Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Lakbay Norte 2, Second Leg

Arrival at Tuguegarao Airport

Arriving in style at Adams
The 6-day, North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB)/Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC)-sponsored Lakbay Norte 2, Second Leg, was launched at the NAIA 3 Terminal last March 2, 2011, Wednesday, via Cebu Pacific Air, for Tuguegarao City (Cagayan). 
The tour ended on March 7, Monday, when our Cebu Pacific flight took off from Laoag City (Ilocos Norte) for Manila.  Lakbay Norte 2 covered the 2 Northern Luzon provinces of Cagayan (Tuguegarao City, Gonzaga, Sta. Ana, Buguey and Claveria) and Ilocos Norte (Pagudpud, Adams, Laoag City, Burgos, Pasuquin, Paoay, Batac City). 
Joining again were Ms. Isadora "Izah" Morales of Yahoo! Philippines; Mr. Dandi Galvez of Philippine Star, Mr. Ivan ManDy of Tulay Weekly and Mr. Gabriel "Gabby" Malvar of Travelife Magazine; travel bloggers Mr. Karlo de Leon (www.karlodl.com), Mr. Ferdinand "Ferdz" Decena (www.ironwulf.net) and Ms. Esperanza "Nina" Fuentes (www.justwandering.org).
Newcomers were Ms. Kara Santos of Sunday Inquirer;  Ms. Astra Alegre of Expat Travel and Lifestyle Magazine; Mr. Ian Garcia of Manila Bulletin, Ms. Ida Noelle (a veteran of Lakbay Norte 1) of Living Asia, Ms. Sheryl Songsong of SPACE and Mr. Kenneth del Rosario of Philippine Daily Inquirer; photographers Mr. Kim Nicol Madridejos and Mr. Estan Cabigas; and Ms. Michelle Eve de Guzman, Corporate Communications Specialist at Cebu Pacific Air.  
Eating was a major activity
Doing a segment for Trip na Trip were host  Mr. Franzen Fajardo and Mr. Ron Rivera.  Our trip was again documented by professional photographer Mr. Franklin "Frank" Dizon and newcomer Mr. Roland "Jun" Fontilla, Jr..  
Again joining us was MNTC Senior Marketing Manager Ms. Divina Gracia "Grace" L. Ayento while Ms. Melissa Grace Dizon (Executive Director), Ms. Jesame Nabong (CVB Operations and Event Manager), Michelle Liza "Mishy" Co (Marketing Manager) and Mr. Vince Araneta (Executive Director) represented  NPVB. 
Culinary highlights of our tour include feasting on pansit batil patong in Tuguegarao City, crabs and other seafood in  Gonzaga and Buguey (Cagayan), itlog ti abu-os and kiwet in Adams; poque-poquebagnet and longanisa pizza in Paoay (Ilocos Norte); and empanada in Batac City (Ilocos Norte); and sipped bugnay wine in Adams (Ilocos Norte).  
Lakbay Norte 2 participants also met up with Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos, Laoag City Mayor Michael V. Farinas, Buguey Mayor Licerio Antiporda II, Claveria Mayor Celia Layus, Sta. Ana Mayor Darwin A. Tobias and Gonzaga Mayor Carlito F. Pentecostes, Jr..
Hiking was another major activity
We also hiked to Anuplig Falls in Adams (Ilocos Norte) and Kapurpurawan Rock Formation in Burgos (Ilocos Norte); sandboarding and 4x4 offroading at La Paz Sand Dunes in Laoag City, observed salt making and biscocho making in Pasuquin (Ilocos Norte); visited the Church of St. Augustine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Paoay (Ilocos Norte) and the Church of St. Monica in Sarrat (Ilocos Norte); visited the Marcos Museums in Sarrat and Batac City and the Malacanang ti Amianan in Paoay; gazed at the expanse of Paoay Lake in Paoay, hopped to Palaui Island and climbed a hill to its century-old lighthouse (Sta. Ana, Cagayan)  and stayed at great resorts and hotels at Sta. Ana (Cagayan Holiday and Leisure Resort and Eastern Hawaii Casino and Resort), Laoag City (Ilocos Norte Hotel and Convention Center), Currimao (La Playa Tropical Resort) and Pagudpud (Kapuluan Vista Resort). 
For me, the Anuplig Falls hike was the most memorable because of the unique mode of transportation we rode in (a dump truck), the great scenery we passed by during the hike (waterfalls, rice terraces, hanging bridges, crystal clear creeks, forest-cladded mountains, etc.), the exotic food we ate (itlog ti abu-os, kiwet, etc.), the great tasting wine we sipped (bugnay, tapuey, etc.), and the most number of casualties we incurred during the hike (me with a sprained right foot, Sheryl with a foot blister, Jun Fontilla fainting and Kenneth having an allergy attack).  Coming a close second was the death-defying boat ride and scenic hike up to Cape Engano Lighthouse at Palaui Island, and third was the unique sandboarding and the thrilling 4x4 off road vehicle ride at Laoag City.
Start of our thrilling Palaui Island boat ride

