Friday, January 29, 2016

Siargao, an island 45 minutes from Cebu by plane, is one of the easternmost islands of the Philippines. It used to be unknown in the tourism scene until it was featured by famous surfing photographer John Callahan in the 1990’s. Since then, tourism in the island has boomed because of clear waters, tidal pools, and its surfing scene.

Nature’s Best. Magpupungko’s Tidal Pool.

Tourists can take their pick among the island’s attractions. For starters, there is Mapupungko Pool. Mapupungko is a tidal pool that is shielded from the Pacific Ocean by a reef barrier. The pool itself is calm and clear, and perfect for those who want a more mellow experience of the waters. It is one of the most visited natural attractions in the island. The water is so inviting that you’d want to dip in it once you see it.

Crafted by time. The rock formations of Magpupungko

There are also other islands scattered around the main island of Siargao. one of them, Naked Island, is exactly as the name suggests: bare of vegetation; just white sand and blue sea all around. In contrast to Naked Island, Guyam Island offers a lush clump of vegetation for tourists. It is secluded and uninhabited (except by the island’s caretakers), with a sandy beach on one side and a rocky beach on the other. Most island hopping tours start in Naked Island and end in Guyam Island, where tourists can stay and watch the sunset. Tourists can stay the night in one of the islands; the fishing communities in Daku Island offer huts for anyone who wants to spend the night. Boats can be rented from the port of General Luna.

Big Island. A view of Daku Island from an approaching passenger boat. Photo by Rogelio Gabiano Jr. of Pinoy Travel Freak

Bare. Siargao’s Naked Island. Photo by Rogelio Gabiano Jr. of Pinoy Travel Freak

All that turquoise water isn’t good unless you can plunge into it. Siargao has its share of coral reefs and dive spots like many other beaches in the Philippines. There are many dive shops that offer gear rentals and diving crash courses for brave and adventurous tourists.

Uninhabited. Guyam Island is mostly covered by coconut trees. Photo by Ayn Latonio of  Nurse-issistic Traveller

White. The white sand of Guyam Island as seen from afar. Photo by Ayn Latonio of  Nurse-issistic Traveller

To the west of Siargao is the town of Socorro. It is best known for Bucas Grande, also known as Sohoton Cove National Park. It is accessible via ferry from the Dapa port in Siargao and costs about 100 pesos. From Socorro, there are boats that can be hired to Bucas Grande. Bucas Grande is composed of a network of limestone islands, some of which are still unexplored. The scene is framed by virgin mangrove forests and clear blue waters with white sand beaches. Some islands house limestone caves where tourists can visit the resident cluster of bats. Sohoton Cove is also famous for its lagoon filled with stingless jellyfish that swim around the water like a living lava lamp. Sohoton Cove is declared as a protected area of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Unexplored. The islands of Bucas Grande

One of a kind. A stingless jellyfish at Sohoton Cove National Park. Photo by Jefferson Balon

As one of the foremost tourist spots in the country, Siargao does not fall short of quality accommodations for tourists. The recently opened Siargao Bleu Resort and Spa offers guests with a relaxing experience to complete their stay on the island. The resort offers spa amenities and chic suites in modern architecture around a central pool. It also has a gym, bar and restaurant to complete the resort experience.  
 Chic. Siargao Bleu’s elegant accommodations.
Modern Architecture. Siargao Bleu’s swimming pool. 

What sets Siargao apart from other beach islands in the Philippines is its distinction as the surfing mecca of the south. It is a literal surfer’s paradise, with seven-foot waves available for most of the year (from September to May) in the clear blue waters of the Pacific. It’s odd to see people flocking to the beach in October, but that’s exactly what happens in Siargao every last quarter of the year. September/October marks the start of surfing season in Siargao, and surfers from all parts of the country head to its shores. The reason for their pilgrimage: the famed Cloud 9 surf beach. It is also at the start of the surfing season that the Siargao International Surfing Cup commences. Last year marks its 21st year, with surfers from Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, and the United States competing with local surfers for the prize. The prize was won by John Mark Tokong, an 18-year old local of Siargao Island. All in all, he won a total of 8,000 USD.

