Friday, 28 January 2011

Highlights of Lakbay Norte 2, First Leg

Our special, full body sticker-wrapped Victory Liner bus

The 5-day, North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB)/Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC)-sponsor Lakbay Norte 2, First Leg, was launched at the Victory Liner Terminal along EDSA (near Kamias St.), Quezon City last January 23, 2011, Sunday. Our special Victory Liner bus, its body sticker-wrapped with the tour's sponsors, left the terminal around 2 AM.  The tour covered the 7 Northern Luzon provinces of La Union (Rosario and Pugo), Benguet (Baguio City and Tuba), Pangasinan (Pozorrubio and Manaoag), Zambales (Subic Freeport Zone), Tarlac (Capas and Tarlac City), Pampanga (Angeles City, Clark Freeport Zone, Bacolor, Guagua, City of San Fernando and Mexico) and Bulacan (Sta. Miguel de Mayumo).

Joining from the print media were Ms. Jacky Lynne Oiga of Manila Bulletin; Dandi Galvez of Philippine Star; Mr. Ivan ManDy of Tulay Weekly; Mr. Gabriel "Gabby" Malvar of Travelife Magazine; Mr. Art Villasanta of Philippine Daily Inquirer; Mr. Raydon Reyes of ExpatTravel and Lifestyle Magazine; Mr. Ramir Cambiado of Travel Plus Magazine and Monica Macalinao and Brian Joseph Casenas of Northbound Magazine.  Travel bloggers include Ms. Esperanza "Nina" Fuentes (, Mr. Ivan Henares (, Mr. Ferdinand "Ferdz" Decena ( and Mr. Karlo de Leon (  

Joining us from Yahoo! Philippines was Isadora "Izah" Morales while doing a segment for Travel Time (hosted by Ms. Cory Quirino) are the Studio 23 team of Ms. Hannah Barrios, Mr. Leo Lava Cruz, Mr. Joshua "Red" Nietes and Mr. Viktor Julius "Bads" Licos.  Our trip was documented by professional photographer Mr. Franklin "Frank" Dizon and videographer Mr. Jayson "John Lloy" Casilang.

Mt. Pinatubo

Joining us was MNTC Senior Marketing Manager Ms. Grace Ayento while Ms. Melissa Grace Dizon (Executive Director), Ms. Jesame Nabong (CVB Operations and Event Manager), Michelle Liza "Mishy" Co (Marketing Manager) and Ms. Rica Paz represented  NPVB.  MNTC Marketing Vice-President Mr. Renie Ticzon visited us at Mexico, Pampanga while NPVB Executive Director Vince W. Araneta saw us off at the Victory Liner Terminal in Quezon City.  Rica has since migrated to the U.S. and now works at Park Hyatt Aviara Resort in Carlsbad.

Highlights of our tour include sipping kape alamid, the most expensive coffee in the world (sourced from civet cat poop) at S.O.U.L. Cafe in Rosario (La Union); having our portrait sketched, meeting Cordillera artists, sipping tapuy (rice wine), bugnay (blackberry wine) and native Arabica coffee and dining on pinikpikan at Tam-awan Village and savoring Mediterranean charm at Hotel Elizabeth in Baguio City; meeting National Artist BenCab and exploring his museum at Tuba (Benguet); flying like Superman, driving an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) and wall climbing at Pugad Pugo Adventure Park in Pugo (La Union); observing the making of the Ilocano delicacy patupat in Pozorrubio (Pangasinan); lighting candles at the new Candle Gallery at the Manaoag Shrine in Manaoag (Pangasinan); riding 4x4 all-terrain vehicles and trekking Mt. Pinatubo in Zambales; having our tired bodies pampered at P.D.C. Spa Town in Sta. Juliana (Tarlac); dining on Kapamapangan cuisine and viewing Kapampangan lifestyle and culture at Museo Ning Angeles in Angeles City (Pampanga); dining on Korean and Italian cuisine; jetskiing, banana boating and sea kayaking and R&R at Lighthouse Marina Resort at  Subic Freeport Zone (Zambales); pilgrimage to notable Kapampangan churches in Bacolor and Guagua; attending a cooking demo (and sampling her cooking) by culinary expert and historian Lilian M.L. "Atching" Borromeo in Mexico (Pampanga); bus tour of San Miguel de Mayumo's ancestral houses and retracing the footsteps of Philippine revolutionists at Biak-na-Bato National Park in Bulacan.

