The Philippine Journal: Mactan & Cebu City, Cebu

It has been 6 years. 6 long years of not seeing my motherland, the Philippines.

Shangri-La Resort Mactan

The country where I was born and spent the first 14 years of my life has so many different layers and characters, that I have a constant love and hate relationship. I love the food, people, places, history, colours, culture, humour, natural untapped resources; I absolutely hate the traffic, garbage, pollution, the slowness (of everything). I love the shopping, the blue skies and seas, the mountain air, the wonder and amazement that we felt everytime we discover something new; I hate the fact that you cannot walk around in singlets and shorts without getting stared at left right and centre. I love the heat; I hate the heat.

One of the most breathtaking sunrises…

I love the smiles, the warmth of the people, the hospitality of both friends and strangers, and that feeling that I am home.

While planning our trip, Mr J and I promised each other to visit as many places as our schedules and budget would allow. Discover off beaten tracks, spend time with locals, eat with a family in a village, say hello to nature, indulge in all the fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood that our stomachs will allow.

Bangus sisig at Mang Inasal

But most importantly, pay our respect to the country that was so good to us, that has sheltered and nourished us in the first few years of our lives, and that has instilled in us the principles and morals that has shaped who we are today.

Shangri-La Resort’s view of the sea from the beach

Welcome to our Philippine trip journal, starting with Cebu, a southern island in the Philippines that was the first stop of our 3 week whirlwind tour of the Philippines. We saw the Philippines through the eyes of first time visitors; tourists discovering a place of colour, beauty, rich history, and warmth.

Shangri-La Resort Mactan, Cebu

The Ocean wing and part of the beach
The lobby
The massive hotel grounds
Blue over blue over blue
Crystal clear
Mojito at our friends’ wedding reception.
Nothing beats an ice cold, sweet mango shake under the sun.
And endless breakfasts of danggit (fried dried fish), crispy bacon, corned beef & garlic rice.
And sitting under coconut trees.
Shangri-La’s beautiful hotel room interiors
and uber comfortable bed
Beach view sunrises at Shangri-La
More sunrises
The clouds remind me of a caravan, with camels and horses.
There’s no escaping it, the water is just beautiful.
6.30AM sunrises are the most beautiful.

Mang Inasal, Mactan, Cebu

Feeling peckish? Head down to Mang Inasal for a cheap and cheerful meal of a plate of rice and grilled chicken. The chicken is cooked the inasal way, originally from Bacolod way of cooking grilled chicken using infused oils. The chicken is tender and full of flavour. Eat with chili soy sauce and vinegar and drizzled with calamansi. Did I mention it’s unlimited rice? Yes, welcome to the Philippines.

Chicken Inasal and unlimited rice, anyone?
Mixing the bangus sisig (Mang Inasal)

*Thanks Cat for being our hand model and resident sisig-mixer.

The colourful halo halo (mix mix) dessert, much like the colourful, mixed Philippine history. (Mang Inasal)
The ultimate dessert: leche flan. (Mang Inasal)


Magellan’s Cross & Basilica Minore del Santo Nino de Cebu, Cebu City

One of the most historic places in the whole of the Philippines can be found here, at the place where Magellan’s Cross is housed, right outside the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino de Cebu. in 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese who served the King of Spain, was the first person to have circumnavigated the earth but unfortunately was killed by Datu Lapu Lapu in Mactan, Cebu. Magellan brought Christianity with him, and has successfully converted the locals to Christianity, hence the cross and the birth of Roman Catholicism in the Philippines.

The planting of the cross
The original 600 year old cross is said to be encased inside this wooden cross, to protect it.
A fascinating array of people lighting red candles outside the Basilica.
Light one and say a silent prayer
Inside the Basilica grounds
These walls contain 600 years of history

Flying to Cebu:

The easiest is to catch a direct domestic flight from Manila to Cebu. It usually takes 1 hour and most airlines fly regularly (Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Zest Air).

Some international flights fly direct to Cebu from Bangkok, Busan, Hong Kong, Kota KInabalu, Port Moresby, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo.

Shangri-La Mactan:

It’s usually a 15-20 drive from Mactan-Cebu International Airport to Shangri-La. The hotel can arrange airport transfers.

Cebu City:

Catch a cab or the hotel shuttle bus to Cebu City, where the major shopping Centres SM Cebu & Ayala Centre Cebu are. It will usually take 30 minutes – 45 minutes from Shangri-La, depending on traffic.

