This time we aren’t starting our blog with a flight nightmare but an airport nightmare…seriously, what is wrong with our luck at the moment? We took advantage of some cheap flights but unfortunately those cheap flights were from Clark airport, 3 hours north of Manila. We will warn you now that this is a rather long blog and is a little bit ranty. Getting to Boracay...
Clark airport is so bad, we really don’t know where to start! We were very thankful we weren’t flying internationally as the queue for Immigration was huge (there were only 2 officers on duty for 3 departing flights, it took some people an hour and a half to clear Immigration!) and then we had the complete farce of the security check. You know how you give some people a uniform and the power completely takes over…well that describes the security staff at Clark. These security people didn’t seem to know what they were doing and bizarrely confiscated all sorts of items which are allowed in other airports across Asia! Items like a plastic umbrellas (yes, you are not allowed an umbrella on the plane), 100ml of non-alcoholic mouthwash, chocolate chip cookies, crisps, sellotape
and Gillette safety blades. It was complete chaos and farcical when the security guys pulled out the list of rules to point things out to people that were on ‘the list’ – these rules were dated from 1998! If you can avoid Clark airport even if it’s more expensive to fly to another airport then it’s probably worth it in our opinion.
Anyway, our flight went smoothly and we landed at Kalibo airport and as we didn’t have any checked in baggage we hightailed it out of the airport to find the minibuses going to Caticlan port. This was our first shock…the price for the 90 minute minibus ride was 250 pesos per person (£3.70), this used to be 175 pesos - this was the price in February 2012, the lady selling the minibus tickets said they had put the price up because there were more flights and more people coming through the airport and they wanted to make more money. Well you can’t fault the honesty and it certainly beats the excuse (which is now getting very old) of rising oil prices when petrol prices have stayed the same! Still, a price hike of almost 50% is incredible.
The journey from Kalibo to Caticlan is ok for the most part, crazy driver aside, until the last 45 minutes where the road begins to wind up and down the coastal mountains and at this point Donna’s travel sickness reared its ugly head and we were thankful to arrive at the port.
The minibus ticket includes the boat ticket, however, if doing the same journey we advise you to just buy the van ticket. Previously, you could use any boat with the ticket included with the minivan, now things have changed and you have to wait for a special boat – it’s a proper enclosed boat instead of an open air banka which we prefer. When at Caticlan port you also have to pay an environmental fee of 75 pesos and a terminal fee of 100 pesos…added to the boat ticket of 25 pesos, that’s 200 pesos (£3) for a 10 minute boat ride! As we were sitting waiting for the boat we were giggling (which we probably shouldn’t have) at the accident waiting to happen at the jetty. It was chaotic, bankas were banging into each other, boatmen were hitting each other with their punts…it’s a miracle there
haven’t been any fatal accidents with the number of boats squeezed into such a tiny jetty and the comings and goings of those boats. Finding a place to stay...lol
Arriving safely into Cagban port on Boracay, we dodged the annoying touts and hopped into a trike to take us to our hotel. The week previous to our visit, we had tried to book a room at several hotels but the e-mails kept coming back with ‘full’ or with ridiculous prices (like 2500 pesos (£37!) for a fan room with cold water). We were starting to get very worried about what we had let ourselves in for. We did manage to get the last rooms at one place (Ocean Breeze Inn), a fan room with cold water for 900 pesos (£13.50) and then transferring to an air con room a few nights later at 1700 pesos (£25). The rooms we got they weren’t great, they were just ok and not brilliant value for money. The first room was a really dark nipa hut with holes in the ceiling (we really hoped it wouldn’t rain!) but the worst thing was that right next to this nipa hut (with no windows,
only mosquito mesh) was a gaggle of the hugest roosters we had ever seen which crowed at all hours. It was like an orchestra of roosters practicing for a concert or something – there were at least 6 of them. Luckily we managed to find a pair of ear plugs at the bottom of Donna’s bag which we cut in half so we could get a night’s sleep full of muffled rooster crowing rather than loud rooster crowing. What we don’t get is this myth that roosters only crow at dawn…no, they bloody well don’t, they crow whenever they feel like it and when one crows they all join in! Anyway, the more expensive room we moved to had dodgy air con which didn’t work properly, a TV which was alternated between black and white and no picture, a toilet which didn’t flush properly, a skanky foam sponge mattress (which had probably sponged up a few gallons of other visitors body sweat) and we always had to ask for the free coffee and hot water every morning. Added to the not-good-value was that they wanted to charge 50 pesos a day extra for internet access and 20 pesos per towel
you wanted to use. This is the first place in our extensive SE Asia travels that have ever wanted to charge extra for towels, as if they are an added extra luxury?! Now that is what we call stingy. Let's start with the quality of food...oh dear!
