Local Philippines Travel Stories

Vigan For A Day

By Veronica Leynes Sight-seeing in Vigan for a day? It seems impossible but my friends and I managed to do it. We were in a rush to go around Northern Philippines because my friend from Canada only has 2 weeks to stay in Metro Manila and travel to provinces in our must-see list. We took a non-airconditioned bus from Pagudpod to Vigan, which took approximately an hour and a half. After seating on a bumpy ride for that long-our behinds feeling like it has hardened into steel-we finally checked in at Cordillera Inn, which was an old mansion turned into an inn, at around 8PM. Cordillera Inn is conveniently situated at Calle Crisologo. The entire place felt homey because its wooden furniture reminded me of how houses used to look like in the past. Plus, the native sculptures and trinkets, intricate and mismatched ornaments as well as oil and stained glass paintings that cover every possible nook and cranny gave it a distinct look. After seeing our room and dumping our luggage on the floor, we explored Calle Crisologo to find out if there was still any open restaurants. Walking on the cobbled streets of Calle Crisologo-declared as a UNESCO heritage site- and passing by abandoned and some still lived in Spanish houses that are centuries old; potted plants and kalesa-like chairs lining the sides of the street; antic lamp posts that casted a shadow on the walls and eerily lit the street, I found myself wondering about how life might have been like during those times when life moved at a much slower pace and tradition defined and was embedded within each person’s being. Once our hunger was satisfied, we decided to call it a night and wake up early the next day to explore more of the town. After breakfast, one of the staff suggested that we go around town riding in a kalesa. Feeling like a tourist, none of us objected to the idea. And so we negotiated to pay P70.00 for renting the kalesa for four hours. While hoisting myself up the kalesa, I noticed that almost every horse had built-in blinders and some of the horses along the street had tails that were braided. Pushing the thought aside, the next thing I heard was the steady rhythm of the horses’ hooves moving forward to take us to our destination. The first stop was the Vigan Bell Tower, just a few steps away from the very old Vigan Church. The Vigan Bell Tower was a sight to behold with its imposing size and ancient looking red-brick structure, which somewhat indicates that it has survived the test of time. The Vigan Bell Tower was surrounded by grass and a few trees; numerous cobbled steps led up to the front entrance that could only be opened by the gatekeeper. Inside the Vigan Bell Tower, narrow, cemented, winding steps took you all the way up to the tower. Upon reaching the top, I realized that wooden slates were haphazardly placed to support visitors’ every move. At the top of the bell tower, a blast of cool air rushed all over my body. The view from the top consisted of many white tombstones, amidst lush greenery, that faced two, large mountains. While the cameras flashed to capture goofy or meditative poses, I wished that more effort was exerted in preserving the interior of the Bell Tower. The next attraction was Pagburnayan to see hand-made potteries. We were fortunate enough that one of the potters showed us how to make one. We were in awe at how fast his hands moved and transformed the mud clay. He informed us that he has been doing this for ten years. This information made us realize that our inexperienced hands would instantly destroy the mud clay if ever we attempted this on our own. We also visited the Crisologo Museum to see what artifacts they have in store. The museum was a mansion of former Congressman Floro Crisologo. They have many family heirlooms and materials on display. After quickly going from one room to the next, our stomachs started to growl desperately urging us to eat immediately. We wandered aimlessly trying to figure out the location of Irene’s Empanada, which we were told is the best empanada in town. After three people pointed the direction with their index fingers, we finally found the place. Irene’s Empanada is like any karenderia lined with white plastic chairs and tables covered with red and white checkered table cloths. At the entrance, there is a young lady in front of a stove ready to fry the empanadas stored inside a glass encasement. The empanadas are quite large so two pieces is enough to fill up a person. We ended up taking the empanadas back to our homey inn. After devouring the empanadas and giddily chatting about our day, we realized that we had to start packing soon so that we could catch a bus that would take us to Laoag, where we would embark for our flight back to Manila. Grudgingly, we stood up and scrambled to get our last minute shopping done. Aside from bagnet, Vigan is also famous for its basi wine made from sugarcane. Luckily for us, Calle Crisologo contains many souvenir shops that sell such item. Each of us rushed from one shop to the next, our eyes quickly scoping laid out articles, grabbing what suited our needs and haggling at the same time. While heading back to the Cordillera Inn after our shopping frenzy, it dawned on me that the reason I find Vigan appealing is that it is a town that is proud of its heritage and aims to preserve it despite being in an era where modernization and technology takes precedence over everything else. This thought is comforting knowing that years from now, when I have my own family, there will still be a place where the past is still very much a part of the present everyday reality of its inhabitants. -------------------------- Local Philippines would like to thank Ms. Veronica Leynes for sharing her travel story. Veronica used to work for Eversun Software as a writer.

