The Great Bicol Escapade

Our family's road trip to the beautiful Bicol peninsula proved to be one of the best planned vacation I have mapped out. It was a great experience with many unforgettable sites enjoyed.

Discovering Busay Falls

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by BratinelangKikay on May 10, 2011

When asked to name 3 waterfalls, the ones that would probably come up are Pagsanjan, Hinulugan Taktak and maybe Daranak. Due to their popularity and proximity, they are also the most visited, and ergo, most developed for tourism.

Whilst tourism is good for the economy, in also draws some setbacks. For one, the 'footprints' left by tourists are mostly in the form of trash, and while memories of the visit are usually captured by camera, some couldn't help but take more than that.

I crave for wonders of nature that are hidden and undiscovered . I love the feeling of being in a blue lagoon, a secret garden, or an undiscovered valley. That is why when I saw an almost fading sign "To Busay Falls" while driving from Sto. Domingo, Albay going to Tabaco City, I immediately told The Hubby I want to see it. We're on vacation anyway and an unscheduled stop may bring extra surprise to our already memorable trip to the Bicol peninsula.

The Hubby was a bit hesitant as he had doubts of the road condition. Going to Busay Falls from the main highway would entail visitors to traverse through a narrow path, paved road at first then rough road the next. It was short though and the pay off is the great scenery of barrio life and rice fields.

Busay Falls is a small waterfalls located in Malilipot, a small town in Albay. The total height is only 91 meters, with the visible water cascade is only 40 meters to the catch basin.

The catch basin itself is small, but the water is cold and clear, credit that to the fact that only a handful of tourists are aware of Busay Falls' existence.

I like the fact that there are no food vendors in the area and there are only 3 picnic huts. Small waterfalls that it is deserves not to be commercialized, otherwise, it will lose its pristine beauty.

Entrance fee is only Php10 per head, children are free of charge. There is ample parking space but for a Php50 fee per vehicle. The baranggay tanod (or watchers) are the ones collecting the fees, sans any tickets being issued. I guess they are the ones who maintain the area too.
Busay Falls
Albay, Philippines

Great room and food at the heart of Naga

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by BratinelangKikay on May 5, 2011

I really intended to stop for a night at Naga City after traveling the whole of the day. My kids, ages 4 and 1, need a break and I reckon they won't enjoy CWC if we go straight from Manila.

Weeks before our trip, I searched for various accommodation options in Naga. It was a bit challenging because I have a budget to work with but need a big room for 4 adults and 2 kids.

It was good I was able to come across Moraville Hotels website. Moraville has 4 hotels in Camarines Sur but the most suitable for us is their hotel at the heart of the city which is Moraville Hotel and Restaurant.

Booking is very easy as they have a direct line from Manila. What great convenience it is, calling without paying for long distance charges. After confirming our room, a deluxe room with 2 queen beds, I deposited my payment to their bank account and that completed by search for a hotel.

Come our arrival, we found the hotel conveniently located at the city center. The building is just 4 stories, a bit hidden from the main road but nonetheless well maintained. Our room is well apppointed too, for a provincial 3 star hotel, I must say it is good for the price we paid.

The highlight of our stay is the food. They have a standee at the Reception for their buffet meals pegged at unbelievably low prices. I mean, Php130 for breakfast, Php180 for lunch and dinner? It sounds almost close to ridiculous unless they are are serving so-so food.

Because we're tired and wanted to avoid the inconvenience of driving to look for a place to eat, we decided to try their buffet dinner.

We were surprised and impressed by the spread. They offer various viands, soup and dessert. Plus iced tea and coffee is free and unlimited. How any better can it be? The taste is good too, and we didn't feel shortchanged. Not at all. The restaurant is also decorated quite nicely, showcase styled as it is also their venue for wedding receptions.

Because we loved the food, we decided to dine at the hotel for the rest of our stay.

