Best of Visayas (Cebu and Bohol)

I’m sure many will contest the title of my blog post as definitely it is debatable. There are a lot more beautiful and charming places in the Visayas which this Blogger definitely agree. Reason why this blogger used the title is that among my several trips to this region, the last trip in Cebu and Bohol is definitely the best.

Firstly, I’ve never been to Bohol before and I was really captivated by the sheer beauty of this province. Secondly, it is the first time that I flew to Visayas with a family member, my Mom at that. Lastly, the trip was purely a holiday. In the past, I’ve visited several other places like Boracay, Iloilo, Bacolod, etc. but mostly it is combined with Business so I didn’t really get to enjoy these places 100% leisure time.

I’ve planned the trip since last year. I was trying to convince my other siblings to join the trip too but since it is still not school holiday and their sons or daughters cannot skip school especially the end of school year is just around the corner so only me and my Mom got the chance to fly. I flew back to Manila in time for my Dad’s first year death anniversary and coincidentally, it was my birthday week. As a treat to myself (and my mom too) I decided to take a break.

It was my mom’s first plane ride so I really wanted to make it memorable. She has mixed emotions about the trip cos definitely she would’ve wanted my Dad to be with us (but obviously, physically he can’t anymore) as they really enjoy traveling together. I just consoled her by saying that Dad is in a better place than where we’ve visited and I’m sure he wants you to be happy and see the places that he wasn’t able to take you before. It is actually my dream to take them to all the beautiful places I’ve been too as much as I can. And I’m working to make that dream a reality at least for my Mom while she still can.

We reached Cebu on a very sunny Saturday afternoon. We stayed at the Crown Regency Hotel in Fuente Osmena. This hotel is the highest hotel in Cebu and became popular because of the extreme activities at the hotel’s rooftop. Of course I can’t convince my mom to do all those extreme rides as I myself am afraid of heights though I’ve experienced rappelling, slide for life, etc. before just for me to help conquer that fear.

We were assigned in the 30th floor of the hotel and the view from our room is just superb, overlooking Osmena Circle. Though that centre of Cebu City could be better had all those plants and flowers are not dry or wilted. The hotel was so full of Chinese group considering it was already after Chinese New Year. I can’t help but think, am I in China or Chinatown at the very least? Lol.

The room is nice and clean but the service is not satisfactory. I tried requesting for a bath towel because the room only got 1 and I booked for 2 persons. 30 minutes after I had requested, the towel has not arrived. Since we were so hungry (that’s almost 2pm) we decided to take our lunch first and the housekeeper didn’t arrive at all. Think the towel was delivered almost dinner time.

Another incident of poor service is that they provide free LAN internet. Even as I changed all the settings I know to be able to connect to the internet, still I can’t. I called to ask someone to assist me in connecting to their Internet. The staff said yes and will send someone. An hour after, still no knock on the door. I followed up and the same person I talked to was surprised that no one assisted me and she said she will follow–up. Another 30 minutes had passed, still no Crown Regency staff in my room. As I need to connect to the internet I decided to go out of the hotel to find any Internet shop that’s still open (it’s almost 10 pm then). I asked for an extra key card since they only issued one and I can’t take it otherwise my mom will have no electricity in the room so I requested. The receptionist said I have to go down and leave PHP 100 as deposit so down to the Ground floor I went.

I told the receptionist that I requested assistance to connect to the internet 2 hours ago but nobody come. She said sorry and will “again” ask someone to go up and help me. I went out and have a quick stroll in the area. Since it’s getting late, a lot of the shops are closed so I decided to go back to my hotel room after 15 minutes. When I returned, I asked my mom if somebody came and she answered in the negative. Till the time we checked out the next day nobody showed up. Breakfast the next morning was the same. There are so many staff in the coffee shop but I guess they are mostly student trainees. Requesting for basic things, it seems they are unsure and takes long time to deliver. Another incident is that we bought a lot of dried fish and otap. The security staff told us we can’t bring them in the guest room for it may smell which we understand and a lot of other hotels would also have that policy. They asked us to keep in the luggage area. While asking for assistance from the luggage counter staff, 2 of them just keep on talking instead of helping me with the stuff which I find quite unprofessional. I’ve stayed in some smaller and lower star hotels in Cebu in the past but the service was great. Mango Park Hotel comes to mind first.

