How I Messed Up My Philippines Trip and Why it’s Still Great!

After having been home in Seattle for a few months, it’s been time for me to go traveling again. With my ticket booked, and bags packed I was ready set off again. The day I was supposed to leave finally came and I was more than ready. I had finished dinner with my family and was preparing to head to the airport for my flight at 12:20 am. I checked my boarding pass online and then I noticed it. The stupidest mistake ever. I missed my flight. The flight was 12:20 am that day in the morning, not that night like I had thought.

I’ve done some stupid things before, but this is definitely up on the list! I called up the airline and after being on hold for an hour, I was told that I would not be able to get my money back but I could at least book another flight for a discounted price. However, it would be to Manila in the north, not Cebu like originally planned.  So now I had to skip the southern part of the Philippines with all the nice beaches unless I wanted to spend more money. That or just not leaving home at all! But of course I just booked the cheaper flight to Manila.

Two days later, with my bags still packed from when I thought I was supposed to leave, I head out to the airport. I board my plane and try to relax as my 13 hour journey to Taiwan starts. I watch a few movies, listen to some music and finally I arrive in Taiwan. I’m in Asia!

Although it’s not as exciting when I remember I have a 10 hour layover in Taiwan. Originally, I wanted to leave the airport and explore. However, with it being 5 am I just followed where the airport employees told me to go, not realizing that this was to go through security again. After then spending 30 minutes trying to figure out how to leave, I asked another employee where to go and then I realized my mistake. I didn’t realize that if I went through security, I would not be able to leave the airport. My hopes of exploring Taipei were lost. Instead, I had to find a comfy spot to sit and wait out the layover. 10 hours passed, and one Netflix series later, my next flight leaves. We leave the rainy atmosphere of Taiwan and then 2 hours later arrive in sunny and chaotic Manila.

View of Manila skyscrapers and the historic Fort Santiago
The old and the new in Manila

It’s definitely a pretty hectic place to start my trip. Manila is a large metropolis in Northern Philippines. I remember reading how lots of people really disliked it, but of course I wanted to experience it for myself and see if it was really that bad.

Well let’s just say, it’s an interesting place! Not too much to do other than malls, but you can find good Filipino food everywhere.

Banaue Rice Terraces:

View of the Batad Rice Terraces
View of the Batad Rice Terraces

After seeing the few attractions in Intramuros in Manila, I left for a night bus to Banaue. The one thing I read online and heard from people is that the buses get cold. I didn’t think it would be that bad, but after a sleepless night I definitely agreed with them.

Finally I arrived in Banaue at 5 am. A great time to be up… Some locals come to the bus who I assume are part of the tourist center and start helping me and the other travelers. They provide us a free shuttle service to the main part of town. I was surprised because I didn’t think it was going to be this organized. Looking back, maybe I should have been a little more suspicious.

We arrive at the main part of town, and are guided into a restaurant. Employees start coming out to help us plan our trip. Again, I’m surprised by how organized everything is. I tell them my plan and then they respond with the price to go to the main part of the rice terraces and back is 4,000 pesos (77 USD). Of course I say no, and they then offer a ride for 2,000 pesos (38 USD). Now, I’m really surprised. It still seems like way too much. I try bargaining with the guy but to no avail. After pondering what to do over breakfast, I decide to just pay for it because I figured it was so expensive because I was alone. Stupid mistake on my part again! The next day I found out I was majorly ripped off and should have only paid about 400 pesos. Yikes.

After a good Filipino porksilog breakfast (garlic rice, egg and pork) we begin the ride to Batad, the main part of the rice terraces. We twist and turn through the forested mountain roads and 30 minutes later we arrive at the end of the road. Another 25 minutes by walking and we then arrive at the rice terraces.

So green! Batad Rice Terraces
So green! Batad Rice Terraces

Truly an epic sight. These rice terraces are rumored to have been built by hand at least 2,000 years ago. Today they are still in use and allow the locals to be self-sufficient with the rice. Disconnected from the outside world by a short hike, it feels like you can go back in time to a time without technology when the rice terraces were created.

Be warned though, hiking around the terraces is part balancing act, and part workout. If you fall on one side, then you fall into a puddle of mud. If you fall on the other side then you fall 5 feet and then onto a puddle of mud. Not fun either way.

I only spent a night in Batad and the terraces but many people spend more time there and in the surrounding villages. My next stop: Baguio City

Baguio City:

Honestly I do not know why I came here. I wasn’t really sure what else to do in the northern part of the Philippines where I was and it seemed like somewhat of a nice place. And it was… somewhat of a nice place. Located in the mountains, it feels like a mini Manila, that’s a little bit more relaxed. I only spent a day there and for me that was enough. Especially considering the location of my hostel. Right next to one of the omnipresent karaoke bars where they sang (somewhat badly, no offense to them) until the morning hours.

Vigan City:

Spanish Architecture in Calle Crisologo
Spanish Architecture in Calle Crisologo

I decided to just keep moving north, and with another 7 hours on the bus I arrived in Vigan City. Vigan is an interesting city that takes you back to the Spanish colonial time of the Philippines. Calle Crisologo, the main street is home to plenty of old Spanish colonial houses. Throughout the day and evening you’ll find horse carriages taking tourists along the street.

