Baler

Baler is the capital of the province of Aurora, in the Central Luzon region of the Philippines.  It is mostly known for being the shooting location of the famous surfing scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” and “Charlie don’t surf!” are 2 lines that may sound familiar, especially if you are a film buff.  Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore played by Robert Duval said these lines at Charlie’s Point, now one of the most accessible and popular surf spots in the area.  But if you are an avid surfer, or just want to give it a try, know that this is only the beginning of what Baler has to offer.

Located a, roughly, 7 hour ride from Manila (it took us 12 hours from Santa Ana, Cagayan), Baler is not only ther birthplace of the Philippines Surf scene, but also home to some beautiful white sand beaches and waterfalls.

Digisit, Ditumabo, Cunayan and Paltic falls are all within a reasonable distance and are a must if you wish to combine a little hiking with a little dip in fresh water.

Head over to Dinadiawan or down to Dicasalarin Cove if you want to avoid the crowds and relax on a white sand beach sorounded by beautiful coconut trees.

Baler is also motorcycling paradise.  Its twisting roads are fairly quiet and there isn’t much traffic outside the town propper.  The ride will reward you with great sea views and coconut trees, beautiful muntains and rivers.  Road conditions are good, but watch out for certain sections where the pavement disappears and the roasd becomes a dirt track.

If you are looking for a place to stay, we really like Kahanamoku Bed & Breakfast, which is super clean, well decorated and has very tasty and healthy breakfast options which you need to order before 5pm the previous day.  Even though this place does not have T.V. or wifi, it is one of our favourite lodging options in the Philippines.  It is also the home of Salty Dog Customs and also offer yoga classes and retreats.  If you are in Baler for surfing, Cemento beach and Cobra Reef are literally across the road.

While some claim to be able to surf all year round, surf season in Baler runs from September to March, having best waves from December to February.  Do check out Sabang Beach, Charlie’s Point, Lindy’s Point and Cobra Reef in Cemento Beach if you want to catch some waves.  Charlie Does is the perfect all in one stop iuf you are hungry, need a board and even if you need some lessons before jumping in the water.

La Union

San Juan is a small surfing town in the province of La Union in the Ilocos Region of the Philippines.

It is roughly a 5 hour ride from Manila, depending on traffic, and is a very popular destination for locals to spend their weekends and ride the waves in its various spots.

There are 2 surfing seasons in La Union, the north swell (October-April) and the southwest monsoon (habagat) (July-September), during which one can expect consistent waves.  If in La Union between July to September, know that it is also rainy season.  But if you are going to be in the water anyway… who cares?

If you are in La Union to catch some waves, you have a good selection of spots availabble no matter your level.  Beach break is where you will find most surfing schools and is beginner friendly.  Monaliza Point is on the north end of the beach and is a very enjoyable right hander over a rocky coral bottom and a little further south of the beach, about a 5-10 minute ride, you will find Carille/Jesus Point, another very long right hander.

If surf is not your thing, lazying by the beach is not in your plans and you are in the mood for hiking, you can check out Tangadan Falls which are located aproximately 20km east of San Juan in San Gabriel.  Alternatively, head over to Tapuakan River, just over 50km south from San Juan, in Pugo, where you’ll be able to go for a dip in it’s shallow stream, relax and enjoy the scenery.

If you are out for some great coffee or if you have a sweet tooth, we highly recommend El Union Coffee.  Friendly staff, nice atmosphere and its really close to Monaliza Point, if you feel like catching some waves before or after.

If you are up for a good ride, Bessang Pass is one of our favourite roads in the country.  Nice winding mountain roads which twist up the mountains on the way to Sagada.  It has absolutely stunning views and you will pass innumerable waterfalls and very little traffic.

Rice terraces ::: Batad, Banaue, Sagada and sorroundings.

As much as the Philippines is mostly known for its beautiful beaches and coral reefs, one must not forget about the rice terraces located in the Cordillera Administrative Region, in Luzon.  We rode to Batad, Banaue, Buscalan Village and Sagada to get a glimpse of some of the most beautiful landscapes this mountainous region has to offer.

