Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Batangas: Taal heritage town walking tour

Taal, Batangas is one of the best-preserved Spanish colonial towns of the country. And it's home to a good number of heroes of the Philippine Revolution including the principal seamstress of the Philippine flag, Marcela Mariño Agoncillo.

At the heart of Taal is the Taal Basilica, dedicated to St. Martin of Tours and said to be the biggest Catholic church in Asia. In front of it is the Taal Municipal Hall which was built during the Spanish colonial period. Scattered around town are dozens of ancestral homes, old school buildings and other heritage structures. Which is why the town is perfect for a walking tour.

Last Sunday, we got to visit three heritage houses during our walking tour including the Villavicencio House and the adjacent Villavicencio "Wedding Gift" House, as well as the Marcela Agoncillo House which is a National Historical Landmark. In fact, Taal has at least seven National Historical Landmarks including the Taal Basilica, Taal Municipal Hall, and Escuela Pia.

Entrance fees to the houses are Php50 per head which is usually included in the walking tour fee. And take note that many of the houses are only accessible through the these walking tours.

From the Villavicencio Houses, you can walk down to the Caysasay Shrine through the centuries-old San Lorenzo Ruiz Steps. Also in Taal are the homes of Gregorio Agoncillo and Leon Apacible also National Historical Landmarks.

And don't forget to pass by the Taal Market to check out the piña (pineapple) fabric and barong embroidery. I always buy my embroidered jusi and piña cloth from there since it's almost half the price than if you buy your barong in Manila. Taal is also home to balisong-making, panutsa (peanut brittle) and produces a really tasty derecado longganisa.

Heritage Tours and Travel
Bennet (0918) 3155634
Mayette (0918)3644549
Jaren (0910) 8110350

There are half and whole day packages with meals (see their site at heritours.multiply.com)

Where to stay in Taal
Baby Joven-Quiblat and Benny Quiblat have rooms available for visitors. You can reach Baby at (0917) 8970363 for rates and avalability.

Robert Arambulo, a balikbayan architect from Sta. Rosa, Laguna, also has rooms available in his restored Taal house called Casa Severina. Contact him at (0917) 5018060.

Casa Cecilia has eight bedrooms and a restaurant that serves great tasting Taal cuisine. Specialties are bulalo (with a twist) and their maliputo. Contact numbers are (043) 4080048 or (0906) 2225339.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Subic: Tree Top Adventure is Subic Bay's adventure attraction

If there's one thing good about Subic Bay being a former American military base, the rain forests are very much intact. Subic Tree Top Adventure is one way you can appreciate the forests of Subic Bay.

This attraction is a series of suspended trails, bridges and motorized cable rides built high up the rain forest of Subic.

We visited Tree Top Adventure in the evening. I was a bit skeptical since it would have been really dark unless they installed ample lighting. But it turns out, doing it in the evening can be fun too. And no need to worry about the heat of the sun.

We got to try their zip-line called the Superman Ride since you are suspended face down and feet up. That was fun!

There are a lot of activities there including the Tree Top Adventure (Canopy Walk and Canopy Ride) which I already mentioned (Php350), Ultimate Adventure or Superman Ride (Php200), Trekking Adventure (Php100) which is simply a walking trail around the rain forest, and the Tree-Drop Adventure (Php150) which is rappelling down the side of a 60-foot tree (try the daring Australian style which is face first). They have various packages. But if you want to try everything, take Package F (Php720).

Tree Top Adventure Subic
JEST Area, Upper Mau
Cubi Point, Subic Bay
(047) 2529425 / 27

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Pangasinan: Hundred Islands boat tour in Alaminos, Pangasinan

Hundred Islands in Alaminos, Pangasinan is for me, Pangasinan's best beach attraction. While other beaches such as Patar Beach in Bolinao and Tondol Beach in Anda are equally great, there's more to do at the Hundred Islands than simply frolicking under the summer sun.

For one, there are a lot of islands to explore, over a hundred of them in fact. The two most visited islands would be Governor's Island (which has a view deck with a great view of the Hundred Islands and the Big Brother House) and Quezon Island (with its many water activities and rental facilities).

During our boat tour around the Hundred Islands, we got to see some unique islands including Bat Island, host to a population of nocturnal fruit bats, and Cathedral Island, with its large cave. We also saw several islands with secluded beaches which you could have all to yourselves, such as Lopez Island, where one could stay for the day without much fuss from other visitors who usually troop to Quezon Island. On weekends, you might have to choose some of the lesser known islands for your own private beach.

Quezon Island is where most of the facilities are including picnic pavilions, huts and kayak and snorkel rentals. There's good snorkeling around the island. Notice the giant clams around the area which are a result of the giant clam seeding project at the Hundred Islands.

