September 27, 2011

Chasing Time at Gyeongbokgung Palace

When our tour guide announced that our next stop would be Gyeongbokgung Palace, the weight that was gradually growing on my eyelids suddenly disappeared.  Being a history buff, the magnificent structures of the Joseon Dynasty were on the top of my list of the must-sees in Seoul.  However, my excitement quickly fizzled out when I looked at the window as the sun was about to start its descent.
Gyeongbokgung Palace grounds.
We arrived at the Gyeongbokgung Palace Compound at around 3:30 p.m.  I was a bit disappointed that we did not alight at the Gwanghwamun Gate, the main and picturesque entrance of the complex.  Instead, we took a peripheral access that fronts the National Folk Museum of Korea.
The National Folk Museum of Korea inside Gyeongbokgung Palace
The building that houses the museum is majestic.  Built in 1972, the five-story structure was patterned after the Palsangjeon Hall at Beopjusa Temple.  I would’ve really wanted to climb its grand staircase, but the clock was already getting impatient with us.  I didn’t mind ditching the idea, though.  Judging from the number of steps that I had to take to reach the top, I was pretty sure that my heart and lungs would give up on me midway through the climb.

Despite my decision not to flirt with cardiac arrest by testing my mettle on the grand staircase, my stamina was still surprisingly taxed -- inside the National Folk Museum of all places!  Our tour guide only gave us 40 minutes to survey the thousands of artifacts that were on display inside the building.  Doing that on a leisurely stroll is next to impossible.  Thus, we brisk-walked our way through the whole collection!  That was quite disappointing considering that the intricacies of some of the displays demand time and attention.  I really would've wanted to go to the details of each exhibit which depicts the typical daily life in Korea during various periods.
An interesting exhibit inside the National Folk Museum of Korea
After mimicking the participants of the Amazing Race, we were allowed to catch our breaths on a leisurely stroll towards the Sinmumun Gate.  As we made our way towards the exit, we chanced upon Hyangwon-jeong, one of the famous sites in Gyeongbokgung Palace that was built by King Jeongjo for his and his family’s relaxation.  This garden features a small pond with a manmade islet that supports a beautiful two-story pavilion.  The sight was so serene that I forgot that Ms. Julia was already making her way to the finish line!
Hyangwon-jeong garden inside Gyeongbokgung Palace
Upon exiting Gyeongbokgung Palace’s rear gate, we took a few minutes to take some pictures in front of the Blue House, the Head of State’s official residence.  I would’ve wanted to stay behind and walk around the compound longer, but filial duty (and a laughable amount of Korean Won inside my wallet) made me decide to stick with the group.
South Korea's Blue House with Mt. Bukak on the background
If you plan on dedicating only a few measly hours for a tour of Gyeongbokgung Palace, then you may want to revise your South Korea itinerary if you really want a serious engagement and experience of the place.  The buildings' ornate and intricate designs alone would require more than just a glance to elicit a true and meaningful appreciation of the same.  It is worth to note that Gyeongbokgung was the first and main palace that was built by the Joseon founder.  Hence, it should not be surprising to know that the compound's layout has been conscientiously and beautifully designed to be fit for a visionary monarch.  This historical tour guarantees a treat for the mind and the senses.  The enormity of the compound demands that one dedicates at least half a day for this excursion.

The Sinmumun (rear) gate with a glimpse of Mt. Bukak

How to get there

Going to Gyeongbokgung Palace by train / subway is easy.  You’ll find yourself right in front of the complex by taking subway line # 3, Gyeongbokgung station, exit 5.  You may also take line #5, alighting at Ganghwamun Station’s exit 2.  This would require a ten to fifteen-minute walk, though.

July 10, 2011

Pilgrims in Iloilo (Part 1: Cabatuan and Miagao Churches)

Going to Iloilo is like going on a pilgrimage of sorts.  It seems that in every corner of the city, God either has a little townhouse or a sprawling hacienda.  The same can also be said of the entire province.  It’s not surprising then that a considerable chunk of our digital camera’s memory stick is filled with photos of churches.

