Tag Archive: Heritage Site

It’s another heritage town just a couple of hour’s drive south from Manila. Easily, a day trip that’s easily combined with neighboring towns in Laguna just as equally rich in art, culture and history. Many pre-Hispanic treasures enshrined in the Pila Museum attest to Pila being one of the earlier settlements in the country.




17th century Pila Church



We were surprised to find this little-known Plaza Mayor in this old town. The colonial influence is evident here where a 200 year-old church, a Municipio (Town Hall), and several ancestral, heirloom houses and old trees line the Plaza. The National Historical Commission has declared Pila as a historical landmark in the league of Vigan (Ilocos Sur), Silay (Negros Occidental) and Taal (Batangas). It’s a wonder very little is known of the place and that this historic town is not top of mind among local tourists.





Mercifully, Pila was spared from the bombing raids run by US troops back in 1945 to flush out the Japanese Army. The Church, the Convent, and many of the old buildings and houses of illustrados and prominent families clustered around the Plaza remain standing to this day.







Who Knows Tomas Pinpin?


If you ask me, I only know it as a street in Binondo where a favorite and oldest restaurant is located. Yes, I’m talking of Toho Antigua Panciteria. (Another restaurant, Ambos Mundos, claims to be the oldest restaurant, but this is another story) I bet I’m not the only one in this sorry predicament.


So, who is Tomas Pinpin? This eminent Filipino is responsible for the country’s very first Tagalog dictionary. He ran a printing press in Pila, Laguna which printed the first local dictionary as early as 1613. Of interest is the fact that this printed material pre-dates the very first printed book in America. Truly, Pila has so much to be proud of!







From History Lessons To Amazing Race To Teleserye



Several scenes from the Amazing Race were shot here. Of late, the teleserye “Be Careful With My Heart” likewise shoots scenes here for this big TV series hit. In particular, the “San Nicolas” hometown of the leading character “Maya” is actually this quaint town of Pila, Laguna. Just off a corner from the Plaza is “Pards Chibugan” — the local eatery business ran by Maya’s family. For sure, these put Pila back on the map as many locals visit the place for its TV or teleserye value. 



Quite a sudden takeoff from all that history bit. 😉




A typhoon hit Palawan the day before our arrival. The same typhoon was expected to move out of the province late afternoon of our arrival. And so with fingers and toes crossed, our group of 9 pax trooped to the airport ready to be crushed. All those weeks of planning for this family vacation wasted? Not so for this group of intrepid travelers.


On the airport bus, we were asked to get off and wait for further announcements. After over an hour, we boarded the bus to the plane, and flew out of Manila. Just a 2 hour delay.

Our flight out of Manila was delayed by 2 hours but we had a good flight and landed safely in Puerto Princesa. The Underground River Tour was cancelled though so we decided to rebook on the day of our departure instead. This was the wisest decision we ever made. There was time to drive north to El Nido, hop around the many islands, drive to the twin beaches of Nacpan and Calitang and then drive back to Puerto Princesa early morning of the day of our return flight to Manila.


This is Buenavista where we made a brief stop to take photos before reaching Sabang Port.


This is Sabang Port. Those small boats literally “flew” over the waves and swells of West Philippine Sea aka South China Sea.

Just 2 stopovers on the day we were to fly out of Puerto Princesa. A  pee-stop in Buenavista, then on to Sabang Port where we took the boat to Saint Paul Subterranean Park. Not my first time, but it is for my family and some friends making up our contingent of 9 pax. West Philippine Sea was far from calm, but we braved the short boat ride. Mercifully, the monkeys and monitor lizards “guarding” the boardwalk in the park were tame and didn’t add to our anxieties.


This monkey guarded the entrance to the Underground River Tour.


The Boardwalk towards the mouth of the Underground River. Watch out for monkeys and monitor lizards.

