2009 - Backpacking to Philippines

Backpacking Adventure
7 days to Manila City, Pagsanjan Fall,
Talisay, Matabungkay Beach, Tagaytay City
30 Jan <> 05 Feb 2009

(L to R) Ching Neng Bin, Monica Foong Sui Oi, Catherine Oon Siew Ngoh, Kok Lai Khim, Mike Khaw Eng Aun, Helen Chok Yuen Lee, Albert Chong Kee Wah, Lee Kar Heng, Song Poh, Chan Nam Hong, Ng Siew Lian, Tan Di Mal, Chan Kang Fei at Manila Airport

Day 1 video clips with music

Day 01 (30.01.09) Kuala Lumpur > Manila

Mabuhay! Greetings from Philippines. The adventure began at 5am when Mike Khaw drove from Sitiawan to my Ipoh house and together in my son’s car we arrived 9.30am at KLIA. Here we met the other 10 team members from KL and then proceed to a common check-in so as to be able to carry 15 boxes of 5kg each of new and used clothing for distribution to the fire victim of Gawad Kalinga project. Thanks to Albert Chong for the collection of clothing and the arrangement with Gawad Kalinga.

Flying at 12.00 noon by MAS MH704 and arriving at Manila Aquino Airport at 3.50pm. Bro. Roger from Gawad Kalinga met us at the airport to collect the boxes.

Two vans which were booked earlier for the 7days trip by Mr. Chan Kang Fei came to pick us up. In Manila Malate area we checked in to Hostel1632 at Peso1,900 a room – small and expensive. Hostel1632 is about forty-five minutes away from the International Airport, located at the heart of Malate and is accessible to the nearest shopping centers, tourist spots and golf course. It is very close to the famous Robinson’s Place Manila.

Hostel1632 @ P1,900 a room for two with A/C & breakfast for 2. (Rm146)
Renting of 2 vans for 7days at P50,000 (Rm3,846) or Rm296 per person

Manila Airport
Evening was spent walking along Manila Bay and also inside Robinson’s Place where we had our first taste of Pilipino food. The food court at Robinson is strongly recommended for its cheap and good food at about P60 to P90 (RM5 to RM7).

Dinner at Robinsons Place
KF Chan enjoying delicious dinner & fantastic company
Catherine & I am still looking for food

Hostel 1632
sleeping in Hostel 1632 @ P1,900 a room for two with A/C & breakfast for 2. (Rm146)
Day 02 (31.01.09) Manila > Pagsanjan Waterfalls

Day 2 video clips

After breakfast at Hostel, we drove for about 2 hours (102km) to Pagsanjan (pronounced “pag-san-han”), south-east of Manila in Laguna Province via the South Super Highway. Driving through rice fields and coconut plantations and towns like, San Pedro, Carmona, Calamba and Santa Cruz before reaching Pagsanjan – the site of Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”. Along the way we stopped to buy the popular coconut candy and pineapple pie for lunch. Check in at Tropical Inn @ P1100 a room.

Tropical Inn @ P1100 (RM85) a room for two
Boating fee @ P800 pp (RM62)
Dinner @ P248 pp (RM19)
no house but a home for the poor
checking out of Hostel 1632
On the way to Pagsanjan - coffee & toilet stop
Best coconut, apple & pineapple pie in Philippines

we are in Laguna province

Tropical Inn @ P1100 (RM85) a room for two
Getting ready for boating - boating fee @ P800 pp (RM62)
We took the boating trip operated by Tropical Inn at P800 p.p. (RM62). We walked a short distant behind the Inn to the Pagsanjan River. A canoe can carry up to 3 passengers. The canoe ride to the Waterfalls was about 1 hour upstream to the top of gorge, rowed by two men. As the boatman rowed upstream, the wonders of nature unfolded before our eyes as the sight of lush greenery and 400ft cliffs thrilled us endlessly. When we got to the falls, we took a ride on a bamboo raft to go directly below the very strong falls to experience the thunderous downpour of water from 70ft above. That’s another P90 (RM7) per person but worth the money.

