Beijing – 5 Attractions You Can’t Miss

Beijing – 5 Attractions You Can’t Miss

BeijingAre you looking for an exotic destination for next year’s vacation?  Do you feel like stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something different?  Have you considered a trip to Beijing?

That’s right, I said Beijing, China!  Beijing is an amazing city.  It’s China’s massive capital that has history going back three millennia.  It’s known for its modern and ancient architecture, as well as its culture and history, cuisine, and of course shopping!

I know a trip to Beijing may require stepping outside the box.  It’s not Italy, Greece, or even Thailand.  It is in China after all, and many of us have some interesting notions about THAT country.  Well let me tell you, whatever you thought or imagined about China, Beijing in particular, probably does the country and the city an injustice.  I know we were a bit hesitant on our first trip over, but after that trip we came home with a whole different outlook.

China in general is a beautiful country and its citizens wonderful people.  The people are warm, courteous, and friendly, although they’re not very good at standing in a que and tend to get a bit pushy; it’s probably the result of living with billions of other citizens all struggling to get on with their daily routine in a city that always seems to be bustling with crowds.

So if you’re ready for something a bit more exotic consider a vacation in Beijing.  Here are 5 Must See Attractions in and around the city that you should not miss on your first trip.  I say first trip because I can almost be sure you’ll want to return time and again!

BeijingThe Great Wall

Ok, let’s get this out of the way.  YOU CAN NOT GO TO CHINA WITHOUT SEEING THE GREAT WALL!

Seriously, it’s arguably the first thing most folks picture when you say you’re going to China.

The Great Wall whose construction began 2000 years ago and lasted 1000 years extends 4000 miles.  Clearly you can’t see it all from Beijing.  There are several sections of the wall around Beijing, some restored, others rugged, meaning they’ve pretty much fallen apart.  The most famous sections to visit are Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Juyong Pass Fortress, Badaling, and Jiankou.

These sections are located about 40 to 90 miles away from Beijing’s city center.  You can get to them on public transportation, private car, or on a tour.  It makes for a good day trip![spacer height=”-20px”]

 

 

 

beijingForbidden City

Forbbiden City, also known as the Palace Museum, is in the city center of Beijing.  It once served as the imperial palace for 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911) .  Construction began during the reign of Emperor Chengzu in the Ming Dynasty and lasted 14 years.

It covers 74 hectares making it the largest palace complex in the world.  It is surrounded by a 52-meter-wide moat and a 10-meter-high wall, and has 8700 rooms.  Because it was the seat of power for 5 centuries the Palace Museum is home to many rare treasures and curiosities.

Having said that I doubt you’ll want to visit every room, but do spend some time checking out the major palaces along the central axis.

 

beijingTian’anmen Square

Located in the center of the city, just north of the Forbidden City, is this huge square measures 440,000 square meters and can hold up to a million people for public celebrations and gatherings.

The square holds the Monument of the National Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong.

If you’re an early bird you can join the crowds of people at the square for the raising of China’s national flag.  The flag is raised in 3 minute ceremony conducted by uniformed troops and includes the singing of the national anthem and the flag slowly being raised to coincide with the exact time of the sunrise.

 

beijingWangfujing Street

Wangfujing Street is within walking distance from Tian’anmen Square.  It is the most famous shopping street in Beijing.

Most of the street is pedestrianised so at least you don’t have to weave between Beijing traffic, but you do have to weave in between the hoards of people that flock to this street daily.  The street is visited by 600,000 tourists and locals everyday; double that on holidays!

Here you’ll find just about everything from local handicrafts and souvenirs to trendy designer boutiques.  Many of the souvenir shops are located on the street level, but do go into one of the malls along the street.  It’s an experience in itself!

Try to visit this street at night when the neon lights are lit up and the Night Market is in full swing.  The festive Wanfujing Night Market is a local favorite with brightly lit stalls selling some very interesting snacks.  Try one if you dare!

beijingThe Beijing Zoo

It’s controversial, I know, but I love zoos!  And Beijing Zoo is a must see if you want to see pandas in Beijing.

The zoo is home to some 45o species of animals from around the world with an animal population of about 5000.  It has 16 different exhibition areas and halls.  The most popular of course is the Panda Hall where you can see these gentle giants in their own environment.

To be honest I only went to the Beijing Zoo to see the Pandas, so I really can’t say much about the rest of the exhibits.  This zoo probably is not on par with the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, but the Panda exhibit was nice.

 

 

Ready to plan a vacation in China?  Call Savvy Nana Travel!  We specialize in custom itineraries for couples, families, and groups.

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Alona Beach and Things to do!!!

Alona Beach and Things to do!!!

13668984_1122329651174121_3908699005489678758_nAlona Beach is located on Panglao Island in Bohol, Philippines. The island has an area of 80.5 square kilometres (31.1 sq mi). Located within Bohol Province it is divided into two municipalities: Dauis and Panglao.   Panglao is located southwest of the island of Bohol and east of Cebu.

Panglao is a popular tourist destination in the Philippines.  It includes several small islands, such as Gak-ang, Pontod, and Balicasag.  Alona Beach is a stunning 1.5 km stretch of white sand beach. Beach combing, diving, snorkeling, sunbathing, swimming and relaxing are very popular activities here! Be sure to stop by at one of many beach-side restaurants for fine dining and cold drinks and enjoy the beautiful beach especially at night.

Alona Beach is approximately 30-40 min (22.6 km) via Panglao Island Circumferential Road from Tagbilaran City seaport. There are lots of transportation options including the  bus, taxis, habal-habal (motorcycle services) and tricycles from the seaport and airport.  I suggest tourists should take the taxi.  Taxis are faster, hassle free and air-conditioned.

There are 2 roads that  go to the Island of Panglao.  Borja Bridge, locally called “Junction”, and  Costway Bridge road.

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There are many beautiful hotels, bars, pubs and restaurant within and near Alona Beach.  Some famous area hotels are: Henann Resort, Alona Vida Beach Resort, Lost Horizon Beach Dive Resort, ChARTs Resort and Art Café, Sun Apartelle, Bohol Divers Resort, Panglao Regents Park, Hayahay Resort, Villa Almedilla, Birds Watcher Paradise Hotel.  You can choose resorts and hotels to fit your budget and tastes.

There are tours such as island hopping, dolphin watching, snorkeling and diving offered by various tour companies.  Your hotel personnel can help you find and arrange a tour that will suit your interests.

Things you must do when you get to Alona Beach:  Shopping, bar hooping, diving, snorkeling, sunbathing, swimming, relaxing and most of all my favorite, Eating. Yay!!!

They are convenience stores  if you wish to buy something you forgot or want. And many  fashion stores and souvenir shops.  Unfortunately I couldn’t take pictures, we were told NO PICTURE ALLOWED. It’s ridiculous! The worst thing is they put a tarpaulin over the merchandise that says NO PICTURE ALLOWED, why? I don’t know! So we did not take a single picture of the stores.

