Kampong Ayer (Brunei)

Kampong Ayer - The Water Village

Kampong Ayer – The Water Village

This Water Village (MalayKampung Air), along the banks of the Sungai Brunei (Brunei River), is an area situated over Brunei Bay that is home to a sizable population of 39,000, representing roughly 10% of the nation’s total population.  The district, a culturally important part of Brunei that preserves the nation’s river dwelling origins, has a unique architectural heritage of wooden homes with ornate interiors.

The mainland jetty

The mainland jetty

Built entirely of stilt houses and wooden walkways, it is the world’s largest water village and the most famous water settlement of Southeast Asia.  One of the most important centers of trade in Borneo, people have lived in Kampong Ayer for over 1,300 years. When the fleet of Ferdinand Magellan visited in 1521, Venetian scholar Antonio Pigafetta dubbed it the “Venice of the East.” Kampong Ayer has been the capital of the Brunei Sultanate for hundreds of years.

The modern-looking, 20-pax bot penambang (covered water taxis)

Boarding our modern-looking, 20-pax bot penambang (covered water taxi)

The author (right) with members of BEAT

The author (right) with members of BEAT (led by president Mr. York Virtucio at left) on board our water taxi

The establishment of the land town, acting as a population magnet, did not lead to its depopulation and arrival of new residents and natural increase maintained the population balance. Most of Kampong Ayer had survived heavy World War II bombardment. Around 2013-2014, smart new, two story stilt houses made of concrete were built in the center of the Kampong Ayer and given to the people in need of a new house but not wishing to live on land. Even today, many Bruneians still prefer the lifestyle of the water village to residency on dry land.

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View of the mainland

The villages on the river’s north bank (the same side as the city center) used to cover a much larger area, but many of the stilt houses have been razed to spruce up the waterfront area around the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque.

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Entering the narrow waterway

We were to have a personal experience of this heritage as we took one of the many 20-pax bot penambang (modern-looking, covered water taxis) that provide rapid transit daily between the Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, in the center of town, and the water village itself. Our private water taxis resembled a long wooden speedboat. Before leaving the jetty, we all wore life jackets.

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A foot bridge

The Water Village is really made up of a cluster of 42 small, contiguous and relatively cramped stilt villages (kampongs) linked together by more than 29,140 m. of foot-bridges.

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This self-contained, close-knit community consists of over 4,200 structures, including homes, mosques, restaurants, shops, schools and a hospital, all interconnected by maze of 36 kms. of boardwalks. All of the six water village mukims (districts) are collectively known as the water village (Kampong Ayer) but, for administrative purposes, are identified as separate mukims.

mosque

One of two mosques

fire-department

The marine fire brigade

From a distance the water village looked like a slum but it actually enjoys modern amenities. The government, through the District Office, has provided it with numerous facilities including foot-bridges, concrete jetties, piped water, plumbing, electricity, telephones, schools, two mosques, clinics, seafood restaurants, a police station, a museum and a marine fire station.

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A colorfully painted house on stilts

Many of the houses also have air conditioning, satellite television and internet access. Some of the residents even keep potted plants, in container gardens, and raise chickens. They even say that if you look at the main roads on the banks opposite the village, you’ll see luxury cars lined up on the shoulder of the road.  Many of these cars belong to water-village residents.

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A village jetty

The wooden, sun-bleached houses, painted with shades of green, blue, pink and yellow, have not been done-up for tourists. From afar, we could see the 30 km. long Temburong Bridge, which is still under construction (it is expected to be completed in 2019), and the golden roof of the largest residential place in the world, the Sultan’s Istana Nurul Iman.  We made our first and only stopover at a village jetty.  Getting off the boat was an adventure on its own as we had to climb some worn-out concrete steps.

A second mosque

A second mosque

The unfinished Temburong Bridge

The unfinished Temburong Bridge

Upon reaching the top of the jetty, we walked along a treacherous, banister-less boardwalk, some with loose or missing planks, again another adventure by itself. Walking along these planked walkways (a bit of balance is required) while observing the various homes is probably what draws visitors here. However, while the houses were far from squalid, we noticed rubbish floating or carpeting the inter-tidal mud at low tide. For an apparently affluent country like Brunei which could afford to tidy it up, it was disgusting and disappointing.

Climbing the stairs up the jetty

Climbing the stairs up the jetty

We finally arrived at a local concrete home which was way too nice to be anything close to an authentic village house. The entry hall even had a chandelier. Just like in a mosque, we had to remove our shoes before entering.  Inside, there were lots of tourists like us. Obviously, it’s part of the tourist trail.  There, a good refreshment was served – 3 kinds of colorful kuih bingka, a local traditional sweet cake, plus tea. Our snack here capped our Water Village tour and we again made our back to our boat for the trip back to the mainland.

Traversing the wooden boardwalk

Traversing the wooden boardwalk

Removing our shoes prior to entering

Removing our shoes prior to entering

Our tour of the nondescript Kampong Ayer wasn’t really a visit into the past. Rather, it was just a peek into the everyday lives of some very friendly Bruneians while seeing some of the changes that has taken place over the last thousand years or so. Interesting but not amazing. Venice it isn’t by a mile.

Three different kinds of kuih bingka

Three different kinds of kuih bingka

Kampong Ayer: Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei.  Kampong Ayer is accessible by boat or land bridges. To get across the river, just stand somewhere where a water taxi can dock and flag one down (the fare is B$1, one way). To get to these villages from the Yayasan Complex, itself built on the site of a one-time water village, follow the plank walks, behind the Hua Ho Department Store, that lead west, parallel to the river.

