Hear about travel to the region around the Island of Cebu as the Amateur Traveler talks to Tommo & Megsy from fivedollartraveller.com about their vacation in the Visayas, the central group of islands in the Philippines. They visited the islands of Bohol, Cebu, and Negros.
“The main reason you go there is a tropical paradise. It is your postcard-perfect tropical paradise. The beaches are pure white and the people are so friendly. You can just sit on the beach and eat a meal, have a drink with your toes in the sand. The water is actually that crystal blue color that you see. It hasn’t been photoshopped, it’s amazing. It’s a fantastic place where you can do a lot of water sports, pretty much year-round because it’s so tropical.”
The main hub if you are going to the Visayas is Cebu which has international flights. Some flights also fly into Tagbilaran on the island of Bohol.
“The first thing we will do, and this will be the controversial thing, just south of Cebu is an island called Oslob and you can go and swim with whale sharks.” Tommo is quick to point out that these sharks are not in captivity, but they are fed by the locals. “It’s an amazing experience if you don’t have a moral problem with it. It really helps the local community. That used to be a fishing village with no money.”
Their next stop was Dumaguete with its black sand beaches where they took dive lessons in the local waters. “You just go off a little bit from the coastline and you have Apo Island. You can snorkel there as well, or you can go diving and you are going to get a lot of turtle spotting in that area. If you have ever been underwater and you have had a turtle swim up to your face that’s just one of the most amazing experiences. This is a place for people who aren’t looking for a 5-star experience. We were staying in a wooden hut. It’s those cute little bungalows that are quite common all over the Philippines. This is a real Filipino town, it’s not a tourist resort.”
Tommo & Megsy ate at the local food stalls and had a number of food adventures, including eating some things (like balut) that I don’t think I would try. But they found lots of great food including, perhaps surprisingly, Tex-Mex.
Their final stop was the island of Panglao, just off Tagbilaran on the island of Bohol. “On Panglao, you’ve got Alona Beach which is probably the most famous beach in that area. So this is going to be a little bit more touristy, but it’s beautiful. If you want to get your perfect sunset shot, that is the place to go. You’ve got the more expensive options there because it is more developed, but we stayed in a place where we actually got a motorscooter included with the room which was about $16 a night. It’s a little bit rough and ready, it’s more like a hostel standard but we did have a private room.”
In Bohol, they visited the “chocolate hills” where they saw some of the wildlife including the tarsier. The tarsier is a tiny little tree climber that looks like a gremlin. They are about the size of your hand. Tommo & Megsy visited a Tarsier sanctuary. But it was the larger human inhabitants that really won their hearts.
DK Eyewitness Travel Guides – One of my favorite guidebook series
5 Dollar Planet
Apo Island Beach Resort
Blue Monkey Grill
Chorizo / Longaniza
Chris: Amateur Traveler episode 457. Today, The Amateur Traveler talks about beaches and scuba; street food; and one of the world’s smallest primates, as we go to Cebu in the Philippines.
Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. These colorful guidebooks are filled with great information and are one of my favorite guidebooks. I have 25 of them right here on my bookshelf. Learn more at DK.com.
Welcome to The Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. We’ll hear more from our sponsor later on, but first, let’s talk about the Philippines.
I’d like to welcome on the show Tommo and Megsy, from 5dollarplanet.com, who have come to talk to us about the central part of the Phillippines. Welcome to the show!
Tommo: Hey! How’s it going?
Megsy: Thanks for having us!
Chris: And I should say, 5dollarplanet.com is a new travel podcast, so if people are not getting enough from Amateur Traveler, hopefully, you’ll fall in love with Tommo and Megsy and can check them out. So, when we say the central Philippines, we said that in part because I chickened out and couldn’t say the name of the region that we’re talking about. What is the region we’re talking about and why should we go there?
Tommo: Well, we’re hoping we can pronounce it correctly as well. Visayas is the central group of islands in the Philippines and specifically, we’re going to talk about Bohol, Cebu, and Negros, which is three of those main islands in that main region that we just visited. And I think the main reason you should go there is, it’s just a tropical paradise. It is your postcard perfect tropical paradise. The beaches are pure white, and the people are so friendly, and you can just sit on the beach and eat a meal, have a drink, with your toes in the sand…
Megsy: The water is actually that crystal blue color that you see. It hasn’t been photoshopped! It’s amazing! It’s really a fantastic place that you can do a lot of water sports, pretty much most of the year round because it’s so tropical there. It’s always good weather.
Chris: I listen to some podcasts that actually are now based in Cebu, in particular, because they could work anywhere, and they chose to be in that part of the world just for that reason. So…
Megsy: It is stunning.
Chris: So we’re not in… for instance, we’re flying, probably, through Manila, which is more of a chaotic, big city.
Tommo: Yes. But still an adventure.
Megsy: It’s pretty exciting.
Chris: Definitely an adventure, I would say and we’ve talked about it on another episode of Amateur Traveler and we’ll probably talk about it again. And then we’re catching a flight down to where, here?
