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Question: What is an island on a lake in an island on a lake  in an island on an ocean?

Answer: Taal Volcano

 

 

Taal Volcano up close

 

Taal Yacht Club in Talisay, Batangas

Getting near Volcano Island

That’s how our tour guide slash bangkero described Taal Volcano as the motorized boat leaves the Taal Yacht Club in Talisay, Batangas. We reached the Volcano Island in minutes and from the boat, we saw the Tagaytay Ridge. “For a change we’re viewing Tagaytay from Taal,” I told my officemates, smiling as our other colleagues took a photo of us from another boat. “I hope this volcano doesn’t act up while we’re here or we’ll swim for our lives.” 😀

the welcome party at the foot of the volcano

so near yet so far

no pets allowed in our hike

Taal Volcano, said some online sources, now seems a small volcano but it used to be one of the world’s largest, towering 18,000 feet into the sky. Small as it may seem, the hike to its crater rim wasn’t very easy, but it was enjoyable. We chose to do the walking trail instead of riding horses, which we felt would take away the fun in the experience. We were so right. The hike took about an hour and we stopped several times to either take photos or simply enjoy the view.

enjoying the view after a long hike

taking it all in

The view from the rim was breathtaking (after all that walking? why not! Haha) as much as it was calming. Not content with the the view, we decided to hike down to the crater lake and yes, we swam in its sulfuric glory. Haha. 🙂 It was good for the skin, the tour guide said, but it was bad for the clothes. Haha! I didn’t mind it—the experience of swimming in a volcano’s crater lake made it all worth it. I just wished I could kayak my way around it, like I did in Coron, Palawan.

rushing to swim in the lake

the island on a lake in an island...

Our stomachs were our guide to stop swimming and take the hike back up to the crater rim and then down to the foot of the volcano. The boat ride back to Taal Yacht Club was like a roller coaster ride, no thanks to the nasty waves that made my officemates repent for their sins on the spot and prayed to all the saints they know 🙂

I got quite scared alright but I chose to enjoy the moment while it lasted: I sat near the front end of the boat, talking all the face-slapping from the waves, occasionally closing my eyes as I listened to the mad waters, as if asking for more, telling myself that no amount of exhaustion or worry or fear should take away the fun in this nature adventure.  And boy did I enjoy it.

Taal Volcano crater lake

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One of the things that I look forward to in my job is out-of-town travels not only because I can take a breather from the hustle and bustle of Metro Manila, but I can also visit new places and experience new culture. And the best part is, it’s almost always an all-expense-paid trip 😉

Some weeks back I went to Davao City in Mindanao, south of the Philippines, for a brief 3-day business trip. Though the limited time didn’t allow me to visit the more popular tourist attractions like Samal Island and Philippine Eagle Center, among others, I still made the most of my first visit to Davao. 

Davao

  • Considered one of the world’s largest cities with a land area of 2,443.61 square kilometers
  • Ranked 10th in the Asian Cities of the Future by Foreign Direct Investment Magazine
  • Typhoon-free; balmy weather year-round
  • Home to the world’s largest eagle, The Philippine Eagle, which is also the country’s national bird
  • Named one of the most peaceful cities in Southeast Asia for its low monthly crime rate
  • Home to the world-famous waling-waling, considered one of the world’s most beautiful orchids, making it the “Orchid Capital of the Philippines”
  • Most celebrated fiesta is Kadayawan sa Dabaw Festival, which happens every 3rd week of August
  • Once home to Rafflesia, the world’s largest flower, found in Mt. Apo

Durian

Davao is also home to the famous durian, popular in Southeast Asia as the ‘king of fruits,’ but usually banned in hotels because of its distinct smell 😀 

And visiting Davao won’t be complete without trying the durian. But instead of eating the fruit, I opted for the ice blended durian coffee called durian larcepuccino, which you can buy from any of the Blugre Coffee branches in the city. I went to Blugre’s branch at the Matina Town Square—a hotspot for food, booze, and live band—just across Ateneo de Davao University.

durian in a coffee

durian in a coffee

Dare

A must-do in Davao City is the XCelerator zipline at the Outland Adventure (address: Diversion Road, MAA, across the GAP Farm; tel.nos.082/224-5855 and 082/271-6067).

