Category Archive: Life's a Beach

Bintan, baby! This is our anniversary month hence I was ecstatic that we would be celebrating it in one of the swanky resorts in Bintan, Indonesia, The Angsana Hotel & Spa. If you’d check this in the website, you’d understand why for a long time I had been fancying about it but had always been cast off due to never ending bookings. I had to book at least 2 months before, especially that the date I picked was a public holiday in SG.

Bintan Island is part of the Riau Archipelago (Indonesia), and is located less than 40 kilometers from Singapore, 45 minutes by ferry if you’re like me who can’t talk kilometers. It’s a favourite weekend retreat for people in SG as it’s only a short ferry ride from the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. We booked our ticket online (around 25 SGD per pax). It’s recommended to book early, especially if you’re going during a holiday so you can still have a say on your preferred travel time.

As Bintan is already part of Indonesia, a passport is a must. This was one of those times we felt lucky we were carrying a Philippine passport coz then we didn’t have to go to that long queue at the immigration at the Bandar Bentan Telani terminal. There was this neat little lounge for all guests from Angsana where we waited for our car service going to the hotel. This we booked in advance, for 10 USD, which was an okay price for convenience, as there isn’t really much of a public transport in Bintan. You can also take a coaster or a cab, which is definitely cheaper. But it’s our first wedding anniversary, it’s not bad to wish to experience being “chauffeured” hehe.

When we got to the hotel, we were ushered into a receiving area where the extra friendly receptionist arranged for our check-in. They served this lemon grass juice as welcome drinks and some really wonderful local cookies. It may not be the classy dish whose name we cannot pronounce but it truly felt like a welcome! Just in that moment I was ready to give the hotel a 5-star rating for the warm hospitality. Don’t think I’m easily contented but you have to give credit to that excellent customer service!

It’s a bit pricey (our room was about 180++ USD per night) but I guess what you’re really paying for is the total package of grandness! True to its brand, the hotel was a catch– an impressive blend of luxury and simplicity. The service & amenities are real world-class, and so are the prices (we always have to remind ourselves that they’re in USD & not SGD!!). But everything’s just lovely — the beach, the pool, the airy room with a veranda overlooking the sea, crisp linens to die for, giant warm towels & the grandest breakfast buffet — it’s worth every dime. The only bad thing for me was the rain showers in the afternoon but then again it’s not part of the package.

Now our little nook..
It had that old Balines feel from the hard wood border of the king size bed, the beautifully carved study, the closet; even the shelf that contained the TV and the personal ref & the floral painting on the wall; it was breezy & cosy (I especially requested for a sea view room), with a fair amount of sunlight coming in through the sliding glass door that opens to a veranda where a rattan coffee table beckons us to linger & the view of the sea was just relaxing. There was no WIFI connection in the room, I guess that’s to remind the guests why they’re basically on this retreat, but you can surf the net at the lounge if you ever feel that itch to tweet or do Facebook. I have to stress that I loved the teak daybed (if I can only bring it home!)

And the veranda
Where we did a bazillion random shots! One would be of me & Jep having coffee, where Jep is gritting his teeth coz I forced him to wear the yellow floral robe & he had to oblige hehe. The rest are just us trying not to be old and boring!

The beach
The beach, though I found a little rough (not very ideal for semi-hydrophobics like me) was really clean & a lot of fun! Jep thought I was so gay when I shrieked every time the waves would crash against us! I just freak out when I think about what we would do if there were like a 6-storey high tsunami…Me and my morbid thoughts. Anyway I was impressed at how clean the beach front was. I reckon every 15 minutes a cleaner just comes out of nowhere and clears the sand. It was an ideal place to get lost in time. Just lay down on the sand, watch the waves, the people (too bad though it’s not the perfect place to see the sunset). We spent a great deal of time taking photos of me, me me (and a little bit of Jep hehe) !!! How narcissistic can one ever get? And the obligatory jumpshots which were just too hard to perfect, with our weight and all hehe.

The pool
The poolside was a real chill out place. The pool was kid-friendly, clean, clear, really well-maintained. I especially loved that the towels they give the guests are huge, really warm and fluffy! I also love the recliners & the sweet yellow umbrellas! No night swimming is allowed, but the pool at night is just beautiful with all the lights.

The food
We adored the breakfast buffet. The selection was simply dizzying! I don’t wanna think about all the fats I must have added to my poor fat body. We just went mad for bacons (as they are way expensive back in SG)! I loved the selection of fresh fruit juices (I loved the guava one), the different kinds of cheese, the egg/omelette bar where you can ask the chef to make one of your own, the pancake corner where you can also do a sort of a mix & match of pancakes & sauces according to your taste and an assortment of breads and desserts! Must try would be the plain yoghurt with blueberries!

