A Small Place to Meander

I wrote this piece for @getoutmysuit, who will be starting her RTW soon and asked about the “off the beaten path” places I’ve been. Thanks for inspiring this post!

Dumaguete is officially labeled “The City of Gentle People” and has been described as a “sleepy little town” and also often called a university town by people who’ve been. Sightly bigger than Luang Prabang, and much calmer than Siem Reap, for me, it’s the best place to meander.

How to get there

If there were a way of getting to Dumaguete without passing through chaotic, noisy Manila, I would take it.  Cathay Pacific has a flight that leaves Singapore for Cebu, the island next to Negros Island, where Dumaguete is.  From Cebu International Airport you can take a Ceres bus all the way to the jetty that services Maayo Shipping, the regular ferry service between Cebu and Negros islands, docking at a place called Tampi. From Tampi, it’s a short bus ride to Dumaguete.  The downside of this route is that the flight from Singapore to Cebu is expensive (around $1000) and the whole journey takes a day and a half.

There are two direct flights from Manila to Dumaguete, one early in the morning and one at midday. Cebu Pacific and Air Philippines both fly to Dumaguete. Cost is variable, but plan on spending around more or less $300 for a round trip ticket.

Walkabout Number 1: The old and famous

Dumaguete grew around Silliman University, established by Americans in 1901, and remains an institution with one of the most sought after diplomas in Philippine education. It’s worth taking a walk around the campus, at the gate of which you have to exchange a picture ID for a visitor’s pass. While on campus, check out the huge acacia trees, a signature feature of the sprawling campus. Walk up the slight hill from the base of Hibbard Avenue where it begins in the Piapi district, and meander through tree-lined Hibbard Avenue, stopping at old wooden bungalows which house some university faculty.

Also check out the small kiosks where students hang out to eat their snacks in between classes. I would recommend tasting the “banana cue,” a trio of sugar coated ripe bananas on a barbecue stick, which remains one of the favorite cheap snacks in the city.

If you are in the city on August 28th, you might witness Founders Day, a few days worth of fair, shows, beauty pageants, and cheering contests. I suggest catching the cheering contests. It’s basically a large group of people chanting and cheering in unison, with clapping and other choreographed sequences, complete with acrobatic cheerleaders! And groups win trophies and prestige, so they are very competitive and do a phenomenal job.

Sunrise at Silliman University. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

When you’ve walked the length of Hibbard Avenue, the long street that flanks departments of the University, head south along Perdices Street, the downtown, where you will see a movie theater, some boutiques, a bookstore, and a smattering of restaurants including the popular McDonald’s near Quezon Park. At the intersection of Perdices Street with Colon Street, turn right and follow the street to the main market area. Here you will see the fresh market. Check out activity in the fresh market early in the morning, before the heat picks up.

On the very short Sta. Rosa street, there is a corner bakery making some heavenly things—try the “star bread” which is a star shaped bread with a sugared top and aniseed baked inside. Star bread goes really well with some coffee. Which leads us to…

…Walkabout Number 2: Coffee and cake

Speaking of coffee, if you’re in the mood to hang out creatively, head out to a coffee shop with your journal or laptop or a good book. Some coffee that’s worth your walk is at the following cafes.

  1. Cafe Antonio is on the second floor of the Spanish Heritage Bldg, San Juan Street corner Sta. Catalina St. When I went, I ordered a latte and sat around reading a textbook on curriculum. The staff were very friendly, and around the area where you sit are some paintings and other art to look at. They even have a blog! From Café Antonio, you can walk east toward Rizal Boulevard.
  2. Sans Rival Pastry and Coffee Shop is a little café on Rizal Boulevard which makes the sans rival dessert. This is a cream log filled with custard and other good things dessert devils like. A slice of sans rival cake is about a gazillion calories, so I never have it any more when I visit Dumaguete, but I think if you are a first time traveler in these here parts you should partake of this even just once. Trust me, you will not forget the experience. Oh, and the coffee is just an excuse to get to the cake.
  3. Ana Maria Bakeshoppe is the home of the chocolate monster. That is, a chocolate cake that is rumored to “simply melt” in your mouth. Again, here the coffee loses its potency with the sugary goodness you encounter with every chocolate bite.

