Philippines

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Life is Better in Boracay

Most people in Guam go to the Philippines for the shopping in Manila or to visit family and then head back home to Guam. Shopping in Manila is like a sport and it’s pretty awesome. The HUGE city of Manila is very hectic and we wanted some time to unwind and really feel like we were on vacation, so we decided to return to Boracay. We flew to Panay Island where we boarded a bus at the Kalibo airport and headed on our two hour journey to the port where we would catch a boat that would take us to Boracay island. When you’re going to Boracay, there are two airports that you can fly to, Kalibo and Caticlan. Kalibo is further from the port. After a quick boat ride to Boracay, we were ushered onto a VERY small vehicle where about seven people crammed into the back seat, our suitcases piled on top. We drove to our hotel, Nigi Nigi Nu Noos. Because there isn’t a road that stops directly in front of the hotel, we parked in an alley and walked along the beach, suitcases in hand, until we reached the hotel! After all that traveling, I was ready to relax.

Peter and I wanted to make the most of our second trip to Boracay. This time we had more funds to do more activities, so we made sure to book activities through our hotel for almost everyday. The first activity we chose was the glass bottom boat excursion. For about 500 pesos each, we got on a boat and road around looking through the bottom at all the sea creatures. For the most part we saw coral, starfish, sea anemone, schools of brightly colored fish and random things like chairs. I think the entire boat ride was about two hours. They gave us snacks and drinks and gave us a chance to snorkel. I put on my life vest and snorkel gear and began my adventure. The waves were very strong so it was easy to get swept away. While snorkeling in the Philippine waters for the first time, I spotted a long, skinny, silver and black striped creature. It was a snake. I freaked out but took a second look to be sure. Yup, I was right it was a snake! I told Peter, of course he didn’t believe me, and I got the heck out of the water! So as usual Peter thought I was being dramatic, when we got back home I searched for the creature that I saw and here it is banded sea snake…that is exactly what I saw! So now Peter believes me. When I got back on the boat Peter was still swimming around and even swam under the glass bottom of the boat! I’m glad he enjoyed his time, I on the other hand enjoyed the snacks and looking at the starfish they brought on the boat!

The next day we booked a land tour in an air conditioned van. We started early and headed to Mt. Luho. There is a small fee to get into this as well. We climbed up the steps, where there were many friendly dogs laying in the shade. Mt. Luho is primarily for tourists, as is most of Boracay. They have many caged animals throughout the walk up the mountain. We saw the Tazmanian Devil, bear cat, monkeys, reptiles, birds and owls. I think bear cats are cute and I wouldn’t mind having one as a pet. Apparently they can grow to be six feet long. We spent a lot of time around the monkeys because the older monkeys were chained to a tree. You could get as close as you wanted to them! I kept my distance, while Peter got close and even made them a little mad! For much of the walk up the mountain, the flooring is made from bamboo. It was a little scary, I couldn’t imagine how it was holding all of us up. At the very top was a beautiful view of the island! As we walked down Peter talked me into ziplining down the mountain. I was scared because I wasn’t really sure what ziplining was and I imagined that it was very fast. I was pleasantly surprised after we were pushed off the ledge to the other side, it was a swift and smooth ride. Now I want to zipline everywhere haha. Once we’d finished with Mt. Luho, we spent some time at Puka Beach. As soon as we sat down, people selling jewelry bombarded us, of course we gave in! After a nice time at the beach we went on to our next adventure, the animal expo center. Here, we were introduced to many Filipino animals like snakes, tarantulas, birds and Wally the CROCODILE! On the Philippine island Palawan, there are salt water crocodiles! This one was massive! It was definitely a fun-filled day!

