When I asked Charity what she wanted to do for her birthday, she immediately said she wanted to travel out of town. How can I say no? (especially when travelling is one of my favorite things as well!) We made last minute reservations at the Oriental Bataan and researched on what activities or sites we could visit.

We departed early Saturday morning for the overnight trip. It was a five hour drive to reach out destination, with Waze instructing us to enter the NLEX through the Mindanao Ave. NLEX extension. I tend to enjoy trips up north, especially upon reaching the SCTEX. The roads are wider and well paves, and there are fewer cars so you could really stretch your cars engine. While the route we took was technically longer in terms of kilometers, it was faster due to the open roads. We exited the SCTEX before reaching Subic, and made our way toward our first destination: Mount Samat.

The winding road leading up the mountain was narrow and based on what my wife told me, tricycles and jeepneys aren’t permitted to ferry people up and down the mountain. Visitors are forced to bring their own vehicle, take a shuttle, or hike up the mountain (which we saw a few groups do). There’s a small entrance fee at the entrance of the vicinity. And further ahead, places to park your car.

We first went to the WWII Museum. They have a large wall with a description of the battles that took place in Bataan. It reminded me of the American Cemetery & Memorial in Taguig, as the walls would tower over you and remind me that we are just a blip in history.

There were stairs to the side that would lead you down into a small bunker. In the bunker they displayed world war II relics: guns, weapons, clothing, etc. They also had a 3D topographic map that indicated where the armies would battle. We didn’t stay in the museum long, given that it was small. So we headed back out and drove further up the mountain to the Cross.

Mt. Samat is mainly known for the Cross that’s built at the apex of the mountain. You can spot the cross quite a distance a way. Unfortunately, the elevator that could take you up to the viewing deck was closed that day, so we were grounded. We bought overpriced magnets and enjoyed the view. I was pleasantly surprised at how well maintains the place was and wondered why it wasn’t a bigger tourist spot/attraction. I think it’s a must-visit place if you’re in the area.

After Mount Samat, we headed towards our hotel in the southern town of Mariveles. Mariveles is a port town where ships can dock and unload containers, much like in Subic (which explains why the National Road going there was nice). But as my wife would complain, it’s still a very provincial town with the closest mall an hour away.

The hotel that we stayed at was built for businessmen, though it’s perfectly fine for families too. It’s called the Oriental Bataan and there are several things I appreciate about it. First, the architecture is unique. Even from the outside you can immediately see that it’s different, with the building structure resembling an inverted cone, rather than a box. The reception area shares the same place as the dining/coffee area. While we were checking in, they brought us cucumber lemonade as a refreshment.

The room we stayed in was large, with plenty of room for kids to play around in. The room included almost everything you’d expect from a hotel, except for a refrigerator and safe box. But I really appreciate the Filipino decor. The hotel had other things Chay and I weren’t able to take advantage of, such as an outdoor dining area that had a live band on weekends, an outdoor spa, and a swimming pool.

It was around lunch time, so we headed out and ate and this seaside restaurant called Pupung Grill. And while I seaside, you should remember it’s a port town so there are no beaches. And while the view is pleasant if you look a certain direction, you still see a lot of ships docking at the harbor. The restaurant served good food with appropriate serving sizes. We ordered the sinigang bangus and the gising-gising. The price was around what you’d pay for a meal in Manila.

After lunch, we headed back up north to hunt down a mall. My wife is a little obsessed with Sylvanian toys. We go mall hopping just to see if we can find a unique or different set. She has a collection at home, and while I wasn’t really into it at first, I can see why she likes them (and I enjoy taking pictures of them from time to time). We first tried the Vista Mall along the National Road. It looked fairly new and when we were there, there was a Zumba class taking place in the center of the mall. The toy store didn’t have Sylvanians, to my wife’s disappointment, but everything else was very familiar. They have the same shops and restaurants as what you’d find in Manila. Just no Sylvanian.

Next we headed to the City of Balanga. One thing that surprised me as we were driving toward the city was that there were several subdivisions that had really nice houses! I’m guessing they belong to people who work at the ports, who have really good pay. The city of Balanga was quite crowded and the roads were quite narrow. We were hunting down Balanga Plaza de Mayor (it looked great in picture) and after missing the parking entrance, we circled around and parked at the mall. And yes, we looked for Sylvanian, but the Robinsons Department Store was very small and they didn’t have what we were looking for. We walked to the Plaza and took several pictures (very picturesque! lived up to my expectations). There was a cathedral to one side, the Plaza Hotel, and the mall, all with very pleasant facades. We dropped by a Gelato place to grab some ice cream and chilled for a while. In that city block, we felt like we were still in Metro Manila. After ordering takeout at KFC (sigh), we headed back to our hotel. It was pitch black and the there were few street lights so I had to rely heavily on my headlights and the headlights of other vehicles. But we were able to get to the hotel safely.

The next day we woke up early for the breakfast buffet. Lot of food were laid out: you have your typical Filipino cuisine (rice, egg, cured meats) and western cuisine (bread, cereal, juices). After breakfast we went swimming. Then we packed up and checked-out. We left a bit early as we wanted to drop by Subic to buy some pasalubong from Royal duty-free store. Then before heading back to Manila, we had lunch at a Korean restaurant (Charity wasn’t able to enjoy it last time we were in Subic because Haley cried a lot).

Our trip back hope wasn’t that eventful, but I do enjoy driving on SCTEX.


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