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  • angelikaklaus92

Island Hopping in the Philippines

Siquijor, Philippines, 14th April 2024:

It's that time again... travel day... I try to use the waiting times in between my ferries, busses, flights and tuktuks for being creative and to process the last weeks. There was a lot going on since I've left Manila: 14 days of island hopping, amazing encounters, unlimited boat rides, racing tuktuks, paradise beaches, island expeditions, a lot of first times and also a little bit of travel stress. But one after another.

 

After 12 hours on the ferry, my island hopping adventure starts on the 31st of March in Coron, one of the islands in the Palawan region. I arrive completed knackered at 4.45 am and fall into bed. Oh by the way - that's my top hostel recommendation for Coron: The Ezekiel Transient House, in the centre of Coron Town. It's simple, but clean and the owner Eddie and his family are lovely people. They do everything to make you feel at home, help you to spend as less money as possible and help you with every questions or problems you habe. Their support goes ways beyond the majority of hostels.



If you plan to go to Coron, I suggest two to three full days. Of course you can spend more time there, but from my point of view, that’s totally enough. It gives you enough time to go on two day tours with a boat and a bit time to explore the village Coron town. The tours are what Coron is famous for. To be honest, these tours are pretty touristy, but it’s kind of the only option to see many beautiful places in a short time and for small money. You pay around 25 Euros and you spend a day on a boat visiting beautiful beaches, lagoons, snorkelspots or crystal-clear lakes – lunch included. My choice is the “Super Ultimate Tour” (it’s really called like that), a tour that includes a bit of everything: lakes, lagoons and beaches and the Tour D which takes you from one paradise beach to the next one. Seriously, I’ve seen a lot of beautiful beaches in Australia, but this was still really nice to see and absolutely impressing. So absolutely worth the money. Apart from these tours, there is not so much to do in Coron. You can have a stroll through the town and then walk up the Mount Tapyas for sunset. This is actually a must do. From the town center it will take you about 25 minutes and 720 stairs to reach the top of the hill. That’s a good workout and you will be treated with an incredible sunset and view over Coron.

My days in Coron come to an end and I take the 4-hour ferry to El Nido. Here I spend two nights and join one boat tour. In the beginning I thought El Nido is THE highlight of Palawan. You hear so much about it and all those videos about El Nido look nice, so I planned to stay there a bit longer. However, plans change. As the flights within the Philippines became super expensive and as the only cheap flight to Siargao is on the 15th April, I have to hurry up a bit and finish my island hopping before my flight to Siargao. In the end it turns out perfectly to shorten my El Nido stay. In my opinion El Nido is way too touristy, pricey, overrated and it’s very similar to the tours that you do in Coron. Don’t get me wrong - this is complaining on a high level – but at some point you have enough of those tours. The schedule is pretty similar: you see beautiful beaches, you snorkel, rent kayaks, have lunch on a beautiful island and have the same conversations about your travel destinations over and over again. As I said, please don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed all my tours and I am very grateful for these experiences, but as the islands are kind of similar, you don’t miss out, if you don’t see every island. Also, the Philippines have more than 7000 islands – so you basically cannot see every island. Oh and by the way, these tours are really not my style of travelling. So, all in all cutting days in El Nido and “rushing” to the next destination is no problem and works out perfectly. My El Nido highlights? While snorkeling on the first beach I see a massive turtle (the first one since I left Australia) and the kayaking between massive lime stones in the big lagoon in El Nido turns out to be amazing.

After all the tours in Coron and El Nido I am ready for a break. That’s why it turns out perfectly when people suggest going to Port Barton.

Port Barton is a small village about 4 hours away from El Nido and away from the mass tourism. Maybe that’s the reason for it to be my highlight of Palawan. My days in Port Barton are super chilled. In the mornings I start writing on my blog, processing my travel experiences and for the very first time since a while I have a look into my future plans. The beautiful White Beach and Coconut Beach are my places to be in the afternoon. What’s so special about these beaches? Coconut palm trees everywhere, crystal-clear water, turtles that say hello to your while you're swimming and every now and then a pig comes by the beach, chills next to you in the sand and looks for food. À propos, did you know that pigs eat coconuts? Me neither, but that’s what they do.

My evenings in Port Barton are similarly easy going. I go to the same little warung every night. The staff is amazing and I eat noodles or rice with veggies – the only veggie options that they have. Sometimes it is really not easy as vegetarian in the Philippines, but you will always find a way and come on, if you have a huge portion of rice and vegetables for 1.20 Euros you really cannot complain. Of course I could have it easy and eat a 10 Euro Pizza at a tourist or fancy influencer restaurant, but that’s what I could do at home right? From my point of view, when travelling different countries, you should at least try the local food. This sometimes means stepping out of your comfort zone. What I mean with this? In the beginning I was a bit afraid of going to those local warungs on the street. Ordering there as the only white person, not understanding the sometimes weird ordering process and asking stupid questions in order to find vegetarian food in an environment where most of the people don’t speak English always made me feel really uncomfortable. Maybe that's a good moment to drop my personal favorite running gag in Asia: Whenever you ask somewhere if this dish is only veggies, the first response is “Noo, no meat. Only chicken”. Ah I see… good that chicken is no meat... Welcome to Asia and shout out too all my veggie friends - stay strong, we can do it.