Weekend Adventure in Baguio City

The City of Baguio, 'The Summer Capital of the Philippines,' is definitely a favorite destination of many adventurers. It's a perfect place to unwind, get some fresh air and escape the busy life in Manila. Baguio City is an inviting spot because it has a temperature ranging from 15 to 23 degrees Celsius, much lower compared to other parts of the country. Local and foreign adventurers flock in the city to feel the breezing ambiance while sightseeing or simply walking around. The place also boasts of amazing tourists attractions guaranteed to rejuvenate your congested mind and body.

Saturday 4am Baguio City is approximately 5-6 hours travel from Manila. If by private transport, you can get into the place within 4-5 hours especially if you travel at night since it's faster due to less traffic. Bus terminals are located in Cubao, EDSA and Pasay City if you decide to commute. Buses go directly to Baguio City so there's nothing for you to worry about. If you'll drive, take the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) down to Exit 85. Then get to Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) until you reach MacArthur Highway. Just pass through the towns of Tarlac and Pangasinan all the way to Rosario, La Union. Once in Rosario, drive now to Kennon Road or take the new entrance in Marcos Highway to reach Baguio City. Saturday 10am-12nn Session Road is the commercial center of Baguio City. It's where department stores, bazaars, boutiques, old movie theaters, hotels, banks, offices, cafes and restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores are situated. Session Road is a busy spot but a good place to leisurely walk around. This is a place to see people in action because local residents, students and tourists come together to shop, meet up, eat and work. Session Road will make you forget the 5-6 hour travel spent once you see the active life of the city. Saturday 12nn-4pm Relax and enjoy in various recreational activities that only Burnham Park offers. Burnham Park is the heart of Baguio City and a perfect site for bonding moments. Experience the man-made lake with rowboats for hire at Burnham Lagoon. Young kids will surely have a great time playing at Children's Playground, the Skating Rink, Picnic Grove and the Rose Garden. You can also witness some Baguio City's amazing collection of flowers at Orchidarium, Igorot Garden, Melvin Jones Grandstand and the Athletic Bowl. Other spots such as Japanese Peace Tower, Pine Trees of the World and Sunshine Park are also situated in Burnham Park so your whole afternoon will surely be filled with fun and excitement. Saturday 4pm-5pm Visit Baguio Cathedral to witness its one of a kind architectural design. This majestic church is located on top hill portion near Session Road. Baguio Cathedral is one of the most favorite landmarks among tourists due to its awesome architectural structure making it unique from other churches in the Philippines. The church is erected perfectly atop Mount Mary Hill giving you a panoramic view of the city's captivating landscape. Saturday 6pm onwards Rest at Camp John Hay after a tedious day tour around the city. Camp John Hay is a world-class resort and a famous tourist attraction. The place showcases cozy hotels, a convention center, a shopping center and an internationally designed golf course. Camp John Hay is the best place to stay at night with its pine tree-lined roads, beautiful landscaping, quaint cottages and wide open spaces for relaxation. Sunday 6am-9am Spend your Sunday morning in the picturesque scene of Mines View Park. Located at the extreme northeast side of Baguio City, Mines View Park will give you a fascinating view of the entire Cordillera Mountains and Benguet's gold and copper mine sites. Souvenir shops and silver works stores are also located around the park. If you want to bring home some native artifacts, visit Rimando because it offers an exquisite artifacts. You can also get a chance to be a native for a while by dressing in full Cordillera regalia wearing bahag, shield, vests and headdresses plus spear for men and tapis for the ladies. Good Shepherd Convent can also be found in Mines View Park. It is the best store to buy pasalubong for your love ones such as jam, brittle and other goodies. Sunday 9am-12nn Feast your eyes to the wonders of Baguio Botanical Garden located 1 kilometer away from Session Road.. This place is best for relaxation because of its tranquil and serene atmosphere. Baguio Botanical Garden is surrounded with towering pine trees giving tourists breathing space from Baguio City's busy spots. It also has greenhouses and nurseries of vast species of flora and fauna for nature lovers. It is also a favorite place for tribal gatherings and rituals. Open-air concerts and other community activities are also held in this peaceful location. Sunday 1pm-5pm Spend the rest of your Sunday afternoon to see Balatoc Mines and Crosby Park. Balatoc Mines is a mining town of Itogon, Benguet located 30 minutes away from Baguio City. It's a famous tourists spot for families and a favorite destination for school and office outings. The place is a living proof that Baguio City has been once a famous mining site during the early years. Visitors can enjoy being a miner of the day because the place provides an exciting 2-hour package tour of the entire place. Crosby Park is also located in Balatoc, Itogon. It features a 6-hectare forest stretch and refreshing view of mountains, deep valleys and rolling slopes. This site is perfect for hiking, camping, meditation, photography, picnics, sports exercises, walking, and other recreational activities. Crosby Park is also a famous camp site among adventurers. It also has an obstacle course inside. Surely, your night will be full of amazing moments with great outdoor offerings of the place.

