Niqui Visits Part 1: Puerto Princesa

I had two more visitors, and at the perfect time.  I needed a week off relaxing on the beach, only a local competition coming up, it was the perfect time to press reset.  Emily and Niqui landed in Manila and shortly thereafter, we headed to Puerto Princesa, Palawan.  Emily is about to start medschool, Niqui had just finished second year of medschool, and I like saving money, so we booked a budget AirBnB.

We walked to a dodgy little beach near the hut and enjoyed a day soaking up the sun and hanging out in the bathwater ocean.  After grabbing a tasty dinner we headed to bed early, we had a 7am start for the Underground River Tour.   We knew the hut was in the country, that there was no A/C and that we would hear some roosters.  We were not aware that there would be literally no breeze and that the house was located, not near a couple roosters, but next to a chicken/rooster farm.  There were over 25 roosters crowing at 4am.

We were picked up promptly at 7am, a miracle!  It was on time.  We then proceeded to drive around for 2 hours picking up other tourists – 2 hours.  Finally, the bus was full and we were going to see the Underground River!  Then we overheard the tour guide say it was another two hours to the river.  Excuse me?  I thought the Underground River was IN Puerto Princesa.  At this point we felt fairly committed though, so we decided to stick out out.

An hour into the ride we pulled off at Ugong Rock where we were instructed to watch the educational video…aka a promotional video for Ugong Rock.  Apparently, for another fee we could climb through a cave and go ziplining.  What?  I was told I would be going to the Underground River, can I please go there?  No.  We were held captive, pay fee or sit around.  Out of pure stubbornness we refused.  The guide said it would only take the other people 20 minutes and we would be off.  I found that hard to believe.  45 minutes later we decided it was time to purchase a beer.  Then another, and another.  After 45 more minutes the rest of the tour finally got back.  We got a beer for the road, it could be a while.

Finally, we arrived at the Underground River.  We put on our hardhats and set out for the tour.  I almost got shit on by 3,000,000 bats, nodded out a few times on the boat, and could hardly see a thing.  Then it was over.  We were back on the van and I was arguing with the driver about the order in which we would be dropped off – Niqui, Emily, and I would not be last. A failure/waste of day, thankfully we did a good job of keeping ourselves entertained throughout the entire ordeal.

Exhausted, we decided to head back to the hut and get some sleep, after all, we’d be up at 4am anyway.  A group of girls staying in the hut next to ours disagreed, they thought it was a good time to poorly sing karaoke, shrieking at the top of their lungs.  They would regret this decision when the roosters begin singing at 4am.

Sure enough, we were up and ready to go by 5am, we decided to make a day of it and head to a beach.  The iconic Honda Bay required a boat, so we headed to the best hotel in the town just in time for an overpriced, but delicious, buffet breakfast.  We saw on the map that there was a sandbar, so we walked over.  We were greeted by a long, plastic floating dock.  Might as well walk it.  We sat out on the end of the dock looking out at the water for nearly an hour.  To say I was in good company would be an understatement.  These ladies took a shitty situation and turned it into gold, time and time again.  We finished off the morning with a delicious cocktail before sending Emily on her 5-week long journey around Southeast Asia.

All smiles at the end of the dock.

 

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MGZ Visits, Part 1: Boracay

My friend from college had a month off between medschool and residency, so she booked a trip out to the Philippines. For the first part of our trip, we headed out to Boracay.  Boracay is known for its white sand beaches and is the most popular getaway in the Philippines. We booked a room in station 3 at my friend’s hotel for a discount. We had a large room with two double beds and amazing air conditioning.

Boracay is the perfect place for doing nothing and feeling totally ok about that. We spent the first day laying on the beach and attempting to get our tan on. It was hot though, so we absolutely needed to dip into the water. We got dinner and sunset drinks at Kasbah. After sunset we went to bed early, it had been a long day in the sun, plus a 5am wake up. 

  

On our second day, we got out on paddle boards in the morning, and laid in the sun for pretty much the entire rest of the day. We found an AMAZING breakfast spot that morning, too. 

