Pho 88 Vietnamese Restaurant

DID YOU KNOW that in Vietnam, you can’t eat your food and then leave your chopsticks lying vertically over your bowl (or plate) of rice or noodles when you’re done?

Did you know too, that doing the same in China would contract-in-displeasure the eyebrows of the residents as it is how they position their incense sticks whenever present in ceremonies honoring the dead, or burying them?

Or something like that. I’m not too sure.

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A small bowl of PHO BO at Pho 88. It’s a Vietnamese rice noodle soup with fragrant herb leaves served separately with calamansi, and beef meat. 

Did you know further that if you don’t want to get in trouble with any of your Vietnamese friends (perhaps I should try one day just to make sure), then you must call to mind not to tap your chopsticks on your bowl for it will bring misfortune, and it means you’re convoking the dead?

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I HAVE TO GET ME ONE OF THESE. Tuong Ot Sriracha, or rooster sauce in Vietnam, actually originated from Thailand.  It’s made of “chili, sugar, salt, garlic, distilled vinegar,potassium sorbate, sodium bisulfite and xanthan gum.

It is really our own eating beliefs and traditions that matter. But of course, it wouldn’t hurt to observe and do as they do, right? When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Vietnam, do as the Vietnamese people do.

The reason I had to remember what I learned about the eating culture of the people of Vietnam was because I was with some friends in this new restaurant called Pho 88 along J. Rizal Avenue the other day.

Sometimes I have that habit of tapping my chopsticks lightly on the bowl when I’m talking about something passionately. But not always.

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Ha Chi Lhan, the pretty owner of Pho 88. The place does not seek attention where it is located so, one has to be really on the alert.

Pho 88 is Pho 88, according to owner Ha Chi Lhan, because 1988 was the year she started to work in a bank in the coastal city of Nha Trang in Khánh Hòa, on the South Central Coast of Vietnam.

It was her Filipino husband, who brought her to open Pho 88 after residing for a while in Silang, Cavite. The husband was not there to meet with us, but whoever he is, it’s good decision to bring Ha Chi Lhan to move to this city.

Another restaurant that serves real Vietnamese food is good news to me although in Puerto Princesa, there are about two I really love to visit once in a while. One is located in Barangay Sta. Lourdes, the other is in Barangay San Jose — quite far from where I live.

I wanted to order Pho Ga (Chicken Noodle Soup) since its photo on the resto’s simple menu looked steamy and pretty with the chicken meat all lined up on one side, herbs on top of them, and a slice of chili.

But it wasn’t available; the kitchen staff apparently forgot to buy chicken from the market that day.

I don’t know. Tsk!

An old Vietnamese friend, who came to Palawan a few years ago as one of the boat people, told me that you can gauge the goodness of a Pho by the intensity of the flavor that’s rustled up in the stock while maintaining its clarity.

I wanted to prove. Unfortunately…

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This popular Vietnamese dish is not heavy in the belly so, go for it when you’re in Puerto Princesa.

Every time I go to a new Vietnamese place, I like comparing how each cook their Pho. This is the reason why I wanted the Pho Ga. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed the Bun Thit Nuong cold noodles upon learning from Ha Chi Lhan that the noodles they used were imported.

Except for the meat and some spices that can easily be bought from the public market, all their ingredients are imported from Vietnam.

The food junkie in me couldn’t help but also order Banh Mi Thit Heo, bread with pork and veggies inside. Bahn Mi is all kinds of bread to the Vietnamese; bahn is bread and mi is wheat. Popular to them is the baguette or French bread.

So, if you’re in an authentic Vietnamese dining place, and you ask to be given Bahn Mi, and the food attendant asks you next what kind you would like to have, then you’ll know they can give it to you with different fillings. Pulled pork, fried or grilled chicken, barbecued pork, beef, and yes, even crazy tuna spread.

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VIETNAMESE ICE COFFEE: On Pho 88’s menu, they come in two blends — Cafe Sua and Cafe Sai Gon.

After our good and light meal, we couldn’t leave as there were still good stories to tell and laugh about. So, one of us decided to try Pho 88’s two ice coffee blends — Cafe Sua that uses the traditional French coffee drip, and Cafe Sai Gon.

