Philippines

INTRAMUROS BIKE TOUR WITH BAMBIKE

INTRAMUROS BIKE TOUR WITH BAMBIKE

day one hundred and twenty-two: january 29, 2016: intramuros

Originally we had wanted to do this bike tour at the beginning of our trip, but since we arrived during the holiday between Christmas and New Years BamBike was justifiably closed. Thankfully, we had a free day at the tail end of our time in the Philippines so we called up the cousins and had them skip work to come join us.

VIGAN

VIGAN

day one hundred and twenty: january 27, 2016: vigan

The Spanish influenced city of Vigan is one of the New 7 Wonders Cities, voted in by people around the world. One main street, Calle Crisologo, is the center of this old city beginning at a large square headed north. Old cobble stones make a narrow road not open to motorized vehicles, only calesas or horse drawn carriages in Filipino. The street is lined by old buildings with European architecture. Lucky for us, my dad's friend was from Vigan. She showed us around and even gave us a tour of her cousin's home, which was on this main street. The layout inside was very open with high ceilings and windows and balconies overlooking the street - you can only imagine what it was like to live here many years ago. 

SAGADA

SAGADA

day one hundred and eighteen: january 25, 2016: sagada

With only one day planned in Sagada, we decided to try to really pack it all in. We had read about the sunrise at Kiltepan Peak overlooking the rice terraces below and decided to wake up before dawn to check it out. About 50-60 other people also had the same idea. Lucky for us, there's a road that goes all the way to the peak and we were able to take the van, instead of hiking in the dark and cold! We arrived about 30 minutes before first light, which is about an hour before sunrise. We were definitely in a cloud. You couldn't see a thing thru the thick mist. Due to our first flight from Manila to Coron having 10 kg checked baggage limits, we had left all our cold weather gear in Manila thinking we were spending most of our time on the islands and beaches. Instead, we armed ourselves with the blankets from the hotel and drank hot chocolate from one of the vendors at the peak. 

BATAD AND BANAUE RICE TERRACES

BATAD AND BANAUE RICE TERRACES

day one hundred and sixteen: january 24, 2016: cebu > manila > banaue

Surprise, surprise...another long travel day.

After a casual breakfast, we headed to the airport to catch a flight to Manila then jump in a car to head north to Baguio. Sadly, our flight was delayed a little over an hour. Typical to many SE Asia countries, no announcements were given letting us know what was going on with our flight. Once we arrived, our drivers were ready and waiting for us. Lucky for us, we had a group of five, which warranted paying a driver with a private van to drive us to Banaue, Batad, Sagada and Vigan. The typical route is to take an overnight bus from Manila to Bagiuo and then an early morning jeepney to Banaue, which is quite a long trek, sometimes spanning close to 14 hours. Since we had our own drivers we were able to get there in about 9 hours including stopping for dinner and gas.

CANYONING AT KAWASAN FALLS AND MOALBOAL

day one hundred and fifteen: january 22, 2015: canyoning at kawasan falls

Our friends, Gerard and Kieu at GQTrippin, visited the Philippines a couple months ago and posted about their canyoning adventure at Kawasan Falls. After seeing their photos, Jonathan was ready to sign up immediately but I still needed a little more convincing.  Jumping off a cliff, multiple times (!) just sounds so scary!

Since we decided not to snorkel with the whale sharks in Oslob, we had a free day in Cebu and decided to go for it. Also, I didn't really have a choice, since Jonathan and Jamie wanted to do it and I couldn't be left out!

We decided to book with Cyan Adventures, since Gerard and Kieu had an awesome experience with them. It was super easy to make a reservation and they were even able to arrange transportation for us from Cebu City to Moalboal, which is about a 3 hour drive one way. 

We met up with the group - 2 guides: John and JoMare, 2 other guests: Mark and Monica, from the Bay Area - at about 10am, got decked out in our gear -- wetsuit, life-vest, booties, and helmet and off we went! At first, it seemed a little silly  to be wearing all this stuff, but I think we were all thankful at the end of the day.

My nerves were already starting to go but after a quick 5 minute walk, it was already time for the first jump. I thought I would have had longer to mentally prepare! A bunch of people were crowded at a ledge and as you peered over, you looked over what seemed like a pretty narrow slot into the canyon below. Eeek!

