Showing posts from October, 2012

Trek to Mt. Pinatubo Crater Lake

It was still dark when we arrived at Capas Junction in Capas, Tarlac to meet our guide and driver who will guide us to Mt. Pinatubo, the olcano that erupted in 1991. The eruption was reputed to be the most violent in the 20th century, reducing its elevation from 1,745 meters to the current 1,486 meters.
Our group, composed of friends from the university, arrived early, about five in the morning after an hour and a half bus ride from Cubao. We set off after registering at the local tourism office, embarking in a 40-minute off-road vehicle ride through lahar-inundated fields and rivers.

The place that we are going to visit is the crater lake that formed when the volcano blew a large part of it summit in the 1991 eruption, forming a huge crater that later was filled with water to form a lake. The deepest part of the lake is 500 feet.

The trek to the crater lake is not very difficult, although the sky was overcast when we started out and there was a drizzle when we were halfway through. We m…

Celebrate Halloween, Underwater

Wanna do something creepy and unique to do for the Halloween? How about snorkeling over the Sunken Cemetery of Camiguin, Philippines? 

The cemetery, marked by a huge cross built over an island, is located 20 feet below the sea. It sunk under in 1871, when the nearby Mt. Vulcan erupted, inundating the nearby town and church, the ruins of which are still there. You can actually see the headstones and graves underwater when you swim and snorkel over it, with corals growing among them. Passing through a cold thermocline while descending would make the whole experience more chilling and will bring up the eerie factor by two-fold. Bobbing for apples wouldn't be as exciting after you've done this one. 
How to get there: The sunken cemetery is in Catarman town [how to go to Camiguin, here]. The local taxis can take you to the jetty where you can hire boats and guides that will take you to the cross via an outrigger. You can start snorkeling as soon as you dock.

Top of the World: Empire State Building

Being in the city that epitomized skyscrapers, it would be hard to resist not to go up in any of the countless high rise buildings dotting New York. And as it became a tradition for me to visit the highest building of the city I am in, it's a low-brainer for me not to go up New York's tallest - the 102-story Empire State Building.

Like I did with the Museum of Modern Art ticket, I purchased one online too to avoid the long line. After going through security checks worthy of TSA, it took me about 30 minutes to get to the elevators, which whisk passengers 80 floors up in seconds.

Upon reaching the 80th floor we took another elevator to the observation deck at the 86th floor, which is open air. A throng of people were milling around, taking snapshots of the New York skyline. Walking around the perimeter of the observation deck affords one a 360-degree view of the city.
Empire State was completed in 1931 and was the world's tallest building until 1972. It became New York's …

Corregidor Island: The Rock

Corregidor Island is one of the historical spot a stone's throw away from Manila that I kept on putting off visiting because "it's not going anywhere."  

The island - used to be a Spanish signal outpost and fortress due to its strategic location at the mouth of Manila Bay, and about 26 miles from Manila - played an important role in the second world war. Used by the American forces as a base (together with 3 other islands on the bay), it was the last parcel of land to surrender to the Japanese invaders. It became the headquarters of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the seat of the government of Philippine president Manuel L. Quezon during the war.

Due to the placement of a network of tunnels, fortifications - 23 batteries in all - and anti-ship guns, it delayed the conquest of the Philippines by Japan. After its fall, it was occupied by Japanese forces for 3 years, and was then recaptured by Allied forces in February 1945.

Today, Corregidor holds testament to the horrors of w…

Camiguin, Island of Fire

Camiguin is an island province northwest of Cagayan de Oro, in Mindanao. It is accessible via an inter-island ferry, which traverses the Bohol Sea.

The island, comprising of five towns, was literally born of fire - it is composed of four stratovolcanoes that straddle older volcanic structures. One of the volcanoes is Hibok-Hibok, which is active and last erupted in 1953.

The fast craft we took, the fastest way to the island,  left Cagayan de Oro at 8am and docked at Benoni port 3 hours later. We hired a small van that will take us around the island, first taking us to Enigmata, an eco-lodge located in Mambajao, the capital town. After freshening up and grabbing lunch at a carinderia, we set out to 250-foot high Katibawasan Falls for a quick dip in the cool waters and frolic under the vertical drop.

