This was stuff I only read on textbooks when I was still studying. I remember reading about Sohoton Coves and Natural Bridge Park before and has always been fascinated by this place in Basey, Samar. But it was only in our last day of #SailEast tour that I had the chance to visit this nature wonder of a lush jungle, dramatic limestone formations and a meandering river snaking through the vast 840-hectare park. It is only an hour away from Tacloban city proper, a worthy day tour when in Eastern Visayas.
Basey Weaving Side trip
Before heading to the natural park, we stopped by the town proper to see first hand one of Basey’s pride – Tikog Handwoven mats. Basey is known for these colorful banigs (mat weaving) made from native tikog reed plants. We visited Delza’s Native Product workshop and witnessed the meticulous work done on their products. From the simple banigs to designer bags, purses and even the new mandala banigs.
Basey was one of the hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) back in 2013. A large portion of tikog plants were also affected that it took time for the weaving industry to recover. But with resilient efforts from organizations and groups. Tikog handwoven mats are thriving again.
Along Kadak-an River
The starting point on exploring the Sohoton Caves and Natural Bridge Park is at Brgy Wespal. The Sohoton Visitor’s Center and Eco-lodge is where all the registration fees and activities are taken care of. From here, we rode a motorized boat along Kadak-an river also known as the Golden River. It was an interesting half an hour cruise along the deep verdant part of the river where riverine life of the locals can be observed. From children playfully paddling along a raft or a boat with canine friends riding along.
A sharp turn by the river and we reached the central area of the park known as the Panhulugan Cliffs. A high limestone wall where Filipino guerrillas would drop (hulog) boulders to unsuspecting and unwelcome visitors passing along the river. From here our group split. Others went straight for the cave, our group went straight to the natural bridge on a kayak. If I had my way (and time) I would have held the paddle and kayaked along this serene river. At the shallower part of the river, the color turns ochre and gold due to the clay deposits in the area.
Sohoton Caves and Natural Bridge
I was marveling at the foliages and watching out for some birds in the area. I was so excited spotting an adult White Throated Kingfisher by a nearby tree when I suddenly realized we’re about to enter the parabolic passage under the natural bridge of Sohoton Cove. There may be a multitude of bridges in Eastern Visayas like the iconic San Juanico bridge but this mother-nature crafted bridge is a long time wonder. It connects two mountain ridges over the river. The park was established back on July 19, 1935 by virtue of Proclamation no 831 to preserve the unique geological features of the park.
The Sohoton river passes through the cathedral-like chamber of Sohoton Cave. Suddenly I felt like a small being encapsulated by these karst formations. We docked our kayaks and took time to take pictures and swim at the river. It was cool and refreshing. Shortly we made our way back as another group came in.
We returned to the Panhulugan Cliff area climbed a short flight of stairs were a couple of musician serenaded us with local songs with their guitars. Soon, our guide came to give us a quick briefing. Helmets were mandatory in exploring the caves. Panhulugan Cave is just one of the many caves in the area. There is even a Panhulugan Cave II. Most of the caves here are pristine thanks to the locals belief that spirits inhabit the area so not everyone dared to go in until recently.
Panhulugan Cave looks so unspoiled. The walls are still mostly crystal white clean. The formations play with your senses but the locals already named a few from an elephant, rice terraces, statue of liberty, great wall China, rice terraces or a large phallic formation. The cave is very much alive. We were able to see some cave inhabitants as well like a spider crab and a small cave frog (Platymantis bayani?)
Sohoton Caves and Natural Bridge was an enjoyable exploration of Western Samar’s nature gem. I still can’t believe that I had seen this place with my own eyes and it is every bit as I imagined. A place adventurers and nature lovers would definitely enjoy. It’s also a plus that the place is well organized.
Going to Sohoton Caves and Natural Bridge
From Tacloban New Transport Terminal, ride a van or a bus to Basey Samar. Travel time is one hour. Longer for bus.
Coordinate with Municipal Tourism Operations Office (Tel. 0918.643.4987 or 0977.772.3990) or Sohoton Visitor’s Center. The following fee applies:
- Entrance fee – Php 50 (locals) / PHP 200 (foreigners)
- Community Fee – Php 150
- Kadak-an River Environmental Fee – Php 50
- Motor boat return transfer (Visitor Center – Panhulugan Area) for 1-5 persons – Php 500
- River Cruise Boat – Php 2,500
- Guitarist fee – Php 200
- Cave Guide – Php 300
- Lighting Fee for Cave – Php 300
- Kayak rental – Php 50
- Kayak guide – Php 150
SSA Operational Expense – 15% surcharge
Tikog Handwoven Craft
Delza’s Native Product
San Fernando Street
Brgy PalayPay, Basey Samar
Contact: 0908.481.1586, 0936.445.5076
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.