Fine Dining
For dinner we went to “Treetops” at the Banyan Tree resort, just few minutes buggy ride from our hotel. Wow. Fine dining it is. Ritzy ambience, stylish interiors, a picture of class basically. As the name suggests, this posh resto is perched on a wooden decking up in the treetops, overlooking the sea – with soft lights, and a romantic air. Its cuisine is a fusion of Indonesian & International. Prices for some of the meals are a bit ridiculous. The average rate for a main course would be about 30 USD. A small fillet of salmon was about 25++ USD (1,000+ PHP). It’s like you might as well be looking at the price list first before you make a selection. A small (like baby’s size small) glass of juice is worth around 6 USD (300 PHP), homay! We went for traditional (Oh well this is me pretending to have that lifestyle!). You could say that this was the cheapest from the menu (which by the way was as big as the table!) So I went for Mee Goreng (local noodles) while Jep did Nasi Goreng. In the end I realized that for the Goreng that really satiated my taste buds, the prices didn’t seem to matter at all. Yum yum!

Pasar Oleh-Oleh
About 15 mins from our hotel via coaster (5 SGD per pax), this is where the guests go for souvenirs & cheaper food. We ate here a couple of times just because you obviously can get more for what you pay for. I mean the food in the hotel is heavenly good, but so are the prices (sky-high!), you won’t really enjoy the meal thinking about how many mango shirts you could have bought if only you were a bit wiser. We loved Bumbu! It serves Indonesian treats for decent prices. I honestly forgot the names of the dishes we had, so let the pictures speak for themselves..

Buhbye Bintan
Our 3 days, 2 nights stay in Bintan was a great unwinding experience where we just enjoyed being lazy & worry-free. The next time we go back we might put a little action, like try some of the water sports they have — snorkelling, jetski, skin board. And maybe try the ATV ride too. I just hope the ferry ride wouldn’t be as rough as we experienced on our trip back home. And for heavens’ sake I should learn how to swim!

Zambales Roadtrip Part2: Punta de Uian, Pundaquit From Anawangin, we headed back to Pundaquit via another round of tumultuous boat ride that got me for the most part of the trip praying & swearing at the same time. Thank God we reached the coast in one piece. From there we all agreed we could use a nice break. Punta de Uian was the perfect choice, being only a few minutes away from where we docked.

The Punta de Uian experience was for us indeed a sweet reward, after spending a not-so-comfortable night in Anawangin. What endeared me to this place, apart from its classy ambience and that “chill” vibe, was that it sort of paved way for me to get to know the husband better via our conversations that went on up to the wee hours of the morning over cold beer, menthols and the sound of crashing waves. Oooh la la. The cheesy part never ends.

Seriously, if you’re looking for peace & total relaxation, this is the place to be. It’s cradled in Pundaquit, San Antonio but owing to its seclusion and the tiny road signs, it could be a bit of a challenge to find. From Manila, if via SCTEX, it would take about 3 hours by car.

Punta de Uian which spans 19 hectares was actually named after the only daughter of the owners of the resort whose name was Uian — this I was able to google in the net. For the Kapuso fans (sorry I am a loyal Kapamilya) this is the Villa Santibanez from the local adaptation of Marimar.

A 4-star resort, it boasts of its spendid views of the sea and the Capones Islands. The beach front is clean, expansive & serene, pretty much like the photos you see in the website. The beach isn’t really Boracay white sand but it was soft and warm and I especially adored the beach chairs lined along the uncluttered shoreline where you can just lay on your back, watch the world and get lost in the moment.

We stayed there to watch the sunset, which didn’t exactly come…Thanks to the moody weather!

Hence another round of camwhoring!

The big waves (some say can stretch as high as 4 feet), though glorified by surfers, made it not very safe for swimming, hence it was a day of total bonding with the pool, which I didn’t mind as I am a helpless swimmer myself. The pool was a bit small for my taste but it was clean and lukewarm it was all that mattered to me.

Never mind the price; for a relaxing experience, it’s surely worth it. The rate per night ranges from P3,500 to P10,000, with breakfast for two. The biggest room is the Family Villa which can fit up to 6 people. Suite rooms have of their own jacuzzi. We got the garden view for about 3800++ PHP (we had to share the room, thank God!). The room was cozy and pleasant, not very spacious but had a calming feel to it, with a kind of a log cabin inspiration for the furnishing. It had a king-size bed, a TV, a personal ref, and a closet. The bathroom wasn’t that plush but it was nice; the veranda served as our ‘lung center’ aka smoking area.

Food wasn’t the finest, for instance, the binagoongan rice & sinigang were not really out of the ordinary but we absolutely loved their version of fried chicken and the oh so good gravy which we gulped down like mushroom soup.

There’s a variety of sports and leisure activities that one can try while there like scuba diving, surfing, snorkelling, mountain trail hiking, jet ski, ATV. But maybe another day. Our overnight stay was really meant to make us relax after the hard days in Anawangin. I would say Punta de Uian has more than achieved this. It’s definitely worth a second trip.

