Monday, October 23, 2017

Negros Occidental's Sweet Surprises

The "Land of Sweet Surprises" draws its sweet surprises not just from endless fields of sugar canes which it is very well known for but also from Sipalay: The Jewel of Sugar Island, booming Bacolod and historic Talisay. My visit to those places made up my sweet surprise discoveries to the province of Negros Occidental as part of my summertime adventure. Its sweetness doesn't just lays on its yearly sugar produce nor in sugar glazed Napoleones, but also extends to its people and hidden gem places worthy to be surprised. Sweet discoveries indeed for Summer and for my birthday trip!

My birthday trip 2013 was late in celebration already as my birth month is March. Yet due to schedule conflicts at work, I had it moved a month later (April). Though I’m disappointed that it was first time in 5 years that I will celebrate it a month later, it was nonetheless still in summer season – the best season to travel around Philippines. And I’m still in the mood for a summer travel.

Negros Occidental's Sweet Surprises.
So despite of many mishaps, when a thing is destine to happen, it will really happen! So I pushed through with this trip to Negros Occidental on an early morning flight alone! My travel buddies for this birthday trip were my close friends from work but they’re on another airline, because of the late schedule announcement at work, caused them not to get the same flight I had to Bacolod. Fast forward, after an hour flight to the “The City of Smiles”, I landed in Bacolod! It was first time here and my impression of the airport was good, modern, new, clean and functional.

I’m happy to locate my travel buddies who were earlier than 10 minutes in arrival with my flight. We went ahead to taxi services going out of Silay (where the airport is located) to Bacolod downtown, specifically to South Bound Ceres Bus Terminal to proceed to our first destination in the province – Sipalay. Travel time is 45 minutes from Silay to South Bound Ceres Bus Terminal.
First glimpse of "Land of Sweet Surprises"
South-bound Terminal of Ceres Bus Liner.
Negros Occidental is one of the provinces of Western Visayas region. It occupies the northwestern half of Negros Island. Popularly known as the “Sugarbowl of the Philippines” because of its numerous sugar cane farms and sugar produce where half of the nation’s sugar produce comes from, the province capital is Bacolod. The main dialect spoken here is Hiligaynon or Ilonggo for others which made me feel at home as I understand and speak few Ilonggo.

Sipalay: The Jewel of Sugar Island.

Sipalay is 5 hours away from Negros Occidental’s capital – Bacolod. It is located in the southern area of Panay Island which is popular for its pristine beaches, diving activities and resorts. This is also the reason why Sipalay became a city already and a center of tourism destination in Negros Occidental. Our contact in Sipalay was tricycle driver slash Sipalay tour guide Kuya Dado Peralta (0921-7865615) who toured us to the rich places of interests in Sipalay.

The end part of Matlag Cave.
Matlag Cave is an underground cave with a small opening near a national highway over a private property. Inside the cave is long walkthrough over numerous stalagtites and stalagmites that ends in a small pond water source that rises when high tide. It takes only 10 minutes to explore the cave.

Tinagong Dagat means hidden beach. It is a private resort harbored by hill-like islets with waters that exit out to the open sea. The hill islands are connected by bamboo-made bridges so you can explore the islands easily and explore what to see in its various viewpoints.

Panoramic view of Tinagong Dagat.
Stunning views from Tinagong Dagat.
It is has budget friendly accommodation (actually cheaper than our original accommodation in Sipalay) for visitors who want to stay overnight at the resort. The main highlight of Tinagong Dagat visit is the trek to one of the highest hill of the islets to centrally see a panoramic view of Tinagong Dagat. The view is not just beautiful or stunning but it was a perfect sweet surprise view of Sipalay.

Campoquino Bay can be seen on the viewpoint after a 20 minute trek/hike on a hill of the Campoquino Bay Beach Resort. The viewpoint also lets you see the coastal side city of Sipalay. To reach Campoquino Bay, we were alighted to Campoquino Bay Beach Resort which by the way is another accommodation option for Sipalay visitors. Visitor comes here not mainly for the beach but for the view point of Campoquino Bay as the view was postcard-perfect scenery of Sipalay as “The Jewel of Sugar Island”. I agree as the beach here is not impressive.

Campoquino Bay from the hilltop view point.
Punta Ballo Beach also known as White Beach is a long stretch of cream white sand beach beach with many resorts to stay on. Resorts here were also offering diving activities as the waters beyond Punta Ballo Beach is rich in marine life like colorful corals and fishes. The beach is not that impressive but has a cream colored fine sand perfect for sweet summer vacation.

