My Experience Taking a Road Trip in the Philippines

In this article, Cassidy writes again about traveling with her family. This time about taking a road trip in the Philippines. She talks about the route her and her family took, as well as some of the difficulties of trying to navigate the crazy roads of the Philippines!

Here is her post about taking a road trip in the Philippines:

We have traveled to the Philippines once before to visit with family. But that trip was short and mostly based in Manila and Baguio, leaving us with a lingering desire to explore more of this developing country. After some searching, we found cheap flights to the Philippines and quickly locked them down.

Aside from the final destination, very little of our trip was planned by the time we were flying out (I like to leave some room for spontaneous adventure). We knew of some activities we wanted to hit, but close to nothing was actually booked. Certain things like lodging the night of our arrival and transportation from the airport were prioritized in the planning, but once we had rested in Manila for a day, our plans became a little less reliable. We had a car and a dream to travel south. How we got there was based on ferry schedules – something we could not research or book ahead of time.

The city of Manila proved to be quite the paradox. While making our way to the city port, we drove through a quiet complex of grand resorts and, seconds later, a vast span of dying houses. The change between tourist and local was incredibly sudden and eye-opening. Once we got past the airport neighborhood, the cinderblock houses were crumbling yet still supporting large, multi-generational families.

Children played in the streets; an act that my mom didn’t appreciate as she was learning to drive in the foreign country. She also concerned herself with the plenty of motorcycles that would swerve in and out of traffic at varying speeds. Logically, they were everywhere. Many people couldn’t afford a car and would transform their motorcycle with an additional cart. These “tricycles” could carry an entire family of 6 and became the desired means of transportation in the less fortunate communities.

We arrived at the ferry terminal with some difficulty as everyone we spoke to gave us different directions. We learned a lot that day. First, google maps is close to useless on a Philippines trip. Second, customer service is very poor. It took hours of back-and-forth to figure out that the car ferry wasn’t going to leave for another few days. A unanimous decision was made to simply drive south and hope the ferry in Batangas City was more forgiving towards “walk-ins”. After spending a night in Batangas, we hopped on a ferry to Panay and enjoyed catching up on sleep during the 8-hour trip.

On Panay, we found ourselves driving along a picturesque route to the east coast. Here, we decided to settle down for a few days and explore the area. A majority of our time was spent in the hotel pool or walking around the town of Estancia. One morning, a friendly local convinced us to join him on a trip out to the Gigante Islands. We visited half a dozen white sand beach islands by the end of the day. My favorite location was only accessible by bringing the boat up to a gagged cliff. Then he told us to climb. Confused and curious, we made our way up until we came to a small crevasse in the cliff that led us to a hidden lagoon. While laying quietly in the bright blue water, monkeys began appearing around the edges, coming down to the water, and jumping through the trees.

Once we returned to Panay and hopped on another car ferry, and our adventure continued on Cebu. The ferry arrived early in the morning and we drove directly across the island, arriving at Sirao Peak for sunrise. We stretched our legs at the Mountain Top Gardens. The entrance fee was under a dollar a person and well worth the cost. Flowers of every variety bloomed with vibrant colors and it rained lightly, displaying a full rainbow over the valley. It was the perfect perfect rest stop.

A quick cup of coffee was required before we continued onto the Temple of Leah. This temple was built by Teodorico Soriano for his wife, Leah, as a place to store all of their collected trinkets from their travels. It was a very interesting sight as the temple design is based on ancient Greek architecture. Here, we enjoyed the hilltop view of Cebu City with some street food and local music.

We made our way down to Moalboal, unsure of what activities awaited us. While searching for a place to sleep that night, we met a traveling couple who recommended that we snorkel off of Tuble beach. The roads were quite rough for our little van and the directions were all too confusing, but we eventually made our way to the empty beach. Off the shore, we found sea turtles, bright fish, and a large baitball of sardines. The reefs were teeming with life. We enjoyed the area so much that we decided to stay an extra day.

Across the island yet again, we made plans to swim with whale sharks in Oslob. When we first heard of the opportunity, we were concerned about the treatment of the whale sharks. The locals have set up the bay as a tourist destination and have a strict set of rules for swimming with the sharks. While hundreds of tourists are continuously drifting around the bay, locals throw bait in the water to attract the sharks. The sharks are free to swim away at any point. Once in the water, I was astonished at how massive the whale sharks actually were. It was an experience that I will never forget.

With time running out, we ferried to Bohol. Our plans involved visiting a local zoo, but the zoo was under repair so we decided to stop at a tarsier sanctuary instead. A tarsier is a small, tree-dwelling, nocturnal primate with very large eyes, a long tufted tail, and very long fingers. I was able to snap a few great photos with much effort as they like to hide in the densest trees. It ended up being a wonderful stop.

Our way to the next ferry terminal was extended by a few hours so we could drive through the chocolate hills. We simply hoped to drive through, but along the way, we noticed a gathering of people and pulled over to visit. Everyone was standing in line for a shuttle to the top of the largest chocolate hill. For a whopping $2/person, we hopped along and found ourselves admiring an amazing view. From there, we could see dozens of other chocolate hills. This unplanned stop proved to be well worth it.

The next ferry from Bohol left the following morning so we found a place and relaxed after a long day. We were now tight on time as we had to be on Mindanao island for our flights back to Manila. As soon as the ferry docked in Cagayan de Oro, we drove straight to Davao; an 8-hour journey. Part-way through, we “drove” over some rather steep mountains. At one point, I had to get out and actually push the car to help it up the hill.

We finally made it to the port in Davao, where my family had left the boat for this trip. It had been years since my last time on the boat with them as I have been living in the States for my College classes. You could say I missed my time growing up on the boat almost as much as I missed my family. So, it was really nice to see everyone and spend a little time on the boat before heading back up to Manila to meet up with Dylan for the second part of our trip. (There will be more on that soon!)

After spending the last couple days with my family on the boat, we made our way to Monfort Bat Sanctuary as our last activity before I flew out. They house one of the largest colonies of fruit bats, at about 2.3 million inhabitants. The colonies were loud and surprisingly lively for being “asleep”. I wish we could have stayed for dusk to see them fly off, but alas the trip was coming to an end.

While very little of our original plans actually panned out, it was a memorable adventure. I rather enjoyed the lack of having an itinerary as it allowed us to linger in locations that we had grown fond of. We were able to meet many locals by constantly asking for directions or advice on activities in the area. Many of our side adventures would not have been possible if we did a simple google search for things to do.

I hope you enjoyed this post about the first half of our recent Philippines trip! There will be another post from Dylan coming soon about our time trekking in the highlands and visiting the famous Batad rice terraces.

Written by Cassidy

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