Tagaytay, the Philippines: My solo adventure to the smallest active volcano in the world


I had a few days to kill on March this year, so I said to myself, I gotta go somewhere. Why the Philippines? My answer is simple, because I’ve never been there! And due to the brief 4 nights I had, I couldn’t go to Bohol or Palawan or other places famous for the beach. Besides, I’m Indonesian, what am I doing looking for a beach in the Philippines?

So I decided to go to Tagaytay, besides Manila of course. Carrying my 55-litres Deuter, I boarded on Cebu Pacific to Manila. The midnight flight got me to Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) at 06:00 in the morning. Some Filipino friends suggested me to catch yellow metered taxi to Tagaytay. And guess what? The officer told me that they are no longer allowed to take passenger out of Metro Manila. So I tried my luck at white taxi counter for a fixed price. Bad luck! They offered Php 1,000 equals to US$ 80.

And my dearest Lonely Planet saved my life (and wallet), again. It says that I can catch a bus from Pasay City to Tagaytay. So I took yellow cab to Pasay City for around $3, I don’t remember exactly how much in peso. From Pasay City terminal I just climbed on a bus with Tagaytay sign on it. Actually, most of the busses go to Nasugbu and Balayan via Aguinaldo Highway passing Tagaytay.  It was air-con, clean, new, and very comfortable. And, cheap! It cost lest then $3 for 3 hours drive.

The drive was not very much different to bus-ride at hometown. Traffic was bad inside Manila, but getting better as the morning wore on. We passed Dasmarinas and started to enter the province of Cavite. Finally the bus arrived at Plaza Olivarez and I jumped down. I took a tricycle and ask the driver to get me to Estancia Resort, which cost me around $35 a night for a nipa hut with magnifique view of Lake Taal.

Lake Taal and the volcano

on Taal with the crater as background

The volcano is in an island within a lake in Luzon island. Lake Taal can be reached from Tagaytay City using tricycle in 20 minutes. I simply book the tricycle for a day for less than $10. The view to the lake is panoramic. On the lakeside, your tricycle driver (in my case his name is Christopher) will wait for you while you jump on a boat, crossing the lake into the volcano. There, you need to take a horse – most likely an old weak donkey to the crater. If I remember correctly, it cost started from $30. Yes it’s expensive, but it’s a long walk to the crater. The path is rough and very dusty. You will need a hat, sunglasses and a face mask. And a lot of water. It took me an hour to get to the crater. The trip to the volcano takes almost a whole day.

Tagaytay City

The center of the City is Plaza Olivarez and the surroundings. If you need some more familiar taste, go to Chowking or Jolibee. There is also Starbucks, about 500 meters on the road to Nasugbu. Some more top end restaurants also available in the area.

Don’t forget to try buko pie at Collette’s. It’s a young coconut filled pie. And they only have large size. I mean, their smallest size is large. It cost around $3.  Try also Philippines national dish Sinigang – a savoury fish/chicken soup. Try also traditional porridge for breakfast, it contains eggs and meats. Tell the vendor if you don’t want any pork – I think I forgot to do that!

Other attractions

People’s Park in the Sky – An artful blending of natural and man-made attractions, poised on the highest point of Tagaytay City. It stands on a 4,516 sq, meters solid ground and overlooks four bodies of water – Taal Lake, Balayan Bay, Laguna de Bay and Manila Bay. It is located at Dapdap West and Dapdap East, approximately 6 to 7 km away from Silang Crossing.

Tagaytay Picnic Grove – just right on the corner of Silang junction. The cool weather is perfect for lazing, walking and rest your mind for a while.

Other Information

the tricycle and the shorts -- oh how I miss my shorts!!!

ATM is available in this city, as well as money changers. Pharmacies and convenience stores are available. You can go around on jeepney or tricycle. There are busses going to Manila, just wait near the Silang junction.

