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Filipina Explorer is a travel blog that believes in the power of stories to connect us to the world, shape ideas, and move us to action. Read these stories from the archives.
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About Filipina Explorer
Hi! I'm Gretchen, a travel writer based in the Philippines. I created Filipina Explorer in 2009 to document my journeys through places, parenthood, and word weaving. This blog is a collection of those stories and everything in between.
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Traveling via Vans Now Possible with Online Booking

With protocols and restrictions limiting public transportation, government-registered tourist vans are now offering regular trips to common provincial destinations. Extending an online booking service through http://booktouristvan.com, pre-booking to ride the trip is a requirement.

The online platform is powered by Biyaheroes and it aids van operators with a comprehensive system for contact tracing and inventory oversight. Passengers can experience paperless transactions, various payment options, and sure seats. Face masks are also given as freebies.

Here’s a list of all available tourist van trips so far together with their corresponding fares:

  • SM Mall of Asia to Cabanatuan and vice versa (P550/person/way all-in)
  • SM Mall of Asia to SM Rosales and vice versa (P770/person/way all-in)
  • SM Mall of Asia to Clark or Dau and vice versa (P450/person/way all-in)
  • Baguio to Dau and vice versa (P660/person/way all-in)
  • Baguio to Clark (P660/person/way all-in)

Note: If you’ll be coming from Clark going to Baguio, you can go to Dau Terminal to board. Dau terminal is just a few minutes away from Clark International Airport.

Visit http://booktouristvan.com for all the available time schedules. 

Current travel requirements

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Terminals require face masks and face shields for entry.

Temperatures above 37.3°C will not be allowed to board. Social distancing is observed even inside the tourist vans.

Travel authority from PNP, as well as certificate of employment and/or company ID, must be presented.

Additional Baguio travel requirements

Heading to Baguio as a tourist? Guests must register at the Baguio's VISITA (Visitor Information and Travel Assistance) online portal  prior to arrival with reservations to an accredited hotel and travel agency. 

Returning as a resident and/or visiting a relative? Register at eGov: Baguio is required.

Please note that there may be multiple travel requirements for each destination on national and provincial levels that may change from time to time. Kindly check the requirement of your respective LGUs before finalizing your trip.

Payment options

Follow Book Tourist Van on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram for more information or contact them at support@booktouristvan.com and +63 998 958 9357.

5 Tips for Traveling with an Emotional Support Animal

Emotional support animals are wonderful companions for people suffering from severe anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Though ESAs are not service animals, they do have some legal rights. For example, as long as you have a legitimate ESA letter, your animal can fly with you due to the Aircraft Carrier Access Act.

With this legislation, traveling with an ESA has become an easier process. However, your ESA is still a living, breathing animal with needs and feelings. Though an ESA is meant to provide comfort and security, it is also important to ensure their comfort as they fly.

So, if you’re getting ready to travel with your ESA, here are five tips to make the journey easier for both of you.

1 - Give the Airline Advanced Notice

You and your animal may be covered by the ACAA (with a valid letter), but you still need to give the airline a heads up well in advance. The crew needs to prep your seating area to give space for your animal, although most often they will have to stay in your lap if they’re small enough.

Most airlines have their own requirements as well and discussing these in advance will help you be more prepared.

2 – Bring a Comfortable Leash/Harness

Your ESA will need to be on a leash during your flight, so getting them a comfortable leash and collar - or better yet, a harness - should be a priority. Harnesses put less strain on their necks, but lighter collars and leashes are good, too. The strain shouldn’t be much of a problem if your ESA is well-trained.

Even if you aren’t traveling by plane, having a secure but comfortable harness will be the best for long rides. It’s easier to leave on the harness, even if you’re in your own car. Then you can clip on the leash and be ready to go any time.

3 - Eat, Play, Potty

No matter what method of travel you choose, you should make sure your pet has had the following beforehand:

  • A meal

  • Water

  • Playtime

  • Bathroom visits a couple of hours before you depart

It’s easier when traveling in your own car to stop for breaks, but for flights or train rides, your ESA will be stuck in one place for much longer. It’s almost impossible to give your animal food or water on a plane or train.

