Cebu- The end is nigh



It’s finally here. The end is truly here. After 320 odd days on the road we’re heading home (albeit slowly and dragged out) after this last leg of the journey. Obviously this meant we had to make sure we went out with a bang!

After the lengthy journey back to Cebu City from Malapascua, we jumped on another bus straight to Moalboal, a town on the west coast famous for canyoneering, the infamous sardine run, and awesome hiking across some pretty mind-blowing terrain. With our new travel buddy Sarah, we checked into quite possibly the weirdest hostel we’ve stayed at so far! Surrounded by odd statues of superheroes and steampunk style characters, and with absolutely no social life we ventured further to the coast and stayed at Chief Mao, a relatively new hostel with a great reputation. As soon as we arrived we were made to feel like part of the family, and immediately bonded with a bunch of the other guests. We were really fortunate to be staying alongside some bloody awesome people, all of whom got on with everyone else there.

After an evening getting to know everyone, the whole hostel signed up for a canyoneering trip early the next morning, so an early(ish) night was on the cards. The next day, we set off just before 9 to the falls on the back of a pickup and filling this hello kitty party bus (yep, it was as weird as it sounds).

To get right to the falls we had a motorbike ride to follow, and our first experience going 2up on a bike (so 3 people on one motorbike). The rest of the day was non stop laughs and excitement as we progressed through the valleys along a number of different cliff jumps. Starting off the group easy, we took on a poxy 3m jump, followed by a natural water slide which we all took on backwards.

Over the rest of the day the jumps grew, finishing with a 15m, jump into the famous Kassawan Falls.

Throughout the day, we’d had rain so the falls weren’t their normal crystal clear water, but the rain I think added to the whole experience (plus, it livened up some of the waterfalls which was a plus). Our whole group did all the jumps; something our guide was overjoyed about, and apparently is quite the rarity. The day overall was absolutely perfect, until the daredevil member of our group Jonny decided to smash his head on a rock after taking on a canyon swing. A quick and relatively painless (well, not painless for Jonny) trip to the local A+E, £2 worth of head shaving, Lidicane and sutures later, and we were back on the road back to the Hostel.

Needless to say, we were all pretty exhausted after the day we’d had, so spent the rest of the evening vegging around the hostel, sharing GoPro footage from the dozen or so cameras being operated by our group.

Our new found squad agreed the following day, we should all just hire bikes and ride out to the less well known parts of Cebu. Leaving about Midday, we set off about 20 miles South East inland, heading to sites like Osomena peak, relatively unknown waterfalls, and along some breathtaking coastline. Armed only with a bunch of downloaded Google Maps accounts, a member of the group who speaks Filipino (Jonny from the last paragraph), and a bunch of scooters,  we didn’t really know where we were going half the time. Once we turned off from the coastal road towards the ‘town’ (not really a town, but as close as you get to a large population in the Philippines without being a city I guess), we took on the advice of some locals, who inadvertently sent us on a total wild goose chase up and over a mountain, taking on some pretty ropey roads and terrains. We didn’t manage to find the final waterfall we initially set off to search out, but it didn’t matter. The rides and the views were so worth the effort, and having a good ol’ explore with our new group of buddies was as always, great. However, the weather took a turn yet again, resulting in us taking refuge under the canopy of a local shop. This continued for over an hour, but we didn’t give up. Setting off upstream on a short hike, wearing our helmets for rain cover, we continued until we found another ‘local waterfall’. Sadly, after the pretty treacherous hike down to the falls (the ladies decided rather sensibly to pass on this one) this was a total let down (I think we’d all been treated too well the day before with regards to waterfalls). Again though, it didn’t matter. Just being out on a bike exploring some truly picturesque landscapes and sights with great people made it all totally worth it.

To finish off our time in Moalboal, we had to take on the Sardine Run. This is a naturally occurring phenomena, which results in a shoal of millions of sardines circling just off the coast by the reef wall. I had heard a bunch about this, and had a preconceived idea of what it would be like, but all my preconceived ideas were totally wrong. This was way bigger, more immersive and in general awesome than i’d ever imagined! It’s quite hard to describe how massive this is, and how pathetic you feel when surrounded by them. The sardines seem to flow through the sea like one single organism, shifting around falling objects and people flawlessly. Watching this almost dance like activity through the sea was utterly mesmerising. I think we all could have spent all day in the sea with them, but sadly our plans were thwarted by a jellyfish tentacle rubbing itself up Kelly’s face (the little bugger, we were having so much fun)!

Before heading back to Cebu to take our flight (with a day or two in a swanky hotel before that), we took another couple of buses to a tiny fishing village called Oslob. This has gained quite a reputation over the years as a place you’re assured to see whale sharks. However, this is for a reason. As the decline in fishing began to have a major impact on the local economy, partly down to over fishing but also the whale sharks gobbling up all the surrounding krill, the local fisherman decided to make a career change and use the sharks. These guys are now fed, day in day out, attracting hundreds (if not thousands) of tourists. Because of this, the whale sharks that are found at Oslob have stopped migrating. Whilst they aren’t in captivity, can leave any time, and are free, this level of domestication and the impact that tourism has had on their migration left me with one hell of an ethical dilemma. Having said all that, getting to swim with so many massive creatures was absolutely mind-blowing. You can’t actually fathom the sheer size of these SMALL whale sharks until you’re in the water with them. On a couple of occasions, I honestly felt like I was about to be sucked up into their massive mouths as they gobble up all the plankton and krill on the waters surface.

