Author Archives: Luna Button

About Luna Button

Travel addict, expat teacher, food lover. Now living and working in Suzhou, China.

Palawan: the perfect ending

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There can’t be many better ways to end 10 months of travel than two weeks in Palawan (not counting yet another cheeky weekend in Singapore). Sleepy Port Barton was definitely a highlight but the more popular El Nido and Coron have been full of surprises too. There’s no where in Asia with scenery quite like this.

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El Nido town isn’t exactly heaven on earth with a beachfront crowded with tour boats but fortunately Las Cabanas is only a 7km trycycle ride away. And if you’re feeling adventurous you can hire one or rent a scooter to ride out all the way to stunning Nacpan (beware the crazy dirt track that will take you there).

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Sunset at Nacpan

Island hopping in El Nido was the best I’ve experienced in South East Asia. There are four tours each with an enigmatic letter: A, B, C or D. I did C,  the most expensive one (1,200 pesos),  but from what everyone says it is by far the best and I had no complaints. The white sand beaches, crystal clear water and mesmerising snorkelling were top class and the whole trip is set to a backdrop of incredible limestone cliffs.

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It even included the best meal I’ve had in the whole of the Philippines!

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Next stop was Coron. Not everybody makes it up there from El Nido, maybe because of the eight hour journey on a very basic wooden 60 pax boat which will set you back 1200 pesos (£20). But boy is it worth it!

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Incredible scenery on the way to Coron

World famous for its superb wreck diving Coron also offers more island hopping adventures, mountains, hot springs and a town with far more ambience than El Nido. There’s no beachfront but with the beautiful islands on your doorstep it’s not a huge problem. Island hopping here was still impressive and cheaper than El Nido (650 pesos).

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Frangipane flowers on the beach for lunch

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Hidden lagoon with mangroves

I hadn’t planned on diving but in the end I couldn’t resist. Two dives with Coron Divers (Philippino owned) cost 2,200 pesos (£32) which is an absolute bargain to be able to experience diving inside sixty year old Japanese warships that were sunk by the Americans in WWII. Pictures to come!

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In the town centre there’s a hill with about 700 steps to the top which is perfect for sunset or sunrise if you’re mad enough.

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I also feel really lucky to have had the perfect guesthouse at the end of my travels. I managed to organise myself enough to book Patrik and Tezz Guesthouse in advance for the four nights of my stay and I’m so glad I did. Cute pets, welcoming family atmosphere, clean comfortable rooms and a much appreciated plunge pool were exactly what I needed (no wonder they’re number one on Trip Advisor). And all for 550 pesos (£8) which I even got to share with the lovely Cassidy who I met on arrival.

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This old gal knows how to chillax

Although it’s not quite the end of my trip, Palawan has been my final new destination and it’s definitely one of the best spots I’ve been to in South East Asia. Beaches, snorkelling, diving, coconuts, sunsets, sunrises, mangos, waterfalls, rum, tanning, palm trees and beautiful people. NUFF SAID.

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Sunset at La Sirenetta, Coron

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Halo halo: Philippino sweet relief

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Asian desserts aren’t exactly world famous but halo halo is serious fun.

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Halo halo at Food Trip

Like many sweet treats in South East Asia the Philippino dish is based on shaved ice, condensed milk and a variety of colourful toppings such as purple yam, sweetcorn, beans and jelly. If you’re lucky you might even get some fresh fruit. It doesn’t beat Malaysia’s beautiful chendul which has lashings of coconut milk too (in my opinion all desserts should involve coconut) but it still provides a bowlful of icy refreshing sugary goodness. I ate this one on a crazy hot afternoon in Coron, Palawan at Food Trip on the main square.

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Not bad…

Port Barton, Palawan

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Backpacking in the Philippines has definitely improved since the madness of getting to Dumaguete. Total relaxation on Siquihor island at JJ’s backpackers (best beach) and then onto the paradise of Palawan has been pretty much perfect and I’ve met some lovely people on the way – finally some sort of travelling scene!

