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Boracay, Philippines

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September 19 until October 4, 2008
A Stout vacation in paradise with only moderate rain!  A miracle of GOD!

Before our trip to Boracay we were working (I say “we” meaning Mike, of course) in Hong Kong for a week.  Well, they actually worked for about a day and a half, but no worries.  We had a great time in Hong Kong, especially showing Scott this amazing city, as he’d never been, catching up with all our Lamma friends, and reuniting with other Hong Kongers we haven’t seen since 2006. 

 

Have I ever mentioned that I heart Hong Kong?  ‘Cause I do, I do now, yes I do!

 

We knew we had a week between the completion of the job in Hong Kong and our return to Beijing, so we needed to find a vacation spot.  We toyed with many options, including Hainan (the Hawaii of China), a Yangtze River cruise through southern China, a trip to Mongolia, and even thought about going to Tibet or Nepal.  

 

But in the end, we both wanted to get the HECK out of China and go somewhere everyone spoke English. 

 

Malaysia was an option we initially explored, based on our esteemed colleague Scott’s recommendation.  He had heard of a little deserted place on the western coast with a private resort/island that was supposed to be gorgeous.  And by all accounts from the web, it was.  And, also VERY expensive (and you know me – expensive is just not my style).  Upon reading reviews, someone mentioned it wasn’t so great there and one should just save their money and go to Boracay.

 

Boracay?  Never heard of it. 

 

So, I did what every computer savvy person would do and googled it (good thing I’m not John McCain, although he probably has people to do that for him).  

 

Turns out it’s a tiny little island in the Philippines, about 200 miles south of Manila.  And it looked perfect for us.  Strands of white sand, surf, sun, friendly locals and a decent flight schedule out of Hong Kong.  Beaches.  Bars.  Beer.  Boats. 

 

Sold. 

 

Now, I’m a fairly well traveled girl, but I COULD NOT BELIEVE how long it took to go six hundred and some nautical miles from HK to Boracay.  Of course, the day we were leaving there was a typhoon sweeping through the area (it pretty much missed us and our airplane and the island, but lots-o-rain and after effects to deal with).  But, it took us 12 hours to go those 600ish nautical miles.

 

12 hours.  We could have flown to Detroit in that time.  Not that we would have wanted to.

 

Seems when you go to a tropical island in the middle of nowhere it takes a little work. 

 

We left our hotel in Hong Kong at 8 am in a taxi.  Transferred to the airport express train, then to an airplane to Manila.  We had about 3 hours to kill in Manila, which turned out to be quite easy, as we flew into Terminal 1 and had to be at Terminal 3 for our connecting flight to Caticlan.  It took us about 30 minutes to figure this out, and to figure out how to get to Terminal 3, which was about 1.2 miles away, in bustling Manila traffic (READ:  It takes about 25 minutes).  So, piled in the shuttle bus and off we went.

 

At Terminal 3, Air Philippines kindly informed us (and about 9 other people) that our flight was CANCELLED.  Not due to the weather or anything, just cancelled.  Instead, we were going to fly to Kalibo (which, when planning our vacation, I took great pains to avoid this as it requires a 2 hour bus ride from the airport to the Caticlan ferry port).  But, as I know, it does no good to argue with airport personnel when one’s flight is CANCELLED.

 

We checked in for the Kalibo flight at Terminal 3.  Then were told we had to go BACK to Terminal 1 for departure.  Our flight was leaving at 3:20 and it was about 2:50 at this point.  Okay.  Whatever.  It’s Philippine time, right?

 

Out to the parking lot (sans our bags which were okay to check at Terminal 3, at this point I’m figuring we will NEVER see them again), wait for a shuttle bus with the other 9 people, head back to Terminal 1, go through some intensive security checks TWICE, and then run onto the plane which has been sitting on the tarmac for about 1.5 hours waiting for us unfortunate folk who were NOT flying to Caticlan.

 

Arrive in Kalibo, get hustled onto a nice big air conditioned coach playing Christmas music on a loop (seriously, Silent Night, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; not exactly music to set the mood for an island vacation) and ride TWO HOURS to the ferry port.  About halfway, it starts to rain like a . . . well you know.

