Alcoves: Comfortable apartments at the heart of Makati

As my bus wound its way down Marcos Highway, I began to worry about how many errands I still had to do when I would arrive in Makati, including an embassy appointment that same afternoon. I was especially not looking forward to commuting since the weather didn’t look too cooperative, and because I just really hate having to commute around that place.
Continue reading “Alcoves: Comfortable apartments at the heart of Makati”

The Center Suites: No-fuss, good-value hotel in Cebu City

Whenever we find ourselves in Cebu, we either hie away to its far ends for the beaches, sardines, or sharks, or else stay in the city to pig out. The last time we were here, we couldn’t find time, however hard we tried, to go back to Moalboal, so the inevitable happened: we were stuck in the city’s humidity and heavy traffic, but, BUT we were also within easy reach of our favorite food haunts.

And we have The Center Suites to thank for this: its location—along Escario Street—meant we were a couple of minutes’ walk from the nearest branch of Cebu’s Original Spicy Lechon Belly (yes, that’s the name!), our favorite lechon house. It’s also one ride from almost everything else, including IT Park, Ayala, and Fuente, all of which have branches of another favorite, Casa Verde.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

And although staying in this hotel did indirectly fatten us up, that’s not the only thing it does well. For one, we found the staff very accommodating and courteous, even when we arrived at the ungodly hour of 4 AM from a lechon-booze-siomai night out with friends. We were also asked to fill out a form for our breakfast choice that (same) morning, which we thought was quite a nice touch (especially for those who wouldn’t suffer a fried egg for a scrambled one). I also think it’s a prudent way to manage resources (we are not fans of hotels who waste food just because their guests can pay/have already paid for it).

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

Our twin room was also very comfortable, with its own toilet + hot and cold shower, air conditioning, and television. Towels were also provided.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

Those who are looking for luxe accommodations won’t find it here though. There was just enough space for two people, and thankfully the room had a separate area for stowing luggage, which helped maximize the remaining floor space.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

There’s also free (and fast!) WiFi, an advantage that most smaller hotels have since there are less people fighting over it at any given time. The table was also a nice touch—something that not all budget hotels are keen to add, which is a shame because it is still very useful for those who want to work and/or have a decent space to put their stuff that isn’t the mattress.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

The Center Suites Bistro is also in-house, and serves a la carte Filipino breakfast for guests (each booking comes with free breakfast, which is always welcome, thank you very much) as well as an assortment of Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino dishes, available even for non-hotel guests.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

At an average price of P700 per person, it’s definitely a good deal considering its central location, AC rooms, and free breakfast. It’s also not directly along the main road (you have to walk just a few meters inland), so the city’s fumes and noise do not get as far as your room window. So when you’re traveling to Cebu and would like to be in the thick of things, The Center Suites will make a great base. Trust us, that lechon belly is worth staying nearby for.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

For more info:
http://thecentersuites.com/
(63 32) 416 8881
(63 32) 266 8885
+63 932 440 6950
+63 905 251 8212
info@thecentersuites.com
N. Gonzales Compound, Brgy Camputhaw,
Escario Street, Cebu City
If you’re booking via Agoda, you may use this link
Overnight room rates start at P855.

Our overnight stay at The Center Suites was complimentary. Our opinions of the hotel’s services & facilities are based on firsthand experience and are completely our own.

Where to stay in Boracay: MNL Beach Hostel

When Owen and I learned that MNL Boutique Hostel in Makati is branching out to—wait for it—Boracay Island, we couldn’t wait to visit. First of all, their growth was very impressive—Maica, Celina, and Gonz are opening hostel no. 2 less than a year after the first one. We know next to nothing about the hospitality business, but that is undoubtedly a big feat. We love their hostel concept too, and pulling it off in Boracay was something we wanted to see. We think it’s working really well, especially for young backpackers and, well, young backpacking couples.

TWO2TRAVEL: Boracay - MNL Beach Hostel
Living area — and an awesome artwork by Gonz. And that’s Yolanda in the news.

Continue reading “Where to stay in Boracay: MNL Beach Hostel”

Dakong Amihan: Finding what’s not yet lost in Boracay

“The sand, just wow. I’ve never seen anything like it,” she exclaimed.

We were by the garden having dinner—chicken tinola which Owen had cooked—and Ms. Grace, the owner of the house, was telling us about the first time she had seen White Beach—then unnamed and uninhabited—on this island the whole world now knows as Boracay.

