GenSan: A Story Beyond “PacMan” and Tuna

If you love eating tuna or have watched a boxing match of one of the greatest boxers of all time, Manny “PacMan” Pacquiao, then let me take you to this destination city.

General Santos or “GenSan,” in short, is the Tuna Capital of the Philippines.  We export tuna to Japan’s fish markets and delis in the U.S.  Likewise, it is the gateway to Saranggani Province, the hometown of Filipino pound-for-pound boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, who is now an elected senator serving his 6-year term representing his province.

Two days before my friend’s flight to General Santos City to visit her long-lost buddies (and now found), I personally delivered her flight itinerary and plane e-ticket.  Over a cup of coffee, Winnie asked if I could come along with her. Since she is traveling alone and will also be celebrating her birthday during that following week, she has been deliberating on who she could ask to come with her.

At first, I was a bit hesitant for several reasons: (1) with a 1-1/2 day last-minute invitation, I have a series to to-do lists to finish up; (2) I also have a Sunday commitment that I do not want to miss; and (3) I am a “tag-along” and I do not know if I will be welcomed too.

Then she said that it is the hometown of our boxing champ “PacMan” and we are going to be accommodated by her friend who owns Phil Florencia Seaside ResortDing!!! Then I thought, those reasons by itself would be a very good story to tell everyone being in the tourism business.

Getting past the reluctant stage, I agreed to come along. It was a spontaneous 7-day vacation filled with great adventures for a first-timer to the southernmost city in the Philippines in the island of Mindanao.

Day 1:     Manila / General Santos / Saranggani

The flight was very early at 6:55 am and we arrived in GenSan after almost 2 hours via Philippine Airlines.  At the airport, we were welcomed by Ate Marci, the owner of the resort.  After pleasantries and introductions, we headed to Phil Florencia where we will be spending our several nights while we’re there.

Phil Florencia Seaside Resort is a picnic/swimming destination resort.  You can reserve a cottage during the day or evening for 8 hours.  No strict check-in time – the time of arrival is the start of the guests’ 8-hour clock.  They have small and big picnic cottages, together with fan room accommodations.

Low tide at the beach looking at the cottages and the mangroves.

While this resort is still on its development stage being in operation for only 2 years, it has been gaining popularity with the nearby towns and cities because of its very close proximity from the airport (20 minutes driving distance), friendly atmosphere and beautiful mangrove trees by the shore. Most of the day was spent catching up with the days gone by.

Day 2:     Saranggani / South Cotabato / Sultan Kudarat

This day was Winnie’s grand birthday celebration.  I considered this as the most compressed day touring several attractions.

Winnie and I do not have the slightest idea of what the itinerary looks like.  Although we were told that we are going to Banga and Lake Sebu, we were really clueless as to where that exactly in reference to the geography of the island.

I was in on the surprise myself! Being a travel consultant and always been the designated planner on any trip itinerary whether, for family or clients, this was something new for me.  We totally handed over the travel arrangement to our hosts.  After all, they know well of the area and the local people to contact way much more than we do.

From barangay Maasim in Saranggani, we drove about 2 hours to Koronadal, South Cotabato; stopped by at Mang Gorio Restaurant for a quick lunch, where Winnie had her first bunch of waiters singing a special happy birthday song to her.  Afterward, we met another family and chatted for a while until we are ready for our next trek.

Back on the road, another hour drive and we were in Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat to visit Baras Bird Sanctuary.  We were told that the best time to drop in is around 2 hours before sunset in order for us to witness the “day birds” come home and the “night birds” fly out for food (now that makes sense!)

Baras Birds Sanctuary wearing “KUDONG” hats for safety against the birds’ droppings.
Egrets and Herons dominate the sanctuary.

A short history of this place: Back in 1996 when it was a 1.3-hectare peppercorn farm, the owner, Rey Malana, spotted 4 birds resting on the tree but later flew away. What makes this place very special was…every morning since more and more birds started coming in upon the discovers’ invitation until they became a home to more than 20,000 of their flocks today.  The peppercorn farm no longer exists as the birds had taken over to make this place their sanctuary. (Note: This destination deserves an entire article dedicated to it.)

