15 Aug 2010

El Nido, Philippines

The only way of getting to El Nido if you have limited funds is by boat or bus. The flights there are a lot more expensive than other local flights in the Philippines (PHP 6,750 per person from Manila) and the plane is even smaller than the one that flies to Coron. We opted on taking the eight hour boat ride from Coron which only cost us Php2200. The boat was tiny and we were packed in it like sardines, uncomfortably staring at the strangers we were going to spent the entire day with.

The boat from Coron to El Nido, The Overcomer 2.

When we arrived in El Nido it was pouring with rain. We went straight to Art Café, a restaurant/ shop/ travel agency, that we had booked a package through prior to our arrival. The package included accommodation at any one of five different resorts in EL Nido, breakfast at Art Café, island hopping, lunch, rental fee for masks and snorkels and environmental fee. They then proceeded to take us to our accommodation at Marina Garden Beach Resort where we were staying in the deluxe room (Php2250). The accommodation itself was really nice. It is right on the beach and there are hammocks for guests to use (if the staff are not already lying on them) and a little bar type thing where guests could purchase drinks and sandwiches. I found the staff however to be very unfriendly and they seemed to get upset when I requested something. They also allowed hawkers to use their chairs outside and disturb guests which I found really annoying.

Marina Garden

We woke up on the first day and headed to Art Café for breakfast. The staff working there were incredibly friendly and efficient. We had booked an adventure package through them which would keep us entertained us for the next four days. On the first day we went on a kayak tour. It was perhaps the most beautiful day we had our entire holiday. The scenery was breathtaking, clear blue water lapping against limestone cliffs. We kayaked through the Ubugon lagoon, visited Helicopter Island, Cadlao Wall and Bocal Island. We were also fortunate to meet up with another couple on our tour who were also there on vacation. The next three days we continued to eat breakfast at the Art Café and spend the remainder of the day island hopping. We snorkeled at various spots, did some cave diving and relaxed on white sandy beaches. Each day we were presented with a delicious lunch on the beach which for me consisted of some cooked vegetables, rice and fruit whilst Ian enjoyed the fresh fish that had just been cooked on hot coals. Perhaps a highlight for me was all the snorkeling we did as it was my first time. There were so many things to see under the water and you did not have to go far to find anything. We also were fortunate enough to see a turtle. Another highlight was visiting snake island which is an island that has taken on the shape of a snake. I was instantly taken back by the beauty that was there.

Me and snake island below (above)

Where we had lunch that day (left). Also a part of snake island.

Places to eat
There are many restaurants in El Nido that house an array of various foods. It’s therefore not difficult to find something you like. Ric’s Son and Sea Slugs are right on the beach and have a great atmosphere and incredible food. Sea Slugs in particular had incredible pizza’s. Art café is another restaurant that has great food and a large menu. Most of these places also have a live band playing which adds to the atmosphere. Another fabulous restaurant we visited was Blue Azul. The man who owns it was very friendly and accommodating. His slogan is, “Name it, Libby will cook it.” This is certainly true as this restaurant serves anything from fish and chips, curries, pasta’s, spring rolls, cordon blue etc. The list is endless. The prices are very reasonable due to the fact that this restaurant is not on the beach. It is situated in Real St, Buena Suerto, they also have a website www.blueazul.co.cc. Most of these restaurants also offer island hopping packages.

A picture of Art Cafe (left).

Beaches around El Nido
There is a beach around El Nido that we visited towards the end of our stay. We paid a tricycle to drop us off at Marimegmeg beach which cost us Php50. The beach itself looked really nice however when we lay down on the sand we were ravaged by sand flies. Thus it did not take long before we were back on a tricycle heading back to El Nido. Here is a picture below that I took whilst we were riding in the tricycle.

Leaving El Nido

Leaving El Nido turned out to be another long strenuous journey. The Art Café had thankfully organized for Ian and I to catch a small bus (Php2200) from El Nido to Puerto Princesa where we would spend the night and fly to Manila the following day . The bus ride was 7 hours long on possibly the worst road I have ever seen. We had also been out quite late the night before with the couple we had met on our first day in El Nido which added to the discomfort of the trip. It was however interesting to witness Palawon on the outside, far from a place that has been kitted out for tourists. I had always accepted the fact that I was from the third world country; however it dawned on me as I was flushing a toilet by pouring water into the toilet bowl at one of our stops along the way that my perception of third world was rather candy coated.

