Tawi-Tawi | A Trip to the Philippine’s Southernmost Province

Before, Tawi-Tawi seemed to be the land of faraway (in Malay, jaui-jaui means very far) - but not anymore. Thanks to airport development and budget airlines, almost everyone can now easily reach Tawi-Tawi. Coming from Zamboanga City, the flight would just take an hour or less.

What convinced me to go?
It would surely be an awesome adventure and a great learning experience at the same time in this Muslim dominated province.

Dom and I grabbed our roundtrip Tawi-Tawi tickets – for only P1,358 which was already good for 2. Compared to our Basilan trip, this one needed more precautions as we’re both first-timers and we do not know anyone in Tawi-Tawi. We intentionally planned to get to the airport very early to avoid being noticed + to request for window seats. As planned, we transformed ourselves as discreet and serious persons. We can’t draw unnecessary attentions as our lives might be in danger. Sooner we found out we were the only outsiders in the plane. Toinks!

Also, that was the first time I saw military men and ordinary citizens bring their heavy duty firearms inside the airport. Everyone acted normally. No one (but me) was bothered a bit.

breathtaking aerial view from zamboanga to sulu to tawi-tawi

Im glad we requested for window seats. The aerial view of Zamboanga, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi were breathtaking. We uttered nothing but “ha-meey-zing”!

After a short 30mins ride, we landed in Tawi-Tawi. You have no idea how overwhelmed I was to finally reach our country’s southernmost province.

at Tawi-Tawi airport

Anyway, we bid goodbye to the DPWH regional directors who we met inside the airport. One of them, Engr Ras hand-over us to a local policeman. Since these DPWH directors seemed to have authorities, we were somehow assured that we can trust this policeman. We really don’t know who to trust so we believed them anyway. This policeman entrusted us to a young tricycle driver. He’s got sharp features but he’s got a soft charm as well. Dom and I agreed to get this young man’s services.

with a local policeman and our tourguide/driver Alhakim - 0947.336.4393

On our way to town proper, Alhakim started telling us stories of his previous clients. He’s very talktative. He seemed very interesting to learn from us. He asked “kuya, ate, bakit po kayo sumama sakin?” paano nyo nalaman na hindi ako masamang tao?” And Im not sure how we answered so we also asked him in return “Paano mo namang nalaman na hindi ka namin gagawan ng masama?” He answered “pag mabuti kang tao, kahit saan ka magpunta, mga mabuting tao din ang mga makikilala mo. Pag wala kang masamang intensyon, wala din mangyayari sayong masama..”

Oh dear, it was a whole day of non-stop entertainment at this young man’s wisdom.

Bongao, the capital of Tawi-Tawi, actually looked peaceful. Specially upon seeing these stilt houses, I cant quite imagine that this is a dreaded place. It is a quiant town where Muslims and a small number of Christians live harmoniously.

stilt houses in Tawi-Tawi

yes, they have gates!

the luxury of having an easy access of the beach

Compared to Basilan, military men were not in sight. The only persons with long firearms are those security guards of small hotels. Speaking of hotels, there’s a good number of accommodations in town – but surprisingly each place was fully booked. We began to worry where we will be staying for the night, good thing the lady from Rachel’s Place made some adjustments so we can have an available room. Big thanks!

P1,000 for a triple room with AC and own bathroom
a bit expensive room specially there's blackout from 9am-6pm.
sa totoo lang it didn't matter, sa pagod namin, kahit walang kuryente ng tanghaling tapat - nakatulog kami

We left our things in the room and immediately proceeded with the tour. We really wanted to see great beaches but it would still take us an hour of boat ride to cross the island. Abot tanaw yung isla pero walang naglalakas loob pumunta. Even Alhakim didn’t know much about reaching the other island. We decided not to explore that beach anymore. It could be very risky to be away where most of the people are. #definekidnapping

Dom and I: hindi ba nakakatakot pumunta dun?
Alhakim: bakit, may multo ba dun?

