Eating At The Wok Cafe

Posted by : foongpc | Friday, April 29, 2011 | Published in


It was my first time eating at The Wok Cafe located at The Strand in Kota Damansara.

Many bloggers had blogged about this place which is famous for its Penang Nyonya food, so I decided to give it a try one evening with my family members.

We started with the roast pork garlic.

Quite nice but I thought it was too oily and fatty which of course, a lot of people like.

Next we had sambal petai prawn.

Honestly, I could hardly find the petai or the prawns. This dish was not what I expected and it was a disappointment.

We also had kerabu mango.

I don't know but I did not like this kerabu mango. Not my type of kerabu mango.

OK, I forgot what this dish is called but I think it is a tofu (beancurd) dish.

I normally like tofu but not this! Did I order all the wrong dishes? Looked like I did not enjoy my dinner at The Wok Cafe!

We thought maybe the desserts would be better so we ordered a few.

I had the Penang ice kacang.

Looks good right? But it did not taste good. I mean, it was just average. I have had better ais kacang elsewhere!

I thought this mango cendol looks quite interesting.

But alas, the mango did not go very well with the cendol and gula Melaka.

The normal cendol was actually better but it was nothing fantastic.

I would say the food here was pretty average. But the place is quite packed during lunch and dinner. So either something is wrong with me or I ordered all the wrong dishes!!

The interior of the restaurant was quite charming with wooden chairs and marble tables and Nyonya-styled antiques. But I was just too lazy to take any photos! We sat at the corridor and I took this picture.

If you would like to give The Wok Cafe a try, here is the address.

26, Jalan PJU 5/21
The Strand
Kota Damansara
Petaling Jaya


The Cheapest Way To Visit Taal Volcano

Posted by : foongpc | Monday, April 25, 2011 | Published in


Where in the world can you find a volcano within a lake within a volcano? That's Taal Volcano in Batangas, Luzon Island, Philippines. And today, I would like to share with you the cheapest way to visit this Taal Volcano.

If any readers were to find an even cheaper way, please let me know and I shall change the title of this post to "One Of The Cheapest Ways To Visit Taal Volcano" Smiley

Now I always like a little adventure during my travels. I am never contented with just shopping and eating, or lazing away at the beach. That's just not me. So during my 6-day trip to Manila last January, I decided to visit Taal Volcano and trek to its crater!

Located about 70km south of Metro Manila in the middle of a lake called Taal Lake, Taal Volcano is the smallest active volcano in the world.

Ironically, Taal Volcano was once one of the largest volcanoes in the world! How did it go from one of the largest to the smallest? Well, you will soon find that out!

And here's something very interesting - at Taal Volcano, you can find an island within a lake on an island within a lake on an island. Whoa! Confused? Don't worry. By the end of this post, you will have your confusion cleared up, so keep reading : )

Image courtesy of Phivolcs

I guess I am pretty lucky to have gone there because just a week ago, I heard news that Taal Volcano is currently off-limits to the public and tourists. There were increasing signs of volcanic activity so much so that the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) had raised the alert level from Level 1 to 2.

There are altogether 5 Volcano Alert Levels. To know more, read HERE

Click image below to read the latest report on the status of Taal Volcano as of 22nd April 2011.

It would have been nice to see a volcano erupting live in front of my eyes but I guess that would be too high a risk for me to take. Besides, visiting the volcano while it was given Alert 1 status was exciting enough for me! Haha.

There was only ONE problem visiting Taal Volcano - no one could tell me how to get there by myself! The hotel where I stayed recommended that I follow their tour. The cost of their day-tour package to Taal Volcano was 6,000 peso (RM418) which was really too expensive!

Luckily for me, I had my Manila blogger friend Ishmael Ahab to rely on. We communicated via Twitter (thank God for Twitter!) and text messaging. He gave me a contact number, which was the number of Taal Lake Yacht Club.

I called the number and a person named Joel gave me a clear step-by-step instructions on how to get to Taal Lake Yacht Club. I will share with you the instructions at the end of this post, but I can tell you that I was pretty shocked by how difficult it was to get there.

Believe it or not, I had to sit on 2 different buses, 2 different pedicabs and a Jeepney to reach Taal Lake Yacht Club! But if you are anything as adventurous as me, you will love it!

By the way, at every mode of transportation, there will be people out to cheat you! So be careful. Luckily Joel had informed me the exact price to pay for each mode of transportation that I would be taking so that prevented me from being cheated.

But really, what the heck is the Philippines Tourism Board doing? Do they not consider Taal Volcano as a major tourist attraction? I really think they should do something so that going to Taal Volcano is less of a hassle! Besides, why do I need to ask around on how to get to any major tourist attractions around Manila? Information should be made readily available! Please take the cue from the tourism industry in countries like Thailand or Hong Kong!

Anyway, to cut the long story short, I reached the Taal Lake Yacht Club safely after about 3 hours of travel from my hotel in Manila.

This is a club for sailing enthusiasts. The Lonely Planet called it "The Sailing Mecca Of The Philippines". It also arranges activities like rowing and kayaking. And of course, it provides tour guides to Taal Volcano.

