Monthly Archives: May 2011

Bohol Trip: The Details

Flight:  Cebu Pacific Air
Cost: Php 6,644.96 /per ticket (U$154.79) – carry-on only, no checked baggage

Everyone told me that it is very cheap to fly from Manila, that it shouldn’t be more than U$100 for local destinations, but I have yet to find tickets that cheap.  After checking prices at Cebu Pacific and Philippines Airlines, Cebu Pacific was by far the cheapest. 

The flights were only a little over an hour long, and it arrived on time both ways.  The seats were comfortable, and we even scored exit row seats on the way back!

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Hotel:  Alona Tropical Beach Resort
Cost:  Php 3,460.00/night (U$80.60)

We got the “Deluxe Air Conditioned Room” that included breakfast for two at their beach front restaurant.  The weather in Bohol was not hot – it was actually quite a bit cooler than Manila.  I’m not sure if that’s the usual weather there, or if we just got a cold spell, but we definitely could have saved the Php 1,000 per night by choosing a fan room.  We turned the AC on and off as needed, but it was off more often than it was on.

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The room even had an outdoor patio with a table and chairs.

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The breakfast was definitely worth it, though you could have just bought it on the spot, it was nice not having to carry cash with us for breakfast.  Plus, the only day that the restaurant was very busy was Saturday morning, and the beach front tables were reserved for those with the breakfast coupons.  Breakfast could also be eaten at anytime during the day, so even taking excursions in the morning didn’t mean we would miss it.  There were three options:  Filipino, Continental or American Breakfast.  We chose the American breakfast all three days, and it’s your standard eggs, toast, bacon, fruit juice, coffee setup.

The hotel had a lot of green area (which is probably one of the reasons it was a bit cooler) and a really nice pool. 

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It also had (which was heartbreaking for me) a monkey and many types of birds in cages, including an eagle, that would cry in a way that was saddening. 

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The beach wasn’t the long white sandy beach that I’m used to like we have in Brazil.  It had sand, but also quite a few rocks, so going in the water was tricky, as you had to be aware of what you’re stepping on.  (Water shoes might be a good idea though!)  If you like to snorkel, there’s definitely tons to see, right outside the hotel. 

The main problem with the beach?  Tons and tons of seaweed washed off right in front of the hotel.  I’m not sure if it’s a year-round thing, or just seasonal, but it was gross.  Said that, once you got past the seaweed, the water was clear.  Also, walking a bit further away from the  hotel and you had clear sand as well.  And no, I’m not exaggerating on the amount of seaweed…

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But as you can see, just on the other side of it the beach was much clearer.

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The day we left the seaweed had gone down a lot as well.

The beach is not a bad beach for people that have kids – no waves to speak of, just calm water, and you had to go quite a while before the water got deep.  The day we left there were a ton of jellyfish, but we didn’t see any on the days before then.  The good news?  The jellyfish were almost an orange color, and the water was so clear that it’s not hard to spot them quite a ways away from you.

Despite the seaweed problem, I would still recommend this hotel for the price.  The room was comfortable, clean, the area quiet and quite beautiful.

Food:

On that we were quite boring!  We ate at the Ooops! Bar just a little walk down from the hotel the first night, and shared the seafood platter.  The seafood was ok, and included a crab, but no mallets, so we wasted a bit on the parts we couldn’t crack with our hands.  Drinks were expensive, same price you would pay for a drink in the US.  Service was crap, we even had to get up to pay the bill, because no one would come to us despite trying to signal the hell out of it.

On the other two nights we ate at the Alona Tropical restaurant, which was the hotel restaurant.  For us it was perfect because we didn’t have to get sand on our freshly showered legs, but we were still just a few feet away from the water.  The food there was really good, we had beef both days.  The prices were reasonable as well (cheaper than where we live in Manila!).  The service was excellent – super-friendly waiters!

Activities:

Countryside Tour:  Php 2,500/car (fits 4 people, 3 comfortably – you can hire a van for another Php 1,000 if you have more people in your party)  NOTE:  Price does not include entrance fees/lunch.  Expect to pay anywhere from Php 10/person for the hanging bridge to Php 50/person for the Chocolate Hills.