Iloilo International Airport
We landed at the newly-built Iloilo International Airport at around 5:45 a.m.  Touchdown was initially scheduled at 6:15 a.m., but I guess the pilot was in a hurry to buy Piyaya for his breakfast.  The sight and feel of the new terminal was both comforting and refreshing, a stark contrast to the decrepit building that was the city’s sorry excuse for an airport in Mandurriao.  The new Iloilo Airport is 19 kilometers away from the city proper, just a short 30-minute taxi or jeepney ride.

Cabatuan Church
Our first stop was God’s mansion in Cabatuan.  Built in 1734, the Parish of San Nicolas de Tolentino, more popularly known as Cabatuan Church, easily passes off as one of the grandest churches in the Philippines.  It originally had six belfries.  However, only two of them remain as the earthquake that rocked the province in 1948 destroyed many portions of the church, including the central dome.  People familiar with southern European cathedrals or basilicas would easily recognize the similarity of their design with the Cabatuan Church.  Its red brick walls mirror that of the picturesque churches in Italy.
Inside Cabatuan Church
At first, we thought that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to get a peek inside the church.  Luckily, one of the lay ministers was kind enough to accommodate our request to pray and sit at one of the pews.  The interior of the temple was cavernous.  However, the atmosphere was very relaxed and serene.  We spent around 15 minutes admiring the design and ornaments of Cabatuan church, some of which dates back centuries ago.

After genuflecting on the first place of worship that we set foot on in the province, we headed towards Iloilo City through a limousine-like jeepney locally known as passads.  It was still early, so Gin and I decided to go out of the city again to take a look at a renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site situated around 40 kilometers southwest of the provincial capital. 

From afar, the Miag-ao Church seems unassuming.  However, as we got closer, we noticed why it has been regarded by the UN body as one of the world’s most treasured gifts from the past.

Miagao Church
While the structure’s masterpiece is already evident in its unique baroque design, the carvings that adorn the façade of the structure are what probably separate Miagao Church, also known as The Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva, from the rest.  The art mainly consists of local flora, highlighting the evident tropical setting of the place.  A sculpture of St. Christopher holding the Child Jesus can be seen in the stone canvass amidst the coconut and papaya trees.  A statue of St. Thomas of Villanova adorns the center of the Miagao Church’s façade.

Corals, limestone, and egg whites were used to construct Miagao Church
One of the facts that make this structure remarkable is that no cement was ever used to construct it.  The locals used only egg whites in gluing the limestone.  Local silt and clay were also used, thereby giving it that unique rusty golden shade.  Construction of the church began in 1787 and was finished a decade after.  Aside from serving as a house of worship, Miagao Church also served as a fortress from pirates of frequented the area.

Inside Miagao Church
In contrast to the dark and commodious interior of Cabatuan Church, the mood and setting inside Miagao Church was light and welcoming.  Sunlight freely enters the building, while air seemingly circulates without restriction despite the thick walls.  The altar is elegantly adorned with gold carvings.

Miagao Church's Altar
It took us a while before we pulled ourselves up to our next destination.  The breeze was so relaxing that we thought of dozing off for a while.  However, we only had around 6 more hours of sunlight, so we decided to go back to the city to visit two more churches.

June 10, 2011

Alicia Hotel: A Good Budget Hotel in Legazpi City

Budget Hotels in Legazpi City
When I was told that the rental of the private van that would take me from Gubat, Sorsogon to Legazpi City at 4:00 a.m. in the morning would cost 2,500, I immediately considered spending a night at a good, but inexpensive, hotel in Albay’s capital.  I asked relatives and friends who are frequent visitors in Legazpi City if they know any cheap hotel in the place which could pass off for a three-star hotel, and all of them consistently gave me these three – Vista Al Mayon, Alicia Hotel, and Pepperland.

The ride from Sorgoson City to Legazpi City took an hour and a half.  I was a bit worried then of the predicament that I was in.  It’s already 8:30 p.m. and the rain started to taunt me into spending a night at the first inn that my eyes would chance upon.  However, I was determined in spending a relaxing evening in Legazpi at a good budget hotel.

