Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The Basílica Menor de San Sebastián, better known as San Sebastian Church, is a Roman Catholic minor basilica in Manila, Philippines, Completed in 1891, San Sebastian Church is noted for its architectural features, it is the only all-steel temple in the Philippines, and is the only prefabricated steel church in the world.

The prefabricated steel sections that would compose the church were manufactured in Binche, Belgium. According to historian Ambeth Ocampo, the knockdown steel parts were ordered from the Societe anonyme des Enterprises de Travaux Publiques in Brussels. In all, 52 tonnes (51 long tons; 57 short tons) of prefabricated steel sections were transported in eight separate shipments from Belgium to the Philippines, the first shipment arriving in 1888. Belgian engineers supervised the assembly of the church, the first column of which was erected on September 11, 1890. The walls were filled with mixed sand, gravel, and cement. The stained glass windows were imported from the Heinrich Oidtmann Company, a German stained glass firm, while local artisans assisted in applying the finishing touches.

The church was raised to the status of a minor basilica by Pope Leo XIII on June 24, 1890. Upon its completion the following year, on August 16, 1891, the Basílica Menor de San Sebastián was consecrated by Bernardino Nozaleda y Villa OP, the 25th Archbishop of Manila.

According to Jesús Pastor Paloma, an Agustinian Recollect priest, the structure was also supposed to have a prefabricated retablo (reredos) altar, which was lost at sea when the ship carrying it from Belgium capsized in a storm; a wooden altar was made locally in its stead. Paloma also noted that the bottom part of the church was designed to resemble a ship’s hull, so that it would sway during an earthquake.

San Sebastian Church is one of the country’s last remaining churches that has preserved its original interiors; original parts of the church that can still be found today include its metal doors, wall ceilings, decorative paints, and glass windows.

Now this Majestic Steel Church is now badly needing repairs, a hundred years after being constructed, it is being destroyed by rust and corrosion, and if not taken cared of and repaired, it might topple down

With the help of San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation, Inc. they are rehabilitating the church back to its original state which would take time to do, to find out the root cause of the rust and corrosion then to fin ways to fix it and then to implement the repairs.

The Church which they say is constructed like an inverted ship with its hull on the roof looks amazing on different times of the day, even the lights inside the church when open gives it a yellowish hue but with natural lighting shows the green color of the original paint to give an impression that it is made of marble

With these significant elements, San Sebastian Church is indeed the Philippines’ treasure to behold. In general, the basilica remains its beauty and is still preserved. Apart from being a special architectural and historical interest, its splendor and warmth have placed it among the most beloved wedding churches in Manila.

San Sebastian Basilica Conservation and Development Foundation, Inc.

San Sebastian Church (Manila)









































All photos are owned and copyrighted by Joey Rico (also known under these names: alien_scream).
All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use, copy, editing, reproduction, publication, duplication and distribution of the digital photos, without his explicit permission, is punishable by law

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.



Philippine World Heritage List: One More to Go!

Ever since I got hooked into Digital Photography, the more I became fascinated with old architecture, more so with old structures and churches. During our travels there is always a part in our itinerary to visit old churches and then it led to visiting Historical and Heritage Sites, this is where the Philippines World Heritage List comes in.

There are eight (8) sites listed in the Philippine World Heritage List and Twenty Nine (29) sites on the tentative list, which the Philippines Government intends to consider them for nomination in the future.

The Eight (8) sites includes the following:

• The Historical Town of Vigan, Ilocos
• Puerto Princessa Sub-terrainian River National Park
• The Rice Terraces of the Philippines, Banaue
• The four (4) Baroque Churches in the Philippines, which are: Miag-ao Church, San Agustin Church, Paoay Church, & Sta Maria Curch
• The Tubbataha Reefs National Park

on the eight on the list, the place which we have not yet visited is the last place in the list, which is The Tubbataha Reefs National Park and we are hoping to visit it in the near future, and if there are any would be sponsors out there who would like to fund out trip we would gladly appreciate and would gladly answer your questions.

The list start off with The Historical Site of Vigan… we visited the town of Vigan, when we joined a group for a tour to the Ilocos Region, where we had a chance also to visit two (2) of the Baroque Churches on the list.

The Historical Town of Vigan is one of the few Hispanic towns in the Philippines where its structures remain intact, and is well known for its cobblestone streets and a unique architecture that fuses Philippine and Oriental design and construction with Colonial European Architecture.

The town of Vigan can be considered an island because it is detached from the mainland by great rivers namely, the Abra River, the Meztiso River and the Govantes River. What is unique with Vigan is its extensive and only surviving historical city in the country that dates back to the 16th century Spanish colonial period.

Vigan was an important coastal trading post long before colonial Spanish gallions arrived, chinese junks sailing from the South China Sea came to Isla De Bigan through the Meztiso river, on board were sea-faring merchants that came to barter exotic goods from Asian Kingdoms in exchange for gold, beewax and other mountain products brought down by the natives from the cordilleras.

How Vigan got its name is told from an anecdote carried by the tongue of generation, which tells of a Spaniard walking on the banks of the Meztiso River, there, he met a native pf the place and stopped to inquire: “Como se llama usted de esta lugar?”

Not understanding a word in spanish, the native scratched his head and upon seeing the Spaniard was pointing to a plant, exclaimed in ilocano “bigaa apo”. Bigaa being Alcasia Marconiza, a giant taro plant belonging to the gabi family, which use to trive at the banks of the Meztiso River. From the name of the plant – Bingaa, hence Vigan derived its name.




Next on the list is, Puerto Princessa Subterrainian River National Park, which we visited recently. With a lot of other places to visit around Puerto Princessa, including a trip around Honda Bay, Firefly Watching near the Iwahig Penal Colony and lots of excellent restaurants to have your fill with some exotic food like crocodile meat and “Tamilok” or woodworm, which the locals eat.

Puerto Princessa Subterrainian River is one of the most distinguished protected areas of the Philippines, located some 360 miles (580 Km) southwest of Manila. It was established as National Park in 1971 primarily to protect and preserve the intact old forest growth, interesting wildlife, pristine white sand beaches, unspoiled natural beauty and one of the most impressive cave systems in the world.

The Park features a spectactular limestone or Karst mountain landscape and an 8.2 kilometer long underground river that flows into the sea. The lower half of it is brackish and subject to ocean tides, and the associated tidal influences makes it the most unique natural phenomenon of its type to exist. The presence of 11 minerals, scientifically and aesthetically unique speleothems, and a 20 million year old serenia fossil embedded on the walls of the caves justifies the declaration of the underground river as one of The New 7 Wonders of Nature.

The Park contains a full mountain to sea ecosystem and protects forests that are important to biodiversity conservation, which are the most significant in Asia, and is noted for high levels of regional and local endemism. The site is habitat to numerous endangered, rare and endemic wildlife species. In the coastal area, mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs are found.








The Third on the list is The Rice Terraces of the Philippines, which is located in the cordillera region. Our trip here was with a group of volunteers who distributed pencils and notebooks to the school children in the far-flung areas of Ifugao. There are a lot of terraces sites here including the terraces of Batad, Mayaoyao and Bangaan Rice Terraces, which is included in the UNESCO world heritage list.

The Philippines Rice Terraces was carved into the mountain over a 2000-year period, by the ancestors of the indigenous “Ifugao” people. The Rice Terraces commonly referred to as the Eight Wonder of the World is located approximately 1500 meter above sea level and covers about 6,487 square kilometers of mountains. They are fed by an ancient irrigation system from the rain forest above the rice terraces. The system comprises of dams, sluices, channels and bamboo pipes, which are open or closed in co-operation with each owner and are built using hand tools only. The locals here still plant rice and vegetable but wet weather causes damage and the steps need constant repair.

