Published: February 18th 2007February 18th 2007
Note that this blog is a lengthy one as we have done one big blog to cover the whole of our time in the Philippines!
Our transit time in Singapore was 8 hours, this was because we were too cheap to pay for a room in Singapore for this little time! So we slept on the seats of Singapore's budget terminal, with bright flourescent lights and piped plinky-plink music versions of popular songs. Wandering around airport terminals late at night and taking a wrong turn past offices which had 'Navigational Control Centre' posted on them was probably not the best idea! Hours past (which seemed like days) but soon we were on our way to the Philippines (PI). The first observation we made about the PI was the jeepneys (a jeepney, as defined by Lonely Planet, is a uniquely PI concoction. Take one ex-US army jeep, put two benches in the back with enough room to hold 12 people, paint it every colour of the rainbow, add badges, horns, aerials, air fresheners, icons, lots of mirros, a tape deck that only plays Filipino pop, a chrome horse - or a whole herd of them - and anything else you can
think of. Then stuff 20 people on the benches, add 4 in the front, hang a few more off the back and roof and drive like a maniac). This particular jeepney was the best because on one side it had a painted picture of Jean Claude Van Damme and on the other there was Steven Seagal. Anyone who has travelled in South America or Asia will know what popular and quality actors these are.
Anyway, arriving into Manila
we spent a good 2 hours looking for reasonably priced accommodation (this became a running theme in PI!). Accommodation in Manila is very, very expensive and bad value. The situation became so desperate that Neil had to go looking for a room instead of Donna (as she got fed up!). This resulted in Neil finding a great little room in a hotel that must surely have only rented rooms out by the hour and provided rooms for 'short time' use by sex tourists. Looking out from our window beyond the glowing neon heart sign that was strapped to our balcony we could see smoggy Manila.
Manila did have some positives and wasn't nearly as bad as the guidebooks made out.
These being some extremely cheap outdoor bars where you could happily mix with Filipinos and drink San Miguel beer for 25p and some magnificently large shopping centres. Here in Manila again we both seemed to get the celebrity treatment with Filipinos actually stopping in the street and staring at us. This wasn't just staring...it was prolonged open mouthed staring. Imagine if you saw an alien for the first time...your facial expression would resemble that of a Filipino looking at us! We didn't find this a bad thing, in fact quite the opposite. The Filipinos are incredibly interested in Westerners and seemed to give us extra special treatment wherever we went. For example, we got the train to one of the surburban 'mega malls' and we had people falling over themselves to offer their seats up on the crowded commuter train. This find of respect and graciousness we haven't experienced before in Asia.
One week in and we were already liking PI so much we decided we wanted to stay longer and so needed to extend our visas from 21 days to 59 days. We spent 3 hours looking for the Immigration Office in Manila to do this, only to
find that it would take several days...however if we were to go to one of the provincial offices it would take a matter of minutes and would be 10 quid cheaper. We decided to do this and the next morning we got on the bus and headed to the port of Batangas where we were to catch a ferry (outrigger boat) to the island of Mindoro
, where our next destinations of Sabang and Laguna beaches awaited us.
Arriving into Sabang, we again spent 3 hours looking for somewhere reasonably priced to stay, except this time we had a mad jeepney driver run over one of our rucksacks. We were already not in a good mood before this happened, so Neil pounded on the chrome sided jeepnet until a big dent appeared and Donna verbalised at the driver, in other words she shouted every obscenity and rude hand gesture that her dad had ever taught her at the driver and his giggling sidekick...they weren't giggling when we'd finished with them! We finally found reasonably priced accommodation (the cheapest actually in the whole of Sabang), what we call reasonable is P700 (7 quid) for air con, cable tv, clean bed and
Neil sleeping in Singapore budget terminal
We knew the eye masks from Qantas would come in handy at some point!
