Road Trip Itinerary: North East Samar Loop

My solo ride around Samar Island has been one of the most memorable rides I’ve done this year. I got to traverse through three provinces of (Western) Samar, Northern Samar and Eastern Samar. Since it’s the third largest island in the Philippines, it’s is a bit challenging getting around by public transportation. The main cities are geographically located far from each other and vans and jeeps don’t leave regularly. Usually, you have to wait for public transport vehicles to get filled up with passengers, so getting from one place to another usually requires a lot of waiting time. Since my main purpose was sightseeing and ease of access getting around, I thought I could cover more ground on a motorbike.

For riders just after a pure straight ride minus all the activities and sightseeing, they could probably loop the whole area I covered in a day. I allotted four days for this because I prefer driving only 4-5 hrs a day in the morning, so I have more time to enjoy the place and chill out in the afternoon.

ROUTE MAP:

This road trip covers a total of 588 km passing (Western) Samar, Northern Samar and Eastern Samar and back via the Pan-Philippine Highway / AH 26. This route involves a ferry crossing that is only accessible to motorcycles and bicycles.

  • Day 1: Catbalogan City – Gandara – Sta. Margarita – Calbayog – Allen – Lavezares (157 km) + Boat from Lavezares to Biri Island
  • Day 2: Lavezares – Catarman Diversion Road – Rawis – Laoang Island –  Palapag – Mapanas (125 km)
  • Day 3: Mapanas – Gamay – Lapinig – Arteche – San Policarpio – Oras – Dolores – Taft – San Julian – Borongan City (173 km)
  • Day 4: Borongan City – San Julian – Sulat – Taft – Paranas – Ulot River Torpedo Boat Ride – Motiong – Jiabong – Catbalogan City (146 km)

I was riding an XRM 125 which I rented in Catbalogan City in Western Samar, so that’s my starting and end point. For those driving all the way from Manila and crossing via Sorsogon to Samar, your starting and end point would be Allen Port in Northern Samar. Just adjust the route per day. I’m just sharing this road trip guide and ride highlights to provide tips to other riders planning to ride the same route.

This road trip route going clockwise on Samar island is ideal for cyclists/bikepackers and motorcyclists. A portion of the highway which passes Laoang Island from the Catarman – Laoang Road to Laoang – Palapag Road requires crossing by boat twice. I do not know if and how they transport larger vehicles like cars but during my visit there were no bridges connecting the small island there. I think most cars usually just pass counter clockwise through Samar’s cross-country road to get from Catbalogan to Oras, which is a very long detour.

Though getting to Biri Island in Northern Samar also involves a boat ride (you will have to park your motorcycles at the police station near the port or bring your bicycles on the boat) and is not easily accessible along the highway, I highly recommend you visit Biri Island. This is an amazing destination in itself and would make a very relaxing and rewarding ending to the ride, because in terms of raw landscapes in Samar, this is really a highlight.

READ MORE: TRAVEL GUIDE: Biri Island, Northern Samar

LANDMARKS & POINTS OF INTEREST:

These are the main landmarks and points of interest easily accessible along the highway for road-trippers. You can also visit the town churches, municipal halls or plazas per town.

  • Samar Capitol Building
  • Lulugayan Falls (detour required)
  • Bangon Falls (detour required)
  • Biri Island & Rock Formations, Northern Samar (boat ride required)

  • Laoang Island Boat Crossing
  • Pangpang Waterfalls
  • Mapanas Rock Formations

  • Pinuslian Lagoon
  • Oras Bridge
  • Welcome to Eastern Samar Marker
  • Borongan City Welcome Arch

  • Baybay Beach and Boulevard
  • Loop de Loop Bridge
  • Samar Island Natural Park

  • Ulot River Torpedo Boat Adventure
  • Bridge in Jiabong
  • Giant Tahong Landmark, Jiabong

Each town and city has many other unique points of interest and landmarks for those who have more time to spare. However, getting to many of the beautiful sights like caves and waterfalls requires hiking, while visiting smaller islands requires boat rides.

