That Whirlwind 5-Day Trip to Dingalan, Minalungao and Baler

I have an obsession with Batanes. I so want to go there but it is still too expensive for me. So whenever I see a photo of a place that looks like a Batanes landscape, off I go. This led me and my friends to off-beaten places like Palaui in Cagayan and Mariveles in Bataan.

This is Palaui.

This is Bataan.

When I saw a similar picture which pointed to Dingalan, we found our new destination for a trip.

You see I have this annual trip with friends where we book promo fare tickets to a certain destination every year. We have been to Naga, Sagada, Ilocos, Pagsanjan, Cagayan, Coron, Bataan, Dumaguete, Siquijor and Cebu. So this time around we were aiming for Dingalan, Aurora. We have five days to spare so we googled for other destinations to visit that are near Dingalan so we decided on Minalungao and Baler.

Day 1: How to reach Dingalan

My friends, Jen, Bryan and Bamba, and I were excited to go! We sent this photo to our friends who did not go with us. Boohoo!

Dingalan was two rides away from Manila. Good thing there was a bus terminal in Pasay. When we arrived at NAIA 3, we had our breakfast at the airport. We then took the airport loop shuttle to Pasay MRT which brought us to the Genesis Terminal located in the same compound as the airport loop shuttle terminal. But lo and behold, the buses for Cabanatuan were stationed in Cubao not in Pasay. However, I knew that the Five Star Bus terminal was somewhere in this area and a quick Google search confirmed that it was less than a block away. A bus for Cabanatuan was about to leave when we arrived. Talk about great timing!

We were all nicely settled in our bus seats.

We left Manila at around 11 am. By the time we arrived Cabanatuan, we were already famished. We welcomed the sight of SM so we immediately got off the bus right there. We found this resto inside the mall. The rule was to eat somewhere that does not have a branch in Butuan. So we went to this adobo place in the mall. Nothing fancy. Nothing amazing also but enough to fill our grumbling tummies.

They said Dingalan was only an hour away from Cabanatuan. It felt like two hours. We arrived Dingalan close to 6pm. It was a long day, a holiday and a small town. It was so quiet.

We ended up eating at 7-11. Yes, there was a 7-11!

It was also raining that evening. Typhoon Ineng was somewhere in the North. We wondered if weather would be better the following day.

Day 2: Dingalan Tour

But they say that “tomorrow’s another day!”

This was where we stayed. My beef with this inn? No mirrors!

We could hear the strong winds the night before but I guess the Universe wanted us to go to this trip because the waters were relatively calm. I was traveling with people who sail frequently across the Surigao Strait so Dingalan’s sea was chill.

First stop was Lamao Cave. It was a small cave. We just stayed for some photos and off we went to Suwa Rock Formation.

We were very cautious in this site because the wind was so strong. I could now understand that news when someone was blown off the cliff while taking a selfie. We were holding on to dear life while climbing on the rocks. We did not pose of pictures until we were very sure we would not be blown off by the wind.

Look at my hair! It was that windy. I had to secure my phone under my shirt!

But look that the landscape! It was awesome.

But wait there is more! We docked at the White Beach. This was the starting point of our trek to the mountain view, the reason for this trip.

It was a relatively easy trek yet I did break a lot of sweat. The view was worth all the muscle pains.

Sigh! This is just majestic! Dingalan’s mountain view has its own charm.

There was also a viewing area for the lighthouse. Going to the lighthouse was a separate trek which we skipped.

By the way, we hired a tour guide and the charge is Php 200/spot. Tour guides make the trip a lot easier. Plus, we also get have a personal photographer for free. This was our guide taking photos of two of my friends.

We had buko juice after our trek down.

We had a simple lunch at the town area.

Off we went to Tanawan falls! Another hiking but it was all fun because of the many chitchats with friends.

It was a small falls but we swam anyway.

There was a small view deck near the area also.

We also made a stop to get a photo of the Aurora Memorial National Park, part of the Sierra Madre mountain range.

We were ‘oohing and aahing’ over the sight of the mountains on our way to Dingalan. We were easily identified as tourists (and blown off my goal to blend in with the locals) because we ogled at the sights like silly first-timers!

