My Worst Travel Experiences of 2015

Worst Travel ExperiencesYes,2015 was incredible. But the good definitely didn’t come without the bad. 

Travelling is still real-life, despite how pretty it makes your Instagram feed. For every picture-postcard beach there’s a looming setback or bout of illness.

So here’s my worst travel experiences of 2015.

Manila, The Philippines

manila national museum

One of the things I hated most about Manila was the fact that I hated it. I really wanted to be the one blogger who ventured to Manila and found its hidden treasures.

But alas, it sucked.

 

The city was so choked with pollution that I had black gunk coming out of my ears and nose for days afterwards. Heart-wrenching poverty clashed with glitzy skyscrapers. The airport was the worst I’ve ever seen. No air-con, no organisation AND a five hour wait for a taxi.

I’m sorry Manila. I tried to love you, I really did.

Read more: #Gaplife: Month One, Ryan’s Weekly Round-Up: Week OneFrom Jeepney Journeys to Trip-Hop Bars: The Two Sides of Manila.

Being sick on my birthday, Puerto Princesca, The Philippines

Eurgh, being sick on my birthday was the worst. I managed to crawl out of bed for a tour of Sabang’s Underground River, a world UNESCO site.

But even natural wonders couldn’t rouse me and I spent my birthday trying to control my nausea. Happy birthday to me!

Read more: Turning 23: Sick Bags and Unesco Sites

Finding jobs in Melbourne, Australia

Gaplife Month Two 2

We came to Australia expecting an easy ride. We thought we would turn up in Melbourne, where the streets were paved with gold, and have opportunity come knocking at our door.

Unfortunately, this is the real world and finding work in Melbourne actually requires some hard work and dedication. After a month of looking and panicking about being unemployable, we were back on the payroll. Just in time for the worst winter Melbourne’s had in years…

Read more: Moving to Melbourne

Shivering through a Melburnian winter, Australia

Winter in Melbourne 2

The myth about Australia’s sun-kissed temperatures was well and truly shattered for me this year. After leaving a dreary English winter, I landed right at the beginning of an Aussie one.

Who knew that Melbourne winters are almost as bad as ours? The days are short, it always rains and it’s bloody freezing!

It’s only now in December that I’m finally managing to hunt down summer. Never again!

Read more: Preparing for Winter in Melbourne

Working on a chicken farm, Margaret River, Australia

farm 8

I hated every minute of working on the chicken farm! The whole day was spent cleaning egg after egg or clogging your lungs with chicken fumes as you tried to collect the eggs of over 10,000 chickens.

For the three weeks we were on the farm, I battled a reoccurring nasty cold and generally felt rubbish. If it wasn’t for the lovely friends we made there, it would have been hell!

Read more: #Gaplife: Month Six

Daily emotional breakdowns at the dairy, Scott River, Australia

Calving 4

Working during calving season at a dairy is the hardest thing I have ever done. These little balls of fluff look angelic but they were impossible at times.

There were daily escapes from paddocks, newborns refusing to feed, terrible weather and sick calves who, no matter how hard you tried, didn’t get better.

Pair all this with the physical challenges of lifting 20l buckets of milk, trudging across muddy fields and running after the blighters and it’s one difficult job!

There were countless times where I broke down and just couldn’t hack it anymore.

Despite this, I soldiered on and four months later, left the farm feeling the proudest I’ve ever felt. But god was it a bloody struggle to get there!

Read more: My New Office Tour & Blog Update

Crashing the car, Scott River, Australia

Road Trip 9

Martin, I’m so sorry!

Our dairy was in the middle of nowhere which meant that the only road connecting us to civilisation was a dirt track.

Unfortunately these dirt tracks are very slippy and our car, Martin, had no little tread on his tyres. These factors collided, literally, one wet day and I came sliding off the road.

Luckily Martin and myself remained intact with just a bruised ego when one of the farmers had to come and tow me out…

Not being able to blog, Middle Of Nowhere, Australia

Calving 8

Living in the bush had a lot of drawbacks, namely the lack of connection with the outside world.

Whereas sometimes it’s good to disconnect for a while, 4 months is a long time to go with no wifi or 3G.

The blog suffered the most as I was unable to produce quality content and post regularly like I had been used to. Luckily, I used the time to work on a new exciting project which is coming very soon!

Read more: The Blogging Blackout

WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR WORST TRAVEL EXPERIENCES OF 2015? LET ME KNOW IN THE COMMENTS BELOW OR VIA MY SOCIAL MEDIA PAGES!

Philippines Budget 1

How Much Does it Cost to Travel the Philippines?

Philippines Budget 1I’ve had a couple of requests to write a post about how much I spent in the Philippines. I have been very reluctant to actually sit down and face the fact that I was a rubbish budget traveller in the 3 weeks we spent in the Philippines.

We stayed in cushy private rooms, ate out 3 times a day and divulged in nightly cocktail binges.

And the figures ain’t pretty.

But I will confess to you anyway and also give some pointers to my past self about how I could have been more cautious with the pennies…

All prices are per person based on two sharing over 20 days. I calculated the costs at £1=68 php.

Accommodation

Philippines Budget 2We didn’t scrimp on accommodation. We didn’t dorm-hop or stay in many hostels.

