Baguio is My Happy Place

baguio morning

I grab every chance I get to go to Baguio City. It’s my happy place. I remember many summers past spent with the family, visiting familiar landmarks. There were also some solo trips when I was simply happy to be wandering around, going nowhere in particular, just observing people and looking out for new places to explore.

I was happy to be back in Baguio this weekend to accompany friends for a much-needed work break. It was a short 2-day stay. It felt even shorter because I wasn’t feeling too well, with a nasty cough that didn’t want to be left in Manila.

It was one friend’s first time to be in Baguio, and it felt good to introduce her to the Baguio we commonly see and hear about.

pma baguio

This was as far as we can get to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). The guards wouldn’t let us go farther because, as the guard showed us a list of rules on paper, those who are wearing slippers can’t go past the gates. We argued that we didn’t know anything about the slippers rule, but of course, ignorance excuses no one. Having gone there several times in the past, I didn’t know they had that rule. I didn’t have the energy to argue further and press for an explanation.

I wish the PMA administration would post their visiting rules in a small billboard by the gate. That way, drivers and locals would remember to warn tourists to wear shoes when going to the PMA. ūüôā

Our taxi driver was apologetic for forgetting to tell us about the slippers rule. Not his fault, really. But he made up for this memory lapse by driving through inside Camp John Hay on our way to Mines View Park, passing by the Manor Hotel, and the restaurant row.

mines view park baguio

What’s to see at Mines View Park? Nothing on the mines, but a lot of locally made products are sold here- food, plants, souvenir items, clothes and household items. Plus photo-op stops like the one above, along with the big dog and the miniature horse where you pay a fee to pose with the animals. The Good Shepherd Convent store is nearby, where we bought ube jam for pasalubong.

burnham park baguio

Boating at the man-made lake at Burnham Park is part of every first-timer to Baguio’s must-do activities list.

ukay ukay at harrison baguio

Something to do at night. Ukay-ukay in the dark starts at 9pm till about 1am, if I remember correctly what one seller told me. It’s along Harrison Road along the stretch of Burnham Park. Many wares are sold here- clothes, bags, shoes, perfumes, toys- all at rock-bottom prices. Although I’d much prefer to go to the permanent ukay-ukay stalls in the daytime to better inspect the quality of the items.

strawberry farm la trinidad

La Trinidad’s Strawberry Farm is not much to look at this season. But it’s still a good place for a first time tourist to see the strawberry fields and other vegetable farms nearby.

The taxi driver who took us to La Trinidad didn’t go through the usual route, which was via congested Magsaysay Ave. Instead, from Asin Road where we flagged the taxi, he used a long, winding road passing through Pinsao Proper. I wasn’t familiar with this road where we also passed the entrance to Tam-awan Village. But the road gave us a great view on the uphill of the lush mountains with beautiful pine trees, and on the downhill a spectacular view of the La Trinidad landscape. Little things that we take for granted, like avoiding traffic, sometimes give us a new perspective and better appreciation of what’s around us.

baguio at dusk

The first and last pictures on this post are my dawn and dusk view from the bedroom window. I find comfort in looking out the window seeing this view.

I love Baguio’s cool air. So refreshing from the lowland’s high temperatures. I love that there are so many things to do and see here. I love that it’s easy to travel around the city using public transportation. I hate the heavy traffic, though, and the new buildings that obstruct the view of the mountains.

So many places to see, but so little time.¬†I’ll be back soon.

xxx

PHL360: Dive Into the Adventure

PHL360

PHL360 is an online reality show on Philippine travel. Eight backpackers from different backgrounds travel in pairs for an unknown adventure in different parts of the Philippine islands.  Each team must complete the assigned tasks for them to advance to the next phase of their trip. The travelers use their strength, creativity and charm to complete their tasks.

I can’t help but compare “PHL360” to “The Amazing Race,” because it is also a travel adventure show. ¬†Only one thing that I found similar: same basic idea of a series showing teams traveling to different destinations. But the teams in “The Amazing Race” all go to one destination at a time as they race to the be the first to get to the finish line. The four teams in PHL360 head to different directions after the initial get-together in Manila‚ÄĒ¬†to the north (Sta. Ana, Cagayan), east (Legazpi, Albay), west (El Nido, Palawan) and south (Iligan City, Lanao del Norte).