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Batu Karas Beach – Green Canyon: When the green meets the blue, hidden paradiso in West Jawa


A trip to Cijulang, West Java, where Batu Karas beach and Green Canyon are located, takes a good 7-8 hours by private car. The attractions are 31 km away from Pangandaran Beach, a more motable touristic site in the region. Some tourists who want to splurge would probably opt for faster way from Jakarta/Bandung by flying. Information on airlines will be given below.

Green Canyon

A apperation of America’s Grand Canyon, this ‘canyon’ is a group of caves, stalagtits ad stalagmits, hidden by greenery of vegetations. The caves, the trees meet the green water due to algae, welcome you to the Green Canyon of Indonesia.

On the way to the caves of beutiful Green Canyon

To get to the caves, first you need to go to the port and buy a ticket there. The boats to the caves are belongs to the local but are managed by the district government. A boat to go to the cave will cost you Rp 75,000 and can accomodate up to 5 people. If you want to spend time for swimming in the nice, you can ask the crews to wait and it will cost you extra Rp 100,000 for a whole day. Bargain down and you may pay 80,000 during peak season or 50,000 during low season.

Besides enjoying the green view, a lot of people enjoy swimming here. Some locals may only dip their toes into the water, but some braver ones take a jump from higher ground. The sceneray is very photographic when you see the rock at the background and the tourist boats waiting outside the caves.

The drawbacks of Green Canyon is its lack of management, since it is a quite new tourism site. The place provides only 3 toilets and a tiny prayer room. Locals have made it their benefit by providing more decent toilets and prayer room, with a cost of Rp 2,000 per person per visit. Car parking costs Rp 3,000 all day long.

In the carpark, you can find plenty of small food stalls, or warung, that mostly sell rice, baked fish and young coconut drink. You may want to try local dishes, such as lotek and karedok, vegetable salad with peanut dressing. The price of food varies, but within reasonable limit.

Batu Karas Beach

Batu karas beach is only 6 km from Green Canyon port . You have to take your own transport since there is no public transport from and to Batu Karas. The road is fully paved, with some warungs along the way. The entrance fee for a car is Rp 9,200.

Batu Karas is recently popular as surfing destination, although when we get there, the wave is quite small, perfect to be called surfing site for beginners. Yet, this beach offers a lot of things. Besides the scenery of the small and secluded lagoon, blue sea surrounded by green hills, water sports are main attraction for both locals and foreigners. Banana boats, rubber boats, body rafting are among the most popular. If you wish, you can also take surfing lesson at this beach.

The biggest establishment in this area is JavaCove Beach Hotel and the newly built Batu Karas Sunrise Resort which closer to the entrance. Some accomodations line up along the beach. Food stalls and souvenir shops fill the road, with a few internet cafes, tattoo cafes and surf shop. Cafe includes Sederhana Cafe and Jesffa Cafe, mostly provide fresh seafood, pancake and national dish such as Nasi Goreng, Mie Goreng and Gado-Gado. Price is reasonable, starting from Rp 15,000 for a plate of Nasi Goreng.

Rujak tumbuk or mashed fruit salad, a special delicacy of West Java

How to get there:

By car: Jakarta via Cipularang toll way to Bandung, exit toll in Cileunyi, follow Ciawi-Nagreg road to Tasikmalaya. Before Rajapolah, Tasikmalaya, turn left to follow Ciamis-banjar Route. From there you would see signage to go to Pangandaran and Batu Karas also Green Canyon.

By Plane: Susi Air fly Jakarta-Pangandaran via Bandung for one hour 7 days a week. Book in advance.

Accomodation:

There is no accomodation in Green Canyon, although about 3 km from the Green Canyon port on the way to Batu Karas, you will find Panimeran Riverside, which offers some traditional nipa cabins by the river. The other accomodations, including the infamous JavaCove Beach Hotel, are located near to  busier Batu Karas beach.

JavaCove Beach: from Rp 450,000++. Telp:256 7082020

Riverside: from IDR 275,000. They are opening new and more economical rooms just across the road.

