Nov 9, 2014

Travelogue: Sweet Escape at Boracay Island & Short Stopover at Manila City Philippines

Midday Sun: 1pm.

I think left my soul in Boracay (pronounced as Bo-Rah-Khai).

Feeling exceedingly nostalgic while penning this travelogue down, I'm super excited to tell you all about it.

While I flipped through the archives of photographs, memories came flushing back. The soft sand on my feet in Station 1, the hustle and bustle of Station 2 and of course, the umpteenth times I gazed into the clear blue sea and promised myself that I should be doing this more often.

Every country brings about different memories and experiences. On that, I've learned and seen many new things in this trip. Among them are these tips and tricks that I picked up at Boracay and Manila - we had a brief stopover there as well. But I'm going to start this travelogue with Boracay simply because I have so much more to share.

Throughout my brief stay here, everything felt exceptionally civilized. The beach was extremely clean, thus there were barely any trash lying around. Similarly, there were no fights nor any rowdy revellers.

The thing that I probably enjoyed the most though, would be the brief encounters I had with the Pinoys. 

They say, tourists here easily outweigh the locals with Koreans and Chinese making up the biggest chunk. Tourism is obviously the core of their economy here and the display of hospitality is top notch. The Pinoys are genuinely a helpful bunch and they would, without a doubt go the extra mile to lend a helping hand. And that, would definitely make anyone sparkle like a million bucks.

That said, people here don't earn much. The tour guides typically earn a meager PHP10k (Rm700) monthly whereas the diving instructors probably racked in the highest at about PHP70k (Rm5,000).

Tourist Tip
I was told that the best time to visit Boracay would be from April to May, as well as November to December. Since I was there in October, I was lucky to bypass the rate hikes. Hotel rates would typically jump in November with expectations of a massive crowd hitting the beach for their annual Halloween party. 

I'm sad that I will be missing out on that this time round but thank you (Sah-Lah-Mud in Filipino) for making my stay such a memorable one.

Sunset: 6pm.

Reminisce aside, here we go.

Our route started with KL to ManilaManila to Boracay and Boracay back to KL. It was a 4D4N adventure, 3 days in Boracay and 1 day in Manila. Total flight cost approximately Rm560 (via Air Asia) and accommodation was about Rm200 (via Agoda) - we were on a budget. I brought about Rm600 in excess pesos (at PHP0.074) with me. Being a very last minute plan, we only finalized our bookings two weeks prior to departure.

What probably killed my back bone was the exhausting travelling time - especially on our route back from Boracay. The time estimation below excludes all the waiting time in between.

KL to Manila: 1.5h international boarding time + 4h flight
Manila to Boracay: 1h domestic boarding time + 1h flight + 2h shuttle + 20min boat ride + 20min van ride
Boracay to KL: 20min van ride + 20min boat ride + 2h shuttle + 1.5h international boarding time + 4 hour flight + 1h bus ride to reach home + 1h to unpack + 1h to shower (okay, I got carried away)

Air Asia only flies into Kalibo Airport at Boracay and it is about 2.5 hours away from Boracay Islands. In other words, to get to the edge of the island where the beach is, from the airport, will take 2.5 - 3 hours. Alternatively, there is Caticlan Airport, which is merely an hour away. Most of the premium flights land there.

I will also be listing down some important notes, terminal fees and costs that you need to know as well as a basic guideline on the-where's, the-what's and the-how's. Nevertheless, I will try to keep things short and sweet and let the photographs do most of the talking.

Starting with my flight into Boracay Island.

View from the airplane.

In the plane, we purchased a one way Southwest airport transfer ticket to Boracay Island (PHP520) which include a 2 hour shuttle from Kalibo Airport to the jetty, 20 minutes boat ride and another 20 minutes by van to the beach.

Tourist Tip
There are cheaper airport transfer alternatives right at the entrance of Kalibo Airport, some going at half that price even. However, Southwest is one of the most reliable airport transfer companies operating in Boracay.

Southwest airport transfer from Kalibo Airport to Boracay Island.
Our long shuttle ride to the Jetty.
Jetty.
Southwest Ferry to Boracay Island.
For my van ride to the resort, I was seated in front and was humored by one of the friendliest guide ever.
The back was packed with some of my favorite guys - Maori and Korean. Hah. 

We stayed at Boracay Breeze Resort in Station 1 for 2 nights, in a twin bed room that cost Rm100/night. For that rate, I couldn't get a beach front resort, which I didn't mind. What I really regretted though, was booking and staying in Station 1 itself - there were so much more to see and do in Station 2.

