Monday, May 25, 2015

Montemar Beach Club ( Bagac, Bataan)

Montemar Beach Club is an exclusive resort off the coast of Bataan.  It is actually a "members only" beach resort but on some occasions "non-members" are allowed to experience what is meant for the privileged few. Before visiting the resort, it is best to call and make a reservation.

Depending on traffic conditions, this resort can be reached after more or less a three hour drive from Manila via the nlex and sctx. Another option is to simply take the San Fernando Exit and the Lubao Bypass Road. Navigate the Bataan Provincial Highway and follow the signs to Bagac. Along the way, markers of that infamous "Death March" of World War 2 reminds travelers on the historical significance of this place. On the way to this resort, we saw signs leading to Mount Samat otherwise known as the "Dambana ng Kagitingin" symbolized by the big cross on top of the mountain and the turtle sanctuary. 

The travel is a smooth ride through a relaxing countryside of rice fields bounded by mountains. The momentary views of cliffs is a warning of some dangerous ravines mandating us to drive carefully. 

Kilometer zero of the Death March sign ushered us to turn left towards the direction of Montemar Beach Club. After traveling on a concrete road, we saw the entrance of the resort. The guard on duty courteously inquired on our business and after a brief security check, we were told to register at the front office. The front office is a short drive with signs along the way. 

Have I already said that this resort is "exclusive"? While avoiding being redundant, I think this primarily describes Montemar. It is a resort with practically its own beachfront. The cove, as if protecting the entire coastline, ensures privacy. The brown sands of the beach is fine and ideal for walking barefoot immediately creating those usual but fleeting footprints. 

According to the map, the beach caters to the West Philippine Sea - a primordial news item where we all have to be updated. The sea is calm during our whole visit which makes it ideal for swimming. However, whatever the temperament of the sea may be, safety is always a priority. Until the buoye, the water is more or less four feet deep. But, there are areas where the sands underneath cave in creating a sudden plunge and depth. This is very dangerous specially for non-swimmers. But, those who know how to swim should likewise take extra precaution against accidents. It is advisable not to swim alone. There are lifeguards at the beach and swimming is only allowed until 6 pm.

The resort has three swimming pools. However, one of the pool is reserved exclusively for "members and their guests". Prior or after swimming in the beach and depending on the intensity of the sun, we swam at the pool fully enjoying our time and the resort. There were few guests during our visit. There were times that we have the beach or pool for ourselves.  The resort also has a conference and a function room - a great venue for corporate and family gatherings. For those who want to sweat it out, there is a tennis, basketball and beach volleyball courts

There is a very relaxing tree house inside the resort. I enjoyed reading my favorite novel in it. The cool breeze and the nice views from this tree house  provided that much needed respite and a canopy of sorts from the scorching heat. The tree house is a very good place to stay  while waiting for the afternoon.

Inside the resort is a restaurant where the staff are courteous and attentive. They serve food which you can actually eat and enjoy but be ready to pay a higher price than the usual.   I think this is expected. Food inside a resort is expectedly of a higher price.

Montemar Beach Club is very near famous landmarks such as the Mount Samat National Shrine or the "Dambana ng Kagitingin".  This Shrine of Valor honors the bravery of Filipino and American soldiers during World War 2; the turtle sanctuary or the "Pawikan Conservation Center"; and the "Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar" which showcases Filipino Heritage Houses. 

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dahilayan Adventure and Forest Park (Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon)

In  Barangay Dahilayan, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon there is an “adventure” and a “ forest” park. The former, true to its term, is home to zip lines and more daring adventure rides. On the other hand, the forest park is more family and children friendly theme park. As both “parks” are located in the same area, they are usually visited at the same time and are often described together.