Lakbay Norte 2 was made possible through corporate partners Manila North Tollways Corporation (MNTC), the company behind NLEX and SCTEX; Victory Liner, MacDonalds, Smart and Robinsons Land.  Flying V was the official fuel/gas provider for NPVB and Universal Robina Corporation (URC) was the official snack food provider.  Other sponsors were Columbia, R.O.X., Sanuk and Dizitab.  Cebu Pacific was its official airline. 
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: northphilvisitorsbureau@yahoo.com. Website: www.northphilippines.org.
Manila North Tollways Corporation (MNTC): NLEX Compound, Balintawak, Caloocan City, Metro Manila.  Tel: (632) 479-3000.  E-mail: corpcomm@mntc.com. Website: www.mntc.com.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Resort Feature: Sitio Remedios Heritage Village (Currimao, Ilocos Norte)

Balay Batac

Capilla San Miguel
The beautiful Sitio Remedios Heritage Village, near Playa Tropical Resort Hotel in the sleepy little town of Currimao, is an amazing  recreation of a mid 20th century Ilocos Norte village sitting on a 1.8-hectare beachfront lot and laid out in a qudricula, a grid typical of Spanish times.

Check out "Resort Review: Playa Tropical Resort Hotel

Balay Bacarra and Balay Batac

Balay Piddig
Balay Piddig
This heritage village, with its feel of mid-18th century Ilocos Norte, is owned by Dr. Joven R. Cuanang, a neurologist, professor, art collector Harvard graduate and Medical Director at St. Luke’s Medical Center.  The resort was named after his mother.  

Balay Piddig

Balay Radrillo
Balay Puraw
At the center of the resort is the quaint Capilla de San Miguel, a chapel named after the patron saint of Currimao. 

The chapel, fronting Plaza de Manzanillo, is a wide-angle vantage point from which to see the six distinct villas, 5 named after the respective towns (Batac, Dingras, Piddig,  Bacarra and San Nicolas) from which the reconstructed ancestral home originates. 

The resort's Abrao Restaurant by the sea serves local Ilocano fare (bagnet, Vigan longanisa, etc.), fresh fruit juices, and refreshing herbal drinks and teas.  

Kwarto ni Cecille

The wood and furnishings of each villa, already considered scrap by their old owners, were rescued from old Ilocos houses about to be demolished and gathered by Arch. Rex Hofilena who used the materials to form each villa.  

The interior decor was provided by Dr. Cuanang's prized collection of family heirlooms, antique furniture (beds, dining tables, wooden sala sets, and the ubiquitous butaca plantation chairs with elongated arm rests, vintage lamp fixtures, etc.), locally-woven white cotton linens and paintings from his Manila galleries.  

There are no television sets in the villas but they do provide airconditioning in the bedrooms and hot and cold showers.  

The resort's swimming pool

The one-storey Balay Piddig (PhP6,000/night for 2 guests), with its calado (daintily-cut wood) entry porch, has a room affectionately called Kwarto ni Cecile, named after world-renowned pianist Cecile Licad who inaugurated the place on May 2006 and rested here during her Ilocos concert tour.  Her room is now the Honeymoon Suite. The house also has the upright piano that used to occupy the Dr. Cuanang’s ancestral house in Batac.  

