Monday, February 10, 2014

Thailand: Bicycle tour from Sukhothai to Si Satchanalai

Sukhothai, Thailand
I never thought I'd have fun biking that far! When I arrived at the Sukhothai Airport for a tourism workshop, my Thai colleague told me that he had assigned me to a group that would bike 70 kilometers from Sukhothai to Si Satchanalai. I thought he was joking and laughed off the idea.

Bicycle Tour, Sukhothai, Thailand
When the workshop started the next day I realized he was serious! The ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Committee was in Sukhothai to try out different tourism experiences in order to make recommendations for a tourism plan they were finalizing. While most teams were comfortably seated in air-conditioned vans, moving from one attraction to another, one group was assigned to try out the bicycle tours through the Sukhothai countryside hosted by Sukhothai Bicycle Tour.

Bicycle Tour, Sukhothai, Thailand
Bicycle Tour, Sukhothai, Thailand
Just looking at the large roadmap taped to the wall during the orientation was daunting enough. But the next day, I was glad to hear that our team leader had cut the ride to 40 kilometers and we would take a van to Sawankalok, which was half the way to Si Satchanalai.

Cricket Farm in Sukhothai, Thailand
Cricket Farm in Sukhothai, Thailand
The group rode through small rural villages, on concrete roads to small narrow dirt paths that bended left and right, following the course of a river. We did rest stops at interesting, and at times, odd places. A cricket farm caught our attention. I didn't realize those deep-fried bugs sold along Bangkok's colorful streets were grown in backyard farms like these.

Salapao vendor in Sukhothai, Thailand
I heard a salapao vendor motor by and caught up with him to buy some hot steamed pork buns. I was quite hungry and this is what I needed! At each rest stop, we were also served fruits such as bananas, longkong (lansones) and mangosteen, crackers and drinks.

Traditional rooster cage in Sawankalok, Thailand
A colorful temple also served as another rest stop before we biked through a small sugar cane field. I didn't know what got into my head but a steep incline up ahead challenged me to bike even faster. I reached the top without any walking but suffered from cramps as a result. So I called it a day after 30 kilometers of biking. Not bad for someone who hasn't biked for years!

Weaver in Si Satchanalai, Thailand
Si Satchanalai Historical Park, Thailand
Good thing these bike tours come with a back-up team plus a support vehicle that has drinks and snacks for the bikers during the rest stops. So I rode the last 10 kilometers in a pick-up truck to the Si Satchanalai Historical Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. We explored the temples and got to see some of the colorful local activities before heading for a sumptuous lunch at a farm near the Sukhothai Airport.

If you want to try out the bike tours in Sukhothai, e-mail

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Ilocos Norte: Empanada, tupig & bibingka food trip

Even after my trip to Ilocos Norte, the taste of the crunchy and savory empanada is still vivid. I was finally able to complete my Ilocos Norte empanada experience by trying out the Dinardaraan (Dinuguan) Empanada at Johnny Moon Cafe and Elvie's Sweet Empanada near PLDT.

Johnny Moon also serves Bagnet Empanada and Sisig Empanada. But I don't think the bagnet meat is tasty enough for an empanada for you to notice it. So I really recommend the Dinuguan Empanada if you want something different.

And speaking of different. While most empanadas use the garlicky longganisa, Elvie's offers Ilocos empanada with sweet longganisa. The sweet taste of the longganisa plus the sour sukang Iloko makes a very interesting combination.

From Batac to Bacarra, here is my list of the best empanadas in Ilocos Norte.

I also didn't realize they took their tupig (glutinous rice cakes with coconut) quite seriously in Ilocos Norte. They even have an intense competition every year to determine who makes the best tupig. But those from Currimao and Sarrat are the ones which stand out.

I got to try the Sarrat tupig during a trade fair at the Ilocos Norte Capitol in Laoag. They use purple glutinous rice which is why the tupig is dark purple.

We drove to Currimao the next day to try out the tupig at Irene's Native Delicacies along the National Highway. They mix in margarine, milk and cheese to add flavor to the glutinous rice and coconut.

And instead of the usual tupig grill we see on the street, they cook their tupig by baking it in a traditional wood-fired oven.

In Currimao, they also make bibingka with glutinous rice and coconut, and topped with peanuts. The consistency actually reminds me of tikoy.

What other Ilocos Norte delicacies do you like?

Ilocos Norte: Nueva Era Eco Cultural Park, overnight stay in a treehouse & the great outdoors

Nueva Era Eco Cultural Park, Ilocos Norte
Do you want to stay overnight in a tree house? The Nueva Era Eco Cultural Park, the newest attraction of Ilocos Norte, offers that possibility. Nueva Era is one of three mountain municipalities of Ilocos Norte. They constructed the park to showcase the Tingguian culture and to allow visitors to enjoy the great outdoors.

Nueva Era Eco Cultural Park, Ilocos Norte
Nueva Era Eco Cultural Park, Ilocos Norte
Aside from the four treehouses, there are also huts and bungalows with basic but comfortable accommodation amenities including beds and an electric fan. They also have a campsite for those who want to take their adventure outdoors to a higher level.

Nueva Era Eco Cultural Park, Ilocos Norte
Nueva Era Eco Cultural Park, Ilocos Norte
The Nueva Era Eco Cultural Park also has a swimming pool, bonfire area or dap-ayan and a museum showcasing the Tingguian culture. There are trails and nearby treks for those who want to hike. Plus a restaurant is in the works for those who get hungry since there aren't that many food options in Nueva Era unless you buy food in the market.

Nueva Era Eco Cultural Park, Ilocos Norte
It just opened so enjoy it before the crowds start coming! For reservations and more information, contact Nueva Era Tourism Officer Ria Rivera (0915) 2582512.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

The Philippines says thank you!

On February 8, 2014, at 4:40 a.m., Manila time, exactly three months after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, the country launched a global campaign expressing its gratitude to the world, having received an outpouring of support following the devastating effects of the typhoon.

The Philippines says thank you!

Thank you world, for all the help you've given us since #Haiyan! Show your love, share this #PHthankyou video!

Friday, February 07, 2014

Documenting travel with your mobile phone

Instagram @ivanhenares
Mobile phones have definitely changed the way we chronicle our travels. I was a late-mover when it came to acquiring a smart phone (I regret not getting one earlier) and I only got my Instagram account less than two years ago. My mobile phone and the Instagram account have become my most important tools in documenting my trips the past few months. I can now look back at every memorable place I’ve visited and cultural experience I’ve encountered just by looking at my Instagram photos.

Instagram @ivanhenares
Here are some things I do when taking photos with my phone:

1. Take a lot of shots
Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell on the spot, especially if you’re in a hurry, whether the photo you took was blurred or your subject was not looking at the camera. It’s even more difficult to repeat the moment, which is why it’s always best to take a burst of shots from which you can select your favorite one. You can delete the bad ones anyway later on. Some apps like SnappyCam Pro allow you to capture the perfect moment with a burst of shots. I just click the shutter button really quick.

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