Outland Adventure is the largest ropes course facility in the Philippines and its XCelerator Zipline is the only US-certified zipline in the country that’s also the longest speed zipline in Asia.

The adventure is made more fun because before the actual zip ride, you first take a 10-minute uphill hike (bring a bottle of water!) and ride a bamboo raft to cross a lake.

bamboo rafting (credits to outlandadventure.org)

bamboo rafting

a thrilling ride

a thrilling ride

upside down adventure

upside down adventure

Photo credits: outlandadventure.org

I took the “Superman” ride and enjoyed flying over the lush greenery and a large fresh water lake, feeling the cool rush of wind on my face as I shouted “I’m aalaaaaiiivvve!”

And travels—like the one to Davao—give me that same kind of feeling that I’m truly alive; of an experience that’s more for the spirit than for the body and mind.

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This same month a year ago, my college pals and I had our first foreign trip together to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was memorable because it was the first time we ever agreed to doing a trip together (being busy old farts in Manila) now that we can, well, afford it. And so to celebrate the anniversary of that trip, I’m posting some photos here. Who says you can only celebrate anniversaries of relationships? 😛
Petronas view from Prince Hotel

Petronas view from Prince Hotel

Thanks much to bismuth because we got the accommodation at Prince Hotel for free. Yay! 🙂

Merdeka Square: symbol of Malaysian nationalism

Merdeka Square: symbol of Malaysian nationalism

English Gothic architecture of St. Mary's Cathedral

English Gothic architecture of St. Mary's Cathedral

Inside the oldest Aglican church in KL

Inside the oldest Aglican church in KL

The age-old Jelutung Tree was preserved even with the construction of the KL Menara Tower

The age-old Jelutung Tree was preserved even with the construction of the KL Menara Tower

Inside the Masjid Negara, the national mosque

Inside the Masjid Negara, the national mosque

View of KL Menara Tower from Masjid Negara

View of KL Menara Tower from Masjid Negara

Observation deck of the Petronas Twin Towers

Observation deck of the Petronas Twin Towers

giant gold statue of Hindu god Murugan stands at the foot of the Batu Caves

giant gold statue of Hindu god Muruga stands at the foot of the Batu Caves

A Hindu ceremony at the foot of the Batu Caves

A Hindu ceremony at the foot of the Batu Caves

Climbing over 200 steps to the Batu Caves

Climbing over 200 steps to the Batu Caves

Dinner at Bukit Bintang

Dinner at Bukit Bintang

First time to eat frogs :D

First time to eat frogs 😀

Former wet market turned heritage site

Former wet market turned heritage site

inside Central Market

inside Central Market

Picture happy at Petaling Street (China town)

Picture happy at Petaling Street (China town)

Cheap but good coffee at Suria KLCC Mall

Cheap but good coffee at Suria KLCC Mall

inside Aquaria KLCC

inside Aquaria KLCC

 Watch this video showing us fooling around during the laser show at the foot of the Eye on Malaysia. 😀

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One of the best things about Easter is getting your license back to pig out. Read aloud with me: pig out. In the truest sense of this slang term it means you can eat all you can now, pork included. But I want to be moronic about this by being literal and technical with the term and mean it to say: eating all you can without the pork—all in, pig out. 😛

Okay, that wasn’t really funny, was it? Haha! But you have to agree with me that you can pig out without the pig, and there are three options for you this Easter.

"granfather's old house" feel in Verbena

"granfather's old house" feel in Verbena

Restaurant Verbena at Country Suites Discovery Tagaytay (300 Calamba Road, San Jose, Tagaytay City/tel. no. 413-4567). This 80-seater restaurant serves fresh country cuisine created by executive chef  David Pardo de Ayala from Columbia, who is also the corporate chef for Discovery Suites in Ortigas, Pasig City. The place has a “granfather’s house” ambiance to it, which means you can feel at home.

