Monday, October 31, 2011

Cambodia: Traveling to Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and the pinnacle of classical Khmer architecture. The temple is actually one of several in the temple complex of Angkor, situated several kilometers from Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor.

My first major Southeast Asian trip in 2006 was a two-week journey that took me to five countries: Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. There were just a few travel blogs then. And mine was amusingly casual and conversational. Little did I know that my wanderlust for travel would bring me places. One of my stops during that trip was Angkor.

Getting to Siem Reap
There are several ways to get to Siem Reap. The most convenient of course is by air. There are direct flights from major Southeast Asian cities including Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately for the Philippines, there are no direct flights to Cambodia.

I took the land route from Phnom Penh which is a six-hour bus ride. You can also access Siem Reap by land from Bangkok via the Aranyaprathet-Poipet border crossing. I remember my bus trip lasted about nine hours. Or you can also hop on a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh which is about six-hours. Then take the six-hour bus to Siem Reap.

Another option is to take the river ferry between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap which is also six hours, But this will take you through the scenic Tonle Sap River and Lake.

Visiting Angkor
The temple complex of Angkor is massive. The different temples are actually several kilometers apart. And unless you have a lot of time to spare and are used to walking great distances, it's best to hire a motodup (motorcycle taxi), tuktuk or moto-romauk (motorcycle trailer), or van to take you around. You can also opt to rent a bike.

Note that foreigners are required to purchase passes to be able to visit Angkor. There's a one-day (US$20), three-day (US$40) and seven-day (US$60) pass. With the tuktuk, I was able to cover a lot of ground with the one-day pass. But others visitors would get longer passes to be able to explore the archaeological park more thoroughly or walk between temples. The main park entrance is three kilometers from Siem Reap.

There are two popular routes you can follow. The Petit Circuit, aside from Angkor Wat, Bakheng and Angkor Thom, includes Thommanon, Chaosay Tevoda, Spean Thma, Hospital Chapel, Ta Keo, Ta Nei, Ta Prohm, Kutisvara, Banteay Kdei, Srah Srang and Prasat Kravan. The Grand Circuit, in addition to those mentioned includes Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som, Krol Ko, Neak Pean and Preah Khan. With the motodup, I was able to do the Grand Circuit in a day. Read the entry of my 2006 visit to the temples of Angkor.

Related entry
Cambodia: Day tour to Preah Vihear Temple from Siem Reap

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cambodia: Sihanoukville and its beaches

Cambodia is more than Angkor Wat. Beyond the fabled temples of Angkor is a sunny getaway called Sihanoukville, Cambodia's most popular beach resort town, south of the capital Phnom Penh. There are a lot of beaches in Sihanoukville and a wide range of accommodation choices for everyone.

Victory Beach is the backpackers' area. That's where you'll find many of the budget accommodation. Sokha Beach is said to be the best beach in Sihanoukville. It used to be a public beach but is now exclusive to the Sokha Beach Resort where we stayed during our visit to Sihanoukville. The other good beach after Sokha is Ochheuteal Beach which is conveniently located near the accommodation at Serendipity Beach. If those beaches are crowded, you can also try Independence Beach. Five kilometers from Ochheuteal is Otres Beach where there would be even less people.

We had traveled a great distance to get to Cambodia from Vietnam. It turned out, everyone was on their way back to Phnom Penh after celebrating the Khmer New Year holidays in the provinces or in Saigon. So we found ourselves joining the mad rush back and found ourselves over four hours delayed with a six hour trip extended to ten!

After staying a night in Phnom Penh, we got on the first bus to Sihanoukville. The ride was a little over four hours. And it took us through the vast Cambodian countryside. At the Sihanoukville bus station, finding a ride to the Sokha Beach was not a problem since tuktuks and motorcycles were readily available.

The impressive Khmer façade of the luxurious main lobby greeted us as our tuktuk entered the vast grounds of the Sokha Beach Resort. As soon as we settled down in our beach view rooms, we proceeded to the Champa Lounge for lunch.

The highlight of the resort is its 1.5 kilometer private white sand beach. The rest of the afternoon was spent taking a nap at the beach.

