Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Whole New World

So it's the last day of the year. Funny how time flies these days. You really don't feel the change. My last blog post was on July, and it seems that waking up today still felt like it was July. Well it's the last day of the year and 5 months have passed. I'm pretty sure a lot has changed - a lot has happened. But why don't we feel different?

Realizing I was falling into some sort of routine, where life seems normal and dull, I set out on a journey that would bring back the explorer in me. You see, I am that kind of guy - never wanting to settle, never wanting to be contented with what I have. Some may think it's wrong and could potentially lead to some sort of unhappiness, but I think otherwise.

Exploring keeps me alive. It's seeing new things, breathing the air from different places, meeting unfamiliar people and actually making connections with them. It's that sort of living that makes me feel different every morning I wake up.

Earlier, I climbed the otherworldly landscapes of the Mushroom Valley in Capadoccia, Turkey. I broke away from the crowd and set off higher, eventually reaching a height that made me feel as free as a bird. It was the most amazing thing I have done this year.

So I ask all of you, would you rather settle on the ground with the crowd or break away and widen your world. There will always be A WHOLE NEW WORLD out there. So get out and explore.

Another year. Another journey. The Island Explorer is back.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Nurture Spa and Resort Village

I remember my first time in Nurture way back 3 years ago. Or even more. I usually just go here to get a massage as it is known for that. Well, recently, I made my way back to the spa and discovered a whole lot more.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

W Bali: A Bit Disappointed

If you have been reading my blog, you would have noticed my love affair with the hotel group, W. This hotel chain fits me perfectly. I love its flair for design, its whenever, whatever service and of course, its style. I've been to the W in Bali before but I have never stayed here. So, in this trip, I decided to book one night before we head back home to Manila.

Villa Kaloo: Boracay's Beachfront Wonder

Villas or vacation rentals are still a lesser known accommodation type in the Philippines. Most Filipinos would gravitate towards resorts and hotels. Since I discovered vacation rentals way back during my South African trip, I have not stopped looking for houses that can be rented for a day or two. Well, this post is about a beach house I rented recently in the most popular island in the country. I couldn't stop raving about it ever since. Welcome to Villa Kaloo.

Alila Villas Uluwatu: Bali's Best So Far

The title says it all and I am struggling to write this post as I see the pictures once again. Perched high above the dramatic cliffs of Uluwatu, the Alila Villas soars in every aspect of a resort experience.

Sardine: One of Bali's Best Eats

I like staying in Seminyak because it has more sophistication than rowdy Kuta. And a host of the  best restaurants in Bali can be found in this area, particularly in the Seminyak-Kerobokan circuit. One of my favorite dining spots serves up an interesting fusion of Asian and Western food - Sardine.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Berry Amour Villas: Bali's Seductive Retreat

I don't know how I do it, but I guess I seem to have a lucky charm with hotels and resorts. Just by looking at a picture and analyzing its review, I can really tell if it would meet my high standards. For my latest trip to Bali, I was looking for a new villa to stay in. While skimming through Agoda, I found a decent looking one priced at only USD 120 - with a private pool. 

The PuLi: A True Urban Escape

Shanghai is one of my favorite cities in the world. It is probably one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Asia, along with Hong Kong and Singapore. But Shanghai has that old world charm blending with such a futuristic backdrop. It's something hard to describe without seeing for yourself.

The Malasimbo Arts and Music Festival

I didn't want to skip this experience even though the Malasimbo happened last February. I have been wanting to go to this festival three years ago, but I never found the time to do so. When the weekend was finally coming up, I spontaneously got on a boat to Puerto Galera along with two friends who were as restless as I am. That night, I witnessed one of the most beautiful festivals I have been to.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

2nd Chance: An Untitled Destination

I didn't put a title to this post since I wanted to catch your attention. And with this picture as my cover, you may be wondering: where the hell is this beach?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Serenity at Stilts: Calatagan, Batangas

It was a lazy Saturday morning when I dared my friends to be spontaneous and escape for the weekend. Without any plans, we found ourselves driving South, stopping at BF Homes first for lunch and coffee. I had a place in mind, but I wasn't sure of its quality, since, from its pictures, it looked run down. I was glad I still took the risk, since it has become one of my favorite escapes from Manila.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

2014 Summer's List

Summer is here in the Philippines.

And to those who still haven't been to our lovely islands, now may be the best and worst time to go. Because Filipinos love to travel, the beaches are most likely to be packed with revelers - packed to make Boracay seem like Mall of Asia. But it is also at this time that you can travel to most hidden islands, given the nice sea conditions. Take a look at some of my choices for this Summer - some of which I have not been on to.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Crown Regency Resort and Convention Center Boracay

Being in Boracay almost every month, I have become familiar with most accommodations on the island, from Station 1 all the way to the very end of Station 3, from Diniwind to Bulabog, from backpacker guesthouses to private villas. But there is one resort that got me surprised, since, I wouldn't have expected it to be like what it is. This resort was the Crown Regency Resort and Convention Center.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Top 5 of 2013: Philippines

It was one of the fastest years of my life. My blog entries are piling up already, and the oldest ones are a year behind. I haven't posted my holiday trips last year even! I still vow to finish them though within the next month.