White Beach was obviously more beautiful in Station 1, hence, most resorts there are priced slightly higher than that of Station 2. However, I realized that throughout my stay, I spend most of my time in Station 2. Some of the best resorts in Boracay is located in Station 2, like Shangri La as well as Boracay Regency Beach Resort - I had dinner there during one of the nights. Again, my preference lean towards Station 2. Walking distance between Station 1 and 2 would merely take 15 minutes.

Tourist Tip
For families, Station 1 and 3 is feasible. For friends in groups or solo travelers, stay in Station 2.

On that note, I thought the resort I stayed at needs massive refurbishment, hence I would not recommend.

Boracay Breeze Resort 
Brgy. Balabag, Station 1, Boracay, 5608, Philippines.

By the time we were done checking in, it was already close to 4pm. I was so eager to see the beach and when I finally did - it felt incredible - took me awhile to soak it all in! The sand felt soft and clean, the sun was glowing and the sea was sparkling in a beautiful two-tone blue.


We had late lunch at Jonah's in Station 1. They have a few branches in the area. Food was Meh. The Fruit shakes (PHP110) though - was amazing, easily one of the BEST I've had.

Street vendor selling barbecued skewers.
Feeling the sea water for the first time.

After lunch, my friends got themselves registered for next morning's dive. I guess they will be gone for at least half a day and I will be all by myself tomorrow. But that's OK, I have this gorgeous island to keep me company.

Why not follow? Thing is - I have this scary little thing - or phobia they call it, of sea creatures. I've talked about that in this blog before. I have no problem bungy jumping, you can watch the video here. Can you? Don't judge me. Also, I can't swim. Although I've been told that that's not a prerequisite for diving.

Tourist Tip
PADI Diving School probably dominates the diving scene in Boracay. My friends with diving licenses, did theirs at PHP1,600 per dive. Alternatively, there's the Discovery Scuba Dive for first timers that cost PHP3,500 per dive. Both by New Wave Divers. However, most of the local tour guides also offers scuba diving and some of them at a way cheaper rate. Be sure to negotiate nonetheless. 


While my friends were in Padi trying out their wet suits, it was approaching sunset and I knew I couldn't miss that. I clutched on to my precious at that point in time - my camera, then strolled down White Beach.

I love people watching. There were crowds of people on the beach. I guess everyone was as excited as I was to catch the sunset. There were people playing beach volleyball; people still dipped in shallow shores; people making sandcastles; loads of people taking photographs, like me, but most were just strolling along the beach while enjoying the peaceful picturesque sunset.

It took 30 minutes at most, for the skies to change from a tantalizing blue/orange hue to a purple/dark blue tone.

Tourist Tip
The best time to watch sunset in Boracay, 5.30pm - 6.30pm. Time would vary according to seasonal changes.

Followed by a series of sequential sunset snapshots.


By the time I got to Station 2, the sun have already set and it was time to turn back to get my friends and back here again for dinner.

I love Station 2. There's this alluring vibe about it that I can't explain. Station 2 is where the restaurants, the bars, the resorts, the shops, the peddlers and everything else are. During the day, it will be filled with tour guides offering you an assortment of water activities and at night, there will be some offering massages - mostly legit ones I hope. Moreover, dinner along the beach, was clearly obligatory.


If you're not a fan of tipping, don't stay and watch for too long.
Hand painted T-shirts for sale.

There were a multitude of restaurants lined up along the beach. Spoiled for choices, we didn't know where to go but wanted to do just that. We ended up at an ARIA Italian Restaurant of all places. Dinner was fine but didn't come cheap at PHP490 per person.

Red Horse Beer and Watermelon Juice to quench our thirst.
Salmon.
Dining by the beach.

Going for massages are also another one of those must-do-things in Boracay. Prices are typically priced at PHP300 to PHP500 for an hour of relaxation. Cheaper than Thailand!


Spotted a white crab walking sideways on our way back. I was terrified though it was really fascinating to watch.

White crab - you look kinda cute walking sideways.

Even pub crawls are very civilized here - no rowdy drunkards. Music are blasted on headphones rather than speakers. It was a peaceful yet bizarre sight to look at.

Tourist Tip
There is a designated shop for registration in Station 2, which is also the starting point of the pub crawl. Look out for the yellow pub crawl signboard.

Boracay Pub Crawl.

Couldn't resist drinks on the beach after that. The feeling of just laying on the sand in the dark, gazing straight up at the stars, gushes of sea breeze brushing on to my face, and with a mojito in hand. That, felt like a world of its own. Drinks are cheap at PHP180 per glass.

Club Paraw at Station 1.
Drinks at Club Paraw.