For our third day, we checked out Puka Beach. The waters were clearer than White Beach and there were not as many obnoxious vendors. We got two lounge chairs, coconuts, and enjoyed the sun, view, and breeze for the afternoon. 

  

We finished off the trip at Spider House. This laid back, bamboo beach resort had great drinks, snacks, and view. You could jump off or climb down a ladder to cool off in the ocean. As a bonus, there were puppies. 

   
 
Overall, I enjoyed my lazy time in Boracay. To be fair, I did workout at CrossFit Boracay, where I did pull ups on bamboo bars, but overall it was lazy. I would stay in station 1 if I return though, less crowded and fewer vendors. 

Thailand Part 3: Railay

The final part of our Thailand tour was Railay. We boarded the 3:30 ferry and an hour and a half later we arrived at…another boat.  The small speedboat took us to Railay.  We booked a room at The Sunrise Tropical, a hotel on the east side of Railay. It’s not on a beach, but it’s a short walk over to the two main beaches. The room was HUGE and beautiful , plus the wifi worked. 

  

We hung out at the beach, then grabbed an amazin dinner at an Indian restaurant. It was my birthday so we finished the night off with cocktails on the second story of a bamboo bar, then wine on the patio of our room. 

For our last day in Thailand we sat on the beach. I couldn’t come back without a tan.  The beach was nice and relaxing, huge rocks to either side, and not too crowded.  There was one other beach on the island, so we walked over to catch the sunset. 

  

Phra Nang beach, where we watched the sunset had some interested pieces in the caves. Local fishermen leave phallic offerings to a goddess for safe travels at sea. 

  

Railay was exactly what I wanted, not as touristy, value for money, beaches, and if I had stayed longer I would have gone climbing up the mountain.  There is supposed to be fantastic rock climbing. 

Unfortunately the trip didn’t end well, it finished with a bit of food poisoning for the plane ride back.  I’ll be more careful on my next trip…Cambodia. 

Thailand Part 2: Ko Phi Phi

Our second destination for the Thailand Trip was Ko Phi Phi.  We flew to Krabi where we took a Taxi to the pier, got tickets for a ferry, and at last landed at Ko Phi Phi.

Ko Phi Phi was hit with a Tsunami in 2004, nearly all of the buildings were knocked down.  By 2010 most of the buildings had been restored, now it’s the hot spot destination for young travelers.  The island is packed with stores, tourists, and night life.

It was low tide when we arrived so the Taxi Boat could not take us to the hotel, we got to walk along the path to the end of the beach to the Bay View Resort.  The resort was in the perfect location, walking distance to the restaurants, but away from the noise.

Unfortunately, it was overbooked and they did not have the room I had booked in advance available.  While Tory and Alex enjoyed their stay at the hotel…Mark and I had a very different experience.

On our first full day there we decided to chill on the beach.  We set out on a journey to find long beach.  We walked up through some mountains, stopped for lunch at Viking Nature Resort. Then found our way to Long Beach.  It was a bit further from the crowds with white sand, umbrella’s and beautiful water.


The next day we hopped aboard a large speedboat to go island hopping.  We hit all the famous islands, Monkey Beach, Maya Bay, etc.  It was a long day, but very beautiful.  Followed by a delicious dinner and even some beer pong.


There is only one ferry from Phi Phi Don to Railay, the next destination, so Mark and I decided to wake up early and go scuba diving.  We were paired up with a dive master who worked to get us the best day diving he could.  He took us away from the crowds, showed us the fishes, and kept us entertained.

Although the island has natural beauty, in my opinion, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  I completely understand why tourists began flocking to the Phi Phi islands, the water is amazing, the rocks are beautiful, and the beaches are fantastic.  It’s become too popular though. When they rebuilt after the tsunami, it was because they needed tourists to come back, but it was not built to match the natural beauty.  The streets were dirty, some of the beaches completely lined with boats, and the tours to the most beautiful beaches are so filled with boats and people that it takes effort to get a photo without it all.  I had a fun trip because of the company, but I don’t think I’ll be back.

