There are some images, memories, or people I associate with certain places. Banaue for the rice terraces, butanding (whale shark) for Donsol, Sinulog for Cebu, Black Nazarene for Quaipo, and basaan-ng-tao, festival for San Juan. Sadly, the only association I could conjure for Bataan is the Bataan Death March; that grim part in Philippine history where an estimated 2,500 to 10,000 Filipino and American soldiers died during their forced transfer from Mariveles, Bataan to Capas, Tarlac. It took a recent trip to Bataan, in a company summer teambuilding to change all that. Today, when I hear the name of Bataan, I remember this place I like to call, “Little Vigan.” It’s a heritage park tucked away in the historic town of Bagac; Las Casas Filipinas De Acuzar.
It takes a four-hour drive from Manila to reach this magical place. Las Casas is owned by an architect and art collector named, Jose Rizalino “Jerry” Acuzar. I call it as little Vigan because just like the said city, it appears as though it has been locked in time. There you can find houses dating from the 18th to 19 centuries, restored and are now being used as lodging for guests who wish to have an overnight stay. The entire village is a recreation of the olden times; the roads are covered with cobblestones, there’s a bridge over a river that flows to the sea, and the staff are garbed in traditional attire.
How to get there
I am not sure how to get there by car because I don’t have a car (well not yet anyway). What I’m about to share is how to get there via commuting, the exact method that my friend and I did when we went there recently.
- Take the bus with the Balanga route at Bataan Transit in Cubao, Quezon City. The fare is PHP200 (USD4.31).
- From Balanga Terminal, take a jeep that goes to Bagac. The fare is PHP47 (USD1.00). Inform the driver that you are going to Las Casas.
- You will be dropped somewhere near Las Casas but you have to take a tricycle to get to the entrance. Trike fare is only PHP10 (USD0.22).
Congratulations! You have reached Las Casas.
The rooms at Las Casas are some of the best that I’ve ever seen. I was billeted in a room with a single bed and a queen-size bed that in my estimation could accommodate three people of my size. The walls are plastered with hand-painted wallpapers made by the locals. The bathroom is so spacious I could live in it; it has a big bathtub, a shower area, a sink, a toilet, and a bidet that looks like another toilet. Initially, I was confused as to why they didn’t install a modern bidet with a hose, then it dawned on me that the management was trying to recreate the bathroom in the bygone years so it only makes sense that they placed an old washlet. I’m impressed by their commitment to stay true with the theme. The bidet was interesting but using it was a bit challenging, at least for a woman. I told myself that it’s all part of the experience; at least, I now have a first-hand knowledge on how they washed their fannies in the old days. Still, they infused a little bit of the modern by furnishing each room with a flat-screen TV with cable and a mini fridge.
If you cannot afford to spend the night over, you can still visit and enjoy the place by taking a day tour. There is an entrance fee of PHP685 (USD14.78), but if you want your tour to include snacks, the rate is PHP850 (USD18.34) for adults and PHP425 for children (babies are free of charge). Another option is to take any of their two-day tour packages. Package 1 is worth PHP1,200 (USD25.88) inclusive of set meal while Package 2 goes for PHP1,500 (USD32.36) with buffet meal and is ideal for groups because buffet meal requires a minimum of 30 pax.
I consider myself so very lucky that I didn’t spend a single penny because I went there for our company team building, but I wasn’t so lucky the first time when it comes to the tour as I was busy playing sheepdog to my officemates during one of our activities.
Thankfully, I was able to return with Cai of Travelosyo, thanks to Karan of Ritz & Grace Travel and Tours. This time, I was able to know the history behind every house at Las Casas. The tour would take you to a living museum of Philippine customs and traditions, noble class mansions, house of stone, and wooden stilt houses that were restored to their old glory and are now opened for the appreciation of this generation.
I made the effort to take notes during the tour because initially, I intended to tell you the stories behind these houses. I realized though that not only will it make this post longer than it already is, it might also ruin the experience for you should you decide to visit. So let me just show you some photos that I’d taken, including that of our guide, Kim.
These houses have been moved piece by piece, plank by plank, and column by column. They are named after the places where they originated from. Out of all the houses, the one below is my favorite. You have to go and see it for yourself to know why.
Las Casas has been in operation for 5 years, but the construction itself took 10 years. To this day, you can still see new infrastructure being built in the heritage park. In fact, when Cai and I went there, they are constructing train tracks that run over the bridge for the tramvia.
Worried about missing a Sunday mass? Don’t be because Las Casas has a chapel, which is a replica of Balanga Church. Construction is not yet completed, but it is already open to the public for the holy masses.
When you go to Las Casas make sure to bring your swimming attire. There is a long stretch of beach where people can take a dip, sunbathe, and even play volleyball. But if you are not a beach person, you may find the swimming pool a good alternative.
Or you may opt to just take a stroll and discover the nook and crannies of this enchanting place yourself. Ready your camera because there are so many beautiful things to see, like the church, the mermaid statue under the bridge, and the canal reminiscent of Venice.
The food at Las Casas is a series of some hits and misses, but if I have to make a recommendation, you should definitely order champorado, scrambled egg, and tocino. Those are the food that made quite a mark where my palate is concerned.
Las Casas has a cafe called, Cafe Del Rio Snacks and Bar. It is situated beside the river. We weren’t able to try it as it was closed.
There is an Italian restaurant called, La Bella Teodora, which I only discovered when I revisited.
Las Casas is a favorite among soon-to-wed couples as a location for their prenup photoshoot. Now that I’ve seen the place I can understand why. One look at Las Casas and you see romance. When you take a morning stroll you will hear Kundiman songs playing as the carijuelas drive by. By the beach, you will be enthralled by the view of the calm sea and the sand the color of ash that glitters under the sun.
In a matter of perspective, the time-trapped beauty of the place spells love. Las Casas is a sort of a consolation, of a place that holds some dreadful memories of war. And we are fortunate that someone decided to bring the beautiful remnants of the past into the present time. All of these waiting to be appreciated, only four hours away from the city.
Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar
Telephone nos: (02) 332-5338/(02) 332-5286