Thursday, July 10, 2008

Philippines: Manila and Lake Taal (July 3-4)

I spent this last week in the Philippines. Unfortunately, The Boyfriend did not get to come; he had to work. Fortunately, I had three great travelling companions: The Gastronomer (whom I met through her Gastronomy website in HCMC), her boyfriend The Astronomer and C2 who works with The Astronomer. C2 is also a fellow Canadian Viet Kieu. Are all the aliases confusing?

After contemplating a few destinations within South East Asia, we were attracted to the Philippines because of the combination of city/beach we could visit at an affordable price. We also felt Philippines was more off the beaten track because it is not yet a popular destination for tourists. I think the Philippines is perceived as lacking its own unique culture after being colonized by Spain and then becoming an American territory? Incorrect! They definitely have a culture that is unique to them. I had imagined everyone speaking English (sort of like in Singapore) but while most people can speak English, most speak a mixture of Tagalog (with some Spanish sounding words) and English that’s quite intriguing.

Ok, no more of the boring stuff. Here are some pictures and an overview of our first few days in Manila. I will break the trip down into a few posts including entries of our stay on the island of Palawan.

Our trip started late on Wednesday night. It seems all Ho Chi Minh City-Manila flights are scheduled at 1 am. On top of this, our flight was delayed by over an hour. After arriving in Manila, we just slept in until noon. After waking up, we hit a mall to have some lunch and also book our flights to a beach destination. And maybe did a little bit of shopping...!

C2, The Astronomer and The Gastronomer taking a nap at Tan Son Nhat airport.

Manila is known for malls after malls after more malls!

The next day, we decided to go see Lake Taal. In the middle of the lake, is Volcano Island which has its own lake in the centre. We wanted to book a tour but the ones we found were about 100 USD! The G&A (Gastronomer and Astronomer) tried to book a taxi, but the driver called them at 4:30 am and demanded more money. We therefore had to go on our own by bus, which was quite the undertaking.

One thing we found about taxi drivers is that not all of them are familiar with the city. You really have to clarify whether they actually know where you want to go. Our taxi driver dropped us off at the bus depot, but we could not find our bus company. People were harrasing us to get on their buses. Finally, we were lucky to meet a lovely young woman, Rosalind, who correctly recognized we needed help. She took a jeepney with us to the correct bus area. A jeepney is a mixture of minibus and jeep; they usually have one route and people can jump in and out easily. She then guided us to our aircon bus. What a sweetheart! Tickets cost under 100 PHP (1 USD = 44 Philippino pesos).

We got to travel on the infamous jeepney on our way to the correct intersection for our bus to Tagaytay.

After we arrived in Tagaytay, we headed to Leslie’s Restaurant where the view of the lake was breathtaking.

We got to eat in cute huts.

This hut overlooking the lake required us to pay a 500 PHP (about 10 USD) premium which we weren’t willing to pay.

While we were eating, a man came to sell us a boat tour package. We agreed on 1500 PHP for the ride down to the dock and the boat ride to the island. However, he only agreed to one tricycle. A tricycle is made up of a side car bolted to a motorbike. So The Gastronomer and C2 (because they're the smaller ones...) climbed behind the driver while The Astronomer and I squeezed into the sidecar. It was an interesting ride down.

This is the only picture I could take of The Gastronomer and C2 behind her from my angle in the sidecar.

We then got a boat to cross over to Volcano Island.

We started the one mile hike up to the volcanic ridge. We were the rare ones who did not go on horseback.

These men were still hoping we’d go down on horseback so they kept following us.

Part of our hike seemed like we were on another planet. We could see vents with smoke coming out. We could also feel heat at our feet and smell sulphur.

The view of the lake within Volcano Island was pretty amazing: The Astronomer, The Gastronomer and C2.

The ride back up in the tricycle was more interesting. By then, it was raining. We decided to switch positions: C2 and The Gastronomer in the sidecar, The Astronomer and I on the motorbike. Imagine one motorbike pulling five people uphill in the rain!! The driver suddenly stopped to put a chain; the sidecar was not tightened sufficiently. He stopped a few times. It's never good when you need roadside maintenance...

The tricycle drove us to the bus stop and we took the first bus we got. Our bus ride back did not have air con and so was more affordable for locals. This also meant more frequent stops. There was a television screen at the front that showed the news or a basketball game. We glimpsed "typhoon" and "tropical depression" in Northern Palawan which was alarming since we were heading there the next day!

On our bus ride back to the city, C2 and The Gastronomer purchased a special buko (coconut juice) pie, not one of my favourites. Vendors would hop on the bus and sell food; a favourite seemed to be pork rinds.

A young girl got on the bus. I think her stop was near the Adventist Church. She stood up and started reading out loud even though she wasn’t very loud. She then passed these envelopes out! Philippinos are very religious; more pictures to come on that.

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