I purposely didn’t tell my family how the Boatmen cum Tour Guides conduct the Underground River Tour. The “spiel” on the rock formations inside the cave is a carefully crafted one. Tinged with witty humor, it was no surprise that our group thoroughly enjoyed the hilarious narration on the stalactites, stalagmites and the colony of bats inside while doing the slightly more than a kilometer boat ride. The entire length is not open to the public, but the kilometer boat ride is enough for the slightly over an hour’s tour. Hailed as one of the 7 New Wonders of the World, my family and friends were only too happy to have experienced this adventure and visited this heritage site which renders every Filipino proud.


All set and ready to enter the Saint Paul Subterranean Underground River.


An interior shot showing another boat of tourists with our light focused on some rock formation.

The references to Sharon Stone, a variety of fruits and vegetables, animals and holy images were most interesting. Amazing how natural forces like water and wind shaped  these rock formations to resemble such. As we sailed out of the cave, we met other boats filled with tourists sailing in. Our guide remarked we were 10 coming in, and now number 9 going out, with a request for the next boat to pick up our missing companion. I’m sure it’s part of the script. I’ve heard that spiel before, yet I laughed just as hard like I heard it for the first time. 🙂


Inside the Cave. And yes, Martin, this is right inside that limestone mountain you saw outside!


The Holy Trinity.


Is it a coconut husk?


Towards the exit.

How much do we know of the Luna brothers? Honestly? I simply know one is a painter, the other a General. Both are patriots. And both are friends and contemporaries of Dr. Jose P. Rizal. Many of us would think that knowledge is enough. Toinks!

Juan Luna Shrine in Badoc, Ilocos Norte

On our way from Laoag to Vigan, we passed Badoc, Ilocos Norte. This is the last town of Ilocos Norte. And this is the birthplace of the Luna brothers. The Juan Luna Shrine can be found here — a building made of brick housing the memorabilia and paintings of this patriotic, and very controversial painter.

Death of Cleopatra (Museo del Prado @Madrid)

Spolarium (now on display @National Museum of the Philippines)

Luna killed his wife and mother-in-law because of


So goes the story. Makes for a great headline.

The patriot who painted such classics and award-winning Spoliarium (Gold Medal, 1884, now on display at the National Museum of the Philippines), Death of Cleopatra (Silver Medal, 1881, Museo del Prado in Madrid), Parisian Life (another Silver Medal, 1889, GSIS Museum), Battle of Lepanto, Blood Compact (1886, Malacanang Palace), Una Bulakenya (1895, Malacanang Palace), among others. The patriot as a murderer? Says who?

Inside Juan Luna Shrine

The Tour Guide did not miss a beat telling and retelling this story. Sure, Juan Luna shot his mother-in-law and wife dead. We also just learned that he shot his brother-in-law Felix Pardo de Tavera too in the same incident, but this “lucky” fellow survived. Was it an accident or was this a crime of passion?

Most answers you’d find point to Juan Luna shooting his wife Paz in a fit of jealousy. The accused lover was a certain Monsieur Dussaq. Having settled in Paris after his marriage, I can only assume this Dussaq is one Frenchman. So, did Juan shoot his wife et al? All this after only 6 years of marriage. Our Ilocano Tour Guide has another version. Like Juan tried to force open the door to their home in Paris by shooting at the door knob, not knowing the mother-in-law was peeping through the keyhole with the wife right behind her. Quite a stretch………..if you ask me. But oh well, that’s the version. (*big yawn)

The couple had 2 children but one died in infancy. The surviving child, Andres, is also a painter and the architect who designed Arlegui House, the residence of ex-President Cory Aquino, and the San Vicente de Paul Church in San Marcelino Street. Many of his works were unfortunately destroyed during the Second World War.

Rizal as a Scribe? or a Sphinx?

Una Bulakenya (Used To Be On Display @Malacanang Palace, Now @National Art Gallery)

The Other Luna Brothers

Juan’s passion for the arts was influenced by his brother Manuel who was also a painter. A better one, if we were to believe Dr. Jose Rizal. From Badoc, Ilocos Norte, the Luna family moved to Manila where the brothers studied. Manuel and Juan traveled together to Spain where Juan had more art (painting) lessons while Manuel ventured into music and later claimed fame as a violinist.

