Site of an epic but painful battle between the Japanese Imperial Army and the Filipino and American troops.
Mount Samat and the Dambana ng Kagitingan is Bataan's biggest and most renowned 'touristic' attraction. At the same time the site holds a historic and emotional value of upmost significance...
Before the Japanese ruled for a timespan of three years (1942-1945), one of the WWII's biggest battles was fought, right at Mount Samat. All over Luzon, the Filipino and American troops suffered big losses against the Japanese, and ultimately retreated to Mt. Samat for a last epic stand. Unfortunately the Japanese forces turned out to be too strong, and about 78,000 already exhausted soldiers had to surrender to the Japanese Imperial Army. It is, in fact, the largest surrender of American soldiers in all of war history. Together with the Filipino soldiers, the already tired, sick, and starving soldiers were then led onto the infamous Bataan Death March. For more 65 miles, the struggling soldiers had to walk their way towards a hellish concentration camp (Camp O'Donnell), and it's said that about 10,000 soldiers died trying to get there.
Nowadays, the friendship between the Japanese and the Filipinos has long been restored, but still the big battle at Mt. Samat will not soon be forgotten. The heroic stand of the Filipino and American forces against the Japanese is commemorated and honored, by several monuments located at Mount Samat. One of them is the Memorial Cross. With its 302 ft (92 m) height, it's the second tallest cross in the world actually, right after the 'Valle de los Caídos', which is located in another predominantly catholic country: Spain.
Built in 1970, the cross and its surroundings has been well maintained by national and provincial governments. You can go up with an elevator to the arms of the cross, which contain two panoramic 360 degree viewing galleries, from which you can look out over the Bataan Peninsula, the West Philippine Sea, and also Manila Bay. The views are undeniably amazing, also from the base of the cross and its surroundings. It's forbidden to fly a drone around the landmark: if you would do it, it would most likely get shot right out of the air by army officials (there is a possibility to get a certain permit in Metro Manila though).
From the Memorial Cross you can walk a certain footpath down towards a lower part of the Shrine of Valor, or 'Dambana ng Kagitingan'. This is not just some pathway: covered with round stones carrying dark red patches; they are called bloodstones, and said to be stained with Japanese blood. The footpath connects the Memorial Cross with the Collonade. The Collonade is a great shrine complex that completely serves as a great tribute to the heroic actions and sacrifices the American and Filipino soldiers once made, to defend the Philippines against Japan. Inside the with marble covered Collonade, you can find a big altar with elegantly made glass murals, and also a small museum with a collection of WWII photographs, paintings, uniforms, and weapons.
In front of the altar a flagpole is nestled proudly carrying the Philippine flag; and on the two lateral walls of the Collonade, a narrative of the 'Battle of Bataan' is inscribed into marble. Around the colonnade, armaments are put on display; and an elegant looking cannon, surrounded by a neat little garden, points far away into the valleys. All in all the Collonade is, just like the Memorial Cross, a very well maintained site were visitors walk around with their upmost respect.
Going to the top of Mt. Samat, where the Dambana ng Kagitingan is located, is well worth it while being in Bataan. Even if it was only for the spectacular panoramic views you can experience there. The Memorial Cross and the Collonade are well maintained and will leave you with a feeling of respect and appreciation. The top is reachable by car, but you can also hike your way towards the top. A zip-line is also present at Mt. Samat, and the Dunsulan Waterfall is closely located at the foot of the mountain. The Shrine of Valor is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm, and the entrance fee has recently been removed. All in all, Dambana Ng Kagitingan and Mt. Samat in general is a must-see when traveling through Bataan.