[PHOTO - Windmills line the shore at the Bangui Wind Farm in Ilocos Norte. Photos courtesy of PDP Digital, Inc. All rights reserved]

MANILA, MAY 8, 2012 (PHILSTAR) By Edu Jarque - First of two parts - There is absolutely no better time than now to wonder and wander around the Philippines.

Trust me – I’m a veteran of the travel and tourism industry. All in all, a total of 38 uninterrupted years, since my duty days in the early 70’s at Makati’s then only five-star property, to my stint with the Department of Tourism both here and abroad where we continuously and proactively promoted jaunts to the islands, for travelers to stay and stray longer, gather memorable memories with beautiful experiences, and to hopefully invest in the Philippines and even perhaps make this their second home.

The first crucial thing is the number of presently available destinations. There are claims that the roll has quadrupled, even quintupled. How times have changed, for I recall during my early school days when the only option, the lone honest-to-goodness holiday haven, was Baguio.

A single region today renders you speechless with an exciting list of what to see and do – the options of where to eat and shop, loosen up and be pampered, or attempt the extreme – points that are appreciated due to the variety of choices available.

[PHOTO - A bird’s eye view of the crater lake of Mt. Pinatubo in Zambales, Tarlac and Pampanga]

Perhaps it can even instantly effect a migraine for the anxious who simply don’t know where to start!

Without question, there is better connectivity in journeys these days. More airlines, both legacy and low-cost, are battling for our selection, offering seats at affordable – sometimes downright giveaway – rates to destinations unbeknown to most Filipinos. Bridging the entire archipelago is becoming more of a reality each day, with better vessels, faster craft and outrigger boats interconnecting more than a thousand islands, with a few thousands more to spare.

Then, there are also bus lines which offer deluxe seating and inter-island routes in ro-ro fashion. In all these three modes of transport, they’re venturing to more destinations as schedules expand in number and in frequency.

Here’s another boom: more choices of stay, from the ultra-budget inns to la-di-dah resorts. Homestay lodging has likewise become a unique tourist story of its own, where locals generously offer their homes and open their hearts as they happily share their stories over home-cooked dinners.

[PHOTO -The famous Manila Bay sunset paints the sky.]

As beach paradises start to sprawl, we have begun to ask for the best site for surfing or diving; for physical adventure in the mountains, where to pump up the most amount of adrenaline in a bungee jump or zip line; to the metropolis for the craziest nightlife, the wildest food, the bargains over which everyone goes gaga. Wherever we may end up in these islands, we have the greatest of history, of tradition, of heritage, of arts, of culture, of fiestas, of cuisines, of LIFE.

Still unconvinced? Well, I could’ve crafted an overture of another 101 – the myriad reasons why you should escape from your comfort zone – but that could waste our longer honeymoon with summer. And so as I begin from the hills of Batanes down to the mountains of Davao, I’ll leave it up to the roll to convert your doubts:

1. Explore one of the islands of Batanes, from the traditional stone houses in Sabtang to the rolling hills of Marlboro Country in Batan. Test your honesty, a revered local value, by purchasing at the unmanned Honesty Café.

2. As you drive along the Cagayan and Ilocos Norte border, make a layover by the winding Patapat Viaduct, the northernmost road in the country, protruding from a mountain base which many have mistaken for a bridge, as it reveals the scenic beauty of Pasaleng Bay.

[PHOTO - Saud Beach at Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte: Jewel in the edge of Luzon]

3. Try out Ilocos Norte’s extreme shores: bask in the calm white waters of Saud White Sand Beach in Pagudpud, admire the windmills of the wind farm in Bangui, sand board at the desert terrain of La Paz Sand Dunes in Paoay and hike through ancient land-based corals of the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation in Burgos.

4. Loosen up at the transplanted village of ancestral houses of Sitio Remedios in Currimao, Ilocos Norte.

5. Plunge into a palaisdaan at Dagupan City, harvest their bangus and grill one for dinner by the beach.

6. Learn how giant clams are protected by scientists in Bolinao, Pangasinan.

7. Go back more than a hundred years with an empanada in hand while taking a paseo along Crisologo Street, afterwards go around the rest of the heritage town of Vigan on a kalesa.

8. Attend mass at the Callao Caves in Peñablanca, Cagayan and watch the circadian flight from the Bat Cave by late afternoon.

9. Sit on the world’s largest armchair called Butaka (photo) by the town junction in Ilagan, Isabela.

10. Feel like a giant walking through dwarf bamboos in Mt. Pulag, the highest mountain in Luzon shared by the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizcaya, whose borders meet at its peak.

11. Inspired by rice terraces in Ifugao province, volunteer in the rehabilitation of the terraces in Batad, Ifugao.

12. View the hanging coffins, explore the caves and trek to breath-taking waterfalls in Sagada, Mountain Province.

13. Immerse among the artists within their creative colonies at Tam-awan Village and Woodcarver’s Village in Baguio City and take a six-kilometer ride to National Artist BenCab’s Museum.

14. Pick the plumpest strawberry and try out taho produced out of it in La Trinidad, Benguet.

15. After trekking the lahar landscape from Pampanga, either bathe at Mt. Pinatubo’s crater lake made magnificently blue by its sulfuric content or surrender to a relaxing spa of ash from the volcanic eruption in Capas, Tarlac.

16. Dive the World War II ship wrecks in Subic Bay, Zambales.

17. Discover what makes Anawangin Cove in Zambales surreal.

18. Contamplate the early morning by the breezy Lake Pantabangan, a large reservoir in Nueva Ecija.

19. Say a little prayer before the depository which contains what is believed to be a relic of Christ’s cross at the Monasterio de Tarlac of the Servants of the Risen Christ in the mountain village of Lubigan in San Jose, Tarlac.