Anyway, Crown Regency is ideal in terms of location and quality of rooms but I hope they will improve the service so that more people will be enticed to stay again.

In Cebu, we took the usual tours: Taoist Temple, Magellan’s Cross, Sto. Nino Basilica, Cebu Museum, Cebu Heritage Monument, Fort San Pedro. I asked the driver to take us to Tabo-An Market too so we could buy all the “Pasalubongs” of Danggit, Pusit and other dried fish. We’ve also stopped in Shamrock store to buy Otap, Dried Mangoes, etc.





We only spent 1 night in Cebu. My mom earlier told me why it was such a short stay. I told her Cebu City is just like Manila and you could cover the city tour in just half day, unless you decide to go to the Beach then at least 2 or 3 nights is required. Next day we took a ferry ride to Bohol.Ocean Jet Ferry is nice, clean and safe. While we waited in Cebu Pier, I noticed a lot of Japanese, Koreans and even Western people go to Bohol which I am really happy to see that people are starting to know this very lovely island. I just do hope the government will renovate the pier. It is old, dirty with lots of broken chairs, roof is decaying, etc.

The trip to Bohol by sea is approx. 2 hours. I didn’t book transfer from the pier to our resort as I thought there are plenty of Taxis in the port just like in Cebu. Little did I realize that Tagbilaran is such a smaller and less developed city so it’s better to book transfer in advance. Luckily, there is a counter of Bohol Beach Club in the port and that there was an available van at that time. Transfer costs PHP 600 per way per van.

It takes about 40 minutes drive from Tagbilaran City to Panglao Island. The island is connected to the main land by 2 bridges. Bohol Beach Club is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) resort in Panglao. I learned that the name Panglao came from the term “mapanglaw” or gloomy, quiet, melancholic which is still true to this day. Despite modernity and looming tourism boom, Panglao is still more secluded compared to Boracay, Puerto Galera or Mactan beaches. Definitely, I miss the very lively nightlife of Boracay but Panglao has a charm all by itself.

Bohol Beach Club is exactly the opposite of Crown Regency in terms of service. From the van driver to the receptionist, restaurant staff and all the other resort people we’ve encountered, service is really personalized, fast and friendly in this resort. The room that we’ve stayed has nothing fancy but is comfortable, clean and well maintained. The rooms are just few steps away from the private beach. Since both my mom and myself are quite tired from continuous travel from Manila the past 2 days, we decided to doze off in our room that afternoon and stroll to the beach later. Unfortunately, it rained that afternoon till night time. There was actually a beach dinner set-up for a Chinese Group and they decided to move the program to the covered Dive centre  because of the rain.

Since Bohol Beach Club is private and secluded, it is quite hard to walk to other resorts and dine there or find a local restaurant as such mostly you have to take your meals inside the resort. Buffet costs around PHP 400 per person. There are 2 wings of the resort and each have a main restaurant. One will serve a la carte while the other is Buffet. Since my mom has to control her food intake, she don’t prefer buffet so we ordered ala carte for dinner. The dinner was superb and food tastes good. We decided to order 3 dishes mostly veggies and a soup because in Cebu we had a buffet dinner and I felt so sick of all those pork in the buffet. The staff also gave 1 big serving of lechon which I had to consume most as my mom can’t eat a lot of pork. The dinner we had in Bohol with all those veggies was the best meal we had in that trip.