Here are some I took on our visit.
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Secured loan is also another option for those people, who have a poor minicreditos. Since this is a secured loan, it is more suitable for those who have a home. The process is quite similar, as the lenders just lend cash loans against the equity in a home. The home can be either mortgaged or fully owned, but the cash loans is provided on the basis of such a home. The interest rates on such loans are usually low and the repayment periods are too long. There are loans that may be repaid in a long time period even extending up to 30 years dinero urgente. The representatives of the lending company assess the house, on the basis of which the cash loans is provided, in order to decide on the valuation of the asset. There are many lenders, who lend as much as 125% of the valuation of the house, others may settle at 85% of the equity value.

Journey to Can-Umantad Falls, Bohol Philippines!!!

Journey to Can-Umantad Falls, Bohol Philippines!!!

Can-Umantad Falls

Can-Umantad Falls

Can-Umantad Falls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can-Umantad Falls and Rice Terraces are located in the Candijay municipality  of  Bohol province in the Philippines.  It’s approximately a 2 hours drive (97.2 km) via Bohol Circumferential Road from Tagbilaran City.   It’s a beautiful place to experience fun and adventure.

Travel just 30 minutes from what they call “Lungsod Daan” and you’ll see this amazing and unique waterfall.  It’s a stunning 60 feet in height and is said to be the tallest waterfall in Bohol.  It’s clean, clear, cold water will surely entice you to go swimming.

Can-umantad is fast becoming an alternative tourist destination for folks visiting the island province of Bohol.  To accommodate tourists they built a resort, “Eleuterio’s Can-Umantad Falls and Terraces Resort Incorporated”.  The falls and the springs below are owned and managed by Eleuterio’s.  They open the falls to the public daily from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm.  You can reach the falls and spring from their private entrance.

Entrance fee is 20 PHP per person and parking is 10 PHP for motorbikes and 20 PHP for cars.  The resort also has a restaurant if you don’t want to bring your own lunch. They also rent rooms if you wish to stay overnight or longer.

This site is suitable for picnics and other fun activities like human hamster ball rolling, river trekking and swimming.  You can enjoy a free back massage with the splash of heavy flowing water! The experience is incredible and priceless. Aside from the waterfall Candijay has still a lot more to offer but for now, I will share to you our awesome unforgettable experience.

Today as of 2016 the falls are developed. The roads are 40% cemented and the rest under construction. Can-Umantad Falls and Terraces are listed in almost all Travel and Tours Company websites as one of the famous tourist attractions  in Bohol, Philippines. 

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Our journey was a long long way from Tagbilaran.  We started at Tagbilaran Plaza Rizal Park in front of Cathedral Church.  I rented a motorcycle from my friend for the trip.  I paid P500 for the one day rental.

If you don’t want to drive there on your own you can catch a van or a bus from Dao Terminal Station near Island City Mall about 3 km. away from Plaza Rizal Park.  The cost is  at least P130 per person for the van and P100 per person for the bus.  Both will get you as far as Lungsod Daan.  From there you need to rent a Habal-habla (motorcycle that carries 10 people plus their luggage!) to take you to the falls.  The round trip from Lungsod Daan to the falls is about P160 per person.

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Taking public transportation will not really save you a lot of money, specially if there are several of you going.  Renting a motorcycle or car for the day may prove more cost effective.  An added perk is that if you’re driving yourself you can take your time to enjoy the views (they are beautiful) and even stop to snap some photos.

 

 

Tips: Start early in the day so you can enjoy the views and go home while sun is still shinning, Traveling during the day is safer than traveling at night on those roads. Bring water and food, or you can buy along the way.

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So, we started  around 6:00 AM, we need to pass by 9 Municipalities to get to Candijay; Baclayon, Alburquerque, Loay, Lila, Valencia, Garcia Hernandez, Jagna, Duero, Guindulman and then Candijay.

Actually there are 3 road to get there. We choose to travel via Bohol Circumferential Road because there are  lots of houses and people along the way so if you have an emergency, like a flat tire, you can easily find help. Here is the map for the 3 roads.

These are many great views on the way to  Candijay.

 

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At the Bool District of Tagbilaran City you will see the Blood Compact Shrine, one of the tourists destination and very famous here in Bohol.

Blood Compact or Pacto de Sangre in Spanish was an ancient ritual in the Philippines intended to seal a friendship or treaty, or to validate an agreement. The contracting parties would cut their wrists and pour their blood into a cup filled with liquid, such as wine, and drink the mixture.

In the year 1565 a Sandugo was made between Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna, the chieftain of Bohol.  It is said that this is the site where this ritual was done.

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Beside the blood compact a new hotel was built, the Ocean Suites Boutique Hotel you can book directly to the hotel or make a reservation online.

 

http://www.oceansuites.ph/#!reservations/c1adp

 

 

 

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We Stopped for a while on Loay Bridge to take photos.

Fortunately for us we saw someone fishing.  Look at these, its so awesome!

“Manong” a respectful term for an old man, told us that this is the perfect place for fishing.  Lots of people living nearby  go fishing and even travelers stopped here try to catch some fish.

Here are more sights we saw along the way!

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We stopped at Garcia Hernandez by the tunnels built by the Philippine Mining Service Corporation to mine dolomite which is exported and used domestically.  This is about the half way point to the falls.

 

 

 

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This sign points the way. Straight ahead will take you to Candijay.  If you turn right you’ll end up in Anda where the Anda de Buracay a famous Beach Resort is located.  There are a lot of stunning  hotels and beautiful beaches in Anda.  We’d  hoped to make a side trip there, but we don’t have much time so we skipped it.  Maybe next time!

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Finally, we arrived in Candijay.   The Main Market is located in Poblacion Candijay.  Their Municipality office is located is also there.  There’s also a cute market where you can buy fish, meat, water, food and anything you need. They have a small plaza, a school and a huge Catholic Church.

I have my relative who lives in Poblacion Candijay just beside the Church which is located behind the school. We stopped by her house for a bit of a rest and to pick up my 2 nephews so they could guide us through the falls.

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Ok, so we are here at what they call “Lungsod Daan” an Old Barangay Market. As you can see, a left vertical road, that’s the only way to Can-Umantad Falls, approximately 8-10 kilometers, around 30 minutes.

Just follow the road, no left or right turn, just follow the road straight or if confused just ask somebody on the road, Don’t worry they are good people, unless you talk bad.

 

Along the way we took beautiful photos from viewpoints overlooking the rice terraces that surround the falls area. Check this out!!!

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When you reach this big sign just

follow the arrow pointing right.  It will take you to the resort entrance/parking lot.

Finally we are at the Resort Entrance!!!

Entrance Fee: P20.00 Each

Vehicles : P10.00

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This is the Entrance down to the Falls

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You got to go down the cemented path to reach the falls.