“We were just passing by, and then we saw this long strip of sand that looked as white as paper. The coconut trees were all green, and the water was so clear!”

Diniwid Beach, Boracay, Philippines - by www.Two2Travel.com
We were on our last night after a week-long stay in August, and we’ve had many of these conversations, for sure. She would tell us all about their dive trips around the island—how she saw, on her first deep dive, three thresher sharks (yes, in Boracay waters!); how they would all swim drunk from one end of the beach to the other and sleep on the sand; how they would all sit on the beach, form a long line, and pass along a joint; and how they would drink beer through their regulator(!)

Continue reading “Dakong Amihan: Finding what’s not yet lost in Boracay”

Where to stay in Legazpi: Mayon Backpackers Hostel

When we were searching for places to stay in Legazpi City, we really didn’t know what options to expect. Average hotels would be fine anyway, just as long as they fit our P500-per-person-per-day budget and they have proper door locks.

But finding a HOSTEL in this part of the country—now that was a surprise.

Mayon Backpackers Hostel opened late last year and has so far received rave reviews at Tripadvisor, so we decided to give it a go.

Mayon Backpackers Hostel Review by Two2Travel.com

Continue reading “Where to stay in Legazpi: Mayon Backpackers Hostel”

Review: The North Face Alteo 35 Backpack

I got The North Face Alteo 35 backpack late last year as sort of replacement for my old TNF Jester daypack, which, although still very much in mint condition, wasn’t as comfortable as before. Don’t get me wrong—the TNF Jester is a fantastic bag and it’s still the most comfortable daypack I’ve used. Let’s just say what I pack in just outgrew its carrying capacity.

Two2Travel | The North Face Alteo 35 Review

In came The North Face Alteo 35, a 35-liter rucksack made for multi-day trips and probably one or two-day climbs (although don’t bet on my word for the latter because I am no mountaineer and I haven’t gone trekking a mountain with this yet). For trekking enthusiasts who may have landed on this page looking for a definitive review of the Alteo, I apologize in advance for my limited know-how. To make it a little easier for all of us, I’m reviewing the bag as a multi-day traveling pack. Hope it becomes helpful all the same.

THE NORTH FACE ALTEO 35: WHO IS IT FOR?

The TNF Alteo 35 is great for backpackers on trips no shorter than a week. I daresay it’s ideal for month-long travels too if and only if you know how to pack right—and by packing right, I mean packing light. And if I may add, which I’ll explain a little later, the TNF Alteo 35 is also perfect for people with small frames. Yep, people like me. PAK.

Two2Travel | North Face Alteo 35 review
I am all of 5’1″ folks, so its fit is just right, right?

Note:
  • Used at least once a month out of town since date of purchase; longest trip duration was a weekmonth and still a-okay
  • Never used for mountain climbing
  • Bought November last year, P8,990, ROX Camp John Hay
  • As you can see, apart from it being a huge financial predicament (darnit), it also hasn’t been used (and abused) that much. Others may even argue that’s no proper way to use a backpack at all.

    But for all it’s worth, The North Face Alteo 35 has so far been serving my travel needs very well. When Owen and I travel together for short periods (like three days), we simply stuff this with all our things (two sets of DSLRs included, plus tripod at the bottom) and we’re good to go. Owen has been thinking of getting one since I got mine—probably a 50L—but we figured we wouldn’t need one yet until the latter half of this year.

    I initially wanted the good ol’ TNF Terra 35, which by the way comes in more colors than the Alteo (so far I’ve only seen a pure black and an orange-gray Alteo at ROX BGC & John Hay). For those who are trying to decide which between the Terra 35 and Alteo 35 is better, here’s a quick comparison. You’ll notice that I’ll also be discussing much of the Alteo’s key features along the way.

    alteo models
    These are Alteo 35 models apparently available only at the European market. Left & middle photo from here. Right photo—which shows how a hydration pack & tube are fitted inside—from here.

    FITTING

    Both had the usual padded shoulder straps and hipbelt, but Alteo’s hipbelt is a bit wider, hugging the hips better and providing better support, methinks.

    Two2Travel | The North Face Alteo 35 Review

    FORM

    The Terra 35 is narrower and longer than the Alteo. When I tried the Terra, it was level with the top of my head while the Alteo was just a bit over my shoulder. The Alteo also looks a bit wider, which is most likely how they compensated for the reduction in height. I think this worked better in distributing weight to the lower part of the body instead of the shoulders. Then again, that may just be me and my wild imagination.

