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We arrived at Manila airport and waited for our domestic connection to Cagayan de Oro; several flights south to Mindanao were cancelled one after another but luckily ours was only shortly delayed. Little did we know the next few days the rain would be our loyal companion. From the uninspiring sewage flooded city of Cagayan de Oro, we fled by bus to Surigao to take the ferry to Siargao to check out Philippine’s most famous surf spot: Cloud 9. The waves were shitty. Local surfers said they’d never seen it so junk before. Trying to make the most out of Surigao del Norte, I conspired a side trip to Sohoton Coves. Based on the spotty information available, I made the bet that we could make it in 24 hours: first take a public boat from Siargao to the island of Socorro at 4 pm, spend the night in Socorro, hire a boat the next morning to Sohoton and back, then board another public boat to Hayanggabon port in Mindanao mainland at 1 pm, hop on a shuttle or bus to Surigao to catch the 7pm ferry to Cebu. The logistics was tight but most of it it turned out surprisingly well. The only part that did not was the key part: visiting Sohoton. The rain turned stormy in Socorro; only 1 beat-up boat showed up in the morning at the ferry terminal and the guy wasn’t honest with me so I declined his offer to take me to the coves. We retreated back to our cockroach cave, where I had to wear a cap to go to the bathroom to avoid getting any roach eggs falling into my hair. In the afternoon, on our way to Hayanggabon, as we battled the rough sea and everyone tried their best to keep windows and doors and canvases in place, we felt relieved that we’d made the right decision to not take the rickety outrigger in the morning. In the best case scenario, we would have been soaked.

It was ill-timed to spend that week in Mindanao, yet, we were lucky enough to escape the worst. Heavy downpour started the day before our arrival, and the day after we arrived in northern part of the island, state of calamity was declared in the south. On Friday as we left Mindanao from the port of Surigao City, the low pressure developed into a tropical depression. All flights to and from Cagayan and Surigao were cancelled. After almost 2 weeks of non-stop rain, 40000 families were displaced.

the boardwalk, cloud 9, siargao, The board walk at Cloud 9, Siargao

banana boat, siargaoTaking the banana boat in Siargao Read the rest of this entry »


We took them all!

Tricycles, or trikes, pedaled or motorized:trikes

inside trike

Another model:


Nice bus:

nice busLess nice bus

less nice bus

Shuttle van:van

The famed decked-out jeepney: cheap and convenient, only 8 pesos a ride, but at risk of diesel exhaust poisoning.


Another color scheme:

jeepney (2)

Public bangka (outrigger boat): if you take them on rough days like we did, you’ll get a free workout for your arms, from holding down windows and canvas flies to keep the water out.


Ferry: this one was 16 hours from Surigao to Cebu. I didn’t pee not even once. Flanked on 2 sides 3ms away from our berths were the men and women bathroom so we periodically got a lovely whiff. But at least we stayed dry in the middle and didn’t got splashed on by the rain and the water.

ferry (2)


Not pictured: habal-habal, customized motorcycle taxis. They usually have canopy on top and a few other adds-on to increase carrying capacity, e.g. panels on two sides. In Siargao, we rode from Cloud 9 to the ferry terminal on 1: the driver, me, Col, our 2 backpacks and 1 carry-on suitcase. My ass was ready to fall off the seat at all time.

(Col’s play on the country tourism’s slogan “It’s more fun in the Philippines!”)

Here’s a quick summary of my observations and experiences in the country:

– Thrift shopping is just as good as the US. Even small small towns have discount stores that sell loads of clothes from Korea, Japan, Europe, and the US. My guess is that these are donations for disaster victims. Really good selection of winter clothes that locals don’t care much about. Col scored a brand new Ralph Lauren X snowboarding pants for $5. We checked online and it’s sold between $400-$600! I didn’t find any sweet deal like that, but still got a few coats and jackets for $1-2/piece.

– Everyone addresses you as Sir/Ma’am. Store clerks, jeepney drivers, hotel owners… It weirded me out and made me feel so impolite. I adopted it after a week.

– Lots of young mothers.

– They have great customer service. We walked into the trendy SM mall in Cebu dressed like hobos and all the sales people smiled at us and were so helpful and polite. Try that in Vietnam, they would give you death stares.

– So so many beer-bellied 60 years old bald guys walking around holding hands with their tanned 20-something Filipina gfs/wives. These white men like to acknowledge Col while completely ignoring me.

– Everyone thought I was Filipina and talked with me in Tagalog/Cebuano. My favorite phrase of the trip was “I’m not Filipina.”

– Accommodations are way expensive. Compared to Vietnam, you pay twice the price for half the value. $7 gets you a cockroach cave; $12 gets you an icky room with thinned-out saggy mattresses in a shabby building that 110lbs me had no problem shaking by simply stepping heavily; $22 gets you a somewhat decent room with or without hot shower.

– Infrastructure is lacking. Housing is so basic. If Vietnam is a 5 out of 10, the Philippines is a 1.5 or at most a 2. Electricity and pipe water aren’t a guarantee. Few businesses have decent wifi.

– It’s shocking how random kids on the street (not beggars) would shout out “Give me money” in complete seriousness as we walk by.

– Hustlers and fixers are much more relaxed. The positive: they’re less pushy. The negative: they’re less open to negotiating and making a deal.

– People don’t read much. Newspaper wasn’t a common sight.

– Lots of information is available in English. 80% of the news channel, 85% of the signs (notices, advertisements, etc.)

– They party. Even in small towns, you have no problem finding resto-bars with entertainment that are open till 2a.m. They usually have live music for weekend nights.

– Palawan is the best!