Thursday, 10 November 2011

Hotel and Inn Review: Amara Singapore Hotel (Singapore)

Date of Stay: November 11-14, 2011

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

Amara Singapore Hotel
The 388-room Amara Singapore Hotel, conveniently located in Singapore’s thriving Central Business District, next to the Tanjong Pagar MRT Station, has a minimalist themed lobby.
Minimalist-Themed Hotel Lobby
Its airconditioned de luxe twin room, designed by the renowned design firm Hirsch Bedner Associates, has a spacious private bath with bathtub and separate shower; cable flat screen TV, phone, minibar, fridge, in-room safe, broadband internet access and coffee/tea making facility.
De Luxe Room
The hotel also has a coffee shop (Cafe Oriental), where we had our daily breakfast, and bar (Alphabet Bar), both at Level 1, and a collection of chic restaurants: Santaro Fine Dining (Japanese), the iconic Silk Road (Chinese), Hyangtogol Korean Restaurant (Level 2), Thanying Restaurant (Thai) and Element (International). It also has a contemporary Balinese-style, half Olympic-sized swimming pool; business center; fitness center; a spa; tennis court (Level 6); a 850-pax Grand Ballroom and 4 function rooms.
Cafe Oriental

Amara Singapore Hotel: 165 Tanjong Pagar Rd., Singapore 088539. Tel: +65 6879 2555. Fax: +65 6224 3910. Email: Website:

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Hotel and Inn Review: Ganduyan Inn (Sagada, Mountain Province)

Date of Stay: September 9-12, 2011

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

The popular, 3-storey Ganduyan Inn, managed by couple Marina and Hanzel Biag, is located at the very center of town.  One of the very earliest guest houses in Sagada, part of the building incorporates the re-opened Ganduyan Museum and Ganduyan Souvenirs.  It has spartan rooms with twin beds and a private bath with hot water (PhP750 per day) as well as rooms with common bath.

Twin room with private bath

At its small cafe, you can have a good choice breakfast of either bacon, longanisatocino or corned beef with fried egg and brewed Sagada coffee.  

They also serve pancakes (honey, banana yogurt & honey, blueberry jam and banana & honey), sandwiches (ham & cheese, tuna & cheese, bacon & cheese, ham, egg & cheese and tuna, egg & cheese), crepes (nutella, apple, banana yogurt & honey, blueberry jam and banana & honey), omelets (vegetable, cheese, tuna & cheese and ham & cheese) and yogurt (banana, cornflakes & honey, banana, granola & honey, blueberry jam, fruits & honey and banana & honey). 

Coffee shop

A second building going by the same name (Ganduyan Inn 2), located about 200 m. uphill from the old building and along the road to the next town of Besao, was opened in December 2009.  It has 7 rooms with private bathrooms, some with balconies with great views over the town. 
Ganduyan Inn 2

Ganduyan Inn: Poblacion, Sagada, Mountain Province.  Mobile number: (0921) 273-8097 (Smart) and (0927) 434-0212 (Globe).  E-mail :

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Hotel and Inn Review: Albergo Hotel (Baguio City, Benguet)

Date of Stay: September 10-11, 2011

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

Albergo Hotel

Room 811
Albergo Hotel, a five-minute drive from the city's commercial district, has 137 rooms (de luxe superior, de luxe suite, family suite) equipped with a cable TV, tea/coffee maker, fridge, NDD/IDD phone, RFID key-card system and private bathrooms come with hot/cold shower facilities and amenities.   

The hotel also has banquet facilities, a wide outdoor plaza area. on-site restaurant, a business center and a tour desk and offers parking on site, car rental, laundry, massage and room service. Albergo Hotel is also a stone's throw away from Baguio City's most popular tourist attractions such as Wright Park, Teachers Camp and Mansion House. 
Hotel Lobby

Albergo Hotel: 1 Villamor Drive, Lualhati 2600 Baguio City, Benguet.  Tel: (074) 424-2620  and (074) 424-7176. Manila booking office - Tel:  (02) 552-0331.  Fax: (02) 552-0083. E-mail: and  Website:

Monday, 27 June 2011

Event: Thai Kingdom Come! (Manila)

For the second time around, Marriott Hotel Manila’s modern Marriott Café, with its open-theater kitchens, will bring back the exhilarating Thai Kingdom Come food festival and dinner party the whole month of July. 

