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Bo’s Coffee in Island Central Mactan: Digital Nomad Cebu Hotspot

The latest Cebu branch of the Philippine coffee chain is a cozy two-storey location in a new mall in Lapu-Lapu City- the Island Central Mactan. We went there when it…

The latest Cebu branch of the Philippine coffee chain is a cozy two-storey location in a new mall in Lapu-Lapu City- the Island Central Mactan. We went there when it was newly-opened and so it wasn’t as crowded as most coffee shops are in the city.

On the ground floor of Bo’s Coffee in Island Central Mactan is a long and high table that can be a good place to work on, especially for a group of friends or colleagues. It has a number of power outlets that should be enough to handle several laptops and other gadgets.

Bo's Coffee Island Central Mactan

BO’S COFFEE ISLAND CENTRAL MACTAN. This branch is open from 6 a.m. until midnight.

Ample power outlets

There are a few more tables on the ground floor as well as outside the cafe. Both the ground and second floors have ample power outlets. While not all tables have sockets, there are more than what is available in your average cafe.

The visually appealing industrial finish of the ceiling, however, turns the 2nd floor into an echo chamber that can be quite distracting when you work. Voices and laughter are amplified. Whenever the barista pounds on the filter of the coffee machine to clean it, you’d think someone was operating a jackhammer. Still, the noise can be cancelled out by a decent headphone playing Vivaldi close to the maximum volume.

Bo’s Coffee Island Central Mactan

ECHO CHAMBER. Noise is amplified on the 2nd floor and could be quite distracting if you’re working on something.

Average WiFi connection

The coffee shop’s free WiFi connection is about average – repeated Speedtest checks logged download speeds of about 2 Mbps and upload speeds of .253 Mbps. The area, however, has good Smart LTE coverage and you’re better off using an LTE device or your phone as portable hotspot.

The cafe has enough parking spaces since it is located in a mall. Island Central’s basement parking, however, is still undergoing works and can be difficult and tight to maneuver.

The coffee shop opens daily at 6 a.m. and closes at midnight.

Your other options in the immediate area are the nearby Starbucks in Marina Mall, Coffee Way a little farther away and the Uke Hub Cafe, which has been generating quite a buzz (we’ll write about it in a future post). Nothing outstanding will make you choose this coffee shop over the nearby locations. Of the coffee shops in the vicinity, however, Coffee Way stands out for being open beyond midnight.

Bo’s Coffee Island Central Mactan

POWER OUTLETS. While not all tables have power outlets, there are more than what is available in your average cafe.

BO’S COFFEE ISLAND CENTRAL MACTAN
DIGITAL NOMAD HOTSPOT RATING: 8.14 out of 10

Connectivity: 7
The cafe’s free Wi-Fi connection offers average to below average speeds. The area, however, has strong Smart LTE signal.

Power source: 8.5
The cafe has ample power outlets for its users.

Work ambience: 8
Second floor can be noisy

Coffee: 8.5

Food: 8.5

Parking: 8.5

CR: 8
It doesn’t have its own CR. You can use the mall’s CR, which are, as of this writing, clean and well-maintained.

(Are you a digital nomad? Have you worked here? Share your experience in a comment below.)

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Have app, will order turkey rice

I had my first taste of Taiwanese milk tea at a shop in a train station on our way to the remote township of Alishan. My wife and I headed…

I had my first taste of Taiwanese milk tea at a shop in a train station on our way to the remote township of Alishan. My wife and I headed straight to the station from the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport to catch the train to Chiayi in time for the last bus to Alishan.

We had time for snacks since the train was still several minutes away and proceeded to check out the food stalls at the station. There were no English signs. Unlike other destinations, English isn’t as widely used in Taiwan, whether written or spoken.

It was then that we used the Google Translate app that we downloaded prior to our trip.

The app translates in real-time and via phone camera text such as those you find in billboards, menus, and other documents. Real-time translation works in several languages, including Chinese. Apart from real-time translation, you can also choose to take a photo of the sign or document and highlight the text you want translated.

Google Translate app

REAL-TIME TRANSLATION. Reading instructions at a bus terminal using the Google Translate app.

Real-time translation

We used it to understand the signs on the different shops in that train station in Taipei. We confirmed that what looked to be pesto bread indeed was. We also used it to choose from the different varieties of milk tea sold in one shop of the station that was manned by a young shopkeeper who barely knew a word in English. In real time, Google Translate unmasked the Chinese characters in the menu of teas: honey plum, pearl pudding, vermicelli.

We then typed “less sugar” in the app and flashed its automated Chinese translation to the shopkeeper. He nodded in understanding and said “3?” We were puzzled at first until we realized they had a numeric scale for the sweetness of drinks.

Machine translation via web interfaces isn’t new. Among the first was the now defunct Babel fish by AltaVista, which is also now defunct. The initial attempts at automated machine translation were inaccurate and even outright funny. There’s a sign for what is apparently a toilet for persons with disabilities with an English translation of “special for deformed.”

But what really stuck on my mind was a restaurant banner that I found in Hong Kong that listed its menu. Below a photo of a delicious-looking chicken dish was the phrase “saliva chicken.” I wasn’t using Google Translate then so I wasn’t able to confirm the translation at that time. I had half a mind to go local and go inside to try it. I chickened out. I later learned that the closer translation should have been “mouth-watering chicken,” a famous Sichuan dish.

Google Translate

MILK TEA. There were only a few words in English in the food stalls in the train station on our way to Chiayi City in Taiwan.