As luck would have it, the van that I took passes by Washington Drive where many airport hotels can be found.  The first one that I checked was Vista Al Mayon.  I nearly missed it because I was expecting it to be big.  It turned out that it was just a pensionne house.  They do have a pool, though, and the reception area is clean and cozy.  Their single room costs P2,000.00 which quite met my budget.  They also have free Wi-Fi and a computer unit for rent.  I was about to book a room already, thinking that Alicia and Pepperland Hotel might have similar rates considering that they’re also located in the same area as Vista Al Mayon.  However, I found out that my credit card would be of no use since they only accept cash.
Alicia Hotel along Washington Drive
I then hailed a tricycle en route to Alicia Hotel.  Much to my surprise (and dismay), the ride took just about a minute as the place was just a few stone-throws away from Vista Al Mayon.  The tricycle driver must have thought that I was extremely lazy.
Alicia Hotel's Lobby
Upon glancing at the well-decorated lobby of Alicia Hotel, I immediately told myself that their room rates are probably at least P500 more expensive than that in Vista Al Mayon as the former looks bigger and better than the latter.  To my surprise, though, Alicia Hotel’s single room cost P1,950 only.   They also have free breakfast and a free shuttle service, amenities which Vista Al Mayon do not offer.  Wi-Fi is also free, but they don’t have computer units that could be used or are for rent.  The fact that this Legazpi City budget hotel also accepts credit cards made my decision as to which hotel to book very easy.

I was lead to the room by a very accommodating bell boy who assured me that there are many tricycles and jeepneys that pass by the Alicia Hotel’s vicinity in case I would want to go around Legazpi’s night spots.  Upon entering my room, I was delighted to see a single bed that could easily accommodate two persons.  In other words, it was bigger than I thought.  The room was cozy and well-lighted.  Visual entertainment was in the form of a standard 14-inch TV set.  It’s small by today’s standards, but the reception of the cable channels was commendable.
Alicia Hotel's Bedroom (Single)
The bathroom met my demands as far as cleanliness is concerned.  Size is another matter, though.  It was difficult to move around considering that everything inside it was closely placed to each other.  But it wasn’t much of a bother for me as long as everything is tidy.  The fact that the shower’s hot-and-cold feature was working already made up for its misgivings as to its size.
For a hotel that can be considered as cheap or relatively inexpensive, it’s surprising to know that Alicia Hotel has a pool.  It’s not that big, but still very inviting nonetheless.  A mini garden near the pool also provides guests a spot in this Legazpi hotel where they can enjoy the breeze while sipping a hot cup or coffee or going through one of the dailies that can be borrowed from the front desk.
Alicia Hotel, Legazpi's Swimming Pool
I wasn’t about to let the evening pass without going around the city.  Thus, despite the rains, I hailed a tricycle and went to Embarcadero, Legazpi’s newest attraction by the sea.  The ride took only around 10 minutes, but cost me P50.00.  Many of the stores were already closed when I arrived at the place around 9:30 p.m.  However, the security guard told me that the place is generally open until the wee hours of the morning, especially the restaurants. 
Late evening stroll at Legazpi City's Embarcadero
Bedtime came in early (for my standards) for me as the bed and the comforter easily made my body go into rest mode.  My 5:00 a.m. wake up call came promptly, and I was on my way to the airport by 6:00 a.m. for Cebu Pacific’s first flight to Manila.  I did not avail of the free airport shuttle as the other guests that were supposed to take the same were not yet ready.  The security guard easily hailed a tricycle for me.  To my surprise, the ride took only about 2 minutes!  I would have walked my way to the airport had I known that it was just around the corner of Alicia Hotel.
Alicia Hotel is very near the Legazpi City Airport
Considering the price, I would give Alicia Hotel a score of 8/10.  It’s definitely one of the best cheap/budget hotels in Legazpi City that is located near the airport. 

