December 18, 2010

Air Asia Philippines to Fly in August 2011

Sorry Cebu Pacific, but it seems that there will be another “Juan” that would be dotting the Philippine skies soon.

Air Asia, the world’s largest budget carrier, has recently struck a deal with Filipino businessmen to form an affiliate in the Philippines. The first Air Asia Philippines flight is expected to take off by August of 2011. No pronouncement has been made yet if the new carrier will be using the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 as its hub in the country. Reports say that the company is considering either Subic or Clark as its base.

November 18, 2010

KooL in Kuala Lumpur (Part 2: Genting Highlands)

          We were supposed to start our second day in Kuala Lumpur by sneaking out of the hotel while the sun and the roosters were still experiencing REM. Unfortunately, our alarm clock wasn’t loud enough to kick us out of bed before the rest of Malaysia did. We usually rely on caffeine to shake the drowsiness away from our heads, but mild panic substituted for coffee that day.

Genting Highlands

September 28, 2010

KooL in Kuala Lumpur (Part 1: Petronas Towers, Central Market, Merdeka Square)

     Every time Gin and I pass by the international check-in counters at the NAIA Terminal 3 on our way to the domestic section, we always say to ourselves that there will come a time when we will be lining up in that part of the airport. Well, after more than a year of wishing and preparing for that moment, the day that we will be flying abroad finally came.

     Kuala Lumpur wasn’t exactly our dream destination. However, dirt-cheap airfares to that part of the globe enticed us to forget Bangkok or Hong Kong. We initially booked our tickets at Air Asia for only P1068 roundtrip (no kidding). However, due to lack of uhmm parental consent, we forfeited 3 opportunities and decided to wait until the right time comes.

     After effortlessly securing the nod of Ginny’s sister as our willing and able chaperone, we finally bit the next promo that came our way. Quite surprisingly, it turned out that Cebu Pacific’s latest offer at that time was a P4,000+ roundtrip vacation to the Malaysian capital. Talk about a fated destination :)

Resort World Manila

     Our 8:55 p.m. flight was scheduled on a Thursday. We nearly missed our flight as we took an ill-advised stroll at Newport’s Republiq after we checked in. It was literally a photo-finish brisk walk towards the boarding gate! We tried to catch a few winks during the flight, but as usual, the in-flight games blew the natural adhesive away from our eyes as we scoured our wallets and pockets for the “show-me” games.


     Our plane landed 15 minutes ahead of schedule at around 12:15 a.m. We made a quick walk towards the airport in order to catch the last Star Shuttle bus. Our mini dash was cut short by the long but quick-moving lines at the immigration counter. It was there that I realized that Malaysia is indeed truly Asia as people from different parts of the continent made up most of the queues.

KL-LCCT Immigration Counter
     After exchanging a few thousand pesos at the 24-hour money changer booth at the KL-LCCT, we proceeded to Star Shuttle's booth and bought 20-Ringgit (MYR) tickets to Radius International Hotel. Upon arriving at the bus platform, we were greeted by the bus boy in Filipino! It turned out that he has Filipino roots as his father is from Palawan.

Decent Thee-Star Hotel

     The bus left around 2:00 a.m. and was only half-full. We arrived at the Bukit Bintang area an hour later. We encountered some minor check-in problems as the person manning the front desk thought that we were booked for only one night. After verifying our Asia Web Direct voucher, she immediately gave us our keycard and we proceeded to our room.

Radius International Hotel Kuala Lumpur
     Radius International Hotel is a fairly decent three-star hotel. Its location is superb as it is situated in the middle of Kuala Lumpur’s shopping and tourist area. The building could use some renovation, but it was already fine for our taste.

Early Morning Stroll Towards Petronas
     After an hour and a half of sleep, we tested our footwear’s mettle by taking the 20-minute walk from our hotel towards KLCC where the Petronas Twin Towers stand. It was still dark at 7:00 a.m. We thought that we would already be encountering many locals by then, but the streets were still rather empty.

