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Exploring the largest cave system in the Philippines

Caves are underground chambers, usually situated in mountains, hills or cliffs. Generations of imaginative fear-mongers have made them the home of everything from treasure-hoarding dragons to a whip-wielding Balrog. In reality, caves are special ecosystems which need our protection, particularly from unscrupulous miners who would break apart tons of rock for a handful of precious stones.

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By Gregg Yan

The Philippines has over 3100 known caves. Featuring 12 chambers over its seven kilometer span, the Langun-Gobingob Cave in Samar is the king of them all. Discovered by Italian Guido Rossi in 1987, it was opened to the public in 1990.

We recently explored it to celebrate the Year of the Protected Areas or YOPA, which aims not just to convince people to conserve the country’s 246 protected areas, but to encourage them to visit the sites themselves.

Caves are underground chambers, usually situated in mountains, hills or cliffs. Generations of imaginative fear-mongers have made them the home of everything from treasure-hoarding dragons to a whip-wielding Balrog. In reality, caves are special ecosystems which need our protection, particularly from unscrupulous miners who would break apart tons of rock for a handful of precious stones.

Unique But Threatened Biodiversity

Samar Island, overshadowed by more popular places like Palawan and Boracay, isn’t usually considered a top tourist destination, owing to its long history as a hotbed for insurgencies and a punching bag for typhoons. Though the Philippines’ thirdlargest island exudes rugged beauty, its real value as an ecotourism destination lies beneath the earth.

“Samar is unique because it is a karst landscape made primarily of limestone. Millions of years of weathering has created numerous caves and sinkholes on the island,” explains Anson Tagtag, head of the Caves, Wetlands and Other Ecosystems Division of the DENR. “Caves are special ecosystems which harbor highly-evolved fauna, most of which have adapted to darkness.”

Birds, bats, spiders, snakes, crickets and even blind cave fish thrive inside the Langun-Gobingob Cave. The lack of light confines plants to entrances, but mushrooms and other types of fungi cling to life as discreet denizens of the dark.

“The speleothems or rocks in caves are in a very real sense ‘alive’ – they just grow and move at timescales difficult for people to comprehend,” explains Dr. Allan Gil Fernando, a professor at the National Institute of Geological Sciences in UP Diliman. “The constant dripping of water for instance leaves minute traces of minerals like calcite. Over time these traces pile up to form hanging stalactites and their inverted kin, stalagmites. It takes about a century for a stalactite or stalagmite to grow one inch.”

It is because of their surreal beauty that many caves are sundered.

“People used to enter the Langun-Gobingob Cave to break apart and mine stalagmites plus white calcite rocks for collectors,” says Samar Island Natural Park (SINP) Assistant Superintendent Eires Mate. Our guide Alvin confirms this. “Locals used to mine the cave for Taiwanese businessmen, who paid a paltry PHP7 for a kilogram of rock. Balinsasayao or swiftlet nests were plucked out too, to be shipped to Chinese markets.”

The cave was finally declared a protected area in 1997. “Thank God for legal protection. Mining was effectively stopped,” says Eires. The Langun-Gobingob Cave is just one of many natural systems benefiting from the country’s protected area system.

“Declaring key biodiversity sites as protected areas is one of the best ways to ensure that future generations can continue enjoying their beauty,” says United Nations Development Programme Biodiversity Finance Initiative (UNDP-BIOFIN) Manager Anabelle Plantilla. “Visitors should positively support local communities but be mindful of the environmental impacts of their travels. They should for instance, avoid taking wild plants or leaving trash in tourist sites.”

Year of the Protected Areas

Launched in May of 2022, YOPA hopes to generate funds from tourists to ensure the continued management of protected areas hard-hit by COVID-19 budget cuts.

The Langun-Gobingob Cave is part of the Samar Island Natural Park (SINP), one of YOPA’s six highlighted parks, the others being the Bongsanglay Natural Park in Masbate, Apo Reef Natural Park in Occidental Mindoro, Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park in Negros Oriental, Mt. Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary in Davao Oriental, and Mt. Timpoong Hibok-Hibok Natural Monument in Camiguin.