After geting our bag stitched from where the jeepney had run over it, we contemplated doing a PADI Open Water course...we contemplated for 3 days, $600 was a lot of money. We finally decided to go ahead with the PADI. The course was going fine until the second day and the confined water dive when Donna had difficulty with a task called mask clearing. Apparently it was the dive schools longest confined water dive at 4 hours, this was because Donna just couldn't get it. The task involved filling your mask with water (whilst underwater) and expelling the water by blowing hard through the nose. 40 attempts later, Donna still couldn't do it and didn't particularly like the feeling of water on her face and in her nose. The instructor called an end to the pool session and ordered her to practice in the sea. But following Neil's first open water dive, involving falling backwards off a boat with scuba equipment on and several mask clearing tasks at 18m depth, it was clear that Donna was going to take a few months to master this task. Neil completed his course with flying colours and is now a
qualified Open Water (to 18m) diver. However, after his second open water dive, he was sick in the sea as his ear had blocked causing severe vertigo. The dive instructor got very impatient, told him to fall back off the boat and once he was in the water shoved the regulator in his mouth . One thing's for sure, the dive school will remember us for a long time as the first student to not complete the PADI and the student that almost vomited into his regulator!
North Mindoro is mostly about diving, but there is also some nice beaches. We ventured on a trike (a 3 wheeled motorbike) through dense tropical jungle to a great little beach called Aniunan (see the pics). Again everyone was really friendly here and Donna became a big hit with the Filipinos and the pizza was a big hit with Neil. We then journeyed to Boracay
. We were aware that Boracay is the tourist mecca of PI but we had to see what it was like and to get our visa extended. This involved a 5:30am 2 hour jeepney ride (which also doubled as the school bus), a 4 hour minibus ride, a
5 hour ferry ride, a 1 hour outrigger boat ride and a 20 minute trike ride. Who saying travelling is a holiday?
Arriving into Boracay, we again spent 3 hours looking for somewhere reasonably priced to stay. The cheapest we could find was a small fan room which cost us 10 quid...oh my god what had we done going to Boracay? Things got even worse when we looked at the price of the restaurants...3 quid is NOT a reasonable price to pay for one meal, especially when that meal was really bad quality. We think this was due to the many Korean tourists that visit here and are willing to pay big money for very little. The atmosphere was also made worse by several tourists of unknown origin getting far too carried in the Ibiza-like beach dance bars. Apart from the amazing beach and crystal clear water, this was our idea of a resort nightmare. So we only stayed 5 days...why 5 days...because the Immigration Office wasn't open until Monday afternoon and we arrived on a Thursday, bad planning or what?!
Queuing up whilst waiting for the Immigration woman to vet our visa application was an unusual experience.
We had dressed in our Sunday finest because we were advised that this is how you should dress in Filipino Government Offices. Several other tourist applicants however had chosen to ignore this and entered the Immigration Office in bikini's, flip flops and without tops on. We stuck out a little and a Russian couple who were wearing very little, sniggered at our clothes. However, we were the ones laughing when 5 minutes later the Immigration Officer told them to leave and not come back until they were dressed appropriately. We got rewarded for wearing the right clothes by having our application whisked through in 2 minutes and having the Immigration Office comment on how respectfully we had dressed.
The next day we therefore hightailed it out of Boracay but that wasn't before first making some observations:
1. Boracay is full of Korean tourists, which wouldn't be so bad, but we found them to be very rude and they readily paid ridiculous amounts of money for very poor food, service and accommodation.
2. Filipinos love to sing. This doesn't mean they CAN sing though. We have never seen so many kareoke places - but even when a machine isn't
present, Filipinos seize the opportunity to sing their favourite tune. For example when wandering around a quiet department store we heard music blaring out from one of the kareoke machines and a lone shop assitant was wailing ' My way' by Frank Sinatra...she certainly did do it her way!
3. By and large, Filipinos are some of the friendliest and most respectful people in Asia we have met. Unusually wherever we have been in PI they have called us sir and ma'am and they genuinely are interested when talking to us. This we have found to be in contrast to many Thais in the tourist resorts of Thailand who only ever show an interest when a financial incentive is on offer. It helps however that Filipinos speak excellent English, although when they switch between English and Tagalog (Pilipino) when speaking, it can be a little strange!
4. Filipinos drag their feet...but then again so do most East Asians. Ordinarily this would not annoy or be noticed by the average person, but Donna is an exception to this rule. It drives her mad and she strongly suppresses the urge to shout at people 'pick your f-ing feet up when you walk,
you lazy f-er!'
5. Cash machines are few and far between in PI (especially VISA ones), so when you are lucky enough to find one, get lots of money out (although this often involves lots of transactions as most machines only give 40 quid at most!), as if you try to pay for things with your card you will be charged an extortionate 7%!
