Philippines - the bluest water I have ever seen

Philippines - the bluest water  I have ever seen

I still remember how we watched YouTube videos about the Philippines at home. We were so excited to think about visiting the country one day. And now, a year later, it feels unreal to think that we were there.

Although we had bought our first plane tickets to Vietnam, our minds were often dreaming about clear blue water soon awaiting us ahead in the Philippines…how we would sunbath, relax, and just enjoy ourselves there… The dreams were especially strong while “enjoying” long bumpy bus rides on mountainous Vietnamese roads.

Planning the Philippines trip was quite difficult. There are more than 7000 islands, and we had only 30 days to enjoy it visa-free. There was a dilemma. Should we try to see as much as possible or take it easy and accept that it’s not possible to go everywhere? After endless packing in Vietnam, we obviously chose to relax more.

Also, there were rather expensive plane tickets between the islands that restricted our travel plans as well.

After hours of googling, we decided to buy all plane tickets together.

We divided our 4 weeks stay between 4 locations, every week new island.

A non-Instagrammable side of travelling

After taking a plane at 1 am from Hanoi, we arrived heavy-eyed at 5.25 am in Manila, capital of the Philippines. Our previous research told us that there is not much interesting to do there, so we took a connecting flight to Cebu island on the other side of the country.

Although something memorable happened in Manila airport. I get a chance to try cinnamon rolls at Cinnabon (American bakery chain) first time in my life. I still remember how great they tasted!

Cebu city on Cebu island was another transit place for us, but I, walking calculator, read before that best place to take out cash in the Philippines is HSBC bank. And there was one HSBC ATM in Cebu city, so we took a long taxi ride through the ATM to take out 50 000 Philippine Peso (850€) to minimize transaction fees in coming weeks.

A taxi driver was kind to wait while Grete was running with our money, and took us further to a port.

From the port, we planned to take a ferry to Bohol island. There we managed to get our ferry tickets from one booth, had to pay for port authorities in another booth, and after passing 4 security checks had to pay a little more for one lady inside.

The most memorable thing from the port was a moment we found a couple passed us with the same backpacks as we had. The guy yelled: “Nice bags!” Me: “You too!”

When we arrived at Bohol island, there were strange looking colourful motorbike taxis waiting for us. They are called tricycles for their 3 wheels. We managed to fit ourselves and our backpacks into the tiny cabin and started the last part of our long journey to our cottage on neighbouring land-connected Panglao island – our final destination.

When we finally arrived to our new home, we had travelled sleepless for 18 hours with 2 planes, 2 taxis, a ferry, and a tricycle.

But we had a whole week ahead of us on this tropical island, so we weren’t too irritated.

The bluest water
Yes, the Cinnabon rolls!
Looking for dolphins
Trycycles and long legs
Little annoyed
Local taxis
Public buses
The bluest water

Panglao and Bohol islands

Our cottage was around 1km from the beach, and we walked there on the same evening. We were wondering if the water really is as blue as on the pictures? Answer: It was.

We arrived there before sunset, the time of day when locals like to enjoy water activities. Guys were backflipping, girls were giggling. And our pure white skin got a lot of attention.

Of course, after the long trip, we needed to go to water as well. It was super hot, felt warmer than that 28 C° outside. And salty.

We walked on the beach side until it got dark. There we had one of those moments when we really wished to be rich, as we walked past luxurious resorts with hammocks and sunbathing beds right on the beach below palm trees.

On our way back in the dark, many locals greeted us with loud friendly “hello” from their gardens. We later learned that this a normal behaviour.

Filipinos turned out to be the friendliest people we met on our trip. They were always smiling, wasn’t too pushy, and spoke great English (thanks to their colonial time under the USA). And I really enjoyed how they used “sir” and “miss” all the time. “Thank you, sir” “Excuse me, miss?” This politeness was something I later tried to use in my English as well.

In the next morning, we decided to start our days with yoga. Unfortunately, we didn’t wake up very early, and it was already super hot outside from 9 am. But we persisted. And quickly found some company as well, when local children tried to replicate postures that we, long-legged white creatures, took. By the way, they also stole our yummy breakfast a bit.

