Tai O Fishing Village (Lantau Island, Hong Kong)

Entrance to Tai O Fishing Village

From the Ngong Ping Village, we walked towards the bus terminal and boarded Bus 21 which leaves about every hour or so for Tai O (Chinese: 大澳) Fishing Village, a short 15-min. (6.7- km). drive via the Lantau Trail Section 4 and Tai O Rd.

Check out “Ngong Ping Village

This quaint and picturesque fishing town is partly located on an island of the same name on the western side of Lantau Island in Hong Kong. Despite damage by a large fire in July 2000, Tai O is still a tourist spot for both foreigners and residents of other parts of Hong Kong.

The village’s name, meaning “large inlet,” refers to the outlet for Tai O Creek and Tai O River which merges as it moves through Tai O. On the southwest part of Lantau Island, the Tai O River splits to the north (as Tai O Creek) and west.  At this fork lies the island referred to as Tai O.

The village is located mostly on the banks of the Tai O River. Two pedestrian bridges cross the river on its northern and western forks. The western and northern parts of the island, facing the South China Sea, are uninhabited.

For a short time, Tai O was once occupied by Portuguese during the Battle of Tamao (a naval battle, in 1521, where the Ming imperial navy defeated a Portuguese fleet led by Diogo Calvo).

Souvenir items

In 1729, a fort was built at nearby Fan Lau  to protect shipping on the Pearl River. When the British came to Hong Kong, Tai O was then known as a village of the Tanka, a community of fisher folk who’ve, for generations, built their houses on stilts above the tidal flats of Lantau Island.

Dried squid

During and after the Chinese Civil War, Tai O became a primary entry point for illegal immigration for those (mostly Cantonese) escaping from the People’s Republic of China, some of whom stayed in Tai O.  Tai O also attracted people from other Hong Kong ethnic groups, including Hoklo (Hokkien) and Hakka.

Dried fish

Tai O used to be a very important trading and fishing port, but this is a thing of the past. Currently, while many residents still continue to fish, the fishing lifestyle in Tai O is dying out as it barely provides a subsistence income. Though there is a public school on the island, most of its young people move away when they come of age.  Today, tourism seems to be Tai O’s drawcard with the Stilt Village it’s biggest attraction.

The harbor

Upon arrival at the bus terminus, we walked towards the lively, traditional seafood market.  A feast for the eyes (but, perhaps, not the nose), we strolled through its stalls and alleys, checking out the live seafood tanks and the vast array of dried traditional salted fishshrimp paste, XO sauce, salted egg yolk, laogong bin (husband cake), vegetables (some of which we did not recognize), knick knacks and souvenirs (pearl jewelry) being sold at storefronts.

Boarding our kaido

At the booth of Tai O Boat Excursion Limited, we boarded one its kaidos (small ferry boats that accommodates around 10-12 people) that would take us on an approximately 20-min. tour (which we booked beforehand online) along the river, for a close up view, of activity surrounding the harbor and the daily life in the stilt houses and, then, for a short jaunt into the sea.

Stilt houses along the river

Our ride first took us for a look at the stilt houses (pang uks) right over the waterway. In spite of the houses’ dilapidated look, the village is still a quite scenic and enchanting photographer’s paradise.

The unusual but traditional stilt houses, with its pretty setting on the coast framed by the mountains, is predominant of the old Southern Chinese fishing villages and one of the few remaining places where you can still see them in Hong Kong.

Sun Ki Bridge

All interconnected, they form a tightly knit community that literally lives on the water. There are also cafes and restaurant alongside the river plus some old house boats.

Tai Chung Bridge

After riding around the stilt village, our boat then headed out to the harbor and open sea. Before heading out to sea, we passed underneath the Tai Chung Bridge, a manually operated steel pedestrian drawbridge spanning the narrow creek dividing the town which replaced, in October 1996, a  rope-drawn “ferry,” tended by local Tanka women for over 85 years, which used to be quite popular with visitors. The Sun Ki Bridge, completed in 1979, also connects the village to the mainland.

A pair of fishing boats

As we cruised along the harbor, we saw fishermen coming and going and cleaning and putting away catch and gear, all traces of what this active fishing port used to be. Out at sea, we saw some some beautiful cliffs and rock formations along the coastline of Lantau Island.

The coastline of Lantau Island

Many tourists also come to Tai O to see the sunset and, specifically, to take boat trips to see rare, endangered Chinese white dolphins (also known as “Pink Dolphins”) but it was too early for the former and we didn’t see any of the latter. From afar, we espied the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge (HZMB), the cross-border mega bridge linking Lantau with Macau and Zhuhai which, incidentally, official opened on that day.

Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge (HZMB)

Though Tai O is known as the “Venice of Hong Kong” or “Venice of the Orient,” don’t expect too much of a comparison as its stilt house architecture is a far cry from that of the famous and romantic Italian city.

The author

With Lantau Island becoming much more accessible, through new transportation options, and the new influx of tourists to the Big Buddha and Ngong Ping area, things in Tai O are changing fast.  Though still very much a quaint fishing village, sooner or later Tai O cannot escape the inevitable phase of development that is bound to come. Still, Tai O was definitely worth the trip from Hong Kong.

How to Get There:

  • From Central, take the ferry from Central Pier 6 to Mui Wo, then Bus No. 1 to Tai O bus terminus. The bus journey takes approximately 50 minutes.
  • From Kowloon, the easiest way is to get there is taking the MTR to Tung Chung Station, then Bus No. 11 to Tai O. From Tung Chung Station Exit B, take Ngong Ping Cable Car to Ngong Ping Village (approximately 25 minutes) then take Bus No. 21 (HK$6.6 on weekdays, for single journeys, and HK14 on Sundays and public holidays) to Tai O terminus (approximately 20 minutes). Sometimes Bus No. 21 fills up quick so, instead of waiting for the next one, consider a taxi (the taxi stands are right next to the bus stop). The taxi ride costs about HK50.At the terminus, walk for around five minutes to the steel drawbridge and then take a stroll along the waterfront.
  • By New Lantau Bus, Tai O can be reached from Mui Wo(Bus No. 1, HK$12 on weekdays, for single journeys, and HK20 on Sundays and public holidays), Tung Chung (Bus No. 11, HK$12 on weekdays, for single journeys, and HK120 on Sundays and public holidays) and Ngong Ping (Bus No. 21).
  • There are ferry piers on Tai O, close to Tai O bus terminus. It operates daily as the following routes connecting Tai O with Tuen Mun(Tuen Mun Ferry Pier, service by Fortune Ferry), Tung Chung (Tung Chung New Development Ferry Pier, service by Fortune Ferry) and Sha Lo Wan (operated by Fortune Ferry).