The Rice Terrraces are stone-walls which can reach as high as 50 feet and are constructed along the contours of the mountain side. The Terraces are then backfilled and another wall is built at a slightly higher elevation, this process is commenced from the valley floor upward. The Terraces require an elevated water source to flood the fields during the growing season. They also dam the water dirung construction to aid in moving boulders and earth. The irrigation water is channeled long distances by stoned lined channels or bamboo aqueducts that traverses the sides of the mountains.

Tourists prefer other locations nearby than that of the Terraces of Banaue, which include, Batad Rice Terraces, Mayaoyao Rice Terraces, Hapag Rice Terraces and the Kiangan Rice Terraces.








The next four on the list, are the four (4) Baroque churches in the Philippines, the first of which were built by the Spaniards in the late 16th century. Their unique architectural style is a reinterpretation of European Baroque by Filipino craftsman, which I had written in my blog.

Here they are in detail:

San Agustine Church

Concealed behind the walled city of Intramuros, built by the Spaniards in 1570, is the church of San Agustin. This church is a significant monument to the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, being the first religious structure built in the island of Luzon, after the Spanish relocated from Cebu in the south.

Built within the administrative center of the Spanish government, San Agustin church enjoyed privileges not commonly dispensed to most colonial churches. It was built by the Spaniard Juan Macias in 1586 and was completed in 1606. Luciano Oliver later renovated it in 1854. The book Great Churches of the Philippines points out that the church was designed “according to the plans approved by the Royal Audencia of Mexico and by a Royal Cedula.”

Jesus Encinas, who wrote San Agustin Manila, states that the design of the church was derived from other churches that were built by the Augustinians in Mexico. Pedro Galende, OSA, in his book San Agustin Noble Stone Shrine, adds that the Augustinians “who came from Spain and those born in Mexico had a great opportunity to observe and study the South American monastic architecture which they later used in the Philippines. They took into consideration the quality of the local stone and the weather conditions which required them to sacrifice aesthetic requirement for durability.”

This practical and banal approach to aesthetics is evident on the church’s facade. It may have been the most sought and copied facade in the colonial period, but its static appearance and dark adobe stone lack grace and charm. Even the Augustinians themselves were not too kind with the church’s displeasing appearance. In another book, Angels in Stone, Galende recalls the Augustinian historian, Agustin Ma. de Castro’s critical comment of the church’s facade: “It was of triangular form, very ugly and of a blackish color; flanked by two towers, one of which has no bells and does not serve for anything. Due to the frequent earthquakes in Manila, they (towers) have only one body, ugly and irregular, without elevation or gracefulness.”

Sedate and direct to the point, the facade follows the style of High Renaissance. The symmetrical composition are prefixed by pairs of Tuscan columns that flank the main door of the two-tiered facade. The vertical movement of the paired columns is adapted at the second level by equally paired Corinthian columns. At the second level, mass and void alternate in a simple rhythm of solid walls and windows. The two levels, are emphasized by horizontal cornices, are then capped by a pediment that is accentuated with a simple rose window. The facade’s hard composition are held together by two towers; unfortunately, the missing left belfry further exaggerates the lackluster facade. It was taken down after a destructive earthquake hit the church in 1863 and 1880, splitting the tower in two.

The facade has a touch of Baroque by the ornately carved wooden doors that depict floras and religious images. Baroque is also evident in the carved niches that quietly reside between the paired lower columns. The church is bequeathed with Chinese elements in the form of fu dogs that emphatically guard the courtyard entrances.







Santa Maria Church (Nuestra Señora dela Asuncion Church)

Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion: Municipality of Santa Maria, Province of Ilocos Sur Built in 1765 under the direction of the Agustinian order, the ensemble resembles a citadel sited on the crest of a solitary hill rising above one side of the Santa Maria town plaza. The architectural ensemble presents its side and detached pagoda-like bell tower rather than its façade to the town. Thick contrafuetes (buttresses) are attached to the walls, reinforcing the structure against earthquake damage. The bell tower is constructed a distance away, protecting the main church structure from possible earthquake damage. Approached on foot by ascending a long, wide flight of Piedra china, steps that rising from the edge of the town plaza, the small, cramped plaza at the top of the steps is bounded by the church façade that faces the convento, enclosed by an arcaded bridge that connects both structures.








Paoay Church (San Agustin Church)

The best-known earthquake Baroque church in the Philippines is Paoay Church, which has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The cornerstone of the church, was laid by the Augustinian Missionaries in 1704, while the cornerstone of the belfry was laid in 1793. The people already used it even before completion in 1894,but it was formally inaugurated on February 28,1896. It is said that large coral stones were used for the lower level of the church structure, and bricks were used for the upper levels. The walls, which were made of coral blocks, tree sap, lumber and stucco-plastered bricks are 1.67 meters (more than 3 feet) thick, and are supported by 24 massive buttresses of intricate design. The church was partially destroyed twice by earthquakes in 1706 and 1927.In the restoration, permanent columns were built to support the ceiling. Today, this uniquely beautiful church still stands, wowing tourists with its majestic structure of Oriental, Gothic and Baroque influences.
The belfry stands a few meters from the church. As in other belfries of Ilocos churches, Katipuneros used the belfry as watch point in the 1896 revolution, and guerrillas of World War II also used it to check out coming enemies.






Miag-ao Church (Sto. Thomas de Villanueva Church)

The town’s first church building was constructed in Ubos by Nicolas Pangkug, the first capitan of the town. The church was completed three years before the first Spanish priest came in 1734, but this was burned by the Muslim pirates in 1741. Miag-ao was officially created as a parroquia on May 15, 1734.
The second church was constructed under the leadership of Parish Priest Fray Fernando Camporedondo (1746-1747). This church was also burned and looted by the pirates. The raids discouraged the people from building another church. But they needed one not only as a house of worship but also as a stronghold against pirate attacks. So they decided to build a third church in Tacas where the townsfolk have a commanding view of the mouth of the Miag-ao river, the usual route followed by the pirates in entering the town. This church still stands after defying elements and catastrophes for two centuries.
Construction of the present Miag-ao Church was started on a Saturday, the town’s market day, in December 1786, half a century after the founding of the Miag-ao parish. The parish priest at the time was Fray Francisco Maximo Gonzales and the town head was Capitan Domingo Libo-on. When it was finished in 1797, Fray Gonzales was still parish priest and Tomas Paguntalan was the town capitan.
The blocks of stones used in the construction of the church were quarried at Sitio Tubog in nearby San Joaquin town and in the mountains of the town of Igbaras. Work was supervised by a certain Matias, a fore-man from Igbaras, who later on was replaced by a certain Aquino from Alimodian, Iloilo, when the former was called to direct the church construction in his own town.
In baroque-romanesque style, the church sinks six (6) meters deep into the ground with walls, one-and-a-half (1 1/2) meters thick and buttresses thrice thicker in size. A truly ‘Philippine Church’, it exudes a native touch. Its artistic facade is decorated with a relief sculpture of St. Christopher carrying the Christ child amidst coconut, papaya and guava shrubs. A large stone image of St. Thomas of Villanova, parish patron saint, dominates the center. Carved life-size statues of the Pope and St. Henry with their coat-of-arms above them flank the main entrance. Supporting the facade are the twin belfries, one towering two-story and the other three-story high.
When finished in 1797, the left tower was lower than the right. In 1830, thirty-three (33) years after it was finished, an additional structure was added to the left belfry to make them equal in height. Fray Francisco Reyes was then the parish priest and Capitan Bernabe Paguntalan was the towns-head.
Now 206 years old, Miag-ao Church is one of the few remaining old churches in the country. The earthquake of January 24, 1948, the strongest ever to hit Panay, toppled the bell tower of Jaro and the old church of Oton as well as many other Spanish-built churches in the island, but not the Miag-ao Church. Only a small portion of its concrete beam gave way sending some stoneblocks loosened by heavy tremors.
While Miag-ao Church stood the test of time and calamities, it did not somehow escape the trauma of two wars. It was burned during the revolution against Spain in 1898 and during the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1944.
When liberation came in 1945, the people of Miag-ao undertook the herculean task of reconstructing the church. Led by then Reverend Father now Msgr. Wenceslao Enojo, parish priest, contributions came readily and it was not long after that the church was put back in shape.
When Msgr.Fernando Javillo took over as parish priest in August 1959, he not only continued the rehabilitation work but also expanded the repairs and renovations. Msgr. Javillo renovated and restored the church facade and the twin towers that were left untouched for more than one century and a half.








