“Yo TTP,” you caught yourself saying, “what’s this Philippines you’re referring to? Is it a type of food?”
“No you ignorant gastrologist,” I said while smacking you with a salmon, “It’s a Pacific island country. Go educate yourself!”
“Oh sweet!” you exclaimed, “Sounds like a swell place to visit! This Manila looks pretty wonderful!”
“Get out of here,” I smacked you, this time while cracking a balut across your face, “stay away from that hellhole.”
“Well gee-golly TTP,” you finally concluded, “what’s the point of all of this then?”
Sit down and listen up wanderluster. You’re probably bored of dealing with drunk Brits and Aussies that have taken over Thailand. You probably hate rubbing elbows with Frenchies and Snoredics in Vietnam and Cambodia. You need a nice relaxing vacation. A place where it’s still practically undiscovered, except for the occasional Chinese and Korean throng that come once every new lunar year. A place where smiles are ever-present, where rum and coke is synonymous with sunshine and clear aquamarine water underneath cerulean-drenched sky.
That place is called the Philippines. But no, I’m not here to tell you to go to El Nido or Boracay, although both places are great in their own way. No, I’m here to tell you about the hidden spots of the Philippines. Hidden gems. Spots. Whatever. Just spots where you can have the roads to your own. Where there is only you and your thoughts, regardless of how dirty they are (pervert). Here we go.
Hidden Spots of the Philippines #1: Batad
This place is so hidden that you literally need to walk 30 minutes through a jungle to get to it, on a downward incline no less. Yes, that’s right. The road (as of Oct 2015) is still being built to this village, so you can be sure it’ll get known real quick once that road is done. But for now, thanks to the aforementioned trek, it has kept the village quite off the radar for most travelers that tend to ruin your moments of serenity with their wise quips about how poor Asia is, or how the muddy ground is dirtying their newly bought trainers. Only the hardened backpackers can make it here.
Batad is a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s a site where the indigenous Ifugao people had built rice terraces 2,000 years ago and where Filipinos still farm today. Chew on that. This site is older than Jesus. Older than Mohammed. Older than Larry King. Older than most other world wonders in the world. Except this site is still being used to produce food. Meaning it’s a damn frigging achievement. How did they do all this without modern tools 2000 years ago? I’m gonna go with aliens. Or more likely, just some pretty smart frigging Pinoys. There are also other remote mountain villages nearby. Spend about 2-3 days here to explore around, especially Sagada. Enjoy your inner zen. Screw that eat-pray-crap. You can do all that here without having to deal with the crowds.
To get here, you have to fly into Manila. Then take an overnight bus to a village called Banaue (also an awesome place to see. Their rice terrace is just as old, but they use mud instead of stones like Batad). Use this as your base. Stay at a place called Randys Brookside Inn. Affordable and the guy is great. (Tell him Tony says hello. And that there’s actually only 1 McDonalds in Boracay). From there, Randy can help you get to Batad (which is another 2 hour tricycle ride into the mountains, then a 30 minute hike down.)
Hidden Spots of the Philippines #2: Camiguin
I actually wrote a blog entry about it here. Not much more I can add to it except Camiguin is great. The treehouse where I stayed at was pretty great too. Hell, this entire island is great. I should go back. (Head on over to Cebu Pacific to find cheap flights there). Here, I’ll just copy and paste an excerpt.
“It’s an amazing island with very friendly people (I had 2 people stop next to my motorbike when I had stopped to look at my map to ask if my bike had broken down and if I needed help), gorgeous scenery, and tons of things to do. Don’t miss out. The nightlife can be a little bit better, but hey, if you’re looking for a little R&R, you can find no place better.”
Hidden Spots of thePhilippines #3: Port Barton
I first visited El Nido back in Sept 2012. Back then, when I visited, it was a sleepy quiet town. There was barely any documentation about it online. There was 1 hostel. It was called La Banane. Dirty with sand. Next to the beach. Power gave out after 6pm. It was great. It was a place where one can find one’s inner solitude and really question what is the meaning of life. Is it being able to eat an entire pizza at once? Or eating an entire pizza at once and then guzzling a liter of rum and coke after? Who knows. When I went back to El Nido again this year in May (2015) during my Year of Wanderlust, things had changed. For the better, for the worse. But it’s not the same anymore.
Well, I’m here to tell you that if you’re looking for what El Nido was like back in the days before the horde of white westerners and Koreans had descended on it, then head on down to Port Barton. Port Barton is what El Nido used to be 3 years back. Small. Ideallic. Peaceful. Barely a soul in sight. There are a few resort type places, but they should cost you no more than $15 per person per night. There are like…3 restaurants in town. The power only works between 6pm and 10pm. Some resorts have their own backup generator. But at night, the stars come out. And by damn do they come out. Little shiny pearls against a canvass of coal.
