Travel Tips on Yahoo Answers

4 Comments

When you can’t find info on a travel destination on the net, you can post a question and get real answers from real people. Some of the answers are experiential, while some are just from wikipedia.

I also go to this site a lot. Asking, as well as answering. I think my answers about Laiya, Batanes, Tagaytay, Baguio, as well as Cavite beaches, etc have been useful to those intending to travel to these destinations.

You may want to visit this site. It is easy to participate  – – – you just need to create a Yahoo Answers name and create an avatar if you wish. In this forum, I go by the name “Lakwatsa”  and if you click on the category : Travel-Asia Pacific-Philippines from the USA site, you will find me on top of the Top Contributors list.

You can share your travel expertise, too. Or argue with some members seeking political points of view.

Warning: there are trolls on this site who are just playing, pretending to be asking questions. They have nothing to do. You can ignore them and just concentrate on travel-related questions and answers.

Here is the link, and you can start by clicking on ASK.

http://answers.yahoo.com/my/my;_ylt=Aq1v_940pXciOdKRNc5fR6MS7RR.;_ylv=3

And if you feel like reading up on a future travel destination, click HOMEPAGE above, on the right to see the places I have blogged about recently.

Happy traveling !

Legazpi, Catanduanes, & Quezon

7 Comments

Hard to miss . . . . .

You won’t believe this. I left my Tagaytay house with permission from my wife to go to Baguio to spend Holy Week there. As we were driving along Silang to SLEX, I toyed with the idea of going to Baler and Casiguran instead. Called my friends for accommodations. I was told the Vice Mayor of Casiguran will take care of me if I don’t get a room.

But as we approached SLEX in Sta Rosa, I just instinctively decided we will head south. Bicol maybe. Crazy, but those who know me will not be surprised that I travel without a fixed destination in mind.

Welcome to Quezon !

Quezon Province: Land of coconuts

No, the people are not nuts. But Quezon province probably has the most number of coconuts among all the provinces of the Philippines.

cocolandia

We stopped for lunch in a carinderia past Pagbilao, just before the ascent to the Eme, that zigzag road that leads to the Quezon National Park. Others mistakenly call this the Bitukang Manok, which is another long zigzag road leading to Daet in Camarines Norte.

After Atimonan, we drove along the coastline dotted with beach resorts. Next town was Plaridel, formerly known as Siain. Next was Gumaca, where we decided to stary for the night. We asked around and were told to proceed to Nellie’s Hotel, beside the Petron staion. The mestiza lady at the table outside the hotel door was munching on fresh jack fruit, and offered me some. I asked if she was Nellie, and said yes she was. She works at SunLife, and is managing the hotel which she inherited from her parents.

The rooms are cheap but not clean. For P500 per room per night, I did not expect even a 1-star standard of cleanliness. That is why I always bring with me my own linen, pillows, blankets and toiletries. What the hotel lacked in maintenance, they more than made up for in hospitality.

That night, I had drinks at the hotel cafeteria with Nellie’s husband, their son Jong who, in his travel to Vietnam knew my friends there. There were lots of stories to exchange. We were joined later by still another guest whose family was already asleep. They were going to Daet. And even later, we were joined by two call center guys who were also on a roadtrip. They drank Ginebra while I finished my 8th bottle of San Mig Light. When there was no more SMB, they shared their Ginebra with me. I learned that the guys and Jong went out much later in the night, after I went to bed at 2:30am. I woke up feeling normal, without any hangover. I was also surprised myself. Then we checked out and drove to Bicol.

Tabaco and Legazpi

We planned to take the 4×4 to Catanduanes Island via roro, so we first went to Tabaco Port to check how we could do that. After the clearances, we were set to take MV Calixta at 1pm the next day.

So we drove back to Legazpi and phoned a friend. My friend directed us to a brand new hotel owned by a mayoralty candidate. The hotel is called La Roca, near the airport. It is a beautiful hotel and at P2,000 per night is a steal. I figured a room like this would cost at least P3.000 a night, maybe even more.Maybe it was an “introductory”rate? Hmmmm, we will see.

my room at the brand new La Roca Veranda Suites

La Roca Veranda Suites Hotel is at Lakandula Drive, Gogon, Legazpi City. Telephone number is (+6352) 4803247.

My friend invited me to Embarcadero, the center of nightlife in Legazpi. This is their equivalent of Greenbelt and Eastwood combined. Live bands play on a stage al fresco, and one can pick a table outside and order drinks while watching the performance. Several Manila-brand restaurants are in Embarcadero.

nowhere but to Embarcadero for a fun night

Catanduanes

We were at the Tabaco port at 11 am, to allow for boarding of vehicles. I had to get myself a ticket to ride the ferry since only the driver of the vehicle gets in for free. Travel time from Tabaco to the Catanduanes port of San Andres was 3 hours. Getting off the ferry, I called my friend who is the daughter of the former governor, who promptly invited me to stay in their beach house for the night. Kosta Alcantara is huge and seemed like a hotel, with several air conditioned rooms, and an open area that can probably sit 100 people over dinner. We had grilled dorado fish for pulutan over San Mig Light. And dinuguan, bopis, etc for dinner.

