On this trip I flew United and Asiana. I booked the segments seperately but since the two airlines have a baggage agreement I was able to avoid baggage fees by checking my bag in Denver all the way to Manila and vice versa on return although I did have to touch the bag in LA. The flights were pretty much on time except the final leg from LAX to DEN. Seems like that is becomming a habit with United. This time though it wasn't because the flight was late the plane was there and at the gate. The problem was there was a flight late coming from Hawaii with 40 people onboard that had seats on the flight to DEN. I had never flown on Asiana before but they turned out to be a first rate airline and since they are a member of the Star Alliance I also got some nice FF miles too. Asiana is headquartered in Seoul so we flew from LAX to Seoul changed planes and then flew to Manila. Had short layovers in Seoul in both directions and I must say the Incheon airport was very nice but I still vote Singapore airport number one in my book. All in all though I would highly recommend Asiana Airlines and the Incheon(Seoul) airport for travel. From Manila we had about two and half hour drive by van to Club Ocellaris. We got picked up shortly after midnight so it was near 3am by the time we got there.
We(Curt-Dallas, Steve-Tucson, Howard-Loveland,CO and myself) stayed at two different resorts(I use the term loosely) on this trip. The first was Club Ocellaris(aka Club O). Club O caters to max of 20 divers and it's really hard to call it a resort. The rooms are at best 2 stars and the food while edible is nothing special. The big lure for Club O is they have very knowledgeable dive guides and they really cater to photographers. That being said I thought the place was overpriced. We booked two aircon rooms with full board and 4 nitrox dives a day. Club O is in the area called Anilao which is on the southern end of the island of Luzon(same island as Manila). Our second stop was El Galleon in Puerto Galera(actually Small Lalaguna right next to Sabang) on the island of Mindoro. The two islands are seperated by the Verde Island passage which for many years was considered to be the most biodiverse area in the world. That was until people really discovered Raja Ampat. That being said this area has some incredible diving and is alot easier and cheaper to get to then Raja Ampat. El Galleon is a (dive) resort and the rooms and food were more what I expected and it actually cost less then Club O. Here we had booked two poolside rooms with full board and 4 nitorx DAY dives. Night dives are extra. The rooms at El Galleon are much nicer and I would give them 3 and half stars and the food was actually quite good too. One thing I didn't like like at El Galleon was when we went to checkout there was alot of charges to our room which we didn't make. The bill was not very well itemized and we had to have them pull bills to show us the charges and found many things we didn't buy. We didn't go thru everything as it would have taken to long but I'm sure if we had we could have reduced it even more. While I enjoyed El Galleon there are a couple of reasons I won't go back there and this is one of them. It just seemed that they were trying to pad our bill or they have a very bad billing system. Since it's electronic I think they were padding our bill and I don't like that. To many errors which should never have happened and the way they itemize it just says Arthur's Restaurant(stuff from room or restaurant) or the Point Bar and not what you actually bought. For instance one charge we questioned was for 637.23 pesos(10/29) to the Point Bar. They pulled the bill and it was for room 14 and we were in room 9. How did that get on our bill? The extra diving we did was also miscalulated and they tried to charge Howard for a high pressure hose he didn't buy as well as a night dive he didn't do. A few errors I could handle but there were way to many for me. I know we ended up paying more then we should have on checkout but by the time we finished questioning things it was probably less then $20 to $30 each. We had them remove over $250 in charges.
THE DIVING OPERATIONS:
The dive op at Club O is not well run. Usually you leave from in front of the resort but due to the typhoon which had left the sea rough and choppy in front of the resort we had to take their jeepney about 20 mins to a more calmer entry point. This was for the first 3 days and since there was another group of 3 people there the first two days they went first and we went second. Needless to say by the time we got to the entry point it was well after 10am. They did let us do long(80 min) dives but with such late starts it was impossible to get our 4 dives in the first 3 days. After doing two dives we would get shuttled back to the resort for lunch(around 3 to 4pm) and then shuttled back to do a night dive around 6:30. and back to the resort for a 9pm(or later) dinner. Finally on the 4th day we were able to leave from the resort but they still got going kinda late. They said 9am but it was more like 9:30 by the time we actually would leave. There was only us 4 at the resort at this time and it wasn't us holding things up. We would have been ready at 8am if they could have gotten their act together. Any way we would go out for two "morning" dives and get back for lunch around 2pm. Then back out around 3:30ish for an afternoon and night dive and back to the resort for an early 8:30pm dinner. We did manage to get 21 dives(Howard did 20) out of the 24 we booked but they need to get more organized. Not sure how things would run if the place was full. We did do many long dives though and there guides really know their stuff all though at times they manhandled some of the critters.