Jalan Sultan Ismail
     Upon arrival at the towers, we were greeted by a fairly long line at the entrance of the Skybridge. We had to line up early as the tickets to the viewing deck are only limited. After two hours of waiting in line, we finally got our 15-minute opportunity to see Kuala Lumpur several thousand feet above the ground. The view was spectacular. Although we weren’t at the pinnacle of the structure, the Skybridge still provided us with a panoramic view of the city. It was definitely worth the wait.
View of the KLCC Park From the Skybridge
KL Monorail Joyride

     After having a Malaysian breakfast at Suria’s foodcourt, we headed back by foot towards the hotel to rest for a while. Gin and I then tried Kuala Lumpur’s famed monorail towards Bukit Nanas and took the interchange to Dang Wangi RapidKL station enroute to Putra Gombak where we will be buying our Go Genting tickets for the next day. Travelling via mass transit in KL was a breeze! Riding on a fully-packed monorail was a scary experience, though, as we felt like the train was just hanging unsteadily on the concrete rails.

KL Monorail
     Our next stop for the afternoon was Central Market for an early pasalubong shopping. We again took the mass transit and alighted at Pasar Seni station. From there, we strolled along the river that divides Merdeka Square from the Central Market area. The shopping area is housed in a two-storey light blue building. Everything is a bargain here. We were able to buy key chains for only 1 ringgit a piece. It was a great buy considering that the same items cost twice or thrice as much in the malls.

Merdeka Square

     After completing our pasalubong hauls, we then proceeded to Dataran Merdeka for some photo ops. The most noticeable structure in the area is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, a Mughal-style building which originally housed the colonial masters of Malaysia. The magnificent structure is a sight to behold at night as it is laced with luminous blue streaks. Facing the building is the Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) and the Royal Selangor Club.

Sultan Abdul Samad Building
     Our night stroll was cut short by a light drizzle that made us dash to the nearest LRT station. Theresa’s legs and feet were already crying bloody murder, so we decided to forego our KLCC itinerary and headed back to the hotel. We tried to fill our tummies first at KFC and McDonald’s, but they weren’t serving rice at that time so we ended up having our dinner at Secret Recipe. 

August 12, 2010

Cebu is Sweeter the 4th Time Around

I don’t know what it is in Cebu that made Gin say that it’s her favorite city outside of Manila.  Maybe it’s because Cebu mirrors Manila, minus the latter’s imperfections.  Maybe it’s because everything still seems simple and laidback in this place despite the ever expanding urban landscape around the city.  Whatever her reasons might be, I’m one with her in regarding the queen city of the south as a place that I’ll never grow tired of visiting due to a very special reason – this is the place where Gin and I officially became a couple :)

I went to Gin’s home at around 5:00am (late as usual) so that we could go together to the airport for our 8:00 a.m. flight.  Going to the airport on a Sunday was a breeze.  We arrived at the NAIA Terminal 3 fifteen minutes before 6.  This was our first time to leave the car at the airport’s overnight parking area as we usually entrust it to the guys at Park N Fly.  We didn’t encounter any problem at the check-in desk and we left Manila on time.  I wanted to catch some sleep during the flight, but the one-inch legroom made that 40 winks elusive.  It’s either the plane shrunk or I just got bigger.
Honey, I shrunk the plane!
Good Cabbies

Upon arriving at Cebu, we proceeded to the Arrival’s area to line up at the taxi stand.  Unlike at the NAIA, getting an ordinary metered taxi in the Mactan-Cebu International Airport is easy and convenient.  Our previous encounters with the city’s taxi drivers were horrendous, though.  There were times when the meter shuffled digits so fast that it made me wonder whether the device was displaying the fare or the odometer.  In this particular visit, however, the drivers were honest and courteous.  They even went the extra mile in providing me with contact numbers or suggestions on how to get a cab in the area around Marco Polo Plaza Cebu.

Answered Prayer!

Our first stop was the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño for the 11:30 a.m. mass.  This was the focal point of the day for me as it was here when Gin finally became my girlfriend! :)  I guess it is only fitting for me to receive her nod in this church.  Back in 2009 during our second visit to this basilica, we looked for a vacant pew where we could rest for a while.  After having caught our breath, Gin knelt down to pray.  As my knees are missing a few ligaments, I decided to remain seated.  In the middle of my silent conversation with God, my eyes shifted to Gin.  I looked at her for a long time.  It was at this point when I told The Big Boss of my hope and wish that the girl kneeling in front of me would become my partner in every crime that I intend to commit in this lifetime.  Nakulitan na siguro si Lord sa akin kaya He finally gave me His nod after 1 year and 8 months of trying to win Gin’s heart he he :)
Sto. Nino Church Altar
Bo’s Original

