December 13-17, 2018
When discussing the Philippines, we almost made the biggest mistake during the journey. Our original idea was to pay quite a little attention to this country. It was more like “OK, we are close, so let’s spend a week or two just to tick it on the map”. We did not hear much about the Philippines. And if yes, it was not like wow. But we were thinking to stay more than a month in Vietnam since everybody told us how amazing it is. Luckily we did not fool ourselves and stayed in the Philippines for almost a month. Just because we thought it could be more beautiful to spend Christmas in a Christian country. And we’ve never regretted it.
The first thing that most travellers see is either Manila or Cebu. Like in our case. But unlike to many other people, Cebu made a quite good first impression to us. The new airport is perfect and public bus connection to the city convenient. People are friendly and helpful. Yes, some parts are not nice at all, traffic is ridiculous as well as pollution, especially in that heat, people are poor, many Jeepneys are falling apart, etc. etc…but still, we found the city nice and lively rather than annoying and rude. And we did not feel unsafe either, even walking at night – but using common sense, of course, and avoiding any dark streets or no-go zones. City also did not appear dirty to us. However, we have not visited slum areas that may change our point of view on everything. Moreover, we spent just one night in Cebu because the Philippines are not about big cities if you go on vacation.
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To stick with some facts. There is a handful amount of ATMs outside the international airport as well as booths with SIM card offers. We opt for Globe but bought it later in the city. Taxis are not probably expensive, but you know how it is at such travellers hubs. Therefore, people kindly navigated us to the bus stop that was just a few meters away. We bought tickets (25 PHP pp), and locals told us what Jeepney number goes to the South bus terminal. Price was fixed at 10 PHP pp.
We had RF Suites hotel near the bus terminal (double 855 PHP), and we were leaving from the same terminal the next day. The night we arrived, we also visited Ayala shopping mall. Basically, for four reasons. There is an HSBC bank across the street. And has the only ATM that doesn’t charge fees and has a higher limit for international card withdrawals. Having dinner in the food court. Buying a quick-drying towel and buying snorkelling gear.
Regarding the snorkel gear, we totally screwed it up. The only shop where they had it in Ayala mall seemed to be relatively expensive, and we weren’t sure how much we are going to snorkel. So we let that go, thinking we will rent it at the spot for few bucks. Haha, for few bucks… All accommodations asked for ridiculous rental fees – in case they had any set to rent at all. So just the second day we went to the new shopping mall in Moalboal and purchased one good and overpriced Mares set + one cheapest swimming glasses and cheapest snorkel. Luckily they have those. The swimming glasses revealed themselves as quite useless later on, and we wanted to find another solution. But to our surprise, it is practically impossible to buy snorkel gear in the Philippines even at tourist places. And rental is only possible at dive resorts and only if you stay with them. And it is not cheap, of course. At least we had one proper set from Cebu.
To get to Moalboal is easy. Go to the Cebu South Bus Terminal, ask what bus goes there and then pick aircon or non-aircon one. The price difference is minimal. We took aircon for 140 PHP pp, and after 3 hours we appeared in Moalboal. While Filipinos are friendly and it is not very likely they will cheat you (exclusion apply), this is not the case for tricycle drivers – they had a cartel price for tourists to get you around in. Which was five times or more what locals pay. Nobody accepted less than 150 PHP, so we walked to our guesthouse. I don’t like being ripped off, but guess what, we paid that for the way back to the bus station a few days later, rather than walking in the heat.
The Herbs Guesthouse was lovely, with a beautiful, peaceful garden, three or so rooms and four cottages. Originally, we booked one of their rooms, but for a wrong month, so we ended up in the cottage 🙂 It was simple but nothing to complain. The biggest benefit was the nearby beach called Turtle Bay. While the beach itself was not lovely, it was not even a proper beach in my opinion and narrow path to get there was full of garbage, its biggest treasure was underwater. It was maybe the best spot we snorkelled in the Philippines. Even with significantly reduced visibility in December, it was gorgeous. There is a massive coral reef just under the surface ending with the vast coral wall with an endless number of colourful fish and turtles.
With a rented scooter (500 PHP per day at our guesthouse) we also visited Panagsama Beach that is rather unpleasant main tourist hub. The biggest highlight is runs of sardines. Unfortunately, the water was almost murky and surface covered by lots of boats with tourists. Moreover big groups in shiny orange life vests with a guide. So we did not like it much. Nearby White Beach was better, however not a spot for excellent snorkelling.
Having our own wheels, we drove to Kawasan waterfalls, popular holiday spot by locals and tourists. You can, e.g. walk a few km upstream and swim in little lakes, as we did. And jump from waterfall cliffs, as we did not. Some locals even offer their services as cliff jumping guides to feel safer. But canyoning is the most prevalent activity there. Even at the later afternoon, we met many groups returning from this activity. So if you want to do that be prepared for big groups of wet adventurers. And you probably find yourselves waiting in a queue for a jump or slide.
While driving to the Kawasan waterfalls, we accidentally attended a much more attractive show than the falls. We spotted a wooden arena with many scooters parking around. Being curious, we paid a small entrance fee. To our surprise, a rooster fights took place there. In fact, we should not be surprised because in the Philippines roosters are literally everywhere. Hundreds of them. The “show” is all at once: exciting, very local, enthusiastic, and unfortunately cruel. Winner takes it all. We just felt less mercy with the roosters since they are crowing from 3 AM every morning. Earplugs for soft sleepers are essential. And you still wish all of them to be gone…
All in all, the Philippines made a pretty good impression, and even better things were to come yet in the next few weeks.