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)


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).


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


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


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



chamantad-cove-tinya-viewpointChamantad Viewpoint

morong-beachMorong Beach


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.



The Way to Initiate the Novice


I’m with some novice trekkers, not that I mind, it is an easy trek after all.  I am thrilled, in fact, to have them experience the joy of summiting after an uphill struggle that seemed never-ending and pointless, and to realize, after all that trouble, that the reward is usually at the peak.

Named the 3rd best beach and island of the Philippines by CNN Go April of last year and just like that, Palaui caught my attention.  I’ve been going back and forth to Sta. Ana for a few years now, but Palaui was never on my radar.


Maybe because it takes more work to get there and that includes braving the (sometimes) treacherous sea.


A protected area, the island lies between the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.  It boasts of a nice long stretch of white pebble beach, abundant marine life, a century old lighthouse, a waterfalls hidden somewhere and a scenic rugged terrain.  It is pretty much uninhabited, with only a small community living in the island.  No electricity and accommodation to speak of.


So one fine day, along with the same people I spent several Sta. Ana weekends together, we took off from the shores of Sun City in San Vicente and headed to Palaui.  An hour, perhaps more on the boat and we arrived on the island.


We paid for a guide and started our trek on the beach,


which lead to a short forest walk before we emerged on the other side to beautiful rolling hills reminiscent of Batanes.



We then climbed (more than) some steps that would eventually lead to the summit where Cape Engaño stands.



The view along the way took my breath away.


It may not be the best beach as it is not fine sand as that of Boracay or even Palawan


but the island dazzles at every turn,



from the beach to the top of the lighthouse… all I can say was SPECTACULAR.  And the new recruits were enjoying themselves too.


Not that difficult to get to, we took the Lugunzad trail, which took all of just 30 minutes from beach to lighthouse.


There is a waterfall somewhere, said our guide, but all this walking made the others hungry.  And so the initiation is over, we will take baby steps and insist on the waterfalls some other time.


At a beach named Gotan, lunch was already being prepared.   A private beach, we had to arrange to use a few days earlier.  We had a sumptuous meal of everything grilled.


There, we lounged around, enjoyed each other’s company amidst beautiful Agoho trees.   That’s how to initiate novice trekkers.  Yes?

Best of 2012

Forgive the silence… would you believe that I ushered in the New Year with colds and fever?  But that didn’t stop me from having friends over for the count down. No.  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday.


Credits:  Quickpage from JSprague’s 4ever kit, created by Brenda Neuberger

2012 has been good to me.  Even with much less travels this year, I’ve managed a few unforgettable firsts.  Here they are; some I have not even posted but will pre-empt:

1.  The Bus Ride to Vang Vieng


A 4-hour bus ride from Vientaine on a sleeper bus made for petite Laotians.  Worst was the bunks were meant for (yes) 2 petite Laotians.  We’re definitely far from petite.  So imagine the trip.

2.  First time on a Hot Air Balloon


Soaring high in Vang Vieng, watching the town wake up.  You get the best view in town, if you ask me.

3.  The Boat Ride to Y’ami


An idea that came to fruition had us journeying to the northernmost island of the Philippines on a grueling 3-hour boat ride off Itbayat Island in Batanes.  Why?  I ask the same question many times over.  An experience hard to topple.

4.  A Night in Siayan


We had to break the grueling boat ride and stay overnight in an island about 1 hour away from Itbayat (the farthest inhabited island of Batanes) because the waters along the Bashi Channel can be treacherous particularly in the late afternoon.  Getting to the island, beautiful as it is, is an adventure in its self.

5.  Hiking Up to Cape Engaño


Beautiful sight, up there.  That’s all I will say for now.  Watch out for my post – coming soon.

6.  Enjoying an Onsen Bath


While it snowed too.  A totally exhilarating and liberating experience, I dipped in those pools two nights in a row.  Awesomeness.