And he sounded very innocent. This young man is not aware of the kidnapping and other bad images that the media presented in the news.

Moving on, he drove us around Bongao town. We checked out the newly-built DanMar Resort. It is a beachfront accommodation.. The place was fully booked as well as they have ongoing conventions at that time. Nonetheless, the place looked nice. I never imagined there’s be something like this in Tawi-Tawi.

DanMar Resort in Tawi-Tawi

The place is new. There are also ongoing constructions in the area. Looks like they're preparing to cater more tourists in the future. Interesting. Anyway an overnight stay only costs P1,200 per night.

the beachfront resort

This resort might have been perfect, only this kind of beach is not something we wished to see.

good but we're expecting more

Since we weren't satisfied, we asked Alhakim and some locals where they would usually go on a weekend. They delightedly answered Dr. Ibhu beach. Our hopes were high to see an outstanding beach in this island.

at Dr. Ibhu Resort

yes the place is peaceful and clean - but were looking for some fine sands and crystal clear water

We still didn't find what we're looking for so asked Alhakim for some suggestions. He took us in the bridge area. The water may not be perfect for swimming, this area has lots of sea creatures which are effortlessly visible to anyone who passed by.

The sun was at its mightiest but it didn't stop us from capturing interesting shots.
I enjoyed people watching here, and I think the locals who passed by the bridge enjoyed watching us too.

Dom and I agreed to take a 1-hour break. And I told you, kahit walang kuryente, we both had an interrupted sleep.

After being refreshed, we proceeded our tour and did some hiking. Some say you haven't been to Tawi-Tawi if you didn't reach Bud Bongao, it's Tawi-Tawi's highest peak.

Bud Bongao

Before going, Alhakim advised us to buy some bananas. There would be a lot of monkeys on our way up. Honestly Im scared of these monkeys. More likely they are notorious in stealing things from people. Good thing the monkeys in Bud Bongao are not fierce. They are even scared of people.

And of course, there is another thing to be scared of... alam na.
Anyway, let the trek begin.

carrying bananas for the monkeys
ano tinitingnan nyo?

This mountain is sacred for the Muslims. They will climb here to offer prayer, ask forgiveness, and pay respect. We noticed that Alhakim wuld normally stop and whisper a prayer at some spots.

and Im not sure what this trail awaits me
goodluck sakin, im not a mountaineer

the trek is not a walk in the park. the hot temperature added more challenge as we ascend.

it could have been easier, only if the boys would wait for me
ako na ang mabagal ^_^

This climb was a very good workout. I've never sweat before as much as I did in Bud Bongao. Hingal level is extreme. I almost vomited.

after all the sweat, we we're just halfway there

At this spot, monkeys started to appear. I dont know how to react at first. But when I saw the baby monkeys, my fear turned to amusement.

it was a delight to see these baby monkeys

We reached the shrine after 1.5 hours. There's no need to rush. The next time I'll climb here, it will be more on a relaxed phase.

Located in the summit is sacred shine. It is believed that this is a tomb of a Muslim saint. This shrine is said to have some healing powers. The people of Tawi-Tawi would flock here to wish for good health for their sick relatives.

sacred shrine of the Muslims

Another very noticeable things in the trail are these knots. Tying up knots on tree branches as you whispher your wishes is a practice made in Bongao mountain.

a little warning though - those who dare remove these "knot wishes" will experience bad luck and curse.

What's a climb without enjoying the view on top?

view from Bud Bongao summit

indeed a very fulfilling climb in this sacred mountain of Tawi-Tawi
my legs were shaking as we reached the roads again ^_^

Our day was not ended yet, we decided to do people and sunset watching in the bridge.

sunset view at the Philippine's southernmost pearl

It was the 1st time I saw some heavily-covered Muslim ladies took a dip in the water. Im not sure if I can photograph them so I only took pictures without them knowing.

