Saturday, March 31, 2012

Beguiling Beijing. Captivating China

Ever since Beijing has been announced as the host of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games up to the time when this biggest sporting event happened, my eyes has been looking to this East destination. For a couple of years in between and at the end of Olympic Games period, Beijing and China is fast becoming a new superstar destination. This was further intense by the monthly and yearly covers of various travel magazines that promotes this once “sleeping Dragon” into now a “rising Phoenix”. China has been making waves in the last seven years. Aside from Olympics, its experiencing continuous economic growth that economists predicts that China will be the next economic superpower in the next years to come. No wonder that everyone turns to East this time, as China is becoming the center of the world.

Ni Hao!
And I don’t want to be left behind. I want to experience this captivating country. I’ve been planning to visit Beijing for two years already. The plan trip has been through a lot of things before it finally happened. I experience trip cancellation (3 times to be exact!), vacation leave embargoes, ticket forfeiture and even drag to airline’s employee labor dispute. That’s why I likened this trip to an epic journey of TV teleserye that in the end had a happy ending.  And as they say – everything happens in perfect time. This trip coincided a week after my birthday and becomes my ultimately birthday treat!

China is one of the hottest destination today that any traveler should not hardly miss. It widely opens it doors to welcome the world to discover its delightful charms. Beijing is a historical city with so much beguiling places to discover. While China is captivating as as its thousands of years world influence, contribution and rich imperial history that has captivated us in the history books.

Love, Beijing...
Beijing at night.
China officially known as the People's Republic of China is a vast country in Eastern Asia with the world's largest population of over 1.3 billion. The East Asian state covers approximately 9.6 million square kilometers (3.7 million square miles) in total area and is the world's second-largest country by land area. China's landscape is vast and diverse, with forest steppes and the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts occupying the arid north and northwest near Mongolia and Central Asia, and subtropical forests being prevalent in the wetter south near Southeast Asia. The terrain of western China is rugged and elevated, with the Himalaya, Karakoram, Pamir and Tian Shan mountain ranges separating China from South and Central Asia. Since the introduction of market-based economic reforms in 1978, China has become the world's fastest-growing major economy. As of 2012, it is the world's second-largest economy, after the United States, by both nominal GDP and purchasing power parity (PPP), and is also the world's largest exporter and second-largest importer of goods. On per capita terms, China ranked 90th by nominal GDP and 91st by GDP (PPP) in 2011, according to the IMF. (Source:

Beijing is the capital of the most populous country in the world - China, and also its second largest city after Shanghai. It was also the seat of the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors until the formation of a republic in 1911. Beijing is the political, educational and cultural centre of the country and as such it is rich in historical sites and important government and cultural institutions. Beijing literally means Northern Capital, a role it has played many times in China's long history. Beijing's history dates back several thousand years but it first became notable in Chinese history after it was made the capital of the State of Yan under the name Yanjing. Yan was one of the major kingdoms of the Warring States Period, some 2,000 years ago. After the fall of Yan, during the later Han and Tang dynasties, the Beijing-area was a major prefecture of northern China. The city is well known for its flatness and regular construction. There are only three hills to be found in the city limits Like the configuration of the Forbidden City, Beijing has concentric "ring roads", which are actually rectangular, that go around the metropolis. Beijing has a total of 14 districts and 2 counties. It became the host of the XXIX Summer Olympic Games in August 2008. (Source:

My first Winter Sunset in China...
Expect the following travel trip stories that I will share on my Beijing trip in the following months:

Beijing – A Beguiling City. Experiencing the city first-hand is one of the most exciting part of my journey. Getting used to the winter weather is a major adjustment from someone who came from a tropical country as well as to the new environment of a city. Beijing is one of the most modern and biggest city I have been but still remains tourist-friendly with all the interesting sights just within the city. From huge skyscrapers, jam-packed subway to the historical palaces and temples, I will share here the must-see and experience when you come to Beijing.

Winter Sonata in China. It’s my first time to experience winter in China! It wasn’t just a wonderful experience but also an enriching one – learning the places to see when its winter in China. No chilly wind, cold weather and even a frostbite will stop me from exploring this beautiful country.

