Thursday, December 31, 2015

Journey to the North during Family Christmas

Our family sojourn kicked off at dawn of December 25, 2015, literally a Christmas Day.

Bantay Bridge, Batay, Ilocos Sur
Right before entering Vigan Heritage City, a wild adventure is catered to you by this bridge - the zipline ride - where fun is enjoyed more because of the green surroundings, luscious green silhouette of Bantay (local term for mountains) above and the deep emerald waters of the river below.

Antique Shop, Vigan Heritage City 
Vigan City

A Heritage City

Preservation of heritage is the greatest challenge we Filipinos face day after day. We aren't just citizens of the Philippines but of the world and so our customs and traditions easily evolve in the constant change of time. We are so adaptive that we keep abreast with latest trends, hips and chic. We are so creative that we fuse olds and news or transfigure old into new with ease. We are so resilient that we are able to stand the test of time. We are so forgiving that we have the propensity to forgetting the past.

Fortunately, some labored to keep it. And Vigan succeeded in one aspect - preserving the heritage houses.

Calle Crisologo, Vigan City 

We checked in at Cordillera Inn and my family had a first-hand experience of the old Filipino community. And of course, we did not miss out the long queue for the famous empanada in the city's luneta park.

White Beach and Surfing Point, San Juan, La Union 
San Juan, La Union

Sands and Waves

Known as the surfing capital of the north, the place offers beyond riding a surf board, standing willfully on it, and cutting waves by it. The fine sand shoreline is already a treat so conducive for a morning and/or afternoon stroll. The marvelous sunset view is another treat that you shouldn't miss. Dipping, picnicking, camping, drinking, and more definitely are must-dos 'round here.

Sunset and Sands, San Juan, La Union
We checked in at the Costa Villa Resort and had closer feel of the sandy beach.

Thunderbird Resort and Casino, San Fernando City, La Union

City of San Fernando, La Union

Thunderbird Resort

It is a wonder that maximizing nature and creating something out of it could result to a beautiful infrastructure. With Mediterranean as its architectural inspiration, the resort exudes a European cum Middle Eastern beauty that blends in the Philippine climate. Perched on top of a hill, the design of the hotel cascaded down the cliff towards the West Philippine Sea. And the sunset, a nature's marvel!
One word to define it, Luxury. One word to describe it, Beauty. Well, Luxury and Beauty is definitely expensive. Therefore, it only caters to rich people or to not-so-rich but can afford individuals.

Security is tight here. Gate is always closed to onlookers. If you want to gain access to and have a feel of Mediterranean ambiance? Check in or get a pass from local government officials. I did the latter in my first entry. But when I brought my family there, it was closed to public and non-guest.

So we had instead a hearty dinner at Halo-Halo de Iloko.

Paoay's Baroque Church at sundown

Paoay, Ilocos Norte

Baroque Church

I don't wanna dig the history of the church here but know that Paoay's is one of the 3 old baroque churches in the Philippines.

Inside Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte
The interiors is so cozy that one might think nothing has even been done since time immemorial. The exterior design is already a treat, and with natural aging, its endurance to the test of time, has become even more wonderful. Be there before sunset to witness the color of the walls changes with the sun's hues.

Paoay's old convent ruins

Laoag City

La Paz Sand Dunes

T'was a surreal experience of a desert! I never thought Philippines has it... If you dreamt of a middle eastern sand dune experience, head to north. The desert-like land mass stretched from Paoay, Ilocos Norte to Laoag City; the aerial view (while the plane your taking is landing) would confirm its vastness.

Sand Dunes in the Philippines

Known to be the set of Panday Films, it now offers various adventure to enjoy the place: sand boarding or surfing, sitting or standing on the surf board, and the extremely wild 4x4 drive (up, down and around).

Another natural wonder!