Trip Two: Bohol

It’s been a week since we got back from our second trip, so I figured I’d write a little bit about it and post some pictures. The pictures seem convince people they should come visit.

I snuck in a quick workout on Friday morning, you know back squats, snatches, cleans, jerks, handstands, rowing, wall ball, kettlebell swings, sumo deadlift high pull…just a couple things.  Then we headed off to the airport.  I learned two things this trip to the airport:

  1. Medical tape is considered a weapon.  I had athletic tape in my bag and they told me to throw it out, WHAT!? I could, apparently, use it to tape someone up and hold them hostage.  They then asked me the wrong question, “Have you ever tried to get out of athletic tape wrapped around you? It’s impossible.”  To the surprise of the security agent I responded, “Yes I have tried, I was taped as part of an initiation and managed to escape out of hockey tape which is much harder to tear.”   I still had to throw the tape out.
  2. Never show up more than 20 minutes early to a domestic flight out of the Philippines.

We landed in Bohol and headed over to our hotel, the Hennan.  The resort is new and it’s basically just one giant pool.

We spent the evening at the poolside/in pool bar then hit the hay early for a long day.

Half of the pools at our resort. There are more by the beach.

Day 1: Sailing

We booked a day on the Alona Blue, and did not regret it.  We met Captain Mike, Jenny, and their adorable little dog foxy at 10am.  A storm was coming so we tried to wait it out.  We “set sail” (it wasn’t very windy) around 11am and hoped to pass through the storm.  To our luck, we did.

Alona Blue had a mooring off the shore of a small resort with literally no one on the beach and good snorkeling.  We saw some little fish and a giant and terrifying purple jelly fish.  We got to hang out on the front of the boat with Foxy then were served a delicious lunch.  A couple hours later we headed back to shore with a little bit of a tan.

Alona Blue. We got to jump off the boat, hang out with foxy and enjoy a nice day after passing through a dark storm.

Day 2: Tourist

I’m not entirely sure why we decided to conform to society and do all the touristy things in Bohol that everyone expects you do to.

The Blood Compact Monument The view was nice.  The monument didn’t have a single sign explaining what the compact was or why it was important.  If not for wikipedia on our phones to read about the compact this would have been a pointless stop.

Baclayon Church Although the church had been badly damaged in an earthquake two years ago, it was still pretty cool.  We walked through the museum with a guide who explained the artifacts and thoroughly answered our questions.  I did feel like I was going to fall through to the floor below because we were walking on the original hardwoods.

Loboc River and Floating Restaurant I’m not going to lie, I’m shocked this has received so many good reviews.  The food was almost inedible. I think the experience would have actually been better without the food.  The views were nice, it was very lush and pretty (once it stopped raining).  The coolest part was watching the Tinkiling dancing.

The Man made Forest I wouldn’t exactly call this a “destination” but it was very pretty to drive through on the way up to the chocolate hills.

Butterfly Sanctuary This was pretty, only about a dollar or two to get inside, and I wouldn’t say I would have been happy paying more.  We saw some butterflies, the guide gave a nice little talk.  We didn’t see as many butterflies as I would have expected, but maybe I’m bias because I’ve seen the Monarch Butterflies as they migrate through Michoacan, Mexico.

Chocolate Hills This was by far the best stop on the trip.  I wish we had hiked up and through some of them, but it was still pretty cool to walk to the top of the viewing area.  There are a few legends about how they came to be that you should definitely check out.  My favorite is that they’re a mean carabao’s poop.

Tarsiers Bohol is famous for the tiny little monkey’s.  We saw four of them.  They’re nocturnal and antisocial.  Seriously, they don’t like having another one within a hectare of them. If one trespasses, they’ll often fight to the death.  Also, if you touch them they apparently freak out and bang their head against a tree until they die, or so someone said.

Blood Compact, Baclayan Church, Loboc River Tour, Man Made Forest, Butterfly Sanctuary, Chocolate Hills.

