Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Places to See in Naga

Naga is a 9-hour drive from Manila.
For info on how to get to Naga, click here!
(Image from en.wikipedia.org)
Naga is a small and quiet city in the Bicol Region famously known for the annual Peñafrancia Festival... and pili nuts.

Interestingly, everything seems to be five minutes away. Travelers can easily get around by trike, jeep, or the occasional taxi. Traffic isn’t a problem and traffic lights don’t exist.

There are lots of places to eat local food, too! Click here to know where. The brands and restaurants that we’re used to in Manila are mostly there. Even SM is there, too!

To correct misconceptions, Naga isn’t very rural after all.

Here are some places to visit when in town:

1. Peñafrancia Shrine
This is the original home of the 300-year-old wooden image of the Blessed Virgin Mary that came from Spain. While it's not there anymore, it makes a nice visit even if, like me, you’re not in to churches.

The Peñafrancia Shrine is more or less 300 years old.
(Sorry, can't remember who that is-- St. Simon?)
That's Miguel Robles de Covarrubias. Read about his significance to the shrine here!

2. Mt. Mayon
You won’t miss this upon arrival in Naga's domestic airport. From the city, though, it’s a 2-hour drive to see the view. Consider yourself lucky if you see the perfect cone. Most often, it’s covered by clouds.

The view of Mt. Mayon when we went there.
Ten minutes before this photograph, the mountain was completely covered by clouds.

3. Churches part of the Peñafrancia Festival
Every September, the image of Our Lady of  Peñafrancia is brought from its new home in the Basilica Minore and paraded to the 400-year-old Naga Cathedral for prayers and masses. These places are nice to visit even if it's not festival time yet. 

The Basilica Minore (left) and the Naga Cathedral (right).
(Left photo from penafrancia.net, Right photo by Jovie Naval)

The image of the Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia aka Our Lady of Penafrancia
(Photo from flickr.com by Glenn Inocencio)

4. CamSur Watersports Complex (CWC)
Wakeboarding and kneeboarding are must-try activities. Your body aches afterwards (especially for first-timers) but the experience is worth it. CWC is a twenty-minute drive from Naga City. 

CWC is considered "The Best Cable Park in the World"
You'll see Mt. Isarog from there.
(Image from roam-travel.com)

5. Ateneo de Naga University
If there's time in your itinerary, take a peek just to see what Ateneo there looks like. #random

Ateneo de Naga University.
(Photo from images.mitrasites.com)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

5 Delicious Places to Eat in Naga

Picky eaters don’t need to worry about not having a decent place to eat in Naga.

Some of the restaurants in Manila are there. Surprisingly, even Yellow Cab, Kopiroti, and Gerry's Grill have made it. But for those who are searching for local food and restaurants specific to Naga, try going to the places that we ate in. Not only is the food delicious, it's generally pocket friendly. 

1. Cely’s Eatery
Don’t leave Naga without trying Kinalasa local beef noodle soup. A small bowl fills you up but leaves you wanting more. It's full of flavor so add condiments sparingly. Great with puto or banana cue.

Kinalas with Egg
Cost: Less than Php 60 (inclusive of drinks, puto, and banana cue)
Where: Cely's Eatery, corner Barlin and Dimasalang St.

2. Graceland
From what I hear, it’s more popular than Jollibee! This actually reminds me of Goldilocks because of its specialty cakes, various bread products, and Pinoy meals at extra affordable prices.  

Graceland
Where: SM Naga or P. Burgos St.

3. CamSur Watersports Complex (CWC) Clubhouse
It’s a 20-minute drive from the city but the Laing Pizza makes it all worth it. It’s the best seller! The thin-crust pizza has taro leaves cooked in coconut milk and chili, topped with mozzarella cheese. 

Laing Pizza
Price: Php 230
Where: CamSur Watersports Complex (CWC), Pili
To find out what else you can eat in the CWC Clubhouse, click here!


4. Bora Hut
This is a perfect example of the laid-back gimik places in town. People can still hear each other talk, eat delicious food, and drink. Try the Steak Habanero, Cheesticks, Hipontastik, and Jamba Gambas.

Bora Hut
Price: Php 530 all; Php 106 pax (including drinks)
Where: Penafrancia Ave.

5.  Red Platter Grill
If Red Ribbon became a posh restaurant, this would be it. Try the Bicol’s Best Pinangat and Bicol Express! Also try the Bouillabaisse, Paksiw na Pata, and the Salt-and-Pepper Squid, among others. 

Red Platter
Price: Php 1,355 all; Php 271 pax
Where: Magsaysay Ave.

If I find myself in Naga again, Bigg’s Diner and Bob Marlin will be my next food stops!  



Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Vinasun Taxis in Ho Chi Minh City

Travelers who don't want to ride the motorcycle around town can always opt to take the taxi.

Hailing a cab in Ho Chi Minh City isn't as hard compared to Manila. Drivers don't seem to reject passengers and the flag-down rate is cheaper. The only problem is the language barrier.

Ride the Vinasun Taxi. It seems to be the #1 taxi in town and it's known for not cheating its passengers. Of course, this isn't absolute.

