It was an early morning start in KL for our flight to the Philippines…
The Philippines is a country of some 7,107 islands and has an interesting history! According to our local research the Filipino people are originally of Malayan decent (well the islands of Malaysia extend upwards to the Philippines, so that makes sense), but then in 1521 were invaded by Ferdinand Magellan of the Spanish Empire in the Cebu region. The Spanish ruled the country for nearly 400 years with the British interjecting for a short 2 year period of rule in the 1800’s before rule returning to the Spanish Empire. The Philippines were named after King Philippe of Spain.
In 1898 the mighty United States of America decided to stamp their authority on the region and in the process defeated the Spanish to become the new rulers of the Philippines (US were fighting Spanish American war at the time which also included the battle for Cuba and Puerto Rico). The Japanese took control of the archipelago in the Second World War and committed some horrendous war torture on the locals and Americans. It wasn’t until after the second world war that the Philippines would gain full independence and be recognized as a country in it’s own right.
Considering it’s history over the past 500 years our observations are; Filipino people definitely have a close similarity in appearance to Malays, however, the Spanish definitely made their mark on the place! The majority of the street names are in Spanish, nearly all the bank notes and coins bear the names of famous Filipinos (be it presidents or heroes), Aquino, Sergio Osmena, Quezeon et al., 80% of the population embrace Catholicism and some of the language in certain regions is Spanish (well at least the numbers and some other words). It is worth mentioning that the Filipinos seemed very Americanized in their ways as well…fast food outlets and American accents are common.
All in all the Spanish definitely made their mark!
We arrived at Clark Fields airport around midday on 26 Sept thinking that we were in Manila or at least somewhere very near Manila. Unfortunately for us at the time, we were very wrong. We were actually a 2 hour drive north of Manila in the City of Angeles. Fortunately for us this turned out to be the safest place to be on the island of Luzon because typhoon Nesat (known locally as Pedring) was about to wreak havoc either side of our current location.
For 3 days we were stuck in Angeles, formerly the largest US military base in world outside the US. Because of this reason the streets, in particular “Fields Avenue” (and yes there are a lot of streets called 1st, 2nd, 3rd Avenue etc.) were still lined with “Pay and Lay” service centres and other debauchery houses. It was quite out of this world and in my opinion it made the likes of Patpong in Bangkok, Bangla Road in Phuket and the Beach Club look like Sunday School sessions! We were staying next to a place called “Eruptions” (check out the picture on our website and pay close attention to the club logo). Apart from these amusements and the local mall there wasn’t much to do in Angeles!
By day 3 the weather had cleared to the point that travel was now safe, so we decided to head south to the island of Cebu. We spent 2 days in Cebu as it didn’t have much to offer apart from a beautiful old Catholic church built by the Spanish and the Magellan Cross. One evening we ran into a Canadian guy at the local McDonalds (good food in Cebu was hard to find) and he provided us with some suggestions which turned out to be where we travelled for the remainder of our trip here.
We had a plan…boat over to Bohol to bike around the island and see the Chocolate Hills, then boat to Dumaguete (1 day) on Negros island. From there we would take the local bus to Sipalay (2 days), then up to Bocolod and a ferry over to Iloilo where we would have an overnight stay. The next day we took another local bus up to Caticlan, so we could catch the local boat over to Boracay (5 days)! After this we would catch a plane from Kalibo to Manila (1 day) before departing Angeles for Cambodia (via Kuala Lumpur).
We would recommend Bohol as a tourist destination in the Philippines. It is very undeveloped and this rawness gave us the first feeling of actually being in the Philippines.
Bohol has the oldest Catholic Church in the Philippines, which is located in Loay. We stayed at Nipa Huts in Loboc on the river. We stayed here for 2 days so we hired a motorbike and rode around the island. Visiting the Chocolate Hills was a well worthwhile experience as this flat land is just covered in these chocolate looking hills. Quite extraordinary!
Very relaxing and enjoyed meeting our host, Miss Amy at Nipa Huts.
We arrived in Dumaguete around lunch time and decided to stay the night here so we could make any early start tomorrow on our road trip to Sipalay. In hindsight we should have motored straight on to Sipalay that day as there wasn’t much (anything) to see there.
The Canadian guy in Cebu recommended that we get to Sipalay, make the trek to Driftwood Guesthouse and ask for Peter. After speaking with Peter on the mobile he provided the necessary instructions to get to his guesthouse which was located on a secluded beach away from Sipalay.
We took an early morning mini van for 3 hours to Bayawan and then changed to a local bus for 5 hours to Sipalay. The scenery was in its raw form and included cows on the side of roads, workers in rice fields, gravel roads, naked beaches (naked in natural beauty that is) etc. to give you a flavour of the journey. After reaching Montilla, which is about 10 minutes past Sipalay, we disembarked the bus and took a tricycle to a river. We were greeted at the short river crossing by the captain of the paddle boat who must have been all of 10 years old! Great kid and did a superb job with the crossing of about 50 metres.
