Thursday, August 30, 2012

Register now for heritage conservation and cultural tourism conferences this November!

There will be two heritage events organized by ICOMOS Philippines and the Heritage Conservation Society this November. I highly encourage everyone to attend both events

ICOMOS ICTC International Conference on Cultural Tourism
The International Conference on Cultural Tourism will be held in the City of Vigan, Philippines from November 7-8, 2012. The event is organized by ICOMOS Philippines and the ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Committee (ICTC). Vigan as venue for the conference is most apt as it is an example of a World Heritage Site as an emerging tourism destination.

Through this event, expert members of ICTC, ICOMOS Philippines and representatives from developing countries of Asia and the Pacific will establish association with national and local officials, government cultural agencies, tourism policy makers and stakeholders, cultural workers, educators and students to discuss present day issues on tourism and heritage. The benefits of community participation in conservation and cultural tourism programs as an essential aspect of cultural tourism and the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention will become the underlying themes of the conference.

For registration to the conference, e-mail Note that seats are limited. Participants will be accepted on a first come, first served basis. Payment of conference fee confirms your slot. Conference fees: Professional (Php3,500 inclusive of lunch on both days, conference kits) and Undergraduate Student (Php600 inclusive of packed lunch on both days, conference kits). Check out the Facebook event page. Here is the list of conference papers as of August 27, 2012.

Heritage Conservation Summit 2012: Economics of Heritage
After six successful years of organizing the Philippine Towns and Cities Conference, the Heritage Conservation Society now brings you the Heritage Conservation Summit 2012 on Saturday, November 24, 2012 in Batangas City.

Heritage advocates, cultural workers and government agencies will gather in Batangas City for the Heritage Conservation Summit 2012. This year's theme is the Economics of Heritage where discussions will revolve on how to make heritage conservation economically viable and sustainable.

For registration to the conference, e-mail Conference fees: Professional (Php1,000) and Undergraduate Student (Php300). Check out the Facebook event page.

S.O.S Manila Bay: Save our sunset! No to the reclamation of Manila Bay!

Below is an online petition drafted by a group of concerned citizens, several of whom were part of the original group that opposed the same reclamation of Manila Bay proposed in 1992. Let us work together to stop moves for reclamation again.

Sunset on Manila Bay is a spectacular experience, and is free for all to enjoy. But not for long, if developers have their way.

In 1992, a group called “Manila Goldcoast Development Corp.” lobbied for approval to reclaim the entire Manila Bay waterfront along Roxas Boulevard, between the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the US Embassy. This scheme was challenged by citizens, who fought to preserve the last remaining access to the bay along Manila's historical district. The citizens won. The Manila City Council passed City Ordinance No. 7777, prohibiting reclamation in this area.

However, Goldcoast was, tragically, able to get City Ordinance No. 7777 repealed. In February 2011, City Ordinance No. 8233 reversed the prohibition. A consortium agreement was signed in April 2012 to reclaim the same waterfront along Roxas Boulevard, about 288 hectares of land, even swallowing up the Manila Yacht Club and the Philippine Navy Headquarters.

In addition to blocking the view of the sunset from Malate and Ermita, the reclamation will worsen floods, extinguish the tourism area along Roxas Boulevard, destroy the potential of our historic Intramuros, remove 20 vital anchorage berths for ships and most of all, take away from us a waterfront we all love.

No aspect of this scheme will improve the City of Manila in any discernible way — it is all for the profit of a few individuals.

We must act to protest this reclamation and prevent further destruction and loss of our heritage. We will stop them again.

Sign the petition:
More information in the Facebook page:

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Laguna: A day in charming Pila Town

Ivan Man Dy writes about our visit to the heritage town of Pila, Laguna last summer. Text by Ivan Man Dy. Photos by Ivan Henares.

One lazy weekday, I suddenly found myself itching to go out and escape the city, an impromptu day trip. A few calls here and there and I found out that my tokayo Ivan Henares is heading south to the town of Los BaƱos in Laguna. I hitched a ride and that's how we found ourselves in the town of Pila.

As a heritage junkie, Pila Historical Landmark has been on my list of historic towns to visit. Funny that I've been to the farther ones like Vigan, Taal, Silay, Carcar and even Sabtang (Batanes) but never to this one which is as close as it can get to the Metro.

Now, exploring a place at your own pace has its advantages but having an insider and knowledgeable host and guide is something of a treat. And it's something that I really welcomed upon meeting Cora Relova of the Pila Historical Society Foundation.

To be honest, there is not much activity happening in Pila, a quaint little town surrounded by rice fields in this lush part of Laguna. No dramatic history, grand edifices nor high-spirited fiestas here. Not even a mall or a fast food chain. What it has however, is something that an urban rat like me find refreshing: provincial innocence and countryside charm.

