July 28, 2010

MY PHILIPPINES: Tagbilaran in a Day

20 years ago, a rumor circulated that my long lost brother has been found and as proof that he is well and living, they showed me a photo of this funny looking creature with huge bulging eyes.

Philippine Tarsier
Soon I learned from my school teachers that the photo they showed me was actually a primate, just like me. Only he is endangered and has much bigger eyes. As the taunting of my classmates lessened over the years, my endearment to the Tarsier grew deeper and deeper and even vowed that someday I will meet him face to face.

So from Cebu, I boarded the Super Cat at Pier 3 of the city’s port. For 11USD the fast ferry was to take me straight to Bohol’s capital, and after two hours of seafaring, I finally arrived at Tagbilaran, the “City of Friendship.”

For the complete schedule of Super Cat trips, check out: http://www.supercat.com.ph/sched.asp
And because Tagbilaran is the City of Friendship, there he was, Mang Dodong, our tour guide and driver for the day, with a huge smile on his face and a make shift banner of a bond paper with these scribbles “welcome Kim Ignacio,” ready to assist us with the luggage.

With our luggage safely stowed in the air-conditioned van, we proceeded with the tour right away.

First stop was the Blood Compact site. If my history is correct, Spain sent out another expedition forty years after Magellan died, its mission was to establish a spice trade under Portuguese control, the expeditions failed. After a year, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi was sent and had better success, but it didn’t come easy, after failing to land in Cebu because of the natives hostilities, they headed south in the direction of Mindanao and landed in Bohol because of strong wind changes.

Legazpi was welcomed by hostile natives who thought they were Portuguese who slaughtered and enslaved some 1000 Boholanos in 1563. With the help of his pilot, he explained to the 2 chiefs of Bohol Datu Sikatuna Bool and Datu Sigla of Loboc that they were Spanish and not Portuguese, he also convinced the Datu’s to end their hostility and enter a pact of friendship with them.

Blood Compact SIte:
Located in Barangay Bool in Tagbilaran, it is said that the location of the monument is exactly
where the ritual took place.
Best known in the Philippines as “sandugo,” the blood compact ritual took place in 1565 where Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna draw a drop or two of their blood into a cup, mixed it with wine and equally drank it (a bit vampire-ish if you ask me).

Our next stop was Baclayon Church, the oldest stone church in the Philippines.

The Baclayon church offers a small museum where it houses old religious artifacts and relics some dating back to the 16th century.

First constructed during the Spanish occupation in the 15th century but the church itself (the one that stands now) was constructed 1717 and completed in 1727.
The area where the church stands today was once home to Jesuit missionaries.
 After a few photos and now with a grumbling stomach, it’s time for lunch.

The Loboc River is just 24 kilometers from Tagbilaran City, it has become one of the major tourist destinations in Bohol as it gives you a certain relaxing and calming feeling as you cruise its winding river and tropical scenery aboard the floating restaurants. As the boat takes you further down the river, you will be able to get a whiff of local life as you see them in their bahay- kubo’s, their little canoes with children swimming and playing in the river banks.

floating restaurants
buffet lunch
Before the cruise ends, the vessel stops at a floating cottage where guests are treated with a Rondalla (Spanish word for serenade) by a local group where they are very much welcome to join in the singing and dancing.



TIP: There are a lot of floating restaurants at the River, so be sure to check all of them as they offer different menus, prices usually start at 8USD per person.

With my taste buds dutifully satisfied, we took a ride to the most famous attraction of Bohol, the Chocolate Hills.

Spread over the municipalities of Carmen, Sagbayang and Batuan, it is estimated to consist of 1,776 green-grassed- coned-shaped hills that turns into chocolate brown during the summers. The hills are featured in the provincial flag representing the abundance of natural attractions in the province and have been declared as the country’s 3rd National Geographical Monument.

Chocolate Hills
There are a lot of theories on how the hills were formed, some include, tidal movements and volcanic eruptions, but like I said they are just theories.

There are also several legends explaining the formation of the chocolate hills. Among the local’s favorite was the story of a gentle giant named Arogo who fell in love with Aloya, a village girl. When Aloya died, Arogo couldn’t bear the pain and he could not stop crying, when his tears dried up, they formed the chocolate hills.

