Category: Trips

Buendia Avenue Birthday Special: Exploring the Best of Both Worlds in Sabah, Malaysia (A Narrative Itinerary)

Ever since, I’ve always wanted to spend my birthday by way of an out-of-the-country trip with the people I love. So when I learned about this Air Asia seat sale early this year, I immediately booked four seats to Kota Kinabalu – an emerging tourist destination in Sabah, Malaysia.

Kota Kinabalu (KK) has intrigued me for quite a while. I have read some blogs about KK and somehow I can’t forget the beauty that it has to offer. Back in 2010, it’s already in my list of must-go places. A perfect birthday treat for myself this year! And what made it even more special is that I’m with three of the most important people in my life.

This blog is an overview of our 4day-3night trip in Sabah and a description of how we were able to explore the city in the cheap by foot and by boat, and how we experienced luxury and pleasure after. Either way – it was a trip to remember, with a different flavor – which makes it truly unforgettable.

DAY 1 – Clark International Airport, Air Asia, Lavender Lodge, and Birthday Dinner at Seri Selera

Our flight leaves at 4pm via Clark so we had to take the 12pm Philtranco Bus in Megamall. This is the 2nd time we took this route since our Cebu Pacific flight via Singapore last April 2010 was also via Clark so I’m quite familiar with this already. For the second time, we did not make prior reservations but I still suggest to do so especially during peak season. After two hours, we were already at the Diosdado Macapagal Clark Airport.

This is my first time to ride an AirAsia plane so I’m also quite concerned with the actual flying experience. Quite frankly, being a budget airline, I was expecting small planes and delayed flights but luckily I was wrong! AirAsia planes are very nice, and never were our flights delayed. I will definitely choose them again next time.

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Coron: The Easy Way

We were in Coron last Feb 11-13 to celebrate again the V-Day and C’s Birthday. Travelling during this season has somehow became a “tradition” for us since we became an item after our Camiguin trip last year.

Unlike our previous travels in Ilocos, Viaje del Sol, and Camiguin though, this time, we dropped our backpacks and decided to go the easy way – so instead of planning the trip ourselves, we availed of a package tour that covers everything that we need for 3 days and 2 nights in Coron.

Upon the recommendation of our friends, we booked Darayonan Lodge’s “Explore Coron Package” which is Php 7,500 per head for 2 pax including the rooms, food, and tours.

Suffice it so say, Coron is not cheap, especially if you’re not travelling with a group.

Day 1

Our plane left on time and landed at Busuanga Airport a little early. From the airport, we were picked-up by a van to Darayonan. We were with a few more tourists at that time but they were dropped in different resorts around the area.

Coron has some electricity problems during that time. There is no power during the day and electricity only comes back after 6pm. Darayonan Lodge have their own generator but cannot sustain airconditioning for all rooms.

After resting for about an hour, we had lunch at Darayonan then rode a tricycle going to the pier. We were with our guide, Rhea (who was the best guide ever), who brought with her our merienda and drinks. We also rented snorkeling gears for Php 100 per person per day back at the resort (we were so lucky because we were the first to use the gears and didn’t have to worry if those were sanitized. hehe).

our first stop - Smith's Point Beach. We didn't stay long because it was too hot and we were not yet in the mood to swim.
Twin Lagoon - our banca had to park a few meters away and we had to swim going to the lagoon. I don't know how to swim and I was terrified because even if I have lifevest on, I sort of panicked when my feet cannot feel the ground already. So Rhea (our guide) literally had to drag me to our destination. :-S. It was high tide that time, so we had to climb up a wooden ladder.
Kayangan Cove - is the most photographed spot in Coron. However, we learned that the one in the photograh is not yet Cayangan, but just the view on your way there. We had to endure a short (but challenging) climb going there. After that, you will be greeted by the serene lake.
C enjoying the waters of Cayangan.

We ended the day with a dip at Maquinit Hot Springs. A good way to relax our bodies after a long day of swimming and sightseeing. 🙂

Day 2

We don’t have much pictures of our Day 2 Tour because we’re mostly immersed in water and C had a good time playing with the disposable underwater camera (whose film is not yet developed – so no underwater pictures for this blog as well).

We started the day early. By 7am we were already at the pier.

@ the pier while waiting for our banca

Our first stop for day 2 is Barracuda Lake. It was nothing spectacular, only so quiet and there’s and eeriness I can’t explain. We did not stay long there.