We decided to go back to our accommodations after. It was a long day. We freshened up, had dinner and called it a day.

Day 3: The Arduous Journey to Minalungao.

We were off to Minalungao, Nueva Ecija for this day and would travel to Baler after. The route would be Dingalan -Cabanatuan- General Tinio-Minalungao-Cabanatuan-Dingalan. We estimated that it would take us 2 hours to reach Minalungao. In reality, it took us almost 5 hours. Dingalan to Cabanatuan took us 2 hours plus we went to a different terminal. When we arrived at the correct terminal, the jeepney won’t leave until it is full.

UNFAZED. My friends are seasoned travelers.

We had to transfer to a tricycle to reach Minalungao. It was almost 2 pm when we arrived at Minalungao. We immediately ordered lunch.

When we were all recharged with food, we went on a 1,000-step trek around the park. There was a hanging bridge we needed to cross for the trek. The acrophobic me walked ever so slowly.

It was a long trek. I could feel my sweat trickling down my face.

On top is a cross and, from there, we walked downhill.

It was a tricky slope that I gingerly moved one step at a time.

We saw the spring pool still for completion.

The guide said that the longest water slide in the world is also due to open soon.

The main attraction in Minalungao is really the Penaranda river with its limestone rock formation on each side.

There are rafts for rent if you want to explore the river. We did not have time for rafting and opted to just stroll along the sides.

We left Minalungao at 4pm. We learned from our guide that there were no longer jeepneys that would be traveling to Cabanatuan from General Tinio at that time so the tricycle driver brought us to the Fort Magsaysay community area where there was a jeepney for Cabanatuan. It took two hours to reach Cabanatuan and we asked to be dropped to the nearest fastfood joint for dinner. We saw Jollibee and just ate there. We took another jeepney for the terminal and boarded a van for Baler. We left at around 7:30 pm and arrived in Baler at around 11pm. What a day!

Day 4: Baler Tour!

I guess we were fully recharged because we were up and chirpy the next day.

We hired a tricycle to tour us around the spots in town.

First stop was Diguisit beach. There were rock formations there which reminded me of Nanya in Taiwan.

We dropped by a small falls. There is a mother falls somewhere. It required trekking which we opted out. We were ‘trekked out’.

We climbed up Ermita Hill.

The 2-kilometer coastline of Sabang beach can be seen from the view deck here.

Ermita hill was the place where people took refuge to survive the 1735 tsunami that hit Baler. Those who survived were commemorated with these sculptures.

We made a short stop at a hanging bridge.

The tricycle dropped us off in Dona Aurora’s house and we were on our own after that.

I like the layout of the house of Dona Aurora.

We visited the museum.

We strolled around the plaza.

We spent some time at the beach.

When the evening came, we decided to eat at a bistro near our inn. Good thing we went in early because the place was packed by the time we had our meal. It was a good meal to cap the night off. The best meal we had on this trip!

Day 5: The long bus ride to Manila.

We woke up early to attend mass.

We had breakfast and headed out for travel to Manila. We took a 10 am bus from Baler and we arrived Cubao by 5 PM. We were able to watch three movies.

We met up with some friends in Glorietta and we hung out with them until it was time for us for board for our plane ride home to Butuan.

It was a whirlwind traveling to one destination to another using public transportation and lugging our bags around. It can be a hassle but it is better to do these things now while we are still strong and relatively young. Every discomfort is well worth the trouble every time we reach a destination. The Philippines is such a beautiful place. I am proud to call it my home.

Photo Credits:  Bryan Edulzura, Barbara Japitana, Jenifer Deligero,  Katrina Centeno.  We copied all our pics to each of our phones every night.  I can no longer identify who took which picture.  I placed the watermark for consistency. 

Chasing Cherry Blossoms in South Korea

Annyeonghaseyo! My friend, Gail, and I initially planned to go to Japan for cherry blossom season. We have been waiting for good deals for airfares but we have not found something that fits my budget. Then, this photo appeared on my Facebook feed.