Stoked. One of the contenders of the 21st Siargao International Surfing Cup

Cloud 9. Siargao’s most popular surfing spot

If (and it’s a really big if) tourists ever get tired of frolicking in the waters, in that rarest chance that someone feels that he’s had enough of the beach; an inland adventure is always an option. Tourists can rent motorcycles to explore the villages to see what happens behind the scenes in the island. The lush rice fields dominate the villages, and provide a welcome contrast to the never ending coastline. Locals are always friendly and eager to talk, and might just lead curious people to off the beaten track destinations like the newly opened Tayangban Cave Pool in the town of Pilar, great for a midday dip.

Dive. A local boy dived into the cold water of the pool

Blue. The clear and clean water of Tayangban Cave Pool

If you’re looking for a place to eat in the Island, great choices from seafood to local and foreign cuisines are available. One must try Aventino’s Tricia – a three layer of thin crust pizza with cheese, meat and veggies. Pair it with a cold drink and you’ll have a satisfying meal after an exhausting island activity.

Overloaded. Affordable and tasty Aventino’s pizza

Siargao offers a unique balance of excitement and relaxation in one island. It is an ideal getaway for both the adventurous traveler and laid back tourist.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

With an increase of 11.67% from the year prior’s record of 4.8 million tourist visits, the Philippines’ tourist record rose to 5.26 million in 2015.

(L-R) DOT ASec. Arturo Boncato; Governor Edgar Chatto, Province of Bohol; Congressman Josef Franz Alvarez, Province of Palawan

In the same year, the country’s tourism income which was posted to be at $4.84 billion on 2014 has grown to become $5 billion the year after.

As per record, the Philippines’ top sources of visits came from the North-Eastern region of Asia, namely Japan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau which cumulatively comprised the almost 50% of the overall population of tourists (49.8%).

Quoting Arturo P. Boncato, Assistant Secretary of the Tourism Department during the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF), “Korea remains the top market with 24.99% share in total inbound traffic.”

Confident in the coming growth of tourism in the country, this year’s target number of tourists visiting the Philippines is expected to rise to as much as 6 million unique individuals.

Mr. Boncato added, “Our competitiveness ranking (in the 2015 Global Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum) improved because they’ve seen the Philippines to be very open: working on obstacles to people mobility and visa requirements have been relaxed.”

On the other hand, quoting the Philippine President, Benigno S.C. Aquino III while speaking at the recently held forum at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay, “[While] Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam lead the pack (in tourism), the rest -- the Philippines, included -- are catching up.”

With the purpose of bolstering tourism in the Philippines, the country’s focus last year was aimed at constructing and upgrading of airport in Puerto Princesa which was expected to expand on its former 350,000 carrying capacity to up to 2 million. It is slated to be finished sometime in 2018.
In other places like Bohol, it’s Panglao International Airport is said to be completed by 2017 which could cover to as much as 1.7 million people when finished.

Other airports which are currently going through a makeover, upgrade, or rebuilt includes the Davao Airport, Iloilo Airport, and Bacolod-Silay Airport, and plenty others more not mentioned.

Not just solely focused on airports and expanding on its capacity, other means to improve on tourism were also taken steps to such as the improvement on roads which leads to travel destinations and the application of the so-called “pocket open skies policy” which tries to liberalize the country’s airports but with the sole exception of the heavily congested Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Tourism officials from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member-countries updated the members of the press on how tourism in their respective countries performed in 2015 and the forecasts to meet in 2016 during the recently concluded ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) in Manila, Philippines.

The Philippines
The Philippines has recorded an 11.67% increase in international tourist arrivals from 4.8 million in 2014 to 5.36 million in 2015. Revenue receipts from the tourism industry also grew from $2.43 billion in 2008 to $5 billion in 2015. The Philippine government is expecting to see greater number this year. The target is pegged at 6 million foreign arrivals.

Arturo Boncato, DOT Assistant Secretary

Department of Tourism (DOT) Assistant Secretary Arturo Boncato revealed that the Philippines’ top source market is Northeast Asia (Japan, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau) which accounted for 49.8% of total arrivals. 

“Korea remains the top market with 24.99% share in total inbound traffic,” Boncato added during the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) media briefing. South Korea is followed by USA, Japan, China, Australia, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Canada, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and Germany.

An estimated 4.8 million tourists visited Cambodia in 2015, up by 6 percent from the 4.5 million visitors in 2014, Ministry of Tourism Undersecretary of State So Visothy said during the Cambodia NTO media briefing.

So Visothy, Cambodia's Ministry of Tourism Undersecretary of State

Cambodia's top inbound markets are: Vietnam, China, Lao PDR, South Korea, Thailand, Japan, USA, Malaysia, France and Australia.