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The highlight of all this so far has to be the not so well known Port Barton in between Puerto Princesa and El Nido in Palawan. This sleepy village is still full of local vibes with just a sprinkling of tourists.

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image image My experience was made even more special by staying at the rustic Orange House Homestay which is just a ten minute walk from the centre in a tiny fisherman’s village. The wonderful owner Leizel made me feel completely at home in her basic but authentic local style cottage. Perfect for those on the tightest of budgets at only 175 pesos (£2.50) a night.

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I had a great time hanging out and chatting with Leizel who comes from Manila and has set up home in Port Barton to escape the city and live the good life. She’s only lived there for five months so it’s early days for the guest house but I can see a really bright future for Leizel and her project.

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Port Barton is a very quiet town but there are a few places to visit nearby. We went on a trek through the jungle with fellow guest Javi to a waterfall and then onto a deserted white sand beach. It was such a treat to be completely by ourselves in these stunning places. image

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Leizel also recommended a walk to White Beach on the otherside of Port Barton where I spent a while on yet another breathtaking Philippino beach. It was just me and the cute dog that guided me there from the village. image

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Port Barton is easily one of my favourite places out of my whole travels in South East Asia. I love that you can be surrounded by beautiful nature and peaceful locals and spend next to nothing. Surely this is the best of travelling? image Of course the ultimate question is will Port Barton stay like this forever? The local government call it an eco-tourism site and seem to be making some small efforts to monitor the number of tourists and conserve the area. I’d love to see what happens to this special place over the next few years as tourism continues to grow in The Philippines.

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Solo travel in the Philippines

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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.

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Street bambinos

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Jeepney ridin’

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San Agustin cathedral

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Always fun in a trycycle

intramuros 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.

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Not a bad spot for breakfast

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Where have I been + TURTLES

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Apologies for the WordPress silence over the last few weeks. Guess I’ve been having too much fun.

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Post party Gili T sunrise

Four weeks in Indonesia flew past way too quickly and I feel like I barely scratched the surface. Partying in Gili Trewangan and scootering around Bali got the better of me. I will go back. Out of all the countries I’ve been to Indonesia has left me thirsty for more; so many beautiful islands to explore and cultural diversity to experience. I had planned 60 days there but I now find myself in the Philippines, my 10th and last country of a 10 month trip.

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French Canadian fun on Gili T

I’ve just spent another six days in Singapore (my brother was on business there so I got to stay in a luxury hotel for free – score). Other than being a lazy bum by the pool by day and drinking beer and cocktails with good company by night I managed to uncover yet another bizarre tourist attraction (remember Haw Par Villa?). Top marks to Oscar for another Singapore surprise – the world’s largest collection of live turtles and tortoises at Chinese Gardens.

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The gardens are in their own right a beautiful and worthwhile visit (though not a patch on Singapore’s stunning botanical gardens). But the main attraction has to be The Live Tortoise and Turtle Museum. Having recently fallen in love with turtles snorkelling with one in the blue waters of Gili T, I was very excited about this. I have never seen such a weird array of creatures belonging to the same species in my life. I mean how about this one for starters – pig nose turtle…

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And this crazy golden soft shell turtle…

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Hello!!!!
Alligator snapper turtle will break your bones rawrrrrr…

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This giant tortoise enjoyed his munch on a long bean…

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Roaming free in the garden…

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So many turtles…

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Of course you always have to ask yourself – are these animals being kept in a suitable environment? It didn’t strike me as a particularly happy place for them with lots of small pens and tanks. The owners are turtle and tortoise fanatics and have spent the best part of 20 years collecting the critters. So you’d think they’d want what’s best for them right? This sign was mildly reassuring…

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Maybe it’s the best place for them. I still think they’d be happier on an island somewhere though.

In addition to the real deal the museum also displayed a Guiness World Record collection of ornamental turtle and tortoise paraphernalia (think Cat Museum, Kuching). Is there such a thing as too many turtles?

