Australia, Day Trips, Itinerary, Oceania, Travel

The Lost Weekend | Newtown City Guide

Photo Credit: Josephine Sicad Photography

I’ve been to Newtown once before: drunken and giggly; walking barefoot whilst dangling a pair of high heels in the air.

It was lovely at dawn, when the city was asleep. But what little part of me that was left sober that night, knew too well, Newtown was lovelier once awake.

The boylove and I have raided a couple of weekends since, and we have never fallen for a place as much as we have for this little artsy neighbourhood just on the outskirts of Sydney CBD.

It sure is possible to embark on adventures, even in the confines of our home city; and this, mates, is a cheat sheet.

You are welcome.

Australia, Itinerary, Oceania, Travel

Easter Road Trip Travel Guide | Coffs Harbour – Surfers Paradise

It is no secret that the open road is my travel terrain of choice. After all, “the dream” began on countless bus trips from my barrio to the city, in all my years in school.

Easter, as Jonat and I serendipitously came to reckon in 2011, is the perfect time for road trips. Whilst a four-day weekend is too short for an overseas trip, it is long enough to still have a holiday even with all the driving in between.

Last Easter was different: We took friends with us. On a test run on, albeit milder, a life lived out of a backpack.

Asia, Day Trips, Experience, Itinerary, Travel, Travel Tips

Hongkong – Macau Travel Guide

On our way home to Sydney from Manila, Jonathan and I decided to unwind a bit in Hongkong with a day-long side trip to Macau. His parents, both retired, decided to tag along with us, together with an aunt who was visiting from Vancouver.

To our pleasant surprise, Hongkong had impressively discounted rates for senior citizens (people aged 65 and above). So if anyone is planning to take their parents out on a holiday, Hongkong would be a good idea!

Asia, Experience, Itinerary, Luzon, Married Backpackers, Philippines, Travel, Travel Tips

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide

Each year, a dreamer longs to do something of epic proportions. Jump out of airplanes, quit the day job, chase after the one great love, and the list goes on. Mine, however, was an ode to the dauntlessness of my ancestors. Albeit less maverick, it sure carried more weight for me. (way more for the boylove who was dragged into my mission LOL.)

Buscalan was hard to reach, and we only had a couple of days to spare. But it happened, and we went home with the lifetime bragging right of having been marked by Apo Whang-od, the country’s oldest living mambabatok (traditional tattoo artist).


This guide is for fellow corporate rats (and students, maybe!) who only have the weekend– the long weekend, at most– to spare for bucket lists, travel goals, and whatever else you may call making-dreams-come-true.

A Friday night departure, for example, would have you back in Manila by Sunday night and be at work on Monday.

Please note that this is based on the actual trip that we did. There may be other options, and I will try to be as informative as possible. However, if this may come off as inadequate, please feel free to browse other blogs.


Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

TRANSPORTATION

If traveling during the holidays, it is best to book way well in advance to secure seats. We’ve had to book ours a day later than intended as everything else was fully-booked until then.

Reservation is only over-the-counter, unfortunately. For the adventurous spirit, you can embark on the adventure of being a chance passenger. But during the holiday season? I’d rather bungy-jump.

Departure (Kamias, Quezon City)

  • Victory Liner – Kamias Station
    • Fare – 700PHP/person (regular aircon)
    • Departs at 7PM (As we weren’t sure how long the trip would take given the traffic situation, we booked the earliest trip for the night)

Tip: Wear a jacket or get a blankie as the bus’ aircon can get really cold. It’s been said that drivers purposefully turn the aircon up to the maximum to prevent themselves from sleeping on the wheel.

Stopover (Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya)

  • Late Dinner / Midnight Meal – Lugaw (with egg – 40PHP; with chicken – 50PHP; with chicken and egg – 60PHP)
  • Bladder break – free/donation only; very clean toilets

Tip: In the Philippines, you have to bring your own toilet paper when using a public toilet.

Arrival (Bulanao, Tabuk)

  • 5AM arrival – Disembark in front of St. William’s Church (note that this isn’t the final destination of the bus, so be sure to tell your driver in advance that you will disembark in Bulanao)
  • The first trip to Bontoc isn’t until 7am. Whilst waiting, have coffee in a nearby carenderia. Ironically, eateries only serve 3-in-1 coffee
  • HideOut Restaurant – 3-in-1 coffee (10PHP)

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Depature (to Buscalan, Kalinga)

  • 7am – Ride a Bontoc-bound jeep/van/bus
    • All transport– Jeepney, Van, Bus— leaves Bulanao at 7am. We took the Jeepney to Bontoc as it arrived in the terminal first.
    • Fare – 150PHP/person

Tip: Ask locals, as there is no fixed terminal/parking for vehicles bound for Bontoc. It can be across the church or in the corner of the next intersection. (worry not, it’s all along the same main road.)

