Wednesday, April 20, 2011

HELPFUL TIPS FOR FIRST-TIME TOURISTS to SULU ISLANDS

By Ahmad Musahari
asmusahari@gmail.com

Following my post on “The hidden beauty of Sulu”, a number of friends have appreciated the great scenes Sulu has. (That was my goal, from the beginning!) And I am happy for that. I became happier when some ‘new’ friends had emailed me asking information on how to reach the island and some had thought of the intention of paying my little homeland a visit. They want to witness those fascinating scenes with their own eyes!

And then comes their inevitable curiosity about the “safety” of going to Sulu. ‘IS IT STILL SAFE TO VISIT YOUR PLACE?’, ‘SHOULD I WEAR TANDUNG/TURUNGS?’, ‘DO TAUSUGS UNDERSTAND ENGLISH?’, and an endless list of questions. So I end up doing this list of helpful and friendly TIPS FOR FIRST-TIME TOURISTS to SULU ISLANDS. I hope this would help the people out there and let a ‘new light’ penetrate their minds. Indeed Sulu is more peaceful that what the NEWS say.

See you in SULU!


WHAT TO BRING:

  • The Basics, of course! Your clothes, some belongings, some money and ATM cards, ID’s (don’t forget this one) and your electronics. Other people can’t live (and leave) without it, so you should, too.
  • A handy Camera. You don’t want to miss seeing some wonderful scenes without saving some photos as keep as souvenirs. From fascinating landscapes to people’s daily lives and culture, you just can’t help discovering new things here! (The camera would include its batteries, and extra batteries; films or SD Cards; and chargers, too).
  • A notebook or journal to write something about every time you experience new things. (It can also work as a ‘scribbling’ page for you while waiting for a long line at the bank). :-)Seriously.
  • Sulu Archipelago is a group of small islands and known for its white sand beaches. As first-time visitors, visiting the beaches and swimming (of course) is an inevitable temptation. So be ready with your swimming wears (please read the “WHAT to wear” section first). Swimming-for-dummies book/manuals and some sun-blocks would also be helpful.
  • Learn the local dialect of the people to understand more about their culture. You can buy a Tausug-English dictionary (if you are lucky to find one in town) or simply search the net for common “Tausug Words” and print a copy. Please do this step before going to Sulu, more preferred if you are still in Zamboanga City or other “Cities”.
  • You might want to decide whether to bring your laptop for the following reasons:

o There are no ‘strong’ internet connections in most areas in Sulu. (I could even say there is no internet connection, even broadbands!) So be ready to say bye-bye to your facebook friends and be sure to finish all your IMPORTANT ‘web-transactions’ before going to Sulu. Cellphone networks are good in the central town of Jolo, but not much in other districts. So ask the locals which ‘servers’ (either Smart or Globe/TM) are available in a certain place you want to go to, before deciding so.

o In more rural areas, electricity is still a scarcity. Some islands have ‘time-rations’ of opening their electricity and some do not have any. Jolo town and nearby areas and even islands (nowadays) are having good electricity recently, so it’s not much of a worry, actually.

o Snatching? I am proud to say, we do not have such thing. You just have to take care of your belongings of course, for safety measures. (I believe Laptops are good ways to elevate the ‘boredom’ at ties you got nothing to do.J)

  • You can bring a map. But I tell you, you will only find a green ‘peanut-shape’ map with some markings and names of municipalities. You are already lucky if you found one with the ‘streets’ of the central town of Jolo. I hardly find ‘road maps’ in Sulu, perhaps there were no roads to ‘map’ about in the first place (just kidding).
  • Yes, of course. At least bring SOMEONE who had been to Sulu, or someone who knows the place. Losing your way back home is the worst thing you can be in. Don’t even think about it. Someone knowledgeable about the local dialect, the historical scenes and the beautiful landmarks in Sulu is more preferable. Although you can find that ‘someone’ hard to find in the area (only a few cares about our historical landmarks and tourism). But it is still better to have a company with you than being alone to wander around this new place.

