Thursday, June 30, 2016

What's in a (Business) Name? Cincuenta y tres

All guys named Carl must be washed here.
Spotted by Zhequia of FTW! Food, Travel & Whatevs
along Gov D Mangubat Ave, Dasmariñas, Cavite

Thanks Zhequia!

For more amusing business names, please visit Go Random.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Incheon: Tail End of Cherry Blossom Season

Having arrived at the very tail end of the cherry blossom season, the first order upon arrival—nevermind not having had any sleep for more than 24 hours—was to go to Incheon, in the hopes of gazing at cherry blossom petals on branches and not on the ground.


Chinatown
인천 차이나타운

I was in South Korea, why would I want to go see China? I did not want to, but I had to. From Incheon Station, there was no other way to get to Songwoldong Fairy Tale Village and Jayu Park, but through Chinatown.

Just across Incheon Station looms a huge yellow and red gate. Unmistakably Chinatown.

Walking the uphill main road of Chinatown, I followed my nose and turned right to a street lined with many different shops and stalls selling so many unfamiliar food. I wanted to try everything! But my common sense, budget, and stomach were all in agreement: No! Just two or three. The woes of traveling alone.

Gonggalpang (foreground) and Onggibyeong (background)

So many delicious smells wafting from every direction, but these are the must try ones when in Chinatown:
  • Gonggalppang – The name means "empty bread". These are large, sweet, round, and hollow baked crisps. After trying a piece or two (okay, maybe three) from the free taste bowl, I wanted to buy one gonggalppang....but it was sold in bags of five to eight!
  • Onggibyeong – These are oven-baked dumplings which looked to me more like buns. The dumplings are stuffed with sweet potato, pumpkin, meat, or red beans, and baked in a large clay jar. Onggibyeong are crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.
  • Jajangmyeon – Because this stir fried noodles in black bean sauce is said to have originated in Incheon.

Directions to Chinatown: Take subway line 1 to Incheon Station, exit 1. Right across is Chinatown.


Songwoldong Fairy Tale Village
송월동 동화마을

I left the delicious smelling street of Chinatown, and followed the road opposite until I found a rainbow archway to my right. The archway with Korean letters let me know (though I don't know how to read Korean) that I was now in in the land of fairy tales: Songwoldong Fairy Tale Village. This magical village is replete with colorful murals and decorations depicting well loved children's fairy tales such as The Wizard of Oz, Aladdin, Little Red Riding Hood, The Frog Prince, etc.


Directions to Songwoldong Fairytale Village: Take subway line 1 to Incheon Station, exit 1. Enter Chinatown right across the station, and follow the main road. At the end of the road, turn left and follow the road until you see a rainbow archway on your right.


Jayu Park
자유공원 (인천)

From somewhere in Songwoldong Fairy Tale Village, I spotted a white puff of trees from a distance. Keeping my eyes on the trees, I weaved my way through the village until I reached Jayu Park. Jayu Park was sprinkled with petals falling on the ground and locals enjoying the cool spring day. I explored more of Jayu Park until I reached an area with patches of brightly colored flowers and a vista of Incheon Port.

At the fringes of Jayu Park

Spring has sprung


The view from Jayu Park

Directions to Jayu Park: Take subway line 1 to Incheon Station, exit 1. Enter Chinatown right across the station, and follow the main road. At the end of the road, turn right and be tempted by the delicious smells of food. After the temptation, turn left where the walls are tiled with scenes of a Chinese story. At the end of the story (or maybe that was the beginning?), turn left to Jayu Park.


Incheon Grand Park
인천대공원

With time and energy to spare, I decided to go to Incheon Grand Park. The lady at the Tourist Information Center just outside Incheon Station told me that I could go directly to Incheon Grand Park by bus (1 hour), but I decided to take the subway to Songnae Station (30 mins) then a bus (15 mins). From the bus stop I followed a man in a hiking outfit, deducing he was going to the park too. After he had unwittingly acted as my guide, I thanked him in my mind and, lest someone think I was stalking him, overtook him to start my exploration of Incheon Grand Park. The grassy areas of the park were dotted with picnickers and the tree lined roads were teeming with locals strolling, biking, jogging, and admiring the thinning trees as it snowed cherry blossom petals.


Directions to Incheon Grand Park: If you're coming from Chinatown, at the bus stop right outside Incheon Station, take bus 15. Or take subway line 1 to Songnae Station, exit 1. Then take any of these buses: 103, 16-1, 909.


On the subway on my way to my hostel, still an hour and a transfer away, I fought the urge to fall asleep and instead thought of how lucky I am to have caught the last scenes of the cherry blossom season.