Sand Surfing and more
Burgos, Ilocos Norte

Before proceeding to Kapurpurawan Rock Formations, we climbed the Cape Boajero Lighthouse and tasted delicacies at Dragon Fruit Farm all within Burgos, Ilocos Norte.

Dragon Fruit Farm

I had plenty of memories in this farm. First, I never thought cactus could bear some edible fruits and that this breed of cacti could produce some sweet pinkish dragon like bell-formed fruits. Second, I was in awe to know that dragon fruits could come in various by-products, from ice cream flavor to lumpia. Third, a friend of mine made the biggest faux pas in her life when upon entry she thought that the lumpia on a center table was served for free-taste and so she picked one and encourage me to take another, then later she realized it was ordered and paid by the people sitting around it.

A very natural thing!

Rock Formations and Windmills all in Burgos, Ilocos Norte
Kapurpurawan Rock Formations

Best known for its white stone formed like a lion king pedestal, one could find the place more than limestones. Getting there is already an adventure, the way is adorned with giant windmills, the pathway is crammed with shops.

Experience a dramatic entry by riding a pony which footsteps cadence with the slapping of the waves against the rocks of different colors - yes, there's black, white and pink. The movement of the tides and the windy environ had shaped the rocks into natural sculptors. It's nature at its best!

Bangui, Ilocos Norte
The pioneering Bangui Windmills

The northwest is very windy and it is appropriate to harness such natural phenomenon to produce renewable and sustainable energy. It's been there before the governments of the world intensified its drive against climate change. What made it more amazing is the way these giant fans were planted along the Bangui coast curve. The site is so beholding, a testament to preserving and maximizing nature and thus produce one natural wonder.

Our little Wan was enjoying the wind
Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte

White Beach

With its prestine white sandy shoreline, it is indeed living up to its monicker, the Boracay of the North. The absence of bars and clubs, hordes of people, loud music, blinding lights, cafes and food stalls, is fully compensated by the presence of very affordable resorts, flocking of fishermen after the usual catch, slapping of waves, a beautiful sunset, and strange closeness to nature.

Feels good to walk on bare foot

Windy and freezing!

Include all the destinations in your itinerary when doing tours in the northwestern Philippines.                                    

My mini-me!
A 7-day family tour was priceless. We were back to base at the dawn of December 31, 2015, a New Year's Eve.

Monday, December 7, 2015

In Singapore: Run Cring Run

Time flew so fast and suddenly it was already December 4, time for me to fly to Singapore.

A clear view of the Marina

I had unpredictable schedules these days being a freelance consultant. I just got an invite from DA Region 2 to be the Resource Person in the conduct of the PRDP's I-REAP component's Financial Analysis and Management, with some DA personnel and community groups' representatives attending. The final schedule was from December 1 to 4, held at Hotel Venezia in Subic Bay, Zambales, but I declined the last day as it would fall on my departure date to Singapore. Another engagement was entered with the same project, but this time with Region 5, to act as Resource Person in the conduct of the Simplified Financial Management System Training-Workshop on December 7-11 at Villa Caceres Hotel in Naga City. Again, the first day of the latter training would be in conflict with my return trip schedule. I will be arriving at 10pm of December 7.

Good morning, Singapore

This was my fourth time in Singapore and so I had hoped I would have different experience this time around. The first time that I was traveling alone I just dropped the garden city in June 2008 and then crossed the border to Malaysia. The second time in August 2010 (if I'm not mistaken) was with three other friends and we went to Universal Studios before crossing through the border to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The third time which happened in December 2012 was with the whole family of my good friends, Ruth and Samson Go. We experienced the whole of Universal Studios and Sentosa Island and then experienced a day at Legoland Park in Johor Baruh, Malaysia.

Got my finisher's medal

At the starting line for the 7th wave of 10km runners

True enough, I visited Singapore mainly to join the Standard Chartered Fun Marathon. I had booked my flight since July 2015, so I adjusted the dates of my facilitation engagements to accommodate it. I attended the Subic batch on December 1-3 and the Naga batch on December 8-11.

