Manila Survival Tips

Manila Survival Tips

Here I am writing about what is probably my least favourite Asian city, again–Manila. I think many of these tips are common sense, but it would still pay to keep them in mind for a first-time visit to the capital city of the Philippines. Read my article ‘6 Manila Survival Tips You Must Know Before Visiting‘ on Travioor; an extract is reproduced below. “The capital city of the Philippines is a seriously big city with some seriously big-city annoyances. Many travellers get out as soon as possible to enjoy the beaches, jungles and more relaxed towns elsewhere in this beautiful Southeast Asian country. However, Filipinos are friendly people, including those in Manila, and there’s lots to enjoy here too. In case you have a few days to spend in the city, Elen Turner has some advice and tips to make your stay more enjoyable. 1. Traffic is Hectic in Manila This is always the first thing anyone will tell you about Manila, and will likely be an enduring memory of the city. Even those who have travelled high and low in Asia are shocked by how terrible the Manila traffic is. It’s not uncommon to sit in a traffic jam for two hours and only travel a kilometre down the road. The one saving grace is that Filipinos aren’t overly enthusiastic with the horn (a la India), so at least it’ll only be the car fumes giving you a headache, not the noise. Survival tips for when (not if) you get stuck…

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White-water Rafting on the Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

White-water Rafting on the Cagayan de Oro, Philippines

I got my very first taste of white-water rafting almost two years ago in the warm, tropical waters of the Rio Pacuare, Costa Rica. Since then, I’ve been countless more times in Nepal and Ladakh. While the basic act of rafting is pretty similar in all places–put on safety gear, follow the guides’ instructions, paddle hard, get wet–each location offers a different experience. Enjoying the landscape is at least half the fun with white-water rafting, and this obviously differs between locations. And while I love rafting in Nepal, the waters here are a bit colder than my first experience in Costa Rica. So I was happy to find that white-water rafting on the Cagayan de Oro, in the Philippines, was pretty similar to rafting the Rio Pacuare: warm waters, medium-sized rapids, exotic jungle and plenty of time for swimming. Cagayan de Oro in a city in northern Mindanao, the southern-most main island of the Philippine archipelago. It doesn’t get very many foreign tourists at all, due to an isolated Islamist insurgency in parts of the island. Yet I found the places I visited (the city of Cagayan de Oro and Camiguin Island) to be very safe and comfortable. Camiguin Island is a beautiful and adventure-filled destination in its own right, although Cagayan de Oro city is not overly interesting in itself. Yet, about 30 minutes’ drive from the city is the put-in point for rafting trips along the river that shares its name. If you’re passing through Cagayan de Oro,…

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Eclectic High Tea in Penang

Eclectic High Tea in Penang at the Macalister Mansion

The island city of Penang, Malaysia does several things to perfection: hawker food, icy cold air conditioning, charmingly dilapidated Chinese shop-fronts and renovated mansions that once belonged to rich and powerful local tycoons. The Macalister Mansion is the latter, and combines the grandeur and elegance of Penang’s Chinese and British colonial heritage with quirky modern design, all in a luxury setting. Set in a spacious plot a little outside the boundaries of George Town’s UNESCO World Heritage designated area, the Macalister Mansion comprises the Living Room, the Dining Room, the Cellar and the Den–all serving different types of food and beverage at different times of day–as well as Eight Rooms, eight luxury and individually designed guest rooms. There is also a sparkling pool surrounded by fragrant frangipani trees, exclusively for guest use. After several days of sampling the cheap-and-very-cheerful street-side and food-court cuisine of George Town, I enjoyed a change of pace (and palate) with high tea at the Macalister Mansion. The Living Room is bright and white, elegantly decorated with hanging pot plants and the wrought iron window grilles and English tile floors that are so characteristic of Penang. I was presented with a tea list so long that the waiter clearly perceived the confusion on my face and recommended something to me, whisking the menu away afterwards. I still don’t know what I ordered, but I was brought a pot of sweetish fragrant tea that resembled a mild jasmine tea. The life of a travel writer… notebook and pen…

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A Reason to Visit Mindanao: Camiguin Island

A Reason to Visit Mindanao: Camiguin Island

Just off the coast of northern Mindanao in the Philippines is the perfect volcanic island of Camiguin. The hour-long ferry ride from the mainland doesn’t actually reflect the adventure and relative remoteness of this Philippine island, however. Mindanao is firmly off the well-trodden Southeast Asian beach destination circuit. This is not without reason. As Ralph Jennings reported in Forbes Magazine in October 2016: At least four Muslim rebel groups operate on the island and once in a while they set off a bomb or kidnap foreign tourists. The vigilante group Abu Sayyaf, for example, beheaded a Canadian hostage in April. Nasty stuff. Several countries (including the UK, Canada, Australia and the US) issue travel advisories against travel to Mindanao. This island is the second largest island in the Philippine archipelago, and the biggest in the south, and as Jennings goes on to note: Most of the 104,000-square-kilometer island is safe from rebel bombings and kidnappings. Rebels usually operate in the west and on outlying islands such as Basilan and Jolo, where the Moro group of Muslims has run its own affairs for some 800 years and just wants other forces to let them. Practically all tourists who come to Mindanao—around 90%–are Filipinos. So, as a foreign tourist, if you want a beach destination that offers the best of both worlds—enough tourism infrastructure but without the over-the-top commercialisation and crowds of other parts of Southeast Asia—then parts of Mindanao are perfect. Such as Camiguin Island. Camiguin is a microcosm of the…

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Business Class and a Transit Hotel... on a Budget

Business Class and a Transit Hotel… on a Budget

I’m generally a budget traveller–out of necessity rather than aesthetic preference. I’m no longer 21 and counting every cent, so I don’t go for dorms any longer, but budget hotels, public transport and cheap restaurants are staples of my travel routine. So how did I end up flying business class and staying in a transit hotel (rather than the airport floor!) on my recent trip from Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur? I’ve long been a fan of Air Asia, the low-cost Malaysian airline with the motto ‘Now everyone can fly’. It flies to dozens (maybe hundreds) of places all around Asia (and further afield), usually at around half the cost of other airlines. I’ve taken numerous trips simply because Air Asia made the destinations affordable to me–Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia… They also fly to Kathmandu, making to-ing and fro-ing from Nepal quite affordable. And not only are they cheaper, they’re actually not that bad. No frills, certainly, and a little short on leg (and body) room. But in my experience they are usually on time, and the service is good. (Unlike many European budget airlines.) Air Asia only offers business class on select flights–the longer legs, what they call the Air Asia X routes. They advertise it more as ‘Premium Flatbed’ than business class per se. When I was looking at flights from Kathmandu to Manila, business class was on sale. Not only that, the business class seats were cheaper than the economy class seats on the same flight. Thus, my first…

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