Thursday, March 21, 2013


According to old Ben there are 7107 reasons why we should indulge ourselves in a fabulous Philippines getaway.  Old Ben is my colourful local asian grocer and the ridiculously random figure he spruiks is the number of tropical islands that comprise his beautiful archipelago homeland  A quick google search reveals the impressive island count is in fact true and the images of his remote village El Nido on the island of Palawan are absolutely stunning and I have no hesitation in elevating the Philippines to the top of our "must do" destination list.

The internationally acclaimed eating and drinking team of Chris & Robyn and Paul & Robyn plan a gruelling agenda that includes; snorkeling remote reefs in search of nemo, leisurely strolls along deserted powdery white beaches, gently swaying in hammocks under shady palm trees, feasting on sumptuous seafood at beach BBQ’s, and sipping long cool drinks at sunset happy hours. 

Our Philippines island hopping route

After overnight stops in Singapore and Manila, our island hopping itinerary has us travelling by air, sea and land to Boracay, Bohol, Cebu and multiple destinations around the island of Palawan.


An 8 hour night flight from Brisbane and we arrive into a typically hot and steamy Singapore morning. We've been here on numerous occasions over the years and on this visit we are enjoying a very comfortable stay at the Santa Grand East Coast hotel.  Great location in the east coast park area set amongst historic perakian style buildings and streets of aromatic eating places.
Other than sampling a few of our favourite dishes our priority is to catch up with old friends Kerry, Christine and Laci Williams who now reside in Singapore.

The boys, Kerry, Paul and Chris worked and lived together in Penang, Malaysia back in their Air Force days of the early 1980's.   30 years later they finally get the opportunity to get together, reminisce, sample a selection of Tiger beer products and tell a few lies.

30 years between drinks for these old codgers


We're only using the Philippines capital as a stepping stone for our visit to the outer lying islands so our stop here is brief and somewhere to rest our heads overnight.

Intramuros is the oldest district and historic core of Manila and the location of our hotel the White Knight.  This 1 square kilometre fortified and walled city of Intramuros was the seat of Spanish rule during the colonial days of 1600's.
Our hotel is a grand old mansion constructed of heavy stone walls, huge mahogany timbers and wide staircases.
We make the most of our few available hours and stroll the walled city in search of food and refreshments.
Too bad I forgot to take photos!

One hours flying time south of Manila is our next destination, the beautiful island of Boracay.  Unfortunately setting foot on Boracay still requires some effort (and paying of peso's) as the closest airport is on an adjacent island and separated by a 1 kilometre sea channel involving an antiquated ferry crossing.

50 shades of blue

After a panoramic fly past of Boracay we arrive in to Caticlan airport. That was the easy part of the process.  For the next hour we and our luggage are man handled, on loaded, off loaded on to motorbike tricycles, passenger ferries, more tricycles and mini vans.  But the exhausting trek is worth it as we settle in with a cool welcoming drink at our beachfront accommodation The Blue Mango Hotel.

Beach combing at Puka beach
Allegedly, Boracay has the second best beach in the world.  Whilst we may not be wearing our official judges hats, the environment of calm clear blue sea lapping on the gently slopping beach of coconut trees and power white sands is stunning and we can see why this place receives such a high rating.

Beware the Red Pirate
Our strip of beach is about 4 km's long with the hotels, bars and restaurants packed in shoulder to shoulder.  So if you want crazy tourism it's easy to find.  However it's also relatively easy to escape to a more relaxed pace and for the next few days we do little more than sail, swim, snorkel and tour the highlights of the island.

 Jack, our skipper...... and eye candy for the girls

Chilling with Cap'n Jack on Red Pirate

 Ho Hum... just another perfect Boracay sunset


Whilst Boracay has been good fun we agree it's time to leave the hectic tourism scene behind and relocate to a more tranquil setting.  
From Boracay we venture further south and after a day of flights and ferry voyages we settle into another little piece of paradise- the Isla Hayahay Resort on the rocky coastline off the big island of Bohol.

Dominated by large shady trees and a wide open restaurant deck, the relaxed atmosphere and friendly hospitality at this outdoors establishment is just what we crave.  

Isla Hayahay Resort

Isla Hayahay from offshore

Other than enjoying views to distant islands, the fine food and cool drinks, snorkeling nearby reefs and atolls our primary goal here is to visit Bohol's two unique attractions: the Tarsier and the Chocolate Hills.

The Tarsier of Bohol

The Tarsier is classified as the worlds smallest carnivorous primate measuring about 8 centimetres in length, or 3-4 inches in the old language.  With the ability to leap 40 times their body length these bug eyed nocturnal creatures are only found in this region of the Philippines and isolated pockets on remote islands of Indonesia.

 Chocolate Hills
Wave action on broken coral deposits over millions of years combined with changing sea levels has resulted in this unusual region of domed hillocks.  Over 1200 of these odd shaped outcrops dominate the landscape and in the dry season the lush green colour turns a brown chocolate, thus the name.

