Phuket, Thailand: Welcoming 2014 in Beach Paradise

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Phuket, Thailand: Welcoming 2014 in Beach Paradise 

While many people have their bucket lists, I opted to not have one to be spared from having regrets years from now that I have not done some things when I could have had. Nonetheless, if I will be ever required to identify the things that I want to do before I die, one thing is for sure: traveling alone in a foreign country will be included in that list. When I planned for a Thailand trip, I never thought that I will end up doing it alone. When I was left with no other choice but to head there on my own, I just embraced the idea that what I will be doing is going to be one for the books. Indeed, it turned out to be one of my most memorable trips. It was the 4th of November when I booked for Dec. 31 flight from Manila to Phuket via Tigerair. They had a seat sale at that time, selling tickets in selected destinations for 0 base fare. With insurance, taxes, and other charges, I got a ticket for 3,505 pesos. I was psyched by the idea that I will be spending New Year’s Eve in Phuket. The scene of watching fireworks by the beach and partying with people I do not know made me more excited. However, around the first week of December, I received an email from Tigerair informing me that their Phuket flights from Dec 17 onwards were cancelled. Upon researching, I found out that such route turned out to be unprofitable, with less than 50% passenger load per aircraft most of the time. Depressed, annoyed, angered, and feeling whatever words would describe the same emotions, my only choice was to accept the full refund that they offered. With about three weeks before my flight, airfare is proving to be more expensive. With that, I had to book for a Jan 1 flight from Cebu Pacific and had to miss the NYE celebration in Phuket. I got the ticket for 3,805.86 pesos. I left Manila at 7:20 pm and arrived in Phuket at 10:20 pm. The flight was three hours and they had an hour difference from Philippine time. At Phuket International Airport, I was greeted with a long queue at the immigration counter where I had to wait for more than an hour. After my passport got stamped, I picked my baggage and head out of the airport. I bought a ticket for a mini-bus bound to Patong Beach for 180 baht (225 pesos). You can opt to ride a taxi but you will have to pay 800 baht (1,000 pesos), at the very least. The ride took about an hour from the airport to Patong. The driver dropped me off at Jungceylon Mall where I had to find my way through the hostel where I booked.

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Soi Bangla, Patong Beach

For this trip, I booked my accommodation from Capsule Hotel and Sauna via Agoda. The hostel offers two kinds of accommodations: Korean-style dormitory beds and deluxe capsules. I opted for the latter and paid only 963.90 pesos for my Jan 1 – 3 booking. On my second night, I decided to extend my stay for one more night and had to pay 350 baht (roughly 450 pesos). I wrote a separate review of the hostel here.

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Capsule Hotel and Sauna

After checking in, I immediately headed out to eat and ended up at KFC, which is located just at the ground floor of the mall where my hostel is located. Capsule is at the basement of the Bangla Mall and at the middle of Bangla Road, making it strategically-located. I had KFC Bitez (their version of Hotshots) and Pepsi for dinner, which cost 100 baht (125 pesos). I walked along Bangla and the surrounding sois for almost two hours, trying to discover what they have to offer. I eventually got tired and headed back at the hostel where I had two bottles of Heineken from 7-11, 44 baht each (55 pesos). They also sell San Mig Light for 46 baht. Drinking in Phuket can prove to be expensive. That is the case if you choose to drink in the wrong places. While Heineken in 7-11 will cost 44 baht (55 pesos), the same beer would cost 80 baht (100 pesos) in stalls along the beach, 120 baht (150 pesos) in pubs, and as much as 220 baht (275 pesos) in some bars. What I usually do is that I first drink a few bottles at the hostel before heading out. I would normally order just one bottle inside the clubs, buy another bottle from 7-11 where it is cheaper, walk, and head back to the club. This will make your nights significantly cheaper while enjoying the most of Patong since you do not get confined in a single place. I also grabbed some beers by the beach and just stayed there for quite some time. At around 5am, I headed back to the hostel and called it a night.

