Thursday, April 27, 2006

Pampanga: Pampanga's pride

Pampanga's pride is indeed its heritage and cuisine. I got a lot of texts yesterday since my blog was mentioned in the article Hit the Road in 2bU in the Inquirer Lifestyle section. And people had been calling the Center for Kapampangan Studies for information. Anyway, the article information was based on entries 9 and 10 of my blog.

Just some corrections, what was mentioned as Furniture Clay (yes we had callers asking about the clay furniture) is actually Furniture City in Mabalacat, Pampanga. This is a complex of world-class furniture factories which export their products worldwide. Before you visit, please call Lisa Samia at (045) 8930092 to 93.

Abe's Farm is actually the Mt. Arayat resthouse of restaurateur Larry Cruz of the LJC Restaurant Group which includes Cafe Adriatico and Cafe Havana among many others. The fabulous resthouse is in Magalang, Pampanga, the hometown of Larry's father, journalist and artist E. Aguilar Cruz. Having lunch at his place requires arrangements made much earlier though (photo of buffet table is on the left). For more information, click here.

Another must try lunch or dinner venue is Claude Tayag's residence Bale Dutung in Villa Gloria, Angeles City. This P1800 per head Kapampangan feast has to be pre-arranged as well and you must have at least 12 persons in your group (photo of Claude's paella is on the right). Claude has a shop in his house where you can buy bottled buro and taba ng talangka but the Claude 9 brand is also available in Pampanga supermarkets such as Essel Supermarket. You can also pass by Tita's or Pampanga's Best along Gapan-Olongapo Road for even more Kapampangan delicacies.

C Italian Restaurant is among the many international offerings that line Fields Avenue and Friendship Highway beside Clark. You can check out Zapata's (Mexican), Salvatore's (Italian), Subdelicious (American), Cottage Kitchen (Cajun), and a host of Japanese and Korean restaurants among many others.

The ensaymadas in San Fernando are made-to-order and you have to call them at least 2 days in advance. But Imang Salud Dayrit's San Fernando ensaymadas are actually available in Manila. These melt-in-your-mouth wonders are six inches in diameter, made with the finest ingredients and topped with a generous serving of queso de bola. You can visit the Legaspi Sunday Market organized by San Lorenzo Village and open every Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. behind the Corinthian Plaza building. Make sure you look for the Imang Salud booth. Also on sale are atcharang gule, atcharang ubud, balu-balo, tibok-tibok and pickled mangoes. Another signature dessert but made-to-order is plantanilla, sweet egg crepes with latik filing. Yummy! You can call (0920) 9478819 for orders.

But one thing the article was not able to mention (since it wasn't in my blog article) was Everybody's Cafe where Kapampangan food is available everyday in their turo-turo style display. Try out the pako salad, calderetang baka, morcon, chicharon bulaklak, tortang bangus, inihaw na hito or bulalo soup. For the brave, go further and savor the buro with hito (fermented fish paste with catfish), betute (deep-fried stuffed frog), camaru (fried cricket adobo), dumara (wild duck adobo) or pindang damulag (carabeef tapa). They have branches in San Fernando along MacArthur Highway in Barangay Del Pilar, and Angeles City in Nepo Mart.

Other must tries are the Kapampangan halo-halo places. In fact, there are three distinct halo-halo varieties in Pampanga. These are Guagua (Razon’s), Angeles (Corazon’s) and Arayat (Kabigting's and Jurado's) halo-halo. It must also be noted that Kapampangan halo-halo is distinct from the other halo-halo served in the country because it uses only three or four ingredients or sahog. However, the richness of these ingedients more than compensates for the number of types thrown in the glass. Arayat for example is distinct for its pastillas, crushed beans and saging combination; Guagua for its macapuno, saging, and leche flan; while Angeles is distinct for its mais, saging, pastillas and crushed beans combination.

Also check out Aling Lucing's at the Crossing (Henson Street, Angeles City) which is the birthplace of Pampanga sisig and the steakhouses in Marisol Subdivision, Angeles City. Luring's of Guagua (with branches all over Pampanga) serves some of the best barbeque and other grilled meat products. Ikabud (the contracted form of ika kabud which translates as only you) is another restaurant that serves grilled food and is located in Hensonville, Angeles City.

