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road trip

Whale shark sighting tour Donsol watcher

Philippines: Arriving at Legazpi; going to Donsol to see whale sharks

Date: 27th May, 2013

I arrived at Legazpi city around 7:45am. I then crossed the road over to the jeepney terminal and boarded a jeepney going towards Albay Cathedral. I was in Legazpi for two things: to see Mt. Mayon and to get to Donsol from here.

Mt. Mayon Legazpi city jeepney terminal
I didn’t expect to see Mt. Mayon this soon! It’s got amazing presence doesn’t it?
Barangay Maoyod Legazpi Philippines
I got down at Albay Cathedral and followed the instructions the hostel had put up online
Legazpi village road Philippines
But when I stood at a junction looking confused, a kind man through his house window called out to me and just told me right away “Mayon backpackers hostel is that way”. He knew just looking at me where I was headed 🙂
Mayon Backpacker house Legazpi Philippines
Like many hostels, Mayon Backpackers Hostel is another home-turned-hostel
Mayon Backpackers hostel interiors
It wasn’t a hard choice. This was pretty much the only hostel listed on for Legazpi.
Mayon Backpackers hostel Legazpi Philippines
The mixed dorm room was clean and the air-conditioner worked well. Not that I needed it right now. A single bed here cost me ₱900 (Rs. 1300/$20/€15) for three nights.

I hadn’t slept well the night before because of how freezing it was inside in the bus. Add to that the slight cold I already had got a little worse because of the lack of the sleep. So I freshened up, switched off the aircon and went to bed after taking some medicines Janet had bought for me.

I woke up in the afternoon and decided to step out for lunch.

Albay Cathedral Legazpi Philippines
Albay Cathedral is the big landmark near the hostel
Inside Albay Cathedral Legazpi Philippines
I had seen enough churches on my last trip to Philippines so I avoided them this time around
Cathedral San Gregorio Magno Legazpi
Popularly called Albay Cathedral, but it’s really St. Gregory the Great Cathedral
Bajaj motorbikes Philippines
Saw quite a few Bajaj motorcycles

I took a jeepney going to Legazpi City as I didn’t feel like having lunch nearby. Plus I wanted to see the main town area. Legazpi City is barely 20 minutes by jeepney.

Roundabout pillar Legazpi city
It was pretty sunny, so I entered a nearby mall and had a burger meal at Jollibee
Legazpi city road Philippines
I just walked around aimlessly as it’s something I like to usually do in new places
Legazpi city public market Philippines
Legazpi city felt more like a town; picked up some Dunkin’ Donuts for tomorrow’s breakfast
Turkey geese for sale Philippines
For sale
Pacific Mall Legazpi city
This seemed to be the most popular mall in Legazpi City
Mt. Mayon from Legazpi market
There she is again
Mt. Mayon volcano Legazpi
The most perfectly coned active volcano in the world
Mt. Mayon volcano zoomed-in
Planned to get much closer to Mt. Mayon day after tomorrow

After a while, I got bored as there was little else to see or do in Legazpi City. So I took a jeepney back to Albay.

Skate boarding Legazpi evening Philippines
There were a bunch of boys skateboarding and trying to pull off all sorts of tricks

Skate boarding Legazpi Philippines

Legazpi city hall Philippines
I went to City Hall and found the local tourism office. I asked them about how to get to Donsol.
Kawasaki Bajaj Rouser Legazpi Philippines
More Bajaj bikes. This model, Rouser, is considered quite hip in Philippines. I think it’s a re-badged Pulsar.

I had dinner with a hostel mate from India who was in Legazpi on business. We sat down at a Japanese restaurant near Albay Cathedral.

Japanese food tempura sushi miso soup
Fairly inexpensive, so don’t expect much in terms of authenticity. Whole set meal cost ₱200.
Castro art shop Legazpi Philippines
An art shop I saw on the way back
Way to Mayon backpackers
I went back to the hostel, and went to bed early after taking the medicines

Date: 28th May, 2013

Today morning I woke up early and took a jeepney to the bus terminal, from where I would get in a van taxi going to Donsol.

Legazpi Express jeepney terminal
Legazpi city’s main transport terminal
Donsol Libon express vans
I boarded the ‘express’ van going to Donsol; one way ticket costs ₱75

The van left the terminal only after they could fill it with as many passengers that could fit inside. Thankfully they had functioning A/C.