Tai O Fishing Village: Lantau Island, Hong Kong. Boat rides are offered by the locals and you will have no trouble getting on one.  As soon as you get off the bus or as you walk around the market, you will find somebody peddling their services. The boats depart from many points, including the bridge and the main marina, but they all cover the same main spots.  Prices for the boat rides are negotiable.  You are expected to pay about HK20 per adult (half for children) but, the bigger your group, the more leverage you will have.

Ngong Ping 360 (Hong Kong)

On board the Ngong Ping 360 cable car.  L-R: Bryan, the author, Kyle, Jandy, Cheska and Grace

Our fourth day in Hong Kong was reserved for Ngong Ping 360, which consists of a continuous circulating bi-cable aerial ropeway gondola lift system (referred to by its operators as a “cable car”) ride and a themed Ngong Ping Village, plus its nearby sites such as the Tian Tan Buddha (Big Buddha), Po Lin Monastery, and the Tai O Fishing Village .

Check out “Po Lin MonasteryTian Tan Buddha “Tai O Fishing Village,” and Ngong Ping Village

The long queue for tickets at Tung Chung Terminal

From Yau Ma Tei Station, we all took the Tsuen Wan line to Lai King where we transferred to the Tung Chung line (Orange Line) and got off at Tung Chung Station. As we all had an Octopus card (their equivalent of Singapore’s EZ-link card) plus Cheska easily found our way around on the MTR, getting there was a breeze. The whole trip took all of 40 mins., passing 9 stations along the way.

Getting our passes at the exclusive Klook VIP counter

Once we got to Tung Chung station, we followed the signage out of the station (Exit B).  Past Citygate Outlets, we found the Ngong Ping 360 cable car terminal. When we got there, the queue was long, with long waiting times, for those purchasing tickets on the spot even if this this was on a Wednesday afternoon. I could only imagine how bad it can get during peak periods. Lucky for us, Cheska used Klook to get us cheaper cable car tickets.  At the Klook VIP counter, she simply flashed the e-voucher to redeem our physical ticket.

At the shorter queue for Crystal Cabin passengers

Once again, in order to avoid long queues, Cheska got us round trip tickets costing HK$210 each on Klook versus HK$255 on the official Ngong Ping 360’s website (tickets available two weeks in advance) which Cheska found reliable and easy to use, especially with her mobile app.

A set of cable cars

Her choice of the crystal cabin (the cable car with a glass bottom) was deliberate as the snaking queue for the standard, non-glass-bottomed cabin, though a fair bit cheaper, tended to be far longer. This turned out to be true. Both sets of cabins circulate on the same cable but their passengers are segregated by queuing systems at both terminals.

Kyle seated on the transparent, 3-layer, 5 cm. thick glass bottom of our cable car

Past the queue, we got on the cable car.  As they usually try to fit in about 7–8 people per cabin (and standing room for another 7) and our group was smaller than that, a couple joined us in our cabin.

Yat Tung Estate on Lantau Island

It was to be a 25-minute, 5.7-km. (3.5 mi.) ride to Ngong Ping Village.  The system has a capacity of 3,500 people per hour in each direction.

Ngong Ping Cable Car Angle Station

The lift system runs across eight towers (including the stations) with five of the towers located within the country park. From Tung Chung Terminal, our cable car ran across Tung Chung Bay to Airport Island Angle Station on Chek Lap Kok, where it turns through about 60 degrees before returning across Tung Chung Bay.

Ngong Ping 360’s magnificent views

It then ran up the Lantau North Country Park to another angle station near Nei Lak Shan (Nei Lak Shan Angle Station), before finally descending to the Ngong Ping Terminal.

Hong Kong International Airport

It changed direction twice at the two angle stations, one on the south shore of Chek Lap Kok; the other west of Nei Lak Shan within the Lantau North Country Park.

Boardwalk at Lantau North Country Park

Waterfall at Lantau North Country Park

During the 25 minute journey, we had a stunning bird’s eye view, from our windows as well as from our transparent, three-layer 5 cm. thick glass floor, over the verdant landscape of North Lantau Country Park, the South China Sea, the southern shore of Hong Kong International Airport, the Tung Chung valley, Ngong Ping Plateau and surrounding terrain and waterways. As we approached Ngong Ping, we saw The Big Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery.

Kaido cruising Tung Chung Bay

Ngong Ping Cable Car: Runs daily, 10 AM to 6 PM.

Nakamise-Dori (Tokyo, Japan)

Nakamise-Dori

After our visit to Senso-ji Temple, we proceeded to the approximately 250 m. (880-ft.) long Nakamise-dōri (仲見世通り), the best place in Tokyo to buy souvenirs.  One of Japan’s oldest streets, this shopping street leads, from the gorgeous Kaminarimon (“Thunder Gate”), to Sensō-ji temple itself.  Items sold here range from outrageously cheesy items to authentic and useful souvenirs.  For centuries, Japanese pilgrims and tourists who visit Sensō-ji every year flock here to shop at its small stores.   This stone-paved pedestrian street, retaining the feeling of old downtown Edo and the cultural florescence of the Meiji era, started during the Genroku and Tempo periods of the Edo era when horse carriage operators were granted the right to set up shops next to the east side of Niomon as compensation for cleaning the temple compound through forced labor.