Most airports and likely train stations will have relief areas for ESAs and service animals, but it’s still best to try to take care of it before.

4 - Pack the Essentials

You absolutely need your ESA letter above all else, but what about for your animal? You have your leash and harness, but you should also bring a bed or blanket for their comfort. A travel carrier is also not a bad idea, especially for smaller pets. You should also bring clean up supplies, just in case.

5 - Arrive Early

This mainly applies to plane and train travel, but having your ESA usually means you have pre-boarding access. Arrive early so you can take advantage of that. You won’t have to fight through as many people to get to your seat with your animal, which is better for the both of you.


Traveling with your ESA is not too different from traveling with a pet. Your animal will have a few more “freedoms,” like the ability to remain with you in your seat, but it’s still a living creature in your care. Take care of their comfort so you can rest easy during your trip!

Quarantine Conversations: Nika

Trigger warning: Rape/ self-harm/ suicide

I met Nika while she was begging for alms at a local market. As usual, I asked curiously. How old are you? Are you still studying? Have you eaten? Where's your Mama? Like most street kids who are used to being shooed away by passersby, she is thirsty for interaction. I didn't have to ask more to know she's 8, she has 11 siblings including the dead ones, and that she lives with her mom's cousin, who beats her if she comes home with less than P40.

Her older brother, a barangay worker, doesn't like her begging, but she sneaks out anyway to avoid beating.

Her mom doesn't know, though it doesn't seem to matter. She used to beat her up too. "Sabi niya naman po magbabago siya paglipat namin. Mahal po 'ko ni Mama (She said she will change when we move homes. Mama loves me)."

Yet here she is, under the skin-braising noon sun, with not a drop of water in her stomach. Her brother doesn't want a reunion with their mother in Bataan. It was with their mom that her older sister had to sell her baby. It was with her mom that Nika was raped by one of her mom's boyfriends. He killed one of Nika's siblings - his own baby - too.

She didn't even blink or flinch. She spoke matter of factly, in between pauses to ask strangers for alms. There were no tears shed. But you don't really need tears to realize how much poverty, loss, violence, and rape change you forever.

I know children who slice their skin open to bleed the pain dry. Who down pills and hang one foot over a ledge to soothe the wounds. I know adult survivors who remain lost today. Because I have been there too. I am one of the luckier ones who healed.

I've heard similar stories many times over the years. There's a 10-year old boy in Intramuros who cut his arms because he likes "how it feels". There's Justin, a polite 8-year old orphan in Lucena who hopes to save enough for new clothes when he leaves the streets, away from the bigger kids who bully and beat him. I don't have grandiose delusions of being a savior. God knows, when I leave, those kids would have to go back to their shitty lives. But just like us, they are in pain. And it makes a difference that out of a thousand nameless faces, someone stopped to listen. Don't we all want that? To know something, someone is out there. To matter enough to be heard.

Hiking with a kid: Mt. Bagang X Liwliwa - San Marcelino, Zambales

One bustling Friday in January, fueled by a celebratory, hello-2020 mood, we set out for Mt. Pimmayong in San Marcelino, Zambales with a few friends. Upon arrival at Barangay Sta. Fe, however, we encountered some local regulatory challenges and were instead directed by officials to Mt. Bagang - a little-known mountain a few minutes away.

Mt. Bagang in reality, looks more like a lone, triangular hill lost in the midst of lahar. Little is known about its origins, but what we eventually knew was 1) The heat in Zambales is unforgiving at 7 am and 2) The hike to the summit is quite chill and easy, with summit views that prove to be as rewarding as the journey to the mountain's base.

To reach the base, we took a midnight bus to Olongapo, a UV express van, and a trike to the lahar crossing in Sta. Fe. Because there wasn't any kuliglig - a slow-moving, three-wheeled tractor-type vehicle that serves these areas - we asked to hitch a carabao cart ride with some locals en route to the barangay hall in Sta. Fe.

