Monday, October 11, 2010

Hong Kong - Skyscrapers and Window shopping

This post is long due! I found it in my drafts! I think I went to Hong Kong almost 7 months ago... Anyhow, I thought I would post this as it would preserve my memories online.

I was with my colleague and friend for this trip to Hong Kong. The primary reason for our trip was to attend the Learning World Conference at HK arranged by Uni Strategic and we being a Media Partner ( As we were leaving from Manila (Cebu Pacific, Ninoy Aquino airport), this girl at the Cebu Pacific ticket counter asks us if we would be ok to travel by the next flight instead of this one. We obviously said NO! But then she said that if were were ok to get onto the next flight, Cebu Pacific would give each of us a free round trip to any of their locations - domestic and international. They would also put us up in a hotel room while we wait! I thought of it for a while and then said ok as I felt it was a good deal and that we had time to kill since the conference was only the next day. Then the Cebu folks made us wait by the counter for a good 15 minutes before coming back and telling us that they were sorry but someone else hadn't turned up and hence we would have to get into this flight!! I was like, "What the hell?" Are we like goats to be herded in if they felt like it or to be left out if they were full! But then, there was nothing we could do. I felt so embarrassed walking down to the flight with the lady at the counter. Low-cost airlines should remember that they may be low cost but nowhere in their name does it say - "Low Service" or "NO Service"! Customers will wake up soon! 

Maybe I should start an insurance firm insuring passengers going by Low Cost airlines. This service could give passengers lounge access in case of flight delays or food packages to take into the flight and what not! The possibilities are endless. And with more and more low cost airlines coming up, I'm sure I'd be a millionaire pretty soon -  WOW... I should actually do this! Airlines could insure their setup with me! So could passengers... Pretty neat idea huh??

Well anyway we were on board to get to Hong Kong - a city which in my mind meant Cosmopolitan or Asia's Manhattan! The flight was pretty short (2 hours) and we got to HK. I've already been to the HK airport many times but the size did amaze me again! The hotel that we were booked into had a shuttle service arranged for us. The journey in the bus to our hotel was just the beginning of our awe and astonishment while we looked at the huge skyscrapers! They just seemed to go on and on and on! The roads were beautiful and so were the bridges, the tunnels, the ferry boats, the ships, the shipyard! We saw so much of HK just travelling in that bus!

This was originally intended to be a long post but since its been months since I went to Hong Kong, I don't have all the information I originally intended to post... So i'll just go ahead and post a few pics...

Well for travellers going to Hong Kong, the sheer size and height of this city will just amaze. But apart from that, I really didn't find anything that kept me gripped. The trip the "The Peak" by a winch was nice as it takes you up a hill and gives you a beautiful view of the city. It was so chilly there and my friend and I were the only ones there without a sweater.

The nightlife can be found on Lan Kwai Fong and Wanchai. We couldn't go to Macau as we didn't realize that we needed our passports and had left them in the hotel.

Well not all of Hong Kong is skyscrapers and boutique stores. A lot of the streets remind you of India (Well the British were here much after they left India too). But everything is organized here with proper places to cross the roads with attention given to pedestrians.

Another place that one should not miss is the Night markets of Hong Kong. This is where you can buy souvenirs at bargain prices. Chinese electronic goods, t-shirts, and many other souvenirs....Remember to strike a bargain here, always quote half the price of what they ask for and you may land up getting a decent deal.

Will post more on my Hong Kong trip at a later time when I find the material I had kept aside......

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Guimaras (Iloilo) - Mangoes and Witches

Guimaras is an island province located of the coast of Iloilo. It is one of the smallest provinces in the Philippines and its capital is Jordan. Guimaras is famous for its mangoes - in fact it's known to have the sweetest mangoes in the world. 

Getting to Iloilo is considerably easy since there are a number of flights from Manila. Check Cebu Pacific airlines for the best rates. Do note that the city of Iloilo is relatively far from the airport - around a half an hour drive.

I got to be hosted by the Lopez family in Iloilo. The Lopez family is a very wealthy and influential family in the Philippines. The group owns a host of companies ranging from power to media. The family traces its origins to Iloilo. I got the opportunity to be hosted by Ms. Emily Lopez who is the daughter in law of past Vice President - Fernando Lopez. She was also the a governor and congresswoman in the Philippines. At the age of 65, Ms. Lopez doesn't look a day beyond 35. And the grace and elegance which she carries herself will put many of today's women to shame. 

We also got the opportunity to see the palatial family houses of the Lopez family in Iloilo. The house where we met Ms. Emily Lopez was called the Lopez Colonial house and like all the other houses were built decades ago and have housed many illustrious and dynamic members of the Lopez family. I even got the opportunity to take a nap in one of the rooms. 