Winter Sonata in China...
Roaming through Beijing. Majority of Chinese in Beijing is mostly “no English” in conversation so communication is really a barrier but with the help of English translated maps and stations of the subways, buses and friendly taxis, roaming in Beijing to discover why it is so beguiling is now never a problem for a do-it-yourself trip. I will share here how easy it is to roam in Beijing using their different modes of public transportation.  

One Spring Day in Beijing. March is still Winter in Beijing but the month is also the transition month to Spring season. Here, I discover the different places ideal to see in the city during to upcoming Spring season.

Forbidden City: Forbidden No more. Discover what is life inside the imperial palace and courts of ancient China of the old dynasties by visiting the palace museum that has been the seat of the imperial China for thousands of years and home of many emperor rulers of the country before it came to its present government. Discover history facts and stories behind the walls that have been part of Chinese history withing the walls of the marvelous palace. This is a trip down to history books of ancient China face to face.

Night sightseeing of Tiananmen Square.
 Let the gates of China be open at Forbidden Palace.
A Dragon Hike to the Great Wall of China. A trip to China is not complete without seeing, climbing and hiking one of the 7 wonders of the world – The Great Wall of China! This is a must-see and must-experience when one is visiting China! A real opportunity of a lifetime! I visited the less crowded, less touristy section of the Great Wall, the Mutianyu section which is perfect for souvenir photos. This is also a trip to history books face to face as the wall has been part of the Chinese and world history. But I never thought that hiking the Great Wall is not that easy as I see. It needs a “Dragon Hike” to explore it literally!

Beijing’s Architectural Wonders. The city of Beijing is not just all about the historical sights to wander but also about modern and spectacular architectural wonders that has been part of its modernity as a city. The Egg, Water Cube and the famed Bird’s Nest became the popular names of these city structures because of its spectacular architecture where it is likened. Visiting and getting a close encounter of these structures made me truly marvel to these works of architecture in Beijing.

A Dragon Hike to the Great Wall of China.
Bird's Nest or the National Stadium - one of Beijing's architectural wonders.
Peking Duck: An Authentic Chinese Cuisine. In every trip, food trip will always be part of the travel especially trying the local cuisine which is a good way to discover the place you are visiting. In Beijing, eating a roasted Peking Duck will complete your China experience. It is an authentic Chinese cuisine as this cuisine has been perfected and practiced since the imperial time of China. True to other testimonies, it’s quite oily but taste so delicious!

Wangfujing’s Lively Street Life. The shopping, commercial and night market district of Beijing, Wangfujing is so lively and vibrant especially at night. You can stroll down the malls left and right for branded goods and clothes or dine with various restaurants along the commercial street-side. If that is not your preference, you can stroll down the secret alleys for souvenir bargains and when you’re hungry already you can try eating in their roasting stalls from seafood to scorpions! From high-end world-class shopping to exotic street foods, Wangfujing never runs out of choices to stroll by nighttime. It is one of Beijing’s best places to appreciate by night.

Our dinner of authentic Chinese cuisine on our last night in Beijing.
The Imperial Gardens of Beijing. One of the best places to visit in Beijing is visiting its imperial gardens which are perfect for afternoon strolls while having a cool vibe of Winter season. These imperial gardens have been part of the ancient Chinese dynasty periods as they have been the retreat places of Chinese monarchs during the imperial period of China. I bet these parks are more lovelier in Spring or Summer when the trees are in full growth and flowers are in full bloom and in Autumn when all the leaves are turning yellow and red. But whatever the season is, these parks are lovely all the time.  

The gates at Beijing Capital International Airport Terminal 2.
Exploring Wangfujing.
China as the next superpower? Its not far from reality. Its economic growth is in continuous progress over the years. Modernity is happening rapidly in the country. And it continuously embraces globalization. This is how I see China. Just seeing Beijing, you can see the pour of modernity and interest. But still remains as a tourist friendly city especially on its subways and its proximity to the cities sights and works on reducing the city’s pollution. No wonder every road leads to China.