Muslim ladies would remove the scarf from their head and leave every piece of clothing with them as they swim. They would cover their hair again before they resurface.

while the ladies were shy, these boys loved to play and pose infront of our cameras

Not so faraway anymore.
Reaching Tawi-Tawi is already an overwhelming experience. Meeting genuine people, learning their culture, and understanding their religious beliefs made our trip more memorable. Having experienced these things, Tawi-Tawi seemed not to be faraway anymore.

Beyond books and online education.
I began to understand and appreciate the similarities and differences of our cultural heritage and religious beliefs - beyond books and online information can explain. Having lived in Manila all my life, I felt privileged and humbled to know that not everything is about the city, and the great lessons are best learned outside the universities.

Take risks. If you win, you will be happy. If you lose, you will be wise.

up next: Zamboanga City

47 responses:

Chyng said...

overdue and a very long Tawi-Tawi blogpost.

have a meaningful lenten season everyone =)

Riz said...

ang cute nman ng danmar resort tsaka ung Bud Bongao mukhang ibang bansa lng ang dating. i will definitely consider mindanao this year. thanks Sis!

ardee sean said...

ikaw na ikaw na!! :P gusto ko yung last statement mo.. heheh

Sumi Go said...

Love the photos and the last line too Ate Chyng.. :) I hope I get to experience Tawi-Tawi in the future too. Would love to explore and learn their culture.

Alex Dizon said...

I SUPER DUPER OVER MEGA inggit to DEATH sayo, Chyng!!! pangarap ko din na mapasyalan ito!!!

Pinoy Adventurista said...

natawa ako dun multo... seems very innocent answer... :)
wow! ok yang DanMar Resort ah...
super ganda ng bud bongao! nice!

dong ho said...

definitely one of my favorite trips. i was at my happiest when i saw those monkeys that lead me to doing a bond with one that ended up going to the king. lol.

trek was quite short but was most of the time ascent and it was indeed hot at the start.

Micamyx|Senyorita said...

Mukhang genuine talaga si Alhakim. Parang ang saya niya tuloy i-hug hehe sana dumami pa ang clients nya :D

iamjessiegarcia said...

Nice one Chyng!^^ sana ako rin makarating ng tawi-tawi

This comment has been removed by the author.

best ! Super! grabe im living within the peninsula of zamboanga pero di ko pa tlga napuntahan yan! Chyng sana puna ka dipolog o dapitan city! tour tau!

michi said...

no elec. from 9am-6pm, tagal nun ha. salamat sa pagtour sa tawi-tawi. =)

traveentz said...

The place is so inviting, how I wish am there today...Love all your photos.

Ichan said...

Nice! Interesting n fully booked ang mga hotels and resorts sa tawi- tawi. A good sign for tourism =)

Ian | Going Places said...

Panalo yung mountain top shot at sunset shot mo... kitang-kita na yung airport runway at nakapa-detail ng landscape. Only few dare to promote Tawi-Tawi on tourism sana tuloy tuloy na at mawala na takot sa lugar na yan. Thanks sa post mo at nag-limelight ang province.

I also liked all the things you learn in this travel particularly - great lessons are best learned outside the universities and ake risks. If you win, you will be happy. If you lose, you will be wise.

Rizza said...

Nice one, ate Chyng! Great photos! You are very blessed to see places like this! Awesome :D true that the best things in life can be found outside school. Gusto ko rin ung quote mo na "If you win, you will be happy. If you lose, you will be wise." :D

McRICH said...

grabe antapang! wish ko ring magalugad ang mindanao pero hindi pa siguro sa ngayon (takot mode kahit walang multo haha)

lakwatserong tatay said...

kaw na talaga pero ang pinakagusto kong part dito ay yung trekking experience mo...ayos naman diba? diba pagdating sa summit tanggal pagod...problema nalang yun pagbaba ulit...^_^

Justin said...