Chef Neng and Chef Man
Co-sponsored by Thai Airways and The Royal Thai Embassy, this month-long dining experience will satisfy a foodie’s gastronomic craving for authentic Thai dishes. 
The award-winning Thai dishes served during the launch, palate-tickling sensations filled with exquisite flavors, were again whipped up, in his second much-awaited comeback, by no less than JW Marriott’s Sou Chef Thanatorn Krobsuay, a certified Thai cuisine expert who will head the kitchen team. Doubling up the feast was 27 year old  Sutthipong Sirikanchittawon, one of the certified Thai food ambassadors of JW Marriott Bangkok’s Marriott Café.

Chicken Salad
Papaya Salad
The food that evening at The Lounge, an explosion of five distinct blends of basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and sometimes bitter), evoked the sentimental feel of Thailand’s gastronomic treasures. The time-honored curry dishes, at the pot station, featured massaman curry with braised chicken (deemed to be one of the earliest Thai recipes), its special curry paste made with coconut milk, bay leaves, cinnamon, palm sugar, fish sauce and tamarind. The green curry with chicken and sweet basil, another popular version, is known for its flavorful sauce made with green pepper simmered with eggplant and thinly sliced chicken pieces.
Marriott Manila Gen. Manager Bruce Winton

Spicy Shrimp Salad
Spicy Glass Noodle Salad
The spread also featured other Thai’s classic favorites such as pad thai, deep-fried spring rolls, stir-fried prawns in sweet and sour vegetables, and tom yam goong

Dessert featured the exotic foytong — sweet strands of sugar and egg yolk flavored with rose water.
Pad Thai Goong

For only PhP1,750 net, diners can try out a unique twist on Thai flavors for dinner for the whole month of July. Start with the light, healthy and most refreshing Thai salad sensations, specially the the popular Thai papaya salad. Then, you take your pick from grilled shrimps, beef, or chicken as toppings commingled with the tangy sweet lime, all certified tasty but not heavy for the tummy.  

For more elaborate food choices that are surely worth trying, swing by to the sections also serving equally inviting Western and Asian selections, from appetizer to dessert, that stretched the five-star experience at the Marriott Café. All diners will be given a chance revisit the historic Thailand, the Land of Smiles, for free as Marriott Manila will raffle off three days and two nights’ stay in one of the Marriott properties in Bangkok.   On July 12 and 19, for only PhP1, 000 net, chef Thanatorn will offer lessons on basic preparation of exquisite, 3-course Thai food.
Pad Thai
For inquiries or reservations, call Marriott Café at 988-9999.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Interview: Val and Didi Camara

PKA president Val Camara (in green)

Didi Camara
Years ago, couple Valentino (“Val”) and Andrea (“Didi”) Camara tried their hand at white water kayaking along the Chico River in Kalinga province.  This gave them, not only a dose of adrenaline rush, but also a deeper appreciation of the sport of kayaking as a business venture.  

Together, they set up Sun & Sea Sports Systems, Inc. (SSSI), now the foremost kayak manufacturer in the Philippines, producing tandem and single sit-on recreational kayaks using imported materials. The company is also one of the country’s pioneers in the kayaking sport and, the country being an archipelago with 7,107 islands (the largest archipelago in the world next to Indonesia), the possibilities for kayaking adventures are endless.  
Kayaking as a healthy lifestyle sport
In 1997, with their passion for this new-found sport, Val founded the Philippine Kayaking Association (PKA) to popularize kayaking in the country and, that same year, Val and Didi started off the Philippine Kayaking Series, paddling to touristic destinations such as Taal Lake, Balayan Bay, Ternate, Corregidor and Verde Island, among others. 

The series had a long hiatus in 2002 but, in 2007, they were able to encourage several enthusiasts, local government units and national government offices (Department of Tourism) to participate and promote the event.  Corporate groups (North Luzon Expressway, Cebu Pacific, etc.), the North Philippines Visitors Bureau, Philippine Convention and Visitors Corporation (PCVC),and media organizations have also helped.  

Kayaking also promotes environmental awareness

Now the longest running kayaking series in the country, these series of kayaking marathons takes designated routes such as the Hundred Islands in Pangasinan, the Cavite-Corregidor-Bataan tri-point course across the Manila Bay and the Cebu (Mactan)-Bohol (Panglao) channel cruise. 