I woke up the next morning, feeling extremely lazy and with a sore throat to add. My friends had already left for their diving trip hours before. I had some rather crappy breakfast at the resort before hitting the beach at about 10am. By now, the sea was starting to crowd, with people playing all sorts of water sports.


There are many things to do in Boracay, especially water activities. Nevertheless, the number of tour guides probably outnumbered the range of the land and water activities available combined. On my walk to Station 2 that lovely morning, I was approached by at least 50 tour guides - no joke. Therefore, if you'd ask me, I don't think there's any need to pre-book your activities beforehand. You can even negotiate better pricing there and then!

Tourist Tip
My Boracay Guide is a very useful website for pricing and guidelines.

Station 2 during the day. I still love this place.


My plan was this - laze my morning away on the seaside by the seashore. I was planning to do nothing. This is my type of holiday. Perhaps a water activity later in the afternoon but nothing too physically strenuous.


I found a sun bench by the bench, ordered juice and just layed there.


And then there was Jacky. My new Filipino friend that kept me company on most parts of the day. We were both seated next to each other for awhile, I was busy minding my own business and her, hers.

Then came along a tour guide trying to sell us his parasailing package. His selling point, PHP1000 (Rm70) for two people instead of one. Jackie spoke up, we agreed to go together and that's how we became friends.

Tourist Tip
For Parasailing, rates are typically cheaper before 12pm, from as low as PHP400 to PHP600. After 12pm, rates would jump to PHP700 onwards per person. Again, prices are negotiable.


With so many tour guides looming around the beach, you'd never know which are legit ones and which aren't.

Now, what normally happens when you agree to a package - the tour guide will lead you to the entrance of Station 2 where all the ticketing booths are. You do not pay the tour guide but the ticket issuer stationed at the counters. You will then get a paper receipt or ticket once you've paid and you wait for your turn there.

The ticketing booths stationed at the entrance of Station 2.

Parasailing. I always get excited on things like these, especially the moment when I get lifted off the boat. I cheered and laughed out loud the very second I hit free air. Hence, pardon the not so photogenic expressions, it was indeed my natural reaction.

Boat ride into the sea.
My favorite picture of the lots - the soldier boy hand gesture was amusing.

No extra charge for photographs. Just pass them your camera while you're at it. I was really lucky to get a pretty good photographer / boat guide / parasailing guide on board. I think these people are real talented and obviously - they make an effort. Sah-La-Mud!  


After what seemed like 15 minutes felt like 15 hours. I got bored and started to develop sea sickness while I was still floating in the air. The swaying got worst towards the end and I swear I was on the verge of throwing up - I wondered which direction the puke will go if that were to happen. It wasn't just me, Jackie felt likewise too. Towards the end, there was a minute of dip and drag in the water before it all ended. It took about an hour altogether.

Had lunch at Astoria after that, a beachfront resort right at the entrance of Station 2.

Astoria Station 2

We talked about many things in that short span of a few hours - about life, occasionally about reality, about how beautiful Boracay is, but mostly just random babble. Before we knew it, it was already late evening, time to say our good byes before adjoining back to the resort to rekindle with my mates.

Now, the initial plan was to meet with them at Jonah's for fruits shakes at 1.30pm, after they're done with their diving lessons. But - I was 2 hours late with no means of contacting them - Hah. We gathered back at the resort before heading out for dinner. It was nightfall by then.

Tourist Tip
Wifi hotspot - Starbucks in Station 2.

Tonight we decided to splurge and went for the International buffet at Boracay Regency Beach Resort, Station 2, for PHP765 per person. Also one of the Best Meal of the trip. Selection was good; food was scrumptious; ambiance was great - we were entertained with dance performances by a clan energetic and young chefs. The crowd was cheering and everyone loved it. Dining here was an experience on its own.

Those are some massive and chunky steaks.


Watch the Full Video Here.



One of the things that I've got planned for this trip was to try their infamous balut or duck egg embryo.

There was handful of street vendors selling it along the beach. They move around, so watch out for those carrying a white foam container. The ones that they normally sell are the 18 day balut (PHP30)Though I read online that the best ones would be 17 days old.

Out of curiosity on how it'd taste like, Watch The Video! 


Watch the Full Video Here - Balut Egg in Boracay Philippines.


After our interesting endeavor, we bought a really cheap bottle of Boracay Rum (PHP120) back to the resort. It tasted like flavored water and nothing like rum. Didn't expect much to begin with at that price though.

Boracay Rum.

Besides that, there were a few other places that is also worthy of mentioning. Among them, this mango dessert place called Halowich inside D Mall Station 2. Remember to try their mango ice cream!