As for 2013, I’ve got some exciting plans already in the pipeline. I’ve been working hard to get that to fruition over the holidays, truth to tell.  It is going to be an exciting year.  I feel it in the air.  How is your 2013 looking so far?


Many, many years ago, 1994 I think it was, we made a day trip to Sagada from Banaue.  We found ourselves a guide and he suggested that we do the caves.  That was 18 years ago, I was not the same person I am today.  I hesitated, “I’ll stay in the jeep”, I told my friends.  They looked at me, “that’s a 3-hour wait”.  “But my shoes (a trekking boots) will get dirty”, I said.  Bewildered, they just looked at me and started walking down the steep stairs leading to the opening of Sumaging.  A friend stayed with me but when the last of them disappeared from our sight, she convinced me to do it as she has already decided to go for it.  Long story short, I gave in.

Slippery step after slippery step, I was cursing.  “I will never EVER listen to you guys again”.  But at least I didn’t cry like one of our companions.  I was too angry to cry.  Yes, it was terrifying, especially for a first timer.

But it gets better as you walk pass the guano covered rocks.  Yes again, those rocks aren’t only slippery, they’re stinky as hell too.

As we walk those boulders with only a gasera (gas lamp) lighting our way, I would imagine slipping and falling into a deep pit – for all you know, it ain’t that deep but the surroundings were pitch dark so imaginations can get wild, believe me.

At a certain point, we were asked to take off our shoes.  Well, at least my (trek) boots won’t get wet, I thought.  But my next worry though was how on earth are we to manage those slippery rocks barefooted.  Best. Thing. Ever.

The pumice-like rocks had enough traction that your feet practically stick to those boulders.  Amazing.

Still cursing though as we not only rappel up and down to get to other chambers, we had to step on our guides too, if no other options will do (shoulders or thighs lang naman).

Beautiful stone formations with names like King’s curtain, pig pen, pregnant woman, rice terraces formation etc. are found in those chambers.

It was definitely the saving grace of this “craziness”, truth to tell.

Recounting our adventure that evening, I started with “Next time we do this again, I will…”, they all looked at me, “I thought you will never EVER do this again?”  Oh well.

I was somewhat true to my word, I never entered Sumaging since.  Not saying though that I haven’t done Cueba de Oro, San Carlos, Sierra, Baggao caves since that fateful day.  Unbeknownst to me then, Sumaging would be my intro to the outdoors and life has never been the same since.  Although caving or spelunking, as they call it, will never really be a favorite activity but if push comes to shove, I’ll do it.  Anything for camaraderie.

Fast forward to 2005, I heard of the Lumiang-Sumaging traverse.  Curious and not wanting anything new to pass me by, I ventured once more to the uncomfortable with friends in tow.

We started early as this would take us 4-5 hours, they said.  More experienced this time, it wasn’t as daunting but to say it was challenging might be an understatement.

Not recommended for the faint of heart or the inexperienced.  That said, many of the friends with me that day had never experienced Sumaging or any caves for that matter… so who am I to discourage.  Did they ever enter another cave?  No.

The obstacles that we went through would consist of rappelling down small openings with the use of ropes – squeezing and contorting sometimes,

sitting on our butts and inch our way down if ropes were unavailable, hugging rocks,

walking along narrow ridges with only a rope to hold on to –this I can guarantee are steep cliffs and falling can be fatal, and a lot of listening and following (mostly the guides’ instructions).

Halfway and nearing Sumaging, the chambers would have icy cold pools where one can take a dip or rest on the banks.

Like Sumaging, Lumiang is beautiful, breathtaking even but unlike Sumaging, it can really test your limits.  A bragging right of sort, me think.

Would I do it again?  Perhaps.  I always believe though that the first time is always the most memorable.  It stays vivid in your memory like it was yesterday.  I remember more my first descent on Sumaging 18 years ago than the more recent Lumiang-Sumaging traverse.

