I was given a small sack to put my shoes in as I was approaching the door. Despite the big crowd outside, I was delightfully surprised to see the hall almost empty. Too bad it lasted for only a minute as others flooded in immediately.
Wat Pho is famed for the enormous reclining Buddha that it shelters. The 15m high and 43m long image rests inside a well-decorated hall. While I was expecting the image to be big, I was shocked to stand before a massive, massive figure. Its highly ornate feet alone are 3m tall and 4.5 m long. (Can you picture that?) The statue itself is covered and surrounded with Buddhist and Thai symbols.
Located on the west bank of Chao Phraya, Wat Arun Ratcha Wararam Ratchaworamahawihan is dedicated to the second reign of the Chakkri Dynasty. Known to locals as Wat Chaeng or Temple of Dawn, it is believed that King Taksin, after escaping Ayutthaya which was attacked by the Burmese, reached the place just before sunrise. He then made the place the chief temple. It once housed the precious Emerald Buddha and the Phra Bang (another important image) which were moved from the Lao city of Vientiane.
They were in Manila for business. Saritha was from Bahrain and Scott from the United States. How I ended up in their company was the result of a friend’s blackmail spirited persuasion. My friend Grace wanted to show them around as it was their first time in Manila. With Scott serving in the military in the past, Corregidor was an easy pick. But Grace thought that me tagging along would make the trip more insightful. Silly her, it was my first time in Corregidor, too!
I have lived in Manila for almost a decade now, but I had never left footprints on Corregidor Island. It was one of those plans that I often overlooked because of proximity. (I always had an excuse along the lines of I-can-visit-it-anytime-anyway.) It just won’t happen. But with a friend constantly bugging me, it finally did.
Corregidor was officially called Fort Mills during the American era but was also commonly referred to as “The Rock” for its terrain and fortifications, and “Gibraltar of the East” for its resemblance to Mediterranean Sea’s peninsular fortress. Strategically located at the mouth of Manila Bay, it is the biggest of the heavily fortified islands that make up the harbor defenses of the capital.
It played a pivotal role during the Pacific War, with its fall signaling Japanese victory and the start of their occupation of the Philippines (1942-45). We all know how horrible that turned out to be.
I picked up the paper-thin slice of fish and silently hoped it wouldn’t be the last thing I would do. That night, I did not plan on having fugu, Japan’s deadly delicacy. I did not plan on dying, either.
How I ended up at a fugu place was a matter of fate. Like the last time I was here, I could not choose where to have dinner. Picking a restaurant is never easy in Dotonbori. Osaka is the center of the Japanese food culture, and it can’t be any more evident in Dotonbori. Dozens of food places, from small kiosks to proper restaurants, flank the main street and its inner alleys, bombarding tourists with countless options if not blinding them with giant electronic displays. I checked out one menu after another and still could not pick one, for the life of me. It was only when I felt my knees begin throwing curse words at me that I finally declared to enter whatever establishment was behind me. I looked up and found a giant pufferfish lantern dangling overhead.
They say I should look forward to the journey from Batan Island to Sabtang. They say it is unforgettable. The waters between Batan and Sabtang Islands have a reputation of being rough, turbulent, frightening. This is where the currents of the vast West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and the even bigger Pacific Ocean clash. Sabtang is accessible via a 30-minute ride aboard the faluwa, the bigger traditional Ivatan boat. Like the tataya, the Ivatan dory, they do not have outriggers (katig), either. They say every ride is quite an experience.
I slept through it. Dang it! Blame the weather.
I arrived at Ivana Port as early as 6:30am. The balmy morning turned drizzly in an instant. From the port I could already see the dark clouds hovering over Sabtang Island. When we landed at the San Vicente Port in Sabtang, drizzly turned rainy. But the trip must go on.
I was greeted by our guide, driving a unique tricycle. In Sabtang, their version of the trusty tricycle has a cogon-roofed sidecar. Our first stop was the Tourism Office, where we registered and paid the P200 (USD 5) Environmental Fee. One can easily complain it is a steep rate, but considering that none of the attractions on the island collect entrance fees and that Sabtang will wrap and smother you with all kinds of beauty, I believe it is more than fair.
