If you want a taste of Philippine history, culture, architecture, art craftsmanship, music, food where sun, sea, and mountains meet, you must visit Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, an outdoor Philippine heritage museum. Its name translates to “The Philippine Houses of Acuzar” developed by architect and “construction magnate,” Jose “Jerry” Acuzar.
It is a collection of Spanish colonial mansions from around the Philippines that “brick by brick, plank by plank” have been transported to and restored on the 400-hectare sprawling open-air museum and heritage park in Bagac, Bataan. It took ten years to build before it opened to the public in 2010.
It has hotels, a convention center, seasonally scheduled cultural shows and activities, (such as dance, carabao parade, cockfighting, exhibits, pocket performance of Tanghalang Tatsulok), Entertainment/ Game Room, fish feeding; a spa, swimming pool, beach access where seasonal water sports are offered; shops for music, Filipino food specialties; a photography studio where you can wear traditional Filipino clothing; Heritage Tour (where you can enter specific heritage homes) and Workshop Tour (where you can see the park’s handcrafted woodcarvings, bricks, and other artistic details around the park made the traditional way).
Its website states that it is the “only property in the Philippines to be part of Historic Hotels Worldwide” and “is part of the Conde Nast Johansens Luxury Global Collection and Peninsula Hotel’s Pencities Luxe Guide… Asia Awards of Excellence winner for Asia’s most excellent destination for 2017.”
From six years ago, my designer friend, Emy Dee, who knows the owners has been inviting me to visit this place but it seemed like such a challenge to schedule a tour day. When I learned that my nieces and nephew were coming to visit me, I grabbed the chance to plan a day trip.
TRAVEL INFO/ TIPS FOR A DAY TRIP
1. Best time to go: cool dry months of January to February. Second choice: Dry months (November, December). Otherwise, just check weather forecast. If coming on a weekday, less crowds. If coming on a weekend, more possible activities but check with the Las Casas office on scheduled activities on the date you are considering. [When we went, there was a 4pm cultural event but that would mean we could get caught in traffic on the way back to Manila so we opted to skip it.]
2. Travel Time from Ortigas Center: 3.5 hours by car
3. Before you go, read up on their offered activities and history so you can cover more ground and better appreciate during your visit.
5. What to Bring:
Bottled drinking water. The heat can be a challenge considering the Heritage Tour is done outdoors. The tour comes with a refreshing free cold towel but water will quench your thirst.
Slip-on shoes with sure-footed shock support for the mostly cobblestone streets. All footwear must be removed before entering the heritage houses so shoelaces and boots are inconvenient. If you prefer to take your shoes with you while touring the houses, bring a big bag and shoe dust bag for easy on, easy off.
Sun protection. Sunscreen, sunglases, wide-brimmed hat. Paypay (manual fan) if you like.
Fully charged camera with chargers/ power banks.
As with all other trips, sense of humor.
6. Eat heavy breakfast as dining outlets open at 11am.
OUR SUNDAY ITINERARY:
530am Leave Pasig area. (Travel time: 3 hours 20 mins) The roads were quite wide and clear 90% of the way. There was a multi-car accident on the road in Metro Manila. This is in Bataan before reaching Bagac:
Arrive at Las Casas just before 9am.
Immediately go on the River Cruise. Notice the handcrafted, handpainted artwork on the walls and the architectural details on all the structures.
This River Cruise video is on 8x Fast Forward:
We got dropped off at Casa Lubao where the 1.5-hour heritage tour begins.
Shoes are left by the main entrance of all the houses, a Filipino custom giving respect to the owners of the home.
Heritage Tour 930-10:50am
Casa Lubao (where you book your day’s activities. Look for Reception at the ground floor here.)
Music is very much part of the Filipino home. Here you can see two pianos back to back for family entertainment.
There are seating areas on the veranda overlooking the street.
Other interior details:
From the back kitchen, you can see the old style “dish rack” where there is a built in “rack” of bamboo sticks outside the kitchen window on which the cups are hung and where washed dishes can be left to air/ sun dry.
On the ground floor of Casa Lubao is Las Casas’s Entertainment/ Game Room.
Here is an excerpt from a pocket play performance by Tanghalang Tatsulok giving a glimpse of the history of Casa Unisan when bandits captured the masters of the house.
We visit more houses around Parque de Manila.
Here is a compilation of some interesting details from the houses and around the park.
Typical for an old Spanish Colonial mansion is stone structure at the ground floor and wood on the second floor.
There is a narrow alley on the inner perimeter of the house for the Aliping Sagigilid (loosely translated as Slave in the Edges). In the Spanish Colonial era, it was the lowest class of society referring to the slaves who could not step on the areas of the house where the family goes but had to be limited to moving around in the “gilid” (edge/ inner perimeter) of the house.
The higher class of slaves was the Aliping Namamahay (loosely translated to Slave in the House) who could cross into the inner household spaces.
