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!









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!

Christmas in the Sky

For the 3rd straight year, I am celebrating Christmas away from home. I just came back home for a very brief holiday beginning of December so I am not too emotional not having to spend Christmas with my family. In Facebook, I can read many of my friends working overseas and not spending their holidays at home are posting all those comments about missing their families for Christmas, being alone in a faraway land which makes it more difficult, etc.

The fact of life is that most of us working abroad decided to have this kind of life for our dear families in the Philippines so we just have to make the most out of our situation.

Fortunately for me, 2 of my friends are staying in Bangkok for Christmas. Most decided to fly back or spend the holidays somewhere so the 3 of us decided to experience Christmas the GRAND way.

We booked 2 nights in Lebua Hotel, a 5-Star luxury hotel located near the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. Because of some connections, I managed to get our room upgraded. We were assigned in a 58th floor Suite with a very spacious living area, a kitchenette, luxurious bathroom with Bulgari toiletries and a balcony overlooking the magnificent river. We felt like a total VIP!



We had dinner in a Pizzeria near the hotel as it’s almost 10 PM and there was also a bit of traffic jam on the riverside area perhaps due to Christmas festivities in the hotels within the vicinity (most of the hotels along the Chao Phraya River are 5-Star International chain hotels). We were deceived by this restaurant because from the outside, it looked quite well and have a good number of selection.

The food served can be forgotten as it is not tasty at all. The Pasta in white sauce I ordered seemed more like a stew because of overflow of sauce that made it tasteless. My friend ordered a glass of Red wine and it was served chilled (which is not the correct way) and tastes like the wine cooler “Spy” than an actual Red Wine. Only thing good was the Caesar’s Salad I ordered but I can’t say it is outstanding. Anyway, for the price that we paid, we can’t complain much (price range almost the same as Pizza Hut)…and we just console ourselves that the highlight of our Christmas Eve celebration is a drink in the signature bar of Lebua- – Sky Bar.

After Dinner, we called home and greeted our families. It is midnight in the Philippines and is quite difficult to call. After few attempts, we managed to speak to our loved ones back home. It was such a good feeling spending time with family over the phone and asking them about their celebration and vice-versa no matter how short the conversation was.

Suddenly, there were fireworks near Shangri-La Hotel which is few minutes away from our hotel. It’s the signal that the world is already welcoming Christmas Day!

After the fireworks, we headed to the 64th floor (roof top) of the hotel to a bar called Sky Bar. Sky Bar during Christmas Eve is teeming with people (foreigners mostly). On the edge of the bar are glass panels which serves as the walls of the bar. Since I am afraid of heights, I am a bit uncomfortable in the beginning especially with cool winds blowing and less space to walk around.

Anyway after getting our cocktail drinks and having a few sips, I felt easy. We took a few snapshots though most of the pictures didn’t come out quite good because we failed to bring any DSLR cameras.


We decided to sit in a corner of the bar and while me and my friends are talking, we were able to witness an actual marriage proposal at the Sky Bar. The couple are just few meters away from our spot and we realized it was a proposal when the 2 just started kissing each other and the lady was so happy and they are looking at the ring just worn in the hands of the wife-to-be. It was such a romantic venue to do a proposal.

Only thing that is unappealing are the huge crowd in the bar at that time which makes the place very noisy. Nevertheless, it is the thought of asking someone to marry him and on the other way around her replying on the affirmative that matters most.

We headed back to our Suite almost 3AM, tired but full (of food and drinks) and satisfied. Next day we enjoyed a buffet breakfast feast in the Hotel’s coffee shop and headed to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. Later at dinner, we went to Narai Hotel to try Buffet in their Thai Restaurant wherein the food was superb! It really compensated for the lousy dinner we had on Christmas Eve.

It was such an enjoyable and unforgettable Christmas in the Sky with friends.

What about you, what is your Christmas Story?