Over a lunch of house specialties that included pako salad, pork chops, atsarang ubod, fresh coconut juice and an amazingly savory ginataang hipon na tabang, Cora regaled us with historical tidbits and stories of a city girl growing up in the town. According to her, Pila's fortunes are linked with its surrounding agricultural lands, no surprise really. And that wealth was eventually translated to the good life best seen in the houses around the Pila's central plaza.

Any visit to the the town will ultimately lead you here, a lovely patch of green (during the heat of summer) dominated on both sides by the Church of San Antonio de Padua (1578) and the Pila Municipal Hall (1931). This traditional colonial-era pattern has sadly been disfigured in many old towns today. As I explored the latter, I saw a plaque inside that mentions one of Cora's ancestors (grandfather perhaps) as being the municipal president in the 1900s. Roots to the town go really deep for the Relovas of Pila. Surrounding the plaza is Pila's prized collection of historic homes, most dating back to the early 1900s when that generation, alas, perhaps the last of them, still adopted the traditional bahay na bato architecture for their homes.

A century hence, most of these houses are quite well maintained and still with their traditonal details like big kapis windows, intricate kalado patterns and fluted columns. As an extra treat, Cora invited us to her cute 1920s home that was built by her grandmother and regaled us with more stories.

Over a merienda of halo-halo by the verandah, we listened to the 1970s pop band VST at the recently installed speakers in the plaza. We whiled away the afternoon and watch the day end in this small town. "Pila is is not grand. It's charming," Cora says. I couldn't agree more. For a brief moment, time suddenly slowed down in this lovely town called Pila.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Singapore: Skydiving simulation at iFly Singapore on Sentosa Island

Singapore has many new attractions. Every time I come back, they always have something new. I was quite excited to try iFly Singapore on Sentosa Island. iFly Singapore opened in May 2011. So it wasn't even a year old when I got to experience this wind tunnel for indoor sky diving.

iFly simulates free fall from 12,000 to 3,000 feet. Each skydive lasts about 45 seconds. And you get two skydives for every session. The regular cost for two skydives is SG$89. But if you come during off-peak and super off peak times, you can pay as low as SG$69. They also have family and group packages as well.

Make sure to book in advance if you are looking for a particular time since wait time can be long, especially during peak hours. Also make sure you are there 1.5 hours before your flight time since you will have to go through a briefing and gear up before you actually get into the wind tunnel.

How to get there
Take an MRT to the Harbour Front Station. A few levels above the Harbour Front Station in Vivocity is the Sentosa Monorail Station of the Sentosa Express. The ride will cost you SG$3.50 which includes use of the monorail within Sentosa and the trip back to Sentosa Station. Get off at the last station which is Beach Station. iFly Singapore is walking distance from there. You can actually see it from the station.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Palawan: Kayangan Lake, Dicantuman Beach, Twin Peaks, Siete Pecados & Mt. Tapyas in Coron

The unpredictability of the weather the past few weeks had got us praying for the rain to take a vacation while we took ours. I brought my tourism class to Coron, Palawan last weekend which is my way of letting them experience our country first-hand. And yes, the sun was smiling at us as soon as our plane landed in Busuanga.

It was a bit cloudy when I last visited Coron. So the clear sky was a welcome development. I wrote some articles then to help plan a trip to Coron such as Things to do in Coron, Busuanga and Culion, Palawan and Coron hotels, transportation and more stuff to help you plan your trip which I will be updating in the next few days with the many new hotels in Coron.

Some of my students visited Maquinit Hot Springs the evening we arrived. The entrance fee had gone up from Php100 to Php150. But with a student ID, you can get in at a discounted rate of Php120. Tricycles rides still cost the same at Php300 back and forth.

The next day, we climbed up Mount Tapyas for a really nice view of Coron Bay. You have to climb about 720 steps to reach the Mt. Tapyas View Deck. Except for that ugly reclamation project they completed beside the public market, the panorama is stunning, especially at sunset.

Our main activity was a boat tour of attractions around Coron Island. We had arranged it with Busuanga Seadive Resort who provided the group a boat with a second floor deck. I actually spent most of the time enjoying the cool sea breeze on the deck as we slowly made our way around the island.

Our first stop was Kayangan Lake. I had actually missed this the last time since we didn't have enough time having been to so many other attractions on Coron. There is a ten to fifteen minute hike up the rock and down to the lake. At the top is a view point where you can take a photo of one of Coron's most popular panoramas.

Guides will require you to wear your life vests when you take a swim in the lake since it can get quite deep. But it's a refreshing swim definitely.

From Kayangan Lake, we proceeded further south to Dicantuman Beach where we were scheduled to have lunch. Banol Beach used to be the popular beach. It was better actually. But we were told that because of some disagreements on the revenue, the local Tagbanuas who own the island of Coron, decided to close the beach.

