Friday, 21 July 2017

Hotel and Inn Review: Bakhaw Bed and Breakfast (Del Carmen, Surigao del Norte)

Date of Stay: July 21-24, 2017

RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: ********
Rooms: ******
Condition and Cleanliness: *******
Staff Performance: ********
Room Comfort: ******
Food and Beverage: ********
Other Amenities: *******
Value for Money: ******

Bakhaw Bed & Breakfast 

The business-friendly, 3-star Bakhaw Bed & Breakfast, just across the road from Sayak Airport ((IAO, 200 m. away) which serves Siargao Island (making it an ideal accommodation for jetsetters), has 16 well-appointed, airconditioned rooms with cable TV, desk, coffee/tea maker and a private bathroom with hot and cold shower and complimentary toiletries. 
Bakhaw means “mangrove” in the local language.
Family Room

Complimentary breakfast (6 – 10 AM) is available for all guests. Bakhaw CafĂ©, its in-house restaurant, serves international and Filipino dishes and can seat up to 40 diners. It has a limited hour front desk (open daily, 6 AM – midnight), meeting room for business travelers, designated smoking areas and free parking spaces.  To make arrangements for check-in, please contact the property at least 24 hours before arrival using the information on the booking confirmation.
Al fresco dining area

The B&B also has a small but lush and interesting garden with several tables and chairs where one can lounge. It offers free airport transfers, daily housekeeping, laundry service and room service (during limited hours). This small hotel is a great base for exploring the extensive mangroves of Del Carmen in the western part of Siargao. They also offer tour packages to several beaches and surfing destinations in Siargao and Taktak Falls tours in Sta. Monica.
Front Desk

The B&B, seemingly a residence converted into a hotel, looks already old but it was clean and, most of all, it is near the airport.  Our 4-bed family room (room 12) had some maintenance issues.  The ceiling leaked during a heavy downpour and the bathroom didn’t drain properly (the slope was wrong). There was also a lack of convenience outlets for charging our gadgets.  The Cignal cable service, though not the hotel’s fault, was non-existent.   The free wifi, available only in the lobby, is very poor to pretty much non-existent. However, the ladies at the front desk and restaurant were efficient, charming and helpful. 
Bakhaw Cafe

The hotel is located 14.4 kms./9 mi. (16-min. drive) from the San Isidro Municipal Hall, 15 km./9.3 mi. (19-min. drive) from Dapa Public Market,  23.4 km./14.5 mi. (32-min. drive) from Magpupungko Beach, 29.3 km./18.2 mi. (36-min. drive) from Gen. Luna Pier, 29.1 km./18.1 mi. (42-min. drive) from Doot Beach, 29.4 km./18.3 mi. (36-min. drive) from Gen. Luna Beach and 31.7 km./19.7 mi. (42-min. drive) from Cloud 9 Beach.

Bakhaw Bed & Breakfast: Brgy. Sayak, Del Carmen, Surigao del Norte. Tel: +44 20 3027 6614 and (+632) 750-1501. Call center:  (+632) 662-1111. Geolocation: 9.856886, 126.017677.

It's Business as Usual in Siargao (Surigao del Norte)

Media group with Del Carmen Mayor Alfredo M. Coro II (center)

The 80-seater, 4-engine British Aerospace
146-100 jet of SkyJet Airlines
Last July, members of print media were invited to tour Siargao Island, the “Surfing Capital of the Philippines,” to show that it is still “business as usual” on the island despite the extension of martial law in Mindanao.  Invited were Ms. Bernadette Lunas of Manila Standard, Mr. Benjamin L. Layug of Business Mirror; Mr. Roel Hoang Manipon of the Daily Tribune; Mr. Terence Patrick Repelente of the Manila Bulletin; Mr. Timothy Jay Araneta of EXPAT Communications; Mr. Jimmy Calapati of Malaya Biz,  and Mr. Amadis Ma. Guerrero of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.  Also joining the group were noted photographer Mr. Donald C. Tapan, Ms. Louise Santiano of Skyjet and Publicist/PR Consultant Mr. Pete Dacuycuy.   
Siargao Domestic Airport