Bonsai Bungalow: from IDR 200,000 Telp: 085223905106

Batu Karas Sunrise Resort, telp: 256 7029129

Creating a peace of mind in Luang Prabang, Laos


I went to Luang Prabang and with a broken heart. And this small, quiet and peaceful town healed it! So every time I heard this place, I will remember how this small town mended my broken heart. And do note, that they also have the friendliest immigration officer I’ve ever encountered. Not those ones with robotic faces, but the ones who can actually smile and asked about your trip. There are not very many things to see here in Luang Prabang. It is small. And the life revolves around its main road, Vivasong Rd. But certainly you need to visit this place for 3-4 days.

Kuang Xi Waterfalls

 

 

This is the most picturesque view in Luang Prabang. Located 29 km from the center of the town, this is definitely a must-see. The water falling from the rock creates a series of greenish pools. You can bathe in, in some parts.  During rainy season or even in the mornings, the area surrounding the pools is very slippery, so use proper footwear such as Teva-like sandals. Or do like locals, barefoot, if you feel more comfortable.  If you are in a group, travel to this waterfalls is quite cheap because you can hire a tuk tuk or rickshaw. A return trip to Kuang Xi cost US$14. And like always, do bargain down!

Park Ou Caves

Or the Buddha caves, is about an hour drive or one and a half hour on a boat.  There are two caves – one on the entry level and another – the upper caves – on top of the hill. A very steep climb, but worth the effort. A candle or torch recommended to see the upper cave, as it is dark.

Phou Si

The center of the town is a hill where you have a good view of the whole town. It’s not a very steep climb from the bottom and sunrise and sunset are the most sensible and rewarding times to go up. There is a near-panoramic view from the top. Entrance fee 20,000 kip.

Night Market

Night market is there every night along the main road up to Phou Si. You can get any souvenirs from shirts, T-shirts, bed sheet, traditional hand bags. Just make sure that they are not made in Thailand. You can pay in kip, Thai baht or US dollars.  Alms Ceremony  Only for early-rising tourists. It is a very interesting rituals at dawn when the monks collecting alms from kneeling villagers. Stand and take pictures from a far, do not disturb the ritual itself. If you wish to participate, make sure you bring good fruit or food to give to the monks.

How to get there

Bangkok Airways fly Bangkok-Luang Prabang everyday. The air travel takes 1 hours 40 minutes in a 67-seater ATR aircraft. And yes, no need to be so surprise if you see it looks like a toy plane. They fly just fine.  They provides free meal, and on flight from Luang Prabang you would almost certainly get Lao dish i.e. sticky rice.  A lot of people opt to fly from Vientiene using Lao Airlines, or by bus via Vang Vieng.

Accommodation

Hotels line up along the main road and some smaller streets. I stayed in Sayo River Guesthouse which offer a view to Mekong River for $25/night. The place is clean and you get free coffee anytime of the day. It’s a good 10 minutes stroll from the main road and at night you will have to cross a slightly dark bridge. For you who travel in a group, this is no problem. I was travelling alone, and it was also alright. Some people may want to be closer to the party, which is the Vivasong Rd. There are many options. Sayo River has a twin on this road. You don’t have to book in advance as there are always room for you.

Others

I did not remember any ATMs there, but there are a lot of money changers. So bring your dollars or baht and there will be no problem f0r you. Visa on arrival costs from US$ 20 to US$ 40, depending on your country of origin.

Want to trot to unbeaten tracks on an elephant? Go to Tangkahan!


Tangkahan is not as well-known as its sister, Bukit Lawang, but we can assure you, it’s much better! Located in the North Sumatra, about 3 hours drive from Medan. It is the junction of two rivers, Buluh River and Batang River, on the foot of Mount Leuser. If you get lucky, you will meet orangutan there!

The main attraction there is elephant trekking. The elephants are taken care of by Flora and Fauna International Indonesia and everyday they offer elephant trekking or bathing. This is not only a simple elephant ride you’d experience in other parts of Indonesia or Thailand, for example. In Tangkahan, the elephants climb unbeaten routes. So hold tight on your saddle, because your elephant will hike up to 60 degree! Although it is a bit costly – the information on the cost is provided below – you will be sorry if you don’t do it.

