5 Changes That Would Make Travelling Around The Philippines More Fun

“It’s more fun in the Philippines” is over and now it is “Bring A Friend”.

Couple of years ago, I came across an article where it said that the Philippines is one of the least preferred country to travel in South-east Asia and honestly I was not surprised. Although being known for typhoon and crazy rebels, we have not really challenged our fellow Southeast Asian countries which are doing well in tourism. We are barely even a quarter to the number of visitors Thailand receives in a year and quite a far cry from Vietnam or Malaysia.

Sometimes I wonder why but being an active Couchsurfer and having foreign friends opened my eyes about the existing problems our country have and should work on to become a better tourist destination. I started this list couple of years ago in my old blog in frustration and decided to update it (still with frustration).

There are tons of things to improve on but these 5 listed are the most annoying for me as a traveler.

Here are my suggestions for the Department of Tourism and the Philippine government in general.

1. Reliable Cab Drivers and Public Transportation

The minute you get off the plane, your chances of getting ripped off is high. Most of the time, the airport taxis have broken meters. I fell victim once to one airport taxi. His meter went crazy that when we reached to our place it was already P1,500 when it was from NAIA Terminal 1 to Makati Ave. which should cost around P400.

Imagine if all the cab drivers in our country are making sure that we find the quickest and cheapest way to our destination? Luckily we now have Grab and Uber in the country.

Another thing, if you go to Hong Kong, you can easily go from one spot to the other thanks to the metro system and organised government-owned buses.

Think of it, if they work on improving this, make getting from point A to point B easier, it will definitely make travelling in the Philippines a lot more appealing with less time lost to commuting.

2. Affordable and Available Healthy Food

Veggie Kare-kare at Harana Resort
Good food from Harana Restaurant

It has been one of my frustration when I walk around the city and other places in the Philippines. It is always easy to find adobo and other pork dishes but you rarely find a vegetable dish (without meat) or even a simple salad. With the rest of the world going for a healthier and sustainable lifestyle, it is sad that a primarily agricultural country is lagging behind. It does not cost that much to prepare healthy dish as I cook regularly. I have lost count of the travelers that I have met from Germany, UK, Canada and other countries that had no choice but to stop being vegan just because it was a lot of stress to travel and maintain such diet in this country. We should keep up and make more food options not only vegetarian but even Kosher and Halal ones.

3. Good Roads and Quality Accommodations

Muddy Road in Siargao
Muddy Road in Siargao

This year I have gone to Siargao a lot and one of the things that I wished they worked on before the stadium are the small roads that end up getting flooded and muddy during rainy season and same issues exist for Boracay and other destinations.

Another thing is compared to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, our accommodations are pricey for the quality we offer. If you book a bunk bed for P 500 you cannot expect much in this country. I had an experience where I booked a place in Agoda for a business travel in Batangas and on the description it said “Resort” so we expected it as a real resort but here in the Philippines, places labelled as resort are misleading. We arrived there to find out they have really old air conditioners, no hot and cold shower and the beds were quite uncomfortable and they were charging the same rate as a good hotel in Makati!

4. Equal Charges for Local and Foreign Visitors

Backpacker mode in Malaysia
Backpacker mode at Kuala Lumpur

I find it preposterous to see how they charge tourists according to local and foreigner be it in Taal Lake or Palawan. Where is the equality? It is bluntly showing that we want to make more money from foreigners. They already spend a lot more than most locals so we should not keep this practice. Just because they have a more powerful currency does not mean that we should milk them off. We should not be charging them double!

When I go to another country, I do not want to feel this way so why should a country who is known to be generally Catholic treat everyone differently? Go figure.

5. Convenient Travel Information

I went to Puerto Galera and it was our first time travelling so we wanted to find out information about the place but we found a closed tourist information center. I also tried asking some of the people in a tourist information center in Palawan and they were not fluent enough to entertain questions in English. Let’s not talk about those seemingly useless road signs.

If we want more travelers visiting our country, we should make sure that travelers will not have a hard time finding information about places.

Our official website also needs more apps that would be useful for travelers like bus and ferry schedules and online booking options and not just picture perfect photos.

They should create an app for travel assistance where chatbots can help customise their itineraries or give suggestions on places to visit.