Later in the evening, we were off to Lemongrass, the resort’s beach side restaurant, for dinner. The Lemongrass was a perfect place to cap the day. As it slowly got dark, the enchanting lights of the restaurant took center stage with the sea breeze relaxing our senses even more. They had both outdoor and indoor dining areas. And nothing beats a night under the stars for a candle-lit dinner by the beach.

The next day, I could have spent the morning island-hopping since the beaches in the nearby islands are fantastic! You can easily arrange boat trips through your guesthouses or hotels. But I was not really feeling well because of some street food I must have eaten.

We were back on the road by lunch since we had to catch a 6 p.m. flight in Phnom Penh back to Ho Chi Minh City. Our fingers were crossed the whole time hoping that we would arrive at the airport just in time for the flight. And it was a good thing the bus from Sihanoukville conveniently passes by the airport. And we got there with a lot of time to spare.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Metro Manila: Mexican and TexMex favorites at Burritos & Tacos (B&T) Mexican Kitchen, Ortigas

Those posts about Mexico got me craving for Mexican food. Unfortunately, most Mexican restaurants in the Philippines are not actually Mexican. They serve TexMex (which comes from Texan and Mexican) cuisine which basically evolved from the use of ingredients available in the United States to create dishes with a strong Mexican influence.

TexMex is characterized by melted cheese (most Mexican tacos do not have cheese) and beans. Texas-style chili con carne, fajitas, chimichangas (deep-fried burritos), hard-shell tacos with ground beef, or serving tortilla chips with salsa as an appetizer are actually TexMex creations. A burrito in the US would have pinto (black beans), Mexican style rice, guacamole, salsas, cheese, and sour cream. But in Mexico, the burrito or tacos de harina would usually just have meat and one or two other ingredients.

Anyway, I remembered Burritos & Tacos (B&T) along Ortigas in North Greenhills (a high school classmate brought me here right after I arrived from Mexico). And since I was in the area this afternoon, I dropped by for some Mexican tacos. They serve a mix of Mexican and TexMex dishes.

Basically, you get to choose your dish: Burrito, Frito Burrito, Burrito Bowl, Mexican Salad, Mexican Taco, Taco, Quesadilla, Guaca de Frito, Chimichanga, Tostada, Taquitos or Flautas. The price of your meal will depend on the meat you choose: Beef (Php350) Carne Asada, Barbacoa or Chili con Carne; Pork (Php340) Chorizo, Alpastor or Carnitas; Chicken (Php330) Jalapeno or Chipotle; Ox (Php360) Lengua Salsa Verde, Tripas or Cabeza; Fish (Php330); Shrimp (Php350); or Vegetarian (Php310).

The Mexican Tacos don't come with cheese while the TexMex Tacos do. You have a choice of corn or flour tortillas, corn usually for Mexican while flour for the TexMex Tacos.

B&T Mexican Kitchen
Sekai Building, Ortigas Avenue cor. Madison Street
(0917) 8126218 / (02) 9751850

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mexico: Central University City Campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)

Even school campuses can make it to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Ciudad Universitaria (University City) of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in Mexico City was inscribed in 2007.

According to UNESCO, "The ensemble of buildings, sports facilities and open spaces of the Central University City Campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), was built from 1949 to 1952 by more than 60 architects, engineers and artists who were involved in the project. As a result, the campus constitutes a unique example of 20th-century modernism integrating urbanism, architecture, engineering, landscape design and fine arts with references to local traditions, especially to Mexico’s pre-Hispanic past. The ensemble embodies social and cultural values of universal significance and is one of the most significant icons of modernity in Latin America."

Since we had time in transit between bus trips, we decided to rush over to UNAM to check out the famous campus. The most iconic buildings include the Rectorate Tower and the Central Library, decorated with murals made by David Alfaro Siqueiros (Rectorate Tower) and Juan O'Gorman (Central Library).

Also in the heart of the campus is the 1968 Olympic Stadium which was also used during the 1986 Soccer World Cup. The mosaic at the entrance of the stadium and reliefs in the stands were done by Diego Rivera.

