Farewell to the Philippines

After nearly five weeks travelling through the Philippines, I’m getting ready to head to Vietnam. It actually feels strange to be leaving given how much time I have spent here, three weeks longer than any other country I have visited on my trip.

Despite being here during the end of rainy season, which has meant grappling with rain at some point nearly ever single day, I couldn’t help but fall hard for this country. It’s people are so warm with a generous spirit that’s second to none.

I experienced this firsthand from my Couchsurfing host Mark who has allowed me to stay with him on three separate occasions, to Linda and Boyette who took me into their home in Batangas (and fattened me up on some incredibly delicious Filipino food), to the members of BMG who instantly made me a part of their team as we climbed Mt. Dulang-dulang and Mt. Kitanglad. Read more of this post

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The Cordilleras

Visiting the famed Ifugao rice terraces has been on my to-do list even before I came to the Philippines. Largely due to some poor planning though, I didn’t get to visit them until recently. And while they did not fail to impress, my trip to the mountains of Luzon stands out in my mind because of my transportation adventures.

soaked and exhausted after hiking through the rice terraces

The jump off point for visiting the rice terraces is the town of Banaue, which despite being only 200+ miles from Manila, is over ten hours away by night bus due to the difficult mountain roads. I was somewhat surprised when stepping on to the bus in Manila to see the concentration of white faces staring back at me, something I hadn’t seen in quite awhile. It turns out that many travelers, particularly those with only a few days in the country, head straight from Manila right up to Banaue.

Getting to Batad

But I wasn’t planning on staying in Banaue for long. From what I read online and in my conversations with Filipinos, the consensus was that the best rice terraces were to be found in the nearby town of Batad. Nearby being a relative term because even though the towns are only 18 km apart, travel between them isn’t easy.

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Adventure and Encounters in Bohol

Following my hiking trip to Northern Mindanao and a brief Yom Kippur stopover in Cebu, I set out for the island of Bohol, known for its famous Chocolate Hills and the tarsier, a tiny primate indigenous to the island.

Still battling fatigue from my hiking trip, I was looking for some relaxation in Bohol. So I headed to Panglao, a tourist spot known for its nice beaches.

But after strolling along Alona Beach and its accompanying strip of bars and restaurants, I was ready to get out a bit to explore the rest of the island.

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Hiking Two of the Philippines’ Highest Peaks with BMG

When I was invited by Aris’ cousin (Aris was my first CS host in the Philippines) to join her climbing group on a five day trip to Northern Mindanao to climb Mt. Dulang-dulang and Mt. Kitanglad, the second and fourth highest mountains in the Philippines, I was torn.

On the one hand, I had wanted to do some serious climbing in the Philippines and found it quite difficult to organize hiking expeditions on my own. So being able to tag along with a group sounded great.

On the other hand, the dates of the trip mean I would likely have to rearrange my plans in the Philippines and force me to cough up for an extension of my visa (US citizens only get 21 days free) to go on a trip with a bunch of people I didn’t know.

In the end my adventurous side won out and I’d decided to go on the trip. Read more of this post

Feeling the Love in Manila

All the travelers I had met my first week in the Philippines had the same reaction when I told them I was going to spend a few days in Manila: why would you want to stay in Manila?

I asked myself the same question. Luckily, the past few days have shown that I have a couple of good answers for them.

Mark

Over the past four days here, I have courchsurfed with Mark, an extremely gregarious and generous guy who allowed me to stay in his spare apartment right across the street from the Mall of Asia, the 2nd largest mall in the Philippines and the 4th largest in the world. Marks works as the director of the James Mackey Foundation, which provides assistance to blind children. He is also a font of knowledge on Filipino travel having visited nearly the entire country. Read more of this post

Bahala Na in Palawan

I have spent the past five days on the island of Palawan, a gorgeous place that is only in the earliest stages of touristic development.

The bulk of my time there was in the northern beach town of El Nido, considered to be one of the most extraordinary beach destinations in the world. I can certainly attest to its beauty, with lovely beaches of turquoise water against a lush mountainous backdrop.

even with cloudy weather you can’t deny this is a beautiful spot

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Welcome to the Philippines

While I had always intended to spend the bulk of my time on the road in Southeast Asia, it was still quite the culture shock when I arrived in Manila, especially coming from Japan. And that is without speaking of my continued transportation woes.

Apart from my initial turbulence in getting here from Japan, my first few days were spent adjusting to the boisterous, happy go lucky attitude of Filipinos.

They have colorful names, speak pretty good English and love their food sweet. It seems like everything that you eat here has sugar added to it and walking through any mini-mart I have been hard pressed to find things other than sweets.

sweets table at a buffet I went to…notice the chocolate fondue fountain

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A Travel Adventure from Tokyo to Manila

For the most part my luck has been pretty terrific so far on my trip. Unfortunately, my luck started to run out a bit the day I left Tokyo for Manila.

Tokyo

With a 6 pm flight from Narita Airport, I was able to take to take my time my last day in Tokyo. I woke up, had some breakfast, watched some football with Stephen and even got in a workout.

Since Stephen has a washer/dryer in his apartment, I waited until after my workout to do my laundry, figuring it could be the last chance I had to get in a good load of laundry for a while. Somewhat ignoring Stephen’s warnings about the quality of his dryer, I set the timer for 80 minutes after finishing my wash thinking that would be plenty of time to dry my small batch of clothes.

I then went out to lunch with Stephen and his girlfriend Nobue as a last meal before heading to the airport.

We got back from lunch at 2:30 pm, which was enough time for me to comfortably fold my clothes, finish packing up and walk to the metro station before catching a train to Tokyo station, where I could catch the express train to the airport at 3:30 pm. I needed to arrive at Tokyo station as early as possible to get a reservation for the express train so I was eager to move quickly. Read more of this post

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