The country’s caves are now open for tourism, but visitors should know what not to do inside them. “Cave tourism should be well managed and there are cave do’s and don’ts,” says Buddy Acenas from the GAIA Exploration Club, a Manila-based caving and exploration group. “A comprehensive assessment should be conducted before a cave is opened for tourism. Trained guides and set trails should be used to minimize human impacts. Like so many of our fragile wilderness areas, caves must be stewarded by those visiting them.”

For its part, the Philippine government is doing what it can to promote responsible tourism. “Our caves, mountains, beaches and other protected areas are now open for tourism. We invite both Filipinos and foreigners to come and visit, but to do so in an environmentally-responsible manner,” adds DENR-BMB Director Natividad Bernardino. “By practicing responsible and regenerative tourism in PAs, we’re helping our national parks flourish and recover from the economic blow they suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Destinations

Greenfield District in Mandaluyong kicks off its holiday celebration

To mark the beginning of the district-wide yuletide merry-making, the event kicked off recently with the traditional lighting of the 60-foot Christmas tree at the Greenfield District Central Park,. followed by a magical display of fireworks and Christmas caroling by a 20-piece chorale , setting the mood for guests to get into the holiday spirit.

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Greenfield District, the smart and connected urban center of Greenfield Development Corporation (GDC) in Mandaluyong City, transformed into a holiday wonderland with the launch of GDC’s annual Christmas festivities called “A Christmas for Generations”. 

To mark the beginning of the district-wide yuletide merry-making, the event kicked off recently with the traditional lighting of the 60-foot Christmas tree at the Greenfield District Central Park,.  followed by a magical display of fireworks and Christmas caroling by a 20-piece chorale , setting the mood for guests to get into the holiday spirit.

“After two years of not having face-to-face yuletide celebrations, Filipinos are surely excited to once again gather with their loved ones to celebrate the country’s festive Christmas season,” said GDC President and Chairman Jeffrey D.Y. Campos.  “Greenfield District is a venue where different generations, from senior citizen grandparents to Gen Z kids, can bond with each other by taking part in the fun holiday activities of the District,” he added.

Ongoing  until December 25, Filipinos of all ages are in for a lot of holiday fun at the District. On December 17, families, especially kids are invited to come and meet  Santa Claus at Greenfield District’s “A Night with Santa” , which will feature merry activities and gift giving.

Meanwhile, adults can start their holiday shopping early as the Greenfield District Central Park will showcase weekend bazaars starting this month until December. Shoppers can look forward to discovering value for money gift ideas, trendy fashion pieces, delicious treats and more. While shopping, visitors can also enjoy a quick food trip and engage in Arts and Crafts activities while immersing at the bazaars dressed in colorful Christmas decorations. 

With a mission to build future-ready and sustainable communities for generations of Filipinos, GDC upholds its tradition of organizing events that promote the value of togetherness and spending quality time with the family.

“At GDC, we are committed to not only building properties for generations but also creating verdant, spacious neighborhoods where Filipino families can create beautiful memories together throughout the years. Christmas is a special occasion for many Filipinos, and we want Greenfield District to be part of their memorable Christmas experience every year,” said GDC Executive Vice President and General Manager Atty. Duane A.X. Santos. 

Located at the corner of EDSA and Shaw Boulevard, Greenfield District is accessible to the public through various routes and roadways from the main business districts of Metro Manila, making it an ideal destination for recreational activities, get-togethers, and shopping this yuletide season.

Visit the Greenfield District with friends and family this holiday season.  To know more about the activities at Greenfield District, visit https://www.facebook.com/greenfielddistrict.

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All Nippon Airways launches ‘Beyond #MissingJapan’ campaign

On 11 October of this year, border restrictions were eased, allowing foreign new arrivals including business travelers, students, and technical trainees to finally enter Japan.