Vinasun Taxi. It's known for not cheating its passengers.

Upon arrival in the Tan Son Nhat int'l airport, you can book a Vinasun taxi at stall #5. This is near the exit.
(You can exchange money in Exim Bank in stall #3)

Travelers can just go outside and find Vinasun right across the airport exit.
Just tell (or show) the driver where you're off to. Better if you have a map.

Some taxis have small TVs!
The taxi meter in front shows figures in thousands. (Example: 49.4 = 49,400 VND)

Going to or from the airport, taxis charge an additional 10,000 VND because there's a certain "entrance fee" the driver has to pay. That's how I understood it.

In general, the taxis in Ho Chi Minh City are pretty nice. Think of the Altis taxis here in Manila. There are also van versions, like the Avanza, but the flagdown rate is slightly higher.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Being Instant Millionaires in Vietnam

Vietnam is a place where all aspiring millionaires' dreams come true. With just $50 USD, you can boast of being a millionaire already—in Vietnamese Dong, that is.

Instant millionaire!
That's 2 million in my hand right there. I fanned myself with it. Haha!

Everything is generally affordable in Vietnam. I got through 4D/3N in Ho Chi Minh City with around Php 20k, which includes plane tickets, accommodations, tours, food, and even shopping! 

Airport Currency Exchange.
Upon claiming your luggage in the Tan Son Nhat Int'l Airport in HCMC, exchange your USD in Exim Bank.
$100 = 2,054,000 VND (as of April 6, 2012)

"Same same but different."
All bills in Vietnamese Dong look alike, having Ho Chi Minh's picture. They're practically uniform in size, too!
(Image from saigoninacup.com)

Tips:
1. Bring US Dollars. You can't have Php exchanged for VND in Manila.
2. Exchange $ for VND in airport. Not the best rates but at least you have Dong upon arrival.
3. Exchange rates are better in hotels. It's most convenient, too.
4. Count the zeros! All bills look alike so don't mistake a 10,000 bill for a 100,000!
5. Converting VND to Php: Remove last three 0's in the figure and multiply remaining number by 2.

Example: 10,000 VND = ~Php 20 (Thanks for the tip, Yoa!)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

What to Buy in Naga

A popular pasalubong if you happen to be in the Bicol region would be anything with pili nuts. It's abundant in that area.

Here are some food stuff I bought as pasalubong in Naga:

1. Pili Nuts
My personal favorite is the honey-flavored one. The roasted variant is bland, which Mom really likes. The garlic flavor tastes weird, but isn't bad.

Price: Php 120 (200g)
Where: J. Emmanuel Pastries, SM Naga

2. Bicol Express
It's different from the usual creamy and dominantly pork dish that I'm used to. The local Bicol Express is like bagoong. It's salty, spicy, and rich in flavor. I eat it like bagoong rather than as a main course.

Price: Php 135
Where: J. Emmanuel Pastries, SM Naga

3. Cream Cheese Brownies
This is a definite must-buy not just for family and friends, but for yourself, too! It's that good. Have lunch or dinner at Red Platter first then grab some treats such as this for pasalubong.

Price: Php 175
Where: Red Platter Grill, Magsaysay Ave., Balatas, Naga

Click here to see the different dishes you can eat in Red Platter! 

4. Pili Butterscotch Cookies
This is really yummy. An English treat infused with a local ingredient. Good thing I bought three of these. In fact, I wish I had bought more. 

Price: Php 50
Where: J. Emmanuel Pastries, SM Naga

5. Sansrival
This is one of the many food items that you can buy at Baker's Plaza. Try buying their different bread products, too. Baker's Plaza is popular in Naga and is found nowhere else in the Philippines. 

Price: Php 32
Where: Graceland Baker's Plaza, cor Gen Luna and P. Burgos St., Naga

6. Galleta de Gato
It's light, not too sweet, and I like how it melts in the mouth. Galletas is made from cornstarch, milk, sugar, and butter.

Price: Php 50
Where: J. Emmanuel Pastries, SM Naga

7. Santan Cocojam with Pili Nuts
I haven't opened this yet since we still have an unfinished bottle of cocojam left. Bought this because it seemed interesting. Can't wait to try it out.

Price:  Php 55
Where: J. Emmanuel Pastries, SM Naga 

Hopefully, by the time that you finish eating these, you won't be sick and tired of pili products.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Wood Cabins in Villa del Rey, CamSur

If you plan on using the CamSur Watersports Complex (CWC) facilities for a while, or if you want to avoid the hassle of riding the shuttle to and from Naga, consider checking-in at Villa del Rey Hotel.

Here's where we stayed for the night:

Large Wood Cabin
Php 2,950 per night

The hotel says that it's suited for just two people but really, four to six people can fit comfortably.





Villa del Rey is walking distance to the different water parks!

The notion is that the rooms in Villa Del Rey are quite expensive. Check out the rate card. Most likely, there's a room that's suited for you and your barkada's budget. 

There's a room for you and your barkada's budget.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

What to Eat in CWC Clubhouse

Try eating at the CWC Clubhouse if you happen to be kneeboarding or wakeboarding in CWC. If I'm not mistaken, this is the only place to eat in the entire complex.

