Simple, nostalgic, and pleasing: Hillside Hostel in Bacnotan, La Union

Simple, nostalgic, and pleasing: Hillside Hostel in Bacnotan, La Union

90’s kids will get a kick out of a few features, while those looking for beauty will admire its simple yet deliberate approach.

Surf towns have become all the rage ever since Siargao took off. Luzon already has a few of its own: Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte, Liwa Beach in Zambales, Baler in Aurora… and basically the entire coast of La Union. Naturally, places to stay have also popped in surf destinations, though this one in the town of Bacnotan in Elyu (La Union) made me do a double take: the Hillside Hostel.

There’s a splash of color outside the hostel, though once inside it’s back to simplicity.

At first glance, the place’s black, white, and wood-themed hostel won’t draw much attention. Bacnotan, after all, is like that seemingly unnoticeable dude sitting next to the current hotness, San Juan.

Don’t get me wrong; I like San Juan’s vibe. But there’s something about how quiet Bacnotan can be that just draws me to it like a moth to an unwitting candle—while the rest of the swarm hits up that bright light in the ceiling across the hall.

Yes. That is a guitar in the lobby. Yes, those are card games beneath the table.

Hillside has a nostalgic charm on its own. The hostel sits at the bottom of a hill—hence the name. The lobby presents itself more like a living room of a good friend rather than a hotel/hostel lobby: a big sofa, two arm chairs, and a cool wooden coffee table with card and board games right underneath.

Sleep

One of their many comfy bunk beds.

After getting your room key and a short briefing on the house rules, you’ll be led to your bunk in one of their three rooms. These bunks are quite spacious by themselves, with comfy mattresses, soft pillows, a fleece blanket, and a towel —the last two items you might not find in other hostels.

It’s comfy enough that you may just want to stay and pick up a book.

You’ve got a light, two wall outlets to charge whatever electronics you’ve brought, and lockers located at the far end of the room to store your stuff—if the in-bunk-bed mini-storage compartment isn’t enough.

Eat

Food at Hillside Hostel isn’t grand, but it does the trick if you want to fill up on something before or after a day of surfing or exploring La Union. They currently have Filipino breakfast staples presented as a rice bowl: tapsilog, bangsilog, and bacsilogsilogs, to those who are not familiar, are dishes paired with sinangag or fried rice, and log, short for itlog, Filipino for egg. In this case, the silogs are tapa or cured beef, bangus or milkfish, and bacon paired with silogs.

They serve free breakfast for all guests, which can be one of two things: malunggay pandesal from a bakery in Bacnotan with peanut butter, or a bowl of cereal from the fridge. Freshly-brewed coffee from El Union is served all day long.

You can take a tricycle to San Juan for lunch or dinner if you wish, or eat at the Riverfarm Restaurant, which is virtually next door.

Do

This is probably THE chill spot to be if you’re in Bacnotan: the Hillside roofdeck. Grab a bean bag, a crate, and a beer and you’re good!

A trip to San Juan on tricyle (Php20 per person from Hillside) is always in order if you’re ever in La Union. If, however, you’ve grown weary of surfing in Urbiztondo Beach, you can always ask for a tricycle tour of Bacnotan. For only Php1,900, you can hit spots like Tangadan Falls in San Gabriel, Immuki Island in Bacnotan, or even as far north as the Luna Watchtower in Luna. Check with the front desk for the whole itin.

It’s Bacnotan’s own surf spot. The waves here are good for beginner and experienced surfers alike.

If touring isn’t your thing, visit Quirino Beach (Bacnotan Surfing Spot on Google Maps, 10-15 minutes from Hillside). It has good swells even during summer months and is good for both beginner and experienced surfers alike. Staying in means you can drink cold beer at Hillside’s roofdeck, play board or card games, or read a book.

Verdict: 9/10

From the jalousie windows to the black, white, and wood motif, Hillside has been deliberately designed to be simple, which is in itself already beautiful. I wish there were more food options. Company was great as well, seeing as hostels are often places where you meet people from all walks of life.

The basics
Php800 per person per night, includes breakfast (malunggay pandesal or breakfast cereal, El Union coffee)
KM 281.7, National Highway, Brgy. Baroro, Bacnotan, La Union
@HillsideHostel on Facebook and Instagram for inquiries and reservations

Get there. Ride a Partas bus bound for Vigan, Laoag, or Abra and asked to be dropped off at Hillside Hostel, Baroro, Bacnotan. If the conductor is not familiar, just tell them it’s before Riverfarm. Fare is at Php552 per person from Pasay City, and buses leave every hour. You can also ride a Sebay Express bus and be dropped off at San Juan, where you can then take a jeep to Hillside for Php12 per person.

