Kota Kinabalu: Stress-free City Walk on a Valentine’s Day

KK Day 3. Feb 14. The sun was shining brightly that day, perfect for some DIY city tour. Holding a city map in my left hand and clicking away with my right, we managed to navigate past Gaya street, crossing Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, and making a stop at the Atkinson’s clock tower.

We continued the photo walk, passing through the city courthouse, city hall, and park then took a rest with a view of the sea at KK esplanade. To sate our inner shopaholics, we went to Suria Sabah Shopping Mall and took advantage of some clearance sales. Dog tired and famished, we ate lunch at Nasi Lemak Antarabangsa Kampung Baru. Laarni ordered Nasi Lemak Sambal Udang Petai. It’s dish consisting of prawns in spicy curry paste with a siding of peanuts, anchovies, egg & nasi lemak or rice cooked in coconut milk. I ordered Nasi Lemak Ayam Goreng Berempah which consists of the same elements as the first dish except that chicken was served instead of prawns. Kept it all down with Tea Tarik or cold milk tea. Many thanks to the Filipina manning the counter; she helped us with our meal choices as well as our Malaysian pronunciation. We then hopped to gaya centre to buy Malaysian simcards since using it made it cheaper to call to the Philippines. We chilled at Fong Ip Cafe while figuring out how to activate it. Whew! The day ended without us even realizing it was valentine’s day. well not really. I got track of the date when I saw a red tback on sale at Suria Sabah. It was fashioned to look like a rose and packaged to be the perfect valentine’s gift. hahaha

KK: Of Strenuous Trails, Fish Spas, Sumptuous Stews and Creamy Teas

A free spirit.That is what I want to be. I want to let go. Feel free and unattached. I want to learn to talk to strangers and not feel fear. I want to be in a new place and not feel alienated. I want to get lost but not break down or complain. Do you know when I get to experience all those things? It’s when I travel. Traveling revives your soul and lets you discover things about yourself. It’s also a very humbling experience. You get to marvel at how beautiful sunsets are and how lucky you are to be able to witness several of them. You come to realize that no matter how many places you’ve set foot on and even if you’ve lived in several of these provinces for a fraction of your life, there are still so many places to discover and innumerable things to experience. You realize that you need not worry about most of the things you’ve been mulling over. You appreciate the slow pace of island life and the simple joys of reading a good book or basking under the tropical heat of the sun. You ask yourself, “Why have I been rushing all this time?”.

Last Feb 12-16, I had the chance to mute the career girl in me and amplify my nomadic tendencies. A free spirit was what I became. My office mate, Laarni, and I availed of the promo flights to Kota Kinabalu (6months prior) and were able to purchase round-trip tickets Clark-KK at a jaw-dropping deal of just 1026pesos (RT/pax). On the day of our scheduled flight to KK, we hopped on a Philtranco bus in Pasay (fare to Clark DMIA is 450PhP). the trip didn’t take that long, just around an hour and a half. Since it was the last day of the Hot Air balloon festival, we were still able to catch a glimpse of the huge balloons.

My first ever AirAsia experience was pleasant. Check-in was a breeze thanks to their web check-in facility in the form of a computer counter that lets you scan the barcode on your itinerary receipt or encode the transaction reference number and then automatically prints out the boarding pass. Hooray! No more long queues! Once you get the boarding pass, you then proceed to the bag-drop counter for luggage check-in (if there are any) as well as document check. They really encourage the passengers to check-in via web; they charge fees for those who still want the traditional/regular check-in.

I always pack light so I can skip the luggage check-in and the additional fees plus I can carry the pack wherever. During this trip, I was able to use my new travel buddy, a 42-L Deuter Futura Pro red daypack which was given to me as a gift. It was more than enough to carry 5day’s worth of clothes and other necessities. Even moreso since I only bring with me light fabrics and mostly shorts, tanktops, and thin cardigans when I go backpacking.

