A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Grete Howard

Puerto Princesa - El Nido


View South East Asia Grand Tour 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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I didn’t sleep very well at all last night, waking up every ten minutes or so with back pain. I guess the number of cocktails we had yesterday evening probably didn’t help.

I pre-ordered a Healthy Breakfast last night for this morning: homemade yogurt, muesli, bananas, and nuts. While David ordered an American Breakfast, he too receives a Healthy Breakfast.

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We leave the hotel at 07:00 today for the journey to El Nido. The first thing we encounter is a cavalcade for an election campaign to select a new local leader. The motorcade started at 00:01 today, for legal reasons, and will go on for nine days, after which there will be no more campaigning. The voting is on the 30th of this month (today is the 19th).

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Once we pass the cavalcade, the road is clear.

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Apart from the odd buffalo.

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Ocean View Beach Bar

At a small bar overlooking the sea, we stop for drinks (and for Frankie, the driver, to have his breakfast).

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Later we stop for petrol, and I am bemused by the locals trying to get a motorbike into the luggage compartment of a bus.

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They made it!

Taytay

This area is known as the fishbowl of the province.

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As we get closer to El Nido, there is more traffic on the road.

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Huni Lio Hotel, El Nido

The approach road to the hotel is amazing, driving on wooden boardwalks zigzagging through the forest.

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The hotel itself is modern and categorised as four stars.

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The reception area

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Checking in

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Welcome drink of lemon grass and calamansi (a small lime)

The rooms are in two-storey blocks arranged around a swimming pool.

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Our very nice room has a balcony facing away from the pool.

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Lunch

The restaurant has inside and outside seating, separated by folding glass doors. We choose the inside to take advantage of the A/C.

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We both order build-your-own pizzas, mine is Margherita with pepperoni and sweet ham

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David chooses cheese, bacon, and onion

Beach

The hotel has a fabulous setting, right on the beach, with seating shaded under trees.

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I try sending the drone up, but it is automatically brought back down to the ground after ten seconds because we are in a restricted area - ie. in the proximity of a small airport.

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When we go to charge the drone batteries, we discover the bag of spare batteries is missing. We message the WhatsApp group which includes a few of the office-based Filipino agent staff to see if it was left behind in the van when we got out. Andrew, our guide who was with us yesterday and also accompanied us for our transfer today, calls to say that, yes, he has found the bag, and will send it down with a courier tomorrow.

Dinner

As we are shown to our table, we ask for the cocktail menu. After what seems like an age, the menu hasn’t appeared, and neither have any members of staff, so David goes up to rummage around where the menus are kept and brings a couple back to the table.

When someone finally comes to take our order, I ask for a White Russian. The server doesn’t seem to know what I am talking about until I point it out on their menu. “It’s not available,” she says without even checking with the barman. I order a Cuba Libre instead.

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The Crispy Fish Sandwich I order for my main course, is very nice, however, and not too big.

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On the other hand, our desserts of Frozen Tiramisu and Mango Madness, are both just OK.

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Tiramisu

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Mango Madness

When the waitress came to take the order for dessert, she did just that, without taking away the dirty plates, and even when she brought out the desserts, she still didn’t collect the plates. As we were the only patrons in the restaurant at that time, there is absolutely no excuse for such lack of service.

This amazing trip was arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:22 Archived in Philippines Tagged philippines buffalo puerto_princesa taytay el_nido drone undiscovered_destinations drone_photography dronography huni_lio huni_lio_hotel election_campaign motorcade ocean_view_bar Comments (0)

Puerto Princesa - Underground River Tour


View South East Asia Grand Tour 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Breakfast at the Hibiscus Garden Inn in Puerto Princesa has to be pre-ordered the night before, and I chose Hash Browns, Ham, and Egg.

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Buenavista Viewpoint

On our way to Subang this morning, we stop at a popular viewing deck with vistas over the Philippine Sea, where I send up the drone to get a better view.

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Andrew, our local guide, comes over to tell me not to fly too close to the Naval Ship moored off the coast, as they may try to shoot the drone down.

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David checks to see what the time is, but finds his watch behaving very strangely.

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

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The wharf here at Subang is very touristy, with lots of salesmen and women milling around selling shell jewellery, drinks, dry bags etc.

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Andrew goes to check us in, and comes back to ask if we are willing to share our boat with a Filipino couple. As we have booked and paid for a private trip throughout, I am not at all impressed by this, and emphatically, but politely decline.

We step onto a small boat, carefully negotiating our way under the beam to sit down, something I don’t find easy with my arthritis. With the three of us and the camera equipment, it would have been very crowded with another couple on board, so I am very glad I said no to Andrew's question.

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David

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Andrew

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Me

The journey to the start of the underground tour takes around 20 minutes, and on arrival, we descend from the boat via a ladder and step knee-deep into the water.

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After a short walk through the forest, where there are several boards explaining about the underground river, as well as cheeky monkeys hanging around hoping for some snacks from tourists, we reach the entrance to the cave.

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Donning life jackets, helmets, audio guides, and head torches, we board outrigger canoes, known as bangkos, to take us into the depths of the mountain.

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The beginning of the cave – called Daylight Hole – is very impressive. It starts with a 60 m high, 100 m wide entrance hall, which becomes narrower only after 200 m.

The audio guide explains how the cave was formed, and the shapes and names of the various rock formations we see.

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Both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, this is the world’s longest navigable underground river, which extends for a total of 24km beneath the mountains. Tourists, however, are only shown the first four km or so.

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The river flows directly underneath the St Paul Mountain Range, and the cave system was created millions of years ago as water channeled its way through the rock creating a series of vast chambers and caverns.

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There are some incredible rock formations, created through the millennia, and the boatman, known as a bangkero, shines his torch on them in time to the information on the audio guide.

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It's an otherworldly experience as we paddle through the dark. We are advised to keep our mouths shut as we look up into the ceiling of these cavernous passages, as there are numerous bats inside this, the belly of the mountain.

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Also water dripping from the ceiling

In one of the caverns, we switch the lights off and are treated to complete and utter darkness. I can’t even see the outline of my hand, which I am holding three inches from my face.

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One of the river's distinguishing features is that it emerges directly into the sea.

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Having walked through the forest back to the other side of the promontory, the boats are waiting to take us back to Sabang Wharf. I sit on the front of the boat on this journey, leaning against the mast, getting sprayed with water by the rough sea. I love it!

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At Sabang, we walk from the wharf to a buffet restaurant, and soon after we enter, it starts to rain heavily.

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We are amongst the first at the buffet

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Food from the buffet, including lumpia (similar to spring rolls), which I love, and noodles, chop suey, and vegetables

On the two-hour journey back to Puerto Princesa, we travel through what I can only describe as a tropical storm. I have rarely seen rain like it, plus thunder and lightning. We consider ourselves very lucky that it was dry for the boat trips and the walks through the forest. When we reach Puerto Princesa the roads are bone dry with no sign of rain.

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Dinner

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We both treat ourselves to the daily special, which is Bacon Creamy Pasta with onions, garlic, and peas.

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For dessert, I have banana flambé, while David chooses Crepe with banana.

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Banana flambé

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Crepe with banana

Cocktails

The cocktail list here at Hibiscus Garen Inn, is not only extensive, but also very reasonably priced, so it would seem rude not to partake.

