2012 Year in Travel: Of New Destinations and Familiar Places

In just a few days we’ll be saying goodbye to 2012, so here’s a roundup of my year in travel plus snippets of my un-blogged trips; four trips with two destinations each (you gotta maximize the travel tax and/or terminal fee, you know) with different travel buddies.  



The year started with a trip to the Philippines’ last frontier: Palawan. Together with my college BFF, we explored ‘hidden’ and ‘secret’ beaches (don’t ask what’s the difference), and visited the newly-proclaimed New 7 Wonders of Nature: Puerto Princesa Underground River

Aside from a missed van trip back to Puerto Princesa and some boo-boos along the way, I’d like to believe that the whole trip went well. :p El Nido remains at the top of the most beautiful places I’ve been to.

  


Second quarter of this year, another close friend and I explored Malaysia for a week. We started our journey in Kuala Lumpur, went north to the island of Penang, then headed south to Melaka before crossing the border to Singapore.

Our goal? To eat, pray, and shop our way through Malaysia (and Singapore) and boy did we do some damage. lol We sampled Penang’s dishes, visited temples/places of worship, and shopped ’til our bodies ache. No stall was spared in Berjaya Times Square as well as Jonker Street in Melaka. I swear, my bags were multiplying like gremlins. Mind you, I was able to sneak everything as ‘hand carry’ *evil laugh*


But if there’s one thing that will be forever etched on my mind about this trip, it’s got to be when we got bumped off the bus twice: from KL to Penang then from Penang to Melaka! Good thing the border crossing was uneventful.

Iloilo – Boracay 


Together with my cousin, three of my colleagues, and a fellow Girl Talker and her hubby, we went to Islas de Gigantes in Iloilo two days after my birthday.

We visited different islands, a sand bar, a saltwater lagoon — which could pass as a doppelganger of one of Palawan’s several lagoons/lakes — and did some climbing. And even though we had a traumatic caving experience, I know everyone still had a lot of fun.


But what I find amusing with this trip was that we took different flights (heck, my cousin and I weren’t even seated together on the plane), just met at the port the following day for island hopping, then went to different destinations on the third day. lol Two of my colleagues went to their respective homes in Iloilo, and my other colleague and the couple went to Bacolod. 


Me and my cousin? Well, we were actually torn whether we should stay and explore Iloilo, do a day trip to Guimaras, go to Bacolod for Masskara Festival, or just beach bum in Boracay. We eventually decided we’d go with the latter because our bodies were still aching from hiking and spelunking that we just wanted to lay on the beach and do nothing. Well, it took us three van rides (Iloilo to Roxas; Roxas to Kalibo; and Kalibo to Caticlan), a boat ride, and a tricycle ride (a total of 6 hours) to get there. So much for relaxation, huh?  

Singapore with LEGOLAND side trip 



And just this month, my mom and I, and — wait for it — our neighbors went to Singapore. Blame it on seat sales. So yes, within a span of four months, I was back in Singapore — and unexpectedly — in Malaysia too since we went on a side trip to LEGOLAND (which by the way was not part of the original plan).

Even though I wasn’t able to make as many trips as I wanted this year, I’m still thankful I got the chance to visit new destinations and familiar places. Always go for quality over quantity, right? 


So here’s hoping I’d be able to tick off more destinations on my (ever-growing) bucket list for 2013. Oh yes Laos and Myanmar, I have my eyes on you!



K


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This is my contribution to Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ Blog Carnival’s yearender:

2012 Year in Travel  


Blog compilations will be co-hosted by:

Complete compilation of previous Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ Blog Carnival here.

It’s More Fun in Palawan: GoHotels Puerto Princesa (Review)

For our accommodation, I was very lucky to snag GoHotel Puerto Princesa’s introductory rate of Php88.00 per room per night – well Php98.56 if you include the tax but it’s still friggin’ less than a hundred pesos per night! 😀 I’ve stayed in their Cybergate branch twice so I already have expectations and this one did not disappoint.

 Beautifully lit facade 
 Front Desk
 I’m not really a fan of green and yellow but they made it work.

It gives this common area a cool and soothing vibe.

THE ROOM 

Other room amenities include LCD TV with cable and electronic safe. I also like that they have a wall-mounted coat rack (as seen from the mirror).

Bringing of food and drinks inside the room is prohibited though. You can only eat in the common area.

Bathroom is also pretty much the same as the one in Cybergate except for the ceiling-mounted rain shower (that’s aside from the one pictured above).