You can go island hopping in Port Barton as well, and the corals are more alive and plentiful than El Nido. If you’re lucky you’ll be able to spot dolphins and turtles. Everyone’s just all smiles. Everyone here loves their life. Smiles. Rum and coke. Some more smiles. Seafood. Beer. Lapping waves. A random karaoke bar. To be honest, I’m a little torn about telling you all about this place. I know this place will eventually become another El Nido. But, I think you should come. The people there can use the tourist money. Maybe they might be able use it to keep the reef healthier (probably not. No one stopped the idiotic tourists from standing on the corals to take their damn selfies, and that’s a shame).
To get to Port Barton, take a flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa, then go to the northern bus terminal. From there, take a 4 hour van ride to Port Barton. It only runs 3 times a day, and this changes, so better to check before you arrive. You can also get to Port Barton by taking a van from El Nido.
(In fact, if I were you and I had time, I would do a Palawan tour by going Manila ->fly to Coron -> Boat to El Nido -> van to Port Barton -> Van to Puerto Princesa -> fly out. If you’re interested in doing this, write in the comment below and I can help you with this itinerary. Or write on my facebook page, www.facebook.com/stateofwanderlust).
Hidden Spots of the Philippines #4: Bohol/Panglao Island
To be fair, I don’t really think Bohol and Panglao are that hidden considering how many hospitality places on Panglao Island there are, but since there aren’t that many tourists there compared to the big two, I’m guessing it is.
Bohol is the land of the Chocolate Hills. And tarsiers. They’re like adorable rats but with big eyes. Seriously though. They’re frigging adorables. It’s also the land of lechon. Sweet, tasty, amazing lechon. Lechon is roasted pig if you didn’t know. I’ll let other experts talk more about it, but all I know is that, for those that don’t eat pork, you have my sympathy. God lechon is amazing.
Bohol is a big island, so I recommend to either hire a driver to drive you and yours around, or to get a motorbike. I would choose the motorbike. More freedom. Anyway, Bohol is an island where you can see rolling hills in the background, thick in verdant forests. True story, the Chocolate Hills are actually made out of granite. The beaches here are not amazing, but for amazing beaches, you would want to go to…
Panglao Island. This is where most people would come to stay. There are many resorts. I stayed at Calypso Resort. Private rooms. Free motorbike rental. $20 a day. Comes with a pool and an adorable dog. To be honest, the beach here beats every other beach I’ve been to in the Philippines, and that’s saying something! Don’t go to the beach where all the touristy places are at. Instead, go to the (insert resort next to Bohol Beach Club). It’ll cost about $3 for a day entry, but it’s well worth it. The sand is whiter than most Irish people, and the water bluer than most broken-hearted people. So clear. So beautiful.
Panglao Island is also where you can book snorkeling tours. I’d recommend it. Especially to see Virgin Island. See this? This is Virgin Island. I would marry it and make it unvirgin if I could. Great seafood here too fyi. I’m hungry now. Good thing I’m heading back to the Philippines in 6 months (huzzah. Love this country).
To get to Bohol, you have to fly to Cebu Airport. Cebu has flights internationally, but most of the time, it’s cheaper to fly to Manila, then fly to Cebu. From Cebu airport, get a taxi to the southern ports. Which one depends on which boat you’re booking with. No need to book prior, just book at the port. Here’s a link to what boats exist.
The speed boat will take you from Cebu Port to Bohol Port in 2 hours. From there, you can catch a taxi or a tricycle to your place of stay in Panglao or Bohol. I recommend staying in Panglao. It’s 30 minutes from the Bohol Port.
Hidden Spots of the Philippines #5: Camotes Island
This is a special one. This island (actually, it’s two islands next to one another) is so hidden, even most Filipino tourists don’t know about. But I do. And I’ve been here. That must make me awesome. Or something yada yada. Anyway, yes, Camotes Island is just a name referring to a group of islands located next to Cebu Island in the Philippines. What makes this place a great place to visit? Just because of how isolated it is! And cheap. I got a room for $10 a night. And take a look at this picture. This is the view from my resort. Yes. Resort. As in, there was a pool. And people to serve me grapes as I sit to watch the setting sun (okay that didn’t really happen). But a pool. A kitchen. Verandas. And a stairway that would lead you right into the water. Again, this place is where you go to just get away. Get away from the noise. Away from life. To breathe. To sit in the warm blue water that only goes up to your chest while knocking back an ice cold San Miguel (or for me, a Redhorse). When I was here last time, there was literally only my friend, me, and maybe…2 other tourists. And this was during high season in the Philippines.
There used to be a coral marine here, but the last super typhoon pretty much destroyed it all. Super Typhoon Manny. In any case, the two islands are pretty cool to give you a sense as to how the Filipinos are all living their daily life on a small island. Quaint. Peaceful. And all the rum and coke you can drink for $1. Huzzah
And there you go. My five hidden spots of the Philippines. When I’m back in the Philippines in March, I’ll try to find 5 more, but until then, check out the spots above, and let me know what you think.
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