Everything Sentosa

Day 1 in Singapore was Turista-sa-Sentosa Day. We started the day early by having a huge breakfast at Killiney Kopitiam. I had second thoughts on visiting Universal Studios Singapore. I don't know where I got the idea that USS was Disney-ish, with mascots and cute kiddie cartoons stuff.  (A little backstory: in choosing between Ocean Park and Disneyland in Hongkong, we picked Ocean Park.)  I want rides, rides, rides. I want the kind that gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach. I adored Enchanted Kingdom's Anchors Away and I would always sit at the end row where I could feel like I'm almost tipping over. Exhilarating!
Aaron got our tickets prior to Thursday using Mastercard at SG$68 each. A bit pricey if you ask me but good thing it already included a SG$6 voucher for food and another SG$6 voucher for retail purchases. Just add a couple more dollars for lunch and you're good to go.
We went straight to ride Battlestar Galactica: Cyclon at the Sci-Fi City. Rollercoasters attract me like magnet. According to the park brochure, Battlestar Galactica: Human vs. Cyclon is the tallest dueling rollercoaster in the world. There were only 3 people who took the ride before us (we were there early) and I did not hear them screaming nor did I see them frazzled when the train came back. So I thought.. Pfft.

Battlestar Galactica: The tallest dueling rollercoaster. Blue=Cyclon, Red=Human

But I was wrong. When our turn came, I cursed the whole time. The ride was altogether a different experience because it was a suspended rollercoaster, and there was nothing solid beneath my feet except for the hard cement dozens of feet below. It felt like an eternity. When it was over, I felt a bit dizzy and we laughed all the way out. That was unexpected.

We took Human as the last ride of the day. It's your regular rollercoaster. I'd pick Cyclon over Human anytime.
Next: Transformers in 3D. There was a short line and we were set to go after 10mins. The riders get to take the point of view of a robot helping out Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots in fighting the Decepticons. We rode a cart which traveled into several studios where real props were set up (I know because I peeked!) and 3D images were flashed on the screen. The cart bumped up and down, turned left and right, and tilted just a bit giving us a feel of being a real Autobot in a battle.

Next: Revenge of the Mummy ride. Another rollercoaster but this time the loops are in the dark. We sat in the front and the feeling of not knowing where the ride is going made it more exciting. We saw the photo they took and the look on our faces were too funny. I would have wanted to buy it if not for the SG$ 20 price tag on it. As Donkey said on his show, "Singapore, who knew you would be so expensive?"

Revenge of the Mummy entrance

There were good performances and attractions too. That includes Lights, Camera, Action by Steven Spielberg, Monster Rock, and Waterworld. Lights, Camera, Action by Steven Spielberg showcased a great demonstration of how scenes are fabricated in movie studios. The scene was when a Category 5 hurricane hit New York City.  Monster Rock was a gathering of singing movie monsters who gave out hilarious lines too. Whoever thought of the songs was brilliant. Bride of Frankenstein sang Tainted Love while Dracula belted out to Bon Jovi's It's My Life. The last attraction we saw was Waterworld. It was a movie that came to life and the most 'interactive' of all. If the cast is not pleased with the crowd, someone's going to get really wet! The seats serve as a warning though. Sit where you like at your own risk.

The set of Waterworld
Lights, Camera, Action!

The rest of the rides and attractions were, well, cartoon-related. Sorry I have not seen Madagascar and I don't know what a Foosa is!

Far, far away land

If you want to get the best out of your money, check out every ride and attraction. We were at the park by 10AM and finished everything by 6PM. Another tip to get your money's worth: visit on a weekday. Tickets are cheaper and you don't need to wait long on queues.

It was a long day at USS but we did not pass up on seeing the rest of what Sentosa Island had to offer.

Next stop: Luge! Luge is a kind of go-cart ride minus the engine. There are two downhill trails where you can cruise easily (like I did!) or zap through all the way to the finish line (like the kid who beat me to it). The Luge is easily controllable by a lever which you can just pull for brakes.

Ride the Skyride towards the Luge starting point. See the Luge karts in front.

We bought tickets for the last Songs of the Sea show but we still had time to see both the Palawan and Siloso manmade beaches. There was a bike rental nearby and we got ours for SG$12.50 each for an hour. It's my bike practice for Vietnam!

