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.

 

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor (Maryland, USA)

Inner Harbor

The Inner Harbor District, a historic seaporttourist attraction and landmark of the city, is located within walking distance of Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, at the mouth of Jones Falls, creating the wide and short northwest branch of the Patapsco River.

The name “Inner Harbor” includes any water west of a line drawn between the foot of President Street and the American Visionary Art Museum plus the surrounding area within the approximate street boundaries of President Street to the east, Lombard Street to the north, Greene Street to the west, and Key Highway on the south.

The author (lower right corner) walking along the waterfront

The Inner Harbor, with its historically shallow water (prior to manipulation through dredging), was not conducive to large ships or heavy industry and, in the 1950s, suffered from the economic decline with the arrival of container ships after World War II as well as restructuring common to many industrial cities in the United States, ending both its freight and passenger use.

Jandy crossing a pedestrian bridge

To reverse the city’s decline and reconnect Baltimore with its waterfront, the Inner Harbor was gradually transformed with award-winning parks and plazas surrounded by office buildings, hotels and leisure attractions, starting with the adoption of the 13 hectare (33-acre) Charles Center project.

Children frolicking at a fountain

Between 1958 and 1965, Baltimore renewed this center of its business district with office buildings, hotels and retail shops. In 1963, the redevelopment program was expanded to include 97 hectares (240 acres) surrounding the Inner Harbor with corporate headquarters and hotels being built around the shoreline, with a public park and promenade added for leisure activity and community gatherings.

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

Following the U.S. Bicentennial, other tourist attractions were developed such as the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center and the Harbor Place Festival Marketplace (opened on July 4, 1980 and operated by The Rouse Company). The nearby Baltimore Convention Center and Hyatt Regency Baltimore Hotel added to the services, resulting in increased population density and attracting a huge number of tourists.

In recent years, Inner Harbor East, the area along the waterfront to the east of the Inner Harbor (in the direction of Fells Point and Little Italy), has been developed with mixed-use developments incorporating office space, condominiums, street-level retail space, restaurants and hotels.

In the 1970s and 1980s, with the success of the renewal of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the city became a worldwide tourist destination and a model of urban renaissance, planning and development in cities around the world, influencing more than 100 other cities and winning more than 40 national or international awards.  In 1984, the American Institute of Architects cited it as “one of the supreme achievements of large-scale urban design and development in U.S. history. In 2009, the Urban Land Institute described it as “the model for post-industrial waterfront redevelopment around the world.”

Federal Hill Park

Federal Hill Park (300 Warren Ave.), a former lookout during the War of 1812 and the Civil War located on the south side of the Inner Harbor, allows visitors to take in ​a dramatic view of Baltimore’s cityscape from the top of the hill.

National Aquarium in Baltimore

The National Aquarium in Baltimore (501 E. Pratt St., Pier 3 and Pier 4, Inner Harbor) has a collection of more than 16,500 specimens representing 660 species, with exhibits including a multi-storey Atlantic coral reef, an open ocean shark tank, a 4-D immersion theater, a tropical rain forest, a glass pavilion with Australian wildlife, and a mammal pavilion that holds Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.

Check out “National Aquarium in Baltimore

Sloop-of-War USS Constellation

The Historic Ships in Baltimore (Piers 1, 3, and 5) features four historic ships permanently docked in the harbor that visitors can climb aboard and experience – the USS Constellation (first launched in 1854, it is the only Civil War-era ship still afloat), USCGC Taney (last fighting ship still afloat that survived the attack on Pearl Harbor), the USS Torsk (a Tench-class submarine, it is the last ship to sink an enemy vessel in World War II) and the Lightship Chesapeake (a U.S. Coast Guard lightship from the 1930s) plus the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse.

Check out “The Historic Ships of Baltimore,” “USS Constellation Museum”  and “USCGC Taney

Harborplace and the Gallery

Harborplace and the Gallery (Light and Pratt Sts.) are two pavilions with a mix of local and national restaurants and stores, plus Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium (has 500 of Ripley’s trademark “oddities” in seven different galleries, plus a mirror maze and a 4-D movie theater)

Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Odditorium

Maryland Science Center (601 Light St.) has 3 levels of exhibits, a planetarium, and an IMAX theater plus a special exhibit on blue crabs.