Meeting Ann-Ann, Michelle, and Lynette at the Forum along Orchard Road

Lunch with Ann-Ann and friends at a Korean Resto inside the Raffles City

It was a unique experience of Singapore this time around. I arrived in Singapore on the fourth of December at 7pm. Learning that the claiming of the Fun Run singlet will still be opened until 9pm, I decided to drop by the Singapore Expo before heading towards my hostel reservation. This was also my first time to check in a hostel in Singapore and found the Bunc@Radius, Clarke Quay very satisfactory. Best feature of the hostel is that it is close to prime locations in the garden city - a walking distance to Boat Quay, Fullerton Hotel, Merlion Park, Victoria Museum, St. Andrews Cathedral, Raffles City, Esplanade, Marina Bay, Singapore Flyer, and even Bugis Street.

Taking the cable car

On my first day, December 5, I woke up at 5am and decided to walk around to familiarize the South Bridge Street then walked towards the Merlion Park and made a 360-degree turn around the river, from Fullerton Hotel to Esplanade and back to the hostel. It was a picturesque Singapore I got in my lenses. Then I took the subway to Vivo City and rode the Cable Car, which I missed last time. I loved the bird's eyeview of the city's harbor. My day tour closed at the SEA Aquarium at Resorts World Sentosa.

With new friends, Joyrel and Anna

I met Ann-Ann Canoy on December 6. I joined her group of friends and coworkers who reserved a room at Fairmont Hotel within the Raffles City Mall. Up there, the view of Singapore City, with Esplanade Mall, Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands on a landscape, from the poolside was one of a kind, so priceless! We dined at a Thai restaurant, talked about preps for the following day's fun run, and retired early for the night...

We then reunited on the run day at the same hotel and headed together to the assembly area at Padang grounds. The four of us, Anna, Joyrel, Ann-Ann and myself, ran the 10km race. Ann-Ann who earlier suffered a fall in her bathroom was still feeling pain on her right leg, so we ran in slow pace until we completed the first 5 kilometers. Then we walked the remaining 5km until we neared the finish line, then jogged up to the end. We both finished the race within 1 hour and 50 minutes - an accomplishment already for our kind of fun-walkers.

SW7 Exhibits

With HS friends Michelle and Lynette

After a few hours of relaxation after the run, Ann and I decided to meet up again at Orchard Road along with some more hometown friends and my classmates from grade schools, Lynette Sajol and Michelle Maniwang. I lately heard that they were working now in Singapore. And before that, I also had a meet-up with a former coworker way back in 1999 whom I lost contact for more than a decade and just reconnected through facebook, Beth Chai. She was the househelp of my former boss who operated a sea vessel where I was the accountant.

Singapore meetup: It's a small world afterall

Meeting Beth Chai for the first time in a long time

The added bonus to my visit to this expensive city was the Star Wars' exhibits everywhere, with lifesized Stormtroopers and Empire Aircrafts. In fact, there mascots joined the fun run alongside us.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Short Cut, Cut Short

To be able to work with the Coffey Institutional Development was a rare opportunity.

My project with the Department of Education (DepED), the Strengthening of Financial Management System in DepED, a component of the Philippine-Australia Public Financial Management Program, funded by the Australian Aid, took two phases. The Phase 2 I worked with from July 2013 to June 2014 was under the firm AARC (Ireland) Ltd.

The Phase 3 that followed was contracted under Coffey from July 2014 to June 2015 with the hope of extension for yet another year. Then the move of the Philippine Government to go electronic with its whole public financial management from budgeting to procurement to treasury and accounting was finally shelved, so they claimed, but junked as far as our team is concerned.

That was the reason they based from for the cut short extension. Instead we were granted 3-month contract extension, from July to September 2015. And to celebrate our last day with the company, which for me marked our team's demolition, the colleagues in Coffey blew us a party at Burrow, The Podium.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Wandering around Thailand

August 27

I made the biggest mistake of my travelling life. I left my entire luggage in the hostel I booked for 4 nights without considering that I would be wandering other cities in Thailand with no window time to get back to pack up.

