The mesmerizing video clips of Laswitan have been making the rounds in social media in the last few months. You know what I’m talking about—it’s these thunderous waves of water crashing against the craggy rocks filling up tidal pools with foamy seawater and soaking the tourists bathing in it. It’s a powerful epitome for the forces of nature, if you ask me.
It’s incredible to think that this magnificent scene was happening right in our backyard, and even more incredible to realize that I (and probably a good chunk of the local population) didn’t really know much about Surigao Sur. I was familiar with its northern namesake, of course — discovering Siargao two years ago had made it my new favorite local destination. But even the Enchanted River, arguably the province’s most famous landmark, is more associate with Surigao del Norte, a funny fact considering Surigao City was more than a five-hour drive away.
We live in an archipelago of 7,107 islands, so yes, it’s inevitable that some destinations don’t enter the common tourism spectrum of Boracay, Palawan, Bohol or even Cebu. But it bugged me that I had previously never heard much about this province that was just a short plane ride away from my hometown, and a quick Google search revealed that it had much to offer.
Off the bat, though, I realized that Surigao Sur was a place that you need to visit with a sense of adventure. Here, the tourism industry is just stretching its legs — flights to the capital city of Tandag were only three times a week, there isn’t much choice for accommodations, and moving from place to place involved drives that could be as quick as 30 minutes or as long as four hours (something that the oft-motion sick me didn’t much appreciate).
It didn’t come easy, to be sure. A lot of the places we’d visited in Surigao Sur presented naturally beautiful sights, but also a challenge that we had to surpass to really get there.
Tinuy-an Falls, for example, had gotten its name from the Bisaya word tuyo meaning with an intention — the only reason you’d be on the road to Tinuy-an is that you were on your way there. The rough road went up and down hills, before finally dipping into a valley where, even from the parking lot, you could hear the cacophany of falling water.
We were lucky enough to have been visiting in the middle of an incredibly rainy week, which meant the river was practically overflowing. The current was so strong that the volunteers at the site had to remove the wooden bridge that connected the entrance to the other side of the river—but because the overgrown playgrounds and picnic benches over there were more picturesque, we agreed to crossing. A wooden canoe looked like it would topple over quickly, so instead we go through the knee-deep water and the most forceful current ever.
A person slipping on the wet stones and one lost action cam later, we found ourselves on the other side, enjoying the refreshing mist created by the crashing water and the mostly untouched trees surrounding us.
This sort of delayed gratification was something that Surigao Sur had in spades. An early morning call time for island hopping in the Britania Group of Islands promised us a beautiful view of the sunrise over the open ocean, but being on the edge of the Philippine Sea made it feel like the waves would throw us overboard any minute. Even trying to dock was a challenge — the boat bobbed up and down against the sloping terrain of our first stop Hagonoy Island, and we eventually had to just leap down onto the sand.
Not that we were planning on complaining. The sun was slowly rising into the cloudy sky, casting the island’s three coconut trees into a dramatic light. After all the necessary photo ops, we retreated to Hiyor-Hiyoran Island for breakfast on seafood that had been caught just hours before.
The sea plays a very big role in Surigao Sur’s tourist offerings. In Lanuza, the beach scene is one of action — locals are constantly paddling out to meet the waves, learning to ride them at an early age. The vibe was a lot more laidback than that of Siargao, although a lot of foreigners are now frequenting the spot. In fact, the town is now host to the different international competitions, and the local Surf Camp offers packages that allow you to spend weeks at a time mastering the sport.
Although I had originally wanted to surf, it wasn’t exactly the best season to ride the waves — you had to ride a good distance out to get good swells, and I was much too content settling into the cottage on stilts we had rented out, listening to music and digging into the bag of cooked shellfish I’d bought at the local market. The afternoon was spent watching the more skilled surfers cruise the choppy seas — Debbie, our unofficial guide for the few days we were there, was the amazing surfer I hope to be one day.
A spot that I had tried to lower expectations for was the Enchanted River — it had garnered massive popularity for its beautifully colored, crystal-clear waters, and for the mystery of its seemingly bottomless caverns. I was honestly a little worried that the actual place wouldn’t live up to the hype.
Thankfully, I was wrong. We were lucky enough to have visited when swimming wasn’t allowed (and I’d recently read that swimming in the mouth of the river is now permanently prohibited), so there were no crowds to distract from the scenery. It looked like someone had turned the saturation up in the area, the lush greenery of the canyon framing the vivid blue hues that got darker as the water got deeper.
It’s unsurprising that people attach supernatural meaning to the place — even the fish were peculiar, traveling alone or in pairs while peering up at you intently from beneath the surface. No wonder they decided to call it enchanted.