Photos by Andrew Del Rosario
Modelling by Alyssa Sevilla

The grand escape: 5 private islands in the Philippines

The grand escape: 5 private islands in the Philippines

Here’s a list of islands in the country you can rent to yourself, or share with other holiday makers but don’t feel like it.

Private islands have an aura of luxury and exclusivity that most destinations find hard to match. As an archipelago, we have a lot of them already unlocked by some of the country’s rich and famous.

In fact, some of our islands have become known throughout the world as some of the best, like one of the entries in this list. If you’re looking at satisfying that “luxury travel” item on your list, check out these private islands you can book for a truly luxurious experience.

Amanpulo, Cuyo, Palawan

Perhaps the most well-known of the islands on this list is the most luxurious of luxurious, Amanpulo. Located in the middle of the Sulu Sea, Amanpulo is actually situated on Pamalican Island, one of the islands in the Cuyo archipelago. You can do pretty much everything you’d like to do on a private island here: swim in the sea with waters so clear they glisten in the sunlight at high noon, snorkel, have a bit of water sports like kite surfing, and embark on sunset cruise.

You may encounter other guests on the island but the resort management has a way of making you feel you and your party are the only ones there.

Starts at Php73,407/night (USD1,405) | Aman.com

Banwa Private Island, Roxas, Palawan

One of the newer private islands the country has seen, Banwa is a place where you can find a luxurious and very private escape. You charter the whole island, meaning you can have it all to yourself. It’s about 500km from Manila, with San Vicente as its main entry point.

Banwaprivateisland.com to know more and to inquire about renting the island

Bamboo Private Islands, Coron, Palawan

This is one of those places that you definitely do not expect. Bamboo Private Islands is actually split into two: the Big Bamboo Island and the Small Bamboo Island. Both can be rented out, though the Small Bamboo Island is more popular, thanks to its location: you’re smack dab in the middle of Culion Bay, close to popular gems like Ditaytayan, Malcapuya, and Two Seasons Coron Island.

Starts at Php75,923/night for Small Bamboo Island
Bambooislands.ph. To get to Bamboo Island, take a SkyJet Airlines flight from Manila to Busuanga.

Brother Island, El Nido, Palawan

They’ve been called the Robinson Crusoe Island of the Philippines. Brother Island, located in the northern shores of El Nido, is one of the most popular islands that you can rent on Airbnb. It’s the only exclusive private island retreat in El Nido that offers snorkeling (a coral reef surrounds the island), a jungle and bamboo forest, and you’ll be staying in an ancestral house that was put up in 1991.

Starts at Php23,000/night, includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, airport pick-up and drop-off (El Nido), snorkeling gear, kayaks
Brotherisland.ph

Ariara, Linapacan, Palawan

Talk about luxury and privacy. Ariara Island, located about 256km southwest of Manila, is probably the must-visit on this list. You can rent out the whole island for two nights and have the utmost in privacy. Imagine having a 125-acre island to yourself, with your own white sand beach, your own coral reef to snorkel in, all of your meals prepared by a personal chef, a bevy of watersports equipment, and roundtrip transfers between El Nido or Coron, whichever airport you’re flying into.

Starts at Php93,600/night for the whole island, minimum of 2 nights
Ariaraisland.com. Take a SkyJet Airlines flight from Manila to Coron.

Featured photo of Inaladelan Island shown for context, taken by Harvey Tapan

7 glamping spots for the IG travel couple in 2020

7 glamping spots for the IG travel couple in 2020

For something new, here are places to take your significant other to and spend the night in sans the walls but with the comforts of a hotel room.

Domescape

A dome away from home. Photo from Domescape

It’s hidden from the main road. It’s halfway between the beaches of Nasugbu and the chilly breeze of Tagaytay. It also happens to have a deceptively spacious geodesic dome tent with a natural pool and a large patio. All of this is packaged in an area that makes you feel like you are nowhere near Tagaytay or Nasugbu. Truly an excellent camping experience.

Oh, and did we mention it’s an IG magnet?

Brgy. Tumalim, Nasugbu, Batangas
Starts at Php6,000 for Dome 2 (good for four people), food and drinks at Php250 per meal per person
Airbnb.com/rooms/33087863 (Dome 1) or airbnb.com/rooms/33087699 (Dome 2)
Facebook: @domescape.ph
Instagram: @domescape

Nacpan Beach Glamping

Isn’t it grand? Photo from Nacpan Beach Glamping

Beachside camping has always been a good idea for anyone looking to break away from the daily grind. Nacpan Beach, once hailed by The Daily Telegraph as one of the dreamiest beaches in the world in 2017, is as quiet as they come, and there’s no better way of enjoying it than sleeping in a luxurious tent at Nacpan Beach Glamping. It’s got stylish blue tents, beachfront access, and a kitchen that can whip you up a good meal.