Dino Reyes-Chua
This group was brought directly to Siargao via an 80-min. flight from Manila, courtesy of SkyJet Airlines President Mr. Dino Reyes-Chua, riding in style on SkyJet’s 80-seater, 4-engine British Aerospace 146-100 jet.  
The same kind of VIP jet aircraft used by Queen ElizabethPrince CharlesPrince William and the rest of the British royal family, it lends credence to what Mr. Chua said, “We are not just selling seats, we are selling experience.  Flying with Sky Jet is a lifestyle!”
Del Carmen Mayor Alfredo M. "JR" Coro II

Bakhaw Bed & Breakfast (photo: Mr. Pete Dacuycuy)
Upon arrival at Sayak Airport,we were welcomed by our host, the youthful and dynamic Del Carmen town Mayor Alfredo M. “JR” Coro II.  We were all billeted at some of nearby Bakhaw Bed & Breakfast’s 16 rooms. 

After a late breakfast, a press conference with Mayor Coro was held. Coro delivered a “State of the Island” address, narrating how the island has shifted to family-oriented tourism and this is evident in the number of tourists visiting popular spots such as Naked Island, Daku Island, Guyam Island, Sugba Lagoon, Magpupungko Rock, etc.   He also proudly stated that out of 54 mangrove species worldwide, 44 can be found in Del Carmen. In terms of mangrove forest, Del Camen has 4,000 hectares (out of 8,600 hectares total in Siargao) of contiguous mangrove (home to the Crocodylus porosus,  the largest of all living saltwater crocodiles), the largest in the Philippines. 
Check out "Hotel and Inn Review: Bakhaw Bed and Breakfast"
Press conference with Mayor Coro at Bakhaw Bed and Breakfast (photo: Mr. Pete Dacuycuy)

Del Carmen Municipal Hall
After the presscon, we boarded two vans, provided by Mayor Coro, for a tour, with Ms. Roxan Gesto as our guide, of what Siargao has to offer.  We first made a stopover at Del Carmen Municipal Hall where we made a courtesy call on Mayor Coro's office.  
We next proceeded  to Port Pilar where the annual International Sportsfishing Cup (end of April or the beginning of May) is held. The waters to the east of the island offer excellent sport fishing (sailfish, marlin, yellow-fin tuna, wahoo, dorado, etc.), depending on the time of year.
Port Pilar

Tidal pool
We next motored to the nearby Magpupungko Tidal Pool & Lagoon, located on a cove facing the Pacific Ocean.  It is surrounded by limestone and granite formations, the most prominent of which is the iconic Magpupungko Rock. 
As we arrived during low tide, the limestone lagoon was pockmarked with crystal-clear swimming pools of assorted shapes and sizes where one can dip. However, most tourists and locals go here for cliff diving, an extreme activity done from one of the islets. Many sections of the pools are deep enough and, thus, safe to dive from.
Check out "Magpupungko Tidal Flats and Lagoon"
Magpupungko Rock

Krokodeilos
After a lunch prepared for us by Surigao del Norte District I Cong. Francisco Jose “Bingo” Matugas II and hosted by Mayor Coro at Krokodeilos in Del Carmen, the media group visited the adjacent Mangrove Protection & Information Center.  
Opened last November 15, 2014, the center is a legacy of Metro Pacific Investments Foundation (as part of their “Siargao It Up!”project) and the Municipality of Del Carmen to the people of Siargao.
Check out "Mangrove Protection & Information Center"
Mangrove Protection & Information Center

Mayor Coro with members of media
This facility serves as the center for the protection and propagation of mangrove trees in the coastal estuaries and the rehabilitation of degraded mangroves in the whole island of Siargao, 
It also provides information for locals, tourists and guests on the value and benefits of mangroves in our ecosystem. On display here are educational materials, a collection of sea shells and a complete skeleton of a saltwater crocodile as well as a number of skulls. Outside is a preserved saltwater crocodile. 
Traversing the mangroves of Del Carmen (photo: Mr. Donald C. Tapan)

From the center, the group again boarded outrigger boats for the 40-min. trip to the 87-hectare Sugba Lagoon in Caub Island, passing lush mangrove forests along the way. 

