It's More Fun In The Philippines

Community Highlights Asia It's More Fun In The Philippines

Sunday [10/12/2017] I arrived at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in the afternoon after taking a 2 hour flight from Brunei. My friends came to pick me up and then we headed to Shore Residences where I will be staying for the whole trip. It's a new residential condominium with a resort style amenities located at the heart of the SM Mall of Asia area in Pasay. Since the amenities were not open yet, all I could do was to just the view of it from the 16th floor everyday. In the evening, we walked to Mall of Asia by foot which is not very far from Shore Residences to have dinner and so that I could buy some food and kitchen utensils to cook when I don't go out.

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Monday [11/12/2017] Today we walked to Shell Residences which is located on the other end of the same road where Shore Residences is. A lot of foreigners were staying there as it is very near to MOA. After doing some documents in the bank, we headed off to Quiapo Market. The train system in Manila is pretty old and not as efficient as other countries as there is not enough trains to carry passengers every few minutes. When we came out of the Carriedo station, I could see rows of tents arranged next to each other along both sides of a narrow road. There were also stalls set up just next to the roadside where cars and jeepneys were passing by along a crowded street. As a foreigner, one could not help but noticed the rubbish just simply thrown everywhere on the road and the people just went about doing their business as usual. You can also buy fruits, food and all sort of items on this street market which you can also find in other countries but at a cheaper price.

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We walked towards the Quiapo church (also known as the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene) which is famous for the Black Nazarene, a dark statue of Jesus Christ carved from black wood which said to be miraculous. Outside the church, peddlers were selling religious statues, rosaries and coloured candles for people to burn where each colour represent the wish they pray for (easy way of making money from what I see). The Quiapo church is like any other catholic church I have been to except that it is surrounded by open air markets. Inside this church you can also go up the narrow flight of stairs to kiss Jesus’ foot which was also carved from the black wood.

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Then we slowly walked to Quiapo bridge where there are stalls selling handicrafts under the bridge. I bought Filipina dolls wearing the traditional costume as well as a few star light decoration made of shells. On the way back to Quiapo market, we passed through another market area where this time, the peddlers were selling fresh food stuff like salted fish and vegetables. Our last stop was the Manila City Plaza where Jazel wanted to find mobile cover as well as Christmas presents. I was pretty shocked at the sight of that plaza as there were papers, plastics, food containers, etc. on the floor and the people were just walking on them like as if they don't see anything at all. Coming from a country where people don’t throw rubbish on the floor inside a shopping mall or shop, this is a shock for me as I also find it disgusting and it shows how the mindset of the local people are over there. Even people in China don’t through rubbish inside the shopping area or on the road where there are markets! We had dinner in Mang Inasal which is not bad but popular among the locals because there is a set where you can ask for refill of rice as many times as you like. So what the locals normally do is to order 1 set with the unlimited refill of rice while the rest just order the normal sets at cheaper price and after they had asked for refill of rice, they will share the rice with the others.

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On the way back, my friends bought balut eggs for me to try which was alright but probably some of the balut egg wasn’t that fresh because the first one that was opened smelled like it was a bit rotten already. I tasted the second one which did not have the slightly rotten smell. It tasted a bit like hard boiled egg as I couldn’t taste much of the young duck texture even though I could see fine black feathers and the eye socket but the yolk part was very hard to eat. I stayed overnight at Breeze Residences since I was going to following my friends to San Pablo and we had to catch the bus the next morning.

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Tuesday [12/12/2017] Today, we head to San Pablo’s SM Mall using the bus in the morning to meet up with my friends’ cousins. While we were waiting for their cousins to arrive, we did some shopping in SM Mall and then went to Shakey's Pizza for lunch. By the time their cousins came, we had already finished our lunch. We then headed back to SM Mall again for my friends to discuss about some business proposal with some people. By the time they finished the discussion, it was already evening.

