Wednesday July 1, 2020

On and Off the Red Carpet
by Janet Susan R. Nepales



It is no wonder that the Conde Nast travel magazine always rates some of the islands in the Philippines as the top places to visit. Palawan, Boracay and Cebu have always been listed on their top 10 best islands to go to in the world.

And we are proud of it!

So it is no surprise that our fascination for our islands and our sense of adventure have grown more now that we are thousands of miles away from home. Last year, we visited Siargao, a tear-drop island in the Philippine Sea situated 196 kilometers southeast of Tacloban in the province of Surigao del Norte. Known as a surfing paradise, the coastline is marked by a succession of reefs, small points and white, sandy beaches, which the European tourists have discovered and easily fell in love with.

You can easily bump into these tourists on the island – lounging on the white sand beaches, riding their bikes at night on a narrow street, eating local food with the natives or simply walking leisurely and enjoying the laid back lifestyle. During our three-day stay at Siargao, we visited the Naked Island (called as such because it is almost bare of vegetation and not because of the naked tourists), Dacu Island (Big Island), and Guyam Island – an island where you can just meditate, enjoy the warm breeze in a hammock or lie down and take a nap on the sandy beach.

During our land trip to Siargao, we were also able to visit the Magpupungko rock formation and pool, where you can swim in the natural pools or enjoy the view of the rock formations. Also, the Maasin coconut and palm tree mountain were amazing, as they had breathtaking views of coconut and palm trees. The latter has been a favorite Instagram photo op as well of tourists.

Siargao’s ambiance also reminded us of Bali with its laid back atmosphere as well as its cultural offerings.

From Siargao, we revisited Boracay. We were lucky to have visited Boracay in the early 1980s when it was still untouched and local hotels did not even have electricity. At night, we just used oil lamps and there was no air conditioning. The cool breeze was made available by opening your windows or staying under the shady coconut trees.

This time, it was Boracay after the official closure and clean-up of the city. The beaches were much cleaner and free of plastic bags and bottles. The citizens of Boracay have become more proactive, just like their counterparts in Palawan, in saving the environment from being destroyed and trashed with plastic everywhere.

Boracay, for us, remains the number one in having the best white sand beaches on the islands and the best warm blue waters.

Flying back to Manila via Cebu Pacific, we stayed at the Rockwell area, our usual haunt, as we are reminded of the luxury of living in Los Angeles. Everything in this place is within walking distance- from your favorite restaurant to the bank, to the supermarket, from the neighboring topnotch salon to the mall.

While in Manila, our first cousin Helen Limcaoco and her hubby TG hosted an amazing dinner in a formal setting held at one of the Manila Peninsula’s breathtaking suites. Helen made sure she had everything in order from the name tags on the table to the beautiful setting to the sumptuous food with a personalized menu. TG offered a gracious toast to me and my husband Ruben, the “balikbayans.”

We invited some of our friends to enjoy the evening and we were lucky to have them that night. So, we had our press friends Nestor Cuartero and wife Cecile, our friends in the entertainment business like Celeste Legaspi, Nonoy Gallardo, Mitch Valdes, Vince Nebrida, Doris Torres, Senedy Que, Girlie Rodis and San Diegobased fashion designer Kenneth Barlis who was also in town for his grandmother’s birthday.

From Manila, we went to Tagaytay where we met my family, the Rodriguez clan, and enjoyed the lunch hosted by my architect-brother Vicente “Jun” Rodriguez and my sister-in-law Carol in their newly built house in Tagaytay Highlands.

With a breathtaking view of the Taal Volcano, Jun’s vacation house had an infinity pool with amazing views. He even built an elevator for my 87-year-old father, Vic Rodriguez, Sr., who was already having a hard time climbing the stairs in Jun’s two-story house.

Gatherings like this, of course, meant sumptuous Filipino-inspired meals. We enjoyed the lechon, karekare, sisig, fresh fish, laing, and lots of local fruits for dessert. They knew we loved mangoes and lanzones so that was abundant on the table that day.

(Our visit was before the Taal Volcano erupted and we were thankful to find out that my brother’s house was spared and was not damaged. The Rodriguezes were also safe in their Manila homes.)

After Tagaytay, we drove back to Manila to prepare for our first trip to Thailand.

We decided to visit Phuket and chose to stay in Patong Beach. Just like the beaches in the Philippines, the white sand beaches of Phuket were very inviting. We also enjoyed walking the streets at night and discovering Thai food and culture that we do not see in the U.S.

After three days in Phuket, we took a flight to Bangkok and visited Buddhist temples and the well-known Floating Market. We enjoyed the various sights, sounds and food that the Floating Market offered and enjoyed the leisurely boat ride while we ate Thai food and haggled with the vendors for some souvenirs.

At night, we took the tuk tuk, which is a form of transportation in Bangkok similar to what Filipinos call tricycles. In a busy street of Bangkok which reminded us of a scene from the movie “The Hangover,” one can avail of street food, or walk into a restaurant to eat or people watch. Vendors hover around you selling their crafts while massage parlors are in every nook and cranny offering foot massages out in the open street.

Blaring loud music from a DJ or a live performer can be heard all at the same time that it sometimes becomes overwhelming. But the excitement and energy of the place makes you want to go back, if just to try every place and see what they offer.

From Thailand, we went back to Manila and stayed at the Nobu Hotel in the City of Dreams. The hotel reminded us of one of those enormous hotels on the Las Vegas strip. The City of Dreams is also getting to be known as the Las Vegas of Asia. Built on a reclaimed area, the place boasts of newlyopened four-star-hotels with gambling casinos, live entertainers and dozens of restaurants.

Our friends, fashion designer Francis Libiran and his husband Christian Mark, Francis’ manager Arsi Baltazar and Victor Harry, hosted our despedida dinner at Nobu Hotel’s Nobu Restaurant where we invited some of our friends and former colleagues in the industry — Narciso Chan, Renen de Guia and wife Cel, Emmie Velarde, Ricky Davao, Tato Malay, Girlie Rodis, Gigi Bautista Rapadas, Gene Ramos, MJ Racadio, Celeste Legaspi, Nonoy Gallardo, cousin-inlaw Nitoy Estrellas, wife Imelda and daughter Rina, and Nobu Hotel’s Jenny Santillan.

It was hard to say goodbye but we always look forward to our next homecoming trip.

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