What’s more important than having a freedom to choose a life that makes you happy?
As they say, life is too short to be sad. And I’m glad I was reminded of this by a beautiful riverside place (I recently discovered in my home province) radiating with so much positivism. Quite interestingly, it was named after an eccentric and charismatic Chinese monk Hotei (popularly known as the Laughing Buddha), who has become a significant and popular symbol in Buddhist and Shinto culture.
My search for Finca Verde (A Spanish term for green farm) led me to Happy Buddha River Retreat. Finca, located in a quiet and quaint village of Nabaoy in Malay, Aklan, is a 1.5-hectare farm and rest house of Binggoy Remedios, owner of the well-loved Spanish restaurant Dos Mestizos in Boracay. When he and his family want to get away from the noise and crowd of the island, they head to their second home that is Finca, where the way and pace of life is simpler, slower. And it is just 15 minutes away by private car or tricycle from Caticlan airport or jettyport.
Early this year, Binggoy’s nephew and resident chef of Dos Mestizos - Chef Andre Malarky (with three other partners) took over in managing the native huts of Finca and magically transformed them into Thai and Balinese-inspired romantic cottages. The farm still retained the name Finca, but the accommodations are now Happy Buddha.
Chef Andre and his staff Ate Nezel (who came all the way from Boracay pronto just to fix my room) warmly welcomed me, adding that I am their first official guest. They were very accommodating despite my last minute booking (I booked thru text on the very same day). I was flattered and felt special. Chef Andre is such a friendly, cool guy; adept in entertaining guests. It was only later on that I found out that he’s sort of a local celebrity chef pala in the island. He plans to expand the place someday and turn it into a center of culinary arts, an inspiration he got from his travel to Chiang-Mai in Northern Thailand.
Being surrounded by vast, lush and alluring greenery, with very weak and intermittent Globe signal, no TV and internet connection, the place is indeed a hidden paradise.
The Gallery is the main house and common area for the guests. It is surrounded by fern trees and Chinese bamboos, has a living room tastefully decorated with native artworks (mostly a showcase of Igorot culture), and a veranda overlooking the river. A wooden Happy Buddha is the Gallery’s centerpiece; keeping the statue according to Feng Shui brings auspicious energy, wealth, and joyful blessings, and ensures a happy home.
There are three well-crafted kubos made from bamboo and nipa, good for family and couple (or even single); each equipped with plush queen-size bed with mosquito net, modern-traditional bathroom with hot shower, private deck affording garden view, with amenities such as bathing essentials, towels and incense sticks.
The family kubo has a loft and could fit four persons comfortably. It also has a duyan for napping and relaxing.
I stayed in a smaller kubo good for two persons. It has no door but is still covered with white curtains for privacy. With its indigenous and elegant design, it actually looks like a honeymoon cottage. Since it is open, the room is airy and could get cold at night. After sundown the place become so still and quiet, all I can hear was the palpable silence except for the occasional sound made by crickets, the gentle wind rustling through the bamboos, and the lulling flow of the river.
Beside one of the kubos is the events shala and open pavilion where guests could use for yoga, meditation and other activities; and a cedar playground complete with wooden house, slide and swing and dome climber for the children.
Staying overnight comes with a free set breakfast – rice, tuna, scrambled eggs, bread toasts and hot chocolate drink. Lunch and dinner packages are also available and must be coordinated at least a day in advance. I availed a late lunch that includes a generous serving of adobong manok, ginataang sitaw, tortang talong and fresh pineapple.
I also got the chance to visit the small flourishing farm with two greenhouses of Finca. Their main produce are arugula, sili, sitaw, eggplant and herbs which are mainly used commercially by Dos Mestizo. They also grow free range chickens and ducks.
What I really find incredible at Happy Buddha is the variety of exotic flowers (red torch ginger, white lily, pinkish white cosmos, purple passion flower) they are able to grow in their meditation maze garden and around the area. These flowers attract butterflies, bugs and other insects.
Attached to the property is a shallow riverbed with crystal clear and refreshing spring water that is part of Nabaoy River. This is also the natural habitat of geese that enjoy swimming anytime of the day. Early in the morning, I pulled up a chair, found a perfect spot in the river, and soaked my legs in the slightly cold, flowing waters. It was balmy, soothing. I already hate to leave this place.
Being a person who appreciates silence and the relaxing sight and sound of nature, Happy Buddha is my kind of place. It is a nature lover’s paradise where everybody is encouraged to have a digital detox, to stop and smell the flowers, and to live Buddha’s teaching that “happiness does not depend on what you have or what you are; it solely relies on what you think”.
And when I return, I’ll be personally requesting for an arugula salad with French or vinaigrette dressing or something.
From Caticlan airport or jettyport (in Malay, Aklan), take a tricycle or habal-habal going to Happy Buddha. Tell the driver to drop you off at Finca Verde in Nabaoy. It is more or less 15-minute drive.
Happy Buddha River Retreat
Brgy. Nabaoy, Malay, Aklan
Tel. No.: 0998-5457279