Costa Pacifica Baler

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This is my nth trip to Baler, but the last was when Costa Pacifica was still being constructed. My first was at Bahia, that beautiful resort with a swimming pool at the front, with beautiful rooms, but really very few. Next thing I knew, there was another Bahia, this time a 3-level structure. Costa Pacifica, built by the same owners, is right between the 2nd Bahia and the ocean.

Today, Costa Pacifica is without equal. Nothing comes close. The resort compares with the best resort hotels I have been to.

As one enters the lobby, the resort feeling immediately sets in. Very tropical. Open space plan, with the huge pool and the ocean right in front of the guests. Tables and deck chairs surround the swimming pool.

The rooms have verandas facing the ocean. Ours was a suite on the second floor with a perfect view of the whole grounds, including the pool and the beach.

The room has 2 comfortable beds, a wardrobe with a safety deposit box, a luggage rack, color tv, a nice big bathroom with a shower and a tub. Two lavatories. Spic and span. With all the bathroom amenities one finds in 5-star hotels and resorts.  Not all rooms have living rooms, but our suite has a good-sized living room with 2 daybeds that double as sofas, another TV with a DVD player, a round breakfast table for 4, a bar counter top with 2 bar stools, a kitchen counter, with coffee and tea facilities. And a fridge stocked with mini bar items. The veranda has two deck chairs and a clothes drying rack.

 

 

the pool deck as seen from our bedroom, on the right

 

when the blinds are up – – the view from our beds

 

the living room, and the living room deck

 

 

Costa Pacifica sits on a huge property that has a long waterfront, probably the longest waterfront property in Baler. The garden has colorful chairs grouped in one section, a gazebo with swing chairs, a swimming pool bar. And nearly everyone gravitates to the shore where surfers get the ooohs and aaaahs from awed guests. I understand that Baler still offers the cheapest surfing lessons, and there are surf boards for rent. And lost of surf instructors.

Buffet breakfast is served at the restaurant called Beach Club. The breakfast spread is sumptuous, with cereals, fruits, breads, omelettes, and rice plus many choices of dishes to go with fried rice.

Outside of Costa Pacifica are a variety of restaurants and bars. And alternative, albeit cheaper, accommodations.

 

But one can say that Costa Pacifica is the nerve center when one comes to Baler for a holiday. One can go around. But the spell of Costa Pacifica will stay in the visitor’s mind for a long time. And this view will probably stay for quite a while, until the visitor encounters another beautiful resort.  Costa Pacifica will have a place in in their guests’  hearts.

I booked online, and you can book thru their website:
http://web.costapacificabalerph.com/

Hillocks Coffee Shop & Restaurant – – on way to Baler

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Pantabangan is a small town so I thought I’d include Baler on the title of this blog. For, indeed, this is my favorite stop on the way to Baler.

I first went to Hillocks about 2 years ago and enjoyed the food and the ambience. It almost doesn’t feel like one is in a rather obscure town – – – for who would really go to Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija, to experience Hillocks?

Yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised that Emi, the owner, remembered me and my blog name BOYPLAKWATSA when I took my wife and daughter there for lunch on our way to Baler.

You will find Hillocks on the right side of the road, and it is impossible to miss with its elegant country-style structure.

Guests can park right inside the property, and enter from the main door of the restaurant, accessed from the rear, on a trellised path. As one enters the cafe, he will be pleasantly surprised with the set-up. Huge tables with benches for seating. And small coffee tables and chairs on the veranda.

Food is always good. We had Hillocks fried chicken, beef binayabasan, pork belly, and batutay longaniza. Batutay longaniza is an all-day breakfast offering but we decided to order the dish for lunch. We loved it and ordered 4 kilos that we will pick up on our way home.

Make sure you save your hunger pangs for Hillocks when you are on your way to Baler, or to any town of the province of Aurora. Or when you decide to just visit any of the resorts in the town of Pantabangan.

By the way, of particular interest is the white house visible from the property – – the residence of the owners. Clearly, the owner has good taste. And it manifests in the food served at this cafe.

