A little over a month ago, my family and I watched an amazing historical movie called Quezon’s Game. Exceeding all of my expectations, the film was exciting, charming and incredibly well-acted.
We didn’t fall in love with just the film and its strong moral core. We also fell in love with its set!
Almost all scenes were shot in a period-accurate historical resort in Bataan called Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. The entire hotel was designed to celebrate and replicate ancestral houses from all over the Philippines, and it boasted stone houses, a fun tour, and other activities (like kayaking and cockfights, apparently).
Of course, I had to immediately set up an entire weekend itinerary for my family. Though we weren’t able to do everything we wanted thanks to the inclement weather, let me share the highlights of our trip!
Bataan World War II Museum
My memory can barely recall facts from the pre-colonial period to Bonifacio’s death, but no further. It’s a bit sad.
Happily, there are many informational guides and helpful locals. The Bataan World War II Museum is staffed by passionate retired teachers who simply love passing information to the next generation.
The museum is hidden inside a school campus. There were a lot of “are we in the right place?” kind of moment.
In April 1942, USAFFE signed papers of surrender under a mango tree. Back then, Bataan Elementary School was used as a command post by Lt. Gen. Homma of Japan.
God bless her if I’m wrong, but this was our tour guide and her name was Ma’am Lapas. She used to teach chemistry. Now she’s giving fabulous historical museum tours.
Don’t forget to leave a tip and thanks for appreciation! ❤
Plaza Mayor de Balanga and St. Joseph Cathedral
Plaza Mayor de Ciudad de Balanga is one of the prettiest yet most functional public spaces I’ve visited in awhile. This plaza combines the best of Spanish-era concentric zoning (i.e. putting the church and government halls in the center of town), architecture, and commercialism.
The grand old facade houses modern stores, specialty food shops, and a hotel in one corner. The other building houses the town hall and public library. It reminds me of the best of Madrid.
Because it was raining, we didn’t get to enjoy the view as much. I honestly want to revisit Bataan when the weather is much better!
The Balanga Cathedral played a role in World War II as artillery for the bombing of Mount Samat. The cathedral was large and solemn.
The Flaming Sword
Drive along any major road in Bataan and you’ll find an interesting historical marker every few meters. The Flaming Sword, situated somewhere between Balanga and Mount Samat, marks the place where soldiers on the death march from Bagac merged with the soldiers from Mariveles on the way to Tarlac.
Can you imagine walking 60 kilometres under the heat, with no rest and food and drink? And yet that’s what 70,000 soldiers had to endure under the orders of the Japanese Imperial Army. Thousands of Filipinos and hundreds of Americans died during the march. Many more died in the train ride to Capas and in Camp O’Donnell.
Ima’s Pamangan in Pilar
Food will always be a highlight in any travel diary, and this time it’s unlimited Filipino home food by Ima Flora’s Pamangan!
This is a great place to eat in Bataan, especially if you’re on the way or just coming from Mount Samat National Shrine (we weren’t able to make the detour because we had some car troubles).
The buffet cost only Php200 or Php300 (approximately $4 to $6 dollars). Honestly, I wouldn’t hesitate to shell out anymore.
There are some famous alternatives nearby, like Choco-Laté de Batirol.
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar
It’s time for the main attraction of our trip! Despite the inclement weather, the entire hotel was booked to the brim (I almost thought I wouldn’t get a room!)
As a hotel, I would definitely rate the place only 3 or maybe 3.5 stars, at best. The service is kind but slow and inefficient; the amenities are complete but almost charmingly antiquated. However, it’s not just a hotel. More than anything, Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar is a trip to the past.
For the photographer and wannabe model, there’s no end to the number of picturesque sites in the resort. The hotel managers are brilliant for combining the romanticism of canals and bridgeways, with the picnic-setting appeal of grassy parks.
The houses are replicas or partial restorations (very partial; our tour guide says the houses are built with at most 5% of the original building materials transferred to the new site).
The blueprints come from all over the Philippines: there are wooden houses from Cebu or Cagayan (the very first relocated home, IIRC), stone houses from Pampanga, and historically significant homes from Biñan (like the home of Teodora Alonso!)
I mean… Who wouldn’t take advantage of the background?