Regardless, our nightly average cost of accommodation only came to £8.50 p/p.

Overall I spent £171.50 on accommodation for 20 nights.

The cheapest was £5.80 a night for a 10-bed dorm and the most expensive was £14.70 for a plush place in Boracay.

Philippines Budget 5How I could have saved money: Obviously I could have stayed in more dorm rooms or traded beach front accommodation for something more modest. As it was peak season places booked up quick and prices were hiked up accordingly. Book in advance on sites like Agoda or be prepared to barter hard for longer term stays.

Food and Alcohol

Philippines Budget 4This is the hardest figure to admit to.

As I was totting it all up I simply couldn’t believe it. Well, I kind of could as its me all over…

I spent £425 on food and drink ALONE. Almost half my entire spend.

That’s what eating out in restaurants and bingeing on cocktails does to you! That’s a hard to swallow average of £21.25 a day.

manila sunset cocktailHow I could have saved money: Easily. I worked out that if I ate fried rice 3 times a day then I would have only spent £70.50 over the 20 days. But, I wanted cocktails on the beach and to eat slap-up Filipino fare with my feet in the sand. I ate from food markets and in tiny family-run roadside joints so it wasn’t all fine dining and tiny umbrellas in my drinks. I just like my food ok?!

Activities

Philippines Budget 4We took 3 boat trips (Tour A & C in El Nido and the Underground River Tour) as well as hiring a moped for two days.

The boat trips cost a total of £60.30 and the moped for two days was £9.55p/p. This made the overall total for activities a reasonable £69.85.

El Nido moped 7How I could have saved money: If you’re in El Nido then island-hopping is a must. You can sign-up to the ready-made tours like I did or, if you grab yourself a bunch of mates, you can do it solo.

We met a few people who had hired a boat and a captain and created their own blend of Tour A and C. Splitting the costs between a group meant that the cost came to around £6 p/p saving almost £30!

Transport

1 Boracay BoatLuckily transport around the Philippines is cheap! The average tricycle ride would set us back £0.73, a single jeepney journey £0.15 and an hour-long metered taxi ride in Manila cost £4.41.

Chuck in 3 internal flights totaling £82.28, a return journey to Boracay from Kalibo for £17.65 and Puerto Princesca to El Nido and back for £16.17 and various terminal fees of £17.64 for a grand total of £155.61.

Philippines Budget 7How I could have saved money: I kept transport costs cheap and to a minimum. I spent a lot of time walking or travelling as the locals did and got a the internal flights for a steal! If you’re planning on booking internal flights in the Philippines book in advance. Also, only take hand-luggage and you can score flights for as low as £15 one way.

Miscellaneous

Philippines Budget 3We had some unexpected costs such as £10.29 on suncream and £1.50 on sun-hats. We also splashed £1.40 on a litre of local rum, funded my Buko addiction spending £22.20 over the 20 days and keeping ourselves hydrated with £29.40 worth of water.

This all came to £64.79.

Philippines Budget 8How I could have saved money: I could have risked bringing the suncream I left in Manila. I thought that there might be a 100ml rule for internal flights but not so! Suncream on the islands was really hard to hunt down and very expensive.

I’ve heard that there are clean water taps on Boracay and El Nido which are free or a very minimal cost which I will make the most of next time!

The Overall Cost

Philippines Budget 9So after 20 days in the Philippines I spent a grand total of £960.08.

Yup, it’s more than I had anticipated and I definitely could have spent a lot less. But would I change it? Nope.

As an introduction to my new #gaplife, living the life of luxury in the Philippines was perfect. Lazing around on beaches, sipping on coconuts and slipping into a clean, comfy bed every night was bliss!

When I inevitably return to the Philippines I’ll be more budget conscious (promise). It’s definitely possible and will be just as fun. Just you wait!

Have you been to the Philippines? Did you stick to a budget? Let me know in the comments below or via my social media pages.

 

1 Ryan Manila

Ryan’s Weekly Round-Up: Month One

1 Ryan ManilaBy some miracle I’ve convinced my #gaplife partner in crime to guest post for the third time! If you’ve missed Ryan’s previous posts catch up here and here. When you’re all up to date, check back in for Ryan’s thoughts on our latest leg of the #gaplife journey.

It’s been a little while now since my last post, a little too long methinks to try to fool people that this is the next weekly round-up. I hold my hands up, okay? It seems that a weekly blog post was too much to handle for a man with the attention span of an excitable young puppy. But I’ll give it another crack and rebrand the whole thing. So, without further ado, I’ll give you a quick round-up of our first month on our travels in … Ryan’s Monthly Roundup.

When I last wrote we were halfway through our whirlwind tour of the Philippines and were heading to what promised to be the best island of the lot, Palawan. I had hoped that this Island in the southwest corner of the Philippines would offer the rugged beauty and serenity that I had hoped to find and it sure as hell delivered. We spent the majority of our time in the small coastal town of El Nido. Nestled between sheer limestone cliffs and the never-ending azure of the South China Sea, the town has become something of a haven for backpackers and holidaying locals, offering stunning vistas, great food, cheap beers and a whole lot of adventure to boot.