There’s also a garden around the tents that you can walk around in for more peace and quiet.

Php7,500 per night for two; however, a tent can fit up to four
Nacpanbeachglamping.com
FB: @NacpanBeachGlamping
IG: @nacpanbeachglamping
Tel: +63956 234 0162

Aetas Glamping El Nido

Photo from Aetas Glamping El Nido

Keeping things in El Nido, here’s a spot that takes you away from the crowds and towards the quieter parts of El Nido. Aetas Glamping El Nido (Nature Served on a Silver Platter on Airbnb) has four glamping tents fashioned from a mix of classic tent and indigenous materials. Situated in what can only be described as halfway between a mountain and rice fields, it’s a unique stay that might be hard to match elsewhere in El Nido.

Php8,500 per night for two
FB: @AetasGlampingElNido
IG: @aetasglampingelnido
Email: [email protected]

Glamping Etc. Philippines

Next to camping in the woods or by the beach, a tent pitched by the shores of a lake, is something we’ve all aspired to do. Glamping Etc. Philippines, located on the shores of quiet Lumot Lake in Cavinti, Laguna, gives us just that—albeit in one of four roomier, more luxurious geodesic tents.

Enjoy free kayak rentals, body boards, vests, and breakfast during your stay, all while you wait for the night sky in Cavinti to open up.

Php2,900 per night for at least two with breakfast
FB: @GeodesicGlampingEtcPH
IG: @glamping_etc_philippines

North Beach Camp

Glamping is always a good idea with friends, especially when it leads you to discover places you’ve never been to… like Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte. Yes, it is ridiculously far from Metro Manila, but this makes staying at North Beach Camp even better. No stress from work, no need to worry about traffic—it’s the ideal destination, right?

Combine that with how your glamping tents look (they’re more beach huts than actual tents) and the food they serve (pizza from Kingfisher and a Japanese spread, anyone?) and you might just get us to sign up for a night or two.

As low as Php1,500 per night for two
Northbeachcamp.ph
FB: @northbeachcamp.ph
IG: @nbc.ph

Glamping Siquijor

Siquijor has long been shrouded in mystery, what with how people have always connected it to the occult. What people are missing out on, though, are the amazing panoramas you get and the people you meet (they are genuinely some of the nicest). The best way to experience all of this should be from the comfort of a tent, which Glamping Siquijor gives you in spades. Beachfront huts are the way to go here.

Starts at Php1,500 per night for two
glampingphilippines.com
FB: @Philippines.Glamping
IG: @glamping_siquijor

The Glamp Zambales

Zambales is one of those lesser-known spots for a relaxing time because of its history (Mt. Pinatubo eruption, 1991). It feels more like a pitstop on your way up North, but take a few minutes to dig through the web and you’ll see it has more to offer: stunning beaches, activities for adventure travelers, and The Glamp Zambales.

It’s a beautiful spot in the little-known town of Liwliwa with access to the beach, picturesque tents, and an equally picturesque sunset.

Starts at Php5,200++ for two with breakfast
FB:
@theglampzambales
IG: @theglampzambales

Did we miss any spots you were looking into? Hit us up in the comments and we might just do a part 2!

Glamp in style at Nacpan Beach Glamping, El Nido

Glamp in style at Nacpan Beach Glamping, El Nido

Top tier camping facility Nacpan Beach Glamping opened its doors in one of El Nido’s quieter areas, Nacpan, about an hour’s ride from the main town—a thumbs up to those wanting to camp but with creature comforts at bay.

Isn’t it grand?

In a one-hectare land now sits nine luxe tents surrounded by palm trees and shrubbery, mere steps away from what The Daily Telegraph has described as one of the “29 dreamiest beaches on Earth.” Nine more tents are set to open in October.

Here’s how it looks from the outside.

The tents made from canvas with heavy-duty cotton built to withstand the El Nido weather, come with a zipped mesh and PVC windows, and view of either the beach or the mountains. The interiors are set in earthen tones furnished with queen bed set on top of a native-style sisal rug, has thoughtful touches like a Japanese pendant light, and airconditioning, which you don’t really need if you’re breathing pristine sea breeze.

This is how it looks inside.

Food at Nacpan Beach Glamping is part of the stay you pay for and you get it from the Nacpan Sunmai Restaurant located right beside the campsite. It features an international menu with local favorites like sisig and grilled tanigue mixed with Japanese katsu, Italian pizza, and smoothie bowls. Other exciting stay inclusions guests get to experience are a one-hour sunset sail, and origami classes using coconut leaves.

Visit between December and May and you may get the chance to see turtle hatchlings being released.