Google Translate on mobile

In our Taiwan trip, Google Translate was of great help fathoming the signs all around us. We used it to check and double check bus schedules and directions. It wasn’t totally accurate, often you have to figure out the bits and pieces of words and phrases, but it was good enough to get by.

Dr. Raymund Bontol used it in a recent family trip to Japan and found it indispensable. He also uses it for online shopping in sites without English translations. And in an ultimate vote of confidence, Bontol also uses it to communicate with Korean patients.

Google Translate

REAL TIME. The app deciphered in real time our milk tea options.

What makes Google Translate very useful is that it’s mobile. Its Android and iOS apps aren’t pared down version of the website service – these are actually more powerful iterations with its mobility and capability to use the camera. If you download the available language packs, translations are faster and can be done even without an internet connection.

When we were in Chiayi waiting for the train back to Taipei, we had some time for lunch. We decided to look for a specialty of the region: turkey rice. Google Maps took us in a circuitous route to nowhere and, in exasperation, we finally stopped at a non-descript eatery near the station. There was a huge turkey in front of the counter. As with many Chinese restaurants abroad, you order by filling up a slip. By scanning the slip and then double-checking by asking the person at the counter, we managed to get our bowls of turkey rice.

Peek into the future

While useful right now, Google Translate offers a peek at a future of instant machine translation. Google says the app can do spoken translation. I haven’t tried it yet.

It would have been useful in Ximending when I ordered for breakfast a wrap of vegetables and some meat from a street stall. The woman preparing the dish asked me a question in rapid Chinese. The only word I caught was “chicken.”

“Yes, chicken,” I told her.

“Ah, chicken,” she said, “kruk kuk kuk kuk kuk.”

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How to get to Alishan in Taiwan

There is a wide range of options for getting to the Alishan National Scenic Area in Taiwan. The first step will be to get to Chiayi City in the southwest…

There is a wide range of options for getting to the Alishan National Scenic Area in Taiwan.

The first step will be to get to Chiayi City in the southwest from wherever you are in Taiwan. This provincial city is the base of public transport services that ply the Alishan route.

Do take note that while it is easy enough to get to Chiayi City, the journey onwards to Alishan has scheduling limitations.

Taiwan gateways

International travelers make their way to Taiwan through two gateways: Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in the north and Kaohsiung International Airport in the south.

The airport in Kaohsiung is nearer Chiayi and is the better pick for those who have this option. We entered Taiwan through the airport in Taoyuan because there are no direct flights from Mactan, Cebu to Kaohsiung.

Philippine AirAsia Cebu-Taipei

OFF TO TAIWAN. Philippines AirAsia flies the Cebu-Taipei direct route thrice weekly.

AirAsia Cebu-Taipei flights

We took advantage of the thrice weekly Cebu-Taipei flights that Philippines AirAsia launched in the later part of 2016. The good thing about AirAsia’s flight schedule was that it left Cebu at 6:10 am and arrived 30 minutes ahead of the arrival time of 9:10 a.m. Our early arrival gave us time to pick the slower regular train and still make it to the last bus schedule for Alishan from Chiayi.

It took us over six hours to make our way to Alishan from the Taoyuan airport using the regular train. The bus from the airport to the Taoyuan train station took 30 minutes. Train from Taoyuan to Chiayi was about 3 hours and the bus to Alishan took another 3 hours.

Alishan’s spectacular sunrise and sunset and well-preserved nature park more than made up for long journey.

Alishan Taiwan train

TRAVEL IN COMFORT. You ride a cruise-style train with seat-assigned tickets. If there are no more seats, you will be informed by the ticket counter so you can pick another schedule. Traveling on one isn’t a pain because the seats are comfortable and plush, have wide legroom, and can be reclined in case you want to sleep. In the photo is a bento snack, which others recommend you try. It was good, not really exceptional.

Regular train

Using a combination of bus and regular (express, mountain line) train, Chiayi is just about an hour and a half from Kaohsiung airport and three hours and a half away from Taoyuan airport. Train (express, mountain line) fare to Chiayi is NTD245 from the Kaohsiung and NTD532 from Taoyuan stations.

This is cruise-style train with seat-assigned tickets. Traveling on one isn’t a pain because the seats are comfortable and plush, have wide legroom, and can be reclined in case you want to sleep. If there are no seats available on the train schedule you want, they will inform you at the ticket counter so you can pick another time.

If you are very sure of your travel timetable, you can book tickets at the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) website. One advantage of taking the regular train is that the station for Alishan buses is just right outside.

If you’re starting from the Taoyuan airport, there is a shuttle bus that leaves for the Taoyuan train station from the airport at regular intervals. Bus fare is around NTD30.

Alishan Taiwan Chiayi City

The train stops at the Chiayi City station.

High speed rail

An alternative to the regular train is the high speed rail, which cuts travel time to Chiayi by two-thirds. The fare, or course, is more expensive: around NTD400 from Zouying station in Kaohsiung and around NTD900 from Taoyuan station in Taoyuan City.

Booking your tickets early can get you as much as 35 percent off on the fare. Early bird discounts are given on tickets booked from 5 to 28 days before the use date.

The Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR) is quicker but you still have to hop on a bus or take a cab from the Chiayi railway station to the Chiayi TRA station. The distance is about a 30-minute bus ride.

Buses that ply the Alishan route start their journey from a small station just outside the Chiayi stop of the TRA train.

TERMINAL. The terminal at Chiayi for buses heading to Alishan. Those older folks will try to have you take their vans, just decline them.