Friendly Staffs are willing to take you on a tour or you can just explore it yourself.

See a blue house? Thats their hotel villa, for P1,000.00 with beautiful and peaceful ambiance? You would love to stay here.

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At the river they have two floating “Kubo” Native Huts for anyone who wants to swim, eat – of course your own food and swim, you can use this stuff for Free.

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After the “Kubo” Native Huts just follow the cemented road then at the end you will see stairs.

You must go down stairs.  we counted 440 steps, not so bad right? Don’t worry there are ropes and some sort of steel fence to keep you on the track if ever you roll down or miss a step? Don’t worry no one has reported any incidents like that, just be careful or you will be the first!!!

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Finally!  These are the last steps before you see the awesome falls.13735340_1162277083816460_913167413_n

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You can stay and relax here in this “Kubo” Native Hut for a while before you go to swim. They have an attendant to guide and to watch visitors.

Well its not my first time to visit Can-Umandad Falls, actually this is my second time but unfortunately that time the weather don’t cooperate and the falls were “angry”.  It wasn’t safe to go down.   These photos were taken during that time.
12705491_10207146445453646_5880085866228108047_n12705415_10207146445853656_7594401319325899580_nThese are the pictures I took this trip when the weather was better and the falls calmer.  Big difference!

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We’ve spent 2 hours at the falls.  We swam, splashed, and had a free water massage.  We ate our lunch before we began the climb back up from where we came.  But it’s not the end of an awesome adventure, the way up is eye catching!  The path overlooks rice terraces, and you see beautiful skies and wonderful mountain views. I was amazed, IT’S SO COOL!!!

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A cute “Kubo” Native Hut is the perfect spot where you can rest and recover your breath from climbing the stairs and the Rice Terraces.

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As you can see in the photos taken on my previous trip when the weather was bad. The place was covered with fog which was actually mists rising up from the tumultuous falls.

This place is perfect for parties, birthday’s and specially wedding. If you are interested we can Plan your wedding or what ever celebration you want, we are also an event specialists. Feel free to comment or contact us.

So at around 3:00 pm we left Candijay and arrived home around 5:30 pm.  It was a long but fun day!

So if you’re looking for an alternative tourist attraction on your visit to Bohol consider a trip to Can-Umantad Falls and Rice Terraces.  It’s a bit out of the way, but well worth it!  Remember there’s more to see in the Bohol province than the famous Chocolate Hills!

Palawan – An Island Paradise

Palawan – An Island Paradise

PalawanPalawan is an island province of the Philippines. It is an archipelago consisting of 1780 islands.  Its provincial capital is Puerto Princesa.  In terms of land area it is the largest province of the Philippines.  Palawan lies between the South China Sea and Sulu Sea.  It is home to some of the best beaches in the Philippines.  Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites are located there.

We were very impressed with our visit to Palawan!  I have to say that it is arguably the best tourist attraction in the Philippines.  When asked what I thought of Palawan the first word that comes to mind is “CLEAN”.  It may not be the most impressive word, but if you’re familiar with other tourist sites in the Philippines you will have an appreciation for what I mean.  Compared to the toxic filth that surrounds Manila, and for the most part most of Central Luzon, the nation’s main island, Palawan is extremely clean.

Another thing that impressed me is the locals’ respect for the land and environment.  It’s  said that this chain of islands is the Philippines’ last ecological frontier.  The local population takes pride in their role as guardians of their home’s natural wonders.  From tour guides and drivers to the folks on the street they take their guardianship very seriously.  This point was driven home on the litter free streets of Puerto Princesa.  My uncle had carelessly tossed his cigarette butt on the sidewalk, a couple walking by very respectfully asked him to pick up the butt and throw it in the nearest trash bin.  We were told should a policeman see us littering we would be fined.  I was so impressed by their dedication to keeping their city clean that I wanted to hug them!

My husband tested our guide during our island hopping tour when he saw huge clam shells along the coast.  He was told he could look, touch, and photograph, but he could not take one home.  He asked her how much she’d take to allow him to take one (he wasn’t serious) and she told him that no amount of money was worth the depletion of their island’s natural beauty.  Very impressive in a place where just about anything is for sale for the right price!

There are many beautiful places to visit in Palawan.  Most tourist opt to stay at the El Nido Resorts located on the northern end of Palawan.  It’s a haven for avid divers and anyone wanting to get away from it all, but it’s not that easy to get to.  Getting to El Nido can be challenging and expensive.

You can take a direct flight from either Manila or Cebu on PAL, Cebu Pacific Air, and a few other commercial airlines, or you can take a charter plane,  but it’s the most expensive way to go.  A less expensive way may be to fly into Coron, one of Palawan’s municipalities, and take a boat to El Nido, but this trip takes about 8 hours.  The most economical way to get there would be flying into Puerto Princesa, PAL offers a reasonably priced ticket from Manila, then taking a bus or car the rest of the way, the ride is about 4 hours.

We we opted to take a flight to Puerto Princesa and stay there instead of continuing on to El Nido.  It was the most practical way since my mother refused to ride the smaller planes bound for El Nido, and my elderly father would not have been able to stand a 4 hour drive.

PalawanWe arrived at the Puerto Princesa International Airport, such a grand name for a tiny airport, in the late afternoon.  The flight from Manila was about an hour long.

The hotel’s van was there to meet us and drive us to our hotel 15 minutes away.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

PalawanThere are many hotels in Puerto Princesa.  They range from one star to 4-5 star accommodations.

We chose Niko’s Cabanas, a small hotel with just 9 rooms.  We booked 3 Junior Suites, each about $65 per night for double occupancy, and included a cooked to order breakfast.

The suites are air conditioned and have private baths with hot and cold showers.  The rooms are clean and comfortable.  There’s cable TV in all the rooms and free wi-fi in the restaurant.

The hotel is situated in what looks like a residential part of town, but it’s easily accessible by tricycle or car.  In fact the hotel shuttle will happily take you to town and back again for free, just ask!

The hotel boasts a pool, a restaurant, and gazebo.  The property is nicely landscaped with tropical trees and plants.  I know it’s not ocean front, far from it,  but it worked out well for us  given that my mother  insisted she needed to be close to town.  Not to mention there were so many of us and booking multiple rooms at an ocean front hotel was not exactly budget friendly when we had to pay air fair, hotel, and more for most of the folks in our party.

PalawanWe enjoyed our stay at Niko’s Cabanas.  My mom and dad loved the restaurant!  I think mostly because the staff were very friendly and pretty much cooked what my mother wanted even though it wasn’t on the menu![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

palawanThe gazebo located in the center of the property was the perfect place to hang out after a long day.  The staff made sure we were supplied with ice cold San Miguel beers, sodas, and snacks.

While we were there we were the only hotel guests.  Lucky for us because we got exceptional service!