Tommo: The easiest mode, like the main hub, if you’re going to the Visayas, would be Cebu because they actually have international flights coming in from other countries as well. So for instance, we actually flew out to Cambodia. They have flight out to Cambodia, and they have flights to other parts of southeast Asia. You might not get a flight there from the U.S. So if you’re coming directly from the U.S., you would be going into Manila and then getting a flight with someone like Air Asia that would take you down to Cebu. Or, Tagbilaran… Tagbilaran, I think you might pronounce it that way. And that’s on the island of Bohol. Those are the two main transport hubs that you can fly to easily.
Chris: Okay. And let’s say I had roughly a week, week to two weeks to explore the region. What kind of itinerary would you lay out for me? What would you recommend?
Tommo: Well, if you were coming into Cebu, then the first thing we would do, and this is going to be the controversial thing that some of your listeners will be like, “Oh, my God, you can’t go do that!” But we did it. We actually really enjoyed it. Just south of Cebu, there’s a place called Oslob, and this is where you can go and swim with whale sharks. And the controversial element is that these are normally migratory animals but, in fact, the locals have started feeding them. They actually take quite good care of them. I know there’s lots of different stories online, some negative, some positive. We were there; we didn’t see any mistreatment at all. But you can just get in the water and swim around with a snorkel, and you’re literally a few meters away from them. They’re very docile. You have to be very careful not to touch them. But it’s an amazing experience if you don’t have a moral problem with it. So there’s arguments either side. It really helps the local community that used to be a fishing village with no money, and now they’ve actually got money to support their families.
Megsy: They’re building new schools and paving roads and stuff like that.
Chris: And let’s clarify some of the moral elements here because it is a good question. First of all, they are still in the wild, even though they’re being fed?
Tommo and Megsy: Yes.
Tommo: They are free to leave whenever they like. Generally, it’s the older whales that stay.
Megsy: Yeah, you can tell that they’re pretty old, and they’ve been around for a while so we kind of look at it as like they’re getting a free buffet meal, all-you-can-eat. And they just decided to stick around ’cause they haven’t been kicked out yet. So…
Chris: Well, and usually those are the less controversial places, where the animals are free to come and go as they please and choose to stay. It’s very different from some of the documentaries that we’re seeing, for instance, about the animals in captivity and under care and those sort of things. So that is towards the end of less controversial. At least, let’s say that. I know that my friends at Green Global Travel, for instance, would be okay with that, I think, so.
Chris: And when we say whale sharks, I think… you just put the word “shark” and “swimming with” in the same sentence. So we should clarify that a whale shark is not a carnivore.
Megsy: No. Apparently, the actual size, even though they have massive mouths; they’re huge, but the actual size of their throat is about the size of a dinner plate. So they really can’t get anything more down there than krill.
Tommo: Yeah, they’re not going to be swallowing humans and honestly-
Megsy: There’s no teeth!
Tommo: Yeah, there’s that sort of grill. It’s not proper teeth.
Megsy: More of the whale and less of the shark.
Chris: Right, right.
Tommo: Very much so.
Chris: I just wanted to make sure people had that. We’ve talked about them before on the show, specifically off of the Yucatan Peninsula. Just north of the Yucatan, there’s another place that you can go swim with whale sharks or at least see them. Excellent! What would we do next?
Tommo: Well, we personally would head down towards Dumaguete, which… you basically take the coastline down the island of Cebu, from the city of Cebu–that’s where the airport was–you keep following the coastline of the island down. And then you can catch a very quick ferry–it takes about 20 minutes across–to the island of Negros.
Chris: So that was all there is to see in Cebu? We’re done with Cebu?
Tommo: Well the thing is, we personally didn’t spend a lot more time there.
Chris: Got it.
Tommo: So I won’t give recommendations to things we didn’t particularly do. There’s definitely some other stuff to do on the other side of the islands. There’s Moalboal, which is a diving resort area which was somewhere we looked at. That was one of our top three options to go, because…
Megsy: Highly recommend it.
Tommo: Yeah, another white sand sort of area with a lot of reefs, a lot of options for diving. And we’re going to talk about diving quite a bit because that’s where we learned to scuba dive, in the Philippines. Not in Moalboal but in Dumaguete, which is where we’re taking you now.
Tommo: Yeah! So it’s going to be a completely different experience if you go to Dumaguete, ’cause we’ve already talked about all these white sand beaches. But at Dumaguete they actually have the volcanic sand. So you have the black sand. You’ve even got the heat from the volcanic activity coming out into the ocean. You can get in the ocean, it’s like getting in a bath.
Megsy: Yeah, really warm patches. But yeah, I think perhaps the beach line, it can be a little bit off-putting because of the black but there’s certainly some amazing diving to be done in that area. You just go off a little bit from the coastline and you have Apo Island, which is a fantastic spot to actually go and do… you can snorkel there as well, or you can go do diving, and you’re gonna get a lot of turtle spotting in that area. Which is… if you’ve ever been underwater and you’ve had a turtle swim right up to your face? Just one of the most amazing experiences you can ever have.
Chris: Well, and it’s one of those things where they tell you not to swim close to the turtles but apparently no one told the turtles.
Tommo: They don’t mind, they’re quite happy to hang out with us.
Megsy: And it’s one of those things, if you’re underwater with your air in your mouth, and you’re just trying not to squeal because you’ve still got to breathe air… and it’s like, “Aaah!” Very cool experience.
Chris: As you’re doing diving there, are you doing beach diving or are you going out on dive boats, or…?
