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Things to see in Bataan and places to visit

By Dot Ramos Balasbas-Gancayco (The Philippine Star) Updated October 18, 2009 12:00 AM

First Line of Defense Marker
First Line of Defense Marker

MANILA, Philippines - Going to Bataan is very affordable. If you are from Manila. there is no fuss about buying plane tickets and worrying whether or not a flight may be cancelled. The land trip is short, about one and a half to two hours drive and, via the newly-constructed SCTEX, is absolutely fast and smooth. There are affordable inland hotels (Crowne Plaza in Balanga City has complete amenities) and numerous beach resorts (like the Montemar Beach Club in Bagac) with great recreational facilities. (If you are going to my highly-recommended, Ayala-developed Anvaya Cove in Morong, there is a bonus of panoramic mountain sights and a beautiful, mouth-gaping stretch of the South China Sea).

The Bataan peninsula is also a richly educational place with about two dozen historical landmarks to visit where the kids can get to develop or rekindle their appreciation for the country [for me, a visit to the Mount Samat Shrine, the Dambana ng Kagitingan, is always a must).

At Balanga City, nightlife is busy with several bars and clubs which the older children can enjoy (for a boozier nightlife, the drive to the center of Subic is quite convenient). Meanwhile, the several beautiful and old churches (such as the St. Dominic Church in Abucay) beckon those with religious bent. Another must-see for me is the top-rated Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific (MAAP) in Mariveles where guests are warmly welcomed complete with honor guards and impressed by the highly sophisticated Navigation Simulation Complex — where one can experience how a seafarer actually moves inside his ship!

Bataan also offers gastronomic delights galore with numerous great restaurants to choose from (the Louis Restaurant in Balanga City and the Bistro Timotea and Romalaines Restaurants in Mariveles are my favorites) where you can indulge in exotic dishes and the most delicious seafood, like yummy crabs and prawns (which fortunately for me, are also abundant in my husband’s beloved hometown, Orion). And, for your pasalubong, buy loads of smoked fish (tinapa), cashew nuts, araro, polvoron, bagoong and coffee. You can find all these and more in what I call the “world-class public market” in Balanga City.

In Bataan, you can enjoy scenic views on foot or on mountain bike with several trekking and biking destinations with trails passing grassy plateaus, quiet rivers, and beautiful waterfalls, taking tourists through natural habitats that allow the province to preserve ecological balance in its surroundings. At the Bataan State College in Abucay (a center of excellence in the field of Agriculture), tourists can have a chance to harvest fruits from different plantations; feed swine, goats, and cattle; harvest chicken eggs; and purchase different farm products at cheap prices. Parents and kids alike will learn to love and conserve nature at the Pawikan Conservation Center (where native turtles are strictly guarded against extinction), and the Dinalupihan Nature Center and, lately, by birdwatching in Balanga City.

This may come as a surprise to most, but yes, Balanga City is a paradise for birds; in fact it is one of the newest birdwatching destinations in the country. The variety of birds abounding in Balanga City is such that even members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines (WBCP) were much surprised to find out, through the Asian Waterbird Census Summary Report, that the area tops the list of the most number of migrating birds in the Philippines, outnumbering even the famous Olango Island in Cebu!

And, as TV sets flashed scenes of Ondoy’s devastation, what was not seen the world over was how on Oct. 9 and 10, in the green city of Balanga, there was a gathering of men and women from all over the world committed to the preservation of the environment attending an International Bird Festival. The Festival, according to Rep. Albert Garcia of the 2nd District of Bataan, through lectures, games, film-showing, and other activities, raised awareness among the children of our rich natural heritage and inspired them to take action and responsibility in nature conservation.

I personally have done some birdwatching in Balanga City twice, through the graciousness of Balanga City’s young mayor Joet Garcia, and honestly in those times, I simply forget my work and other preoccupations. It is just myself, a hi-tech telescope and those hundreds and hundreds of exotic birds that thrive in Balanga City’s thick mangroves and wetlands. The second time I went, I brought with me my 87-year old mom who could hardly believe there could be so many birds in one place.