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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Davao beyond durian

WHEN I talk to friends about Davao, the reaction is often, “There’s nothing to do in Davao except eat durian.” I beg to differ.

Because of family, I am in Davao city about once a year, and I’ve seen it grow with every visit. Davao has become quite busy, reminiscent of Cebu’s development in the last 10 years. Davao now has Abreeza Mall by Ayala and two SM Malls, but still has so many diverse things to see, eat and do in and around the city.

Its lush and sprawling terrain makes Davao an ideal ecotourism destination, with many attractions that show off its natural wonders. See and learn about majestic eagles at the Philippine Eagle Center. The D’Bone Museum has fossils on display, remnants of various animals from tamaraws to whales, and operates with a passion for educating the public on the protection of animals. Visit Eden Nature Park and stroll through beautiful gardens, go on a horseback ride, or try the 200-meter zip line with an unbeatable view of Davao’s landscape. To continue the adrenaline rush, visit Deca Wakeboard Park, which is open to beginner and advanced wakeboarders. Nearby Samal Island is a five-minute boat ride from the Waterfront Insular wharf, if a day at the beach is what you’re looking for.

Davao’s relaxed hang-out spots are a welcome change from noisy clubs. The city’s restaurants and cafes are always full in the evenings, with families and friends getting together over a meal, coffee or dessert. Marina Tuna is a local favorite for its extensive menu of all kinds of seafood, not just tuna, deliciously prepared every which way. Legaspi Suites is a new complex downtown, situated around the beautifully renovated Lat ancestral home built in the 1930’s. Here, foodies will enjoy tasty Filipino and Thai dishes at Tio Cococ’s. Leave room for dessert at Osvaldo’s, where owner Joel holds a certificate from Chicago’s prestigious Wilton School of Cake Decorating. Gourmet cakes are affordable at an average P150 per generous slice, and already comes with brewed coffee. Jack’s Ridge is a 30-minute drive from the city, a nice place to visit in the evenings with a view of the city lights.

This trip was graciously hosted by the Park Inn Davao, truly “brand new” as the very first property of the Park Inn by Radisson brand established in Asia Pacific. Opened in late March, it is ideally located on JP Laurel Avenue, just 10 minutes away from the airport. The hotel has a walkway connecting to SM Lanang, which has the SMX Convention Center and ‘higher end’ shops like Forever 21 and Cotton On. The Park Inn brand is “fresh, vibrant and uncomplicated” in everything from décor to food and beverage. Throughout the interiors, there are little touches like a single yellow flower in a slim glass vase and green apples sitting on red shelves. The rooms are chic with splashes of color anchored by neutrals, and seem far more spacious than their 24 square meters. Each room seems to have been thoughtfully designed for complete functionality and comfort, with a sitting area, a writing desk with separate lamp, refrigerator, cable TV, and bathrobe, slippers, and sturdy wooden hangers in the closet. If you’re the sort, like me, who hates the feeling of living out of a travel bag and wants to lay out their personal things during a hotel stay, you will appreciate the ample shelves and tabletop space provided. The bed is a luxurious cocoon, the pillows and mattress just the right firmness, and with individually operated overhead reading lamps on each side. With the blackout curtains and quiet air conditioning, an excellent night’s sleep is yours to indulge in.

The hotel restaurant, RBG, has the same spacious feel with clean, contemporary lines accented with red and gray. Service is just about perfect: prompt, professional and friendly without being smothering. The buffet breakfast offers enough choices without being overwhelming: baskets of pastries, a cold station for yogurt, cheese and salad, eggs as you like, hot food like sausages and potatoes, a fresh fruit station, and a juice station. All of the a la carte dishes at RBG are equally “fresh, vibrant and uncomplicated.” Flavors were really brought out by expert preparation and the freshness of the ingredients used, not covered up by heavy frying or too much salt or cream. The steak and seafood were fantastic. The cheesecake is the perfect balance of sweet and tart, topped with fruit preserves like mangosteen or durian (of course).

The Park Inn brings Davao’s hospitality industry to a new level, and can be a getaway on its own with the accommodations, fantastic food, well-outfitted gym and swimming pool, shopping and more dining options just a few steps away. (Joanna Cuenco)
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