Even as travel restrictions ease up in various parts of the country, it is not yet the best time to visit the popular tourist sites. This time, however, may be the best opportunity to discover the lesser known destinations, which you and your family can visit safely on board your car, and would take you only a few hours of driving on smooth roads.
One of the emerging popular weekend drive destinations is Gapan in Nueva Ecija. The drive to go there is an easy three-hour trip via the NLEX, Plaridel Bypass Road, and the Pan-Philippine Highway. If you depart early in Metro Manila, you can have your lunch in Gapan, go around the area and visit the nearby sites, or wait until the evening when the ancestral houses in Lumang Gapan light up, giving you a nostalgic vibe reminiscent of the ambience emanated by Calle Crisologo in Vigan, Ilocos Sur.
This is the reason why netizens have dubbed Lumang Gapan as the “Little Vigan” as aside from the ancestral houses, visitors can walk on cobblestone streets, have their selfies with ornate street lamps, and enjoy the sights and sounds of a community-driven tourism landmark.
The Lumang Gapan tourism project, led by its mayor Emerson “Emeng” Pascual, has revived interest in the city, and it has paid off with the influx of tourists from all over the country. Though the LGU has tried its best to enforce health protocols, the throngs of tourists who visited especially during the holiday season forced Mayor Pascual to temporarily close the plaza, night market, and the Lumang Gapan area. But with more stringent rules in place, Gapan is once again open to tourists, who can now visit the plaza, which is interconnected with the Lumang Gapan area by a tunnel of lights.
After a walk to see the facade of ancestral houses of personalities such as Nida Blanca, Eula Valdez, Jay Taruc, etc. tourists can drop by the night market (beside the plaza) which offers local delicacies and delicious street food.
Speaking of delicious street food, one of the most popular is AyySauce, owned by Richard Tinio, a true local of Gapan City who was born in Pambuan. AyySauce started in 2018 in Gapan City Night Market and now, he has four branches (two in Gapan City Night Market, one at Pambuan, and the newest branch at Lumang Gapan).
Basing on AyySauce’s social media posts, its pritong kanin (fried rice) is an ultimate bestseller, with patrons enjoying it with sisig, pork adobo, fried siomai, etc. Their shakes are popular as well, with flavors such as banana caramel, coffee, and mocha. Richard attributes the success of AyySauce not only because of its affordable menu, but also due to his hands-on management style as he treats his team like his own family. He is also grateful with the support of the local government, especially during the pandemic.
“I was encouraged to open a branch in Lumang Gapan because I believe in the vision of our mayor. I saw how he successfully transformed this area to become a popular tourist attraction, so I know that he will not abandon us,” Richard says. “We saw how his plans were implemented carefully and it paid off with the arrival of tourists from all over the Philippines to our small town.”
According to Richard, Lumang Gapan is now popularly known as “Little Vigan” and they didn’t waste time to promote the city as such, starting with a Christmas Festival last December. Part of the local government’s initiative was a parol-making contest. There was also a giant Christmas tree po and a Ferris wheel, which is the sixth largest in the country.
The pandemic did inevitably affect business and tourism in Gapan as there were lockdowns, curfews, and limitations in movement. But the local government ensured that businesses were still able to do deliveries and take outs. This has allowed AyySauce to survive. And as travel restrictions ease, Richard is once again excited to invite tourists to visit not only his hometown, but also to try the treats at AyySauce.
“I wish that Gapan would become more known in the country. I want more people to discover how beautiful our place is… that you can learn history and have fun at the same time. While you have your IG and selfies here, you can also enjoy good budget-friendly food in the company of very friendly people.”