Both blends use coarsely ground dark roast coffee, and they’re so good!

So, what sets apart Vietnamese cuisine from the rest of the others in Asia? For me, I think its really the amalgamation of spices, colors, love and passion of cooking, fresh ingredients, and the minimal employment of oil.

Isn’t it that Vietnamese food is considered one of the healthiest in the planet?

We went to Pho 88 at past 12 noon, and left around 3 p.m. because Wednesday is WOW date for all of us. WOW meaning Women of Wednesday.

I’m going back there for my Sriracha sauce.

Pho 88 is okay with reservation. Call them at 09271521706 and 09279378729.

 

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Mt. Cleopatra’s Needle

Mt. Cleopatra’s Needle is said to be some sort of mystical mountain in Puerto Princesa, the capital city of Palawan. It was so named because of that “obelisk-like” outcrop on its peak that always gets lucky to be kissed by the clouds.

My good friend Jonah Van Beijnen, who has been working for the protection of Mt. Cleopatra’s Needle, was excited to see it from so many thousand feet for the first time with me, Dempto (Philippine Daily Inquirer correspondent), JD (radio reporter), and another guy (a photographer too), when we flew over northern Palawan last Holy Thursday.

Members of the Suakwal Mountaineers, who have scaled Mt. Cleopatra’s Needle said its “environment is extensively covered with forests and full of wildlife. At the summit, if the skies are clear, one will be offered a view of Honda Bay and Sulu Sea (East) as well as South China Sea (West); and of course, a panorama of the city proper (SE).”

I want that. Soon!

Lake Manguao: An avian treasure chest in Northern Palawan

WITH THEIR dusky crowns, napes, shadowy eye stripes, bluish-grey mandibles, thin brown legs, and rusty cinnamon-colored heads and necks radiating under the heat of the golden morning sun, nearly two dozen Philippine ducks (Anas luzonica) can be witnessed frolicking and winging their ways over Lake Manguao in the once monarch-ruled town of Taytay in northern Palawan.

This duck which has been listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) because of “rapid and continuing decline” in population due to “extensive hunting and widespread conversion of wetland habitats,” is one of the avian jewels of the 6.7-square kilometer inland sea that is said to have a 44-square kilometer conforming catchment area.

In addition to the wild duck species in the Anatidae family of birds, Joie Matillano of Western Philippines University (WPU), whose avian photos were published online on January 30, 2010, noted that there were also Oriental dwarf kingfishers (Ceyx erithaca); Blue-eared kingfishers (Alcedo meninting); Common flamebacks (Dinopium javanense); Hooded pittas (Pitta sordida); Common kingfishers (Alcedo atthis); Ashy-headed babblers (Malacocincla cinereiceps); Grey-cheeked bulbul (Alophoixus bres); Grey herons (Ardea cinerea); Great egrets (Ardea alba); Western osprey (Pandion haliaetus); Spangled drongo (Dicrurus bracteatus); and Pin-striped tit babblers (Mixornis gularis) that reside in the only freshwater lake in the province’s mainland.

One of the caretakers, who operates a motorized dinghy that takes tourists to sightsee in the lake, told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in a visit before the Holy Week that around 5:30 a.m., Palawan hornbills (Anthracoceros marchei) or talusi can also be witnessed in flocks of eight to about a dozen hopping and settling on tops of trees, and leave before 7:00 a.m. when the sun has completely risen.

“Too bad you were late; they were here very early. They fly early to land on the trees near the entrance to the lake; sometimes, they are noisy,” said Gerry, whose family mainly subsists on catching the cichlid fish tilapia from the lake.

Manguao’s avifauna

In a survey conducted by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) sometime in 2007, it noted that there were “a total of 126 species of birds recorded in the lake, wherein 24 were migratory, 76 residents, 14 restricted to range Palawan-endemics, seven Philippine-endemics, and five had both resident and migratory populations.”

Eight of the species are under the IUCN’s vulnerable category: the Chinese egret (Egretta eulophotes); Falcated ground babbler (Ptilocichla falcate); Palawan flycatcher (Ficedula platenae); Palawan hornbill, Palawan peacock pheasant (Polyplectron emphanum); Blue-headed racquet tail (Prioniturus plateni); Grey imperial pigeon (Ducula pickeringii); and the Philippine duck. Five species were recorded as near-threatened.

