Bienvenidos Zamboanga

We traveled for around five hours from Pagadian to reach Zamboanga, the only Latin city of the country. As noticed, some of the stores’ names are written in an uncommon word and the dialect used is “chavacano” which is almost related to Spanish language.

Location: Zambonga City, Philippines

Where I Stayed: Casa Canelar

Buddy: Group (5+)

DAY ONE

We checked-in at Casa Canelar and offered us a spacious family room on the 3rd floor for P1,800. The hotel didn’t offer the usual bed and breakfast scheme. The reception at the ground floor was the backdoor of the Gerry’s Grill Restaurant. The best thing here was, the reception collected our ordered foods and the restaurant’s staff delivered it directly to our room.

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Fort Pilar, Zamboanga
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Marian Shrine, Zamboanga

In the afternoon, we roamed on the busiest street of the city which historically witnessed the war siege in 2013. We visited the Spanish era buildings of the municipal hall and its neighboring establishments. We walked on the aisle and waited for the romantic sunset at Paseo del Mar. We also visited and increased our spiritual reflection on the mass held in the shrine of Fort Pilar, an old fortress built by Spanish long time ago.

DAY TWO

We had an island tour in the only pink island of Zamboanga in the morning. The details was on the different post, The faded pink sand of Sta. Cruz island.

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In the afternoon, we headed to the City’s Barter to buy souvenirs. Zamboanga products are characterized by Muslims textiles symbolizing its colorful culture. The different designs of “sarong” and “malong” are the best buys. We enhanced our bidding and bargaining skills for there were so many stores to choose.

After buying souvenirs, we visited the Butterfly Garden. I’ve been to several butterfly sanctuaries but only on that garden I saw and encountered so many live butterflies.  We also visited the nearby museum, El Museo de Zamboanga. Unfortunately, the museum was already closed.

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Bye Maldives Paradise

We woke up with the same daily routine. Added to our morning rituals was fixing and packing of our things. All in to our trolleys were the items as remembrance of our stay in Maldives. We enjoyed the hospitality of the resort’s staffs and the privacy they gave to each of the guest.

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Surely, I have one thing I missed to do! The time never give me a chance to snorkel the diving site. I asked the reception to join the daily scheduled snorkeling tour. It was twice cancelled because it requires of at least four guests. How unfortunate I am! However, I enjoyed the water, fishes, and sharks in the resort’s snorkeling site. For that, I still have a reason to come back!

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We left the resort at noon for our 4:40pm flight by Oman Air. The next boat transfer from the resort was at 4pm. It was better to stay longer in the airport than to miss our flight. The flight screen at the airport entrance was posting an announcement that we can only check in starting at 1:30pm. The airport was small so they limit the number of passengers staying inside. We took our lunch at the airport’s restaurant and entered the terminal at almost 2pm for check-in. We headed directly to the pre-departure area and we were surprised that the Oman Air started boarding passengers too early at 3:20pm. Only 22 passengers were counted and we noticed that the newly landed airplane was still full of passengers. As announced by the stewardess after final flight inspection at 3:40pm, the flight we were in was departing to Colombo. All the new passengers were surprised. The plane had a short stop over in Colombo before heading to Muscat.

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We arrived in Muscat at 8pm, one hour late from our booking details. We looked for a good place to stay for those five hours transit. I approached the Plaza Premium Lounge as walk in costumer and paid 10 Omani riyals per head for a lounge pass. We went out from the lounge when our flight to Dammam called for boarding.

Bonding in Paradise Resort

The ringing telephone hidden under our bed put my little kid on alert. We are normally hiding the telephone once we are in the hotel because the toddler loved to play with it. The hotel receptionist informed us that our check out time would be 10am. We were advised to meet our travel agent who booked our next resort accommodation in Maldives before 11am.

The booking was made by Island Voyage, the travel agent we knew online by chatting while surfing Maldives resorts. At first, it was uncomfortable conversation. If we should believe on these people or not. We’re thinking the possibilities of an online fraud who victimized travelers. However, we decided to try. The agent only request a 50% down-payment. The remaining would be paid upon arrival in Maldives. As they are sending vouchers and receipt with a legitimate company address, we determined that the agent was recognized and legal.

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At 10:30am, we left the hotel going to the airport. The hotel driver assured that we will meet the agent. He led us to the booths area where the agent was waiting for us. We paid the additional 50% payment, and he gave us the hotel accommodation check in voucher. He then transferred us to another booth to prepare the speedboat transfer going to the resort.

The speedboat departed from the airport at 11:20am. Together with us were the group of Chinese family.