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Secret Sunset: rum, homemade coconut rum, Blue Curacao, pineapple, and passion fruit juice

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Mango Margarita

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Basil Bano: vodka, Triple Sec, basil syrup, guyabano juice, lemon

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Palaweño Cocktail (Rum, Orange, Pineapple and Passion Fruit Juice, Grenadine)

We both absolutely love everything about this place: the room, the grounds, the restaurant, the cocktail list (!), the staff, the food…

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The pool at night

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The restaurant

Just as last night, we take a Kahlua back to the room, with the staff rushing to cover it (not us) with an umbrella from the rain for the short walk between the restaurant and the covered walkway leading to the room. We sit in the private courtyard to enjoy the nightcap before going to bed.

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David enjoying the Kahlua in the courtyard

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this incredible private trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:52 Archived in Philippines Tagged monkeys philippines s unesco cocktails outrigger rock_formations canoe bats buffet sabang puerto_princesa bangko underground_river drone stalactites drone_photography dronography lumpia hibiscus_garden_inn buenavisa_viewdeck philippine_sea subterranean_river subterranean_river_national_par puerto_princesa_subterranean_ri broken_watch sabang_wharf boat_trp life_jacket new_seven_wonders_of_the_world st_pauls_mountain audio_guide Comments (1)

Manila - Puerto Princesa (Firefly Watching)


View South East Asia Grand Tour 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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The Bayleaf Hotel in Manila has run out of eggs to fry this morning, but as they have plenty of pre-boiled eggs, I make myself a breakfast salad with eggs, ham, lettuce, and Thousand Island Dressing while David has toast and marmalade.

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Today we are flying south, from Luzon Island to Palawan Island for the second part of our tour of the Philippines.

The traffic is really bad on the way to the airport, but thankfully we have plenty of time.

At check-in, I ask for an aisle seat on the right-hand side of the plane, as usual, and we are given what they call ‘front row’, which is in fact row 33, the first row after Economy Plus. My nail file is confiscated in security (one of two in my backpack, they don’t discover the other one which makes a mockery of the whole thing), but other than that, the boarding process runs smoothly.

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The strange numbering on this Philippines Airlines flight: Economy Plus starts at 21, and Economy immediately follows, starting at row number 31.

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Until we get to the seat, that is. The steward doesn’t allow me to put my walking stick in the overhead locker, insisting that it goes underneath the seat in front of me. I’d like to see her try, there is no way that fits under the seat. She then suggests I put it between mine and David’s seat. Is she crazy? She wants me to wedge my stick between the seats, blocking the exit for the middle and window seat in case of an emergency? Yes, she does; in fact, she insists.

The window seat on the plane is occupied by a lady from Texas, who is flying to Palawan to collect her dead brother’s body. We spend the entire flight chatting with her, which makes the time go quickly.

Puerto Princesa Airport

We land at the small provincial airport earlier than advertised, and we make our way to the outside pick-up waiting area, a small covered shelter with bench seats, where all the drivers and reps are standing with boards. We cannot find a board with our name, so we wait a little. Still no joy. After a further few minutes, a kind taxi driver asks which hotel we are staying in, and phones them. They reply that we do not have transfers included, so David goes back into the airport terminal to use the wifi and message the WhatsApp group that the tour agent here in the Philippines has created in case of any problems. “They’re coming” is the reply.

Andrew, the local guide, is full of apologies when they finally arrive. “I guess you are already used to ‘Filipino time’, he says. No, actually, we’re not. So far on this trip (not just in the Philippines), every single guide has been on time (or early) every single day. We are given a tacky and touristy welcome necklace made of shells and taken to a waiting minibus.

Hibiscus Garden Inn

The hotel is delightful, our favourite so far (along with Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, which is totally different); it is laid back and friendly, with the rooms surrounding a large, leafy courtyard with a swimming pool.

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The entrance area

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Checking in

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The swimming pool

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Seating area on the grass

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More seating with the restaurant behind

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Some eclectic sculptures dotted around the garden

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A covered walkway leads to our room, which is right at the end

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The door on the right is ours

The room is big, airy, and bright, with one single and one double bed, and a large private covered open-air courtyard at the back.

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The courtyard

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An interesting coffee table, with the welcome necklace we received earlier

Lunch

The restaurant is open-sided and has a few moveable fans to cool diners down in the heat of the day.

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The path leading to the restaurant

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View from the restaurant

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My patatas bravas and mozzarella sticks with spicy dip are absolutely delicious, with just the right amount of kick

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David enjoys his black cheeseburger with bacon, too

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Chocolate and vanilla ice cream for dessert

We have quickly fallen in love with this resort, and enjoy chilling for the afternoon.

Kitu Kito dMacarios Firefly-Watching Tour

Andrew picks us up at 18:00 to drive us the 50 minutes for a boat trip on the Iwahig River to see the sparkling fireflies. Before boarding the boat, we are shown a slide show explaining all about the fireflies and the mangroves they inhabit.

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When I see how crowded most of the boats are, I am once again grateful that we have a private tour, with just the two of us, a boatman, Andrew, and Elsa, a delightful young tourist rep, who was also present when we were picked up from the airport. Elsa is as excited about the trip as we are.
Fireflies are bioluminous plankton that have dedicated light organs that are located under their abdomens. When they take in oxygen, it combines with a substance called luciferin to produce light with almost no heat.

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As we paddle silently along the river, the stars above compete with the fireflies, which twinkle like Christmas tree lights all around us. I am absolutely captivated by these little insects that sparkle and glow, flicker and shine. Some are fast-moving, others just hang around in trees. Some of the trees are absolutely full of lights, creating an enchanted fairy world.

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The boatman catches a firefly in his hand and carefully transfers it into my palm, where it stays for several minutes. Wow! Wow! Wow! The experience is totally, utterly, completely magical!

Still on a massive high from this incredible experience, we return to base, where we grab a couple of hot dogs before returning to the hotel.

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The jetty and restaurant

Nightcap

We get a couple of Kahluas from the bar to take back to the room, where we sit in our private enclosed courtyard to relish the special memories we created this evening that I will cherish forever.

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We are now three-quarters of the way through our Grand Tour of South East Asia, which has been expertly put together by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:37 Archived in Philippines Tagged philippines manila puerto_princesa south_east_asia fireflies undiscovered_destinations grand_south_east_asia_tour philippines_airlines nailfile walking_stick hibiscus_garden_inn firefly_watching nightcap Comments (2)

Vigan - Paoay - Laoag - Manila


View South East Asia Grand Tour 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Here at Hotel Felicidad in Vigan, they give you a menu in the evening for you to choose your breakfast for the following day. Last night I decided to order some local food to have this morning, but today I regret it – the meat is very tough and unappetising.

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Beef Tapa and Rice

Today we are travelling up the north coast in order to fly back to Manila, bringing an end to this tour of Luzon Island.

Sitio Remedios Heritage Village

Created in 2005, homes from various parts of Ilocos region that were about to be demolished were rescued and transferred to this site to be preserved.

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Some of the buildings have been turned into tourist accommodation, and there is a restaurant on site.

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Today they are preparing for a wedding, but they are happy for us to go around exploring the outside and inside of the traditional buildings, many of which are filled with beautiful antique furniture.

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It’s a really peaceful area to wander around, with the grounds filled with flowers and artwork.

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Beyond the hotel grounds, there is a lovely sandy beach full of outrigger canoes called bangkas, and I send up the drone to try and get some artistic overhead shots.

