Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sumilon For the nth Time

I don't even know how many times I have been to Sumilon. But every time I go there, I always feel it's my first time. For this post, I will be posting pictures of the resort but using my iPhone and Instagram. I have so many shots on my iPhone that I never post on this blog, so I hope this is a start.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Charm of Sonya's Garden

For years, we may have made the journey to Tagaytay to savor the organic cooking of Sonya's Garden. Known for serving up delightful buffets of pasta and salad, this Tagaytay institution should be given credit for making this burgeoning city of the South into the food mecca that it is today.

The Island Explorer Rating

Before I move on writing, let me just explain a new feature on my experiences with hotels and resorts. At the end of each write up is a score board that churns out a rating (score) based on my experience. The criteria are:

Ambience: the over-all character and atmosphere of the place
Room: the quality and amenities of the room
Service: the one key thing that separates a five-star hotel from the rest
Facilities: activities and places in the hotel and resort like the gym, business center spa, etc.
Dining: the most overlooked criteria of a hotel and resort, also the state where you dine in
Over-all Experience: was I happy, satisfied and wanting to come back at the end of the trip

These sum up to the Island Explorer Score, which is a 0 to 5 rating that I give to all the hotels and resorts I have visited.

0 - forget it
1 - unacceptable
2 - fair
3 - good
4 - excellent
5- perfect

So far, the highest score goes to El Nido in Pangulasian with a score of 4.6. Congratulations! You are indeed the best in the country so far. I will try to rate the rest of the hotels and resorts so you can have an overview of what to expect in each property. But then again, if I write about it here, then the property must have made an impact to me. For once, I already have preselected these places, thus, they were already my choices.

So with that, happy travels!

Pico de Loro: Unexpectedly SM

When someone mentions about Pico De Loro, I can't help but think SM. I know it seems very racist, but I couldn't help downgrade my expectations of a place when it has the brand SM to it. And I am ashamed, since I just can't give them the benefit of the doubt. So when we arrived at Pico Sands, the only hotel in Pico de Loro, a seaside development by SM, I naturally gave a half smile.

Surf's Up: Baler

One may go to Baler for one reason only. That is to surf. Baler is an emerging surfing destination, following the footsteps of San Fernando in La Union, Daet in Camarines Norte and of course, Siargao. Being closer to Manila, Baler is indeed a growing mecca for surfers old and new.

Ditumabo Falls: Baler

Whenever people ask me where the best place is nearby Manila, I always mention Baler. It may not be appealing to some, but I have found my place in this secluded town eastern seaboard of Luzon. But Baler is not all about Sabang Beach and surfing. Many find new places to explore, such as mountain and waterfall hikes. Here we explore the most famous waterfall in town, Ditumabo.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Rise Philippines!

The recent events of the Philippines has crippled its tourism industry beyond imagination. From the Bohol earthquake to the devastation of Leyte, Malapascua, Bantayan and Coron. Good thing Boracay was relatively spared. I call all my friends to plan their trips to these beach havens and contribute in their rebuilding. We will not any storm or earthquake impede our beauty. The Philippines has the BEST ISLANDS, BEACHES and LANDSCAPES in Asia. We have the best beaches in the world. Let us make this known. 

This is our time to show the world the beauty of the Philippines. This is our time to RISE.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Costa Pacifica: Baler

Before we begin, I just want to say that I have been to Baler 4 times already this year, since I wrote that first post. I have become so attached to it, that I make it a point to visit the town every month. And during my first time this year, I stayed in Bay's Inn, which I said was laid back and all, but their accommodations are very basic and worn already. 

On the way to Baler

My next series will focus on a destination that is probably not familiar with everyone except for one thing it is known for - surfing. Yes, let me take you to my new fave destination, Baler, which is roughly 4 to 5 hours drive from Manila.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

El Nido Finale

It seems weird that after writing this series from El Nido, I am now leaning towards it as my favorite in Palawan. I always said to myself that Coron is better. Now, with all of these reminiscing, I just want to go back to El Nido and explore more of it.

El Nido Pangulasian: The Best in the Country So Far

So my El Nido adventure continues after staying 2 nights in Lagen. I knew about El Nido's new resort, Pangulasian Island. However, Pangulasian was more expensive and having 4 people in the trip will definitely hurt our budget.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

El Nido Lagen

And I'm back. Yes, if you thought the Island Explorer has retired, well, I just forgot to write. But so far, since my last post, which was already a year delayed, I haven been traveling twice a month. Imagine all the backlog!

