Sleep, Indulge and Discover: A weekend at Mt. Purro Nature Resort 

There is a reason why the word, “toxic” exists and why it’s use to connote a punishing schedule, non-existent work life balance, less-than-ideal relationships and even a general outlook in life. 

For some demented reason, my generation has made the word toxic like a badge of honor; to connote that you have so many things happening in your life and you can’t help but to be in the middle of it. 


But what will you do when you are given the option to disconnect from it all. Will you take it? 

This is the premise I had to face when I received the invitation to spend the weekend at Mt. Purro Nature Reserve, a promising new vacation resort hidden in the foothills of Mt. Purro in Antipolo, Rizal. 


The 36-hectare family-owned forest resort boasts of well-maintained cabins, it’s very own swimming pool, forest trails where guests are encouraged to commune with nature, home-cooked meals lovingly prepared by the family matriarch , a mini zip line and other nature-based activities including an experiential encounter with the Dumagat community which calls Mt. Purro and the surrounding mountains home. 

I will not lie. I was stuck with a very bad case of cabin fever when I first arrived. To put it bluntly, my too wired body was looking for something to do – there was no TV, or radio or even data connection so I can’t really tinker with my phone. With no other thing to do, I slept. And slept. And slept, giving me the best sleep that I had in a while. Maybe it’s the fact that nothing was screeching, ringing or even beeping to interrupt sleep; surrounded by the cool breeze, I was like a baby being lulled to sleep by the chirping of the birds and the soft swaying of the trees. When I woke up, it’s like six years of my punishing schedule was erased by a single nap. 

While today’s wired world pushes vacation houses and resorts to have that wifi connection and have all the trappings of technology; Mt. Purro Nature Reserve prides itself of being off the grid. Disconnect to Connect, the resort’s founder and the family patriarch Toti Malvar proudly shared and espoused with glee. Vacations were supposed to be about moments and memories shared with friends and family: catch up with friends, talk to your loved ones, commune with Nature, and more importantly renew your relationship with God. 


Sleep

Mt. Purro Nature Reserve maintains an array of beautifully maintained cottages sprinkled along the vast property, which can accommodate from 6 to groups of 12 or more. 




The cottages all have the comfort of spending your time in peace: soft mattresses, with pillows and sheets; two bathrooms, with one located inside one of the bedrooms and another on the living room area; the rooms have electric fans and doesn’t need air conditioning due to the open layout of the cottages with their large windows protected by netting to let the air in and keep the insects at bay. 

Each cottage is large, with enough space to sprawl on the floor (if you want to), it also has a dedicated space for reading as the window doubles as a love seat-slash-sleeping area.


Here’s what’s not available: there’s no TV, much less cable access. If you want to spend the week bingeing on your favorite shows, you have to download ahead and bring your laptop with you. Of course, there’s no WIFI and there’s no phone signal. If you are a SMART/TNT subscriber then you have a sliver of hope of even reaching the outside world; if you are on GLOBE, like I am, congratulations – you may now consider your phone as a very expensive paperweight or at most, a portable camera. 


But let me tell you something – having no access to the wired world made me more appreciative of the peace and quiet that MPNR has to offer. I recommend you bring a good book to read, or start on that journal you were hoping to work on. Bottom line – there’s a lot to do even without technology. 
We can’t deny it. While food at large hotels and resorts can be always sumptuous, however nothing beats a home cooked meal.
MNPR offers home cooked meals lovingly prepared by the matriarch of the family, Ms. Baby Malvar lovingly referred to as “Loli” by her family and us too. 

Relationship goals: Toti and Baby Malvar




 

The mess hall, often referred to LOLI’s KITCHEN, serves meals for all those who stay at MPNR. Since cooking is not recommended during overnight stays, meals can be arranged at the mess hall where healthy and sumptuous meals are served. Loli sources her ingredients in the resort’s surrounding areas like the greens and fruits served in the buffet; otherwise, Loli plans her meal offerings from what’s available at Farmer’s Market in Cubao where she sources ingredients that are not available in the self sufficient community. 





Both healthy and delicious – we indulged on the sumptuous spread prepared by Loli. As a testament on how fresh and how yummy the food were: I was tempted and finally tried eating variations of dishes that I always steered away from, like Pakó Salad, a mix of fresh pakó which a fern-like vegetable variety with onions and plump tomatoes; as well as Indonesian Talong Salad, which was a dish Loli learned from one of her travels.

And oh, always try their coffee. It’s to die for. I was told that the beans were harvested from the surrounding mountains. 

The meals, whether plated or from the buffet, can be arranged at the reception area when you arrive. Because the management is making sure that the cottages will continue to be clean and insect free, cooking is discouraged. You are allowed though to bring chips and snacks but full meals has to be ordered in-house. 

Indulge 

Other fun activities that you can do while at MPNR include: 


Have a full body massage scheduled
, you have the option of having your massage at their massage hut (P350) or at the comfort of your own room (P500). 

Like all the grounds and kitchen staff, MPNR employs certified and trained therapists from the surrounding Dumagat community so by staying at the resort, you are not only enjoying yourself but also helping the Dumagats have a sustainable livelihood. 