This got me thinking: How about Korea? The country has cherry blossoms. With this package tour, we did not have to worry a thing. Or, so we think! Ha! We have been DIY travelers. I have traveled with Gail to Coron, Bacolod, Iloilo, Siargao, Taal and Taiwan. We have relied on our research skills in planning for these trips. Oh, let me rephrase. I have relied on Gail’s research skills in planning for these trips. No travel agency, we booked our own plain tickets, hotels and what-nots. Not having the control can be daunting for us. It was reassuring for me that it was Globelink who took care of us. My cousin owns the travel agency and I know her well. It would be easy to just sit and relax and let them do their job. And yet, we still bombarded them with a thousand and one questions through texts, emails and messenger because we, as travelers, were built that way. We were giddy excited and just wanted know everything. Hahaha! Thank you, Globelink, for your patience.

This was also the first time for me to travel to a country that requires visa for Filipinos. Waiting for the visa application results was nerve-wracking. I couldn’t continue planning for the trip with that cloud over our heads- that they could deny me that visa. Thankfully, we were granted visas. We were really only after the cherry blossoms. The Philippines is too beautiful a country to leave behind for long.

Anyway, back to South Korea. We strategically chose travel dates when the cherry blossoms would possibly start to bloom. There weren’t much forecasts on Korea’s cherry blossoms so we just picked the first week of April.

We arrived at the Incheon airport in South Korea at 10:30 P.M. The airport was huge. We had to ride a train and walk thousands of steps just to get to immigration, get our bags and look for our guide. We had to wait for others in our tour group, too. There were 43 of us in the tour group.

Early April in Korea is cold. It was really cold. That blast of cold wind greeted me as we stepped out of the airport doors to wait for our bus. We actually did our research. Temperature forecast was around 14 to 18 degrees Celsius. I figured that would be “aircon” weather. I have been to Baguio earlier this year; the temperature dropped to single digits and I survived with layers of clothes. I figured I could handle early spring in Korea. Nah! If only I brought enough coats and jackets! I brought only 1 coat! Talk about traveling light! But I am a trooper so I just winged it and still had fun.

Our spirits were still up while waiting for our hotel room assignment. Gail’s mom and her mom’s friend also traveled with us.

The room was clean and the bed was comfy. We had a heated toilet with a bidet that worked with only a push of a button! No more tabo (dipper)!

We woke up to this view. We were near some port area near the Yellow Sea.

But not for long! We were off to Nami Island for sightseeing.

Nami Island is popular with Filipinos because it was the backdrop of ‘Winter Sonata’, a K-drama shown in the Philippines. I have only watched 4 K-dramas so far. Three of which I watched in the early 2000s and I hardly remember the scenes so everything is new to me.

We found cherry blossoms in Nami Island!


The advantage of having a package tour is that you do not have to worry about meals (except for 2 dinners and 1 lunch). There was buffet breakfast every day. And lunch was also arranged. These were our meals during the entire tour.

We made a quick stop at the Soyang River Skywalk.

We also visited the Sokcho Fish Market.

We made a quick photo session with the cherry blossoms lining the streets because we almost forgot them when we spent some time inside the market.

Oh we bought fresh strawberries and our guide gave us face masks so we used them that night at the hotel. We stayed in a new accommodation nearer to the Seorak mountain, where we were off the next day.

The Seorak mountain range was magnificent!!!

We did not find cherry blossoms there but there were pretty magnolias.

Look at all those tourist buses!

The guide, Mr Park, showed us where we should take pictures with the cherry blossoms. They lined along the highway going to the Seorak mountain.

And so we took a lot of photos.

This was a dream come true for me!

Next stop was Everland. Our guide called it the 2nd best theme park in the world. It was the Korean version of Disneyland. Because we had only a few hours to spare here we quickly searched for the Four Seasons garden after having lunch.

Look at all these tulips!

We also went to a safari ride where the bus went near tigers, lions and brown bears.

We rode the sky gondola ( I forgot what it was called) and the cable car.

And off we went to Seoul! I took of this cherry blossom while on the tour bus.

Our first stop on our 3rd day of the trip was the ginseng museum.

I did not know that it takes 6 years for ginseng to mature and, after harvesting, the land where it was planted on would not be used for 10 years because the ginseng already absorbed all the nutrients. Thus, the Korean ginseng they were showing us was very expensive – top of the line. It was supposed to prevent/cure many diseases. I already forgot what ginseng does. All I know is that it is good for the body. My thoughts were on the price- around 200 thousand pesos for the premium one. The cheapest was around 35 thousand pesos, I think. I still cannot afford. Ha!