For the first 15 minutes, we were lucky. We’d stayed at a hostel called Sharkeys, literally 30m from the starting point, meaning we were in the first boat and basically alone with the sharks. The latter half of our time in the water though, was almost ruined by dozens of boats arriving, bringing in hundreds of people. The sea quickly became dominated by clueless tourists donning their life jackets, oblivious to the impact of their splashing and shouting on the creatures and other tourists. Note to self guys, if you are going to do this, get there EARLY and try to get the first boat out!

The last few days of out time in the Philippines were certainly an emotional rollercoaster, but in such a good way. Finishing off this trip with a great bunch of people, doing amazing things and seeing the animals of the area really showing off was just the way I wanted to end this trip. After a pretty intense few days, we used our last day (Kelly’s actual birthday) to achieve very little! The majority of the day was spend vegging in bed watching TV (thanks to poor weather again sadly),but it didn’t matter. Just spending some quality time together was all we wanted. Cebu city isn’t the most exciting place in the world anyway!

Right, that’s it. A year on the road done! Now, time to head back to Bangkok for a few days, with a few surprises to throw in. Watch this space. 

Malapascua- An unexpected paradise

 When we planned the trip, we both picked a country that was totally OUR country to plan. Mine was india, and Kelly’s was the Philippines. As she’d also be celebrating her 30th here, we had to make sure she had something epic to celebrate! When we’ve talked with other divers and told them we’re heading here, literally all have said two places are essential to visit; Coron for shipwrecks and Malapascua for diving with Thresher Sharks. So after heading south to Cebu from the dark and dreary Boracay, we agreed to head north to Malpascua immediately. As ever In the Philippines, the journey there was fairly arduous and stressful journey. After a whole day traveling involving a bus, a plane, another bus, and 3 boats (each journey with additional taxes and hidden costs of course) we arrived to the tiny island! Immediately though, we knew we’d be happy here. 
Because Malapascua is a destination almost entirely for divers, many people don’t make the laborious journey. After all, there’s amazing beaches everywhere in this country! For this reason, and the fact it’s low season meant the whole island was super quiet! We ended up finding a place to stay right on the beach where we were the only guests right next door to the dive school we’d researched in advance, and immediately settled into the chilled atmosphere on the island after a quick walk around getting the lay of the land. The lay of the land was simple; a village in the centre of the island for the locals, stunning and relatively untouched beaches surrounding the outskirts, and a couple of restaurants along the beach front. We were greeted by the classic island ethos from the locals too; total chill and a general slower pace to life; totally up for that! Because it was just so quiet, it was complete and utter bliss! Spending a day on a beach was such a contrast to Boracay: almost no lookie lookie men trying to sell us stuff, zero noise pollution, and barely any boats revving engines apart from at key dive departures. Alongside this, there was almost no pollution in the sea or on the beaches; a nice change from what we’ve seen far too regularly on this trip. Doing nothing apart from read, snorkel and chill for our first day was just what the doctor ordered, especially when we discovered the next 4 days would involve 4am wake up calls for early morning dives! It also massively helped the weather was perfect throughout our time here, apart from late night and early morning storms. 

Here’s a video from one of my favourite travel bloggers showing how awesome this place is.

Malapascua is a very unique experience for divers. It’s famous primarily for the Thresher sharks, who travel daily to higher seas to be cleaned by smaller fish (known as a cleaning station). Thresher’s are normally deep sea sharks, so are rarely seen whilst diving. What makes these guys totally unique is their tail, which they use to whip their prey before eating them (they create an underwater sonic boom to knock other fish out: the only shark to do this). Thresher’s can really only be seen in a few places in the world, so this place is pretty special. 

To top this, you can dive through a tunnel that runs under an island, a drift dive, a muck dive, a coral wall and even a shipwreck, this really is a divers Mecca! Needless to say when planning this part of the Philippines, this was obviously the perfect spot for birthday celebrations. 

Kelly’s parents very kindly paid for a dive package for Kel, and Thresher Shark Divers (TSD, who we ended up booking with) very kindly gave Kel all her equipment for free as it was her birthday, saving us a good wedge of cash. The focus for the next few days was certainly more under water than on top, but unlike many dive excursions we’ve done, I was actually able to get involved, going out on the boats with the divers to the sites to have a cheeky snorkel. This was really nice as it meant I wasn’t totally excluded, and got to enjoy the beautiful trips across the pristine ocean. Obviously though, I avoided the dive trips before sunrise 🤣. 

On Kelly’s first day diving, the morning trip was to Gato island, a tiny lump of rock in the ocean that’s only inhabited by sea swallows. The real treat was 30m down though, with an underwater cave/tunnel surrounded by coral, and a coral garden that apparently turned into a drift dive. When she surfaced after both dives, Kel looked like an excited child, as she’d seen such a great abundance of coral and sea life, including sea horses, cuttlefish, sharks hiding under rocks, sea snakes and some really weird and unique crabs! 