Drop the appetizer and proceed to taste its Sweet Corn Veloute soup with seared foie gras. It’s the right starter for their generous serving of Grilled U.S. Angus Rib Eye Steak.  Finish your meal with Moist Orange and Chocolate Cake, which you can enjoy with a scoop of Haagen-Dazs ice cream or with Raspberry Coulis and Whipped Cream, which I chose—and enjoyed.

simple and smooth

simple and smooth: Sweet Corn Veloute soup

two for two: angus rib eye steak

two for two: angus rib eye steak

sinful delight: moist orange and chocolate cake

sinful delight: moist orange and chocolate cake

If you want to be organic with your meal you can drive up to the popular Sonya’s Garden (Buck Estate, Alfonso, Cavite/ mobile no. 09175329097 or 09175335140).  

going 'green' in Sonya's Garden

no aircon needed in Sonya's Garden

going organic green

going organic green

Start your meal with its Green Salad, which is freshly harvested from (where else?) Sonya’s organic garden. Interesting about this salad is the inclusion of edible red rose petals.

create your own salad

create your own salad

have it all

have it all

create your own pasta

create your own pasta

have it all again

have it all again

The pasta comes with generous servings of two sauces: sun dried tomato and chicken cream with mango. You can also choose the toppings from black olives to salmon belly. For dessert, try their Glazed Sweet Potato or their Banana Rolls with sesame and jackfruit, which I liked so much.

kamote never tasted this good

potato never tasted this good

turon with a twist

turon with a twist

If you feel a little adventurous with your meal, drive up north to San Fernando, Pampanga and head directly to Everybody’s Cafe (Mac Arthur Highway, San Fernando/ tel. no 045-8601121 or 045-9617121). It’s a carinderia-style restaurant for authentic Kapampangan cuisine, including  ‘exotic’ dishes such as adobong tugak (yup, frog adobo) and camaro (yup, mole crickets), which I’m starting to miss.

everyone's welcome in everybody's cafe

everyone's welcome in everybody's cafe

Carinderia-style with a lot of character

Carinderia-style with a lot of character

frog that tastes like chicken

frog that tastes like chicken

goodbye, Jiminy Cricket

goodbye, Jiminy Cricket

After a heavy meal, head to Susie’s Cuisine (045-8612480 or 9639302), which is also along Mac Arthur Highway not far from Everybody’s Cafe.

kakanin galore at Susie's

kakanin galore at Susie's

more than just kakanin at Susie's

more than just kakanin at Susie's

Must-try in Susie’s Cuisine is her tibok-tibok or sweet carabao milk pudding, the Kapampangan’s version of maja blanca. Between the two, I love tibok-tibok more because it does melt in your mouth. Yummy!

tibok-tibok: move over maja blanca

tibok-tibok: move over maja blanca

Cap your food trip in San Fernando with Kabigting’s Halo-Halo the pride of Arayat, Pampanga. It might sound a strange suggestion, specially because when we talk of Pampanga halo-halo, the top-of-mind is Razon’s. But we can try Razon’s almost everywhere now, including one at Metrowalk in Ortigas. Indeed, Kabigting’s is the new choice for halo-halo in Pampanga.

Kabigting's halo-halo: less if more

Kabigting's halo-halo: less is more

Kabigting’s Halo-Halo is my kind of treat because it satisfies the sweet tooth in me without the overwhelming taste from an overwhelming number of ingredients typical of a halo-halo. Kabigting’s Halo-Halo only has milk, corn, beans, and homemade pastillas de leche. Interesting mix, isn’t it? Head to the food court of Robinsons Starmills in San Fernando for a serving (the only other branch is in Arayat, Pampanga, near the Arayat Church).

so good even nuns love it!

so good even nuns love it!

