Saturday, December 31, 2005


December 2005

I took my first 3 semesters in UP College Cebu, before moving to UP Diliman in the 2nd sem of my sophomore year. So, from 1980-81, I got familiar with Cebu City and some of the province's other municipalities, aside from learning the Cebuano language. From my home town, Cadiz City, Negros Occidental (64 kms. north of Bacolod City), the only route then to go to Cebu City was via San Carlos City, the last city of Negros Occidental bordering Negros Oriental. Then take a boat for a 2 hours (sometimes longer) trip to Toledo City, Cebu province. Then there were many buses competing for the alighting passengers. Once packed, they would be racing against each other as if to impress with their passengers that their buses are in good condition and the bus driver is expert in both the winding roads of Cebu's mountains, then the flat roads leading to the provincial capital, Cebu City. I had fun watching the "mini race", sometimes waving ba-bye to the passengers of the other buses that our driver has overtaken.

Since 1981, I never had the opportunity to take the San Carlos-Toledo-Cebu route. I had some opportunities to visit Cebu City, but by plane from Manila. So I arranged my schedule to take this route again, towing my wife Ella and her younger sister, Baby. I wanted to visit our relatives in Barili, a town south of Cebu City. We travelled last December 27.

San Carlos-Toledo is now served by fast crafts that can cross the sea in an hour, though the bigger boats that take 2 or more hours to cross the same distance are still there. The bigger boats charge lower fares and carry cargos.

Toledo City, western side of the province, has somehow improved compared to its 2+ decades ago apperance. For instance, there is a central bus terminal now. From Toledo to Cebu cities, you have to cross a mountain range, go down at the municipality of Naga (eastern side of the province), then a flat road to Cebu City. I was greatly disapppointed with what I saw. The Toledo-Naga roads have greatly deteriorated. Some portions of the roads are comparable to those I have seen in Cambodia (from Vietnam border) 5 years ago when I went there! Though there are a number of road construction and improvement being undertaken, they are patchy and isolated compared to a largely potholed and dilapidated winding roads. Many roads in my province are bad and never maintained for the past 3 or 5 or 10 years. But the Toledo-Naga road are a lot worse! I really wondered why this part of a province known for economic dynamism in the Philippines has regressed.

The buses that ply the Toledo-Cebu City are now fewer. Our bus was jampacked with passengers to the hilt, you can hardly squeeze in even a 5-year old child inside the bus! We were lucky that we were seated in the front, but bags by other squeezed-in passengers were also put in the front. Perhaps the bad roads have discouraged other bus companies to ply this route, so that passengers were willing to suffer the congestion just to get a ride. Earlier, I have thought that our bus driver was so greedy with passengers that he does not care if the new passengers have something to hold on as they squeeze in very tightly. Later on, as I saw many other people wanting to ride but the driver ignored them. I reckoned that perhaps, our bus driver is a little bit of a "hero" for giving rides to those people inside our bus. After all, suffering the congestion is better than no ride at all if you're in a hurry to go somewhere.

We reached Naga, time to get off the bus (heading north to Cebu City) and take another bus heading south (to Barili). Now, how do we get out considering that it's jampacked at our back? Simple: jump off the window! First, we gave our bags to the bus conductor. Then I jumped; Baby had no problem jumping, while I assisted Ella to land softly on the ground when she jumped. The two ladies' first time to jump out of a bus window!

From Naga to Carcar, it's mostly straight roads. From Carcar to Barili, the bus will climb again some mountain ranges and hence, another set of winding roads.
(Another posting on Barili alone in the coming days, as that simple town has lots of majestic attractions for visitors to see).

The province's road network are generally good and smooth. When we travelled from Barili to the provincial capital, I was happy to see that from Naga to Cebu City, it's now a four-lane highway (two in each direction). From Naga and neighboring municipalities, you can see Bohol island from a distance. There are occasional fraffic congestion in Talisay City...

Cebu City has become more dynamic and busier...

A new route between Cebu and Negros islands is via Tabuelan, Cebu, and Escalante, Negros Occidental. I don't know when this route was opened to passenger buses, perhaps 5 or 8 years ago. Curious to see this new road, we took this route. We wanted to arrive in my province early, so we have to take the first 2 bus trips, 4:15 and 4:30 am. December 29 morning and there were just too many passengers in Ceres bus terminal in Cebu City. We arrived at the bus station around 3:20 am and boarded the 4:30 am bus as the 4:15 am bus was already full. If we arrived some 10 minutes later, we would have difficulty boarding the second bus. Our bus left at 4am as it was already full.