My favorite among the legends was the one with the giant named Dano who ate everything he came across with, till one day he saw a village girl and fell in love with her. To win the girls affection he needed to lose weight and excreted everything he ate, and what we now admire as the chocolate hills are actually the fecal remains of a giant named Dano!

WARNING: To get a good look of the chocolate hills, you have to climb the top of the viewing deck which is approximately 200 steps, so you might wanna improve those cardio before taking the trip.

Chocolate Hills viewing deck
To end our Tagbilaran tour was the much anticipated close encounter with the Tarsier, my long lost twin. The Philippine Tarsier is one of the known smallest primates, and by small, I mean smaller than the palm of my hands. It is a nocturnal creature, who’s usually asleep during daytime, so I guess we were lucky to find one hungry enough to open his huge eyes and munch on a worm on a stick.


The Tarsier has large mesmerizing eyes, kinda like mine and I’d be lying if I told you the idea of secretly putting him in my pocket never crossed my mind. But I had to resist the urge since tarsiers are protected and is illegal to capture and sell them.

ANOTHER TIP: I strongly recommend you hire a van with a tour guide (the drivers are usually also the tour guide) to take you through Tagbiliran, they know the roads and history quite well. You’d rather spend time admiring certain attractions than getting lost, trust me, it’s worth every penny.

Bohol has certainly lived up to its expectations, and I haven’t even been to Panglao yet!

written by KIM

July 21, 2010

MY PHILIPPINES: Sugbu!

According to Mrs. Orbita, my grade 2 history teacher, Ferdinand Magellan became the 1st European to set foot on Philippine soil in April of 1521. He was a Portuguese explorer and navigator instructed by the King of Spain to search for the “Spice Island,” (Indonesia) and landed in Cebu instead. He was welcomed by Cebu’s chieftain Rajah Humabon and his wife whom he persuaded to make an alliance with Spain and later on baptized them and some 800 other natives into Roman Catholics.

She also said that Magellan planted a huge cross to signify this very important event and told us that someday, when we are old enough, we should go and see it.

So after 2 decades, there I was, at the Mactan Internal Airport in Cebu, en route to see Magellan’s 400 something year-old cross along with 20 other tourists who was probably taught the same history lesson when they were in grade 2.

From the airport, we took a rented van (60USD for 8hours) and checked in at our hotel. After dropping our stuff, and already in touristy-mode, we drove to the Taoist Temple located in Beverly Hills Subdivision in Cebu City.


Built in 1972 by the Chinese community, the temple is the center of worship for Taoist devotees. It is elevated 300 meters above sea level and is constructed in Chinese architecture.

The temple is open to worshipers and visitors from 8am-5pm.


To get to the temple proper, you might wanna stretch those legs and warm it up a little as you will be climbing close to 90 steps, I lost the exact count when I almost passed out nearing my 50th step. Yes, I’m that out of shape!

Though it offers a view, there’s not much to do in the temple, so after visiting the souvenir shop and taking a few photos, we headed back to downtown Cebu.

TIP: If you plan to visit the Taoist Temple, I suggest you bring your own car, the temple is pretty far from the main road.


Next on the Itinerary, Danggit shopping!

Danggit is a dried salted fish, a popular Cebuano delicacy that is best paired with Sinangag (garlic rice). The best place to buy Danggit is in Carbon Market, located in MC Briones Street, Cebu City.

If you do not like the smell of dried fish, I suggest you sit this one out as the place stench of it.

If you’re worried that you’re hotel room would stink of dried fish, don’t, because most stalls in the market offers a vacuum sealed bag to keep the smell contained.



4 bags of Danggit later, I found myself staring at this large brown wood, saying “I’m here now Mrs. Orbita, I’m finally here.”

Magellan’s Cross is housed on a chapel next to Basilica Minore del Santo Nino in Magallenes Street.

Below the cross lays a sign saying that the original cross is encased inside the wooden
cross to protect it from people who would chip away parts of the original one with the belief
that parts of the cross possess miraculous powers.

Just beside the chapel where the cross was housed is the equally important historical site, the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino, Cebu’s oldest Roman Catholic Church. It was built in 1566 by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Augustinian priest Andres Urdaneta on the very spot where the image of the Santo Nino left by Portuguese and Spanish explorers in 1521 was found preserved in a burned wooden box in 1965.