When Juan was arrested for shooting his wife and later acquitted (on grounds of insanity), it was Antonio (yes, General Antonio Luna) who accompanied him from Paris to Madrid and finally to Manila. Both brothers were arrested for rebellion charges, and later released. Juan headed back to Spain, while Antonio remained and was later killed by the Kawit Batallion (another controversial story involving Emilio Aguinaldo, but that’s another story).

One unfinished, intriguing story involves the painting “Una Bulaquena” or Woman from Bulacan. The painting was inspired by a woman who was allegedly the one great love of Antonio Luna, though the other version cites Juan having courted her after losing/shooting Paz. A case of sibling rivalry? Who knows?

This photo shows how tall or short Rizal was..........

Juan Luna’s Distinguished Models

Not many of us know that Dr. Rizal actually posed as Datu Sikatuna in Juan Luna’s “Blood Compact”. In his silver award-winning painting “Death of Cleopatra”, our national hero actually posed in earlier sittings as a scribe complete with a headdress , making him look like a sphinx. Juan Luna himself posed as Marc Anthony in the same painting. Somehow, I can imagine how these men must have enjoyed all these sittings, horsing around, posing in costumes, etc.

The original Parisian Life painting used to hang here in Bahay Nakpil-Bautista in Quiapo

Then of course everybody knows Dr. Rizal was one of the 3 models in the GSIS-acquired “Parisian Life”. The other 2 gentlemen in the painting were Juan Luna himself and Ariston Bautista, in whose house this same painting hung for years. Errr, that is yet another story again.

But these men were not just models. They were our heroes. Patriots. Gentlemen-friends, if you may. Their love of country, passion for the arts and literature, intellect, perhaps even love of women must have bound them like blood brothers in a place far away from home and family, in an era marked by secret alliances and trysts, murder and heroism.

C’est la vie………..

Inside the Shrine @Badoc, Ilocos Norte

Exit Through The Backyard: More Paintings (Reproductions)


An hour or so away by plane, all of 8 to 9 hours travel by road. Take your pick.

Fort Ilocandia

Fountain Inside Fort Ilocandia

We chose to fly, then rent a car from our base which is Fort Ilocandia Hotel and Resort.  The hotel is a good base for many day trips to various parts of the Ilocos Region.  Top of the list is a visit to Vigan, the only surviving colonial town in the country.  Declared a UNESCO Heritage Site,  it is a must see for all visitors who want to catch a glimpse of how it was in the 18th and early 19th century.  Time stood still in this part of Northern Philippines.  It helped too that Vigan , unlike Cebu and Manila,  was spared of the bombing last World War II.  Do not forget that Manila is the second most bombed city during that war. By God’s mercy,  Vigan survived and preserved  its antiquated houses, cobbled pathways, even the calesas or horse-drawn carts. The township with all its narrow streets speak of an architecture which blends Spanish, Asian and Mexican influences. At the time, it was called Ciudad Fernandina before it became Vigan which comes from the word “kabiga-an” where a tuberous plant called “biga” abounds. Then famous as a commercial and trading post,  it attracted Chinese junks sailing from the South China Sea. Some of these Chinese seafarers married natives and settled in Vigan. This was long before King Philip II of Spain sent Captain Juan de Salcedo who then “founded” the town in 1572 and called it Ciudad Fernandina in honor of the King’s son Ferdinand who died at an early age. Since then,  Augustinian missionaries visited Vigan and the rest of Ilocos Region and initiated the evangelization of the area. Many churches and monuments still stand today , spared from the bombings of World War II.

