boracay/jan 2016 – what it could have been

when i think of boracay, i think of the simply red song: she’s so beautiful, but oh so boring … i’m wondering what am I doing here …

padi fields

padi fields on way to ferry terminal

it’s a 1.5 hour journey from the single-conveyor-belt kalibo airport to the caticlan jetty port from where we’d take a 15 mins boat ride to boracay island (100 php terminal fee, 75 php environment fee). there were no toilet stops along the way so we had to empty the bladders before we got on the road. the toilet was outside the airport building across the road.

getting onto ferry

getting onto ferry on a shaky plank-stair

from the ferry

dark clouds on the horizon

after we arrived on boracay island, it’s another 20 minute’s ride in a little van from cagban jetty port to white beach – the epicentre of boracay.

we squeezed 12 of us, excluding the driver into this

12 of us squeezed into this, excluding the driver

moving from ferry station to white beach

a little traffic jam along the way

the most common type of transport

tuk tuk – the most common type of transport

white beach was divided into stations 1 – 3, 1 being the upclass area, 2 being the mid-class area and 3 being the mass-class area. we stayed at mandarin boracay, at station 2 (*fist pump*).

the villa-like mandarin boracay

the villa-like mandarin boracay

outside mandarin

beach outside mandarin

i was told to expect white powdery sand and beautiful sunsets.

the sand was indeed powdery, though it might appear white or brown depending on the time of the day and whether it was dry or wet. the sunset was pretty good even if it somehow lacked the oomph factor.

morning at the beach

morning at the beach

sunset 3

sunset

but boracay was no maldives. white beach was so tightly packed every night it’s a chore to take a stroll on it. during the day, the beaches would be lined with beach chairs, reminiscent of phuket.

cue the question: what am i doing here.

80% of fellow tourists we bumped into were fair-skinned, immaculately coiffed, chicly-dressed koreans and mainland chinese. we heard boracay had surpassed jeju as the #1 honeymoon destination for koreans. indeed, this was the first time i’d seen so many koreans outside of korea. i supposed it helped that philippines promoted boracay aggressively to korea and china and there were direct flights from various cities in each country.

i had to wonder: how does one honeymoon with at least 10,000 people milling around you constantly?

crowd along white beach on a typical night

crowd an white beach on a typical night

the cuisine on the island was anchored by its bbq dishes: bbq pork, chicken, seafood etc. these were quite delicious. but after 1 meal made up of entirely bbq food, i began to look forward to fresh green vegetables, pizza/pasta, or something that didn’t employ the exuberant use of fish sauce.

but my main gripe was the dismal selection of beers available. there were only san miguel, san miguel light (corona) and heineken. frankly, san miguel tasted like dank water. i gave up drinking after 2 days.

bbq

first night’s dinner

bbq buffet

super popular bbq buffet a few blocks down the street

chef @ work

chef @ work

still, you could get a lot done on boracay after sunset. for instance, a tattoo. or be wowed by fire dancers tossing balls of fires around. or just chill by the beach at one of the many al fresco dining areas. or shop your heart out at d’mall just off white beach or get a foot massage (650 php).

get a tattoo? or a pizza?

get a tattoo? or a pizza?

sand sculpture - pay a small fee to be photographed with it

sand sculpture – pay a small fee to be photographed with it

fire dancers

fire dancers

i’m not sure how boracay acquired the reputation of being a wild party island. we strolled along the beach at night and there were just fire dancers and singers belting out covers of evergreen favourites (they were not even good). maybe there were drugs in the back alley but we didn’t know it. the wildest thing we encountered was the crowd in d’mall.

the shops

rows of shops forming the outer edge of d’mall

local area

local area

mandarin - al fresco dining

mandarin – al fresco dining

the neighbourhood

the neighbourhood

day activities on boracay were pretty standard. everywhere, you’d be accosted by touts asking if you wanted to do the following: island hop, para-sail, flying fish (700 php/pax), snorkel, atv (all-terrain vehicle, 650 php/pax), helmet diving, massage (350 php/hour) etc. you could even take an open-water diving course.