WHAT TO WEAR? (Especially for non-Muslims)

Sulu is a place populated by 98% Muslim (based on my own statistics), so it is quite a big question for non-muslims visiting Sulu whether or not to wear the traditional/Muslim attire to better blend with the locals. “Are there restrictions?” and the funniest-yet-quite-true question I got, “Won’t they (the Abus) kidnap me after knowing that I am a Christian?” Well, this is the end of your woes. I have some tips about ‘what to wear’ when you are in Sulu.

  • To wear Tandung/Turung or not? If you are having the idea of “being kidnapped if you are a Christian” at the back of your mind, keep it on ‘that’ place for it is not entirely TRUE.
  • Sulu is a place open for all religion. The people of Sulu (The Tausugs) respect other people’s beliefs. We even have a big cathedral right at the center of the town! So long as it is not ‘crossing’ the line, anyone having his/her own way of praying can do it in peace. That, I can give you my word. The ‘kidnapping’ things are only an exaggeration of the Media.
So you can still visit Sulu even without wearing the local costumes (I mean the ‘Turung’). It might even be a better way to let the locals know that some people are here to visit. But of course, it would be a great experience for our female visitors to experience wearing a ‘turung’ and learn the culture we have in Sulu!
  • No SHORTS, BIKINIS and other ‘Suggestive’ shirts (if I got the word right) even at BEACH. (in connection with the above pointers)

Muslims are quite sensitive in terms of ‘what you wear’, (particularly on what you let other people see) and the locals do not appreciate such way of clothing. Not that we are restricting one’s choice of clothing, we simply don’t want any misconceptions to occur during your stay in the area. Long pants and long-sleeve shirts won’t harm your adventurous visit in the island. And it won’t hurt the area’s culture, too. It’s a win-win gameJ.

NOW WHERE TO GO? (The most exciting one)

Of course, the reason behind going on a tour to Sulu is to TOUR IT—what else? So here are some helpful tips you might want to put in your checklist and some of the breath-taking landmarks you can find only here in this small island of Sulu. So after finding a good place to stay and after deciding how many days you’ll spend in Sulu, the next step is ‘Where to go’. And here we go!

  • Ask the authorities first. If you don’t know where to start, try visiting the Provincial Capitol first. There are a lot of things they know that is not in this list. So that is my first tip. (By the way, a visit to the Provincial Park would be a good start for your adventure. It is already a pride of Sulu.

But if you already found the ‘someone’ I am referring earlier (the tourist guide, and someone you REALLY know), there no need troubling yourself. Start the journey ahead!

  • Be sure it is safe! Of course your safety is still your priority. You won’t enjoy the memories of visiting Sulu if you already lost your arms. (Again, I am just kidding. I’m just making this Sulu-is-a-morbid-place more of a joke). Be sure to have someone accompany you everywhere you go. If you are capable enough, you can hire some security guards, but that would remove the ‘enjoyment’ I think.

You can explore the central town of Jolo first (which is the safest and nearest), then the nearby areas (the safer ones) and lastly the farther islands (the safe ones). There is no less-dangerous or most-dangerous here.

  • If going to farther areas (such as islands and islets), be sure you know the following:

o Where to stay;

o What are the schedules of trips (usually it’s by ships or smaller boats, and it’s not always every day…);

o Is there electricity in the area;

o Are there cell-phone networks;

o Any establishments present? (Police quarters, hospitals, and such. Which is rare in smaller islands by the way)

o Know the area.

o The people of Sulu (and the islands) are hospitable, you can always ask them J


  • Finally, the areas to visit.

Note: This list is only based on the author’s knowledge of the place (as a local Tausug) and may not include all the good places therein. Some places herein are also uncommonly heard of by the locals, or even by the authorities because of lack of information regarding the landmarks. I will categorize the list by its nearness (and perhaps by ‘safeness’) to the central Town of Jolo, where to find them, and given the time I might also include the distance (how far from Jolo), time (how many hours) and the ways (by sea or land) to go there (I will update this later, so keep posted).

Without much ado, here are the places you MUST NOT DARE TO MISS.