As part of the tour, we were also toured to the red pine tree shop that sold some medicines and the cosmetics duty-free. The back of my hand was so smooth after trying Korean skincare! As much as I would love to have those products they were demonstrating to us, they were way beyond my budget. I only bought face masks at the cosmetic duty free. I think that if we had done the DIY route, we could have visited other tourists spots instead of these shops. I was not built for shopping but it was an interesting tour nevertheless.

We visited the National Folk Museum. We learned about their culture and traditions.

We saw some cute girls in hanbok.

We hung out at the Cheonggyecheon stream. We ate some Korean street food. We did not stay longer because it was sooo cold.

There was supposed to be a nearby monument of King Sejong, who invented the Korean characters but it was too cold to walk towards the monument so we went to the mall where there was ample heating. Ha!

Night time was free time. It was also the time we planned to meet our high school friends. Since we were staying in Myeongdong area and it was more than an hour before our agreed meetup with friends, we decided to visit the Myeongdong Cathedral first. It was beautiful.

We were able to catch the end part of a mass. It was in Korean though. It was still early so we decided that we roamed a little in Myeondong shopping area. Gail and I walked ahead while her mom and her mom’s followed behind. There were crowds and crowds of shoppers and when we glanced at them, we lost them. What supposed to be a leisurely stroll turned into a manhunt!!! Ha! We retraced our steps and we did not find them. We went back to the hotel and found our high school friends waiting for us. We told them about losing Gail’s mom and we got them involved in the search. Still, we did not find them. We just decided that we eat dinner and hoped that Gail’s mom and her mom’s friend would find their way back to the hotel.

We walked back to the hotel after dinner and Gail found her mom in her hotel room. I could hear myself sigh in relief.

This was a memorable night! Glad to see you, Popay and Clint! Thank you for enduring the search!

On our last day in South Korea, we went to the Namsan tower.

We can actually see the tower when we went to the rooftop of our hotel.

It was grand up close especially with the canopy of trees.

There is a wide open area on top where we could see the Seoul skyline.

We also went to Deoksugung Palace. Many Korean dramas were filmed here but my only concern was to have a photo with the cherry blossoms here.

And here, too. So pretty!!!

This was the grandest one I have seen in this trip.

We also went to the seaweed museum where we learned how to make gimbap.

Of course, I also got to wear the hanbok, a traditional Korean dress.

Last stop was outlet shopping. Since shopping was not in my list, we just hung out with our LINE friends. I actually use LINE to chat with some of my friends.

And just like that, the vacation ended. We said goodbye to our tour guide, Mr. Park. He could already go home to his family after spending the week touring us around.

Kamsahamnida, South Korea!

The compilation of the videos I took during the trip is now up on my YouTube channel.

Suggestions For Experiencing Europe

Photo by JoaquinAranoa from Pixabay

One continent that features highly on almost everyone’s list is Europe. The reason for that is that there are so many countries to visit and so much of the world’s history set across these 50 countries. Here we are going to take a look at some the most popular and easy to navigate places to visit in Europe, but that doesn’t mean you should discount the likes of Stockholm in Sweden and Prague in the Czech Republic. So here are some suggestions for your trip to Europe.

Italy

First of all, we are going to start with one of the places in Europe with the richest of histories and one of the heaviest influences on the rest of the world, Italy. And when you discuss Italy, it is impossible to not start with the food. You have, no doubt, had pizza and pasta by now in your life, but you haven’t had it the way Italians do it at home. The pride and passion they put into their food is second to none, so make sure you are ready to get stuck into the local cuisine as soon as you arrive

One of the big questions when visiting Italy is where to go? Well, that choice really depends on what you are looking for. Two of the most popular tourist attractions in Europe, not just Italy, are Rome and Venice. Both are steeped in history and cultural significance, with the former being 100 small islands connected by canals and bridges. Rome is the capital of Italy and prides itself on taking you on a journey through the Roman era right up to the modern day with the Colosseum and Forum just two of the monuments still standing.