Before the arrival of the hot-charcoal-filled iron, this was the old system of ironing one shirt in four hours using foot pressure:
In old times, to court a lady, a suitor would “harana (serenade)” her from the ground floor as she looked from outside the second floor window. He would sing to her. If he didn’t know how to play a guitar or musical instrument, he would bring his own back up musician. If she is interested, she would listen and be charming. If not, she would not try to be charming.
An expression like this signifies Trish likes the seranading suitor (minus the hat because usually harana’s are done in the evening when it is more romantic):
Scenes from the movie, Heneral Luna, were filmed in this house:
The assassination scene (did not take place here but) was filmed here to depict Cabanatuan:
Bellas Artes Project: Rafael Enriquez y Villanueva’s 1867 mansion which he donated and transformed into Escuela de Bellas Artes, the 1908 first campus of the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts in Quiapo was moved to Las Casas in 2007.
This is the antique form of CCTV:
A concealed hole on the floor with a camouflaged lid. The people from inside would peep from the second floor to see the front door entrance below. If they did not like the people coming, they could pour water or urine from the arinola (a small chamber pot portable potty placed in the bedrooms) on them.
This is a mid-stairway resting bay window. With sometimes five layers of skirts for the elite women, they would be tired by the time they came halfway. They could rest for a while before continuing to the next flight of stairs to the top of the stairs.
The Abortion Room. I am an abortion survivor. After conceiving me, my mom purchased (and ingested) herbs from Quiapo, the location of this abortion clinic in that year before it was moved to Las Casas in 2007. Praise God He brought me forth from my mother’s womb and every day that He continues to give me breath, continues to conquer death until He takes me to have eternal life through Jesus Christ. It may seem more obvious how through Him I was saved from death but it is the same for everyone of us every single day, for He gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father
Continuing with the tour…
Incorporating Garden into Architectural Details:
Sculptures and Fountains:
We pass by the Tiendecitas (shops) where you will find the Fotografia Escolta (for photo souvenirs in traditional Filipino clothing), shops for music, antiques, wooden crafts,, bread and food specialties.
11am Casa Unisan Filipino Lunch. It was good to come to the restaurant early before the crowds came.
From among the dishes served, I enjoyed most the Pancit and Watermelon shake.
12nn – Photo souvenirs at the Trolley…
12pm Visit to the Tulay ni Lola Basyang (children’s book author, Severino Reyes’s pseudonym)
The horses around Las Casas have a discreet portable potty (blue color in above photo); when the horse begins to raise its tail, the horseman stops the ride so that the horse can answer the call of nature. The smart horse knows to speed up (bwelo) around the uphill curve.
We drive through more heritage houses beautifully situated throughout well-planned thoroughfares that pass through scenic river, bridges, parks, gardens, sculptures, fountains, Philippine handcrafted architectural details… with no eyesore electricity wires overhead.
The large nipa hut is the house of the Datu, a chief of an indigenous people group in Palawan, Sulu, Mindanao who would have four wives in one house, each just separated by a curtain.
The beach is a very short distance away. Water activities are available here.
Coconut trees beautify the streets as well as provide sustenance for the community. It is considered in the Philippines as the “Tree of Life” for its head to toe useable parts (for water, fruit and fruit products, coconut husk for cleaning, trunk for lumber, leaves for nipa hut roofs; its dried fruit kernels for copra to make oil, and now considered one among five healthy oils (among Olive, Grapeseed, Avocado, and Sesame) along with its sugar having low-glycemic index.
We got dropped off at the Hotel de Oriente
Inside, magnificent intricate handwork by skilled craftsment. Wood parquetry uses no paint but painstakingly-selected different-colored wood. From your feet, you could feel the textures of the parquet design.
The Convention Center that can accommodate 600 participants.
Inspires your patriotism:
Exhibits of Handcrafted Architectural Details used around the property:
1pm Take the jeepney back to reception lobby
1:30pm Leave for Manila These beautiful pink flowers are so much more open and lush in the morning. When we leave at 1:30pm, they seem to be taking a nap. But what an idyllic vision to cap our educational, enjoyable, enriching 4 1/2 hour visit to Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.
Being taken back to the Spanish colonial era through this grand open air museum is a special experience. Yet, what a blessing it must be to not be a Filipino living in that time subject to Spanish authority for Spain’s benefit. Even though we are still a work in progress today, praise God that we are now an independent nation.
5:20pm Arrive Manila
Seventeen years ago, this 400-hectare land was plain. Can you imagine the transformation that took place here?
It is awesome to see the grand design of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar starting from the vision of Jerry Acuzar, gathering the workers who would form part of his team to execute this plan so ably and exquisitely to what we can now catch glimpses of the Spanish Colonial era, taking in the interesting parts of culture, history, heritage.
On a different plane, God’s grand design for us to experience the heavenly realm beautiful beyond what eyes can see and ears can hear is also in place. He gathers willing workers who are uniquely shaped for His purposes to share His culture, history, and heritage in the bible so that we can experience glimpses of His kingdom on earth.
Eph 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.