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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Banzai Japanese Buffet

Buffets are everywhere in Metro Manila and more are joining the bandwagon. The latest concept to open is a Japanese buffet restaurant that showcases a Teppanyaki Theater where they will cook teppanyaki on the spot. 

Introducing Banzai: The Great Teppanyaki Theater located at Seaside Blvd, MOA Complex. The restaurant is impossible to miss with their huge and imposing signage!

They were still at "soft opening" stage when we dined and it was easy to point areas for improvement. First, the atmosphere is not as festive compared to other buffet restaurants like Vikings and Buffet 101. Nobody sings a birthday song to celebrants and the only music played are soft, instrumental, zen-type nusic. Unless the quiet atmosphere is really what they intend, I find it quite boring.

Their Teppanyaki Theater looks rather empty with minimal decorations or even food. A diner passes by the station and could not even pick something to fill his plate.

The Yakitori station is quite interesting with various grilled food on a skewer.

Here's the Takoyaki Station which again, in my opinion, looks rather sad with that empty takoyaki maker, The label said it should gave Kaniyaki but when after several trips to the station to check if they have any Kaniyaki cooked already, all I end up with is nothing-yaki,

Not to be missed as well is the Tempura Station where fresh prawn tempura and other fried breaded meat are cooked relentlessly. Unlike in Yakimix where prawn (should I say shrimp?) tempura gets wiped out as soon as the plate touches the buffet, they are replenished quickly in Banzai

I liked the breaded pork. It's lean and tender with all the fat trimmings removed.

Leave a lot of room for their Beef Teppan. It's the house specialty and I dare not question why. The beef is tender, generously portioned (huge chunks!) and cooked perfectly as you watch.

I wasn't able to take a photo of their Sushi/Sashimi station probably because I was a bit disappointed that the spread is not that many considering this is Japanese buffet. On a positive note, the salmon sashimi that I took are succulent and fresh, they almost melt in your mouth!

More cooked food, unfortunately, I couldn't tell the dish as they were not properly labelled (another point for improvement).

Aside from their various cooking stations, they also have a "hot" corner with the dishes cooked from the kitchen, mostly usual buffet fares. They have a carving station too.

Dessert is a hit and miss with various cakes (a miss), a few chewy candies, select local desserts like halo-halo and leche flan (hit!), local fruits and tarts. The only novelty is the snow cone that most children liked.

How much do I pay for the buffet?

Lunch: Php699 from Mondays to Fridays
Dinner: Php899 from Mondays to Fridays
Saturday, Sunday and Holidays (Lunch and Dinner): Php1,088

Children's rate: Php499 - below 4.5 feet
                         FREE - below 3.5 feet

All rates includes tax and service charge.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Northern Exposure: Chavit Singson's Baluarte

When in Vigan and you got tired of Calle Crisologo, hop on a tricycle and visit Chavit Singson's mini zoo called Baluarte.

We wanted to have something for the kids to enjoy while in Vigan (aside from the calesa ride) so we decided to spend our morning there and see what's special about the place since entrance fee is absolutely free.

I was expecting to see a small, typical zoo where animals are kept behind fences but was quite surprised that it's actually a huge property complete appropriate to receive tourist.

As Chavit is known for his tigers, I was expecting to see lots of tiger. I was slightly disappointed because I didn't see massive ones, those that would make me say "wow!' but then we didn't pay any entrance fees so I played it on "what you see is what you get" basis. Anyway, there are 4 tigers by the entrance and more at the hilly part of Baluarte (long and uphill walk, I warn you).

Think we're at Dinosaur Land? No, we're just right here in Vigan. I think these life-size replica of dinosaurs are the most photographed attraction inside Baluarte.

Kids and adult alike have fun taking their photos with them. 

They run free animal shows on weekends and holidays when there are a number of visitors. It's quite entertaining even if they use the usual drill. 

Apparently Baluarte is also better known as Chavit's Fortress and it's not hard to see why. We saw a huge structure being completed at the far end of Baluarte; it's quite imposing and hard to miss because of the gold tinted glasses used. 

We love how animals roam freely like this "friendly" ostrich...

Our kids wanted to ride the small horses but there were too many people waiting in line and it's scorching hot.

Basically all the attractions are free, including entrance to the butterfly garden. The only attraction with a fee is the close encounter with one of the tigers and you get to take a photo.

Overall, Baluarte is worthy of a visit. Yeah, it's the usual zoo but kids love it! The whole place is clean, organized and everyone is accommodating.

Here's a summary of our Northern Exposure Experience:
Laoag to Pagudpud
A Visit to Bantay Abot Cave
Amazing Bangui Windmills

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Northen Exposure: Bangui Windmills

A trip to Ilocos Norte will not be complete without seeing the majestic Bangui windmills. It's like you've never been there if you did not make an effort to get up close and personal with these man-made beauties... 

