• Back With Philippine Snacks

    After all was said and done, I had a wonderful time in the Philippines and I will remember every aspect of my vacation fondly. No matter how much I wish I could bring everything home with me, at the end of the day, all I can bring home are my photographs and some snacks! Considering those are my two options, we already know I took many photographs… but I feel like I brought home that much more in snacks! I loved almost everything I tried and wanted to bring it all back with me! So what are these snacks? Let’s take a look! And if you are in the Philippines, make sure you try these snacks and feel free to bring back some extra for me too 😉

    Philippine Snacks

    Cornickles: Their version of corn nuts. Simple, delicious and addicting.Snack8 Lengua de Gato: Translates into tongue of the cat… but in reality, they are just sugar cookies! Super light, it’s easy to go through one container in one sitting if you aren’t paying attention. Snacks4Polvoron: A dessert made up of milk powder and sugar. It is commonly found in the US at Asian markets or Goldilock’s bakeries.Snacks10 Chocolate covered Polvoron: The more illusive counterpart of the polvoron. I have only been able to find these in the Philippines so far. Snacks5Peanuts: Because… why not? Snacks6 Nagaraya: Another peanut snack. This one is covered in a light chip shell and is usually flavored. Also addicting an very satisfying. It comes in a variety of flavors and has become my new favorite snack to sneak into movie theaters.Snacks7 Wine: usually made from othe wild fruits. It’s much sweeter than regular red wines. Not something I can imagine being served in a fine dining establishment, but still worth the try.Snacks8 Yema: a dessert made primarily of condensed milk and egg yolk. I love this sugary sweet. I can go through a whole bag in a day or two if I really wanted a cavity by the end of the week. It would be worth it though.Snacks9Hot Coco tablets: Chocolate is rare in the Philippines. This is their version of Hot Coco. Just add the tablets to milk and there you go. It’s the closest thing I found to an all chocolate item. Snacks11

    Bonus: Korean Snacks

    I had a layover in Korea on both legs of my trip. On my way home I had a good 3 hours to shop around the airport and found some awesome snack souvenirs! Best seaweed ever!! Handmade and seasoned with seasalt and seasame oil.I would fly back to Korea for this.Snacks3Liquid tea mixes. Lemon, green plum and pomegranate. Snacks2 Korean Hoho. I didn’t know what to expect but it literaly tastes just like a hoho.Snacks Variety bag of Korean snacks. Just as it sounds. Everything mostly resembled a fig newton hybrid with a rice cake. I feel like an anime character when I eat these.Snack5

    I hope you have enjoyed my posts about my time spent in the Pacific! Thank you for letting me bring it to a full circle stop with the snacks I brought home. <3

  • Monte Brilliante

    MonteOn one of my last days in Illocos, I had a very special overnight “glamping” trip at Monte Brilliante. It’s about a 30 minute drive from my family home, this undeveloped mountainside and surrounding farmlands belonged to my late grandfather. It’s now being cared for and slowly developed by my uncle.

    Monte7

    The plateau is a quick 5 minute hike from where the road ends, and although not terribly high, the view is still fantastic. A small hillside, it still offers a 360 degree view of the area.

    Monte3 Monte4

    As of right now, there are just three huts on the hillside. The main hut with a kitchen and storage space, a hut for my uncle to sleep in when he is there and a guest hut. For now, they are made with bamboo wood and bamboo leaves, but the goal is to make them with stronger and more permanent structures. Personally, I like them as is! The whole area feels so rural and is a definite blast from the past.

    Monte6 Monte8

    When on the hillside, it feels like you are in another world. Another time. A time before cellphones and modern technology. There’s no reception up there. So after you are done taking pictures, there really isn’t much more to do than be alone with your thoughts and appreciating your surroundings.

    Monte9 Monte10 You can eat… go on a walk… play with the roosters or maybe even play with the pet deer. But that’s it! It can seem dull, but truly it’s not. It’s a nice reminder to take life one day at a time and to really appreciate everything you have.