Even the winter chill and cold blow of wind of March is covering up China during my visit, I still had an enjoyable stay there. My trip has been a fulfilling experience and discoveries. I gain again experiences of a lifetime – something that is very rewarding in every travel. I feel that it was a great opportunity to see one of the most interesting country in the world, experience their culture and see the next world superpower. With all the interesting sights I saw and experiences I had in China, I feel my five days stay in Beijing is not enough! The post-experience only wants me to return to China once more... but this time in Autumn, a season I never experience yet. China was once a close kingdom and regarded as a “Sleeping Dragon” but with all the rapid changes and growth that happened and on-going to the country and its continuous welcoming the change of times, the world is turning to East – to China.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bolinao Accomodation: Solomon’s Paradise Resort and Bar Grill

I first heard about Solomon’s Paradise Resort and Bar Grill when it was featured in a Manila Bulletin Travel section issue. It was being promoted as a resort of choice to stay when visiting Bolinao. I research about the resort in their multiply website and found their amenities and facilities were enough to satisfy my short day-off getaway in Bolinao, Pangasinan.

A piece of home in Bolinao, Pangasinan.
Resort's main building.
The resort is located 40 minutes away from Bolinao town proper in Baranggay Abrac near the coastal area. On the road going to the resort you’ll encounter a bumpy tricycle ride as the some parts of the main road leading to the resort are not yet pave which I did not expect in a 40 minute tricycle ride! Its quite a pain in the ass on a road trip and I did not expect that its quite far from the town proper but good thing the resort has a personal tricycle to fetch its clients from the town proper. Mang Celso was a very kind tricycle driver. He is also a tour guide in a Bolinao tour. Tricycles are the only public vehicles roaming in the area of Barangay Abrac, other than that are private vehichles.

First and last sunset experience in Solomon's Paradise beach front.
Me and my friends arrived at the resort during sunset time. It was a perfect moment to stroll by the resort’s picturesque beach front! True to its website pictures, its beach front is one of its main assets. Aside from the beach itself, the beach is surrounded by beautiful and scenic rock formations that are very suitable to the beach scenery and perfect for travel photography shots. Solomon’s Paradise Resort beach is best explored in the morning where the beauty of the rock formations is fully seen in every detail. Though the beach is rocky because its natural surroundings, it has a very rewarding seascape that will meet you eyes. There were also “natural pools” by the beach. It is a rock formation submerge in the  shallow waters where in the middle is a hole of various sizes and one can swim inside like a private pool. Though, you have to be careful in trying to swim in those natural pools as it has varying depths that might not meet your body height. Solomon’s Paradise Resort’s beach front is one of the amenities that made me choose to stay there.

First sunrise... Good morning Bolinao!
The main building's rooftop - perfect for hangout and relaxation.
What I also like in Solomon’s Paradise Resort is its true testament of proximity to places of interests in Bolinao. The resort is near to Bolinao’s main place of interests like Enchanted Cave (7 minutes away), Wonderful Cave (3-5 minutes away), Bolinao Lighthouse (5 minutes away) and Patar Beach (10 minutes away). So visiting these places of interests in Bolinao is not a problem when staying in the resort. Plus the resort is offering an affordable package tour to these places which me and my friends availed during our stay. Mang Celso was our guide in the tour who patiently waited for us as we explore the different sights in Bolinao.
Nipa hut rooms.
A sample room of the resort. No air-conditioned room in all rooms.
Pinoy-style fan room of the resort. Photo courtesy of the resort's website.
The room accommodation and its amenities of the resort depends on the preferred taste of the guests. All of the rooms are fan rooms only with no private bathroom and comfort room. Bathroom and comfort room are communal and a couple of steps away from the rooms. All of the rooms are made of bamboo and nipa hut native style set-up together in one piece facility. There are also no private television to watch that can be the main activity of the guests by night time. There is also no wi-fi internet zone in the resort.

