Published: November 24th 2009November 8th 2009
Our introduction to the Philippines came as quite a surprise, it started off pretty much as we were imagining with funky jeepneys (converted US army jeeps) running around and typical houses we've seen in most of SE Asia, but as we'd landed in Clark which is about 3 hours North of Manila we were really surprised as we made our approach to this huge capital city. For a country that has parts among the poorest in SE Asia, Manila seems to be bucking this trend with some of the hugest billboards we've seen in our lives lining most of the highways through the city advertising mostly expensive jeans & make up that even in England you would think twice about affording. Add to this the countless huge shopping malls and the massive skyscrapers that you can see in the 'poshest' part of the city and you would not believe that poverty exists here. This image is only there while you are in the bus because as soon as you set foot outside this bubble you see that most streets are homes to countless families, the majority of shops have guards with guns and that there are always hoards of people surrounding
you with their hands out asking for money, many more than we've been used to so far anyway. We found Manila to be quite an intimidating city with a constant uneasy feel to it which was not helped by arriving after dark, lets just say that our first impressions were not good. We are not ones to judge places on first appearances as we've been proved wrong many times after initially not liking somewhere then staying a few days and growing to love it so we thought we'd best give it a chance.
There are so many people in this mega city of cities (Manila is actually made up of many cities into one) and you can't get a moments peace from the polluting traffic and crowds of people that are here be it day or night. Carrying guns is apparently the norm and we even saw a bakery with an armed guard! Cash gets dropped off at banks in what can only be described as a mini tank with an small army of guards surrounding it and there are notices to 'please deposit your weapons here" in most bars and hotels. We were only in Manila for a
yes they are the cutest things ever!
few days before the arrival of our long awaited travel buddy, Sophie's sister Eleanor and chose Malate to base ourselves as this is supposedly the tourist area and we thought it would be a good area to do a bit of exploring from. What they probably mean when they say it's a tourist area is that it's the place to go for fat Western men to get their rocks off with young girls, a congregation point for the homeless to constantly hold their hand out to you whilst dragging around a group of small children and sniffing glue out a bag so it's not all that nice really and we wouldn't really say we ever felt totally at ease, we'd even go so far as to say that we felt more at home in Rio than here which is saying something! The best area in the city is the built up Malakati district with it's posh high rise hotels and international companies but needless to say our budget did not stretch to staying here and we didn't fancy staying in a pay per hour hotels either.. there are many of these, some are even big chain hotels with special offers
if you stay for 8 hours!
We're sorry to say that most of our time was spent sheltering in the sanctacty of Robinsons Mall. Of course this doesn't give any idea of what life is really like in Manila but to be honest by the 2nd day we were getting to the point that we'd rather not find out what life was really like as we really did not connect with this city at all. Robinsons Mall does have a great array of food places from the cheap food court to more 'upmarket' establishments like TGI Fridays. For anyone going to this area we would like to recommend an Italian Restaurant on the top floor of Robinsons which does all you can eat pasta for just 150PHP (£1.92), and for an extra 50PHP (75p) you can also get a bottomless glass of iced tea so this scored very highly with us... sadly we only found this on our last day but it was a steal and we have plans to return!
One day we felt we really should venture out of Malate and took a walk down to the old town of Intramuros which was fairly scenic, we
Climbing the neverending steps at Nuts Huts!
If you don't like walking up loads and loads of steps don't go here!
walked along the old wall of the city stopping to look at the various canons still left there and the gates where old prisons used to be and it was actually quite a nice area. We heard a story from one guy we met who had taken a horse & cart to this area and after nearly getting ripped off with the cost then nearly 'lost' his wallet when he refused to pay and had to jump out when it was speeding along so we would not recommend taking this mode of transport if you want to go here as romantic as it may look! On our way back from the old town we took a wrong turn which took us right into the slums area which was interesting! Immediately we were surrounded by small children all with their hands out to us but they were all quite friendly as we high fived them rather than cross their palms with silver and made a new friend on our way out in the form of a toothless prostitute which is always nice!