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After that, we headed back towards Manila in their cousin’s car but it so happened to be the day where his car license plate number was prohibited from driving in Manila. License plates ending in 1 and 2 are prohibited from driving in Manila on Mondays between 7 to 10 am and 3 to 7 pm. Number 3 and 4 cannot be driven on Tuesdays, number 5 and 6 on Wednesdays, number 7 and 8 on Thursdays and 9 as well as 0 on Fridays. So we had to stop at the rest stop area and have our dinner while waiting for the curfew to be lifted. By the time we reached to Breeze Residence, it was already 10pm and we hung out there for a while before we went over to my unit in Shore Residence so that my friends could show off and try to persuade their cousin and his friend to buy a unit from them. When they decided to go over to Solaire Resort and Casino, it was already close to 1am and when we were in there, people were still gambling. We stayed there until 2am because we had to wait for my friend’s husband to finish gambling before they send me back to my condo first and then my friends back to Breeze Residence.

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Wednesday [13/12/2017] After a late night out, I had to wake up early to meet up with Sunny, a friend I have been communicating online since 2010. He asked me to meet up at Forum Robinsons in Mandaluyong as he was going to have lunch there with his staff. To go to Mandaluyong, I had to take a taxi so I walked all the way to Shell Residence because there was a line of taxi waiting at the roadside for passengers. However, I was shocked to hear that the taxi driver was going to charge me 600 peso (B$16) and giving the typical excuse of it is peak time already just to go there. I have been warned about taxi drivers in Manila refusing to use taxi meters and charging exorbitant price for such a short distance if they know you are a tourist so I walked off and tried to catch a taxi by the main road. The taxi driver I eventually got was better as he asked me first how much would I give him and he asked for a bit more which is half of the fare the first taxi driver was asking for so both of us were happy. The traffic was terrible at the EDSA area so I arrived late to Forum Robinsons. Sunny and his colleagues were already having lunch so I just joined them. It was fun talking to him as he's a cheerful, optimistic and funny man who speaks good English for a Korean. The rest of his female colleagues were also friendly and I learned that their company is similar to Kumon in our country. After his colleagues left (since they had to go back to the office), we stayed on and chatted. He was surprised to see me in Manila because I didn’t tell him that I was going there before until he saw the photos I posted on Facebook. After that, we headed to SM Light Mall since my friends said we will meet up there and Sunny had to go to his daughter's institution which was also near there. We didn’t go around the mall but just sat at the coffee shop and talked some more. It’s funny how we can click with some people so well on the first meeting. We talked and talked while waiting for my friends to come which they ended up not coming at all (which I wished they would have informed me earlier so I didn't have to wait for them there) until it was time for Sunny to go to his daughter’s institution. Unfortunately, he was not able to send me back as his car license plate was prohibited from driving on that day. By that time, it was after working hours and the traffic was horrible! It was difficult to get Grab taxi or even a normal taxi as the waiting queue was so long. So in the end, Sunny hailed a taxi cab for me before it went into the mall area but boy, was I charged 900 peso just to get back to Shore Residence because of the peak time. Oh well, I was glad to get out of the congested area but traffic towards MOA was not that different also.

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Thursday [14/12/2017] Today, we will be heading to Banuae in the evening so I have the whole day free for myself. After packing my stuff for the trip, I walked to the Mall of Asia to find the Science Discovery Center but was not able to find it. Finally, I was told by the security that it was temporary closed for renovation. Since it was closed, there was nothing else to do so I just went around each floor to see what shops were available. There’s an ice skating ring, cinema, entertainment playground for kids and a lot of shops. I managed to do some shopping in Uniqlo and get some thermal wear since Sagada is very cold at night but Uniqlo in Philippines is more expensive that in Malaysia. Most of the shops there were not really of any interest to me and even if they are like Marks & Spencer, it was more expensive than the ones in Malaysia and Singapore. Only SM Mall Hypermart were pretty affordable if you are talking about their locally produced products but not so for imported goods. So by late afternoon, I walked back to the condo and got ready for our trip later at night.

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I met up with my friends in MOA again around 7pm and had dinner with them first before we waited for the driver of the group tour to Banuae, Sagada and Baguio in front of Giligan's Island Restaurant & Bar. By the time the driver came, it was close to 9pm and we had to make another stop at the Caltex North Avenue petrol station to pick up some more people for the trip. When everyone was picked up, there were altogether 15 of us with the driver. It was going to be a long drive because we were expecting to reach to Banuae early in the morning.