We then went to Ayala Center’s The Terraces for lunch at Mesa.  We were quite lucky to have the place virtually to ourselves as there were only about 5 persons having lunch in the place.  This doesn’t mean that Mesa’s dishes aren’t pleasing to the tongue, though.  Their sisig with egg tasted good, while the hito flakes with green mango was interesting to the pallet.
Mesa Restaurant
After our hearty meal, we strolled around for a few minutes to give our tummies a time to make some space for coffee :)  Gin and I have been craving for Bo’s coffee for quite some time now and it’s a delight to know that we’ll be satisfying our craving at the coffee shop’s city of origin!  I’m not exactly a fan of Bo’s Coffee since the ones that I’ve had in its Manila branches tasted quite bitter.  But the Mocha frap that we’ve had here tasted different.  It was sweet and blended very well.  Our first sip almost made us forget Starbucks!  Well, almost :)
Bo's Coffee Club Cebu
After a good and relaxing time at the Ayala Center, we went to SM North for CNT’s famed lechon.  We’ve been told that Alejo’s tastes better.  However, one of the taxi drivers that we were able to talk to said that we had to pre-order our lechon and that they’re only open from 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.  Hence, we decided to opt for what seems to be the Cebu’s second best.

Marco Polo Plaza Cebu’s Blu Bar and Grill

With the sun already getting ready to hit the sack, we headed to Marco Polo Plaza Cebu for a quiet and relaxing dinner at the Blu Bar.  I was initially quite apprehensive in having our dinner date at the Marco Polo as it is quite far from the city center.  However, the hotel’s Blu Bar and Grill has a fantastic view of the city as it sits right at the top of the building.  Thinking that Gin would very likely enjoy the ambiance and the view, I decided to brave it out and stick to my original plan and choice.
Blu Bar and Grill
True enough, Marco Polo Hotel’s Blu Bar lived up to its billing.  Not only did it gave us a fantastic panorama of Cebu, we were also served by the restaurant’s warm and friendly staff.  It was truly a romantic evening, indeed :)  We wanted to stay longer, but we had a 10:40 p.m. flight to catch.
View from Marco Polo Cebu's Blu Bar and Grill
What an amazing and wonderful day it was!

August 2, 2010

Banana Leaf Asian Cafe

If you’re in the habit of taking a stroll in the restaurant rows of the numerous malls around the metro, you’ll notice that a good number of them are catering to a specific type of cuisine, most of which are Asian. Of course, Chinese restaurants dominate the gustatory landscape of Manila, just as Chinese goods are dominating the shopping landscape of just about every nook and cranny in the country. Coming in at a distant second are Thai dishes which many locals are starting to find grow fond of despite its spicy aftertaste. Dotting the rest of the dining areas are plates from neighboring Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, and even India.

Trying each and every menu that our neighbors in Southeast Asia have to offer may be a daunting (and expensive) task. Getting familiar with our local dishes alone can already be challenging. Heck, I can’t even remember the name of the last Filipino dish that I bought from a local eatery!

Having all the different menus in Southeast Asia brought and cooked in just one restaurant would definitely make our task of dipping our tongue around region easier. It’s therefore a delight to know that Banana Leaf Asian Café have all of these dishes in just one roof.

The Banana Leaf Asian Café’s branch that Gin and I went to for our usual Friday date was the one at Robinson’s Place Ermita. Most of the tables were already taken, but we were lucky to be seated at a cozy corner. The first thing that surprised me was the price. For a restaurant that made it to Philippine Tatler’s list of best restaurants in the Philippines, one would really be amazed to be able to order a dish that’s cheaper than a Big Mac meal. (Click here for Banana Leaf’s menu)

We ordered three of Banana Leaf’s bestsellers under the Appetizer section: Chicken Satay (P128), Deep Fried Pandan Chicken (P168), and Crispy Spring Rolls Thai Style (P118). Even though they’re denominated as “starters,” the dishes that we’ve ordered could already pass up for a main course. The serving was generous and unusually fast.

As expected and as attested to by Philippine Tatler, the food tasted great! Of the three, the Chicken Satay took my heart away. Gin picked the the Spring Rolls, but it didn’t get my mouth watering as it turned out that it was stuffed with veggies instead of meat! But it tasted good just the same. She was right on the Dalandan Juice, though, as it lived up to her billing as something that’s worth to try.