Ryans Month 2From the town you could arrange boat trips out the surrounding islands, exploring deserted beaches and snorkeling in lagoons and underwater caves. However undoubtedly the best experience was renting our own motorbike for a couple of days and really staking out and exploring the island properly. There’s nothing quite travelling on the open road, tearing past wonderful scenery and picturesque towns, stopping when something takes your fancy or just continuing aimlessly until something grabs your attention. With this newfound freedom we explored the forests, trekked to waterfalls and natural hot springs and stumbled across the most sublime beaches I have ever seen in my short life. This island had finally delivered on everything the Philippines had promised and is certainly a place I will visit again and again. The mandatory trip back to Manila is but a long faded memory now, when I think of the Philippines now, I will forever think of this magnificent island.

Ryans Month 1After the Philippines however came the real reason that we are travelling after all, to live and work in the never-ending expanse of island that is Australia. A short 8 hour flight took us straight from the smog and humidity of Manila to the immaculate and slightly more forgiving city of Melbourne.

Now I have always had a strange relationships with cities, I consider myself something of a country boy and so it usually takes a while for a city to wrestle me into submission. Melbourne however was very different. The city is flawlessly clean, the people are friendly and relaxed and there is a  sprawl of suburbs to explore, each with its own unique identity. The cuisine and coffee culture is second to none, I am yet to have a bad cup of coffee or inadequate meal. On top of all of this however there is a strange feeling that intrigues me above all else, the feeling of not having left Europe. I’m still undecided as to whether or not this is a good thing, all I do know is that it is relatively easy to forget that you are standing on the absolute opposite side of the world on a continent which, until just a couple of hundred years ago, was unexplored and unknown to the Western World.

Ryans Month 3So this is where I will leave it for now. We have arrived in the city and are moving into a house share imminently. We are searching high and low for some decent employment and are chomping at the bit to explore the city in-depth and try our hands at becoming fully fledged Melburnians.

Have you ever felt immediately at home in a city? Let me know in the comments below or via my social media pages!

You can follow Ryan on Instagram here.

Best Country in SEA 2

Why the Philippines is the Best Country in South-East Asia

Best Country in SEA 2I’m putting it out there. It’s something I think a lot of people will agree with but few will admit to.

The Philippines is my favorite country in South-East Asia.

There, I’ve said it. It’s out in the open. It’s bumped former fave Thailand from the top-spot, bypassed Laos and blown Cambodia out of the water. Soz.

Like every great love affair, I didn’t expect it to happen.

Here, I’m going to attempt to explain why I fell head over heels for this often overlooked island nation and why you CAN’T skip it on your visit to South-East Asia.

Visa

Carry on Essentials151 countries benefit from 30 visa-free days in the Philippines. There’s no hassle, no charge and no worries for a whole month! See if your country is exempt here.

Cheapest alcohol in the world

manila sunset cocktailThis one’s self-explanatory. There are few places where you can get a 40p rum and coke watching the sunset or grab a beer for 70p.

The Philippines is also home to San Miguel Light which has the same alcohol content as normal but ONLY 100 CALORIES. Why isn’t this a thing everywhere?! Guilt free drinking!

It’s still undeveloped

Best Country in SEA 5It feels like the whole of South-East Asia has become saturated with gap year backpackers all scrabbling for the last patch of sand or queuing up to be blessed by phony monks.

You have to search a lot harder to find ‘real’ experiences nowadays.

Not so in the Philippines. The country is still relatively new on the backpacker radar and islands like Palawan still hold that ‘final frontier’ magic. I even began to get annoyed at how underdeveloped Palawan was, there were so many beautiful sights that are still hidden from tourists. You either had to dig around to find them or stumble upon them by surprise.

The best beaches in the world

Best Country in SEA 3Sand that stretches uninterrupted for miles, crystal clear water and lazy palm trees strung with hammocks. The Philippines is beach bum bliss. You can head to beaches like White Beach in Boracay which has everything you’ll ever need in walking distance of your hammock, or hide away on the deserted beaches of Palawan with just the coconuts for company.

Don’t just stick to the sand, the water is teeming with amazing sea-life, packed with coral and tropical fish. The snorkeling and diving are world-class and not to be missed.

Cheap internal flights

manila sunsetThe 7000 islands of the Philippines are spread out over 300,000 square kilometres. But you don’t need to rely on overcrowded ferries or spend hours on a bus, you can simply fly. If you book in advance, flights can cost as little as £15 one way and open up the whole archipelago.

Diversity

manila national museumWant your culture fix? Head to North Luzon for hanging coffins and ancient towns. Want natural wonders? Fly to the Chocolate Hills in Bohol or the perfectly conical volcanoes of the mainland. Beaches? Check. Rare wildlife? Check. Hiking? Check.

The amazing ecological diversity of the Philippines means that there is something for everyone, beach bums and culture vultures alike.

The people

Best Country in SEA 4After travelling South-East Asia it gets tiresome having to always be on the lookout for con artists. Simply taking a taxi or tuk-tuk becomes a chore as you have to barter and reason with the drivers then cross your fingers and hope that he sticks to his end of the bargain. Not so in the Philippines.