    Monte2

    The most wonderful aspect of Monte Brilliante is something I wasn’t able to capture in pictures. That was the **STARS**. Oh my goodness the stars! It was so windy that night and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and there were stars everywhere! Illocos in general is a great place to stargaze, however even now, there is some sky pollution. But up in that hillside, we were so isolated and I have never, ever, seen so many stars. You could see remnants of stardust with the naked eye. I was able to lay down in the grass, listening to the howling wind and just stare up at the sky for what felt like hours and be content. That’s a moment that I could live in forever. I know that my uncle will soon change the face of that hillside and it won’t be the same the next time I see it. However, I hope just enough stays the same that I will always have my wind and my stars.

    Monte5

  • Kapurpurawan Beach

    If I could marry a place, I would choose this.

    If I could marry a place, I would choose this.

    I know this could have been summarized in my road trip post, but I loved Kapurpurawan so much it had to have a dedicated area. If I could marry a place from the Philippines, this is it.

    Kapurpurawan8

    You walk down a hillside and through a palm tree tunnel to be greeted on the other side by locals who are offering pony rides! Yup, pony rides by the sea. How adorable is that?

    Kapurpurawan10

    My legs almost touch the ground! Ponies and long legs aren't always a good combination

    My legs almost touch the ground! Ponies and long legs aren’t always a good combination

    The pony rides are only half the fun. The short trail leads right in front of the rocky shore that looks like something from a Mediterranean dream.

    Kapurpurawan

    Kapurpurawan

    It didn’t remind me of an island beach, but more similar to pictures I’ve seen of various Greek beaches or even the British Isles. The white rocks, lush greenery and deep blue waters all made for such a stark contrast. There was even a wild horse grazing in the background for crying outloud!!

    Kapurpurawan9

    The beauty of Kapurpurawan felt like a vacation within a vacation. There have been beaches throughout my Philippine vacation that gave me a feeling of calm and serenity… this was not one of them. It made me feel alive and so energized.

    Kapurpurawan6
    Kapurpurawan made me want to breathe it all in and go on and see the rest of the world. Truly, an experience I will remember for a lifetime.

    Kapurpurawan4

  • Illocos: Road Trip

    Roadtrip 6

    Most of my memories from my childhood in Illocos are all centered around Vintar and my big, beautiful home. With that being said, I was on a mission to see as much of Illocos as possible in a short amount of time. What better way to achieve this goal than through a road trip! In one day and about 14 hours, I was able to see so much!

    Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
    Roadtrip 2

    The day began bright and early at 7am and our first destination was a lighthouse. Living in Las Vegas, I don’t get to see too many of these, especially one that has been in use since 1892. It marks the northern most point of the Luzon island. It has great views of the surrounding ocean and it really does make you feel on top of the world. It doesn’t take much of your time to walk around the lighthouse, which was beneficial for the day I had planned.

    Roadtrip 3

    Bangui Wind Farm

    Windmill 2

    After the lighthouse, the next destination was the Bangui Wind Farm. Not a typical tourist destination by any means, but it was still super cool! I already enjoy looking at windmills in the states, but seeing them upclose (as opposed to driving on a freeway) and all lined up by the shore is a fun image. On a quiet beach facing the West Philippine Sea, it’s lovely to see a merge of the old and modern. It was oddly peaceful to watch.

    Kapurpurawan Rock Formation

    Roadtrip 9

    Near Bangui, there is a place called Kapurpurawan rock formation. This was probably my favorite location on the road trip. So much so, that it will get it’s own post very shortly! But to sum it up, it’s close to the Wind Farms, and you can actually see them in the distance. It was so beautiful, it was a take your breath away moment. I don’t want to spoil too much for my next post since I can go on and on! So we’ll just leave it at that for now.

    Saud Beach

    Roadtrip 4

    I do remember coming to Saud when I was younger and it was nice to see that it hadn’t changed at all. I would compare Saud to Hawaii. Or at least, the Hawaii that most people imagine. White sands, clear waters, palm trees and NO PEOPLE. It was already a shock when I visited Sexy Beach and there was no one, but it was more surprising that there were no visitors at Saud, since they are known for their resort. Regardless, I wasn’t complaining. It was wonderful to be out in the warm sun, alone with your thoughts and just appreciating your surroundings. In that moment, I never wanted to come home.

