A TRIP TO TAWI TAWI
November 2010

Tawi Tawi is the southernmost province of the Philippines. Bongao, the largest town, can be reached by air with daily AirPhil Express flights from Zamboanga. The airport is located on Sanga Sanga Island, at the Southwest tip of the main island of Tawi Tawi, while Bongao is on Bongao Island, connected by a bridge to Sanga Sanga. The town is just a 15-minute drive from the airport. We checked in at the Hotel Juana, a bright-yellow 4-story building in the center of town after a short stop at the Provincial Capitol to meet Tawi Tawi tourism officers. The official capital of Tawi Tawi is actually Panglima Sugala, but most of the provincial government buildings are in Bongao. Bongao and Simunul Island are considered relatively safe to visitors including foreigners and only minimum security precautions are necessary within these areas. Tawi Tawi

Tawi Tawi
Bongao seen from the Provincial Capitol

The streets of Bongao are lively, colorful and a delight to walk around, particularly in the markets and the piers around the harbor. The produce of the sea dominates markets and food stalls. The people of Bongao are friendly and hospitable, and are always happy to see rare visitors. Some of what you see tells you that you are in the Philippines, but at the same time you find yourself in another world, closer to Malaysia. The atmosphere is exotic and pleasant. A great feeling!
The main street of Bangao from the hotel rooftop    Shark fins for sale in the market The main street of Bangao from the hotel rooftopA smiling Tawi Tawian
Tawi Tawi
Halal Pizza on the menu
Tawi Tawi
Tricycle sign
The Harbor
A lively street in the Bongao market
The Harbor
Street food in Bongao

The Harbor
is busy and colorful, with many boats with flat bottoms and no outriggers.
The main street of Bangao from the hotel rooftop
The main street of Bangao from the hotel rooftop
The main street of Bangao from the hotel rooftop
Colorful scenes in Bongao Harbor
The main street of Bangao from the hotel rooftop
A lively street in the Bogggnaggo market
Houses on stilts, with a mosque, the Peak and the Capitolyo in the background (right)
A lively street in the Bogggnaggo market

Simunul Island is about 50 minutes away from Bongao by rented passenger boat. It is a flat coralline island best known as the site of the oldest mosque in the Philippines, first built in 1380 by Muslim missionary Sheik Karimul Makdum. Only four carved pillars remain from the original mosque, and can be seen inside the current modern mosque. Sheik Makdum is buried in the mosque grounds.
Tawi Tawi
Approach to flat Simunul Island
Tawi Tawi
 The small town of Simulul and its mosque on Simunul Island
Tawi Tawi
Sheik Makdum Mosque
Tawi Tawi
Arch beside the mosque
Tawi Tawi
 The minaret
Tawi Tawi
One of the original carved pillars
Tawi Tawi
View from the minaret
Tawi Tawi
The four pillars inside the mosque
"The first mosque in the Philippines.

In 1380, an Arabian  missionary named Sheik Makdum reached these shores and  supervised the construction of this  mosque thus marking the introduction of the Islamic faith in the Philippines. The Sheik's remains are interred within the mosque's premises and his memory honored and revered by the people of this community."
Tawi Tawi
Tawi Tawi
Tawi Tawi
Tawi Tawi
Sheik Makdum's Grave
Tawi Tawi
Our local guides in Simunul
Tawi Tawi
The boat we used for the crossing

Bongao Coffee Shop. One of the pleasures of Bongao is the delicious brewed coffee and assorted cakes served in the Bongao Coffee Shop, a wooden house over the water with a nice view of the harbor. The cakes are different everyday and are brought to your table in a large tray. A great place for breakfast or merienda. Bongao Coffee Shop.
Bongao Coffee Shop.
Bongao Coffee Shop.
Bongao Coffee Shop. Bongao Coffee Shop.
The owners of the Bongao Coffee Shop
Bongao Coffee Shop.
A look inside the Bongao Coffee Shop

Bongao Peak culminate at an elevation of 314 meters just outside the town. It is a 15-minute tricycle ride to the jump-off, and about onr-hour climb to the top. The many monkeys encountered along the way expect to be given bananas. There is no 360 degree-view but nice views of Bongao, Simunul and the airport from the summit.
Bongao Peak culminates at an elevation of 314 meters just outside the town. It is a 15-minute tricycle ride to the jump-off, and about one-hour climb to the top. The many monkeys encountered along the way expect to be given bananas. There is no 360-degree panorama, but nice views of Bongao and Simunul from the summit.
Bongao Coffee Shop.
Bongao Peak seen from the sea. Provincial Capitol on the right
Tawi Tawi
View towards Bongao from the summit
 Tawi Tawi
Suminul Island seen from the top
Tawi Tawi
The airport seen from the Peak
Tawi Tawi
Bongao Peak on a rainy day
Tawi Tawi
Tawi Tawi
Typical houses outside Bongao
Tawi Tawi

Jolo. A brief stop over at Jolo Airport gave us the opportunity to take a few pictures from the plane and at the airport.
Tawi Tawi
The town of Jolo seen from the plane
Tawi Tawi
Welcome arch at Jolo Airport
Tawi Tawi
Aerial view of Jolo

The Islands. The flight from Zamboanga to Bongao follows the Sulu Archipelago (that consists of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi Tawi provinces) and provides a glimpse from the air of the incredible beauty of the hundreds of islands that make the archipelago. White sand beaches around verdant lagoons set in a deep blue sea, a tourist's paradise that will remain inaccessible for a long time because of safety concerns. Tantalizing and dangerous beauty!
Minis Island (Sulu)
Hegad and Bubuan Islands (Sulu)
Tawi Tawi
Minis Island (Sulu)
Tawi Tawi
Minis Island (Sulu)
Friendly people, interesting history, exotic food, and beautiful nature make Tawi Tawi one of the most fascinating destinations in the Philippines.

Christian Perez
Muntinlupa City