Saturday, 1 October 2011

Palawan's Must Visit...Must do....Palawan's Best...

Palawan...the Philippines' last frontier....lying between South China Sea and the Sulu Sea, the province is blessed with so much natural beauty...secluded islands and islets, remote historical towns, amazing marine life...

I have been to Palawan several times, in some places I know I have taken some photos but could not find them anymore, it is hands down one of the Philippines' gems...

Sharing with you reasons why I think it is...featuring places in Palawan I have been to, and planning to go to. No, this is not about luxurious resorts or complex that has dotted some of Palawan's islands. This is about Palawan's raw and sometimes mysterious natural beauty...

#1  St. Paul's Subterranean River National Park 
(Sabang, Palawan)

      A UNESCO World Heritage Park, it is located in the St. Paul mountain range and bordered by the St. Paul Bay. An 8.2km navigable underground river that showcases awesome stalagmites and stalactites and large chambers. The area also features unique flora and fauna as it has 8 of the most important forests in Asia.

      One can trek from the jump-off area via the 5.2km monkey trail to the site and marvel at the diverse flora, fauna, beach coves along the way. Watch out for the aggressive monkeys though, they grab at anything in a plastic bag. 

Update: If you wish to visit this place, book your trip at least a month ahead via a local travel agent or your hotel in Puerto Princesa. The local government is now limiting the number of visitors per day. Walking in may disappoint you as chances of seeing it may be slim since you have to wait for "no-shows" to get a slot.

      How to get there: From Puerto Princesa, most accommodations can arrange for a day trip to the underground river. Charges range from P1,500-P1,800 inclusive of lunch, transportation and entrance and boat ride inside the park. 

#2 Island hopping at Honda Bay
(Puerto Princesa, Palawan)

Snake Island
       A must do when in Puerto Princesa. Honda Bay has several islands to offer including the most popular and the longest, Snake Island. Secluded and uninhabited except for the caretakers. All white sand beaches, emerald green to blue seas and snorkelling haven.

      Starfish Island ...Pandan Island...Snake island....

      How to get there: Just a few minutes from Puerto Princesa, one can hire a tricycle or van to bring you to the jump-off pier at Bgy Sta. Lourdes, Tagbanua. Register and they will assign a banca (outrigger boat) for you. If I remember right, the boat hire was around P1,800-2,000 visiting 3-4 islands for 4-5 persons. Bring your own provision (i.e. food, water)

     Or most accommodations can make arrangements for a day trip to Honda Bay. Cost may vary from P1,200-1,500 inclusive of lunch, boat, and island hopping activities.

#3 El Nido Islands
(El Nido, Palawan)

      Just like the other group of islands, El Nido is best explored by boat. Island hopping galore. About 50 white sand islands to explore  along Bacuit Bay, you need at least a week in this place to fully appreciate it. I have been to this place several years ago and it has, hands down, won my heart vs. the more famous Boracay.  It is bordered by Linapacan Straits, Sulu Sea and South China Sea.

Intalula Island
      El Nido, having one of the country's diverse ecosystem, is protected for its unique flora and fauna, its pristine geologic formations---the limestone cliffs, its white sand beaches, its forests and marine habitats including several species of birds and marine mammals that are endangered.

      The boat association in El Nido town has several tours to choose from depending on the islands you want to explore.  All secluded..all unspoilt...all to yourself for several hours or for the whole day.

      In addition, there are other things to do in El Nido:  scuba diving, cliff climbing, cave exploration and visiting its many waterfalls.

       El Nido has several high-end resorts in its islands were access is exclusive to guests. Cheaper accommodations can be had at El Nido town.

       How to get there:  There are flights to El Nido from Manila. Check out Island Transvoyager (Island Transvoyager). Or you may take the flight to Puerto Princesa but will take you several hours by land to reach El Nido.

#4 Coron Island 
(Busuanga, Palawan)

Kayangan Lake
photo by Victor Villanueva
       I have been to Busuanga/Coron several years ago. But it was confined to Club Paradise and a visit to Caluit. A return trip is definitely a must do as this area in Palawan is equally blessed with natural beauty.

       Part of the Calamianes group of islands, north of Palawan, Coron is a fishing town and a popular tourism and diving destination, having the most sunken Japanese warships off its coastline.

       What to do? a lot!...trek..dive...snorkel...island hop...or just laze around....your call...But if you want to explore, here are spots you should not miss:

Sunset at Mt. Tapyas - if you are a photo-enthusiast, do not miss this. They say the view is breathtaking. Higantes Islands and the rest of the Calamianes islands. You've got to trek up though. 718 steps but the view is rewarding. Most people do it early in the morning or evening so it is cooler.

Check out this detailed blog of Mt. Tapyas with beautiful photos by  lantaw:

Friday, 22 July 2011

Conquering Mt. Pinatubo

a sight to behold

Definitely not for the faint of heart...! 