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Friday [15/12/2017] After having some sleep on the way, the driver told us that we have to stop to eat something to fill our tummy first because we would not be able to arrive to Banuae early in the morning since there were also a lot of cars and vans heading towards the same destination. I was pretty surprised that there were a lot of cars at the rest stop area where people were having some hot food to eat or just for toilet stop. I don’t normally eat heavy after 12am so it was good to have a hot bowl of porridge at 1.30am. 30 mins later and after using the toilet, we continued our journey non-stop all the way to Banuae. I am lucky that I am used to travelling on the road at night, so it was not so much of a problem for me to get some sleep. Actually most of us slept because we trusted the driver who knew the road better than us and have been bringing people to these places frequently. However, my friend who had never travelled overnight before and is so used to luxury travelling said that she did not sleep at all because she was worried about the road since we were travelling at the sides of the Central Cordillera Mountains.

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By the time we reached to Banuae, it was only close to 7am and it was very cold. After taking some photos at the gateway of Banuae, we drove on to have our breakfast first. Breakfast was like in Indonesia, eating rice early in the morning. At the famous rice terrace, there was a native Igorot man who offered to pose with people for photo taking but expecting some money to be given to him as tip. After some photo taking of the famous Banaue rice terraces and souvenir shopping, we drove on to Sagada and by the time we reached there, it was already close to noon time.

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The driver parked the van at the back of the Church Of St. Mary The Virgin since there is no parking space in the town area. We went into the church first to borrow the toilet and boy, the water was freezing cold! When we started walking towards the town, the wind was pretty cold even though the sun was shining brightly. With a population of less than 11,500 Igorots, the town was very peaceful with people walking on the side of the roads as the road could only accommodate 1 car at a time. We passed by several small restaurants, a souvenir shop and some inns before deciding to enter a simple small eatery place. We tried the pinikpikan, a specialty dish of Sagada and ginsing-ginsing which was not bad. After lunch, we slowly walked back towards the church and on the way, we stopped at a souvenir shop to see what souvenirs to buy. There were local jams, wine, coffee, biscuits, t-shirts, magnets, keychains, etc but we did not buy anything yet as we still have the next day to come back again. So we headed back to the car park area and the driver told us that we will check into our homestay first before going to the Sumaguing cave.

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We were split into 2 groups since the homestay was not big enough to accommodate all of us. So for me and my friends, we stayed in Log-In Homestay which was very cozy because the interior is mainly made of wood and there is also a fireplace. There were 2 beds in my room which 3 person can sleep in and also a bathroom but unfortunately, the water heater was not working at all so the water was freezing cold! The other rooms had to share the bathroom on the first floor which had hot water so lucky them. The second group and the driver stayed in another homestay which was located at the other end of the town. The house wasn’t as nice and cozy as ours and their floor was tiled so it was freezing cold but they had hot shower.

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By the time everyone (including the 3 guides who were going to lead us) was ready for spelunking in the Sumaguing cave it was already 3pm. We had the option of doing the Sumaguing cave or the cave connect (this was more difficult and it starts from another cave entrance) but since the rest were not fit, we all ended up doing the Sumaguing cave only. It was ok but then there were some slippery spots so we were told to walk barefooted to prevent from slipping. There was a place where we had to walk in the water which fortunately was not that deep but the water was cold but not as freezing cold as the water in our homestay. We ended coming out from the cave close to 6pm and it was already dark. By the time we waited for the driver to pick us up, it was already 6.30pm and the wind was very, very cold!

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Before we head back to our homestay, the driver told us that we had to have dinner since the restaurant was on the way. Since our legs were still wet and we did not bring any jacket with us, walking from the road all the way down to the restaurant was like walking inside a big freezer since the wind just kept on blowing! Even when we were already inside the restaurant, it was still cold as the wind was blowing in until I closed the door. When we got back to our homestay, taking a bath was even more challenging! Since my bathroom didn’t have any hot water and I had to take a bath before going to sleep, it took me ages to even get my body wet and I had to get out as fast as I can before I freeze to death! I told the owner that the heater wasn't working in the bathroom in my room but she said to let the water run for a while then it will get hot. So guess what I did, I left the shower dripping a bit so that the water will be hot but when I woke up at 3 am to get ready to see the sunrise, it was even colder! No hot water at all!

