By Sara Strachan
Travelling friend at Travel Nation
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Despite having travelled extensively throughout Asia, the Philippines are somewhere I’d never quite made it to.
Both my boyfriend and I love South East Asia’s mix of paradise islands and friendly culture, so we decided to discover a few of the Philippines’ 7,000 islands for ourselves.
With so much to see and do and just 3 weeks to spare, it’s difficult to choose what to leave out. Eventually, we settled on visiting Malapascua Island just off the north coast of Cebu, before heading to the remote island of Palawan, where we’d spend 5 days visiting remote villages and sleeping on deserted islands. We then planned to finish our trip in Coron, renowned throughout the world for its wreck diving. Swimming with whale sharks, kite-surfing in Boracay, visiting rice terraces, chocolate hills and seeing the super cute bug-eyed tarsiers would all have to wait until next time!...
Our arrival in Malapascua coincided with the colourful Sinulog festival, meaning the city was packed with Filipinos ready to dance and watch the big parade. We were headed for the beach however, so took a local bus up north to Maya and then a small boat over to Malapascua Island.
The island is a chilled out diver’s paradise, with white sand beaches and no cars. It’s also the only place in the world where you can regularly see the Thresher shark. We spent five nights hanging out in our beach-side wooden bungalow at White Sands Beach Resort and meeting locals who always seemed to know of a cock fight happening somewhere! I managed two dives and was lucky enough to see three Thresher sharks!
After a few days of chillaxing, we returned to Cebu to take our flight to Puerto Princessa, on the island of Palawan. Puerto Princessa seemed like a nice enough town but we took a local bus directly to El Nido in the North.
Arriving into El Nido after midnight with no accommodation booked isn’t the best plan…. however, we met a lovely local lady, an English teacher, who kindly offered us a bed at her parents’ house. We accepted their generous offer to stay the night but looked for somewhere else to stay for the next few days, despite them begging us to stay!
There are a number of island-hopping trips you can do to explore the Bacuit Bay archipelago, which is amazing. We took a trip to a secret beach which is only accessible by climbing through a hole in a cliff. We also swam in stunning turquoise lagoons which feature in the latest 'The Bourne Legacy' film.
At night, El Nido has a great reggae bar on the beach which we frequented a few times and ended up making friends with the local lady boys!
Next was the highlight of our trip, a five night Tao Expeditions boat trip through the Bacuit Archipeligo to Coron.
With no set itinerary, we embarked on an ocean adventure to discover remote villages rarely seen by tourists, to stay in simple huts with no doors or windows, to eat fresh fish and seafood every day and to shower in the open air from a bucket! We were with 13 others from all over the world and were lucky to have such an amazing and fun group.
The first day we moored the boat and all swam quite a way to discover a hidden cave. The following days were spent sailing through the most stunning scenery, stopping at villages along the way to collect more fish, squid and most importantly rum! Our first base camp was an amazing open air hut high on stilts!
One of the villages had a karaoke machine (a favourite Filipino past time) and the night was spent crooning away. Other highlights included being followed by a pod of dolphins and seeing turtles, lots of lion fish and the most amazingly coloured coral. The time passed too quickly and we spent our last night on the most amazing tiny palm fringed island with a banquet feast on the beach, followed by lots of rum-fuelled silly games!
Our trip finished with five days on Coron Island, which thankfully remains untouched by mass tourism, even though visitors are welcomed to the island with a Hollywood-esque 'Coron' sign up on the hill.
We made the most of the many island hopping trips on offer and I also dived on one of the sunken Japanese wrecks from World War 2. Although the diving around Coron is world renowned, I was a little apprehensive, as this was my first wreck dive. Actually, the dive went really well and I even opted to swim through a tight gap between the boilers in the hull. Best of all I discovered a new favourite fish - the porcupine fish!
I would definitely recommend anyone add the Philippines to their round the world trip. It’s easy to get off the beaten track, which can be a relief after visiting the well-trodden backpacker trails in South East Asia. The people are so friendly, the scenery is out of this world, and there's plenty to see and do. The only problem is deciding which of the 7000 islands to visit!
If I was to plan another RTW trip, this would be my itinerary so I could visit as many islands as possible:
London - Manila // Clark - Sulawesi – Brisbane- Papua New Guinea - Nouméa - Vanuatu – Rarotonga - London Flights from £2,185 pp including taxesSee RTW flights that include the Philippines
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