Note: I originally wrote this travel story for the Pacific Daily News. (part 2 of 3)
But with all the city has to offer, the Philippines is much more than Metro Manila, and many domestic destinations are only an hour or two away by plane. Cheap airfare is also available through airlines such as Cebu Pacific. The next time you’re in the Philippines, consider adding these places to your trip itinerary and decide for yourself if it really is “more fun in the Philippines.”
Puning Hot Springs, Pampanga
In Manila there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of places to go for spa treatments, but you won’t find one where you can sweat it out under the weight of hot sand, or soak in mineral pools warmed by the volcano that caused the second-largest cataclysmic eruption in the 20th century.
For that kind of adventure, head north to Angeles, Pampanga, about two-and-a-half hours from Manila by car.
Carved into the foothills of Mount Pinatubo, Puning Hot Springs is a hot bed of health and wellness therapy. After the destructive eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 199, Puning Hot Springs was developed in an effort to rebuild tourism and create jobs for the local population, including the Aeta, the indigenous people of Luzon.
The actual hot springs comprises 11 pools of ranging temperatures between 104 and 158 degrees Fahrenheit, cascading down a fortresslike resort built around warm waterfalls. Here you are free to wander and hop from pool to pool until you find the one that’s just right.
The sand bath is Puning’s unique sand spa treatment. Guests lay in a bed of heated sand and ash and attendants bury you with the mixture until only your head is exposed. The sand bath is said to improve circulation, and after a while you can feel the beat of your heart through the sand. Just when you think you can’t stand the heat any longer, an attendant is there to fan and dab your perspiring face with a towel.
The sand bath is followed by a mudpack treatment, which is followed by a much-needed shower and buffet lunch.
An exhilarating 4×4 off-road ride across rivers and volcanic ash takes you between all of the stations at Puning Hot Springs. Tip: It’s not the safest, but standing up during the ride amplifies the experience — just remember to hang on.
The facility also provides a change of clothes, towels, and the services of a local guide.