Hillocks is at 497 East Poblacion, Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija
Contact Emi at 0906 2090 711
Find them on Facebook:
https://web.facebook.com/hillockscoffeeshopandrestaurant/?fref=ts

(As usual, this blogger paid for his meals, with no special discounts, and this blog is written only to share to fellow travelers the wonderful lunch experience)

Abundant Place in Silang

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Located on the Diversion Road in Silang, where all the gardens are, is Abundant Place,  a cafe that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I used to pass this way when I go to Tagaytay via Daang Hari and on to Imus and Dasmarinas. When one gets to Silang and bypasses the road to the town center, one is greeted with flowers and other ornamental plants left and right, throughout what seems like a 2-kilometer stretch. In fact this place is a weekend destination for gardening enthusiasts. Coming from Imus and Dasmarinas, Abundant Place is on the right, and quite difficult to miss because of its prominent signage.

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My very first encounter with Abundant Place happened many many years ago when I chanced upon their display of interesting foot stools made of “banig” material along the Sta Rosa – Tagaytay Road. Then I bought 2 foot stools and ordered mosquito nets (not the nylon variety) with sea shells for accent for my Alabang home bedroom. Thus when I saw the Abundant Place signage in Silang, and saw “breakfast” I stopped to check.

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At the entrance to the store is a blackboard with the day’s menu. I opted for pork tapa, 2 orders for myself and my driver. Plus cafe barako.

My bill for 2 breakfast orders with coffee, including the 10% service charge, was P330.00

My bill for 2 breakfast orders with coffee, including the 10% service charge, was P330.00

 

The cafe was done in a very creative way, using concrete, stones, bamboo, nipa, shells, beach sands, white screens, and many interesting accent pieces. I was so impressed with the cafe’s  design. I couldn’t believe it that the owner, who also did the place, is actually a pastor.

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STORE

While waiting for my breakfast to be served, I went inside the store and browsed at the items for sale. I wanted to buy so many items and the only thing that stopped me was the thought that I needed to first create some structure in my Tagaytay weekender to replicate the look of the cafe. I actually bought one item, a tiffany lamp for P500.00

my find, for P500.00

my find, for P500.00

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I so loved the place I thought I’d take photos and include in my blog. When in the area, make sure you stop and you will not regret the visit.

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ISKARGU Restaurant in Calauan, Laguna

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Many people think the restaurant has escargot as the main attraction. I thought the way the restaurant was named is very clever, and has very high recall – – – even for those who will hear it for the first time. ISKARGU is a play on the main dishes – – – ISda, KARne, and GUlay.  The owner must have been inspired with the popularity of a genre of restaurants in Cebu called SUTUKIL which stood for the three ways of cooking fish. ISKARGU is more clever, because it can be mistaken, in a fun way, with the popular delicacy in France  – – escargot, kuhol to us Pinoys.

 

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More than the name, I consider this native restaurant the best stop on this side of Laguna. Excellent food turo-turo style, inexpensive, and a very unpretentious setting with wide windows that open to rice fields. Not unlike the more popular place that has huge fish images made of cement, huge this and huge that. But with very slow service I could die of hunger before my order is served. At ISKARGU, I pick mouth-watering dishes and I am served immediately. Rice is served on banana leaves. Ordering halo halo completes my experience.

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Just yesterday, I had a group of 12 for lunch. We had 2 orders each of 6 different dishes including fish eggs (not caviar?), pinaputok na isda, kinilaw, etcetera etcetera. Our bill came up to only P200 each. And there was a singer to entertain us with old familiar music while enjoying our lunch.

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Everyone from  #FUNtastic Philippines Fun Group that joined the unplanned food trip showed happy faces – – – busog sa masarap at murang lunch. Our friend Bobby Taron took this group photo:

#FUNtasticPhilippines Fun Group

#FUNtasticPhilippines Fun Group

 

A quick edit to share how one in our group reacted upon seeing my blog on ISKARGU, only because he also loved the place. Here is Papa Jet of #FUNtasticPhilippines, in his own words:

” First time I ate here, and I just have to say that it’s definitely worth adding it to your travel itinerary to Laguna area — 22.6 km after Rizal Shrine in Calamba… on the way to Cavinti (Pagsanjan Falls), Lake Caliraya, Majayjay, Lucban, Mauban, Tayabas… definitely even worth it, just to go to IsKarGu just simply to have good food that you can be proud of, even with your foreigner visitors!!! You might even be mentioned by the real good singer, if she knows you’re from FUNtastic Philippines… ;)”

For visitors who want to bring something home, their counter features many interesting “take home” items – – – pastillas, native wine including lambanog, apple cider vinagar, turmeric, pinakurat vinegar, bottled guyabano end items I don’t see in pasalubong centers.