They are simply amazing (for lack of a better term to describe them)! I must admit I got very excited as our car got closer and closer to the stretch of beach where these marvelous man-made structures were built. I almost wasn't able to stop myself from running to the nearest windmill.

a gigantic beauty at 70 meters tall!

Located in the 4th class municipality of Bangui, Ilocos Norte, the wind farm has 20 power-generating wind turbines that produces enough power for approximately 40% of the entire Ilocos Norte province.

There are plenty of directional signs along Maharlika Highway (Ilocos Highway) pointing to Bangui. Any traveler won't miss them with the windmills' imposing size - they are visible from the highway as you approach Bangui! Heck, they're even visible from Saud Beach in Pagudpud which is two-towns away.

My recommendation is to go early in the morning, perhaps on your way to Pagudpud before hitting the beach, or in the afternoon just in time for sunset (on your way back). The view of the sun's orange rays touching the beach is just perfect for souvenir photos.

I would say this is one of the highlights of our trip to the north and yes, an item I'm crossing off from my Bucket List :)

By the way, there are no entrance fees here. Absolutely nothing to pay to marvel at man's ingenuity.

Here's a summary of our Northern Exposure Experience:
Laoag to Pagudpud
A Visit to Bantay Abot Cave
Amazing Bangui Windmills

Northern Exposure: Bantay Abot Cave

One of the attractions at the northern point of Pagudpud is Bantay Abot Cave. If you are going to Maiara-ira Cove, it might be worth a quick stop for some photo op and a chance to admire the beautiful surroundings.

To get close to Bantay Abot Cave requires going down on foot from the main road. It was low tide when we came so the rocks were dry and exposed, otherwise, had we come during high tide, we wouldn't be able to take the small kids with us because the rocks are uneven and slippery apart from being submerged in sea water.

Carefully traversing through the rocks...

At closer inspection one would realize it's not really a cave but a rocky hill with a hole. It's an interesting work of nature (probably from an earthquake) seated by the sea. 

The view of the ocean water hitting the rock formations are simply stunning. I can stay here all day just watching the horizon!

Nature is simply at its finest here. I love the small rock formations scattered all over the shore. The shallow water is crystal clear and very inviting. However, we were cautious not to take a dip as the rocks could be very slippery. Just take plenty of selfies and you're good to go!

Serene yet captivating

Here's a summary of our Northern Exposure Experience:
Laoag to Pagudpud
Amazing Bangui Windmills

Friday, May 02, 2014

Northern Exposure: From Laoag to Pagudpud

We did not expect that the travel from Manila would take more than 15 hours. But since we traveled on a Holy Thursday alongside half of Metro Manila's population, everything were unexpected. We left our home in Rizal at 3am our ETA was between 11am to 12nn. Unfortunately there was an accident at NLEX and a huge traffic build up at the SCTEX toll gate that easily ate away 3 hours of our precious time. I was very disappointed to be only at Pangasinan at around lunch time. 

I know this isn't the case if we DID NOT travel during the Holy Week.

Thankfully the roads to the north are all paved and smooth. There were plenty of directional signs making it almost impossible to get lost.

Since we're traveling with 3 children, The Hubby and I decided to do strategic stops to spend the night, the first one being Laoag City to spend our first night and continue to Pagudpud the following morning. This was also a wise move since the accommodation in Laoag was way affordable compared to the highway robbery prices at Pagudpud.

After hurdling choke points at various areas from NLEX, SCTEX, TPLEX (all at the toll gates probably because of the volume of vehicles), Pangasinan, La Union and Ilocos Sur, we arrived dead tired in Laoag City at 7pm.

Laoag City is relatively small and SuperTram Lodge where we booked our rooms 2 nights was not hard to find. I'll post a separate blog about SuperTram Lodge. 

So since we're dead tired, we just bought dinner at Jollibee and ate at the lodge. We slept early because as our itinerary for the following day, a Good Friday, begins at 7am towards Pagudpud.

It's only about an hour and a half from Laoag City to Pagudpud. The paved roads are smooth and clean - no surprises! Our itinerary plan for today was to hit the beach (just rent a tent or table at a resort), then go further north to Maira-ira Beach (also known as Blue Lagoon) and see Bantay Abot Cave, Patapat Viaduct

We decided to skip the attractions that involve long walks or hikes as we have kids in tow and it's simply just not convenient for everyone. That meant not seeing Kapurpurawan Rock Formation and Cape Bojeador Lighthouse

We arrived in Saud, Pagudpud a little at 830am and immediately looked for the resort that rents out tables or huts to walk in guests based from my research. However, we got the shock of our lives when no resort would accommodate us as they were all fully booked and they want to prioritize in-house guests.

Luckily, we asked a tricycle driver who pointed us to the "Municipal". I frowned at the name as it doesn't sound like a resort. We followed his directions nevertheless. True enough, the "resort" is called Saud Municipal Beach as it's a public area run by the local government.