    Roadtrip 5

    Paoay Church

    Roadtrip

    A road trip of Illocos wouldn’t have been complete without stopping at a church. Paoay Church is a National Cultural Treasure of the Philippines and it’s not difficult to see why. The church is gorgeous. It’s a different type of old church, much different than those I’ve seen in London or Paris. It was completed in 1710 (Just 10 years younger than St. Paul’s Cathedral in London!) but it exudes an image of ruins. The stone facade is massive and it makes it look like the church is just rising from the ground. It’s a site worth seeing and I would go back again and again. It is still in use today! There was even a wedding taking place inside when I visited. I hope the church will be around for another 300 years.

    Roadtrip 7

    Vigan

    Vigan 3

    The last stop on my road trip was much further south. About 2.5 hours away from my starting point, Vigan is actually in Illocos Sur. It’s one of the few Hispanic towns where the buildings have remained in tac. I’ve been told it looks like Havana, Cuba… one day I’ll give you a first hand account. 🙂 Vigan was beautiful, very old world. They even have horsedrawn carriages to boot. They also have a dancing water show at night, which suspiciously looks a lot like the fountains at Bellagio and the fountain at Aria… but the local tourists seem to enjoy it. After letting my jaded Vegas brat go… I too enjoyed it. Overall, a joyous and colorful end to my day.

    Roadtrip 10

  • Illocos Norte: Sexy Beach

    Sexy Beach, Illocos Norte

    Sexy Beach, Illocos Norte

    After arriving into Illocos and taking care of the formalities of exploring my family home, I was in desperate need for a beach. Can you believe that I had been on an island for a week without setting foot on an actual beach?? It was ridiculous, I know. I was told that the “nice beaches” were about an hour to two hours away and I would never make it before sunset. So what was my option? Sexy beach. That’s right. SEXY BEACH. Needless to say I was down to visit this beach. Who wouldn’t be?

    Sexy Beach 2

    The first impression of this remote beach was gorgeous it was for being one of the “not so nice” beaches in the area. Second observation was that it’s more serene than sexy. There was no one else to be found on this beach and for some reason, it reminded me of a beach in the Bay Area like Halfmoon Bay versus a beach on a tropical island like Hawaii. It must have been the grey sands and drift woods. Regardless, it was beautiful and I had so much fun playing in the water and letting the waves be the only noise I could hear. It was probably one of my favorite days I spent in the Philippines.

    Sunset at Sexy Beach

    Sunset at Sexy Beach

    It wasn’t until the sun started setting and the sky lit up that I understood why it was called Sexy Beach. It had been a very long time that a sunset really took my breath away. In that moment, with nothing but the water and sky arround me, the beach was simultaneously seductive, alluring or exciting in a very long time. Now that’s sexy.

    So calm and beautiful.

    So calm and beautiful.

  • Philippine Markets

    Market 5The joys of the Philippine Markets. Being a spoiled American, you will never find me hyped about an upcoming grocery visit to an Albertson’s, Vons or Trader Joe’s. However, I was STOKED when given the option to go and explore the street markets throughout the Philippines. The two largest I had a chance to see were Quiapo Market in Manila and Baguio City Market in Baguio, and of course many corner Philippine markets along the way.

    It’s rare to find large commercialized grocery stores in the Philippines. Open air markets on the other hand are very popular and are centrally located so that the residents have easy access with a quick walk from their homes.

    Similar to a corner store here in the States, corner markets are everywhere and sell a variety of items. Usually they have homemade sweets, cooking necessities, local snacks and drinks. They’re usually owned by a family that lives in the home right above the shop or next to it.  If you are in the mood for something other than street food, or need to grab something for a party you are heading to, these are the markets for you!

    Corner stores in the Philippines. These one was geared more towards sweets.

    Corner stores in the Philippines. These one was geared more towards sweets.

    The larger open air markets are in a central location housed in a simple roof structure to protect the vendors and shoppers from the weather. Here you can find fresh and affordable produce and meats. (Some meats are still live! Like chickens or fish in tanks!)  Everything arrives through local farmers or nearby towns like Baguio.

    Baguio City Market. Their #1 product is Strawberries.

    Baguio City Market. Their #1 product is Strawberries.

