Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kapuluan Vista Resort

After that scathing review of Hannah's Beach Resort, I feel the need to maintain the yin-yang balance, at least as far as resorts on Pagudpud are concerned. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, or in this case a few hundred meters down the road from Hannah's, lies Kapuluan Vista Resort.

Photo by JB Macatulad

Now THIS is the resort you want to be checked in to. Tasteful and cozy interiors coupled with reasonable prices would be enough to make you forget about the horror that is Hannah's. We were lucky enough to meet Mike, a career surfer who several years ago left Southern California and relocated here with his family. He personally attends to his guests needs and even though we weren't even checked in to one of the rooms in the resort he still took the time to accommodate all our needs and made sure that we were well looked after.

The food is simply fabulous, and I particularly like that each entree was served with a generous helping of organic salad that they grow from their own backyard. Food is prepared from scratch though, so it might take a while for the food to be served specially if you dine in large groups, as we did. But once the food arrives, you'll find it's well worth the wait. The dinakdakan is a must-try, as is Alma's Margarita. If you like to spice things up a bit ask for a little of Mike's Hot Sauce, which they make themselves. The food here was so much better here that we would go through the trouble of walking the distance to this resort. Needless to say, we never ate at Hannah's again during our entire stay.

Photo by JB Macatulad

Since it's a rather small resort you'd have to book way in advance to make sure you have reservations. My sister-in-law said that a friend tried to book for Holy Week in December but as early as then it was already fully booked. But with that comes the assurance that you're getting quality food, service and accommodations that you wouldn't mind spending your hard-earned money on. By the way, did I mention that wifi is free?

If you're looking for a place to stay in Pagudpud, this is certainly the place I'd recommend. Here's a link to their site: http://www.tjhawaii.com/kvr/index.htm

Hannah's Beach Resort and Convention Center

Although this blog has been inactive for about 10 months now, I've decided to reopen it because I just had to post a review of Hannah's Beach Resort in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.

When we checked out their website before leaving Manila, we got the impression that we were paying a premium to be in an idyllic, relaxing venue that would be just what everyone needed to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Alas, nothing could be farther from the truth. In the more than 10 hours that we travelled from Manila (including an overnight stay in Vigan) we hardly encountered any congestion in the roads leading up to Pagudpud. That is, until we were just a few hundred meters away from Hannah's. The narrow dirt road leading up to the resort was lined with cars parked end to end so much so that only one direction could move at any given time. Either somebody lacked the foresight about how this would destroy the beach environment or are just too greedy counting their profits to care about how they're spoiling a potential world-class destination.

Photo by JB Macatulad

Speaking of greed, what we would encounter at Hannah's boggles the mind. They tout their resort as a "convention center" but charge Php75 an hour(!) for wi-fi. They don't allow outside food and drinks but don't even provide their guests with a couple of complimentary bottles of water to quench them upon arrival. The food was terrible and the prices atrocious. To put things in perspective, a cup of extra rice cost Php35 and what they served us wasn't even cooked well! Don't even get me started on the Chicken Afritada which you could probably get from one of the unpretentious carinderias just outside their gates for a tenth of the price. What they don't realize is that charging a premium for food and drinks should at least be justifiable by the quality of both the food and service, which were both sorely lacking. Also, I couldn't remember the last time I paid so much for a room that did not include a complimentary breakfast. Oh, and while you eat you're in for a ghastly karaoke serenade from a horrible singer.

While we're on the subject of karaoke, while we were there they emptied out the enclosed karaoke room and placed the machine in the pool area, converting the former into a dormitory. If you were unfortunate enough to be in a room near there (as many of ours were) you'd be in for quite a rude awakening. Also on rudeness, I read a traveladvisor.com review of one guest who had one of the staff barging in their room without even knocking while they were being intimate. We know that staff would enter our room without our knowledge because the items we got from the so-called mini bar were already in our bill even before we left. Thing is, they don't even make up the beds or clean up when they do so.

Tacky decor with no thought for customer convenience, inutile staff, a refrigerator plugged right beside your bed where your feet would be, guests swimming in the (cloudy) pool in their shorts and t-shirts despite signs requiring proper swimming attire, the list of rants is endless.