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Saturday [16/12/2017] By 4 am, we got ready to go to Kitepan. We rode on a jeep where people can sit on the roof but since it was too cold, everyone just wanted to sit inside the warm jeep. It was a bumpy ride and by the time we reached to Kitepan, there were already people there and the wind was just howling like crazy. The viewpoint for the sunrise is actually at the edge of a hill so it was very windy and freezing cold. There were stalls selling hot drinks and simple hot soupy noodles just to keep the body warm. We had to wait until 6 am for the sun to rise so while waiting, we had to secure a good spot to view the sunrise. Everyone was trying to find ways to keep themselves warm and I tried standing behind someone so that person would block the wind but it was useless. When 6 am finally came, the clouds were still very thick and we couldn’t even see the sun rising but the wind had slowly became warmer. Without seeing the sun rising, we decided it was enough and headed back to the jeep but this time, some of them decided to sit on top of the roof all the way to the orange farm to pick some oranges. I didn’t go orange picking because I didn’t like that type of orange and I also thought the orange they grew were the orange coloured ones like from US but instead it’s the green ones which is even grown in Brunei.

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After orange picking, we were dropped off at the place we were picked up so all of us walked to town to have breakfast. Since it was Saturday, they have the open air market where people were selling vegetables and local snacks so it was interesting to see some of the things they sell like the smoked pork belly and also the various type of Filipino desserts. All of us decided to have breakfast at Salt & Pepper diner and while waiting for our food, a couple bought the famous lemon pies from the Lemon Pie House which they had booked the day before.

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After having our tummy filled, we did a bit of souvenir shopping before we headed towards the car park behind the church. We got ready to go to the Echo Valley to see the hanging coffins which I had wanted to see since 2015 when I first saw the photo in Bangkok. To go down to the Echo Valley, we had to walk pass through the modern Christian cemetery before going down the steps. At the viewpoint where we could see the hanging coffins already from far, this is the start of the Echo Valley where your voice will bounce back. Then we continued to walk down the valley slowly towards the hanging coffins. As we got nearer and nearer, I saw that the coffins were actually not hung from the top of the cliff as they were not very high and there were stacks of coffins inside a cave nearby. Up close, the coffins were just supported by metal rods which were stuck into the holes on the rocks. This traditional way of burying Igorot people is not carried out anymore as most of them have now converted to Christian and are therefore buried in cemeteries. We were told that there are other places with hanging coffins but this is the only place which is still accessible to people.

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Since we had late heavy breakfast, we decided to skip lunch and continued with our tour. We went to the northern part of Sagada to see the Bomod-ok waterfall which is 200m high. The driver dropped us at the parking area of the Episcopal Church of Saint Mary the Virgin where we went to the Parish Center first to use the toilet before going down to the waterfall. We were guided by 2 ladies who handed each of us a stick and we started our easy walk down the steps. We passed through Fidelisan village where we stopped to wait for the others who were way behind us. While waiting in front of a small stall for the others, we ate buko special ice cream. Once everyone was well rested, we continued on until we passed the rice fields before reaching to the waterfall. No one wanted to take a dip in the water as the water falling down was very strong and freezing cold at this time of the year. However, 4 men were crazy enough to get into the water but for a very short time. After having enough of photo taking, as we slowly walked back up, everyone stopped to have something to eat at the small stall set up not far away from the waterfall. I guess most of them were starting to get hungry as they kept on eating the caramelized banana and some sort of fried dough sold at the small stall. Then we slowly walked up the steps which was a long slow walk as not everyone was fit to continue walking. This time, instead of using the same way down, we walked up through another route which leads to a parking area where jeepneys were waiting to pick up hikers to go back to the parking area. While waiting for the rest to come, some of them started eating again a stall selling balut and lumpia. I only tried 1 lumpia which surprisingly tasted crispy and delicious even though the skin looked soggy, very different from the ones sold in Brunei. On the way back to our homestay, we stopped at the Sagada weaving shop which I only bought a small pouch since it was not cheap at all. After that, we were sent back to our homestay and got ready to sleep early that night since we had to leave Sagada by 4am to make it back to Manila by night time.

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Initially, my friend's husband planned to ask the owner of our homestay to cook dinner for us since he invited everyone over to our place to eat but little did he know that the owner was on duty that night. Since we didn't know what time she would be coming back, in the end he had no choice but to call the driver to pick us up again for dinner at the same place where we had dinner the night before. There were only 8 of us going for dinner as the others had already eaten or were tired. After dinner, we went back to our homestay and we chatted a bit, ate the delicious lemon pie as well as drank the Sagada fruit wine. The lemon pie was irresistible and I had 2 slices since it didn't taste sour at all but I felt the sourish effect the next morning.