So, moving on, I will be revisiting some experiences that needed to be posted. Let's begin where I took off. Currently the number 1 island in the world according to Travel + Leisure, Palawan is still a vast and long treasure cove filled with underrated beauty featuring nature's best.

Palawan has everything I assume. From the sparkling islands of the North to the wild mountains of the South, and more and more islands in between. I am very ashamed to say that I have only touched the tip of Palawan's iceberg. I have only been to Puerto Princesa, Coron and El Nido. What a shame indeed.

But these are the basics, so let's check out another resort that have of course, made headlines for the past 20 years in the island. For years, it has been THE resort destination, but as more luxury resorts opened in the past few years, El Nido Lagen has already taken a backseat. Nevertheless, this resort is still an institution in eco-luxury.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Calamianes Group of Islands: Coron Escape

Coron rests as one of my most favorite places in the Philippines. I still consider it to be very different from El Nido, even though most people think they are the same. El Nido may win in rock formations and beautiful lagoons but Coron wins in island escapes. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Waterhouse at South Bund: Savoring Shanghai

After Mongolia, I had a short visit in Shanghai, which excited me more than the nomad country. It's been 4 years since I visited Shanghai, so this trip I knew must be memorable. And even though it was a 4 day trip only, I decided to change accommodations every night! My first hotel was one of my most anticipated ones, considering it was a member of the Design Hotels group. Also, it was owned by Singapore's famous hotelier, Loh Lik Peng, who conceived New Majestic. Recipient of a T+L Design Award and landing in the Conde Naste Hot List, this hotel is surely making waves.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The George Tapan Masterclass conquers Surigao!

Finally, one dream has come true. This June 14 to 17, I will be personally leading a tour in my most favorite destination in the Philippines - Surigao del Sur. 

If you have read my blog entries on Siargao and Surigao, you will see why this destination is truly something that should be in your bucket list. And, to make it extra special, I will be with renowned travel photographer George Tapan who will guide us in capturing every angle of Surigao's hidden beauty. 

This tour includes photography sessions with George Tapan and tours to Sohoton Caves and Jellyfish Lake. It costs only P26,000 per pax for 4D/3N. The price is inclusive of full board and water cottage accommodations (triple sharing) in Club Tara, roundtrip airport transfers from Surigao airport. Airfare not included, but can be arranged by iTravelerAsia, my newest travel agency. All taxes and other surcharges are already included. Airfare to Surigao airport can be costly though at around P6,000 to 9,000 roundtrip. Right now, it is at P6,000 round trip. 

Believe me, even though it may be quite expensive, this will be one hell of a trip, and I guarantee you a wonderful and unforgettable vacation in this hidden gem. You get all your money's worth - a hassle free vacation to an uncharted destination + a George Tapan photography workshop set at the most beautiful islands you will ever see. 

Reserve a slot now by contacting Jacob at +63 917 530 9810 or +63 2 470 1761. I hope to finally share with you first hand my glorious travels in the Philippines. This will just be one of more to come!

See my posts on Surigao and Siargao here:

Mozaic: Ubud, Bali

In every trip I take, I always make sure I visit a high calibre restaurant, whether it be one of the top restaurants in the region or a Michelin starred one. For this trip to Bali, I finally secured seats to the elusive Mozaic. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Purist of Ubud

As you know, I visit Bali every year. Let's say it's a pilgrimage I make already. Bali is one of my favorite spots in the world, even though it doesn't have great beaches such as ours. And when in Bali, I always take the trip up to Ubud, that quaint highlands town known for its art and culture.

The Mongolia Voyage: Part 3

After that short visit to the Terelj, I was dead set in finding another location. Unfortunately, it was just so difficult to book plane tickets to the Gobi and even just the overland tours. I also had a schedule to follow, so in the end, I surrendered to the fact that this trip will only be a glimpse of Mongolia. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Mongolian Voyage: Part 2

I woke up early the next morning as Mongolia is 4 hours behind Manila. To early though that no one was awake. So I still had to wait before I could book a trip to the countryside. Not wasting time, I researched more on excursions. 

