Singapore with Erin!
Mekong Delta, Vietnam - Christmas & New Year 2014

Manila, Baguio, Vigan, and Lauag Philippines


The Philippines

December 2014


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We have been to the Philippines once, but really wanted to see more.  We picked this route because D had lived in Baguio when he was just 3 years old!  His father was in the Air Force and the family was stationed in this beautiful resort town for two years.



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We arrived in Manila, the capital city with a population of over 12 million people.  It has the reputation of being a congested, polluted, concrete jungle.  And it was.  But you know how we love our big chaotic cities!



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Look at this crazy road - no white safety lines, and traffic going every which-way.



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Modes of transportation


Tuk-tuks vary from country to country, sometimes even within a country.   In the Philippines, some tuk-tuks are a sidecar and can carry several passengers if you count seating on the motorbike.  We went on a tour with two other people and a guide so there were six of us on one! 



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Trust me - they are not that big!



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The inside of the tuk tuks are decorated, so it is hard for the passenger to see out.  Just hold your breath and hope for the best!



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We also saw many bicycles with the sidecar attached. 







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Um - not quite sure what this is, but as we always say... safety first!



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Who needs a truck?



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They do not have buses in the city; instead they used what is called a jeepney. They have become a symbol of the Philippine culture with their colorful kitsch decorations.  Many are painted with American themes like Top Gun or John Wayne westerns.  One told me that there is only one person in Baguio who paints the artistic ones.







Jeepneys were originally made from U.S. military jeeps left over from World War II.  They say the word comes from "jeep" and "knee", because the passengers sit very close to each other.  Which makes sense when you see D below.  He is helping the driver give back change to a passenger in the back.



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Off to the market! The red eggs are called Itlog na Maalat or salted eggs.  Duck eggs are traditionally used for this delicacy, but you can also use chicken.  It is made by soaking the eggs in a brine solution for three weeks.






 A very interesting pancake making technique!





We went on a "slum tour" which was eye opening.  It was a small group; just one other couple and us.  We have walked though many slums in many countries, but we usually wander on our own.  I found it more heartbreaking when we had a guide telling us what was actually going on.

We were limited as to what sections we were allowed to take photos, so you are not seeing the worst parts. 



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Our guide actually lived in one of the slums we visited. 

The story that really hit me was that all the fast food stores dump their trash at the slum (organized) and people sort through it to get food.  If there are whole pieces they will re-fry them and resell them within the slum neighborhood.  But if there are bits and pieces, they will scramble them up or make hash, soups, stews etc.

They say over 2 million people live in the slums of Manila.

We visited a school and health clinic but were not allowed to take photos.  They were both actually quite nice given the condition of the village.



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We did enjoy a sweet moment with the community and a karaoke machine.  We offered to pay if the young couple with us would sing.  They were good sports and everyone stopped to watch and have a laugh.



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This man and his beautiful well-groomed horse seemed so out of place.  This was taken just on the edge of the slum.


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Next stop Baguio


We took a six-hour bus to get to Baguio.  There are no flights.



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The countryside was beautiful, dotted with rice patties.



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Baguio City is known as the Summer Capitol of the Philippines

and the City of Pines. 


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Americans established it as a hill station in 1900.  The city is situated at an altitude of approximately 5,050 feet (1,540 meters) in the Luzon pine forests.    


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Because of the cooler weather, it was an R&R facility for American military personnel during the American occupation and Camp John Hay was created.  How did D’s dad manage to get stationed at a resort area?  All of the work he was doing at the time had to be done at high altitudes.  The area is stunning. 



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D really did not remember much other than their helper Gloria and the gardener Shorty.  And that they used to slide down the big hills on cardboard boxes  :  )

We got lots of tips from his dad to help us try and find the home they lived in.  He said it was off the first tee of the golf course by the clubhouse.  Well, 50 years later the clubhouse was no more and the holes had changed.



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Most of the military homes had been torn down and hotels were built in their place.  A few were turned into Starbucks and other restaurants.



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But we think we DID find the house they lived in!  It was one of the few houses left.



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The home below was the base commander's house.



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We enjoyed hot chocolate and Bibingka, a type of rice cake with coconut traditionally eaten during the Christmas season.



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Our Lady of the Atonement Cathedral, better known as Baguio Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic Church.  It was built in 1936.



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The Easter Weaving room was established in 1909.  D's mom still has cloth placements and napkins that she bought 50 years ago - if that doesn't represent quality, I don't know what does.  They make all of the fabric and products on-site and you can tour the working studio.



Weaving factory


We thought December would be a fun time to visit as the Philippines is one of the only Catholic countries in Asia.  81% of the Filipinos are Catholic so they celebrate Christmas in a big way.