Thursday, June 23, 2016

Six Apps for a Smooth South Korea Trip

It was smooth sailing in South Korea with the help of these apps:

All of my accommodations for this trip were booked through this app. What I loved about Booking.com is its ease of use. I can filter by location and by price—no need to salivate over accommodations I cannot afford!

To book, some accommodations on Booking.com would require a credit card, but won't charge the card; it is only to guarantee the booking. Payment would be made upon check in. Some don't even require a credit card! If something comes up and you need to make changes or cancel your confirmed bookings, it can be done through the app. Most accommodations on Booking.com would allow booking cancellations free of charge (within a given number of days).

Internet Connection: You must be online to search and book accommodations and to view the map to a property. When offline, you can only view the details (not including map) of your confirmed booking(s).

Tip: Watch out for Booking.com's "Deals Day" which means discounted rates!

Download Booking.com app here: Android | Apple


Visit Korea, created by Korea Tourism Organization, was my sole source of information for where to go. I just specified the area I wanted to visit, clicked on the category (history, nature, UNESCO sites, food, shopping, etc) that interested me, and browsed the suggested pages. Each page would show photos, give a description, and provide important information such as opening hours, admission fees, transportation directions, map, etc.

Internet Connection: To search anything on this app, you are required to be online. If you save a page, the saved page can be viewed offline.

Tips:
  • Plot your itinerary using the app's Planner feature.
  • Check out the Discounts section...there might be discount coupons for places you are planning to visit.
  • When taking the bus and the driver can't understand or speak English (or when you're lost and want to ask for directions), show him/her the page on Visit Korea app for the place you are going to/looking for; the title on the page is in English and Korean.

Download Visit Korea app here: Android | Apple


I planned a day of walking from neighborhood to nearby neighborhood and had in mind specific areas to visit. I created a map on Google My Maps, plotting out my route and pinning locations. Google My Maps also became very useful for me when I just winged it to a place without much travel information. On the way to wherever it was I was going, I pinned locations for the bus stop and the bus terminal...this was so I would not get lost on the way home.

Internet Connection: You should be online to search locations, pin locations, and create your own map.

Tip: If your WiFi Egg battery's low, but you need your online map, pin your destination on Google My Map, load the map (both zoomed in for details and zoomed out to cover the area you need), turn on location/GPS, start walking until you see that little dot on the map (that's you) move. Then turn off your WiFi Egg.

Download Google My Maps app here: Android


Weather

I would check my smartphone's weather app to plan what to do the next day (hmmm...looks like rain; hiking might be a bad idea) and what to wear (nice cool 13°C,  I shall wear a light jacket! And windy?!...maybe I should wear two light jackets!).

Internet Connection: You should be online to get updated data.

Tip: Don't forget to check for information on wind and gusts. Eventhough you think the temperature is tolerable with no jacket, the wind could bring down the real feel temperature to chilly.


Subway Korea

The subway system in Seoul looks complicated because of its many subway lines, but is fairly easy to understand. Nonetheless, having the Subway Korea app was a great help:
  • it provides the timetable/schedule
  • it gives options for fastest route or fewest transfers
  • it tells you which side the door will open
  • it tells you how many stops between stations
  • if you need to transfer, it suggests which car door to enter/exit for a faster transfer
  • you can set an alarm so you won't miss your stop
  • it provides an exit map for each station
  • it tells if the station has a restroom, elevator, disabled access, etc
This app is not only for Seoul, but it also includes subway maps and information for these cities: Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, and Gwangju.

Internet Connection: If you need to know the schedule in realtime and check the station exit map, you should be online. If you just need to know the duration of the journey and the fare, you can still use the app offline.

Tip: If you have to transfer trains, follow the suggested car door to enter/exit. The car and car door number is indicated on the platform floor: the first number is the car number followed by a dash then followed by the car door number (ex. 9-2 means car 9, door 2).

Download Subway Korea app here: Android | Apple


KakaoTalk
Most Koreans are on KakaoTalk. Without a local mobile number, I got in touch (text and call) with my Korean friends and even my accommodation hosts through KakaoTalk.
Internet Connection: Required.

Tip: Before leaving for South Korea, download KakaoTalk and save all contact numbers of your hosts and check if they're on KakaoTalk. You might need to contact them if your flight is delayed so they won't release your booking (especially bookings that have no downpayment or did not require a credit card). But if they're not on KakaoTalk, you can always resort to email (and pray they check their email), or, if you're on roaming, call.