Seine River Cruise (Paris, France)

Seine River Sightseeing Cruise via Bateaux Parisiens

After our morning tour of the Eiffel Tower, we made our way, by foot, to the boat docking station at Port de la Bourdonnais where we hopped aboard a popular and modern Bateaux Parisiens glass-topped trimaran  to embark on a quintessential, scenic and leisurely cruise along the Seine riverbanks.

Port de la Bourdonnai

Bateaux Parisiens trimaran

All aboard …..

Bateaux Parisiens has a fleet of four trimarans, three named after legendary French actresses (Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Adjani and Jeanne Moreau) and another after a French businessman (Pierre Bellon). They each hold up to 600 passengers.

The author

Our trimaran, with terrace and exterior passageways, was well equipped, clean and well maintained, with plenty of outdoor seating at the upper deck.

Jandy and Grace

The company also has nine smaller boats, some of which are used for dinner cruises and private events.  They offer high priced lunch and dinner, to the sound of the resident band, with a choice of four different a la carte menus, on separate restaurant boats.  All boats follow the same 12-km. long route.

Notre Dame Cathedral

Eiffel Tower

Louvre Museum

Grand Palais

A fantastic introduction to the highlights and magic of Paris, we soaked up the passing sights of iconic, world-famous monuments and landmarks as we cruised up and down  the Seine River.

Musee d’Orsay

National Museum of the Legion of Honor and Orders of Chivalry

National Assembly

Registry of the Paris Commercial Court

On the left bank are the Notre Dame Cathedral, the National Museum of the Legion of Honor and Orders of Chivalry, Conciergerie, National Assembly, Les Invalides, the Institut de France, and the Musée d’Orsay.

Paris City Hall

Institut de France

Hotel Dieu

 

Paris Conceiregerie

On the right bank, during the return trip, are the Louvre,  the Grand Palais, the Obelisk at the Place de la Concorde, Tuileries Garden, the Paris City Hall, and the Eiffel Tower.

Pont Neuf

Pont Alexandre III

Pont au Double

Pont de la Tournelle

We also glided beneath beautiful historic bridges (more than 30 bridges span the river), including the famous Pont Neuf. Even the Seine riverbanks, collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1991, are a sight to behold.

Pont de Sully

Pont de l’Archevêché

Pont des Invalides

Pont d’Iéna

Pont Marie

Pont Saint Louis

After half an hour, our boat turned around and cruised back up along the opposite bank. Our 1-hour cruise ends back at the original departure point near the Eiffel Tower.

Passerelle Debilly

Passerelle Léopold Sédar Senghor

Bateaux Parisiens: Pontoon 3, Port de la Bourdonnais, 75007 Paris, France. Tel: +33 825 01 01 01 and +33 1 76 64 14 66.  Open 9:30 AM – 10 PM. Website: www.bateauxparisiens.com. Admission: adults (€15), children under 12 yrs. (€7), free for children under 3 years old. Ticket will be valid for one year at any given time. Departures: April to September (from 10:15 AM -10:30 PM, every 30 mins., no departures at 1:30 PM and 7:30 PM), October to March (from 11 AM -8:30 PM, at least every hour). Book online in advance to avoid queues. The boat also departs from Notre Dame Cathedral. Audio guide commentary with musical accompaniment, from a handset, available in 13 languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, American, Russian, Dutch, Polish, Chinese, Japanese and Korean). Smoking is not allowed on the boat and animals are not permitted on board.

How to Get There: Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel (RER C) 5 . Nearest metro: Trocadero or Bir Hakeim

Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour (Puerto Princesa City, Palawan)

The mangrove-lined Sabang River

The mangrove-lined Sabang River

Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa Media Tour

After our SabangX Zipline, we were next slated to do the Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour, another activity offered and sponsored by Sheridan Resort & Spa.  The mangrove paddleboat cruise offers an educational tour of the mangroves at PhP150 per person. From the zipline landing area, we walked towards the edge of the beach to the mouth of the 4 km. long Sabang River where it flowed out into the West Philippine Sea. At the end of the path, we arrived at Michi’s Cottages where we saw the office for the Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour where we registered our names.  We were the last group to avail of the tour.

Start of our tour

Start of our tour

At the river bank, we boarded a paddle boat made of fiberglass.  Joining PJ, Joy, Charmie, Lester and I were Mr. Nestor Elijan, our mangrove paddleboat tour guide, plus a paddler who would propel our boat with an old-style wooden pole that has one broad flat end. For safety purposes, we were each provided and requested to wear standard life vests.  As it was already late in the afternoon, we no longer brought along umbrellas to repel heat from the sun.  The tour lasts from 45 mins. to 1 hour.

Tangled roots of mangroves

Tangled roots of mangroves

Hanging roots

Hanging roots

As our boatman started paddling through the brackish but serene river water that reflects the tall mangrove trees and their beautifully intermingled protruding roots, Mang Nestor explained the importance of these century-old mangroves (locally called bakawan, from the Tagbanua tribal word bakhaw) in the marine and forest ecosystems. Palawan contains 43% of the total mangrove forests in the country and Puerto Princesa City is one place where the total area of mangrove forests is increasing and not decreasing.

Limestone rock formations along the riverbank

Limestone rock formations along the riverbank

Mangrove ecosystems like the one in Sabang, breeding grounds to pelagic fishes, also serve as habitats to a collection of mammals, reptiles and amphibians as well. The mangrove forest, a buffer zone between the land and the sea, breaks the waves before it reaches the land and also serves as a blocker for the strong winds during a storm, thus protecting the coast against erosion. Mangroves also filter bad elements of the land such as insecticide and other chemicals and trash. This protects the coral reefs and sea grass beds from being covered by the debris which block sunlight reaching them.