Basilica Minore Del Santo Nino's altar

By the time we left the Basilica, the sun was already starting to set and what’s the best way to end the day? A hefty dinner of the best pig Anthony Boardain has ever tasted, Lechon!

TIP: For the best lechon, go to CNT Lechon, located at 1377 Rama Ave, Guadalupe, Cebu City. If I can remember correctly, 1 kilo costs about 7USD and around 60USD for the whole pig depending on the size.

written by KIM

July 14, 2010

VIETNAM DIARIES: Water Puppet Show

They say that it’s borderline criminal not to try the Vietnamese Iced Coffee whenever in Vietnam, the same goes for not watching the Vietnamese Water Puppet Show.
 
Water Puppetry has been an old Vietnamese tradition that started in the 11th century. It is a part of their heritage that showcases Vietnam’s history and the traditional cultural life of Vietnamese people.


I’m not really fond of puppets, in fact, I dread the sight of them and when they start to speak in that freaky-childlike tone, my feet starts to race the exit door before my butt could even get up the seat.  But since we had nothing else to do that night, we decided to check it out.

We booked the tickets at our hotel for 80,000VND per person, show times are at 6:30pm and 8:00pm, we choose the latter as we wanted to grab dinner first before seeing the show.

After dinner, we took the cab to the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater or better known as the Rong Vang to locals located at #55 Nguyen Thi Minh Kai, District 1.

Slacking on my way to the seat allocated for us, I noticed that the theater was half-full already which was a good sign. The puppets might not be that creepy after all.

We were seated near the fire exit
The show was 50minutes long with n0 intermission and consisted of 17 acts. It started with a music prelude followed by the 1st act which was the called the Raising of the Festival Flag and lasted about a minute and a half. The puppets were accompanied with live music and voices instead of just recordings and you can actually see them and their local instruments seated beside the dry area of the stage.

 


The show was easy to understand, never mind that it was in Vietnamese the whole time, at least they gave out pamphlets with English translations on it.  From the prelude to the dragon dance, fishing, the lion dance, with children playing in the water, boat racing and unicorns, you learn a little something about their culture and daily life.



To my surprise, I was actually enjoying myself and it wasn’t even half way through the show yet, it was just the 1st act.

Of the 17 acts, the one that stood out the most for me was the Fairy Dance (act 16) those puppets were too damn graceful!


The show ended with the skilled puppeteers taking a bow before their happy and amazed audience.

 

written by KIM

July 9, 2010

It's Time For EveryJUAN to fly! Again

Cebu Pacific is staying true to it's promise of making it possible for everyJUAN to fly!

50% percent off seat sale for domestic and international destinations.

Sale period- from July 10-12, 2010. for travel on September 01-October 31, 2010.

http://www.cebupacificair.com/

July 4, 2010

VIETNAM DIARIES: Mad About Mui Ne!

After a not so scrumptious lunch at the hotel’s restaurant, we headed straight out to see the much raved-about red canyons and sand dunes of Mui Ne.

For 14USD per person, we boarded a Ford Everest with excellent working air-conditioning to take us through the whole 5-hour tour. Not too shabby since I was expecting a world-war II remnants of a jeep.


First on the itinerary was the Fairy Stream where you have to pass through a fish sauce factory with it’s over powering smell clinging to the hairs of your nostrils for hours. The Red Canyon is stunning and the stream flows between the rock and sand formations. A couple of kids were overly eager to assist us but went stomping their feet leaving us behind when they couldn’t guilt us into tipping them more than 50,000 VND.




Mui Ne is seeing some serious developments, so before the total wipe out of the charming fishing village, we stopped by for a few minutes and a succession of camera clicks.




From there, it’s a 45 minute scenic ride to Bao Trang or the white sand dunes, our non-English speaking driver had to avoid many meandering cows while singing to the tune of ABBA's "you to me are everything the sweetest song that i can sing ohhh baby." Our driver, apparently doesn't speak english, only ABBA.

Our excitement went up a few notches upon approaching the very picturesque massive Saharan like dunes framed with a small field of pine trees and a lake covered with lotus flowers. The sand is powdery soft between our toes and thankfully not scorching hot, having gotten there past the hour of 5.




