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My 10 List - Destinations

It's really tempting to write on the Top 10 lists. It's the in-thing right now, and people would perceive you as some kind of an expert (well, self-proclaimed, that is).

When I thought about coming up with my top ten list, I thought that it would be cool and a good entry in this blog. But when I started listing down the destinations, I realized that it was not easy doing it (even atomically speaking). If I'm going to list down all the best places to visit in the Philippines, I might as well come up with a top 30 list. But then again comes up the problem of determining which should be number 1 and what will be the unlucky entry on the 30th place. I had to admit to myself that I could never come up with that top ten list without damming myself to the purgatory (I know, that place does not exist anymore) of wrong and biased decisions.

So to become at peace with myself, I've come up with this 10 list of the destinations in the Philippines.

Be forewarned that they're just the ten sites with great and interesting attractions. They also offer some of the most rewarding travel experiences within this country.

With that, I say that be forewarned that there would be more sets of the 10 LIST.

Batanes
Situated at the northern outskirts of the Philippines, this group of tiny islands stand like sentinels detached from anything or everything about this country. These islands formed by volcanoes can only be reached by small planes from northern Luzon. Getting there by boat is a more courageous option, but only limited to hitch-hiking on navy boats.

I say that if you get the chance to visit Batanes, you will come out a much better person. You will witness really impressive and cool vistas and seascapes that you can end up crying (just a bit) because you're in the middle of this lovely creation. You will find out that people can actually live and survive in the midst of violent nature (well, for several months per year when typhoons make a queue crossing the islands – but the summer times are really great). And you will realize that even in hardship, a sense of community evolves and make the people living here better members of this small society.

Sagada
So, how do you describe a place like Sagada? A place that you could only reach after more than 12 hours of road travel a good portion of which will make you dizzy crossing mountain passes, uncountable zig zags, deep (as in, deeeep) ravines, and very rough roads.

They say that the road to Heaven is difficult to travel and strewn with numerous barriers. Well, Sagada is not exactly Heaven – I could never commit blasphemy just to sell the beauty of that place. But, if you're idea of heaven would be tranquil communities, cool climate, and great vistas, then you can be entitled to claim your piece of heaven.

So the hanging coffins may be more of a puzzle and a sort of culture thing. It.s really quite unique as the only other place in the world that practiced it was somewhere in China. The only difference is that this culture is still being practiced in Sagada while the hanging coffins in China are already abandoned and the people who practiced it have already been erased without any clue in history.

Sagada is for adventurers. Trekking? Yes – leading towards an impressive waterfall. Caving? Definitely, and I would say one of the best adventure caves in the country. Get ready to get wet and cold, to take off your shoes and walk with bare feet through walls of limestone, or jump down a very cold pool of water (and in the dark!). Wow! I can feel the cold and excitement just remembering those experiences!

And where in this world can you experience curfew at night and wonder why it’s being done in this peaceful place? Well, that's Sagada for you.

Banaue
About 3.5 hours from Sagada is the town of Banaue. This actually gained earlier prominence (as in era 70’s prominence) compared to Sagada. This is the place that every Filipino can be proud of and unabashedly declare as the 8th wonder of the world.

How can you dismiss the idea of the 8th wonder when you see whole mountains carved by human hands and turned into geometric lines that function into rice terraces? Yes, measurements have declared that when the terraces are linked into a straight line, it could embrace half of the globe.

For me, admiring the scenery evolved into cultural awareness and ecological sense. Since high school days, we were taught that when you clear a mountain of its forest, it will dry up and die (ecologically). But how come that the rice terraces that were built more than 2,000 years ago, continue to bring in precious water to feed the rice pond? In one visit, I found the answer – the forests of the top portion of the mountains are kept in pristine condition thus, continuing the function of the mountains as what we call watershed.

Another great thing about the rice terraces is that it beats all the other old world wonders that have become rubbles or lost in these modern times. The rice terraces can be classified as "living" world wonder – simply put, they continue to serve their function why they were built.

Palawan
For so many years, Palawan was deemed by Filipinos as a backward province filled with mosquitoes, penal prisoners, and unproductive lands. Then tourism pioneers began discovering its numerous beauties where portions seem like Chinese paintings complete with limestone mountains. Then the coasts and islands ringed by white sand beaches were exposed to travelers. Then some quick dips revealed magnificent (exactly) marine life.

When you visit Palawan, it like finding a magical brush and you realize that you could actually paint your vision of a tropical paradise.
Then you can get inside an eerie and long subterranean river that flows inside a huge cave system, or get the chance to dive through World War 2 wrecks, or simply enjoy the great amenities of world-class resorts.

Plus Palawan has many of the unique and impressive wildlife that nature can dump in this part of Asia.