Our final activity was what we thought would be a nice, smooth island hopping paraw sail. The first time Peter and I were in Boracay, we had a sunset cruise on a paraw. It was very smooth, and relaxing. So we assumed it would be the same kind of conditions. Right before our trip, I bought some french fries to eat along the way. Not soon after we left White Beach did I realize that I was in for something completely different than what I initially thought. The further away we got, the rougher the waves became. Soon we were going VERY fast and my french fries flew off the boat as we held on for dear life. What we thought was island hopping turned out to be a sail around the entire island with only one stop. Before we made it to that stop, I thought I was going to die! The waves were about seven feet high and splashed into my face. Before I could spit the salt water out and catch my breath, another came and slapped me again! After awhile I forgot about trying to keep my hat on and instead just held on as tight as I could. I thought I was going to cry, but couldn’t help laughing at the insanity of this ride. That was some EXTREME sailing! If I never do it again, I wouldn’t complain. My entire body was drenched, Peter looked worried and kept apologizing. I looked at the three men who were guiding us around the island and they seemed calm. It really felt like the sail boat was going to flip over. FINALLY, we stopped at Puka Beach. I got off, a little bit traumatized. Peter said if I needed to I could catch a trike back to the hotel. The sailboat crew assured me that we had passed the roughest side of the island and the rest of the way would be calm. So I gathered my thoughts, tried to calm down and agreed to carry on. As promised, the rest of the trip was exactly what I needed. It was so calm, smooth and slow. I loved it! Even though I felt like I had a near death experience, it was fun and now I have a good story to tell.

During our stay, we visited the D Mall to do some shopping and we also crossed the street and walked to the other side of the lake to do some shopping. The further away from White Beach the cheaper things get. We ate at Cyma, a greek restaurant, which is my favorite place to eat on Boracay. We also ate Italian food at Aria on the beach and had tapas and Sangria at Dos Mestizos. Those were my three favorite restaurants while on Boracay and I recommend them!  Oh and after seeing Wally the Crocodile, Peter was inspired to eat crocodile sisig at a restaurant on White Beach! We tried to catch every sunset and walk as much as possible. The only downside to our stay was that the usual crystal clear water of White Beach was full of seaweed and wasn’t very nice to swim in. Occasionally that happens on Guam too. I’m sure it is cleared up by now.  Our hotel was pretty old but very interesting. If you want a more authentic island stay, you’d probably like our hotel and staying in the cottages. Within the first five minutes of entering the room, I was bitten about 10 times by mosquitoes. We never figured out how to use the mosquito net. The hotel gardens were very nice and now I can say I slept in a hut.

Most of all, it was very nice getting to know Peter’s parents! Peter and I enjoyed our vacation and we are pleased with how everything worked out perfectly!

It’s More Fun in the Philippines!

Well hello there! As you can see, I’ve made it home safely from my vacation to the Philippines. Since I’ve already written a few posts about my Philippine vacation last year, I will try to keep this one short. Just like last year I went to Manila and Boracay, unlike last year we hired a driver and Peter’s parents joined us on our vacation! After co workers of both Peter and mine had recommended their driver, we decided to give it a try. Bright and early at 8:00am Rally, the driver, was waiting for us at the airport in Manila. It was nice not having to worry about finding a taxi. We just asked Rally to take us where we needed to go, and he knew exactly how to get there. He also suggested places for us to visit and helped us out when we went to Greenhills and needed to get good prices on things. On the other hand, it was VERY weird for me because he opened EVERY door and held my bags. It took me awhile to get used to all the services he provided. Overall, I am SOOOO happy Rally helped us out during our stay. He showed us parts of Manila that we’d read about and wanted to visit, but didn’t know how to get to.

When we arrived, Rally took us to Hotel Celeste to check in and freshen up. Hotel Celeste is a boutique hotel located near Landmark department store and just down the road from where we stayed last year. That was the first time that we stayed in that Hotel.  We didn’t enjoy our stay in Metro Manila last year, so we decided to stay in Makati City for our entire time in Manila. Hotel Celeste is very nice, the furniture is unique, the shampoos and lotions provided were by L’occitane, we received delicious welcome drinks and the pillows were extra comfy! It’s also in a great location for walking to Greenbelt. Very safe!

Peter and I asked Rally to take us to Greenhills so that we could shop around. Greenhills is known to have all the replica designer clothes and accessories. This time, we explored more and had Rally with us to show us around. Greenhills is a neverending maze of vendors. Upstairs are electronic items, mostly for phones. Downstairs is where EVERYTHING you’ve ever needed would be. I knew exactly what I wanted to buy, whereas Peter knew what he wanted but couldn’t make up his mind. We went again a few days later without Rally to show Peter’s parents around.