Wow! I hope to explore Tawi-Tawi in the future. Tourism in Tawi-Tawi is growing, Danmar Resort is one evidence. Para mapalitan na ng tuluyan ang image ng Southermost Provinces. Jolo came from the word ho ló (好佬) meaning ‘Good Community' pero ngayon tila isa sa iniiwasan lugar sa mundo, sana maibalik natin.#definekidnapping I was in Sandakan, Sabah last year, but I fail to visit the Turtle Islands, Tawi-Tawi. #YouKnowWhatsAnnoying The last two paragraph was the best. Nag-enjoy ako, salamat!

Chyng said...

wow, that's something new. akalain mong jolo means good community. alhakim, our guide, was originally from jolo. sobrang kaguluhan brought him and his family to relocate in tawi tawi instead..

Manila Girl said...

Ganda, kaya lang may comment ako dun sa sinabi ng guide niyo, "pag mabuti kang tao, kahit saan ka magpunta, mga mabuting tao din ang mga makikilala mo." Parang hindi ako agree dito. Usually nga yung mga mabait pa yung nahaharm/hinaharm. :-(

Jovial Wanderer said...

love your post. :) Made me excited to travel to Tawi-Tawi. :)Thanks Chyng!

sheng said...

I love the picture of that stilt mansion you shared on facebook, very grand even though you say its just the regular kind of stilt house. I don't know if I could have the chance to visit Tawi-tawi, but it would be a huge adventure for me.

Sayang at di natuloy si Dom dito Gensan, I've waited forhim, haha. If ever you get to visit the city, you know how you can reach me.

The Nomadic Pinoy said...

I'm loving how your local guide quips! He'll be my guide too if I will make it there. At naka-tsinelas pa kayo going up Bud Bongao ha!

journeyingjames said...

Malaya ang Matapang!
inggit ako chyng, naunahan moko :)
will be there next week

MarLiesTravels said...

wow! what an adventure! sana mapunta namin kahin 20% ng narating mo hehe!
..love the sunset photo! :)

davidrockens said...

Wow! Chyng, I'm so happy for you at nagawa mo ito. =)


sarah callanga said...

Nice! inggit ako!

joei ♥ said...

Once again.. GRABE. Galing! So Tawi Tawi doesnt have white sand beaches? But it seems safer than Basilan ;)

Photo Cache said...

very clever may faux sleeves para di mangitim. this is a victory for you and dom to travel where people say you can't.

happy easter.

Allen said...

That Bud Bongao looks like a mini version of the Table Mountains in Cape Town, don't you think?

At natawa ako sa response ni Alhakim. Hahahaha.

If only Tawi-Tawi weren't so isolated from the rest of the PH, this wouldve been a major tourist destination.

Hoobert the Awesome said...

This is it! Tawi-Tawi, yay! Media portrayed that place as a haven of kidnappers, terrorists and bad people. At least, ang mga bloggers especially you portrayed it in a different way. Mas hina-highlight yung good kesa bad. :> Good job!

Jase Tiojanco said...

Amazing, just amazing! I've been wanting to go on an adventure in Tawi-Tawi but I couldn't tag along anyone for obvious reasons. The media's portraying the province so badly that people already have this horrible image of it. Good for you that you dared to take the road less traveled. :)

Sendo said...

wow...ang ganda...gusto ko ung reflection mo sa last part :) ahw ayeee :) naeengganyo rin ako to go there ah :)

Rizalenio said...

Chyng, I love the photo of the stilt house with the wave background. Parang yung movie lang ni Keanu Reeves.

Glad to see Tawi-tawi through you pero scary pa rin. Ingat sa mga trips.

docgelo said...

This is one of your interesting posts. Congratulations to you and Dom for a safe and successful trip down south.