May 25, 2011

South Korea Theme Parks: Everland and Lotte World (Day 3, Part 2)

Everland Resort
Everland Resort is said to be South Korea’s response to Tokyo’s Disneyland and its neighbors’ lavish theme parks.  This is not entirely correct, though.  Everland first opened its doors to Korean familes in 1976.  It wouldn’t be until 7 years later that Disney would put up and open its first theme park outside the United States.  Thus, it could be argued that this Korean family gem is the catalyst that caused theme parks to sprout around the region.

The excitement among the young ones and the uhmmm “young once” were very glaring when the sight of the park first came to view.  However, such thrill was later on dampened – literally.  Rain clouds followed our bus from the strawberry farm to this part of Yongin City.  By the time we were able to enter the park, all of us were already wrapped with plastic rain coats that the park gave us.
Cable Car Ride at Everland
Before we were allowed to roam around the theme park by ourselves, our guide first lead us to Safari World.  Some of us nearly weren’t able to go with her, though, as cold feet brought about by fear of a cable car ride (instead of the cold weather) made them froze on the platform.  Luckily, their fear of being left out or lost is stronger than their fear of heights.  Needless to say, everybody survived our first “unofficial” Everland ride :)
Animal Counter at Everland's Safari World
Now back to Safari World.  The line was long, suggesting that this attraction is a must-see.  I wasn’t exactly sure as to what we would be seeing or experiencing inside this mini zoo.  But judging from the animal counter, we would be laying our eyes to many four-legged creatures.

Everland Safari World's main star is definitely
smarter than your average bear
At first, I thought that we would be seeing the animals from afar like in Sentosa’s Night Safari.  But we were delighted to be wrong.  First to grace our cameras at only several inches away was the king of the jungle with his harems.  It was an incredible encounter considering that they were only a few rulers away from the bus window.  Tigers also roamed around the mini-African landscape.  We also saw ligers!  In case you don’t know, ligers are the result of the union between a lion and a tiger.  Now who would’ve thought that that’s possible.  But the mammal that stole the show and our hearts were the well-trained bears that seem to have traces of Yogi’s DNA as they were definitely smarter than your average bears.

T-Express: Steepest Wooden Rollder Coaster
in the World
After the 10-minute ride around Everland’s Safari World, we were towed by our guide towards the Four Seasons Garden.  As expected, my mom was delighted by the sight of flowers that carpeted the grounds.  They’re definitely a Korean attraction, especially the tulips which were already in season.  Ironically, the background of such relaxing and lovely sight was the heart-wrenching wooden roller coaster called the T-Express which is said to be the steepest in the world.  It also ranks 6th in terms of length.  Bordering the gardens are houses and structures that mirror those in Holland.  Fountains and sculptures from the Renaissance period also adorned a good portion of Everland’s European Adventure section.

The park is divided into five zones that have their own distinct themes: Zoo-Topia, European Adventure, Global Fair, Magic Land, American Adventure.  Unfortunately, we were only able to roam around the first three.  My preoccupation in finding the lone money changer in the park may have caused me to miss some of the finer details in the map that would’ve lead us to the last two sections.  We were even surprised that there was a water park inside Everland!  The lucky ones who were able to find their way to Carribean Bay told us that that the Wild River ride was worth the long lines!  Oh well…

Cinderella hour for us came quite early as we were set to depart for Seoul Tower at 5:30 p.m.  While we were waiting at the Global Fair, Ms. Julia told us that she would be making some changes in our itinerary due to the weather.  Instead going to Seoul Tower, we were headed instead to another theme park – Lotte World.

Lotte World

Lotte World Adventure Indoor Theme Park
While it may not be as big as Everland, Lotte World is still a sight to behold and a recreational center definitely worth visiting.  Some even prefer the latter over the former due to its proximity and accessibility, being located right in the heart of Seoul.  It is divided into two sections – Magic Island (outdoor park) and Lotte World Adventure (indoor).  Due to the inclement weather, we were only confined to the indoor section of the theme park.