The 30 to 45-min. boat ride to the lagoon from the port was half the fun as we were to traverse wonderful and breathtaking scenery. 

Initially, we entered Del Carmen’s massive mangrove area with a backdrop of small green hills, passing fishermen on their boats, to some offshore islands. 
Island with pocket beaches and houses on stilts

The two-storey pavilion
Then, we went through a narrow passage that opened up into a large bay.  Here, we espied some small, thickly vegetated islands with sandy pocket beaches and small villages with houses on stilts. 
The captivating Sugba Lagoon is surrounded by large limestone hills covered with lush vegetation.  The lagoon has a two-storey pavilion, with a view deck, built by the local government unit to cater to visitors. Here, some members of the group tried stand up paddle boarding, exploring the turquoise waters of the lagoon’s perimeter.
Check out "Sugba Lagoon"
Sugba Lagoon (photo: Ms. Louise Santianen)

L-R: Mayor Coro, Louise Santianen
and Mr. Pete Dacuycuy
Back at Gen. Luna, we joined sponsors and participants of the First Siargao International Marathon (a project of Coro to spearhead a mangrove rehabilitation program) for dinner at Surigao City Mayor Ernesto Matugas’ private resort at Ocean Ridge. 
This 42.195-km. foot race (there are also 21-km. or 5-km. side events), to be held on July 23 at Numancia Elementary School grounds, also aims to promote the island of Siargao as a sports and eco tourism hub. Held in collaboration with the Municipality of Del Carmen, Siargao and the Department of Tourism, it is presented by SkyJet Airlines and is also supported by H&M Sport, Pascual Greek Yogurt, The Live Fit Lab and TetraPak.
General Luna Port 

L-R: Benjie Layug, Donna Estrella and Donald Tapan
The next day, after breakfast, we boarded our respective vans, now with Siargao Tourism Coordinator Ms. Donna Grace T. Estrella as our guide, as we were scheduled to go island hopping at Gen. Luna.  When we arrived at the port, we had to wade the shallow water, as it was low tide, to get to our two motorized outrigger boats moored some distance away. 

Once on board, we proceeded on our 25-min. boat ride to our first destination – Naked Island. Like Camiguin’s White Island, this fairly short stopover is a pure expanse of white sand surrounded by deeper crystal clear lagoon, with no trees or vegetation. Still, its calm waters make it an excellent spot for swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing.
Check out "Naked Island"
Naked Island (photo: Mr. Donald Tapan)

Boodle lunch
Our longest stopover was made at Dako (from a Visayan word meaning “big”) Island.  The biggest of the three we were to visit, it has a small village, a long strip of white beach, a green backdrop and aquamarine waters.  Here, a boodle lunch of grilled fare was prepare or us.  
It included chicken, squid, bulis (yellow fin tuna), ganga (spider conch) and hot dogs; steamed rice; and a dessert of ripe mangoes, bananas and sliced watermelon; all washed down with fresh buko juice and soft drinks. 
Check out "Daku Island"
Daku Island
Daku Island (photo: Mr. Donald 
Tapan)
After lunch and some snorkeling, a short 15-min. boat ride brought us to our last island - the beautiful, uninhabited tear-drop shaped Guyam (meaning “little”) Island, located just a few hundred meters north of Daku Island.  

This 4,300 sq. m. (46,000 sq. ft.) islet has a small stretch of powdery to coarse, ivory to white sand and is home to a small grove of coconut, talisay (beach almond) and pine trees that have thrived there for years. 

It also has interesting coral rock formations that are perfect for snorkeling.  Its 230 m. (750 ft.) long coastline can be leisurely walked around in a little more than 15 mins. 