Other attractions in UNAM include the Centro Cultural Universitario (CCU) where plays, film-showings and concerts are held and the Cuicuilco Archaeological Zone. Yes, the campus has ruins of what is believed to be the largest central settlement in Mesoamerica before the rise of Teotihuacán.

How to get to UNAM
Take the Metro to Universidad. Take exits D or F to access the free shuttle buses around campus. Bus No. 1 will take you to the center of the campus where the Rectorate Tower and Central Library can be found. From there you could walk to the Estadio Olympico. Bus No. 3 takes you to the CCU and Cuicuilco. The free shuttle buses don't run on weekends and during the summer break from late June to August.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mexico: Historic Centre of Morelia and Good Friday Procesión del Silencio

After spending the night in Queretaro, we took an early morning bus at 4 a.m. to Morelia, the capital of Michoacán. The state of Michoacán covers the former territory of the Purépechas, a people of skilled artisans and warriors that was never conquered by the Aztecs. Morelia, when it was established in 1541, was called Valladolid. It was renamed after the Mexican War of Independence in honor of José María Morelos, one of Mexico's national heroes.

As soon as we arrived in Morelia, we left our stuff at the guarda equipaje (baggage storage) at the bus station and took a cab to the centro historico. Like many of Mexico's old cities, the centro historico of Morelia was easy to explore and we gave ourselves half a day to walk around the Historic Centre of Morelia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The cab dropped us off at the massive Catedral, built between 1660 and 1744. Flanked by two plazas, the three-nave sandstone cathedral dominates the skyline of Morelia's centro historico with its two 70 meter-high bell towers.

We got to visit several churches including the Templo de San Agustin, Templo de la Merced, Templo de las Rosas, Templo del Carmen, Templo de San Jose, Templo de San Francisco, Templo de las Monjas and the Templo de la Cruz. Talk about church overload! But unfortunately, we missed the best one, the Santuario de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe which is a further away from the cathedral, near the historic aqueduct. The lavish decorations inside the church created in the early 20th century were molded from clay and combine Art Noveau and Baroque elements.

For those with a sweet tooth, you can pass by the Mercado de Dulces y Artesianas, a sweets market behind the Centro Cultural de Clavijero.

Walking around Morelia was quite straightforward and easy as long as you have a map. After an early lunch, we found ourselves hopping on a bus again, this time to Mexico City for a brief transit to the south of Mexico. More photos in the Ivan About Town Facebook page.

Procesión del Silencio on Good Friday
During Semana Santa, Morelia is famous for its Procesión del Silencio which departs from the Calzada Fray Antonio de San Miguel at 7:30 p.m. and goes through Avenida Madero, Catedral, Quintana Roo, Allende, Plaza Valladolid and ends at the Templo de Capuchinas.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mexico: Walking around Querétaro's centro historico

After spending the morning exploring San Miguel de Allende, we proceeded to Querétaro in the afternoon. The Historic Monuments Zone of Querétaro is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sun was above us when we arrived and we decided to wait for things to cool down a bit before we started walking around the centro historico. So we went to the neighborhood lavandería to get our clothes ready for another round. Since it was nearing summer, days were longer. So we had more than enough time to explore later in the afternoon.

According to UNESCO, "The old colonial town of Querétaro is unusual in having retained the geometric street plan of the Spanish conquerors side by side with the twisting alleys of the Indian quarters. The Otomi, the Tarasco, the Chichimeca and the Spanish lived together peacefully in the town, which is notable for the many ornate civil and religious Baroque monuments from its golden age in the 17th and 18th centuries."

We began our walk around Querétaro at Plaza de la Constitucion. On one side is the Templo de San Francisco, which you can't miss because of its bright red orange facade. It served as the cathedral of Querétaro for two centuries. The church is decorated with tiles imported from Spain. Some of the smaller Baroque altars are still there. But the main altar was replaced with the current Neoclassic altar.

