Journey into the Land of the Bible

Credits: JSprague’s Lesson Supplies

A journey back into time, a pilgrimage to the land of my spiritual roots, the backdrop of my Christian faith.  This trip to the Holy Land was not only history and geography but an experience altogether as we treaded in its streets, relished its stories and basked in its colors, shapes, and sounds.  Here I grew to appreciate the sacrifices of all the men and women of faith. 

In this journey, I walked where Jesus walked, taught, died, and rose again.  In this few weeks, I’ve developed a deeper appreciation of God’s word and who He is to me.

Our journey started in Egypt following the Exodus route through the Sinai Peninsula onto the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem.

Gorgeous Zamboanga Islands

We were welcomed by a “Bienvenidos!” by the Alavar staff, as we entered this iconic Zamboanga restaurant for dinner. An excellent way to distress after a 3-hour flight delay from Manila. 

For a while there, I was disoriented… where am I?  Zamboanga is popularly known as Asia’s Latin city because of its unique native dialect.  The Chavacano dialect is a mixture of Spanish and various other local dialects and international languages.  It is also the oldest spoken language in the country reflecting a rich linguistic history of its people.

So rich in natural resources, it is dubbed as the “Sardines Capital of the Philippines” as sardine fishing and processing accounts for about 70% of the city’s economy.  Having said that, it is also known as the City of Flowers (the etymology of Zamboanga comes from the Malay word “jambangan” – garden of flowers.

I’ve always wanted to visit Zamboanga but never got around to it until now, upon my urging and the invitation of (my new and hubby’s old) friend.

An emerging tourist destination, the city continues to attract visitors because of its multi-cultural dishes, gorgeous beaches, and rich history.

On limited time, we went straight to the top sights:

The Great Sta. Cruz Island

It is known for its pink sand beach, sand bar, and mangrove lagoon.  Just 20 minutes away by boat from the Paseo del Mar, it is probably the most popular tourist spot in Zamboanga. 

The pink sand comes from the crushed organ pipe corals.

A protected area in the Basilan Straits, visitors are allowed to visit the sandbar but with a 15-minute time limit. 

There are also no accommodations on the island and camping is likewise not allowed.  No restaurants, only low-impact facilities, and structures were built on the island. 

There are locals selling seafood, and you can request them to cook it for you, for a fee.  In our case, our host brought most of the food.  A start in the right direction, don’t you think? 

Clockwise: sambal, pitik (sea mantis), Pyanggang chicken (cooked with burnt coconut and other spices), mud crabs… yum!

Make sure to also explore the mangrove lagoon because this was the highlight of my day.  You will witness an extensive mangrove system where flying foxes and various waterbirds roost.

Richard, the guide, talking about the different types of mangroves.
The group looking for stingless jellyfish

Costs:

Boat rental: P1,000

Entrance Free: P20/guest

Terminal Fee: P5/guest

Cottages range from P100-500 depending on the size.

Once Islas

Composed of 11 islands along the Moro Gulf, located within the boundaries of Barangays Panubigan and Dita.  Four are open to the public so far.  To ensure responsible and sustainable tourism development and cultural sensitivity, the islands are managed and led by the community of indigenous people who live there.  This is, of course, with the support of the Local Government Unit and the City Tourism Office.

Just an hour drive from the city proper, these islands are ideal for low-impact activities like swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and trekking.  Formally launched in July 2018, Once Isla is the newest eco-cultural tourism attraction of Zamboanga.

We went to 3 of the 4 islands:

Bisaya-Bisaya

Beautiful, powdery white beach on one side and stunning rock formation on the other, which can be trekked with a guide. 

During low tide, they said that visitors can cross over to the smaller islet nearby and take a dip in the tidal lagoon.  We didn’t get to do this.

Bauang Bauang

Our second stop is a lovely island with powdery soft sand and crystal clear water.  

Sirommon

The island has a fine sand beach with a fabulous sandbar that appears during low tide. 

A short trek away, on the other side of the island, is a Sama Banguigui tribal community, which can prepare food if given enough notice. 

This side of the island is equally, if not more beautiful because of the mangroves grown on one side of the beach. 

