Vessel Hostel (San Juan, La Union)

Beyond beds, books and beers, hostel stay is life. — no_juan_is_an_island

When I was in college, La Union has been our go-to destination if we wanted a quick weekend getaway. With its proximity to Baguio, Elyu is one outright choice. Dotted with fine, grey-black sand, and a stunning sunset during the late afternoon, the coastal town of San Juan was then but a budding surf spot.


The annual La Union Surf Break, the discovery and unveiling of more Elyu attractions (like Tanagdan Falls, Bahay na Bato, grape-picking in Bauang), and even a hit indie movie all contributed to the increasing number of people visiting the province. And in all of these, San Juan became an important hub for tourists and travelers alike. Year after year, this once quiet, the fishing town became more popular to surfers and beach campers alike. Also, a number of establishments (from resorts to restaurants and hostels) sprouted like mushroom through the years.

DSC_7309One awesome addition to this array of accommodations is a hostel built from shipping containers called VESSEL HOSTEL. So during a not so busy weekday, I got the chance to try this seemingly Instagram-worthy abode in Elyu.

Located in Urbiztondo, San Juan (which is where most of the surfing action, beach bumming, partying, eating and sleeping quarters are), this hostel created by Buji Libarnes and Nikki de la Paz, is pretty easy to find. Vessel is a 4-storey hostel all in all made up of 22 beds in dorm-type rooms. The ground level is where the front desk is. The rooms are found at the 2nd and 3rd levels. The beds are all double-deckers, each of which goes with a mini-desk, sockets for your gadgets, and a locker. Moreover, each room has an air-conditioning system and even electric fans. Each guest also is provided with a towel during his/her stay. Some rooms have a toilet and bath inside them, while those that do not have, may use the hostel’s very clean and complete bathroom.


The 3rd level is also where a mini sala is found. Nikki, the co-owner, and I had a great time sharing our travel experiences and some random stuff from surfing to hiking. It was such an inspiring conversation wherein she also shared how Vessel started, and how she and her husband have envisioned this hostel venture of theirs. (Here is a quick trivia: Both Buji and Nikki are architects. No wonder, almost every corner of Vessel Hostel is aesthetically appealing! And both of them are surfers. Now that isn’t surprising at all).

The 4th and topmost level is where one finds the roof deck that offers a lovely sea view. If one doesn’t feel like going to the seaside to watch the sundown, this part of the hostel seems a perfect spot. Also, a small kitchen and dining area is found at this level. A stay at Vessel Hostel comes with a complimentary continental breakfast. During my stay, bread (and a choice of butter or strawberry jam to go with it), boiled eggs, banana, and coffee were served. (Do note that you just get what you can eat AND do not forget to clean/ wash whatever you have used).

Whenever I am in San Juan, I spend most of my time outdoors. Either I go and practice my dwindling surfing skills, or hop from one resto to another, and eventually wait for the sunset by the shoreline (as the sundown at this side of the Philippines is really spectacular). It spent it differently during my overnight stay in San Juan. I just went out to check the surf scene quickly that gloomy afternoon, then went to eat dinner at a nearby food nook called “Tagpuan” then went back to the hostel and spent some time in bed, reading, and yes, writing. (The bed is really hard to resist as it is really comfortable you’d doze off at an instant”.


Other things you might want to know about Vessel Hostel:

  • They do have wifi. A good one I must say.
  • There are a lot of restaurants that are within walking distance from Vessel.
  • They also have shower rooms outside the hostel.
  • They have endearing staff who are always ready to help you out with your needs.
  • The bathroom has a bidet, the shower room with liquid soap/shampoo.
  • The dorm room I was staying had a mini terrace (not sure with the other rooms).
  • They sell some stuff like shirt and sando (which I’d probably buy when I come back).
  • The rate of an overnight stay is at Php980.00
  • You will be asked to give a Php500.00 deposit upon checking-in.

Vessel Hostel

Urbiztondo, Manila N Rd, San Juan, La Union. (from Manila, it is at the right side of the road).

