Feb 29, 2012

[Philippines] Palawan and Tagaytay as "Fresh Destinations"

Image representing Agoda as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase
I don't often feature a lot of travel-related posts except maybe for that time I traveled to the US for business in 2008 and our first trip to Singapore last year. It's not that I'm against travel or anything, but I suppose I just get distracted by every else that goes on in my crazy gay geeky life.

So despite this, I was surprised to receive a press release from Agoda (yeah, the folks affiliated with Priceline) about their listing of Asia's "Fresh Destinations" list for 2012. And I guess this is where the Geeky Guide comes in - because of the fact that they're highlighting how two Philippine locations were part of the list this time around - namely Palawan and Tagaytay.

Now this isn't some editor-selected group of travel destinations. Supposedly this is based primarily on data derived from Agoda's booking data along with ratings and reviews. So that's pretty cool - I'm all for rankings based on algorithms! And since it's about destinations with a marked increase of bookings in the past year, it seems the Agoda users effectively acted as the voting body behind this particular "award".

And given that voting criteria, it explains why Tagaytay was part of the list even though it's a pretty well-established travel destination. Palawan I can totally understand since it seems almost everyone wants to travel to Coron and El Nido in particular. So now this makes for quite the interesting list in a totally different way.

So in case you're interested, the full list of Agoda's "Fresh Destinations" in Asia for 2012 is available below after the cut! Naturally, press copy is from Agoda.

The Agoda.com Fresh Destinations List 2012
Naha, Japan

Where? Naha is the capital city of the Okinawa Prefecture, an island chain comprising southernmost Japan, 2.5 hours from Tokyo by plane.
What?  The prefecture is made up of hundreds of tropical and subtropical islands of various sizes. The largest of these is Okinawa Island, home to Naha and the prefecture's main airport.
Why go there? Okinawa is the Hawaii of Japan, offering a warm tropical climate, white sand beaches, a relaxed atmosphere and plenty of diving, snorkeling and water sports across the archipelago. Okinawa's heritage is that of the Ryukyu Kingdom, overtaken by Japan in the 1600s and its culture, its customs and its dialects are distinct from those of mainland Japan. Museums and peace parks observing WWII's Battle of Okinawa add further depth. For international travelers, Naha is a convenient starting point for travel around the region, and an interesting destination in its own right. 
When is the best time to go? Spring (March and April) offers the most temperate weather, with whale watching possible in April.  July is the optimum time for beach holidays, when the weather is at its warmest.
How to: Fly into Naha airport from Narita or Haneda, then connect within the city via monorail or to other parts of the island via bus. Flights operate to the outer islands or visitors can catch a ferry. For die-hard sea-farers, there's a long-distance ferry from Tokyo (44 hours).
Best-selling hotels: Terrace Garden Mihama Resort  4*– a four-star resort on the main island (deluxe twin from 7,397 THB). Okinawa Port Hotel – located in Naha, near public transport and shopping (single room from 7,689 THB).

Traveler tips: "Get a 1 day travel pass for the monorail (only 600 yen) for city sightseeing, it's more economical." – Wong B., Hong Kong.
"Rent a free iPhone from the airport. It saves so much hassle, as if you're finding it hard to communicate with someone, you can just call their very helpful help center and they'll translate." – Julia N.

Palawan, the Philippines
Where? Located in the southwest Philippines, around an hour by plane from Manila.  
What? Palawan is a tropical island with national parkland, secluded bays, white-sand beaches, limestone cliffs, rainforest, coral reefs and surrounding islets and islands.  It's mineral-rich, with natural gas resources, various agricultural crops and fishing. Several areas of Palawan and its waters are protected, and a burgeoning eco-tourism trade supports responsible travel to these regions.
Why go there? Palawan offers the quintessential island holiday, plus it's accessible, affordable and has some of the world's best diving. Reefs in the El Nido Marine Reserve in particular showcase rich biodiversity, while sunken wrecks around Coron add interest for divers. The forests of Palawan are similarly striking, with waterfalls, lush flora, exotic wildlife and stunning vistas from countless hike-able vantage points around the island.
When is the best time to go?
The dry season, November to June, is the best time to visit, though Palawan doesn't suffer too greatly from monsoonal rains on the western side. The eastern side of the island experiences more rain, and March is the best time to visit.  
How to: Fly in to Puerto Princesa from Manila. El Nido also has its own airport, serviced by charter flights from Transvoyager Inc.
Highlighted hotels: El Nido Resorts Miniloc Island 3.5* - eco-friendly resort situated within the El Nido Marine Park (from USD 375). Mangenguey Island 4* - boutique beachfront resort – children under 16 not permitted (from USD 210).