For me, being on the boat was utter bliss. Taking a break from my book to soak in the scenery, I was totally blown away by the peacefulness surrounding me. There was literally nothing anywhere near us, and the sea was so flat it almost looked like a layer of glass coated it: Utter bliss. 

The next day the boat ran the divers out to Lapus Lapus island for a drift dive. Kel had never done a drift dive before, so she was super excited! It’s basically going down and watching the sea just shoot past you. From how she described it, there was so much going on she couldn’t keep up with everything, especially as the current was so strong. Looking at videos of other drift dives in the Philippines I can’t believe how quick the current throws divers! This video isn’t from our footage (that’s already backed up so can’t make a video that easy) but it gives you a good idea of what it’s like.  

On the third day, we both jumped on the boat and ventured to Calanggaman island, a tiny drop in the ocean pretty much untouched apart from a few temporary buildings. This whole area is a marine park so is beautifully kept, and you really can tell. Kelly did another dive, this time a wall dive. Again, she was blown away by the sealife on show, this time all Marco (teeny tiny stuff), from sea horses to nudibranchs surrounding coral in great condition. 

Following her first dive we spent a couple of hours on Kallanggaman, which was utter paradise. Again, low season really worked in our favour as there were only a handful of boats on the Island. The beaches were beautifully kept, I’d even go as far to say immaculate, whilst the sea was a stunning teal hue thanks to the shallow banks. This is the closest we’ve come for some time to being totally secluded, and surrounded by nothing but palm trees, coral, and not much else. 

The boat ride there and back was unbelievably relaxing too. Again, we were riding across a weirdly calm ocean with barely any waves or swell. I’d probably go as far as saying I’ve never seen such a calm ocean. 

On the final day, Kelly did the obligatory 4am wake up for the thresher dive just before we left and ventured back to mainland. Over the duration of the 5 days in Malapascua she did 4 early morning thresher dives (seeing them on three occasions), a drift dive, an under island tunnel, a coral wall, and a macro, all new experiences for her. It’s safe to say for a new (ish) diver this will be truly unforgettable, and I couldn’t imagine a better way for her to celebrate her 30th (30m under water away from me haha). Big thanks to Angie and Eugene for paying for her dives, a massive thanks to TSD for all their awesome help and support, and paying for her equipment! Even as someone who doesn’t dive, I absolutely loved it here. Finding such a chilled out spot that was constantly so beautiful was just what we needed after such shite weather up north. I’d 100% go back, and Kelly obviously would too. 

Philippines- What I wish i’d known before

The Philippines really feels like it’s not on the generic traveler itinerary for the masses. Unlike almost must/will do Asian destinations like Thailand, I rarely see fellow travellers posting much about this wonderful country. STA have only just added a tour package for here too, which means it’s likely to quickly become a popular destination for 18-35 year olds from Europe. For a country that is so beautiful and full of an abundance of unique activities this surely won’t last long! It still feels very untouched in contrast to others we’ve visited, for so many reasons that I’ll discuss in this post. 
I’ll start by saying I’m blown away by this country, in a similar way I was to India, but strangely opposite (I know that sounds meaningless but please read on). It’s a total fucking nightmare to travel around, the food is one dimensional and very un exciting in contrast to its local counterparts, and I feel like I’m getting constantly ripped off. But regardless of all of that, I’m totally in love. Seriously, wow. Two countries have blown me away in particular have blown me away for their beauty on this trip; Vietnam and New Zealand: The Philippines has a perfect amalgamation of both landscapes, exchanging the vast mountain regions of NZ for more volcanic formations, but it seems to be untouched apart from the odd town and bamboo hut.

With every positive though there’s a negative close by, and that’s why I’m writing this blog for those considering venturing here.

EDIT: I need to stress, after writing this I read this again and it seems super negative. Believe me This place is incredible and absolutely worth committing a big chunk of travel time to! It’s one of the few places on a year long trip I’m 100% coming back to because there’s so much to see and do! Don’t take take this post as a negative push, but it’s genuinely things I wish I’d known about before coming. Take the tips, plan ahead, and have one hell of a time

The travel

There’s no quick way to do anything here when it comes to travel. That’s just a fact. Even a bus journey to a nearby town can take hours longer than you expect! Getting to port Barton from Puerto Princessa was supposed to take 3 hours, but once we got stuck in the mud we took nearly 5. Main roads tend to be one lane, are nearly always in a state of disrepair, and expect random stops from police, livestock, or locals undertaking DIY roadworks.
Island hopping is inevitable here, with over 7000 islands making up the country. Obviously the two options are boat and plane, boat being cheaper and taking longer. Normally planes cost quite a bit, and nearly ALWAYS go via Manilla or Cebu as main ports. Planes are often delayed so the probability of missing a connecting flight are quite high if too close together. Fortunately check in processes are particularly relaxed here so you really don’t need long to get through security etc (we arrived 30 mins before our last flight with no issues at all). We discovered an airline called air Jean that can save time and money. Remember, air Asia and Cebu Pacific don’t fly from all airports; many journeys only go from the major airports. Air juan does the non traditional routes, and the tiny planes are a must do if you can, so I honestly highly recommend! Just remember, they all charge for baggage on top! 