When Peter’s parents arrived, we asked Rally to take us sightseeing. He took us to Quiapo and we shopped in the street markets where all the locals shop. I found an AMAZINGLY affordable bead shop where I stocked up on beads for my bracelet making. We visited beautiful churches and I was touched by how big of a role religion plays in the lives of Filipinos. It seemed so pure and the epitome of what religion SHOULD be like to people. Locals stopped by the church to leave a prayer on their way home from work or while they were going about their daily business. In Quiapo, the Black Nazarene is very important. Peter and I stopped to say a few prayers and it brought tears to my eyes. I was very overwhelmed by the hope and faith I felt around me.

Rally drove us through China Town in Binondo, we also drove through Metro Manila and past Coconut Palace.  He was very helpful and I recommend him to anyone visiting the Philippines. In Manila we went to Fort Santiago, where we learned about Rizal’s history. On one of the evenings in Makati, past Greenbelt we found Ayala Triangle Gardens and walked throughout the park. This trip to Manila was so much better than last year’s trip!

Boracay

Philippine Vacation Video  (click the link to watch the video)-edited by Petey.

Possibly the smallest airport I’ve ever been to in the world, the flight from Manila to Kalibo airport was about 45 minutes.  As we descended toward Aklan, I could see Boracay from the plane. Boracay is famous for it’s beautiful White Beach. From the airport, we got on a bus that took us on a two hour ride across the island so that we could board a boat to Boracay. I loved the island of Aklan. It was very crowded like Manila, but much more authentic and less influenced by the world. Children walk around barefoot, people live in bamboo huts with roofs made out of leaves. It’s so peaceful and everyone seemed to be busy doing something. When we finally made it to the port to board a boat that would take us to the next island, Boracay, it was late afternoon.

I’d expected Boracay to be very laid back, quiet and a hidden gem. To my surprise, the beach was packed with tourists from all over the world. It looked as if the Las Vegas strip had moved to a tropical island! We stayed at Boracay Beach Club, located in Station 1, because of the reviews and the good deal we got. Included in our resort stay we had a daily breakfast,  free drinks, full body massage, a banana boat ride and a sunset cruise on a sailboat. Our stay at BBC was wonderful! I strongly recommend staying here. The people are very friendly, it’s across the street from White Beach, very quiet and secure. White Beach, I’ve heard, is the world’s #2 most beautiful beach. As you can see in the pictures, the sand really is white which makes the water look even prettier. The first day we arrived, we watched the sunset as we had our dinner. It wasn’t until the next morning that we were really able to appreciate the beauty of White Beach. Almost too bright to look at! We also visited Puka Beach, which is a beach made up of broken puka shells. It isn’t as busy as White Beach and the water is a bit rougher. To get there we took a motorized tricycle. This is the most commonly used way to get around the island.

Boracay’s White Beach is separated into three stations. Each station appeals to a different crowd. I think Stations 2 & 3 are the party stations, while station 1 was more for families and couples.

D Mall was about a 10 minute walk from BBC and that’s where you can find a maze of shops, vendors and restaurants. Along the way I took pictures of the radio station, school and other random things I thought were interesting. The nightlife is good, any day of the week and all night long. Lots of techno/electronic music!

In Boracay things are more expensive than Manila, but still affordable for anyone coming from a country with a good exchange rate. We had dinner at a different place each night. Around D Mall you can find ANY kind of food you want. In addition, you eat your dinner on the beach and there’s always a live band playing. It just makes the experience so much more magical! Even in Boracay there are kids that line the walk way trying to sell you things, usually beads or laser lights. I had a conversation with one of the kids who wore a feather in his hair. He said, “Here touch the beads.” As I reached my hand out to look at the necklace he was trying to sell but stopped quick when he added, “but you touch, you buy!”

The banana boat ride was fun and exciting, the sailboat cruise was beautiful but the massage was horrible. I’d never had one before and I’m not a fan of having strangers touch me so I did not enjoy this. That would be the only downside to my whole time in Boracay.