Beautiful and very private Kosta Alcantara, Catanduanes

I suggested to my hosts that I stay in the center of town the next night, even as I loved the place. So the following morning, we drove off to different towns, passing Bato with its beautiful church facing the sea, Baras where I had merienda on a carinderia by the sea, and in Puraran, most famous among surfers, and is “the” destination in Catanduanes. From Puraran, we drove to Gigmoto where we found spectacular views of mountain and sea. In fact, Gigmoto can be Caramoan and Boracay rolled into one, if facilities can be put in place. The road is also largely unpaved.

From Gigmoto, we found ourselves in Viga, and then San Miguel before going back to the town center in Virac.

We stayed at Catanduanes Midtown Inn. I got a Royal Room for P1,400 a night, and a single room for P680 a night for my driver. Pretty nice hotel. I actually watched the Viernes Santo procession from the veranda outside my room.

The trip back to Tabaco was from the Port of Virac, via MV Penafrancia. It was a larger boat than Calixta, but the travel was one hour longer because of the different sea route. Still, it was a more pleasant trip than the trip to Catanduanes.

Back to Legazpi

We had to stay in Legazpi for the night. This time I stayed in the newly opened St Ellis Hotel, the former La Trinidad Hotel. I went there because La Trinidad used to be my favorite hotel in Legazpi, where I once checked into its Captain’s Suite on a trip to Legazpi just to watch Mayon Volcano “in action”, watching the lava flow at night, years and years ago. 

There is no trace of the old hotel, except perhaps for the second-floor pool that could not be relocated, and the one and only elevator to ferry guests to higher floors. The lobby alone will tell you it is a new hotel, having taken up the space of the adjoining mini mall to create a spacious 5-star lobby. The restaurant at the ground floor also looks and feels 5-star. I thought they were a sister hotel of my favorite Naga Hotel (Avenue Plaza), but I was told they were being operated by Genesis, a professional hotel management company.   I took a junior suite at nearly P6,000 per night. It was comfortable, and definitely a step up from the old La Trinidad.

St Ellis Hotel – – – no trace of the old La Trinidad

the new lobby extends to what was a mini mall

my junior suite

St Ellis Hotel is at Rizal St in Legazpi City, near my favorite mall in Legazpi, LCC. Book St Ellis at (+6352) 4808088.

Another good hotel is Pepperland, where I used to stay until I decided to try the new hotels La Roca and St Ellis. Pepperland is still a good place to stay, especially if you want some entertainment right in your hotel. The bar at the ground floor is always packed, and even upmarket locals go there for the band that always plays good music. Just be sure to get a room farthest from the bar if you can’t sleep unless it is totally quiet.I checked into a VIP room the last time I stayed, but realized that the rooms at the ground level, by the courtyard, are still the better (yet cheaper ) rooms. Unfortunately, these rooms were booked then.

Book your quieter room ahead. Contact numbers are (+6352) 481-8000 and (+6352) 481-4428

Pepperland Hotel - - - good band in their very popular bar

My driver was booked at Tourist Inn, near LCC Mall,  where air conditioned rooms cost P1,000 overnight. When my driver picked me up from St Ellis, I went to Tourist In to check this budget hotel. It is in a busy part of the city. The rooms are not 5-standard clean, but ok. Definitely good value at P1,000 per night, and I figure I do not mind staying there when I want to extend my travel funds.

Lunch when we arrived in Legazpi was in one of my favorite restaurants, Small Talk.  Make sure you order what people go there for : pinangat pasta. For the uninitiated, pinangat is what we Tagalogs call “laing”. Do not try to visualize it. You can even close your eyes while savoring this dish. And you will swear you will have it again, and again, when you are in Legazpi.

pinangat pasta, only at Small Talk Cafe

Get to know about Small Talk Cafe on their facebook :

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Legazpi-City-Philippines/Small-Talk-Cafe/186176090111?v=wall

Stopover: Naga

We decided to have lunch in Naga. On a tip from a local, we went to Basilica Kaffee Haus inside the Basilica compound. I immediately loved the place. We sat outside, in the fenced in area. There were other tables set outside. I went inside to use the toilet and saw that the place resembled a not-trying-hard Cafe Adriatico.

The menu was good. The food great. Seafood paella which could be had by three was only P180. We had as side order tuna sisig, which complemented the seafood paella well.

Quezon, Quezon

I wanted to take the trip to an island off Gumaca called Quezon Town in Quezon Province. I was told a resort has been built and therefore there are accommodations in the island. I am saving that for another trip.