Conquering Mt. Pinatubo has been at the back of my mind for years. But never got around to doing it because I dread the trek on lahar valleys under the heat of the summer sun. Gone where the days when I'd say yes to a trek in a heartbeat.

Then, some friends suggested Pinatubo for May 1. Mustered enough courage to do it thinking that there is a shorter trail, so organized a group for the said day.

Just a few days before the trip, we were advised that "skyway" (the short trail) is still closed for repairs. So we have to do the 5.7kms trail and back! With no other choice, decided to go and just enjoy the adventure....

4x4 ride across Crow Valley
Oh what an adventure it really was! A total of 2 hours 4X4 ride and more than 5 hours of trekking on hardened lahar, boulders and streams under the extreme summer heat. I could not fathom why am I subjecting myself to such agony! The result? tired and aching feet, sore leg muscles, thousands of calories burned but really beautiful photos and realizing that I can still do it despite my not so younger years anymore. As for Gia? well, she got tired, but no aches and pains at all the following day...ahh youth! :)

Lahar valley
...the trail..
suk tahp
Walking through the lahar valley was like walking in a desert. Hot, humid and arid. No shade except under big boulders or the shadow of lahar mounds that look so fragile it feels like it will crumble anytime. The  trail is beautiful in a strange way.  You pass by lahar mounds several feet high that  dwarfs the trekkers, some bare, a lot with some form of vegetation, a lot of "suk tahp" along the way maybe to mark the trail, sulfur deposits oozing from under the ground, several streams to cross that leaves you with wet cold feet and about a gram of sand/lahar on your feet all the time. 

As the guide said, the scenic sight changes every year, especially after the rainy season, as the mounds shift and move or disintegrate due to heavy rains. So what I might have seen may not be the same by now or by same time next year.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Calaguas Island --- another Paradise found!

Calaguas Island
Vinzons, Camarines Norte
April 20-23, 2011

My love affair with Calaguas was no "love at 1st sight"....first heard about it from Travel Factor's packages to Calaguas and Bagasbas...I am no surfing dude so listed the place on the "places I might want to see" not on the "places I must see". Saw photos of it posted on some internet sites and thought wow what a "nice" beach, but....

And then, my friend Rochelle,  opened the idea of spending the Holy Week there with matching photo of the place. I said yes half-heartedly because I was hesitant about the camping style, not because I am adverse to camping but because my idea of a Holy Week vacation is on a nice white sand beach with comfy resort and not on a tent. A few weeks before the trip, decided to search for inspiring photos and saw a beautiful photo of the whole beach---that sealed my excitement!

Calaguas Island's  long white sand beach
It is quite a long trip---6-8 hours south of Manila plus a 2-hour boat ride on rough seas (make sure you check the moon phase before embarking on this trip).But then, we were rewarded with such glorious sight! Paradise here on earth! Indeed, beauty is worth seeing with your own naked eyes!

Calaguas is a group of islands in the province of Camarines Norte in the Bicol Region. Tinaga island, one of the major islands is where the famous long beach called "Mahabang Buhangin" or popularly known as "Calaguas", is located.

Yes! everything was all worth it! Powdery white sand, emerald green to blue seas, sandy under water up to 10-20 meters from the beach, unspoilt and almost deserted island. The perfect "back to basics" and "roughing it up"-fix for me. A backpackers haven definitely. Not your usual beach +resort luxury.

So what did we do in such a deserted place for 2 1/2 days?

* swim to our hearts' content
* stroll the whole stretch--end to end
* click and click some more (photoshoot galore!)
* eat and eat some more
* nap and nap some more
* read a book
* frisbee game
* jumpshots showdown 

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Land of Gentle People

Oct 2006
Dumaguete City

Flew in to Dumaguete for the weekend to dive Apo Island and a quick look-see of the City. We arrived just around lunch so spent it having lunch at Jake's home and then touring the City. Dumaguete is called the "University town" because of its 4 universities, but best known for Siliman University.

@Siliman University
@ the Marine Lab

After touring the City, we dropped by at Siliman University and also toured its Marine Laboratory. Dinner was at a Jo's Inato  before we strolled Dumaguete's famous Rizal Boulevard promenade at night.

@ the Promenade
The day I was supposed to catch my flight to Manila, the group had lunch at a place (sorry forgot the name) where the locals and visitors throng--- a long shack with long tables and full of smoke. Their specialty, barbecued chicken or pork at very reasonable price (as in mura!). Maybe you can ask the tricycle drivers to bring you to this place. 

Then off we went to buy THE pasalubong one should really bring home to loved ones from Dumaguete---Sylvanas (or Silvanas) ! Yes, the best tasting sylvanas I have ever eaten. Buy it at Sans Rival Cakes and Pastry Shop along San Jose St. near the boulevard. Their Sans Rival is also to die for. Watch out though if you are diabetic, they do not have sugar-free versions yet.

