Laiya in San Juan, Batangas is probably one of the most popular weekend beach destinations near the metro. I’ve been here several times before usually for day trips with friends and family. It may not have the best beach and coastline, but it’s a pretty memorable place for me since this is where Art and I got married. We actually had a Survivor / Amazing Race-themed beach wedding in Palm Beach Resorts.
If you’re traveling by car from Metro Manila, getting to Laiya here usually takes about 3-4 hours (depending on the traffic). We had to attend another beach wedding there on Valentine’s weekend so we decided to make a road trip out of it and go by motorcycles instead, taking the scenic route circling Laguna Lake.
It took about 5+ hours one way, not counting stops for lunch and breaks. But while that may sound long to some people, I actually found it a very fun ride. Instead of boring highways, gas station pit stops, toll gates and traffic, we passed lakeside views, twisties, and deserted diversion roads. As a bonus, we also got to visit a couple of quaint restaurants in San Pablo, Laguna on the way back and forth from Batangas.
I originally wanted to bring my custom bike Fenrir, but I wasn’t able to get him registered in time at LTO and didn’t want to risk it, so I took Chocobo, my trusty scooter. I’m really glad I did, because we got stopped at a checkpoint early on. Chocobo and I have been through a lot together and I really missed riding him. He’s so much easier to use when weaving through traffic in small towns. He may not look as bad-ass as other bikes, but don’t underestimate him. He’s pretty fast. I had no issues whatsoever and I’m so proud that he performed so well during this ride as if to show me that he still has a lot of good rides left. I really love this bike.
Anyway, we left Quezon City at around 8:30 in the morning, passing Antipolo, Pililla, Lumban and Pagsanjan all the way to San Pablo City in Laguna. We got to San Pablo at around 11:30, so we decided to stop for lunch. San Pablo has a lot of artistic cafes and Bed and Breakfasts in the Viaje del Sol route including Casa San Pablo and Cafe Lago. I hadn’t ever been to Sulyap Cafe, so we decided to check it out.
Sulyap (a Filipino term for glimpse) is an ancestral house that has been transformed into an al fresco cafe, art gallery and heritage museum. The cafe offers a “taste of the past” with its Spanish colonial era ambiance, traditional Filipino dishes and antique collections. It has that old-world charm similar to Barbara’s in Intramuros and old houses places in Vigan. I didn’t bring an SLR for this ride since we wanted to travel light, so these are all just phone photos.
For lunch, we ordered crispy tilapia and kulawo, a Southern Tagalog specialty made of grilled eggplant in coconut cream. The smoky flavor of the eggplant paired thick rich sauce just goes straight to your head. But it’s insanely delicious. This is a meal in itself since it comes with pork bits. The crispy tilapia was just standard, but the tamarind sauce made it more interesting. Their price range is a bit on the expensive side, but serving sizes are pretty big.
After the heavy meal, we both just wanted to hang up a hammock and sleep somewhere on the premises. Sulyap actually has a Bed & Breakfast with several rooms and villas available if you want to stay overnight, but since we had a wedding to catch at 4:00 pm, so we couldn’t hang around too long. After having cups of brewed Batangas coffee to keep us awake on the road, we were off riding again.
From San Pablo, the last stretch was very peaceful. Googlemaps directed us to take the Tiaong Bypass Road and turn right on the Marcial Punzalan Highway, a straight and quiet road going to San Juan. At first I thought we were going the wrong way because the road just seemed too empty and deserted. I didn’t stop to take any photos here, but I couldn’t help but admire the scenery of rice fields and canopies of trees as we drove by.
There’s this saying: “On a bike, no one ever asks are we there yet?” Patience is not one of my virtues. Whenever I’m a passenger in a car going somewhere, I just can’t wait to arrive at a destination. When I’m stuck in traffic, I always think of the travel time as productive time wasted. But whenever I ride through roads like these, it always feels like time well-spent no matter how long it takes. There’s this certain feeling of zen when you’re cruising at 100 kph with no other vehicles on the road. You actually don’t even want to arrive.