Tommo: For Apo Island, we went out on a boat and then there’s a whole bunch of sights around Apo Island. It takes maybe 40 minutes to get from Dumaguete, where we were at the Liquid Dive Resort, out to Apo Island. So it’s a nice day out, it really is.
Megsy: Yeah, the dive resort was very cool ’cause they actually… in order to do your certified training, they’ve got classrooms there and then they’ve got a dive pool where you can do your practice runs. And then they do take you to a beach where you can submerge in the water easily from the land, and that’s where you do your first dive. And then once you’ve got a little bit more experience, and you’re close to getting your certification, then you can hopefully get the choice to go out to Apo Island like we did.
Chris: And you say, “a dive resort”… so, it’s built into the infrastructure of this resort?
Tommo: Well, what is is, obviously they’ve got… the pool is in the resort.
Chris: Sure, sure.
Tommo: And when we say “resort” I think, obviously, people listening might think, “Oh, it’s going to be some five star place, it’s going to be really expensive.” It wasn’t, at all. This is a place that’s set up for people who aren’t looking for a five star experience. We were staying in a wooden hut outside…
Megsy: It’s those cute little bungalows that are quite common all over the Philippines that you can get.
Tommo: Yeah, so you’ve got the thatched roof and you’ve got the bamboo balcony out the front, like a deck. It’s really sort of rustic but there’s definitely more than enough stuff that you need and we were paying somewhere around $30 or $40 a night, U.S., for that room.
Chris: Oh, nice.
Tommo: Plus then the cost of the diving course, which was significantly less than you’d pay in the U.S. or Australia.
Megsy: Yeah. And it’s all completely safe to do. It’s actually… this particular place was owned by a Canadian and British couple who had come out to the Philippines, fell in love and decided to open a resort there. They’re raising two kids there. And actually, his parents came out from Canada and are living there as well. Everyone’s fallen in love with the Philippines.
Tommo: Yeah, and all the instructors are brought in from abroad. They’re all properly certified. It’s a five star standard diving resort.
Megsy: Dutch, English, everything…
Chris: I assume you’ve done scuba diving elsewhere since then?
Tommo: Yeah, we went diving in Cambodia as well.
Chris: And, other than the turtles, anything else that was particularly memorable about these dives?
Megsy: The reefs are just absolutely amazing. Like we said before, the crystal blue waters just make for such perfect vision…
Tommo: Yeah, the visibility is great.
Megsy: So there’s a lot of other fish that you can spot. Lots of different… if you’re someone who’s really into fish, then there’s so many different varieties that are getting around there. And you’ll also get some of your stingrays and lots of amazing coral and it’s really… I think we saw a couple of Nemos!
Tommo: Yeah, we saw a few! I can’t remember the official name, but yeah…
Chris: They’re clown fish. I don’t know what the scientific name is.
Tommo: We’ll call them Nemo fish, ’cause…
Chris: Everyone knows what you’re talking about.
Tommo: Yeah. I think the best thing is, even if you don’t want to become certified, you could just go and do fun dives. And it’s a really nice place to get that first experience diving at an affordable price.
Chris: And then you said snorkeling was also an option for those who get a little more claustrophobic with the diving.
Tommo: Yes. There’s always snorkeling options in those sorts of places.
Chris: Excellent. This seems like a good place to pause and hear about our sponsor, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. I’m looking right now at the Top Ten Buenos Aires Guidebook, which is part of the Eyewitness Travel series. These are the smaller guides, they’re small enough to fit in a jeans back pocket and tend to focus on a city, in this case Buenos Aires. It is not one top ten list but a series of top ten lists. So “Top ten things to see on Avenida De Mayo,” “Top ten things to see in the national art museum,” “Top ten things to see in neighborhood San Telmo.” I appreciate all the pictures and illustrations. I also appreciate that even after I’ve gotten through all the top ten lists, I get to the end and I find the top ten things to avoid, which is also useful to know. The top ten guide also comes with a fold-out map to make it easier to navigate. This guidebook will be in my backpack tomorrow as I head down to Buenos Aires. With just three days in the city, we don’t have time to see everything and a good guidebook helps us make those decisions. Again, the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides are some of my favorite guidebooks. Check them out at DK.com.
Chris: Anything else we should know about the resort or that area before we move on to your next stop?
Tommo: I would say, when it comes to Dumaguete, the experience you’re gonna get is, this is a real Filipino town. It’s not a tourist resort.
Tommo: So yeah, unlike where we’re gonna go next, when you’re in Dumaguete, you walk around, you’re not gonna see a lot of tourists walking around, you’re just going to see locals doing their thing. You get to try some local food, hang out in the local bar if you want…
Megsy: But a lot of these local places have opened restaurants and bars that are really quite funky.
Chris: Did you have a favorite local hangout?
Tommo: The Tex-Mex restaurant! The best food I’ve had in a long time.
Megsy: We spent quite a bit of time…
Chris: And really, Philippines is known for its Tex-Mex.
Tommo: Yeah, they’re not specifically known for it but to be honest, they did a very good version of it, for being outside of the U.S.
Megsy: There was this wonderful bar called the Blue Monkey, or the Blue…
Tommo: Blue Frog.
