Tom's Travel Blog

Independent travel around Eastern Europe, East Asia and beyond

Philippines

by tom on 03/10/2015

I went to the Philippines for a 10 day holiday from work. As the Philippines is relatively close to Taiwan, I thought this should be a fairly quick and easy trip and that it should be failry cheap too. It was more expensive than I thought it was going to be, but it was still fun!

Day 1

I started by getting up at 5.30am and getting the MRT to the airport. I over slept slightly and was a bit worried about getting there in time, but the MRT was fast and I got the bus I thought I was going to get. Everything went to plan after that and I got to Manila without any problems.

As soon as I got out of the airport, I followed the advice of the hostel and got the ‘coupon’ taxi to Makati, where I would be staying. I knew what the price should be and got pointed in the direction of the yellow ‘airport’ taxis, as the coupon taxis were only a fixed price. I later found out the the yellow ‘airport’ taxis are also expensive, and ended up paying 2-3 times what a Filipino said they could get to the air port for, which, eventually, I began to get close to at the end of the trip.

Once in Makati, I had a rest and then got 2 jeepneys to Luneta, which is basically a big park near the old Spanish colonial city of Intramuros. I got 2 jeepneys back again and went to bed. I also ate in a fairly expensive BBQ restaurant, as it was the only place open at 11pm!

Day 2

On day 2 I decided to go around Intramuros properly, as it’s the main attraction in Manila. After swatting off 2 tricycle-drivers, I found one that I liked, that took me on a tour of Intramuros for 1 hour. He was cool and told me a load of stuff that it would have taken me ages to find on the sign posts and it was a lot more fun.

After the tour of Intramuros, I walked around Chinatown, which is probably the most developed part of the city in central Manila, and then took 2 x trains, 3 x jeepneys and walked to get back to the hostel. I took the advice of the people in the hostel and ate at a local Filipino fast food restaurant, which I shall not be repeating, unless I’m desperate.

Day 3

Day 3 was spent going to Taal Volcano, which was a bit of an adventure. I went with someone in the hostel who was going in that direction, and we got a jeepney to the bus station and a big bus to a shopping centre. He then left me and I got a smaller bus to Tagatay, which was where I needed to get to, but he didn’t explain what I should do once I was there. I spoke to a traffic policeman, who waved over one of his friends, who said he could get me to the island and back again for 1400 Pesos, but as I didn’t know how much it should cost, I declined the offer and decided to go down to Talisay instead, where the boats leave from.

Once I was there, I waled around trying to find a cheap price for a boat, but all of the tourists were already booked on tours and the municipality had set a standard price for boat tickets, which was 1500 Pesos. As I was only 1 person, this was too much, so I tried to get it down to 1000 and eventually got it to 1100 Pesos, which took a lot of work. After getting the boat to Taal Volcano and climbing up it, I got the boat back again, but some extra people were on the boat that I had spent so long haggling for. I decided to mention this as we got close to the port on the way back, but one of them was one of the other boat drivers and was particularly argumentative and I ended up having an argument with the passenger and the owner of the boat (who was in the port). I ended up paying the same price as we agreed, but it was a fairly unpleasant experience.

I found the same bloke who had driven me from Tagatay to Talisay and there was another misunderstanding about how much it was going to be for him to drive me back up the mountain again. He said 100 Pesos extra at the bottom, and it turned out he meant 100 Pesos plus what I had paid him last time, instead of it being 100 Pesos for the return trip, which is what I thought he meant. He didn’t drop me at the bus station, but I was so tired at this point that I gave him what he was asking for and found the bus stop myself. This took me on a direct bus to Makati, which is exactly what I needed, but it was a fairly long and slow journey. Once I was back I had a shower and went and saw one of my friends in the Philippines for dinner.