Moraville Hotel and Restaurant is located at Dinaga St. Naga City.
Moraville Hotel and Restaurant
Dinaga Street
Naga City, Philippines

Swimming with the Gentle Giants of Donsol

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by BratinelangKikay on April 29, 2011

I never imagined I will be able to swim with whale sharks (or locally known as butanding) in my lifetime. For one, I can't swim and second to that, I am scared of the open water. But when I was planning for our family trip to Bicol, I know The Hubby would love the adventure and he deserves the little reward for the 10-hour or more drive so I inserted the Donsol leg into our itinerary despite my hesitation.

It turned out I was the one who loved it more after I realized that not everyone in this planet will have the rare chance to swim with whale sharks I used to just watch in Discovery channel.

We arrived in Donsol a little before 7am, only after less than an hour drive from Legazpi City where we were staying with the kids and my mom. We thought we came early and can get a boat assigned to us immediately. We were wrong. It was Black Saturday and the peak of the peak season. We were number 93 on the boat queue and was advised we may be able to take the tour at 11am, fingers crossed.

The good side with having so many tourists on a peak season is that the likelihood of having other people join you in the boat (and split the cost) is almost certain. The boat fee of Php3500 (with maximum of 6 swimmers per boat) can be quite hefty. Since we'll be looking for the butanding in their natural habitat and considering the vastness of the ocean, there is no guarantee our quest will be successful so better keep the expenses to a minimum, if possible.

We waited for 4 hours before we finally were able to get a boat assignment. The rule is to have only 30 boats at a time out at sea, but due to the influx of tourists during the holiday, they have already sent 45 boats off that morning.

Another couple and 2 oldies from a group of 8 who can't fit into one boat joined us. The 2 oldies are not swimming which means only 4 of us will have to be guided by the BIO (Butanding Interaction Officer). All good.

The boat crew consists of a captain (to drive the boat), 2 spotters (with amazing eyes they can see the whale sharks beneath the water surface and meters away from the boat!) and a BIO (to guide us especially the weak swimmers toward the butanding).

These BIOs and boat crew used to be fishermen who hunted the butandings to sell their fins to Chinese restaurants. In 1998, catching, killing, and selling of whale sharks in the Philippines were officially banned. As an alternative source of income for the fishermen and to deter them from killing the whale sharks, the local government started using the butanding as part of their eco-tourism. It's a win - win situation for both the fishermen and the whale sharks.

When the BIO tells you to get off the boat, you have to do it fast as if your life depends on it. I had to scramble many times to drop myself into the water regardless if the boat is still moving or in slow mo (they wont stop completely, just slow down enough for you to get your butt off the boat without spilling blood into the sea).

I was glad I did jump off the boat. It's not everyday that an opportunity to marvel and swim with the world's largest fish comes my way. It was a rare, amazing and almost magical experience.

These gentle giants of the sea can grow up to 12 meters. Their massive size makes them slow swimmers and reported speed is only at around 3 kph. Despite their size, they only feed on plankton and generally are harmless to humans.

I don't have any formal 'bucket list', but had I made one before I went to this adventure, I would have crossed it off now.

Cost for swimming with the whale sharks:

Boat hire: Php3500 (6 persons max)
Registration: Php100 for locals, Php300 for foreigners
Rental of gears: Php300 per set

Aqua Fun at Lago del Rey

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by BratinelangKikay on April 28, 2011

The first leg of our Bicol escapade is at CamSum Watersports Complex (CWC) at Pili, Camarines Sur. Because we anticipated the exhaustion after the long drive, I put it at Day 2 of our trip after spending overnight in Naga City. I wanted the children to rest and relax first so they have all the energy to enjoy CWC the following day.

We booked a room at Moraville Hotel in Naga City as we were told CWC, located at Pili, Camarines Sur is only 15 minutes away from Naga. The hotel room is spacious and offers buffet meals at very reasonable prices.