Manny Pacquiao ruled ’em all again…

Yesterday is V day for Manny Pacquiao and the Filipinos all over the world.  For 8th time, he is a world champion ruling 8 different weight division by defeating Mexican, Antonio Margarito in 12 rounds via a unanimous decision in a spectacular fight amidst a full packed crowd in the Cowboys Stadium.

By body statistics, Margarito seems to be on the advantage. He stands 5’11 against Manny who is only 5’6. Margarito weighs 150 lbs on the last weigh in a day before the fight while Pacquiao is only 144.6 lbs. Margarito has a wider reach at 73″ vs. Pacquiao at 67″.

However, in terms of speed and agility, Pacquiao is definitely the better fighter as he literally danced his way in the ring to avoid Margarito cornering him except in one round wherein Pacquiao said he was hit on the  side of his body by Margarito when he was cornered on the ropes.

The cameras clearly see the battered face of the Mexican fighters. Many analyst believed the match should’ve been stopped since Round 10.  Pacquiao acknowledged that Margarito is a very determined and durable fighter and did not quit until the last round.

For this fight, Pacquiao is reportedly taking home a big purse within the range of USD 20 Million (including pay per view sales) or over 800 million pesos. Deducting taxes or whatever necessary dues, his take home pay is still a huge sum of money which most of us will not earn in a lifetime. Whew!

Above it all, Manny is taking home the pride and honor of once again putting the Philippines at the top of the world with his latest success in Boxing and this makes him the most popular Filipino nowadays and is well-loved and idolized by millions of fans.

We’re not sure how long Manny could still be able to cope with the very demanding task of defending his crown and how many more fighters he is willing to face. I guess Manny need not prove more cos he already proved to be one of the best if not the best Filipino boxer of all time.

Otherwise, we could see Mommy Dionesia more often fainting due to nervousness watching each of Manny’s fight which is also not a good idea.

Manny, Congratulations and keep it up! The Filipino people are all proud of you.

Remembering July 16, 1990 Killer Earthquake

Exactly 20 years ago, a 7.8 magnitude Earthquake struck the island of Luzon, Philippines at around 1626H, local time. Luzon, being the main island of the Philippines where Manila is located and a densely populated region survived the calamity but with extensive destruction in properties and claiming approximately 1,600 lives.

Personally, I will never forget that day as long as I lived. The harrowing experience is still vivid in my memories. As a grade school boy, I can’t imagine myself experiencing it far away from my family as what other students experienced. I just finished doing my homework and about to get ready to play outside. My youngest sister who was in primary school then was in their room at that time because she had some tantrums. I can’t remember the cause of her tantrums but I believe it was her first earthquake experience and surely she didn’t know that time what is happening. There was a violent shaking of the ground and as my dad realized it was an earthquake, he told everyone of us to get out of the house to go in front in an open area for safety reasons. We had a bit of hard time opening the door of my sister’s room to take her out cos the house was shaking. We eventually managed to go out safely.

My parents, 2 of my sisters and me hugged each other as the ground is literally rumbling and violently shaking. There was a huge water tank nearby our house which the noise of it’s shaking was quite frightening and imagining if it will fall, what will happen to the residents nearby…my sisters are crying because they thought the earthquake will not stop. It lasted quite long (about 45 secs.). We were quite fortunate that we were already home from school at that time. I heard some children who were in the afternoon session in school panicked when the earthquake strike, many of them cried out of fear.

My 2 brothers were not at home that time. My eldest brother who was already in college that time visited a friend in the UST hospital in Manila with some friends. They said the earthquake was also felt strongly in Manila. Because of the event, everyone had to hurry back home and at the end, my brother and friends had to walk from Espana, Manila to Marikina (approx 21 kms. away) just to reach home. My other brother was staying in my Aunt’s house that time.

There were several aftershocks during the course of the night and extending through the week. There were some days that while doing nothing, I felt dizzy and it seems that the earth is still shaking then. Electricity was cut, schools and offices were closed for several days and the building inspectors had to check schools, offices and public buildings for safety before they allowed entry.