Maryland Science Center

Top of the World (401 E. Pratt St.) an observation deck on the 27th floor of the Baltimore World Trade Center, offers sweeping a 360-degree birds-eye views of the city. On the pedestrian promenade outside the building is a memorial to the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Baltimore World Trade Center

Port Discovery Children’s Museum (35 Market Place), on the site of the historic Baltimore Fish Market, is a children’s museum with a three-story jungle gym specifically designed for kids ages 2-10.

Holocaust Memorial

American Visionary Art Museum (800 Key Highway), a mosaic-clad museum, has a  collection of offbeat, innovative art produced by self-taught individuals, plus free outdoor movies and the Kinetic Sculpture Race.

Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture

The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African-American History and Culture (830 E. Pratt St.), the largest of its kind on the East Coast, is dedicated to preserving the stories of the Maryland African American community, past and present.

Baltimore Civil War Museum

Baltimore Museum of Industry (1415 Key Highway), located in an old cannery, holds exhibits on various types of manufacturing and industry from the early 20th century. one of its star attractions is the Baltimore, the oldest surviving steam tugboat and a National Historic Landmark.

Baltimore Visitors Center

The Baltimore Visitor Center (401 Light St.), just north of the Maryland Science Center, has touch-screen kiosks that tell visitors where to go, and staff can help clue you into events happening in the city. It also has public restrooms inside.

Philips Seafood

Power Plant Live! (601 E Pratt St.), the former Pratt Street Power Plant  located 2 blocks north of the Inner Harbor, is an entertainment complex that comes alive at night with bars,  clubs, restaurants and music venues that includes Phillips Seafood, Rams Head Live!,  Hard Rock Cafe (opened July 4, 1997) plus Barnes & Noble and Maryland Art Place (a contemporary art gallery for Maryland artists).

Hard Rock Cafe

Other places to visit here include the Lloyd Street Synagogue (the third-oldest synagogue in the United States, now the Jewish Museum of Maryland), Civil War Museum (President Street Station), Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards, Dr. Samuel D. Harris Museum of Dentistry (University of Maryland), Babe Ruth birthplace and museum, Oriole Park at Camden Yards (home of the Baltimore Orioles), Camden Yards Sports Complex, Columbus Center (home of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute), Bnai Israel (a Moorish Revival synagogue now open as a museum), Holocaust Memorial  (E Lombard and S Gay St.), Lockwood Place, Geppi’s Entertainment Museum (a privately owned pop culture museum at Camden Station opened last September 2006), M&T Bank Stadium (home of the Baltimore Ravens), Royal Farms Arena and the Pier Six Pavilion (a music venue at 731 Eastern Ave.)

Pier Six Pavilion

Blue and white water taxis (US&6-12), from 17 locations, connect passengers from the Inner Harbor to Fells PointCanton, and Fort McHenry.

Check out “Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine – Birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner

Water Taxi

You can explore the Inner Harbor on a traditional paddle boat (US$12 per half-hour rental) or the colorful Chesapeake Bay ‘Chessie’ Monster (US version of Scotland’s ‘Nessie,’ US$20 per half-hour rental),  both classic childhood favorites. Both boats hold up to four occupants. If you don’t feel like paddling, there’s the electric boat (half-hour rental – US$10 for one person or US$15 for two).

Cheska, Jandy, Grace and Kyle in a Chessie

Visitors can also explore the harbor via the red and purple-bottomed Cruises on the Bay by Watermark (US$6-17) and the larger yacht Spirit of Baltimore (US$42 and up); the bright yellow speedboats of Seadog Cruises (US$20 range) and the wood-paneled pirate ship The Fearless by Urban Pirates (US$20-25).

Spirit of Baltimore

Cruise ships also offer narrated, 45-min. tours of the Inner Harbor where you’ll learn about the city’s maritime and industrial history as well as the resurgence of the waterfront, Federal Hill, and Fells Point.  You can also avail of 60-min. tours focusing on Fort McHenry, 90-min. cocktail cruises and spectacular 60-min. “city lights” tours. 

Cordillera World (Baguio City, Benguet)

Cordillera World

Cordillera World

Before we left the ever-popular Mines View Park, Melissa, Almira, Albert, Jandy and I visited the nearby Cordillera World, one of the newest attractions in the City of Pines located on the left side of the Mines View Tourism Office.