Quite fittingly, our last stop for the trip was Laswitan, the very spot that had gotten me interested in Surigao Sur in the first place. Much like a lot of the places we visited, getting there took some time — from the highway, you had to take a narrow dirt road that snakes through farms and wooded areas before leading to a clearing that dropped into the water. From there, a steep staircase led to sea level, where helpful volunteers told us to sit in a cottage and wait.The waves hadn’t been as strong lately, they said, so maybe we’ll get luckier as the afternoon got later.
And wait, we did. February was the tail end of the stronger squalls and cold fronts, so the waves we saw only produced a light spray as it crashed onto the rock formations.
It’s interesting to note the sheer number of people who were there — social media had truly done its job. We’re told that people from other provinces drive for as much as five hours just to see the sight they’d seen online for themselves.
As the day got later, we had begun to resign ourselves to the fact that we might not be able to see a wave big enough to cause a massive splash. We were just talking about packing up when the sound of a steadily growing roar was building up from beyond the rocks, and a gust of water slammed into it, bringing an enormous gush into the tidal pools. Pretty soon, they come in regular intervals, making me think that somewhere, Mother Nature was thanking me for deciding to come.
Photography by Arnauld and Chester Baldicantos
This is How the M.I.C.E. Alliance Initiative will Lift Boracay to New Heights
Leveling up Boracay in more ways than one
by Ryan Daniel R. Dablo
Saying the name “Boracay” instantly casts a spell, taking the listener to a daydream of immaculate, pale beaches, swaying palm trees, the music of breaking waves, and the vacation of a lifetime. The tropical island Eden is storied and renowned – a difficult enchantment to lift from any wayward tourist’s mind. But what if we were to tell you that Boracay is so much more? Can you build upon perfection? Yes, and this, ladies and gentlemen, is how.
After the difficulties of the past few years, the stage is finally set for a massive Boracay reboot. The creative gears turn once more, and this time they will catapult our favorite beach capital to new heights. The cornerstone of this renaissance is the M.I.C.E. Alliance initiative, short for meetings, incentives, conferences and conventions, and events and exhibitions. The establishment of the Boracay M.I.C.E. Alliance will allow focused efforts in creating sustainable and eco-sensitive tourism development projects while synergizing with stakeholders to create long-term solutions and opportunities for all partners. The alliance is set to drive awareness, readiness, and expansion of product offerings that will be crucial in making the island competitive with other M.I.C.E. destinations. Working closely with the Department of Tourism Region VI and the Tourism Promotions Board, the alliance is primed to provide support to the areas that are involved in this major undertaking.
No one is more emphatic than M.I.C.E. Alliance chairperson Cleofe Albiso in describing how the different sectors of Boracay are pivoting from tourism to tourism plus. In brief, Boracay is challenging its own boundaries to become not just the pre-eminent tourist destination but also a corporate and business mecca. Turns out, if a venue is grand enough to host a wedding, wouldn’t it be just as grand to host a white-collar conference? Sky’s the limit for possibilities like this. At this moment, the island is abuzz with networking and making connections, training and empowering the hospitality services, polishing the infrastructure, revving up the transportation facilities, and all-around gearing up to go toe-to-toe with other M.I.C.E. hubs and be worthy of the tagline, “the best place for M.I.C.E. in a tropical paradise.” All hands are on deck and – after the extended global hiatus thanks to the pandemic – everyone is ready, nay, eager to meet and greet the guests. And, of course, we would be remiss not to point out that Boracay is more than halfway through completing such a tall order. The island is as well-oiled a machine as it could be, boasting 294 DOT-accredited hotels and resort, a staggering 4,500 seating capacity for meetings and conventions, and 12,400 room keys available in the island. Talk about volume! Plus, Boracay is already postcard-perfect, the very stuff that vacation dreams are made of. Why not turn the dial up to eleven and let it become a compass point for more than a summer getaway? This is the logical next step in realizing its vision of being not just a place to be, but the place to be.
So, yes, by all means think of the idyllic strolls on the beach, the luxurious caress of the ocean as you free-dive, the sheer delight of sand and surf while island-hopping, the adrenaline rush of aquasports, parasailing, cycling, or driving an ATV up Boracay’s foothills, the psychedelic glow of fire-dancing and party lights at night, the breathtaking sunsets, the larger-than-life adventures, or the hundred other ways it can lavish or reinvigorate your soul. Think of all of that, and then some. Because Boracay has its eyes on something greater: it is poised to become the premier starting point and last stop for tourism, entertainment, corporate gatherings, exhibits, and any other event the imagination can dream of.