The culmination of the day was a joint birthday dinner at The Farm @ Carpenter Hill in Koronadal City for Winnie and another friend.  Great food!  And because this region is the Tuna Capital of the Philippines, tuna never goes out of style in every meal.

The Farm
The Farm at Carpenter Hill for our dinner-birthday celebration.
Day 3:     South Cotabato / Saranggani

Phil Florencia also has a pool resort in Banga, San Jose.  After our morning swim, we checked out and headed to Lake Sebu (where again…? we thought). Lake Sebu is a first class municipality in South Cotabato. 

#1 waterfall, the highest and walking distance from the entrance. Locals collecting shellfishes for sale.

We proceeded to the 7 Waterfalls. As the name suggests, there are 7 majestic waterfalls coming from Lake Sebu and Lake Siloton.  The best way to see all 7 in such a short time without the hike is through the 2-stage ziplines – a 740 and 400-meter separate rides in a Superman-style, 600 meters above the ground!  It was so scenic and exhilarating that I assure you will get rid of your fear of heights and flying with the experience!

If there is only 1 zipline you plan to take in your lifetime…THIS IS IT!

7 Waterfalls Zipline – 740 meters from Rigging Station 1 to 2.
7 Waterfalls Zipline – 400 meters from Rigging Station 2 to parking lot.
Waterfall #2 by the parking lot. For those who did not join us on the zip line, this is the only waterfall they got to see.

After our descent and meeting the rest of the group, we headed to Punta Isla Lakeside Resort for lunch and had the freshest grilled “tilapias” straight from the lake to the kitchen and to our table.

A view of Punta Isla Lake Resort from Lake Sebu.
A view of Punta Isla Lake Resort from Lake Sebu.

Tagging along with our Department of Tourism guide on his regular inspections, we went boating on Lake Sebu.  We were told that this lake is miraculous in a sense that even during the hottest and driest months, the lake never goes dry.

The miraculous Lake Sebu surrounded by vegetation and mountains.
The simple lifestyle of a fisherman.
Day 4:    Saranggani / South Cotabato

Next day, we headed to Kalsangi to check out the Dole Plantation and Restaurant for lunch.  On our way, we were met with hectares upon hectares of pineapple plantations as far as our eyes can see. This is where the pineapples get picked for canning and distribution around the world; its counterpart is in Hawaii.

Acres and acres of pineapple plantations as far as your eyes can see in
The pineapple plantations in Polomolok.
Entrance to the Dole Philippines factory and warehouse.

Arriving in a town called Polomolok, Kalsangi Clubhouse and Restaurant is an exclusive community where expatriates and top management of Dole Philippines reside. It has a 9-hole golf course surrounded by pine trees and crisp cool temperature.  Entrance is upon invitation only.

The 9-hole golf course on the background surrounded by pine trees at the exclusive Kalsangi Clubhouse.

As a heads-up for future visitors, I have a very important tip! They have a dress code! No slippers, no short-shorts, and no plunging tank tops; otherwise no entrance! So make sure you have something to cover yourself up with like a scarf.

Day 5:     Saranggani

On the remaining days of our vacation, we went to several other resorts for ocular visits in the towns of Glan and nearby Maasim. We were even able to visit PacMan Resort which is undergoing development with a new management.

Isla Jardin del Mar Resort in Gumasa, Glan, Saranggani is one of the newest resorts offering air-conditioned bamboo cottages by the white sand beach.
PacMan Beach Resort is in the process of development and construction during our visit.
PacMan Beach Resort.
Lemlunay (means “paradise”) Resort in Maasim, Saranggani is a haven for divers.
 Day 6:     Saranggani

During our last day, we explored the seaside and mountainside of Phil Florencia.  We have been so busy exploring elsewhere that we didn’t have a chance to enjoy the beach until now. I have been hoping that I will be able to catch the sunrise for the last time; however, it has remained elusive.

The mangroves by the beach have been a sanctuary for the breeding of small fishes.
During low tide at 1pm, these is how the beach looks like with the mangroves roots exposed. The water came back again after 3 hours.
During low tide at 1 pm, this is how the beach looks like with the mangrove roots exposed. The water came back again after 3 hours.

