Tag Archive: Travels

It was just a 2 day, 1 night cruise aboard Paradise Luxury. Thrilled after a 4 hour drive from Hanoi, it was such a treat to cruise Halong Bay — its many limestone rock formations, floating fishing villages, caves, the food and activities on board! Yes, it rained. But that didn’t take away a single minute of our enjoyment of this adventure. We were the lucky ones. A day earlier, the cruise was recalled after only 2 hours of sailing because of inclement weather. 

Boarding Time! (Paradise Luxury @Halong Bay)

Boarding Time! (Paradise Luxury @Halong Bay)

A shower of rose petals as we boarded Paradise Luxury.

A shower of rose petals as we boarded Paradise Luxury.

There were just a few of us onboard. The crew, the Cruise Manager (Lance) and butler (Gwen?) of Paradise Luxury 4 were all so friendly and accommodating. Food porn on board too. The works! All that plus a jacuzzi in the room? Rooms were spacious, so unlike the small, cramped cabins we got used to on big cruise ships.  Though it rained, the waters were so calm. Cruising along Halong Bay viewing its 1,969 karst formations was sheer delight. We thought we’d never grow tired staring out of our wide cabin windows or feeling the breeze and enjoying the views on deck. How could we have missed this in many of our travel itineraries?

So much room in our luxury cabin!

So much room in our luxury cabin!

If you're traveling as a couple, ask for the cabin with this jacuzzi. Perfect for honeymooners!

If you’re traveling as a couple, ask for the cabin with this jacuzzi. Perfect for honeymooners!

But the real treat lies in the beauty of this UNESCO Heritage Site, truly a top natural wonder of the world. The smooth ride over the placid waters of Halong Bay was so soothing to nerves frayed by the motorcycle and bicycle scene of Hanoi. This is the exact opposite of one’s feelings while crossing the streets of Hanoi. There were many other cruise boats, along with the smaller fishing boats from nearby floating villages along the bay, but this is one “traffic” that is far from chaotic. In fact, the many sailboats and luxury yachts dotting the 1,969 limestone rock islands added to the charm.

A lone sailboat looking wedged between 2 rock formations.

A lone sailboat looking wedged between 2 rock formations.

Truly a top natural wonder of this world!

Truly a top natural wonder of this world!

We slept like a log after a scrumptious dinner on board. The activities included short rides on tenders to view some caves, kayaking (if weather permits, but not on this ride), culinary and barista lessons, tai-chi first hour in the morning. For an overnighter, that is more than enough. Plus of course all the eating. The last activity is NOT to be missed. We had such savoury Vietnamese appetizers of crab cakes, shrimps, spring rolls and papaya salad. The menu listed scallop bisque, lamb, king prawns, salmon, and a chicken dish. We were prepared to choose one main entreé but was surprised we had ALL of it instead. And such generous helpings too.

And these were just appetizers!

And these were just appetizers!

Fine dining on board!

Fine dining on board!

The barista and culinary lessons were held in the dining hall. The tai-chi too, because the sundeck was wet from all the rain. The heavens wept while we slept, and just as we were sailing back to shore. The only thing is dining is intermittently interrupted as we passed the karst formations viewed from the glass windows and doors spilling out to balconies. How can you not help taking a photo? Lovely day. Soothing nights. We even passed one rock formation with a cave all lighted up for a private candlelit dinner!

Culinary lessons on board!

Culinary lessons on board!

Ready for barista lessons!

Ready for barista lessons!

After this experience, you know what I have in mind? Gathering my family and a few close friends to set sail on this luxury boat all to ourselves! That should be fun. There are smaller, 3 cabin boats if you like. But I am thinking along the lines of 8 cabins or so for a big family and a few couple friends. How about that?

Twilight time!

Twilight time!

A time with friends. A time well spent!

A time with friends. A time well spent!

Lazi Convent proudly stands across the pink-ish late 19th century church built by Augustinian Recollects in Lazi, Siquijor. The stonewalls echo a deep history of this convent used as “rest and recreation” of the Augustinian friars then. A collection of sorts is housed in the 2nd floor which now serves as a museum that impresses as well as breaks one’s heart.






Lazi Convent. R & R. In late 19th century for men of the clergy.


Centuries-old acacia trees line the road separating Lazi Convent from the Saint Isidore Church. Siquijor.