Tour guide Mr. Nestor Elijan

Tour guide Mr. Nestor Elijan

A former park ranger who watched over Sabang’s environs and went after illegal loggers and poachers, Mang Nestor is also a self-taught mangrove scientist who can identify the different kinds of mangroves, along with the scientific names, at a drop of the hat, and tell whether this or that bakawan is male or female through their leaves.  A number of mangrove species that can be found here are the Rhizopora apiculata (locally called bakhaw lalaki), Rhizophora mucronata (known as the loop-root mangrove or the red mangrove, it is found on coasts and river banks and Bruguiera gymnorrhiza. Mang Nestor talked about “true mangroves,” those that thrive only in mangrove environments, and “mangrove associates,”those that grow in the periphery of mangrove wetlands. There are also mangrove trees that are parasitic, “swallowing” another mangrove associate, depriving it of its share of sunlight and soil.

Mangrove Snake

Mangrove Snake

Along the way, we got a number of close encounters with sleeping Mangrove Cat Snakes (Boiga dendrophila), a 6 to 8 ft. long, elegant but mildly venomous colubrid snake with black and yellow bands, curled around branches of the overhanging mangrove trees.  Mang Nestor told us not to worry, as long as you don’t disturb them they won’t jump. Midway through the tour, our paddle boat passed a makeshift wooden platform with a charming bamboo boardwalk, built over sinuous mangrove roots that led to the bird watching area.

Bamboo boardwalk

Bamboo boardwalk

As we followed the river deeper into the forest, the river narrowed and became shallower and the mangroves stood very high above the ground, its natural canopy shielding us from the sun’s mighty reach.  Somehow, I felt I was in an Amazon forest. On shallower parts of the river, the water spans wider through the forest grounds where roots of the mangroves grow on.

Monitor lizard

Monitor lizard

We saw other mangrove creatures such as a long-tailed macaque, water monitor lizards (Varanus palawanensis, locally called bayawak), mudfish (locally called dalag) and mangrove and cattle egrets. Other mangrove denizens we didn’t see include mudskippers, crabs, oysters, hornbills, ruddy and stork-billed kingfishers, Palawan bearcats (locally called binturong), clawed and clawless otters, pangolin or scaly anteater, mayna, and skunks (locally called pantot).

Dead mangrove tree trunks pockmarked with tamilok holes

Dead mangrove tree trunks pockmarked with tamilok holes

On our way back, our paddler alighted among the mangroves to look for some driftwood bored by tamilok (shipworm), a marine bivalve mollusk that bores into submerged wood. Back at the receiving area, he hacked open the wood to reveal two small worms (according to Mang Nestor, they sometimes reach a length of 2 ft.).  While considered a pest in other countries, the tamilok is a delicacy in these parts and, when dipped fresh in coconut vinegar, are said to taste like oysters. Andrew Zimmern, in one of his episodes in Bizarre Foods, enjoyed eating one of these.  However, harvesting the tamilok for commercial purposes isn’t allowed, as this would affect the mangrove’s ecosystem.

Our paddler looking for tamilok

Our paddler looking for tamilok

Normally, at the end of the tour, visitors are given a chance to contribute to conservation by planting some mangrove saplings in a designated planting area, so that when it becomes a seedling they would move it deep within the forest. The Mangrove Paddleboat Tour, so peaceful and relaxing, was a totally worthwhile experience.  I hope that those who visit Sabang to see the Underground River would include the Mangrove Paddleboat Tour in their itinerary.

A pair of tamilok

A pair of tamilok

Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour: Sitio Sabang, Brgy. Cabayugan, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan.  Mobile numbers (Mrs. Norma Ortega): (0912) 322-3665 and (0926) 829-3095.  E-mail: bingo032374@yahoo.com.

Office for the Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour

The Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour starts around 8AM to 10AM, depending on the sun’s visibility, as the tour needs light as little sunlight will make the mangrove really dark. The tour still operates during a storm but not during a very strong typhoon.  It is best to visit the Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour during low tides as you will see most of the animals, including those that live on the bottom of the water. To protect against annoying mosquitoes, use insect repellent before the tour. They stop touring guests around 4:30PM.  The Paddle Boat Tour can be combined with the Sabang X Zipline as both attractions are located very close to each other.

Docking area of fiberglass boats

Docking area of fiberglass boats

Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa: Sabang Beach, Sitio Sabang, Brgy. Cabayugan. Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. Palawan Sales Office: Jeco Bldg., Rizal Ave. Extn., Puerto Princesa City.  Tel (+63 48) 434 1448 to 49 and 723 7278. Mobile Numbers (+63 917) 308-3245 and (+ 63 917) 308-3245. Cebu Sales Office: Sheridan Bldg., Ouano Ave., NRA, Mandaue City.  Tel: (+63 32) 236-1001. Fax: (+63 32) 345-1000. Mobile number: (+63 917) 306-6984. Manila Sales Office: tel: (+63 2) 939-8888. Mobile number: (+63 917) 726-5224. E-mail: reservations@sheridanbeachresort.com.  Website: www.sheridanbeachresort.com.
Instagram: @sheridanresorts
Instagram official tag: #SheridanPalawan
Twitter: @sheridanresorts
Facebook: facebook.com/sheridanbeachresortandspa

Abatan River Firefly Watching Tour (Cortes, Bohol)

After picking out the ingredients for our dinner at Manga Public Market and delivering it to Lic Lic Fastfood, we returned to our airconditioned coach for the short 15-min./10-km. drive to the Abatan River Visitor Center in Cortes for the Abatan River Firefly Watching Tour. The winding,  beautiful and 20 km. long Abatan River, which opens at the Cortes nipa swamp, the most extensive nipa swamp in Bohol, snakes through the towns of Antequera, Maribojoc, Cortes up to Balilihan.