Shops near the Kaminarimon Gate of Senso-ji Temple

In the early 18th century, Nakamise-dōri (translated as “inside street”) was said to have come about when neighbors of Sensō-ji were granted permission to set up shops on the approach to the temple. However, on May 1885, the government of Tokyo ordered all shop owners to leave but, on December of that same year, the area was reconstructed in Western-style brick. During the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, many of the shops were destroyed.  In 1925, the shops were rebuilt using concrete, only to be destroyed again during the bombings of World War II.

The surrounding area had around 89 small traditional shops, many of them run by the same family for many generations.  I admired the shutters painted with different seasonal vistas. Stores sold traditional Japanese items such as chopsticks, yukatageta, wooden combs, maneki neko cat statuettes (a traditional good luck charm), hair accessories, elegant fans of all colors and sizes; handmade umbrellas; geta (traditional footwear), masks, folding fans, ukiyo-e (woodblock prints); kimono and other robes; samurai swords; and Buddhist scrolls.  You can also shop here for Godzilla toys, t-shirts and mobile phone straps. The shops at both sides of the last stretch near the temple sell official Senso-ji merchandise – omamori amulets, scrolls, incense to burn at the huge burner in front of the temple’s stairs, books about the temple (in Japanese) and o-mikuji fortunes.

 

Nakamise-Dori is a good place for visitors to try tabearuki (“walk-and-eat”) and enjoy Japanese street food such as tempting traditional kibi dango (sweet and soft rice cakes in a stick covered with millet flour), oden, (a winter snack), imo yokan (sweet potato jelly), odango (a sweet snack), kaminari okoshi (sweet puff rice crackers), colorful candies sold in beautiful traditional patterned cases; ningyo yaki (little sponge cakes filled with red bean paste and shaped like dolls, birds and the famous Kaminarimon, Asakusa’s symbolic lantern), deep-fried manju (a bun stuffed with red-bean paste), kibidango (a millet dumpling), freshly toasted sembei crackers, juicy fried meat croquettes, sweet melon pan bread, cooling matcha green tea ice cream and other green tea-flavored treats.

Trying out vanilla ice cream in a melonpan at Asakusa Sakura

Vanilla ice cream in a melonpan bun

There are also eating places that feature traditional dishes (hand-made noodles, sushi, tempura, etc.). For lunch, we dined at Tatsumiya Restaurant. Here, we were seated in a traditional Japanese setting – no shoes and on low tables with mats.

Check out “Restaurant Review: Tatsumiya Asakusa

Dining, Japanese style, at Tatsumiya Restaurant

During the holidays, the arcade is decorated with seasonal trappings – silk plum blossoms and kites during New Year’s Day, bright foliage during fall and cherry blossoms in spring. Running perpendicular to Nakamise-Dori is Shin-Nakamise (“New Nakamise”), a covered shopping arcade lined by various shops and restaurants.

Shin-Nakamise (New Nakamise)

Nakamise-Dori: 1 Asakusa, Taitō-ku, Tokyo, Japan. Open daily, typically from 10 AM to 7 PM but hours depend on the individual shops.

How to Get There: Nakamise-Dori, a 2 minute walk from Asakusa Station, is served by the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Toei Asakusa Line and Tobu railway lines. It is also a 10-min. walk from Tawaramachi Station on the Ginza Line. Take A3~A5 exit for Nakamise. This shopping street is traditionally approached via the Thunder Gate.

 

Return to Wawa Gorge (Rodriguez, Rizal)

Wawa Gorge

The day after my grandson Kyle’s 6th birthday, I together with the rest of my family joined employees of E. Ganzon Inc. in distributing relief goods to residents of Sitio Wawa in Rodriguez (formerly Montalban, it was renamed after Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Sr., Montalban’s first mayor and Senate president, in 1982) in Rizal. Last August 11-13, the area was hit by flash flooding that also destroyed the bridge that connects Sitio Wawa with Sitio Sto. Niño.

Sitio Wawa

This wasn’t my first visit to this area.  The first time I was in Wawa was way back in 2004 when I was a guest in a demonstration tour, for teacher representatives from 9 different schools, hosted by Lakbay Kalikasan. At Wawa Gorge, we engaged in the adrenaline-pumping sport of rappelling at the gorge’s metal footbridge.

Check out “Rapelling at Wawa Gorge

Sitio Wawa lies is in between the 426 m. high Mt. Pamitinan and 424 m. high Mt. Binacayan.  Its abandoned reservoir is visited mostly by hikers as the jump-off point for the trek to either beginner-friendly mountain, two of three mountains in the well-loved trilogy hike (the other is 517 m. high Mt. Hapunang Banoi). Guide fee is Php500 per group.

Mt. Pamitinan

The two mountains form a scenic view that appears like a portal to the sky, hence the name wawa, the Dumagat term for “entrance.” Sitio Wawa is a habitat of the Remontado Dumagat, mixed-blood offspring of lowlanders, who fled the Spanish colonizers, and of Negritos, the original setters in the area.

Mt. Binacayan

Legend has it that a giant of extraordinary strength named Bernardo Carpio (our version of Hercules or Atlas) who, in olden times, was trapped by an enkanto (enchanted creature) between Mt. Pamitinan and Mt. Binacayan. He caused earthquakes, landslides and flooding in nearby villages every time he struggles to free himself from his chains or keep the boulders from crushing him or from colliding.

Parking lot for visitors

José Rizal was said to have made a pilgrimage to Montalban to pay homage to Bernardo Carpio, a versatile symbol of freedom. In recent times, Lavrente “Lav” Diaz has used the legend as organic symbol in his 2016 historical fantasy dram film Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis (“A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery”). The riverbed is said to have a boulder with a hollow that forms what look like a gigantic footprint, attributed by locals to Bernardo Carpio.

The E. Ganzon, Inc. group. The author is at left

Historically, the site was used as a hide out by the revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio who made one of Pamitinan’s caves as the Katipunan’s secret headquarters.  Here, Bonifacio and eight of his men entered the cave on Palm Sunday and came out on Good Friday. Here, they declared independence from Spain on April 12, 1895, over a year before the Revolution started.