Caramoan, Survivor Islands

7 Comments

probably the last of the unspoilt destinations

Caramoan Peninsula has been the filming site of several editions of Survivor programs, most notably Survivor France which has filmed in the peninsula twice. Three other countries have shot their Survivor editions in the many islands surrounding the peninsula.

Pick your own Survivor island

Easy route by boat

Most people go to Caramoan by boat from the Port of Sabang in San Jose, from Naga and Pili, Camarines Sur.

No, they don't use sailboats!

I knew about this after my Caramoan adventure, just to check out possibilities for less adventurous friends. I met a man who introduced himself as Bisaya, and he sure knows how you can park your car overnight or as many nights in one of the resorts in Sabang, of course with parking fees. This is the easier, lazy route to Caramoan.

4×4 Route


I took the route less traveled. We drove all the way to Lagonoy from where we started a 4×4 drive on practically non-existent roads. Ok, that may be a bit exaggerated – – there were cemented portions here and there, and mostly at the start of the journey. The view is fantastic, immediately after passing the long bridge that leads to Lagonoy Lake. About 2 hours away, which seemed like forever, we reached the small town of Presentacion. Lunch was in a carinderia beside the town hall. We asked how much longer, and were told that it was going to take another 2 hours to Caramoan. This time, the road got even tougher. There were sharp curves downhill on muddy, slippery unpaved roads. I was literally holding my breath, thinking we could turn turtle anytime. I was prepared for that. The trip was made worse because I went to Caramoan on the rainy season. The few trucks and Sarao-type jeepneys who dared take on this road were prepared – – apparently they are experts at handling the road condition! They would pour several sacks of rice husks (ipa) when the road is too muddied and slippery. They even had a ready crew with “bareta” and what nots to clear the mud, put some stones and ipa, to get out of being stuck in the mud. I figure this scene happens to every single truck or jeepney at least 10x on each one way trip.

my 4x4 Hi Lux survived the practically non-existent roads

Just as well I was on a 4×4. The only annoyance is that we naturally have to wait when a truck or jeepney is stuck, and we are able to pass only after they get out of being stuck.

About an hour away, we got a flat tire. The road was really punishing. While my driver was changing tires, I took the opportunity to use the bathroom at the back of the house of the old lady who sold bananas on the road. We were lucky we were in a populated sitio when we got the flat tire. I just bought all of the bananas, thankful of the relief after using their Antipolo-type toilet. It was clean, though. And no-stink because it was practically open, with just some sawali for cover.

Buy bananas, use their toilet

Accommodations

We finally got to Caramoan. Instinctively, I went to Gota Beach because my internet research showed Gota to be the place to go to. I was told by the guard they were closed for renovation. Survivor France was filming again in January, thus the renovations. Oh well.

It was raining and we had to do two things – – find accommodations and get the flat tire vulcanized. Or else we will have a problem going back, with no spare tire. We found a vulcanizing shop, but they didn’t have a tire gauge. We looked at auto supply shops, no tire gauge.

We were directed by locals to Rex Hotel, in the center of town. Climbed the concrete stairs carefully because the stairs were wet, and found a lady at the front desk. The rooms were at P1,500 for two. I negotiated for two rooms at P1,000, one each for me and my driver. The lady agreed, saying it was low season anyway.

The room was spartan.  Air conditioned, moderately clean. Food can be ordered at the nearby fast food, owned by the sister of the hotel’s owner. We feasted on cocido, barbecue, vegetables, all told dinner for 4 people (we treated the friendly hotel staff to dinner) and ordered daing, fried egg, and rice for breakfast for two. The total bill for all of these was just P400.00.  I don’t mind staying at Rex Hotel  again.

Rex Hotel can be booked by mobile phone 0919 8821879, 0919 3089675

Island Hopping


The next day, we drove to Paniman beach to hire bancas for island hopping. The banca hire was P1,500 but the trip was well worth it. We moved from island to island, each one different in character. One island, Matukad, is perfect for camping.

Perfect campsite

Another island, called Lahus, is  actually 2 islands with a sandbar in between, so visitors can swim on two beach options – – five steps away from each other.

Another island looked like a mushroom.

All island photos taken by my friend ABJ on a recent trip

My favorite is Matukad, and I shall one day camp in this island. Meanwhile, I had to settle for a souvenir taken from the island, a very very white stone that was probably from corals and got its fine edges from being constantly crushed on the shore.

Paniman beach

I like Paniman Beach. In fact, having seen Gota and the other El Nido -type accommodations in the different coves, I thought I’d stay in Paniman when I go back. And start from there for an overnight in Matukad. Paniman is a fishing village and some locals have erected cottages for rent.

Breeze & Waves in Paniman

I met a lady by the name of Myrna Rodriguez who opted for early retirement as VP at Philamlife. She and  family decided to go into the growing tourism business in Caramoan, and  built a few cottages near the beach. Their place is called Breeze & Waves. The cottages, as built, looked like mini bungalows, each one in a different color.

candy-colored cottages, photographed from their brochure

I engaged her in small talk about design for resorts, and suggested that she repaint the units in earth colors. And maybe have cogon on the roof, for a resort feel, She was taking down notes all along, and said she will follow my advise. She was so pleasant, and thankful,  I got a free “nilagang camoteng kahoy” for merienda.

