Bustling Boracay

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This photo is a bit of a lie. No it’s not photo shopped, but we had to take advantage of the moment it started raining, as that was when the beach cleared of all the people.

Boracay was PACKED. I have never seen so many people on a stretch of beach, especially as there was no special occasion such as New Years Eve. In some ways, lucky it rained one day so we could have the beach all to ourselves. And swimming in the rain is always a beautiful experience.

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We took it easy during our weekend in Boracay, and I guess the rain helped make that happen. Massages on the beach, stand-up paddling boarding, swimming, eating good food and a little visit up to Mt. Luho. If you strip away all the people, all the bright lights and the selfie-stick wielding tourists, White Beach really is a beautiful beach.

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I never hesitated to go to Boracay because it was “so amazing” and “the best island in the world” they all said, so I guess I can now say that I’ve been there, but not sure if I am rushing to go back. My friend suggested to go just after summer as the rates are cheaper and the beach is empty (emptier). I’ll have to take his advice!

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Must dos that we did:

  • Lemoni Cafe – great food and great price. Reminds me of the amazing breakfasts we have in Australia – located in D’Mall at Station 2.
  • Jonah’s Fruit Shake bar – fresh shakes with unique combinations. You can get them with or without milk – located on the beach at Station 1 and is the perfect place to watch the sunset!
  • Mt Luho – Boracay’s highest point which has great views over both sides of the island. You can catch a tricycle or jump on an ATV.
  • Stand-up Paddle boarding – which can turn into surfing when some waves whip up in the afternoon.
  • Island-hopping – which actually didn’t eventuate for us because of the rain. Although, we bargained a php2000 private tour for a whole morning which we thought was pretty good.

5 things: handbag essentials for the Philippines

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We haven’t really sat still since we’ve been here and I feel like I’m constantly packing and repacking my bags. We have traveled to some remote and not so remote places and I have noticed a pattern in the things that I need to carry with me.

So here are 5 things that I have learned to never take out of my bag for anyone traveling to the Philippines or South-East Asia for the first time:

1. Tissue Paper (especially if you are female): In Asia, the sewage system and pipe work is small and not as developed as in Western countries. Hence, why you will see signs to not throw any tissue paper or waste down the toilet; because if you do a nasty blockage could soon follow. I’m not sure if this is the reason most toilets (a.k.a ‘comfort room’ or ‘CR’ in the Philippines) don’t provide toilet paper or if it’s just an extra cost, but to maintain your comfort throughout the day make sure you BYO toilet paper or tissue paper.

2. Anti-bacterial hand sanitizer: for the similar reasons as above but also to ensure you don’t catch any nasty bugs. Unless you are in a mall or hotel, most bathrooms don’t have any soap, and sometimes you’d be lucky to have running water! I carry Thank You Hand Sanitiser and Organic Clean Natural Hand Sanitiser.

3. Sunglasses: the sun is bright and quite glarey (is that even a word?!) in the Philippines, so to make sure you’re not squinting all the time, pop a pair of sunglasses in your bag. Lately, I’ve been obsessed with Sunnies Studios (I won’t tell you how many pairs I have 🙂 ).

4. Sunscreen: as I mentioned above, the sun here is HOT. After just over two months here, I have a bunch of new freckles on my face. The SPF 15+ in my normal face moisturiser wasn’t cutting it, so now I put an extra layer of sunscreen on so I won’t look like a chocolate chip cookie when I get go back to Australia. I use local natural Filipino brand, Human Heart Nature Safeblock Sunscreen.

5. Snacks: not just because they are cheap and plentiful here 🙂 But after you have been gallivanting and exploring in the hot sun for a few hours you will feel hungry and by the time you find a restaurant and order some food, another hour or so will have passed (our experience, anyway).

Is there anything else that you always carry with you when you travel?

Swimming with Whale Sharks

DCIM100GOPROI would have to say that this is by far one of the most memorable travel experiences I have had in my life.

For all of the years I have visited Cebu to see my relatives, I had never heard of whales, or whale sharks for that matter, passing by until a road trip with my cousins to Kawasan Falls. They told me how whale sharks (‘butanding’ in Filipino) had been migrating by this small town in Southern Cebu for many years and a Japanese man (so the story goes) told the fisherman to start feeding them so they would stay and people would come to see the whale sharks. The fisherman did as was suggested and hence began the bucket list activity of, “Swimming with the Whale Sharks in Oslob, Cebu”.DCIM100GOPRODCIM100GOPROI’m pretty lucky to say I’ve done it twice (it helps to have relatives who live nearby 🙂 ), but both times were drastically different because of the time of year. The first time I did it, it was in August and the water was as flat as a piece of paper and crystal clear; so clear we could see the coral and marine biologist divers on the bottom of the sea floor. The whale sharks were also plentiful, perhaps 8-10 of them came for the feeding. However, when we went swimming with the whale sharks a few weeks ago it was so wavy that most of the time I was just trying to hold onto the boat so I wouldn’t run into the whale sharks, and I only counted a few of them around.