We got to CWC a little after 11am on Good Friday. My mom who grew up in Bicol had often boasted of how religious the Bicolanos are and that lent was always spent quietly in abstinence and prayers. So just imagine how shocked we were to arrive at the complex without any available parking space near the man-made lagoon area and even further dismayed that at this early, the waiting list for wakeboarding had gone to over 100. That means The Hubby and I would be able to wakeboard at around 6pm. No freakin' way we're waiting that long, especially when we have kids in tow and are going straight to Legazpi City in the evening.

Having Lago Del Rey right across the cable park saved our day. The aqua park is a huge obstacle course on water. The huge inflatables that float on the 15-feet deep man-made lake are the main attractions of the park.

Guests are welcome and even encouraged by the lifeguards and guides to hurdle the obstacle courses. It looked easy when we were just watching but when it was our turn to try, I didn't even get past the first obstacle while The Hubby finished after a couple of splashes, haha.

My little girl wouldn't dare swim past her comfort zone despite having a life vest on, ergo, she was limited to just the area near the shore where other kids were wading too. She also refused to leave the water that we almost had to drag her out of it at lunch time. The only brilliant idea I was able to came up with to get her our of the water even for a short while was to hire a paddle boat.

For only Php100 per hour, we were able to take the little girl (and my toddler) around the lake.

Other activities to enjoy at Lago del Rey include kayaking, wakeboarding behind a motor boat, jet skiing and swimming. They also have a skate park within the complex and is currently free of charge.

Indeed, CWC is a haven for water sports fanatic. Every effort to make it attractive to tourists and sports enthusiasts is visible in the facilities they have provided. Affordable accommodations are just within the complex. I actually called Eco Village early April to book a room but they were already full. Too bad.

Tourists on a budget need not worry about the prices. Here are the fees:

Entrance - Php100 per head
Swimming at Aqua Park - Php150/hr; Php200 half day; Php380 whole day
Tent Rental - Php350 whole day
Kayak and Sailboat with paddle - Php100/hr

Guests can bring in food and drinks. There are also food stalls near the cable park complex. For those who prefer more comfortable dining, CWC Clubhouse Restaurant and Bar serves Japanese, Chinese, Korean cuisines among other international dishes.
Lago del Rey Waterpark
Camsur Watersports Complex, Pili
Camarines Sur, Philippines

The Beautiful Mt. Mayon

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by BratinelangKikay on May 4, 2011

My mom spent 20 years of her early life in Bicol before she went to Manila and met my dad. Naturally, she never gets tired telling stories of the beautiful peninsula made famous by the majestic Mayon volcano.

Mt. Mayon is often referred to as the 8th Wonder of the World for its almost perfect and symmetrical cone. Old folks in Albay calls the volcano Daragang Magayon, derived from the folklore of how Mayon volcano came about. In their local dialect it means Beautiful Maiden.

And how beautiful it truly is, Mount Mayon.

From where we were staying, the beautiful but most active volcano in the Philippines can be admired in all its glory. She is indeed most stunning in the morning.

The Hubby said on our way home to Manila that despite staying in Albay for a couple of days, he was still not able to admire the volcano to his heart's content. It's hard to explain but it really is mesmerizing especially for people like us who rarely get to see wonders of nature.

I remember our 'neighbor' at the hostel where we stayed. He is an Indian guy and a first timer in Bicol. He pulled a chair from their room, sat in the middle of the open space near the hotel's garden and drank his coffee while staring at the volcano.

He noticed I was looking at him. He smiled, gestured at Mayon and said, "It's beautiful."

Aside from the volcano which stands in the middle of Albay, the next most photographed landmark is Cagsawa Ruins.

Cagsawa Church, built in 1724 by Franciscan friars, was destroyed by Mayon's eruption in 1814. The entire church was buried in lava and only the bell tower survived the destruction.

It is a stark reminder that beneath the alluring perfect cone lies a smokin' hot momma!

The Cagsawa Ruins Park is located in Daraga, Albay. Daraga is about 10 minutes from Legazpi City. Entrance fee is Php10 per adult and Php5 per child.
Mount Mayon
Daraga, Albay
Philippines, Asia

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