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Location 24, 25, 26, 27: Singapore; Puerto Galera, Manila & Cebu, Philippines

PHILIPPINES | Wednesday, 15 June 2016 | Views [365]

Singapore; Puerto Galera, Manila & Cebu - Philippines

Once I left Indonesia, after close to a month of visiting,  it was nice to spend a few days in Singapore.  Singapore lives up to its reputation of being a very clean and manicured city in the heart of southeast Asia.  I arrived in the afternoon on my first day and got on the train into downtown Singapore.  Once I reached my stop I exited the station and grabbed a bus to the stop closest to my hostel.  I managed to secure a bed at an inexpensive place (surprising for Singapore) that was near several bus stops and only a 10 minute walk to the closest train station.  The hostel had a very fast internet connection and free bread/tea/coffee 24 hours a day (both of these things were major perks after being in Indonesia for 30 days), so I dropped off my things and figured out what I should do for the next 48 hours.  I decided that I wanted to take the train to Little India, primarily because the recommendation on what to do there was eat my way through. Singapore is an expensive city, so budget food locales were what I was targeting, and conveniently almost every eatery in Little India is cheap.  I walked around the area for close to two hours before deciding on a place to grab a meal.  I managed to get a large portion of biryani with vegetables and spicy red curry for ~$6.  It was clearly more expensive than most the places I had eaten in the last couple months, but overall it was not a huge hit to the budget.  Once I ate I decided to find my way to Mount Faber to get a view of the city skyline at night.  Unfortunately for me I arrived only to realize that my phone had died, so I wasn't able to capture the moment, but it was definitely a view to see.  I was still pretty tired from the late night arrival into Bali and the early morning connection to Singapore, so I headed back to grab some sleep.

One side note about Singapore that I think is worth mentioning is that it may be the first place, I have visited, in the last 2.5 months that I felt completely comfortable walking around.  I was  not gawked or pointed at and I was not constantly compelled to check my pockets for my belongings.  In most of the major cities, I have been to, there is a certain skepticism about pickpockets because most locations are littered with signs warning you about it.  I honestly felt at times that I was in the middle of a western city, with the exception of the humidity and the high heat index.  

The second day I woke up and purchased a ticket for (the owner had established relationships with various businesses, providing his customers price reductions on activities) the aquarium on Sentosa Island.  Sentosa Island is also home to Universal Studios- Singapore, so the entire vicinity is perfectly maintained, extremely clean and very expensive.  I spent a few hours walking around the different tanks and just enjoying some quiet time.  Once I finished there I took the free shuttle (included with my ticket) back to the main land of Singapore and decided I was going to sneak my way into Marina Bay Sands.  If you haven't heard of it, it is the massive (and outrageously expensive) hotel/skyscraper that hosts a series of cascading infinity pools at the the very top.  I have talked to several people and had gotten very mixed messages on the liklihood of me being able to get in without actually having a room in the hotel.  I managed to make my way there and just kind of slipped into the lobby and up the elevator.  Once I was at the top I knew it was only a matter of time before I was going to be approached so I tried to find an angle for a few pictures….within about 30 seconds I had a hotel employee ask me what room I was staying in.  I thought about trying to lie my way in, but with Singapore being so clean and modernized I had a feeling they would have investigated the legitimacy of my claim.  I owned up to not actually staying there and they said I could either purchase a meal or leave.  I opted for leaving, because though the view was quite spectacular, the price of a sandwich would have been my budget for the day.  I was pretty tired at that point, so I decided to head back to my bed for an afternoon nap.  Once I woke up it was about time to grab some dinner, so I walked over to the train station and headed to Chinatown.  Chinatown- like Little India is also relatively inexpensive, or at least comparatively to the rest of the restaurants in Singapore.  I grabbed a pretty delicious spread of dim sum and then called it a night.  It was a short, but productive stay in Singapore and I managed to get by on just $70 in 2.5 days (honestly- I impressed myself).

