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ONE MONTH IN THE PHILIPPINES

What a wonderful place! It’s easy to get swept away in the natural beauty of the land and generosity of the people of the Philippines almost from the time you touch down. Strong American and Spanish influences ensure you are constantly captivated by something new. Whilst still a third-world country, with some minor adapting on your behalf, we are certain you will feel right at home!

VISA

Maximum length of stay in the Philippines is 30 days (if planning to extend, we recommend sorting it upon arrival or doing a visa run). For many countries, a visa is not required, however the airport will require evidence of an exit flight unless you can bluff your way in 😉

SEE

With 7,000+ islands, there are plenty of options! Check out our top picks outlined below:

Cebu

Apo Island & Bohol

Palawan

Luzon

Manila is the capital city and gateway to the country, and although we didn’t love this city (ah, the traffic), here are our recommendations on making the most of it.

EAT

Whilst visiting, you will live on a staple of rice (garlic is the best!), eggs, vegetables, pork and chicken. For a local taste, be sure to check out pork sisig, banana-que, corned beef, dried fish, pork adobo, all sorts of sweet breads & mangos, mangos, mangos!

BUDGET

We budgeted for $66USD/day (for 2 people). Actual was $65/day x 28 days = $1,825 total.

This includes:

Accommodation – $289

Beverages – $87

Food – $425

Transport – $660*

Entertainment – $312**

Miscellaneous – $53

*includes inter island transfers & flights – excludes international flights

**excludes Open Water course – $956 for 2 people

TIPS

– Download GRAB – a local taxi app that helps you avoid the haggling hassles (or use Uber)

– Carry toilet paper to the facilities

– Outside of your beach attire, be sure to pack warm clothes for Northern Luzon

– ATM’s charge 200 pesos ($4 USD) local fee with a 10,000 ($215 USD) withdrawal limit

– Phone options – Globe or Smart, we went with Globe and paid 40 pesos for a sim and purchased 500 pesos of credit, which was used to purchase 3GB of data (299 pesos) with a 30 day expiry & approx 201 pesos for local calls (worth getting data as we found Internet unreliable in our travels)

– If you’re a rum drinker, be sure to get 375mL local rhum for 50 pesos (cheaper than a Coke!)

– Get around in the jeepneys (cheapest transportation option!) – if your feeling adventurous, be sure to ride on top like the locals

– If interested in diving, Philippines is a great place to get your Open Water (if not up for the intensity of the 3-4 day course, we suggest getting a referral to help space out your study whilst getting a chance to experience different dive sites, equipment & instructors as part of your certification). We had great experiences with both Thresher Cove Dive Resort in Malapascua and Neptune Diving Adventures in Moalboal.

THE LUZON MOUNTAINS ARE CALLING!

Northern Luzon, Philippines, that is! After spending nearly 3 weeks in the Visayas region, island hopping, it was time for a change of scenery. So, back to Manila we went – boarded the night bus to Banaue and slept as much as possible on our 10 hour journey! For those who haven’t made this trip, it is the coldest we have been in the Philippines due to freezing A/C…

BANAUE

We arrived in Banaue to rain, fog and dark clouds which made it hard to appreciate the beauty of this region. We decided to move on to greener pastures (pardon the pun!) of Sagada and Batad. On our return to Banaue we were provided with better weather and were able to take in the amazing views from their famous viewpoint and meet with a local tribe as seen below!

We also checked out the fascinating artwork at the Museum of Cordillera Sculptures which was a highlight of our visit. Spread over two levels, this private collection showcases the history and insight of the Ifugao people with a broad mix of sexuality, violence and local beliefs.

STAY: Randy’s Brookside Inn, although we didn’t stay Randy allowed us to store our bags and recharge at his comfortable homestay

PLAY: Banaue viewpoint & Museum of Cordillera Sculptures

EAT: Halfway Lodge, a great place to eat breakfast (Hot coffee and delicious oats with banana and honey) after an overnight bus trip.