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It was certainly a good way to spend 5 bucks and see some random stuff. The gardens weren’t bad either…

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So what’s next? Four weeks of couchsurfing, rice terraces, mountains, volcanoes, world famous beaches and diving in the Philippines. Let’s go!

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My sweet ride this morning in Manila

Street art, Melbourne

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Had some serious free entertainment on the streets of Australia’s trendiest city today.  Melbourne is known for its Brighton-esque laneways full of effortlessly cool cafes, shops and bars nestled among narrower streets of intense graffiti. Hosier Lane is the most famous for street art and it’s not hard to see why.

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Bursting with creativity this living gallery displays not only constantly changing wall paintings as far as the eye can see but also keen photographers trying to capture the action.

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I even timed it right for a quirky wedding shoot.

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There was just so much to look at in every corner. There’s a good reason why exploring Melbourne’s backstreets is top of most people’s list.

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Check it out and don’t forget to get wired on the unmissable coffee scene along the way. 

Blue Buddha, Melbourne

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I’m in Melbourne city today and I’ve already ended up in a hipster cafe. My Aussie cousin’s friends have opened Blue Buddha, a super cool vegetarian spot around the corner from Victoria Market. The best thing is this time I get to show my Dad and the relatives a typical traveller hangout! Welcome to my world. These places make me wonder why I’m going back to work.

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The menu is fantastic here. Great value fair trade coffee or delicious chai latte and the food is veggie heaven including classics of sourdough toasties, burgers or nachos but also with Thai favourites of green mango salad and yellow curry.

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Green mango salad

Don’t even get me started on the breakfast menu…

Riding waves in Bali (sort of)

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Today I lost my surfing virginity (not counting the time when I was 11).  I won’t be world champion anytime soon but it was great fun frolicking about in the waves much to my instructor’s dismay.

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I’ve had a 24 hour stop over in Bali on my way to Australia. So much for my day of lazing around sleeping and reading.  Spending the day on the beach with some cool cats from Granny’s Hostel was a much better option. The staff will take you down to Kuta beach where you can get a lesson for 300,000 IRP (£15).

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The most chill dog in the world.

Hipster Bar Addict

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Wherever I go I always seem to end up stumbling into quirky looking bars with that vague feeling of “hipster”.  They call at me from the street,  it’s not my fault. In Kuching this week I found this great little one that’s been open for 10 months now.  Speakeasy unsurprisingly is a very easygoing place with a modest (so far) selection of beer and wine but the perfect environment to chill out anytime of day. Indie music,  friendly staff and an array of board games,  it was a lucky find after a hard morning of starring at orangutans.

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Mac the owner would be thrilled to welcome you into the mix of locals and tourists. Drop by at 61, Jalan Ewe Hai, 93000 Kuching, Sarawak.

Meowseum

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Kuching (in Malaysian Borneo) means cat in Malay so it makes sense that this city should have something historical or cultural to do with cats. After five days in Sarawak’s capital the most I’ve gathered is that there once used to be a lot of cats here so they called it cat.  There’s also a lot of cat folklore and superstition here as there is throughout Asia so maybe that’s got something to do with it.  Kuching has however used its namesake as an excuse to develop a weird and wonderful museum dedicated to our feline friend. 

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Kuching City Hall

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Kuching Cat Museum

An easy enough bus ride from the town centre the cat museum is set in Kuching’s impressive city hall. It’s totally random and a bit out of way but completely worth it for something different.  And it’s free!

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This is truly one of the most bizarre museums I have ever been to. I didn’t learn a thing about how Kuching is connected with cats but I did get to feast my eyes on every historical and cultural cat reference known to mankind,  literally.  A must for budding cat ladies.

Some interesting cat superstitions…

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Movie posters: If you can name it,  it’s there…

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And a whole bunch of other stuff…

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From artistic genius to the tacky and downright creepy, you won’t be disappointed.