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Dinner from KFC

I woke up around 12 noon. I was supposed to do the Koh Phi Phi whole day tour but I was late since most of the tours start at 8am. I headed to the beach and just reveled in the sight of hundreds of tourists enjoying the heat of the sun. Patong Beach was crowded and more of better for sun bathing than swimming. Trying to find a place where I can have lunch, I ended up at Chabadang Bar and Restaurant where I had chicken satay and rice for 240 baht (300 pesos). They serve free fruit slices at the end of your meal and offers a good view of the beach. I again walked after my meal, try to inquire for some possible tours, went to Jungceylon Mall, headed back at the hostel and had beer. While staying at the hostel’s common area, I also researched about some things that I can possibly do around the area. I could not do any tour since it was already quite late.

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Chicken Satay from Chabandang

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Patong Beach

I rented a motorcycle from Patong and asked the driver to take me to Kata Beach. The motorcycle ride costs me 300 baht (375 pesos) and took more or less 30 minutes. You can also take the taxi, but it is almost double the price of a motorcycle ride. I checked out Bella Vista Restaurant where I had mojito for 220 baht (275 pesos). The restaurant has an open air ambiance and perhaps one of the best places where you can have a good view of Kata Beach. I used one of the sunbeds near the restaurant. After 30 minutes of being there, a local approached me and asked me to pay 200 baht (250 pesos) for the sunbed. I refused to pay and just headed back at the restaurant’s terrace.

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Kata Beach

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Bella Vista Restaurant

After about an hour at Kata, I walked going to Karon Beach. I initially had the idea of walking going to Karon to save money. I ended up walking from Kata Beach to Karon Beach to Patong Beach. The walk took me more than 10 kilometers and 2 hours. I would stop from time to time to grab beer and just enjoy the view. The walk was tiring but all worth it, especially because of the views that can be seen along the way. With still about two kilometers before the hostel, I gave up and rented a tuktuk. I was initially told by the driver that the tuktuk ride is 300 baht (375 pesos). I managed to haggle and ended up paying only 200 baht (250 pesos). It was raining when I arrived near the hostel. I rewarded myself with Banana Nutella Pancake and a bottle of beer again to feel better after that long walk. After an hour, I tried the hostel’s sauna. They have Finnish-style sauna, Korean-style Sauna, steam room, and ice room, which can be used for free by their guests. I slept for three hours and went out for dinner at around 11pm.

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Karon Beach

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On my way back to Patong Beach

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Banana Nutella Pancake

It took me a lot of walking, again, before I finally found a place to eat. I had dinner at The Pizza Company, an Italian-American restaurant that is similar to Pizza Hut/Shakey’s. I ordered carbonara, chicken wings, and Pepsi, all for only 300 baht (375 pesos). After dinner I walked around to find a place where I can book a Koh Phi Phi tour for the next day. I tried it from the hostel but they do not have an available schedule. I went through several places but they were all fully-booked. It was peak season, which explains why it is almost impossible to find slot for the tour. Just when I was about to lose hope and already considering going to the James Bond Island instead, I found an agency where one of their customers just backed out from the tour. I had booked it immediately and paid 1,200 baht (1,500 pesos) for the tour. I went through several drinking places, one after the other and had some beer. At around 3am, I went inside Tiger Disco. The door charge was 250 baht (310 pesos), which qualifies you for one free drink. I chose Heineken.

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Dinner from The Pizza Company

Tiger Disco is huge, covering three floors in its own building. It is impossible to not notice this place along Bangla. Your attention will be first directed to the huge concrete tigers that overlook the street. On the first floor, you can see a lot of bar counters, each with different and funny, not to mention naughty, names. People certainly go here for the girls as you can see them dancing just right at the top of the table. On the second floor, there are more bars and pool tables. This is also where you can find the entrance to the club. Upon paying the door charge, you enter the discotheque, which has two huge floors. The place was full and loud, with people dancing anywhere. If you hate to squeeze yourself in the dance floor, you can head to the upper floor where you can have a good view of the club.