Onto Boracay itself…oh, what a change a year has made. Costs for the majority things (including hotels) have gone up a lot. On our first day we went for lunch while our room was being cleaned, we went to a place we already knew, Cowboy Cocina. We had a burger and a (very small) soft drink each and the bill was 580 pesos (that’s £8.65!), the burger supposedly came with chips (fries for the non-Brits) but there were only 4 chips with each burger! The thing is, we remember when this place opened and it had reasonable prices for food, now it seems that greed has taken over and the owners have pushed the prices as far as they possibly can. After looking at the rest of the menu and the prices we made a decision there and then not to eat at Cowboy Cocina again, 320 pesos (£4.77) for fish
Experienced as we are...
we know that the little yellow flecks in the water is human waste
and chips…these were prices which you would pay in the UK for a pub meal and really, in our opinion, you shouldn’t have to pay those prices in most parts of Asia. Even the snacks and drinks in shops had about 40% tacked onto the prices compared to the rest of the Philippines, we understand that things need to be transported to the island, but 40% more – really?
On Boracay, we have to say we really struggled to find decent quality and good value food. It always was a bit of a struggle but it seems that with more visitors a lot of restaurants have pushed up the prices and dropped their standards. We stayed away from the all-you-can-eat buffets on the beach as there had been a lot of reports of food poisoning due to the food being left standing, we did do a Mongolian BBQ one night which was all you can eat, this was ok but the staff there were a bit stingy (for Neil) when dishing out the meat for his dish! We went to the rooftop restaurant on top of Crafts supermarket and were absolutely disgusted with the meal we were served. There
is meant to be an Indian chef at this restaurant, but the chicken tikka masala (280 pesos or £4.17) Neil had was rubbery chicken which had been reheated with a tasteless, bland masala sauce. The Thai green fish curry (230 pesos or £3.43) Donna opted for was disgusting, in no way was it Thai it was just a load of blended coriander and oil dumped on 3 pieces of grey, hard, overcooked bangus fish (the cheapest fish in the Philippines). Added to this disappointment was the tiniest portion of rice which the staff then tried to charge 80 pesos per portion with a bait and switch tactic that really annoys us. We asked for plain steamed rice, they brought basmati and tried to say we asked for it. Grrrrr, that bill in the end came to 750 pesos (£11.19) and we left hungry and feeling very sick. The worst thing is this restaurant used to be one of the best! So do not under any circumstances eat at Crafty’s rooftop restaurant!
Our saviour in the food department was a new place which had been opened, near to our hotel, by a nice guy from Sunderland. He served good old
Korean groups buying dried mangos
they were going crazy for them (not sure why as fresh mangos are waaay better). They were paying up to 400 pesos a pack when they are normally about 60 pesos!
British favourites like fish and chips, bangers and mash and sausage, beans and chips. We don’t often eat non-Asian food, but on Boracay it seemed we didn’t have a choice so we decided to go all out and enjoy it. At a slightly more reasonable 180 pesos per meal (£2.68) we really enjoyed homemade chips, Heinz beans and proper decent sausages. On the Sunday we were there we even had a roast beef dinner, which while it wasn’t as good as Donna’s it was ok! Bursting at the seams!
