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Philippines: 2016

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I haven’t been to the Philippines since I was a little girl. Being half Filipino, it’s always interesting returning to a place that your ancestors once had roots. Today, the Philippines is known as a premiere destination for diving, snorkeling, and boating, but it is so much more than that. Aside from having the warmest and friendliest people in the world, the Philippines has deep cultural traditions and diverse locales to offer visitors.

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Leaving from NYC, it’s easy to find relatively inexpensive flights to Manila. Traveling during Summer or Winter is a bit more expensive since it’s high season, but if you plan enough in advance, you can get a great flight for around $800. They always offer last-minute upgrades also, so wait until closer to your flight to book first class!
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During the TAO Philippines trip, they provide all accommodations. Each night you spend on one of their different islands. We also stayed in great Airbnbs in El Nido and Bohol, so would definitely recommend checking those out for a more authentic experience. In Manila, we stayed in the at the Shangri-La Makati. It was an excellent location and call ahead for any promotions they might be offering.

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After a full day of flying, we touched down in Manila. We had a relaxing overnight stay at Nobu Manila before an early afternoon flight. The hotel was gracious to let us keep our luggage there until we returned from our boat trip.

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Cebu Pacific flight to Coron was very quick and we settled into our hotel, Coron Westown. There is a boat safety meeting the day before your departure so we decided to explore to town prior to departure.

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Departure for TAO meets early in the morning, so we take a tricycle to the port. The first stop was East Tangat, a WWII Japanese shipwreck site. It was an amazing dive, but there were tons of jellyfish! The next shipwreck site was Lusong shipwreck. It was less crowded and we even saw a few sharks. The next island we stopped at was Maltatayon Island to have lunch and visit the beach. Pure white sand and some of the clearest water welcomed us. The last shipwreck diving site of the day was Malkatok Island. This site had great diving to see fish, I even saw a Nemo. The last stop was the base camp on Patsy Island. One of the prettiest sunsets and a few glasses of jungle juice made it a perfect first day on the boat! 

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We wake up at the crack of dawn. The goal of the trip was to never miss a sunrise or sunset and it was successfully accomplished! The first stop of the day after an amazing breakfast of fresh tropical fruit was Alawa Village. We stopped here to purchase fresh fish and octopus for lunch and dinner. We even got to play basketball with the local children. Next island was Araw’s Beach to have lunch and swim in the pristine waters. The next stop was Dimanlit Island to go snorkeling and kayaking. The last stop was the base camp on Kulaylayan Island. Another amazing day being on the water in the outrigger!

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Up early for a nice sunrise kayaking trip before breakfast. The first island stop is Cobra Island for great snorkeling. Lunch was at Takling Island before heading to the TAO basecamp. The main camp has a full organic garden and they give you a talk about how sustainable tourism that TAO promotes affects the local Northern Palawan community. It was heartwarming to see such an honest and giving company and the amazing staff they have. The last stop for the day was Daracutan Base Camp, one of the prettiest islands yet and a fantastic sunset!

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Up again for sunrise and our first stop after breakfast is Nacpan Beach. This is the most developed island that we have been to and it was great to walk through the villages. We also did a nice hike here for an amazing view of the neighboring islands. The next stop for lunch was Cadlao Island. Southern Palawan started to reveal itself with steeper rock faces and volcanic ash formations. The last stop was Tapiutan Island for an amazing last meal of lechon.

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The sunrise greats us again for our last day on the boat. We are headed to our final destination in El Nido, but first stop at the Secret Beach. This is actually where a lot of inspiration for the novel “The Beach”, made popular by the movie, started. Next stop was the Big Lagoon in Manioc Island for kayaking between the multitude of islands. The last stop was the Cadlao Lagoon before heading to the port in El Nido. By the end of the trip, we were exhausted so we headed to our Airbnb for a shower and an early sleep.

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Up early for our morning flight. We took a great “private” plane from El Nido to Manila which was amazing. You can reserve through the El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe. Once in Manila, we picked up our “nice stuff” luggage that they so graciously let us leave there and enjoyed brunch at the Nobu Hotel. Our flight was later that afternoon to Bohol so we left and arrived less than an hour later on our next island adventure. We stayed at an amazing Airbnb in Panglao Island and this was the first real shower we had in a week! Our hosts were incredibly nice so we had a meal with them in town and a nice swim in the pool before heading to bed early. 