After more than an hour of generally flat and straight roads on the eastern coasts, we reached the town of Carmen. Ceres buses stop here and the driver/conductor take their free meals, courtesy of the restaurant owners who are more than happy for bringing in with them captive customers. From Carmen, a few more kilometers of coastal ride, then the bus head to the mountains to cross to the western side.

Cebu's northern municipalities seem poorer compared to their counterparts in the southern part of the province. They're rocky and mountainous, though fronting a sea. There are few agricultural plantations, except for some occasional patches of coconut plantations. Corn and bananas are planted in hilly and sloping soil without terraces. The municipal halls (Sogod, ...) are smaller and more modest.

Tabuelan is a sleepy town which became more famous only in recent years because of its port that connects vehicles and boats to northern Negros province. The shipping route is monopolized by EB Aznar shipping company that operates the roll-on roll-off (RORO) boats between Tabuelan and Escalante. The boats take in cargo trucks, buses, small vehicles and passengers, take about 2 hours (or more) to cross the sea.

It's a tiring trip since you lack sleep and go to the bus terminal very early in the morning. Our bus reached Tabuelan around 7am, then you queu to get a boat ticket, then ride the boat. Just the prospect of reaching home to see your family and loved ones make the trip bearable.

Saturday, December 24, 2005


December 2005:

Panay island in Western Visayas region (region 6) is composed of 4 provinces: Aklan to the north, Capiz to the east, Iloilo to the south, and Antique to the west. Aklan is famous for Boracay island, known worldwide for its very fine, long white sand beach. The provincial capital is Kalibo, famous for the Ati-Atihan festival held during 3rd or 4th weekend of January every year.

I visited Kalibo with my wife Ella and other friends from Manila and Iloilo City who came to our wedding last Dec. 17. We did not have much time to move around the town, we were able to visit only 2 resorts, Sampaguita and Agzam. Sampaguita resort is is another municipality adjacent to Kalibo, along the coastline. It has a number of entertainment centers, from a big swimming pool to aquarium to children's playground to restaurants and cottages. Entrance fee is P50 per head, consumable.

Next place we visited is Agzam resort, really cool place. Coming from Iloilo-Capiz, this is before you reach Kalibo town proper. It has a big swimming pool; bamboo cottages are P500 each, consumable, with neat pillows and curtain. The place attracts lots of foreign tourists.

The road condition in Aklan is generally good. When you reach an arch announcing that you are now in Capiz province, the road suddenly becomes ugly with plenty of potholes. One can easily compare the quality of governance between the two provinces, at least in maintaining a highway. In some parts of Capiz's highway, the road is so bumpy that when it rains, piglets can possibly squeeze in the small pool right in the middle of the road!

After reaching an arch again announcing that you have left Capiz and entered the province of Iloilo, you will notice an improvement in the road condition. Iloilo province is generally flat, unlike Aklan and Capiz, so the roads are straight. You will also notice tall and fully-grown mahogany trees lining the highway, they really help beautify the highway.

Iloilo City, the provincial capital, is a cosmopolitan city. Its sub-districts are huge enough to be equivalent to one municipality in terms of population in the rest of the province. These sub-districts (Lapaz, Jaro, Molo, Manduriao, city proper, etc.) usually have their own public plaza and public market. What makes the city less traffic prone is the 5 bridges that connect the city proper to its sub-districts. Hence, vehicles are dispersed in all 5 bridges in moving to different directions.


Notes from my London trip, June 2005:

Nearly 13 hours flight from Manila, our plane (KLM) landed at Schiphol Amsterdam airport. It was my 2nd landing in this airport. The first was18 years ago, in 1987, when I went to Amsterdam to study a short course in Marxism -- well, I was a full-bloodied Marxist-socialist then :-) Took a connecting flight to London, my final destination. I'm going there to be one of the panel speakers in the "Global Development Summit" ( organized by the International Policy Network ( on June 28.

This is my first time to set foot on this part of the planet, so I was really excited. Immigration process at Heathrow airport was short, but the queu was long. It took me about 25 minutes before I get to the immigration officer, which just asked the usual questions -- purpose in coming to the UK, see the invitation letter, length of stay, etc.