Although Boracay is already pretty well developed, we would actually argue it’s over developed for an island which is only 9km long by 2km wide and there is still even more development of really huge hotels going on. There were several of these developments going on within a 5 minute walk from our hotel and the noise was almost 24-7 from these building sites – we felt very, very sorry for the people paying a fortune in the adjacent hotels…we admit that would be way worse than the orchestra of roosters we had to contend with! This level of development on such a tiny island has led to real
overcrowding and at times, it was a fight to walk anywhere on the beach path or even on the beach (see the pics!). We would estimate that 50% of tourists were Korean package tourists, 40% were Filipino tourists and around 10% other tourists. More on this a bit later.
The beach near our hotel area was nice and quiet first thing in the morning, then it gradually got busier and busier until mid-afternoon when it just reminded us of the Costa del Sol and the beaches there. The beach ended up absolutely rammed with people (as you can see in the photos) and as soon as you hit station 2 there was a really thick and nasty algae in the water, this turned the usually clear water to anything from a dark green colour to a nasty yellow pee looking colour. There are several arguments raging as to the cause which happens between end Feb and end of May every year, but the main theory seems to centre around sewerage run off, as the island doesn’t have an adequate septic system for all the waste. The algae, when dried onto the sand, was like a slimy green carpet and
had a really horrible smell! There were also a lot of boats parked and what we really don’t understand is that a few years ago the local government built a large port to limit the number of boats which parked off the beach. However, those rules don’t seem to be followed at all and the number of boats parked out of shore was staggering…although we didn’t mind a couple of the closer ones as it gave something to swim out to and hang onto for a rest!
As we have mentioned in some of our other blogs, we really don’t like overdevelopment, beaches are something to be protected and the problem is with Boracay is that it’s really getting to breaking point. For example, we had 6 power cuts in 3 days (most of our first day was completely without power) because the system was overloaded, it was impossible to connect to mobile internet because the system was overloaded and several times we couldn’t walk to the back road from the beach because the sewers had overflowed with human sh*t and blocked the little paths going back to the road (see photos). There was no way we were walking
through human sewerage, perhaps this is also a reason for the food poisoning at some restaurants? Resorts are gradually pushing their luck with roping large sections of the beach off so you can’t walk through ‘their patch’ of the beach, there have been major complaints about noise pollution from the many live bands which suddenly seem to be at nearly every single bar or restaurant which results in that nasty clashing music syndrome! We even noticed some places beginning to have cover charges, yes, you read that right. These places roped off a section of the beach and were charging up to 300 pesos (£4.00) for people to enter into that area of the beach!
Boracay is supposed to be the premier beach resort of the Philippines, but to us the local government there needs to stop and take a good long, hard look at what is happening to the island and stop development in its tracks; this little island can’t handle any more visitors – official government figures said that almost 1 million people visited the island last year and that is expected to rise by another 25-30% this year, so it's going to be even more crowded. We shouldn't really generalise but...
As we previously stated, the majority of tourists on Boracay were Korean package tourists. We have a major problem with this as the majority of these Korean tourists don’t seem to put anything back into the Philippines economy. They book a tour and fly with a Korean airline, get a private transfer with a Korean company, driver and guide to stay in a hotel which is also owned by Koreans and eat in restaurants, which, you have guessed it, are Korean owned. We believe when you visit a country as a guest, that is what you are a guest; it’s a privilege to be allowed to visit other countries. You should therefore be respectful of your host country and their citizens and should be putting something back into the economy. From our observations on Boracay (and in other parts of the Philippines) we can honestly say that these Korean tourists do nothing of the sort. Almost everywhere on the island were huge groups congregating which were either waiting for transport, having something explained to them by a guide or buying dried mangos - which, by the way, the enterprising Filipinos were charging 400
The beach path...very busy
we had to fight our way through at times!
pesos (£5.97) a pack which usually cost 60 pesos a pack (£0.89p)! We witnessed time and again Filipino families being shoved out of the way on the beach path by groups of Korean tourists and we even saw a small Filipino child pushed out of the way when in line for a buffet. Very disrespectful behaviour which we would compare to some of the British tourists who went to Spain in the 1980’s, but even then, we think
the British weren’t that disrespectful towards the Spanish. We have tried on several occasions to talk to Korean tourists but they ignore us, not in the ‘we don’t speak English’ kind of way but in the rude, completely turn their back on us kind of way. They really do come across as being insular, a little racist and disrespectful.