Day 4

On day 4 I got a flight to Bohol, which was the island that I decided I’d be staying on next. I got up at 5.30am and got another taxi to the airport, along roads that were decidedly less congested than last time. Once at the airport in Bohol, I picked up a tourist map and walked outside for a tricycle taxi to the place I’d be staying. Taxi drivers were asking for 150 Pesos, but as I didn’t know how much it should be, I went for one who was offering 100 Pesos. It should be in the region of about 30-40 Pesos, but as there are plenty of tourists who will go for 150 Pesos, these may be difficult to find. I got to the hotel, which was great, and got another jeepney to Panglao Island and Alona Beach. The beach was very touristy, but the journey there was great, being crammed in with a load of local Filipinos with their shopping from Tagbilaran, the capital city in Bohol, and going through the countryside.

On the way back, I knew when the last jeepney was, despite tricycle taxi drivers telling me to the contrary. When I missed the last jeepney, which was going in the opposite direction to the direction I thought it was going to go in, I went and found another tricycle driver who would take me the whole way back to Tagbilaran. Once there, I went and got dinner in a really good, local restaurant that had been recommended by the people in the hotel.

Day 5

On day 5 I hired a motorbike and went to the Chocolate Hills, which was the main reason for visiting Bohol. The jouney to Carmen, for the Chocolate Hills, was a lot of fun. There were a lot of small villages with smiling kids, jungle and beautiful scenery. I passed through the Manmade Forest, which is a picturesque forest that the road passes through. I also passed through some beautiful rice fields, which as it was harvesting time, smelt strongly of sweet rice.

I got to the Chocolate Hills and had a look around. I was expecting it to be more of a complex (of hills), but it was a single viewing gallery above the main concentration of hills. It was good and I had my photo taken with other Filipinos on holiday. After that, I decided to take a loop back to Tagbilaran around the long way, which was a lot of fun. It was more of what I’d driven though earlier and I ended up doing over 150 Km on the motorbike through winding roads, jungle and rice fields. It was good.

When I got back to Tagbilaran I rested, had a shower and went back to the good, local restaurant from the day before. I spent the evening planning where I would be going the next day.

Day 6

I had spent most of the previous evenings in the hotel trying to decide where to go next. The people in the hostel in Manila had recommended Palawan, but I had checked the main airlines’ websites and couldn’t find any flights there from Bohol. The two closest islands were Siquijor and Camiguin, and I had almost decided on Camiguin when I decided to ask on the front desk what the best way to get to Camiguin was. The woman said that there was a ferry that left 3 times a week and it was leaving the next day, so that was my decision made for me.

I got up early and got a tricycle to the local bus station. I then got a bus to Jagna, in the east of Bohol, for a boat to Camiguin. As I had got there early, I had about 1.5 hours in Jagna whilst I was waiting for the boat. Once it had arrived and were were allowed to board, I sat on the deck talking to Temio, a Filipino who was born and lived in Camiguin. He offered to share the motorella (tricycle) ride to where we were staying, and we split the cost with some Dutch people who were sitting behind us on the boat.

I hadn’t booked acommodation on Camiguin, so went looking for somewhere to stay as soon as I got there. I decided to look around the place where the Dutch people were staying and eventually found somewhere, after trying almost every guesthouse in the village. The room had a balcony and was on the sea front, so after getting something to eat I went to sleep with the sound of the waves coming in through the windows.

Day 7

On day 7 I hired another motorbike and went around the island. I bumped into the Dutch people at the Tuwasan Falls, which is a waterfall fairly deep inside the island. We were there at the exact same time, which was a complete coincidence!

As I was riding around the island, I was looking into diving for the next day. Once I had looped around the island, I found a dive shop that I hadn’t tried yet and arranged with them to go diving the next day. They agreed to meet me a few buildings down from where I was staying and I was be able to do 2 dives before it was so late in the day that it wouldn’t be safe to fly the next day.

I had BBQ for dinner in a street restaurant and booked flights for Manila a few days later.