Getting to Alishan

Visitors have three options in getting to Alishan from Chiayi: combination of forest train and bus, bus only, and cab.

Forest train to Fenqihu

Of all three, the forest train is a highly recommended mode of transport. The Alishan train is comfortable and offers scenic views of Chiayi County but it makes only one trip daily on weekdays and twice on weekends and holidays to Alishan. The train leaves Chiayi at 9 a.m. and arrives in Fenqihu at 11:20 a.m. The tickets get sold out early so book in advance.

Alishan

TOLL GATE. This is where you pay the entrance fee for Alishan National Scenic Area.

Fenqihu to Alishan

From Fenqihu, you will need to take a bus to the Alishan National Scenic Area. Since the train arrives at 11:10 am on weekdays and 12:20 pm on weekends and holidays, people who take the forest train to Alishan get a few hours to explore Fenqihu before the 2:40 pm bus to the mountain resort arrives.

If you want to leave earlier than 2:40 p.m., get on the bus Shizhao, which is 20 minutes from Fenqihu, and change to the one for Alishan.

Direct bus to Alishan

If you can’t make it to the early train to Fenqihu, there are direct buses from Chiayi to Alishan. The first and last trips from Chiayi happen at 6:10 am and 2:10 pm. Fare is NTD230 for adults and NTD115 for children.

At the bus station outside of the Chiayi train stop, a few elderly women will try to talk you into taking a van for Alishan. Outside of the forest train, the bus is the next best transport to the mountain resort. If, however, you fail to make it to the last trip at 2:10 pm, they definitely would come in handy.

Chiayi to Alishan

Chiayi train station.

Cab to Alishan

A cab from Chiayi to Alishan is another option for travellers. It costs around NTD2,000-2,500 for a maximum of four persons travelling together.

Entrance fee

Shortly before reaching the Alishan National Scenic Area, the bus stops at a toll gate where passengers are asked to disembark and pay the NTD150 entrance fee to the park.

Alsihan in Taiwan

YOU’VE ARRIVED. Chiayi to Alishan buses park and drop off passengers in front of this 7-11 outlet in the township center. This is also where you buy bus tickets on your way back to Chiayi.

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Taipei trip highlights culture, food, nature

She beckoned to us from the shadows cast by the sculpted posts filled with symbolism the meaning of which now escapes me, there in that structure that represented religion in…

She beckoned to us from the shadows cast by the sculpted posts filled with symbolism the meaning of which now escapes me, there in that structure that represented religion in Taiwan.

“Come, come. I want to introduce you to some gods.” Or at least that is what I heard local guide Jane Fan told our group from Cebu that joined the AirAsia Taiwan trip amid the babel of languages that merged with worship sounds within the Longshan Temple in Taipei.

This religious structure in Taipei City’s Wanhua District is a rarity in that it is used by Tao and Buddhism followers, a fact that Jane shared with our small crew of mostly first-timers in Taiwan.

Amie Tea House Taiwan

AMIE TEA HOUSE. The restaurant it up as dark clouds and fog rolled into the old gold mining town.

Caught between the desire to linger in some areas and follow Jane’s pace, I did manage to catch some snippets of information about Longshan Temple in particular and worship in general in Taiwan.

Longshan Temple worship

In temples, you have to enter through the dragon path and exit through the tiger path. If you want to know why, I unfortunately missed that part. When you go up the temple steps, you have to do so with body bowed as a form of respect.

I lost count of how many deities are worshipped in Longshan but I learned there are halls or altars to the sea goddess Matsu, the gods of literature and war, matchmaking god, god of childbirth (with its hall filled with flower offerings), and the main temple goddess of mercy and compassion Guanyin.

Presidential Office Building

The Presidential Office Building. There are only a few days a year when they open the Presidential Office Building to the public.

From our guide, I also found out that when Buddhism made its way from India to China during the Han Dynasty in the third century, Guanyin was male but the Han Chinese made her female because they believed this was more in keeping with the attributes of mercy and compassion.

The Taiwanese are descendants of the Han Chinese who followed Chiang Kai-shek when he retreated to Taiwan following the defeat of his Nationalist’s party by the Communist Party of China in 1949.

Jiufen Taiwan

JIUFEN. Formerly a gold mining district located in a mountainous area of the Ruifang District in New Taipei City, Jiufen was once a prosperous and booming town that earned for it the nickname “Little Hongkong.” That was during the discovery of gold in the area during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in the late 1800’s.

AirAsia Cebu-Taipei flight

Our trip was brief but we managed to go to as many places as humanly possible, thanks to our guide and to the early AirAsia Cebu-Taipei flight schedule.

We left Cebu at 6:10 a.m. of November 25, 2016 on the Philippines AirAsia inaugural flight and arrived at the Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan 25 minutes ahead of schedule. That trip marked the start of AirAsia’s thrice weekly flights to Taipei from Cebu.

Arriving before 9 a.m. in Taiwan gave us almost a whole first day devoted to exploring the place that the Portuguese once named Formosa or “beautiful island.”

Golden Waterfall, Taiwan

The Golden Waterfall, where the mixture of rainfall and heavy metal elements in the riverbed lend it a yellowish sheen. It was more dull copper during our visit and may be golden some other times.

Taipei attractions

Before Longshan Temple, we checked out the Presidential Office Building from a vantage point across the street and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall built in honor of Taiwan’s first president.

Since there are only a few days a year when they open the Presidential Office Building to the public, we have to be content with admiring from afar this sprawling Baroque structure that, for all its western influence, seems fittingly at home in Chinese Taipei.

