Philippine Travelogue: The Country’s Top Destinations

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Exploring the bustling cities of our dreams and the island paradise of our choice and even climbing the mountains that captivate us are all in our bucket list. Given the chance, we all want to take a breather every once in a while, or to the jetsetters, a never ending gait to the meandering roads of the planet. It takes a bit of cash, a dash of confidence and a splurge of wanderlust to get going. But once we start the engines of our lives, we learn twice as much, gaining wisdom along the way. The only fuel we need is the insatiable craving for adventure and to acknowledge that we are living without borders.

The Philippines is one country that is blessed with thousands of destinations, both famous and hidden, both the mainstream and the subtle. There is at least seven thousand one hundred reasons to pack our bags and rush out the door.

Go trekking at the UNESCO Heritage site of Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao and be amazed by how free men carved the mountains and brought them to life. Take a plunge right after in the icy water of Tapiya Falls. Or perhaps, test your patience and endurance by climbing the highest peak of the island of Luzon: Mount Pulag. It may be the perfect place to reflect and put everything back into perspective.

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Allow the spirit to discover the myriad of faiths, too. Visit the old churches of Cauayan, Isabela and Tuguegarao City of the north, the Taoist temple of the queen city of the south, the Buddhist temple of Davao and the sites of our Muslim brothers and sisters such as Surallah, South Cotabato.

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Travel back to the time of the Spaniards by walking through the cobbled streets of Vigan in Ilocos Sur. Remember the chivalry and friendship between the Filipinos and Americans within the fortress of the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City. Learn from the historic battle between the Filipinos and Japanese, and the mutual respect and amity the two nations enjoy today, from the Filipino-Japanese Amity shrine in Valencia, Negros Oriental and the Mansion in Silay, Negros Occidental. Give honor to our national hero in the historic Luneta Park.

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Treat the taste buds with a gastronomic feast of seafoods in Roxas City in Aklan. Fall in love with the famous batchoy of Iloilo City and the sweetest mangoes of the world in the island province of Guimaras. Challenge yourself with the fish ceviche and pork of the sinuglaw in Cagayan de Oro and the flavorful Satti of Zamboanga City. Pair a cup of coffee with a blissful serving of Sansrival in Dumaguete City.

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Connect with nature through the multiple landscapes of the chocolate hills of Bohol or by gazing at the world famous Mayon Volcano in Albay and the luscious greens atop the Palace in the Sky in Tagaytay City. Be inspired by the best sunset in the world at the Manila Bay. Join a mangrove planting activity in one of the country’s biggest mangrove reserve in Prieto Diaz, Sorsogon. What about flexing those muscles through a spelunking activity in Caramoan, Camarines Sur?

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Check out the Philippine’s last frontier, Palawan, and the many scenic sites it has to offer. Go hopping in the islands of Coron and revel in the sandy beaches of El Nido. Practice your imagination in the dark stretch of the underground river in Puerto Princesa. This sword shaped island in western Philippines will surely enthrall travelers!

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Try exploring this planet’s top beach, Boracay. Go banana boating, helmet diving or fly-fishing and join the merry-making along the three stations of the place. Whether it is morning, afternoon or night time, Boracay is always ready to serve the best from its menu. Or maybe, go for the more secluded pinkish – white beaches of Subic Island and Paguriran Island in Sorsogon.

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Experience the adrenaline rush of surfing! Enroll in a surfing tutorial in the town of Baler, Aurora or beat the heat by surfing in the sands of Paoay in Ilocos Norte. Level it up by trying every pit stop in Sandbox of Porac, Pampanga or smiling while aboard the zipline in South Cotabato, the highest in all of Southeast Asia!  Engage in the fun rides of theme parks such as Enchanted Kingdom in Laguna, Arts in Island Museum in Cubao, Quezon City and the Manila Ocean Park in the Philippine capital city.

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Dance with the hundreds of festivals across the country such as the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo and the Manggahan Festival of Guimaras and the Magayon Festival of Albay. Enjoy the colorful ‘kiping’ grandiosely arranged in the houses in Lucban, Quezon in the annual Pahiyas Festival and the warm smiles of the Maskara Festival of Bacolod City.

