Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The 4 Islands Tour of Krabi

We woke up the next day with a blessing. It was bright and sunny. The receptionist at our resort told us it was the first time in days. Good thing we booked a tour the night before to 4 Islands around Krabi - better known as the 4-Islands Tour.

What's good about Thailand is that their tourism facilities are actually cheap and organized. Here in Krabi, there are several tour operators, thus, prices can be competitive. We booked our tour for THB 800 or around P1,200 for a day, to visit 4 islands, with lunch at the last island. And we would be traveling via speedboat.

Our first destination was actually a beach at the next cove to Ao Nang - a popular backpacker's place as well, Railey Beach. The place is known for its limestone rocks and caves, which is actually seen in most of Krabi. Here one can do rock climbing, which is the most popular activity.

I wasn't able to go rock climbing because I was on a tour, so we just explored the beach, and its caves. There are some rocks off shore, just like in the picture above, which is perhaps found in every picture of Railey Beach.

Moving on, we sped off further into the Adaman Sea and passed by Chicken Island (Koh Khai) and did a bit of snorkeling there. Koh Khai is a rock island, so we weren't able to dock here. Of course, it's because of this rock formation that the island was named Chicken.

The snorkeling was not good though, since the current was strong, and there aren't much to see except for some small fish (I'm heavily comparing it to snorkeling experiences here in the Philippines). So after 30 minutes, we proceeded to Tup Island, which are actually two islands, connected by a small sand bar.

One part of the island was bigger, so I explored more and discovered more powder white sands and secluded beaches. I must say that the beaches here are all well kept, since no one is allowed to live in these islands. The tour operators and tourists are well are very responsible and don't leave anything behind. I hope the same thing is done here in the Philippines.

Finally, we headed off to our last destination, Poda Island where we had a picnic lunch. All the other tour operators had their own lunch set-ups. Some more expensive ones had impressive BBQ buffet picnics.

Afterwards, we were given 2 hours free time to just do whatever we wanted. Of course, to us, that meant swimming and beach lounging. The sand here is Boracay soft. In fact, in all the islands that we've been to, the sand is powder white - perfect for relaxing, and know.

This rock is a picturesque landmark in Koh Poda. The waters became calmer after lunch, so the atmosphere was peaceful and serene. Some of the tourists have left as well, especially the "Asians" so there were less people on the island. After that, it was back home to Ao Nang. We went straight to our pool in Somkiet where we chilled out till sunset.

We're all excited for the next day, since it was the day of THE BEACH. So, stay updated with the island explorer.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ao Nang: Amazing Krabi Series

Thailand has really got it right. It is Amazing indeed. And I envy how robust and profitable their local tourism industry is. Thailand does give you everything, from gorgeous beaches and islands to mesmerizing mountains, to rich culture, sizzling nightlife and irresistible shopping. Add on to the warmth and friendliness of their good natured people, Thailand is indeed a gem in South East Asia that everyone should visit.

I seem a bit off promoting Thailand rather than the Philippines, but I just can't stop praising them in the hopes that we would eventually be like them, even better. This blog entry is about Krabi, a province in Southern Thailand, more known for its limestone cliffs and islands that boast of white sand beaches, without the hustle and bustle of Phuket.

We arrive in Krabi after an hour's flight from Bangkok. Ao Nang is our first destination. It is an idyllic beach town that was very clean and is a main jump off point to the islands. Ao Nang town has a lot of restaurants facing the main beach, and has it's wealth of shopping too. You could easily extend here, given the slow pace of life amidst all the tourism facilities.

We stayed at Somkiet Buri Resort, nearby the popular Ao Nang Villa. Somkiet is a garden, or better yet, jungle resort. It doesn't have a beach front, but the beach is just a 5 minute walk away.

It's also affordable at USD 60 to 80, considering the amenities you get. Ao Nang has more expensive resorts, but this is perhaps one that offers good value. There's a huge pool that's perfect for chilling out after a day of tours.

We spent the rest of the day walking along the beach boulevard. We already did some shopping, as stalls lined up the streets. The waves were rough then, as it has been raining the past days. We were informed that tours to the islands were cancelled that day, so they're not sure if we could go the next day.

Finally, Ao Nang is best known for its sunset. An red orange fire lights up the sky and shines on the already golden sands of Ao Nang. What a way to welcome us on our first day in this amazing place.