The island is unpretentious but is equally interesting as Naked and Daku Island. 
Check out "Guyam Island"
Guyam Island (photo: Mr. Donald Tapan)

Cloud Nine Boardwalk
Back at the mainland, it was now time to visit the popular Cloud 9 wooden boardwalk which allows surfers to get out to those dramatic and powerful waves, barreling up to 9 feet high, which made Siargao as the "Surfing Capital of the Philippines."  
At its three-level viewing deck, the group enjoyed watching surfers as they tackled the big waves of this famous surf break.
Check out "Cloud 9 Boardwalk"
Surfers at Cloud Nine (photo: Mr. Pete Dacuycuy)

The 3-storey observation deck
The next day, our return flight was cancelled due to bad weather in the morning. The First Siargao International Marathon continued as plan in spite of the rains. The extra day allowed the group to circumnavigate the island in the afternoon. 

Using the same van provided for us the days before, we were driven along the island’s 162-km. circumferential road, admiring some of the coastal scenery and making a stopover at the white sand Alegria Beach in Sta. Monica town.  Located  inside a reef-fringed lagoon in Siargao Island’s northeast, this alternative to the otherwise surfing dominated beaches of the island is another jewel in the crown of the island. 
Check out "Alegria Beach"
Alegria Beach (photo: Mr. Donald Tapan)

Siargao Tourism Office: Paseo De Cabuntog, Brgy. Catangnan, Gen. Luna, Siargao Island. Mobile number: (0921) 718-2268 (Ms. Donna Grace T. Estrella – Siargao Tourism Coordinator)
How to Get There: Skyjet Airlines has daily, 100-min. direct flights from Manila (NAIA Terminal 4) to Siargao (Sayak Airport). ETD Manila at 6 AM (M8-421), ETA Siargao at 7:40 AM. Return flights: ET Siargao at 8:10 AM (M8-422), ETD Manila at 9:50 AM.
Skyjet Airlines: Manila Domestic Airport, Parking A, Terminal 4, NAIA Complex, Brgy. 191, Pasay City, Metro Manila. Tel: (02) 863-1333 and (02) 823-3366. E-mail: sales@skyjetair.com. Website: www.skyjetair.com.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Hotel and Inn Review: Westin at Times Square Hotel (New York City, U.S.A.)

Date of Stay: July 6-7, 2017

RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: ********
Rooms: ******
Condition and Cleanliness: *******
Staff Performance: ******
Room Comfort: *******
Food and Beverage: *******
Other Amenities: ********
Value for Money: *****

The Westin at Times Square

This modern, 45-storey glass tower hotel, located in New York's Theater District, is one block from the actual Times Square at Seventh and Broadway.  The non-smoking room that we stayed in (Room 3131) for one night (Thank God), one of 873 rooms, was reasonably spacious (310 sq. ft.), had airconditioning with in-room climate control, a flat-screen cable TV,  phone, an en suite private bathroom with bathrobes and hair dryer, iPod docking station, large desk with ergonomic chair, a mini bar and coffee/tea maker. Each floor had a room (opened using our magnetic card key) with an ice dispenser.  
Front Desk
However, they don’t offer complimentary high-speed internet connection in the room, the only one, among the 5 other hotels (including another in New York City) in the East Coast that we stayed in, that didn’t offer such.  Wireless internet access was US$14.95 per night while wired internet access was US$19.95 per night. Even in public areas there’s a surcharge (US$14.95). Seems like the ice at the ice dispenser was the only thing complimentary in this hotel. 
Our room also didn’t have an in-room safe. Safety deposit boxes are only available at the Front Desk. The elevators do not go directly to the ground. You have to transfer to another elevator at the lobby level to get to the ground floor.
Foundry Kitchen and Foundry Bar 

Foundry Kitchen and Foundry Bar, its in-house restaurant, serves daily breakfast (a bit pricey) from 7 to 11 AM. We weren’t able to avail of it as there was no complimentary breakfast included. 
The hotel also has 24-hour Front Desk, in-house fitness center, business center and 33 meeting rooms. 
They also offer 24-hour room service, express check-in/check-out, dry cleaning, self laundry, concierge, tour desk, ticket service, valet parking (surcharge) and luggage storage.
Room 3131


One thing going for this hotel is its fantastic location for tourists as you are in the heart of all New York sightseeing with Times Square and the Theatre District literally just a minute away.  All the bus tours are stationed right beside the hotel. Besides this, the Times Square - 42nd Street/Port Authority Bus Terminal and the train station are right on the doorstep for any local commuting.  One can't find a better location for sightseeing the Big Apple.

