Most of my recent posts have been well researched and meant to educate as well as entertain. But the Philippines is a place that I wanted to just go and enjoy without reading up on too much before. I was pumped for the beaches and islands and looking forward to just vacationing. So, I decided to just keep a daily journal and turn it into my blog post for this trip. There are a couple of interesting local experiences (an emergency room visit for one), lots of island activity, and a celebrity filled night out (we were somehow the celebrities). Welcome to my trip to El Nido, Bohol, and Panglao Island.
Day 1 was a terribly long travel day. It was made a little easier by boarding an Air China 787 Dreamliner for our 12 1/2 hour flight and having a seat open next to me. The movie selection was great, the chicken and rice not so much. I’m still not sure what the mashed potato and ham chunk salad was exactly. And Air China is a 1 glass of vino kind of operation. We’re definitely not on Lufthansa, and I definitely haven’t slept more than a couple of hours. We have like 8 hours in Manila before we hop over to El Nido, Palawan.
was the discovery of the beachfront bamboo hammocks. We landed at the smallest airport I’ve ever seen, caught a tuktuk ride to our boutique beach hotel, and went to the beachfront bar while we waited on our rooms. There they have 3 bamboo hammocks strung between the palm trees that just hold you in a little cup of bliss. I’m currently sitting in one, softly swaying in the breeze that blows just enough that you don’t break into a sweat. Its 7am on a Sunday and there are kids running around on the beach, stray dogs digging up holes, and vendors already out trying to sell pearls. But nothing really distracts from the constant sound of the small waves breaking and the palms overhead bristling in the breeze. You can look out over the water to see the rest of the tiny town, it’s about a half a mile long on the beach front. Limestone cliff faces meet both ends and straight ahead lies dotted islands on the ocean horizon with more sheer cliffsides.
I know for a fact those intimidating cliffsides hide little patches of paradise because yesterday we kayaked out to find out for ourselves. We reached the closest island and found a stretch of palm lined perfect white sand beaches with only 2 other kayakers there. It wasn’t long before we had the entire place to ourselves and obviously had a photoshoot where we tried to recall every Victoria Secret swimsuit magazine pose we could. We spent hours just sitting there taking it in, until hunger kicked in and we had to head back. A little exercise, rewarded with solitude in paradise. It was an absolutely perfect afternoon in my book.
Today we leave for our private yacht. Yes, private yacht (as its listed on airbnb) to take us around for the next 2 nights. Have I mentioned I love the Philippines?
were nothing short of Instagram dream posts. It felt like we had the skip the line VIP access (D list celebrity status) as we timed our island hopping perfectly around when the tour boats wouldn’t be there. The highlight, and probably will be for the entire trip, was snake island. There is a pure white sand sandbar that connects 2 islands when the tide is out. Turquoise water a couple of feet deep on either side, starfish visible on the ocean floor, and the gentle waves breaking on both sides of you. This is framed perfectly by mountainous islands in the immediate and distance background, and by the end of the afternoon we had it all to ourselves. There’s a viewpoint you can hike up to, and the end of the ‘snake’ provides palm trees and some shaded beach areas.
This is what my beach bum hearts’ dreams are made of, but it gets better.
There’s a bar!
Yes, there’s a little bamboo bar built on stilts to sit in the middle of the sandbar that sells coconut drinks, cold beer, and rum and coke. I sat with waves barely lapping over my legs & a cold beer in my hand and said ‘I can’t believe this is real life’ 10 times that day. A day later, I still barely believe it. Happy. Place.
We earned the beers tho, we were up at six to beat the tour boats and got some fantastic snorkeling in the small lagoon. Again, it was all to ourselves. Our skipper even pulled us on a long rope behind the dinghy so we didn’t have to swim the entire time. That’s definitely the way to ‘snorkel, yall. We were looking into the underwater world for 2.5 hours and it felt like an hour. There are beautiful coral formations and a lot of tropical and bright fish. I filled my GoPro memory card with little free diving videos over the span of the morning. Annnnnd I found nemo, which made me do a little snorkle happy dance.
This morning we found another little slice of paradise. We woke up early again and sailed to an island known for the birds that make their nests high up on the cliff faces there. The nests are sold to the Chinese for thousands of dollars to make soup out of. The only occupant on the island is a guards hut (and their pups) to make sure people don’t scale the rocks to illegally take these birds nests. They are made out of swiftlets hardened saliva and are seriously harvested for human consumption. The whole business is bizarre, but the beach was stunning. Palm lined, sheer cliffs behind and of course that turquoise water white sand combo. We had purchased a bottle of champagne to have on the boat that had been chilling, so we decided to pop the top there and spent an hour relaxing before the boat took us back to town and now, flying out.