To reach Dahilayan Adventure and Forest Park, we passed inside Camp Phillips - a vast hectares of land dedicated to planting the famous Del Monte Pineapples.  The road leading to the park is an endless array of pineapples with a very relaxing view of a mountainous terrain. Everything is picture perfect and it is a sin not to stop by at this plantation and not take a photo.  
Del Monte Pineapple Plantation
As we were admiring the view of the plantation, we were told that Manolo Fortich is not only a plantation but also an independent community. It has a church, playground, basketball court and all other amenities for the welfare of the employees of Del Monte.

After the customary and obligatory taking of photos on the plantation, we headed to Dahilayan Adventure and Forest Park.  After a very short drive from the plantation, we finally reached the park. At its entrance, my first impression about it is like being in Baguio while in Bukidnon but with fresher and more defined scent of pine trees and scenic views. I hope this park is preserved for posterity. It gives every visitor a very good reminder of that old romantic Baguio vividly remembered by our grandparents.

Dahilayan Adventure and Forest Park is pristine without any trace of informal settlers. It has everything the old summer capital can offer. We saw strawberries being sold outside the park. There are also horses for horseback riding. Pine trees are also abundant. I think most visitors would remember Baguio once they are in this park.

Pine Grove Lodge
We momentarily stayed at its Pine Grove Lodge, where we can hear the shrieks, shouts and thrills of those on the zip line. This lodge is somewhat similar to a “log cabin” with glass walls showing the very beautiful views of pine trees. It has high ceilings with a loft making it a perfect escape during summer. This lodge has a café or restaurant with reasonably priced food. We opted to take a few bites from this café while looking at the pine trees outside and those who are risking their lives at the zip line.

The park has an amazing view of Mount Kitanglad and its high elevation ushers that cool, crisp and fresh breeze reminiscent of Tagaytay. With scenic views, it is nice to just sit on the bench and look at the vast expanse of the land and be lost at the soliloquy of your thoughts. Think only of what bring good vibes and try to forget what you cannot change at the moment. Sometimes, being in a beautiful place such as this park is enough to release one’s soul from the stress of our everyday struggles.

Dahilayan Adventure Park claims to own the distinction of having “Asia’s Longest Dual Zip line”. We tried this attraction and the experience is comparable to  actually flying amidst a forest canopy. It is scary at first but I soon got the hang of it literally. This zip line is definitely a must-try. While there are zip lines in almost every park even at the Quezon City Memorial Circle, a zip line as long as this gives an exhilarating experience like no other park can give.

A good weather is essential as most of the park’s attractions are outdoors. As such, this park is best enjoyed during the summer season. The scorching heat, felt usually in Metro Manila, is not as intense in this park. Thanks to its high elevation and trees surrounding the area.

Before trying this longest dual zip line, we first tried as a sort of a warm-up activity, the park’s zip lines of lesser length but not necessarily of lesser thrill. After which, a four by four vehicle brought us to the top of a mountain to experience Asia’s longest dual zip line. At the launch deck, I can see how far this zip line would take us. The view is spectacular. The whole park can be seen at this point. 

We then got ready for the experience of zip lining in Asia's longest. The staff emphasized safety. He assured us that the zip line is safe as long as safety gears are worn properly and instructions are followed. After a brief reminder of what should be done, we got ready for the experience of a lifetime. As I said, it was scary at first but after the zip line began its descent reluctance turned into a thrilling ride.  Flying is the best word to describe the experience of this zip line. Trying this zip line is indeed "getting ready to fly". 

Dahilayan Adventure and Forest Park is huge and a full day is not enough to enjoy its several attractions. If however the rides and activities of this park are not appealing to you, walking is one great activity. In the afternoon, before the sun sets, try walking on the park’s almost borderless expanse and feel the health benefits of this activity.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Vikings Restaurant (SM North, Quezon City)

If you love to visit eat-all-you-can restaurants, in all probability, you may may have already been to this restaurant or are in the process of making plans of going here. Vikings is a trendsetter but actually it is not the first in this line of business.  Eat-all-you-can restaurants are continuously sprouting all over Metro Manila. I can still remember the time when this kind of concept  was deemed to fail from the very start. I mean given the voracious appetite of guests, it is difficult to imagine how an eat-all-you-can restaurant can survive as a business entity. 