Guests are required to book with the Zamboanga Tourism Office at least one day in advance.  Email them at tourism.zambo@gmail.com or call them at (063) 992-3007

Costs:

Entrance fee: P100

Environmental Fee: P100

Boat rental: P1,200-2,000 depending on the size and capacity

Cottages: P150

Other Important Information:

Alavar Seafood House: Dr. Alfaro St., Tetuan  (063) 991-2482

Abaniko Cottages

fields-to-falls

We keep talking about vacationing in Adams—but we knew better. We purchased the property beside the Chen’s with retirement in mind. It had a beautiful view of the river and a perfect spot to build a vacation/retirement home.

river-view

But somewhere along the way, that home (using repurposed wood from old houses) turned into three cottages that we turned into a bed and breakfast intended for the more discerning travelers, and we’ve, in fact, managed to lure some city folks to come visit. Adams is about 2 hours from Laoag and a 45-minute (thereabouts) drive up bumpy roads (for now).

grounds-2grounds-3

For nearly three years now, the cottages beside Ilyn’s Homey Place, which we named Abaniko (from the shape of the lot), has been home to more than a few travelers visiting Adams.  Our rooms are simple but has all the basic comforts such as clean, crisp linens and towels, screens (to keep the bugs out), cold and hot showers, and a lovely balcony that can ease your stresses away.  Me and my book in the balcony makes me a happy camper

roomenvironmental

Ilyn of Ilyn’s Homey Place is Ilyn Chen, an energetic woman with big round eyes and a warm smile. She met her husband while working in Taiwan. The couple came for a visit and Chunyi fell in love with Adams, Ilyn’s hometown. They eventually settled there and opened their home to visitors, mostly backpackers and locals from neighboring towns. We met them because everytime we go up, we stay with them. We have become friends and like Chunyi, we fell in love with Ilyn’s town.

koi-and-tilapia-togetherkoi

Chunyi, on the other hand, loves his fish. He has tilapia and koi ponds around the properties.

koi-pond

He also likes to cook and dishes out fantastic food. He said that every meal he creates are those he misses (from Taiwan) or merely loves.

chinese-pork-adoboChinese Pork Adobo

It wasn’t easy convincing him to cook for our guests, but he eventually relented, and his meals have become part of the highlight of our guests.

ulang-in-sate-sauceUlang in Sate Sauce

It has its ups and downs, our little B&B—typhoons, collapsing bridges, floods, landslides… you name it.   But small wins like discovering Chunyi’s culinary passion, happy guests, good feedbacks, lush garden, beautiful blooms, improved road conditions, all make up for the obstacles.

grounds

It’s an open invitation, folks. It’s glorious here. Come on up while the weather is still lovely and crisp.

lotus-flower

Exploring Penang

Credit: Papers by Sepia Lane; Elements and embellishments by SFJ CT

The streets of Georgetown, Penang’s capital, is filled with mouth-watering street food, artistic murals, and gorgeous heritage architecture.

If in season, the durian (in this case the musang– the king of durian) is sweet and creamy
A plate of oyster omelette can be found in many food hawker in the island.

An absolute feast to the eyes, the soul and the taste buds.

A city somehow frozen in time yet woven with today’s modern lifestyle caprices, Georgetown easily caters to history buffs, photographers, shopaholic and foodie fanatics.

Once an important trading hub, the British East India Company established spice farms throughout the island. The export of these spices helped cover the administrative cost of Penang in its early years.

The influence of Asia and Europe have endowed this city with a unique multicultural heritage and with all the astounding history around, Georgetown was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2008.

Pedestrian-friendly, the well-planned series of roads and paths will reveal an exciting, vibrant city with eye-catching street art caricatures, colorful heritage houses, atmospheric temples, beautiful mosques, and bustling food hawkers.

Highlights of our exploration:

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

One of Penang’s most prominent attraction and one of the only 3 UNESCO Heritage award-winning buildings, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, also known as The Blue Mansion is a stately 1880 manor that stands out because of its indigo blue façade.

The Guestrooms

Designed in traditional Hakka – Teochew Style, the mansion was restored into a Boutique Heritage Hotel by a conservation project that went on to win numerous architectural awards.

A tour of the estate will reveal the lifestyle of Cheong Fatt Tze, his family and the cream of Penang society in the era it was in.

Penang Hill

Dominating the Georgetown landscape, Penang Hill was the 1st colonial hill station developed in Peninsular Malaysia. The top of the hill is accessible by a good hike or the Penang Hill Funicular Railway (which, by the way, is the steepest tunnel track in the world) from its base station at Jalan Bukit Bendara, Air Itam.

