Whenever my balikbayan relatives come home, they always request me to take them to this one place where the whole town sells mostly slippers: Liliw, Laguna. They always say that they cannot find slippers anywhere in the world as durable and as comfortable as the ones they get from Liliw. Of course, it also helps that the ones from Liliw are also very cheap.
To make sure that they get the right sizes, my balikbayan relatives always have this cardboard cut-outs traced from the foot of their grandchildren, daughters, siblings and even neighbors abroad. They would go from store to store looking for the right fit using the cut-outs. “That red slippers is for your Tita Baby,” I would always hear them say after finding the perfect pair.
I never complain even if it takes my relatives the whole day combing all the stores looking for slippers for all the relatives abroad. I actually enjoy taking them to Liliw because I like the town’s rural charm. Plus the town is also known for its cold springs and waterfalls, native sweets and delicacies, and a couple of good restaurants. Of course it also helps that my relatives give me free bedroom slippers when they shop.
Despite the thriving shoe industry, Liliw is still a small town. It is one of the highlands on the foot of Mount Banahaw. The weather is always cooler than the lowland.
The town was founded by a man named Gat Tayaw. According to legend, the town got its name from an attractive bird that alighted into a pole erected by Gat Tayaw. The birds made a melodious sound of liw, liw, liw and so Gat Tayaw named the new settlement Liliw in 1571.
The name was carried out during Spanish time but it had to be changed to Lilio when the Americans came (the Americans cannot pronounce Liliw). In 1965, a municipal resolution was passed returning Liliw as the official name and spelling.
How to get there
Liliw is 110 kilometers from Manila via Santa Cruz and 105 kilometers via San Pablo.
For those taking public transport, there are buses in Cubao in Quezon City, Buendia in Makati/Pasay, and Alabang in Muntinlupa going to either Santa Cruz or San Pablo. Travel time from Manila is about two hours. Upon arriving in either Santa Cruz or San Pablo, take a jeepney going to Liliw.
Those bringing private vehicles have several options. The trip to Liliw can be combined with Nagcarlan and Majayjay using the San Pablo route or with Pagsanjan and Lake Caliraya using the Santa Cruz route. If it’s summer, avoid the Santa Cruz route as traffic at the Pansol area can become horrible.
The route via San Pablo starts in Manila, enters South Luzon Expressway and exits from Santo Tomas. From there, continue driving to Alaminos town, then enter city of San Pablo, turn left to Rizal, continue driving via Nagcarlan before finally arriving in Liliw.
What to see, what to do
Liliw is known for its baroque style church whose façade is made of striking red bricks. Known as St. John the Baptist church, its first church was built in wood in 1620. The stronger stone church was built from 1643 to 1646. The present church patio has been developed to promote Catholic teachings. Standing in front of the church are several elevated statues of different saints that are patrons of each of the town’s barangays (villages).
Standing next to the municipal hall is the statue of Gat Tayaw. On Gat Tayaw and P. Burgos streets still stand the ancestral houses of many of Liliw’s prominent families who got rich during the American time from agricultural products like copra, lanzones, banana, and vegetables like tomatoes and mustasa.
Liliw also has many natural attractions like the Kilangin Falls and the colds springs of Batis ng Liliw and Liliw Resort.
But the town’s main attraction is its growing footwear industry. It started in 1931 when Casiano Pisuena became interested in making slippers. His first prototype was made from coconut husk and rubber from tire interiors. He soon became successful and many residents of Liliw followed suit. At present there are about 50 stores selling footwear in Liliw. The regular slippers are still the most popular, but many stores are now selling shoes, handbags and other leather goods. Most stores still carry the three-for-P100 slippers. The annual Tsinelas Festival is celebrated every end of April.
Where to stay, what to eat
Those who wish to stay overnight can find lodging at Liliw Resort or at Batis ng Liliw.
For dining, Liliw has plenty of quaint little restaurants that serve good food. Arabela is famous for its Italian dishes, White House Restaurant for its Pinoy favorites and Chef Mau’s for Filipino fusion dishes. Arabela is famous for its Kesong Puti Pizza while White House has its own version of deconstructed kare-kare.
Liliw is also known for its uraro cookies and giant espasols. They are available at three packs for P100.
On weekends, the locals sell fresh pako and freshly caught talangka and snails. There are also wild berries called lipute. It can either be eaten fresh or made into wine. But if it’s strong wine that visitors are looking for, Liliw’s Lambanog Puro is considered the best in Laguna.
All these products simply make every trip to Liliw worthwhile and enough for balikbayans to wish for a trip to Liliw when they come home.