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Prior to the pandemic, the Japan Tourism Agency reported the number of foreign visitors traveling to Japan in 2019 hit an all-time high of 31.9 million, 600k of whom were travelers from the Philippines. In 2020, the number dropped drastically to around 4.12 million due to the stringent travel restrictions throughout the pandemic, making Japan one of the world’s most difficult countries to enter.

On 11 October of this year, border restrictions were eased, allowing foreign new arrivals including business travelers, students, and technical trainees to finally enter Japan. With news of Japan’s plans to reopen the country to international travelers, Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) and All Nippon Airways (ANA), Japan’s largest 5-star airline are launching “Beyond #MissingJapan” together.

The campaign was inspired by both social media posts of people yearning to travel to Japan and a strong sense of eagerness amongst ANA’s flight crew to welcome visitors back. And Filipinos are eager to visit the Land of the Rising Sun. According to a 2022 Statista survey, Filipinos chose Japan as their top holiday destination. Countries in the EU and US got the 2nd and 3rd choice, respectively.

‘Beyond #MissingJapan’ aims to excite  travelers for their next trip, give them head start on planning, and an insider’s perspective on the island country. The campaign features Paolo from Tokyo, a famous Filipino YouTuber based in Japan, who shares the best that Japan has to offer to both first-time visitors and seasoned travelers alike.

Paolo’s travels take us to Greater Tokyo and the hidden gems in the areas around the country’s capital. He rediscovers popular landmarks like Asakusa, shopping mecca Don Quijote, and the iconic Tokyo Station to name a few. Paolo also ventures into “New Tokyo” where lesser-known attractions such as Tokorozawa Sakura Town, Sanagi Shinjuku, and GOTEMBA PREMIUM OUTLETS® are located, must-visit spots that opened after 2020 and are within a few hours from Tokyo.

Get a real-life glimpse of Paolo’s experience in this 360 video that takes you inside the awe-inspiring pop culture haven Tokorozawa Sakura Town and walks you through the temples of Asakusa and Miyashita Park, a rooftop oasis in the heart of bustling Shibuya. The 360 video also gives you a feel of the festive vibe at Sanagi Shinjuku and the shopping that awaits at the endless aisles in Japan’s biggest discount store, Don Quijote, and the more upscale complex, Coredo Muromachi. Always growing and evolving, Tokyo still has so much more to offer

Mr. Isao Ono, Vice President of Marketing & Sales, Asia & Oceania from ANA said: “I believe our ‘Beyond #MissingJapan’ campaign will give those who have missed Japan an opportunity to rediscover the country through a series of videos featuring Asia’s most well-loved personalities as well as a 360° first-person perspective of landing in Japan. At ANA, we are committed to providing passengers with the best service in a safe and clean environment. We look forward to welcoming more travelers to Japan soon.”

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Travel with your furry friends with Airbnb this festive season

Around the world, Airbnb Hosts have welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests and their beloved pets. As the pandemic pet boom continues and travel resumes, guests are increasingly looking for domestic stays that allow them to bring their furry friends along, with ample outdoor space for all to roam around.

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This week marks World Animal Day, an international day celebrating all animals and promoting a better future for animals all over the world. As the festive season rapidly approaches, there’s no better time to start planning a getaway for your loved ones – with fur kids in tow.

Around the world, Airbnb Hosts have welcomed hundreds of thousands of guests and their beloved pets. As the pandemic pet boom continues and travel resumes, guests are increasingly looking for domestic stays that allow them to bring their furry friends along, with ample outdoor space for all to roam around.