WHAT AND WHERE TO EAT:

There are not a lot of big touristy restaurants around Samar Island, though you can find fastfood joints and eateries in the cities like Catbalogan, Calbiga, Catarman and Borongan. In most small towns, there are just carinderias or sari-sari stores where you can buy food. I suggest you bring your own water and light snacks for the ride so you don’t go hungry.

If you’re staying in Catbalogan City, one of the best eats unique food finds there is the Tahong BBQ being sold in street corners near van terminals. At the plaza, there are also vendors who also sell tahong-based street food like tahong balls and tahong lumpia. The nearby town of Jiabong is a major producer of mussels (look out for the giant tahong landmark in their plaza).

Binagol is a local specialty made of grated talyan root (a type of root crop similar to taro) steamed in a coconut shell and wrapped and tied in banana leaves. Binagol is mixed with coconut milk, condensed milk, sugar and cooked like a sticky cake. It’s a popular souvenir item that you can find in terminals and street corners in downtown Tacloban. You can also buy cookies and delicacies from Charito’s Delights.

If you’re staying in Biri Island in Northern Samar, make sure to have a meal at Lawud Park Restaurant, a native restaurant that specializes in seafood like lobster, crabs, fish, scallops, squid, shrimps and saang (the meat from conch shells,) which are a delicacy of the island.

The Baybay boulevard in Borongan City, Easter Samar is a good place to grab a bite to eat at night. They serve local grilled specialties like barbecue and puso (hanging rice) here. There are several interesting restaurants near here.

WHERE TO STAY IN SAMAR:

  • Trexplore Guesthouse in Catabalogan
  • GV Hotel, Catbalogan City
  • Lawud Park Restaurant (camping grounds) in Biri Island, Northern Samar
  • GV Hotel, Catarman
  • GV Hotel, Borongan City

MOTORCYCLE RENTAL IN SAMAR:

  • There were no commercial motorcycle rental shops during my visit (September 2017), but I was able to rent a motorcycle through the help of Trexplore/Samar Outdoor Shop in Catbalogan City for P300/day. Contact Joni Bonifacio for motorcycle rental arrangements.
  • Trexplore / Samar Outdoor Shop. Abesamis Store, Allen Avenue, 6700 Catbalogan Samar, Philippines. Contact numbers: 0919-2943865 / 09276750062. Email: info@trexplore.ph, samar@trexplore.ph, trexploresamar@gmail.com. Website: https://trexplore.ph/www.trexplore.weebly.com, Facebook: Trexplore the Adventures

TRAVEL TIPS & USEFUL INFO:

  • Load gas whenever you see a large gas station. There are some large gas stations located along the highway in major cities like Catbalogan, Catarman, Borongan and near the major junctions/intersection areas.
  • There’s a small gas station before crossing Laoang Island. Make sure to load up there.
  • Gas is mostly sold in bottles in the northeastern portion of the island, but locals say the quality is sometimes watered down and more expensive. It’s harder to find unleaded gas than premium.
  • Boat rides to and from Biri Island have very limited schedules and only leave when boats are full. It’s best to be at the port early to make sure you have a seat.
  • If you need access to ATMs, mechanics and free WiFi, the best places to base or stay overnight are: Catbalogan City, Calbayog, Catarman and Borongan City.
  • Smaller towns usually don’t have WiFi and sometimes very weak cellphone signals.
  • Weather in Samar Island is very unpredictable. It’s frequently hit by typhoons. Make sure to bring rain gear and plastic bags to waterproof your stuff.
  • There are not a lot of establishments along the highway in many areas and it can feel very isolated.
  • If you’re traveling alone, I would suggest driving only during the day for security reasons and finding a place to stay overnight in a small town or city before it gets dark.

I was originally planning to do a full loop of the entire Samar Island, but I really underestimated the travel time I needed. My road trip just covers the North and Eastern part of the island. There are many other points of interest in the Southern part of Samar, including Guian, Calicoan, Balangiga, Marabut, Sohoton and Calbiga. If you’re planning to do a full Samar Island loop, I’d suggest allotting an additional 2 days (and maybe base in Calicoan and Marabut for the night). Hopefully during my next visit to Samar I can visit these places as well.

Here’s my experiential day-to-day account of my “Endless Samar” ride:

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