Kayaking now supports the country's extensive tourism campaign that, the whole year through, showcases colorful and unique Filipino arts, culture and history to foreign as well as local visitors. Kayaking also promotes a healthy lifestyle, with Filipinos looking to the country’s 7,107 islands as well as its numerous beaches for physical fitness as well as fun, action and camaraderie.  

The series also offers an activity mix (photography workshop and/or kayak photo safari, free kayaking clinics, opportunities for eco-tours, etc.) designed to cater to a wide range of audiences and exciting prizes such as kayaks, airline tickets, gift certificates, gift packs and trophies are awarded to two-man team winners in the long (25-32 kms.) and short (3-5 kms.) distance races. 

Aside from promoting the sport, sportsmanship, adventure travel and the country as a potential market for water sports, Val and Didi have also placed equal importance to environmental conservation awareness and local community participation. They always see to it that that an eco kayak tour is conducted whenever and wherever an event or two is held.  The couple also organizes side trips to places where participants can plant mangroves that save corals, fishes and other water creatures that depend on sea grass for food. Offering economic opportunities to local communities where the events are held, they also work with residents and leaders of the local government units to ensure that conservation concerns are considered. 
Sun & Sea Sports Systems, Inc. (SSSI): Tel: (632) 872-5478.  Mobile number: (0915) 435-9321.  E-mail:  Website:

Kayak Explore Anvaya Cove-Zambales, First Leg (Morong, Bataan)

Row of tandem sit-on recreational kayaks

Winners German Paz and Reneric Moreno
The first leg of the Kayak Explore Anvaya Cove-Zambales, an endurance recreational competition in the open waters of South China Sea, featured a 32-km., non-stop kayak marathon from Anvaya Cove to marine-rich Silanguin Bay in San Antonio (Zambales) and back.

Held at Anvaya Cove Beach and Nature Club, it featured 17 competing teams including first-time kayakers from DOT Region 3 and staffers from the Zambales Provincial Government. 

The first tandem to make it to Anvaya’s Ilingan Cove were Mr. German Paz and Mr. Reneric Moreno of Team Outdoor Concept who clocked an impressive 4:10:47.  

They were followed by Mr. Arnold Mendoza and Mr. Mark Roncales of Team Anvaya with a time of 4:14:14 and coming in third were Mr. A. John Reyes and Mr. Harold Madrigal of Team Anilao with a time of 4:40:30. Mr. Doyet Dumaluan and Mr. Buzzy Budlong of Team Bohol Bugsay came in fourth with a time of 4:44:29 while Mr. Alexis Atotubo and Mr. Romeo Castro of Team Manila Extreme, last year’s winner, came in fifth with a time of 4:50:11.
Galunggong with mayo
The teams and the invited guests were then treated to a unique galunggong (mackerel scad)-themed lunch hosted by DOT Region 3 Director Mr. Ronnie Tiotuico and prepared by Brgy. Sabang's (Morong) Kapisanan ng mga Mangingisda and Bagong Pagasa Homemakers Club.

The menu fare consisted of sweet and sour fish balls, galunggong with alagao leaves,  kalderetang galunggonglumpiang shanghaigalunggong with mayo and kilawing galunggong, all complemented by talbos ng kamote salad and pako (fiddlehead fern) salad and washed down with buko juice.

Crazy 8s Fun Slalom

Kayaking clinic conducted by Mr. Val Camara

After this unique lunch experience and a short rest, it was now time for the Crazy 8s Fun Slalom. This slalom involves twisting and turning the 12 or 15-ft. long tandem recreational sit-on kayak around a 3-buoyed course along Ilingan Cove.

Team Anvaya swept the first two spots with the tandem of Mr. John John Torres and Mr. Tomas Torres coming in first with a time of 00:00:59, followed by Mr. Javier Torres and Mr. Joaquin Torres with 00:01:01.  Mr. Emmanuel Relos and Mr. Thaddeus Festin came in third with a time of 00:01:14. 

Next came the 3-km. Novice Race which was participated in by 41 teams.  But first, participants had to be initiated into the sport via a clinic conducted by Sun and Sea Sports Systems, Inc. (the Philippines’ foremost kayak manufacturer) president and co-event organizer (the other is the Philippine Kayaking Association) Mr. Valentino “Val” L. Camara illustrating the fundamentals of kayaking.  