In case you’re into superlatives, Lotte World hosts the world’s largest indoor theme park.  Ironically, we were only given about an hour to roam around the massive complex.  Thus, we only contented ourselves in exploring the 3rd level of the building.  The indoor rides were not as hair-raising as their outdoor counterparts, but they were already enough to cause our hearts to work overtime.  Of course, weak-kneed excursionists would delight in the slow-moving balloon ride which will give you a spectacular panoramic view of Lotte World Adventure.
View from the balloon ride at Lotte World's Indoor
Theme Park
Our 1-hour sojourn to Lotte World Adventure did not allow us to explore the other rides and amenities of the complex, which include a skating rink, movie houses, and even a hotel.  However, our weary bodies made us already thankful that our second theme park visit for the day ended a bit early.  But I really would’ve wanted to take that chilly, but relaxing stroll around Seokchonhosu Lake at Magic Island.  Oh well, at least I have one more reason to go back to Korea :)

Everland Admission Fees (Daytime / Nighttime):

Adult:  W30,000 / W24,000
Teenager:  W25,000 / W22,000
Children:  W22,000 / W20,000

*Nighttime rate starts at 5:00 p.m.

Lotte World Admission Fees (Morning / Afternoon / Evening):

Adult:  W26,000 / W22,000 / W15,500
Teenager:  W23,000 / W19,000 / W13,500
Children:  W20,000 / W16,000 / W11,500

*Afternoon rate starts at 4:00 p.m.
  Evening rate starts at 7:00 p.m.

Directions to Everland and Lotte World

How to go to Everland Resort by bus:

There's a bus that goes straight to Everland at Dong Seoul Bus Terminal and at Seoul Nambu Terminal.  Travel time is approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes.

How to get to Lotte World by Train / Subway or Bus:

Going to Lotte World is easy and convenient by subway/train as there is a direct access to the station.  Take subway line 2 and 8 to Jamsil Station (Exit No. 4).

May 24, 2011

South Korea Vacation: Kim Chi-Making, Hanboks, and Strawberries (Day 3, Part 1)

Day 3 of our South Korea itinerary was all about bringing out the inner child in us.  The teens and the tweens in our group were anticipating this part of the tour since the first day we set foot in the country.  I am not a big fan of theme parks, let alone the rides therein that seemed to have been made and meant to test how fast you can control that sphincter in your body which is closely associated with the 7th planet of the solar system (if you know what I mean).  But since I can’t dissuade them from flirting with cardiac arrest, not to mention that we’ve already paid for it, I squeezed out every ounce of enthusiasm that I have for scary rides.
Scary Ride at Everland
Of course, there was that calm before the storm.  The first order of the day was a visit at a strawberry farm.  Clouds were hovering around the city since the sun woke up.  Of course, that meant that the 15 degree Celsius forecast for the day missed its mark by about 6-7 degrees.  It was freezing!

Before we went to the tents where the strawberries were to be picked, we were first lead to a place where Kim Chi was being made.  The kitchen lesson was interesting, although I’m not quite sure if I got the mixture right since I was juggling between pressing the shutter and putting spicy sauce on a cabbage (or was it lettuce?).
Kim Chi-making
After a futile attempt at a career in the kitchen, we were then taken to a small Korean hut where a good number of Hanboks (local traditional costumes) were available for photo-op purposes.  Being a fan of Korean TV series featuring the days of old in this part of North Asia, my mom immediately grabbed the opportunity of trying every costume that she could get her hands on.  The same interest was exhibited by almost all of the women in the group.  As expected, the men were relegated to the menial task of taking their pictures.
Ms. Julia then whisked us to long white tents where the strawberries were to be picked.  We were only allowed to pick 5, but it seems that many were arithmetically-challenged that day.  I caught some doing some multiplication instead of simple addition in arriving at the prescribed number :)
Korean Strawberry Farm
Lunch came just in time as my tummy was already screaming persecution.  The food was, as always, sumptuous.  I told Gin before I left Manila that I will probably be losing a few pounds because of the endless walking that we would most likely be doing in Korea.  But I was dead wrong.  Judging by the effort that I was exerting every morning in buttoning my pants, I lost nothing and gained something!
Bulgogi lunch. Unlimited meat!
 And now for the main event -- Everland and Lotte World!  (Click on article link)

