View Full Version : 5 Weeks in the Philippines - Trip Report

01-16-2010, 00:26
Not much info here on the Philippines so I thought I'd share some...

Many moons ago, I had the good fortune to spend 5 weeks in the Philippines diving. Here's what's most memorable...

My connecting flight from Vancouver was in Japan this time rather than Hong Kong. Far preferable. Compared to those blue rags Air Canada provides, those JAL blankies are something!

Due to the time of arrival, I spent the first night in Manila at the Swagman Inn. Good location, decent breakfast and the cost of transport to and from the airport is built into the room rate.

The next day, the adventure began! I took a flight to Cebu in order to get to my first destination, Whispering Palms (http://www.sipaway-divers.com/english/index.html) on Sipaway Island. Finding there was no easy way via public transit to get to the ferry terminal, I hired a private car to take me to Toledo in order to catch a ferry to San Carlos. Oy, what a ferry ride! The first time I ever got sick on a boat. And then the boat guy came around with barf bags. :smiley5: Once I arrived at the San Carlos ferry terminal, a banca from the resort transferred me and a few other guests to the resort.

The resort itself was quite lovely, but had a somewhat 'Stephen King'-like vibe about it. Maybe because it appeared to be built for plenty of people yet it was relatively dead. There were two large outdoor restaurants that were never occupied as there was only a handful of guests and we all ate at the small bar or outside our rooms. (Those Europeans luvs their butts ::cough, cough:: so I ate outside my room most times.) The food was OK but overpriced, I thought. Bicycles are available at the resort for a spin around the island. I found the locals, with the exception of most children, to be either shy or standoffish so I didn't linger too long outside of the resort.

Diving-wise, the marine life was a bit quiet. I did see my first ever cuttlefish during a night dive though! As well as an 'open' giant clam, huge sea fans and sponge barrels big enough to hide your mother-in-law in. :Suave_anim: Apparently, a marine sanctuary was recently put in place in addition to bits of this and that in hopes of attracting more sea creatures. I'm open to returning to this place so I hope their attempts pay off. Of note: this was the only place I've been to in the PI that has DIN tanks. Also, the dive op manager has the most bee-u-tee-ful eyes...

Since the diving was a bit of a disappointment, I decided to shorten my stay and moved on to my next stop. I took the Ceres liner from San Carlos down to Dumaguete, and then made my way to El Dorado (http://www.eldoradobeachresort.com/index.html) resort in Dauin.

I'll start with the good...

My absolute favourite dive guides are here -- Lito and Rey!! Not only are they excellent spotters, they're funny, warm and extremely personable. If I had to spend the rest of my life diving with two dive guides...

The food was by far the best of all the places I stayed at this trip! Extensive menu, dining right on the beach, reasonable prices (although I believe they jumped since the previous year's trip).

Numerous dive sites and well-organized dives. Check the board the evening before to see what the planned dives are, and put your name down. And free Nitrox, of course!

About the dives themselves...

What stands out most was the blue-ringed octopus seen during a night dive! I had done Pura Vida's house reef on a shore dive earlier that day and wasn't too impressed with it but wanted to do a night dive so off I went. Wow! A whole different world at night! Not hoardes of creatures but the ones that were there were wonderful!

I did a few dives at Apo Island, of course. The coral gardens found at the end of dives in about 10-15' of water are beautiful but few fish. I like Apo but if I return to Dumaguete for a third time, I reckon I'll skip it.

I was quite anxious to dive the Ducomi Pier as it was on the brink of being rebuilt, and I must say, I was very grateful that I had the opportunity to dive it. The viz was quite poor but it was nudi heaven! Juvenile shaded batfish, frogfish, seahorses and demon stingers stand out in my logbook.

Can't have good without bad...

Again with the bug bites in my room! I was a bit leary of staying at El D again after my first visit there cost me a couple days of diving and had me damn near running screaming into a hospital with my 'elephant man' eye, but lightning doesn't (usually) strike twice does it? Oh, yes! Yes, it does! Not as bad as the first time but still a PITA. I don't know if they were bed bugs or mites or what, but they certainly didn't come into the room with me.

I had an opportunity to explore the area beyond Dumaguete and Dauin this trip. I didn't get very far, but I did like where I wound up -- Zamboanguita was a standout. A most pleasant place with delightful peoplel! And I rode jeepneys for the first time! If only public transit in Vancouver was as efficient...

