Pagudpud: The Best Way to End my College Life

Pagudpud, found in Ilocos Norte, is one of the most beautiful beach destinations I have ever gone to for the time being. It’s fast gaining popularity to both local and foreign tourists, and being considered as the Boracay of the North. I visited Pagudpud a couple of years ago, after our College graduation. It was our last vacation before immersing ourselves into the ‘real’ world, and getting by on our own.

My college friends and I went to Pagudpud a couple of years back. It was the first of the many summer getaways we will have (hopefully) and I was of course the organizer of the trip. Our trip almost got canceled because there was an incoming typhoon, but at the last minute we decided to go ahead with the trip since everything was  already planned out.

We left Manila on a Tuesday night, riding Florida bus going to Pagudpud. If I remember correctly, the bus ticket costs about P600. Their bus station is somewhere in Dapitan, Manila and scheduled departure is usually at 9pm. We were all expecting that the bus ride would only take 8-10 hours, but it actually took 12 hours before we were able to reach our destination. It might be just an exception, as it was already raining, and there were a lot of road construction here and there. Next time I would go back there, I recommend just taking a plane. But if you are traveling on a limited budget, and you want to hear Ilocano songs, then riding Florida bus is the best way to go.

So finally, at around 10 am, we arrived at the town proper of Pagudpud. From there, we rode tricycles to get to our resort, which is the Polaris Resort.  The tricycle drivers were already familiar of the different resorts in Pagudpud so it was not really a problem finding Polaris Resort. The tricycle fare is just P50 per way (take note: not per person).  When we arrived at our resort, it was so obvious that we were so purita (poor). Being still dependents to our parents for money, we were really traveling on a tight budget. We even counted each of our contribution in front of the cashier.  The Polaris Resort is one of most affordable resort in Pagudpud. Our room good for 6 only costs P3500  per night, and they even allowed 8 of us to stay without additional costs. The resort is much laid back, and like a big nipa hut style.  The rooms were clean, with its own bathroom and air conditioning. The only setback in Polaris is the food they offer in their restaurant is a little bit expensive. If you want cheaper prices, but still offer the same delicious food, I recommend C-jam's Eatery which is just outside the resort. The ambiance may not be that high-class, but they offer delicious home cooked meals at very affordable rates. Continue reading here.

Saud Beach, Pagudpud


Laiya, Batangas: A Quick Escape from the Hustles and Bustles of the City

Since it’s already summertime, and I haven’t been to the beach yet (what a loser?!), I decided to just write about one of my most visited beach here in the Philippines, Laiya, Batangas. I’ve been there so many times, both with my family and friends, that I’ve lost count already. The Laiya beach is one of favorite beach destination for city dwellers since it’s just a 3-4 hour drive from Manila. The beach is beautiful as well, with grayish white sand and colorful underwater ecosystem. Don’t get your expectations too high and compare it to Boracay or Palawan, but it’s still decent to say the least. The resorts and accommodations are quite affordable as well, so it suits both family and barkadas goers.

Just last year, I’ve been there twice, one with my family, and one with my college friends. As always, I ended up arranging our itinerary and accommodations again. My college friends and I visited Laiya, Batangas May of last year, if I’m not mistaken. Planning this trip is one of the most frustrating trips I’ve ever organized. We really wanted to visit Caramoan that year, but since JC and Mae don’t have leaves yet in their work, they can’t have a vacation other than their weekends. So our only option was to find a destination near Manila. What was more frustrating is that my friends were not replying at all to my messages to get this trip planned out. I reached a breaking point, and decided not to plan the trip entirely, and let them do the planning if they still want to have a summer escapade. Summer was about to end that time, and almost all the hotels and resorts in Laiya were fully booked. My threat did seem to work, and our trip did happen, although some of the boys backed out, and it was only Ralph who was the only guy left.  the  I looked for several hotels and resorts in Laiya, including Kabayan, Sabangan and Casa Remo Apartelle. We ended up staying in Casa Remo Apartelle where they have a vacant room on the date we scheduled our trip.