Legazpi Seat Sale!

Sale Period: Up to Jan. 23, 2011 or until seats last
Travel Period: Feb. 1 - Mar. 31, 2011

The Weird & The Wonderful of Bohol

The province of Bohol has always held much fascination for me. An island located in central Visayas, it has always been in my consciousness, thanks to schoolbooks that touted that geographical oddity called the Chocolate Hills as the eighth wonder of the world; and, more recently, the promotion and preservation of the province's cultural heritage by the likes of its native son, award-winning actor Cesar Montano, and Manila socialite and arts-and-culture advocate Bea Zobel Jr being lauded by the media. Well, after years of seeing the Chocolate Hills only in pictures and online (it's been nominated as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature), I thought it was about time I saw this famous tourist landmark for myself.

It was a beautiful sunny day when my group and I landed in Tagbilaran City, Bohol's capital and most progressive municipality-it was the perfect weather to explore the island by car. Just our luck, Honda was kind enough to allow us to road test their compact sedan, the City 1.5E. It seemed like the ideal car to handle the twisty roads on the way to the Chocolate Hills, one that the locals nicknamed "bituka ng manok" (chicken's intestine). So we hit the ground running and headed directly to our first stop.

The Clarin Ancestral HouseAbout 18 kilometers from the airport is the town of Laoy, where you'll find the Clarin Ancestral House. Once home to Bohol's former governor, Don Aniceto Velez Clarin, the house now stands as a museum boasting the family's collection of furniture, paintings (even an original Amorsolo and Juan Luna), and home items that date back to the 1840s. Our warm and eager tour guide regaled us with fascinating facts about the house and its former inhabitants.

Being the most visited ancestral home in the province, it's easy to feel like you've been transported back in time the moment you step inside. The design of the house is typical of the Philippines' colonial past, with two floors of antiquity that give you a glimpse of what life might have been like during those times.

An old TV set here, a wooden rocking chair there-my lola would love it here… if she were still alive. The ground floor-which they used to call the silong-was converted into a small, charming restaurant called Café Olegario, where they serve native Boholano dishes, as well as Filipino food staples. We decided to stay and have a light breakfast of tsokolate and their version of puto maya, which is made with whole glutinous rice.

