Dumaguete Jan. 2013

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DH’s mother hails from Dumaguete City, on the island of Negros, in the province of Negros Oriental, the eastern side of the island, and she still has a few (ok, more than a few) relatives living there. This year his whole family decided to go to Dumaguete on a family trip just for the weekend to relax by the sea, visit some relatives, indulge in fresh seafood, and have some quality-time with each other.

Dumaguete City is a beautiful seaside town. It is the capital of  Negros Oriental, in the southern part of the Visayas of the Philippines.

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Just to show you where Dumaguete is in relation to the whole Philippines….dumaguete map

Normally this area of the Philippines is blessed with fantastic weather, shielded from most of the typhoons, but with the effects of global warming, unfortunately Dumaguete suffered from the last 2 major typhoons last year.

Dumaguete is only 1 hour away by plane from Manila, and flying here is convenient and painless. There are daily flights, and the airport in Dumaguete, while small, is clean and efficient.

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Tourists fly to Dumaguete mainly for diving. The famous Apo Island, which is a reknown marine sanctuary (I even visited a huge exhibit on Apo Island in Chicago!), is nearby, and many tourists land in Dumaguete for a week of snorkelling and diving.

The thing I like most about Dumaguete is what they call The Boulevard. Its official name is Rizal Boulevard, but every local refers to this beautiful avenue beside the water by this generic name. It was designed by Daniel Burnham, the same architect and urban planner as Baguio, the Philppines’ summer capital, and, more famously, Chicago and downtown Washington D.C. (as per Wikipedia). Wow, it’s nice to say those cities in the same sentence. 🙂

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For those of you who are familiar with Manila, the capital of the Philippines, Burnham is also the architect of Roxas Boulevard. Roxas Boulevard and The Boulevard look very similar, but The Boulevard has the edge because it has retained its classic look, whereas Roxas Boulevard kind of looks worse for wear (for me) because of the modernization (or so they say) and land reclamation around it. In fact, The Boulevard kind of reminds me of Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, which Roxas Boulevard could have looked like, if they took better care preserving its original design.

Bit of trivia: Burnham may have designed The Boulevard, but unfortunately, never got the chance to visit it.

A walk down The Boulevard is refreshing to say the least. The boardwalk right beside the shore is well-maintained, wide, and comfortable for a leisurely stroll. The fresh breeze from the ocean feels like it can cure any respiratory ailment. On a warm, sunny day, it is SUCH a delight to walk. And, if you get hungry, there are many food establishments, from casual family fare to bars, along the other side of the road.

Speaking of food establishments, I must mention this one restaurant whose fame has reached Manila’s foodies. Sans Rival is a Filipino rich dessert of layers of meringue, cashew nuts, and rich buttercream (more butter than other buttercreams I’ve tasted!). I still haven’t found out why it carries a French name (meaning, without rival). Anyway, there is a restaurant along The Boulevard named Sans Rival, who’s specialty is, you guessed it, a deadly sans rival. As I said, Manila foodies have long waxed rhapsodic about this particular Sans Rival. So much so that I had at least 2 requests to bring back some sans rival from Sans Rival. Definitely if you find yourself in this part of the world, this place is a must-try. At least the sans rival, or its cookie version, the silvana, is.

A very efficient and modern counter graced the entrance.

IMG_2739But the star of the restaurant is the fully decked-out pastry showcase!

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The dining room is warm and inviting.IMG_2741With interesting design details such as birdcage chandeliers….

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Wooden lattice work…..IMG_2743

And interesting knick-knacks.IMG_2744

Here’s a slice of the famous Sans Rival. Look at all that butter! IMG_2745

For those who want more traditional desserts, they also carry a long line of cheesecakes, such as this Salted Caramel Cheesecake.IMG_2746

Sans Rival’s Sans Rival and Silvanas are popular gifts for people back in Manila, and a lot of my friends asked me to bring some home for them (called “pasalubong“, or a gift from one’s travels). Sans Rival has smartly started selling their goodies at the airport’s departure area, so in case you forget to buy a pasalubong, you can just make a snap purchase of a delicious box of Silvanas. Oh, small catch: they are slightly more expensive in the airport.