Abatan River Visitor Center

Abatan River Visitor Center

When we entered the lobby area, a girl wearing what seemed like a tribal costume and holding a clay pot with white incense smoke rising from it, danced around us.  This was part of a native ritual called palina which makes sure that we were protected from bad spirits. This theatrical ritual rite of passage to the Abatan River was said to have been officiated by the legendary warrior Princess Wadji, the guardian of the Abatan River.  Before the 7:30 PM start of the tour, we were offered fresh buko juice as welcome drinks.

The palina ritual

The palina ritual

We were then ushered to our 10-pax, motorized banding, the boat we will use for the firefly tour.  During the relaxing cruise along the river (with our life vests on), our local guide lectured us on the pagatpat (mangroves) in the area, the home of the fireflies, and the importance of protecting them. If a pagatpat was cut or killed, the fireflies would transfer to another area and, most likely, never come back.  This is exactly what happened when the earthquake struck Bohol on October 15, 2013.  The tectonic uplift that resulted caused some of the mangroves to die. Luckily, a number still remain along the riverbank.

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Around 10 mins. into our tour, we all spotted our first group of fireflies lighting up a pagatpat tree, like Christmas trees.  These fireflies, winged beetles commonly called  lightning bugs (Photuris lucicrescens), moved like blinking and synchronized waves in the pitch black darkness of the night, a memorable encounter that was magical and surreal. However, we were prohibited from going near the trees so as not to disturb the fireflies in their natural habitat.

Our 10-pax banding

Our 10-pax banding

We were allowed to take pictures but, as flashes were discouraged, we failed to capture, on camera, nature’s light show that we witnessed.  For those who loved taking pictures like me, this was the frustrating part of this tour. Anyway, even if used our camera flash, we still won’t see them in the picture as our camera’s flash is stronger than the light from the fireflies. Anyway, photos here can’t compare with the beauty of what we saw.  Only Julia, with her sophisticated camera equipment, was able to capture them, adjusting her camera to adapt to the amount of light in the pitch black environment.

Fireflies lighting up the mangroves like Christmas trees (photo - Julia Wimmerlin)

Fireflies lighting up the mangroves like Christmas trees (photo – Julia Wimmerlin)

Continuing down the twists and bends of the river, our boatman constantly pointed his flashlight towards the mangroves, egging the tiny lightning bugs to respond in kind.  Half-way into our boat tour, the small cluster of blinking lights we first saw turned into large groups of fireflies swarming in and around the mangroves.   Coupled with the gentle river breeze, we hardly felt the time pass us by during our hour-long but very relaxing tour as we were amazed and “enlightened” by watching these countless clusters of constantly moving fireflies. It was a breathtaking and perfect end to an already eventful day. Rates (tour, entrance fee, life jacket and boat rental): 1-10 guests (PhP500/pax) and 11-20 guests (PhP400/pax).

Alighting after our firefly tour

Alighting after our firefly tour

The center also offers fireflies kayaking along the Abatan River.  Rates: double kayak (PhP300 plus PhP50 per hour for every excess hour), single kayak (PhP200 plus PhP50 per hour for every excess hour), tour guide (PhP200 plus PhP50 per hour for every excess hour).

River kayaks available for rent

River kayaks available for rent

Abatan River Visitor Center: National Highway, Brgy. Salvador, Cortes, Bohol.  Tel: (038) 510-8255.  Mobile numbers: (0920) 906-7446, (0908) 873-8304  and (0915) 769-9515. Email: manager@riverlife.ph.  Website: www.riverlife.ph. Entrance Fee: PhP50. 

How to Get There: Located 10 kms. (a 10-15-min. drive) from Tagbilaran City seaport or airport and 45 kms. (a 30-40-min. drive) from Tubigon seaport, public utility vehicles (buses, jeepneys and vans) that regularly ply the Tagbilaran City-Tubigon route pass by Abatan River Visitor Center. You can also hire a taxi or van to get there.

Loboc River Cruise (Bohol)

Floating restaurant of Village Floating Resto & Cruises

Floating restaurant of Village Floating Resto & Cruises

Upon arrival at Loboc, we all crossed over to the other bank of the Loboc River, via the Alfonso L. Uy Promenade, to get to the Loboc Tourism Complex where the floating restaurants are docked.  It has been 11 years since the last time I had my first Loboc River Cruise with my family and I was curious as to what’s new with the cruise.

The Loboc Tourism Complex - a tourist attraction by itself

The Loboc Tourism Complex – a tourist attraction by itself

This time, I now notice so many improvements in the area. Well for one the floating restaurant terminal is now concreted, there are now lamp posts along the river banks (for night cruises), helpful directional signage and an orderly parking lot, the restrooms are clean and the complex was wi-fi enabled.  This made the complex an exceptional tourist attraction by itself.

Floating restaurant terminal

Floating restaurant terminal

When we got to the boat terminal, we were all whisked to the waiting double-hulled floating restaurant of Village Floating Resto & Cruises.  The setup this time was different from our past typical boat tour.   Instead of different tables for different groups of guests, a long, flower-bedecked table was instead set up with green table cloth and fresh buco in the shell for each one of us.

Being serenaded with bossa nova songs

Being serenaded with bossa nova songs

Our lunch was also to be something different, not the typical buffet.  When our boat got underway, we were first entertained by a local band with a versatile and talented female lead vocalist singing bossa nova songs for our listening pleasure.  This got us in the mood for lunch, however late it was.