It appears however that those days are gone. The concept of an "eat-all-you-can" dining, and earning from the venture, has been accepted. Despite the present economic situation, restaurants of this nature are being established and are continually growing. I recall the story of a restaurant that offered " unli-rice" during the time that the price of this staple is soaring. Many predicted its doom yet eventually the restaurant was bought by a popular food chain and its owner became one of the country's richest man. Can you guess the name of this restaurant? 

I do not intend to belabor the topic except to convey the idea that restaurants  with an "unlimited eating" and "bottomless drinks" are are slowly becoming the norm. During our recent visit in Davao City, I have seen "eat-all-you-can" restaurants, with much lower prices compared in Manila, leading its way in proving the best gastronomic treat to its customers.

I have already visited their branch in the Mall of Asia in Pasay City. Since I enjoyed my visit, I never had second thoughts about visiting their branch in SM North. Vikings in MOA has fulfilled our gastronomic cravings for cuisines of the world and I expect its branch in SM North would not disappoint us.

Together with my friends, we opted to try its dinner buffet. Even before the restaurant opened its doors for dinner, plenty of guests were already on queue. All were patiently and eagerly awaiting that magic time when the restaurant would be accepting guests.  After a few minutes of waiting, Vikings finally called those who had reservations. After they were made comfortable inside those who just "walked-in" were led to their respective tables. The undertaking is a good reminder of the importance of making a reservation to, at least, be ensured of a seat in this often filled restaurant and a way to lessen the pain of standing in a very long line together with other eager and excited customers.

It is the food, ambience and the service that sets buffet restaurants apart. Vikings cuisines are a variety of foods from practically around the world. Dining in this restaurant is like tasting what the world can offer in terms of gastronomic treats. But of course, the Spiral Buffet Restaurant in Hotel Sofitel provides a much wider selection of cuisines. In general, the food in this restaurant is good both in taste and in presentation. There are a number of beverages to choose from, overflowing and bottomless, from soda to beer. In Vikings, eating is limited only by appetite and your stomach's capacity. 

Vikings North Edsa with its high ceilings, beautiful chandeliers, comfortable seating, relaxing decors and cool colors  create that feeling and atmosphere for a great dining experience. The cuisines are arranged in a manner that is not overwhelming and good to the eyes.  Food choices are presented in such a way as if enticing us to savor some more.  With a lot of food everywhere, one dining experience is not enough just to be able to taste every cuisine. 

During our visit, the staff showed a very commendable service. When we tried their "shabu-shabu", the staff assisted us in its preparation.  They were there most of the time, when they are needed by the guests.  I have observed that they are constantly looking around for whatever assistance they could give. 

Given the monstrous dining experience, a clean and well maintained comfort room is well appreciated by the guests. Unlike in other restaurants, where the comfort room is often neglected Vikings North Edsa has done substantial efforts to ensure that guests are convenient each time they opt to relieve themselves. I think the importance of a clean toilet in restaurants should be stressed enough to remind the staff to keep it clean at all times.

Viking's North Edsa is smaller compared with their branch in the Mall of Asia in Pasay City.  It does not fell short however in terms of food selections. The variety of cuisines including the choices of drinks, true as advertised and expected, are of international character and flavor. We took our time to enjoy the food and drinks. One way of fully enjoying a buffet is to take time and not be in a hurry. Just relax and enjoy the moment. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

K Pub Restaurant (Bonifacio Global City, Taguig)

Have you ever been in an authentic  Korean Restaurant with an eat-all-you-can concept? Nowadays, "K" is is becoming a phenomenon. A trend that is slowly but surely  capturing the mass base of the consumer market not only in terms of pop culture.  Korean Restaurants are now in the midst of competing with the more established restaurants in the country. I may not be surprised that in the coming years, Korean Restaurants would be part of everyone's dining schedule.