Day 8

On day 8 I met the boat at one of the resorts close to where I was staying and had 2 dives off a traditional Filipino boat with a diesel engine fitted. The crew were all Filipinos, with the first divemaster on the island taking us in, and we had 2 spectacular dives around a white coral sand island slightly out to sea called White Island. It was some of the best diving I had ever done and we spent the 1 hour surface interval on White Island, which is just a sand bank, which was good, as some people were offering paid trips there. I was diving with the divemaster and one other (different) Dutch guy was swimming behind us, taking photos. Another Dutch guy (also different) was on the boat, as he was in the Philippines snorkelling, as his brother (also Dutch!) owned the dive shop.

In the evening I went into the capital city, Mambajao, to get money out and ate in a decent Italian restaurant along the road on the way back. I talked to the owner, who was friendly and talked to everyone, and had several beers before heading back.

Day 9

On Saturday I got the owner of the motorbike I had rented to take me to the airport before I gave him the bike back. He turned up to collect me and I paid him once we reached the airport!

I got a flight back to Manila, via Cebu, the 2nd largest city in the Philippines. I talked to Sean, a construction manager in Abu Dhabi, on the flight from Cebu to Manila, and it was actually a fairly enjoyable conversation. He stuck up the conversation as soon as he sat down, and was married to a Filipino he met in Abu Dhabi, but who was from Camiguin. He was on his 6-monthly trip to visit them!

I got back to the same hostel in Manila and had a rest from the journey. I planned to see May again and go around a museum she recommended, but she over-slept and I ended up going around it myself. I spent the evening watching the Xmas lights being turned on in a park close the the museum, which was an interesting experience, because the area was a lot more developed than the rest of the places I’d been to and you could have been anywhere in the world.

Day 10

On the last day I got up early and got the flight back to Taiwan. I decided to delay the taxi slightly, as people at work get sweets when they go away, and I managed to find some suitably garish ones that I thought they’d like. I got the taxi to the airport, waited 45 minutes in the queue to check in, another 30 minutes in the queue for security and then got to the departure gate about 1.5 hours after arriving. I got the flight back to Taiwan and arrived in Taipei without any problems!

Taiwan (台灣)

by tom on 18/05/2015

I’m in Taiwan! I spent a month getting here from London, with 1 month in Western and Eastern Europe and roughly 16 hours on planes.

The journey to the airport in Istanbul was quite stressful and would have been more problematic had I not left so much time to get there! I figured out from the airplane tickets which airport I needed to go to and didn’t realise that the line on the metro map I thought I’d be taking to the airport was a tram and so had to change half-way through. As a girl at the Kadikoy ferry station had taken my last Lira as payment for helping me work the ticket machine, I had to find an ATM in the rush and mid-day heat, only to have to change trams and then change to get back onto the metro again. Eventually I got to the airport, had 15 minutes until check-in closed and was still going through security. With 10 minutes before the gate shut, I made it and went and collapsed on the plane for the flight to Taipei!

Look at the About page for more information on why I’m here. I’ve also created a Jobs page to provide advice for anyone thinking of doing the same thing.

 

Istanbul

by tom on 14/05/2015

I got to Istanbul via a 7 hour bus ride from Plovdiv. It’s one of the nicest buses I’ve ever been on, but it didn’t stop for breaks, other than a toilet stop as per request, but it got us to Istanbul fairly efficiently. I then had a bit of an adventure trying to find the hostel, but got there in the end!

Phillipa had bought bus tickets for Nathan and I the day before, so we all took the hire car back to the hire car shop and the person working there drove us to the bus station. We sat and had tea and I tried to find things to spend my money on before getting to the border with Turkey. Despite planning to get a visa on arrival, I decided to get an e-visa at the last minute and had to answer some questions asked by the border offical on entry into Turkey. I could see the first mosque without even leaving the border crossing and we eventually got to Istanbul after a fairly long and sustained drive from the border crossing to Istanbul. The drivers changed, but without many breaks, it was a pretty long journey from Plovdiv to Istanbul.