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The lush hotel grounds

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The swimming pool and beach beyond

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Lots of canoes used by the local fishermen

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My attempt at being artistic

Currimao

I love the small lighthouses along the coastal road.

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The fishermen are out in their canoes here, working as a team with one person splashing the water with his oar to bring the fish to the surface for others to grab.

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Spear fishing

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Love this cute sign

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This sign, not so much

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Paoay

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Kusina Valentin

We stop in Paoay for lunch at this modern two-storey restaurant with great views overlooking the church.

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So much food, as usual

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Noodles

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Sausages

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Lumpia

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Pork shoulder and vegetables

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Grilled pork with a blood sauce dip

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Grilled pork

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Vegetables

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More vegetables

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Dessert - flan (caramel pudding)

Paoay Church

Saint Augustine Church, commonly known as the Paoay Church, was completed in 1710 after two decades of construction, and is one of several Filipino churches inscribed on the UNESCO Heritage List.

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The church is famous for its distinct architecture that blends baroque, gothic, Chinese, and Javanese, and the enormous buttresses on the sides and back of the building, created to help the church withstand earthquakes.

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Detail of the facade

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The interior is fairly plain

The bell tower served as an observational post for Filipino revolutionaries against the Spaniards in 1898 and by Filipino guerrillas against Japanese soldiers during World War II.

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Pinili Inabel Center

Inabel is a weaving tradition, particularly used to refer to textiles that are distinctly Ilocano in origin, which is still being practiced by weavers in the province today. It was opened on the 13th of August 2023, as a tribute to the National Living Treasure recipient Magdalena Gamayo, a Filipino weaver who turned 99 years old on the same day.

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Now serving as a public space for local weavers in Ilocos Norte to improve their skills, Magdalena hopes that younger generations will learn to appreciate inabel weaving through this centre. Today the young people have travelled to Manila for a fashion show, and the only person weaving is Magdalena herself.

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Magdalena learned the Ilocano weaving tradition of making inabel from her aunt at age 16, and her father bought her first loom soon afterwards. On November 8, 2012, she received the National Living Treasure Award.

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Balay San Nicolas National Treasure

The building, constructed in the early 1800s, has been declared a national treasure in 2015. It possesses an exceptional cultural, historical, and artistic significance to the Philippines, with the size of the house and its refined interiors being comparable to the typical old residences in Laoag and Vigan.

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Now restored, it has taken on a new life as a living museum or gallery.

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Laoag

We continue to Laoag where we arrive rather too early for our flight, so we sit in the car in the rain outside a shopping mall while Rey pops in. After a while, he comes out with fresh churros and some local tarts. Some of you may remember the incident when we first arrived in Manila and I was too unwell to enjoy the churros Rey bought us as a gift, and David ate my portion as well. I have not let him hear him hear the end of it since (jokingly, of course), so David did some research online to try and find somewhere on our route that sells churros, and this is the place. He conspired with Rey, so our stopping here was not at all by chance. Oh, those boys, they are both lovely! As are the churros.

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Tarts

Laoag Provincial Airport consists of two open-plan rooms, one for checking in and one that is the departure lounge. There seems to be a bit of a problem during checking-in, and we are asked to go and sit down, while Rey sorts it out. Richie, meanwhile, hangs around with the car rather than making a start on the long drive back to Manila, just in case there is a problem with the flight. Bless him.

Being such a tiny airport, there are no conveyor belts for the luggage, they are weighed on a parcel scale, and manually handled onto a trolley for taking to the plane.

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It turns out that the ‘problem’ during check-in was the staff trying to make sure I am able to sit in an aisle seat on the right-hand side of the plane. Not only that, David is in the aisle seat on the left-hand side, so we have a row of seats each!

The flight is only 45 minutes, so that whole scenario wasn’t really necessary, but I sure do appreciate it. During that time we are served a glass of water and a packet of very tasty dried peas and mango snacks.

At Manila airport, a wheelchair is waiting to take me to the terminal building, where I am transferred into a larger buggy. Only one companion is allowed so Rey walks while David joins me in the buggy. We travel down empty corridors, lifts that are not accessible to the public, and move barriers to get through. By the time we arrive at the luggage carousel, Rey has already collected our cases and placed them on a trolley. The domestic terminal is much smaller than the international one we arrived at, and we go straight to Bay 14 to meet Badi, our driver, Badi, who is waiting to take us back to Bayleaf Hotel where this whole Filipino journey started. Here we have to say goodbye to Rey, which is very hard, as he is one of the very best guides we have ever had (which is saying something considering all the travel we have done over the years) and has become a good friend during the last ten days or so.

Bayleaf Hotel

We are back in the same room and spend the rest of the evening watching a terrific storm sweep through Manila from our bedroom window.

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Many thanks to Undiscovered Destinations for making all the arrangements for this incredible Grand Tour of South East Asia.

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Posted by Grete Howard 08:22 Archived in Philippines Tagged weaving lighthouses beach storm philippines manila fishermen canoes thunder_storm spearfishing vigan paoay wheelchair churros laoag drone undiscovered_destinations heritage_village drone_photography grand_south_east_asia_tour dronography sitio_remedios heritage_hotel currimao spear_fishing kusina_valentin paoay_church unsesco buttresses pinili_inabel_center pinili_inabel_centre pinili imabel magdalena_gamayo living_heritage balay_san_nicolas_national_trea national_treasure living_national_treasure laoag_airport provincional_airport bayleaf_hotel Comments (2)

Vigan


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Breakfast

As we are the only guests staying at Hotel Felicidad here in Vigan, the staff has set up a small table in reception for us to take breakfast. We were given a small menu last night to choose from, with Rey disclosing that the food is delivered from the local Jollibee, as the owner of hotel also holds the franchise for the fast food restaurant.

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I choose the Breakfast Burger Steak with Egg and Rice, whereas David selects the Koko Krunch with two slices of Bread.

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Bantay Church

The church, officially named Saint Augustine of Hippo Parish Church Archdiocesan Shrine of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad de Bantay (I can certainly see why the shorten the name to just Bantay Church), is one of the oldest surviving churches in the region dating back to 1591. It was heavily damaged during WWII, and again during an earthquake in 2022, and is now shrouded in scaffolding.

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Being Sunday, there is a service on, which is so popular it is spilling out into the courtyard in front. Rey and the local guide Richie lead us through the congregation to the left to see the bell tower on a small hill nearby, which makes me feel very uncomfortable as it seems rather disrespectful.

The bell tower was used as a watch tower where Filipinos positioned themselves to see any impending attacks from enemies. This is also how the town got its name, as bantay means ‘to guard.’

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Legend has it that an image of Our Lady of Charity was found in a wooden box floating on the river by some fishermen. It was said that only people from the Batay region were able to move the box, and in 1956, Bantay Church became a shrine to Our Lady of Charity when the miraculous image was crowned as the patroness of Ilocandia by the Papal Nuncio to the Philippines at the time.

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The guards on the gate open them especially so that our driver can bring The Royal Carriage (our nickname for the vehicle we’ve been using) to collect me from the church.

Vigan

Having preserved much of its Hispanic colonial character, particularly its grid street pattern and historic urban layout, the colonial city of Vigan is now inscribed on the UNESCO Heritage List.

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The bell tower of Vigan Cathedral on the left, and what is now McDonald's used to be the Theological Seminary

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Archbishop's Palace

I send up a drone to get a different view of the city.