    FABRIC

    The Alteo is made mostly of nylon so it’s bound to be more resistant against dirt, moisture, and odor than the polyester fabric of the Terra. If any, the Alteo looks way easier to dust off.

    FUNCTION

    The defining feature of the Alteo 35 is the WindTunnel—basically a plate fitted at the back of the pack that’s arcing away from the wearer’s back towards the bottom. This creates a void between the bag itself and the wearer, separated by a mesh sheath designed to ventilate the back portion better than most backpacks do. It’s a genius! I’ve never had a sweatfest while using this, even when I had to walk all around Kalibo during the Ati-Atihan a few months ago because we didn’t have a place to leave our bags to.

    Two2Travel | The North Face Alteo 35 Review
    A backpack with a built-in electric fan — well, sort of. I love this feature!

    Two2Travel | The North Face Alteo 35 Review
    The back portion has mesh outer covers, letting air circulate better. There’s also a whistle on the buckle for emergencies. Very nifty.

    OTHER ALTEO 35 FEATURES

    ACCESS

    Aside from the top drawstring opening, its front face access opens two ways so it’s easier to reach to the darkest pits of the bag without unpacking the living hell out of it.

    Two2Travel | The North Face Alteo 35 Review

    POCKETS, POCKETS EVERYWHERE

    It has two big elasticated side pockets for water bottles; another long pocket outside where I usually pack my slippers for easy access (shown below); a zipped mesh pocket on the inside (shown above); and a space for a hydration pack on the opposite side (the orange compartment above).

    Two2Travel | The North Face Alteo 35 Review

    Climbers will be delighted to find out that it also has a nearly obscure hole at the top right portion through which they can slip hydration tubes. The hipbelt also doubles as a mesh pocket, which I find very handy for holding my passport, pen, notebook, phone, and loose change. A compact camera can also fit inside. There’s also another compartment on top of the flap where you can keep documents and other small stuff you might need in transit. You can also slip in a sleeping bag or tripod at the bottom part.

    Two2Travel | The North Face Alteo 35 Review

    CAPACITY

    The plate arcing farther from the back does look like it’s sacrificing a lot of space inside. I carry an 11-inch laptop which I stuff above the area where it arcs since it won’t fit at the bottom. It’s all good for my ends, though I’m not so sure how well that space can carry bigger ones.

    Here’s a sample I’m working on for a weeklong trip to Bicol this weekend. Everything you see here is pretty much all I’m carrying with me.

    what fits in a TNF Alteo 35

    Two2Travel | The North Face Alteo 35 Review
    The two biggest cases (clothes + camera) go right at the bottom. You’ll notice that area where the plate arcs, which makes fitting rigid stuff rather difficult.

    Two2Travel | The North Face Alteo 35 Review
    Stuffed pretty much everything inside. The laptop is just below the drybag and everything else.

    Two2Travel | The North Face Alteo 35 Review
    As you can see I still have lots of space left.

    MOBILITY

    It’s a big backpack so be prepared to part with it if you’re in cramped buses. Best solution to this is to anticipate your transport means and leave it at the bus compartment if you keep your valuables in a separate (and smaller) bag.

    WHAT I LOVE BEST ABOUT THE NORTH FACE ALTEO 35:

    I love how well it distributes the weight into the hips and away from the shoulders. I easily get shoulder strains which is why I gave up on the Jester. This is a gap that the Alteo has filled in really well. I could actually stuff the whole bag full and feel the weight disappear as I buckle the hipbelt in place.

    I also love that I can simply let the shoulder straps loosely dangle from my shoulders as I walk because the whole pack’s weight is absorbed by my lower body. Walking for longer periods while lugging everything is definitely easier and breezier.

    Of course, having to carry that load after a few hours does get to you somehow. After all, the hips and knees are bearing much of the brunt here, but at least it doesn’t strain all the unnecessary parts. Overall I really love my Alteo 35. It’s a bag for keeps, unless I decide to be taller later on and hence carry a 50-liter pack, which isn’t going to happen in maybe a million lifetimes.

    What pack do YOU count on when traveling?