Another must-try food in Boracay, pork and squid skewers for PHP15 each. These stalls are everywhere but I'd recommend the one near entrance of Station 2. Those were exceptionally flavorsome.


I've come to the end of my Boracay travelogue. Before I move on to my Manila travelogue, some fees to take note of.

Tourist Tip
To enter and exit Boracay, there is a fixed Environmental fee of PHP100 per way, payable at the jetty counter. There is also another PHP500 Terminal fee upon exiting Kalibo airport but none charged entering.

To note, Manila airport and Kalibo airport aren't the most efficient airports around. Queues are long and there is a possibility of an electricity failure - happened to us. Hence, it takes awhile to get your passport stamped. Do allocate at least an hour to pass through immigration.

Tourist Tip
From Ninoy Aquino Airpot in Manila, taxi rides would typically costs PHP400 after midnight (I still think we got ripped off) and half the price during the day. It takes about 20 minutes to get to Makati from the airport. For budget airlines, flights would depart and arrive at Terminal 4.

On to Manila.

Manila

1) In Manila, Shorts + Slippers = Tourist. It is a rare sight for locals to don a pair of shorts on the streets.
2) The Pinoys are slightly smaller in stature. I feel VERY tall in the Philippines.
3) Apart from Filipinio cuisine, you have to try their Spanish cuisine as well. There's some pretty good restaurants inside Greenbelt. I will tell you about that shortly.
4) Ube, or Taro/Yam is very popular in Filipino cooking - as main dishes as well as desserts and drinks.
5) Toilets are called Comfort Room.
6) They use paper bags and not plastic ones.
7) By all means, stay in Makati.

Manila is like most cities, lined with tall buildings and packed with shopping malls. The oldest district is in Intramuros. There, you'd get to see the prehistoric sights of Manila City. We didn't drop by however. We'd figured because of its distance, an hour away from Makati, and our impartial interest in exploring forts, we decided to skip that this time round.

We stayed at Tune Hotels Makati, Manila City for 2 nights, at Rm100/night.

Tune Hotels Makati Philippines

Pros
Cheap at Rm120/night for a twin bed room, Clean, 24/7 concierge, Close to 7/11 and CBD

Cons
Close to red light district, Burgos St., Have to walk pass a quiet alleyway to get to the hotel, we also had a friendly-visit in Room 917 - you first heard it in this blog. During our first night stay, sometime around 4-6 am, me and Wan Yin both noticed the air conditioning beeped and switched on and off by itself numerous times, and so did the toilet lights. We were too tired to keep track on our second night stay and couldn't be bothered with a change of room as well. You may want to request for another room if you're worried about stuff like these.

Tune Hotels Makati Philippines
E. Mercado corner F., Calderon, Makati City, 1210 Metro Manila, Philippines
 (Phone: +63 2 519 0888)

The first morning in the Philippines, we felt really excited about exploring the city and sight-seeing that we consciously took a 4-5km walk, amidst the scorching heat and into the heart of the financial district and the Greenbelt area. There were plenty to see and take pictures of but I developed a terrible migraine after that, we had to scout for a drugstor to buy panadols.

Jeepney - and the frickin' dawg that ruined my picture.
The tangled electric cables on power poles.
Makati
Getting ready for Halloween in Burgos St.
Royal Bellagio Hotel along Burgos St. I'm sure one of these are non-legit.
Everyday, the first thing we do is to scout for coffee. Talk about being caffeine addicts.
Coconut Vendor.
Took this picture because it looked like a nice background for one.
General Pio Del Pilar.
Instead of a taxi, you'd hail a jeepney instead.
Walked pass a really nice and clean park along the way.
Graffiti art on the ceiling. This was taken along a walkway tunnel.

After our long-long morning walk, we arrived at Greenbelt, Ayala. The one thing I really liked about the bundle of shopping malls in Manila - everything is linked. You can walk from one mall to another via a shaded walkway, 5-10 minutes apart from each other.

Greenbelt Ayala

Spend a good few hours indoors, shying away from the heat while having some authentic Filipino comfort food, at Manam. The dishes we ordered were based on recommendation.

Braised Fried Chicken and Pork Adobo with Flakes (PHP280). House Crispy Sisig (PHP215). 
Sinigang na Beef Short Ribs and Watermelon (PHP405).
Manam Greenbelt

Manam Filipino Comfort Food
Central Bus. Dist. Unit 105 G/F Greenbelt 2, Esperanza St. cor. Greenbelt Dr. Ayala Center, Makati City, Philippines

After what seemed like a fulfilling lunch, though I honestly felt that Filipino food is extremely remote to my Malaysian-palate - hence, 
 - and cooling off from the heat, we walked to SM Mall of Asia, in Bay City Pasay, one of the largest mall in the Philippines, and a mere 15 to 20 minute walk from Greenbelt. It didn't feel as large as it claimed, maybe because we didn't explore every inch of the mall. 