Btw, did I tell you that it was my Birthday on that day?  🙂

Next day, we went into a full day countryside tour of Bohol. Pick-up time was early and it was still drizzling. Our Tour Guide Ging is a pleasant lady and knowledgeable about many things in Bohol. She could quickly answer our questions. First stop was the Blood Compact site in Tagbilaran. Then we headed further north in the town of Carmen to visit the famous geological wonder, Chocolate Hills. Upon reaching Chocolate Hills, the weather fortunately became better (Thank God!) and the clouds slowly disappeared so we were able to take some decent shots otherwise, the pictures would look all so gloomy and dark.

After visiting Chocolate Hills, we went to Tarsier Conservation Area. At that point, our Guide heard the people talking about a strong earthquake that just happened minutes ago and that the government announced cancellation of work and school. We didn’t felt the earthquake because we were on the road and it was a bit bumpy. Little did we realized that indeed the earthquake was strong and affected a big part of Visayas, Dumaguete the most heavily affected.

Going back to the Tarsier, we were able to see with our own eyes the world’s smallest primate. Since they are nocturnal and very small, visitors are not allowed to touch them or take pictures with flash as well as make loud noise. Next stop is Loboc River for our Cruise and Buffet Lunch. The Loboc River is very calm and clean with a lot of trees surrounding the river. I was actually looking forward to this part of the tour because I ever watched in TV about the Loboc Children’s Choir which are a group of children with very angelic voices. I thought they are the ones singing during the cruise but our guide explained that they are also studying and would only sing during vacation or off-school which is understandable. Anyway, the singer during our Cruise also have a good voice.

Next we went to Baclayon Church, the country’s 2nd oldest Church after San Agustin Church in Manila. Baclayon Church was build since 18th century. The Church is visibly old with molds, weeds and other stuff are present in the Church facade but the altar like most of the old churches are very nice and intricate. Beside the church is the museum displaying all the stuff used in Church service and ceremonies like very old Bibles, various robes, cups, holy images, etc. The smell of the museum is old as well. Imagine most of those things were made more than 300 years ago!

Next day, the Sun finally appeared my Mom and I decided to walk to the beach and swim in the clear waters of the sea. Many other guests decided to go out of the sun and enjoy their holiday. We went back to Manila later that afternoon.

It was indeed a memorable trip. I would definitely love to return to Bohol perhaps explore the other parts of the province and also take the Dolphin Watching Tour or Fire-fly watching cruise.

Indeed it’s more fun in the Philippines!









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My Luggage and all it’s happy stuff

It has been 2 months that I’ve not blogged. I was busy with work and all it’s challenges but also had a great time last New Year when I had the opportunity to spend it at home (1st time in 3 years)! I was there before New Year and went back to Bangkok 5th of January after my Mom’s birthday. It was a short but really memorable trip.

Now, going back to my new blog post. Maybe you wonder what is the picture above all about? Or you may also be thinking if what it was, actually. From afar, it may look like a mini Sari-Sari Store (Philippine version of the convenience store but it’s more of a family-run business) what with all those toiletries, noodles, chocolates, mixes and sauces. Well it’s not a delivery for 7-11. The picture you are seeing above is my typical luggage…

I am coming back home (again!). And what you had seen above are the items I had been compiling in my room for several weeks/months. It’s all the goodies I want to bring home. Actually, If I have no scheduled trip I would usually put it in a Balikbayan box and send back home.

Maybe some of you think I am a fool bringing back all these stuff as if there are nothing like those in the Philippines and at times the cost of shipping them is even more than the actual cost of the item.

Overseas workers like me would definitely understand (I bet 90% or even more of these OFW’s are doing the same thing everytime they go back home) what I had been doing since I started working abroad (coming 4 years on May).

