Monday, May 25, 2015

apo reef mindoro

you've been traveling around the Philippines for quite some time and has stopped counting the islands that you've visited. you cant even hardly identify which island has the best white sand, pristine clear waters or the one that brings endless underwater amazement. well, i think we're sharing the same dilemma. 

most of the time, when i visit less known islands, i would end up saying i thought i've seen the best. it seemed like no one had really set a standard in gauging a beautiful island. though travel magazines have ranked their top islands mostly based on the number of high class resorts available and its accessibility. the isolated and almost untouched islands will less likely make it to the list, where transportation is a concern and you only have tree shades or a tent to spend a night.
this was our experience when we went to Apo Reef in Mindoro. long waiting hours for a supposed scheduled bus, several stops and few unpaved road. getting to the island would require about 6 hours of land trip and 7 hours of two boat trips combined. waiting time and stop overs not included. so if you're not into this kind of arduous trip, it would be best to fly via San Jose airport then to Sablayan. 
but just like other beautiful untouched islands, the more difficult it is to get to the island the greater the chance that you would have the beach to yourself or to find a beach with crystal clear waters. i say the long way to Apo Reef island is worth it.
the island and the reef is in the middle of West Philippine sea and Sulu sea or more accurately part of the Mindoro strait. thus its proximity to both Coron and Mindoro.  but it would take 4 long hours of boat trip to get there from Sablayan. 
sleeping in the 4-hour boat trip can actually compensate the long sleeping hours missed during the land trip. quite long trip but when the island came into view, we crossed over this large wide shallow waters, which was already part of the Apo reef system. this is considered as one of the largest contiguous coral reef system in the world and the largest in the country.
about a kilometer or less from the reef is the island that house the marine sanctuary conservation center. there's no other legal way to visit the island but through Sablayan tourism which controls the number of tourists allowed to stay in the island. 

Apo Reef island is composed of beautiful beach shores and mangroves. though the island's area is 22 hectares, some parts are actually prohibited to tourists. this is part of the conservation of the island's natural resources and the protection of the endemic species.
don't be surprised if while swimming in the beach or while snorkeling you would find a turtle swimming along. in fact, a large part of the beach line is actually a nesting ground. by sunset, it is best to climb up the modern lighthouse which is just a short walk away from the main beach area. from here you will see the scale of the island's mangrove forest, the shoreline and the small lagoon.
during our stay there, in the middle of the night, we woke up as one turtle actually made a hole below one of our tents. we then had to vacate the tent. by dawn another large turtle, which was about a meter long, came ashore. it struggled its way to an area probably because of its size and the eggs that it carries. the rest of the day in the island we spent snorkeling and swimming over vast coral walls and colorful fishes.
on our way back to Sablayan we made a quick stop in the middle of the reef and jump off and swam around the shallow portions. water was so clear that even those who decided to stay in the boat can clearly see the corals underwater. also saw the little Menor island which was home to migratory birds.
i would say that Apo Reef is one of the best in the country if one would simply consider the beach, the waters and the reef. there is no resort in the island and so i hope that they will be able to keep it this way. we have so many islands already with beautiful resorts anyway.
Island Profile:
Island: Apo Reef/Island
Municipality: Sablayan
Province: Occidental Mindoro
Region: Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan)

GPS Location: 
12' 39'' 35 N
120' 25'' 00 E

How to get there:
Option 1: By Air/Sea
Cebu Pacific Air flies regularly from Manila to San Jose-Mindoro (Duration: 40minutes) This is the best option if you want to avoid the long arduous trip from Manila to Sablayan. from San Jose, you will need to travel by bus to Sablayan (Duration: 3hours). 

From Sablayan, you need to go to the tourism office to register to local tourism office. read eskapo recommendations below for advance booking info. From here, you will take a boat ride to Apo Island (Duration: 4hours).

Option 2: By Land/Sea:
You can take Dimple Star Bus from their terminal in Cubao, Pasay and Alabang. The bus has more than 5 trips per day to San Jose Mindoro. Trip will be from main terminal to Batangas Port (Duration: 3hours). Then transfer to Roro (roll-on roll-off) boat from Batangas to Abra de Ilog (Duration: 2.5hours) then land trip from Abra de Ilog to Sablayan (Duration: 3hours). Travel duration does not include waiting time depending on arrival of the bus versus the roro departure schedule. 

