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Where To Wind Your Summer Down: Sabang in Baler

When you think of Baler you think of surfing. This homely town, built along the Pacific seaboard of the Philippines, boasts a local surfing culture that attracts tourists of all ages from far and wide, both local and international. What the tour groups often forget to mention, however, is a Bohemian beach scene that begs you to stop and slow down while you’re in amongst it all.

Getting to Baler is pretty straightforward. Most routes and itineraries available online will take you through Cabanatuan City, a good place for a rest stop on the six hour journey. Eat at Rustica for cheap prices and huge servings of karinderya food. After that, you’ll find yourself in the mountains around Pantabangan. You’ll want to stop here, too – the surrounding watershed will rob you of your breath.

An hour of winding roads through foothills and over mountains will take you to the other side of the Sierra Madre and down into Baler proper. Baler boasts a culture reminiscent of both lowland Tagalog and that of the cold peaks of nearby Ifugao, as well as a local history that is as interesting as it is largely left out of school books. Stop here and immerse yourself if you like, and spend some pesos to keep the local economy thriving.

As interesting as Baler proper is, the typical tourist will want to continue heading East into Barangay Sabang, the town’s main tourism hub. Don’t worry about missing out on the rest of Baler – every tourist desk in town offers tours to the many sites that make the place a must-see.

 

Head on to Sabang

You’ll see the postcard landscapes once you make it to the Sabang Bay. It’s a view quite unlike any other. Look past the fun and the surfboards for a little while and you’ll see a beautiful bay that stretches to the furthest edges of your vision before rising fully and suddenly into the geographical drama that is the Sierra Madre. The mountains enclose you on either side. Ahead is the Pacific, commanding you to surrender yourself to a relaxed state of awe as the smell of sea salt and the gentle crashing of waves all emanate from an eternal carpet of blue.

 

 

At this point in your trip you’re going to want to pick a place to stay. You’re spoiled for choice in terms of variety here. The family traveller looking for a place to stash the kids and to kick back and relax after a long week at work will want to check in at Costa Pacifica, although it is a little on the pricey side. Head further down Sabang and you’ll find dive hotels and homestays and transient homes, like the Circle Hostel and the Go Surfari House—for the tourist looking for that authentic vibe that is touted by Baler’s local tourism efforts.

 

Once you’ve checked in you can enjoy Sabang at ease, and it is a very easy place to enjoy. Most of the Sabang Bay area sits within a compound. The compound can be traversed on rentable bamboo bikes – sustainable, of course, as per the eco-friendly considerations of Sabang’s tourism operators. It’s a small area, but there is plenty to be discovered. Healthy eaters will want to check out Charlie Does. Try their adobo sisig—it’s better than any of the pork dishes. The casual inihaw lover might find their tastes satisfied at Yellowfin. Surf shops and souvenir stores are in abundance here for those looking to get involved in surfer life or for the go-local advocate looking to deck their rooms and themselves in the subcultures of the Philippines.

 

 

Before you end your trip to Baler, make sure to be at the beach at five in the morning. Leave your phone in your hotel room and bring a camera if you’ve got one. Get there early and you’ll catch the rising sun turn the sky purple, then dark blue, then the brightest gold as its rays break against the Sierra Madre and fall down on rainbow umbrellas sticking out of the sand in preparation for the first few sleepy surfers to make their way to the sea. A sunrise like that is the best way to cap off a weekend spent slowing down to the sounds and smells and sights of summer surf.

 

Pia Wurtzbach is exploring Baler this weekend at Pias Postcards over the Metro Channel.