We were off to Manila! From Coron we could either take an overnight ferry or fly. With previous seasickness experiences, we decided to flashpack and fly to Manila.
The capital city of the Philippines had never been on the agenda as a stopping destination but having assumed we’d have a month long visa and later finding out it was just 3 weeks, we had to visit the visa extension office in Manila. Our stay was 24 days and having heard stories of tourists being made to miss flights to extend visas, we didn’t want to risk it!
Having stayed in low budget places for the past couple of weeks, it was decided that we’d get a nice hotel. I was rather glad of this as we had a close call with pick-pocketers on our first day. Seeing armed guards at the gates of our hotel was quite something. It’s normal to see them at banks in the Philippines, as are signs stating “Please remove all firearms before entering the bank”.
Our hotel was luxurious – air conditioning, warm water and a TV! Much needed after the day of stress that lay ahead obtaining our visas.
I stupidly thought it would be painless – pay money, get a stamp and have a day to check out Manila. How wrong I was.
We walked across the city on a sunny day. The weather being hot, both Martin and I were wearing shorts to keep cool. On arrival at the visa office, we went to stroll in and were stopped by a guard (armed, of course). “You cannot go in”, he said and turned away. That was a little strange.
Asking for an explanation, he simply replied “no shorts or sandals”. Great. So we’d trekked all the way across the city to be denied entry.
Frustrated, I wasn’t giving up that easily. I went to a second hand shop nearby, purchased trousers that were too short and tight for me for the equivalent of $5 (I wish I had a picture because looking back this is a lot funnier than it was at the time) and hoped they didn’t notice the flip flops on my feet. I was going in! Martin went and waited in the Starbucks across the road – he was excited to see it, being back in a big city – philistine.
I got in. I thought it’d be easy from this point. There were endless queues but I thought it’d be OK. I thought I’d only be in one of them.
This was how it actually went:
• Queue up to get a numbered ticket to become part of a second queue.
• Queue up to receive the form to fill out.
• Queue to be seen with your form, to be told you need photocopies of your passport (stated nowhere on signs in the building or on their official website).
• Queue to pay (of course) to photocopy your passport.
• Return to previous queue to be seen with form, receive receipt and move to next queue.
• Pay and wait 2 hours to pick up passports (at which point you can leave the building).
• Queue to re-enter building.
• Queue to receive stamped passports.
The result? 5 hours wasted, 4 coffees drank by Martin, 2 stamped passports, 1 frazzled Chelsea and a very important travel lesson – always double check visa limits!
Who decided to spend 8 hours on a ‘ferry’? We did!
That’s right, we left El Nido for Coron Town on Busuanga Island on what was really just a large boat. I was perfectly fine, if a little uncomfortable, sitting on the side of the boat floating past island after island reading my Kindle app.
Martin, however, was not. Turns out he gets pretty seasick.
Whilst he tried not to throw up, I made some filipino friends.
On arriving in Coron, we had a real struggle to find accommodation. I like to just go with the flow when planning where to stay in Asia but Martin likes to book ahead. Coron being so remote, there was no online booking for accommodation at the time, it was simply turn up and hunt for a bed. Eventually we found an OK enough place and settled down.
Coron has a few attractions to it but we ended up staying there longer than planned due to illness. This is what we did:
Every time we left our accommodation we were asked by tuk tuk drivers to visit the “HOT SPRIIIIIINGS?!” and eventually caved. The hot springs are half an hour outside of town on a bum-bruising track but worth it for an afternoon of relaxation and a view. Especially good for recovering from weird travel sickness.
I don’t think I’ve heard anyone moan about walking as much as Martin walking up the steps to Coron viewpoint. It was a fair pull up there by the views were unreal.
Coron Island boat trip
Being in a country of islands, of course we took another boat trip. We took a barangay tour to Coron Island.
We snorkeled off mini islands, once again dodging jellyfish although a few little ones stung our toes!
Once on the actual island, we climbed what felt like a million steps to reach the top and looked out across the inlet. A fantastic view. A Russian in speedos – not such a great view.
Coron Island is known for it’s ‘birds nest soup’. Locals climb high up the cliffsides with no safety equipment to collect birds nests. The saliva used to hold the nests together is the priceless ingredient they search for. Such a luxury is rather expensive due to the effort put in to collect the nests – a fantastic source of income for local people. A large part of the Island is inaccessible to tourists as it’s protected for local tribes, which I think is brilliant.
Next up on the tour was Kanyangan Lake, a freshwater lake. I so wish I’d had an underwater camera. The Lake had giant limestone pillars in it! Underwater was like venturing to another world – it looked like a moonscape but with eery pale fish floating by.
Having walked back to the boat for food, we sat down to eat and were joined by a naughty monkey who just wanted our bananas!
Having been inspired to visit the Philippines by a friend’s photos of El Nido, the little town on the north of Palawan was our next stop. El Nido is a good base to visit the Bacuit Archipelago, a collection of mostly uninhabited islands surrounded by beautifully clear blue water.
Having taken two (very bumpy) buses to get there, we arrived amid the doom and gloom of a thunderstorm.
Standard South-East Asian bus ride; tumultuous.
Treating ourselves to Western food (we were tired and hungry – not good for either of our moods), we checked in and went to explore. Walking through our hostel directly on to the beach was mind-blowing – the Island out to sea surrounded by clouds looked straight out of Jurassic Park.
We did all we could; got cocktails and prayed for the rain to stop.
Over the next few days it rained and rained and rained some more. That is the downfall of visiting the Philippines during the rainy season but if you want to see barely any tourists then I’d recommend visiting at that time.
Once the rain subsided we booked a boat tour. Rather than going with a tour operator in town, we walked to the right of the beach, followed the cliffs round to the next bay and found cheaper rates for tours. I should mention El Nido has no cash points so it really is worth getting more money out than you expect to spend in advance. We just about had enough considering we also had to pay for the ferry to Coron (coming in my next post) but we could have done more in El Nido if we had just a few more dollars. You can however get a cash advance on your card at the pawn brokers if you’re really stuck.
We certainly picked the right day for our tour. The archipelago was stunning in the sun!
Crystal clear water and emerald green karsts.
Martin and I hired a kayak to take with us and explored a lagoon in it, watching massive jellyfish float by whilst the rest of our group swam. I was so glad of it after the jellyfish incident in Port Barton.
We stopped for lunch on a deserted island and whilst our guides cooked fresh fish, vegetables and rice over an open fire, we swam, kayaked, climbed and snorkeled. I’ve never seen so many colourful fish in such pristine water.
Those islands were a tropical paradise.