But we didn’t go to Palawan to hang out at the hotel.  We wanted to explore and experience the sights and activities the island offers.  And that we did starting the very next morning![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

PalawanOur first destination was the famed Underground River.  I had hired a van with driver and a tour guide for the duration of our stay.  They picked us up at Niko’s early in the morning for the 2 hour drive to Sabang.  Sabang is a small town that serves as the gateway to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River.

On the road to Sabang we passed a viewpoint where according to our guide we were able to view the South China Sea on one side and the Sulu Sea on another.  [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

PalawanThen we continued on to the Sabang boat harbor to catch the banca (motorized canoe) that would take us to the Underground River.

Since we had hired a tour guide she obtained the boat tickets as well as the entrance tickets to the Underground River, they were included in the price, as well as a barbecue lunch at a Sabang resort upon our return. The cost was about $250 for 7 people.  [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

Because there were 7 people in our party we had the banca to ourselves. Once loaded on we were off to the entrance beach to the Underground River!

PalawanThe boat ride along the island’s coast wasn’t very long.  We sailed by some interesting rock formations along the coastline. [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

PalawanWhen the banca reaches the entrance beach he tries to get as close to dry land as possible.  You hop off on the beach so no matter what your feet will get wet![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

PalawanFrom the beach it’s a short walk to the park entrance.  You can’t miss it!  It’s right past the big sign![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

PalawanThe path takes you thru the rain forest where you’ll see long tailed Macaques and large monitor lizards.

The Macaques, the only primates in the area, are easy to spot.  They’re everywhere!  Watch out though they do bite and will snatch bags if there’s food in it.

The lizards are harder to spot.  They’re very well camouflaged.

At the end of the path you’ll find the que for the boat ride into the cave.[spacer height=”-100px” id=”8″]

PalawanBefore hopping on to another banca you must don a life vest and hard hat.  Again because we were a large group we had our own banca.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

PalawanOnce we were all seated the boatman paddled us thru brackish water to the cave entrance.

The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well is one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.  It’s basically the 8.2 Km section of  the Cabayugan River that passes thru the St. Pauls Underground River Cave which is more than 24 km. long. [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

PalawanThe cave is very dark inside.  The boatmen shine spotlights on certain rock formations during the 45 minute ride.

Inside the cave you navigate past stalactites and stalagmites.  And as expected you’ll see lots of bat guano as well as the bats themselves.  There are nine species of bats that call the cave home. [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

After the short boat ride in the cave we returned to our awaiting banca on the beach and headed back to Sabang for lunch.

PalawanThe boat harbor is a short walk from the resorts that line the coast.  My dad had a hard time walking so we hired a carabao pulled wagon to transport him, my mom, and sister to the resort.  The rest of us walked on the beautiful white sand beach to get there. [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

PalawanLunch was served on the beach under a thatched umbrella.  There was certainly plenty of food and drink.   After a pleasant lunch it was time  for the 2 hour drive back to our hotel.  [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

We were back at the hotel by mid afternoon.  Plenty of time for a shower and drinks in our little gazebo before we headed into town for dinner.

PalawanMom, dad, and sister opted to dine at the hotel’s restaurant.  The rest of us piled into a couple of tricycles and headed out to one of Puerto Princesa’s restaurants.  [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

The next day we went island hopping around Honda Bay.  Our trusty guide picked us up in the morning and took us to the local docks where we boarded our private banca.  My husband wanted to go fishing (it’s allowed as long as you’re some distance from the islands) so he purchased a pole and bait from the vendors on the docks.

PalawanOur first stop was Pandan Island, so named for the abundance of Pandan trees that grow there.  It’s a private island so there is an entrance fee which is collected on the docks before you set off.  In our case all fees and lunch were included in the tour.

It’s a beautiful little island surrounded by white sand beaches and crystal clear water filled with colorful fish.   For extra fees you can rent umbrellas, cabins, volleyballs, paddle boards, and other beach toys.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

PalawanMy favorite part of this island was the fresh seafood for sale.  As I hopped off the banca I was met by a couple of local girls holding a lobster trap.  They claimed to have caught the rock lobsters and crabs just that morning.  I bought all they had for roughly about $15.  That netted me about a dozen crabs and half a dozen lobsters.  They cooked it for me and threw in 6 bottles of beer.  What a deal!

My seafood platter was delivered to our beach front cabana just in time for lunch.  It was delicious!

Aside from my yummy lunch we explored the island.  The shores of one side of the island was home to huge clams.  It was amazing![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

PalawanThe rest of our time there was spent splashing in the water while my husband and uncle went fishing.  They had a great time!

The boatmen baited the hooks and took off the fish they caught.  All they did was hold the pole in the water and drink beer.  Fishing will never be the same!

They were all happy; they caught about a dozen fish which they sent home with the boatmen.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

Our next stop was Cowrie Island.  It’s less developed than the larger Pandan Island, but is perfect for snorkeling.   There are a few vendors on the island selling cold drinks and souvenirs.  It’s much less crowded than the more popular Pandan Island.

PalawanOur last stop was Starfish Island, so called because it’s surrounded by starfish.  Amazing!

There are no cabanas or vendors on this island.  In fact when we went we were the only people there!  If you’re looking for some serious alone time this island is perfect!

After 3 islands it was time to head back.  We were back at the pier by mid afternoon and at our hotel a few minutes after.

That night was our last in Palawan so we packed in to several tricycles for the short ride to town where we dined at Balinsasayaw Restaurants.

According to my dad it was a famous local restaurant and he really wanted to go there. I found it unremarkable with very poor service.
After dinner we went back to the hotel and hung out at our little cabana.  It was a great way to spend our last evening on this island paradise.

 [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

Palawan

Taal Volcano Tour & Horseback Ride

Taal Volcano Tour & Horseback Ride

Taal Volcano on the Philippine island of Luzon like all Philippine volcanoes is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the area of the Pacific basin where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. It is said to be the world’s smallest active volcano standing a mere 1000 feet tall, but don’t be misled by its size; it is also one of the deadliest volcanoes in the world having claimed 5000-6000 lives during its recorded 33 eruptions since 1572. It is the second most active volcano in the country, Mt. Mayon being the first with 50 recorded eruptions.

Located wholly in the Batangas province of the Philippines Taal Volcano is also quite a unique volcano, it’s has an island (Vulcan point) within a lake (Main Crater Lake) in a volcano (Volcano Island)  that is in a lake (Taal Lake) on an island (Luzon) or to quote factsanddetails.com “It  has the unusual distinction of being the world’s only volcano within a lake within a volcano within a lake within a volcano”.  Kind of a tongue twister, I know, but truly amazing.

For me this was enough reason to put Taal on my bucket list, but coupled with stories I’d heard since childhood about its eruptions when hot ashes reportedly reached the family’s ancestral home in Kawit, Cavite some 50 kilometers away made it a must see.  I was never quite sure if the stories were from the 1911 eruption or from the those between 1965 to 1977, but I figured it couldn’t have been from the 1754 eruption mostly because I don’t think there was a house in Kawit at that time.