And the last on the list which we are hoping to visit in the near future would be the Tubbataha Reefs, hope to see this pristine place before it is lost. More detail on this part when we have visited it and will be posting photos for sure.

All photos are owned and copyrighted by Joey Rico (also known under these names: alien_scream).
All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use, copy, editing, reproduction, publication, duplication and distribution of the digital photos, without his explicit permission, is punishable by law

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.

Fortune Island Trip
April 26-27, 2014


One of the places to visit in my bucket list is to see the ruins in Athens, Greece, and the next best thing near to it is to visit Fortune Island, part of Nasugbu, Batangas. A friend of ours suggested we try to visit this place long before, and this chance came and learned that we would be visiting the place in a weeks time. We prepared for this trip like our other trip, searching the net on how to get there and what to expect. Packing a tent with bedroll and minimal change of cloths plus other provisions including 3 water bottles, since there would be no source of drinking water in the island.

Fortune Island is a resort island in Batangas Province in the Philippines. The island was long owned by Jose Antonio Leviste, a former governor of Batangas Province Leviste opened the Fortune Island Resort Club on the island in 1995. The beach resort was built along a 20-metre (66-foot) stretch of pristine white sand. Several rest houses facing the water. The resort features a salt-water swimming pool, clubhouse, cabana, basketball court, helipad, desalinator for freshwater consumption, and a small serpentarium a reptile zoo for snakes. The beach also has an acropolis with Grecian pillars and statues on the edge of the island overlooking the sea. There is also a museum dedicated to the San Diego, a Spanish warship that sank off the island (see below).
This island has since been parceled out into seven lots reportedly titled in the names of three companies: Fortune Resort Club, Inc., Meridian Pacific Hotel Corp., and Batangas Bay Development, Inc. Leviste holds either majority stocks or has interests in these companies.
Some government officials believe that Leviste’s ownership of Fortune Island underwent “scheming procedures” to acquire both judicial and administrative titles. These officials believe that these titles should never have been granted for two reasons, firstly, the island is classified as a marine reserve under Proclamation 1801, issued in 1978 by President Ferdinand Marcos and, secondly, Section 16 of Presidential Decree 705 (the Revised Forestry Code), which provides that “areas less than 250 hectares which are far from, or are not contiguous with, any certified alienable and disposable land” are “areas needed for forest purposes and may not, therefore, be classified as alienable and disposable land.” Some government officials further contend that subdividing Fortune Island into lots was a “ploy” to skirt environmental and other pertinent laws.

It was near this island (approximately 900 meters (3,000 feet) northwest of the island) that the galleon San Diego was sunk on December 14, 1600 by the Dutch warship Mauritius under the command of Admiral Oliver Van Noort. The shipwreck was discovered in 1992 by French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio.

This island has also been the site of modern shipwrecks. On December 13, 1995, the MV Kimelody Cristy, a passenger ferry owned and operated by Moreta Shipping Lines Incorporated, caught fire and sank off Fortune Island as it was on its way to Mindoro, leaving 17 people dead and 16 people missing. On September 18, 1998, the MV Princess of the Orient, a passenger ferry owned by Sulpicio Lines, sailed during a typhoon on its way to Cebu City from Manila and sank off Fortune Island, resulting in the deaths of 70 people.

Meet-up time would be at 0400hrs, and like most travelers, would be the meet-up place early, arriving at the place and bought ice for the cooler and then waited for others who would be joining the trip, packing all our things in the van and by 0530hrs we were on our way to Nasugbu, passing through Kaybiang Tunnel at Mt. Palay-palay. We arrived in Nasugbu around 0730hrs, and headed for Jollibee to meet up with chris, who is our contact for our trip to the island and eat breakfast. After eating breakfast and buying provisions, including lots of water, we headed to the Public Market and bought fish and meat that we would be cooking in the island, parking the van at a resort and then we boarded the banka, leaving the shores of Nasugbu at around 0830hrs. While traveling in the banka, seeing big ships passing through, I was surprised when the operator of the banka slowed down almost to a halt, then I realized why when a strong wave created by the passing ship hit the banka, which I did not see and I was sitting in front of the banka. Now every time a big ship pass, I could see the waves and know when it would hit the banka.

Arriving at Fortune Island at around 0930hrs, and was greeted by Loret, where he showed us where our spot would be and unloaded our things and made camp, there were also another group which arrived earlier than us and shared the place. We then started cooking for our lunch and we grilled the meat we bought in the market earlier. Eating lunch at around 1130hrs, and rested after where in we could feel the heat of the noon sun bearing down.






By 1500hrs, others were already swimming in the beach while I walked around and tried to discover the place, which was still hot at this time of the day so it did not take long before I headed back to camp, where our model to be is having her make-up done, and by 1600hrs, we were shooting for a pre-nup and others.












I really wanted to shoot the sun setting but the place where the statue was did not permit me to compose a good shot of the sunset but I did the best that I could do and transferred to other locations. We started cooking for dinner at around 1900hrs bringing our headlamps out for lights, and we were grilling a big slab of steak (which I did not have the chance to take a photo of). Eating dinner was literally eating meat with our bare hands. After a bit of rest, we then started drinking with sisig as pulutan, by 2300hrs it was rest time for most of us. Entering the tent was like entering an oven because it was hot and humid, I was sweating laying down till I fell asleep and hearing footsteps all night walking all over the place, learning the next day that it was just Loret checking.













My alarm went off at 0500hrs, and got my camera and headed up to the ruins to shoot the sunrise, taking a lot of photos till the sun was high above and headed back to camp where we started cooking by 0600hrs, we broke camp at around 0700hrs and I packed all my things and placed in one place to be picked up later where we ride the banka. While the other have gone swimming, I had a chat with chris, where he told me a story about a foreigner who was a girl dared him to jump with her from the lion statue down to the water, but the girl would jump first, and then she jumped chris could do nothing but to jump also.







Leaving the island past 1000hrs and arriving in the shores of Nasugbu an hour later, where we showered off and then packed our things in the van then headed for Chowking to have our lunch 1230hrs, and by 1300 hrs we were traveling back to Manila.




This trip was something different for me because, first my travel buddy, Carol, did not go on this trip with us. Second, this would be the first time to travel with this group of friends and they are inviting me to join them on another adventure in the island of Tingloy, which I would be looking forward to.

Till the next adventure, Happy Trails.

Thanks to my companions on this trip:

Mike Trinidad
Ron Alban
Alvin Javier
Richard Miling & Ianne Clemente-Milling
Gerly Casinto
Ria Robles & Rex Bautista

Our Contact

Chris – 09087225628

Thanks also the Loret – lone caretaker of Fortune Island

All photos are owned and copyrighted by Joey Rico (also known under these names: alien_scream).
All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use, copy, editing, reproduction, publication, duplication and distribution of the digital photos, without his explicit permission, is punishable by law

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.

A Table for 26 Persons Please: Trip to Vietnam (Part 2)
ITLOG_No. 19

Waking up around 5300hrs (VN Time) and prepared for the day ahead, having our early breakfast and then waited for the others in the group, at the lobby of the hotel, with the van arriving to pick us up, we piled into the van and then picked up others who would be also joining the tour. After all of the persons for the tour were accounted for, we headed out for our first stop, which is the Handicapped Handicraft.

Handicapped Handicraft, is a stop over going to Cu Chi Tunnels, here is where victims of the gas “dioxin”, which the Americans sprayed across the rice paddies and fields to kill the vegetation so that the Vietcong has no where to hide, but it did not only kill the vegetation but also others, this was called the “Agent Orange”

After travelling for about an hour, we arrived at the place and started to go around, since we were here the last time we were in Vietnam, I just took photos of the workers there then waited for the others at the van.