    Where to stay in Manila: MNL Boutique Hostel

    For those of us who don’t live in Manila, finding a nice, safe place to crash for the night is as hard as getting a good-natured cabbie to ferry you around. So it’s such a relief when, while searching for a place online, we stumbled upon this new hostel that looked very promising.

    Two2Travel | MNL Boutique Hostel

    Continue reading “Where to stay in Manila: MNL Boutique Hostel”

    Stunning hilltop views and more at Thunderbird Resorts Rizal

    Immaculately soft pillows make for good beds—others would argue they make for great beds—but the best beds aren’t even about the mattress you rest on for the night. It’s about what greets you the minute you wake up.

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird



    This is why great waking up moments are usually associated with the scent of coffee, sunlight streaming through the window, stunning balcony views, or at times, a plateful of your favorite breakfast (sometimes, ALL of them).

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird

    And because sleep is such an intangible idea, we instead associate a good night’s sleep with the first thing we see in the morning (which is also why seeing that bedside clock at 8 AM instead of 7 AM, or looking at your phone with 1,000 missed calls from your wretched boss, is guaranteed to ruin an otherwise good sleep—agree?).

    Rooms with a view

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird

    Waking up with a view from above Laguna de Bay, the largest lake in the Philippines, is arguably a great way to end a good slumber and start another day—or for us, cap off a day-long dose of nearby Angono, from its higantes to its crickets to its petroglyphs.

    The lake looked massive—indeed big enough to house a humongous dino if you let your mind go on an overdrive. But at such height, you could very well see the lake from end to end, Metro Manila’s skyscrapers visible on the right side on a clear day.

    This kind of view, plus of lush mountains all around, is something this sprawling resort on the foothills of the Sierra Madre Mountain Range has no competition for.

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird

    Many would troop to Thunderbird Resorts Rizal for its casino. The concept itself is rather uncommon—you don’t see most hilltop resorts with their own casinos. This is the same concept that the resort has in La Union—our hometown—which in turn is done in that distinct white-and-blue palette inspired by the hillside town of Santorini in Greece.

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird

    But it’s the stunning mountain views we really wanted to see—something we believe is the property’s strongest asset. This, plus its accessibility from Metro Manila, makes it one of the better-value choices for harrowed city dwellers for the weekend.

    The surroundings smack of Baguio too, and we were all too glad to have cool mountain air around instead of smog.

    From sun up to sundown

    The property faces the west—which means you get a generous hilltop view of the sun as it sets on the horizon.

    Another equally magical moment that follows the sunset is the blue hour, which, contrary to its name, is over in about 15 minutes. At this time, rows of lights from Metro Manila down below puncture the bright blue sky as the rest of the resort illuminates itself in subtle warm light.

    It was a bit difficult to reconcile that the road between the smog of Manila and the cool air of Rizal is just about an hour’s drive long. On a regular weekday, that same amount of time would take you only as far as Makati from Quezon City.

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird
    Morning

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird
    Just before sunset

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird
    Blue hour

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird
    Twilight

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird
    Early evening

    The guest houses—all 41 of them—are housed in two main wings, all of them facing the lake. Guests who prefer a direct casino access can book one of the Deluxe Rooms, but other than that, the Deluxe and the Superior Rooms have the same amenities every traveler with discriminating taste will appreciate.

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird

    These rooms come in a clean, understated vibe: the interiors have mostly earthy tones, and room has two double beds, making them ideal for families taking the kids for the weekend. This is not to say that friends cannot have as much fun with an impossibly huge bed to themselves.

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird
    There’s your stream of sunshine.

    The palm-tree-lined courtyard that separates the casino from the resort is a refreshing extension of the property’s lush surroundings, and tucked in one of its corners is the outdoor Zaphira Spa covered in dreamy white drapes.

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird

    It turns out there’s quite a lot to preoccupy the weekend tourist aside from the stunning views—and aside from the casino, of course.

    The resort rents out bikes, including a tandem bike, which guests can take for a spin early morning when sunlight’s not yet too harsh. There are designated bike trails, and the resort actually encourages guests to go all the way downhill to the Angono-Binangonan Petroglyphs, the oldest known artwork in the Philippines (the site is a stone’s throw from the resort gates, but more on that on the next post). At the back of the property is another uphill trail with steeper slopes that are best for more experienced riders.

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird
    The cool mountain air of Rizal makes for great mornings pedaling on a bike around the resort property.

