I had been dreaming about making a-round-the-world-trip for years. Fantasizing about getting on a plane bound for an exotic location where I would learn about other cultures, try new and perhaps even scary food, where I would see how people in that faraway place lived their lives…
Yet there were always reasons not to go: starting my study, having little money as a student, saving for my wedding, starting my first job, starting my second job… But on an early morning in January 2014 I finally set myself to the nerve-racking task of asking my manager for a sabbatical. Because I choose not to care about all those reasons anymore.
I just wanted to travel!
Luckily, my manager fully supported my dream to travel and I was granted a five month sabbatical! For several reasons I wouldn’t leave for another year which left me plenty of time to do research for the trip. Which I did. A lot. Particularly for the Philippines, because the country consists of more than 7000 islands! It would probably take a lifetime time to visit them all, so I set myself to the impossible task of choosing which islands to visit.
This was truly difficult, because every Google image I found was more beautiful than the last one. For weeks I researched gorgeous islands and my favorite source of information were blogs of people living in the Philippines for a year or longer. Because if someone like that placed an island in their top 3, while having visited more than 20, that island definitely secured itself a place on my shortlist.
This led to my personal Tropical Island Top 3 and consequently my trip itinerary. In the map below you can find the route, accommodations and highlights of the 20-day trip I made around Luzon, Palawan and Bohol. If you want to know all about the costs of this trip, read my Philippine budget breakdown post.
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My three week itinerary around the Philippines
Day 1: traveling from Manila to Banaue (by night bus)
I personally did not feel completely save in Manila, therefore my husband and I took a cab straight from the airport to the Ohayami bus terminal. We left our bags at the bus terminal and walked around for some food and drinks until it was time for the night bus to leave.
Must have attributes on the bus:
• Warm clothes because of the freezing air-conditioning
• An eye mask
• Patience and being ok with not sleeping much that night since you are sitting straight up and the road is very bumpy. But hey, that’s travel;-)
The drive to Banaue took about nine hours and we stopped three times along the way, sometimes near a public toilet, sometimes not… We arrived early in the morning at Banaue bus station, where everybody got off the bus and was shuffled into jeepneys. Our jeepney took us to Uyami’s Green View Restaurant where we had breakfast and arranged our tour.
There were many people selling tours walking around the restaurant so for us it not arranging this beforehand worked out fine. We teamed up with 4 French travelers to arrange a good group deal and after packing everything we needed into our day pack we were off for a three day hike through the famous rice terraces!
Day 2 – 4 Hiking in Banaue!
The bus from Banaue to Manila left at 7pm and was pretty much the same as the way there. We arrived at the Ohayami bus terminal in the middle of the night (around 4am) and shared a cab to the airport. There we made a big mistake.
A huge mistake
A mistake that had me in tears while begging an airport employee to let us make use of the free shuttle service
There were many reasons leading up this moment of me crying at the airport, let me explain…
We shared a cab to the airport with two of the French girls we met during the hike. Their flight would leave from terminal 4 while our flight would depart from terminal 3. Because their flight would leave first we decided to let the cab driver go to terminal 4.
What we should have done: Ask the cab driver to take us to terminal 3 after dropping our friends off.
What we did: We got out of the cab at terminal 4. And let the cab drive away…
This was the big mistake. Because the problem is that you cannot get from terminal 4 to terminal 3. Well, you can, if you have cash…
We were completely and utterly out of cash. Because there is no ATM in Banaue and we had spent every peso.
Not one of our bank cards worked at the ATMs at terminal 4. Which meant we were stuck.
Obviously if you have cash, you can just take another cab to terminal 3. Or make use of the paid shuttle bus between all the terminals. Since the airport employee we spoke to at 5am in the morning failed to mention that this was a paid service, we actually waited for this shuttle for more than three hours. When it finally arrived we were thrown out because we couldn’t pay, which was totally embarrassing since the fare was about 50php each….
Ultimately I begged an airport employee to let us into a part of the terminal from where you could take the FREE airport shuttle service which is only available for people who land at terminal 4 and have a connecting flight at another terminal. Seeing the tears in my eyes (and probably having seen us waiting there the entire morning) he compassionately let us in and half an hour later we finally arrived at terminal 3. Where I got loads of cash from the Citibank ATM (the only bank that doesn’t charge a fee) and stuffed myself with comfort food to get over this ‘traumatic’ experience.
I learned some valuable travel lessons that day!
• Lesson #1: ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS have cash. And put some backup cash in an inconspicuous place in your bag. To avoid situations like the one I ended up in.
