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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

Lanson Place Mall of Asia offers venue for weddings

The newly opened Lanson Place Mall of Asia offers a charming blend of modern sophistication and timeless elegance, perfect for bringing dream weddings to life, from the grand entrance to the intimate moments, we ensure that every wedding is a distinct and unforgettable experience.

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Every couple has envisioned their perfect wedding, meticulously planning every detail from the outfits to the rings. The venue is such a vital element, and we’re thrilled to offer an option that might be just what you’re looking for.

The newly opened Lanson Place Mall of Asia offers a charming blend of modern sophistication and timeless elegance, perfect for bringing dream weddings to life, from the grand entrance to the intimate moments, we ensure that every wedding is a distinct and unforgettable experience. 

A Bespoke Wedding Experience

Lanson Place Mall of Asia’s attraction is the Saffron Grand Ballroom, a beautiful space perfect for a dreamy wedding celebration. It has a classic elegance and offers a versatile setting that fits any style, making it a great venue for all sorts of events.

The Saffron Grand Ballroom is a spacious, pillarless, high-ceiling ballroom that spans 676 sqm. It features a dedicated lobby, with a grand staircase that leads seamlessly into the ballroom where the magic unfolds. Couples and their wedding entourage can use private dressing rooms, equipped with vanity mirrors and a sizable lounge area, as they prepare for the special day. Couples can also customise the Saffron Grand Ballroom, tailoring the venue to their heart’s desires. 

In addition to the ballroom, the Courtyard, a tranquil oasis on the third floor, provides a harmonious backdrop for intimate wedding ceremonies, seamlessly blending the sophistication of contemporary architectural design with the warmth of nature’s embrace.    

“Every wedding should reflect the couple’s unique story,” said Rheinna Laberinto, Assistant Director of Events. “We want to make sure that each wedding is as distinctive and memorable as the couples themselves.”

Exceptional Management and Service

At Lanson Place Mall of Asia, personalised service begins the moment couples start planning their wedding. Lanson Place’s team of event specialists collaborates closely with each couple to curate a tailored wedding experience that caters to their particular needs and desires.

From hand-picking the perfect menu and overseeing table layouts to managing guests on the big day, the Lanson Place dedicated event specialists meticulously consider every element of the wedding. They make sure the big day is flawlessly executed, allowing couples to focus on celebrating their love. Whether couples envision a lavish ceremony or an intimate gathering, the team of devoted hosts is committed to making every wedding day stress-free and memorable.

“We understand that weddings are one of the most important days in a couple’s life, and we are honoured to be part of that journey,” said Laurent Boisdron, Vice President & General Manager. “Our commitment on your special day is all about you and we pay much attention to detail to ensure that every wedding at Lanson Place Mall of Asia is not only beautiful but truly unforgettable.”

Design a wedding as unique as your love story with Lanson Place Mall of Asia Manila. Discover how Lanson Place Mall of Asia Manila can craft the wedding of your dreams by visiting Lanson Place Mall of Asia Manila’s booth at the Themes and Motifs Bridal Fair this 22-23 June 2024. Avail of the best bespoke wedding packages and make your special day truly unforgettable.

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Dining Out

Citadines Bacolod City brings new restaurants

Standing tall in the heart of Bacolod, this sleek urban oasis beckons guests with its contemporary design and unique island hospitality. Offering modern amenities, stylish interiors, and the distinct Negrense warmth, travelers can seamlessly transition from the bustling streets of Bacolod to the serene comfort of their accommodations at Citadines Bacolod City.

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Citadines Bacolod City, the Ascott Limited’s newest addition to its property roster, is the next go-to destination in the Visayas region, offering modern and comfortable accommodations for both business and leisure travelers.

Standing tall in the heart of Bacolod, this sleek urban oasis beckons guests with its contemporary design and unique island hospitality. Offering modern amenities, stylish interiors, and the distinct Negrense warmth, travelers can seamlessly transition from the bustling streets of Bacolod to the serene comfort of their accommodations at Citadines Bacolod City.

The property offers an array of accommodation options tailored to meet the diverse needs of guests. From Studio Apartments to Two-Bedroom Deluxe Rooms, each space is thoughtfully designed to provide the utmost comfort and convenience and ensures there’s accommodation suitable for any type of stay. Additionally, guests can take advantage of the inviting communal areas, which include a stylish lobby lounge, a well-equipped fitness center, and versatile event spaces.

During the sneak peek into Citadines Bacolod City, guests can savor culinary delights at the property’s in-house restaurants. Options encompass the Lobby Café which is Pureza, Grab and Go with Tam-is, Namit for all-day dining, Fuego Bar and Lounge for bar and lounge experiences highlighting steaks, and Adlao for poolside refreshments.