Overall, we were greatly satisfied with our time in Banana Leaf Asian Café. The food was great, and the ambiance was still cozy enough to warm our dinner date despite the fact that the place was almost packed. We give Banana Leaf a score of 8 out of 10 :)

The Scorecard:

Food: 8/10
Ambiance: 8/10
Value for money: 9/10
Service: 9/10
Cleanliness: 8/10
Toilet: N/A

March 23, 2010

Rolling the Hills in Bohol (Sagbayan Peak and Chocolate Hills)

Whenever Gin and I stumble upon blogs, magazines, or newspapers that feature the island of Bohol, we notice that they are always replete with superlatives as to how beautiful it is. It would not be surprising, then, if many are beguiled by those words and lure them to this part of the world where many consider as God’s little hideaway in the Pacific.

Although we are easy to please when it comes to nature’s sensory treats, we were quite apprehensive if Bohol is really like paradise as many are claiming to be. Indeed, our first step to the island did not impress us that much since the sea portal (Tubigon) of the province is not that grand compared to its neighboring islands, especially Cebu. But while the harbor may have curled our eyebrows a bit, the first locals that we encountered plucked the bend from our brows and placed a curve on our lips instead.

The People

We were told that Boholanos are generally friendly and very accommodating. We noticed this when we were still in the ferry as some of the passengers gladly answered our queries regarding their place. That blew our worries away as it was our first time in the province. We didn’t let our guards down when we conversed with some locals in the harbor, though. But our weariness proved to be baseless as we observed that their sincerity is genuine. One local dispelled our worries of being swindled or shortchanged by aptly saying that, “hindi po ito Manila.” Indeed, Bohol is anything but Manila.

As expected, our driver cum tour guide was easy to be with. He had difficulties conversing with us in Tagalog, though, but we didn’t mind as we were more concerned with the driver’s trustworthiness than his aptitude in speaking to us in our language/dialect. We felt very comfortable with him from the start even though his car’s aircon conked out.

Sagbayan Peak

Our first stop was Sagbayan Peak. It is here where you’ll first get a glimpse of the famous hills. This recreation area is a good alternative to the observation hill in Carmen as the latter can get very crowded, especially in the mid mornings and afternoons. Some tourists tend to skip this site as they think that they’ll get a better view of the hills in the Chocolate Hills Complex. However, this is not exactly an accurate assessment. One would still have a spectacular view of the Chocolate Hills in Sagbayan even if it’s quite from a distance. The resort has a platform or gazebo that gives a 360-degree perspective of the area where the hills are scattered.

As can be seen from above, Sagbayan Peak gives the best viewpoint as far as the hills and the coastline is concerned. You could even see the Cebu skyline via a large telescope that you could operate for only P10.00. The recreation center is a wonder in itself and can stand alone even without the hills. It is highly recommended for nature-trekkers and for people who want a serene place for rest, reflection, or relaxation. The resort also keeps a tarsier.

Chocolate Hills Complex

Of course, many consider the observation hill in Carmen as providing the best vantage point when it comes to communing with the Chocolate Hills. Before you could see the hills up close, you would have to climb a dizzying 214-step staircase that leads to the deck. For fitness buffs, the climb can be a treat in itself. But for those who already categorize walking from the parking lot to the office building as “strenuous,” going up the hill can be a daunting task. Being associated with the latter class, I was already taxing my lungs to its full capacity halfway through the task. After several minutes of complaining, I finally made it up the hill.

Perseverance, as they say, is greatly rewarded. Such is the case with the climb in the Chocolate Hills Complex. Upon reaching the top, you can indulge yourself to a spectacular panoramic view of the perfectly-shaped mounds. Sagbayan Peak provides a similar view, but not as close and as (nearly) perfect as this one in Carmen. Almost all photos of the hills that you usually see in postcards are taken from this place.

Nobody knows how the hills came about. If the local folklore is to be believed, these unusual geological wonders were the mud that two giants from long ago threw at each other during a fight. Geologists offer a less colorful theory, though, saying that they are the result of the mixture of marine limestone and clay. I didn’t bother to count each and every hill in the vicinity as I would be risking a premature visit to my ophthalmologist (or maybe a psychiatrist) if I do so. Besides, I’m not keen on refuting the claim that there are exactly 1,268 hills in the area.
If you’re taking the tour from Tagbilaran, the Chocolate Hills Complex will probably be your last stop. But if you’ll be starting from Tubigon, it might be your second stop after Sagbayan Peak. It’s best to climb up the observation hill early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

March 8, 2010

Bohol via the Cebu-Tubigon Route

When the obsessive-compulsive in me jacks out of its box, it usually nudges me to plan our out of town trips to the detail. Bohol was not supposed to be an exception. Of late, though, Gin and I had been experiencing a drought when it comes to having spare hours. Hence, we ended up planning our one-day, central Visayas trip only 3 days before our departure.

