The city of pleasant surprises

Forget Enchanted Kingdom. Forget Pansol. Go beyond Rizal Shrine.  Laguna has so much more to offer, to the perpetually curious. And our curiosity (paired with a trusty map) led us to San Pablo City, a two-hour drive from Paranaque.

The café by the lake

San Pablo is  mainly known for its seven scenic lakes. We stopped by the most popular one, Sampaloc.

Bikes can be rented for Php 20 so you can enjoy the Sampaloc Lake from all angles. It’s surrounded by street food kiosks and restaurants serving fresh water specialties such as inihaw na tilapia and halabos na hipon.

Lunch was at Café Lago (049- 573 7404), an unassuming restaurant which has a charming courtyard surrounded by lush, lush greens.

Their well-thought out menu has home cooked Filipino favorites.

We tried the cream dory sa gata. And as I have a weakness for all dishes cooked in coconut milk, this was right up my alley.

A San Pablo boy through and through, Café Lago owner Mandy Marino sat by our table and shared his vision for his beloved hometown. “San Pablo is filled with sabungans and bars,” he rues. “We want to have something different.” Musicals, stage plays and a museum showcasing San Pablo’s rich cultural heritage are in the planning stages.

Mr. Mandy then suggested we visit Pandin Lake, which was just 15 minutes away. Thanks to his untiring efforts to promote the lake and train residents on how to make most out of the lake’s natural beauty and resources, Pandin Lake has experienced resurgence in its popularity among tourists rearing to go off the beaten track.

Cruising along Pandin

After being heartily welcomed by Ate Sion, we hiked for 15 minutes through a small forest to come to Pandin.

For Php 180 per person, we got to ride on a covered bamboo raft and cruised along the lake, which was small enough to give it a secluded, we-have-it-all-to-ourselves feel.

The raft was ably manned by six bangkeras, housewives all. Where were the men?

“Kasi po ma’am, ang mga turista naming babae, kapag naliligo dito, naka-two piece. Ang mga asawa po namin ang nahihiya! Kaya kami na lang daw po ang mamangka rito (The female visitors who swim on the lake wear two-piece bathing suits. Our husbands would get embarrassed! So they asked us to run the rafts instead), they cheekily shared.

We stopped alongside mango trees, where boys were picking fruits straight from the branches.

Ang tamis.

Call Ate Sion a day in advance (0929-978 9565) and they could prepare lunch for you, which you can then enjoy – along with the view.

Pandin has a twin lake – Yambo, which you can marvel at after short climb up a hill. Ask one of these playful women to share with you the myth behind these lakes.

Further along

Since we had time to spare, we drove further down to the municipality of Nagcarlan, which has an underground cemetery, said to be the only one of its kind in the country. For our last stop, we hit Liliw for some tsinelas shopping (three pairs for Php 100, what’s not to like?).

Did you know that the ubiquitous Collette’s Buko Pie originally came from San Pablo and is still based there? Do grab a box before you go, for something sweet to remember the trip by.