UP NEXT: The 4 Islands Tour of Krabi

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Quiet Oroquieta

Oroquieta City in Misamis Occidental is perhaps one of the smallest cities in the country, and one of the quietest for that matter. After landing in Ozamiz, we took a van ride to Oroquieta that lasted for an hour. We checked in our hotel, probably the only hotel of class in the city, Sheena's Hotel.

I actually liked Sheena because of its breezy ambience. The rooms were large and clean, and of course cheap at P1,200 a night. I can't remember if we paid for breakfast though.

What I liked about Sheena is this quaint courtyard. There's Wifi by the way in the hotel, so I ordered a cup of coffee and worked for a little while under one of the umbrellas.

Oroquieta has nothing much to offer, except for unchartered trips to waterfalls and rivers. We went around seeing nothing. They told us that there were more sights outside the city but I didn't have the time. So we just made our way to the city hall plaza, where a pleasant park provides the only venue of entertainment in the city. The park even had a replica of the Eiffel Tower, which I found weird at this part of the world.

The sea was beside the park, so I had a calm and refreshing stroll along the boardwalk. The beach had fine black sand, and there were fishing boats docked on the shore.

Interestingly, this was the place where I first had sea shells for lunch. I didn't like it though, because it was hard to get the "laman" from the shells.

I never ceased to eat in this city, even though I was already yearning for Jollibee's chicken joy. It was already 4PM when the townsfolk started to flock to the park and onto the boardwalk. There were ice cream vendors, siomai and siopao hawkers. Of course, everything felt so slow here, and nobody worried about anything.

Still part of Misamis Occidental or Missoc, Oroquieta is halfway between Ozamiz and Dipolog, so it's a good stop if you're going to Dipolog or Dapitan via Ozamiz. The Misamis Occidental Aquamarine Park is located in Ozamiz, so it's good to pass by there, before heading to Dapitan or Dipolog.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cubao X

One spontaneous evening, we decided to head to Cubao X, formerly known as the Marikina Shoe Expo, in Cubao, Quezon City. To all you backpackers out there, here's one place you would enjoy for the vibe.

Ever since I witnessed the changes in Cubao X, I was always raving on how it can be transformed into the backpackers hub of Manila, much like Khao San in Thailand. It's near the bus station (actually beside it). It is a great home base for travellers rto Manila since it is near both the MRT and LRT. There are lots of shopping, dining and yes, now with the transformation, culture.

The culture though is very hippy - young and free. Cubao X features several innovative shops, boutique galleries and antique stores. It has a few bars and this popular Italian restaurant called Bellini's that perhaps was the magnet of development here in Cubao X.

Bellini's has become bigger, and was almost full when we arrived. However, we were very much disappointed with the food quality. They used cheap ingredient substitutes, that really wasn't acceptable. I came out very frustrated, considering that their prices have also gone up.

Good thing when I went out, this crowd greeted me. What I like about Cubao X is that people are themselves here. Friends just hang out, watch the indie bands play across the street, while drinking bottoms up.

Some may get turned off with the indie vibe of the place, but these people are probably the ones who are insecure. I think there's no standard in Cubao X, and that anyone is welcome to enjoy what it has.

Cubao X has been called X because of its unique stores - those that sell both antiques and trendy items. Even the facade of the stores look very interesting, and adds to the artsy vibe of the place.

Now, I do hope someone from Cubao X or the DOT reads this. Transform Cubao X into a backpackers hub. Take it away from tired and tepid Malate. Cubao X can be our Khao San, just convert the 2nd floor of the shop houses into backpacker inns and lodges. I really want to invest on the first world-class standard backpacker inn in the country, and I want it here in Cubao X.

So, if you're a backpacker reading, visit Cubao X. Don't expect the hugeness of Khao San, or Bui Vien or the other backpacker's hubs in Asia. It's really quite small. But at least, by being there, we can start a trend, a trend that could make Cubao X the center of backpack universe of Manila.

Igorot Lodge: Baguio

I love Baguio, like most people do. But nowadays, it's been really stressful there, because of the increasing crowds and traffic. So, when I am in Baguio, I often look for hotels that are far from the maddening central district. I turn my head to Camp John Hay.