Watch Dong and Robbie (#DongBie), Chichi and Ron (#ChichiRon), Hannah and Chyng (#HaChyng) and Monette and Robert (#MoRoMoRo) having fun in the Philippines. Some personality quirks of the adventurers surface as each travel challenge unfolds. No ugly fights between teammates so far, but some awkward moments creep in here and there. I think each episode is too short, but that just builds up the suspense for the next episode.

The show features amazing scenery as expected, but it aims to highlight the travel experience. No need to break the bank to enjoy the sights, sounds, and food of the wonderful islands of the Philippines. Plus the locals are the ones who often make the trip worthwhile.

As of today, the show is on its 5th episode but you can watch all previous and future episodes on the show’s website and Facebook page (see below). Each new episode debuts every Thursday at noon, Philippine time.

It’s a great show to watch if only to see how one can enjoy the beautiful, natural landmarks outside of Manila. I would love to go to breathtaking Iligan City. Let’s all plan our next vacation with the help of PHL360.

The adventure starts here:

*Photo from the PHL360 Facebook page.

Please share your questions and comments in the comment box below.

3-in-1 Culinary Tourism Expo at SM North Skydome

qc culinary & tourism expo

Ongoing until Sunday, July 15, are three tourism-related expos held all at the same time at the Skydome of SM North EDSA, Quezon City. Coinciding with SM Supermalls’ The Great Northern Sale are the Kyusi Travel Expo, International Tourism and Trade Expo (ITTE) and the Philippine Culinary Tourism Expo (PCTEX). The 3-in-1 expo features various travel and tour providers plus some provincial showcases, and culinary products and service providers.

If you’re looking for some mid-year travel deals, there are special deals available for local and international tour packages, airline fares, local hotels and resorts. Some of these deals are on a book and buy basis. You have to book and buy at the expo site to get the special deals. Validity dates of the deals vary. I got some of the brochures and flyers, and I’m looking forward to read up on exciting travel deals for China, Europe and Palawan.

travel flyers

travel booths

cebu pacific boothFor the culinary part of the expo, the tentative program schedule for the PCTEX includes an inter-school cookfest, cooking and food tasting demos and a bar flair competition.

Here is the program sequence for the expo, as taken from the PCTEX website.

albay pili

cavite coffee
Food and non-food products of some provinces are also highlighted, as in the case of Albay with its signature pili-based sweet delicacies and Cavite with its coffee.

Admission to the expo is FREE. Go ahead and visit the expo, and consider different destination possibilities for your next holiday travel.

Please share your questions and comments in the comment box below.

Hidden Hills Farm: A Green Sanctuary

mount makiling

Imagine this to be your view upon waking up from a deep, satisfying sleep. A welcome feast for the eyes. Breathe the clean, fresh air in this green environment. This is the view from Hidden Hills Farm, a 4.5 hectare property in Barangay Imok, Calauan, Laguna. Away from the busy, maddening crowd and perpetually gridlocked traffic of the city. Yet conveniently accessible from Manila which is only about an hour and a half drive away.

Our body and mind need periodic rest. Sometimes, it’s okay to just rest at home. But there are times when we need to go far away from home too, especially if that home is in  the city. The answer to this would be to have a rest house or a farm in the province, not far from the city, where we can occasionally recharge and re-energize our mind and body.

You now have a chance to own a green sanctuary where you can relax and unwind, have fun and adventure, and also have a thriving business, all at the same time. Welcome to Hidden Hills Farm.

hidden hills farm

A multiple-floor viewing deck offers 360-degree views of the different mountains in Laguna.

hidden hills farm

Native nipa huts give refuge for the tired and weary

hidden hills farm

Fruit-bearing trees abound: lanzones, rambutan, avocado, guyabano, santol, chico, golden star apple, lychees, coconut, dalandan, pineapple and many more

hidden hills farm

Green here, there and everywhere. Walk your way to a healthier body and a calmer mind.

hidden hills farm

Adventure seekers have a place here too. Located within the farm, this is the longest hanging bridge in Laguna. It is made of fiber optic cables and solid wooden planks.

hidden hills farm

Bring your guests. The reception pavilion can accommodate up to 150 persons. You can rent this out for special occasions like weddings, birthdays, baptismals and reunions.

hidden hills farm

Provision for two swimming pools

hidden hills farm

“Come away little lamb, come away to the water. Give yourself so we may live anew.” (lyrics from Come Away to the Water by Maroon 5)

There is also a watch tower overlooking Caliraya and Laguna de Bay, and a concrete residential house in the area. Currently, there are three rooms provided to accommodate guests who wish to stay overnight or longer. The farm is serviced by water and electrical utilities.

