Friday, November 26, 2010

Kalinga: Chico Dam & Chico River

Kalinga is most popular for whitewater rafting. I'll do that one of these days. But unfortunately, for this trip, I could only go sightseeing. From Tuguegarao, I drove to Tabuk which was about an hour and thirty minutes away.

On the way to the Kalinga Provincial Capitol, there is a souvenir store that sells traditional Kalinga cloth and other cultural items. Nothing much to see in in downtown Tabuk. But if you drive further down the road, you'll see the Chico Dam and a nice view of the Chico River.

Kalinga also has some rice terraces including the Tinglayan, Lubo and Mangali Rice Terraces which I hope to visit in the future. It also played a role in our nation's history since President Emilio Aguinaldo passed by the province en route to Palanan, Isabela. I just not sure if the areas that served as his headquarters are well-maintained and worth visiting particularly Aguinaldo Hill.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Apayao: Ruins of old Pudtol Church

Apayao does not have that many attractions. But I was told its has old church ruins. And one of them is in the Pudtol Church in the town of Pudtol, which you can access via the northern part of Cagayan. So from Ilocos Norte, I drove to Cagayan, then to Apayao.

Pudtol is about 20 kilometers from the junction of the National Highway. It was just a quick visit. So after taking photos, I drove back to Cagayan en route to Kalinga.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Abra: Tayum Church, Bangued Cathedral & the Gabriela Silang Monument

Abra was the first province on my recent 1800-kilometer around North Philippines. I left Manila the previous evening and arrived in Abra just in time for sunrise. The roads were in relatively good condition and the views of the mountains, rice fields and the Abra River were picturesque.

Welcoming the visitor is a tunnel that was cut through a mountain. Above the tunnel entrance is the seal of Abra. Right beside the tunnel is a monument of Gabriela Silang. But I decided to stop on the way back since it was still a bit dark.

My first stop for the day was the Tayum Church, a National Cutlural Treasure. Tayum is about 10 minutes away from Bangued. Mass was still ongoing when I arrived.

According to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Tayum Church or Church of Santa Catalina de Alejandria was built in the 19th century by the secular clergy among the Christianized Tinguians. Notice also the convento which is actually across the church.

From Tayum, I motored back to Bangued to visit the Bangued Cathedral. On the way, I was pleased to see some ancestral houses still standing. Many of these houses are made of brick, both first and second floors.

The Bangued Cathedral is also relatively preserved. Right beside it is its old convento which is now a school. But there is another church worth visiting and this is the Bangued Cemetery Chapel. Unfortunately, it was locked. So I wasn't able to see the interior.

On the way back down to Ilocos Sur, I stopped by the Gabriela Silang Monument in San Quintin. As we all know, Gabriela Silang was an insurgent leader who led the Ilocano freedom movement after the assassination of her husband Diego Silang on May 28, 1763. She was captured and executed by the Spanish on September 29, 1763.

Quezon City: Pipino Vegetarian in Teachers Village

After discovering many vegetarian restaurants in Metro Manila, I can truly say that vegetarian food need not be bland. And the newly-opened Pipino Vegetarian pushes that statement forward. I was most definitely wowed by the vegetarian and vegan food they serve there.

They don't have a fixed menu so the dishes are different everyday. You'd see them listed on the blackboard in the counter area. The regular entrees are Php80 for single serving. But you'll get a really good deal with their Combo Meal at Php150 which includes two entrees and brown rice.

The day I was there, they had Gatang Sitaw and Kalabasa (string beans and squash with coconut milk), Tofu and Eggplant Miso, Lumpiang Shanghai (vegetarian spring rolls) and Taro Chips. I'm also giving a two thumbs up to their Vegan Lasagna which is really rich and flavorful. Who said pasta needs meat and eggs?

For dessert, they have a lot of vegan offerings too. It's definitely worth a visit!

Pipino Vegetarian by Pino
39 Malingap Street, Teachers Village
Quezon City
Tel. No. (02) 4411773

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Surigao del Sur: Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig City

Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig, Surigao del Sur is one of the most majestic waterfalls in the country. It's not just just the height of the falls but the width that makes it really spectacular. Tinuy-an Falls is 55 meters high and 95 meters wide. And some say that it is the widest waterfalls in the Philippines.

From Bunawan, I took a van to San Francisco where I had to switch buses to get to Surigao del Sur. The buses go all the way to Mangagoy which is the commercial district of Bislig City. You know you are in Bislig when you start seeing clusters of centuries-old hardwood trees that tower over the landscape. It's a good thing Bislig still has a good amount of its original forest cover. But the sad part is you'll see a lot of felled trees and cut logs by the road side. I got off at the Bislig City Hall where I was to meet the tourism staff who would take me to Tinuy-an Falls.