I always thought I lacked travel compared to other years, but upon reviewing my year, I think it was still enough to make a complete list. I traveled mostly out of the country this year, from the UAE at the start, to Australia in the end and of course, a lot of Asia in the middle. I found myself in the same places, from Phuket, Bali, HK, Singapore and Malaysia. I also took my first cruise, which I still have to write about. I also decided to spend time in the Philippines this Christmas for the first time in 4 years, but soon left for Hanoi, where I am currently writing this. I actually spent more time abroad than in the country.

So, it was difficult coming up with my list for 2013. Because of my recent trend in travel, I decided to split the list into Top 5 of the Philippines and Top 5 abroad. I was devastated with Haiyan's destruction of my favorite places. This Jan 5, I will be going to Tacloban for the first time since the deadly storm. It was the best and worst of times. But in the end, 2013 ended with a lot of hope and happiness. That was enough indeed.


5. Stilts Calatagan

I really have a soft spot for resorts on water. The next two entries prove that. I have always wanted to visit Stilts since it underwent renovation 3 years ago. It was only this year, when we made a spontaneous decision to go down South, to visit the place.

Stilts is actually an old resort, but its interiors were given a facelift and suddenly, demand shot up. And who wouldn't fall in love with views of the ocean while on their hammocks hung on their room terraces. 

Stilts is located in Calatagan in Batangas, a 3 hour drive from Manila. Prices for the cottages start at 5,000 pesos which I think is still quite high.

4. Maxima

Maxima, oh, Maxima. You have been on my list before already. But this year's trip made me realize I have to make the pilgrimage every year from now on. Another house on water, this vacation rental is a 4 bedroom villa with a live coral garden underneath it. Snorkel off the deck after having breakfast, or kayak in the middle of the night. Everything is possible. You can even go to nearby Aquafun Waterpark for more splashing adventures.

3. El Nido Pangulasian

I really want to make this my number 1, but because this place was really love at first sight for me. And to think I have high standards for resorts in the Philippines. This resort set the bar higher or made me rethink that the Philippines has hope. Thanks to El Nido and the Ayalas for bringing a truly world class island escape in the country that can finally rival the Maldives. I still wish we could have more of these though.

El Nido Pangulasian is also the highest rated resort in my blog so far. It beats my favorites in Bali, Phuket and even the Maldives. This really goes off the scales, and probably because it is run by Filipinos who can truly make anything world class. If you haven't heard of Pangulasian, book your next anniversary celebration here. Every peso is worth it, believe me!

2. Baler

Whenever people ask me about my favorite place as of the moment, I always mention Baler. And most give me the same shocking reaction. Really?! Then I continue with my spiel. Just over 4 hours away from Manila, Baler is truly an idyllic escape, a charming Pacific retreat that is beginning to blossom into a full-fledged resort town. With the opening of Costa Pacifica, Baler just got the much needed mileage to make itself an emerging destination in the country.

Popular with surfers, Sabang Beach is the main hub, with a handful of resorts welcoming more guests. The pioneering Bay's Inn has a wonderful seaside restaurant that is still THE place to eat and hang out in the area. If the fine black sand doesn't appeal to you, then trek to Ditumabo Falls or visit the century old Balete tree. There are several things to do in Baler and its surroundings. You can even opt to explore more of Aurora province.

Baler does make you feel far away from the city and the winding 4-hour drive just makes the trip more exciting. Leave after midnight in Manila to arrive in Aurora just at the crack of dawn, when the wonders of early morning light display their beauty across the spectacular rural landscape.  

I think I have said enough and what I want to say is clear. If you haven't been to Baler, go now! I'm very sure anyone, non-surfers alike, will find a sweet spot for this laid back getaway.

1. Boracay

It was really a toss up between Baler and Boracay. The latter won just because I visited the island 7 times this year (twice in December). And I guess, Boracay does deserve to be in my top spot. I have always been avoiding it, but I realized it's really a place that I truly love.

If you ask me my favorite resort in the island, I would still give you Shangri-La (which I visited four times this year). I have to admit that getting a villa in Shangri-La is addicting. I have stayed in two villas this year. In my other trips, I tried to keep my adventures within a budget. In November, just before Haiyan struck, I backpacked Boracay with a budget of just P5,000 for 3 days. My budget hotel option would be Hey Jude in D'Mall (no beach front), Hannah's and True Home in Station 1. But I am apply to have discovered a new spot in the island this year: the far end of Station 3.

Station 3's far end is past the boat station, where the walk path eventually ends. You'll notice the beginning of the area, when the crowd gets diminished and becomes mostly Europeans who lie down on the sand or chill out in the lounges of their resorts all day.

This is now my sort of vacation - steady and relaxed. I often seek for peace and quiet nowadays, and who would have thought it still existed in Boracay. Well, Station 3 does offer that. Goodbye Station 1. I have been allured to the other end, where everything is friendlier and charming.

I am happy that Boracay was my choice in the end. I always asked my friends what I should put. But, I think Boracay deserves the crown this year. I literally have spent more than a month in this island this year. And I think that speaks for itself. It is my top destination locally for 2013.

My next post will be my top 5 in the rest of the world. But before that, I would like to wish everyone a Merry New Year!


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