• Lesson #2: Do not get out of a cab until you are exactly where you want to be. Just be persistent, repeat your destination or show it on the map of your phone and don’t get out.
The rest of our travel that day went off without a hitch, and a short flight and even shorter tricycle ride later we arrived at Tia Mers Guesthouse in Puerto Princesa.
From Puerto Princesa the journey to El Nido, my long-awaited tropical paradise continued. With Roro bus…
Oh Roro bus, we could have been such good friends… I had done research and to say my expectations were high would be an understatement.
The bus would be air-conditioned!
It was not…
The bus would be modern!
It was most definitely not…
The bus would leave on time!
It was three hours late…
The bus would take five hours!
It took eight hours to get to El Nido… (not including the three hours of waiting)
The bus wouldn’t stop to pick up people along the way!
It stopped everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Be it a bunch of school children that rode along for a couple of kilometers, a shop owner that needed a 50kg bag of rice delivered in the next town, an old lady going who knows where. Hence the eight hours.
No, Roro bus was not what I expected it to be:-)
And yet, as I’m sitting here, writing this post, I am smiling from ear to ear. Because who cares that it was not what I expected. And that I was six hours late. Late for what? I didn’t have to be anywhere. So I relaxed and enjoyed the ride. And ended up getting stuffed with snacks by the old lady next to me. Who didn’t speak English. But who tried to make a conversation anyway.
At that moment I truly understand that to travel is to go with the flow. And to enjoy these little moments instead of getting upset or annoyed. These moments will be amongst your fondest memories once you’re back. In your ‘normal’ life. Where people get really upset if you are three hours late, heck, they get annoyed if you’re five minutes late. So explore. Enjoy. Experience. And let go.
Day 7-12: El Nido
In El Nido getting around is extremely easy, there are tricycles everywhere and the center is very small so you can walk almost anywhere. We did tour A and C, a PADI Open Water Course and most of all: we relaxed and enjoyed the stunning surroundings!
Day 13: traveling from El Nido to Puerto Princesa (by minivan)
One ride on the Roro bus was enough for this trip so we took a minivan on the way back instead. The minivan departed on time, then stopped 5km later. There we waited for an hour. It turned out we had to pick up another passenger, a Philippine woman who looked like she had just showered and done her hair and make-up while we were sweating in the minivan waiting for her. Nevermind…
Along the way more people were picked up, at one moment there were 15 people in the van while it was actually fit for about 10. It came to the point where the driver was sharing his seat with another passenger! Nevertheless, just six hours later we arrived safely at Palawan Village Hotel.
Day 14: traveling from Palawan to Cebu
After a morning of sightseeing in Puerto Princesa we took a tricycle to the airport for our flight to our next destination: Cebu. At tiny Puerto Princesa Airport we discovered the existence of a terminal fee, which doesn’t actually buy you anything, just entry into the terminal. A clever invention to make you pay more money (150php per person).
Another fun flight with Cebu Pacific brings us to Mactan-Cebu International Airport. As soon as we step out of the terminal the usual taxi touts try to sell us an expensive ride to the city center. But we decisively cross the street, take a right and walk up to the official taxi stand where an airport employee directs us to a taxi and hands us a piece of paper with the taxi number of the taxi we’re getting into and phone number of airport taxi service. If something happens, at least they will know which cab you were in and you know which number to call to report the problem.
It’s rush hour and the ride to Skypark Pensionne (our next hotel) takes over an hour. The great thing about traveling is that you are (almost) never in a hurry, so we just sit back and relax. Our taxi driver is a friendly guy who tells us more about the city and gets us to the hotel safely.
Day 15: traveling Cebu to Bohol (by boat)
Thinking back about this day, it still amazes me how everything worked out so perfect. We hadn’t booked anything; the only plan was to get to Bohol that day. After a short walk to Cebu pier we found a seat on a boat from Weesam Express where we ended up sitting next to a friendly Philippine gentleman.
We started talking about all sorts of things and found out he lived on Bohol. When we mentioning that we were planning to go to Loboc he broke into a wide smile and proudly declared that he lived there. And immediately offered us a ride! So instead of trying to get from Tubigon to Loboc by bus or tricycle or taxi or a combination of these; we got out of the boat, followed the friendly gentlemen to a white jeep with a driver, got in and arrived in Loboc within an hour after stepping of the boat!
Day 16: Loboc, Bohol
Our streak of transportation luck continued our entire week on Bohol. The next day, after a fun sightseeing tour on a scooter, we walked from our cute cottage (Fox & Firefly Cottages) to the main road and within 5 minutes a bus passed. We learned from our bus trip from Puerto Princesa to El Nido that there are no such things as bus stops in the Philippines so we put up our hand and sure enough: the bus stopped! We got in, bought a ticket to Tagbilaran and arrived 30 minutes later.