Impressive that the same acacia trees still line the road separating the Saint Isidore Church and the Convent which has since been converted into a school and Museum. That the basic elements of the old structure — pillars, capiz windows and staircase — remain. Heartbreaking that there is no semblance of security and preservation concerns relating to the Museum. In the first place, the use of the ground floor as school premises doesn’t augur well in preserving this historical site.





The corridors on the 2nd floor of Lazi Convent which now houses the Siquijor Heritage Museum.


Capiz-framed window slides on the 2nd floor of Lazi Convent cum Siquijor Heritage Museum.




When we came across a tabernacle on display, it broke our hearts to read that the piece is a reproduction, a fake, a switched copy of the genuine piece which was earlier sent for restoration. Only time will tell how the other treasures within the unguarded museum would fare. God forbid.





The FAKE Tabernacle. Siquijor Heritage Museum. Lazi Convent.


Historical treasures inside Siquijor Heritage Museum. No glass encasing to protect them. Unguarded. Poorly maintained.




The 2nd floor with capiz-framed window slides reminded me of my grandmother’s house, except that these ones offered a view of the Lazi Church across the road. No wonder men from the clergy chose this convent for R & R. The church is beautiful and this convent equally so, as well as huge in size. A friend reminded me that Siquijor was then center of studies on herbal medicine during the Spanish time and that many scientists from Europe visited the island for research then. I may also add that religious men, many of whom are botanists and pseudo-scientists, may have visited for these same reasons. Rest and Recreation AND RESEARCH!





Lazi Convent. Rest, recreation and research!


Saint Isidore Church just across the road from Lazi Convent.


The 2 structures in the sleepy town of Lazi are the iconic landmarks of this 3rd smallest island province in the Philippines. It has more to offer but many visitors shy away from spending more time, if not nights, in this province which gained notoriety as the country’s black magic capital. The beach scene here is quiet, even secluded. And the waterfalls and cave sites offer more for the more adventurous. With more tourist arrivals, perhaps local government here will consider a more serious upkeep of the island’s historical treasures.





The stonewalls on the ground floor. All original. Lazi Convent. Siquijor.


Lazi Convent. Midday. Siquijor.

 One thing I love about Australia is its many hamlets. Small, quaint, charming, enchanting villages either in the mountains or by the coast. I remember the first time I visited Katoomba. Took the train aiming to spend a whole morning viewing the magnificent gorges of the Blue Mountains and doing some bushwalking. I did. But I remember more that one afternoon I walked aimlessly along the streets of Katoomba. No Maccas (McDo) or KFC food chains here. Instead, I found tiny cafes, charming bookstores, arts and crafts stores, and food and delishops.




Echo Point


My Katoomba Bookstore

My Katoomba Bookstore



Back in 1999, I stayed in an artist’s home. It’s quite a walk from the Katoomba Train Station, and it didn’t help that there was no heating around the house. Next day’s bushwalking was a struggle that I kept wishing I was on the cablecar with glass floor that kept passing us above the bush. When I had the afternoon to myself, I mechanically walked towards this bookstore that has seen better times. Old, unpretentious, but oozing with that old world charm. At the time, there was a baby grand piano in the center where someone (I assumed he was the owner) was playing some classical tunes. He offered me a cuppa and encouraged me to browse around lugging my cup of my favorite brew. What a relaxing afternoon.



Cablecar takes you right to Katoomba's iconic landmark -- The Three Sisters in Echo Point.

Cablecar takes you right to Katoomba’s iconic landmark — The Three Sisters in Echo Point.

Bookstore in Katoomba

Bookstore in Katoomba



Katoomba is truly an artist’s haven.  The oldest cafe in Australia is also to be found here, so lovingly restored and preserved. They even hold movie nights here! And in neighboring Leura, one is encouraged to simply walk around and appreciate the local architecture and gardens. There are bushwalking options leading all the way to Echo Point or to Leura Falls, if that suits your fancy. Or maybe you would like to just stay around Leura Mall and enjoy the flowering cherry trees. Amazing how they have preserved this historic street to include the Leura Post Office which now houses a news agency. Have a meal in one of the restos and coffee shops before checking out the many antique and gift boutiques.



We had a fantastic lunch here!

We had a fantastic lunch here!





Paragon Cafe is the oldest cafe in Australia.