  • In the vicinity of Jolo Town, Sulu:

1. Masjid Tulay (A magnificent mosque)

2. The remaining walls of Jolo Walled City (Since Spanish times, but unrecorded/undiscovered)

3. The Three remaining Spanish ‘Towers’ (see my other blogpost, still undiscovered)

4. Chinese Pier (not so Chinese now, but still holds its History)

5. PC Asturias Camp (I found the old cannon here, undiscovered. There’s also a pool)

6. The Jolo Central Cathedral (I don’t know its name, sorry)

7. The Rizal Central Park (where Sundays are “Juwalmura day”, an equivalent of ‘ukay-ukay’)

8. Sulu Pier (A good place to wait for the Sulu Sunset J)

9. Tulay Bridge (“Tulay” means ‘bridge’, a redundancy just like ‘Lake Lanao’. J)

10. Serantes Wet Market (Sulu is famous for its wide variety of fishes)

11. Tabuh Sanaw” Market (It’s an early morning market that only opens from 5AM to 7AM)

12. Jolo town (It’s a simple town to explore aroundJ)

a. There are also some good restaurants you can visit: the Lovelife and McMickey Restaurants are the locals’ favorites. Before sunsets, some stalls can be found scattered around town (at the pier, outside the pier, at the airport and at the central parks). A short snack in these places is a good way to cool-off a tiring day.

b. Afternoon break in the town’s favorite kind of snack houses: the Coffee shops or “Kahawahan”, is a must for new visitors. (You can find them anywhere in town!) The famous Tausug “Kahawa Itum” (Native Coffee) with the uniqueTausug Pastries or “Bang-bang Sug” is a good way to explore the culture and food cuisines in the island.


  • A little farther from Jolo town (one jeepney rid; nos. 1 to 5 are on the same area)

1. The Sulu Provincial Capitol

2. Sulu Provincial Park (Try visiting at about 5PM until 8PM, wait for a surprise.)

3. National Museum (with some good info about the History of Sulu)

4. A new Park they call ‘Balikatan Park’ (I don’t like the name)

5. Mindanao State University-Sulu Campus (My alma matter)

6. Sulu State College (A nice place, too)

7. Notre Dame of Jolo College

8. Mauhbuh Beach (the one in my blog)

9. Gandasuli Water-Spring (Tubig Bustak, I’m not even sure if it’s a Spring)

10. Some beaches nearby (Again I forgot the names, haha)

11. Sultan Kiram Residence (where the Kiram Hastana still stands and a ‘tomb-mark’ for Princess Tarhata Kiram can be found)

12. Jun’Dilan Sea Port

13. Jolo Airport (there are also some snack areas here by late afternoons)

14. Sahaya Village (It’s a housing project, with some peaceful area)

  • The FARTHEST YET MOST FASCINATING PLACES

1. The famous QUEZON BEACH or Igasan Beach in Patikul (white, smooth sands)

2. The heart-shaped Si-it Lake in Panamao (never been thereL)

3. The towering Bud Tumantangis (“Bud” means ‘mountain’; this is the highest peak in Sulu. A nice place for mountaineers. You can have an over-view of Jolo town and the vast Sulu Sea!)

4. Bud Datu (where once, the Datu’s where enthroned)

5. The Active Bud Dahu (Not a good place to visit if it’s at the active state, though. This is also where the well-known “Bud-Dahu Massacre in 1904 occurred).

In other Islands

1. Siasi and Pandami Islands (about 3-4 hours)

2. Pangutaran Island (4 hours)

3. Usman Beach in Sigang-gang Island

AND A LOT MORE!

(It’s just that I do not know more about those ‘a-lot-more’ places in my Homeland.)

I would love to include another section in this long list of tips, (entitled, ‘what to expect’) but I found it already ‘tiring’. This list seem to have already served its point: to give light to those who are willing to visit our small island but do not know anything about it.

I hope this list helped somehow.

Kamaya kamu daran! (Ingat Kayo Lagi/ Take care always)

Magsukul tuud ha waktu niyu! (Salamat talaga sa oras niyo/thank you very much for the time)

Iban Salam Kasilasa daing ha Lupah Sug! (And Peace and Love from the Land of Current: Sulu.)

Salamdua! (Peace!)

This is your loving TOURIST GUIDE, Ahmad Musahari, a young Tausug proud to introduce to you the hidden pearl of the southern seas: SULU ARCHIPELAGO (Lupah Sug)!


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