Another beautiful mansion that we got to visit was Nelly's garden which is also owned by the Lopez family. This house is older than 75 years old and is a landmark in the Philippines. It was one of the only old buildings that survived the Japanese bombing. The house is now used as a museum and can be booked for weddings and other functions.

The Lopez family arranged for us to travel to the nearby island province of Guimaras. In fact, Ms. Lopez was earlier the Governor of the Guimaras province. 

As I mentioned earlier, Guimaras is very famous for its mangoes. Another thing that its famous for is its ghost stories and stories of witch-craft. There are a number of rumours floating around that there are a number of witches still living in this island who have magical powers passed on to them from generation to generation. I heard this from few of the locals at Guimaras... However after I returned I tried looking this claim up on the internet but haven't found anything that looks valid! If anyone, does have some information on this, please do post it in the comments section.

Getting to Guimaras from Iloilo is by means of a short ferry ride. Get to Ortiz Wharf in Iloilo from where there are a number of ferries leaving to Guimaras.  Guimaras is also the home of the Manggahan festival which is a Mango festival occurring every year in the last week of May. There generally aren't as many tourists to Guimaras as many of the other places in the Philippines. And this is the very reason why you can find so many unspoiled beaches and coves here. We got to stay on an almost secluded resort overnight. Our cottage was 5 steps away from the beach and we could even dive into the water at various secluded locations. This was truly a wonderful experience.

After a night at this resort which was actually also a marine school, we took a boat and decided to explore the surroundings early in the morning. The boat man took us to a nearby Marine research setup called the SEAFDEC Aquaculture research (Some South East Asian Fisheries etc etc) .... This was a pleasant surprise as in the middle of nowhere you actually have a lab setup where they grow and study fishes. The famous milk fish or boneless bangus is grown here and its actually famous in the Iloilo province. We saw one huge fish here which they said was around 15 years old and 85 kilos heavy (Heavier than me). They were feeding it with other small fish and it was busy jumping in and out of the water! They said that the thing was carnivorous and would even eat rats, cats and anything that you would throw in!

Another useful information blog that I found on Guimaras is . Has loads of infomation that will help you travel to Guimaras.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Legazpi City - Mt.Mayon, the perfect volcano

I just returned from Legazpi city after an eventful day with Mt. Mayon - known as one of the most perfectly formed volcanoes in the world having a perfect cone shape. Out of the many volcanoes in the Philippines, this is the most active, dangerous and has erupted the most number of times in history as compared to any other volcano in the Philippines. It is known to have erupted more than 49 times in the past and is still at alert status 2!

Getting to Legazpi from Naga shouldn't be too difficult. You can rent a car and get to Legazpi. It's a one and a half hour drive and if I'm right there are also buses available connecting the two cities. Ask for the way to the bell tower of Cagsawa Church... That's where all the tourists go to take pictures of the volcano and also shop for souvenirs.

There are a bunch of kids there who stand around willing to take photos for a small price! I initially ignored them but later got a kid to take some photos. Just had to pay the kid 20 pesos. Check out some of the pics he took below:

There are a number of shops in this area and you can pick up some pretty cheap t-shirts and other souvenirs. Some note worthy items that you can pick up are articles made out of the volcano ash! I got some fridge magnets and another show-case item made of the ash. Pretty neat stuff. There were also some nice t-shirts available.

I spent about a day at Legazpi and you can see the grandness and splendor of Mount Mayon from anywhere near the city. In fact, managed to get some neat snaps from the plane too as I was leaving Legazpi for Manila.

I finally am back in Manila after all most two weeks of continuous travel - starting from Carmona, Singapore, Davao, Iloilo, Legazpi, Naga City, Guimaras and many more small places on the way. Again.... WOW Philippines!

Wait for my update on Iloilo and Guimaras in the next few days....

Camarines Sur - Water sports and Volcanos

I write this post from Naga City in Camarines Sur and after two days of exerting myself through various activities, I can hardly move! This province really does live up to most other Filipino provinces with the added advantage of having spicy food. I did mention in a previous post that Cam Sur is in the Bicol region which is famous for its spicy food among many other things.

You can get to Camsur by flight or by road. Flight takes around an hour and look for flights from Manila to Naga or Legaspi (around an hour and a half from Naga). I was told that there are buses also which take around 8 hours to get there... costs around 850 pesos for a very comfortable bus which has a toilet etc...