Our media group

Our media group

The food soon started coming in, starting with the appetizers – fish kinilaw, puso salad and summer rolls.  This was followed by law-oi soup.  The main course that followed next was out of the ordinary – a humongous boodle feast, to be eaten kamayan-style

Appetizers – fish kinilaw, puso salad and summer rolls

Appetizers – fish kinilaw, puso salad and summer rolls

Fruit skewers, puto cuchinta, ube pannacotta, banancue

Fruit skewers, puto cuchinta, ube pannacotta, bananacue

It consisted of pork humba, chicken inasal, sisig-stuffed squid, grilled vegetables, pinais na isda and corn on the cob plus steamed rice, all laid out on banana leaves.  Our delightful lunch was capped by a series of desserts consisting of ube pannacotta, bananacue, puto cuchinta and fruit skewers.

Our boodle feast

Our boodle feast

In about an hour, our boat reached the endpoint of our 2-km. cruise – Busay (or Tontonan) Waterfalls.  These series of low waterfalls, used to generate electricity for the town, drops 15 m. in 2 stages.  We were already done with lunch when docked near a floating wooden platform with rope railing.  Alighting here, we had the luck of seeing a rare rainbow beneath a nearby small waterfall.

Busay Falls

Busay Falls

The author at the floating viewing platform

The author at the floating viewing platform

The rainbow uderneath a small waterfall

The rainbow uderneath a small waterfall

After a few minutes at the viewing deck, we again boarded our boat and, when all were accounted for, turned around for our return trip upriver.  Along the river, the boat stopped at a small bamboo and nipa jetty decorated with banderitas and colorful guitars hung on the rafters. Here, some locals, dressed in apple-green filipiniana outfits, provided us a culture show, dancing the kuradang and the tinikling.

A kuradang dance performed for us at a riverbank jetty

A kuradang dance performed for us at a riverbank jetty

Tinikling dancers in action

Tinikling dancers in action

Continuing on our return cruise, our band, not to be outdone, also regaled us with a modern dance number. Soon enough, we back at the boat terminal by 3:30 PM, totally refreshed by this showcase of Boholono hospitality, cuisine and culture and quite ready for our next adventure.

The band and staff of Village Floating Resto & Cruises

The band and staff of Village Floating Resto & Cruises

Village Floating Resto & Cruises: Brgy. Valladolid, Loboc, Bohol. Tel: (038) 537-9223  and (038) 501-8078. Mobile number: (0928) 507-7627. E-mail: villagefloatingresto@yahoo.com.

A Leisurely and Fast-Paced Cruise of the Bugang River (Pandan, Antique)

We had barely caught our breath, upon our return to Malumpati Spring, when we were told to assemble at the dam area.  Here, three bamboo rafts awaited us, to quietly cruise, downstream, the 3 to 4-km. length of the Bugang River. Unique modes of transportation here, these rafts, only assembled when needed, were manned by 3 BCBTO polemen to steer the raft – one standing in front and two at the rear.

The bamboo rafts waiting for us at the dam

The bamboo rafts waiting for us at the dam

Cruising a quiet stretch of the Bugang River

Cruising a quiet stretch of the Bugang River

Jandy, Eman and I rode in one raft.  Through this scenic cruise, we appreciated this river’s rich ecosystem of diverse and lush flora and fauna as we snake along the clear, emerald green waters of the river.  The hour-long raft trip took us along a surreal landscape of decades-old trees (some of them gnarled), mangroves, coconut trees, bamboo groves and nipa palms that lined the banks all along the turquoise water’s edge. Some of the trees were felled by the fury of Typhoon Yolanda International name: Haiyan) which also struck the town.

The colorful rocks underneath the clear waters

The colorful rocks underneath the clear waters

Negotiating a bamboo fish trap

Negotiating a bamboo fish trap

We sometimes had to duck to avoid hitting overhanging tree branches along the way but, altogether, the river cruise produced a calming effect on me.  Where the water level was shallow and the current slow, we could clearly see, right through the bottom, the colorful stones and rock formations underneath. Dipping my feet at the river’s cool waters was an extreme delight.

A gnarled tree along the river bank

A gnarled tree along the river bank

A grotesque tangle of tree roots

A grotesque tangle of tree roots

At some part of the river, some rapids would form, something our expert polemen could negotiate with ease and precision. At the other parts of the river, we passed under a number of bamboo or wooden bridges and encountered small islands, a number of grazing carabaos along the river bank and some unsightly bamboo fish traps.

A river bank spectator

A river bank spectator

Banks lined with nipa palms

Banks lined with nipa palms

On our arrival at Manlonggong Point, beneath the Guia Bridge, we alighted from our bamboo rafts and transferred to smaller bancas manned by one boatman each. I only had time to rub some suntan lotion before boarding my banca.  Jandy rode on another one.

Transferring to small bancas at Manlonggong Point

Transferring to small bancas at Manlonggong Point

Racing towards the sea on my banca

Racing towards the sea on my banca

This time, we were to paddle, the rest of the river’s length, out towards the Bugang Estuary facing Pandan Bay. Pandan riverfolk waved and cheered us along the river bank as Jandy and I, as well as the others, paddled furiously towards this finish line.

Merienda at Cocco Beach Bar & Restaurant

Merienda at Cocco Beach Bar & Restaurant

Our boat race ended at the Bugang River Estuary Fishport and, from there, we again boarded the van for the short drive to Le Palme Beach Resort.  Here, we were to have a merienda of kakanin, bibingka and buko juice at its Cocco Beach Bar and Restaurant facing the white sand beach of Pandan Bay.

Le Palme Beach Resort: Brgy. Zaldivar, Pandan, Antique. Tel: (036) 278-9037. Mobile number: (0912) 335-5293.  E-mail: support@lepalmebeachresort.com  and lepalmebeachresort@yahoo.com.  Website: www.lepalmebeachresort.com.