Taking 30 to 40 minutes, the ride passes through ankle to mid-calf-high streams, with mountains and dwarfed structures buried in lahar in sight. Finally, in Barangay Sta. Fe, we negotiated a return trip aboard a bad ass 8-seater jeepney with tires that could take on any rough terrain that 4x4 vehicles can.

View of Mt. Pimmayong while crossing the stream aboard a carabao cart

The "4x4" ride takes you through a rugged expanse of lahar-filled valleys and plains; grazing cows, and a smattering of grass and agoho trees. There are a few local Aeta kids too, whose families consider the surrounding mountain ranges their home.

The trail is nothing spectacular. Banana and local shrubs abound. Sitting on an arid land with little vegetation, one should expect the soil to be dry and loose. Wear shoes with good traction for this.

The summit, however, is a different story. Towering at 302 meters, it overlooks the ashen plains and valleys that remain among Zambales signature features post-1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption. Glistening like snow against sunlight, ash covers all 360 degrees of the land below. Its extent, with only a monolithic rock punctuating its expanse - proof of Mama Nature's destructive powers - is stunning and overwhelming at once. Nature truly is frightening and beautiful at the same time, and we're but a speck of dust in this wild, wild world.

Our trip culminates in Liwliwa Beach in neighboring San Felipe, where we enjoyed tapsi lunch and later, beer and a sundown swim. For something that wasn't planned, this hike turned out to be one of the best in recent memory. We'd come back in a heartbeat.

Check out our video of the hike on YouTube!

Hike specifications: Mt. Bagang, San Marcelino, Zambales

Difficulty: 2/10 Height: 302 meters (991 feet) Hike duration: 1 to 1.25 hours to summit; 2.5 hours backtrail max
Jumpoff point: Barangay Sta. Fe, San Marcelino, Zambales Features: Banana and local trees and foliage; open grassland and encompassing views of lahar, Mt. Pimmmayong, and Zambales mountain range at the summit. Rattan: None Limatik: None Poison ivy: None

View from the summit

How to get to Mt. Bagang in San Marcelino from Manila

From Pasay, Cubao, or Monumento terminal, board a Victory Liner bus bound to Iba. Alight in front of the San Marcelino City Hall. Alternatively, you can take a bus to Olongapo. From Olongapo, take a UV Express to San Marcelino. From San Marcelino, you can either rent a kuliglig (P1,200 for up to 10 pax) to Barangay Sta. Fe or take a trike to the lahar crossing in Sta. Fe (P100 for 3 pax), then ask locals around to bring you to the barangay hall in Sta. Fe using a carabao cart (Yes, it's a real carabao at the helm. P600 for 5 pax)
From Brgy. Sta. Fe, you will need to take a jeepney to the base of the mountain. The jeepney ride takes around 30 minutes or so. It costs P1,200, good for 8-10 persons. The rental covers the trip to the base and from the base to a tricycle terminal where you hire a trike to take you to the highway where Manila-bound buses are found.

How to get to Liwliwa Beach from Mt. Bagang

Take a bus (both A/C and non-AC buses are available) going to Iba or San Felipe at the San Marcelino tricycle terminal. Fare shouldn't go beyond P50. At San Felipe, take a tricycle to Liwliwa Beach.

At Liwliwa, we had lunch and beer at QUVOH and just parked our bags on the sand. They also have shared bathrooms for showering after swimming.

Fees and expenses

If you plan to do a Mt. Bagang hike, I'd recommend going with at least a friend or more to split the costs. Note that there are no public transport from the lahar crossing in Sta. Fe to the base of the mountain where the hike begins, and it's all lahar all the way there. The only way to reach it with your guide is to rent a local jeepney. Barangay officials can help set you up with a driver. No prior arrangements are necessary.

P250+ - bus from Pasay to San Marcelino/ P500+ RT P100 - trike for 3 to crossing P600 - kariton to Barangay Sta.Fe P1,200 - jeepney ride to and from jumpoff point P300 to P500 - guideship fee for a group of 5 (no fixed rate, it seems)

TOTAL: P2,700 to P2,900, if solo hiker (not including Liwliwa Beach trip)

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