When in Bataan, my beloved home province, you cannot possibly miss Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. This is the only resort in the Philippines which is a member of the Historic Hotels Worldwide. The province of Bataan itself is already a historic place. It is famous for the Death March during World War II, when the Japanese invaders transported the Filipino and American soldiers on a train (and some left to march to their death) from Mariveles, Bataan to Capas, Tarlac. This is actually commemorated every year on the 9th of April as a public holiday in the Philippines… but I digress…
Las Casas is owned and created by an architect who is a local of Bataan, Jerry Acuzar. According to the tour guide who conducts the tour of the houses, Mang Jerry started collecting old houses from all over Luzon (the biggest of the three main island groups in the Philippines, where Bataan is also located) and relocating them piece by piece to be rebuilt on his property in Bagac, Bataan as a hobby. Eventually he decided to be practical, and opened the place to the public as a resort when he realized how expensive the maintenance of old houses are.
Some people are questioning the negative impact of uprooting old houses in their original settlement. But I like to think that in the Philippines, we have been doing this in the olden days as “bayanihan”, where houses are moved from one area to another area with the help of the neighbors and friends carrying the house on their shoulders… so this is something that is neither unnatural nor alien to Filipino culture. Also, some of the houses have been moved around already, or have ended up in the junk shops before being resurrected and finding their way into Las Casas. The important thing is that Mang Jerry researches about the houses’ origin and history and spreads it to the people doing the tours, something that could help cure modern-day Filipinos suffering from historical amnesia.
Anyways, on to the review…
We arrived early for check-in. Thankfully, our rooms were already prepared. The check-in process was quite fast and efficient. We were given a map of the place, offered refreshments (refreshing gulaman, we really loved it!) and ushered into a raft to be taken to the other side of the river, closer to our rented house. It was a pleasant, short ride. Thankfully it was short because it was a very hot mid-afternoon when we arrived. The raft had no shade. They offered instead some huge umbrellas and hats, which are a bit cumbersome, and did not prevent us from burning our bums on the hot seats.
We stayed in a two-storey, three-bedroom house called, “Casa Binondo II”. It was a very quiet and convenient location, just a few meters’ walk to the church, the swimming pool, the souvenir shops, and the two restaurants — Café del Rio, which only opens on weekend evenings and Casa Unisan, where they serve the buffet breakfast. We were also right next to the house where Mang Jerry and his family stay whenever they visit the resort. He is usually there on Sundays to attend the mass in the resort’s church.
Casa Binondo II has three beautiful bedrooms — one on the ground floor and two on the second floor. This house has a maximum capacity of 6 people plus 2 kids max. Hubby and I decided to take the one with the balcony facing the rice fields. My daughter and my older niece stayed with a friend in the opposite bedroom, where an extra bed is possible (at an additional cost, of course). It was the biggest bedroom in the house, with a huge bathroom! My brother, his wife and his little toddler stayed in the room on the ground floor so that the little one did not have to keep climbing up and down the stairs. Also, all the rooms have huge bathrooms with shower, bath tub and bidet.
Here is my amateur video of a house tour of Casa Binondo II, if you’re interested to see it.
I totally fell in-love with this house! It reminded me so much of my Lola’s parents’ house by the river when I was a kid — the characteristic stone bricks on the ground floor and the wooden walls of the second storey; the huge, airy rooms; the large capiz windows with the view of the river and the surrounding trees of caimito, avocado, cacao, balimbing, atis, macopa, guava, mangoes, coconuts, etc; the creaky narra (or acacia?) floor boards, and the antique furniture (especially the tomba-tomba), which all looked haunted and scary to me as a kid… and they still do, a bit, up to now.
The only thing that could use improvement is the heating in the shower, which is not the easiest thing to control. Also, the balcony in our room could use a table and some chairs, etc., instead of leaving it threadbare and filled with dust and bird poop.
Our booking came with breakfast at Casa Unisan where there was delicious pan de sal and other kakanin (Filipino sweets made from sticky rice), coffee, and surprisingly, some fake juice and canned fruits… really? How hard is it to get some fresh fruits in the province?! I was a bit disappointed by this, but everything else was delicious!