Then back to the road again to travel for almost 2 hours, later I have learned that we were near the border of Cambodia, and have arrived to the place called Cao Dai Temple.

Indigenous to Vietnam, Cao Dai, is in fact a fusion of the teachings from Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism, with elements of Christianity and Islam. Founded in the 1920′s, Cai Daism was seen as the answer to the ideal religion and they also worship western icons with the like of Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare and even Joan of Arc. The religion has about three million followers, all in Southern Vietnam and there are several Cao Dai temples in the Mekong Delta too but none as grand as this.

(Built between 1933 and 1955) The structure of the nine-story Cao Dai Temple is part pagoda, part cathedral and part mosque – representing the ideology behind the religion. The exterior – fluorescent shades of pinks and yellows, rococo walls and mosaic-mirrored tiles that glint in the sun seems to find their delicate balance in the chaos. To it top off, the exterior that is already a feast for the eyes, are further ‘accessorized’ with multi-colored dragons of all shapes and sizes. Above the main entrance is the all-seeing Holy Eye, the symbol of the Cao Dai sect. The interior, needless to say, is just as engaging as statues of Jesus Christ, Buddha and the Hindu god, Brahma, stand side by side.

This is where I was told a lot of times not to go where it was prohibited, I was even told to not to sit on a part of the temple (because I was taking photos). And I noticed that all around the temple is an image or a carving of the third eye. Our guide then told us to gather back to the van so we could have our lunch, which is near the temple, and the food tasted ok with bird cages all around and you could hear them sing aloud.

After lunch, our next stop would be the Cu Chi Tunnels, and this time it started to rain. We were awakened by our guide telling us if we still want to continue with the tour, he said that for those who does not want, just stay in the van, but for those who wants to, then follow him, se we went down and headed to the entrance. Others on the group bought those pink disposable raincoats to protect them from the rain, good thing I had my rain covers and rain protection with me.

Cu Chi Tunnels is about 40 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh City in Southern Vietnam. The Cu Chi Tunnels are an elaborate underground community made up of 250 km of tunnels and chambers below the city.

The tunnels were dug with simple tools and bare hands during the French occupation in the 1940s, and further expanded during the Vietnam War in the 1960s to provide refuge and a defensive advantage over the American soldiers. Despite all the bombings in their town, the Cu Chi people were able to continue their lives beneath the soil, where they slept, ate, planned attacks, healed their sick, and taught their young. Some even wed and gave birth underground, but over 10,000 lost their lives here.

A well-defined walking track loops around the area, with things to see spaced at regular intervals, including examples of how people lived and what they ate. There is a 30m section of tunnel, which visitors can crawl through (not recommended for the claustrophobic), examples of traps used during the war, and the remnants of bomb craters. Warning: Many travellers put themselves into small ventilation holes for phototaking. It is great fun but consider your body before getting in as some had difficulties getting out and had to crawl to the exit point.

After the tunnels and some firing of the rifles, we were then brought to an area where you could sample some tapioca and tea, which is what the Vietcong would eat. Then by 1700hrs (VN Time) we were back on the road again, and headed back to Saigon City, and by 1800hrs (VN Time) we knew we were near the city already because of the heavy traffic and lots of motorbikes going in all directions. We were then dropped off at the hotel for a brief rest and by 2000hrs (VN Time) we headed out again to eat dinner.

Dinner was in an Italian restaurant called “Casa Italia”, where the manager and and another person were fellow Filipinos and we had a nice chat with them, ordering pastas and pizzas including a bottle of wine the complete the dinner.

After dinner, we headed to Bui Vien, which is like the Malate area in the Philippines. Bui Vien is a street connecting Tran Hung Dao street and Cong Quynh street in district 1. It is named after a famous diplomat and mandarin under the Nguyen dynasty. There are a wide variety of hotels, art galleries, gift and fashion shops, restaurants and travel companies.

After a couple of drinks, we then took a cab and headed back to the hotel not after buying some iced coffee for the night.

The next day was spent shopping for souvenirs and things to bring back home, after breakfast, we then headed for Saigon Square then transferred to Ben Thanh Market to but stuffs. Heading back to the hotel, we then met one of our CouchSurfing friend, which we invited to join us for lunch at Nha Hang Ngon.

Ngon Restaurant is one of the famed and well-established restaurants in Saigon – Ho Chi Minh City. The term Ngon literally means ‘delicious’ food and this restaurant is known to serve authentic Vietnamese local cuisine stylized like street food yet offering a hygienic ambience. The restaurant is credited with serving a variety of noodles, rice dishes and finger food at a reasonable price of a 50% hike compared to road-side stalls. Being a highly popular venue with locals this place is mostly crowded and packed during the lunch hours with both local residents and tourists. The interior with diffused lighting and banana plants gives it an, other wise serene out look.

In due course this restaurant has become a genuine Saigon – Ho Chi Minh institute serving local dishes and has a highly chaotic ambience full of laughter, shouting and clanging of cooking accessories and another special feature is the open-air kitchen. You get to experience a comfortable seating arrangement with a regular table or a seating arrangement in either the balcony or the courtyard. Decoration wise the main building is having different cooking stations at different corners and each cooking station specializes in respective regional cuisines. Prices of main courses vary between VN$ 7000 to VN$ 55,000.

After lunch, we together with our CouchSurfer friend Thuy, headed for a café to have some iced coffee and we were taught how to drink it, which is after drinking the iced coffee, you follow it up with a cold tea or in Vietnamese it is called tra (pronounced cha) to remove the bitter taste of the coffee.

We then headed back to the hotel to pack our things and rest, at around 1800hrs (VN Time) we gathered in the lobby of the hotel for us to go out and eat dinner for the last time together in Vietnam, we took the taxi and headed for SH Garden Restaurant.

Terrace Restaurant, located at the corner of two of the oldest boulevards of Saigon – Nguyen Hue and Le Loi – established in the 1930s’, where romantic memories of an old Saigon can suddenly come to you. A variety of delicious traditional Vietnamese dishes are served in a nice and simple family style. Upon entrance you meet an old and unique wooden elevator taking you to a banana and lemon grass garden on the terrace with the sound of country music, which promises to bring you a cozy and sensual feeling.

This is where I was a bit disappointed because I have packed my tripod in my bags and this was a nice place to take photos of REX Hotel in front and the rotunda. But had to make do using the ledge to brace the camera. And the menu here is placed in an iPad along with the normal menu, so you can see the photos of the food you are ordering and they have nice food shots.

After dinner, we then headed for Kom Back Dang to have some dessert of ice cream. And the variety of ice cream that they have, we ordered different kind and had a taste of each, including the durian ice cream. Walking back to the hotel and collecting our bags, we took the taxi heading for the international airport. Upon arriving, the counter was still closed and we had to wait for it to open, and waited also for our companions to arrive. Checking in our bags and headed for the immigration area, which is where I had some problems, first the machine that verifies the passport bogs down and had to wait for about 10 minutes for it to be back to normal, I ask the immigration officer if I could transfer lanes but did not answer back, then at the security check, I had to bring out all my stuffs in my hand carry bag including my laptop and cameras for them to scan it thoroughly, alas I was through and head for the lounge area.

Here we waited a little bit longer for our flight back to Manila because it was delayed again. Finally we were allowed to board the plane at around 0030hrs (VN Time) and left Vietnam 30 minutes later. It was a stable flight and had a chance to take a couple of zees, then came an announcement that we were experiencing some strong turbulence and had to put on our seatbelts. Landing at NAIA at around 0400hrs (PH Time) and we were picked up to be brought to our respective houses.

This trip was somewhat different for us, different because we were used on staying on inns and pension houses. Different because, of the food that we eat, we usually try as much as we can to eat street foods, but this time we ate in a classy restaurants that we could not have eaten. Different because, we were 26 in a group and with that lot of persons, it would be a rowdy crowd and would annoy some people who would like to have a quiet time. Different because, this was the first time I had been with the family of my partner, and for this I thank them for accepting me to their clan.