Unfortunately, Tinuy-an is quite a distance from the National Highway. So you will need to hire a habal-habal or tricycle to get there. But it's definitely worth the trip. There is no hiking required since parking is right beside the falls.

Aside from the main drop, there are other smaller cascades upstream and downstream from the main falls. Just as always, I couldn't stay for a swim since I had to catch the last bus back to Davao.

Unfortunately, we did not have the correct information. It turns out, the last bus for Davao City from Bislig leaves at 4 p.m. and it had just left 20 minutes earlier. So I had no choice but to backtrack to San Francisco since the Butuan-Davao route which passes by San Franz (as locals refer to it) runs 24 hours a day. The bus rides took a total of nine hours!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Agusan del Sur: Overnight with the Manobo community of Agusan Marsh

If there was a hidden paradise in the Philippines, it must be the Agusan Marsh. That's because visiting it is no walk in the park since it requires several hours of land and river boat travel to get to the marsh itself. Arranging the pump boat ride would also require some effort and a lot of funds too if you don't have the right connections. But no doubt, the Agusan Marsh is paradise.

In fact, it is such an important part of our natural heritage, the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary is among four Philippine sites in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. I hope the local community there initiates moves for its inscription in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Much of the Agusan Marsh is ancestral domain of the Manobos. So to get into some of the better portions of the marsh might require permission from the local community. There are several communities in the Agusan Marsh and a lot of ways to get there. I was lucky to be a guest of the Manobo community in Sitio Panlabuhan, Loreto, Agusan del Sur. In fact, they hosted me for one night.

A trip to Agusan Marsh starts with land travel from the nearest airport which could either be Davao or Butuan. That would take several hours depending on where you are coming from. The jump-off point for the river boat ride is Bunawan, Agusan del Sur. From the pantalan of Bunawan, it took another three-hours on a pump boat to reach Sitio Panlabuhan in Loreto, Agusan del Sur.

We actually had to change boats when we neared the entrance of the marsh since in October, pump-boats have a hard time entering Sitio Panlabuhan due to the high concentration of lilies, hyacinths and other water plants. People say it looks like an enormous green quilt.

It was quite an experience riding on the boats made from hollowed-out logs as we pushed our way through the lilies. And especially since one wrong move meant an unplanned swim in the dark tea-colored water of the marsh.

The Manobos in the Agusan Marsh live in floating houses. The houses, which are quite sturdy, are built on hundreds of pieces of bamboo and rise and fall together with the level of the marsh. And depending on the current, the houses are also moved to different locations.

Take note also that there is no electricity. So you really commune with nature while you are there. Interestingly though, the mobile phone signal was very strong in Sitio Panlabuhan.

I was also quite surprised that they community had a lodge where visitors could stay. They don't come in very often. But at least visitors don't have to worry about accommodation. I was warned that mosquitoes would be a problem even with the mosquito net or kulambo. So make sure to bring a lot of insect repellent.

The community of Sitio Panlabuhan has two sectors. After settling down, we boarded the log boat to proceed to the main sector where a newly-constructed floating classroom is located. As part of required tradition, I had to meet the community elders for a Manobo ritual to pay respect to the spirits, ask permission for my presence and request for safe passage while I was there. I was told that some visitors who simply entered the ancestral area without doing the ritual met a disaster of some sort, even as they arrived back home.

I was actually asked to bring a live chicken and candles for the ritual. But the village elder decided not to sacrifice the chicken. So we offered an egg instead. The ritual began with the elder conversing with the spririts, mentioning that I was in the community. On the table was lighted candle, the egg cracked open on a plate, a bottle of beer plus a glass with a serving of beer, and a lighted cigarette. After the conversation, the village elder stood up, took the glass of beer, proceeded to the window and emptied its contents into the marsh. Then the glass was filled-up again and again and passed around so that everyone in the room was able to drink.

After the ritual, we had a town hall meeting with the community to discuss plans to open their community to tourism. They wanted visitors to come and were very frustrated with the local government because they never benefited from any of the visitors who came into Sitio Panlabuhan. Some foreigners were even rude enough to say they already paid the LGU when prohibited from entering the ancestral domain, not knowing that the community had rights to their part of the Agusan Marsh.

I've always been telling my students that tourism is a powerful tool for poverty alleviation of government makes sure that its benefits reach the grassroots. This is my way of helping the community around the Agusan Marsh benefit from tourism. So in February, we will be organizing a tour of Sitio Panlabuhan that will benefit the community directly. Tourists will have a chance to stay with the community for a night or two. If you are interested to join the tour from March 4-6, 2011, please e-mail so I can send you more details as they come.

Anyway, the sun had just set when we took the boat back to the opposite sector. After dinner and some lively discussions on the planned tourism program, we called it a night.