The children of Sitio Wawa

Some 500 meters of narrow passage away from the mouth of Pamitinan Cave is the bulwagan (“hall”), a cavern over 50 ft. high and about 50 ft. in radius.  Inscribed on the cavern wall, in what looks like charcoal (possibly soot from a torch), are the words Viva la Independencia.  The Pamitinan pilgrimage is held here in April.

A currently closed hanging bridge

In 1943, the cave was turned into a Japanese armory. Mary Japanese died here from American fire. In 1977, a concrete marker commemorating them was fixed on the cliff wall over the cave’s mouth, above which is a metal plate, inscribed with Japanese characters with English translation, that reads: “Give them eternal rest, O Lord, and let them share Your glory.” In 1985, the cave was declared a National Geological Monument.

The narrow paved trail. along a ridge, leading to Wawa Dam

It is closed for rehabilitation until further notice.  In 1996, the area was declared a Protected Landscape managed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Tourism.

A waterfall emanating from a cave

After lunch at one of the area’s eateries, we decided to make the 500-m. trek, along a ridge, to Wawa Dam, the prominent landmark of Sitio Wawa. Along the narrow, paved trail are stores selling organic vegetables (eggplant, squash, gabi, takway, puso ng saging, pandan leaves, etc.), river shrimps, crabs, eels, carp, charcoal, assorted fruits (bananas, papaya,) etc., snacks and beverages to tourists.

The author at the steel footbridge near the dam

On Tuesdays and Fridays, foot traffic is heavy on the trail, with young men carrying sacks of fruits and vegetables.  After crossing a metal footbridge, we reached the slightly arched dam.  Coupled with the beautiful landscape of 80-160 feet high white rock walls, limestone crags and marble boulders, the dam was perfect for photography.

Wawa Dam

Wawa Dam, also known as Montalban Dam, is an 85 m. 9279 ft.) long  and 12 m. (40 ft.) high gravity dam constructed over the Marikina River. The slightly arched dam is situated in the 360-m. (1,180 ft.) high Montalban Gorge or Wawa Gorge, a water gap in the Sierra Madre Mountains, east of Manila.

Kyle, Grace and Jandy with the dam in the background

The waters of the Upper Marikina River basin, its headwater said to be in Quezon province, runs through the gorge and descends to the lowlands of the neighboring town of San Mateo and Marikina Valley. During summer, cottages are built at the foot of the dam but, as it was the rainy season, they remove the cottages because of the heavy impact of water.

The old, roofless American-era watchtower flanking the dam

The dam was built in 1904, during the American colonial era, started operating in 1909 to provide the water needs for Manila. It used to be the only source of water for the greater Manila area but it was closed in 1962 due to deterioration and lack of water supply and abandoned when it was replaced by the La Mesa-Ipo-Angat watershed system.

The sparsity of its water was most likely due to the logging and quarrying in the mountains. However, due to insufficiency of water supply for Metro Manila, there is now a strong clamor to reuse the dam. Wawa Dam is also pictured in their official seal of the local government of Rodriguez.

The reservoir behind the dam

For those who are not fans of mountain hiking, Wawa Dam’s has picnic spots. If you don’t want to bring your own food and beverages, sari-sari stores, food stalls and a wet market are available in the place. You can rent a bamboo cottage (Php150-500) and toilets are Php10 per use (bring your own toiletries or buy them at the sari-sari stores).

The roofless interior of the old watchtower

Wawa Dam: M. H. Del Pilar Street, Sitio Wawa, Brgy. San Rafael, Rodriguez, RizalPhilippines.

How to Get There:

By Car: Despite the usual traffic, the fastest route to Wawa is via Commonwealth Ave., then take Payatas Road going to Rodriguez Highway until you reach M.H Del Pilar Street. Inside Wawa Village, there’s a parking space where the locals look after your car for any amount. Travel time is around 1.5 to 2hrs.

By Public Transportation: In front of Jollibee, Farmers, Cubao, Quezon City, there’s a UV Express Terminal where you can take the van going to Rodriguez (fare: Php50 per head).  Drop-off at Montalban Terminal.  Here, you can ride a tricycle going to Wawa Village (fare: Php20 per head). From  SM North/Trinoma, you can also ride a UV Express van (fare: Php50) going to Eastwood Montalban and drop off at Eastwood Ministop. Then, ride a jeep going to Wawa (fare: Php8). From the parking lot, you have to walk for 5-10 minutes. Alternatively, from Cubao/SM North/Trinoma, you can ride a bus or jeepney going to Litex and, from there, ride a jeepney going to Montalban Town Center and another jeepney to Wawa. This is much cheaper but a bit of a hassle.

The Fountain at Okada Manila

The Fountain at Okada Manila

The Fountain at Okada Manila, tagged as the world’s largest multicolor dancing fountain, was unveiled last March 31, 2017 in a star-studded launch featuring Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach as host, German-Filipino classical crossover singer Gerphil Flores (performing classical music with the 40-piece Manila Philharmonic Orchestra as accompaniment) and American singer-songwriter Robin Thicke (behind the hit “Blurred Lines”) as the main act.

This iconic destination attraction of the Philippines, capable of moving in rhythm with music and lights, draws guests not only around the country but from the world over. The US$30-million fountain has an area of 9.2 hectares, reportedly taking up a third of the property’s land area. In terms of size, it is bigger than the 3.4-hectare Bellagio Fountain of Las Vegas. Like the Bellagio, The Fountain at Okada Manila was designed by WET Designs, a renowned Los Angeles-based water-feature design firm.

WET team of  fountain choreographers infused a local touch to The Fountain’s twofold design inspirations – the festive traditions of the Philippines, and the sampaguita, the country’s national flower.

The fountain, a spectacular show of lights and sounds, is equipped with 739 high-power water nozzles (which can shoot water beyond the height of the Okada Manila hotel building), including WET’s proprietary underwater robots, 2,611 colored lights and 23 high-fidelity speakers. The water in The Fountain can also fill 50 Olympic-size swimming pools.

