There are several caves within Sohoton Park, the most popular of which is Panhulugan Cave. Actually Panhulugan is composed of 2 caves connected to each other forming 3 chambers. The entrance of the first chamber used to be a cemetery where probably hundreds of Spaniards were buried. In the course of digging their bones, an Austrian accidentally discovered the caves.
Panhulugan is a dry to moist cave
Inside the cave are various stalactite and stalagmite formations akin to religious icons, tourist spots, body parts, animals, plants, musical instruments, etc. Early visitors to the cave have christened these formations with names - Holy Trinity, Crucified Christ, Banaue Rice Terraces, Chocolate Hills, elephant trunk, xylophone, accordion, among others.
Aside from pointing out to us the different rock formations, our guide also provided some trivia:
1. Stalactites are formation emanating from the ceiling, while stalagmites are formation sprouting from the ground.
2. A stalactite or a stalagmite grows at a rate of 1/4 inch per century.
3. A white-colored stalactite or stalagmite should not be touched or get in contact with a human's body. Touching will turn its color to brown due to the presence of oil in the human body.
4. The number of chamber of a cave is determined based on the number of "domes" found inside the cave. The dome is the tallest point (ceiling) within the cave.
5. The geologist who studies/documents a newly-explored cave has the prerogative to name a chamber after him/her.
The only way to reach Sohoton Park is through the Golden River. Rent a pumpboat from Basey or at the foot of Golden Bridge and cruise the long river for an hour where you will be treated to a "calming scenery".
You will see tall coconut trees and lush vegetation lining the length of the river on both sides. This pattern is broken at some points by cluster of small houses on stilts. Small children on boats cross the river, while others jump from an overhanging branch of a tree into the river. As you get closer to the park, the wide river narrows and the trees are replaced by stonecliffs.
The Sohoton Natural Bridge is located deep into the woods and can be reached after a 300 meter trek on narrow and uneven foot trail off the river. The bridge looks like a big arch connecting two mountains. On top of it is a forested area while underneath is the Sohoton River.
Crossing the bridge via the forest above it is dangerous and not encouraged. However, swimming and picnics are allowed. In fact, a small area near the river bank was cleared for the latter.
Sohoton is a town bounded by Sohoton and Basey rivers. Instead of the usual jeepney or bus, the only way to reach Sohoton is via pumpboat. A big boat that can accommodate at least 30 persons leaves the town of Basey and cruise down the river stopping at designated mini-ports.
For those bound for Sohoton National Park, smaller pumpboats can be rented from the Basey Municipal Tourism Office. Presently, boat rental is pegged at P700. However due to increasing cost of fuel, boat rental may be increased to P900 anytime soon.
Prior to entering a chamber, we noticed that our guide would knock several times on the cave's wall. When asked, he explained that it is a sign of respect and to seek permission from the cave's "unseen inhabitants" to allow us entry into the cave.
We followed his example by way of cheerful greetings and saying "makikiraan po". The latter is the Pilipino version of "excuse me/us please".
As we were the last visitors of the park that day, our DENR guide Mr. Francisco Corrales Jr. invited us to their staff house which he fondly refers to as "bahay". It is a 2-storey concrete house that looks more like a vacation house than a government staff house. It is built on the slope of the mountain, surrounded by flowering and ornamental plants. A short concrete stairs lead to the river below.