Travel is never complete without shopping or food so off we went to the Ximending Commercial District that reminded me somewhat of Cebu City’s Colon Street sans all the dirt and pickpockets.

What can I tell you about Ximending? It is long stretches of parallel and intersecting streets lined on both sides with small and big stalls, two-level stores, and malls selling everything from fruits and food to electronics and fashion retail of local and top brands. Some streets or at least the one I’ve walked on are cobbled and filled to the brim with shoppers, tourists, ambulant vendors, and the occasional stray vehicle.

Longshan Temple, Taiwan

LONGSHAN TEMPLE. Our group from Cebu at the entrance to Longshan Temple, a rarity since it is used by both Tao and Buddhism followers, our guide told us.

Taiwan eats

It was on a Ximending street where I had my first official encounter of the popular local delicacy stinky tofu. A pungent odor a mile away preceded this introduction and it was probably a good thing that we didn’t carry through with our dare to eat some and document our daring on Facebook Live no less.

First day lunch was at the highly acclaimed and original branch of the xiao long bao restaurant chain Din Tai Fung in Taipei. It only took us 40 minutes to get a table and we used the time wisely to get some milk tea from 50 Lan, reportedly one of the best sources of the drinks in the city.

Jane tried to provide as much variation in dining as she can in two days and brought us for dinner to a cavernous restaurant with its bizarre architecture and artwork. Artist Hsieh Li-shiang is the person behind the Five Cent Driftwood House concept.

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Taiwan

The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall was built in honor of Taiwan’s first president.

Jiufen attractions

The second day of our trip was spent food tasting in Jiufen. Formerly a gold mining district located in a mountainous area of the Ruifang District in New Taipei City, Jiufen was once a prosperous and booming town that earned for it the nickname “Little Hongkong.” That was during the discovery of gold in the area during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in the late 1800’s.

Today, the town is a maze of alleyways filled to the brim with shops and tourists. Local merchants sell food, souvenirs, clothes, bags, and whatnots.

Din Tai Fung Taiwan

DIN TAI FUNG. It took us 40 minutes to get a table at the original branch of this xiao long bao restaurant chain.

Food stalls usually have sample of their products in containers for tasting. Our guide had to caution us not to eat too much from the free samples as we were headed to lunch.

Despite Jane’s admonition, I was tempted to try out several items. My favorite food in Jiufen was the peanut and ice cream roll, which was a combination of two scoops of ice cream on a bed of grated peanut brittle that was garnished with coriander before being wrapped inside a spring roll. Heavenly!

xiao long bao

Xiao long bao in Din Tai Fung.

Skyline Tea House

Second day side trips include ones made to the Nanya Rock Formation, Bitou Cape, and Golden Waterfall where the mixture of rainfall and heavy metal elements in the riverbed lend it a yellowish sheen. It was more dull copper during our visit and may be golden some other times.

For lunch, we skipped the more popular Amie Tea House and took ours at the Skyline Tea House. We had a ready table so we didn’t have to wait.

From our perch, we had this unobstructed view of Amie and witnessed the restaurant light up as dark clouds and fog rolled into the old gold mining town. The pictures turned out perfectly, too.

50 Lan Taiwan

50 LAN. We were told that this shop serves one of the best milk teas in Taiwan.

Taipei 101

Our last big stop was Taipei 101 or the Taipei World Financial Center because one simply doesn’t miss out on this iconic skyscraper in the heart of the city.

I listened to my ears pop as we rode the pressurized elevator from the 5th floor to the Indoor Observatory at the 87th floor in a matter of 40 plus seconds. They dim the elevator so you can look up as constellations form out and shooting stars streak across the make-believe sky on the elevator ceiling.

There is so much to love in Taiwan and one visit is simply not enough. And that is why I’m returning this January on a Philippines AirAsia flight to Taipei. This time around, I intend to take my time.

Chiang Kai-shek replica

FIRST PRESIDENT. A wax replica of Chiang Kai-shek, Taiwan’s first president.

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My PayMaya experience: Sticking to a budget in Hong Kong

Luck had me traveling to Hong Kong twice this year, one for a trip long planned since last year, the other for a complimentary hotel stay that had to be…

Luck had me traveling to Hong Kong twice this year, one for a trip long planned since last year, the other for a complimentary hotel stay that had to be availed of by May.

onthego-icon Foreign trips cost money and I was traveling with women friends in a shopping mecca that is Hong Kong. For that second trip last June, I realized I needed to carefully watch how much I spend.

It wasn’t easy but I managed to create a budget and stick to it, thanks in large part to my PayMaya Visa app and card. The PayMaya app, which comes with a Visa card, is a prepaid digital payment solution created by PayMaya Philippines, Inc. – the digital financial unit of PLDT and Smart Communications, Inc.

Even before our trip, my PayMaya Visa app solved problems over how to pay for our AirBNB accommodations. Our apartment in the heart of Mong Kok was affordable but we ran up quite a total since our stay was for five nights. It would be an imposition to charge the whole amount to any of our credit cards so we each paid for our share and I deposited the amount in my PayMaya account and used it to pay for our stay.

PayMaya purchases

In Hong Kong, using PayMaya was easy breezy. I deposited my shopping budget for this trip in my PayMaya account and used my card to keep track of purchases. The PayMaya app gave me a real-time tally complete with the total cost in Hong Kong dollars and equivalent amount in Philippine peso plus my remaining balance.

One good thing about using PayMaya was that it pegged the conversion at the prevailing exchange rate of the Hong Kong dollar against the Philippine peso for that particular period.