At Tagbilaran bus terminal we ask a jeepney driver how to get to our hotel on Panglao and after showing him the address he quickly points us to the right jeepney. Do not ask the tricycle drivers, they will tell you it’s not possible to get to Panglao by jeepney. Or that you’ll have to wait very long for a jeepney to depart. Or that the jeepney ride will take a very long time. Whatever they think gets you in their tricycle.
The jeepney filled up quickly and just when we thought there was no way more people could be crammed in, the driver produced three tiny wooden benches which he put in the middle path of the jeepney and suddenly there were six more seats available. With around 20 people in the jeepney and 5 hanging of the back we took off. The picture was complete when a rooster I didn’t even know was on board because he was hidden in a large aluminum can started crowing. Thinking back about it brings a huge smile to my face, it was so much fun…
Anyway, after a ride via who knows where (you cannot really see anything from inside a jeepney, particularly not if it’s completely filled with people and the only thing you see is friendly smiling faces from locals who are wondering what the heck these crazy tourists are doing in a local jeepney) the jeepney stopped and the driver declared that we had arrived.
Looking around and not seeing anything remotely looking like a hotel, we worried for a brief moment that the driver might not have entirely understood us correctly. We decided to walk towards the ocean anyway, because on the hotel pictures we had seen rooms with an ocean view. And sure enough, after just 10 minutes of walking we arrived at Royal Paradise Guesthouse. Thank you mister jeepney driver!
Day 17 and 18: Panglao, Bohol
For two relaxing days our routine was: get out of bed, look at the gorgeous view from our room, have delicious breakfast, get on the back of a scooter (me squished between the friendly hotel employee and my husband) and drive to Alona beach. There we would relax all day before being picked up by the scooter again to go back to our hotel.
Alona beach was very pretty, though not as pretty as El Nido with its impressive lime stone formations. But the ocean was a beautifully blue, the atmosphere was very laid-back and we ate the best food of our Philippine trip at Oasis Beach resort.
Day 19: Tagbilaran, Bohol
A little sad to leave another perfect paradise behind, we left for Tagbilaran. Walking to the corner where we were dropped off on the outward journey we started wondering whether this was actually part of the normal jeepney route or that the friendly driver had made an exception for us.
But before we could worry too much about it our lucky Bohol transportation charm kicked in again and a jeep stopped in front of us asking if we needed a ride. Sure, that would be great! Dropped off in the center of Tagbilaran within 15 minutes we couldn’t believe our luck! Again! A short tricycle ride later we arrived at our hotel, which was definitely not one of my favorites but fine for a night.
Day 20: traveling from Bohol to Manila
Our last day in the Philippines… We sure made it count, transportation wise… early in the morning we left our hotel and took a tricycle to Tagbilaran Pier. Here we encountered another example of Philippine bureaucracy/touristocracy.
The day before, we had already bought our tickets so we headed straight for the ferry terminal.
We had to get a seat number first. Which they assigned at the ticket office located at the beginning of the pier. Ok, no problem. So we headed to the SuperCat office, got our seat number written on our ticket and walked back to the terminal.
There we had to hand over our large backpacks and pay 100php per bag; they would be put in the luggage room of the boat. Ok, no big deal, just go with it. We then entered the terminal, where, how could we not have seen this coming, a terminal fee was levied.
I have to admit, the Supercat catamaran was way more modern and comfortable than the Weesam boat (that looked more like a submarine, unfortunately, I don’t have a picture) we had taken to Tubigon on our way to Bohol. After just two comfortable hours we arrived at Cebu Pier. Our big backpacks were right next to the exit, which apparently counted as the luggage room worth 100php a bag. On the plus side, this made getting of the boat quick and easy; we were on our way to the airport in a taxi within minutes.
A word of advice: don’t take the first cab you are offered by the ever present taxi touts. We walked for about 100 meters and found a friendly, non obtrusive taxi driver who drove us to the airport within half an hour (no rush hour this time).
After some waiting we boarded our plane to Manila, from there we left the beautiful Philippines and flew to Hanoi. But not before paying another terminal fee of 1100php a person. Ah well, the Philippines were phenomenal and totally worth the ‘hassle’.
The beaches are the best I have ever seen and I loved that every place we visited was so different and beautiful in its own way. No, I wouldn’t mind going back there to visit more of the 7000 islands…
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