In the Philippines it was so nice to actually trust people. True, there’s a couple of bad eggs out there but overall everyone was lovely. Kids would chase you in the street, not to get your money but to say hello and shower you with high-fives. Tricycle drivers would take you straight where you needed to go without a fuss, when we hired a moped it didn’t break down and the vendor didn’t add on extras.

It seems like a lot of areas in the Philippines haven’t yet been dragged into the dark side of tourism. Scams seem relatively rare here and it’s so refreshing to be able to chat to someone without being coerced into buying tacky trinkets or keeping an eye on your valuables.

The festivals

El Nido 5Filipinos love a party. Any excuse and they pour onto the streets, stringing up bunting and organising beauty pageants. It’s great!

We were in El Nido when they celebrated their 99th birthday with a fortnight of celebrations, because why the heck not?! It’s a great way to meet the locals and get involved with some of the stranger Filipino traditions, like caribou racing and drag queen contests.

Sunsets

Best Country in SEA 1I saw the best sunsets of my life in the Philippines. Manila, Boracay and El Nido delivered fiery melting suns daily. I made sure I never missed a single one.

The modes of transport

Best Country in SEA 6Squidging into a jeepney never got old. Chugging around the streets of Manila, squeezed next to smiling old ladies was one of my fondest memories. The fact that journeys cost less than 10p made it even better!

On the islands, tricycles and mopeds were the main means of getting from A to B. Working out how to fit your bags and you into the tiny trikes always proved an amusing challenge.

No language barrier

Island Hopping El Nido 7I love experiencing a new language and trying to decipher shop signs and menus. But sometimes it nice to be able to ask where the toilet is rather than work out how to convey it in sign language…

By removing the language barrier it’s so much easier, and quicker, to get to know people or casually chat in passing.

I loved the Philippines but have barely scratched the surface. I’ll definitely be back to explore more of my new favorite South-East Asian country.

What’s your favorite South-East Asian country? Do you agree with me? Let me know in the comments below or via my social media pages!

 

month 1 4

#Gaplife: Month One

month 1 4Every month I will be writing a round-up of my #gaplife adventures. From where I’ve been to what I’ve eaten, I’ll be keeping you up-to-date with everything that’s been happening on and away from The Student Travels. Enjoy!

Places Visited: Manila, Philippines. Boracay, Philippines. Palawan, Philippines. Melbourne, Australia.

What’s Been Happening Away From the Blog

  • Since arriving in Melbourne I’ve been trying to set down some roots! I’ve got an Aussie bank account, phone number, a new place to move into on April 13th (more on that soon) and I’m on the hunt for a job. It’s going to be a busy 3 months…

month 1 8Highs

  • The first day with the moped in El Nido. Having the freedom of controlling where we went and when was perfect. When we were bored of one beautiful spot we would simply move on to another. Bliss!
  • Every sunset in Boracay. Watching the sun spectacularly melt away with a 40p rum ‘n’ coke in hand was as far away from the 9-5 as you can get.Boracay Sunset Water
  • Having clean laundry for the first time in 3 weeks. I was overly excited about slipping into clean clothes after nearly a month of re-wearing and sink washes.
  • Arriving in Melbourne. I was so excited to be back in Oz and to make myself at home in Melbourne. I can tell that I’m going to be falling head over heels for this city.
  • Every single pinch-me moment. And there were a lot. Every time where I took a step back and thought how lucky I was to finally be living out my dream!

Month 1 1

Lows

  • The smog in Manila. I am only the tiniest bit asthmatic but Manila turned me into a wheezing, sickly mess. You could feel the smog clog your pores and coat your lungs, something that I have never experienced before even in highly polluted Chinese cities. Never before have I had to scrape black gunge from my ears or nose after a day in the city. Yuck.manila national museum
  • Waiting five hours for a taxi at Manila airport. Yes, there is a Manila-bashing streak going here. After touching down from the island bliss that is Palawan, we were burdened with a FIVE HOUR wait for an airport taxi. Landing at rush hour was never going to be ideal but with seemingly only 3 or 4 taxis serving the entire domestic terminal, this was just horrendous. The queue was easily a kilometer long and even multiple San Miguel’s at the night market after did little to ease the pain and frustration.manila old town colour
  • Chundering on my birthday. Usually if I’m sick on my birthday it’s because I’ve had a pretty good night the evening before. This time however, I was just sick. And it sucked. In between throwing up, we managed to escape to the Underground River but it meant that I couldn’t eat or drink anything all day. Anyone who knows me will know that was torture! Watching Ryan devour my gorgeous birthday meal was a very sad time indeed.Month 1 3

Most Popular Blog Post

This month saw the best stats I’ve ever received and continues the rise in readers on thestudenttravels.com! So thank you to each and every one of ya and please keep reading!

1 Ryan ManilaThrough gritted teeth, Ryan’s Weekly Round-up: Week 1 has secured the title of Most Popular Blog Post this month, closely followed by Welcome to Manila. I’m not bitter at all…

Most Liked Instagram Picture

month 1 6It was a good first month for Instagram, with record likes and follows. The spectacular scenery of the Philippines spoke for itself (#nofilter) but this shot of beautifully bright Bulabog Beach on Boracay shouted the loudest.