Sailing felt like vacation. It was my first time sleeping on a boat, and the 2nd night they moved my mattress on deck so I could sleep under the stars and feel the cool breeze. It also happened to be what the captain called a black moon, meaning no moon, and the number of stars we saw anchored by the uninhabited islands was pretty awesome. The evenings were filled with sitting on the back of the boat after dinner (the captain is a fantastic chef) having a cocktail and talking to the captain and skipper. They’re both very interesting (the captain was a French diplomat in China previously), & the entire boat experience was something I would repeat in a heartbeat. These last 2 days are the kind of days I will remember for the rest of my life… and am soo thankful for. The rest of the trip really has a lot to live up to now.
Leaving a sailboat where you haven’t had a proper shower in 3 days, catching a tricycle ride to the airport and pouring sweat because you’re crammed in like sardines in 90 degree temps, and then boarding an airplane is never an ideal situation. But this is our day 5. We are so sad to leave the boat, and I could have happily stayed 1 more night.
We had the lovely exposure to Cebu City traffic today as well. 58 minutes to go 11km, and I’m pretty sure Christine, who sat up front, will have white knuckles for the rest of the day and nightmares tonight. But, we made it juuuust in time to run through the ferry terminal (which has full on bag check fees and security), & board the boat with 2 minutes to spare.
We had a lunch/ dinner of San Miguel light beer and a variety of 3 different potato chips thanks to Dustin who has just met us to continue the rest of the trip. But onto another island (Bohol) and a change of scenery and pace now. I’m hoping our overwater bungalow on the river is relaxing and unique!
This is the day that all hell broke loose. We enjoyed a morning stroll through Loboc, which is absolutely tiny and took all of 45 min, had lunch at a local lunch spot, and went back to the room. At that point all 3 of us girls had experienced serious stomach issues and we were halfway through a box of Immodium. So when Dustin complained about feeling bloated, crampy, and nauseous we laughed and said, “welcome to the Philippines”. We left him to rest and did a firefly tour from the hotel.
I assumed fireflies would be like the lightening bugs I used to catch at dusk in Tennessee. The reality was 10x better! We took a boat down the river until we saw a glowing tree. I repeat, we went around a riverbend and there was 1 glowing tree. We pulled up below the tree to realize that it’s thousands of tiny fireflies flying around in the tree top! Magical, like the most perfectly decorated Christmas tree you’ve ever seen. It was straight out of a children’s book or movie, but as adults we were still mesmerized. Apparently they are only in very special trees that they feed from. That’s about all we could understand from our guide, but it didn’t matter. It was a pleasant surprise and pretty dang cool.
We return back to find Dustin gone. Confused we looked at the pool, restaurant, all over… he was no where to be found. Then we text him and were informed he was on his way to the hospital. He was pretty sure it was his appendix. He insisted we didn’t come until he knew what was going on, but obviously we called a cab and went to find the hospital.
They took him to the best hospital in Bohol, a new private hospital that wasn’t even completely finished yet. He got checked in, they ran his blood work and the ER Dr felt around on his abdomen and agreed his appendix needed to be removed. There were no scans, no ultrasounds, nada. And surgery was old school incision with a 3 day hospital stay recovery.
But, they wheeled him into the operating room and we waited in the private room that we insisted on (for $25/night and we referred to as the Beyonce room) until he was out. We got a call that everything went good, and the Dr said he needed to see one of us. Obviously that scared us, and we sent Christine since her dad is an ER Dr and she knows a little medical terminology. The Dr simply pulled out Dustin’s appendix for inspection. Yes, he showed it to Christine, straight outta the operating room still sitting in the silver pan. She even took pictures of it that I won’t be sharing. Bizarre.
That’s not the only indication we were far from the US. They discontinued his pain meds & wouldn’t give him water because you have to go to the pharmacy and buy it. He told the nurse that he would give them money, but no, they said he had companions that could do it. We actually couldn’t because we were all sick at the hotel. When we finally arrived that evening we went to the pharmacy and purchased those items plus the dressing for his discharge the next day, his iv fluids, and a whole list of things I was really confused to be purchasing. All paid in cash as well because they only accept credit during business hours. If you don’t pay you don’t get your meds, emergency surgery or not.