In the news, we saw the massive destruction of the quake most notably of which is in Baguio City and Cabanatuan City. The Hyatt Terraces Hotel, a 5 Star Hotel in Baguio collapsed killing at least 80 people including guests and employees. Many other buildings in Baguio, a popular tourist destination due to its cool climate, pine trees and American inspired architecture collapsed.

In Cabanatuan City, a big school- –  Christian College of the Philippines collapsed killing at least 15o people, mostly students. It was such a horrific experience seeing in TV or newspapers video or pictures of children who died in the rubble.

I remembered seeing in the news that Akiko Thompson, a pretty and popular swimmer was stranded in Baguio and finding ways how to go back to Manila. There were other prominent personalities that were affected by the calamity.

There were some survivors in the ruins as well. Some of them survived up to two weeks without eating or drinking. Some claimed that they had to drink their own urine just to survive.

If there is one positive thing that happened in this tragedy, it’s the Filipinos’ nature of “Bayanihan” or helping those in need. Donations and pledges of any kind keep pouring on government agencies and Television Stations. Eye to Eye, a popular public affairs program was the leading and most reliable source of donation during calamities.

Many people preferred sending their donations to this hit TV Programme because the host, Inday Badiday and her crew really go to the affected areas and personally distribute the goods. They also flash on screen the pledges or donations. Some stars volunteered to answer phone calls in their hotline.

As I write this post to remember the frightening yet historical event in our country, please join me in a silent prayer to God asking to spare our country from similar calamities in the future. It is really an experience that one can never forget…

Why P.Noy should use the Wang Wang?

It seems P.Noy is off to a good start since he assumed the Presidency. Everyone is in high spirits especially seeing former President GMA finally step down from her most cherished and treasured post as the country’s Chief Executive. The Filipino people are keeping their hopes that P.Noy will bring about the changes that the country badly needs. In a bid to “impress” the people, the new President is trying to shy away from the conventional with some changes in the practice of other former Presidents which on the first glance is a welcoming gesture as he is trying to set a good example being the leader of the nation but on a second thought, I personally feel these changes being made are not practical not to mention improper for a person with that stature and responsibility.

1.) P. Noy refused to use the Presidential vehicle as he prefer using his own SUV.
2.) He reiterated a no-siren (wang wang) policy on all his travels and official engagement and that he will stop at all red lights just to experience what’s it like to be traversing our highly congested roads even if it means he has to wake up earlier so as not to be late for appointments.

Being a concerned citizen, I believe the President MUST NOT avoid using the Presidential vehicle as well as using the siren when travelling just to make a stand and set a good example of being a responsible citizen. This is because the practice that he is trying to impose to himself is high security risk. Surely, there are a lot of people who wants to be on the spot where he is in right now and not riding on the Presidential car (which I assumed is a bullet proof, high security vehicle) or using a siren will mean the President is very vulnerable to attacks from unscrupulous cohorts while on the road.

Likewise, everyone’s time is precious. By not using the siren while travelling or by stopping at every red light, it means the President’s travelling time is longer. Precious time is lost in the horrendous Metro Manila traffic. The time wasted can be used in more fruitful endeavors especially with a lot of pressing issues our country is facing. OK, the President might say time is not an issue since he can wake up earlier just to avoid traffic and still be on time, etc but just imagine if he wake up earlier and the travelling time is lesser then it means he will be more productive in each day with more time for official engagements compared to just sitting inside his car and waiting for the traffic to move. Surely he can make quick phone calls and still do his duty while on his car but since he is immobile, his capacity is quite limited.

I think the problem does not lie in using of wang wang per se but in the usage of this ubiquitous gadget by some people who are not even supposed to have it or if they are entitled to use it, tends to be abusive by using it even during personal travels. I believe this problem will be resolved if it is fixed from within- -meaning fixing the abusive person’s conscience. But the bigger problem is if they do not have a conscience at all.

Anyway, I am making a personal commitment to support President Noynoy as long as his desire and intention for the Filipino people and the country in general remains pure. This is by being a better (not bitter!) citizen and anyway I can help to promote the Philippines or imbibe positive results in my capacity, I will.

God bless us all.

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).  🙂