The narrow stairs leading up to the museum

The narrow stairs leading up to the museum

Wooden sleepers on a gravel bed

Wooden sleepers on a gravel bed

A pet project of Mr. Roland Cayat, this travel destination was opened last March 2011 through the help of some local investors and the support of the members of the Mines View Barangay Council.

Registration area and donation basket

Registration area and donation basket

A showcase of the rich heritage of the original mountain tribes of Northern Luzon, it is also an excellent vehicle to support a local advocacy and special program that helps out-of-school youths to go back to school or to finance and support their young families. There is no entrance fee but voluntary contributions from generous visitors to support the project are accepted.

Cordillera World (1)

Cordillera World (4)

We entered this second floor mini-museum/souvenir shop via a narrow wooden stairway whose risers feature salutations of “welcome” in five local dialects. Once inside, we had to register our names before taking photos. Do go around the displays, we walked on wooden sleepers laid on a gravel bed..

Cordillera World (2)

Cordillera World (11)

Here, we learned more about the lifestyle and culture of the highlands, seeing and sometimes touching ancient tools, clothing and accessories used by different tribes of the Cordilleras.

Cordillera World (7)

Cordillera World (8)

Visitors can even wear colorful, woven native costumes and feathery headdresses, as well as of being armed with hand-made bows, arrows and spears, and take photos as many times as they like.

Jandy and Almira in front of the replica of an Ifugao hut

Jandy and Almira in front of the replica of an Ifugao hut

At the center of the museum is a life-size replica of an Ifugao house decorated with animal skulls, woven tapestry and palay. From a viewing deck, we enjoyed the same spectacular view of the Cordillera mountains as seen from Mines View Park.  Beside it is their version of a “wishing well” (actually a pan filled with water).

Almira, Jandy, Albert and Melissa enjoying the mountain view

Almira, Jandy, Albert and Melissa enjoying the mountain view

A "wishing well"

A “wishing well”

Unique souvenirs sold here include Ifugao wine, CD that contains local Ifugao music to savour the culture even more, wood carvings and statues, pure honey, feathered headdresses and dream catchers that are hung around the place.

Cordillera World (10)

Cordillera World: Gibraltar Rd., Baguio City, Benguet.

Eker & Ely Lucban Longganisa and Pasalubong (Lucban, Quezon)

From the church, Jandy, Maricar, Violet, Lanny and I walked towards Eker & Ely Lucban Longganisa and Pasalubong, situated just behind the church where, we were told, we could buy the best Lucban longganisa.  It was raining heavily, so we brought our umbrellas with us. Established in 1958 (incidentally the year I was born), Eker & Ely is one of 10 longganisa makers in town.

DSC04563

Their Lucban Longanisa is sold by the dozen –  P150 for big longanisa and  P55 for small.  I bought two dozen packs of the former while the others bought packs of the latter.  It’s a good thing we arrived here in the morning as their longganisa is usually sold out by afternoon.

DSC04565

Longganisa hung on poles for buyers to see

Aside from their bestseller longganisa, the store also sells different delicacies made in Lucban and other parts of the country.  The list includes macaroons, coco jam, broas (the local version of ladyfingers), uraro, miki lucban, piaya, pastillas, mazapan, galletas (egg cracklets) espasol, achara, espasol, coco vinegar, peanut brittle, peanuts, cashews, etc.

DSC04562

Lanny, Violet and Maricar deciding on what to buy for pasalubong

Eker & Ely Lucban Longganisa and Pasalubong: 114 A. Racelis Ave., Lucban, Quezon. Tel: (042) 540-3304.  Mobile number (0920) 237-9056.

How To Get There: Lucban is located 160.36 km. from Manila and 23.7 kms. north of Lucena City. From Manila, it can be accessed via the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX, exit at Turbna) and the Manila East Road.

 

 

Central Market (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

After our ice cream treat at Sorya Shopping Center (we were again to return here for supper), Osang, Violet, Jandy and I continued on our way to the nearby Central Market, a Phnom Penh landmark and “must see” stop just a 5-min. walk away.