For me, it’s not all about the price or the quantity of goods that matter. Looking at my family (even friends) waiting for what’s inside my luggage and dividing it amongst them (as if I’m the younger and slimmer version of Santa Claus) and seeing how excited they are for any “pasalubong” I bought is good enough for me. And the feeling is just great. It is also a product of my hard work as each item in the luggage (or box) are from my hard-earned money.  There was even a time that I bought bottles of perfumes for each member of my family. Even though it cost a small fortune for me, they were really happy to receive something from my heart (and of course seeing me makes them happy and excited too!).

Honestly, I don’t mind packing stuff like these even if I really have to spend time going to the supermarket or malls regularly, putting packaging tapes on liquid items so it won’t spill, making sure everyone has something to receive and even replacing my clothes with all these items.

My forthcoming trip in the next couple of days is kinda exciting in the sense that I am traveling in time for my birthday. I treated myself  and my mom to a trip to Cebu and Bohol for several nights. It is even more special because it’s the first time for my mom to visit these places (for me will be 1st time in Bohol). I was inviting my siblings and their families to join the trip so it will be a big family affair but since school is still on, they cannot join. It could have been more memorable if my Dad was still alive.

Another reason for me coming home again this February is in time for my Dad’s 1st year death anniversary. It seems like only yesterday when he was still with us but now almost one year has passed since he joined our Creator. I know that even though he is not physically with us  anymore, he is happy that my Mom could go to places she’s never been before. They’ve always treasured memories of trips together as a couple or with the whole family.

Going back to Bangkok from my holidays, my luggage is again always full. The contents are different though. I would fill it with all those Sinigang, Menudo, Kare-kare and all the whatnot, local vitamins and medicines, some local-brand toiletries and also pasalubong for my friends and colleagues in Bangkok.

My luggage is always full. Full of foods and other perishable stuff. But I also make sure that my luggage is also full of happy memories from all my travels. All my excess baggage (read as: bitter memories) I usually leave behind.

Have a good one my friends and readers!

Pumasyal sa Pilipinas kahit puno na ang Jeep…

Many Tourism promotions always highlight that the Philippines has 7,107 islands…Too many islands to explore right? But the million peso question is “Where are all the Tourist gone?”  According to a tourism report, tourist arrival grew to 5.2 million. This is actually a positive sign if compared to the past years but I believe this figure includes Balikbayans or Overseas Filipinos visiting Philippines for Holidays. So even with the positive figure, why does it sound like I am whining?

Thailand enjoys over 14 Million visitors a year, Singapore in March alone enjoyed a brisk arrival of 928,000 and projects tourist arrival to 12.5 million at the end of this year especially with the opening of new Integrated resorts like Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands. Malaysia tops the list of SEA countries in terms of visitor’s arrival at about 21.5 Million in 2009.

Figures don’t  lie ayt?

Why am I highlighting these facts? Simply because the Philippines has all the factors to be the Tourism Haven in Southeast Asia (perhaps even whole Asia).

1.) We are the 2nd largest English-speaking nation in Asia (2nd to India). Everywhere you go even on the boondocks, locals can more or less communicate or understand English. Very Tourist friendly. In Thailand, some of those working in the hotels or restaurants cannot converse fluently in English. But Tourist still flock.

2.) We have the Sun, Sea, Sand and smiles. Activities and attractions are endless. Boracay still remains a big draw to tourist with its talcum powder-like sand and party atmosphere all day and night. Palawan is simply the best and so is Bohol, and Batanes, and Camiguin and Cebu and Davao..the list goes on and on.

3.) We are a melting pot of cultures. It’s true some countries have very strong and easily recognizable culture and heritage like that of China, India, Japan, Thailand. However our uniqueness lies on so many cultures and traditions to explore and experience at such a smaller place than the former mentioned places.

4.) We have several of the biggest shopping malls in the World. The newly renovated SM City North EDSA is the 3rd biggest mall in the world. SM Mall of Asia, SM Megamall and many others are also included in the biggest mall list.  Why simply can’t we be the Shopping Haven of Asia? Why are so many Pinoy businessmen into retail business buy clothes and accessories in Bangkok, Hong Kong or mainland China?

