Air Asia going on sale? Fly to a place filled with history, natural wonders, and some of the best food in the country
By KAYE KOO
Whenever friends and relatives ask for places to visit in our fair country, we default with the following answers: Boracay, Cebu, Palawan, maybe Bohol, maybe Davao.
Interestingly enough, Eastern Visayas, known as Region 8, has so much to offer—and it is totally underrated, for now at least. The best thing about this is, since many of these destinations are not top of mind yet, their costs are not prohibitive, you get a feeling of being there “first,” and you can really sit back and relax.
AirAsia has been at the forefront of offering first class service without the first class tag to more and more cities in the Philippines. The budget airline flies into Tacloban City, the best city to start one’s Eastern Visayas excursion.
Department of Tourism-Region 8 has recently beefed up the destinations, things to do, try, eat, and experience as part of the nationwide It’s More Fun In The Philippines campaign.
Here are our favorites:
LOUNGING IN LAKE DANAO
Lake Danao, originally named Lake Imelda, literally means Lake Lake, in the local dialect. This 148-hectare lake is in the middle of 2,193 hectares of forest. It is a very deep lake, with no one being able to determine its actual depth at some points. The lake is 650 feet above sea level.
Don’t worry, there are no Loch Ness monsters here, none that we know of.
Without breaking the bank, you can rent a floating cottage and pull yourselves into the lake—yes, your cottage (which doubles as your raft), is what you pull using a giant rope connected to the other side, to go to the lake’s center. Be sure to travel in a group, so that there are more hands helping out.
Bring your own cooked food or order from the ates by the lakeside, who will grill for you. The lake is clean and inviting, so bring swimwear. Your raft has spaces where you can sit back, lounge, and take photos set against the mountains in the distance and the lake in the near foreground.
Bonus? You get to kayak, by two’s or by yourself the whole distance of the lake if you wish. The place is quiet and peaceful. It fits the traveler who wants to break away from urban stress and pressures.
Location: A couple of hours away from Ormoc City, which is two hours away from Tacloban City. Accessible via coaster bus, van, private vehicles.
LUNCHING ON ULOT RIVER
When a community of illegal loggers and dynamite fishermen suddenly become environmentalists, something must be up.
Ulot River, a 90-kilometer river in Western Samar, is home to the Torpedo Boat Guides. These former illegal loggers were rehabilitated when, through the efforts of the Department of Tourism and Department of Environment and Natural Resources, they were taught the value of the land they were abusing.
The Torpedo Boat Guides now offer trips down the river for P1,825 for groups of five. There is no age limit but there is a limit as to how far down the river they can bring you. Only 10 kilometers of the river is open to the public so at Deni’s Point, the trip stops for lunch.
Here’s what to expect: Not a raging river of rapids, but some spots of rushing water, resulting in exciting times on the boat. The boat, handmade into the shape of a torpedo (hence their name), allows for unique movement on the water. It is unlike the rafts or tubes on other river rapids. There are no outriggers for balance so this balance is drawn instead from the passengers and the guides.
The journey down river follows the current but the journey back is against the current, which they call a Salmon Run. At Deni’s Point, the guides show you how to jump into the river and jump off boulders into a raging river. It looks scary, but once you’ve conquered it, you will come back for more.
Lunch is prepared by the women of the PO, or People’s Organization. And it is eaten by the river. The Ulot River is virginal, at many points feeling like it has been held back in time. Mini waterfalls and all the green by the riverside provide for excellent photo backdrops. Keep your eyes peeled!
This experience is definitely an adventure, so gear up and get ready to be wet!
Location: Coming from Tacloban City, travel into Brgy. Paranas, Western Samar through winding roads, a lot of nature and greens for about one and a half hours. Best time to come: summer, or when the water is high.
CHILL IN CANAAN
Go back into a time and place when there was no WiFi, cellphone signal, and when food was something you farmed yourself.
For only P50 entrance fee, you can have an authentic farm experience at Canaan Hill Farms and Honey Garden. You can interact with sheep: Look for Julie, born in July, and Duterte, born onJune 30. You can play with goats, especially Uno, who likes the attention and the twins, one of them named, Ignacio. Watch out though, once they like you, they can be as stubborn as goats and won’t let you leave their area.
Canaan specializes in contour farming, where the by-product of one section (plants, trees, or animals) is used to work on the next section. This seven-hectare property faces the ocean and survived Super Typhoon Yolanda because of the way the owners positioned the trees and crops. They still had a lot of work to do in the aftermath, but at least most of the land was preserved.
You can also have an organic lunch prepared where everything tastes fresh and healthy. Canaan is all about 100 percent organic farming, specializing in herbs, culinary and fruit trees, ornamental plants, trees, coconut, vermicomposting, chicken, and organic vegetables.
For those who want to have the full farm experience, you can camp out and sleep in farm kubos (huts) and prepare your own water, catch chickens, and farm. There will be an additional, but minimal charge for this.
Do expect that junk food and drinks will be prohibited. The only food and drink you can bring in is anything that is organically prepared like kamote and steamed banana. If you bring in fast food, you will be charged corkage.
Jemil and Jeff, two of the owner’s sons, will take you around on the tractor. This laidback and very peaceful destination is for those who want to take it easy, breathe really clean air, and eat healthy for a day.
Location: Brgy. Uson, Caibiran, Biliran is located about two hours away from Tacloban, the only province in Region 8 with zero reports of insurgency according to Philippine Army and Philippine National Police Data. To get here, you need to cross Biliran Bridge, the sister bridge of San Juanico Bridge.
Tinago Waterfalls is one of Biliran’s many waterfalls. For an entrance fee of only P10, you can walk into the basin of the waterfalls, swim, jump into the secondary pool, and have a quick merienda.
It is still largely undeveloped and you can expect to be there alone with your group for your visit. You can make it as a quick side-trip after a day at the farm.
PLACES TO STAY
In Tacloban City, Hotel XYZ is considered one of the best. Indeed, it was the first to reopen in Yolanda’s wake, offering delicious brunches and dinners to the hundreds of foreign aid workers and NGOs in the city.
In Ormoc City, Sabin Resort Hotel sustained a lot of damage during Yolanda. The property came back stronger than ever and offers a large pool and comfortable lounge areas for relaxation.
In Palo, beside MacArthur Landing Memorial Park, The Oriental Leyte was flattened, as it was located in the raging path of the Pacific Ocean during Yolanda. By November 2016, it reopened to the public in a grander fashion. This hotel offers first-class, Instagrammable spots all over the property at prices that are friendly to the wallet.
Arrange your tour of Eastern Visayas by linking with the local Department of Tourism office. They have accredited guides who can customize your itinerary depending on length of stay, types of activities you want to engage in, and number of people in your group.
So go ahead and start planning your Philippine holiday and let the beauty, sights, and nature of Eastern Visayas spark your travel lust for more of the Philippines.