MANILA, March 12, 2004 (STAR) By Ching M. Alano - Suddenly, itís summer! And suddenly, thereís the compelling itch to escape the city heat and other aggravations Ė to soothe the body, mind and spirit. Well, thereís a summer place somewhere on our shores of 7,000-odd islands waiting to be explored, even if only for one brief summer. Whether youíre a plain nature lover or a never-say-die adventurer who wears his scars like a badge of honor, whether you love going to the beach or just love to bitch, whether you love to rough it up in some virgin island where thereís no cell site or live it up in some exclusive preserve of the rich and famous.

Recently, we attended a travel fair and found out to our delight that there are quite a lot of attractive tours being pushed not just for summer by the Philippine Tourism Authority via WOW Philippines and our local travel agencies.

Students who have run out of gimmick ideas and whose parents want them out of the formerís lives at least for summer can check out the varied student tour packages that PTA offers. If youíre tired of Baguio and you donít have vertigo, go farther to Banaue (348 kms. north of Manila), where the Rice Terraces Ė the eighth wonder of the world, as we like to call íem Ė beckon. Okay, okay, with the ravages of time, both natural and man-made, the terraces ainít that fantastic anymore, but thereís an ongoing project to restore the terraces to their former glory.

Your home away from home 4,000 feet above sea level is the Banaue Hostel & Youth Hostel. You can opt for a three-day package for a minimum of four persons at P4,030 per or a minimum of eight persons at P3,400 per. Transpo not included Ė but then, where is your sense of adventure? You can always take the bus. The package includes three days/two nights accommodation for four in a standard room, set meals (three breakfasts, three lunches, one p.m. snack and two dinners); jeepney hire/tour guide (Gohang/Hapao, Viewpoint, Trade Center, Banaue Museum and Sagada), entrance fees to Banaue and Bontoc Museums). Amenities include a welcome drink and yes, free use of swimming pool. But of course, thatís not something you go all the way to Banaue for. Those made of sterner stuff can use Banaue as a jump-off point and go trekking, mountaineering or simply sightseeing.

If you donít have the thousands to spare, try the Hundred Islands in Barangay Lucap, Alaminos, Pangasinan (250 kms. from Manila). There are, quite literally, 100 islands there and you can stake a claim on one that you like. If you want to island hop, you can get a small boat and hire your personal boatman who will take you anywhere you want to go. Imagine your private limo with your private chauffeur on an island.

PTAís barkadahan (no man is an island, figuratively speaking) package for Hundred Islands National Park is priced at P960 per for a minimum of seven persons. This includes two days/one night accommodation in a family aircon room (seven in a room); set meals (one breakfast, one packed lunch, one dinner); island hopping to three islands being developed for tourists; tour to Brgy. Victoria or Brgy. Tulbang with transfer). Suggested activities are swimming, fishing and souvenir shopping. Amenities include welcome drinks, complimentary use of kayak for 30 minutes and use of karaoke (if you canít swim, you can always sing).

Note: Thereís no land transfer. But the following can bring there (yes, in one piece) from Manila to Alaminos, Pangasinan: Dagupan Bus (Cubao), non-aircon, at P160 per; Victory Liner (Cubao), with aircon, P244; Five Star (Pasay City), with aircon, P256. From Alaminos to Lucap (jump-off point to the island), a 10-minute tricycle ride (three persons per trip) will cost you P30 per head. You shell out an extra P10 for a special trip just by yourself.

For reservations/information, call the PTA Reservations Office (DOT Bldg., TM Kalaw St., Ermita) at 524-2502, 524-2495, 524-7141 local 412/413.

Super wow, Palawan! We have career girl friends who swear that Palawan is to die (or is it dive?) for. Itís got 1,700 islands and islets and an infinite stretch of white sand beaches. Itís simply nature at its unspoiled best! Which is why it didnít take long for tourists to discover the place. Today, its capital Puerto Princesa is a hot tourist spot while El Nido boasts world-class resorts. And of course, thereís Amanpulo, the most expensive island resort in the Philippines.

Marsman Tours and Travel Corp., a hall of famer in the Kalakbay Awards, offers Palawan Mabuhay Packages at El Nido Resorts (valid until May 31 except during Easter). The package includes room accommodation, three meals per night stay, welcome drink, roundtrip boat transfers, various activities like island hopping, fishing, visit to small and big lagoons, one intro dive for non-divers, use of non-motorized marine sports equipment such as windsurf, hobie cats, kayaks, as well as indoor recreational facilities and services of a guest activity coordinator. Call 888-5870.

If a backbreaking trip is not your idea of a relaxing summer vacation and you donít need all that tan to show you had a great time, you can simply drive to Tagaytay, where you can enjoy both the scenery and the cool air without having to go too far. Plus tourist facilities are aplenty. PTA recommends, among other places, the Tagaytay Picnic Grove, where a single cottage is offered at P1,300 net, and a double/twin at P2,200 net. Facilities include a restaurant, conference hall, stage, camping area, horseback riding, picnic grounds (tables, sheds, huts), childrenís playground, skating rink, indoor games, eco-adventure trail, bike rental and butterfly garden.

Thereís also the MC Mountain Home Apartelle, a 14-room hotel along Km. 68.9 Tagaytay Nasugbu Highway Buck Estate, Alfonso, Cavite. A studio de luxe is at P1,700 per night; de luxe with kitchen at P1,900 per night; penthouse with Taal view at P2,200. For reservations, call 413-2232, 850-5438 or 0917-7947500.

So, where do you want to go?

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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