Follow me on Instagram here.

Favorite Picture

month 1 7This was a toughy.

But after browsing the hundreds of images I’ve already captured, the top spot has to go to this shot of Nacpan Beach. This was probably the most beautiful view of the trip and looking at this snap already brings back some warm and fuzzy memories.

Favorite Eat

month 1 9Photo Credit

First place would have easily have gone to Kalui in Puerto Princesca for my birthday meal. This seafood extravaganza was cheap and looked incredible but unfortunately I had to experience it solely through Ryan’s continuous praise.

For food that I could actually digest, the winner has to be the falafel burger at Blue Azul in El Nido. I didn’t expect to find the best falafel I’ve ever tasted in the Philippines but I did. I may have eaten this more than once, or twice…

Favorite Place

El Nido moped 12Nacpan Beach, El Nido. This place is stunning and beautifully underdeveloped. It had the perfect level of amenities with a few hammocks and a beach bar to keep me stocked up with juice straight from the coconut. When I wanted the beach completely to myself, I could just head further along and hunt out a patch all to myself. You can’t ask for more than that!

What I’m Looking Forward to Next Month

month 1 5I can’t wait to start exploring Melbourne and hopefully find a job!

We are kicking off the month seeing Adam Hills and Sara Pascoe perform at the Comedy Festival and are on the lookout for more gigs and nights out in Melbourne. Any suggestions Melburnians?

Where have you been this month? Let me know via my social media pages or in the comments below!

Is there anything else you’d like me to include in my monthly round-ups? Let me know!

Underground River 7

Turning 23: Sick Bags and UNESCO Sites

Underground River 7The worst thing to happen when you travel is getting sick. The worst thing to happen on your birthday is getting sick. Put them together and it’s the perfect recipe for a disastrous day. However, team it with a trip to the Underground River, a UNESCO world heritage site and natural wonder, and maybe just maybe it can be salvaged.

I had spent the eve of my 23rd birthday hugging the toilet bowl and wishing the world would end. Our 6am wake-up call did little to deter this feeling of helplessness.

I had a brief respite from my downward spiral when I opened my cards from home and made the most of my ‘birthday in an envelope’. An ingenious idea from my mum, the envelope included a balloon, candle and party hats. It definitely brought a smile to my sweaty, sickly face.

Underground River 2I managed to crawl into the minibus which took us 2 hours from Puerto Princesca to Sabang, the gateway to the Underground River. Here we waited with crowds of Filipino tourists to board a Bangka boat which would drop us closer to the mouth of the river.

We waited a long time.

When we were finally shepherded onto the Bangka I was not in a good way. The luminous life-jackets did my vaguely green complexion no favours. I’m usually prone to seasickness as it is so the rumble of the bangka’s aging engine was not very helpful in my current state.

Underground River 1We finally reached the entrance to the cave where we were shepherded to another waiting area whilst we were assigned boatmen who would take us on our 45 minute trip inside the cave.

We waited a long time.

Underground River 3Luckily the Filipino crowd were good company and lots of them were intrigued by our pasty skin and our Lithuanian tour member’s blonde hair. It was like being a celebrity in China all over again!

Finally we were herded onto a tiny boat (we were feeling pretty cattle-like by now) and began our journey underground. The Underground River is stunning. The rock formations are amazing and the cathedral-esque high ceilings and breathtaking. The cave is home to millions of tiny bats (remember to keep your mouth shut when you look up or it will get pooed in) which twitter and swoop just above your head.

The river has a calm serenity to it, when you’re gliding through on the boat it is as if you are the very first people to explore it and to appreciate its eerie silence.

Well, that’s what I imagined it to be like.

Underground RIver 5In reality, our tour guide had an unrelenting script to reel off to us. Fine. If it was informative and would explain the history of the river then great!

But we were in the Philippines and geological fact was much better replaced with comparing the rocks to what they best resembled.

We saw rocks which looked like rotting carrots, poo and the Virgin Mary. An eggplant there, batman here and a couple of lions chucked in for good measure. After 45 minutes we knew absolutely nothing about the cave but could point out a stone that looked like a tomato from miles away.

As soon as we were back on dry land we were swept away to get back on the Bangka. Ryan was let down that we hadn’t seen any of the monkeys or monitor lizards that called this area home and I was disappointed that we weren’t allowed out of our cattle pen to explore.

Underground River 4And that there was more waiting.

Finally back in Sabang it was time for lunch. The lunch was probably the best part of the day. Well, I’m guessing seeing as I couldn’t eat any of it. There was a massive buffet spread with plenty of exotic dishes and yummy curries. I ate three squares of potato and that was pushing it. Luckily, Ryan was able to scoff enough for both of us.

Then it was home-time and I crawled back onto the bus. The excursion had cost us 1,500php each plus an extra 40php p/p environmental charge on top.

That’s more than any of our island hopping tours.

The river is great but your whole day centres on those measly 45 minutes you spend underground. In a way the constant shepherding is okay as it means that the park is kept clean and orderly. The waiting around wasn’t due to a lack of organization, purely just down to the number of people who want to visit this wonder.

I suppose that it’s great so many people come out to see it and that they still manage to sustain a clean and healthy environment but sad that people can’t be trusted to explore by themselves.