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The Old Carcel Museum

Serving as the provincial jail until 2014, the building is now a museum.

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The Basi Revolt Exhibition

This part of the museum is filled with ethnographic and botanical items associated with basi, the traditional sugarcane wine of the Ilocos.

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The most important display here is Esteban Pichay Villanueva’s 14 paintings depicting the Basi Revolt of 1807 when local people took up arms against the Spanish who wanted to introduce a wine monopoly and prohibition of private manufacture of basi.

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12 of the 14 paintings telling the story of the battle of the sugarcane wine

A couple of the old cells are still open for tourists to check out. It would certainly not have been a cushy existence to be incarcerated here!

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Traditional Potter

We visit Bong, who is the latest generation to practice pottery throwing in the traditional way for his 102-year-old family business.

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Bong’s kiln, unfortunately, was damaged during the Typhoon in May this year (2023).

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Pinkabet Farm

The farm has been developed by the local government as part of a sustainable tourist program, sharing the culture while creating revenue and jobs.

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Lemon grass welcome drink

As well as being a working farm, the staff put on a cultural performance showcasing the traditional Ilocano way of life from courtship and marriage to growing old.

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Flying the drone shows the extent of the farm, ith wist fisheries, and fields growing vegetables and fruit.

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Hidden Garden

Back in Vigan town, we stop in a small side street. With an unassuming frontage, once we get inside this space (a cross between a garden centre and an art gallery) it is like entering another world, one which features a maze of pathways, surrounded by eclectic sculptures and lush vegetation.

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Lilong and Lilang Restaurant

At the very end of the path is a charming open-air restaurant, with tables under the cover of shade.

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As usual, Rey orders a huge amount of food for the five of us (us + Rey, our guide, Richie, our driver, and the local guide, also called Richie).

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Pinkabet - bitter gourd with fish sauce

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Poqui Poqui - aubergine with egg

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Vigan Longanise - a famous local sausage

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Crispy bagnet - pork belly

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Bagnet Sisag - sliced belly of pork with vegetables

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Empanada with sausage and egg

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Shrimp in batter

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Igado - pork and liver

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The ever-present chips

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Halo halo - a traditional and colourful Filipino dessert, the name meaning "mix-mix" in Tagalog: jelly, ice cream, beans, sweetcorn, coconut slivers, and shaved ice

Vigan

After all that food at lunchtime, we need to lie down for a snooze, before exploring the cobbled streets and dilapidated colonial buildings of the old town.

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My puerile mind found this sign amusing

Horse-drawn carriages known as kalesa ply the cobbled streets where motorised transport is banned.

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Still feeling full from lunch, we forego dinner this evening and just chill in the room after a full and exciting day in Vigan. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations and their local team for looking after us on the trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:47 Archived in Philippines Tagged museum philippines prison unesco pottery vigan jail potter halo_halo bell_tower prison_cell drone ilocos_sur undiscovered_destinations kalesa drone_photography church_service dronography bantay bantay_church our_lady_of_charity vigan_cathedral archbishops_palace old_carcel_museum basi_revolt pinkabet pinkabet_farm hidden_garden lilong_and_lilang lilong_and_lilang_restaurant Comments (2)

Sagada - Vigan


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While the room here at Masferré Country Inn in Sagada may be well past its sell-by-date, the restaurant is nice, and the breakfast is spectacular.

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Papaya, lime, and honey; ginger tea with honey; and orange juice

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Home-made bread, bacon, scrambled eggs, mango, preserves, and banana ketchup

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Shanghai Lumpia - egg rolls stuffed with ground pork and vegetables. Delicious.

Just as we think we cannot eat another morsel, Rey turns up. Having borrowed the local guide’s motorbike, he has been up to the Misty Lodge & Café to collect a couple of home made yogurts that he ordered especially for us yesterday.

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Blueberry yogurt

The huge breakfast is too much for David, who finds he’s lost half a tooth.

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We travel through some incredible scenery today, first zigzagging down, then later up through hairpin bends again, with numerous landslides.

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I love the artistically constructed Pikaw Hand Bridge

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This prominent mountaintop has the curious name of Mount Clitoris for its resemblance to a certain female part of the anatomy. Although named Mount Clitoris on street signs and even on Google Maps, its official title is Mount Mogao. The internet describes it as a "hidden gem tucked away waiting to be explored."

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Pomelo tree

Battle of Bessang Pass Memorial

The victory in Bessang Pass is considered as one of the greatest triumphs in Philippine history, which, towards the end of the Second World War was a stronghold of the Japanese imperial forces. After a battle that lasted four months, troops made up of 20,000 soldiers (all Filipinos except for five American officers) made a final assault on the ridge on 14th June 1945, and planted a symbolic flag made from a dirty green face towel. It was protracted, fierce, relentless, and bloody hand-to-hand combat with a suicidal enemy. The Filipino/American troops bore the brunt of the fighting, sustaining over 2,000 casualties, including 600 men killed.

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After three long years of brutal Japanese occupation, this victory is believed to have hastened the collapse of Japanese defenses in the country. During the Japanese occupation, almost all of the forces of this command served as guerillas. For them, this battle was a payback for all the dishonor they suffered during the surrender of the Philippines and for the atrocities the Japanese inflicted on them. During the occupation, Japanese marines and Korean conscripts massacred more than 300,000 residents in Manila and destroyed the city. Manila became the most devastated city after Warsaw, gaining the moniker ‘The Warsaw of Asia.’

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With us all returning to the car in a sombre mood after the visit to the memorial, Rey plays some 60/70/80th music to liven up the atmosphere. He tells us he has different playlists depending on the age of his clients, but also confesses to enjoying some of the old songs himself.

We continue along some stunning roads, clinging precariously to the forested hillside with spectacular scenery all around us.

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More landslides

Drone

We stop to fly the drone, but find that the scenery is actually too big to capture it all. I have created a panorama in Photoshop, and you can see the enormity of the valley landscape in the video below.

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Not only does this area have a Mount Clitoris, there is also Vagina Falls.

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Lunch at Jollibee

We stop in Candon Town to have lunch in a buzzing branch of the local fast food chain Jollibee – the Philippines’ answer to KFC. Although not being a fast food fan, we totally understand Rey’s rationale behind it, as he states that Jollibee is a very popular restaurant with local people and that we should try it to get the full Filipino food experience. We are game for it, and Rey orders a whole banquet full of popular dishes.

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A buzzer for when the food is ready

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Burgers and peach mango pie

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A bucket of chicken, fries, and gravy

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Ice cream, Iced Tea, and Sundaes

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Enough chicken to feed a small army

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Spaghetti with a bunch of sugar in it to make it sweeter, as is traditional in the Philippines

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And of course: mountains of rice

Santa Maria Church

Unlike most Spanish Catholic churches, which are usually found in town squares, The Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of the Assumption, sits alone on a hill overlooking the town of Santa Maria.

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The baroque church, which dates from 1767, is inscribed on the UNESCO Heritage Sites list

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The freestanding bell tower

According to the legend, before the Santa Maria Church was built on its present site, the Virgin Mary was enshrined at a different place called Bulala. The frequent disappearance of the Virgin Mary from her previous place of enthronement only to be found perched on a guava tree that grew where the present church is located, led the townspeople to construct the church in its present location.

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The Virgin Mary depicted in a tree on the side of the building.