Paoay Church

Paoay Church Sideview

Paoay Church,  A Very Spanish Legacy

Back in Laoag, Ilocos Norte,  we spent the next day visiting Paoay Church, another UNESCO Heritage Site.  I have not seen a church compound anywhere in the Philippines as grand as this one.  Paoay Church stands proud. It is by no means as grand as the churches you’d find in Europe, but the colonial heritage and the Spanish legacy give it its well-deserved grandeur.  Built of bricks and coral blocks, the architecture combines Gothic, Baroque and Oriental. Built over a period of nearly 200 years, the church belltower is a fitting reminder of the Christianization of the Philippines as well as its role in the Philippine Revolution when it was used as an observation post by the local rebels called Katipuneros. Another church , the St. William’s Church, was built by the Augustinian frailes or priests in 1612 in the Italian Renaissance design. Right next to it is the Sinking Belltower leaning slightly to the North.  This is our local though much scaled-down version of the Pisa tower. A 3rd church we visited was Sta. Monica Church , a century old church of  neo-classical and baroque architecture.


Sinking Bell Tower

Ferdinand Marcos Hails from Ilocos

Of more recent history is the fact that ex-President and strongman Ferdinand Marcos hails from Batac, not too far from Laoag. The ancestral house of the Marcoses is now the Marcos Museum and Mausoleoum where the late President’s body lies like a wax statue. During his 20 year reign,  Marcos built a Malacanang of the North (Malacanang in Manila is the official residence of the President, much like the White House in Washington DC).  The mansion is an expression of opulence and overlooks the lovely Paoay Lake. Now a museum,  visitors can tour the mansion for a minimal fee.

Bangui Windmills

Bantay Belfry, Ilocos Sur

These days, the Ilocos Region is still considered Marcos land despite the fact that the dictator has passed on many years ago.  His only son, Ferdinand Junior,  Bongbong to most, is the current congressman representing the Ilocos Region. Bongbong earlier served as governor of the province, during which time the Bangui Windmills were established.  This wind farm lies nearly next to Pagudpud and now has 15 wind turbines. It has since attracted many visitors to the area just to view the 70 meters tall wind turbines. And not too far from here is the Cape Bojeador , a lighthouse built in 1892 north of Laoag City. It is the highest, and I think the oldest, lighthouse in the country.

Vigan's Heritage Site

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse

Many Ilocanos to this day idolize the late President Marcos.  Without dwelling on politics,  I will venture to suggest that the more prominent and admirable Ilocanos should be Juan Luna ,  Diego Silang and his equally brave widow, Gabriela.  All three are martyrs and heroes of the land.  They have done far more for our country than any other Ilocano. That said,  let me invite everyone to visit our land!



More photos can be viewed in my TravelBlog site


St. Paul’s Subterranean  River National Park in Puerto Princesa certainly deserves to count among the 7 wonders of the world.  My friends and I thought it’s about time we visit this famous underground river which has been declared a UNESCO Heritage Site , and check out the many other attractions of this southern part of Palawan. We were pleasantly surprised to find many more wonders in Puerto Princesa. And this is how our adventure went.


St. Paul’s Underground River


It took us a couple of hours to reach the place.  That’s over land.  Next step is to board a boat passing limestone cliffs to reach the entrance to the underground river. The boat ride was another 30 minutes. When we got off the boat,  we found a path “guarded” by monitor lizards and swinging monkeys through this mini rainforest which led towards the river. Waiting for us at the mouth of the cave were professional guides who divided us into small groups. Each small group to a professional rower guide to each boat. While waiting for an earlier batch to come out of the cave entrance,  we listened to instructions from our guide while taking in the sights around the entrance.  I asked about this tree which must have stood by the cave entrance for many years to witness all the comings and goings in this world wonder. The Dangkalan tree is a fitting guard that stands between the open sea and the cave entrance.  By the time we were instructed to board our boat and don our helmet,  I was satisfied with the pictures I took of the lovely tree.



Inside the cave, the underground river snaked through for some 4 kilometers before we were led back the same way to get out.  We must have spent a good hour inside……..enough to see many of the stalactite and stalagmite formations. I’ve got to hand it to the guide who cheerfully flashed his light on cave formations in different shapes and sizes, resembling various fruits and vegetables, as if we were all out in the market.  There was also a spot aptly called Cathedral because of it s height which looked like an atrium with the “Holy Family” cave formation somewhere near.  We were careful to keep our  mouths shut as there were too many bats too eager to shed some droppings!