April 26, 2011

Soul Searching in Seoul: Day 2 - Nami Island

Our 2nd day in South Korea started early. Really early. We got our wake up call at around 5:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m. Manila time!). Ms. Julia required us to be at the lobby before 7:00 a.m. along with our luggage. I was expecting only a handful from our group that would be able to make it at the appointed time. But lo and behold, almost everybody was packed and ready to go 15 minutes before time! After a hearty breakfast at the Paradise Hotel, we proceeded to our first destination.

Nami Island
God’s Little Garden by the Han

If you’ve watched the popular Korean TV drama, “Endless Love 2: Winter Sonata,” then you’ll probably know what Nami Island is all about. Most of the romantic scenes were shot here, featuring the island’s beauty during autumn and winter. While my mom would have wanted to see the place packed with snow as it had been in the TV drama series, we were instead treated to Nami Island’s springtime splendor.

Our trip to Nami Island (also called Namisum or Namiseom)from Incheon took around an hour and a half. Travelling from Seoul to this garden pot takes only about an hour as it is only 63 kilometers away from the capital. Upon reaching the Gaepyong Wharf, we were whisked by our guide to the ferry as the leaf-like island is situated in the middle of Cheongpyung Lake. The placid cross took only about five minutes.
Nami Island's Tall White Pines
I was immediately smitten by the island’s beauty upon alighting the boat. While Nami boasts of no mountains or hills, it is blessed with trees that could rival Seoul’s skyscrapers in making an earnest stretch for the heavens. Contrary to what some say that it could only be appreciated if one has watched Winter Sonata, Nami Island is a sight to behold sans the TV drama. One need only to have eyes, bespectacled or otherwise, in order to willingly nod to the claim that the place has been carefully sculpted by nature.

Walking through the Namiseom’s main pathway is like strolling down a hall walled by tall White Pines and birches and decked by trunks and leaves that roof passersby from the sun. It is simply magnificent. Treats for the eyes, and for the soul as well, could be found along the way. Nature lovers, and lovers in the strict and simple sense of the word, would delight in the beguiling blend of the elements.
One of Namisum's mode of transportation
For those who would want to spare the soles of their shoes for a later stroll in the city, nature-friendly walking aids can be rented for a minimal fee. I didn’t resort to one, though, as I was already happy enough to slowly discover every corner of the island by foot. I was even lucky enough to come across a squirrel (or at least that’s what I think it was) jumping from one tree to another.

I would have loved to spend a whole day in Nami Island, but our tour guide only gave us 2 hours to go around this garden by the Han. For those who are not chained to a tour package, a stay at one of the island’s cottages could provide a good retreat from the city hustle. You don’t have to worry about amenities. Nami Island offers the essentials that a traveler usually needs or demands – souvenir shops, money changers, and great places to eat.
Cherry Blossoms at Full Bloom in Namiseom

How to Get to Nami Island by Bus or Public Transportation

A quarter of a day wasn’t enough for me to really feed my senses of all the scenic spots that Nami Island has to offer. That’s why before I left Namisum, I made some inquiries as to how one could go about visiting the place by public transportation. The easiest way to go to Nami Island by bus is through Namisum, Inc.’s shuttles. Its Seoul office is located at Insa-dong. The buses are parked at the nearby Topgol / Pagoda Park. Getting to the Namisum Seoul office and the bus stop / pick-up point is easy. Via subway, take line 1 and go to Jongno 3(sam)-ga Station. Exit 1 or 3 will lead you towards the pick-up point or Naminara Republic’s Seoul embassy (office).

The shuttle bus departs Insa-dong at 9:30 a.m. Make sure that you make a reservation first either via phone (+82-2-753-1247) or e-mail ( The roundtrip fare costs KRW 15,000 or around Php600. Not bad at all. The drop off point would be at Gapyeong Wharf. This is also the meeting point for the return trip to Seoul at 4:00 p.m.