Megsy: …Frog or something, Blue something…
Tommo: It was next to the Tex-Mex place…
Megsy: …and it was a really lovely place that just had lots of outdoor seating and just had a really nice atmosphere, that you could hang out and the staff were lovely. To tell you the truth, you can’t go anywhere in the Philippines without the staff and the people being absolutely wonderful. That’s probably one of the most fabulous things about the Philippines, is that you just really fall in love with the people themselves.
Chris: Well, and since you said that this was more of a Filipino town, rather than a resort town, is there any tricks in terms of the best way to meet and interact with the locals in town?
Megsy: We actually couch-surfed while in Dumaguete. You might not think that that might be an option in the Philippines but we actually did some AirBnB while we were there and we also couch-surfed. And this is the ultimate way to meet locals because they’ll take you to that little lady down the street who just has all these metal pots on a tray and you just sort of go and look and choose whatever meal surprise happens to be in that pot. And it’s always really good! Naturally, you’ve got to be careful and make sure you eat before noon–I wouldn’t recommend going to these places after that–but you can get a really great meal for a great price and a really nice local experience, because people want to come up and chat to you and be like, “Hey! What are you doing here?”
Tommo: A lot of people speak English. It’s very easy to sort of start a conversation with somebody.
Chris: And if I asked you what was in that pot, are you going to put me off again and say…?
Tommo: Some things in the pot, you do not want to eat. Let’s say they do have a very special offal mix, organs… it’s a, “you get what you get,” sort of stew with various different organs from pigs and maybe cows in there. And, I don’t know the name, I probably don’t want to know the name. I’m not going to recommend it, I didn’t love it but it wasn’t bad.
Megsy: But there’s still plenty of vegetable dishes that you can get that’s just made with the local produce that they have. And it’s just kind of, like, stews that you’ll have with rice, or chicken curries, and stuff like that. Lot of similar stuff to what you’d find in the little pots in perhaps Thailand, but just with a bit of a different flavor.
Chris: Okay. Are we ready to move on to our next stop?
Tommo: Yeah, let’s move on because we’ve got so much food stuff we can talk about otherwise. We’ll come back to a bit of that later. Okay, so as we’re sticking to a one week itinerary, we’re going on to our final stop. You can get across to Bohol; there’s going to be another ferry to get across to Bohol from the Dumaguete area. And you can head to Tagbilaran, or… I can never pronounce it right, I think it is “Tagbilaran”. But it is the capital of Bohol, so that’s the easiest way. You can just ask someone, “Where’s the capital of Bohol?” And they’ll tell you. And right next to that city is this island that’s attached by a causeway to Bohol, it’s called Panglao. And on Panglao you’ve got Alona Beach, which is probably the most famous beach in that area. So this is going to be a little bit more touristy.
Megsy: But it’s beautiful.
Tommo: So beautiful.
Megsy: If you wanna get your perfect sunset shot, that is the place to go.
Tommo: Yeah, we got a few. It’s really good.
Chris: A little more expensive than that place you were talking about previously?
Tommo: Well, that’s the thing. You’ve got the more expensive options there because it is more developed. But also, we stayed in a place where we actually got a motor scooter included with the room, which is… that’s the only place I’ve ever, in the Philippines, had that. It’s included in the price of the room. It was 700 Filipino pesos for the room, which is gonna be about $16 a night, I think. It’s going to be a little bit rough-and-ready, it was more like a hostel standard but we did have a private room for two people and a motorbike for that price. So, just to say, if you wanna get something cheap, you can do it. If you wanna pay $50 a night, you’ll get something really nice. Probably without a motorbike, though because they’ll expect you to take a taxi if you’re paying that sort of price.
Megsy: Yeah. There’s every sort of option there in that area, from your five-star to your cheap-and-cheerful. It depends on what you wanna spend but it’s a fantastic area. And as we said, it’s another one of those places where you can just sit on the beach, have your dinner, listen to the Filipino bands… because I don’t know if people know this but Filipino bands are amazing! They’re some of the best singers you’ll ever hear and you can just sit there, enjoy a cocktaill, have a meal, and just watch the moon rise over the water. It’s fantastic.
Chris: What style of music were you listening to? Filipino pop, or…?
Megsy: Like Journey.
Chris: Like Journey. Okay.
Megsy: And a lot of Lionel Richie.
Tommo: It’s a lot of international tunes in that area because of course, they’re trying to cater to tourists, ’cause it is that little bit more touristy. But I mean, compared to the other places that we’ve talked about, this is the place where you have your chairs and tables on the beach with your restaurants and you can sit there and have a meal just listening to the waves. And that’s great for chilling out at the end of your trip. If you’ve had a few days diving and a pretty active time, then it’s amazing.
Chris: Excellent. And I should say, we talked about swimming with whale sharks–and don’t worry about that, that’s really safe. On the other hand, that motorcycle, that’s really how tourists end up actually getting injured on vacation.
Tommo: Yeah. At your own risk, of course.
Tommo: We’d already done quite a bit of motor-scootering around Asia before we got to the Philippines, so we were a little bit more confident, but…
Megsy: Like with anything, it’s just one of those things that you really have to keep your wits about it.
Chris: Right, exactly. Especially if you’re not used to it.
