When I first thought of coming back to Asia, the Philippines was never high on my list to go to. I knew that one day, eventually, I would make my way there, but it was definitely not a priority. As my dreams of returning to Asia grew bigger, a rough plan of moving from the east to west formed. Enter: flight to the Philippines. It was a good price, and it was as far east in SE Asia as we could start really. So since it fit our budget and our desire for geographical convenience I started to do some research. It wasn’t until then that I began to get excited, because
ONE: Tropical paradise
TWO: Rumors of it being under-appreciated, thus under-travelled
PERFECT! A few weeks hanging out on beaches, eating fresh fruit and making my own path in a country is exactly what I was hoping for. Turns out… the beaches are not accessible (or existent?), the tourist path is clearly carved in way of crappy tricycle tours that sound reaaaaaaaaaally good at the time of explanation, but in reality, they are over-priced and include very poor “must-sees” and “pristine wonders of nature.” Yes, of course the Philippines had both of those, but the tours that sounded so good at the time ended up eating up a bunch of our money and time and we found very little enjoyment in them. So instead, the Philippines turned out to look more like
ONE: A very poor tourist infrastructure
TWO: A lot of time in transit
THREE: A lot of money down the drain
Unfortunately, we did not hang out on beaches, eat a lot of fresh fruit, or make our own path.
But within those unfortunate turn outs, we learned a LOT of lessons. With retrospection, we discovered that the best days (though few) were the ones where we did not hire anyone to take us anywhere or show us anything, but instead we did our own thing and explored by foot, at our own pace, seeing and doing the things we wanted to. For example:
Good Day #1:
The first day we arrived in Bohol we decided to not do anything that day (mostly due to jet lag). We were staying at this beautiful hostel called Fox and the Firefly which was located right beside the Loboc River – an emerald green, amazon-like, refreshing piece of heaven. We hopped in the river, played on the SUP boards that were docked there (I did a headstand on the water!!!!), walked down the road through a small village and ate Coco Buko (a coconut meat curry) twice. That’s it. And very little money spent.
Good Day #2:
They day after arriving in Siquijor we woke up early (as per our usual jet-lag mixed with the wake-up calls from the roosters), had breakfast at the hostel, and went back to bed. After sleeping a few more hours, we woke up and decided to take a walk down the road. We found Marco Polo, a pizza place on the beach. We ate our pizza, then moved to the hammocks and drank a couple of beers. During our lunch we were watching a young woman and her child wade through the shallow water, picking things up and putting them into a pail. We had intentions of walking over to them to ask what they were doing, but instead we discovered that the shallow waters were soooooooooo warm, and we decided to splash around and play yoga. That’s it. And very little money spent.
Good Day #3:
After the cherry-on-top-push-us-out-of-the-country-most-terrible-horrible-horrendous tour we could have possibly gone on (that’s a story for another day), we booked out flights out of Puerto Princessa. This meant that we had one day left in this small city before our flight out. So, we woke up, researched a breakfast place nearby with a high rating, and decided to walk to it. We found it with ease and had fun seeing things on foot. During breakfast we decided to try and enjoy our day there and head to the coast to see if we could park our butts on a beach for the afternoon. Back at the hostel we changed into our bikinis, packed our daypacks with sunscreen and sarongs and… it started pouring. Okay, change of plans. We’ll walk to the mall (googlemaps said 18 minutes – totally doable!), pick up the few things we were needing, and wait for the rain to pass. WELL…. it didn’t. But instead we had fun walking through the streets (with no real map or directions) and we ended up stumbling across a movie theatre while wandering around the mall. Yes, we sat in our bikinis and sundresses, wrapped ourselves up in our sarongs and towels (the AC was cold!) and watched Miss Peregrin’s Home For Peculiar Children. We then ventured out for dinner and found the BEST falafels and fries, had a couple of beers, and headed back to our hostel. That’s it. And very little money spent.
It’s unfortunate that we had only 3 good days out of the 13 that we were there. That’s not to say that the other 10 days sucked terribly, because I mean being in a new country with your best friend is inevitably a fun time, but they were limited to scattered moments of our days, mostly our mornings and evenings… our times not doing any tours. We had a wonderful stay with our friend Denise’s grandparents, were welcomed warmly on each island we visited, and did see some pretty cool things.
It also didn’t help that the country is aggressively carnivorous (not at all easy to find good or affordable vegetarian food), and that there were no busses. We felt that we just weren’t able to take things into our own and hand mold our experience into the one we were hoping for. So when the suggestion of rescheduling our flight crept into our conversation, we heard it loud and clear and …..
We are in Malaysia – Kota Kinabalu to be exact – and everything has shifted.
It’s starting to feel pretty freaking great.