Rice paddy field Philippines
This journey was going to remind of my home state of Kerala a LOT
Pilar port Philippines
Pilar port was one of the stops
Donsol town road Philippines
An hour and half later, I was in Donsol
Donsol Butanding sign Philippines
Butanding, it’s what the Filipinos call whale sharks

I hired a tricycle taxi to take me to the whale shark center (cost ₱40).

Donsol trike ride
It was a 15 minute ride to the ‘butanding’ center

River Donsol Philippines

Donsol road to beach
It’s humiliating to admit the roads in the villages of Philippines are better than most roads in India’s cities
Philippines Donsol paddy field
This would look like any village in Kerala…
Donsol village road Philippines
…except for the concreted roads and footpath!
Donsol tourist center Philippines
This is where tourists need to come to begin the whale shark sighting tour
Donsol beach road Philippines
This was yet another very remote destination for me
Rains Donsol sea
I went inside and it was raining in the distance… which was disappointing to see
Whale shark interaction guidelines Donsol
But even more disappointing was the fact there were barely any tourists there — just me 🙁

Granted, I chose to come early because I read they only have 2-3 tours in a day and some bloggers said going for the early morning tour has the best chance of seeing the whale shark. But the fact there were only cleaning staff there and one tourist — me — I took that as a worrying sign.

February 2013 Butanding sightings
They had monthly charts declaring when the whale sharks were spotted
March 2013 whale shark sightings Donsol
The season when whale sharks sightings are usually high is between February to May
Donsol whale shark sightings calendar
But looking at this, looks like even during peak season there’s no guarantee of seeing the whale sharks
Donsol whale shark sightings calendar Philippines
And this is the month I’m in. No sighting yesterdays or the day before.
Butanding whale shark model Donsol Philippines
I sat there hoping there would be other tourists. After not getting a chance to do the Mt. Pinatubo trek in Angeles City, the last thing I wanted to hear was that same shit about paying a huge sum and renting a whole boat for myself if other tourists fail to show up.
Whale shark facts information
I passed some time by reading up on whale sharks
Whale shark Butanding center information
For those who are worried about swimming with sharks, don’t worry…whale sharks don’t have sharp jaws, and largely feed on plankton
Donsol whale shark model
Whale sharks are the largest fish on the planet, and their mouths look like that
Sea view Donsol Philippines
Good thing was the clouds cleared up and the sun was out again
Donsol sea hills in distance
I wonder what hills were in the distance
Donsol black sand beach Philippines
The beaches here at Donsol have black sand
Donsol black sand beach Bicol Philippines
A result of volcanic activity?

After an hour or so of waiting, and just as my hopes were getting dashed, an American family walks in saying they were here for the whale shark tour. Phew! My day was saved — for now.

The office staff finally showed up and told us since it was going to be a total of 5 people in one boat, the cost per person would come to ₱1000 person — which is what I was hoping to pay. But I also had to pay ₱300 extra for I had no snorkel mask or flippers with me.

The staff were insistent on reminding us there is no guarantee we would spot whale sharks. I paid up knowing the risk — as this is common place anywhere you go to see wildlife in their natural habitat. This isn’t a zoo, no animal was going to pose for our cameras.

American tourists Donsol whaleshark tour
At least the tour was happening
Donsol sea rainclouds
As soon as we set off, the skies turned grey again
Donsol fishing boats
It didn’t seem to stop these fishermen. In fact our guide asked them if they had spotted any butandings today. They said ‘no’ 🙁

The water did get a bit bumpy under the grey clouds. I looked down at the waves and wondered how would I even see the whale shark in such grey waters. I wasn’t going to get in the rough waters without a life jacket of course.

Butanding sighting tour watcher boat Philippines
They had a spotter up on a pole like this
Mt. Mayon from Donsol sea
Mt. Mayon from sea

The seas eventually calmed down a bit, and the sun even came back out again. We went deep into the sea, more than 2kms from the coast. An hour of going left to right, going around in circles, speeding up, speeding down… nothing.

Mithun sad in Donsol
Sunshine didn’t put a smile on my face

Some of the Americans dozed off as this was turning into one boring boat ride. I know I agreed to take the risk… but this sucked.

