A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: alexchan

Picking up a bargain

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I toyed with the idea of replacing my phone. I have a Sony Ericsson Android which was getting badly scratched on the screen; it does everything but in slow motion as it has a slow single-core processor. I felt no urgency in replacing it though; I like its more compact form compared to most smartphones. But on the other hand, the compact form meant that the screen was a bit small for my deteriorating eyesight at close range.

As we had much of the day to kill, we took the MTR to Kwai Fong (changing at Lai King) and walked to the mall. It wasn’t a flash place, so I was optimistic about getting good bargains if I desired anything, including eating and drinking (juices).

I found a shop which had a variety of Androids. Some looked nearly identical to the Apple iPhone 5, Samsung SIII etc. I chose a generic-looking dual-core dual-SIM model called Zopo Libero+ for HKD1300 (NZD200). Even better, when I presented my old phone, I was offered a trade-in of HKD700! But when they realised the badly-scratched screen was in fact the screen (and not the protector), they offered HKD650. Not a bad trade-in value considering I was quoted that amount to replace the screen somewhere else in the mall.

Back at the hotel, when I had a chance to test-drive my new toy, I was pleasantly surprised at how fast it was! I don’t know how I survived with that slow Sony Xperia Ray. It appears that anyone can make an Android phone and make it well too. I don’t know why there is such a premium for certain brands if that is truly the case. A search for the internet shows that the specific model sells in various countries for around NZD260.

Departing Hong Kong on the flight to Auckland, the cabin crew were required to do a manual safety demonstration. Being longhaul crew, they obviously haven’t had much practice. They were very very uncoordinated (with the badly-scripted PA and with each other). In fact, I’ve seen AirAsia’s Singapore-based crew do a better job with a manual demo to a language which they did not speak or understand (ie. no good audio cues for them to point to or pick up various items).

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Bye bye Philippines

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Today I leave Philippines after more than two weeks. Because the hotel breakfast was stodgy and unappealing, I went to the supermarket and bought some mini-muffins, mangoes and milk. It was a much better choice.

After lunch, I flew to Manila with a self-connect to Hong Kong where I met with Kim staying at his hotel while on a work trip.

Here are my thoughts on the Philippines …

Observations and Quirks

1. Private security carry big guns and there are weapons shop around Manila. Some travellers have been in for a look and play but I haven’t.

2. Often when I order food for myself, eg. a fried rice, I would be asked “How many, sir?”. I look around me and conclude that I’m by myself, then I look at my tummy and see that I’m not fat. So I still haven’t worked this one out.

3. In my first few days in the Philippines, I’d be met by a spray of water from above. Looking up, it appears the power lines are squirting water. But actually, plastic water pipes are overhead rather than underground.

4. Tagalog has many words in common with Malay, eg. putih, bulan, tahun, balik, kambing, biawak, asu, manok, buaya, tanggal, kanan, mahal, murah, sayang, payung, tolak. But it has diverged too much over the course of history to be comprehensible.

5. A lot of Filipinos sound the same, especially women in customer service roles. They have that pseudo-American Filipino accent.

6. I was surprised to see so many Protestant churches since I always thought it was a largely Catholic country. The Iglesia Ni Cristo churches are very prominent. They don't believe in the divinity of Jesus or the Holy Trinity. Sounds like the Muslim belief of Jesus and the Trinity; as some would say "Three in One is for coffee, not for God".

7. I grew up conditioned to speak to people in their language, ascertaining this through their skin colour and facial features. This doesn't work in the Philippines, especially in the south when they look very very Malay.

Things I liked

1. It is a relatively clean and litter-free country apart from a few parts of Manila.

2. Outside of the couple of large cities, the remaining cities are small and the surrounding areas very green and unspoilt.

3. It doesn’t have the oppressive heat and humidity that the rest of the region has (during February anyway).

4. Tourism is on a relatively low scale compared to say Thailand and its neighbours. And outside of Manila, sex tourism isn’t evident.