On the first days in Bohol, we went from one beach to another to just enjoy our being there. And tried to find good vegetarian food, which turned out to be a real struggle. Locals ate only grilled chicken with different sauces. Luckily, we managed to find a vegan burger place with local craft beers – a place I wish I had made myself. We went there a total 4 times, I would easily put it to TOP3 restaurants we visited on our trip.

Overall, our days on Panglao and Bohol islands were really relaxing, with an exception – cliff jumping. I wouldn’t say I have fear of heights but jumping from high places has always been very scary to me. I had to conquer my fear, and prove my manliness to Grete. It was clearly a peer pressure. I had to jump over and over again, on different islands, from different cliffs and waterfalls. I am proud that I made it, but it took a lot of willpower to shut my rational mind each time before taking the leap.

Besides terrifying cliff jumping and sunbathing, we saw beautiful nature and cool animals too. Like tarsiers – the world’s second smallest primates who are almost extinct nowadays. In Bohol, we also drove through Mahogany forest, visited 3 waterfalls in one day, and climbed down to picturesque cave which had a bond with super clear cold water.

However, there were places we didn’t go to in those 7 days because we were “lazy” or wanted to save money or began to understand that many things are not worth it (too touristy). Later, I felt a little regretful that we didn’t see some supposedly cool places, like Chocolate hills. It was my fear of missing out (FOMO) kicking in. But with following days I managed to make peace with myself.

Beach life
Boat style
Postcard picture
Tarzan school
Yoga teacher
No yoga no breakfast
She is flying!
I am not flying
Tarzan school
Mahagon forest
Tarsier - small primate
Waterfall with local guide
Under palm trees
Beach life
Beach life

Next stop – Siquijor island

An island that I still can’t spell right.

It was an island that we especially looked forward to, as there was a small beach house waiting for us ahead. We decided to accomplish one of our dreams and booked relatively expensive (22€/night compared to usual 10-15€/night) house just 5m from the beach below palm trees. Just like rich people did in Panglao island. But without aircon (mistake).

To get to the island, we only had to take a 2-hour ferry ride. Some people saw dolphins on the way, unfortunately, we sat on the wrong side.

Arriving at our new home was probably one of the happiest moments in our trip. It was exactly like we saw on the pictures: small room, terrace, outdoor kitchen, palm trees and beach. After doing “Aloha from beach house” photoshoot, we went 10 steps to swim and sunbath. Needless to say, I got sunburned.

Later, we filled our fridge with the greatest fruits and ingredients available and enjoyed our next days with cooking for ourselves for the first time since home. On one special evening we even grilled local fish. Oh, good times…

Siquijor is a small island and it’s possible to make a round trip there with half a day. So, we rented a motorbike. Before renting it, I read a bit about strict laws in the Philippines, frequent police controls, and relatively high fines, which all discouraged me. I didn’t have a motorbike licence, I had only passed the survivor test in Vietnam. So, every time we jumped on the bike I was hoping to not encounter any officials. It still happened once, when a policeman stopped us on the road. But the guy was very friendly, only looked at my Estonian driving licence and wished us good luck.

We were lucky in Siquijor in many ways. It turned out that we were living in a very dangerous place. There were coconuts popping down from high palm trees every single day. No joke, one fell 1 metre from Grete.

But it was exciting as well. One day fell down a coconut that we considered ripe but not rotten yet. Grete had a mission that I was sceptical about – we need to open it! So, we spent the next half an hour “sawing” the coconut with our kitchen knife. In the end, it worked, we managed to make a hole and for award drank the freshest coconut water possible. It was a real Tarzan moment.

Rest of our time in Siquijor we spent on chasing waterfalls, jumping from too high places, and laying on the beaches. Just normal stuff you do in the Phillipines. And snorkelling in a marine sanctuary just on the beach, where we saw beautiful fishes. And a sea snake! Deadly creature.

