The village on Bakie Island has recently refurbished a guest house that was built decades ago by a Frenchman. There are now four very comfortable rooms, with en-suite facilities. They will prepare meals for you at a very reasonable rate. I can't remember what the price per night was, but I paid $100 for three full days and nights, room and board all inclusive, other than drinks. The particularly nice thing about it is that the proceeds from the guest house are shared by the whole village, because the income is shared, you get a very warm welcome from everybody you meet.
There's no phone reception on Bakie Island, but the fellow there who coordinates things (Isagah Jalloh) takes a boat out every day to a spot where there is reception to check his messages. The best plan is to text him, and then he will call you back when he gets the message. His number is 076 440 230. He knows a boat captain in Tombo who is reliable, so can arrange a safe (but likely a bit expensive) trip out to the islands. You can also take the weekly boat from Shenge or Plaintain Island, agan, contact Isagah for the details of the schedule.
Google map: bit.ly/LJgHpp
Recommended for anyone looking for a flavour of the older Boracay before it developed into a more tourist-y focused Asian resort. Situated just to the back of Station 3, Melinda's is a selection of authentic Filipino nipa cottages set in a delightful tropical garden. Each cottage has its own verandah and hammock where you can relax after a hard day sipping the San Miguel beers on the famous White Beach. Run by the very hospitable German, Horst - one of the original Boracay adventurers of the 1980s - this is an ideal spot to find a little peace in an increasingly busy tourist environment. Very reasonable prices, too.
A stunning cave set high in the mountains of Luzon, Sumaguing boasts beautiful limestone formations, deep, clear pools and the feeling that you're the first visitor to have stumbled into its depths in a long time.
Sumaguing Cave, Sagada, Luzon, the Philippines. Approximately six hours by bus from Baguio City.
Google map: bit.ly/nPKP0B
The best little bar in Boracay this hidden gem is a paean to quieter days in this increasingly developed paradise idyll. Weave your way down the path from Station 3 on the famous White Beach and you'll find this nipa thatched, sand floored drinking den, decorated in all manner of native artifacts and piratical nauticalia. Outside a beach garden has been created with seating and tables made from natural driftwood making for a genuine, organic feel. The combination of cold local beers, ice chilled cocktails and laid back sounds make it an ideal habitat for travellers of more independent minds and spirits. It's run by a delightful English girl, Jen - who's something of an expert on the locales - and her buckle-swashing Filipino partner, Joey, who'll take you out on his crimson red paraw sailing boat to such exotic settings as Crocodile Island and Puka Beach during the daylight hours. Hoist the jolly roger and succumb to its charms.
I stayed in Manila as a staging post to other islands in the Philippines (and there are over 7,000 to choose from!)
Manila doesn't have much for visitors to see, and what there is, is lost in traffic jams and crowds. Devoid of its own culture, Manila seems hell bent on importing everybody else's in a fury of skyscrapers and shopping malls...all the european and american shops are there!
But you didn't leave home for western style shopping, did you?
Stay a day in Manila to provide the buffer the guide books recommend for flight connections. Or better still fly to more manageable regional airports, now that some low cost international carriers have started new routes.
But do get out into the rest of the Country, your effort will be well rewarded by mountains, warm seas, beaches to die for, friendly people and great value. There is plenty of low cost local style accommodation, much better value and more atmospheric than resorts (if indeed there are any resorts...) Once you are there you'll wish you had allowed more time for your visit.
I visited the Palawan Region, arriving by air in Coron and then I travelled south by boat, bus and jeepney to Puerto Princessa. Not an easy trip, more a great and memorable experience.
Anywhere in the Philippines...
Melinda's Garden, Boracay Island. Take yourself to this exclusive island paradise with great restaurants serving everything from Mexican to Korean cuisine, varied nightlife and the stunning mile-stretch of pristine white beach. Melinda's Garden is an upscale cluster of local-style Nipa huts tucked behind the public path that runs alongside the beach. Marble bathrooms, your own private veranda and hammock, set in a mini oasis of a lush filipino garden - you cannot get much more for £10 a night. The sound of the waves and rustling palms will lull you into the most relaxed calm you've felt in years. A steal compared with the over-priced resorts next door. Highly recommended.
Melind'a Garden, South end of White Beach, Boracay Island, Phillippines.
I came across this company during my long travels in south-east Asia. Tao Expeditions is a small eco company that takes travellers (3-5 days) by boat to the hundreds of remote islands of north Palawan. Visiting fishing villages, secluded beaches and beautiful islands.