The Central Market

The Central Market

The large, bright ochre-colored Phnom Penh Central Market or Psar Thmay  (“new market”),  built in 1937 in the  Art Deco style,  consists of four wings branching out into vast hallways and dominated by a central dome.  When it first opened, it was said to be the biggest market in Asia. Its initial design and layout were done by French architect Louis Chauchon and its construction work was supervised by French architects Jean Desbois and Wladimir Kandaouroff.  During the Franco-Thai War, the market was bombed heavily by Thai aircraft, causing heavy damage, and it had to be temporarily closed. After the end of World War II, the market was rebuilt in the modern style. From 2009 to 2011, it underwent a US$4.2 million renovation funded by the French Development Agency.

The market interior

The market interior

Within the four wings as well as around the compound outside,  almost anything you can think of are on sale.  The extensive amount of products that are offered for bargain include electronic equipment, second hand clothing, watches, bags, suitcases, gold and silver curios , dried and fresh foodstuff, jewelry, cheap t-shirts, kramas (Khmer scarves), antique coins, pseudo-antiques, clocks, fabrics, shoes, flowers, luggage, books (including photocopied travel guides) and lots of souvenirs (key chains, ref magnets, postcards, etc.).

The market's huge dome

The market’s huge dome

Central Market: Neayok Souk, Phnom Penh 855.  Open daily, 5 AM – 5 PM.

Sorya Shopping Center (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)

After our National Museum and Royal Palace tour, Osang, Violet, Jandy and I made our way, on foot, back to our respective hotels to rest and freshen up.  After an hour, we again met up, this time to go shopping for souvenirs at the nearby Central Market.  Again, we made our way on foot.  Along the way, we decided to make a short stopover at the 8-storey, Western-style Sorya Shopping Center, located just one block south of the Central Market.

Sorya Shopping Center

Sorya Shopping Center

The first real mall in the city, this 40,000 sq. m. airconditioned shopping oasis, the largest in the city, was quite large, with passenger elevators and escalators (then a strange novelty when it opened in 2003).  Inside were a number of Western fastfood restaurants at every level ( Pizza Co., Master Grill, Kentucky Fried Chicken,  BBQ Chicken, BBWorld, Lucky Burger, etc.) plus a a variety of shops selling clothes, shoes, jewelry, toys, imitation watches, latest release DVD copies and some electronics and appliances.

Osang and Violet trying out the foot massage demo

Osang and Violet trying out the foot massage demo

As we entered the lobby, we encountered a lot of “demo” booths promoting products such as a stainless steel multi-tiered steamer; a stride-glide exerciser; a hand-held vacuum and recliner-massage-chairs.  Osang and Violet each tried out the foot massager.We  also each tried out a sundae treat (US$2.30 each), with many premium quality toppings such as Mars, Snicker, Oreo Cookie, etc., at Swensen’s, a premium ice cream parlor which originated from the U.S.A.  It opened its first branch in Sorya Shopping Center in September 2007.

"Cooling off" at Swensen's

“Cooling off” at Swensen’s

The well-stocked Lucky Supermarket, the first supermarket set up in Phnom Penh (and now the city’s largest supermarket chain), has a branch at the ground floor. On the upper floors there  a 3D cinema complex (Sabay Cineplex, Level 5), roller skating rink, sporting goods store (City Mart Sports Supply, Level 4) and games arcade.

Swensen's sundaes

Swensen’s sundaes

After shopping at Central Mall, we all had dinner at the  local food court at Level 4. Virtually all varieties of dishes were available at very reasonably prices of US$2.00 to 5.00. However, their coupon system was a hassle as we had to buy a ticket first before ordering food from any outlet.

Food Court

Food Court

Though less colorful than the traditional markets, Sorya Mall was still a such a good place to cool down, hang out or simply to take a break from the ‘culture shock’ that hit us when we arrived in Phnom Penh.

Food court fare

Food court fare

Sorya Shopping Center: 11-13 Preah Trasak Paem (Street 63),  Phsar Thmei 2 Commune , Daun Penh District, Phnom Penh.  Tel: +855 23 210 018 and +855 16 700 001. Open daily, 9 AM to 9 PM.