Meanwhile, some people on the island seemed to spend most of their time scuba diving. There was a diving shop next door and every day I enviously sat on the terrace and looked at all the happy people going and coming from the sea. I thought that this should be a great thing to do… if it only would be more budget friendly. And less scary…

Aloha from beach house
House view
Enjoying breakfast
Let's hit the road
First opened coconut
The coconut
Jumping lesson
What up neighbours
Sunset view from home
And an even better view
Aloha from beach house

El Nido on Palawan island

Leaving our beach house in Siquijor wasn’t easy, but getting to our new home was even harder.

Our next destination was super popular El Nido resort town on Palawan island. To get there we had to take two ferry rides back to Cebu island, spend a night in Cebu city, fly from Cebu airport to Puerto Princessa airport on Palawan, and from there drive 6 hours on curvy roads with an absolutely crazy driver to El Nido.

We arrived late in the evening, feeling sick and tired. We checked in to our hostel, went to our room and saw that there weren’t anything else there besides an old bed (not even trash can). The toilet seat was broken, the shower drain was just a hole on the ground. Shortly, it just looked like the worst place ever. And we had booked and pre-paid for 6 days advantage!

We knew beforehand that the place didn’t have good reviews, but it looked to be the best option in our budget range. Also, noted that 95% of places are already booked, so we didn’t want to take a risk to be homeless. (Next time, in this situation we should book ahead only for 2-3 night max, and then look around and decide whether we want to extend or change our accommodation.)

Anyway, there we were in this unfortunate situation, cursing the place and blaming ourselves. We went to the next door burger place and came up with a plan that if we go back we either negotiate our money back or at least change our room by being angry and very demanding. It worked, we managed to get a new room, with a table and a trash can. Even the bathroom wasn’t broken! On the next day, I also stole a chair from our next door neighbours. Everything was in place again.

On the next day, walking around tiny town, looking to the clear blue sea from a white beach, we realized that for some reason we are not so excited to be here as we should be. It was a paradise in every aspect as we saw on Youtube videos, but for us at that moment, it was just a nice place, nothing special. We might have been disappointed about last evening or might have just been tired of travelling. Or we were already used to living in paradise. Most probably El Nido didn’t excite us so much because it was the normal way of life then.

Visiting a perfect wide white sandy Nacpan beach with almost boiling water a day later gave us another insight. We understood that beaches are essentially just sand and water. And often there is no point to make a long trip to see them unless it has a fascinating view or has something interesting to do. In other words, beaches are made special by everything that surrounds them, mountains behind, islands on horizons, surfable waves, or corals underwater.

The main reason masses gather to El Nido are coral reefs under clear blue water and small surrounding islands with steep cliffs. There are 4 different island hopping tours between islands that are sold absolutely everywhere with the same price.

We read a bit and chose to go for tour C which promised to be the most adventurous. The tour started quite early in the morning just around the corner from our accommodation. After walking to the boat through knee-high water and settling down, we saw that everybody was talking in some strange language and jamming with weird music. It was confusing at first, but after talking to our neighbours they explained that it was the Hebrew language. The people were from Israel, music was from Israel, and we were almost only ones not from Israel. Later we learned that Israelis have a tradition to go for a long journey after finishing their 2-year military service. And they have formed many very active Facebook groups where they share all the knowledge about different popular places. This tour company was highly rated in their group, that’s how we made our first Israeli friends.

The tour itself was really nice, on a boat through many islands, and had 4 stopping points where we snorkelled, kayaked, and ate lunch. For many, the highlight of the tour was a sunset photoshoot by tour organizers.

After getting back from the boat, Grete didn’t feel good. And some hours later it was clear that she had food poisoning. We went to tour company to complain, but it turned out that she was the only one who got sick after. Anyway, it affected our plans in El Nido.

Grete spent most of her following days in our “luxurious” accommodation, While I wasn’t doing much noteworthy either.