Underground River 6

My birthday evening consisted of a minor emotional breakdown followed by a gorgeous dinner at famed Kalui (which Ryan enjoyed immensely and I enjoyed watching him enjoy it). Little did I know that this bug would follow me to Oz but also allow me to lose the weight I’d piled on in the Philippines so every cloud eh?

Despite feeling so sorry for myself, I had to remind myself to put everything into perspective. I was on the other side of the world with one of my favorite people living out my dream. There was always going to be bumps along the way but I don’t have much to complain about in reality. It just means that I can have birthday 2.0 in Melbourne! Bring it on.

Have you ever had a dud birthday or been ill when traveling? Let me know via my social media pages or in the comments below!

El Nido moped 1

El Nido on Two Wheels

El Nido moped 1

The best, and the only, way to see El Nido is on two wheels. As most of the roads are still unpaved and unsuitable for cars and coaches, hop on a moped and go see the island yourself!

Moped hire is from as low as 600 php and make sure they chuck the helmets in for that price too! 150php (under £2) will fill up your tank which should see you through the day.

El Nido moped 7I had never hired or driven a moped before due to fears over safety, getting scammed and my general ineptitude at driving.

In the Philippines however, the roads are generally a lot clearer and nowhere near as manic as their equivalent in Thailand or Greece. Also, vendors in El Nido aren’t there to scam you or try to sell you a dodgy bike. They’re just there to make a living and hope you get a good day out of it.Obviously you have to be wary of the odd bad apple, but generally they are an alright bunch.

I still would never hire a bike in any other South-East Asian country but in El Nido it was a safe and cheap way to explore.

El Nido moped 3Once your helmet is strapped on and you hit the road, make sure you check out my favourite spots this end of the peninsula.

Nacpan Beach

El Nido moped 13Probably my favorite beach of my Philippine’s trip. Powder white sands, hammocks, coconuts on demand and a perfectly clear, warm sea. If the midday crowds get too much then head further up the beach and climb the rocky outcrop for some killer views.

We inadvertently picked up two of the cutest kids who showed us the best paths up the hill then skipped off expecting nothing in return. Just don’t attempt to climb this final path unless you have some pretty decent climbing attire. I tried and ended up sliding my way down on my bum. And that soot doesn’t wanna come out of denim shorts…

El Nido moped 12Make sure you bring your environmental card to avoid a further 200php fee for entry.

Makinit Hot Springs

El Nido moped 11By far the weirdest stop. Keep your eyes peeled for the limited signage directing you to the springs. Once there, trudge for 15 minutes over the rice fields and let the few and far between locals direct you the rest of the way.

These hot springs are probably the least visited stop on the list and I would be very surprised if you bumped into anyone there. Be transported back to Jurassic times at the eerie springs, where bright green waters bubble and steam. Cross the logs precariously balanced across the boiling water and follow the smell of sulphur to the spring’s source.

El Nido moped 2Well worth the visit for the oddness alone.

Nagkalit-Kalit Waterfall

El Nido moped 9This 90 minute round-hike to the waterfalls is well worth the moderate effort. Easily attempted in flip-flops and without a guide (despite the local’s insistence) this easy amble takes you through some beautiful palm-studded farm land and thick jungle. You wade through rivers, clamber up rocks and get interrupted by passing caribou but the effort pays off when you reach the (usually deserted) falls.

El Nido moped 8True, the falls aren’t the most impressive out there, but they are a tranquil retreat nonetheless.

Duli Beach

El Nido moped 5About an hour north of El Nido lies Duli Beach. This long stretch of perfect sand is usually deserted but would be crammed if it were more accessible. Take the time to sunbathe and swim in your own empty paradise and try not to think of what developers will do to it in the future…

Be prepared to pay 50php for admission.

Safari Verde Beach

El Nido moped 4Home to only a small exclusive eponymous guest house, this is your private slice of Robinson Crusoe wilderness. Paddle in the shallows or relax in the shade whilst making the most of this peaceful oasis.

Be warned! The moped ride here is not for the faint-hearted! This beach is situated in the very north of the island where the dirt tracks become vertical and almost impassable by moped. I had to get off and walk down many of the hills otherwise the moped would lose traction on the sand and chuck us off. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride of my life…

El Nido moped 6Have you ever hired a moped to explore El Nido? What are your thoughts? Let me know via my social media pages or in the comments below!

Island Hopping El Nido

Island-Hopping in El Nido

Island Hopping El Nido

El Nido is the gateway to the Bacuit Archipelago, an area of protected natural beauty scattered over 175 square miles. With stunning limestone cliffs rocketing from crystal clear sea tingling with marine life, the archipelago is a natural wonder and one not to be missed.

You can choose from four main day tours which explore the vast spread of islands, imaginatively named A through to D. A and C are the most popular due to their distinct beauty and prime snorkeling opportunities. Following the masses, we booked onto both and set off to sea.

Tour A

Fast facts

Cost: 1,200php (including lunch and snorkeling gear) + 200 php environmental fee (good for 10 days).

Islands visited: Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, Small Lagoon, 7 Commandos Beach.

