This will be my last Flashback Friday for the Philippines adventure. I’m back in Seoul now and want to keep you all updated on my adventures here. But I had one last area to talk about and that is Laguna.
No, not that clown show Laguna Beach on MTV. It has nothing to do with that.
Laguna hugs the southern shores of Laguna de Bay, the largest lake in the country.
Laguna is notable as the birthplace of Dr. Jose Rizal, the country’s national hero.
Two big reasons to go to the Laguna province is 1.) the hot springs of Los Banos and the surrounding area and 2.) Pagsanjan Falls.
Los Banos has many hot spring resorts to choose from. I recommend getting a private one for small or large groups. We went as two couples and the four of us had a blast in the hot water. All the pools are filled with water from local hot springs. Some say the hot springs have healing powers and I believe it! My boyfriend was really sick on the first half of our trip in Batangas but as soon as he went swimming in the hot springs he was back to normal the next day!
Los Banos is also famous for it’s Buko Pies. Buko means young coconut in Tagalog. The pie is not like coconut cream pie, because it doesn’t have cream or custard filling. Instead it’s made with slices of buko meat and condensed milk. We went to Orient- The Original Buko Pie. It’s the best buko pie in Los Banos.
I met the owner of the shop, a sweet lady named Tita Helen (I think that’s what she told me, it’s been so long I forgot) who’s sister created the recipe for Buko Pies! She immigrated to the US and Tita Helen continued her sisters recipe and shop!
We also went on a river rapid adventure to Pagsanjan Falls. It was the location of the final scene of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now.
There are many places in Pagsanjan to rent a boat and boatmen to take you to the falls. Be sure to bring extra cash, it’s customary to tip each boatman at least 50 pesos if not more.
During our trip, we took a long road trip to Northern Luzon.
The Philippines is an archipelago comprising 7,107 islands, the Philippines is categorized broadly into three main geographical divisions: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Manila the capital is located on the largest island Luzon. Luzon is the only island of the archipelago that I’ve been on. Until now I’ve only been around the Metro Manila area and CALABARZON Region (formerly a part of Southern Tagalog)
My mom’s friend took us on a three day adventure to the north. She hired a driver, which is the best idea to tour around the Philippines. You have the freedom like having your own car but you have your own personal tour guild. Many of these driver know the areas and can set up activities for you to do. They also give you a sense of security and help to make sure you don’t get a shady deal. If you’re think of going to the Philippines please look into this option! Also for bring cash, once you move away from the big cities, ATMs are rare and usually out of cash or offline.
Here are some of the highlights of our road trip:
Kabigan Falls (meaning friend) a 120 meters of crashing white water is worth the 30 minute hike through farmland and jungle. Located in the town of Pagudpud it’s part of the tricycle tour and only cost 20 pesos per person. You will be assigned a guide to walked you to the falls. They even stick around while you swim and walk back with you.
Blue Lagoon in Pagudpud is know as a part of the “Boracay of the North.” White sand and blue water, it’s beautiful! There are a few local land marks around the beach area like Dos Hermanos islands and Bantay Abot cave. There are a few beach resorts around and several houses and huts to rent.
As I said before, if you want a safe and easy trip around the Philippines I recommend hiring a private driver. You can search for one or here is the email of the driver we used Ricky Daymil. Kuya Ricky was so nice and takes people all over, not just Luzon. email@example.com
Tricycles are one of the most common means of transportation in the Philippines. Used everywhere, except on busy highways, they are cheap and usually a fast way to get around. Tricycles are a side car build onto a motorcycle, hench tri-cycle, three wheels. Some are small and some are big, I read somewhere that some can seat 9, but they would have to be small people, like me! Tricycles are colorful and decorated like jeepneys. Chad and I loved riding in tricycles during our stay in the Philippines. I was a big fan of taken pictures of the different colored ones. It seemed like certain areas had special colors for tricycles, but I’m not sure. Here are some of my favorites.
There are four Baroque Churches of the Philippines. These are UNESCO World Heritage sites, this means they are protected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization. One of my goals in live is to visit as many as these sites as I can.
Three out of four churches in one vacation isn’t bad!
Why are these church important and protected? According to UNESCO’s website:
This group of churches established a style of building and design that was adapted to the physical conditions in the Philippines and had an important influence on later church architecture in the region. The four churches are outstanding examples of the Philippine interpretation of the Baroque style, and represent the fusion of European church design and construction with local materials and decorative motifs to form a new church-building tradition.
To read more about these Baroque Churches visit their website.
The first one we went to was The Church of San Agustín in Paoay, Ilocos Norte. This church is know as “Earthquake Baroque” because it was build to withstand earthquakes. Construction on the present church began in 1694 and it was completed in 1710.
The second church was Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur also located in the northern part of the island of Luzon. It’s unusual because it’s build on the top of a hill and surrounded by walls. The mission at Santa Maria was founded in 1765.
The third was close to our family’s home, only an hour drive into the heart of Manila’s old city, Intramuros. The Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustín was the first church built on the island of Luzon in 1571, immediately after the Spanish conquest of Manila.
The only one I’m missing is The Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva at Miag-ao, Iloilo in the Western Visayas region.
We had a long weekend back in May for Buddha’s birthday. So with some friends we went straight down line 1 and went to the last stop headed west: Incheon.
