part 1: Batanes adventure: Mahatao, Ivana and Uyugan
Part 3: Batanes adventure: Valugan Beach, Vayang, Nakamaya Burial Grounds, Diura Fishing Village and Naidi Hill

Related entries
Batanes, undiscovered paradise up north
Marlboro Country, Mahatao Church and more from Batan Island
Batanes stone houses in Savidug and Chavayan, Nakabuang Beach and more from Sabtang Island
Batanes hotels and restaurants plus exploring Batanes by bike
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