[PHOTO -A huge cross watches over the Dambana ng Kagitingan on Mt. Samat, Pilar, Bataan.]

20. Try surfing in Baler, Aurora, the town which started it all – from the surf boards of the actors and members of the crew of “Apocalypse Now” (1979) which were curiously tried out by the locals.

21. Loveless? Childless? Or just a plain hip-hop junkie? Sway before the images of San Pascual de Bailon, Sta. Clara and Our Lady of Salambao during the Obando Fertility Dance in Obando, Bulacan.

22. Sponsor a hatchling at the Pawikan Conservation Center in Morong, Bataan.

23. Share the struggle in your own way as you reflect on the legacy of our patriots at the Dambana ng Kagitingan at Mount Samat in Pilar, Bataan.

24. Plant a seedling in the forest cover of Ipo Dam in Norzagaray, Bulacan.


25. Wave at the dozens, if not a hundred, of adorned parading carabaos, the gentlest beast of burden, during their very own thanksgiving celebration at the Pulilan Carabao Festival in Pulilan, Bulacan.

26. Find out why mountain bikers call the 7-km uphill bike trail in San Mateo, Rizal “Shotgun.”

27. Be a pilgrim and light a candle in Antipolo Church, a venerated site for Marian devotees, and later breathe in the arts at Pinto Gallery.

28. Decipher the 127 human and animal figures of the Angono Triglyphs as you walk along the cave walls in Angono, Rizal.

29. Unravel Chinatown’s culinary secrets in time-tested hole-in-the-wall restaurants which feature roast duck, fried pigeon, and fried frog legs; miscellanea of beef, seafood, pork, or just plain congee, mami, siopao and siomai, and the list goes on and on. Don’t forget to take home an assortment of hopia and other Chinese delicacies from local bakeries.

30. Explore the entire archipelago within two hours with a guided tour over the boardwalk of the Philippine relief map at Rizal Park in Manila.

31. After a visit to the historic San Agustin Church, its impressive museum and Casa Manila, have a Spanish meal or sampaguita ice cream at Barbara’s or Ilustrado. Then walk along the thick fortified walls of Intramuros, and, to end your day, count our National Hero Jose Rizal’s footsteps from Fort Santiago to meet his fate at the Luneta, now known as Rizal Park.

[PHOTO - The loveliest sunsets are seen over Manila Bay and what lovelier dining experience than to have it on board Manila Bay Dinner Cruise? After touring the busy streets of metro Manila under humid climate conditions, take the Manila Bay Dinner Cruise on board a dinner yacht and enjoy the natural beauty of Manila Bay. Some consider it the most picturesque bay in all of Southeast Asia. The cruise begins at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Complex along Roxas Avenue, near Manila Yacht Club. The CCP is hard to miss. Its ramp entrance and fountain are familiar to almost every metro Manila resident.]

32. Have a romantic dinner cruise around Manila Bay.

33. Go on a pilgrimage to Sta. Ana Church in the old suburb of Sta. Ana, Manila and climb up to the Camarin de la Virgen, the dressing room of the Virgin, whose pedestal is said to have been made from parts of a Spanish galleon.

34. Choose from the many impressive museums in Metro Manila – Ayala Museum, Yuchengco Museum, National Museum of the Philippines, Museum of the Filipino People, Bahay Tsinoy, Lopez Memorial Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Manila and Museo Pambata.

35. Visit the official residences of the top two elected officials of the land: the Malacañan Palace and the Coconut Palace in Manila.

[PHOTO -The Las Piñas Bamboo Organ]

36. Lose yourself in the baroque music of the Bamboo Organ’s 174 vertical pipes and 122 reeds at the St. Joseph Church in Las Piñas, Metro Manila.

37. Search for the very elusive bleeding-heart bird in Mt. Makiling, Los Baños, Laguna.

38. Spend an afternoon in the town of Pila, Laguna and discover how its heritage remained little-influenced by modern times.

39. Hop into your vehicle and do the Laguna Loop which showcases centuries-old churches, with stopovers at the wood-carving town of Paete, the tsinelas capital Liliw, the underground cemetery of Nagcarlan, the many rapids of Pagsanjan and the popular healing baths of Pakil.

40. See Emilio Jacinto’s blood stains at Magdalena Church in Laguna, one of Philippine Cinema’s most favorite locations for films.

41. Hike on the trail connecting all legendary Seven Lakes of San Pablo City, and make certain you stop at Pandin Lake, dubbed as the most beautiful, to enjoy a peaceful boatride paddled exclusively by women.

42. Climb up the belfry of Asia’s largest church in Taal, Batangas and admire the view of the colonial town, then head to the market for a taste of El Pasubat with signature dishes such as empanada, embotido, longganisa, tapa, tulingan, suman, and panutsa.

43. Try apitheraphy or healing therapy through products made by honeybees at the Ilog Maria Bee Farm in Silang, Cavite.

44. Fillip the Filipino in you by waving the Philippine flag from the balcony of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s house in Kawit, Cavite.

45. Sail to the island of Corregidor and witness the very site of the heroism and bravery of soldiers who fought in the Second World War.

46. Get up from your slackened hammock in Puerto Galera and explore other rousing activities such as a hike to Tamaraw Falls and a motorcycle cruise.

47. Swim with the fish in Apo Reef in Sablayan (photo), Occidental Mindoro.

48. Enroll in an introductory scuba diving course in Anilao, Batangas.

49. Catch a trio of simultaneous May-time festivals in Quezon province: battle with the guys in catching your own suman at the Agawan Festival in Sariaya and Hagisan ng Suman in Tayabas.

Then head off to Lucban for the colorful Pahiyas Festival.

To be continued

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved