Thursday, March 2, 2017

Visiting Brunei Darussalam

I went to Brunei Darussalam last February 24-27 to participate to the Beach Bunch Trail Challenge 2017. This is the second time I ran outside the country. The first one was last year’s Standard Chartered Marathon in Hongkong. I was accompanied by a very good friend  Oliver Enot and two equally nice buddies from Manila JDV and JP.

The Beach Bunch Trail Challenge is one of the runs I considered as having a better technical organization. Following a successful attempt of the run last year, this year’s Beach Bunch Trail Challenge is accredited by the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc in Europe and Hongkong’s Asia Trail Master. I took the 30-kilometer category and finished it with an unofficial time of 4 hours and 26 minutes.

The route was made up of 60 percent pavement and 40 percent beach lines, my first time running a beach trail. In an unprecedented case I suffered extreme pain in my left knee which I thought was brought by the accumulated force I exerted in running the fine sand of Beraka Trail. It is very hard running in a beach trail.  The extremely hot weather in Brunei added another physical strain but was complimented very well with the sufficient hydration stations provided by the organizers. All in all, my second international run gave me a different perspective in enduring running at a varied trail features.

Meanwhile, Brunei is a beautiful country. It is a sovereign state nestled on the north coast in the island of Borneo and a prominent neighbour of the Philippines. It is the only independent state in Borneo, the remainder of which being occupied by the nations of Indonesia and Malaysia. For several years it lived up to its position as the “Abode of Peace.” It is evident that the economic growth of Brunei is one of the bests in Southeast Asia being attributed to the country’s oil industry. Infrastructure development can be seen all throughout the city. The people in Brunei also exhibited extraordinary level of discipline, resulting to very minimal crime rate. This is what I usually observed for countries who had long been a British protectorate.

Prior to the actual event our team took advantage of touring around the city for purposes of seeing for ourselves the prevailing destinations that Brunei could offer. As an Islamic country with rich economy, the best mosque structures are found in Brunei. These are also their best assets in terms of tourism.

The most dominant of all the mosques we visited is the  Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque. It is an Islamic mosque located in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of the Sultanate of Brunei. It is one of the most beautiful mosques in the Asia Pacific region and is also considered a major historical site of Brunei.

Omar Ali Saifuddien is the 28th Sultan of Brunei and that the mosque is christened after him because it was built and constructed during his time that serves as an example of modern Islamic Architecture.

A famous identity of Omar Ali Saifuddien mosque is that its main dome is covered with pure gold. It stands 52 meters high and can be seen from almost everywhere in Bandar Seri Bawagan. The main minaret is the mosque’s tallest feature. In a unique way it mixes Renaissance and Italian architectural style (Wikipedia).

The second mosque we saw along the highway was the Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque. We just spotted it while on our way to Jerudong from Begawan. The structure is really eye-catching as it is Brunei’s largest mosque and its four minarets are visible from the highway standing tall over other neighbouring structures.

The last mosque that we visited is the Masjid Al-Ameerah Al-Hajjah Maryam located in Kampung Jerudong, which is just walking distance from Starlodge Hotel. The mosque is painted white with several green strokes in its external facets, making it very attractive especially in the evening when it is blended with the assorted light colors. 

The mosques in Brunei are not just places of worships but are also the premier tourist destinations. With the country having only a total of 5,765 square kilometres land area, or 2 Davao Cities being fused together, there are no other tourist destinations it can offer other than beautiful buildings in Begawan and  other areas outside the commercial center. Here are some pictures of some structures I saw in Brunei out of that 3-day visit.

Among the many ASEAN countries Brunei might be a silent target in terms of tourism  but visiting it for learning purposes and to internalize Islam religion can be a loftier option. Also, this is a place of peace and for the peace-loving individuals, that is why staying here for 3 days or more can be very valuable.

FEW NOTES: Nightlife in Brunei can be boring for night persons. Drinking liquor there is a major offense which can be penalized by fine of 2,000 dollars.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Splash out your way at Laswitan Lagoon

After completing a tour off Bucas Grande Island last February 18, our group took a 2-hour drive through the town of Cortes in Surigao del Sur for a side trip in Laswitan Lagoon, a household name among Mindanao travelers. We used the easier route via Carasscal, Cantila, Lanuza and Cortes before we reached the city of Tandag where we stayed overnight in Shacene Hotel. Along the way we were able to witness how mining activity ruined the mountains of Claver. I thought of it then that despite being one of the most lucrative industries, mining operations of the country should be reviewed. In it I see the motives of Environment Secretary Gina Lopez as valid and at the peak of everything because the mountains where open mining are hosted are fast depleting.

