* Update from 6/29/2011 – We were back at Thunderbird one year later, and just a few days after Independence Day (but that’s just a coincidence). It was cold and stormy this time around, but apart from that, the experience was basically the same…we even got the same room again! (That’s also just a coincidence). Well, there were some minor changes – the TV was now a real flat one (LCD) instead of just a CRT with a flattened face, and the toilettries were now branded (VMV), but apart from that, it was almost like deja vu.
* Original Post (below)
It was independence day 2010. P.E.Noy (he’s just President Elect at this time) had just been proclaimed President Elect, and GMA was only so eager to parade her supposed achievements. For us common folk, it was another long weekend. Some people spent quality time at home with the family, and some took that long awaited trip out of town, anything to spare the agony of possibly hearing someone praising her own self to high heavens on national TV.
Ironically, we were supposed to be in Macau that day, celebrating our own Independence by invading another territory and writing another journal about it. Alas, PAL doesn’t fly there on Saturdays, and though Cebu Pacific does, apparently they’re not interested in flying us there at all. We tried booking a ticket and hotel through Cebu Pacific’s website several times, but the transaction kept failing for several days. We then tried booking by phone, after which we were told to proceed to the nearest ticketing office within 24 hours to settle the payment. I got to their Galleria office first thing in the morning, and lo and behold, they were off-line. I was then told to proceed to the ticketing office at NAIA 3, which is open 24 hours. I got to NAIA 3 after work, only to be told they can’t process tickets with hotel bookings. By then it was already too much of a hassle, Cebu Pacific should have been paying us, not the other way around (and that wasn’t the first time), and so we scrapped the plan.
We decided to just stay close to home instead, and went searching for destinations within a couple of hours drive from Manila. Our first target was Subic, but then we discovered Thunderbird Resorts. They have two properties in the country; one in Binangonan, Rizal, which was smaller and less fancy but closer to Manila, and the second one in Poro Point, La Union – reportedly larger and more luxurious, but much farther. This time we booked only for the one in Binangonan, saving the trip to Poro Point for a future date. It is Independence Day after all, so at least we will be in a province named after our national hero (connect?).
As we left Manila, we passed by the Katipunan area and made an unplanned stop for lunch at Sandy’s Pizza. For those of you not “showbiz” enough, the proprietor of this pizza parlor is a sister of Gabby Concepcion. It was “unplanned” since we didn’t know where to have lunch, but just decided to stop there for curiosity’s sake, when my wife saw the sign. We ordered the “sampler” pizza, which was divided into quarters, and each quarter can have any of their flavors. Our sampler pizza had the Four Cheese, Italian Sausage, Pinoy Longganissa and Ham & Pineapple (Hawaiian) flavors. We also had buffalo chicken wings to go with the Pizza.
The Pizza came in a thin crust that was not dry and flakey like soda crackers, exactly what I want in a pizza crust. My favorite has to be the four-cheese, nothing beats the simple goodness of melted cheese on good dough. The wings are typically what one would expect from American style chicken wings, though it’s a bit beyond the “mild” category in spiciness. Good for those who like their wings hot. I would say though that the wings are better than what Hooters in Manila serves (which is nothing compared to what Hooters in the US serves, by the way, which makes me wonder why the local Hooters could just not get it done right).
Up To The Mountain
With stomachs full we drove onwards to our destination. There are three approaches to the resort coming from Manila. One route is via Taytay and Angono, the second one via Cainta and Antipolo, and the third via Marikina and Antipolo. Since I wanted to take the car for a leisurely uphill drive along the more pleasing and less crowded Sumulong Highway, I decided to take the Marikina route. It wasn’t in any way the shortest route, but it did spare me another encounter with the Ortigas Ave. Extension which goes through Cainta, the mother of all traffic jams (The father, by the way, is the Alabang-Zapote road, in Las Pinas). As we got into Antipolo, we then took a turn into a two lane carriageway, which led all the way to the resort, for a good 30 minutes or so. There was little traffic on that road, save for the occasional tricycle which you have to dodge, though it keeps the drive from being boring.
The resort itself sits on the slope of a low mountain. Their website says that the property is actually on the Sierra Madre range, though I’m not so convinced. Maybe on the foothills of the Sierra Madre, yes. It was high, but not quite that high.
The major amenities of the resort is the infinity pool, a casino, and a golf course next door where a round of 18-holes can be packaged with your stay at the hotel. The facade of the resort looks brand spanking new, very clean and well maintained. It’s not a very big resort, in terms of number of rooms available, which works to the guests’ advantage since you don’t see too many people loitering around the common areas.
The hotel’s rooms are also clean, and quite large, although it, in some way, betrays the “new-look” of the exterior. Looking at the state of the cabinets, drawers and the bath tub, you will know that the place was built some time ago, and not really “brand new”, as the facade seems to suggest. Still, it is not bad and it’s still perfectly suited for a relaxing weekend.
They also gave us coupons for a complimentary 15-minute back massage, and a complimentary drink at the casino. We did go into the casino later that evening and gave away 150 pesos to the slot machines before calling it a night and retiring back to our room. The casino was nice, and though smaller, looks a lot more modern than the PAGCOR casino close to NAIA.
One of the resort’s jewels is its smallish, but very good looking infinity pool, which overlooks and seems to spill into, the Eastridge Golf Club right beside the resort. The pool’s depth though is quite curious, with the main pool only 4’6″ at its shallowest and 5 feet at its deepest, a bit too deep for non-swimmers, yet too shallow for those who can. The attached kiddie pool meanwhile is 2 feet deep throughout. There’s also an open-air jacuzzi nearby, which actual warm water and functioning jets, perfect for those aching muscles of novice golfers, caused by repeated grounded swings.
We paid for dinner at the Koi restaurant within the resort. Their menu was quite interesting, and we had Poached Dory, a Thai dish of flat rice noodles topped with chicken on red curry sauce (I forgot the name, but it certainly wasn’t Pad Thai), and a bowl of the ubiquitous pork sinigang. The sinigang was like any good sinigang, but the Poached Dory and the Thai dish are a must to try. I would highly recommend these dishes to anyone going there in the future, take my word for it.
The breakfast buffet was complimentary, and on the buffet table was a variety of breads with butter and jam, some Chinese soup, some standard Filipino fare (tapa, tocino, etc.), and an omelette station. Lastly of course is the best news for any morning, unlimited brewed coffee.
We spent the rest of the following morning lounging and relaxing until check-out time. We left shortly before noon, and felt that if we liked it here at the “little sister” resort in Rizal, what more on the big one on Poro Point? Consider that place, marked.
* We stayed here on June 2010. All photos taken with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 or Zuiko 50mm f2.