Punta Ballo Beach.
Sipalay Public Beach was our next destination. It is a public beach in Sipalay Boulevard that can be visited for a perfect afternoon bonding and sunset watching. The public beach is a long stretch of creamy brown sand that has the picturesque view of Sipalay hill islands on its both sides. Near the beach are eateries for visitors who want to have dinner by the beach.

Sipalay public beach is the best site to watch sunset.
Negros Occidental's sweet sunset!
The last leg of the tour of Sipalay was supposedly Sugar Beach. But due to time constraint, we visit it the following morning. Sugar Beach is a kilometer long stretch of cream brown sugar-like beach sand hence why it got its name. The sand of the beach makes it popular and thus becomes one of the attractions in the city. Sugar Beach can be reach either by trek/walk or short boat ride from a river bank. It is 45 minutes away from city proper.

Sugar Beach.
The travel buddies with Kuya Dado, our guide/tryk driver in Sipalay.
Perth Paradise Resort, our accommodation in Sipalay is nonetheless a destination itself. The moment I saw the beautiful photos of this resort in Jepepips’ blog, I knew already I wanted to stay in this resort! The stunning view of Sipalay islets from its infinity pool makes it a must destination to visit. You will never run out Instagram-worthy pictures and travel photos in this resort. The view was superbly stunning! You will never get tired of taking pictures in all angles! And you will never get tired of swimming in its infinity pool because of the unique and unforgettable view. I could swim in its pool forever!

Perth Paradise Resort's sweet surprise!
Every summer should be like this...
Rooftop view from Perth Paradise Resort's airconditioned room.
That’s why I never bother staying overnight in this resort despite its pricey accommodation. We could have stayed in a cheaper inn at downtown Sipalay as our guide suggested. But we still opted to stay here mainly because the view from the resort was not just worth it but something I never experience before. Plus its my birthday trip, so I deserve some pampering, you know. During our stay, we were the only guests in the resort! So it seems we got the resort by ourselves and I felt a very private stay at Perth Paradise Resort. The resort has its own store and you can ask them to cook for you for your food as restaurants, eateries and stores are far from the resort. The resort also has a view deck roof top balcony above its aircondition rooms, which has a greater view of the islets of Sipalay. Jepepips’ blog was my entire travel guide for this Sipalay trip. Thank you, man. Read his blog at Donde si Jepepips.

Booming Bacolod.

We return to Bacolod after our tour of Sipalay. Being the capital of the province of Negros Occidental, Bacolod is a booming urban city in Visayas region. It is the province’s center of commerce, business, academics, seat of government, trade and transportation hub. Yet, it is also a bustling tourism destination of its own – especially during Masskara Festival held every October.

Bacolod City is like Metro Manila with all the busy streets, vehicles, crowded and pollution (which I prayed the city will work on soon and ASAP!) minus the urban jungle of skyscraper buildings. But nonetheless, it has simple charm of its own. I think the sweet and polite Ilonggos is one of its simple charms.

The authentic Chicken Inasal at Aida's Chicken!
When in Bacolod, you shouldn’t miss the famed Chicken Inasal! It is probably the “national dish” of Bacolod and if not, the whole province of Negros Occidental! Chicken Inasal before its crawl it’s famed to Metro Manila, is already a common dish in Bacolod and the whole province of Negros Occidental. The dish is a roasted chicken marinated in special mixed of spice, vinegar, annatto and lime grilled over hot coals. It is one of my favorite Filipino dishes as well because the roasted chicken is richly flavored in mixed spices and best eaten with rice. And the best place to try this dish in Bacolod is at Aida’s Chicken in Manokan Country which is always crowded with visitors all the time for its big serving of Chicken Inasal.

Birthday night in Bacolod's C's Cafe.
Our first night in Bacolod is not complete without a plate dessert after a sumptuous dinner of Chicken Inasal.  The perfect place for sampling the sweets of Bacolod is C’s Café of L’s Fisher Hotel. This was also the perfect time to celebrate my birthday in Bacolod. I was caught in surprise when my friends ordered a slice of chocolate decadence birthday cake for me! I was touched by the surprise but it was thankful night in Bacolod ended with great laugh and stories with my best friends who are also my best travel buddies. Don’t forget to visit C’s Café whenever in Bacolod for their sweet surprises of coffees, chocolates and cakes.

San Sebastian Cathedral - one of the famous landmarks of Bacolod.
The following morning we went to San Sebastian Cathedral. The church is a 19th century landmark in Bacolod and the seat of Roman Catholic Diocese of Bacolod. I went inside the church to make a thankful birthday prayer. After that, we explore the amazing century old structure of the church which was stunningly tall and massive front facade. But the main interior of San Sebastian was also equally stunning and beautifully made.

