The Philippines are more popular than ever. When we travelled there back in 2014, it was quiet and unspoiled. However, you can definitely find some places that are still Off the Beaten Track. We travelled to Bantayan island.
How to get there
Flying to the Philippines is a long haul, and for me it included a stopover in Seoul, South Korea. You will arrive at the capital of the Philippines, Manila. The first tip I will give you is to get a white metered taxi. (And tell them to turn the meter on!) The line might be a bit longer but you’ll pay at least half the price than the yellow ones. My second tip is to get the hell out of Manila as soon as you can! Yes, cities like Bangkok Kuala Lumpur or Singapore have their charming features but Manila was just a overcrowded noisy city to me. That said, I haven’t been to every corner of town to discover what’s good but many travelers waste 2 days here before they depart to the islands and most people wished the had done this a bit sooner. In my case I arrived late at night so I had no choice but to stay one night and I decided to stay in a hotel not far from the airport.
Before you continue reading this blog, there are some things you need to know. Just like any other country, The Filipino’s have their usual habits.
When you travel around the Philippines, you’ll notice a few things that will only happen here. Been there? You may just recognize these!
»They Repeat your meal order. I love this. Every time I ordered a meal in a restaurant, the waiter would kindly repeat the order to make sure she got it right. Wishful thinking!
» They wrap the ends of the cutlery and beer bottles in a tissue before serving.
I don’t really know why but I guess it looks neat.
» They hardly ever have knives.
After a few meals I discovered that I was always served with a fork and a spoon. Apparently (and this is a funny one) when they Spanish colonized The Philippines, they didn’t want to give the people knives because they were scared the Philippians’s may use these against them.
» Basketball is huge
They don’t know our football heroes but they sure know how to play ball. Wear a basketball shirt and you fit right in.
» Almost everybody speaks English.
Except some of the older generation, everybody can understand you. How easy!
» They don’t sell tampons in the Philippines
Impossible to find! Ok, for the female traveler, this is an important tip. If you don’t have tampons, you can’t swim if you have your period. That sucks. Bring along a box (or 2)
» Terminal and environmental fees
At some ports, airports and checkpoints, they ask for a fee. Sometimes as little as 20 peso’s but at Puerto Princessa you need to pay 400 peso’s per person for domestic flights. Why? See it as taxes. Manila airport is now including the terminal fee with your purchased flight.
» Don’t trust the ATM’s
Don’t rely on the banks and ATM’s. They don’t always work or accept your card. Sometimes they are just simply out of cash and you can withdraw a maximum of 10.000 peso’s. (200 euro’s)
» Bring some water shoes
You know those pointy black sea things they call Sea Urchins? Well, I stepped on one and it hurt like hell. (still removing the stings after 2 weeks) It happened in a perfect white beachy environment. So be careful in the water.
Cebu & Batayan Island
I flew over to Cebu the next day. Cebu is an Island shaped as a banana and it’s part of the Visayans. From Manila it’s only a 1,5 hour flight.
Tip » book your domestic flights early in advance to avoid high cost! I booked mine about 2 months in advance and it only cost me about 38 euro’s.
I flew with Air Asia and Cebu Pacific Air during my trip and I had a much better experience with Cebu Pacific.
If you use Cebu as a first layover (and you want to recover from your long flight) I highly recommend the Radisson Blue hotel. It’s near the airport and port so perfect if you want to continue your travels the next day. They have a large outside swimming pool, gym, spa, restaurant and the beds are freaking huge! I enjoyed an aromatherapy massage and it totally recharged my batteries. Just what I needed. Rooms are available from 110 euro’s so that’s not too bad if you share. (Keeping in mind that this is ranked a number 1 hotel on tripadvisor)
You can book here.
Cebu is a large island with so much to choose from but I decided to visit the chill Bantayan: a small island north-west of Cebu. To get there you must take a bus to Cebu’s northern port called Hagnaya. This busride can be about 4 hours long so make sure you catch the last boat there.(17.30) Otherwise you’re stuck there. The boat takes about 75 min and cost 200 peso’s plus a 10 peso terminal fee. (You will notice that at most ports, the Philippine’s will charge a small fee to enter the terminal. This is normal.) Bantayan island is perfect for people that want to chill on the beaches, eat and…well, that’s pretty much it! You can hire a scooter for a day (500 peso’s) and discover the island and its villages plus beaches along the way.