Own a little piece of paradise on this side of the earth. Be where natural beauty is. Build your dream rest house here and enjoy the many possibilities of the place. Hidden Hills Farm is for sale for only P800 per square meter or a total of P36 million for the whole lot. Call 09213191471 for details.

 
Please share your thoughts / questions in the comment box below.

Taipei In The Beautiful Heart of Asia

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I wanted to go to Taiwan just because I haven’t been there. And it’s so near the Philippines. When I chanced upon a Cebu Pacific¬†seat sale, I booked a trip for me and my mom.

First Time in Taiwan

It’s our first time to go to Taiwan. Rather than go to a local (Philippines) travel agent, I decided to experiment and do things all online. I called the Taiwan embassy to ask about securing tourist visas and the woman I talked to gave me this site. I visited agoda.com and got a hotel with good ratings and with 20% discount for early booking. I googled and found a Taipei tour operator where I booked a city tour and airport transfers. All set.

On the last weekend of May, we had a delayed departure from Manila and had a bumpy 2-hour flight. We arrived in Taipei on a Saturday a little over 2am. It was great to see our names written in a placard held by a tired-looking man who was to drive us to our hotel. Thirty minutes later we were at Tango Hotel Nanshi. I chose the hotel because of its good ratings in Agoda and Tripadvisor, and being located near the MRT station. The hotel room was small, but I was pleasantly surprised with the many amenities that are not usually included in a basic room- ironing board, flat iron, hair dryer, microwave oven, along with complimentary Evian bottled water, softdrinks and pineapple cake bars everyday.

First Day: City Tour and Shilin Night Market

The first day we took the morning city tour to see what Taipei has to offer. The tour provides a glimpse of ¬†Taiwan’s rich history and cultural heritage. Visiting historic landmarks like the National Palace Museum and Chang Kai Shek Memorial Hall with a tour group makes it easier for you to navigate these spacious sites where a lot of mainland Chinese tourist go. Your tour guide will decide which parts to go to. However, if you’re going with a tour group, you would not be able to see as much as you would like because your time would be very limited. Also included in the city tour are visits to the Martyrs’ Shrine, a Taiwanese temple and a souvenir shop.

In the evening we went to the Shilin Night Market to go shopping and to enjoy the food. Shopping was a disappointment; the merchandise was a hodge-podge of garments, toys and jewelry which were ordinary-looking. The food was something else. Apparently, the Taiwanese and also the tourists go here in droves for the food. The basement food court was packed, as were the many eateries and food stalls in and around the area.

Second Day: Church, Expo Park, Taipei 101, Longshan Temple and More Night Markets

Our second day was a Sunday, so we looked for a Catholic church. I asked for Google’s help, and with the able translation of the hotel staff who wrote down instructions for the taxi driver, we found our way to St. Christopher’s Church where there were a lot of Filipinos. After the service, we walked towards the nearest MRT station and happily found the Taipei Expo Park where an international flora exhibition was held a year ago. Such beautiful gardens!

In the afternoon, with rains threatening to show, we went to Taipei 101. Since it was a cloudy day with light rainshowers, we contented ourselves taking pictures on the ground of the Taipei City Hall overlooking Taipei 101. We didn’t go to the observation deck anymore, but we did go inside the building and saw the high end shops like Bulgari, Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors. In the evening we went to the Longshan Temple area were there were more night markets.

Third Day: Neighborhood Walk, Yangmingshan Park and Hot Spring Bath

On the morning of our third and last day, we just walked around to explore the neighborhood around the hotel. In the afternoon we had a tour of Yangmingshan National Park and took a refreshing hot spring bath in one of the nearby spas. It would have been great if it wasn’t raining that day so we could better explore and appreciate the natural beauty of the area. Very few tourists there, which goes to show that tourists in Taipei favor exploring the urban city jungle over the countryside.