we went with the ones our local guide suggested because, our fellow travel mates (a group of 6 easy-going young people from singapore who took the same silkair package) had checked out the market rates the day before and deemed these to be of better value. we were grateful for their advice.

we signed up for the flying fish and atv. the flying fish ought to be re-named the praying mantis because the raft merely lifted partially and not fully as touted. but then, i couldn’t be 100% sure it wasn’t due to a weight(y) issue.

the atv was more like an hour-long excursion to the mt luho viewing platform. at slightly more than 110m, mt luho was the highest point on boracay and it did offer splendid views of the coasts on both sides. mainland chinese photo-bombers were optional but there seemed no getting away from them.

getting ready for flying fish

getting ready for flying fish

para sailers

para sailing

flying fish

flying fish that didn’t quite fly

panoramic view after atv

panoramic view from mt luho

vine covered stairways

vine covered stairways

sunset 2

as the little ball of fire dipped near the horizon

sunset 4

after the sun had set

the island-hopping was more interesting. though technically, we didn’t really island-hop (350 php, 4 hours, exclude lunch) since we stopped at only 1 island (skipped the rest as did not look interesting and needed to pay extra to land). crystal cove island was really quite pretty (entrance fee 200 php pay separately) and a perfect location for putting to work those camera-whoring skills.

day 2 adventure - island hopping

day 2 adventure – island hopping

crystal cove island

crystal cove island

a rare, unoccupied platform

a rare, unoccupied platform

cave 2

entrance to a cave

had fun posing

posing on the spiral stairway

practising for the camera

practising for the camera

heading back

heading back after the ‘island hopping’

d’talipapa market was the place to buy seafood and then bring them to a restaurant to get them cooked, for a small fee. we heard you got to slash prices by more than half to avoid being fleeced. we didn’t try it but check out this excellent blog by anna for bargaining tips .

from white beach, turn left into a small alley at victoria diver’s beach bar.

vegetables shop

vegetables shop

it’s best to get seated for dinner before 7pm. after 7pm, it could be next to impossible to find a place to eat when the koreans and chinese descended in hordes. red crab served pretty good pasta and the price was quite reasonable.

dinner

3rd night dinner – the last

careening into the sunset

nightly spectacle – dance of the sailboats

the sun has gone down

the sun has gone down on me

to sum up

boracay was too touristy and crowded for my liking. there were lots of food options but none stood out. don’t expect anything fantastic for breakfast even if the hotel seemed grand (like ours). in fact, the only ‘dish’ that made an impression was the bread. fresh, soft and totally local.

bread the best

bread – the best

i brought sgd 200 for a 4-day trip, enough to cover all my expenses including an airport tax of 700 rp and 2 activities with a bit leftover (budget 500-600 php per meal). but that said, i didn’t buy a single item on boracay. if you wanted to do more, then bring at least sgd 300. if these were not enough still, get changed at one of the many money changers around.

there’s wifi at almost every establishment but the connection was usually limited to an hour and were mostly bad, even in our own hotel. but we got by.

if you, like me had old notes from earlier trips, head to a bank to exchange them for new notes. the bank was open on saturday until 6pm (closed on sunday).

adieus

adieus – last look before leaving

lastly, get to the airport early. we reached the airport 2.5 hours before our flight and check-in etc were smooth as there were hardly anyone. when we returned from lunch 1.5 hours later, the airport had transformed completely. there were at least 500 tourists waiting to enter the airport. somehow the earth had stirred and shaken and spit out so many people all at once.

as time was of essence, we had to do the disreputable thing: jump queue. good thing, the staff acquiesced (because they knew we wouldn’t make it to our flight).

the unbelieveable queue

the unbelieveable queue

someone asked in a forum: bali or boracay. it’s a no brainer really – bali, hands down.

 

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