Posts Tagged ‘‘beaches’

29
Apr
19

Vietnam: Ha Long Bay Overnight Cruise


Ha Long Bay is one of the eight UNESCO designated World Heritage Sites in Vietnam. It was our main destination when we visited Vietnam for the first time.  To reach Ha Long Bay, we passed through the capital city of Hanoi as our initial gateway to the mind-blowing group of about 1,600 limestone islets. We spent overnight in Hanoi in a charming hotel and with the help of the hotel staff we arranged an overnight cruise in Ha Long Bay.

DSC_0408The following day we were picked up at our Hanoi hotel by the tour bus that would take us to Bai Chay port in around three hours for the 150 km trip. The tour company that we chose was Halong Phoenix Cruiser.

 

DSC_0417We waited at the Bai Chay port departure area until we were told to take a small boat that would take us to the cruise boat.

 

 

CSC_0410My wife and I were more than ready for our first cruise together in this side of the world.

 

 

DSC_0416Here she is, our awesome, English-speaking tour guide, Trần Hồng Hạnh. Let the cruise begin!

 

DAY 1

DSC_0425 2The small boat took us to the area where small wooden boats were docked on the bay.

 

 

DSC_0430We reached the wooden boat that would be our home for the next two days.

 

DSC_0461The wooden boat’s main deck was designed to have a hallway around the private rooms and common areas. There were no private balconies.

 

 

DSC_0434This was our room with a private bathroom.  I believe all the rooms were similarly designed only differing in sizes.

 

 

DSC_0432Shown here is the dining area…..

 

 

DSC_0455…with the must-have bar!

 

 

DSC_0473We spent some time in the bow of the boat and took some snapshots.

 

 

DSC_0476Can you see in the background the thumb up islet?

 

DSC_0471Going up one level higher…

 

DSC_0479…..is the relaxation area that has a a few dining tables and some lounge chairs.

 

 

To An Island On Kayak

DSC_0376Around mid-afternoon, we were all dropped off in a kayak station and we were released to the kayaks in pairs.

 

 

CSC_0396 2Our mission was to row to a nearby island.  For kayaking first timers like us we had a hard time making a straight and smooth sail and the nearby was too far away! However, it was  an absolute fun to try kayaking for the first time! We did not need to drop those paddles as they ‘re worth $20!

 

 

DSC_0377Finally, we reached the correct island after five years! Ha ha! We got off from the kayak and were told to take a short rest after which we were free to do whatever we wanted: climb up the island for a stunning view of Ha Long Bay,  swim and laze on the beach or simply just relax at the resting area sipping a drink being sold at small stores lining up the area.

 

 

DSC_0382We decided to hike just halfway to the mountaintop to get this view.

 

 

DSC_0378Even in a gloomy weather the view of the towering karst islands far beyond as our eyes could see were so overwhelming.

 

 

DSC_0391After spending some time at the high viewing point we decided to descend back to the beachfront where we just watched the crowd at the beach and sipped some cold drinks. Then it was time to go back to the boat and refresh ourselves.

 

 

Dinner

DSC_0454Still reeling from the constant circling of our kayak, we finally diverted our attention to our dinner being served at the dining area starting with healthy salads.

 

 

DSC_0505_2One of seafood was uniquely set and we had a wide selection of beer too.  I chose Singapore’s Tiger beer.

 

 

DSC_0504_2One of the main dishes served was the hearty, deep-fried, breaded meat.

 

 

DSC_0457Exotic fruits like rambutans were also served.

 

 

DSC_0501Suddenly, it was evening!  After dinner we spent some time at the upper level of the boat having some drinks and then we called it a night.  Overall we had a very relaxing and peaceful sleep only awakened twice by some noise probably by flying creatures around the area.

 

 

DAY 2

DSC_0512_2Wakey, wakey! It is the second cruise day! After spending time at the tiny bathroom, we proceeded to the dining area to see an exciting breakfast waiting for us. Just as we discovered in Hanoi two days earlier, the venerable Vietnamese “pho” is available even during breakfast.

A Majestic Cave

DSC_0518_2After a relaxed breakfast, the boat sailed farther south passing mysterious fog-covered karst islands.

 

 

DSC_0588We arrived at our destination after around thirty minutes. We had to get off the boat and follow a wooden walkway to the entrance of…..

 

 

DSC_0527_2….Sung Sot Cave (Cave of Surprises)!

 

 

DSC_0539_2 2We climb around 100 steps and got inside through a narrow entrance leading…..