Historic Talisay.

We made our way to Talisay City after a quick roam in Bacolod. Talisay is a 4th class city of Negros Occidental and located north of Bacolod. We travelled here to see what I think is the famous landmark of the province – The Ruins. Lacson Mansion or commonly known now as The Ruins because of its present state as a ruin structure is an ancestral home mansion of wealthy sugar baron Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson. Don Lacson built it early 1900s for his wife Maria Braga Lacson which later earned a monicker as The Taj Mahal of Negros because of its history likened to Taj Mahal of India. It became a ruin as it is today because it was burnt by the Americans during World War II believing it will be used by the Japanese forces as a base. But today, it was preserve by the private ownership of Lacson family as a tourism destination in Silay.

The Ruins at night.
History buffs will find The Ruins interesting because of its rich background. But if you’re not, you’ll still find it interesting. The Italian inspired architecture of the mansion will surely never run out of photos in all angles from travel photography geeks like me. Those who love photoshoots, I doubt if you wouldn’t like the Instragram-worthy pics of The Ruins. The garden and the fountain at its front, simply adds to its timeless beauty. I personally appreciate the ruin building and its architecture as a whole because it wasn’t simply about its part of the history of Talisay or Negros Occidental but it’s also about appreciation of beauty from a ruin old mansion that is supposedly ugly, abandoned or almost into forgotten thing.  

The Ruins can be visited at day and at night which we both did. The Ruins at night is a picture of classic beauty, romanticism and intimacy with all its interiors and surroundings beautifully lit. The Ruins at day is a picture of vivid gorgeousness for its clear details of the structures remain. You decide! I’m having a hard time which is which the best time to visit The Ruins. Whether night or day, The Ruins never failed to mesmerized me.

The Ruins at day.
Don't forget to bring home Napoleones!
Asta sa liwat, Negros Occidental!
Negros Occidental made my summer trip tagged along my birthday trip extra sweet with its sights, food and places worth exploring! It never runs out of sweet discoveries, indeed – Land of Sweet Surprises. Until to the last much of Napoleones that I bought home, I will never forget those sweet surprises.

*Bacolod-Silay Airport to Bacolod. Travel time is 30-40 minutes. Shuttle taxi is PHP150 for group of 3 person.

*How to reach Sipalay. Sipalay is 5 hours away from Bacolod. It can be reach by taking bus Ceres Liner at South Bus Terminal. Note, there are 2 bus terminal in Bacolod. The other one is North Bus Terminal. Sipalay is located south of the province, therefore buses bound there were at South Bus Terminal. Fare is PHP209 on non-air conditioned bus and PHP238 for air conditioned bus per person as of March 2016.

*Sipalay Tour. My guide contact in Sipalay is Kuya Dado Peralta. He normally doesn't say his price for the whole tour but I gave him PHP1,000 for the whole trip as he also fetched us during our arrival and departure in Sipalay. He is kind, polite and works as a tricycle driver when he has no tour clients. He uses his tricycle for Sipalay Tours. It can accommodate 4 person. Contact number - 0921-7865615.

*Entrance Fees. Some of the places of interests in Sipalay Tour has entrance fees. The following fee is per person: Matlag Cave - PHP30.00. Tinagong Dagat - PHP30.00. Campoquino Bay - PHP30.00. Sugar Beach - PHP300 (entrance fee and boat transfer included).

*How to reach The Ruins. Ride a jeepney with a signboard Bata. Get off at Pepsi Bottling Plant or tell the driver to alight you tricycle terminal to The Ruins. Travel time is 15-20 minutes. Fare is PHP8.00 per person. Tricycle terminal to The Ruins can be easily seen across the bottling plant and has a recognizable signage. Ride a tricycle bound for The Ruins. Fare is PHP40.00 per way. Travel time is 15 minutes. Entrance is PHP95.00 per person. Students have discounts just present your ID.

*Accomodation in Sipalay.
Perth Paradise Resort
Barangay 4, Sitio Sambulawan, Sipalay City, Negros Occidental.
Contact No: 0932-8700994

*Accommodation in Bacolod. 
Ong Bun Pension House
Lazuriaga Street (in front of Central Market), Bacolod City, Negros Occidental.
Contact No: (034)709-8128/0910-4335061/0923-6924999

Negros Occidental's Sweet Surprise is my Summer 2016 travel trip and my Birthday Trip 2016 that happened last April 14-16, 2016.

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