Also, I hate to admit it despite having so many world-class social media influencers in the Philippines, our official tourism instagram sucks a lot!

There are definitely a lot of areas wherein we can improve to elevate the experience of tourists and travelers coming to our country and I know that we have a long way from being this raw to becoming a better tourist destination but we should not wait too long.

Yes, in general, this is a rant to the current system because they spend so much on superficial campaigns and forget that it is experience that will make people want to come back. We are lucky because Filipinos are one of the friendliest and welcoming people but we should not rest until these things are improved. It is time to change the current status of the Philippines for being one of the least popular destination.

Do you agree with my list? Share your suggestions.

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Weekend Wandering: The Unspoiled Beauty of Southern Leyte

Visayas is home to a lot of beautiful destinations however, we often hear about Cebu and Western Visayas. Get to know more about Southern Leyte! A less popular diver’s paradise and a offbeat traveler’s dream.

The problem with the Philippines is that we have too many islands. There are so many options that you cannot possibly visit them all in a month! However, when people ask me for suggestions, I rarely suggest the popular ones. Why? Because other islands are also deserving of appreciation and have the same if not better things to offer. I am guilty of exploring my own province and nearby destinations quite late. One of the places I have grown fond of visiting is Southern Leyte. Why? The province offers a rustic and unspoiled beauty that is conveniently near to Cebu.

Now who do I recommend Southern Leyte to?

Beautiful Reefs of Napantao

First, to anyone who wants to dive in a pristine spot without the tourists, Sogod Bay is one of the few places where I have seen little trash while diving and they still have a good reef cover.

Whaleshark at Pintuyan

Second, to people who want to swim with the whale sharks in an ethical way, Pintuyan offers whale shark watching with the proper interaction guidelines. Will be writing more about this in a separate post.

Sunset over Liloan Bridge

Third, to travelers who want to avoid the touristy place and thrive on offbeat adventure. If you want a place all to yourself without breaking the bank and not travelling too far from Cebu City where you can see nice sunrises and sunsets while driving through quite roads and covered with numerous stars then definitely this place is for you!

Green fields of Southern Leyte

For an introvert like me, Southern Leyte is one of my favorite places to visit, though I still have tons of islands to explore. Its tranquil and raw nature excites the explorer and romantic in me.

WHAT TO DO:

Dive – Sogod Bay is quite popular to a lot of dive photographers as it is a good spot to find pygmy seahorses, whale sharks, nudibranches, mandarin fishes and other interesting marine creatures. You can do muck dive, night dive, drift dive and even blackwater dive. I would have to say doing a night dive in Sogod Bay is quite a visual experience as it is highly diverse, you see tons of creatures lurking at night. Also one of the spots to not miss is Napantao! This site looks like something out of a fairy tale because the reef forest is so magical.

Diving Selfie

Trek and Spelunking – You can trek to find Cagnituan Falls or the three falls in Taglinaw, explore Cambaro Cave and Lagoon or to hangout with wild monkeys in Hindang Caves Park.

Sogod Bay

Swim & Snorkel – You do not need to go far to find interesting creatures just by the shore you can find sea turtles swimming around. Padre Burgos is a less crowded version of Apo Reef. On my first trip where I stayed at Sogod Bay Scuba Resort, just a 100 meter swim away and I already saw the house turtle. At Pintuyan, you can snorkel with the whalesharks for hours without the crazy circus in Oslob!

Ready to Dive

Island Hop – Southern Leyte have several islands nearby worth visiting such as Limasawa, Cuatros Islas and Canigao Island where you can find dolphins playing along as you head to the islands. These islands also boast of beautiful white sand beaches and pristine waters.

Southern Leyte Road

Ride a Motorbike and Zipline- Take a scenic ride around Southern Leyte, they have different landscapes that are sure to please your eyes. You can even drive to Agas-Agas Bridge, the highest bridge in the Philippines and try out the zipline known as Zipline Leyte! It was easy for me to lose track of time as I relished the unobstructed landscapes where it be rice fields or beautiful sunsets over Liloan Bridge.

Surf – Unknown to many, Southern Leyte also have a number of surf spots.  There are at least 18 surf spots around the province, most of them in the Pacific towns of Hinundayan, Hinunangan and Silago. If you want to have a chill surf sans the crowd of Siargao then this is your spot.