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When I left the place, I saw a poster inviting regulars (and their guests, I think) to a buffet for P299 featuring 30 different dishes. I do not think anyone can get a better deal than that.

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I just checked their social media page, and I am sharing the link in case readers want to discover ISKARGU and get to know the place even more prior to a visit.

https://web.facebook.com/pages/Iskargu-Restaurant-Dayap-Hi-Way-Calauan-Laguna/233278473452270?_rdr

It is worth the travel. In fact, we did not have to go anywhere around there. My friends and I just thought we wanted a good lunch out of town, and so we went. Maybe it is time for wanderlusts and foodies to just go, not having to find any reason or excuse. The foof trip is reason enough.

By the way, at the wall outside were photos of many personalities who have enjoyed ISKARGU. Government officials, movie and television personalities, some prominent businessmen. I figure this is the best endorsement they can ever get – –  celebrity diners who opted for best value.

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Bobby Taron who took our photo, completing the frame. What a beautiful ambience for lunch.

Subic: Ocean Adventure & Zoobic Safari and Convention Center

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Subic has consistently been one of my most-viewed blog posts. I guess it is because this R&R destination keeps on improving itself. The AdSummit #ADSUMMITPH2016 is actually being held now at the Subic Bay Exhibition and Convention Center (SBECC) which was built for these huge ad industry events many advertising congresses ago.

Direk Joey Reyes was a hit

Direk Joey Reyes was a hit. He also said “Think like a fruit. When you mellow, you will start to rot”. How true.

 

words of wisdom

words of wisdom

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Thousands of ad men and women attend the Ad Summit. Many freebies, including Krispy Kreme where delegates queue for this free treat

Thousands of ad men and women attend the Ad Summit. Many freebies, including Krispy Kreme where delegates queue for this free treat

The hotels have also mushroomed. The Mansion Garden Hotel where I am staying is one of the sought-after accommodations. Nice, clean, and most of all it is the closest hotel to Meat Plus, Subic’s most popular restaurant.

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my suite

my suite

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LAKWATSA

I have been to Subic a lot. In one of my trips, with my wife, my daughter and her nanny, plus my driver, I won so much in the casino that the cost of the entire trip was more than paid for. As I checked out, I was given a promo stub to fill up. Apparently, all guests were entitled to a raffle stub with a trip to Malaysia for 2 as grand prize. I won that, too. Tubong lugaw.

Ocean Adventure

This is my daughter’s favorite. Within the park, visitors can watch a seal show, a dolphin show, a whale show, and actually swim with the whales. And ride the whales. The handlers took my daughter from the shore to the raft in what I thought was not possible. The whales were beached on the shore, and my daughter was asked to ride it and hold on to the…

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Sonya’s Garden near Tagaytay

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At the onset, I say that Sonya’s Garden is near Tagaytay. Most people would think it is part of Tagaytay even as it is located in nearby Alfonso. What the heck, it is a prime Tagaytay destination !

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I started going to Sonya’s when it was nothing but a small structure with about 4 or 5 tables plus 2 or 3 tables on the loft. Guests then had to make a prior reservation, and one is actually privileged to secure a number to call from someone who has been there. In one of my earlier lunches, Sonya’s Garden had to (politely) decline a top matinee idol who came without prior reservation and, obviously, can not be given a table.  From that quaint set-up many moons ago, Sonya’s has become a complete destination, and can now house guests in their bed & breakfast.

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How did this place become hugely popular? I learned that in the beginning,  friends would have themselves invited by the gracious Sonya who served them delicious, healthy lunch. They came rather often that they started offering to pay for the food they ate as they did not want their friend/hostess to be bothered with her time and actually spend for the bother. Until these friends started bringing their friends, paying for their lunch. Thus, the business was born.

