Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Much Ado in Puerto Princesa

Puerto Princesa City may be famous for its Underground River and Honda Bay (which I shall be writing about in a separate post), but to get to know more about the “The City in the Forest,” a city tour is imperative.

As part of our Puerto Princesa getaway last November, my friends and I had a four-hour tour of the city at PhP 600 per person. This is inclusive of air-conditioned van transfers, entrance fees, light snack and a tourist guide.

Here’s our itinerary:

Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral
The blue and white Cathedral is located along Rizal Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Puerto Princesa. Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral was built in the late 1800s by the Spaniards as evidenced by its architecture reminiscent of those times.  The Cathedral is also just near another tourist attraction, the Plaza Cuartel (which we weren't able to visit).

There was a wedding on that day, hence, the dress-up of the aisle in the photo below:

LRC 908 Market Mall
We then had a quick stop at the city’s pasalubong center, the LRC 908 Market Mall. It is located at Puerto Princesa North Road, near the airport.

LRC 908 Market Mall has both an air-conditioned and an open (tiange-type) area. You can find plenty of cashew nuts here—sweetened, salted, roasted, flavored (they even have a cashew spread which I really liked!).  You can also buy here all kinds, colors, sizes and designs of pearls at a very affordable price!

There are also various shirts, bags, key chains, handicrafts, dried fish and delicacies to choose from.

Mercado de San Miguel
This was not a part of our half-day city tour. But we went to Mercado de San Miguel for more pasalubong shopping on our own (ahead of the tour, actually). It is also located at Puerto Princesa North Road, near LRC Mall. It has all the items you can find in LRC, albeit Mercado de San Miguel has fewer items sold because tiange shops here are fewer and smaller. The plus factor however, is Mercado houses some really interesting restaurants like Gypsy’s Lair, Skybox and Isla Casoy.

Binuatan Creations
The group tour proceeded to Binuatan Creations in Employees Village, Sta. Monica (about 20 minutes away from the city proper). Here, you can have a hands-on experience in weaving indigenous plant fibers (such as buri, buntal or cogon) using a traditional loom.

For a first-timer like me, it was such a meticulous process and it might take months before I can finish any handloom woven item! Fortunately, the weaving center also has a souvenir shop where you can buy their finished export-quality creations (place mats, bags, hats, purses, etc) at a very reasonable price.

Butterfly Eco-Garden
The Butterfly Eco-Garden is also located in Sta. Monica. When we went there, we didn’t see as much butterflies but I guess most of the tourists were more interested on the other animals “present” in the garden such as scorpions, walking sticks, bearcat, Palawan Peacock and crocodile.

Tribal Village
The Tribal Village is part of the Butterfly Eco-Garden. There’s a short presentation from the indigenous tribe, Palaw-ans—like making fire, playing native musical instruments (e.g. kudyapi), using local weapon (e.g. supok) in hunting. You may also interact with them-- they really are a nice group!

They also have a huge python which you can place on your neck for a photo-op (This one, I wasn’t able to take a pic).

Mitra’s Ranch
Also in Sta. Monica is Rancho Santa Monica, popularly known as Mitra’s Ranch named after its owner, the late Philippine Senator Ramon Mitra.

We literally just passed by here (we didn’t get off the van) because there was a typhoon that day. The place is good for picnics or just strolling around. It also has a good view of the city and Honda Bay. Our guide, May, said that Mitra’s Ranch also has a zipline for those who want an added adventure.

Baker’s Hill
Near Mitra’s Ranch, along Mitra Road, Sta. Monica is Baker’s Hill, our last stop for the tour.  Here, one can buy the best hopia in Puerto Princesa. If you’re thinking of buying food as pasalubong, then a trip here is definitely worth it. They have delicious and reasonably priced breads and pastries. What I liked best was their ube crinkles!

Aside from the bakeshop, you can buy from their pizza and dessert shop. They also have a well-manicured garden, a playground, a mini zoo (they have Palawan Peacocks) and some interesting statues of movie characters.

Again, this is not part of the package tour. Since we still had ample time, we went to Baywalk in Sandoval Street, beside the Port of Puerto Princesa. This is Puerto Princesa’s version of Roxas Boulevard’s Baywalk—with makeshift restaurants lining up along Puerto Princesa Bay. We wanted to try the bikes for rent but it was raining so we just decided to take a stroll. It was nearing Christmas when we went here, thus the giant Christmas tree at the photo below:

The half-day city tour package (and our 4 days, 3 nights stay) was not enough! There are plenty of places to visit and activities to try--such as Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center (popularly known as the Crocodile Farm), Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm, Ugong Rock, Dolphin Watching and Firefly Watching—which warrants a second visit to this city.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Green ATS Restaurant in Tagaytay

After a challenging 3-day event at Taal Vista Hotel, our team had a sort of dinner celebration at Green ATS Restaurant. Of course, we wouldn’t want to leave Tagaytay without sampling the city’s famous dish—bulalo (beef shank and marrow bones simmered into a broth).

Green ATS Restaurant is located along the Tagaytay-Nasugbu Highway, after Bag of Beans when you’re coming from the Rotonda going towards Residence Inn. Green ATS is famous for its bulalo, tawilis (a kind of freshwater sardine found only in the Philippines) and its breathtaking view of the Taal Lake.

It was already 7:00 pm when we arrived so we were not able to see the view. But the restaurant, sitting along the ridge, has a nice traditional Filipino vibe—with fine wooden chairs/tables and some nipa huts.

Now, for the food--they basically serve traditional Filipino dishes. We had the following:

Special Bulalo (PhP 435, extra size which is good for 3-4 pax) —Perfect for the cold weather. Soup is savory. But it was mainly cabbage. Bone marrow is too big with almost no meat. The small piece of meat that I was able to get was tender though.
Fried Tawilis (PhP 125 for 10 pieces) – Just the right crispiness from the head to the bones. Dip it in spicy vinegar and eat it with steaming white rice and hot bulalo soup... perfect!
Kare-Kare (PhP 510, good for 5-6 pax) – I have tasted much better versions of this in other restaurants. This one has nothing much on it—just stew, cabbage, eggplant and oxtail
Pinaputok na Tilapia (PhP 285, good for 3 pax) – This one’s good.  Tilapia is stuffed with a generous amount of tomatoes, onions, and ginger. 
Grilled Liempo (Php 180, good for 2 pax) – It was so burnt and hard to chew
Chopsuey (PhP 155, good for 2 pax) - Good way to balance our meal with this nice mix of vegetables and some meat/seafood.
Pancit Bihon (Php 185, good for 3-4 pax) no meat P185 – The noodles was cooked just right and is flavourful.

For large groups, you can order their Steamed Rice Platter at PhP 185 which is already good for 5 – 7 persons.

Nothing fancy about their food but price is affordable. Downside is, it took about 45 minutes to prepare our orders. Also, if you are going to use the restroom, be prepared to use a tabo to get water from the faucet outside the cubicle.

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