I arrived in the evening and spent the rest of the night editing my pictures that began to pile up. The next day, I really wasn’t sure what to do. All the museums were closed and after walking up and down the Main Street for like the 10th time I found a cafe and sat down. Being a pretty westernized cafe, not to my surprise I was surrounded by other western tourists. There was a couple and then another solo traveler. Being so bored, I asked the solo traveler if he knew any places to go, and luckily that sparked conversation. Then, before I knew it I had a friend to explore the town with and kill a few hours. Turns out there was a lot to see.

We started by taking a tricycle to a loom factory on the outskirts of town. It was nice but not super interesting. We continued onto the Baluarte Zoo. Not the most exciting zoo but there were some cool animals and some weird paintings…

I’m beyond confused…

After the zoo we went to the Pagburnayan pottery factory. The people working showed us how to use the pottery wheel and let us actually attempt to make some pottery. As my friend is making his pottery, a big crowd comes in and we are ushered to the side. More people come in and start taking pictures. We’re confused until one of the people from the crowd tells us that they’re Filipino celebrities. Turns out one of them is the Miss Universe of the Philippines. Of course me and my friend are intrigued and although we had never heard of them before, we get pictures with them.

After talking with the people there, we head out to our next stop. The Bantay Bell Tower. As we’re walking there we can’t help but talk about how crazy it was we met Filipino celebrities. That’s one of the coolest things about traveling, sometimes crazy stuff just happens. What’s more, I originally thought the day was going to be super boring and that I would spend most of it in the cafe. That was definitely not the case.

Bantay Bell Tower in Vigan
Bantay Bell Tower in Vigan

After visiting the Bantay Bell Tower I  headed back to catch my night bus all the way back to Manila. After another cold, semi-sleepless evening I arrive back in Manila at 3:00 am. I just love these early morning arrivals… uh, nope. I check into a nearby hostel and get some good sleep in an actual bed. The next day I move to a hostel that’s nicer and also closer to the center of town. One of the few good decisions I made on this trip. Comfortable beds, warm water and good hang out area.

I had 3 days in Manila and I was worried I would be bored out of my mind. Again, not the case. I met a few different people, and two of them were talking about midget fighting. I was confused, so I asked them what they were talking about. Apparently in Manila it’s a thing. They invited me to go with them the next evening. As my travel motto is “always say yes (almost always),” I said yes.

The next day I then ended up going with one of the other people I met to the nearby Taal Volcano. After a slow, traffic filled bus ride we arrive in Tagaytay. A tricycle ride and boat ride later we arrive at the volcano island in the crater lake.

Taking the boat to Taal Volcano
Taking the boat to Taal Volcano

Finally, I’m somewhere peaceful again. Complete opposite of Manila. A short 45 minutes hike takes us to the volcano center where there is another lake and an island. That small island is an island in a crater lake, in an island, in a larger crater lake, in the island of Luzon. Island-ception, right?

The lake at the center of the Taal Volcano
The lake at the center of the Taal Volcano

After spending some time enjoying the sights we have to catch our line of transportation back to Manila and attempt to beat the worst part of the omnipresent Manila traffic. We luckily do and make it back in 2 hours. After a shower, I meet up with the other people I met in the hostel to go to the midget fighting. We kind of got a little too excited beforehand as when we finally went it was not as cool as we thought it would be. The match lasted just a few minutes and not much really happened. So we continued onto another Filipino tradition, karaoke. Up until this point, my only experience with karaoke was the late night karaoke keeping me awake in Baguio city.

This experience was better, especially considering I wasn’t trying to sleep at that time.

But eventually our hour at the karaoke bar was up and we decided to head back to the hostel.

The next morning, I edited pictures and then went out to get lunch with one of the friends. My last lunch in the Philippines. Filipino food is really good and interesting. For me it’s exotic because parts of the meat are used that’s wouldn’t usually eat like the liver. To be honest, lots of the time I just didn’t ask what exactly it was, to not risk me not wanting to eat it.

Filipino lunch
Lunch! Don’t know exactly what it is, but it was good!

Anyway for lunch we went to one of the many local eateries where there are just various pots of food and you order whatever looks good. No menu, no name, just food. Not only are these places good but they are cheap too! I got my meal for 80 pesos (1.5 USD).

After lunch we met up with our other friends in the hostel and went to an amusement park. I hadn’t been to one in years and it was actually lots of fun. I used to hate roller coasters but for some reason I was excited to go on the big one they had there. I just had to block out the roller coaster scene from Final Destination.

Before I knew it, I had to leave to go to the airport for my evening flight to Singapore. My flight was at 9:30 pm and I was just leaving the amusement park at 7:00 pm. Somehow, despite the traffic, and thanks to a friendly Uber driver, I made it to the airport in time and made it onto my flight. Goodbye Philippines, and hello Singapore.

My trip to the Philippines wasn’t perfect. I didn’t go to all the postcard pretty places. In fact I didn’t even go to a beach. I know, crazy! But in the end it was still fun. It was an adventure. That’s the cool thing about traveling, it’s full of adventures. Adventures aren’t always sunshine and rainbows but when they are, they’re so much fun.

So to recap, crazy stuff can happen when you travel, almost always say yes and maybe everything happens for a reason. One of the most intriguing things about travel is that there’s so many forks in the road that you can take. One after the other. Different combinations of your choices can have totally different outcomes. Sure this happens at home too, but when you’re traveling there’s more choices for you to take because you don’t follow a routine. So even though I missed my flight, I still had a good time. Who knows what good or bad things could have happened had I not missed my flight. At least this is what I’m telling myself to not get mad about losing the money from the flight!

I’ll be back again soon to the Philippines and next time I’ll stay longer and actually go to a beach!

 

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