Download KakaoTalk app here: Android | Apple



South Korea on Three

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

South Korea Solo: Tangible Essentials

These are the things that were most useful (aside from money) during my 8-day trip to South Korea:

T-money
My very pink T-money card, the only
design available at the time.
T-money was my ticket to almost anywhere in South Korea—it's a prepaid transportation card that can be used for the subway, bus, and taxi. (It can also be used to pay for purchases at affiliated convenience stores, vending machines, lockers, etc.)

For me to have a T-money card, I had to have money to purchase one. A T-money card  (no credits yet) would cost from KRW 2500 to KRW 4000 (for cards with special designs) and can be bought and added with credits (from KRW 1000 to KRW 90,000) at convenience stores or at subways stations.

Advantages:
  • Fare charged using the T-money card is KRW 100 cheaper than when paying with cash.
  • Eliminates the hassle of buying a ticket every time you take the subway.
  • No need to have the exact amount when boarding the bus, just tap the card upon boarding and before alighting.
  • The remaining balance, if less than KRW 20,000, can be refunded at convenience stores minus a service charge of KRW 500. Refund amount of more than KRW 20,000 can only be refunded at the T-money headquarters in Seoul, so be sure to put in just enough for your trip.

Tip: If you plan to be in South Korea for five days or more and need to take the subway and/or bus often, a T-money card would be advantageous in terms of savings. You can estimate the total subway expense by searching for the route and fare using Seoul Metropolitan Rapid Transit Corporation's Cyber Map (for Seoul) or Subway Korea app by Malang Studio Co Ltd.

Smartphone
A late bloomer, I only got myself a decent smartphone less than a year ago. In years past, I never saw the need for one, and just went old school (paper maps!). Having a smartphone proved to be very useful for this trip...

Mobile Apps
...especially since I had to rely heavily on six apps:
  • Booking.com – This is where I found and booked all my accommodations: Kam Guesthouse in Seoul, Aroha Guesthouse in Seoul, and Sum Guesthouse Garosugil in Busan.
  • Visit Korea – I scoured the Visit Korea app for places to see in South Korea. In addition to photos and a description about the place, this app also provides important information like transportation directions, maps, operating hours, and admission fees.
  • Google Maps or Google My Maps – I used Google Maps/Google My Maps to find my way around. Being a map geek, I pinned places and created my own map using Google My Maps.
  • Weather – When in a country with four seasons, and when traveling during non-summer months, I need to check the temperature to know how many layers I should be wearing.
  • Subway Korea – This app made snaking my way around Seoul's extensive subway system (which extends to Incheon and to some places in the provinces of Gyeonggi and Gangwon) easier, faster, and smoother. I also used this when I was in Daegu and Busan.
  • KakaoTalk –  Most Koreans are on KakaoTalk. Without a local number, this app provided a way for me to get in touch with my Korean friends and even with the accommodation hosts, through text and calls.
(More details about these apps in the next post.)

WiFi Egg (Pocket WiFi)
But these apps wouldn't work without WiFi. Although there is free WiFi in most places, I decided to rent a pocket WiFi or a WiFi Egg as they call it in South Korea, in case I find myself lost in a no free WiFi zone.

A WiFi Egg (or mobile phone if you also need to make calls and send text messages) can be rented at the Roaming Center of Incheon International Airport (first floor, arrival hall, between gates 10 and 11) or at Gimhae International Airport (first floor, near gate 3). WiFi Egg rental rates are the same for all telecoms: Data KRW 5000/day + Device Rental KRW 3000/day + 10% tax.

These are the three telecoms (and their current promotions) to choose from:
Renting a WiFi Egg (or a mobile phone) requires a credit card and passport. The credit card should have enough credit limit to cover the data and rental fees for the rental duration AND the deposit for the device (KRW 200,000 for the WiFi Egg, more for mobile phone).

Tip: If you're planning to visit Seoul (flying in and out of Incheon) this year, avail of SK Telecom's free 5-day rental of Samsung Galaxy Note 5 with free data and voice calls.

Credit Card
The main reason I got myself a credit card was because I would be traveling alone and it could be used for (God forbid) emergencies. In the end, there were no emergencies (thank God), but I was able to use it to:
  • Buy airline tickets online and later on, buy add-on baggage and inflight meals — It is cheaper to buy add-on baggage and inflight meals on the website than at the check-in counter (for the excess baggage) and in the plane (for inflight meals).
  • Book accommodations online — Some would require a credit card to guarantee the booking. I paid in cash upon checkin.
  • Rent a WiFi Egg — A credit card is one of the requirements to rent a WiFi Egg. The bill, after the rental period, can be paid by cash or credit card. I chose to pay it in cash.
Important: Keep in mind not to overspend and to pay the credit card bill on time!

