Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Remote Philippines: Siquijor Island Paradise

Finding the perfect beach is tricky. I have found many an empty beach that would have been perfect were it not for the fact that there were no sun loungers, fresh towels, masseurs and bartenders available to make it really enjoyable. And then I have found many a beach were all the infrastructure is there but the beach itself is overcrowded, and full of people trying to sell you stuff. The sort of thing I want - the perfect balance of empty and luxury - usually comes with a hefty price tag...

Unless you are in Siquijor! At under £50 per night for a standard double, Coco Grove Beach Resort has to be the best value private resort I have come across anywhere in the world. With restaurants, bars, pools, a spa, dive centre, spacious bungalows, and most importantly, a pristine beach. 

Coco Grove Beach Resort

Coconut, pineapple and mint shake (upon request!)
Sound too good to be true? Well there are a couple downsides to Coco Grove, the main one being that the food is not great unless you order fresh fish ahead and ask them to grill it simply with Filipino sides. 

The other is that, as with most of the Filipino beach resorts, you have to walk through quite a lot of low tide before you get to swimming depth and there are a few urchins lurking about. But this is easily sorted by a good pair of swimming shoes.

Other than that, it really is a dream. Everything is set up for you and the rooms are lovely and spacious. 

My room at Buri Garden I

There is also plenty to keep you busy: the full body massages are a dream, and I had my first ever scuba dive there. The instructor was lovely and took us 15 metres deep, where we saw a multitude of technicolored sea life including a rather scary looking sea snake. 

Tubod Marine Sanctuary Wildlife

We went out on a sail boat one day and motor biked around the island to different waterfalls and the fish foot spa underneath a famous old banyan tree. They also organise various trips to dive with whale sharks or swim with turtles around the Apo Island. 

Ugh... I wish I was back there already!

Monday, 25 January 2016

Remote Philippines: Batanes

The Rolling Hills, Batan Island
Going to Batanes feels a bit like you have spun a globe and resolutely made it to the first place your finger landed on. From a map, you can barely make out a few dots in the middle of the ocean, somewhere between Taiwan and the rest of the Philippines.

This remoteness makes it the perfect escape, where you can enjoy the freedom of motorbiking through rolling hills and dramatic coastlines, exploring the local villages and being switched off from the rest of the world (there is virtually no WiFi!) 

We covered Batan Island in a day, going through charming little fishing villages, picturesque farmland and the hilly interior. 

what a poser!
We stopped for lunch at Fundacion Pacita, a boutique hotel and restaurant named after the Filipino artist Pacita Abad, which houses a gallery of her vibrant artworks. 

It's is a lovely place to explore and the food there is the best we had on the island, using fresh ingredients they have grown in the grounds. 

Lunch at Fundacion Pacita

The next day we tried to catch a ferry to Sabtang Island but found out it had been cancelled because of the fiesta. This cloud had an instant silver lining since the shop owner we asked about the ferry invited us to join the feast she had prepared in celebration. 

View of the Port from the church opposite

We helped ourselves to delicious pork and crackling, turmeric and ginger rice, lumpia (Filipino spring rolls), and the most delicious purple sticky coconut rice called bibinka. 

Grilled pork, lumpia and Batan Bibinka

We ended up drinking "Red Horse Extra Strong" with her husband and his friends until late in the evening, leaving our bikes there and getting a tricycle all the way back along the winding roads to Basco. 

The next day, we made it to Sabtang slightly worse for wear, and drove through picturesque villages to some dramatic cliffs and viewpoints before racing back to the port in time for the ferry back. 

White sand coves in Sabtang Island

Sabtang Village

We stopped off for one last sunset over the rolling hills...

And then got some tasty street food in the town on our way back home: barbecue skewers and battered eggs that you dip in a sugary, spicy vinegar. A sweet end to our short stay!

Friday, 22 January 2016

Remote Philippines: Batanes and Siquijor

With over 7,000 islands to choose from, the most difficult thing about travelling to the Philippines is deciding where to go. Whereas I would be happy to spend months on end lying on a beach with a good book, my boyfriend looks for something a bit more adventurous. 

For this trip, we were each allowed one destination, and ended up going for the two smallest Filipino provinces without realising (when I say remote, I mean it)! Batanes, the northernmost outpost of the Philippines, and Siquijor in the Visayas. 

Other than their size, these two are a like chalk and cheese, the one full of plush, green, rolling pasturelands and typhoon-battered stone villages, the other boasts mile after mile of pristine white sand beaches... winter tanning here I come!

In my next couple of posts I will try to give you a flavour of each, but for now, here are my top five highlights...

1) Sunset over the rolling hills - Batanes

2) Hanging out with the locals

3) The street food... not exactly what you need for the perfect beach body, but pretty tasty!

4) Which brings me onto... the beach! The beautiful, beautiful beach (Coco Grove Beach Resort)

5) and finally... the daily massages at Coco Grove Spa

So sad its over! More to come soon...