Boats you need to think about too. The big boat journeys can be HOURS, and in some cases days long. During bad weather they are regularly cancelled, and even more regularly delayed! We found with many we just couldn’t justify time against cost so just got a flight. Also a REALLY important factor is boats don’t always run every day, and often run once or twice on a specific day. 
I’m all for finding a place when I arrive, but sometimes that’s a bad idea. Do some research on where you’re going, especially the smaller places. I’d suggest comparing agoda to Couchsurfing then marking some places of interest on google maps. You’ll often find more places that’ll pop up that aren’t on big sites, and almost certainly find more when you arrive. I am now of the mind that says book a place online for the night you arrive though, just to remove that stress after a long journey, even if it’s a bit more expensive. 
Finally, the cities are total pigs (for numerous reasons). We spent two hours in a taxi getting from Cebu airport to Cebu city, a mere 7km. Give yourself plenty of time to get around. Über and grab are good options for taxis in the major cities, and you can pay on card (a rarity here). 
1. For major journeys, don’t leave things till last minute. If you’re flying from Cebu or Manila out of the country, DO NOT assume a flight before that will get you there on time. Give yourself plenty of time to get to airports (think how long it should take, double it at least, especially during rush hour and key holidays or religious events). Get to the city the night before, it’ll save money and LOTS of stress

2. Plan your routes taking into consideration when boats run. I’ve met people who assumed they could just rock up to a boat port and get on one the same day, and got stuck in a town with nothing going on for 3 days! Don’t be stuck in the same situation, it properly sucked for them!

3. The ‘tourism tax’ as I’ve come to call it is rife here. You’ll pay airport taxes, boat taxes, marine mark taxes, little boat taxes, the works. We honestly paid 4 additional Charges just to get to one island, after our initial plans, bus, and boat journeys. Just expect this, often this is somewhat regulated (apparently) but if not, it’s how people make a living. The extra 40 pesos you may pay for small boat to the shore may buy a local dinner. Also don’t expect the locals to pay the same! Don’t be afraid to challenge or just refuse additional charges though that our obviously additions. 

4. Two common forms of travel are jeepneys and trikes (effectively a custom built metal box stuck to a 125cc bike). They are both fine but uncomfortable. If you’re tall or of a larger build, you’ll be uncomfortable for sure. I’ve hit my head a lot and I’m 5’10. I’d suggest you avoid for long journeys.  

5. Roads are bad in some places. When I say bad, I mean non existent. Scooter hire is a great way to get around but if you aren’t experienced on one, just hire transport to take you somewhere. 

6. If you like to just rock up to a place and find somewhere to stay, do that, but at least book a place to stay the first night. I’m so done with spending two hours going to every place on an island trying to get a good deal when I’m hot, sweaty, and have a 15kg bag on!

7. Many places have Zero Internet. At best, it’s LTE (4G) but it’s patchy. Without a doubt, GLOBE have the best coverage here. Don’t rely on hostel or hotel wifi either, they are often glorified hotspots with daily data limits and a restriction on how many customers can connect at once, so expect regular throttling of connections. Avoid the stress, get a GLOBE sim, top up every few days from a local shop (by far the cheapest way to do it here) and don’t rely on anything that requires Internet (like topping up cash cards or booking essential flights) wherever you go. 

The weather

We arrived in typhoon season; definitely  the worth time to come here so I admit I’m coming from a biased situation. Sadly this is just the way our trip panned out. It was either come here then, or not at all. Whilst we’ve not been slammed by a typhoon we easily could have!
The weather here regardless of time of the year can change in seconds. It’s HOT, and the sun will spank you! Seriously dudes, it’s gonna burn you here. The humidity is intense and when it rains, it really rains! Be prepared for four seasons in a day if out of peak season in particular. 
These variable and adverse weather conditions can really impact plans quickly. Flights and boats are regularly cancelled, black outs are common, especially on the smaller islands. 

Many places primarily rely on generators on islands. 4G is patchy outside of the cities and non existent in some places like El Nido. Be prepared for the worst if you’re here in low season. 

With all this though, when the weather is good, it’s incredible. I think low season is worth the punt. 

1. Pack an umbrella, and ideally a good strong one

2. Have a contingency if you can’t get to your next destination. Again, don’t rely on a connecting journey to get you to a major flight on the same day (I can’t stress this enough). 

3. Download a GOOD weather app or two. I have been keeping an eye on the Philippines meteorological website daily alongside a great app called weather radar, that shows the weather patterns too. Rely on this rather than your in phone weather app. I also downloaded an app for wind and tidal conditions just to be sure. 

4. Download Twitter and follow Filipino news companies like CNN Philippines. These have been invaluable for me in keeping updates coming in on typhoons. Reddit was also very useful. 