Tourists are encouraged to spend at least one night on the island for a fuller experience, but day tours are a good option for those who don’t have time on their side. However, given that the last trip back to Batanes is at 1pm, day trippers will find themselves staying shorter at each stop and haunted by the threat of missing the last boat.
We waited for the rain to subside a little, and when it did it was on! Here are the highlights of the tour.
There’s a lot to be envied about lighthouses. They exude a kind of charm and enigma just by standing still. They command attention without even trying. And they always have the best view.
There’s even more to be envied about those that stand proud in the hills of Batanes. They are relatively new and well-maintained. They are never lonely, sought by rabid tourists, and photographed by those who wish to immortalize their moments with them. And as sentinels of the northernmost province, they face no existential dilemmas for no one can deny their importance.
If the Philippines were a big dysfunctional family and each province were a person, you’ll find Batanes to be the oddest in the group. At that big family reunion, she’s that one kid not joining the party or the ruckus or whatever the hell is happening at the main table. Manila and her sisters may be flaunting another promotion, Davao remains cool and makes sure things are in order, Palawan effortlessly draws attention for her natural beauty, but Batanes remains unbothered. She stands by the window, probably talking to herself again.
Batanes is the one everyone is so curious about and intrigued by, but is just too elusive. When you do find her and sit down with her, she tells you strange tales about unbelievable things. “What do you mean crabs that can open coconuts? What do you mean ‘a store with no staff’? What the hell is zero crime rate?” Yet even when you don’t totally buy her absurd stories, you still can’t get enough of them because she’s quite a charmer.
But when you join her, you’ll see that her wanderings are not a flight of fancy.
Batanes is the smallest province in the Philippines, with only six municipalities and three inhabited islands. It is also the northernmost, even closer to Taiwan than mainland Luzon. But it is its location that shaped almost everything about it. Caught in between the restless West Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean, the birthplace and incubator of the biggest storms on the planet, the people of Batanes have learned to adapt to the harsh environment. Oddly, these hostile conditions have turned out to breed the gentlest, most hospitable but enduring cultures in the Philippines.
Here are some of the things you might find curious and refreshing in Beautiful Batanes.
Either the wind wanted me naked or it just hated that shade of pink on me. The latter, if the wind were friends with the band of alpha male tourists that stood just a couple of yards from me. My pink polo stood out in a sea of greens, prompting them to quip “confirmed” when they thought I could not hear them. It must have been their first time to see another man in pink. Poor souls.
Just a month before we arrived, a Hungarian wingsuit flier crashed to his death when he hit a cliffside here at Tianmen Mountain National Forest Park. But that did not stop us from paying a visit to this scenic area in Zhangjiajie, China. And it shouldn’t. After all, we won’t be jumping from the sky.
We were not alone. With us were many other tourists, mostly domestic. The queues were long and everyone was excited to enjoy both the natural wonders and the man-made structures built at the site. Tianmen Mountain is incredible, to say the least. The scenery alone would make me not forgive myself if I left Zhangjiajie without spending a few hours in the company of these famous peaks. Daredevils, I imagine, are easily drawn, too. Aside from the usual relaxing spots, the site boasts a number of thrilling attractions that not only offer breathtaking views but also gives your adrenal glands a little squeeze. Here are six of them.
Of the many beach destinations near Manila, the town of San Antonio, Zambales, probably has the most fascinating character.
“We used to own a piece of beachfront property in one of the coves many decades ago,” our boatman Randy shared as our boat zoomed past the waves. “My parents sold them for a piece of land in Pundaquit.” There was a bit of regret in his voice. Regret might not be the right word for it as the Tagalog term panghihinayang best captures the feeling. They didn’t know the place would be transformed dramatically into a profitable tourist destination.
Since the cataclysmic eruption of nearby Mt. Pinatubo in 1991, the rocky coastline of San Antonio has undergone a metamorphosis. It is now blanketed with thick volcanic ash that created white beaches, something many tourists are wildly attracted to. Agoho trees, a type of casuarina, have grown inland, fostering an irresistible charm. When Anawangin caught the attention of the first tourists who “rediscovered” the beach a decade ago, the municipality of San Antonio was never the same again. Tourism has become a major livelihood option.
Many visitors gracing the town with their presence have only one thing in mind when they come: Anawangin Cove. But there are many other attractions in the area. Here are 10 things you can do in San Antonio.