 

Bus is FULL of people going to Boracay.  At the ferry port they ask each of us what resort we are staying at and divide us up depending on that information (?).  We’re standing around in a mud parking lot in the rain with our bags (well, after we rescued Mike’s bag which somehow got on the wrong bus, but HEY, our bags were THERE, I was amazed).  Then onto the boat.  In the rain.  And the wind.  And the HIGH SURF.  Thank God it was only 15 minutes.

 

THEN, upon arrival in Boracay, into a a mini-mini-mini-bus (I don’t know what to call this vehicle, it was a tiny cab with a covered bed attached with open sides about four feet long) crammed with six people and luggage.  In the rain.  And the wind. 

 

Ride for about 25 minutes (very comfortably, I might add – NOT) to our hotel, the Boracay Beach Club, where we are a good 4 hours late and who were supposed to meet us at the airport in Caticlan, and who I could not call and inform of our changed travel plans. 

They were pretty shocked to see us arriving at that time, in that weather.  But DAMN IT, we were THERE!

 

So, did you get that?  In 12 hours we did a cab, train, plane, plane, shuttle bus, shuttle bus, plane, bus, boat, and a mini-mini-van.  The last half in the pouring down rain. 

 

My first thought upon arrival (in the dark) was, “This place better be DAMN NICE!”  And, of course, “Where can I get some food and a BEER?”
 
So that was our Friday.  The BBC (Boracay Beach Club) was a nice little boutique hotel, but not on the beach (I knew that going in, we were just across the street), but on Mike's advice we had rented the Admiralty Suite, which was HUGE and very, very nice.  And the hotel was very nice.  And the grounds were very secure and safe.  But the food in the restaurant?  Sucked.  But we ate a sandwich, had a couple beers and went to BED!
 
Woke up Saturday to light rain and clouds and went exploring.  It's always fun to walk down the beach with an umbrella, in 30 mph winds.

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View from our window of our cutie little pool (which we never used) and restuarant and other rooms

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First couple days look a lot like this thanks to typhoon something or other, and very windy

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Our hotel, we were on the second floor. . . and this wasn't taken Saturday, as it was RAINING

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The kite surfers were loving the wind, though, and Mike stood wistfully watching them

   

We spent the first couple days basically just lounging around in the clouds (and sporadic rain) enough to get our base burn going on, watching the tide come in and out, the sun go down, and, of course, drinking copious amounts of San Miguel beer which somehow tastes much better in the Philippines (which is good, as it is the ONLY beer available pretty much anywhere on the island).
 
In the morning, the tide is up so far that most of the beach actually disappears.  A bit frightening that first morning when we walked across the street to check out this most famous beach and it WASN'T THERE.  But by about noon the tide went out and the beach appeared.  After the typhoon was well passed us, this quit happening.  Not the tide, just the full immersion of the beach. 
 
First couple days were cloudy and rainy, but by Tuesday we had hot, sunny, sweltering days where we trawled the beach looking for shade to protect our lily-white bodies from the tropical sun.
 
It was VERY humid there.  I had VERY curly hair the entire time.
 
Attractive.

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Getting ready to cast off for our sunset sail, that was an adventure, a bit of high seas!

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But by Sunday night, things had started to calm down a bit

   

Our first week's hotel package included some "extras", a sunset cruise, a snorkel-island hopping trip, a couples in room massage, a banana boat ride and our ferry transfers. 
 
Our sunset cruise was scheduled for Monday, and it was a bit rough out there.  The catamaran they take you out in is quite small, and you sit out on the webbing. 
 
We took off at an almost frightening speed.  I had the camera (our little one, not my big baby) in a ziploc, but we had to hold on so tight there were no opportunities for photos. 
 
As we headed out to sea, our trusty driver pointed us right at a big wave.
 
Which catipulted Mike right off the boat.  A perfectly executed back-flip. 
 
After we were sure he was okay and not drowning, I laughed and laughed.  It was hard getting him back up on the boat, but we managed and he didn't have to swim for shore.
 
But he did lose his fake Oakley's he bargained so hard for in China.  Some grouper fish is very hip right now.
 
