MANILA -- It took more than three decades for Filipino-American star Vanessa Hudgens to finally visit the Philippines, and she wouldn't have it any other way.
The "eye-opening" experience, as described by the Hollywood actress, came at a good time. Now older and wiser, she is able to focus on returning to her roots as she prepares to start her own family.
"I'm in my 30s now [and] I'm thinking about raising a family," she said in a press conference on Friday when asked what moved her to come to the Philippines. "And I want to be able to know my heritage so I can bring that forth, so that my kids can know their background [and] they can know more about their own blood."
"[The Philippines] has always been on my list, of course, but it never happened," she acknowledged. "I feel like everything happens when it's meant to, and I wouldn't have it any other way. [Now] I get to come here with my mom and my sister."
Hudgens arrived in Manila last March 25, primarily for the filming of a travel documentary about her Filipino roots. The actress, who rose to fame for portraying Gabriella Montez in the "High School Musical" film series, was born to a Filipina mother and an American father.
A day before meeting members of the media, she was formally named a global tourism ambassador for the Philippines.
While she admitted that she was for the most part raised "very American," Hudgens said her trip to the Philippines made her tap into other aspects of herself that turned out to be "very Filipino" all along.
"It's been really interesting coming here, it's beautiful and eye-opening... All these things that have just been innately stuck within me, I realize come from my heritage," she said.
"I'm so obsessed with the use of natural elements, the rattan, the mother of pearl. It's all just so beautiful to me, and something that I've always loved," Hudgens cited as an example.
"And I'm like yeah, it makes sense because it's Filipino," added the actress, who wants to go to Cebu and Mindanao in the future.
'A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING'
Video by Karen Flores Layno, ABS-CBN News
Hudgens has so far visited Manila and the tropical paradise of Palawan for her documentary which has the working title "The Awakening," as shared by host Boy Abunda.
She sees the Philippines as a country that has "a little bit of everything," and described it as a "really magical place."
"It's got paradise, it's got a metropolitan city," the actress said. "It's got kindness, everybody is so warm, so friendly... I feel like I haven't met anyone who seems like they're having a bad day. The hospitality is unmatched."
During her trip, Hudgens found herself falling in love with tinikling, a Filipino folk dance that involves moving between bamboo poles tapped on the ground.
She also could not resist the urge to have a plate of chicken adobo despite being pescatarian.
"I'm pescatarian but in Palawan I was sitting there and there was a plate of chicken adobo that was staring at me. And I said, you know, this is my first trip to the Philippines [and] this is as authentic as it's gonna get. I'm eating chicken adobo," she said.
"And I did, and it was so worth it, [but] I'm not eating chicken again anytime soon," added Hudgens, who was only willing to break the rules for the Filipino dish.
Hudgens hopes that audiences will enjoy watching her documentary, which she said is "a really intimate look" at her journey of discovering the Philippines.
The Fil-Am star said she is open to the idea of producing another project that focuses on Filipino culture.
"I love things from the past and things that are untouched by the current world that we live in, by technology, and everyone's fight to get ahead," she said. "I feel like I would do a thing on the tribes because I feel there's not a lot of light on that. It would be nice to be able to preserve that."