Till the next adventure we would take!

All photos are owned and copyrighted by Joey Rico (also known under these names: alien_scream).
All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use, copy, editing, reproduction, publication, duplication and distribution of the digital photos, without his explicit permission, is punishable by law

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.


A Table for 26 Persons Please: Trip to Vietnam (Part 1)
ITLOG_No. 19

Going on a trip requires a lot of money to spend for accommodation, transportation, food, plane ticket and other things. That’s why we work our arsses off, so that at the end of the day we could plan a trip and enjoy a well-earned holiday. Since I’m doing freelance work, I had to work double time to earn money for trips. Our budget for trips are spent on lodging which for us means, staying at backpackers inns, staying with friends or relatives, or even go Couchsurfing, where we meet a lot of new friends.

Instances where opportunity knocks, grab it!

We were invited to join a trip to Saigon with my partner’s family, our plane tickets and accommodation plus food will be paid for, we said why not! We would be visiting Saigon again after almost 4 years and would like to visit the place again, but this time no more 12-hr bus ride to Seam Reap. I wanted a tour of the Mekong River, but I was alone in wanting to visit the place, so we settled for a day’s tour to Cao Dai Temples and Cu Chi Tunnels. The planning of this trip was stress full on my partners part because she was in charge of booking most of the plane tickets plus setting up the accommodation of each person at the Blue Diamond Hotel (which for us would be a luxury, since we are used to staying at backpackers inn), and also the places where to eat… and we were a group of 26 individuals including at least 4 kids.

We were scheduled to leave at 2250hrs(PH Time) and we were out of the house 1500hrs (PH Time) to pick up the others on the group. From our place in Quezon City, we headed for San Juan then to Wack-Wack for a total of 10 persons in this group and 4 others waiting at the airport (the other group composed of 11 persons left for Saigon at an earlier trip). After the usual check-in of our bags, we headed for Pancake house and had our dinner there, after which, we passed through immigration and security checks, then waited at the lounge area at the gate. Then an announcement came over the PA system that our plane would be delayed for about 30 minutes and we would be waiting a little bit longer. At around 2110hrs (PH Time) we were told to board the plane, se we gathered our hand carry bags and trooped to the counter to board the plane, leaving Manila at around 2130hrs.

Arriving at Tan Son Nhat International Airport at around 0050hrs (VN Time) and passed through immigration, heading for the foreign exchange booth to have some Vietnam currency to pay for the taxi, while I got city map for at the stand for the group. Since we could not find any vans around like the previous trip, we opted to get 3 taxis to take us all to the hotel, we were the last group to leave the airport and arriving at the hotel at around 0200hrs (VN Time), where we got our room assignment and then rested for the night.

Waking up around 0600hrs (VN Time), and prepared for breakfast, where we would be eating a complimentary buffet breakfast at the restaurant of the hotel by 0700hrs (VN Time). After breakfast we headed back to our room and just lazed around because we would be meeting up with the group at around 1030hrs for lunch, having taken our group picture, we then took a taxi and headed for our first lunch together as a group to Cha Ca La Vong where they only serve one thing in their menu, which is snake head fish.

One of Hanoi’s most famous specialties is Cha Ca La Vong (La Vong grilled fish pies). The dish was invented by Doan family and has quickly become so popular that the name of the street where it is served was changed into Cha Ca (fish pie) from its former name Hang Son (Paint Street).
To have tasty pie, the fish selected is Hemibagrus with solid fresh, less bones and good scent. Fish bones are left away to keep fish meat only, then, it is seasoned with fish sauce, pepper, saffron and galingale. After that, the processed fish is grilled by coal heat and turned upside down to make both sides baked.
When serving, an oven of coal is needed to keep Cha Ca always hot. It is served with rice vermicelli, dried pancakes, roasted peanuts, sliced onion leaves, basil and shrimp paste with lemon and chili.
Hanoians often eat this dish while sipping some alcohol in the cold weather. If you are in Hanoi, you should come and explore the grilled fish pie yourself.

While you sit down at the table, the waiter starts laying there some seasonings includes a bowl of well – stirred shrimp paste sauce mixed up with lemon. After dropping the liquor, he will decorate the bowl with a few slices of red fresh pimento, a plate of grilled grounded nuts of gold yellow color, various species of mint vegetables o­nions in small white slices. 

To many customers, the sight of such seasoning already greatly stimulates their appetite. A few minutes later, fried fish, yellow in color and flagrant in smell put o­n a plate of anethum vegetable, is brought in. But that is not all. A few seconds more, as soon as a cauldron of boiling fat is brought in, the waiter starts pouring it o­n each bowl of grilled fish, thus producing a white smoke and sputtering noise.
Now, this is the time for picking and choosing what you like from the dishes on the table; sticking them into your bowl. Everything in all dishes should be eaten together.

Because we were a group of 26, with at least 4 kids, we were directed at the second floor of the restaurant and we were seated at a long table at the end, far from other customers, because we were a little bit excited. The people who served us were somewhat confused on how to serve a large group of people. After lunch, and some blessings given to us, we then headed for Trung Nguyen Cafe to have a taste of some true Vietnamese coffee.

Trung Nguyen coffees are one of the most sought-after pleasures by tourists when visiting Vietnam. These rich, multi-species, heirloom coffees are deep-roasted but never burnt, giving you a uniquely delicious coffee experience.
Vietnamese coffee is traditionally packaged as ground coffee to be brewed in the regionally popular Phin Filter (as served in Southeast Asian coffee shops and restaurants) or French Press, but will brew well in drip machines. If you are looking for a unique gourmet coffee experience that you can brew in your Keurig machine.

We got something to drink, while I got some cold pineapple shake because I could not drink coffee, while the kids got something to eat since they were not used to eating fish with lots of vegetables, and then ordered a lot of bags of coffee to take back home

Heading back to the hotel to change a bit (it was hot and humid) and get some things for a tour to the War Remnants Museum, (in which we have been before, but wanted to take more photos), when we were about to leave, it started to drizzle and with the kids with us, we took a taxi going to the War Remnants Museum, arriving and paying for the entrance, I was surprised to see that the exhibit has changed, it used to be just occupying 2 floors now it occupies 3 floors and the exhibit for the agent orange has its own exhibit at the 2nd floor.

The museum comprises a series of themed rooms in several buildings, with period military equipment placed within a walled yard. The military equipment includes a UH-1 “Huey” helicopter, an F-5A fighter, a BLU-82 “Daisy Cutter” bomb, M48 Patton tank, an A-1 Skyraider attack bomber, and an A-37 Dragonfly attack bomber. There are a number of pieces of unexploded ordnance stored in the corner of the yard, seemingly with their charges and/or fuses removed.
One building reproduces the “tiger cages” in which the South Vietnamese government allegedly kept political prisoners. Other exhibits include graphic photography, accompanied by a short text in English, Vietnamese and Japanese, covering the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliant sprays, the use of napalm and phosphorus bombs, and atrocities such as the My Lai massacre. The photographic display includes work by Vietnam War photojournalist Bunyo Ishikawa that he donated to the museum in 1998. Curiosities include a guillotine used by the French and the South Vietnamese to execute prisoners, the last time being in 1960, and three jars of preserved human fetuses allegedly deformed by exposure to dioxins and dioxin-like compounds, contained in the defoliant Agent Orange.
According to travel reports from foreign visitors, the exhibits are “blatantly one-sided” with a “a heavy dose of anti-American (and South Vietnamese) propaganda”, “full of propaganda” and “need to be taken with a grain of salt”, but “they do graphically portray the horrors of the Vietnam War. US anthropologist Christina Schwenkel wrote in a 2009 book that while the description “war crimes” has been dropped from the official text, the museum still exhibits pictures that are considered controversial and perhaps unrepresentative like that of a “smiling U.S. soldier proudly displaying a VC head as a war trophy” accompanied by a caption that is still hinting at a criminal element, in this case: “after decapitating some guerillas, a GI enjoyed being photographed with their heads in his hands”. Schwenkel’s book also mentioned how the Vietnamese regime “borrowed images from the West and inserted them into a “distorted” history”, using images of the War to substantiate their version and views on Vietnam War history.