Bookings maybe done through

You can check out their Facebook Page here.

So if you find yourself wanting to de-stress or soul-search up north, without compromising the need to stay at some place truly relaxing, make your way to La Union and aboard the Vessel Hostel. You need not bring much because when you are in La Union, #ElYuNeedIsLove… and who knows, you might end up saying #IFinallyFoundSanJuan. Cheesy? Yes! Fun? Yes, Yes!!!

Don’t be a wasted soul, be JUANderlust. Take it easy everyJuan.

The Story of a SURFvivor

Buzzy Trent (a pioneer of big wave surfing) once said, “Waves are not measured in feet and inches, they are measured in increments of fear…

I wrote this blog in my Multiply account about 8 years ago, then published it in my TravBuddy account 5 years back, and now I am finally reposting (with some updates) it here in my WordPress. This entry is about my 1st surfing experience, and how I survived it.  DSC_0359

During my childhood years, I used to have this uncanny fear of water (any bodies of water for that matter). But despite the alarm, I also had these series of dreams where I’d go SCUBA diving, snorkeling and surfing. I didn’t even know how to swim, and is really afraid of the thought of drowning but there goes that yearning to be adventurous on and under water. Weird and ironic isn’t it?

Fast-forward: Some peculiar years later, I found myself marveling at the sport’s illusory unfussiness as I paddle out to the sea and grasping at the sides of a surfboard, the sea rolling underneath my tummy like a hyperacidic stomach.


I had my first taste of riding a surf board way back 2009. La Union, a province in close proximity to my place, is home to one of the Philippines’ surf spot. So one weekend, a few of my friends and I planned on a weekend getaway before the start of another grueling semester (we study and work in a university). The more pressing questions that time were – “What to do? and Where to go?” And the thought of trying to do some surfing was one of the immediate things that came to my mind. (Yes it was yet another out-of-the blue idea of Lester)… Since we can’t afford to travel far distance just to surf because of several reasons (ie time, physical fatigue it may bring about and finances), we opted for the nearest and possibly the cheapest – SAN JUAN, LA UNION! (Claimed to be the surfing capital of the north).

During the one hour ride to SJ, I wondered how I’d fair with my 1st surfing experience. There’s no arguing that the water activity seems fun. BUT, I was quite anxious because I personally have issues on standing (moreso balancing) atop a moving object. (You now when you are born with “talipes equinovarus” or clubfoot, things like this can come as a challenge). I also had doubts about my learning curve and the ability of my lanky body to carry me against the current.

We arrived at the Se-bay Surf Central in San Juan, La Union at about 8:30 in the morning. I wasn’t sure still if I wanted to try it out or just watch my companions fall off from their boards. (Cetrin, the only lady in our group was certain she won’t be surfing. She nonchalantly said she’ll just watch us fall off from our boards. (You know friends can be really this supportive. Haha). A few more minutes of contemplating, we finally worked up the nerve to sign up for a one-hour surf lesson (Php400/hour for a surf board and an instructor). After all, this is what prompted us to get out of Baguio that weekend.


Before going into the water, our surf instructors taught us the basics like the right way to lie on the board, how to and when to paddle out, stand up, and the like. Well, theoretically speaking, I was able to learn how to surf in ten minutes or less, but knowing is half the battle. And the battle involved far greater difficulties than just learning to conquer the waves. We were asked if we were ready and we all said “yes” dishonestly. The thought of drowning of crashing into the waves and drowning started to cloud my thought. But recalling what my instructor told me, that my leash would save me in case that happens, my spirit was momentarily uplifted.

The surf instructors then led us to the sea (The West Philippine Sea and its seemingly glorious waves) and told us to get on the board so we could start fighting the current and find a nice spot to catch a wave. I did so, trying to keep my eyes focused on the horizon ahead so I wouldn’t get giddy. What I saw was enough to make me want to start paddling toward the opposite direction: wave after wave of water that looked big enough to carry me off to the sea. To experienced (and professional) surfers, I’m sure the waves that day were absolutely nothing (as in nothing!!!), but I’ve never had to swim against waves like that in my life. True, I was relatively safe because my surfboard kept me afloat (and my leg is tied with a leash), but that didn’t keep me from being gradually more frightened with every wave that hit me. I was having difficulty catching my breath, and I was so anxious I’d fall off my board and get yanked out by the undertow. (By now you realize, my readers, how cowardice have been eating me up then).


