This museum lets you explore the ends of the Philippines with the help of food and festivities

July 09, 2019 – Ally Soriano

If you’re a city native without a province to go to, you’ll know the feeling of envy whenever vacation comes and all your friends run off to their hometowns with their families. For days they enjoy life outside of the busy hustle and bustle of urban living. If you’re especially unlucky, even all the plans you’ve made with your barkada to travel out of town have all remained drawings that never really came to fruition.

If traditional museums aren’t enough to satiate your longing of seeing around the country, S Maison Mall might just have what you need. From the people that brought you The Dessert Museum and The Inflatable Island, comes Lakbay Museo. It’s the first interactive Philippine museum that’s set to open on July 12. And just like The Dessert Museum which is only a few doors down, Lakbay Museo is a feast for all the senses.

Their bright and flashy entrance is made to look like a large parol that beckons you to come closer the moment you see it. After entering and paying the P799 entrance fee, they give you 12 tokens which you can use to buy food and refreshments. They bestow a malong or woven vest on you to really help you get into a nationalistic mood. How you “start your journey” is either crouching along through a jeepney, sliding down through an airplane, or sauntering through a balangay which leads into the museum proper.

Upon doing so, you’ll find yourself in a facsimile of the National Capital Region. Here you are greeted by the colorful and familiar sight of a palengke; complete with fish stalls that carry a collection of dried fish, bagoong, and vinegar which you can sample with some fish chips. Other collections that are on display include a large variety of coffee, rice, woven fabrics, cloth, pancit, and kakanin. There are also sari-sari stores that sell your favorite Rebisco products and other candies from your childhood. You’ll also find a carinderia that sells merienda like ginataang mais, ginataang halo-halo, ginataang munggo, arroz caldo, lumpiang gulay, palabok, pansit lucban, and turon in the museum.

Everywhere you look is a treat. It’s like entering into another dimension that lets you see, taste, and hear across the country. As you stroll past the palengke to the tune of Philippine folk songs, you’ll discover areas that mimic regions in the Philippines and exhibits famous landmarks, local festivals, native costumes, and delicious delicacies—the recipes of which can be viewed through scanning little photocards nearby. The museum has over 600 model food samples featuring dishes from all over the archipelago. Apart from showing which recipes are enjoyed best in the country’s regions, the museum is also attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of replica dishes on display, a record being held by Japan with over 500 samples.

On top of this, friendly employees are scattered about, donned in colorful traditional garbs that will readily take pictures of you, if not with you. While they’re at it, they’ll eagerly tell you about the museum, the history of the provinces, or the story behind the festivals. All staff members are easy to converse with and even share how they themselves are all from different provinces. It gives them great joy to be able to represent their hometowns and teach people more about the world around them.

There are also infographics that show you special trivia about the Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, as well as its various cities. For example, did you know that the name Makati stemmed from the word “kati” which refers to the ebbing of the tide nearby Pasig river? Or that it takes 5,000 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of irrigated rice? Or that Ivatan houses, though commonly pictured as a humble hut, can also be built with attics? This and other tidbits about local culture, population, climate, and economy can be seen around the museum.

You can also spot beautiful structures made of recycled materials such as slippers, tires, and other plastics such as an Ivatan house from Region 2 and the Barasoain Church from Region 3. Also present is the Mayon Volcano from Region 5 which lets visitors venture inside and view the “lava walk.” A small passageway filled with mirrors, lava lamps, and chilis hung from the ceiling; all bathed in a deep red glow. It’s the perfect place for all of your spicy selfies.

It’s really a surreal experience to be able to be in a place where so much history and culture is displayed, all shown in different ways that cater to our more modern tastes. You can see this in some of their IG installations: A majestic palayok fountain that’s larger than life, a large pool of synthetic rice that you can play around in and express your love for the starchy staple, and a colorful carabao covered in flowers that you can mount and remember how much they’ve contributed to our agriculture.

When you get tired from all the wandering, you can rest on their cute puto, suman, and sliced mango-shaped seats in the Visayas area. Here you can grab halo-halo, mais con yelo, gulaman, buko juice, and buko pandan if you want a refreshing treat. Other tusok-tusok favorites can be found in the nearby stand. Every so often the very same employees you’ve been conversing with reveal themselves will perform an elaborate production number that features dances from every region. From a leveled-up tinikling, the balancing act that is the binasuan, and the singkil which has a woman balanced on one or two bamboo sticks. It shows so many diverse dances but it all flows and fits together harmoniously.

Proceeding past the Mindanao area and its array of native instruments, you will arrive at the gift shop which carries a large variety of homegrown products and encourages us to support local producers. There are woven goods like bags and baskets, souvenir shirts and stuffed toys, and pasalubong like tuna chicharon, smoked bangus belly, biscocho, and more.

It’s hard to say which part of Lakbay Museo is the best one. The delicious food, the gorgeous sights, or the wonderful performance? But we feel the stars of the show that definitely deserve recognition are the extremely friendly staff. Their kindness and hospitality truly exemplify what’s best about our country—making anyone feel at home no matter where in the world they are. Regardless of whether you’re there for the ‘gram or for the food, it is quite possibly one of the most entertaining and enjoyable ways of “traveling” the country.

So we mimic what Lakbay Museo asks us all, “Paano ka maglalakbay?”

Photos by Diane
Gundaya, video produced by Alfonso Sales