People go there for the salad

People go there for the salad

Again, in one of my earlier trips, a group of movie scribes were seated on the next table, together with a major actress then at the peak of her career. Apparently they came from a shoot. I chuckled (trying to hide this reaction) when I heard the movie scribes say “ayyy, puro damo naman pagkain dito, sana nag bulalo na lang tayo”. Indeed, the main draw of the place is their garden salad and Sonya’s secret dressing. Guests garnish the greens with fresh fruits like papaya, chico, langka, and other fruits in season. Plus shredded boiled eggs, olives, capers, and parmesan cheese. After the salad comes bread with dips of sun-dried tomato, pesto, anchovies, etc. The main course is pasta. Fresh dalandan juice is overflowing. Desserts include turon or camote. All these for something like P650 per person.

Main course is pasta

Main course is pasta

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From its humble beginnings, Sonya’s guests are now directed to one of its many pavilions, each one actually a garden. On some days, I have seen two wedding receptions being held simultaneously. And I have also seen busloads of visitors. Even the parking area has more than quadrupled from the first time I set foot in this beautiful garden.

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Today, they also have a Panaderia (bakery), a country store (where I buy my supply of Sonya’s secret salad dressing and some home accents), a spa, and a bed & breakfast.

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On a recent visit, Sonya herself toured me around the B&B.

Sonya’s B&B is one of a kind. It will make the guests feel like they are in an affluent provincial setting. A group of friends can actually occupy a house and assign themselves to the rooms and beds. And converse in its living room. And be amused when they shower in the very unique toilet/shower set-ups, with stones as floor cover. Indeed, everything is unique and the experience will be something friends will talk about for a long time. See for yourself.

 

one of the B&B facilities at Sonya's Garden

one of the B&B facilities at Sonya’s Garden

 

Come in! One of the B&B accommodations

Come in! One of the B&B accommodations

 

the living room of one of the houses at Sonya's B&B

the living room of one of the houses at Sonya’s B&B

 

view from the second floor

view from the second floor

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the bathroom, with stones on your feet

the bathroom, with stones on your feet

see the bathroom at the left end of this photo

see the bathroom at the left end of this photo

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I am writing about this amazing place without any favors. I have paid for all my lunches and dinners on all my visits to Sonya’s. Probably why she decided to give me this tour.

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How much does it cost to stay at Sonya’s B&B? P3,000 per person on weekdays, P3,400 on weekends and holidays, P5,000 for single occupancy. These rates include early dinner or lunch, with breakfast. The B&B has 14 cottages and 18 rooms.

How do you get there? From Tagaytay, drive south past Mendez and on to Alfonso. When you see Tagaytay Royale Estates on your right, immediately turn right on the next road which is called Buck Estate. About 2 kilometers onward and you will see the Sonya’s sign.

Or you can call to book: 09175335140, 09175291080, 09175161080

Visit their website : http://www.sonyasgarden.com

Bahay Pastulan @ Good Shepherd Tagaytay

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Many years ago, I discovered that I didn’t have to travel to Baguio to buy the famous ube jam that people queue for. There was a Good Shepherd Convent in what was then a rather obscure spot in Tagaytay.  Last year, I saw a structure being constructed and, when it was finished and landscaped, there stood an imposing Bahay Pastulan, the store where all the goodies made by the nuns and the poor families they employ to earn a decent living are being sold. I decided to check it out.

an imposing presence on your right, driving twards the main Tagaytay road

an imposing presence on your right, driving twards the main Tagaytay road

Bahay Pastulan is along the Sta Rosa – Tagaytay Road. It will be easy to spot as soon as one gets to Tagaytay – – it is something you will not miss on your right side, way before getting to the first Tagaytay traffic light.

 

 

this signage was photographed from Bahay Pastulan. Travelers won't miss the other side of this signage when traversing the road from Sta Rosa to Tagaytay.

this signage was photographed from Bahay Pastulan. Travelers won’t miss the other side of this signage when traversing the road from Sta Rosa to Tagaytay.

 

the set-up is the same as in Good Shepherd Baguio Orderly placing of orders, paying, and claiming of goods.

the set-up is the same as in Good Shepherd Baguio Orderly placing of orders, paying, and claiming of goods.

 

What can one buy at Pastulan? Everything, it seems. Ube jam, polvoron, lengua de gato, angel cookies, alfajor, choco crinkles, snowballs, choco flakes, cashew brittle, oatmeal raisin chews, and peanut brittle.

Also gourmet tuyo, tawilis, crsipi pili, guyabano candy, sampaloc, tableya tsokolate, spicy pusit, and dulong. Yummy.

