Matnog, Sorsogon: The Surprises of Subic Beach

After a while, the excitement for traveling wanes a little bit, just like anything else.

Feeling too lazy to wake up earlier than usual.
Choosing to be on Instagram rather than be out there (oh but there’s free WiFi!).
Not going on certain legs of the trip for no apparent reason.

But Calintaan Island in Matnog, Sorsogon changed all that. | Subic Beach, Matnog, Sorsogon

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La Union’s Sillag Festival

Quite literally, La Union‘s Sillag Festival brightened up a rather lackluster tourism scene in our hometown.

Although there are a handful of interesting sights for visitors, not to mention the surfing, La Union still has a long way to go.

This is probably—hopefully—the first step.

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POSTCARDS: Fog and rain at the Baguio Cathedral

Two2travel | POSTCARDS | Baguio

I took this photo more than a year ago on a cold and foggy October day in Baguio. Although most areas in Baguio do not get flooded because of the elevation (an exception is City Camp Lagoon), we still have to battle with the chill that comes with heavy rains, making it almost impossible to get out of the house, let alone move around.

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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

TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird
Just before sunset

TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird
Blue hour

TWO2TRAVEL | Rizal | Thunderbird

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? :)


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.
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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:

Camping fun in Zambales

Zambales has been enjoying its fair share of the tourist pie for some time now, and for good reason: its natural beauty guarantees to offer something for everyone—the camper, the not-so-happy camper, the mountaineer, the photographer, or the one who just wants to get out of the slick city and into the peace and quiet of the mountains.

What’s more, it can be as cheap as you want and is very accessible. Hop on a couple of buses, a tricycle, and a boat, and you’re there (in the Philippines, that kind of commute is pretty uncomplicated). So we decided to give camping a try and packed fork and spoon for the first time.

Two2Travel zambales

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