And finally a bit of trivia that might interest any Elvisologists out there...

The man who provides assorted lessons (tennis, karate) onsite is none other than Mike Stone. :eek:

Onto the next leg of the journey - Siquijor!

But wait, not quite yet. The ferry was cancelled so I spent the night in Dumaguete.

OK, now onto Siquijor...

I stayed at the Islanders Paradise Beach Resort (http://www.islandersparadisebeach.com/isstart.html) near the northern tip of the island in a little cabin less than 50 feet from the shore. Most idyllic! The resort is very small and everyone staying there was into their own little worlds so my only company while onsite was the petrified gecko stuck in the bathroom's doorframe. He gave me no grief so we got along nicely.

Due to an infected wrist, I did only 2 dives in Siquijor. They were pleasant but not particularly memorable... a mantis shrimp, a couple of juvenile shaded batfish and far too many fishing traps. I did my dives with the neighbouring resort, Kiwi Dive. Just the dive guide and me which is always a bonus.

Although the diving on this side of the island wasn't overwhelming, I'd definitely go back but moreso so to explore the island itself. I saw only a tiny snippet and would love to see more...

A few days go by fast so now it's time to head to Sogod Bay. Bit of a chore getting there from Siquijor... I sprang for business class for the ferry from Duma to Cebu and must say it was worth it. While up there, I met a young man who explained the art of how/where to look for a taxi at the Cebu ferry terminal. Due to ferry connections, I had to spend the night in Cebu. I stayed at the Kiwi Lodge. The food wasn't great but the room was adequate. Next morning, back to the ferry terminal for a morning departure to Southern Leyte...

I'll skip the ferry ride over as with the exception of more roaches than I've ever seen in my life, the ride was uneventful.

If you've ever read any of clgsamson's trip reports, you already know how wonderful Sogod Bay Scuba Resort (http://www.sogodbayscubaresort.com/) is so what else could I possibly add? :dontknow: My own praise, I guess...

I loved, LOVED, LOVED this place!!! From the kettle and tea bags in my room with a view to probably the best diving I've done in one place anywhere! (Please note I've only dived in 4 countries. ;)) Nudis, turtles, frogfish and my first pygmy seahorse!

My room (and the resort's common rooms) was spacious, extremely clean and well-maintained. The three resident puppies were sweethearts, as were both the owners, Ron and Phil, and everyone else on hand. Good t-shirts, too.

The diving schedule is varied and flexible... 2 spacious boats and great shore diving. The house reef was one of my favourite dives as there's plenty to see in the shallows and a wall a bit further out. I did a night dive at the infamous Burgos Jetty (and felt slightly sick afterward so decided to be prudent and skipped it for the rest of the trip).

It wasn't all sunshine and roses... the resort's pizza is best avoided. ;)

I did a bit of exploring when not diving... a walking trip to Padre Burgos and a jeepney journey to Maasin. I must say I preferred the jeepney to walking. All those stray dogs = scary for someone bitten as a child by a lap dog. The scars, oh, the scars... :shakehead:

Sadly, I had to leave but I will definitely return during my next trip to the PI! :)

OK, back to Cebu in order to catch my flight to General Santos in the morning. I stayed at the Europa Mansionette Inn this time which had far more character than the Kiwi Lodge. I didn't get a chance to see much of Cebu but I did make it to one of the malls in order to buy some snacks and a replacement watch. Wow, what a food court! And the cutest folding reusable grocery bags!

Nevermind my shopping, let's head on over to General Santos...

I like travelling off the beaten path whenever possible (and relatively convenient, of course, I'm no masochist) so General Santos seemed liked a great addition to my itinerary. I exchanged emails with WWD who assured me the diving was sublime and the region safe so off I went.

I stayed at Gen San Chris' place, Cambridge Dive Centre (http://www.tunadive.com/index2.html). The accommodations were adequate and spacious but the decor a bit gloomy and dated. No worries, I came to dive!