Puerto Princesa is nothing special. In fact I was relieved that we were only staying there one night. The town is very run down and dirty and everything is spread out and difficult to find. We stayed in Manny’s guest house, which was actually very nice and affordable (Php500 a room). We were the only guests there so we thankfully did not have to share a bathroom with anyone.

View from Manny's of the streets below.

Overall I had a great trip to the Philippines. It is a truly beautiful country with so many things to see and do. I was quite concerned upon arrival as this time of year is considered their rainy season however, when we were there, it only rained once a day for an hour therefore it did not affect any of our activities. On one of the days we even snorkeled in the rain. I think in high season it would perhaps be a bit too busy for my liking.

Places to stay El Nido
Marina Garden Beach Resort
Rooms range from Php650 (Family cottage)- Php2250
+ 63 9176247722

Rosanna’s cottages
Rooms from Php 1000- Php 1800

Places to stay in Puerto Princesa
Manny’s Guest House (Small kitchen, WiFi zone, cable TV)
Rooms range from Php400- Php650.
(048) 725 1938

House of Rose (Swimming pool, WiFi zone, resto bar and free airport transfer)
Rooms range from Php300 (backpacker room) to Php1400.
E- mail: andyhouse_of_rose@yahoo.com
(048) 4341316

Dolce Vita (Swimming pool, WiFi zone, room service, bar and restaurant, laundry and babysitting).
Rooms range from Php 2500- Php 4100
E- mail: info@hotels-palawon.com
(0063) 48 434 5357

Some last pictures
The cave where we went diving (left) and below, an abandoned shack on one of the beaches.

Coron, Philippines

I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in Coron. It was the only part of our journey to the Philippines that we had not planned. Prior to our arrival, I had done some reading about the place through Trip Advisor and had heard both positive and negative things about it.

We flew to Coron from Manila in a tiny plane. Small planes make me nervous and initially, I was a bit unsure if this plane would actually be able to make the journey. The fight took just over an hour and a half and cost Php2200. When we arrived I grabbed some flyers from the information counter, hoping they would give me some guidance when selecting my accommodation. Our baggage was laid out on a large table that was (in the hope of resembling a conveyer belt) in the shape of an oval, now this is third world I thought. As we gathered our luggage ad walked outside, I was greeted by a friendly face who offered to take us into Coron. We agreed and proceeded to jump into his taxi. He introduced himself as Charlie and explained that he worked for a travel agency. He then asked us what we had planned for tomorrow. I explained that I wanted to have a relaxing day on Coron Island, soaking up some sun. Overjoyed, he explained that his friends would take us there for Php1500 as opposed to the Php2500 that the other boats charged. There are no beaches in Coron, thus you have to go island hopping if you desire some beach time.

View from the bar at Seadive and a view from our room at Seadive (on our second night)

As we drove into Coron town, Charlie suggested that we stay in Seadive Resort. I was reluctant to lay my head there for the night as I had read some pretty brutal reviews about the place. Charlie however assured us that it would be more convenient for us to stay there as it was right on the water and close to everything so we agreed. Our stay in Seadive got off to a rocky start. The only rooms available were the fanned rooms with shared bathrooms (Php400). A shared bathroom may be bearable in some cases, but not here, not an Asian style bathroom where used and unused toilet paper is discarded into the dustbin next to you as opposed to the toilet and the shower is not a separate space, but rather it is integrated into the bathroom allowing absolutely everything to get wet whenever you turn on the tap.

The restaurant at the Seadive was fantastic, the bar at the back had a great atmosphere and the staff were incredibly friendly and welcoming. However, this was not enough to make me happy, so the following day we upgraded to the second floor, to a better room with our own bathroom and a gorgeous view of Coron bay it cost us Php1100 and was worth every cent. The following day, Charlie was waiting for us to take us to his friend’s boat. He took us through the market so we could get some lunch. It was there that I realized how rural Coron was. The market boasted a strong smell of fish, this was not surprising as I had read that foreigners had found that the town had a rather potent smell, however it was nothing compared to some of the smells I have had to endure in Korea. Anyway we managed to get some fruit that looked and tasted amazing with a side order of cashew nuts for lunch.