Coron Island actually has many beaches tucked in small coves. But most of them are off limits. Dicantuman Beach was opened quite recently.

Since our boat was too big to dock close to the beach, we decided to have lunch on the boat. Our boat actually had its own kitchen. And our meals were prepared there.

To get to the beach, we had to take a bamboo raft or a smaller boat. We spent an hour or two there. It was such a lazy afternoon, I actually took a power nap on one of the lounge chairs.

From there, we proceeded to Twin Peaks and Siete Pecados Marine Park which are both popular snorkeling areas. Not that the current can get really strong so you are advised to wear your life vests at all times.

I moved to the Coron Ecolodge that night to try our their facilities. It's a relatively new hotel. We were scheduled to visit Malcapuya and Banana Islands the next day. But our luck ran out since it was raining hard and the trip got canceled. So I literally spent the day in bed, getting my much-needed rest.

Hopefully I get to explore more of Coron soon. For the many activities you can do in Coron, check out Things to do in Coron, Busuanga and Culion, Palawan.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Myanmar: Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake, Mandalay & Sagaing

Relatively isolated for many years from tourists, Myanmar (Burma) is fast opening its doors to the outside world. One must experience Myanmar before foreign visitors make a mad rush to this beautiful country of ancient cities, golden pagodas, and interesting rural communities.

I spent eight days in Myanmar. But that was not enough to really experience Myanmar's big four destinations namely Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle (Inlay) Lake. In Mandalay, you can visit historic sites in Innwa (Ava), Amarapura and Paleik, plus Sagaing, Mingun and Monywa in the neighboring Sagaing Region.

For more information on preparing for a trip to Myanmar, read Travel tips you must know before traveling to Myanmar (Burma).

Here are photos from my recent trip to Myanmar:
July 18-19 - Yangon, Myanmar
July 20 - Mandalay and Sagaing, Myanmar
July 21 - Mandalay, Myanmar
July 22 - Inle Lake, Myanmar
July 24 - Bagan, Myanmar
July 25-26 - Yangon, Myanmar Yangon, Myanmar

Monday, August 06, 2012

Myanmar: Travel tips you must know before traveling to Burma

Myanmar (Burma) is a country of golden pagodas and palaces, and beautiful cultural landscapes where mountain lakes play host to thriving and colorful rural communities. At the very least, you have to see Myanmar's big four: Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle (Inlay) Lake. It's been relatively isolated from the major tourist routes. But things are changing really quick as the country starts welcoming more visitors.

Here are a few tips to get you by. Note that information may change as Myanmar's banking sector catches up with the global standards.

1. Apply for your Myanmar visa before flying there
Update: Philippine passport holders can now fly to Myanmar visa free

While Myanmar offers visa on arrival for certain nationalities (but with required invitation letters) at the Yangon International Airport, you have to apply for your visa before flying to Myanmar, particularly if you are flying there for tourism purposes. They can be very strict. In fact, my return flight to KL was a bit delayed since we had to wait for a deported passenger who did not have the required visa. Besides, the visa on arrival is granted only if you're going to Myanmar to attend a meeting or event or there on business. And it's twice the price of a visa from the embassy.

The Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar in the Philippines is located at the 8/F Gervasia Corporate Center, Amorsolo Street, Makati City. You can contact them at +63(2) 8931944 or 8123644. You will need to bring a valid passport (meaning more that six months before expiry), a photocopy of the first page of the passport, two passport size photos and a CD with a soft copy of the passport photo. At the embassy, you will fill out an application form and sign a waiver that you will not write or publish anything against the Myanmar government.

After submitting your requirements, you will need to deposit the US$20 visa fee at the Bank of China, Philam Life Tower, 8767 Paseo de Roxas, Makati City (Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, US$ Account No. 003419 2221 014. You bring your deposit slip on the day of release of your visa which is usually after three working days.

2. Cash only
Passengers who do not know that there are no international ATMs or credit card facilities are shocked to find out about this when they land in Myanmar. As of this writing, there is really no way to obtain cash in Myanmar. And many passengers without funds are forced to fly to Thailand to withdraw money. This may change soon though as the banking sector is fast-tracking the necessary infrastructure to be able to offer ATM and credit card services to foreigners. But for now, it's only cash.

Also note that your dollar bills should be new and crisp, have no markings whatsoever, and have no folds or creases. I was surprised to find out that only two of my dollar bills were accepted at the airport bank. Although other money changers and your hotel will probably be more lenient about the markings (note that most US dollar bills in the Philippines have stamped numbers). But they won't be lenient with the creases and folds.

You also have to remember to bring small US dollar denominations such as US$1, 5, 10 and 20 which you will use for hotel payments and entrance fees at pagodas and other sites. The local currency called kyat, you use for everything else.