Traveler tips: "Get diving certified. Beginner diving is okay but a certified diver will enjoy it more." – Chad D., USA "Go all out for the water activities, that is what this place is all about." – Sin M., Singapore

Pangkor Island/Pangkor Laut, Malaysia
Where? On the north-west coast of Malaysia, in Perak state.
What? A small island with beautiful beaches, Dutch colonial ruins, temples and fishing villages. Pangkor is a low-key tourist destination popular with domestic holiday-makers.
Why go there? Pangkor offers an even more relaxed alternative to Langkawi, with stellar beaches and a healthy selection of accommodation, from beach bungalows to high-end resorts. The island also has tracts of untouched rainforest, so visitors can glimpse local wildlife about their usual business – macaques and hornbills in particular.  Fresh seafood – laska steamed fish, crayfish softshell crab etc – is also a good reason to visit Pangkor.
When is the best time to go? The weather in Pangkor is not badly affected by the monsoon (November to February) and has hot, humid days year round. If you're planning a romantic holiday, avoid the end-of-year school break.
How to: Pangkor is accessible from Ipoh, 200km north of Kuala Lumpur and an interesting tourist stopover in its own right, especially for foodies. From Ipoh, traveler must make their way to the pier at Lumut (around 80km away) and embark for Pangkor on a commuter ferry for the forty-minute ride.
Highlighted hotels: Pangkor Island Beach Resort 4* - bungalow property with private jetty and ferry, absolute beachfront (from USD 118). Pangkor Laut Resort 5* - exclusive resort with garden (USD 270) and overwater villas (USD 505) on Pangkor's smaller neighboring island.

Traveler tips: "Spend some time in Lumut to buy dried seafood products before and/or after your stay." – Alan W. United Kingdom. "Rent a motorcycle! Town is just 7km away and you'll ride pass beautiful sceneries." – Alia B., Malaysia.

Busan, South Korea
Where? Busan is located on the south eastern coastline of South Korea, a 25-minute flight from Seoul.
What? Busan is South Korea's second most populous city and the country's largest sea port. It's got all the cosmopolitan advantages of a sizeable coastal metropolis, including shopping, night life, contemporary culture and of course extensive – and very popular – beaches.
Why go there? Busan is a favorite South Korean spot for two things: seafood and sea. Haeundae, SongJong and Gwangalli are its most popular beaches, offering kilometers-long stretches of sand that in summer time become completely inundated with people. Away from the ocean, there is hiking up and around
Geumjeongsan, where travelers tackling its thick vegetation are rewarded with sweeping regional views, plus there's the historic former capital of Silla, Gyeongju, just an hour bus ride from Busan. Busan city hosts an annual International Film Festival (BIFF) and has a made a bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
When is the best time to go? July and August are the warmest times of year to enjoy the beaches, but they are very crowded at this time, which can detract from enjoyment. The weather is most temperate in spring (April – May) when the cherry blossoms come into season, and autumn (September – November), when the mountain foliage changes colors.
How to: Busan is accessible via land, air and sea, with regular ferries and hydrofoils crossing from Japan. An 11-hour ferry also departs to the island of Jeju – one of last year's Fresh Destinations.
Highlighted hotels: Lotte Hotel Busan 5* - High-rise full-service hotel in the downtown shopping district, from USD 219 THB.  Paradise Busan Hotel 5* - located on Haeundae Beach, from USD 235.

Traveler tips: "Igidae Park is a beautiful place to go for a short hike/romantic walk" – Daniel A., USA. "Using the Hop on-Hop off City tour bus was the best way to see Busan on a limited stay. Also useful is asking the Tourist Information Center to write Korean translations for: restroom, rice, beef and other common words to bridge the language barrier." – Ma. P., Philippines.

