November 8-10, 2016
We were so excited. Our Asia trip had finally come. We had kept putting this one aside because of the normal 3 week a year vacation time. Now we would be able to take 4 weeks.
The 11 hr and 5 hr flights (ramen durng our layover!) seemed to breeze by. We finally landed in Manila and we walked out the front door and our car was not there, what welcomed us was a barage of taxi drivers and smog. After waiting for an hour our driver came and we hurried up and sat in traffic! We then drove through some really seedy streets into a random condo complex. All I could think was we were only there for 6 hours to sleep. The driver walked us to the reception where we set up our car for the next morning and thy tried to ask us what we wanted for breakfast. Our choices were multiple hot dog dishes. We declined got to the random door to our room, walked in and my jaw dropped. Not only was there ants everywhere in the bathroom, the shower was grimy. Welcome to beautiful Philippines. I laid down with my hood on and didn’t even take off my shoes. As luck would have it, no bed bugs in our single bed. I was a big skeptic of all the people saying that the hotels were still good, even though they were dirt cheap. This was hurting our chances of cheap hotels in the future.
When we woke up the next morning we realized we told them the wrong flight time and so we rushed to see if the car could pick us up early. Nope. We sat there anxiously and finally he arrived. He said no traffic this early and so we were hopeful of not missing our flight. What we learned was no traffic meant 5 mph. We got there right before they closed the check in desk and got the last two seats on the plane. This trip was not starting out on the right foot.
It was only an hour flight and of course I sit right next to the guy that falls asleep and snores and snores. I just kept telling myself it will get better. It was silly things to be annoyed or nervous about, but what did we do to ourselves?
The flight landed without a hitch and 20 steps after landing we saw our hotel escort. It was a 10 minute drive to the ferry, then maybe a 20 minute ferry ride, then another 15 minute ride to the 2 block walk to our hotel. It was not a normal ferry, this is what the locals take back and forth to get to work.
We walked through the garbage and scooter ridden alleyway and it was like heavens doors opening…the beauty we had been waiting for appeared.
We splurged a little on this hotel because we wanted to acclimate and get situated comfortably. The hotel was in a great location to walk to the outdoor D Mall, up and down the beach and get to Diniwid beach. It was an easy walk to the other side of the island and a short tricycle ride to Puka beach.
We were only there for three days. I wish we would have stayed longer or checked out another island. Here is what we were able to see during our stay.
You couldn’t take a step out the door or on the beach without someone trying to sell you something. An item, a drink or a boat ride. As a reminder to anyone going, everything is negotiable! The best time to walk on the beach was 7am. There were still quite a few people out but only one or two people asked us to buy something. To the left was the famous White Beach, it was white and beautiful, but incredibly packed with people. There were boats lining the area to take people out.
Going to the right was our favorite (still considered white beach).
If you walk further you can get to Diniwid Beach. This beach is much smaller and it’s a fun little hidden trek to get to. It has a couple small hotels and would be a great place to stay. You can have lunch at Spider House Resort. They have an awesome set up for swimming, snorkeling and views.
The farthest beach that we went to was Puka Beach. This was about a 20 minute, $4 tricycle ride. It’s quieter, with not much there. During peak season there are places that provide chairs and drinks. The beach is a bit harder to walk on, but there are some more private places. I highly suggest the tricycle ride that seemed to be risking life and limb to get to.
The construction workers were wearing shorts and flip flops!
The last beach we stopped at was Bulabog Beach. This was on the other side of the island, but a very easy walk. It is windier on this side so known for water spots. Wind surfers and kite boarders were everywhere. We hung out for a bit just watching and enjoying the sun.
I would definitely recommend doing a boat excursion. Do some island hopping or a sunset ride. We had decided before we got there to just walk around and relax. Our hotel was perfect for that.
The local kids were very good at sand sculptures. Don’t get too excited, they do come at a cost.
We lounged on the hotels chairs through the sunset and it was magnificent.