We met our two guides who assisted us onto the boat. As we drove away we admired the tiny town from the boat. All of a sudden we stopped in the middle of no where and were handed masks and snorkels. I realized then that my idea of having a relaxing day on the beach was declined. I surrendered and placed the mask over my face, the snorkel in my mouth and dived into the clear blue waters of Coron.

View from the second stop (left)

At our third stop where we snorkeled with jellyfish.

During the course of the day we proceeded to snorkel at two different lagoons, a shipwreck and enjoyed our simple but delicious lunch on a white sandy beach. The scenery was spectacular and under the water it was just as beautiful as above. We spotted some colourful fish and encountered a school of jellyfish.

Tips about Coron
Bring bug spray
Expect it to be run down; it’s not a first world country.
During high season (January/ February), book before you come.
If you go island hopping be sure to bring change as you have to pay an environmental fee at every stop.


Sea Dive
Rooms range from Php400 to Php 1400
E-mail: seadiveresort.com
+63 920 945 8714

KokosNuss Garden Resort
Rooms range from Php450- Php1880
E- mail: info@ kikisnuss.info
+63-919-776 95 44
+63-919-448 78 79

Princes of Coron, Austrian guesthouses (Swimming pool)
Rooms Php1600
+63 918 659 0563

Charlie’s details
Charlie B. Labajo
Evergreen diving Philippines
Telephone Number 09293019172
E- mail: charlielabajo@yahoo.com

23 Jun 2010

My Getaway

For those people living in Korea, I think we can all agree that sometimes it can be a bit suffocating. My solution to this is a little place called Anmyeondo Island, my home away from home.

Anmyeondo Island is located in Chungcheongnam- do province, 30 km away from Taean-gun. It is the sixth largest island in Korea and is connected to the mainland by a bridge that was constructed in 1970. On the island, there are 14 magnificent beaches and beautiful forests that you can visit.

An abandoned little 'shack' we found on one of the beaches.

A picture of the Pension we stayed at. Our room had a private balcony.

Once on the island, you will not struggle to find accommodation. I personally prefer staying in a Pension. We paid 60 000 Won for a room that could accommodate two people and it was self catering, which was ideal as most of the places to dine at on the island are seafood restaurants.

I felt completely at ease when I was there, as I sat out on a beautiful wooden deck, breathtaking view, sipping on some wine from E-Mart, it felt like I was back at home and even though it was just for a little while, it felt wonderful.

Getting there.
There is a direct bus from Taean Intercity Bus Terminal.

12 Jun 2010

Cheongyang, my home in Korea.

I still remember the first time I laid eyes on this tiny town that was to be my new home. I was driving with my new co teacher in her car. Ian was driving in the front with his new co teachers. It had been, undeniably one of the most awkward two hours of my life. We eventually arrived in Cheongyang and I noticed the main street was lined with chili pepper street lights. My eyes darted from left to right, looking for anything that was remotely western. No Pizza Hut, no Mr. Pizza, no Burger King, No Mc Donald’s, not even an E Mart. A few censored words entered my head at this stage. “Cheongyang is very small,” said my co teacher. I managed to say a believable “yes” whilst I felt my eyes fill with tears.

Cheongyang's main street at night

We drove down one of the side streets to a duplex house, our new home. I got out of the car and looked around. “Look, you live next to a beautiful park,” said Ian’s co teacher as she got out of the car. I looked to my left and saw a mass of brown, dead plants that was this so called beautiful park. The remainder of the day did not improve. We were taken out for lunch to a restaurant that smelt like an armpit which made it incredibly difficult to eat anything. I was then taken to a run down building that was crying out for a paint job and informed by my co teacher that this was the school that I would be teaching at. My co teacher and I then proceeded to have a cup of green tea accompanied with some fruit with my new head mistress. The two of them sat, stared, talked in Korean, sipped their tea and devoured the fruit that was in front of them like a cow chewing it’s cud. When I got back to my new home later that evening, I cried like I cried on the day when my parents dropped me off at boarding school for the first time.

Our duplex house. The beautiful park in front that improved in looks as the year progressed.

Everything deserves a chance and eventually I was able to accept my position. After a year and a half, I am still here in Cheongyang, affectionately named The Yang by us foreigners. There are still bad days; however they are outweighed by the good days. In a small town such as this, you get the full authentic Korean experience, you become the entertainment at the local noraybong (singing room), and you will always be looked at, talked about and smiled at.

Lights by the river. Gorgeous in summer.