Westin at Times Square: 270 West 43rd St., New York City, New York 10036, USA. Tel:+1 212-201-2700.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Hotel and Inn Review: Loews Boston Hotel (Massachusetts, U.S.A.)

Date of Stay: July 4-6, 2017

RATING (Scale of 1 to 10)
Location: ********
Rooms: ********
Condition and Cleanliness: ********
Staff Performance: ********
Room Comfort: ********
Food and Beverage: *********
Other Amenities: *******
Value for Money: *******

Loews Boston Hotel

Hotel entrance
Historical Marker
This historic 10-storey Back Bay district hotel, located in the stately former headquarters of the Boston Police Department (designed by architects Parsons, Ritchie and Taylor, its cornerstone was laid on August 25, 1925 and the building was dedicated on November 22, 1926), has 222 spacious guest rooms (Superior Queen, Deluxe King, Deluxe 2 Double Beds, Premium King and Premium 2 Double Beds), two luxury suites (one bedroom with separate living room) and one presidential suite (one-bedroom suite with living, dining & kitchen areas and offers corner windows & dramatic views of Boston’s South End & South Boston).

Our check in here was efficient and friendly. The modern, decorative and comfortable 7th floor room we stayed in (Room 732), had double beds with Italian cotton linens, down bedding and Stearns & Foster pillow top mattresses; 46-inch Samsung flat-screen LED TV; ironing facilities, in-room safe, Krups coffee maker, an iPod dock, large windows with blackout drapes and a work desk. The good-size marble private bathrooms include heated towel racks, hair dryer and all-natural bath products. Bathrobes, free bottled water and complimentary WiFi internet access (also provided throughout the hotel) is provided.

Room 732

Dining Area
Bar
Precinct Kitchen + Bar, the on-site grill and a bar, is open for breakfast (7-11 AM), lunch (11 AM – 2:30 PM) and dinner (5 – 10 PM), and offers classic dishes, Boston centric favorites and traditional New England seafood specialties. 
Breakfast buffet
Jandy at Precinct Kitchen + Bar

Apothecary, a lobby lounge, offers complimentary self-service hot chocolate, tea and a range of coffee (latte, espresso and cappuccino) in a relaxing setting. It features a working fireplace, high windows a large library table for eight, comfortable lounge seating, ample outlets for charging devices, a a 9-panel media wall for watching the game or staying on top of the news. Open 110 AM – 12 AM,   Sundays – Wednesdays; 11 AM – 2 AM,  Thursdays – Saturdays. 
Front Desk

Fitness Center
Treadmills
The hotel also has a 24-hour Front Desk, 6 meeting and conference rooms and a 24-hour business center (open with guest room key access).  The 24-hour on-site fitness room contains state-of-the-art health and fitness equipment such as treadmills, stationary bikes, elliptical trainers, a strength-training machine, yoga and fitness mats and free weights. The hotel also offers valet parking (US$50/night, in/out privileges), babysitting and concierge services. The top notch staff here were very welcoming and friendly. An amazing hotel experience.
Kyle and Cheska at lobby

The fully updated Loews Boston Hotel, minutes from public transportation, fine dining, shopping and attractions, is located 2 blocks from Copley Square, and 4 blocks from Boston Common and stylish Newbury Street, 1.6 km. from Fenway Park and the Boston Back Bay train station is a 6-min. walkway. 
Al fresco dining area

Loews Boston Hotel
: 154 Berkeley St, Boston, Massachusetts 02116, U.S.A. Tel: +1 617-266-7200. Reservations: 1-877-872-3658. Website: www.loewshotels.com/boston-hotel.