Iloilo Day Tour 2016

The reason my friend Kinah and I chose to go to Iloilo is because it was the cheapest air fare we could find during the February travel expo and it was a place she hasn’t been to yet. During the travel expo, we were also lucky enough to book rooms in Go Hotel Iloilo for only P499/night for 2 pax. It was such a steal!

Pending zombie attack vibes

Kinah and I agreed to a day tour of Iloilo and an adventurous day trip to Antique. Even though I’ve been to Iloilo already, and several of the places we visited, I still enjoyed myself, especially when we went to Miag-ao.

We took the first flight out of Manila. When we landed in Iloilo, I thought the fog was just really thick, but apparently they were smoking the rice fields because there had been a dengue outbreak. (Kinah and I had prepared for this by bringing a lot of mosquito patches, two per person per day!) From the airport, we took a shuttle (Php 50) and disembarked at SM Mandurriao. We left our bags there for Php 30 since our check-in time wasn’t until 2pm, and Go Hotels Iloilo was a little further away.

We headed straight to La Paz Market for Iloilo’s famous batchoy from Decos and coffee from Madge Cafe. (If you don’t want to go to La Paz Market, Madge and Decos have other branches.) We actually got lost inside the wet market, trying to look for Decos. We saw Madge first so we went in. When we ordered coffee, they asked us if we also wanted batchoy from Decos. Win win!

Coffee from Madge (not the woman in the picture)
Heaping bowl of Iloilo’s famous batchoy served with an extra bowl of soup

Since Madge was already full of people (locals and a few tourists), we shared a table with one of the locals. We enjoyed chatting with him, although we were still a bit reserved. He was so open about himself but he seemed to understand that we were reticent to share information. After breakfast, we went on our way to our first stop: Miago-ao!

Miag-ao is actually named Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church, but people just call it Miag-ao, where it’s located. It was completed in 1797, and is a UNESCO Heritage Church. It is one of the four Baroque Churches of the Philippines, and one of my favorite churches.

Beautiful Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Parish Church or Miag-ao Church

Since there was an ongoing church service, Kinah and I couldn’t tour the place. Kinah isn’t Catholic, but she enjoys the architecture of old Catholic churches so we took plenty of pictures.

Our next stop was Guimbal Church. From Miag-ao, just cross the street towards the direction going back to Iloilo City and ride a jeep. Guimbal is only a short distance before Miag-ao.

I haven’t been to Guimbal before, but I have one of my most memorable travel stories about it now.

Simple but commanding Guimbal Church

Kinah and I were about to enter thru the front door when we realized that the people standing there were waiting for a bride. We decided to go thru the side doors because we didn’t want to walk down the aisle hahaha. I love, love, love weddings, so we stayed to watch the entrance of the bride.

“You’re going to cry, aren’t you?” Kinah asked.

“Of course not,” I retorted.

Then the wedding singer sang Regine Velasquez’s Ikaw as the doors opened and the bride walked slowly. I quickly wiped a few tears, because it was my dream walk-down-the-aisle song if I ever get married. I took pictures of the bride because I love entrances like these. Kinah whispered, “People are looking at us, what if they think you’re an ex of the groom or something.” I quickly put my phone away and we finally left.

By the time we left Guimbal, it was almost time for lunch and we were famished. We rode a jeep and got lost. Really. The driver forgot to tell us it was time to go down, and we’d gone way past where we were supposed to disembark, so Kinah suggested to just take a cab.

Where else were we gonna eat but at Villa Beach? We went to Breakthrough, because I ate at Tatoy’s before and didn’t like the chicken. Breakthrough turned out to be the perfect choice because it’s incredibly affordable and tasty. I liked the ambience better too.

So good and cheap

Our food was so cheap, given that we ordered one platter of pork belly and little shrimps and one rice each. We didn’t even pay above Php 400! We also enjoyed going out back and looked at the beach. I’m not sure if you can swim there. The beach is pretty plain and I’m unaware of any resorts. I think most guests simply go to Guimaras when they want to swim.

