All posts filed under: Places

Sleeping Beauty

For years, the sleepy town of Anda in Bohol, 100 km from the capital city of Tagbilaran, has been dubbed as “the NEXT BIG THING.” A well-known, well-travelled Filipino weatherman and scion of a political clan in Manila even declared Anda as one of the two most surprising gems he found in the Philippines—a country that does not lack for island jewels—and expressed his intention to someday retire there. Anda has all the ingredients for a premier travel destination: long stretches of fine, white-sand beaches, clear, turquoise waters, year-round diving weather, friendly locals, and comfortable, family-run resorts. Add to that a sprinkling of caves that tell a rich history and voila, you have a tourist favorite. So why isn’t it Boracay by now? My quest for an answer to that question was the only thing that roused me from the king-size bed in our tastefully designed 60-square-meter suite at the new wing of Amorita Resort—my new favorite place in Panglao—where life consisted of perfect little moments and beautiful mornings with hot chocolate. It was SO tempting to …

Shanghai-Spotting

What a difference zero makes Two little hours Brought the sun and the… No, there were no flowers, just buildings—an endless row of buildings that occupy block upon block of this industrial and eerily quiet part of Shanghai. It was our first day in what is supposedly a swanky, cosmopolitan world city, but I have yet to find traces of that—or of anything modern, or even English-speaking—at the moment. And it has been over an hour. My friend and I were walking along Guiqiao Road in Pudong in search of Shanghai United Cell Biotechnology Co. Ltd., where we were supposed to drop off a package before we toured the city. We passed the offices of international brands like Coca-Cola, Ricoh, Kodak (apparently, the legendary-but-now-bankrupt company still has its graphic communications group, with its Asia Pacific headquarters in Shanghai). But there was no biotechnology office in sight. After finally being able to connect to the Shanghai mobile number of my friend’s colleague, we realized what went wrong: the taxi driver had dropped us off at 115 Guiquiao …

A Tale of Two Kingdoms

“I’M NOT SHOUTING AT YOU LADYYY!” the angry salesgirl at the MBK mall in Bangkok shouted as we left her stall. She screamed a lot more of what I could only surmise as invectives in the Thai language. Shoppers stopped, heads turned. I suddenly imagined her pulling me into a catfight, so I walked as fast as I could, practically dragging my shocked grandmother away from the raging vendor’s stall. The screaming salesgirl, who was furious that we thought her merchandise was expensive, was the piece de resistance in our stressful, tourist-trapped first day in what Travel+Leisure readers dubbed in 2013 as the World’s Best City—Bangkok. Our Bangkok was nothing like the Bangkok of Hollywood movies and glossy magazines. Ours was real, rough and rowdy. The Grand Palace would put Disneyland to shame with its queues and crowd, observed my husband, a first-timer in the city who immediately and irrevocably fell out of love with it (it didn’t help that the entrance fee to the palace was THB 550). The strict dress code—no shorts or …

Kyoto’s Eternally Old Soul

Everything in Kyoto is old. Our private guide, Shihoko Hirooka, was 73. My entire family’s jaw dropped when she entered the hotel lobby and introduced herself as the one who will shepherd our group of nine, young, hyper-excited tourists. “This is our guide?” my sister Abbie whispered as she pulled me aside and cast me a worried look. “That woman is older than Ma and Pa! We’ll be walking the whole day…” Shihoko’s website boasted of her more than 30 years of experience as a tour guide in Japan, so I knew our guide wouldn’t be young. But I didn’t imagine she would be this old, either. “So, are you from Kyoto?” I asked Shihoko as we walked to the train station. It was a lame attempt at conversation but somebody had to talk—my companions were still in shock that our guide was as old as my grandmother. “Well, I’ve lived here for 40 years, but I can’t really say I’m from here. In Kyoto, for you to be able to say that you are …

The House of a Forgotten Heroine

Actress Gretchen Barretto was here before me. So were Sharon Cuneta and Judy Ann Santos, both superstars, which probably explains why the receptionist-cum-tour guide’s question, as she ushered our group into the pre-1850 ancestral house, was: “Did you watch MMK (Maalala Mo Kaya) last night?” Um, no, we didn’t. “Well, this is the house where they shot that episode, with Gretchen. She even had a scene in the bathroom. A lot of movie stars have been here,” she said proudly. That’s how Casa Villavicencio is introduced these days—an old house that makes for a great movie set. Luckily, guests to this popular destination in Taal, Batangas are asked to watch a short video that introduces the house for what it was—a refuge for Philippine revolutionary heroes and home for a couple who largely funded the work of those heroes. The yellow-and-sea green stone mansion still standing at no. 33 Marella Street holds a treasure of stories not normally found in history books. Few Filipinos are familiar with a woman named Gliceria Marella de Villavicencio, dubbed …

A speck of white, a sea of blue

The big boat dodged the big waves, the rest it just rode out. It’s been almost an hour of rough seas, and my companions were turning green, trying hard to keep from grumbling. I, however, was lost in my memories. Our big, bouncy boat was taking us to my favorite secret place of all, and no seasickness can bring me down (besides, I am the granddaughter of a fisherman—I dig waves). The grumbling stopped before the boat’s engine did. Isla Arena’s white sand glinted from afar. Everyone forgot the dicey trip and focused on the best color of bikinis for this immaculate backdrop. “Welcome back!” bellowed no less than the owner, Roland Rodriguez, who everyone calls Mr. Fuji (his features are Japanese but his burnt brown skin is undeniably Filipino—he enjoys confusing people on his nationality). My husband and I were his first media guests on the island two years ago. To our companions, he said: “Please treat this as your private island for the next three days. It’s all yours.” That sent the boys …

The Search for Soul

They said it was a place where witches still practiced, a land that cast spells. As a child, I quivered at stories of Siquijor’s black magic. Three decades later, jaded and approaching pre-midlife crisis, I needed magic–of any sort. I headed for the Island of Fire. “Be nice,” my mother reminded me, knowing my penchant for returning cold food and not-so-well-done meat in restaurants. “You don’t know what those people can do.” I packed my most pleasing personality–and my husband, who is niceness personified–and flew to Dumaguete. Siquijor is an hour by ferry from Dumaguete City, the gateway to visitors from Manila. Being the Philippines’ third smallest province (it used to be part of Negros Oriental) with only around 91,000 inhabitants, Siquijor does not have its own airport. Except on Holy Week, when the media and tourists descend on the island for its curiosities, human traffic could not justify building one. At the pier, visitors are welcomed by a sign that immediately tries to douse the quest for whatever dark mystery the tourists came for: “Siquijor is just perfect for relaxing and recuperating. …