The hill is a community of attractions that include food and drink options set 821 meters above Penang’s capital. It is the last piece of tropical rainforest in Penang, so flora and fauna have been protected since 1960.

The Habitat on Penang Hill

For the ultimate Malaysian rainforest experience, a visit to this part of the hill is a must.

When you walk through the gateway of the Habitat, you enter a magical kingdom of a 130-million-year-old rainforest.

This world-class ecotourism site is the first of its kind in Malaysia. It aims to promote environmental consciousness and conservation awareness.

Walk on the new world-class Stressed Ribbon Bridge named the Langur Way Canopy Walk 
The Tree Top Walk

Clan Jetties

Along the pier are villages on stilts that house descendants of Chinese immigrants. Constructed over a century ago, the jetty has developed into a town propped up over the sea.

Planks create paths linking houses on stilts, owned by families of fishers creating a rustic and peculiar impression. We found ourselves at the Chew Jetty, but in total, there are 8 different clans still residing there.

The Chew Jetty Café is a good stop for lunch or refreshments. Though the White Curry is what the café is famous for, we were too late. Here’s what we had instead — also quite good and worthy of my recommendation.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion

The mansion allows you a glimpse back in time as to how the wealthy Straits Chinese settlers once lived. The Peranakan, also known as the Babas and Nonyas, was a prominent community of acculturated Chinese unique to this part of the world.

Adopting selected ways of the local Malays, and later, the colonial British, the Peranakan lifestyle and customs had not only left a rich legacy of antiques but its cuisine and languages as well.

The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is one of the best surviving examples of the lavish lifestyle of this prominent community containing an extensive collection of furniture, silverware, dresses, decorations, collectibles, and appliances.

Nyonya Cuisine

A feast we devoured in Kebaya

A must-try! It echoes the cultural identity of the Peranakans. Nyonya cuisine is as exotic as their east meets west architecture, their beautiful fashion, and their elaborate pottery. It is mostly traditional Chinese food altered to suit the local palate and to augment the limited ingredients found in their new homeland.

Some of the signature ingredients used in Peranakan cooking include coconut milk, laksa leaves, lemongrass, and tamarind. The result is an extraordinary cuisine that is altogether tangy, sweet, sour and spicy.

Little India

A few steps away from the Pinang Peranakan Mansion is Little India.

Wander around and experience a whole new world. Its culture and food adventure is definitely worth the exploration.

48 Hours in Ipoh

 

CollageThough still pretty much under the radar, this sleepy town is fast becoming a foodie and adventure destination. On our way to Penang, we stopped by Ipoh in Perak to see what some travel enthusiasts are raving about. We arrived on a Sunday and lo and behold, half of Ipoh was indeed asleep. Shops and quite a few restaurants were closed.

sleepy-town

Steep limestone cliffs flank the capital of Perak, some with cave temples pocketed in the limestone. The state of Perak has much to offer regarding outdoor activities such as white water rafting and jungle treks. Although we skipped that as a previous injury prevented such activities, for now, we will perhaps go back one of these days to explore that part of Perak.

traditional-eatery

We spent the two days centered on the food and exploring the old town with a side trip to Batuh Gajah, just 30 minutes out of Ipoh.

Ipoh is shaped by the 1920s tin-mining boom, its wealth and population however ebbed away after the mine’s closure. It is now better known for its excellent food. Perak’s most beautiful colonial architecture stands side by side with shabby coffee shops.

Old-Town-White-Coffee-shop

We had a blast sampling their food specialties and discovering some fine street arts that scatter around town.

Nga Choy Kai

The first thing we did was to sample Ipoh’s quintessential dish that is bean sprout chicken or Tauge Ayam.

kway-teow-noodle-soup

It is essentially kway teow (flat rice noodle) soup,

Steamed-Chicken

poached juicy and tasty chicken and the most delicious beansprout I’ve had.

beansprout

Lou Wong’s, as recommended by the hotel and some reviews, serves one of the best. As with many of the traditional eateries in Ipoh, Lou Wong was unpretentious with round tables and stools and no aircon. We were there early, but the place was packed not long after we were seated.