Next on our to-do list was visit the Camina Balay nga Bato, a very famous ancestral house in Iloilo that serves amazing hot chocolate. We hailed a tricycle right outside Breakthrough. It’s just a short distance away so the fare was minimum. When we started knocking, no one answered. The trycicle driver didn’t leave us either and helped us knock. After a minute or so, a man lounging outside a store across the street shouted to us that the real entrance was on the side of the building. Ooops!

Facade of Camina Balay nga Bato. On the right is the door bell (a literal bell) that you pull for them to let you in.

This was a perfect place for us because Kinah loves old houses while I was there for hot chocolate. Kidding. Old houses fascinate me because it offers a glimpse of how old Filipinos used to live. And man, were they rich! Unlike what you see in Filipino movies every October 31, the house did not give off any creepy vibe. In fact, we enjoyed it so much and would have stayed longer because we were enjoying the fresh breeze and just relaxing after traveling all morning.

Dreamy ground floor of Camina Balay nga Bato
The kind of altar I’ve read about when I was young

Part of the Php 150 entrance fee included the guided tour and hot chocolate made traditionally, or what we call batirol. My late grandma from Davao used to send me hot chocolate she’d made by hand, to drink batirol style. *sniff*

Soothing fresh air plus hot chocolate!
Kinah on a sugar high

We sat back, enjoying the old chairs, imagining ourselves ladies during Jane Austen’s time, only we were drinking hot chocolate instead of tea. *sigh* Memories.

Camina Balay nga Bato has two other offers. For an additional Php 50 (total of P200), you will also be served Molo. They also serve lunch, in addition to the tour, hot chocolate and pancit molo, for Php 500. Best to contact them to book or make sure they’re open for the day, because they are booked sometimes.

Kinah and I were knackered but we decided to go to one last stop: St. Anne’s Church, or what they call the Feminist Church. It’s a beautiful gothic church with a simple facade except for the slightly intricate spires.

Church of St. Anne
It’s called a Feminist church because every pillar inside on the way to the altar has a different female saint.

From St. Anne, we took a cab to SM Mandurriao. Since the driver seemed pleasant, we asked if he can wait for us while I got our things and then we’ll go straight to Go Hotels Iloilo. He readily agreed. That saved us a second flagdown rate! It was a good thing we asked because there were plenty of people lined up outside SM Mandurriao, looking for a cab too.

Since we were going to Antique the next day, I went to the nearest church to Go Hotels, which is Sta Teresita, to attend evening mass. I couldn’t understand a word of Bisaya, so I just took the time to pray and talk to Mama Mary. I’ve been going through a difficult quarter and I needed clarity, and the trip and being with Kinah, away from stress, helped me to calm down.

Sta. Teresita is the nearest Catholic Church to Go Hotel Iloilo

Sta. Teresita is one of the simpler churches in Iloilo but no less special. In fact, I can still recall how at peace I felt while attending mass.

The Esplanade is popular with families, friends, and joggers

I went back to the hotel and we both got ready for dinner with Kinah’s friend, who lives in Iloilo. He brought us to eat at one of the restaurants along the Esplanade, and we went for a walk after dinner. The Esplanade’s so beautiful at night, and I can just imagine how dreamy it must look during dusk!

We also went out for a few drinks and he told us about the progress Iloilo has made over the past year. The downside, of course, is that the traffic has worsened. I can swear that Iloilo wasn’t that busy when I first went there the previous year.

At around 11pm, we finally called it a night. It was such a busy but fun-filled day, and I’m glad everything went according to plan.

Kinah and I felt that our day in Iloilo was spent eating almost every few hours, but the food was so cheap and tasty that we couldn’t help it. #noregrets Food tripping in Iloilo is definitely something you should do if you visit!

But Kinah and I agreed that the best part about Iloilo was the people. Ilonggos are incredibly nice. Not everyone we met was nice, but about 95% of everyone we encountered was so nice and accommodating. We felt so overwhelmed, especially with our Manila-hardened exterior and defensiveness among strangers.

If ever the opportunity arises, I would definitely go back to Iloilo — and make sure I get to Guimaras this time!


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