These past few months have been very busy with school ending, winter vacation, and now packing to leave South Korea. Before my time was up, we had 10 days off for winter vacation. Even though this South Korean winter has been pretty mild -and that is from a southerner’s point of view- I still wanted to find some warm weather and sun. People always say how beautiful the Philippines are, and I wanted to see it for myself.
I flew into Manila but only stayed there for the night because everyone says not to spend time there. Based off of this advice, I chose to take the first flight out in the morning to Puerto Princesa (PP) on Palawan Island. This was only an hour flight, so I should have gotten into PP before 8am. However, the airport had other plans. As we were approaching PP airport, the pilot came over the speaker with a “landing update.” I thought “hmm that’s weird. I don’t remember hearing pilots giving landing updates but ok.” Turns out, the runway was temporarily closed due to maintenance, meaning they were re-paving the runway. Seriously??? I’m pretty sure the airport knew when planes would be arriving, so why in the world would you schedule the runway to be re-paved when planes are supposed to be landing? Oh southeast Asia, you really can’t make this stuff up. The pilot ending the update with “So…yeah…this is gonna be a rough landing.” Thankfully, we landed safely!
Once I arrived in PP, I hopped on a bus for the 6 hour drive to El Nido. El Nido is known for its’ island hopping tours, lagoons, and the volcanic rock formations in the water. I headed to a nearby beach to catch the sunset and dinner with a new friend. The view was spectacular!
I got very lucky with my hostel in El Nido. I was in a 7 bed dorm, which probably sounds horrible to some of y’all, but the other 6 girls in my room became instant friends. I was the only American, which is refreshing but I also felt like I had to defend myself and country a little- that’s just the joys of traveling! Since the hostel was very social, I met some people that were going on an island hopping tour the next day, so I decided to tag along. The group was so much fun even when we got soaked from the massive waves! We stopped at one beach to snorkel, then went to another one for lunch and to hang out.
Supposedly, Survivor was filmed on this island, but who really knows. Then we went to a few other spots and ended our day at the Small Lagoon. Kayaks are used to explore the lagoon and let me tell you, the pictures don’t do this justice. This is definitely on the prettiest places I’ve ever seen!
After staying in El Nido for a few days, I went back to PP for 2 days before flying out. During this van ride, someone snuck into my bag and stole my chargers. Really? Who steals a charger? That was frustrating, but if you travel enough, then it happens to you. The big attraction in PP is the Underground River Cave Tour. It takes a while to get there because you get picked up in a van, then have to drive about 2 hours, then hop on a boat to go over near then cave, take a nature walk, and finally hop in a canoe to go through the cave. We went on a 45 minute tour through the cave seeing all of the different rock formations. In order to keep the silence for the sleeping bats in the cave, we all had headsets to explain what we were looking at.
Once I left PP, I went to Bohol Island to meet up with friends and scuba dive. I must admit that I wasn’t too impressed with this place. For starters, I booked a hostel but once I arrived, I learned that the reservation wasn’t kept. At that moment, all I could think about was the Seinfeld episode where the car rental company took the reservation but couldn’t KEEP the reservation. Anyways, I ended up staying at a hostel where one of my friends was, and it was nicer! The beach was a diving beach, which we knew going into it. However, I still expected it to have the magical Filipino scenery, but nope. To me, the beach looked like it could have been any beach in Florida but with tons of diving boats right off the shore. Don’t get me wrong, I still had a great time and enjoyed relaxing on the beach but I wasn’t blown away.
One day, we explored the island and visited the Chocolate Hills. With a name like that, it has to be great right? Well, with all of the rain the “chocolate” hills were green and just hills. It was pretty but underwhelming.
Then, we went to see the tarsiers. These are tiny primates about 4″-6″ long with HUGE eyes. In a weird way, they were cute.
After that, we went zip-lining and this was the highlight of the day. The scenery was beautiful as we flew over a river flowing between green mountains.
I went diving with a friend one day and was pretty nervous. I only dove once before when I got my open-water certification and that was 6 months prior. I was worried about forgetting how to clear the mask or breathe with the regulator or just freak out under the water, Once we got underwater, everything came back naturally and I got to see some new wildlife. I was blown away by how big the starfish are. I know it sounds crazy and no one else was impressed, but I wasn’t expecting them to be that big. We also saw a few turtles, which was my goal for the trip!
After everything I’ve heard about the Philippines, I have to say I found it overrated. I would never tell anyone not to visit, but it’s not quite “the most beautiful place” that people make it out to be.