Early this year, I accompanied friends to Sumaguing.  These friends of mine have never gone into a cave ever.  It was as I remembered it but less intimidating – I didn’t have to step on anyone’s shoulders, to say the least.

I didn’t push Lumiang… Sumaging was bittersweet for them – challenging yet a source of pride for finishing.  Exactly my sentiments each time – Sumaging or Lumiang.

Useful Tips:

1.  Aquasocks or river shoes proves best inside the cave.  I used my Five Fingers on my last trip and I didn’t have to take them off.  But sandals are good too.

2.  Wear quick drying shirts. Rash guards would keep you warmer.

3.  Never go in the cave without a guide.  Register for a guide at the Tourist Information Center at the Municipal Hall.

4.  Best is to bring headlamps and helmets (for Lumiang).

5.  Water and towel is likewise advised.

6.  Always follow your guide’s instructions.  They know best.

Budget Traveling

“You see that?” a friend pointed out to a showcase of a tiny, tiny room that was labeled Tune Hotel.  “That’s exactly the size of your room”, she said as we walked pass it at the arrival hall of the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Maybe it’s the penny pincher in me or me just being practical that led me to save wherever and whenever I can since I got lured into traveling.  Oftentimes traveling on a budget.  Whatever savings I get, I throw back into my travel fund and splurge on other things like food, keepsakes or tours.  This is where budget airlines and hostels come in very handy.

Air Asia – one of my favorite airlines – the low-fare, no frills airline with a route network that spans through more than 20 countries, mostly but not limited to Asia. They had been shuttling many Filipinos since 2005, when they started offering flights to Kota Kinabalu (KK) and Kuala Lumpur (KL) out of Clark’s Diosdado Macapagal International Airport.

And the good news is: Air Asia Philippines is the newest kid on the block; launched only last February 28, becoming the 13th regional hub of the Air Asia Group.  Future destinations are said to be HK, Macau, Inchon, Singapore, Japan, Bangkok…

Yes – it may be a bit of a hassle to travel all the way to Pampanga but the cheap fare makes it worth the effort, me thinks.

My first trip to KK in 2007 (en route to a diving expedition in Sipadan) was with this airline and many more followed since.  A satisfied customer is what I am – if you look at it as a no-frills, budget airline that it is, without expecting much in the service and perks department, then there really is nothing much to complain about.  The flights are almost always on time; the seats are comfortable enough but are first come first served.  If, however, you pay a little extra and go for the hot seats, you get to choose your seat online and board first – definitely worth the extra shell out.  I always pick the 1st row seats for the leg room. The food… well really, who needs to eat on a 4-hour flight anyway?  We normally just have our meals at any of the gas stations along the expressway before reaching the airport.

The downside here is that Kuala Lumpur, being their main hub, has most flights flying out of there.  It doesn’t help that their flights often need an overnight stay as well.  Sometimes having to pay for a room in nearby Sepang defeats the savings on the airfare – so what’s the point, right?

That’s where Tune Hotel comes in.  Just a stone’s throw away from LCCT, in fact you can spot it from the arrival terminal.  Although a shuttle is provided for just MYR 1, its schedule seemed unreliable (or maybe we were just impatient).

We waited until we realized that it takes less than 10 minutes by foot to get there, cutting through the parking lot by way of a walkway.  You can even take the trolley all the way to the hotel.

This hotel follows the same no-frills concept of its partner airline and is the answer to travelers who just need a few hours to sleep and shower.  We booked a 12-hour package for MYR 129 (that’s about US$ 40).

This came with a package of 1 towel, soap, shampoo and conditioner.  Slipping the key into a key holder turns on the power and the 12-hour countdown starts.  It stops when you take out the key.  So if you’re out most of the time, 12 hours is more than enough. US$ 40 for half a day is not exactly cheap when you think about it but it is a brilliant concept, don’t you think?