These 5 days have been great.  I gain a better appreciation of the beauty, culture, arts, cuisine, architecture and excitement of the North and I've scratch a number of items in my Bucket List (kape alamid, Mt. Pinatubo, jetskiing, spa treatment and ATV ride).  I've also learned how to sleep in buses and developed a fondness for oatmeal bars and Cloud 9 chocolate bars.  I also found out that Jesame (rhymes with besame, Spanish for "kiss me") is short for "Jesus Save Me," that I'm not the oldest in the group (Art Villasanta is four years older than me), photographer Frank Dizon is also a registered architect like me, Mishy Co isn't Japanese (I thought she was Michiko), Grace has a very private Facebook account and that Dandi Galvez doesn't believe in Facebook, Tweeter or any other social networking site (kawawa).   I also saw the power of the internet especially with regards travel blogs, so much so that I've created one of my own (F.Y.I: Fire Your Imagination).  Finally, I've gain a new set of friends which I don't want to shed and a few extra pounds which I'm still trying to shed up to now.  Congratulations to MNTC and NPVB for organizing a successful first leg of Lakbay Norte 2! More power to you all! 

North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB): 291 St. Joseph St., Oranbo Drive, Pasig City, Metro Manila. Tel: (632) 637-6798. Fax: (632) 631-1674.  E-mail: Website:

Manila North Tollways Corporation (MNTC): NLEX Compound, Balintawak, Caloocan City, Metro Manila.  Tel: (632) 479-3000.  E-mail: Website:

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Interview: Culinary Expert and Food Historian Lilian "Atching" M.L. Borromeo (Mexico, Pampanga)

Lilian M.L. Borromeo

The 70 year old Lilian M.L. (Mercado-Lising) Borromeo or Tita Atching, as she would want to be called, was to do a cooking demonstration, at her blue colored ancestral house in Mexico, Pampanga, on the making of her famous San Nicolas cookies (or panecillos).  These cookies bear the intricately carved image of St. Nicholas, the patron s aint of bakers, with a bird on the side. 

A wooden pastry mold
A buffet lunch of select Kapampangan dishes was also prepared. On the buffet table was morcon (beef roll with egg at the center), nasing birinyi (chicken saffron rice, also called arroz valenciana), pritong hito (fried catfish), betute (deep fried frogs stuffed with vegetables and herbs), swam mais (corn soup), tidtad babi (Kapampangan dinuguan), chewy and crunchy pork sisig (grilled, boiled then fried parts of a pig's head) and delectable tibuk-tibuk (pudding made from carabao's milk, corn starch, sugar and lemon), all washed down with pandan juice.  

After lunch, Tita Atching showed  her prized wooden pastry molds  (some dating back to the 1750s) passed down to her (and the craft of making San Nicolas cookies) by her great grandmother. The recipe for the cookies, according to her, came from Spain. During the Spanish era, the locals built churches by binding the stones with egg whites, and that meant a surplus of unused egg yolks. 

The egg yolks were put to good use when they discovered the recipe for the cookies.  Aside from the egg yolks, ingredients for making the dough include third-class flour (arrowroot flour in the olden days), margarine, coconut milk, baking powder and corn starch.  A variation of her San Nicolas cookies is her dulce prenda which has a filling of grated winter melon or kundol and is embossed with a vestment print of La Naval Manila or Our Lady of the Rosary of the Philippines.  

Kapampangan Heritage Pastries: Parian, Mexico, Pampanga.  Tel:  (045) 875-0378 and 966-0211.  Mobile number: (0915) 773-0788.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Hotel and Inn Review: Lighthouse Marina Resort (Subic, Zambales)

Date of Stay: January 26-27, 2011

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

Lighthouse Marina Resort

Our assigned suite
Considered as the number 1 hotel among 17 in Subic, the 3-storey Lighthouse Marina Resort, owned by the Avecilla shipping clan, is a sleek and ultra-modern 34-room boutique hotel capped by a 20-m. high lighthouse.  Designed by the architectural firm Palafox Associates in almost austere Italian architecture, it has an elegantly simple facade.

Its warmly appointed airconditioned suites have king-size beds, a 42-inch, wall-mounted LCD cable TV, minibar, fridge, coffee/tea facility, IDD phone, writing desk, DVD/MP-3 player, in-room safe and electronic door lock.  The bathroom has glass walls (with electronically raised or lowered curtains for privacy).  A novelty, though, is its free-standing tub reminiscent of Old World baths. 
The resort's icon

The white and maroon lighthouse, the resort's icon and the most photographed landmark in the port, was done in surprisingly detail very faithful to naval architecture specifications.   Fronting the swimming pool, the tower is home to the 720 London Music Bar, its counter, which accommodates 15, is shaped like a ship's bow. 

The tower has a stunning, panoramic view of Subic's harbor. The grand, high-ceiling lobby has huge floor-to-ceiling clear glass windows, an ensemble of Citterio-inspired lounge furniture and a grand piano, all done in beige colors. Sands Al fresco offers sumptuous grilled food, seafood, Mediterranean and international cuisine.  Wi-fi service is great here. 

