Travel on a Shoestring: The Philippines and Beyond

We love travel and adventure. We also like to keep our expenses down (who doesn’t anyway) so we often travel on a shoestring. But while budget travel, especially in the Philippines, has been and will always be popular, adventure travel involving exploration of remote, exotic and even possibly dangerous destinations is rapidly becoming popular as well. The Philippines and the rest of Asia are not wanting in terms of adventure travel destinations – as we have discovered in our trips to these places.

Not all of the tourist attractions featured here are recommendable for budget travel. However, there are some places worth the visit even if one has to shell out a little more cash. We got to visit the non-Philippine destinations here if only for the nature of our previous work but we thought we’d share our adventures in these places as well. So join us as we feature different tourist attractions in the Philippines and beyond, travel culinary adventures, some travel tips and various reflections on our encounters with nature and different cultures.

Leyte: Hidden Beauty Revealed

rock formations at Mahaba Island

In times past we've always associated Leyte with the World War 2 landing site of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. And perhaps the San Juanico Bridge which is still the longest bridge spanning a body of sea water in the Philippines. Besides those there was nothing about the island that we could associate with tourism, particularly attractive natural destinations. Fast forward several years later and we realized how much we have overlooked this province's beauty.

Davao: Durian and More Besides

durian: exterior and interior views

With a total land area of 2,444 square kilometers it is the largest city in the Philippines in terms of land area. To foreign visitors who know little about this place, its location in Mindanao instantly conjures up a red flag. But, according to the data released by the survey site, Davao City is the fourth safest city in the world with a safety index of 82.06 or a crime index of 17.94. Having visited Davao several times (Nina worked there for one year before we got married) it's probably the Philippine city closest to our hearts. There are a variety of reasons why.

Tales from Talicud Island

turquoise waters off Isla Reta Beach Resort

Just one hour away by ferry from the Davao metropolis is a tiny paradise of fine, white-sand beaches, palm-lined shores, pristine coves and dive sites containing vast coral gardens. We had originally planned on visiting Surigao del Sur after attending a conference in Davao City but with time in short supply we opted for a nearer destination instead. The main island of Samal in the Davao Gulf loomed as our first choice but eventually we cast our eyes on a more rustic and laidback setting: Talicud Island.

Tambobong, Dasol Revisited: Eden Still, Rough Roads No Longer

sunset at Tambobong Beach, Dasol

Our first trip to Tambobong Beach in Dasol more than four years ago was memorable in several ways. It was the first time Leo began using a digital SLR for landscape photography. The trip was also one of our first to an off-the-beaten path destination, a trend we would soon be following for the next few years. However, we never got to revisit Tambobong Beach and nearby scenic places since. A primary issue that deterred us was the bad state of the roads going there.

Oslob: Whale Sharks and the Sumilon Island Sandbar

coral rock at Sumilon Island's sandbar

Whale shark watching was far from our minds when we started planning for a family outing to Dumaguete and Negros Oriental with Leo's mom, sisters and nephew. We had originally planned to go to the Twin Lakes of Balinsasayao and Danao in Sibulan and possibly the Pulang Bato Falls in Valencia in addition to the dolphin-watching tour at the Tañon Strait off Bais and the Manjuyod Sandbar. But while doing our research we realized that Oslob, Cebu is just a short ferry and bus ride away from Sibulan port in Negros Oriental. That place has been getting a lot of attention lately because of its whale shark or butanding encounters.

Bais: Dolphins and Sandbars

the Manjuyod Sandbar, Bais, Negros Oriental

It had been about an hour since we left the Canibol Wharf and still no sight of the dolphins. These marine mammals were supposed to appear within 30-45 minutes after our boat left the wharf but when we saw none we just kept motoring on in the direction of southern Cebu. The spotter on a returning boat was signaling "no dolphins" and pointing to another direction towards which our boat then headed. After another 20 minutes or so of fruitless searching we were beginning to blame ourselves for having started this tour so late in the morning.

Kalanggaman Island Revealed

storm clouds over the horizon at Kalanggaman Island

Barely an hour after departing from the wharf at Palompon, we watched the deep blue waters of the Visayan Sea begin to transform into a crystal-clear shade of turquoise, revealing a rich growth of corals underneath. Slowly too we watched as the previously distant island on the horizon began to get larger in our sights. And there it was – a long, extended isle of verdant coconut palms and blinding white sand gleaming in the turquoise waters. After dreaming about going to this island for years we finally made it.

Lake Danao and Ormoc

Lake Danao, Ormoc, Leyte

We were baking inside the multi-cab as we made our way out of Ormoc City proper and into the hills northeast of the city. The vehicle had customarily filled up with passengers at the terminal near the market, not leaving until all seats were taken. Many of the commuters were lugging a fair amount of goods to bring back home, further cramping the already limited space inside our transport. We had begun to worry about this being another hell ride when ten minutes into the trip, and as our multi-cab began climbing the road towards Lake Danao, the air started to get cooler. The sight of lush virgin forests looming ahead began to relax our frayed nerves.

Cuatro Islas: Uncovering Leyte's Hidden Gems

Digyo Island, Cuatro Islas, Inopacan, Leyte

We had just left Baybay after a brief stopover on our way from Ormoc City. All the while our eyes were glued to the west and the blue waters of the Camotes Sea, as our van made its way down the coast to the sleepy town of Inopacan. It wasn't long before two islands materialized in our sights, the nearest one flashing a long stretch of white sand against a backdrop of ocean blue. We knew instantly that the pair is part of the Cuatro Islas, a group of four scenic islands off the towns of Inopacan and Hindang in southwestern Leyte.

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Matukad Island, Caramoan
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