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Every bend of this planet leads to an adventure. Take a deep breath and take that first step. Enjoy your travel! Count every atom and make every story count!

The City of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

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Every year, I try my best to take a trip outside the country. In 2013, I visited one of the provinces in Indonesia. The year after, I experienced the culture of Malaysia. This year, I chose to stroll the high-octane streets of Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

Vietnam is a culturally-rich and diverse country, owing to the centuries of economic and political highlights. From once being part of China to the French colonization, Vietnam has somehow interlaced these historical sachets into its very own fabric of identity. Today, Chinese, French and, quite recently, the global influence are in the Vietnamese architecture, cuisine and way of life.

A statue of Ho Chi Minh stands a few feet across the city capitol. Guards are on the look out day and night.
A statue of Ho Chi Minh stands a few feet across the city capitol. Guards are on the look out day and night.

Ho Chi Minh City is a large metropolis in South Vietnam and was named after one of its revolutionary leaders who sought liberation from France. This city is formerly known as Saigon. As a kid, the only association I can make of Saigon was Miss Saigon which Ms. Lea Salonga starred in. I had repeats of this thought every night I stroll Ho Chi Minh. Lol The city is divided into districts, with most of the tourist destinations located at District I. Streets are lined with restaurants, bars, shops and what-nots that will draw the attention of locals and travelers alike. The currency is the Vietnamese Dong (approx. $1.00 =  ₫ 20,000.00).

The night market boasts of an array of merchandise, from the simplest to the most creative. When shopping for 'pasalubong', make a list of people you intend to buy for, or you'll end up buying for yourself. =)
The night market boasts of an array of merchandise, from the simplest to the most creative. When shopping for ‘pasalubong’, make a list of people you intend to buy for, or you’ll end up buying for yourself. =)

When I visited Vietnam, I had little cash on hand. Good thing the city has relatively cheap price range. I opted for motorcycles instead of taxis (when alone, but choose the taxi when in group), and the De Tham market for souvenirs rather than the malls. Street food and night market are a staple in Ho Chi Minh. One good skill to bring along is how to bargain. Honestly, I find it really hard to do this. Good thing I have companions expert on this art. lol

Some of the many items in Vietnam are crafts made of wood. Try looking for the best bargain before locking into one store.
Some of the many items in Vietnam are crafts made of wood. Try looking for the best bargain before locking into one store.

The city architecture manifests the culture of the French. The city capitol, opera house and the major establishments such as the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral have the elaborate Parisian style that let them stand out. No one will miss the Romanesque style of the Cathedral or the picturesque Saigon opera House, both good reasons why Ho Chi Minh is sometimes called the “Paris of the Orient”.

The Saigon Notre Dame Basilica has two prominent bell towers, reaching a height of 58 meters. It follows a Romanesque style of architecture.
The Saigon Notre Dame Basilica has two prominent bell towers, reaching a height of 58 meters. It follows a Romanesque style of architecture.
The Saigon Opera House is a premiere theater in Ho Chi Minh. It stages musicals, plays and many shows. Its design is French.
The Saigon Opera House is a premiere theater in Ho Chi Minh. It stages musicals, plays and many shows. Its design is French.

Vietnam has its own share of travails. The country has plunged into a tragic civil war, and many of the scars of that dark era are still etched today. The War Museum exquisitely documented the story and how it finally ended. I was moved to tears just looking at the photos, and honestly, this was the first museum which actually mustered by emotions! A few blocks from the museum is the Reunification Palace, a symbol of the end to the bitter civil war and the start towards development.

The War Remnant Museum has rooms depicting one chapter of the civil war. This room, the orange room, depicts the chemical warfare using the
The War Remnant Museum has rooms depicting multiple chapters of the civil war. This room, the orange room, depicts the chemical warfare using the “orange bomb”, claiming the lives of thousands, and still affects children today.
The Reunification Palace. We opted not to enter because we were pressed for time. Having a photo with it was satisfying already. hehe
The Reunification Palace. We opted not to enter because we were pressed for time. Having a photo with it was satisfying already. hehe But my tummy seems to be in bad shape!