The Fountain Show, a gift of Okada Manila Chairman Kazuo Okada to the Philippines, is available for free to guests of all ages who watch the show from 6 PM onward. Before the show begins, the peaceful fountain takes the appearance of a manmade lake from the ground. When the show starts, water jets soar high at the centre of the lake, allowing for the projection of abstract videos from two sides.

The water nozzles and colored lights work together to create a sensory experience like no other.  The fountain’s movements, dazzling as it danced in sync to the tune of classics and modern songs, features jets of water racing and spurts twisting and twirling with the feathery grace of a dancer with water blossoms budding, unfurling and forming the eight petals of a massive sampaguita.

Both sides of The Fountain also feature projections during spectacular water shows. A permanent yet invisible performance stage installed in The Fountain’s lake enables performers to give the illusion of being able to walk on water, interact with the water features, and amaze the audience with an enthralling, unforgettable show.  Accompanying this are two other immersive shows: LED Mapping and World of Wonders.  Joining the ranks of Manila’s most iconic landmarks and a bold take on creating a global icon, The Fountain of Okada Manila’s grandeur and accurately choreographed water, light and music performances will rival those in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and Las Vegas’ Bellagio. Truly, it is a sight to behold.

Okada Manila: New Seaside Drive, Parañaque City, 1701 Metro Manila.  Tel.: (02) 888 0777.

Fountain Show Schedules: Mondays to Thursdays, one song at the top of each hour (6 PM to 10 PM); Fridays to Saturdays, two songs at the top of each hour (6 PM to 12 AM); and Sundays, two songs at the top of each hour (6 PM to 11 PM). Every 8 PM, from Friday to Sunday, the World of Wonders will be performed on the floating stage. A projection mapping show, meanwhile, will be held from Friday to Sunday from 8:30 to 9:30 in the evening.

Virgin Island (Panglao, Bohol)

Virgin Island

Part of the Panglao Bluewater Resort-sponsored CountrysideTour

The next day, after a buffet breakfast at the resort’s Aplaya Restaurant, we boarded a motorized outrigger boat just off the beach from the resort for our half-day, two island (Virgin Island and Balicasag Island) hopping tour.

Making landfall

A 15-20 minute boat ride brought us to Virgin Island, a 1-hectare (during low tide) stretch of white sandbar with small patches of mangroves, grass and coconut trees and surrounded by clear, shallow (the water is only up to your shins) waters and sea grass.  Walking to its far end, you will find lots and lots of red and blue starfish.

The author at Virgin Island.  Behind are makeshift stalls

Virgin Island turned out to be a “tourist trap” as a number of makeshift stalls have been set up there, selling pricey sea food such as fresh, edible abalone, soft and crunchy sea cucumber, tuna and sea urchins (swaki) as well as buko (coconut) drinks, banana-Q, fish ball, squid ball and snacks. Jewelry hawkers, who follow you around (they can’t seem to take “no” for an answer), also sell pearls (in its natural state or mounted as earrings, bracelets or necklaces).

The crystal-clear, shallow waters

Our tour boat only allowed us 15-20 minutes of stay before we headed to our next destination. It is best to go here early in the morning, tide permitting, as it can be a little too hot when the sun is already shining so bright.  Bring sunblock lotion.

An isolated patch of mangroves …….

There are no nipa huts or umbrella shades on the island. The island is not really a snorkeling spot of note. The sea grass beds only have a few shoals of very small fish but off the beds are loads of jack fish.

A piece of driftwood

Across the island is Isola di Francesco (“Island of St. Francis”) on Pungtud (or Pontod) Island. Owned by Mr. Ramon Rodriguez, a devotee of Italian Capuchin monk St. Pio (Francesco Forgione) of Pietrelcina, it has a chapel, a visitor’s center, a mini museum (filled with photos of the Francescan friars), a few restrooms, water tanks, guest houses and several religious sculptures of angels, cherubs, and the Holy Family. It is not often included in the island hopping packages.

Isola de Francesco

There’s nothing much you can do here except for a short photo ops and taking selfies. They should change the name of this Island. Not a virgin at all.  Like many beautiful spots on the Earth, this island has been ruined for commercial reasons but, minus the flocks of tourists, parked boats and the makeshift stalls, the island could be a great place to just sit and relax and enjoy the solitude.

A solitary mangrove……..

Island Hopping Rates (boat rental only): PhP2,300 (1-4 pax) and PhP2,750 (5-10 pax).

Bohol Tourism Office: Governor’s Mansion Compound, C.P.G. Ave. North, Tagbilaran City, 6300 Bohol.  Tel: +63 38 501-9186.  E-mail: inquire@boholtourismph.com.

Panglao Bluewater Resort: Bluewater Rd., Sitio Daurong, Brgy. Danao, Panglao, 6340 Bohol.  Tel: (038) 416-0702 and (038) 416-0695 to 96. Fax: (038) 416-0697.  Email: panglao@bluewater.com.ph. Website: www.bluewaterpanglao.com.ph.  Manila sales office: Rm. 704, Cityland Herrera Tower, Rufino cor. Valera Sts., Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City, Metro Manila.  Tel: (632) 817-5751 and (632) 887-1348.  Fax: (632) 893-5391.

Potipot Island (Candelaria, Zambales)

Potipot Island (Isla de Potipot))

After a lengthy 7.5-hour drive (we left Manila at 3:30 AM and made stopovers at Jollibee Subic or breakfast, and at the Cathedral of St. Augustine of Hippo in Iba), we arrived at Brgy. Uacon at the town of Candelaria (between Masinloc and Sta.Cruz) and parked my Toyota Revo at the residence of Mr. Joel Gonzales (mobile numbers 0977-2044869 and 0947-3218687), a friend of Bryan.

 Check out “Cathedral of St. Augustine of Hippo

Car parking at Uacon

As it was already lunchtime, Bryan prepared a lunch of pork tocino, hot dogs and fried fish with steamed rice.  This done with, Joel loaded our gear on his tricycle, with Cheska and Kyle on board, for the short drive to the beach where our motorized outrigger boat to Potipot Island (or Isla de Potipot) awaited us.  Jandy, Bryan and I just walked the short distance.

