This is Brisbane – Australia’s third largest metropolis and for me its most beautiful city bar none. This picture was taken from the view deck of Mt. Coot-tha — overlooking its central business district and the surrounding areas. Brisbane is vibrant, modern, beautiful and hip. While most tourists will think twice when choosing between Sydney and Melbourne, I’d go for Brisbane anytime. It’s not as crowded as Sydney and not as ethnically-diverse as Melbourne. I think it’s Australia’s most underrated city but a sparkling gem nonetheless.

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This is the view of downtown Brisbane from the 29th floor of MERITON Serviced Apartments along Adelaide Street; where my wife and I stayed for a couple of days.  A peak from our window gives you a spectacular view of the city’s skyline, the Brisbane river and, on a clear day, the Moreton Bay.  Four blocks away is the Queen Street Mall while just behind it is the River Boardwalk where some of the city’s chic and priciest restaurants line up.  A leisurely stroll along the propped up side of the river is a relaxing way to explore the city.  The path can lead you to the city’s business district through Eagle street; while walking further along will bring you to the city’s Botanical Garden.


This one’s a belated post.  It’s actually more than 4 years late.  But the sights and memories are still fresh and the promise of BIMP-EAGA – especially for our beloved Mindanao – remains strong and just now unfolding.  At that time, going to Indonesia on a few days notice was not my idea of a fun-filled trip. I was a late filler to a group of travel agents who got invited for a familiarization tour to promote the revived Davao-Manado flight.  The idea was to push the sagging East Asean Growth Area initiative thru intra-ASEAN travel and tourism.  My sister-in-law, who could not make it, facilitated my inclusion.  It was a grab or miss thing. And I took it . . . boarding my first foreign airline courtesy of Indonesia’s Sriwijaya Air.

We arrived in the city of Manado late afternoon and I immediately felt queasy going through Indonesia’s immigration protocols.  Sam Ratulangi International Airport is dry and airy, unmistakably Asian in look and feel but obviously in need of a renovation.  Or maybe even just a fresh coat of paint.  It reminds me of the old Davao Domestic Airport in Sasa.  But make no mistake about it:  It may look small and weary but it’s busy and buzzing with tourists looking ready to spend not just a few bucks: white, yellow,  brown-skinned busy-bodies hulking their gears and equipment in one hand and their bulging bags with the other indicating they won’t be staying here for just a few days.

A few minutes after being whisked downtown and catching our first glimpses of the city’s landscape, I was startled to see more church buildings than mosques.  I saw “Baptist”, “Evangelical”, Lutheran”, “Methodist” written on doorposts and at least two Catholic-looking church buildings standing on prime locations.  For a while I couldn’t figure it out.  Then it dawned on me: there are more Christians here than Muslims.  That was a pleasant surprise.  Indonesia after all is the most populous Muslim nation in the world and yet we saw strong Christian influences all over.  Mindanao has so much to learn here.  Really.

For 3 full days, we explored the city of Manado and the nearby towns of North and South Sulawesi.  The sprawling Hotel Santika, where we stayed, served as our base.  The resort, facing Bunaken island, felt like Davao’s Waterfront Hotel (facing the island of Samal) but with larger and better amenities.  I have no complaints really.  Except the food.  We got served hot and spicy Minahasa cuisine – morning, noon and night.  Not only in Santika but everywhere we ate.

On our first day, we had shopping at their one and only mall at that time – Manado Mega Mall – and had our few hundred pesos exchanged to tens of thousands of rupiahs in one of the outlets outside.  If my memory serves me right, the peso-ruphia exchange rate then was 1:228.  Yes, we felt “loaded” but only for a little while.  Prices there were steep.  Even so now I would suppose.  We were treated to a Minahasa Highland Tour the next day.  We passed by the flower city of Tomohon on our way to a Buddhist temple and had lunch at a roadside restaurant overlooking Lake Tondano – the largest lake in Sulawesi.

While it has a thriving fishing industry, Manado’s increasing draw is diving.  Bunaken National Marine Park and Lembeh Straits are the two lynchpins to this draw.  They pack in the beach-loving leisure-seeking beginner-divers as well as serious dive enthusiasts from around the world who then laze around for days in the many white sand beaches of North Sulawesi.  We checked out one of their many dive centres not far from the hotel and came out impressed by the comprehensiveness of their dive packages.  A day trip to Bunaken Island aboard a transparent glass-like floorboard displayed the richness and diversity of their marine life.  Truly for them, tourism has richly paid back their renewed commitment to protecting their reefs and sea beds.  I can only hope that we’ll reap the same for our Davao gulf.

This is my second visit to Dumaguete – the center of trade and the provincial capital of Negros Oriental. Dumaguete is quaint, laid-back but refreshingly vibrant and hip.  Dubbed the City of Gentle People, it has one of the lowest crime rate in the country and one of those up and coming tourist and BPO destination that’s on its way to progress and prosperity.  I can only hope that the city government manages this well and avoid the pitfalls that have ensnared other emerging cities who are so in a hurry to fast track their transition.

Nestled at the southeastern tip of Negros facing the island of Siquijor, the city is home to the tree-lined promenade along Rizal boulevard overlooking Tanon Strait.  If you are staying overnight, Bethel Guest House  would be a good place to stay.  It’s clean, cheap and gives you a commanding view of the sea.  It’s just across Rizal boulevard where you can bay-walk safely even at night while enjoying the sea breeze gushing on your face.  On a clear day, you can actually see the contours and landscape of Siquijor and the inviting white-sand beaches dotting its coast.

There are at least a dozen decent restaurants within walking distance from Bethel Guest House; most of them along Rizal boulevard and some of them owned and operated by foreigners serving European cuisine. Check out Lab-as Seafood Restaurant along Flores Avenue near the seaport terminal if you’d rather stick close to the homey and the familiar.  If you’re after the cheap kind, though, there are several barbecue stalls lined up near the seawall going to the port when dusk breaks.  They magically disappear during the day; thankfully maintaining the immaculate clean look of the city’s showcase for tourists and picky travelers looking for a photo-op.  Visit Dumaguete now while the city is still simple, relaxed and easy-going.  It won’t be like this soon.

ayala-cebu11Ayala Land’s property arm in Cebu recently opened The Terraces – a circular two-storey cluster of coffee shops, resto bars and chic restaurants in lush alfresco settings.  Unveiled last year and just a few weeks before Christmas, Ayala Cebu Mall’s expansion is now the hottest meet-up-and-say-hi venue in town; the sort of “in-place” thing to see and be seen.  Nestled at the center are well manicured lawns and gardens (larger, better and greener than those at Greenbelt Makati) complete with man-made water falls and fully grown tropical plants; further accentuating the greeneries.  There’s also a convenient pathway to and from the Cebu Marriot Hotel; affording its guests some last minute shopping or quick make-overs prior to lunch-meetings or dinner dates.   This latest vote of confidence in Cebu is another feather to its cap; cementing its hold as the preferred destination and investment site in the country south of Metro Manila.