Powerbank
South Korea uses
the type C Plug
A powerbank adds weight to my already heavy bag, but I needed it to resurrect a dead phone and/or a dead WiFi Egg.

Adapter
To resurrect dead gadgets when the powerbank dies too. Gadgets whose plugs are all other types except type C need an adapter to gather juice from South Korea's two-round-holed power outlets. (If you're coming from a 110V region, you might need a step up converter, too.)

Season-Appropriate Clothes
This and the Weather app go hand in hand. I visited in April and brought a jacket for the low temperatures and an umbrella for the spring showers.

Comfortable Shoes
My feet did not thank me for walking every day for hours on end. But it did thank me for being in comfortable shoes.


What would I have done without all these things? I would have survived. But probably not without getting lost, missing my bus/subway stop, getting on the wrong subway line, dropping coins while fumbling for change and holding up the line in the bus, shivering in the cold for wearing too thin clothes, sweating in the heat in a thick jacket, soaking in the rain, and hobbling home with blistered feet.






South Korea on Three
Seoul: Wander Around City Hall Station
Seoul Art: Nanta!, Ihwa Mural Village, Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
Seoul World Heritage: Jongmyo Shrine, Seolleung and Jeongneung Royal Tombs
Gyeonggi: Village Walks in Paju City
Gyeonggi: Day Trip to Suwon City
Gyeongsangnam: Haeinsa Temple
Gyeongsangnam: Find My Name in Masan, Changwon City
Busan Accommodation: Sum Guesthouse Garosugil
Busan: Beomeosa Temple
Busan: An Abundance

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Eight Days in South Korea

How I Spent My Eight Days in South Korea.
In short, my itinerary.
Click to enlarge


How Much I Spent for My Eight Days in South Korea.
In short, my expenses.
Click to enlarge

Like my previous posts about expenses, I did not include the airfare as I usually buy my tickets six to twelve months in advance, during airline promotions. Processing the visa would cost nothing if you have a Korean Consulate in your area. If you don't, then you'd have to process your visa through a travel agency who would charge a processing fee, of course.

Accommodation. I saved on accommodation by staying in dorms (four nights in Kam Guesthouse in Seoul and two nights in Sum Guesthouse Garosugil in Busan), spending about Php 550/night for a dorm bed (with breakfast). Most dorm beds would cost Php 800 to Php 1200/night. Then deciding I wanted some peace and quiet for a few days, I doubled my budget for accommodations and spent Php 1100/night for a single room at Aroha Guesthouse.

Transportation. I took the subway and the bus to go around. The only time I splurged was for the KTX (high speed train) to get to Daegu from Seoul. Daegu is 237 km south of Seoul and would take about 4 hours by bus. By KTX, it only takes half the time (2 hours).

Food. I took advantage of the free breakfast offered at the hostels I was staying in. For the rest of the day's meals, I would eat wherever I found food...from convenience stores, streetfood stalls, some restaurants. I spent an average of Php 760 per day (lunch, snacks, dinner). But I would advise to allocate at least KRW 30,000 (about Php 1300) a day for food.

Tour. For this trip, I spent most of my days walking around parks, temples, villages. I skipped the famous spots that I had been to, like GyeongbokgungChangdeokgungBukchon Hanok Village, and N Seoul Tower. (Mind you, these are places not to miss for first timers.) 

Others. For the first time in all my travels, I decided to rent a pocket wifi. Though it would be my third time in the country, I was planning to go to cities I was unfamiliar with. The pocket wifi proved very useful.

There you have it. Eight days in South Korea has made my wallet poorer but has made my little memory box a little bit heavier. And no, I am still not done with my exploration of this country. I hope to keep coming back until I see every nook and cranny of South Korea.




South Korea on Three
South Korea Countdown
Itinerary and Expenses (you're here!)
South Korea Solo: Tangible Essentials
Six Apps for a Smooth South Korea Trip
Incheon: Tail End of Cherry Blossom Season
Seoul Stays: Kam Guesthouse and Aroha Guesthouse
Seoul Food
Seoul: Songpa Naru Park and Banpo Hangang Park
Seoul: Wander Around City Hall Station
Seoul Art: Nanta!, Ihwa Mural Village, Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
Seoul World Heritage: Jongmyo Shrine, Seolleung and Jeongneung Royal Tombs
Gyeonggi: Village Walks in Paju City
Gyeonggi: Day Trip to Suwon City
Gyeongsangnam: Haeinsa Temple
Gyeongsangnam: Find My Name in Masan, Changwon City
Busan Accommodation: Sum Guesthouse Garosugil
Busan: Beomeosa Temple
Busan: An Abundance

Friday, June 17, 2016

South Korea Countdown

This is not a countdown for an upcoming South Korea trip, but a countdown for a past South Korea trip. Who counts down to the past? I do. 