    Speaking of Baguio, they are known to be able to grow all sorts of fruits and vegetables because of their weather, so their market is massive! Strawberries everywhere too. It was almost overwhelming with the different products available. It’s difficult to decide which vendor to buy from since everything is delicious and fresh. You can’t go wrong in Baguio City Market. It was definitely the larger of the fresh food markets I visited in the Philippines.

    Market 4

    Then there was the one in Quiapo Manila. It of course had many vendors, but more handmade goods than food items. Quiapo is also extremely crowded. It didn’t give the same enjoyable shopping experience that I had in Baguio, but it was an experience nonetheless.

    The crowd in Quiapo

    The crowd in Quiapo

    Regardless which open Philippine market you decide to visit, it will be memorable and it makes you appreciate your meals and snacks that much more. Word of advice though, be aware of your surroundings. Pickpockets are notorious in the Philippine markets. Guard your bags! Both your personal items and your newly acquired.

  • Vintar, Illocos Norte – My Childhood Home

    “We used to play outside when we were young
    And full of life and full of love” – Of Monsters and Men

    Vintar, Illocos Norte

    Vintar, Illocos Norte

    I recently just posted about the land of my father, but now let us discuss my literal motherland of Vintar, Illocos Norte – My Childhood Home. Located far north of the main island, Illocos is about 6 hours from Baguio and 12 hours from Manila. This was my home for the first three years of my life. It’s far from modern and definitely one of the more remote locations I have ever traveled to in my adult life, but it has an old world, beautiful charm about it. You can’t help but fall in love!

    Side entry that leads into the backyard

    Side entry that leads into the backyard

    Opposite side of the dear the leads into the front of the house and front yard.

    Opposite side of the dear the leads into the front of the house and front yard.

    I spent about 4 days in the area of Illocos, but I will definitely go into more detail in a bit. For now, let me take you on a very quick and personal tour of my family home. Located right next to the church and the municipal hall, this is the house my grandfather built in the early 1940’s and although the upkeep is difficult, it’s just as wonderful as I remember from my younger days.

    View of the side of the house and the tower.

    View of the side of the house and the tower.

    “I don’t like walking around this old and empty house
    So hold my hand, I’ll walk with you, my dear…”

    Front balcony over the front door of the house

    Front balcony over the front door of the house

    Growing up in the house used to make me feel like a little princess. I mean, how could you not with a balcony to read off, vines growing up the sides and high ceilings to dance underneath?

    Inside of the house and stone staircase.

    Inside of the house and stone staircase.

    View from upstairs of the chandelier and the windows.

    View from upstairs of the chandelier and the windows.

    “The stairs creak as I sleep, it’s keeping me awake
    It’s the house telling you to close your eyes”

    Directly underneath the chandelier and looking at the rebuild ceiling.

    Directly underneath the chandelier and looking at the rebuild ceiling.

    There were so many rooms to run through and different ways in and out of the house, but my favorite room was my grandfather’s study, and now with its air of abandonment and open wall, it has a beautiful yet eerie vibe. I like to think of this old house as the perfect combination of the past being preserved and coming into the present.

    My grandfather's old study. No one spends time here anymore, but it will always be his room.

    My grandfather’s old study. No one spends time here anymore, but it will always be his room.

    The house beginning to show its wear and tear of time, but my uncle is doing his best to upkeep the “Big House” as my extended family likes to call it. His hard work is starting to pay off too! There are starting to be inquiries for people to do their engagement photos in arch ways of our home and it’s not a bad idea! I think one day, I would like to do the same.

    You can see the the progress of re-bricking the house.

    You can see the the progress of re-bricking the house.

    Because every house needs a pagasus/unicorn.

    Because every house needs a pagasus/unicorn.

    No matter where I travel in the world, Vintar, Illocos Norte will always hold a special place in my heart and a place I am so thankful I can call it home. Thank you for letting me share this with you!

    Home sweet home.

    Home sweet home.

  • Baguio City & Camp John Hay

    Baguio1

    View from my Father’s family home.

    After returning from Villa Escudero into the mayhem of Manila, it was a quick shower, more packing and on to a luxury night bus straight to Baguio City… the land of my father.