Water so still @ Barracuda Lake

Our next stop is snorkeling at Siete Pecados. According to our guide, it is the most popular snorkeling site in Coron. Had a great time feeding the blue and yellow fishes, right, but the water current is so strong I had to hold on to a rope to prevent me from being washed away.

We ate our lunch at Banol Beach, which looks the same as Smith’s Point, only it has its own sari-sari store. hehe. Food (included in our package), was okay… but I wished there’s crab and shrimp other than fish and meat.

Our last – and definitely the highlight – destination was the Skeleton Wreck. I freak out with the thought of seeing actual shipwrecks underwater so I just stayed on the other side and marveled at the various fishes and corals underwater. Definitely safer that Siete Pecados and more varieties of fishes in there! Obviously, this was where we stayed the longest. 🙂

Our tour ended earlier than scheduled. So by 2pm, we were already back at the hotel.

Perhaps the highlight of the day was our dinner at Kawayanan Grill. More of our love affair with Mr. Lobster here.

Day 3

After breakfast, we don’t have anything to do already. We were dreading the 700+ steps of Mt. Tapyas so this was our least priority. But since we can’t think of anything else to do, we decided to give it a try.

And are we able to reach the top for a photo-op with the cross? Find out here. 🙂

All in all, it was a good retreat from all the stresses at work and at home. I had a great time with all the water activities even if I don’t know how to swim, but I was not really blown away, unlike some accounts I read. For me, Coron is just like Hundred Islands – only bigger and more expensive.

South East Asia Hotel, Singapore

I never had a chance to blog about our Singapore family vacation last April 2010. It was a blast, yes, and it’s mostly because we had a super sulit hotel accommodation at South East Asia Hotel.

If I remember it correctly, we paid more or less SGD 100 per night for a deluxe room. Our room had 3 beds, and a bathroom (not that big, but good enough for me). Our room had cable TV, basic toiletries, and they clean the rooms everyday. Not to mention the location is very good.

Would I recommend it? Yes, definitely. The hotel might be old but well-maintained. If you are the type of traveller who is not after the luxury of hotels but wants to stay in a clean, safe place, then SEA Hotel is for you. I had my 7-year old son with me and he did not complain or felt uncomfortable. There’s cable TV with a few cable channels.

A Tribute to Laya

I only learned about the sad news today – Laya, that beautiful and cozy personal dining restaurant in Antipolo that went we to last July 2010, has closed down.

It is so unfortunate – both for those who have not been given the chance to experience the incredible dining experience at Laya, and for those people like me who have tried it, but couldn’t wait to eat there again.

Laya is just perfect – it is near the metro but far enough to avoid the pollution and usual rush. The place is pretty, the owners and the servers very friendly, and of course, the food is superb. Even if they charge 750/head, it was all worth it. Even cheap actually, considering the quality.

I haven’t had the chance to blog about our unique experience there last July, so allow me to share with you some photos of the place, and the food that we were served, as a fitting tribute to Laya.

Both C and I had the Laya Signatures Menu. It is composed of a 5-course lunch set with unlimited Laya Signature Pandan Iced Tea (that is so refreshing I think I gulped 5 tall glasses during the whole meal!

Refreshing Signature Laya Pandan Iced Tea
Trio of Appetizers: Crabstick & Cream Cheese Dumpling with Spicy Mango Sauce; Shrimp & Chicken Wanton Bag with Thai Sweet Chili; and Stirfried Kaffir Lime Pork in Lettuce Wrap
Spiced Pumpkin & Cashew Nut Soup with Coconut Cream Froth
Grilled Spice-crusted Chicken Strips with Mixed Greens in Ginger Soy Dressing
Fresh Lime & Mango Sorbet
For the main course, we both had Herb-Marinated US HangingTender Steak in a Red Wine & Rosemary Reduction with Spiced Crushed Potatoes
Dark Chocolate and Black Pepper Tart with Candied Ginger & Basil-infused Crème Anglaise
So sweet! complimentary turon in chocnut dip (we were celebrating our 14th monthsary at that time)

We were so full after eating all those yummy food! It was one of those situations where in you are already full but can’t stop eating because all that were served looks and tastes yummy! This, coupled with the great ambience from our table.