Cambodia's forecast for 2016 is between 7.8-8 million visitors.

Brunei Darussalam
While most of the ASEAN member-countries gained an increase in tourist arrivals, Brunei Darussalam experienced a significant decrease in figures in 2015 compared to the previous year. Total air arrivals in 2015 is at 105,789 compared to 200,989 in 2014 (land arrivals not counted). Top inbound markets are: Malaysia, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

Ak Zulkhairi Pg Abdul Razak, Tourism Officer - Marketing and Promotion Centre, Brunei

The country is expected to boost the numbers in the current year. The country has now established the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism from Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources

Sounh Manivong of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism shared that Lao People's Democratic Republic attracted 3.4 million foreign visitors in first three quarters of 2015. He said, it's on track to beat 2014's 4.1 million tourists.

Sounh Manivong, Director General of the Tourism Development Department

Manivong also announced that Laos has recently opened 24 international checkpoints, mostly on the Thai border, which will provide visas upon arrival. Thailand remains the top inbound market of Laos. 

During the media briefing, Manivong also clarified that the Laos-Myanmar friendship bridge is already completed but border crossing is still not possible as of the moment.

Singapore has recorded an increase in international tourist arrivals by 0.4% as of the January-November period. Oliver Chong, Executive Director of Communications & Marketing Capability of the Singapore Tourism Board shared that the country has attracted 13.8 million visitors.

Oliver Chong, Executive Director, Communications & Marketing Capability

Singapore's top inbound markets are: Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Australia, India, Japan, Philippines, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, USA, UK, Vietnam, Taiwan and Germany.

Malaysia has experienced a decline in tourist arrivals in 2015 by about 7% compared to the previous year, amid political instability. The country's Ministry of Tourism remains hopeful that the figures will go up this year as they are positioning Kuala Lumpur as an "affordable luxury destination". 

YBhg. Dato' Abdul Khani Daud, Deputy Director General - Advertising & Digital

Malaysia targets 36 million tourists in 2020 from 24 million in 2009. It also hopes to increase its tourists receipts to RM168 billion from RM53 billion in 2009. 

Arief Yahya, Minister of Tourism of the Republic of Indonesia revealed that the government's target of tourist arrivals in 2015 was achieved with over 10 million arrivals. The tourism industry contributed about USD11.2 billion in foreign exchange in the same year.

Rizki Handayani, Director of Promotions for Southeast Asia and Arief Yahya, Minister of Tourism

Yahya gladly announced that their "Wonderful Indonesia" branding is at 47th position based on 2015 country brand strategy rating. With a more aggressive marketing campaign and promotion, the country expects to move up its ranking in the coming year.

Vietnam has seen strong growth of international tourists from 2006 to 2015. From 3.4 million in 2006, it reaches 7.94 million in 2015. It recorded an annual growth average of 9.25%.

Le Tuan Anh, Deputy Director General of Tourism Marketing Department

For the first time, South Korea reached over 1 million inbound tourists although China is still the top inbound market of Vietnam followed by south Korea, Japan, US, Taiwan, Malaysia, Russia, Australia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand, UK and France.

Vietnam targets 8.5 million tourist arrivals this year. It will focus its efforts and campaign on promoting Phu Quoc Island and the Mekong Delta, both in the south of the country.

Myanmar's tourism is gaining momentum with 4.68 million arrivals in 2015 from 3.08 million a year earlier, up by a whooping 52%. The country is expecting five to six million in arrivals this year.

Aye Kyi Kyi, Tourism Consultant - Myanmar

By the year 2020, the tourism ministry is expecting 7 million arrivals, focusing on sustainable tourism.

Based on the figures presented during the NTO media briefing by the ASEAN member-countries, Thailand is the region's top tourist destination in 2015.

Dr. Uthasak Supasorn, Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand

"In 2015, the Thai tourism industry hit the highest record in our history both in terms of revenue and number of tourist arrivals. According to the preliminary figures of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Thailand received tourism revenue of 1.4 trillion Baht or around 42 billion US Dollars with the growth of 23 percent, and a total number of international visitor arrivals of 29.8 million, which was an increase of 20 percent over 2014" said Dr. Uthasak Supasorn, Governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).