6. There are many psychopathic ice cream men in PI, when you say you don't want an ice cream, they attempt Derren Brown mind tricks to get you to buy one by standing and looking menacingly at you! Not that Neil needs this sort of persuasion to buy or eat ice cream!
So we left Boracay. We got a public bus from Caticlan in the north of Panay to Iloilo City
in the south. This was our second most harrowing bus journey on our travels so far (the first being Bolivia). At a mere 7 hours and hundreds of twists and turns and a final 30 minute jeepney ride, we arrived at the (not so frequented by tourists) city. We only spent an hour looking for reasonably priced accommodation in Iloilo City.
Iloilo we got a good feeling from the city. There isn't much to do there and everything mostly closes at 8:30pm, but being two of a handful of tourists in this city, you sure do get the celebrity treatment! Two girls were staring so much in a supermarket that they crashed their trollies into a shelf, see the video of Donna's impression of the staring and note the awful Filipino kareoke in the background too!
Arriving at Iloilo airport the next morning to catch our Cebu Pacific flight to Cebu City was a pain in the arse and made us wonder why we had opted for the 20 minute flight over the 15 hour ferry journey. The issue of contention with Cebu Pacific (or Cebu Specific) was the bottle of New Zealand wine we had in our hand luggage...they had a HUGE problem with this and enforced the European and US-only rule of no liquids, creams or gels in hand luggage. Although LAN Chile, Qantas anmd Tiger had no problems with this as we had carried wine with us from South America on all these airlines. the Customs/Immigration/Security people seemed to take great delight in making an example of
Getting the ferry
from Roxas on Mindoro to Caticlan on Panay
us whilst letting a load of Filipinos through with copious amounts of perfumes, gels, water, you name it! After an hour of arguing with the airline staff, instead of confiscating the wine (as they originally insisted...hmmm maybe one of them had a liking for good wine?) they carefully wrapped it in cardboard and made us sign a disclaimer for if it went missing or smashed in the hold. Grrrr what a load of jobsworths! Not only this but the bottle of water we had bought to drink on the plane was confiscated on the way up the aeroplane steps, not funny when the temperature was approaching 40 degrees. Our wine made it safely to Cebu and so did we and on leaving the airport we were confronted by the now familiar over-charging tourist taxi touts. A quick 5 minute walk away from the arrivals terminal and several large swings of our rucksacks to get rid of the pests, we caught a taxi at half the price to the ferry terminal to get the midday Supercat ferry to Tagbilaran, Bohol
The ferry ride was a bargain at P400 return (4 quid!) each, but as we soon found out, Bohol and
Neil on the ferry to Caticlan
doesn't he look impressed with the accommodations!
the adjacent Panglao Island were in no way a bargain. We shared a taxi with two great Canadian guys (to save money) to Alona beach
, supposedly a place for backpackers. At Alona beach we spent 3 hours looking for reasonably priced accommodation. The travel books were way off the mark with this place saying you could get rooms with a fan for P300, when in reality few places offered a room with a fan for under P1500 (15 quid!!). Following an hour of haggling, a 30 minute trike ride around Alona, we managed to get a shithole of a room for P1000, but it did have air con and a tv. However the shower, toilet and sink didn't work, oh dear! To make this situation worse, all shops have price fixed the cost of goods at extortionate prices and most restaurants close at 9:30pm. One night we were sitting drinking our San Miguels and our bill was brought to us when we were half-way though a bottle without us asking for it, a not-so-blatant hint that the restaurant wanted to close! The restaurants were also very expensive, bad quality food and small portions. The bottom line is that Alona beach/Panglao,
like Boracay has managed to destroy its original charm and the tourist industries are obviously making too much money when the restaurants and bars can close their doors at 9:30pm. To make matters worse, it seems that massive new and re-developments are occuring all over Alona beach and the best part of the beach in front of Alona Palm resort, is as we write this, is being sectioned off to be made into a private beach for Alona Palm customers only. What few plams trees are left on this beach are being cut down to make room for more buildings on this once unspoilt beach. When one of the Canadian blokes we met was showing physical signs of depression, partly because he was devastated at how resorts like this and Boracay have changed for the worst in the last few years, as new visitors to the PI we realised that tourism here is headed in the wrong direction. When seeing a monkey jumping up and down and screaming due to one if it's remaining home palm trees being torn down, Donna even considered becoming an eco-warrior and protesting...it was that sad to watch.