So when is it a good time to come to Cheongyang? Never…just kidding. Cheongyang comes alive once a year at the local Chili Pepper festival which takes place in September. The whole town, old and young gather by the river to watch performances (we even had some famous faces last year), buy some things from one of the markets, eat some street food (if you dare) and of course consume bottles and bottles of soju. I was actually surprised how jovial the festival was and ended up having a marvelous time. Needless to say, I will be attending the festival for the second time this year and of course I’m looking forward to it.

The stage at the festival.

Street food at the festival

Gecko's Restaurant

In Korea, I am always on the look out for some comforting western food. When I go out for a meal with a group of friends, I am the only vegetarian which can present us with the difficult task of finding a restaurant that caters for all of our needs. Gecko’s offers a wonderful variety of western food, from breakfasts, burgers, sandwiches, salads, fish and lasagna; everyone will find something on the menu that will satisfy their hunger.

It is here that I fell in love with the vegetarian burgers, also known as a well being burger. It is by far one of the best vegetarian burgers I have had and reasonably priced at 10,500 won served with either your choice of potato chips (fries) or a salad.

My vegetarian burger in the front and Ian's cheese burger on the left.

Gecko’s restaurants can be found in a number of places around Korea. In Itawon you can stumble across a Gecko’s Terrace and a Gecko’s Garden, however the two are different. Gecko’s Terrace, where is burger is served, is situated right above the subway stop. It presents a laid back, comfortable atmosphere and a decent cocktail, beer and wine menu to wash your meal down. Gecko’s Garden however offers a more up market menu then the Terrace that is equally as delicious for those non vegetarian.

There are three other Gecko’s restaurants that are modeled on the Gecko’s Terrace, Gecko’s Island in Jeju-do (Jungnum), Gecko’s by the beach in Busan (Hyundai beach, Pala de CS) and Gecko’s Jukjeon (Bundang Area in Seoul).

Ian at Gecko's in Busan. A truly magical setting at Hyundai beach.

If you are not into burgers, Gecko’s also serves a tasty tofu enchilada 10,500 won that you could order.

Vegetarian Products

Back in South Africa, I am a huge fan on Fry’s vegetarian products; in fact I cannot go two days without consuming one of their delicious soya products. Finding vegetarian products in Korea can be as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack. After a long search I posted a desperate plea on the Facebook page, For South African’s in South Korea, asking anyone if they knew of a place that sold vegetarian products. After a few days of patiently waiting, my prayers were answered. I was informed about a quaint little restaurant in Insadong, Seoul that sold Vegefood vegetarian products.

The restaurant’s name is Sanchon. It serves Buddhist temple food in a charming, ornate setting. It is however quite difficult to find. If you take line 3, get off at Anguk Station and take exit 6. Walk past the tourist information stand and into Insadong shopping street. The restaurant is down one of the alleys on your left.

If you do not live in Seoul, Vegefood also deliver their products. Visit their website at www.vegefood.co.kr or give them a call at 031-591-4181.

Here are two examples of Vegefood products. I find the one on the left to be a little dry, however the one on the right is delicious. Vegefood also has wonderful cocktail sausages that are great on the braai (barbecue).

7 Jun 2010

Useful phrases for Vegetarians in Korea

This was composed by my co teacher and myself so there might a one or two mistakes. I hope it's helpful.

I am a vegetarian.
난 채식주의
nan chaesigjuui

I do not eat meat.
저는 고기를 먹지 않습니다.
jeoneun gogileul meogji anhseubnida

No pork
아니 돼지고기
ani dwaejigogi

I don't like pork
난 돼지고기처럼 해달라고
nan dwaejigogicheoleom haedallago

No beef
쇠고기 없음
soegogi eobs-eum

I don't like beef
난 안 쇠고기를 좋아
nan an soegogileul joh-a

No chicken
아니 닭고기
ani dalg-gogi

I don't like chicken
예감이 안 닭고기 좋아해
yegam-i an dalg-gogi joh-ahae

I do not like fish
예감이 안 생선을 맛보고
yegam-i an saengseon-eul masbogo

I am allergic to seafood
난 해산물 알레르기가있어
nan haesanmul alleleugigaiss-eo

Koreans think that pork is not a meat. I have often ordered a pizza and asked for no meat to be on it and when it arrived it had bits of ham and bacon on. So remember to be specific when you order. Most pizza places do have vegetarian options however there are the odd few that don't.