SAGADA

We continued our travels to Sagada, which didn’t disappoint. The 3 hour trip from Banaue was through windy, mountainous roads, though it was worth every turn. Sagada is a small mountain town which has a laid back feel with friendly people. We toured the famous hanging coffins with insight from our guide ‘big’ Joon and were amazed at how they placed the coffins so high up. We then had our first taste of hiking through the rice terraces on our way to Bong-ok (Big Falls) which took us through a local village ending at a waterfall – round trip was between 9,000-10,000 stairs! The hike tested our fitness as we rushed back up the trail to catch the last Jeepney to Sagada. When we arrived at the top at 2:05pm we were informed that the last Jeepney left at 2:00pm, so we had another 5.5km to walk! After having a celebratory drink with the locals, we slept well that night!

Make sure to ride like the locals by riding on top of the Jeepney for the 45 min ride down the mountain from Sagada to Bontoc!

STAY: Green House Inn – central, affordable, and best of all offered HOT showers!

PLAY: There are a number of sites including hanging coffins, rice terraces, caves etc. – check out the 1-page complimentary guide to the city when arriving to pay your environmental fee (40 pesos).

EAT: Yoghurt House for breakfast (the food was amazing!!); Log cabin for dinner (We had delicious pasta)

BATAD

An hour Jeepney ride from Banaue sees you arrive at Batad saddle, after an introductory 20 minute hike you arrive at the relatively popular yet small village of Batad. Set on the doorstep of the famous world heritage listed rice terraces, this place is spectacular with breath taking views all round. To think that these terraces were build over 1,000 years ago is unbelievable!

We decided to stay in Batad for 2 nights at Rita’s Inn and were blessed with the below views whilst enjoying locally cooked meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner 🙂

On day 2 we set out on our 7 hour hike through the narrow paths, rocks and mud tracks of the rice terraces, Cambulo village, and the local waterfall before returning to Batad. Our fitness and balance were tested as we tried not to fall to our deaths (or at least muddy embarrassment) but with the aid of our guide, Raul (pictured below), we were safely returned. Watching the locals traverse the rice terraces is a sight to be seen, with even young children making it look easy!

 

STAY: Rita’s Inn – great views and a pleasure meeting and chatting with the whole family (children pictured above)

PLAY: Batad rice terraces – we opted for a tour guide (1,200 pesos), though many a tourist made the trek solo

EAT: Rita’s Inn for convenience – other restaurants are within walking distance if you are looking for variety

PLENTY OF FUN IN PALAWAN…

Although Palawan island was ranked as the worlds #1 island two years in a row, we debated going here because we heard it was too touristic. But, we decided we wanted to see what the hype was all about. With only a couple nights on the island, we felt the one-way 6 hr trip to El Nido was a bit far for a day trip. And we’ve already discussed making a separate trip back at some stage to partake in the Tubbataha Reef liveaboard dive excursion. However, sticking around Puerto Princesa, we still got to partake in some unique activities.

UNDERGROUND RIVER

Being one of the 7 New Wonders of the world, we knew we had to check it out. We read reviews stating that wait times were sometimes up to 6 hrs. Knowing it would be a full day adventure that would probably test our patience, we decided to go for it. 1,540 pesos ($32 USD) each got us a 2 hr bus ride (through 190 curves!) there and back, a local guide, buffet lunch (surprisingly delicious!), 30 min return boat trip to the cave and a 45 min audio guided tour through the caves. The caves themselves were AMAZING – the getting there and back could have been a lot more organised, but in the end, we were happy to tick this one off our list! PS. We were lucky enough to only have to wait 2 hrs going & 1 hr returning (woo hoo!) though the return wait was in a small boat in choppy waters in the ocean :/