If you want to try out everything, go for Smorgasbord, the buffet Kapampangan lunch and dinner offered at Partyland (MacArthur Highway and SM City Pampanga) and Holidayland (Gapan-Olongapo Road) both in San Fernando.

Visiting Pampanga has now been made easier and carefree with a tour entiled Pampanga's Pride offered through the Island Caravan. Visit their website for more information or e-mail

The tour includes a visit to...

  • Bacolor Church - this is the half-buried San Guillermo Church in Bacolor. Entering what was once the largest church in Pampanga, visitors enter the church through the choirloft windows, and are greeted inside by beautifully restored retablos dug up from several feet of lahar. The citizens of Bacolor take pride in their rich heritage which is why they painstakingly excavated the ornately carved wooden main and side altars which are now back to their pristine condition;
  • Betis Church - a must visit church in Pampanga, the centuries-old Betis Church in Guagua is nicknamed the "Sistine chapel of the Philippines" because of its wall ceiling murals. It is the second oldest church in Pampanga and one of the 26 churches declared by the National Museum as national cultural treasures;
  • Archdiocesan Museum and Archives - savor the grandeur and elegance of religious art in Pampanga with a visit to the repository of Pampanga's church treasures housed inside the University of the Assumption; and
  • Center for Kapampangan Studies - a museum, archives, library, research center and theater rolled into one, the Center for Kapampangan Studies was put up by Holy Angel University in 2002 to preserve, study and promote Kapampangan history and culture
Lunch is at Everybody's Cafe while afternoon snacks includes halo-halo at Corazon's. There are also optional visits to any of the following: Pampanga's Best Factory (for big groups), Lantern Factory, Minalin and Apalit Churches, or the pottery area in Sto. Tomas.

For those who could afford to splurge, go for the overnight tour package which includes dinner at Claude Tayag's Bale Dutung, lunch the next day at Abe's Farm of Larry Cruz, and overnight accomodations at King's Royal Hotel and Resort.

Above are some photos of the natural heritage of Pampanga which I took way back in college in 2001 and 2002.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Malaysia: Putrajaya, city planning at its finest!

It was less than 48 hours before I returned to the Philippines. And my last two days was going to be spent in Kuala Lumpur, the hub of the no-frills airline AirAsia whose revolutionary air ticket rates are changing the airline industry in Malaysia and around Southeast Asia. Our own Cebu Pacific in fact seems to be following suit.

I arrived in the LCC-T of the KLIA at about 6 p.m. Then I took the AirAsia shuttle again from the airport to KL Sentral for RM9. From KL Sentral, I took bus no. 110 to Chinatown, the same bus I rode to the Putrajaya Bus Station. The fare was RM2. I got off at the corner of Jalan Petaling and walked around to look for a guest house. My bags were heavy and since I saw an Indian restaurant first, I decided to have dinner. It was roti canai and curry dip for me.

Then I continued looking around until finally, I saw a guest house. They didn't have single rooms anymore, but a double was available. The owner offered me a RM5-discount since I was alone so I paid RM30 for a non-aircon double room with a queen-sized bed. Good enough.

The evening was spent at the guest house resting and re-packing my luggage. A Singapore PY, Siti Mariam, had invited me to meet up since she was studying in Malaysia. I forgot to jot down her number so I went to an internet shop to get it. When I got it, I sent her an SMS and my boring next day suddenly had a long list of things to do.

In the morning, I took a walk around the center of Kuala Lumpur and Chinatown. I had breakfast first, again at an Indian restaurant. Then it was off for a walk. Among the sights in the area were Hindu and Chinese temples and old govenment buildings which included the old KL City Hall, the KL Memorial Library, National History Museum and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building (above) all around Merdeka Square, and the art deco Central Market (right).