Overcast skies at Uacon Beach

Boardng our 6-pax motorized outrigger boat along Uacon Beach

The closest island from mainland Zambales (about a kilometer away), we can actually see how near Potipot Island is from the beach of Uacon. The boat trip (PhP400/two-way) getting to the eastern side of the island (with its huge and colorful “Isla de Potipot” sign) just took a little over 10 minutes.

On our way to Potipot Island

It was already overcast when we arrived at the island. From the shore, it was just a short walk to the reception center. Visitors to the 7.5-hectare, privately owned Potipot Island are charged PhP100 per head for a day trip and PhP300 for overnight.

The huge and colorful Isla de Potipot sign along the beach

Boat docking area

There are no hotels or inns available on Potipot Island. As it was a long weekend (August 19-21), the island was brimming with tourists (it easily gets fully booked during weekends), many camped in tents near where the boats dock.  Tent rentals are also available but it is not a regular service on the island. 

Reception pavilion

Campers can eat their meals at a pavilion with tables, without having to pay an additional fee.

Picnic tables

There is also a grilling area where they can grill their own food but they’ll have to bring everything, including the charcoal.

A 10-20-pax nipa cottage

An array of nipa and bamboo cottages

Others stayed in nipa cottages (PhP1,500, for 10-20-pax, and PhP2,000 for 5-10-pax) and more modern cottages on stilts (PhP2,500, 5-8-pax).

Tent city

Cheska and Bryan start setting up the tent with Kyle looking on

We opted to stay in the latter with our tent set up beside it for Kyle to experience his first camping. Jandy and I stayed at the very spartan, treetop height cottage on stilts which had a double bed with mosquito net.  We also had a table with 4 chairs (all are available for free around the island on a first come, first serve basis).

A modern, tree-height cottage on concrete stilts

The cottage interior

For cooking, we brought our own butane gas stove (we have to be careful not to burn any tree as we could be fined). Nearby is a citadel-like tree house said to belong to the island’s owner.

The citadel-like treehouse cottage

Normally, at day’s end, visitors are treated to a stunning sunset along the beach but, as a low pressure area was in the day’s forecast, it was already starting to rain.

Dusk at Potipot Island

This small but pristine and breathtaking beach bumming paradise, also known as the Little Boracay of the North, has shores surrounded by creamy white sand (the island’s name is derived from the native words puti po meaning “it’s white”), and turquoise blue water and offshore coral.

Potipot’s white sand beach

A good beach camping destination, it also has a lush array of trees to provide much-needed shade.  The different kinds of trees found here, some with roots extending out to the water, include mahogany, talisay, coconut, hanga (an indigenous source of petroleum nut oil), sampaloc, kamachile, guava, mango, duhat, suha, kamias, etc.

Grassy area at the center of the island

The center of the island is a grassy plain with another huge “Isla de Potipot” sign and a children’s playground.

Second Isla de Potipot sign

Children’s playground

There’s no potable water source in Potipot so we bought our water supply at the jump-off. The island has a number of clean and decent public shower rooms and toilets (one conveniently located just across from our cottage) so freshening up wasn’t much of a problem.

Public toilet

However, the water supply can lose pressure if a lot of people are taking a bath at the same time. Lighting on the island is provided by a generator so it is not totally dark at night. They also offer charging services, via solar panels, for any electronic gadget.

Early morning breakfast.  L-R: Cheska, Bryan, Jandy and the author

Kyle sleeping in a hammock we brought and slung between the concrete stilts of our cottage

The stay-in caretakers were friendly and more than willing to help you if you ever need anything. For a minimal fee, we could also ask them to cook our food.

“Leave No Trace Only Footprint” sign

They’re strict about cleaning up and bringing your trash with you when you leave (“Leave No Traces Only Footprints signs are everywhere). Segregated (plastic, leftovers and other waste) waste bins can also be found.

Segregated waste bins

Also nearby is a small sari-sari (convenience) store where we can buy bread, soft drinks, coffee, noodles, bottled water, snacks, canned goods, etc. as well as souvenirs, goggle and other knickknacks. Some vendors also sell foodstuff.  However, to avoid inconvenience, it is still advisable to bring your own food and water when you go there. Liquor or alcoholic beverages are prohibited.

Convenience store

It was sunny the next day (I missed out on the beautiful sunrise) and, after breakfast, we were supposed to hop over to Hermana Menor Island, a 2-hour boat ride away.  However, heavy waves made this impossible.  Instead, Jandy, Bryan, Cheska and Kyle went swimming along the nearby shoreline.

Kyle, Bryan and Cheska savoring the warm, crystal clear waters of the island

Though calm, the crystal clear, warm waters here can get, within a few steps, from knee deep to neck deep.  At the back part of the island (the part not facing the main shore of Zambales), you also have to be careful with sea urchins. Later, Cheska, Bryan and Kyle went kayaking around the island (PhP300/hour).

An array of tandem kayaks for rent

Bryan, Cheska and Kyle try out kayaking

Or my part, I decided to circle the island and my leisurely walk took about 30 mins. On the opposite side of the island, facing the West Philippine Sea, is another campsite for those who want peace and quiet. The sand seems to be finer here and the waters clearer.

Pre-nuptial photo shoot atop a sea wall

A photo booth for couples

Along the way I passed a couple having a pre-nuptial photo shoot. There are also rock formations on the other side of the island (where the sun sets). The famous, iconic driftwood, located in a slightly rocky portion of the beach on the southwestern part, is the site of an obligatory photo shoot for tourists. At the northern side, sea grass are clearly visible underneath the clear waters.

The iconic driftwood, a site for obligatory photo shoots

The feel and ultimate charm of this relatively unknown and undiscovered little gem of an island was like Boracay during its pre-development years. Here, every now and then, you can bathe in its turquoise waters and stroll under its arboreal ceiling without bumping into boisterous tourists.

Hermana Menor Island as seen from Potipot Island

We left the island by noontime, again boarding Joel’s boat for the return trip back to the mainland.  After a late lunch, gain prepared by Bryan, at Joel’s place, we left Uacon by 2:30 PM and proceeded on our return trip back to Manila, making stopovers at the Church of St. Monica in Botolan, a viewpoint in Subic and dinner at a Pancake House outlet along NLEX.  We were back in Manila by 10:30 PM.