Khanom, Thailand
Where? On the western edge of the Thai Gulf coast, in the southern province of Nakhon Si Tammarat.
What? Khanom is a small fishing village noteworthy for its long, deserted stretches of beach, forests and mangroves and sheer limestone mountains. It shares its warm blue waters with nearby Koh Samui, visible from Khanom's beaches, though far less developed than its flashy island neighbor. The beaches here are clean, quiet and windswept, with shell-strewn yellow sand fringed by coconut groves. As testament to their importance as a rich ecological zone, Khanom's beaches are part of a national park currently in the development stage. The area also includes nearby islands and their surrounding corals, caves, waterfalls and mangrove systems.
Why go there? Khanom is a very low-key destination. It remains largely overlooked by travelers headed to Samui and Phangan islands, which makes it perfect for those yearning real downtime. Visitors can kayak to nearby islands, dive coral reefs, join fishing or dolphin-spotting tours, enjoy fresh seafood, and go for extended walks along the beach.
When is the best time to go? The western side of the Thai Gulf experiences the most rain from October to January however, barring unusual weather patterns, it's unlikely to rain at length at any time of year.
How to: Fly to Surat Thani from Bangkok (1 hour), then self-drive 90 minutes to Khanom (a car is indispensible when visiting the secluded bays and coves of Khanom).
Highlighted hotels: Baanciviliaze Resort 4* - modern beach villas in the northern part of Khanom, Deluxe Se View from USD 58 per night. Talkoo Beach Resort 4* - cute beach bungalows in a relaxed garden setting, Superior Bungalow from USD 35 per night.

Traveler tips: "Rent a bike and drive to Dolphin Bay, we were lucky enough to see pink dolphins during our trip." – Ravi C., India. "Try the seafood restaurants near the Marine base." – Bee Y., Malaysia.

Mui Ne, Vietnam

Where? A five-hour bus trip from Ho Chi Minh City, just north of the coastal town of Phan Thiet. 
What? Mui Ne is a quiet fishing village set on a long swathe of beach. Within its borders are several geological points of interest, including red dunes, white dunes and otherworldly rock formations. Mui Ne's fishermen are unique for their round basket-shaped boats.
Why go there? Vietnam's coastline is difficult to fault at any point but Mui Ne is noteworthy for its accessibility, affordability and its uncomplicated fishing village ambience. The beach here fosters a healthy kite-surfing and windsurfing scene thanks to low rainfall and consistent winds, while on land visitors can occupy themselves dune surfing, exploring a local natural attraction dubbed the 'fairy stream' or cruising the coastline on mopeds.
When is the best time to go? High season is mid-October to mid-May.
How to: Travelers can hop on a bus from HCMC, or self-drive and explore the coastline at their own pace.
Highlighted hotels: Saigon Mui Ne 4* - waterfront and garden bungalows, spa, pool, private beach, Family Suite from USD 183. Phu Hai Resort 4* - full-service beachfront resort with modern villas and children's playroom, Deluxe Garden View room from USD 75. 

Traveler tips:  "The short taxi ride to the Cham Towers, taken in the early evening and in time to see the sunset, affords a little insight into an ancient dynasty and some spectacular views for those who like to take photos." – Gary B., UK. "Some of the attractions to recommend are: the sand dunes of Mui Ne, the beautiful Fairy Stream tour, the red sand canyons, the dragon fruit plantations and the reclining Buddha (the biggest in Vietnam)." – Erika S., Sweden.

Tagaytay, Philippines
Where? On the highlands of Cavite province, just over an hour's drive south of Manila.
What? A stunning high-altitude summer retreat, Tagaytay is a popular getaway for lowland dwellers escaping the tropical heat.
Why go there? Complementing its fresh air and undulating terrain, Tagaytay offers up the otherworldly Taal Lake, a crater lake within the nearby Taal Caldera. For the intrepid, the lake and island can be explored by tricycle, boat and horseback. On a more down-tempo slant, Tagaytay's got a smattering of historic buildings, flower farms, golf courses and waterfalls to keep tourists calmly occupied.
When is the best time to go? Tagaytay is best visited during the dry season:  November to April.
How to: Access to Tagaytay is easy overland via Manila. Buses operate from the capital, or tourists can self-drive.
Highlighted hotels: The Lake Hotel Tagaytay 4* - modern resort with panoramic views, standard room from USD 88. The Theodore Hotel 4* - chic boutique property with views of Taal Lake, superior room from USD 147.

Traveler tips: "You must take a Taal volcano trek (horseback) up to the 1911 eruption site – well worth your time." -  Giovanni L., Canada. "While in Tagaytay, go to Amira Buco Tart Haus. They have lots and lots of native treats." – Teresita M., Philippines.