5. Expect days and days of rain in low season particularly in the north Luzon areas. Plan ahead and either stay in a place that you don’t mind being stuck in, or be prepared with a stack of movies or to shows downloaded on Netflix. I booked into a party hostel with a pool in Boracay (mad monkey) for just this reason and it stopped me going insane (beer pong really helped). 

6. Roads flood, and so do the sewers in towns and cities ! Unless you enjoy standing barefoot in stagnant shit filled water maybe pack appropriate footwear!

7. Power outs happen. Have a BIG power bank (like 10000mAh at least) to charge your stuff. 

The food

I’m a massive foodie, there’s no doubt about that. Half our trip was planned around food, but not in the Philippines. 
Food here is 90% meat based. If you are a veggie, you’re going to struggle. If you’re vegan, you’re basically screwed (I met a vegan who had lived in pot noodles minus the noodles for 5 weeks, needless to say she wasn’t in a great way). Fruit will be your friend, if you can find a variety. Mainly, mangoes, pineapple, banana and coconut grow here, so I was very happy. Just consider the seasons of course. 
Sing said that even as a carnivore, I struggled here. The nose to tail cooking here will turn many travellers stomachs, especially if like me you accidentally munch on an inconspicuous meat skewer and discover mid bite it’s intestine on a stick! Also, they love the fat! Normally this wouldn’t put me off, but when you order a dish that ends up being 90% pork fat you may feel short changed (note: Sisig, a popular Filipino dish. It’s very tasty though). 
If, like me, you try to eat local food most of the time, be prepared for the cantina approach that’s common here. Most of the places we went pre cook all their food in the early morning, and you just rock up, ask for a plate, and get it. This often means you’ll be eating meat that’s been sat in 30+ heat most of the day. If you have a sensitive disposition you may wish to avoid this. Likewise, be prepared for very random cuts of meat.
On islands food can be stark and expensive especially in very touristy areas, expect a very high markup on grub, like 3-4 times the local prices, especially on western food. 
Be careful with water too, many places don’t have drinkable water. Fortunately cases of water bottles being re filled with bad water here are rare. 
1. Be prepared for a meat heavy diet! Also don’t be afraid to eat stuff you wouldn’t normally eat. Unless you primarily eat fruit and only drink bottled water, it’s unlikely you’ll be keeping at bikini body long!

2. If you like spicy, come prepared with chilli sauce. The Chilis can be hot here, but they often come whole on the side. I haven’t found a spicy meal here. 

3. If you aren’t adventurous with food, stick to fruits. Veg is somewhat limited here especially with local food. Fish and pork are very common. 

4. Bring a water filter like a life straw. In some places like El Nido I wouldn’t even trust that. Our hostel told us to brush our teeth with bottled water. Those I know who didn’t were wiped out with turbo shits for days. 

5. Give it a go! If in doubt, stick with the widely available western foods! 

6. As with anywhere in the world, follow the locals. They know the good local spots.

The culture 
Filipino people are amazing! But many are poor, like really poor. The poverty divide is evident everywhere here that’s for sure.  I’ve seen places that look like they blow away if I farted in their general direction that house a large family. 

They will try and rip you off because western tourists  are obviously seen as rich. Regardless they are wonderful people, just expect this, haggle a bit, but expect it to happen. You’ll get a feel for prices of things if you ask around. 
Drugs are a NO. I haven’t been on the hunt on this trip at all, but here it’s seriously a place to avoid them, and if you’ve come from places like Thailand it’s literally light years away. Smoking a joint can result in some serious issues, including death (no joke guys, just don’t take the risk). If you want more info just google Philippines and drugs, it’s pretty shocking!
Don’t get in a fight with locals. This goes without saying anywhere, but I met a British lad who had too much booze in Boracay, got lary with a local and got a proper beating. Apparently there’s been reports of locals beating lary foreigners with belts in gangs! Just don’t be a dick, simple really. 
Hospitals are rare on the islands, if they are there at all. If you have medical issues come prepared! Access to medication can be scarce! Diving is popular here, and things like decompression sickness do occur, you really don’t want to spend two days on a boat getting to a decompression chamber now do you? Again plan your diving and trips accordingly. 
Health and safely here lacks somewhat. Whilst boat journeys will probably make you wear life jackets to please coastguards, on tiny boats they’ll pile them high and totally to capacity. The last journey I had on a tiny row boat (with a motor) there were ten of us, a scooter, all our stuff and the captain. Just be prepared. You’ll also probably have to sign your life away to do many activities that attract many people here (from diving to cliff jumping, to swimming with whale sharks). 
In the past it’s been well documented hat you can haggle hotel prices down by 30-50%. Being here now I’d argue this isn’t true, and locals are wise to this. Many places we’ve been don’t budge or try to rip you off initially! Just don’t expect a super cheap trip if you come in low season. 
ATM and access to cash can be challenging. If a place takes card, they’ll inevitably charge 5% minimum. Many places don’t have ATM, and I’ve had real issues with my international bank cards not being accepted at many ATM. In one case I had to rock up to a tiny island with less than £100 for two people for 5 days! If in a city, withdraw as much cash as you’ll possibly need! Maybes before setting off consider getting different cards that offer different exchange rates and transaction charges too, just so y can play the financial system. I recommend Recolut and Monzo for UK travellers. 