Of course it never occurred to me that it was dangerous, to be fair when we went there were no alerts or warnings, there have been since our visit when the alert level was raised for 11 weeks in 2011.  So really the sanest way to see the volcano would be from a safe distance, perhaps from Tagaytay’s ridge where most tourist view it, and the view is awesome.  But if you’re crazy, adventurous, or a bit of both read on!  I’ll tell you about our trip to this active volcano!

Actually we didn’t think it was that adventurous or crazy, we live in Hawaii where we have Kilauea the world’s most active volcano according to Volcano Discovery.  It’s been spewing hot lava for years and generating “vog” which at times blankets the state.  So what could be so dangerous about trekking on Taal which hasn’t erupted since 1977? After all we’d been to Kilauea (the areas where you’re allowed to view the lava making its way to the ocean) and trekked up the crater of Nea Kameni the dormant volcano in Santorini where steam rises up from fumaroles along the trail.  So off we went, uncle and cousin in tow.  Mom and sis opted to stay behind as trekking up active volcanoes weren’t on their bucket list.

Before you can get on “Volcano Island” which is actually the volcano’s crater you must first find a place where you can hire a boat.  By the way there are day tours from Manila that will take you to and fro, prices that depend on group size include transfers from your hotel, boat ride, and guide. But we’re not big on tours, we prefer to DIY!

Taal Volcano

Taal Lake and Volcano from Tagaytay

So off we went to Talisay, a town in the province of Batangas about 2 hours away from Manila.  We had a driver and van who actually took us to my father’s house in Silang, Cavite, from there we made our way over to Tagaytay about 15 minutes away, where you do get awesome views of Taal Lake and Volcano.  From there we made our way down the ridge to a “resort” in Talisay.

I was headed for the Taal Lake Yacht Club where you can book a boat to the volcano, but my husband had consulted someone at our hotel (Intercontinental Manila, it’s currently closed), who had given him a business card for a local resort.  So it was to that “resort” we went, I forget the name of this resort, believe me it was a dump and very forgettable.  But the reasoning was that we weren’t going to stay there, just hire a boat and go.

The resort did have a restaurant and a not so disgusting bathroom, so my mother and sister stayed and got the kitchen staff to cook for them.  Did I mention we were the only guests at the resort? Well we were and the staff was very welcoming and quite apologetic about the general condition of the place which they claimed was under renovation.  I was dubious of their explanation, but it didn’t really matter, we weren’t staying, just passing thru so to speak.  (If you want to stay overnight or longer there are nicer resorts in the area, but bear in mind the local idea of luxury may not be the standards one expects.  In short when in a local resort lower your expectations, a lot!)

Taal Volcano

Boat ride to Taal Volcano

From this resort we hired a boat, with a bit of haggling we were able to hire one for 1000 PHP for 4 people round-trip, that’s about $22.

The boat is actually a motorized canoe and it takes about 20 minutes to get to Volcano Island.  Our boatmen waited for us on the island to take us back to the resort.

There’s no port or dock once you get to the island, you simply hop of the boat when it gets close to shore.  The water is shallow, but try to hop on to a rock or a patch of dry land.  The shore is littered with trash from the island’s inhabitants who live a very primitive existence, no running water or electric.  (Technically they’re not supposed to live there, it is a danger zone, so they “squat” and the government pretty much ignores them.)  Also I quickly scrambled to shore fearing the very venomous sea snakes that have adapted to the lake’s fresh water; they’re probably not hanging around the shore, but better safe than sorry, it’s also a good reason not to stick your limbs in the water on the ride over and back.

On shore we were greeted by very friendly people hustling horseback rides up the mountain, or if you prefer a hiking guide to lead you up.  The starting price for a horse and mandatory guide was 500 PHP, $11 per person, but my husband bargained and ended up paying them 1500 PHP, $32, for all 4 of us.  I’ve heard there was an admission fee, but no one was there to collect it, so I’m not sure if it was included with the horse hire.

Taal Volcano

My horse and guide up Taal

The horses were a bit lean but seemed cared for and treated well.  I guess the owners would treat them well, the horses are after all their main source of income.  If you hire a horse and guide don’t expect a beautiful saddle and stirups, think more like riding bareback.

Once you get away from the shoreline and “town” area you’ll begin to see the beauty of this volcano.  As you ride up the mountain, actually the horse is led by the guide (each horse comes with a guide) you leave behind the trash and its accompanying smells.  You’re surrounded by pristine forests, so do practice no signs left behind, in short don’t litter!  You don’t need to add to the trash the villagers make!

Taal Volcano

Fumarole

The guide isn’t that helpful, you can ask questions which he’ll try to answer, but English is not his main language.  He’s not really that knowledgeable about volcanic things, in fact I probably know more than him from watching the Discovery Channel.  So don’t expect a geology lesson, but he will point out features such as smoke rising from fumaroles, he knows exactly where they are.

Along the way my guide told me in detail how hard  life is living on the volcano. No utilities, living in makeshift huts, no schools (yes they have children living there), how expensive it is to send  kids to school on the mainland, and how the government doesn’t care.  I knew he was going for sympathy and setting me up for the big hustle at the end.  But really you have to feel some sympathy for their plight, it’s a story heard all over this country.

My guide did tell me that a Korean company had wanted to develop the volcano and build a health spa but they, the locals, protested fearing it would take way their livelihood. Not so sure about this wisdom, I thought developing the place might just give them employment, but what ever the case may be the project never started and their permit was revoked.

Taal Volcano

Souvenir shops

After about a half hour or so riding up the mountain you reach the crater rim where you dismount and climb up some makeshift stairs for a peek into the crater.  When I say makeshift I mean dirt filled rice sacks fashioned into steps made by the locals to lead up to the view point where they have souvenir shops that sell t-shirts and bottled water.

They have also built bamboo guardrails to keep tourists from falling into Main Crater Lake and they discourage you from hopping over and hiking down to the lake itself for a quick dip.  I doubt you’d want to swim in the sulfur filled lake anyway, not to mention there’s no path down and it seems extremely dangerous.

Taal Volcano

Vulcan Point in Main Crater Lake

From the view point you get a magnificent view of Yellow or Main Crater Lake as this lake within the volcano has come to be called, and the small island in the lake, Vulcan Point.  The island vents steam and gas which can some times be visible from the viewpoint.

Enjoy the view, it’s one of a kind!  [spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

Taal Volcano

We purchased bottled water from the so called gift shop, it gets pretty hot on this volcano.  As we enjoyed this incredible view one of the locals, other than our guides, offered to take group photos for us.  I thought he was just being nice and helpful, but after taking the photos he demanded a tip!  I know they’re poor, but it was annoying none the less.  I’m not sure how much my husband tipped them, but it seemed easier to fork over a few pesos than to argue.