 

 

 

DSC_0541_2 2…to what looked like its main lobby.  To the right side is the narrow flight of stairs that took us deep inside the chambers of the cave.

 

 

DSC_0559The massive cave is well-lighted with different colors.  This is what they call a light show inside the cave.

 

 

DSC_0556_2The interior can be eerie at times but mostly I was in awe.

 

 

DSC_0555_2The lights definitely helped create a better visual effect inside the cave compared with no lights at all.

 

 

DSC_0567I have disliked caves before but this experience changed my mindset about caves wherein inside this breathtaking natural phenomenon pathways were clearly marked and lighted and the place was not …..

 

 

DSC_0558_2…….claustrophobic. You can see how this is one heck of a majestic cave with a 30-meter high ceiling and 500-meter long passage.

 

 

DSC_0569The cave covers a staggering 10,000 square meters of which its larger cavern can accommodate up to 1,000 people.

 

 

DSC_0563It was an amazing experience touring the cave which is just one of the caves in Ha Long Bay but is considered the largest and the most beautiful.  Thanks to the lights too!

 

 

 

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As we exited the cave chambers, we were taken back to the same area where we entered the cave.  It was a high viewing point overlooking the bay.

 

 

DSC_0590_2As we walked back to the boat we noticed some small boats selling food and all.

 

 

Lunch and A Cooking Lesson

DSC_0599_2As soon as we were back in the wooden boat, we were ushered to the dining are where our tour guide and one of the boat staff prepared us for the next exciting activity. We would be making Vietnamese spring rolls that would be a part of our lunch menu.

 

DSC_0596_2We were provided the steps and the list of ingredients.

 

 

DSC_0593The ingredients were already prepared and we just had to mix them.

 

 

DSC_0598Here’s the final mixture of the ingredients before wrapping and making them into tiny spring rolls.

 

 

 

 

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Everyone enjoyed the activity as the mixture were wrapped before deep- frying them.

 

 

Back to the Mainland

DSC_0613After lunch, the boat sailed for the mainland.

 

 

DSC_0633_2 2We did not have any other activities anymore except to immerse for the last time in the amazing scenery around the bay.

 

 

DSC_0614_2We passed by the kissing rooster and hen islets.

 

 

DSC_0625Certainly, my wife and I enjoyed the short cruise. There were other cruise options spending more nights on the bay with added activities like beach BBQ, visiting fishing villages and more but our schedule only allowed us to take the 2 days/1 night cruise which was already enough to see the bay.

 

 

DSC_0609_2This was my last shot of Ha Long Bay that I took as we neared the mainland. Tạm biệt (goodbye) Ha Long for now!

 

 

DSC_0637_2It was mostly overcast days and at short times it was raining when we were in Ha Long Bay.  It was summertime but during the season lasting from May to September, one can expect some rainy days and even typhoons. The best times to visit is during the months of April and May (spring) & September and October (fall).

Even in a not-so-good weather, Ha Long Bay indeed impressed me primarily due to the overwhelming and sheer abundance of those spectacular limestone islands. I love nature and the place was a sight to behold at any angle and at any time of the day. I am not sure though about the emerald water which appeared a bit murky if it clears up on sunny days. Also I have shockingly noticed a number of times plastic garbage floating in the “protected” area. Maybe irresponsible visitors, maybe not. I hope the proper authorities have already done something about it when we come back during its best season.

28
Apr
17

U.S.: Siesta & Bradenton Beaches


Coming from an unforgettable trip to lovely Key West and the remote yet jaw-dropping  Dry Tortugas National Park, we moved on to visit the beaches of Siesta and Brandenton, a 3.5 hours drive west of Miami.

SIESTA BEACH

SIESTAWe finally stepped on Siesta Beach after moving around the huge parking lot for 15 minutes trying to find a spot. One doesn’t have to pay for any parking fees here but since the beach is magnificent and it is insanely crowded,  the parking lots are always full so arriving early in the morning is highly suggested. This beach has been adjudged as the #1 beach in the U.S.A. in 2011 by Dr. Beach.

 

 

 

DSC_5959The entrance area has shower and changing rooms, drinks/food dispenser and picnic tables and benches.

 

 

DSC_5968We spotted some security personnel on horses.

 

 

 

DSC_5950We only brought in a very unique nylon beach mat from the Philippines and we settled ourselves one crowd row away from the shore.  Can you spot me sitting on the mat with a white cap and blue shorts?

 

 

DSC_5936This is how crowded the beach was.  As you can also see the water appears crystal clear and the white sand looks sugar-fine.