Was suppose to be an hour sail, but they brought us back directly after the "accident".  I think they thought they scared us, but we were both laughing our heads off.

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After the weather cleared we did a whole lot of this. . . .

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and this. . . we really didn't get much exercise. . .

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Even got up and bumped it with the locals, and some strange chinese dude. . .

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which was usually closely followed by this. . .

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This was at the Chill Out bar, right on the beach, our fave bar for the first week

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And if you needed a late night snack, these folks were always ready to help, for about 20 cents

   

Boracay truly is a beautiful island, not over-rated one bit (besides the slight difficulty in getting there, if you are going, PACK VERY LIGHT).
 
No Starbucks, no KFC, no McDonald's, barely a building taller than 4 stories and certainly not on the beach.  It's what I imagined Bali would look like (and unfortunately did not). 
 
The water was amazing, and of course no picture could ever capture the effervescent blues and turquoises and greens of the sea.  Clear and clean and the sand like talcum powder, at least at Station 1.  The beach is divided into three "stations" from when three different ferries used to service the island.  Now everyone comes in at the same place and takes a lovely tryke ride to their hotels.
 
We walked the entire length of the beach more than once (probably about 3 kilometers, maybe more).  The sand quality changes as you leave Station 1, becomes more granular and rocky, but still very beautiful.
 
Of course, you have to deal with the ever-present beach vendors.  Mostly dealing in fake sunglasses (replaced Mike's), pearls, fake watches and massages.  But, they really weren't too bothersome, and after we'd been there a week they kind of laid off us.
 
And let me tell you, folks.  This place is CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP.  Cheaper than Mexico, cheaper than Thailand, even cheaper than Cambodia. 
 
It's pretty safe, too (we left stuff unattended on the beach all the time) and I never felt any kind of threatened from anyone.  We weren't sure about this aspect when we first arrived, not knowing much about the island or the Philippines, but no worries, mate.  Didn't hear ONE STORY from anyone about things missing from hotel rooms, purse snatchings, items stolen off the beach, nothing.

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These were some of the most beautiful beaches (and clean) I've ever seen. Talcum powder sand

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I love that this was the main drag through town. . .

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Which was right below our house. That's our window right there!

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And the beach is called "White Beach", how original. . .

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Sand Highway leads to D'Mall (seriously, that's the name) for all your shopping pleasures

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And our favorite bar was right on "the road"

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Our second place was awesome and Mike enjoyed his welcome drink just before checking out the TV :-)

   

After five days I knew a week was not nearly long enough to spend on this island paradise, and then TWELVE HOURS before we were suppose to fly back to Hong Kong we received an email telling us they weren't ready for Mike back in Beijing, so we stayed another week!  WOOT!

Moved down the beach to the Boracay Beach Resort, and boy, this was THE place to stay.  We had a cutie patootie one bedroom apartment looking out on the water and our fave bar was part of the "resort" AND it cost HALF AS MUCH as the first place.
 
Plus, the staff was fantastic.  The staff at the BBC were nice, but at the BBR they totally looked after you, interacted with you, knew your name, etc.  It was GREAT. 
 
A very small place, only 22 rooms and 4 suites (like ours).
 
That was when I decided Mike should buy me a house there.

A couple times we got up off our duffs and went snorkeling and island hopping. 
 
Unfortunately, you take a motor powered boat, which was a bit noisy, but the views were incredible and there were lots of fishies under the sea.
 
And crabs.  And those big spiny things.  And coral.
 
And about 50,000 other tourists looking at the same stuff.  Most of them Korean (not that THAT matters, just saying, HUGE vacation spot for South Koreans).

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View of Crystal Cove, where the caves for snorkeling are

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Caveman Mike

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Requisite photo taken by our boatman after snorkeling

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Lovely deserted beach on the other side of the island

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Typical fishing boat sitting around waiting for "fishing time" or whatever. . .