I would like to make special mention of the adaptive reuse of buildings in KL. Notice the McDonald's store housed in an old colonial building. Why can't McDonald's in the Philippines do the same? They could have done that in Vigan by using reusing the ruins of the old convento. Again, I would like to reiterate that the McDonald's building in Vigan is nothing to be proud of. I hope the City Government of Vigan realizes that since nothing is better than the original. When McDonald's Philippines learns how to respect heritage, indeed that will be the day! Kudos to McDonald's in Malaysia. Notice the signage of the store as well. It does not clash or overpower the architectural details of the building. Bravo!

At about 11 a.m., I went back to the guest house to prepare for check out. By 11:30 a.m., I was off to KL Sentral where I would take the KTM Komuter to Serdang. Again, it was bus no. 110 going back to KL Sentral. Serdang was about 30 minutes away from KL and the fare was RM1.70.

Mariam met up with me at the train station and we went to Universiti Putra Malaysia where she studied, to have lunch. This time, food was Malay. I had a chicken dish with coconut milk, and a beef dish as well. Yummy! Then it started to rain again! Just great!

We were off to Putrajaya after lunch which was right beside Serdang. Putrajaya is envisioned to be the future capital city of Malaysia and was planned and constructed from scratch. This big investment in city and urban planning is scheduled to be completed in 2012 but the finished structures are already monumental and spectacular!

After asking around at the information office, we were off to the CruiseTasik Putrajaya which is the best way to see this city of the 21st Century. Putrajaya actually reminded me of another capital city in South America which was a result of planning as well. This is the city of Brasilia in Brazil which is in fact a UNESCO World Heritage site. And as the description goes, "Brasilia, a capital created ex nihilo in the centre of the country in 1956, was a landmark in the history of town planning. Urban planner Lucio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer intended that every element – from the layout of the residential and administrative districts (often compared to the shape of a bird in flight) to the symmetry of the buildings themselves – should be in harmony with the city's overall design. The official buildings, in particular, are innovative and imaginative." In just a little over 40 years, the city was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Putrajaya is similar as it was created ex nihilo (created out of nothing) as well with structures all in harmony with each other. And I wouldn't be surprised if 40 years from now, it is inscribed in the UNESCO list. Other planned capitals include Washington D.C. in the US, Canberra in Australia, and Astana in Kazakhstan. I really hope the government considers doing the same to decongest Manila. In fact, there were proposals to move the capital to Clark. If they do, I hope they plan it as well and as spectacular.

Anyway, we were able to get RM5 discount coupons for the cruise so we paid RM25 for the 45-minute cruise which took us around an island in the center of a man-made lake that offered magnificent views of the city in the making: (1) Putra Mosque and the Prime Minister's Office in the background, (2) Seri Wawasan Bridge, (3) the Millennium Monument, (4) me and Mariam enjoying the cruise, (5) Putrajaya International Convention Center, (6) Seri Saujana Bridge, (7) continuous construction;

(8) Darul Ehsan Palace, the palace of the sultan of Selangor, (9) me and Mariam in front of the Putra Mosque, (10) me with the Seri Gemilang Bridge at the back, (11) Putra Bridge, (12) the convention center and Seri Gemilang Bridge, (13) and (14) ongoing construction, (15) a playground waiting for children, (16) walls of the lake... even these were artistically done, (17) an amphitheatre and (18) another spectacular bridge.

I think the HULRB needs a revamp! Urban planning in the Philippines is non-existent in the government and it's about time our politicians start creating an urban planning superbody if they still had brain cells left in them after all that squabbling. This body should be manned by nothing less than the best and brightest urban planners and architects who would rework our obsolete land use standards and practices.

After the cruise, we took more photos near the Putra Mosque and the Prime Minister's Office. Then it was back to the train station since I was going to meet up with another SSEAYP batchmate, Jesslyn Wong in Petaling Jaya.

To get to her, I had to take the KTM Komuter back to KL Sentral then transfer to the Putra LRT where I would take a train to Asia Jaya. And I had to do it with all my luggage. Hehe!

Anyway, Jesslyn passed by for me at the station and we went to Chinatown for dinner. We passed by for her sister who knew the great places to eat at. Today was a great culinary sampling of Malaysia's diversity. In the morning I had Indian, for lunch it was Malay and for dinner, it was Peranakan, a fusion of Chinese and Malay! We had Asam Laksa, a tamarind-based noodle dish with fish, and Yau Yu, a cuttlefish dish with vegetables and crushed nuts. Yummy!