The amenities were not a big deal to me as the resort seems to be built not in the traditional standard accommodation type but in a literal resort vacation type. But my friends were surprised who is used to standard accommodations with TV, aircon, private comfort rooms and maybe with mini-fridge rooms. The fan room is not a problem because at night it is very cold that you’ll switch the fan off. There’s just not much to do at night in the resort because its quite dark outside and the resort is quite in a remote place. But don’t worry its safe, telephone is available at the receiving area and there are mobile phone signals.  The communal bathroom and comfort room is quite an issue because you need to walk a couple of steps to reach it. It is near the reception building where the caretaker stays and payment is made. Though, there are enough bathrooms and comfort rooms for the guests, it quite a hassle for a 10-step walk to the facility especially at night time. Me and my friends just thought that those situation are not worst but part of an experience in vacation getaway where one must expose to different or new things to get an unforgettable trip.

The crown glory of the resort... its beach-front!
Perfect for photoshoot!
Only in Solomon's Paradise...
Awe in the beauty of the rock formations...
A stunning beach front of the resort.
Play like a sea goddess in Solomon's Paradise beach.
Our morning is rewarded by the scenic beach front of the resort and a beautiful sunrise. We had a breakfast by the beach front under one of the open-air nipa huts. Breakfast is free and part of the room accommodation we availed. Guests can also use the resort’s hammock which is also by the beach front to relax. And then you can stroll by the beach the whole morning after breakfast just like what we done. Or you can stroll there the whole day if you want. Good thing were the only guest in the resort during our stay. It made us feel having a private vacation and had the resort all by ourselves. I can say all the guest here can have a private, quiet, fun and unforgettable vacation.

I would not recommend the resort for those who prefers standard room accommodations but for guests who are looking for a remote, private and quiet vacation, this is recommended. I don’t find the facilities and amenities as worst but can be improve. They have an affordable package for room accommodations and Bolinao sightseeing tours that can meet the requirements of a budget traveler. Their rates just suited to what they offer. But overall, Solomon’s Paraside Resort and Bar Grill is perfect for those who intend to explore Bolinao’s treasured sights and to have an unforgettable vacation in a short time with family and friends.  

Solomon’s Paradise Bar Grill Beach Resort
Abrac, Patar, Bolinao, Pangasinan
Philippines 2406
Reservation inquiries, bookings and contacts: 0905 3981470 (Globe) and 0928 4748845 (Smart)
E-mail :
*This is not a paid article promotion

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Discover Manila: Manila Ocean Park’s Once upon an Ocean

When Manila Ocean Park opened several years ago, I thought the place was built for kids to enjoy aquariums and marine life. But since my visit to the ocean park last Christmas holiday, my perception about Manila Ocean Park as a place for kids changed. It is not just all about aquariums and fishes but also a great place for recreation with family and friends while learning about the importance of marine life and our ocean environment. Today, with hotel, shopping, restaurants, entertainment and club facilities, Manila Ocean Park is now one of Manila’s premier must-visit sight.

A swirl of big fishes at Ang Kalaliman.
Before entering Manila Ocean Park, I thought it was only an aquarium of fishes and marine animals. I didn’t know that the park also has penguin and sea lion shows as well as a fountain show and arctic world facility to depict life in the cold world of Antarctica. Manila Ocean Park also boasts a hotel accommodation, the H2O Hotel along with complete shopping facilities and numerous restaurants around. It also has a bar lounges – White Moon Bar and Liquid – for those who want to enjoy night life at the ocean park. But before a visitor can enter the park, one must choose first a ticket with a good package of sights to visit inside the park with a corresponding price rate. I think our choice package was good enough to savor the sights of Manila Ocean Park fully.

Welcome to ocean world!
Rainforest motif of Agos.
Touch pool in Agos.
Bamboo Shark eggs attached to a stone.
The oceanarium is the first facility that visitors should see first. It’s an ideal place to have a closer look and learning about marine life and marine animals. I was greeted by a forest theme area complete with piranhas in fish tanks and crocodile in a river-like den when I enter the oceanarium. The walls are covered by various tropical plants and a ceiling partly covered with plants that have draping roots to give an authentic forest theme. There’s also a touch pool where once can marine animals that live in shallow reefs like white spotted bamboo sharks and its eggs, blue sea star, chocolate chip sea star and target fishes. I didn’t know that this – a rainforest motif section is Agos (Flow) and next to it is Bahura (The Filipino term for reef). I am delighted to learn that Manila Ocean Park used Filipino phrase and terms to describe the different sections of the oceanariums to give a genuine Filipino theme.