Check out “Church of St. Monica

ADDENDUM

On June 19, 2018, exactly 10 months after our first visit, Cheska and Bryan, with some mountaineering friends, returned to Potipot Island for overnight camping.

Unknown to Cheska, Jandy, Kyle and I, this time with my wife Grace and her officemates, followed suit and stayed in treehouses some distance from their campsite.

That afternoon, during a break in the stormy weather (Typhoon Domeng was in town), Bryan proposed marriage to Cheska, with us in attendance, and she accepted. Watch the heartwarming marriage proposal video here.

The Proposal. Bryan (third from right, with the “Me” shirt) popped the question to Cheska (at right) and she said YES. Kyle (wearing the “?”), between the two, acted as engagement ring bearer. Their friends wore individual lavender (Cheska’s favorite color) each with an individual letter which, when properly bunched together, spelled the words “Will you marry me?”

Isla de Potipot: Brgy. Uacon, Candelaria, Zambales. Mobile numbers: (0905) 456-7243 (Globe) and (0920) 499-9134 (Smart).  Look for Arjay, Jamie or Flor. E-mail: isladepotipotmarketing@gmail.com. Instagram: www.instagram.com/isla_de_potipot. Facebook: www.facebook.com/isladepotipothotelandbeachresort.

How to Get There: To get to Brgy. Uacon, Candelaria by car (a 5-6-hour drive), take the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) all the way to the Dau/Mabalacat Exit. For speed and ease of travel, travel the length of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) to the Tipo Exit (the shorter route, through San Fernando – Lubao in Pampanga, passes through narrower roads and congested town centers).  Upon exiting, pass through the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), on to Subic town and then take the national road all the way to Candelaria, passing the towns of Castillejos, San Marcelino, San Narciso, San Felipe, Cabangan, Botolan, Iba, Palauig and Masinloc before Candelaria. 

Sta. Cruz-bound Victory Liner buses also pass by Candelaria, the town just before Sta. Cruz). Get off at the Uacon Barangay Hall and, from there, take a tricycle (or even walk) to the nearest resort or the beach where you can get a boat to Potipot Island.

Guyam Island (Gen. Luna, Surigao del Norte)

Guyam Island

After lunch at Daku Island, we again boarded our respective boats for the short trip to our third and final island in our tour – Guyam Island.  Located just few hundred meters north of Daku Island, this small, 4,300 sq. m. (46,000 sq. ft.) tear-drop shaped island is 84 m. (276 ft.) long, 64 m. (210 ft.) wide and has a 230 m. (750 ft.) long coastline which one can walk leisurely around in a little more than 15 minutes. The island is unpretentious but is equally interesting as Naked and Daku Island.

Check out “Naked Island” and “Daku Island

PDI writer Amadis Ma. Guerrero makes landfall on the island

This picturesque, privately owned island has resident caretakers that collect a PhP10 entrance fee from every visitor. This islet has a small stretch of powdery to coarse, ivory to white sand and is home to a small grove of coconut, talisay (beach almond) and pine trees that have thrived there for years. It also has interesting coral rock formations that are perfect for snorkeling.

The small grove of talisay and coconut trees

The part of the island facing the the Philippine Sea is littered with boulders and hard corals that protect the island from storm surges and from constant tidal terrain movement.

The author walking along the rocky part of the island (photo: Ms. Louise Santianen)

A few meters away from this miniature tropical paradise, tourists can enjoy surfing, fishing and swimming. Supposedly, the island also offers a nice view of the raging surfing waves that Siargao is best known for.

The author doing an Oblation pose …… (photo: Ms. Louise Santianen)

The island, located around 2 kms. (1.2 mi) south-southeast of General Luna municipality, can be seen when you are in General Luna boulevard.

Guyam Island seen from General Luna boulevard

Two to three wooden cottages are available for rent. If you wish to stay overnight, you can pitch your tent for a small fee. Bring your own food and water.

The best feature of the island is its stunning view of the sun setting in the west but we weren’t going to experience this as we had to return to the mainland, just a 10-min. boat ride away. Despite being small, this  island has quite a lot of charm for island lovers.

Siargao Tourism Office: Paseo De Cabuntog, Brgy. Catangnan, Gen. Luna, Siargao Island. Mobile number: (0921) 718-2268 (Ms. Donna Grace T. Estrella – Siargao Tourism Coordinator)

How to Get There: Skyjet Airlines has daily, 100-min. direct flights from Manila (NAIA Terminal 4) to Siargao (Sayak Airport). ETD Manila at 6 AM (M8-421), ETA Siargao at 7:40 AM. Return flights: ET Siargao at 8:10 AM (M8-422), ETD Manila at 9:50 AM.

Skyjet Airlines: Manila Domestic Airport, Parking A, Terminal 4, NAIA Complex, Brgy. 191, Pasay City, Metro Manila. Tel: (02) 863-1333 and (02) 823-3366. E-mail: sales@skyjetair.com. Website: www.skyjetair.com.

Daku Island (Gen. Luna, Surigao del Norte)

Daku Island

After our short stopover at Naked Island, we again boarded our boats for the short trip to Daku (or Dako) Island, the biggest among the three popular island destinations in Siargao. Named after the Visayan word for “big,” it’s unlike the other two islands (Naked and Guyam Islands) as it is inhabited, with a village of 300 residents, mostly fisherman, grouped in less than a hundred families.

Check out “Naked Island” and “Guyam Island

This unheard of paradise, with its cool vibe and breathtaking, picturesque scenery, has one of the finest best beaches in the Philippines, with a long, powdery white sand beach sprinkled with countless tall coconut trees (the best sweet-tasting fresh coconuts are a-plenty here) and surrounded by superb crystalline waters. Seaweeds are non-existent here. Locals also say that the beach area changes every season.

