The Philippines was always a destination a bit unknown to us compared with the more popular Asian destinations like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. We heard amazing stories, came across beautiful photo’s and it was certainly a destination high on our bucket list, so to kick of our 2 month, 7 country Asia round trip we decided to start with the Philippines.
Just before we left, the horrible Typhoon Hayan ( known by the locals as Yolanda ) raged over the Philippines. We had our tickets booked and our complete trip was based on starting in the Philippines as we already booked our ticket from Manilla to Bangkok, which would be our 2nd destination during our Asia trip, and on top of that, when you travel to the Philippines you have to proof that you are leaving the country again by showing a return or outbound ticket.
Also, we felt of course terrible when we saw the devastating images and news update about Typhoon Hayan. Apparently the strongest winds ever recorded and the deadliest Typhoon in the Philippines history. Our friends and family where quite concerned about our plans to travel to the Philippines, and some even tried to persuade us to cancel, rebook or go at a later time. But for us that was no option. Lot’s of people live on income gained out of the tourism sector, and if everyone would stay away, things would get worse. Our departure date was scheduled 2 weeks after Typhoon Hayan, and we took off on our epic Asia round trip.
Flying to the Philippines
After a 45 minute flight from Kununurra, Western Australia to Darwin in the Northern Territory with local Airline Air North, we had to wait for a long time to catch the next flight from Darwin to Manilla. The thing with Darwin Airport is that the flights are not really convenient and adjusted to other flights, so we arrived in the early evening at 17.30 and had to wait till the middle of the night because our flight from Darwin to Manilla was scheduled at 03.10 am. So it wasn’t really worth an Airport hotel for those few hours as we had to check in around 01.00 am, and Airport Hotels in Darwin are quite expensive as well. So we made ourselves at home at the airport, watched some movies, had a bit of a nap and luckily time passed fairly quick so before we knew we could finally check in and after a smooth 4 hours and 15 minute flight with Jetstar we arrived in Manilla, the Capital of the Philippines at 05.55 local time.
Arriving in Manila
Was like BAM! No sleep during our night flight and so much impressions. Home to more than 12 million people, cars, buildings, slums, rubbish, modern suburbs, everything you can imagine you will see in this city. One of the most populated metropolitan areas in the world. Where to start?! Well, that answer was easy: Breakfast, Shower, Sleep and in that order.
Makati a suburb or a city?
We booked 2 nights at the Palm Rock Residence Hotel in the suburb of Makati. Actually they call Makati a city by itself in Metro Manila. Makati is known as the financial and business hub of the Philippines. You will also find the most foreign embassies in this Area. Makati is a really modern, safe and clean area full of nice restaurants and shopping malls with little retail shops and big international brands. We really enjoyed a relaxed few days here strolling around, shopping, eating and drinking. We booked 2 more nights to discover more of the surroundings and Manila.
Makati has a few railway stations, and also a monorail which connects Makati to Bonifacio Global City ( another business district ) Pasay and the Ninoy Aquino International airport. The Philippines first subway line is also going around the close suburbs around Makati. They also have this great taxi busses in all colours of the rainbow driving you from point A to B.
The Ayala Centre is a major commercial area in the Makati CBD. The centre is known for its wide array of shopping, entertainment and cultural offerings, making it a premier shopping and cultural district. It is a modern complex with high-end malls that houses cinemas, international and local shops, food chains and unique restaurants.
At night we went to the Ayala Triangle Gardens where we incidentally bumped into this amazing music and light festival. The vibe was amazing and there were lots of people out and about.
Aside from the Ayala Centre, the Rockwell Centre is also a popular shopping district in Makati. Here you will find the Power Plant Mall and on Saturday the open air community markets are quite popular by locals and tourists.
So what about Manila city?
Manila is with more than 12 million people a massive city and like in any other world city there are good and bad areas. We decided to concentrate more on the area where we were staying in Makati and Ayala, just to relax, shop and have some good food. But we couldn’t resist to have a little look into the big smoke of Manila and went to the Mall of Asia, which we didn’t find really spectacular, and the area of Instramuros, which means ‘inside the walls ‘ and is the oldest and historic centre of Manila. Here you can find buildings from the Spanish colonial time. Again, we weren’t really impressed. It was nice to walk through, but after a little while we decided to head back as our taxi driver told us before to get out of there before dark. I mean, he is a local, so it should mean something right?