There were at least 16 rapids (turbulent waters) that the boat has to go through. Going upstream, the boatmen will get down at these rapids and push the boat or use their feet to kick the rocks and propel the boat upstream. At places where the rocks are too many and the water is too shallow, steel pipes were placed transversely at proper intervals so that the boat can be slid over these pipes.

The real excitement was on the boat's return trip. This is what was dubbed "Shooting the Rapids". See how skillfully the boatmen maneuvered the boat between rocks, alternately using their paddle or their feet. There are places that the rapids are on a curve but the boatmen would guide the boat through it. If the paddle is not enough to steer, the boatmen's feet surely will. We really enjoyed ourselves and the thrill of shooting rapids.

We were informed that the current standard rate was P800 fixed by the town boat operators association, up from P650 as mentioned in the internet. The town has 2000 boatmen and each take turns rowing tourist to the waterfall once or twice a week. Tourist numbered 800 per day during our visit.

Albert & Helen

Rowing up the river

Chan & Khim

the iron pipes for boats to roll over

Rafting towards the great fall

Afternoon was driving along the Laguna Lake and took pictures at the Pagsanjan Arch or Old Gate. This historic town gate was built in 1878-1880. It has three Roman style arches topped by two lions, guarding the royal Spanish emblem. Along Rizal Street, near the gate, some old houses survived, holding memories of the past Filipino architecture.

Pagsanjan Arch

Laguna Lake

Python snake
Snake skin car
We had good home cooked dinner in a small restaurant recommended by our driver Jay. Later in the evening we sat at the veranda of our guesthouse drinking whisky bought earlier by Mr. Lee at the airport. It was story and jokes telling throughout the night until bed time at 11.30pm.

2nd day dinner delicious, company fantastic

Day 03 (1.02.09) Pagsanjan>San Pablo>TalisayCity 

Day 3 video clips

The morning was a country side drive to San Pablo City. The City of San Pablo in the province of Laguna is one of the country's oldest cities. It lies in the southern portion of Laguna province. This city is otherwise known as the "City of Seven Lakes" - Sampalok, Palakpakin, Yambo, Bunot, Pandin, Muhikap, and Calibato. We drove round the Sampaloc Lake.

We drove to the Hidden Valley Spring Resort but did not go in as the entrance fee was too expensive at P1,800 p.p. which includes lunch. Hidden Valley Spring Resort is privately run, located at a volcano with hot springs and full facilities.

We then continued our drive to Talisay City in the province of Batangas. Talisay is located in the north-central area of Batangas, which is located southwest of the island of Luzon, approximately 84 kilometers south from Metro Manila. It is bordered by Tagaytay City in the north, the municipality of Laurel to the west, Tanauan City to the east, and a vast volcanic lake called Taal Lake to the south. Talisay has recently reinvented itself into a resort town, making use of the superb view and access that they have to Taal Volcano and Taal Lake. Many resorts that fit a wide range of budgets have sprouted along the town.

Natalia’s Taal Lake Guest House @ P1000 a room with A/C & 2x double mattress.
Access to the waterfall cost P50 p.p collected by the villagers. Guide fee was P200
Lunch @ P130pp (RM13)
Dinner @ P215pp (RM16)

We had coffee and pau for breakfast at a small town nearby our hotel at Plaza Delights beside a very old church. The lady owner of the shop took us upstairs to look at her antique collection of furniture said to be more than 100 years old. Besides being a restaurant, Plaza Delights is also a mini market. We also changed USD to Pesos at the shop.
The owner of Plaza Delights seated in the centre
view of San Pablo City across the Sampaioc Lake
Rotary Club of San Pablo

Sampaloc Lake is one of the 7 lakes which make San Pablo City famous. It is also the most accessible being just in the vicinity of the City Hall. Once you are in the city hall vicinity, the lake may already be viewed from the park at the left side of the building across the street. There is also a mini park at the lakeside a stone throw away from this one. A 3.8km concrete road goes around the lake making it ideal for biking and jogging. The driver said that efforts are being made to remove residential houses from the lake shore particularly those on the right side of the road if you are moving clockwise. If not for these houses, the view around the lake will be unhampered.