Now to cut to the chase, what can you in Cam Sur?
  1. Wake-boarding at Camarines Sur Water Sports Complex (CWC)
  2. Hot water springs at the foot of a volcano - Mini Hydro Hot Springs at Brgy. Panicuason
  3. A night dancing with teenagers at Club M8
  4. A little older crowd at Bistro
To start with... anyone and everyone knows CWC at Camarines Sur... So just ask any tricycle guy or cabbie (hardly any cabs at Camsur) to take you to CWC. It was an amazing experience... Was my first time and I landed up falling into the water so many times! It was a pretty difficult task staying above water... But it was amazing! It's a lot of fun... I guess that you need days before you can actually perfect the art of actually maneuvering and doing the jumps etc!

Just be careful of not doing it for too long the first time coz the effect shows the next day on your arms and legs! The pain in my hands is killing me now!

The hot water springs can help you relax after a super tiring day at CWC! You can just laze around in the hot pools there! There are several pools with different temperatures - 29 degrees, 34 degrees and 39 degrees! I loved the hottest one. Felt so good... Almost like lying in a hot tub at home! This place is located at the foot of Mt. Isarog. I just read that Isarog is supposed to be the last rain forest in the Philippines at this blog. It was a wonderful experience lazing in the hot pool and then jumping into the cold tank right next to it. There's a stream flowing right nearby which is cold... feels like ice! And these hot springs are so close to it. The temperature is modulated by means of limiting the water flowing through the spring holes.

Almost everything in Naga is located on Magsaysay avenue and so is this club called Club M8 (pronounced Mate)... I walked into this club to see so many young folks in here... In the age range of 16 - 22! They had a live band that was aweful playing until 12am and then they opened up the dance floor.... You don't have too many options in Naga and this club can help you kill some time...

There is another bar/pub called Bistro - I don't know the way there but from what I understood, the place is pretty famous and all of the tricycle guys would know the same. Remember while taking a tricycle that it costs 20 pesos to go to most places within Naga. I got dropped of at the place by car and hence I really couldn't follow the route!

Overall, Camarines Sur is a very green province and gives you the well needed fresh breath of air after Manila. So worth a trip... But shouldn't take you more than 3 days tops to cover all that is there to see here.

Am going to Legaspi tomorrow (which is about 2 hours away by road) which has the famous or infamous Mt. Mayon (Active volcano)... So will update more about that tomorrow.....

Stay connected for my updates on Iloilo and Guimaras too as and when I get some time....

Saturday, October 02, 2010

2 Years and counting - Philippines, the unpublished paradise

It's been more than 2 years since I got to this lovely paradise of a country - Philippines. And its about time I got started writing this piece. It's long crossed my mind that I should share my thoughts about this country with others......

Years ago, I just new that there was a country called Philippines. Frankly speaking, I didn't know where it was on the map. I just knew that it was somewhere in Asia! Well, look at where I am now... And I intend to let others who are as ignorant as me understand that there is one more beautiful location in South East Asia to add to their travel itineraries.

When I first got to the Philippines, I wondered how people could be so laid back, how non-productive the country was, how there were always 3 people hired to do the job of one person in all the malls, how people here could eat such bland or even sweet food, how people could afford to live with the high costs of basic necessities, how this country had so many beautiful beaches and most of the world didn't know about it, how people could smile all the time, how people were polite all the time, how people could spend so much all the time, how so few people could have so much of the wealth of the country, how people could use already 20 times in a 20 minute conversation, how people said "go" instead of "come", how the bank still minted 1 peso coins when you couldn't get anything for 1 peso, how government collaborated with the industry to create monopolies, how the country lived and grew because most of its citizens worked out of the country... the hows are endless.......

Today, when I look back, I still wonder.... The Philippines in its endless beauty will always keep you wondering! But a lot of the sarcasm and skepticism had disappeared. Today, I do feel that life ain't that bad if you just learn to let go a teeny weeny bit. We Indians have the habit of hyping up every little action that we perform in our lives and our minds think faster than the words that come out of our mouth. But we've been on that everlasting rat race with the billion+ folks that we have in India! When you let go a little, and sit back to watch all that's around you, you are truly able to savour the life that you're living. Filipinos have thought me that its never pays to live in the past and worry about the future and forget about the present. I have learned to balance my mind to look beyond the numerous sales and avenues to damage one's wallet and find middle ground. I have learnt to work with Filipinos and enjoy to do so... I have learned to tone down my voice, reduce the speed at which I talk and be more polite in all my actions. I have learnt to thank people more often, apologize more often, greet people more often and even smile more often! 