This didn’t prevent us from successfully booking our Cebu-Tagbilaran ferry tickets in advance, though. We were also able to find a good driver/guide that would meet us at the Tagbilaran port. However, disaster struck just a day before our trip when SuperCat sent a notice that it was cancelling its March 6 trip due to technical problems. The news shook me for a while as our itinerary depended on our ferry trip.

I immediately called the other two fast craft companies that are plying the Cebu-Tagbilaran route. Unfortunately, both Weesam and Oceanjet informed me that their morning trips to Bohol were already fully booked on the date that we’re supposed to go there. Because of this, I informed our driver/guide that we would be cancelling our reservations for his van/service. He tried to save our trip by suggesting that we take a ferry instead to Tubigon. I entertained the idea, but still cancelled his services as I was still apprehensive in taking an alternative route.

Upon arriving at Cebu, we immediately rushed to Pier 1 to book a ferry trip to Tubigon. There are two ferries that service the Cebu-Tubigon route in Pier 1. We chose the 7:00 a.m. trip of Lite Shipping since we weren’t able to find the new ticket booth of MV Starcraft.

Despite the fact that the ship we took sailed painfully slow, we were happy to know that the trip would only take around two hours as Tubigon is the closest port of the island from Cebu. A fast craft trip to Tagbilaran is 1 hour and 40 minutes long. Most people, especially tourists, know only about the latter route. However, the locals prefer going to Bohol via Tubigon as it is the fastest and cheapest way to the island. A regular ferry ride to Tubigon costs around P120-P170, while going there via a 45-minute fast craft ride would only cause you to shell out around P200-P270 pesos. This beats the P400-P500 ticket price of Oceanjet, SuperCat, and Weesam for the Cebu-Tagbilaran journey.

The trip was very relaxing. As it was March, the summer weather tamed the waves. It was smooth sailing all the way. By 9:00 a.m., the municipality of Tubigon was already in sight. The port is not that grand, but it was clean and did not litter with people trying to jostle up for passengers that may want to rent a van or look for a tour guide. The only drawback in going to Bohol via Tubigon is that it is still an hour away from the provincial capital. Renting a van (with driver) also costs more in Tubigon than in Tagbilaran. One reason for this is that there’s only one association that regulates the car/van rental services in the area, thereby making the rates fixed and uniform.

Gin, with all her haggling prowess, failed to bring down the digits to the P2,500 car rental rate that the association was charging. Rates in Tagbilaran are usually P500 cheaper since car rental/tour services abound in the city. Faced with the prospect of having to take a one-hour bus ride to Tagbilaran just to get a car that’s P500 cheaper, we decided to take the offer. We didn’t regret it, though, as our driver was very kind and accommodating. He also drove like Michael Schumacher which helped us visit more sites than one could usually do in a 7-hour sojourn.
Our 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. tour led us to all the sites that we wanted to see: Sagbayon Peak, Chocolate Hills, the long hanging bridge, the man-made forest, the Tarsiers, Loboc River, Baclayon Church, and the blood compact site. Our driver also gladly acquiesced to my request that we drive around Tagbilaran before we head back to Tubigon for our 5:45 p.m. trip back to Cebu via MV Starcraft. Our business class tickets cost only P270. It was a bargain considering that a catamaran ride from Tagbilaran costs twice.
Dealing directly with the driver may save you a few hundred bucks. Our driver, Sancho Ranesis, drives a 1990 Mitsubishi Lancer. It’s still in good condition. He had a hard time speaking to us in Tagalog, though, but we didn’t mind as he was very friendly. If you’re interested in hiring his services, you may contact him at 09398140994.

MV Starcraft Schedule (Cebu-Bohol via Tubigon and vice versa)
Pier 1

Cebu to Tubigon, Bohol

5:45 a.m. - 6:30 a.m.
8:00 a.m. - 8:45 a.m.
12:30 p.m. - 1:15 p.m.
3:30 p.m. - 4:15 p.m.

Tubigon to Cebu

7:00 a.m. - 7:45 p.m.
11:00 a.m. - 11:45 p.m.
2:00 p.m. - 2:45 p.m.
5:45 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Rates (Plus P10 Terminal Fee):

Economy: P200
Tourist: P220
Business: P280


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