Hungry now? Go and feast over good food this Easter. You earned your license back to eat. 🙂

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so natural, so magical

Summer for me begins in February, when not many think of hitting the beach or traveling to their favorite destination. At least not yet. And that’s the best thing about it. I can have the place to myself or share it with some few others who are smart enough to travel before the sign says “peak season,” which means long lines at the airport and shrieking hobbits with their parents at the resort. I’m a people-person, but I shun crowded places when I’m on vacation.

So imagine my excitement when some great friends agreed to go to Coron in Northern Palawan last February. I thought it was the perfect timing for a great summer destination. And Coron didn’t disappoint.

Gateway to a 'wow' experience

Gateway to a 'wow' experience

Discovering Kayangan

Discovering Kayangan

Inviting waters of Kayangan Lake

Inviting waters of Kayangan Lake

So clear you can see its 'soul'

So clear you can see its 'soul'

virginal Banol beach

virginal Banol beach

Twin Lagoon

Twin Lagoon

Los Siete Pecados

Los Siete Pecados

Hot soak at Maquinit Hot Springs

Hot soak at Maquinit Hot Springs

kids at Maquinit Hot Springs

kids at Maquinit Hot Springs

Coron town

Ala-Hollywood

Pigs not allowed :)

Pigs not allowed 🙂

there's peace in solitude

there's peace in solitude

View from Mt. Tapyas

View from Mt. Tapyas

sunset in Coron

sunset in Coron

back to land

back to land

another day is over

another day is over

As I said, nothing amazes me anymore now. But Coron did, even without trying—its sights are almost magical, the people are nice, the whole experience is priceless.

 

And there’s a certain kind of calmness to it that not many tourist spots in the country can offer. The kind that makes you want to come back to experience it all over again, and so much so because you can’t find that sense of calmness anywhere else, not even at home.

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 i usually spend my Saturdays in UP Manila where i teach part-time, but because it’s already sembreak i had the time to go to Subic to visit my relatives at the Zoobic Safari. Hahaha!

zoo-gud sa zoobic. Hahaha!

zoo-gud sa zoobic. Hahaha!

My relatives missed me so much they held a welcome parade for me, as shown in photos below. But the effort wasn’t enough to compel me to get closer to them—as with my human relatives, i believe it’s healthy to keep some distance, to be familiar strangers, to be concerned only when necessary. i’m speaking from experience 🙂

Granny Goose and company

Granny Goose and company

Looking for desert

Looking for desert

mini Zorro

mini Zorro

who came first?

Evolution of Man: who came first?

rush hour

rush hour

Marlboro country hahaha!

Marlboro country hahaha!

My sister dissuaded me from going to Zoobic Safari, convinced by her friends who said that the place isn’t worth it. After seeing it myself, i can say that her friends were right: the place wasn’t worth it, but the experience was.

The place is sorely lacking in proper upkeep–some animal cages are in poor condition, some animals don’t look very healthy; i actually felt some pity for my relatives. The nice thing, though, is that some animals can freely walk around, my favorite of which are the ostriches on the way to the Tiger Safari.

Run, ostrich, run

Run, ostrich, run

Talking about the Tiger Safari, you have to pay Php200 for the chicken used as lure for the tigers to go near the jeepney. Without the chicken, the tigers will ignore you (unless they are extremely hungry and you extend your hand out) and thus it would be a boring close encounter with the beasts.

White tiger up close

White tiger up close

hungry beasts

hungry beasts

ang sarap ng hilaw na Chickenjoy!

ang sarap ng hilaw na Chickenjoy!

Can't get enough of hilaw na Chickenjoy

Can't get enough of hilaw na Chickenjoy

The walking tour of the Serpentarium and Rodent’s World was quite enjoyable. The close encounter with many other animals in their supposed natural habitat was also quite  an experience. But I didn’t like the Animal Muzooeum, which to me was tacky through and through; they could have done so much better with this museum.

Can sound like purgatory to some

Can sound like purgatory to some

ang pagong o ang matsing?

Sino ang mas matalino: ang pagong o ang matsing?

Daddy, feeding your own child to the animals not allowed!