The year of the survey, the PCAARRD said, “constituted the first record of the Philippine-endemic duck in northern Palawan. “

“Matagal na ako dito, mga kulang-kulang 15 years, at mas marami sila noon. Kumunti na ngayon (I’ve stayed here for nearly 15 years, and before, there used to be a lot of wild ducks. Their number has greatly reduced),” Gerry, who does not want his full name mentioned, stated.

His testimonial seems to prove what PCAARRD reported that “threats to birds included hunting for local consumption and curiosity, rampant poaching of the critically endangered species, slash-and-burn farming, and selective illegal logging,” which could lead to homegrown extinction.

The PCAARRD survey result then said that due to Lake Manguao’s “high avian species diversity, its catchment can qualify as an important bird area for conservation.”

Conservation efforts

Unlike before when no tourists would come due to the difficulty of reaching Lake Manguao, these days it has become popular to the few foreign visitors, who take interest and love to do less traveled itineraries in the first class town of Taytay.

Gerry said the ideal time of the day to appreciate the birds’ beauty in their natural habitat is around sunrise by using paddle boats that make less noise.

Binoculars, or cameras with telephoto lenses, are the best tools to use when bird watching.

”But what birds will there be if focus on the protection, conservation, and preservation of Lake Manguao is not taken into mind by the local government unit (LGU)?” asked Rommel Cruz, one of the founders of Birdwatch Palawan (BP), a member of the Palawan Ornithological Society (POS), and who organizes bird tours under BirdingPal.org.

Cruz said he knows Lake Manguao is protected “in paper,” but does not remember when this happened. He does not also know if the bird lake has a Protected Area Management Board (PAMB), “a multi-sectoral body responsible for the administration and management of a protected area created through the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act (NIPAS).

This Board decides on budget allocations, approval of funding proposals and planning on matters concerning the ecology, particularly the protected areas.

“I know there is none, I know there is none,” Cruz replied, feeling somewhat unhappy over what fate may become of the avian residents of Lake Manguao.

He is also not aware if the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development (PCSD) has the lake in its protection radar considering how vital it is as a habitat for various species of endemic and non-endemic birds, flora and other wildlife.

Philippine duck

Lake Manguao, said Cruz, is a critical habitat, especially for the Philippine duck that is protected under the law because it is an endemic and listed as vulnerable.

“In Palawan, the only record of the Philippine duck, is in Quezon in southern Palawan, and Lake Manguao,” he said, adding that the duck species only stays there and does not migrate.

According to Birdlife International, the Philippine duck “is endemic to the country, being recorded from all the major islands and eight smaller islands. Records since 1980 derive from 30 localities say they’re mostly in Luzon and Mindanao.”

“Records from Siquijor and the Sulus remain unsubstantiated. A steep population decline was evident by the mid-1970s, with high numbers recorded at only a few sites in the following decade, like Candaba Marsh (Luzon) which probably supported many thousands in the early 1980s.”

Palawan, particularly Lake Manguao, is not even included in Birdlife International’s list of where they can be seen.

“The Philippine duck is a resident there; the lake provides habitat to it, and other wildlife that can only be found in Palawan. Looking at the profile of the lake… since it is low-land forest… there are large trees… trees that are cavity forming,” he said.

This means these trees provide nesting territories to birds like the Palawan hornbill, woodpeckers, parrots, cockatoos, and the likes.

Since there is no clear protection effort for Lake Manguao, Cruz stated it is prone to encroachment of squatters, illegal loggers, slash-and-burn activities, and others that can affect it as a biodiversity area.

Recently, he heard that some people want to stake claims over vital portions of the lake. If this happens, and intrusion will not be stopped, the Philippine duck might flee the area, where they can never be seen and appreciated closely anymore, and where they might be more in danger of being hunted.

For someone, who arranges birding tours like he does, Cruz knows what will be the long-term effects for Lake Manguao if “focused protection” is not imposed. Cruz wants the lake protected, “there is no doubt,” he said.