As for the other food places, you can’t really go wrong with fresh seafood, hot of the grill. We had dinner at Lab-As (“fresh” in the local dialect), and feasted on fresh oysters, fresh maya-maya (red snapper), fresh stuffed squid, and….frozen yogurt.

Lab-as is a great restaurant, but its sister-bar, Hayahay (which means “chillax”), is right beside for some after-dinner entertainment. Live bands play nightly here.

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Here is the reason for dinner!! IMG_2712

Fresh oysters……..IMG_2713

….make great appetizers!
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Where the action is…..the grilling station!
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While we opted to stay outdoors to enjoy the fresh air (Lab-As is located beside the Boulevard, so it gets very windy), there is an indoor air-conditioned dining area available.IMG_2731

Dumaguete is a small city with all the creature comforts of a tourist destination. While there are no big chain hotels here (yet), there are dozens of small, charming hotels around the town that are great stopovers for tourists on the way to their dive resorts. There is also a mall with all the usual fastfood chains (I would assume. I personally didn’t go inside the mall) for those foreigners who are looking for familiar food like McDonald’s.

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Getting Married? Have It At Discovery Shores, Boracay, Philippines

IMG_2431I promise this is the last post on Discovery Shores, lest you think I’m on their payroll. 🙂

Most people dream of a destination wedding, and if you want a beach wedding, I don’t think there’s a better beach than Boracay, Philippines, and Discovery Shores is one of the best hotel/resorts to have it in. As I said in a previous post, Discovery Shores is not only a beautiful hotel, but is also located in one of the best beaches in Boracay.

While lounging on the beach, we saw a lot of activity in front of the hotel: tents, tables, a stage, a sound system, flowers….what was going on? “We have a wedding at 4pm.”, we were told. So we saw firsthand all the preparations that went into a Boracay wedding.

The engineering staff of the hotel was a flurry with activity setting up the tents in front of the hotel. Apparently the ceremony was going to be on the beach (timed with sunset. How gorgeous!!), and the reception (dinner and dancing) was going to be on the beach as well, right in front of the hotel.

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Nearby, a gazebo was being constructed. The top photo shows the finished product (with DH and I posing for our anniversary picture).IMG_2398

Simple monoblock chairs were set up facing the water. This was around 1pm, and the ceremony was set for 5pm.IMG_2399

Underneath the tents, the presidential table was being set up. Fine linens and sturdy chairs were used, so at least the monoblock look was only for the outdoor ceremony.IMG_2403

The wedding party hired a band to play, and a stage was also being set up.IMG_2404

Part of a Boracay wedding is a sandcastle made of the famous sand, with the newlyweds’ names on it. Here you see the start of the sandcastle.IMG_2401

Carefully block letters are “carved” out of firm sand.IMG_2405

And the finished product! A very personalized sandcastle.IMG_2409

Stylish buffet tables, ready to be dressed up.IMG_2411

The reception area is cordoned off to ensure no “strays” wander in.IMG_2414

Almost done!
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The wedding attendants and coordinators get ready! The sun is starting to set.

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All waiting for the bride to arrive!IMG_2439Inside the tent….the finished scene! All lit up and ready to party.

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Discovery Shores, Boracay, Philippines Part 2: The Room

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What’s a blog about a hotel without pictures of the room? Obviously the room is of great interest!

The room of Discovery Shores was tastefully done, yet not plush or overly luxurious. The bed was wonderful though. Firm, with beautiful sheets (I’m no expert, but it felt like high thread count) and fluffy down-filled pillows. So wonderful to crawl in after a tiring day on the beach.

Discovery Shores treated us to a complimentary foot spa when we arrived. That’s DH’s hairy leg, not mine, BTW.

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The requisite light reading on the beach. We asked to change rooms (our original room was too far from the beach), and I noticed a stack of books in the first room as well. Thankfully they were different titles. I actually picked one up (LA Times). Definitely light reading.IMG_2492

An ipod/iphone dock, to play your own music. However, with the new iPhone 5 using the new charger (and I assume, the next generation of iWhatevers will folllow suit), I suppose they’ll be changing this soon.

