I chose to write two separate posts on Sitio Remedios for a number of reasons… but perhaps the most compelling reason is that everything I had read so far about the compound/hotel was so glaringly positive, and yet my own reaction (and that of 3 others who stayed with me) to the place and our experience during our overnight stay would definitely prompt me to write a “review” at the other end of the spectrum. If you haven’t read my first post, it is here. If you are curious, you may also want to read this link, this link and this link before continuing further down this post.
My starting assumption is this. Sitio Remedios is now open to the public. It presents itself as a hotel or a bunch of homes that allow you to stay overnight for a price. This is NOT about going off to visit some friends and relatives and being billetted in their private compound. I do not know the doctor who owns the sitio and as a regular paying guest, I would expect to receive reasonable value for the price charged. At nearly PHP13,500 (with service charges) or USD300 for a two bedroom house that slept 4, I can tell you that our expectations were running high. Actually, in retrospect, the figure should really have been closer to PHP17,000 or nearly USD400 and I will explain this later. At these amounts, I would naturally expect quite a bit. In the Philippines, of the beach side resorts I have stayed at, heard of or would like to visit, Amanpulo in Palawan is perhaps up to 80% more costly, Pansukian in Siargao is up to 50% more, El Nido charges a similar price (though a smaller room), and the two top hotels we tried in Boracay (Discovery Shores and Friday’s) were both priced similarly to this hotel.
Let me start with the concept of a “Heritage Hotel or Property.” Typically, you would expect such a moniker for a property that has existed for generations, and had been passed down from ancestor to heir or in the case of churches or towns, these are places with a long sense of history. The Heritage Society of the Philippines, for example, tries to preserve notable structures or sites where they originally stood. So to me, I personally think that Sitio Remedios described as a Heritage Hotel is a bit of a stretch. I am not an architect, nor a heritage preservationist, nor a specialist in antiques…but here are my personal views anyway. What instantly bothered me about the place is that it didn’t seem at all genuine. Despite one of the links above stating that pieces of homes were “painstakingly numbered and transferred and re-assembled,” I suspect there was a whole lot of circa 2006 newly mixed cement in these homes. Some homes had more “old” wooden pieces than others, but I think there was a lot of mongrelization and mixing of house parts going on. Take our Balay na Batac, for example. It is typically rare that a truly old home would have living quarters on the first floor, with wide open windows and capiz shutters that any old burglar could enter through, so I wonder where that design came from. I felt that many of the homes, as a result of their transfer and “upgrading,” were now bizarrely unreal in proportions as far as the size of the rooms, ceilings, flooring, windows, bathrooms, etc. are concerned. I totally agree with a friend who has travelled the world and is a staunch advocate of Philippine tourism, who described Sitio Remedios as “kinda like Disneyland…I was not impressed.” There seemed to be a whole lot of creativity and imagination added on to old house parts…
I was particularly bothered by some architectural details such as the addition of ceilings that made some homes look like they were built in the 1960’s with painted plywood ceilings, doors from different sources used in the same house, windows built but with shutters that didn’t quite cover the entire window, starkly unpainted galvanized iron roofs on all the homes which cannot in any way replicate the possibly tile roofs of the original homes… Besides the structures themselves, one can best describe the furnishing and art as being eclectic, a mixture of styles, eras, sources, etc. Eclecticism can work, but it didn’t work for me in the Balay na Batac. The mixture of furniture, art, and knick-knacks reminded me more of the recent activity where I had to clean out several of my ancestors homes, rather than a carefully selected and curated collection of art and antiques. Gosh, maybe I shouldn’t have thrown out 80 boxes of “junk” and instead opened up a bed and breakfast in Cebu. Furniture from the 1950’s and earlier mixed with newer stuff, some santos, depression glass, artworks from known adults and some budding child artists, gaudy chandeliers, old gas lamps, high chairs, day beds, crochet placemats, flea market finds, etc. It can work for some, it definitely did nothing for me. But this is only my opinion, and others may surely disagree. But what follows are the details that can sink any hotel “experience.” And these, for the most part, were mostly FACTUAL, and less opinion…
The lamp askew in the first photo up top summarizes our Sitio Remedios experience. There was an incredible disregard for details, for proper housekeeping, and for making a guest’s stay truly comfortable. The lamp askew is photographed exactly as we found it. It worked, just barely, with a very low wattage bulb and a loose plug, thus making reading a book in bed impossible, without the use of other lighting options. The lamp itself was apparently a purchase from a thrift shop, for PHP2,500 or so for a pair, and the price tag was left carelessly on the front base of the piece, the little white tag in the photo. Now what possible excuse could one conjure up to explain why you would have this lamp askew on the bedside table with the price tag left on? And stickers and tags and such were a continuing theme throughout the house…
In the living room, for example, which featured two ostentatious chandeliers that I would have thought too showy for Ilocos, a closer inspection yielded a “Made in Spain” sticker on each chandelier (obviously of recent manufacture, unless the sticker was 50 years old). Large cobwebs with live spiders added to the pseudo antique feel, however.