Almost all establishments in Hong Kong, from convenience stores like 7-Eleven and souvenir stalls even in faraway Ngong Ping Village in Hong Kong’s Lantau Island to big retail outlets in malls, accept credit cards and PayMaya as well, since it is set up like one. The only difference is you need to have money in your PayMaya account to pay for your purchases and not rack up credit.

Some shops even recognize my PayMaya Visa card for the prepaid payment facility that it is. While many required my signature on the receipt, a few like the Starbucks at the check-in area of Hong Kong International Airport’s Terminal 2 didn’t see the need for it.

PayMaya travel

TRAVEL WITH PAYMAYA. Using the PayMaya app and card, I was able to create a travel budget and stick to it in a recent trip with friends to Hong Kong.

Payment notifications

I started using my PayMaya in February this year and loved the convenience of topping up through the Cliq machine at 7-Eleven. I input my mobile number and load amount at the machine and out comes a slip of paper that the cashier can scan. Immediately after paying, I get notification through SMS that a particular amount has been loaded to my PayMaya account. The whole process takes from 1 to 5 minutes depending on the line at the counter.

In Cebu and the rest of the Philippines, I’m also notified by SMS every time I make a purchase of my remaining balance since my PayMaya account is tied to my mobile number.

If I had set my phone to roaming in Hong Kong, I would have gotten the same text messages. Since I didn’t, I just access this information by logging on to my PayMaya app.

As someone who belongs to a digital publishing startup that can work anywhere from co-working spaces to cafes and coffee shops, my PayMaya has also become a convenient way to track daily personal and work-related expenses.

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Authentic Spanish tapas, best cocktails at Dumaguete’s Allegre

Being one of the many hangouts that dot the long stretch of Rizal Boulevard in Dumaguete City, the Spanish tapas bar Allegre is an easy a spot to overlook. If…

onthego-icon Being one of the many hangouts that dot the long stretch of Rizal Boulevard in Dumaguete City, the Spanish tapas bar Allegre is an easy a spot to overlook.

If we hadn’t gotten that invitation to try it out on our last night there, we would have missed the authentic Spanish dishes and great cocktails that draw a regular crowd to this charming tapas bar even on weekdays.

Allegre‘s patrons are of the old Spanish and Chinese families in Dumaguete and from as far as Bais City, said manager Xenia Fabe, adding that they also get the occasional local and foreign tourists.

The establishment filled up quite early on during our visit with the regular patrons and it was quite interesting to hear them chat animatedly in Spanish.

Allegre Spanish tapas bar Dumaguete City

SPANISH TAPAS served in Allegre, a bar on the scenic Rizal Boulevard in Dumaguete City.

Allegre menu

Fabe, who manages the bistro, prepared a lineup of their bestsellers for the InnoPub Media team to check out. These included such Spanish favorites as paella valenciana, croquetas, chickpeas and chorizo, boquerones, tenderloin tips, and callos.

After tasting dish after dish, we couldn’t decide on a favorite as they were all delectable. Servings fall within the P100-P200 range and are quite affordable. According to Fabe, Allegre’s two cooks used to work for the Spanish families in Negros where they learned how to prepare dishes of authentic Spanish flavors.

Paella Valenciana Allegre Dumaguete City

Paella Valenciana.

When it comes to cocktails, Allegre has a triumvirate of bestsellers in the frozen margarita, calamansi mojito, and sangria.

For a fairly new establishment, Allegre has received quite a lot of positive feedback. The bistro started operations only on November 11, 2015.

Allegre cocktails

COCKTAILS. Allegre bestsellers frozen margarita, calamansi mojito, and sangria.

Fun vibe

Fabe said Angelique Lhuillier Miranda, the owner, picked Allegre because it connotes happy, fun, and positive vibes and the quaint resto has lived up to its name.

Miranda also owns the La Bella franchise along the same block but Allegre is a homegrown restobar serving Spanish tapas and drinks, probably the first of its kind in the city.

Boquerones Allegre Dumaguete City

Boquerones.

“Most of our clients are well travelled and they love Allegre because it reminds them of the small pubs in Europe. The more crowded it is, the happier they are,” she added.

When in the resto, don’t ask for the wi-fi password because it doesn’t have wi-fi connectivity. You have to put your phone down and enjoy the Spanish appetizers or snacks paired with wine and cocktails in one of the best spots in Dumaguete that is the Rizal Boulevard.

Allegre Spanish tapas bar

Allegre is a Spanish tapas bar located on the scenic Rizal Boulevard in Dumaguete City.

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Beyond level 5, Aguinid Falls is unspoiled, green

A regular climb to Aguinid Falls in Samboan, Cebu entails going up the pathway created by the flowing water as it makes its way down from the fifth level to…

onthego-icon A regular climb to Aguinid Falls in Samboan, Cebu entails going up the pathway created by the flowing water as it makes its way down from the fifth level to the sea.

Beyond the fifth tier, however, the falls go up three levels more. There, beyond the reach of the regular climbers, nature is raw, untouched, and green.

We discovered the rest of Aguinid during our second visit on a Black Saturday of the recent Holy Week break.

Our first climb up to the fifth level in 2014 was a thrilling experience, but the second trip was even more exceptional. Considering the number of people out to get a taste of Aguinid Falls that day, it could have gone the other way.

Aguinid Falls Level 7

ALL TO OURSELVES. We went past the crowded lower levels to enjoy a dip in level 7 of Aguinid Falls.

Thanks to our competent and extraordinary guide Natsky Rocamora, one of the Aguinid Falls community tour pioneers, we made it to the very top and quite enjoyed our visit.