With its imposing brick facade, the church was used as a fortress during the Philippine Revolution in 1896.

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The interior of the church

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I love the way the clouds have formed above the cross.

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We cross the Abra River on a new bridge, constructed after the Old Quirino Bridge suffered the wrath of the Super Typhon Egay a few months ago (July 2023)

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Richie, our driver, became stranded in Sagada at the time, as a result of the collapse.

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Hotel Felicidad, Vigan

The quirky hotel has a colonial feel and look about it, and we are the only people staying here tonight.

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Initially, we are given a room on the second floor, but Rey arranges for us to stay in an Accessible Room on the ground floor instead.

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We have a large four-poster bed each, the beds are very high, and the mattress keeps moving, but it is very comfortable and that is all that matters

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The towels are shaped like an elephant

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Even the toilet paper has been artistically folded, the toilet is modern with a high seat and a grab rail opposite, plus a walk-in shower. The benefits of having an accessible room.

David goes for a wander and comes back with a bottle of local rum and some snacks for our room picnic this evening. After the enormous breakfast followed by the Jollibee experience at lunchtime, neither of us feels like having a proper meal tonight.

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This amazing Grand Tour of South East Asia was arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 11:50 Archived in Philippines Tagged memorial philippines unesco typhoon pass wwii vigan sagada jollibee drone drone_photography dronography masferré_country_inn undiscrovered_destinations lumpia david_lost_half_a_tooth pikaw_hand_bridge hand_bridge mount_clitoris pomelo_tree battle_of_bessang battle_of_bessang_memorial bessang japanese_occupation vagina_falls santa_maria_church the_archdiocesan_shrine_of_our_ virdin_mary abra_river super_typhone_egay egay old_quirino_bridge hotel_felicidad Comments (3)

Banaue - Bontoc - Sagada


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The mist hanging over the valley at 6am this morning makes for a pretty picture.

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Breakfast at the Banaue Hotel is a sad affair, with a cold omelette and stale bread.

Today we are heading even higher into the mountains, driving up and up into the clouds. We reach 1800 metres above sea level at the highest. The winding roads make me think we are on a stairway to heaven. Cue Led Zeppelin!

With such deep valleys, a pulley system has been set up to haul the rice from the fields at the bottom to waiting vehicles at the top.

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Drone crash

We stop on the main road to fly the drone, and I am cautious of the overhead wires so I fly the drone just up a few feet before moving it out over the valley.

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While the drone is set up to avoid obstacles by flying around them, it is not able to detect grass and straws, resulting in it crashing into the undergrowth just beyond the road.

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The view from the drone itself

Both Rey and Richie climb over the barrier to try and retrieve the drone, with the latter telling his colleague: “You’re too heavy, leave it to me!”

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Richie takes his shoes off to be able to feel what is under his feet so as not to fall into the abyss. It’s a steep-sided valley, I would hate for him to tumble down the side, but equally, those straws must hurt his feet! Using my walking stick to hook the straw before grabbing the drone, he manages to rescue it without too much hassle.

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He’s my hero!

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The drone appears to still be in one piece after its tumble adventure, with just some tangled grasses to remove from its propellers.

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They say to get straight back on a horse after a fall, so despite feeling rather nervous, I fly the drone again over the rice fields at the bottom of the valley, this time without hitting the overhead wires, or the grasses.

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Bontoc

We stop just outside Bontoc to take some photos of the town and some ploughing going on in the fields below.

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Bontoc Museum

This fascinating little museum is found within the school grounds, and unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside. The museum is run by a nun, who comes out to tell us about some of the exhibits, in excellent English.

The two-storey museum features a collection of authentic artifacts, crafts, traditional clothing, hunting tools, and a number of powerful black and white photographs, some of which are suspended in a glass frame and lit from behind. What impresses me most is that each implement and receptacle, has a proper name, an example being a musical instrument which is called a ‘Bangibang’.

I also like the ladies’ small pillar-box hats, held in place by string, which can double up as handbags; as well as a headdress made from snake bone. The museum mainly focuses on the culture of the Ifugao indigenous tribe.

After leaving the museum in Bontoc, we climb back up again to Sagada, which is in fact at a higher altitude than Banaue, where we have spent the last three nights. The road has only recently re-opened (ten days ago) after a landslide.

Misty Lodge and Café

This, apparently, is one of Rey's favourite cafés, and he is excited to take us here. I can certainly see why. With tables set in a courtyard, surrounded by forest and shaded by large pink parasols that colour everything underneath them in a strange hue, the food is delicious.

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We order pink lemonade (at least that is one food item that does not look odd under the cover), and Rey suggests that the burgers here are really worth having.

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Delicious Pink Lemonade

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A selection of burgers

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Mushroom melt burger

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Bacon lover burger

Just as we are finishing off the burgers, a large (pink) Margherita Pizza arrives.

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The speciality of the house, however, is their homemade yogurt, and Rey tells me he has brought friends here from Manila just for the yogurt.

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Blueberry, chocolate, strawberry, and caramel

I choose the blueberry, and David has the chocolate

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Blueberry

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Chocolate

Hanging Coffins of Sagada

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In a similar vein to the cliff-side burial places we saw in Sulawesi, the people of Sagada place their dead in coffins hollowed out from logs (often having to break the bones of the deceased to be able to fit them in). The coffins are then hung on the side of a cliff, with the belief that the higher the dead are placed, the greater the chance of their spirits reaching a higher nature in the afterlife.

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There are many such ‘cemeteries’ around the area, and we visit one where I can photograph it from afar without having to do any trekking. This particular burial site is only for ladies who have died in childbirth. The coffins we see here are around 100 years old, the practice was stopped in the 1940s.

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The Church of St Mary the Virgin

Built in 1904 by American missionaries, the stone chapel is the main episcopal church in Sagada.

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The wheel used for this centennial marker was brought from the US to Segada as part of a sawmill project. It was discarded when the sawmill stopped operating and had been lying on the ground for almost a century. The wheel was salvaged for this marker to symbolise the faith and commitment of the early missionaries.

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Echo Valley

This area is known as Echo Valley because when there was a burial here, the village elders would shout and the noise would echo around the valley. It is thought to be a way of communicating with the dead.

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There are hanging graves on the cliff face here, as well as a cave burial chamber.

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The last funeral held here was in 2010.

Masferré Country Inn

We go to check in to the hotel on the main street of the small town of Segada. The hotel is more like a restaurant with rooms, although it could do with a little TLC. The room is small, with two narrow double beds, and no other furniture apart from a desk. The bathroom is a couple of steps up, but there is no soap or toilet paper, and the tap is not attached properly. Several of the small window panes are broken, the wallpaper is coming off the wall, and the paint is flaking. When I try to use the wifi, it seems the hotel has not paid their bill and they have been cut off.

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Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this incredible Grand Tour of South East Asia for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:25 Archived in Philippines Tagged rice_fields museum philippines bontoc pizza rice_terraces burgers banaue sagada drone undiscovered_destinations drone_photography dronography drone_crash home_made_yogurt misty_lodge hanging_coffins church_of_st)mary_the_virgin echo_valley masferré_country_inn Comments (3)

Banaue


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After yesterday’s drama with my back, today there has been a change of plan: instead of exploring by Jeepney as we did yesterday, we are going to be using the vehicle we came here in from Manila, which we dubbed ‘The Royal Carriage’ as it has throne-like seats and is incredibly comfortable. This is one of the many reasons why we only take private tours these days: the ability to make changes without affecting anyone else.