Reef fishes in Bahura.
Seahorse Galore!
Baby seahorse! Small as half a thumb!
Various fishes in aquariums at Bahura.
In Bahura, there are numerous aquariums that display fishes and marine animals found in reefs like blue ribbon fish, angel fish, clown triggerfish, lionfish and live bamboo shark eggs where you can clearly see the moving baby shark inside the egg. If you don’t know anything about the name of marine fishes that you are seeing there are information boards below each aquarium that gives the name of the species complete with its scientific name and Filipino common name for it as well as a short information about the marine animal. Among the displayed reef fishes and animals that fascinated me are the seahorses which comes in yellow color and their hatchlings which is so tiny like a piece of thread and firefish because of its yellow dotted head with a horn-like dorsal fin, a body colored half white half deep red and a black tailfin. Another fascinated me was the Edong or Spotted Garden Eel that looks like small snakes borrowed in sands and chatting with each other! According to the information board, they usually live individually in burrows from which they protrude.

Edong or Spotted Garden Eel.
A very attractive firefish.
Bamboo Shark's live eggs - the babies are moving clearly!
Stripped lionfish!
In Laot (means middle of the ocean), there is a vast space in circular pattern where on the circular sides are huge aquariums that displays big fishes Eagle-spotted rays in a long tank. Inside these aquariums are depiction of sunken shipwrecks and its debris that we typically seen in National Geographic diving documentaries. Those depictions give a visitor a feel of what diving is like in ”laot” of our oceans.

Welcome to the middle of the ocean, the translation of Laot.
Big fishes in Laot.
Yours truly, with a big fish!
In Buhay na Karagatan, walk through Asia's largest underwater viewing tunnel, stretching 25 meters long and curved at 220 degrees. Here, I saw a lot of marine fishes that are found in our seas like sharks, sting rays, eels and a lot of colorful fishes. There are over 5,000 varieties of marine creatures from around 300 species, all indigenous to the Philippines and the Southeast Asia according Manila Ocean Park. While, there are side seats for visitors to admire this beautiful section of the oceanarium, this is also the most crowded section of the oceanarium. A lot of visitors stay longer in this section that’s why walking inside the aquarium was slow as if there’s a human traffic. So, I got a sudden feeling of moving away from this section. I just stayed for a while with my family and took some souvenir shots before proceed to the next section. Though, the oceanarium is quite short in length for a walkthrough, I think this has the widest viewing aquarium glass at least to give a real feel of what is life like in the ocean world.

An underwater viewing tunnel.
Fishes at Buhay na Karagatan.
Sting Ray or Pagi.
Our family Christmas Holiday 2011 at Manila Ocean Park.
Next section of oceanarium is Ang Kalaliman (The Deep) which also contains the sections of Pagi (Sting Ray) and Pating (Shark). In this section of the oceanarium I saw a large aquarium containing sea bass and other fishes that can be found in the deepest parts of the Philippine waters and various species of sharks like Blacktip Reef Shark, Whitetip Reef Shark, Leopard Shark and Tawny Nurse Shark. But above this section on the ceiling is a large aquarium like an overhang tank containing sting rays or “pagi”.

The Deep.
Promoting "Going Green"
Water Recycle - very important in conservation of our water resources.
After this, we proceeded to the gallery section where on exhibit are ways to do water recycling and information about water pollution. The gallery also exhibits attractive drawings and illustration to draw visitors’ attention into conservation of our water supplies and marine life. This is a part of true testament of the park’s commitment in environmental awareness and protection particularly to marine environment and oceans. For me, this is a great way of spreading the concept of Green Travel.

Stunning Manila Harbor.
Manila Harbor viewing area - Perfect for rest, relaxation or just breathing a fresh air.
One of the paintings in the art galleries spreading the message of saving and conserving our oceans.
 The exit to the oceanarium leads to a spacious view of Manila Bay where the charming harbor is docked with ships and beautifully illuminated by the sunset sky. After admiring the bay, I and my family proceeded to the entrance to the Arctic World section where there are illustrations, information and pictures about life in Antarctica and how it is to live in the cold environment of the continent. Next are art gallery paintings that illustrate the different ways on how to take care of our oceans and marine life. It also depicts how people badly affect our seas and marine life. The final stop is the y proceeded to oceanariums’ souvenir shop where souvenirs items can be bought like stuff toys, t-shirts, keychains, mugs and pens.