The Torpedo Boat Extreme Ride (Paranas, Western Samar)

One article in 8 Magazine (a travel mag dedicated to Region 8 tourism) that interested me was the unique, 21-km. Torpedo Boat Extreme Ride along the Ulot River (Samar Island’s longest River) in Paranas in Western Samar, the newest signature eco-tourism adventure in Samar.  A joint project of the Department of Tourism and the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) and part of the Ulot Watershed Ecotourism Loop, it was launched on November 30, 2010 but the operation was stopped in January the next year after floods hit the area.  It reopened in the third week of March after the quality of the water in the river improved.

The rapids of the Ulot River

The 455,700 hectare SINP, the biggest natural park in the country, was declared a protected area on April 13, 2003 by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 442.  It covers 333,330 hectares of land and a buffer zone of 125,400 hectares of primary forest and a large, contiguous tract of secondary forest in good ecological condition.  It boasts of many caves, various wildlife species and river systems such as the navigable, 9-km. long Ulot (a Waray term meaning “monkey”) River, which is within the Ulot Watershed Area, one of Samar’s 8 watershed areas.

Buray Junction

The Ulot River starts from the mountainous town of San Jose de Buan (Western Samar) in the north, flowing downstream to Paranas and finally draining at Can-Avid (Eastern Samar) in the east.  Including its tributaries, the river’s length could reach 520 kms..  For years, it has been used as a nautical highway  for transporting goods and people, linking Western Samar with Eastern Samar until the 1940s when a gravel road from the west to the east was opened.

The SINP Headquarters

It just so happened that me and my son Jandy were in Tacloban City during the Holy Week break and I reserved a whole day for this one-of-a-kind adventure. To get there, my brother-in-law Manny and his Taclobanon wife Paula generously offered us the use their Mitsubishi Lancer and their family driver Cherwine B. Avis.  We left the city by 8:30 AM, a Black Saturday, and traversed the Maharlika Highway going to Catbalogan City. Upon entering Paranas, we inquired at a nearby police station for directions going to Buray Junction.  It seems we just passed it, the junction readily identified by a Petron gas station (the only gas station we espied throughout the trip) at the corner.

We missed seeing this sign on the road to SINP

From the junction, the SINP headquarters was a further 16 kms. away, along the Wright-Taft Rd..  The road was concreted, with occasional potholes and cracks.  Along the way we passed the upscale Villa Escober Spring Resort.  Just before reaching SINP, a huge boulder from a rock slide was blocking the road but we just drove around it.  Upon reaching the SINP headquarters (around 10 AM). We parked the car along the road, as the park gate was closed, and I entered via an open pedestrian gate.  The offices were also closed, it being a holiday, but, luckily for us, I met the watchman Mr. Raffy Manrique who offered to personally  bring us to the Torpedo Boat jump-off point, a riverbank just 150 m. away from the SINP headquarters, at Sitio Campo Uno in Brgy. Tenani.

L-R: Raffy, the author, Cherwine and Jandy

Upon arrival, we registered our names at a logbook and met up with Mr. Gilberto P. Eneran, the current head of the Tenani Boat Operators for River Protection and Environmental Development Organization (TORPEDO), who would man, together with the father and son team of Oscar and Nicky Obleno, our 4 m. long torpedo boat. Gilbert, as boatman, operated the engine while Nicky, at the front of the boat, acted as timoner (pointman), the one who navigates and pushes the torpedo boat away from the rocks.

All aboard and ready to go

All experienced boatmen trained on safe river travel, they had been operating boats before, transporting illegally cut trees in the area, but now helping protects and conserve the SINP.  The TORPEDO now has 57 members and 23 boats.  They are part of the Ulot Watershed Model Forest Stakeholder Federation, an umbrella of 9 people’s organizations involved in the SINP (tour guiding, boat services, catering, food production, etc.).

Beautiful curtain waterfalls along the way

The wooden boat, without outriggers, is powered by a 16 HP engine.  It has elevated sides to prevent water from getting in and the boat from tipping.  Aside from the crew, our boat could seat 5 passengers but it was just me, Jandy and Cherwine.  We sat on seats with backrests and, on the sides, were inner rails for us to hold on as well as protect our hands from boulders the boat may hit along the way. For our added protection, we wore life jackets and helmets. 

A quiet rural scene along the river

The first leg of our challenging but not nerve wracking, wet and wild adventure ride was a 10.5-km. journey downstream.  One thing that made this boat ride truly remarkable was the natural scenery the route provided, with tick forests, the habitat of exotic flora and fauna, all around us. We started in calm waters, with some beautiful curtain waterfalls to be seen along the riverbank.  Soon enough, ripples began to appear, followed by white water rapids encountered in shallow and narrow areas called sinisikuhan (“bent elbows”).  Here, the waters move fast at the river bend and, as the boat speeds away, water splashes hits our faces or drenches us.  As our boat had no outriggers, we really got to feel the swaying of the boat.

The fun begins here …..

Our boatman, with their knowledge of river maneuvers and keen eyes to spot obstacles such as rocks or boulders that block our way, skillfully and safely run the fast moving rapids.  Occasionally, passenger boats coming from or going to Brgy. Tula would pass us by.  After 45 mins. our boat stopped at Deni’s Point, a picnic area a few meters from a 10-ft. fall that drops into the river.  Boats that have to continue beyond this point would have to unload their cargo and passengers, drag the boat to an area where the grade is gradual, pull or lower the boat down with a rope, reload the cargo and passengers then continue on with their trip.

Passenger boat coming  back from Brgy. Tula

Deni’s Point is a tranquil, secluded and scenic jungle spot where one can commune with nature. Surrounded by tall trees, its riverbanks are lined with big stones and huge boulders. Across is a small curtain waterfall.  Here, Jandy and I swam its clear waters while Cherwine dove from a huge boulder into the fast flowing river.  A lifeline was thrown across the river to catch should we be swept by the fast moving waters.