Zambales Roadtrip Part1: Pundaquit-Capones-Anawangin Forgive me that for my first post I feel that it’s goin to get a bit cheesy. I am after all going to write about the place where our unexpected love story began – that is according to me. Never mind when after a year of getting married, Jep, my husband still claims he doesn’t know anything about it. I can only roll my eyes.

Anyway, the place is called Anawangin Cove — I’m sure you’ve heard of it; even in isolation it has earned a big following especially among campers and simply anyone game for adventures.  It’s situated in the province of Zambales (Philippines), facing the South China Sea. It’s about a half-hour boat ride from Pundaquit, San Antonio, a fishing village that is roughly 4 hours away from Manila by car (depending greatly on traffic). Travel time is greatly reduced via the new SCTEX highway after the Dau exit at NLEX.

I would say it was ‘the’ road trip that changed the course of our lives. Hehe.  I should mention that it was the first time we (my husband and I) were introduced by our common best friend and the thought that I would be spending the night on a tent, alone with a complete stranger was beyond me.  Interesting yes, but in reality I was in absolute panic.

So it took us a 3-hour early morning drive from Manila, a speedy and bumpy one they say (I was dreaming in my sleep to even take notice!) to reach Pundaquit. On one of our stops, we went wild with our Parokya ni Edgar encounter. These are the kind of smiles I’m talking about!

In Pundaquit we met up with our guide, the ever-reliable Manong Jay whom we’ve commissioned to take us to Anawangin Cove with the smallest boat I’ve ever seen in my life and before me, the biggest waves (think water spinning in the washing machine). You can imagine how terrorized I was, that I had to close my eyes and sleep and pray that I wouldn’t wake up with a white light calling me – which wasn’t very smart, as I missed the grandeur of the Zambales mountain ranges – unique rock formations due to volcanic activities and the great blue waters that’s attracting more and more tourists each year.

On the way to Anawangin, a side trip to “Islas de Punta Capones” or simply Capones Island is  a must (I just thought it sounded more ‘Alta’ when said in Spanish hehe). It’s a charming island which is actually a big chunk of rock formation with little soil. The rocky shoreline doesn’t make it a favourite among swimmers.

Walking along the nasty rocks and up the hill isn’t exactly what you will call a walk in the park.

This beautiful Spanish lighthouse standing on top of a cliff against a picturesque backdrop of turquoise blue sea and a beckoning horizon is said to have been built in the 1800s to serve as a beacon for sea vessels. No exaggeration, it was a picture-perfect setting, which made us linger for a while and indulge in some camwhoring. I can’t remember though that for some reason, we didn’t climb all  the way to the top. Booo. What a lousy mistake.

Finally, after another torture that was the scary boat ride, we set foot in Anawangin Cove and boy I was smitten. So it’s worth the terror after all. It’s a jewel of a beach, pristine white sand and an unusual abundance of tall, pine trees flourishing around the area. On one side it’s the beach & white sand. Next, it’s pine trees and a lake. Boracay meets New Zealand? It’s been written that the pine tree seeds were brought there by the ash fall during Mount Pinatubo eruption.

What came as a sort of disappointment to me though was to see that the cove was swamped with people. And there was I looking for a little serenity. I knew it was like a camper’s haven but I wished they picked another day. Well who can blame them? For a fee of P50 per head for a day trip and P150 for an overnight stay, no wonder it’s a hit. It’s really a small fee for the use of their manual freshwater pump and makeshift restroom which I frankly wouldn’t call hygienic at all.

Seeing Mei-mei our hyper-crazy friend made the day more interesting. It only meant one thing. Camwhoring!

We set up our tents (one for the first couple and the other one for me & my future husband) or so i feared hehe. We pigged out on Jep’s mom’s superb adobo & fried chicken. We talked (I thought he was something ,wink, wink). We enjoyed the cool, clear waters and giant waves (though I felt like I screamed eternally, while the waves have repeatedly thrown me off the sea, like I was some kind of unwanted substance. It was fun though.

Unfortunately it rained cats and dogs, almost like an ill-tempered storm, and it completely got our tents drenched. Good thing we found this open hut where we sought refuge for the night and drank tequila until Dads, our good friend started saying, meron pa, meron pa, when she obviously has thrown up the world.

The sky was clearer the next morning, but the waves were still mad. I can only imagine the boat ride back to Pundaquit. Shivers. While waiting for our boat, my future husband  then and my husband now asked if I wanted to take a stroll to the lake. It honestly made my heart blush. So we took a walk, took some photos, basked in the calm beauty of the place, enjoyed the moment, shared some silence. Weird, but nice. The lake with its wonderful backdrop made me think about the pictures in the milk cartons.

What a paradise.

Then it was time to go. Next stop: Punta De Uian.