A Travellerspoint blog

August 2012

Manila, Philippines

"Cause in Manila, we all the same, everybody's waiting for things to change." ~ Amber Davis (Manila)

rain 20 °C
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Our last stop was Manila. During this time, some extreme floods were sweeping the city. Going from Boracay to Palawan, we had to fly via Manila. We also entered the country through Manila. The times that we were there just to catch another flight, it was raining so badly that there were fears that the plain would not take off. Flying in over Manila, the devestation of the floods could be witnessed.

1. Extreme Flooding Over Manila
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Manila is the capital of the Philippines. With a population of approximately 1,652,171 and only an area of about 40 squared km, it is the most densely populated city in the world. In 1571, Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, founded the city of Manila as it is known today. Before that, the area was used by the Sultan of Brunei and the Ming Dynasty of Chinas as part of the trade route.

While, in Manila, we didn't venture much farther than our hotel. We stayed in the Greenhills Elan Hotel Modern. It is located in Greenhills neighbourhood and right across from the massive Greenhills Shopping Centre. This shopping centre has everything your usual mall has like movie theatres and restaurants. But then it also has an underground bargaining area. Millions of shop owners try to sell you bags and clothes from famous brand names, for a quarter of the price. This means of course, this is a basement of knockoff. Although they do look very real. The chaos inside this place is quite crazy as people grab you and ladyboys scream in your face to try and sell their good to you.

Mostly, we just stayed in our hotel, ordered room service and watched television. It was raining constantly and after a week and a half of swimming, tanning, partying, not sleeping a lot, we were exhausted and welcomed the nice rooms and beds.

2. View of Manila by Day
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3. View of Manila by Night
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After two wonderful weeks on sunny islands of the Philippines, we are returning to our second home, South Korea. Flying in over the Incheon Bridge with the bright lights of Incheon ahead, we feel refreshed and ready for another semester of teaching ahead of us.

4. Bored at Manila airport, sharing a coffee with the little money we had left
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Check out this commemorative video, made by a friend, showing our time in the Philippines: Team Philippines '12.

Posted by Anja Fourie 18:18 Archived in Philippines Tagged rain water shopping philippines manila floods greenhills greenhills_elan Comments (0)

The New 7 Wonders of Nature: The Underground River

The Puerto Princessa Underground River, Palawan, Philippines

sunny 30 °C
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After a week on the small island of Boracay, we make our way West to the larger island of Palawan.

The island is approximately 450kms long and has a width of about 50kms. The island's capital is Puerto Princesa. The island's capital is geographically one of the bigger cities in the Philippines, but also the least densely populated city in the country with a population of 222,673. The name, Spanish for Princess Port, is a real princess of ports as its depth can accommodate any size vessel and it is protected from the elements by its location. Queen Isabella II of Spain, named the port after her daughter. The city was founded in 1872.

1. Coming in for landing over Palawan
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2. Deep Forest Garden Resort

The hotel that we stayed in was called the Deep Forest Garden Resort. The place is quite magnificent and you truly feel like you are deep in the forest when you are inside the grounds. In the center there is a swimming pool, underwater chess, a bar, restaurant, lifesize casts of animals and some hidden places covered with vines and plants. Around this area, is a path, and all the rooms are located next to the path. Our room was really nice and the hotel staff very friendly. They also have a book, where you can look at the types of tours on offer around Puerto Princesa. The hotel will book them for you and they are also at a very decent price.

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3. Badjao Sea Front Restaurant
One of the first nights we were there we went to a restaurant that is located in the middle of the ocean. You have to walk across a bridge to get to the restaurant which is standing on stilts in the water. The views are very beautiful and the food was great.

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4. Firefly Watching
One of the tours we choose through the hotel, was to go Firefly Watching. You are unfortunately not allowed to take photos when you are near the fireflies, as the flash scares them off. The fireflies can only be seen far from the city lights, so taking a photo with no flash is basically useless. We were picked up at the hotel and taken to the port where a ferry boat picked us up and took us into the river. Here two smaller boats were waiting. They have very small engines that make a very soft sound, so not to scare the fireflies away. The water is surrounded by high trees and forestation on either way and the fireflies can be spotted in them. Groups of lights. The eery silence and blinding darkness of the night, made the spotting of the first group of fireflies so amazing. The water also contains algae, which lights up as the boat glides through it. It made it seem like the boat was spraying a stream of glitter behind it.