Ah, this randomly popped up one day after posting. WordPress usually gives some kind of random inspiration to bloggers, like a muse or excessive drinking. This title caught my eye. “What travel lessons have you learned the hard way?” Let me put this out there and say I am in no way a globe trotter. I have been to my share of strange, different, and exotic places but I haven’t been everywhere. But in my time overseas and a few self-planned trips I can say mistake were made….
# 5. No Faffing About: On the way to Sokcho, Chad and I were almost left behind during a routine pit-stop in the lovely countryside of middle-of-nowhere Korea. Luckily, Chad and I can run fast. However much time the bus drive says you have, just take a piss and hurry back. Whatever you want to buy, or do, or look at, forget it, just pee and hop back on the bus.
#4. On the Map: maps, most are for free, we have them on smart phones and GPS and navigation systems. There are all kinds of neat and niffy way to access a map nowadays. Don’t waste your vacation time lost- look at a map! Everywhere I go, I bring a map or get one at the local tourist information center. If you don’t want to look touristy, cause you’re just too cool for that, check your map in a private location, like a bathroom. Just check it. Most places in Korea (if you look pretty lost and are staring at a map) some kind Korean, will an urge to practice English, will ask you if you need help. You never know, you can make a friend!
#3. Sail the 7 Seas with me, just find your own way: don’t book trips for friends. It’s been a few times now that I’ve planned and booked a trip and was a kind and handy travel agent for my friends. But unlike a travel agent I didn’t get paid and got the shaft. Then I’m left to pay the bill and make the recalculations. (Ya know like reckoning the price on sharing a condo with 5 instead of 6.) If you want to travel with friends, that’s find and it’s a great idea to travel with others, but have everyone book their own way and meet up later.
#2. 867-5309!!! This may seem simple but make sure you have the address and phone of the hotel or hostel or where ever you are staying. Lots of things ask for this. Customs want to know it, some random forms at the airport want it and it’s good to have it on hand if you get lost. (Also try to have it in English and it that country’s language/alphabet.) Even if you know the location and everything- just in case! I knew exactly where our hotel was from the subway station, unfortunately, I forgot which subway station and the name of them hotel once we arrived in Tokyo. It wasn’t until I was staring at a neighborhood map that it click, we were at the WRONG subway station…. This may seem like a no-brainer but simple things just confuse and scary me.
#1. Ah, take the Cash in hand: This may seem strange to some, and I’m sure some people will say I’m all wrong about this one, but trust me when I say, keep cash on you. Not a lot, and always enough to get a train, or bus, or cab, back to the airport, ferry or whatever that brings you home. The morning we were headed back from Tokyo we had spent all our cash, not wanting to carry a bunch of yen back to Seoul. “I’ll just use my card” I thought. Except in Tokyo the only ATM’s that have any English options require you to withdraw a minimum of 10,000 yen which, at the time, was roughly 100 USD. We had just under 100 bucks in my home account, because the night before I used my card to buy dinner. We were stuck with the crippling fear of no way to buy a train ticket to get back to the airport. We were stuck in Tokyo! We had Korean won and even a 50 US dollar bill in my wallet but no Japanese yen. Luckily, the other train company in that station opened at 6:00 AM and Chad was able to scrap enough Japanese to buy two tickets to the airport. This train company had a ticket booth that took card. Thank God for the JR line (Japan Railways Group.)
So these are my top 5 tips for travelers. Bon voyage!!
Here are some pictures of our DMZ trip. We took the USO tour which is by far the best tour available because it’s the only one that allows access to the Joint Security Area (JSA) in the Panmunjom area. KoriDoor is the company and the tour takes you to JSA, Third Infiltration Tunnel, Dora Observatory, and Dorasan Station. It cost a bit more but it’s worth it, about 92,000 won or 80 USD.
First we went to the Third Infiltration Tunnel. This is the third out of four official tunnels found that lead from North Korea to South Korea. Stooping all the way, we made it to the end of the tunnel where we could see the third concrete barricade. In that barricade you can see a tiny window where the second barricade is visible. The first barricade is not visible. Also taking photos is prohibited in the tunnel. There is a movie about the war visitors can watch and there is a small exhibit filled with items from the war and miniature models of the DMZ.
There was this amazingly campy tourist sign of the DMZ outside so of course we need a picture of that.
There were a couple of other cute things that you could take pictures next to.
After the tunnel, we drove to The Dora Observatory on the top of Mt. Dora. From there you can see into North Korea. We ate lunch at the Inter-Korean Transit Office. After that we were scheduled to go to Dorsan Station but we had to change plans and get to Camp Bonifas.
Camp Bonifas is a United Nations Command military post located 400 meters south of the southern boundary of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. There we received a briefing about the JSA and the DMZ. We got on a military bus and headed to the JSA.
We were not allowed to take photos of Camp Bonifas or the Freedom House in the JSA. But we could take photos inside the UN Command Conference Building and outside of the Freedom House that looks towards the North.
Inside the UN Command Conference Building there were two ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers. All ROK soldiers stand in a taekwondo stances wearing dark Ray-Ban sunglasses and helmets. They wear these to show no emotion to North Korea. While inside northern part of the UN Command Conference Building you are technically standing inside North Korea.
We walked back outside and stood on the edge of the top step of the Freedom House facing Panmungak the North Korean building. While there we could ask any questions to our US MP tour guide as long as you don’t point or gesture.
Finally we made our way to Dorasan Station, with it’s motto “Not the last station from the South, But the first station toward the North.” In hopes of reunification, the train tracks lay there new and quiet waiting for that day.