Tagaytay – Cooling down the Manila heat

The road…to cool weather.

It’s the middle of summer here in Manila, and I already terribly miss the cool winds that we had in Taiwan just weeks ago. It was just around an hour and a half away by plane – less than the time it takes to fly from the northern to southern ends of the Philippines – but it felt like a world away from the oven-like 36 degree (celsius) heat here in Manila. Its amazing to think that the climate on either end of the Philippines is practically similar most of the time, but just push a little bit more from the northern end, and you already get something different.

Flying a few degrees of latitude up though is a pretty expensive way of running away from the heat, and so in the absence of that option, the next best thing is to gain a few hundred meters of altitude – and fortunately, that is much easier to do from where I am.

Just an hour or less away from the city, and a few thousand feet above see level, Tagaytay has long been the “ventilation system” of Manila-folk. Though it was only after I finished college that I relocated to Manila, I did have a few childhood memories of Tagaytay. We travelled there when I was still 5 (or was it 6), and I still vividly remember this thick fog closing in and eventually covering us, as we were looking down at the scenic Lake Taal from a restaurant balcony. It was my first experience with fog, and it was so thick that I couldn’t see other people a few feet away – I thought it was amazing. I also vaguely remember it being a small quiet town back then…that was the mid-80’s.

Fast forward 25 years (I can’t believe it has been a quarter of a century since then) , and Tagaytay is now a bustling place.

Sunset over Tagaytay
Twilight falls over Lake Taal

Tagaytay has trully become the Manileno’s cool backyard – It’s even got a mall now. Hotels and bed & breakfasts have sprung left and right, all catering to the flock of city-dwellers who come to the place with increasing frequency, looking for cool evenings, especially on weekends. Restaurants have also multiplied. When I was there again a little over 10 years ago, there was only the venerable Mushroom Burger and Leslie’s for the average visitor to choose from, but now I have already lost track of the options.

Tagaytay is famous for three things – cool weather, good views and a delicious hot bowl of Bulalo, a light stew made of chunky beef, vegetables, and a generous amount of beef stock.
Leslie’s – it’s been around for quite a while, and it’s usually one of the first things that come into mind when someone says “Tagaytay” and “Bulalo”.
Coming from Manila, Tagaytay is a great place for a relaxing weekend meal. It’s far enough from Manila to be free from the big city hustle and bustle, yet near enough to not cost too much time on the road. This is crispy kangkong and lechon kawali at Leslie’s, perfect pulutan for a cool evening.
Kinilaw (or Kilawin, depending on which part of the country you come from). One would not expect to find this in an inland mountain town, but it it a cool summer dish. This one was also from Leslie’s.
The place was not spared from the country’s cafe-lifestyle boom, and cafes of various shapes and sizes have sprung up as well, serving beans and blends ranging from imported ones (like Starbucks), to locally grown “barako” coffee.
Tagaytay is also known for fruits, though not all are local produce. Some of what they sell are imported from other parts of the country too.
The prices at these fruit stands still do not compare with the cheap price of produce in cities in the south of the country, but for Manila dwellers, it’s good enough.

As I write this article, I’m sitting close to our airconditioner here at home. It is doing it’s heroic best to lower the temperature, as much as its single horsepower engine could, but I can definitely feel that it’s struggling. It’s one of those days when I wish I had enough to have a summer home up there.

* All photos taken May 2012. Photos 2, 3, 5 and 8 taken with Panasonic Lumix LX5. Photos 1, 4, 6, 7, 9 and 10 taken with Olympus E420 and Zuiko 50mm f2.


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