The whole trip is all about the raw experience of island living, adventure of the wilder kind and balanced with good soul food and massages on board. I am pretty amazed with their project of helping out communities to have a part in their business with employments, accommodations, food and services for the trip.
They are a small quiet company who wants to take the right people to this remote area, having been with them three expeditions already, I can't help but spread this small secret to others- it can only attract the right people, the more they grow the more of their goodwill and campaign spreads and thus helps preserving this development hotspot.
Cagayan de Oro is a big, bustling city on the North coast of Mindanao, with good transport links to other parts of the Philiipines by air and sea.
White water rafting down the Cagayan river is becoming quite popular.
One of the nicest places to stay in the area is Lauremar Beach Resort Hotel in the village of Opol, about 7km out of town by a beautiful white sand beach.
The hotel rooms are all comfortable, air-conditioned and clean. Service is excellent and the hotel restaurant is good, although the food maybe lacks any real "wow" factor.
At Php 2,300 per night it's maybe not the cheapest, but really a bargain. There is a beautiful swimming pool - open to non-residents for a Php100 fee - and the beach is great.
Opol is about 7km out of town. A taxi from Cagayan centre costs about Php 100.
Malapascua is small island just north of Cebu. Good diving, amazing beautiful beach - much better than the world-famous, but now too spoiled, Boracay beach.
Getting there is really quite hard work. Small native pump-boats run from the end of the road, Cebu-City bus terminal, at a very small place called Maya. Many taxi drivers will be willing to take you there, direct from Cebu City, but it's so little known, that not many of the local taxi drivers really know the right way to go! The bus takes 4+ hours from Cebu City.
When you finally reach Maya, there's no pier, so expect to get your feet wet! Last pump boat leaves at 5pm. Later than that - you must pay lots for a special boat trip.(PhP1500+ or negotiate with the captain!)
Dano Beach resort is at the far end of the white beach. Bungalows cost Php 1,200 - which is not a lot UK£12 / US$25 but service was appaling. I requested a chair to sit on, on the verandah, and was bluntly told none were available. Simple plastic chairs can easily be purchased locally for less than Php200. I tore a hole in my new shorts sitting on a homemade table of nailed bamboo strips as there was nothing else to sit down on.
In the morning the resort's water pump stopped and wasn't fixed, so no way to wash; the beach resort owners just shrugged and said to wash in the sea.
A few bigger resort places on Malapasqua have better facilities at maybe double the nightly price. Try Blue Water or Cocobana if you want to stay here. Ging-gings is a good place to eat. Greedy local owners have been overbuilding on the beach (which is public, govement-owned property) and a lot of illegal constructions have been marked with big painted red Xs to signal their demolition, if less than 30 metres from the high-tide line.
Will this really go ahead, or will the often lazy and corrupt Philippine bureauracy allow one of the world's finest beaches to be destroyed by greed and over-development?
Dapitan Beach Resort Hotel (aka Pavilion Hotel) is owned and run by the local municipal government, who built it maybe 20 years ago from the proceeds of a gigantic US$ loan to promote tourism.
Since opening, the hotel has received next to no maintenance or further investment, but the air-con rooms are all huge and still luxurious - if you overlook the cracked bathroom fittings and the crumbling plasterwork everywhere.
The setting, on Dapitan's Sunset Boulevard, is spectacular, facing a huge 5 mile long white sand beach, with the South China Sea stretching in front of you; it feels like you've reached the end of the world (which you have, in a way...)
Grand luxury and elegance - at Php 1,650 per night (about £17) it's an unmissable bargain. Get there by overnight ferry from Cebu, Negros or Manila to the nearby Dapitan/Dipolog pier, or by plane to Diploog airport. Local motor tricycles will take you the last km or two for Php50 each. My wife and I spent our quite perfect honeymoon there 9 years ago, and we've been back a few times more since then!
Dapitan Beach Resort Hotel (Pavilion Hotel) Sunset Boulevard, Dapitan City, Zamboanga del Norte, Mindanao
Fantastic diving, more soft corals than you can shake a snorkel at. Sea turtles galore, so many lion fish I stopped counting, frog fish, sea snakes, eels, eels, eels, spotted rays, angel wrasse, schools of fish everywhere, wall, and reef diving at its best!
Also a great side trip if in Manila is Anilao, in Batanges, Philippines. The resorts leave much to be desired, but the diving is phenomenal (think backpacker diving, go for the underwater sights, and hope the food at the resort is edible afterward, or be smart and pack a picnic), the diving is worth it though.
Search Dumaguete+diving or Anilao+Batanges+Philippines Diving
To reach Baguio from Manila, one can take the Victory Liner bus company. Choose the Deluxe service for only PhP550 (pesos) one way.