Lighthouse Marina Resort: Subic Bay Moonbay Marina Complex, Waterfront Road, CBD, Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Zambales, Philippines.  Tel/Fax: (047) 252-5000 and (047) 252-7545. Toll Free Manila Number: (632) 711-0019.  Manila Sales Office Tel:(632) 892-3534 Fax: (632)815-8296.  E-mail: Website:  

Restaurant Review: Ki Won Korean Restaurant and C' Italian Dining (Pampanga))

The best selling panizza
We were now on the fourth day of our 5-day Lakbay Norte 2 media tour and we all woke up at Clark Star Hotel expecting to have our breakfast at the hotel or so we thought.  

Instead, we were all whisked on our special Victory Liner media tour bus for a food trip, first, to Ki Won Korean Restaurant in Angeles City as guests of owner Mr. James Park of the Korean Business Association in Central Luzon and Mr. Hyung Gyo Han, member of United Korean Community Association of the Philippines.  

Here, we partook of a very filling Korean noodle dish.  We thought that was the end of our "food trip."  How wrong we were.  Back in our bus, we next brought to C' Italian Dining at the Clark Special Economic Zone where we were joined by Greater Clark Visitors Bureau (GCVB) representatives Ms. Joy Cruz and Mr. Marc Nepomuceno.  

The author with Chris Locher

Here, we were welcomed by Swiss-Italian Chef Chris Locher.  Chris  came to the Philippines a decade ago, first working for the Reyeses of the Plaza Restaurant before deciding to go on his own, opening C' Italian Dining in Clark in 2005.  The restaurant has now grown to be one of the best in the city and in the Philippines and was voted, for two years, as the best restaurant by Philippine Tatler.  During weekends, the place is packed with guests, some coming all the way from Manila.  Getting a reservation beforehand is highly recommended.
For our media group, the charming and amiable Chris prepared for us his best seller and original creation called panizza (sold here at PhP580). This sumptuous rectangular-shaped, ultra thin crust pizza, topped with alfalfa sprouts and arugula leaves, is sliced into thin strips and rolled first like Japanese maki (as demonstrated by our colleague Ivan ManDy) before being eaten. The arugula leaves had a very peppery taste and the savory crust and the mixture of the ingredients (five different cheeses, slices of seafood, herbs, meat toppings, etc.) were perfect. Chris also whips up great pasta sauces. 

The crusty Italian bread, made with creamy and soft dough and made fresh with a dash of parsley oil, is baked every day. This we dipped in freshly made pesto.  One panizza order serves 3 to 4 persons.  The fresh ingredients are either flown in (through Clark) or homegrown.  Dining here proved to a gastronomical experience. The restaurant has an al fresco dining area at the back with a replica of the Venus de Milo statue among some palms.
Ki Won Korean Restaurant: Friendship Highway (Korea Town), Angeles City, Pampanga.  Tel: (045) 893-2096.
C' Italian Dining: 1210 Don Juico Ave. (Friendship Rd.), Clarkview, Malabanas, Clark, Pampanga.  Tel: (045) 892-4059 and 892-6993. Mobile number: (0917) 726-4992.  E-mail: Website:  Open Mondays, 6 PM-11 PM, and Tuesdays-Sundays, 11 AM-11 PM.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Spa Review: P.D.C. Spa Town (Capas, Tarlac)

P.D.C. (Pinatubo Development Corp.) Spa Town, in Brgy. Sta. Juliana in Capas, Tarlac, is the jump-off point for early morning Pinatubo treks.  It also offers relaxing and rejuvenating series of spa treatments unique to Pinatubo in a first-of-a-kind model in fitness therapy and well being.  
Mud Pack Treatment
For the volcanic ash spa treatment (sulfur or salt treatment). guests are buried for 30 mins. in a relaxing body wrap with heated, sulfur-laden volcanic ash to remove body wastes by drawing out toxins and impurities that are embedded deep within the skin's pores. 

Volcanic ash is said to be high in sulfur which not only helps our body not only to resist bacteria but actually to destroy it. It is also said to lessen body cholesterol. 

Next is a facial and body mud pack. When applied to our skin's surface, the soothing wet clay lifts, firms and exfoliates, softening and stretching our skin to make us look revitalized and healthier with a more youthful looking complexion.  

After a while, guests then take to the showers to remove the dried up clay.  The final pampering is soothing signature massage in the 100-pax massage parlor to improve blood circulation and relax  tired muscles and joints.  The spa's 1 hour and 20 minute signature massage – the “Pina-thai-tsu,” a unique combination of a traditional Thai and Shiatsu massage, with a few local massage techniques (hilot) added in. 

The Signature Pina-Thai-Tsu Massage
There’s nothing like an ideal series of treatments to soothe our tired muscles and joints, improve our blood circulation and invigorate our body after a long and punishing day of trekking, making the most of this fantastic Philippine experience that is Pinatubo.  The whole 3-course spa treatment costs PhP1,500 per person or PhP500 per treatment. 