IWAHIG PRISON & PENAL FARM

Setup is very different from what most of us think of as ‘prison’. There are maximum, medium & minimum security prisoners. Minimum security prisoners have been rehabilitated and will be released back into the community relatively soon. These prisoners are allowed to roam freely on the 17 hectare land and even act as tour guides to visitors. We were guided by ‘Batman’ who had served 33 years for murder. He was lucky enough to have his family living on the compound with him. We met Martin, who had been in Iwahig for 30+ years for drugs and Joe, who so far had served 17 years for robbery. There is a heavy sales pitch by some of the prisoners to buy there handicrafts, which is a bit off putting, though also understandable. We bought a few packets of smokes to give to the medium security prisoners through a small gap in the gate, and it was almost like giving treats to our dogs, as they were so eager! I personally really enjoyed the whole experience, whilst Rob wasn’t too fussed about it.

Overall, we enjoyed our time but would definitely recommend to fellow travellers to stick around Puerto Princesa for a day, but then head North to either El Nido or Coron to check out more of the pristine island they call Palawan!

STAY: OMG Hostel – Basic facilities but the location is great, directly off Rizal Ave – within walking distance to plenty of restaurants

PLAY: There are plenty of tour options in Puerto Princesa – Honda Bay, Ugong Rock, etc

EAT: Kalui & Kinabuch (both off Rizal Ave)

Rob - Chocolate Hills

PHILIPPINES ISLAND HOPPING!

DUMAGUETE

From Moalboal, we decided to head South to Negros Island before heading to Bohol. Dumaguete is the capital city of the island and though much smaller than Manila & Cebu City, we didn’t feel the need to stay more than one night. It ended up being a great stopover point allowing us to get our laundry sorted and get our Mexican fix!

STAY: Harold’s Mansion – when we went it was fully booked, so we stayed 3 doors down at Pamela’s in a private room with air con & TV for 650 pesos – nothing fancy, but it was perfect for us!

PLAY: Head down to Rizal Avenue for a walk around; Speak to Harold’s for the best deal in town on snorkeling/diving trips to Apo Island

EAT: Coco Amigos – yummy Mexican!

APO ISLAND

At 6:45 the next morning, we headed to Harold’s mansion to get our gear for our Apo snorkel trip. 30 min later, we were on the boat for the 45 min journey across the sea. From there, we snorkeled at three different spots. Amongst heaps of fish, we swam with giant sea turtles which was incredible! Unfortunately I ended up super sun burnt on the backs of my legs…ouch! Definitely make sure you’re reapplying sunscreen when getting in and out of the water 😉

STAY: Mario’s homestay was the place to be – failing that try Ronor’s homestay (500 pesos with free breakfast)

PLAY: Hike up the mountain to the View Deck to get an amazing view of the island! Do the Lighthouse walk as well (300+ stairs) – whilst the view is not as good as the View Deck, take an alternate path down to see more of the islands natural beauty

EAT: Lunch was included with our snorkel trip which was surprisingly delicious – for dinner, we opted for Ronor’s cooking – at 150 pesos for local food, we knew we couldn’t go wrong 🙂

MALATAPAY

From Apo we were routed back through Malatapay to wait on the ferry headed to Bohol. We were lucky enough to catch the market, held every Wednesday morning. We saw a multitude of things – a plethora of dried fish, variety of fresh veggies, and even pigs waiting their turns to be slaughtered. We picked up some fresh fruit and headed on our way to the port via a crowded bus which make our complaints of public transport overcrowding in Australia seem non existent!

BOHOL

We decided to stay away from the touristic area of Panglao and instead decided to stay at an ecolodge in the more rural area of Loboc. Finding it hard to head in the right direction and knocking back over priced tricycles and taxis, we were saved by a lovely lady, Mar, who invited us onto her jeepney. The ride to the hostel was adventurous with Rob hanging onto the back – local style – and confirming it was a great way to travel.

