Bicol with kids part 1: Albay
Just returned from a fantastic 7 days in the Bicol area and jotting down my notes.
First of all, we did 2 full days in Albay Province to see Mount Mayon, primarily. And then 4 full days in Catanduanes Province, at Puraran Beach.
For Albay, we flew from Manila into Legazpi airport on Cebu Pacific (tickets were on promo for about PHP4000 per person). We stayed just outside of Legazpi City, in Daraga. This ended up being a great location to see what we wanted to see, and to stay away from traffic in Legazpi City.
We stayed at Balay de la Rama Bed and Breakfast, which is a pleasant, airy house with rooms, plop in the middle of the everyday town life of Daraga- but yet has nice greenery around it. To get there was a 10-minute drive from the airport. We paid PHP150 for a van (which we got just outside the airport, there are lots of people there asking if you want to use their car service). We got two adjoining rooms (called Ibon and Hangin), which each have a queen bed for PHP2000 and we paid PHP500 for an extra mattress in each room. The rooms were basic and clean, and rustically decorated. These two rooms are on the top floor of a 3-level house, and there’s a lounge area just outside the two rooms that was great for us to have space to sit and relax in. There’s a third room on this floor, called Mayon – should you need another room for your group. I loved being in the middle of local life- tricycles, jeepneys and buses pick people up right outside the house’s gate. One downside is the road noise at night (windows of our room faced the road), but being in the province, it was minimal and we just embraced it (as well as the roosters in the morning). Mayon room doesn't have windows facing the road and may be more quiet. Karen, who runs the B and B, was super nice and helpful, and all the staff working there were great. We needed transport to Tabaco City to catch a ferry and one of the staff drove us in the B and B’s car for PHP800. The rooms include breakfast for 2, and were substantial. Oh and most importantly, this is the view from the balcony of the level the rooms are at:
This is the view of the B and B’s garden, we ate breakfast just inside of here:
What the hotel rooms and lounge area look like:
WHAT TO DO
1) Enjoy Bicolano food. Bicol is known for it’s cuisine, particularly for the spiciness of it’s food (use of sili or chili). Two dishes to try are Bicol Express (stew of pork and veggies cooked in chili and coconut cream) and Pinangat Roll (shredded taro leaves, shrimps, pork, and ginger wrapped in a taro leaf and cooked in coco milk). We tried these at a wonderful restaurant called Balay de Bicol in Daraga itself, just a short tricycle ride away from the B and B (PHP8 per person per ride). This is an ancestral home-turned-restaurant which was tastefully decorated, and wonderfully equipped with a terrace where we enjoyed lunch in the heart of the provincial life! They have a large menu- the kids enjoyed their french fries and chicken nuggets.
A local also recommended that we try the Chili-flavored ice cream at 1st Colonial Bar and Grill. There’s actually one branch in Daraga and another one in Legazpi. We went to the one in Legazpi in the LCC Mall, which is near Embarcadero Mall and Puro, the boardwalk of Legazpi (see below). This was a great place to eat with kids. Large menu, all Filipino food, but kids could pick out what they wanted, pancit noodles, ribs, lumpiang shanghai, or sinigang! (Really, it’s all there). I had the Bahay Kubo salad which was delicious, and has the veggies in the children's song, including peanuts and sesame seeds. And yes, the waiters did sing Bahay Kubo to me as they brought out the salad. This was an inexpensive place, under PHP1000 to feed our family of 7, and that’s including ice cream. And whoah! The ice cream, so many local flavors to choose from! Chili, Ginger, Calamansi, Melon, Gabi, Malunggay, Pili nut, Cacao and Vanilla (shown in the pic)…. What a fun experience!
2) Enjoy Mount Mayon! This was our main reason for going to Legazpi. We were not planning to, but ended up experiencing Mount Mayon through an ATV experience, using Lava ATV rental company, which was a superb company to use with kids. For a 2.5 hour tour (the Green Lava tour), it cost PHP1600 per ATV. We needed 2, and loaded kids on with us. Every group has to take a guide who is on his own ATV, and he rode with 2 of our kids with him. So, basically, kids ride for free. There is a shorter 45-min tour (Cagsawa tour for PHP69), and a longer 3.5 hour tour (Black Lava tour for PHP1950). For our tour, we rode through streams and farmlands, and barangay and jungle, to get to a view point where we had an awesome view of Mount Mayon. The kids absolutely loved adventuring on an ATV and I loved being able to show them this aspect of the Philippines (the country life), this way. Outside (versus in a car), and on a moving vehicle (versus them walking which wouldn’t have lasted very long in the heat!). Zooming though Filipino landscape as a family like that was memorable and so exciting! At the tope, we rested and enjoyed the view for 45 minutes before returning. There is buko juice at the top (PHP 25).
LavaATV Company is located just next door to the parking lot/market area of Cagsawa Ruins. They are open 6am to 5pm. There are a few other companies located nearby. We appreciated the upfrontness of this company (they have all the prices listed) and didn’t feel them trying to get us to spend more. And they made sure we were comfortable and safe, and our guide was great with the kids. They have a hose and toilets to use after the tour, and a place to lock up valuables.
3) Other things we did:
a) Went to Legazpi’s boardwalk, Puro (take a jeepney to LCC center, and walk to Embarcadero, then take tricycle from there). From here there’s a great view of Mayon rising from the water, and also a pier that is fun for the kids to walk on. Taho guy, Sorbetero, chicharon and quail egg vendors--- they are there for a snack ;)
b) Enjoyed Lignon Hill nature park. This turned out to be a 30-minute hike for us bc trikes/jeepneys are not allowed past the entrance to the park (for which there is an entrance fee of PHP10 or 20 per person). So we had to walk to the top. Private cars are allowed to drive to the top. There’s a 360 view of the area, including Mount Mayon. Some snack places (we had a good veggie omelet up here) and some souvenir shopping. Popsicle sticks with even Chili flavor are available up here for PHP10. But the best part, really is being surrounded by lots of greenery: lawns and trees and bushes.
c) Visited Cagsawa Ruins. A 10-minute jeepney ride from the B and B. It’s ruins of Cagsawa town which was buried by lava in 1814, including a church. Quite touristy but there’s a nice view of Mayon, and still worth going to to enjoy the green of the area and the overgrowth in the ruins (and play hide and seek in it). There’s a lot of souvenir shopping here. More than I could take home, unfortunately!
d) Daraga Palengke. I ventured to this wet marker early one morning with one of my kids (5-minute trike ride) away from the B and B. My, what a sight for the eyes! Lots of rice-based treats to try. One that I had never seen before was this one, a type of puto where they put rice flour in coconut shells and cook it by steaming them, and then putting sweetened grated coconut in the middle.
WHAT WE LOVED ABOUT ALBAY
1) Okay it was so fun to get around in trikes or jeepneys and not worry about renting a van and driver. Hopping on and off of trikes/jeepneys and figuring out how the network runs was fun and freeing! And felt totally safe and secure.
2) I think people all over the Philippines are so nice, but the Bicolanos have some extra warmth and honesty. A big thing for us, was nobody trying to get us to pay more just bc we were tourists/foreigners/from Manila. Trike and jeepney drivers never asked for inflated fares, and all were honest in how much they charged. One trike driver even gave me back the money I paid for my child, bc the child was free, but I didn’t even realize.
3) The majesty and adventure of Mount Mayon was unforgettable!
For more about Bicol travel, see Bicol with kids part 2: Catanduanes