Take a trek at Kabunsuran Falls
– a highlight of the trip for me. Though, be forewarned – the water pressure from the falls during summer is just so-so, and hardly impressive. You also need to prepare yourself for a very arduous trek going down (and then up) to see the falls. Note that Kabunsuran Falls is outside MPNR, however they always assign a guide when you do want to explore. Instead of opting to go there via a 30-minute walk from the resort, ride the trike (P40) the rest of the way and save the trekking for the dirt road leading to the falls – trust me, you will thank me for it. 


While hiking at Kabunsuran Falls, I was reminded of the cheap iced buco of my childhood and was bemoaning of the fact that I can no longer buy it in Makati. Guess who we encountered on the trek back from the Falls: an iced buco vendor: 


Take a trek around MPNR
– now is your chance to recall high school biography and see if you can identify the many tree and plant species surrounding the resort as part of the nature reserve. You can opt for the services of an experienced guide when you book through the resort’s reception area. 



Meet and Dine with the Dumagats
– another trip highlight and cannot be missed. The Dumagats are the indigenous community that call Mt. Purro and the surrounding mountains home. For years, they have also helped Tito Toti and Loli as the couple worked tirelessly for nature conservation. 

To help the Dumagats earn extra livelihood, they were invited by the Malvars to be part of the “back to basics” advocacy of MPNR by doing cooking demos with the guests. The Dumagats use bamboo as their means to cook rice and viands, and even demonstrates starting fire without using matches or lighters. They also make a mean version of sinigang na baboy, which was a sure hit to us the guests. 
Aside from these, there is also a game room where guests can opt for a game of billiards, fooseball or table tennis. Please note that hourly charges apply. 

For those who want to cool off, MPNR also maintains a swimming pool with a great view of the surrounding mountains and forests. Beside the pool is camp site for guests who opt to sleep on tents. 


MPNR is a testament that like the Malvars, it is possible to have time to recharge and have fun while appreciating love nature. Honestly, after about 30 minutes of moping because i don’t have Internet or data connection, I decided to turn off my phone and in the process, forgot about it. I had so much fun just enjoying the surroundings and the company I keep. 
That type of connection is something no wifi signal can give. 

Interested to stay at MPNR? Contact them via their Facebook page: Mt. Purro Nature Reserve. The resort is still fixing it’s website so inquiries can be directed at the FB page. They strongly encourage visitors to reserve before going to the resort. 

Disclaimer: 

My stay at MPNR is upon invitation of the resort. The views and opinions indicated on this piece is mine alone. 

Pricelist: 


Travel hack: How to go from Nagoya to Osaka by Bus for less than 1,400 pesos 

I am writing this post here at the departure gates of Kansai Airport. I am waiting for my flight back to Manila and decided to share this post while passing time. 

Here’s the basics first. Nagoya is lovely – in a chill and laid back way. My hubby was smitten and vowed to move to Nagoya if they the hobby and gaming community in check. We spent three amazing days in Nagoya in the Aichi region before moving to Osaka in the Kansai region. (Will post a detailed itinerary separately). 

Oasis 21 area, Sakai, Nagoya


While there are many ways to go from one prefecture to another – you can take the plane, train or bus – it differs significantly between Osaka and Nagoya. Because the two areas are too close, there are only two options when you want to go from one to the other. One is the train and another one is the bus. This post will be about the JR Bus Service

Dotonbori, Namba, Osaka


What you need to do first is to go to the Nagoya Station in downtown Nagoya in order to buy tickets to the JR Bus. 


After alighting from the subway, proceed to the Taiko-Dori side (West exit) of the Nagoya Station. The Taiko-Dori side also holds the Shinkansen area plus ticketing booth for JR Rails along with JR Bus. 

Once you see the landmark, which is the large clock where people often meet up (pictured above),  you are already in the area. Proceed to the doors to your left leading outside. 


Upon exit, you should see a stairs leading down and to it’s immediate left is the JR Bus Ticketing Office. 

Go inside and approach the officer on duty. Ask for the bus schedules for Osaka-bound highway buses. You are free to choose the time which you want to arrive. Though do note that a trip from Nagoya to Osaka usually takes three and half hours. 

Once you’ve chosen your departure time, you will be asked to pay for your ticket. A one-way bus ticket usually costs Y3,000 (PHP 1313). You can buy your tickets ahead of time – so you the option of buying your ticket a day or two before your trip. 


Since highway and limousine buses have reserved seating, buying your tickets early assures you of good seats. 

On the day of your departure, proceed to the ticketing station which also doubles as the waiting area for upcoming trips. The ticketing station has vendo machines for drinks or snacks so you will be assured that you won’t get hungry waiting for your bus. 

There are display screens showing bus schedules and destinations, while the loading area is numbered – the screen will show which loading area is assigned to your bus. 

Once the bus arrives, show your ticket to the driver, load your luggage on the storage area and find your seats based on the number indicated on the bus. 

The buses are usually equipped with a charging dock for your devices, its own toilet and if you’re lucky, its own wifi service. 