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Love this Santa - it so represents the laid back feel of Baguio.



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Each afternoon our hotel made snow from the roof.  It was so much fun.  It was a tiny bit cool while we were there, but we are talking low 70's (21 c)!



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How fun is this Santa and his elves?  D was hoping an elf would sit on his lap.







Christmas lights In front of our hotel.




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We went to an outdoor winter wonderland.  Each year the Country Club creates a White Christmas celebration.  The 2104 theme was “Frozen” and was made from 80% recycled materials.  I am sure it is the only snow that most Filipinos will ever see!



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A family asked if we would please be in their photo - they said it would make it more real. How funny.  We were the only westerners there.



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Next stop - Vigan


Vigan is a charming little town, which feels much more like Europe than Asia.  The city is located in the northern part of the Philippines and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since December. 1999.  Built in the 18th century, it is very well preserved.



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It is one of the few Spanish towns left in the Philippines where the structures remain intact.  It has beautiful cobblestone streets, and a unique architecture that combines Asian designs with colonial European architecture.

They also had just been named one of the New 7 Wonders Cities.  Everyone was talking about this award, they were all very proud. 



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Our hotel, Hotel Luna, was just as charming, with an old-world European feel.





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Established in 1591, The Bantay Tower (meaning to guard) served as a watchtower for pirates back in the Spanish colonial era.  It is called the Bantay Belfry because it is located in the Bantay district of Vigan.



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I thought this was for a wedding, but it is a funeral.  I think it is absolutely beautiful!


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The cockfight

Our second sabong or cockfight in Asia.  This was in a local neighborhood where we were driving by, and had the driver stop.  They were very welcoming and quite excited we were there.  They pushed me up to the front so I could see and they let D sit at the betting table.


 A proud owner of one of the fighting birds.



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All bets are in!



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Although cockfighting is illegal and frowned upon in many countries, in the Philippines, this sport is legal.  Just before the fight starts, the owners of the cocks make the birds face each other, holding them in their arms and letting them give the opponent a few quick pecks.



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Before the match, the birds are fitted with a curved heel blade known as the “Tare”. The fitting of the blade is an art unto itself.



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I am not a supporter of cockfights but each county has their own traditions and rules.  And I respect this.



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Time to go to the next destination....



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I just love how D is the "tall" man in Asia!




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Last stop - Lauang


The only reason we came here was to be close to the airport for our early morning flight.  But we really enjoyed it, with a UNESCO World Heritage site just 20 minutes away.

The Saint Augustine Church, commonly known as the Paoay Church, is a Roman Catholic Church.  In 1993, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the collective group of Baroque Churches of the Philippines.



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It was completed in 1710 and famous for the very large side buttresses built to withstand earthquakes.



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The Augustinians built the Sinking Bell Tower in Loaog city center in 1612.  It is said to be one of the tallest bell towers in the Philippines.  They call it the “sinking” bell tower because it is too heavy for its sandy foundation and it is sinking.



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The End!  Our next stop... the Mekong Delta, Vietnam!



Ahh, so Nice to see your trip to the Philippines! Lots of the scenes bring back memories! Baguio (Camp John Hay) where dad took us for a mini-getaway, Bibingka, itlog-na-maalat (salted egg. I love that!), the slums (they're everywhere there & such a sad & true part of Msnila) & as mentioned above, you & D were very brave to tour one! Laoag - my bro-in-laws family's from that town! He grew up there til his teen yrs., Jeepneys (know on the ceiling & say "Para!" to get off, Tricycles (that's what their tuktuk' are called, kalesa (horse drawn carriages dating back to the Spanish era, cockfights (which Im not a fan of either), & Yes!..karaoke!..Filipinos favorite pastime! So glad to see your post & see how you experienced both the poor & the nicer sides of the Philippines!


Fascinating how there can be such distinctly different areas in one country that isn't all that big to start with. The slums and the food dumping is heartbreaking and such a contrast to the country club and Spanish Colonial area. Loved the tour, as always!!


Manila reminds me of India! But the countryside is beautiful.

Carol aka Traveller

a fascinating insight into the Philippines. I had no idea so much of Manila was slums. It looks like you had a fascinating trip.

odile lm

So interesting! I've been much impressed by your pictures of the slums... I imagine it's quite adventurous to make a slum tour in Manila and your pictures are so meaningful... we have all heard of Manila slums and the extreme poverty of the people living there but seeing it, walking through it, talking with the people as you did is another story... so courageous of you!
Who would guess that there are still lovely towns there like Vigan dating back to the spanish colonisation?
Such huge differences in the same country...
Thank you for sharing, I've learned a lot through your posts and this one is no exception...

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