October 28, 2013

Up in the North: Sagada, Mountain Province

Not much has changed since my first visit to Sagada, which must have been more than five years ago. Granted that most of the roads have already been cemented and that mobile signals are a bit more stable, the town proper and sights to see remained pretty much the same.

The main reason why I decided to visit Sagada again is that I recently learned that there is more to the place than the usual trekking and caving that it is known for. Due to its fertile mountain soil, there are various fruits and plants that you can harvest, depending on the month of the year. Colder months like February yield blueberries, while wetter months like August yield mushrooms. Supposedly, you can even find "medicinal" herbs and fungi in Sagada (if you know what I mean). What I was most interested in was the orange-picking season which happens during the latter part of the year.

How to Get There (from Manila)

There are two main routes going to Sagada from Manila:
  • Manila - Baguio - Sagada
  • Manila - Banaue - (Bontoc) - Sagada

The former route is the faster one, while the latter route is the more scenic one. Unfortunately, there is no non-stop trip to Sagada (unless, of course, you're bringing your own vehicle). While it is relatively safe to travel to Sagada via private vehicle, it is perfectly logical to travel via public transport. Drivers that travel to and from Sagada on scheduled trips are no doubt familiar with each curve of the roads that cut through the mountains.

We opted the Manila - Banaue - Sagada route going to, and the Sagada - Baguio - Manila route going from.

Manila - Banaue - (Bontoc) - Sagada

There are a lot of searchable public buses online that offer scheduled trips for this route, and for our trip we chose Ohayami Trans, the reason being the website of this bus line is by far the most comprehensive and informative. The website also details contact numbers wherein the staff actually respond to your inquiries in a timely manner, a big plus point for me. They were even kind enough to extend our reservation period as we were going to be a little late. To date, a ticket to Banaue costs 450 PHP.

Earliest trip from Manila is 9PM (usually during peak season), and the trip to Banaue takes around 9 hours.

When you reach Banaue, there are three options commuting to Sagada: via local bus, via jeepneys, and via private van. Some points to consider:
  • Banaue has a small town proper, and the jeep/ bus terminals are usually found at the side of the national highway. While it may be daunting at first to choose which mode of transportation to use, you can always ask around just as long as you are able to do you research beforehand.
  • You may opt for a cut-ride to Bontoc, then from Bontoc to Sagada. There are jeepneys that go this route.
  • Since travel to and from Sagada isn't that as hectic, travel schedules are spaced one hour apart, at the minimum. So make sure to schedule your time accordingly.
  • Related to the point above, most modes of transportation require a minimum number of passengers (i.e. 4 to 6 pax). If your travelling during an off-peak season, expect that there will be a scarcity of tourists, ergo you might need to pay more for the transport.

For our trip, we chose to hire a private van, since the schedules of the local bus and jeepneys start in the afternoon pa. The private van cost 3,000 PHP, and since we were travelling during off-peak season, there were only four (4) of us in the van.
So we just made sure that the van stopped at all the viewpoints possible, para kahit papaano masulit naman 'yung biyahe.

Travel from Banaue to Sagada takes around four hours.

View from the balcony of People's Lodge and Restaurant, where we had our breakfast.

Some local Igorots who are willing to pose for a photo, for a humble donation.

More views of the rice terraces.

The roads are quite scary especially during the rainy season,
where there is a high risk of landslides.

October 26, 2013

Hong Kong: Off the Beaten Path

For those who've had their fill of the usual tourist spots in Hong Kong, i.e. Victoria's Peak, Hong Kong Disneyland, Mong Kok Night Market, and Causeway Bay Harbour, here are other places to consider visiting.

Of course, it goes without saying that there's always the option of shopping. Lots and lots of shopping.

Ngong Ping 360

Opened in 2006, Ngong Ping 360 is a fairly new tourist attraction that offers various cultural and ecological sightseeing experiences. It is located at Lantau island, and among its highlights are a 5.7km cable car ride and a giant Buddha on top of  a 268-step hill.


How To Get There
Technically, the park grounds are located on the other side of the mountain so you really have to travel via cable car. The most convenient way to get to the cable car terminal is via MTR, Tung Chung Line, Tung Chung Station. It is a two-minute walk from Exit B.  

Opening Hours
Weekdays: 10am to 6pm
Weekends 9am to 6:30pm

Visitors can have the option to buy tickets at the Cable Car terminal or online. Adult rates are as follows:

Cable Car
Round Trip
Standard Cabin: 135 HKD
Crystal Cabin: 213 HKD
Single Trip
Standard Cabin: 94 HKD
Crystal Cabin: 149 HKD

Day Pass (Includes round trip cable car ride, unlimited NLB bus rides and Tai O boat excursion)
Standard Round Trip Cable Car: 200 HKD
Crystal Cabin Round Trip Cable Car: 278 HKD
1 + 1 Standard and Crystal Round Trip Cable Car: 255 HKD

Guided Tour (Includes Ngong Ping Village, Po Lin Monastery, Big Buddha, Tai O Fishing Village with boat excursion, Ngong Ping Piazza)
Standard Cabin: 338 HKD
Crystal Cabin: 398 HKD

Private Cabin (Includes Round-trip cable car ride in private cabin, fast lane for ticket purchase, priority boarding and free admission to Ngong Ping Village's Walking with Buddha attractions_
Standard Cabin: 3,000 HKD per cabin
Crystal Cabin: 3,600 HKD per cabin


What to Do

The Ngong Ping 360 website has a suggested itinerary that you can follow, depending on your purpose of visit (i.e. nature sightseeing, culture sightseeing, shopping, etc). Additional tips for day visitors:
  • Opt for the Crystal Cabin going to Ngong Ping 360, and the Standard Cabin going back. The Crystal Cabin is a must-do experience best done in full daylight (and full energy), so the best time to do it is at the start of the day.
  • Plan your visit during clear weather. Especially if you plan to visit the big Buddha, you have to visit when the weather is good as there is a tendency for the big Buddha to be covered with clouds.
  • Check out the Ngong Ping website for special shows and announcements. There are times where there are cultural performances such as Kung Fu exhibitions, so to make the most of your visit you may want to time it accordingly.
  • Bring lots of water and energy bars! The park is HUGE, and there are some areas where you have to trek a bit in order to get there. So stamina is a must.

Din Tai Fung - Silvercord branch

Din Tai Fung is a Michelin Star awardee, best known for its Xiao Long Bao. The original restaurant is in Taiwan, but since then it has made its way to Hong Kong.

I'm no expert in food, but it isn't often that I am able to eat at Michelin Star-awarded restaurants, so for me this is a must-try experience.

There are five types of Xiao Long Bao in the menu, namely:
  • Pork Xiao Long Bao
  • Crab Roe and Pork Xiao Long Bao
  • Chicken Xiao Long Bao
  • Angled Loofah and Shrimp Xiao Long Bao
  • Truffle and Pork Xiao Long Bao

I've tried the Pork and the Crab Roe and Pork, and among the two, I like the Crab Roe and Pork more (but both are delicious). Being a Michelin Star restaurant, expect that the consistency of taste in each dish remains the same.

I forgot the price range of the dim sum, but expect to shell out at least 50 HKD per order. They have an English menu, and English-speaking staff, and even English instructions on how to eat the Xiao Long Bao, so you do not have to worry about the language barrier in this restaurant.

Quick Tip: This restaurant fills up easily during meal hours so it is best that you queue on early lunch or early dinner so you don't have to fall in line too long.