Vol. IV No. 40 - Saturday October 1 - October 7, 2005
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HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

From Chiang Mai to Manila

Notice to American Citizens: No Amendments in U.S. Passports

From Chiang Mai to Manila

Gateway to the Islands of Wellness

Reinhard Hohler

While Chiang Mai is promoted as the tourism center of spa and wellness in Thailand, there is another emerging destination claiming to become the health hub of Southeast Asia, namely the Philippines with its 7,107 islands, its natural wonders and rich history. Considered the third largest English-speaking country in the world, the Philippines also offer excellent hotels, fine restaurants and modern shopping malls.

Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano of the Philippine Department of Tourism

Following an invitation of the Department of Tourism in Manila and Philippine Airlines in Bangkok, I attended the 16th Philippine Travel Mart (PTM) held at the SM Megamall in Manila on September 9-11, organized by the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA). PTM is the only trade exhibition showcasing the country’s travel products, attractions and services. The country expects some 2.5 million tourists in 2005 - a far cry from Thailand’s 12 million visitors.

There were 188 exhibitors to welcome some 79 hosted buyers and 7 media representatives. The foreign participants were separately invited to the Philippine Travel Exchange (PHITEX) held at the Crown Plaza Galleria Hotel on September 10 to conduct business under one roof with their qualified 95 Philippine sellers. Interesting to note is that the biggest delegation of buyers came from Russia closely followed by the traditional markets of Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan, as there were only a few buyers from Europe.

Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano of the Philippine Department of Tourism honored the delegates and guests with a Grand Dinner Reception at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel, where the Islands history was illustrated through a period-inspired dance performance.

It was on March 21, 1521 that the Portuguese ship captain Ferdinand Magellan, sailing under the Spanish flag, reached the Philippine archipelago in the course of his first circumnavigation around the globe. Later, in 1543, the Spanish admiral Ruy Lopez de Villalobos visited the islands, naming them “Felipinas” in honor of the Spanish Crown Prince, who became King Philip II. Thus began 333 years of Spanish colonization that makes the culture of the Philippines unique within the ASEAN region – an influence that until today is felt in the Catholic religion, music, dance, dress and cuisine. The influence of America since 1896 is only a minor one.

Attractions of Cebu include the cross of Magellan that was used to have baptized the local Queen Juana and 400 of her followers

The vast majority of Filipinos are descendants of Malay, Chinese and Muslim minorities. More than 100 ethnic groups are scattered throughout the mountainous island world. The Philippines has three main clusters of islands, namely Luzon in the north, the Visayas in the middle and Mindanao in the south. The country has 79 provinces grouped into 16 sub-regions.

During the post-forum tour to the beach and dive destinations of Bohol and Cebu, the concept of the new marketing plan was highlighted in order to make the Philippines the “Islands of Wellness.” The 12 participants of this familiarization trip inspected the Panglao Island Nature Resort in Bohol, where real paradise is found.

Tagbilaran, the capital of Bohol, is just an hour away by plane from Manila and is the starting point of a countryside bus ride to the island’s signature attraction, the 1,268 chocolate hills, which are 2 million years old and according to local folklore the tears of a giant. On the way back, you have lunch on a floating restaurant on the scenic Loboc River and encounter the tarsier, one of the smallest living primates, with its tail longer than its body. One of the oldest stone coral churches in the Philippines, the Baclayon Church, is located in Bohol.

From Bohol, it was a two hours Ocean Jet ride to Cebu in the heart of the Visayas and nearly 600 km south of Manila. It was in Cebu, where Magellan arrived in 1521, but was killed in a battle with the local chieftain Lapu-Lapu, whose memorial stands in the city of Mactan Island that bears his name. Mactan Island is linked to the mainland by two bridges and houses Shangri-La’s gorgeous Mactan Island Resort, which recently opened its “Chi” Spa Village, the first and largest spa resort of its kind in the Philippines. Our group stayed in the nearby new Hilton Cebu Resort, where GM Wolfgang Maier from Mainz, Germany gave us a hearty welcome.

One of the oldest stone coral catholic churches in the Philippines, the Baclayon Church, located in Bohol.

For many tourists, the obligatory Cebuano souvenir purchase is a hand-made guitar from the Alegre Guitars Factory. Other attractions of Cebu include the cross of Magellan that was used to have baptized the local Queen Juana and 400 of her followers as well as the Basilica del Santo Nino, where inside is the most famous religious statue in the Philippines.

Back in Manila, a sprawling metropolis, I spent the last evening in the German Club, which was founded in 1906 and still is an authentic piece of Old Europe right in the business district of Makati. I wondered how the Philippines could be marketed in China, India, Thailand and Malaysia. Certainly, there will be a future rush to its Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila as a gateway to the Islands of Wellness. The most convenient and economic connection to fly there from Chiang Mai is by ThaiAirAsia’s morning flight at 8.20 to connect to the daily 1.50 p.m. departure with Philippine Airlines in Bangkok.

There will be the next ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) to be held in Davao on the island of Mindanao during January 13-21, 2006. That is the time, when the Philippines will come right into the spotlight and offer its many tourism pearls to the world.

Mactan shrine of Lapu Lapu, the national hero of the Philippines

The chocolate hills in Bohol, a nature heritage sight.

View of the Panglao Island Nature Resort in Bohol

Floating restaurants on the scenic Loboc River

Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila as a gateway to the Islands of Wellness with 3 terminals now

Notice to American Citizens: No Amendments in U.S. Passports

Effective September 26, 2005, U.S. Passport Services will no longer amend valid U.S. passports. Customers requesting name changes, extension of validity for limited passports, or correction of a printing error will apply for replacement passports. Americans resident in northern Thailand may apply through the U.S. Consulate General Chiang Mai.

If the requested change is within one year after issuance, you must submit a U.S. Passport Re-Application Form (DS 5504), together with the passport that needs the change, the documentation required, and new passport pictures. There will be no charge for routine processing. The new passport will be ready in three weeks.

If the change is more than one year after issuance, customers must submit to the Consulate an Application for Passport By Mail (DS-82), together with the passport that needs the change, the documentation required, and new pictures. The cost includes the $55 application fee and $12 security surcharge, for a total of $67 for routine processing. (Note that if the requested data change is due to a printing error by Passport Services, there will be no charge.) The new passport will be ready in three weeks.

Those only needing to add visa pages to their passports should submit an Application for Additional Visa Pages (DS-4085). This service is free of charge and normally takes 15-30 minutes at the Consulate.

Please note that all passports except limited validity tourist passports (for emergency travel only) are processed in the United States. The above processing times cannot be expedited. In all cases (tourist, official and diplomatic passports), you will keep your current passport while you wait for the replacement passport.

These forms are currently available online at http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html. For more information on applying for a U.S. passport, forms, and other international travel information, please see travel.state.gov. See also the Consulate website at http://bangkok. usembassy.gov/consulcm/consulcm.htm.

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