Tommo: No, if you haven’t done it before… and there’s no requirements, it’s like, “Have you got a driver’s license?” “Yes.” “All right, here’s the bike.” Or they might not even ask for a driver’s license. So really, unless you’re confident on a bike, we wouldn’t recommend you just do it. There’s lots of other options for getting around with taxis. It’s very cheap.
Megsy: Yeah. Actually, in this area, it was one of the places where we were actually leaving and we had our backpacks on and we were walking to catch a jeepney, which is… they’re brightly-colored buses that they have.
Tommo: Yeah, it’s like a mini-bus.
Megsy: But this guy on a motorbike turns up and asks if we wanted a lift and we were like, “Do you have a friend?” And he was like, “No, no, no, you’ll both fit on here!” And so he put my backpack between his legs, I squeezed in between Tom and the driver and then Tom go on the back with his backpack and off we went. A merry little threesome riding along. It was just insane! Another thing I probably wouldn’t highly recommend to people, but…
Chris: It is the way much of the world gets around. If you’ve never been passed by a family of four on a Vespa, you just haven’t lived.
Tommo: Yeah. It’s interesting when you do it for yourself though because it’s not something we’ve done very often, even though we’ve seen it. So now we can say we have been! Southeast Asia!
Megsy: I survived!
Tommo: We did it! We lived! Just.
Chris: Excellent. Are there other sights we would see in the area? It sounds like we’re mostly seeing beaches. So no cultural sites or museums or historical sites or things like that as well?
Tommo: Well, one of the main things you’d go to once you get to Bohol is, you can go and visit the Chocolate Hills, which is these strangely… it’s almost like Christmas puddings. They’re like these little dome hills. And they’re normally covered in grass, so I don’t know where the “chocolate” name comes from.
Megsy: They do, from their heritage as well; they have a lot of churches around there. The Philippines have the largest population of Roman Catholics in the world, I believe. And they have churches to go along with it from previous occupations. Sadly, when we were in that area, just after the earthquake hit in 2013, a lot of these churches had actually been damaged quite severely. But that is something you can do. You can go around and check out the churches.
Tommo: Not all of them were destroyed but a few of the important ones were, which is very sad.
Megsy: And, of course, one of the major things is the wildlife there. There’s a little critter who lives there that you pretty much can’t see anywhere else in the world but there and I think maybe Indonesia, you can see him. And that’s the tarsier.
Chris: And I don’t know that I know that animal.
Tommo: It’s like this tiny little tree rodent, with giant black eyes the size of ping pong balls.
Chris: So like a lemur.
Megsy: It looks like… you know, a little gremlin? But when they’re cute?
Chris: Before you put water on them, okay.
Megsy: Before you put water on them, exactly.
Tommo: Smaller, with bigger eyes.
Megsy: That’s what they look like and they’re the cutest little things that you’ll ever see.
Tommo: Yeah and they are so tiny. They’re really the size of your hand, maybe. Hand or a little bit smaller. And it’s very hard to see them but there’s a sanctuary there where they know they’ve got a few. And the guys who work at the sanctuary go out in the morning into this semi-wild area and they find them, they spot them. Because they don’t move around a lot during the day, because they’re nocturnal. Then they’ll be able to take the tourists in later, and you go in really quietly and they’ll say, “Right, there’s one up there,” so you will be able to see it. So I think we managed to see two whilst we were in there and got some really cool photos. They’re so cute. They are actually sort of violent. We won’t talk about their violent history…
Megsy: They’re very territorial.
Tommo: They’re very territorial. They won’t be violent towards human beings but towards other members of their species, they are actually a little bit aggressive. So their cuteness is a disguise, I think.
Chris: Excellent. Anything else we should talk about, in terms of this final stop, before we get on to the food that you’ve been promising me here?
Tommo: You can go visit the city of Tagbilaran, the capital, because it’s only about a 15 minute taxi ride from the beach area where you’ll probably be staying. So you can have a look around the city. It’s not the most interesting city but as it’s there and as it’s a transport hub… as I said, there’s an airport there… so this is an excellent place to exit from as well. So you’ve done a one-way trip pretty much. You don’t have to go back all the way through.
Megsy: But if you are confident on the motorbike, it really is just a place to jump on and let loose and just go and explore. Because there’s just so many different little beaches that you can head down to and see families swimming and having picnics and just doing everyday family stuff.
Chris: And are these beaches that are just kind of, unnamed beaches…?
Megsy: Can’t even name them.
Tommo: There were a few little places, we just went, “Okay, there’s a track going off to the left, let’s just drive down the track and see what’s there,” and we get there and it’s literally three Filipino people sitting at one end of the beach and an empty beach. Which, compared to the main beach, which has got 40 restaurants, a bunch of boats, and 100s of people on it, this is… people just don’t bother leaving the main beach. And if they do, they get this whole place to themselves, which is amazing.
Megsy: Stunning area too, yeah. Shall we talk food now?
Chris: We should talk food now, yes.
Megsy: It’s my favorite subject.
Tommo: Let’s start with the nice food first before we go on to the weird food.
Tommo: Okay. I think my favorite thing in the Philippines is the lechon, which is like a whole suckling pig. You might have seen this on Anthony Bourdain, if you ever watched his episode on the Philippines. And it is just the crispiest, crunchiest, crackling skin ever. It’s amazing. I’m sure everyone out there listening will be like, “No! The place near me that does the roast suckling pig does amazing crispy skin!” But this is the best one I’ve had. I’ve had it a few times in the Philippines and it’s just been really good. You see the whole pig and it’s just completely, perfectly brown.