After dinner, we went to meet up with another ex-MaPY, Andrea Chong at a Mamak cafe near her place. This time, I had chicken murtabak. At 11 p.m., it was off to the airport where I was to spend the night. Since my flight was at 7:15 a.m., that meant a 5:15 a.m. check-in time and I did not want to suffer the hassle of looking for transport at 3:30 a.m. since the airport was an hour and a half away from KL. It turns out, I was not the only one spending the night at the airport since when I got there, all the seats were occupied by sleeping passengers, mostly foreigners. Some had their own sleeping bags with their luggage and other belongings such as surfboards right beside them.

I picked an empty spot and lay down on the cold granite floor to get some sleep. I was up at 5 a.m. maybe since I heard a slight noise when they opened the check-in counters. Sleeping at the airport was indeed a good move. I didn't have to worry about getting there at such an unholy hour and I saved on lodging costs. Hehe! Anyway, after two more hours of waiting at the departure gate, we were off to Clark Field. We arrived in Clark at 11:15 a.m. and that put to a close another great summer backpack trip.

Now that I'm back, it's time to discover more great places around the Philippines. I may have criticized the way our government runs this nation. But we have more things to be proud of as can be seen from the many wonderful places around the country I've been to. Check out my blog index for backpack ideas around this island paradise called the Philippines.

Monday, April 17, 2006

April 18 is World Monuments Day!

The International Committee on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) is the institution behind World Monuments Day. The theme for this year is industrial heritage. For more information on industrial heritage in the Philippines, visit the ICOMOS Philippines blog.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Thailand: Cruising the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok

Today was another take it slow day. All I needed to do was to get my luggage from Ton's apartment. I had left one of my bags with Ton so that travelling in Laos would not be that much a hassle for me. So I woke up quite late.

Since Ton's apartment was near Chatuchak Market which was quite a distance from where I was staying, I made sure I planned my transportation to his place. And this included the Chao Phraya River Express. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, the Khao San tourist area was not connected to the skytrain or subway and the cheapest way to get to them was via ferry from Banglamphu (Pier No. 13 - Phra Arthit Pier) to the Central Pier which was a few meters from the Saphan Taksin BTS Station.

The Phra Arthit Pier was about half a kilometer from Khao San Road. So it was just a few minutes walk away. Right beside it was the Phra Sumane Fort (above), one of the few remaining fortified outposts in Bangkok. You could also see the newly-contructed Rama VIII Bridge (below) which was opened to traffic in 2003.

Sigh! The newly-built bridges in our Southeast Asian neighbors just makes me despise the DPWH which constructs some of the ugliest infrastructure in the world! I guess they've already mastered the formula of estimating just the right amount of material to build a bridge so that they could pocket as much of the funds allotted to the project as they can. In fact, there are well-entrenched corruption networks in these agencies that newly-appointed agency heads, no matter how clean, are powerless against them.

Anyway, the ferry ride was just THB11 and you passed by some of the best sights in Bangkok. In fact, river cruises along the Chao Phraya are a very lucrative business. There are even luxury ferries which offer lunch and dinner packages for tourists and locals. I was amazed at the variety of tourist ferries which were sailing along the river from the traditional to luxurious! Many if not most of the great cities of the world were founded along the banks of rivers. It makes me feel sad that the country neglected the Pasig River which had the same potential as the Chao Phraya or the Singapore River. In fact, much of Manila's heritage is found along the river. And if we rehabilitate both the river and its banks, we can lure visitors for a cruise. But this I could say, you will know if a country is mature if some of its best real estate is found along the river. I'll expound on this later.

Among the landmarks along the river are (1) the domed building of Thammasat University, (2) Patravadi Theater, (3) Wat Arun, (4) the Grand Palace and the Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram, (5) and (6) the Royal Naval Institute, (7) Wat Kanlayanamit, (8) Santa Cruz Church, (9) Memorial Bridge, (10) and (11) more heritage buildings and temples, (12) Holy Rosary Church, (13) pagoda of the Foundation for Morality and Propagation for Welfare, and (14) five-star hotels and office buildings along the river.