There are plenty things to do in Tangkahan. Some people may enjoy swimming and bathing in the river where water is fresh and unpolluted. Some may prefer lazing on a hammock.

You can also go to hot springs nearby by swimming across the stream. Indulge your body with natural hot water.  Just before the Buluh River meets the Batang River there is a small waterfall. You will have to have to walk up a small creek about 100 meters to reach the waterfall. People sit under the pouring waterfall and let the water massage their tired backs!

How to go there

You can go to Tangkahan using public transportation from Medan. Catch the bus “Pembangunan Semesta” from Pinang Baris Terminal. You will be pampered with bumpy road and mostly palm oil plantation view. The bus goes to Tangkahan twice a day, and using Pembangunang Semesta, you would need to allocate 5-6 hours. And yes, what Lonely Planet says is true, you will at least experience flat tire once during the trip. We had one on the way to Tangkahan and two on our way back to Medan. If I remember correctly, it only cost Rp 14,000. The first bus to leave Tangkahan is at 7:00 in the morning. Make sure you are ready in front of the visitor centre at least 15 minutes before.

Renting a car would be an option for a group tour or family with small children, or for you who choose for more comfy trip. With private car, it only takes about 3-hours drive.

Accommodation

There are only a few accommodations in Tangkahan, across the river. Jungle Lodge, owned by a British and Batak couple is the most notable with price starting from Rp 80,000 on low season.  Jungle Lodge offers a basic place to sleep with superb view. The wooden huts provide a comfortable gateway for those who want to escape busy life. From their restaurant you can enjoy the view of the clear river with a cup of hot coffee milk!

A neighboring accommodation is Mega Inn, which also use eco-lodge concept to attract visitor.  There are some other accommodations on the roadside. Mostly basic motels.

Accommodations provide basic food such as nasi goreng, instant noodle, sandwich, coffee and tea, with reasonable price.

Others

There is no ATM in Tangkahan, so you better bring cash from Medan. The cost of the accommodation is cheap, but you will need plenty of rupiah to pay the elephant trekking. When we went there about 3 years ago, it cost 160,000 per hour per person. Recently, we got information and the price has gone up to Rp 300,000 per hour per person. And believe me if I say one hour is not enough!

Lake Toba: One lake with a thousand angles (Part I)



How to get there

It is very easy to fly to Medan, the capital of Northern Sumatra province. Garuda Indonesia (www.garuda-indonesia.com) offers two flights daily from the capital city, Jakarta. Budget airlines, such as Lion Air (www.lionair.co.id), Sriwijaya (www.sriwijayaair-online.com), and AirAsia (www.airasia.com) offer frequent flights with cheaper tickets. Direct flight from Jakarta to Medan takes about two hours.

Nowadays, you can fly directly from Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Phuket, and Singapore using AirAsia or Silk Air (www.silkair.com). Flight from Kuala Lumpur or Penang takes around one hour.

In Polonia, the international airport of Medan, expect busy crowd. The airport serves as a hub with frequent flights without huge improvement in hygiene, quality, and service. The main advantage of this airport is its location, in a city center. Update : Now airport had been moved to Kuala Namu International Airport which is far better than Polonia, but it’s quite far from city center. So, prepare your time if you want to go there.

How to get to Lake Toba

If you arrive in Medan in the morning, you can try to directly go to Lake Toba. From the airport you can take a taxi to Amplas bus terminal. Most taxi in Medan do not use meter, so you have to use your bargaining skill for cheap fare.

There are some bus and minibus companies that serve trips to Parapat, a small town in Lake Toba. I recommend you to take a big busses such as Sentosa, rather than mini busses such as Medan Raya Tour or Omegah. Big bus will cost each person around $2.5 while mini bus can cost up to $5 per person. It is also more convenience and safe to take a bus for an approximately 5 hours trip to Parapat. During the trip you can enjoy the scenery of North Sumatra, including the town of Pematang Siantar.