Although known to be expensive, the manor at Camp John Hay is the perfect hide away for a weekend in Baguio. When I was there for Panagbena and a wedding of a friend, it was fully booked. I had to go to another inside the area. Welcome to the Igorot Lodge.

There is another cheap option in John Hay, and that's Mile Hi Inn, but the place creeps me out, so I decided to go to Igorot Lodge which is beside Starbucks, Cantinetta and House of Waffles.

The rooms here cost P2,800, still quite expensive for standard accommodation, but the place offers the same peace and ambience of Manor, in a much smaller and simpler scale.

For some weird reason, the photo I took of my room got damaged, so I have nothing to show of the interior. But I could say that it was old, but clean. There is no aircon, and my room had a lot of windows, so the cool breeze was very inviting.

If you're looking for an alternative in John Hay to Manor (just because it's full), check out the Igorot Lodge. And since it's beside Starbucks, I'm pretty much solved here.

Tipolo Beach Resort: Moalboal, Cebu

I found myself back in Moalboal. It seems like it's my new favorite escape from Cebu City. I thought I could just go there and check in Ravenala, my choice of resort in the area, but when I arrived, I was surprised that it was fully booked. So I had to find another place. They recommended Dolphin House, which was also pleasant, but it was also full. So I had to go to Bas Diot more popularly known as Panagsama Beach, to look for a resort. We settled for this one.

Tipolo Beach Resort is actually at the end of the strip of resorts along Panagsama Beach. This beach area has a very relaxed atmosphere. There are a lot of dive resorts, since Moalboal is known for its diving, which is centered in nearby Pescador Island.

By being at the end, Tipolo enjoys solemnity. There are still a lot of resorts beside it, but the native design of this resort sold me to it. We got a room for P1,500 a night, with A/C and twin beds. The deluxe room cost a little more, P1,800, and had a queen sized bed. I found their rooms clean and thus, of good value.

Tipolo Beach Resort has a restaurant in front, the long standing Filling Station. The small restaurant cafe has been there since Moalboal gained fame. It serves wonderful crepes and yogurt.

Tipolo has a small sandy beach below. Tipolo is perched upon a rock, thus, you have to go down to reach the beach. Panagsama has little sand, and reminds me more of Anilao. If you want a beach, you'd be better off in Bas Daku, where Ravenala and Club Serena are.

I was able to walk along the coastline during low tide in the morning. The coral sand stretched further beyond Tipolo. There were several dive boats on the shore, which I thought were blocking the view.

Over-all, Tipolo was very laid back, and much like Moalboal. There aren't a lot of rooms, around 10 only, so the place can get full as well.

If you plan to go to Moalboal and not dive, I'd suggest you go to Bas Daku, where the beaches are wider and the sand finer. But if you end up here in Pangsama Beach, make your way to Tipolo, where you can be guaranteed of a real vacation escape, and enjoy the company of its friendly staff.

Tipolo Beach Resort
Moalboal, Cebu
+63 32 4743016

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sonrisa de V: Samal

If you wish to spend a day trip in Samal, I recommend Sonrisa de V Resort.
Upon entering the resort for the first time, I was immediately reminded of my favorite resort in Samal, Chema's by the Sea. The design was natural, unlike the other resorts that seem to have an excess of cement in the making.
Sonrisa de V is a sprawling resort. It has a huge lawn area, that's actually perfect for events such as weddings. I was surprised that the resort was really huge, and seemed like it was three resort lots combined.
It has only 5 spartan cottages, one of which is good enough for an entire family. Don't expect luxury though. Think your basic bahay kubo.
The resort has a bar in the beach front, so I really think it was made for day trips. There are two beach areas separated by their jetty. There is no pool.

The beach is typical Samal, white fine sand (not so powdery). However, you can get one of the largest beach fronts here, next to Paradise Island.

There are huts that you can rent out for picnics. What I don't like about it is that the resort is beside noisy Blue Jazz, the resort popular for its giant slide pools. That resort gets the most number of visitors in Samal lately, because of this attraction.
However, come sunset, and the crowds at the other resort subside, what you get is a relaxing retreat, amidst sprawling grounds. Because of its clean, well kept grounds and cheap prices, Sonrisa de V is a good choice for family day trips or barkada outings.


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