Aside from rice being a food staple, coffee seem to be teeming in Vietnam. They have perhaps one of the most booming coffee industries in the world. You can choose from the packed coffee (sold at fixed prices) or those from the market, which they pulverize and sold per kilo (cheaper, and healthier, too). I bought a month’s supply of coffee and decided that those too would be great ‘pasalubongs’. Unfortunately, I left them at the hotel the night of my flight back to Manila. I realized they were not in my luggage when I was already at the airport. I really had a hard time moving on from that. =(

The market is a good place to ask for bargains. Make a good balance between getting a good price, and not underestimating the efforts in making the craft. =)
The market is a good place to ask for bargains. Make a good balance between getting a good price, and not underestimating the efforts in making the craft. =)

So there you go. It was a quick trip. It was just five days. Perhaps, there are three things I learned. One, that the art of travel is only perfected when you do it. Two, that the logic of travel is to immerse and not be lost. Three, that the love for travel is both a feeling and a choice.

Chocolate House, Rizal St., Old Albay District

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There’s this new snack house along Rizal St., Old Albay District that captured my attention, and I had a chance to try it out last week. The place is called Chocolate House. Owned and managed by a group of entrepreneurship students from Bicol University, the concept was an offshoot of their feasibility study. Because I wanted to taste most of their snacks, I had my friends order each of the four combos they had. Of course, we paid for each of our orders. hehe

Most of the food items were tweaked and drenched in melted chocolate. Each of the combos featured one food with a choice of juice drink. At a glance, they all seem so “chocolately”. Once you take a bite, it pleases me to know that it wasn’t “chocolately” after all. That was positive for me because that would mean they serve for multiple palates. If I were hungry, for instance, Chocolate House can satisfy my taste buds with its diverse food choices. It wasn’t too sweet and not too bland, either, at least for me. Tweaking some of the common food items was a plus. And these viands are relatively cheaper and affordable. They also serve pasta and other plated meals.

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Poppers
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Sweet Potato with chocolate dip
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Cucumber Lemon Juice
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French Toast

Check out the Chocolate House from Monday through Saturdays!

Exploring the Islands of El Nido, Palawan

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Whenever you can, wherever you are, take a trip to one of the best island beaches you can think of: bask in the sun, splurge in the crystal blue waters and have fun etching your footprints on the shores. However ephemeral this may seem to be, somehow it may remind us that life is fleeting and the best time to enjoy it is now! So go ahead, start looking! Can’t find one? May I suggest El Nido in the island of Palawan!

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A once quiet town in the island province of Palawan is now transformed into a center of tourism. El Nido in the Philippines holds the title of being one of the best tourist destination in the world. Tours and island hopping are a booming enterprise, coupled with restaurants offering authentic Filipino cuisine perfect for capping the night. The islands and rock formations spread across the waters of El Nido are aesthetically spaced to make them crisp to the senses. And perhaps, what makes the place highly enticing are the warm people who give the extra smile to make you comfortable.

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Enjoy swimming with your friends and family in the hidden lagoons and beaches. They say the most essential are invisible to the eye. True enough, the most picturesque spots are hidden from plain sight. Discover the wonders of El Nido by wading your way through the waters always armed with the hope of witnessing the best.

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Relax as you eat the sumptuous food served either in one of the islands or when you come back from the long island hopping. There are many ways to devour the food, but may be best eaten, I suppose, with bare hands.

Forget about work and commune with nature. Wiggle stress out of the system and allow the sea breeze to take the rest of your concerns. Visiting El Nido is a decision to loosen up, rejuvenate and re-organize.

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Capture the moment as it happens! Who knows when the next time will be? Telling people you’ve been to El Nido is different from showing them you’ve been there and letting the pictures speak for themselves. Note, however, that what the senses can absorb are always far better than what the lenses can capture. Seize the day with a balance of everything.