At every jump, John explained where to exactly put your feet on the rock and where to jump below then he would count, "1, 2, 3, JUMP!". I think he had to count 3 times for me before I actually did it...but the first jump which was about 20 feet was awesome!   

I immediately was super happy to be with Cyan Adventures because we saw other groups that were about 15+ people and all they were given were life-vests and a helmet. We were a small group and seemed to be more equipped for the day ahead of us. And, it didn't seem like the other guides weren't doing much explaining or prep, unlike John, with their guests -- they just brought them to the ledge and then told them to jump.   

Over the course of the day, John and JoMare, carefully led us through the canyon, where we floated down the river, swam, hiked around some boulders, and jumped in the canyon a handful of other times down to Kawasan Falls. The smallest jump was around 10 feet, with optional jumps ranging from 33 ft - 40 ft. All the jumps always had ways to walk down, if you didn't want to jump. Yes, I took advantage of this. :)

As we made our way down the river, the scenery would vary from hanging vines, cave formations, and stalactites -- then there is the amazing color from the river adding to the view!

Jonathan and Jamie did all the higher jumps, one even requiring them to jump from a tree!

Before we knew it, we had reached the beautiful Kawasan Falls where we stopped for a photo then made our way to lunch. 

Overall, we were all really happy with the experience and highly recommend it to anyone visiting the Moalboal area.

Before heading back to Cebu City, we stopped at Panagsama Beach to snorkel with the resident sardines who showed up there about 2 years ago and never left. We rented equipment from Cyan Adventures and swam about 100 feet from the beach and saw thousands, if not millions, of sardines just hanging out. Of course, your natural instinct is to chase after them and they all just swim away in a big bunch together. So beautiful!


Disclaimer: We received a discounted rate with Cyan Adventures. As always, our thoughts and opinions are our own. Thank you Cyan Adventures for an awesome day at Kawasan Falls!

Photos and videos courtesy of Cyan Adventures. 

BOHOL

day one hundred and ten: january 17, 2015: surigao city to bohol

Today we flew from Surigao to Cebu City and quickly found out it was the Sinulog Festival, one of the biggest festivals in the Philippines celebrating the Santo Niño, the infant child Jesus, who many Filipino Catholics believe to be miraculous. Unfortunately, we planned poorly and didn't have anywhere to store our luggage -- so we headed to our next destination, Bohol, via ferry.

day one hundred and eleven: january 18, 2015: bohol

We booked a tour through the hotel to explore Bohol for the day. In eight hours, we visited 6 different highlights. First was the Tarsier Conservation Center. These little guys are the world's smallest primate. Sadly, they're endangered now, due to their habitats being destroyed by humans. Upon our arrival we learned a few things about the tarsiers. For one, tarsiers have extremely large eyes. Each eye is heavier than the brain. They have the largest eyes relative to their body of all mammals. Another crazy thing they can do is rotate their head 180 degrees without moving the rest of their body. Unfortunately, they are also nocturnal and they sleep during the day. That means that humans visiting and watching them during the day is actually disrupting their sleep. Some of the ones we saw were sleeping, but when people were noisy they would slowly open their eyes. It reminded me of my college days trying to stay awake in a lecture. It was kind of disheartening to see actually. There are signs to keep quiet and not to use flash photography. Apparently when tarsiers are exposed to flashes of light while trying to sleep they sometimes commit suicide by banging their head against a tree. They're also known to attempt suicide when put in captivity. Although seeing them "in the wild" was cool, I don't think I would encourage other people to visit as it doesn't seem to be healthy of the tarsiers ("in the wild" is in quotations because this conservation center/area seemed more concerned with keeping tourism alive than actually saving the tarsiers).

Our next stop was the Bohol Butterfly Conservation Center. Included in the admission price is a tour guide. Ours was actually pretty entertaining and funny and we learned a lot thru the displays (some of which had live caterpillars and to-be butterflies and moths in cocoons). Sadly, I don't think we were there in the right season, so there weren't many butterflies in the gardens.