10 * TEN * 열
I booked a one-way ticket ten months in advance. I wasn't coming back. Just kidding. (But if I could, I would!) I was just waiting for a cheaper fare for my return via another city. I had months until the next promo fare to decide how long I would spend in South Korea, but in the end, it was the cheapest fare that decided my length of stay. I am a slave to the airline.
Map from Visit Korea

9 * NINE * 아홉
South Korea has nine provinces (Chungcheongbuk, Chungcheongnam, Gangwon, Gyeonggi, Gyeongsangbuk, Gyeongsangnam, Jeju, Jeollabuk, Jeollanam) and eight special cities (Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, Gwangju, Incheon, Sejong, Seoul, Ulsan). I want to visit all of them! But...

8 * EIGHT * 여덟
My cheap return ticket, bought six months after I bought my one way ticket to South Korea, dictated that I would only have eight whole days in the country. How should I spend it? Where should I go? What should I do? I had four months to iron out my 8-day itinerary. But did I start planning for the trip after I had sealed the deal with my return ticket? No. Procrastinator is my name.

7 * SEVEN * 일곱
I hustled three weeks before I had to fly out. I scrambled for places to see, for directions, for accommodations. I ended up with a long list of places, places scattered all over South Korea. Definitely unattainable in just eight days. By process of elimination (Too far? Too time consuming? Too expensive? Delete. Delete. Delete.) I trimmed it down to just seven citiesIncheonSeoul, Suwon, Paju, Daegu, ChangwonBusan. All others, including Jeju, would have to wait.

6 * SIX * 여섯
My scramble for places to see, for directions, for accommodations led me to download several travel apps. On the trip itself, I ended up using just six of the apps: Visit Korea, Booking.com, Google My Maps, Weather, Subway Korea, KakaoTalk.

5 * FIVE * 다섯
I have seven Korean friends. Two in Seoul, one in Gyeonggi, four in Busan. I sent them all a warning that I would be in their country. Five friends did not heed the warning and I happily cleared some days on my itinerary to spend with them. Two friends went into hiding. (The two had an important company event on the day I had scheduled to be in their city, and there was no way I could change my schedule as my outgoing flight was from there.)

4 * FOUR * 넷
With my itinerary ironed out, I had four modes of transportation to wrap my head around: airplane, subway, bus, KTX (South Korea's high-speed train). Taxi was out; too expensive.

3 * THREE * 셋
Maybe it's my friends. Maybe it's the kindness of strangers. Maybe it's the culture and history interspersed in a modern city. Maybe it's all these that has tugged at my shoelaces and purse strings the third time.

2 * TWO * 둘
I jammed my things into two bags. My 33L backpack (my constant travel companion) and a duffel bag. If I had a big backpack, one that would make me look like a walking backpack, I might have used just one bag. But my back said no, I wouldn't have survived; I would have toppled backward.

1 * ONE * 하나
Then there's one. One me. Me, myself, and I. My first solo trip from beginning to end.



South Korea on Three
South Korea Countdown (you're here!)
Itinerary and Expenses
South Korea Solo: Tangible Essentials
Six Apps for a Smooth South Korea Trip
Incheon: Tail End of Cherry Blossom Season
Seoul Stays: Kam Guesthouse and Aroha Guesthouse
Seoul Food
Seoul: Songpa Naru Park and Banpo Hangang Park
Seoul: Wander Around City Hall Station
Seoul Art: Nanta!, Ihwa Mural Village, Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)
Seoul World Heritage: Jongmyo Shrine, Seolleung and Jeongneung Royal Tombs
Gyeonggi: Village Walks in Paju City
Gyeonggi: Day Trip to Suwon City
Gyeongsangnam: Haeinsa Temple
Gyeongsangnam: Find My Name in Masan, Changwon City
Busan Accommodation: Sum Guesthouse Garosugil
Busan: Beomeosa Temple
Busan: An Abundance

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Mustachio and the Sea of Stories

...or...
Bungoton and the Dinagat Stories


Dina Gat

Once upon a time, two royal bloods, Prinsesa Dina and Prinsepe Gat, whose tribes were at war with each other, believed in the saying "make love, not war." They eloped and ran (or maybe swam) away to an island in the Pacific. But when their peaceful island life was shattered by invaders, they swam away, never to be heard from again. Their disappearance coincided with the appearance of land formations, one shaped like a sleeping pregnant woman, the other shaped like a sleeping man. The woman-shaped mountain was aptly called Babaeng Bukid (female mountain), believed to be Prinsesa Dina; and the man-shaped island was called Lalaking Bukid (male mountain), believed to be Prinsepe Gat.