Walking along one of the streets beside the church, we found ourselves at Plaza de las Armas where one can find the Casa de la Corregidora. A very significant historical site of Mexico, it was in this building that Dona Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez (wife of the local corregidor), planned the initial stages of the Mexican War of Independence together with Miguel Hidalgo, Ignacio Allende and other intellectuals. For her role in the conspiracy, she was put on house arrest and later executed.

Of course, like many old cities in Mexico, there are many interesting churches. My favorites were the Templo de Santa Clara with its magnificent Baroque interior, and the Templo y Convento de Santa Rosa de Viterbo. Outside the Templo de Santa Clara, you would immediately notice its inverted flying buttresses with gargoyles and Mudejar-style cupola. Just like Santa Clara, the interior is a masterpiece of Baroque altars. Notice the pulpit with inlaid with ivory, nacre, turtle shell and silver. This is one church you've got to see when in Queretaro.

I really like walking around old Mexican cities. The plazas are well-maintained and kept open. If we had more time, it would have been a good idea just to sit down in those plazas and do nothing. After we visited most of the major sites, we proceeded back to the hostel and retired for the night. We had a 4 a.m. bus to Morelia to catch.

If you were wondering why it's called a historic monuments zone, the inscription includes an extensive archaeological site known as El Pueblito or El Cerrito, dominated by a 30-meter high pyramid, and situated seven kilometers from the centro. We didn't have time to get to it though. More photos in the Ivan About Town Facebook page.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Philippine Registry of Cultural Property (PRECUP) updated 10/17/2011

It's time to update the Philippine Registry of Cultural Property (PRECUP). Last Friday, we got the latest list from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. They declared seven structures in 2010 and this year, four as of October 14, 2011.

Declared as National Historical Landmark are the Capitol Building of Tayabas (now Quezon Province) in Lucena; Santa Cruz Parish Convent in Tanza, Cavite; Church of Loon in Bohol; Old Legislative Building (National Museum) in Manila; Bahay Nakpil-Bautista in Quiapo, Manila and the University of Santo Tomas.

Declared as Heritage Houses are the Lichauco Residence in Sta. Ana, Manila (which I was surprised to find out, is the first declared Heritage House in Metro Manila); Augusto P. Hizon House in San Fernando, Pampanga; Alberta Uitangcoy House in Malolos, Bulacan and the Mira-Nila House in Cubao, Quezon City.

They also declared the the Old Town of Dapitan as the first Heritage Zone under RA 10066.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Preserve the Mountain Province Capitol in Bontoc!

Last night, I received word HCS Chairperson Gemma Cruz-Araneta that another heritage building, this time in Mountain Province, was proposed for demolition. I was told that provincial government wanted to replace the charming American colonial capitol building in Bontoc, Mountain Province with a new structure. The Mountain Province Capitol was in fact among the local government buildings featured in the 2007 HCS Calendar.

I verified with the National Historical Commission of the Philippines to check if they knew about it. And it turns out, they've already acted on it. But their recommendations are a a bit alarming too. Below are excerpts from the letter of NHCP chairperson Dr. Ma. Serena Diokno to Gov. Leonard G. Mayaen:

This has reference to your letter regarding the plan to reconstruct the old wooden provincial capitol building and inquiry if it has been declared Important Cultural Property pursuant to RA 10066.

Please be informed that Section 5 of Republic Act 10066 (National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009) states that all structures more than 50 years old are presumed to be Important Cultural Property. While there has been no formal declaration made by the National Museum (NM) or National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) on the provincial capitol building, it has been an important part of the history and cultural life of the province. We strongly suggest that a new and appropriately sized Capitol Building be constructed at another site to accommodate the various offices and functions of the provincial government, while the original front wing of the old capitol building be preserve and reused as a provincial museum, cultural and tourism office, or training and conference center.

The provincial government may also consider the following options:

1. Preserve the building shell and reconstruct the interior with reinforced concrete or steel framework. This will need prior approval of architectural design by the NHCP and extensive photo-documentation before, during and, after intervention.

2. Dismantle the wooden building wing and reconstruct its architecture using simulated concrete material. This will need prior approval of architectural design by the NHCP and extensive photo-documentation before, during and, after intervention.