The room is exactly as seen at the airport.  It is practically the size of the bed with a bit of extra space to walk around albeit one at a time.  The bathroom is similarly as tiny and can likewise only fit one person at a time.  It is relatively clean and the bed is quite comfortable.  Oh and make sure you don’t bring a huge luggage as there is no space for that.  We brought backpacks so that worked well for us.

The upside to this is that it is conveniently located without having the need to wake up earlier than needed as flights are often scheduled early in the morning.

It has a nice courtyard just outside the hotel lobby with enough tables and chairs to hang around with a nice cold beer or coffee.  Decanter, the restaurant there, serves decent food and if budget is a concern, there is a 7-Eleven right beside and a coffee shop that is open 24 hours.

For a few hours, Tune Hotel serves its purpose of providing “reasonable” comfort and convenience for less.


Lombard Street overlooking Russian Hills

For a short while I called San Francisco home.  Straight from a pampered life, away from the watchful eyes of my parents, living (not exactly) alone in the Richmond District was uncharted territory (for us then).  Albeit a carefree time of my life, it was there that I learned independence and self-reliance.   It was one of the best times of my life.

I don’t return very often but I recently found myself back in San Francisco again and again.  Although our visit was mostly because of work, my brother and I managed to squeeze in some time for family, friends and some reminiscing.   I likewise seized the opportunity to spend precious time with my brothers – one arrived with me and was my roommate then, the other met us there from Louisiana where he now (temporarily) resides.

The bar escapes the need for reservations.

We met up with friends at the Slanted Door lounge bar no sooner than we landed.

Having Slanted Door’s signature drink:  Ginger Limeade with Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka.

The next day we decided to pay our old neighborhood a visit,

passed by our old apartment and had lunch at our favorite hangout.

Thai Cafe along Geary St. has good food at student-friendly prices thus a favorite hangout.

That weekend we spent a lot of time visiting old-time favorites.

Choco Fudge Sundae at The Ghirardelli Square

Breakfast at Mel’s Drive-in Diner.

Although many of those who stayed behind after school moved out of San Francisco, they remained within the Bay Area.  Some still lived in the same house we used to hangout in.  Once you’ve lived there, you can’t really shake San Francisco out of your system, can you?

Stockton St.  I used to walk this street a lot (in daytime, or course) to go to school.

It was an awesome weekend reminiscing about the juvenile things we’ve done and had gotten away with.  How we survived those reckless years was a miracle.  Ah to be young again… even for just a weekend.

Caramoan Adventure

Credits: Quickpage by Sarah H from JS bloghop 2010.

An adventure it was indeed.  Not in a thrilling kind of way but more precarious I’m afraid.

St. Michael the Archangel Parish

It started as a simple exploration of the town and while there, we were met with rains so we waited it out at River Inn,

the nearest hiding place when it poured.  We watched the river swell as the downpour continued and seemingly refusing to let up.

We decided to make a go for lunch the moment it waned.  Needless to say, we arrived Sea Porch soaking wet.

The food was good at least so there were some delightful moments that transpired during the day.  After lunch, we decided that it was best to go back when the rain started to pelt down once again.

We hired a tricycle but halfway through, we saw the resort’s van stranded with newly arrived guests.  The river overflowed (which is a common thing, they say).

Children without a care in the world.  So used to it, they saw it as their playground.

It was deep and the current was strong, we couldn’t go further… at least not the tric, so we paid our driver and let him go.  At this point, we were so wet and weary that the idea of a dry, cozy cabin seemed so inviting.  We were told that it would take a while for the flood to subside, my heart sank.   I thought it funny that the resort sent a kayak to get us to the other side.  What?!? The current was strong; I was iffy.  If the kayak topples (which was very likely), my thought balloon goes, “there goes my camera”.  Desperate for a hot shower, I decided to bid my “rebel” goodbye and went for it.  All the worry was unnecessary – as I said, this happens often and they have used the kayak to get them across countless times.  They expertly maneuvered the kayak without us having to paddle a single stroke.  Our only task was to sit upright and not move.  It worked.