After a short spell at the view point it was time to remount the horses and head down.  The horseback ride ended at the local “village” (a group of shanty huts mired in mud) where it seemed that everyone came out to greet us and demand tips!  This was very annoying!  Sure we were going to tip the guides, but their kids and mothers came out to demand tips as well.  Talk about a hustle!  Again I don’t know how much my husband tipped, but since he did I refused to dismount in the village, it was too muddy.  I in turn demanded they let me ride to shore and dismounted only when I got as close as possible to the waiting boat.

Taal Volcano

Tilapia Farms

On the ride back the boatman took us on a short tour halfway around the island to see the tilapia farms at the base of the volcano.

I was told that the farms belonged to local and foreign investors and don’t really benefit the locals who squat on the volcano.

I was told there are some farms on the volcano itself where they grow coffee in the fertile volcanic soil, again they don’t benefit the squatters.

When we reached the resort my mother was more than ready to go.  The staff had kept her company and well fed, but she was anxious to return to the comforts of the Intercontinental Manila.  So after a quick bathroom break we headed back.

Was the trip worth it?  Definitely!  That place is amazing!  Would I return? Not likely, it’s one of those things you should see and after you’ve seen you take away great memories and photos, but you don’t have a deep desire to return to.  Mostly because I could really do without the hustle!

I did come a way with a feeling of sadness. Sad that the government, which has designated the place as a national park or reserve, doesn’t feel the need to at least develop it for eco-tourism.  I know it may be risky given the volcanoes deadly eruptions in the past, but they can somewhat predict activity and close it off when alert levels are raised.  But I can’t help but think that a ranger station and a few  basic necessities such as bathrooms would help boost tourism in the area.  After all tourism done responsibly is good for the economy.

Here are a few tips if you’re feeling adventurous and want to visit Taal Volcano:

Pay attention to risk levels, don’t go if it’s high.  That seems like a no brainer but it needs to be stressed.

Book a tour if that’s what your comfortable with.  Expect to pay premium prices.

If you choose to be an FIT (free independent tourist) like we did then make your way to Talisay, there are buses or jeepneys from Manila, or hire a car and driver.

In Talisay find a resort and hire a boat to the island.  Bargain before the ride begins.  I wouldn’t pay more than 1500 PHP,  $32 for a boat load, and even that seems a bit high specially in the low season.

Bring water, sun screen, and hats.  It gets very hot on the trail.  Also bring a towel if you can, just in case you get wet in the boat or while getting on or off of it.  If you’ve hired a boat who will wait for your return you could possibly leave towels in the boat, but don’t leave valuables.

Bring toilet paper, wipes, hand sanitizer, most local bathrooms aren’t supplied with them.

If you want to hire a horse and guide, bargain again.  The most you should pay is 500 Php per person and that includes the guide.

Plan on spending about 4-5 hours on this adventure so eat a hearty meal before you go, there are no restaurants or snack bars on the island.  If you think you’ll get hungry then bring a few light snacks.

Respect the land and leave no traces of your visit.  Take any empty water bottles and wrappers from items you brought with you back to the mainland.  The island has no trash disposal so all rubbish gets piled up somewhere or ends up floating on the lake shore.

Leave large amounts of money in your hotel safe.  Expect the hustle so if they see you flashing lots of cash they will never leave you alone.  Just bring enough to cover expenses and perhaps a bit extra for tipping.

Learn to turn a deaf ear, everyone has a sob story designed to catch your sympathy.  Once you start handing out money you will get swamped.  Tip for good service and be firm about tipping, don’t let them bully or guilt you into a larger tip or into tipping the whole family.

Enjoy your trip!  It’s amazing!

Take lots of photos!


Taal Volcano

The Mystical Banaue Rice Terraces

The Mystical Banaue Rice Terraces

Banaue Rice Terraces

It’s hard to find the words to describe the Banaue Rice Terraces of the Philippines.  Amazing, awesome, magnificent, and marvelous are just not powerful enough.  Pictures can’t truly illustrate the wonder of the place.

Not so long ago I was fortunate enough to visit Banaue with my husband and family members based in the Philippines.  I don’t remember how I first learned of the terraces, perhaps from tales told by my grandmother, but it has always been on my bucket list.

Before my visit I had assumed that it would be just a site to be ticked off my list.  I never imagined the region and its indigenous people would be so awe inspiring.

The Banaue Rice Terraces are located in the mountainous region province of Ifugao in northern Luzon, one of the main islands of the Philippines.  It is just one of a cluster of rice terraces in the region.  These man made wonders were carved from the mountainsides mostly by hand by Ifugao tribesmen over 2000 years ago.  They are situated an average of 4800 feet above sea level and cover an area of over 400 square miles.  They are rice paddies fed by an ancient irrigation system from the rain forests above.

The terraces have been referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World and is said to be one of the most impressive feats of engineering in the world.  Built mostly of stone and mud these terraces have faced many challenges including earthquakes and droughts.  They must constantly be tended and maintained by the Ifugao farmers by knowledge that has been handed down by their ancestors who built them over 2 millennia ago.

The Ifugao people have a proud and deep rooted culture.  Like their ancestors they still grow rice, some still live in thatched roofed huts in tiny villages near the terraces, wash their clothes in the rivers and streams that irrigate their crops, and revere their customs and traditions.  They are one of the truly indigenous people of the Philippines having successfully resisted foreign influences since Spanish rule.

They are friendly and honest people who are eager to share their heritage and culture with visitors.  A visit to Banaue is almost like stepping back in time.  Getting there can be a harrowing experience.

Banaue Rice TerracesOur “journey” to Banaue began very early in the morning.  Our party left Makati in Metro Manila about 6 am.  Banaue may be only 350 Kilometers away, but it’s at least an 8 hour drive, ours turned out to be 12 hours due to unforeseen town fiestas and hoards of slow moving tricycles along the route which caused major traffic on the 2 lane roads.  At least the weather was good, there were no dangerous flash floods or mud slides which are common in this area during heavy rain.  We managed to arrive at our destination before dark,  a must when traveling in remote areas of the Philippines.[spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

Banaue Rice TerracesWe had booked 3 “deluxe” rooms and a driver’s bunk at the Banaue Hotel & Hostel, the government run hotel that boasts the only “luxury” accommodations in the area.  It boasts a swimming pool, clean deluxe rooms with private baths, a restaurant, and gift shop.  We were greeted by a welcome sign bearing our name and were quickly checked in and escorted to our rooms.

Our rooms are best described as clean and adequate, by rural Filipino standards “deluxe”, but 5-star luxury it was not.  But what the room lacked in frills it made up for by the views.  All our rooms had a small terrace that overlooked the Rice Terraces.  What a site to awaken to!

Banaue Rice TerracesDinner was served in the restaurant on one side of the lobby.  The menu is limited, quite expensive, and not exactly delicious, but there aren’t many restaurants in town and they are all pretty much the same.

