Monday, August 30, 2010

good morning vietnam

despite lacking sleep from the midnight flight, i still managed to wake up early at 5:30am. catching the dark blue sky from our hotel balcony along Pham Ngu Lao saying "good morning Vietnam".
like Manila, the streets of Ho Chi Minh are already busy this early. i crossed Cong Vien Van Hoa Park which was just across our hotel going to Le Lai street. passing by street vendors mostly wearing sedge hats. one of the first thing one would notice are the number of motorbikes coming from all directions. there are about 20million motorbikes around the country, so don't be surprised to see these bikes occupy large portions of the streets and at times even the sidewalks. as i walked along, i passed by a group of people chatting around a table, greeted them "good morning" and immediately they asked where i am from. when they knew that i'm from the Philippines they offered me a chair and a drink. i can hardly understand what they were saying but i knew they meant that i'm welcome. they too mentioned about badminton which i believe where they just came. maybe if not of the language barrier, i could have stayed longer and enjoyed chatting with them.they are used to seeing tourists roaming around the city and so taking photos does not offend them. in fact expect most of them to return you with a smile. that early, i said that Vietnam is a happy nation now recovering from the years of war.

island: greater Asia
city: Ho Chi Minh (formerly known as Saigon)
country: Vietnam
GPS location: 10^46"06.73' N 106^41"35' E

Friday, August 27, 2010

entering ho chi minh

just right after work, just dropped by the house to pick up my packed bag for another backpack trip. this time to one of my favorite Southeast Asian country, Vietnam. our goal was to taste the flavors of Saigon and look back at the remains of the Indochina War.we took the late night schedule from Manila to Vietnam's largest and historical city, Ho Chi Minh. from a planned trip of seven friends down to three determined travelers that includes Nadz, Melissa and i. landed at the country's largest and modern gateway Tan Son Nhat International Airport after about an estimated two and half hour flight. no hassle when checking out. thanks to the airport's efficient service.had our dollars partially converted at the airport for our taxi fee. it's easy to take a cab but warning... you must know how to pronounce your hotel correctly and show a map of the place or else you'll end up going to another place. our Saigon adventure begins here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lonely Planet Magazine Philippines

few months ago i was invited to the launch of Lonely Planet Magazine Philippines and unveiled the first issue of our local version of the international Lonely Planet magazine. this is aside from the popular travel guide books distributed globally.
"through traveling or simply by reading Lonely Planet Philippines, nowhere feels out of reach anymore" says editor Gutsy Tuason. on this issue, immediately it features some of the country's popular yet still has that exotic character spots. like the waves of Pagudpud, the inspiring B'laan tribe in Sarangani and the awesome Cordilleras. definitely not limited to featuring the Philippines but spots from other countries as well.
one thing that makes this different from the usual travel magazine is its pull-out and fold travel guide and direct to the point travel tips. what's great is i had my copy signed by the editor. now available on selected bookshops at P250. published by Bella Luce Publications under the license from BBC magazines.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

three stop laguna

who says one can't do a fine day trip from Metro Manila? here's to give you three worth stop that you can do on just a day on a weekend. we did this on a day trip in Laguna where lawstude decided to tag us along with erick and lantaw.

[1] Paete

the country's carving capital is definitely a worth stop for those who wants to trace where some of the most beautiful wood carvings came. some of these now displayed on some countries around the world including in St Peter's Basilica in Rome.
find the street where most of the wood crafts are sold and on some shops you'll even get the opportunity to see the craftsmen do their art piece using a set of hammer and chisel. they'd be so kind to show you how it's done.the nearby church of Paete can be just one of the ordinary churches built by the Spaniards but not a lot knew that the large murals here are impressive. though it's sad to see that some part of the mural is already deteriorating.
one painting shows St. Christoper while a more notable is the painting entitled "Langit, Lupa, Impyerno" or "Heaven, Earth, Hell" by one of Paete's pride, Luciano Dans.just right outside the church grounds, expect delicious merienda from the vendors. that's for you to discover.

[2] Caliraya Japanese Garden
built in memoriam to all the Japanese soldiers who died during the world war II. today, it remains an abode of a beautiful Japanese-inspired ornamental garden. located on top of the hills of Caliraya just a short drive from Paete.
expect few rare flora view around the area including a mini man-made lake. a stairway that leads up to an overlooking view of lake Caliraya. this might sound odd but with the many tree shades around its grounds, it becomes a great resting place for the dead and the living.a minimal entrance fee is charged to enter the area, most likely for its maintenance. but there's not much to see or do around this area. it's really a site to somehow experience Laguna's fresh air.