We were the only guests at daytime and felt the exclusivity and the privacy of our stay until towards late afternoon.

Taken from the mountainside – looking at the rows of cottages.
A photo of the lifeguard tower taken during my early morning walk hoping to catch a snapshot of the elusive sunrise.

Indeed, it was such a fun-filled and a memorable week and we are ready to head back home to the face reality of Manila once again.

Day 7:     GenSan / Manila

Our ultimate last day!

Although I had so much fresh tuna and seafood during the last week, there is still one more thing to do…

On our way to the airport, we stopped by the nearby store to buy frozen packaged tuna to bring home to share – 7 kilos total!  The store did a good job packing it up for us to check it in. It was a breeze!

Prologue: Some Misconceptions

It is worth mentioning that there are a lot of misconceptions about the island of Mindanao.  Just by merely mentioning the word, people usually ask, “…Is it safe there?” Some offer you counsel and prayers for protection and be kept out of harm’s way. Some of my friends were even wondering what was I doing there.

My response was “we never felt unsafe when we were there.”  My new-found friends were the kindest and one of the most hospitable people I have ever met.

Due to the political headlines of terrorist activities we hear and see in the news, Mindanao is not JUST Maguindanao or Jolo or Sulu or the Abu Sayaff Group.

The hospitality and warmth of the young locals. We were greeted by a smile, a wave and a wondering look.
The hospitality and warmth of the young locals. We were greeted by a smile, a wave, and a wondering look.

Mindanao is the Philippines’ 3rd biggest island, a place of beautiful, friendly and warm people with scenic and white sand beach resorts.  The diversity of ethnicity ranged from Ilocano, Ilonggo, Waray to Cebuano, Tagalog, and Bisaya. By this, I can surmise that people get along pretty well, setting aside their differences of whether being Christian or Muslim. Most residents speak Tagalog and English so we go around real easy.

As reluctant t as I was initially of going on this trip, I now hold so many memorable stories and felt grateful for being convinced to come along to enjoy this spontaneous yet once-in-a-lifetime ultimate vacation.

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How about you? Do you have a particular impulsive and unplanned trip that you eventually ended up having the best time of your life in spite of an impossible schedule? Let’s reminisce and please share with your comments below.

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24 thoughts on “GenSan: A Story Beyond “PacMan” and Tuna”

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed yourself! Most of the trips I take are spur-of-the-moment. I never know where I’m going until a flight deal flashes across my screen and I decide to book it. I’ll be visiting Brussels and Paris next month and I’ve been receiving the same remarks from my family and friends about safety. I just make sure I take those extra precautions to ensure my safety.

    1. I would love to show all the 7 Waterfalls but I guess that deserves more than a post by itself. The trip was so awesome!

  2. I love this blog post and it sounds like you had quite an adventure. I love waterfalls too! Would love to visit that pineapple plantation. Looks like there so much to explore there you could spend a month. Thanks for sharing.

    1. The Dole Plantation site here is the counterpart of the one in Hawaii. There are more places I want to see but at least I have a reason to come back for the continuation of my exploration…

  3. What a way to kick off a birthday celebration! Everything sounds wonderful from the hotel, to the food, to the itinerary. The zipline and falls look and sound like a great experience!

  4. The narration of your story made me feel as if I have already gone to Mindanao. It’s so detailed that it gave some relief to know that Mindanao is a safe place to go to after all…. It would be nice if attention should be given to this part of the Country to promote tourism and put our beloved Philippines as the most sought after place to enjoy… Kudos!!!!

  5. Thanks for this detailed look into GenSan. I was in the Dole Plantation years ago. I didn’t realize all these other things like Lake Sebu and the 7 Waterfalls were close by!

    1. A lot of places to see now Carol. They also have the para-gliding over Saranggani Bay which we missed going because of the other land itinerary we had!

  6. Never knew GenSan is this beautiful! We will consider this on our travel list next time, and I may say, some certain places will never fail to surprise you.

  7. your story brought me to the place I feared most before. I’d love to go, see and experience the beautiful Mindanao.

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