My hotel is in the city of Wistmenster. A friend advised me that the best way to see London is to walk. Which I did. Trafalgar square is a huge park with the very tall monument situated prominently in the center. The Buckingham Palace is really grand, fit for kinds and princess to live. The changing of the guard, those neatly-dressed Brit soldiers in red and black uniform guarding the palace of the royal family, the ceremony is accompanied by drums and bugles parade, and succeeding march of same-uniform soldiers riding horses, yeah yeah. Many people a-watching the ceremony.

The Covent Garden is cool. Lots of public performers, a public market, a theater, restaurants and bars. My feet were complaining already of the long walk, but there were many other beautiful places to see - "London eye" ferris wheel is prominently seen along the river Thames. The famous House of Parliament and its elaborate external architecture and artworks is just nearly and really fantastic.

There are just too many parks in the city. If you're tired and wanting to sit down in a quiet place, there are a number of such places to go to.
I took the tube (underground train) ride only once, from covent garden to heathrow airport on my last day there. This was 6 days before the tragic London bombings London is really a very open city to everyon, locals and foreigners, tourists and terrorists. There are no police or private security guards or x-ray machines screening people who go in and out the tube/subway (about 3 million passengers/day), the malls, the double decker buses, and other public places and utilities.

Once I saw PM Tony Blair getting out of a building (I think the PM's bldg) near the houses of parliament. The police just blocked all roads around the building minutes before Blair's car got out. I saw only 2 motorcycles in front and 2 back-up cars behind Blair's car, and he's gone. Here in the Phils., you know the president is around because there are at least 10 black PSG pajeros, a dozen motorcycles, and several other local police and civilian cars, making all those siren-wailings, waving all other motorists to get out of the way because "God" is passing by...

Baguio-La Union

Going up to Baguio City, there are 3 routes.
(1) Kennon road -- shorter distance from Manila, some waterfalls to see. Buses and big trucks don't use this road (or maybe they're not allowed to pass there), only light vehicles pass here.

(2) Marcos highway -- longer by about 15-20 kms. but the road network is good and less prone to rock slides. Buses and trucks from Manila and Pangasinan take this road. Lots of good sights to see: the flyover, tunnel, rock catchments, cemented mountain sides, ...

(3) Naguillan road -- used by vehicles coming from Ilocos and La Union provinces.

From Baguio and there are some time to spare, take the Marcos highway, pass by Agoo (La Union), see one of the country's cleanest and greenest municipalities! I did not see a single pile of uncollected garbage in that municipality, whether in the town proper or in the barrios surrounding it, during our trip there last March 2005. Roadsides are planted with various tree species, some with flowers, and hills are thick with forest cover. Once you cross the border to the next town, Damortis, the trees on roadsides are either few or absent.

Also, visit Agoo Basilica, more than 400 years old (built 1578 i think). Part of the church has been renovated, but the structure still retains its 4 centuries past.

Friday, December 23, 2005


Notes from our February 2005 trip to Sagada, Mt. Province:

Sagada is among the most famous mountain resort and municipalities in the Philippines. It's about 6 to 6 1/2 hours by bus from Baguio City of Benguet province.
Among the prominent attractions of Sagada are:
(1) Thick pine forest vegetation, similar to Camp John Hay of Baguio.
(2) Cold weather due to its high elevation of around 5,000+ feet above sea level, higher than Baguio of around 4,500 feet.
(3) Many caves, including the big cave and the cave of old coffins.
(4) Hanging coffins on limestone rocks.
(5) Rice terraces to see, though not as expansive as the rice terraces of Battad, Banaue, Ifugao province.
(6) Waterfalls, more than an hour walk from the municipal center.

There are many places to stay there, generally walking distance walking distance from each other, just around the town hall and bus station. Among these are the Sagada guest house, Ganduyan Inn, St. Joseph Rest house, Masferres Inn, etc. We stayed in Ganduyan Inn; room rate is P125/person per day, common bathroom; some rooms have own bathroom and therefore, are less cheaper.

Plenty of places to eat as well; usually at the guest houses or inns, in some small cafeterias. Food (say, a cup of rice + meat or chicken) range from P50 to P100 per meal per person.