Allow me to comment on Alhakim's
"innocent" wisdom. He mentioned and I quote,..."He answered “pag mabuti kang tao, kahit saan ka magpunta, mga mabuting tao din ang mga makikilala mo. Pag wala kang masamang intensyon, wala din mangyayari sayong masama..”

I'm only turning 36 (who cares about my age anyway, toinks!) and like you and Dom, still have a lifetime to live and a vast knowledge and skills and insights to acquire. In short, madami pa din ako "kakaining bigas" at hindi ako gaanong ka-wisyo pero I'd like to contradict with your tour guide's so-called wisdom. (serious?!) --Ang alam ko kahit mabait ka, kahit wala kang intensyong masama ka sa kapwa, kahit wala kang ginagawang masama, maraming demonyo sa paligid. Mabuti nang maingat kaysa mapasama at mapahamak. Walang nagsisi sa una, laging nasa huli. Kahit santo ka, may demonyo pa din sa paligid. Think of me as being cynical but it's something that everyone, particularly those who consider that tour guide's quote inspiring, should and must ponder. Or it's just me thinking.

Thanks, Chyng! :)
Congratz not only for this trip but on your "project/endeavor" with the other travelers/travel bloggers! :)

Chyng said...

^ i agree Doc. bad things and worst crimes can happen to anyone, even to the purest people.

siguro or alhakim, ayun talaga belief nya. =)

Mark said...

A great story Ms Chyng, certainly a must visit destination before it's spoilt.

Batang Lakwatsero said...

mukhang may papasikatin ka nanaman na tricycle driver. haha

gusto kong akyatin yang bongao.. very interesting din yung beach (para sa pananaw ng isang biologist)..

pag pumunta ako dito dapat marunong na akong mag-dive.. they say kasi na nasa ilalim daw ng karagatan ang tunay na ganda ng Tawi-Tawi..

Chyng said...

^ that sounds daring ivan. gusto din sana namin mag-island hopping kaso parang suicide na talaga yun. even our guide kasi di pa nakapunta dun..

good luck to you. hope you'll achieve it in time! =)

Chikoy Wuhoi said...

hi! ang ganda sa santa cruz island! sayang lang may bayad yung pulang coral..hehe

denzoid said...

Hi! I'm Denzy and I'm from Tawi-Tawi but currently studying in Manila. Thank you so much for this blog, I hope more people see the real beauty of Tawi-Tawi. :)

P.S. Island hopping and scuba diving are a must next time you go back ;D

Raja Lakandula Sevilla Aming said...

Just with this line, "This mountain is sacred for the Muslims." Uhm, Bud Bongao (Bongao Peak" is not really sacred for the Muslims. It's sacred for the natives. I mean, the sacred thingy plays with the culture, not the religion. Sama and Tausug -- these are the two major tribes occupying Tawi-Tawi. =)

love2type said...

that's a nice opportunity to see tawi-tawi.. i wish i wish...

Lifeisacelebration said...

Ching, you never fail to amaze me with your daring! I've been reading and enjoying your blogs, just too lazy to leave comments. Not this time. I'm compelled to tell you. Bravo, brave girl. So much spunk in you -- amazing indeed! Safe travels!

Tawi-Tawi Divers Club, Inc. said...

hindi na man talaga scary ang Tawi-Tawi mga friends, kung dahil lang dun sa dalawang foreigner na kinidnap. kung pupunta kayo at walang kakilala sa Tawi-Tawi, I suggest na mkipagcoordinate agad kayo sa Tourism Council ng Tawi-Tawi meron yan sa airport mismo. pwede din kayong kumuha ng escort na marines, pkainin nyo lang okay na yun, safe pa kayo kahit mag-island hopping pa kayo sa kadulo-dulohang bhagi ng Tawi-Tawi.

Anonymous said...

Tawi Tawi Diver's Club Inc. can you pls.give us an idea where is the best beach or picnic in Tawi Tawi and how much is the boat rental fee going there?

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