The basics
Php7,500 per night for two; however, a tent can fit up to four
Nacpanbeachglamping.com
Tel: +63956 234 0162

Get there. SkyJet Airlines (skyjetairlines.com) has regular flights from San Vicente, Palawan where a van can take you to El Nido. Get off at Discover El Nido office on Amboy Street in El Nido town and hop on the Nacpan Shuttle Service.

Club Agutaya

Club Agutaya

That resort with a green heart located on the longest beach in the country.

San Vicente, about an hour’s flight from Manila onboard SkyJet Airlines, is that new destination we are all excited about and the reason is simple: it’s where you can experience Palawan in its glorious pristine state, devoid of crowds, commercial structures, noise pollution and all the nuisances you’d want out of your holiday.

You’ve got a portion of Long Beach to yourself at Club Agutaya.

But there’s an even better way to enjoy the sleepy Palawan town best—it’s through a stay at Club Agutaya, a sprawling resort themed local, with heavenly beds, a grand hallway that immediately defines that the place is everything and anything but cheap, and its most alluring feature—a seat on Long Beach’s throne. Long Beach is San Vicente’s over 14km-long shoreline spanning three barangays, and possibly more—the longest in the country.

Club Agutaya is the only one of its kind in town. It’s the only top-end property with five-star comforts, and does exceptionally well in keeping up with their green and sustainable thrust. 

Your welcoming committee.

Check-in in here is a walk in the park. With it, you are given lemongrass drink, homemade insect repellant, and WiFi access that puts to shame your data connectivity. 

The grand lobby

In and around are things eco and local—plants, local weavings, watermelon-infused water so you can hydrate without hurting the environment. The hall-like reception made use of tree trunks in lieu of cement clad posts. Love the sense of airiness too, with the outside melding with the inside. 

Solihiya Bar is where you go for a night cap

The main structure where the hotel rooms are connects to Solihiya Bar, which has a drink menu centered around a tropical vibe. There are your usual standard liquors and beer, but you come here for the concoctions whipped by the vice president for operations Dixie Marinas made using local ingredients. Best in the bunch is the Palawan Mule, Solihiyas’ take on the classic Moscow mule using ginger syrup, calamansi, lemongrass, vodka and soda. It’s light, sweet, very aromatic. The San Vicente Gin Tonic, a fruity twist to the classic gin and tonic, is another favorite. 

The beach is perfect for moments like this.

Further out on to a pathway is a gazebo, then the pool, and then breathtaking Long Beach—a sandy shoreline with islets in the distance, no crowds except for the hotel guests, and no neighboring resorts to share it with. Its length’s so immense it looks like it won’t end. There are huts and beach beds but my most memorable time here was when I lounged at the hammock under the Talisay tree, watching a golden sunset. 

Cafe Lilly’s patio. Arguably the best spot to eat at—other than the beach.

Cafe Lilly deserves a toast. It’s Club Agutaya’s beautiful native-designed restaurant with wooden furniture, glass top tables, folding chairs, and paintings of flowers hung on the wall, run by Ms. Chona, the resort’s owner and resident chef. I can’t help but feel the strong feminine touch reflected in the restaurant. 

Dig into this sumptuous seafood boodle fight.

Equally beautiful is the menu, a mix of local and international favorites. The dishes are whipped using local produce and ingredients grown at the resort’s own garden.

Fresh catch of the day.

We rave about the San Vicente Chicken, chicken barbecue made from local herbs and spices; and the beef wagyu curry—melt-in-your-mouth beef in a mildly spicy savory sauce. But you’re in seafood country so it’s rightful you get the Fresh catch of the day, a choice between lapu lapu (grouper), red snapper, or tanigue, which you can have steamed, pan-grilled, or cooked sinigang style. Mind that their sinigang is among the best you’d ever taste. For something different, a romantic dinner for two by the beach, or a boodle-fight style meal if you’re a group, can be arranged.

Wow factors

There’s also a massive pool with a bar.

The resort’s hard-to-beat eco features and ways, the hammock by Long Beach, the glorious Cafe Lilly, my villa. Another memorable feat is Kubo Spa located close to the beach where you can get a good combination massage and forget about how the world exists for a while.

The nest

The massive King Villa

I stayed in the King villa, which looks out to the garden and into the sea and it’s as romantic as it can be. Lots of local touches, as expected. Its star attraction is its four-poster bed with mosquito netting dramatically draped on it. Lighting is warm; there’s a mini sala, a coffee and tea making facility, and a huge bathroom with everything you need in it. I remember enjoying a shower after a long day out in the sea, and using all-natural toiletries including a piece of loofa and coconut soap in a coconut husk.

The basics
From Php5,000 (about USD96) per room per night
Long Beach, Brgy. San Isidro, San Vicente, Palawan
Tel: +63917 898 6566
Clubagutaya.net

Skyjet Airlines flies to San Vicente four times weekly.

Photos: Harvey Tapan

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