3. Dismantle the wooden building wing and integrate its facade into the new (replacement) building. This will need prior approval of architectural design by the NHCP and extensive photo-documentation before, during and, after intervention.

We would appreciate a copy of the development plan for our assessment and recommendations.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Register now for the 6th Philippine Towns and Cities Conference (November 4, 2011)

The Heritage Conservation Society (HCS), Urban Partnerships Foundation (UPF), Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners (PIEP), the City Government of Manila, the Manila Historical and Heritage Commission, together with Far Eastern University, invite you to the 6th Annual Conference on Philippine Towns and Cities (PTC) at the FEU Auditorium, Far Eastern University on November 4, 2011, Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For the past six years, PTC has enhanced civic engagement with local governments units in order to inform and guide the LGUs on the proper care and utilization of a valuable asset — built heritage resources. This year's focus will be on the revitalization of inner city districts, particularly those in the City of Manila.

We encourage architects, urban planners, property developers, policy makers, national and local government officials, engineers, planners, building officials and tourism officers, heritage property owners, and all those interested in heritage to attend. The urban revitalization of old city centers and historic districts is the new big thing for urban planning, property developers and local government policy. This would be a good opportunity for everyone to get insights on opportunities in the revitalization of historic districts.

Conference fess are Php1000 for both government and private participants; and Php200 for undergraduate students with IDs. For more information, contact Dorie Soriano or Luz Regalado of the Heritage Conservation Society at (02) 5466367, (02) 3534494, (0917) 8668853, (0906) 2625631 or e-mail

08:00–08:30 Registration
08:30–08:40 Welcome Remarks - Ms. Gemma Cruz-Araneta, Chairperson, Heritage Conservation Society
08:40–08:50 Introduction of Participants - Mr. Ivan Anthony Henares, Vice President, Heritage Conservation Society
08:50–09:00 Conference Objectives and Expected Outcomes - Arch. Dominic Q. Galicia
09:00–09:20 Case Presentation: Kalibo (Aklan) - Ms. Ana Legaspi
09:20–09:40 Case Presentation: Taal (Batangas) - Mr. Ernie Villavicencio
09:40–10:00 Case Presentation: Santa Maria (Bulacan) - Dr. Sylvia Tomas Joaquin
10:00–10:20 Case Presentation: Binan (Laguna) - Dr. Rosauro Sta. Maria
10:20–10:45 Open Forum
10:45–11:00 Coffee Break
11:00–11:20 “The Challenges and Opportunities of Inner City Revitalization” - Mr. Florian Steinberg, Senior Urban Development Specialist, ADB
11:20–11:40 “The New Plan for the Restoration of Intramuros” - Mr. Jose A. Capistrano, Jr., Administrator, Intramuros Administration
11:40–12:00 Discussion
12:00–13:00 Lunch
13:00–13:20 “Manila: Past, Present and Future” - LArch. Paulo Alcasaren
13:20–13:40 “Binondo: A Past and Future Portal” - Prof. Fernando N. Zialcita
13:40–14:00 “BPO@ Escolta” - Arch. Dominic Q. Galicia
14:00–14:20 “The Legal, Institutional and Regulatory Aspects of the Redevelopment of Historic Districts” - EnP. Asteya Santiago, FPIEP
14:20–14:45 Open Forum
14:45-15:00 Coffee Break
15:00–15:20 “Plans for the Future Development of Metro Manila” - Hon. Francis Tolentino, Chairman, Metro Manila Development Authority
15:20–16:20 Panel Discussion - Arch/EnP. Joy Martinez, Prof. Asteya Santiago, Dr. Nathaniel von Einsiedel, LArch. Paulo Alcasaren, Prof. Fernando Zialcita, Arch. Augusto Villalon, Mr. Jos Ortega and Prof. Mike Luz (Facilitator)
16:20–16:30 Synthesis, Conclusion and Next Steps, Dr. Nathaniel von Einsiedel, President, Heritage Conservation Society

Monday, October 10, 2011

Four-day long weekend from October 29 to November 1, 2011 (All Saints Day)

We have another long weekend coming up! Aside from November 1 (Tuesday), Malacanang just declared October 31 (Monday) as a special non-working holiday through Proclamation No. 265 "to give full opportunity to our people to properly observe [All Saints Day] with all its religious fervor which invariably requires them to travel to and from different regions of the country."