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View from top of the hill on Crystal Cove

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Snorkeling in the cave

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Looking back at Caticlan (the "mainland" if you will, the whole country is just islands. .. )

   

We met tons of fascinating people there, too.  From locals to ex-pats who've lived on that island for up to 25 years, to couples on vacation from BEIJING and Shanghai, three helicopter gunners on R&R from Afghanistan (they had some stories to tell), Taipai to another young (my age, that's young damn it) couple who were moving there to be scuba instructors (lots of scuba going on here) and in the process of building a house.  Had "dinner dates" several nights with many of them.
 
Met a GREAT guy from Australia at the Nigi Nigi Bar one night (a must stop by bar if you are going to Boracay - I'll give you a full list of places to eat later, just in case someone is actually reading this who is going there) and played a hilarious practical joke on his traveling companion.
 
After about a billion drinks at the bar, trading stories, etc., he mentions he's on holiday with his 28 year old buddy who is soooo hurting from his fun the night before he's in the room watching telly.  It's on about 11 PM now, so we decide we're going to go get him.
 
Then, we decide to play a joke on him.  So Grant (the Australian dude) and I are going to go to the room and tell him he has to leave so we can have some "privacy", and then we're going to have Mike lie in wait just outside and start screaming at the guy about his wife and where she is and is she in his room, etc.
 
We all pulled it off perfectly and the dude was like 6'7" or something, HUGE (Grant didn't tell us this detail) so when he comes running out of the hotel room, Mike looks up and thinks "uh-Oh", but goes into his spiel.  Guy is not knowing what to do. . . keeps saying "maybe" to Mike when he's asking him if he's seen his wife, is she in the room with "that guy", etc.
 
Turns out, Mike was carrying a beer with him (as he would) and the dude was scared Mike was going to beat HIM with the beer bottle or something. 
 
We could only keep the gag up for about 4 minutes before we all just busted outside laughing our butts off.  Except the dude.  He didn't think it was very funny.
 
Do you?  I hope so.  'Cause that was a long and convoluted story.

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The natives and their children come out at dusk, the kids were so cute I wanted to eat them

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For whatever reason, this just cracked me up

   

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Sunset from the rooftop of our hotel during the first week

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Nothing like boring sunset pictures, I only took about 400!

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San Miguel enjoys a San Miguel while watching the sunset

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But seriously, LOOK at that SKY! It was AMAZING!

   

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And they call Montana "Big Sky Country"; this was amazing!

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And D'Mall leads out to the "real" road where you can jump into the local form of transportation

Getting off the island was another grand adventure as well.  Our flight to Manila from Caticlan was a 1:40, so at 11:40 our transfer arrives at the hotel, where two dudes carry our suitcases down the beach, to D'Mall and out to the main street, where Mike, I and our tranfer guide AND our luggage pile into the above vehicle, ride for 25 minutes down a windy hilly road to the ferry pier. 
 
Guide, Mike and I get on the boat which leaves about 12:15 and arrived in Caticlan about 12:30.  Off the boat, into another tryke, 5 minute ride to the "airport" (now I've been in many small, third world airports but this one was chaos) where I had to jump through many hoops in the mid-day sun in order to get us on the plane. 
 
At the check in desk they tell me I have to leave the airport, go down the street, and pay my change fee (from last week when I called PAL and changed our flights to a week later), then come back with my receipt and pay our baggage fees (seems we could have 20 pounds apiece on the way there, but only 10 on the way back. . . go figure), PLUS they weigh you on a big old scale right in front of everyone WHILE you're holding your carry-on luggage, so they know the weight load of the plane. 
 
And, it's about 2 billion degrees in there.  I swear.
 
I go back OUT through security, down the street, pay my fine, back IN though scecurity, back up to the counter, pay my baggage fine, get weighed and now we have about 25 minutes before departure.
 
Which is where some dude outside opens the door and yells into the crowded room which flight is leaving next and you walk out the door and get on the plane.
 
But, hey.  The whole system worked and we arrived in Manila on time.
 
