Beginning the Philippines
The Philippines! I’m not sure whether to be exited or daunted by coming here. It’s such a huge place so we’re going to be doing a lot more traveling between places than we did on our other Asian adventure but we struggled to get our list of ‘must visit’ places down any shorter, so this is just the way it has to be.
First stop is Manila, because that’s where all the flights go to. We didn’t want to spend much time here, it’s a busy noisy city and not what the Philippines is about but we decided to take a couple of days at least to get over jetlag and do some essential shopping.
Sorry, jumped ahead of myself slightly as I should mention that we were flying from Lisbon, having left the motorhome in a campsite very close to the centre (Lisboa Camping) and paid only 2.5 euros a night storage.
We flew first to London Heathrow on a Tuesday morning, then onwards to Kuala Lumpur before finally landing in Manila on Wednesday evening. Traffic in Manila is crazy, if you have been to Mumbai it’s very similar with lanes merging and widening with little or no notice, motorbikes weaving in and out of lanes, HUGE articulated lorries also weaving in and out of lanes…..it’s just nuts.
Eventually we arrived near our hotel (1775 Adriatico Suites) but access was only available on foot down a small back alley, so we loaded up our bags and set off stepping over numerous cockroaches and wrinkling our noses at the sewer smell, all the while thinking how nice it was to be back in Asia.
The hotel was actually really nice once inside the 24-hr security gate, and the room although basic had everything you needed. We were too wired to sleep and although we’d been awake over 36 hours and it was 10pm there we decided to head out for food and beer.
Most of the places round and about seemed to be 24hr food restaurants, clubs or massage parlours, none of which we fancied going in, but we spotted a busy place with plastic stools and lots of locals tucking into buckets of beer and fried chicken. Perfect we decided and ordered a bucket of local Red Horse beer at 280 pesos and some random plates of fried food. When the beer turned up we noted it was 6.9%! Still, it was very tasty and the food was really good and we had a couple of hours of people watching before heading back to bed tipsy and slept a dead sleep for 8hrs.
The next day we woke refreshed and after an odd breakfast of Pork and Rice we headed to a shopping Mall to get some SIM cards. You can actually buy these pretty much anywhere (even food carts on the street advertise SMART and GLOBAL SIMs) but we went to a registered mobile shop for some other bits and pieces. It was 100 pesos (about £1.48) for the SIM and then you buy top ups to add to your balance to load the package you want. Fully connected to the world we went off to explore.
After a day walking about the parks and streets of Manila we hit our plastic stooled bar (which is actually called Vest the best ramen in town), and this time having wised up to their high strength local beer we ordered a bucket of Tiger…..but they don’t mean normal tiger they mean Tiger Strong, which is 6.9%!! Turns out their Light beer is a normal 5%, which is why that’s what we saw being drunk by most locals.
The next day we were off to Tagaytay. Not sure why we decided to stick to our original plan and come here while the volcano was still on high alert, I guess a fascination in seeing it smoking but knowing it was relatively safe due to the high ground was a factor.
We got a DLTB bus from Manila which went through Tagaytay and we watched as the busy city gave way to green trees which slowly got greyer the closer we got to Tagaytay. The ash that had been collected was piled in bags at the edge of the road and the recent rain had turned what was left to a grey, black sludge.
The hotel that we had booked was still closed for cleaning but we found a reasonably priced one right near the main road called Berries Suites.
They had only just reopened and although everything was clean the room smelt of damp and you could tell they were not yet at full working order.
The town itself isn’t back at full working capacity either, a lot of shops and restaurants are still closed and most of the tourist attractions are undergoing clean-up operations but they are desperate for tourists to start coming back as this was their main income. It was very sad and sobering to look down on all the evacuated towns and businesses at the lakes edge knowing they are completely deserted.
Onwards to Puerto Galeria and scuba diving. As we couldn’t find anyone that knew if there was a direct bus to Batangas town or Pier we had to go with the minivan option to Turbina and then change to a big bus. The minivans here are much the same throughout Asia, they don’t go until they are full and they squish as many people into each van as possible (regardless of comfort). We had 17 adults + 2 kids in our minivan to Turbina and as our backpacks took up a whole seat we had to pay for a seat just for them which made our 3 seats 225 pesos (about £3.29).
Next bus was a big a/c bus run by JAM and this took us all the way to the ferry port at Batangas where we would do the final bit of our journey to PG.
The ferry port is slightly confusing and you generally follow the stream of people getting off the buses to the different terminals. Paul had already clocked that we should be heading for terminal 3 so we followed the crowd into the ticket booth area.
Here you have lots of people all jostling for your attention as they try to ‘help’ you get a ticket, we’d read about these fixers and knew to ignore them and head right for a booth to get your tickets. We probably should have spent a bit more time looking at the different companies running but headed to the first one that saw that said PG and got tickets for the next boat at 2pm (340 php each), you then need to buy a terminal ticket that lets you inside the terminal building and consequently onto the pier which is another 30php each.