Dumaguete is one of those sleepy towns in the country I'd like to visit and stay for a while just to escape the hustle and bustle of the Metro. One of the places where one can recharge, take it easy, take stock of everything before going back to the rat race.

Thanks to Jake Martinez for hosting us and taking care of the group while in town. We love Dumaguete!

Diving Apo Island

Oct. 2006
Apo Island
Negros Oriental

NatGeo photo by Chelle
A whole day spent diving one of the world's best marine sanctuaries, Apo Island in Negros Oriental. Not to be confused with Mindoro's Apo Reef, an equally rich marine habitat, Apo Island has been Siliman University Marine Laboratory's project. With documented 650 species of fish and an estimated 450 species of corals, it has become one of the Philippines' premier dive sites and a favorite snorkeling area.

This was the time I was still discovering underwater photography and had my very first u/w camera -- a sony---pre-"Fey" period (for those who may not know, "Fey" is my present u/w rig). So no strobes, no macro lenses, no nothing that time, just the simple point and shoot camera in an u/w case with build in flash.
Finding Nemos

Friday, 1 April 2011

Aliwan Fiesta --- Feel the beat!

Aliwan'09 annual gathering of Philippine fiestas' staple --- street dancing! Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao are represented by colorful, pulsating street dances that leaves one in awe. If you want to see a glimpse of how various provinces celebrate their fiestas, this is the place to be. 

I witnessed my first Aliwan Fiesta in 2009. Sadly, never had the time to watched again after that. Aliwan Fiesta 2011 will be on April 14-16, 2011---hopefully, I will have the chance to shoot and be mesmerized once again by the spectacle that it is!

April 25, 2009

Decided last minute to spend my free day with my daughter and to shoot Aliwan.

By 3pm, there were a lot of photographers around Aliw Theater taking photos of the many beautiful and creative floats. I decided to join the fray. Whew! what a hot, hot day!...after seeking refuge in a cool restaurant around the area and taking a cool drink, I proceeded to the photographers area to await
the start of the show.

Was not lucky enough to get a "front seat" so contented myself to taking shots between the 
shoulders of the two guys in front of me for the first 3 contingents. After the Dinagyang group, the guy in front of me left and so I moved up front. But with the men squeezing in, I can't hardly move. Stayed only until 6pm as I felt that it might rain anytime.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Truly Asia --- Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Oct. 31 - Nov 3, 2006

sights of Kuala Lumpur
Day 1 (Oct. 31)  - Left Singapore at 8am for KL by bus. 6 hours travel time but it was the most relaxing bus ride we have ever experienced (

How can one not? Lazyboy-like chairs with massage, individual 7.2" LCD TV, free food served by a stewardess, roomy leg room (we were seated at the 1st row of the top deck--just 3  seats per row), and very smooth ride. Enjoyed the country scene for a few hours before going to snooze land. We stopped at the Immigration area upon entering Malaysia for a short stop to register, then off we went for a non-stop trip.

Arrived KL late afternoon. After check-in, proceeded to tour KL Tower for a 360-degree view of Kuala Lumpur, Petronas Tower for photo ops, window shopping and dinner at Suria KLCC.

Sunway Lagoon
Day 2 (Nov 1) - City Tour before proceeding to Sunway Lagoon to spend the rest of the day there.

Petronas Tower
* Petronas Tower - went up to the bridge and enjoyed the view; watched a short film about its history.

Short stops at  Merdeka Square (Independence Square), Railway Station, Tugu Negara and Istana Negara.

Spent the rest of the day at Sunway Lagoon where Gia had a grand time trying out the water slides. Bonding with Gia swimming  around its different lagoons and trying out its many rides and attractions.

This is where I rode a ship that swings 360degrees (sorry forgot the ride's name), I shouted for Mother Mary! Goodness! I was literally upside down when it intentionally stopped at 90 degrees---the ship's bottom was at the top. So go figure how I looked like!

@Sunway Lagoon
After Sunway, we requested to be dropped off at Suria KLCC to go to Aquaria KLCC-- which in my opinion is far better than Singapore's Underwater world. Why? I really don't know (I am sure they have almost the same species)  but it impressed me more than Singapore's.

Missed Petrosains twice to Gia's disappointment. It closes at 6pm! 

Aquaria KLCC

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Uniquely Singapore

Oct 27-30, 2006
(Part of the Singapore/Malaysia swing)

With budget airlines flying in to Clark that year, we decided to try this route. Expected to encounter a lot of hassles but fortunately met just a few.