Paragon Cafe is the oldest cafe in Australia.

You'd love dog-friendly Leura!

You’d love dog-friendly Leura!



And not to forget, take home some of those gourmet jams, dips, marmalades and tea concoctions. You don’t know how a simple jar can “extend one’s holiday”.



The old Post Office now houses a news agency.

The old Post Office now houses a news agency.

Grab a table at the Solitary Cafe. Just beware your coffee easily turns cold.] Grab a table at the Solitary Cafe. Just beware your coffee easily turns cold.

Call it a conspiracy. Everyone knew but her. Believe it or not, even the family dog seemed to be in on it, except her. Turning 70 is a milestone and we’re not leaving any stone unturned just to pull this big surprise.






I flew into Sydney with the 2 “elves” (grandkids). Took PAL thinking our flight’s ETD was 10:45pm. Surprise, Surprise! It was actually 9:10pm. Flight skeds changed without notice? Did we miss it? Naaahhh. We were at the airport thinking we were way too early. Took a pee break at 8pm, grabbed a drink, and trooped back to our gate only to find we were the last 3 to board! Ran for it and finally put on our seatbelts almost out of breath.




So we made it…. and landed 3 hours early in Sydney. My niece jumped out of bed at 7am when I messaged her that the “package has arrived”. By the time we reached the doorstep, all surprise plans went haywire. Lack of sleep and stressful departures do that to you. Just the same, we pulled off the surprise sans a video 😦






Two days after, a niece arrived. That’s surprise #4 (the first 3 being moí+the 2 elves). The following week my dear couple friends arrived. I’ve rested well enough by then and didn’t fail to document the whole surprise scene.






All set for the party now. April 27. Six surprise packages. Great Gatsby theme. Black, White, Silver and Gold. Only the 70 year old dons RED. Surprised? Yes. Happy? Yes. We did it! Friends and family all here to celebrate a milestone in my sister’s life. Life is a celebration!













What makes a good tour guide? I’ve met quite a few and can easily pick out those who stand out in my list. Them whose credo is to make every traveler or tourist enjoy his trip. Them who treat their job like their religion. With passion. With devotion. In the same vein, I can just as easily weed out the wrong types. Them who spit out names, dates and other historical facts almost mechanically, at times not minding whether or not you caught the trail of the pseudo-history lesson. I’m sure you know the types.




In my experience, I never really found the perfect tour guide. But each experience is rendered unique because of some “connection”. I’ve kept in touch with a few. I’ve even dedicated some blogs to “honor” them. Here’s a short list. 🙂



Randy, the Butanding Whisperer (Donsol, Sorsogon)


Randy. The Butanding Whisperer.
Donsol, Sorsogon.



To this day, Randy still sends me text messages in his “jejemon” style which gives me tremendous headaches! I am still able to refer to Randy some of my friends eager for a Butanding experience. My grandchildren still remember him fondly.



Rusty, The Last Caretaker of Syquia Mansion (Vigan)


Syquia Mansion in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Don’t miss this!



I wonder how Rusty is. I failed to take a photo of him. Does he have his “apprentice” to train now? Has Rusty retired already?



Rogers With An “S” (Batanes)


He punctuates his sentences with “I Love You”. And yes, take that seriously!



He punctuates his sentences  with “I love you’s” and his face has a perennial smile sure to infect each person he meets. Rogers — yes, with an “S” — is not young, but his energy and passion is forever on overdrive. Where does he get all the energy? Must be the Batanes air!



Cemetery Guides, anyone? (LA LOMA, NORTH & CHINESE CEMETERIES)




La Loma Cemetery. Who would have thought this makes for an outstanding guided tour? In the league of New Orleans and Paris!



I joined a tour organized by the Museum Foundation of the Philippines and was only too happy to have the brilliant Architect Manuel Noche and the hilarious, ever-energetic Ivan Man Dy walk us through history as we walked around the mounds and mausoleums, some of which are as high as 3 storeys. I’m telling ya….. this guided tour is certainly worth the buckets of sweat that humid day!



Juan Luna Shrine: So, Who Shot The Patriot’s Wife? (Badoc, Ilocos Norte)




The Juan Luna Shrine in Badoc, Ilocos Norte. Drop by on your drive from Laoag to Vigan. It’s the last town of Ilocos Norte on your way to Ilocos Sur.