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Sunday [17/12/2017] We left the homestay at 4am when it was pitch black. We slept in the car and after 3.5 hours drive on the curvy road of the Halsema highway, we reached the highest point in Atok, Benguet which is 7400 feet above sea level. The wind was so strong and colder than in Sagada that I can't help but shiver so it was difficult to get a good shot of the scenery from the viewpoint. Most of us were hungry so we ate cup noodle just to fill and warm up our tummy from the small shop at the viewpoint. From there, we drove on until we reach to a restaurant where we had our breakfast. It was another heavy one with fried rice early in the morning.

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With our tummy full, we continued our journey to La Trinidad strawberry farm. Everyone would stop at this place if they are heading to Baguio so the car park was full of cars. The farm was pretty big compared to the ones in Indonesia but I have seen enough of the strawberry farms in Indonesia so I didn't go to pick the strawberries. Instead, we checked out the row of souvenir stalls where people were buying strawberries, strawberry jams, peanuts, biscuits, strawberry ice cream, keychains, etc to give away.

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After everyone had done shopping for souvenirs, we drove non-stop to Burnham park which I don't find it interesting as people go there to play some of the rides. We just went on the boat ride where the men were the ones rowing the boat. The place was literally crowded with local tourists riding the bike, going on the boat, photo taking here and there or sitting down and just watching people. It wasn't an impressive place and I would give it a miss if I had the choice. By 4pm, we started our journey towards Manila and on the way, we stopped at Lion's Head statue along Kennon Road. I'm not sure why this Lion's Head statue is so popular that it is a must stop place for tourists to take photos when you can't even take photo of the whole head unless you go across the other side of the road.

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After 2 hours on the road again, the driver stopped at a rest area which has a restaurant for tourists to fill their tummy and use the toilet before continuing their journey. They had a huge variety of ready cooked food and all you had to do was choose whatever you feel like having as you move along the line and then pay for it when you reach to the end of the line. I was getting addicted to the Filipino crispy lumpia wrapper that I couldn't resist ordering the turon and I don't normally eat sweet snacks like that for dinner. It's so sweet and crispy! Oh well, too much of sweet snacks are also not good. After dinner, we continued on towards Manila and by the time we reached Mall of Asia, it was already midnight but there were still a lot of people being dropped off (probably after coming back from similar trips like ours) and people waiting for the vans to be filled before heading back to their province. It has been a very long journey on the road but I enjoyed Sagada very much and I don't mind going back there again some day.

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Monday [18/12/2017] After the long trip during the weekend, I woke up very late and just stayed in the condo. I did my laundry and some cooking while just resting for the whole day. I tried the local corn beef in the can and it was absolutely tasty and moist without even needing to add salt or pepper. I should have bought a few cans back to Brunei since I can't find that brand here.

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Tuesday [19/12/2017] Today, I went with my friends to Greenbelt in Makati. I'm not a big fan of high class shopping malls but it wouldn't hurt just window shopping around. There were a lot of stores and branded boutiques (which were pretty expensive compared to other countries) and Greenbelt 1 to 5 are just next to each other. There is a departmental store where things are of reasonable price and this is the place where you see a lot of people buying stuff. I just bought a few things because I was too lazy to carry bulky stuff around and then by 5pm, we left Makati area to avoid the rush hour as people were starting to get off work already. We took the train to Mall of Asia because my friends who are members of Okada casino wanted to show off to me. Before we headed to the casino using the free shuttle bus from MOA, we ate our early dinner at Jollibee. After our simple dinner, we headed off to Okada using their free shuttle bus and by 7.30pm we were already there since it's just a few minutes ride from MOA. The casino has nice interior designs but to me, casinos are just casinos. You see gamblers (mainly from China) sitting in front of slot machines or gambling tables the whole day trying to get rich fast. After watching the dancing fountain show which plays every hour and going around the whole place just to see the shops we managed to meet up with one of the lady who went with us to Sagada who is a supervisor working there. Since we had to wait for my friend's husband who was happily gambling away while people have to wait for him, there was basically nothing to do since there were no stage performance to watch. By 9pm, I was starting to feel hungry already and the only food which was affordable to everyone is Starbucks (full of people), Chatime and French baker. So I ended up buying danish pastries just to fill up my tummy while chatting with my friend in order to pass time and waiting for her husband to stop gambling. By 11pm, since there was no sound from her husband yet, we decided to find him because we were already getting very bored waiting for him. It was a good idea or else he would not stop gambling at all. After 11.30pm, there were no more shuttle bus to MOA so everyone either had to take a taxi or Grabcar back to where they came from. By the time I was dropped off in front of my condo, it was close to midnight already,