Every night at sunset, a group of birds (never figured out if they were bats or not) swarm the trees for about 10 minutes and then disappear. Every sunset was even more beautiful than the previous. The weather is less humid than Guam, but still incredibly hot!

This was a vacation I will never forget and I plan on going back. During our last day in the Philippines we found a little post office and mailed out post cards that took about a month and a half to reach their destination. It’s amazing how Boracay’s people mix with the tourists. On one side of the street you find tourists, boats, jet skis, half nude beach goers and on the other you find locals selling a bottle of Coke for 17 pesos ($0.25!) catching rides from motortrikes and going about their business. There are so many amazing things that happened, not just in Boracay but all of my Philippines vacation, that I’m probably forgetting to share. I had a great time, learned so much and can’t wait to go back. And next time…I won’t pay $25 for a cab ride!

Shop ’til You Drop in the Philippines!

Even though this vacation was planned on a tight budget, one of the main things we wanted to do while in Manila was to take advantage of how much the dollar is worth! The exchange rate is great for the US Dollar, so we planned to do a bit of shopping and a lot of eating. We limited ourselves to a few shopping places: Greenhills, Tiendesitas and Greenbelt. Tiendesitas turned out to be a disappointment. It was filled with pet shops and furniture, both of which we didn’t want nor could we even bring back with us. I don’t plan on going back there. If you want to do authentic designer and name brand shopping, Greenbelt and the Glorietta malls are good for that. These shopping centers are massive and never ending. It was fun just to window shop. We shopped at Landmark, where we got good deals on shoes and clothes. Makati City shopping is very tourist friendly and VERY nice. Since our hotel was near the Greenbelt and Glorietta shopping centers, we spent most of our time in this area.  It’s also a very safe area to walk around in at night.

One evening we decided to take a taxi to Greenhills, which is a large shopping center. There’s a regular shopping mall and then there’s a market with rows and rows of individual vendors. Here you can find anything your heart desires. I would have liked to have spent more time at the Greenhills market, I’ve never been to anything like it. This is a cash only place and you have to be good at bargaining. Seller’s prices usually start really high and you have to bargain with them to lower the price. They can be very pushy and even grab your arm but just stick to what you want and don’t get overwhelmed. We went once at night and once early in the morning. I suggest early morning, less people and if you’re the first buyer of the day you might get an even better discount (so they say).

As you can see from the photo, the Philippines is VERY densely populated. Not an inch of space is wasted. In additions to living areas being packed with people, the roads are just as hectic. Philippine drivers are insane. I got carsick every time we drove anywhere. I’m not even sure how their traffic laws work or if they have any, but it was like riding in a roller coaster. Our average taxi ride cost about 270 pesos depending on traffic. Traffic is usually very bad and slow, but drivers find ways of getting around it. I don’t recommend renting a car in this city.

Jollibee is sort of the McDonald’s of the Philippines. We ordered two medium pizzas, a burger and fries for about $8.00!  Another day I decided to try a Philippine restaurant that served BBQ chicken and red rice. It was absolutely delicious! I suggest eating this if you can find it. We also bought a bag of sliced mangoes from a street vendor, another disappointment. The mango was not good at all. I guess it’s just a hit or miss thing with the food. I was worried about eating because I didn’t want to get sick. I suggest just sticking with restaurants and taking some Imodium before and during the trip.

At the end of my trip to Manila, I was ready for relaxation. I really enjoy my time there and learned a lot of useful things for my next visit. Next stop, the island of Boracay!

Philippines Vacation: Rizal Park, Manila.

In addition to various aquariums, Hotel H2O has a dance club that’s in a pool. We were looking forward to partying in Manila, but after a hectic first day we fell asleep early. After breakfast we ventured outside of the hotel walls and into Rizal Park, which is across the street from Hotel H2O.  At this park you can find a lot of food carts and people selling random things. If you are visiting the Philippines, you need to get used to people asking you every five seconds if you’d like a ride or want to buy something. There were police officers throughout the park, shooing away homeless people and keeping an eye on the tourists. We walked through the large grassy area where people were playing badminton and across the street to another park. Here we found a large pond and a lot of information about the history of Manila.