We finally found our rooms at Natalia’s Taal Guest House at P1000 a room by the Taal Lake. We had expensive lunch and dinner here. After lunch, we walked to a nearby waterfall for a swim at P50 p.p. While walking through the village to the waterfall, we noted that the soil all around us were rich dark volcano soil. The same type of dark rich soil was also at the waterfall making the water dark as we swam in the pool.
had expensive lunch @ P130pp (RM13) in Natalia’s Taal Guest House

After the swim we went to town for the night market and witnessed a school band before returning to the guesthouse for dinner. It was karaoke throughout the night with Mr. Lee, KF Chan, Kim, and Helen singing till 12midnight. As usual, we had the half bottle of whisky and a bottle of local wine to boost our singing. In view of the beautiful weather, Mike Khaw, Lee and I slept in “a thousand stars hut” free of charge at the guesthouse.

The boat & water-house

had expensive dinner in Natalia’s Taal Guest House
Duck egg delicacy - half-hatched chick inside
Day 04 (2.2.09) Taal Volcano > Tagaytay > Matabungkay

Day 4 video clips

We had an early breakfast at the guest house and then on the motorized ‘bangka’ outrigger boat to the Taal Island and Volcano for P1500 a boat. The boat ride was exciting with the strong wind raising the waves up to a meter high. Most of us got quite wet from the water spray. At the island we had to trek up 2250 feet to view the caldera from the rim of crater while Mr. Lee Kah Heng engaged a horse ‘Patricia” for P500.

Taal Lake is a freshwater lake in the province of Batangas, on the island of Luzon. The lake is situated within a caldera formed by very large eruptions between 500,000 and 100,000 years ago. It is the country's third largest lake (the largest being Laguna de Bay). The active Taal Volcano, which is the one responsible for the lake's sulfuric content, lies on an island in the center of the lake, called Volcano Island. The island is called pulo or islet by the locals.

After the lake/volcano trip, we checked out of the Guesthouse and travelled to the Tagaytay City in the highlands. We had lunch near a market in Tagaytay City and bought vegetables for dinner. We then drove to Matabungkay beach to check in at Casa Verde Guesthouse as recommended by Jay the driver.

Cost of one boat is P1500 for 6-7 person
Trek guide fee P50 pp. Fee for getting on/off boat on walkway was P5 pp.
Nuestra Senora Horseback Riding is P500 pp.
Casa Verde Guest House at P800 a room for 2 with A/C
Lunch at Tagaytay City Market stalls cost about P80 -150 each c/w drinks.
Dinner at Guesthouse @ P100pp (RM8)
Tagaytay City is in the province of Cavite. Only 55 km away from Manila via Aguinaldo Highway, it is one of the country's most popular tourist destinations. Tagaytay City provides a good view of the Taal Volcano. The city is a popular summer tourist destination because of its cool climate due to its high altitude. Tagaytay City lies on top of the Tagaytay Ridge, which, at 640 m (2,100 ft) above sea level, is the highest point in Cavite. The ridge provides a spectacular view of Taal Lake and Taal Volcano in Batangas. This view supports Tagaytay's main industry, which is tourism.
Beautiful sunrise at Taal Lake
Taking the boat to the island

Mr. Lee on Patricia the horse
Dusty trek up the volcano
The dusty trek
Soil erosion by wind
this is the only trek up
the long and dusty trek up the mountain
smoke and steam coming out from this hole

Photographers in action - Helen, Khim & Chan
finally we art at the Taal Volcano
Taal Volcano has been called the smallest active volcano in the world. It is located about 70-km south of Manila in the middle of a lake called Taal Lake. What makes Taal Volcano unique is the fact that the volcano itself forms an island that has a lake of its own inside its crater which is called the "Crater Lake", thus, it is a lake within a lake.
Khim at the top of the Taal Volcano
Crater Lake of Taal Volcano

Taal Volcano satellite image

Beautiful sunset at Matabungkay Beach

Dinner cooked by our 2 drivers at Casa Verde Guest House at P800 a room for 2 with A/C
karaoke session at the guesthouse