IMG_2491Discovery Shores gave us fruits or a native sweet every day. It was a nice way of sharing some local culture with the guests. I didn’t take a picture of the food though).
IMG_2490 And 3 jars of goodies greeted us on our first day, and were refilled every day. The empty one was filled with yummy oatmeal cookies, which I demolished.IMG_2489

Of course, the BATHROOM was very important to me, and here I must admit i was a little disappointed. It was a weird set-up: the toilet and shower inside the bathroom, while the sink was outside in the bedroom. Not something I expected from a world-class hotel. Plus the bathroom was quite spartan (no picture again…..all you’d see would be a tiled wall). The fixtures were nice though.

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And they do make cute towel animals (I mentioned their towel swan in the previous post).

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Here’s a picture of the rest of the room, though the day bed isn’t seen.IMG_2483

Discovery Shores, Boracay, Philippines Part 1

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For our 5th anniversary, DH planned a beach getaway to Boracay, a beautiful island less than an hour away from Manila. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are all levels of hotels in Boracay. We wanted one that was on the quiet side of the island, and one that would pamper us a bit. Discovery Shores was our choice.

Discovery Shores, Boracay, Philippines, was rated #1 Hotel Spa in Asia by Travel and Leisure (see here), one of the Top 5 in Travel and Leisure’s List of 500 Best Hotels in the World and ranked #6 in tripadvisor. And a lot of our friends have stayed there before, so we knew that it would be a great anniversary.

Discovery Shores took care us of the minute we landed in the airport. We were met by gracious and pleasant uniformed employees of the resort, who promptly helped us with our bags, and led us to an air-conditioned van to bring us to the waiting area of the boat (approximately 10 minute ride).

At the waiting area we were given bands to identify us as Discovery Shores guests, though it wasn’t really needed at this time as there weren’t too many people.

IMG_2311But retail is in the detail, so it was a nice branding touch.

We made our way to the boat. Now, 20 years ago the boat that took me to the island was a shaky, dinky, open outrigger. It felt adventurous and exciting, being exposed to the elements, chugging along the waters. 7 years ago it was a little more civilized, with a roof, large enough for more passengers, and LIFE VESTS. Today, Discovery Shores reassures their guests with safety and technology. 
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We were greeted by an attendant who passed out cool, wet towels, a bottle of cold water, and a pack of granola bars. All for a 7 minute ride to Boracay Island. This boat had a crew of about 4 people. Passengers totalled around 10.IMG_2315

Discovery Shores sits on a prime spot on White Beach, the best beach on Boracay. Actually, with such a great address, Discovery Shores can just offer mediocre facilities and services, and they will still be fully booked. Happily, the owners decided to put a world-class hotel and train their people with a “never-say-no” attitude.IMG_2412

The hotel was decorated for Christmas!
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The view from the cafe. This is where breakfast is served. Imagine having your omelet while gazing at this! BTW, there’s a full buffet breakfast every day. It’ll be hard to keep your bathing suit figure here.IMG_2323

It was great to see Discovery Shores take care of their beachfront. A crew of sweepers clean up the beach of any trash every morning, and comb through the sand to make sure no sharp objects (like broken glass or cigarette butts) remain as a potential hazard to bare-footed beach bunnies.
IMG_2322Our favorite spot every day. Gorgeous, isn’t it?IMG_2391

As I mentioned, pampering is Discovery Shores’ strong suit. Without us asking or even lifting a finger, attendants came over to our lounging beds and brought us a carafe of iced water. Ok, so MAYBE that might be a little expected. Serving water in a beach. Ho hum.

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Then a gracious lady attendant comes over with a bowl of cold Evian spray (or something similar), and offers to spritz our faces. Whoa!! Of course we accept! It was pretty hot by this time, and we were already quite greasy from all the suntan lotion. It felt great!
IMG_2423 Then to top it all off, there’s this guy that goes around offering to clean our sunglasses from all the greasy marks and sand. He’s equipped with a felt cloth and a glass cleaner. Amazing!