Meanwhile, Laswitan lagoon is located in Cortes, 25 kilometers from Tandag downtown and some 30 minutes ride. It is one of Cortes’ only jewel and is now being visited by people from all walks of life. What makes it really exciting is the splash created when strong waves from the other side of the rock formation approach, making it an instant waterfalls and then suddenly fade away. You need to wait for another period before the cycle appears again which define patience as a virtue for visitors in the place.

Unlike any ocean destinations where one prays for a calm weather and small waves, your prayer when you go to Laswitan is the exact opposite. The focal point of interest in the lagoon is the big waves so that the visit is worth. Laswitan is a local term which means a place where waves from the ocean touch a solid formation.

The water that splashes through the rock formations accumulates into a natural rock pool and serves as spot for visitors to dip into while waiting for series of wave squirting. The beautiful cobblestones surrounding the place added another interesting scenery which could be scaled only when waves are smaller so as not to suffer injuries.

From a broader standpoint, Laswitan is a gray structure that serves as an eye course to the Pacific Ocean. For a photographer like me, there are a lot of reasons to visit Laswitan, even without waves, because the rockscape alone is enough to illustrate a place nowhere else on earth can be found.  

The locals of Cortes told me that Laswitan became a spot for tourists only in 2013. When it was featured in several national television programs more and more people are now interested in visiting the place, which allowed them to also prepare as a tourism community. The LGU is now starting to develop support mechanisms to make it more accessible like maintaining the road leading to Barangay Madrelino.

With Laswitan now a new craze in tourism, why don’t you just visit there and Laswit your way for an exciting Surigao staycation. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

A tropical experience in Bucas Grande Island

My colleagues in the office have been looking for new destinations where we could stay over the weekend as a post-valentine treat. After several attempts consulting google, we chanced upon an information of Bucas Grande Island, situated in the province of Surigao del Norte that has become very popular nowadays because of its prevailing tourism sites that are really worth-visiting. The internet information and several word-of-mouths we generated were tempting enough for us to go despite of the earthquake that hit the province a week before our scheduled trip.

We took a van from Sta. Cruz to Hayanggabon Port in Claver town on February 17 in the evening while the other group led by Cheryl travelled through their private vehicle. We arrived in Hayanggabon by 7:00 in the morning. The town of Claver is a first class municipality in Surigao del Norte and it is also the largest in terms of land area. Personally, I see Claver as having only two major sources of livelihood for its people, mining and tourism. A large part of the land area of Claver is a mining reservation because there are large deposit of nickel.

We chartered a boat from Hayanggabon to Bucas Grande and sailed for 45 minutes. After which, we settled to another registration area, the Tourism Center in Sohoton. It is a floating structure that accommodates needs of visitors. From here, we transferred to smaller boats which transported us to the Sohoton Cove.

The Sohoton cruise was way beyond an ordinary tour. After going through a small passage we all thought we were transported to a different world. It was a silent sanctuary only clattered by the serenity of the lagoon and surrounded by the green canopy that serves as armour of its enchantment. Our guides, perhaps one of the bests in the country, lured us to dive through Hakugan Cave and Magkukuob Cave. These caves led us again to an extremely different environment, this time to the underworld where the water is very cold and the cave formations are really beautiful. I suggest you do the dive when you get there, otherwise, you will miss a very memorable experience.

After series of diving and bathing, our boatmen took us out of the cove and returned us to our original big boats in the tourism center. We took our lunch there and afterwards we proceeded to another interesting site in the island, the Bulitas and Crystal Caves. Here, we entered into a huge cave with plenty of attractive chambers and stalactites and stalagmites. The cave is so big that all of us twenty persons entered altogether along with other visitors. Indeed, caving is another activity in Bucas Grande that everybody should do and enjoy.

Adjacent to Crystal cave is Tiktikan lagoon where we stayed for 30 minutes. My colleagues took time to dive (again) and bath, others paddled using a kayak boat while the rest just relaxed and enjoyed.

Our last destination before heading back to Hayanggabon was the jellyfish sanctuary. Our boatman might have known that this was the very destination I wanted to visit more than any other sites in the place. The best was saved for an epic ending then, because the sanctuary promises to be awesome. We did not have the better timing though because it was a breeding season of the stingless jellyfishes in the sanctuary. Nonetheless, we still were able to witness those wonderful creatures face to face.

With the number of tourists flocking to Bucas Grande Island every day, the challenge for authorities in Surigao del Norte should always be on the aspect of conservation and protection. I appreciate how they handled it now especially in regulating the erection of more structures like resorts. I do not want to see more investors being tempted to invest tourism-related establishments just because there is an opportunity brought by tourists from time to time. Much more than tourism is actually how to venture more in sustaining the natural state of the destination so that others, I am referring to those unborn population, would be able to enjoy the same.