For other information on how to go to Nami Island from Seoul by public bus in case the Naminara shuttles are already fully booked, you may visit (East Seoul Terminal).

Nami Island draws around 1.5 - 2 million visitors each year. Needless to say, a trip to South Korea would never be complete without gracing the grounds of Naminara Republic.

April 24, 2011

Soul Searching in Seoul: Day 1 - The Best and the Worst

It has been a long and lingering wish of mine, especially of late, that my 100th plane ride would be on a legacy airline. That wishful thought was almost certain to remain within the confines of my mind, given that the next flights that Gin and I were able to book involved budget carriers Air Philippines and Cebu Pacific. However, by some twist of fate, that fancy of mine was granted life! Flying on an airline that has more than 5 inches of leg room is already something for somebody who made Cebu Pacific the airline of choice (my wallet’s choice, to be exact). But to fly on a 5-star, Star Alliance-member, and Skytrax 2010 Airline of the Year awardee is pure and simple bliss! Never mind that I’m traveling economy. As long as I have been unbound from Airbus A320s and other single-aisle aircrafts, I’m already near Nirvana.
Asiana Airlines
My Incheon-Seoul, South Korea trip came about due to mom’s addiction to Korean telenovelas. I’m not really a fan of them, but I must admit that I have been chained to the TV before by some of it. The first (and only) Korean TV/drama series that I was able to watch from episode 1 to eternity was Endless Love 2: Winter Sonata. I’m not sure if there was really endless love there, but there sure was an endless crying from episode ten to end. But for some reason, I got stuck to it (probably due to pity as the lead star was close to being dehydrated from continuous crying). So in a way, this trip would be a treat since one of the sites where we will be taken to would be Nami Island, the place where the poignant scenes of Winter Sonata were shot.  This would also be the first time that I will be travelling on a guided tour courtesy of Rakso Air Travel and Tours.  Rakso is one of the few travel agencies which specializes in Korean tours/vacations.  The travel agency's Ms. Melai Makasaieb was also very helpful in facilitating and processing my South Korean Visa application.

That relaxing South Korea trip that I had in mind started out ironically stressful. We left the house at around 9:00 a.m., thinking that we have enough elbow room for our 12:45 p.m. flight. However, it turned out that a good portion of Roxas Boulevard was closed. Things turned a little bit chaotic once we stepped in at the Terminal 1 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Just recently, the NAIA Terminal 1 has been voted by travelers as the fifth worst airport in the world. Imagine that! I was first indignant about it, opining that the survey or the ones who took it did not know what they were talking about. But after just spending a few minutes inside the terminal, I began to realize why it was branded as “a bombed out ruin.”
NAIA Terminal 1: One of the worst airports in the world (allegedly)
We entered the airport at around 9:45 a.m. By the time we reached the waiting lounge/gate, it was already 12:05 p.m.! The line leading to the check-in counter was very long. But that wasn’t the mold in the cake. What really ticked the bomb inside my head were the long lines at the immigration counters! It was terrible! The line resembled tape worms knotting their bodies to each other! There were many empty counters. While I’m sure the persons manning the same needed a break, airport and immigration officials should have prepared for such a contingency, especially since the holiday season demands reasonable foresight in managing the lines. We spent almost two hours just to have our passports stamped!

Our stress levels dropped dramatically upon boarding the aircraft. The seats at Asiana Airline’s Airbus A330 was comfortable enough to induce some sleep, even if it’s economy. At chow time, we were made to choose between chicken and seafood. Not much of a choice, but they already satisfied my palate.
Chicken meal at Asiana's Manila-Incheon economy section
The in-flight entertainment was superb. A touch-screen LCD graced each of the seats, letting us choose which among the various shows in the 40 channels that were available would keep us company all throughout the 3-hour and 30-minute flight to Incheon. I chose Ms. Jolie :)