More than 3 million pets have checked into Airbnb since last November. As of June 2022, pet-friendly stays make up almost one-fifth of all Philippines listings on Airbnb, a 44% increase compared to June 20192. The top ten destinations for pet-friendly travel in the Philippines in Q2 2022 are:

  • Manila, Metro Manila
  • Baguio, Cordillera
  • Patuto, Calabarzon
  • Quezon City, Metro Manila
  • Taguig, Calabarzon
  • Cebu City, Central Visayas
  • Olongapo, Central Luzon
  • Nasugbu, Calabarzon
  • San Fernando, Ilocos
  • Calamba, Calabarzon

Amanpreet Singh Bajaj, Airbnb’s General Manager for Southeast Asia, India, Hong Kong and Taiwan said that when it comes to pet-friendly Airbnb stays, owners are seeking stays with additional space for their furry friends, often in locations outside capital cities.

“If you’re an avid pet lover, you’ll know that no holiday is quite complete without taking your family pet along. We have something for even the fussiest four-legged family members, and certainly, homes with spacious yards and deck areas are always among the most popular for guests with pets,” Bajaj added.

In the Philippines, over 15,000 guests have traveled with their pets on Airbnb3. To inspire more fur moms and dads planning to bring their pet friends on their next getaways, here are some amazing pet-friendly listings in the Philippines —  from spacious homes with huge backyards for your pets to roam to stays co-hosted by equally hospitable pooches!

Spacious farms for the zoomies

If you’re itching for a quick weekend away from the 9-to-5 routine, these farm stays that are drivable from Manila can certainly give you and your fur baby that relaxing getaway you both deserved.

  • The Alperi Farm is a newly built private farmhouse in Amadeo sitting on an expansive 2,000 sqm — perfect for non-stop fetch and the occasional zoomies. Offering guests plenty of opportunities to unplug and bond with loved ones (pets included!), the farmhouse comes with entertainment and activity options including a playhouse, bird sanctuary, a gym, and even a theater and arcade room.
  • Another farmstay south of the metro is Campo Canueza, which provides the best of both mountain views and beach access. It has a two-storey air-conditioned bahay kubo, a private pool, and an expansive space where you can freely walk your pets. At night, you can pitch a tent outside and enjoy uninterrupted views of the night sky.

Beachfront homes for the water-loving breeds

While some will just dip a toe, other dogs are born for the water — and will be truly delighted to hit the beach. Head on to these beachfront stays if you and your canine companion are dreaming of sands in your toes and paws.

  • Saya Nest is one of the seven nests hosted by proud fur-mom and Airbnb Host, Tamara. Located in the rainforest of Subic Bay, it lies just a few minutes from the beaches and falls. There is a fenced-in patio so your pets can run off-leash, a bathtub overlooking the forest, an outdoor table and grill, and a hammock by the porch. If you’re lucky, you might even be welcomed by Tamara’s own fur babies!
  • If you and your pet are up for a little island adventure — check out this Beachfront Loft in Palawan. It is located in a 2-hectare beachfront community in Aborlan just south of Puerto Princesa, and sits right by the sandy beach. Go boating with your pet by day and warm up around the bonfire at night while listening to the calming waves.

Breathtaking views for your best bud

Looking for vacation rentals with picturesque views where you can bring your fur babies? Search no further! These homes are not only pet-friendly — they make you want to bask in the scenery and stay for longer.

  • Anto House is a secluded farm nestled in the highlands of Antipolo, offering a 360-degree view overlooking the distant Metro Manila skyline, Angono hills and ridges, and the Laguna de Bay. Featuring two beautiful bamboo casitas that can accommodate up to 14 guests, it’s perfect for family gatherings and even reunions. There are also animals on the property like goats and sheep that both kids and fur kids can interact with.
  • How about calling an entire island your home for the weekend? This rustic, tiny island is right in the middle of Lumot Lake, with astounding views of the Sierra Madre mountain ranges. If your fur bud’s love language is quality time, you can set up a mini obstacle course, go swimming at the lake, or simply just watch the world go by.

1 Based on Airbnb internal data from June 30, 2019 to June 30, 2022

2 Based on Airbnb internal data from June 30, 2019 to June 30, 2022

3 Based on Airbnb internal data from November 11, 2019 to June 30, 2022

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