To a lot of people, the mass of land that sticks out from Luzon and into the West Philippine Sea is synonymous with mountain ranges, former military bases and the majestic beaches that surround them.
But there’s more to western Luzon than what usually meets the eye. As part of Philippine Tour Operators Association’s (Philtoa) mission to create new tour product offerings for the 24th Philippine Travel Mart, it embarks on an expedition to validate the region’s handful of attractions that would best complement existing tours.
Tarlac: A trove of recent historical relics
Given the Philippines’ rich history, it’s no puzzle that the country has chock full of sites that chronicle different periods throughout the ages. Aside from being a gateway to western Luzon, Tarlac offers a collection of relics from recent history.
Capas National Shrine/Camp O’Donnell. A huge obelisk marks the last stop of the infamous Death March, where more than 30,000 allied soldiers perished during WW2. The 70-meter tower is surrounded by a black marble wall, engraved with the names of the Filipino and American soldiers who have died in the area. The shrine is an important place for WW2 vets, who regularly commemorate the war within its premises.
Aquino Center Museum. Philippine history after the Second World War is highlighted mainly by milestones in the journey to democracy. No other place commemorates that as extensively as the Aquino Center Museum, which chronicles the lives and works of the late Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and the late President Corazon “Cory” Aquino. Relics from the life and work of these two icons of democracy are housed within the walls of the museum, which was designed by renowned Filipino architect Francisco Mañosa.
Pangasinan: The foodie’s find
Pangasinan is popular for majestic structures like the Manaoag Shrine, the Bolinao Lighthouse, and the Pangasinan Provincial Capitol; along with natural wonders like the Hundred Islands, Patar beach, and the Bangrin Mangroves.
But just as amazing as the landscape are the local delicacies, which have been quietly supplementing the Pangasinan experience. The province is proud of the food which form part of its heritage, so much that certain festival exists for almost every item on the menu — they are attractions in their own right.
Alaminos longganisa. Recognizable for the toothpicks that divide the sausage links, Alaminos Longganisa is regarded as one of the tastiest native sausages in the country. For something considered processed, these sausages use no artificial ingredients — they’re made from an all-natural mix of garlic, black pepper, salt, atsuete and other organic spices mixed with ground pork.
Bagoong. Introduced by ancient Chinese traders, bagoong is a mainstay in Philippine cuisine’s list of condiments. The fermented fish sauce’s pungent goodness is enjoyed throughout the archipelago, and is even exported to foreign countries. While Lingayen is home to some of the oldest bagoong-producing clans in the country, the town has only started celebrating the Bagoong Festival last 2011.
Bangus. There is nothing fishy behind Dagupan’s reputation as the bangus capital of the Philippines. The city produces the tastiest milkfish in the country, which fetches a premium in wet markets nationwide. Finer scales, a relatively smaller head and a shorter lower tail differentiate the Bonuan bangus on the outside. Inside, the fat is not concentrated on the belly, but distributed evenly. This, according to locals, gives the bangus its signature taste.
The Bangus Festival was originally a part of the annual Pista’y Dayat (feast of the sea), but the former has become so overwhelmingly popular that the Pista’y Dayat is now considered a part of the Bangus Festival.
Binungey. Also known as bamboo rice cake, binungey is the mixture of sticky rice and coconut milk that’s steamed in bamboo. This distinct delicacy was originally served only during special occasions due to its long preparation time, but is now sold year-round to cater to tourists’ demand.
Calasiao puto. Puto is a delicacy that’s known all over the country, but nobody makes them like the folks in Calasiao, Pangasinan. The bite-sized puto Calasiao is made out of semi-glutinous rice that’s fermented in earthen jars before cooking, which gives it a distinct flavor, along with its the melt-in-the-mouth texture. This native treat is considered as the town’s “white gold,” as it is a major economic driver for Calasiao. A festival in its honor is held every May or December.
Tupig. Perhaps the most popular among all of Pangasinan’s native delicacies, tupig is an experience that is sought by visitors from all over. The coconut-laced, molasses-enriched rice snack is wrapped in banana leaves before being grilled to perfection. The iconic snack is sold practically everywhere, making it a very popular “pasalubong” for those who pass by Pangasinan.
Zambales: For fresh encounters with nature
Known for its sweet mangoes, scenic trails, and fantastic sea life, Zambales is a popular destination for eco-tourists. From mountaineers to scuba divers, the island has every available option for those looking for a retreat in nature.
But those who aren’t willing to set camp or sail into distant islands need not lose hope — for starters, the province has both land and sea covered without the usual hassles.
Punta de Uian. Only 45 minutes away from the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Punta de Uian is far enough to escape the hustle and bustle, while being near enough for accessibility. The 19-hectare resort is an exotic tropical paradise sitting on a quiet part of the Zambales coast, as opposed to the busier beaches of Subic. The setting of the local version of Marimar offers top-notch water activities, which include kayaking, surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, and a lot more. For those who want to go the extra mile, special trips can be made to actually sail off into Zambales’ well-known islands.
Rosa Farms. For folks who wish to commune with nature, nothing beats spending a day in the forest. However, a lot of people aren’t willing to put up with trekking, camping, and the whole idea of survival. Luckily, one can head to the Rosa Farms in Zambales. The sprawling mango farms introduced the concept of pick and pay for mango farms in the country, similar to the strawberry farms in Benguet. But aside from fruit-picking, visitors can also enjoy a picnic under shady trees; have a relaxing massage out in nature; or just hang out and enjoy the gentle farm breeze. For a rejuvenating commune with nature, Rosa Farms in Zambales is perfect for when parks just won’t cut it.
Bataan: A hidden portal into the past
Bataan is perhaps the most significant relic of World War II in the Philippines. To historians, the peninsula houses the ultimate symbol of valor in the country. Not known to many, however, is the existence of historical treasures from way further into the past.
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. With Spanish colonial-era stone houses, cobblestone roads and grand plazas, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is like a city from another century. The place showcases a collection of replicas and actual ancestral houses, which were transplanted “brick by brick” from various parts of the country. To say that the place is nostalgic would be inaccurate; with some of the houses dating back to the 1700s, a visit to the resort is like a step back in time. Almost every detail is era-accurate, including the staff uniform Currently occupying just a tiny fraction of a sprawling 400-hectare property, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is constantly growing as more houses added to the collection. With construction in full swing, the place may soon be the single largest collection of Spanish-era architecture in the country.
Rediscovering the Philippines
Aside from the provinces in Western Luzon, other regions in the country are also constantly adding new tour products in their portfolio of attractions.
“As the tourism industry in the country grows, domestic and foreign tourists are looking for new tour offerings,” says Cesar Cruz, President of the Philtoa.
Western Luzon is just one of the places that Philtoa is developing new tour products, to be offered at special discounted prizes during the 24th Philippine Travel Mart from Sept. 6 to 8 at SMX Convention Center in Pasay City, one of the major events during the celebration of the Philippine Tourism Week (Sept. 1 to 8).
The week-long Philippine Tourism Week will be highlighted by first Philippine Tourism Forum (Sept. 2 to 3), which will discuss the country’s steps up until the Asean integration on 2015, as well as the Philippine Tourism Exchange (Phitex) on Sept. 5, which will allow tourism stakeholders to market and promote new partners; before finally being capped off by the 24th Philippine Travel Mart, the largest and longest-running tourism expo in the country.