The places to visit
With 7000 islands here, there’s simply too much to do. Many people come here for short trips rather than spending months here, so you need to think abut the places to visit carefully normally. I wish I had more knowledge about what’s around before we booked flights!
But consider the ethics of activities you do. For example in Oslob you can snorkel with whale sharks. What isn’t widely publicised is you can do this here because they’re fed, so don’t migrate! This isn’t natural activity and if you are an ethical tourist should be avoided. 
If you dive, you’re laughing here basically. Coron has some of the best shipwrecks to dive in the world, and in abundance! Likewise malapascua is like a divers Mecca! We’re here now, and I must say even though I don’t dive it’s the most stunning place we’ve been to date in this country (although it’s a total faff to get here). And that’s just two of literally hundreds of amazing spots!

Siargao is THE place for surfing hands down. It’s up there as having some of the best breaks in the world, but also caters year around to beginners and intermediate surfers too. Again, a faff to get to (plane and boat at best from Cebu, two planes and boat at best from Manila) but it totally sounds worth it.

Cebu is just another city really, but the island itself has an abundance of activities on it, from snorkelling with millions of sardines, to stunning landscapes, swimming with whale sharks to island hopping, so it’s a good base in general. Manila on the other hand, doesn’t. 
The weather in general seems better in the south. If I had a choice I’d fly into Cebu next time 100%. 
South Mindanao is currently a NO GO for foreigners. The U.K. Foreign office have placed this on a black list of Places to go due to terror activity. Keep an eye on local consulate websites before you book flights to find out what’s going on.
Weather dependent, some areas may also be no go areas. We planned to spend a week in north Luzon when we arrived, but everything we wanted to do was pretty much impossible because of landslides caused by bad and very wet weather. 

If I could start again…
My route would be something like this (for 3-4 weeks) in low season. 
Land in Cebu, stay a night, do day trips to oslob, moalboal, and Bohol (for a few days)

Take a bus to Maya, a boat to Malasapcua. Dive till you can no longer dive anymore, then chill on the stunning white sandy beaches and enjoy the diverse snorkelling and village life). Dive with TSD and eat at Oscars (best Filipino food I’ve had here hands down

Fly from Cebu to Siargao for a week of surfing. Even if you don’t surf apparently it’s stunning. I’m absolutely gutted we didn’t get here and would have sacrificed all of the north to go. 

Head back to Cebu, then fly to Puerta Princessa. Go to the prison, then bus it to port Barton. Chill there a few days, before heading to El Nido. A day of island hopping there, then either to Coron for diving or bypass and head to Manila for a night before flying out. 

After all of this, still can’t wait to return!

Palawan- When it rains it pours. 

It feels very odd writing this blog knowing this is the last country I’ll be writing about. At the start of a year traveling I had no idea how quickly it would all seem to go, and how I’d feel at this stage. It’s safe to say the prospect of returning to the UK in less than a month is an incredibly daunting one! Adding to the uncertainty was our final stop, the Philippines. 

You’ve probably seen in the news that this country is being rocked by some rather challenging times. The new president is taking an incredibly tough line on drugs, basically legalising murder of dealers and even casual users, whilst terrorism appears to be shaking the Southern islands, to the point where the foreign office has put a red flag on travel to this part of the country entirely (voiding all travel insurance in the process, thanks for that). Just to add to the fun, we’d be visiting during typhoon season! As ever though, the media have massively inflated the seriousness of the situation, and actually across the northern areas of the county there’s very little to worry about right now. At the 11th hour, we booked flights from KL to Manila to get the most of our final country on this trip. Both Kelly and I were determined to go out with a bang, and the Philippines has been a top country on this list for a few years now! 
Arriving in Manila late at night resulted in writing the majority of the next day off apart from a quick trip out to explore the surround area. Whilst Manila felt similar to other major cities across Asia, traffic here is another level of bad. Reports that it could take us up to three hours to get to the airport from the hostel areas (about 6mi from the Area we were staying weren’t even remotely exaggerated. I’ve never seen anything like it! Anyway, sadly there wasn’t much to see in the local area until the evening, when the city totally transforms: Not necessarily in a good way though. The area we were staying in appeared to be rather popular for, let’s just say, rather large white men looking for young Filipino ladies. Roads were littered with prostitutes, strip joints, massage parlours (I’m guessing with a happy ending), jelly wrestling bars, and even a midget wrestling club. Basically everything you can possibly imagine to objectify women; great…. 

Because of this, and the perceived lack of entertainment or activity in the city, we quickly booked flights outta there to Puerto Princessa, the capital of Palawan.
Our time on Palawan was always going to require a lot of moving around. This massive island has so many spots that many deem as ‘must see’ we’d have to spend a few days at each spot before moving on, and that’s just what we did! After a couple of days exploring the surrounding areas and beaches around PP, we moved straight onto an area rather new to the travel scene, Port Barton. 
Port Barton is a tiny fishing village on a peninsula on the north east coastline. It’s well known for being a true Filipino village, still hanging onto its traditional roots. The beach is clean and well maintained, apart from being covered with fishing boats obviously. The journey here is definitely one to be called ‘challenging’. The road to port Barton is basically non existent at points, and because we’re in the wet season , huge stretches are mud baths. Inevitably, our minivan packed with bags of flour and backpacks got stuck in the mud for about an hour, resulting in me getting down and dirty trying to push it out of the quagmire, followed quickly by helping the next two vans that also got stuck. This was all part of the fun though, and paired with the absolutely stunning views on the drive, it was quite the experience overall. 