Tour A is probably the most popular tour of them all. My heart sank when we joined a flotilla of boats heading for the first island. Luckily our driver peeled away from the main bulk of Bangka boats and chugged our group of 8 towards the Big Lagoon rather than busier Small Lagoon.

Island Hopping El Nido 4

Big Lagoon is spectacular and looks like it’s been plucked straight from an imaginary tropical paradise. Unfortunately it was only a ‘sight-seeing stop’ so we weren’t allowed to take a dip in the shockingly blue calm water.

Our next destination was Secret Lagoon. The lagoon is only accessible through a tiny opening in the limestone which you clumsily clamber through to get to the exotic dream on the other side. Well it would have been a dream if not for the bangkas worth of Korean tourists. But hey ho.

Island Hopping El Nido 5

We stuffed our faces with fresh fish and fruit platters on Shimizu Island, before forcing our bloated bodies into the sea for some snorkeling. The coral was beautiful, with lots of ‘brain’ formations which were being lovingly pecked at by multicoloured fish. We spotted bright blue star fish on the ocean bed and lazy anemones clinging to the rocks. The only problem was the choppy water which flooded our snorkels and lowered the visibility.

Island Hopping El Nido 6

Now it was time to try our luck with the Small Lagoon. Unfortunately everyone had the same idea as us, descending on the Small Lagoon later on. The lagoon was clogged with incompetent kayakers which made snorkeling perilous.

Island Hopping El Nido 7They weren’t the only threat to us in the water. Our guide Christopher happily warned us of the territorial fish which lurked in the shallows, attempting to take a nibble out of any unsuspecting snorkelers. With this nugget of advice ringing in our ears we dodged the kayakers and swam off.

Island Hopping El Nido 8

On the way we passed some freaky looking zombie-Angel Fish. I thought they were dead but they slowly skulked off when you got near. I have never seen anything like them before.

Island Hopping El Nido 15

What are these?!

Although the Small Lagoon was crammed with visitors, it was inescapably gorgeous and worth the risk from kayakers and hungry fish.

Island Hopping El Nido 9

Our final stop was 7 Commandos Beach. Home to a couple of beach bars, we stocked up on coconuts and made the most of probably one of the most scenic swings ever.

DCIM100GOPRO

Tour A is the perfect introduction to the Bacuit Archipelago. Although it’s a busy and well-trodden route, it is obvious why it’s so popular. I would have liked more time in the water, but that is what Tour C is celebrated for…

Tour C

Fast facts

Cost: 1,400 php (including lunch and snorkeling gear).

Islands visited: Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Hidden Beach.

Our Tour C was a bit of a shambles. A lot of waiting around and a rickety old boat which the crew seemed a bit scared of. Not the best of starts!

Island Hopping El Nido 11

Nevertheless we chugged along to Helicopter Island where we eagerly hopped into the water. Unfortunately, they have an algae problem there at the moment so the visibility wasn’t as good as we’d hoped. The coral and fish were still lovely though.

Island Hopping El Nido 1

Next up was the eerie Matinloc Shrine. Stranded on an island in the middle of the archipelago and formally home to a long abandoned resort, the Shrine is very strange but also interestingly beautiful. You can scale up grooves cut into the limestone to a great lookout point, offering views of the perfect sea and beyond.

Island Hopping El Nido 2

The normal lunch-stop spot was busy so we peeled off to our own island to relax and tuck into another fabulous meal. Ryan even managed to find a phone washed up on the beach in a waterproof case. Miraculously the phone still worked and its owner was still in El Nido so we were able to reunite them after 2 days at sea. Good karma all round!

Our guide tried to convince us to skip the Secret Lagoon due to crowds but we insisted and were glad we did. Yes, the lagoon was crowded but the water was as warm as a bath and shallow enough so that fish swam right in front of your face.

Island Hopping El Nido 12

The final stop was Hidden Beach which we had all to ourselves. It was probably one of my favorite stops, you can’t beat relaxing in the shallows surrounded by beautiful white sand and droopy palms.

The jury was out on the long Bangka ride back to shore. Ryan had enjoyed Tour C more, whereas Tour A had clinched it for me. I think it was seeing the spectacular limestone cliffs for the first time that made Tour A stand out for me. It was great to keep being surprised by the rocketing cliffs at every turn.

Top Tips

  • Bring sea shoes. You can get along without them but it will be uncomfortable on some of the islands.
  • It’s ok to bring your camera or tablet. I was annoyed that I was solely reliant on the GoPro on Tour A. As long as you bring a backpack to pop your electricals in when it gets a bit choppy, they will be fine.
  • Stock up on suncream. When you’re out at sea the pleasant breeze can be misleading as it’s often a lot hotter than it feels. Don’t make the same mistakes we did…
  • Don’t expect your ‘guides’ to know anything. Neither of our guides knew anything about the marine life or the islands themselves. If you’re interested then it looks like Wikipedia is your best bet.
  • Keep hold of your environmental cards! You will need it for all tours and for entry to some beaches on the island so don’t lose it!

Have you done the island-hopping tours? Which was your favorite? Let me know via my social media pages or in the comments below!

EL Nido 2

Hello El Nido!

