Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ivan Henares sets foot on all 79 provinces of the Philippines

When I got off the plane this morning at the Masbate Airport, there was a strong sense of fulfillment. I could truly say that I have seen the Philippines. Masbate was the last province I had not visited. And with my arrival this morning, I am proud to say that I have visited all 79 provinces of the Philippines.

The last few weeks was hectic. I wanted to achieve the goal before 2010 ended. In October, I found myself breezing through the last four provinces of Mindanao which I had not visited yet - Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley, Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Sur. I endured several hours at a time on buses and boats given my limited time. And on my last day, I virtually traveled from morning until early morning the next day. I got to visit Dahican Beach, a popular surfing area in Mati, the waterfalls of Maragusan, stayed a night with the Manobo community of Sitio Panlabuhan in the Agusan Marsh, and marveled at the spectacular Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig.

Just yesterday, I had arrived from a 1800-kilometer drive around North Philippines to visit Abra, Apayao, Kalinga and Quirino. The views during the drive were so refreshing. It made me even prouder of our country. Highlights of the trip included visits to the Tayum Church, a National Cultural Treasure, the ruins of the Pudtol Church, the Chico River and Dam in Tabuk, and a peek inside the Aglipay Caves.

And just as soon as I arrived home, I found myself packing my bags again for Masbate. The Buntod Reef Marine Sanctuary is a must-visit when in Masbate City. It has an islet or sandbar with various species of mangrove trees. During high tide, you might be lucky to spot a pawikan amongst the trees since there are a lot of them there.

I still can't sleep since the high from having visited all the provinces of the Philippines is one-of-a-kind! The Philippines is such a beautiful place.

Update: Dinagat Islands was reinstated as a province in March 2011. With my visit to Dinagat Islands late last year, I've visited all 80 provinces of the Philippines.

Hong Kong: Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car, Tian Tan Buddha 天壇大佛 & Po Lin Monastery 寶蓮禪寺

From my room at Novotel Citygate Hong Kong, I had a really nice view of the Ngong Ping Cable Car. For the longest time, I had wanted to visit the Big Buddha known as the Tian Tan Buddha 天壇大佛 which is at the end of the cable car ride. With the Ngong Ping Cable Car Platform just a ten-minute walk away, this was the perfect chance. So for my free day in Hong Kong, I decided to visit Ngong Ping 360, the Tian Tan Buddha 天壇大佛 and Po Lin Monastery 寶蓮禪寺, plus the Tai O Fishing Village 大澳 which you can access by bus from Ngong Ping Village.

There are two kinds of cable car cabins - the Standard Cabin (round trip ticket is HK$107 for adults) which is your usual cable car ride, and the Crystal Cabin (round trip ticket is HK$157) which has a glass floor. So better make sure you are not afraid of heights if you take the Crystal Cabin. You can also do the one way Standard Cabin and Crystal Cabin combination (HK$142). I was given the Journey of Enlightenment Package which included entrance to the presentations at Ngong Ping Village namely Walking with Buddha and Monkey's Tale Theatre (HK$219 for Crystal Cabin).

Anyway, the views from the Ngong Ping Cable Car are amazingly stunning. Again, be sure you are not afraid of heights since this ride will give you the scare! I enjoyed grand views of the Hong Kong International Airport, Tung Chung where Novotel Citygate is located, and the mountains of Lantau Island 大嶼山. Below you could see the hiking trail for those who like to reach the Big Buddha and Ngong Ping Village on foot.

As soon as I got there, I proceeded to the Tian Tan Buddha. The bronze Buddha statue is 112-feet tall and weighs 250 metric tons. From 1993, the year it was completed, until 2007, it was the world's tallest outdoor bronze seated Buddha.

To reach the top, visitors have to climb 268 steps. Access to the Buddha is free. But you will have to pay HK$20 to enter the Buddha. If you decide to avail of their vegetarian meals (HK$60 for general and HK$100 for de luxe), entrance to the Buddha is included.

Beside the Big Buddha is the Po Lin Monastery which was founded in 1906. The Tian Tan Buddha is actually an extension of the monastery.

I proceeded back to Ngong Ping Village to catch the bus to Tai O Fishing Village which I will talk about in another post. Ngong Ping Village has a lot of restaurants so you can have lunch there. But if you're after fresh seafood, then Tai O is the place for a meal.

How to get to Ngong Ping 360
Take the MTR to Tung Chung. The platform is right beside the Tung Chung MTR Station. From Tung Chung, you could also take Bus No. 23 to get to Ngong Ping Village.