Volunteer – If you heart is in marine conservation, you can join several NGO’s located in Southern Leyte such as Scaphro Philippines which creates artificial reefs out of bamboos, Coral Cay where Filipinos and foreigners can volunteer and maintain the Napantao Reef and LAMAVE , an NGO active in the protection of whale sharks and other large marine vertebrates they help train the local fishermen in Pintuyan in making their whaleshark interaction low-impact and eco-friendly.

Here are just some of the things I have listed above that you can do featured as in a local travel show:

HOW TO GET THERE:

Liloan Bridge

To get to Southern Leyte, you can now either fly or take a boat to Ormoc or just directly book a fast craft or an overnight boat to either Maasin or Hilongos. You can choose to take Weesam, Roble or Gabisan. Roble is the cheapest option while Weesam is the fastest. Fares ranges from P 133 to P 650.

Here is the schedule though it is always advisable to double-check with the shipping companies as it tends to change every now and then.

transtime

ACCOMMODATION:

The area where you can find a good number of accommodations is in Padre Burgos as it is where the white sand beaches and dive spots are. Last time I went there, I stayed at Leyte Dive Resort and Adventure Tours. The good thing about this place is that they have limited huts which means you do not have to deal with crazy boisterous crowds and you can rent a motorbike for P250 which is a must do if you want to go around Southern Leyte as transportation is not as often unlike other tourist spots.

If you are heading to Pintuyan, you can stay at La Guerta Lodge  they have aircon rooms good for two for P 600.

Leyte Dive Resort and Adventure Tours
Leyte Dive Resort and Adventure Tours

All of the possibilities that Southern Leyte have to offer should be enough to convince you to include in your bucketlist for your next travel destination in the Visayas. These are the same reasons are why I include this region as part of my top 3 destinations whether for adventure or chill this region has it all!

Diving in Anilao, Batangas

When one thinks of diving in the Philippines, Anilao is the first place that comes in my mind. Considered as the birthplace of scuba diving in the country, Anilao is the top dive destination for its accessibility, cost-effective and extensive biodiversity (being close to the Verde Passage which is the center of the center of the Coral Triangle).

I first visited Anilao on November of 2013, I was still working my way to get my Advanced Adventure Diver license. It is easy to go to Batangas from Manila, you just head over to LRT Buendia station where most of the buses headed for Batangas are. I took the BLTB, fare costs around P150 and the trip takes roughly 3 hours (it might be more these days with the ongoing road construction). I reached Batangas City bus terminal and took the jeepney bound for Mabini which cost around P40. I got off at the round about and hired a tricycle to Scuba Bro Dive Resort for P60.

 

Scuba Bro is a native inspired resort which is located in a picturesque cove. The architecture offer rooms and terraces overlooking the sea.

The perks of staying there is that their room accommodation already includes the buffet breakfast, free use of kayak and snorkeling gear, unlimited coffee and tea at the resto and free Wifi at the Resto. Another thing is that you do not need to go far, their next to the resort you can do a shore entry and see a good number of sea creatures such as nudibranchs, the emperor shrimps and frog fishes.

 I did a dive with a group of advanced divers from Shark Bait Huhaha (I felt a bit pressured because I was still having issues with my trim and buoyancy). Luckily they had underwater cameras to show how beautiful it is under, here is a video by Meg:

Amazing Anilao from Megarroo on Vimeo.

It was the longest dive I ever did to date (60mins. thanks to the school of jack fish that made me calmer underwater). Twin Rocks Marine Sanctuary did not disappoint, it offers a bit of everything from macro to pelagics. This site got its name because of the two big rocks underwater that is less than a meter apart. It is teeming with marine life and it is even dubbed as the number 1 dive site in Anilao. This is good for divers experienced dealing with currents, they said that the site is usually for advanced and skilled divers, that they do not really recommend it to beginners.  You can dive with just a 3mm suit, some even dive with just their board shorts (like my instructor) but there are thermoclines so if you have cold intolerance better to suit up.

Average depth: 15-20 meters/45-60 feet
Visibility: 10m.-20m./33ft.-66ft.
Current: Slight – Moderate

Anilao is a great diving escape for people tired of the metropolitan life in Manila who are itching to have saltwater in their skin. There is a good number of dive centers and resorts for you to choose from and it is one of the cheapest places in the Philippines to get certified.

