Solaire Resort and Casino

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I have seen posts from many friends. Typical of me, I almost always am the last to see a new place.

First set foot inside Solaire a few months back to watch Celeste perform at the Theatre. And then, Sound of Music came in and I booked tickets for the family, and a room. A Sky Suite, to be exact.

We were advised to enter thru the Sky Tower VIP entrance. I thought it was a special entrance, and it turns out it is the usual hotel entrance. Had to walk thru the hallway past the smoke-filled casino.

The front desk is at the lobby beside the PRADA store.

We got to our 12th floor suite. Hmmmm, nice room. Two queen sized-beds, complete amenities (as expected of a suite within a “luxury” hotel). A sitting room with fruits and chocolates to welcome us.

 

 

I only wished we had a room with a better view.

So we won’t have to rush for dinner, thinking it would take up so much time ordering and waiting for the meals, and waiting for the bill – – we ordered room service dinner a good two hours before. It came promptly, and both my wife and daughter liked everything we ordered so much that we finished what we thought was too much food to finish.

We didn’t get anything from the mini bar, though. And noticed that water is more expensive than beer.

 

The housekeeping and in-room dining service staff are excellent. I would not give as high a rating to the front desk staff who made us wait for our room, even when it was already available. And we were ushered to a smoking bar/lounge beside the front desk, for complimentary drinks, while waiting. Until I stood up to ask if the room was available, we were not being called, as they earlier promised to do once the room was ready.

Minus this check-in episode, I rate Solaire pretty good. And I don’t mind staying there again when a show I like gets to be scheduled at the Theatre.

Segara Villas in Subic

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This is a cluster of 10 or so villas. Actually single detached hotel rooms that provide utmost privacy. Guests do not have next-wall neighbors. On top of privacy, discriminating guests will find that the villas are so well designed, inside and outside. Guests walk through a shaded garden pathway with interesting accents like jars and water features. When one gets to his villa, a comfortable lounge awaits, and a wide, orthopedic bed with linen and pillows one finds in 5-star hotels.

Aesthetics. I have always loved things Balinese and I have enough of it in Segara. Even the bathroom features a small, narrow open space one sees through a glass panel, creating an outdoorsy feeling while in the tub or shower.

The swimming pool is immaculate, and never busy.  Or at least that is how I have seen it in my last four visits. It is possible that the swimming pool might go busy in summer, as it is also accessible to the guest of the adjoining Segara Suites. No matter. I have a good view of the pool when I am in the terrace of my favorite executive villa called Lovina.

wilderness, right within a meter from my veranda

 

The service is always excellent. Even at the restaurant.

No wonder Segara remains as my default home in Subic. And I continue to share experiences to fellow travelers while paying full rates in all hotels, and not getting anything for free, as I have always thought that bloggers should be honest in their review (not tainted by freebies).

I took photos using only my iPhone. For better photos and more details (rates, bookings, how to get there etc)

http://www.segaravillassubic.com/

Lake Danao Ormoc City

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Nestled at 1,033 feet above sea level, Lake Danao is the largest lake in Leyte Province.

We went to the lake courtesy of a friend who brought us there on a sturdy Isuzu DMAX. But those who do not have private transportation can either arrange for a habal habal (back-riding on a motorbike) from Ormoc proper, or rent a jeepney or a multicab. Travel to the lake from Ormoc City is 15-20 minutes on a winding uphill road.

There is a viewing deck on top of the hill. Across from the view deck is an office for Forestry students of the Visayas State University.

The viewing deck has three levels. The ground level is essentially a patio style structure where one will not have a view of the lake because of the trees and shrubs blocking the vista. I imagine that, once developed, this will be a perfect spot for coffee, especially when the trees and the shrubs are trimmed. Imagine having coffee al fresco with such a great view.

Downhill, guests have access to many cottages on rafts that can be rented for picnics. Guest bring their own barbecues, or arrange with locals. Some guests I figure would enjoy fishing, or even a cold swim. And kayaking. Camping can be arranged.

 

Pity that the place seems to have been neglected. I found out that the park is under the DENR, a national government office. But if only the city of Ormoc and the national government strike a partnership, the city of Ormoc can benefit immensely, and have Lake Danao as its top tourist draw.