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Be grateful that places such as El Nido exist. Wherever we go, a conscious mind and a responsible body are the first elements of gratitude.

Start packing and make those long overdue plans a reality. It’s about time. =)

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

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When the city life is pressing down on us, it might help to take a short trip to places of natural wonder. It will not only break the boring and heavy routine, it may relax our senses and put us back into perspective. Thank God our country has so many and choosing which to visit may not be a problem. The Underground River in Palawan may be one of the best options we have.

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Hidden in one of the coves of the island of Palawan is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, an underground river that stretches under a huge solid rock mass. It is regarded as one of the new wonders of the modern world and inscribed as one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites in the Philippines. It is a protected area and visit is regulated by the local government. Permits are issued to tourists when they opt to visit. For normal tourists, only the first kilometer is covered. For other purposes such as research, special permits are obtained from the local government.

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Choosing to enter the dark stretch of the underground river may present a plethora of experiences, and perhaps emotions. Here are five things you might want to consider when you enter the cave:

1. Imagine. The stalactites and stalagmites (do you know the difference?) are mere rocks for the unimaginative. They come to life, however, for the creatively sound mind. The boatman will trigger your minds by suggesting how rocks look like but it is totally up to you to go beyond that. Don’t shy away from blurting what you think the rock looks like.

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2. Look for Life. Although it is pitch dark inside, life has managed to conquer the cave and adapted to the environment. Look for bats hanging upside down and for small birds in the crevices of the cave. Careful not to open your mouth when you look up to avoid bat poop from getting inside your system.

3. Learn. Although you are taking the trip to relax and free yourself from the toxic metropolis, consider this an opportunity to learn new things. You may be interested to learn how the bats communicate and look for food inside a lightless environment, or how the underground river came to be. Whatever it is, knowing a thing or two makes your trip two steps better.

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4. Communicate. When you want to learn something, ask. When you wish to have a second glance at structures, request the one holding the flashlight to point to the direction you want. Being too quiet may be too eerie. Being too noisy, on the other hand, may not sit well with your fellow tourists and to the natural inhabitants of the cave. Communicate well.

5. Share. Share your experiences with your friends when you get back home, not to make them envious, but to encourage them to try it themselves, this time with a dose of your own prescription. Do not overdo it, however, because you might spoil the fun and adventure you want them to experience firsthand.

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And yes, visiting the underground river, or any other destination, is best with friends and family. The first time I visited the place was in 2011 and it was my first solo trip. This time, I was with a bunch of funny and adventurous friends and it was so much fun!

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ARTS IN ISLAND 3D INTERACTIVE MUSEUM

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Arts in Island is the newest attraction that provides guests with an amazing opportunity to twist, tweak and turn 3D portraits into visual realities with no less than the guest himself/herself as the star of the display! A good camera, a fun companion and tons of imagination are all you need to recreate scenes of medieval past, Arabian nights and celestial what-nots. Who would have thought museum visits can be so engaging! Here are five tips to maximize your stay.

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1. Don’t disregard the suggestions for photo angles. There are a few guides on the floor where you stand for some of the best shots. It’s 3D, so unless you find the spot, it won’t work. If you’re doubting, ask help from the museum staff. They know what they’re doing. Don’t let them contain your shots, however. Explore.

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2. Play your part well. The portraits will come to life only when you give it your best facial expression and body language. Everyone in the museum is thinking of a unique pose, a wacky this and that that goes well with the display. So go ahead, don’t be shy! You might even set the standards for the best one for everyone to copy.

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3. Be sensitive. We don’t want to monopolize a portrait. If it’s taking you too long to get that shot, rest and study it first, or find another portrait. Others are on cue to have their photos taken as well. The better option is volunteer to take the photos for them. Who knows, that might be a start of something new which you guys can work on after museum exit.

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4. Bring in a lot of imagination. The obvious is boring, the common is so-so, but the novel is hip and savvy. Try multiple shots and see which one works best. Think outside the box but don’t overthink. It might kill the fun.