Aside from the buffet, we were also offered a choice of rice meal with Daing na Bangus (dried milk fish) and a choice of Adobo or some meat dish whose name I forgot. On our first morning there, we enjoyed having breakfast al fresco behind the restaurant so we could enjoy the lovely weather and the view of the river. On our last day, though, they only had buffet inside the dark, cold second level of the restaurant. But they had Tinapa (smoked fish) and a lot more kakanin that morning. I was wondering if they hadn’t set up the tables outside the restaurant and on the ground floor because it was too early when we got there.
We actually tried all the restaurants and cafés in the resort. We even tried the Street Food stalls for Bibingka and Puto Bumbong with Salabat which were all very good, and the bar to have some drinks before dinner on our first night, which was average but had good service, maybe because we were the only ones there at the time. I do not think there is anything else around the area anyway, so we didn’t really have a choice. I would say that the breakfast at Casa Unisan was better than average. Lunch there on our first day was also good. We also tried Café Marivent for lunch, and Café del Rio, which was the most expensive of them all, for dinner on our last day. Café Marivent got overcrowded on a Saturday and it was definitely understaffed. We had to wait for so long for everything. When my Halu-Halo arrived, the ice was almost completely melted. Hubby complained about it for me (how sweet!) and they had it replaced… hopefully with no additional impromptu ingredients that would not usually belong in a Halu-Halo.
One of the things I loved about the resort is that they have their own private beach area — a long stretch of volcanic black sand I was accustomed to when I was a kid. I thought I could never again appreciate black sand after seeing Boracay and Camiguin’s beautiful white sand for the first time. But I thought wrong. Black sand will always be a reminder of the happy summer days of my childhood.
They had some special activities lined up at the beach on the Saturday we were there. There was Palosebo, which hubby gamely tried, and the Carabao Race, which I didn’t really enjoy very much because I do not like seeing animals harmed or bothered for any reason for human entertainment.
I also liked the batis-like swimming pool, which showcases the beautiful sunset. But they have got to level up the services provided to guests. They keep running out of towels. And for some bizarre reason, you’re not allowed to take a towel from the beach area to the pool area, etc.
They offer a free guided tour of the houses. I did this tour when I went there in 2011 with my hubby. They have more houses now, and they’ve also added an amateurish play from university students, I think. The tour guide was really engaging, and tries to be funny with a few hits and misses. The violent and scary history of some of the houses gave me the spooks. And I was so glad he didn’t say anything about the house we were staying in. Phew!
And now for the things that could really use some improvement…
I could not emphasize this hard enough: For the money that we paid, I would have expected more from the service. It was definitely lacking, especially in the restaurants… or it could also be that they are overworked, understaffed and underpaid? And I don’t know if those people who man the souvenir shops are employees of the resort but their butts seemed to be glued on their seats. They can’t even open the door for customers trying to figure out how to open a weird shop door. No smile, no thank you, no welcome greeting, no nothing… I was starting to feel like I was in France, if not for the tell-tale heat and humidity. 😀
It’s not that the people are rude or impolite. It’s just lacking in cheerfulness and warmth and hospitality and a willingness to be of service and to go the extra mile, like the ones you see in other parts of the Philippines like in the good resorts in Boracay or in Cebu, or in other Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia and even Japan. They cannot claim to be a member of a famous group of hotels, and get so much money from the customers without levelling up the quality of the service.
They could also use more play areas for kids. At the moment, they only have the playground by the entrance. On the other side of the resort, where our house is located, there is none. There is a Game Center close to our place, but this is mostly for older kids.
The prices of the food in the restaurants, especially in Café del Rio is a bit of an overkill. There aren’t really any other restaurants outside the resort, so I guess they can charge as much as they want however unreasonable and unjustifiable it is.
Lastly, they could use more plants and trees. The place, though surrounded by so much greenery — the rice fields, the mountains, and the blue of the sea — looks barren and is definitely lacking a few points on aesthetics when it comes to landscaping. But I can see that they are still building a lot of new houses and sites, so this is quite forgivable.
All in all, it was still a very good experience. I really loved the surroundings! It was so beautiful, clean and calm. It made me feel like I was not in the Philippines. And made me proud to be a Bataaeño. Hubby and I wish the whole Philippines would look beautiful like this someday. I would definitely love to go back a third time and see how much the place improves.
Thanks for reading and have a great week ahead! 🙂