September 2008

Just a little THANK YOU note to Travel and Leisure Magazine (September edition)  for your little shout out to my name on your Intramuros article.  Quite a poignant piece on the Walled City, too bad the writer got our email wrong.

Oh well…

And better late than never, a big THANK YOU too to Brunei Airline’s MUHIBAH Magazine for your lovely feature on Manila…

as well as Old Manila Walks blurb with my million-dollar killer smile to boot!

Shucks, did my photo really deserved to be that big? ;op



Yes, yes, I was all giddy with my recent trip to Bacolod , my first to the self-styled ‘City of Smiles’ .

Well, to be honest, I wasn’t so keen on Bacolod city herself but was more inclined to a town which is practically her suburb: Silay.

My first impression of Silay was a good one. The new Bacolod- Silay Airport was quite efficient,luggage was out in no time, washrooms were clean (with toilet paper to boot!) and getting to the city (Bacolod) a jiff.

A note though, the airport is situated  45 minutes from Bacolod city proper and about 10 minutes from the Silay town center, its in the middle of nowhere and I didnt see any taxi options outside apart from the gaggle of van companies all competing for your ride immediately outside. At P150.00/head, it is perhaps a bit high by provincial standards but I actually found it to be a good deal. Our van was new and well maintained (aircon in full-blast) and we were not packed like sardines.  The driver was courteous but we did have to wait until it got filled.

Moving on, the first scene that greeted me was this:

Ah, what a sweet welcome to Sugarlandia.  Talk about having a sense of place.

Now, heading straight to what I came here for, Silay’s historic quarter.  I know for a fact that Silay’s heritage is always synonymously linked with sugar during her golden age in the late 19th-early 20th century when its moneyed barons lorded it over vast plantations. Today, Silay is often dubbed as the ‘Paris of Negros’  for whatever reason, I cannot comprehend.  I don’t really like such cliches, I mean the town does’nt even hint of anything French, well maybe a few French immigrants in its history. I think Silay can be marketed in her own Visayan terms, no need for such European-centric taglines.

Anyway, first in order. Get your bearings. Head straight to the city hall and to the tourist information office were they will gladly dispense to you some literature about the place.

The brochures are helpful with a good range of topics from Silay history, food, culture to architecture.  Nice to read but far from being a practical guidebook, the map was very handy though.

Next, tracking the major sites.

Inevitably, the first major architectural relic in any Filipino town would probably a Roman Catholic church (or maybe a Mosque in some parts) and for Silay, it’s the San Diego Pro-Cathedral built in 1925.

Not quite jaw-dropping grand but very composed and regal in its provincial setting.

Wikipidia says its the only church in the province with a dome.  Interesting anecdote but highly doubtful.

The interior is very simple, devoid of any Baroque excess typical of Filipino Catholic churches.  I’m thinking, if Silay really lived up to its moniker as the of “Paris of Negros”, perhaps they would have been sophisticated enough to build a church reflecting the style of that times, this case being the Art Deco. But no, guess they decided to go traditional.  Oh well….

Just a few steps from the church  is one Silay’s two house museums, this is the former Gaston Mansion  now rechristened as the Balay Negrense Musuem (entrance fee: P40.00)

This grand two-storey bahay-na-bato affair was built in 1897 by one of the pioneer Filipino-French families in the then nascent sugar industry. And boy , did the they struck gold.

A peek inside reveals the typical Filipino luxury taste of the period: local hardwood floors,  crystal chandeliers, numerous Ah-Tay beds (from a famous Manila-based Chinese furniture maker) whose works were considered as the Kenneth Cobonpue of its time….

to the latest electronic gadget, the in-house telephone!

And you know this not your typical middle-class home when you have this, a stairway leading to the rooftop, presumably, if I memory serves me right, a path up to a balcony-tower of sorts.

Oh, and may I add, a grand total of a dozen bed rooms! A mansion indeed.

What I found curious was how each of the rooms were designed to lead to each other in what today’s generations would probably label as a blatant disregard for privacy.  I wonder how people in those days had intimate moments….

The house had a collection of these oversize butaka chairs which, from knowledge, was a typical feature in any turn-of-the century home. I had long thought it was designed for relaxation purposes until the guide told us it was also used to deliver babies (!).

When the group I was with found about its use, they had a field day sitting on the chair and taking photos including this saucy fellow who gamely posed for a shot.

It sure made all the biological history come alive!

And finally, this, the basement. Quite a rarity in period Filipino homes, this is second house that Ive seen to have one.