The tarsier has the largest pair of eyes among land mammals.After spending a couple of hours in a “time machine," we were now on our way to a have a chance encounter with Bohol's own version of the bushbaby-the tarsier. Small and docile, this nocturnal creature's body is only four to six inches long with a 10.5-inch tail. Although its claim to be the world's smallest primate is disputed in the scientific community, the tarsier undeniably has the largest pair of eyes (each one as big as its brain!) among all land mammals.

Cute as the tarsiers may be, it is heartbreaking to learn the story of this endangered species. Years of logging and slash-and-burn agriculture have significantly reduced Bohol's forest cover, and with the loss of their natural habitat came the critical decline of the tarsier population. Apparently, tarsiers get stressed when touched and are said to bang their sensitive heads against a hard surface until they die, so please, if you encounter one, try not to harass these tiny helpless animals.

The best place to see the tarsiers is in an actual natural reserve. The Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella, where the primates are protected and allowed to live as normally as possible. There is a small thick forest within the 7.4-hectare property that is surrounded by fences and has narrow trails where visitors can walk through to try and spot the cuddly creatures. Our guide told us that tarsiers are territorial and tend to stay within the same vicinity, so it was easy for him to point out where they were. But, of course, the instructions were clear: no harassing, no feeding, no touching, no loud noises, no use of camera flash, and, since they are nocturnal, no disturbing. We were lucky enough to spot four of them hanging on to branches for dear life, including a two-month-old baby-so cute and tiny, I wanted to stuff it into my pocket and take it home!

Cruising down the Loboc River

It was time for lunch, and when in Bohol, there's no better way to have it than while sailing down the Loboc River. Among Bohol's four arteries, the Loboc River is the most popular because of the hour-long cruise offered by several companies. For a reasonable P300, you can board a floating restaurant and enjoy a buffet of native dishes, like seaweed salad, organic fried chicken, and assorted kakanins. As we slowly sailed down the river while munching on the day's fresh catch, I found the scenery to be just as appetizing: the lush trees on the riverbanks, the ripples made by our raft on the emerald waters… I think it's true what they say, that green is the most relaxing color. The experience was made even better by mister guitar man, who serenaded us all throughout the ride. And to top it all off, at the end of the route, a group of townsfolk performed for us, from classic folk ditties to current novelty songs. After all, Loboc is the music capital of Bohol, having produced the Loboc Children's Choir, which has won many international competitions, once even besting the world-renowned Vienna Boys' Choir.

Once we set foot on dry land, we wasted no time driving back to Tagbilaran City to visit one of the oldest churches in the country. The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, more popularly known as Baclayon Church, is considered to be one of the best-preserved Jesuit-built churches in the region. One fascinating fact about this church is that it's built from blocks of coral stones with just egg whites used to hold them all together-now that's truly a wonder of ancient architecture and engineering! Within the church compound is a small convent that houses a museum, which boasts a collection of religious artifacts and relics dating back to the 16th century.

Our guide pointed to one of the huge pillars on the side of the church-etched on it was the distinct image of Padre Pio, the result of a natural phenomenon. The outline of his face began to appear last year and since then, many devotees have made the pilgrimage to Baclayon Church just to see it. Just a few minutes away is another historical landmark we learned in school: the Blood Compact Site. Although the monument is quite humble in size and appearance, it is one of the most visited in the country due to its historical importance as it commemorates the first international treaty Filipinos as a people took part of. The blood compact, performed in 1565 between Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna, sealed the friendship between the two races.

The view from Amorita Resort

As the day's history lesson ended, it was time for a little relaxation at Amorita Resort, which is perched on a cliff on the eastern end of Alona Beach in Panglao Island. As soon as we checked in, we were greeted not only by the warm and friendly staff, but also by a breathtaking view of the white-sand beach and the calm turquoise waters of the Bohol Sea. There was no better way to end our educational yet fun-filled day.