“Tam-is,” a charming corner on the ground floor, is named after the Hiligaynon term for sweet. Providing a quick grab-and-go option for food, like coffee and pastries, for guests who are always on the move, Tam-is greatly lives by the ideal that ‘life is sweet’ and is a nod to the joys and richness of life’s experiences. “Puerza” completes the lobby’s artisanal bakery and café experience by offering finely crafted European-style boulangerie and French viennoiserie for a sit-down and relax experience throughout the day.

At “Fuego Bar and Lounge,” guests can enjoy a menu featuring a variety of steaks, antipasti boards, sides, and cocktails that draws inspiration from the flames of the majestic volcanoes that surround the Negros region. Located on the second floor alongside the “Namit” all-day dining restaurant. It promises an unforgettable dining experience through its various unique ala carte dishes inspired by local and Southeast Asian cuisine.

When it’s time to unwind by the pool, retreat to “Adlao.” From fresh fruit platters to savory appetizers, guests can savor a tempting selection of snacks, refreshing juices, and expertly crafted cocktails all while enjoying the peaceful nature of the space.

“We are excited to offer guests a sneak peek into Citadines Bacolod City and provide them with a glimpse of the modern urban oasis and the different culinary offerings we have been working on,” said Jose Mari Medrano, Citadines Bacolod City’s Executive Chef.

Citadines Bacolod City’s signature program, City Hacks, and its staff, known as Citazens, offer guests an authentic local experience. With personalized recommendations and insider tips, Citazens help guests take full advantage of the city’s authentic local experience. These can include immersing in the city’s culture, cuisine, and hidden gems. Furthermore, for those looking to dive deeper into the food culture of Bacolod, the property’s Citazens are well-equipped to offer city hacks to help navigate the culinary scene with ease, guiding guests to the most authentic eateries and culinary hotspots.

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Destinations

Boracay’s OG Japanese restaurant turns 17

Located at the center of the lively D’Mall, Station 2, Boracay, HAMA provides a Zen-like, casual ambiance that perfectly complements its beachfront location. It’s easy to spot, as strings of red and black Japanese lanterns line their alfresco roof, while the inside seating area has wood and stone natural elements, reminiscent of a minimalist Japanese garden.

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HAMA, Boracay’s top Japanese restaurant celebrates its 17th birthday, as it continues to proudly offer a unique blend of traditional and contemporary Japanese cuisine. From fresh sushi to mouth-watering teppanyaki dishes, HAMA strengthens its reputation further as a must-visit gastronomy destination on the island.

Located at the center of the lively D’Mall, Station 2, Boracay, HAMA provides a Zen-like, casual ambiance that perfectly complements its beachfront location. It’s easy to spot, as strings of red and black Japanese lanterns line their alfresco roof, while the inside seating area has wood and stone natural elements, reminiscent of a minimalist Japanese garden.

The name “hama,” meaning “beach” in Japanese, is a fitting tribute to its close proximity to Boracay’s pristine white sands and gorgeous blue seas, which a 3-minute walk can access. This casual setting, combined with the vibrant atmosphere of D’Mall, makes HAMA an ideal spot for intimate lunch outs, and family gatherings. Since its opening in 2007, HAMA has built an esteemed reputation as a favorite dining spot among tourists, known for its memorable authentic Japanese dishes that delight first-time travelers, and patrons coming back for more.


HAMA’s tender and delicious pork tonkatsu rice bowl

Owned by the successful duo Juan Elizalde and Paolo Occhionero, the same masterminds behind the other island-popular dining establishments ARIA Cucina Italiana, Boracay Beach Truck, and Cafe Del Sol, HAMA continues to impress with its diverse menu. Diners and patrons can enjoy traditional Japanese dishes with innovative modern twists, catering to various cravings and tastes, ensuring a dish and drink for everyone. Signature offerings include the exquisite sushi boat with 32 pieces of their bestsellers, flavorful teppanyaki udon with juicy, well-seasoned beef, and hearty bowls of ramen with rich and decadent broth. 


Be wowed by HAMA’s 32-piece sushi boat, perfect for big groups

The restaurant’s sushi and teppanyaki stations are standout features, showcasing the chefs’ expertise and providing customers with a captivating dining experience. The dishes are reasonably priced, and designed to be shared family-style, allowing guests to sample a variety of flavors in one meal, while extending their travel budgets, too.

Other than the relaxing ambiance, delicious food, and reasonable price points, the team’s warmth and excellence in service are what people recognize and love about HAMA, too. Under the leadership of COO, Ernesto Casas, who has been with the group for a decade and counting, the staff and team members are always ready to serve with eagerness and enthusiasm, giving traveling diners a pleasant and memorable experience every time. 

For those vacationing in Boracay, HAMA is a culinary destination not to be missed. Its commitment to food quality, dining ambiance, and customer satisfaction ensures an unforgettable dining experience that stands out on this beautiful island.

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