We were getting too far from the shore for my relief, so I asked my instructor if it was really that necessary to keep swimming out (I do not know how to swim FYI – okay I already mentioned that earlier). My heart sank when he said yes, but he speedily added that the nearer we are to the shore, the more unsafe it is because the waves come about too closely to each other. After what seemed like infinity, we finally stopped battling the waves and stayed at spot where “surfable” waves came less frequently.

I soon discovered that my instincts got in the way of learning to surf. And by “instincts” I mean I was just purely too afraid to let go of my surfboard. The instructor would give the surfboard a thrust when a wave came by, then tells me when to stand up. I was able to stand up, but only for a fleeting second. It was then that he must have realized that I was one of his worst (if not the worst) student ever. It certainly took a lot of effort going back to the same spot after the waves carried me closer to the shore. Meaning — I had to go paddle against the current again. I started to feel weary, especially my arms – I was too tired to paddle back properly, and I was too scared to do anything but hold on for my dear life.


surfing SJLU copy

I did make a number of attempts to plunk up and surf, but I’d either be daydreaming and hear the instructor shout “TAYO!” (STAND) too late, or I’d be arguing with myself as to whether or not I should stand up. After half an hour I finally got sick of being the only one who haven’t quite learned how to surf. (My friends Monte and Sir Mak during those times were already enjoying themselves on top of their surfboards). The next time a wave comes, I told myself, I will stop doubting myself, stop asking questions, and just stand the fuck up like I’m supposed to.

And I did it! I eventually did it! I finally got up and rode a wave! Sure, I must have looked like a total idiot, especially since my total ride was interposed by a very strident “WHOAAAAAAAAAAAA!” But as soon as I found the nerve to get up, it occurred to me that surfing itself can actually be pretty easy. The wave just picks you up and takes you for a ride, and you don’t have to do anything but stand there and try not to fall. The whole thing must have lasted maybe five seconds or so, and it was right when I thought, “Oh shit, I’m falling… I’m falling…!” that I lost my balance and landed rather awkwardly into the water.

I went back to try out again, just to make sure that I could already balance and stay on top of the board and prove Cetrin (who has been bugging me as to why I can’t stand) that my first successful balance and ride weren’t luck at all! And YES! I did it again. That is when I realized that it was just a matter of determination and concentration. “I was able to do so because I believed in myself and I wanted to make it happen”.

I was in the middle of experiencing the adrenaline rush of surfing when my instructor told me it was time. I wanted to extend my time but we had to leave now… But anyhow, I definitely would want to come back to La Union and do surfing again and be less wimpy about riding a wave.

Note: As of this writing, I have been going back to San Juan for several times now and my surfing has improved. Also, I am proud to say that I have surfed in some of the most notable surfing spots in the country like Baler in Aurora, Bagasbas in Camarines Norte, Guiuan in Eastern Samar, Cloud 9 in the world-renowned Siargao Island, and the most recent one is in Puraran, Catanduanes.


With these experiences, I am beyond proud to say that I am a SURFvivor! Don’t be a wasted soul, be ‘juan’derlust. Take it easy ebri’juan’…


Siargao (Surigao del Norte, PH)

The best surfer out there is the one having the most fun. – Phil Edwards


Siargao, a tear-drop shaped island in Mindanao, Philippines, is one of the internationally renowned surfing spots in the country. The coastline of which is marked by a succession of reefs, small points and white, sandy to powdery beaches.



Also, Siargao Island contains the largest mangrove forest reserves in Mindanao.




One of the well-known surfing waves in Siargao with a reputation for its thick, hollow-iike tubes is “Cloud 9”. This right-breaking reef wave is the site of the annual Siargao Cup, a domestic and international surfing competition sponsored by the provincial government of Surigao del Norte.