After my pedicab driver in Talisay dropped me at the entrance of the Taal Lake Yacht Club, I walked down and reached this service counter where I was attended to by a friendly lady called Sonia.

Taal Volcano is actually an island in the middle of Taal Lake. To get there, I had to take a boat ride from The Taal Lake Yacht Club. The price was 1,800 pesos (RM125) per boat and they allowed up to 5 passengers in a boat.

Believe me, this is a very good price because I heard some boat touts elsewhere charge higher and some of them charge per person, not per boat!

This price includes the boat ride to the Volcano Island and back, and also a free tour guide to escort you on the volcano trekking. Although you are not expected to pay the tour guide, it is good courtesy to give him a tip if he did a good job.

I asked for a competent, English-speaking guide. Sonia said that was not a problem and after waiting for about 10 minutes, she introduced me my tour guide, Jason.

The traditional boat or banca was ready to depart. I was asked to put on the life jacket.

I learnt that only the Taal Lake Yacht Club provides life jackets and extra safety measures for its customers. If I were to cross the lake with other bancas, not only do I have to haggle with the boat touts and probably get harassed by them, I also have no life jackets to put on.

I got onto the banca and with me was my tour guide Jason and his companion which turned out to be Joel, the person I spoke to on the phone a day earlier! As we left the dock, Sonia waved goodbye and wished me an enjoyable trip! How hospitable, these Filipinos!

I took some photos while inside the banca. Here's Jason rowing the banca. Or rather, I think he was pushing away the seaweeds or rubbish since the banca was running on engine.

As usual, I am not one to show my face since I value my privacy but a little bit of my legs won't hurt. Hurt your eyes, I mean, haha! Smiley

Now for some interesting facts. Taal Lake which surrounds Volcano Island is actually part of a much bigger volcano. That's right. In fact, Volcano Island which I was heading to, is just a small part of what was once a very massive 6,000 meter high volcano which erupted thousands of years ago forming a great depression which is now Taal Lake.

The collapse of this massive prehistoric volcano formed a huge caldera now mostly filled with the waters of Taal Lake. It is interesting to note that the famous Tagaytay highlands nearby is at the edge of Taal caldera and people now living there are in fact, living on an ancient volcano!

Now you understand why I said earlier that Taal Volcano is a volcano within a lake within a volcano? And why Taal Volcano which is the smallest active volcano in the world was once one of the largest volcanoes? Pretty amazing, huh?

The boat ride took approximately 25-30 minutes. Soon I could see Volcano Island clearly with rows of bancas docking there.

Upon arrival at the island, I was greeted by the community there and had to pay a 20 peso (RM 1.40) landing fee. This fee is meant to support the community working on the island. I did not have such a small change so Jason said he would pay first on my behalf.

Jason led me to the ticketing entrance where tourists are required to pay 50 peso (RM3.50) tourist fee. Again I did not have small change, so Jason again made the payment on my behalf.

Guess what? I forgot to pay him back later! How terrible of me right? But I did tip him generously at the end of the trip, so that sort of made up for it! Smiley

As soon as I paid the fee , I was approached by a lad pulling a horse. He offered me a ride up the volcano (and down) on the horse for 500 peso (RM35) which I declined. I thought it would be more fun to walk! Besides, I needed the exercise to take photos and it would be difficult to do that while sitting on a moving horse!

But the lad was quite insistent despite me saying NO a few times. He and his horse even followed me behind as I trekked up the volcano trail! Gosh!

This is my tour guide Jason. He led me as we hiked up the Daang Kastila trail.

Jason warned me to watch my steps carefully in case I step onto shit, or to be more exact, horses' poo!

Oh yes, the Daang Kastila trail is meant not just for humans to walk but also for horses carrying tourists up and down the volcano!

As you can see, each of the horses normally carry 2 people - the tourist in front and the horse rider (in blue shirts) at the back. Of course if you think you can ride the horse by yourself, you can do so by all means, but the horse rider would still be there, walking by your side. And some of these horse riders were barely in their teens!

At certain parts, the trail was a little narrow and I had to stop for a while to let the horses coming down pass me by.

It could get quite dusty so it would be advisable to put on a face mask, which you can buy before you climb, near the entrance at the bottom of the trail. Or if you are smart like me (haha!), get one even before you come for this volcano trip!

Now this is what you will see a lot along the trail - horses' poo! Try not to step onto one!

Halfway up the trail, I could see the view of the lake below. Those stuffs you see on the surface of the lake were apparatus for fishing. Possibly another means of earning for the locals here.

As we climbed higher, a mountain that shaped like a volcano came into view on my right side. I was wondering where the hell did that volcano came from! I thought I was already climbing a volcano! A lot of tourists had mistaken this to be Taal Volcano.

But if this is the Taal Volcano, then what was I standing on?

This cone shaped structure is actually Binintiang Malaki, one of the 47 craters found on Taal Volcano Island!

Well, you can't blame anyone for mistaking this to be Taal Volcano as it was undoubtedly the most beautiful, most photographed and most volcano-looking part of the whole Taal Volcano Island area!