The next morning, I was up early since they community wanted to show me the floating gardens. These were literally floating plant boxes where they would have flowering plants, fruits and vegetables. Unfortuantely, I did not have time to join any of the fishing activities since I wanted to be back in Bunawan before lunch to catch a bus to Surigao del Sur.

Aside from joining the locals go fishing around the marsh, bird watching is also another activity of the Agusan Marsh being host to over 200 species of birds. The numbers swell especially during the cold months when the marsh hosts communities of migratory birds.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Compostela Valley: Rafflesia flowers, Marangig Falls & Tagbibinta Falls in Maragusan

Gold had attracted me to Compostela Valley. Gold mining is actually a major industry of Compostela Valley. And Mt. Diwalwal is its most popular gold-rush site, especially after the film I Come with the Rain starring Josh Hartnett was shot there. But the gold I'm talking about is the natural beauty of the province.

Traveling by bus around Mindanao is quite orderly and easy because there are centralized bus terminals in each town, not like Metro Manila's chaotic system where each company has its own bus terminal.

From Mati, I took a bus to the Tagum Terminal. Then from there, I boarded a Butuan-bound bus which had several stops in Compostela Valley and Agusan del Sur. I got off at Nabunturan, the provincial capital, since I had an appointment at the tourism office. After making arrangements for Maragusan, I went back to the Nabunturan Terminal to catch a bus to Maragusan. Mati to Tagum was 3 hours, Tagum to Nabunturan was 1 hour, and Nabunturan to Maragusan was another 2 hours.

Later I would find out that there is actually a jeepney route directly-linking Mati to Maragusan. It was dark already when I arrived in Maragusan. So after dinner, I called it a night.

The next day, I went around Maragusan's attractions with the help of a guide arranged through the local tourism office. We also hired a habal-habal to take us to the different destinations since they were very far from each other.

My first stop for the day required some trekking. In the forests of Maragusan are pockets of Rafflesia clusters. We visited the one in Purok Malinawon, Barangay Mapawa. It was a moderate 15-minute trek up to where the Rafflesia mira buds could be found. Unfortunately, none of the flowers were in bloom.

The only time I got to see a Rafflesia in full bloom was during a visit to the Bogor Botanical Garden in Indonesia. They rarely flower so seeing one in bloom is reason enough to consider yourself lucky. The hike also afforded me some nice views of the banana plantations that dominate the Maragusan landscape.

From the Rafflesias, we proceeded to Barangay New Albay to check out Marangig Falls. Again, this one required some trekking too. Not bad since I like waterfalls. But I've seen more majestic ones.

The next waterfall seemed like it was on the opposite end of town. We motored to Barangay Coronobe to check out Tagbibinta Falls. This was the larger falls and thank God the trekking was minimal. It's actually very popular to locals and facilities have been built in the area for rest and recreation.

Although Maragusan is all about bananas, none of the bananas actually reach the local market since they all go to Dole. After having visited Kalsangi several years ago, I wanted to check out the processing facility to see how things are done.  But unfortunately, visitors need prior permission to gain access. What I didn't like about the whole thing though was their security (the ones on motorcycles) were very rude.

After lunch, I took a bus back to Nabunturan where I was to stay for the night.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Looking back at the WOW Philippines TV ad campaign

WOW Philippines is no doubt the best tourism promotion campaign the Department of Tourism ever came up with to date. If we come up with a new one, this definitely sets the standard. Part of the campaign was the slogan Philippines, it's more than the usual which came with great TV commercials that aired internationally. The commercials are brief, concise, creative and catchy enough to grab the attention of those watching CNN. Kudos to BBDO / Guerrero Ortega for this wonderful campaign!

Our neighbors have had tourism campaigns that are at least a decade old, surviving several changes in governments. The multi-awarded Malaysia Truly Asia campaign was launched in 1999 and after eleven years and five tourism ministers, it continues to entice tourists to visit Malaysia. Amazing Thailand is even older, having been launched in 1997. Despite political instability and several changes in government, it remains as Thailand's tourism brand. After its launch in 2002, the Incredible India campaign has become a strong brand for Indian tourism. So I thus can't understand why the current execs of the Department of Tourism want to get rid of a brand our country has worked so hard to build and invested so much money on. Read more in What's the point of rebranding?

Davao Oriental: Surfing & skim boarding at Dahican Beach in Mati

As I write this, surfing season has started in Dahican Beach in Mati, Davao Oriental where waves could reach as high as 10 feet. This beach facing the Pacific Ocean is also very popular among skim boarders and is often referred to as Skim Paradise.

I took the 2 a.m. bus from Davao City and found myself in Mati at about 6 a.m. The bus actually goes further northeast to Cateel. At the bus station, I hired a tricycle that would take me to the beaches of Mati since they are quite far from the town proper and the main roads.