Thank you to the talented husband-and-wife duo of Irene and Chef Ricci. Whatever your plan is, we’re all excited to see and feel your awesome existence in the scene again! 🙂

Amazed by Amihan Villa: Our First Anniversary at Puerto Galera’s Finest :-)

On our first anniversary, C and I went to Puerto Galera, an island located within 3-4 hours south of Manila. The place is popular because of the White Beach (literally a stretch of white sand crowded by cheap apartelles, bars, and dive shops). We did some extensive research weeks prior to the trip and learned that there is more to Puerto Galera than the White Beach… Hence, Amihan Villa is a discovery that we will never forget.

Making reservations was easy. Even if it’s going to be a long weekend, they did not require us to pay any downpayment. Our room costs Php3,000 per night inclusive of continental breakfast.

We were picked up by Monica, the owner of the Villa. She was born in Puerto Galera but moved to Amsterdam as a child (her father’s Dutch), then went back with her goal of putting up a luxurious accommodation option for Puerto Galera tourists. The Amihan has been in operations for only about a month, and they really hasn’t advertised yet, that’s why even some of the locals are unaware that they’re open already.

The trip from Muelle Pier to Amihan Villa takes about 15 minutes. Along the way, Monica was enthusiastically talking about her project, and how she envisions the villa to be in the future. Listening to her stories was able to excite me even more.

And no words can ever explain how I felt when I saw Amihan Villa up close…

The Rooms

Amihan Villa only has five rooms so far that can accommodate 2-3 people. I know you’re dying to see how our room looks like already… Here goes… 🙂

The Food

Amihan Villa has their own Chef – that’s so true! We heard from the locals that JR, the chef, is a brother of the owner. While we weren’t able to confirm it, we definitely had a great anniversary dinner because of him. These are our orders:

For breakfast, we were able to secure the best area: the table at the corner with an amazing view of South China Sea.

What’s so good about Amihan is that even if they’re still considerably on dry run status, they are able to provide first-class, personalized service to their guests. Monica said that they’re already going to start constructing an in-house spa, complete with all amenities during off-peak season this year. I can’t wait to go back once it’s over!

They’re also located very close to the White Beach, only about 10-15 minutes away by tricycle. Since the Resort is not beach front, guests may still enjoy wading in the white sand beaches of Galera quite easily.

Because of our experience in Amihan Villa, I am being tempted to end our search for the best bed and breakfast already (though I’m sure we’ll still not stop looking. :-). This place was definitely able to bring our standards several notches higher. It was hard to leave this paradise and for a while, we regretted booking only a night there. I could stay there forever if I can! 🙂

So what are you waiting for? Book a night at Amihan and be awed, like us. I’m so sure that soon, their room rates will increase dramatically (because of demand and they deserve it!) so grab the opportunity now. I highly recommend this place to couples and small families looking for a quiet but top-notch accomodation near where the action is. 🙂

Me and Monica, our gracious host.

Many thanks to Monica, to JR, and the staff of Amihan for a romantic and memorable stay. Our first anniversary celebration was made perfect because of you guys.

Here’s to more happy years together!

Amihan Villa
c/o Monica Slothouwer – Romas
Aninuan, Puerto Galera
Oriental Mindoro
www.amihanvilla.com
+63 (0)9081222335

MC Mountain Hotel and our Tagaytay Grrrrrr!!!!

C and I went to Tagaytay during Good Friday to have a little retreat and spend our 11th month together. It was late already when we decided to go and since it’s going to be a long weekend in the Philippines, naturally, hotels are fully-booked already. We thought we were lucky when we found MC Mountain Hotel and they still have an available room. Hmmm… Let’s just say that after our stay there, I think I’m not going back to Tagaytay for a long time.

I won’t blame all our misfortunes in Tagaytay at MC Mountain though. It was actually a combination of different things that could ruin a supposedly quiet getaway outside chaotic Manila. Name it — traffic, slooooooooow service at a steakhouse inside Robinson’s (we waited for more than an hour for our order and it didn’t come), brownout, slow or no wifi connection, etc. Nakaka-trauma tuloy. 🙁  

We booked a standard room for a peak-season rate of Php 2,250. The hotel is located along the highway, just beside Sonya’s Garden. It’s in Alfonso already and faaaaaaaaaaar from the city where all the parks and the restaurants are. With the Holy Week traffic, took us hours to get to everywhere – the gas station, restaurants, even!