Using that ever popular "metrodeal" app to find something enjoyable but within the budget treat, we found that an authentic Korean Restaurant exists somewhere in the vicinity of Bonifacio Global City. The restaurant has already been featured in several magazines and TV shows that its popularity has reached a high note. Celebrities have visited  and tasted what appears to be   authentic Korean cuisines.

Before 11 in the morning, we headed to the BGC.  We made a deal to have lunch at this restaurant at Php 999 per person for unlimited hours.  I find the rates to be reasonable and I think we made a great deal via Metrodeal. 

Just look at what you are getting! Actually, that's why Korean food is somewhat similar yet entirely different from Filipino cuisines. There are a lot of condiments in Korean Cuisines.  Sometimes, the number of condiments make it overwhelming to eat in this restaurant. But actually it is not. There are instructions on how to eat Korean Food.  And the staff are friendly enough to help you out.

The restaurant's ambience evokes everything that is typically Korean. The TV monitors, with a giant "Video Wall" in the middle, are all playing Kpop music. As we satisfy our barbeque cravings, we enjoyed K-Pop music continuously playing in this restaurant.

Ocean Adventure (Subic, Zambales)

After several hours of driving in an almost traffic free expressway of the NLEX and SCTEX, we found ourselves again in Subic. One of my friend opted to have their family outing somewhere in Subic and let the kids experience Ocean Adventure and the Subic Safari. I decided to come along though I have there several times.

Ocean Adventure 

Park Hours: 9 AM - 6PM Daily
Park General Admission: Adult 650; Child 520; Senior Citizen 520

Animal Encounter Programs:

Swim with the Dolphins 3,700
Dolphin Beach Encounter 2,400
Family Dolphin Experience 10,000
Dive with Dolphins 4,250
Sea Lion Swim Encounter 3,000
Shark and Turtle Adventure 500
Dive with Sharks, Turtles and Jacks 1,400
Animal Trainer Adventure (Half day) 5,500; (Full day) 8,500

Dolphin Tales
Showtime: 12:30 and 4:30

Dolphins show their greatest tricks above water displaying amazing intelligence and training.

No piece of plastic belongs in the ocean! Dolphins and whales accidentally eat those plastics causing their death.  This has been emphasized during the dolphin show. These lovable and intelligent creatures are often victimized by our negligent and irresponsible ways on how we deal with our thrash.

Every time I see a piece of plastic floating in our seas, I often think of the dolphins, whales and other sea creatures. It is very difficult to comprehend why we keep on throwing garbage on our rivers and seas despite being aware of their importance. We are all dependent on clean rivers, seas and oceans. Having a thrash-free water system is not only about dolphins and whales. It is about everyone. It is about our very own existence.

It is not my first time to watch this Dolphin Show in Subic.  However,  I am always amazed each time I see these beautiful creatures of the sea.  Once the show starts, I can feel everyones excitement and  delight in seeing these dolphins perform tricks that immediately catches applause and appreciation from the audience of all ages. But, as I look at the faces of the children watching the show, I can see from their innocent faces their amazement in seeing the dolphins  swim, dive, walk on top of water, and fly like acrobats.  Did I say walk on top of water and fly? Yes, dolphins can walk on water and fly. You got to see it for yourself to believe such a feat.

Dolphins are indeed very intelligent animals. They are highly trainable  and can perform a lot of entertaining tricks.  We have to be united in protecting these animals to ensure that the next generation of children can still see how wonderful these dolphins are.

Sea Lion Marine Patrol 
Showtime: 1:15 and 5:00

Have you ever seen a Sea Lion up close and personal?  At Ocean Adventure, there is a Sea Lion Marine Patrol - a comical and very entertaining show consisting of at least a male and female Sea Lion and staff. The show focuses on the  importance of protecting the environment and the steps on how we can make our oceans and seas safe not only for these creatures but for everyone on this planet.