Sagada Weaving and Souvenir Shop

Come morning, after breakfast, it was time to check out at our inn for our return trip to Manila. We all boarded our hired jeepney and made our way, out of the poblacion, along Sagada’s narrow, Bontoc Road which was filled with parked vehicles and people, it being market day.  

Sagada Weaving & Souvenir Shop

Past the St. Theodore’s Hospital, the traffic began to ease and we were soon on our way. We made a stopover at the Sagada Weaving and Souvenir Shop.  This pioneering weaving firm is one of the town’s biggest employers. Here, we got to interview Mr. Ezra Keithley Aranduque, the owner who showed us around the weaving area (his weavers were on leave, though, it being the holidays).  This venerable Sagada institution, an offshoot of the now-defunct weaving business of Lepanto Crafts established in 1968, was started in Sagada by the late Andrea Bondad (Ezra’s mother) in 1978. The cloth was originally woven from thread obtained through trade with lowlanders.

With Mr. Ezra Aranduque

Today, they produce and sell, at reasonable prices, quality products hand-woven by backstrap looms, such as backpacks, purses, hats, ponchos, shoulder bags, wallets, slippers, blankets, place mats, table runners and other products.  They also sell traditional Cordilleran clothes such as tapis (traditional-style Igorot skirts), wanes (men’s g-strings) and bakget (women’s belts with tails).  All these are also sold in select stores in Baguio City (Benguet), Bontoc, Kalinga and Apayao.

Jocie tries out a loom

According to Ezra, his weavers use traditional, intricate Cordilleran designs which consists mostly of vibrant red and black stripes on a white center panel with additional red, yellow, black and green motifs such as oweg (snakes, a fertility symbol) and tekka (lizards, a symbol of longevity) running through it.  Rivers are represented by zigzag lines, and mountains and rice paddies by triangles.

Sewers at work at the souvenir shop

The tapis, wanes and blankets are woven using 2 distinct patterns – the simpler kinayan or the more elaborate and popular pinagpagan.  They spent more than one month to produce just 28 m. of this durable and strong, handwoven fabric which has vanished from handwoven fabrics produced in the region. In 2011, the Bureau of Trade Marks of the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) and the Bureau of Patents has granted Sagada Weaving patent certificates (IPO Certificate of Registration No. 4-2009-006672) for its local design described as consisting of a diamond and 2 half diamonds forming an X design of any two colors.  The Bureau of Patents also granted Sagada Weaving (Patent Registration Nos. 3-2009-00441 to 00446) exclusive rights, throughout the country, to make, use, sell or import an industrial design which consists of  6 color combinations with diamond and X designs.

 

Finished souvenir products

Sagada Weaving and Souvenir Shop: Bontoc Road, Nangonogan, Sagada 2619, Mountain Province.  Mobile number: (0918) 927-6488 and (0919) 557-1431 (Mr. Ezra Aranduque). E-mail: weavings@sagadaweaving1968.com and sagadaweaving1968@yahoo.com.  Website: www.sagadaweaving1968.com.

Banaue Grand Terrace Viewpoint (Ifugao)

After breakfast at Halfway Lodge, we all returned to our jeepney and traveled 3 to 4 kms. (25-mins.) uphill from the town, along the Banaue-Bontoc Rd., to the Banaue Grand Terrace Viewpoint, one of three viewpoints in the town.  The other 2 viewpoints are the NFA Viewpoint and the Dayanara Viewpont, named after 1994 Ms. Universe and former Aga Muhlach girlfriend Dayanara Torres (who later married singer Marc Anthony but has since been divorced).  This would be my first visit to the place as, during my first 2 visits , I just used the town as a jump-off point to Batad Rice Terraces. Besides, the town’s undulating tin roof tops and overhead, tangled electrical wires, weren’t exactly an endearing sight for me.

This popular photo spot, situated on top of a plateau at the outskirts of the town, affords a perfect view of the 2,000 year old, man-made and iconic Banaue Rice Terraces (the one we see in books, magazines, postcards and the PhP1,000 bill) and the magnificent valley to the poblacion. 

Though not included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site inscription, due to the presence of numerous modern structures around the area (making it score low in the integrity criterion of UNESCO), these rice terraces are still a National Cultural Treasure under the Ifugao Rice Terraces.  The early morning cast an extra dimension to the rice terraces. The terraces, on a rather steep incline, occupy a narrow, high spur in the mountain. The best time to see these rice terraces is from February to May when it is least likely that the views will be obscured by fog or clouds. 