We arrived a little past 1pm. We had light breakfast so we’re super hungry already. We called up the reception area and boom – they don’t serve anything aside from breakfast. Mc Donalds doesn’t even deliver in that area. We had no choice but brave the horrendous traffic again just to find a decent place to eat. You can just imagine how miserable we were at that time.

Of course, I don’t blame to hotel for this. It’s just that I think the location is not good. For Php2,250 per night, we could have gotten a better accommodation nearer the city… But then again… should book ahead of time.

 

So after our super late lunch, we went back to the hotel to relax and read the books that we brought with us. C tried to watch TV. They have TV sets with no remote control, with only about five channels. And since it was Good Friday, local channels weren’t on regular programming. Had to satisfy ourselves with Net 25 just because there’s nothing else to watch!

In the afternoon, when it’s not too hot outside already, we went to the veranda with our books. From there, the view was nice – you could see trees, all green… but there were so many mosquitoes and bugs, we had no choice but just head back in our room.

So we tried to satisfy ourselves reading inside the room. To our dismay, around 7pm, all the lights went out! It was brownout in the area and we even had to walk in the dark to the recepton area just to know what’s happening. No one went to our room to inform us. They said they were trying to fix the generator set and that we’ll be able to watch TV and turn on the light but no aircon. I asked them if they will provide electric fans but the receptionist said there’s none available. We waited -in the dark (they didn’t give us candles, imagine?!!!- for more than another hour until we realized that the lobby has lights already except for the guest rooms. I was already fuming mad because I just think they should also prioritize providing lights inside the rooms, right? Instead of getting into a useless argument with the receptionist again though, we just went out and looked for a decent restaurant with wifi to eat and surf the net while waiting for the power to be restored.

At 9pm, traffic is still horrible. I’m so tired and hungry to endure anoter hour perhaps on the road so when we passed by Robinson’s, we decided to just find a decent place to eat there. Amongst all the restaurants, we chose Sizzling Pepper Steak. IT WAS A MISTAKE! we waited for more than an hour and our orders never came. We will never eat there again… ever!

We were back at the hotel after about three hours. Good thing the electricity was already restored. Lesson learned: I will never go to Tagaytay again on a holy week holiday. It was crazy!

Pre Planning: 3 Days Before The Big Singapore Vacation

I have been fussing over our upcoming four-day Singapore Trip for the past few days… and I’m going crazy! I can’t afford to not do well this time because I’m going to travel with my sisters and my 7-year old Angelo. Suffice it to say, I’m going ga-ga on our itinerary and for the first time, researched about every little detail of our trip.

We’re leaving on Saturday already via Diosdado Macapagal Airport in Clark. I have summarized below the issues that I have been trying to solve by means of crazily mining the world wide web in search for credible answers and suggestions:

ON TRANSPORTATION:

1. How do we go to Clark (and vise versa)? – Philtranco Bus going there, and a rent-a-car going home. There’s a Bus terminal at the back of SM Megamall Building A that will take us to the airport for Php 300/head; Since our ETA Clark on Tuesday is at 7:45pm, we have no other choice but to rent a car. I got Leo’s Taxi’s cellphone number at the site of DMIA: I called him up and made an appointment for Php 2,500 (Clark to Mandaluyong).

Click this link for more options.

2. How do we move around the city? – I researched extensively on this because my son doesn’t like walking and long queues so if taking a cab or the bus is not that expensive, we’ll take it over the MRT. In the itinerary that I made below, I tried to be very realistic: taking the MRT in the morning when we still have energy; and just taking the cab going home because I’m anticipating that we’d all probably be so tired already from all the activities.

HOTEL AND ACCOMMODATION

I made reservations already months prior the trip. I chose South East Asia Hotel because of its location and affordability. Plus, I don’t have to make any downpayment. I have been to Singapore twice, but haven’t explored Bugis and Little India yet, and because the hotel is right there, we’d be able to explore the night market and squeeze in some shopping as well.

WHERE TO EAT?

I didn’t make any line-ups of restaurants that we will go to. Food tripping is not our priority and I’m sure we’ll eat at hawkers most of the time. But we’ll definitely eat at Bon Tong Kee! I feel in love with their Hainanese Chicken on those two times that I went there, and I’m sure my sisters will love their food too!

