(This was first published on August 2017 on my main blog Silence Is The Enemy)
For a guy who keeps saying humanity should transcend regional divide, I am deeply proud of my Ilonggo heritage, thus very few things make me giddy more than the chance to show others what Iloilo has to offer. That is exactly what happened on the first of two long weekends of August 2017.
Back in April, my Cebu friends and I, collectively known as the Pandays (for having the ability to eat a good volume of food like carpenters do), decided to go forth and explore Iloilo, as none of them have visited the City of Love. As the much-anticipated date drew closer, airplane tickets have been bought and vacation leaves have been filed.
There are multiple ways of going to Iloilo from other major cities in the Philippines.
Tourists from Cebu can get to Iloilo via airplane, ship or land travel. Normal one-way airfare costs around PhP 1300.00 – PhP 1700.00, but always try to look for seat sales whenever you can. I’ve had the chance to score PhP 1000.00 round trip tickets before. The travel time printed on tickets is approximately 40-45 minutes, but it usually takes less, especially if the weather is good.
If you prefer to cross the narrow sea by ship, tickets cost around PhP 1000.00. Ships leave the Port of Cebu at 7PM and arrive the Port of Iloilo at 7AM the next day. But if you really crave for adventure within the adventure, try going to Iloilo from Cebu by bus!
Catch a bus at the South Bus Terminal in Cebu City, travel across Cebu island for roughly 4 hours, and upon arriving at the port of Toledo City, Cebu, the bus will then be ferried off to San Carlos City in Negros Oriental by Roll On-Roll Off (RoRo) barge. From San Carlos City, the bus will then travel for about 3-4 hours going to Bacolod City in Negros Occidental. Take a fast craft (SuperCat and Ocean Jet are among the most popular) from the Port of Bacolod, and enjoy the 1.5-2 hour travel to the Port of Iloilo.
What To Do In Iloilo?
After picking up Shane, Maria, Grace, and Dean at the Iloilo International Airport (located in the town of Sta. Barbara town, about 30-40 minutes away from Iloilo City), I took them to arguably Iloilo City’s most popular tourist destination, the Iloilo River Esplanade. It’s a 2-kilometer boardwalk along the Iloilo River, beginning at the Carpenter Bridge in Brgy. San Rafael, Mandurriao and ending in Iloilo City’s modern hub, Diversion Road (officially known as Benigno Aquino Avenue).
The Iloilo Esplanade is great for taking scenic pictures, with the river or the city skyline as your background. The best time to take photos here is at around 5PM as one can get an excellent view of the sunset. Joggers, zumba dancers and bikers can be found at the Esplanade in the morning and in the afternoon.
Cliques also gather here to practice what I assume to be dance presentations for some sort of event. There are benches facing the river where couples can go on dates — assuming you find being surrounded by hundreds of people romantic.
A relatively new attraction has been added at the Esplanade. Tourists can now ride paddleboats on the river! This costs PhP 60 per person and each boat can accommodate up to 5 people.
Don’t fret if you get hungry as you stroll along the boardwalk as there are many restaurants located in the portion of the Esplanade that’s near Smallville Complex (more on that later), as well as snack booths. At the Esplanade’s Diversion Road entrance, tourists are greeted by a statue of one of the Datus that arrived in Panay Island during pre-Spanish times, Data Paiburong.
We then went to SM City Iloilo because, well, we are a group called “Pandays”, so we tend to get hungry a lot. My friends wanted to experience authentic La Paz batchoy, and authentic La Paz batchoy was what they experienced.
I took them to Ted’s Old Timer La Paz Batchoy inside SM. Now, I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of grief from my Iloilo friends if they knew I took my Cebu friends to Ted’s and not Netong’s. Well, Netong’s doesn’t have a branch in SM and we had to shop for groceries for our Guimaras trip the following day.
Anyway, the story goes that the first La Paz batchoy joint was found in the La Paz District of the city. Three batchoyans claim to be the original purveyor of this noodly goodness — the aforementioned Ted’s, and Netong’s and Deco’s Original La Paz Batchoy — but nobody really knows for sure. Go for “Special”, with egg, when ordering batchoy if you’re inside these establishments. The special batchoy itself costs PhP 85 pesos while the egg add-on costs PhP 12.
SM City Iloilo is basically like every other SM mall in the country, the usual shops can be found inside. However, a new section recently opened called SouthPoint. It’s an area outside of the main mall where restaurants and other eating establishments are located, fronted by a grassy open field with a dancing fountain to boot.
SouthPoint is a great place to hang around especially late in the afternoon and evening because of that modern Iloilo vibe as opposed to the old, quaint atmosphere of the mall itself (growing up in Iloilo city in the 90’s and early 2000’s, probably the most exciting activity people could do was go to the mall). I am reminded of what a friend told me once: “Iloilo is a great mix of a modern urban city and quaint little town”.
After shopping for groceries and engaging in a little Time Zone shenanigans (and overspending on Mini-So products, I might add), I took the Pandays to our house in the town of Oton, the first municipality to the south of Iloilo, and about 10 kilometers away from the city. We spent the night trying to sleep, as we prepared for our next adventure the following day, this time in Guimaras Island.