The Balay Negrense is an interesting piece of colonial-period memorabilia when life was slow and people lived without airconditioning (thank god for its BIG windows!).  I noticed though that considering this one of the major sites in the city, it suffered from the typical unmaintained shabbiness of our historic properties, the garden outside was unkempt and parts of the house is in need of another updated upkeep.

That said, I think it was worth the entrance fees to just soak in its ambiance, learn a thing or two about Silaynon luxurious living and perhaps just sit at the butaka chair to enjoy a lovely afternoon breeze.

So much anticipation, so much disappointment and abated breadths but finally after years of laying in slumber, this white elephant has been awakened and put into good use.

And of course, like the many travelers out there, I too awaited the day when the NAIA 3 opened her doors and Manila can rightfully have a gateway worthy for our 7,100 islands.

Well, it happened last June when the NAIA- 3 swung its doors open to the flying public.  So  like a kid in a newly-opened toy store, I was only too giddy check out and immediately grabbed first chance to fly out to Bacolod who just happened to also have the new Bacolod-Silay airport.

Two new facilities, two different impressions, read on.

The Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3(NAIA 3)

Location: Parañaque, Metro Manila

the Bacolod-Silay Airport

Location: Silay, Negros Occidental

One of the halls of the NAIA Terminal 3.  High high ceilings, there must have 5 of these but only 1 (or 2?) were operational. It’s easy to find your way through as currently there are only 3 airlines operating within: Cebu Pacific, PAL express and Asian Spirit.

The NAIA 3 is big (by Philippine standards), from the outside it does’nt give this impression with its low facade. Not quite as jaw-dropping as Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi or Shanghai’s Pudong. How I wish that given the money spent and the long time it was built, it could have at least been an architectural statement.

Guess not.

Anyway, the building design is pretty straight forward, immediately after the check-in counters at the main hall, the immigration booths follow.  Currently, these  only serve as the terminal fee ticket booths (P200.00/person).

Behind these booths is the final security check- body, bags, shoes and the like.

The second floor which will house shops and dinning places still awaits to be opened.

By the number of boarding gates it has,  the NAIA 3 is so much, much larger (and longer) than terminal 1 or 2.  I wasn’t able to navigate from end to end since my gate almost boarding.  If it’s really that long, I do hope management provides for trolley services for the elderly.

There were a few concession stands which have started to operate but it was this stall which my eye. It feels like a glorified sari-sari. Cute. With glorified prices to boot (P50.00 for a can of soft drink).

And should you need to have a stick to take out the jitters for (first-time?) flying, there is a smoking lounge where you can puff away!

There are also lots of payphones along way, prepare change (P1.00 per minute for local calls)

One of the boarding gate rooms.  The chairs have a very cinematic qualities to it. Maybe the management can enhance this by providing for televisions around. Please do not show Wowowee!

Oh, kudos too for  baggage carousels which were spread out and huge. I think I must have counted 10. Good.  You know our penchant for big bulky balikbayan boxes.

All in all, the NAIA 3 was a  fresh experience, surely so much better compared the cramped terminal- 1.

There are still obvious signs of birth pains like unpainted walls,flight screens which were not working but I’m optimistic that this will be dealt with in due time.

My one big rant about the NAIA-3 is that it is seriously devoid of any  ‘sense-of-place’. Except for the local faces and the perhaps, Jollibee, there is nothing that speaks of it being in Manila.  Yes, the interiors are modern but a design like that could be in any Asian or North American city. The signs are only in English when in fact most airports have bilingual signage, where’s Filipino?

In Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi,  the first thing which visitor is a huge Thai statue (the type that you’d see in the Grand Palace) and a host of Thai painting in the wall. In this new terminal,NADA.

Here’s what I propose, NAIA-3 management, I hope one of you is reading this.

1. Have a Department of Tourism concession with brochure stands upon arrival. Tourists need information you know.

2. Bilingual Filipino-English signs please.

3. Feed the stomach, yes, but also feed the mind.  Have a quality bookstore which sells Filipiniana books, not just dried mangoes.

4.  Patch up those unsightly brick walls,

5. Put some local touches like artworks, paintings and the like.  Oh, and perhaps you can entice the ‘blind-men band’ at the old terminal (or Kamayan restaurant) to play for the arriving guests.

Off to Bacolod Airport.