The busride from Cebu City to Port Hagnaya is long but the best for looking outside the window
Tip » bring cash! There are 2 ATM’s on the island but it doesn’t accept Maestro or MasterCard so I was lucky to have brought some euro’s with me so I could exchange these for Peso’s in a local pawnshop. You are best to withdraw cash in Manila or Cebu. I often felt that my boyfriend and I were the only “travelers” on the island. This way we really connected with the locals. When I was there, a typhoon raged over the north part of the Philippines and Bantayan suffered from heavy rain. At the time we were discovering the island, one of these heavy showers hit us and we were offered shelter by a Philippine family. (Chickens included) Lucky for us, we only had one day of rain but if this happens while you’re there the boat back to Cebu might not depart so keep an eye on that.
I slept at the Coral Blue Oriental Beach Villas & Suites run by a German man and his Filipino wife.
Without doubt one of the best views on the island. I slept in a deluxe suite which had a large bathroom and a balcony overlooking the sea. Not a bad way to wake up! The completely wooden build huts are cute but spacious. They offer scooter hire, port pickup & drop-off and a pool table.
You can book here.
Apart from the Coral Blue restaurant, I also enjoyed lunch at Cou Cou’s (sizzeling squid!) and had dinner at Caffe Del Mal (great pizza’s and homemade pasta’s). Both restaurants are in the same street all walking distance from the Coral Blue Resort.
“The Philippines resembles a place called heaven”
After 2 days, I made my way back to Cebu and I was lucky to catch the last fast ferry to Bohol.
Bohol is yet another island but this time on the east-side of Cebu. It’s pretty easy to reach by ferry (the fast service takes 2 hours) and will cost 600 peso’s each.
Where to stay?
I was invited to stay at the Bohol Beach Club and all I can say is WOW. What a privilege to stay here. The resort was build in 1984 but got a make-over 2 years ago. The most impressive part is without doubt the beach. It’s called white beach (I wonder why) and it’s part of the Panglao island that’s part of Bohol. The sea is blue, shallow and clear. The hammocks are ready for you to lay in after the tasty breakfast at their resort restaurant. (They also have the best dinner menu I’ve come across in Cebu btw!) And they have a pool with a 12 hour lifeguard. Let’s not forget to mention their massage ladies who can give you a massage at sunset for about 12 euro’s for one hour. Heaven on earth. Okok, all of this sounds pretty great but it’s not the best place for the backpacker that’s on a tight budget. Rooms go from 150 euro’s per night (breakfast buffet included) Still want to experience heaven? (and you deserve it!) then book here.
But I didn’t just chill at the resort, no I’m way too restless to lay on the beach all day so I wanted to explore a little.
I only had 2,5 days which of 1 I chilled on the beach so I decided to have lunch at the Bohol Organic Beefarm (highly recommended if you are staying on Panglao island) The Bohol Beefarm is a great place to walk around, have lunch and eat their homemade ice-cream. They harvest their own herbs and the menu looks a lot healthier than most places you will find in the Philippines. Check their website for more info.
On the last day we rented a scooter and drove inland. I was sitting on the back and all I was thinking was; Fuck. It’s sooooo beautiful here. (sorry for the F word but seriously, it was F-ing beautiful!) The island is very green with leaves growing all the way to the top of the branches.
We wanted to see the Chocolate Hills and even though it’s Bohol’s main tourist attraction, I still wanted to see it. It takes about 2 hours to get there by scooter. We stopped at a place called Bohol Nut Huts. A place to stay, eat, relax and a change to see the loboc river up close.
The food here is basic but cheap and you’re going to need a cold drink after a hour long drive (and a sore bum!)
After our short break it was time to continue up towards the Chocolate Hills. Now, don’t get your hopes up, you’re not going to find a valley full of chocolate like in some kind of dream. These hills are covered in green grass that turns brown (like chocolate) during the dry season, hence the name.
Legend says that the hills are the dried up tears of a giant… but I leave the preferred story up to you.
Once we started to drive into the “hills” area, I must admit that I was impressed by the amount of hills (there are at least 1,260 hills) and their beautiful colors.
When you drive up, you’re asked for a small fee (terminal fee) which is probably bullshit but it’s only 2 euro’s so why say no if you can help a community right?
Just after we left, a big cloud followed us and poured all his rain over the area which lasted about 2 hours. Stopping for shelter at different spots, we didn’t have the time to see the worlds smallest monkey; The Tarsier. It’s a shame that I missed it because these small creatures are suppose to be super cute. It’s on the way from the Chocolate Hills so if you have enough time, try to visit the Tarsier Sanctuary.
Next week I will post about my trip to Palawan and a special island hopping tour!
*all pictures are shot with the Olympus OMD
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