Author Archives: iamstarfreak

Banaue, Ifugao: Banaue Rice Terraces

Banaue, Ifugao: Banaue Rice Terraces

When we planned our trip last February, we thought of including Banaue Rice Terraces in our itinerary enroute to Sagada. Tagged as one of the Seven Wonders of the World before and now being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this usually graces Filipino school textbooks. Way back then, I would wonder how it would look like in real life.

We took the Nueva Vizcaya route, it’s a sidetrip to our main destination -Sagada. There’s quite a number of viewpoints when you reach Banaue, you can even stop by the side of the road and take pictures. It’s just a matter of picking the one with the best view.

We observed that there’s quite a number of transient houses already, more are being built alongside the mountain. There are stores along the other side of the road, which shows poor planning because most are blocking the view of the rice terraces.

We chose NFA Aguian viewpoint, which was really interesting because the walk through a cemented pathway or “pilapil” is already an experience in itself! Entrance fee is P20 per head.

The path is narrow and the terraces are steep. Quite challenging if you’re afraid of heights. Having kids along may be an issue too! But we managed with two kids aged 7 & 9. At the end of the pathway is a platform where you can take pictures and marvel at this famous tourist spot!

Overall, we were amazed by the view of these majestic rice terraces. But we’re sure glad that we went straight to Sagada instead of booking a night here. We hope the place surrounding this tourist site be more maintained, so future generations can still include it in their bucket list!


-Trivia! You can find this view in the old 1000-peso bill!

-We arrived around past 10am and the sun was scorching hot, umbrella or cap may be useful.

-I read that there are restaurants with good views, but we’re unable to fully explore the place due to limited time.

Sagada, Mountain Province: Marlboro Country (Sea of Clouds)

Sagada, Mountain Province: Marlboro Country (Sea of Clouds)

While I contemplate on how I should blog about our whole Sagada trip, I thought this one deserves a solo post. We went to Sagada last February and this was on top of our list. Who wouldn’t?! Have you watched the movie, “That Thing Called Tadhana”?! And I tell you, this does not disappoint!

Our “sea of clouds” experience was a choice between going to the famous Kiltepan viewpoint or Marlboro Country. We chose the latter despite being more “challenging” since most tourists would choose Kiltepan and besides wanting good photos, we want to savour this experience as much as we can.

We woke up early and departed from Coffee Heritage House at around 4.30am, drove around 20-minutes and parked at the side of the road. Unless you’re driving a 4×4, the trek would take around an hour from the road to the top of the mountain. It was really dark and we only depend on our guide’s spotlight and our phones’ flashlight. The path is a long rough road, some parts are muddy and slippery. I can still say it’s manageable having two kids in tow, we were able to reach the top of the mountain. Difficulty level is easy but will somehow test your stamina, climbing and going down slopes. I almost quit in the middle of our climb but I would never want to regret not seeing the “sea of clouds”.

When we finally reached the top, there were small groups of tourist already, gathered around a bonfire. It’s very cold and chilly up there. There’s a mini store that sells lugaw (porridge), cup noodles and coffee to name a few.

We waited until sunrise and started to marvel at what we saw! Indeed it was “sea of clouds”. I will never forget this experience and I was really happy that I continued the climb, at least up to the drop off area. We started taking pictures, ate our lugaw and just continued to marvel the experience.

We declined our guide’s suggestion to go at level 2 and 3 viewpoints since we’re already exhausted but the view that we had was already enough to amaze us! We stayed a little bit more and started the trek down when we regained our energy. Going down the mountain was way easier, since you don’t have to walk in the dark anymore.

Definitely, one for the books!!!


– Wear comfortable pants (over shorts) and rubber shoes, you’ll be walking in between bushes and it can be muddy at some point.

– Jacket! Do not underestimate the chilly wind up the mountain.

– Flashlight! You’ll need it on your way up.

– No (makeshift) CR, do your thing before your trek.

– Tourist guide is required (around P600). No entrance fee, aside from the one-time environmental fee paid at the municipal office.

Sagada, Mountain Province: Coffee Heritage House

Sagada, Mountain Province: Coffee Heritage House

We went to Sagada last 18-20 February. The place is beyond words -breathtaking!

We searched every homestay, hostel and hotel before our trip because we initially want to go over the holiday (Chinese New Year). There are no vacancies, thus we have to move our travel period to Sunday.

We checked Coffee Heritage House (CHH) and besides the good reviews, we’re also drawn by the nice pictures of the place.