Don’t be a wasted soul, be ‘juan’derlust. Take it easy ebri’juan’…

Exquisite Baler (Aurora, PH)

Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination. – Drake

Have you watched the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now? (I wasn’t even born then, hahaha. But I did watch it on DVD)… I asked because a piece of the movie was shot in the Philippines. Some scenes were actually filmed in Baler, a second-class municipality in Aurora Province. It is one of the Philippines ‘prime surfing spot. It is host to stunning geographic formations and is situated on an immense plain at the south end of Baler Bay which is an adjacent segment of the Pacific Ocean.


The once quaint town is now one of the Philippines top destinations. Visitors flock their way to Baler to experience the sea, the sand, the sun, and of course – surfing!


 The most common way to reach Baler is by way of riding a bus. The Genesis Transport Terminal located in Cubao offers a bus directly bound for Baler. One may choose between the Joy Bus (a deluxe, non-stop bus) and the regular aircon bus.


Joy Bus: Schedule: 12MN and 4:30AM; The travel time is about 4 hrs and 30 minutes. Cost is Php690.00. Reservations may be done.

Regular Aircon Bus: Schedule: 1AM, 2AM, 4:30AM, 5:30AM, 6:30AM and 7:30AM; the travel time is around 6 hours. Cost is around Php450.00

As an alternative, one may take their buses going to Casiguran (a northern town of Aurora). Schedule: 1AM and 3AM

If and if buses plying to Baler are full, or if you want to do a day trip – you may take a bus going to Cabanatuan then ride a van/bus to Baler, Aurora. Travel time from Cubao to Cabanatuan is around 3 hours. Cost of fare is around Php190 (one-way).

The following buses are Cabanatuan bound:

  • ES Transport – Schedule: 24 hours available
  • Five Star Bus- Schedule: 24 hours available
  • Baliwag Transit – 1st trip is at 2AM


Once in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija ride a bus bound for Casiguran, Aurora that will drop by Baler: D-Liner Buses are non-air-conditioned buses.
Schedule: 2AM, 5AM and 7AM; this schedules are quite uncertain as it may be dependent on the volume of passengers.
Fare to Baler: Php180/person/one-way; Travel Time to Baler is 4 hours

Another means of transportation from Cabanatuan to Baler is riding a Van: These vans in Cabanatuan are available 24 hours. You’ll see them lined up at Cabanatuan Central Terminal. Fare: Php220/person/one-way; the travel time is around 4 hours.

Once in Baler, take a tricycle to your destination of choice/s:


Based on the Local Tourism of Aurora, these are the places one can visit together with the standard prices for the tricycle tours:

1. History Trail & Eco Strip

Price: Php500/Tricycle – halfday
Max no. of pax per tricycle: 3 pax
Places to visit: History Trail (Baler Church, Dona Aurora Aragon Quezon, Museo de Baler and Quezon Park) and Eco Strip (Ermita Hill, Diguisit Beach and Añao Islet)

*** You can visit Dicasalarin and PAGASA weather station but you have to walk up a steep hill for about 30 minutes for PAGASA weather station and another 30 minutes for Dicasalarin. You may also hop on a habal-habal(single motorcycle and pay 150 per person/way).


One may also visit other towns of Aurora that are in close proximity to Baler. This includes Dipaculao (Ampere and Dinadiawan Beaches); Maria Aurora (for its Millenium Tree); and San Luis for its waterfalls like Ditumabo and Caunayan).


2. History Trail, Eco Strip, Ditumabo Falls & Balete Tree

Price: Php800/Tricycle – wholeday
Max no. of pax per tricycle: 3 pax
Places to visit: History trail (Baler church, Dona Aurora Aragon Quezon, Museo de Baler and Quezon Park) and Eco Strip (Ermita Hill, Diguisit Beach and Añao Islet) Ditumabo falls and Balete Tree.
Note: To reach the falls, one will have to trek for about 30-45 minutes .