We made it back to the beachfront seats in time for Songs of the Sea. It was a grand lights and sounds show featuring the story of a boy who used his voice to wake up a lady put to sleep by a spell. We went back to the hotel still humming his lalala song.

Annie?!

The sights and activities in Sentosa might be a bit expensive when you compute and convert it to Philippine peso, but the quality of the show (and the duration of the rides in USS!) more than make up for it. Call it quality for your money.


Ate My Way Around Singapore

I absolutely enjoyed Singapore's food. Everything suited my palate, from the coffee, kaya toast, and soft-boiled eggs breakfast at Killiney Kopitiam on my first day, up to the sumptuous steak lunch at Marche's on my last. (That's everything except for KFC's hot and spicy chicken, because ours taste better).

KILLINEY KOPITIAM

Breakfast was the first order of the day. A few blocks away from the hotel was Killiney Kopitiam. An unassuming, traditional coffee shop lined up with the other restaurants along Killiney Road. The ambiance reminded us of Bacolod's Kaffe Sadtu
At 9 in the morning, all the tables were occupied by Singaporeans and foreigners alike, all dressed for work. We shared a table with a lady who was poring over the morning's paper.
The usual order was coffee or tea, with 4 slices of kaya (coconut egg jam) toast, and two soft-boiled eggs. I had to figure out how to eat a soft-boiled egg. Apparently, you crack the egg and put it in a bowl, add seasoning, and eat it like porridge.

GOLDILOCKS AT USS

Our first lunch was in Goldilocks, one of the food joints at Universal Studios. Thanks to MasterCard, we had SGD12 coupon for food. Who knew that even the normal food joint served great fried chicken? The chicken tasted like it was drenched in herbs before frying.
My Mama Bear order - 2-pc chicken with mashed potatoes and Aaron's chicken burger and crisscross fries
Photo from here

AH-TAI CHICKEN RICE

The timing was great because we were able to luckily witness interesting turn of events in Singapore's chicken rice industry. The top chicken rice in Maxwell Food Center, Tian Tian Chicken Rice, lost its chef due to a falling out with the owner.  Just recently, the chef opened his own chicken rice business, named Ah-Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice, just two stalls away from his previous employer. See newspaper article here.

It was fun watching the lunch time queue grow longer in front of both stalls. I usually don't like chicken unless it's fried crisp and golden plus the hainanese chicken I've tried here in Manila were not too enjoyable for my taste buds. However, Singapore's authentic chicken rice looked too good to pass up. It was hard choosing where to get my first chicken rice but since the queue was longer in front of Ah-Tai, we joined the crowd and fell in line.

 Tian-Tian chicken rice located two stalls away- Ah-Tai even had a different take on the white and blue combination
Displaying their triumph in front of the stall - Ah-Tai still wins!

The chicken had a special sauce poured on top and the rice was fragrant and delicious, I think it could actually be eaten on its own. Now, the chicken. The chicken strips were tender, boneless, and tasty up to the last bite. Aaron said that it was better than the one he tried near his hotel. Could it be that I just tasted the best chicken rice in the whole of Singapore? Up to now, the chicken rice war continues.

An order of chicken rice and veggies plus a mug of soya drink = filling lunch!

LAO BAN SOYA BEANCURD

Walking around Maxwell Food Center, we found another long queue in front of Lao Ban Soya Beancurd. Full as we were, we still had some room for what looked like dessert. We had doubts if we still wanted to line up, but seeing locals buy 10 containers each of beancurd, we were sold.

It was a cold soy pudding with the sweetness just enough to make you want to eat more.  That explains why the locals were buying in bulk.

LAU PA SAT

Another must-visit place is Lau Pa Sat, the hawker center along Raffles Quay. We had char kway teo, pulled noodles with chicken strips, and sticks of chicken and mutton satay for lunch. Lau Pa Sat had a variety of food stalls to choose from, so we based our selections from newspaper clippings posted on their stalls and who was named best in their category (based from our Ah-Tai experience!). If you suddenly find yourself craving for Filipino food (which I did not), you can find familiar Pinoy dining experience at Baliwag, Tapa King, and other Pinoy food stalls.

NO SIGNBOARD SEAFOOD RESTAURANT

For dinner, we went all the way to Singapore's red light district, Geylang. Not too see where the red light is though, but to dine at No Signboard Seafood Restaurant. We had no other thing in mind but to order their version of chili crab. 