I am an advertising person. While there, I couldn’t resist the idea of shooting the mayor, actor Richard Gomez while rowing on the lake, with his beautiful wife, Congresswoman Lucy Torres, watching him while having coffee at the viewing deck on the hill. Tight and panoramic shots. And visions of Richard in the now classic BENCH tv commercial. This can be done and exposed only online, as advertising on TV will be expensive and may not be easily recovered with revenues from a small city destination. Who knows?

Ironwood Hotel Tacloban

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I have been to Tacloban many times before. But I am visiting Tacloban for the first time after it was devastated by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) a few years ago. Local and internationl aid poured in. Government and the private sector joined hands in its rehabilitation. And today, I saw no signs of the havoc I was then seeing on TV.

I used to stay at Leyte Park Hotel. But even on a previous trip prior to Yolanda, I got disappointed with its state of disrepair, so I checked into another hotel then. That nice hotel, I understand, did not escape Yolanda’s fury.

And so I was pleasantly surprised finding Ironwood, from my research of the best Tacloban Hotels. And Ironwood did not disappoint.

Before the trip, I booked the hotel’s biggest room, an executive suite at the corner. As I pulled the drapes, I had Tacloban streets below me. The room was of good size and accommodated an extra bed which I ordered for the rodeo players who fetched me at the airport (we rode the Ironwood Hotel van). The room had a ref with drinks and a bar with snacks charged per consumption. Toiletries were sufficient. The room also had a safe. Everything I expected from a high-standard hotel.

 

We checked out the 5th Floor open terrace and had beer. The place is also the hotel’s smoking area as the city prohibits smoking in public (and the hotel of course disallows smoking in rooms and in the hotel’s public areas).

Breakfast was included in the room rate, as well as complimentary wifi. Breakfast was buffet on my first stay. But plated when I returned as buffet was not going to be cost-efficient for the hotel when the rooms are not all taken.

Coffee and cake is nice at the Seed Cafe by the lobby

I actually returned to Ironwood a few days later. That pretty much sums up the satisfaction I experienced with this hotel.

Postscript: ABOUT ANOTHER HOTEL I WILL NOT NAME HERE

I couldn’t resist this. Returning to Tacloban on my way back to Manila, I was supposed to stay in another hotel, booking the biggest suite that was to cost me P30,000 a night (lower than their usual rate). When I advised that hotel I might arrive early, like 9am, I was to be levied an early check-in rate. While this was that hotel’s policy, I felt it was not a friendly one since they could not have accommodated other guests between 9am and 12noon and therefore would not have lost any revenue. I have been allowed to check in early when the room is available. When a guest is till in the room booked for me, I leave my luggage and get into the room at the usual check in time, and this is all fine. But no hotel anywhere in the world has charged me for being 3-5 hours early. Thus, I cancelled, and stayed again at Ironwood instead

Tacloban after Yolanda

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Except for the ship ran aground that stays as a tourist attraction in Barangay Anibong, visitors will not find any trace of the devastation typhoon Yolanda brought to Tacloban years ago.

 

Tacloban City is robust and is like any other big city. There is a SaveMore, Gaisano, Robinson’s and a host of hotels fit even for the discriminating.

On arrival in Tacloban, I was met by members of the rodeo team from nearby Baybay, rodeo players from VSU. Together we found a place I was to go back to on the return trip to Tacloban to fly back to Manila. This is now my default drinking place in Tacloban. This barbecue area at the end of the road in Magsaysay, near City Hall, attracts foodies and drinkers as the sun is threatening to set.

 

We sat on a table with monobloc chairs as the area was yet being set up. We later on found out that the tables were to be covered with table cloth and an umbrella hoisted. Never mind, we ordered ahead and enjoyed our beer and barbecue a meter away from the water. What a sight. They also sold “puso”, cooked rice wrapped in what looks like pandan leaves so that diners can have rice with their barbecues. We ordered all sorts of barbecues – – pork, squid, innards, etc.

 

IRONWOOD HOTEL

The hotel I stayed in was Ironwood and I  would rate it high when I go to my tripadvisor account. The rooms are nice, the service good, plus the fact that they have an open terrace on the 5th floor where beer and food can also be ordered.