Balay Piddig and Balay Batac

The living room of Balay Batac (PhP12,500/night for 4 guests), the largest house in Sitio Remedios, has Dr. Cuanang's parents’ wedding picture, retouched in the inimitable larawan style  by National Artist BenCab

Torre ni Mariano

The portrait  "Remedios, Maestra" by Antonio Leano graces the sitting area while a large mural by the artist Manny Garibay, honoring the bravery of Gen. Artemio Ricarte (El Vibora) hangs in the dinning area. A portrait of Bishop Gregorio Aglipay graces the second floor sitting area while portraits of brothers Juan and Antonio Luna are also featured.  

Balay Dingras

The one-storey Balay Bacarra (PhP6,000/night for 2 guests), made from wood salvaged from a Bacarra house, features pictures of nautilus shells and artsy nudes by famous fashion photographer Wig Tysman, an old drawing of the Bacarra Tower by Zany Laygo and "An Ilocana Balasang," another gift by the National Artist, BenCab. A bedroom, called Kuarto ni Antonia, was named in honor of its first occupant, Antonia Bersola-Babao


The modest Ablon (an Ilocano word for "healing through touch/massage"), adjacent to the dining area, is Sitio Remedios’ on-site health and wellness spa.  Twin enamel bathtubs here have a commanding view of the sea and the fiery Currimao sunset.  The resort also has a swimming pool and jacuzzi in front of the dining area. Historical lectures are also conducted in a hall called Centro Ilocos de Juan Luna.  


Sitio Remedios Heritage Village: Brgy. Victoria, Currimao, Ilocos Norte.  Mobile number: (0920) 925-0217.  Email: sitio_remedios@yahoo.com. Website: www.sitioremedios.com.

Resort Review: Playa Tropical Resort Hotel (Currimao, Ilocos Norte)

Date of Stay: March 7-8, 2011

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

Suite with 4-poster bed
The beachfront Playa Tropical Resort Hotel's elegant deluxe lodgings, featuring intricate Balinese architectural touches, come in 30 rooms (Superior, PhP3,500) and suites (De Luxe Suite, Premier Suite, Royal Suite 1 & 2, PhP3,800-6,500) plus  4 casas (villas), all airconditioned with cable TV and a private bath with hot and cold shower. 

The two-storey casas (PhP12,500) include a separate living and dining area, private pool and minibar.  Premier and Royal Suite 1 have bathtubs while the Royal Suite 2 has a jacuzzi.  All accommodations come with daily breakfast and complimentary welcome drink.
The infinity swimming pool

Aside from Cafe Amarra, the resort's coffee shop, it also has a huge 460 sq. m. infinity swimming pool with deck, poolside bar, 7 floating huts (a good place to eat, relax and surf the internet not available in our rooms) on a koi-filled pond, 24-hr. game room, spa (Solana), function/meeting rooms, business center, children's playground, a gazebo, souvenir shop and convenience store. 

The resort also offers wi-fi internet access, tours, watersports, city/airport transfers, shuttle service, laundry, pressing and room service.  The gray sand beach fronting the resort is not that good. 

Playa Tropical Resort: Brgy. Victoria, Currimao, Ilocos Norte 2903. Tel: (077) 676-1001 and 670-1211. E-mail: stay@playatropical.com.ph.  Website: www.playatropical.com.ph.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Hotel and Inn Feature: Balay da Blas Pensionne House (Laoag City, Ilocos Norte)

Spacious living room (take note of the Singer sewing machine
 table at center)

Executive Suite bedroom
The Balay de Blas Pensionne House, in Laoag City, has executive suites (PhP3,500-5,000) which have, aside from cable TV and private bathroom with hot and cold shower, a spacious living room and a bar with personal ref.  The furnishings were all period pieces and one table had a Singer sewing machine base. 
The other traditionally-furnished, tastefully appointed suites (standard double, junior suite and de luxe suite, PhP1,200-2,550) also have spacious living rooms, airconditioned bedrooms, cable TV and private bathrooms with hot and cold shower.  The de luxe suite has a fully furnished kitchen while the junior suite also has a bar with personal ref and wi-fi.  
Balay da Blas Pensionne House: 10 Giron St., Brgy. 7-B, Laoag City, Ilocos Norte.  Tel: (077) 770-4389.  Email: balaydablas@yahoo.com. Website: www.balaydablas.com

Hotel and Inn Feature: Ilocos Rosewell Hotel and Restaurant (San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte)

The grand, Y-shaped stairway

One of the hotel's suites
The Ilocos Rosewell Hotel and Restaurant, in San Nicolas,  has a cool ambiance, with an atrium-style lobby and a grand Y-shaped staircase leading up to the rooms.  The 9 elegant airconditioned rooms (standard double or twin, family rooms, PhP1,200-2,800) all have LCD flat screen cable TV, en suite bathrooms with hot and cold shower, NDD/IDD phone and 24-hr. free wi-fi. Some rooms come equipped with a minibar.

