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Ultimate Guide to the Philippines

October 10, 2016

The Philippines is located in South East Asia and is made up of 7107 islands if its low tide but in high tide they have 7100.

One of the things I have noticed on both my trips here is how over populated the country is, they have an estimated population of 98,390,000.

The currency is the Philippine peso which is approximately 70 peso to 1 British pound.

The language is Tagalog, but there are 8 different dialects which are used. You will find the majority of people will speak English.

 

Manila

I love the Philippines but I haven’t fallen in love with Manila as many others have, including my travel buddy. I just don’t think there is much to do here. I’m sure there’s plenty people could find but all I found was traffic, malls and mass amounts of people. Makati is a nice area especially Green Belt, of course it’s another mall but they have some nice bars and restaurants in a garden area outside the mall and it’s nice to watch the world go by here. The Mall of Asia known as MOA was until recently the biggest mall in Asia, it is huge!!!!! They have everything here; I didn’t go to Manila to shop but it has much more to offer. By the waterside there are some bars which have live bands playing throughout the night, there is every kind of restaurant you can imagine here and a cinema. I liked it here in the evening wandering round the outside areas and enjoying the live music. Manila bay is nice to visit they have an aquarium here called Ocean Park, it’s not the most amazing aquarium I’ve seen but it’s cheap and fun.

 

Where to stay

My Makati hotel was the Best Western Oxford Suites, this was right in the centre of Makati with bars and restaurants just outside the hotel. The rooms were lovely considering the price we paid, they were very spacious with a big double bed, the family rooms had two double beds and a fold away single bed. Wi-Fi was available throughout and they offered breakfast at an additional cost which we didn’t take up. The hotel was nice if you want to be able to get about the capital which I did so it was perfect for us.

 Puerto Gallera

Our first adventure was to Puerto Gallera, a beach resort that’s only 3 hours from Manila but it feels a million miles away.

 

How to get there

I like to travel with local transport so that’s what I made the boys do. The first part of the journey was a 2-hour bus journey to Batangas, it cost 200 peso which is around £2.90; I love the buses in the Philippines they all have free wifi and show films throughout the journey. The journey is mainly along a main road but when you get to Batangas you can tell you’ve left Manila far behind, it’s much more rural and I thought it was beautiful. The bus will drop you off at the ferry port, when you get off the bus you will be bombarded by people wanting to help you get your ferry ticket. We reluctantly accepted the help as we had been told not to but the guy was very helpful. We bought our ticket for 250peso (£3.50) plus tax which the guy went to get for us. The journey from Batangas to Puerto Gallera was 1-hour long. There are 3 stops depending on where you stay depends where you should get off but we were making our way to Sabang which was one of the busier resorts. The boat journey immediately started as an experience. Whilst your wooden boat is waiting to leave it will be attacked by young kids. I loved this, they were dancing, doing somersaults into the water and generally messing around, they make their way over in little canoes. The kids were obviously looking for money but we gave them some fruit we had bought on the bus journey to Batangas, so if you remember take something small to give to them. They were so sweet and for people who have nothing they are really some of the happiest people I’ve ever met. Once we got to Sabang we got a tricycle to our hotel which took 15minutes and cost 15 peso (21p).

What to do

We spent a couple of nights in the nearby area of Sabang, it’s a busy area and some of the bars are quite sleazy but if you embrace the place you are guaranteed to have a fun night. We found one of the many bars that have a live band and spent the whole night there.

 

The busiest resort in the area is White Beach which was about 30 minutes on a tricycle from our hotel and it costs 300 peso (£4.30) most of the activity is happening on the beach front itself. There is everything to choose from here, quiet laid back bars, karaoke bars or busy comedy bars. My highlight here was the fire dancers they were amazing, towards the end of the strip the majority of the bars had the dancers, after the dancers the bars had their typical Filipino drag acts.

 

Where to stay

I loved this hotel it was one of my favourites of the trip, the Dolphin bay hotel was a bit of peace that we all needed. It is situated down 80-90 steps and is directly on the beach. The hotel only had a small number of rooms which were all booked out whilst we were there, our room was on the lower level directly in front of the swimming pool. The hotel is run by an Austrian man and his family, all the staff were so friendly and willing to help with anything from travel advise and food requests. The hotel had a bar/restaurant area which served breakfast lunch and dinner; breakfast was included and you could order from the menu until 10am. My internal clock was still a mess at this point and I found myself waking up at 4am, the sunrise was beautiful from this hotel. The beach is just a few steps down from the pool and was always empty, so it was an amazing spot to sit down, relax and enjoy the sunrise. At the restaurant area there is also a tree house kind of seating area; another great sunrise spot. The hotel gave advise about trips in the area but we really wanted to relax during the day and go out at night.

