Well, I did it. I visited Philippines a third time. Why? Well, truth be told, I was supposed to visit Japan in March. I have been longing to visit Japan since childhood, and I was dreaming about visiting Japan around the sakura (cherry-blossom) season for over a year now. But for reasons too long to mention (mostly related to income tax paper work for visa processing) I missed the cherry-blossom season. So I decided to visit Philippines instead, a country that always rewards me traffic-wise more than any other nation I have visited.
This time I would most certainly do the Mt. Pinatubo trek, visit Oslob and finally see whalesharks, fly down to Davao and visit places in and around Manila. Unlike last year, I didn’t face any harrowing experience getting my tourist visa. Although, it did cost me a dear Rs. 7k to get it done quick using Thomas Cook as an agent. I could have gone and applied for it myself, but I’m still scarred by the Chennai Philippines Consulate experience of last year.
Anyway, the trip was planned for 25 days. Mostly because now tourist visas are granted for up to 30 days of stay for Indians, not 21 like before. I also decided I wouldn’t rush around this time. I wanted to relax and take it easy for once. It’s okay if I didn’t go anywhere on a particular day. Plus I still had my freelance work to do while travelling.
April 26, 2014
Like last year, I was going to be flying Dragon Air from Bangalore to Hong Kong, and then catch a connecting Cathay Pacific flight to Manila. Even though the flight was slightly delayed, I was kind of impressed by the fact Dragon Air had remarkably improved its service on this sector.
The stop-over at Hong Kong airport was around 5 hours and I used the opportunity to get some work done. I was feeling unwell, so the freezing cold inside the airport wasn’t helping. The flight from Hong Kong to Manila was Cathay Pacific, and all we were served on the flight was a chicken cheese wrap, of which I asked for one more as they had extras — and I was hungry.
I landed in Manila around 5pm and made my way to Cubao by bus. It was a mistake to take the bus — the journey took over two hours due to evening traffic. I finally made my way to the hotel I would be staying at. I decided to stay at Fersal Hotel on Annapolis Street in Cubao. It’s a budget hotel and I chose to stay here because it was close to where I could meet reader/friend Gale, who lived and worked near University of the Philippines, which wasn’t too far away. Also, most good hostels in Manila are all in Makati and Malate.
Today was my last full day in Manila. I had to step out of the condo as Janet had to go for work. I really didn’t have much planned for today as far as sight-seeing was concerned. I packed light and carried only my Canon 7D camera.
I said my goodbyes to Janet and made my way to UN Avenue station. I was at this stop because I was searching for the Sikh temple in Manila. Online, the Khalsa Diwan was listed as being situated on UN Avenue road. I walked down the road a bit, but didn’t find any temple and the people I asked couldn’t comprehend what I was asking about either.
I walked back to UN Avenue station where I was approached by one of the many cycle taxi drivers who asked me where I wanted to go. I told him I was looking for the Sikh temple… which he didn’t understand. So I just said “Indian temple” and then he went, “ah! sure!”
The name is Khalsa Dewan Sikh Temple and it is the oldest (and only?) gurudwara in Manila. Like a lot countries in South East Asia, much of the Indian population that have been here for decades are predominantly of Punjabi/Sindhi origin. Philippines isn’t that different either.
Feeling full, I left the gurudwara after making a ₱100 donation.
I walked back to UN Avenue LRT station and took the train to Monumento station. I had seen quite a few malls and markets in the area way back in 2011, but couldn’t explore much because it rained heavily that day.
But after roaming around the area for nearly two hours, I didn’t find much of a difference in prices or quality than what you would find even in areas like Makati. So I left.
I made way back to Ayala because I made plans with Janet to go out for drinks in the evening.
Janet promised to take me to her favourite restaurant/bar she frequents called Giligan’s at Market! Market!
I met up with Janet and we went to Giligan’s after I picked up a bottle of watermelon rum I really liked.
After that, it was back to the condo for packing bags and an early night’s sleep.
Date: June 4, 2013
I left the condo with Janet after a light breakfast. Janet was kind enough to hire a taxi and see me off at the airport. Much like how my “2011 Pinay friend” Aimee was of immense help on that trip, this 2013 Philippines journey wouldn’t have been the same if not for Janet’s help. It really helps to have a local in a foreign land to help you out.
I was sad to say goodbye to not only her, but also to Philippines. I really like this country and I wish I could travel and explore this beautiful nation at my own pace, but alas, 21 day visa it is.
I had a few hours before my connecting flight to Bangalore, so I decided to step out of the airport and go see an ex-colleague. (Hong Kong gives free visa on arrival to Indians so that’s why it’s easy to step out).
Post-lunch, Bikram and I parted ways and I took the MTR to Tai Po. I had wanted to see Tai Po market during my 2012 visit to Hong Kong, but I didn’t get a chance to. I had time to kill before heading back to the airport, and I had no interest in wasting time inside malls and amidst the maddening crowds of Kowloon.
I arrived at HKIA two hours ahead of my flight. I already had my boarding pass, so I just walked straight to the security check and completed immigration. I felt hungry so I went up to the food court, which has quite a few restaurants and popular food chains.
It continued to rain outside so we had to make a dash to the bus which would drop passengers at the Dragon Air plane to Bangalore.
The flight landed on time and I had my younger brother pick me up from the airport.
Although this visit to Philippines wasn’t as “WOW” as my 2011 visit, I look back at the previous few posts and realize it wasn’t too bad either. Yeah, yeah… I couldn’t see many things I had planned on seeing/doing (whalesharks in Donsol, Mt. Pinatubo trek, para-sailing in Boracay) all because I arrived at the tail-end of the tourist season.
Whatever — at least I could use this as an excuse for a third visit, if needed.
The biggest highlight of this trip was possibly all the underwater photographs I managed to capture, all thanks to Janet lending me her friend’s underwater camera. I’ve been snorkeling many times before but this was the first time I could give my readers an idea of what I saw with own eyes rather than just describe how awesome it looked.
The other thing that convinces me to continue travelling across the Philippines is just based on the fact my Philippines posts do so well. Even from the newer 2013 series, several posts continue to get hundreds of views every week — and I thank my readers for that. I keep getting friend requests from Filipinos on a weekly basis, and I consider that a sign they like really my blog. Not to mention some of my most shared stories online on social media are my Philippines posts.
Unlike last time, I don’t have a lot to say to wrap up this travel series. I still don’t enjoy Filipino cuisine (sorry), I still find Filipinos to be some of the friendliest people on earth, I discovered the ugly side to tourism development in island destinations like Boracay and Coron, and I realized the best time to travel Philippines is between February and April, no later than that. Oh, and NAIA Terminal 1 still sucks.
Other than that, I ❤ Philippines and I recommend this country to all those seeking adventure, beautiful beaches, wonderful nature and equally wonderful people. But just get out of Manila and Angeles City first.
I woke up early to have breakfast before leaving for the airport.
The staff at the guesthouse booked me a van taxi for a drop off at Busuanga Airport. I packed up my bags, said my goodbyes and left Coron Backpackers Guesthouse when it was time.
Immigration took it’s own sweet time. This is as basic as a small airport can get, so not every passenger can get in all at once.
I arrived in Manila at around 3pm. I had lunch at a Burger King at the terminal and then stepped out of the airport to catch the bus going to Pasay. From there I hired a taxi to get to Bonifacio Global City (BGC), where I would be staying a condominium my friend Janet had access to.
After freshening up, Janet and I went out for a walk around BGC in the evening.