Meanwhile, for those of you looking for a taste of the ocean life then you might want to hire a driver from WhereToRome and get yourself cruising along the Amalfi coast.

Photo by Walkerssk from Pixabay

Spain

Much like Italy, Spain has a lot to offer tourists outside of its main attractions. There is a gluttony of cities and towns to visit that you could just keep coming back for more. This time we are going to focus on the mainland, but don’t forget the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. The likes of Tenerife, Gran Canaria, and Lanzarote have lots to offer. The same applies to a lot of mainland Spain, from the countries capital Madrid to the capital of one its regions, Sevilla in Andalucia.

But for now, we are going to look at Barcelona. There is a reason that this part of Catalunya is so popular all year-round, and it isn’t just the weather. The merger of city life with the beach is one that tourists and locals love equally. There are few places in the world where you can be in the hub of the action of a major city only to be feeling the sand in your toes within a few minutes. Barcelona is famous for many things from its football team to La Rambla, but one major recommendation is to get up into the Gaudi Park. Not only will you see some of the wonderful works of this great Spanish artist, but you will also be offered views of Barcelona as a whole that just can’t be beaten.

3 Things You Need To Know When Visiting Australia For The First Time

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Who wouldn’t want to visit the ‘land down under?’ Australia is the place for your bucket list dreams, with over 10,000 beaches to relax in, a diverse cultural heritage to discover, and some of the greatest cities in the world. Wildlife lovers will want to get up close and personal with the kangaroos and koalas, and for those looking for a more active holiday, there is the Outback to explore, and underwater adventures in the Great Barrier Reef. In short, Australia is a fantastic place to visit, and we have only just touched the surface with the country’s highlights. Here are some other reasons why you really should put Australia on your bucket list.

However, if you are planning on visiting Australia, there are a few things you need to know before arrival.

#1: You need to know that Australia is huge!

Don’t assume you can see all of Australia during your one week’s vacation time a year. Flying from Brisbane to Perth, for example, will take you five hours! And if you’re driving that particular journey, you’re looking at a three-day trip. Unless you are planning on backpacking around Australia for a good six months or so, we recommend you pick one area to visit and explore all that is on offer.

So, if you’re looking for a beach holiday, we recommend the Gold Coast, with its magnificent coastlines and ample surfing opportunities. If you want to get the Outback experience, learn more about Australia’s indigenous lifestyle, and see a few kangaroos, we recommend a stay in Alice Springs. Or if you’re looking for fun in the city, with stores galore and a bustling nightlife, we recommend you hire a car from Bayswater Car Rentals and see what Sydney has to offer you. Think about what you want from your travels, do your research, and then plan your route accordingly.

#2: You will need to ignore the myths

Let’s debunk a few of the common myths about Australia so you aren’t taken by surprise when you visit. For starters, let’s talk about food. It’s not all about throwing ‘shrimps on the barbie,’ no matter what you have seen on your television.There are all kinds of traditional foods in Australia, some a little unusual – Witchetty Grubs, fried crocodile – and some a little more common – meat pies, and fish and chips. You owe it to yourself to explore the culinary delights on offer, but don’t expect a barbecue around every corner.

Another misconception is that Australia is a dangerous place to visit. Sure, there are crocodiles and snakes in the country, but you are unlikely to bump into one unless you are exploring away from the mainlands. Australia is actually considered to be a very safe travel destination, but as with any country you aren’t familiar with, it’s still worth adhering to a few safety tips, especially if you are traveling solo.

#3: You might never want to leave

Don’t be surprised if you’re tempted to throw away your return ticket home. When visiting Australia, you will soon discover why many people decide to uproot themselves and move there. The air is fresh and clean. The people are laid back and friendly. The climate is hotter than in most countries. And with the golden sandy beaches, tropical rainforests, and simply stunning mountain ranges, Australia is also one of the most beautiful countries in the world. And did we mention the kangaroos and koalas? You will have a fabulous time, no matter where you are in Australia, so get ready for a few tears IF you do decide to make that return journey home.

Thanks for reading!

Active Holidays to Change Your World View


The best thing about traveling is that you can enrich your life by discovering new ways to live. Whether you are visiting a beach paradise or the coldest, most northerly reaches of the planet, what you see and what you learn will have a lasting impact on the way that you perceive the world and your place within it.