How to go there:
From Manila, take bus to baguio (Victory bus, Five Star bus, Dagupan bus, among the big bus lines), preferably the 11 pm or 12 midnight bus, you'll reach Baguio City about 5am the following day. Fare is around P300+ per person. The first trip to Sagada at Dangwa bus terminal leaves at 6am, so there's still time to eat breakfast somewhere (Session road has a number of 24-hrs. cafes). Lizardo bus line is the biggest (if not the only one) that plies the Baguio-Sagada route, there are no air-con buses. If you take the 6am bus, you'll reachSagada about 12 to 12:30 noon. Fare is around P200 per person for the 151 kms. trip, about 2/3 of which is on dirty and bad roads. If you like watching cliffs and dozens of mountain ranges, you'll enjoy the bus trip to Sagada.

Despite the circuitous route and bad roads, bus accidents very seldom happen. Bus drivers are skilled in going through such kinds of road. If you wonder in some wide areas though, where the trees are, well, they've been replaced by vegetable plantations, especially cabbages, baguio beans, as well as rice fields, or grasses have taken over.

People normally do not take guides in going around their way. One can buy a one-page map for P10 or P50 in most guest houses/inns and stores. Or they meet fellow tourists, and either they plan their trip together or ask for tips from those who have just visited certain places. But going to the big cave, a guide is necessary. The guides bring the lights (a "petromax") and ropes to guide visitors in some slippery parts of the cave.

Going back to Manila, there are 2 routes. One is to take the same route back to Baguio then Manila; Or via Bontoc (Mt. Province's provincial capital) and Banaue. If taking the second route, take a Sagada-Bontoc jeepney (about 50 kms., 1 hour), then Bontoc-Banaue jeepney (nearly 100 kms., about 3 hours).

Banaue, Ifugao.
There are plenty of beautiful rice terraces to see along the way en route to Banaue.
Bontoc-Banaue road is the trickiest road network in the country, I think.
You'll pass by the highest highway in the Philippines more than 2,000 meters above sea level!
The vegetation changes from pine forest to mossy forest as you go higher. Going down to Banaue, there are less pine trees, more dipterocarp forest species.

In Banaue town proper, you can find a number of viewpoints to see the beautiful rice terraces. But the famous place where you seem to have a 3D view of the monstrous terraces is in Battad. Was there 3 years ago, it took us 30 minutes ride by jeepney (fare about P50/person), then walk of nearly 3 hours! No electricity in Battad, lodging houses at P50/person/day (again, this was 3 years ago). The stone terraces are really huge and tall, some about 12 ft tall, and there are dozens of rows of them in each column.

From Banaue, there are air-con buses going to Manila (they usually leave at 5pm everyday), or you can take a Banaue-Solano (Nueva Vizcaya) jeepeny. There are many buses coming from Kalinga, Cagayan, Isabela, and Nueva Vizcaya provinces going to Manila, via Nueva Ecija and Bulacan.

Some notes re. view in these provinces:

a) Benguet (Baguio city, La Trinidad city,...) -- mostly vegetable terraces. Sometimes a big hill or small mountain is almost bald of trees, but you'll see hundreds of vegetable plantations.

b) Mt. Province (Sagada, Bontoc,...) -- mainly pine forest, then dipterocarp and mossy forest; a few vegetable and rice terraces to see.

c) Ifugao (Banaue, Kiyangan, ...) -- lots of rice terraces; a few pine forest, mostly dipterocarp forest.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Siem Reap, Cambodia, Dec. 2000

Another posting in PF egroups, Dec. 26, 2000:

I'm now at Siem Reap, about 300 kms. & 8-9 hrs, by land, or 5 1/2 hrs. by boat, from Phnom Penh. We took the boat yesterday, a fast boat. We passed by Thon le sap river and lake, and it's a very big lake: more than 1 hr. of travel, you see nothing but waters! Before docking, we passed by a community of boat-living people, half-Viets, half-Cambodians, I'm told. There's even a floating Caltex gas station on boat!

Siem Reap is about 10 kms. from the port. This province thrives on tourism. Thousands of tourists come here every week. Because of this, many people, especially students, speak English, though a bit broken, but better than Vietnamese's english literacy. I just think that perhaps, our Dept. of Tourism and local businessmen can learn a lot from this place and further boost our tourism potentials. This place attracts both the high-end (there's even a 4-star hotel here, I guess) and low-end (back-packer) tourists.

Foreigners come here to see the well-prrotected trees and 9th-14th century Angkor Wat structures and temples, reputedly the most wonderful in southeast Asia. Though Cambodia is generally denuded, Angkor's park is full of big and mature trees. Just another proof that tourism & its money greatly help preserve the trees and the environment, while poverty kills trees. Some of those trees I can only find in some mts. we used to climb like dipterocarp species found in Mt. Apo (Davao), Mt. Makiling (Los Banos), Mt. Halcon (Mindoro), etc.