Donsol butanding guide
Our guide too was bored, and I sensed he knew there wouldn’t be any whale shark sightings today
Donsol boat water on top
There was a spotter up on the roof of the boat as well
Whale shark sighting tour Donsol watcher
I’m guessing this guy was bored as well
Donsol coast Philippines
After more than 1.5 hours of cruising, eventually the guide gave up and told us all that there wouldn’t be any whale sharks today.
Donsol coast Bicol Philippines
It was time now to go back

Back on the shores, I returned the snorkel and flippers I paid for but didn’t use and just left the tourist center disappointed. For those who are wondering what it must be like to spot the whale sharks in Donsol, watch this:

I was pretty hungry as I left Legazpi pretty early in the morning.

Filipino prawn curry rice Donsol
I went to a restaurant next door and had a Filipino prawn curry and rice meal
Donsol restaurant Bamboo interiors
There weren’t many tourists today. Another sign I was “late” to visit Philippines.

I hired the same tricycle taxi to take me back to Donsol. I told the driver I needed to get a jeepney going back to Legazpi.

Donsol central terminal Philippines
The tricycle dropped me here
Donsol village road
After a bit of a wait, I boarded a jeepney leaving for Daraga — which is the jeepney they told me I had to board to get back to Legazpi city
Plantations Bicol road
This journey reminded me of what it’s like driving through Kerala’s narrow highways more than ever
Concrete village roads Philippines
Coconut trees, banana plantations, and rice paddy fields — reminded me of home
Bicol highway trees
The only difference was the concreted roads and the fact most drivers were slightly better than the Indians at maintaining lane discipline

One odd observation along the way was that the jeepney would be stopped at different towns by people who would collect some money from the driver. Now I assumed the jeepney would drop and pick up new passengers along the way. But the men who would stop these jeepneys would make the guy wait for quite some time before the jeepney could set off again, and the guys who stopped the jeepney looked a bit, well, menacing.

Bicol highway Mount Mayon
I knew I was nearing Legazpi when I saw the incredible sight of Mount Mayon
Mt. Mayon Bicol highway
The driver saw me taking photos and told me there was another spot that would give me a better view of Mt. Mayon. So he stopped here and I took a photo using my DSLR. I didn’t take long because I was NOT going to hold up the other passengers just so this one tourist could take a photo!
Albay town Bicol Philippines
I finally reached Daraga after nearly 2 hours on the road.
Legazpi town traffic
I got down and boarded another jeepney going to Albay Cathedral
Bicol University gates Philippines
Passed by the famed Bicol University
Delica Japanese restaurant Legazpi Philippines
I finally reached Albay Cathedral at around 5pm. Delica is the Japanese restaurant I dined at yesterday night.
Albay Barangay Legazpi Philippines
I walked back to the hostel
Filipino villagers buying fish
How fish was sold at the villages. I inquired about the prices (out of curiosity) and found the prices to be way higher than what the same breeds cost back in Kerala.
Albay village Philippines
This reminded of walking through Chala, my parents’ village
Coconut trees backyard Legazpi Philippines
Back at the hostel, I went upstairs to the open terrace to take some photos
Rooftop Legazpi coconut tree hills
I could show you a similar hill-scape back in my village. Funny to think I came this far for ‘home’ 🙂

Even though I had wasted nearly ₱1500 for practically a bunch of joyrides, when I could saved it and slept in… oh well. What’s done is done. Next time, I decided I would rather go to Oslob in Cebu where it’s easier to swim with whale sharks.

I went out at night for dinner alone as the other Indian who was staying at the hostel had to return to Manila. And there was no new guest in my room.

Night basketball match Legazpi
A local basketball match being played at night
Mang Inasal chicken leg
I ended up eating at Mang Inasal. I was still feeling slightly under the weather and I drank quite a lot of the hot clear soup (sinigang?) they served with every meal. It really helped warm up my body.
Mayon Backpackers hostel night
After that, it was back to the hostel for some work before catching some sleep

So far my visit to Legazpi was turning out to be a dud. So I had my hopes up high for tomorrow, when I finally get to go up close to Mount Mayon.

