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Travel stories: Mindanao, Philippines

Down South Mindanao, Philippines

By Ronald de Jong

The province of South Cotabato may not be the most obvious place to consider for a vacation, but for anyone looking for something out of the ordinary it is worth giving it a chance, the unique atmosphere, the exceptional landmarks and exotic attractions may surprise you.

If appreciation of natural beauty and exploration are what you look for in a holiday, a trip through South Cotabato might just be your ultimate excursion, an exciting and very challenging way to experience the most diverse and fruitful landscapes in Mindanao.

South Cotabato, a landlocked province and often named as the Land of Bounty is a real eco-tourism hub on the island of Mindanao, it has refreshing, cool springs, majestic waterfalls, beautiful lakes and forests, rugged mountains with mysterious caves and mighty rivers. Also named as the promised land, South Cotabato has a few well-known outdoor attractions, rich biodiversity and many picturesque locations, like Lake Sebu which is the heartland of the T'boli people and the surrounding forest, enabling visitors to commune with nature and enjoy the fascinating bird life. Wild fauna and flora endemic to South Cotabato can be found in Lake Holon, also named lake Maughan, an idyllic, water-filled crater of the dormant volcano Mount Parker. This volcano is believed to have been named after an American pilot who crashed at the slopes of the volcano.

If you are interested in local culture you could make a daytrip to one of the mountain tribes, the T'boli. A colorful tribe and one of the few of remaining tribal groups in Mindanao.

A visit to the T'boli Tribal House in T'boli, the Lake Sebu Museum and the Cultural Village is a unique opportunity to understand the soul of the people South Cotabato and a great way to explore this region in a nutshell. The B'laan are another indigenous group found that live in South Cotabato. Unlike the other indigenous cultural communities who tended to cluster in a particular area, the B'laans are scattered in pockets all over the province. This tribal group still believe and practice their indigenous customs and rituals, they are a tribal society with a distinct culture and language. Just like the T'boli this group is also well known for their embroidered costumes and jewelry made from brass.

The B'laans can be found in Polomolok, the name of the place was derived from the B'laan word ´┐ŻFlomlok' which means hunting grounds, for its abundance of wild life. Like any other city in the Philippines Polomolok has it's own festival, the Flomlok festival, celebrated in September. The people of Polomolok celebrate by showcasing the local products and a mix of social and cultural activities. One of the main tourist attractions in Polomolok is the Salkak Cave, a place where nature lovers can enjoy the cool springs and the fresh mountain breeze outside and the thrilling adventure of caving.

Durian Garden is a local resort in Polomolok and one of the main agri-tourism destination of the South, a great location with an excellent restaurant thas has a casual atmosphere.

It is well known for the best Durian fruit in many different varieties in South Cotabato and a producer of the renowned durian ice cream and durian pie. The garden is also abundant with rambutan and lanzones and has many durian trees and beautiful exotic flowers that can only be found there.

At the edge of Koronadal city lies the Del Rio Splash Resort, an all inclusive family vacation getaway where both children and adults can enjoy their stay. It is a unique spot in South Cotabato, it has a swimming pool with slides for adults and children, pool cottages, a restaurant pavilion and much more to cater to your needs. There are many more excellent resorts in South Cotabato, like the Farm at Carptenter Hill, Aqua Frio Garden Resort, the Dolores Farm Resort in Polomolok and the Rem Ching Resort. each resort and setting is something unique and offers a different range of experiences. Most resorts have fine-dining restaurants serving anything from the local continental cuisine to Western food, in all of them you are likely to experience some of the best food in South Cotabato.

For authentic Filipino food, South Cotabato is the place to be, it has some fine restaurants, some of them serving Halal food. Up in the hill near Koronadal city stands the hanging getaway of Lantaw Marbel, a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life and enjoy the fresh mountain air and get a cool breeze. In the the open air restaurant you can combine exceptional food with an exceptional view. Enjoy the local cuisine and see a great, green scenery in a beautiful panoramic view of the city. Right near the centre of the bustling city of Koronadal one can find an extraordinary restaurant. SaBalai Bistro, a hidden jewel in Koronadal's dining scene. This restaurant is definitely a place with a well-thought-out menu of original creations. The quality of the food and presentation are very good and quite imaginative. BJ's Lechon Manok is a restaurant famous for its grilled chicken, a meet and dine place for locals and visitors, good Filipino food is served in a simple style and in a very nice setting.

In the Philippines there is another name for shopping, "Malling", so don't miss the shopping malls in South Cotabato, here you can experience that shopping is not only a tourist thing to and while shopping one can meet the local population. In South Cotabato, there are many great places to shop, shopping malls can be found in General Santos City and Koronadal city. One of the greatest shopping malls in Koronadal City is KCC; this shopping paradise allows shoppers the convenience of purchasing almost everything under one roof. KCC is more than a shopping destination it's a place where friends and families share experiences and can find endless ways to connect.

Just a few minutes away from the city proper is the FIT mart Mall, a modern shopping centre offering a wide selection of shops selling things ranging from imported luxury items to local yet quality basics. The Fit mart Mall is a destination in itself, a haven for sniffing out real bargains. It has a great department store, cinemas, a supermarket and a nice food court with local delicacies and fast food. The Ace Centerpoint Mall in downtown Koronadal city is a low priced shopping mall, one of the most famous, vital and oldest malls in Koronadal City and a favorite among the locals.

There are countless choices when it comes to places to stay in South Cotabato, this region has an array of good hotels, resorts and pension houses that suit your style and budget.

The beauty of South Cotabato is beyond description, it is a wonderful holiday destination, well known for its rich tourist resources, colorful folklore, friendly locals, its unique charm, magnificent countryside views and comprising beautiful natural sceneries.

In short, South Cotabato offers a fantastic vacation for everyone who wants to go somewhere out of the ordinary and would like to combine nature, culture, heritage and relaxation.

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