I've got the opportunity to travel quite a bit over the past few months and that has also showed me that there's more to the Philippines that just Boracay and Palawan (I still haven't been to Palawan and am planning a trip there). I however have managed to travel to Davao, Iloilo, Guimaras, Camarines Sur, Legaspi, Clark, Antipolo, Tarlac and Carmona. That's a decent amount of travel and the interesting part of this travel is that most of these places were visited in just about a month! Isn't that amazing. I'm still at Camarines Sur though and have a trip planned to Mt. Mayon tomorrow. 

Davao - I really didn't get to spend too much time here. Was here for just two days and just managed to sample some of the delicious food and fruits from this place. For those who don't know, Davao city is in the Mindanao province which is usually prohibited for travel. There's a muslim extremist group here and kidnappings are very common. The irony here is that Davao which is in the eastern part of the Mindanao province and is one of the safest cities in Asia (not just the Philippines). The reason is that the mayor here holds a very strong grip on this city and keeps it well in control. Crime rate is abysmally low and I actually felt very safe in this place. It is considered to be the "fruit basket" of the Philippines and fruits are available in plenty and at very affordable rates. Mangosteen, Pommella (a version of orange), bananas, pineapple and what not! So many fruits... so many different types of fruit salads.... I do regret however that I didn't get the opportunity to go to any of the beaches here. I've heard that they are so beautiful and untouched. Will upload pictures in a separate post on Davao.

Iloilo - I got to spend about 3 days here and enjoyed this place very much. I really thought that there would be nothing much to do at Iloilo and boy... was I wrong. Iloilo is considered as one of the best places to live in the Philippines. This was the homestead of the mammoth Lopez family . The Lopez family would be among the top 3 richest families in the Philippines with interests in media, publishing, real estate, power, utilities, Telecommunication and what not! I had the great opportunity of being hosted by the Lopez family here in Iloilo. It was a wonderful experience having access to the colonial style houses owned by the family. Most of the houses I visited were over 75 years old. Will post some pictures soon. I even got to sleep in one of these old palatial houses for a day. Anyhow, after a few yummy meals in Iloilo, we set of for Guimaras which is an island province located of the coast of Iloilo. I had never heard of this place before I got to Iloilo. It was a shocker. So beautiful.... with roads winding in a hilly terrain. I felt like I was back in Ooty or Yercaud. So much greenery and so much fresh air. A welcome change from the pollution of Manila and Makati. We were hosted at an almost private resort here in Guimaras and I got the opportunity to spend the night in the quietest of places. There was absolutely no one there and our cottage was just 5 steps away from the beach there. Such clear and peaceful water... The calmness of this place almost spooked me out! He he... But it was wonderful... we gotta dive into crystal clear water and spend the evening hearing no one else but our voices, the sound of the ocean, some birds... and some lizards! Will post pictures along with a separate section on Iloilo

Camarines Sur - this is a province located at the Bicol region which is known for its spices. Supposed to the spiciest of provinces in the Philippines. We did get a taste of that today when we ordered Buffalo chicken wings and found it to be so spicy (Mind you, I'm indian and can handle loads of spice). Was a pleasant surprise though. I am currently in Cam sur and am filling in this update. Will be going to Mount Mayon tomorrow and will fill in more details of that. About CamSur, most of the activities happen in the city of Naga which is pretty much like a smaller town in India. However, there are a number of nice restaurants, there's even a huge SM mall here! Very exciting however, is the Camarines Sur Watersports Complex (CWC) which is a complex built for wake boarding. I tried it today and had loads of fun! Landed up falling into the water so many times though.... Was a wonderful experience since its the first time i've tried this sport in my life! Wish I had more time to practice and master this sport though... Looks like something I would love doing more often. Will post pictures in a separate section soon...

Anyhow, I have a lot of posting to do - especially on my recent travels. Guys and girls out there who are in the Philippines, do know that there's so much to do in this country beyond Boracay, Tagaytay, Palawan and Puerto Galera. So many beautiful beaches that aren't even covered in Lonely Planet - for example, Anawangin Cove details of which I had posted months ago on my blog.

And for those of you reading my blog from out of the Philippines, this country is a wonderful country to travel to in Asia. With its 7107 islands, I promise you it has enough to satisfy what any person is looking for - be it beaches, be it diving, be it hiking, be it biking, be it wake-boarding, be it water sports, be it exotic food, be it fine dining, be it clubbing, be it fancy resorts, be it cheap and good massages, be it whatever!

For the indians reading my blog, imagine a country filled with 1000s of Goa(s) except all of them being much

Will post more pictures soon... Until then, I do have to remember that these years in Philippines... the Philippine chapter of my life has thought me so much and also has made me love travelling even more. I have had the opportunity to meet and mingle with people who are so polite, courteous and welcoming.... Get a taste of Filipino hospitality in the Philippines and you will miss the country all your life.