Since only Jamie knows how to drive, but her dad won't allow her to drive out-of-town, we ended up riding a bus. We caught a bus of Jam Liner  in Cubao at around 6 in the morning. After about 3 or 4 hours, we arrived at the town proper where we rode a jeepney to get to the beach itself. The Casa Remo Apartelle is along the main road, so we were able to get there directly from our jeepney ride. It's not on the beach front, but at the price of P5K for 8 persons, we didn’t mind.  We arrived at around lunch hour at Casa Remo Apartelle but since we can only check in at 2pm, we decided to look for a place to eat.  We checked out the restaurant the nearby Kabayan resort, but the food didn’t look so appetizing and the prices were not really worth it. We saw a carinderia on our way to our resort, so we decided to check that out instead. The manang was really friendly and accommodating, and her home cooked meals looked delicious so we decided to eat there. Continue reading here.


Night Life and Chilling at the Beach of Mui Ne Vietnam

After a tiring but awesome tour of the sand dunes and other spots in Mui Ne town, we headed back to our cheap guesthouse Mai Am. We were all so dirty from our tour, our bodies were covered with sand, and even our ears were filled with sand. As we promised that we will have to experience the night life in Vietnam, we immediately took our turns taking a bath before we head out again. I took so long taking a bath as I didn’t realize how much sand has stuck in my body. After a much needed bath, we headed out again for dinner and drinking.
We decided to eat at the Crepes and Ice Cream restaurant, which JE and I earlier saw on our way to the tour. We remembered it distinctly because  the place looks posh, with couches and everything. It was located on the high-end part of the beach, which is like the Station 1 of Boracay. We thought it was just close enough for us to walk, but we ended up walking 4km! Another physical activity. Hahaha. Finally, after a long exhausting walk, we finally found Gecko Crepes and Ice Cream. In fairness, our efforts paid off and the place was really worth it. Really, the extent we go through, just to be posh. Since it was our first full meal of the day again, we ordered immediately what we have been craving for. George and I ordered some burger and fries, which of course reminded us of Potato Wedge Gurl ( refer to Seeing the Light at the End of the Tunnel to understand). Of course, we also ordered some crepes and waffles for dessert. But they served the crepes and waffles first, so we started with dessert because we were really hungry. After filling our stomachs, we headed out to the stores to check if they have Vietnamese shirts for souvenir, and the athletic outlets that we were looking for, but we still didn’t find what we were looking for. Continue reading here.

Gecko Crepes and Ice Cream


Discovering Great Sand Dunes at Mui Ne Vietnam

On our second day in Vietnam, I was woken up by the loud ring of JE's cell phone at around 4:30 am. I tried sleeping again, but my attempt failed despite counting thousands of sheep. By 6:00 am, I gave up trying to sleep, and decided to take a bath already as we have to catch our 7:30 am bus going to Mui Ne Beach. By 7am, we ate our breakfast consisting of the same Our Daily Bread, strawberry jam/margarine and coffee. While eating our breakfast, I noticed JE's thin shirt layered with a very awful vest. I asked him what in the world is he wearing. I said I'll claim I don't know him because I don't want to be seen with him wearing that. He looks like a photographer, or our local environmentalist celebrity, Kuya Kim.  The only thing missing is him hanging his camera on his neck. In spite of my nasty remarks, JE didn’t care and still wore his vest. Hahaha. To make things worse, he actually wanted a scarf to go with his outfit. After eating, I arranged the payment for our room and checked out from our cheap Vietnam hotel, Madam Cuc. Even the Caucasians who were having breakfast are staring at me. They’re probably thinking ‘Who the heck is this kid, traveling without a companion?’ Hahaha.

After breakfast and checking out from our cheap Vietnam hotel Madam Cuc, we headed to Sinh Tour’s office again. The trip from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne took about 5 hours. It would have taken a lot shorter if the bus was going faster, but I heard the conductor chatting with one of the passengers that the bus usually runs at 50kph. I noticed that the bus indeed was running slow, maybe slower than 50kph at times. The roads and scenery are quite similar to Manila and the provinces of the Philippines. We named some of the roads looking quite similar to those in Manila, such as Roxas Blvd. and the C5 tunnel going to Eastwood. Small houses and rice fields line both sides of the roads. The only noticeable thing is the way they plant the rubber trees. They are all lined up straight, with ribbons and cuts on the trunks.