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Location: Lankanfinolhu Island, Maldives

Where I Stayed: Paradise Island Resort & Spa

Buddies: Family

After 20 minutes, we arrived at the resort’s jetty. A staff greeted and guided us to the reception which was a few minutes by walk. At the reception, they gave each of us forms to fill in information and a welcome drink. After a short introduction, the bellboy guided us to our beach front bungalow room. We actually preferred water villas but it’s not safe for kids. Anyway, beach bungalow was wide and spacious. The toilet was so spacious and there was an outdoor shower.

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Paradise Island Resort and Spa gave us the most relaxing days in Maldives. Our daily routine for three days was so luxurious. We started the day with snorkeling at the jetty, buffet breakfast in restaurant, relax inside the room, and beach bathing in the afternoon. Our night ended sitting at the jetty walkway watching the group of stingrays and sharks after a buffet dinner.

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The snorkeling sites on this resort are at the jetty side and in water villas. The beach at the water villas was the safest ground for small children. The water was shallow and also not busy from water sport activities.

The best thing we did at  the night was watching for sharks and stingrays during feeding time. It was my first time to meet small sharks while swimming. They said, they don’t bite and will ignore human.

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Recommendation

This was only based on my personal experience. Don’t stay in the resort for longer than three days if you are a food critic. I observed that the menu was repeatedly served on the third day. The drinks on the night are not free. A bottle of water is not free too.  Some resort, like Paradise, doesn’t offer free wifi. Only US dollars and credit cards payment are accepted.

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Rushed to Lake Sebu

While seated together with siblings, we talked about foods and places we like to visit. At first, going to Lake Sebu was only a suggestion but it just like everyone packed things and prepared to go.

At 02:30pm, we left our home in North Cotabato and few minutes stop over in Tacurong City’s Jollibee to calm our budging stomach. We then continued our travel passing towns of Sultan Kudarat province. The Lake Sebu is one hour travel from the town of Surallah, South Cotabato.

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The lake at dawn

The Lake Sebu is a mountainous town where one of the country indigenous people, B’laan is living peacefully. The area could be compared to Baguio City because of cold weather, pine trees and rice terraces. The town’s name is derived from the natural and protected lake which is abundant of fresh water species especially the tilapia.

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Punta Isla Lake Resort

Location: Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, Philippines

Where I Stayed: Punta Isla Lake Resort

Buddies: Group (5+)

RESORT. We booked the Punta Isla Resort, the most known resort in Lake Sebu. The dormitory type costs 1,600 pesos which is good for eight persons. We arrived at almost 6pm and was surprised that we were the only group who has booking. They were obviously expecting our arrival because their restaurant staffs are waiting at the reception. They offered a lot of menu but most of them, the raw ingredient was tilapia fish. Their best sellers were chicharon and kinilaw. They also have floating restaurant but a staff told us that we could dine there in the morning if we want to. The Floating Restaurant is normally open for lunch buffet.

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The hotel has swimming pools but without water and not for use. They also have many guest houses and restaurants. The room price was cheap so we didn’t expect much amenities. The room was so basic with old and thin bedding, towels and blankets. Since the area was on the lake side, insect repellent should be applied all the times. There were many mosquitoes, so we directly closed the room’s door once open.

The fantastic view of the lake greeted us in the morning. We only stayed in the resort overnight and didn’t have enough time to wander the whole area. However, I have pictures as souvenirs.

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We visited the known seven falls in Lake Sebu for adventure. The first falls was accessible through the road. The 2nd to 5th falls could be seen by riding two zip lines for a price of 250 pesos. The sixth and seventh were so far and in different sites. This was my highest zip line adventure so far which claimed to be the highest zip line in Southeast Asia at 600 feet above the ground.

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The 5th Falls as highlight of zip line adventure.

 

Lantaw Marbel and the Road to Gumasa

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This is a family outing planned for two months. For this is a peak season, we are obliged to pay the full amount on room reservation at White Haven Resort in Gumasa.

We left the town of Mlang at 7am. We are expecting to pass provincial roads of North Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato, and Saranggani. We estimated a continuous four-hour of land travel to reach the beach capital of the south.

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On the way, we got a 15-minute stopped over and visited the highest place of Marbel, South Cotabato. The Lantaw Marbel is a park on the hills of Marbel giving us the panoramic beauty of the city. The cages of birds and fish ponds are the first attractions the park can offer to tourists for free.  The park has no entrance fee. There is also a restaurant overlooking the city but they have no customer that time.
There is on going building construction that might be offered for wedding and big events reception. It may be soon to open.

After an hour, we reached General Santos City. We stopped at RDEX Food shop to buy frozen tuna, their best seller, for our dinner. Gumasa is more than an hour away from the city according to locals. And finally, we reached White Haven Resort in Gumasa, Saranggani Province at 3pm.