Street Art

wall-art-in-market-Lane

Wandering through the lanes of Ipoh’s old town reveals a scattering of stencil art murals. Some quirky and easily spotted while others are subtly woven into the streetscape.

mural

A few were done to decorate establishments. While there are some pieces done by Zacharevic, the mural artist that started Penang’s street art scene, other artists have joined in the scene as well.

Han Chin Pet Soo Museum

A guided tour of the museum will provide a good insight into the history of the Chinese in Ipoh. Originally the house of the Hakka Tin Mining Club founded in 1893.

gambling-set

The unique museum has on display artifacts, collectibles, and photographs from the 19th and 20th century. This gives you a chance to step back in time and see how the Hakka tin miners were tempted and tormented by the 4 evils, which were Opium, Gambling, Prostitution, and Triad.

mural-han-chin-pet-soo

The founder, Leong Fun, arrived in Penang penniless in 1876. With a lot of luck and hard work, he found success in the tin mining industry. Since “Towkay” Leong Fu found the exclusive membership club, it has always been a place of mystery to non-members. Although it has opened its doors to the public now, the entry remains to be special as it is by appointment only.

Appointments can be made via the website or by queuing at the door.

Ho Yan Hor Museum

Ho-Yan-Hor-and-Hand-Chin-Pet-Soo

This two-story shophouse is right beside the Han Chin Pet Soo Museum and belongs to the Ho Family of the famous Chinese Herbal tea brand, Ho Yan Hor. Following the successful restoration of next door neighbor, Han Chin Pet Soo, the family decided to open the shop after it was left vacant for so many years and had ipohWorld run its tours.

ho-yan-hor-owner

Also steeped in history, the visit will reveal the brand’s rise to popularity. Complimentary teas for tasting cap the end of the tour.

Concubine Lane

Concubine-Lane-from-Han-Chin-Pet-SooConcubine Lane in between the two structures as seen from the balcony of Han Chin Pet Soo.

The same “towkays,” mining tycoon Yao Tet Shin, in particular, said to have given away 3 lanes as gifts to his 3 wives. These are Wife lane, Concubine Lane, Second Concubine Lane.

concubine-lane

Concubine Lane or the 1st Concubine Lane is the one that has transformed into a hip street in Ipoh with cafes, boutique hotels, food, and souvenir stalls.

hip-street

Kellie’s Castle

Kellie's-Castle

Two days is really not enough to explore all of Perak. With the limited time that we had, we decided to pay Kellie’s Castle a visit.

Kellie's-castle-ruins-2

The unfinished ruined mansion built by a Scottish rubber plantation owner named William Kellie Smith is located just 30 minutes away from Ipoh. The castle has Scottish, Moorish, and Indian influences and had multiple passageways.

Kellies-Castle-living-room-reolicaA replica of what the living could have been.

It was intriguing and eerie to wander around the ruins. It was never completed because Smith suddenly died of pneumonia in Lisbon. His wife, Agnes later packed up and left Malaysia with her children and never returned.

Kellie's-Castle-ruins

She sold the castle to a British company. The only thing left of the home is the covered walkway, an open courtyard, and part of a crumbling wall. Kellie’s castle has been refurbished and was even used as a set in the 1999 film Anna and the King.

A friend mentioned that a foodie will always find their way to Ipoh and Penang, but I say that a non-foodie who loves adventure and history will find Ipoh to be worth a visit. But definitely go for the food.

Sabtang Revisited

I once walked the entire island in two days. That was when there was no transportation except for a pick-up truck that took our backpacks to Sumnanga, halfway around the island and where we spent the night. Ten years later, I spent the night in the School of Fisheries in Centro and still call it rugged. Fast forward to now, and all it took was half a day to visit all the famous sights.

transport-around-island(via this…)

The only way there is still by falowa (a boat without an outrigger, used by the Ivatans to ferry around the islands)

falowa

but it can now sit 70 (some even more), making Sabtang more accessible. And so the island is packed with daytime visitors (like us… sigh).

tourists

Various developments noted and yes, the old rugged Sabtang may have been lost forever, but it still manages to exude its very own charm…

LighthouseThe fairly new light house (it was in the middle of construction when I was last there some ten years ago) standing tall as you approach the island.

coastlineThe beautiful coastline as you approach Savidug

charming-house

typical-stone-house-with-cogon-roofTypical stone houses with cogon (grass) roof.

stonehouse-mountain-backdrop

mountain-backdropThe mountain backdrop adding to its charm.

chavayan-housesHouses in Chavayan

savidug-ruinsThe ruins in Savidug

country-lifeScenes of everyday life in the island

little-island-girl

IMG_6971

chamantad-cove-tinya-viewpointChamantad Viewpoint

morong-beachMorong Beach

mahayao-arch

mahayao-arch-2The famous Mahayao Arch in Morong Beach

lunch-at-morong-beachLast but not the least, lunch at the beach before heading back to the main island of Batanes.