The swirling rapids of Deni’s Point

After our 45-min. sojourn in this beautiful spot, we returned to our boat for the second half of our extreme ride, this time an exhilarating 10.5-km. and much longer upstream ride (called the “Salmon Run Experience”), back to the takeoff point in Sitio Campo Uno.  This time our boat trip, now going against the Ulot River currents, would meet and feel the onrushing waters and we were to experience even bigger splashes as our boat plunge through the waves.  Everyone heaved a sigh of relief every time we pulled out of a challenging rapid.

The waterfall at Deni’s Point

At a particular area called the “Salmon Run”(referring to a time when salmon swam up the river to spawn at their place of birth), the drop is around 3 to 4 ft.  Here, tourists normally would have to get off the boat so that the boatmen could pull the boat up the rapids.  However, since we were only three, we were allowed to stay on board the boat.  Back at Campo Uno, we had some snacks and soft drinks at a nearby sari-sari store (there are no eateries here) before indulging in another favorite river activity – kayaking.

Nicky manhandling the torpedo boat at Salmon Run

We each had a crack at this on a single yellow-colored kayak, me being the last to try.  I wondered why Cherwine and Jandy gave up after just one short round but I soon found out. Going with the flow of the water was easy, going against it wasn’t.  It was a struggle just getting back to the takeoff point.  After this very tiring activity, we decided to just loll around in the quiet river waters, still with our life vests on.  Thus sated, we left the place by 3:30 PM and we were back in Tacloban City by 5:30 PM.  Truly an experience of a lifetime.

Jandy tries his hand at kayaking

Samar island Natural Park: Sitio Campo Uno, Brgy. Tenani, Paranas, Western Samar 6703.  Mobile number: (0917) 702-7467.  E-mail: sinp.tenani@yahoo.com.  Website: www.samarislandnaturalpark.com.  The Torpedo Boat package costs PhP1,800 (maximum of 5 tourists per boat), inclusive of the SINP entrance fee, boat rental, tour guiding fee, safety gear rental and community development fee.  A single kayak rents for PhP50 while a tandem kayak rents for PhP75.  Tubing (PhP20 rental fee) is also offered along the Ulot River.  

Our torpedo boat team – L-R: Gilbert, Nicky and Oscar

The SINP headquarters also has accommodations for visitors wishing to stay overnight.  It has 3 airconditioned rooms.  One room has dorm-type double deckers good for 15 people (PhP100/pax/day) while 2 other rooms can accommodate 4 people each (PhP150/pax/day).

The Busig-on River (Labo, Camarines Norte)

Nipa palms along the Busig-on River

We left Quinamanukan Island by 3:15 PM, the mainland just a 30-40 min. boat ride away.  Upon reaching the mainland, our boat made its way inland via the wide but sometimes shallow Busig-on River (the province’s longest river system), its muddy banks lined with nipa and coconut palms and backdropped by the 997 m. high Mt. Balagbag (known as the “Sleeping Giant”).  Every now and then, small, outrigger-less and high-bowed bancas would pass us by.  After negotiating a bend in the river, we finally reached port by 4:30 PM.  Amable Miranda of the Camarines NorteTourism Office was already waiting for us there.  After dining on angko, a local delicacy I bought and shared with the others, Amable drove us to Tabea Reichan Restaurant at Vinzons town proper where we had our “late” lunch.  After picking up our luggage at the Municipal Guest House along Bagasbas Blvd. in Daet, Amable drove us to the nearby, upscale Bagasbas Lighthouse Resort, Daet’s premier resort, where we were to stay (my second) for two days.

Tabea Reichan Restaurant: Poblacion (just across the municipal hall), Vinzons, Camarines Norte

Bagasbas Lighthouse Hotel Resort: Bagasbas Blvd., Daet, Camarines Norte.  Tel: (054) 441-5855.  Mobile number: (0916) 520-6783.  E-mail: info@bagasbaslighthouse.com. Website: www.bagasbaslighthouse.com.

Chao Phraya River Cruise

After our Wat Phra Mongkhon Bophit tour in Ayutthaya Historical Park, we all returned to our coach and were all brought to Potangtai Pier near Bangsai (the royal folk arts and handicrafts center) for the start of our 2.5 hr. Chao Phraya River cruise from Ayutthaya back to Bangkok on board the modern and luxurious cruiser Grand Pearl.  From Ayutthaya, we would be passing through Pathumthani and Nonthaburi provinces before arriving in Bangkok.

The Grand Pearl

On board, we were in for a late but delicious buffet lunch of mostly spicy Thai and international cuisine served within the luxurious confines of the cruise boat.  All 4 of us sat in a comfortable, u-shaped booth beside a large viewing window.

Dining, Buffet-Style, on Thai Cuisine

Throughout our lunch, we watched the scenery along the banks Chao Phraya River banks within the refreshing airconditioned cabin lounge.  By 3:30 PM, midway through our cruise,  a refreshing beverage of tea or coffee and cookies were also served to the guests.

The Airconditioned Cabin Lounge

After our filling lunch, some guests proceeded to lounge at the wooden sun deck  at the front of the cruiser while the majority, including us, opted to remain in airconditioned comfort at the cabin lounge.

The Sun Deck of the Grand Pearl

Sometimes, I would also go up the sun deck, amidst the fresh cool tropical air and warm, afternoon sun, to get an amazingly clearer view of the life of the inhabitants that dwell along the river and the unforgettable scenery of children as they greet the visitors going by.