As I mentioned earlier, you will know that a country is mature if some of the best real estate is found along the river. Here in the Philippines, the Pasig River is a dumping area for factory wastes. I mean if we did urban planning right, you should see some of the best buildings from the Guadalupe Bridge. But instead, you see factories, shanties and billboards!

In Bangkok, the Royal Orchid Sheraton, Shangri-La, Oriental, Sofitel Bangkok and the Peninsula are just some of the few luxury hotels right by the banks of the Chao Phraya River. In fact, when I took a walk around the Bang Rak area a little later, I was surprised to see that the land route to these hotels were not scenic and you had to pass through some narrow streets and backroads to get to these hotels. Thus, the river is their biggest asset and each has a port from which their clients could go on cruises along the Chao Phraya.

I think Metro Manila can change this by re-zoning the banks of the Pasig River. All factories and other industrial structures must be relocated elsewhere and these properties along the river should be redeveloped. Once this is done, coupled with the rehabilitation of all the heritage along the river, and that includes restoring the old bridges and preserving the Arroceros Forest Park which we all hope Mayor Atienza won't chop down, we can lure tourists to enjoy a dinner cruise along the Pasig and out into Manila Bay.

I got off at the Central Pier and walked a few meters to the skytrain station. I got a day pass for THB100 but unlike the Hong Kong pass I got, it wasn't a 24-hour pass and was good only up to 11:59 p.m. of the day you purchased it. Anyway, I got my bag and then took the subway from Lat Phrao to Hualamphong Station where I planned to take a cab to Khao San. As soon as I got out of the station, it started to rain again. Damn! It was supposed to be the dry season and my trip had been marred by rains everywhere I went. Our weather has gone haywire thanks to human intervention, especially those countries who produce the most pollution and yet don't want to sign the Kyoto Protocol.

I had planned to walk around Bang Rak after dropping off my luggage at the hotel. Since it was raining, I took a cab to the area instead of a ferry. The Silom-Bang Rak areas offered several great walking tour routes including one that took you around the seat of Catholicism in Thailand. My first stop was the Holy Rosary Church (which is known in Thailand as the Temple of the Beaded Virgin). It's signature gothic spire can be seen from the river. Built in 1767 after the fall of Ayutthaya, the current structure was rebuilt in 1897.

Then it was off to the Assumption Cathedral which was a kilometer or so away. The walk under the rain was most worth it. Greeting me was a complex of stately and elegant colonial buildings surrounding the Assumption Cathedral. The interior of the cathedral was so grand that you would even think while marveling at the interior of the Assumption Cathedral that Thailand was more Catholic than the Philippines! Right beside the church and the complex of old convent buildings were more stately buildings including the East Asitic Company and the Oriental Hotel.

After saying a few prayers, it was off to more exploring. On the way to the skytrain station, I passed by a hawker stall which sold noodles and rice meals. I realized that there was something in the way they arranged the ingredients in the stand that attracted tourists like myself since a few minutes later, a lot of foreign tourists were stopping by as well to order food, attracted by the display. First and foremost, if our hawker stalls in Manila are to become popular and tourist-friendly, we have to ensure cleanliness at all times. At the same time, displays must be attractive with ingredients colorfully presented for all to see. Anyway, I ordered noodles.

The next day, I was off to the airport. For breakfast, it was more phad thai! Again, the stand was attractive thanks to the mounds of noodles and other ingredients on display.

I booked an airport bus the day before which costed THB100. I had planned to go by train since the ticket was much cheaper but I realized that that did not include the cost of the taxi, the hassle of carrying your bags here and there, and when you got to the airport train station, you had to bring all your luggage up a pedestrian flyover to the terminal. And it was a good move as well since it was raining. I could not imagine the hassle I would have gone through if I took the train.

It was actually a van that took us to Don Muang Airport. The ride offered me another way of seeing Bangkok's core. The avenues and boulevards were wide and islands and sidewalks full of neatly-cut shrubs and flowers. Stately colonial buildings and government offices were in abundance. And every little bridge over a canal was a work of art. I have yet to see a bridge in Bangkok's center similar to our ugly standard DPWH bridges since every little bridge had a unique design, pedestrian bridges included! Hello DPWH! Wake up and stop making Manila the ugliest city in the world!