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And to complete the “buy here what you are looking for in Baguio, this – – – –

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In the refrigerated section, one finds even more temptations (especially for a diabetic like me) : tarts, leche flan, ube jams, spreadable bukayo, suman sa lihiya, chuchipan, and the healthy veggie salad.iPhone 5S 257

 

My favorite spot at Bahay Pastulan is the Take Out Area. I actually have my meals there, on what looks like cocktail tables that let you enjoy the scenery as you gorge on your food. Here, I have sampled their fresh lumpia ubod, fried lumpia, ube-langka turon, empanada, bibingka, arroz caldo, goto, coffee, halo halo, and fruit shakes. Always bringing home some.

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Bahay Pastulan also sells fresh produce, lettuces, herbs,  and fruits in a stall at the back, in the parking area.

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Bahay Pastualan is a part of the SMEIDFI (St. Mary Euphrasia Integrated Development Foundation, Inc) whose mission is to help provide livelihood for the poor while nurturing their souls.

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Consistent with this vision, mission and values, one can also buy  articles like rosaries, scapulars and religious images.

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Come to Bahay Pastulan the next time you drive to Tagaytay. It is way nearer than Baguio. And it is a more pleasant queue. Open everyday from 730am to 6pm.

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Bakas River

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Our friends from Norzagaray tell me that Bakas is a most famous resort destination this side of town. And so we went after our Pinagrealan Cave spelunking.

Our host says that Bakas got its name from legends that there are actually footprints  – – one on the huge stone and another several miles away. Apparently from a giant.

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There are enterprising locals who have built huts and other facilities on the river bank. Families can stay in Bakas for the day and have a picnic in any of the sheds with bamboo tables and chairs. Really idyllic. Restful.

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There is also Bakas Overlooking, a more developed resort. More developed in the sense that they actually have a bamboo house where guests can stay. And a kitchen where they can cook. Plus a toilet where they put a drum of water from a nearby well so that customers can use the water from the drum to flush the toilet. And they also have a videoke on the shed right next to the river.

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Bakas is not for travelers who are looking for city comfort. But this place will appeal to those who are tired of the hustle and bustle of city life. It almost feels like going home to the province and staying with your cousins, aunts and uncles in a small barrio beside a river.

The younger ones in our group went for a swim and later on climbed huge boulders 20 feet high from where they jumped into the water. This, I believe, is the main attraction of the place. As for me, I would be just as happy wading into the shallow part of the river.

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Best to come here with all your provisions, like everyone else who come to the place. No restaurants, not even sari-sari stores. I surmise that the owners of the sheds can arrange for food to be cooked, or for drinks to be served – – – if a group decides to come without provisions.

We have plans to return. And maybe we will pitch tents next time. Maybe right beside where this cow is grazing. By the river.

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HOW TO GET THERE:

Get to Norzagaray and arrange for tricycles to take you to Bakas. I noticed that locals traveled in tricycles. Sorry but I did not inquire about rates – –  we traveled to Bakas in private transportation.

DAYTOUR : DRIVING SOUTH OF CEBU

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This is a nice tour once you have done the usual Cebu tour of the Magellan’s Cross, Taoist Temple, the Sto Nino Shrine, the Gorordo Mansion, Tops, etc. Time to head south.

Hit the road going to Argao and Cagbalete and head back via Toledo, Balamban, and return to Cebu City via Nivel Hills – – where Marco Polo Hotel is.

You will be passing thru The cities and towns of Talisay, Minglanilla, San Fernando, Naga, Carcar, Sibonga, Argao, and then return via the coastal city of Toledo. You need to rent a car or hire a taxi for this wonderful tour. Hotel cars can be arranged for P5,000 for 8 hours, taxi’s can be negotiated for P3,000.00.

Stop and take photos.