Their terminal is pretty safe, although I suggest always travel with somebody and be cautious and attentive as anywhere in the world.
The deluxe service has an attendant and they serve snacks. Once in Baguio, taxis should not cost you more than PhP50 from Point A to Point B.
Victory Liner bus terminals:
Baguio - Governor Pack Road
Manila - EDSA in Pasay City
The architecture of Manila is not as consistent as you would see in, say, California, where a general plan is in place, giving the state a distinct Mediterranean style. Manila is in its present inconsistent state due to corruption, political instability, economic mismanagement, dictatorship and the remnants of the former dictator still intact and as influential as ever.
During the liberation of Manila in the second world war, most of the city was carpet-bombed. The Pearl of the Orient, as Manila was known before the end of the second world war, had ancient medieval cathedrals, churches, Spanish and American government buildings, stately mansions, forts, classic bridges, old-style Filipino homes with capiz windows, train stations, the Metropolitan Theatre, the Skyroom Jai Alai Building, etc.
Unfortunately, the city was never rebuilt nor recovered after the second world war, due to neglect and, of course, corruption. Today, the Luneta Hotel is abandoned, the Escolta blighted, the Pasig River polluted, Intramuros remains in ruins, street names constantly change, and modern boxed buildings slowly obliterate the classic Manila. Burnham's City Beautiful Plan remains an elusive dream. The calesas (horse-drawn carriages) are all but gone.
Traffic in Manila is probably the worst in the world - it is hell. If anyone complains about traffic in New York, Los Angeles, Rome etc, he or she should visit Manila because nothing compares to Manila traffic.
The reason why is simply because of the population almost doubling in the past 20 years. As a result, there are more drivers and more vehicles fighting for space on mostly old-narrow roads and highways. The saying "if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere" applies if one were to drive in Manila.
Old and dilapidated vehicles such as jeeps, buses and tricycles add to the problems of congestion and pollution. Also, undisciplined drivers cause gridlock - U-turns on main thoroughfares make no sense. A modernization plan is needed where drivers can easily exit, cross a bridge over the freeway/highway and enter the other way. You'll know what I'm talking about once you're in Manila.
Pollution, such as smog, is a major issue in the city. Old vehicles belch fumes and smoke so avoid taking old public transport without air-conditioning and windows. Community efforts are gaining momentum to clean up so as to beautify the city. Streets are generally clean although certain sections in, around and outside Manila seem neglected, such as railroad tracks, rivers and, of course, the squatter areas in certain districts of Metro Manila.
Manila International Airport (MNL) has 3 terminals: Terminal 1 is the old MNL terminal where most airlines dock. A small domestic terminal exists for flights within the Philippines. Terminal 2 is a modern facility strictly for Philippine Airlines international flights. Terminal 3 is supposed to be world class but yet to open due to controversies and structural integrity, according to news reports.
The airport in general is clean with courteous employees who understand and speak English. If a tourist suspects dishonesty or rudeness, proceed and report him/her to airport authorities or supervisors.
Generally, Filipinos are very helpful and hospitable. However, like in any other country, one may encounter unscrupulous personnel so always be attentive and alert. Security is heavy yet expedient. I'd rather be checked a hundred times than be harmed by murderous fanatics...so good job Manila International Airport thus far.
The Luneta Hotel along Dewey Boulevard (now Roxas Boulevard) faces Manila Bay. It is one of the few remaining classic architectures that stood the test of time. The once beautiful Pasig River is still being used to tranport people who choose to avoid traffic on land (water lilies still float in the polluted river).
Burnham's City Beautiful Plan for Manila was never realized. Instead, a congested and chaotic city emerged where the poor encroach on private lands, street names constantly change and blighted neighbourhoods such as the Escolta remain deteriorated as modern boxed buildings are erected - slowly obliterating Old Manila.
Makati is the Central Business District. The skyscrapers are hosts to international companies and visitors. But the buildings are getting old and most are dirty in need of maintenance. There is a new business district emerging just outside of Makati in Taguig called Fort Bonifacio Global City. This is a well master-planned community/business district that will rival advanced cities in rich countries. Don't be surprised to see The Fort featured on the Travel Channel in the future.
The Philippines today is how it was about 100 years ago. It is being rediscovered by tourists and business people from around the world who see the potential of a booming economy due to its strategic location and industrious population.
One must read the country's rich history before making a judgment based on the obvious visuals in and around the city/country. A new generation of enlightened Filipinos are reviving and restoring its glorious past hoping to regain the lost luster of the Pearl of the Orient - that is Manila.
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