  • 1030am – Stopover in Tinglayan for Brunch
    • time of arrival in Tinglayan depends on the frequency of stops and road situation.
    • Good Samaritan Restaurant – Tinola and Rice (50PHP)

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • 11am – Disembark in Brgy Bugnay (where your guide will meet you)
    • recommended guide – Kuya Eddie (+639128097578) [EDIT: 0928 402 4973 – New number! Kuya E’s cellphone was stolen] – it is advised that he is contacted in advance
    • Guide Fee – 1000PHP (flat-rate per group)
  • Ride a habal-habal (motorcycle) to the Turning Point (around 10-15mins uphill). Your guide will pre-arrange this.
    • Fare – 100PHP/person
    • Sometimes, there is a Bontoc-bound jeepney that goes all the way to the Turning Point, but there was a landslide in the area during our trip, which makes the road impassable for larger vehicles.
  • Trek to Buscalan (Butbut Tribe Village) downhill and a very steep uphill. The trail is paved most of the way, so you can never get lost.
    • Along the way, you’d pass by the refreshing Tumaniw Falls. A quick dip is in order! 

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

ACCOMMODATION

  • Charlie Knows – homestay (inclusive of sleeping accomodations, meals and unlimited coffee. If you are as lucky as we were, you’d have free grog too! 😀
    • Kuya Charlie – +639397484707 / +639981888697
    • Cost – 250PHP / person / night. (Couples can request for the Fertility Room at no extra charge).
    • GrogRed Horse Beer is deemed “too strong” and is not sold in the village — buy your stash beforehand. The local guides won’t mind a bottle or two of kwadro-kantos (Ginebra San Miguel Gin) though.
    • Meals – Your guide will prepare your meals. They provide unlimited rice and coffee. For viands, you can either have what they cook for you (usually eggs, chicken and vegetables), or have some of the grocery items you brought– canned goods, noodles– cooked for you.
    • Candies / Food for kids – when giving food to kids, please remind them to dispose wrappers properly. There are garbage sacks all over the village that you can direct kids to throw their empty food wrappers to.

Tip: Bring grocery items to share to the locals (canned goods, sugar, salt, medicines, biscuits/candies for the kids, powdered juice, toiletries etc.)

ACTIVITY / OTHERS

  • Lachilad Souvenirs – native necklaces at 100PHP; good idea for pasalubongs (souvenirs to give to friends/family on your return).
  • Kapeng Barako (Native Coffee) – 100PHP / 250g

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • Pasipat – a practice wherein couples who are wanting to conceive go around the neighbourhood elders to ask for their blessings. The elders then tie a beaded bracelet around the woman’s wrist while chanting a prayer. In return, the couple would give the elders a piece of bread (in our case, doughnuts – 100PHP for a bag of 20)

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • Tattoo – it is customary NOT to ask for the price prior to the session. The mambabatok (tattoo artist) will tell you after the session. Prices usually start at 500 PHP.
    • Apo Whang-Od Signature (three horizontal dots) – 100 PHP
    • Design – a design board is available for you to choose; you can also have Apo Whang-Od pick the design for you. She generally does what is requested, but sometimes suggests a better location or design.
    • Other tattoo artists – Whang-Od has since trained other women in the community to keep the tradition alive. (I even had one of the apprentices, Renalyn, ink my back, as I particularly liked how clean her lines were).
    • You can keep the thorn used after your session, and the guides will give you a replica of the bamboo they use in tattooing as a going-away present. (This can also be bought in the souvenir shop at the entrance of the village).

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Tip: Never haggle. Help the community by helping the locals.

  • All of the above can be done in one afternoon, or at the latest, until early the next morning. Tell your guide of your plans and they will do their best to make arrangements in accordance to your schedule. 