The dive op at El Galleon run by Asia Divers on the otherhand is very well organized and things are scheduled and run on time. They do dives at 8am, 10:30am, 1:30pm and 4pm but limit times to 60 mins in order to keep a tight schedule. We did manage a few 65 min dives and most sites are less then 15mins away. We booked the unlimited dives package which allows upto 4 day dives. Ala carte dives are $29 and they charge $9 extra for night dives which are not included in the dive package. Night dives leave around 6pm and last an hour as well. We were supposed to be picked up by boat from Club O on Sunday the 24th at 6am so we could get to the resort by 7am and do the 8am dive but they were an hour late picking us up so by the time we arrived the 8am boats were going out. We got them to substitute a night dive for the dive we missed and they only charged us the extra $9 for a night dive. Other nights we had to pay $38 and Steve and I did one every night. They also have high speed(compared to bangkas) boats which was nice when we booked a two dive morning trip to Verde Island(extra $18 charge) one day. One thing I didn't like about their operations was the guide to number of divers ratio. They usually have one guide and a DIT(divemaster in training) per group(4 to 9 divers). Fine if there are only 4 but that was very rare except on a few night dives and our trip to Verde Island. It's hard for me to count a DIT as a guide and their guides in general are there to baby sit then to really show you stuff. They get a lot of resort divers so I understand what they are doing but our group(of 4) didn't need to be baby sit. We generally go very slow looking for stuff and all except Howard have quite a lot of experience. As such they pretty much let us do our thing and the guide(s) went with the other divers in the group. There dive guides are made up of Brits, Aussies, Canadians and Americans and don't really seem to know the area as well as the locals. When I was here two years ago I stayed at Atlantis Resort and the guides there were local Philippinos and they show you stuff not just baby sit. As I mentioned earlier I would probably not go back to El Galleon again this was another reason. Steve, Curt and I have done a lot of diving and are pretty good at finding things but it never hurts to have a local guide who knows the area to really help find stuff. At PG I did 27 dives, Steve and Howard 26 dives and Curt 19. Curt got sick and missed the last two days. We usually had the same guide for the first 3 dives of the day. The fourth dive and the night dive they rotate guides as most people don't do all the dives. One guide we had twice was 50 min Josh. The dives are supposed to be 60 mins but Josh would say we would shoot for 50mins. Since we normally went very slow we got seperated from Josh and did our 60 min dive disregarding Josh.
Both places are fairly close and the water temps were 82-84 degrees with the vast majority of the dives 84 degree. There was evidence of coral bleaching at both areas although I've heard it's much worse in other areas of the Indo-Pacific this year. BUMMER!
The diving in Anilao was good but due to the weather and the time of year I don't think we really got to see the real Anilao. I'd ask the guides about certain critters and was told either it was the wrong time of the year or they are at such and such site and we can't dive there right now because of the storm or currents. That being said we did dive some very nice areas both reef and muck sites and saw lots of kewl stuff. Lots of different frogfish, blue ribbon eels, crabs(boxer crab!!), cuttlefish, pipefish, squat lobsters, octopus, juvenile fish, as well as a wazoo of nudibranchs, flatworms, pluerobranchs, and sea slugs. There were plenty of different tropical fish as well but I've got over 700+ dives in the Pacific so I'm more interested in kewl macro then looking at a schools of jacks or butterfly fish. Anilao is known for nudibranchs and it did not disappoint in this area. I've seen pictures and heard Anilao compared to Lembeh Strait but it didn't appear that way to me. I guess it was a combination of the weather and the time of year so I will have to give it another shot before I make a final oppinion but the diving while awesome did not live up to what I expected. Some of the sites I really enjoyed were Mainit, Appols Rock, Kirby's Rock and Bethlehem(gaza strip especially). On one night dive we saw 4 differnt spanish dancers and one had emperor shrimp on it to boot. Next time I do Anilao it will be between March and June then they won't be able to blame the weather or the the time of year.
First off on the very first dive here my four year old camera flooded. It is no more. It was time to replace it and I was gonna do that after this trip any way just wish it had lasted thru the trip. This was my second visit to PG so while I do have some good shots from my last trip here there were things I hadn't seen before(in some cases anywhere) so it was disappointing not to get pics of those things. My friend Steve did get pics so hopefully I will get some of his. He also had an extra although antique camera he lent me the last two days so I was able to take some photos there. He said I just don't act as interested when I'm not diving with camera and I think he is probably right. I guess when I'm looking for something to photograph I search more. I actually enjoyed the diving more in PG then I did Anilao even though I expected it to be the other way around. The conditions were much better overall and we weren't restricted due to weather where we could dive. PG is mostly reef diving but they do have a few awesome muck sites and we got a could variety of both. On one night dive we saw the worlds largest flatworm it was over a foot, also saw two big nudibranchs(over 6") which weren't spanish dancers, a couple of big pluerobranchs and a huge snail as well as ohter kewl critters. That night dive was excellent and except for some I've done in Lembeh it was top shelf. I'd put it in my top 15 night dives and I've done over 150 night dives. We also did a two dive trip to Verde Island. Verde Island has a brilliant wall which we dove twice and to be honest I could have dove it 10 more times. Excellent site, great fish life and stellar reef as well as some kewl nudis!
Overall I had a good time. I'm a very jaded and critical traveler/diver so sometimes I probably seem to complain more then others. All in all though the diving was very high quality and for the money very economical. When I add it all up, airfare, hotels, diving, food, booze, tips, parking, etc... it came to less then $4000 for two weeks. Since I did 48 dives it comes to a little over $80/dive and they were pretty much all good to great dives. Compare that to someplace like the Galapogos which comes in at about $300/dive and you can see the Philippines is a very good deal for very good diving. I will return to the Philippines and would highly recommend it but only if you plan to go for at least two weeks.
I caught a cold(thanx Curt) on the way back so between that and jet lag I haven't even started to go thru my pics. I did get 21 dives worth from Anilao and I did get some from PG once Steve lent me his extra camera(Don't know how they will turn out it as it was a challenge using his old camera). Once I start going thru them I'll post some here as well as more on Facebook. So stop back in a few days and check for pics as well as link to photos on FB.
If you have any questions feel free to ask. If I don't know I'll make something up. LOL