Samboan waterfalls

When we arrived, there were no fewer than 20 people at the entrance kiosk waiting for their turn to go up Aguinid Falls. Several more people had gone ahead and were scattered throughout the stretch of the waterfalls.

Natzky felt we wouldn’t be able to enjoy this visit as much as we did the last one and suggested we climb beyond the fifth level to the source of the beautiful Samboan falls.

Aguinid Falls

WAY UP. Our guide Natsky Rocamora had to haul us up a steep climb one by one. Take note of the plastic bottles that Natsky gathered on our way up. These were left behind by irresponsible tourists .

Difficult climb

The way to the top is precarious and difficult and something that shouldn’t be done without special equipment or someone like Natzky, who is very strong and knows every nook and cranny in Aguinid. We didn’t have climbing gear so he had to pull us through the really steep vertical paths.

Aguinid Falls

LEVEL 6. The upper levels of Aguinid Falls are mostly untouched.

Aguinid Falls

ON 6TH LOOKING TO 7TH. This is the deep part of level 6, before the challenging climb to level 7.

Climbers and even the community guides rarely make it beyond the fifth falls so this stretch is mostly left untouched. Driftwood and fallen branches by the sides, insects along and on the water, and green foliage everywhere.

For the sake of preserving Aguinid Falls, the higher levels should be left alone. Samboan shouldn’t make any improvements to make it easy for people to go beyond the fifth tier. Visitors shouldn’t be allowed to bring food or drinks in the climb. As it is, our guide had to pick up empty water bottles discarded by irresponsible climbers along the falls.

Aguinid Falls

LEVEL 8. This is the highest point in Aguinid Falls.

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Quiet corners and busy streets, cold mountain and hot tea: our Hong Kong of contradictions

There we were, frozen and shivering on a long line that snaked around a lonely bus stop in a cold mountain spot in Hong Kong, and there was no bus….

onthego-icon There we were, frozen and shivering on a long line that snaked around a lonely bus stop in a cold mountain spot in Hong Kong, and there was no bus. A digital sign gave a countdown of the 15-minute interval before the next one comes. It was an eternity of waiting.

A thick fog had descended on everything at the Po Lin Monastery in Lantau Island’s Ngong Ping Plateau. It had worsened to the point that you couldn’t make out anything beyond a few meters.

The trees and vegetation, monastery temples, cafes and tea house, Big Buddha, and just about everything else were shrouded in a heavy mist. I could hear people talking nearby but I couldn’t see them. It took us a good 10 minutes to look for the bus stop when it was only around a hundred or so meters away from where we exited Po Lin.

At the long line for the bus that extended way beyond the waiting shed, the rain had changed from a drizzle to a torrent. The wintry chill had numbed my gloved hands and feet encased in socks and boots, and my nose felt like a hard slab on my face. It was so bitterly cold, we could see our every breath.

Hong Kong Po Lin Monastery

PO LIN MONASTERY. It was blanketed in freezing mist during our visit.

Big Buddha Po Lin Monastery

268 STEPS to the Big Buddha or the Tian Tan Buddha in the Po Lin Monastery at Ngong Ping, Lantau Island. You could barely make out the giant statue in the mist.

Big Buddha Po Lin Monastery

TIAN TAN BUDDHA. The Big Buddha was built in 1993 and draws pilgrims and tourists from all over the world. We could barely make out the figure amidst the mist during our visit.

Chilly Ngong Ping

A German husband, with two kids in tow, was letting off steam at the bus stop. I didn’t understand his words but knew enough from his expression, side glances at his wife, and the reference to “Big Buddha” that he wasn’t pleased by the decision to go there. It was a painful trip even for people used to harsh winters.

Despite the agony of the numbing cold, I consider the Ngong Ping visit one of the highlights of our recent Hong Kong trip. The Po Lin Monastery is a common enough attraction in Hong Kong but the cold surge turned a humdrum experience into an extraordinary one.

Hong Kong Po Lin Monastery

PO LIN MONASTERY. In front one of the temples in the monastery.

Hong Kong Po Lin Monastery

MISTY MOUNTAIN. One of the statues at Po Lin Monastery.

As we went from temple to temple at Po Lin, stopped for hot tea and pastries and corn, checked out the shops at Ngong Ping village, climbed 268 steps to the Big Buddha, and stood at the long queue for the bus going down, with the harsh chill spreading on my skin and squeezing flesh and bone, there were times I feared my ability to withstand the cold.

But it is the experiences that bring us the greatest challenge that are also the most unforgettable. Still, the sight of the Citygate Outlets in Tung Chung, where we started the long trip by bus all the way up to Ngong Ping, provided me not just a little bit of relief.

Hong Kon Star Ferry

STAR FERRY TERMINAL. This is where you board the ferry that will take you to Hong Kong Central.

Hong Kong Star Ferry

HONG KONG ICON. The Star Ferry brings you to Hong Kong Central from the Tsim Sha Tsui district.

Hong Kong street markets

The rest of Hong Kong was tame by comparison. We didn’t follow a set itinerary but let the whim take us where it would.

Exploring Harbour City, Hong Kong’s largest mall, was a natural consequence of our stay at the Gateway Hotel of the Marco Polo chain of hotels in Hong Kong. From there, we stumbled upon the Clock Tower and Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade by accident.

