Just 30 kilometers southeast of Manila, Laguna is a veritable treasure trove of cultural, historical and natural gems. It almost completely surrounds the Laguna de Bay (Laguna
Lake), one of Southeast Asia’s largest lakes, thus, its name derived from the Spanish word “Lago” which meant Lake. It is also the first province south of the bustling National
Capital Region with the Ninoy Aquino International Airport about 1-1 & 1/2 hours away from the industrial estates of Calamba.

Laguna was a hotbed of numerous historical events- it was the site of one of the most sanguine battle grounds and Filipino nationalist resistance so many times – the Chinese
revolt in 1603, the British plundered its capital during the years of the British invasion from 1762 to 1764, the revolts against the Spanish cruelty, the defense against the
onslaught of the American invaders, and guerrilla warfare waged against the Japanese. And why not? Laguna’s very own and much revered son, Jose Rizal, the Philippine
National Hero – also a polymath, polyglot and leading reformist, came from one of its Ilustrado families of Calamba – was an immense inspiration not only to the nationalist
movements in the Philippines but in the budding anti-colonial forces around the world as well.

Continuing further southeast following the National Highway is the resort city of Los Baños- most notable for its various springs around the Pansol area – hot, cold and
lukewarm water is the main tourist draw here and you will see heaps of resorts along the main drag between Calamba and Los Baños. Los Baños, which sits on the foothills of
Mount Makiling in the south and Laguna de Bay in the north is also home to the Los Baños arm of the University of the Philippines and the International Rice Research
Institute. UP Los Baños provides good access to some of Laguna’s natural sites. One can hire a jeepney (for PhP 500 – look for Romel- 09195747174; usually the trek up Mount
Makiling is about PhP1,000- try to haggle) or you may take your four-wheel drive up one of Makiling’s slopes to head to the Makiling Rainforest Park (minimum entrance fees
apply – visitors are discouraged to come up after 5PM) to its Mud Springs – a trek through the forest which is about 692 meters off the main road (which can be really rough
going up). Although fenced off from the public, one can catch a good glimpse of the boiling and the steaming sulfuric mud – it is one of the few mud pots left on Mount Makiling
– an inactive volcano. A mud pot is a type of hot spring that is formed when volcanic heat and sulfuric acids breaks down surrounding rocks into clay, the clay mixes with water
that is very hot (about 80 degrees Celsius), very acidic and sulfurous with varying consistency and color. Camping is not allowed and people are advised to refrain from coming
any closer to avoid incurring burn injuries.

One of the southern towns of Laguna, San Pablo City, one of the oldest in the country is known for its collection of 7 lakes- Lakes Malucan, Palakpakin/Palacpaquen, Yambo,
Bunot, Pandin, Muhikap, Calibato, and Sampalok – the latter which is the biggest and the one closest to the city centre. There is a view deck near the city hall on the Dagatan
Boulevard which affords a sweeping view of this serene, yet ordinary lake. Skip the overpriced lunches offered at the restaurants around the lake though. San Pablo City is also a
jump-off point to treks to the nearby Mount Banahaw.

Moving further eastward from Nagcarlan is the pretty little town of Liliw with its romantic red-bricked church and the rows and rows of footwear shops that line its main street.
Liliw is considered as the footwear capital of Laguna, where Imelda-clones, young and old alike can have their fill of beautiful, affordable and well-made footwear all made locally.
We couldn’t help but get a pair of stylish abaca flip-flops at very cheap prices which would have been at least 5 times the price in Manila.

For fans of finest embroidery, one should head out to Lumban for its many shops churning out exquisite artwork on clothing. This is a place where one can get the best priced,
most beautifully made Barong Tagalogs (the Philippine National Costume) made out of pineapple silk sourced from Aklan and either embroidered or painted. We met the very
friendly Ms. Ailyn Del Moral (No. 15 Brgy. Sto. Niño JP Rizal St., Lumban, Laguna/Landline- +63.49.8220334;Mobile- +63.917.8081762/ Email- ailyn.wowbarong@yahoo.
com) who even let us try on one of their beautiful barongs. A ready-made Barong (pineapple/jusi, embroidered/painted) at her shop only costs about PhP1,500. Compared to the
barong makers in Manila and elsewhere that we know of- that was just extremely cheap for the level of design and craftsmanship. The beauty of the Barong Tagalog is that
everyone- Filipinos and Non-Filipinos can actually wear it and it look clean and neat and spiffy unlike the much more colorful and elaborate national costumes of other Asian
countries- you can actually wear a Barong and still look even more handsome – even Hollywood Director Quentin Tarantino himself wore one! The Barong actually is very
wearable, dignified and extremely elegant.