The Mongolian Voyage: Part 1

I've always been asked about my bucket list. Well, that list changes every year. I usually set a list of destinations that I would like to go to for the year. So I don't really have one that sticks for a lifetime. Mine changes. However, there are some destinations that keep on falling back to my list if it doesn't happen in the year I planned it. One of them has got me excited ever since I thought about setting foot in that country. Well, I am proud to say that I can finally tick that off my list. Friends, I am happy to finally share to you, one of the most remote countries in the world, Mongolia.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Aiyanar Beach and Dive Resort

Anilao continues to amaze me with its charming resorts and beautiful sunsets. I couldn't get enough of it, so I make it a point to drive 2 hours to spend a night or two to escape the city. I never knew this dive destination would be my perfect hideaway. This time, I hied off to a new resort, escaped for a night of some peace and quiet. Friends, one of my new favorites, Aiyanar.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Madera Hong Kong

I guess by now, you know that I am a frequent visitor of Hong Kong, and every time I go, I try to stay in a hotel that I haven't been to. This time, I crossed the waters to stay in Kowloon after learning about this newly opened design hotel called Madera. 

Vista Aplaya Anilao

I was all over Anilao last year. I fell in love with the place, that I even wanted to build a resort there. I was actually inspired by the many small resorts or houses for rent in the area. One of those inspiring family run resorts was Vista Aplaya. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Vivere Azure Anilao

One of my favorite resorts this year is surprisingly just 2.5 hours drive from Manila. When I came to Anilao last year and rediscovered the famed diver's paradise, we drove past a resort with lots of cars parked on its street. I turned to look for the sign that Azure. It was also pleasant to see that Azure was by Vivire, a pioneer hotel in the Alabang business district.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Amarela Beach Resort: Bohol

I’ve heard of Amarela from a lot of my friends and peers in the industry. Having been opened in 2006, it is one of the most established boutique resorts family built and run in Bohol. The 25-room charming Filipino designed escape is tucked away in lush foliage of bright pink bouganvillas and verdant bushes and hanging gardens.

The Peacock Garden: Europe in Bohol?

I must admit, I had low expectations of the Peacock Garden in Bohol. It bills itself as Bohol’s premier luxury boutique resort. Those many descriptions made it look very pretentious. I was also a bit off with its European design since it was located in a tropical island. It just seemed out of place. So when I entered the imposing gates of the resort and drove across a grand and manicured driveway that led to what looked like a clubhouse from afar, I still didn’t know what to expect.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Top 10 of 2012

If I thought 2011 was my least travelled year, then 2012 was the total opposite. I was out two thirds of the year, though most are on international trips such as South Africa, Bali, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and two more destinations that I haven't blogged about - Mongolia, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.

So as you can see, I had a drought in local destinations this year. Some in the list are new, but most are rediscoveries. I have been to almost all provinces in the country except for Dinagat Islands and Batanes (yes, yes), so it's hard for me to find new places. And with work becoming more demanding, it's just hard to travel locally and further away from Manila.

But there was one clear winner for me this year, as I reveal the Top 10 of my Philippine experiences this 2012.

10. The Farm at San Benito

Let's begin the list with a well known resort very near the Metro. Just an hour's drive from Makati is the city of Lipa that holds one of the country's most treasured resorts - and that's not on a beach or an island - The Farm at San Benito. Known as a healing resort, one must descend here for their medical and spa treatments. Those and its gorgeous landscape, secluded setting and luxurious accommodations bring you to a relaxing utopia that the Farm promises you to experience.

9. Bacolod City

It's the first time for Bacolod to land on my list, since I just always associate it with food food and more food. But this time, I got to explore more of Bacolod, strolling down Lacson Avenue on a cool morning and even on a rainy afternoon. It also has new and notable hotels that are very affordable like the Avenue Suites. Bacolod can be the most relaxing and carefree city in the country, and that makes it one of my favorite places this year. 

8. Baguio City

It may be also relaxing but Baguio is now more cosmopolitan than ever before. With renovated buildings along Session Road that make it more European in feel, Baguio City continues to charm its visitors. There are still the heavyweights in dining experiences such as the Forest House, Cafe by the Ruins and Oh my Gulay, but new ones have also sprung out, like Eve's Garden and Ocha Asian Cuisine. There's also the new hotel Le Monet at Camp John Hay which was our choice of accommodation this year.

7. Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar

I've been here before, but my trip with my family last July out this place in one of my most memorable experiences this year. And for a good reason - I finally was able to stay overnight in a casa (Casa San Miguel) and spend idle time in the resort. After doing the standard historical tour, I also discovered how pleasant their beach was as well. And with more plans for expansion and development, Las Casas truly is on the rise as a unique cultural destination in the country.