PLACES TO SEE

  • Universal Studios Singapore – this is the reason why we’re all excited to go! We’re lucky that USS has already been launched and that we’ll be able to enjoy it. The downside: entrance fee is sooooo expensive! Better be worth it!
  • Sentosa – I have been here, so probably we’ll just walk around, try the Luge and Skyride, and definitely see Songs of the Sea!
  • Singapore Zoo and Night Safari – I’ve heard mixed reviews particularly about the Night Safari. We’ll see…
  • Merlion, Singapore Flyer, Suntec, Esplanade – staple touristy thingy
  • Orchard Road, Lucky Plaza, Wisma Atria – Shopping!

RESOURCES

To know more about Singapore, I asked my friends and former officemates who are/have worked in Singapore. I also read pages and pages of online resources: blogs, forums, and websites. Of particular note are the following:

For those who are curious, herewith is the itinerary slash expense estimator that I did. Your comments are welcome!

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  Time Particulars Total Cost Cost per Person
        Adults Kid
DAY 1 7:00am Philtranco Bus Mla-Clk    1,200.00              300.00       300.00
    Travel Tax    5,870.00           1,620.00    1,010.00
    Airport fee    2,400.00              600.00       600.00
  12:20pm ETD CLK-SG      
  3:40pm ETA SG      
    Taxi Fare to SEA Hotel       858.00              214.50       214.50
  5:00pm Check in SEA Hotel 4d/3n)  11,682.00           2,920.50    2,920.50
  7:00pm MRT estimate to Esplanade       132.00                33.00        33.00
    Singapore Flyer, Merlion, Esplanade      
  9:00pm Suntec Lights Show, Dinner      
    Taxi estimate to Hotel       285.00                71.00        71.00
TOTAL      22,427.00           5,759.00    5,149.00
           
DAY 2 9:00am MRT to Rafles for Orchard       132.00                33.00        33.00
    Walk around Orchard, Wisma Atria, Lucky Plaza      
  1:00pm Singapore Attractions Express to Singapore Zoo       462.00              132.00        66.00
    Zoo and Night Safari with Tram    5,610.00           1,551.00       957.00
    Taxi to Hotel       789.03              197.25       197.25
TOTAL        6,993.03           1,913.25    1,253.25
           
DAY 3 9:00am MRT to Harbourfornt (Vivo City       211.20                52.80        52.80
    Sentosa Express       396.00                99.00        99.00
    Universal Studios    8,610.00           2,310.00    1,680.00
  8:40pm Sentosa – Songs of the Sea    1,400.00              350.00       350.00
    MRT to Hotel       211.20                52.80        52.80
TOTAL      10,010.00           2,864.60    2,030.00
           
DAY 4 9:00am free time – Chinatown?      
  1:00pm check out Hotel      
    Taxi Fare to Airport       910.00              227.50       227.50
  4:20pm ETD SG      
  7:45pm ETA CLK      
    Taxi from Clk-Mla    2,500.00              625.00       625.00
TOTAL        3,410.00              852.50       852.50
           
           
    GRAND TOTAL  42,840.03          11,389.35    9,284.75
           
* translated to Peso based on Php33=SGD1 rate
* food and shopping allowance not included

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Rodic’s Never Fails to Bring Back Memories

This morning, while I was browsing the internet, I came accross this informative article on Spot.ph regarding their Top 10 carinderias in the city: 

http://www.spot.ph/2010/04/14/the-ultimate-in-cheap-n-cheerful-top-10-carinderias-in-the-city/5/

I haven’t even tried any of them (hehe), but I am a sucker for carinderia food. Haha! I even get more satisfaction with their cheap, and sometimes unhealthy viands than their more expensive “counterparts.” Hehe.

So what’s my favorite carinderia in the city? Definitely, Rodic’s. 🙂 I have been a regular customer of this quaint eatery inside the UP Shopping Center while I was still in college. I dined there as a freshman with my blockmates, during lunchbreaks with classmates, Saturdays after outreach activities with my orgmates, during presswork breaks with the Collegian staffers, with my (ex) boyfriend. Hahaha. Rodic’s should in one way or another, play an important part in a UP student’s life.

So everytime we see ourselves in UP (C is also an alumni :-]), we always make it a point to eat here. And you will always see us savoring these:

Hotsilog: This is our favorite hotdog of all time!
Tapsilog: Definitely, their bestseller. I've only seen this kind of tapa here. Reminds me of Breadtak's floss - another favorite. Hehe.

We’ll be in UP again on Saturday for the iBlog Summit! Lunch is going to be at Rodic’s again, for sure! 😉

What’s your Rodic’s story? 🙂

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