However, right now, their stand is somewhat uncommitted since when after they showed interest last year, the local government of Taytay responded without urgency.

“There was a response, but we didn’t see the urgency; Lake Manguao’s protection doesn’t seem to be in the local government’s list of priorities. They said they were busy,” he furthered, though what were said were relayed verbally.

Manguao’s eco-tourism potential

Cruz group’s interest offered to the LGU of Taytay the conduct of an avian survey in the lake and the surrounding areas, as well as bird watching basics to expand tourism potentials that will be beneficial to its caretakers.

The survey will generate an estimate of what kinds of birds are in Manguao, their population size and the changes that affect them, and as well as the collection of the causes of these changes in population or species diversity.

The bird watching basics, on the other hand, will familiarize locals on the understanding of the birds that can eventually turn them into bird guides. Bird guiding, said Cruz, can be a source of livelihood for the residents in the area, or the 16 families that serve as caretakers of the lake.

“We proposed that while we’re conducting the avian survey, local guides are being trained simultaneously so, they can have additional livelihood,” the bird expert in Palawan said, supplying that they should be the one benefiting.

Birding tours, he said, can definitely provide income, and is one way of encouraging the protection of sites where they can be found.

“If they do not take care of the birds, then what is there to see?” he asked. “If we only talk conservation, and not see it happen, then what comes next? There should be balance; they benefit at the same time they protect,” Cruz said.

Lodging places for potential bird tourism are also a must, according to Cruz. This can be set up near the lake site, and made of sturdy indigenous materials that will not cause harmful effects to the environment.

This is because birding enthusiasts sometimes stay three-five days to appreciate the avian residents in their natural environment.

Although he is unable to provide any estimate as to how much the LGU could earn in environmental protection fees, local taxes, and others, Cruz believes Lake Manguao is not only an avian treasure chest, but can be a source of livelihood too, for the locals.

When it comes to Taytay, he claimed that except for the historical Fuerza de Santa Isabelle and the islands, there is nothing else to call its own since there are also the same in El Nido and Coron.

“Taytay is a very, very important gateway to El Nido; just one hour or so, you’re here. Tourists there can come here if they’re interested in the avian residents of the lake.”

If Lake Manguao is protected, Taytay can truly claim it “its own,” like Narra that has Estrella Falls to boast; El Nido that has the secret lagoons; Puerto Princesa that has the underground river, and Coron that has Kayangan Lake.

Cruz’ group still wants to pursue the further protection of the lake. But he said the initiative should come from the LGU of Taytay. “The initiative should come from the LGU; it is theirs, we are here to help protect the lake and its wildlife,” he said.

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This article was also published by the Philippines News Agency (PNA).

M/V Superstar Aquarius

Traveling on a cruise ship is on my bucket list, but the opportunity to actually do one has never presented itself to me yet. I honestly don’t know when it’s going to happen, or if it is happening. I live that to God’s will… and a few shoves to myself… eventually.

This is the reason why if there’s a chance to go aboard one docked at the Puerto Princesa City Port, I immediately take it.

Last Monday, Star Cruises’ M/V Superstar Aquarius made its maiden voyage to my city with over 500 travelers from all over Asia. The cruise ship is huge at 623 feet with all amenities to make any traveler’s stay comfortable and memorable, including a playroom for children.

13-storey and all, it’s easy to get lost inside the cruise ship. Our guide, who is from Davao, told us that when it was his first time aboard, he lost his way back to his cabin. It’s “bawal” (not allowed) for them to be on the decks where tourists stay, and it was in one where he could not find his way back.

I believe this because for while on tour, my colleague and I lost our way too. We went below Deck 3 when everyone’s on Deck 7 checking out the salon, the spa, and the duty free shops. I had to make a cell call to find our group and be with them again 🙂

“If the carpet is maroon, that means you’re in front of the ship. Green in the middle, and blue at the back,” our guide informed us.

Ah, hmmmm… 

Here are photos I managed to get.

Baragatan sa Palawan 2014

My province recently celebrated its 112th Civil Government Anniversary through the annual convergence event “BARAGATAN.” In our local dialect, Baragatan means “convergence.”