I remind myself often to throw caution to the wind and not to underestimate the deftness of Filipinos (or anyone for that matter) especially when caught in a situation.

In no time, we were curled up in our cozy little cabin — dry, warm and clean.  The rain eventually stopped, the water calm once more and the sun dared to peek out at one point as we traveled back to Naga the following day without incident.

Making Tradition

Birthdays are always a good excuse to get together.  Since we graduated from High School many moons ago, we still keep in touch but seeing each other often is fantasy today, with different lifestyles and priorities as the number one culprit.  Not to mention that 10 in a group means 10 birthdays and busy bodies that we are, it’s complication to the max. Determined to keep the bond, it became a tradition of sort for 5 of us with birthdays close together – if you consider a span of 3 months close – to treat the group to something special, each year transcending to finer and more enjoyable experiences.  It started with extravagant dinners to out-of-town lunches to dinners prepared by a chef to this.

We don’t travel well together.  It’s the difference in travel styles.  That said, the travel planner that I am dared to plan an overnight trip to Laguna and Quezon for the group last year.  They complained – about how far the trip was… that they don’t like airbeds as it is difficult to share the bed… and why were there only 2 bathrooms for 9 of us… fun, isn’t it?   😯

So we had lunch at Ugu’s and so impressed they were, they stopped grumbling about the 3-hour drive.

We then headed to Sitio de Amor, our home for a night.  Again, they oohed and ahhed… until they realized the bathroom and bed situations.  I told them to live with it (for a night).

I have eyed that tree house since I first saw it.  So I booked it.

It had a balcony with seats built all around.

The back of the pool

And beautiful views of the grounds to boot.

A close to perfect setting to gather together and catch up with each other till the wee hours of the night, the only thing is… it had only 1 bedroom which could only fit 4 of us.

Not bad at all.

The rest had to trek back and forth to their room, called Lanzones – a room with a beautiful view of the lagoon that fits 6 and yes, with only 1 bath.   😛

The motley crew before heading back home.

All is well that ends well.  They were happy despite the bathroom and bed dilemmas.  The breakfast was as usual, superb.

Xiao Long Bao: Dumpling of all Dumplings

Credits:  Quickpage by Joanne aka 2girlsand poodle from the You Are Awesome Kit.  Alpha by Life Little Surprises kit.

If you haven’t heard of Xiao Long Bao, it’s about time that you do.  You absolutely must try this at least once in your life. This delectable steamed soup dumpling is named after the small bamboo basket it is steamed in.  Inside the dumpling are pockets of minced meat and gelatinized broth made of chicken, pork or cured ham.  When steamed, the gelatin melts inside the dumpling and the soup bursts into deliciousness in your mouth.

Best with vinegar and ginger slivers

The graceful way I eat this is to bite a small hole into the dumpling and sip out the juice before taking the whole dumpling.  A word of caution… wait a few minutes to cool the dumpling before devouring though – the last thing you want is to ruin the whole experience by burning yourself.

My first encounter with this Shanghainese specialty was in 1991, in Taiwan – the very first branch of Din Tai Fung, I recently learned.   And for a very long time, I could only dream of it.  It took me 10 long years to feast on these babies again, this time in Shanghai.  It took perhaps another 5 years for Xiao Long Bao to make its way to the Philippines.  Eat Well is a favorite and very recently, Crystal Jade opened its doors in Greenhills supposedly offering excellent xiao long baos.  The long line turned me off so I have yet to judge for myself.

Din Tai Fung. Singapore. Packed!

Recently however, I came full circle when a few months ago in Beijing and more recently in Singapore, I saw myself in Din Tai Fung for a treat of my favorite dumpling (and more).  Din Tai Fung has become known for their delectable dumplings for decades and opened up franchises in many Asian countries but sadly not in the Philippines (yet).  I saw that they’ve expanded their dumplings to more than just their signature Xiao Long Bao.  They now have chicken, fish and even a vegetarian dumpling.