BACK TO MANILA

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • 9am – We spent the night in Buscalan and left after breakfast the next day. The trek back to the Turning Point was easier than the one going to the village. We still had to take the habal-habal though, as there was a landslide in the area.
    • Fare – 100 PHP / person
  • 10am – We caught the 10AM jeepney to Bontoc (there were buses due at 11AM and 12NN respectively, according to our guide). Since the ride to Bontoc was only an hour, we went toploading. From up there, the view was twice as epic!
    • Fare – 100 PHP / person
    • Other option – go back to Tabuk instead and go back to Manila from there. I understand this was the shorter/faster route.

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • 11AM – Arrived in Bontoc; disembarked by the gate of MPSPC (Mountain Province State Polytechnic College) and walked to the bus terminal via the overpass. There was a Tourist Police Assistance Desk nearby, where we got information on transport options.
    • Fall in line for the Baguio bus (no advanced reservations available)
    • Departs at 1PM (GL Lizardo Bus) – terminal is near the public market/ central Baguio
    • Fare – 210 PHP / person
    • Can have lunch in Bontoc. We didn’t. (Bottled water – 30 PHP, Softdrinks – 25 PHP)
    • Comfort Room – 3 PHP
    • Other optiongo to Banaue instead and take the Ohayami Bus (overnight) back to Manila.
  • 6:30 PM – Arrived in Baguio (after 2 stopovers)
    • Fare – 455 PHP / person (regular aircon)
    • Approximate travel time – 5 to 7 hours (depending on the traffic situation)

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

  • Option – If going straight to Manila, the Victory Liner Terminal is just one jeepney ride away (near SM); within a walking distance if you don’t have much to bring)
    • Jeepney – 7 PHP / person (approximate)
    • Taxi – 50 PHP / trip (approximate)
  • Option – if staying in Baguio overnight.
    • Bloomfield Hotel – just beside SM. Clean, new and with excellent customer service.
    • Rates start as 2140 PHP / room (off-peak); 2360 PHP / room (peak)

Buscalan Weekend Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust
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Itinerary, Luzon, Philippines, Travel, Travel Tips

Baguio – Sagada Travel Guide

When asked about my travels, I can only tell stories. How I ate fried grasshoppers in Vietnam or drank my way through Laos, for example. I suck at giving structured information like budget and itinerary.

But here’s an attempt at a Baguio-Sagada Travel Guide that really, is just Sagada. Don’t judge 😛

This guide is based on a backpacking trip I did years ago and is purely experiential. Also, allow me to disclaim that this may not be the most updated information on rates (although I tried my darnedest best to check on latest rates and prices). However, I have provided contact information if you wish to double-check.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust


Disclaimer : When I write about myself drinking beer in the Philippines, I mean Red Horse and nothing else.


BAGUIO

How to get there

From Manila, we took the 1115H Victory Liner bus from the Sampaloc terminal to Baguio. The trip took around 6 hours via TPLEX.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Coming straight from an early flight from Cagayan de Oro, I was exhausted. The comfort that Victory Liner’s first class bus provided was formidable. What with full air-conditioning, reclining seats, free wifi, free snacks and a bus stewardess, it was an experience in itself.

Fare: 455PHP (Regular Aircon); 750 PHP (First Class) | Tickets can be pre-purchased online or in the terminals


Victory Liner Inc. – Manila
www.victoryliner.com
551 Earnshaw St., Barangay 401, Sampaloc, Manila, Philippines
Phone: +63 2 559 7735


Tip: If going to Baguio without prior reservations like we did, seek assistance from the Tourist Information Centre outside the Victory Liner bus terminal.

When we reached Baguio, it was nearly dusk. Thankfully, the men at the Tourist Information Centre were very helpful. Without a hotel reservation, they offered to drive us around the city until we found a hotel that we liked.

Fare: 50 PHP (Van and driver; until a hotel is found)

Where to stay

Our main requirement was a comfortable city-centre hotel that was close to the bus station for Sagada. After a couple of other enquiries, we found Belfranlt. The hotel was a bit dated, but its location, spacious rooms and clean toilets sold us. The hotel also had cable television, hot and cold shower and free breakfast.

Rates: 1650PHP (Double Aircon)


Belfranlt Hotel
General Luna Road, Baguio City, Philippines
Phone: +63 74 442 4298


Where to chill

Remember that acoustic bar in the movie That Thing Called Tadhana? We’ve been there long before the movie was shown.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Perhaps, there was something about Baguio that made unraveling a little less difficult. Bohemian Cafe, for instance, beckoned nostalgia. Dim-lit nooks and alcohol, and the music that filled all the spaces in between.