All in all, Loboc did not treat us well. All 3 of us were sick the day after Dustin was admitted and didn’t leave the resort once. That’s after we even made it back from the hospital. At 3am there were no cabs available to take us back. That’s because there are no cab companies, we just went to the security guard and nurses and they called the drivers they knew. So, I slept a couple of hours in the hospital bed with Dustin and the girls curled up on the bench thing in the room until 6am and someone agreed to drive us 45 min to Loboc. BUT not to the hotel. So, we more or less hitchhiked (sorry mom) the rest of the way and then walked the last half a mile to the resort. Freakin adventure I tell ya. But nothing compared to having emergency surgery on an island in the Philippines lol. Dustin was an absolute trooper tho, and was more worried about us enjoying our vacation than himself. He also knows I worry and would mother hen him so he didn’t want us there lol.
We did manage to finally go to the famous Chocolate hills and see the tarsier monkeys that are plastered on every advertisement for Bohol. While we were terrified of leaving toilet filled areas, we had a blast riding ATVs through the countryside and the hills. These perfectly rounded hills (there are over 1200 of them) are the results of erosion around coral deposits over time. They look man made, and the locals have plenty of fun myths to explain them that aren’t so scientific. Definitely the only highlight of our time inland other than the fireflies. The monkeys are the smallest known primates and were pretty dang cute. I wouldn’t say they would be worth a long day trip inland if you weren’t going to combine it with the chocolate hills adventure though.
Today we happily left Loboc. Dustin was also discharged this afternoon, and what he went through with that should be an additional blog post. That’s his story to tell though and if you know him, you should ask. We had to go check into our beach airbnb and all had lunch together before Dustin flew back to the US. He was able to fly back early on standby rather than being confined to a bed in the Philippines while we went to the beach. I don’t blame him at all but he will be missed! What a terrible horrible miserable vacation across the globe he had.
The highlight of the day, other than actually having a meal with Dustin, was discovering the $10 hour long full body massages on the beach. Bliss.
Pretty basic beach day, another massage, and then we went out. It was a Saturday night and with all of the illness and a hospitalization we needed it.
Alona beach is a touristy area with a few clubs and bars, but there aren’t a lot of white tourists. Plenty of Asians, a few Aussies, we met a few people from europe, and us. After dinner we were directed to a nightclub for us to go have a good time at. There, we were surprised to be told by a white guy standing outside that we are going to regret going inside. Curiosity triggered, we asked why and were told there were only like 5 women inside and we were about to be swarmed. That doesn’t sound like a terrible ratio, so we recruited this German man to be our body guard and walked on in.
YALL. He wasn’t kidding. If this were a movie, the music would have stopped playing in this small local club and it would have gone in slow motion when we 3 girls walked in. All eyes first, and then the cameras started. They lined up and wanted pictures with us. I’m not making this up. We finally escaped to the upstairs area to get some space and try and enjoy the music, which is where we encountered the Philippino gumby. He was probably the only person who didn’t care about having his picture made with us, because he was too busy flailing his body parts to the music.
This was undoubtedly an overwhelming experience that we wanted out of, but we walked out of that club about 30 min after the German guys warning feeling like straight up celebrities.
Then we went to the other nightclub/bar where all of the other foreigners were and danced to techno the rest of the night like the basic tourists we were. All in all, a successful Saturday night out until the sun (shocking to us) started to come up. But at 13 hours ahead of Dallas, we still didn’t really have any concept of what time it should be.
After the sunrise night out, we slept most of today and per usual hit the beach for lunch, laid out for a bit, and then got a massage. It’s almost against my religion to post up in front of a TV when in another country, but that’s what we did tonight. Full on face masks, bottle of wine, and Tyler Henry Hollywood Medium binge session.
I find this acceptable because we have a 630 meet time for a boat day in the morning!
Man, about this boat day… Philippino people are always smiling, very friendly, but occasionally there seems to be an undercurrent that it may not always be authentic or trustworthy. A man called Bebe got us and proved my instinct correct.
We booked our private boat through a guy walking the beach offering tours, Ol Bebe. We had another person through our airbnb, but after some negotiating, we reached a much better agreement and we’re promised the boat and driver for as long as we wanted.
What we got was a hectic motorbike ride on the back of Bebe and the skippers bikes to the other side of the island, wading through seaweed to the boat, and then time limits on the places we went. As advertised, we did get to see the tiny little dolphins swimming, which was cool. But we were chasing them along with 20 other boats which kind of takes a way from the experience of seeing dolphins in the wild.
Then the first stop was to swim with sea turtles. We saw quite a few from the boat and excitedly hopped in. Straight into a lot of jellyfish.