We booked this tour with the same guy who drove us to the hotel from the airport.  The prices however are pretty standard whether you book through the hotel or with another driver, I guess the difference is that the hotel doesn’t get a cut when you book directly.  The tour included:

Tarsier Monkeys:
  it disappointed me that it was in a little tourist area, they were not in the wild, and there were quite a few other animals in cages as well,

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Chocolate Hills: A must-see if you go to Bohol!

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The butterfly conservatory:  A small little area setup with butterflies, but very interesting, with a knowledgeable tour guide.

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Man Made Forest: you drive by it for quite a while and the driver will stop for pictures.  It’s really pretty.

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Hanging Bridge:  It was fun – you cross the bridge once each way.  Pretty views of the river while you’re up there too.

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Riverboat Cruise:  You stop here for lunch (note that all these things are optional and you can tell your driver to skip it if you’d like).  We almost skipped it, but then we got hungry.  It isn’t cheap at Php 400/person, and the food wasn’t too great (noodles, rice, etc), but it was a relaxing boat trip and in the end it was a nice break for the day.

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Baclayon Church:  One of the oldest churches in Asia, and the oldest in the Philippines built in the Spanish era.  They also have a museum, which we didn’t visit (we were pretty tired at this point).

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Blood Compact Site:  A statue of a memorial friendship treaty.

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All in all, the trip took about 5.5 hours, and it’s definitely worth it to get to hit pretty much all the spots in Bohol.

Dolphin Watching and Balicasag Island Boat Trip:  Php 2,500 (for a boat that fits up to 5 people.  Another Php 1,000 if you need a bigger boat)

I loved this trip!  Dolphin watching was my favorite part of the whole trip to Bohol!  At first I was expecting to see a couple of dolphin here and there, but instead we saw at least a couple of DOZEN of them.  It was awesome!

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We spent about 15 minutes watching the dolphin then we went off to Balicasag Island.  Karl had a coffee while there, and I had a mango juice.  They were out of all the other flavors of juice.  The island was nice, but we couldn’t relax, there was this one guy there that was trying way too hard to get us to rent snorkeling stuff.  There’s even a trip you can take on another boat so you can go to the corals for snorkeling, but he was so persistent following us everywhere that we got sick of it and left the island sooner than we would have otherwise.

It was hard to walk on the island since it wasn’t sand but crushed corals, so our walk was cut short.  There wasn’t much of a space to go to the water either.  The picture below shows our boat, but ten minutes later the whole coast was covered with boats, and you were forced to swim on the 5-10 feet gap in between boats, so it wasn’t much fun.

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From there, we went to the virgin island, which is this TINY little island a few minutes away.  No one trying to sell you anything, not that many boats docked on the island itself, just on the sand bars that were near the island and just calm water to relax in.

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All in all, I really recommend this trip!  We were out for about 4.5 hours on the boat, for the cost of about U$60.  Since you don’t pay per person, this is even cheaper if you have more people on your party.

Bohol was the perfect first trip in the Philippines!

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Filed under Philippines, Travel, Travel Review, Trips!

Bohol Trip!

Websites in the Philippines are lacking.  For such a big place, it is really hard to find things online – it amazes me how many restaurants or other service providers do not have websites.  And when they do, it doesn’t have all the information you want to find.

So I decided to blog my trips while we’re in the Philippines in two ways:  my own recap of the trip, as I usually do, posting pictures and telling you what we did, and also a more in depth review, with information of the hotel, activities we did, prices and whether I recommend it or not, along with the pros and cons.  Hopefully, after enough trips it can help someone somewhere find the information they are looking for!

And without further ado…  We left early on Friday morning and hopped on a flight to Bohol – a little over an hour later, we could see this from the plane’s window:

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Can you imagine how excited I got?  The airport in Bohol was probably the smallest I ever seen, but it also meant that a couple of minutes after landing, we were already on our way to the hotel!

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And our hotel room was adorable with bamboo walls!

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And a LOT of green!

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We were right by the beach too, but when we arrived, it was drizzling, but Karl mentioned how he rather have rain at the beach than sun during a work day – true that!

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After a ridiculous long nap (it even rained quite a bit during our nap), we went out for dinner.  Can you beat this view?  (And don’t you just love those lights?)