The next morning, we rented a bike and were off to see Bohol. We stopped to see the Tarsier monkeys – the smallest primate in the world. They’re nocturnal so not much activity during the day but they were still great to see though the attraction itself was a bit overpriced/rated. Then we headed to the infamous Chocolate Hills – stunning, beautiful rolling hills! From there, we ventured an hour across to Anda Beach. This side of the island was much more untouched and its beauty was inescapable!!

STAY: Bohol Guesthouse (Note, this will require a tricycle > jeepney > motorbike sequence or a more expensive taxi to arrive)

PLAY: Hire a scooter (500 pesos per day) and explore everything Bohol has to offer – we loved Chocolate Hills!

EAT: Coco White Beach Dive Resort was a great stop for lunch – not only was the food awesome, but we had the whole place to ourselves so soaked up the 180 degree views!

Once we ticked off as many transportation methods as we could in a 24 hr period (walking, swimming, raft boat, dive boat, ferry, tricycle, taxi, bus, jeepney, motorcycle), we decided to add one more to the list – an airplane! Next stop Palawan…

Malapascua - Arriving to Island Paradise

CEBU & ISLAND GUIDE FOR YOU…

A top to bottom overview of this escape from reality island they call Cebu:

1. CEBU CITY

Manila’s little sister! With time on our side, we took the scenic route and voyaged by ferry with 2GoTravel. With very basic facilities, we decided to upgrade to a private room for only 300 pesos ($25 USD) which made the 24 hour trip from Manila to Cebu much more comfortable. With only a fraction of the population of Manila, Cebu’s much easier to get around. Like us, we found many other tourists here as a stopover before heading off to more colorful destinations on the island.

2. MALAPASCUA ISLAND

We took the bus from Cebu City to Maya enjoying the scenic drive; once at Maya we boarded a small boat for the short trip to Malapascua. We had finally arrived in what we envisioned the ‘Philippines’ to be – scooters, basic living and friendly locals.

We came to swim with the thresher sharks. Little did we know you had to be certified first, so we decided to begin our Open Water course with Thresher Cove Dive Center. Our instructor, Dish, was the first local female diver on the island so we were lucky enough to be trained by the best! They pitch it as a 3 day course, but with a number of videos to watch, a book to read, exams as well as practical knowledge in the pool and ocean, we decided to complete half here before asking for a referral to finish our course at our convenience.

On Malapascua, we decided to take part in a homestay experience…basically, you stay with a local family and live like they do. Upon arrival, Danny, and lovely wife, Jenny, welcomed us with open arms. We quickly grew attached to their three children and multiple pets – ranging from roosters to cats to dogs and puppies! We could have stayed forever! Jenny’s cooking was delicious – with a selection of Filipino food, we were in food heaven for the duration of our stay. Each morning we were greeted with a beautiful cup of coffee and sent to bed with a happy belly. It was the perfect introduction to the local lifestyle.

3. KALANGGAMAN ISLAND

Take a 2-hour boat ride from a number of tour operators (we recommend Danztour Adventures) on Malapascua and be ready to be amazed! Upon arrival, Kalanggaman island welcomes you with its white beaches and an incredibly long sandbar that winds out seemingly endless into an ocean that’s just as stunning. With over 7,000 islands in the Philippines, a number of them charge an island fee when visiting. Though we forgot to ask what it goes towards (assume workers, maintenance, etc), we happily paid the 500 pesos per person to take it all in. Chose your water adventure – we went snorkeling – and were blown away by the crystal blue waters and array of marine life. Enjoy a BBQ lunch (which most of the tours provide) and go home full and happy 🙂

4. MOALBOAL

Head to Panagsama Beach, a short 4 km from the main road to be swept away into a lane way adventure. The focus of this town is on diving, drinking & dining (in that order). So, of course it only made sense to finish our Open Water certification here with Neptune Diving Adventure! On our Pescador Island dive, we saw large tuna, barracudas among an umber of other sea creatures. We also did a Sardines run where at 18m under water, we were surrounded by literally thousands of sardines, swimming in a large group and then suddenly, changing direction and dashing off for fun somewhere else. When they came near, it was if we were surrounded by a large, dark cloud. This is definitely a highlight of Moalboal so don’t miss it! And don’t worry, if diving’s not your thing, snorkeling is also amazing. We snorkeled in the morning and saw amazing corals, fish galore and were even lucky enough to swim with two large sea turtles!