Price: 100PHP (cocktails) ; 60PHP (beer)


Bohemian Cafe
Assumption Rd, Baguio, Benguet, Philippines


SAGADA

How to get there

Early the next morning, from Baguio, we took the 0700H GL Lizardo bus to Sagada. We were supposed to take an earlier bus but missed it. Hearty breakfasts do that. The trip took around 6 hours via the scenic Halsema Highway.

Fare: 220PHP (Regular Non-aircon)

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust


GL Lizardo Bus Terminal
Rajah Matanda St, Baguio, Benguet, Philippines


Where to stay

We alighted at Sagada Public Market and walked further down along South Road to the SAGGAS (Sagada Genuine Guides Association, Inc.) office. After making initial enquiries, we looked for an accommodation to drop our bags in.

As it was past lunch time and we didn’t have a prior booking (again!), we didn’t walk far. Most of the accommodations near SAGGAS were fully-booked.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Fortunately, we chanced upon Alibama Inn, a small hostel situated above Pinikpikan House. It was okay, except it didn’t have hot shower. I died.

Rates: 250PHP per head (Non-aircon bedspace)


Alibama Inn
pinikpikanhaus@gmail.com
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
Phone: (63) 920 8135797


Where to eat

Famished from half a day on the road, a siomai stall outside SAGGAS felt like oasis in the desert. I devoured an entire serve and downed it with a glassful of black gulaman.

Price: 28PHP(Siomai, 3 per serve); 10PHP (Black Gulaman)


Siomai King
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
(fronting SAGGAS)


After doing the Echo Valley and surrounds tour, we dropped by Yoghurt House for some refreshments. Centrally located and with an instagrammable yellow facade, the Yoghurt House sure was unmissable.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

The menu was on the pricier end of the spectrum, though. But I was all for good food and cozy ambiance, and really, I allowed myself to fall prey to good marketing and pretty interiors.

Price: 99PHP(Lemon Lassie)


Yoghurt House
www.yoghurt.sagada.org
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
Phone: +63 908 112 8430


For dinner, we strolled further into the innards of Sagada, away from South Road. We were checking out souvenir items in a random shop when my nose caught a whiff of the unmistakeable pork binagoongan.

I heeded the call (or smell) of the home-cooked goodness, of course. That, plus plateful of extra rice later, I was solved.

Tip: grab a couple of free Mentos candies from the jar on the counter.

Must Eat: Pork Binagoongan


Homestay Diner
Sagada – Besao Rd, Sagada, Mountain Province, Philippines


Salt and Pepper was best for breakfast. A stone’s throw away from SAGGAS, we went there to carbo-load before the doing the gruelling Cave Connection.

Price: 150PHP (Bislled’s Delight (Tapsilog)), 30PHP (Mountain Tea), 30PHP (Lemon Iced Tea)


Salt and Pepper
www.facebook.com/sagadasaltandpepper
Phone: +63 998 979 8695
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines


After the Cave Connection, we dropped by Sagada Lemon Pie House to supposedly sample their renowned lemon pies. But man, I was starving. Famous lemon pies be damned, I needed rice and a proper meal!

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Price: 150PHP (Spicy Red Chicken and rice meal); 20PHP (Lemonade)


Sagada Lemon Pie House
www.sagadalemonpiehouse.blogspot.com.au
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines
Phone: (63) 907-7820360


Where to  chill

“Fcuk Sagada, ang sarap mo!” said the vandal on a hanky pinned on a freedom wall. It stood out from all the trinkets that travellers before us had left in the comforts of Bamboo Bar.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

I fell in love at once; left awestricken by the myriad of stories stuck on the walls of that rendezvous. I could have stayed there and made friends and found love and lost pieces of myself. I could have been the resident storyteller, or secret keeper, or kiss-and-spiller.

I could have been everything; and nothing. And even the latter would have been okay.

Prices: 50PHP(Beer)


Bamboo Bar
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines


What to do

(Rates are based on a 2pax shared tour)

Echo Valley and Bokong Falls

Knackered from the bus ride from Baguio, we settled on an easy activity for the afternoon. Our sampler tour started at St. Mary’s Anglican Church and into the woods behind it.

While hiking, we learned a bit about how faith was the core of the town, and that in many aspects, religion shaped huge part of the town’s culture and history.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

We first reached Echo Valley, where everything you screamed was screamed back at you. It was popular to those who needed emotional release from  romantic shambles. I swore alright; profanities overload.

