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Nine Places in the Philippines that I Want to Visit Again! Why?

CABUGAO GAMAY, ISLA DE HIGANTES is one of the places I want to visit again. Check my list here.

DISCLAIMER: This first appeared on my travel column Down South on TV5’s last January 2015. I recently saw it again, and surprisingly this list remains a plan. This is a personal reminder. All photos are mine. How about you, are there places that you want to visit again? For what reasons?

I typed the first word here at the Laguindingan International Airport—Cagayan de Oro’s relatively new port. On my right, the bench was empty like most benches around me. Understandably, it was barely seven in the morning and people just started arriving.

That bench, just outside Kenny Rogers restaurant, was the exact place where I nursed someone’s heart bruised from San Antonio Spurs’ loss to Miami Heat somewhere 2013. His head was resting on my lap, while I was trying to finish an assignment, like what I am doing right now.

We were waiting for our flight back to Cebu then. As of writing, together with an NGO’s team, I am waiting for our flight back to Cebu.

Cagayan de Oro does not really make it on my top ten travel list; least a place that I find personally appealing. But you know, memories—they are the masters of shrewdness. So here I am, smiling at the thoughts of young writers fresh from Iligan National Writers Workshop watching three movies in one day at Limketkai for the sheer reason they were dirt cheap, five years ago. I’m smiling at that moment when I thought a lovely relationship would never go awry like an adventure could never go wrong.

It is because of memories or the lack thereof that I plan to revisit places this year. It seems like validating my first encounter with them would persuade me to pin them into a decent narrative or see the place in a different light and would scrap the biases I had on my first visit.

So, here is my list. I would love to know yours.

Going deep, not dipping at Hinatuan River, Surigao del Sur

I was 25 and had never been to Mindanao alone. So when a photo of Hinatuan River, also known as Enchanted River, flooded my Facebook feeds, I scoured for a promo fare to get there regardless of the daunting and back-aching bus ride it entailed because I wrongly booked a flight to Surigao del Norte.

There were no flights to Tandag back then. Although the river stunned me, the trip was too short for me to find it storied. I just swam around and took photos. That was it. I have not really explored this place, I merely passed by. But its beauty deserves more than an hour or so of dipping.

Swimming deep into its narrative is something I would love to this year.

Exploring the small islands of Surigao del Norte

On my second trip to Siargao, I ferried from Surigao City, contrary to the convenient direct flight to the surfing capital of the country itself. From the boardwalk, islands—a lot of them—dotted the edges of the sea.

A big chunk of Surigao del Norte, just like the rest of Mindanao, remains unexplored. I have been to Siargao’s cockpit but not to its Magpupungko Pool. Swimming with Bucas Grande’s jelly fish remains elusive as well. Writing about its women surfers is a project I would love to materialize this year.

Surigao del Norte whose ranges marred by overmining remains largely unwritten.

Living with the Amihan Boys at Dahican, Mati, Davao Oriental

My trip here was one of those many detours decided on the last minute—the sudden change of heart at the bus’ door.

The Amihan Boys at Dahican, Mati, Davao Oriental—a beauty that should remain raw—wake up early to play with the waves before preparing for school. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering

A short story was conceived during my walk on Dahican’s kilometers-long shore. It was one of those moments when the overt data gathering for creative nonfiction breeds fiction.

But this was not the reason why I would love to visit this place again, it was because of the Amihan Boys, a skimboarding school open to those who have the determination and discipline to excel in water sports. The kids who chose to live by and for the waves is something worth writing for.

Staying longer at Capul Island

Greed is never good. I am, can be a greedy traveler. During my two-week backpacking trip in the areas where Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao connect, I squeezed as many places as possible.

Idling at Capul Island’s lighthouse makes one forget about time. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering,

An overnight stay at Capul Island was shamefully short, as if the place’s stories can be listened to in that limited span. Most of my time there was spent on its beautiful pastoral Lighthouse, but locals said the other side of the island is worth checking as well.