Our boodle lunch

The island was our longest stopover as we were to experience a boodle lunch, prepared by Chris G. Estrella (husband of Siargao Tourism Coordinator Donna Grace T. Estrella) of Mayambago Catering Services. The fare included grilled chicken, squid, tambakol (yellow fin tuna), ganga (spider conch) and hot dogs; steamed rice; and a dessert of ripe mangoes, bananas and sliced watermelon; all washed down with fresh buko juice and soft drinks. For a first timer like me, the cleanliness of the place was etched in my memory and I found it unbelievable at how the locals managed to maintain the place, with no plastic or other waste materials scattered along the beach.

The two huts we occupied

With its fine white sand, very clean surroundings and pretty cool winds coming from the Pacific Ocean, I was enticed to swim in such a place. The island is also ideal for surfing. During the amihan (southwesterly wind), there are fun right-hander that breaks during large swells.  Its waves, small and great for beginners, break on the protected eastern side of the island.

Aside from swimming, other activities on the island include snorkeling (around the southern end of the island), fishing, skim boarding, beach bumming and kayaking (you can rent a double kayak at an affordable price and kayak as long as you want).

Ideal for a family or group picnics, you can rent a centerpiece cottage lined up on the western side of the gorgeous beach for a day for PhP250. For PhP50/kg. cooking fee, you can also have your rice and fish cooked for you. Additionally, tourists and visitors alike can experience the cool vibe and island culture as well as feel the serenity and tranquility of the place with an overnight stay in simple beachfront native huts for as low as PhP700.

Keep in mind, though, that there is no electricity on the island. The community has a tiny chapel, a small community center, a day-care center but no commercial establishments (just a single, small sari-sari store where you could buy some snacks and drinks). Still, secluded Daku Island is certainly a truly wonderful destination to visit.  For me, it is even more beautiful than Boracay Island (minus the maddening crowd and the hustle and bustle of city life), making it a perfect getaway for those who want to have an unspoiled vacation.

Siargao Tourism Office: Paseo De Cabuntog, Brgy. Catangnan, Gen. Luna, Siargao Island. Mobile number: (0921) 718-2268 (Ms. Donna Grace T. Estrella – Siargao Tourism Coordinator)

How to Get There: Skyjet Airlines has daily, 100-min. direct flights from Manila (NAIA Terminal 4) to Siargao (Sayak Airport). ETD Manila at 6 AM (M8-421), ETA Siargao at 7:40 AM. Return flights: ET Siargao at 8:10 AM (M8-422), ETD Manila at 9:50 AM.

Skyjet Airlines: Manila Domestic Airport, Parking A, Terminal 4, NAIA Complex, Brgy. 191, Pasay City, Metro Manila. Tel: (02) 863-1333 and (02) 823-3366. E-mail: sales@skyjetair.com. Website: www.skyjetair.com.

Naked Island (Gen. Luna, Surigao del Norte)

Naked Island

After our short visit to the Cloud Nine boardwalk at Gen. Luna, we again boarded our respective vans as we were scheduled to go on an island hopping tour sponsored by Surigao del Norte District I Cong. Francisco Jose “Bingo” Matugas II.  When we arrived at the port, we had to wade the shallow water, as it was low tide, to get to our two motorized outrigger boats moored some distance away.

General Luna Port at low tide

Offshore are the three white sand islands we were to visit – Naked Island, Daku Island (the biggest of the three) and Guyam Island (the tiniest).Once on board, we proceeded on our 25-min. boat ride to our first destination – Naked Island.

Check out “Daku Island” and “Guyam Island

A lone palm tree amidst sparse vegetation

Also called Pansukian Island, Naked Island is, in fact, only a bare, 200 m. long sandbar with no trees (just some occasional patches of bushes), no structures (save for a wooden bench), no nothing. It’s just a tiny speck of pristine, powdery white sand (with some patches of rock) in the horizon, surrounded by a deeper, crystal-clear lagoon between the blue sky and the turquoise sea, similar to the more famous White Island of Camiguin, only smaller. And, just like White Island, this sandbar also changes positions depending on the tide.

Check out “White Island

Patches of rock on the island

It was a good thing we arrived during low tide as this island submerges significantly during high tide.   With not a single tree in sight for you to rest under, Naked Island is a perfect place to get a tan without getting bugged by the crowd (though some take the “naked”” in the name too literally by posing naked). However, attempts have been made to green the island as some plants have now been growing in the sand.

Daku Island seen from Naked Island

For those afraid of getting a sunburn, it is advisable that you visit the island early in the morning to somehow avoid the peak of the sun’s heat. If you intend to stay longer, bring your own beach umbrellas, sunscreen lotion and mattresses. You can actually own Naked Island for a day and do whatever you like by actually renting it but you have to reserve it ahead of time.

L-R: Ms. Donna Grace T. Estrella (Siargao Tourism Coordinator), Mr. Donald Tapan (noted photographer) and the author

Aside from swimming with a school of fish, snorkeling and sunbathing, you can also take pictures of migratory birds such as terns who frequent the island or or just relax by the shore, with a book and a tall, cold glass of juice, while enjoying the great view of the neighboring islands. Additionally, it is also a perfect spot for surfing because of the large waves.

The author, with Mr. Pete Dacuycuy, seated on the lone wooden structure on the island

Siargao Tourism Office: Paseo De Cabuntog, Brgy. Catangnan, Gen. Luna, Siargao Island. Mobile number: (0921) 718-2268 (Ms. Donna Grace T. Estrella – Siargao Tourism Coordinator).

How to Get There: Skyjet Airlines has daily, 100-min. direct flights from Manila (NAIA Terminal 4) to Siargao (Sayak Airport). ETD Manila at 6 AM (M8-421), ETA Siargao at 7:40 AM. Return flights: ET Siargao at 8:10 AM (M8-422), ETD Manila at 9:50 AM.

Skyjet Airlines: Manila Domestic Airport, Parking A, Terminal 4, NAIA Complex, Brgy. 191, Pasay City, Metro Manila. Tel: (02) 863-1333 and (02) 823-3366. E-mail: sales@skyjetair.com. Website: www.skyjetair.com.