All rooms showcase the work of art and culture of a true Ilocano, with furnishings made from recycled, century-old houses. Paintings were everywhere; from the rooms, corridors and down to the lobby. 

The hotel,  a convenient 5-min. drive from Laoag City center, a 5-min. walk from Robinson’s Mall and a 10-min. ride from Laoag International Airport, also has a 24-hr. front desk, tour desk, business center, 14-pax conference room, 24-hr. convenience store and offers safety deposit boxes, massage, dry cleaning, pressing, currency exchange, car rental, laundry and room service. Gerry's Diner, its a la carte restaurant, offers a variety of Filipino, Chinese and  Ilocano dishes. Guests also can avail of a free one-way arrival transfer to the hotel. 

Ilocos Rosewell Hotel and Restaurant: Brgy 1, San Francisco National Highway, San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte. Tel: (077) 670-6528 and 781-2122.  Fax: (077) 781-3700.  Website: www.ilocosrosewellhotel.com.

Restaurant Review: Cafe Herencia (Paoay, Ilocos Norte)

Cafe Herencia

The cholesterol-rich bagnet
Cafe Herencia (meaning "heritage"), in the picturesque town of Paoay, is the town's new center for Ilocano culinary tradition. Upon entering, one is inundated with the feel of Old World elegance and glimpses of our genteel past - Florentine glass decorations, antique wood and wrought iron furniture, Vigan tile flooring coupled with a superb view, across the plaza, of the famous Church of San Agustin, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The base of the unique dining tables were recycled from Singer sewing machines.

Longanisa pizza
The authentic Ilocano cuisine served here includes bagnet (deep-fried pork belly boiled first in saltwater, dried, frozen and then deep-fried); the naughty-sounding poque-poque (a salad of smoked eggplant, tomatoes, onions and egg ); dinengdeng (boiled vegetables seasoned with bagoong with fried or grilled fish added); igado (fatty pork loin meat and pork liver cooked with red bell peppers and peas, in a salty-sour sauce) and pinakbet (vegetable stew with bagoong).  Their piece de resistance is the longanisa pizza (longanisa meat toppings over mozzarella cheese, all placed on a classic hand tossed pizza crust), a dish which is both an aesthetic and a gastronomical pleasure and a glimpse into the future of Ilocano cuisine. 

Herencia Cafe: MacArthur St., Brgy. 14, Sangladan, Paoay, Ilocos Norte.  Tel: (077) 614-0214

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Hotel and Inn Review: Ilocos Norte Hotel and Convention Center (Laoag City)

Date of Stay: March 5-6, 2011

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

Laoag City Hotel and Convention Center

Double room
The Ilocos Norte Hotel and Convention Center, at Laoag City's outskirts, 5 kms. from Laoag International Airport, has 96 exquisitely-designed airconditionedrooms includingstandard rooms,  superior double room with chiropractor-approved twin beds, phone, cable TV, coffee/tea maker, minibar, an en suite bathroom and a private balcony (PhP2,200/night), 4 suites with kitchenette, lounge, flat-screen TV, bathtub and larger balcony overlooking the courtyard, PhP3,000), and 24 8-pax dormitory rooms (PhP750/pax).

This 4-star hotel, opened in 2009, also has a huge outdoor swimming pool, 2 restaurants, business center, ballroom, 150-pax (classroom-style) conference room, 1,120-pax (theater-style) convention hall and a non-sectarian chapel for weddings.  Free wi-fi is provided in public areas.  CafĂ© Ayuyang, its coffee shop, serves local and continental dishes while a variety of drinks and cocktails are available at the The Border Bar & KTV.  The hotel also offers hotel/airport shuttle, laundry, pressing, dry cleaning and room service.

The resort's swimming pool

Note: The hotel has since been renamed as Plaza del Norte Hotel & Convention Center.

