Photographed by Jo Ann Bitagcol on location in Samar
Styled by Liza Ilarde, assisted by Rudolph Leonor and Mary Grace Caison
Hair and makeup by Baba Parma
Model: Kim Ross (Mercator)
Special thanks to Samar Governor Sharee Ann Tan
Did you know that Samar is the caving capital of the Philippines? And did you know that after Typhoon Yolanda washed away people’s homes, these caves provided the locals with shelter while they rebuilt their lives and livelihoods?
It’s amazing what we don’t know about our own country. The province of Samar (formerly known as Western Samar) is located on the island of Samar, the third largest island in the Philippines (next to Luzon and Mindanao). Samar island is also where two other provinces are located: Northern Samar and Eastern Samar (yes, those are three separate provinces).
Though surrounded by water on its western coastline, Samar is not really known for its beaches. But the province, which is so under the radar as a tourist destination, is a haven for adventure seekers, thanks to its hundreds of otherwordly caves (Samar has the largest cave system in the Philippines and the second biggest cave in Southeast Asia), enchanting waterfalls in remote areas, lush rainforests that beg to be hiked, and countless river channels that can go from calm and relaxing to thrilling and torpedo-like.
While I hardly consider myself an adventure traveler, I was able to navigate the natural wonders that Samar has to offer. The local guides were very thoughtful and considerate of us beginners and, at the same time, were quite amused when we city slickers oohed and ahhed over the beauty that surrounded us. They may take for granted the caves, waterfalls, and rivers that they see every day, but these are distinct Samar signatures that they can own and be proud of.
Samar, see you again very soon.
Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park in Basey is so-called because of a huge arch-shaped rock that connects two mountain ridges that span the Sohoton River. Out of the many caves within the 820-hectare area, the Sohoton Cave is said to be a good place for caving beginners to start. Off-shoulder top by Chocolate, striped skirt by Pio Pio, embroidered mules by Maco Custodio
The San Juanico Bridge, which connects Samar and Leyte, is the longest—and most photographed!—bridge in the Philippines. Its total length is 2.16 kilometers. The two provinces are separated by the San Juanico Strait, a very narrow strait and which is, in fact, also the narrowest in the country—only two kilometers wide at its narrowest point. Embroidered blouse by Filip+Inna, hat by L’Occitane
The Marabut Marine Park is home to around 15 towering limestone rock islands in various shapes and sizes. Take a slow boat through San Pedro Bay to search for secluded coves for snorkeling and scuba diving (but watch out for the jellyfish!). Or just hang out in Caluwayan Palm Island Resort & Restaurant like we did! Striped top by Bershka, embroidered shorts by Filip+Inna, sneakers (in hand) by Converse
The town of Basey has become synonymous with the banig, or traditional woven mats. What makes theirs different is the use of tikog grass, which is more sturdy than buri or pandan. Visit a showroom like Mabaysay by Eva Marie Arts & Craft to see how the local women weave everything by hand and to, of course, shop for banig bags and home decor! Embroidered top by Jor-el Espina, denim skirt by Ross
At the end of a 20-minute cruise through the Golden River, you’ll hit Panhulugan Cliff and Caves. The high caves were said to be ambush hideouts by local rebels during the Filipino-American War in the late 1800s. From here, you can go kayaking, hiking, and caving at Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park. Swimsuit by Eighth Mermaid, embroidered shorts by Linea Etnika
The capital of Samar is Catbalogan, which is known for its fishing industry and was once the biggest supplier of fish to Manila. Not to be missed is the majestic neo-classical Samar Capitol Building, which was erected in 1930. The main mode of transportation in the city is via trysikul, an eco-friendly version of the tricycle. Embroidered top by Linea Etnika, denim skirt by Ross, Camino slip-on shoes by Harlan+Holden, sunglasses by Spektre
Mangroves in Samar were severely damaged during Typhoon Yolanda, but because they are protected and are quite resilient, they have been growing back steadily. Dine among them at San Juan By The Bay Floating Restaurant & Boardwalk in Sta. Rita. After crossing the 400-meter bamboo bridge, you can enjoy a meal on a huge floating raft with an unobstructed view of the San Juanico Bridge. On the water, you can also swim, kayak, or just gently float by. Denim jacket by H&M, tank top by Bershka, embroidered drawstring-waist skirt by Filip+Inna x Balay Ni Atong, sneakers by Converse, sunglasses by Gucci
Store Info: Bershka, bershka.com/ph; Converse, converse.com.ph; Eighth Mermaid, eighthmermaid.com; Filip+Inna, filipinna.com; Gucci eyewear available at leading department stores and optical shops;
H&M, hm.com; Harlan+Holden, harlanholden.com; Jor-el Espina, espinabride.com; Linea Etnika, lineaetnika.com; L’Occitane, ph.loccitane.com; Maco Custodio, maco-custodio.com; Pio Pio, facebook.com/piopioph; Spektre, IG: @spektresunglasses