Yang chow fried rice with crispy shrimp bits on top
Chili crab = King crab swimming in curry! I know it looks small in the photo, but the serving is for  4 people
We seriously doubted our ability to finish the whole thing. When someone asked if we wanted to get fried buns, we said no. Who eats rice and crab with fried buns? Well, that was the biggest mistake of the night!! Do not make the same mistake. We have been told that the best part of eating chili crab is dipping the fried buns in the curry sauce. Too bad we did not know.
Nevertheless, we finished everything more than an hour later. I love seafood and No Signboard's chili crab was the best crab dish I ever had.  It was better than Red Crab and Seaside and all the seafood paluto joints combined. I have to say thank you to Aaron for taking me here and letting me indulge in cracking and poking and sucking every bit of crab flesh.

MAKANSUTRA

On Saturday night, we met friends Veng and Caloy, and had dinner at the buzzing Makansutra, near Marina Bay Sands. We were told that it was difficult to get a table especially on a Saturday night, but we must have been lucky (or just really quick to dodge and grab a table) because we got ours in less than a few minutes. It was a big dinner of crispy prawns, mussels, chicken, and a huge plate of fried rice.  We were all damp and sweaty, but who cares when you're eating good greasy food? Haha.

CHIJMES

For drinks and my dose of music, we found our way to Chijmes. We walked from Marina Bay Sands, used the GPS, and literally found our way to Chijmes. I felt weird entering a huge convent, and what's even weirder, is drinking a beer beneath a huge cross! Thanks to Veng and Caloy for dragging us to Chijmes! After 2 buckets of beer, we ended the night, again finding our way but this time to the hotel. It is a walkable city, and I just love doing long walks.

MARCHé

On my last day, we met another good friend Sha for her birthday lunch. Thanks to Sha for taking us to Marché at 313Somerset along Orchard Road. Entering Marché was like entering a playground, where your eyes glimmer at the sight of fresh food ingredients and you just don't know where to start.  We went around a couple of times before finally deciding what to get. It is so very easy to fall prey to the habit of getting more than what you can actually eat.

I finally decided to get a Swiss Cervelat sausage, Aaron had a sirloin steak, and we also ordered a couple of bread varieties while Sha had her usual Swiss Rosti. Do come in early if you plan to have lunch here since the line tends to get quite long. The lunch at Marché was a break from all the Asian dishes I had from the previous days.

And that ends my lengthy 4-day food journal.  Looking at the photos makes my mouth water again. I think I gained a couple of pounds (again!) when I got back.

Crystal Beach: Quick Camping Fix

And an excuse to take a shiny, red pickup truck on a roadtrip.
We were toying with the idea of visiting the municipalities around Laguna de Bay. But the planning was a bit too tedious. So, we ditched the plan and opted to visit Crystal Beach in San Narciso, Zambales instead.

After a few U-turns, shouting bouts with the GPS, almost driving through a couple of boats straight to the sea, and waking up a fishing community in the process because the truck was stuck in soft sand, we finally made it to Crystal Beach at 5 in the morning. By the way, for some reason Google Maps shown the shore as a road. With everyone of us not knowing where to go, we naturally followed Google maps and ended up almost kissing the sea. See the tire tracks here? We went all the way. The moon was so bright it looked perfect for a melodramatic suicide scene.

The guard accommodated us and assisted us in choosing the spot to pitch our tents at. We were the first to arrive and the place was deserted.  Camping rate is at P150 per head. It was dark and we all decided to catch some sleep first. When the sun rose and and shone, we went ahead and bought food supplies from the town's market.


First agenda of the day: Brunch. It's a good thing that my friends are great at cooking! Camping is always better when you are with people who cook really well and who come up with not just the usual camp food. A particular person who made several bowls of leche flan at the campsite in Mt. Pulag came up often in the conversation. Gusto ko na sya makilala. As usual, since  I am admittedly not good at anything related with food preps, the only help I gave was to stay away 🙂

It was a big brunch of tuyo, sauteed hotdogs, sinigang na isda, and scrambled eggs!

The harsh midday sun made it hard for us to resist the ice-cold beer in the chest.

We had a great campsite. We were on a spot covered by the pine trees, with a long table to fit of all of us right smack in the middle, a couple of steps away near the restroom, with a hammock hanging nearby, right beside the pump for washing, and with a grilling area right at the back.

The sun finally decided to simmer down a bit and it was time to swim!

The beach was a pleasant surprise. There are nipa huts right in front of the sea, perfect for staying still and staring at the horizon. The water was warm and the gray sand was soft enough to walk on.


Farther along the shore, the sand was even finer. I'm fine with any color as long as the grains are..well, fine. 🙂 Walking barefoot on soft sand is enough to make me feel that I certainly am on vacation. At the far end of the shore, we found the place where fresh water meets the sea. 

It instantly turned into our very own infinity pool, complete with crabs for our entertainment. We made fun by splashing water at small crabs. They looked funny at eye-level.

We spent a good fraction of our time in this pool just laughing it all out. By the time it was sunset, we were already on our way back to the camp. Our self-appointed chefs immediately put themselves to work. We had a feast for dinner! Liempo and tuna parcel for the night! The night ended with us dragging a friend back to the tent and me sleeping on the hammock, right under the pine trees.

The night was made even more fun by a couple more beers, a few more games of Monopoly, and tons of well, life-changing discussions.Haha. Lots of laughter. A few muni-muni moments. Plenty of drinks. Good food. Great company. It was a perfect weekend getaway.

HOW TO GET TO CRYSTAL BEACH 

Victory Liner has regular trips to Iba, Zambales. Get off at the town of San Narciso, Zambales and ride a tricycle to Crystal Beach. Visit the Crystal Beach site for inquiries about their room rates, reservations, and how to get there using private transport.

Cagayan: Caving Capital

Spelunking is a highly challenging activity, but the awe-inspiring experience I get in return is more than enough a reward. The stalactites and stalagmites that meet to form a column, the life inside the cave, and the thought of vast connections underneath the land that we walk on never fail to amaze me. That is coming from someone who has only done spelunking twice, both in the famous Lumiang and Sumaging Caves in Sagada, and watched Discovery Channel's Planet Earth's Final Frontier: Caves in HD.
Cagayan, with more than 300 caves, is aptly named as the Caving Capital of the Philippines. The original plan was to visit Sierra Cave, as recommended by Ivan Henares during the Asia Society Philippine Foundation lecture. I called them up prior to going to Cagayan but I was informed that it is necessary to secure a permit from the DENR office to explore the Sierra Cave. Unfortunately, we were going to visit on a holiday and government offices were closed.
We decided to visit Sierra's more popular neighbor instead, Callao Cave. This is probably one of the most visited caves in the country. From Tuguerarao City, we hired a traysi (the usual tricycle) to the Penablanca Traysi Terminal and from there, we waited for 4 more passengers to load the traysi bound to Penablanca.  A traysi can fit up to 7 passengers.
Penablanca is almost an hour's ride from Tuguegarao City. We were cruising half of the time along a national road and the next half was spent on a dirt road. We passed by the Pinacanauan River, packed with families taking their sweet time swimming in the river. The driver took us to the Callao Caves Resort. 
Callao Cave is located across the Pinacanauan River. Boats take guests from both sides of the river for P20 per way. Across the river, guests are met by tour guides of the Callao Eco Tourism Zone. 
Hiring a tour guide is optional, but is highly recommended, to benefit both the local industry and the guests as well. Our tour guide was Wilber Bancud (Contact No: 63926.378.44.79), an eloquent and very accommodating one. We climbed a flight of stairs going up to the cave's huge opening. It felt like entering a stadium.

Enormous entrance
Callao Cave is composed of seven chambers (domes) and five skylights (open ceilings). Right at the entrance of the cave is the excavation site where archaeologists found a 67,000-year-old foot bone, possibly the oldest fossil found in the entire Asia-Pacific region. 
Here are photos of the most photographed area of the cave, the Chapel Chamber:
                           The altar up front                                                                                      First skylight
Beyond the Chapel Chamber are magnificent formations, all splendidly lighted by the cave's skylights. See a human skeleton, Singapore's Merlion, a lion turned towards the light, a rocket ship, and a calcite stalactite to name a few.