We had a wonderful lunch at Quezon Island hosted by Dir. Martin Valera of the Department of Tourism. If you want to have a picnic lunch as well, our caterer was Gemma (0919) 6520570. She prepared a sumptuous spread of seafood, grilled pork, vegetables and seaweed, and fresh fruits for dessert.

Hundred Islands Visitors Center
Rey Livara (0917) 6104144

Monday, February 15, 2010

Clark: Day 3 of the 15th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

After watching Day 1 of the 15th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, I found myself back for Day 3 for our Ultimate Philippines tour.

Our bus left Makati at 3 a.m. and we we're in Clark a little before 5 a.m. It may seem early but it was just right since people were already starting to arrive. In fact, just a few minutes after, crowds started to enter the venue and the ticket line stretched all the way to the street!

It wasn't as sunny as the first day but it was a great show nonetheless. Just like Day 1, the hot air balloons were gone by 7 a.m. After exploring the grounds, we left for breakfast.

And just like last year, we had breakfast at C' Italian Dining. While the restaurant opens at 11 a.m., Chef Chris always makes an exception every year for our group.

On the menu this year was (1) wood fire-baked angus steak with roasted onion, tomatoes and fresh australian mushrooms, (2) fine carved honey-baked ham with fresh sage, (3) crispy bacon with golden crisp potato, (3) Italian sausage braised in pomodoro sauce with asiago cheese, (4) smoked cherry snapper fillet with cucumber garlic dip (5) freshly baked pancake with maple syrup, (6) Italian fritatta with fresh herbs and cheese, (7) freshly baked assorted breads, (8) assorted jams and butter, and (9) orange, grape and tomato juice. Yummy!

On the way to Clark, I noticed Ayala's Marquee Mall which looked quite interesting. Next week, when I go back home to Pampanga, I plan to visit Ayala's Marquee Mall in Angeles City.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Clark: Day 1 of the 15th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

The 15th Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta kicked-off last Thursday. It's one of those festivals which get people up really early since the hot air balloons are all gone by 7 a.m. Well, it got me up before the rooster did!

I was in the Clark Freeport shortly before 6 a.m. and the parking lot was already full. And to think it was Thursday. I could just imagine the crowd tomorrow when I go back for Day 3.

The reason they do it really early in the morning is because the weather conditions are usually best at that time for the hot air balloons to fly. While there are so many other activities and exhibitions during the day, the highlight of the festival are the balloons no doubt.

After the flag ceremony where paratroopers from the Philippine Military bring down the Philippine flag from the sky, the hot air balloons are inflated. It takes quite a while. They have to fill it up first with cool air using a fan. And one it takes shape, they pump in warm air using flares.

It's fun seeing the balloons in various shapes. For the 2010 Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, there was one shaped like a beer bottle. Another was Old MacDonald's Farm. There was a yellow sun with a smiling face. And yet another was shaped like a turtle.

If you missed yesterday and today, you still have the weekend to catch the colorful hot air balloons. You have to be in the Clark Freeport in Pampanga by 5:30 a.m. if you want a good spot to watch these hot air balloons take off. So it's best to leave Manila by 3:30 a.m.

I noticed in this year's schedule that they have hot air balloon flights in the afternoon of Saturday. A spectacle you should also check out is the weekend night glow activity during sunset when the balloons are lit up like giant light bulbs with the flares.

Many people ask if you can ride the hot air balloons. Well, don't count on it. It's difficult to get a slot. Make that close to impossible. You can opt for the stationary hot air balloon which takes you up in the air up to about 50 feet. But that's just about it. Entrance fee to the festival for this year is Php150 per head. Here's the 2010 schedule.

Anyway, time to troop to Ayala's Marquee Mall!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Benguet: Baguio reinvents itself as an adventure destination!

Are you sure you've seen the best of Baguio? Think again! Baguio is now promoting itself, together with its neighboring towns, as an adventure destination. These Benguet towns are collectively called BLISTT (Baguio, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba and Tublay). Add Bokod, Benguet to the list as well, with Ambuklao Dam.

With Baguio as a jump-off point, you can kayak or river surf at the Ambuklao Dam and Tuba, visit the Balatoc Mines in Itogon, go rock climbing, river hiking, bouldering, rappelling, or ride an ATV in Camp 3, hike up Mount Pulag in Bokod and Kabayan, fish by the Agno River, or go spelunking at the Ambongdolan Caves in Tublay. Baguio City itself is also becoming a major airsoft destination. There are simply so many choices!

We went off-road go-karting along one of the rough roads by the Agno River. If we had more time, we could have tried out more stuff.