From Sablayan, you need to go to the tourism office to register to local tourism office. read eskapo recommendations below for advance booking info. From here, you will take a boat ride to Apo Island (Duration: 4hours).

eskapo recommends:
1. Always check for the weather before deciding to go there. Summer will be the best time. Take note that you need to cross the open sea for 4hours to reach the island. Rainy season won't be the best time to go there.
2. Email or contact ahead Sablayan Eco-Tourism office to do advance booking/reservation via Eco-tourism Contact: 0999-7327949
3. You can also request the local tourism office to prepare the food for you during your entire stay in the island. 
4. The eco-tourism office also have snorkeling and diving gears/equipments. For updated rates, you can directly contact them. 
5. Bring your own tent for your stay there. If you plan to make a day trip, you can stay around the town of Sablayan. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

st sophia church harbin

why would somebody from the Philippines visit China to see a church? it may actually sound like a Chinese local going to the Philippines to eat dumplings. but not quite. when i searched for Harbin online, i found St Sophia church. an iconic Russian Orthodox church in Harbin. 
i've been longing to see this type of structure because of the famous St Basil church in Moscow. so i didn't have second thoughts. immediately decided to make Harbin as my side trip to Beijing. it was initially Mongolia but then train trips to Ulanbataar from Beijing was just twice a week.
the next day after i arrived in Harbin, i got myself a map from the hostel and walked my way to St Sophia. felt the early morning breeze but still hoped that it would snow. it has been two weeks according to the daily weather that the city had no snowfall despite it was still on a month of February. 
good thing the hostel where i stayed is part of Daoli, Harbin's central district, where the church is also located. it just took me 15minutes to reach the square. there were many beautiful colonial structures along  the way but when i saw the church, i was awed by its scale.
i have always been fascinated at huge brick structures but it was the church dark green cupola and the multiple golden cross that made it even more striking. being in the center of the open square, it was just imposing. it somehow made me feel like i was in Russia.
thru the years when a large community of Russians occupied Harbin, other minority groups from Ukraine, Germany, Israel and Denmark also established structures and churches in the city. but what remained today as iconic structures were predominantly Orthodox. 
sad though that like the church of St Basil in Moscow, this church is already a museum. contrary to my thought that it still is a church. but let's look at some of the similarities and the differences of the two churches:

St Basil Church (Moscow, Russia)
Date built: 1561
Location: Red Square
Height: 47.5meters
Number of domes: 9
Number of spires: 2
Wall: Bricks
Floor layout: Irregular

St Sophia Church (Harbin, China)
Date Built: 1907
Location: Harbin Square
Height: 53.3meters
Number of domes: 1
Number of spires: 5
Wall: Bricks

Floor layout: typical cross-shaped orthodox style

it may not be as old as St Basil Church, its history as a spiritual symbol to the Russians who lived in the city, makes it the most iconic structure in Harbin. the church was closed in 1959 and was a warehouse for certain years. only in 1996 when it was decided to be re-opened as a museum of architectural heritage.
there was not much to see inside except for old photos and a miniature set of the old city and the church. but then i was more interested in the interior structure itself more than the photo exhibit. the rustic pillars and the high dome ceilings was beautiful.
temperature that day was ranging from -5C to 0C. so i stayed inside the museum to about 20minutes for the heat. checked out some souvenirs and bought post cards before i went out. not knowing that outside the church it started to snow. 
the entire time i thought i will leave the place without experiencing snow fall. it made St Sophia Church even more majestic. quite a great chance to have captured the church without and with snow on one day. 



structure profile:
church: from 1907-1958
closed: from 1959-1996
museum: from 1997 to present
built by Russians as a spiritual symbol
re-opened by China as a museum

location:
St Sophia Cathedral-Museum
Harbin Square - Toulong St corner Zhaolin St
short walk from Harbin's famous Zhongyangdajie

for more updated information:
Website: St Sophia Church
Admission: 3-5USD
Open: 8:30am-6:00pm


how to get there:
by plane: 
most major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Guangzhou have regular direct flights to Harbin.
by train:
Trains Schedule Beijing to Harbin
Bullet Train:
Train D29 - Beijing ETD 7:00am ETA 3:00pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D25 - Beijing ETD 10:00am ETA 6:00pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D101 - Beijing ETD 1:50pm ETA 9:50pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D27 - Beijing ETD 3:15pm ETA 11:15pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Sleeper Train:
Train T157 - Beijing ETD 6:18am ETA 5:00pm (Estimated trip length: 10hrs)
Train K339 - Beijing ETD 11:00am ETA 2:40pm (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train K297 - Beijing ETD 12:00nn ETA 2:00am (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train T39 - Beijing ETD 1:45pm ETA 4:45am (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train K2265 - Beijing ETD 1:57pm ETA 8:30am (Estimated trip length: 18hrs)
Train T47 - Beijing ETD 6:57pm ETA 6:20am (Estimated trip length: 11hrs)
Train K1082 - Beijing ETD 8:43pm ETA 4:04pm (Estimated trip length: 19hrs)
Train T17 - Beijing ETD 9:23am ETA 8:30pm (Estimated trip length: 11hrs)
Train K19 - Beijing ETD 11:00pm ETA 3:04pm (Estimated trip length: 16hrs)

Note: 
Trains from Beijing to Harbin will be from Beijing South Railway Station (Kaiyang Rd Cor Nanzhan Xingfu Rd)
Train length varies depending on the train speed and the number of stopovers.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

my first impression of harbin

just when i got out of the train, i immediately felt the freezing cold temperature of a February afternoon in China's northernmost province, Heilongjiang. another large open space out of the station in view. like almost anywhere in China, i just have to follow the flow.