For one, Capul has its own unique language. Since it is not really an established tourist spot, there are no resorts and restaurants at all. Only motorbikes can navigate the narrow roads. Most hours of the day do not have electricity. Small islands like Capul have charms unique to them. I would come back for that.

Fulfilling a three-year promise at Maripipi Island
“You should come back here for the fiesta,” invited at least three locals I met at Maripipi Island. I said yes. I was not able to do so in the past two years. So perhaps this year is the perfect time to fulfill that promise.

A quaint municipal island of Biliran province, Maripipi is expected to become “popular” in the coming years. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering,

Maripipi, an island municipality of Biliran, is a quaint place. Most Filipinos do not know where it is. I only knew about this island, like most unheard-of islands in the country, from my mountaineer friends. Maripipi has wild tarsiers and is locally known for its pottery. It has a beautiful mountain we once planned to trek—the whole island looks like a remote mountain from the distant far.

I did not jot down the details of the stories I heard here. I need to come back to listen to the tales once again like a kid never gets tired of listening to the same bedtime stories.

Experiencing a sunny Isla de Higantes

It takes a certain idiocy and stubbornness to travel to remote islands in rainy months like July. No amount of sun dance could help the sun rouse from the bed of dark clouds. I can take comfort from the truth I have seen a side of Isla de Higantes a traveler visiting on summer days has not. But with the sun beaming, a different set of memories, I know, would unravel on its beautiful islets like the popular Cabugao Gamay.

For the quest of seclusion, Isla de Higantes is the place to be. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering,

Coming back here with the company of friends would be awesome. Perhaps we can explore the group of island at Concepcion, Iloilo and climb Pan de Azucar. Iloilo is love.

Staying in the Village at Batad

On my way back from Tappiya Falls, it rained suddenly. I sheltered at the hut along the steep slope and stumbled upon a local guide touring a French couple. I traipsed behind them and eavesdropped to what the guide had to say about Batad. Interestingly, there are many trivia concerning the village we passed through.

Batad is the place for the thrill seekers and storytellers. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering

Passing by is something that has become a cliché in my trips. For my next visit, I would love to spend as much as possible in the village. Enough with the taking of photos of the sprawling ricefield. The locus of Batad’s narrative is in its people.

Seeing Sagada on All Soul’s Day

While walking to Echo Valley, we passed by a cemetery. Instead of melted candles, burned gathered twigs were placed by each tomb. I asked our guide about this, and she said this is a custom unique to Sagada. Villagers bring saeng, long slender of pitched pinewood, on All Soul’s Day and light them at dusk. The cemetery, she shared, becomes a village of small bonfires and smoke.


More than the systematic tours here and there, to be at Sagada on November 1st and 2nd is something I am looking forward to.

Laughing to Whang Od’s dirty jokes at Buscalan, Kalinga

Perhaps it is just me, but the narratives written about her one can find online is lacking. It seems like she has been mythologized to yet another maiden whose heart was broken. But she is one crazy woman that has a lot of dirty jokes. Her face might look deceptively sullen, but a slightest joke can crack her up.

Whang Od is more than a ‘mambabatok,’ she is a culinary purist, a coffeemaker, a farmer, a hog raiser, a hairstylist, a palm reader. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering,

My laughter astonished her. She read my palm and told me I would have many lovers, which the twenty-six-year-old me found unbelievable, but the twenty-eight-year-old wickedly agreed. She can set her hair elegantly. One time, she braided my hair like she was doing her daughter’s hair.

There is more to her than being a tourist attraction, a broken heart, a mambabatok. She is a woman, a phenomenal at that. I must see her again before the year ends and laugh some more of her adult antics.

Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona, originally from Cebu, Philippines, had live in Hanoi, Vietnam, and now currently based in Munich, Germany. This blog used to house thoughts on life and books, but eventually it morphed into a travel blog. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at For essays, creative nonfiction, and others, find me elsewhere.

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