Now this one right here is not a natural wonder formed over thousands of years. It would have been nice to see writings on the wall by our ancestors but to see something like "Magat Family" etched in the wall is just too frustrating. 
Callao Cave, magnificent and huge as it is, is still under the mercy of men. The walls of the cave being green does not necessarily mean you could write on it like you did on a board in elementary. It pisses me off just thinking about the vandals on the wall again.
Exploring the Callao Cave is as easy as a walk in the park, with occasional uphill climbs and moderately steep descends. It is a good thing that the cave is easily accessible to everyone because adults and kids alike can learn and marvel at nature's work, but what would make it better is if someone takes the responsibility to educate and let the people know that it takes thousands of years for something amazing to come to life but all it takes is a few seconds to ruin it. As Wilber said, the government of Cagayan is working its best to promote and preserve the cave at the same time.

Tuguegarao: Hot and Humid Pancit Country

Believe the weatherman when he says that the temperature is highest in Tuguegarao.  

We woke up early morning in the island of Palaui and after a quick breakfast, we proceeded to see the falls. The falls is easily reachable by a short 30-minute trek from the Bayanihan Hall.  
A few photos here and there then we made it back to San Vicente port. We decided to eat lunch at the carinderia near the van terminal. It is interesting how there is a pancitan (noodle shop) in every corner. Cagayan is one of those places where there is a widespread love for a particular food, much like Iloilo, where I marveled at how manukan/inasal (grilled chicken) businesses prosper with each of them sitting side-by-side in every nook.

We were eating Pancit Batil Patung when a family came in. When it was time to order, all the 4 kids screamed "Pancit! Pancit!". Cagayan really is a Pancit Country!

Pancit Batil Patong


I am sure pancit lovers would enjoy both Pancit Batil Patong and Pancit Cabagan, but for someone like me who loves nothing but a good, old, moist Pancit Bihon, a huge plate is more than enough. My companion likes Pancit Canton so let's just say that our first taste of the Batil Patong made us yearn for our usual favorite pancit variety.

The first trip from Sta.Ana to Tuguegarao is at 3AM, with a van leaving every 30mins. Last trip is at 1PM. We were just in time for the last van to the city. Unfortunately, the van's AC was not working. It was filled up to its capacity of 14 persons, so imagine how hot and humid it was inside. I tried to sleep the 3-hr ride away but I kept waking up in sweat. 
Finally, we made it to Tuguegarao! We checked-in at the first hostel we saw. We asked to view the rooms first but the man-in-charge said "Ok naman ung mga rooms." We should have taken that as a sign! In an attempt to quickly take shelter from the scorching hot sun, we said yes. This hostel was not the spookiest I've ever stayed at (the one in Surigao tops my list) but it was definitely creepy. I have no qualms in basking under the sun or sleeping in a non-AC room but it was unusually hot in Tuguegarao and all I wanted was to lie down and turn the AC on, full blast.
The next day we decided to check-in at Pensione Joselina. It was cheaper than the first hostel we stayed  at plus it did not have a haunted house appeal to it. After watching American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance? marathons, it was time to finally brave the hot, hot weather.
First Agenda: Give the Pancit Batil Patung and Pancit Cabagan a second chance.
There were 2 suggestions for the best panciteria in town. We first went to Gretchen's but too bad it was closed on a Black Saturday. Next stop: Budyok's. Luckily, it was open for business.

                                Welcome to Budyok's!                                                         Very affordable!

       
We had a huge lunch of Super Special Pancit Cabagan, Super Pancit Batil Patong, halo-halo, and longsilog. 

Pancit Cabagan
Pancit Batil Patong
So what's the difference between the two? Sadly, I do not have taste buds made to dissect food. I liked the itlog pugo, chicharon, and lechon. Batil Patong uses miki noodles while Cabagan is made of canton noodles. Naturally, Aaron liked the Pancit Cabagan while I stayed fiercely loyal to my beloved pancit bihon. I gobbled up all the toppings though. The Vigan longganisa was terrific. It made me wish I could take a kilo of longganisa goodness home.
Budyok's Halo-Halo is reminiscent of that of Razon's. There were only a few toppings (mango slices, corn, leche flan, and 2 Pandan Stick-Os) but the dessert was refreshing and perfect for getting through the summer heat.
It took us a while to finish our lunch. The servings were huge. Our stomachs were full until the end of the day.
By 1PM, we went off to complete the day's second agenda: visit the famed Callao Cave.
Budyok's Panciteria is located at  corner Legaspi and College Avenue Extension, Centro 8, Tuguegarao City. Ride a traysi from any point in the city. Fare is P10 per person.