On our first night, we tried Bak Kut Teh which literally means “Pork Bone Tea”. We actually didn’t know anything about Malaysian cuisine when we went to KK but upon strolling the long stretch of Gaya Street and having seen the mob forming outside a certain stall, we went in to try the food. We didn’t know how to order and the waiter found it difficult to explain, so he just led me to where the stew was being cooked up and where the selected cuts of pork are on display. We tried the stomach and ribs and boy the soup was really savory! The distinct taste of Bak Kut Teh can be attributed to the herbs with which it is cooked such as star anise, ginseng, cloves, garlic and fennel seeds. It also came with sidings of fried bread and blanched veggies.

The following day, we went to KK National Park, Malaysia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, (after seeing Mt. Kota Kinabalu from a view deck-cum-souvenir center) and explored the botanical garden (1.5 hrs from the city).

Then we had lunch at Poring hot springs 1 hour from the botanical garden still part of the huge national park. While the others went for a soak to experience the supposed medicinal wonders of the springs, Laarni and I opted for high fashion, quite literally, by following the 30-minute trail to the start of the canopy walkway (definitely not for the acrophobic) covering 4 hanging bridges 100ft high above the treetops.

To ease our sore muscles and wobbly knees, we made our way to Kipungan Falls (though it was discouraged to go there if it’s past 2pm) and dipped our feet in the cold waters, much to the delight of the little fish who feasted at our calluses.

Come night time, it was dinner at the Fong Ip Cafe and tea time, of course. We were already addicted to tea especially Tea Tarik or milk tea (downing at least 4 cups a day). We capped the day meeting up with a friend. Shukri was a Malaysian coal exporter and a young businessman I’ve known through a college batchmate.

It would have been nice to spend a day more at the national park or another two days to hike the highest peak in the Malay Archipelago. With a national park of size twice that of mainland Singapore (yep, I was paying attention afterall to our tour guide!), you can never run out of fun things to do in KK.

Boracay: The 2D1N Php2500 Challenge

12-13 Nov 2011.

Sometimes I regret not writing immediately after a trip because I tend to forget the details. And I feel disappointed with myself whenever I could not convey the true feel of the whole experience, all because of my laziness to take note of the littlest things. As much as possible, I bring home some memento, whether it be a receipt or a bus ticket, to trigger the memory flash should the urge to write come days or, in this case, weeks after the adventure.

It’s a good thing my friend Jeannie, the keen accountant that she is, kept a record of all our expenses and up to now she could still recall all the bills we paid for without second-guessing. See, before we made the Boracay trip, we challenged ourselves to spend roughly 2500pesos in 2 days and a night. Crazy women, yeah. Cheapskates and backpackers? Hell yeah.

The list:

1. Try Helmet Diving √

2.See the famous Boracay sunset √

3. Have photo taken with the firedancers √

4. Stand beside a sandcastle√

5. Have a slice of island night life √ (next time though it’s going to be the shooter Still-Standing-After-15 challenge at Coco Mangas)

6. Ride an ATV √ (and finish the route alive)

7. View Boracay from the highest point on the island √

8. Spend roughly 2500 all-in, inclusive of transpo (to and from Roxas City) √


I vow to return and experience paradise again. Some may say Boracay is overrated as a destination. Others say it’s just too expensive. I beg to disagree.

And no matter how many times people try their hardest to spoil this gem of a place, Boracay is still a beauty and will remain as such for as long as we keep doing our part.

Quick tip: If it’s too costly to fly from Manila to Caticlan or even Kalibo (which is most likely the case unless a seat sale is just around the corner), try flying to Roxas City and from there ride a van direct to Caticlan or catch a bus from Sigma,Capiz.

2011: The Year That Was

And here goes my year summarized in photos taken from all over the Philippines. I have thus proven that once bitten by the travel bug, one can never go back. Thanks to all the friends I met online at first, on the road eventually. I hope 2012 has a lot more in store for me and my itchy feet. 🙂 Cheers!