Our second day started with a hearty breakfast. It was time once again to get into our Honda sedan and explore, and today we were off to visit the highlight of any trip to Bohol-the world-famous Chocolate Hills. But, of course, along the way, we city slickers could not help ourselves, getting out of the car every so often for photo opps at random seaside roads and rice fields-and one of the most stunning was the manmade mahogany forest, located along the towns of Loboc and Bilar.

Back in the 50s, Bohol's then-governor planted symmetrical rows of mahogany trees a few feet apart on the side of the hills in order to prevent soil erosion that could cause flooding and landslides during typhoons. The forest occupies 857.4 hectares and has a two-kilometer stretch of road going through it. Today, the tall mahogany trees provide a shady canopy over the highway, offering road trippers like us a pleasant driving experience. We couldn't help but roll down our windows and be refreshed and energized by the cool air hitting our faces as we drove through this lush rainforest.

After a couple of hours, I began to spot huge mounds in the middle of rice fields to the left and right side of the road. Little did I know this was the beginning of Bohol's most famous attraction, the Chocolate Hills. After parking the car, we walked 214 steps to the top of one of the hills converted into a viewing deck. Up there, with an unobstructed view of this unique landscape, I must admit it took my breath away. I couldn't believe it took me years to finally see these hills “in the flesh"-pictures certainly do not do them justice.

Chocolate Hills, one of the new 7 wonders of the world.

Spread throughout an area of more than 50 square kilometers, the Chocolate Hills is an unusual geological formation of nearly two thousand limestone mounds, all almost of similar shape and symmetry. The domes are covered in grass and low trees, but during the summer they turn brown, resembling Hershey's Kisses; hence the name.

Each and every mound, no matter how tall or small, is protected by law and cannot touched or be built on. There is also a proposal to declare it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Like all journeys, unfortunately, this too had to end. As we drove back to where we started, I could not help but look back and think about this whole experience. The tarsiers, the heritage home, the old church, the warm welcome in Loboc River, and the grandeur of a thousand hills-they all truly made an impression on me. On the plane, flying back to Manila, I sat back, took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and smiled. I was glad my schoolbooks were right: The Chocolate Hills-maybe even the whole of Bohol-is indeed a wonder of the world.


Bohol is an island province located in the Central Visayas Region, consisting of the main Bohol Island and 75 minor surrounding islands. It is surrounded by Cebu to the northwest, by Leyte to the northeast, and by the Mindanao Sea to the south. Aside from being a popular tourist destination, Bohol also plays an important role in Philippine history-it was the site of the famous blood compact of friendship between Spanish explorer Miguel López de Legazpi and Bohol chief Datu Sikatuna.


Phone area code: 38
Commonly spoken languages: Boholano, Cebuano, Filipino, English
Travel time from Manila: An hour and 15 minutes by plane; 25 hours by ship.


• Casual clothing (shorts, T-shirts, flip-flops)
• Swimwear
• Snorkeling/diving gear
• Cash (ATMs may not be readily available)


Go on an extreme/eco/educational adventure tour (or EAT) Danao Adventure Park offers activities for the thrill-seeking tourist: ziplining, river tubing, spelunking, and the plunge (where you swing like a pendulum in a canyon).

Engage in water activities like swimming, snorkeling, and diving Bohol is blessed with many beautiful beaches, rich coral reefs, and undiscovered waterfalls known only to locals.

Take a dolphin- and whale-watching tour Dolphin- and whale-hunting used to be traditional forms of livelihood in the province, but the government ban has made former hunters switch to this new source of revenue.


Amorita Resort is nestled atop a seaside cliff on Alona Beach in Panglao Island. Its location offers stunning views of Bohol Sea, quiet and privacy from the resort-dotted beach, and luxurious amenities.

***** Source: The Weird & The Wonderful of Bohol, from TRAVELIFE MAGAZINE, the Philippines' leading travel & lifestyle publication.