Days 3 & 4: Beach

We were not big fans of the beach our hotel was located on, Alona.  There were vendors everywhere, it was a marina filled with boats, you just really couldn’t relax.  So we did some research, asked around, and found out that Dumaluan was the best beach to go to.  We grabbed a trike and headed over.  After arriving, we discovered that the Bohol Beach Club was next to us and that we could pay an entrance fee of 150 pesos each (plus more, but that was consumable, as in could be used towards food).

We had originally hoped to stay at Bohol Beach Club, but it was fully booked the weekend of our trip.  Boy do I wish we had booked early.  The beach was beautiful and the food was fantastic.  We spent the day (and the next day when we returned) sitting in hammocks and reading.  Best part of the trip and exactly what I needed.

Bohol Beach Club Paradise

First Trip: Busuanga

We took advantage of the long weekend and headed off on our first trip.  We wanted a chill weekend so we chose to go to Palawan. After some trip advisor hunting, we decided to head to the Busuanga Bay Lodge. We were able to get a really good deal from Expedia (half off I believe!) and two weeks later we headed off.

We arrived at the airport and they weighed our bags, ok normal.  Then they were like, ma’am, your weight please.  What? Please step on the scale ma’am. So, I weighed myself at the airport.  We arrived at a tiny airport in Coron with two terminals and easily found our ride from the airport to BBL.  We were greeting with music and singing, which was a bit over the top in my opinion, but I guess some people like that kind of thing.  All I cared about was the amazing view from the Pavillion.

View from the BBL entrance

We had a quick, delicious lunch, then headed over to check out our Deluxe Casita.  We were not disappointed by the view, huge room, and oversized bathroom.

Deluxe Casita at BBL

Day 1

Relax.

We headed down to the waterfront for some kayaking and stand up paddle boarding (SUP).  After about an hour of that we got to relax in the infinity pool with some cocktails and enjoy the view.  We finished up the day with an excellent meal.  They offer a free hike, so we opted to do that on day 2.  Our activities planner warned us that it may be too hot to go at 9am, but I assured her that my time doing Bikram CrossFit had prepared me well for a hot hike.

Day 2

Hike.

Two people from staff met us with a book about birds in Southeast Asia and we headed off to Conception Falls. To our surprise, one of our guides grew up in Conception. We had assumed the staff had gone to school for hospitality and jumped around from resort to resort, but that was not the case.  We asked where he had learned English so well, and he said, “In school, interacting with guests at the hotel, and reading lots and lots of books.”  The path to the falls was not built for a tall person, poor Mark had to spend half of it bending over, until the trail covered in arching branches opened up to a vast field with hip high grass.

Trail to Conception Falls

I was tempted to ask who maintained the trail, then I saw the guides removing branches as we went, everyone did their part.  It took about two hours to get to the falls.  We arrived hot and ready to jump into the cold water.  We even got to climb up and jump off from the top.


We walked back through the town of Conception where the nicest house was owned by the elementary school teacher, checked out the pier, and then took a nap.

Day 3

Coron.

We joined two other groups from BBL on a full day tour around Coron.  We started by heading out to the Twin Lagoons for a little dip.  Some of the water is warm from the ocean, and then there is a layer of cold “fresh water” on top.  The lagoons are surrounded by breathtaking limestone cliffs and are filled with unbelievably beautiful water.

Twin Lagoons

Next stop was the famous Kayangan Lake.  When you google image search Philippines, this undoubtably shows up.  The water is a shade of blue I have never seen before, and everyone takes a picture on the same rock.  It’s 150 steps up, then 150 steps down to the iconic lake.

Kayangan Lake

We stopped for lunch on the beach and finished the day snorkeling around Siete Pecados.  It was low tide though, which made swimming over the reefs a bit challenging and I believe was the cause of fewer fish to see.

Lunch on rhe Beach

Day 4

Illness.

Something didn’t sit right in my stomach.  I was up sick all night, thankfully we brought antibiotics, so by mid morning I was feeling better, but extremely exhausted.  I only got up to get a massage at 4pm and some plain rice for dinner, then back to bed.