MUST GO PLACES TO EAT AND DRINK ON BORACAY WITH MENU SUGGESTIONS FOR SOME:
  • Cafe del Mar Chill Out Bar and Grill.  Yes, this is where we stayed, but the Happy Hour runs 3-8 (two for one drinks on ANYTHING) and the food is really out of the ordinary (for Boracay).  And, it's right on the beach.  The shwarma's make an excellent lunch, or the fresh tuna salad (HUGE).  The Grilled Mahi Mahi was a total hit for me and Mike was digging on the Pineapple Rice with minced beef.  The chef while we were there was named Chantel, and I wanted to bring him home with me (just to cook, I swear!).  The bar staff, Anne, Ging, Christy and Roselynn can all make a stiff margarita and the blender is in constant motion.  Ah, fond memories
  • The Lemon Tree.  This place is in D'Mall and the only place we ate in D'Mall ('cause it AIN'T on the BEACH, so really!?!?), but the food was absolutely wonderful and they'll let you bring your own wine (with a small corkage fee) that you can buy right next door at Heidiland Deli.  I had the Tuna, and it was yummy, yummy.
  • Boracay Steak House.  Very close to Cafe del Mar, upstairs of a scuba place.  EXCELLENT Australian beef.  And caveman portions.  I ate it all.
  • Real Coffee.  Best coffee on the island.  Muffins looked good, didn't have one, but the breakfast was only okay.  But, if you need a REAL COFFEE, just go there.  The American lady who owns the place has been there 25 years!
  • Samba's.  Right on the beach, huge menu, good waitstaff and ice cold beer.  If you stay long enough you can keep your feet in the surf (we did that with Paul and Barbara, it was great!).  The Sizzling Gambas with a side of garlic bread are an excellent starter.  Or a decent lunch!
  • Zuzuni.  This is owned by a Greek dude, and the food is a bit pricey for what you get, but if you're jones-ing for a spinach pie or a Greek Salad (or both, in my case) it will work nicely.  Breakfast is good, too.  And pricey.
  • Yellow Cab Pizza Co.  This is WAY down the beach at Station 3, but everyone knows it and they deliver.  Good pie, but beware the garlic.  It has a TON.
  • Paradiso.  Two locations, fresh seafood on ice, you pick your poison and how you want it cooked.  Very touristy, but good. 
  • Nigi Nigi.  The only place for a burger on the island, IMHO.  And a great bar for meeting fellow travelers.  Try a chocolate soilder for a light drink, just a tall glass of ice with Kaluha and milk. And don't forget to ask them what Nigi Nigi means. . . .they won't tell you, but I KNOW.
  • D'Talipapa Market.  Located at Station 2 (the whole beachfront is walkable, no worries) there is a wet market inside where you can pick your seafood, then walk down one of the narrow alleys to many places who will cook it right there for you for about $2 US.  Neat experience and you'll meet a lot of locals.
  • Manana.  The only Mexican place on the island.  Food is not up to my mexican standards (lacks the HOT I like) but interesting.  And I heard it from a good authority they have the BEST mango margaritas on the rock.
  • Charlie's.  Located just across from Nigi Nigi, on the beach.  Great bar, usually live music, fun crowd for all ages.
  • Chill Out Bar.  Way down Station 1, across from the Beachcomber Hotel.  Way, way, WAY laid back place with fun waitstaff and again, you can drink with your feet in the sand, and if you're there long enough, in the surf.

These were our faves, but keep in mind we're an old married couple.  So if you're young and out looking for fun, ask someone else. . . heeheehee.

After we arrived in Manila around 3 PM we didn't have to fly back to Beijing until the next morning at 7:15.  We unfortunately booked ourselves at the Manila Airport Hotel.  Whatever you do, DON'T DO THIS.  The Marriott at the airport is just about to open.  Stay there unless you are on a tight, tight budget, or pick a place in Makati and surrender yourself to an hour cab ride there and then back to the airport.  But DO NOT STAY AT THE MANILA AIRPORT HOTEL.  DO NOT.  Do you understand?  heehee

I love a hard, hard bed and a cold, cold shower at 5 AM.

Then back to Beijing, back to the Oakwood, unpacking, repacking, changing airline tickets and home on Monday. 

Whew.

I don't know if I would tell an American to go to the Philippines on vacation, only because it's SO FAR and would require SO MUCH TIME TO GET THERE.  But, if you are a lucky American (or Canadian) and have a month or two to kill, or are traveling in the area, definitely do it.  It's paradise.