True Indulgence: Puerto Princesa Underground River Tour

To save us from any inconvenience, we booked a tour from Dallas Inn. Our tour guide was the very witty Harold Roxas. We were picked up from the inn at around 7:30am. The plan was to pick up all the other tourists who signed up for the tour from the nearby hotels before we take off to Sabang. When the tour van was finally filled, Harold took the spotlight. He was constantly reminding us that it was okay to sleep for the duration of the trip as it will take 2 hours till we reach Brgy. Cabayugan, Sabang which is the gateway to St. Paul Subterranean River National Park. But we begged him to tell stories, blurt away trivial facts about Palawan, crack jokes, and quiz us afterwards. He had the enthusiasm and charisma that only a seasoned tour guide could have despite having told us that it was his first time to lead a tour (well don’t they all tell that to tourists?).

We had a stop-over at the Buenavista viewdeck. Overlooking the beautiful Ulugan Bay, the deck adheres to its purpose with the sight imparting a sense of calm and content. And with the gentle breeze blowing against your skin as you look far out into the horizon, you can only hope for great things to come as the day progresses.

For those who do not know yet, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites as it

“features a spectacular limestone karst landscape with its underground river. A distinguishing feature of the river is that it flows directly into the sea, and the lower portion of the river is subject to tidal influences. The area also represents a significant habitat for biodiversity conservation. The site contains a full mountain to the sea ecosystem and protects forests, which are among the most significant in Asia.”

The park is also one of the 28 finalists and the official entry of the Philippines to the Search for the New 7 Wonders of Nature. Harold, our tour guide, said that we are second to Jeju Island in terms of votes (as of 14 Oct). He encouraged us to persuade our friends and families to vote online or through text so the country could bag the top spot.

Update (06 Nov): Jim Paredes tweeted “Puerto Princesa Underground is officially no. 10. Let’s continue voting till we hit top 7.”

To reach the national park, we rode a motorized bangka. Upon docking, we immediately registered with the local tourism officers and cast our votes for the New 7 Wonders of Nature (as voting ends 11/11/11). Basically we were in a jungle where animals like monkeys and monitor lizards are able to roam freely. They were quite harmless and looked as if they were already accustomed to this much volume of people.

    Now our turn with the boatman (one of only 10 certified boatman/guides allowed to navigate within the subterranean river). We were told that we’re the last batch he will be touring before he takes his lunch. His dwindling energy level becomes apparent when he starts blurting out the formations inside the cave quite mechanically. We listen on, catching every trivial fact about the river and its unique ecosystem.


He tells us there are sections in the cave, the cathedral and the vegetable section, aptly named because of the various limestone formations held therein.


After 45 minutes in mystical darkness with only a handy spotlight to illuminate the way, our tour has come to an end.

To maximize our stay in Sabang, we signed up for the Mangrove Paddle tour. We were 8 in the boat including our paddler Cocoy and our guide, Lady Mangrove (she insists we call her as such).


The mangroves were humongous and looked like full-grown trees. Lady Mangrove tells us that it is in Palawan where one can find the largest concentration of century-old mangrove forests. Eerily majestic, the bakawan claims the area as their rightful home (when only years ago several profiteering men wanted to make fishponds out of this ecologically essential key area).

Evidently teeming with wildlife, I have spotted a mangrove snake (yellow striped), a Kingfisher, and a monitor lizard.

Lady Mangrove ends the tour with a song about the importance of mangroves. She then encourages us to sing along though we don’t know even a single word to it. As the beat is very much similar to the popular Filipino folk song, “Paru-parong Bukid”, we found ourselves shouting in unison “Oy!” after every line in the chorus.

Walking back to where we parked out tour van, we passed by some luxury resort hotels. And really, the view of the limestone mountains makes up about 80% of the whole WOW factor. I mean WOW (refer to photo below).

I think to myself, “someday I’ll be able to afford such luxury”. But then again, I have seen from afar the Karst mountains of Sabang. I have seen the majestic formations while navigating though the subterranean river. I have experienced nature in its raw form and have seen animals in their natural habitat. And I sigh with contentment because THAT FOR ME IS TRUE INDULGENCE.

Sorsogon’s Kasanggayahan (Prosperity) Festival 2011

The Kasanggayahan Festival in Sorsogon is an annual celebration  in commemoration of the founding of the province. Various cultural, historical, religious, and social activities are held over the course of the whole month of October to mark the festivities.