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Tiger Disco

There are several other places around Bangla that are comparable to the first floor of Tiger. You can check out Soi Seadragon and Soi Easy. If you are feeling naughty, you can check out their go-go bars, with some of the most famous located along Soi Seadragon, such as Devil’s Playground and Suzy Wong’s. If you fancy seeing Russian girls, check out Moulin Rouge. It is hard to miss this place as you can see skimpily-dressed Russian girls just outside the bar inviting you to check the place. Just walking along Soi Bangla, you can see more girls and lady boys trying to command attention with either minimal or exaggerated outfit (including oversized headgear, angel wings, etc). Of course, you can see a lot of them with foreigners. Skip the touts offering you to try their infamous ping-pong shows. I heard a lot of stories about scams, which discouraged me from trying it.

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Along Soi Bangla

I was supposed to wake up at 7am the next day for my Koh Phi Phi tour. I slept just before 5am, which explains why I did not wake up from my alarm. Fortunately, the attendant from the front desk woke me up at around 8 am informing me that the driver was already outside and waiting for me. Feeling panicky, I just grabbed what I found in my bed and immediately headed to the van waiting outside. From the reaction of the other passengers who will be the same group I will be going with for the tour, I can easily tell that they also had a good night and very little sleep. It took the van ride about an hour before we finally reached the pier. There was a 10-minute orientation about the tour, including what to expect. We were warned about sea urchins, which made me rent fins for 100 baht (125 pesos). It would have been a lot better if they had aqua shoes, or if I had my own. At around 10 am, we finally boarded the speedboat. For the Koh Phi Phi tours, you can opt for a speed boat tour, which has about 50 people, or a big boat tour, which has more than a hundred. I chose the speedboat tour.

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Tour map. We did it the other way around.

The first destination for our tour was Maya Bay, which was made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach. This was actually the main reason why I booked the Koh Phi Phi tour. I felt a bit disappointed when we arrived at Maya Bay because it was exaggeratedly crowded. There were hundreds of people (or even thousands) and it was even made crowded by the speedboats and long-tailed boats. At the further end of the beach, you can see a very small area for swimming. We stayed there for half an hour and most people were just taking pictures, mostly disappointed with congested the place was.

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Crowded Maya Bay

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After Maya Bay, we had a sightseeing tour of the Pileh Lagoon and Viking Cave. We also went to see the Monkey Beach. Unfortunately, it was high tide during that time. We only went near the trees and got as close as possible to the monkeys being fed by tourists. We also went snorkeling for about 30 minutes in Loh Samah Bay.

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Loh Samah Bay

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Viking Cave

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Monkey Beach

The speedboat arrived at Phi Pho Don Island and we had our lunch. The tour comes with free buffet lunch, as well as free soft drinks and water on board.

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Phi Phi Don

There was nothing special with the lunch we had. The food does not look appetizing at all. I did not even finish my plate. Instead, I went at the nearby bar, grabbed a bottle of beer, and walked around since we had 90 minutes to kill. In 2004, this island was hit by the tsunami, and we were told that more than 70% of the buildings have been wiped off.

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What I got from the buffet lunch. Food was bad.

Our last stop for the tour was Khai Nok Island. Here, you can go snorkeling, swimming, or simply relax in one of the sunbeds, which can be rented for 150 baht (190 pesos). I spent the first few minutes just relaxing under the heat of the sun with a cold bottle of beer. I went snorkeling for a while. While at the beach, you will be served fresh fruit slices courtesy of the tour agency. It was around 4 pm when we left Khai Nok and headed back to the pier where we were picked up by the van going back to Patong Beach.