Author’s NOTE: I would not go to all these cafes all on the same day, especially if you are trying to read and write afterwards. Just sayin’.

Walkabout Number 3: Don’t blink or you’ll miss it

For this walkabout, I recommend a printed copy of the FREE Dumaguete Map.

Since you are full of sugar and caffeine, you can seriously get into a walkabout that burns all those calories and that nervous energy. This walk starts at Rizal Boulevard and ends at the Angtay Golf facility on Rovira Road. At meandering speed, it will take at most 2 hours.

It’s best to see Rizal Boulevard at sunrise, around 6.15 am, so start at the southernmost point of the street, where you might see fishermen come in from the night’s fishing, their small bancas or outriggers, loaded with mackerel, bangus and tiny fish fry which the locals make into ginamos, a dip made from pickled fish, vinegar and salt. Walk North along the boulevard and you will see a statue of Paulinian nuns, who came in 1907 and established their mission

Statue of Paulinian Nuns, Dumaguete. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

in Dumaguete including a university at your destination, Rovira Drive. On the other side of the street, you will pass Don Atilano’s, a well appointed café where upper middle class residents are often found dining on its Italian and fusion dishes. At the end of the boulevard before it curves right into a dodgy area known as Barangay Looc, you will see the end of Silliman Avenue. Turn left at this street, and walk until you see the intersection with Silliman University. Cross the street so that you have National Bookstore on your right, and continue walking west until you come to a large intersection and the North Road highway. Turn right on North Road.

On North Road, you will see on your left just beside the Provincial Capitol building and park, the Negros Oriental State University. If you want, you can walk in and around the U shaped road that leads you to the provincial capitol building. If you are walking on a Saturday, you’ll see the Negros Oriental High School marching band practicing just past the capitol building, and another of those ubiquitous banana-cue vendors. Follow the road out onto North Road and keep going.

You will pass Barangay Daro. Daro is a village where most of the clay work is done in Dumaguete, so you will see stacks and stacks of baked clay pots along the Daro strip of North Road. You will also see some interesting sari-sari stores, or stores selling all kinds of retail items such as bags of Tide detergent hanging on a string alongside chicharon, or pork rinds. There are also some very picturesque old wooden houses in Daro, especially in morning light. You may, like me, be distracted into taking photographs here.

Passing Daro, you will arrive at the Provincial Nursery and agriculture office, then Negros Oriental Provincial Hospital. Across the hospital, you will find some stalls selling steamed rice and common dishes.

On North Road, past the hospital, you will see a sign pointing you to a bowling alley. This may be the only bowling alley in the entire province. It’s open until late.

Main street, Dumaguete, with McD's. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

Passing the bowling alley, you come to a short bridge spanning a canal, at the intersection with Rovira Drive. Turn right at Rovira Drive. On Rovira Drive, you will have St. Paul’s University on your left. Past the north gate to the uni that is almost always closed, you will see a clearing with trees and a small road that leads to what a sign calls the “Angtay Golf” facility.

The Angtay Golf area has a flat nine holes with an interesting layout. There are numerous water hazards and sand traps in this not so easy course, and it’s very affordable if you want to play. They also have a driving range, at which you can hang out and order food. The restaurant at Angtay has some mean fried chicken and Chinese style dumplings.

After your break, you might want to meander some more down Rovira Drive, but this is a mainly residential area and there is not much to see. After this walk, you might want to take a pedicab, actually a small four seater cab attached to a motorbike, and go back to the city center.  Fare from Angtay to the city center is 7.5 Pesos.

Top Five Excursions Outside Dumaguete

With Negros Island not being as popular a tourist destination as Cebu, Bohol or Boracay, you can travel around relatively inexpensively. Here are some highlights around Negros Oriental Province.

