I just got back from three weeks in the Philippines- a country I have wanted to visit for a long time and for good reason, as it turned out to be one of the most naturally beautiful countries I’ve ever been to. The Philippines is made up of over seven thousand islands and over the three weeks I was there I only travelled to four of them, so I barely scratched the surface really. But each of the four islands I visited Cebu, Bohol, Boracay and Palawan had so much to them; so many beautiful places to visit and things to do. All four had incredible scenery with so much colour everywhere- bright blue sky, white sand, turquoise waterfalls, colourful tricycles, orange and pink sunsets, lively coral. Three weeks left me wanting longer to see more!
I had wanted to visit the Philippines for ages, but I had been put off slightly by reading about the dangers mostly on government and foreign commonwealth office websites despite having only heard amazing/ positive things from other travellers who had actually been there. There are some big political problems in the south and that, alongside active terrorist groups, means there are nothing but warnings against travel to the majority of the country. Undecided, I continued to browse January Sales flight prices, until one day the prices increased substantially, so I bit the bullet and booked them. Am I SO glad I did! Obviously I didn’t visit the South but I honestly didn’t feel unsafe once! The locals seemed really genuine and nice and didn’t want to mug tourists off like in other countries. Its the eighth country I’ve visited in Southeast Asia and I think its up there in my favourites! My only downside would be that because of the amount of islands, travel between islands can be difficult- the easiest way is flying and the money quickly adds up if you don’t plan ahead! (I don’t.) Even flying though, you still easily lose a day travelling to and from each place- this doesn’t matter if you are travelling for months but did to me when on holiday for three weeks or in my boyfriend’s case two weeks! (I was to spend my last week by myself).
London > Cebu
So on the last Saturday in January, we flew into Manila the capital of the Philippines, which took fourteen hours from London, and then had a couple of hours wait before the connecting flight to Cebu. I chose to fly straight through to Cebu because I was told there isn’t much to see in Manila in terms of touristy things; apparently it isn’t like Bangkok or other Southeast Asian cities. It also isn’t recommended as very safe and as we were getting in late at night, I figured it would be best to skip straight through. Luckily, it was actually cheaper to fly straight onto Cebu, even with the connecting flight; I bought the return to Cebu for £450 on Philippine Airline’s website in the sale. Had I been the kind of person the books things in advance, (I’m so not) I could have actually got them originally for around £380- quite the bargain for halfway round the world! We arrived in Cebu around 11pm, jumped into a taxi and checked into our hotel. Getting a cab at Cebu airport was pleasantly straight-forward: one of the easiest/ safest taxi experiences I’ve ever had in SE Asia! We caught a metered cab- and were handed a ticket with the drivers details on and a number in case we need to report him- and within no time at all were at our hotel. All surprisingly easy!
Because we were on a pretty tight schedule, the next day we were travelling again and catching a ferry over to Bohol, our first destination. On arrival in Bohol two hours later, it went all grey and absolutely chucked it down and annoyingly our bags got soaked. Wet, smelly clothes and backpack on day one! In the rain, we caught our first tricycle to Alona Beach. Tricycles are the Philippines answer to Tuk-Tuks and Rickshaws, and are essentially motorbikes with fancy side cars and are EVERYWHERE. Because the Philippines is a very Christian country, they all have bible quotes on the back about doing good etc, its very sweet. We/ I had decided to wing it on the accommodation front in Alona Beach and hadn’t booked anything- so as we arrived we had to walk up the street to try and find something affordable (classic me). We didn’t find anything for a while so were still plodding along when a guy stopped us and took us down a road to a hidden guesthouse where we got a gorgeous little room right on the beach for 900 pesos (£12ish)- perfect! We shed our heavy rucksacks, and went exploring Alona Beach in the sun, dipping our feet in the Filipino sea for the first time and stopping for a well deserved beer. Alona Beach reminded me of Cambodia’s Koh Rong or Indonesia’s Gili Trawangan beach fronts- just a smaller, much more chilled out version, it was really nice! We spent the evening on the beach’s little bars, playing cards- perfect.