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Wednesday [20/12/2017] After spending a day with my friends yesterday, I needed a day on my own so I decided to check out Manila Ocean Park. I took the Marine Voyage 15 package which was on offer at that time where I have access to 13 different exhibits. I went to check out the Oceanrium first which was pretty interesting because you could see different types of marine fishes, corals, spotted garden eels (everyone was so curious as to what they actually are). The most interesting part of this exhibit is the 220° curved walkway tunnel where you walk through and see the spectacular underwater view of amazing sea creatures swimming overhead.

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Next I went to the fish spa which was on the first floor and just enjoyed the breeze while waiting for the hungry fish to nibble away the dead skin on my feet. 30 mins after my feet first went into the water, less and less fish were interested in my feet already and they moved on to newcomers which gave them more food so it was time to head on to the Back of the House. It turned out to be just an area where all the Oceanarium's operations depend on it so not many people were interested to check it out unless you are very interested to keep marine creatures in your aquarium. Since I was on the first floor, I decided to check out the Trails to Antartica which is a favourite for children because of the Humboldt penguins so the queue to get in was pretty long. Disappointingly for the long queue, the place where the penguins were displayed is just a small area because you have to keep on moving on to the Christmas Village (which is just a small room decorated with Christmas decorations, santa clause, snowmen, etc) since people kept on coming in.

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The Jellies exhibit I have to say is the most therapeutic exhibit I have ever been to. It was so relaxing to just watch the jellyfish swim inside each individual tank in slow motion. But since I was planning to catch the last Sea Lion show, I had to move on and get a seat before the show started. Apparently the show was outside in the open before you enter the Ocean Park building and boy, it was so hot at 3pm with the sun shinning towards us regardless of where we chose to sit. Since I haven't had lunch yet, I bought a jumbo hot dog and ate it while waiting for the show to start. The 2 sea lions from South America were very funny and entertaining and they won the hearts of small as well as big kids.

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Next, I went to see the Shark and Rays Dry Encounter which happened to be in same place where we watched the sea lion show. Disappointingly, the 2 sharks was not really that noticeable in the tank unless you really look for them and the stingray was held by the caretaker so we could touch its surface. By the time I was done checking out the sharks and rays, it was almost time for the All Star Bird Show but this time it was not as hot as before. Once again, the intelligent macaws, cockatoos and eagles stole the hearts of the young and the old. The lesser known Barnyard and Birdhouse exhibits were slight further way from the main building so there were not many people. The Barnyard exhibit was located on the ground floor and here, you can learn facts about the rodent family and see hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs as well as chickens. On the first floor is the Birdhouse exhibit where you see all types of budgies.

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The last bird exhibit is the Birds of Prey Kingdom where they kept the Brahminy Kites (Haliastur indus). The last exhibit to finish off was the World of Creepy Crawlies. There were very colourful poison frogs (which you don't normally see), lizards, turtles, spiders and snakes. While waiting for the Symphony of Lights show in the evening which starts at 6.30pm, I had some time to have a quick dinner in one of the restaurant. By 6pm, everyone was already waiting for the show to start. When it started, everyone was enjoying it as they used the latest multimedia technology and the tallest water fountains in the Philippines which can shoot water as high as 40m to display the fusion of earth's basic elements - water, fire, air and light. It was actually more interesting than the dancing fountain show in Okada especially when they used fire because I could feel the heat from the fire even though we were sitting far away from the fountain area. After the show, everyone started to leave while I waiting for my transport back to the condo. Such a lovely day to to spend the whole day at this place!

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Thursday [21/12/2017] Next day, I followed my friends to Los Banos where we would be staying at their cousin's place. We left the bus station at 4.30pm and arrived at Los Banos around 7pm. After we were picked up by their cousin, we went to Isdaan Floating Restaurant which has a theme park like ambiance with a lot of huge sculptures. There were not many people having dinner here so we sat in a floating hut where you can actually feel it going up and down constantly like a boat rocking gently. We waited for the rest of the family members to come before we had boodle fight for our dinner where different types of food were placed on top of a long banana leaf-lined table. It was a very filling dinner as there were so many leftover food even though there were 9 of us. After that, we went to their house and stayed for the next 2 nights before heading north of Luzon.