It was only once we’d sat down in the a/c waiting room we realised the boat we’d got tickets for docks at the furthest away port from our hotel, not a major problem but it meant a longer tricycle journey and more money once we’d landed.
The boat journey was uneventful, most of its seats are inside but they are allocated so everyone gets to sit down and watch the world through the dirty windows or be driven insane by the kids music videos on the big screen TV.
Arriving at Balatero Pier you are relieved of a further 30php per person for environmental fees and then hordes of tricycle owners descent upon you vying for your business.
I suspect it was overpriced but he charged us 150php to go 10mins down the road to our hotel for the next 4 nights, Summer Place Apartments. It was still just over a mile (30 mins walk) from the hotel to Sabang beach were we would be doing our diving from but the place was really nice and we’d even lucked out and been given the family suite instead of the double we’d booked so Paul had his own dressing room.
Sabang beach isn’t a beautiful white sandy beach like you see in most of the Philippines brochures. It’s a pebbly, dirty stretch of shoreline that the stray dogs use as a toilet and has some very dubious smelly waste pipes coming from the town in places. However, it is also the gateway to diving and snorkelling trips and hundreds of boats are waiting to take you off too much more beautiful areas of the island.
The nightlife here is a bit seedy, they have a very healthy population of older, larger white men and the night clubs that go hand in hand with that type of tourist but we did have some lovely meals and drinks here (The bar over Tinas dive centre is great).
We’d booked some dives with a dive centre called Sea Riders, Paul would be doing the next stage in his PADI open water qualification and as I already had that I could just go on some fun dives whilst I waited for him. Mark the divemaster teaching Paul was really good and as it was 1-2-1 training they crammed 2 days worth of material into the one day, so by 6pm Paul was a fully qualified diver. I just did the one fun dive and although we’d been warned that the clarity of the water had been affected by recent rain I was still a little disappointed with the lack of corals and fish at the site we went to, Paul wasn’t though as he managed to see 2/3 Thresher Sharks on his…Jammy git.
We had 3 full days at PG, one was taken up by diving but the other 2 we dossed about and hired scooters (400 for 24hrs) to visit different beaches. We’d heard that Bulabod beach was nice and quiet with fairly decent snorkelling so we headed off there on the bikes one afternoon. The roads are easy to ride on…..well until they stop being roads and become dirt tracks that then become mud and Sadie loses control and falls over. No serious damage done and once Paul had picked me and bike out of the mud we carried on to the beach to clean up.
Bulabod beach is lovely, the sand isn’t soft but there is a lovely lady selling cold beers and snacks and aside from one boat load of lively Koreans we had it to ourselves.
White Beach is the big traditional tourist attraction at PG and although we weren’t aiming to go there, we couldn’t find our way down to the other smaller beaches alongside it, so we ended up there. It is a beautiful long, soft, white sand beach with little bars and resorts dotted along it but gets very busy at peak season, luckily for us it wasn’t packed that day at all.
All too quickly our 3 days were over and another full days travel loomed over us as we made our way down to San Jose by bus. First another fun squashed minivan journey to take us over the hills to Calapan.
The minivan drivers (Especially UV express) all over are a bit naughty as they don’t like you taking your business to any other companies or buses, so consequently they will lie and tell you that no other routes exist apart from theirs. Fortunately we knew that a big bus went all the way to San Jose so when they tried to tell different we didn’t believe them and thankfully the tricycle guy that took us to the bus terminal at Calapan Port was nice and dropped us off right by the Roro bus, much to the annoyance of the UV express guys trying to flag him in.
The big buses are much more comfortable than the minivans for long distances but if I ever get a Roro bus again, a tip would be to get in the 3 seater side as all the seats are covered in plastic, which you just slide off of when going round the twisty roads!
The journey was long and he didn’t stop for food or comfort breaks for at least 5 hrs (sorry that’s a lie, the boys got a comfort break at the side of the road a few hours in), at 4pm they stopped at a shack that had a basic toilet and sold some hot food and cold drinks and by 5pm we had arrived in San Jose.
Nothing much to say about San Jose, it’s a stupidly busy dusty town and our accommodation at the Jazmine Royale Hotel was a bit like a prison block…..lol….but we were only here for 1 night so it didn’t really matter. The thing worth mentioning was the restaurant we found called Kusina Ni Lea. Paul had their speciality of stuffed squid and I pigged out with a whole fried chicken, it was delicious.
Next day, after a rubbish cold breakfast with the other inmates at the hotel, we headed off to get tickets for the 8hr ferry to Coron (500 php each + 15php terminal fee).
The ferry isn’t like other boats I’d been on, it’s covered top deck has loads of bunk beds in it and everyone gets assigned one of these for the journey and as the boat wasn’t that busy I was able to swap bunks and spread out for maximum comfort. I normally get sea sick so I wasn’t looking forward to this journey at all and it didn’t start well as the boat seemed to be grounded on one side so we struggled to get out of the port at all but eventually got free with some help and set off about 9:30am.
The journey wasn’t that bad, although I did sleep for a fair amount of it and we arrived around 4pm at the pier round the corner from the main town.