Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Bacuit Archipelago in El Nido, Palawan = Paradise

After many months of traveling within the Philippines, I found myself in El Nido, Palawan, the gateway to the Bacuit Archipelago - and the most beautiful place that I've see yet in the Philippines.

The Bacuit Archipelago in Palawan is simply paradise.

The town of El Nido itself is nothing special, let's just get that straight. It's full of overpriced, mediocre accommodation, tourist agencies, and a few bars and restaurants. And take note: Zero ATMs.

But only a short boat ride away, and you'll find yourself immersed in some of the most beautiful scenery that this planet has to offer, with amazing limestone karst cliffs, lagoons, crystal clear water, and countless uninhabited beaches.

The Bacuit Archipelago is reminiscent of southern Thailand and Ha Long Bay, Vietnam - but, in my opinion, the Bacuit Archipelago in the Philippines edges out the two.

I've read that Alex Garland, author of the novel "The Beach," - which was later adapted by Hollywood into a movie and filmed in Thailand, starring Leonardo Dicaprio - is loosely based on the author's travels and experiences spent in the Philippines. This doesn't surprise me, as there are many hidden beaches and lagoons in the Bacuit Archipelago which could have easily sparked the idea for the book.

Like I mentioned, El Nido is the gateway to the Bacuit Archipelago. To reach El Nido:
  • Fly to Puerto Princesa, Palawan via Cebu Pacific or Zest Air
  • From Puerto Princesa Airport, take a tricycle to San Jose Terminal (P100)
  • From San Jose Terminal to El Nido take either a van (six hours, P600) or a local non-aircon bus (eight hours, P300)
  • Remember: There are zero ATMs in El Nido, so make sure to withdraw cash in Puerto Princesa

There are a number of tours offered to explore the Bacuit Archipelago in the town of El Nido. They are listed from A, B, C, and D. I did Tour A and C, supposedly the best two. I can't imagine Tour B and D being any better. The duration of the tours are approximately from 8am - 5pm.

Tour A (P750) includes:
  • Secret Lagoon
  • Lunch at Simisu Island
  • Snorkeling and fish feeding
  • Big Lagoon
  • Small Lagoon
  • Seven Commandos Beach
Tour C (P1000) includes:
  • Snorkeling with sea turtles
  • Lunch at a beach
  • Secret Beach
  • Matinloc Island Shrine
  • Hidden Beach
  • Helicopter Island
Here are some pictures from Tour A:

Secret Lagoon and beach.

Lunch at Simisu Island.

Big Lagoon.

Small Lagoon. These two pictures were actually taken just outside of the small lagoon, as it's only accessible via swimming through a small opening in the rocks. I wished I could have gotten a picture of it.

Seven Commandos Beach.

Here are pictures from Tour C:

I don't have a picture of the sea turtle that our guide caught as we were snorkeling. Bummer. It was huge, too.

Here are pictures of the beach where we ate lunch, though:

Secret Beach. It was a bit disconcerting reaching the Secret Beach, as one has to swim through a narrow opening which had to be timed properly in order to avoid the waves that crash into the sharp rocks. And during high tide, one has to swim through the narrow opening under water. Luckily, it wasn't high tide when our boat arrived at the Secret Beach.

Matinloc Island Shrine.

If you are visiting the Philippines and are pressed for time, make sure to fit El Nido into your itinerary and see the Bacuit Archipelago. You won't regret it.

Paradise is very nice.


Monday, March 28, 2011

My Return to the Bureau - and how I was Forced to Strip

Recently, I returned to the Bureau of Immigration in Manila to extend my visa. If you recall, my first visit to the Bureau was a bit unpleasant, after a government employee working at the cashier's desk attempted to rip me off by overcharging me nearly $30 USD. Needless to say, the experience left a bad taste in my mouth. Luckily, however, I verified how much it would cost before I visited the Bureau - you know, just in case something like that would happen.

Like the old saying goes: Trust, but verify.

"Let's get this over with," I thought to myself, as I climbed out of the car and began walking towards the building. "Let's see them try to rip me off again."

I was ready.

I was prepared.

Or so I thought.

"Excuse me, sir," said a man standing behind a podium, with a mean-faced looking security guard standing beside him. "Where are you going?"

"Oh, hi," I said, thinking it was a bit strange how the guard appeared to be blocking my entrance into the building. "I'm just going inside to renew my visa, that's all."

"Sorry, sir, I can't allow you to enter the building."

"What do you mean?"

"Do you see the sign?" he asked, as he briefly stepped aside from his podium in order to point to the visibly posted sign on the entrance door.