We got to Laiya at around 2:30 pm. Most hotels in the area charge a minimum of 4-5k a night with mandatory meal package add-ons whether or not you plan to eat there. Good thing we were able to book a beachfront room at Punto Miguel / Beach House Laiya Resort, which had a Valentine’s weekday promo rate of just P1,500/night good for 2 and no corkage fee. Pwede na!
The room is basic, with sawali (woven split bamboo) style walls and a nipa hut roof, but it did come with a bunch of friendly cats who made us feel right at home. For a beachfront airconditioned room with its own CR and bath and secure parking, it’s a good deal. The resort staff were also pretty friendly and accommodating, giving us welcome drinks and all. Punto Miguel is located on the same stretch of beach, but about 3km ahead of the high-end resorts where the wedding was taking place, so it’s best for those who have their own transport to get around. Another great thing about my scooter is I can still wear a dress while driving it.
Congrats, JC & Kristine! #JKTime2017!
After lazing around the beach the next morning, we checked out of the resort at around 11:00 am, retracing our route going back to Manila.
Back in San Pablo again, I spotted another sign leading to Patis Tito Garden Cafe along the highway, so I suggested we stop for lunch there. I visited the place years ago when it was still Kusina Salud, but the restaurant has since changed its overall look. Rain started to pour heavily as we parked our bikes, so it was a welcome respite.
Patis Tito Garden Cafe is a restaurant owned by renowned designer and fashion icon Patis Tesoro and businessman Tito Tesoro. The quaint restaurant makes use of all recycled and reclaimed materials, with no specific era in its overall design, so it looks a bit eclectic but still very charming.
They serve slow-cooked Filipino favorites here using locally sourced ingredients. I wish we had been more adventurous in our order, but we just had the Grilled Pork Chop and Ensaladang Cripsy Dilis with salted egg. I really love the character of small town homegrown cafes like these. Meals are always more beautifully presented. A couple of friendly guard dogs (Patis has 14 including a really cute black shitzu puppy) kept us company during lunch.
The garden cafe has a store with designer clothes, intricate embroidery, art pieces and other goods for sale. After our meal, we had the chance to chat with Patis herself who showed us around a new Bed & Breakfast area she was finishing in a separate building next to her house at the back of the restaurant.
The whole place kind of resembles a Bohemian version of Alice in Wonderland, with all the mismatched Machuca tiles laid out like a chess board covering the floors and walls and quirky curios peeking from every corner. Old wooden furniture and antique pieces are made over with distinctly Filipiniana touches. Everything is just bursting with patterns and rich colors, reflective of designer’s style.
Some might describe the place as “Instagram-worthy,” but it goes way beyond that. It’s intriguing and interesting. The place isn’t manufactured purely for the purposes of social media snapshots and selfies. There’s a story behind every hand-embroidered fabric, gecko door handles carved from bone, reclaimed door panels and rejected floor tiles pieced together. Not a bad place for a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Or just a random road trip and escape from the city in our case.
The weather on the ride back wasn’t as great as it was going there. A thick fog lay low in the mountains in the San Pablo area and it rained pretty much all the way to Pagsanjan on our way back. I was shivering from the cold and the wind when we got to Mabitac and Pililla. Then the road congestion just got worse as we neared Manila, which dampened what was already a great ride in my book. After driving through empty provincial roads, it always sucks to have to deal with the traffic-choked hell separating you from the open road to the comforts of your home. On a motorcycle though, you have the option to weave through traffic and lessen the burden. Despite the discomfort, heat and rain, there’s always a sense of movement, rather than being trapped in a caged vehicle.
I got home really tired but still in high spirits from our great date ride. On the route we took, our total riding distance was about 370 kms, give or take a few detours. Normally when I go some place, the focus is the destination. I guess I should have written more about the beach in Batangas. But to be honest, I really enjoyed the journey getting there and back.
RIDE ROUTE: Quezon City-Antipolo-Teresa-Morong-Pililla-Maitac-Pangil-Lumban-Pagsanjan-Santa Cruz-Pila-Victoria-Calauan-San Pablo City-Tiaong-San Juan-Laiya (185 km one way; total 370 km)