Iwahig Penal Colony


If there was ever a prison community with the most cheerful inmates, this is the place.  The penal colony spanned many hectares.  This correctional institute is really more like a farming community much like the kibbutz farms I have visited in Israel. Some prisoners lived with their families and were given lots to till to earn a living. Along the river were picnic cottages where families of other prisoners stay during “visits”.  I met an inmate there with a pet snake,  just a small one,  but no matter –  those slimy creatures still give me the creeps.  Another inmate had a pet turtle.  Still another had various handicraft products for sale.  It felt kind of strange to roam around the place, meeting inmates,  chatting with them, even haggling with them for some keychains and other souvenir wood products which they crafted with their own hands.


In another part of the penal colony,  we found this old structure with lovely windows. Must be at least 50 years old.  Certainly not too old,  but it’s got character.  Reminded me of some of the old structures that can be found in the old Sangley Point back in Cavite City where our family once lived.  Right beside this structure was the handicraft store.  Wooden souvenirs,  keychains,  table mats, etc were up for sale.  One can tell these prisoners had their hands full,  busy working with their hands to earn a living.  No wonder they look happy in this place.


Dining at Kalui’s and Badjao


Not to be missed are these 2 fine establishments.  Kalui’s has such a homey atmosphere where diners are asked to leave their slippers outside the hut and don house slippers while enjoying many of Kalui’s seafood delicacies.  The grilled fish selections were so yummy,  and paired with the local seagrapes salad called “lato” make for a really good lunch.  I like the ambience in this place.  It is truly an artist’s place.



Badjao Restaurant on the other is a lot bigger, built on stilts looking out into the sea.  Seafood is the place’s attraction too.  Freshly harvested prawns and lobsters, grilled tuna, and some local vegetable dishes.  I can imagine many weddings and birthdays held here.


Crocodile Farm in Palawan’s Wildlife Center


I have never been to any crocodile farm, so this is my first outing with these crocs.  Each one of us in the group was made to hold a baby croc and pose for a picture.  Naturally,  i did not pass up the opportunity.  But just like the snake,  I have no affection for these reptiles.  Forgive me. We crossed a short bridge passing a group of crocodiles who looked like they were waiting for their lunch.  Hopefully they did not expect me for lunch.


Viet Ville


On our way back to Legend Hotel where we were booked,  we stopped by this place for dinner.  We met some ex-refugees from Vietnam here.  Obviously, not everyone left for good old America.  Some chose to stay behind, and married their Filipina girlfriends.  The Vietnamese restaurant where we had dinner boasts of authentic Vietnamese cuisine.  We had the usual rolls, barbecued meats and noodle soups. We even tried their air-dried jackfruit slices.


Snake Island


We took a boat and braved the waves in Honda Bay , passing a number of islands.   We chose to eat our lunch of grilled fish, salted eggs with tomatoes,  mangoes with bagoong (shrimp paste), and rice in Snake Island.  We also found a couple of snorkelling guides who  found the perfect spot for us to see schools of fish.  Frankly,  I was a bit scared venturing out in open sea.  My guide was kind of advanced in years and I was praying he won’t have an attack while watching out for me.  Tried hard not to panic, and simply enjoyed snorkelling.


Mitra’s House


The house of the late Congressman Mitra is atop a hill and provided a lovely view of Honda Bay.  It was also a house with a unique architecture…………round in shape,  with wooden balcony rails to hem in the tourists enjoying the panoramic view.  Inside the house, one finds pictures of the entire family.  The caretaker still speaks lovingly of the late Speaker of the House.  As do most people from Palawan. What a waste.  Now, we’d never know if Mitra could have been the republic’s greatest ever president.


Read also my Palawan blog in TravelBlog.  More photos can be viewed there.