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5. Take your time. Visit the museum when you have the luxury of time. Do not hurry. Not having enough time spoils everything. Plan your visit. Besides, the museum is here to stay. =)

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Art in Island Admission Fee: Adult – PHP500, Student, Senior Citizen and PWD – PHP400

Operating Hours: Mon-Sun, 9:30AM-9:30PM

Address: 175 15th Ave. Brgy. Socorro, Cubao, Quezon City

Contact No.: (02) 421-1356 E-mail: artinisland@gmail.com

Website: http://www.facebook.com/artinisland

Mount Pulag and the Ten Life “HUGOT’s” It Taught Me

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There are places in this planet each of us would like to see, not just because they’re pop. We like to be there because they magnetize our emotions and possibly challenge our physiques, or could be out of pure wanderlust and sheer indulgence in adventures. There are few places, however, which could sum them all up and which, like a filter, chooses who may pass and who may not. Mount Pulag is one great example.

Rising 2922 meters above sea level, Mount Pulag is the highest peak in mainland Luzon, second in the Philippines. It is a protected site under the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) of the Philippine government, of which DENR has full jurisdiction. It is likewise part of a vast ancestral domain of the tribes of central Luzon, custodians of both the natural and cultural heritage of the place.

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Climbing Mount Pulag was my first attempt of a real hiking (although I fell short in some aspects of it). This first time brought me to many realizations, of which I wish to share:

1. Base decisions on concrete motivations, not on feelings that are fleeting. Mount Pulag is a long walk and a relatively steep climb. Although the thought of the summit is amazingly good, it should not overshadow the reality of the steps we have to make to reach the top. Put into mind, however, that it may not be easy, but it will be worth it.

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2. When you visit Mount Pulag, pack the essentials, both the visible and the invisible. Bring a good tent (not necessarily a posh one hehe), a thick but light sleeping bag, and comfortable thermal wears. You wouldn’t need to change often because the temperature drops to an almost piercing cold. Bring a lot of patience for the long climb, and much chocolates for both the carbo as energy source and for serotonin to keep on flowing.

3. Gravity is one constant thing. Whether you are up there or down, you experience the same pull. What makes it seem stronger or weaker is attitude.

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4. Climbing Mount Pulag will tire you. Rest as often as you must, sip water to replenish your arsenals. But keep in mind that the sun will not wait for you before it rises, and the sea of clouds will not be there forever. Take your time, but remember to hasten when you need to.

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5. Some signs are too hard to believe. Along the way, a signage will tell climbers they are about this kilometer far from the summit, only to find out it is farfetched from what your feet can measure. Life can sometimes give false hopes. But I am inclined to believe that life will not test us beyond our strength. Our capacity should never be limited by what we see along the way. Whether the road is narrow or wide, our feet should dictate how far we can go.

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6. When you reach the summit, savor the moment. Take photos, make memories, feel the bliss! Being on top of the world is great, but realizing why you’re there is much more important. Whatever your reasons are, make them simple and straight forward. Life is complicated, and the least you want to do is to make your reasons blur and hard to comprehend.

7. Pray. Adore, confess, Thank and solicit. Mount Pulag is the playground of the gods. Although I believe in just one God, the summit is an opportunity to be amazed by how great His handiworks are. And if He can do such beautiful creation, I believe He has grander plans for our lives.

8. The only way to go home is to climb down. The summit is windy and cold, bordering to hostility towards our tired bodies. Staying for so long up there even when were done doing our things, took all the photos and savored the moment, will only damage our frames, more so our mood. Just as in life, working too hard is never good. Work smart instead.

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9. Climbing together is always better than climbing alone. Enjoy both the personal journey and the tintinnabulation of a group. In this case, I think it is safe to say this: if you can, use half of your energy to reach your goal, so that when your friends need help, you have another half to lend.

10. Leave the things that will slow you down. Getting to the summit fast is not necessary, but getting there safe and in one piece is a must. Gauging which to bring and how much of it will depend on how many pockets you have or if you’re willing to bring a bag with you. Just as in life, unloading the heart of burdens will ease your gait. A much better option than littering the meandering road with the many shards of desperation and angst, which may hurt others and yourself.