Top photo: Prinsepe Gat or Unib Island
Bottom photo: Prinsesa Dina or Mount Palhe (on the background)


Dinagat Islands

Babaeng Bukid (on the main island of Dinagat), Lalaking Bukid (Unib Island), and the islands in between, collectively called Dinagat Islands, were once under the jurisdiction of the province of Surigao del Norte. In 2006, these group of islands was declared a new province. Three years later, some people petitioned for that declaration to be nullified and the Supreme Court of the Philippines granted the petition. And then a little over a year after the nullification, the Supreme Court nullified the nullification—in less confusing words, dismissed the petition and decided that, yes, Dinagat Islands should be a province after all. And so I write corrected: Dinagat Islands was twice under the jurisdiction of the province of Surigao del Norte.


Islander's Castle
San Jose

At present, the province of Dinagat Islands is ruled by a queen keeping watch over all her people from her lofty castle. Just kidding. There's no queen. Dinagat Islands is ruled by Governor Glenda Ecleo, and that huge castle sitting magnificently on top of the hill is her mansion.



Stingray Islet
San Jose

The queen governor chose a spot for her castle well. It affords a sweeping view of her kingdom, including Lalaking Bukid (Unib Island) and an islet called Stingray Islet. I wanted to think that it was named Stingray Islet because there were a lot of stingrays in the waters surrounding it, but no, it was because it was shaped like a stingray. Bummer.

Stingray Islet, Lalaking Bukid, and Sibanac Island as seen from Islander's Castle


PBMA Shrine
San Jose

Seventy percent of the queen's subjects (aka citizens of Dinagat Islands) are members of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association (PBMA) whose founder was the king himself: Ruben Edera Ecleo Sr. This organization remains a mystery to me as our guide, being a member, wouldn't share much about the organization. If you want to know more about them, you have to join them, he said. (But don't jump the gun, read this and this first.) What our guide did share was that the PBMA Shrine was built by volunteers after the death of their founder in 1987.

Note: Visitors can enter the PBMA Shrine but must follow a dress code. Females must wear a skirt on or below the knee and a white shirt without any print except for approved PBMA prints. Males must wear pants and a white tee or polo shirt without any print except for approved PBMA prints. Cameras and mobile phones with cameras are not allowed inside; these are to be deposited at the gate.

PBMA Shrine
Photo from wikipedia


Bababu Lake
Basilisa

Foreigner: What's the name of this place?
Local: Baba sa Buaya.
Foreigner's tongue all atangle: Bababu?

Baba sa buaya. Visayan for croc's mouth. A croc's mouth that has eaten many a local...is everyone's nightmare. Thankfully, it's just that—a  nightmare. There are no crocodiles at the beach nor in the lake. Baba sa buaya only refers to the shape of the cove where Bababu Beach is located. Bababu Beach is where the trail to the lake starts. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the lake; an hour for those who have been sitting on their butt for too long. 

The lake is connected to the sea via a 650-meter underwater tunnel. When the tide is high, the water in the lake rises too, but the saltwater and the fresh water don't mix. The locals believe the waters of Bababu Lake has healing powers. Young and old make the hike up to the lake to bathe, to drink, to collect bottles of lake water.

I made the hike up to the lake to bathe pee. Just kidding. Or am I? *Evil laugh*

Bababu Beach

Bababu Lake


Sundayo Beach
Hagakgak Island, Basilisa

You know how, in the Surigaonon dialect, the letter L is turned into Y? Sundalo to sundayo? Story goes that a sundalo/sundayo (soldier) got stranded on this island and made like Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away. I lie. This beach was named Sundayo Beach for the very simple reason that the house on this beach is owned by a soldier.



Cabacongan Beach
Unib Island (Lalaking Bukid), Basilisa

Cabacongan Beach, also known as Kalaw Sanctuary, is on the backside of Lalaking Bukid, where one can see Prinsepe Gat's butt and his precious jewels. His butt is home of the kalaws (hornbills). We did not see any hornbill though, just Prinsepe Gat's butt hole.