At the stop over leading to Kyoto


Other bus services to Nagoya include Willer (much cheaper but needs online purchase for tickets), Meitetsu and Kintetsu service. 

Not exactly a light packer? PAL’s Carry Over Checked In Baggage Got You Covered

On the tail end of 2016, I had the pleasure of having a 2 day, 1 night trip in Anilao, Batangas to witness the 2016 Anilao Underwater Shootout, courtesy of the good people of Philippine Airlines (PAL). The event was the biggest underwater macro photography of its kind in the world and featured some of the world’s best divers and underwater photography enthusiasts. 

PAL was in its capacity as the event partner and as a purveyor and avid promoter of Philippine tourism

Celebrating its 75th year of flying Philippine (and the international) skies, the country’s flag carrier was also on hand to promote its latest product, the Carry Over Checked In Baggage which is a lifesaver for diving enthusiasts who usually lugs with them an average of 30 kilos per travel.

With the country’s status as the destination of choice for divers due to pristine waters and the best collection of corals anywhere in the world, divers worldwide are more than encouraged to visit the Philippines’ premium dive sites including Anilao (in Luzon), Cebu, Dumaguete, Bohol, Siquijor, Davao and General Santos. The abundance of coral reef can be credited with the Philippines being part of the coral triangle where the world’s best collection of corals are located. Also, the Philippines has the richest marine biodiversity anywhere in the world.

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The announcement of the launch of the Carry Over Checked In Baggage made by PAL’s Hazel dela Cruz was met with a hearty and enthusiastic applause by participating divers during the awarding ceremony. It was a move that will help out the community, who would love to see more of the country’s many beaches but are often prohibited by baggage restrictions.

Here’s how Carry Over Checked In Baggage (yes, it’s a mouthful) works:

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From the PAL Website

You can avail of the Carry Over Checked In Baggage as long as it’s covered by one itinerary and one ticket. At the time of the event, this feature can be availed when you book via PAL-authorized travel agencies.

The feature does not only apply to divers; as long as you have one ticket from your international flight going to your domestic destinations and vice versa, this feature applies to you. And even if you have a stop over anywhere in Manila, this feature still applies as long as your international or domestic flights are in one ticket.

 

Event Download: The Anilao Underwater Shoot Out 

Organized and sponsored by the Philippine Department of Tourism, the yearly event was held in Anilao, Batangas which is quickly gaining popularity as one of the premiere macro destinations in the world. 

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On its fourth year, The Anilao Underwater Shootout attracted more than 172 participants from all over the world including Brazil, Turkey, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Korea and more. These experienced underwater photography aficionados battled it out for prizes spread out in four categories which included General Macro, Behavior,  Creative Photo and Portfolio.

Competition judges are multi-awarded photographers from around the world including Takaji Ochi (Japan), Takako Uno (Japan), Stephen Wong (HK), and Greg Lecouer (France).
The bad weather and the inclement rain did not deter participating divers to get their best shot. Aided by dive experts, divers brave the deep waters of Anilao see some of the most fascinating sea creatures and photograph them.
Here are some photos of winners from Anilao Underwater Shootout’s FB page:
For a complete list of winners, go to http://anilaoshootout.ph/

Anilao Underwater Shootout Photos from: https://www.facebook.com/pg/anilaounderwatershootout

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Source: From the Anilao ShootOut FB Page

For PAL, it is only natural to throw in their hundred percent support to the recently-concluded event. As the country’s national carrier, PAL brings a commitment in supporting and promoting local tourism. During my short discussion with company representatives, we all agreed that the Philippines is a rich country, so diverse in eco-tourism that it is a shame if this will remain unseen by foreign and local tourists.

PAL’s many destinations allows travelers to visit and discover more of the archipelago. It’s many innovations also highlight its continuing quest to better understand–and serve–its passengers.

 

Traveling soon? Pay your Travel Tax easy and hassle-free online

Like any budget traveler, I’ve always wished that our airport is better. Better facilities, better services, more food choices. While any amount of change usually takes time, my yearly sojourn in and out the country has made me aware that indeed, things are changing. It usually starts with cleaner, well maintained rest rooms, brighter lounge areas and more food stalls opening in the airport.

And now, comes the great news that Travel Taxes can now be paid online. We all know the agony of standing in line just to pay the travel tax – it’s cumbersome and tedious and takes a lot of time. Thanks to the efforts of TIEZA, you can remove this chore from your To Do’s while at the airport.

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TIEZA, the government arm tasked with the collection and allocation of Travel Taxes, has now rolled out the Travel Tax Online Payment System.  No more falling in line at the airport just to pay your travel taxes, now it can be done via this simple procedure:

Go to the TIEZA website at http://tieza.gov.ph/  (or: http://www.phtraveltax.com/cgi-bin/tieza.cgi) , from there you can open an account via a short registration procedure.  The default home screen is the Travel Tax Online Payment System, to begin the process, simply click “click here”.