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Not pictured: there was another attendant who was going around with slices of chilled cucumbers and oranges for our eyes and cheeks. I felt like a salad. And another attendant that passed around various finger food like frozen grapes, chicken quesadillas, mini pizzas, corn dogs……

Talk about service beyond the call of duty. I even read in the papers that there was an incident where a lady lost her engagement ring on the beach. Urban legend has it that the staff combed through the sand, looking for it AND FOUND IT!!! Bravo, bravo Discovery Shores.

Of course, our own UNBELIEVABLE experience in Discovery Shores is how they move the sunbrella around the lounging beds, just so that we didn’t have to move as the sun moved. We never got burned, and was comfortably under the shade all the time, even as the sun went from east to west.

Discovery Shores also tries to personalize their services. For example, they found out that it was our anniversary, and decorated our room with a banner, rose petals, and towels formed into swans, and a chocolate cake! And we weren’t even honeymooners. My friends’ experience is that the staff actually put in their room framed PHOTOS of their family taken in previous stays in Discovery Shores. Wow.

Definitely a rave.

Island Getaway: Boracay, Philippines

IMG_2331I’ve been to countless of beaches, both local and abroad, famous and unknown, and Boracay has always been my benchmark. I love its dazzling, fine sand, so light that it never gets hot. This is no myth. You can go around barefoot without feeling any discomfort. The sea is so calm and clear: it’s like a giant swimming pool. Nature at its most beautiful, with creature comforts within reach. Bali, the French Riviera, Honolulu…all are more famous, but to me, they can’t hold a candle to Boracay.

To get to Boracay, you must take a domestic flight to either Katiklan or Kalibo. From there you take a local boat or a bangka for 30 minutes to Boracay. My advice to tourists is to land in Katiklan, as landing in Kalibo entails a 1 hour bus ride to get to the Katiklan.

I’ve been going to Boracay for about 20 years already, and was happy to see a modern airport! 20 years ago the Katiklan airport was a shed. Now look at it! IMG_2301With conveyor belts and everything! This was around December, which explains the Christmas tree.

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From the airport we were whisked to another comfortable waiting lounge to wait for the boat to take us to the island. This waiting lounge however, isn’t for everyone. It would depend on what hotel you’re staying. We were going to stay in Discovery Shores (next post).
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It was a gorgeous day!! This was the path to the beach of Katiklan, where we would board our boat.
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Sorry, no pictures of the dock in Boracay, but again, a big improvement from 7 years ago (when I last came here). 

As I said, Boracay’s sand is very fine and light-colored. It’s nice to see that the local government and the resorts take care to keep it that way by combing it every day to remove trash and debris.

IMG_2318White Beach is the famous part of Boracay. It’s a long stretch of this fine, light sand. Hotels are located on the beach, so make sure you ask for a room with a beach view. White Beach is divided into 3 stations (they are called stations because these were the stations where the boats used to dock. Now they all dock in 1 place, far from White Beach).

Station 1 is the best part of White Beach, in my opinion. It has the widest span of beach, and is the quietest part. Station 2 is where all the bars and restaurants (and yes, a STRIP MALL!!), so if you’re the type who wants to be on top of the action, stay here. Station 3 also has some bars and restaurants and is generally noisier than Station 1, but not as frenetic as Station 2.

Here are some shots of the beach in Station 1.This was around mid-morning, so there weren’t too many people walking around yet.
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This is an example of establishments around Station 2. Smaller, and very close together. You can imagine how noisy it gets when they’re fully occupied. Thankfully the local government put a height restriction on the buildings on White Beach, so we won’t be seeing the gargantuan hotels…..IMG_2346

7 years ago the beach was crawling with people selling local shell necklaces and sunglasses, while masseuses would go around offering to give massages for P150 (4USD at today’s rate). Today I didn’t see any of these. Instead I saw many hat vendors, such as the one below.

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Another difference is the presence of all these booths on the beach offering all sorts of water sports. They weren’t on the beach before, but a little at the back. They kind of ruin the beach for me.IMG_2339

Since it was December, some people took the holiday spirit to the beach!IMG_2345Boracay has really evolved. The first time I came here (around the 1990s) there weren’t too many choices of hotels or activities. It was really “just” an impossibly beautiful beach, and I just lazed away the day. Today it has really been developed to attract all kinds of tourists, with hotels of every level, and so many activities (and non-activities). IMG_2358

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