However, you learn quickly. You learn about the best question techniques, choice of food, how to communicate with hands and feet and how to keep on asking until you get what you are looking for. And look at me now: Without hesitating I go to places and ask as many questions as I need to and I keep on finding new culinary treasures. Therefore, that my advice: just go for it. Be brave, be open-minded, don’t hesitate to approach people, try new things, and ask whatever you want to ask. That’s the only way that you get to know new countries, people and cultures – not in a fancy Instagram café with smoothie bowls and matcha latte. Oh and don’t get me wrong, I also love having smoothie bowls in nice cafés, but that’s not how you discover new cultures. Anyways, back to the story.


The next day is about travelling. Short wake up call to everyone who thinks travelling is just about relaxing next to the pool. No, it’s not. I leave Port Barton at 6 am, take a 4 hour minibus ride to the airport in Puerte Princesa, a flight to Cebu, taxi ride to the bus terminal and then a bus ride of another 5 hours to Moalboal, my home for the next three nights. By the way, Moalboal turns out to be one of my highlights relatively quickly, but first things first.

After traveling for 12 hours, I arrive completely exhausted in Moalboal. Absolutely knackered I end up sitting next to two taxi drivers in a small warung right next to my hostel. We chat, eat together and after I tell them a story about a taxi driver who tried to rip me off at the bus terminal in Cebu City, they decide to pay for my dinner. They want to show me that most Filipinos are nice and don't mean any harm to anyone. Cute, isn’t it?

The next morning is a really slow one. I stay in bed until 10 am, have a mango and an iced coffee for breakfast, rent a scooter and make my way to the mountains. The plan is to get up to the top of the Casino Peak, a hill from where you can have a great view over the island. I drive through beautiful serpentines, up and down the mountains, through small villages, past coconut and banana trees, goats, chickens, sleeping men in hammocks, waving families and playing children who are happy to see a tourist. By the way, every village here, no matter how small, has a basketball court where young and old can follow their passion: Basketball. Basketball is THE sport in the Philippines - which is kind of funny when considering the height of most of the Filipinos. 95% of them are my height, so pretty small. Oh and another phenomenon that I have observed in the Philippines is older men who roll up their t-shirts or tank tops to above their stomach and then walk across the street like wearing crop tops. Pretty funny and maybe this is THE secret against the heat.


Once I get to the foot of the mountain, I have to pay a small environmental fee and then I am ready to go. My hiking boots aka my Birkenstocks are of course with me. That’s by the way the only shoes I own. The hike takes around 15 - 20 minutes. Right in the first 5 minutes I hit a huge rock with one of my toes and you cannot imagine the pain. I guess it’s broken. Spoiler: when I wake up the next day, the toe is already blue and swollen. But anyways, we have a saying in Cologne that means that there's always a bit of wastage. On the way up I meet three Filipinas from the neighboring town. We chat, enjoy the wonderful view and start a little photo session on top of the mountain. The surrounding hills look like the famous chocolate hills of the neighboring island and famous tourist destination Bohol. Well, with this view, I don’t need to go to Bohol anymore. Shortly afterwards I start going back to Moalboal and while I am driving my new friends are waving me from the top of the Casino Peak. In the evening I go back to the small warung from the day before – however this time I pay for my food by myself. Rice and eggplant it is - for 90 cents.






My second day in Moalboal is full of action. I go the beach at 6 am and rent snorkeling equipment for about 90 cents. 6 am? I know… that’s insane and definitely not my preferred time. However, as I said I am traveling low budget and want to make use of the rest of my 24 hours scooter rental. Apart from that, I go canyoning at 9 am and as I leave Moalboal on the next day, 6 am is the only chance to do the famous Sardine Run. But hey, why not? Maybe at least at that time there won't be that many people in the water. The Sardine Run means snorkeling with millions of sardines. I've never seen anything like this before. You go into the water and only 20 meters from the shore you are in the middle of millions of sardines. Within these massive swarms of sardines, you can see various small swarms swimming in different directions, forming a living underwater piece of art. Getting up early was so worth it. I celebrate this experience with a super sweet mango and some Filipino coco bread for breakfast before I am being picked up to go canyoning in the most famous waterfalls in Cebu: the Kawasan Waterfalls, which are probably so famous because of their turquoise blue color. I've always wanted to try canyoning. I don't really know what to expect at that point, but I guess it involves swimming through gorges, maybe diving through caves or jumping down some rocks. In any case, water will be involved, so that can only be a good thing.