Internet costs in vietnam is around $0.80/hr, in Phnom Penh $2.30/hr, here in siem reap $5/hr, some shops even charge $7/hr! But then, at least it's available. I get to read some newspapers somehow...

Posted Dec. 29, 2000:

More observations that I want to share with you here in Siem Reap, Cambodia:

1. This is a highly "dollarized" economy. Even ordinary food stalls, newspaper stalls, accept $. The going rate is 1$=3,800 riels (3,900 in Phnom Penh). Say your bill is 6,000 riels, you pay $2, they will give you the change in riels.

2. Economists and planners of Cambodia are worrying about the future of garments industry, where supposedly 90% of its exports revenue come from. But a growing number of analysts are pointing at the high and growing potential of tourism. Earlier I said thousands of tourists come here "every week". Change that to"every day"!

3. To give you an idea of wage structure here: the lowest paid govt. employee receives only "slightly more than $10/month"! Next year they are planning a 15% wage increase, and to kick out "thousands of ghost employees" in govt. (pretty much like the Philippines ha).

4. But tourism-related industries here are making a lot of money. Our rental for motorbikes with driver is $5/day; others charge higher. Food here is more expensive than in Vietnam, almost comparable to those in M. Manila. We stay though in a budget guesthouse, $4/day 2-beds, with own bath and fan, and free laundry!

5. There are internet kiosks/shops here. But here in Siem Reap, they connect you first to Phnom Penh ( before you get connected to the site you want to go.

Vietnam-Cambodia border, Dec. 2000

My posting in PF egroups, Dec. 26, 2000:

We just arrived here in Pnom Penh, Cambodia. It was a tiring 12-hr. ride covering only around 230 kms. Some observations:

1. Vietnam's immigration office bordering Cambodia is in Moc Bai. The immigration officer (only 1 officer that day) is so inefficient & ignorant; he did not want us to exit vietnam because we don't have a Vietnam visa, not realizing perhaps that all citizens of 10-member Asean countries don't need visa to enter other member-countries for visits less than 21 days. The inefficiency of this officer caused a lot of delays in our bus crossing the border.

2. While Vietnamese border police are somehow arrogant, their Cambodian police & immigration counterparts just on the other side, are friendly and helpful.

3. Cambodia's immigration office in Bavet (border with Moc Bai) is a bit funny; they are just 3 waiting-shed types of structures, 1 each for the immigration, customs, and health/quarantine. No electricity, so immigration papers are either typewritten or handwritten.

4. No clear physical boundaries separating the 2 countries, say a river or stream or mountain, not even barbed wires. It's all rice fields on both sides of the road.

5. Cambodia's roads are "highway from hell", according to Lonely Planet guidebook; generally it's true; most of my co-passengers in the bus complained of aching butts because of the bad roads! Not me, mine is used to ride long hrs. in a racer bicycle, he-he-he.

6. Mekong River is muddy, even dirty; there's a barge that ferries at least 8 vehicles to cross to the other side. The part which we cross is perhaps among the narrowest part of the river, as Mekong's widest portion can be as wide as 5kms.

7. Cambodian children are funny; they would wave to passing tourist buses; some would even run from their house, get closer to the road, wave ba-bye, then goback to their house; when you wave back to them, they seem to be very ecstatic.

8. I thought Pnom Penh city is just as big as say, Tacloban or Bacolod orBaguio; well, i''m wrong. Judging from the traffic and the avenues, it lookslike smaller than Cebu, perhaps like Davao.

9. If you see this country, you'll be glad that we live in the Philippines; it's so poor, denuded, many idle lands, and majority of the areas don't have electricity. Some have electricity perhaps through generators and batteries.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Ho Chi Minh, December 2000

Another posting in pilipinas forum egroups, December 25, 2000:

I had a glimpse of how the Viets, at least in Hanoi, celebrate Christmas eve last night. The city govt. put up a stage right at the center of the city near the lake, and there were acrobatic, circus, and comedy shows, free. Several meters from this full-packed area, still around the lake, there are "belens" and santa claus and other figures that attract thousands of people, many of them walking aimlessly.