At 12:29 in the afternoon, I noticed that the bus was suddenly running faster. Seems the driver is trying to reach the terminal by 12:30, the supposedly exact time of our arrival. In fairness, we were able to arrive at 12:31 pm. Hahaha. After just a 3-minute walk, we were able to find our cheap guesthouse, Mai Am. It was better than what I was expecting. Once you enter, you will be immediately welcomed by their mini garden for Buddha. Then at the back of it is the reception and restaurant. Then some huts for dining also. At the beach front are some summer chairs and umbrellas. We have reserved 2 double rooms, each with its own air con, TV and bathroom. The guesthouse is more posh and newer compared to Madam Cuc. After presenting our booking confirmation to the reception guy, he told us “At 1:00, you’ll have your tour at Cham Tower.” What?? We haven’t eaten our lunch yet. I answered, “No time for lunch”. And he replied back, “No!” Huhuhu. Are we not allowed to eat a complete meal here in Vietnam? So we checked our rooms, and left our stuff there. Before leaving, I tried asking the receptionist again if we could maybe order some food in their restaurant, and bring it with us in our tour. Good thing he allowed us to have a quick meal in their restaurant. So we ordered something that could be cooked quickly, Our Daily bread, with some tomato omelet. Continue reading here.

Bread with Tomato Omelet


Crossing the Crazy Streets of Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

So after the half-day Cu Chi Tunnel tour, we found ourselves back in Ho Chi Minh City. It was already two in the afternoon, but we haven't eaten our lunch. We were so hungry, that it didn't matter where we eat, we just wanted food!! The first place we saw was the Nguyen Café, and we were just happy to see a place to eat. When we checked their menu, we were glad that they offer rice meals. But no, the waiter said that they only offer those during lunch time, and it's already past lunch time. Huhuhu. So we ended up just ordering shakes and cakes. While we were chilling and resting at the café, we noticed that most of the other people were looking at us. Why? Do we look funny? I guess they are just curious as we truly look like tourists, with our cameras hanging at our necks, and carrying bags of souvenirs. What's more odd I think for them, is because we're Asians, and most of the tourists they see are Caucasians from Europe. Continue reading here.

Strawberry and Chocolate Milk Shake

Seeing the Light at the end of Cu Chi Tunnel

After so much planning and thinking of every detail of our trip, at last the day of our departure has finally arrived. Our flight to Vietnam was last February 18, which was a Friday night, a week after my birthday. I took a half-day leave from work, and met up with Jamie and George at Mcdonalds at around half past seven. They already finished their dinner, so I decided to just eat in the airport. We waited for JE to arrive, and off we went looking for a cab going to the airport.

It was a Friday night, employees are rushing to get off work to meet up with friends in malls and bars to hang out and blow off some steam. As expected, all the cabs were taken. We wander through the busy streets of Makati, hoping to catch a cab for hire. I even tried calling different cab providers that I know, but end up with no luck. JE and Jamie were starting to get stressed finding a cab, but me and George remained calm and relaxed. "Itay" ,(father in Filipino) as I would call George, and I actually found it funny that they were stressed-out, while we remained calm and chilling, like walking in a park. Finally, after about an hour of walking, we ended up in Greenbelt, and were able to find a cab there.  It was a dilapidated and old cab, but we didn't have a choice. The driver was even making an excuse that he can't take us, he said he has a flat tire, but turns out he just wants an extra pay for our fare. He was asking us to pay him P250, and we were more than willing to give him more. And so,  we took our seats inside the cab, JE taking the passenger seat in front. Manong driver started interviewing us, and shooting some questions. I don't know why we lied, but we said we were going to Cebu. I guess it's for security purpose that we didn't want to disclose where we were going to a complete stranger. But our lie fired back to us, Manong driver was actually from Cebu. So he started to narrate his personal story and even gave us some peculiar warnings. He warned us not to eat the food in the streets as we might be poisoned. He said that there are many witches there, and they might put a curse on our food. He even told us that he himself knows witchcraft and he can put a curse on us, even by just staring at us. What the heck?? So freakin' creepy!!! I was sitting backseat between Jamie and Itay, and when he looks at his rearview mirror, he can see me directly. I didn't want to look at the mirror as he might catch a glance of me and curse me! He narrated that he once helped a friend who was cursed because of eating at the streets, and was poisoned. He healed him by giving him grated coconut and sugar, and it worked. His friend's family was very thankful to him, and he was welcome to his friend's house. He added that he fell in love with his friend's sister, but she didn’t love him back. He said he could a put a curse on her, but he decided not to, because he truly loves her. He said that he can also put a curse using the hair of the person, the usual voodoo stuff . All of us thinking freaking out in our minds, 'Did my hair fall off? I can't leave a single strand of hair inside this cab!' The only good thing coming out of the driver's mouth is when he noticed that JE has a 'malapad na noo' (wide forehead). For us Filipinos, that's a sign of being intelligent. He commented that JE looks like someone who's smart and knows a lot of this. This is partly true, since we all studied in UP, but ironic as well as JE flunked some of his subjects and got delayed. It was funny for us that the driver would comment that.