Everyone in the group is equipped with a helmet, life jacket and water shoes and each of us gets an own guide who accompanies us through the day and plays our personal paparazzi. Here we go: after 30 minutes walking, we are down in the canyon. The first couple of obstacles are quite easy. I climb over rocks, squeeze through a few crevices, float in the river, slide backwards down some mini waterfalls and enjoy the view of huge rocks and turquoise water. And there we go, the first 3 meter jump. Hm, okay. In a swimming pool I really don’t feel comfortable of jumping, but here? I need a moment think about it but then it all goes naturally. I become more and more confident and after taking a deep breath, I manage to jump from a rock in 5 meters height. Wow. I remember once, as a teenager when I was about to jump from 5 meters in a swimming pool:

I looked down and went back down the stairs. Since then I have never tried it again. So who would have thought that at the age of 32 I would jump into the water from a height of 5 meters for the first time? And I would have thought even less that I would then jump from heights of 7 meters. This jump is quite nasty. You stand at the edge of a cliff and all you can see is that it’s going down. Deep down. And behind the narrow gorge that you are going to jump into, there big rocks. What if I jump against them? I definitely shit my pants here... but...lets go. After a well-deserved break and a cereal bar, we finally do the 10-meter jump. I am freaking out. However, since you have to run and you are not tempted to look down, this feels a bit easier. But still, I am not lying when I say I fear for my life. If you want to have a laugh, turn on the sound and join me and my 10-metre jump live on camera ( to open the video, click one time on the little picture).













































After this last jump everything goes quite fast. We pass some more beautiful waterfalls, swing into the water like Tarzan and chill with hundreds of tourists at the main waterfall. Before heading back to the hostel we have an amazing lunch. Speaking about the hostel: here is another hostel recommendation – the Laguno Bed and Breakfast in Moalboal. It’s simple, very cheap, super social and the owner Maria looks after everyone like a mother. The hostel is located 35 minutes walking from the main tourist area, but it’s perfectly located next to the bus terminal. That saves you the tuktuk drive from/to the bus. Apart from that you have scooter rental, local bakerys, fruit stands, some small warungs and cafés just around the corner. In the afternoon my next Moalboal Highlight is happening in this hostel. I meet my roommates: two girls from Belgium and Angi from Malaysia. We get along right away and after talking for a while we find out that one of the Belgian girls and I must have met in Monkey Mia in January during my shift in the shop. What a small world. We hang out in the hostel for a bit, grab a tuktuk and enjoy our last dinner together. What a day and a nice ending for this part of the trip. Salamat Moalboal.



My time in Moalboal ends with a last quick breakfast with the girls before heading off to Siquijor the next morning. Speaking of heading off. The second I want to walk out of the hostel to catch the bus, I meet Paula from Tenerife. She also wants to go to Siquijor, so we decide to go there together. The same goes for Ida and Balu, a Swedish couple that I also met in the hostel in Moalboal. The two of them decide to go to Siquijor that same morning, but they leave a little earlier than we do.

The long journey to Siquijor (two-hour bus, two ferries, several tuktuks) was absolutely worth it!! Siquijor is a sweet little island known for its enchanted charm. Apparently, there are even witches and healers here. We haven’t seen them. But instead, we see beautiful waterfalls, incredible sunsets and cliff-jumping locals who celebrate a huge beach party with around 3,000 people and liters of rum and coke every weekend.



As beautiful as Siquijor is, during my trip back to Cebu, I become a bit moody and really get to the point where I hate the transportation options in the Philippines and especially in Siquijor. As mentioned earlier, the goal was to fly from Cebu City to Siargao on 15th April. Therefore, I have to leave Siquijor by the 14th at the latest. After hours of research (on site and online), I find a good and cheap way to get to the airport the day before my flight and even save myself an accommodation in Cebu. Sounds good, right? Well, unfortunately only in theory.

One of my two ferries that was supposed to take me to Cebu cannot be booked online, nor is the ticket office still open when I arrive at the port. And neither can you buy a ticket on the ferry. Somehow I knew that this would have happened. Well, after a short outburst of anger, discussions with taxi drivers and a few desperate attempts to reach someone from this shit ferry company, I give up. I need my Plan B. I get a tuktuk to the bus terminal, buy a ticket, spend two hours at McDonalds and finally take the bus at 10 pm to Cebu. At least I can share the taxi to the airport with a Filipina from the bus. Yay, saving money is always good!! At 3.30 I arrive at the airport and treat myself with breakfast. From then onwards it is just about killing time until my flight to Siargao at 12 pm. Long trip, but I save an overnight stay and nothing can stop me now from coming to Siargao. I cannot wait to go surfing.

 

 

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