 

 

DSC_5949Indeed this beach is unique. Unlike beaches elsewhere that are made up mostly of pulverized coral, Siesta Beach’s sand is 99% quartz. Even on the hottest days, the sand is so reflective that it feels cool underfoot. It’s estimated that the sand on Siesta Beach and Crescent Beach on Siesta Key is millions of years old, having its origin in the Appalachians and flowing down the rivers from the mountains until it eventually was deposited on the shores of Siesta Key.

 

 

DSC_5935Here are more photos of the beach.

 

 

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11013529_10206384114630278_7658242733079957749_nDSC_5923This is me just sitting on our unique beach mat from the Philippines with the busy crowd as background.

 

 

DSC_5933That is my beloved wife after taking a swim in the gorgeous waters.

 

 

DSC_5921This beach proved to be really magnificent but disappointingly crowded.  We promise we’d be back someday hoping there would be lesser crowd or we would try to base ourselves farther from the crowd either to the left or right side of the main entrance.

BRADENTON BEACH

From Siesta Beach we drove up north to Bradenton Beach in Ana Maria Island.  Compared to Siesta this place proved to be less spectacular based on the beach sand and water clarity.  What it lacked on the whiteness and fineness of its beach sand were easily covered up by the amazing choices of the dining places especially during sunset time.

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The beach is wider and less crowded.  I did not even see people swimming on the beach.

1797367_10206385784672028_9165763336539045116_nThis was taken from the Beach House restaurant where we checked in to have dinner watching as the sun would disappear into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico.

 

11081180_10206385785432047_340022473850304856_nAs we waited for our table to be ready, we walked unto the shore and took some photos.

 

 

11081311_10206385785072038_2551777463119039881_nA very nice and somewhat tipsy lady offered to take a snapshot of my wife and me.

 

 

DSC_5969As we waited for our dinner to be served, we enjoyed the scenery around the al fresco and seaside area of the restaurant.

 

 

bradenton sunset2Sunsets are amazing and our sunset experience here in Bradenton Beach would become one of the best we ever had.

bradenton sunsetThe restaurant ran a sort of a contest for all its customers to guess what time exactly would the sun actually disappear from the horizon.  I did not win. Someone else did.

DSC_5971Ahhhh we were just amazed at the breathtaking sunset unfolding before our eyes.

 

 

DSC_5975 2Indeed it was a a day well spent.  A few more minutes after the sun had set, we drove back to our base station in Fort Lauderdale to prepare for our flight the next day back to New York.

25
Apr
15

U.S./Florida: Dry Tortugas Nat’l Park


As we were planning our Key West itinerary, we came across a stunning photo of a beach located at the Garden Key. We never knew that almost a hundred miles west of Key West there’s a place that is out of this world! Our minds were already framed on what to expect from the beaches on the Florida Keys that are located in the world’s third largest coral reef that makes the area excellent for diving and snorkeling. Key Largo, one of the keys, has even earned the title of the Diving Capital of the World. However, this means that because of the coral reefs filtering the waves before they reach the shores on the islands, there would be less pulverization of the sand so there are less fine, white sand beaches around the islands. That captivating scenery of the Dry Tortugas National Park’s South Swim Beach convinced us to make the place one of the major destinations that we will be visiting during our first trip to the Florida Keys.

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Situated between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, the remotely located Dry Tortugas National Park is 70 miles west of Key West, Florida which is the southernmost city in the continental United States. It is composed of six pristine islands of which the Garden Key is the centerpiece island.  It is also where Fort Jefferson is located.  It is America’s third largest and most spectacular coastal fort.

 

reaching dry tortugas

Access to the Dry Tortugas National Park is only possible from Key West. You can fly to either Miami or Fort Lauderdale and take a scenic four-hour drive to Key West. You can also fly direct to Key West but I would not suggest this option because you will be missing the breathtaking views of the ending stretch of U.S. Route 1 that terminates at Key West. From Key West you can either take the ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park which is exclusively offered by Yankee Freedom III  (US$190 per adult person for a return trip including breakfast and lunch) or you can take a sea plane which can be chartered at this link (US$299 for a half day tour or US$525 for a full day tour per adult person).

 

things to do at dry tortugas

We just opted for a full day tour so what I will be presenting here will just be activities for those who are on day tour, except for the camping tips.

DSC_5877

We took the ferry that left Key West at 8 a.m. and reached Dry Tortugas National Park at around 10:30 a.m. For the day tour you have exactly four and half hours to spend on the island. Upon arrival you can either join a free one-hour tour of Fort Jefferson or you can just do your own thing. We did the latter and we immediately went to South Swim Beach.