Once I left Singapore I flew to Manila.  My connection got heinously delayed in Kuala Lumpur, so instead of making it to Manila at 9pm, I arrived at 3am.  I've heard from several travelers that Manila isn't a particularly friendly place to travelers, in that foreigners typically face some level of "scamming" when trying to leave the airport.  I was supposed to get an airport pickup from the hotel (I opted for a hotel, since I was leaving that morning at 8am to go to Mindoro) but they were nowhere to be found, so I spent close to 20 minutes just trying to find a taxi that would run the meter.  The majority of the drivers like to say they have a set fare, and it typically is an outlandish amount of pesos.  I kept being quoted anywhere from 900-1400 pesos and the hotel website said it shouldn't be more than 800.  I finally found a man who promised to run the meter and it ended up only costing me 500, so patience often times can be a great way to save some cash.  Once I checked-in I immediately went to sleep and then woke up 3 hours later to buy my ferry ticket to Mindoro (I did eat complimentary breakfast in the hotel, where the waitstaff took turns taking photos with me).  The process to get to Mindoro was a 3 hour bus ride from Manila to Batangas City and then from there it was a 1 hour, crowded boat ride, to Sabang Harbor.  I had pre-booked a dive trip in Puerto Galera before I even left on my backpacking trip.  I had pre-paid the room and part of the diving costs, so it wasn't a huge hit to my spending and I got an air-conditioned bungalow, a real bathroom, a double bed, terrace w/ hammock, and cable TV. (heaven).  I spent 5 nights at the resort and it ended up being a wonderful time.  I opted to spend a bit more money than I was planning in order to get my Advanced Open Water SCUBA certification.  It is a series of five dives that all build upon the skills you learn in the initial certification. The five dives I chose were wreck, under water navigation, search and recovery, night diving, and deep water diving.  Each day I did 2-4 dives (once I finished the course I just did fun dives) and it was an exhausting, but great 6 days.  I saw several turtles, sea snakes, grouper, huge schools of fish, eels and an unprecedented amount of sea life.  The best part was being able to safety descend to 40 meters.  I had gone quite deep (30-35 meters) in Indonesia, but I was not technically certified to do so, so I spent more time worrying rather than enjoying it.  Overall- the room alone was worth the trip, but the diving was spectacular.

I took the same route back to Manila and spent a few days just wandering the city, eating locally and just trying to get a feel for what the city had to offer. Manila lacks a real public transportation system, so you are reliant on walking (unbearably humid- it was wet season, so the sweating was constant), jeepneys (old school trucks with a hood that wedge 20-25 people in the bed, but only costs 7 pesos - mere cents), or taxis.  I did a collection of all three and the taxis were definitely my preferred method.  It obviously costs more, but they are air-conditioned, private and are a direct stop.  I did a variety of things while in Manila, including a stop at the massive Mall of Asia.  It is one of the largest malls I have ever been to and it includes anything and everything (western restaurants, Olympic ice rink, 6 movie theaters, etc).  I met up with a buddy of mine, who I met in Indonesia, and grabbed some beers with him one evening (beer is king in the Philippines, you can find a solid local beer for just under $1.20).  I also went to a place called Ringside, in the Red Light District, (which also happened to be where my hostel was, I spent a small percentage of my time each day declining invitations from prostitutes) where they do "little people" boxing.  It definitely felt like a low class circus act, but it was recommended by a few people - an experience to say the least.  I made it to a couple night markets, where I ate all the internal organs of a chicken and pig (better than I thought it would be), and really just spent time walking the streets.  Manila overall was a huge city with probably a lot more to offer than what I actually saw, but it was overwhelmingly busy and I honestly was looking forward to the next stop.

The last few days in the Philippines I spent on Cebu, which is another Island that is southwest of Luzon (where Manila is).  I purchased a roundtrip flight from Manila for $85 and opted to spend 2 nights and 3 days there.  I met some really great people during that time, and they offered up a detailed itinerary for my upcoming stay in Myanmar.  The day I arrived I just spent hanging out at the hostel, the unique part about this hostel is that it sits directly on the water, so it basically is a low budget resort.  It had a small farm, including goats, chickens, and a big sow, I named her Pearl.  The next morning we got up at 6am and grabbed a bus to Oslob.  Oslob is on the southern tip of Cebu and it is home to migrating whale sharks.  Now- in general I don't really love the idea of places where it is known to have certain animals, because it typically means there is some form of human infiltration, in the natural order of things, but I needed to see these friendly giants.  Upon arriving we dropped our stuff off in a locker and then boarded a small row boat that took us out to where the whale sharks were circling and it was honestly unbelievable.  These giant creatures were completely free to leave, but the locals feed them dried shrimp remains, so they will swim a 150 yards off the shoreline (this is the part I have a bit of an objection to), but after hearing that they are not present every day made me feel better.  I actually heard from several different people (travelers and locals) that some days they are nowhere insight and other days there may only be one nearby.  We must have struck gold because we saw close to 8 whale sharks and they truly are as big and docile as described.  It was awesome to be that close to these magnificent creatures.  The rest of the day I just hung out on the beach with friends, reading and relaxing.  I woke up the next morning and grabbed a bus back to Mactan (airport is 4 hours from the hostel), then I spent a painful 9 hours waiting for my forever delayed flight to Manila.  

I am currently on the flight from Manila to Kuala Lumpur, where I will stay the night and then fly to Yangon, Myanmar tomorrow morning.  I am really looking forward to one of the more untouched places in Southeast Asia.

Neill

See photos here

 

Tags: philippines, scuba, singapore, whale sharks

 

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