After several months of Philippines-only adventures, and four months since I’d seen Matt, my boyfriend, we prepared for a week-long trip to Japan. We stopped in Tokyo, Kobe, Kyoto, and Hakone – riding a ton of trains, consuming masses of ramen and sushi, and visiting a ton of temples! Definitely one of my favorite trips while I’ve been living in Asia.
There’s really nothing better than having a friend visit – especially when that friend was pretty much responsible for an awesome week-long vacation in Taiwan. Hey, three days in the Philippines might not be exactly the same, but I think A and I did alright giving FM the true Philippines experience. A day in Manila, a day climbing the Taal Volcano and exploring Tagaytay, and of course, what is a trip to the Philippines without the beach?
For having lived in the Philippines as long as I have (11 months now!!), it’s kind of a wonder how I’ve spent so little time in its capital city. Manila has always been a waypoint for me – the gateway to the rest of the Philippines via air. So when my friend FM (tour guide extraordinaire from my trip back in December, if you remember) came to the Philippines to visit A and I, we decided to give it a shot for a day. The funniest thing about that is the responses we got from the people in Manila – “you live in Pampanga? Why would you come here? Much better in Pampanga…” Despite their warnings, I think we managed to have a great time.
“Have you tried Boracay?” – one of the top questions I get when I mention to people in the Philippines I’ve been trying to explore as much of their stunning country as I can before heading back to the US. Well, as summer wound to a close and the rainy season loomed ahead, I’m happy to say I did try Boracay Island.
Boracay is where all the tourists – foreign and Filipino, mostly depending on the season – flock to in the Philippines, known for it’s white sand beach, stunning sunsets, and party atmosphere. When we arrived, I immediately noticed a difference between Boracay and most places in the Philippines I’ve visited – this was far more manufactured and packaged than anywhere else. It was like staying in a postcard. I kept pinching myself, wondering if it was really possible that I was spending a weekend in a place like that.
I was fortunate enough to find myself in Coron, Palawan, back in November when my boyfriend came to visit from the US. I adored Coron – and since then, Palawan had been beckoning me back, the pull especially strong from El Nido, at the northern tip of Palawan. Another stunning collection of limestone islands and clear waters. Well, lucky for me – I have now been to El Nido. And it lived up to my expectations.
One thing I’ve learned living in the Philippines is that places are much farther away than they appear. If you draw a straight line between Baguio and Banaue, it seems like no big deal. But that’s not how you go between the two – in actual, there are mountain passes and sketchy roads and the best way is to go around it all. I know all about the inaccuracy of Google Maps’ estimated time when driving in the Philippines. I know this, but I never learn it.
That’s why we thought a three day weekend would be enough to visit Pulag and the Banaue rice terraces. As ill-advised as that probably was – I actually think we made it work – somehow.
Just two weeks after my first time climbing a mountain, I was ready for the next one – Mt. Pulag, the highest mountain on Luzon at 2,922 meters above sea level. Pulag had been on the “maybe” list for me since arriving in the Philippines – the infamous sunrise over the sea of clouds was attractive, but I wasn’t so sure about the whole hiking thing. After Aryat though, I was pretty much ready for anything. Mt. Pulag did not disappoint – the hike was slightly easier, more scenic, and exceeded all my expectations.
We’re constantly looking for quick and easy getaways from Pampanga – Subic is definitely one of my favorites, it’s a short drive and easily done in a day. But Zambales has a lot more beaches to offer, especially on the side of the South China Sea, so we set our sights a little farther down the road to Pundaquit, San Antonio, Zambales.
Pundaquit is a small fishing village to the south of San Antonio proper, known for being the home of Anawangin Cove. There’s a beautiful beach, islands for hopping, hiking – a great little spot only a few hours away. We went for a quick overnight for island hopping, which is now my number one hobby. I’ve got to enjoy it while I’m still in the Philippines of course! We arrived in the late morning, and after a quick lunch we found someone to take us out on his boat. With a half day left, we stopped at the three main attractions of Pundaquit – Camera Island, Capones Island, and Anawangin Cove.
I can see it from the window of my office, I can see it from the roof of where I live. The mysterious Mt. Arayat, a long-dormant (so dormant it’s extinct) volcano which sticks out in the landscape of Pampanga. Seeing this mountain every day is one of my favorite parts of living where I live. Here’s a pic I snapped from the window of a flight out of Clark on one of my adventures – you can see it’s really the only mountain around.
After a week of traveling heavily, I was ready to take it easy for the weekend, stay close to home, and relax. “Let’s just climb Mt. Arayat,” we thought. “It’s only 30 minutes away, it’ll be a good way to spend a Saturday,” we thought. Let’s just say, my “easy” day turned into a pretty difficult, but I think worthwhile, adventure across the mountain. One of the unique, distinguishing features of Mt. Arayat are the two separate peaks – indicators of the crater which has long since collapsed. That’s why a popular way to hike the mountain is to do a traverse – starting at one end of the mountain, summiting both peaks, and coming down the other side. For anyone in the Philippines who would be interested in trying the traverse across Arayat, there are many resources on the internet to figure out the best way to go about it. I personally found PinoyMountaineer’s accounts the most useful for planning our trip. Continue reading
Closing out our Thailand trip was a couple days in Phuket followed by giving Bangkok a quick look because, well, you can’t go to Thailand without visiting Bangkok.
In Thailand, there are so many beaches to choose from. We ultimately went with staying at Karon beach, on the west coast of Phuket, about an hour south of the airport. This took some serious deliberation since there are soooo many beautiful beaches in Thailand. But the descriptions of the Karon beach area, coupled with the fact that we found a kayak tour in Phang Nga Bay which seemed awesome and quickly made our “must do” list, we picked Phuket.
After an amazing final day playing with elephants in Chiang Mai, we dragged ourselves out of bed nice and early to fly to Phuket first thing in the morning. We were on a mission to be beach bums as soon as possible – we barely had two days to spend in Phuket, so we wanted each one to count. We arrived at our hotel around noon and got right down to it. Continue reading
Our first stop in Thailand was the city of Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. Our theory of how to spend our time in Thailand was simple: cultural immersion (Chiang Mai), beach bumming (Phuket), and a taste of the big city (Bangkok). Chiang Mai was a great place to start.
We arrived on a Sunday night, just in time for the weekly night market for some street eats. It was of course hot hot hot out (April is one of the hottest months in Thailand) so L and I happily split a fresh coconut, some Pad Thai, and a mango with sticky rice for our opening meal. We followed this by wandering the streets and each buying too many pairs of the stereotypical tourist flowy pants. I now own three pairs, which is definitely more than any reasonable person needs. Continue reading