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  • The TIEZA home screen is not static, and the main image changes, should the main image cycle to different image, you won’t need to wait for it to cycle back, just click the “Travel Tax” tab, and select “Pay Travel Tax” in the dropdown, this should bring you to the login screen.
  • First timers should click on “Don’t have an account? Click here”, this will bring up the registration screen.  The registration screen will ask for very basic information, including your email address.  Be sure to fill in an address you have access to at the moment you register, as you will need to confirm your registration via email.  Finally, you will get a pop-up summary of the information you provided, and be asked to click “OK” to confirm.
  • Once registered, you will see a new screen and you can pay your travel taxes by just clicking a button that says “Click here to fill up Travel Tax Payment Form”, this will lead you to a very straightforward form that will ask for some basic information about your flight, as well as the type of ticket you have.  Once you have filled out the initial form and submitted it, you will need to provide your credit card information along with some pertinent flight details.
  • At the end of the process, you will be given an electronic receipt to print out, this you can then present at the airport on the day of your flight as proof that you have paid your travel taxes.  This will save you the hassle of having to fall in line at the airport to pay your travel taxes, or to make an extra trip to a TIEZA office.

Should you require additional information, call the TIEZA office at (02) 551 – 9533, or visit http://tieza.gov.ph/travel-tax/ .

In a perfect world, we would want to spend our Holidays abroad and NOT pay a travel tax. But I’ll take any improvement that I can get. It shows the organization is interested in improving the system. That’s something to look forward to and be proud of anytime.

Have you tried paying your travel tax online? Let me know what you think!

 

PAL: The First 75 Years in the Sky (Philippines’ Flag Carrier launches Coffee Table Book Celebrating its History) 

There is something about Philippine Airlines that resonates the warmth and heart of the Filipino – from the warm smiles of the flight attendants onboard, to the familiar livery as it cruises 30,000 feet above, to the role that the airline company played in various points in the history of the Philippines.

Amidst the triumphs, the heartaches and the glory of the nation, Philippine Airlines (PAL) was there.

It is only fitting that the nation’s Flag Carrier celebrates 75 years of this storied history with the launch of its coffee table book dubbed, “75 Years of Celebrating the Heart of the Filipino.

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Having my copy signed by PAL President Mr. Jaime J. Bautista, together with the lovely PAL Flight Attendants wearing variations of their uniform, from 1960s to present. (Photo Credit: Mark Conrad Maramag)

The history of PAL is unparalleled as it runs alongside the history of aviation in the country. The hard-cover tome features more than the airline’s history – the many pages pay tribute to the hundreds of employees whose lives have interwoven already with the airline’s.

Starting from its humble beginnings as a small airline company operating out of the Nielsen Airfield located in what is known now as the Central Business District; its role in carrying the many presidents and statesman and women of the Philippines; playing host to celebrities, VIP and beauty queens; and to its more blessed role playing as Sheperd One, carrying not only one but two pontiffs during its 75 years – first flying for the beloved Pope/St. John Paul II and recently, with the popular and also admired Pope Francis during his visit to Manila and Tacloban.

I was honored to be one of the invitees during the launch of the coffeetable book in an event well-attended not only by members of the tri-media, but more importantly, by also the people who’s been part of the PAL family for a long time. These include former Pursers, flight attendants and employees who look back with fondness when reminiscing about their years at PAL.

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PAL President Jaime J.Bautista presents the content of the PAL coffee table book to their Chaiman and CEO, Dr. Lucio C.Tan

The book also played tribute to the airline’s “El Kapitan,” Dr. Lucio C. Tan, who serves as PAL’s Chairman and CEO, and who is credited for “saving” the airline company during its challenging years in the 90s.

Also a noteworthy read are special features on flight stewardess training and PAL’s women pilots.

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Encased in a beautifully-designed case and published in hard-cover, the book also showcases amazing photography and imagery sourced from PAL’s very own archives.

As a big fan of the PAL brand, I now consider my signed copy as the perfect addition to my collection of travel-related literature.

The book retails for only PHP1,975 and is a good addition to the library of any aviation or travel buff. Get your copies at the PAL Boutique, PAL Head Office, PNB Building, Pres. Diosdado Macapagal Avenue, CCP Complex, Pasay City. 

Singapore Airlines celebrates 50 years in the Philippines; unveils premium economy class 

Singapore Airlines, a consistent top notcher on SkyTrax World Airline Awards, celebrates its 50th year in the Philippines in a star-studded glittery affair held recently at the Glorietta Activity Center in Makati.

 The event was graced by notable names both in Manila and Singapore, headed by Her Excellency Kok Li Pen, Ambassador of Singapore to the Philippines; Mr. Mah Swee Wah, Singapore Airlines Executive Vice President for Commercial; Jose Emilio Abaya, DOTC secretary as well as top officials from The Philippine and Singapore governments and executives from Singapore Airlines and its trade partners. 
  
The highlight of the program was the unveiling of the spacious and luxurious Premium Economy seating, as well as a massive sale for all Singapore Airlines destinations. 

Guests on the activity was treated to a trip down memory line as SIA displays some of its enduring brand iconography, including a recreation of a section of a SIA plane body which was a hit for guests who used it a Sa backdrop on the many selfies during the event. There was also various versions of the famous “Sarong Kebaya” worn by the graceful and iconic “Singapore Girls” (the often endearing name used to refer to SIA flight attendants) 

   
   
   
  

Taking the time to showcase the best of Singapore, the event also highlighted the glorious and yummy Singaporean cuisine starting off with my favorite satay which was Also complemented by chicken rice, dumplings, the Singaporean carrot cake and topped off my delicious desserts like the ubiquitous mango sago. 

