No surprise Matt Damon was recently in Tagaytay—I myself love coming home to PH
LOS ANGELES—“I am traveling half the year around the world, every year, so coming home is one of the most beautiful things.”—Andre Rieu, Dutch violinist and conductor
Looking back one more time at 2019, I consider my first trip to Siargao, voted the world’s best island by Conde Nast Traveler readers, as one of the highlights of my homecoming.
While this teardrop-shaped island in the south of the Philippines is famous for its waves and attracts surfers from all over the globe, Siargao has other attractions that made magazine readers rank it over famous destinations like Bali, Hawaii, Bora Bora and Tahiti.
Part of the province of Surigao del Norte, Siargao, surrounded by islets, has been on my mind on where to explore next in my return to my homeland.
We did not even get to go to Siargao’s world-famous Cloud 9, a surfing mecca for surfers. We signed up for an island-hopping day trip with our own boatman so we embarked on a journey to these islands at our own leisure: Naked, Dacu and Guyam.
Naked Island is actually a small sandbar, so-called because there’s nothing on it except incredible white sand, crystal clear water and a vast expanse of glorious blue skies all around.
We had the most delicious seafood on the beach in Dacu Island. Visitors pick the fish, crabs, prawns, clams and more and decide how they want them cooked. Before we can finish our San Mig Light, our steaming hot food arrived. We could have stayed but Guyam Island was beckoning in the distance.
With its swings, hammocks and rugs casually spread on the sand, shaded by swaying coconut trees, Guyam was the perfect place to take a nap after that hearty lunch. But wait, they serve halo-halo and tempting fruit smoothies on this tiny island.On our other trips around Siargao, aboard what they call Binggo (think bigger version of a tricycle), we went up a hill and, voila, we were face-to-face with one of the most Instagrammed spots. Hundreds of coconut trees as far as your eyes can see–this is what attracts travelers to Maasin’s coconut farm.
Maasin is also famous for its other Instagram hot spot: the river where men and women, boys and girls from various countries attempt to climb a tall but bent coconut tree and then swing and splash on the water. After passing that popular coconut tree aboard a banca, we were awed by the sheer beauty of the river.
It was like a Hollywood production designer’s dream river set. With only the quiet swoosh of the boatman’s paddle and the occasional sounds from birds as our relaxing soundtrack, the river was unexpectedly breathtaking. Tree branches hanging gracefully over the river were like curtains that opened the next vista.
We also explored the Magpupungku rock formation and pools where we swam in the clear water. Sitting down for halo-halo (again), we smiled as a couple spontaneously broke into a dance. Of course, Janet (my wife) joined the impromptu disco out in the street.Boracay seemed almost anticlimactic after Siargao. But Boracay will always be special to us since we first fell in love with the Panay island in the ’80s, before electricity came. Since it was very windy outside, we just enjoyed the freshest seafood this popular destination offers.
In Makati, nothing prepared us for the elegance of the homecoming dinner hosted by Janet’s cousin, Helen Limcaoco and her husband TG, in a private suite at the Manila Peninsula Hotel. Surrounded by new and long-time friends, we were blissed out to be home.
More so when we spent a day with Janet’s family in the beautiful Tagaytay home of her architect brother, Jun Rodriguez and his wife, Carol. With a view of the infinity pool and the Tagaytay lake in the horizon and laughter and catching up with the growing Rodriguez family, we didn’t want the day to end.
No surprise that actor Matt Damon was recently spotted in Tagaytay Highlands, where he reportedly stayed for two nights.
But the lure of Thailand which we have never visited was calling us. First stop was Phuket, where we decided to stay put on Patong Beach and just enjoyed, for once, a day without any interviews with stars.
Then, we finally experienced colorful and vibrant Bangkok with its lively street food and club scene. A tour of a floating market and a side trip to a temple was a welcome treat.
Back in Manila, we discovered the Nobu Hotel, whose opening was attended by Robert De Niro, no less. We loved its location in the City of Dreams, where we watched two alternating live bands in Centerplay. We could have stayed there all night, listening to these two bands that proved to us again the superb musicality of Filipinos.
Alas, it was time to return to Hollywood and daily interviews. But not without a warm sendoff dinner hosted by designer Francis Libiran and his manager, Arsi Baltazar, who is our buddy from way back.
This whirlwind trip home would not have been possible without Cebu Pacific Air’s convenient flights around the Philippines and all over the globe, including Thailand. We vowed to come back more often.
Email: [email protected] Follow him at: https://twitter.com/nepalesruben
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