Dinner was followed by a cultural show in the lobby.  Entertainers dressed in handwoven traditional garb, wanoh (loin cloth or g-string) for men, and tapis (skirt or sarong) for women, complete with headdress.  They sang and danced to the tunes played on their ethnic instruments which included drums and a gong.  The show was short but somewhat interesting!  We enjoyed the part when they asked us to join them and taught us their dance.

After the show it was time for bed, we’d had a long day and I was so looking forward to our one and only day in Banaue.  Besides wandering around in the dark is not advisable.  Lighting is scant away from the hotel buildings and believe me when night falls in the mountains it’s DARK.  You don’t want to be stumbling around the dusty road in the dark, there are no sidewalks, the streets aren’t paved, and the paths are very steep.

Banaue Rice terracesI awoke very early, it was still dark.  I wanted to see the sunrise over the terraces.  I stood at my balcony rail transfixed at the mystical sight that unfolded before me.  As the first rays of sunlight peeked over the mountain I could see only clouds shrouding the valley below.  Slowly they parted like a curtain to reveal a view that took my breath way.

I can’t describe the feelings I had as the early morning mists cleared and the terraces were gradually revealed  It was a humbling, peaceful, awesome sight that poets write about.  At that moment I knew that this trip to Banaue would be unforgettable.

It was hard to tear myself away from the view, but I had to get my party to breakfast so we could explore the terraces before it was time to head back to Manila.  (I could only persuade my group to a one day trip to Banaue).

Banaue Rice terracesAfter breakfast most of us headed to the gate that led to the Tam-An village.  The gate is located by the hotel’s pool.  Beyond the gate is a narrow path that winds down the mountainside.  It’s an easy hike down, up is another story. You’ll know you’ve arrived at the village when you see a cluster of native huts built on stilts.

Each hut is built to accommodate a family, if you ask they will allow you up the short ladder and you can crawl around the space.

When we arrived there were only a few women and children in the village.  We were told the most of the men and the rest of the village were working, either in the fields or in the tourist industry as most younger villagers do these days.

Banaue Rice terracesWe were greeted by a woman who asked if we would like to see her ancestor’s bones.  Of course we would!  So for the price of 100 PHP ($2) we were ushered into her cottage, she didn’t conduct this business in a hut.  She unrolled a woven bundle to reveal her grandfather’s bones who had died soon after WWII.

She spoke English, as they all do, and explained their ancient burial traditions.  She told us that when someone dies the community holds elaborate festivals to honor the deceased and other spirits.  After several festival days the deceased is buried in a cave for a couple of years, enough time for the body to decompose.  When the family has accumulated enough funds for a ceremony the remains are exhumed and the bones cleaned and taken to the family home.  The family cleans and tends to the bones throughout the years.  It was a fascinating glimpse into the Ifugao culture and well worth the $2.  We later joked that “Lolo” or Grandpa was still earning the family money over 50 years after his death.

Banaue rice terracesWhen we stepped out of the “bone” cottage we were approached by another woman who asked if we’d like to hire her daughter Mina to guide us to the terraces and if we’d like to go down in traditional Ifugao clothing.

The guide cost another 100 PHP and each costume another 100 PHP.  By now we’d tripped on to the fact that these folks eked out a simple living by offering tourist “attractions”.  How could we resist?  Of course we hired the child, and of course we rented a costume.

We had to twist my cousin’s 15 year old son Chad to wear the wanoh and he only agreed as long as he got to keep his clothes on.   He wasn’t thrilled but was appeased when we told him he would look like an Ifugao warrior.

 

Banaue rice terracesAs our erstwhile warrior was helped into his costume we admired the views from the village.  The village sits at the entrance to the terraces.

Accompanied by our young guide who bears my name we set out to explore the rice terraces.  We passed narrow creeks and irrigation canals where village women were doing laundry.  They wash clothes by hand and beat them on the rocks, I suppose like how it was done in the stone age, it really was like being in a time warp.

We also acquired a string of children along the way.  They happily ran back and forth between us as we gingerly made our way down the slick paths and hopped across creeks and canals.  They were a delightful bunch chattering away in their native dialect and offering helping hands so we wouldn’t slip on the rocks.  They didn’t beg or ask for money, it was just their inborn hospitality at work.

Banaue Rice terracesWhen we reached the “best” part of the terraces, at least the best photo spot according to our guide, we carefully walked into a paddy to admire the views that surrounded us.

Of course we took photos.  We had to immortalize our newly minted Ifugao warrior Chadwick.

But it was very hot once the sun came up and it was time to head back to the hotel.

We made our way back to the village to return the costume and have a better look around.  Once there my uncle Victor, an aging flower child, did his best to persuade the little old lady to share some of her beetle nut chew.

Banaue rice terracesBeetle Nut is the fruit of the Areca Palm which is cultivated in tropical regions.  The chewing of beetle nut dates back from the 1st. Century AD and is similar to chewing tobacco.  It’s said to have medicinal value and stimulates saliva and appetite.

He might have succeeded had Maria, the costume lady, not stepped in.  She told him that if he’s never chewed beetle nut before he could get very sick, at the very least he’d get dizzy and faint.  Not wanting to have to drag his unconscious body up the steep mountain I made sure he didn’t get any.

Sweaty and winded we straggled back to the hotel pool where we found the rest of our party packed and ready to head over to the Sunset View Point.  The viewpoint had to wait a bit, we were hot, dusty, and just a bit muddy, showers were called for.  There was no way I was going anywhere without a shower!

Banaue rice terracesAfter a quick lunch we headed over to the view point we were told it was a must see.  There’s a little gift shop at the view point and we met some Ifugao elders.  The elders hang out at the view point and will chat with visitors.  They’ll tell you stories of how it used to be, their history, and answer questions.  They’ll also pose for snapshots for a small tip.  They don’t ask for a set fee but instead rely on your generosity.  They are a friendly group, it was a pleasure to spend some time with them.

 

 

Banaue rice terracesWe admired the views, every view is different, each one unique and spectacular.

We chatted with the elders, and picked up a few trinkets, and headed back to Manila.

Banaue is definitely off the beaten path.  Getting there can be difficult.  But it’s well worth the trip![spacer height=”20px” id=”2″]

If you’re considering a trip to Banaue here are some useful tips!

Getting there:

There are no airports nearby.  The only way to get there is overland.  From Manila it’s at least an 8 hour drive.  You can make a multi-day trip of it by combining stops at other towns and cities in the Mountain Provinces including Baguio, Sagada, and Batad.  All worth seeing.

There is public transportation from Metro Manila and Angeles City.  They involve transfers.  For more info click here.  (http://www.banaue.info/transport.html)

The best way to get there, unless you’re on a tight budget, is to hire a private car and driver.  I wouldn’t suggest driving yourself, maneuvering in Philippine traffic is a nightmare.  Also local drivers will know the route, it’s easy to get lost.