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5. Honda Bay
We also chose to do a Honday Bay Island Hopping trip. Honda Bay is the Bay where the city of Puerto Princesa is located in on the Eastern side of Palawan Island. Many small islands are scattered here, and the water is blue and clear and warm. This day trip consists of going to three different places. Your tour group also will not be big as the boats can't take many people. Not more than 8 at a time. First you will stop at a place to rent some snorkeling gear. Then get on the little boats and make your way over to a snorkeling sport. This is a man made mini-island of jetties floating in the water. The small boats dock here and you get in the water and snorkel for a bit. Some reef parts are protected which you are not allowed to swim over. It was very different than snorkeling in Boracay, where we were only 4 people. Here it was super crowded with tourists and about a 100 people are snorkeling in the designated area. We were only allowed a short time too and then we had to get out and leave.

Next, we went to one of the small islands and enjoyed lunch and some more swimming. The water is so warm that we mostly just drifted and relaxed in the shallow water. Although, there hardly are any waves. After lunch, you will head to one more island to swim and dive for star fish and then it is home town. After all the swimming and running around in the sun, we were proper exhausted and fell asleep in the car on the way back. A day well spent.

Check out this video of us: Snorkeling in the Philippines

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6. The Puerto Princesa Underground River (New 7 Wonder of the World)
Technically, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, is the site which has been given New 7 Wonders of the World Status. The river is located about 50kms North of Puerto Princesa. To get there, we once again, organised a trip through the hotel. To visit the park, you need a permit. To get the permit, you just go to the office in Puerto Princesa, wait a few minutes and then chosoe your time that you want to go. There are only certain times during the day when you can enter, and this is to ensure that it doesn't get too crowded. Beware not to choose a time that is too early as you need to be at the harbour, at least an hour before your permit time. And, the small and mostly dirt road from Puerto Princesa may take up to 2 hours. We had to get up very early for our pickup to be in time for our 10:30am permit.

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There are hotels that are on located on the harbour by the National Park, so you can stay there as well. When you get to the little harbour, your guide will tkae your permits and organise with a boat to the park. The park is accessible by hiking there, but not by any vehicles.
The 5min ride around the cliffside takes you to a small beach. Here all the boats unload the tourists and go back to fetch more. You get a boat number and you are only allowed to return with that boat. Also, prepare to get wet at least up to your knees, as you have to walk into the water to climb on the boat, as you can see in the photo below.

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Next, you can stop for some photo opportunities with the sign that shows the status of the river.

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You then get to put on some lifejackets and safety helmets. You walk through a little path and in the forest and get to another little beach. Here, you climb onto another small boat. This boat has no engine, but is rowed solely by the guide who sits at the back. The cave is approximately 24kms long. Regular tourists are only allowed up to 1km or so, but researchers can purchase an additional permit and enter further into the cave. Really deep areas are very difficult to explore, because of the oxygen deprivation. The cave also has a second floor above, which means that small waterfalls fall into the river.

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The cave houses a massive 300m high dome, with some incredible rock formations and inscriptions on the walls. These were from earlier explorers. The rock formations take on different shapes like people or animals if you look at it from the correct angles. Many bats live in the caves and you can hear them making noises throughout the ride. There are a total of 9 different species of bat in the cave. Reptiles such as pythons and sneasnakes are also swimming in the cave's water. This made us sit very very still on that little boat.

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The water is also a milky blue colour. The distinguishing feature of this river is that it flows directly into the South China Sea and is influenced by the tides.

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7. Bearcats and Snakes
After returning back to shore, we walked a little distance along the beach to a restaurant. Here we spotted some cows walking on the beach. And then, the bearcats and the snake. Bearcats, also known as the Asian Bearcat or Palawan Bearcat, doesn't really look like a bear or a car. It sort of reminds me of a sloth, but the paws are more like a rodent. They are from Palawan, but can also sometimes be found in other parts of South Eat Asia, such as Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. They are soft and adorably cute. Even the name is cute. They are really quite lazy, though and prefer to sleep and eat. They can also grow as old as 20 years.