View of the town proper from the viewpoint

Elderly, smiling Ifugaos often come here in full tribal regalia and tourists can pose for the camera with them, for a fee or donation of course, or you can be dressed in partial tribal regalia (headgear and shawl) then leave a small donation for its use.  

Dressed up in tribal gear

At the viewpoint are a number of roadside souvenir shops crowded in a small area. They sell a variety of handcarved woodwork, from the iconic bul-ol (rice gods placed in village huts and granaries), spears, canes to Chinese dragons.  They also sell food (strawberry jams and preserves, peanut brittle, wine, etc.), textiles (sweaters, caps, T-shirts, shawls, etc.), ref magnets, trinkets, furniture and basketry.

Also with the area was an inn (the 3-storey Viewpoint Valley Inn) and a restaurant (Banaue Heritage Cafe & Restaurant).

Viewpoint Valley Inn
Banaue Heritage Cafe & Restaurant

There were also wooden scooters on display.  One in particular, with the ornate dragon design, caught our fancy.  We each took poses (at PhP10 per shot) on this scooter.  Also, if we wanted to, we could have taken it on a test drive (for PhP50) down the road but the absence of a built-in brake held me back.

Trying out the dragon scooter

A Walk Through Manila’s Chinatown

After canvassing for lighting fixtures along Soler Street, I decided to explore Manila Chinatown via  the Arch of Goodwill Arch, a  Chinese archway (paifangwhich marks the east end of Ongpin Street, named after Don Ramon Ongpin, a Chinese businessman who supported the Katipunan movement in 1896. The Arch of Goodwill, one of several which acts as a spatial marker to welcome visitors into a different cultural sphere, commemorates the friendship between the Filipino people and Chinese immigrants.

The Arch of Goodwill

The Arch of Goodwill

Manila’s 66-hectare Chinatown, located just across the Pasig River, opposite  the walled city of Intramuros, was originally for  Chinese Catholic converts only. In 1790, non-Christian Chinese were allowed to move into Chinatown. Our first Filipino saint, San Lorenzo Ruiz, was born in Binondo.

Ongpin Street

The terribly congested but colorful Ongpin Street, home to many gold and silver jewelry stores, herb-scented Chinese medicine shops, spacious restaurants, little teahouses and well-stocked groceries, is flanked at each end by the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz (Binondo Church) in the west and the Baroque-style National Shrine of the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (Sta. Cruz Church) in the east.

A Chinese drugstore

A Chinese drugstore

Manila’s Chinatown, the oldest in the world (established in 1594), is known to the Filipinos as Binondo (derived from the Tagalog word binundok meaning “mountainous”), to the Filipino-Chinese community as Chi Lai (市内), a Hokkien term for “inner city,” and by tourists simply as Chinatown, a common reference to an area where there are a lots of Chinese and Chinese businesses. Most of the people in this district are of Hokkien ancestry as most of their ancestors are from Fujian province. My ancestor, Sing Lok, also from Fujian, arrived in the country in 1750. He later changed his surname to Locsin and adopted the Christian name of Agustin.

An Eng Bee Tin Chinese Deli branch

An Eng Bee Tin Chinese Deli branch

Chinese heritage and traditional Chinese institutions are very evident in Manila’s Chinatown and, once I passed the Arch of Goodwill, I began to find icons, institutions and features typical of most Chinatowns. Unlike in other parts of the city, the horse-drawn calesa is still alive and well here.Unlike the Chinatowns I have visited in other Southeast Asian cities, this one in Manila is really very busy on Sundays.

A sidewalk fruit stall

A sidewalk fruit stall

The street signs in Chinatown, some decorated with dragons, are also often bilingual and sometimes trilingual. with Filipino, English and Traditional Chinese script.  Even signages are bilingual, as businesses here cater to the cultural and religious needs of the Filipino-Chinese population. Restaurants offer a wide range of Chinese food while other shops offer the latest CDs VCDs from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, religious goods and festive fruits that are in season.