    Baguio City is about 5 hours north of Manila, 6.5 hours if you count traffic and rest stops. It is up in the mountains so the climate and terrain is much different than other parts of the islands. There are plenty hills, green pine trees and a nice cool 70 degree (Fahrenheit) temperature. It’s less crowded than Manila, you feel like you can actually breathe out there. The views from the hills are amazing. If you wake up early enough you can rise to the sound of a rooster and even catch the fog rolling in, and it is truly humbling and breathtaking.

    It's worth waking up early!

    It’s worth waking up early!

    I assume because the weather is so beautiful in Baguio that it encourages a larger array of outdoor activities to choose from. Luckily for me, my father’s family home as well as the townhouse my parents are building are both very close to Camp John Hay. For those who don’t know, Camp John Hay used to be a United States Military Base starting in 1903 and wasn’t released back to the Philippine Government until 1991. It has now become a tourist attractio, residential location and country club! Talk about an upgrade.

    Clubhouse at Camp John Hay

    Clubhouse at Camp John Hay

    After a walk up the hill to grab a taxi, it was a quick 10 minute ride to Camp John Hay where we had lunch in the Club House. (It is members only in that area, so feel free to try and make friends with someone who has a membership! Totally worth it!) The food was exceptional and you have a great view of the golf course! It’s a nice break from everyday life in the Philippines, but as delicious as their food was, I didn’t fly across the world to look at a golf course.

    View from my table as I enjoyed lunch.

    View from my table as I enjoyed lunch.

    The real fun of the area are their outdoor activities. They utilize the surrounding forest well with various “thrill seeking” adventures. They had a variety of zip lining options and even a tree jump! I opted for the superman zip line and the tree jump.

    Getting ready for the tree drop!

    Getting ready for the tree drop!

    The superman is easy enough, you get harnessed in a horizontal manner with your belly down and are hurled through the air so it feels as if you are flying. Great view of the surrounding area! It was a real shame I needed my hands to balance because I would have loved to take pictures! Now, the tree jump was where the real adrenaline rush is! You are close to 200 hundred feet in the air (they have tall trees!) And you literally fall out of a tree. That’s it. The whole experience lasts about 15 seconds. I’ve been skydiving… but there is something about the ground rushing towards you at such a close distance. It gives a different type of fear.

    About to drop out of the trees!!

    About to drop out of the trees!!

    The tickets for both activities came with access to hiking trails and viewpoints within the park. Best part was that everything all together cost me about $20 US!

    View of the surrounding forests from one of the hiking trails

    View of the surrounding forests from one of the hiking trails

    After my tree top adventures, I thought I would calm it down a bit with a fun little horse ride. Wright Park is outside of Camp John Hay, but only by 5 minutes in a taxi. This was one of my favorite things to do in Baguio when I was a child and visiting the city. I figured I owed it to nostalgia for one more ride.

    The horses at Wright Park

    The horses at Wright Park

    At a low cost of $15, I rented a horse for an hour and a half. The trail takes you near residential areas and goes at a slow enough pace that you can appreciate your surroundings. Once back inside of Wright Park, that’s where you can ride at faster speeds around their circular, dirt track. This isn’t the most exciting activity ever, but it’s something different and definitely something I can’t readily do in Las Vegas.

    My horse, Falcon!

    My horse, Falcon!

    According to my fitness tracker, I had walked about 8.5 miles throughout the day at the camp. I ended the day at the open air market! (More about that in another post, for now, just know it was massive and so cool!) Due to my limited time restrictions, I didn’t get to spend more than one night in Baguio, but I wish I could have! I was informed at the market that strawberries are their #1 crop and you can actually go to strawberry fields and pick them yourself! I think that is reason enough for me to make sure I come back very soon. Now that my parents own a place there, fingers crossed that it will be sooner than 9 years! 🙂

  • Villa Escudero

    The bridge from the check in area to the River Houses

    Villa Escudero – The bridge from the check in area to the River Houses

    Villa Escudero is a Plantation turned resort about 2 hours outside of Manila. Founded in 1880 and open to the public in 1981, this is a popular tourist destination for locals.

    Entrance Fee

    There are options for day tours and overnight packages, depending on your time restrictions. For my family, we opted for the overnight package. The cost for a house on the river came up to 2,650 pesos per person or about $60.00.