Megsy: They’re very proud of their lechon abilities.
Tommo: Yes, they are. And they serve it up… they sort of break all the bits off with the meat and then you can put a bit of lime on it. And you pretty much just eat the meat as it is. You’ve got some rice on the side, and it’s great. It’s great on its own. It doesn’t even need that much seasoning. It’s so awesome.
Megsy: There’s probably gonna be quite a few locals calling in about this one ’cause we’re gonna call it chorizo. And I know it has another name, I’m so sorry. It starts with “L,” I believe. I can’t remember it at the moment. It’s just like the chorizo that you would buy in the stores in most Western cultures, but this is a little bit sweeter to taste. And it’s a lot less spicy than some of the versions that you might have had previously.
Tommo: It’s sort of got quite a soft texture to it. When you bite chorizo in Spain, it’s often quite firm. And yeah, this is really quite soft. And they make them in these… it’s almost like balloon animals. So you see, you’ve got this group of balloon animals hanging outside each shop and it’s just these tiny little mini sausages that are maybe, like, an inch long. And you have 50 of them in a bunch. And they’re bright red. And so you can’t miss it when you’re walking around the streets. And of course it keeps well; just like chorizo it keeps well anywhere else. So the fact that they’ve got it out in the heat shouldn’t put you off from eating it, ’cause it will have kept. It won’t give you food poisoning. you’d be very unlucky.
Chris: Now, when you say that name, I’m thinking of a Mexican sausage, which is a very spicy sausage.
Tommo: Yes. So it would be very similar to that because the chorizo did come from the Portugal/Spain area originally, as far as I’m aware. So anywhere in South America that has it, it will be similar. But yeah, maybe they make it more spicy in Mexico but in the Philippines they make it quite mild. But delicious. Especially if they roast it up on the barbecue for you, it’s just perfect. Okay, all right, let’s talk about the weird food. For them, for the Filipinos, they love this, because this is on every street corner. And when we travel, we always like to try a local food that maybe most westerners haven’t tried. And so we give it a bit of a go, see what there is… and Balut is the one in the Philippines, that they eat it just like eggs but this is a boiled egg that has a duck fetus inside.
Chris: Ah, okay. Wow.
Tommo: So it’s a fertilized egg. It’s around 16 to 18 days old, typically. And then they steam it or boil it. And you crack it open, you put a little bit of chili vinegar on it and a little bit of salt and then it’s sort of the skin…
Megsy: Take it like a shot.
Tommo: Or you take it like a shot if you want. Or you can just pick it apart and… yeah, the bones and the beak of the duck are inside, so it is a little chewy when you…
Tommo: It’s protein-heavy. It’s very, very strange. It’s probably an acquired taste. If you grew up there, you might enjoy it. I would call it a very funky boiled egg.
Megsy: Yeah, it wasn’t incredibly horrible to taste. It just was a little… funky. But they do love it. We would go down to the shop and pick up a pack of chips for a snack, and they’d head down and pick up some duck fetus eggs. So it’s really quite interesting how much all the locals love this dish.
Tommo: Yeah, if you see some guy standing on a street corner with a cart where he’s got something covered over that’s got a bit of steam coming out the sides, it’s probably full of these eggs. And they’re going to cost you 20 pesos, which is maybe 50 cents or something. So it’s a really cheap affordable snack that you might not want to eat but we did. I wouldn’t eat it again, but it was an experience. So if you’re there and you want the real local experience, you do have to try it.
Chris: Excellent. What is going to surprise me? Besides the duck fetus eggs?
Megsy: I think just the stunning beauty. It’s amazing. I had a lot of Filipino friends that I used to work with when I worked on cruise ships. And so many of them were like, “Meg, you’re doing all these travels. When will you come see me in the Philippines? When are you coming to the Philippines?” And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll totally get there.” And then, when we actually made the decision to go there, and my feet actually touched the ground, I was just in awe of the place. Of a the beauty of everything, from the mountains, to the beaches, to the wildlife. But then also, on the flip side, the beauty of the people. They are incredibly generous, incredibly nice people. And when they say it’s more fun in the Philippines, they’re not kidding. It really is a great place.
Tommo: Yeah. And I would say that a lot of people have probably… more people have been to Thailand than they’ve been to the Philippines. So if you want to make a comparison, I would say, the service is like twice as helpful and friendly… which is amazing. If you’ve been to Thailand, you know the people there are really friendly and very helpful. So we’re saying, double that. And the beaches, even that I’d say, better than the beaches I’ve been to in Thailand. And also, I think the honesty, maybe. These are the most honest people on the entire planet. We did find a lot, when we’re somewhere like Thailand, Cambodia, you’ve always got people trying to charge you way more than the products are normally worth. You’ve got to barter a lot to get the right price. And in the Philippines it just didn’t happen. We really didn’t have to barter with anybody. They would ask us what price we wanted to pay and we’d quote some… well, we knew what the prices were because we’d been there for a while. We’d quote some ludicrously low price, and they’re like, “Yeah, that’s fine, okay. Let’s go.”
Megsy: Get in!