Of course I had to try sand-sledding (sliding down from the top of the steep sandy slopes while sitting on a squat position on a rented flexible thin plastic sheet) for 20,000 VND or a few cents over a dollar and had great fun. However after taking some amazing shots and sledding, there was little else to do so we made our way back to the stores at the entrance and had some coconut ice cream before settling in the jeep to leave for our last stop before going back to the hotel.


The Red Sand Dune was located at the side of the road facing the ocean. I actually thought it was the national park since it was populated with locals. The dunes were much smaller compared to Bao Trangs, but the deep orangy-red sand offers a nice contrast. We were hoping to catch the sunset there but it was overcast. Nevertheless, we were impressed!



Mui Ne has certainly lived up to its expectations.

Now I know why those bloggers who has been to Mui Ne are so damn persuasive!

WARNING: If you plan to visit the fairy stream, you will have to walk in water (not over it, you're not Jesus) so expect to get those feet soaked. Take rubber flip-flops with you and leave those tired and worn-out sneakers in the jeep. Like I said, leave those shoes in the JEEP, not in the HOTEL. You might be needing them again at the sand dunes as they can get scorching hot!

TIP: The sand dunes is best seen in sunrise or sundown.

HOW TO GET THERE: from Ho Chi Minh you can either take the train and get off at the town of Phan Thiet and take another 30 minute motor ride or you could get on a Tam Hanh bus which will take you straight to Mui Ne.

VIETNAM DIARIES: Transit and Sleeping in Muine, Vietnam

Every blogger has written rather persuasively about how every tourist should see the White Sand Dunes of Mui Ne, a coastal province 200 kilometer northeast of Ho Chi Minh. And because every single blog ever written says that we should go, we packed our stuff and headed for Vietnam’s own Saharan –sandy paradise!


To get to Mui Ne, you can either take the train and get off at the town of Phan Thiet and take another 30 minute motor ride or you could get on a bus which will take you straight to Mui Ne.

We opted for the bus since our hotel offered to get the tickets for us for 6 USD per person. If your hotel doesn’t offer the same service ours did, you can get your tickets at Tam Hanh Travel office located at Pham Ngu Lao in District 1 for even a dollar less.

At a few minutes past 8 am, Tam Hanh open bus tours picked us up at our hotel and off we went, picking up other passengers from other guest houses along the way. For 6 USD you get a sure seat, albeit at the back in our case, a FREE bottled water and a blanket to keep you warm during the long drive.




The bus, as anticipated was filled with tourists of different languages and luggage’s of different sizes.

WARNING: because the bus is filled with tourists from all over the world, expect different types of smell, to be on the safe side, bring a face mask, it’s a long drive! I repeat, bring a face mask!

The 5-hour drive, crawling under an 80 kph speed wasn’t as bad as I had imagined, the road was surprisingly smooth all throughout the trip and what was even more surprising was we only stopped a total of ONE time for a toll. My Comfy-Pinoy ass was actually quite impressed. Back in the P.I. we had to stop a dozen times for toll before we got to our final destination.

There is only one pit stop, so you might wanna lay off those diuretics (e.g. COFFEE) before the trip. I had under-estimated the length of travel and my ignorant taste buds refused the lure of BANH MI (a Vietnamese sandwich traditionally made with baguette with some kind of meat filling, mayo and pate) during the stop so might I also suggest that you grab one before hitting the road again.


Regretting that bad judgment 5 hours and an empty stomach later, we finally reached the bay.

We didn’t make any hotel reservations in Mui Ne as we wanted to keep our options open in- case we find a cheaper hotel when we get there.

We resolved to walk the long stretch of resorts along Mui Ne as soon as the bus drops us off at the Tam Hanh tourist center. But because we wheeled in the center past 2 PM and the unbearable heat, our firm resolve quickly melted away and gave in to the 35 dollar hotel accommodation the tourist center offered us.

From the tourist center, we took another 5-minute drive to Thai Hoa Hotel, about 5 kilometers from the center of Mui Ne. Drenched in sweat, I immediately switched on the split type air- conditioning and preceded to its restaurant for a late lunch, and because we were in a hurry to catch the sand dunes before nightfall, I had no time to rummage through their menu and ordered the safest food my taste buds could handle, I ordered a fool-proof Chicken Sandwich!