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For our first full day in Bohol, we were fortunate enough to get a tour of the “Orphan Churches” in Bohol. I am an architecture student and hopefully helping to restore these churches which are not receiving any government funding for repairs or seismic retrofitting for future natural disasters. It was a long day of documenting, but it was great to see the less touristy side of Bohol. For dinner we head later by tricycle to Alona Beach. First tiki drinks at the Friendship Bar and then a nice Italian meal at Giuseppe’s. By the way alcohol is extremely inexpensive in the Philippines for foreigners. For example a rum and coke is only $1USD and for Hour Hour, it’s two for one! I didn’t know I missed cheese so much! Back by tricycle for a late night refreshing dip in the pool.

Up early again for a touristy view of the island. The best option for transportation is to hire a private car for the day. The island is spread out and it’s not easy to find your way around if you’re not familiar with the roads here. Our first stop was the Tarsier Sanctuary, which I cannot recommend enough. They are nocturnal animals, but honestly one of the cutest things I have ever witnessed. Unfortunately, they have become very popular so this is really the only place where they actually take care of the animals properly. Please don’t visit other farms while here because many of those animals are basically treated as slaves and not cared for properly. The next stop was the famous Chocolate Hills. It’s a great vista to take amazing photos of these natural wonders, just be sure to get there prior to the crowds! The next stop was the oldest coral church on the island, Baclayon Church, which was built in 1727. Truly an amazing site, don’t miss it! Next stop was a late lunch and swim at the Bohol Bee Farm. They pride themselves on organic fare straight from their garden and it was great to have a fresh meal. Last stop of the day is home after a long day of exploring the island.

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We have an early afternoon flight back to Manila so we have one last home cooked breakfast and dip in the pool before heading to the airport. After all of those flights, once we arrive we head to explore Makati and check into the Shangri-La Makati. The new development was quite the contrast from the rural provinces and villages we had seen in the previous week of our trip. It was nice to get back to the “real world” for awhile though. Air conditioning and plumbing are definitely things many of us take for granted. We head out for drinks at Blackbird across the streets. The friendliest bartenders are there for you and the space itself is a wonderfully converted old airport hanger. It’s definitely at the top of my list when I return. For dinner, we walk to nearby Rural Kitchen. The food is a modern, but authentic take on Filipino food and I was really impressed. Manila is known for its nightlife and fun-loving people so we head to the lounge at the Salon de Ning at the Peninsula.

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Finally got to sleep in a bit, which has been a change from the normal 5am wakeup call. The buffet at the Shangri-La is amazing and so worth getting up for! First stop was Quiapo. A less visited side of Manila, but interesting none the less. Many go for their famous Cathedral, but a few streets over stand the Boix House and the Bahay Nakpil Museum. Both are in various stages of preservation efforts, but I’m excited to see where this goes and hope to promote this as a tool for heritage tourism in the future. Nearby on Hidalgo Street, which is worth a stroll through the markets, is the San Sebastian Basilica. It is an amazing structure, that must be seen in person and has undergone significant renovations for the local community. We head back to the hotel after a hectic day to clean up for drinks at Blackbird (again)! Dinner is at an amazing place called Your Local before a night of fun at the speakeasy Exit Bar.

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Again up just in time for breakfast and we head over to Intramuros. This is the oldest part of Manila, with remnants from the earliest Spanish arrival in the 16th century. Traffic can be a nightmare in Manila, so we opt for a Ferry service to see the waterfront action. We arrived early for the famous Carlos Celdron tour of Intramuros, so head to the local church to witness the wedding culture of the Philippines. This really was a sight to see and I recommend anyone to go to a church on a Sunday to witness the processions. The tour gives a sometimes too honest history of the Philippines, a lot of which I didn’t know before. It’s hilarious, enlightening, but as with any developing country has a heavy dose of heartbreaking history. Really wonderful and experienced tour guide and he is doing a lot to help promote tourism and rehabilitation within the community for the locals. Our next stop was the Cultural Center of the Philippines, a controversial structure designed during the Marcos era. It’s an interesting architectural gem and definitely worth the visit. After a long, humid day, we head back to the pool at the hotel. We head out to ABV for a light meal and cocktails to celebrate the last night of our trip.

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One last meal before our long day journey back to New York. The Philippines is an amazing country and I can’t wait to return in the near future. With so much promise and some of the kindest people I have ever met, I know it’s destined for great opportunities in the future. Proud to be Filipino!

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Filipinos have their bahala na attitude that espouses living life to the fullest without worrying about the present because it will be soon gone anyway.
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The Philippines has the largest diaspora network in the world, with 11 million Filipinos living and working overseas.

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There are 175 languages and dialects in the Philippines, and 171 of these are actively used in the country.

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Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is one of the world’s most densely populated cities, with 43,079 people per square kilometer.
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