While we were snorkeling in El Nido, I was looking down rather than in front of me and swam straight into one. I think we surprised each other and it just barely stung me on my mouth. Yup, right on the kisser. Andrea was snorkeling with me and got a lovely kiss on the behind from one as well. If you’ve read my story about Hawaii, you know I’m a littttttle tentative about swimming near jellyfish. Even if these were the clear small ones that I was used to from vacationing in the Florida panhandle.
So, this go around… we are in the deep water with waves rolling us over trying to look at the sea turtles way below us on the ocean floor. I said trying, because reality was we were freakin out trying not to drown having a conversation above water about how to get out asap. I mean, we probably could see 20+ jellyfish floating on the surface around us.
The boat had drifted farther away and was moored. We were above water trying to decide what to do. Andrea frantically screamed, “We have to get the boat over here,” to which I replied, “It might take too long… we gotta swim through them and meet it!”.
It was actually almost as dramatic in real life. We basically held hands and kicked our little hearts out in the direction of the boat making absolutely no progress in the big waves. I had a small viewing window in the bottom right of my goggles that wasn’t fogged up that I kept my head on a swivel looking for jellyfish out of. Survival mode, there was no stopping to clean my goggles at that point.
I’m happy to report we did survive. Oh yea, we saw a few sea turtles too.
The next stop we snorkeled the reef at Balicasag island and the ocean wall drop off was absolutely stunning. So full of fish! Our ‘private boat’ made us wear life jackets so I couldn’t free dive down to get a closer look and GoPro footage, which I wasn’t happy about.
3rd stop was Virgin island. This is pretty much why I wanted to come to Panglao island in the first place. Ya see, we had booked our last 4 days on Boracay, but it was shut down by the government for basically being a cesspool. So, we cancelled and scrambled for plans.
The Virgin island is a long white sandbar surrounded by 1 foot of turquoise water for basically forever. The pictures are just beautiful. When we arrived our guy told us 45 min. Uhhhh ok whatever, we have the boat all day. So, we popped open our champagne (yes, we like opening chilled champagne on secluded islands), posted up at the far end of the sandbar where no tourists were and enjoyed the view that we had all to ourselves. Sure enough 45 min later our skipper who barely speaks English comes to get us.
We followed him, got on the boat, and explained we weren’t ready to go. Apparently there really is a 45 min limit though so all the boats can have a turn dumping tourists for a bit. We asked where we were going next. His response was ‘motorbike’. Um no, it’s 1030am, we want more beaches, we were promised all day.
Apparently that promise meant nothing and they drove our unhappy butts straight back and tried to say he would take one on the bike and come back for the other. No you won’t. You will find us a tricycle or someone to take us at the same time is what you’ll do. And we want to talk to Bebe asap so you’ll find him too. The champagne brought the Miami out of Andrea and the country out in me, and we weren’t happy about our boat day getting cut short.
He found our tricycle together shortly, and we found Bebe on the beach selling his tours. Poor guy didn’t have time for us to chill out for a bit before we found him. We made a small scene in front of all of the other vendors and insisted on money back since we didn’t receive what he promised. He didn’t have any on him he said, so I informed him that we would find him… in a very creepy, I’m bigger than you, way.
And we did find him later, and he did give us 300 pesos back. That equates to $6ish lol, and the entire thing was all of $45 for 2 people, but it was sheer principle that he thought he was pulling one over on the dumb American girls. Not today Bebe. Not today. That $6 bought 3 beers for us at the beach bar we immediately went to for lunch.
Ahhh what $12 will get you in the Philippines! A manicure, pedicure, and 45 min foot massage at a spa. That’s what it will get you during the afternoon hours at least. It was perfect before our flight back to Manila.
It took us 1 hour to make it the 4km to our hotel that we booked because of how close it was, and that it offered airport transportation. We had dinner, slept a few hours, and rolled out for our long journey home!
As you can see, it was an interesting trip that was filled with an all time high (the sailboat) and an all time low (emergency surgery and hospitalization). For both to happen in the same vacation was an emotional roller-coaster.
Would I go back to the Philippines? Yes, maybe eventually. I would go back to El Nido and also would love to see Coron and possibly Boracay when it’s cleaned up. As for right now though, I can say I am more than excited to welcome back food that my body can handle, and to sleep in my bed. Uber will be lovely to utilize, and I am snorkled out for a while.
Hope you enjoyed coming along on this trip with me, but you should definitely check it out for yourself too!