Batad

Located in the Ifugao province, Batad has probably one of the most remote and inaccessible rice terraces of them all, but at the same time the most spectacular.  It is roughly a 10-12 hour ride from Manila or a 40-60 minute ride from Banaue Town Proper, but one must park 1km away and hike to get to the village.

As a day trip, getting there relatively early will allow you to enjoy breakfast, overlooking the terraces before heading down to Tappiya Falls.  Many ask if it is a must to get a guide to do so, and as much as one could find the way fairly easily, it is not so much a question of whether one needs a guide but a question of whether the guide needs the traveller.  A guided tour of the terraces and a visit to the falls will set you back Php1200, which goes a long way for most locals.  Not to mention that the local guides will take you to the best places from which you can snap your Instagram worthy moments.

The hike to the Tappiya Falls and back, takes approximately 5 hours and it is relatively physically demanding, but definitely possible for anyone to do, and absolutely worth the effort.  Remember to bring river shoes to make getting in the water for a swim a much easier task.

If you do have time, 2 or more nights in Batad (we had an amazing experience at Rita’s Mount View Inn and Restaurant), are ideal to spend more time exploring the surrounding villages and sights.

Banaue

This larger and more easily accessible town, is our jump off point of choice, especially if time is of the essence.  From Banaue, one can reach a number of “must see” places with relative ease. The UNESCO World Heritage List included The Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras in 1995 and includes the Batad Rice Terraces, Bangaan Rice Terraces (both within the Municipality of Banaue), Mayoyao Rice Terraces (in Mayoyao), Hungduan Rice Terraces (in Hungduan) and Nagacadan Rice Terraces (in Kiangan), all in the Ifugao Province and most, at a reasonable distance.

Buscalan

Similar to Batad, Buscalan requires visitors to leave their form of transportation (it takes 1.5 to 2 hours to ride from Sagada or 2.5 to 3 hours from Banaue) and hike for about 45 minutes to an hour and a half to get to the village.  A guide is required and you will have no problem finding one at the make shift car park area where the hike starts.

While you will be able to see some rice terraces (much smaller than the others mentioned in this article, the main attraction in Buscalan is the famous Whang-od and her students.  At 100 years old, Whang-od is the oldest tattoo artist in the Philippines (at the time of writing) and is the last mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattooist).  Traditionally, these tattoos were done on Kalinga warriors, and to become a warrior, one should have killed another person and bring the head as proof.  Nowadays, many local and foreign tourists head up to Buscalan to get a tattoo from Whang-od and it may require an overnight stay (sometimes more) at the village.  There are plenty home-stay options in the village, but we were with Charlie Knows and highly recommend it.

A great alternative, considering Whang-od’s age is to get inked by one of her 2 students Grace Palicas, and Ilyang Wigan.  For some it may not be an option, but if you want something special, getting a tattoo from the next generation is as special, if you ask us.  Both Grace and Ilyang, will be in this year’s Singapore Ink Show.  You can also find more info on Tattooed by Apo Whang-Od Facebook Group.

Sagada

Another “must” while up in the mountains lies a 3 hour ride from Banaue.  In Sagada, one can visit it’s famous caves and hanging coffins, drink their coffee or go white water rafting.  We had our best food at Coffee Heritage House and the Yoghurt House.  The first one is a little more remote, but if you want a great meal in a very peaceful environment with a staff that has a good eye for details, this is definitely something you should keep in your list.

When visiting any of the sights in Sagada, one must first register at a tourist infformation office and hire a guide.

Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride Manila, 2017

It’s that time of the year, ladies and gentlemen… We spent the earlier part of this sunny Sunday riding in our best rags with the intention of raising funds for research into prostate cancer and men’s mental health.  The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride is on its 6th year (3rd one to be organised in the Pinoy capital) and has so far raised over US$4,000,000 (at the tome of writing).