Unless one is willing to go out on boats not really designed for diving, the diving can be quite limiting, I found. But when the alternative is the easiest shore entry ever coupled with some of the most interesting marine life... who cares? (Well, you might but I was OK with it. ;))

Shore diving heaven = Maharlika Beach Resort! It didn't really seem like a resort; more like a daytime destination for weekends. Not only were we the only divers present, we were almost the only people with the exception of the guards at the main gate. There are little cabanas less than 50 yards from the beach where one gears up. A short walk across flat sand will take you to the water's edge where the entry is like taking candy from a baby -- no rocks, no waves... easier than a backroll off the side of a boat! Within seconds of descending, I found funky little black and blue nudi-like creatures that I'd never seen before. A wee bit further out, the biggest seahorses I've ever seen! Beyond that, all kinds of nudis, a blue frogfish, a school of squid, and the only cowfish I've seen outside of Florida. Once the dive is over, a quick dip in the nearby freshwater pool fed by a spring takes care of gear rinsing. Now how cool is that?

Adjacent to Maharlika are Tropicana and Rajah resorts (?), and a bit further out is the Petron Pier. I was hoping it'd be GenSan's answer to Ducomi Pier but it wasn't so. I did see plenty of fish swimming about but very little life on the pillars themselves. Maybe one day... :)

I tried boat diving (3 dives) in Sarangani Bay one day. Maybe it was the moon, the misalignment of the stars, my hormones... who knows. To quote my dive log, "...worst day of diving ever." By the end of the trip, I was willing to try it again but apparently the boat was in repair so I didn't get the chance. Based on what I saw during my 3 dives, I wasn't that disappointed anyway. ;)

On my last full day, I did some exploring of the city. I think my keepers were a bit concerned about letting my go off by myself due to the south's reputation so they attemped to stick to me like glue. I adopted a teflon stance and broke free in a shopping mall under the guise of buying a t-shirt. I poked around the main areas, had lunch and dinner, rode my beloved jeepneys and took a cab home (after finally finding one that'd put the meter on) once it got dark. Although I was one of the few, if not only, white woman wandering around, no one hassled me and not once did I feel threatened. (Except by stray dogs. :paranoid:) Sure, there are guards (military?) around, but I never once felt uncomfortable or unsafe.

Well, that's it for diving. From General Santos, I caught an early flight back to Manila which was nice as I was able to spend some time wandering around. And find my first Chow King since Dumaguete! :D

01-16-2010, 08:22
Great report. Since you stayed 5 weeks did you get your visa beforehand or get it extended?

01-16-2010, 10:12
Anna thanks for the report. I was looking at going to Sogod last year instead went to Puerto Galera.

Could you tell us a bit more about the diving there in Sogod? water temps and the time of the year you went?

01-16-2010, 11:40
Great report. Thanks. The Phillipines in on my Wanna Dive List.

Did you have any language problems while you were traveling away from the big cities? I speak Survival Spanish but none of the Phillipino languages.


01-16-2010, 13:14
Great report. Since you stayed 5 weeks did you get your visa beforehand or get it extended? I got my visa while still in Vancouver as we have a consulate here. I think it took about 2-3 days. Personally, it was more convenient for me than trying to find a place to extend one while there. Maybe in the big cities it's convenient but not where I was for the most part.

Anna thanks for the report. I was looking at going to Sogod last year instead went to Puerto Galera.

Could you tell us a bit more about the diving there in Sogod? water temps and the time of the year you went? I was there for about a week at the end of February. The water temps were good but not great at that time of year. I recorded a range of 78-80 degrees in my dive log but don't recall any thermoclines like in Florida. The resort owners, who are also avid divers, assured me that the summer months are the best time to go. Even though it wasn't peak season for diving, the viz was pretty good. Current wasn't too much of an issue. Most dive ops realize people like easy diving in the PI so if while going along a wall, for example, a current kicks in, they're inclined to turn the divers around to go with it. I remember once we did have one on a shore dive and had no choice but to go against it as it was the way home. :smiley5:

Great report. Thanks. The Phillipines in on my Wanna Dive List.

Did you have any language problems while you were traveling away from the big cities? I speak Survival Spanish but none of the Phillipino languages.

Art Well, you've got 100x more Spanish than me and I had no problem at all. :smiley2: Practically everyone and their dog speaks English! (I don't recall hearing any Spanish.) All/most of the signs are in English as well so it's very easy for foreigners to communicate and get around.

01-17-2010, 06:46
great report! thanks for the info on sipaway. have to mark it with an x on my list

01-17-2010, 11:30
great report! thanks for the info on sipaway. have to mark it with an x on my list Yeah, sadly for the time being, that's probably best. If the sanctuary works out, it could have potential in the future but I'm skeptical...