Hopping around the Philippines

Filippiinit - 12.11.2017 14:38

We have just returned from a two-week holiday in the Philippines. Statistically speaking 15 days, 7 flights, 6 hotels, +30 degrees, 12 sunny days, 0 sick days! It was much needed and long awaited for, since we hadn’t had a rest longer than a week for 11 months. We started off with a relaxing stay on Sangat island near Coron in Palawan. Palawan is becoming a very popular tourist destination in the Philippines because of its clear waters, nice corals and beaches, and also nice resorts. There are plenty of islands around the area, and some compare the high rising limestone structures to Halong Bay in Vietnam. The area in general is quite expensive to stay at, easily $100 per night per person, and most people seem to go to El Nido.

We wanted to relax in privacy for a while, so we chose Sangat in Coron. It’s a beautiful island with only one resort on it, and we had our own private beach and a beach villa for five nights. The reception was great; as our boat arrived at the island, we were “welcomed to the paradise” and served fresh coconut drinks before taking us to our place, which was a few minutes walk away from the main resort: a boardwalk around a cliff. As we didn’t want to worry or plan about anything, it was great that we got served food multiple times a day; breakfast at 7:30, snack at 10:00, lunch at 13:00, snack at 16:00, and dinner at 19:30. So we ate, slept, and swam a lot.

It was an ECO-lodge, so we didn’t have air-conditioning, but fans and the sea breeze instead. Unfortunately we got some insect bites, which were itchy a bit, but the resort was clean and we didn’t see any cockroaches, which was Deb’s biggest fear. It was an adventurous experience. At nights we could hear the ocean roaring when the wind picked up, but in the morning we were waken up by the sunshine and listening to the gentle waves rolling to our beach.

Besides relaxing, we also enjoyed some activities like kayaking and snorkelling. We even tried scuba diving! That was something that I always wanted to try. At first I was a little bit surprised how difficult it felt to breathe underwater, as we were practicing to replace our mask and regulator underwater in case of an accident. After the training I felt at ease with the breathing. Deb was doing great all the way. Then we spent half an hour straight under water, diving. I’ve never been underwater that long, and I did start feeling a bit the need to get some fresh air! Also, we dove down to only 7.5 meters, but the pressure already started hurting my ears, and I felt a bit dizzy for a while still after the dive. Nevertheless we enjoyed the diving experience and it was incredible, like another dimension of life! Not many sounds underwater, and the concept of time feels different. Down there everything moves slowly or just stays put, at least that’s how it seems like. Nothing is motorized, no petrol engines. No technologies, just pure nature. We saw beautiful coral, also two cattle fish that can amazingly camouflage to their surroundings. It’s like a digital skin that they have, takes the form of the surroundings. Not only does it change colour, but it also changes shape, which is crazy! One of the fish was close to a spiky coral, so the fish skin also became spiky and white! That was impressive. And we also saw a school of clown fish, aka Nemo, who were living in their cute little coral forest.

After relaxing at Sangat island we took a plane further south to Cebu, and a two hour ferry ride to the city of Tagbilaran, on Bohol island. It was refreshing to stay in a modern hotel for a change and go to a restaurant in the city. We stayed two nights in Tagbilaran, but didn’t do much in the city itself. Instead, we rented a motorbike and drove around the island. Bohol is actually a big island, so we could only cover maybe a third of it. I love riding a bike and exploring! We first drove along the coast and then inland through a mahogany forest to a Tarsier sanctuary. Tarsier is an extremely cute and small monkey-like animal. Funny fact is that each of its eyes weighs more than its brain! They are around South-East Asia, but so small that it’s difficult to spot them in the trees. In the park we saw many, though.

We continued riding and reached the famous Chocolate Hills. There are hundreds of them around in Bohol, these funny little round hills. The history said the area used to be a seabed and that the chocolate hills are where coral was growing and piled up. We then crossed a mountain with our motorbike to get to the coast again. It took quite a bit longer than I thought since the road up and down was winding. It was fun to be out on the countryside, however, and the views from the mountain down to the coast and the sea were beautiful.

For the following three nights we stayed in Panglao, a small island just out of the main island of Bohol. There is even a bridge from Bohol to Panglao, that’s how close they are. Panglao was really nice, we stayed in a boutique hotel called Linaw Beach resort and restaurant. We loved it; the hotel was nice and quiet, with a very nice pool (infinity) and just next to the beach and the sea. Our room had a nice balcony and great views of the sea and the sunsets. On top of this all, the resort had one of the best restaurants on the island, so we were eating really good food! By the way, all the time during the trip we were eating a lot of local food, since it’s something Deborah has fond memories of growing up, and I liked experimenting. At Linaw I found my favourite dish, though, which is the fried Bangus fish, marinated in garlic, lemon and vinegar.