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After wasting the whole day on Friday doing nothing due to the weather, on Saturday we woke up to sun!  We went out for breakfast at the beach (I can get used to this life…).

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Then took a car to go explore Bohol.  First stop?  The Tarsier monkeys!!!  They’re the smallest monkey in the world, and even full grown they are about fist size!

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Weirdest thing ever though, aren’t they?  Look at those fingers, like alien fingers!  And those big eyes!

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With their eyes closed, they kind of look like yoda, don’t they?

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So tiny!

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After that, we hit up the Chocolate Hills!  They are 1,776 of them in about a 20 square miles area.  During the dry season, they are brown instead of green, hence the name.  It’s one of the most visited places in the Philippines, and no surprise there:  the place is gorgeous!

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Chocolate hills as far as the eyes can see!

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I even took a picture of my camera bag, which I bought from Etsy a while back.  Love it!

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After the Chocolate Hills, we hit up the butterfly conservatory.  It was small but informative!

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There was ton of green space in Bohol, and our driver stopped midway to let us take a picture of it too!

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Then, it was off to the hanging bridge (which luckily is still hanging!).

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And it was off to lunch on a boat, where we stopped to see these cuties singing and dancing – it was pretty awesome!

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Then off to the oldest church in the Philippines, the Baclayon Church.

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And lastly we stopped at the Sanduguan Monument.

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When we got back to the hotel, the beach wasn’t looking too good – too much seaweed on the sand, and too many rocks once you attempted to go in the water.  So off to the pool we went.  Now how pretty is this?

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The next morning we were up at 5:30am for a boat trip!  First stop?  Dolphin watching!

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There were at least a couple of dozen dolphin out there, and it was definitely my favorite part of the trip!

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Yes, the baby ones were jumping all over the place!

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From there, we went to Balicasag Island.  We were going to walk around the island, but our feet was killing us.  Why?  See that sand out there?

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Yep, not really sand, but smooth coral instead.  Can you say “ouch”?

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It was so pretty though!

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Our last stop of the morning was the virgin island.  See the picture below?  Yep, that’s the whole island. 

We walked around the WHOLE island.  I think it took us 10 minutes.  It was so cute!

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And the water around it, very shallow, even a hundred feet away…

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I found a bunch of hermit crabs…

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And Karl really freaked out when I showed him this, just 5 feet from where we were standing.  Yikes!  A huge sea urchin!

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And that’s when he said it was time to go back to the hotel Smile

The hotel beach there was perfect on Sunday!  And we enjoyed some Filipino brew…

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And spent the rest of the day here…  Where we even got a massage (right at the beach!).

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After yet another dinner in front of the ocean, the next day we woke up to yet another beautiful day, spent the morning in the water (where I got to play with a starfish!), and after seeing a few jelly fish, we decided it was time to call it a day and head off to the airport!

The trip?  Was awesome!  If you ever in the Philippines, I definitely recommend a stop in Bohol.

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Filed under Philippines, Pictures, Trips!

I <3 Manila!

Seriously, I am loving this place so far.  But, it still doesn’t really feel like I’m outside the United States…  Weird, huh?  With no offense to my many Filipino friends in the US, and my few Filipino readers here, being in Manila, specially in Makati, feels like I’m living in an US city with a lot of immigrants (which would explain the language barrier).

Before coming here, I read that Manila wasn’t your typical Southeast Asian city, it was as if “Honolulu had a love child with Mexico City” — and boy, is that expression right!  Just like people claim that Cancun is an extension of the United States, Manila also feels the same way.  It is very Americanized!  And sure, you do have your random Filipino chain here and there, but heck, we have different restaurant chains depending on the region you are in the US, so that means nothing.

And even being in Makati, the very expensive area of town, where dinner is not cheap, the most we have spent is about $30/person — which is a FORTUNE here, but that included dinner, alcoholic drinks, all in a fancy place.  And for every expensive dinner we have, we also have plenty where the two of us eat for 10 bucks.

I am already dreading leaving this place in two years.   Can you believe that?  I have been here a month only and already NOT looking forward to leaving?