Every year during the month of June, all 23 local government units (LGUs) journey to the capital Puerto Princesa City to participate in the festivities: the LGU Trade Fair for their “One Town, One Product” (OTOP); culture and arts presentation, such as the Saraotan sa Dalan (street dancing in the Cuyunon dialect), and many others to mention.

Among all activities, my favorite is the Saraotan sa Dalan or street dancing competition because participants wear colorful costumes and head gears, and the beat of the drums is just fantastic — totally different from the usual music we hear all the time.

Too bad I wasn’t able to get a photo of Wak-wak. Weird sounding name — it’s a sand worm — harvested by the locals, dried under the sun, and cooked (fried or ceviche) as food. I swear it’s good!

Here are some photos from the street dancing competition. Love the colors!

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Princesa Garden Island Resort and Spa

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Princesa Garden Islands Resort & Spa in Palawan redefines luxury living

Are you looking for a place where you can completely escape the city life that lacks excitement and variety?

Princesa Garden Island Resort & Spa, this city’s newest hotel resort, might just have the all-embracing period of recreation you’re looking for.

Located in Barangay Bancao-Bancao, right in the heart of Palawan’s capital Puerto Princesa City, the only five star island hotel resort and spa offers you and ardent holidaymakers a “slice of paradise” and an extraordinary break from the monotony of work in the country’s “Last Frontier.”

Marketing Communications Associate Kareen Gonzales said as “the only five star resort in this city,” Princesa Garden Island offers potential clients “a wide array of amenities and services that are guaranteed to make anyone’s stay unforgettable.”

“Our place is Asian-themed. You can see in the details how we built the hotel resort following the contemporary Balinese style which is a well-liked Asian tropical architecture, by combining it with natural materials and craftsmanship of the local people that can be found in abundance here in Puerto Princesa,” she said.

Princesa Garden Island offers 78 luxurious rooms that include an exclusive stand-alone assemblage of water cabanas overlooking the picturesque city bay and the grandiosity of the coastal scenery.

Gonzales said the water cabanas are a first of its kind in Puerto Princesa that feature spacious wooden decks with daybeds that have canopies for sunbathing, separate outdoor jet pools, exclusive in-ocean reception areas, and a cloistered lounge where guests can take it easy with light snacks and cool thirst quenchers.

Other room accommodations are located at the three-storey main hotel called the Harbor Wing. Here, each has a wide veranda, or roofed platform that offers a breathtaking view of the infinity pool and turquoise ocean. Several high-end room accommodations also have open-air Jacuzzis on the sundeck.

Guests who wish to stay on the ground floor rooms, on the other hand, have direct access to Princesa Garden Island’s six opulent infinity pools.

For those looking for outdoor activities, the resort will eventually offer a mangrove tour on a kayak, snorkeling and other water sport activities. The sand and sky glisten in the area, and anyone wishing to just commune quietly with nature can do so.

They can also indulge on international cuisines served at three restaurants in the resort: the Golden Elephant Seafood Village that serves Asian food, the Tomato and Basil near the pools for gastronomic Italian dishes, and the Rice Restaurant that serves popular Oriental dishes and various International carte du jour.

When the hotel resort finally and fully opens before the end of the year, it will also have a Floating Bar near a sandbar, where guests can unwind and enjoy as the day unwinds with a glorious sunset over the bay.

Travelers, who can’t do away with their relaxing reflexologies and rubdowns, will be pampered by Princesa Garden Island’s Hilot Spa Village, managed by its friendly masseuse.

With the opening of this new hotel resort in Puerto Princesa, it now has the capacity to offer tourists and guests the opportunity to escape completely, and collect wonderful memories.

Sabang’s Rich Landscape

When it comes to beautiful landscapes, Puerto Princesa is a dime a dozen, and I didn’t say that to be negative. Everywhere you look in this city, the landscapes are great — wide-ranging, sweeping, overwhelming, and they’re as alive as the people, who live near them.

The Puerto Princesa City Subterranean River National Park (PPCSRNP) in Sabang, Barangay Cabayugan, for instance, does not only have the underground river to be proud of. It also has an amazing landscape.

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