Magellan’s Cross & Basilica Minore del Santo Nino de Cebu:

Catch a cab from SM Cebu. It’s usually a 10 – 15 minute drive, depending on traffic.

There are no entrance fees for both the Cross & Basilica. It’s your choice if you want to give a donation, there are donation boxes available.

Be wary of your belongings once you’re there, as it gets very crowded especially after mass. There are also plenty of vendors, candle sellers and volunteers who take your photos and sell you the photos. Again, it’s your choice if you wish to purchase something.

Getting around:

A cab is usually the easiest and most comfortable mode of transportation, however you can easily flag a jeep as well (a cheaper option too).

The best sunsets of my life.


Shangri-La Resort Mactan

Mang Inasal
Mactan Marina Mall, Quezon National Highway, Mactan, Cebu

Magellan’s Cross & Basilica Minore del Santo Nino de Cebu
OsmeƱa Boulevard, Cebu City

Continue Reading

Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda Relief Drive


Dearest Sydney friends,

You may already know of the devastation that the super typhoon Yolanda has caused in my beloved country, the Philippines.

A group of us are organising relief funds to be sent back to the Philippines for free, thanks to LBC.

If you would like to donate relief goods, the link is <a href=””>here</a>, but I believe the Rushcutters Bay and Erskineville locations are already closed.

Urgent relief goods that are needed include:

– Canned goods
– Medicine (paracetamol)
– Toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrush, soap)
– Towels
– Bed sheets
– Purification tablets for filtering water
– Boxes to put the relief goods in before sending them to the affected

Please click the link <a href=””>here</a> for all details, schedule for drop off, and contact numbers.

Thank you so much for your big hearts, Sydney friends.

Big, massive thanks!

Bake Sale


Thank you to my generous friends and work family for today’s successful bake sale.

The chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter & chocolate buttercream are back, and we managed to raise enough funds to buy 3,420 tablets of paracetamol or 118 toothbrushes.

My heart is full of gratitude and love to those people who have given so much – time, money & effort – in helping my beloved Pilipinas. I am proud and amazed at the beauty of humanity.

Maraming salamat!

Continue Reading

So True Naturals – artisanal castile soap

Cat Juan Ledesma is no ordinary woman. I’d like to think that all my friends, the people that I surround myself with, are extraordinary, beautiful friends with beautiful souls (and enormous, walking encyclopaedia of experiences and world knowledge!). They all come from different disciplines and in all shapes & sizes: walking travel guides, photographer extraordinaire, a doctor in children’s literature and an actual medical doctor that comes in handy when we’re together after a day (and night) of drinking – for hangover remedy purposes.

But I digress.

Back to Cat. I was ecstatic when she re-launched her blog,, into this brilliant, beautiful lifestyle blog with equally beautiful photography. An encyclopaedia of information from island conservation in the Philippines, beauty bath & books, mother tips & advices, to the cuteness overload that is her son Fin.

I was equally ecstatic when I found out recently that I was one of the lucky recipients of the So True Naturals castile soap after commenting on Cat’s blog post about the soaps. She introduced me to Mia, the owner and woman behind this amazing product, who was able to transport the soap from Manila to Sydney, thanks to my friend Larissa and the powers of technology.

Castile soaps have a mild, gentle formula and this was how Mia became attracted to making her own for her babies. The soaps are also phthalate free, which according to So True’s blog, “Phthalates are the components in synthetic fragrances that have been found to disrupt the endocrine system, especially in young children, among other scary things.”

I was immediately interested in obtaining a sample for myself. Suffering from psoriasis from an early age, I have battled with this skin condition nearly all my life. I’m lucky to have finally found products that I can safely use for my skin (QV wash & Elizabeth Arden 8 hour cream for my face & Lush Healing Hands cream for hands & feet), but everyday is a battle, especially in this harsh Australian, dry weather.

I tried the soap and after lathering for a few seconds, I can already feel its moisturising, almost slimy characteristics on my dry, rough palms. Store it in a dry place; I used baking sheets so the soap doesn’t stick to the material while it’s drying for your next use. I cut the big slab of soap into smaller pieces, so I’m only using small pieces at a time. After drying my hands, I can immediately feel an almost silky, paper thin lining on my hands. This could only be good.

Oh, and also a shameless plug: it’s MADE IN THE PHILIPPINES. Yes, country pride.

Thank you Cat & Mia for introducing me to castile soap, I’m excited to try more of So True Naturals other amazing products!

So True Naturals castile soaps


Continue Reading