Upon arrival in the village, we quickly found accommodation right on the beach for about £7 a night. Regardless how much you spend here, you’re going to get something far from opulence; the village only gets power for six hours a day, and because the roads in and out are poor, the delivery of goods for hotels or homestays are scarce. This really didn’t matter though, our last intention was to be stuck inside for the few days we were here. Exploring this tiny village takes no time really, but we still spent a good half a day checking out the area. The real attraction of port Barton is the simplicity of life here. Vast areas of the village are agricultural, hosting cattle and other livestock, chickens and patchy areas of growing fruit. There’s very little machinery used on the land, and most rely on water buffalo to turn fields used for rice production. 

The way of life here is very simple and that’s the attraction of coming. Most inhabitants still live in bamboo huts, with the whole family living in one room, sleeping on the floor, with very few material possessions. Walking through one area of the village could be confused with a slum in India (apart from more bamboo), but just like in India, everyone was very happy! The locals were somewhat bemused by a couple of white faces walking through this area though, clearly it doesn’t happen very often!

Sadly though, we were greeted with a day of pretty heavy rainfall. Attempting to save a bit of cash, we hired a kayak to do our own version of island hopping, and as soon as we handed over cash, the heavens opened out of nowhere, meaning we were grounded. Once his calmed down we got onto the water quickly, and headed out of the bay, only to be chased by super strong winds, massive dark angry clouds. That’s one thing about the Philippines in this season in particular, it’s unpredictable! Trying to kayak back to land in those winds was definitely a challenge! The poor weather mixed with an area with one dirt road and no power basically resulted in us sitting on the balcony of our hut for half a day, watching the storms roll in. Once this cleared though, we did manage to get out to enjoy the last bits of the sun on a truly glorious beach, followed by an evening with friends at a reggae bar on the beach. I even got up and played the cajon and bongo with the local musicians. 

Sadly our time in port Barton was short lived. Conscious of our limited amount of time in this country, and 7108 islands (ish) to explore, we kept heading north to el nido. 
Another ‘must see’ in Palawan, El Nido is famous for its huge limestone cliffs and islands, long stretches of beaches, and wonderful sunsets. Again, the weather wasn’t really on our side; half of el nido was flooded resulting in the below average drainage systems overflowing down many streets. Fortubately  our hostel stayed dry.   The centre of el nido is a bit shit at the best of times but this just took the biscuit really! Upon arrival and a quick walk around the town we realised the best stuff to see here was on the outskirts of the town. Our first day consisted of heading to Las Cabanas, a small beach just outside the town. We timed it just right, catching our first glimpse of sun since getting to the Philippines, as well as getting there for low tide enabling us to walk to another island just off the coast! The islands here are all limestone formations so offer some stunning sights, covered with vibrant flora and fauna. 

After checking out a local hostel a bunch of our fellow Palawan buddies we’re staying it, we got to experience the change in El Nido at night. Let’s just say it’s rather lively. 

The following day we were once again blessed with good weather, so took a chance, hired a bike, and rode out of the town to Nacpan. We’d been told this beach was worth the drive, although at the current time the road was rather challenging to ride. People weren’t lying; the yet again non-existent road was more akin to a muddy bog that anything that resembled a road. Fortunately this isn’t the first time we’ve dealt with such conditions on a bike, so eventually made it through the 4-5km of thick mud riding (not always with Kelly on the back of the bike though). It was so worth it though! Nacpan is only just really getting popular with tourists. Adding low season to the mix resulted in us effectively having the beach to ourselves. Quite uniquely, nacpan has a dual beach on either side of a bay, tipped with a small collection of islands crying out for a paradise island development (someone’s already bought the land, I checked). After a couple of hours chilling (and surprisingly, burning) we got back on the bike, took on the mud again, and rode around the surrounding areas. 

Now I know I’ve said this before, but the Philippines may actually have jumped to the top of the list for beautiful landscapes. Honestly, Kelly and I had no idea it would be like this! Because so much of the land is effectively undeveloped, and the volcanic soil is so rich with nutrients, everything is so green and so beautiful! Driving for probably an hour involved multiple stops for photos, because just like New Zealand, every corner resulted in another stunning view. This experience has continued across Palawan and I suspect the rest of this country. To finish off the day, we parked up at Lio beach, a resort currently in development. Whilst the shops and suites didn’t have much going on, this beach was something else. We were the only people there, it was immaculately clean, and felt like we’d somehow discovered an untouched spot of paradise. When this resort is finished it’ll clearly be stunning, and probably outrageously expensive, but definitely one to keep an eye on. Our day of beach hopping made us both realise coming to the Philippines was definitely the right decision, even with the bad weather most of the time. 