[3] Caliraya Aqueduct
one of lake Caliraya's favorite stop would be the lake's viewing tower which serves as a site to monitor the lake's water level. now a photographer's favorite subject and might be considered as the lake's icon.shortly after our stay in this tower, the clouds turned gray and soon brought heavy rains. just the right sign that we have to head back home.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

puerto princesa escape guide

here's a brief guide to those who are planning or who already have their tickets yet still checking out what to do in Puerto Princesa Palawan.

when to go:

Palawan being out of the usual typhoon route in the Philippines makes it an all-year round destination. though it's best to go there in summer, a trip during the rainy season won't disappoint you.
eskapo recommends:
if you want to go there with less people on tourists spots, the rainy season will be a good time but as i mentioned tourists flocking Puerto Princesa knows no season. with organized tours and well managed tourist spots, it won't be bad going there at any season. before going there, make sure you already coordinated with a travel agency for the tours.
by Plane: there are several airlines that offers daily flights to Puerto Princesa. you'll have many options from early morning till night.
by Boat: boats leaving from Manila has regular schedule to Puerto Princesa but not daily. mostly leaving on Friday afternoon.
eskapo recommends: if you have all the time for this trip, you can enjoy the boat trip as it usually has a stopover in Coron but with limited time, take the earliest flight to Puerto Princesa and the last flight back to maximize your trip.
suggested itinerary (for a three-day weekend trip):
day 1

9:00am ETA
Manila to Puerto Princesa
10:00am check in hotel (eskapo recommends Microtel Palawan)
10:00am - 12:00nn City Tour (eskapo recommends Palawan Museum)
12:00nn - 1:30pm Lunch (eskapo recommends Vietnamese restaurant)
1:30pm - 4:00pm Nagtabon beach or Crocodile Farm
4:00pm - 6:00pm Mitra's Ranch and Baker's Hills
6:00pm - 7:00pm Dinner
day 2

5:00am - 6:00am Sunrise by the mangrove beach of Microtel
6:00am - 7:00am Rest
7:00am - 8:00am Breakfast

8:00am - 10:00am Trip to Sabang Beach

10:00am - 12:00nn Palawan Underground River

(eskapo recommends to trek the monkey trail but requires more time)
12:00nn - 1:00pm Lunch in Sabang

1:00pm - 1:30pm Trip to Ugong Rock
1:30pm - 2:30pm Explore Ugong Rock
2:30pm - 4:00pm Trip back to town center
4:00pm - 5:00pm Drop by Lawiswis (an option if you're planning to buy organic products)
5:00pm - 6:00pm Early dinner and drop by a coffee shop around town
day 3
6:30am - 7:30am Early breakfast (to maximize time in Honda bay)
7:30am - 8:15am Trip to St. Lourdes Pier
8:15am - 8:30am Trip Registration
8:30am - 9:00am Boat trip to Pambato Reef
9:00am - 10:00am Snorkeling in Pambato Reef
10:00am - 10:30am Boat trip to Starfish Island
10:30am - 11:00am Around Starfish island
11:00nn - 11:30am Trip to Pandan island
11:30pm - 12:30nn Lunch
12:30pm - 1:00pm Trip to Snake Island
1:00pm - 3:00pm Fish Feeding and Beach walk in Snake island

3:00pm - 4:30pm Trip back to Pier and hotel (or with enough time explore other islands)
4:00pm - onwards Flight back (depending on flight)
recommended activities and spots:
[for beach bums]
Honda bay -
has more than 12 islands with cream colored sands and large areas of mangroves. best place for the beach bums and snorkeling is highly recommended.
Nagtabon beach - explore this slow-paced and secluded beach West of Puerto Princesa town center. no amenities for beach activities just plain beach, coconut trees and cottages.

Sabang beach - very similar to Nagtabon beach but with restaurants and shops and yes, hammocks hanging on coconut trees. also a take-off area to the Palawan underground river.
Small beach coves -
in between Sabang and Underground river are exotic beaches. great stopover.
[for explorers/photographers]
underground river:
they say you've never been to Puerto Princesa if you haven't been to the underground river. i mus
t agree as it is one of the highlight of your trip there. there's less chance of getting a decent shot while cruising, so just enjoy the trip.
for sunrise shots:
the mangroves in Microtel Palawan are great subjects for sunrise silhouettes. it has a large area of these coastal flora with the sun rising right infront of the hotel's beach.
for sunset shots: Nagtabon beach, Sabang beach and the rest of the West coast of Palawan.
for karst and limestones>
along the road:
the last 30minutes of the trip from Puerto Princesa to Sabang has some beautiful views of karsts. make sure to stop on those spot. many people miss this as they are usually sleeping along the way. let your guide wake you up when you reach this area. Ugong rock is also along the way.
by boat: the boat trip from Sabang to Underground river also gives you a good view of the karst and limestones. this time on a wider perspective.
by trekking: take the Monkey Trail from Sabang to Underground River. expect encounters of animals along the way.