Daddy, feeding your own child to the animals not allowed!

tisoy na tamaraw

tisoy na tamaraw

Sorry, kids, Mickey Mouse not inside

Sorry, kids, Mickey Mouse not inside

largest rat in the Philippines

largest rat in the Philippines

kaya pala maraming bubwit

kaya pala maraming bubwit

Lacoste in flesh

Lacoste in flesh

And for those who checked out Zoobic Safari’s website and got excited about the Hip-Hop Bayawak adventure where you hop over monitor lizzards, forget it. The lizzards are gone; only a turtle that seems in coma is there. The hops are, however, good for your heart 🙂

hopping for hopping's sake

hopping for hopping's sake

The Aeta Trail was also interesting, but i felt so much more could be done to the place and to the tour itself so guests will learn more and better appreciate our Aeta brothers.

not-so-distant relatives

not-so-distant relatives

Aeta dance

Aeta dance

I enjoyed Zoobic Safari because it’s not everday that i get to walk around in a mini-forest or jungle with a lot of animals (real animal, not taong animal hahaha), sans the air and noise pollution of the metropolis.  And also because the last time i visited a zoo was in high school. 😀

Before going to Zoobic Safari, i ate the hefty New York steak for lunch at MeatPlus Cafe, and so it’s a good thing I did some walking at the zoo to help burn the calories. Hehe! Before heading home, i bought some dark chocolates from the duty free shops. Well, one step forward to health, two steps back to peril! 😛

New York steak

New York steak--heavy meal even without the rice

All in all, it was a Saturday well spent because it was more than the usual.

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I was cleaning up my computer files when I came across photos of my visit to Bangkok last year, which also immediately reminded me of Nicolas Cage’s latest action film Bangkok Dangerous.

I watched the movie and it’s disappointing. The plot is almost predictable—a hitman who develops a conscience. The love story angle is stereotypical—a pretty Asian woman who falls out of love after learning that the love of her life is a bad guy.  The pace is sluggish, which makes for a bad action film. The ending is horrendous not only because it is gory, but also because it ends in a dark, abandoned warehouse. Yeah, there’s something about action films and dark, abandoned warehouses that makes me want to puke. 😀

The only saving grace of this Hollywood remake of a Thai original is the beautiful street scenes and the chase scenes at the Floating Market. Thank God, it was shot in Bangkok. 🙂

Bangkok view from Baiyoke Tower

Bangkok view from Baiyoke Tower, the city's tallest

There is, of course, no need to describe Bangkok—it’s one of Asia’s best cities for both wholesome and sinful adventures, and arguably one of Pinoys’ most favorite Asian cities to tour, third only to Hong Kong and Singapore.

Wat Arun

Wat Arun from across the Chao Phraya River

Giant reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

Giant reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

Park across Grand Palace

Park across Grand Palace

Besides the “tour staples” like the Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Erawan Shrine, Grand Palace, and Chatuchak Market, one of the more interesting sites to see in Bangkok is the Floating Market at the Damnoen Saduak Canal in Ratchaburi province, about 80-km southwest of Bangkok.

Fresh produce for sale

Fresh produce for sale

fruits galore

Fruits galore

I learned that the Damnoen Saduak Canal was opened to the public in 1868, two years after King Rama IV of the Chakri Dynasty ordered it to be built to facilitate waterborne travels between Ratchaburi and Samutsakhon Provinces.

floating cook

Floating cook

Express meals

Express meals

Today, Bangkok’s Floating Market is one of its most photographed tourist attractions. It draws in tourists because it shows the traditional way of peddling food, fruits, and various goods. It’s this old, natural charm (sans the usual over-the-top gold-coated edifices) that makes the Floating Market a must-see place when you go to Bangkok.

Floating livelihood

Floating livelihood

Chase for a profit

The chase for profit

Don’t worry because unlike in the film Bangkok Dangerous, there are no bloody chase scenes with open-air gun fights here—only picture-happy tourists and locals wanting to make a living.

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