We remained active and explored Panglao with a motorbike, visiting a bee farm, where we had good food and ice cream, and bought some local organic products. We also visited a cave, and on the way there were drenched by an afternoon heavy rainfall. Fortunately, when we arrived at the cave, they had some stalls where we could buy dry clothes at affordable prices! All in all the weather was very good, we had only a couple of rainy days during our vacation. Temperature was always around +30 degrees. It’s not yet the high season, and in fact it was still raining for couple of weeks straight before we arrived. Even on our last days, there was a typhoon in the area. Typhoon season was supposed to be over, but I guess the weather patterns are changing a bit nowadays, and these things remain difficult to forecast.

Another thrilling experience was to rent a jet ski while we were in Panglao! I had been to a lot of beach holidays always wanting to try a jet ski, and now I finally did it! It was so much fun to play with! And Debs was doing all these thrills with me!

On our last day in Panglao we took a tour at 6am in the morning. The boat took us to watch the dolphins hunt for their breakfast, and we did see a lot of them jumping out of the water and riding the waves! After the dolphin safari we were taken to a small island for snorkelling with the sea turtles. So lucky, we saw three of them majestic creatures! It’s like birds flying, how they gently flap forward in the water. And we saw a lot of fish as well, big schools of them. Actually, I think the underwater life was even more impressive in Panglao than in Palawan, it was really good. Finally before returning to our hotel we were taken to the Virgin Island, which is basically an island in the sea with nothing on it, no trees at least! We went there at low tide, and the island was bigger, but we could see where the water level had been during high tide, and there is really not much space to sit around then! Our timing worked well; we were back from the tour by noon, took one last swim in the pool, had a good lunch and headed back to Tagbilaran, then to Cebu, through crazy traffic to the airport, but still managed to catch an earlier flight to get to Manila in the evening.

The last two days we spent with Deborah’s family in Manila. They had come even from five-hour drive away, and taken days off to be with us. We had a really good time with them eating, shopping and talking! I had been to Manila before, but now it was different since we were with people who know where to go to, and it was great to get to know her family and their way of life. They were so hospitable, friendly and funny. Even Deborah’s young cousins joined us. Together we went ice-skating and I had the privilege to be the teacher, since I was the most experienced. Since we booked this trip almost six months in advance, we kept from shopping, awaiting the opportunities in Manila. The two days in Manila we mostly spent in shopping malls, like real Pinoys, and stocked up with clothes and accessories. Deb’s auntie Liza also arranged a photo shoot for us with a professional photographer, and this included a make up artist and hair stylist as well, so that was our day as celebrities, we felt!

Now back in Switzerland, feeling a bit sad to be honest, since it was so great, relaxing, warm, welcoming and kind, the experience in the Philippines, just wishing it could have been longer. We promised to go back sooner than before, which was seven years for Deborah. Her family misses her. For now, we are bringing back lots of positive energy and warmth with us from the Philippines.

Abu Dhabi and the Ferrari world Coron island Arrived in Busuanga airport Waiting for the transport to Sangat Island Sangat welcomed us with fresh and tasty coconuts The boardwalk to our beach villa Our private beach on Sangat island Our beach villa, which was more like a three story tree house Some underwater colours, although the iPhone camera through the aquapack doesn't really do justice to how beautiful the underwater world is.  Getting ready for scuba diving!   Communication with the main resort was with walkie-talkies: time for massage. The shower in our villa came from a cliff   Whenever I'm focused on something... One of our leisure time activities during the holiday. Debs became quite a pool shark    We paddled to the Robinson Cruseo beach  Hey I'm a Tarsier! Chocolate Hills of Bohol After we finished watching a movie, this group of people came to set up the church for the next morning service! What a cool church venue! Enjoying the cocktails at Linaw resort in Panglao The famous Pinoy desert, Halo-Halo We could see beautiful sunsets from our hotel room balcony Beeing friendly at Bohol bee farm Wohoo I always wanted to try a jetski! Amazing restaurant on Panglao island. Luna Rossa, must visit! Chilling at the pool Food for the table Virgin island Virgin island Meeting with Deb's family in Manila. What a great bunch! Hello, meet Noa! Shopping with Nat, Noa and Deb Nice views from Deb's auntie's office Debs getting ready for our photo shoot Gorgeous Ice skating with Nat! Life goals! Back to the Swiss Alps