Once there, I said goodbye to Phillipa and Nathan and went to ask when the next bus to Taksim was. It turned out that the person working in the shuttle bus office didn’t know what the difference between 3 and 5 was, as I ended up missing 2 buses waiting for a bus to Taksim. Once I was at Taksim, it turns out the Google Maps is out of date and it was very difficult finding the hostel. I eventually asked someone eating a kebap where a particular shop was and once I knew that I was able to make my way to the hostel. Once there I met Alex, an Egyptian student studying in Turkey and we went for a kebap together.

Whilst in Istanbul, I did a lot of walking around and went to the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, the Istanbul University Beyazit Campus, the Fatih Mosque, the Basilica Cistern and the History of Islamic Science and Technology Museum. I also got the public ferry to one of the nearby ferry stops on the Asian side of Istanbul and had an amusing night out with Alex and (another!) Australian I’d met in the hostel.

I spent a few days in Istanbul before heading to Taipei.

Plovdiv

by tom on 11/05/2015

I got to Plovdiv on a train from Sofia. The train ride was straightforward and I found the hostel without too many problems. Other than being rained-off one day, pretty much everything went to plan!

I left the hostel in Sofia and asked the bloke working there which direction I needed to head in, in order to get the ram to the train station. I hadn’t listened to the woman’s instructions before, and ended up wandering around Sofia for about an hour in an area that wasn’t on my map, so decided to ask before setting off. I found the tram, figured out how the ticketing system worked (there was a non-descript grey box behind the driver’s cab) and made it to the train station. I knew the train and bus sations were next to eachother and I had arrived at the bus station, but got off the tram and it wasn’t immediately obvious where the train station was. I walked down the road a bit and there was a building that looked a bit like it could be a train station, with the word ‘gare’ written on it, so I presumed that was it. Inside a ‘tourist information’ bloke followed me to the ticket office and then led me to the platform my train was leaving from, but as the station was under construction, I had presumed it was a free service, as the whole place was a building site. It wasn’t free, but I didn’t give him any money, as I had said I was fine from the beginning!

The train journey was straightforward. I got to Plovdiv and it wasn’t obvious from the train station that I had arrived there. After getting off, I noticed the word ‘Plovdiv’ in gold on the cream-coloured background of the station building and made my way to a kebap shop for a ridiculously cheap chicken kebap with chips in it.

After finding the hostel, I met Nathan and Phillipa who were Australians who had been travelling for 3 years. I wanted to go to Buzludzha, a UFO tower that had been used as the Communist Party headquartes in Bulgaria in the 1980s. Nathan also wanted to go, so we agreed to see what the weather was like the next day before hiring a car. As Nathan didn’t have his licence, I would be hiring and driving it and as it was raining the next day, I spent the morning updating the blog and the afternoon walking around Plovdiv and up Youth Hill.

The next day I went with Nathan to the car hire place. We were with two Californians from the same hostel, who took the slightly bigger manual car and we took the smaller automatic one. As I hadn’t driven on the right side of the road before, we took it easy and made it to a road-side restaurant that had its own fish-farm attached. Once we reached Buzludzha, Nathan and I spent several hours climbing around inside and made it up to the top of the tower (reportedly 16 storeys) before making it down and getting back to the hostel. As both Nathan, Phillipa and I were going to Istanbul the next day, Phillipa had bought bus tickets and we drove the hire car back to the rental shop the next morning, after which the car-hire bloke drove us to the bus station and dropped us off.

When we had got back from Buzludzha the day before, I had parked outside the hostel and I had a faint recollection about someone saying there may be parking problems outside the hostel. When I got down the next morning, there was a parking inspector standing over the car filling a form out and someone attaching a clamp to the front wheel. I tried to explain that I was moving it, but they insisted I pay the fine and they removed the wheel clamp. This was my first parking ticket ever (20 Lev)!