5. KAWASAN FALLS

Feeling like the sardines of Moalboal, we took a packed public bus 20 min down the winding coastal roads to Kawasan Falls. Once we arrived we were amazed at the colour of the water, it was again the Philippines at it’s spectacular best, a must see if you’re in the area…simply amazing! Go past the first falls for a look at the second group & be sure to go early to avoid the crowds. Trust us, you will not be disappointed!

Cebu is a great place to continue your island hopping. For us, the plan is Negros, Apo Island, Bohol, Palawan and finishing up in Luzon. Stay tuned to see how closely we stick to our plan, if you have any suggestions please comment below 😉

The Three Amigos

METRO MANILA – CONCRETE JUNGLE

The great thing about travelling is that it forces you to think on your feet, like the time we forgot to book our connecting flight out of the Philippines, ah, duh! We were checking in at Honolulu airport when Jesse pointed out that he couldn’t check us in without a connecting flight out of the Philippines. Luckily with some quick thinking and assistance from the amazing team at Philippine airlines we were able to book our connecting flight and were on our way -crisis averted.

STAY

Our Filipino friend (Chinky – you made our blog!) recommended we stay at the Z Hostel in Makati. It was the perfect location, comfortable and clean with an outrageous rooftop bar! Parties go till 3am, roosters crow all night and your roommates roll in at all hours (welcome to hostel living) but nothing a good sleep mask and earplugs couldn’t fix 😊 You are in the Red Light district so you’ll see plenty of bars and people having a good time! We felt super safe – it’s hard not to when the guy directing traffic has a pump action shotgun! The staff are super knowledgeable and were happy to help! Expect to pay around 500 pesos for a mixed 8-person dorm. PS. Did I mention the rooftop bar!?!

PLAY

Outside of the nightlife, we took in a number of sites around Manila. With plenty of transport options – Jeepneys, motorised tricycles, scooters, & horse and carriages – we still found the good ol’ taxi to be the best bet. We cruised to China Town which is actually the oldest one in the world! We heard the food is incredible but due to a late breakfast, didn’t get a chance to try. It was cool to walk around but nothing specific to check out, so wouldn’t recommend you going out of your way for it.

From there, we walked to Intramuros, ‘the walled city’, built by the Spanish in the late 16th century and fortified with a 6 meter surrounding wall and canons. This site is a must if you’re visiting Manila. Enjoy a leisurely stroll and take in the interesting mix of architecture and history. Guided tours are available and if you don’t feel like walking – tricycles or horse and carts can make the experience a little easier on your feet.

EAT

We followed our senses and stumbled upon The Marketplace. Great vibe with talented musicians, an array of street vendors and assorted stalls. The chicken intestines (which We did later try) and pork gizzard we’re tempting, but we opted for the chicken stir-fry instead. As we watched our dish being freshly prepared for us, we knew our 100 pesos had just bought us a winner!

Just across the street from the hostel is a cool Mexican joint called El Chupacabra ‘Home of the Street taco’. With a Filipino twist on traditional Mexican dishes this place didn’t disappoint. Highly recommend the spicy goat taco and the chicken sisig washed down with cold buckets of beer, you can’t go wrong.

AND MOVE ON…

For us, Manila was a good starting point, but wouldn’t dream of lingering around more than a couple days. So, we’ve decided to head South to Cebu and island hop for a few weeks! Plenty of flight options that will get you there in a couple hours, but with time on our side, we opted for the ferry. We board today, so stay tuned for and update of our journey to the Visayas region of the Philippines…