On the last day in El Nido, we went to our favourite smoothie bowl stall, where we met a French guy who was a scuba diving instructor in El Nido. Working half a year in France, half a year in the Philippines. We talked about highlights in the Philippines and he said: “While everything is nice and cool here on the islands, the real beauty of the Philippines lies underwater”. He really encouraged us to try scuba diving. He promised us a crystal clear warm water, corals, all kinds of fish – just like in movies. And he said that the Philippines is one of the cheapest places to do it. He planted a thought in our head, but we were still hesitant.

El Nido
Happy girl
Happy boy
Kids playing
Flat tire
Got fixed
On our way home
Boat trip!
Standard pic
Our love
Baby shark
Happy kayakers
On our way back
End of the day
El Nido

Coron – the place where we finally scuba dive

It was really easy to go from El Nido to Coron, we just had to take one 3-hour ferry ride (that actually turned out to be 5-hours).

We had high expectations for Coron, as it was another super popular destination with a lot of hype. Our plan was to enjoy 7 days in this place, staying 4 days in one hostel and 3 days in another. (We learned from our mistake in El Nido.)

But Coron was a disappointment at first. The town itself was even more boring then El Nido, as there was basically only one main road where all the life happened and even no beach. What would we do there for a whole week? I know! Scuba diving! We should make ourselves PADI scuba diving licences! Everyone is doing it! Remember what this French guy told? Let’s try it out! Somehow I managed to sell this idea to Grete, and the next moment we were already reading materials about how to breathe underwater.

We spent the following three days on the boat and underwater. Our instructor was an old German bear, big and strong man, who seemed to have a lot of experience and not too many concerns.

On our first day, we had an instructional dive in shallow water. After what, we had to prove our swimming skills, by swimming 200 meters and keeping ourselves above water without touching anything for a couple of minutes. To be honest, I had never swum so far without touching the ground, but I managed to do it then.

First day’s finale was our first real proper dive. It was to see Japanese battleship East Tangat that had sunk during World War II. I remember having problems with ears when we were going down but slowly managed to deal with it. The view was diverse and bit surreal, the old ship was covered with corals, all kinds of colourful fishes, including some bigger ones like lionfish and stingray. At one point our instructor signed to go through the ship. It wasn’t possible to ask any questions underwater, so we just followed. It was tricky to keep ourselves from hitting anything as we were just beginning to understand how to keep a stable position underwater. But we managed to do it and when we finally came out of the water, I couldn’t believe what just happened. We did shipwreck diving on our first real dive ever.

On the two following days, we had four more dives. We visited another shipwreck, saw beautiful corals and cool fishes, and enjoyed a relaxed boat life. Unfortunately, I was having problems with ears underwater but didn’t have to quit any dives because of it. Also, there was a problem that I was breathing too much oxygen. While everyone else had over half left in their tanks, mine was usually almost finished. I tried to breathe slowly and do very controlled movements underwater, but nothing changed. At one dive, our instructor attached me to his own tank to not quit dive too early. I was swimming side by side with him, breathing his oxygen, and feeling too attached to some German man.

On our last day, we dived into a lake, called Barracuda lake, with thermal springs making it as hot as a jacuzzi. Inside the lake were different water layers, some colder, some super warm. At one moment, I saw my dive computer showing 28 meters of depth, while allowed depth for normal divers is 18 meters. Later, diving instructor smiled and said that’s our secret.

We received our PADI licences and tank tops for souvenirs, made a selfie with the instructor, and promised ourselves to start diving now wherever we go. We didn’t dive anywhere else.

Later in the evening, we decided to celebrate our accomplishment and went out to party. The only problem was that we didn’t have any friends in Coron to join us. After dinner in the town’s most popular pizza place, we head into the top of the party hostel, that was very quiet, unfortunately. But while Grete was buying craft beer to me, a longhaired French guy approached us and started a conversation. He was really chill and searched for a party as well. Time went fast, and soon we were heading to some local bar where we meet more of his friends. There we discovered that rum was cheaper than cola. And so went to another bar, and then to one more. Until we were in a place where we could dance and watch National Geographic on TV at the same time. On our drunk walk home with Grete, a thunderstorm began but has it was still so hot outside, we just removed all unnecessary clothes.