When we drove back we also passed some of the slums. It’s so sad to see how people have to live in such environments, especially when you see children running there with clothes ripped apart and black dirt everywhere ( not the kind dirt after a day at daycare, but real long-term dirt )
We didn’t get out to look around, but Sabrina from www.justonewayticket.com went to Smokey Mountain, one of Manila’s slums and a massive dump side, where people pick up garbage for a living and actually live in it. She wrote an amazing article and captured stunning photo’s about it. Check it out here
If you want to stay closer to the Manilla City Centre and historical sights, the best and safest place to stay is in and around the area of Ermita. Have a look at www.bestlocationhotels.com They offer a range of hotels in the area.
From the hustle and the bustle to palm trees and white beaches
After 4 nights in Manila, it was time for our next destination, the tropical island of Boracay, a small island of only 7 kilometre long and 2 kilometre wide.
We arrived at the International Ninoy Aquino International Airport and we flew from Manila to Boracay via the domestic airport ‘ NAIA-4’ or locally known as the “Domestic Terminal”. NAIA4 accommodates low-budget and small airlines like Cebu Pacific Air, PAL express, Air Asia and Zest Air.
Well, we have seen a lot of airports in our life, but nothing so prehistoric than this one. Checking in seriously happened by hand on a piece of paper, there were no tv or computer screens with your flight details on it, there was just a letter board en a sticker on the desk which noted your flight and flight numbers. Amazing to experience this, and apparently it all works!
Flying to Boracay, Tropical Paradise in the Philippines.
We flew from Manila to Boracay with Zest Air in about an hour, and we literary landed with a Bam, as the runway was so bumpy and full of holes that the cockpit door actually flew open during our landing! As Boracay itself doesn’t have an airport, you fly from Manila to Caticlan, or in our case to Kalibo. Caticlan is closer to Boracay, and this is where the ferry goes to Boracay. Kalibo is a 1.5 hour drive away from Boracay. Most low-cost airlines fly at Kalibo. We loved that we had to drive for 1.5 hour as this was also an opportunity to see a bit more of the Philippines. We came across little villages, green fields and stunning nature, but also saw some of the damage Tyfoon Hayan had caused. In Manila they organised sausage sizzles and they sold coffee and other drinks, and they had donation points for the Tyfoon Hyan victims and rebuilding of the destroyed areas.
Chilling out at Boracay, one of the best Islands in the world
According to Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure Magazine and the New York Times Travel. Boracay is the most popular destination in the Philippines with more than 1.5 million visitors from all over the world, coming to this beautiful island every year, swimming in crystal clear water, soaking up the sun at the bright white sandy beaches and enjoying balmy summer evenings on the beach or strolling around on the boulevard with lots of shops, restaurants and bars.
So after our 1.5 your drive from Kalibo Airport to Caticlan, we had to travel the last bit by boat, which was really easy and only took about 10 minutes. You buy your tickets in the terminal and the boats are going really often during the day, so before you know you are enjoying Boracay’s relaxed island life. When you arrive at Boracay you can take a tuk tuk to your accomodation.
We enjoyed 4 super relaxed nights in Boracay, relaxing, swimming, strolling around and enjoying beach life.
Palawan, Philippines hidden treasure
After relaxing in Boracay, we wanted to see something more of the Philippines and after the city and the beach, it was time for some nature.
We always like to discover destinations which are less travelled and not like Boracay, full of tourists. So Palawan, caught our eye. Palawan is known by its jaw dropping nature, remote beaches, dreamy lagoons, one of the best snorkelling places in the world, the underground river and the romantic and dreamy village of El Nido. Sounds perfect right?! So we booked our flights again with Zest Air from Kalibo to Puerto Princesa ( Palawan ) via Manila. Unfortunately there are no direct flights from Kalibo ( Boracay ) to Puerta Princesa ( Palawan ) yet, so you have to fly back to Manila, and then fly from Manila to Palawan in about 1.5 hour.