"For this year, we will be focusing less on the number of visitor arrivals and more on attracting quality tourists. Therefore, we are targeting 2.4 trillion Baht or around 66.5 billion US dollars in revenue this year. Of that total, 1.5 trillion Baht or 43 billion US dollars will come from international markets and 850 billion Baht or 23.5 billion US dollars from domestic travel" Dr. Supasorn added.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

The opening of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Tourism Forum was graced by Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III on Wednesday, January 20.
President Benigno Aquino

In his speech during the opening ceremony of the ASEAN Tourism Forum (AFT) 2016 in Manila, the President said that the ASEAN region should maximize its tourism potential to further attract the international market. He said, “would it not be a more attractive value pack proposition to present tours that cover more, if not all ASEAN countries, in one sweep?”.
“After all, tourists who travel more than a day in order to experience Southeast Asia will likely not limit themselves to the Philippines alone. Visits to Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and perhaps each and every member state would probably factor into their itinerary,” he added.
The President also stressed that the ASEAN region has a huge potential in terms of tourism. He reported that tourist arrivals in the region reached 105.1 million in 2014, up by 42.4% from 73.8 million in 2010. Aquino also said that of those 105.1 million visitors, 49.22 million came from within ASEAN itself.
President Aquino with ASEAN Tourism Ministers

“The strong interest that our people had in visiting each other’s countries highlights a potential to accelerate the growth of intra-ASEAN tourism, which redounds to all our benefits; not only does it contribute to our respective growth agendas, it also fosters greater understanding and strengthens the ties that bind our people,” Aquino said.
Aquino also mentioned that the entire ASEAN region should capitalize on the positive effect brought by the ASEAN integration. He emphasized that the ASEAN integration made the 10-member nations a more attractive destination for visitors around the world.
President Aquino also made an appeal for regional cooperation in keeping a balance between tourism growth and the protection of rich natural resources.
“For a region that occupies only three percent of the Earth’s surface, we play hosts to practically the entire spectrum of natural attractions: from the most diverse coral reefs in the world, to the beautiful beaches, and the rich terrestrial biodiversity,” Aquino said.
“This requires us to maintain a delicate balance between harnessing these attractions for the economic benefit of our people while ensuring that succeeding generations are also allowed to do so,” he added.
“This also means that if I do get the chance to travel to any of the countries in ASEAN, I will be able to spend more time walking the streets and imbibing all of the cultural activities and visit even cultural sites at leisure, as opposed to the very hectic and fixed schedules I had as president,” he added.
Performers during the ATF 2016 Opening Ceremony
In my earlier blog post, there it was mentioned that the United States Potato Board (USPB) Philippines have begun their third campaign, the US Potato Safari, in Davao City, Philippines—with the goal of demonstrating to the audience the creativity and innovation of US Potato in line with the local food industry talents.

Yet again, having the same luck as everybody else who have been into the 3-day event, we took it a liberty to dine at one of the event’s intended destination – Claude's Le Cafe De Ville in Davao.

For its name alone, one would know that Claude's Le Cafe De Ville is a French restaurant for its French-sounding name. A heritage house by original design which may confused first-time goers of the place if not because of the sign “Claude's Le Cafe De Ville” attached to it, this charming restaurant set in a countrified area along JP Rizal is not as formal and intimidating simply knowing it is a foreign restaurant.

Having greeted personally by the chef himself, Claude Le Neindre, we were explicated with the chef’s personally curated menu which gives highlights to US potatoes as part of the recipes.

Chef Claude with the kitchen staff

The Appetizer

Giving the attendees something spicy to stimulate the appetite just right, the Chili Potato Cheese with Shrimps was served which is basically a combination of cheese taters and lush shrimps, everything in mix with a modest yet fiery sauce. Moderately served to tease even the non-hungry eaters, this appetizer will truly bring out anyone’s big appetite for foods.

In line with the Chili Potato Cheese with Shrimps is the Creamy Onion Potato Veloute which, from the outside, appears like everybody’s favorite gravy (but without something fried that comes with it), but is actually a soup. Essentially a caramelized blend with onion topped with brie (soft cow’s milk cheese) and potato crouton, Creamy Onion Potato Velouteis a dish not too common for any Filipino’s palate which gives a refreshing taste as an appetizer.

Giving something healthy to an already health set of appetizers, we were served with Salade Madayaw, which is basically a fruit and vegetable salad dressed with the tangy vinaigrette but with a little bit of highlight on the US potatoes.