Having taken my fill of photos, we then walked back to the hotel, passing some shops where they sell sports equipment and thought that I will get some for my kids. I then decided to walk to Notre Dame Cathedral and take some night photos of the place but was disappointed that the church has no lights at night, so I did get off some shots, then transferred to the street corner and took some photos. After which I decided to take a photo also of the Opera House, but got confused on the way and got lost, I did not know that the Opera house was just the next block where I was standing, since we have to meet up at the lobby at around 1900hrs (VN Time), I headed back to the hotel, when I arrived, our friend back in the Philippines was there, and we invited them to have dinner with us in a street corner near our hotel, which the kids say was the best dinner they had, they even ate pigeons.

After a heavy dinner (which I ate a lot), we said our goodbyes to our friends and then headed for the night market at Ben Thanh Market, where we got some souvenirs to take back home, heading back to the hotel and dropping by to buy some iced coffee, we then called it a day, because tomorrow we would be visiting Cao Dai Temple and Cu Chi Tunnels.

All photos are owned and copyrighted by Joey Rico (also known under these names: alien_scream).
All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use, copy, editing, reproduction, publication, duplication and distribution of the digital photos, without his explicit permission, is punishable by law

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.

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Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Visiting the Underground River: One of the New 7 Wonders of the World
ITLOG_No. 18

Waking up a little bit late than usual and having breakfast leisurely, because we would be touring around the city this day. We had called the tricycle driver, which brought us from the airport to the lodge to take us around the city, and even suggested where and when to eat for lunch and what places to visit. We started off at around 1100hrs heading towards Irawan to the Crocodile Farm, but upon arriving we were told that the tour would not start till 01330hrs, so Dong, our driver took us to another place near-by which is Irawan Eco Park, where we were dropped off and he had to run some errand but will be back.

Irawan Eco Park is situated amidst a lush jungle where you take a multicab going from the main office to the part where the zip line is, upon arrival we were given a list on what activities we would like to do in the park and since Carol did not want to try the zip line, we opted for the Carabao Ride, and the Butterfly farm, since it was around 12 noon already, we also ordered some crocodile sisig and crocodile adobo for lunch. We were then told to wait at the entrance while the carabao that would pull the cart was brought around and was hitched to the cart, then we were told to ride the cart and was brought to the Hagedorn Eco Home, where the guide told us that he usually stays there and rest.

After the tour of his house, a multicab arrived and brought us up the mountain where the butterfly farm would be, and it was a little bit of a long dusty ride, because we rode in the back of the multicab. Arriving at the place was a big shed where you get your gear for the zip line and other souvenirs and a waiting area, but we were directed at the back where the butterfly farm would be. With our guide telling us about the butterflies and how she takes care of them we were then brought around the whole farm looking at different species of butterflies they have, while the others who tried the zip line could be heard above. We were then directed to wait at the big shed for our ride, and we were brought back to the main building where we were ushered to the tables where our lunch would be served. The Crocodile sisig tasted really good even the Crocodile Adobo taking our sweet time savouring our food. After our lunch we then headed back to the Crocodile Farm and we were told to hurry up and catch up with the start of the tour.

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Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center formerly known as the Crocodile Farm and Nature Park, it serves as the sanctuary of the Philippine Crocodile that is endemic to the country. The Philippine Crocodile is currently included in the endangered species list and the conservation center is making ways to increase the number of the species. Aside from crocodiles, the center takes care of other animals like ostriches and endemic to the island of Palawan, like the bearcat.

Palawan Wildlife Rescue is located south of the Puerto Princesa city center. One has to take a ride of about 30 minutes to the rural south of the city and is a few minutes from the Iwahig Penal Farm. One may hire a jeepney or multicab to bring them to the park, which is far off for tricycles to reach. City tour packages regularly include the park in their itinerary.

At the entrance of the park, a signage of the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center meets the guests. Behind it is a mini reservoir for the park and a water tank, which are surrounded by an oval roadway. The mini reservoir is located just in front of the main building.

At the main hall of the main building, a skeleton of a huge seawater crocodile named “Rio” which is encased in a glass chest. And on the wall beside it hangs the skin of the said crocodile. This crocodile was caught somewhere in an island and was killed after it devoured a child. This remains of the crocodile showcases how big salt-water crocodiles can grow.

Aside from the giant crocodile remains, a skeleton of a Sperm Whale is also displayed near the crocodile encasing. The skeleton was retrieved from a dead whale found on the shores of Puerto Princesa. Also within the building is a small museum about crocodiles and other fossils.

We walk around following the group and upon reaching the pens at the back we saw “mac mac” the biggest seawater crocodile in the farm, which is 17 feet long and was basking in the sun, there is also “Valentino”, who is about 16 feet long.

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After the Crocodile farm the next stops were the Mitra Ranch and the Baker’s Hill where we bought some hopia to bring back home. Nothing much to see in the said places, but the scenic view of Honda Bay. Along the way to Mitra’s Ranch, we had a tricycle trouble and was transferred to another tricycle to continue with our city tour.

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Our next stop was at the tiangge, where they sell those cheap souvenirs and picked our way getting some to bring back home. Then we headed for the Baywalk, where I took some photos of it and then headed for Plaza Cuartel.

Plaza Cuartel is where a Japanese Garrison burned a number of American prisoners inside the tunnel and only 11 people escaped, as the inscription says “In this site which is a former military fort during the Second World War, happened the burning of more or less 150 American prisoners-of-war by the Japanese soldiers on 14 December 1944. Some survivors swam the sea to going to Iwahig [penal colony put up during the Commonwealth]. The remains of the dead were transported and buried at the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, St. Louis County, Missouri, United States, 1952.” With the names of those who perished inscribed in the monument and how they perished is a reminder what horrors war can bring.

Across the street is the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. In 1872, a Spanish expedition proclaimed the Immaculate Conception of Mary as the patroness of Puerto Princesa. That same year, the first mass was celebrated here. However it took almost a century before the cathedral on Rizal Avenue, going to the pier, was built in 1961 under then Bishop Most Rev. Gregorio Espiga. The angular structure departs from most churches in other parts of the Philippines, providing visitors with an interesting glimpse of unconventional religious structure.

The century-old cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish has been known as the center of spiritual refuge for locals and visitors of Puerto Princesa City.
Located at Barangay Liwanag along Rizal Avenue, the main thoroughfare in the city, the blue cathedral is an eye-catching edifice because of its unique architectural design in the district.

The pointed arches remind you of Gothic castles and buildings built during medieval Europe but unlike them, the Immaculate Conception Parish is predominantly made of cement, and not limestone. Nonetheless, the sight of the towering cathedral evokes different emotions.

The cathedral was built during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines in the late part of the 1800s. Since then, it has become part of every Palawan local’s spiritual refuge, especially during the war.

Spanish Colonizers founded the settlement in Puerto Princesa on March 4, 1872. Scanning the Palawan shoreline for a capital site, the Spaniards found a steep hill and an extensive plateau, which they deemed was ideal for settlement.

Father Antonio Muro leveled a portion of the hill to make way for a chapel, the same location of the cathedral, which used to be a small church then, the historic Plaza Cuartel and local Rizal Park. By 1961, the locals changed the small church into the big cathedral it is known today.

The church’s patroness is the Immaculate Concepcion of Mary, the same icon found in Sta. Cruz, the capitol of Laguna province.

During my early morning visit to the cathedral, I saw a handful of locals who lived nearby the barangay reciting their prayers and offering flowers to religious icons in the church. According to my guide, the popularity of the church also relies on the countless blessings and miracles granted by the town patroness.

