Background To My Trip
I started visiting Thailand in 1987 and returned to Thailand in 1992 and 1996. In 1996 I had acquired my PADI Open Water scuba diving certificate in the UK and that year's trip to Thailand was all about scuba diving.
I stayed at Kata Beach in Phuket and did all my diving with the Kata Beach Dive Shop. Kata was extremely quiet and undeveloped compared to Patong back then, but even Patong was still fairly quiet and undeveloped. How times change. The dive shop was run by a fellow Englishman called Alan. Perhaps he is still there? I did most of my diving around Phuket, but the highlight of my vacation was doing a liveaboard trip to the Similans. In 1996, unlike today, the Similans were almost deserted and it was perfect.
I thoroughly enjoyed that trip, as I had enjoyed all my vacations to Thailand. However, I met another diver - a Dutchman - who kept raving about Boracay, a place I'd never heard of before. From what he had to say it sounded idyllic so when it came to arranging a vacation the following year I booked a flight to the Philippines.
It was not a well researched trip; I knew virtually nothing of the country until I arrived. My naive hope that it would be similar to Thailand because it was also in Southeast Asia was way off the mark. The culture and predominantly Catholic religion of the Philippines is completely different to Buddhist Thailand.
It was generally a good experience, and it was another country to add to the list of places I had visited, but on more than one occasion I wished I had just returned to Thailand again.
Photos On This Page
There aren't many photos on this page and the photos are very small. I visited the Philippines before the age of digital photography and, as usual, took my trusty Canon A1 with some Canon FD lenses.
When I moved to Thailand in 2003 I left all my old prints and negatives in the UK. I managed to retrieve about 3,000 negatives in 2017, but unfortunately the photos from the Philippines weren't among them. All I have from my Philippines trip is some small, low-resolution scans.
As is often the case with long haul flights, you arrive in the country's capital city. My plan was to vacation in Boracay, but it seemed a shame just to pass straight through Manila without having a look around first.
I got to my hotel just as evening had arrived, took a quick shower, and was just about to leave the hotel to explore my surroundings. This is what I had always done in Bangkok and I really enjoy pounding the streets of an unfamiliar, steamy Southeast Asian metropolis, not knowing what I might discover around each corner.
My plan suffered a little setback when I was intercepted by the hotel doorman just as I was about to leave. He asked where I was going and when I told him he advised me to stay in the hotel because it wasn't safe outside.
I was quite taken aback, but as this was my first trip to Manila and as I had researched very little (there was virtually no Internet back then) I decided to take his advice and spent a boring evening in the hotel.
In the following days I did explore a little during the daytime, but probably missed a lot of what I should have seen due to not knowing anyone and not having done much research. What I saw of Manila wasn't particularly attractive and the number of firearms I saw was quite alarming. It seemed that almost every shop had an armed guard outside toting a sawn-off shotgun. This really was the Wild East.
I have always found unfamiliar places interesting and Manila was no exception, but the city had an edge to it. My sixth sense was constantly in overdrive and I found it completely different to Bangkok.
English is much more widely spoken in the Philippines compared to Thailand and this ability in English seemed to give scammers a lot more confidence when approaching foreign tourists. I was constantly approached in the street in Manila and it made me feel uneasy.
Perhaps the people were genuine, but the best confidence tricksters are the ones who gain your confidence and trust.
Girls would approach me asking where I came from. When I told them they would always have a Filipino friend or relative working or studying in the same place. I guess that they wanted to come across as friendly, but my cynical nature told me that they were probably up to no good. I would always cut these conversations short and continue on my way.
My trip to Manila wasn't, therefore, that satisfactory. It's different these days when we can all research so easily using the Internet.
I don't like the idea of over-researching and over-planning before travelling because the best part of travelling for me has always been the unexpected finds and surprises.
However, it is good to know about the modus operandi of scammers in a particular location and which areas to avoid, etc.
My primary reason for visiting the Philippines was to go to Boracay. There are 7,107 islands in the country and this is one of the most beautiful. It is very small and there is no airport. (That was also the case when I first visited Koh Samui in 1987, but everything changed very quickly after that.)
From Manila I flew to Kalibo airport on the larger neighbouring island of Panay and then I got an outrigger boat across to Boracay. The journey was quite straightforward. Panay now has two airports, but I think that Caticlan airport had yet to open when I visited in 1997.
Caticlan airport, or Godofredo P. Ramos airport as it is also known, is much closer to Caticlan jetty where boats leave for Boracay. From Kalibo airport the drive to the jetty takes around two hours.
Upon arriving at Boracay there was no jetty or pier. The small outrigger boat got as close as it could to the beach and I had to wade to the shore through crystal clear water. There were Filipino men waiting to help tourists with their bags. I don't know if this is still the case, but in the 1990's visiting Boracay was still quite a Robinson Crusoe experience.
Boracay is the quintessential tropical island, consisting of white sandy beaches and palm trees surrounded by clear, blue sea. It is not renowned for its scuba diving but I thought the diving was good and there is lots of variety including coral gardens, a fairly fast-flowing drift dive and the chance to see large pelagics at Yapak.
When I visited it was very quiet. There were some European tourists and a handful of Europeans working in the dive industry, but not too many.
Since my 1997 visit I have heard that Boracay has undergone a lot of change as it has become more developed. I have also seen a Philippines tourism department campaign promoting Boracay. This was always inevitable and I've seen the same thing happen repeatedly in Thailand. These paradises on Earth don't last very long. For thousands of years they are only known to the locals who live there until the day they are 'discovered' by the outside world.
For a while there is a golden period when a decent infrastructure has been put in place as a result of development, but mass tourism still hasn't arrived. However, after a while, as happened with Koh Samui and Koh Phi Phi etc. etc., the tourists start to arrive in their droves and what was once a quiet paradise is never the same again.
There are now hundreds of hotels on Boracay and that certainly wasn't the case when I was there in 1997. There were just a few small bungalow operations and no massive hotels.
What is concerning is how quickly this has happened in only the last 30 years or so and how development is going ahead at a frenetic pace with money being the primary objective, but with no regard for the environment. Clearly this rate of development is not sustainable.
Boracay Island Slide Show
Use the buttons to automatically play the slide show or to advance the pictures at your own pace.
Weather In The Philippines
Like Thailand, the Philippines is a tropical Southeast Asian country. It's hot and humid all year round. At times it is very hot, and at times it is very wet.
Unlike Thailand, the Philippines also suffers from frequent typhoons, some of which are extremely severe.
As a result of the northeast monsoon the coolest time of year is from October to February, but the three months after this (March, April, May) is very hot. The rainy season runs from June to September and this is when typhoons can appear.
I visited the Philippines in October 1997. For most of the time the weather was pleasant, but there were a couple of very wet and windy days while I was in Boracay. The weather had started to change and I just caught the end of the windy/rainy season.
When I went to Boracay it was still a relatively unknown destination and I'm not even sure if package arrangements were available back then. As I usually do, I made all my arrangements independently and booked my own flights and hotels.
That situation has changed now and Boracay has now become very well-known. Thus, I am sure that plenty of all-inclusive package tours will be available. Even so, I still find it preferable to make my own arrangements independently.
It adds a bit of adventure and it saves money. Why pay someone else to do something that you can do it yourself?
The other thing that has changed since I went is the arrival of the Internet. It is now so easy to book flights and hotels on-line.
Booking Hotels In The Philippines
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