In contrast, Taal Volcano's main crater where I was climbing to, is a relatively flat land just behind Binintiang Malaki, as you can see from the photo below.

Image courtesy of My Daily Reflections

Further away, behind Taal Volcano is Mount Maculot.

The photo above was taken from Tagaytay Ridge near the Province of Cavite. To know how large the original volcano was, imagine Tagaytay Ridge to be the rim of the volcano and Mount Maculot to be the opposite side of the rim!

The entire Taal Lake presently sits in the crater of the original Taal Volcano. Can you imagine the major event that took place thousands of years ago when the cone peak of this gigantic volcano burst open to form a huge crater that now contains Taal Lake and Volcano Island? Manila, which was a mere 70 km away must have felt the effects back then.

Image courtesy of Phivolcs

The map of Volcano Island above shows the main crater where I was going to via the Daang Kastilla trail. Can you see where Binintiang Malaki is?

The hike up the volcano took me about 45 minutes. It was not a very tough climb and if you are averagely fit, you would not have too much of a problem climbing it. However, if you are not fit enough, then riding a horse would be a good option.

Remember that lad who followed me with his horse in tow as I climbed the volcano? He kept asking me if I would like to ride the horse every few minutes! I had to keep turning him down.

At one point, I was catching my breath and was asking my tour guide Jason to slow down. This lad immediately saw the opportunity and asked me to ride the horse, saying that it was still a long way to climb and I would find it tough. Yeah right!

I gave a very firm NO and I guessed it must have been the final straw for him as he left me alone and went back down after that! LOL!

I noticed many Korean tourists riding horses while most Caucasian tourists preferred to walk. There were also some Japanese tourists. Jason told me that I was probably the only Malaysian that day. Should I feel proud? Smiley

As I continued to climb, I noticed a few areas where I could see steam coming out from the rocks beneath! Too bad I did not take any photos but I was feeling excited because I was really on an active volcano!

The last stretch up was a bit more tough as it was rather steep. We passed by this place where the horses were resting after the climb.

And finally, we reached the top!! Hooray!

Looking down, I saw the most beautiful crater lake ever!

OK, I know I am not a very good photographer and these photos here simply cannot do justice to the real thing. But standing there at the viewing deck, I was thrilled and awed by the magnificence of nature.

I was mesmerized by the gorgeous 2km wide and 80m deep lake!

And then I saw something. Something very unique about this volcano that made me gasp.

Somewhere in the crater lake, I saw a tiny island. Can you see it?

Let me magnify for you. Can you see it now?

That tiny island is called Vulcan Point. It is now famously known as a volcanic island within a lake on an island within a lake on an island.

Don't get it? Let me repeat it more slowly now.

Vulcan Point is a volcanic island within a lake (Crater Lake) on an island (Volcano Island) within a lake (Taal Lake) on an island (Luzon Island). Wow! Is that amazing or what?!

Jason told me that there is another trail leading all the way down to the Crater Lake where you can go for a swim! However for the past few months, no one is allowed access to the lake as the place had been put on Volcano Alert Level 1.

As I have mentioned earlier, this level had already been raised to Level 2 a few weeks ago. The Daang Kastilla trail and the surrounded area is presently off-limits to the public and tourists.

Will we see another volcano eruption coming from Taal Volcano? The volcano had recorded 33 eruptions since 1572, the most devastating happened in 1911. The latest eruption was in 1977 but it had been quiet ever since.

A clearer pic of Taal Crater Lake from this website

After taking photos of the Crater Lake, I was thirsty and ordered a buko juice (coconut juice) for myself and for my tour guide. It was very refreshing!

There were a few stalls selling drinks and food but I did not buy any apart from the buko juice.

After staying there for some time, it's time to descend the volcano with Jason leading the way again of course.

He led me back to our banca and we left Volcano Island and returned to Taal Lake Yacht Club where we bid each other good bye. Jason was kind enough to get me a pedicab to the jeepney station where I would be going to my next destination - Picnic Grove in Tagaytay!

And now as promised, here are the step-by-step instructions on how to go to Taal Lake Yacht Club from Manila City. Even though it is not safe to visit Taal Volcano at this time, perhaps the volcanic activity will simmer down and once it's restored to Alert Level 1, you may want to give it a visit! Make sure you check online on the volcano's status before planning your visit.

1. From Higer Bus Station at Buendia (near Arellano University) take a bus to Tanauan, Batangas. (Cost: 95 peso) The journey will take approx. 2 hours.

2. At Tanauan, get down from bus opposite Jollibee restaurant. Take a pedicab to Talisay Jeepney Station. (Cost: 10 peso) I paid 15 peso for this but it's OK. The difference of 5 peso is only about 30 sen in Malaysian ringgit so I did not want to waste my time bargaining!

3. At Talisay Jeepney Station, take the jeepney to Municipal Of Talisay. (Cost: 22 peso)

4. At Municipal Of Talisay, either call Joel (tel: +6399 9701 3191) from Taal Lake Yacht Club to pick you up for free OR take a pedicab to Taal Lake Yacht Club (Cost: 9 peso). I took the pedicab and the driver wanted to charge 40 peso but I managed to bargain it down to 20 peso.