5.) Our country has the geographic advantage.  We are in the heart of Asia and the Pacific. Easily accessible to the rest of the world.

On the other hand, there are also critical reasons why we do not get the numbers that we want:

1.) Lack of infrastructure- our Airports and sea ports cannot compete with our neighbors. Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Incheon Airports are highly recognized for efficient service, cleanliness and all the awards you can think of. Not to mention the size of these airport are simply humongous. Our road network also needs face lift. Few years ago, I was on the way to the Underground River in Puerto Princesa. The scenery is simply breath taking if not out of this world. Imagine a river traversing under a mountain and tourist is underneath this mountain for about 45 minutes going in and another 45 minutes going out. Really awesome. But to reach that spot, you have to travel by land for about 2 hours from the city and an hour of which is on a very bumpy road. The tour guide would always joke it is a natural body massage cos you are literally shaken and twisted by the rough road. Even thousands of tourist flock the Underground River, the road badly needs cementing or even asphalt for many years now.

Our public transport like MRT, LRT and even Bus or Jeepney transport are not tourist friendly. Either it is too crowded, or needs to be pulled to the garage especially a lot of public Buses and taxis.

2.) Lack of Promotion. Some months ago, I was dining in a Seafood Restaurant in Bangkok with a friend and beside our table are a couple of Hong Kong citizens. We tried to be friendly and asked if it is their first time in Bangkok and what is the purpose of their trip. We were surprised on their answer. They said it was not their first time and the purpose of their trip is just to eat Seafoods! WTF! Eating seafoods but you have to spend on airfare, hotel and travel 3 hours? But it is understandable because seafood in Hong Kong is very expensive. They can enjoy seafood dinner ever day or night while they are in Bangkok but the price is nothing compared to having just one full seafood meal in their country. And Thailand is actually earning a lot on Culinary Tourism. Cooking schools in Chiang Mai are very popular. Thai cuisine has been one of the factors why tourist visit this country.

Malaysia is very good in their PR campaigns to promote their tourist spots. Every time I meet a foreigner and I told them I am from Philippines or Manila, they usually ask me, what can you do in Manila or Philippines? Is Manila in an Island or near the beach? Many other questions. It is due to the fact that our Tourism related campaign is either insufficient or lacking of magnets to lure the tourists.

3.) Traveling in the Philippines is expensive. It is good now that Cebu Pacific has started the trend of budget airfare across the country which paved the way for the healthy growth of Domestic Tourism. Hotel accommodations in tourist spots in the Philippines are very expensive and so are foods and souvenirs in these areas. Going back to my story earlier about the couple traveling to Bangkok just to eat, I believe many of our fresh sea foods are being exported to Hong Kong, Japan, China and nearby countries wherein the prices if served on the table are triple or quadruple than the local price before being sent overseas. If we can only find a way for these seafoods or even fruits to be enjoyed here in the Philippines and no need to be sent for export, not only will the prices be cheaper but everyone will be able to enjoy (tourist and locals alike). If tourist go to the Philippines, airlines will be full, hotels will be occupied, restaurants can cook. Many establishments will benefit.

There are many more advantage and disadvantages. Maybe my blog is not enough. However, I still believe our country is great and we can show it to the world. The Aquino administration is coming in and there was a recent controversy about a rumor that President-elect Noynoy Aquino is considering Talent Manager, Boy Abunda to become the next Department of Tourism Secretary which got some nods and some flak from supporters and critics alike. But come to think of it, why not put former DOT Secretary Richard Gordon in this post again? Not so familiar if the law would allow it, but if this is possible then he is the best man for this post since he is outgoing Senator anyway and I believe he performed well during his stint in the DOT or even at Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. Btw, He was my Presidential bet. Unfortunately, he lost.