 

Taipei: A Quick Visit

Officially the Republic of China (ROC), Taiwan is an island of unexpected beauty with each corner of the isle blessed with its own unique scenery. The capital, Taipei is one of Asia’s most beautiful futuristic cities with Taipei 101, most notable for its feats of engineering, towers majestically on its skyline.

Taipei-101

Eating in Taiwan comes close to Japan or Seoul. It has an incredible food culture with a vast array of Chinese food and local delicacies on offer. Traveling around the island is relatively straightforward albeit the lack of English can be a challenge sometimes.

My recent trip back to Taipei after 8 years was easy-going as I had my parents in tow.   We took things slow and spent most of our time in the capital with only a day trip to nearby Keelung. Here’s sharing with you the highlights of our trip.

Food

Family friends, who are Taiwanese locals, hosted our best meal. Robin’s Teppanyaki at the Regent Hotel in Taipei is, by far, the best meal we had during this trip.

Robin's-Teppanyaki

We were served perfectly grilled fresh lobsters, tiger prawns, and steak. The other best meal we had was not as elaborate and in fact a simple Taiwanese meal. Also recommended by the same friends, Du Hsiao Yueh was an excellent representation of traditional Taiwanese cuisine.

Du-Hsiao-Yueh.jpg

A staple in Taipei well known for its Dan Zai noodles and other conventional everyday dishes. The minced pork used in the noodles also goes well as rice topping as the secret is in the minced pork recipe. Another dish worth mentioning is the fried oysters. More of our Taipei food experience here.

Day Trip

Yehliu-collage

Just an hour away from Taipei, Yehliu Geopark is a pleasant day trip to make especially if your visit is short.

Yehliu-panorama

A park of natural wonders where rocks carved by years and years of wave cutting and weathering forms a stunning geological landscape.

Yehliu-hoodoo-stones

The park is home to some unique formations which were named according to how they look or resemble like the iconic “Queen Head,” Fairy Shoe, Ginger Rock, to name a few.

Queen's-Head

The cape stretches out to Yehliu Village of Wanli District.

After the leisurely walk, we headed to Jiufen for lunch.

Jiufen.jpg

The decommissioned gold mining mountain town initially built by the Japanese is now a maze of lanes and alleyways that run up and down the slope of the hill filled with food stalls and tea houses.

Jiufen-Eats

This Taiwanese village near Keelung has become a food destination known for its Yuyuan (taro balls) dumplings, Fishball soup, and other Taiwanese favorites.

Museums

Not to miss is the National Palace Museum. This award-winning museum has over 700,000 ancient Chinese Imperial artifacts and artworks making it one of the largest of its type in the world. Most of the collections are high-quality prices collected by China emperors. The excellent selection of China art makes it an essential stop to those interested in history and arts. Many of the exhibits were once displayed in Beijing’s Forbidden City and subsequently moved to Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War in 1933.

MOCA

Another fascinating museum one might consider while in the city is the Museum of Contemporary Art. MOCA is housed in a historical building and is home to some captivating modern art. The building was built during the Japanese rule in 1921 for what later became Jianching Elementary School. At the time of our visit, we caught Steve McCurry’s solo exhibit curated by Leo Chanjen Chen, ‘S Wonderful/Making Pictures.

Steve-McCurry-Exhibit

Useful Information:

Robin’s Teppanyaki – No. 41號2樓, Section 2, Zhongshan N Rd, Zhongshan District, Taipei City

Du Hsiao Yueh – No. 12_, Alley 8, Lane 216, Section 4, Zhongxiao East Road, Daan District, Taipei City, +886 2 2773 1244

The National Palace Museum – No. 221 Sec 2, Zishan Rd., Shilin Market, Taipei City

Museum of Contemporary Art – 39 Changian West Road, Datong District, Taipei City

How to get to Yehliu and Juifen: Click here or here or book a day tour here.