6. Sta. Ana, Cagayan

It's been high up in my list in 2010, but coming back here this year presented me with more surprises. I got to stay in the most underrated resort in the country, the Cagayan Holiday and Leisure Resort which had a grand casino that rivals those in Macau (if only it was occupied). I also discovered the Avalon Beach Club which was a charming surprise as well.

5. San Juan, La Union

Finally, I got to stay in one of the most popular surfing destinations in the country. And my stay in Kahuna Beach Resort made it even more memorable. San Juan may be 5 hours away from Manila, but it is well worth the travel. It has the chill out vibe that most surfing beaches embody. I want to mention also Sunset Beach Resort in Poro Point, which was another laid back resort that surprised me.

4. Boracay Island

I don't think I've ever put Boracay as an island in my list, so since I stayed here for almost a month in intervals this year, Boracay deserves to be here. I love Boracay, especially now that I've mastered the entire island. From the beautiful Shangri-La to the allure of Bulabog Beach and of course the energy of White Beach, Boracay will always remain special to me - a destination that I am proud to say is definitely THE best beach in Asia.

3. The Calamianes Group of Island, Coron, Palawan

Who doesn't love Coron? With its islands with pristine white sand beaches, it is indeed a sun worshipper's temple. These are the islands that can rival the Maldives, if only those privately owned islands had five-star resorts. I still like the Calamianes the way it is, but I just don't like the high entrance fees to these uninhabited islands owned by the rich and greedy. I still have to explore more of the Calamianes, since I've only been to the regular spots around Malcapuya.

2. Anilao

Oh Anilao. You are now my new escape. I am not a diver, but that doesn't matter. In fact, I hate it that I am not a licensed diver, since I know Anilao has more to offer underwater. This year, Anilao becomes the runner up, and I am just so happy that I fell in love with this place once again. When I wrote about my experience last year, I knew there were more in store for me here. So, after traveling back and forth to this Batangas town, I have chosen Vivere Azure and Vista Aplaya as my top choices for accommodations. I can say that the wealth of Anilao is in its jaw dropping sunsets and relaxing atmosphere. No sandy beach here, but who cares.

1. Sipalay, Negros Occidental

The clear winner definitely. I can't stop promoting this relatively uncharted destination three hours away from Bacolod City. Facing the Sulu Sea, it is far from the Filipino tourist radar yet popular among foreign backpackers. From my favorite Punta Bulata Resort, explore the many coves, islands, mangroves and beaches of Sipalay. 

Visit Danjugan Island, a protected marine sanctuary that will satisfy your desire for natural raw adventures. Spend a day in Sugar Beach with all the backpackers and marvel at the quirky designs of Taka Tuka Beach Resort. 

Or chill out in the quieter Punta Ballo beach and drink while watching the dramatic sunset at Nataasan Beach Resort. This is a huge destination, and I have been back 3 time already this year - and I still haven't seen enough.

So again, Visayas takes the crown this year. And I really can't get over how my amazement with Sipalay. There are really SO MUCH to do here. I just hope it get a more solid spot in the tourist circuit, since it deserves to be visited with all its charm and beauty.


So another year ends, and as usual, I still have a lot of entries to complete 2012. I will be writing about them in my next posts while I begin my journeys in 2013. I am blessed to have traveled a lot in my life, and through this blog, I hope to inspire others to do the same. Travel is the ONLY luxury that can change your life. So save up and travel! Happy 2013!

Fairways and Bluewater Boracay

Everybody loves White Beach, so most prefer to stay on this side of Boracay. However, just as I learned recently, there is more to White Beach in Boracay. It started actually when I fell in love with Shangri-La, that piece of heaven that made me forget all together that I was in Boracay. And that's a big feat. Then, I got to savor sleeping in Bulabog which was a treat as well. Now, I got to stay in one of the biggest resort developments in the island, and also one of the first massive developments as well. This is Fairways and Bluewater.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Gumemela Villas: Boracay

Let's take a step back for a while and fly back to one of the best beaches in the world that is found here in our country. I've spent a reasonable amount of time in Boracay this year, and what follows are the accommodations that I've stayed in for almost a period of a month. Let's start off with the lesser known side of Boracay, Bulabog beach.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Velassaru Maldives: Deluxe Bungalow

As I've said, I never left my villa till the next day for breakfast. Good things must come to an end, and as soon as I was ready, I told the reception that I will be moving to my more affordable deluxe bungalow.


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