Here’s an honest review, please note that these are just facts that could aid fellow travellers.

1. Reservation/Booking

We searched online but since I don’t want to book using our credit card, we called the mobile number posted in their website. We were able to avail the 25% discount posted for private room. That includes 3 persons (including our 9yo son), while our 7yo stays for free (bed sharing). Booking includes free continental breakfast. We settled 50% downpayment through online bank transfer. Upon our arrival, we were asked to settle the full amount since they were not informed about our downpayment. That’s the time I learned that all their online transactions are handled by, so best to keep a copy of your deposit slip or in this case, screenshot of your online transfer. The issue was settled after a while, so no big deal. Price range is around P2000/night for private rooms. P1000/BED for dorm type rooms.

2. Hostel/Room

The hostel/building is cozy. You will find the pantry & lobby in the 2nd floor. There’s a fireplace, which they light up every night. Everything is generally clean. You have to take off your shoes before entering, there are slippers available though. Bonfire area available and can be used at night.

The private room is cement finished, paint on one side of the wall only. Not sure if it’s still in the works. Dont expect too much, there are no room amenities (eg. TV, WIFI, radio, AC, etc.). Just beds and lights, some makeshift (cement finished) table corners where you can place your bags. Toiletries not available, not even hooks for towels inside the room.

Note, this hostel only have shared toilet & baths, regardless if you booked a private room or dorm type rooms. I checked with their reservations officer and she said they have around 10 T&B. We didn’t experience queues since there were few guests that time and we take showers late at night. Hot shower is available, but you have to control and set water volume to low (heater unable to heat high volume of water). No hot water in the tap. T&Bs are generally clean, can be messy at times so be respectful to your fellow guests and clean as you go.

Bed can pass hotel quality, comfortable matress and pillows, sheets are clean. However, we woke up the 3rd day with bedbug bites. My hand’s still swollen and itchy while typing this blog (picture added under customer service).

Room can be hot in the morning, unable to check fan availability, you can opt for open windows but it can be dusty when the wind blows hard since the private room windows are ground level. Hard to open windows at night (no screens) cause there are lots of insects, considering this place is surrounded by trees.

3. Location

Far away from the town proper and far means around 20mins away. If you don’t have a car, you’d need to walk from the main road as there are no means of transportation going to the hostel. If you have a car, note that there are rough patches so if you’re driving the “lowered” one, that might be a problem. Main road to hostel is dark, you have to rely to your headlights or lights from the houses at the side of the road. Note: one way, so slow down when passing curved roads. We learned from our tour guide that this is part of the farm-to-market road of the Gloria administration.

This place is perfect if you want to stray away from the city buzz and explore the mountainous side of Sagada. I also observed that it’s way cooler here compared to the town proper. Really quiet and peaceful at night.

Open parking is available around several meters away from the building. If you arrive late at night, flashlights will help since the surroundings are not well-lit or no lights at all.

4. Food

We were dead hungry after our 13-hour trip, so we had lunch first. Menu is limited so if you’re staying for a couple of days, you can opt to go out and try other restaurants. They have all-day breakfast which comes with meat-veggies-black rice. Food tastes fine but a bit pricy running at P220-P250 per order.

There are welcome drinks too but limited to choice of coffee or mountain tea.

We also tried some of their pasta which comes with toasted bread, price range is the same. Etag carbonara is a must try since they use traditionally preserved meat which is known to the Mountain Province.

Breakfast is free. Continental breakfast includes toasted bread, egg, choice of 2 spread (try their bugnay spread which is made from wild berries). I forgot to take pictures!

If you’re a coffee lover, prepare to splurge P95-P150 for a (small) cup of coffee outside your breakfast set. Pantry also closes 9pm, no more orders after that, keep snacks that you can nibble at wee hours.

5. Customer service.

If you’re looking for hotel type service, this is not the place for you. No room service. No special treatment of that sort. Sometimes, staff won’t even smile at you if they meet you at the corridors. You can say it’s pure accommodation, service is available in the pantry area only. Best to manage your expectations.

Front desk is okay, I cannot say that we had a warm welcome, just so so. When we arrived, no one helped with our bags even though they were joking around by asking the other staff to help my son with his load. Front desk officer helped though when we were about to enter our room. They were able to arrange a simple request and got us a tour guide.

When I feedback about the bedbug bites and showed them my hand as well as my son’s finger, the desk officer apologized but such a drawback to say that “they do not have control over the insect”, which I think can be improved by saying, “but rest assured we will check or clean the room”. After all that is our last day and they will benefit from the feedback.