Now, we know that every nationality has racism – we freely admit that within the UK there are some elements of British people who are extremely racist. Unfortunately, a small proportion of the Filipinos we have encountered seem to be extremely disrespectful and racist towards non-Filipinos as well. We have spent a long time in the Philippines and the number of times
we have encountered some form of racism is actually a little bit baffling. Don’t get us wrong, Filipinos are friendly people but we have encountered an element (the same as in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Indonesia) which are quite racist. As examples, we have stayed in places where 10 members of the same family have stayed in a room for the advertised room rate but when 3 foreigners have come and want to share the same room, they are charged double and told openly it’s because they aren’t Filipino. We go to a market to buy fruit and veg, we can see what other customers are paying but the stall holder tries to charge double and we overhear them in Tagalog discussing how much they can charge us because we are white. We ask to use the kitchen at a place we are staying, as Filipinos are using it for free (and they have told us this) and the hotel want to charge us extra. We have also stayed in a place where a group of Hospitality and Retail Management students were staying (this is to prepare them for entering the tourism industry for their career); they were playing music
and shouting and screaming at 4am. We, and several other guests, went out repeatedly to ask them (nicely) to be quiet and we got told (amongst other things which aren’t printable!), we had no business telling them to be quiet and that we should f*ck off back to our own countries, adding a rather charming ‘white monkeys’ to the end of their abusive rant! So to summarise...
Anyway, back to Boracay. We were there for a week and we did struggle a bit, with the crowds, with the food and the roosters 😊. We had an ok time as we could retreat to our room at night and watch films on our laptop to escape the crowds. We never really like to compare places in SE Asia with each other, but it’s a question often asked of us regarding prices and standards of accommodation, food etc. In this respect, unfortunately, Boracay loses – some days we were spending over 2800 pesos (£41.79) a day, for food, accommodation and with 2 alcoholic drinks. In March when we were on one of the most touristy islands in Thailand we were spending around £37 a day but that was with far
superior food and accommodation standards. For some reason the prices on Boracay seem to have rocketed and it’s no longer a cheap or peaceful destination.
We came to the end of our time on the island and had to head back to Kalibo for our flight out. Again, you have to pay the boat terminal fee of 100 pesos for simply walking through the open sided ‘terminal’ and we got on a banka straight away. When we arrived at Caticlan port the minivan back to Kalibo was only 175 pesos, strange that it’s increased so much coming the other way! We were glad that we had left Boracay early as it took an hour for the van to fill, well we say fill but we were waiting that hour for 2 more people to get on. The other passengers were starting to get agitated and worried they would miss their flight and started shouting at the driver. Luckily for them the driver stepped on it and got them there in time. We had a little time to grab a sandwich at one of the restaurants outside the airport and then headed inside and we immediately regretted the decision…we should
have just hung around outside until the last minute. Kalibo is another airport which is over-capacity, two flights were leaving and people were fighting for chairs and the air con wasn’t working very well making it a hot, hot wait. We finally took off but as we were coming into land at Clark the pilot informed us we had to circle the airport for a while as a military jet in front of us had to make an emergency landing. He said they may close the airport completely, in which case we would be diverted, but as they had only temporarily closed the airport we could just circle instead! We did land safely in the end not after us wondering about our flight luck recently.
Now we have another flight in 4 days and we really are hoping that our bad luck with flights has completely gone…we don’t think we could handle another flight emergency!
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