 Sagada - Mountain Adventure

I am not normally a mountain adventurer but Sagada looked amazing and it was something that I just couldn’t miss whilst I was in the Philippines. We booked a 4-day trip with Mega Deal which included the 12 hour transportation to Sagada and the accommodation once we got there. From the start it was definitely something that none of us were expecting. A mini bus collected us from a mall where our journey began, if you plan to do the same trip don’t take a big bag with you as you have to carry your luggage on your lap the whole journey. The mini bus held 14 people and we were packed in, our overnight 12-hour journey began, as it was overnight there wasn’t much that we could see and we all tried to sleep as much as we could as there would be no rest once we arrived in the mountains. Our first stop was Banaue where you will get to see the beautiful Rice Terraces, I had been looking forward to seeing this world heritage site and it was amazing. The terraces were spread over a vast area, we stopped at Dyanarra view point where you could get some really good photos, there was also some locals hiring out traditional Filipino dresses, it was only 50 pesos’ and it made a fun shot in front of the terraces.

There were a few hotels in Sagada but we stayed in a guest house just off the main road. It was 3 floors and had 3 rooms hired out on each floor, with shared bathrooms and a kitchen area. Sagada itself was busier than I expected, it was really popular with Filipino tourists so getting into a restaurant without queuing was near enough impossible. So we bought street food, took it back to the guest house and ate there. Every morning was an early start and breakfast wasn’t included so we always went to the Strawberry café which I saw mentioned on TripAdvisor and the food was lovely, the pancakes with homemade jam were yummy, they also did the typical Filipino breakfast.

 

Because the trip was so short they crammed as much as they could into one day. So day two of our Mountain adventure was a tiring but amazing day. The day started with making our way to the Bomod-ok waterfall, we drove to the start point and were given walking sticks to help us along the way. As we started our walk down the mountains to the waterfall which was right at the bottom, the guide told us we had 4000 steps to make!!! The walk down to the falls was beautiful; the scenery really is breath taking, take the walk slowly just so you can take all the views in. Once you start walking down you have to make your way through a small village and all the rice terraces. Once you get to the falls you can get into the water, there are different levels of water so you could just paddle or make your way further towards the falls and have a good swim. The rocks are slippery but making your way across them for the perfect photo is fun. The falls are nice but the views on the walk down to the falls were much more than I expected so it really took the limelight away from the falls for me. So we spent a short time at the falls and then made our 4000 steps back up to where we started. It was a mission and the sticks really came in handy but it was worth it. You definitely need comfortable walking shoes and water, because of the heat it makes the hike a lot harder. But don’t let it put you off it’s an amazing site so get those hiking shoes ready.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next on our list was the Echo Valley; this was another place I was looking forward to. Echo Valley is famous for its tradition of hanging coffins from the side of the mountains. The local people believed that if they were laid to rest closer to the sky then they would be closer to God. Again the walk down to the site was beautiful, we only went to the viewing point where you could see the coffins we didn’t walk all the way down simply because we didn’t have the time. I am a sunset lover and we had heard of a great viewing point so we decided to cut the tour short and make our way to the viewing point and I am so glad we did. It was possibly one of the best sunsets I have ever seen and one of the best evenings I had in the Philippines. We got there before anyone else and got a good seat, before we knew it about 50 other people were sat on the side of the mountain with us. As the sun started to go down the sky was just beautiful, the pictures do not capture how amazing this evening was. It really was a great way to end our day. Once the sun had gone down the weather quickly changed. Everyone had said that Sagada was cold and of course I didn’t believe them, being from England I am use to the cold but they were right it quickly turned cold and windy so we made our way back to the guest house for our street food and bed.

The next day we started our way back to Manila, but along the way we stopped in Baguio. One of the reasons we booked this tour was because my Filipina friend, Bena wanted to pick strawberries at the farm, so we booked and we all said we would pick strawberries for her. But…because there was a storm there were no strawberries to pick. So we went jam shopping instead. There is a small market outside the farm that sells local produce, so of course we bought lots. We decided not to get the minivan for the 10 hours back to Manila instead we wanted to jump on the coach that would be slightly quicker and extremely more comfortable. So we turned up to the bus station to be told that you have to book, we waited 5 hours but this gave us some time to explore Baguio and it was worth it for the comfortable seats for the long journey.

 

Cebu

This was somewhere that had so much to offer, swimming with whale sharks, being the gate way to Bohol & the Crown Plaza adventure.

 

What to do

On our first day we decided to explore Cebu city, as we were travelling with our Filipino friends of course they had friends that could get us a tour for a good price. The tour started in Mactan itself at 3D art gallery, it was 350 peso to get inside which is about £5. This wasn’t the most up to date, modern gallery I have been to but it was so much fun. It was empty when we were there so we got to take lots of fun photos.