After our diving course, we still had three days left in the town. And had to change hostel as well. After our unpleasant experience with accommodation in El Nido, our expectations were very low. And even still, the new hostel in Coron shocked us. To hang stuff, there was only one nail on the wall, the toilet didn’t have a seat, and the shower was just pipe hanging out from the wall. Plus our room was totally violet. Luckily, our adaptability to another low was fast. And thankfully, it most probably received the worst place title in on our whole trip.

To take the maximum out of last days in Coron, we booked an island hopping tour. It was really similar to the one we experienced in El Nido, mind-blowingly blue water, many spots to snorkel, beautiful beaches to chill, and a nice time on the boat.

We made sure that we will definitely have a kayak too, as we really enjoyed kayaking part in El Nido’s trip. But in Coron kayaking was not a usual thing to do on this trip. We understood it only after we saw how locals were struggling to attach a kayak to a boat which later just wobbled behind our boat all the way. Although, later our kayak turned out to be a lifesaver for a young local child, who was shaking from cold in the water. Mother asked us to bring the child back to their boat while she was swimming behind us. It justified our choice to be only weirdos with kayak among hundreds of tourists on boats that day.

Last thing we did in Coron, was an early morning sunrise hike to nearby mountain that overlooked Coron town. I don’t know why we left it for the last day, but it was epic. To see this paradise from above with superb light raising behind the mountains made us finally grateful to be there. We made so many brilliant photos.

Exotic girl
Started studying
On the water
Storm forecast
Little nervous, little excited
There we go
Chill after diving day
With our teacher
PADI licence, check!
Only good picture from the party
Wallpaper view
Good life
The bluest water
Sunrise x2
Sunrise x3
Sunrise x4
Exotic girl

Saying good-bye to paradise – a trip to Manila

In the same evening, a night boat to Manila waited for us. We had chosen the cheapest tickets and were ready for a sleepless uncomfortable night.

When we entered our floor, we saw hundreds of bunk beds. Ours was luckily at the end of the corridor little secluded. Our floor also had no air conditioners, but the sides of the room were open so that the fresh breeze was constantly passing us. It was actually perfect, other floors with air conditioners turned out to be almost like refrigerators.

After settling in, we went on to the deck to enjoy an amazing view of small islands and sunrise with a couple of beers. Soon there was free dinner served and little later stars were seen on the sky. The cheap boat ride became very romantic.

We even slept almost like at home. An opposite bunk bed was empty and Grete moved there. So, we slept side by side with just bed barrier blocking our cuddling acts.

Waking up early in the morning, we saw Manila on the horizon. After seen a fabulous sunrise in Coron a day before, we gratefully witnessed a second sunrise in a row. This time the sun rose from behind the world’s most densely populated city.

It had been some weeks since we last visited a bigger city. For some reason, I had created high expectations inside myself. I had marked on the map most things that interested me in cities: craft beer bars, vegan restaurants, record stores and street art. I hoped to find ahead a buzzing city with historic buildings and diverse culture. But it wasn’t really the case.

In the morning we had the struggle to find any food. We walked all the way through the old town to the China town to find a first open restaurant. It was an ethnic Chinese restaurant and full of people. We, sweating tall Caucasians with backpacks, received everyone’s attention while we were waiting to be seated. Food was obviously good for empty stomachs. Later, old Chinese ladies sent us different fruits as a gift from another table. It was a very sweet experience.

Rest of our stay in Manila could be concluded in three words: hot, tired, unremarkable (except huge avocados on the street stall). Another proof that cities are often disappointing.

In the evening we arrived at the airport and step on the plane to fly to Bali island, to another adventure.

On the night boat
Bye bye
Boat vibes
Sunrise and Manila
Searching for food
Found a fish
and a cool wall
Huge avocados
Local craft beer + bamboo bikes
Letters sent!
Money bosses
On the night boat

Would I go back to the Philippines?

Yes, definitely.

How could I resist an incredible underwater world, sandy beaches with the bluest water, awesome waterfalls, the friendliest people, emerging craft beer culture, and a rum cheaper than coke? Only a fool would not go.

There are 7000 more islands to explore!

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