MANILA, Philippines – It was a leap of faith,” Nigel Fisher admits. Although he had spent sometime in various places in Asia including Bali, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Macau, he had never been to the Philippines before. He looked up Davao City on the Internet, liked what he read about it, and decided to come. Since he assumed his post as general manager of Marco Polo Davao in 2009, he has come to know more about this third largest city in the country (next to Cebu and Manila) firsthand, and appears to be liking it even more.
Fisher shared his story over a sumptuous lunch at the newly refurbished Lotus Court, Marco Polo Davao’s premiere Cantonese restaurant.
Marco Polo Lotus Court’s signature dish, Yin Yang Garupa, served with dark and light sauce
With an estimated population of about one million, Davao City, which covers about 244,000 hectares, is considered the world’s largest city in terms of land area. You can drink water straight from the tap since it was recognized by the World Health Organization as having the second cleanest potable water in the world. It is typhoon-free and enjoys fair weather year-round. It is known as the “Fruit Basket of the Philippines.”
Davao’s tourism tagline says it all: “From Island to Highland.” Davao offers “adventure, culture and nature,” from mountain climbing (the country’s tallest peak, Mt. Apo, is located here) to whitewater rafting (a thrilling three-hour run down the winding Davao River); from the Pearl Farm to the Philippine Eagle Center; from the exquisite waling-waling orchid to the exciting Kadayawan Festival.
“I’m the perfect example of a foreigner with a family on a four-day stay, here to experience everything Davao has to offer,” Fisher remarked. His family — wife, three teenaged daughters, and 83-year-old mother, who all live in Australia — have come to visit him and have enjoyed what he calls “the local experience.”
“The funny thing is, what I consider as really good fun, for the people who live here, it’s just their ordinary everyday experience, like riding the jeepney or getting on the boat to go to Paradise Island to eat kinilaw and adobo.”
Paradise Island and Beach Resort is said to rank among the finest beaches in Davao. Located in Samal Island, it’s a 10-minute, P15 ferry ride away from the city. With nearly 800 meters of shoreline and snorkeling area, you get to enjoy the beautiful coral and different varieties of marine life. Within the resort is a mini-zoo and an aviary with peacocks and peahens, assorted lovebirds, and a cobra.
Gene Bangayan of Ronaldo’s
At the beachside buffet, we enjoyed the imbao soup (halaan or clams) as well as the kinilaw na malasugui (blue marlin). We learned that kinilaw happens to be Fisher’s most favorite local dish. Something unique was the Amik, a Muslim native dessert made from ground rice mixed with sugar, passed through a sieve and deep-fried. Chef Lou Bacharpa, who explained to us how the delicacy is made, had been with the 23-year-old resort for 21 years.
Back in 1971, only wild grass covered a logged over area at the foot of Mt. Talomo. Since then, 100,000 pine trees were planted over 80 hectares, creating a beautiful manmade mountain resort — the Eden Nature Park and Resort, a 45-minute drive from Marco Polo.
There’s a four-kilometer mountain trail, campsites and cottages, a fishing village, an orchard of native fruit trees as well as herbs, organic vegetables, and flower gardens.
One can go horseback riding around the park. There’s also a soccer field. But the sports attraction du jour is the 200-meter-long zipline, the Skyrider, which requires you to climb a tall steel tower and, strapped in a safety harness, sends you gliding over the towering pine trees below.
Eco-tourism and outdoor adventure is high in Davao’s agenda. The newest water sports destination is the Deca Wakeboard Park, which recently opened to the public. It is actually the main amenity of a mass housing development, which makes it rather unique.
Chef Lou with native dessert amik at Paradise Island and Beach Resort
It was raining when we visited the Philippine Eagle Center, about an hour’s ride from the city center. This is home to the Philippine Eagle, also known as the monkey-eating eagle. Marco Polo Davao, a staunch advocate of environmental protection and green tourism (it won the 2010 ASEAN Green Hotel Award), supports the center in its program to propagate the endangered specie.
Back in our hotel room, a warm tub bath was just what we needed after a long day of marathon sightseeing.
As guests in the newly refurbished Cabana rooms and suites on the fourth and fifth floors, we enjoyed the same benefits as the exclusive Continental Club on the top floors.
Said to be the tallest building in Mindanao, the 18-story Marco Polo Davao, located in the heart of the city, offers great views of Davao Gulf, Mt. Apo, and Samal Island. The 245-room hotel, which won the prestigious “Hotel of the Year” award in 2009 and 2007, is just beside Aldevinco, where you go for pasalubong shopping, and is right across the Ateneo de Davao main campus as well as the post office.
The Deck on the fourth floor, with its resort-like ambiance, also features a 25-meter swimming pool, a gym and fitness center as well as the Lazuli Spa, the ultimate haven for soothing comfort and deep relaxation. The Polo Bistro, also on The Deck, is Fisher’s current “work in progress” where he has taken a personal hand in planning the casual dining layout around the pool, and developing the outlet’s hearty and healthy menu. After all, his many years of experience in the hospitality industry include 12 years as F&B manager in various Hyatt properties in Australia. He can tell you exactly how the ciabatta is made — which, frankly, we could not seem to get enough of from the breadbasket. The pomelo crème brulee is also a must-try. When the Café Marco reopens its doors in July (it will be closed for refurbishing starting March 28 to June 30), its buffet offerings promise to level up to those found in such five-star hotels in Cebu and Makati. The Eagles Bar and the Lobby Lounge are the other venues in the hotel that provide just the right mood for unwinding at day’s end.
Davao, too, is a dining destination. We had more than our fill. How can we forget Ronaldo’s and its charming owner, Gene Bangayan, who also happens to be the president of the Davao Tourism Association?
CJohnny Cupcake’s Dark Chocolate Beer cupcake
Piero Lucarini of La Toscana was another pleasant host-cum-chef-cum-Italian bar and restaurant owner. As the name suggests, his menu reflects the Tuscany kitchen of his home country. The authentic taste of the Tuscany sausage with the freshly made pasta that we enjoyed continues to tease our taste buds and will linger in our memory.
There are other memorable dining places, like Claude’s where the homey dining room is set in a restored house built in 1929 for the first mayor of Davao City. Then there’s that charming boutique hotel, Legaspi Suites, where you can enjoy their signature Lychee Margarita while lounging on wrought-iron chairs and tables set under the trees. Or pick up a cupcake or two at Johnny Cupcake behind the Central Bank building. The dark chocolate cupcake with beer is certainly unique. Blugre is the homegrown coffeehouse where the very first durian coffee frappe was created and served. A slice of durian cappuccino crunch is a perfect accompaniment, with no risk of a durian overload.
What more can we say? Davao seems to have all it takes to make it to the top of your “places to go to” list.
“What we have to do is to let the local people realize and value what they have,” Fisher observed. That’s coming from someone who simply took a chance and was easily won over in no time by the city that he has come to love.
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Marco Polo Davao is located at C.M. Recto St. corner M. Roxas Ave. 8000 Davao City For reservations, call (63 82) 221-0888 or visit www.marcopolohotels.com.
Text and photos by: By Julie Cabatit-Alegre, Roy Baterbonia