Transportation on Panglao also seems to
Iloilo City streetlife
the kids in the trike were shouting for us to take their picture!
be price fixed. Anyone wanting to escape Alona beach will find it difficult to do so for under P450, for a journey that takes 15 minutes to Tagbilaran. One of the few highlights of our Bohol/Panglao experience was a day trip to the Chocolate Hills and Loboc River to see tarsiers. After 3 days of haggling and manipulation we managed to acquire a car and a driver to take us on this 100km round trip for P1600, this was P400 less than the mafia run transport companies wanted and no dount they would have beaten up the driver if they knew he had offered such a discount. This again is in contrast to Lonely Planet which says you can get a car for a tour around the whole of Bohol for P2000...not true any more!
The Chocolate Hills however were stunning, a bargain at P10 per person entrance, see the pics! There are 1200 of these hills and they really did look quite unusual. We viewed the tarsiers at Loboc River with some hesitation. This is because Lonely Planet said to only visit the official centre at Corella however our driver and no other driver for that matter would
take us there, they insisted that the Loboc River site was government run and that the tarsiers are let out at night...yeh right.
The tarsiers, if you don't know already, are the cutest and smallest endangered primate in the world and was the inspiration for ET and other lovable characters such as the Ewoks and Furbies. They are seriously cute and Donna fell instantly in love with them, wanting to immediately acquire tarsier tourist souveniers. On the way back to Panglao our driver asked if we wanted to see a big python, we said why not. Within 5 minutes we were being led around a very strange zoo of sorts by a very extrovert and very ugly ladyboy who fancied him/herself as a Filipino Dr Dolittle by trying to talk to the animals and getting them to talk back. He/she failed miserazbly on both countys. However we did see the captive python - the largest captive python (in Bohol) which we are told is fed a live pig and shampoo'ed once a month and they showed us the gory pictures to prove it! We then sat in the shade with some playful Filipino children to chat and cool off.
Inside the ferry
at least it was better than the last ferry ride!
They spoke no English but were very proficient spitters so we soon told Henry, our increasingly miserable - but still touting boat trips - driver to take us back to Alona. Apart from the cost of the car, the trip was worthwhile doing because the tourist attractions weren't overprices and we managed to turn it into an impromptu shopping trip by demanding Henry stop at a fruit market, several shops and a cheap restaurant as we refused to pay P500 for a crappy all-you-can-eat floating restaurant farce. Donna opted for P5 barbequed sugared bananas and P10 banana chips and Neil opted for a P10 peanut brittle and P30 noodle soup instead. Suffice it to say we probably won't be returning to Bohol or Panglao again.
We spent 2 nights in Cebu City in the south of PI where love was certainly in the air, this was because it was Valentines Day...or more commonly known as Love Day. The Filipinos really embraced the celebration by putting up love hearts, roses, balloons and whatever else absolutely everywhere, people passing us in the street wished us Happy Valentines Day! It was really strange going to the shopping centre food courts and seeing
nice but expensive
young Filipinos having a romatic meal at a fast food place whilst listening to a live band play 'Careless Whisper'. Neil whisked Donna away in a jeepney to the local shopping centre and treated her to a 60p beef stew and rice and then we both had a 1 hour body massage and 1 hour foot massage for 3 quid.
Checking in to our Cebu Specific Pacific flight in Cebu was a little more lenient than our last experience and they allowed some liquids on board. On checking in a curious member of staff asked if Neil was related to Sheena Easton...you can guess from this just how far behind with music they are! Redeeming itself to an extent, Cebu Pacific was proud to announce that it was the only carrier to have 'fun games' on board and the cabin crew made everyone play 'show me' game where passengers had to hold up the item the cabin crew asked for, the first one to do this won a prize. Let's just say the cabin crew enjoyed it a lot more than the passengers and giggled like little girls all the way through the game!
Our flight out of
Clark takes us to Singapore for another short shopping trip before we head off to Thailand. We have heard that tourism and therefore rising prices have taken off in a big way over the last year in Thailand (ie doubling of hotel rates etc) and this combined with a bad exchange rate makes us apprehensive and worried.
Whilst we have really enjoyed PI, this blog may not reflect it's best side and we will no doubt be returning soon to discover PI's better side, away from the tourist resorts.
There are more photos below