what lead me here was simply to see the ice city and St Sophia cathedral. a Russian Orthodox church built during the Russian occupation. a time that formed what Harbin is today. a mix of Chinese and Russian influence.
unlike the cities of Guangzhou and Shanghai, where much of its structures were influence by French and United Kingdom, Harbin was greatly influenced by Russians and Jews. there was even a certain time when the number of Russians were more than the locals.
but what remains of Russia in this city today are just structures and monuments. Harbin's industrial growth went along with China's economic boom. thus, becoming one of the country's mega-city with a population of around 6 million.
unlike the busy streets of Shanghai, Harbin even at its busiest hours remains uncrowded. Zhongyang Street or Zhongyangdajie is the main tourist area whole year round. a street composed of preserved colonial buildings now used as commercial spaces.
hundreds of these colonial buildings are found in the city. this was not what i expected. this has now been one of my favorite cities.

how to get there:
by plane: 
most major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Guangzhou have regular direct flights to Harbin.
by train:
Trains Schedule Beijing to Harbin
Bullet Train:
Train D29 - Beijing ETD 7:00am ETA 3:00pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D25 - Beijing ETD 10:00am ETA 6:00pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D101 - Beijing ETD 1:50pm ETA 9:50pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D27 - Beijing ETD 3:15pm ETA 11:15pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Sleeper Train:
Train T157 - Beijing ETD 6:18am ETA 5:00pm (Estimated trip length: 10hrs)
Train K339 - Beijing ETD 11:00am ETA 2:40pm (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train K297 - Beijing ETD 12:00nn ETA 2:00am (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train T39 - Beijing ETD 1:45pm ETA 4:45am (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train K2265 - Beijing ETD 1:57pm ETA 8:30am (Estimated trip length: 18hrs)
Train T47 - Beijing ETD 6:57pm ETA 6:20am (Estimated trip length: 11hrs)
Train K1082 - Beijing ETD 8:43pm ETA 4:04pm (Estimated trip length: 19hrs)
Train T17 - Beijing ETD 9:23am ETA 8:30pm (Estimated trip length: 11hrs)
Train K19 - Beijing ETD 11:00pm ETA 3:04pm (Estimated trip length: 16hrs)

Note: 
Trains from Beijing to Harbin will be from Beijing South Railway Station (Kaiyang Rd Cor Nanzhan Xingfu Rd)
Train length varies depending on the train speed and the number of stopovers.

Friday, April 25, 2014

beijing to harbin by train

Harbin is about 1,200km from Beijing and that is like traveling three times the distance of Manila to Laoag. so you either take two hours plane ride from Beijing or a 10-15hours sleeper train or the 8hours bullet train. i chose the latter for the experience and comfort. 8hours might sound long but just give me a book, a note, a lap table and a reclining window seat that's it.
you won't run out of options if you travel by train to Harbin (see train schedule on how to get there). some leave Beijing as early as 6am and as late as 11:00pm in several intervals. the most preferred option would be a sleepover trip but in this particular trip i chose a morning trip leaving Beijing by seven in the morning. 
this route is part of China's Trans-Machurian route and i won't sleep over a trip like this. getting to Harbin by bullet train will take few very short stopovers to major cities of Changchun and Shenyang. the comfortable reclining seats and the nice view made me took photos from time to time.
coming from a tropical country, seeing a different country during winter is a delight. from beautiful misty fields to frozen lakes. for me, views like these just inside the train is like paying the fare for a scenic tour. no guides needed. 
few hours before reaching Harbin came a hilly field with windmills. when i reached the winter city a freezing 2 degrees Celsius welcomed me. it was a sign that i am indeed at China's northernmost province.

next post: a first look at the city of Harbin

how to get there:
by train:
Trains Schedule Beijing to Harbin
Bullet Train:
Train D29 - Beijing ETD 7:00am ETA 3:00pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D25 - Beijing ETD 10:00am ETA 6:00pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D101 - Beijing ETD 1:50pm ETA 9:50pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Train D27 - Beijing ETD 3:15pm ETA 11:15pm (Estimated trip length: 8hrs)
Sleeper Train:
Train T157 - Beijing ETD 6:18am ETA 5:00pm (Estimated trip length: 10hrs)
Train K339 - Beijing ETD 11:00am ETA 2:40pm (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train K297 - Beijing ETD 12:00nn ETA 2:00am (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train T39 - Beijing ETD 1:45pm ETA 4:45am (Estimated trip length: 15hrs)
Train K2265 - Beijing ETD 1:57pm ETA 8:30am (Estimated trip length: 18hrs)
Train T47 - Beijing ETD 6:57pm ETA 6:20am (Estimated trip length: 11hrs)
Train K1082 - Beijing ETD 8:43pm ETA 4:04pm (Estimated trip length: 19hrs)
Train T17 - Beijing ETD 9:23am ETA 8:30pm (Estimated trip length: 11hrs)
Train K19 - Beijing ETD 11:00pm ETA 3:04pm (Estimated trip length: 16hrs)

Note: 
Trains from Beijing to Harbin will be from Beijing South Railway Station (Kaiyang Rd Cor Nanzhan Xingfu Rd)
Train length varies depending on the train speed and the number of stopovers.

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