At last, after 30 minutes or less of that creepy cab drive, we finally reached the airport.  We checked in our bags, and got our boarding pass. When we got to the immigration,  itay got hold up for a bit, since he was carrying a Canadian passport, and he had some additional travel documents. The immigration officer laughed when she saw the picture on his documents. It was a picture of him when he was still a kid, and he was still fat and was just wearing a sando. Looking at it, we couldn't really decide if he was a cute kid or an ugly kid. Lol. He looks like he was hungry in his pic, and he was not in the mood.  Having finished checking in, we have time to kill before boarding. JE and I haven't eaten dinner yet, so we decided to eat first.  Almost all the restaurants were closed, so we ended up eating in Seattle's Best. While eating, Jamie whispered to me that the she heard the girl sitting beside our table telling her boyfriend, " Oh my god, I’m so full. I had like 3 potato wedges for lunch.”  WTF?? How big is that freaking potato?  To think that it was already 10pm that time, and her last meal was lunch.  From then on, we can’t help but talk about her throughout the whole trip. We call her the potato wedge gurl, and was considered the "black hole" of the trip. Black hole is a term we just coined ourselves, it usually refers to the person we can’t stop talking about throughout a trip, usually dishing that person. Hahaha. We can really be mean and nasty.

At 12:30am local time, we landed at Ho Chi Minh. After 10 years, I’m back in Ho Chi Minh again. In fairness, their airport is much newer now and less crazy. We decided to convert some of our dollars to their local currency Dong, 1USD=20000 VND. We are filthy rich here!  We saw the driver who would take us to Madam Cuc. Jamie commenting “ Paminsan kelangan mo na lang talagang magtiwala sa mga tao noh?” *Sometimes, you just have to trust a person, whether you like it or not* Hahaha. Come to think of it, that's really true. We don't have a choice but to trust that person and bring us to our hotel in the wee hours of the night.  Ho Chi Minh is very much like Manila, their streets are like the streets of Dapitan or Tondo, with thick electrical wires lining the streets, and small establishments with steel gates. And I quote Itay's Canadian cousin, " Why are you going there? It’s so ghetto” Hahaha.

So the driver stopped in front of an old building with steel gate, which is closed. Are we here?? Yes, it seems we have arrived in our cheap Vietnam hotel, Madam Cuc.  He rang the bell, and a lady in her pajamas opened the gate. She asked us to remove our shoes, as our room is on the 2nd floor. But we asked her if we could just walk barefoot and just bring our shoes with us in our room, which she let us. The lady asked for our passport, which at first we couldn't understand what she was saying. Of course we were hesitant to give it to her. She said that we could get it anytime we want, and so we agreed to give it to her and we'll just get in the morning. So it's now time for bed as we need to wake up early after a few hours for our Cu Chi Tunnel tour. The room was ok, it was spacious, with 2 large beds, a flat TV, air con and ref. The bathroom was clean, with bath tub and hot shower. Not bad for such a cheap hotel. Time for bed..

We woke up at 6am, that's 7am Manila time. We each took our turns taking a bath, then went downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast consists of bread, strawberry jam/margarine and their yummy coffee. The bread is like the French bread, but the outside is chewy and the inside was really airy. We called it Our Daily Bread. After which, I asked for directions from one of the reception ladies on how to get to the Sinh Tour office. Good thing she gave us a map, that would become very handy later on. After like a ten minute walk, we arrive at the Sinh tour office, the cheap travel agent where I booked our Cu Chi Tunnel tour and bus to Mui Ne.  We caught our bus going to Cu Chi tunnel, where Anh, our tour guide talked about Ho Chi Minh, both the city and the person.  He seems to be a fanatic of Ho Chi Minh. When we arrived, Anh discussed the story of war and the purpose of the  Cu Chi Tunnel, then watch a very ancient video way back 1960’s. Continue reading here.

Anh, our tour guide