Jellies - dancing sea fairies!
You'll marvel at their dance.
Dancing to the sound of Beethooven or Mozart?
Warm flash of colors.
I also visited a special section of Manila Ocean Park, aptly named Jellies, dancing sea fairies, which is one of the must-see sights of the marine park. Why? Because there are only few marine parks that displays jellyfishes of various species in an aquarium gallery. One of the amusing feature of these aquarium display of jellyfishes is the play of a classical music (I’m not sure if these is in a Beethoven or Mozart music) that seemed to make the jellyfishes dance gracefully to it. The seemingly choreograph swimming motion of jellyfishes to the music along with flashes of colorful lights made these marine animals perfect to be dubbed as “dancing sea fairies”. Your attention will be drawn to the jellyfishes’ graceful dance in the water. The various species of jellyfishes on display are box jellyfish and moon jellyfish.

Jellies - the dancing sea fairies!
Moon jellies delight!
See the graceful dance of the jellyfishes...
Dancing gracefully...
Dancing to the sound of music and flash of colors.
A box jellyfish doing a solo act dance number.
It was almost seven in the evening that we finished seeing the Jellies section. We then proceed to the open-air amphitheater to watch the much-awaited Magical Fountain Show which will start at 7pm and the last show for the day in Manila Ocean Park. The Magical Fountain Show is one amazing show that every visitor must see in Manila Ocean Park. I say it is a must-see show because it is not only just a spectacular display of colorful fountains, sound and magic but it also has a very important message about the conserving our oceans and seas.

Once upon an ocean...
Shoot up!
Blast of water and lights.
Truly magical!
The Magical Fountain Show started with a laser light reflector of a fish narrating the story of “Once Upon an Ocean” where the entire show will center. It is then followed by the intermingling trick of colorful lights and various sounds of the fountain show. Also part of the show are the funny sea animals mascots like starfishes, shrimps and lion fishes that sings, dances and acts. To the delight of the audience, the show also featured a laser light display against the water fountain of character marine animals like clownfish (the Nemo character to everyone), seahorse, jellyfish, sword fish and stingray that danced to the tune of the song of Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours. It was followed by an octopus character playing a piano music in the form of laser as well. The fountain show returned again for the finale with a grander exhibition this time to amuse the audience. The show of the water fountains is more colorful and the sounds are attention getter this time up to the end where a The Magical Fountain Show ended in a spectacular display of water fountain tricks but the narration of the ocean story and its message is clear at the end about the awareness, conservation and importance of our oceans and seas.

A sample video of Magical Fountain Show

An amazing display of lights and water fountain.
Beautiful finale!
I had great family bonding at Manila Ocean Park. This is also why this visit is special as it is holiday time spent with my family. At first, I thought the marine park is just popular for kids but now I realized that it is for everyone. People of all ages are seen visiting the marine park. Anyone who loves the fishes, the seas, and the marine world will definitely love a visit here. It is fast-becoming a premier destination in Manila that is helping the city to boost its tourism. I’m sure anyone who wants to have a great family and friend bonding will be worthy spent here. I had a worthy enjoyable day spent at Manila Ocean Park. It is not only because of the family bonding I had and the amazing marine animals that I saw in the aquariums but also because of the essential environmental lesson that I learned about our marine life and our oceans in which Manila Ocean Park imparts to all its visitors.

Discover Manila is a series of travel stories and articles about the interesting places of Manila in promoting the capital of the Philippines as a destination of choice and proof that the Manila still has the must-see and must-experience for every visitor.

Manila Ocean Park
Behind the Quirino Grandstand at Rizal Park, Manila.
Contacts: 567-7777 loc. 118, 119 & 123
Learn more about Manila Ocean Park, here.
This is not a paid article promotion.
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