 

front desk of Ironwood Hotel

 

my favorite spot – – an open terrace at the 5th Floor

JAVIER MULTIPLIER FARM

We visited the nearby town of Javier and checked out the Javier Carabao Multiplier Farm. This facility was set up thru the Philippine Carabao Center and the farm produces carabao milk that the workers pasteurize into bottled milk, some with chocolate and also into pastillas.

(photo courtesy of Leo Gozum)

photo courtesy of Leo Gozum

 

SAN JUANICO

A tour around Tacloban is never complete without San Juanico Bridge. It was rainy but I was lucky to have taken some shots when the sun showed for a brief moment.

 

 

INTEGRATED FARM

Another farm we visited was Doctor Camenforte’s Farm at the north end of Tacloban. It is an integrated farm with goats, carabaos, ducks, cows etc and is frequently visited by students taking up agriculture or Animal Science.

(photo taken by Roy Briones Loreto)

 

 

 

Dr Floro Comenforte, the farm owner (photo taken by Roy Briones Loreto)

I think a parachute visit into Tacloban is not sufficient and I must return to photograph the other places I missed visitng this time.

Visayas State University in Baybay, Leyte

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I was invited by the Association of Rodeo Enthusiasts in VISCA (AREV) to visit the team, as a member of the Board of Trustees of Rodeo Masbateno Inc and of VROoM (Volunteer Rodeo officials of Masbate). There were four of us from VROoM, including the Rodeo Director. We were welcomed by officers of AREV and their adviser, a professor who is also the head of the Philippine Carabao Center in Leyte. VISCA is the old name of what is now Visayas State University.

I have never been inside such a beautiful campus. VSU has a lower campus on the mountain side, complete with a dam and the rodeo team’s rodeo arena.  The lower campus doesn’t look like a school campus – – it looks like a beautiful beach resort.

We were hosted in a guest house with hotel amenities – – comfortable bed, aircon, and a nice bathroom. The lounge had sofas and a TV (even if there is TV in the room). Our meals were served, courtesy of our PCC host, at the Guest House that looks like a beautiful seaside restaurant.

(photo from Rodeo Director Leo Gozum’s facebook page)

 

Our VROoM member whom we call Bilog joined the local AREV rodeo players ride horses

(photo taken from Rodeo Director Leo Gozum’s facebook page)

 

In the evening, we were taken by the team to a local tourism destination still being developed, but already open to visitors. What a sight ogling 16,000 roses up on a hill. Do not hold your breath, these are not real roses. But the concept is so nice that even butterflies probably think the roses are real. The photo below is only half of the 16,000 roses as it is difficult to be walking on steps as I do a pano shot. A drone will be best.

 

 

even butterflies think the roses are real

From hill with 16,000 roses, we went with some rodeo players to a local bar with live music, and had beer and music – – – with some moved to dancing by the fun atmosphere. That was captured in a friend’s video which I shall not post here.

The next day, our host took us to a farm in Ormoc which is a public-private partnership. The students from VSU essentially use the MR Farm, owned by the Larrazabal family, for their study- –  especially students of Animal Science. The grounds also serve as their practice grounds before competing in big rodeo competitions.

 

 

 

 

The second day was capped by bonding with the AREV team, all 60+ of them in a team building event at the nearby beach resort called Aqua Azul.

(photo taken from the facebook wall of the AREV, taken by VROoM Victor Bien)

As I left VSU and Baybay, the beach campus lingered on my mind. Oh, what a campus !

Our Lady of Atocha in Alicia, Isabela

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“Atocha is Madrid’s royal shrine: there is not a Spaniard of public importance for a thousand years who would not kneel to ask her help. Her gowns are made from the bridal gowns of queens; yet no shrine better demonstrates how little it matters where we rank in the world or what we do for a living. One of her supplicants asks her for victory for his armies, one for rain for his thirsty fields; Our Lady of Atocha answers all, impartially and lovingly. “( lifted from http://www.roman-catholic-saints.com/our-lady-of-atocha.html)

The Our Lady of Atocha Church sits in the town of Alicia known for its Pagay festival, a first class municipality in the province of Isabela. It was completed in 1849 and has been declared by the Department of Tourism as one of the country’s religious tourist destinations.

As Atocha is Madrid’s royal shrine, Our Lady of Atocha in Isabela looks every inch a Spanish church.