We booked a return ticket and had 7 nights to explore the stunning beauty of Palawan. We started in the Capital City of Palawan, Puerto Princesa. In Puerto Princesa we didn’t find anything particularly special, but of course we wanted to check out the Underground River. The Underground River is located around 80 kilometre from Puerto Princesa and features a spectacular limestone cave landscape with an underground river going through it. The underground river, which is the longest in the world, emerges directly into the sea and the lower part of the river is subject to tide influences. Inside the cave it is really dark, but our guide had a massive flash light, so you could see this stunning natural wonder. We weren’t allowed to have our flash on the camera on, but we still manage to get some photo’s for a little impression.
Crazy rides from Puerto Princesa to El Nido.
As there are no flights from Puerto Princesa to El Nido, the only way to go to El Nido is by land if you are already in Palawan. There is an option to fly from Manila to El Nido, but in our case we took the bus ( mini van ) in 5.5 hours from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. The mini vans are quite comfy, but keep in mind that these guys are driving FAST!! Like fast in a way it wouldn’t be suitable for pregnant lady’s and people with back and neck injuries. What a crazy ride! Nothing compared with some crazy rides we had in Laos, Myanmar or Thailand, but this is for another story 😉 Anyway, the stunning green nature of Palawan was literary flashing by when bumping and shaking our way to El Nido.
Our first night in El Nido we had a great evening with some lovely people we met along the way, and with the same people we hired a boat and skipper for the next day to sail from El Nido to some hidden beaches and Laguna’s to snorkel and relax. Nothing flash, just a typical Philippine wooden boat with 2 amazing local guys and it was really cheap, especially as we shared the ride with the other guys. This was seriously one of the best things we had done so far, as the Nature in the bay of El Nido is just unbelievably gorgeous. We can give you a great impression with our photo’s, but if you get the change, you have to go here one day, as the vibe, the views and the snorkelling here is seriously the best in Asia.
We went to little remote islands where we were the only ones there, we snorkelled and saw the best coral we ever saw ( better than the Great Barrier reef in Australia ) we swam into shallow crystal clear water and we had a picnic lunch on a stunning white beach all for ourselves. This is seriously paradise on earth.
El Nido itself is also really cosy with little streets, a small centre with restaurants on the water, beach shacks, shops, and all in a bay surrounded by hills. Stunning! And so are El Nido’ s sunsets!
Flying and transferring to and from Manila Airport
After a few amazing days in El Nido, we had to travel back by mini van to Puerto Princesa. Same story, crazy ride and a flat tire along the way haha, but at the end we re all safe and sound ready for our flight back from Puerto Princesa to Manila.
After the Philippines we flew with Philippine Airlines from Manila to Bangkok to continue our Asian trip with our next adventure in Thailand. So we had to transfer from the Domestic Terminal NAIA-4 to the Manila International Terminal NAIA 1.
There are 2 ways to do this and the first one is by FREE shuttle service . Be aware that the waiting time can be quite long, the busses can be packed with people and luggage and we heard stories of drivers trying to charge you money on the FREE airport shuttle.
The other one, and the best way to go, when you are having another night or big lay over in Manila is by taxi. Now, this might seem easy enough, but Taxi’s in Manila can be a bit tricky. Massive traffic jams, long waits for ( honest and reliable ) metered taxi’s, scammer taxi drivers and rigged meters to just name a few things.
Especially the street taxi’s, which are white coloured and are officially not allowed to around drive from terminal to terminal, but they do, so they can try to rip unknown tourist off by charging them 20 times more than the official taxi fare. Never go with those white taxi’s. Take the Yellow Taxi’s instead as they are considered your best value with relatively fair drivers and clean taxi’s in general. Make sure the meter is on when you drive off and check the flag down fee is at the right price ( around PHP 75 – 80 ) There are also Coupon Taxi’s if you don’t want to hassle around with meters, or unfair driver as you buy your taxi coupon upfront ( they are a bit more expensive then the Yellow taxi’s though )