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird

    Thunderbird has twelve (!) chefs manning their main restaurant, Koi, which serves fusion food; their Pool Bar, which serves mostly grilled food that go well with beer (where else, by the pool); and their Cabana Bar inside the casino.

    Non-fans of fusion food may change their minds with the US Angus Beef Kare-Kare, whose peanut sauce is as rich as any but whose beef shames all others for its tenderness (not kidding). There’s also the cornflake crusted fried chicken with country cheddar mash and homestyle gravy, which is a new take on bringing out the crisp in everyone’s favorite chicken part (the skin, of course, what were you thinking?). It was a pretty good one too—we didn’t know cornflakes could ever taste good. The mashed potato would need a bit more TLC though (no, not tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese).

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird
    L: Cornflake-crusted fried chicken with mashed potatoes;
    R: Cups and glasses to start the day right.

    TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | ThunderbirdL: Diavolo (sauteed shrimps with red wine, butter, eggplant, fresh red chillies and spiced Pomodoro finished with rich cream, butter, and penne pasta; R: Hickory pork and grilled pineapple (diced pork belly marinated in stout, soda, and molasses, grilled pineapple served with mozzarella, parmegiano, and tomato concasse

    Those with more adventurous palates can also try the Salmon and Uni Cream with Tobikko Fish Roe (sauteed salmon cubes, fresh sea urchin puree, cream and tobikko fish roe, toasted bonito flakes, served with pasta fetuccine). Koi also uses Angus Beef in—wait for it—sinigang, which it calls the US Angus Beef Sinigang sa Kamias at Tanglad.

    Aside from all the staycation options just a few steps from one other—not to mention the tempting boards—guests can hie off to several interesting spots around Rizal province (click here to see the list). Nearby Angono, the Art Capital of the Philippines, has some really interesting art galleries and museums. If all these don’t get you through the weekend—seriously?—may we suggest a trip down to Balaw Balaw for a hearty serving of uok to cap off the experience? :)

    THUNDERBIRD RESORTS RIZAL

    Eastridge Avenue
    Binangonan, Rizal
    Philippines 1940
    (+63 2) 651.6888

    Map & directions here. Free shuttle services to and from several points in Metro Manila are also available.
    www.thunderbird-asia.com
    @TBRPhilippines
    Facebook Page

    This post is the second of our Rizal series from our Rizal Blogger Tour sponsored by Thunderbird Resorts Rizal. Opinions expressed in this post are the authors’ own. Check out our other posts:

    No need to fly to famous Boracay

    Flying can be very expensive, not to mention inflexible. Unless you’re swimming in cash, you don’t—and can’t—usually take on spontaneous trips somewhere far.

    These are the two voids in the traveling world that sailing wants to fill. Overnight or multi-day ships aren’t exactly new to the local market, it being the preferred mode of transport to the Visayas and Mindanao because it’s the cheapest direct route.

    But tourist-class accommodations is what’s new about all these—something that takes after cruise liners—aiming at the tourist market.

    This is exactly what I tried when I was invited by 2Go Travel to sail from Batangas to Caticlan for a trip to Antique. As you know, Caticlan is the gateway to Boracay Island in Aklan.

    TWO2TRAVEL | 2GO

    The trip would take overnight, departing at 8 PM and arriving at 5 AM the next day.

    Accommodation classes (according to price):
    Stateroom (AC) – fits two people in a double bed
    Cabin (AC) – fits four people into 2 bunk beds
    Tourist (AC) – passenger occupies a bunk inside a big Tourist Class hall
    Super Value Class (non-AC) – same as the Tourist Class, but without AC, and occupies a separate hall

    TWO2TRAVEL | 2GO
    Our cabin for the trip. This room has a TV, toilet & bath, and lifejackets

    If you’re seasick, you know what to do before you sail. In any case, seasickness tablets should be available on request onboard.

    TWO2TRAVEL | 2GO
    The Tourist Class hall

    Common spaces

    TWO2TRAVEL | 2GO

    TWO2TRAVEL | 2GO
    A mezzanine lounge overlooking the lobby

    TWO2TRAVEL | 2GO

    Batangas-Caticlan | 2GO Travel
    The upper deck has an entertainment and lounge area

    Batangas-Caticlan | 2GO Travel

    TWO2TRAVEL | 2GO
    Arriving at Caticlan early morning the next day. From here, you can ride a boat on the same port to Boracay Island