This location allows visitors to engage the locals in some banter. Breeze & Waves has a little cordoned off area in between their rooms and the shore. There is even a karaoke, and facilities for barbecue.

Package Tours

photo of their brochure

Apparently, the Rodriguez  family  has also sent out brochures and posted information on the net for packages to Caramoan : island-hopping, accommodations, and meals all inclusive.

You may reach Mrs Myrna Rodriguez by phone 0918 9139623.

You can book package tours as follows:

1 day and 1 night, minimum of 10 pax:

P2,300 per pax, pick up at Guijalo port (in Caramoan)

P2,400 per pax if picked up in Sabang port (in San Jose, where you will ride the boat to Caramoan)

P2,500 per pax if picked up from Naga City.

2 days and 2 nights, minimum 10 pax

P3,400 per pax, Guijalo, Caramoan pick up

P3,600 per pax, Sabang pick up

P3,700 per pax, Naga pick up

Package inclusive of van (if from naga), boat (if from Sabang port), jeepney (from Guijalo), seafront room accommodation, boat for island hopping, all meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner)

Rates for groups of less than 10 can be arranged;

Contact : Freddie 09082911072    Labeth 09198319497       Junjun 09265677770     email : labethsingson@yahoo.com

Here comes Ondoy

Testing my spirit of adventure, Ondoy came the evening before we were leaving Caramoan, taking the same 4×4 route. Imagine how tough it was going, and how much tougher after raining all night? I had visions of me being airlifted by my friends in Naga and Legazpi, thinking that maybe my driver can stay behind until the roads are more manageable. But then I decided to go for the drive. The downhill portions on our way to Caramoan proved to be the most daunting – – – driving uphill on unpaved roads made even muddier by Ondoy! Of course we made it through, or I will not be able to write about it. Will I take this 4×4 route again? You bet.

Laiya, San Juan, Batangas: best beach south of Manila

22 Comments

just follow this sign and you will get there

Laiya, life in color. That is how the Landco panels describe Laiya. And one who has never been there will find comfort in these signs nailed on several “postes” all the way from the SLEX exit, through to San Pablo, Laguna , through to Tiaong, Quezon, and all the way to Laiya in San Juan, Batangas.

Another developer calls Laiya the best kept secret of Batangas. Well, not anymore.

Laiya attracts tourists, mostly locals – – – families, yuppies, solo travelers mainly because of word of mouth. The white sands of Laiya mesmerize the visitors, pleasantly surprised that such a spot existed along Tayabas Bay, only 2 1/2 hours away from Manila.

There are probably 50+ resorts in Laiya, about 25 kms away from the highway in San Juan where the Town Hall sits in the corner. There, signages of the different resorts compete for attention.  From mom & pop operations to high-end 5-star accommodations.

signages right there where the Town Hall is at the corner

more signages beside the main signage

The 25 km drive is pleasant, with the road lined with mahogany on one side, and a view of the mountains on the other.However, more travelers prefer to experience Laiya almost like the way the locals do.  I checked one cluster, and found out that at Moonlight Resort, the rooms cost P3,000 per day, negotiable. But they charge higher for the same room when there are more people within your party. The trick is to go from one resort to another and bargain until you get the best price. After all, they are all within the same mass of land facing the same body of heavenly water.

the beach at One Laiya

I went to One Laiya, formerly called Tayabas Bay beach resort. It is adjacent to the Porto Laiya.  It is easily one of the most popular destinations. Picnic sheds for rent dot the shore.  A  small raft with a shed and table  can be rented for one whole day’s outing on the water for P3,000.

an expensive raft: P3,000 per day at One Laiya

A boat for 10 people can be rented to take you to the Coral Reef for snorkeling, at a hire rate of P1,000. I actually found these rates to be expensive. The reef is just 10 minutes away. Negotiate! They also rent out nipa huts for overnight accommodations. A nipa hut with one bed costs P2,500 per night, and accommodates 2-3 persons. A hut with double deck beds costs P3,000, and can accommodate 6 . These huts do not have private toilets. No aircon, just fans.

overnight for P3,000, with double decks inside

can squeeze in 6 on the double decks

They also have airconditioned rooms, and a family can get into a VIP room with 2 queen size beds for P5,000 overnight.It doesn’t really look like it is fit for a very important person. Only, the rooms have airconditioning and a toilet.

inside the VIP room

banana boat at One Laiya (they also have jet skis)

One Laiya  also offers banana boat rides and jet skis for hire. Contact Diane at 0922 6197447

From One Laiya, I went to the far end of the resort area, past the concreted road. There is where 3 of the top resorts are clustered. 