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It was around 1700hrs, so we decided to have an early dinner, which would be in Badjao Seafront for a different kind of ambiance.

Badjao Seafront is perched over the water at the end of a raised boardwalk over mangroves, is fairly high class in terms of service and table settings, but it’s the sea and mountain views that raise it above the ordinary.

Walking through the boardwalk along the mangroves, we reach the restaurant and was seated at the sides of the restaurant where you could hear splashes of the waves against the post the restaurant and the mangroves, we decided to have a light dinner this time compared to the dinner we had the previous nights and ordered Sizzling Squid, Seaweed Salad and Clam soup, which we shared together, relaxing and relishing the view of the sunset.

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After a relaxing dinner, we were then met by our tricycle driver, and told us a place about a cashew factory where we could buy cashew to bring back home, after passing by the place and buying some cashew, we headed out to Iwahig, for the Firefly Watching. I remember when we were kids, we would catch some fireflies and put them into a bottle to see them light up and since the fireflies in Manila are all gone (which is a sign of pollution), it was nice to see fireflies again.

We arrived at the Iwahig Firefly Watching at around 1900hrs and after paying for the banca we were ushered to the waiting area for our turn to ride the banca. After using the lifevest and the Salakot hat, we were told to hop on the banca where our guide told us all about fileflies, the people working at the area and the location of the place. It was nice to see not only the fireflies but the sky full of stars, we were having a great time rowing along the banks when we did not notice that we were back at our starting point and got off.

After a long trip back to our lodge and paying for our tour, we then freshened up for the night and rested for tomorrow would be the highlight of our trip to Puerto Princesa, which is the tour to the Underground River. While I was cleaning up our gears and packing our bags, 2 other guests came in the lodge and learned that they are with our group on the tour the next day.

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Waking up around 0500hrs and preparing for the day, then waited for our breakfast to arrive, since it was a Sunday, the store in front, where we buy our drinks were closed, and had to be contented with what we had. The van, which would pick us up, arrived at around 0800hrs, after getting our identification cards and payment for the environmental fee, we boarded the van and headed for Sabang. Along the way, we stopped at Halfway Rest Area, where our guide and driver had a bite to eat, and we were told that since we were early leaving the city proper and the other van was still back in Puerto Princesa with the original document for the Underground River, we were told that we would pass by Ugong Rock to kill time and not get bored at Sabang Port.

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Arriving at Ugong Rock Adventures, we were greeted by the staff with a little orientation on the place and told us that those who were interested in exploring the cave and the zip line would just register, and head to the fitting area for the gears. We decided to forgo this adventure and just had some halo-halo at the store, when I noticed that one of the safety crew was an old woman named “Marquita”, having a chat with her, she told me that she was 78 years old and would guide visitors inside the cave but did not try the zip line, she also told me that the other safety crew older than her tried the zip line but was on her day off so I did not get a chance to meet her.

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Moving on the Sabang Boat Terminal, where we registered and waited for our turn on the motorized banca, talking with others in the group and had some ice cream. Then our guide told us the it was our turn to ride the banca, and boarded it heading for the Underground River, another registration in the entrance, we then walked about 50 meters to the entrance of the Underground River and then waited for our turn, which gave me an opportunity to get some photos around the area. Our guide told us to go ahead and board the banca ahead of the group, wearing our life vests and helmet for the tour, we boarded the banca and our guide started paddling towards the entrance to the Underground River.

The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is located about 50 kilometers (30 mi) north of the city center of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines. The river is also called Puerto Princesa Underground River. The national park is located in the Saint Paul Mountain Range on the northern coast of the island. It is bordered by St. Paul Bay to the north and the Babuyan River to the east. The City Government of Puerto Princesa has managed the National Park since 1992. The park is also known as St. Paul’s Subterranean River National Park, or St. Paul Underground River. The entrance to the Subterranean River is a short hike from the town of Sabang.
In 2010, a group of environmentalists and geologists discovered that the underground river has a second floor, which means that there are small waterfalls inside the cave. They also found a huge cave dome, measuring 300 meters above the underground river, incredible rock formations, large bats, a deep water hole in the river, more river channels, another deep cave, marine creatures, and more. Deeper areas of the underground river are almost impossible to explore due to oxygen deprivation.
On November 11, 2011, Puerto Princesa Underground River was provisionally chosen as one of the New7Wonders of Nature. This selection was officially confirmed on January 28, 2012.

The park has a limestone karst mountain landscape. The main attraction here is St. Pauls Underground River Cave – a more than 24 km long cave, which contains an 8.2-kilometer-long underground section of Cabayugan River. A distinguishing feature of the river is that it winds through the cave before flowing directly into the South China Sea, and is navigable with a boat up to 4 kilometres in from the sea. The cave includes major formations of stalactites and stalagmites, and several large chambers, including the 360-meter-long Italian’s Chamber with approximate 2.5 million square meters volume – one of the largest cave rooms in the world. The lower portion of the river up to 6 km from the sea, is subject to tidal influences. Until the 2007 discovery of an underground river in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River was reputed to be the world’s longest underground river.
The area also represents a habitat for biodiversity conservation. The site contains a full mountain-to-the-sea ecosystem and has some of the most important forests in Asia. It was inscribed by UNESCO, as a World Heritage Site, on December 4, 1999.

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After the tour of the Underground River, we headed back to Sabang Boat Terminal, where we were directed to a hut were we would have our lunch, a buffet lunch was prepared for us and got some vegetables and fish with some fruits. We then boarded the van and headed back to Puerto Princesa, where we would be catching our flight back to Manila which was at 1750hrs, dropping us off at the lodge and collecting our bags, we were then brought by the tricycle to the airport and then checked in our bags and was glad we were not late on our flight. We then headed for the waiting lounge and relaxed a bit waiting for the plane to arrive. By 1800hrs we were told that we could board our flight and trooped out to the tarmac and boarded the plane, settling on our seats and with the usual drills on the plane, we were off the ground at around 1820hrs, and headed for Manila, which we arrived at around 1930hrs, collecting our bags and catching our ride back to our house for some needed rest for the next day would be a working day.

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Did we enjoy this trip? We were still in Puerto Princesa, and we were planning for another trip back to the place but this time going to El Nido. I for one, really enjoyed this trip and seeing for myself the stories I read and hear about the place, not only that but visiting one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and a World Heritage Site, bringing our list to 4 out of 5 World Heritage Sites visited, the only place in the list we have not visited is the Tubbataha Reef, well maybe in the near future.

Stay safe till our next Adventure! Happy trails!

All photos are owned and copyrighted by Joey Rico (also known under these names: alien_scream).
All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use, copy, editing, reproduction, publication, duplication and distribution of the digital photos, without his explicit permission, is punishable by law

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.

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Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Visiting the Underground River: One of the New 7 Wonders of the World
ITLOG_No. 18

What would be the first thing to come to your mind if you hear the word Puerto Princesa?

The Underground River, which is one of the new 7 wonders of the world and which is also included in the Properties Inscribed in the World Heritage List, but other things also comes to mind, like the crocodile farm, the islands of Honda Bay, the sumptuous food of Kinabuchs and kalui plus other places you could visit.