1. relaxing at South Swim Beach

South Swim Beach was my favorite place on the island. From the docking area, you can proceed to the left side and walk past the entrance to the massive fort for about 2 minutes and it will bring you  to what I consider the most picturesque area in the Dry Tortugas National Park.

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You move further south and walk past the amazing white sand beach.

 

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You will end up at this stone structure that also houses the helipad.

 

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From the stone structure, one can have this stunning scenery.  This area is also one of the designated snorkeling places.

 

 

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Visitors would spend most of their time just lazing on this white sand beach and swimming in the turquoise waters.

 

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From this beach, one can also chance upon sea planes passing by.

 

2. going around the fort via the moat wall

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From South Swim Beach you can start walking along the south moat wall and start going around the entire structure from outside.

 

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Then you will come across your first turn to the west moat wall.

 

DSC_5752 DSC_5756

We took some photos on the west moat wall.

 

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And then on the east side as well.  It took us around 12 minutes to go around the fort via the moat wall.

 

3.  spending time at North Swim Beach

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Either by going the entire walkway along the moat wall outside the fort from South Swim Beach (described in the preceding section) or taking right from the docking area to the pathway (shown above), you will be led to the less crowded North Swim Beach.

 

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This beach is shorter, less crowded and less charming than South Swim Beach. Nevertheless, this beach also has crystal clear blue waters.

 

4. snorkeling & fishing

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As I have stated earlier the Florida Keys sits on the world’s third largest coral reef and it should just be fitting to do some snorkeling around designated areas in the island.  The protected waters are home to an array of extraordinary sea life. Snorkeling gears are provided free by the boat, Yankee Freedom III.

Fishing on Garden Key is also allowed at five designated areas. Fishing license is required unless you are under the age of 16 or a Florida senior resident over the age of 65.

 

5.  camping

DSC_5782

There is an option to camp on the island up to three nights and that’s what we wanted to do but we did not get camping slots anymore as they only limit the number of campers per day to around sixty-six campers at the eleven camp sites in the island.  So be sure to book in advance if you want to camp.

 

6. touring the inner side of the fort

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Welcome to Fort Jefferson.  This fort was 30 years in the making but was never finished.

 

DSC_5843This is harbor light as seen from the ground level.

 

DSC_5835This is the ground level of the fort from inside.

 

DSC_5832The ground level of the fort has walkways that lead to the entrance to the second level of the fort.

 

DSC_5844 DSC_5845Also on display at the ground level are the boats used by sailors.

 

DSC_5858This is a part of the second level.  Imagine, you are inside one of the largest brick structures in the western hemisphere. There are 15 million bricks that make up this enormous fort.

 

DSC_5857From the second level, the view of the inner part of the fort is just haunting.

 

DSC_5852 DSC_5856Glancing outside from the second level, the view of the blue-green sea is just calming to the eye.  If you have time, you can stay put at any of the windows overlooking the waters and read a book.

 

7. enjoying the view from the boat

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From the boat you can enjoy the view going to the adjacent Bush Key while having lunch.

 

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You can also enjoy views of the harbor light and part of the eastern part of the fort from the boat.

 

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The four and a half hours was really short and I wished we could have camped there for a day or two as I also wanted to experience sunsets and sunrises on the island. We left the Garden Key at exactly 3:00 p.m. and reached Key West after two and a half hours.

 

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This has been my best island experience so far in the U.S.A.!  The scenery was something I have never seen before.

 

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Above all, the beach was incredibly beautiful!

02
Mar
15

Philippines : PP Underground River


The Ultimate Underground River

Welcome to Palawan, the Philippines’ last frontier and home to the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR), recently voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature and also one of the World Heritage Sites in the country.
CSC_0231It is the world’s longest navigable underground river at 8.2 kilometers with a lot of amazing natural structures inside.

 

Monkeys, large monitor lizards, and squirrels find their niche on the beach near the cave.

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DSC_0207Avoid carrying plastic bags in the open as the monkeys tend to think they are food items and they could grab them. Otherwise they are harmless unless you touch them.
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At the cave’s opening, a lagoon with clear waters is framed by ancient trees growing right to the water’s edge.



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Up to 10 persons are allowed in a boat.  If you opt to have more privacy during the boat tour, you can nicely request the tour operators ahead of time to have your group take the entire boat.  This would also depend on the crowd waiting.  Our group of 5 people was allowed to take the entire boat.