   
    
 
In his message, Mr. Mak Swee Wah highlighted that SIA’s service to Filipino travelers began in 1968 and has since then flourished to accommodate the growing and discerning needs of Filipino travelers. He also underscored that as Singapore Airlines reaches its golden anniversary milestone, the company remains committed in providing reliable and world-class service that is distinctively SIA. 

   

   
Ms. Kok Li Peng, the Singapore Ambassador to the Philippines welcomed the continuous and strengthening bi-lateral trade relations between the two countries. 

Singapore, the most progressive country in the region, remains a favorite destination to many Filipinos. Yhe Philippines is the city-state’s top sixth international market for 2010 and 2011 with  678,000 Filipinos visited Singapore that year. Meanwhile, Singaporeans placed sixth among our top visitors here in the country in 2015. 

Adding to the allure of traveling via SIA, aside from its spotless safety record and unparalleled customer service, is the launch of its new premium economy class. 

   
 
   
   
The premium economy class showcases a 2-4-2 configuration as opposed to the 3-4-3 for economy, with WIFI access and total relaxation since the seat reclines by 8′ 

Get more information about SIA premium economy here 

Wedding Anniversary Staycation at Belmont and Nichols Airport Hotel

Time flies when you’re having fun. 

I guess the Hubs and I are having the time of our lives since we failed to notice that our lifelong partnership aka marriage has reached its 7th year mark. Yes folks – I have been married that long. While I don’t look like I was past my college years (please indulge me), I have also known people who get surprised when they realized that I am somebody’s wife. 

  

This year, we have been blessed when Hubs won an overnight stay at Belmont Hotel which is part of Resort World. It was a particularly welcome blessing since Hubs entered the  contest during his birthday dinner at Mangan. 

   
  

We were  given a room on the 8th floor of the 10-floor establishment. Our accommodation, referred to as the “Tranquility Room@ was cozy and comfortable. Space is limited but we loved the coziness of the place. Our room was within the inner corridors of the newly-opened hotel and faces the fake balconies of the other rooms around us. 
 

Bathroom amenities are available in very cute packaging. 

 
I was a bit weirded out to see that one side of the bathroom was visible from the bed since it’s made of see through glass. If you don’t want to give a free peepshow to your roommates, you can pull the floor to ceiling blinds that will protect your modesty.  

There is adequate WiFi and aircon temperature is really good. Its proximity to the mall allowed us to have a really fun and relaxing celebration: 

 

We geeked out and watched Star Wars: The Force Awakens and spent minimum amount on snacks. Hubs and I are pleased that there wasn’t much of a crowd at Newport Cinemas at Resorts World. You see all the blue squares in the picture above? Those were available seats and during screening, the cinemas we were in had empty chairs. 

In the morning, we passed time chilling in the pool and jacuzzi located at the 10th floor. The water was very cold due to the rain. 

(Will post a separate review for Belmont Hotel) 

   

  

 While the Hubs enjoyed the pool, I indulged in one of my favorite hobbies – plane watching! 

   
  

After checking  out of Belmont, we headed to my new discovery and one of my favorite places for chilling out: Nichols Airport Hotel (Have you joined my contest already?) for Staycation 2: 
   
  We were very surprised when the hotel staff ushered us to the huge family suite. I mean, the bathroom alone is already equivalent to the side of the room we stayed in Wanchai District, Hong Kong. 

We ordered room service and enjoyed the day noshing on a complimentary wine from the ever-thoughtful team of Nichols Hotel and watched Friends rerun the whole day 

  
In the seven years of #TeamSuzon – this is the best celebration so far. Mainly because we were laid back and we were happy… And we get to be the dorky nerds that we are with the Star Wars screening. We love every minute of it and are already looking forward to recreating it for our 8th year together. 

The anniversary also highlighted the purpose of hotels for me – more than just a place where you stay during travel, a really holy hotel can serve as your home away from home. We got this vibe from both Belmont and Nichols. With Belmont, we loved the facilities (especially the pool) and how close it was to malls and other attractions within Resorts World. We loved lounging on the pool while a plane flies overhead so close you could read it’s body number. 

With Nichols, we are in awe of the personalized service, of the huge rooms and the yummy food. Depending on the hotel you choose, your stay can go beyond sleeping in a sanitized, glamorized box — it can be a vacation in itself. 
Disclosure: 

Our stay in BELMONT is part of a prize won from Mangan, the Filipino restaurant. 

Our stay in NICHOLS AIRPORT HOTEL was a gift from the kind management. 

I wrote this article with all my biases and opinions. KamikazeeGirl believes in being truthful to its readers. Always. 

Nichols Airport Hotel: A nice surprise in the heart of the city

A wise man once said, “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before…”

In a world like ours that is so diverse, different and vast – it is only surprising that there are hidden places waiting to be discovered and gems waiting to be uncovered. Understandable, if the place and the gem is an airplane ride away – but imagine a discovering a quaint family hotel right in the middle of the city, at a place you least expect.