1. Twin Lakes, Balinsasayao, Sibulan

Sibulan is the town north of Dumaguete and is only a few kilometers away from Rovira Drive. In fact, as soon as you pass the airport, you are already in Sibulan town. AT the center of town is St. Anthony’s Church and a park. The lakes are around 45 minutes from Sibulan town through tropical jungle, and ideal for a day trip out of Dumaguete.

2. Bais Dolphin Watch

Another day trip from Dumaguete, the town of Bais is around an hour away. The city itself organizes these trips and it includes a seafood meal on the boat.

3. Near Bais: Manjuyod Sand Bar

Manjuyod is close to Bais. On the white sand bar, some cottages on stilts are for rent for the day or overnight. Picturesque, it’s a great place to wake up and watch the sun rise over clear, clean water.

4. Bacong Town

Bacong is south from Dumaguete. You can take a bus there from the central market area near Santa Rosa St, or you can hire a pedicab to take you there for a minimal fee for which you have to bargain. (Recommended: ask your hotel for what it would take to go from Dumaguete to Bacong on a pedicab.)

Bacong is definitely out of the way, but it’s a delightful day trip from Dumaguete. Get off at the market and meander through small streets toward the beach, passing the Bacong Church, a very old, very beautiful stone structure with moss on the walls. Also check out what is reputedly the oldest altar in the province, inside.

On the way back from Bacong, you may want to pass by Santa Monica Beach Resort, where you can have a Filipino lunch to the music of the surf. Highly recommended is the “boneless bangus” (milk fish) dish with carrot and radish pickle, steamed rice and a mango shake without sugar (tell them not to add sugar).

5. Apo Island

Further down from Bacong, you will get to a town called Zamboangita. From its central market, you can buy a boat trip to Apo Island. All the prices are posted on a notice board, so you do not have to haggle for the price. Apo Island is best for snorkeling and sunning for a day trip, or if you have more time, you can explore more of the island on a two-day trip.

A warning though: the trip to Apo is wet, so if you have electronic gear, it’s best to keep it in a waterproof bag. My solution for traveling with a camera to Apo is wrapping all my gear including bag in a strong, industrial grade plastic garbage bag tied tightly with rubber bands. It works and can be reused.

On Apo, you have to pay the fees that go toward keeping this marine sanctuary clean and well maintained not only for its human inhabitants but especially for its marine ones. For a more comprehensive look at Apo Island, visit the Dumaguete Info site.

If you are looking for a place “off the beaten path,” Dumaguete is not a tourist destination and is perfect for you. Most of the expats who visit Dumaguete, though, end up staying, so be careful.  Don’t fall in love with the place. Well, maybe just a little.

___________

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About Aloha

I am a photographer and writer currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. My work has appeared in CNNGo, Canon's PhotoYou magazine, Seventeen magazine, The Korea Times, Thailand Tatler, and a few photography books including recently Blogging for Creatives, a book published in the UK. I believe there is nothing you cannot imagine that you cannot do.

4 Responses to “A Small Place to Meander”

  1. If you get the PAL flight from Hong Kong and the PAL flight to Dumaguete you do not leave the Air terminal so no need to see Noisy manila.

  2. @ Peter: Thanks for that info. PAL is also less costly than say Cathay Pacific. I’ll make sure to pass this info on to @getoutmysuit. Yes, I am glad you mentioned it in light of the bus hostage situation in Manila we saw on the news today. I should have also mentioned that the provinces of the Philippines (bar the southernmost) are peaceful. Hope to see you back on Pointofutterance sometime!
    ~Aloha

  3. Nice Post. For more info on how to get to Dumaguete from Cebu check out the link http://www.negroshub.com/cebu-dumaguete-city-negros-oriental/
    Also for more info about Manila to Dumaguete check out the link
    http://www.negroshub.com/manila-to-dumaguete-city-negros-oriental-travel-guide/

    Hope this helps

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