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Friday [22/12/2017] After breakfast, we head to Makiling National Park and walked on the tarmac road instead of hiking to the summit. So much for being told that we were going hiking by my friend. There was no one except us and after reaching Station 3, it started to drizzle. We kept on walking until Station 7 where we then walked into a muddy trail to get to the hot mud spring where the volcanic heat and sulphuric acid break down the surrounding rocks into clay. The trail was so muddy and wet that it was impossible to prevent our shoes from getting wet and dirty but in we finally reached to the end where it was partly closed off to the public for safety reasons. The water was warm like the one in Papandayan but nothing special. The only special thing about this place is that there were a lot of leeches sticking to my face and raincoat which I normally never had any problems even when hiking through the forest of Temburong. After that, we slowly walked back down towards the flat rock riverbed near to Station 1. It was nothing impressive about the flat rocks but the current was pretty strong after the rain. Once we reached to the registration hut, it was time to spray off all the mud before we went inside the car. How I hate my feet in soggy socks! Before going back home, we went to the market because my friend wanted to impress them with his cooking but they couldn't find what he was looking for.

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After taking shower, we had a slice of buko pie which was delicious when it is still hot as a snack just to fill our tummy first because we were going to attend the church service in Diocesan Shrine of St. Therese of the Child Jesus first which was held every night for the past few days until Christmas. The church service surprisingly was in English and it doesn't seems like a typical catholic church but I enjoyed the service. After the service, we went home and had western dinner prepared by the cousin's wife.

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Saturday [23/12/2017] The next day after a hearty breakfast, we started our journey towards the north to Vigan which was about 14 hour drive from Los Banos. On the way to Quezon, we picked up my friend's mother and uncle who will be joining us for this trip. By the time we reached to Vigan, it was already after 8pm so we checked into a low budget hotel before going to Vigan for dinner. When we arrived there, I thought the famous Vigan city (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) was very big from the pictures I see on the internet but it’s just a row of cobblestone street with old buildings that has the native Philippine, oriental building designs and colonial Spanish architecture. Since it was already Christmas holiday, there were a lot of local touists from Manila and elsewhere here. We had dinner in the open air of the cobblestone street which was catered for tourists and the food wasn't that bad. After dinner, we walked along the dimly lit street and checked out a few souvenir shops that were still open. There were also horse drawn carriages which they call kalesa where people can ride on it and go around the town.

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Sunday [24/12/2017] The next morning, after having breakfast in one of the restaurant in Vigan city, we went to check out the souvenir shops. We tasted Tongson's Royal Bibingka, a popular rice cake in Vigan which is pretty delicious when it is still warm. Then we went for the kalesa tour where we sat on the horse carriage to see places like the Bantay church and bell tower, the old Ilocos Sur jail which is now use to exhibit art, Burgos Museum which used to be the home of Padre Jose Burgos, one of the three martyr priests, RG Jar Factory and the Crisologo museum, the home of Floro Crisologo, a congressman who was assassination in 1972 while attending a church service. For our late lunch, we had fried prawn fritters which was as oily as the ones in Brunei and the tasty, oily fried empanada at the roadside stall which had meat, carrot and egg filling. Weather in the north was very hot but I was told by the bell tower guide that it is even hotter in June!

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Our next destination was to Laoag where my friends and I will be staying at their aunty’s house while my friend's cousin and his family will be staying in a hotel. After almost 2 hours on the road, we stopped at the Saint Augustine Church in Paoay which is one of the oldest church in the Philippines and part of UNESCO World Heritage Site. Then we stopped at the Paoay Sand Dunes because their cousin’s son wanted to try sandboarding but by the time we reached there, the sun was already starting to set so we didn’t do anything except just taking photos. One and a half hour later, we finally reached to their aunty's house. I always thought Christmas was such a big event in the Philippines because they are well known for putting up Christmas decorations as early as 3 months before December but in Vigan and Laoag you don't even see much of Christmas decorations. Since it was Christmas eve, I thought dinner was more special like having turkey or the typical Christmas dishes we normally would have in Brunei or other countries which celebrate Christmas but to my surprise, we just had the typical everyday food like pizza and pasta and local dishes. You just don't feel the Christmas vibe at all for a country that emphasize Christmas months earlier than any other countries. After the simple dinner and since it was Christmas eve, we went for the Christmas mass which was pretty different from the mass we have in Brunei. The pastor was funny though and once again, the sermon was in English even though they sung the hymns in Tagalog. I stayed up until midnight before I called it a night since there was nothing much for me to do while they chatted with each other.