In contrast, the new Bacolod-Silay (BS) Airport is just as new but perhaps just 1/20th of the size of the NAIA-3.  What you’re seeing here is the pretty much the whole inside of it. It’s also smack right in the middle of sugar plantation somewhere in the outskirts of Silay (45 mins from Bacolod).  Service from the airport to Bacolod city center is by the chartered vans immediately at the main entrance. At P150.00/head, it’s not too bad as the vans were all new, clean the drivers, quite helpful.  Not much ‘flage-your-own’ taxis so you dont have much of a choice.

I love the wall’s accent which showcases Negros’ local weave.  Compare with this with the NAIA-3 who’s interiors were to sterile and generic.

The facility is really very utilitarian but what it lacks in size, it makes up for substance.  It’s chock-full of details which hint of Negros’ local culture.  Here’s the boarding area a view of the mountains (Mount Kanlaon?)

Painting showing Silay scenes.

And even a mini-photo exhibit showcasing the Negros!  Reminds me of the Rijksmuseum inside Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. A little art appreciation never hurt anyone and besides, its nice way to pass time.

A tip though, there are two concession stands inside the airport, the one picture above is at the ground floor.  The selection was not much,  I got a small  bottled water (P30.00) and a 1 pack 12-piece Bakiron (barkilyos with pulburon inside)  for about P35.00.  I thought it was the typical airport price….

then I went up and saw this cheery-looking one.  More merchandise, better selection and bigger bottle of water for only P20.00! Then I thought I would use the bakiron index as comparison…well, they had a 1 pack (19 piece) for P38.00!

Lesson learned: Next time, go up the escalator first.

Time to hit the road and explore the SF’s environs!

For the independent traveler, here are quite a few choices.  If you’re so inclined and on a budget, you may rent a bike and paddle away (yes it can be done!)- just make sure you have the stamina to climb up the hills.

OR you can do it the leisurely way and just book a day tour. There are quite a few choices and most of them are very easy to book. If you’re staying in a hostel as I was, then you can just grab some brochures at the literature stand  (for sure they’ll have one) and just give them call.

If you’d rather, also go to the Fisherman’s Wharf (one of SF most touristy spots) and just book at the tourist info center.

You’re choices will inevitably be as follows:

1. Napa Valley Winneries

2. Yosemite Park

3. Muir Woods /Suaslito

4. Monterrey/Carmel

I chose number three because  a.) I’m not a wine person.  b.) Yosemite takes the whole day and c.) I have no idea what to see in Monterey/Carmel.

For US$48.00, I booked myself half-day tour to the last patch of Red Woods in the SF area – the Muir Woods National Park.

Said to be the tallest living creature in the planet, the Red woods make for a very interesting day trip outside SF.  Our bus took us the entrance of the park and from there, it was pretty much on your own for the next hour-and-a-half,  enough time to explore the inside.

Once inside, the weather was noticeably cooler and the air more crisp.  A natural stillness pervades the surroundings broken only occasionally by the delightful shrieks of  little children.  Nature really has way casting her spell and making us realize how we’re always connected with her.

It’s really amazing how these trees can be over a millennium old. This particular was  has her life story which states that she was born over 1,100 year ago! Just think, she was a baby when the Tang Dynasty ruled China, when Europe was in the Dark Ages, when the Khmers were building Angkor, ha, when the United States was terra incognita! Oh, the Philippines too.

They can be enormously big too,  it’ll probably take 3 people with their hands outstretch to totally hug its trunk!

Tip: The trail is laid out in such a way that it doesn’t end where it starts -or where your tour bus will probably park- so you if you think you’ve been overwhelmed enough, then turn and walk back to the entrance.

Heading back to the city, one stops at the town of Suasilito, the favored address of SF’s old rich and moneyed class.  We pass through through this stretch of boat houses along the way. It made me wonder, is this how the other-half of San Francisco really lived?  Oh well, live and let live!

Suasilito’s main drag, the name which escapes my memory. It is dotted with little mom-and-pop stores selling a wide variety of brick-a-bracks (things not nessarily I would buy) but it made for a nice stroll. Oh, and there’s a popular burger joint on the strip.

What was supposed to be a highlight af the trip – the requisite souvenir shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, well  this…! Turns out that that day just happened to be the one when SF decided to a fog show. Drat!

Tip: Before you join any of these half-day tour tours (w/c includes the GG Bridge), check out the weather forecast!

The tour ended with the driver playing  the unofficial city theme song  ‘I Left my Heart in SF’ as we passed through the foggy bridge and I admired its faint Deco details.

The view from the post cards look so much better.