Of course, for most people, traveling is almost always within the confines of a holiday. While you might dream of traveling as a lifestyle choice, the reality is that, unless you are willing to work as you go, you will inevitably have to make do with snatches of travel. And, it has to be said that if you are planning a holiday, you are much more likely to want to relax in Libjo than go somewhere freezing!

But before you close your mind to alternative options, think about what you want from a holiday. To relax is definitely one of the reasons we go on holiday but we tend to travel because we want to be diverted by the new. So, instead of lying on a beach for 2 weeks, reading trashy novels and occasionally looking up at the view, here are a few more active holidays you might like to try in between.  

Image Credit: Pixabay

Enter the Ice Caves

Iceland is a fascinating country, cold and ice-covered throughout much of the year and yet the active volcanoes that form the island provide hot springs just perfect for bathing and swimming. Weirdly, this geothermal activity means that the people of Iceland don’t need to heat their water for use at home, they actually need to let it cool. As geology goes, this is the kind of island you can definitely get on board with!

The landscape of Iceland is incredible. Not only are the glaciers simply stunning but the ice caves are certainly worth exploring. Taking a day to take a tour with Katlatrack is a really good way to see some of the more exciting areas as well as get to know other tourists if you are traveling alone.

The ice caves are, as you would expect, made with ice but what you might not realize is just how unbelievable they are inside. As the ice shifts and changes, the light alters too bringing a kind of ethereal energy to the caves. Of course, the ice is melting and reforming all the time so while you are perfectly safe to enter with a guide, you will never see the same cave twice.

Every day is a new experience here.

Image Credit: Pxhere

Walk the PCT

The Pacific Crest Trail has gained a lot of popularity as Wild, a memoir written by Cheryl Strayed, opened up the idea of walking as a means to heal oneself. Her idea was that if she walked the trail alone, she would have the time to come to terms with herself and her life as well as learn what it really means to be independent.

Though you probably aren’t looking for answers to such fundamental questions, the trail is still an extraordinary opportunity to get into the wilderness. Reaching all the way from California to the Canadian border, the PCT offers everything from icy mountains to dry desert. While you may not be up for spending months walking the whole distance, there are plenty of day trip options and equestrian routes that may appeal.

Taking some time away from society and entering the wild doesn’t appeal to everyone but if you are willing to rough it, you will be rewarded. Here on the trail, the stars are clear and beautiful and, without the constant noise of roads, you will hear so much more of nature. This can be quite an addictive space so do give yourself time to enjoy a new perspective. And if you do want to go for a longer period, do read up on a few tips before you get started.

Image Credit: flickr

Dive the Red Sea

SCUBA diving is probably the only way to truly explore a world that would otherwise remain completely hidden from view. The ocean is full of life that can astonish us and fill you with a sense of wonder from the fish that swim around the reef to the bioluminescent plankton that look like fireworks when you wave your hands.

There are a few locations you really should visit if you are a competent diver interested in the Red Sea. To get to some these locations you will need some experience and a few qualifications but this is well worth the extra effort. While there is plenty to see in the first few meters of water, if you want to see a wreck like the Thistlegorm or dive the Blue Hole, you will need to go deeper.

The Thistlegorm is a shipwreck from the second world war. The ship went down almost vertically with its anchor leaving a wreck that has remained almost intact. What is amazing about this particular site is the insight it provides to that particular time. The ship contained tanks, motorcycles and even rubber boots intended for the troops on land. Seeing all the materials of war on the sea bed where there is such peace is a strange contradiction – as are the moray eels and octopi hiding in the wreckage!

Another must-see site is the Blue Hole near Dahab. This collapsed sea cave is incredible and, descending down El Bells and gradually swimming up next to the reef wall is an unbelievable experience. Larger fish sometimes come to play with divers from the open ocean to one side but do keep an eye on the wall for brightly colored nudibranchs.

Wherever you go, you must allow yourself the opportunity to see and do something that will change your perspective. Whether you intend to find peace or be amazed by something, any of these places should be on your bucket list. Actually, scratch that – put all 3 on your bucket list. Now you just have to decide which one you are going to do first!

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