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.

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 was part of the Cuatro Islas, a group of four scenic islands off the towns of Inopacan and Hindang in southwestern Leyte.

Real, Quezon: Gateway to the Pacific

Balagbag Falls, Real, Quezon

This coastal town offers the shortest route to the Pacific Ocean from Metro Manila. It may not have white sand beaches but it offers a whole lot of other attractions – pristine waterfalls, lush forests, fast-moving rivers for white water rafting, a coastline of rugged beauty and the raging swells of the Pacific for surfing. And the food! There might not be any fancy restaurant in town but a bountiful and diverse supply of freshly caught sea food makes a trip to Real, Quezon something to look forward to.

Gumasa Beach on a Cloudy Day

coral rocks in front of Rosal Beach Resort, Gumasa Beach

The van was packed to the max when we started our trip from General Santos City. We ended up paying for an additional seat just to accommodate our backpacks. After riding in much the same fashion on a previous trip to Lake Sebu, we had begun to wonder if this trip was worth the hassle. Speeding down the almost empty highway to Glan in the province of Saranggani, however, we began to catch glimpses of picturesque Saranggani Bay. It was a cloudy day but the view unfolding before our eyes was enough to sooth our nerves and assure us that this trip would be worthwhile after all.

Lake Sebu’s Waterfalls

Hikong Bente Falls, Lake Sebu

We've seen photos of this waterfall countless times before but when we finally saw it in real life it was far more majestic. The towering falls was like a scenic magnet, beckoning and pulling you to get ever closer with each step you take. And as you get closer you begin to feel the cold spray of its pounding waters in the gentle breeze. This is Hikong Bente, a T'boli phrase translated "immeasurable." They couldn't have picked a more suitable epithet.

Lake Sebu: Beauty with Altitude

early morning scene at Lake Sebu

Feeling rested and energized on a cold December morning, we began the day waiting for our breakfast order at one of the huts along the lake shore. The morning sun was already up, its golden rays reflecting off the tranquil waters of the lake and revealing the magenta blossoms of lotus plants now fully awake in the morning light. Here and there white herons would glide over the waters and come to rest on the bamboo poles stretched out to mark the fish pens. A dugout canoe slowly glided along the placid waters, its skilled helmsman guiding the craft around patches of lotus plants. We could not have asked for a more ideal morning.

Baguio: Old Charm, New Delights

the Baguio City Cathedral

In our younger years Baguio City was the prime tourist destination for us with its pine forests and colorful flowers, charming green and white wooden structures, cool mountain air and relaxed pace. However, despite the disastrous 1990 earthquake, Baguio's urban development has speeded up in later years and when we lived and worked there briefly from 1998 to 2004 it was not the laid back mountain retreat we had known it to be. Go to Sagada was the advice we would hear from people who miss the Baguio of old (and visit Sagada we ultimately did).

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Matukad Island, Caramoan
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