EL Nido 2

El Nido was everything we wanted. Adventure, culture and stunning scenery all wrapped up in a cute, relaxed little town five hours from Palawan’s premier city Puerto Princesca.

El Nido 3

The quiet curve of El Nido’s bay is edged with razor-sharp rocks which shoot up from the sea as if surprised. The scenery has been compared to that of Krabi in Thailand or Vietnam’s Halong Bay but I think El Nido beats them both.

It is surreal, to wake up and stare out of the window and be confronted with a sheer wall of limestone rock peering back at you.

We had also managed to stumble upon a fiesta. The Philippines is famed for its legendary fiestas which can stretch for days and include everything from street parades to beauty pageants.

El Nido was celebrating 99 years as a principality, and what better way to celebrate than have a week-long birthday party?!

El Nido 1

The streets were strung with bunting and the covered basketball court played host to dinners and shows every night.

El Nido has a population of nearly 30,000 people and it seemed like most of these people flooded onto the streets each night to browse the market, gamble on the main street or watch the evening performances.

This was the main, most immediate difference between El Nido and Boracay. El Nido, despite having the usual strip of restaurants and guest houses, was a town still predominated with locals.

And they were probably the friendliest locals yet! El Nido hasn’t been tarnished with the ugliness of mass tourism as yet so when the kids smile and shout hello at you, they’re not trying to sell you anything, they’re just being friendly.

Crazy right?!

El Nido 4

But back to the fiesta and my favourite show of all. Miss Gay El Nido 2015.

Here, a bunch of fabulous looking drag queens battled it out to become crowned this year’s Festival Queen. Coming from all over Palawan, they strutted their stuff down the catwalk and danced until they could dance no more!

El Nido 5

They even had to come and dance their way through the crowds when the power went out for around half an hour. It certainly kept the audience happy!

El Nido 6

The Philippines have been historically accepting of the gay community due to their strong family ties and loyalty. In the small town of El Nido alone, we saw plenty of guys wearing lipstick or with boyfriends and no one batted an eyelid. Another reason why the Philippines is perfect.

El Nido 7

The roads to El Nido are still only half paved and the airport is undeveloped and infrequently used. This hopefully means that El Nido will be safe from McDonalds and skyscraper hotels for a couple of years yet. As it stands, El Nido is perfect for backpackers looking for a starting point for some amazing adventures.

And we still had them all to come…

But for now, it’s party time!

Have you visited El Nido or been to a Filipino festival? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below or via my social media pages!

 

1 Ryan Manila

Ryan’s Weekly Round-Up: Week 2

1 Ryan Manila

By some miracle I’ve convinced my #gaplife partner in crime to guest post for the second week in a row! If you’ve missed Ryan’s first post, catch up here. When you’re all up to date, check back in for Ryan’s thoughts on our latest leg of the #gaplife journey.

Lying right in the heart of this vast archipelago, lies the tiny island of Boracay.  Despite its meagre size (measuring just 7 km by 1 km) the island has an unrivalled amount of visitors and, with a disconcerting eye, it is easy to see why. The island offers its visitors the chance to indulge in a paradise seascape without having to abandon their modern day standards of comfort and convenience. The main attraction for said holidaymakers is a stretch of sand on the southern side of the Island, named White Beach. Here, along a 2 km stretch of bleach white sand, you can sit and admire the vast, never ending blue of the South China Sea, whilst indulging to your heart’s content on a Big Mac or Starbucks Coffee.

Ryan Mount LuhoDespite this, the island is not yet utterly devoid of its natural charm. If you can detach yourself from the throngs of pasty tourists that scour the beach and switch off from the constant drone of dreadful pop songs being blasted from the innumerable bars that line the beach, it will become obvious that the popularity of this island is undoubtedly justified. Even White Beach, the epicentre of the tourism which consumes the island, redeems itself every evening with a sunset that rivals any I have seen in my short life, including, and I do not say this lightly, those which belong to the charming town of Margate.

Boracay SunsetAway from White Beach though the island opens up a little. On the opposite shore, Bugalog Beach is deserted in comparison. The wind whips against this north facing stretch of sand, driving away most of the tourists and replacing them with windsurfers, whose colourful kites dominate the patch of sky directly above it. A favourable substitute no doubt. And better still, on the Western tip of the island lies Puka Beach. The beach is just a short 20 minute cycle ride from White Beach and as the road opens up before you, the resorts slowly fall away and reveal a vision of the island as it would have been years before the tourism boomed. The beach itself is much more rugged, from behind the jungle encroaches offering a thin slither of shade from the sun and the only perceptible sound is generated by the waves which clatter unremittingly against the shore.

White Beach BoracayI have a tendency to sound pessimistic about most things but ultimately this island will leave a positive print in my memory. The island is undeniably beautiful and if you harbor just a little adventure it is clear that this island offers so much more than just White Beach. There are countless coves and minute deserted beaches dotting the coastline and considering the size of the island, a coveted spot away from the crowds is never too far away. The island offered an easy induction to island life and will no doubt put us in good stead for our next destination, Palawan. This island, on the far western edge of the Philippines which will offer the adventure and remoteness which I had come here hoping to find.

Have you ever visited a destination to be let down by how touristy it had become? Let me know via my social media pages or in the comments below!

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