We know we sound very harsh about the poverty and the homless here but like most travellers you
become a bit hardened to these sights even if most do still break your heart. Others will know that you just cannot give out money and/or food & drink to everyone who has their hand out because you would forever be doing it and selfish as it is you'd be going home much sooner than you had thought. We do relent sometimes though, mostly with the old or disabled people who we tend to buy drinks or food for. We really felt for a family of 5 who lived outside our hotel washing their children in the gutter each day and then leaving them alone at night outside a shop on a piece of cardboard but when you see the dad taking drugs and smoking cigarettes all day we didn't really feel that any money we gave him would go towards the children's wellbeing so preferred to get them a few drinks instead.
While we were in Manila we also managed to survive Typhoon Mirinae which was an experience.. we didn't really experience at all! We'd heard that one would be passing though whist we were still in KK and were initially worried that it would cause problems with
our upcoming visitor flying in. After doing much research on it's expected path we were all relieved to see that it probably wouldn't be as bad as we'd first thought. It was due to hit on the Friday night so we went to bed wondering what we could expect.. then woke up on Saturday morning having not heard a peep! Our room was a tiny windowless box room so that probably helped and the only evidence we saw that anything had happened at all was a few branches in the road and some signs having blown over. The typhoon had actually caused major problems further up in Luzon where they were still clearing up from the last one but Manila seemed to have got off pretty lightly so although we were there when one went over we can't really say what it was like at all!
Thankfully our days in Manila came to an end when we had to go and meet Eleanor from the bus station and then all took a journey to the airport to wait for our flight to Cebu City. We spent 5 hours there catching up on the year since we'd seen her last
and then a nice evening in a good hotel enjoying room service before the ferry to Bohol the next morning. Eleanor wanted to do a bit of backpacking and we'd organised a good itinerary between the 3 of us that would get her to experience a bit of everything in her 2 weeks with us. Our first stop on our list in Bohol was Loboc, a small village about 1 hour outside Tagbilaran where the ferry had docked. In order to get there we had to go by bus which was an experience Eleanor probably won't forget in a while! For us it was actually quite a nice bus ride.. we got seats and the roads were all in a good condition but for Eleanor the feeling wasn't entirely mutual! The seats in Filipino buses are for 3 people so after initially thinking we'd have a seat for just 2 of us we soon all have to squeeze up as the bus got fuller and fuller on it's journey. We had our big bags on our laps, it was boiling hot but we had to be thankful that we were only on there for an hour and also that we'd
got on at the start otherwise we would probably be getting on the roof!
Our destination in Loboc was Nuts Huts
which had been recommended to us as a good place to stay. Eleanor had been trying to book us a room for the last few weeks with no success so we had to turn up in the hope that they had space for us, it's a bit out of the way so if they didn't we weren't entirely sure what we'd do. Thankfully there were rooms free so the 10 minute walk from the main road was worthwhile and we bagged ourselves 2 nipa huts with an interconnecting door which was perfect. Nuts Huts is in a fantastic setting next to the Loboc River surrounded in trees so offers a jungle feel which is exactly what we were all looking for. When we arrived we'd walked 15 minutes along a steep path to get there and were all boiling hot so jumped at the chance of swimming in the waterfall just upsteam. Sophie & Eleanor got to enjoy being paddled upstream Dale offered to walk alongside (there was only room for 3 in the boat) and we all
met 10 minutes upstream. The waterfall was great, just strong enough to give you a nice massage with it's cool water but not so strong you got pounded into the rocks below, we spent an hour playing around in the water then we all squeezed into the boat to go back to to the resort. Nuts Huts also has a fabulous restaurant from where you can watch the fireflies around the trees at night so we got to enjoy this while washing down our cheap as chips beers and it provided a perfect few nights for us all to finish catching up.