 

Next was the museum of Cebu which was located in Cebu’s old prison its small and was under work when we were there. Then we went to the Crown Plaza, I was so excited about this as you can zip line, sky walk and do a roller ride. You can do each individually or pay a discounted price and get all three. But as it was pouring down with rain it was closed and I was gutted!!! So we decided to go for Chinese in the Crown Plaza instead, it was cheap and good.

The Chinese temple was next, this was a beautiful surprise, the temple was located on the top of a hill and over looked the city of Cebu. It was so serene especially in the busy city. You can walk round the temple for as long as you like and even go into the prayer rooms. Everyone should definitely visit the temple it was a beautiful way to see a different side of Cebu.

 

Finally, we went to the Cebu view point, as we drove up to the view point you get to see how the rich live in the Philippines the houses that line the hillside are beautiful. Once you get up to the view point you have to pay a small entrance fee but the view is definitely worth it. We spent a lot of time here enjoying the view and taking lots of pictures. It’s another serene area in such a busy country that you have to enjoy whilst you can.

Day two we were all so excited for swimming with whale sharks. The drive from Mactan to Oslob is around a 4-hour drive. We were originally looking at getting a bus from Mactan to Oslob but when we were on the tour of Cebu our driver offered to take us for a price that’s a little more but at least it was comfortable. So we were picked up at 6am and away we went. When we arrived there were two prices one for Filipinos, 500 pesos (£7) and one for foreigners 1500 pesos (£70), we were then given a safety demonstration and advised the dos and don’ts especially not to touch the whale sharks, then it was off we go. A group of 6 of us went out on a little canoe type boat to the area where the whale sharks were located. You have 2 men that come out to the sharks with you. I would suggest tipping the guy who gets in the water with you as they are the ones that get the best pictures. We didn’t know this and missed out on the good pictures. You only get 20minutes in the water so make the most of it. If you take your time getting used to being in the water and the whale sharks being around you, you will miss the opportunity. So jump in and get involved straight away. There are other men in smaller boats feeding the whale sharks which keeps them close to the tourists, they really aren’t bothered by the presence of you, they will swim close to you but just try to keep your distance.

After this the driver asked if we wanted to go to a waterfall and of course we said yes. It was about a 30minute drive, once we got there you could either get a motorbike down to the falls or walk down, we decided to walk down and get the bike up which was only 15peso (21p). Make sure you take your towel and swimming gear as we forgot and regretted it. The water looked beautiful, everyone said it was cold but it was crystal clear. The fall is quite small but it’s worth the visit.

 How to get there

So our journey began in Manila, the flight was only 45mins and we booked our flight through Cebu Pacific. The flight cost something ridiculous like £20, as I am mega organised we booked everything before we travelled which helped keep the cost down. We stayed in Mactan Island (the transfer from the airport to the resort was 800 peso  (£11.00),

 

Where to stay

We stayed at a beautiful set of apartments called Kon Tiki Marina Suites. This apartment was such a pleasant surprise the room was huge and could easily sleep 4 people. It had a double bed & twin beds, a sofa and TV area and a kitchen. The biggest surprise was the balcony, this was bigger than most rooms we had already stayed in and it was right over the ocean, it was beautiful, we spent most of our nights out there.

 

Bohol

What to do

On our first day we went on an Island tour, for a full day tour organised with the hotel was 3000 peso (£42), the tour included visiting the Chocolate hills, Tarsier sanctuary, Butterfly sanctuary, Eco Park, church museum & river cruise. Lots of the stuff on the tour could probably be missed out if you wanted to do something else my highlights were the Chocolate hills, Eco Park & River cruise. 

Our first stop was the chocolate hills; this was one of the sites I was looking forward to the most before I came to the Philippines. The hills change colour with the season, the pictures I’d seen had always shown the hills as a brown colour hence the name chocolate, but when I went in December and they were green; still an amazing site. To get to the best viewing point you have to walk up a set of steep stairs. They were working on the viewing point so you had to choose your picture spot carefully to get the perfect shot. The pictures show how beautiful the hills really are, use a wide shot so you can get a few of the hills in one shot.

The Tarsier sanctuary was another site I was looking forward to but was slightly disappointed. Tarsiers are nocturnal animals, so when you walk around the site the tarsiers are strategically placed in dark places under leaves and trees. They have 4 or 5 out on display but due to previous tourists shaking trees and trying to get the animals to move they are now placed quite far out of touch and sight. I only had my go pro which doesn’t have a zoom so if you want pictures make sure you take a camera with a good zoom.