Crap. There was a sign.

"You see," he said, clearly relishing the "gotcha" moment, "you're not allowed to enter with shorts and sandals."

"You've got to be kidding me, right?"

I was slightly perturbed, to say the least.

I mean, it would be one thing if the Bureau was a lavishly decorated building that exuded professionalism. But let's keep it real: It's dingy, dreary, and drab - a real dump. And I'm pretty sure I wore sandals during one of my previous visits, but whatever.

Rules are rules, right?

Unless, of course, it was another scheme just to make money off of foreigners, created by these two schmucks the day before or something.

I had my suspicions.

"Come on guys, I just came all the way from Marikina," I pleaded. "There's got to be a way ya'll can let me in."

"Sir, you can go to the store located up the street. There, you can purchase some pants and shoes."

Well, that was obviously out of the question.

"Or," he continued, "you can rent a pair of jogging pants from me."

Huh-Ha! An ultimatum! I knew it was a freakin' scheme. I knew it.

"How much are we talking about here," I asked with a smirk.

"Fifty pesos."

In case you're wondering, fifty pesos is equivalent to a little over a buck. It was really a no-brainer. So I gave him the nod, and the security guard handed me his jogging pants.

"Okay, so where do you want me to change?" I asked.

"Right here, sir."

"Are you kidding me?" I laughingly said, "You guys are a real class act."

And I began stripping down.

"Let me get this straight," I casually said, with my shorts visibly present around my ankles for all the public to see. "So you have a policy here at the Bureau that finds it obscene to wear shorts and sandals, but it's okay to strip down to my boxers?"

Once I pulled up the ol' jogging pants, I tossed over my shorts and entered the building - with my sandals still on, mind you. I arranged to pay them once I returned.

Curious bystanders who had witnessed the spectacle were giggling at me as I approached the sign-in desk.

"How much did they charge you?" the woman manning the desk asked, releasing a few chuckles.

"You all saw that, huh?" I said, as I finished signing my name. "Well, there should be another show soon. So stay tuned."

And sure enough, about forty-five minutes later, I found myself outside again with my shorts around my ankles - and just as an armored money truck pulled up, too.


It's a good thing I wear boxers, and not briefs.

I was expecting to be overcharged at the Bureau, that's a given. But I sure wasn't expecting to have to strip. Just another day at the Bureau, I suppose.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Travel Photo - Nagsasa Cove, Zambales, Philippines

[Click to enlarge]

If you're thinking about island hopping in Zambales, make sure to have the boatman stop at Nagsasa Cove. Here, you'll find an amazingly long stretch of greyish-white beach lined with pine trees, and surrounded by beautiful mountainous scenery. Oh, and there's an unobstructed view of the sunset.

Surprisingly, I didn't see any foreigners here. Go before it's too late.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Travel Photo - Ayuthaya, Thailand

[Click to enlarge]

The face of Buddha - Wat Mahathat, Ayuthaya, Thailand.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Video: Filipino Accent Tutorial by Mikey Bustos

I came across this video the other day. And since I've been in the Philippines for six months, I thought it was worth sharing. It's a pretty accurate account of the Filipino accent, and especially how Filipinos confuse the "he/she" distinction pronouns. It's quite humorous. Enjoy.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

16th Hot Air Balloon Festival, Philippines.

The weekend after our epic trip to the island of Jomalig (I will post about that soon), I attended the 16th Hot Air Balloon Festival located in Clark Field, home of the former U.S. Air Base, with Sheila, Elaine and Jason. And because Sheila is friends with the head organizer of the festival, Tonet Rivera, we were given VIP status and allowed inside the fenced area of the venue. Sheila was giddy with excitement. She loves herself some hot air balloons, to say the least.

Here's Tonet Rivera's blog if you're interested:

And here are some pictures from the festival:


Monday, March 21, 2011

Travel Photo - Takengon, Sumatra, Indonesia

[Click to enlarge]

I took this picture while strolling along the streets of Takengon, a town located on the island of Sumatra in the province of Aceh. Don't expect to see any tourists here, as it's nestled in the heart of the the Gayo Highlands - an arduous journey to reach from anywhere albeit incredibly scenic.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Gettin' Jiggy Wit It

Our friend, Elaine, likes to dance - like a lot. I didn't see her for the first four months of my travels in the Philippines due to her hectic dancing schedule. So as one can imagine, Sheila, Jason and I were ecstatic when she invited us to one of her performances. It was a chance for us to see what's been keeping her so freakin' busy.

Elaine dances hip-hop, and she and her group put on an entertaining performance.