[for underwater activities]
snorkeling in Pambato reef in Honda bay has been highly recommended even by international standard. but don't be surprised to see other great snorkeling spots in Snake island, Starfish island and the rest of the islands in Honda bay.

[for volunteerism/immersion]
Penal Colony - visit the this prison site in Ihawig to get a chance to immerse and commune with prisoners who are open to meet and greet visitors. buying some handicrafts helps the community.
Secluded schools - doing special teaching on schools located on mountains and secluded area is a great activity. coordinate with the local government to guide you to some of these schools.
Immersion with fishermen - there are fishing villages around Honda bay with locals who are open to conversing. a chat with them helps you understand their lifestyle.

here are some of the related posts in the series that will give you a glimpse of my experience there.
Honda Bay
Puerto Princesa Underground River
Puerto Princesa's Karst and Limestones
Puerto Princesa Three Stop: Nagtabon Beach, Honda Bay Viewpoint and Sabang Beach

Puerto Princesa Three Stop: Lawiswis, Mitra's Ranch and Baker's Hills
Microtel Palawan Sunrise
Microtel Palawab by night

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

honda bay palawan

boat shuttles tourists off to one of Palawan's busiest and most visited bay, home to more than thirteen flat sandy islands and an amazing underwater view. going to Honda bay without snorkeling is like going to Banaue and not seeing the rice terraces.a usual island hopping trip in Honda bay can be relaxing as some of its islands kept its semi-exotic features despite its accessibility to the capital city. the take off point is at St. Lourdes pier which is just about 30minutes away from the town center.it is here where the boats dock on a long floating wooden platform as a jump off site to the snorkeling area. one would at first be surprised that the water is quite deep for snorkeling and that the policy for wearing a lifevest even for experienced snorkelers is strictly followed. this is to prevent people from stepping the corals.from there, one will either swim or move along a rope that leads to one of the almost perfect and well-preserved coral reef that i've been to. you'll be amazed at how they protected this site from the history of centuries of dynamite and overfishing in the country. i can stay in this area the whole morning just exploring and listing down each type of corals.
after the swim, we headed back to our boat as more and more tourists arrived in the area. this time heading farther North with Snake island as our destination. passed by the other islands like the famous Luli island which is short for "lulubog lilitaw"
just as we went ashore Snake island's dock site, we brought with us our snorkeling gears as this island is best for fish feeding. at first, i didn't gave in to the idea of snorkeling again as the mangroves got my attention the most.
this long thin and curvy sandbar island stretches up to almost 3kilometers long. i was not surprised to learn that almost 80% of the island is just plain sand. the rest is covered with mangroves giving the island an amazing beachscape.the thriving mangroves expands artistically in its beach stretch. with the growing flora, it gives tourists a fresh outlook of the country's last frontier. i've never been this fascinated with mangroves.don't be surprised if you'll see some people coming out of these mangrove forest, they live in some part of the island. it is where picking sea shells becomes a way of life. they are used to seeing tourists and so a genuine smile won't cost you anything.after a short walk along its shoreline, we went back to the snorkeling site where you can see in people's faces that they saw something very rewarding. this didn't kept me from trying out what seems to be the best activity in this island.true enough, fish feeding here is a great activity. you get to swim with groups of colorful and unusual fishes in just few meters away from the beach line. an awesome experience i almost disregarded. this was our last stop in this Palawan trip and with just the whole morning in Honda bay with just two stops, it ended perfectly. can't help but look forward to going back to Palawan soon.
island: Snake island in Honda Bay
province: Palawan
boat take off: St. Lourdes Pier, Puerto Princesa

escape factor:
boat trip experience: 4.0
beachscape: 4.0
snorkeling: 5.0
beach sand: 3.5
seclusion: 3.0
overall escape factor: 4.0

GPS location:
latitude: 9`54'5.76" N
longtitude: 118`49' 22.24" E

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