Tips: During the trip, don’t be afraid if the driver is speeding or always trying to overtake other vehicles. They are experienced driver who know their way. Just pray a lot …

Parapat

Parapat is the main town in the lakeside of Toba. Various hotels and motels serve rooms all year round. Unfortunately, due to low turnout of tourists, many closed shops. Hence, there are still many options for you.

High end hotels in Parapat include Patra Hotel and Inna, will cost you over $50 a night. Midrange hotels will cost you $15-40 a night. Wisma Pandu, a nice, expatriate-standard motel hidden because it was located on the slope of the lakeside. The rate of $20 a night was reasonable, it was quite a good value of money for the facilities. The room is clean and they provide basic toiletries such as soap and towel. It also provides Indonesian junk food such as Nasi Goreng and instant noodle, tea and coffee for very reasonable price. A backpacker-style will cost you less than $15 a night. You can just walk along the main road to check the price. During low season (and maybe even in a non-low season) you can bargain the room rate down up by $5 a night!

There is only one ATM in Parapat, so you better take enough money from Medan to avoid hassle. Only top end and high midrange hotels accept credit cards. Parapat provides a range of restaurants and warungs (small food stall), most sell Indonesian traditional food, with one or two Chinese food menu.

Mainland to Samosir

There are two ways to go to Samosir Island, the heart of Lake Toba. You can take a small boat directly from Parapat to your hotel in Samosir Island with around $1.5 per person. Or you can take angkot to Ajibata and then take a ferry to Tomok in Samosir with only around 30 cents – yes it’s true, 30 cents per person!

Jump to the ferry and you can take lower or higher decks. They use the lower deck to put the cars and trucks. For better view of Lake Toba and its surroundings hop on to the passenger deck. Some little boys will ask for money, or they would swim searching for coins thrown by the ferry passengers.

The trip to Tomok took around 45 minutes. I decided to dismount in Tomok and continued the trip on foot to Tuk Tuk. For me it was the best idea since I could take some more pictures in the way and explored the beauty of Samosir at the same time. A very special site appeared, in the corner of roads to Tuk Tuk and Ambarita. The corner was so unique and beautiful. On a plain that a little bit higher than the road, we could see the lake clearly without obstruction. If we saw another direction, we would view on the group of high hill surrounding Samosir Island, complete with exotic waterfall. It looked small but very high. A slight fog covering the top of the hill made the scenery perfect.

Tuk Tuk

Tuk Tuk is a small town which offers some nice small accommodation, restaurants, natural beauty and Bataknese arts.

One of the most recommended accommodation is Tabo Cottage. In fact, Lonely Planet calls the best accommodation in Northern Sumatera. The cottage is the combination between classy, privacy and convenience. The more comfortable deluxe room has jungle bathroom. The room was spacious, the bathroom was large with some orchid plants hung on the wall. The standard room is also nice but basic. Two family rooms are also provided on the second floor. No TVs in all rooms. Although named as the most expensive accommodation in Samosir, Tabo Cottage was fairly cheap. For a deluxe room, we paid only Rp 195,000 a night. Please visit their website at: http://tabocottages.com/. This cottage is very popular with its vegetarian foods and fresh bakery.

Another recommended hotel is Carolina. It is suitable for families, or those going in a group. The hotel is situated in a perch of a hilly lakeside. They offer 30 rooms with different types in a Batak-style architecture. The room rate varies from $10 to $30 a night. The best value of this hotel is it has a swimming pool. Please check: http://www.sumatra-indonesia.com/carolina.htm for more information.

Other hotels are: Silintong 1, Silintong 2, and Silintong 3 which each offers a lot of room but not much sense of privacy.

You can go around Samosir by renting bicycle or motorcycle. Renting a motorbike will cost you $7-$10 a day without gas.

In Tuk Tuk you can see rice fields overlooking the Lake Toba. It was surrounded by the group of high hill where the waterfall is located. The combination between green rice-field, blue lake water, and a group of sky-crapper hills made the scenery astonishing.

An Indonesian travelling family, been to 25+ countries as a family. Author of several travel guide books and travelogue. Write travel articles for media. Strongly support family travelling | travelling with baby/kids. .