When I was first given the invitation to stay at the Nichols Airport Hotel, my first reaction was — where?

I found Nichols Airport Hotel in the middle of Baclaran, a few blocks away from the busy market and a skip, hop and jump away from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 4 (the terminal for domestic flights).

Situated beside a hospital (which also belonged to the same management team  as the hotel) and a baptist church, the hotel was quaint, unassuming from the outside.

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Step inside – and prepare to be amazed

As an avid traveler with a luggageful of stories on various hostel/hotel stays, I was prepared for an adventure and maybe a unique story to pass on to you readers. In a nutshell, Nichols Airport Hotel surpassed it all.

No sleeping inside a matchbox for you

What’s the smallest hotel room you’ve ever stayed on? Mine was a boutique hotel somewhere in the middle of HongKong’s Wanchai District where the hubby and I had to move sideways to get to anywhere within the room and where the end of our (quite luxurious) bed is already propped against the TV stand.

Nichols Airport Hotel has enough space for you to practice yoga inside your room or if you insist – a few reps of your daily four minute workout.

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Credit this to the hotel being built fifteen years ago, a time where hotel management don’t scrimp on space and where converting match boxes into hotel rooms is not the norm.

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In spite being around for fifteen years, the hotel is well-maintained and clean. My room, located in the sixth floor of eight floor establishment, is surprisingly large for a twin accommodation, with a huge bathroom and a large television console that doubles as a writing and vanity table. The bathroom has a full set of amenities including a toothbrush kit, soap and shampoo. A closet was available near the door and a side table on both ends. Plus, there is also a small couch which is ideal for dining inside the room or just lounging when you are on a staycation.

While I noticed that there are some little dents and scratches here and there that often betray the hotel’s age, it is evident that the hotel works hard in ensuring that the rooms are comfortable and presentable at all times.

I particularly enjoyed lounging on the bed, just hibernating and enjoying the cool temperature while watching KPOP videos on the TV.

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In my conversation with Ms. Riza dela Fuente, Nichols Airport Hotel manager and part of the family that owns the hotel, she highlighted the fact that the hotel has been an extension of their family and their homes. Hence, the level of care, effort and dedication being extended into the management and maintenance of the hotel.

“An extension of their home” is a very apt description, considering the feel and look of the place. Very clean, orderly and with tiny touches of whimsy that belie the fact that this place is not run by a corporation, but by a family whose investment go beyond what’s financial.

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Food. Glorious Food. 

I have been warned that Nichols Airport Hotel’s makes a mean Steak Charlemagne and melt-in-your-mouth Callos. What I wasn’t prepared for is how the sumptuous spread in front of me will break my diet.

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Steak Charlemagne – melt-in-your-mouth beef tenderloin in hollandaise sauce, with melted cheese on top. Available for order during functions.

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From L to R, clockwise: Steak Charlemagne; Shrimp Gambas with Mushroom; Lapu-Lapu; Canonigo as dessert and the sinful Beef Callos

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Highlight of my short stay last week was standing on the hotel’s famous Roof Bar and sipping ice cold margaritas while watching the planes taking off from the nearby Terminal 4.

In fact, this unassuming hotel has been ranked the best (three stars!) by the website, Plane Spotting Hotels when it comes to plane spotting. Aside from another hotel which is located in Resorts World, Nichols Airport holds a better ranking since any airplane spotting enthusiast can go to the rooftop bar, order a cold one and watch planes take off and land from the nearby airport. No need to book rooms. In fact, Riza shared that airplane spotters from all over the world visit the hotel, usually converging on the rooftop bar, enjoying the food and the brew while armed with their long lenses.

If plane spotting is not your thing, the Roof Bar is still an enjoyable hotel experience since you’ll have a 360 degree view of the city: the Makati skyline, the hotel row from the City of Dreams and at night, you can watch the fireworks from the nearby Mall of Asia.

A hotel for families-from a service-oriented family.

The close-knit relationship between Riza, hotel manager, her trusty corporate communications and marketing officer Weng and the rest of the staff was palpable the minute I stepped into the hotel. The dedication of the staff was evident: from the way they communicate with guests to their attention to detail to ensure a comfortable stay of their guests.

Being a family-run establishment, it was bound that we’ll run through some more members of the Protacio family in one way or the other. (Bit of history on the side: The Protacios are well-known in Baclaran. The family founded Protacio Hospital in 1935, the first of its kind in the area. To this day, Protacio Hospital remains the only hospital in the area to provide house calls for ailing members of the community. Nichols Airport Hotel shares the same compound with the hospital.) The family’s good relationship with the hotel staff was evident on how tightly-run the quaint hotel is.

Writing this piece, I was trying to come up with the best analogy. I guess the most I can come up with is this — A night at Nichols was like staying over at your favorite aunt’s house over the holidays, where she serves you good food and makes sure you have a great time.

 

 

How to go to Nichols Airport – 

If you are coming from Domestic Terminal 4, you can opt to walk going to Nichols Airport Hotel. However, if you are concerned about your safety, Nichols Airport will be glad to provide you transfers arrangement as long as you have to specify it as part of your Booking Details.