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The snakes on the other hand were a different story. The 5 year olds play with them like they are baby kittens. I had the snake on me for about two second to take the photo and then I almost cried for the boy to take it off me. It is completely terrifying when that head starts to sliver and turn towards you.

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With our Palawan tour to an end, we had three more days left of our holiday and decided to head out of the rural areas and spent some time in the city.
Next stop: Manila

Posted by Anja Fourie 17:23 Archived in Philippines Tagged boats fish ocean philippines palawan swimming snorkel underground_river puerto_princessa honda_bay Comments (1)

Boracay Island, The Philippines

"I'll take you to the Philippines, We can go there, Jump on a plane." ~ Apl.de.Ap (Take me to the Philippines)

sunny 28 °C
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Not much more than a 4 hour flight from South Korea, lies the Philippine Archipelago which comprises of about 7,107 different little islands. Of these only about 2,000 are inhabited. The first island that we visited is the popular tourist destination, Boracay Island. Voted, The Best Island in the World 2012, by Travel+Leisure, this island has sprawling beaches, clear waters and a strip of beach bars.

On the 4th of August, we got up very early for our 8 o'clock flight. As we walked to the bus stop close to our apartment block, the one wheel of my bag broke off. Not such a great start, but my excitement quickly made me not care less about a broken bag. The first bus of the day came around the corner as the sun started rising over Incheon. The bus takes about 45 minutes, depending on traffic, but soon we arrive at the airport and check in our bags. We are ready to embark on our journey to the Philippines!

About 4 hours later we arrive in Manila. It is typhoon season and everything is wet. It is raining incredibly hard and unfortunately for this airport you have to walk all the way around on the outside, to get to departures again. The plane ride down to Kalibo Airport is very bumpy, but we are suprised by beautiful weather when we land there.

1. Hello Philippines!
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Boracay is one of the smaller islands in the Philippines. It is situated 315km south of Manila and forms part of the Panay Islands. It is just 2km north of the bigger island here. This means that we had to fly from Incheon to Manila, transfer from Manila to Kalibo airport, take a 2 hour bus ride up north to the ferry station, and then make the 15min journey by ferry to Boracay Island. Then we got on a little bus to the main part of the island, where our hotel was. We stayed in Island Nook Boutique Hotel. This place is situated right on Boracay Highway, the biggest road on the island that goes from the one side to the other.

2. Island Nook Boutique Hotel
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The island is only about 7kms long, has a total area of 10.32 squared kms and the narrowest point is less than a kilometer. This narrow point is where most of the hotels, bars, beaches and action can be found in Boracay.The two main beaches, White Beach and Bulabog Beach are located at opposite ends of this thin stretch. White Beach faces West and Bulabog faces east. You can easily walk from the one side to the other with a direct road. The famous White Beach is where all the bars and restaurants are situated and also the main swimming area. If you walk to the other side, Bulabog Beach is where all the extreme sports are situated. Here you can also get a little boat to take you to one of the other, quieter beaches down the island or for some snorkeling.

As we arrived pretty late at our hotel, it was already dark when we headed out for the first time to go and explore Boracay. The first thing you notice here is the scooters. Always everywhere and always going. There are barely any big cars here, just small busses, motorcycles and the tricycles.

3. Crazy streets
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4. "Get anything over the counter" Pharmacy - we were laughing at how really strong pills that you need definitely need a prescription for back home, can just be bought through a little window like a burger at McDonalds' drive-thru.
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Our first night there, we saw a fire show on the beach. Soon we realised that not all of these dancers are in fact the tiny girls that they appear to be. There is something a little "more" to them. Our first ladyboy sighting confirms the fact that we have arrived in South East Asia.