We head further up into the hills this morning with another guide, a local woman called Paulo.

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A young lad takes a bath alongside the road

Recycling

Old Mountain Dew Bottles never die, they just get upcycled into roadside art, signs, and even a rubbish bin in Banaue.

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Just outside the small village of Hunduan, we stop to register at the tourist office.

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Drone

We stop on the side of the road to fly the drone for a different view of the countryside

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In the second place we stop, Paulo invites some local girls in national dress to join us for photographs.

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Hungduan

David, Rey, and Paulo go off to try and find a toilet, and somehow end up in the Mayor's Office where a welcome dance for officials from the Ministry of Agriculture is taking place. They are told quite categorically that it is not laid on for tourists.

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Family Tomb

I spot some large animals at the side of the road, and ask Paulo what they are. While Richie (our driver) turns the car around to go back for me to take photos, Paulo explains that they are tombs: the largest one belongs to the father of the family, and each one of them contains bones of various family members.

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Dad’s Place

We stop for lunch at a restaurant called Dad’s Place, with views over the rice terraces below.

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Bageo Beans

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Chicken Tinola Soup - chayote and spinach with boney chicken

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Chicken Curry

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Chips

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Pink Sauce - Banana Ketchup mixed with Mayonnaise

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Sisig - a popular Filipino dish made from minced pork (including jowl, ears, and belly), and chicken liver, which is usually seasoned with calamansi (small lime), onions, and chili peppers - this is my favourite dish this lunchtime

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Milk fish - the national fish of the Philippines

Christmas is a huge celebration in the Philippines, and preparations usually start in September. We see lots of decorations going up while we eat.

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Each year a race takes place down the winding roads of this area, with participants riding home made scooters such as these.

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Just as we are leaving, a couple of old ladies in traditional outfits turn up, and later a man joins them. Now too old to toil the fields, they pose for tourists for money instead.

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This young lady is 89 years old

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Her friend is 90

The chap is, apparently, 91 years young.

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On the way back to the hotel, we stop for more dronography.

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I love the way they have created a small pattern in one of the fields

The mist is coming in now, with a bit of rain in the air, so we head back to the hotel.

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Hair Colouring

I take the opportunity this afternoon to brighten up my barnet* a little with some colouring. (*barnet is Cockney Rhyming Slang for “hair”, rhyming with Barnet Fair)

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Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this incredible Grand Tour of South East Asia

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:33 Archived in Philippines Tagged landscapes traditional scenery tomb philippines dances scooters rice_terraces banaue jeepney drone undiscovered_destinations drone_photography dronography grand_tour_of_south_east_asia mountain_dew hunduan family_tomb animal_tomb dads_place scooter_racing hair_colour Comments (3)

Banaue


View South East Asia Grand Tour 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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After an amazing sleep of 9½ hours here at the Banaue Hotel, I feel refreshed and ready to go this morning.

Breakfast

After several days of an upset tummy (which is nothing new to me, having suffered from severe IBS for the last 40+ years), I have developed some food anxiety, so I settle for some simple pancakes and syrup this morning. One of my great pleasures when travelling is to try new local foods, so this goes against the grain for me.

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Jeepney

This morning’s excursion is by Jeepney, the traditional means of transportation in the Philippines. They are known for their crowded seating and kitsch decorations, which have become a widespread symbol of Philippine culture and art. Ours is disappointingly plain, and more like a decrepit and battered old crock than a piece of art. Jeepneys are typically very basic with rudimentary bench seating along the sides of the interior, and are anything but comfortable for someone (like me) with back problems. It has to be done, though, when in Rome (or Philippines) and all that…

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Today is spent photographing the scenery, including the incredible rice terraces this area is known for.

Batad

Our first stop is at the Batad Viewpoint, where I send up the drone for a better view of the valley beyond.

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My drone selfie

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With such steep valleys, multi-storey houses are built downwards from the road, and often painted in bright colours.

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I am very excited to see a Luzon Sunbird at the viewpoint - a lifer for me

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Rice drying on the side of the road

Rice Terraces Walk

David goes off for a hike with Rey (our guide), Richie (our driver), and Dayton, our local guide here in Banaue down to the rice terraces in the valley below, while I stay behind with Harry, the Jeepney Driver. Rey very kindly takes my camera to capture some of the scenes.

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I am getting increasingly desperate for the toilet, feeling that the diarrhoea has returned with a vengeance. As I slide along the bench to get out to brave the corrugated shed with a WC sign on it, the others return from their walk. The toilet is, as expected, a very traditional hole-in-the-ground squat style. While I am fine getting down to business, trying to get up again jolts my Sacroiliac Joint into a position it doesn’t want to be in, and I cry out in pain. Hearing my screams, David comes running in, and with the help of Rey they manage to get me back up to the car park, each step being agony, and into the Jeepney, accompanied by lots of screams.

Each bump on the road feels like someone is stabbing me in the back, and I try, very gingerly, to slide and hoist myself into the ‘proper’ seats at the front (a row of seats facing forward behind the driver). While this is far preferable for my back, the lack of legroom and low seat is agony for my arthritic left knee. When we reach the hotel I hobble back to the room and chill for the rest of the day.

Lunch

Neither of us has given lunch any thought, but Rey is one step ahead of us, as usual. After being unwell and off our food in Timor Leste, we had both lost some weight, but Rey has tried his damnest to help us put that back on again. There is a knock on the door, and plates of chicken and chips, noodles, rice, bread rolls and salad arrive. I brave a bread roll and boiled egg, plus a small piece of chicken, before taking extra painkillers and retiring to bed.

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Thankfully, the painkillers and rest restore my back to some sort of normality (a prolapsed disk and arthritis means I will always have problems), and I stay in bed for the rest of the evening while David eats the leftover cold chicken and noodles for dinner.

This amazing Grand Tour of South East Asia was arranged by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:49 Archived in Philippines Tagged philippines sji rice_terraces banaue jeepney batad drone undiscovered_destinations bad_back drone_photography grand_south_east_asia_tour dronography sacroiliac Comments (3)

Clark - Banaue


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After a great sleep, I struggle to wake up with the alarm this morning.

Breakfast

I make myself some tasty whole-seed toast with peanut butter this morning, while David enjoys two portions of Chocopops followed by a full fry-up.

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Despite the amount of decent sleep I had last night, I still fall asleep as soon as I sit down on the ‘throne’ in the ‘Royal Carriage’ (our name for the extremely comfortable seats in the luxurious vehicle we have at our disposal).

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Philippine Caribou Centre

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Part of the Department of Agriculture, the centre conducts research into the use of caribou (a type of water buffalo) in the Philippines. It is also a processing plant where they sell dairy products to the public. The ice cream is made fresh every day and is very popular, so Rey wanted to get here early to make sure they hadn’t sold out.

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David prefers the chocolate and hazelnut flavour

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My favourite is the vanilla, so it works out just right

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Fresh caribou milk

Dalton Pass (AKA Balete Pass)

This long and narrow zigzag road with hairpin curves and steep gradients leading up from the lowlands, is named after General James Dalton II who was killed on this location on 16 May 1945 by a Japanese sniper.

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At the summit is a memorial to the 17,000 soldiers (Japanese, American and Filipino) who were killed here, at the end of the second world war. It is, however, closed for restoration, so we continue on our way.