The most expensive accommodations in this beach town is Acuatico. Guests love their well-appointed rooms, more like free-standing villas, around the infinity pool. The cheapest room goes for P6,300 per night for 2 persons, plus P1,575 for each extra person in the room. They also have a room called Estancia that accommodates 6 persons, at P21,000 per night. Room rates include breakfast and all-day complimentary coffee or tea, plus use of water sports equipment like pedal boats and kayaks. Acuatico is so popular that they do not have off-peak rates, nor group rates.

rooms, around the infinity pool

cafe-bar-resto overlooking the infinity pool and the beach

after all, it's the beach we went to . . . at Acuatico

Acuatico can be booked thru their Manila office : (+632) 4088383, 8927577 or email reservations@acuaticoresort.com.ph

My personal favorite is Balai sa Laiya, just next to Acuatico. While Acuatico looks high-end and busy, Balai has a restful, provincial setting even while the accommodations are comfortable and air conditioned. Tall trees provide shade around the property, and over the cottages.

it is peaceful here

sampaloc trees for shade

seaside rooms at a P100 premium per person

Single occupancy in a seaside room  is P2,900, twin or double is P4,300. Rooms under the trees are a bit cheaper, by P100 per person. These rates assume aircon is not used, and an aircon charge of P600 per night per room  is charged if guests want this convenience. Rates include 4 buffet meals plus free use of facilities like billiards and pool table, and volleyball.

Balai sa Laiya can be booked by phone 09216065572, look for Edith Egwaras. Or contact them thru their website http://www.balai-resort.com

UPDATE: Balai sa Laiya has just been bought by its next-door-neighbor Acuatico.

Own a piece of Laiya

You can also now own a piece of Laiya. Landco has bought what used to be Laiya Coconut Grove and is developing it, for sale as PLAYA LAIYA, thus, all those signages. Landco also developed Punta Fuego, Terazzas de Punta Fuego, and Canyon Woods. Expect very high-end pricing.

Activ Group, the real estate company that developed the high-end Malarayat Golf community in Batangas is developing Porto Laiya. Lot prices are at an average of P6,000 per square meter.

I knew about these as I was having lunch, and the owner of the place( na itatago na lang natin sa pangalang Tita de Castro) offered to sell me property. She thought I was looking for land to buy, not knowing that I always just drive on, aimlessly, without a destination and without any schedule to follow. (And no, she is not related to Gloria de Castro, the lady in Talisay that I mentioned in a previous entry).

Although she did mention a piece of land that seemed inexpensive. Hmmmmmm. I just might, one day, live my life in color in Laiya.

Question: How do I get to Laiya ?

The first route : SLEX to San Pablo to Laiya(via Quezon Province):

fruits along the way.. rambutan P80/kilo

lanzones at P150/kilo, and avocados

Take the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) and drive on towards the direction of Sto.Tomas in Batangas. Drive When you hit Sto. Tomas, turn left towards Quezon province, hitting Alaminos, Laguna first. You will pass San Pablo City, and then you will hit the Laguna-Quezon boundary. You will pass by Dolores, and then Tiaong. Actually, as early as in San Pablo (Laguna), you will see signages from Landco saying “Laiya, Life in Color”. this is a good directional sign for you. Towards the end of Tiaong, you will make a right turn where there is a TURN RIGHT sign by Landco (Laiya, Life in Color) in that corner that says “San Juan”. Follow this road until you hit San Juan town proper, about 14 kms away. This road forks at some point, with a little bit of unpaved road towards the end. Take this unpaved road. The unpaved road is so short anyway and you will soon be back to cemented roads.  You will then find yourself at an intersection. This is the main highway, and you will see the San Juan Town Hall at the corner. Do not make any turns, just cross the road, and you are on your way to the beach area, around 25 kms ahead.  Even as you drive on this road, you will see several signages that refer to beach resorts and subdivisions being developed in Laiya.

The trip is approx 2 1/2 hours from the Villamor tollgate of the SLEX.

Route 2 : STAR Tollway to Lipa and onward to Laiya :

Take the same direction to Sto. Tomas, Batangas, as in the directions above. Drive on to Lipa, either via the old road or thru the STAR TOLLWAY, making your exit in Lipa. From Lipa, drive on to Rosario, the next bigger town. You will pass thru the towns of San Miguel and San Roque before you hit Rosario. From Rosario, drive on to Balugbug. The next big town after Balugbug is San Juan. If you are going to Laiya, then follow the directions I gave in Route 1.

Having taken the 2 routes, I will still recommend Route 1. It is easier to follow, and is not much longer. And then you can afford the adventure of taking the Lipa route on return.

Beyond Laiya

You may want to venture beyond Laiya. There is a pier in the area, past Acuatico and Balai sa Laiya cluster,  that takes passengers to Marinduque, another exciting destination.

Tagaytay Sidetrip: Around Taal Lake on 4X4

1 Comment

I thought it was going to be an easy ride around Taal Lake.