A trip to Laguna would never be complete without the requisite trip down the rapids of Pagsanjan. Snaking through the gorgeous moss, fern and jungle clad canyons is the
Pagsanjan River (Bumbung River). While it wasn’t as exhilarating as I thought it was going to be (I can be an adrenaline junkie sometimes so Class 1 rapids weren’t that exciting
for me), although I had to keep balance all the time to make sure the camera was alright and so the long flat-bottomed fiber-glass boat wouldn’t tip over. During the rainy season,
the waters turn muddy but nevertheless the views were just stunning, with dragonflies flitting around you felt ethereal while your boatmen (2 boatmen are required) navigate
through the stillness of the canyons- no wonder, noted director Francis Ford Coppola filmed his final scenes for his Vietnam War-epic Apocalypse Now there. The set of course
is no longer there, but one can’t help but imagine the scene of a carabao being slaughtered on the banks of the river. You start your trip at one of the boat stations in any of the
resorts or hotels by the Balanac river and you will then turn right to the Bumbung River going through the different rapids and going upstream towards the direction of the
thundering Magdapio Falls (or now known as Pagsanjan Falls). There will be at least 7 waterfalls (We found the First Falls amongst the most lovely) along the way and at one
point, the boatmen will stop by a makeshift restaurant that sells grilled chicken and rice just before the First Falls – of course you are obligated by the people to feed the
boatmen- that is on top of the PhP 1000 fee for the boat ride. Once you reach the Pagsanjan Falls, you can ride the bamboo raft to go under the thundering waterfalls and take a
swim inside a cave called the Devil’s Cave. This is additional fee of course (about PhP 90 per person). While the ride was peaceful and the scenery was simply gorgeous – the
main hassles of Pagsanjan start even before one enters the town. We got harassed by a tout on our bus and he was so persistent even after I told him that I was dropping by the
city hall. He tried to take us to a different resort, but I insisted that I wanted to be taken to the City Hall first. Avoid these people at all costs. He insisted on even coming with
us to the resort that we chose and did. I know that we were not supposed to pay for the resort entrance fee as this was supposed to be covered by the PhP 1000 fee, but yeah,
we ended up shelling out an additional PhP 100 for entrance to a rather decrepit looking hotel which is fairly common all throughout Pagsanjan. Just before we got on the boat,
the guy who accompanied us from the bus to the City Hall and then to the resort was asking for money – are you freaking kidding me? Just because I come to your town to go
check out your waterfalls doesn’t mean I’ve got shitloads of money – and even if I did, why in my right mind am I ever going to give you money since you practically did nothing
and just tagged along? The boatmen themselves are not exempt from these scandalous attempts of fleecing tourists going to Pagsanjan – after being fed up of being told by one of
our boatmen that their job was extremely hard (it was) – I quipped “all kinds of work are hard- it’s not called work for nothing,” he quieted down. Dude, if you think you can’t
hack it as a boatman, give it up! No one is forcing you to be one! In the end, he was trying to force me to cough up bigger tips. Wow! While Pagsanjan Falls is very beautiful and
the trip to and from it is spectacular- encountering shady people in Pagsanjan just left a bitter taste in our mouths. So yeah, if ever you are going to Pagsanjan (and we still highly
recommend it- visit it at least once) – better book it with a tour group. If you are going by yourselves, go straight to the City Hall and don’t talk to anyone except to people from
the Municipal Hall) or arrange a contact in one of its hotels and resorts beforehand. If you are taking a private car, do not stop when someone tries to flag you down. When we
say shooting the rapids in Pagsanjan is a once in a lifetime event, trust us, while it is exceptionally beautiful – the locals are quite very disappointing and leave us no choice but
never to return in the future. Also please check with the city hall first if the Pagsanjan Falls (www.pagsanjan.gov.ph) are open when you go- during the rainy season, boat rides
can only come up to the First Falls, since flashfloods are a real danger around this season.
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