Here are added commuting directions from http://www.ph-commute.com
From Caloocan:
Route 1: LRT-1-Bus
Take the LRT-1 to Gil Puyat station.
Ride a Tritran bus to Batangas City/Batangas Pier (leaves every 30 minutes, PHP149 fare) or a JAM Transit bus to Batangas.
Route 2: LRT-1-Bus
Take the LRT-1 to EDSA station.
Ride a BLTB bus to Nasugbu, Batangas or a JAM Transit bus to Batangas.
From Las Pinas:
From Alabang-Zapote Road, ride a jeep/bus to Alabang, and get off at Manuela Metropolis Alabang (Metropolis Mall).
Ride a bus to Batangas.
From Makati:
Route 1: MRT/Jeep-MRT/Jeep-Bus
Go to LRT-1-Gil Puyat station along Taft Ave. corner Gil Puyat Ave. (Buendia). In order to get there, you can either:
Take the MRT to Taft terminal station. Walk through the connecting foot bridge towards LRT-1-EDSA station. Take the LRT-1 to Gil Puyat station.
From Sen. Gil Puyat Ave. (Buendia), ride a jeep to Guadalupe, and get off at Buendia station. Take the MRT to Taft terminal station. Walk through the connecting foot bridge towards LRT-1-EDSA station. Take the LRT-1 to Gil Puyat station.
From Sen. Gil Puyat Ave. (Buendia), ride a jeep to LRT/Taft, and get off at Taft Ave.
Ride a Tritran bus to Batangas City/Batangas Pier (leaves every 30 minutes, PHP149 fare) or a JAM Transit bus to Batangas.
Route 2: MRT-Bus
Take the MRT to Taft terminal station.
Ride a BLTB bus to Nasugbu, Batangas or a JAM Transit bus to Batangas.
From Mandaluyong/Pasig:
Route 1: MRT-LRT-1-Bus
Take the MRT to Taft terminal station.
Walk through the connecting foot bridge towards LRT-1-EDSA station.
Take the LRT-1 to Gil Puyat station.
Ride a Tritran bus to Batangas City/Batangas Pier (leaves every 30 minutes, PHP149 fare) or a JAM Transit bus to Batangas.
Route 2: MRT-Bus
Take the MRT to Taft terminal station.
Ride a BLTB bus to Nasugbu, Batangas or a JAM Transit bus to Batangas.
Route 3: MRT-Bus
Take the MRT to Cubao station.
Walk 2 blocks along EDSA following the MRT track, past Farmers Plaza, Aurora Blvd., and Monte de Piedad. The bus terminal is just beyond Monte de Piedad.
Ride a bus to Batangas.
Route 4: MRT-Bus
Take the MRT to Kamuning station.
Walk 2 blocks the way you came along EDSA following the MRT track, past 11th Jamboree, GMA Channel 7, Metro Manila Commission, Timog Avenue/South Avenue, Carlos P. Garcia Avenue (East Avenue), Trinity Lutheran Church, and the Department of Interior and Local Government. (It’s not as far as it sounds.) The Tritran bus terminal is just beyond Trinity Lutheran Church.
Ride a Tritran bus to Batangas Pier (every 30 minutes, PHP 154 fare).
Route 5: MRT-Bus
Take the MRT to Cubao station.
Walk 1 block along EDSA the way you came, following the MRT track, until you get to Gen. McArthur Avenue.
Turn left at Gen. McArthur Avenue, and walk 5 short blocks past Session Road, Farmers Market, Gen. Araneta, Araneta Coliseum, Gen. Aguinaldo Avenue, Shopwise, Time Square Avenue, and Ali Mall, until you get to Gen. Romulo Avenue.
Cross Gen. Romulo Avenue. The bus terminal is just beside Auto Centro, across Ali Mall.
Ride a bus to Batangas.
From Manila:
Route 1: LRT-1/Jeep-Bus
Arrive at LRT-1-Gil Puyat. In order to get there:
Take the LRT-1 to Gil Puyat station.
Ride a jeep to Buendia/Taft, and get off at Gil Puyat station (Taft Ave. corner Sen. Gil Puyat Ave. [Buendia]).
Ride a Tritran bus to Batangas City/Batangas Pier (leaves every 30 minutes, PHP149 fare) or a JAM Transit bus to Batangas.