Mission: Drive around the Lake

In our previous descents, we always took the Ligaya Drive route from Tagaytay to Talisay. The view is fantastic, and the road is good.

Easiest access to Talisay from Tagaytay

This time, we took the zigzag road from the Tagaytay rotunda. A year ago, this was practically impassable. But it is now 100% finished, although some sections were only asphalted.

The 12 kms zigzag road to Talisay starts at the rotunda

At kilometer 59, I saw 2 bridges one after the other, both with strange names. How does Alingayngay Bridge or Pinaglintikan Bridge sound to you?

The zigzag road is about 12 kilometers from the top, ending in Barangay Leynes in Talisay. I have been to this part of Talisay before, countless times, each time having a drink at Gloria de Castro’s picnic place. Or having fried tilapya, ginataang tilapya, or inihaw na tilapya for lunch. And a cold beer while marveling at the view of the volcano at dusk. Aling Gloria pioneered tourism here, accommodating foreigners in her home, earning her consistent mention in Lonely Planet and other travel books.

Barangay Leynes in Talisay, end of the zigzag road

On this trip, we skipped Aling Gloria’s place, and immediately turned right. This brought us to the town of Laurel. I remarked that this spot around the lake is probably the best. It is not as “developed” as Talisay which now has probably a hundred resorts dotting the lakeside.

Taal Lake from Laurel, Batangas

There is a spot from Laurel where you can drive up to Tagaytay, passing through the area where Splendido stands. We decided to stay within the lakeside. The next town is Agoncillo, and this brought back memories when my friends and I used to visit an officemate who had siniguelas trees in her backyard. But we went to Agoncillo then via Lemery, not from the lakeside.

Siniguelas tree

close up: siniguelas fruit

Thus,I never imagined how rough the travel can be. Or maybe because Typhoon Ondoy has just hit the country, and did not spare this lakeside town. Within the lakeside, there were portions that seemed impassable, and the road literally merged with the lake. The maneuver is made worse when the road is on a bend, and you can hardly see where the road would go. And because the Toyota 4×4 Hi Lux is not an amphibian, I felt like we were, at any moment,  going to be submerged in the lake.

After successfully negotiating the lakeside, we found ourselves in roads that looked worse than feeder roads, or farm-to-market roads. Apparently, Ondoy caused all of these, washing away the asphalted roads, with several sections of higher ground eroded or washed out. I swear the trip took on the nature of a 4×4 trek around Pinatubo.

Road leads to the water's edge

My 4x4 trail : no government here?

The place is difficult to reach, to say the least. Thus, within Buso Buso, where, roads are for 4×4 trekking, there are no shops. Ambulant vendors try to make a living in the area. An entrepreneur thought that maybe a mobile grocery and sari sari store is just what is needed in this place.

A mobile 7-11

We stopped at past 12 noon in a “pondohan” where I saw kaldero at kaserola and tables and chairs. We ordered puso ng saging, one slice of pork chop, and one slice of afritada. Plus rice and 2 bottles of Coke. The bill went up to a princely P100.00 flat.

Moving on, it felt like driving in an uninhabited area where we only followed trails.Next we came to an area where roads got a bit better.

Fishing net : the lake is a source of livelihood

Coconut leaves are dried, for fuel

Until we finally saw civilization. Within Agoncillo proper, I saw some really beautiful homes. Big homes. Contrast this to the next barrio, just where we came from, which seemed like no man’s land.

We left Agoncillo for Lemery, and drove back to Tagaytay. Still, I couldn’t believe that a 4×4 adventure trail existed almost within my Tagaytay backyard.

________________

Update: May 27, 2010

With nothing to do, I thought I’d check out my neighborhood 4×4 trail. I found the water level in the lake has gone down, There is no more bend where “the lake meets the road”. Workers are doing the pavement, and, hopefully, the roads will be passable even after a typhoon. But when I say passable, I mean just that – – – passable. I couldn’t believe it that way after Ondoy, and even after the elections, the roads have not improved a bit. Now, I have concluded this may not have been caused by Ondoy. The flooded lake, yes. But not the status of the road itself. The roads are so bad you would wonder if this area is within the jurisdiction of any local government. It is as if the governor does not know that such road existed in this first class province. It feels like there is no mayor, no congressman. Or maybe they are not part of the Philippines. On a positive note, I will always have a place for 4×4 experience.

This time, too, I went on to Lemery town. Lemery is 45 kilometers from the Tagytay rotunda starting point., to complete the trip around the lake.

From Lemery, I drove to Lipa via Batangas, took the STAR tollway and made my exit in Tanauan, heading back to Tagaytay via Talisay.

From the Tanauan exit, the first barangay is Santor, and then Talaga. A good place to visit is the Mabini Shrine, the birthplace of the Sublime Paralytic.

a shrine in Talaga, Tanauan, built where Apolinario Mabini was born

A few kilometers away and you will get to the town of Talisay. Talisay is a destination in itself among garden enthusiasts. There are hundreds of backyard gardens selling plants – – from trees, to shrubs, from fruit trees to  ornamentals. I bought a mango tree from Talisay, and right now the tree has at least 50 mango fruits waiting to ripen.