We actually saw the sign to Dahican Beach but decided to go further down the road first. My first stop was Masao Beach which is about 45 minutes away. I was a bit disappointed though since I did not see the fine sand one would expect in a beach. But it's quite popular because of the pavilions and huts which stretch into the sea.

From Masao, we headed back to Dahican Beach which turns out to be the home base of a very vibrant local surfing and skim boarding community known as the Amihan Surf and Skim Team. In fact, you could get surfing lessons there for Php400/hour inclusive of board rental. Surfing season in Mati is from November to April. But since I arrived in mid-October, the waters were relatively calm. I was told that once the Amihan winds come in, the swells do too!

Note also that Dahican Beach is a sea turtle or pawikan sanctuary. And you just might be lucky to see one when you go snorkeling in the area. They even have an awareness campaign called Pawikan sa Dahican.

There are some comfortable rooms around the Dahican Beach area. But if you are on a budget, you can pitch a tent too. Anyway, I didn't have much time to stay since I wanted to be in Compostela Valley by afternoon.

Botona Beach Resort
(0918) 5255227 / (0916) 7968054

Hong Kong: Tsui Wah Restaurant & Ying Heong Yuen in Causeway Bay

Causeway Bay has its share of famous food outlets which locals patronize for certain specialties. So before proceeding to the Novotel Bloggers Dinner in Novotel Century Hong Kong, I sneaked out together with Novotel Citygate Marketing Communications Manager Josephine Tang, to try out some local flavors.

One of those places in Causeway Bay is Tsui Wah Restaurant. You can't miss it because of its gargantuan neon sign outside the store which is clearly visible from the street. It's actually very popular because of its Pineapple Bun with Iced Butter. You basically place the thick slice of butter served on ice inside the bun and bite!

Then there's the Crispy Condensed Milk Bun which was basically a toasted bun with butter topped with condensed milk. It was really good! And don't forget to get yourself one of their very famous iced coffees to go with your buns.

Still not satisfied, we moved over to this street food stall called Ying Heong Yuen. It reminded me of the hawker stall we ate at in Mong Kok during our family trip last May.

From fried or boiled innards to deep-fried vegetables or tofu, boiled beef balls, sausages and seafood on skewers, you had a lot to choose from. They basically but it in a paper bag or styrofoam cup with their signature sauce.

Too bad I had to control my appetite since we still had a dinner to catch. But I made sure to have some before proceeding back to Novotel. For more Hong Kong photos, check out my FB page.

Tsui Wah Restaurant
G/F, 493-495 Jaffe Road, Causeway Bay

Ying Heong Yuen
Jaffe Road cor. King Lung Street, Causeway Bay

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tai O Fishing Village 大澳 on Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Tai O Fishing Village, Hong Kong
Tai O Fishing Village 大澳 on Lantau Island is one of those Hong Kong tourist attractions that are off the beaten track. It's one of the last remnants of Hong Kong's fishing culture as more and more fishing villages are being transformed into high-rise communities. From Ngong Ping, it's just 30 minutes away by bus.

Tai O Fishing Village, Hong Kong
From Ngong Ping Village, I took bus no. 21 which goes direct to Tai O. Make sure you have HK$6.50 or an Octopus card since they don't give change (note that it's more expensive on Sunday). It's a scenic ride that takes you down the mountain into the village. Of course, the first thing that greeted me were the fishing boats docked near the shore.

Tai O Fishing Village, Hong Kong
Tai O Fishing Village, Hong Kong
Tai O Fishing Village, Hong Kong
Tai O Market is also very popular because of the wide variety of fresh and salted seafood available. You'll see a lot of the seafood on sale alive and kicking in large plastic basins. And being a source of fresh seafood, Tai O naturally has a lot of seafood restaurants.

Tai O Fishing Village, Hong Kong
The distinct architecture of Tai O are the stilt houses or pang uk 棚屋. I guess coming from the Philippines, these were not new to me since almost every corner of the country has fishing villages and houses on stilts. But this is a perfect example of how Hong Kong was able to preserve the local character of this fishing village while adapting to modern needs. In fact, a fire had destroyed many of the stilt houses. But instead of building modern houses, they rebuilt the pang uk. It thus has attracted a lot of local and foreign tourists who want to try out the local seafood or experience the scenery of a Hong Kong fishing village.

The best way to to see the village is by boat. So just ask around where you can take a boat ride around Tai O.

How to get to Tai O Fishing Village
From the Novotel Citygate and Tung Chung MTR Station, take bus no. 11. From Ngong Ping Village, take bus no. 21 which leaves every hour. You can also take a bus to and from Mui Wo, another rural town on Lantau Island. Here is information on Mui Wo.
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