Prinsepe Gat's got a big butt


Bitaog Beach
Unib Island (Lalaking Bukid), Basilisa

How do you name a beach? By its most distinctive feature? Yes? Then you must be on the same brain frequency as the people who named Bitaog Beach. This beach was named such because of the huge Bitaog tree on the beach. Now there is no Bitaog Tree, just Bitaog Beach and its fine white sands and clear waters.




Pangabangan Tidal Pool
Pangabangan Island, Libjo

A huge meteor zoomed and crashed into this part of Dinagat Islands, thus forming this huge chasm. Or so the unwritten legend says. But, really, it's just a tidal pool. A beautiful, inviting, deep, aquamarine tidal pool.



Punta Buena Suerte Resort
Libjo

Punta Buena Suerta where they're lucky to have a beautiful underwater universe perfect for snorkeling. Where our boatman was lucky to have seen a pawikan (sea turtle) as we were preparing to dock. Where I was lucky to have seen a lionfish through the crystal clear water as we were preparing to disembark. But that's where our luck ended. We did not get to explore this underwater world because we became too comfortable sitting under the shade of a tree while exchanging stories with our guide.




Who to Contact for More Information
To know more about this young province and its many islands or to arrange your trip around Dinagat Islands, contact any of Dinagat Islands' Tourism Liaison Officers:
  • Mark Casiano Acain 0908 472 3676
  • Connie Marzan Macalua 0921 840 9123
  • Ezequiel Divinagracia Nimeño 0929 558 1242

How to Go to San Jose, Dinagat Islands
San Jose is the capital of the province of Dinagat Islands. There are daily boat trips to San Jose leaving from the boulevard of Surigao City. The boat trip takes about an hour and 10 minutes, and costs Php 100 per person.


Where to Stay in Dinagat Islands
We stayed in Bahay Turista Mini Chalet, which also houses the province's tourism office. An air conditioned room for two costs Php 600; extra head for Php 100. The room is quite big and can accommodate four persons. Towels, soap, and toilet paper are provided.


How Much to Prepare for Island Hopping
An outrigger boat for island hopping would cost Php 3500 and above, and would depend on the size of the outrigger and the destinations. Outriggers can be arranged through the Tourism Office.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Suroy Surigao City

Heading to Surigao City. Cut across any of these three to get to Surigao City:

Sky. There are daily flights to Surigao City from Manila (via Philippine Airlines) and from Cebu (via Cebu Pacific).

Sea. From Maasin (Southern Leyte) or from Cebu, cross the sea via Cokaliong Shipping Lines. From Liloan (Southern Leyte), take the FastCat to Lipata, Surigao City. From San Ricardo (Southern Leyte), take Montenegro Shipping Lines to Lipata, Surigao City.

Soil. There are buses to Surigao City direct from Butuan and Davao. Vans also ply between neighboring cities (such as from Tandag City in Surigao del Sur) to Surigao City.

Tourist bunks in Cokaliong's M/V Filipinas Maasin

History in the Heart of the City. You know you're in the heart of a city in the Philippines when you find the City Hall with a park or plaza nearby.

Surigao City Hall. Every city hall must have the country's flag flying outside. But there is only one city hall that has a marker reminding every passerby that on this site on December 26, 1898 was where the Philippine flag was first raised in Mindanao.

Luneta Park. Like Manila, Surigao City’s Luneta Park also has a statue of Dr Jose Rizal. Unlike Manila, Surigao City's Luneta Park has a colorful giant boot, a tourist assistance office, and the Battle of Surigao Strait Museum. The giant boot, according to MindaNews, houses a generator to power the nearby city hall, police headquarters, fire department, and public market during power outages; and a siren that goes off on a daily schedule and during emergencies. (I peeked and saw dust and junk. Maybe the generator was under all that junk.) The boot, according to the lady in the tourism office, was created in honor of Imelda Marcos who had donated the land and that the other boot, the left one, is in Tacloban. (To anyone who has spotted the left boot in Tacloban, please send me a photo!)

The giant boot at Luneta Park
Photo by Brennan Mercado of Baktin Corporation

Hungry in the City. These are the three things not to miss when in Surigao City:

Sayongsong. Sayongsong is Surigao City's delicacy. It is made of sticky rice, coconut milk, and sugar, and wrapped in a banana leaf like a cone. What does it taste like? To me it tastes like baye baye from Iloilo, but a lot softer. To my friend it tastes "like brains!" I wonder whose brains she had eaten.

Sayongsong
Photo by Brennan Mercado of Baktin Corporation

Isaw. Because I think Surigao City has the best isaw! But what is isaw? Uhh...chicken intestines. "Ewww," you say? Ewww to isaw from other places, but yum to Surigao's isaw! Surigao's isaw are cut down the middle, cleaned, and grilled to a slight crisp. Isaw can be had at any of the barbecue stalls just outside the Port of Surigao City.