We stayed at the District. Right in the middle of White Beach. I was seriously impressed with the service, breakfast and the spa there! The rooms were cute, great size and well laid out.
So the best thing was the spa. Being at a 5 star hotel we thought that the spa would be just ridiculous. WRONG! They give you a complimentary 30 minute service. So we added that on to a 60 minute massage and it was $34/person! We did 60 minute foot massages that were only $12/person. We would have done more but we contained ourselves. There weren’t a lot of other places to get massages that we could easily see.
The complimentary transportation to the hotel was key as well!
I was actually a little disappointed in the food. The majority of restaurants were pizza, Italian, bar food, american and attempts at sushi. There wasn’t anything that felt like I was in the Philippines. I am sure if we ventured off the beach and D Mall it might have been better, but even when we took our tricycle ride and walked to the other side of the island there wasn’t much. The street side of D Mall had some smaller food stalls that sold chicken or beef with rice that was much cheaper. Except your meat was sitting out on metal slabs with only a fan to keep the bugs off. I think that we missed out and didn’t do it right, but that gives us an excuse to go back.
The best place we found was Sunnyside Cafe. Great breakfast and lunch!
It was worth it to me to splurge a little on a hotel to get the free transportation from Caticlan to the hotel. Caticlan is the best airport to fly into. It is only a 10 minute car ride to the ferry as opposed to an hour or more. Then having to figure out the ferry line would have been difficult and then getting another car to the hotel and then figuring out where to stop because it’s a two block walk to the hotel.
Traveling around the island otherwise is easy. As soon as you are settled in and know where you are. Tricycle rides are easy to get. Just ask your hotel how much you should be charged and it’s easy to get that price when approaching one. There are different levels of tricycles. The single scooter, almost falling apart motorcycle with compartments, ones with nicer seating, electric and normal shuttles.
So Kevin and I have been lucky to travel a lot and we made a rookie mistake in planning this trip. Our plan was to buy our flight in and out of Manila and then everything in between would be up in the air. No schedule, or being forced to do one thing or another. We wanted to cram in a lot in our four week trip. Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. The one thing we did wrong with that was not planning on the visa requirements for some of the countries we wanted to visit. In our previous travels US passport holders either didn’t need a visa or you were able to get it on arrival and pay the small fee.
So a couple days before we were to leave the Philippines we sat down and decided what was next. It was going to be Vietnam. We bought our tickets and then later that day thought we should look up visa requirements. Well they recently made a change to their visas. If you planned in advance the fees weren’t that much before arriving to the airport, but you still have to pay $175/person on arrival at a Vietnam airport. Their visas for US passport holders are through travel agencies and only come in year increments. The travel agents issue a letter and it takes 3 business days usually, but you can do it expedited. It was going to cost us around $230 for this letter, plus the $175/person at the airport. So after a long discussion we decided to cancel Vietnam. You might say, we were flexible and just figure it out but we decided Thailand was a big country and we would spend more time and see more things there. I was also a little turned off by the $175/person at the airport too.
Some of the visas weren’t just as simple as paying money. You needed extra passport photos, letter from an agency, and a lot of money. Do it ahead of time and it is slightly better. We were reading some of the requirements of Myanmar to have crisp $100 bills and not a lot of places including local airlines that would take credit cards. I don’t mind being somewhat out of my comfort zone but I didn’t want to be confused everywhere.
All the countries that we went to you did not need a visa in advance.
Early detour to Thailand!
We learned that Boracay was a bit of a party island. I think we were there early enough in the season that it hadn’t gotten crazy yet. It does transform at night. Half the beach becomes chairs and tables for the restaurants. Hookah lounges and places with minimum drink requirements and loud music. Even with all this, I loved being there. You can’t go wrong with the beautiful beaches, being out of your comfort zone and the relaxation. Probably the most relaxing of the trip. Knowing now, I would have dedicated more time to the Philippines and gone to Cebu and Palawan. It’s a trek to get anywhere so since we were down there it would have been smart. Can’t wait to get back!