 

A nice surprise for me was the eco park or Bilar man-made forest, this is a manmade forest of red and white Mahogany trees stretched for 2km. The forest was built in 1947 it was part of a bigger reforestation project for the Loboc area. Now it is a beautiful spot for a photo stop. We only have a small photo stop here but it would have been nicer if we could have had some time to explore the forest.

 The best part of the day for me was the river cruise, we had to pay an extra 450pesos (£6.50) for the lunch but I would highly recommend it. The cruise takes about an hour; it sails up the river to a little platform where local children perform a traditional dance, it then continues further up the river turns round and back to the platform where you started. Along the way you will see the locals on the river; local children were swimming up to the boat and holding onto the side. The scenery along the way is rustic and green; I could have spent all day there.

How to get there

We got the ocean jet ferry from Cebu to Bohol that cost 550 peso  (£7) and it takes about an hour.

 

Where to Stay

We decided to stay in a eco resort in the middle of nowhere and it was amazing, the resort was called Natura Vista Hotel. The rooms were basic wooden huts/rooms which had little verandas. The hotel had a restaurant which used all home grown ingredients. The hotel was located a five-minute walk from the local beach, next to the beach was a 5* hotel which we were advised we could use for 800 peso (£11), 500 peso of that could be used towards food and drinks. The resort did look beautiful but we were happy with our little eco resort.

 

Boracay

Many people had told me I had to go here but I don’t like to visit overly touristic places, so the popular resort of Boracay had never really appealed to me, I always thought of it as the Philippines Blackpool but I have never been so wrong. I loved Boracay there was so much to do here, whether you want to relax and do nothing or explore there is something for you. I love the sun and as the Asia tourists don’t, we often had the beach to ourselves, it was amazing. I have been to many beaches all over the world and Boracay’s beach is up there at the top; the white sand went on for miles.

 What to see

So what did we do whilst we were there, well what didn’t we do? We went island hoping, quad biking, sea trekking plus the water sport activities, there is honestly so much to do.

 

Sea trekking was my favourite as I’d never done it before a little boat picked us up from the beach and took us to a platform out at sea. On the platform we received a briefing and away we went down to the sea bed. They place the helmet on your head just as you enter the water so you don’t feel the weight of it. It wasn’t as deep as I thought it would be but it was still so much fun, your ears will pop on the way down but once your down there its easy. Moving around wasn’t so easy I felt like I was walking on the moon; once you’re on the bottom you have a diver down there taking pictures for you so he will tell you to go to different points and you will TRY to move there, it took me about 5 minutes to move 1 metre. There were only 7 of us down at a time so we had plenty of space for us all to get some cool pictures and they let you take your own camera down if you wish. After the session the DVD was sent to our hotel ready for us to collect.

As you now know, I love sunsets so every evening I would make my way down to the beach, which was considerably busier than the day time, take a seat and watch the sun go down.

 

So what is there to do in the evening? Absolutely everything, there are chilled bars, nightclubs, live bands or fire dancers you really are spoilt for choice. My favourite bar was the Spider Bar which was located at the very end of the beach, it was busy with tourists but it was a beautiful spot to watch the sun go down, you can sit in an array of different seats in the bar, on the beach or swim out to the platform to watch. The same goes for restaurants there are literally every kind of cuisine you could think of, Italian, Chinese, typical Filipino or your fast food chains. We found a nice Greek restaurant which was a little expensive but it was yummy and was a nice taste of European food that we all missed. There are plenty of hotels to choose from here, depending on where you want to be located depends on the price you will pay.

 Where to stay

There are 3 stations to choose from;                                                                                                                               

Station 1 – Is where all the big 4/5* hotels are located. There are some quiet bars here and it’s where my favourite bar, Spider Bar is located.                                                                                                                                                                          

Station 2 – Is where the majority of bars are located and the 3* hotels, this is where we stayed.                                               

Station 3 – Is where the cheapest hotels are located, there’s not much going on down there, but if you want a cheap place to stay and don’t mind a walk into the busier parts it’s a nice place to be based.

 

We stayed at the La Carmela Hotel, which is located on the beach front in station 2. The hotel compares to something like the Travel Lodge or Holiday Inn. We booked this on Mega deal so got a really good deal but you can book on their website or Agoda or Booking.com. They have rooms that sleep 2 or 4 and they have all the facilities you need.    

 

Overall my trip to the Philippines was 4 weeks and I visited 7 different provinces and there was still so much more I could have done. This country has so much to offer and not that many people get to experience the beauty of the country. I’m sure that in a few years tourism will boom here so visit whilst you can. The scenery, culture and the people make this country such an amazing place to visit, so don’t miss out. Book your flight now!

 

Bon Voyage

 

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