Tommo: It’s like, “Yeah, here you go. There’s your shirt.” And like, “What?” We’re just so not used to it, when we visit countries like China and India where they’ll say “Oh, you want to buy this bag? It’s $300,” And, no, it’s $10, right? But in the Philippines, you say $10, they’ll go, “Okay! Okay, ma’am, okay, sir.” They’re so polite. They call everyone ma’am and sir all the time. It’s really, really cute.
Megsy: Yeah, you have to get used to that! It’s like, yeah, “Yes, ma’am, yes, sir”. And there’ll also be people to open the doors for you at the shopping centers, at McDonald’s…
Tommo: Yeah, McDonald’s!
Megsy: There’ll be someone standing on the door to open the door for you.
Tommo: It’s crazy. I’ve never seen it anywhere else. It’s like concierge service everywhere you go. Even at the street food cart, they’ll be calling you sir and ma’am. And doing anything, they’ll help you.
Megsy: It’s quite nice; you get used to it. You’re like, “Oh! Oh, I like this!”
Chris: What’s one warning you would give?
Tommo: I suppose something we mentioned earlier that we should clarify, about being able to go any time of the year. Actually during the wet season, which sort of peaks around September/October time, I believe, although there is a little bit before and after as well… they do get typhoons that are quite serious. And we were there… we’d actually moved to Palawan, which is another island, by the time the typhoon came. So we were a little farther from the epicenter. But that did actually hit Cebu and some of the other islands on the Eastern Coast. And there was quite a high death toll for that one. I’m not going to quote an exact number because I can’t remember, but I’m pretty sure it was in the 1000s. So you really do want to avoid going to the Philippines in those few months where it’s very high typhoon risk.
Megsy: Also if you’re going to be, as we said, flying into Manila, that is definitely a high-density city. There’s a lot going on; there’s certain… as with any city in any country, there’s certain area you probably wouldn’t want to walk down the street alone at night. But also, watch your pockets. It’s one of the main things. But you get that in big cities. It’s just about being sensible, as you would anywhere in the world.
Tommo: Yeah, the people are friendly. They’re not confrontational, so you’re unlikely to be mugged. You’d have to be very unlucky. But pickpocketing is probably the most likely problem that you’d see. And that is mainly in somewhere like Manila. The smaller towns, you really don’t get a sense of any crime going on at all.
Chris: You mentioned the locals; they’re a friendly set of people… who’s the most memorable local you met?
Tommo: I’m gonna mention Michael because he’s the couch-surfing host we had in Dumaguete. And he’s completely insane but in the best possible way. He took us around the town; he was the one who forced us to eat Balut. We were sitting in a bar and he was like, “Oh, my friends, I’ll just go, I’ll be back in one minute,” and he comes back with all these Balut eggs and is like, “Okay, now you have to eat it.”
Megsy: He’s the one that took us out for that weird kidney liver mash…
Tommo: Yeah, he got us the kidney liver dish as well.
Megsy: He was just ready to take us on a roller coaster. He’s like, “Oh, you wanna try local? I’ll give you local. Loco local!” He was very entertaining.
Tommo: He lived in this crazy house on the outskirts of Dumaguete, which had five bedrooms. And he said, “Oh, I live here because it’s so cheap because someone died here! So I get the rent really cheap! And now I have couch-surfers coming every week!” I’m like, “Do you tell everybody that somebody died here a couple years ago?” It was a very strange place, but it is so memorable, just because it was curious and odd, and he had such a personality and he was so excited to have people there. Yeah, he was very interactive. We liked that. Who were you going to say?
Megsy: We were sitting down on the waterfront and this grandmother and her small little grandchild walked up. And I think she would have been about two. And the grandmother came over to us, and was like, “Oh, can you point to your belly?” And the little girl pointed to her belly. And she was like, “Can you point to your head?” And she pointed to her head. And she was like, “Can you point to your toes?” And she bends over and points to her toes. And the grandmother just said, “In the Philippines, we’re very poor and don’t have much but we are very happy, and we love our family.” And I was like, “Oh my goodness!” That just stuck with me. And so I gave the little girl a whole bunch of cookies because that’s all I had on me. I was like, “Here! Have all my cookies!” But it was just something that really stuck, that even though they are quite poor in many regions, they really just make the most of life, and they are really just… yeah.
Tommo: Yeah, and we saw a lot of that because the earthquake had happened quite recently. Some of the houses we were driving past were just completely ruined. And you just think, “These poor people.” They already didn’t have much, they already had, probably, 10, 15 people living in a small shack. And then it’s just been destroyed, and they are just living under a tarp.
Megsy: But even so, they’re still just the happiest people you’ll meet.
Tommo: Yeah. To have those problems and yet be so happy and friendly to tourists, amazing. Yeah.
Chris: You are standing in the prettiest spot in the central Philippines. Where are you standing, and what are you looking at?
Tommo: Well, actually, I’m probably under the water, but …
Megsy: Yeah, it’s not on land, it’s underneath.
Tommo: But on land, it is beautiful as well. But no, Oslob, there was… right close to where the whale sharks, where you go swimming with them, there’s actually a pier. And you just look out over the crystal water that’s really shallow, and you can see all the rocks just underneath and it’s just that perfect blue. And you just think, “This is what paradise looks like. This is exactly what paradise looks like. This is the sort of place that I want to spend a lot more time.”