In the evening, we rested at the hotel and prepared for our midnight flight back to Manila.

Insights and Discoveries in Taipei

The Heart of Asia is Taiwan’s tourism slogan. The city retains its unique Asian charm. Though there are a lot of towering, modern buildings in this metropolitan city, many old world structures still exist. The modern structures like the MRT stations incorporate traditional designs. Taipei has not completely succumbed to modernization as it preserves its cultural and historical sites.

Coming from Manila where urban decay is prevalent, I am impressed with Taipei’s clean and green surroundings. There are a lot of parks in the city, well-maintained at that. Trees are everywhere, even in major thoroughfares. How I wish Manila would be like this in in my lifetime.

Taipei at this point doesn’t have the tourist numbers to compare with Hongkong, but one can see the growing presence of mainland Chinese visitors evidenced by tour buses and tour groups along the city tour route.

Because of the lesser number of visitors, Taipei doesn’t have the hustle and bustle vibe of Hongkong. It is quiet in the early morning in Taipei’s shopping district where our hotel was located. Shops open late in the morning around 10 or 11am. We walk around the neighborhood in a leisurely pace, looking at the surroundings and observing people.

It is relatively easy to go around the city because the MRT (mass rapid transit) is easy to navigate. Directions are easy to understand and there are free maps available that show tourist attractions in each of the stations.  On your first day, get hold of a Taipei MRT map from any of the stations. I was amused by the toilets there because there were indicator lights by the door pointing out which toilet stalls were available (green) or taken (red).

The Taiwanese are friendly enough, but many do not speak and understand English. They are patient in trying to get their point across, so be patient in dealing with them too. Taxi drivers use technology to get help in language matters. The taxis are equipped with GPS screens, and the drivers use their cellphones to call customer service people who can translate for them. With store staff, they know their prices in English, but their accent is a bit hard to understand so do ask them to repeat the price of goods.

As for the food, I think 3 days is not enough to taste all authentic Taiwanese food that I wanted to try. Having occasional food allergies, I had to hold back in eating some stuff. We ate some oyster omelet, some kind of squid soup and spicy pork buns in the night market. The omelet was much too flavorful for my taste. Perhaps if we had it with rice, we would have finished the whole serving. The squid soup was ordinary, but I would look for the tasty spicy pork buns when I return to Taipei. On our last day, we went to a Din Tai Fung food court outlet (Tienmu restaurant in Sogo department store) and had steamed pork dumplings and noodle soup with shrimps for a light lunch. Deliciously simple, clean taste. Whether we ate in the hotel for its breakfast buffet, in the night market stalls or food court outlets, Taiwanese food offerings did not disappoint.

I was surprised by the many western style bakeries in the city. Taiwanese must love breads, cakes and pastries a lot. We went to one French-style bakery as we couldn’t resist the pretty and delicious-looking treats on display. Another ¬†interesting thing we saw was that scooters were all over the roads. Mobile food stalls along side roads sold a variety of food choices. Great bargains can be had in makeshift sidewalk stalls. Merchandise sold in department stores, even the local labels, are expensive by Manila price standards.

Clearly, there is more to see in Taipei and the rest of Taiwan. I’ll be back.

More info on Taiwan tourism:

Official Taiwan tourism website: http://eng.taiwan.net.tw/

Taipei MRT route map: http://english.trtc.com.tw/ct.asp?xItem=1056373&CtNode=49780&mp=122032

Tour Maps:    Taipei Tour Map

Edison Travel tours: Taipei tours

 
Please share your thoughts / questions in the comment box below.

The Long Road to Ilocos

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Ilocos In January

In late January, mom and I, along with a couple of family friends went to Vigan to visit relatives for a few days. It was a good season to visit Ilocos, which was sunny and relatively cool. Mom likes to go to early morning mass to start her day, after which we head to the public market to buy food for the day. The requisite Baluarte and Heritage Village tour were granted our guests, but mostly we stayed in the barrio to have a relaxing time with relatives. Curiously, even in late January, some Christmas decors along the highway are still up. Perhaps this was a way to elicit a prolonged festive mood among the people.