Anyway, my flight to KL left at 3:15 p.m. There was a THB500 airport tax so don't forget to save money if leaving Bangkok from the airport.

Thailand: Songkran in Bangkok... Sawasdee Pee Mai!

I was back in Bangkok from Ayutthaya at about 7 p.m. When I arrived at the Mo Chit Bus Station, I took a quick cab to the Mo Chit Station of the skytrain for THB35. Then took the skytrain to the Sala Daeng Station in the Silom area to check out the night shopping areas which included Patpong, a red-light district which had a popular night market.

However, as soon as I exited the skytrain station, I could hear loud shouts from below. Just great, the whole street had teenagers with water cannons and powder paste celebrating Songkran. Hmmm, I would have joined in the fun if I didn't have my camera and celphone with me.

Songkran is the three-day celebration of the Thai New Year which coincides with the new year celebrations in Cambodia (Bonn Chaul Chnam Khmer), Laos (Pii Mai Lao), and Myanmar (Thingyan Water Fesival). The word itself translates from Sanskrit as "beginning of the solar year." During this three-day event, Thais pray at temples and bring food and other offerings to monks. There is also a bathing ceremony where monks will pour a little water on the shoulders of devotees as a symbol of cleansing and blessing to begin the year. Now this is where the water wars evolved from wherein the public "blesses" one another with water as well and thus, over time, the festival has become a lively celebration and a national water fight. Equiped with water pistols, super soakers, balloons or buckets of ice water, locals and tourists alike make sure that no one remains dry during the three-day celebration.

But I made sure I wouldn't get wet yet. Hehe! So I ate dinner instead inside the mall and bought some stuff at the supermarket. Then I took the skytrain to the National Stadium Station which is the nearest to the Khao San area. That is also the station nearest to MBK, a very popular shopping complex to Thai teenagers.

I got down and looked for a cab. First cab asked me for THB200. Asshole! Then I checked with the tuktuks who asked me for THB100. I walked around to look for more taxis and the next one asked for THB300. Crazy! No one wanted to do meter service if you said Khao San Road since they knew you were a tourist. Sick! So I asked around for buses to Khao San and I was told to wait for bus no. 15. After 30 minutes of waiting, I decided to just take the tuktuk and got it for THB80 which I guess was good enough. The taxi from the National Stadium Station of the skytrain and the Hualamphong Station of the subway (these are the nearest to the Khao San area) should be between THB55 to 65.

You could also take a skytrain to the Saphan Taksin Station where there was a Chao Phyraya River Express terminal waiting to take you to Banglamphu, the main tourist area of Bangkok (there seemed to be more foreigners than locals in the area of Khao San Road). However, ferry service ends at 3 p.m.

Anyway, it was the end of the dry road for me since I just remembered that Khao San Road was the epicenter of the new year celebrations. Argggggh! So as I manuevered my way into the sea of wet revellers, ocassionally being hit by water guns, trying to avoid getting dirtied up in the face by powder paste and keeping my camera and celphone dry, I finally got to my hotel.

I changed into my beach shorts, slippers, put my camera in a ziplock back and left my phone and other belongings in the room. I first went to an internet shop to relax a bit but on the way, a street fight was brewing and people started moving away. So I entered the internet shop first.

After an hour, I was expecting to see the party in full swing but to my surpise, there were much fewer people walking around. Broken bottles on the ground was evidence of what had just occurred. I went to the convenience store accross the street to buy some water and asked the cashier why there was no more party. And they confirmed that beer bottles were flying all over the place and the police stopped the party. Hmmmm... good I was in the internet shop while it happened.

Things like these rarely happen since during the three days of Songkran, you have to be a good sport. If your celphone, camera or anything of importance gets wet during these three days from April 13 to 15, you can only smile at the person who wet you and say to yourself how stupid of you to bring it out without protection. Anyway, this is the last night of the three day Songkran Festival so... Sawasdee Pee Mai!
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