According to Sorsogon’s tourism website, Kasanggayahan is an old Bikolano word whose meaning can be derived from this verse:

“When the fields are green
and the grains are golden;
when the machines work well
and all business prosper;
when the birds in the sky chirp freely
and men on earth are peacefully happy;
in Bikol, it is KASANGGAYAHAN,
meaning, a life of prosperity.”

Last October 17, 2011 we had a feast laid out before our eyes- the Historico Cultural Parade of the Kasanggayahan Festival. In the streets of Sorsogon City, under the scorching heat of the sun, various representatives from each town marched after their colorful floats that showcase the town’s trademark offering. The groups also had the name of their town festivals highlighted in their floats. It certainly was a celebration of bounty with each town/municipality having much to offer. The Pili Festival of Sorsogon City, Butanding Festival of Donsol, Padaraw Festival of Bulan, Lakatan Festival of Barcelona, Matunog Festival of Matnog, and the Hin-ay Festival of Irosin were among the featured town festivals. The day ended with a parachute show by the Philippine Army. Continue reading

Kadayawan 2011: A Food Safari

Foreword: Two months after my Davao trip and I still haven’t written about the dining experience I had during the Kadayawan festival. Having joined the bloggers for the PTB meet-up in Apo View Hotel organized by the great Olan Emboscado, I was fortunate to be part of the three-day gastronomic journey starting with Lachi’s desserts, moving on with the sumptuous lunch at Grab-a-Crab in Abreeza Mall, hearty snacks care of Mam Beb’s Bakeshop, the quintessential Durian-Coke combo, and the 99-peso lunch buffet at Tita D’z.

Firedancers weaving hearts of fire at the Apo View Hotel

          Rubbing elbows with flaming rings. Gahd I wish I knew how to dance with poi.

August 19- After getting a hint of burnt hair (we did a short dancing stint with the uber talented firedancers), we then went to Lachi’s, a restaurant known for its mouth-watering desserts. I was particularly drawn to the Durian-laced cakes (Sans Rival and cheesecake) as I still haven’t tried fresh durian at that time. I figured it would be good to start with these cakes to gradually introduce Durian to my palate.

I instantly became a fan of their desserts! I wrote about the cakes already when their main dishes were as equally tempting. Continue reading

Where to Stay in Puerto Princesa: Dallas Inn

Cozy little fan rooms for PhP300 a night (twin sharing or dorm basis) with free wifi and unlimited coffee? It’s not often that you chance upon finds like these in a tourism giant like Puerto Princesa. In Dallas Inn, however, they have all these and more- they have Ate Oring.

Free drinking water (hot and cold), coffee and milk tea

The most gracious and approachable host that she is, Ate Oring will help you fix your day’s schedule and hook you up with only the best tour providers. She would even share her stories with you in the mornings over a cup of hot milk tea or coffee. She’ll ask you how you found her place and in the case of a friend recommending it, she’ll recall with all clarity the name of that friend who’s stayed at Dallas Inn weeks or even months before you.

spotless clean bathroom

The place is actually a private residence converted into an inn by Ate Oring and her family. The rooms are clean and it is encouraged that guests leave their footwear outside their rooms in the shoe rack provided.

Clean sheets, towels, free soap - bare necessities

perfect mornings here at Dallas inn comprise of two things- coffee and a good conversation

There is a common living room where a table is set up holding the mugs, hot water, and sachets of instant NaiCha (milk tea) and coffee. Just near the gate, a mini lounge is provided with a native woven hammock and some chairs and a table, perfect for lazy afternoons after tiring countryside tours.

lazy lounge

I highly recommend the place for those wanting to stay for a night or two in Puerto Princesa on a budget without compromising comfort. Well I should say that more than being budget-friendly, clean, and cozy, the place owes a chunk of its character to Ate Oring and the many backpackers from around the globe that make Dallas Inn their home in Puerto Princesa City.

huge map on the wall where backpackers could pop in pins to represent where in the world they're from

Dallas Inn & Cafe

Cel No.: +639199678558
Complete Address: #11 Carandang St. Mangahan
Puerto Princesa City Palawan, Philippines
contact person: Oring Gonzales
email: dallasinnpalawan@yahoo.com