When we made the recent trip to the island province of Cebu for the Sinulog festival (one of the Philippine’s biggest fiestas–read: street party–and annual religious festival in honor of the Santo Nino or Child Jesus), my husband and I and a couple of our friends also made a three-hour trip out of the city to the southern town of Oslob and made some other stops on the way back for some good lechon (roast pig) and chicharon (pork cracklings). Because why wouldn’t you stop for lechon and chicharon?
1. Swim with the whale sharks. Like the sleepy Sorsogon town of Donsol, Oslob turned into a tourist destination, primarily because of the whale sharks that frequented its waters to feed. But unlike in Donsol where you have to search for them, the fishermen in Tan-Awan in Oslob hand-feed the gentle giants and lead them close to shore for the tourists to have an easier access to them. And there are three ways to see them, dive (P600), snorkel (P500), or just stay in the boat, (P300) because the whale sharks tend to stay close to the surface as the feeder throws uyap (shrimp) to feed them.
One of the whale sharks in Oslob. This and the other one we saw were relatively smaller (but still amazing to behold) than the ones in Donsol (Photo courtesy of Mike Aquino)
Personally, I prefer the practice of whale shark interaction in Donsol. There’s no guarantee that you’ll see a whale shark and capture that Instagram-worthy shot there–because they are after all supposed to be still in the wild–but it seems there’s less impact on their migratory nature (the whale sharks in Oslob, we’re told, are there year-round). Our friend who writes for About.com and was with us during the trip has a different take on it here (and a more helpful guide). Continue reading
I’ve always loved visiting churches, temples, shrines and other places where people worship. When you’re traveling, it can give you a glimpse into the place’s history or culture. You see what people hold dear, what they believe in, what customs and traditions they have upheld through the centuries.
In the Philippines, Catholicism is the predominant religion. Three centuries of being a Spanish colony can do that to a country. Based on historical accounts, the province of Cebu is where one of the rulers of the country first converted to Christianity together with his subjects. It’s also where the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño is located, believed to have been the oldest church in the country (until the original structure was destroyed in a fire in the 16th century) and its site is where the oldest Catholic image of the Santo Niño (Holy Child Jesus) was found from the 1521 Magellan expedition. That’s a lot of Catholic history. So when we went to Cebu, P and I visited the Basilica.
The atmosphere outside the church is just like any other large Catholic church in the country, bustling with activity outside and quiet and somber inside the church. A devotee praying on her knees was moving towards the altar. People were lighting candles. There was a room filled with statues of different saints and a few stood in front of them, whispering their prayers, dropping donations in boxes. All familiar rituals.
Basílica Minore del Santo Niño in Cebu
In Japan, visits to its Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples revealed rituals I was curious to understand. With majority of Japanese subscribing to Buddhism and Shinto, temples and shrines are their places of worship.
Sampling Vietnamese food was a big part of our Saigon itinerary, but we also had to burn all those pho and banh mi sandwiches. So we walked. A lot.
Staying in District 1 is a good place to start. Ben Thanh Market, the Ho Chi Minh Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office, and Reunification Palace are all within 10- to 15-minute walk from each other in that order. We started at Ben Thanh because it’s the closest to Pham Ngu Lao area. We had no intention of doing any shopping yet but we wanted to see what was being sold (years of sourcing while working for a magazine are not so easy to shake off). There are a lot of clothes, fabrics, scarves, watches, bags, coffee and humble eateries of Vietnamese food.
What caught my eyes were the parcels of fresh spring rolls stacked behind a counter; I asked the lady behind the glass counter if I could have one. Then to my horror, she started screaming and shooing me away. My husband put away his camera thinking it would calm her down, but she was still screaming and motioning us to leave. I asked for one spring roll again and finally another woman got a menu and pointed that you order three per serving. I stubbornly sat and ordered three. Those spring rolls were probably good, but it left a bitter taste in my mouth. Fresh spring roll lady glaring at me didn’t help.
Ben Thanh Market