The picture above was shot outside our apartment, Accessoria. We booked a large 2-bed room that could comfortably fit all five of us. The bathroom was so pretty with all the marble. You have the option of basically renting a room or an entire house complex.
The employees of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar play a second role as performers in a nightly cultural show. The hall is fantastic (found inside the grand Hotel de Oriente, which was mentioned in Quezon’s Game). The play, on the other hand, was not so grand.
The production obviously had a low budget –you can even see some worn down costumes and props, and there were barely any audiovisual aids–but it had heart and spirit.
Like all resorts, the food is criminally expensive. Cafe del Rio provided a cosy atmosphere and fairly delicious food in exchange. We stopped by after the night’s entertainment. For a cafe, it had a very poor selection of coffee.
And another photo of me, thanks to my sister:
If you book a room in Las Casas, you automatically get a tour pass. As a stay-out visitor, you’d have to pay around Php2500 ($50), though Klook offers a good discount at Php1800 ($35).
This is Kathleen, our funny and engaging tour guide! She also introduced a group of younger performers who staged a short show on Rizal and the youth of the Philippines.
Both the tour and the short show were in Filipino, so I’m not sure how well non-Filipino-speaking visitors will appreciate this experience.
Looks familiar? This replica was the set of one of my favorite historical films, Heneral Luna (2015)! I don’t think I blogged about that excellent movie, but I did blog about its spiritual sequel here.
One of the historical houses in the resort was also converted into an art gallery under Belles Artes Projects I love that concept. Other buildings, like Escolta, were converted to commercial establishments.
It goes well with the resort’s theme of Pride in the Past, Hope for the Future.
Among the exhibited works is this captivating statue of Apo Alipon. The exhibit by Cian Dyrit is entitled Busis Ibat Ha Kanayunan (Voices From The Hinterlands). It is a conversation with the 18 Ayta communities in Bataan.
(The most interesting part of the exhibit would be the carved heads representing the enemies of the Ayta communities. I don’t have a good photo –so I invite you to see it yourself!)
I’m adding a couple more photos (of myself) because I’m really proud of the ensemble I’m wearing. I bought the coordinating blazer and shorts from Lazada (it only cost me Php550, and it also came with a matching top).
More excitingly, I crocheted the top myself! It was the only arts and crafts project I committed to over the one-month summer break, so it’s a bit special.
Pep & Ronnie
On our way back to Manila, we gave our hungry stomachs a break by stopping at Pep & Ronnie. I loved the five cheese pizza and the towering goodness of whatever this is.
Ideal 2-Day Itinerary
For your convenience, this was the ideal itinerary I cooked up. It went a bit sideways thanks to the weather.
Day 1: Pilar and Balanga
- 5AM – Leave Manila
- 9AM – Bataan World War II Museum
- 11AM – Snacks at the Stregato Gelateria
- 12NN – Plaza Mayor de Ciudad de Balanga and St. Joseph Cathedral
- 1PM – Lunch at Ima’s Pamangan
- 2PM – Dambana ng Kagiting/Mt. Samat National Shrine
- 3PM – Drive to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar
- 3PM – Zero Km Death March Marker, Filipino-Japanese Friendship Tower
- 6PM – Cultural show at Las Casas
Day 2: Bagac
- 8AM – Breakfast
- 10AM – Historical Tour
- 12NN – Travel back to Manila
- I actually pre-booked rooms at The Plaza Hotel in Balanga City, in case Las Casas didn’t work out. The reviews and the room rates still seem very attractive!
- Morong: one whole day can be spent visiting the Boat People Museum, Our Lady of the Pillar Parish Church, Loleng Hu Tieu-an (for a Vietnamese lunch), the Pawikan Conservation Centre, and the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant
See you again, Bataan!
When the weather and my schedule next permit it, I’ll definitely find my way to Bataan again. There are so many other things to see in Bataan (most of which are inconveniently open only on weekdays), such as the Pawikan Centre, Mount Samat, the Nuclear Power Plant, and this must-try Viet restaurant called Loleng’s Hu Tieu-an.
Until that happy day comes, I’ll have to content myself with dreams of travelling again.
Back to enjoying my rare day off!
P.S. Happy birthday to my brother, who is awesome (he drove us all the way to Bataan and back)!