Houses Mounted on Stilts

We would watch various kinds of river craft, from barges, smaller wooden pleasure cruise boats to traditional, long-tail boats, their engines invariably mounted on an inboard, turret-like pole which can rotate through 180 degrees, allowing steering by thrust vectoring.

Long-Tail Boats

The architectural scenery also varies; from simple houses on stilts to modern villas, to modern medium-rise (Mandarin Oriental Hotel) and high-rise (The Peninsula Bangkok) hotels, from traditional Thai temples (the graceful Wat Arun,  Wat Kanlayanamit, Wat Rakang Khosittaram, Wat Pathum Khongkha) to old Roman Catholic churches (Church of the Holy Cross) and from magnificent palaces (Grand Palace, Bang Khunprom Palace, etc.) to engineering marvels (King Rama VIII Bridge).

Royal Barge Museum

The Royal Barge Museum, on the banks of the Bangkok Noi Canal , is a huge boathouse that displays 8 finely-crafted Thai royal barges (including 4 for the king). The majestic Suphannahongsa (“golden swan,” the personal barge of the King, carved out of a single teak tree trunk, was completed in 1911.

King Rama VIII Bridge

The asymmetrical, cable-stayed, 2.45 km. long (including approach spans) Rama VII Bridge, opened on September 20, 2002, has a single, inverted Y-shaped tower, a sleek superstructure and gold-colored suspension cables arranged on single and double planes.

Bang Khun Phrom Palace (Bank of Thailand Museum)

The Baroque cum Art Nouveau Bang Khun Phrom Palace, the former residence (until 1932) of HRH Prince Paribatra Sukhumbhand, the 33rd son of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), now houses the Bank of Thailand (BOT) Museum. The museum has 14 rooms many of which display the history of Thai currency and the Bank of Thailand.

Wat Arun

Wat Arun, recognizable by its central, 66.8 m. high prang (Khmer-style tower) topped with a 7-pronged trident, was started in 1809.  It is called the “Temple of the Dawn” because the first light of morning reflects off the surface of the temple with a pearly iridescence.  By the side of the river are 6 Chinese-style pavilions made of green granite and containing landing bridges.

Wat Rakang Kosittaram

Wat Rakang Kosittaram (Temple of the Bells), built during the Ayutthaya period, was later reconstructed and upgraded as a Royal Temple by King Taksin. The main features of the temple is the bell tower whose bells gave the name temple the name “Rakang” (Thai for “bell”).

Wat Kalayanamit

The massive, mid-nineteenth century  Wat Kalayanamit is well known for its 15.45 m. high and 11.75 m. wide Phra Buddha Trai Rattana Nayok (Luang Po To), called Sum Po Hud Kong in Chinese, which is Bangkok’s biggest Buddha image.

Sunanthalai Building (Royal Seminary)

The elegant, century-old Neo-Classical Sunanthalai Building, within the compound of Rajini School (the first girl’s school operated by Thais, founded by Queen Saowapa), was built  by King Rama V in memory of Queen Sunantha Kumariratana who drowned in the Chao Phraya River  on May 31, 1880.  It was restored after a fire in 2005.

Church of the Holy Cross

Nestled among old houses on the river banks and newer buildings inland, recognizable by its reddish dome, is the Church of the Holy Cross (Santa Cruz Church), one of Bangkok’s many old Catholic churches.  First built in wood in 1770 during the reign of King Taksin (1867–1782), it was rebuilt in 1835.  The present church, built in 1916, was designed by Italian architects Annibale Rigotti and Mario Tamagno.

River City Shopping Complex

Other sights along the river include  Thammasart University (Tha Prachan Center), Pom Pra Athit, and the Holy Rosary Church (the oldest Catholic Church in Thailand, also known as Wat Kalawar).  Our cruise ended when we docked at the River City Shopping Complex Pier, Si Phraya in Bangkok by 5 PM.  Altogether, it was a worthwhile experience.

Grand Pearl Cruises: 19/394 Chaovalitr Village, Rimklong Bangkor Rd., Chomthong, Bangkok, Thailand.  Tel: 084-1361199 and 081-9005429.

Balingasay River (Bolinao, Pangasinan)

The clean, multi-awarded Balingasay River


On the way back to the Tourist Center from Enchanted Cave in Bolinao, we made a short stopover at a bridge to photograph the 7-km. long, pristine and now fishpen-free Balingasay River (Brgy. Balingasay),  twice winner of the Gawad Pangulo sa Kapaligiran Award for inland bodies of water in the Ilocos Region and a recipient of the highly prestigious Wetlands Conservation Award in 1994. Set aside as a protected seascape, this river, noted for its scenic beauty and biodiversity, has 15 hectares of century-old and new growth mangroves areas, 30 hectares of of attap palms (used for nipa hut roofing), wild ferns and balete trees hanging into the water.  These protect the river from erosion and pollution.  Different species of wild birds (locally called kiaw and pagaw) also make their home atop the trees and wild ducks, lizards, monkeys and wild boar also make their home in the forest.

Some boats parked at the river mouth

The Balingasay River is fed by Quibuar Spring, Bolinao Falls and several other springs and creeks. Fresh water meets the sea water of the South China Sea toward the middle of the river,  a perfect environment for unique fish (malaga, lapu-lapu, etc.) and shellfish (crabs, shrimps and oysters) species to flourish.  Boats from the bridge can be rented (PhP500) to explore the river which connects 5 villages to the town proper, located 5.5 kms. from the mouth of the river. Aside from regular outrigger boats, some boats that ferry villagers are made, through Filipino ingenuity, from discarded wings of World War II airplanes secured from the former U.S. Naval Base in Subic.  The wings are fitted with bamboo and wood as “balancers” and then wooden seats are installed for 12 people.