I woke up late thinking to just take it easy today. Maybe head to Ayutthaya at 9 o’clock in the morning. But I left at half past 10 already. I took the public bus to get to the nearest subway train station. It felt cool to mingle with riding locals, costing me only 9 baht. I then boarded the train bound for Hua Lamphong Railway Station. Emerging from the subway, I immediately noticed the ticket counters within the railway station. I approached the open window and inquired about trips to Chiang Mai. Knowing that seats with the express train are yet available, I bought one roundtrip ticket leaving at 735pm today and returning tomorrow at 6pm. Then I bought one way ticket to Ayutthaya that was scheduled to depart at 1120am. I mentally drew my itinerary that with 2-hour travel to Ayutthaya, I would just spend 30 minutes to 1 hour in the ruins. I needed a spare time to be able to get back to Cooper Hostel to pick and pack some personal stuff. I should be at the boarding gate before 735pm which train to Chiang Mai was already booked and paid.

Upon arrival at Ayutthaya Station, I walked across it towards the town past many tuktuk drivers offering expensive rides to the ruins. I was under the impression that the travel blog, I just read was true in tutu, that I would just come out of the train station, walk straight across, and then find the famous ruins. The huge map inside the station actually pointed interesting places in many different directions further than the station. I did stroll down and noticed pedal and motor bikes for rent until I reached a riverbank. There was this lady sitting behind a desk receiving payments from local travelers. The signage beside her said 5 baht for a boat ride. I asked to rent a bike and she said "rent it across the river," which I followed. I later learned that it would be hard hoisting a rented bike on board the tug boat which I observed with fellow foreigners exactly doing it.

For 40 baht I got my bike. I started shaky getting myself acquainted with the new bike. There was an unlabeled map only lines and circles of the route tourists like me should take to circle the town’s touristy areas. What I find with little difficulty in biking around was crossing the highway traffic. The first stop was at the most famous Wat Mahathat Ruins where a head of a Buddha is tangled tightly by a tree, then with a little turn to Bueng Phra Ram, a little farther to Wat Lokaya Sutha where the giant reclining Buddha can be found.

Then I realized it was already 3 o’clock in the afternoon. With 2-hour train ride back to Bangkok, I indeed arrived in the Hua Lamphong Railway Station at quarter of 6 in the evening. There was no room for going to the hostel. I took my dinner at the nearby KFC and looked for a convenience store after. I picked up bath soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, candies and chips for the road. I desperately wandered around the station to find shops selling men’s wear but only women’s and children’s. I ended up buying a cardigan to cover myself against the cold of the night. Then the boarding call was heard.

The express train was air conditioned; each passenger has assigned seat that would transform into a bunk bed. It looked like 2 double-decker beds facing each other for each section. I got one of the lower seats, which is more spacious and hence pricier than the upper. To my relief, the bed is equipped with addition foam, which Sam called “Thailand’s great Spongy bed,” white bed sheet, blue pillow, white pillow case, and a thick white blanket.

I initially was alone in my section when we departed Bangkok. The two Englishmen from the adjacent section were called by the uniformed lady from the restaurant section of the train to occupy the lower seat opposite mine to eat their ordered dinner. I later learned that these tall guys occupied the upper decks and so they don’t have much space.

Making more New Friends

I never thought I could win new friends on a train to Chiang Mai. Callum and Sam from England became my chatmates for 2 hours before we decided to finally sleep through the night. I learned that they were bestfriends working in Central London as baristas of separate coffee shops. They’re young at 24 years old. They’ve been travelling for 3 months now, starting in Japan, China, Hongkong, Vietnam, and now in Thailand. They stayed at least a week in every city. I envied them that they can do longer days of overseas travel. This was my longest travel so far hitting 2 countries for 10 days but I only spent about 2 days in a city at average. And I am missing home and work already.