Talisay marker, cut out letters to promote Tali Beach?

Corn on the cob by the Talisay roadside

I took a quick snapshot of the Talisay Municipal Hall and headed back to Tagay tay, this time thru Ligaya Drive.

Along Ligaya Drive, one can see locals on horseback, fire trees on the road, and three areas being developed by Filinvest as mid-to-high-end residential subdivisions. The 3 areas are collectively called Leuna de Taal. The area nearest the lake is called Orilla, with easy access to the exclusive clubhouse on the lake. The Bahia is at the midpoint of Ligaya Drive, and has views of the lake. The highest point among the Leuna de Taal properties is now being developed as a townhouse community. Units are sold for P3.6 million, with the splendid view of Taal Volcano and the lake as bonus.

Along Ligaya Drive

Subic: Ocean Adventure & Zoobic Safari

59 Comments

Bengal tiger on the loose - - in the safari

I have been to Subic a lot. In one of my trips, with my wife, my daughter and her nanny, plus my driver, I won so much in the casino that the cost of the entire trip was more than paid for. As I checked out, I was given a promo stub to fill up. Apparently, all guests were entitled to a raffle stub with a trip to Malaysia for 2 as grand prize. I won that, too. Tubong lugaw.

Ocean Adventure

This is my daughter’s favorite. Within the park, visitors can watch a seal show, a dolphin show, a whale show, and actually swim with the whales. And ride the whales. The handlers took my daughter from the shore to the raft in what I thought was not possible. The whales were beached on the shore, and my daughter was asked to ride it and hold on to the fins. With a whistle, the whales swam to the raft, bringing my daughter there. At the raft, the handlers taught my daughter to feed the whales, after which she actually rode the whales, sometimes belly up.

from the shore to the raft holding on to the fins

they are given instructions to feed the whale

so the whales will be kind to them when they swim

Entrance fee to the park is P500 per adult, P420 per kid. The Swim Encounter is at P4,200 per person. The Beach Encounter,   an encounter with the whale just on the beach, essentially for photo-ops, is P2,800. I wouldn’t recommend the latter.

Ocean Adventure can be booked thru their Manila office at phone (+632) 2944891.

ZOOBIC SAFARI: Highlight of the Subic visit

Entrance fee to the Zoobic Safari complex is P495. The tour starts with a briefing from one of the many guides.

briefing: don't annoy the animals, please

The girl assigned to us did not seem enthusiastic about the job, and was just going through the motion. As we moved to the zoo with caged animals, she would give some trivia about the animals, almost always ending with the estimated life span of the animals. For instance, tigers can live 15 to 20 years in the wild, but live 5 years longer when in captivity. The fun part in this leg is when kids are allowed to feed the goats from feeding bottles.

I saw a service van with the name Residence Inn at the back. Apparently, without having verified it, the place is run by the same people who run other zoos like the one in Tagaytay, now named Paradizoo.

Going back to the zoo visit. We were then all ushered to the trains that will take us thru the savannah, at P5 per head. Although there is an option to bring your private car and just convoy with the train. I rode .the train.

First stop was the Tiger Safari. We were transferred to a big jeep with sturdy protection. Imagine the school buses with the wire mesh on the windows. Except that there are also grills on top of the wire mesh. We were given suggestions to buy slices of fresh chicken to feed the tigers roaming in the wild. Huh!. Until we were told that professional handlers were joining us in the jeep to feed the tigers.

The gates opened. Actually a series of 2 gates, to make sure the tigers don’t escape. And then we were inside what looked like a somewhat barren wooded area with tigers roaming, just outside of our jeep! The handler took a piece of chicken and moved it to a small opening and, pronto, 2 tigers came to feed. Cameras clicked, only the wire mesh and the grills separated us from the ferocious animals munching on the chicken from the small opening. A little boy cried, so afraid! We were face to face with the tigers, eyeball to eyeball, an inch away! A third tiger joined the contest for food. When 3 pieces of meat have been done by the 3 tigers, we moved on. The handler then put out another piece of meat and a tiger saw it.

huge Bengal tigers come to your jeepney, within breathing distance

face to face, only a sturdy screen between you and the tiger

As the tiger approached the jeep, the handler threw the chicken meat to the roof, and the tiger jumped to the roof. Our roof was made of glass, with grills for protection. So a tiger was above our jeep, munching on the chicken, for a good 5 minutes as we went on. We then made an exit, again through 2 gates. And then we were back on the train.