And just when I thought I couldn’t go wrong with my food of choice, the waitress handed me a plate, two pieces of slightly toasted bread and in the middle was just plain fried little slices of chicken. No mayo, no pickles, just plain chicken with a little oil sipping through my now soggy bread!

No arguments, the food at the hotel was nothing special!

The hotel itself was OK, beach-front with palms\ of course. It has a bar and a pool which is open until 10 PM, WIFI and a lone desktop computer if you don’t have any computer with you. The room was quite spacious with a queen size bed, air-conditioned, with a mini bar, hot and cold
shower, and your own little patio. My only complaint were the sheets, the laundry seemed to have sucked-out all the cotton in it.  Oh well, its 35 dollars a night.


  
TIP: If you do not have hotel reservations, not to worry, the Tam Hanh Bus Services( assuming you’ll be taking the same ride) will take you to its tourist center and they will assist you with the accommodations with a slightly higher price (a dollar or two isn’t bad though). Or you could just walk around and look for cheaper hotels yourself.

written  by KIM

VIETNAM DIARIES: Xin Chao Saigon!

After a good 6 hour sleep where we woke up multi-millionaires, yes you heard that right, MULTI- MILLIONAIRES! Forget those Rich Dad, Poor Dad books promising you every strategy how to amass wealth. Just hop on a plane Vietnam bound, change whatever meager travel dollar you have to Vietnamese Dong where the current exchange rate is at 19,000 VND to 1 USD and et voila, you’re a certified millionaire. Albeit, still a pauper in spending power. A bottle of water costs 3,000 VND at the convenience store.

After a fragrant steaming bowl of pho for breakfast, it’s time to discover Saigon - a place where the culture permeates all the senses, from the beautiful French architecture to the delicious food and the frantic pace pulsating around the city.

Almost all of the sights we wanted to see are located at District 1, where our hotel Saigon Mini 1 is conveniently located too, so we decided to go to the Chinese Temple first at District 5.

For our first stop, we took an inexpensive cab ride (50,000 VND/$2.63/P126.24) from our hotel in District 1 to the temple Chùa Bà Thiên Hậu, dedicated to the Lady of the Sea revered by the seafaring Chinese community, located on the busy street of Nguyen Trai at the Cho Lon (China town) District 5.




After getting enveloped and high with the heady scent of burning incense, we took another Vinasun (the more reputable taxi companies who always turn their meters on) cab ride back to District 1 where the Notre Dame Cathedral and Post office is located.(2 Cong Xa Paris, Dist.1)

The late 19th century Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the oldest and biggest Catholic churches\ in Vietnam, and is a prominent feature of the city’s skyline with its tall twin spires. This neo- Romanesque Church built with bricks is located at the beautiful Paris Square in the center of the city. The Virgin Mary statue is also within the small garden, in front of the cathedral.



The beautiful Central Post Office across the road from the Notre Dame Cathedral doesn’t sound like a “must see place” but it is one of the best looking colonial public buildings in Ho Chi Minh City. It has a Gothic architectural style which was designed and constructed by the famous architect Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame and has become a tourist destination in its own right.



After buying some souvenirs at the Post Office’s gift shop and changing some more travel dollars, it’s a 3 block leisurely walk with map in hand to the former Hotel De Ville de Saigon turned into HCMC’s City Hall. The colonial styled building unfortunately is not open to the public so we just snapped a few shots and passed by the little park opposite the impressive building looking for lunch.



Wandering in a narrow alley with rows and rows of parked motorbikes, we discovered the charming Lemongrass Café (4 Nguyen thiep St. Dist.1), where we subsequently gorged on a seafood overdose lunch for a little over 500,000 VND. Not cheap but worth every penny for a bite.

Fortified with that lunch, we then walked to Ben Than Market to squander some of the millions that are burning a hole in our pockets. WARNING: Proceed with caution in Ben Than market, sales ladies can get overly aggresive. Pulling your shirt and slapping your shoulders has been a traditional marketing strategy for them, so keep those tempers in check and pick up those jaws from the floor. Talk about marketing strategy. FAIL!


TIP: Almost all of the must-see sights in HCMC are concentrated in District 1, so its an easy DIY tour that can be done in a day.

written by KIM & MJ

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