Our family’s first road trip of the year took us 150km Northwest of Manila to a museum of Filipino colonial houses.
Las Casas Filipinas de Azucar in Bagac, Bataan has 27 old Colonial houses that were either transferred from their original location then re-built plank by plank or re-assembled from torn down pieces from junk shops. The developers then added other accouterments to get that Philippines-at-the-turn-of-the-century ambience: cobblestones, a horse driven carriage (“kalesa”, though they also have a golf court for older folks :)), Filipino street food and native music. Especially if one stayed overnight, one could pretend that you were living in old Manila in the 1900s.
After a very pleasant 2.5 hour drive from Manila, we arrived at Las Casas around 10 am and promptly registered for the day tour+buffet package. I was surprised by the amount of people who were there, what with the place being in the middle of nowhere. The staff reports that their rooms (they rent out the some of the houses and Casa Byzantina which was a hotel) are most often fully booked during the weekends. This surprised me because the rooms are a bit pricey.
After distributing huge buri (a type of straw) hats to the guests, a tour guide will take you through the history of each of the houses, the unique features of the house and a short story on the owners (as well how much each of the houses will cost if you want to rent them for functions!). Most of the houses started off owned by very rich landowners who almost always end in violent death, then occupied by squatters during the war. (Seriously, even my ten year old picked up on the violence pattern, listen carefully to the tour guide. The inhabitants must have been easy targets for those frustrated with class struggles. Anybody who has a house with a special hallway for the class of servants who were not allowed inside the house and sees nothing wrong with that is defintely stuck up.)
The tour only takes an hour or so and then, we took a leisurely lunch in one of the old houses with a view of the pool and the beach. The lechon carajay (fried pork belly) is the best I’ve ever tasted and their corn flavored home made ice cream is worth the trip.
With our bellies full and lulled by the warm beach breeze, we parked ourselves in front of the many sunbeds and some of us took small siestas. At this point, one can take a dip in the pool, or check out the insides of the houses again, or wander around the beach under the hot sun or get a massage. If you don’t want to do any of these, you will be bored to death (or maybe the point was to slow us down to the pace of old Filipino towns). But definitely we couldn’t take pictures in the cruel, after lunch light. We had to wait until four pm (when it was almost time to go) before we could take decent outdoor pics.
Overall, the place should be on your must-see-once-in-your-life list, and I enjoyed the lovely mountainside drive and the short stay. However, I will not go back there again. There are only a limited amount of things to do, and I don’t think the room cost is value for money unless I want a serious photography exercise. Maybe in a few years when they fully develop the riverside activities, the church and a bit more historical content to their day tour.
Like the old houses they showcase, Las Casas is beautiful, but a little empty.
- Take the tour+ lunch+ snack buffet package for Php1800 (weekend price). The food is very good and the management doesn’t scrimp.
- If you are a photography buff, it is best to stay overnight. It will take hours to capture all the photogenic details and scenery, and a day trip will only give you time to do it in harsh light.
- The other option is take the day tour, wait for dusk settles and drive to Subic for some nightlife.
- Bring a towel and beach things even if you are on a day tour. The pool and the beach will look tempting after a couple of hours touring the houses under the hot sun. You can also rent towels from the front desk.
- Bring a good book.
- No need to rush to take pictures except when inside Casa Lubao. This is one of the few fully furnished houses, and management locks it up after the tour.
- The straw hats are cute, but the umbrellas are infinitely less irritating when you are taking pictures
- If you want old fashioned Filipino massage, you need to book one hour in advance.
There are a lot of beautiful photos of Las Casas in different blogs, most of them taken at night and at dusk. Some of mine below.
How to Get There
Many websites like this one recommend going through the Subic-Clark-Tarlac (SCTEX) Expressway Route. While certainly more predictable, this route is more expensive in terms of toll fees and 40 kms longer. If you travel on a Sunday AND take the Lubao Bypass, travel time will be the same.
2. Exit at San Fernando. Follow the signs going to Balanga, Bataan. This means driving around 33kms along the Bataan Provincial highway. If you spot it, take the Lubao bypass which goes around the congested downtown. (We missed the bypass the first time we went to Bataan, but it was a Sunday so there was hardly any traffic).
3. Turn right at a Gov JJ Linao National Road (follow the signs going to Bagac). This is going to be a very very long beautiful smooth drive.
4. You will start to see a lot of Bataan Death March markers along the way. This means you are on the right path. The zero km marker is very near Las Casas Filipinas.
5. The road is very long, and will go up and around the sides of Mt. Samat. Do not be disheartened.
6. Eventually in Bagac town you will see signs of Las Casas. Again, do not be lose faith, the small roads through a residential area will take you through very small side streets before you reach the property.