So that's a four-day long weekend for us from October 29 to November 1, 2011. In the meantime, here's the list of Philippine holidays and long-weekend schedule for 2011.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Caltex Road Trip 2011 provides assistance to travelers

When I travel around Luzon, I usually drive since I don't want to be bogged down by bus and jeep schedules, especially in relatively remote locations. There was this one trip we visited Aurora using the old route. No amount of rough road discouraged us from visiting Baler. Access to that side of Luzon was quite difficult in 2007 due to a lot of natural obstacles such as the Sierra Madre mountains, coupled with really bad roads.

We entered Bongabon, and from a distance, the Sierra Madre beckoned as the sun rose from behind them. We finally made it to the foothills driving up a zigzag road. But after just a few meters on the mountain road, the paved part ended and we were faced with a seemingly endless stretch of rough road, about 45 kilometers of it if I remember it right. Then it dawned on us that we forgot to gas up in Cabanatuan!

Our vehicle had just one-fourth of the tank left for the over 60 kilometers to San Luis, Aurora. On the way, we were already thinking of what to do just in case we ran out of gas. The sight of the Caltex gas station was the best thing! We heaved a big sigh of relief once they started to pump gas into our vehicle.

These Luzon road trips are really fun! Especially now that the road conditions north and south of Manila have improved exponentially (just as long as it doesn't rain and flood). Caltex gas stations have always been a welcome oasis for me, to park during long night or early morning drives for a quick power nap, to get some snacks at 7-Eleven stores located in the stations, or to use their clean restrooms in time of dire need. Thank God these Caltex stations are found all across Luzon. One of my favorites is the Mega Caltex Station on the southbound stretch of the NLEX which has some really good dining options.

So don't let the rains dampen your travel plans. It's time to enjoy the joy ride! And don't forget to gas up!

Caltex 75th anniversary in 2011
I didn't realize Caltex is already 75 years this year. There's an ongoing Caltex 75th Anniversary (National) Promo. For a minimum purchase of P500 of Caltex fuel, you get a raffle coupon per receipt. You have until October 25, 2011 to join. One more raffle date is coming up: November 7. Prizes include five Toyota Fortuners and up to Php75000 worth of fuel to several lucky winners.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

UNESCO: Heritage Homeowner's Preservation Manual for the World Heritage Site of Vigan, Philippines

Some months ago, Ric Favis of UNESCO Bangkok mentioned to me that the Heritage Homeowner's Preservation Manual for the World Heritage Site of Vigan, Philippines, co-published by UNESCO and the City Government of Vigan, was already available. According to Favis, "The manual is a practical guide to conserving ancestral houses and related historic buildings not only in Vigan but elsewhere in the Philippines. It provides guidelines based on traditional building techniques and modern scientific methods for maintaining and conserving historic structures."

I finally got myself a copy and it's indeed something a heritage house owner must have since it guides owners on how to conserve, maintain and even fund restoration of ancestral houses. The table of contents and information on how to get copies of the manual can be found in the UNESCO Bangkok website.

Another UNESCO Bangkok publication I got was IMPACT: The effects of tourism on culture and the environment in Asia and the Pacific: Sustainable tourism and the preservation of the world heritage site of the Ifugao Rice Terraces, Philippines. It's quite a long title. The publication gives us a picture of what tourism has done to the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras and the communities that live there. The booklet was prepared by the Save the Ifugao Rice Terraces Movement (SITMo). And the good thing is that a complete .pdf copy can be downloaded from the UNESCO Bangkok website. You can check the e-Library of UNESCO Bangkok for more downloadable resources.

Copies of the Heritage Homeowner's Preservation Manual can be ordered from Edgar de la Cruz, City Government of Vigan, Vigan City, Philippines (E-mail:; Fax: +63-77 722-8776)
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