Next waypoint was the Sunken Cemetery. Yes, you heard it right. The century-old cemetery is located out on the sea, 20 feet below. According to the locals, the land where it was built sunk to …

Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Changi Airport

For a hotel that charges around SG$300-450 a night, I would expect Crowne Plaza - Changi Airport to at least offer one amenity that I can get for free from (way cheaper) backpacker hostels - free WiFi. Alas, I was disappointed. I was told that I can get free internet access using the RJ-45 jack in my room, but since I was carrying an iPhone and an iPad, means no luck for me.  

Aside from that teeny bit about the lack of WiFi, the Crowne Plaza - Changi Airport is a nifty hotel. The building exterior looks avant-garde, with an exterior composed of metal latticework. Its location, right next to  the Terminal 3 and the SMRT station, is very convenient to travelers. 

Cruising along the Chao Phraya

Cruising along the Chao Phraya river, one of Bangkok's main rivers, is one of the most enjoyable and least stressful activity to do while in Bangkok.

While the main reason for taking the tourist river boat was to get to the temples located in the north of the city, the trip itself is an adventure.
The river, which empties into the Gulf of Thailand, is about 372 kilometers long. It figured prominently in the history of the country.

Majestic Mayon

Since I was a kid the first thing that comes to my mind when talking about places to visit in the Philippines was the Mayon Volcano. Its perfect conical shape, along with the ruins of Cagsawa Church - which was buried in lava flows during the 1814 eruption - are among the quintessential magandang tanawin sa Pilipinas (beautiful views of the Philippines) that are discussed in our books in elementary school. 
It is usually described as "majestic," and when I first saw it (while we were on a boat from Caramoan), I felt that the adjective was apt - standing alone on a verdant plain, wisping  smoke from the apex of its iconic cone.

Mount Mayon, as it is also known, is located in Legazpi City in Albay province, about 40 minutes away from Manila by plane (or 12 hours by train and bus; more on that later). 
It is considered to be the most active volcano in the Philippines, having erupted about 48 times in the last 400 years, the most recent one was in 2010-11. There is usually a danger…

Incense, Gold Leaf and Lotus Flowers

Buddhists offer gold leaf, lotus flowers and incense while visiting temples. The act of offering is called wai phra.

The lotus flower symbolizes purification, as the plant grows in muddy waters but blooms from the muck, just as humans can achieve enlightenment despite being born in a world of suffering. 
Incense, in the form of joss sticks, are offered in threes, representing Buddha, his teachings, and the monastic order [1]. 

The wai phra performed above was done in Wat Lokayasutharam in Ayutthaya, where the 32-foot statue of the Reclining Buddha is found. 

by Kin Enriquez

Earning Frequent Flyer Miles

Unless you're a great-great-grand nephew of Croesus, you might have encountered one tinny bit of detail that many travelers have faced since man learned how to sail: how to get enough dough to finance that dream jaunt.  We could work desk jobs or blog or both to earn enough cash for a plane ticket and grub while traveling, or as an alternative, earn our tickets for free. 
One way to do this is by accumulating enough miles and points from credit cards or debit card companies that offer frequent flyer programs. Here in the Philippines there are several card companies and banks that offer such programs. The ones I have tried are the HSBC Visa Mabuhay Miles, the Cebu Pacific Citibank Visa, and the BPI SkyMiles Mastercard. There are others more, the Allied Bank Mabuhay Miles comes to mind, as well as the Citibank Premier Miles, but I will restrict this post to the first three mentioned. 
In truth, the miles or points you earn from these cards are hardly free (unless you're financiall…

Hotel Review: Four Points by Sheraton Langkawi Resort

Four Points by Sheraton Langkawi Resort was my my temporary domicile for three days during my weekend trip to Langkawi, Malaysia. The beachfront resort, located just five minutes away from Langkawi International Airport, is a cluster of buildings composed of the reception area and lounge, the Eatery, two three-story buildings housing the guest rooms, a pool area with kid's pool and (the largest) infinity in the island, and another building housing the fitness area. 

Rooms  The rooms are large and spacious. I shared one with my friend so we got the one with double beds. Linens and sheets were replaced daily, and the room has a slew of amenities: toiletries, an LCD television, a minibar, and even a veranda that opens to the ocean view. 