Overall, I can definitely say we got waaaay more than what we paid for. 😉

***
On another note, since this was our last night in Palawan, we headed to Kinabuch’s for dinner after freshening up.
 
THE DINNER
 Crocodile meat – Adobado style
Fresh tamilok (wood worm)
Just for experience :p
I know it’s not my most flattering picture, but you have to give me props for trying. Yes I slurped the whole thing. They say it tastes like oyster. I wouldn’t know because I don’t eat oysters. :p It was okay, though, it does have this distinct aftertaste. 
***
Gah! Four days was such a short time to experience everything that Palawan has to offer. If time and money is not an issue, this is definitely the province I will keep going back to. 🙂


K

It’s More Fun in Palawan: Underground River Experience

We only had four days to spend in Palawan (with land and boat travel consuming about 16 hours of it), so you can just imagine how cramped our schedule was. After island hopping on our second day in El Nido, we went back to Puerto Princesa the day after. And what’s a trip to Puerto Princesa without a visit to one of the recently proclaimed New7Wonders of Nature right?

For us to be able to make it to the Underground River tour, we had to take the first trip from El Nido at 5:00 am but we missed it. The only instance we weren’t on time and we got left by the van! On top of that, the next trip would be at 7:00 am. FML! Frustration started to sink in and I was resigned to the fact that we won’t make it to the tour, and just head straight to the hotel to rest. But the universe had different plans for us (weh?!) One of the van owners was going home to Puerto Princesa anyway so he offered to drop us off at Salvacion Junction (for Php500.00).

After about four hours (with two stopovers in between), we reached the junction and before I could blink, we were already inside another van bound for Sabang. Everything happened so fast I almost left my bag in the previous van! *facepalm*

From Salvacion Junction, it was another 45 minutes to an hour drive to Sabang with several stopovers for refreshment/bathroom break and picture-taking.

Ulugan Bay as seen from Buenavista Viewdeck

The scenic view made the ride to Sabang a pleasant one.

At exactly 12 noon we reached Sabang for lunch. The guide led the group to Robert’s and left to take care of the permits when another boo boo happened. I don’t know why it never occurred to us that lunch might be included in the tour (because we really did not avail of the package. We just joined my friend’s tour group. Read: sabit), so when we found out that the buffet costs Php200.00, we opted to skip lunch. We had brunch during the trip from El Nido anyway.

We left Sabang around 1:30 pm and reached Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park 15 minutes after.

It rained the day before so the water was a bit murky.

Each boat has a battery-operated light and can accommodate 10 people plus a guide. Guests are also provided a life vest and hard hat.     

TOP (L-R): T.rex (?), Fish Head, Holy Family/Nativity
MIDDLE: Giant Corn, Mushroom, Giant Peanut
BOTTOM: Sharon Stone (go figure :p), Shark Fin, Python
 Once inside, we marveled at the numerous stalactite and stalagmite formations resembling animals, fruits and vegetables among others. Our guide would often crack a joke while describing the formations so he advised that we keep our mouths closed (especially when staring at the stalactites) unless we want a taste of bat droppings :p He was such a riot we were probably the noisiest boat inside. We were lucky to have him as our guide because he made the tour not only educational, but entertaining as well.
The view that greeted us after our Underground River experience

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For affordable package tours, you can check out La Tiara Tours and Convention and look for Charisse Sanchez. 

Tel: 0917-809-4509
Email: latiaratours@yahoo.com

It’s More Fun in Palawan: El Nido Island Hopping

We were scheduled for island hopping on our second day in El Nido
 
Knowing that power will be out by 6:00 am and that we will be picked up by the tour guide and boatman by 7:00 am, I got up early. I inquired with the staff if they were already there to pick us up but apparently the tour will start around 8:00 am – 9:00 am. -_- 
 
My friend booked the tour for us so it was also only then that I found out we’d be doing Tour C: Secret Beach, Talisay Beach, Matinloc  Island, Hidden Beach, and Helicopter Island. Told you I didn’t bother asking about our itinerary so we were that clueless.
 
Finally at around 9:30 am, the guide came and together with a couple staying at Og’s Pension House, we started with the tour. 
Good morning El Nido!
 
Our guide and boatman’s strategy was to go to the farthest island/beach first and work our way back so we could also avoid the influx of tourists. Good call I’d say!
 
Secret Beach

After around 40 minutes boat ride, we arrived at our first destination.  
 
 We have arrived! But where’s the beach you ask? Well, it’s on the other side of the karst, and the only way to get there is through that tiny opening. 
 
One must be very careful entering as there are sharp rocks, and as soon as you get to the other side, you will be welcomed by a huge rock/coral. 

The water inside is actually quite shallow.
 Look at how crystal clear the water is!

On one end is a pocket of very fine white sand, thus the name ‘Secret Beach’. There are also rumors that this place was Alex Garland’s inspiration for the novel “The Beach”. I bet you’re singing ‘Pure Shores’ right now. :p
 
NOTE: It would be nice if you could bring underwater camera or at least one with waterproof casing to be able to capture the beauty of this place. Otherwise, you’re going to kick yourself for failing to do so. :p And oh, aqua shoes will come handy too.
 