Day 05 (3.02.09) Matabungkay > Tagaytay > Manila

Day 5 video clips

Morning was spent swimming at the beach and the paddle boat. We had lunch at the number one fast-food chain “Jollibee”, in Tagaytay City. After lunch in town we drove all the way to Manila and visited the American Cemetery and War Memorial.
Beach guest-houses
the local beer is quite good
Matabungkay Beach is a white sand beach reasonably accessible to Manila (120 km or so) that was originally 'discovered' to be a great weekend or day trip destination in the early 1950's, allegedly by sun starved German residents of Manila. In fact the German Club had a cottage there then. It was soon a popular target for holiday lovers and permanent cottages (even deluxe beach houses) were built along the beach line (and some into the beach) in the early 1960's for rich Manila folk. It has a small coral reef about 50 meters from the low tide mark in the center of the cove which diverts the incoming waves beautifully and creates some that on good days you could body surf on. At present it is a top destination during the Philippine summer season (April to June) and gets very crowded. Aside from cottages and houses, there are small sheds of bamboo construction one could rent for a day built in some places almost to the high tide mark.
a floating dinning room for rent
Catherine on paddle boat

Khim ready to move on to Tagaytay City
lorry laden with sugar cane
Tagaytay City is in the province of Cavite. Only 55 km away from Manila via Aguinaldo Highway, it is one of the country's most popular tourist destinations. Tagaytay City provides a good view of the Taal Volcano. The city is a popular summer tourist destination because of its cool climate due to its high altitude. Tagaytay City lies on top of the Tagaytay Ridge, which, at 640 m (2,100 ft) above sea level, is the highest point in Cavite. The ridge provides a spectacular view of Taal Lake and Taal Volcano in Batangas. This view supports Tagaytay's main industry, which is tourism.

View from Tagaytay City
The Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines occupies 152 acres on a prominent plateau, visible at a distance from the east, south and west. It contains the largest number of graves of military dead of World War II, a total of 17,202, most of whom lost their lives in operations in New Guinea and the Philippines.
The headstones are aligned in 11 plots forming a generally circular pattern, set among masses of a wide variety of tropical trees and shrubbery. The chapel, a white masonry building enriched with sculpture and mosaic, stands near the center of the cemetery.
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In front of it on a wide terrace are two large hemicycles. Twenty-five mosaic maps recall the achievements of the American armed forces in the Pacific, China, India and Burma. On rectangular Trani limestone piers within the hemicycles are inscribed the Tablets of the Missing containing 36,285 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified. Carved in the floors are the seals of the American states and its territories. From the memorial and other points within the cemetery there are impressive views over the lowlands to Laguna de Bay and towards the distant mountains.
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Sleeping at Four Seasons Inn, 111-B Scout Lozano St. Tomas Morato, Quezon City @ P600 a room for 2 with A/C and common bathrooms. This is the most suitable backpackers accommodation as the price is reasonable with clean rooms/beds and bathrooms. 6 of us had dinner at a local restaurant at P39 per dish, fresh coconuts are P18 each. Fried noodles were P80 per dish for two. We had some roadside stalls siewmai(dim sum) at P5 each while walking through the local community. A whole roasted chicken was priced at P220 each but it was takeaway only.

Day 06 (04.02.09) Manila

Morning was visiting a charitable institution called Gawad Kalinga http: // www. gawadkalinga.org). Had an orientation program and site tour for our group by Bro. Roger & Bro. Gunny at GK Espiritu Santo Village, Barangay Baesa, 2nd District of Quezon City. We donated some cash to them. Sleeping at Four Seasons Inn @ P600 a room for 2 with A/C and common shared bathroom.

had breakfast at kopi roti
Gawad Kalinga (GK) translated in English means to “to give care”, and it is an alternative solution to the blatant problem of poverty in Philippines. GK’s vision is a slum-free, squatter-free nation through a simple strategy of providing land for the landless, homes for the homeless, food for the hungry and as a result providing dignity and peace for every Filipino. What started in 1995 as a daring initiative by Couples for Christ to rehabilitate juvenile gang members and help out-of-school youth in Bagong Silang, Caloocan City, then the biggest squatters’ relocation area in the Philippines, has now evolved into a movement for nation-building. Together with its partners, Gawad Kalinga is now in the process of transforming poverty stricken areas with the goal of building 7,000 houses in 7 years.