From anywhere in Manila – the hotel is in highly accessible and reachable via Taxi, GrabCar or Uber. If you are commuting, public transportation is readily available (BUT I DO NOT RECOMMEND!) Make your staycation hassle-free, book a cab or Grab Car instead!

You can now have the same StayCation experience, KamikazeeGirl has partnered with Nichols Airport Hotel to give one lucky commenter and her family a chance to experience the unique hospitality of Nichols Airport Hotel. Here’s how:

  1.  Answer this question:

“Why do you want to win a family staycation with a complimentary dinner and spa treatments for four at the Nichols Airport Hotel?”

The best and most creative answer will be judged the winner

2. Make sure to post your answers on your respective Facebook walls and tag Nichols Airport Hotel and KamikazeeGirl (this is a must!)

3. Like KamikazeeGirl and NicholsAirportHotel on Facebook

4. Follow KamikazeeGirl and Nichols Airport Hotel (@hotelnicholsairport) on Instagram.

5. Contest will run from December 17 to January  08. The winner will be announced on January 10 at the KamikazeeGirl Facebook page. (Please note that the decision of blogger and Nichols Airport Hotel is final). 

planespotting staycation

NOTE: Credit for artwork of girl featured in the image above goes to world-renowned artist Jordi Labanda. I do not claim ownership to this image. 

Planespotting Staycation includes:

  • Overnight stay for four
  • Complimentary set dinner at the Roof Bar for four
  • Complimentary breakfast at the Coffee Shop for four
  • Complimentary spa treatment for four

 

Hotel information:

484 Quirino Avenue, Baclaran (near Tambo), Paranaque City,1700                 For reservations, call (63 2) 854 3399/ 851 8348                                           Mobile: 09178508624 / Fax: 853 1809

Website: www.nicholsairporthotel.com.ph                                                  Email: info@nicholsairporthotel.com.ph

 

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Disclosure: Our stay at Nichols Airport Hotel is courtesy of Ms. Riza dela Fuente. I wrote this post with my biases and opinion taken into consideration. KamikazeeGirl believes in being truthful  to its readers at all times. ALWAYS.

 

I’m Spirited Away in Jiufen: An adventure in the land of Yubaba and Chihiro and the unending flight of stairs 

(I am writing this post while waiting for my flight back to Manila, whiling away time at the Taoyuan Airport. The trip to Jiufen is definitely the highlight of the trip hence I can’t wait to write about it) 

The first thing you will notice upon reaching is the cats. There’s a number of them: lazing away on the village generator while giddy tourists take tons of pictures of them; there are cat posters and cat painting and little ceramic figures made up of cats. 

In a tourist town made famous by a drama (City of Sadness starring Tony Leung) and a legendary animated film Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away – the cats, without a doubt, are the resident queens of Jiufen. No offense to Yubaba. 

  
When I finally had the chance to return to Taiwan, on top of my list was to see Jiufen, a small town on top of the mountains of the Ruifang District of New Taipei City near Keelung, Taiwan. 

Jiufen (or “nine portions” from the nine families who first settled in the area) used to be an old mining town from the late 1800s to the decline of the gold rush by the 1970s. When the mines was shut down, Jiufen faced decline, with the town possibly going the way of forgotten settlements. That is until it was featured as location of the seminal movie “City of Sadness.” The interest came after the release of the movie saved Jiufen from being a forgotten town. The interest only further intensified after the release of “Spirited Away” by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. Jiufen was credited as the inspiration for the winding steep roads, the lantern laced alleyways and the magnificent bath house owned by Yubaba as seen in the animated film. 

 

Chihiro looks for her parents in Spirited Away


 

trying to find my way in the many alleyways of Jiufen


 How to get to Jiufen
There are two ways to get to Jiufen. First is you take the High Speed Railway going to Riufang county. From there, you can either take the cab to Jiufen or contract a fan who will serve as your tour guide to the many sights of the province, Jiufen included. Prepare to shell out at least NTD3,500 to rent the whole cab. 

Or you can do it my way, courtesy of mad research skills: 

Here’s a cheaper and more painless alternative to the option above. From where you are staying, take the MRT to Zhongxiao Fuxing Station under line 1. Take MRT exit 1, as you come out of the stairs, make a U-turn heading to the direction of the elevated walkway. The large SOGO Department store should be on your right hand side, with you facing the elevated MRT. 

Take the first left to the immediate intersection which you will reach in less than 60 seconds. Walk a few steps and you should see the pick up point for the 1062 Keelung bus headed for Ruifang and Jiufen. 

this is the bus that will take you to Jiufen

During weekends, expect a long line of local and foreign visitors waiting for the bus as Jiufen is a popular weekend destination. Ignore the touts offering their contracted service by saying there’s no bus going to Jiufen. Have your EasyPay tap card ready or NTS90 to cover the fare. 

Eventually, the highway will melt away to reveal a rustic and peaceful rural scenery. 