Either way, being so close to such large and gentle creatures is amazing and very humbling. When you are in the water swimming alongside them,  you realise how small you are on this planet and that all of your selfish desires are literally a drop in the ocean compared to all of the things that live in this world. Most of the whale sharks we swam with were babies as the mothers are too shy to come near the shore. But don’t be fooled by them being so young, they are still the length of a bus (approx. 4 – 6 metres).DCIM100GOPRODCIM100GOPROThe whole experience is controlled so as not to alter the natural behaviour of the whale sharks (so they say anyway). There is a quick briefing of the rules before you get into the boat, and as I mentioned earlier, marine biologists are in the water monitoring the whole interaction. I can’t say yet how this whole thing is affecting the whale sharks either negatively or positively, but at least they are taking the cautious side by having controls in place. However, I do worry that the demand may ignite greed and basically put the whale sharks into captivity, but only time will tell.
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Trip details:

The whale sharks are only fed for 2 hours from 10AM-12PM daily, that’s when they come close to shore to create the opportunity to swim with them. As the activity gets more and more popular, you need to make sure you get there early so you don’t miss out because of the queue. The drive to Tan-Awan, Oslob is nothing to snooze about either. The 3 hour drive from Cebu City follows the coast and passes through some cute old towns, with old churches and architecture dating back to Spanish rule. As you drive back after swimming with the whale sharks, I highly suggest you stop and explore some of the towns.

The cost for foreigners to swim with the whale sharks is php1000. Filipinos only have to pay php500 (which I luckily got away with!). Your swimming time is 30mins from when you enter the ‘swimming area’ and includes snorkels and a life vest .photo 2 (4)

Manila: ‘Pearl of the Orient’

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After spending my first five weeks in the Philippines busy learning my new job and traveling to rural provinces, I had no doubt that I wanted to spend my birthday weekend in the Philippines’ capital city for some R&R. The only time I have visited Manila was when I was younger on family vacations and A LOT has changed in the busy metropolis since then.

Let me start off by clarifying that Metro Manila is a HUGE place filled with lots of little cities. This confused me quite a bit when trying to figure out where the ‘centre of town’ was. However through lots of questions, and some help from my colleagues, I realised that old Manila (including Intramuros) is the main part of the city. It just turns out that all the businesses, corporations, embassies etc. are now located in some of the new little cities such as Makati, Pasay and Taguig.

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Since Manila is so big we decided to focus on Makati. My husband wasn’t surprised when I told him that Makati held the biggest and nicest malls (other than Mall of Asia) and that’s why we were staying there 🙂 We stayed at the City Garden Grand Hotel which had amazing views over Makati and the rest of Manila. As you can see, we spent quite a bit of time on the rooftop watching the world go by, and realised it was a great vantage point to see how bad the traffic was!

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We were ambitious with our planning of all the things we wanted to see, however in reality we took it easy eating Thai food, walking around shiny malls and enjoying our comfortable hotel. We did manage to visit the Ayala Museum which was a great learning experience. We spent almost four hours (maybe more?!) in the museum learning about the crazy history of the Philippines, looking at traditional weaving techniques, and ancient gold artifacts found near my mum’s hometown of Surigao. It was only when my feet and legs starting throbbing that I realised that we needed to leave to get some food. We highly recommend the Ayala Museum!

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After the Ayala Museum, you could say that we made the mistake of exploring the malls. Not realising that four huge malls are interconnected through a series of bridges and walkways (with cool street art), we just kept walking and walking and walking…. From Greenbelt (which has 5 sections and holds high-end and International stores), we followed the signs to the Landmark Mall, which connects to Glorietta Mall (also has 5 sections), which then opens up to SM Makati. It was a looooong night and my feet and legs definitely hated me!Processed with VSCOcam with s3 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with s3 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with s3 preset

Three days in Manila is not enough. We will definitely be back to taste more delicious food and visit some unique boutiques and historical places. I just need to let my feet recover and forget about all of the walking (and standing) I made them do.