The old colonial missionaries did a thorough job of converting the locals during the days of Spanish rule, as we cannot travel much more than a few kilometres without passing yet another spectacularly grand 1600's era Catholic church.

More stunning Spanish influence.

Beware the "mother hens".

Two fair skinned English boys join us for a day of island hopping and snorkeling and the 2 Robyn's can't contain their mother hen instincts when they continually hound the lads, "you should be wearing a hat", "you should put on more sunscreen", "I think you've had enough sun now boys".  
    Chris and Paul raise a knowing eyebrow and are thankful it's the poms being badgered and not themselves.

Nemo found

Within a few hundred metres of our resort we have access to amazing coral reefs, giant clam gardens and we also sight nemo.

Puerto Princesa and beyond....

We farewell the friendly staff at Isla Hayahay and backtrack by ferry boat to Cebu for an overnight in the big city before we continue our island hopping adventure.

One hour flying time west of Cebu and we land at Puerto Princesa the capital of Palawan. This long sausage shaped island reaches down towards the north east tip of Borneo and is the most westerly big island of the Filipino group.

4 hours of punishing roads after leaving Puerto Princesa and crossing the mountainous spine running the length of the island we arrive at the remote  seaside town of Port Barton.   We're immediately impressed with the isolated location set on a picturesque bay of calm blue sea rimmed with swaying coconut trees and a few rustic guesthouses.

Typical bus in main street  Port Barton
Sleepy little Port Barton
That's about all we see of Port Barton as we have our sights on even more remoteness.  We board our boat and after navigating through pristine waters past sparkling uninhabited islands and beaches we come ashore at Palawan Camping.

Our ride to Palawan camping

Palawan Camping set amidst coconut grove
Did I mention we are "Glamping"...... glamorous-camping!

Despite the tropic island paradise environment the girls look on anxiously as we tour our accommodation and facilities.

Queen size bed within a large dome tent set under a sturdy thatched roof, complete with outdoor furniture and hammocks.  The nearby ablution block contains bucket shower and western toilet.  Our tent includes modern conveniences, including a bucket to relieve ones self should one prefer not to travel to the ablutions at night.

View from our front deck
Toby and Thelma bought this little piece of paradise 25 years ago when kayaking through these islands.  Encouraged by friends they only recently opened this small and intimate operation accommodating up to 10 guests in 5 tents at any one time. Toby likes to sit and chat with a beer with his guests whilst Thelma prepares amazing BBQ fish, peppered crab, garlic prawns and other sumptuous meals.

 more water activities

Days filled with kayaking, snorkeling, swimming and beach-combing.  Of an evening we gather with other guests to share spectacular sunsets, and just when you thought it couldn't get any better, out come the stars.  The nights are pitch black and being far removed from any sort of town or civilization effects the ambient light and magnifies the amazing clarity of the stars sparkling above.
Of course a few San Miguel's followed by a nightcap of Tanduay Rhum facilitates the ambiance.

How's the serenity!!!!

El Nido

Toby and Thelma’s boatman deliver us safely back to Port Barton where we meet our van driver and endure another rough 5 hour road trip to El Nido. 

Our first glimpse of Bacuit Bay, El Nido
We’re at the northern most tip of mainland Palawan and as we emerge from the jungle roads the stunning coastal beauty is immediately apparent.

El Nido, set in Bacuit Bay and the surrounding dramatic geography of limestone islands and karsts rising from crystal waters is somewhat reminiscent to that of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and Krabi/Phuket in Thailand. 

Main street El Nido

Our Greenviews beachfront cottage

Happy hour refreshments at El Nido beach
Fortunately due to the remote location, poor road access and only light aircraft operations, the El Nido region is still relatively undiscovered to mass tourism.  
However with only 50 kms of dirt road remaining to be sealed and aircraft runway extensions in progress, El Nido will rapidly develop into another Boracay or Phuket, losing its laid back charm in pursuit of the quick tourist dollar.

People watching Orange Pearl beach

The Alternative, our favourite breakfast nook

Island hopping
More island hopping

Recalling our 7 days in El Nido I’m reminded of a few of the 7 deadly sins: namely sloth and gluttony as we do little more than move slowly from one meal to the next, or one happy hour to the next.   .....Well what do you expect when you can get a seafood curry for $3, a 750ml bottle of Tanduay Rhum for $2, a bottle of San Miguel beer for $1 or fresh coconut juice for $1.20?

Motorbiking to secluded beaches

Rush hour Nacpan beach

Whilst conserving heartbeats and keeping strenuous activities to a minimum we do actually get to experience what El Nido has to offer; with days of island hopping and snorkeling, motorbiking to further remote beaches, massages for the girls, kayaking and exploring secluded coves/beaches and mesmerised by stunning sunsets.

If our Philippine goal was to snorkel remote reefs in search of nemo, leisurely stroll along deserted powdery white beaches, gently sway in hammocks under shady palm trees, feast on sumptuous seafood at beach BBQ’s, and sip long cool drinks at sunset happy hours......then clearly it's mission accomplished. 

Did I mention the serenity!!!!