It is amazing to see these Sea Lions obey the commands of the staff. They have shown that they are intelligent creatures with the innate ability to entertain and obey commands.  The Sea Lions, a male and a female, have put up a very good show. Their antics and showmanship are superb. 

While being entertained, we were reminded on how  we can help in protecting and preserving the environment. It was emphasized that thrash has to be placed in garbage bins and not thrown into the river or seas.  We got to make ways to reduce, reuse and recycle our thrash.  Everyone has an important role to play in ensuring that the environment is protected.

In the Philippines, it is really appalling to see  garbage and thrash in almost every corner.  I have observed that some people either due to negligence or callousness  will not hesitate to leave their thrash as if  somebody would always be there to pick it up. Sometimes, I see occupants in vehicles throwing out garbage from their cars into the street while cruising. Why can't they just keep their thrash inside the car and dispose them properly? What is the use of having a clean car if the roads you are driving in is full of thrash?

This show is not only entertaining but also conveys an important message. Children who watch Sea Lion Marine Patrol can pick a thing or two about the importance of disposing garbage properly. Adults are reminded of the very great role they play in protecting the environment.

Balancing Act with the African Acrobats
Showtime: 11:00; 3:00

During this recent visit, we were treated to a new and very energetic entertainment courtesy of the African Acrobats. Their energy and stage presence are captivating. We were immediately at the edge of our seats while they were performing their tricks.  Their acrobatic acts combined with some comic relief was a well applauded performance.

We enjoyed our visit to Ocean Adventure. While we are aware of some of the controversies regarding keeping dolphins and other marine creatures in captivity to perform for the audience, I think that the issue should be addressed with utmost objectivity and with the best interest of the dolphins in mind.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Yakimix (Trinoma, Quezon City)

Gluttony is not a crime – at least in an eat-all-you-can buffet. With a wide range of choices, eating in an “eat-all-you-can” restaurant is a treat and a challenge in itself. It is a treat to experience cuisines from all over the world where the best and most delicious are often served. However being in these kind of restaurants often present a challenge of eating what is enough. Sharing and leftovers are not allowed or be ready to pay a penalty.

Eating at an “eat-all-you-can” buffet is a great way to bond with family and friends. While in the midst of enjoying great food, this is also a wonderful time to share and exchange the latest news, gossips, and whatever there is to talk about – to ask how a long distance cousin has been, the whereabouts of an unheard classmate, the latest update on sports, politics, show business, scandals and if there is no other topic - the weather.

Today, “eat-all-you-can restaurants” are becoming a trend. Several restaurants are sprouting in every corner and joining the bandwagon. There is an eat-all-you-can restaurant serving only Filipino Food while others serve a smorgasbord of dishes from different countries. In most big malls, eat-all-you-can restaurants can be found to serve even the most discriminating guests.

Yakimix offers one good “smokeless grill buffet”. It is an "eat -all-you-can" treat. A delicious fusion of Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Filipino cuisines with unlimited drinks and mouth watering deserts.  In this restaurant, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and other family events are celebrated in style. The staff are very energetic and entertaining in greeting  guests who opted to celebrate their birthday in Yakimix. They have a birthday promo where guests who celebrate their birthday “7 days before, 7 days after or on the exact date” can enjoy Yakimix for free.

Yakimix has branches in almost all big malls in Metro Manila. They have a branch both in SM North and in Trinoma in Quezon City. We got a chance to try their branch at the Trinoma Mall. But it is not our first time to try Yakimix. We have tried this buffet in their other branches including the one located in the Mall is Asia in Pasay City.

What I liked most in this buffet is their array of Japanese Food. Almost all types of Japanese cuisine can be found here for everyone to enjoy.  The different maki, sushi and salads are already a bargain. In fact, maki and sushi lovers would definitely enjoy this restaurant.

Yakimix Trinoma offers a very good dining ambience with its high ceiling, well maintained dining tables, painting of earth colors, chandeliers and lights evoking relaxation. Its comfort room was relatively clean enough given the number of guests at that time.