Next post(s) in this series:

Philippines 2013: Lignon Hill Park, Cagsawa Ruins and Mount Mayon

Philippines 2013: Aerial view of Mount Mayon; arriving at Coron

Previous posts in this series:

Philippines 2013: Leaving Boracay; Kalibo to Angeles City

Beachfront hotels and resorts on White Beach, Boracay

Philippines 2013: Bulabog beach, Mount Luho viewpoint and sunset at White Beach

Philippines 2013: Boracay island tour, Puka beach and snorkelling

Philippines 2013: Flying from Manila to Boracay, White Beach

Philippines 2013: Taal Lake Volcano and Peoples Park, Tagaytay

The crap I went through to get my Philippines tourist visa this time

Northern most point of Thailand

Thailand: Golden Triangle tour – White Temple, Mekong River, Mae Sai, and entering Laos

Date: 23rd November 2012

Today, Ramesh and I were going on the Golden Triangle tour — one of the most popular and common full-day tours tourists do while in Chiang Mai. I had been to Chiang Rai and the point where Thailand’s border meets Laos and Myanmar in 2010. But I didn’t get the chance to hop across the river and set foot in Laos, because it’s much easier to do that when you go as part of a tour group.

Sam Kamphaeng hot springs Chiang Mai Thailand
The first stop on this tour was Sam Kamphaeng, famous for its hot spring fountain
Hot spring fountain rainbow Chiang Mai Thailand
The water really was quite warm
Putting finger in hot spring
Felt quite hot when I just poked my finger in the water
Boiling eggs San Kamphaeng hot springs Thailand
You can even buy eggs to boil in the water
Hot spring fountain Chiang Mai Thailand
It shoots pretty high
Chiang Mai highway hills
That’s it really. This was more of a rest stop.

One and half hours later, we reached Chiang Rai province. The van dropped us off at the famous White Temple.

Thai tour guide Golden Triangle
This was our English-speaking guide. He gave us a brief introduction and the told us we could roam about freely for around 30 minutes.
Alcohol sin tree White Temple Chiang Rai
“Alcohol is a sin” — A piece of advice ignored by practically everybody.
Golden structure Thai traditional design
When I first came to the White Temple in 2010, I was thoroughly impressed with the work done
Predator sculpture White Temple ground Thailand
Although I was still impressed by the main structure, some opinions about this place were starting to change
White temple Chiang Rai panorama
A panorama from Ramesh’s phone
White temple Chiang Rai Thailand
It was time to go in

Continue reading “Thailand: Golden Triangle tour – White Temple, Mekong River, Mae Sai, and entering Laos” »

Phuket wedding shoot sunset island

Thailand: Phuket beach hopping and bike ride to Promthep Cape

Date: 21st November 2012

The plan for today was to rent two bikes and ride all the way to Promthep Cape, a popular viewpoint at the southern tip of Phuket island. But after breakfast, we first walked towards Patong beach.

Patong beach Phuket Thailand
It wasn’t too crowded and we got our feet wet for a while
Patong beach chairs Phuket Thailand
The skies weren’t the brightest today, and we decided we would hit the waters when it got warmer

We then went around looking for bike rentals. I had already read up on scams in Phuket and one of the most common advice handed out were to avoid the vehicle rentals on Beach Road.

Honda click bike rental Phuket Thailand
I don’t remember if it was originally ฿300 baht for 24 hours, but we ended up renting two of these Honda Click bikes at ฿150 each. We told them we would return them by 7pm-ish.

Be careful when you rent any vehicle in Thailand, especially Phuket. Vehicle rental scams are common here and don’t go by the cheapest rate being offered. The scammers make money by claiming you scratched the vehicle upon return, when in reality, the scratch was always there — you just didn’t notice it when you took it. The going rate for a Honda Click and like are around 200-300 baht a day. The place we rented from was right next to our hotel and she insisted I hand over my passport (original) as security. I usually never agree to that, but she gave me a form to fill up stating she would return it upon giving the bike back, and provided there are no damages/scratches on the bike. It’s an agreement I had to sign and she put my passport in a password-protected locker.

You may find other places that just request a passport copy, but we bargained it down to ฿150 because we didn’t need the bike for 24 hours. So handing over my passport was something I had to agree to as part of the bargain. I also took photos of the bike from all angles in front of her. Something I always do before even starting the engine.

Walking Street during daytime Phuket Thailand
I carried a map of Phuket and Ramesh had Google Maps on his Nexus. We drove down Walking Street, which is open to traffic during the day.
Tiger bar Walking Street Phuket Thailand
Walking Street was awfully quiet as all the bars open late
Shooting gallery Phuket Thailand
We were going across the hill over to Karon beach
Road to Karon beach Phuket Thailand
I hoped the skies would clear up
Uphill road Phuket Thailand
And sure enough, it did

Continue reading “Thailand: Phuket beach hopping and bike ride to Promthep Cape” »

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