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Location: Gumasa, Glan, Saranggani Provice, Philippines

Where I Stayed: White Haven Resort

Buddies: Big Family (13+)

The White Haven Resort is the first resort which lies on the Gumasa shore before Rosal Resort. We reserved the beach front Pagoda House for our entire family of 13 heads including three children. The Pagoda House has two rooms. One room can accommodate three persons and the other rooms can carry five. The place is wide, so there is no problem for having a big group. It also has open cottages with shared toilets and kitchen for day tour visitors.

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The Pagoda House is a typical one room native house with veranda and a hall which commonly used for dining. The other room is wider and separated from the main house. Only the main room has comfort room. Included in the vicinity is the grilled station with gas stove for cooking. There is also a refrigerator inside a wooden cabinet for storing foods. All these properties are inside a wooden fence, so the feeling of comfort and security is great.

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The beach has white fine sand that’s why travelers named it as “Boracay of the South”. Though on our arrival, the beach was so messy. We asked the staffs if what happened to the place. They too couldn’t answer but I saw them cleaning the entire beach front and shore line.

The beach is good for family retreat. If you’re looking for relaxation and peaceful place in Southern Mindanao, this place can be recommended. Just don’t forget to bring a lot of foods. Both raw and cooked.

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At night, we remained calm and quite as the staffs kept on reminding. This is to give other visitors the best and relaxing rest, and respects to what they talked spirits whose taking care and maintaining the beauty of the place.

I didn’t have time roaming the entire beach even the neighboring and sister resorts, Rosal and Coco which both owned by the same family.

We left the resort at 10am next day and stopped over in General Santos City for meeting long time not seen friends. We finally departed the city at 3pm.

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Best Buy. On the way back to Marbel, we stopped over in a highway (town of Polomolok) to buy pineapples. Polomolok and neigboring towns are home for sweet pineapple plantations of DOLE Philippines.

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DOLE Philippines pineapple plantation

Private Island Hopping in El Nido

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We will be staying in El Nido for two days only, so we decided to do a private island tour. I met a tour operator and we both agreed with P4,500 payment for a combined tour of A and C. It sounds expensive for a single payee but my excitement and expectations weighed more than the price.

The TOUR A for a joining guest costs P700 per head while the TOUR C is P900. To make the tours private and exclusive, a costumer should pay the amount equivalent to four persons. In our case, we bargained the combined tour to the lowest price.

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ISLAND HOPPING. We just finished our breakfast at 7:30am when the boatman and his assistant (tour guide as well) fetched and brought us to the boat to start the island tour. Drinking water was not included, so we bought first from the nearby store before leaving the bay.

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Hidden beach, El Nido

Our first stop was the Hidden Beach. It is hidden because the boat will pass through a narrow passage in between of cliffs. Our guide, brought us to a cave on which the exit is on the other side. We took care and being careful with our feet because the rocks are pointed and sharp. I really loved the place and enjoyed its natural beauty.

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We left the beach and sighted the locally known helicopter island but we didn’t have time to drop on it. We continued to our second destination which was the Matinloc Shrine. Our boat docked in a jetty yard of an abandoned mansion and a catholic shrine. We visited its underground museum and have glanced on the remaining old pictures of the owner and the last activities held in the island. We climbed the cliff near the shrine and reached the wooden cross situated on the top. From there, we saw the wonderful blue colored seawater and the neighboring beach, called the Star Beach. Our guide also toured us quickly inside the mansion and scared us with his horror stories encountered in this place. Why was the owner abandoned this beautiful mansion and the government never develop it? Besides, it’s part of the attractions and most requested site as part of El Nido island tours.

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Secret Beach, El Nido

Our third stop was the Secret Beach. At first, we were wondering if what are those boats are doing on that side of the cliff. Some tourists were bravely swimming against the strong waves. Our guide explained that there is a small cave on that cliff which serves as only way to a beach inside. It is called the secret beach. So, we wore our life vests and swam towards the cave. Bigger camera are not advisable to bring. Our guide voluntarily carried my small camera which wrapped securely inside a plastic bag. We stayed for a few minutes in the secret beach, swimming and snorkeling.

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Big Lagoon, El Nido

It’s already 12nn and were looking for a place for lunch which mostly done in Simizu Beach. But the boatman suggested that it is better to visit the Big Lagoon first while it is still high tide. It’s hard for a boat to reach the lagoon during low tide. So we headed to the big lagoon passing the five star Miniloc Resort. The Big Lagoon location is similar with the hidden beach for we also entered a narrow path between cliffs. The water here was so blue and deep. During that time, only our group was in the place. Our guide noticed that we’re afraid so he jumped first in the water to prove that it is safe. My wife was so brave and followed him.  There’s no reason for me to be afraid. We didn’t stay in the water for so long. We left the place and headed to Simizu Beach for lunch.

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Our boatman spotted a private beach, fronting Simizu Beach, as a perfect place for lunch. We docked and while we were enjoying the water, they were busy on grilling the pork and fish for our lunch. They set up and prepared everything. Our table situated on the beach was so romantic.The grilled pork was so delicious which tempted us to ask their secret ingredients on marinating the pork.