Briefing by Bro.Roger and Bro.Gunny
Q & A time
Bagong Silang, Caloocan City, then the biggest squatters
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Together with its partners, Gawad Kalinga is now in the process of transforming poverty stricken areas with the goal of building 7,000 houses in 7 years.
Albert Chong giving away goodies to the children
Song Poh gave our cash collection to Bro.Roger
Nam Hong presenting a souvenir to Bro. Gunny
Mike Khaw presenting a souvenir

We then visited Intramuros - known as the "Walled City" for its ancient walls and ruins dating back to the Conquistadores, Intramuros is home to San Agustin Church, the oldest stone church in the country, and Manila Cathedral.

San Agustín Church is a Roman Catholic Church under the auspices of The Order of St. Augustine, located inside the historic walled city of Intramuros in Manila. Completed by 1607, it is the oldest church currently standing in the Philippines. No other surviving building in the Philippines has been claimed to pre-date San Agustin Church.

Mr. Lee visited Bahay Tsinoy a museum of Chinese in Philippines. If you trace back history, you will find that the intermingling of the Chinese and Filipino culture can be dated back to centuries of trade surging with heavy influx of Chinese population in Manila. Bahay Tsinoy in Philippines treasures relics of this Chinese heritage blended into Filipino lives. Interestingly enough, the Chinese-Filipinos offspring today prefer to call themselves Tsinoys. This museum is located on the Kaisa Heritage Center, a 3-storied building, which too preserves remnants, artifacts and antiquities of Chinese–Filipino cultural exchange.

We then drove to China town for lunch. Manila's Chinatown is one of the oldest in Asia, established sometime in the late 17th century. It is home to many ethnic Chinese who left the Chinese mainland for a home in the Philippines. Binondo is a stone's throw away from the District of Intramuros, which was the Philippine's administrative capital under Spanish rule. The district was within the range of Intramuros' canons to quell any uprising the Chinese could have started. Binondo became a center of commerce during the American colonial era of the Philippines, since the Chinese were known to be experts in trading and finance. Banks, department stores, restaurants, insurance companies, and nearly all giant commercial establishments were built in Binondo, the most prominent of which are located in the Escolta Avenue, though these are somewhat out of vogue and dilapidated today. World War II destroyed much of Binondo's commercial establishments. After the war, most companies relocated to Makati, the current central business district of Metro Manila.

Afternoon was visiting the preserved former Spanish walled city: Fort Santiago and the shrine dedicated to Philippine revolutionary hero Dr. Jose Rizal. Fort Santiago is a defense fortress built for Spanish conquistador, Miguel López de Legazpi. The fort is part of the structures of the walled city of Intramuros, in Manila, Philippines. The location of Fort Santiago was once the site of the palace and kingdom of Rajah Sulayman, a Muslim chieftain of pre-Hispanic Manila. It was destroyed by the conquistadors upon arriving in 1570, encountering several battles with the Islamic natives. The Spaniards destroyed the native settlements and erected Fuerza de Santiago in 1571.
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The first fort was made out of log structures and earth. Most of it was destroyed in the Spanish-Chinese War of (1574-1575), by invaders of Chinese pirates who besieged the area. The Spaniards fought a fierce conflict and eventually drove the pirates out. In 1589 the fort was constructed with hard stone and finished in 1592. It became the main fort for travels and spice trade to the Americas and Europe for 333 years. The famous Manila Galleon trade to Acapulco, Mexico started sailing from Fuerza de Santiago.
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The fort is shielded by 22 feet (6.7 m)-high walls, with a thickness of 8 feet (2.4 m) and an entrance measuring 40 feet (12 m) high. It is located at the mouth of the Pasig River and it was once the premier defense fortress of the Spanish Government in the Philippines. During World War II it was captured by the Japanese, and sustained heavy damage from American & Filipino bombs during the Battle of Manila in February 1945. It was later restored by the Intramuros Administration during the 1980s. Today the fort serves as a museum which houses well-preserved legacies of the Spanish government, José Rizal, Rizal Shrine, and the prison dungeons for criminals used by the Spanish officials.