Smog in the city is thick! I remember as we descended in the airplane we were disappointed to see the grey skies, thinking it was going to be a rainy day. To our surprise, the woman sitting in the seat next to mine said it was all smog! Fortunately, on the second day some of the smog had cleared and we could see the blue sky and sun.

After we’d checked out of the hotel we took a cab to Makati City, where we spent the next two days.

Philippines Vacation: Manila

As I stated in a previous blog post, I took a trip to the Philippines in February for a week. One of the great things about living way out here are all the amazing islands nearby that I can visit.

Day one of the trip seemed like a week long trip itself. I’d been a little weary of this vacation because of the negative things I’d heard about the Philippines. I was trying to be open minded about everything, but the first day seemed to agree with those negative comments. The airport was very nice and the airport workers were accommodating. One of the first mistakes we made was agreeing to any price for a taxi. We paid about 1125 Philippine Pesos, which is roughly $25, to take us from the airport to Mall of Asia. DO NOT pay THAT much. We’d made this poor decision in a rush, later we found out that 275 Pesos was a good deal.

We arrived, with our luggage, at the Mall of Asia before opening time. Luckily, the mall has areas where you can leave your luggage for free and pick them up before 10pm. Once the mall opened we ate, shopped a bit and headed out to our hotel. The shopping at the Mall of Asia is OKAY. There are lots of nice stores but the prices are relatively equivalent to those in the States. If you’re not really into shopping, I say skip this. We did however watch an IMAX movie for about $10 per person! Our lunch was also about $10. The only store we spent time in was the SM department store. If you enjoy salespeople bombarding you with service, then you will like this store. I on the other hand, nearly had a panic attack. The amount of salespeople vs. the amount of customers was about 10:2. They especially like to sell to anyone who looks American. Although the prices were very good in the SM store, I couldn’t wait to get out. One interesting thing about the Philippines is that there are MANY police and security officers everywhere. So, any store or shopping center you go into you have to go through security. There are two lines, one for women and one for men where they check all bags for weapons.

After that disaster, I felt overwhelmed and had a headache. We decided to take something called a Jeepney to catch the LRT (public transportation train).  Jeepney’s are old, abandoned US Military Jeeps from WWII turned into taxi-like vehicles. The Jeepney was about 7 Pesos and was jammed packed with people. We were left near the LRT station, which we took to downtown Manila. Once you leave the nice area of the mall, everything turns out to be just as you had seen on TV. A lot of poverty, small streets, thick city life.  The LRT was also split into two sections. One for women only and one for men and women. Philippine driving is ridiculous! I don’t know how to explain it…it seemed like they had no driving rules.

We had printed a map of downtown Manila and thought we could walk to our hotel. We ended up walking through some really bad parts of the city (luggage in hand) where people were sleeping in the middle of the sidewalk, some were urinating in the open, kids asking for money, people trying to sell us mystery meat and others who looked like they were on some serious drugs. Finally, a guy driving a horse-drawn carriage came by and said it would cost 50 Pesos and he’d take us to our hotel. So we got in. He ended up taking us on an unneeded tour of downtown Manila, going through red lights and oncoming traffic with his poor, broken-looking horse. When we finally arrived at our hotel he decided to charge us 250 Pesos. At this point were were tired, grumpy and hungry and we paid it. BEWARE of that…it happened to us more than once. It was also nearly dark and our driver had advised us not to leave our hotel after dark.

We stayed in Hotel H2O merely for the in-room aquarium. The hotel’s public aquariums are a big attraction among school children and we arrived when a few schools were holding field trips. Overall, I enjoyed the hotel but it was not in a very nice part of the city and I will skip it during my next trip (yes I plan on going back!). We paid a little extra to have breakfast included in our hotel price. The breakfast was very interesting…it included normal breakfast food plus potato wedges, pasta, french fries and other random stuff. All very delicious! Our dinner there wasn’t so good though 😦 There is also a very small shopping area where you can barter with the salespeople.

We had a good laugh at the Do Not Disturb sign which read, “Disturb me not, please.” 😀

End of Day One!

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