Travel Blog on CLTV 36

If you will be in Central Luzon this Sunday, may I invite you to watch the pilot episode of Travel Blog, the newest show on CLTV 36. Yup, I'm hosting this travel show together with Ching Panglinan. And the first episode will air on Sunday, November 14, 2010 from 6 to 6:30 p.m. To those outside Central Luzon or out of the country, hopefully we will be able to upload the episode within a week or two.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Hong Kong: HK Wine & Dine Festival 2010

After that wine overload in Portugal's Douro Valley last June, I was yearning for another wine binge of sorts. And the Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival was it! After a few hours of settling in, we proceeded to the Kowloon Waterfront Promenade to attend the exclusive opening and gala night of the event organized by the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

As soon as we arrived, we were given our IDs, Stölzle wine glasses and tokens to exchange for wine and food. Among the wines featured at the festival were personal choices of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and US President Barack Obama. I got to try a wide-array of wines from all over the world including France, Australia, the U.S. and even Macedonia.

Special mention goes to the booth of Adelaide Cellardoor in the Grand Tasting Pavilion where I got pampered with over a dozen of their featured Australian wines at the festival including several from Mosquito Hill and Tim Adams. From France, a total of 300 chateaus were featured at the festival including a large number from Bordeaux. It made me miss Bordeaux and reminded me of my night at the train station!

I got to try some really sweet wines from Bordeaux. Plus we got to sit in at a wine tasting session of two Bordeaux wines. I wonder how much wine I had that night? The organizers were very particular about reminding visitors that if you drink, don't drive. Anyway, I was taking the MTR back to the hotel.

The food was also quite good with some Michelin-starred chefs from Hong Kong and France preparing some of their award-winning dishes and delicacies. Too bad my food and wine tokens ran out since I still wanted more!

Adelaide Cellardoor
Room 801, 8/F Tai Yau Building
181 Johnston Road, Wanchai, HK
+852 2526 0151

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Hong Kong: Back in Hong Kong with Novotel Hotels

Hong Kong has always been one of the most popular destinations for Filipino tourists. I was happy to have been invited by Novotel Hotels Hong Kong to visit Hong Kong again this year. Earlier this year, I was in Hong Kong for a family trip and I got to witness the Cheung Chau Bun Festival and Tam Kung Festival, visit Victoria Peak and Victoria Harbour, and try out really good dim sum and Hong Kong street food.

There are three Novotel hotels in Hong Kong. And I was billeted at the Novotel Citygate Hong Kong on Lantau Island which is just 10 minutes away from the Hong Kong International Airport. It was a good thing since the hotel is also walking distance from the Ngong Ping Cable Car which I had been wanting to try out for the longest time. What's also good about the location is that it's conveniently located right above the Tung Chung MTR Station (easy access to the rest of Hong Kong) and the Citygate Outlets. So you can simply walk down to shop at all the outlet stores. The hotel is also just two stations away from Hong Kong Disneyland.

As soon as I arrived at the Hong Kong International Airport of the Chek Lap Kok Airport 赤鱲角機場, I was met by the staff of Novotel Citygate and was chauffeured to the hotel. We went straight to the Premiere Floor where I checked-in. From the room, I got a really nice view of the Nong Ping Cable Car and the HKIA. One good thing about the Premiere Floor is that they serve afternoon tea and evening cocktails to their guests. So after settling down, I had some cookies, cakes and fruits.

Dinner was at the Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival which I will talk about in another post. The next morning, I had a sumptuous breakfast at Essence Restaurant at the ground floor of the hotel. The breakfast buffet spread had a wide selection to choose from. For the day, I explored parts of Lantau Island.

Novotel Citygate has a really nice swimming pool. But since the water temperature that day was at 20 degrees Celsius, it was bit too cold for me to take a dip.

In the evening, we all proceeded to Novotel Century Hong Kong for a reception dinner and poolside barbecue organizes for all the bloggers they invited. There were nine bloggers from nine countries in the Asia-Pacific - Australia (Minh Giang of Eat Show & Tell), New Zealand (Family Travels with Deborah Dickson-Smith), India (Ajay Jain of Kunzum), Indonesia (Budi Sutomo of Gizi Dan Kuliner), Malaysia (Lee Khang Yi of Masak-Masak), China (Zhao Yun Yi), Singapore (Brad Lau of Lady Ironchef), Japan (Owen Shaefer of Tokyo Weekender) and me for the Philippines, plus several local Hong Kong food and travel bloggers - Fabrice Lau, Lo Yan, Jason Tse, Razlan Manjaji and Kelvin Ho.

Great food! I had the (1) Beef Carpaccio for starters, followed by the (2) BBQ Angus Tenderloin, and (3) Chocolate Mousse that was encased in a light sponge biscuit for dessert!

After the dinner, the foreign bloggers were treated to a foot massage at Dragonfly Spa of Novotel Century which I really enjoyed. After the really relaxing massage, we were driven back to Novotel Citygate on one of Novotel's Mercedes Benz service cars. Too bad I had to cut my trip short but it was definitely a fun stay.

To those visiting Hong Kong, I'm giving out a special code for Novotel hotels in Hong Kong. Simply quote 'Novotel blgr' when you make a direct booking with any Novotel hotel in Hong Kong, and you will be given a free upgrade to the next room category. It's valid until end of August 2011. E-mail the following for reservations - Novotel Century Hong Kong:; Novotel Nathan Road Kowloon:; or Novotel Citygate Hong Kong:
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