The train moved to the savannah where ostriches roam. Saw their eggs, each one the equivalent of 2 dozen chicken eggs.

ostriches roam the savannah, don't get close to them - - they bite

And then to the tiger den, an enclosure at the perimeter of the tiger safari. From the tiger den, we moved to an Aeta Village where natives danced and showed agility climbing trees. The tour moves from there to the crocodile section where guests can feed crocs with meat suspended from poles that looked like improvised fishing rods.

I have never experienced anything like it. It was well worth the time and the money. Although I could skip the other parts next time, and just experience the tiger-feeding safari again.

Phone Zoobic Safari at (+6347) 2222272, 2529489  mobile 09285215557

A personal encounter, and didn’t have a cam

The photo below was taken on one of my visits. I regretted leaving the camera in the car, so I had to make do with a photo to be taken by the Zoobic staff as I went inside a cage to pet and bottle-feed a full grown Bengal tiger. This was right inside the orientation area, just after the entrance gates. For P240, they will take a photo of you using their camera, and another using your camera. For this post I had to take a digital file of the hard copy I got for my P240. If you should do this, make sure your camera is with you.

Pet a Bengal tiger, and bottle feed him on a P240 photo op

More Adventures

There is Tree Top Adventure Subic where you can “get high on nature”.Cross suspension bridges, take zip line rides. cable rides, or just trek. Cable ride is P350 per pax,  Zip line is P200, Guided trek is P100, and a tree-drop is P150.

Phone (+6347) 2529452 website  http://www.treetopadventuresubic.com

Where to Stay My favorite hotel in Subic, inside SBMA, is Segara Villas. Lighthouse comes as a close second choice. On a budget, I once stayed at Pista sa Barrio, a restaurant which recently opened an inn  within the same complex.

Segara Villas has only 10 Balinese-inspired villas, with some of them classified as executive accommodations, with the bed on a loft.

photo from brochure that I kept

I stayed at the Negara, a junior suite.  Segara is actually a spa, more than a hotel. It sits at the end of the waterfront road, by the pier. An al fresco bar is by the pool. A junior suite, (57 sq.meters, one-level room) costs P7,300++ per day, while an executive suite (70 sq. meters, with loft, and a jetted bathtub) is P10,900++ per day. Rates include breakfast and snacks. Phone (+6347) 2528632, mobile +63921 3308024                                 website http://www.segaravillassubic.com

Lighthouse is actually listed as one of the Top 10 attractions of Subic, in the SBMA video shown to visitors. Indeed, it is pretty. But the rooms are only for those who are very intimate with each other, as the toilet and bath is separated from the bed only by a smoked glass. The furnishings are A-1, and definitely 5-star. The restaurant downstairs has a full course for breakfast, easily the best breakfast buffet in Subic. A swimming pool is at the back, facing the sea.

the view from my room at the Lighthouse, taken from the veranda

Lighthouse rooms are at P7,000 to P9,000 for 2 persons. Reservations can be made  by calling (+6347)252500, 2527546, or their Manila number (632) 7110019. You can reserve by email thru marketing@lighthousesubic.com. View the rooms and amenities thru their website http://www.lighthousesubic.com

Pista sa Barrio Inn is the cheapest of the hotels facing the waterfront, inside SBMA. One may not immediately see it as an inn, because it actually started as a restaurant, and the owner only recently decided to open 12 or so rooms. Nice, clean, and at only P1,500 per day for 2. Has TV with cable, hot & cold shower. 24-hour fastfood service. They have rooms with double beds or twin beds, at the same rate. The only downside is that the pillows are, for me, not comfortable. I brought my own pillows and an extra blanket when I came back. Still worth recommending – – a good value inn. Phone (+6347) 2523055, 252 3187

If you want to play in a casino, you may want to stay at Venezia where PAGCOR operates gaming tables.  Off-peak rates start at P1,688++, and a suite goes for only P3,988++. Phone (+6347) 2528399, email customer_service@subicbayveneziahotel.com

Outside of SBMA, the 2 hotels I recommend are White Rock and By the Sea.

White Rock has long been popular.

I like their rooms by the beach. They also operate a pretty good restaurant.Excellent recreational facilities – – Water Park with wave pool and water slides, including a Super Bowl slide, banana boat rides, bowling, jet skiing, kayaking, fitness center, KTV, and basketball courts for kids and adults. Rates start at P6,200 net, with 3-bedroom beach villas going for P14,200. Phone (+6347) 2222378

website http://www.whiterock.com.ph

I went to By the Sea to visit friends who were staying there in the last Ad Congress. I thought the place looked charming, but was told some of the rooms are not well maintained. If you should stay in the hotel, I suggest you first check the room, and check if the airconditioning works. Still, it is a hotel worth considering. I loved my lunch at the open air restaurant near the beach. When I went, they were on a Rainy Day promo, with rooms as cheap as P900. Executive rooms go for P2,500 per day, while a 3-bedroom villa is charged P6.000 per day. The hotel has an infinity pool, and operates a spa within the property. Phone (+6347) 2234346, 2224560, 2222888 website http://www.bythesea.com.ph