After our lunch, we went to the Secret Lagoon. We explored first the place before entering the lagoon. The place was one of the host island of European TV show Survivor. Some evidences are still visible like the posted lamp they used. We headed inside the lagoon entering a small cave opening. It’s really amazing that Palawan has plenty of attractions like this. The lagoon covered by cliffs and rocky mountain.

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Small Lagoon, El Nido

Our next stop was the Small Lagoon. Contrary to the big lagoon, I’m not afraid here because there were so many people. The boat can enter the big lagoon while the boat stay outside of the small lagoon. We managed to swim to the cave within the lagoon. I noticed that it was more tiring to paddle when swimming towards the middle. Our guide said that we were opposing the water current. We can swim faster when we’re going out. We stayed in small lagoon for half an hour and decided to leave the area for our last island tour.

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Seven Commando Beach, El Nido

The boat stopped in Seven Commandos Beach, where there’s a long beach side. The heat was extremely hot so we just take a short bath and hide among the trees. After 30 minutes, we asked out boatman to bring us back to our resort. We finished our tour ahead of the normal tour schedule for we wanted to catch the sunset in El Nido beach. That is the advantage of a private tour. We controlled our time and movements.

It was low tide when we’re heading to our hotel. So the boat stopped few meters away from the beach.

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El Nido Proper

DINNER. At 5pm, we rode a tricycle going to El Nido town. The beach side was busy for boats, tourists, and children who were playing happily. We walked from the market up to the last building along beach side of El Nido passing all the advertised beachfront hotels. At the end of the beach is El Nido Corner Restaurant and Bar. We’re so lucky that the place was nicely situated for sighting the sunset in Bacuit Bay. One thing I noticed, the place is with high humidity. The wind couldn’t reach the community because of mountains which are surrounding and covering the area.

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Sunset in El Nido

 

Journey to El Nido

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Coral Bay Resort, Corong Corong

Instead of going to the ticketing office, we humbly asked Kiko to book us our land trip to El Nido through the famous van service, Fort Wally for P700 per head. We also requested the hotel’s staff to prepare our breakfast for our early check out.

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The Fort Wally van picked us up in the hotel at 7:30am and had a short stop at Hibiscus Hotel to pick three foreign tourists. Another group of foreign passengers were waited for us in Fort Wally terminal. The staffs arranged our baggage on the top of the vehicle and started our way to El Nido. After 30 minutes, the van stopped in Puerto Princesa public terminal to pick up local passengers which one of them was drunk and not wearing shirt. He boasted his apple phone and that he is working in California, USA. He talked a lot but nobody was listening for we’re all sleepy.  Anyway, we’re with the drunk man for a short period of time because he dropped 30 minutes after we left the terminal.

While on the way, we saw a local jeep flowering with passengers and stuffs on side and top. People with drums, cages, boxes, and sacks of products. The foreigners in our trip took their cameras for the unusual scenario.

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FortWally terminal in El Nido

We arrived at Fort Wally terminal in Roxas at 9am for breakfast. It was also the time for us to stretch our muscles for we already took our breakfast in the hotel. It is still a long way to travel. After 30 minutes, we left Roxas and took another couple of hours to Taytay. In Taytay, all our baggages was transferred inside the van for the road to El Nido was rough and dusty. We arrived in the amazing town of  El Nido at 12:30pm.

The town is small and surrounded with mountain cliffs. We booked immediately our return trip in Fort Wally with discounted price of P600 per head. We rode a tricycle to Coral Bay Resort in Corong Corong. We preferred the resort so we could take a glimpse of the Bacuit bay during sunset.

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Comfortable Bed of Coral Bay Resort

Location: El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

Where I Stayed: Coral Bay Resort, Corong Corong

Buddies: Partner

Coral Bay Resort is 10 minutes away from the town and we finally met the owner, Robert. We were surprised that we’re the only costumer of the resort on that day. The room is made of native materials and enhanced with a creative mind of an artist as seen on the wall portrait. I booked the wide room for P2,500 per night including breakfast. Booking in this resort didn’t require an advance deposit. Mr. Robert explained that the brownout (electricity interruptions) started at 6am and will back at 2pm for the entire town. In the resort, they are using generator from 6am to 10am to help the costumers have ample time to prepare everything before the power off. He also contacted a tour operator to negotiate personally regarding island tour packages in El Nido.

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Bacuit bay, Corong Corong

Heavy rain dropped in El Nido in the afternoon so the sun was hiding until nightfall. We took our dinner in Greenview Bar and Restaurant. A few minutes away by walk from the resort. The restaurant is located on the 2nd floor leaving our slippers downstair and passing those sleeping big dogs. They have delicious locally served foods and great numbers of foreign costumers.