Route 2: LRT-1/Jeep-Bus
Arrive at LRT-1-Gil Puyat. In order to get there:
Take the LRT-1 to EDSA station.
Ride a jeep to EDSA/Taft/Baclaran, and get off at EDSA station (Taft Ave. corner EDSA).
Ride a BLTB bus to Nasugbu, Batangas or a JAM Transit bus to Batangas.
Route 3: Bus
From Plaza Lawton, ride a JAM Transit bus to Batangas Pier.
From Muntinlupa:
From Manuela Metropolis Alabang (Metropolis Mall), ride a bus to Batangas.
From Paranaque/Pasay:
Route 1: LRT-1-Bus
Take the LRT-1 to Gil Puyat station.
Ride a Tritran bus to Batangas City/Batangas Pier (leaves every 30 minutes, PHP149 fare) or a JAM Transit bus to Batangas.
Route 2: LRT-1-Bus
Take the LRT-1 to EDSA station.
Ride a BLTB bus to Nasugbu, Batangas or a JAM Transit bus to Batangas.
From Quezon City:
Route 1: MRT-Bus
Take the MRT to Taft terminal station.
Ride a BLTB bus to Nasugbu, Batangas or a JAM Transit bus to Batangas.
Route 2: MRT-LRT-1-Bus
Take the MRT to Taft terminal station.
Walk through the connecting foot bridge towards LRT-1-EDSA station.
Take the LRT-1 to Gil Puyat station.
Ride a Tritran bus to Batangas City/Batangas Pier (leaves every 30 minutes, PHP149 fare) or a JAM Transit bus to Batangas.
Route 3: LRT-2-LRT-1-Bus
Take the LRT-2 to Recto terminal station.
Walk through the connecting foot bridge towards LRT-1-Doroteo Jose station.
Take the LRT-1 to Gil Puyat station.
Ride a Tritran bus to Batangas City/Batangas Pier (leaves every 30 minutes, PHP149 fare) or a JAM Transit bus to Batangas.
Route 4: MRT-Bus
Take the MRT to Cubao station.
Walk 2 blocks along EDSA following the MRT track, past Farmers Plaza, Aurora Blvd., and Monte de Piedad. The bus terminal is just beyond Monte de Piedad.
Ride a bus to Batangas.
Route 5: MRT-Bus
Take the MRT to Kamuning station.
Walk 2 blocks the way you came along EDSA following the MRT track, past 11th Jamboree, GMA Channel 7, Metro Manila Commission, Timog Avenue/South Avenue, Carlos P. Garcia Avenue (East Avenue), Trinity Lutheran Church, and the Department of Interior and Local Government. (It’s not as far as it sounds.) The Tritran bus terminal is just beyond Trinity Lutheran Church.
Ride a Tritran bus to Batangas Pier (every 30 minutes, PHP 154 fare).
Route 6: MRT-Bus
Take the MRT to Cubao station.
Walk 1 block along EDSA the way you came, following the MRT track, until you get to Gen. McArthur Avenue.
Turn left at Gen. McArthur Avenue, and walk 5 short blocks past Session Road, Farmers Market, Gen. Araneta, Araneta Coliseum, Gen. Aguinaldo Avenue, Shopwise, Time Square Avenue, and Ali Mall, until you get to Gen. Romulo Avenue.
Cross Gen. Romulo Avenue. The bus terminal is just beside Auto Centro, across Ali Mall.
Ride a bus to Batangas.
From Taguig:
Route 1: Bus-MRT-LRT-1-Bus
From Market! Market!, Net2, or the Fort Open Field, ride the Fort bus/shuttle to Ayala.
Take the MRT to Taft terminal station.
Walk through the connecting foot bridge towards LRT-1-EDSA station.
Take the LRT-1 to Gil Puyat station.
Ride a Tritran bus to Batangas City/Batangas Pier (leaves every 30 minutes, PHP149 fare) or a JAM Transit bus to Batangas.
Route 2: Bus-MRT-Bus
From Market! Market!, Net2, or the Fort Open Field, ride the Fort bus/shuttle to Ayala.
Take the MRT to Taft terminal station.
Ride a BLTB bus to Nasugbu, Batangas or a JAM Transit bus to Batangas.