Amenities The most visible is the pool area, which includes an infinity pool in front of the beach, complete with parasols and lounge chairs and a kid's pool nearby. Beside the shower area is the fitness center equipped with gym machines. The gym is …

10 Coolest Things to Do in Kansas

So my one-week stay in Kansas was pretty memorable: my first winter and first snow, first encounter with a full-body scanner and the dose of radiation that comes with it, plus I got a nifty Foursquare badge called "You're Not in Kansas Anymore" when I checked in after I left the state. 
Since it is practically in the middle of nowhere, I even consider it a true, off-the-beaten track destination. And to help my fellow travelers, I present the top 10 coolest things to do in Kansas:

Bangkok Tourist Scams

As a popular tourist destination, Bangkok has its share of touts and scam artists working hard to bilk unsuspecting tourists of their money (and dignity). On my visit last year we encountered three instances of these scams.
The first one is fairly common - tuktuk drivers who will quote exorbitant rates to ferry passengers to destinations that aren't that far. The best way to deal with them is to just walk away (by which they will immediately lower their price by half).
Another variation for the tuktuk drivers is the opposite - quoting you an outrageously low fare (30 baht for a 30 minute trip? really now). The scam here is that the driver would bring the passenger someplace (like a gem store) that would give them commission for every unsuspecting farang that they bring in. The passengers would them be subjected to high-pressure selling tactics to buy a product, like overpriced gems (which is a scam themselves).
Touts hanging around the temples and touristy places also use this tacti…

There's No Place Like Home: A Week in Kansas

I was in Kansas at the close of winter of 2011 for a training, spending about a week in Overland Park, an affluent suburb near Kansas City. Before I arrived there my only vague references to the place were the things I read in books: most notably Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, the vast prairie that stretch out across the state, and tornados. 
As Kansas was an adjacent state, the flight from St. Louis, Missouri did not take that long, barely an hour. It was in the Kansas City International Airport (technically the airport is  in Missouri) that I experienced my first full-body scanner. It was a bit baffling for the airport to have it, but as someone advised it, it is best to shut up and take the dose of radiation like a man. 
The first thing I noticed as I took a cab from was how vast and empty the land was. There were stretches in the highway that I do not see any buildings or people at all. Much like where Dorothy lived. And it was a long cab ride, as my bill on the meter was more than $9…

My First Baseball Game

Baseball is as American as hotdogs and apple pie, and watching one is an essential travel experiences to have while in the US of A. I think I have watched baseball matches before (in Southeast Asian Games in Manila) but the first professional baseball game I have watched was in 2010, between the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves in St. Louis. 

The tickets was given free by my company, which owns a corporate box at the 46,000-seat Busch Stadium, where the game was held. I didn't get to use the box (I did the second time I was in St. Louis), but we got nice seats that were near the action.
The folks from St. Louis are very supportive of their home team; they came in droves dressed in red Cardinals jerseys and caps. The game, which started at about 7:30 in the evening, was pretty close, 5-4 in favor of the home team. Since I don't really follow baseball, and a bit concerned that I might be lynched if I cheered the other team, the Cardinals became my default favorite baseball t…

Survivor Caramoan

After an 11-hour train ride aboard the Bicol Express to Naga City, a 50-km bus ride to San Jose, a tricycle ride to the jetty, 3 hours on a banca to the town of Caramoan, another jeepney ride, then one more hour aboard an outrigger, these are the views that were rewarded to us: islands with white, pristine beaches amid karst formations that jute out of an azure sea. 

Caramoan is a town located in a peninsula in the Bicol region, south of Manila. It became famous when the producers of the reality show Survivor USA pick the islands around the town to be the location for the shoot. 

Despite its claim to fame, Caramoan is still a sleepy fishing town, with a dearth of hotels and tourist facilities (which is a good thing). When me and my friends decided to go to the town, we didn't have a clue on where to stay; what we have is just a vague set of instructions on how to get there. Luckily for us, we were able to chat with a group of tourists from Manila who introduced us to their guide, wh…

Surfing and Watching

During downtime, or when the sun is too high and it is too hot to stay on the beach, there is only one way to spend your spare time in San Juan, aside from taking naps: people watching and photography. 

Surfers and the people around the beach make great subjects. 

And specially the scenery. 

and animals.

by Kin Enriquez