(by Carine M. Asutilla, ABS-CBN News Central Visayas)
If you are in Negros Oriental, don't just think about their diving spots, lakes, or the vast mountains. Re-angle your expectations, and you can get more out of Negros Oriental.
About eight kilometers south from Dumaguete City, is the town of Bacong. It's one of the best places to go if you want to buy souvenirs or gifts.
Visit Negros Oriental Arts and Heritage, popularly known with its acronym NOAH. It is a store of finely crafted semi-precious stones gathered from different parts of the country.
One can choose from wide variety of stone crafts as home decor or personal collection like paper weights, jewellery boxes, wall clocks, mirrors, wall decors, tables, and so much more. All designed with anything Filipino; such as the famous bahay kubo, Philippine eagle, kalesa, and the Philippine flag.
Prices vary with size and design. Because these products are not easy to produce, they can be expensive. A round paper weight with a design of bahay kubo can cost at Php1,000. Their most expensive product during my visit was the eight-seater table priced at Php750,000.
Don't forget to visit their factory as well so you can meet the locals who are very dedicated in their art in making those complex stone crafts.
Just across NOAH is the Bacong Sinamay Weavers Association, meer the local ladies weaving sinamay for living.
The weavers are available to show you how weaving the sinamay is done. Their products are bought by designers from Manila and in the Visayas, often used in making costumes and formal wears.
Drop by at St. Augustine of Hippo Parish as well. Hear the century-old pipe organ, one of the seven remaining pipe organs in the country.
Spanish priests bought the pipe organ from Spain in 1894. Early in 1970's, the pipe organ had some problems and was not used for 30 years until experts in Las Piñas fixed it. In 2009, the pipe organ was already in good condition and was used again.
Though it has gone through reconditioning, it is still 95 percent in its original pieces.
So, if you happen to include Negros Oriental as one of your vacay destination, mark Bacong as one of the places to explore.