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Monday [25/12/2017] Weather today was so hot even inside the house. After breakfast, we drove towards Pagudpud but on the way, it began to rain heavily. So we stopped at Hannah's Beach Resort and Convention Center which was so windy since it is located next to the beach and the rain did not show sign of stopping at all. While waiting for the rain to stop, we decided to have lunch and by the time we finished eating, the rain had stopped. Then we headed to Bangui first which is the home of the first wind farm in South East Asia. The first time I saw these type of wind farm was when I was on the train going towards either Munich or Berlin. The famous souvenirs you get from Pagudpud are the windmill keychains and fridge magnets made of wood.

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Then we went to see the Kapurpurawan rocks which were formed from years of the waves hitting on them. Nothing impressive about that place but a lot of local tourists go there for photo taking. There were also souvenir stalls selling local products and before we headed back, we ate Ilocos
empanada which was sold in one of the stall. The wrapper was different from the ones in Vigan but it was still delicious and just as oily as the ones we had before. We then went to see was the Cape Bojeador lighthouse which was a remnant of the Spanish colonial era. We took a look around before heading back to the car. Our last stop was to the La Paz Sand Dunes because their cousin's children wanted to try sandboarding. The sun was setting fast by the time they tried sandboarding and since it was getting dark to see anything, we decided to slowly head back home. On the way back, we stopped at La Preciosa restaurant, which serve delicious Ilocano cuisine.

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Tuesday [26/12/2017] Today, on the way back to Manila, we stopped by at Marcos museum to see the previous president’s history. Then we stopped at Vigan again to buy some souvenirs and Tongson's Royal Bibingka since it couldn’t last long if not refrigerated. After having a quick lunch, we continued on with our journey. It was a long drive back so we decided to stay overnight in La Union since it was already after 8pm and we haven't had our dinner yet plus it was another 4 hours drive to Manila. There was no elevator in the hotel and our room was on the 4th floor so you can imagine how we have to carry up our luggage.

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Wednesday [27/12/2017] After breakfast, we drove towards Manila. On the way, we stopped to buy garlic and shallots which was not as cheap as the ones in Brunei but since they are native to Ilocos, I was planning to try and grow them when I get back home. We also stopped by at a stall selling dried sea products, local snacks and desserts for souvenirs. After few hours of driving, we stopped by at the rest area to have our late lunch and we finally arrived in Manila close to evening. My friends dropped me off at my condo and they went on to Los Banos again and stayed there at their cousin’s place for another day. I didn't enjoy Vigan and Ilocos as much as I did with the Sagada trip.

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Thursday [28/12/2017] Since my flight was evening, after packing all my things and having lunch, I walked to the Mall of Asia and just spent my time there since there was nothing else to do in the condo until it was time to go to the airport. I was hoping to just sit down in Starbucks and enjoy my time drinking a cup of cold frappe since the weather was hot but no such luck because all coffee places as well as famous fastfood joints were full of people. After going around to find a place to sit down and enjoy something cold, I ended up in Tokyo Ice Cafe and had mango kakigori. After just relaxing and enjoying my shaved ice dessert, it was time to go back to the condo and get ready to go to the airport. The departure area in the airport was pretty unorganized even though it was small and there were very limited place to seat so after clearing the immigration, I bought a cold, pretty tasteless sandwich which happened to be the cheapest food inside the airport even though it costed about B$5 (I could buy 2 loaves for bread for the price of that one sandwich at the supermarket in Brunei) since I was starting to feel hungry and my flight was only at 9pm. Overall, I would say that it is not really safe to travel alone in Manila (unlike in Indonesia) but the highland (province) areas are pretty interesting.

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This featured blog entry was written by Lingering from the blog Lingering On And On.
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By Lingering

Posted Thu, Oct 25, 2018 | Philippines | Comments