Tourism is very important. Tourism creates business. Tourism brings money to our coffers and contributes to our GDP. I just wish the time would come that tourist arrivals will full our sights to the rafters similar to the picture above..and so us OFW will not have to work abroad cos many jobs are waiting for us.

So bring in the millions (of tourists).  🙂

The best roasted pig in the World…the Philippine Lechon

The wi-fi connection in my room is perpetually against me..as the connection is very slow.  Well, maybe one factor is that it is a Saturday today and internet traffic is usually bad during weekends. Another thing is that a heavy downpour has just finished which I noticed makes every internet connection (whether at home or in the office) and even cable tv reception intermittent if not bad.

So I headed to the internet shop downstairs. Luckily it was half empty. Maybe the kids who usually play computer games during this time just headed off home during the heavy rain. How lucky can I get..and so I thought.

The moment I opened my Facebook account, I realized it is not a good idea to rent in the Internet shop. Facebook took ages to open. Then when it opened, Farm Town is the first app that I opened (naturally). After waiting for I guess 10 minutes, it still is not opening…then I tried Restaurant City…same result. I tried all the other applications in Facebook I am using  and it’s all the same story. Really bad…

Then I remembered to open Youtube. At first I tried looking for recent Filipino Comedy films but I guess no one has uploaded the film in Youtube yet. Until I came across 1 link that states: No Reservations: Philippines Part 1 of 5..I clicked the linked and I saw a Travel show in the US hosted by Anthony Bourdain. This particular episode is about the contest they had wherein the viewers must convince Anthony to visit their Country/City to be featured in the next show.  The lucky guy who had the opportunity to be able to convince the host to visit his native cuntry is a Filipino American named Augusto who comes from Cebu but has lived most of his life in New York.

As I watched the video, I can’t really help but to salivate with all those tasty and gastronomically appealing Filipino foods featured.  All my favorite foods were featured from Sinigang, Kare-Kare, Adobo, Sisig, Pinakbet, Bulalo..I just had my dinenr but the food being featured really made me so hungry and terribly miss home especially home-cooked meals by my mom which is actually a Pampanguena, arguably the best chefs in the Philippines, Pampanga being considered as the Culinary Capital of the country.

The best part of this show is when they featured the actual roasting of the pig to become the world-famous Lechon. It really looks so good with the even-colored roasting of the pork in charcoal. When Anthony sliced a piece of the skin, you can hear the uber-crispiness of the skin. YUMMY!

As I am writing this blog post, my mouth is still watering (pun intended…LOL) I think comparable to the heavy rains that just passed.  I am supposed to watch my diet since I’ve been visitng my gym regularly these days in preparation for 2 forthcoming beach trips in the next month but probably tomorrow, I may troop to the nearest grocery store and buy some ingredients to cook my favorite Filipino food.

I guess eating my favorite Philippine delicacy is the next best thing to being close to home….

P.S. Here are the links to the Travel show..test yourself if you will not salivate just looking at these glorious foods….

Where is the Best Holy Week (or Summer) Hideaway?

Holy Week is almost 2 weeks away. I heard there are many resort destinations that still have vacant rooms for Holy Week. This is really strange considering that traditionally, Lenten Season is a super super super PEAK season even before our generation was born. The Global Economic Recession is really pinching its way to all sectors of the society and Tourism is the most volatile of them all.

Anyway, for the Sun, Sand and Sea lovers- Holy Week is the best time to relax and do some rest and recreation. Going to the Beach and stuff doesn’t mean we forget the essence of the Lenten Season which is commemorating our Savior Jesus Christ’s ultimate sacrifice to die on the cross to redeem us from all our sins.  I would like to think that this season (being a Long Holiday) is the best time to reflect, spend precious time with loved ones and repair or take back some broken or lost relationships.

Now the question is, Where is the Best Holy Week (or Summer) Hideaway? I’ve made some random choices for you to select. Once you select the best destination, share to us why you consider it on top of the list.

Hope you will have a memorable Holy Week this year!