 

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Upon entering the cave, the only light that you would have is the headlight of the boatman/tour guide. Unless you have your own powerful light, it is very difficult to rely on the boatman’s headlight for sights that you would like to capture on camera.  Most of the time even camera flash is not enough.  As we did not bring our own light, I tried my best to capture the sceneries where the headlight was currently focused.

 

Here are some of the things we captured:
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A female fish head with eyeliner.

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Tom and Jerry.
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Lady in boots and a panda.
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A giant garlic.
PPUR

The biggest chamber of the underground river is known as the cathedral which is halfway into the tour. (Credits to Geb Bunado for the cathedral photo.)
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Here you can find the giant candle among other statues.

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You can also spot Pegasus resting.

 

 

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You will then pass through the “highway”.

 

Normally, some few more meters after passing through the highway the tour will end.  However, if you request the boatman/tour guide to take you to the sea cow fossil, then it would be another mile beyond the normal tour route.  And we did exactly that!
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We were able to see the recently discovered fossil of the 20 million year old Sirenia, commonly know today as the Sea cow or Dugong, of the Miocene period which is plastered on a limestone wall.  This became the highlight of the underground river tour. On the way back, you will pass the same route that you had earlier and you will have another chance to take those photos again.

 


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Finally, we were out of the cave.
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It was an experience of a lifetime with my parents and friends visiting this natural wonder right in our home country.

 

 

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Goodbye PPUR!

 

I would like to share some things to consider when visiting PPUR.

 

when to go

To avoid extremely choppy boat rides, you need to visit the Underground River from December until May.

 

how to go

PPUR can only be reached via Palawan’s capital Puerto Princesa.  Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air and Air Asia have one-hour flights from Manila to this laid back capital city that is the jump off point to many of Palawan’s other natural attractions like Honday Bay, El Nido, Taytay, Tabon and San Vicente.  You can check my blog here on the best places to go in Palawan.

From Puerto Princesa, there are a lot of vans that would take you from the airport to Sabang Beach in less than 2 hours.  From Sabang Beach terminal, a short walk away is the port where boats are docked that would take you to PPUR.  You need to get a ticket ahead of time as there is a limited number of visitors allowed per day. There are packages from travel agencies that would offer the PPUR tour for 1,200 pesos including the van from the airport to Sabang and back. You also need a licensed tour guide to go with you.  At the port you need to wait for your name or your group’s name to be called when you’re ready for boarding the boat.  The entire PPUR tour starting from the Sabang Beach port and back could be done in around 2 hours.
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This is the area where boats would load the passengers going to the Underground River.

 

 

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This is the future plan for the Sabang Wharf.

 

what to do

Sabang Beach is the gateway to the natural wonder.  You can either base yourself in Puerto Princesa or stay for one or two nights in Sabang Beach.  The few things you can do around Sabang Beach is to visit the Underground River, hang out at the quiet beach or ride the nearby zipline. If you are checked in at the two major resorts in Sabang Beach, they have a lot of resort facilities that you can use. I prefer staying just one or two nights in Sabang Beach because I would rather go back to Puerto Princesa area and spend time in nicer Dos Palmas in Honday Bay with almost the same rate.
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This is Sabang Beach right in front of the resort where we stayed which is discussed next.

 

where to stay and eat

If you opt to stay around Sabang Beach for a while and just want a really simple place to stay, you can select from the many inexpensive lodging houses lining the beach.  If you want a nicer place to stay, you can choose between the area’s only two major resorts, Sheridan Beach Resort and Spa and Daluyon Mountain & Beach Resort, a few steps away from each other.

 

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I have chosen Daluyon because of its more natural feel, native charm, eco-friendliness and slightly cheaper price than Sheridan.

 

 

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The air-conditioned rooms are all sea-facing and they are simply amazing where you can open the doors and windows for a more relaxed and airy feel.

 

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Cabana 102 was perfect for us.  They also have a three-bedroom suite that can accommodate 6 persons with private pool and dining area.

 

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Its common adult and kiddie pools at the back of the resort have the mountain view.

 

Sheridan is more contemporary.

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The resort has a really huge pool.

 

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If you like a modern place to stay then Sheridan would suit your needs.  Since our breakfast at Daluyon was complimentary, we tried having our lunch at Sheridan one time and the food was good.

 

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We also had some afternoon drinks at Sheridan too. There are other smaller and cheaper restaurants lining the shore that are alternative dining options and we enjoyed them too!

If you have any questions about this trip, you can leave me a message in the comment section with your email or you can email me directly at eaniban@yahoo.com.



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