The church bells of Balangiga town in Eastern Samar, Philippines, have finally returned — 117 years after the United States Army took them during the Philippine-American War. Fellow travelers may now visit the historic bells at the Parish Church of St. Lawrence, where you can also see a brass monument by Napoleon Abueva, National Artist for Sculpture.
1. Cross the San Juanico Bridge
Getting to Balangiga town from Tacloban first requires traversing the San Juanico Strait on the country’s longest bridge over water, built from 1969 to 1973. An iconic landmark of Eastern Visayas, the arched truss bridge connects the islands of Leyte and Samar with a total length of 2.16 km. Pro tip: if you have time to spare, take a leisurely stroll across it in the early morning, or admire the engineering wonder from below on a sunset boat cruise.
2. Kayak to Sohoton Natural Bridge
There’s another bridge worth exploring in the town of Basey (pronounced “basai”) in Samar province, albeit one that Mother Nature has carved out for eons along a limestone river gorge. Located within the 450,000-hectare Samar Island Natural Park, Sohoton Caves and Natural Bridge Park is an 840-hectare protected area that covers a jungle-lined Kadak-an River meandering through chalky cliffs, sacred caverns and, finally, a natural bridge connecting two ridges.
3. Marvel at the karst seascape of Marabut
Similar to those found in northern Palawan, the karst limestone hills towering along the highway are a sign that you’ve reached the municipality of Marabut. Stop over at the gray-sand coastline of Caluwayan beach, spend the night at the palm-lined namesake resort, then take a bangka (outrigger boat) the following day to admire the offshore karst islets up close. You’ll have a rockin’ good time before hitting the road again. www.caluwayanresort.com
4. Hike to the waterfalls of Lawaan
Who says you shouldn’t chase waterfalls? Before reaching Balangiga, it’s worth stopping by Lawaan — the first municipality of Eastern Samar you’ll reach — to trek to incredible cascades in the middle of the jungle. A 90-minute hike from the jump-off point, which involves wading across a stream, takes you to Amandaraga Falls, before backtracking to the multi-tiered Pangi Falls, where you can take a dip in jacuzzi-like pools. Ban-awan and Amanjuray are two other much larger waterfalls located farther away, and can be safely reached along challenging trails only during the dry season.
5. Surf in Calicoan Island
After visiting Balangiga, you can continue traveling further to Calicoan island, a strip of land off the southern end of Samar that is linked by a bridge to Guiuan town on the mainland. The Pacific Ocean pounds its eastern coast — particularly along ABCD Beach — beckoning you to ride the waves rolling across the reef. Not far away from this world-class surf spot is the underground freshwater pool of Linao Cave. It’s an excellent place to rinse off the sea salt and escape the midday heat. For a more swimmable beach, you can head farther down to the white-sand shores near the bridge to Sulangan Island, taking in the sunset to cap off your offbeat adventure.
How to get to Eastern Samar via public transport: From a flight to Tacloban, take a public van bound for Guiuan or Borongan from the downtown terminals of Duptours or Van-Van’s, and alight at Balangiga Church, 90 km away from the city. There are also vans to the town from MTM Tours, behind SM Savemore.