Exploring the North of The Philippines…

After a long day of travelling we arrived into Manila airport in the evening. Outside the airport it was already dark. We hailed a taxi and felt slightly uneasy when the driver said “lock doors please, this is problem highway.” We made it safely to our hotel where we met up with our friend Dave who would be travelling with us for a couple of weeks. We went out for some beers in an eccentric bar with a band overlooking Manila Bay to celebrate Dave’s arrival, where the staff (including some dressed as sailors, a mime artist and some people of short stature) danced until the early hours.

We stayed in Mabini Street, which turned out to be in the middle of the red light district, where men openly get shown menus of women in the street. It was actually a good place to base ourselves though and had the added benefit that there were always lots of people around, even late at night, which is much safer than staying on a quiet street in Manila. We had a few days exploring the city including visiting the Museum of Filipino People, the Rizal Monument, taking a Jeepney to China Town to wander along Ong Pin and through the markets and spending some time in the old town area of Intramuros and Fort Santiago. Manila is a bustling city, with streets choked with Jeepneys and Tricycles. Whilst it is still developing as a tourist destination, it was fascinating just to wander around and take in the sights and the (not so fragrant) smells of the city and to see people going about their everyday lives. We enjoyed our time there discovering the city, but were also saddened to see lots of whole families with young children sleeping rough on the streets.

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From Manila, we took a short flight up to Laoag in the North of Luzon Island. From there we took a tricycle and a bus up to Pagudpud, where we stayed at Saud beach; an idyllic setting with a white sand beach stretching into the distance lined with coconut palms. Whilst we were there Dave took a kite surfing lesson and Kate and Alex did some sea kayaking, before giving up as the current and wind was incredibly strong that day. We spent New Years Eve in Pagudpud, working our way along the beach bars and then returning to our hotel for fireworks and food at midnight. We met a friendly couple from Manila and stayed up chatting with them until about 4.30am, drinking slightly too much beer and Tequila in the process!

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We started the New Year feeling slightly worse for wear but managed to make it to the beach for some New Years Day swimming in the sea. After some relaxing time we managed to find the energy to do a beach photo-shoot (results below!) and then stayed at the beach to watch the colourful sunset.

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From Pagudpud we travelled to Vigan, an attractive town full of Spanish colonial buildings and had a day wandering round the streets and the churches. The next day we left early for a long journey to the mountains of Sagada. Our journey consisted of a bus, 3 different minivans and a Jeepney whilst winding through kilometre after kilometre of stunning mountain scenery and rice terraces.

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Unfortunately shortly after we arrived in Sagada Alex got food poisoning, so Kate and Dave had to explore the area without Alex. We hired a guide and visited the Lumiang Burial Caves, where up until recently animistic local people placed coffins in the mouths of the surrounding caves or hanging from cliffs. After that we visited the Sumaging Cave, which was full of interesting rock formations. If this cave had been in England you would’ve been given hard hats, a safety harnesses and a full safety briefing, however as we were in Asia, after we’d walked carefully down the extremely slippery rocks, we were simply told to take off our shoes and then climb down near vertical rocks whilst holding on to a rope, then clamber across more rocks and through pools of water. It was great fun but you had to really watch your footing! We also hiked to Echo Valley to see the hanging coffins on the cliffs. Some of the hanging coffins are centuries old, whilst more recent ones belong to local elders who have to sacrifice more than 20 pigs to secure a spot on the cliff.

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From Sagada we travelled to the small rustic mountain town of Banaue were we visited the stunning UNESCO rice terraces that feature on one of the Filipino banknotes. The whole valley has been carved into stepped mud walled rice terraces that were created over 2000 years ago. We visited the main view points and wandered through the idyllic rice terraces. The next day we left early to return to Manila. 2 Jeepneys, a tricycle and 2 buses later (going via San Jose City, after all the direct buses were full) we finally reached Manila late in the evening.

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We had an early flight the next morning so took a taxi to the airport at 5am. We’d managed our whole trip to The Philippines without being scammed, but taxi drivers in Manila are notorious for scamming passengers (locals as well as tourists). We got in a taxi to the airport after doing the usual checks that the driver was using the meter and the standard flag fare. As the driver drove off he then said he only did a flat rate to the airport, which we argued against so he then said he’d use the meter if we paid an extra amount upon arrival. We said no, so he stopped abruptly and told us to get out. We then had to exit the taxi very quickly into a dark and unfamiliar area of Manila. Luckily we managed to get our bags and flag another taxi with a honest driver quickly and get to the airport safely.

From Manila we took a flight back to KL to continue our travels in Malaysia…

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