We talked about anything and everything. It started with their great pictures of Japan, Kyoto most specially. I told them I am saving for Japan this coming spring. Then the conversation went on to real estates and related investments, as this is the college degree of Callum. Then we talked about architectures and construction based on what they observed in their Asian travels, as this is the college degree of Sam. They shared their experiences and personal views of China, particularly Beijing and Shanghai; also Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam; and the security measures employed by Thailand after the bombing incident.

We even talked about life, employment, taxation, penal laws in both our countries, England and Philippines. We exhausted all topics we could think of but the train was at halt for quite a long time already. We decided to snooze off to take advantage of the static condition.

August 28

A Day in Chiang Mai

I was more excited to hear good reviews Callum and Sam read about Chiang Mai. In fact they would be staying in the city for 1 week. But I would just have it in one day.


The trip was 2 hours delayed. The three of us reconvened in the morning and talked about a lot more of things. Callum tried his NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) studies on me, asking me questions then observe my eye movements while answering. We ran out of stuff to discuss that we remained quiet while going grumpy about the delay. They teased me about what to do with only 5 hours to make the city tour in Chiang Mai. I told them I narrowed down my list of attractions to go to. At 11am we bade each other goodbyes, they went on to find their hostel, and I was haggling with the red jeep (they called taxi here) drivers to take me around. 


One older adult man agreed to 500 baht for a trip to Wat Doi Suthep at the top of the hill overlooking the city and then to Wat Phra Singh in the downtown area. I was trying to locate some other temples within the city center but at 3pm I was already ready to go back to the Railway Train Station. But I hailed a tuktuk to drive me to the nearest shopping center called KaLae Night Bazaar. Finding the shops around still closed, as it was yet afternoon, I went instead to McDo and Starbucks in the area, ordered a take away chicken rice meal and hot green tea latte, and headed on to the train station. With extra shirt and slipper bought and at hand, I paid 15 baht for the shower – my first ever shower that day and in a terminal.

The train travel back to Bangkok commenced on time (6pm). I had no more talkative mates, so I finished reading the Angelology novel instead until I went into a deep sleep.


August 29

Souvenir Hunting Day

The train parked at the assigned bay in the Bangkok Railways Terminal at 8am. Instead of heading straight to Chatuchak Market as initially planned, I went to my hostel to recharge my phone and my computer, take breakfast, wash myself, and change outfit. I also updated my facebook page with my photos in Ayutthaya and Chiang Mai journeys before shopping for souvenirs and pasalubong (welcome gifts).

I arrived at Chatuchak Market via the subway train. I was starting to feel at ease with riding the public bus to and from the corner of the road to my hostel and the Silom Train Station. I followed the crowd who I knew would visit the shopping center when I emerged from the subway. Circling around, I was initially picky but later found the rhythm and left the market fully loaded. The highlight was me picking for myself a new bag and trendy short pants and the elephant stuffed toy for Baby Wanwan.

I was back at the hostel tired but full; I dropped by the KFC to eat an early dinner. I gained a short nap after acquainting with my new dorm mate, who is from Chiang Mai.

With my 8pm alarm whining, I hurried to complete packing, head down to ask May grab a taxi, and off I went to the Suvarnahbumi International Airport. Then I met two Filipino gays, one crossdresser and the other a simple queer. We shared a coffee in the Starbucks joint within the terminal’s foodcourt. They were both Cebuanos so we conversed about Philippine politics and Thailand cosmetic surgeries using our own regional tongue. They were witty and flamboyant, and I really enjoyed their company. They were to meet a Filipino arriving from Canada so we separated ways as it was my check in time.

After passing the tight security check in the pre-departure area, I found more souvenirs to choose from in the duty free zone. I spent all my remaining baht to own  another book about Buddha by Karen Armstrong.