5. Long distance transport proved to be easier than expected from my guidebook readings. I chose daytime travel up to the north which included a combination of bus and jeepney changes. These proved seamless due to the frequency of both the bus and jeepneys.

6. I like the fact that Filipinos of all colours (fair-skinned down to very dark people) all identify themselves as Filipinos. It is a well-stirred melting pot and they don't think of themselves as full-blooded natives, half-casts, part-Spanish or part-Chinese.

Things that disappointed

1. Bad luck with the weather in Banaue and also Donsol (part of the time), but one cannot come up winning all the time, right?

2. Bad luck with no sighting of mantas at Manta Bowl. There is a bit too much hype, compared to say Komodo where things like that aren’t highly publicised or promoted. Then you get pleasantly surprised.

3. Diving in general was a disappointment because I had recently been at Sipadan. In fact, it was downright a waste of time and money at El Nido. I may sound spoilt, but most people have limited time and money for doing these things each year. So why not spend it at a place that’s more like an aquarium, eg. Sipadan or Bunaken.

4. The underground river near Puerto Princesa was yet another disappointment, possibly because I’ve been to many other caves before. Again, too much hype (American influence, perhaps).

5. Eating is quite expensive due to the lack of a suitable street food culture (unlike in the rest of Asia). One often ends up eating in the hotel or guesthouse, or nicer establishments. Typically a main course would be PHP100 to 150 (NZD3 to 4.50).

Something missing

I feel that the Philippines’ appeal is largely centred around island and beaches (plus a little bit of the highlands in Luzon). It doesn’t have the ancient kingdoms or ruins that others in the regions offer.

Together with the English-speaking locals, a clean and litter-free environment, it just doesn’t seem as intrepid. Local cuisine isn’t the most appealing to many and there isn’t much of a street-food culture.

Despite speaking English, locals aren't quite as chatty and inquisitive as say Indonesia. They are friendly and reserved. Where as in Indonesia, there seems to be a more two-way exchange (even for those who don't speak Indonesian).

For me something feels missing. For others, it could be the perfect introduction of the real Asia (after Singapore, which isn’t really “real” enough for some).

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Butanding, Take Three

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large_5550_13621481781320.jpgPhoto of a photo that looks like what we saw.
Finally, the big and up-close encounter with the whale-shark

I had been of two minds as to whether to do the whale-sharks for a third time in Donsol [Donsol-travel-guide-1311436] today. On one hand, chances of a sighting are pretty slim. But on the other hand, I do have the time and it isn’t very much money for something that I could possibly never do again.

So I decided on the latter. We had the same group as yesterday, except we lost the French hanger-on and gained my English neighbour from the Shoreline.

We set off at 0730 again. Within 15 minutes, we had a sighting. I was better prepared this time and jumped into the water more quickly to be rewarded with a good view of a 7 metre whale-shark swimming past.large_5550_13621483831029.jpgMt Mayon from the Embarcadero waterfront.It was brief but satisfying.

Cruising around, it was easy to know who had seen a whale-shark today and who hadn’t. You couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces, and there were none on the other boats. I didn’t really expect to see any more for the day.

But around 0945, we cruised towards a flotilla with some people in the water. Knowing how quickly the big fish go back down, I thought it would be fruitless. But I was proved wrong.

I jumped into the water and swam forward. I couldn’t see any whale-shark. Then suddenly I was in front of its gaping mouth; I realised that snorkelling, one gets a view downwards and slightly forwards so I didn’t realise that we were on a collision course.

I tried to veer to my left and brushed against its side. I then swam to its tail and looked forward, then followed it as it kept moving. Then the crowds from the other boats turned up. All I could see were fins. As I’ve had such a close encounter, I felt no need to jostle with the crowd (and besides, I had some salt water down my throat).

There were so many boats and people all around I had trouble finding my boat “Ivan”. Eventually I saw it and swam towards it, dodging the outriggers from various other boats.