Pasig River
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At the Market-Market Serendra Mall
At the Market-Market Serendra Mall
We had the best ever dinner at Market-Market, Serendra Mall at the port of Taguiag Town, hosted by Maria and Roda the colleagues of Mr. Chan Kang Fei. Ms. Maria and Roda managed the Philippines branch of Integrated Group. Many thanks to Mr. Chan Kang Fei for the arrangement.

A Big Thank You - Maria and Roda
Hope to see you in Malaysia

Day 07 (05.02.09) Manila > Kuala Lumpur

Morning was driving to Green Hill shopping centre famous for its imitation goods and later went to SM Megamall the largest in Asia and 3rd largest in the world. We all had lunch there and last minute shopping. Transfer to airport at 1.30pm. Depart Manila Airport by MAS at 4.50 pm and reached KLIA at 8.30 pm.

The airport tax is P750 p.p. inclusive of P200 for airport security services. All transactions were carried out in Pesos, The best rates we obtained was P47.27 for USD1
at Green Hill Shopping Centre
A chapel in Shopping Centre
Song Poh and Lee making friend with police to bring in knives bought at Tagaytay City
MAS airline back to KLIA
Home Sweet Home

Beautifully well written words and comments by team members as follows:

Dearest friends
Philippines may not be among the most beautiful country to visit, but she charms us with the humility, grace and love. The trip may not be the cheapest, but it gives memorable occasions money can't buy. Our journey may not be the most exciting trip, but it is certainly excite me to see: - how each one of us can come together to solve difficult situations without so much a fuss, - loving one another despite our different preferences, age and backgrounds. - caring and become friends-for -life within the short 7 days time.

Thank you for being such a wonderful time and if there is any shortcoming on my side, please accept my humble apology. Interested for another holiday, please see attach. Adios, see you all again shortly, perhaps in Setiawan!
Albert Chong


On Fri, Feb 6, 2009 at 9:09 PM, namhong chan wrote:
Hi Albert,
Nicely said, I like the way you put it. I'm glad to have met all new friends. Many thanks for the wonderful arrangements you have done. We have also learned from the GK trip on what it can do. We are already planning the next trip. Suggestions are Myanmar, Magasa? Have a nice weekend.
Chan Nam Hong


On Fri, Feb 6, 2009 at 10:23 PM, Helen Chok wrote:
Hello Albert,
Wah! Your words are so touched, now I know you are talented & can become a poem creator.... :) Yep, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you guys for giving me an opportunity and trust in handling your money. By the way, I did enjoyed the moment with you guys having shared your valuable experiences. Guess you guys were happy and bought some of the souvenirs back to Malaysia......and still manage to enjoy CNY...ha-ha


On Sat, 7/2/09, Mike Khaw wrote:
Dear All,
I must agree that all of us had lots of fun. Solving the problems only brought us closer. Must thank Albert & Co. for organizing the trip and to Helen for keeping us solvent. Albert's suggestions may not agree with those of us with weak hearts, his last suggestion is more appropriate - come to Sitiawan and we'll let you know what REAL fish tastes like! It is also a good place for all of to learn how to relax (see pix) Have a nice day.
Mike Khaw


  1. shayra coser31 May, 2012

    Hi guys, lovely to read about your trip! It seems lots of fun! I wanna know more about Matabungkay. Is it nice there? Beautiful? Cheap?Clean? Do you know the names of the guesthouses and prices? Cause I just find the expensives hotels in the internet... please answer me shacoser@gmail.com thanks very much, shayra coser

  2. I wonder if you have ever been back to the Philippines again? There are plenty of places to visit in the country, specially in the Visayas and Mindanao region. I noted that the places you visited were mostly two hours drive from Manila. I think you would be charmed by the number of beaches and mountains you can explore here.

    Anyway, I would be happy to point you in the right direction should you need it.

    PS. I've been reading your blog and I hope to travel as much as you do in the future. Thanks!

  3. It was nice that you visited the philippines despite of not so good publicity from the media. The above comment is correct you should visit the visayas and mindanao region namely bohol (chocolate hills) , boracay , camiguin, cebu . The places you visited is good but for me no the best of the best the philippines can offer. Don't forget the northern most region of luzon where you can see baguio , sagada and banaue where you can see the famous rice terraces.