Yakimix Trinoma is located at the fourth floor of the mall where the cinemas are likewise found. It is smaller compared to their other branches but its design makes the whole area appear less crowded. I think the design is meant for stress-free eating.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Monfort Bat Colony (Samal Island)

One of the most spectacular sight in Samal Island in Mindanao is the circadian flight of around 1.8 million Geoffroy’s Rousette Fruit Bats – considered as the largest colony of such bats in the world. Monfort Bat Colony is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

The colony is a privately owned property and there are minimal entrance fees (Php 100.00 per person during our last visit). But for the experience, I think the fees are definitely worth it provided that it is used for the place’s improvement and conservation.

When we arrived in Samal Island, we were very excited to see this colony. We were met by its staff and explained to us some of the rudiments and exceptional characteristics of bats. The lecture, though brief, was able to cover substantial topics about bats and the various conservation efforts that are being made to preserve these creatures whose numbers are dwindling due to several factors including habitat loss. It is said that there were at least seventy (70) caves in the whole of Samal Island but at this time there are only five (5) left which all can be found at the Monfort Bat Colony.

Since we arrived at around noon, we were advised to return before sunset if we like to see the Geoffroy’s Rousette Fruit Bats getting out of their caves and flying in millions. Despite our hectic schedule on the island, we took time to return and see this circadian flight. As the sun begins to set, we knew we are about to witness an spectacle of nature replicated daily if preserved and protected but can never be experienced again once destroyed.

The experience of seeing a million bats getting out of their caves or holes at dusk is an eerie sight. It is like Halloween unfolding at your very eyes. The bats would fly in circles as if following a flight protocol before leaving to find food, to mate or do whatever they please. The bats appear to know where they are headed and fly without any form of hesitation nor bumping with one another – a demonstration of what is called as “echolocation” according to the caretaker.

We observed the phenomenon and it is one that everyone should at least see in a lifetime. This spectacle may no longer be around in the future given the rapid development of islands in the Philippines. Samal Island is of no exception.  During our visit, we can see that the plague of urbanization is slowly afflicting the island- new roads are being constructed reaching areas as far as Pearl Farm Resort. While there is nothing wrong in development essentially, efforts have to be made to ensure that natural resources are protected and preserved which is not in most cases.

When we travel, it seems that the whole exercise is a race against time. It is a race to see places before they succumb to the perils of development. I often ask how long can these bats survive in such great numbers in Samal Island? These creatures cannot be kept in a cage or in a zoo. Their habitat is far reaching and perhaps covers the whole island of Samal.  To preserve these bats the whole island of Samal and its natural habitat has to be protected which is definitely a Herculean if not an impossible task.

These fruit bats play a vital role in Samal’s ecosystem and perhaps in the whole ecosystem of the world if we think how everything is naturally  interconnected.  The bats are known to feed on fruits where they help to propagate seeds by dispersing them in various locations. In this manner, it can be said that the famous Durian of Davao are dependent on these bats for their survival and reproduction.

The holes or caves in the Monfort Bat Colony are subject to some sort of a strict “caste system”.  In these caves, younger males, females, mothers caring for their young, older and dominant bats segregate themselves occupying a particular  cave. This “caste system” is being followed religiously apparently as we saw an organized system of living in each cave in the chaotic world of the bats.

The smell of “guano” or bat droppings is very difficult to bear and is something one has to survive when visiting the Monfort Bat Colony. Awful smell is all over the place and it varies in different degrees depending on the cave. Covering your nose when visiting the colony is of little help. 

But despite the smell, Monfort Bat Colony is a very interesting and fascinating place to visit in Samal Island. Aside from beach resorts, the island has just earned bragging rights in having the largest colony of such bats in the world. Again, seeing these bats in great numbers seem to be a battle against time. There is absolutely no assurance that this spectacle would still be there in the coming years. You got to see it while its there...

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