Hire a car and driver from a reputable company. Negotiate the price before you start the trip.   Your hotel should be able to help you with this as well as negotiating a fair price.  We usually use Obazee Car Rental, a local company owned and operated by Malou and Thomas Obazee.  They are very reliable and are reasonably priced, you just have to negotiate with her and tell her Ma’am Carmina sent you.

When you hire a car service you will be responsible for gas, tolls, driver’s meals and lodgings for the entire trip.  Most hotels in the country offer driver lodgings and meals.

Leave early and get to there before dark.  The roads to Banaue can be dangerous.  You not only face natural hazards, there are bandits on the road waiting for unwary tourists after dark.

Don’t travel alone.

If you feel uncomfortable striking out on your own you can join a tour group, I believe there are local companies who offer Banaue tours.

The best way from Manila is to take the N. Luzon Expressway and Pan-Philippine Highway (AH26) to Nueva Vizcaya then on to the Mountain Province Road to Banaue.  This route has tolls but will cut your travel time by at least 40 minutes.  Take note the road forks in San Jose City, be sure you take the road on the right, the left side will take you to Baguio.

When traveling in the Philippines you must stay hydrated, specially during the hot summer months, but be aware that once you leave Metro Manila rest stops will be virtually non-existent.  Bathroom facilities in the entire country are pretty primitive unless you are at a major hotel or use the paid facilities at the big malls.  The further you travel away from the Metro Manila area the more primitive facilities are.  When traveling your best bet for somewhat clean restrooms are the local fast food chain restaurants like Jollybee and Chow King.  But even these places usually don’t stock restrooms with toilet paper, soap, and paper towels.  It’s best to bring your own supplies.

 

Where to stay:

Recently in response to the influx of tourists several local “hotels” have cropped up in Banaue.  I haven’t stayed in them, but from what of I know local establishments their standards are dramatically different than what most of us would expect.  They are however as a rule clean and comfortable enough specially if you’re only staying a night or two.

We stayed at the government owned Banaue Hotel and Youth Hostel which was built in 1969.  It was renovated in 1990, so it’s surely showing its age.  Having said that it is the nicest place in town.  As I’ve mentioned earlier the rooms can be kindly described as adequate.  However they are not air conditioned and can get rather stuffy during the day.  We booked rooms with private baths that actually worked, but if you’re expecting a hot shower you’ll be disappointed, I’m not sure if there was hot water on tap or it simply wasn’t working while we were there.  Our rooms also had balconies overlooking the magnificent terraces, and in my opinion the view made up for what the room lacked in comfort.

A deluxe room which includes breakfast for 2 cost about $50 per night.  They have less expensive rooms on the hostel side in the older section costs 250 PHP ($5+) a night per person for a bunk in a shared room.  It’s designed for backpackers and drivers.

What to do:

The best activity in Banaue is hiking.  You can hike to your hearts content.  You may want to hire a guide to help you navigate.

There are several short hikes in and around the area.  From the Banaue Hotel you can hike to the Tam-An village which is a gateway to the terraces.

You can hike to the viewpoint and walk the suspension bridge just below the town market.

You can visit the Cordillera Sculpture Museum and the Banaue Museum.  Both are in town.

For the more adventurous you can hike to Tappiyah Falls and have a dip at the pool.  It’s a brutal hike downhill and will take you at least an hour.  Remember what goes down must eventually come back up, if it was brutal going down, it will be much harder going up.

You can hike or take a tricycle to the Hapao Rice Terraces and Hot Springs.

Recently I heard there is a tour company that rents mountain bikes and quads, this might be fun.

Do a tour by car or bus to the other cluster of Rice Terraces in the area including Batad and Mayoyao.  This will probably take a day as travel between towns is at least an hour or so.

Drive to Sagada and Bontoc to see the famous hanging coffins.  These towns are 3 hours from Banaue and can be reached by private cars or public bus tours which leaves from downtown Banaue early in the morning.

You can combine your trip to Banaue with a tour of the other towns in the Mountain Province including Baguio, Batad, and Sagada.  Several local companies offer 3 – 7 day tours.  If you want to DIY you can hire a car and driver and tour the region on your own booking hotels in the different towns.  Travel time to and from Baguio is about 8 hours.  But Baguio is a fairly large city and has plenty of hotels and restaurants.

Whatever you decide to see and do don’t forget to bring your camera, you’ll want to take a ton of photos!

Health & Safety:

Philippine travel can be risky specially if you’re not familiar with the area.  It’s best to travel with friends and relatives who live there, they will take good care of you.

As in many tourist areas always be aware of your surroundings.  Pickpockets and petty thieves abound.  Never leave your wallet in your back pocket and carry your purse close to you with the flaps closed and secured.

Never place your purse on a table, the floor, or on the back of a chair at restaurants, always have it your hands on it.

Avoid displaying large wads of cash.

Resist the panhandlers, stop and give money to one and you’ll find yourself surrounded by hoards of begging kids.  You will almost certainly get pick pocketed.  Besides I’ve been told that street beggars are part of a syndicate, the money they get is given to the boss.

Leave valuables home.  Don’t wear ostentatious jewelry and watches, they will rip it off you, I mean this literally!

When possible keep passports and other important documents locked in the hotel safe.  Carry only a copy of your passport.

Never leave valuables in the car and always lock the car doors.

Never travel alone, especially at night.

Avoid traveling remote roads after nightfall.

If budget permits hire private transportation from a reputable company.

Don’t drink the water!  Drink only bottled water.  Most big hotels and restaurants in the Metro Manila area claim to use filtered water, use your judgement on this.  I’m good bathing and brushing my teeth at the Makati hotels I stay in (Shangri-La and Intercontinental) but I still only drink bottled water.  Remember ice is frozen WATER so you may want to avoid iced and frozen drinks to be on the safe side.

Eat street food at your own risk.  You never know how and where it was prepared.

If you need emergency medical attention the best place to go would Makati Medical Center or the new Asian Hospital.  They are said to have the most medical equipment and good staff.  My father had his heart by-pass at Asian and it turned out fine.

You can buy over the counter medication at local pharmacies.  Some will even allow you to purchase prescription meds without a prescription, but I wouldn’t suggest doing so.  This is never a problem I run into, my relatives are doctors and will prescribe medication when needed.

Carry tissue and/or toilet paper, hand soap or sanitzer with you.  As I’ve mentioned above most local restrooms don’t have them.

My warnings are daunting I know, but bear in mind that the Philippines is basically a poor country.  Yes you will see large malls, modern buildings, and other trappings of what appears to be wealth, but only a small part of the population are members of the rich elite and the emerging middle class.  A larger part of the population is poor.  The chasm between rich and poor is profound.  Many eke out a living in low paying jobs, sadly others choose or are forced into unsavory activities.  Criminal activities range from scams to thievery to kidnapping and extortion.  So stay alert and stay safe when visiting the Philippines, it’s a beautiful country and well worth the trip.