Bet some of you didn’t know that. Yes, Juan Luna shot his own wife. I’d love to retell the story but that nameless guide in the Luna Shrine can’t be beaten in his craft. It was this man who inspired my grandchildren to always ask for a Tour Guide when we’re traveling. And they do listen….. In a way that makes me real jealous.



Mount Pinatubo: An Ex-Marine For A Guide and A Native Aeta for a Driver



Who would have thought I’d do this at my age? I was determined, but it sure was motivating that the trek was made shorter! I came in my old pair of comfy rubber shoes, then left with a pair of slippers. My guide’s daughter needed a pair and so mine — though used — must have made a good present.




Our Pinatubo Guides!



THANKS TO THESE TOUR GUIDES —- my trips to these places are made truly memorable. There are DIY (Do It Yourself) Trips, and there are those where the experience is enhanced by how a local’s perspective is drawn much differently from what the travel books say. Priceless. Much.


About time we consider this listing. Makes life so much simpler.

Visa-Free Countries for Philippine Passport Holders:

Brunei – Not Required for stay up to 14 days
Cambodia – Not Required for stay up to 21 days
Hong Kong – Not Required for stay up to 14 days
Indonesia – Not Required for stay up to 30 days
Israel – Not Required for stay up to 90 days
Laos – Visa can be obtained upon arrival up to 30 days
Macau – Not Required for stay up to 30 days
Malaysia – Not Required for stay up to 30 days
Maldives – Visa can be obtained upon arrival up to 30 days
Myanmar – Visa can be obtained upon arrival with pre-approval letter required
Nepal – Visa can be obtained upon arrival up to 150 days
Palestine – Not Required for undefined number of days
Singapore – Not Required for stay up to 30 days
Sri Lanka – Visa can be obtained upon arrival up to 30 days
Thailand – Not Required for stay up to 30 days
Timor Leste – Visa can be obtained upon arrival up-to 30 days
Vietnam – Not Required for stay up to 21 days

Brazil – Not Required for stay up to 90 days
Bolivia – Not Required for stay up to 59 days
Colombia – Not Required for stay up to 180 days
Costa Rica – Not Required for stay up to 30 days
Ecuador – Not Required for stay up to 90 days
Grenada – Visa can be obtained upon arrival
Haiti – Not Required for stay up to 90 days
Montserrat – Not Required for stay up to 90 days
Peru – Not Required for stay up to 90 days
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – Not Required for stay up to 30 days
Suriname – Not Required for stay up to 90 days

Cape Verde – Visa can be issued upon arrival
Central African Republic – Not Required for stay up to 7 days
Comoros – Visa can be obtained upon arrival
Djibouti – Visa can be obtained upon arrival up to 1 month
Eritrea – Not Required for stay up to 30 days
Ethiopia – Visa can be issued upon arrival
Madagascar – Visa can be obtained upon arrival up to 90 days
Mauritius – Not Required for stay up to 60 days
Morocco – Not Required for stay up to 90 days
Seychelles – Not Required for stay up to 30 days
Somalia – Not Required for stay up to 21 days
Togo – Visa can be obtained upon arrival up to 10 days at Lome airport
Zambia – Visa can be obtained upon arrival

Cook Islands – Not Required for stay up to 31 days
Fiji – Not Required for stay up to 120 days
Micronesia – Not Required for stay up to 30 days
Nauru – Visa can be obtained upon arrival
Nieu – Not Required for stay up to 30 days
Palau – Visa can be obtained upon arrival up to 30 days
Pitcairn Islands – Not Required for stay up to 14 days
Samoa – Not Required for stay up to 60 days
Tuvalu – Visa can be obtained upon arrival up to 30 days
Vanuatu – Visa can be obtained upon arrival up to 30 days

Andorra – Not Required but only accessible via Spain or France that require visa.
Azerbaijan – Visa can be obtained upon arrival up to 30 days
Kosovo – Not Required for stay up to 90 days
Liechtenstein – Not Required for stay up to 90 days
San Marino – Not Required for stay up to 21 days

This data is updated as of February 2012. Visa requirements may change in the future so it is advisable to double check also before making your travel arrangements. You would also need to check whether a transit visa will be needed if you will travel through countries that require visas for Philippine passport holders. For those territories where you can get your visa upon arrival, make sure to check the required documents prior to arranging the trip.