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Khai Nok Island

At around 5pm, I was back at the hostel. I took a shower and grabbed a bottle of beer. I stayed at the hostel’s common area and talked to some of their guests. I went to McDonald’s and got myself McSpicy, fries, and soda, all for 200 baht (250 pesos). I went to the beach to eat my sandwich and walked around for more than hour. Did some more walking and found an Indian restaurant called Madras Café. I order chicken curry and rice for 280 baht (350 pesos). After dinner, I went back to the hostel to pack my things. It was already raining and there was no electricity in some areas so I just opted to drink again at the hostel. Good thing they have generator.

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Chicken Curry from Madras Cafe

At around 2 am, I went out to check out some clubs. It was still raining but electricity was back. There were long lines in almost every club, which made me decide to head out to the beach first and have a beer. After about an hour, I checked The Club. They do not have door charge at that time, or possibly because I was mistaken as a Thai that is why I was allowed to enter for free. The place was new, having opened just in December. I had one bottle of Heineken for 220 baht (275 pesos). Just next to The Club, you will see Hollywood Discotheque. I got in after paying 300 baht (375 pesos), which qualifies for one free drink. After around 30 minutes inside Hollywood, music stopped and most of the lights faded. Most of us inside thought that there was some technical glitch so we waited. It took quite a while and music was still not back. I decided to just leave. Outside, it was crowded as people tried to leave the place. It turned out that there was no electricity again, since it was still raining, most people were not moving.

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Hollywood Discotheque

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Brownout!

I returned to the hostel around 5am, grabbed a beer and something to eat from 7-11. I checked out and left the hostel just before 6 am. There were still no mini buses that early, which left me with no choice but to spend 800 baht (1,000 pesos) for a tuktuk ride going to the airport. I was at the airport at 7am and boarded an 8 am flight to Bangkok.

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Tuktuk ride to Phuket International Airport

 

El Nido, Palawan

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I first set foot in Palawan January 1st of this year, in which I stayed in Puerto Princesa. After a couple of days in the city, we have conceived the idea of visiting El Nido, which has been considered by many as the best beach in the country. Unfortunately, having constrained schedule and bad weather cancelled what would have been a trip to paradise.

A couple of months after, the trip to El Nido was finally made possible. It was around the second week of May when we booked for a June 15 – 19 flight. It was supposed to be a trip to Siargao, but we made some changes a couple of weeks before. Although I was initially excited for Siargao, which was supposed to be my first time anywhere in Mindanao, the thought of finally being able to see El Nido made me more excited. For this trip, I went with Madel, my girlfriend, and Brian, a friend we met during the Malasimbo Music and Arts Festival last March. It was Brian’s first time to see the Philippines during the said festival and he liked it a lot, which made him decide to come back.

Accommodations at El Nido

You will have numerous choices when it comes to where to stay in this holiday destination. In our case, we chose not to make any bookings beforehand. When we got there, while looking for a place to stay, we received a call from Brian, informing as that we can share the room with him. For the first night, we paid Php900 for a room for three. It would have been a good deal, except for the leak on the roof.

On the next day, we looked for another place to stay and landed at Rico’s Cottages. Here, one night costs Php1,700 for a room good for three. The room was nice, although it does not have A/C. It has a terrace that overlooks the beautiful Bacuit Bay. This is a better deal that the former.

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From the terrace at Rico’s

After spending a night at Rico’s, we transferred to Ric Son’s. The room we had was Php1,700, which includes breakfast. The room has three large beds good for six, although there were only three of us. It has A/C, TV, and hot water. Another good deal!  It can get dark in the morning, when electricity runs out. Most of the time, however, they have the generator to provide convenience to their guests. Note that electricity in El Nido runs only from 2pm to 6am.

Getting Stuffed

Staying at the town proper, like in any other places, offers the benefit of being near numerous choices when you feel like getting stuffed. We tried a lot of restaurants along Bacuit Bay and loved most of them. If you like Italian food, Trattoria Altrov’e and Sei Nazioni are worth visiting. Both of these offer good ambiance and good food, although I personally prefer Altrov’e.

