Bakit ang mga hindi (masyadong) pina-plano ang natutuloy? Ah, the age-old question!
Hershey: It was 5 o'clock on a Labor Day morning when Josh rang my phone to wake me up. I peeked out my window and saw….absolutely nothing. The sky was pitch black—not even the light purple that comes at dawn. I grumbled. We talked about this last night, but my god, I hate waking up before sunrise. I grabbed my bag and met him in his car. Thankfully, he brought breakfast—which is always a good idea. I grabbed the pancake sandwich from his hand, rubbed my eyes, and fastened my seatbelt. The engine started and off we went. Hooray! We were going on a road trip!
Josh: For one reason or another, our out of town trips were almost inevitably postponed, so it was nice to be off! We were headed to Talavera, Nueva Ecija, to attend the business blessing of our friend’s dental clinic. It would be a long drive, so we thought of seeing some sights while there.
Hershey: And because this was crammed, we only had 12 hours to spend in Nueva Ecija. If you’re planning do a day-trip of the province, then check out our list of recos and travel tips! :) Enjoy!
About Nueva Ecija
Hershey: Known as the "Rice Granary of the Philippines", Nueva Ecija is the major supplier of the country’s rice. The province is found in Central Luzon, aka Region III. Of course, I know this by heart because this was taught to us in Araling Panlipunan (Social Studies) in fourth grade—wink! The landlocked province bordes Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Pangasinan, Nueva Vizcaya, and Aurora, and is popular for its rice and kalabaw products.
Getting there via private car
Josh: Depending on where you are going, Nueva Ecija is about three hours away from QC by private car.
Here's What You Can Do On A Day Trip To Nueva Ecija!
1. Look out for kalabaw icons along the way!
Hershey: The kalabaw is the Philippine’s national animal, but it might as well be the provincial symbol of Nueva Ecija.
We enjoyed spotting kalabaw icons while driving and walking around the place. We spotted posters promoting "Gandang Kalabaw" (a contest or a "beauty pageant" for carabaos)—and we even saw a church (St. Isidore the Worker Parish) with a kalabaw situated on its roof!
Can you see the kalabaw beside the angel?
St. Isidore the Worker Parish, Talavera City
Hershey: Speaking of Talavera City, Josh and I decided to walk around the municipal hall to observe the locals. We were both really surprised when we saw a cage of snakes right in front of the basketball court! I thought that it was so ~randomly~ located, I literally laughed out loud! Soon after, we realized that the local government actually put up a small zoo in the area—right next to the snakes were ravens and crocodiles. While it was pretty random to see wild animals in the city, I think it's part of their efforts to encourage families and children to spend more time at the public park :)
A snake in the city! OMG!
...there are crocodiles, too!
I am not kidding when I say the animals were located right in front of the basketball court! Lol!
2. Drop by DVF Dairy Farm to get your hands on legit kalabaw products!
Hershey: It’s a tradition for us Pinoys to buy souvenir gifts, or pasalubong, for friends, officemates, and family. So when we asked Josh’s friend, a Novo Ecijano (a local from Nueva Ecija), where we could get kalabaw goodies, she recommended DVF Dairy Farm!
Address: #151 Poblacion Sur, Talavera, Nueva Ecija
Tel: 411-1393 & 940-5905
We drove all the way there to try out their famous kalabaw milk. It was so yummy, creamy, and FRESH, we ended up buying half a dozen large bottles! Aside from its original flavor, it’s also available in different variants like chocolate, strawberry yogurt, and melon.
DVF also has delicious kalabaw cheese! We bought mozzarella and kesong puti (white cheese)—perfect for merienda (afternoon snack) with hot pandesal (bread) and coffee! Ah, don’t you just love Filipino food?!
We also recommend their original pastillas made of—you guessed it—kalabaw milk. They’re thick, creamy, and absolutely yummy!
Watching them make pastillas!
Here’s the price list of their products, if you’re wondering:
3. Visit the palengke for longganisa and rice
Hershey: I know, I know. How tita can this travel recommendation get?? But seriously, missing out on Nueva Ecija’s famous longganisa is like going to Bicol without trying Bicol Express! Make sure to try it out! And of course, don’t leave without buying rice from the Rice Granary of the Philippines!
4. Swim in the emerald green waters of Minalungao National Park
Hershey: We finally left Talavera and headed to Minalungao National Park at General Tinio. It was around an hour's drive away! The road going there was so quiet and calm, I asked Josh if he could let me drive because it was a relatively safe area. To my surprise, he said yes! (Remember when he taught me how to drive HERE?)
We passed by a very scenic route—and a family of ducks, too! (Disclaimer: I had a student permit with me! :D)
Josh: Though people call it the hidden paradise of Nueva Ecija, everyone in Central Luzon knows about it! The big draw is the emerald green water of Peñaranda River, framed by stunning rock formations and 16 meter high limestone walls.