Someone once told me that "a satisfied customer will tell five friends; a dissatisfied one will tell fifty." I certainly hope at least as much would be able to read this before they make the mistake of booking what they anticipate would be a wonderful stay. At least one thing's for sure: that at least 26 people (which was how big our group was) will never be going back nor recommend this place to any of our friends. That's at least 52 thumbs down!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Buying Into the Blu-Ray Bandwagon

I'll admit it. I was one of those who were suckered into buying HD-DVD. After just a couple of months into the high-def gamble, I was suddenly stuck with an obsolete format when Blu-ray won the format war. Until recently, I had no intention in the then foreseeable future to invest in a Blu-Ray player. After all, I had already amassed a sizeable collection of original region 1 DVDs and was not about to double-dip on the titles I already had. Then, while he was in the States, a friend convinced me to get one since he was planning on buying one for himself. At $150 plus free shipping (all the way to Manila), it was indeed a bargain considering an equivalent unit would most probably fetch twice that price if purchased locally (will probably do a review later on the Sony BDP-S360).

After buying a couple of BDs locally for an exorbitant price, I was underwhelmed by my first spin. Maybe it was because I already experienced HD in HD-DVD format and was expecting that it'd be an improvement over that. After extensive tweaking of both the player's as well as the TV's settings though, I can now see clearly why the format is starting to gain ground. Comparing the exact same DVD set at 480p resolution to a BD, the difference is like night and day. I swear that even the sound is better even if my current Onkyo receiver does not have HDMI and is unable to fully decode the high-def sound formats like DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD. With flat-panel prices dropping to half what they were when I first bought one, it'll be a matter of time before DVD gives up more of its market share to Blu-Ray. My only concern is that while newly-released titles sell hover in the $20 range if bought in the States, the same titles are sold here for at least 50% more. Perhaps the local distributors would do well to reconsider their pricing strategies to help the format take off.

As for my friend, he decided not to buy a unit for himself and has decided to stick to DVD... for now.

Boracay The Second Time Around

I first visited the famous island getaway about seven years ago, when my brother and his entire family came home from the States after decades of having built a life there. Armed with mental postcard images of what the idyllic island paradise is like, I went with high expectations despite stories from those who had been there before the island even had electricity of how commercial it had gotten, like a beachfront version of Manila's Malate district. Despite this, it had retained much of its charm to have had me smitten by the third day and made me promise to return when I could.

Fast-forward to 2010, and outsiders who'd been to the island way before it was fashionable would probably not recognize the island from what it was 20-30 years ago. Sure, it still had the soft, white sand but now and then you'd find the obligatory cigarette butt or candy wrapper just lying on the sand within a few meters of disposal bins provided by the local authorities. I've been told that summer would be the worst time to go because of the algal blooms but even that I didn't mind as much as the La-La wrapper floating near the shore when I took a dip in the ocean. "The Rape of Boracay," as a cousin of mine once aptly put it, was well underway. I was particularly appalled by how one resort had cemented the rock formations at the northern end of the island presumably to expand their facilities. Of course, what would development be without the obligatory Starbucks nestled among the bars and restaurants on Station 2?

And yet despite all these, Boracay still draws in the crowds. I was expecting no less than a Galera-esque atmosphere (what with school just around the corner) but was pleasantly surprised to see many foreign visitors. Yes, there were indeed the ubiquitous Chinese and Korean tour groups but also a good number of European and American tourists, way more than when I went there the first time.

So there's the trade-off. While an apparent increase in tourist traffic has obviously been economically beneficial for the native population and the country's tourism industry one can't help but see the toll it takes on the island's natural beauty. During this trip I wish I could've done some snorkeling to assess whether or not all this development has taken its toll on the reefs as well. My bet is that on some level I would've been glad I didn't.

Still, there are stories of foreign visitors coming to the island and setting up shop there after having fallen in love with it. I'm not one to lecture on how I do my part to lessen my carbon footprint (and subsequently how you should lessen yours), yet I wish that more can be done to preserve what people come to visit in the first place.

In The Beginning...

So here it is, at the behest of my friend, my first foray into the blogging world. Unable to focus on a single topic or field of interest, I've decided that this will be a potpourri of thoughts, experiences, reviews and what not from a thirtysomething single male living somewhere in the Far East.

I have no particular field of specialization, nor a mastery of ideas but what one will most likely find is a sporadic output of content from a wide range of interests, particularly those that are of interest to me.

Having recently passed the midway point of being in my thirties, this heralds a new chapter that I hope eventual readers would find engaging. I don't aim to be insightful or authoritative, but here's hoping that it'll at least be a good read.