Other boats were starting to arrive so the guide called our attention. It was time to go to our next destination. 


Talisay Beach
 
Talisay Beach became our own little paradise for almost two hours! We were frolicking like little kids, taking pictures here and there, and just soaking in the beauty and serenity of the place. At one point I stayed in one spot while the others were snorkeling. I was alone but not in a melancholic way. I was actually at peace. 
 
My moment was interrupted when the guide said that lunch was ready. haha
 

Lunch included in the tour: grilled pork and chicken, shrimp, cucumber and tomato salad, pineapple, and rice! 😀

NOTE: Bring your own bottled water. I don’t know why it’s not included with the picnic lunch. We actually didn’t know this beforehand but I just thought of bringing our own before we left the pension house. Whew! 

After lunch came the sad part; we had to leave and head to the next spot. 🙁 As soon as our boat turned, we were surprised to see that a couple of boats had to share a beach on the other side. We felt doubly lucky! 😀
Matinloc Island/Shrine

A few minutes later and we already reached Matinloc Island. This is different from the previous spots we visited in that it has a dock and several structures. It actually has a shrine. I wasn’t really paying much attention to what the guide was saying because my eyes were so busy wandering, but all I could remember was that the island is heart-shaped. Thus the heart in the shrine below.

Breathtaking view!
So worth the tricycle-jeep-bus-car-plane-van-boat rides I took to get to this place. 😀

Now this one…will literally take your breath away so be extra careful!

 You must not also miss the spectacular view from the cliff – if you’re not afraid of heights that is.

Of course I did not pass up the chance to have a photo op before we left the island! :p


Hidden Beach 

Our second to the last stop was Hidden Beach. Now don’t ask me what’s the difference of a ‘secret beach’ from a ‘hidden beach’ because I wouldn’t know either. :p Kidding aside, while we reached Secret Beach through a small opening, this time there was no  crevice to be entered. Rather, this beach was concealed behind limestones. The tide was quite high so it was time to put on our life vests again, but shallow waters soon welcomed us again.  

Just like in Secret Beach, water is shallow. For some reason, other boats were able to get inside while ours waited ‘outside’.


Helicopter Island 

And finally, our last stop for this tour was Helicopter Island. It was already late afternoon so the waves were getting bigger and smashing against our boat giving us a hefty dose of saltwater.   

A funny scene we saw upon arriving at the island: while the Caucasians were sunbathing, the Asians were ‘hiding’ in the shadow cast by the cliffs haha

PARADISE!

 
It was almost 5:00 pm so it was time to head back to Bacuit Bay. 🙁 
 
I wish we had more time to explore the other islands for another day. Oh well, at least we have a good excuse to come back. 😉

K

It’s More Fun in Palawan: El Nido Day 1

I’m the type of traveler who’d be at the boarding gate by 7:00 pm for a red-eye flight, but this time I got to the check-in counter 20 minutes before boarding time so you can just imagine how I was hustlin’ my way to the boarding gate *insert Chariots of Fire here*. But as one can expect, we did not board on time and even when we were already on the plane, it still took 25 minutes before it left the runway. 
 
Anyway, we arrived in Puerto Princesa around 10:30 am and were met up by my friend, Charisse, of La Tiara Tours. We took a trike to Fort Wally’s office where we paid Php700/head for the van ride to El NidoFrom Puerto Princesa City, it took 2.5 hours until we reached Fort Wally’s food stop in Roxas. It took another two hours and lots of vomit-inducing winding roads (which made it impossible to sleep), then another hour traversing the rough road before we got a glimpse of Bacuit Bay. 
 
It was already around 5:00 pm when we arrived at Fort Wally’s terminal in El Nido town, and took a 2-minute tricycle ride to our accommodation.
NOTE: There is no ATM in El Nido town so bring enough cash for your stay. Power is also out from 6:00 am to 3:00 pm so charge your devices at night.
Rovic’s Pension House is one of several beachfront accommodations in town. A double/twin air conditioned room costs Php1,500 per night. Unfortunately, there’s no television in the room and breakfast is not included.
 
Come dinner time, we went to Squido’s which seemed to be the popular choice among tourists. The food was good but the service was actually disappointing. It’s understandable that it takes some time for food to be served since they seem undermanned in the kitchen, but prioritizing other tables just because the customers are ‘white’ was just unacceptable.
 
 
After dinner, we strolled the beach and had some drinks before calling it a night. 
There’s a couple of bars like Ricson’s and Sea Slugs with live bands but don’t expect any fire dancers or loud music here. :p
 
 
Next post: Island hopping 
 
K