Then it was off to their kayaks and the race.  A local elementary school's drum and lyre band added to the festive atmosphere of the event. Top finishers were Mr. Emmanuel Torres and Mr. Thaddeus Festin with a time of 00:10:33, followed by Mr. RJ Mariscotes and Mr. Lester Quimlat of Team Anvaya with a time of 00:10:42, and third was Mr. Giolo Cadhit and Mr. Dondon Corbito, also of Team Anvaya, with a time of 00:11:03.  

Come evening, a sumptuous Victory Dinner and Barrio Fiesta Awards Night capped the event.  The top finisher of the 32-km. kayak marathon received a trophy and a Stingray tandem sit-on kayak, the first runner-up a trophy and two round trip Cebu Pacific Air plane tickets to Bangkok (Thailand) via Clark and the second runner up a trophy and a Blade single sit-on kayak. 

Resort Feature: Anvaya Cove Beach and Nature Club (Morong, Bataan)

Anvaya Cove Beach and Nature Club

The lobby of the Main Pavilion
Anvaya Cove is the first venture in leisure estate development of Ayala Land Premier, the country’s largest and most experienced real estate developer, partnered with Subic Bay Development and Industrial Estate Corp. 

The word anvaya, pertaining to the natural order of things in the Hindu way of thinking, is derived from the Sanskrit word meaning “family” or the Chinese word meaning “peace, beauty and wealth.” Meaningful family traditions are at the core of everything here. 

It offers interactive family bonding experiences with nature in both land and water, all geared towards relaxation, recreation and reflection.  Here, the mountains meet the sea and it is this distinct topography that gives Anvaya Cove the features of both a mountain retreat, set against stunning views of the mountains of the Zambales Mountain Range, and a seaside resort by the waters of Subic Bay.
The swimming pools and watch tower
This  PhP3.2 billion, high-end residential resort village encompasses an area of 320 hectares of rolling hills, sandy coves and clear, running streams, has a 3.5-km. long coastline and a peak elevation of over 130 m. above sea level. 

Arch. Leandro “Andy” Locsin, Jr. of L.V. Locsin and Partners, the design consultant of the project, used the airy and inviting "Asian Tropical" design, with its variety of Asian roof shapes and pitches, and designed to blend with the natural environment. 

All its beautifully-designed buildings (Main Pavilion, Welcome Pavilion, Veda Spa, etc.), all aesthetically done in a palette of soft, earthy tones, features a large sloping roof using lightweight, algae-resistant asphalt shingles, with long and low eaves, air vents along its perimeter and no gutters and downspouts.  The interiors were done by Arlen P. De Guzman Design Associates. 

The picturesque, beige sand Ilingan Cove

Anvaya Cove has a 2,000 sq. m. main clubhouse housing a coffee shop (Bamboo Café), function rooms, library, shops and game room; beachside bar (Pawikan Bar and Grille); 3 distinct swimming pools; a watch tower with  bar (Tower Bar); a recreational lagoon area (fishing, rowboating and inland kayaking); a spa (Veda); outdoor massage huts (treatments start at PhP600 and up); a nature camp (trails, 260-m. long zipline, rapelling and climbing wall, view platform, tree climbing, flying foxes and equestrian center), watersports pavilion (banana boats, kayaks, Hobie Cats, speedboats, jet skis, etc.); overnight facilities for members and guests (casitas) and, soon, an 18-hole golf course, all woven into the terrain and connected by rolling asphalt roads and low-impact pedestrian paths that preserve the natural beauty of the site. 

The picturesque, beige sand Ilingan Cove has a sunbathing area with a wicker chaise lounge.  Olive Ridley turtles (pawikan) hatch their eggs here.

Anvaya Cove Beach and Nature Club: Brgy. Mabayo, Morong, Bataan.  Tel: (02) 793-9000.  Fax: (02) 793-9088.  E-mail: Website:

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Hotel and Inn Review: Grand Diamond Plaza Suites Hotel (Bangkok, Thailand)