Also in the living room, were several antiques mixed with knick-knacks like this depression era pressed blue glass, on a crochetted placemat, on an oldish hat/coat rack with drawer, with circa 1990’s painted fish-shaped ceramic piggy banks?! Nearby were old glass bottles stored under the stairs, a large santo in front of a mirror and the impressive stairs…
The kitchen on the first floor had a wide window through which plates could be washed and dried in an old fashioned sink like area. But the capiz windows only covered 70% of the window, leaving a huge area for which mosquitos and other bugs could enter the home all day and night. This wouldn’t have really been a big deal, had the view through this window not been an unfinished hollow block wall and the compressors of two split type airconditioners wedged just a foot or two outside the windows, their exhaust fans pointing into the house. As soon as you turned on the airconditioners, their hot exhaust was blown directly back into the kitchen and living room. So you could have cool bedrooms but a rather hot living room?! And why there was an abundance of used old newspapers on the bamboo kitchen ledge, I wouldn’t know.
I realize we were in Marcos country and the owner of the resort hails from Batac, the hometown of Ferdinand, but somehow leaving as tabletop reading material for guests, this particular book by Imelda Marcos struck me as being a bit odd. I am not a fan of the Marcoses, and I would also have considered a book written by or about Mike Arroyo equally uninteresting, but it may have been a bit more “delicate” or PC to add this book to a wider library of reading materials covering several regional topics and authors instead. Complementing Imelda’s Ideas (Volume II, no less, what pray tell was in Volume I?), was an old copy of Metro Magazine, which had, slipped into its pages, an old wedding invitation presumably for the Doctor, that detailed the arrangements for a wedding in Quezon province some years prior?!
At USD300 a night, I do expect a comfortable bed. Even hotels such as the Marco Polo in Cebu at USD80 a night have stunningly comfortable spring mattresses with liners and good quality sheets. At Sitio Remedios, the large bed stripped of its thin sheet yielded a nice big Uratex foam mattress. Now, I understand that most of the country may not have the luxury of a spring mattress, but a hotel of this caliber should. The bed was therefor foam like, if you know what I mean. This is similar to beds at Kapuluan and even thinner versions at Villa Angela, but the two latter hotels charged a lot less for their rooms. The sheets on this bed were adequate, but we were only supplied with one thin woven cotton blanket (a nice native touch) that wasn’t warm enough (I suppose we should have just turned the aircon up)… Oh, and the aircon was placed right beside the bed, so despite a large bedroom, the cold air from the aircon directly hit anyone sleeping on the bed. And if I can be logical, why spend PHP70,000-80,000 for the aircon in each bedroom but scrimp on the mattress?? The beds were also regally covered with flowing mosquito nets, (thankfully, as there were some mosquitos) except that the nets didn’t fully close and wide gaps meant they were totally useless, and nothing more than a design feature. And a comment on the wooden floors of the second storey of this house…they were incredibly waxy. As though Johnsons or Yco floorwax had been spread but not polished or even properly shined with a coconut husk. There are few things as yucky as coating the soles of your feet with waxy residue. Buy a commercial floor polisher and use it, or don’t bother to wax and dry.
Moving from the bedroom to the bath, I have to disclose that bathrooms, after the beds, are my second most important barometer of a fine hotel stay. In this case, the experience starts off with where to hang one’s clothes when you take them off, and here is a minor observation… If you are going to provide hangers, at least make an effort to match them in style and color. I realize that is an O.C. kind of comment, but aesthetics do matter.
Now, it’s nice that hot water was an option (to be brought to you in a pail presumably) but at USD300 a night, I would EXPECT hot and cold running water as a necessary part of the package. Both hotels we stayed at in Ilocos prior to Sitio Remedios had hot and cold running water and Villa Angela cost 1/8th the price! Who wants the hassle of deciding to bathe at 9 in the evening, only to find out you have to call for hot water (but there is no intercom) so you could conceivably cross the courtyard in your birthday suit and ask the nice staff to boil some water and 20+ minutes later get a pail with hot water,l that you can now mix with the slowly flowing cold water, to get a lukewarm tabo assisted (thoughtfully provided) bath?!