P.D.C. Spa Town: Brgy. Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac c/o Pull Travel Destination Corporation, Clark Office: G/F Oxford Hotel, MA Roxas St. cor N. Aquino Ave., Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga.  Tel: (045) 499-0629, 493-0031 and 615-0454. Email: Website:

Hotel and Inn Review: Microtel Inn and Suites (Tarlac City, Tarlac)

Date of Stay: January 25, 2011

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

Double queen room

Microtel Inn and Suites, in Tarlac City, near the Aquino Center, has 50 airconditioned rooms with chiropractic-approved beds, private bath with hot and cold shower, fridge, IDD/NDD phone, writing desk, internet-ready data port, electronic key card entry system  and cable TV (single/double queen and suites, PhP2,106-3,861).   

The hotel also has a 24-hour front desk,  a 20-pax meeting room and offers wi-fi access (at lobby), safety deposit boxes (at lobby), currency exchange, laundry, mailing and fax services. Luisita Golf and Country Club is located just 3 kms. away.

Microtel Inn & Suites Tarlac: Luisita, Brgy. San Miguel, Tarlac City, Tarlac 2301.  Tel: (045) 985-1770 (trunkline) & 985-1974.  . Fax: (45) 985-1975. E-mail:  Website:

Manila sales and reservation office: 2/F, PHINMA Bldg., 166 Salcedo St., Legaspi Village, Makati City.  Tel: (632) 810-9526, 813-7523 & 813-8553.  Fax: (632) 817-3942.  Domestic toll-free: 1-800-1888-7171. 

Sunday, 23 January 2011

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

Date of Stay: January 23-24, 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 Mediterranean-inspired Hotel Elizabeth

Our 4-bed De Luxe Room
At Hotel Elizabeth, in Baguio City, the Philippines' "Summer Capital," one can't helped be awed by the Mediterranean splendor of the place as you enter its driveway flanked by gazebos on one side and beautiful landscaping on both sides. 

Its lavish but tastefully-decorated atrium-like lobby is a product of the sophisticated and playful touch of professional interior designer and celebrity personality Tessa Prieto Valdez. 

Open in 2005, this boutique hotel, a 10-min. drive from the city's Central Business District, was awarded, by Midland Courier, the title of "Hotel of the Year in Baguio" three times, from 2007 to 2009. 

Its stylishly furnished and European-inspired four-pax carpeted suites (de luxe room, executive penthouse and penthouse) are equipped with airconditioning and ceiling fan, private toilet  & bath (with hot and cold shower and hair dryer), 21" cable TV, minibar, electronic door locking system, coffee/tea maker, electronic safety deposit box and private balcony. Wi-Fi is strong at the Floral Cafe, its food and beverage outlet, and in the lobby.  

Nearby attractions here include the Mansion House (and its Pool of Pines) and Wright Park, both 200 m. away.  The Good Shepherd Convent and Mines View Park are also within that same distance. 
Floral Coffee Shop

Hotel Elizabeth also has 5 conference rooms, a spa (offering a wide selection of treatments),  a piano bar (featuring live music courtesy of an in-house pianist), fitness center, business center, convenience store and boutique. Guests can relax at the sun terrace and the hotel also provides free parking. 

Hotel Elizabeth: 1 Felipe St. cor. Gibraltar Rd., Baguio City, Benguet.  Tel: (632) 911-2161 local 148 and 912-2691 (direct line).  Fax: (632) 912-2693. Website:

Restaurant Review: S.O.U.L. Cafe (Rosario, La Union)

S.O.U.L. Cafe

Kape Alamid

S.O.U.L (Soul for Spice of Urban Life) CafĂ©, in Rosario, La Union, offers kafe alamid which comes from civets (you guessed it, locally called alamid or musang) who eat the coffee beans for their fleshy fruit pulp. 

Proteolytic enzymes in the civet’s stomach seep into the beans, making shorter peptides and more free amino acids and, when defecated, the beans keep their shape. 

After gathering, they are thoroughly washed, sun dried and lightly roasted. It is called motit coffee in the Cordilleras.

Offered in expresso shots (PhP350) and sourced all the way from Cavite, this goes well with a hearty Filipino breakfast combo consisting of Alaminos logganisa, boneless daing na bangus, garlic fried rice, hot chocolate, tortang talong made with creamy egg pesto and olive oil. 

Breakfast of Alaminos longanisa, garlic fried rice and tortang talong

This brewed concoction truly lived up to its name as one of the most expensive coffee in the world as it proved to be more aromatic and less bitter than the other coffee treats.

The cafe's chic interior

S.O.U.L. Cafe: Camp One, Rosario, La Union.  Tel: (072) 712-0852.  Fax: (072) 712-1190.