Overall, this hostel is okay in terms of peace and quiet. But customer service can still be improved. Lighting and road condition (rough with chances of “balahaw”) can also be improved in the parking area.

Rating: 3/5

Coffee Heritage House
Sitio Nadatngan, Brgy. Madongo
Sagada 2619 Mt. Province

Apple OS X Lion: Yellow Highlight for Mac Mail

Apple OS X Lion: Yellow Highlight for Mac Mail

Just like many other Mac users out there, I find myself searching for an answer since this simple highlight function is not available in the Mail app.

Searched through the internet and there are possible solutions like this one (credits to the owner), but unfortunately it did not work for me.

I’m using OS X Lion (version 10.7.5) and Mail (version 5.3). So I came up with this temporary solution that would work just fine.

In Word, try composing an email signature, add a short word to highlight yellow (or any other color that you want). Highlight and copy all text.

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In Mail – Preferences – Signature, create a new signature and paste the text that you’ve created in Word file here. If you’re working with more than one email, note that you need to drag this signature under your desired account. Save changes made after.

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Now create a new email and pick the signature that you have just created. You can actually set this as your default email signature.

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You can now start typing the text that you want to highlight. You need to start typing after the last letter of the highlighted word so the format applies to the next text. You can just delete the unnecessary letters. In this sample, ‘Hi’ can just be deleted after.

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In case you want to remove the highlight, for example you want to remove the yellow color in the word ‘Hi’.

Highlight the word, right click and go to Font – Styles.

Choose Default – Apply. You should see the highlight removed after.

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So there you go! Hope this simple trick helps. Absolutely better than nothing. This worked for me, hope this helps someone out there too!

Vigan, Ilocos Sur: Vigan Empanada

Vigan, Ilocos Sur: Vigan Empanada

I was really excited about this when we confirmed our Ilocos itinerary last May 2015. I’ve tasted several empanadas here in Manila. Which is too orange for me. The crust could be thick thus starchy and would sag once cold.

I was keen to taste Batac empanada but didn’t get the chance as we’re too early on site and the stores are still closed then. The color of their empanada resembles the one that they offer in Manila, I’m not sure about the taste though.

If you want to try Vigan empanada, head out to Plaza Burgos and pick from the long row of empanada stores just at the foot of the plaza. We got confused looking around where to eat, so we picked the one with most patrons and asked the locals if it tastes good!



The Vigan empanada has a thin crust with only a slight hint of yellow and is super crunchy. It has another Vigan delicacy inside, their longganisa with vegetables and fresh egg cracked right before they fry it under high heat.


Vigan empanada

It’s a staple merienda in Vigan at an affordable price of (around) P35.00. I really wish I can make this at home!

Notes that can come handy, it can be very hot in this area since all stores serve freshly cooked empanadas. There are some electric fans within the shared dining area. Drinks could be overpriced.

Again, traveled last May 2015. Details may vary.

Ilocos Sur: Baluarte

Ilocos Sur: Baluarte

Part of our Ilocos itinerary was to go to Baluarte. We traveled May 2015, so do further research as details may have changed over time.

The place is owned by a politician, Chavit Singson. It can be described as a zoo, however there aren’t much animals to see that time since some parts are still under construction. There’s no entrance fee, all you need to do is register yourselves upon entering.


Exotic birds

Colorful exotic birds will welcome you, you’ll be surprised that they do not attempt to fly away and just stay in their makeshift branches.

There’s a big area with a couple of deer and horses. Which will cater you to big dinosaur statues, a favorite spot of tourists for photo ops.




A little hike more and you’ll see peacocks, swans, plus other animals which I don’t exactly remember (sorry). You’ll have to pay a fee if you want to see the tiger, which is not available for regular viewing.

There’s also a cooperative store inside that sell souvenirs. You can check this submarine too, quite interesting if you haven’t seen one.


The last part of your hike would be Chavit’s museum where he displays the head of taxidermied animals he killed from his hunting escapades.



Overall, this is something to check out especially if you have kids that would appreciate seeing live animals that they have read from the book, after all you can enter for free. But if it’s not your thing, then you can remove it from your itinerary.

Note that may come handy, it’s freaking hot out there (during that time) with lots of tourist, so bring water, towel, hat or fan to cool you down while walking. You can also try their bamboo juice, very delish!

Traveled May 2015, details may have changed.

Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte: Saud Beach

Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte: Saud Beach

Summer is here so I thought of sharing our Ilocos trip last May 2015.

During our Pagudpud leg, we stayed at Saud Beach and checked in at Chalet Bami.

We went to the beach around late afternoon after the much needed rest since we’re very exhausted from the long travel from Manila and numerous stop overs to see tourist spots en route to Saud.

This part of Pagudpud is more crowded or jam packed, accommodations vary from hotels (I didn’t see posh hotels), transients and even quite a number of home stays (private houses which offers a room for you to stay for a low cost).

The beach is around 2-3 minutes walk from our lodging. Not a problem at all. You will enter a gate leading to the beach.  I was surprised how white and fine the sand is!


Fine white beach. Lots of sea weeds.

But here’s the catch, when we went last year the waves are huge. There were lots of sea weeds floating and being washed ashore. And when I say lots, there are piles of sea weeds everywhere. The water though is not clear nor blue, but it may be because of the strong waves which stir the sand causing it to look a little bit roily.


View of the windmills from afar.

Since we have kids with us, we didn’t swim further away from the shore and instead we just built sand castles and played in the sand.

My favorite part? What can be more beautiful than watching the sunset in the beach!


Notes that may come handy:
Best to keep an eye on your kids, waves are huge.
No entrance fee, more of a public beach.
There are stray dogs in the beach, though I think they are used to the everyday crowd.

Traveled May 2015, details may vary.

Ilocos Sur: Bantay Church Bell Tower

Ilocos Sur: Bantay Church Bell Tower

We traveled to Ilocos last May 2015.

Part of our Vigan itinerary is to go to Bantay Church Bell Tower which is located within the compound of Saint Augustine Parish Church or more well known as Bantay Church.



The compound is spacious. There’s a lot of people when we went there though, so you have to wait in line to take a picture against the bell tower. We were not able to go up the belfry itself since it’s very hot at that time and we have tagged along kids with us.


The church itself is very old. I did some research and it is said to have been built from the 1500s. You can very well see from its stone walls that it has stood the test of time.


You will also find Chapel by the Ruins at the back of the church. It’s an open area, more of a garden where one can meditate in peace.


After our tour inside the church, we went straight to a small ‘panciteria’ just right outside the gate of the church. They sell pancit delicacies of the north. We tried batil patong, it is very delicious and affordable! This large bilao which is already good for 6-8 persons only cost us under P200.00.


Notes that can come handy, parking is available and there’s a working toilet inside the church’s compound.

Again, travel happened May 2015. Details may vary from present time.

Vigan, Ilocos Sur: Dancing Lights

Vigan, Ilocos Sur: Dancing Lights

One of the many interesting sights during our Ilocos trip last May 2015.

The Dancing Lights of Vigan is located at Plaza Salcedo, where they hold it every night. There’s no entrance fee, so better go early as the place is jam packed before the show starts at around 7pm. We were a bit late but still lucky to find a place right at the edge of the fountain area. Scout a higher spot for best viewing experience.


The plaza was renovated into a huge fountain area, dancing fountains synced with music and lights. Music varies from slow, upbeat, novelty and classic songs. While the water and lights follow the beat. The show lasted around 30-45 minutes.


Plaza/fountain by day


Here’s a SHORT CLIP of the musical fountain show, this is just a chunk of the whole fountain area though.

Overall, this is a treat that you should not miss when in Vigan. A great way to cap the night.


PS. Keep an eye on your kids, place can be jam packed as mentioned.

Again, traveled May 2015. Details may vary.

Vigan, Ilocos Sur: Pagburnayan (Jar Making)

Vigan, Ilocos Sur: Pagburnayan (Jar Making)

Traveled last May 2015. Details may have changed over a year’s time.

Pagburnayan means a place where you make pots, while burnay means pot or jar. I think there are two shops where you can enter and watch jar making process for free. They would even let you try it, then it’s up to you if you want to chip in a small donation for the crew. We included this in our itinerary and I was really looking forward to it. But I didn’t do it. Thought I wouldn’t get it right so just let Manong do his stuff in the pottery wheel.


Aside from jar making, they also sell all kinds of clay products from pots, jars, vases of different shapes and sizes.



Some serve as gardening pots, there are decorative ones and there are those small pots for your kids’ luto-lutuan. Not sure if these are used for other purposes, but just take a look at those cute clay pots!


Pagburnayan shops can be found at Gomez St. cor. Liberation Boulevard, Vigan City.

Again, details may vary from present time. We were there May 2015.