*Booking through the web was a breeze. No long queues here. Got our Manila-Singapore ( and Kuala Lumpur-Manila ( tickets in less than an hour and very cheap at that.  
*We took the Philtranco bus from Pasay to Clark and it took us a little more  than an hour to reach DMIA. Going back, was even better. As soon as we landed, there was a bus to Manila waiting for us. That was good coordination there.
*This is where we encountered a bit of hassle. The queue to the check-in counter was long and  very slow. Apparently not all passengers were aware of the luggage allowance. Most of them were charged extra for excess weight.
* Being a newly opened airport operation back then, it was obvious there were still a lot of things to improve on. It felt like an airport undergoing maintenance.
*If you happen to take these budget flights, be prepared to not be issued a seat number. Yes, dear, when they open the doors and announce boarding, be ready to sprint ahead of everyone if you want to get the best seats. I was lucky because I was with a child, so we were asked to board first.
*Lastly, no free food onboard. If you are hungry, they have a list of food items for sale.


street of Singapore
Day 1 (Oct 27) -  Arrived Singapore late afternoon. Stayed at Summerview Hotel Singapore (  a 3-star hotel along Bencoolen Rd. A perfect location for us because it was just a few minutes walk to everywhere we wanted to go (i.e. Sim Lim -- the electronic mecca of Singapore is almost just beside it; MRT Bugis station  and bus stations are a few meters away; Bugis Area) 

After checking in, we explored Orchard Road decked in festive decor because it was around an Indian holiday when we were there. Explored Tang's and Paragon. Dinner was at Asian Food Mall at Lucky Plaza (thank you to my Lonely Planet guide) for our very first Chicken Rice (Hainanese Chicken).

Clarke Quay
Day 2  (Oct 28)- Half-day city tour in the morning. Esplanade, Merlion, Raffles Hotel, Orchard Road, a walk along Little India, Singapore Botanic Garden, financial district and Chinatown.
@ Esplanade
After the tour, we proceeded to explore Clarke Quay on our way to Sentosa Island. A busy area at night, it was oh so quiet at around noontime.

Sentosa Island has become Singapore's mega theme-park on an island. The island once a tropical forest and rugged coast, has been redeveloped into a sprawling amusement park. Went to Sentosa on our own. Took the MRT and alighted at World Trade Center Station. Took the cable car to the island where we had a bird's eye view of the Singapore Harbour and  Mount Faber. Free buses are available around the island, so you can hop on, hop off  to the various attractions.

Sentosa Island

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

PALAWAN - My Paradise!

Snake Island @ Honda Bay

April 22-27, 2006
Palawan Province

The first time I went to Palawan, exploring Puerto Princesa after my Tubbataha trip in 2005, I swore that I will go back the next year to explore it more. Palawan's unspoilt beauty just tagged at my heart. Can't get enough of it...

So, w/ my good friend Jet, we planned the trip a year ahead. With the help of another dear friend of ours, Bong, who is based in Puerto Princesa and working for Club Noah Isabelle, the itinerary went into several revisions until just a day before we were about to leave for Puerto.

Day 1 (Apr 22 '06) - Upon arrival at the airport, we were met by the van that will take us all the way to Taytay (north of Palawan). We picked up Bong and family, bought a few things at the market before finally pushing for Taytay. Good thing we had the van to ourselves so we were able to stop over wherever we want. Lunch was at a Vietnamese resto in Roxas. We even had the time to observe how those Vietnamese noodles are made.

Fort Isabel from Casa Rosa

The drive to Taytay took about 6 hours of half paved and half rough roads (this may be a shorter trip since I am sure, by now, a good part of the main road is paved already). We arrived Taytay around 3pm and passed by Bong's "kubo" and immediately checked in at Casa Rosa (the only decent place to stay in Taytay, overlooking Fort Isabel). The rest of the day, we spent at the local market buying some stuff for our day trip to El Nido the next day, exploring the small town and hanging around Casa Rosa. 

Day 2 (Apr 23) - This is where the group split. Bong & family proceeded to Club Noah, while Jet , Gia and I proceeded to El Nido town for a day exploring a handful of its more than 15 islands.

The trip to El Nido was about an hour of purely rough roads. But don't despair, the roads were being paved then so maybe by now, the roads are better.

Upon arrival, we proceeded to meet Bong's friend who will assist us in renting the banca. The Banca Association is responsible in dispatching the bancas. So you are assured that they are all safe. There were 3 trips to choose from. Each w/ about 5 islands to explore. We settled for Trip A and vowed to come back soon and stay at least for 2 nights the next time to explore the rest of the islands. 

We then proceeded to buy food for lunch. Wow! food is cheap here. Imagine, more than a kilo of fish is just P40 pesos!!! 

Trip A consists of :

* Small Lagoon -- where you have to wade through a small hole to get to the Lagoon--that in itself was an adventure!

Small Lagoon
Big Lagoon

Big Lagoon
Entrance to Big Lagoon