Sand structures on White Beach, Boracay
The first port of call in the multiple-island nation of the Philippines was a short stay in Manila
, more specifically the airport hotel, which was a base for an early-morning flight the next day, as well as a half-day trip to the SM mall of Asia, one of earth's largest and most impressive shopping complexes. A 12-lane boulevard leads the way, and then you're pretty much in the shopping mall labyrinth, where shops and food courts abound, and if that all gets too much, there's always the delights of Manila Bay to gaze at from over the balcony. A short-haul flight from Manila airport to Kalibo
airport (on the island of Panay) was the next stage, and upon arrival at Kalibo airport, it seemed that all western-style airport civilization had given way to a free-for-all suitcase claim system and onward transfer scramble, but soon I was bound for Caticlan jettiport, and taking in the sights and sounds of northern Panay along the way.
Area of Crystal Cove, just off the coast of Boracay island
A short ferry transfer brings passengers to the idyllic Filipino island of Boracay
, and it soon becomes apparent why its visitors rave about the place, and pay repeat visits on future occasions. On Boracay, it is safe to say that the beach not only rules, it positively dominates and reigns supreme, yet you'd be hard-pressed to find a more dazzlingly-fine stretch of beach anywhere else on earth, such is the pristine and alluring nature of it. The first full day in Boracay entailed a perimeter tour of the island, taking in visits at two nearby islands, one of which contained the enjoyable complex that is Crystal Cove, best described as an area 'man-made from natural components'. The snorkelling was fun and rewarding for anyone fond of marine life, and the short stop at Puka beach revealed that it is not only White Beach which is commendable.
Paradise beach on Carabao Island
Since it was made aware to me that quad biking was an option, that plan constituted half of the following day, and took in a trek up to the top of Mount Luho, the island's peak, and a place offering spectacular views of the whole island and surrounding ocean. Hiring a bicycle in the afternoon was an overly-ambitious plan, due to a combination of gradients and crushing heat making it more heavy-going than originally anticipated, but it did allow me to see other areas of the island which I would otherwise not have been able to check out. Hiring a van driver for a trip to the highlights of the northern tip of the neighbouring island of Panay was a smart move, as the driver's local knowledge allowed me to check out the charms of Jawili Falls, Ibajay Public market, and Hurom-Hurom cold spring resort, before heading back to Boracay.
Typical scene at Intramuros area of Manila
I parted wth the largest sum of cash to allow the final day's plan to take place, yet the experience of chartering a private boat and boatman to reach the neighbouring island of Carabao proved to be priceless, and the heaven-on-earth nature of the beach immediately outside the island's only 'town' San Jose validated the whole enterprise. The only way to get around the island is by horse or rented motorbike (plus rider), so I opted for the latter, and saw a cross-section of what the island had to offer, being about 4 times the size of Boracay, and seemingly about a twentieth as developed, albeit plans being in place for a new airport to be built there. The snorkelling around the island's perimeter, coupled with views of the rocky cliff edges made for an enjoyable whole day out, and one big plus upon returning to Boracay was knowing that a delicious meal at one of Boracay's great restaurants awaited.
The last leg of trip was a stay at the Tower Inn Hotel in Makati, Manila, a nice enough property in the midst of what felt like urban chaos. Filipino jeepneys amongst other regular vehicles clogged the streets, and it was essential to make use of the MRT and LRT train network to arrive at the walled city enclosure of Intramuros
, where a pedalling rickshaw rider showed me around for a pre-determined cost. One final jaunt around the Greenbelt shopping complex (where one plush shopping mall seemed to interconnect with many others), and I then found myself in the hands of a maniac Manila cab driver, intent on proving that the road belonged to him despite the traffic chaos already in place. All in all, a most worthwhile venture, and a brilliant add-on to a trip to Taiwan, as despite the proximity, the two nations have very few similarities, which added a vital edge to this trip, one amongst the kind of trips I love which are riddled with contrasts and diversity.