Enjoying Davao on a budget

Enjoying Davao on a budget
(published in November issue of Cebu Pacific’s SMILE Magazine, Shoestring Diaries)

Discover all that Davao has to offer without breaking the bank.  Jojie Alcantara gives us a guide to time-crunching and penny-pinching in the southern city.

Smile Inflight Magazine, Nov. 2011
Smile Inflight Magazine, Nov. 2011

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ACCORDING TO statistics, Davao City — at 2,443km² or 244,300 hectares — is the largest city in the country and the rest of the world in terms of land area.

So how do you cover such a large sprawl with limited time and without emptying your pockets? Tagged by local tourism authorities as the “Island to Highland Destination,” Davao has a variety of things to offer — and the best way to get the most for less is to spend the day as I did: with a plan, and a mind open to welcome detours.

Day 1

Be a culture vulture
First rule of touring Davao: keep your itinerary flexible, and be prepared for a change of plans at any time. But when the day is bright and the weather is mild, grab the chance to walk the city and see what it has to offer.

I recommend getting a better understanding of the people and the local heritage for a start. Davao is an interesting melting pot of indigenous cultures (it has 11 recognized colorful tribes), so Museo Dabawenyo, which showcases the city’s history and artistic life, is top on my list (open 1pm–6pm daily except Mondays and special holidays; admission is free).

San Pedro Cathedral by Rhonson Ng
San Pedro Cathedral by Rhonson Ng

Just a short walking distance away is Osmeña Park, where people hang around to play chess, discuss religion, and have an al fresco back massage (PHP75). A two-minute walk further is the imposing San Pedro Cathedral. Built in 1847 by the Spanish conquistador Don Jose Oyanguren, who later became the first governor of Davao region, it is the oldest church in the city.

Across the cathedral is the Sangguniang Panglungsod Building with the Monument of Peace and Unity right between them. I passed by the City Hall building on my way to Jaltan Restaurant for a lovely meal of dinuguan with puto, sapin-sapin and fresh lumpia (PHP150).

A jeepney ride (PHP8) took me to People’s Park, which features a mini- forest, an interactive fountain, waterfalls and ponds, a children’s fantasy park, a sunken garden, and large sculptures of local kids as well as the Philippine eagle. A prominent attraction is the durian- shaped dome where people love to hang out until the evening.

A short distance from the park is the Sampaguita Tourist Inn, where I booked a two-night stay (PHP600). Dinner was also just a walking distance away at Dimsum Diner along Ilustre Street (toppings, siomai and tea, PHP150).

Shoestring budget for Day 1: PHP983

Smile Inflight Mag Nov Issue
Smile Inflight Mag Nov Issue

Day 2

Art and animals
I took a late breakfast at the hotel, then a taxi (PHP55) to Ponce Suites Gallery Hotel to check out the works of Davao’s pride, artist Kublai Milan, a prolific sculptor, painter and photographer (and my first mentor!). The hotel displays a number of Milan’s early and recent paintings on every wall of every floor, as well as art installations of found objects.

Smile Inflight Mag Nov Issue

After the hotel tour, I grabbed a strawberry shake (PHP90) at Kublai’s Café, and rushed off for a quick photo op with a huge sculpture for which I had modeled for him years ago — a woman entwined in the arms of a naked tree man with branches as arms and kids hanging all over.

My face on the sculpture created by Kublai Millan
My face on the sculpture created by Kublai Millan

A tricycle (PHP5) took me to nearby Victoria Plaza where I ordered my favorite grilled pork chop with rice (PHP200) at Basti’s Brew, another homegrown coffee bar with free Wi-Fi.

I took another cab ride (PHP120), this time to Crocodile Park (www.psdgroupph.com ), to snap photos of exotic animals, two full-grown tigers, and a chimpanzee. No trip to the park is complete without a snapshot of the 18ft Pangil, the country’s largest croc in captivity before Lolong, the 21-footer from Agusan, came along.

After taking more photos of the park’s Butterfly Sanctuary, I headed back downtown in a cab for dinner at Majid’s Kebab, owned by my good friend Majid. Majid is Iranian but has lived in Davao for several years now, right after his Hollywood fighting stint with Chuck Norris, and after a spell acting as the bad guy opposite FPJ in Philippine movies. Eating a full dinner of beef kebab and chicken biryani (PHP113) made me feel sleepy and content. After taking a peek at Promenade, the party place right across Majid’s, I took a short walk back to the inn for an early trip to dreamland.

Shoestring budget for day2: PHP583

Smile Inflight Magazine Nov issue
Smile Inflight Magazine Nov issue

Day 3

Shop non-stop!
As it was the last day of my budget tour, I took the jeep (PHP8) to Aldevinco, the first shopping center in Davao (inaugurated in 1965). Located along C.M. Recto Street, it is right in front of Marco Polo Hotel downtown.

Aldevinco is more popularly known as a rich one-stop shop of Mindanaoan heritage and cultural diversity. Tourists are regularly brought to this treasure trove where pasalubongs abound, from native products, ethnic woven batiks, tinalak, bags, malongs, elegant antiques, brassware, household décor, jewelry and South Sea pearls of different colors. All this on top of imported textiles from Asia. Moneychangers are everywhere too. (My go-to place is called Al Shizamin Store.) At Aldevinco, there are over 100 shops to choose from and to happily haggle (“tawad”) with.

Here I indulged in a trinket (PHP30), a souvenir Davao shirt (PHP120), an ethnic colored veil (PHP75), and a silky blouse made in Pakistan (PHP230).

Smile Inflight Mag Nov Issue
Smile Inflight Mag Nov Issue

Across nearby Marco Polo Hotel, I ducked into the spacious City Triangle with its large selection of food outlets for a quick meal. The food mall is filled with students from nearby Ateneo de Davao enjoying the cheap eats from various stalls. Mine totaled PHP60.

For dessert, I strolled over to Madrazo Fruit Stand, where I bought durian in season (PHP60) and durian candy bars (PHP45). Other fruits on display were the sweet pomelo, marang, green and yellow mango, and the elusive mangosteen. Suitably satisfied, I went back to my home in Matina (PHP55), and continued living the good and cheap life in Davao. Some people like to call it one of the most livable cities in the country, and it only takes three days to know why.

Shoestring budget for day 3: PHP675


Smile Inflight Mag Nov Issue
Smile Inflight Mag Nov Issue

The Shoestring Traveler: Jojie Alcantara

Her motto
“It’s great to have a plan of action, but make room for more possibilities. The best memories often come from the unexpected.”

Her mission
To explore Davao City’s wide-ranging and varied attractions in 72 hours with less than PHP3,000.


You’ll be glad to know that…
1. On a lazy day, you can lounge at Davao’s Wi-Fi-ready coffee shops such as Bo’s Coffee, Basti’s Brew, Coffee Dream, BluGre Café, Fagioli, Firenzo, SouthBrew Express, Kangaroo Coffee, Yellow Haus and many more.

2. You can try durian in ice cream, cake or coffee form in various restaurants and coffee shops. Or have the fruit itself in one of the stalls on Magsaysay Road. You can’t take it into the hotel or on the plane, unless it’s in a tightly sealed box.

3. Davao City is typhoon-free. But it does rain cats and dogs during wet season, so bring the necessary gear.

4. Frozen tuna is available to take back home to family and friends. Get frozen seafood delicacies from Marina Tuna, Sarangani Bay Prime Bangus, and Palaisdaan at Iba Pa.

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