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On display were quite a few preserved specimens of butterflies and some that were actually both male and female. Above you can see a male butterfly (not sure on the species) and below you can see one that is both male and female. No that doesn't mean they can reproduce with themselves. Its more like a genetic disorder that rarely occurs.

As I mentioned earlier, we did get to see some live cocoons and there was even one that had just recently broken free from its cocoon.

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Next up, the Chocolate Hills. This is an area we were really looking forward to. Unfortunately, I would have to say we were a little bit disappointed. Most of the pictures that you see posted are like those we've posted below. What you don't see are the crowds of people and the fact that the hills aren't actually that interesting to look at. 

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Next stop, the bamboo hanging bridge. It's really just that...a bridge made of bamboo supported by metal cables.

The first time we passed the man-made forest, we actually didn't know we had passed it. So we ended up turning around and going back and then realizing that it was  a series of planted trees along a section of the road. 

The last stop of the tour was supposed to be a buffet lunch that costs 400 PHP per person on a boat that travels down the river while you eat. After seeing what it was, we decided to push on and head back toward the hotel and find somewhere better to enjoy lunch. Our guide brought us to the Bohol Bee Farm, which set the stage for many more meals during our time in Bohol. Our first night in Bohol, we stumbled upon the Bohol Bee Farm location on Alona Beach and had some amazing ice cream. We were pleasantly surprised that their actual location is much larger and also has a hotel/resort portion too. After arriving and walking the grounds, we actually wished we had stayed there for a few nights. It was a beautiful spot. And to top it off, the food was organic, fresh and really tasty too.

 cabcab with pesto and green tomatoes

cabcab with pesto
and green tomatoes

 garden salad with edible flowers

garden salad
with edible flowers

 spicy honey pizza

spicy honey pizza

 grilled marlin with rice and fresh lumpia

grilled marlin with rice
and fresh lumpia

 fish taco in a cassava cone

fish taco in a cassava cone

 cassava lasagna

cassava lasagna

day one hundred and twelve: january 19, 2015: island hopping in bohol

Today we opted for an island hopping tour with the hopes of also seeing dolphins on the way. We headed out super early in the morning, which is supposedly the best time to see the dolphins. Sadly, we weren't lucky enough to see them. After our search for the dolphins ended, we arrived at Balicasag Island. Included in the price of the tour was a small paddle boat transfer to the snorkeling area just off the shore. If you decided to take this tour, make sure you get good snorkeling gear. The masks and snorkels that were provided to us were pretty gnarly and definitely not clean. We decided to only use the masks and ditch the snorkels since there appeared to be some sort of mold possibly growing inside. Eek!

We only got to choose one spot to go to and opted for the area where we could hope to see sea turles, which was much deeper than the area where most of the other groups were going to. We ended up spotting four sea turtles and swimming with them for a bit. That definitely made up for the lack of dolphins on our way out to the island. We also got to see quite a few jellyfish, almost all of who stung us while we were swimming with the turtles. We ended our snorkel in the shallows of the reef where most of the other visitors were standing on the reef as their guides picked up starfish and showed them around. Definitely not good coral reef etiquette. It's always disappointing to see this.

Next on the tour, Isola di Francesco also known as Virgin Island Sandbar. This quiet little stop is actually a privately owned island, known as a place for meditation and reflection. The owner is fairly religious and there are plenty of indicators on the island including signage that states "Enjoy HIS beach" and religious statues scattered on the island. 

Over the next day or so we enjoyed several meals at the Bohol Bee Farm location on Alona Beach and took full advantage of their Scrabble board. Little did we know, my dad is a near expert Scrabble player, always taking advantage of adding S's and other single letters to the ends of existing words while also adding a new word. He sure can score in Scrabble!

day one hundred and thirteen: january 20, 2015: alona beach

Without any activities planned for our last day in Bohol, we encouraged Jamie to do a discovery dive to see if she would enjoy scuba diving. Verdict: she did! So hopefully that means she will be able to get certified back in the states and join us underwater somewhere around the world.

day one hundred and fourteen: january 21, 2015: cebu city

After a casual breakfast, we headed back to Cebu City on the ferry. After checking in at our hotel, we headed out for some lechon, which Cebu is known for, at Zubuchon, made famous by Anthony Bordain. It did not disappoint. Sorry, we didn't take any photos so I guess you'll just have to go try it for yourselves.