Talisay

Talisay

This Naga is not in Bicol

This Naga is not in Bicol

CARCAR

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Carcar is a major stop. You can buy shoes and slippers, or ampawa and chicharon. These are the major finds in this city. But the visitor will most likely spend a bit more time taking photos of Carcar’s beautiful church, the museum beside it, and its many old homes.

stop by the stalls around the rotunda for chicharon and ampao

stop by the stalls around the rotunda for chicharon and ampao

shop for shoes and bags - - this is Cebu's Marikina

shop for shoes and bags – – this is Cebu’s Marikina

the old church

the old church

and the museum

and the museum

one of the many old houses

one of the many old houses

SIBONGA

Among photo hobbyists, the biggest stop is probably Sibonga with the castle-like Simala Church. The structure is very much unlike any other church in the country. Perhaps unlike any other church in the world.
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To non hobbyists, it is a pilgrimage place, pretty much like the Manaoag church in Pangasinan where devotees queue to get to touch the statue of the virgin

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as if it is not grand enough, construction is ongoing to surround the church with moat-like bridge/passageways

as if it is not grand enough, construction is ongoing to surround the church with moat-like bridge/passageways

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The top attracation of Argao is the cathedral. There is a nearby cafe for the weary and the famished, before heading back to the city.

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DRIVING BACK

the church in Toledo

the church in Toledo

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when you get up the hill, look down and see the beauty of the place you just came from

when you get up the hill, look down and see the beauty of the place you just came from

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Heritage Town : Taal, Batangas

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The town of Taal in Batangas is only 2 hours away from Manila, and the escape from the city to this heritage village can be really dramatic. Almost like night and day. Imagine leaving the skyscrapers and the humongous malls and then allowing yourself to travel back in time to something like 300 years ago. After a very short land travel.

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Taal was once the wealthiest town in Batangas and the grand mansions are a testament to its glorious and historic past. Many of the homes have been preserved and are open to visitors. A few have been transformed into cafes and restaurants, while some have opened their doors to visitors for bed and breakfast.

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The most noteworthy of the mansions are Casa Villavicencio, built as a wedding gift of a wealthy shipowner to his lady love who was belatedly acknowledged for her role in the Philippine revolution. There is also the Gregorio Agoncillo mansion, from where his uncle Felipe Agoncillo was born. The house is now famously known as the White House. There is Villa Tortuga where visitors can relive the past complete with period costumes. A visit to the Marcela Agoncillo house, probably he oldest of the famous houses, is so informative and is recommended for history buffs. The Apacible mansion allows visitors to see balisong actually being crafted. Across from the road is an old house where antique cameras and photographs are exhibited.

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Casa Villavicencio, the grandest of the Taal heritage homes

the Agoncillo "White House"

the Agoncillo “White House”

dress up and get yourselves photographed in period clothes and setting at Villa Tortuga

dress up and get yourselves photographed in period clothes and setting at Villa Tortuga

the diorama depicting the sewing of the Filipino flag at the 1700s Marcela Agoncillo house

the diorama depicting the sewing of the Filipino flag at the 1700s Marcela Agoncillo house

you may chance upon "balisong" making at the Apacible House

you may chance upon “balisong” making at the Apacible House

old photographs and antique cameras in still another old mansion

old photographs and antique cameras in still another old mansion

There are also the two most famous Taal churches – – Taal Basilica, the largest catholic place of worship in Asia. And the shrine of Our Lady of Caysasay, a charming church with an interesting wishing well at the rear section, a few steps up a hill thru the San Lorenzo Ruiz Steps.

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Taal Basilica

I did not expect such ornate design in a church of this modest size

I did not expect such ornate design in a church of this modest size  : Our Lady of Caysasay

and finally, go to the wishing well and sprinkle/pour yourself with the water believed to be miraculous

and finally, go to the wishing well and sprinkle/pour yourself with the water believed to be miraculous

There is also the old Escola, now a center of Taal culture, the Casa real (town hall) plus the nearby town of San Nicolas, the site of the first Taal town and its basilica,

Casa Real: the town hall

Casa Real: the town hall

the ruins of the original Taal Basilica in the nearby town of San Nicolas

the ruins of the original Taal Basilica in the nearby town of San Nicolas

Truly, Taal is a most interesting destination. I have made at least 6 trips in as many months and it seems I will be making some more. Such is the effect that this town spells on visitors who love history.

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I have also written separately about all these destinations within Taal, including a recommended cafe with bed & breakfast facilities (no, I am not paid to plug this place – – – I went on my own and paid the full amount for the lunch I ordered).

the common area for the Tampuhan B&B guests - - dine here or laze around

the common area for the Tampuhan B&B guests – – dine here or laze around

Come visit Taal. And maybe find a piece of yourself thru its past.

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