Next on our list in Palawan was Coron, one of the top dive sites in the world. There are about a dozen WWII Japanese boats sunk around the island, resulting in some very unique and spooky dives. Kel spent a day underwater exploring three of the wrecks. From what I gather, it was some of the most chalennging yet rewarding dives she’s ever done. Sadly no photos (she was paying more attention on not touching that wreck) but here’s a glimpse of someone else’s experience. 

We spent a few days in coron and had to finish it off with island hopping! Whilst El Nido is more famous for the tours, Coron are just as good, with more shipwrecks you can freedive to, and it’s Cheaper! Setting off at 830am, we immediately entered the world of intense rain. On the open seas this was somewhat daunting, especially as we had a whole day on the sea! Our first stop was a lagoon surrounded by sharp limestone cliff edges. We had to swim through an underwater entrance to get into it, while the now torrential rain continued to batter us, but that just added to the experience. Just to add a bit more fun, this lagoon had a unique thermocline experience (layers of water at different temperatures) and once the sun eventually came out, the water was crystal clear! What a great start to the day! 

Over the rest of the day, we stopped at a small island and reef; a sunken ship, a tiny beach surrounded by cliffs for a spot of lunch, another even more impressive lagoon and a marine park for some seriously impressive corals! This day turned out to be so much better than I could have hoped for. We were fortunate to have some great people on the boat with us too so had a good day all round. 

Our final stop in (sort of) Palawan was boracay. Known for its long and beautifully white beaches boracay has become very famous over the past few years, also now meaning it’s super touristy. It’s become rather well known as a party island like Ibiza too, just without the super clubs. Regardless we agreed to take a punt on it to see what all the fuss was about. Perhaps the most exciting thing about Boracay though was how we’d get there!

Somehow, this was cheaper than an airasia flight, which would have involved a huge amount of transport back to a main airport. Instead we flew this 12 seater plane for less than an hour, cruising at a low altitude so we could see all the islands. I never want to travel anywhere else in a different way now. 

When we arrived at Boracay we realised rather quickly the damage that tourism has done to this Island. The general infrastructure across the whole island just can’t cope, pure and simple. We were greeted by rains (of course we were), resulting in floods down many roads, and unfortunately resulting in overflowing drains around our hostel too. Lovely! For the next 4 days the rains barely ceased, and we only had a glimpse of blue skies for a few hours on our last full day. Fortunately though, we’d booked ourselves into stay at Mad Monkey in Boracay, meaning we were Guaranteed to have a good time with a great bunch of people. We’ve stayed at all the mad monkeys in Cambodia and without a doubt they are the best hostels I’ve stayed hands down, so more out of loyalty we stayed here than anything. This hostel follows the same suit as the others; good food, great Staff, a great party atmosphere with loads of social activities, a pool, and top quality dorms. Really we couldn’t ask for much more from this place (apart from great weather). The only caveat to all this, is mad monkey is definitely a PARTY hostel! The day we arrived most guests were on the twice weekly booze cruise. When they returned, the pool turned into what can only be described as an episode of love island (I assume this is what it’s like), with the cliche drunk British lads behaving like total tools. This was easily avoidable however, as we ventured away from the hostel to explore. This was our game plan the next few days; get out and explore ourselves after all, we couldn’t come all this way just to stay in the hostel! 

Our first full day in Boracay we set out to discover the famous white beach, stretching almost the whole length of the island. Straight away again, the tourism trap commeth! Lookie-lookie men (and children sadly) almost immediately surrounded us selling us everything from boat rides to outrageously priced kite surfing lessons, fake pearls to ray bans. The beach is covered in rubbish and wash up from the sea, as well as thousands of tourists all seeming to be attempting to snorkel in water that’s churned up from the swell. We later found out Boracay is a hugely popular destination for tourists from Taiwan and South Korea all year around, and more recently tourists have come in low season after a bargain, however the local economy has reacted to this and effectively kept prices at high season levels all year round. Finally, the resorts all erect horrific windbreakers in front of their beachfront entrances. 

I can say now if that was low season, I dread to think what high is like. Sadly, it was chokingly busy: You couldn’t really escape the carnage of white beach without local knowledge! On our final day, we took a trike to a beach further north and far away from the tourism strips, resulting in a great day out not surrounded by hundreds of clueless tourists. Again, this was short lived though, as the mother of all storms set in just hours after we found solitude, resulting in us taking refuge again, back in the confines of our hostel. 

Unfortunately, Boracay was a real let down for me. If it wasn’t for Mad Monkey I think it’s safe to say we’d have been rather miserable. Regardless of the weather, for me what was really sad was the evident destruction over investment in tourism can do to a place. A few years back, Boracay was voted one of the top islands in the world to visit. Now, there’s no escape from the carnage that comes from hyper-investment, literally shit running down the streets, a beach in a total state and very apparent damage to the ecology of the area thanks to humans (yet again; plastic and people are ruining everything). 

So after two weeks of rain, we’ve cut our losses and venture further south towards Cebu. The weather is consistently better down here. Let’s just hope it plays ball!