Published: November 6th 2009October 17th 2009
to be enjoyed on the beach with a gin and tonic
The Philippines - live your dreams (a registered trademark) Kris
Contrary to popular belief of many friends we really do proper work in Vietnam and we aren't spending our months lying on a beach. As a result we are even entitled to paid leave from our job. So we booked it well in advance way back at the beginning of the year so we could visit the Philippines. One of Kate's friends from University was getting married to a girl from the Philippines and we were invited to the wedding. Having never been to the country before we thought we'd combine the wedding trip with a holiday and with that, we were back on the road...
How not to smuggle your feathered friends on holiday with you
Before we get to talking about the Philippines, an aside of a strange story from the airport. There we were, in Saigon airport, in the middle of the night, waiting for a flight to Manila. The only other passengers flying at that time were going to Japan and Korea. We go through to the Departure lounge and our hand luggage is scanned. As usual.
The man going through the next desk is stopped, and the security guards open his luggage. I have no idea what they could see on the screen, because they pulled out two live birds, wrapped in toilet roll. Their heads and legs were poking out, so they could watch the journey, but their wings were held down by bog paper so they couldn't fly away. With no little loo roll gags in their beaks, they were cheeping away. Maybe security stopped the bloke because his hand luggage was singing. I don't know. Odd anyway.
What do they do when they find live animals in people's luggage? They seemed to be magpie robins, a species of bird that's very common in Vietnam, but perhaps not very common, or perhaps very tasty, in Japan or Korea. So, do they have some way of dealing with them, or do they just unwrap their toilet paper binds and let them free.
Because there were two happy, singing birds flying around the airport waiting room about 1/2 hour later.
First stop on our trip after an overnight stay in Ho Chi Minh City and the connecting flight in
Rules for the swimming pool
notice the "no defecating in the pool rule".
Clearly a problem previously....
Manila, was the island of Bohol where we were booked into a beach front room in a resort. The Alona Tropical resort
was cool. Rooms in dark wood in some lovely gardens with a pool (with a strict "no defecating" rule - see pics) and a beach front bar and restaurant. Even better, it was one of those places where you could charge everything to your room and then magic the bill away with a Mastercard so you can even pretend it was free! Thanks HSBC!
Our 1st day stroll along the beach revealed a load of restaurants and bars and a huge number of diving operators. At night we found a bar that had a live band and another bar that stayed open as long as customers were propping it up - something that I find quite alien nowadays with much of Haiphong's nightlife winding down before 12. In this particular bar, over the course of a couple of nights we made friends with the bar staff and they would have our drinks on the bar before we spoke. They also forced me to play Connect 4. This might sound odd but it's happened to me
before in a shady bar in Pattaya Thailand, both times, I hasten to add, I was with Kate! I sit down at the bar and instantly a Connect 4 game is produced, thrust in front of me and I'm forced to play the waitress. I'm not sure why. I complied and soon I was in this Connect 4 game marathon with Kate happily chatting to other people. Eventually the waitress said "Do you like this game?", clearly indicating that she was bored trying to entertain the sad lonely tourist at the bar...I took the opportunity to join the conversation with Kate, demonstrating that I in fact have friends.
An island tour - monkeys and snakes and transvestites and blood-drinking
One of our days on Bohol we decided to arrange a tour. A tour operator near our hotel arranged the hire of a car and driver from 9am to 5pm to take us to all the main sights of the island. It was really cool. In the morning we saw a Spanish church followed briskly by the World's largest python (allegedly). We drove into a small patch of woodland nearby some kind of visitor centre...hopped out and were
promptly greeted by a bloke dressed as a woman. He/she flamboyantly invited us to look at his/her snake. And there it was, a 20 foot python curled up in a cage. And how did it get so big? Apparently because the ladyboy guy gives it lots of love. He went so far as to say that a reptile expert from London Zoo had asserted that "love" was the most important factor in snake growth. So there you go.
From the snake we went on to see tarsiers - cute little monkeys that make Bohol famous (everyone's heard of the Bohol tarsier, right? Err...). They were very cute but seemed a little sleepy. Probably cos they're nocturnal, hence the big eyes. Kate fed one a caterpillar which it devoured in seconds. Dirty beggar.
After the tarsiers it was time for lunch (that'll be 11am then...) and lunch was on a river cruise. So we took a seat on a river boat (which was actually a big raft pushed by a little boat behind it) and we ate and set off down the river. For a while it seemed like nothing too surreal would happen...then we went round a bend
Dancing girls and tiny guitars
riverside entertainment on the Loboc river cruise
in the river...