After a short walk we finally arrived at Driftwood Guesthouse and were welcomed by Peter Danz (from Zurich) and his wife Daisy (and her 3 sisters – Dina, Divine and Dorothy. There are 10 in the family and they are all D’s as well J).
Driftwood (see pictures) has 17 nipa huts and there are actually only a handful of beach hut resorts along the beach. The beach is best described as being completely isolated from the outside world. There is no television, mobile signal or internet! We stayed her for 2 more days before moving on. This was one of our highlights of the Filipino leg of our trip. The hosts were great and we stayed up all night playing card games with Peter, Daisy, the sisters and two other guys who were staying there (Vas from Leeds and Jose from Chile).
We left Sipalay and headed for Bocolod which was a 5 hour journey north. Jose, who was staying at the guesthouse, was also heading to Boracay so we all decided to do the journey together. Jose was living / working in New Zealand and was now travelling around Asia before returning to Chile.
From Bocolod we took the ferry to Iloilo, which is where we all spent the night at the Family Pension House (great food down on the street level and all night club upstairs near our rooms).
The next day we finally made it to Caticlan which is the port town just across from Boracay. Boracay is probably one of, if not, the best beach we have been to in the world. I could imagine how beautiful it is in the best months (Jan to May) when the water is crystal clear for some distance from the shore.
So here we are sitting in the small boat ready to take the short 15 minute crossing when this guy walks on the boat blinged up with his gold shades and black “Jackie Chan” style leather jacket. I was like, “who wears a leather jacket in this weather?” His wife, wearing a full bright pink Juicy Couture tracksuit, decides they will sit right in front of us. Next thing random people on the boat start taking photos of this dude in front of us. We just thought they were all part of one big Asian tour group! When we got off the boat the lady who helped us to the tricycle told us that he is the most famous movie star in the Philippines and is now a governor of a province near Manila. George Estrada was his name and after goggling him it turns out that he has featured in many Filipino action movies and is a bit of a cult hero - loads of people were coming up to him for photos!
Boracay is best described by looking at our pictures as words don’t do it full justice. White beach is about 3 kms long and is split into stations 1, 2 and 3. We stayed in station 3 which is the most under developed section on the beach. Station 2 is where the action is day and night and station 1 is where the top end resorts are and the beach in this section is also even more beautiful than the other stations.
We enjoyed our days sitting, standing, swimming in the clear water and otherwise just relaxing on the sun lounges on the beach. One of the days we decided to walk the entire beach to take photos. After reaching what we thought was the end of the beach, we noticed there was a pathway around the cliff to a secluded beach. We made our way to last resort called “West Cove”, which we decided to enter as the view from the point of the resort looked amazing! It was a consumable 150 pesos per person to enter and as it was lunch time we thought we could get something to eat. The views were spectacular and it turned out that Manny Pacquaio owns this resort! That would make sense considering there was a massive picture of him at the resort!
Boracay was easily the highlight of our trip in the Philippines and we would recommend this place to anyone!
As we needed to make our way back to Angeles for our return flight to KL, we thought it would be a shame to miss out on Manila despite most people advising us not to go there as there was not much worthwhile to see.
We arrived around 11am so we had the rest of the day to see Manila. Our hostel was in Manila Bay, directly across from the US embassy, so we were well situated to get in as many of the important sites as possible in only a few hours. It was obvious that typhoons had been through the area recently because there were trees down and the pavement was in need of repair in some sections. Surprisingly though, Manila was much cleaner than we expected especially considering two typhoons had just run through the city.
We were staying next to Rizal Park which was well worth the visit. Loads of history about Jose Rizal who was a hero to the people of the Philippines as he was an advocate for reform during the Spanish colonial period. He was executed at the park on 30 Dec 1896 and is such a hero to the people that there is an annual national holiday in the country. Interestingly, he attended university in Madrid, Paris and Heidelberg, earning to numerous doctorates!
Also at the park were monuments of other famous Filipinos like Lapu-Lapu, the great warrior who fought against the original Spanish explorers (including killing Ferdinand Magellan in the battle of Mactan).
After taking in the park we decided to venture to Intramuros, which is translated to “within the walls” and is the oldest district in Manila. This old fortified city saw many battles over the years and at the forefront was Fort Santiago – spectacular and one of the highlights of Manila (see pictures). Also inside the wall were Manila Cathedraland many old Spanish colonial buildings.
That was about it for Manila, although we did manage to make it to Mall of Asia, which is the third largest mall in the world!
See you in Cambodia :)