Hualien, Taiwan

Where? On the east Taiwanese coastline, six to eight hours' drive-time from Taipei.
What? Hualien is a small city bordered by the Pacific Ocean on one side and Hehuanshan – literally 'Joy Mountain' – on the other. The climate is temperate, the air fresh and Hehuanshan's cloud-veiled peaks beyond beautiful. 
Why go there? Hualien's got the tandem attractions of the ocean and the mountains, between them promising a full swag of travel experiences. In the winter, Hehuanshan becomes blanketed in snow, and year-round the marble cliffs and steep canyons of Taroko Gorge make for compelling – and challenging – hiking. In summer, whale- and dolphin-watching tours draw tourists seaward. Within close range are hot springs, lakes, villages, temples and river rafting.
When is the best time to go? Hualien's climate makes it suitable for year-round travel with high-altitude trekking possible in winter for those not deterred by rain.  Typhoons can occur between June and September.
How to: Domestic tourists usually drive to Hualien to enjoy crisp mountain panoramas. Non-drivers can take a scenic rail trip from Taipei, taking from two to four hours, or a plane, a journey of 30 minutes.
Highlighted hotels: Silks Place Taroko Hotel 4* - stylish mountain resort with spa and kids' club, Gorge View twin from USD 192. Classic Hotel City Resort - chic hotel in Hualien city, Superior Twin from USD 97.  

Traveler tips: "Taroko Gorge is extremely amazing. The air is clean and fresh. One feels very relaxed amidst the marble mountains and is soothed by the rushing water of the river." – Mew L., Singapore. "Contrary to popular belief, winter in the gorge is just as good if not better. It is off peak so you virtually have the whole trail to yourself. It is the perfect place to belt out your "sound of music" medley. I assure you the birds won't mind." – Chin H., Singapore.

Phetchabun, Thailand
Where? A few hours' drive north of Bangkok.
What? Phetchabun province is a region of forests, mountains, waterfalls, river valleys and unhurried villages. Protected national parks are home to animals and birdlife, while Petchabun city offers traditional Thai attractions like temples, markets and street dining.
Why go there? Nature lovers and travelers seeking time out will find it in Petchabun. The vast Nam Nao National Park offers trekking up various peaks and plateaus, with nature trails through pine forests and glades for the less energetic. Phetchabun is as yet a largely untapped resource for those looking to explore unspoiled scenery and enjoy idyllic mountain landscapes. Foodies can sample locally-grown tamarind and authentic khanom chin (a gravy noodle dish) or head to Si Thep historic park for a glimpse of the area's ancient Khmer heritage. 
When is the best time to go? The cool, dry season (November – March) produces brilliant sunny days, while the wet season (May – October) offers waterfalls at their most majestic.
How to: Self-driving from Bangkok allows the most freedom to explore within the province, though buses are readily available in all directions.
Highlighted hotels: Imperial Phukaew Hill Resort 4* - hillside property with panoramic views, Hillside Chalet Deluxe Room, from USD 64 per night. Samunthitar Resort 2.5* - chic mountain villas, from USD 69.

Traveler tips: "You must visit the Khao Kho area in Phetchabun province and about 40km west of the city itself. Known locally as 'Little Switzerland' it certainly boasts some spectacular hilly countryside. Do also visit the international library, war memorial and open-air military museum all do-able in an afternoon, in the same region." – David C., UK

Malang, Indonesia
Where? East Java, around 100 kilometers from Surabaya.  
What? Malang is a large city with ancient Mataram and Dutch colonial heritage. Its cool climate,
bougainvillea-dotted avenues and colorful landscapes have earned it comparisons to Europe, an image in dramatic contrast to the nearby volcanic mountain range of Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park.
Why go there? Picturesque and rich in history, Malang has colonial buildings, villages, golf, ancient temple ruins and Javanese relics, so travelers have a variety of different touristic pursuits at the ready. To experience the city at a relaxed pace, travelers can get on the back of a becak – the local three-wheeler bicycle taxi – and enjoy some fresh ocean air at the city's non-swimming beaches. Malang is also a scenic stopover point for travelers on their way to ascend either Mount Semeru or Mount Bromo, conveniently positioned as it is between the two.
When is the best time to go? Between April and November is the driest – and best – time to visit.
How to: Fly in from Bali or Jakarta, or self-drive a scenic route from either Jakarta or Surabaya. There are overnight trains from Jakarta and bus services from Surabaya.
Highlighted hotels: Tugu Malang Hotel 5* - hotel in elaborate antique Javanese style, superior deluxe rooms from USD 104. Hotel SAntika Premiere Malang 4* - modern full-service resort, from USD 81 per night.

Traveler tips: "Do a day trip to Mt Bromo for sunrise." – Georges L., USA "Local food is simple and far from spicy. Meatball (Bakso) & Noodle (Cwie-mie) or both in one bowl are local signatures." – Rahadian P., Indonesia. 

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