    Tickets they give you for your stay.

    Villa Escudero – Tickets they give you for your stay.

    This is an excellent deal because it includes the night stay, access to the museum, a caribou ride and a Filipino buffet lunch, dinner and breakfast the following morning. (Note that this price is only for groups of 10 or more. If it is only 1 – 2 people the price goes up to $100 per person. Still not too bad for all that it comes with!)

    Accommodations

    The house next the river is very comfortable and made in a traditional island way… i.e. using bamboo and coconut lumber. The deck area is open air and offers a great view of the river. Try viewing it while lounging in a hammock and all your worries go away.

    River House hammocks

    Villa Escudero – River House hammocks

    The houses can accommodate parties from 1 – 10. There are four rooms total; two rooms in each river house, but if the weather allows it, I recommend just camping out on a hammock.

    Attractions & Activities

    As mentioned, your overnight entry ticket comes with just more than a place to sleep. You can ride on a cart pulled by a caribou! (It moves super slowly, so if you are in a rush just walk! Otherwise, enjoy the ride and the view.) Escudero4 There is an onsite museum! It looks like a Barbie dream house, but is modeled after a church in Manila. It’s only painted pink because it is the owner’s favorite color. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take photos inside. Just know that there was a vast collection of antiques that the Escudero family has collected over the years. Everything from Filipino tribal artifacts, stuffed dead animals, religious pieces, shrunken heads and even a Chinese Terracotta Warrior. You can easily spend 2 hours in here. Escudero River Paddling! You can paddle on a bamboo raft on their river. It’s probably the most labor intensive activity they have, but the views of the river houses are unbeatable! It’s also a fun way to burn some calories from all the island food you consume while in the Philippines! 😉

    The rafts you can paddle with are on the bottom left of this picture

    Villa Escudero – The rafts you can paddle with are on the bottom left of this picture

    Lastly, the man made waterfall and lunch area is their signature attraction. Take off your shoes and walk to a table. Although the waterfall is not natural, it doesn’t make it any less fun to be around and take pictures. The food served isn’t stellar but really, you are there for the experience! Wading in water to get lunch was something different for me and is without a doubt a must do when you are at Villa Escudero.

    Escudero5Escudero6

    The beauty of a local tourist destination is the lack of tourists in general. It felt as if it was just my family inhabiting the whole Villa. This was a great way to ease into my time in the Philippines! Pro tip, if you are driving back into Manila, do it as early as possible as the traffic does become horrendous. The 2 hours it took to leave turned into 4 hours trying to get home!! Besides, waking up at the crack of dawn isn’t terrible.

    Sunrise

    Villa Escudero Sunrise

    You can mooch off of the Café Wi-Fi without any interruption or anyone else on the network.

    Escudero7 But most importantly, you can capture pictures like these! Cheers!

    Escudero9

  • Philippine Street Drinks

    Coconut2

    Similar to my previous post about street food in the Philippines, there is also of course street drinks that can be found all over the island! These were my favorite two that I had while I was on vacation.

    Energy Drink

    I love energy drinks, however, they are short supply in the Philippines. I was unable to locate the popular American brands that I am used to, such as Rockstar or Redbull, but I was able to find one. Sting!

    Sting

    It tasted more sugary than what I was used to, although it did the job just fine. But what is best about it is that it comes served in a plastic bag! Just like almost all soda products in the Philippines, they arrive in glass bottles that the store owners do not want to part with. So instead, they give the drink to you with a plastic bag and a straw.

    Sting2

    This is how it was 9 years ago when I was last in the Philippines and it’s nice to see that this hasn’t changed.

    Buko

    Or a whole freaking coconut. Cut open right in front of you this is the best way to enjoy the trendy coconut water that is sold at a ridiculous price in stores across the United States. At the cost of about 50 pesos per coconut, you not only get the juice inside but the awesome coconut meat inside! The whole thing is really a meal in itself.

    coconut

    So remember when you are in the Philippines, to #1, get a drink in a bag and #2, geat a coconut the size of your head.

    Enjoy!

    It takes two hands to hold up this coconut!

    It takes two hands to hold up this coconut!

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