Sightsee. EAT. Rest. EAT. Repeat.

Food is an integral part of my travels and yes, you may say food defines many of my adventures. The passion to search for certain kinds of food is serious business. Going to great lengths for a food particular to the area builds the excitement as much as checking out the local attractions. So, here’s a compilation. It is a living, breathing list as I intend to add more as I get busy celebrating life. A few inches more on the waist, on the hips won’t hurt 🙂








It all starts at home. While the Philippines has national dishes like adobo, sinigang, Kare Kare and lechon, there are regional cuisines that are must-try eats. Check these out.


Philippine Cuisine

Regional Cuisine: Northern Philippines

What and Where to Eat in Laoag and Vigan

As Spicy As It Gets in Bicol

What To Eat In Batanes

Eating Frogs and Crickets From the Philippines’ Culinary Capital




Boma Dinner and the Exotic Meats of Africa

South African Cuisine



Eating Around Spain

Best Churros Con Chocolate

















There was a time when I’d compare travel packages to southeast Asian neighbors against domestic destinations. Because there were promo packages to Hongkong, Macau, Taipei, Bangkok and Vietnam, it was agonizing to choose to go instead to El Nido, Batanes or elsewhere you can fly to within the country.






No, I don’t feel the need to have my passport stamped. Nor do I feel “shortchanged” spending more for a local trip. I’m simply a sucker for COLD WEATHER. So with my family. We love getting all “wrapped up” for a few days, layering up and enjoying no-sweat days.






When we do travel around the Philippines, we marvel at the local scenery. Our landscapes and seascapes are so beautiful that some are wont to exclaim “Parang Hindi Pilipinas” (It’s like it’s NOT the Philippines). This is said in the same breadth as “Only in the Philippines” whenever one finds something utterly WRONG. I’m curious how and why such is the attitude. Why can’t something so beautiful belong to the Philippines? Why is it that something so bad is accepted to be particular to this country?








Next time you travel, don’t hesitate to spend on and in your own country. Who knows? A pleasant surprise may be waiting for you 🙂


A wise traveler never despises his own country. – Carlo Goldoni








Beyond the Walkway. Beyond the Sea. I’ve decided to join the Weekly Photo Challenge and eagerly await each week’s theme. This amateur has resisted in the past, thinking this is for pros. But then, this challenge is so inspiring and potentially a good system to update one’s blog.







Beyond Sunset is Twilight. Sunsets are awesome. Twilights are magical.






Landscapes. Seascapes. Skyscapes?







Beyond the savanna. What lurks beyond?







This is my response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Beyond.

What is it, really? Would you go for the baked goodies (think HOPIA)? Or for the spruced up garden overlooking the hills?



Santa is in Baker’s Hill, Puerto Princesa!



It was still the Christmas Season, so the garden and pseudo-park is decorated with American holiday decor from Santa Claus to a giant pine tree to Marilyn Monroe in Christmas red. (Well actually, Marilyn M stays even after the holidays to keep the Walt Disney (or is it Looney Tunes?) characters company for the rest of the year. A Mini-Theme Park! And no admission fee. Free!




Marilyn Monroe in Christmas Red. She’s a permanent fixture here.



It’s been sometime since I last visited. A pleasant surprise….. but they’ve expanded the garden and it’s certainly a good place to while away the time. There’s a good breeze and the panorama from the promontory at the end of the garden offers a respite after an exciting underground river tour from nearby Sabang. Well, just don’t mind the talking bird who wouldnt shut up near the area where they keep the peacocks.




Christmas in Baker’s Hill.



Tamilok, anyone? Ain’t that brave. Fear Factor enthusiasts and fans may try these wood worms here. Prepared raw, “cooked” by marinating in vinegar. Tastes like oysters, they say. I may have tried it though if not for this bum stomach. Couldn’t risk it as there’s a flight to catch.




Yeah. Woodworms. Fear Factor-ish.



Well, there are other choices. Baker’s Hill is really more than just a bake shop. It’s an amusement park, mini-zoo, restaurant row all rolled into a single place. Try the halo halo (literally means “mix mix”) for snacks or dessert. As for me? I would rather try one of the pizzas.




Choose your pizza!


And this theme park is free!


Who lives here?