5. Fire Show on White Beach
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ILIG ILIGAN

The next day we head out to do some activities. Our hotel had discounts on a lot of the activities, so we organised a boat trip through them. On the other days we mostly just took the flyer from our place down to Bulabog and organised it ourselves. One of the trips you can do, is take a little boat and go snorkel. After this, they take you to Ilig Iligan Beach. This beach is basically deserted. Just a few locals roaming around, some people snorkeling, and some goats walking on the beach. There are two restaurants, huts really, where you can get some lunch. We went here three times during our week in Boracay, but for the second two times we opted not to do the snorkeling and rather just relaxed on the beach. There is a road to the beach, but it is not fully developed enough for the tricycle to complete the journey, so taking a boat there is the fastest and best way.

6. On our way to Ilig Iligan from Bulabog Beach
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7. Beautiful beaches of Ilig Iligan
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8. Ilig Iligan Restaurant ~ waves crashing in beneath your feet as the tide rises, ladies selling you beads while you wait for your food, and delicious Filipino food cooked on the beach, makes it all a very unique experience.
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9. Swimming and Diving for Star Fish
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PUKA SHELL BEACH

It is possible to take a tricycle to Puka Beach, which is situated to the North of the island. It is basically right next to Ilig Iligan, but you can travel straight to this beach via the main road. With the tricycle it takes approximately 15 minutes to get there. The name originated from the Puka shells found on this 800m, beautiful stretch of beach. The beach at Ilig Iligan is situated in a smaller bay, making it protected from the elements and thus there is now wind or waves to really speak of. The beach at Puka is more open and the small waves crash very close to the shore. Here we just swan, tanned and drank coconut milk/

10. View from the tricycle, on our way to Puka Beach
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11. At Puka Beach
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BULABOG BEACH SPORTS...

At Bulabog we also did some other fun activities. The banana boat is blow-up banana shape boat, which you sit on and then get pulled behind a speed boat. It doesn't go very fast, but is fun. After this, half of our group decided to also do the Flying Fish. This basically works on the same concept, except that the Flying Fish has "wings" on the side, causing it to lift out of the water at more than a 45 degree angle. Our one friend fell off and lost both his boxers and his pants. He managed to save his pants, but had to let his boxers be eaten by the fishes.

12. Banana Boat and the Flying Fish
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BORACAY NIGHTLIFE...

We spent the whole day on the beach, had afternoon naps and then went out for dinner. Dinner would usually be had at a restaurant in D*Mall or on the restaurant strip at White Beach.

13. Dinners in Boracay ~ Adobo, Rice, Fish, Buffets, Hobbit House (Lord of the Rings themed restaurant with little people)
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14. Going out in Boracay ~ On our break from Korea, we couldn't escape the Koreans as they love The Philippines. Ou favourite place to start was Tribal Bar, a makeshift bar on the beach. Here they even served Savanna, a South African favourite! At Tribal Bar they also did juggling tricks and we ordered big dispensers of alcohol with Wang-Wang inside. Wang-Wang is basically just a mixup of everything at the bar. Our nights would always end at Summer Place, where we would dance the night away.
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SAYING GOODBYE TO BORACAY...

After a week in Boracay, we finally had to say goodbye to Boracay and make our way to Palawan, our next destination. We had a 10am flight, which isn't that early, but factoring in the almost 3 hours it would take us to get to the airport,, we were up very early that morning. We fell asleep on the ferry, and fell into semi-comas in the bus during the 2 hour drive to the airport.

15. Very tired on the Ferry
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16. Tiny Kalibo airport
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Our next stop is Puerto Princesa on the Palawan Island. Here we will be seeing one of the 7 Wonders of Nature, the Underground River!

TOP TIPS...

1. Do pack light. For Boracay you barely need any clothes, but your swimming costume and a few nice dresses. I took a variety of shoes and never wore anything but Flip-Flops.
2. Do be prepared for the mosquitos. We were basically killed by mosquitos every night. It seemed like nothing we bought there worked for us, so do take something along that had proven to have worked for you in the past.
3. Do book your flight to Caticlan Airport. We didn't know this, but Caticlan is an airport 5mins away from the ferry port to Boracay, where Kalibo is 2 hours away. Spare yourself the hassle and book you flight into Caticlan rather than Kalibo.

Posted by Anja Fourie 01:36 Archived in Philippines Tagged beaches boats beach philippines filipino manila boracay mosquitos caticlan kalibo apl.d.ap philippine_air summer_place Comments (0)

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