Hershey: If there's one thing you should know when traveling with me, it's that I cannot stand hot, stuffy, crowded places. I'm not being maarte (I honestly don't mind getting dirty or trying out adventurous things!), it's just really a pet peeve of mine when my personal space gets invaded. I guess it's just one of my quirks. So anyway, when we got to Minalungao National Park, I must admit that I was a teeny bit disappointed—the river looked hella crowded, I saw pieces of trash floating along the river, and the 1:00 sun was at its peak. I almost backed out, but our tour guide insisted that he was going to bring us to a spot in Minalungao that wasn't too crowded. With a sigh—and with Josh persuading me to be more patient—I went along with him.
Look at the crowd!!! Humans--HUMANS EVERYWHERE!
I may look like I'm smiling here, but in reality, I was a very grumpy girl who just wanted to get back inside the air-conditioned car. Thank God Josh was (and still is) really patient with me. HAHA!
Josh: When we arrived, the water looked so refreshing that we just wanted to charge through the Labor Day crowd and plunge into the river. But since our guide told us that we would be going to the quieter spots upstream, we trudged along.
After a short walk, our patience paid off—further upstream, the river was no longer crowded with rafts, kayaks and swimmers. The noise had receded, leaving the sound of swift-flowing waters in the background.
Hershey: Kuya tour guide was right! At the end of the river was a far more peaceful spot to lounge around. There were also less people—and best of all, there were no pieces of trash!
Dear fellow travelers, let's please be mindful of our carbon footprints! Let's be responsible guests and not leave any trash behind!
The current was really strong—Josh literally had to weigh me down because I was too light to stay put in one spot. Haha! To be safe, we also rented life vests for around P25 to P50 pesos each (sorry, wasn't able to take photos with our life jackets!)
We swam and splashed around for about two hours—we also got to have our cheesy couple photos taken, all thanks to Kuya tour guide! Heehee.
Also, I wasn't grumpy anymore because we got to beat the summer heat by cooling down in the river! Yay!
Please indulge me as I upload a series of portraits taken by Josh, whose Instagram Boyfriend skillzzzz have completely levelled up! Woohoo!
Huge thanks to Salt Swim for my super pretty black swimsuit!
Finally, we ended our Minalungao trip by filling our tummies with FOOD! There was a lane of karinderya stalls (small restaurants) going back to the parking lot. Kuya Tour Guide, Josh, and I went inside one stall and ordered liempo and chili prawns (I think we paid around 300 bucks). The prawns were very good, but honestly, the grilled liempo tasted really, really sad. But it was okay—we were really hungry, and you know what they say—walang pini-piling pagkain ang gutom!
Tips When Visiting Minalungao National Park
Josh: When visiting Minalungao, people also picnic on rafts, zipline across the river, and hike 1000 steps to see the Sierra Madre mountain range. For adrenaline junkies, there’s caving and cliff diving too!
Hershey: Josh and I got to explore one cave! That specific cave wasn't anything special, really, but it was fun climbing rocks and checking out some limestone formations.
1. Wear waterproof sandals!
Hershey: It's good to wear sandals or slippers when swimming because there are plenty of sharp rocks at the bottom of the river. I wore my favorite tan pair from Salt Water Sandals!
2. Visit during the dry season
Josh: Minalungao’s emerald green waters are stunning in summer—all the better to swim in! However, heading over just after a rain shower means the river will be a murky brown color, a far cry from the brilliant greens you want on your Instagram. Visit in good weather to be safe.
3. Arrive early on a weekday
Josh: The first travelers to arrive get to quietly witness the breathtaking beauty of the park sans the bustling crowds, which can get a bit overwhelming! (Early morning is also the best time to hike up the 1000 Steps and see the Sierra Madre mountain range.) If possible, avoid weekends and holidays—go on a weekday so you can have the park all to yourself.
4. Get a tour guide
Josh: It’s always nice to have a local who can lead you to the quiet swimming holes, bring you around the park, and take your photos! Aside from receiving insider tips on the best places to be, you’ll also be contributing to the local economy—a win-win situation for everyone.
Gas and tolls - about 2,000 for a round trip to Minalungao from QC
Tour Guide- 300
Tip for Tour Guide (optional, but appreciated)- 200
Entrance fee - 100 per person
Parking at Minalungao- 50
That's it for our Nueva Ecija trip, everyone! :) If you've been to Nueva Ecija too, please feel free to comment your travel tips and suggestions below. Thanks for reading! If you liked this post, you can also read our article on Hiking For Two at Mt. Hapunang Banoi!
Hershey and Josh