Now we're in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), and I would say that coming from the scenic environment and cooler climate of Hanoi, this place is not exactly a recommendable one for tourism. It's like you're in Cubao and Ermita, so why come here? Though there are many exotic places to visit, like the boat trips in the Mekong River (the river originates from China, down to Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, out to the sea). There's not much trees around the central district; the streets are a bit dirty and smelly; and if the cyclo-people (ala-pedicab in manila) or motorcycle-taxi drivers sense that you're a foreigner, some of them would follow you for quite a distance, offering rides (at exorbitant rates, of course). If they fail to convince you, they'll later show pictures of girls and ask if you're interested to have "massage?", "pretty women?", "cheap only, $10 1hr; lower?", etc. The solution is to stop talking to them.

In the 1st district where we stay, there are a lot of back-packer type white people. Well, we have the same source for choosing this place - the LonelyPlanet book guide on Vietnam, and the author specifically recommends this area for cheap but clean accommodations. Comparing this district and Ermita however, I would say that this area attracts more white tourists than our Ermita.

Tomorrow is a long day for us. We're taking a 12-hr bus ride (air-con)from Saigon to Pnom Penh, Cambodia, starting 7am. I read the Lonely Planet book guide onCambodia, I just realize that the political instability has relatively ceased only in the late 90s, around 1998. The book is 2000 edition, and the author says it's now safe to go to certain places of Cambodia incl. Angkor Wat.

PS: you know how low wages are in Vietnam? the lowest paid govt. employee receives 200,000 dong/month, equivalent to around $13.8/month or nearlyP700/month! The shop sales lady I talked to in Hanoi says she teaches French language in the morning to elementary students and receives 400,000 dong/month (nearlyP1,400/month); to augment her income, she works as a shop saleslady and receives additional 200,000 dong/month, for a 2-9 pm work, 6 days/week. She said despite the low pay in the shop, she likes talking to customers and meeting foreigners so she can practice her English.

With these wage structures, it won't be a big question if foreign investors would go to Vietnam (& China) instead of the Phils. Inputing perhaps a higher cost of bribery to state officials of these countries, they might still feel better off locating in China or Vietnam or India. But despite these lower wages in Vietnam, I would like to believe that on "wellness scale", many people are still not that worse off. Food is cheap. I tried eating in "street food" corners, 3 viands (vegetable, fish & chicken) & 1big cup of rice is only around P20. I think they're safe because my stomach never complained afterwards despite testing it about 3x in that "experiment", he-he-he.

Hanoi, Vietnam, Dec. 2000

The following are my notes about Vietnam, posted in pilipinas forum (PF) egroups, December 19-21, 2000:

I remember it was Malou Tiquia who once wrote something like "soon, Vietnam will (economically) overtake the Phils." I could not agree with that statement then; the macroeconomic figures say it cannot be true: Phils' per capita GNP at $1,000+/year, Vietnam's at $300+/year; Phils' exports in 1999 around $37 billion, Vietnam's $10 billion. Phils' international reserves around $15 billion, Vietnam's around $7 billion. Somehow far out to compare.

Till I arrived in Hanoi last night, and I pondered that Malou may be right afterall. Why?

(1) Saigon's and Noibai's (in Hanoi) runway and adjacent areas (potential for more expansion) I think are at least 2x each that of Ninoy Aquino airport.

(2) Noibai is 30 kms. from central Hanoi, but that distance can be reached in 30mins. or less (last night, it was only 20 mins.) by car because of good roadinfrastructure; that's already around 1 hr. faster compared to say, QC to NAIA.

(3) In terms of "overall wellness" of people, I would say that people in Hanoi are generally a lot well-off compared to Metro Manilans(!) They enjoy the following which we don't have:

a) Wide roads, wide walkways, many trees and parks and lakes within the city(like "little, old Paris" accdg. to my friend who's been to Paris).

b) Cleaner air as bicycles and motorcycles far outnumber cars and buses in thecity.

c) Better peace and order situation as there is a lot less social inequality among people; a poor person can transport himself/herself easily from points Ato B 10, 20 kms away (or longer) without necessarily having a car or waiting fora long time for a comfortable bus because bicycles (& scooters) practically rule the city roads.

We rented a bicycle today for only 8,000 dong (around $0.60 or P30)/day. And boy, what an experience! It's really fast to move from one place to another, and no parking problem too. But bikers/motorcyclists cross intersections like crazy- as if everybody is "beating the red light". But collission among them I think is only around .001 percent! I think that it's one of the near-perfect examples of "fractals" or chaos theory in mathematics (something like "order in disorder").

d) People are generally more healthy (as in leaner/trimmer) than us Filipinos; I seldom see fat people here! Thus, health-related expenses will be a lot lesser both for citizens and the government.