Though I was a bit disappointed with the vegetarian dumplings, their signature dish remains to be my favorite and

Clockwise:  Cucumber appetizer, Fried Pork Chops on fried rice, Almond Jelly on crushed ice, xiao long bao with vinegar and ginger slivers.

I so totally enjoyed their pork chops and almond jelly dessert.  So really even if XLB made them what they are today, it isn’t just all about dumplings at Din Tai Fung. If you find yourself in a neighborhood with  Din Tai Fung near you, don’t hesitate at all.  Click here to see where they are around the globe.

Where to get XLB in the Philippines:

Eat Well Delicious Kitchen (sounds tacky but they really serve up delicious meals)

At The Fort
Unit C, Ground Floor, Net Quad Building,
30th-31st St., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
For Reservation and Pickup only: +632 856-9408
At Greenhills
Missouri St. cor. Connecticut St., Greenhills, San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines
Phone Number: +632 722-8518


Crystal Jade
Unit 117-121 (near Haagen Dazs and Goodwill Bookstore)
V-Mall, Greenhills Shopping Center
Greenhills, San Juan City, Metro Manila

Phone Number: +632 570-6910, 570-6912


The Art of Bargaining

All these name brands that you of course know are fake but sometimes wonder if they really are.  They look and feel like the real thing.  You make eye contact and hold that shirt and ask, “how much?” then she types a price on a calculator that can’t possibly be right but validates what you already know.  So you pretend disbelief, and show a “you must be kidding” face. She goes, “how much you want?”  Then you offer a price 70% lower than what she asked for.  And then she gives you the same look you just gave her and adds, “you joking!”  You look her straight in the eye, “no”, you say.  Then she brings down the price a bit while you do not budge.  The game goes on for a bit longer; by this time her price is about 30% lower than her original quote.  You walk away and she grabs your arm and asks you once more, “how much you want?” in a more irritated manner, you try to break free and walk away, she follows and continues to ask, “how much you want? enough joking.” you tell her your price, which by now is 20% higher than your first offer, sometimes she will offer to a price a tad higher than yours and you finally compromise and concede.   Everyone’s happy; the vendor will even praise your bargaining skills.   Sometimes though they will walk away grudgingly and call you crazy.  Don’t fret, there are at least 500 stalls (the whole building is reported to have 1,500 stalls) with more or less the same merchandise and if you really like it, you can repeat the same exercise with another vendor.   After a few hours of this, you feel exhausted but happy.  You feel like a cup of coffee or a bottle of beer to reward you for a job well done.

Many coffee shops and restaurant chains on the first floor

My mama always say, “They will never sell you anything at a loss, so don’t feel bad.”  You see she has been going back to the silk market and similar markets in Shanghai and Guangzhou for more than a decade.  She IS the expert when it comes to bargaining with the Chinese.  I take to heart her practical advice and oftentimes end up with a good bargain – that is if my impatience doesn’t get the better of me.  Here are some advices from the expert herself.

  1. Don’t want the item too much.  They are fakes after all.
  2. You will most likely find the same item in the stalls next door.
  3. Always start at least 70% below the asking price.
  4. Do not concede unless it is at least half the asking price.
  5. If you happen to break rule no. 1, then at least concede only if the price is 40% lower than their asking price.
  6. Bargain hard.
  7. Pretend to know what you’re doing, don’t be wishy-washy.
  8. Be prepared for some abuse, some will grab you and drag you back to their store, even if you’re already 3 stores down.

The Silk Market is a 5-story building that offers more than just silk.  There are garments, jackets, jeans, leather goods, shoes, bags, watches, handicrafts, jewelries, toys, you name it.  It opened its doors in 2005 replacing the original outdoor Xiu Shui Market.

Try it… it can be fun.  It’s a game not everyone can play well though but practice makes perfect.   😉

Useful Info:

The Silk Street Market
Chaoyang District, No 8 Xiu Shiu East Road
To get there: take the subway line 1 – Yong Anli Station