by Mike Aquino, via Yahoo |

Ready to hit the road? When you have some down time, both North and South expressways radiating from Manila lead to some pretty interesting places. Whether you want to eat mole crickets, stand agape in old churches, get lost on a jungle trail, or look at some pretty awesome modern art, you’ll get everything you want and more. Gas up, bring some snacks and get ready to head off to the destinations we’ve listed below.

Tagaytay’s Taal Lakeview Trip

Beginner-level road trippers will always have Tagaytay to aim for—a cool, cliffside town two to three hours’ drive from Manila that offers plenty of attractions besides the panoramic views of Taal Lake and the volcano.

Taal Volcano
Taal Volcano

Besides the ample eats—from the organic salads at Sonya’s Garden to Manos Greek Taverna‘s Mediterranean specialties, if none of the old favorites do it for you—you can enjoy Tagaytay’s many family-friendly attractions.

Start with the Sky Eye ferris wheel that towers over 200 feet above the ground at the Sky Fun Amusement Park; go horseback riding at the Picnic Grove; and get to know the tame petting animals at Paradizoo. The Puzzle Mansion satisfies both brain and body with a Guinness-record-breaking collection of puzzles and a scrumptious menu topped by their coconut cream pie.

Rizal Province Art & Churches Trip

As a next-door neighbor to Metro Manila, Rizal Province should be on every road-tripper’s bucket list. You can make a Sunday drive from the south, visit Paete and proceed to Antipolo before you close the loop by heading back via Marikina—you’ll see the best of the Philippines’ indigenous art scene along the way.

Start at Paete, whose manlililok (woodcarvers) have long defined its past and present. To see them at work, proceed to “gitang bayan”, or the main drag of J. V. Quesada Street, where most of their ateliers can be found. Kape Kesada on this street provides some artistic atmosphere for your brunch, courtesy of its interior made from parts of dismantled heritage houses.

Pinto Art Gallery in Antipolo
Pinto Art Gallery in Antipolo

From here, you can skirt Laguna de Bay and head to Antipolo where you can see more modern artists at work. The Pinto Art Gallery should be first on your Antipolo art list: this sprawling mansion and grounds house an eclectic collection of modern Filipino art, covering both the mundane and the erotic.

Stop at the Antipolo Cathedral to admire the icon of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, to seek blessings for your return trip and any future road trips planned.

Subic Shopping & Nature Trip

The former Subic military base is still a good stop for the bargain-hunting roadtripper; one stop shops like Royal Duty Free Store and Harbor Point Mall hold up the Freeport’s ongoing reputation as a discount haven, with individual outlet stores for famous brands like Nike and Adidas picking up the slack. If a close encounter with nature is more your thing, Subic delivers in that department as well.

View of Subic Bay
View of Subic Bay

The Pamulaklakin jungle trail bordering the Pamulaklakin River welcomes you to the jungle, with a beginner-friendly thirty-minute walk with an Aeta guide to show the way. Divers can explore Subic Bay’s undersea life clustered around the area’s World War II wrecks.

If diving and jungle trails feel too real, then you might prefer the more restrained natural wonders atZoobic and Subic Ocean Adventure—the former for its caged tour through a tiger enclosure, the latter for the singular chance to swim with dolphins and sea turtles.

Food Trip to Pampanga

For a trip that nourishes both body and soul, nothing beats the two-hour drive up NLEX to Pampanga. Past the San Fernando Exit lie a number of towns, each replete with local culinary specialties and classic structures. San Fernando itself is famous for Everybody’s Café, a cozy restaurant that serves Pampanga exotica like betute (stuffed frog) and camaru (mole crickets adobo style).

From here, it’s a short drive to the rest of Pampanga’s attractions, including Betis Church near Guagua, which showcases the local artisans working at the top of their game; San Guillermo Church in Bacolor, a half-buried edifice that still serves the town faithful despite its being sunk in earth ten feet deep; and the Pamintuan Mansion in Angeles City, where Aguinaldo declared independence for a brief shining moment before the Americans marched in.

Bale Dutung in Pampanga
Bale Dutung in Pampanga

Don’t forget Pampanga’s other delicious stopovers—Bale Dutung, the residence of chef/artist Claude Tayag and the backdrop for his culinary and artistic creations, and Kusina ni Atching Lilian, a homey buffet-style restaurant run by one of Pampanga’s most dedicated preservers of culinary tradition.

Epic Manila to Davao Road Trip

Thanks to the Strong Republic Nautical Highway, you can now drive all the way down from Manila to Davao and back. The scenic western route down to Mindanao offers an epic two-week epic road trip that hits most of the major Philippine cities, with room for the occasional detour.

The sea, you say? No problem—RORO ferries will take you and your car, too between islands. An overnight ferry ride between Batangas Port and Caticlan on Panay Island begins your nautical journey. Iloilo is five hours’ drive away; you can spend the night here before crossing over the next morning into Bacolod on Negros Island. Aim for Dumaguete, a drive that spans both coasts of Negros.

The Ruins in Bacolod
The Ruins in Bacolod

Spend the night in Dumaguete, that bucolic university town with solid ferry connections to both Cebu and Mindanao. If going for the latter, you’ll drive onto a RORO that drops you off at Dapitan in Zamboanga del Norte, from which you can drive straight to Davao in a punishing six to ten hour drive.

Most of the driving is traffic-free and incredibly scenic. “Once you are out of Luzon, the roads are relatively empty, there’s hardly any traffic problems,” road trip enthusiast Geert van der Linden tells us. “And there’s so much to see.”

If the thought of driving back the same way holds no appeal, you can simply have your car shipped back by container and fly to Manila by plane, as Mr. van der Linden did; you can pick your car up at the port three days later!

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