For breakfast, we ate twice at Ric Son’s, since our stay comes with complimentary breakfast. If only it was not free, I would have not had my second meal in that place. I cannot complain, however, since it is for free. We also tried La Chupetta, where I had their giant burger. It was only Php150, making it cheap considering its size. When it comes to taste, however, it is nowhere near being worth the price. The best place to eat breakfast would be at The Alternative. It is an inn with a restaurant that is beautifully set by the bay. The price of the food may be too expensive, making you spend PHP280 for a meal. Having al fresco breakfast in one of the spots that resemble a nest would be a good experience.

El Nido Boutique and Art Café is another dining establishment that is worth visiting. Like The Alternative, it offers a good view of the Bacuit Bay and limestone fronting the shore. They have good food, although not necessarily the best that you can have. It is also a good spot to have drinks with your friends, especially with the good live music playing on the background.

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Best spot to eat at The Alternative

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Tapsilog from The Alternative

We also had the chance to try Sea Slugs, which was one of the highly-rated restaurants in E Nido. While there were many who raved about their food, I found nothing exceptional about such. Maybe, it was just the wrong choice of food. Nonetheless, it is a good place still, which will allow you to enjoy reggae music from their live band.

Lagoons, Beaches, and Secrets

For our five-day trip to El Nido, one whole day was spent for Tour A and another day for Tour C, both of which were promising in terms of the experience they offer.

Tour A commenced with a visit of two of the famous lagoons of El Nido: the Small Lagoon and the Big Lagoon. Both of these lagoons offer extraordinary sight, picturesque at the most. The Small Lagoon requires effortful treading for those who do not know how to swim like me. At the Big Lagoon, on the other hand, there is no need to swim. It is just a running tour, giving you more than enough time to take pictures of the surrounding limestone and clear waters while aboard the outrigger boat.

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Big Lagoon

The next part of the tour is the Shimizu Island, where lunch is served. This is one of the best parts of the tour, especially because of the plating skills of our boatman who also acts as the chef for our group. Right after lunch, we went ahead and stopped by one of the snorkeling spots. We had the chance to swim with some fishes and enjoyed the crystal-clear water.

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Lunch at Shimizu Island

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Shimizu Island

One of my most awaited spots for this tour is the Secret Lagoon, where we proceed after few minutes of snorkeling. To get inside the lagoon, you need to pass through a small hole. You need to observe extra caution since the waves are big, the hole is small, and you might get scraped if you slipped.

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Entrance to the Secret Lagoon

The last part of the tour is the Seven Commandos. We were excited for this because we were informed that they have a small bar at the beach. By the time we got there, we had some beer. Instead of swimming, we just stayed by the shore and enjoyed our drinks.

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Seven Commandos

We were supposed to do Tour C on the next day, but the bad weather made it impossible. This made us do the said tour the day after. Although the weather was fine by the time we did the tour, the wind and water were still kind of crazy, which did not allow us to go to the Secret Beach. This is the most talked-about part of Tour C, which, unfortunately, we did not have the chance to see. Instead, we went to Cadlao Lagoon as a replacement to the latter.

The Hidden Beach is one of the destinations for this tour. To get inside the beach, you will generally have two options. First, you can swim around the surrounding rock formations. Second, you can enter the small hole. We chose to enter the small hole, just for the sake of experiencing such, which is also supposed to be the same thing that you will do to enter the Secret Beach.

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Heading to Hidden Beach

We had lunch at Star Beach. Like in the case of Tour A, the plating skill of our boatman was also impressive. It was raining by the time we had lunch, which made it impossible for us to swim and explore what the water has to offer.