Folk etymology attributes the name “Puerto Princesa” to a princess-like maiden who in the early days is said to have roamed around the place on certain nights of the year. On the other hand, practical people attribute the name to the geographical advantages of the place as a seaport – naturally protected the whole year round and endowed with a depth that can accommodate any size of shipping – a royal haven for vessels or a virtual princess of ports as thus indicated by Spanish colonizers on the country’s map.
Historically, the place was named after Princess Asunción, born in 1864 to Queen Isabella II and her consort, Francisco de Cádiz. When the princess suffered an untimely death, the Queen changed the name to Puerto de la Princesa. Eventually, the name was reduced to Puerto Princesa as it is known today.
Spanish Colonizers founded the settlement on 4 March 1872 in the course of their exploration of the province. As they scanned the Palawan shoreline for a capital site, they came upon a hill with steep declivity. Rowing to shore, they surveyed the hill and discovered an extensive plateau, which they decided as ideal for settlement.
Soon after, Fr. Antonio Muro, levelled a portion of the hill to make way for a chapel (That section is now occupied by the Catholic Cathedral, the P.C. Barracks and the Rizal Park). The Old Municipal Building used to be there, as well as an Elementary School. The first mass celebrated in Puerto Princesa took place at a site where a marker now stands.
In May 1872, the Port of Puerto Princesa became the center of Spanish Naval Operations in the area because the Bay met all the Navy’s requirements. Royal Decrees later provided incentives to settlers, and by 1883 the settlement had flourished into a town of twelve roads, a hospital and well-built port.
In 1894, Puerto Princesa was recognized by government authorities as one of the most beautiful towns in the country by virtue of the orderly distribution of streets, buildings and houses as well as the cleanliness of the community.

We got our promo tickets from Cebu Pacific last August and were scheduled to visit Puerto Princesa and stay there for 4 days and searched we around the net on the places to visit plus asking some Couchsurfing friends on the best way to go around Puerto Princesa and even offered us a place to stay, but we opt to stay at the place of one of the couchsurfer who had a cheap place for rent with a kitchen, a bath and 2 rooms with aircon (but we stayed only in one room and the other room was rented out some days later), and she even took care of our tours. With everything planned out and the knowledge we gained, we were prepared for out trip to Puerto Princesa.

Leaving the house early in the morning, around 0400hrs, we were then brought to the airport, and with a long cue, we entered the terminal and checked if the counter is open for check-in, then we noticed a self service check-in booth and checked-in ourselves which was faster than going through the check-in counter, then drop-off our bags at the Bag Drop Counter and headed for the second floor where the restaurants were and had a seat at a fastfood shop where we ate our breakfast, which Carol prepared before we left home. After breakfast we walk around the shops and then headed for the Security Check Area to enter the terminal lounge, which was full, and took a seat after others boarded their designated flights. At around 0720hrs we started boarding the plane and left the airport with a little bit of delay due to heavy air traffic at the NAIA, which was about 0830hrs.

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Arriving at Puerto Princesa airport around 0930hrs, after claiming our bags and exited the terminal, we were greeted by our tour organizer, who arranged for us our ride to our lodge. Riding the trike, and having a conversation with the tricycle driver who offered to take us around Puerto Princesa for the city tour, this was a tip that the couchsurfers told us, to rent a trike for the whole day and bring us around the city, compared to a van tour, which has only a 4 hour city tour. Arriving at our lodge, we rested a bit and thought of going to the City Hall and look up a friend but upon arriving we were told that he works in the Capitol Building, which was in the town proper, heading back to the lodge and then decided to go Robinson’s Mall and meet up with a couchsurfer. Arriving at the mall, where we bought a card reader (which I forgot to bring on this trip to transfer files to the laptop) and then got some crocodile burgers at a food stall named “Bodato Burgers”, which was not bad tasting, and then had a chat with our couchsurfing friend. We then decided to head back to the lodge, which was around 1400hrs, and rest because it was too hot and would go out for dinner later.

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Later that evening, at around 1800hrs, we took the multicab which was the basic means of transportation in Puerto Princesa, just like the Jeep in Manila but smaller, and headed for the town proper, going down at Junction 1, and then started walking at Rizal Avenue looking for the place of Kinabuchs Grill and Bar where we would have our dinner

Kinabuchs is a pop nightly hangout spot mostly for tourists visiting Palawan. It is well known to many foodie tourists as it is tagged as one of the best restaurants that you should try in Puerto Princesa. Kinabuchs is conveniently located at the center of the city and few minutes away from the airport. It provides a huge Al-Fresco dining area where you can drink and dine under the moonlight.

Here we orders our usual food, I got chicken and rice, while Carol got pork liempo with rice, ensaladang talong and then we ordered an exotic treat which is popular in Palawan which is the ”Tamilok”, but did not get the fresh or the kinilaw but instead opted to get the breaded kind, which tasted like oysters, this is usually eaten raw, dipped in vinegar and calamansi. After a heavy dinner, we walked along Rizal Avenue headed for the Baywalk area, where we met other couchsurfers buying a cold drink in a food stall. While chatting with them, we noticed that it was getting late and usually the multicab going back to the lodge would be till 2130hrs only and it was almost around 2200hrs, so we decided to take the tricycle and went back to the lodge where in after freshening up we rested for the day.

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Waking up the next day and prepared for our tour around Honda Bay, but since there was an event and a parade around the town proper, we were picked up by the van past 0900hrs, and headed for Sta. Lourdes wharf, passing by a place where they rent out swimming gears named Pan’z Snorkeling Equipment Rental Shop to use on the Island Hopping Tour. After registration and having a boat designated to us, we then boarded the banca, using those big placard sized numbers to call them and headed out to our first destination, which was Pambato Reef.

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Pambato Reef is about 15 minutes boat ride from the Sta. Lourdes wharf, this marine sanctuary may be reached. In the middle of the reef, a floating raft marks the location where tourists may get off. Each visitor is allowed to freely snorkel around the reef.

This reef is located in the middle of the bay where the shallow sections are about 10 feet from the coral reefs. So, life jackets will be required especially for visitor that are not good swimmers. Tourists are also given the opportunity to dive down and touch the coral species and take pictures with the abundant fishes in the reef.

Schools of different species of fish swim and live around the living coral of the reef. Different coral types also grow on this part of the reef like brain corals, staghorn corals and others.

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Our next destination was Luli Island, another sandbar in Honda Bay, which has garnered its name from the local description of Lulubog-Lilitaw and is shorted as LuLi. It meant sinks and arises. During low tide, its sand bar is visible while on high tide it sinks underwater leaving only the houses on it, are visible.

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Then we headed for Pandan Island where we would have our lunch. This island lies south of the Snake Island. It is an oval shaped island that is managed by the Legends group of hotels. The island offers a beautiful view of Honda Bay. Like Starfish and Snake islands, Pandan has cottages that are available for visitors. Its shores, is as green as the other two islands and its sands are soft and white.

Here we got a table and Ron, our guide started to prepare our lunch, which consisted of Grilled Fish, Grilled Pork, Adobong Manok, chopped Cucumber, Salted Eggs and rice, after lunch we had Turon, which we bought at the restobar and then walked around the island, while Carol was having a henna tattoo done, I got some halo-halo at the store to cool off. Leaving the Island around 1530hrs, we headed back to Sta. Lourdes Wharf and then leaving the rented swimming gears at Pad’z, we were then dropped off at our lodge to rest.

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Riding the multicab to the town proper and alighting at Junction 1, we headed for another restaurant along Rizal Avenue for our dinner that night (which we were fortunate to have a reservation) at a place called Kalui.

Kalui, I think is a smaller place than Kinabuchs, but which is much cozier, entering the place you are greeted by a staff and then you have to leave your footware at the basket which they would provide and walk through a maze of good places and table where you can seat and relax while having dinner, we were seated at a table which I thought was a window but was awed to see my reflection outside, we then ordered the Kalui Special of the Day set, which the serving was good for 2 persons. The meal consisted of a Fish Steak, Prawns, Veggies of the Day, Fish Rolls in Coco Cream, Rice and Soup, which when we ask, the soup are made from coconut juice.

We took our time eating our dinner, which was like our post valentine date, and after we were served a coconut with mixed fruits in it, which they said was compliments of the house. We then took our sweet time to explore the place more and took photos of it. Walking back to the junction to walk off our full bellies, we then took the multicab back to our lodge and we did not notice that it was already late in the evening, freshening up and then we rested, for the next day we were scheduled to go around the city.

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All photos are owned and copyrighted by Joey Rico (also known under these names: alien_scream).
All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use, copy, editing, reproduction, publication, duplication and distribution of the digital photos, without his explicit permission, is punishable by law

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Philippines License.