But hang on, before anyone cringe at the idea of government run beach area, it's worthy to note that Municipal is clean, well-maintained and has an amazing beach front. It's even better that the resorts we tried to get into. Entrance fee is only Php20 and tables with 6 chairs can be rented for Php150 per set.

Pagudpud sand is white and fine, but not comparable to Boracay. The water is amazing in it's blue-green hue.

There were soooo many people but our kids didn't care. They hit the beach as soon as they saw it.

We didn't bring any pre cooked food as I read in various blogs that most resorts have restaurants. We did not end up in a resort, ergo, meal plans need to be altered as well. But that was not a reason to frown as at there were rows of food stalls right outside Municipal that offers various grilled foods, meals, snacks and drinks. I saw from afar a sign that offers "Cooking services" and off I went to buy fresh seafoods and have the enterprising home owner/vendor/manang cook 2 dishes (sinigang and grilled) from a huge tuna I bought for Php200. I also bought grilled bangus from one of the stalls. There goes our simple lunch by the beach.

I am sure we could have a better experience of Saud Beach and basically the entire trip to Pagudpud had it not been a peak period. It would have been nice to do some leisure walk along the beach and enjoy the view (it would have been serene with less people). It was just impossible at this time of the year.

Again for the nth time, mental note to self, never go to Pagudpud on a Holy Week!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Northern Exposure: Planning and Booking

The Hubby and I decided on our family vacation to the north of Philippines sometime in January. We figured we have ample time for planning and preparation from January up to the actual date of our vacation which is the Holy Week.

1. Accommodation
But while we decided early, we didn't book for hotels right away. Having no previous experience traveling to the Ilocos region, I was not aware that hotels and resorts could all be taken and reserved a month before Holy Week.

Apart from availability issues, we had to deal with extreme overpricing for accommodation in Pagudpud. All resorts in Pagudpud had their room rates doubled or tripled during the Holy Week. While I understand this is a common business practice that tourist spots do have peak rates and off-peak rates, I find it distasteful and even borderline to abusive that a room that costs only Php1800 during off peak would suddenly cost Php6000 on Holy Week. It's like highway robbery.

It's slightly better in Laoag and Vigan where the super peak rate (which is Holy Week) is about Php500 higher. But go further down in La Union, we find ourselves again picking up our jaw from the floor as resorts after resorts showed us their hefty price tags for rooms that are so bad looking we would NOT even pay Php1000 a night.

2. The Road Trip
Since we're traveling with kids (ages 7, 4 and 1.9 months) we had to consider carefully the departure time and plan our stop overs so the kids are not deprived of proper meals.

We agreed to leave Rizal at 3am and expected to arrive in Laoag, where we will spend the night, at around mid afternoon. However, traveling on a long weekend when almost half of Metro Manila is also heading where we're going, we got stuck in traffic in various parts of the trip. Also with kids in tow, a stop over for a decent meal takes a minimum of 1 hour (versus my planned 30 minutes).

The good news is the road to the north is impressive; wide, smooth and paved all the way. There are plenty of road signs to assist travelers so it's hard to get lost.

To cut significantly your travel time, take NLEX, then SCTEX and continue on with TPLEX. The total toll fees would be around Php486 (one way), a small amount to pay I would say compared to the time and fuel you'd be able to save.

3. The Budget
Gasoline expense for us was about Php5,800 in total for the entire trip and we still had some gas for 4 round trips to work (Taytay-Ortigas). Our very reliable SUV ....up to 11.5 kilometers per liter. I bet we could have done even better if The Hubby didn't have to overtake a lot during the entire trip.

For accommodation, we could not avoid by get 2 rooms in Laoag since the hostel (Supertram Lodge) we booked didn't have a room that would fit us all. Anyway, the air-conditioned room for 4 cost only Php1350 while we paid only Php600 for the room for 2 with aircon.

We decided not to spend a night in Pagudpud due to the unforgiving room costs and just return in the evening to Laoag. It's just an hour and a half by land anyway and we'd like to visit a few tourists spots on our way back (e.g. Bangui Windmill).

For Vigan, there's the newly opened Metro Vigan Inn which offered us a room for 4 adults (3 kids on extra bed) for a lovely Php2200 including breakfast. This is very good rate for a new and well furnished hotel. I'll post a separate review.

Food can be expensive or affordable depends on where you eat. Fast food chains like Jollibee and McDonalds are everywhere! The food is quite overpriced in Pagudpud (again!) considering the quality. However, if you're on the beach and would like to grill, buy fresh food at the market before heading to the resort.

Here's a summary of our Northern Exposure Experience:
Laoag to Pagudpud
A Visit to Bantay Abot Cave
Amazing Bangui Windmills

Useful links on accommodations and other information are found below:

Supertram Lodge
Loag City
Tel No

Metro Vigan Inn
Bayubay Norte, San Vicente
Vigan, Ilocos Sur
(077) 674 0448

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