Here are some of the food we ate:

Some of the food we ate at CWC Clubhouse

1. CWC Signature Burger
It doesn't look appetizing but it's tasty. It has bacon, cheddar cheese, onions, lettuce and tomato.

Price: Php 235 (Double)

2. Bicolano aka Laing Pizza
The reason why we ate here. It's CWC's best seller. The thin-crust pizza has taro leaves cooked in coconut milk and chili, topped with mozzarella cheese. I think I could have finished this by myself!

Price: Php 230

3. Penne Arabiata
The dish looks really nice and it's full of flavor. The penne pasta is mixed with garlic, chili, sausages, and pomodoro sauce. I enjoyed this even if I'm not a fan of red-sauced pastas.

Price: Php 160

4. Caesar Salad
It's your basic salad. There's lettuce with bacon bits, croutons, parmesan cheese and caesar dressing. For me, the bacon "bits" makes it special. It's different from the usual pebble-like bits that I'm used to.

Price: Php 155

5. Chicken Inasal
This grilled chicken was really tasty because of its "lemon grass essence". It wasn't dry, too. 

Price: Php 165

6. "Whirly Bird Wings"
It wasn't the usual buffalo wings I was expecting. This looked more like ordinary fried chicken wings. It was good, though. There was supposedly a mild buffalo sauce and blue cheese that went with it (though I don't recall anymore).

Price: Php 170

Overall, the food was good! Some have said that it was better in the past when the head chef was still around. I can only imagine!

Here's the cute wakeboard-shaped menu:

Front

Back

For me, the dishes could be bigger but these weren't too expensive. After a week in the province where everything's cheap, prices may seem extra expensive. Think Manila prices like TOSH. 

If only for the Laing Pizza, try eating at CWC Clubhouse!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Kneeboarding and Wakeboarding in CWC

Kneeboarding and learning how to wakeboard are definitely must-try activities in the CamSur Watersports Complex (CWC) in Pili. These were the “oh-em-gee” moments of our trip.

There are three major water parks in CWC for various water activities: 
  1. Cable Park – for kneeboarding and hardcore wakeboarding 
  2. Winch Park – for basic wakeboarding lessons 
  3. Lago del Rey (Boat Park) – for a Takeshi’s-Castle-like adventure

Kneeboarding 

Cable Park is where people can go kneeboarding and hardcore wakeboarding.

Kneeboarding is like riding a little surf board on your knees while being pulled by a cable at 30kph. It’s not as slow as it seems. Imagine driving on third gear! 

Crash course. There's a little briefing by the CWC staff before you're pulled in the water.
(Photo by Johann Tan)

What I learned: Crouch and keep the bar as low and as close to you as possible. To turn left, pull the bar diagonally towards your lower right. You kinda forget these when in the water, though. 

Here’s my first attempt at kneeboarding. It’s scary yet exciting waiting for the cable!

"..........Oh my gawd!!!!"
(Video by Johann Tan)

I had beginners’ luck on my first attempt. My second try was an epic fail, instantly falling face-first into the water. And because I wasn’t able to control the kneeboard on the third try, I accidentally flew up one of the ramps and crashed into the water! My fourth try was the most successful.


Wakeboarding

People can learn how to wakeboard in Winch Park.
That's Mt. Isarog at the back!

Here, you start from the water and the cable gradually pulls you from 0-25kph. In the process, you’ll be able to stand. Trying not to fall was the challenge of the day... and, oh, trying not to swallow the water!

Excited!

Waiting for our turn

There are instructors who teach basic wakeboarding there. They'll constantly remind you to bend your knees, to just stand still, and not to pull the bar towards you when you get up.

Trying to be graceful
(Video by Johann Tan)


Kneeboarding and wakeboarding are thrilling experiences—even for non-sporty people like me. I guess for first-timers, it'll make the whole body sore afterwards, especially the arms. My body was aching for more than a week! The experience was worth it, though.


Lago del Rey (Boat Park)

Takeshi's Castle?

For those who don’t want to kneeboard or wakeboard but want some adventure around CWC, they can opt for Boat Park. There are huge inflatables to conquer! Cost is Php 120 per hour.


General FYIs

The CWC Complex and surrounding establishments

Hourly Rates – Php 125 (between 8am – 5pm)
                        – Php 175 (between 5pm – 9pm)
Equipment Rental (Lifevest + Helmet) – Php 40 per hour

A Php 500 deposit is required, which will be returned

Wakeboarding Do's and Dont's

Travelers who don’t have their own transpo going to CWC may take the free shuttle from SM Naga or from the Naga City airport. It's a 20-minute ride from Naga City. Schedules:

Free shuttle for those worrying about transpo!

Tips:

  1. Check beforehand if the cables are working! Call (054) 477-3334. 
  2. Stretch! Do this before getting into the water. It’ll lessen muscle aches. 
  3. Put on sunblock, especially on the arms!
  4. Avoid the ramps! Not only is it scary but dangerous for first-timers. 
  5. Lundagin mo, beybe! Just do it! You won't learn until you actually try.

For more information, check out the CWC website here.