Shortly after we resumed our hike, we came across a high rock with coffins hanging on the side. “Ah, there you are,” I exclaimed, noting the most recognisable spot in Sagada; the most photographed. The underground river cave was cloaked just behind the hanging coffins.

Further, Bokong Falls hid behind a dense shrubbery. It wasn’t easily visible, but the sound of the cascade lured the water baby in me. Ice-cold but rejuvenating, I couldn’t have thought of a better way to round an intrepid day off.

Rates: 600PHP(Guide)

Kiltepan Peak

Our guide, Anthony, met us outside the SAGGAS office at 4am on our second day. Much to his dismay, we opted to trek Kiltepan, as opposed to taking a hired van to the peak. We promised him a tip though, as consolation, explaining how as backpackers, we didn’t particularly like being herded.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

The trek was relatively short and easy, nothing like the tramps we’ve done in other backpacking trips. Several vehicles ran past us, filled with tourists in identical crocheted bonnets.

When we got to Kiltepan Peak, most have already taken their spots and have set up tripods to photograph the iconic Sagada sunrise. Some have pitched tents right at the peak the night prior, we learned.

I found a spot too, and from there, the sunrise was glorious. There was barely sea of clouds, however.  So really, I didn’t quite achieve the frame I woke up early for.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Determined to still enjoy the moment, I ejected myself from line of disappointed tourists and joined a company of local guides around a bonfire at the back. Someone offered a tin mug of brewed coffee; another, a stick of cigarette. I said yes to the coffee, no to the cigarette.

Rates: 400PHP(Guide)

Cave Connection

Apart from Bungy Jumping in New Zealand, the Cave Connection was probably the bravest feat I have done to date. It was a rightful bragging right, but definitely something I would not allow any of the people I love to ever do.

Imagine going through the mouth of one cave to another– the kind that takes up to 4 hours– with a single kerosene lamp and zero safety gear. Oh wait, we were advised to go barefoot as it was apparently less slippery that way. To slip, by the way, meant 2,500ft down into the abyss of nothingness.

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

Rendell, though, was awesome. He has been guiding Cave Connection tours for a couple of years, but initially joked that we were his first tour. His familiarity of the route made the whole ordeal a little less daunting. It also helped that he kept saying “eto na yung pinakamahirap, Miss” (this is already the hardest, Miss) each time we get past a tricky obstacle. Only to realise that a more difficult one will come up next.

Including stopovers, we were able to finish the connection in just a little over 2 hours. Rendell, who, towards the end of the tour also identified himself as John, couldn’t stop gushing.

“Sure ka Pinoy ka? Ba’t ang bilis mo? Korean lng ang ganyan kabilis!” (Are you sure you’re Filipino? Why are so you fast? Only Koreans can be that fast!)

Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust

I could only smile. I got what he meant, but chose not to go there.

Rates: 800PHP(Guide)

Pongas Falls

Probably my most favourite of all, was Pongas Falls. It was a bit away, and was thereby our most expensive activity. But it was all worth it. Our guide, Alder, doubled as a photographer, and was big on candid shots.

We passed by a village to get permission from the local chieftain before proceeding to the falls. On the way, we walk past villagers going about with daily life– women cooking for early dinner, kids on their way home from school and men racing to finish the day’s work before sunset. I saw myself in each one of them, remembering my own village back home.

When we reached the waterfall, we were delighted to find it deserted. We basically had it all to ourselves for the rest of the afternoon.

It was past dusk when we made it back to the main road. Before calling it a day, we shared a beer with Alder, who, at the time, was chewing betel nut to celebrate a day’s worth of hard work.

Rates: 600PHP(Guide); 600PHP(Van Rental)


SAGGAS
Sagada Genuine Guides Association, Inc.
www.facebook.com/saggas
South Road, Sagada, 2619 Mountain Province, Philippines


WHAT IS YOUR SAGADA STORY? SHARE IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.


Baguio - Sagada Travel Guide | Words and Wanderlust
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Experience, Itinerary, Philippines, Travel, Visayas

Siquijor Itinerary

Siquijor Itinerary | Words and Wanderlust

My father’s forefathers were fishermen from Maria, Siquijor. In 1930s, my great grandfather’s fishing exploits ushered him to the coastal villages outside Pagadian in Mindanao.

Although born and bred a Mindanaoan, Daddy grew up with stories of the fireflies of Siquijor. I did, too.

So to finish our month-long family road trip to VisMin in June 2016, I wish to bring Dad home– to where our lineage of big hearts and great minds began.