But let me get nasty with the shower arrangements. The shower head was crafted from tin and it was both rusty and provided a weak trickle of cold water. I realize it is clever to try and make things look native and original, but good grief, would it have been too hard to use store-bought fixtures in this case? After all, showers were NEVER a part of an antique ancestral home to begin with! And rusting tin fixtures just DO NOT cut it at all. Worse, the shower curtains were too short and hung just OUTSIDE the shower stall so the water would conceivably flow out onto the bathroom floor if the shower worked properly to begin with. This is just unacceptably poor design and execution. A cold shower from a rusting gripo with a tin pail and tabo is not a memorable experience, heritage or not.
Once you emerge from your shower, you reach for your towel and here I am of two minds. First, how clever that they use the native cotton woven towels. But on the other hand, it was thin, had minimal absorbency and felt like a large dish towel. I fall into the plush towel school of hotel users, so I wasn’t thrilled with this towel that barely covered by mid-section. I can imagine a large foreigner or Filipino using this towel and it would barely make it around their waist, exposing more leg (or worse) than anyone wants to be confronted with…
Oh, and yet another sticker moment. If you lower the cover of the toilet, you are greeted with this wonderful view of all the stickers on the water tank of the toilet. Now, this hotel opened nearly 6 months earlier, and NO ONE NOTICED these stickers and had them removed? Good grief. Never in my roughly 4,000 room nights in hotels around the planet have I come across this kind of lack of attention to detail.
And in a final bizarre bathing moment, the architects or designers decided to add an outdoor shower to the downstairs bedroom, with a small pocket garden. My visions of the turn of the century Ilocanos bathing au naturel with tin crafted shower head just boggled the imagination. But WORSE, the downstairs outdoor bathroom was completely and utterly VISIBLE from the upstairs balcony! Many would consider me rather liberal, but I still wouldn’t want to be soaping my nether regions while someone viewed the proceedings from a few feet above my head! And I don’t have a photo, but right next door was a tightly and highly populated lot filled with several small homes… No, no, no, this outdoor shower is a Balinese 1990’s hotel idea gone bad on its arrival in Currimao.
In addition to these photos, we had at least 3 cockroaches in the house in the span of a few hours, a large BAT that hung from the rafters on the second floor living area and anytime you turned on the lights it flapped all around the second floor and even found its way into the first floor while we were having dinner, and several live spiders and their cobweds in lights, window areas, etc. This house had no television, phones, internet, radio, etc. (which I understand worked with their austere heritage set-up). Instead, during most of the day, music was blared from the speakers in the church and regardless of whether you liked the music or not, you could hear it from all over the property. And the final photo? A goat on the property. Perhaps employed to trim the grass in a rather unkempt landscape, it instead peppered its surroundings with goat pellets…rustic but poopy.
Many of these items should never have been visible to a paying guest. All this says to me is that there is an incredible ways to go to improving this hotel’s surroundings and service levels. I do have to say that the staff we met were all very pleasant and friendly. But in my opinion there was an utter lack of management, an utter lack of attention to detail, an utter lack of understanding the concept of value for money. I would NEVER recommend that anyone visit Sitio Remedios unless things dramatically improved or the prices were cut by 50-70%. We did have a good meal cooked by their staff and I will do a separate post on that.
While checking out, I noticed a handbook for “Small Luxury Hotels of the World,” and I asked the staff why they had it… it seems they could be possibly aspiring to make it to the roster (I think Discovery Shores in Boracay has made it to that list) and I wish them well. But I would wager a pretty penny there is a lot of improvement to be had before that dream ever happens. And the last complaint? As I checked out and paid my bill and walked away with my receipt, I later (in Manila) noticed it wasn’t even an official receipt. Considering I had paid close to PHP15,000 for one night and one meal, I was frankly OUTRAGED that they did not automatically give me an official receipt. Both Villa Angela in Vigan for PHP2,000+ and Kapuluan Vista Resort in Pagudpud for PHP5,000+ gave me official receipts. What that means to me is that the cost of the stay could easily be bumped up 20-30% if you include the VAT and income tax that may not be paid as a result of this type of bookkeeping. Effectively, this was a PHP17,000 peso one-night stay if taxes were imputed.
I should mention that we did look at some of the other homes at Sitio Remedios and a few of them did seem to be better proportioned, with more appropriate or eye-pleasing furnishings and design than our Balay na Batac. They were also cheaper. But if I had to do this again, I would have driven another 45 minutes back to Vigan and stayed there for PHP2,000 and donated PHP15,000 to the Heritage Conservation Society of the Philippines…