After hours contemplating where we should spend our last day in Philippines, we finally arrived at a consensus. That; considering it was an epic fail to go to Bananue (our original plan which supposed to be executed day one), while a short trip to Corregidor Island is too costly and browsing Manila shopping malls is never our idea of traveling (not that I don’t visit the malls whenever we go travel but dedicating a whole day just for it seems absurd). Shooting the Pagsanjan Rapids was opted out as the day was cloudy and we didn’t bring any suitable clothing (since we didn’t plan for it either), leaving Tagaytay the only practical solution. So, Tagaytay it was!
Philippines in the morning, on our way to the LRT station in Gil Puyat.
We took the LRT from the station in Gil Puyat to Cubao in Quezon City, where the bus terminal to Tagaytay is located. One could also take the public bus at Taft Avenue but the information I got wasn’t so clear, and most of my notes are about Bananue not Tagaytay. Our initial itinerary was to hit Bananue straight away after we land in Clark before returning to Manila the same night. However after spending almost 7 hours in the plane and on road to Manila, the thought of surviving another 10 + 10 hours bumpy ride into the far flung mountains of Ifugao sounds a bit too ambitious, thus giving it a miss. Well that’s quite the usual dilemma when you have so little time and for being the habitual “go first, think later” sort of people.
DH in the LRT to Cubao.
Arriving Cubao we looked for exits that will lead us to the bus terminal. I searched all around for any indication on the direction but there was nothing except 2 meaningless signboards pointing to Exit 1 and Exit 2. It was already 9.30am and I really didn’t want to waste time finding them out. Although busses to Tagaytay are aplenty, they depart at every one hour interval. So if we missed the 10.00am bus we have to wait for the next bus which only leave an hour later, and got the whole journey delayed.
As we were looking around I saw a lady that looked kind and decent, so we walked to her and asked for direction. Somehow we caught her by surprise, and after analyzing us for a few seconds she told us to take the left exit and to ask the direction onwards from the security guard. We had read all about Manila travel warnings and from her appearances we thought we had carefully chose who we were going to ask, but was unexpected of her next words. She kindly reminded us not to talk to anyone no matter how decent they look, especially here in Cubao. The safest is to ask from the security guards.
We did exactly as we were told and finally found the terminal just a few blocks away. Locating the bus was easy, and soon we were cruising the Aguinaldo Highway to Tagaytay.
Inside the bus to Tagaytay. Unlike the public bus in Malaysia, there were 5 seats per row, and we found them a bit small. We chose to sit by the three seater, and occupied two half of the space. Luckily it was on weekend and there were not so many people, so we got the whole seats for the two of us most of the time.
The whole ride costs us around 60 pesos each (one way), instead the Php2000 if we choose to go by private car. We told the driver to drop us at Olivarez and got a bunch of ticket stubs as a token for that. Thank god I keep it well, cause along the way a ticket inspector boarded the bus and starts checking everyone’s ticket.
Our trusty travel source (the net of course!) mentioned that it will take two hours to reach Tagaytay from Metro Manila albeit only 50km apart, so DH set the countdown on his watch. We past through nondescript towns and housing areas, and I was getting sleepy from all the idling. Apart from making a few stops to drop and pickup passengers, the time was also made up by slow traffics in some of the areas. We reached Olivarez exactly 2 hours later and I was happy for being able to finally get off from the bus.
So, what is all about Tagaytay that made us came here?
For your info, Tagatay is a highland in the Batangas province not far from Metro Manila, and home to the famous Taal Lake and a volcano of a same name. What makes this lake and volcano stands up from the others owe to the facts that the volcano and lake are both within another volcano and another lake. Sounds confusing? Well that’s not before I said there is an island within a lake within and island within a lake within an island! No kidding, these are not typo error. I’m telling facts here! Ain’t that mind-boggling?
Apparently it just rained in Olivarez, a small town in Tagaytay and the gateway to the Taal Lake. Being 1500 metres above the sea level, we somehow felt rejuvenated by the cool and fresh air after days breathing the polluted Manila. A pedicab had been following us since we got off from the bus, trying his best to lure us for a ride down to the rim of Taal Lake. To be honest I wasn’t ready to jump into the first pedicab I saw, and thought of looking around for a while. But the pedicab driver was quite insistence, and he kept on following us even though we had said ‘no’. However we must admit that we were quite lost after a while, and the lake isn’t anywhere near. After his few attempts we finally gave in. Furthermore he was asking 250 pesos to the lake and back, of which I thought quite reasonable.
The trip down reminds me of the 44 hairpin bends of Lake Maninjau, another caldera lake in Sumatra which we had the chance visiting back in 2011. But somehow this trip was more hair raising than the previous, cause our pedicab driver had the sudden rush to test out his GP riding skills as soon as we jumped onto his bike. The street was narrow, and it was wet and slippery from the morning rain. The smells of hot rubber screeching against the tar at every corners were suffocating and I felt nauseous from those emergency brakes. Not to mention the deep ravine nearby. Grabbing at the metal handle I silently pray for our safety, especially at times where the bike skidded and I almost thrown out from the sidecar.