All this is being organized by the Baguio Convention and Visitors Bureau (BCVB). And what's good about this new service is you can plan an adventure with style, with your own butler and waiters setting up alfresco dining for you! They even had a bar for the group!

Baguio's adventure tours are still in its infancy. And it's exciting to see how this develops. I hope I get to visit again to really try all of these cool activities.

Baguio Convention and Visitors Bureau
+63 74 4424088

Baguio: Panagbenga Festival 2010 Calendar of Events

Panagbenga Festival 2010 promises to be even bigger. The Baguio Flower Festival has already begun and continues to attract visitors to Baguio City, the Summer Capital of the Philippines. Here is a list of major events this year:
  • February 14: Fluvial Parade featuring Camelot on the Lake, Burnham Park
  • February 26-28: Abanao Nights, Abanao Square
  • February 27: Grand Street Parade, Session Road to Athletic Bowl
  • February 28: Grand Float Parade, Session Road to Athletic Bowl
  • March 1-7: Session Road in Bloom, Session Road

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Baguio: The Manor at Camp John Hay prepares a dinner feast!

The Manor at Camp John Hay served the most memorable dinner during the entire Lakbay Norte trip. You have to give it to the Baguio Convention and Visitors Bureau (BCVB) for preparing a feast for us. And welcoming us to the dinner was none other than Baguio City Mayor Reinaldo Bautista, Jr.

Also there to welcome us was Atty. Damaso Bangaoet, Jr., the father of the Panagbenga Festival which is being held this month.

And to make sure the food was nothing but perfect, renowned chef Billy King, the man who brought Le Soufflé to Manila and now the secret behind the gastronomic magic of The Manor in Camp John Hay's Le Chef Restaurant, personally supervised his staff of chefs and waiters.

It was indeed a grand selection that included soup, salad, sushi and sashimi, juicy roast beef slices, grilled meats and vegetables on skewers, bowls of Mongolian barbecue, home-made sausages with salsa, and irresistible desserts (it was strawberry overload), more than enough to fill our stomachs. After our third or fourth servings, we all gave up!

For the night, I also stayed at The Manor. The rooms were spacious, cozy, and nicely layed-out. I wish we could have slept longer. But we had to be up early the next day. Breakfast would have also been a feast! But I wasn't able to enjoy it due to our tight schedule.

The Manor, Camp John Hay
+63 74 4240931 to 43 / 50 to 53
+63 2 8450892 / 8450911

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

La Union: Surfing lessons with the Billabong Surf School in San Juan

San Juan, La Union has become very popular because of surfing. And one of the better places to learn is the Billabong Surf School of the San Juan Surf Resort, popularly called the Surf Camp.

Right after a great morning in Ilocos Norte, we went straight to La Union for surfing lessons. And training the group was Luke Landrigan himself, Asian Beach Games silver medalist and owner of the Billabong Surf School, together with his pool of local surfers.

It's obvious the group had a lot of fun! Lessons at Surf Camp are Php400 per hour, inclusive of board rental. You can call them up also for accommodation. Aircon rooms start at Php1,260. Fan rooms are start at Php650.

La Union Surf Resort (Surf Camp)
Brgy. Urbiztondo, San Juan, La Union
+63 72 7200340

Monday, February 08, 2010

Ilocos Norte: Paoay Church, Lake Paoay & Batac empanada

Paoay Church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-visit when in Ilocos Norte. After the exciting 4x4 ride and sandboarding at the Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes, and a brief stopover at the Lake Paoay View Deck, we proceeded to the Paoay Church.

This fortress-like church, rising like a mirage in the middle a vast square, is so unique in the country since its heavy set buttresses and finials give the church a silhouette similar to Asian temples. It is also considered by art critics as the pinnacle of earthquake Baroque architecture.

The construction of the Paoay Church began in 1694 and was completed sometime between 1702 to 1710. It was damaged on several occasions and repaired in 1865 and from 1889 to 1896, with its rededication at the onset of the Philippine Revolution.

Church expert Regalado Trota Jose mentions in his book that Paoay’s ceiling was once painted with murals similar to that of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. This however is no longer in existence today since one would only see wooden trusses as well as an exposed roof.

As Fr. Pedro Galende notes, “There is massiveness, movement, integration and above all, a forceful sweep of illusion that say a great deal about Filipino ingenuity. The result is an outstanding and undeniably Filipino type of architecture, neither Baroque nor Gothic, neither European nor Mexican, but authentically Filipino.”

Indeed, the Paoay Church stands as a testament to the immense creativity and ingenuity of the Filipino craftsmen who built its massive walls. It serves as a reminder for the current and future generations of Filipinos that heritage must be preserved and valued if we are to move forward as a nation.