I miss my running trails in DC, I miss my running group, and most importantly, I miss my friends (both running and non-running) dearly, as well as the little bit of family I have in DC.  But aside from that?  I don’t miss DC at all.  I like how here is a big city and I can walk pretty much everywhere.  That in a 5 block radius I have dozens and dozens of options of restaurants and coffee shops.  I love that I don’t have to wear a jacket when I go out — and I won’t have to put on a jacket for 2 years!  The hot and humid weather?  Makes me feel right at home!  (I do have Brazilian blood in me, after all.)

And sure, traffic here is a bitch, but you don’t hear about anyone taking over 13 hours to get home, stuck in the car due to weather related incidents, do you?  (Like the little bit of snow we got in DC a few months ago, where many people I know took 10-13 hours to get home from work).  Sure, there’s typhoon and monsoon season, and it might cause the roads to flood and people will get stranded, but that’s a BIG weather related event.  In DC, you get stuck in traffic for things much more trivial than that.  (Heck, the snow that caused everyone to get stranded, didn’t even cause the government to shut down the next day — which doesn’t take much for that to happen in DC — even though some people didn’t get home past 3am!)

And for whoever complains about traffic here, you haven’t been on 66 or 495 in Virginia or Maryland at the wrong time of rush hour.  Where it can take well over 2 hours to go a few miles.  Here, traffic moves.  People drive like maniacs, don’t respect lanes, stop signs, and sometimes even lights, but traffic is constantly moving, even if slowly.  After being here a month, I have yet to see a car accident, despite how people drive.  Because you know why?  Though they drive like crazy, they don’t go fast (likely because traffic doesn’t allow them to go too fast), so if there’s an accident, it would unlikely be fatal.

I am finally getting used to being called ma’am everywhere I go and boy am I enjoying being able to afford a full-time maid for the equivalent of what 2 cleanings would cost in DC (we’re paying her $250/month, which is on the high end of the prices here).  She is a sweetheart, keeps this place super clean (my underwear drawer is even folded!), walks Lily, does the laundry, cooks for us, and will even stay this weekend to take care of the pets while we’re away.  And she refers to Karl is “the sir.”

And the massages here?  If you go to the fanciest swankiest place, you can expect to pay about $30 for a massage.  Most places cost around $20.  And on that note, I’m off to a 90-minute hot stone massage now.

Now how can you NOT get used to this lifestyle?

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Sunday at the Park

Well, after waking up at 3:45am on Sunday to run the 5k, the rest of the day was spent doing a lot of this…

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And if you’re wondering, yes, I also took a nap with the stray kitten, who is now eating, finally pooped after 3 days of nothing, is walking around a bit more too(though we usually still keep him in the spare bathroom, until we can test him for any diseases that would be contagious to Lucas). And even better:  he is getting fatter!

Isn’t he adorably though?  So tiny!

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At some point, Karl and I realized that we should probably eat lunch, you know, like normal people.  So we made our way to Ayala Triangle Park, only a couple of blocks from us, and found an outdoor café to eat at.  There’s so much green in this park, it’s perfect for Lily!  Too bad it’s such a pain to walk here during the week, because though it’s not far, the street crossings are a challenge with so many cars (all ignoring stop signs, none yielding to pedestrians), and it’s harder to walk carrying Lily.  On weekends, we get there in 5 minutes though!

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Of course, Lily came with us, and she behaved spectacularly well, sitting under my seat the whole time.

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We started the meal with some incredible drinks.  Like watermelon and green mango (so refreshing!).

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And peach and lychee for me! (YUM!)

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It was so relaxing sitting outside looking at the trees!

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And yes, after our meal (we shared a delicious salad and sandwich), we had to try more of the drinks.  Karl had a pandan lychee buko scramble (pandan is a leaf, and buko is coconut).

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I had a mango macapuno (a type of coconut, it seems – yes, I had to google that).  And yes, they were just as delicious as our first two drinks!

I love how the lychee drinks have a whole lychee inside!

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Afterwards, we played with Lily in the park, and took pictures, of course.  Remember how just two months ago we were playing with her at the beach and she was still so tiny?  She’s getting so big!  (And yes, I realize I look so big in these pictures too.  WTF, I need to run more!)

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Isn’t she adorable?  Ok, you can stop growing now, Lily!

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I have a feeling going to the park and eating outside will become one of our weekend routines!

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Filed under Foreign Service, Lily, Manila, Pictures