Donut stop

Another one of Rey’s favourite stops, partly to utilise the facilities, and partly to indulge in delicious doughnuts. Rey doesn’t believe in buying just one or two of these snacks, he will purchase a whole box to share between the four of us.

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They look prettier than they taste

Rey also buys us some more tissues for the car, and the name amuses me, as Mrs G is one of David’s pet monikers for me.

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Mrs Baker’s Restaurant

Yet again Rey uses his local knowledge and numerous contacts to find us a great place for lunch, this time in a town called Bayombo, and orders a selection of local specialities for us to try.

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Spicy prawns in coconut milk with peanuts and garlic

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Seafood Noodles with Mushrooms

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Kari Kari - beef, ox tripe and banana blossom curry with a lovely creamy peanut sauce

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Banana Blossom served as a side vegetable - very pleasant

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Grilled vegetables

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Chips with banana ketchup, a very popular condiment in the Philippines. It goes back to a time after the war when tomatoes were hard to come by, so people had to diversify when making ketchup

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Spicy relish

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Coconut sherbert for dessert

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Banaue Hotel

Looking tired and worn, the hotel is reminiscent of a 1970s ski lodge. We are, however, very impressed by the warm welcome.

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Having names on a board to welcome guests to the hotel, is a practice we have only previously seen in India. I think it is such a special thing to do, and it really makes you feel like VIPs.

The large open reception area is full of conference delegates, milling around and gathering in an open hall with a stage at one end.

Our room is right at the end of a long corridor, we have a double and single bed, a small balcony, but no comfy chairs, just a dining chair and a pouffe. There is no Wi-Fi in the room, nor any A/C, making it stifling hot; and we can hear everything that is going on next door - every word spoken, every movement of furniture, every flushing of the toilet.

After a short while there is a knock on the door, delivering hot lemongrass welcome drinks. Just no. I settle for a rum and coke instead.

Dinner

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Not feeling hungry after the large lunch, ice cream in the morning, and doughnuts in the afternoon, I just order a carrot cake for dinner.

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David chooses a beef hotpot.

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That concludes another great day on our Grand South East Asia Tour, which was organised by Undiscovered Destinations

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Posted by Grete Howard 06:36 Archived in Philippines Tagged philippines vip clark wwii ice_cream banaue donuts doughnuts south_east_asia water_buffalo caribou undiscovered_destinations grand_south_east_asia_tour philippine_caribou_centre caribou_ice_cream buffalo_ice_cream buffalo_milk dalton_pass balete_pass battle_of_balete mrs_bakers_restaurant banana_blossom banaue_hotel Comments (5)

Manila - Clark


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We head out of the capital this morning, through Greater Manila, which is more of a residential area than the city centre we saw yesterday.

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Typical Jeepney

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Roadside police station

In a bid to avoid traffic congestion in the city, the government has introduced driving restrictions: only certain vehicle registrations can drive inside a dedicated zone on certain days. Richie’s vehicle cannot enter the city today, so Edwardo picks us up, and we meet up with Richie at a petrol station outside the city boundary.

Richie has brought another, even bigger car today, one in which we really do feel like VIPs, with throne-like seats featuring huge armrests. We name it 'The Royal Carriage'.

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Knowing how we both had a cough yesterday, Rey has brought throat lozenges for us this morning, as well as a box of yummy cookies, homemade by his girlfriend.

Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm

Meaning “To Give Care” in Tagalog, this is a prototype of a sustainable community dedicated to ending poverty by empowering people to develop useful skills.

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This particular Gawad Kalinga enterprise (there are several throughout the Philippines and beyond) has 78 families living and working within the farm, and its aim is not just to end poverty, stop homelessness, and offer opportunities to the communities; but also to help encourage younger people to become farmers.

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Before we’d even arrived in the Philippines, we were added to a WhatsApp group with several office-based members of the local tour agency, so that if we have any problems or questions, there will be someone available to answer our queries at all times. We are both very impressed with this idea. Last night we had a message from them about our visit to the farm today, outlining some of the projects they are involved with and giving us a choice of which one we’d like to see demonstrated today.

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Kesong Puti

Kesong puti is a white cheese made from carabao (a type of water buffalo) milk, similar to buffalo mozzarella. The cheese is made to order, as it is a fresh cheese with a shelf life of just two weeks.

The girl, who speaks very little English, starts by boiling water and adding rock salt.

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Milk is pasturised at 70 °C to kill any bacteria, with vinegar added to encourage coagulation before being added to the brine (salty water) for five minutes.

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Using her hands, she massages the cheese until it starts getting its shape.

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Once it all holds together, it is placed in a mould for a few minutes, then gently removed.

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I am then offered the opportunity to have a go at making my own cheese, which I jump at, of course. The water is still somewhere between 50 °C and 70 °C, and I find dipping my fingers in it unbearably hot.

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After lots of exclamations of “ouch” and other similar words of pain, I am very proud to show and eat my finished product.

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The freshly made kesong puti cheese

Lunch is provided by the farm, and we tuck into Chicken Pochero (a typical Filipino stew with chicken, sausages, vegetables, plantains and tomatoes), fish and vegetables.

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David and Rey at lunch

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Chicken Pochero

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Tilapia

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String beans

There is plenty of rice, of course, as well as calamansi, the local miniature lime, for squeezing over the fish.

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Making friends with the local wildlife

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Bacolor Church

The church was originally constructed by the Augustinian Friars in 1576. It was later destroyed by an earthquake, and in the aftermath of the catastrophic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, Typhoon Yunya triggered the flow of volcanic ash, boulders, and water down rivers surrounding the volcano, burying the church, and the rest of the town under six metres (20 feet) of lahar.

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Drone image of the church

I have created the illustration below to show how much of the church remains buried under the ground.

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The basilica was later excavated and restored, and today it is possible to visit the interior, entering through what was once the upper windows.

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The pews are on the level with the top of the windows

We stop at a convenience store, where Rey buys chicharrones and brownies for us to try. He wants us to try all the things he would normally eat, not just the main dishes, for the full Filipino culinary experience. I love that idea.

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Clark Quest Hotel

This modern hotel is situated in an area that was previously an American Military Base, now Clark Freeport Zone, complete with a 36-hole championship golf course, casino, duty free shopping hub and nature walks. This is clearly reflected in the type of clientele it attracts, with a large group of young golfers from the US checking in at the same time as us.

All the golfers are ushered through a security metal detector, with their luggage being passed through an X-ray. We are simply taken around the archway, with the porters carrying our luggage the same way.

With so many other people arriving at the same time as us, checking in seems to take forever. It is worth it, however, when we get to the room, which is modern, bright, and airy, with a huge bed.

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View from the room

When we were picked up on arrival at the airport in the Philippines a couple of days ago, we were given a small gift bag containing a bottle of rum and a bag of dried mango, which is apparently a well-known local combination. For the sake of embracing the local culture, we partake in a tipple and a nibble.

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Dinner

The restaurant is welcoming, with food being served as either as a buffet or a la carte. We choose the latter.

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My spaghetti with aioli and prawns is incredibly dry and it appears that the aioli has been substituted with fried garlic, and the dish sprinkled with parmesan cheese and six prawns strategically placed on top. Very disappointing.

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David enjoys his four-cheese pizza, however.

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Thank you very much to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this fascinating Grand Tour of South East Asia.