There are fewer scycrapers, yes, but so are fewer beggars and squatters. I don't see private security guards in shops and restaurants (unlike in M.Mla); thus,there is less "less/un-productive labor".

I just notice certain inefficiencies in this country: telecomms infrastructure is still underdeveloped, so that overseas calls are expensive. While our not-so-good telecomm firms there now charge only US$0.50/min., smaller ones like Nextel even charge only $0.30/min. (at certain hrs. of the day?), a call fromHanoi to Manila would cost about $3-$4/minute, even $5/min. in hotels. Internet shops here charge 200 dong/minute or 12,000 dong/hr, equivalent to around US$0.80/hr. or P40/minute, similar to rates found in small internet shops in Mla and the provinces.

But I still like the bicycle culture here, he he he.

I read in "Vietnam News", the only English daily newspaper here, that the Viet economy is taking off high. Its growth rate in '98-99 was 6.2% average, and they are looking at 7-8% growth from year 2000 onwards. Based on what I observe, at least for Hanoi, this place is bustling with economic activities. Here in the Old Quarter/central district where I stay, the thousands of shops in many streets could rival the various shops of SM and other malls in M.Mla in terms of quantity of goods being displayed. Central-planning may be the official govt. policy, but out in the streets, free market is very much alive and kicking.

Riding my bike everyday here, it just occurred to me that this economy has little or no "bubble" compared to what we have in the Phils. The kids here are not pampered with cars and school buses while they're young. They start the"harder" life early on, so I guess their tolerance for hard work when they grow older will be higher than us Filipinos. Of course there are at least 2 major things that favor their bike culture than us: (a) the colder climate (comparable to HK and Baguio) and (b) bike-friendly streets.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Guimaras, Philippines

Guimaras is a small island-province, has only 5 municipalities. Aside from beaches (being an island), it's also known for its sweet mangos. The province is generally green, covered by various vegetations -- fruit tree plantations (mango, coconut, bananas), some rice, and pockets of forest tree plantation, mainly mahogany trees. No buses, only jeepeneys and tricycles for public transportation. Trucks are few since many cargos can be transported by jeepneys. Thus, since there are no heavy vehicles, the road infrastructure is generally fine and not dilapidated.

Boat fare from Iloilo to Jordan, Guimaras' provincial capital, is only P10 per person, quiet affordable for a 15 minutes trip. It's good that there are no terminal fee or security fee or VAT or other government-imposed fees and taxes that often distort fares and prices upwards. As a result of this affordable fare, movement of people and goods between the two islands is quiet fast. On a regular weekday, there's a boat carrying around 45 passengers that leaves every 5-7 minutes, I think.

Among the famous beach resorts in the province is Raymen resort in Alobijod, municipality of Nueva Valencia. White sand, the facilities are ok and cottages are plenty, but it can be crowded especially on weekends. It can be reached by jeepney, fare about P20 per head, then tricycle, fare P10 per head. Someone told us to check Baras beach resort, so we went there. From Raymen, we rented a boat (P350 first hour, P120/hour succeeding hours) since Baras is not accessible by land travel, only by boat.

Baras resort is a beautiful place to see and swim. White sand, not rocky swimming area, protected from open sea by huge rock formations and hence, the waves are small. Being inaccessible by land travel, not too many people go there, so it's not crowded. There's a half-court basketball area, a grass volleyball court, a billiard table, a kayak, and other facilities which one can enjoy for free, inclusive of the P50 per head entrance fee. Electricity is supplied by a generator, so electric lights are available only from 5-11pm.

From Baras resort, we asked our boatman to tour us. This part of the province has a number of small, white sand beaches, about 150 meters long on average, but not close to one another. What fascinated me further were the many small islands and islets or detached rock formations. This is definitely a minor version of the Hundred Islands of Alaminos, Pangasinan.

One can reach this and neighboring resorts by boat. We rented a 45-passenger (max) boat for P3,500 to bring us from Iloilo city to Baras resort and back. Travel time is more than 1 hour each way, and one can enjoy seeing the rocky sides of the island, the several white sand beaches fishing villages. I think it won't be long and those white sand fishing villages will become beach resorts too.