Seafood. I never had the taste for crabs, but all that changed when I visited Surigao City for the first time, about 12 years ago, and my friend set down a platter of fat crabs on the table. For our recent visit to Surigao City, we sniffed our way around for some seafood and found Babielyn's Kitchenette, a carinderia in the Public Market, and Ocean Bounties Restaurant just across Babielyn's. Babielyn's offers seafood in addition to the usual carinderia fare; seafood dishes cost Php120 per order. We splurged at Ocean Bounties and spent about Php 450 each for a very satisfying lunch of clam chowder, half a kilo of grilled fish, and half a kilo of garlic chili crab.

Clam chowder, grilled fish, and garlic chili crab at Ocean Bounties

Heading Away From the City. But not really. When stifled by the heat emanating from concrete structures of the city, head on to the beaches of Surigao City, just a 30–minute ride away.

Mabua Pebble Beach. The clear waters of Mabua will make you want to jump right in. Its smooth stones will give your feet a massage as you walk on them. The open cottages on the beach can shelter 10 persons and cost from Php 250 to 300 per cottage. To get to Mabua Pebble Beach, hire a tricycle for Php 200 (up to 6 persons) or take a jeepney to the crossing for Mabua (Php 18) and then a habalhabal to Mabua Pebble Beach (Php 10). Going back to the city, if you can catch a tricycle, would only cost Php 20 per person.

Mabua Pebble Beach

Looc Pebble Beach. A little bit of exercise is required to reach Looc Pebble Beach. From Mabua Pebble Beach, climb 380 steps over and down a hill to find Looc Pebble Beach, where the pebbles have significantly diminished, not in number, but in size; but where the waters have remained just as clear.


This article is also featured on GPSmyCity. If you find this article useful and plan to use it to explore Surigao City, for a minimal fee, you can download the GPSmyCity iOS app to view it offline and use the GPS-aided map.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Wisdom from the Road #40

On staring
It is rude.
Except maybe if you're staring at an inanimate object.

We all know that staring is rude. I was reminded of this while snorkeling in Gilutungan Marine Sanctuary. I saw a fat titan triggerfish, maybe 20 inches long, with bulging eyes, languidly swimming in the bottom of the sea, some 30 feet deep. It was the biggest fish in the area and I was fascinated by it. I stared at it from above, followed it around.

You know how you can sometimes feel when someone is staring at you? The fish probably felt my eyes drill a hole on its back that it turned around, glared at me with its bulging eyes, bared its Mater-like (but sharper!) teeth, and angrily darted straight for me. Thrice. After its third attack, I got to my senses and swam away as fast as I could (which is not fast at all).

Yes, sir, do not stare. It is rude. Even the fish thinks so.

Photo of a titan triggerfish by Enric Sala/National Geographic

Gilutungan Marine Sanctuary is one of the destinations when island hopping from Mactan. Snorkeling fee for Gilutungan is Php 100 per person. Other island hopping destinations (see green pins on map below) are:
  • Nalusuan Island and Marine Sanctuary (Php 200)
  • Caohagan Island (Php 200)
  • Sulpa Islet (Php 100)
  • Talima Marine Sanctuary (Php 50)
  • Pandanon Island (Php 150)
Island hopping trips usually cover just two or three destinations and the price would depend on the size of the boat and the destinations (starts at Php 2500; the bigger the boat or the farther the destination, the more expensive). Agree with the boat operator before embarking on the trip!

Boats for island hopping can be rented in Cordova Wharf, Maribago Wharf, or Punta Engaño Port (see red pins on map), or arranged through companies like Islands Banca Cruises and Fun & Sun (see yellow pins on map)—these two companies give great service (comes with the price!). There are other local tour operators that offer a higher level of service than just picking a boat docked at the wharf but are not as expensive as the two mentioned tour companies. One I would recommend is Sunrise Island Hopping (jump off point is in Cordova Wharf), a local tour operator based in Cordova. For Php 550/person (minimum of 10 persons), you can island hop to three spots without the hassle of preparing food—lunch is already included (book ahead because they need to prepare the food)!


PS. A little bit or research told me that it wasn't my staring at the triggerfish, but my invasion (unknowingly!) of its territory, which extends like a funnel from its nest up to the surface of the water, that made it go berserk. But this doesn't mean that staring isn't rude. It still is. Remember that.

Photo from FishiLeaks


For more lessons from the road, please visit Go Learn.