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Posted by Grete Howard 08:50 Archived in Philippines Tagged basilica philippines manila clark jeepney drone undiscovered_destinations gawad_kalinga kesong_puti carabao_milk home_made_cheese calamansi bacolor bacolor_church mount_pinatubo lahar buried_church clark_quest_hotel quest_hotel aioli Comments (3)

Manila


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Having arrived at the hotel at 06:00 this morning, we catch up on a little bit of sleep and meet our guide Rey, and driver Richie, in the lobby at 13:00.

Bistro Remedios

Not really having eaten anything since we left Bali, we are very happy when Rey suggests we go straight to lunch. The restaurant is decorated in the style of a traditional wealthy Philippine home. Rey takes charge and orders a selection of typical local dishes for us all, which suits us fine.

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Chicken and Pork Adobo (very nice, with plenty of soy sauce) & Bicol Express (Meat with Coconut Milk)

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Coconut Rice cooked inside a bamboo stem

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The coconut rice

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Salad including eggs marinated in brine for ten days - very salty with a surprisingly firm texture

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Baby Squid

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Sisig - minced pork cheek - very tasty

Every dish is really very pleasant, and I love the idea of being able to taste lots of different dishes instead of being limited to the one single item when you order yourself.

Manila City Sightseeing

We have a half-day whistle-stop tour of Manila this afternoon, taking in some of the most interesting sites.

Roast Pork

Like many cities, Manila has whole areas devoted to one type of goods for sale – this entire street (and ones parallel to it) is lined with stores cooking and selling pork meat.

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Whole pigs are spit-roasted on huge BBQs, then either sold as a single item or cut up into smaller joints to make the famous Philippine dish known as Lechon.

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This one is ready to be presented for sale

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Chicharrónnes – fried pork rinds, which we know as crackling, or pork scratchings

Manila Chinese Cemetery

Also known as ‘The Beverly Hills of the Dead’, Millionaire's Row’, and ‘City of the Dead’, the cemetery is not just a place for the tombs of those who have died, many families live alongside their deceased ancestors.

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Some people merely visit their late relatives, while others make it their permanent address.

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The dwellings have kitchens, air-conditioned bedrooms, and running water so that relatives can be near their non-living loved ones at all times.

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Only members of the Chinese community are buried here, and having your deceased relatives here carries enormous bragging rights, with each of the mausoleums being more spectacular than the previous.

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The cemetery was created during colonial times, after the Chinese community was prohibited from using the Catholic cemeteries by Spanish colonials.

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Chong Hoc Tong Temple - every Chinese community will have a temple, even a necropolis

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The crematorium

Flower Market

With such a huge cemetery, it is only natural that nearby is the flower neighbourhood.

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The flower creations are not just to decorate the tombs, of course, people also buy arrangements for their homes and other events.

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Slums behind the cemetery

Binondo-Intramuros Bridge

We continue our exploration of Manila, crossing this famous modern bridge to reach the Chinatown of the city. The construction of the bridge, which does rather stand out in an area otherwise filled with Art Deco and other historical buildings, was quite controversial, and even UNESCO has weighed in on the argument, threatening to de-list the city’s Heritage listed buildings as a result.

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Nearby Art Deco architecture

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A battered old Jeepney

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Street scene in Downtown Manila

Chinatown

Manila has the 2nd largest Chinatown after San Francisco and the oldest one outside China.

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Binondo Church

In 1596, Dominican priests founded the church to serve the local Chinese who had converted to Christianity, and masses are held in Filipino, Mandarin, Hokkien, and English.

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Throughout Chinatown, as well as other parts of the country during our travels later, we see utility poles almost encapsulated by jungles of power cables. It would be a British electrician’s worst nightmare!

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Post Office

Fronted by 14 Graeco-Roman pillars, the postal building was considered the grandest structure in the country when it was built in 1926. A few months ago (May 2023), it suffered a devastating fire, leaving the facade covered in black smoke damage while it awaits restoration.

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A light drizzle starts, as we head towards the historical walled centre of Manila to discover the area on foot.

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I can't think an umbrella would do much good against the rain while on the back of a motorbike

Fort Santiago

Built in 1571 by the then-Spanish governor, it was named after St James (Santiago in Spanish), the patron saint of Spain. As the city grew in wealth and prominence Fort Santiago established itself as a formidable symbol of Spanish power in the Orient.

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The lack of sleep and jetlag are starting to take their toll on me, so I let Rey and David go off to delve into the depths of the fort and its history (now a museum), while I sit on a low wall and chat with Dane, a delightful young tourism trainee who has joined us this afternoon.

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Horse Drawn Kalesa

First introduced to the Philippines in the 1700s by the Spanish, these horse-drawn carriages were a primary mode of public and private transportation during the colonial period. These days they mainly ferry tourists around Intramuros, the walled centre of Manila.

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Rey sits at the front with the driver, while David and I hop in the back with Dane. Rey made sure to organise a ‘special’ carriage for me, one which only has a small step to get on board.

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Intramuros

The historical centuries-old walled area of Manila has mostly narrow cobbled streets and is best explored in a kalesa or on foot.

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A smoother part of the journey

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A small shop on the side of the road

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Marching band musicians gathering ahead of a performance

The shaking of the carriage as we go over the cobbles and the uncomfortable wooden sideways-facing seat soon make me feeling rather unwell. By the time I get down when we stop to look at a church, I feel extremely nauseous.

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David hands me a sick bag, and Rey directs me to sit down on the back step of the carriage where I immediately start vomiting. Dane rushes around getting me a bottle of water, and uses my hat to fan my face which is sweating profusely. The carriage is by now causing a traffic jam, and the police arrive to sort things out. In the UK, we would have been told off and ushered off somewhere else, the cops here direct the traffic a different route instead so I don’t have to move.

Rey calls Richie, our (car) driver, who comes and collects us and takes us back to the hotel. Back in the room, I not just feel sick, I also have the runs, so I mix up a rehydration drink, lie down in bed and promptly fall asleep. Ten minutes later, there is a knock on the door: a young man with two boxes of churros, a gift from Rey.

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Churros

Before we left the UK, I discovered that our hotel here in Manila has a churros café on the ground floor. I absolutely adore churros, and have mentioned a few times throughout the afternoon how much I am looking forward to tucking into some this evening, so I find Rey’s gesture very touching. Unfortunately, I still feel so ill, that even the thought of churros makes me feel unwell, so I ask David to eat my portion too (they are very much better when hot and fresh), and maybe he can go down to the café later and get me some when I feel better (I am pretty sure my current malaise is just down to dehydration).

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David reluctantly (not) agrees to eat my portion too

A couple of hours later, after a lovely sleep and plenty of water, I feel much better and David goes down to get me some churros. He comes back looking forlorn – the café shuts at 19:00, and it is now 19:10. Those sweet delights were obviously not meant to be for me today.

Thank you very much to Undiscovered Destinations, who have arranged this incredible adventure.

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:43 Archived in Philippines Tagged chinatown temple market cemetery umbrella tombs philippines necropolis horse fire unesco manila pig mausoleum flower_market chinese_temple intramuros churros south_east_asia pig_roast horse_drawn_carriage nausea vomiting post_office undiscovered_destinations kalesa crematorium roast_pork lechon bistro_remedios chicharonnes bbq_pork chinese_cemetery chong_hoc_tong_temple binondo_intramuros_bridge art)deco binondo_church fort_santiago dehyudration Comments (5)

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