Bataan is synonymous with the Second World War, as it witnessed the fiercest and bloodiest battles between the Japanese Imperial Army and the combined Filipino and American forces. This province takes center stage every April 9
as the country commemorates Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor) which immortalizes the uncommon valor of those defending the archipelago.
But beyond this annual red-letter day, this peninsula is an exciting destination for culture, adventure, and nature, particularly for motorcycle riders who feel the sensation of the gushing wind as they zoom across the highways and by-ways.
With the four-lane roller-coaster like Roman Superhighway, Bataan is an ideal getaway because of its isolation from Luzon’s main arteries, which means having less competing for precious road.
Surrounded by mountains and seas for most parts, and punctuated by touristic spots, riding around the province is a visual treat.
One landmark you won’t miss is the First Line of Defense Monument, a larger-than-life tableau of the 38th Infantry Division which bore the brunt of the initial wave of Japanese attacks in 1941 and liberated the same area in 1945. Sculpted by renowned artist Nemi Miranda, it is situated at the Layac Junction in Dinalupihan, which leads to the Subic Freeport and Zambales province.
For an insightful drive, swing by the Bataan Tourism Center in Balanga City, a one-stop information center which, a diorama mini-museum, audio-visual room for war documentaries and tourism videos, a pasalubong store, and a public park with promenade gardens, lagoons and ampitheater.
Within the city proper is the Balanga Elementary School where Fil-American troops surrendered to the Japanese in 1942, and is depicted through life-size bronze tableau beside the World War II Museum. A few minutes away is The Bunker, the provincial capitol building which was renovated to bear war motifs.
Also around the neighborhood is the European-inspired Plaza Mayor and the Spanish-era Cathedral of St. Joseph across the street.
At sunset, the best place to be is at the City of Balanga Wetlands and Nature Park, a 34-hectare mangrove forest where you will be amazed by some 9,500 endemic and migratory birds winging their way across Manila Bay and the swamps.
An iconic must-see is the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor) on top of Mt. Samat in Pilar, a memorial complex whose centerpiece is a 92-meter tall cross punctuated by relief sculptures of the late National Artist Napoleon Abueva and a museum of war memorabilia. The Shrine’s colonnade a breathtaking view of Corregidor Island just across the bay, which continued the fight even after Bataan fell.
The mountain war memorial is also as an adventure tourism and enterprise zone with the recreational facilities, forest trails, waterfall and natural pool, which riders will surely enjoy after a heady history overload.
Perhaps the most exciting adventure is Mariveles, situated at the province’s southern tip, which can be reached through the scenic zigzag which will give riders, drivers and bikers a heart-pounding cruise.
At the foothills of Mt. Mariveles is The Oriental Hotel Bataan, a chic lodging for business travelers, families, and staycationers tucked in a lush tropical forest. An architectural masterpiece of the late National Artist Leandro Locsin, the two-level circular brutalist design hotel combines Old World charm, Asian touch, contemporary vibe and lots of greeneries, open spaces and a locally-grown vegetable garden where you can try out your green thumb.
To lure riders into the province, it recently launched the Explore Bataan for motorcyclists with a tempting room rate promo of P3,888 for deluxe cellar and P4,888 for deluxe executive, and comes along with breakfast for two and 10 percent discount at the Cocoon Restaurant and Forest Grill.
It also has a circular pool and an Asian-themed spa where you can pamper yourself after a long ride.
For a consummate exploration, the hotel’s partner tour operator, Aura Mosca has ready-made itineraries which you can check out. They can also customize tours which combine a little bit of everything based on your personal preferences.
Just about a mile away Death March Km 0, a memorial plaza where some 70,000 Filipino and US soldier prisoners of war were gathered by the Japanese for a grueling 100-km walk to their prison camp.
A brief ride away is the Five Fingers Cove, an Instagrammable configuration of beaches which can be accessed at a local station of outrigger boats. Meanwhile, the adjacent Panoypoy village affords riders a soothing top view of the coves and the bay’s vast expanse.
And if there seems to be a magnetic pull for beaches, the neighboring town of Morong has an infinity of powdery coastline dotted with resorts, beachfront facilities, and the sought-after sanctuary for sea turtles.
Indeed, Bataan beckons two wheelers to ride into culture, adventure, nature and everything in between.
Image credits: Bernard L. Supetran