Main Dish

Only quite filled yet with a lot of reservation for more great tasting foods, we dig in to what is supposedly the meal’s main dish, Pepper Steak in Hash Brown, which is basically a hamburger-inspired meal that instead of the bread and the patty is comprised of both grilled steak cooked medium sandwiched between two US potato hash browns. Not confusing with the soup that was one of the appetizers, this particular main dish does have its own gravy sauce that complements the dish.


It must be a French thing or the dessert, Potato Cheese Souffle, must be really not intended to be sweet. Either way, the dessert was the least appealing of all the dishes from the meal yet something that may appeal to others, apart from me. The French, perhaps?

Just as when the first of the two desserts was less sweet than expected, the chef make up for with the Potato Durian Pie a la Mode. Basically a combination of potato and durian in a pie topped with ice cream, this dessert did not disappoint with the sweetness department. You may either just like the pie or the ice cream topping, or both, but this dessert is a definite okay for me.

Following on the same success as the previous US Potato Safari conducted last year in Cebu, the United States Potato Board (USPB) Philippines has yet again held the same program for the third time around but this time at the country’s regarded “safest city” – Davao.

The program was aimed at promoting the local industry diners while at the same time showcasing US Potatoes at its most creative and innovative to its audience.

Joining the event, chosen bloggers from across the country have partaken the 3-day event alongside other media and bloggers local to Davao.

With Executive Sous Chef Alex Destriza at the helm of the second-day event, the participants were graced with a night dinner at Marco Polo Davao’s Polo Bistro.

Reji Retugal-Onal (L), Chef Alex Destriza of Marco Polo (M), Susan Weller (R)

With US Potato at its highlight, the menu was specially made for the safari attendees to enjoy.

The Appetizer

Just like any good meal, the attendees (including ourselves) were presented with an appetizer that is the US Potato Crisscut and Shrimp Cake, a combination of fruit salad (pomelo and singkamas), veggies (mint leaves, red and spring onions), US potato crosscut fries, and shrimp patty all stack together and mixed with an Asian chili dressing.

On another plate, we were served with the US Mashed Potato Soup infused with Turmeric which gives a light taste for every sip and a little bit of spice from the turmeric. While not highlighted for their names, this soup is more than just your potatoes and turmeric. Every plate of this soup contains diced salmons in it in addition to orange fruit as well as cream.

With the obvious intention of not to fill but to stimulate the appetite—hence the name, appetizer—both the foods mentioned have done a great work as far as keeping us attendees hooked for the coming meals which will complete it.

Main Dish

What is a good fulfilling meal without its fair share of the main dish on the table?

Following on the appetizers is the main course where we were served with a Honey Caramelized Pork Spareribs made special by adding into it an element of US Potato chili spiced wedges, cherry tomato confit, all of it dressed on cucumber mint and balsamic glaze syrup.

The Ultimate Dessert

Finishing on the full meal is no other than the dessert. Of all the available desserts in the event, the one clear winner was the US Potato Strawberry Cheese Cake mixed in with crumbled soft meringue, twister, potato crust, kiwi, strawberry, white chocolate cream sauce, and vanilla ice cream which truly stood out despite not adding durian into its mix.

With nine years of working experience at his disposal as earned by being the Sr. Sous Chef of The Peninsula Manila, Chef Alex Destriza is not your ordinary experienced Sous Chef but one that actually brings talent on the dining table which offers new experience and exciting meals to diners that keep them coming back for more.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Philippines is set to host the 35th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Tourism Forum (ATF) from January 18 to January 22. It is a cooperative effort aimed at promoting the region as a single tourist destination.

The annual gathering brings together member nations of the ASEAN: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Each year, the hosting of ATF is rotated among the ASEAN-member countries. This year, ATF marks its 35th anniversary since its inauguration in Malaysia in 1981.
It is the fourth time that the Philippines will host the ATF. It has previously hosted the ATF in 1987 in Manila, 1998 in Cebu and 2006 in Davao.
This year's theme is "One Community for Sustainability."
The 2016 forum will launch the new ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan (ATSP) 2016 - 2020. Jimenez explained that the new plan would work towards "the development and growth of the region's tourism" as well as "ensuring that this growth is grounded on responsible, sustainable, and inclusive tourism."

One of the highlights of this event is the Travel Exchange (TRAVEX), a series of daylong, one-on-one, business-to-business meetings between foreign buyers and ASEAN sellers of tourism products and services.

For more information and programme updates for ATF 2016, visit, #atf2016ph.