This was a bit upsetting given the cost of excursions from the resort and the fact that we only ate at the resort or on resort trips.  I know it’s the developing world, but for that amount of money, I did not expect to get the worst food sickness I have ever had. I was also very thankful to one of my closest friends starting her 4th year of medschool who gave me some advice on an issue with the antibiotics, everyone should make friends with a Dr., they’re useful.

Day 5

Pass Island.

We finally got a day at a white sand beach! We were greeted by a cute 6-month old lab named Homer.  The snorkeling was pretty good, though I didn’t get great pictures on the go pro, and the beach was beautiful.

Pass Island

We left Pass Island in hopes of viewing a WWII Japanese shipwreck, but were greeted by a swarm of jellyfish, so that was a no-go. Then we headed back to the resort to catch our ride to the airport.

There were, of course hiccups in the trip. Most notably, getting sick. The resort also couldn’t get our credit cards to work, which was surprising since we both have Visas, so technically we still haven’t paid for the excursions and food. It was suggested that since we live here we should get a Philippine bank account because international credit cards often don’t work. To that I respond, this is the first time our cards have not worked, we have guaranteed fraud prevention and repayment from fraudulent transactions, our cards come with rewards, there are no international transaction fees, we will be moving every couple years, and do you suggest this to all guests? Because, I’m certain you have plenty of international visitors. All those things aside, the trip was, overall, very nice. Excursions were a bit overpriced if you didn’t have a large group, but they’re certainly worth doing. The room was fantastic, especially for the rate we paid, the food was good, the views were amazing, and every place we went was astonishing.

Mount PinatuNoGo

Seven of us planned for a little over a week to hike Mount Pinatubo.  We booked a tour because it’s a pretty involved process getting up to the top of the volcano.  On Saturdays and Sunday’s the departure time from Metro Manila is 2:30 am, you then take about a 1.5 hour 4×4 ride, and finish with either a short (45min) or long (2-3 hour) trek up to the top of the volcano.

All but one of us arrived on time to our pickup location, the last one arrived 20 minutes late and was sent to the back of the van.  Neck pillows on, feet up, and seats reclined, the seven of us and Xena headed out full speed ahead, until we came to a dead stop in traffic.  We didn’t check the religious events going on and learned the hard way that an expected 1 million people would be celebrating the Iglesia ni Cristo 100th anniversary at a huge venue next to the road we were on.  This added over two hours to our journey, causing us to arrive after the allowed 4×4 departure time of 7:00am.  Our driver tried to convince them to take us up, but they had already started sending earlier arrivals back down the mountain due to expected harsh weather conditions at the top.  After over 5 hours in the car, we mentally prepared to drive right back to Manila (the tour company did offer to fully refund our payment), until one person had a brilliant idea – go to the beach in Subic.  We spoke with the driver, tour company, and got the go ahead and price for a beach trip, so off we went.

There are two beaches in Subic that are well known, All Hands and Camayan. We decided to check out All Hands since it was closest.  We drove up excited to head to the beach and saw a “No Pets Allowed” sign.  Which meant Xena would have to stay in the car with our driver and miss out on her first beach experience, I DON’T THINK SO!  After some quick googling we found that Camayan allowed dogs, so we decided to go with plan C for the day.  

We got to Camayan, rented a Cabana, and headed to the water. The beach was beautiful and had an amazing view.  Xena loved playing in the sand, but wasn’t too sure about the whole swimming thing.  After some sun bathing we grabbed a cheap, but good, meal at Meat Plus Cafe and checked out a friend’s box, CrossFit Subic Bay.  The box was awesome with a complete open air setup and covered outdoor area as well.

 

Beautiful day at the beach and an awesome open air CrossFit box in Subic Bay.

   
 
After the failed hike, failed beach attempt 1, and the long drive down, we came to a few conclusions:

  1. We enjoy the company. Despite being stuck in a car together for so long, we still had a lot of fun, made some jokes, and made the best of the situation.
  2. We still want to try and hike Mount Pinatubo.
  3. Next time we want to hike Mount Pinatubo we should drive down on Friday or Saturday, spend a day relaxing at the beach in Subic, then take a one hour drive to the 4×4 pickup location.
  4. Always check to see if there is a huge religious event going on.