Back on board, there were high-fives and hugs. The guide estimated that it was 12 metres long. It was truly an amazing experience for all of us and we will all leave Donsol happy. Some of the others who were better snorkelers, dived underwater to get a better view unobstructed by all the others that crowded around the whale-shark.

I thought that the experience can’t have been that great for the shark. There were far too many people and the rules laid down by the authorities had been ignored. Their numbers may decline if they continue to be disturbed in this manner. But then eco-tourism (if you can call it that), is actually saving them. Without this industry, the locals would be hunting them.

It has taken three attempts for me to get a sighting this good; four days for all the others except the lucky Brit (it's his first day). It just goes to show that it is very much a luck game and one should keep trying if time and funds allow.

Moving on to Legazpi

After a wash, I took a tricycle, van and another tricycle to the Ellis Ecotel in Legaspi [Legaspi-travel-guide-1314407] for my last night in the Philippines. It was intended to be a change in scenery, located next to a mall. The mall turned out to be less bustling that I would have liked but it is part of the Embarcadero waterfront complex for the city of Legazpi. So, it was quite a nice setting.

At night, I felt a pain in my upper right jaw and right eye socket. I pressed the right side on my face it was sore to pressure. It felt like a sinus issue. I wonder if some water had got in during my snorkel. I've had quite a few problems with bronchial and sinus this trip, only to have it all disappear in the last two weeks. Not impressed that it's come back.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Butanding, Take Two

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large_5550_13621452425696.jpgMt Mayon from the sea in the early morning before the clouds gather.
Today I had my second attempt at Donsol [Donsol-travel-guide-1311436] for the whale-sharks. Our group comprised of John and Yvon from Netherlands, plus David and Jane from Singapore. We found a French man to make up the maximum party of six.

We departed at 0730 and cruised around for about an hour when one the spotters called out “Butanding”. The guide kept shouting “Faster, faster, faster” to both the Captain (or was it to us to get donned up). The boat sped in the direction the spotter indicated and were donned our masks and fins, and hopped in pretty promptly.

I was the last in the water by seconds. As we had all jumped off the moving boat, I was a few metres further away. I caught a glimpse of the big fish whereas others had a closer encounter. Regardless, the encounter was extremely brief.

We cruised around for another two hours without success. Judging from how quick the surface time was for the whale-shark, it seems unlikely that if someone else had a sighting, we could make it over in time to see it.

Of all the boats out today, only three had a sighting. We considered ourselves lucky for the brief encounter. Locals tell us that sightings have been declining over the years. Perhaps the industry is driving the whale-sharks away.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Diving the Manta Bowl

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large_5550_1362144724595.jpgPhoto of a photo of what we should have seen. Mantas spanning about 5 metres.
I had a day off from travel activities yesterday. I heard this theory that with rainfall, plankton sinks down and whale-sharks don’t surface. With the recent heavy rain I didn’t expect the plankton to have risen yet. So, just as well I didn’t go out looking for them as those people who did go came back disappointed. Instead I attended to business at home over 2G mobile internet which was rather slow.

But today with the good weather (finally), the day seemed full of promise. I had arranged to go diving, hopefully to see some manta rays.

We met at the dive shop at 0630 and left around 0700 on board the boat Noah. I asked if I was the giraffe; and the divemaster said “Two-by-two, please”.

The day comprised of three dives, one at San Miguel and two at Manta Bowl. San Miguel was great with a wall-full of light pink soft coral plus some hard green ones on the seabed. But disappointingly, the mantas did not show up at the Manta Bowl.

The current was strong at the Manta Bowl and we were issued with a hook each so that we could park ourselves on to a rock in the current. A visiting Pekinese dive master from Puerto Galera [Puerto-Galera-travel-guide-889387] was amazing; he was rock-steady at maintaining his depth despite the conditions. It is as if he doesn’t breathe or use his hands and feet; he floats in a somewhat kneeling position and maintains it when the rest of us were parked up and hooked in.

The Manta Bowl dives were not completely a waste of time as it gave me a new skill and improved my confidence in strong currents. And we did see a couple of white-tip reef sharks.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

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