Date of Stay: April 20-23, 2011

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

The Grand Diamond Plaza Suites Hotel, in Pratunam, has 172 suites aside from 4 penthouse suites, ranging from 45  to 220 sq. m. in size, and a small and unprepossessing lobby flanked by a Starbucks outlet and baratillo stores.  Its apartment-like 2-bedroom executive suite has cable TV, phone and bathroom (the master bedroom has a bathtub).
One of Our Suites' 2 Bedrooms
Each suite also has its own stocked kitchen with refrigerator, microwave oven and a water heater plus a separate dining (with a round table for 5) and living area (with another cable TV set).
Dining Area and Kitchen
From its balcony, there are great views of the city’s skyline (beautifully lit at night), the setting sun, the traffic-clogged Petchburi Road and boats traversing a nearby khlong (part of the city’s elaborate network of canals).
View of Bangkok Skyline From Balcony
The 8th floor Ploy Restaurant, overlooking the small swimming pool, serves an international breakfast buffet of Western and Asian cuisine: sushi, misoshiru, congee, noodles, dimsum, etc..  There is even a halal section for Muslim guests. There is also a MacDonalds and KFC fastfood outlet near the hotel.
Ploy Restaurant

The hotel is probably the best place to stay if you are a shopaholic, being conveniently sandwiched between the  Platinum Mall and Panthip Plaza. Across the street is the Pratunam Market.  Other shopping malls area include the Siam Paragon, MBK, Central World Plaza, and Siam Square. The hotel is a 15-20-min. walk to the  Ratchathewi BTS sky train line.  The hotel’s other facilities include another restaurant (Tae Chew Shark Fin Restaurant), a bar, business center, meeting rooms, swimming pool, jacuzzi, steam room, sauna and a fully-equipped gym.  It also offers the famous Thai House Massage.

Grand Diamond Plaza Suites Hotel: 888 Petchburi Road, Petchburi, Rajthevi, Bangkok 10400, Thailand.  Tel : (662) 656-6888-98. Fax : (662) 656-6899. Website:

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Resort Feature: Pineapple Island Resort (Daet, Camarines Norte)

Pineapple Island Resort

Boating and fishing lagoon
The premier water park in the province, Pineapple Island Resort sits on a sprawling, 5-hectare eco-tourism property surrounded by a lush plantation where sweet pineapples are grown.  

It has a uniquely-designed, 720 sq. m. swimming pool with water slides of various levels plus a 200 sq. m. kiddie pool with turtle slide and play station. 

Bamboo picnic huts (PhP300-400), tents (PhP250-300) and poolside umbrellas (PhP150-300) shade visitors from the heat of the sun. Entrance fee, per person, is PhP125 (day rate), PhP150 (night rate) and PhP250 (overnight rate).
De luxe family cabins

Orchid Hall

For meetings, seminars, weddings, reunions, conferences, team building activities and other special occasions, there's the indoor, airconditoned AAV (the initials of the owner) Hall and the outdoor Orchid Hall. 

The resort also has an orchidarium, greenhouse, a children's playground, videoke room and a Y-shaped, man-made boating and fishing lagoon. 
For those who want to stay overnight, the resort has native, economy and de luxe family cottages (PhP1,000-3,000) and 10-pax Raquel dorm (PhP1,500-3,000). 

Pineapple Island Resort: Brgy. Calasgasan, Daet, Camarines Norte.  Telefax: (054) 441-5006, 440-1356 and 571-2651.  Mobile number (0920) 9618236.  E-mail:  Website: Open 9 AM-11 PM.

Restaurant Review: Chef Mama Grill and Resto (Pineapple Island Resort, Daet, Camarines Norte)

Chef Mama

Delectable morcon
Barbecued chicken
The airconditioned, classy, fine dining Chef Mama Grill and Resto, the in-house restaurant of Pineapple Island Resort, is owned by Ms. Arlene Abecina-Vergara.

A superb cook, Arlene operates a food chain in Naga City (Sienalou, ryers and Caramel) in Camarines Sur.

Tofu sisig
Here we were served a delectable array of great tasting and resonably priced dishes.

It included grilled chicken, tofu sisig, pumpkin soup, laingmorcon and blueberry shake with delicious leche flan and turon with sesame seeds for dessert. 

Leche flan

Other bestsellers on its menu include ginataang bilo-bilo, crispy ube turon, and delicious chocolate cake.  A refreshing sight, while dining, is the  lush Butterfly Garden with its wild ferns, pond and mini-waterfall just outside.   

Butterfly Garden
One of the resident butterflies

Pineapple Island Resort: Brgy. Calasgasan, Daet, Camarines Norte.  Telefax: (054) 441-5006, 440-1356 and 571-2651.  Mobile number: (0920) 961-8236.  E-mail:  Website: Open 9 AM-11 PM.