The next stop for the tour is the Matinloc Shrine. This is an abandoned religious site, with stories that will make you wonder if it has been made to the sake of promoting religion, or for the purpose of sustaining a corporate affair. At one part of the tour, we needed to climb a steep rock and by the time we reached the top, we were greeted with an exceptional view of the surroundings.

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Matinloc

The best spot for this tour would be the Helicopter Island, which was named that way because of the way it looks like. We braved the stubborn waves to see what lies beneath the water. It offers a good site for snorkeling, unlike other places we’ve been during the trip, wherein most of the corals were dead. For someone who does not know how to swim like me, this is another challenge that is worth the struggle.

To make island hopping more fun, I suggest that you look for a cooler and fill it with ice and cans of beer. It’s only at Seven Commandos where there is a bar. Bring a lot and share it with the people you will meet on the boat.

On Drinking and Meeting Other People

El Nido is no Boracay when it comes to nightlife, but almost the same as Puerto Galera. You’ll find a couple of places along the beach with reggae music playing, which is the most common amongst all the places we’ve visited. Some of the places that you should check out are Sea Slugs and Pukka Bar. If you want to meet locals, head to Asylum. Careful, however. I heard from people I met in El Nido that this place turns out to be kinda like a whore-house some days. When we went there, it was revved up with loud music and there was a mix of local and foreign crow being wild on the floor. I did not like this place. Apart from being crowded, people were really weird and I just cannot figure out what was going that time.

One night, Brian and I were drinking at Pukka. We then saw Alonso, who used to stay next to our cottage. We joined him for a bottle. After minutes of chatting, we ended up with a group of other foreign people, 10 maybe. We went drinking til almost morning by the shore of Bacuit Bay. One time, I was drinking alone at Pukka. When it started raining, we all had to go inside so that we will not be wet. Since it got crowded, it became easier to make friends. There, I drank with a couple of other people. Some of them we met during our few days stay, and some I met for the first time. It was really nice making new friends, people you’ll be drinking with only for a night and you do not care whether or not you’ll see them the next day.

While El Nido is not replete in terms of nightlife destinations, it is still satisfying. It has that laid-back kind of nights that will not send you sleeping the whole day, giving you more time to explore what it has to offer.

Expenses 

This is one of the holidays that I enjoyed without spending too much. For the entire 5 days, it would be safe to say that I spent about 12,000, which was mostly on food and beer. El Nido, after all, is not an expensive destination, unless of course you will choose to stay on one of their well-known high-end resorts. They have hostels along Bacuit Bay and a wide array of other choices when it comes to cheap accommodations.

P.S.: Sorry for the lack of pictures. We did not have the camera most of the time.

Puerto Galera

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Though the main reason why we went to Puerto Galera is the Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival, we did no forget to check some of its most famous attractions. We stayed at a budget-friendly hotel near the beach, which gave us plenty of time to enjoy the pristine scenery that unfolds in front of us. We have not had a lot of swimming, but we had more than enough time to enjoy the sight of the warm blue water of the sea.

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White Beach

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The Sand Bar

Aside from the beach, we also went island hopping. For me, this is one of the best things that Puerto Galera can offer. Their snorkelling site is way better than that of Boracay. When we arrived at the snorkeling site aboard our outrigger boat, we rented a smaller boat that took us around the snorkeling area where we saw a diversity of marine creatures, including sea turtles, colorful fishes, and amazing coral formations.

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Island Hopping

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Snorkeling

Another essential in Puerto Galera is the Tamaraw Falls. Although it is quite far from the White Beach area, this place is worth a visit. We stayed at the falls for about an hour and enjoyed swimming in its cold water. The Tamaraw Falls offers the perfect retreat – cold water, good view of the mountain, and a refreshing buko juice.

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Tamaraw Falls

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Loving Nature

ImageThanks to the new friends we met at the festival. Not just that we were able to save since we chipped-in for the expenses to and fro our destinations, we had a good time. Meeting new people is always fun, especially when you are in a place as beautiful as Puerto Galera!