MABUA PEBBLE BEACH AND LUMONDO FALLS

MABUA PEBBLE BEACH AND LUMONDO FALLS

day one hundred and eight: january 15, 2016: lake mainit and mabua pebble beach

Surigao City is not the most interesting city by far. As we approached our arrival in Surigao City, we began to do some research on what there was to see there. To our disappointment, everything interesting to see was on another island at least a several hour boat ride away, making it a little bit difficult to visit in one day. Since we didn't have enough days to stay the night on one of those islands, we had to explore by car within driving distance of the city. Thankfully, we had a private driver, Noel, who graciously took us around the area to explore. 

BRITANIA ISLETS AND THE ENCHANTED RIVER

BRITANIA ISLETS AND THE ENCHANTED RIVER

day one hundred and six: january 13, 2016: davao to surigao

Based on my dad's friend's recommendation, we headed to our next stop: The Britannia Islands. It was about a 6-7 hour drive from Davao but we got to enjoy passing through little towns, palm tree forests, and the countryside. After sitting in the car for 6 hours, we were all excited to have finally reached our destination....but our original accommodations didn't live up to the photos that were online. We drove down a little more to another "resort" to check it out. As soon as we stepped out of the car, Jamie and I knew this was going to be another "no".

DAVAO/SAMAL ISLAND

DAVAO/SAMAL ISLAND

day one hundred and three: january 10, 2016: puerto princesa to davao/samal island

We said goodbye to Erwin in Manila and made our way south to Davao. We didn't know what to expect but were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at a private resort on Samal Island, called Samal Shores, owned by my dad's friend. To make things even better, we were the only guests for the next three days...AMAZING! Samal Island is just a short 3 minute boat ride from Davao but still a nice getaway from the mini bustling city. 

PALAWAN UNDERGROUND RIVER

PALAWAN UNDERGROUND RIVER

day one hundred: january 7, 2016: underground river and puerto princessa

If you can't tell already, we love big travel days... This morning we had an 3am pick up to make our way back to Puerto Princessa via the Underground River. We were told to get to there early because it gets super busy and people have been known to wait for up to 2 hours to get on a boat. We were lucky and had to wait less than 30 minutes for a boat from the wharf then another 10 minutes to jump on a smaller boat to enter the cave. The Underground River is the world's largest navigable river within a cave, 42 km long. Tourists are limited to a tour of the only the first 2km of the cave complex in an effort to preserve the cave and its ecosystem. The Underground River was actually voted as one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World. I must say, we were pretty impressed at how the government is actually trying to preserve this natural wonder. It wasn't just a gimmick to increase tourism in the area. 

EL NIDO

EL NIDO

day ninety-eight: january 5, 2016

Today we traveled from Coron to El Nido. We caught a flight from Coron to Manila (1 hour), Manila to Puerto Princessa (1.5 hours), then hopped in a van to El Nido (7 hours).  Needless to say, today was a big travel day. We arrived El Nido late in the evening so we went straight to bed to get ready for a big day of island hopping ahead of us. 

CORON DAYS 3 AND 4

CORON DAYS 3 AND 4

day ninety-six: january 3, 2016

As part of our second day of island hopping, we snorkeled at two wrecks then spent the rest our time on Pass Island. 

There are eleven WWII wrecks dating back to September 1944 when American bombers attacked a Japanese convoy anchored in Coron Bay. Many of the wrecks are shallow enough to snorkel, but also make for great wreck diving and snorkeling. 

MANILA AND TAAL VOLCANO

MANILA AND TAAL VOLCANO

days eighty-eight to ninety-three: december 26 - december 31, 2016: manila and taal lake

Christmas Day was spent on planes and in airports as we traveled from Sorong to Manila, arriving at 2am on the 26th. After taking what seemed like forever to get thru customs and immigration and collecting our bags we were greeted by a familiar face, my dad and my two cousins, Karen and Kristel. What's the first thing you do after arriving in the Philippines, eat of course! As we left the airport, we appeared to be lost. My dad asked Kristel if she was lost and she said, "Yes, but we'll be ok, we have gas, we have money and we're still in the Philippines!". First stop, Aristocrat for some late night food.