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2022-06-22 01:24:13 By : Mr. Joshua GU

Rizal is known as a top destination for locals who live in nearby cities like Manila.

The municipality of Tanay in Rizal is home to 10 of the province's rural towns (locally known as "barangay"). Some 4,000 people live in rural communities that encircle one of the most prominent mountains in the municipality, Mount Daraitan (pictured above).

The camper van is one of the accommodation options in Balai Tanay — the resort also has several cottages that are available for bookings.

Ever since I stayed in a shipping container hotel in Singapore, I've been curious to explore other tiny-home hotels around Southeast Asia. So when I saw Balai Tanay's listing on Airbnb, I decided to book it up for a one-night stay during a recent trip to the Philippines.

The resort was a two-hour drive away from Makati, the country's financial and economic center.

Resort owner Michael Go told me he wanted to make a Filipino version of the "van-life" trend that is popular in the US. Most of the resort's clientele are families who live in Manila or the other cities that surround Tanay.

"I was inspired by caravans and motor homes," Go said, adding that he chose the jeepney as the vehicle is "iconic for us Filipinos."

Jeepneys are easy to recognize: they're usually decked out in vibrant colors and eclectic designs. They're also widely regarded as a "poor-man's transport" in the country: A trip on a jeepney starts from 10 Philippine peso (18 cents).

An overnight stay in the jeepney-turned-camper van hotel cost around 247 Singapore dollars ($178.20) for five people. In comparison, most resorts in Rizal charge anywhere from S$28 to S$188, so the camper van was priced on the more expensive end.

Go said he built the camper van in 2019, and its construction took around four months.

The mint-green jeepney with a house built on top made for a strange sight. The house had a tin roof and a bamboo exterior, which Go said he built using his farm's black bamboo.

The beds were surprisingly comfortable. There was also a sink, a refrigerator, and an air-conditioning unit, all of which were in good working condition.

But for the most part, I felt like I was roughing it.

Since the resort is located in a remote area, there was no phone signal or Wifi. There were bugs crawling everywhere, and dust coated every surface. We set up a mosquito coil right outside the van and sprayed the interior with alcohol to get rid of the bugs, but they still found a way in.

Being located in the thick jungle has its drawbacks, with the intense heat and humidity of the Philippines' tropical weather breaking down some of the bamboo. Thankfully, there were no musty smells.

The camper van felt like it was made for only two activities: lounging and sleeping. There just wasn't enough space to do anything else, especially as a group of five.

A local boy lit up the campfire with some wood and a blowtorch, which helped keep bugs away.

Ultimately, there wasn't much to do at the resort. It's miles away from the region's caves and waterfalls. I wanted to take a dip in the pool, but the water was stagnant, and some bugs were floating on the surface. Locals were bathing and washing their clothes in a nearby stream, but they warned me that there were plenty of freshwater leeches.

"We noticed kids want to swim, so we made a small dipping pool. We change out the water for every new guest," Go explained. "We plan to make a natural swimming pool, without any chemicals."

When it came to meals, food was cooked-to-order by the staff. They served some iconic Filipino dishes, like sinigang, a sour and savory soup.

Since the vicinity was well lit, the outdoor toilet wasn't a major inconvenience. 

"We plan to upgrade the toilet, to make it cleaner and more sanitary. The floors are uneven stone, and doesn't dry well," Go said.

I couldn't seem to get the heater to work, so I bathed in the cold water in the morning and at night. Staff told me there was some issues with it — I personally didn't mind the cold water as the hot weather was perfect for a cool shower.

Go later said the heater was working and "maybe there was miscommunication."

The camper van offered respite from the busy city life in Manila, but ultimately it wasn't a very distinct experience. I yearned for the gorgeous sights and cool weather of the haunted Malaysian hotel I visited in May, or even the modern comfort of a shipping container hotel I checked out in Singapore. A camper van in a tropical forest just wasn't for me.