  
 
 
 The mural above celebrates the heritage of Jiufen as an old mining town. When you passed this, you are less than five minutes away from reaching Jiufen Old Street where you should alight. 
 

entrance to the old street


As soon as you see 711 and the marker – this means you’ve reached Jiufen. It’s now time to explore the inner bowels of this town. 

The best way to enjoy Jiufen is to get lost and just enjoy the little books and crannies of the town, then marvel at the little discoveries you have along the way: 

Note: photo heavy post

   
  
   

there are cats everywhere in Jiufen. these guys havent moved an inch!

    
 
And then you start seeing pieces of Spirited Away no matter where you turn: 

 

an old tunnel used by miners before


  
  
  

   


Of course, the piece du resistance was the Ahmei Tea House, which bear a striking resemblance to the Spirit Bathhouse being ran by Yubaba. 

  This is Yubaba’s bath house in Spirited Away: 
 
Here is the Ahmei Tea House in Jiufen: 

   
  

To say that I squealed when I found it was a gross understatement. I was so happy to find it (thanks to the hubby) after walking to the many windjng streets of Jiufen. The only let down is that dining inside the Ahmei Tea House is quite expensive: they expect diners to order a tea set for NTS300 or if it’s lunch, have the lunch set at NTS400. There are no Ala Carte order or an English menu. We chose to take our lunch elsewhere. 
When in Jiufen, you will be assailed by the delicious smell of cooking meat or the sweet  aromatic smell of herbs anywhere you turn. It is a foodie’s haven and there is something for everyone, regardless of their meal preference:   

    
  

our sumptuous lunch: rice with meat topping (NTS30) and a stick of sausage (NTS35)

  
    
    

Jiufen is a good place for a day trip. However, there are also those who choose to spend the night here. There are many guest houses or home stays in Jiufen. All one needs to do is ask. Like the rest of Taiwan, the people of Jiufen are unbelievably nice. 

I can’t wait to go back to Jiufen someday. Maybe stay a bit longer? I hope it retains that authentic and quaint little town vibe that-in spite the hoard of tourists – makes the town a sweet to live in.

  

 

 
 

…scoring cheap airline tickets!

USD2.50* for the destination of your dreams!

USD2.50* for the destination of your dreams!

… in my experience, it would usually involve an over-dependency on various social networks (Facebook and Twitter, mostly), the need to be up and about at ungodly hours to catch seat sales when they drop, then a protracted battle with the airline website to get cheap seats for both inbound and outbound trip, then finally — a bit of haggling with the Gods of Travel praying that your unpaid credit card can accommodate the cost of ticket for two!

I don’t know how you choose to travel, but for budget travelers like me, I usually travel through the graces of cheap airfares courtesy of the country’s largest airline, Cebu Pacific. Through the available seat sales, I was able to see the beauty of Seoul and Taipei (as well as Singapore and Hong Kong) which I never thought was possible before without selling my kidney to buy airline tickets.

Currently, my latest obsession is to see Japan during my birthday week in May. Ideally, I would have wanted to be there on my birthday, but the so-called battle with the seat sale has made me book the day after (which was selling for PHP99 only).

In the Philippines, here’s the usual means to get cheap airline tickets:

1. Pray that your favorite airline will offer cheap tickets for the period. Unfortunately, the only consistent airline to offer free tickets anywhere is Cebu Pacific. The company usually have monthly deals promoting the different destinations where they fly. Available deals can be as amazing (and unbelievable) as the Zero Peso sale (yes, you only pay for the taxes) and the Piso (1peso) Sale. I haven’t had the pleasure of scoring any of the two, but I was able to book tickets to HK for just PHP3,000 RT, while my sister got her Korea tickets for only PHP3,500! So, yes — this is definitely cheap! I know that the national carrier Philippine Airlines have Monday Promos while JetStar and AirAsia also offers cheap fares depending on the destination. However, Cebu Pacific still remains the undisputed budget carrier.

Yes, I have to point out that understandably, there are instances when the service given by CebPac leaves much to be desired. It’s either you get a bad service or good service. And yes, the airline seats are small — a Great Dane will have problems trying to fit himself. Plus, you will have to pay for almost anything: extra check in baggage, in-flight meals, seat preference, the list is endless.

2. Make sure to follow the carrier’s social media account. In my case, I follow all mentioned airlines in Twitter and Facebook. Make sure to check their feeds once a day!

3. Never swear off 12 midnight — that’s when price drops usually for Cebu Pacific. In my case, I was able to score my latest return trip when I woke up unexpectedly at 3AM and decided to fiddle with Facebook on iPhone. Saw the ad above and lunged for my laptop like mad.

3. Have everything handy and easily accesible – that means your passport and credit card. Remember, time is of the essence. How sure are you that at the very moment somewhere, another crazy lady is also trying to book the exact flight to Tokyo!

4. Make sure to play around the available travel dates to get the deal you want.

5. Make sure you have enough money to pay for the ticket.

The only downside is that due to the excitement, I was awake until 6AM just giddy due to the fact that I scored cheapo tickets to somewhere (yes, I am crazy!) that I never had the chance to sleep. Fast forward to 10AM — imagine me trying to stay awake during a boring departmental meeting.