After taking photos, the group proceeded to Batac for an empanada and miki breakfast. I always look forward to munching on Batac empanada everytime I'm in Ilocos Norte. Check out Dissecting the Batac and Vigan empanada.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Ilocos Norte: Sandboarding and 4x4 ride in the Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes

Ever heard of sandboarding? Sandboarding is the newest adventure activity in Ilocos Norte, which has its very own desert of sorts - the Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes.

An already popular activity are 4x4 jeep rides in the Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes. We were supposed to ride into the sunset on 4WD jeeps. But since we arrived late from Pagudpud, we rode the jeeps in the dark which was a fun experience too.

But we definitely couldn't sandboard in the dark. So we decided to wake up early in the morning to do it.

The next day, we were at the sand dunes in Paoay before sunrise. It was an experience riding the jeeps through the sand dunes. You could hear screams of excitement from the group as the drivers went full speed through bumps and up hills.

Our drivers parked by the slope where we were going to sandboard down. Sandboarding is very similar to snowboarding. The only difference is that it's done on sand dunes rather than snow-capped hills. So you can do it anywhere there are sand dunes.

While most people sandboard down the dunes standing-up, like in a skateboard, our guide tipped me that it's faster sitting down. So I gave that a shot too and enjoyed the fast slide down. Others do it lying down on their stomachs as I've seen in some videos, which looks equally thrilling too. The first time I saw sandboarding was when I visited Mui Ne, Vietnam. It's a good thing the LEAD Movement introduced sandboarding in Ilocos Norte.

It costs Php2,500 per hour for a maximum of four persons, transportation included, if you want to sandboard in the Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes. But please check since prices may change. It's definitely an experience!

LEAD Movement (Sandboarding and 4x4)
Reny Tan (0919) 8735516
Glenn Guerero (0908) 8853669

Paoay Off-roaders and Adventure Group (4x4)
Gilbert Santos (0928) 9473518

Mira de Polaris Hotel
Ventura Street, San Nicolas
(077) 6761647 / 6706830 / 6706700 to 04

Thanks to Bong Bajo and Bikoy for the photos!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Ilocos Norte: Saramsam Cafe's traditional and fusion Ilocano food

Saramsam Restaurant in Laoag, Ilocos Norte is known for its fusion pizzas and traditional Ilocano food. Their specialty is the Poque-Poque Pizza, which is pizza topped with poque-poque, an Ilocano eggplant dish: eggplant, tomatoes, onions ang egg. It's one of the dishes they served us when the Lakbay Norte Media Tour had dinner there.

Also served to us was (1) Saramsam Pasta which has green and ripe mango and KBL (kamatis, bagoong and lasona or spring onions), (2) Dinardaraan Empanada which is the traditional empanada crust with dinuguan filling, (3) Tuna and Igado Crostinis, igado is made of pork liver and pork meat, and (4) Sardinas Pasta.

Aside from Poque-Poque Pizza, they also have the Dinardaraan Pizza: dinuguan topped with green chili peppers; Longaniza Pizza topped with the local Laoag longaniza; and the Carbonara Pizza topped with Currimao oysters.

And if you need a place to hang-out, they have WiFi Internet too.

Saramsam Restaurant
N. Corpuz Building, Rizal cor. Hizon Streets
Barangay 7-A, Laoag City
+63 77 7715825

Thanks to Bikoy for the photos!

Ilocos Norte: Mairaira Cove in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

Mairaira Cove in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte is one of the more picturesque beaches of North Philippines. It's also called Blue Lagoon because of the deep blue waters of Mairaira, especially when viewed from the top of the hill as you enter or exit the cove.

I did not realize that the trip from Tuguegarao, Cagayan to Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte would take that long. It should be about five to six hours (we did 8 hours because of the church stops).

We had a late lunch at Hannah's Beach Resort which is the only resort right in front of Blue Lagoon. The location of the resort is thus very convenient. And it's one of two resorts in Mairaira Cove I would recommend to tourists.

But as I told one of the managers, they should add more trees since it's all concrete. The resort needs to blend in more with the surrounding environment. And given that it can accommodate really large groups for seminars and conventions, I hope they could improve the design, lay-out and feel of the place. People in the group noted that it looked more like a housing development (think Camella Homes) than a resort.

Anyway, lunch was an offering of local Ilocano fare. On the buffet table were two really large lobsters, the largest I've ever seen so far, which we were told, were caught in the local waters.

Hannah's Beach Resort
(0910) 4966525 / (0920) 6057121 / (0917) 8103763

Thanks to Bikoy for the photos!
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