We decided to add our little grain of sand for the cause and get involved and check out the dapper riding scene and yes… the bikes!

This was our first time in the DGR in the Philippines, but it was not our first DGR, and here is what we thought about the experience.

Rant Alert !!!

The DGR has a good build up during the months/weeks preceding the event, with plenty of information on the whys and the hows.  Our fellow riders from down under have always done a great job illustrating how they envision the event with very simple but clear style guidelines.  Unfortunately, and this is something we have seen in the event, globally, there are way too many people that don’t seem to get the memo on the dress code or the bike styles this event is intended for.  As much as one can think: “Oh well… let them be… it’s for a good cause…” It seems a little unfair for the ones that actually make the effort and sometimes bend over backwards to do their best to fulfill the two main aesthetic requirements of the event.  It is, after all, the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride and not the “A button up shirt and my plastic 2015 stock scooter will do” ride, or the “My Sportster and a Hawaiian Shirt” ride.

End of Rant.

On a more positive note…  Having a chance to see so many beautiful custom, vintage and classic bikes riding together, and having the opportunity to get to know the local gentlefolk, is always a pleasure.  It is a great way to go for a nice joy ride around the city (which we rarely get to do) and the best excuse to see some old and new friends we don’t get to see as regularly as we would like to.

So, if you missed this years… make sure to save the last Sunday of September 2018 and join the gentry!

Oh, and if you do not have a set of wheels, you are in Manila, and would like to join the ride… Let us know! we may have a bike you can rent for next year’s Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride!

Polillo Island

Polillo is the main island of a group of islands with the same name. Its biodiversity is impressive and you will find it a must, especially if you enjoy hiking and birdwatching. Island hopping is also recommended if you have the time. We paid ₱200 for a ticket and an additional ₱10 for the terminal fee to go from Real on a passenger boat. These boats leave (at the time of writing) at 5:15, 6:15, 9:00 and 10:00 (all in the a.m.); and return to Real from Polillo at 5:00, 6:00, 11:00 and 13:00. Please make sure to double check with the port as schedules in the Philippines tend to change without notice.
The arrival in Polillo island is a good boost to the morale, with a bunch of tricycle drivers cheering and welcoming you to the island without being too insistent in trying to sell you the ride to the resort.
We paid ₱50/person to get to Isla Polillo Beach Resort, a 15 year old resort where the lack of manpower seems evident at times, but where Tita Piens, Tito Bayani and their son Vani will go out of their way to accomodate and make your stay as pleasant as possible.
We stayed in their aircon bungalows for ₱2600/night. The rooms are located in a large garden, filled with coconut trees, healthy looking dogs (uncommon in the Philippines), chickens, geese and a beautiful view of the sea. They need a little maintenance, but are generally clean and comfortable.
Shortly after our arrival, we were served some amazing crabs (caught by the resort) with coconut (also from the garden).
The pool was where we chose to relax and rest till the sunset (a beautiful one, by the way) before another delicious meal for dinner.
Day 2 started off with a simple breakfast before heading down to Bato, a beach in the southern part of Polillo. If you want to go island hopping, the trip is 4 hours by boat each way.
The beach was perfect for a dip, although a little to rough for snorkeling. We had some food prepared by the resort, which was nothing short of fantastic and ended up spending a good 5 hours roasting in the sun, soaking in the water and taking a few pictures of the area.
The road to and from the resort is a rough one, but worth the trip. It is important to know that 10km in Polillo, translate to approximately 30-40 minutes by van/tricycle, so going to Burdeos may take a good 3 hours. We left this one for a future trip.
All in all, Polillo was a hidden reward behind a long rollercoaster ride of ups (beautiful Marilaque Highway on a custom motorcycle) and downs (limited or non existent decent food and lodging options for a reasonable price in Real and Infanta).
To sum it all up, we would say that if you choose to ride Marilaque, you should do this during the week, leave in time to get to the ferry to Polillo and spend at least to nights there before heading back to Manila.

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