Ilocos Norte Hotel and Convention Center (INHCC):  Brgy. 41, Balacad, Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, 2900. Tel: (077) 670-8817.  E-mail: reservations@ilocosnortehotel.com.  Website www.ilocosnortehotel.com.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Resort Review: Kapuluan Vista Resort (Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte)

Date of Stay: March 4-5, 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 eco-friendly Kapuluan Vista Resort

Grilled fish and liempo main course
Kapuluan Vista Resort, at the resort town of Pagudpud,  is owned by Fil-American couple Mike and Alma Oida.  

It has 6 hotel rooms with baths and 4 six-bed dorms (for budget travelers) with common baths. 

The resort also has a swimming pool and offers mountain bikes and surfing (with Mike providing lessons), with surfboards for rent.    
Pagudpud - a new surfing haven

Kapuluan Vista Resort: Sitio Baniaran, Brgy. Balaoi, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.  Tel: (072) 888-2809.  Mobile numbers: (0920) 952-2528 and (0920) 928-5273.  E-mail: kapuluan_vista_resort@yahoo.com.  Website: www.kapuluanvistaresort.com.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Resort Review: Eastern Hawaii Casino and Resort (Sta. Ana, Cagayan)

Date of Stay: March 3-4, 2011

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

A spacious suite
Eastern Hawaii Casino and Resort, in Sta. Ana, has airconditioned rooms with queen-size beds, cable TV (which only featured Chinese channels except for the Macau Lotus Channel which featured some English movies, a reflection of its catering to an all Chinese clientele  before), fridge, toilet and bath and writing desk. 

Though not as luxurious as the Cagayan Holiday and Leisure Resort which had a classy and spacious lobby, it had, aside from its airconditioned suites spread out in a number of 4-storey buildings, its own online casino (the first in the town), a Chinese Restaurant and, across the street, an infinity swimming pool, ocean view villas, watersports center (jetskis) and private beach.  And just like Sun City before, it used to just cater to Chinese from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau but is now opening its doors to Filipino tourists.
The infinity pool

Eastern Hawaii Casino and Resort: Sta. Ana, Cagayan.  Mobile numbers: (0918) 916-0645, (0927) 808-5432 and (0917) 448-2123.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Resort Review: Cagayan Holiday & Leisure Resort (Sta. Ana, Cagayan)

Date of Stay: March 2-3, 2011

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

Cagayan Holiday & Leisure Resort

The online gaming  Casino
The upscale, 7-hectare Cagayan Holiday and Leisure Resort (also called Sun City Hotel and Casino), within the Cagayan Export Zone Authority in Centro in Sta. Ana, is the first and the only high-end resort in northern part of the Philippines that offers complete world-class facilities and amenities. 

You wouldn't be expecting anything bordering on the luxurious in this part of the country but, upon entering the resort's gate, you would think you were in a classy resort the likes of which can only be found in Hong Kong, Las Vegas, Reno or Macau. 
One of the resort's F&B outlets
This PhP400 million (HK$ 70 million) resort, a subsidiary of the Sun International Group Ltd.,  has 99 fully airconditioned  ocean view villas, a beautiful infinity swimming pool, spa, watersports center (jetskis, kayaks, etc.), all-terrain vehicles (ATV) for rent, target shooting range, KTV, casino, gym and 24-hr. food and beverage outlets offering Chinese, Western and Korean cuisine. 

Formerly opened only to high-rolling Chinese nationals from the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, this Cagayan Economic Zone Authority-operated resort and its world-class facilities are now open to locals. 

Most of the staff in the resort are Filipinos, especially the uniformed kitchen staff, but the supervisor and receptionists were Chinese.  The restaurant, as well as the lobby, are wi-fi-zones. 
Bedroom with twin beds at the villa

Guests are transported to their Asian-inspired villas via a golf cart.  Each neat and clean villa has 2 cozy and relaxing bedrooms, 2 toilet and baths, a dining and living area, all decorated in the minimalist style with classy and warm tones. However, the available cable channels were  mostly Chinese, with only 1 or 2 English-speaking channels, a legacy of its being a Chinese-only resort before.  

Cagayan Holiday and Leisure Resort: Brgy. San Vicente, Sta. Ana, Cagayan.  Tel: +853 6644 8811 and +853 8844 4422.  Mobile numbers: (0917) 588-9916 and (0908) 894-7042.  E-mail: reception@cagayanresort.com. Website: www.suncity-group.com