I adapted my ways of traveling around the Philippines in traveling around Asia: look at the map, check the places, Google them, and then hit the image button. If I find the first ten images interesting, then I would find my way there, no matter what. It was the images of old acacia trees that made me decide that my next destination after Kuala Lumpur should be this little place in Perak, Malaysia.
After three bus rides and several language gaps, I found myself in Taiping, towing my luggage around while looking for a place to stay. In two instances, a local gave me a lift and brought me to hotels. The first one was too expensive; imagine a backpacker paying at least Php2,000 a night for a single room. Eventually, I found the cheapest hostel, which feels and looks like a boutique hotel, at RM50 (Php550).
So why did I go to Taiping? Is it weird to say that I easily fall in love with trees, with gardens?
In 19th century, Taiping was known for its mining. When all mining operations stopped, they left a big wound and a manmade lake on the ground. The municipal government decided to turn the wound into healing greens, which is now called Taiping Lake Garden.
There is something about Taiping Lake Garden that draws me to it. Aside from the trees, flowers, and lakes, it is the people who come here everyday that make the garden even more special.
Here are six photos that made me fall in love with Taiping.
Photo 1: Sit, contemplate. Just do it.
Past two in the afternoon, the locals trickled in the garden, walked under the acacia canopy, or sat on the benches facing the other side of the lake. Some came alone, some with someone, some with kids. And for hours, they would just be there sitting, checking their phone once in a while, but mostly contemplating, staring at the other side of the lake.
Photo 2: Jogging through an enchanting garden
Once the sun stops pricking the skin, some locals jog around. The whole place is conducive to jogging and walking. There are many canopied pathways and gardens to walk in and out. Scenes change from Japanese bamboos to a swath of lotus, from little pagodas by the lake to tree-lined paths.
Photo 3: Zen spots to be in the moment
Across the old acacia trees are little secret gardens and Zen spots for everyone. It was very romantic to see an old couple doing their stretches under the shade of dwarf bamboos. If I were with friends, I would have sprawled a blanket on the grass, have a little picnic, and chat about life. But I was traveling alone and the best thing to do was to observe the locals doing their afternoon rituals.
Photo 4: A park where you can fish
In the quieter part of the lake garden, where bamboos grew tall and wild, you can find some locals spending their leisure time by fishing. Their motorbikes parked beside them, the lake mirroring their form, and the bamboos partially hiding them—everything here is just so beautiful to gaze at. I decided not to disturb them and just quietly observed from the distance.
Photo 5: Lotus and a man
I cycled farther from the old acacia trees and came across a lotus field. I haven’t seen this kind: long stalks, big leaves, and equally big flowers. This man had been there, peering through the leaves and checking on something. He was actually fishing. Big catfish surfaced on the water, lingered for a bit, before disappearing in the dense lotus roots. The man was patiently waiting for such moments.
Photo 6: Me, the Happy Woman
It is not hard to be happy. The sights of trees, flowers, and people doing what they love are things so simple yet can be a source of joy. Perhaps it is the probinsyana in me talking once again: someone who cannot live without the sight of trees.
We have different reasons for traveling, and one of my reasons is to seek beauty that is gradually disappearing due to mankind’s twisted pursuit of development. Places like Taiping Lake Garden made me want to believe that it is possible for a wound to be a beautiful scar.
Jona Branzuela Bering is a writer and photographer from Cebu, Philippines. When she is not traveling, she gardens, teaches, and becomes the slave of two cats. Follow her travels on Instagram @travelingjona or on her blog Backpacking with a Book. E-mail: email@example.com