The following day, we joined a tour to see the Chocolate Hills, our main attraction for visiting Bohol. Our main interests were to see the hills, the Tarsier Sanctuary, and the jungle river cruise, but we were roped into a tour which included those PLUS five other ‘tourist attractions’. You can avoid these added extras if you opt to hire motorbikes for the day, but neither of us were that comfortable riding them; I’ve ridden twice and Jamie never has. So we were stuck with the full day minibus option! Our first stop was a python sanctuary- it was genuinely awful- if you do the tour, I honestly don’t recommend going in, it doesn’t deserve the money. It was less python ‘sanctuary’ and more just unhappy animals in small cages. The only saviour was that one corner was a butterfly farm which was full of colourful butterflies. Our next stop was the Chocolate Hills, the reason behind coming on the tour. They were actually seriously impressive- best way to describe them is big green pimple shaped hills stretching out for miles to see. The next stop on the tour that we were interested in, was the Tarsier Sanctuary. Philippine tarsiers are gorgeous tiny little big eyed lemur/ frog things that are endangered through various things like deforestation; there are only few islands left in the Philippines where they can be found. They are also very nervous creatures and a loud bang/ camera flash can stress and kill them. It was interesting to see and learn about them. The other tour stop that we enjoyed was a river cruise down the Loboc River in a big wooden paddle steamer. It was surrounded by jungle and the scenery was gorgeous. Halfway down the river we were treated to a musical performance by some native Filipino women playing ukuleles which was a cool experience. The other stops on the tour we made, were to visit an old bamboo bridge and a very old church- both were okay. Knackered but happy after our first full day actually sightseeing, we both fell asleep as soon as we got in and had to drag ourselves up and awake again to go out to eat! The original plan was to leave Bohol the following afternoon after the island hopping tour but flights were more expensive then so we booked for the day after instead.
The following day, we joined the Island Hopping Tour, the other main thing to do in Bohol. The first part of it was meant to include dolphin watching but annoyingly our tour left late and we didn’t spot any. Our first island stop was Pamlican island- an average looking beach and busy village where the locals just tried to sell us everything. Included in the day tour was snorkelling and we headed out on a small boat to the drop-off. The main thing I noticed when snorkelling here was the taste of pollution in the air- it found its way down your snorkel! I think its because of the amount of boats running tourists around and using cheap, crappy fuel to do so; I’ve never experienced anything like it. At ‘Turtle Point’, we saw one turtle from a distance but he was way down deep and a bit of a blur… although who could blame him with all the tourists around. The next spot ‘Fish Sanctuary’ was laughable- it was about a hundred boats crowded round one part of the reef, full of Chinese/ Korean tourists in life-jackets and people standing on the coral. People were feeding the fish bread to attract them but it just meant others nearly nearly standing on them. Our group took one look and decided to give it a miss and we relaxed on the beach instead waiting for the rest of our boat.
Luckily the next destination was good enough to push away my disappointment with the trip so far- Virgin Island. It was the most incredible white sand island and had turquoise water as far as you could see. We honestly couldn’t believe it when we got off the boat. As we walked along the shallows, the rocks/ coral on the floor were a bit painful but the scenery made it worth it; the water was littered with horned starfish, and trees were growing out of the water. When the sun came out, you genuinely couldn’t believe its colours, it was truly paradise. We got back to Alona Beach at 1pm, napped on the beach and then caught a tricycle back to the ferry port and then the ferry back over to Cebu City, where we had one night booked before our flight to Boracay the following day. Back in Cebu, a lovely Uber driver gave a formative tour on the way to our hostel, even stopping at a restaurant he recommended. We showered and headed straight out to the restaurant AA BBQ where we had a yummy Asian meal of spring rolls and sweet and sour pork. Unfortunately this led to bad stomachs, not sure if related to the meal or just a reaction to brushing our teeth with the Filipino water (silly).
And onto the next place… (and blog) Boracay!