I think it’s convenient that I’ve saved this country until last considering so far it’s not exactly been the easiest of travels, despite the help of a very kind couchsurfer host in Manila. My first couple of days were spent “experiencing” Manila. I know most people will think I’m crazy for spending any time here but I always think it’s important to have a feel for a country’s capital city before moving onto the rewards of more locations. Unsurprisingly Manila is a big, noisy, crowded and poverty-stricken metropolis. It possibly holds the record for the most horrendous traffic and transport system I have ever come across (does it beat Jakarta?) with more stray dogs, cats and humans than you can shake a stick at. The surprise would have to be the Makati district which made me feel like I was back in Singapore: rich, slick and trendy, a far cry from the rest of the city’s madness. One big plus though is Intramuros which is full of Spanish colonial buildings with some impressive churches, cathedrals and an old fort. Refreshing after 9 months of temples.
After two nights with my host I took a night bus to the famous Banaue rice terraces north of Manila in Luzon island. I’ve seen my fair share of rice terraces in the last few months and I have to say these are the best I’ve seen. Our wonderful guide Ruben trekked us up and down the hillsides and along the terrace edges to the perfect scenic spot, Batad, where we spent the night on the hillside in unforgettable surroundings. The next day more butt and thigh toning rewarded us with a spectacular dip at a waterfall tucked away in the corner of the village before returning to town and another night bus back to Manila.
Here’s a tip. You arrive in Manila at 4am. You have nowhere to go and are too tight to spend money on a hostel for a half a night. What do you do? McDonald’s breakfast! I bummed around the city for half a day before continuing the journey south to Batangas where I caught a night ferry to Caticlan. And all this for…Boracay! It was worth it.
Boracay is undeniably beautiful and therefore understandably touristy. I spent one night there (700 pesos for a dorm room was more than blowing my budget). Determined to find more affordable and less crowded paradise I set off on a 48 hour journey from Caticlan to the tiny Apo island (famous for turtles) via Iloilo and Bacalod. Finally arriving late at night close to my destination, Dumaguete, with no rooms available, I’d agreed to sleep in a guy’s trycycle at the port where I could catch a boat to Apo island the next morning. Fortunately en route a foreigner (American?) gave me some golden advice of a place I could go to that my driver had conveniently forgotten to tell me about: 500 peso bungalows at La Fiesta. Phew, relax.
Some proper sleep, a warm welcome from owner Ralf and the best cooked breakfast I’ve had in Asia: I felt normal again. But the question remained – how to get to Apo? Unless you’ve got a crowd of people, it’s gonna cost you 2000 pesos (30 quid). Having decided to delay my plans to swim with the turtles I took up Ralf’s kind offer to explore the local area on the back of his beast of a motorbike and so we took off for local villages, waterfalls and hot springs. Great day.
Still eager to get my turtle fix I signed up for a diving trip the next day for three dives and snorkelling galore at Apo Island. I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a spot where you are effectively guaranteed to dive with or at least snorkel with turtles. I got both. And the corals were mesmerising. Anyone want to buy me an underwater camera?
Now I find myself on Siquihor island famous for its beaches, nature and… witchcraft. After what feels like five days of travel in the last ten, I’m staying put.