Excellent in-flight entertainment options
At touchdown, we came to see why the Incheon International Airport was voted as the 2009 Skytrax best airport in the world. The contrast was not that hard to notice, especially since we just had a harrowing experience at Asia’s worst airport just a few hours ago. The Incheon air terminal was an architecture to behold, both from the inside and from the out. I really hope that Philippine air transport officials would take notice of how far we have been left behind by our Asian neighbors in terms of building and maintaining world-class air terminals that would really inspire both locals and foreigners alike to say, “Mabuhay!,” upon touchdown. Our air facilities at the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport has a lot of potential. Authorities should not hesitate in phasing out NAIA and opening up a grand and modern air terminal in Clark, Pampanga. Nobody builds airports right at the heart of the capital anymore. A quick glance at the addresses of the air terminals in the region would readily show that they are around 40-60 minutes away from the main city.
Incheon International Airport
Ms. Julia Lee, our tour guide, met us at the arrival’s area. I was curious as to how cold it was outside. Upon stepping out of the airport, I had a rude awakening of how cold 8 degrees centigrade was actually like. My ordinary jacket felt like a thin undershirt! We stopped by at a nearby restaurant for a sumptuous Bulgogi dinner before heading towards our temporary billeting in Incheon.
Authentic Korean Bulgogi!

January 9, 2011

The Bellevue Manila

When my sister told me that she and her fiancé will be billeted at the Bellevue Hotel for their wedding, I wondered why the name didn’t immediately light the bulb above my head. I guess I’m one of those who aren’t really familiar with the Alabang area, given the distance and the horrendous traffic jams that the road leading to it is notorious for.

Bellevue Manila's main chandelier
I was initially disappointed with their choice, considering that the original plan was for us to stay with her at one of my favorite hotels in the metro – Sofitel. But after browsing through the Net for info and photos of the Bellevue Manila, I discovered that the change wasn’t actually a bringdown.

We received our first hello from the staff at Bellevue’s old tower entrance. The old lobby was kind of small, but it was warm and charming. My sister then led us to another passageway leading to the new wing of the hotel. There was no congruence in the design of the respective lobbies of the two buildings, but the new one was more elegant and was still cozy enough to make the guests feel welcome.

The Executive Suite of the Bellevue Manila was fairly big. At 61 square meters, honeymooners might already think that a space like this is already spacious enough to pattern their first abode. The first thing that I checked out, as with every hotel that I visit or check in to, was the bed. I immediately jumped on to it, unmindful of the fact that I was slated to be the floor manager for the evening (meaning the lucky one designated to sleep on the floor). The pillow made me want to wink more than forty, but I immediately jumped out of the trance as my mom was already frowning at the mess that I’ve started to create.

The Bellevue Manila's King size bed
The size of the bathroom was surprisingly big. In fact, it was even larger than most of the standard rooms that I’ve seen in Hong Kong. A huge see-through glass adorns the wall adjacent to the tub. Although blinds cover the whole length thereof, paranoia-inspired thoughts of forgetting to close the covers while sitting on the toilet bowl made me cringe a bit.

While the bedroom could easily fit 5 people, I entertained the thought of sleeping at the receiving area or sala as it was quite big. However, the bride and the groom were pulling an all-nighter, ironing out the remaining details of their wedding the following day, so I decided to stick to the original plan.

I got up early the next day to go back home to get my sister and Gin. Too bad I wasn’t able to try their breakfast buffet. But judging from the picture of The Bellevue Manila’s Café d’Asie, as well as the length of time which took my mom and sister to finish their meal, I think that it can rival the dining rooms of the other five-star hotels that are known for its sumptuous meals.

Cafe d'Asie
Overall, I think The Bellevue Manila does live up to its billing as the premier hotel in Alabang. It is an excellent choice for those who might want to have an out-of-Manila experience without leaving the advantages or comforts of city life behind. Couples who have chosen the romantic Fernbrook Gardens as the venue of their wedding will also realize that the Bellevue Manila is the best place to run to after the reception as it is only 10-15 minutes away.


Related Posts with Thumbnails