Megsy: Yeah, you can see other islands off in the distance, and you can see people with their fishing boats and people…
Tommo: It does sound like a cliche because I’m sure everyone comes on this show and goes, “Oh, the beach was so beautiful,” but…
Chris: “The beach was so beautiful, and the people are so friendly,” Yes, we did get that once or twice but that’s the reason why people pitch different destinations. It’s that they fell in love with them.
Tommo: I would just like to remind the listeners to the show, we’ve been to over 75 countries in the world now. So it’s not… it wasn’t our first trip to beaches. But really, genuinely, our favorite beaches of the world have been in the Philippines. And second place would probably be the Whitsundays in Australia. We’re not exaggerating just how awesome it is to see that water and be there.
Chris: Excellent. One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in the Philippines?”
Megsy: They love Christmas there! They love Christmas! Someone told us that they celebrate Christmas for four months of the year!
Tommo: Or longer. September till February, is what we heard.
Megsy: And so, you’ll get into a jeepney, and they will be rocking out the Christmas tunes, full-blast. And it’s just…
Tommo: Yeah, we were there in October. It was full-blast Christmas tunes in almost every single bus that we got on. And all the stores are full of Christmas stuff. Like, mid/late October, it’s way beyond…
Megsy: And pink Christmas trees and whatnot. And you’re just like, “Oh my goodness.” They just, they love Christmas so much.
Chris: Well, one reason might be, it’s a tradition as I understand it for employers who employ people… even VAs, virtual assistants in the Philippines… but also local employers… that you get your 12 month salary, and then basically you get another month’s salary at Christmas. Basically, as a thank you. So you basically figure out what you’re going to pay somebody, you divide it into 13 instead of 12, and they get that extra month. So there’s more extra money at that time of year as well. So that would probably add to the festivities as well as obviously the religious basis of the country.
Megsy: Yeah, everybody just has a little more and cause to celebrate.
Chris: Finish this sentence: “You really know you’re in the Philippines, you really know you’re in Cebu or really know you’re in one of these islands, when…” what?
Tommo: So many of the things we talked about already, I feel like, are quintessential moments. Being called sir and ma’am by everybody, even somebody running a street food cart. It’s so Philippines, and you don’t really get that sort of service anywhere else.
Megsy: The Philippines is still similar to a lot of Asian countries. So you have that noise, that hustle and bustle, that sound of Asia that… you know that life is happening.
Tommo: You’ve got the cockerels going off at 6 a.m., and you’ve got dogs barking often.
Megsy: Yeah. I think there’s just a certain thing about… I mean, I don’t want to expand too much by just saying Asia in particular but there’s just a certain vibe in the air that you feel, that you know you’re in Asia. There’s the smells in the air that are sometimes great and sometimes horrible. And then, there’s the crazy traffic going all around you. And as you said, people like families of five or six getting around on mopeds. It’s like…
Tommo: It is, really, that sense of safety. That sense that the people are gonna be honest with you…
Megsy: Welcoming, as well.
Tommo: In a soundbite, I could say it’s the one country in Asia where I believe I can walk up to a taxi driver and ask for the price, and they’ll actually give me the price and not try and rip me off. It’s like the only country in Asia I’ve been to. I might not have woke up on a street corner and instantly asked for a taxi. But yeah, I know when I’m not having to fight for a barter every time that I go to a shop, or I go to a taxi, that I’m in the Philippines, and not in other parts of south-east Asia.
Chris: And if you had to summarize this region in just three words?
Megsy: Bloody beautiful.
Tommo: True Australian.
Chris: Okay, you have one word left!
Tommo: Oh, we used “it’s”!
Chris: “It’s bloody beautiful.” There you go, excellent. Tommo and Megsy, where can people read about your travels or listen to your travels?
Tommo: They can come on 5dollarplanet.com, which connects up with our podcast…
Megsy: That’s with the number five.
Tommo: With the number five, not the word five. That connects up with our podcast and also connects up with our blog, which has been going for well over two years now. The blog that is, not the podcast. So there’s loads of content on there, and we help people to travel cheaper and “Discover travel freedom,” is what we’re calling it these days. The art of traveling more often, for a better price, so that you can afford to travel more often. And hopefully, if you can earn some money online, which we’re doing now, then you can travel even more often and support yourself.
Chris: So, you are not charging me $5 to come to 5 Dollar Planet but you’re telling me how to travel for $5?
Tommo: Yeah, we actually talk about $5 food and fun experiences as part of the show, as well as talking about how to create an online income that can support a travel freedom lifestyle.
Chris: Excellent. Thanks so much for coming on the Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your obvious love for the Philippines.
Megsy: Thank you so much for having us.
Tommo: We hope to be back there in the last part of 2015. Hopefully by Christmas. For more Christmas music! That’s the plan.
Chris: Excellent. And with that, we’re going to end this episode of the Amateur Traveler. Pardon me as we skip over the community news but I am traveling and have only limited time to put this out. If you have any questions, send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com or better yet, leave a comment on this episode at amateurtraveler.com. The transcript of this episode will be up in about a month and is sponsored by Jayway Travel, your experts in Eastern European travel. You can travel me on twitter @chris2x and as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.