Annual Summer Trip

In the summer the whole family usually makes a late April trek to Ilocos, specifically Vigan and Bantay, where are parents were born and raised. It is in the last Saturday of April that the barrio fiesta is held in honor of its patron saint, San Isidro Labrador. The fiesta is also a family reunion, since in our barrio, almost all our neighbors are also our relatives.

This summer we head to Ilocos early on a Wednesday. This means more time to visit places other than Vigan. The road trip to Ilocos is long and almost unbearably hot, made longer and more unbearable  this time by the numerous road works simultaneously ongoing in many towns that we passed by.

Before reaching our final destination, we make several stops along the way. We stopped by Rosario, La Union for a picnic lunch near a gasoline station where we ate our packed lunch consisting of pork adobo and pinakbet. In Santa Cruz, Ilocos Sur, mom buys freshly caught fish from a few roadside vendors. A quick toilet break in Jollibee Candon followed. Then a walk on rocky Sulvec beach in Narvacan for photo ops before finally heading to Vigan.

Thursday morning we obliged the kids to a trip to Governor Chavit Singson’s place Baluarte where they rode a miniature horse-drawn calesa and  looked at the animals around the vicinity. Late afternoon we headed to nearby resort Jaja Hidden Water Park to go swimming and the small kids were thrilled that there were superhero figures like Spiderman and Incredible Hulk in the place. Friday we went on a road trip to Ilocos Norte to go sightseeing:  Bangui Windmills, Pagudpud beach, Patapat viaduct, Cape Bojeador lighthouse, Ilocos Norte Capitol, Fort Ilocandia Hotel, Fort Ilocandia Golf and Coutry Club, Malacanang of the North and Marcos mausoleum in Batac.

Saturday was the fiesta day and we spent the day mostly at home, to be with family and catch up with relatives whom we seldom see. We ate the pork dishes served, and prayed that we don’t drop dead because of the heart attack-inducing food.  Around 3pm, we decided to go to the town plaza with the thought of going for a calesa ride around Vigan. But that was scrapped as there was a calesa parade that was about to start in front of the Vigan Cathedral. The parade was the opening part of the Viva Vigan Festival of the Arts which was held in the first week of May. Luckily, we were in a good vantage point where we could take good pictures. Later, we moved to Crisologo street (part of the Heritage Village) which was also on the parade route to have another view of the parade and to look at souvenir items.  After the parade, we went to Bantay church for a quick church visit and picture taking at the bell tower.

Before heading back to Manila the next day, the kids just had to take a short calesa ride around the plaza. After that, a quick trip to Marsha’s to buy pasalubong and baon on the road like bibingka and brownies. Then, off we go on the long road again back to Manila.

It was nice to have the kids see the countryside and learn a bit about history. For me, I think it was important that they be in the actual places that they see on TV and read about in books and magazines, for them to get a feel of what’s it’s like to be in these places, and to take pride in the beautiful countryside, to see the other side of the Philippines other than ugly, urban Metro Manila.

A Death in the Family

Two weeks later, some of us unexpectedly return to Vigan due to a death in the family. Wake and burial customs in the Philippines are many and confusing. But it’s always heartwarming to see a stream of people pay their respects to the dead, amid bingo games and some other card games during the night-time vigil.

This was a very short visit but we managed to squeeze in time for a little food trip in a new eating establishment called Ihawan sa Caoayan located near Baluarte. The tables were inside nipa huts. A live band plays at night. We ordered pork barbecue, isaw and goto for our group of 9. Food was very good by Ilocos standards but service was a bit slow.

Sadly, even if we go to Ilocos almost every year, we visit the same old places like Baluarte and Heritage Village. And never try to eat at other food establishments other than the empanadahan in the plaza and the fast food joints like Jollibee, Chowking, Red Ribbon. We just take it for granted that we have the best Ilocano food at home. I think it’s time we give up the usual places and visit some museums and old houses instead, and taste the offerings of restaurants around town.

I think Vigan still has something new and surprising to offer, even for regular visitors. It would be more fun in the Philippines when Pinoys discover what’s new in their cities/towns.

 
Please share your thoughts / questions in the comment box below.