As we were on a tight schedule we booked ourselves a bike and a bike+rider for the following day to take us on a mini tour of the island and see a few of the sights that Bohol is famous for. First on our list was the Tarsier Research & Development Center
. A little bit of history on the Tarsier taught us that they are both the smallest primate in the world (they fit in your hand) and also the oldest of the primate group at 45 million years old. We'd all seen photos of just how
cute they are but to see them up close they are even nicer and you can't help but say "ahhh look how cute and small it is!".. well the girls did! They are just gorgeous sat there hugging the bamboo and you can see why people want to cuddle them but obviously here at the sactuary you are not allowed and for good reason too. You can see advertisements for cuddles with them all across the island but these captive ones only live to around 12 months old of their 20 years life expectancy so you can see how much damage it does to be manhandled all day every day and it is not recommended to visit these places. After a seeing 5 of the tasiers in their natural bamboo homes and having a short walk around the centre we got back on the bikes and headed to the next destination on our list...
The Chocolate Hills are a formation of 1268 grassy hills which are between 40m to 120m high. Although scientists have many theories on what they are and how they were formed, nobody is 100% sure but we can say that they probably aren't the teardrops
from giants! They are quite something to see and from the viewpoint as far as you can see it's just hill after hill after hill all looking pretty much identical apart from a slight variation in size. After seeing them from one vantage point this was not enough and we made our way east to Sagbayan which was in a way a better view as you had the sea as a backdrop and the setting was a bit nicer so we'd recommend coming here if you want to see the hills in all their glory. By the end of the day we'd travelled quite a long way, it didn't look so far on the map but we'd been on the bikes for around 5 hours and our bums were hurting so we made our last stop St Peters Church in Loboc, the oldest church on the island built in 1602 (our rider wanted to show it to us and we felt rude to refuse) then headed back to the huts to relax on cushions while we enjoyed our meals.
We know we say this a lot but we all agreed we could have stayed at Nuts Huts for a
good few days more enjoying the activities they offer and just the resort itself.. they even have a herbal sauna.. but we had to move on to experience the beach life that the Philippines is so famous for. Rather than subject Eleanor to the roof of the bus we caught a taxi to the far east resort of Anda where we got to enjoy the quiet life in a Filipino resort. We had a few days in Anda which was perfect, there really isn't much to do here except relax and enjoy the lovely cove beaches and the clear waters beyond so we did just that for 3 days. The resort was ok.. the food not so but the staff were very friendly and we were the only people there for a while so it was very peaceful. On our last day we joined by 4 French guys who came with us to see the caves that surround this area. The caves were only a few minutes away from the resort and had we known they were that close we would have gone there more often because the 2 we visited had great clear and cold swimming pools in them
which were perfect for cooling down from the heat of the day. One of the caves had a group of local boys there who showed Dale how they did things by jumping in from the highest point possible. Needless to say Sophie & Eleanor left Dale to this and nominted themselves photographer for the jump! After having a nice time at the resort we left on a bad note after the lady manager tried to get away with adding another 600 pesos to our food bill, it's a good job that Sophie suffers from OCD on what we spend so we caught her out as soon as they showed us the total. We felt bad for the girl on the front desk who was left to deal with it when it clearly hadn't been her error in the first place so if anyone does head to Dap Dap Beach Resort just double check the bill before you pay up!
With our tans topped up and Eleanor having made a good start on hers we made our way back to Tagbiliran by bus which was very painless as we all got seats to ourselves for the entire 3 hour trip.
Us at Manila airport
waiting 5 hours for our plane
Back in town we had a few hours to kill before our ferry back to Cebu City so visited a Western Restaurant that is run by deaf people. This place is a bit of a random find all decked out with Wild West decor, the food was average but we had a fun time trying to pick up a bit of sign language from the menus to thank our waitress for the service and it's always nice to see countries like this actually doing something positive for the disadvantaged.
Back in Cebu for one night we stayed in the hotel we'd picked before because it was close to the pier, it also did room service, had a million channels on the tv and had a hot shower so we were all happy! The following morning we were back at the airport for our next flight to Kalibo and then onto Borocay where we were to spend our remaining 5 days...
There are more photos below