We made the short ferry crossing between Tsim Sha Tsui and Hong Kong Island once or twice, got lost a few times until we were able to work out the mass transit railway (MTR) system, and sampled restaurant and street food along the way. Tried the Michelin-starred Tim Ho Wan and Mido Cafe in Yau Ma Tei because they came highly recommended but we stumbled upon other local establishments that served tastier fare.

Temple Street Market Hong Kong

TEMPLE STREET. This part of Hong Kong turns into a night market after dusk and offers a wide range of products for the intrepid shopper: from trinkets such as ref magnets to clothes, cellphones and accessories, various electronic products, chopsticks, among a myriad of products.

Temple Street Night Market

LEATHER NOTEBOOKS on sale on the Temple Street Night Market.

Hong Kong Apliu street flea market

ELECTRONICS and other gadgets are on sale on the Ap Liu Street Market. This is where we finally found what we have long been looking for: a boom microphone that you can attach to cell phones.

STREET FOOD. Old school noodles on the street that sells the latest gadgets.

STREET FOOD. Old school noodles on the street that sells the latest gadgets.

Transferring to Dorsett in Mongkok brought us nearer to the famous Temple Street Night Market, Ladies’ Market, and electronics bargains on Ap Liu Street.

We didn’t always follow the natural order of tours. So many people lining up for the tram to Victoria Peak? We used the bus and just tried the Peak Tram on our way down.

Place of contradictions

Taking out the rigid preparations from the equation made our trip much more flexible. Getting lost was not always a bad thing.

It was out on the streets, on foot, that we discovered Hong Kong, and it wasn’t always the spotlessly clean and modern Admiralty, Central, and Soho or the Canton Road littered with global brands like Hermes and Prada. It wasn’t just Causeway Bay with its ode to retail heaven.

Hong Kong Victoria Peak

VICTORIA PEAK. This is where you can have the best view of Hong Kong.

Victoria Peak Tram Hong Kong

PEAK TRAM. This Victorian-era tram offers a scenic and exciting experience as you head to or from Victoria Peak. Lines, however, can be long and a better option, which we took, was to head to the peak by bus and ride the tram, by then with fewer passengers, on the way down from the peak.

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens

ZOOLOGICAL AND BOTANICAL GARDENS. This is one of the must-visit places when in Hong Kong. This is at the entrance.

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens

NATURE PANORAMA. The Zoological and Botanical Gardens is surrounded by large, lush, and colorful trees.

Hong Kong Botanical Garden

GREENHOUSE. One of the many types of flowers in the greenhouse inside the botanical garden.

Hong Kong was also about streets in Kowloon lined with stalls where whole pigs and roasted ducks hung on hooks while wonton or noodle soup simmered in pots. It was an avalanche of people rushing along Nathan Road or the railway stations.

Sometimes, it was a quiet corner made up of two or three old people sharing a friendly moment or a back alley turned momentarily into a soup kitchen.

A place is also about the people you experience it with. Our Hong Kong, that is Max’s and mine, was a contradiction of sorts: immaculate and stained, prosperous and broken, but always a hotbed of vigor and purpose.

Snapshots of Hong Kong

Mong Kok street market

A street market in the Mong Kok district.

Citygate Outlets Hong Kong

CHINESE NEW YEAR SALE. The Citygate Outlets in Tung Chung offered huge discounts as part of the Chinese New Year sale.

Hong Kong Observation Wheel

HONG KONG OBSERVATION WHEEL. This Ferris Wheel dominates the view in this part of Central in Hong Kong.

Ti Ho Wan HongKong

TIM HO WAN. This renowned restaurant started out as a hole-in-the-wall eatery that grew into a food outlet featured in the Michelin guide.

Jardine House Hong Kong

WE LOVED the food (and its huge servings) in Deli and Wine in Jardine House in Central.

FRIED BUNS. These fried buns served by a newly opened small shop across the street from Gateway Hotel were yummy.

FRIED BUNS. These fried buns served by a newly opened small shop across the street from Gateway Hotel were yummy.

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Pescador Island adventure: dolphins, marine beauty make up for the “sharks”

Dolphins! They swam beside our boat as we neared Pescador Island off Moalboal for a day out snorkeling and enjoying the much better preserved underwater marine life in the southern town known for its long strip of white sand beach.

onthego-icon Dolphins! They swam beside our boat as we neared Pescador Island off Moalboal for a day out snorkeling and enjoying the much better preserved underwater marine life in the southern town known for its long strip of white sand beach.

Our welcoming party of at least five dolphins dove and jumped and glided alongside our motorized outrigger banca for a time, entertaining all of us as we clapped, cheered, and took pictures.

We dropped anchor in the shallows of the small uninhabited island of Pescador so our party of 20 plus adults and kids can enjoy swimming and looking at the fish and corals underneath.

Pescador Island hopping

The dolphins and Pescador were the highlights of our island hopping experience.

Sad to say that things turned bad from there on.

After a short time in Pescador, the skippers of the two boats we rented for the day told us to climb back as we were going to another popular snorkeling area. They claimed they were bringing us to where the sardines congregate in Moalboal.

Dolphins in Pescador Island, Moalboal

Dolphins swim beside our boat as we approach Pescador Island off Moalboal in southern Cebu.

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Though we wanted more time off Pescador, we agreed because we believed it would be another satisfying experience. The boat skippers did make the motion of bringing us somewhere else and we saw others there. But after shouting to each other and slowing down a bit, they went off again.

They said they were bringing us to a sanctuary. It was anything but. It was dirty, the corals were dead, and there was something in the sea that stings.

They thought that would discourage us and we would ask to go back. Some of us, including me, did stop swimming and just stayed on the boat. However, some children and a few adults continued to swim. It was then that they asked us to go back up the boat again.