There, by the side of the river on a little jetty was a big group of people singing and playing music. Three or four grinning women were dancing in the foreground and behind them were row upon row of people sitting and playing tiny guitars. Not just guitars, tiny guitars. Like a kid might have. Loads of them. The boat-restaurant pulled up alongside them and we sat and watched and listen as they grinned at us manically and invited us onto the jetty to join the dance. This went on for about 5 or 10 minutes and then we set off back down the river. "How strange" I thought...
After lunch it was time for the Chocolate Hills. They're not chocolate but they are very odd looking hills that apparently go brown during part of the year and are said to look like chocolate drops scattered across the land. See the pictures. They were formed through some interesting geological events or something. Can't remember. They look pretty though and you get to see them from a cool high platform with a great view. You can also have your picture taken by some guys who get
you to stand in front of a huge photograph of the Chocolate Hills. This puzzled me in particular. If you're standing in front of something, why do you get your picture taken in front of a picture of it? Nevermind...anyway, there was more surrealism to come. The standard pose to strike when you're having your picture taken in front of the picture was that of a witch. A broom was provided as a prop and lines of tourists sprang into the air with the broom between their legs inexplicably pretending to be a witch, or maybe Harry Potter, soaring above the Chocolate Hills. To the command of "one, two, three, jump" Except it wasn't the Chocolate Hills, it was a big photo of them.
To top this off, you can have the photo of you and your friends pretending to ride a broom in front of a big picture of the Chocolate Hills put on the front of a T-Shirt with the slogan "I've been to the Chocolate Hills" above it.
If you want.
I can't promise that you won't look like five kinds of dick though.
From the hills we went
to a rickety bamboo and rope bridge stretching over a river. I have no idea what the significance of the bridge is...but we walked over it and it got a bit scary. At the other side a man tried to sell me a hat made out of a coconut, but I declined. Then we were stuck there for a while as a load of other tourists arrived and came marching across, flagrantly disregarding the modest sign warning everyone that only 10 people should be allowed on the bridge at one time. Presumably with this in place the local tourism board can keep a clear conscience should any tragedy occur...luckily it didn't.
After that (nearly done) we went to a butterfly farm where someone put butterflies on me and explained to me the life cycle of moths...
Then, final stop we visited the statue of the blood compact. Basically early Spanish explorers made an agreement with a local chief by drinking a cup of each others blood. Nasty eh?
After that it was home, gin and tonic on the beach, a San Miguel and a Connect 4 match to end all...
No guns please, we're British
Bank in Tagbilaran City
look closely. There are two armed guards. With machine guns. And a space for the armored car.
On our 1st morning on the beautiful tropical beach we were sitting in the warm sun under a palm tree on the beach front restaurant digesting breakfast when one of the hotel security guards padded by on the sand. He smiled and said good morning and then slung the strap of his pump-action shotgun into a more comfortable position.
Yeah, he was carrying a pump action shotgun of the type I usually associate with zombie movies. From then on I realised there were a lot of guns in the Philippines.
The land around our hotel was semi-rural and apparently perfectly safe for a wander around...but the gate was guarded by an armed man. Then we went into the local town by tricycle (basically a motorbike and side car) and saw the security around the banks. We were having trouble finding a bank that worked so we worked our way down the street. The 1st ATM was flanked by uniformed blokes carrying handguns...the next had several guys carrying shotguns...and the next had about 6 blokes hanging around very casually with machine guns leaning on their armoured car. I noticed they were also carrying loads of bullets, as if
Road to the beach.
Take a close look at the sign...
"you are now entering a gun free zone"
Oh, that's reassuring.....
where were we before?
they were expecting a lengthy gun battle should bank raiders turn up. Hmm. I managed to get money out and went for a drink in the local McDonald's to find that even here there were 2 armed guards and nearby there was a gun shop called "Shooters". I didn't invest in a piece though. I'm already packing a Swiss army knife and I have an orange belt in karate...
Another thing we noticed as soon as we arrived on Bohol was the number of signs about God everywhere. Now, the Philippines are well known for being very Catholic - being ruled by Spain can, no doubt, do that to a country. But even when we lived in Spain we didn't see this many religious messages and signs everywhere. By the side of the road were signs telling how God would thank you for driving carefully. On the way into the city there was a big mureal on the way saying
Even if others do not
Even if others cannot
Even if others will not"
The predominant form of transport is the trike. Basically a motorbike and sidecar with a roof that carries two passengers at a
time. Each of them has a religious message on the back. See the photos for some examples.
After a few days it was time to move on. So many beautiful beaches out there and so little time...
Incidentally, the title of the blog comes from the offer a trike driver waiting outside our hotel gave us......
There are more photos below