3. Change money at the airport
Most of the travel sites and blogs that you've read must have warned you not to change money at the airport. But things have changed and the banking industry has transformed much in the past year. My local Myanmar friends actually told me that it's best to have my money changed at the airport. And they were right.

The current exchange rate is something like MMK875 per US$1. At the airport, I got MMK873 per US$1. At hotels and money changers, it would range from MMK830 to 870 per US$1. Hotels actually offer the worst exchange rate in my experience. Too bad they only accepted two of my bills at the airport. The only better rate I saw was at a money changer at the Bogyoke Aung San Market. But not much of a difference with the airport rate.

4. Do not change money on the street
Don't be fooled by people on the street offering very attractive rates. These are scams. You give them a US$100 bill and they ask for another one saying that the bill you gave has something wrong with it. While you look for another bill, they make a quick switch, and your US$100 bill disappears without you noticing as they return to you a US$1 bill. There is really no reason for you not to exchange money at a bank since they offer good rates now.

5. Buy a local sim at the airport
If you need to have phone access in Myanmar, you should buy a local sim card at the airport. It's one of the few places you can buy a sim card for foreigners. In Yangon, I could not send outgoing SMS. Outside Yangon, there is totally no signal for Philippine mobile networks. When I got back in Yangon, I never got my signal back.

6. Book accommodation for your first night
I'm the type who'd usually look for accommodation when I'm already there. But Yangon hotels and guest houses (the ones found online at least) tend to be full since there are not that many. So it's best to book your first night. There are actually many choices for budget accommodation. But unfortunately, many of the budget options are not online. So you can only contact them by phone.

I stayed at a family-run guest house in Bagan and spent US$12 for an airconditioned room with attached toilet. In Inle Lake, I spent US$10 for a fan room with toilet. In Mandalay, I spent US$13 for an airconditioned room at a one star hotel. Yangon turned out to be the most expensive.

7. Purchase your bus tickets from your hotel
While some try their luck at Aung San Stadium thinking that they will get tickets cheaper there, usually the opposite happens. Most hotels offer convenience, reliable bus companies and better deals. So it's best to purchase a bus ticket from them. If you are looking for VIP buses, Mandalar Minn has a VIP service between Yangon and Mandalay with spacious seats and includes a light dinner and many other amenities and services. However, that's the only route with those kinds of seats.

Note also that the bus station in Yangon is very far, about 45 minutes away. And taxis can cost between MMK8,000 to 12,000 depending on your haggling skills. When going to Inle Lake, you will be dropped off at the Shwe Nyaung Junction and will need to hire a taxi from there (about MMK8,000 per taxi). You can opt to wait and share a taxi with other travelers who are also going the Nyaung Shwe, the jump-off point for Inle Lake. I paid MMK3,000 for a motorbike ride from the Mandalay Bus Station to town, and a horse cart ride from Nyaung U Bus Station to my guest house on the way to Old Bagan.

8. Get ready to get your feet dirty
Ditch the shoes and wear slippers since you'll be required to take them off at almost every religious site as a sign of respect. Note also that the floor or ground of these sites are not exactly clean and you'll literally get your feet dirty. So those foot spas will have to wait until you get back home.

9. Wear proper clothing
Best to wear jeans, pants or a long skirt for the ladies. But if you really can't live without shorts, make sure they are beyond the knees. To remedy the situation, you can also purchase a longyi (the local sarong) and wrap it around when entering the pagodas. Also remember, no exposed shoulders.

10. Hiring your own transportation is essential
To get around, it might be best to hire a motorcycle with driver (if you are alone) or a taxi for groups or for those who are not used to riding on a motorcycle. They save you a lot of time since they know where to take you and also serve as your basic guide. Unfortunately, you won't be able to take regular public transportation to the sites in places like Manadalay and Bagan. So you will really need to get your own transportation to maximize your visit.

In Mandalay, the motorcycle with driver rate I got is MMK12,000 within Mandalay and MMK15,000 for sites outside Mandalay. Also had to pay an extra MMK5,000 to be taken by motorcycle to Innwa since it requires a boat trip and renting a horse cart which would cost more.

In Bagan, motorcycles for foreigners are not allowed. So your only options are a bike, horse cart or a taxi. If you're used to biking, that would be a good option only if you have a good map since the trails are not clearly marked. Hiring a horse cart or taxi saves you a lot of time.

In Inle (Inlay) Lake, you will have to hire a boat for the day. I spent MMK15,000 for the whole day.

Hope these ten tips help you plan your trip to Myanmar (Burma). Do visit my Myanmar photo albums in the Ivan About Town Facebook page for some ideas of places to visit:

July 18-19 - Yangon, Myanmar
July 20 - Mandalay and Sagaing, Myanmar
July 21 - Mandalay, Myanmar
July 22 - Inle Lake, Myanmar
July 24 - Bagan, Myanmar
July 25-26 - Yangon, Myanmar Yangon, Myanmar
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