Speeding our way to the Taal Lake. There’s a warning sign of the dangerous curve ahead, but I don’t think our driver paid much heed to it.
Along the way the pedicab driver stopped at one of the lookout point, which unveiled the picturesque Taal Lake and its volcanic island.
After a few ‘near death’ experiences we finally arrived one piece at the small village at the rim of the lake and our pedicab driver straightly entered the compound of a tour office. As predicted, we were swarmed by those tour agents as soon as he parked the pedicab, persuasively offering us the package to the Taal Volcano. Quoting at 3000 pesos (about RM220) per person for the banca ride to the nearby island I could simply said we have been ‘ridiculously overcharged!’
Perpetuating our memory at the serene Taal Lake, which in reality I was surrounded by aggressive tour agents while taking the snapshot!
Aerial photo of Taal Volcano by Pinay Photographer George Tapan [source]. This is what I mentioned earlier, that make Tagaytay so unique. The Vulcan Point (indicated by the smallest dot in the above picture) is actually a tiny volcanic island that forms inside the caldera lake of volcanic island of Taal, which is eventually sits in the middle of Taal Lake which so happen in the middle of Luzon Island. An island within a lake within an island within a lake within an island! Pretty amazing, huh?
Bancas, the double-outrigger boats that are so synonym with Philippines.
Kid in a banca overlooking the Taal Lake in Tagaytay.
Taal volcano in the middle of Taal Lake surrounded by the fish farms.
Another view of Taal Lake that we managed to capture before going back to Olivarez.
The agents kept on harassing us and won’t let us be, despite our absolute refusals. Tired of their constant touts we told them we reanlly can’t afford anything above a thousand. The last offer we got was about Php1200 per person and it was quite good actually (compared to the initial fare), but time was against us. The whole trip to the volcano island and trekking to the crater will take at least half a day, and we need to get to Clark very early the next morning for the flight back to KL. We could not afford getting stranded anywhere.
Another thing that I notice, these people are very manipulative and like to twist words around. Something like we experienced with the pedicab at Intramuros earlier. Let say you agreed with 100 pesos, but after you use their service they will simply quote a different price with one thousand and one reasons to justifiy it. Even our pedicab driver at Tagaytay was trying to do that to us. From the Php250 we agreed earlier, he tried to push it to Php350, in case I forgotten. I was getting sick with all these tricks so I told him firmly of our agreed deal, which I think startled him a bit. Paranoid, I told DH to turn down the boat offer no matter how lucrative it may sound, cause I’m afraid that they will simply overcharge us later.
Uncomfortable that we couldn’t even take a photo or move a step without being blocked by those aggressive agents, we decided to head back to Olivarez. This time our driver was riding even faster than before. Throttling to the max, there were many times I have this strange feeling like his trying to kill both of us. Perhaps we were climbing uphill and accelerating was necessary in order to maintain the momentum. Or was he upset for not getting any commission from the boat touts and not able to trick us into paying him more? Those were the questions that lingers in my mind to this day.
This is no Photoshop. I told you our driver was speeding.
Back at Olivarez we had our quick lunch of fries at the McDonalds, seeing it is already past three. I was having a headache from all the rain but unfortunately I left my medicine supply back in the hostel. While we were eating DH saw our bus passing through so we quickly finished everything and run for it. It was funny though cause the bus eventually stopped in front of the McDonalds waiting for more passengers and not moved on for another 20 minutes or so, and we were running like mad! I thought of buying those buko pies sold by the street peddlers but had to forget about it as we were afraid that we’ll missed the bus. Fortunately those peddlers boarded the bus and we were able to bring back home a few.
Souvenir stalls in Olivarez. I didn’t buy anything for nothing caught my eyes. I couldn’t even find the fridge magnet apart from the many key chains and the typical night market stuff.
The buko pie (coconut pie) we bought in the bus back to Manila. The taste? Honestly it is not to my liking.
The journey back to Manila was rather tiring, and it took more than 5 hours to reach the city due to bad traffic congestion along the SLEX highway. 5 hours! Luckily we didn’t get into those outrigger boats in Tagaytay otherwise we won’t be able to reach Manila in time. Walking back from the LRT in Gil Puyat to our hostel we stopped by Ukay Ukay cause DH wanted to buy the original North Face pouch he’s been eyeing for the last 2 days. After much bargaining we got a brand new pouch at just 450 pesos. And it’s original! For just RM100+ we could get the 60L original bagpack of the same brand. Fortunately we didn’t bring enough cash, otherwise we had gone into a shopping spree! We have our own 100L and 70L back at home, but DH said let’s come again to Manila so that he could buy all those cheap bagpacks and sell them to his friends!
Next day we woke up early, took the first bus to Clark and flew back to KL. As we looked down at the Pinatubo through the window we found ourselves wondering the next time we will see it again.