3.  Ampere Beach (for sunrise viewing), Dipaculao (if you wish to go to Dinadiawan Beach, it may cost higher since it is farther than Ampere) Price: Php300/Tricycle; Max no. of pax per tricycle: 3 pax


  1. Surfing in Baler: If your resort is not within Sabang (the surfing spot in Baler), you can ride a tricycle. From town center to Sabang, fare is Php 15/person. Once in Sabang, a lot of the resorts offer surf lessons. Surfing fee is usually Php350.00/hour/person. It goes with a surf instructor.



Within Sabang:

Aliya Surf & Dive Resort – 0929-758-6005

Amihan Aplaya Lodge – 0918-693-5904 / 0918-632-8566

AMCO Beach Resort – 0921-411-7671; (044) 552-4209

Bahia de Baler Garden Resort & Restaurant I – 0908-732-0672

Bahia de Baler II – 0908-732-0672

Bay’s Inn – 0918-926-6697, 0908-982-3509

Bay-Ler View Hotel – 0927-366-8735 / 0919-286-3105

Cocohut Lodge – (042) 209 4341

Costa Pacifica – 0917-844-8371

Desiree’s Lodge & Transient House – 0920-480-0978 / 0921-751-8490

DSB Lodge – 0919-235-2435

Isla Virginia Resort – 0920-755-0467

Jamjem’s – 0921-598-3588 / 0916-200-1731

Kahea’s Lodge – 0915-748-0759

Kamagong Lodge – (42) 209-4301/0920-911-1413

Little Girl’s Surfer Lodge – 0927-395-5689

Mel-Nest Lodge – 0920-632-3043

MM Lodge – 0919-537-9405

Pacific Waves – 0917-8950-276

Sea Breeze Lodge – 0908-207-5364 / 0938-539-7344

Smart Beach House – 0928-507-6551

Surfer’s Inn – 0920-591-4962

Trezzo Inn – 0929-822-1992 / 0916-255-6025

Homestay in Sabang, Baler:

Edith S. Buluag (Homestay) – 0921-751-8490 / 0920-480-0928

June B. Samano (Homestay) – 0939-500-0803

Lanie Downing (Homestay) – 0919-458-6657

Margery Paug (Homestay) – 0939-356-7025

Tony Sinsay (Homestay) – 0920-275-9116 / 0921-450-3282

Other Accommodations in Baler (Outside Sabang area):

Azbahaen Leisure Farm and Resort – 0912-208-3588 / 0918-917-7784

Carlito’s Inn – 0908-872-0816

Dela Torre Beach Resort – 0920-509-6849 / 0949-608-7053

Eltrophine Lodge – 0919-373-7575

Kristines Villa Haus – 0928-242-6286

Moreno Lodge & Restaurant – 0918-451-4124 / 0928-505-9354

RAS Garden and Restaurant – 0918-539-3870

Sanchez Inn – 0920-812-9998

XTJR Traveller’s Inn – 0919-950-8554 / 0908-712-0883/0919-879-7447

***It is best to make reservations as the number of visitors can sometimes be unpredictable specially during the summer season.


Dahican Beach: Skimboarding Capital of the Philippines

“You never really know what’s coming. A small wave, or maybe a big one. All you can really do is hope that when it comes, you can surf over it, instead of drown in its monstrosity.” – Alysha Speer

When we talk about beaches, the Philippines wouldn’t probably run out of these nature gems. The peripheries of our archipelago is peppered with tourism jewels that is in the offing to be discovered.

Dahican Beach, a crescent-shaped 7-kilometer long, white sand beach, in Mati City, Davao Oriental in Southern Mindanao, is gaining popularity for its wind-whipped waves attracting skimboarding and surfing enthusiasts. Because of this, the place has established itself as the Philippines’ skimboarding capital and has become one of Mati’s pride.

Being located on the eastern coast of Davao Oriental province, the beach faces Pacific Ocean, hence the controlling waves and high winds make it ideal for surfers and skimboarders all year round. This is also the birthplace of Amihan Boys (a group of local surfing and skimboarding team).