Be warned though, getting around this province is an almost "mission impossible" thing. You either visit one place like Puerto Princesa for 3 or 4 days, then be back for more of El Nido or Coron on separate occasions. Or you throw you cares away (and maybe your job) and visit everything in two or three weeks either through small planes of the rough roads.

Baler, Aurora
Baler shot to fame through the Hollywood movie on the Vietnam War called Platoon. Then surfers began descending on this sleepy town. Then dude and dudette surfers began discovering that they can have great chilling out time while having great adventure in this place.

The only thing that separates Baler from total tourism chaos is the long travel time (8 hours) and difficult roads from Manila (well, a small airline company flies to the site during the summer months). Otherwise, it's a blast to stay in Baler, paddle your hearts out to catch that wave, trek through the jungles and visit the waterfalls, or just spend your entire vacation days lazing around and watching the waves crash with immense magnificence to the shoreline..

Negros Oriental
Negros Oriental is special to me as I gained good friends here while doing some projects.

Dumaguete is a university city filled with loads of college students and yes, motorcycles. And great places to eat.

What makes this province special for many visitors are the number of high quality attractions such as dolphin watching, eating that suman coupled with that yummy hot chocolate, and getting wet in the clear waters of Apo Island (and witnessing those great marine landscape and wildlife). Of course, there's that Balinsasayaw Twin Lakes and that waterfall in Casaroro. Plus that adventure deep cave system in Mabinay has been a great playground for my caver-friends.

If you can time your visit to the white island (actually, the technical term is shoal) in Bais City, make sure you're there on the low tide so you can enjoy basking in the sand while enjoying the receding water.

Boracay
This tiny, 1,000 hectare island has become THE FACE of the Philippines as a beach destination.

In the old times, all you can hear are the waves that gently break in the talcum-like sands of Boracay. At night, when you spread your arms, fireflies could descend on your outstretched arms. For food, you have to call out loud for the fishermen out in the sea to sell you their catch.

Then more people came and developers also came in steady droves (quite alarmingly considering the very small size and environmental fragility of the island). And the sound of the waves are now replaced by blasting sound systems that bring forth reggae, hiphop, R&B, and island music. And you don't have to call out to a fishing boat to bring you food. You can just walk around and grab your choice of Filipino, western, Mediterranean and fusion kind of meals offered by numerous resorts and restaurants now lining the island.

So, from a simple beach destination, Boracay has evolved into an entertainment hideaway where you can display your (hopefully) great bod and abs, have a great massage, buy loads of trinkets, listen to the sounds of music and drums, watch a fire dance, go kiteboarding, scuba diving, wakeboarding, banana boating, biking, off-road driving, and yes – swimming.


Bohol
Bohol is one province whose backbone was shaped by the tourism industry. Good thing for its leaders, they knew that in terms of resources and land productivity, the province had very little to offer. What they've got are coastal areas, impressive landmarks, some sort of interesting wildlife, culture, marine life, and creative people.

So from a province with a single destination (the Chocolate Hills!), the people of Bohol went on developing their Panglao Island, a river cruise, made the tarsier more photogenic, and enhanced their Spanish-inspired culture.


Sibuyan Island
If there's an ecotourism destination that can be presented by the Philippines, it could be Sibuyan Island in the province of Romblon.

With the massive Mt. Guiting-guiting dominating the island, Sibuyan has a very rough topography and good forest cover.

I was impressed by the number of waterfalls that can easily be reached only a few meters from the main road.

What blew me away here actually happened one time when strong rains lashed at the island. Expecting muddy river waters the following day because of the rain, I was surprised to see a large river with clear, flowing waters!

Then I realized one thing, because of the rugged landscape of Sibuyan, it was able to escape massive logging operation thereby preserving its dense forests. But at the same time, I became aware that the Island is highly fragile. That whatever little change is done to Sibuyan, drastic impacts could happen. I hope that this island escapes that dire consequence.

Well, this is another nirvana-like destination that is difficult to reach. If you want to reach Sibuyan Island, get ready for a long ferry ride from Batangas City. If you’re lucky, maybe you can catch that big ship that originates from Manila.


Donsol
Donsol, Donsol, Donsol…… How can I talk of this place without feeling proud? This is one place on earth that can say that community-based ecotourism could actually work. The locals were able to save and protect the numerous whale sharks frequenting their waters, and most of the tourism businesses are owned or largely employ the local folks. And now, they're on their way to developing more outstanding tourist attractions such as firefly watching, scuba diving, island hopping, and visits to authentic communities (complete with interpretation).

From a highly seasonal destination based on swimming with the whale sharks, tourists can now visit the area anytime to see other facets of Donsol.

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