Muir Woods/Suasilito Day tour – $48.00 damage, includes pick up and drop off, entrances, tour. Food and drinks not included.

I’m a big fan of travel literature and a good chunk of my bedside reading material belong to this category. But in as much as I like reading them, I rarely buy local travel magazines because I don’t feel like they have anything new to offer apart from the tried and tested travel narrative in the usual getting from point A to B writing fashion.  And while some of the writing is good, I sometimes feel that the views of the writers or the places featured tend to be predictably too common.  Okay , so Paris is beautiful but do you think we need another article to glorify her treasures?  Sure, the writer probably loves the place but so do a million other people, is there a way of presenting a usual place without falling to typical cliches?

Enter the latest travel magazine to hit the newsstands, the aptly named Roam.

Roam is totally not what I would have expected from a local travel publication.  For one,  it is paper-packed (150 pages) and, at first glance, has a bit of an artsy-meets-MTV feel to it. I would go to as far as saying that its has comic-book quality to it (down to the size!).

I certainly found the lay-out design to be very edgy with hints of the tome Pinoy Pop Culture published a few years back.  For its premiere issue, Roam dedicated all its pages to this city of my personal affection: Manila.  By this, I mean it in her plural-mutated-sprawling-overbearingly huge form (not just the city of Manila) but the whole metropolis, all 600 sq. kms of it.  And I’m sure, given the size of my city, you’ll easily find something to fill up every page.

Certainly, the contents were well thought of,  a mish-mash of the usual Manila travel subjects- Intramuros, Chinatown, Quiapo et al. There’s also food reviews and the occasional emotional ramblings about a place.  But what I found fresh were the unconventional stories. The Luneta Photographer’s club (they existed?) feature presents a human-face to these faceless wanderers in our city’s biggest park.  Quezon City, Parañaque and Kalookan (!),  places in the Metro you (and certainly I) didn’t think of as worthy travel stories also found their way in and definitely gave the theme another kick. Ditto with features Marikina (boonies for me), balut-making and Korean immigrants.  All the articles made for an interesting read.

Well almost.

Some stories fell to the usual ‘predictably too common’ angle trap. The Intramuros article was ho-hum.

All said, a great read.  Kudos to Roam for coming up with a phenomenal travel magazine.

And THANK YOU too for your little blurb about Old Manila Walks and yours truly in the Vintage Manila article.

While we’re at it, same appreciative words to the Manila Times for featuring our BIG Binondo Food WOK here.

Ditto with Real Living Magazine for their blog write up here.

And finally, while surfing for ‘my’ online presence (yes i do that), I chanced upon an interesting article about Binondo and this blurb about Old Manila Walks by the Straits Times in Singapore. Thank you, thank you!

Not quite on the regular tourist trail definitely worth every step getting there!

A visit to the San Francisco City Hall was definitely an architectural highlight of my visit to the city. Commanding an imposing presence with its stately Beaux-Arts style architecture, this stunning building is the centerpiece in SF’s Civic Center.

I went there to check out the San Francisco City Museum but turns out that it has moved elsewhere. They do welcome visitors unlike the public buildings in Manila which are heavily fortified and for most part, lack half the aesthetic qualities of this building.

How do you instill civic pride among the citizens?

Upon entry, one is immediately drawn to the huge expanse and soaring interior of the structure.  The city government provides for a free (and may I add, superb!) guided tours inside. I was lucky enough to chance upon a tour by one of the volunteers- a very pleasant old gentleman whose names escapes my memory.

The tour led us to the various rooms and discussed about the overall history of the building. Did you know that SF once had a gay mayor who was assassinated inside the building?

Compelling stories indeed.

SF City hall in miniature.

Looking down from the grand staircase. When I arrived, there was a wedding shoot, I would not actually be surprised if this place turned out to be most popular place to get married, I mean, apart from the obvious required legalities involving civil rites, who wouldn’t want to have their wedding photos taken with such rich, cathedral-like interiors?

A worms eye view of the  is soaring dome ,supposed to be higher than that one of the US Capitol in Washington D.C.

Ever on the prowl for Filipiniana, I spot this little remnant of Manila in the adjacent room to the Mayor’s office.  Cool. Maybe our city hall officials can learn a thing or two in terms a urban management from our sister-city across the Pacific?

Finally, at the end of the tour,  our guide suggests that we watch the city council in action and I sneak inside this ornate chamber,  slip our guide a $3.00 tip and just suck in the finely carved panels in the ceiling.

A great tour indeed.