Dahican is not only visited for the activities it offers. It also boasts off its soft white sand and warm clear blue waters. The place even serves as a sanctuary of marine animals from dolphins, sea cows, sea turtles and even whale sharks.

It is best to stay overnight at the area. There are reasonably priced accommodations found in most of the beaches in the village. For backpackers and day tourists, you can pitch tents or spread picnic mats on the white sand or at the Amihan Skim and Surf Area. You may sook for Manong Jun who is the caretaker of the place. He only charges around 50 Pesos per night for an overnight stay. The area also offer rentals for skim boards and surf boards/ lessons for a reasonable fee.

How to get there:

From Manila: Book a flight to Davao City, which serves as the gateway to Southern Mindanao. Flight Duration is about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

From Davao City: There are several options. You may take the taxi or jeepney and be dropped off at GMALL or Victoria Plaza. There are a lot of public vans in those malls bound for Mati and are supposed to be faster than those of the buses that tend to have more stopovers. However, if you like to take the bus, head to Davao City’s Ecoland Bus Terminal. Distance from Davao to Mati is 165 Kms (travelling towards Tagum City). The trip takes approximately 2.5 to 3 hours but you get there quickest by private car.

From the Mati City:  Upon arriving in the city, you can hire a tricycle or single motorcycle to take you to Dahican.  It will take another 10-15 minutes to get to Dahican beach.

Where To Stay in Mati City:


Baywalk Hotel

Burgos Street

Tel. No. (087) 811-4060, Mati City

Casa Rosa Bed & Breakfast

Dona Rose, Madang, Mati City

Tel. No. (087) 811-4082
Chew Citi Lodge

Limente Village, Mati City
Tel. No. (087) 388-3104
D’Eterna Dormitel

Don Mariano Marcos Avenue, Mati City
Tel. No. (087) 811-1268
El Pueblo Hotel

Nazareno Street, Mati City
Tel. No. (087) 811-4677

Honey’s Inn

Matiao, Mati City
Tel. No. (087) 811-4038
Hotel Beatrice

Bonifacio Street, Mati City
Tel. No. (087) 388-4655
Lane’s Katulganan

Bonifacio Street, Mati City
Tel. No. (087) 388-4989

Marriet Bed & Breakfast

Madang, Mati City
Tel. No. (087) 388-3791
Mati City Lodge

Madang Terminal, Mati City
Tel. No. (087) 811-5155
Villa Merced Hotel

Bonifacio Street, Mati City
Tel. No. (087) 811-1476


Blue Bless

ADDRESS :Sitio Pitugo, Barangay Bobon, City of Mati
CONTACT NO. : 09186816917/09093696166

Botona Beach Resort

ADDRESS : Dahican, City of Mati
CONTACT NO. : 09185255227/09209703518/09167968054

Cinco Masao Beach Resort

ADDRESS : Brgy. Tamisan, Sitio Masao, Mati City
CONTACT NO. : 09282824304/09194755932

Golden Sunrise Resort

ADDRESS : Punta Gemilina, Badas, City of Mati
CONTACT NO. : 09219016192

Gregorio Beach Resort

ADDRESS : Tamisan, Sitio Masao, Mati City
CONTACT NO. : 388-3213/ 09197751712

Jambay Beach Resort

ADDRESS : Dita 2, Bobon, City of Mati

CONTACT NO. : 09219541272

Kanakbai Tropical Homes

ADDRESS : Brgy. Dahican, City of Mati
CONTACT NO. : 09177197209/388-3657

Kubo sa Dahican

ADDRESS : Dahican, City of Mati
CONTACT NO. : 09061552094/087 3883 574

Pacific Breexe

ADDRESS: Dahican, City of Mati
CONTACT NO.: 09088636710

Pinanpanan Beach Resort

ADDRESS : Dita 2, Bobon, City of Mati
CONTACT NO. : 09298475191/09296427393

For general info about Mati City, check out

For info about the Amihan skimboarding community, visit