Think of your company meeting. Now, think of your company meeting and the fun that’ll ensue right after. Picture that in the most scenic of vacation spots. Tempted already? Who wouldn’t be? You’re already in paradise. With business here and leisure literally just a stone’s throw away – heaven on earth, wouldn’t you say?
For Our Next Travel Destination, We Dream About Koh Samui in Thailand
Mayenne Carmona discovers the Four Seasons Resort in Koh Samui is a quiet oasis to recharge and rejuvenate…
What does one expect from a Four Seasons Resort? Everything! Firstly, it will definitely be ranked no less than a five-star hotel or resort. Most importantly, it would not fall short of all your expectations: excellent cuisine, topnotch comfort at your fingertips in a well-appointed villa, courteous staff who offer impeccable service, and every other detail you could possibly need—down to the last cotton bud. After all, a Four Seasons Resort is always designed by a top-rated architectural team and interior designers.
The moment I stepped into the Four Seasons Resort at Koh Samui, I felt all my cares washed away by the soft waves of the bluest sea. The fresh air cleared my sinuses in no time, and the gentle breeze was a much needed caress to a tired mind and body. It was truly paradise regained for me and my friends. We were a motley group of career-oriented people who needed a much-awaited break from work, and this was the perfect choice for us.
Each Villa has a butler to cater to the guests’ every whim. The afternoon we arrived, we requested a sunset dinner by the beach, and much like a genie, our butler whipped up a romantically set candlelit dinner for six. A five-course delicious Thai dinner was prepared by their well-trained chef.
Our days were spent languishing by the beach, having daily massages, attending yoga classes, doing water sports and enjoying every bite of Thai cuisine. Golf carts transported us wherever we wanted to go within the resort. This vacation brought all my senses to another realm, and restored a weary soul to perfection.
Four Seasons Koh Samui, I look forward to seeing you again!
Koh Samui is the third largest island of Thailand in the scenic Gulf of Siam. It is a 45 minute flight from Bangkok. Sandy beaches, coral reefs, coconut trees and abundant tourist resources make it a popular holiday destination.
For more information on Four Seasons Resort, visit their website at https://www.fourseasons.com/kohsamui/
(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s March 2016 Travel Issue, “Silent Sanctuaries” written by our columnist Mayenne Carmona for La Vie En Rose on pages 32-33.)
Get Lost in this Not-so-distant Island Safari Paradise
LOST IN PARADISE
Tao Philippines Crusoe-style deserted island camp paradise is perfect for those who understand the luxury of simplicity and disconnection.
by Melo E. Esguerra photography by Scott Sporleder
Just when you think Palawan is fast becoming a second Boracay, where congestion of concrete buildings and human bodies have begun to define the island experience more than the pristine beaches of white powdery sand, the Lostboys of Tao Philippines came up with a new island project that guarantees an escape to paradise. They call the island Camp Ngey Ngey.
The Lostboys have taken over the abandoned resort of Manguengey in Busuanga, a remote island in Palawan. They have kept the ruins from the typhoon and built their signature bamboo Tuka huts around the main beach of the island, which serves as the camp area. Just a short walk away you’ll find jungle trails that lead to three other wild beaches, preserved reefs and windswept cliffs encompassed by crystal blue waters. And on certain days, when the winds are strong, one side of the island becomes a good site for surfing.
Eddie Brock, one of the founders of Tao Philippines, explains how this concept of an island safari came about. “When we took over Manguengey Resort, we were stuck with the idea of how to run it. We do not know how to cater to resort guests, the individual choices and needs, and menus,” he admits. “Tao’s expertise is to show travelers something new, something more raw and adventurous. We decided that we will not worry about things we don’t understand, and stick to what we do best. One of the best aspects of a Tao trip is creating an atmosphere of connecting with other travelers, disconnected from digital clot—without the worry of planning, wallets and keeping a status. Five days out in the remoteness with the islanders in control leads to a positive attitude: guards down, inhibition is off and open to meet new friends.”
The camp is accessible through the three day/two night boat safari from Coron, with beach and reef stops en route the camp and back. Guests will be joining other travelers, staying in individual Tuka huts dotted along the beach. There are lounges, a dining and kitchen area, and open hang-out places. Currently, the big mansion from the old resort is being restored into a villa that can accommodate a family or group of friends.
The island can be reserved for big events like weddings, parties and other meaningful gatherings.
In the island, there is no room service, no menus, no WiFi. You will arrive as strangers, you will eat together, swim together, laugh together, drink together, and get to know each other offline. Become part of the magic of Tao, and see what happens!
For more information on how the trip to Camp Ngey Ngey works, log on to www.taophilippines.com
(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s June 2017 Men’s Issue, “Lost in Paradise” on pages 110-113.)
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