SM Mall of Asia
Something new - a Privilege lane and a Senior Citizen lane inside SM Grocer.

Walked passed McDonalds and noticed some pretty cool stuff that we don't have here. Like this purple Ube  (Yam/Taro) topping vanilla soft serve cone and Chocolate crispies vanilla ice cream.

McDonalds Chocolate Crispies (PHP25).
McDonalds Ube Vanilla Ice Cream (PHP20).
Inside SM Mall of Asia.

Then, we got lost. The plan was to explore Manila City, which is about 10 train stops away with 1 interchange, from Makati. A single train ride would typically cost about PHP10 to PHP15. I have never in my life took 7 to 8 train rides a day in a span of few hours, most of it unnecessary - I lost count. But then again, we got to explore a lot more than what we'd expected - stepping foot into the busy streets, the slumps and the not so developed parts of Manila. I don't even know where exactly we were, but I took some pretty good shots along the way. At hindsight, the city looked beautiful during sunset.

Tourist Tip
The trains in Manila are extremely disorganized, congested and not tourist friendly at all. Likewise the jeepneys, also very confusing and you may get charged tourist rate. If you're a solo traveler, the train may be the most cost effective way to move around but in pairs, I would high recommend just hailing a cab.

Train Station Manila

After all the hassle, my sandals decided to fall apart in the train, AGAIN. You know, thing is, I have this ill fated luck with wardrobe malfunctions especially during vacations. The same thing happened, at precisely the wrong timing, during my Bangkok trip 2 months back.



And my three life saviors, literally saved my day - saved my from walking barefoot along the dirty and muddy roads. 


The fixed my pathetic sandals, smacked right in the middle of haywire people traffic. I had to take a picture of this. Thank you and signed with care by Jimmy Wong, LWY and Patah. You guys would flourish as cobblers. This pair of rubi stayed in the Philippines.

Rubi, why did you fail me?

The day breezed passed incredibly fast, we ended up back in Greenbelt at about 7pm, perfect timing for dinner. I wanted to sample a taste of Spanish tonight, at Tapella.

Mixed Grilled Platter (PHP990). Seafood Paella (PHP650).
Tapella Greenbelt.
Tapella Greenbelt.

Tapella
Ground Floor, Greenbelt 5, Ayala Center, Makati City, Philippines.

But of course, a day of vacay will not be complete without a good dose of massage, at Pheon Boran. I had the Shiatsu Back Massage (PHP300). It was alright. The place is decent for its price.

Price List of Phoen Boran Massage Parlour.

Stuff I bought during the trip. Can't beat the stash I lugged all the way back from Japan and Thailand nonetheless.

Living up to the reputation of being a junk food junkie,
I bought all of this at the supermarket inside SM Mall, Manila.
Bought these magnets in Boracay. Mad Love.

That, pretty much sums up my Philippines travelogue. I have to apologize for getting a little too carried away with my bucket loads of excitement, particularly so when it comes to the memories I've got stashed at the back of my mind, in Boracay. I wanted to share everything. Sentences got intertwined and I was probably repeating myself on some parts. Again, pardon the enthusiasm. 

But before I end, a little note to myself. 

Apart from learning about the country, the people and their way of life, I've also picked up something new about myself post getaway.

I realized that I genuinely enjoy the rhythm of observing things around me. 

I enjoyed my walk down the White Beach during sunset, paying attention to details that I would not normally would if I were to be momentarily disturbed or whilst preoccupied talking to the person next to me. To the extend that I figured I could get used to not talking for awhile. I think I revel in the art of people watching. 

But of course, the thrills of exploring - be it of new places or trying new things, would always be squirming its way out from my subconsciousness. Besides, I really liked the idea of making new friends along the way too and chances of that happening will definitely be higher during alone-times. 

On that note, I think I'm ready for solo travelling. #ittakescourage

The kids on the beach build this sandcastle on the beach every evening. But if you'd like your picture taken with it, you got to tip them. Fair enough.

8 comments:

  1. Nice travelogue babe! :D I need to go Boracay!

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  2. this is fantastic, can feel your excitement while reading it! made me feel like going to boracay too!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes yes! Very affordable that place. Please go =)

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  3. After reading your boracay travelogue, i am planning to have my year end holiday there :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Suddenly came across your blog and you make me miss Boracay so much!! Amazing pictures babe =)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I miss the place too! And thanks darl for reading up =)

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