A Chinese gift shop

A Chinese gift shop

A long time (since 1912) fixture in Chinatown is Eng Bee Tin Chinese Deli, reputed to be the home of the best-tasting hopia (a popular Filipino bean filled pastry) in country.  It has a number of stores in Chinatown, selling 22 variants of hopia, including ube, nangka, buco pandan (my favorite) and cheese variations.  Some bakeshops even carry their hopia products. They also sell other traditional Chinese delicacies such as tikoy, glutinous balls and ube pao.

The calesa is alive and well here

The calesa is alive and well here

Chinatown is known for the having the best volunteer fire-fighting unit in the city, the residents’ response to the frequent fires that strike their community. Their fire engines, often sponsored by individuals or organizations, are highly visible all over the district. Eng Bee Tin has also set up Txtfire, the largest volunteer firefighting organization in the Philippines (with more than 4,500 affiliate firefighters nationwide), and have donated 10 ube (violet)-colored fire trucks, one of which I saw parked beside Binondo Church.

An ube-colored fire truck donated by Eng Bee Tin

An ube-colored fire truck donated by Eng Bee Tin

A street-side temple with an altar was also built along Tomas Pinpin Street. Here, people come to light at least 3 joss or incense sticks (hui), make offerings or donations, recite a prayer to the venerated image of Sto. Cristo de Longos (a miraculous crucifix found by a deaf and mute Chinese in an old well in Longos), make a prayer request, then take two crescent-shaped jiaobei blocks (or moon blocks) and throw it to answer a yes (identical faces) or no ((opposing figures) question.  Truly an intriguing fusion of Roman Catholicism and Buddhism.

A roadside shrine dedicated to Sto. Cristo de Longos

A roadside shrine dedicated to Sto. Cristo de Longos

As I strolled and enjoy the proverbial sights, sounds and smell of Chinatown, I knew that I have reached the district’s boundaries as I saw another Chinese archway at Ongpin North Bridge.

Ongin North Bridge Arch

Ongin North Bridge Arch

Embarcadero de Legaspi (Albay)

From Daraga, I made a short stopover at Embarcadero de Legaspi, a major waterfront development fronting the Legaspi City‘s main harbor.  Bernard and I previously had an evening coffee here 3 days before.  The mall is just a short jeepney ride from the Governor’s Mansion (where we stayed overnight).  Located on a 15.477-hectare property on reclaimed land, Embarcadero sits at the foot of Kapuntukan Hill (Sleeping Lion Hill). Owned and managed by Embarcadero Land Ventures, Inc., it is now the Bicol Region’s premier urban mall and shopping center.
 
Embarcadero de Legaspi
This world-class lifestyle hub for tourists and locals is home to retail spaces, restaurants, markets, a host of branded specialty boutiques, a major civic space (Embarcadero Celebration Plaza), a supermarket (Puregold), a classy hotel (Ellis Ecotel), themed indoor amusement center (Playland) and a bowling alley.  Its picturesque, landmark lighthouse, with its beaming searchlight, doubles as the office of the city’s 91.5 Magik radio station.
 
Embarcadero’s signature lighthouse
The seaside area, a favorite hangout place (the mall stays open until midnight), has a host of open-air paluto restaurants where one can sample the freshest seafoods, the well-known Bicol Express and mouth-watering laing, all while sipping a bottle of cold beer, watching the ships’ lights and listening to a live acoustic band.
 
For adrenaline junkies, Embarcadero also hosts the city’s second zip line (the other one is available at Lignon Hill).  To try, climb the lighthouse and zip line 350 m. down, traversing the waters of Albay Gulf, to the other end of the breakwater, getting a magnificent view of majestic Mayon Volcano along the way.  There’s also a seaside go kart track (PhP75 per 2 laps inclusive of protective gear), jetskis (Php1,200 for 15 mins.), environment-friendly Segway PT (PhP200 for 15 mins.) and E-tricycles for rent (PhP50 for 2 pax per 15 mins.)
 
Embarcadero de Legaspi: Port Area, Victory Village, Legaspi City, Albay.  Tel: (052) 481-1000.
 
Rides to Embarcadero de Legaspi, via brightly-colored, eco-friendly electronic E-jeepneys and E-tricycles, are available at the Battle of Legaspi Monument.  There’s also a free shuttle inside the mall.