Boat rental rates

We were surprised and thought they were bringing us to a new location after we complained about the dirty sea. What happened was they already dropped us back at White Beach.

We left at past 8 a.m. and they returned us before noon. Since we paid for two boats, at P2,500 each, for our party of 24 adults and kids, it’s not hard to see we were shortchanged.

Pescador Island, Moalboal

PESCADOR ISLAND is an uninhabited islet off Moalboal that is a favorite among divers for its fantastic underwater scene.

Pescador Island, Moalboal

The deception, actually, started way earlier. In the beginning, we asked for one big boat that can accommodate our party of over 20 adults and children. That was the day before our trip, and were were at White Beach in Basdaku, Moalboal. We were assured they have such a boat.

On the day of the trip, the person we negotiated with (a mainstay at White Beach) pointed the boat that bears the markings “ACS”. I told him it looked quite small as it was still some distance away and if it would fit all of us. He said yes.

As it is, the boat skipper of the motorized outrigger banca ACS waited until we (not one boat crew offered help) brought all our things aboard before saying his boat couldn’t accommodate all of us.

White beach

Keep away from this one, he’s crafty and rude and bad for Moalboal tourism. He has this style of walking away, muttering and mumbling, in the middle of your conversation if he doesn’t like what he’s hearing.

He told us we had to add another boat if we want to go island hopping. With the kids all excited to go and thinking of the hassle of bringing down large coolers and other provisions down from the boat again, we ended up paying for two boats.

Pescador Island, Moalboal

ISLAND HOPPING to Pescador Island is a popular activity in Moalboal. Just make sure you negotiate well for the boat you are renting.

This was not our first time in Moalboal and we never had problems in our past trips to White Beach. This was our first time to go island hopping, though, and realized we should have seen to the finer details.

If you’re planning to hie off to Pescador in Moalboal this summer, here are some tips to make the most of your experience. Never agree on a price without looking at the boat first as you can’t rely on them to be truthful. Ask how long you can be out at sea for such a price. Decide on the itinerary and make sure they stick to it.

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Gateway Continental Club brings extra level of service to hotel guests

Travel to another country can be intimidating but our recent trip to Hong Kong was smooth all throughout, thanks in large part to a complimentary two-night stay at Gateway of the Marco Polo chain of hotels in Hong Kong.

onthego-icon Travel to another country can be intimidating but our recent trip to Hong Kong was smooth all throughout, thanks in large part to a complimentary two-night stay at Gateway of the Marco Polo chain of hotels in Hong Kong.

We took an early morning flight from Cebu and Gateway Hotel checked us in because our room was ready even if it was still 10 a.m.

Though we were willing to wait for the 2 p.m. check-in time, having access to your room early when you’re tired from waking up early to catch your flight and navigating the streets of a foreign country to get to your hotel is a big bonus.

Samantha Poon, Marco Polo Hotels-Hong Kong director of communications, told us beforehand in an email that we were being upgraded to a deluxe room at the Continental Club but we didn’t really know what that meant until we arrived.

Gateway exceptional service

The Continental Club of Gateway offers exceptional service and an extra level of convenience, with a host of benefits and privileges thrown in for good measure.

Our remarkable time in Hong Kong begins with a welcome fruit basket and complimentary drinks that we hardly had to time to finish when these were again replenished.

Gateway Continental Club Marco Polo Hong Kong

CONTINENTAL CLUB LOUNGE offers guests of Gateway Hotel of the Marco Polo chain complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, evening cocktail, and all-day snacks and drinks.

 

Continental Club rooms and suites are located on the 14th to 16th floors of the hotel and have exclusive access to the Continental Club Lounge where there is complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, evening cocktail, and all-day snacks and drinks.

For someone who is not very adventurous when it comes to food, I appreciated the mix of Western and local cuisine that we had access to at the lounge. When we were tired from all the walking and touring that we did, there was always the hotel food to perk us up.

Gateway Continental Club Marco Polo Hong Kong

Continental Club Lounge.

Gateway Continental Club

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Gateway Continental Club Lounge perks

Since our trip came at a time when we had to coordinate coverage of a big event back home, Gateway’s Continental Club Lounge was a life saver. Getting in touch with the team in Cebu from Hong Kong’s Gateway Hotel was easy with free and fast connectivity. The lounge was an ideal workspace, with plush furniture and unlimited drinks and coffee.

Even out in the streets of Hong Kong, we were really never out of touch. Gateway provides in each of its room a handy, a mobile phone that you can bring with you when you go exploring. It comes with free unlimited 3G mobile internet and you can turn into into a Wi-Fi hotspot. The phone also offers free unlimited calls to five countries including the Philippines, a city guide, and exclusive deals on tickets to attractions.

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Taking into account that this was Hong Kong, our deluxe room was surprisingly spacious and comfortable. Our window had a view of the harbor and other high-rise buildings in the vicinity of Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

Gateway is part of Harbour City, Hong Kong’s largest shopping complex, so you get easy access to such top global brands as Prada, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Lacoste, Givenchy, Armani, Balenciaga, Chanel, Bvlgari, Tissot and the like.

If I have to pick what I really missed about our trip, I would have to say Gateway Hotel because it was the closest thing to home in that Chinese city that is Hong Kong.

Gateway Continental Club

WORKPLACE ON A VACATION. With fast connectivity, comfortable furniture and unlimited drinks and coffee, Gateway’s Continental Club Lounge is the best option for business travelers.

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