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To Paradise. (& back). MNL-MPH with 2P & DG (+pics)

To Paradise. (& back). MNL-MPH with 2P & DG (+pics)

Old Mar 22, 11, 9:48 pm
  #1  
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To Paradise. (& back). MNL-MPH with 2P & DG (+pics)

Part I - Introduction

'Are you crazy?' my co-workers screamed at me in unison. Every other patron and staff member in the city bar we were drinking at paused their conversations and looked in our direction. I waited until the awkwardness to subside before i responded.

'What?,' I protested,' We've got two weeks off. I need to do some travelling.'

This is the way my mind invariably worked. It would ignore the fact that I had just spent the most difficult three months of my life cutting my teeth in the professional services industry, and in two short weeks would be returning to university for my most gruelling year yet. No, it saw a two week break with no commitments as a sure sign that i needed to head overseas, and ensured that I planned accordingly. This ultimately lead to my sanity being questioned as, on the last day of our internship, I told my colleagues that I would shortly be flying to the Philippines.

The planning had been meticulous. My email inbox was bombarded weekly with LCC mailing list emails. Over a few months I pieced together an itinerary on JQ from MEL to MNL via SIN, and closer to the departure date, added domestic segments to MPH (Boracay) and back.

A week of international debauchery seemed the perfect antidote to months of tie-wearing, smiling and email writing.

And before I knew it - we were at the airport.
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Old Mar 22, 11, 9:50 pm
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Part II - Trip Report Index

1. The Korean Odyssey - MEL-ICN with QF & KE + side trip to CJU with Jeju Air.
2. Journey to the Pearl of the Orient - MEL-HKG with QF & CX + side trip to Macau.
3. A Tale of Two Jetstars - MEL-BKK Y, BKK-MEL J.
4. All The Rivers Run - Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia & India with QF, AK, VN, MH, IC & 9W.
5. The Great White North: Alaska, The Rockies & NYC with UA, DL, FL and Holland America Line.
6. Jai Ho! To India's Far North with SQ, 9w & IT.
7. To Paradise and Back. MNL-MPH with 2P and DG with pics.
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Old Mar 22, 11, 10:22 pm
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Melbourne to Manila

Part III - Back to Asia

The trip from Melbourne to Manila was not only on an LCC, it was also in Y. So I'll be brief. Babies cried, people with weird hair roamed the cabin and I was unable to control my need to eat on planes and purchased meatball pasta for $10. It was pretty good.

Our 8 hour transit in SIN was an oasis of civility in an otherwise cheap-and-not-so-cheerful experience. Loud Australian accents guided us to a brand new roof top bar near Burger King in Terminal 1. The bar wasn't cheap but that didn't deter half the Y cabin from our flight (including us) setting up shop there for a few hours. It helped pass the time.


View from the most lucrative bar in Singapore.


The bill for these three drinks was $30. Ouch.

In the latter part of our transit i lead a bit of a wild goose chase through Changi airport, over the course of which I ate Quizno's, Burger King AND a plate of noodles. We eventually fronted up to check-in for the MNL flight two hours prior to departure, passed airside, purchased some duty free and boarded the plane. The load factor was less than 30% and yet the crew earnestly demanded SGD30 for my very tall friend to sit in the exit row, which was of course otherwise empty. I slept like a baby across 3 seats and spent the taxi to the terminal on arrival wondering what the hell we were going to do in Manila at 0335hrs.

The arrival concourse was deserted and we were out into the balmy Filipino winter in a matter of minutes.
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Old Mar 24, 11, 10:54 am
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tagged to read later.
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Old Mar 27, 11, 5:29 pm
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Manila to Caticlan

Part IV - Winging it to Boracay Island

In the end our arrival dilemma was solved in a very Filipino way. When our cab pulled up at the corner of Padre Faura and Del Pillar Streets, the suburbs of Ermita was alive and well with hard working Filipinos and old exclusively white male tourists streamed from bars. We dropped our packs at one such bar and had a few beers while we waited for our guesthouse options to open.

We were only in Manila for 23 hours as our flight to Boracay left very early the following day. This was where things got interesting. Or more interesting, as the case may be.

I had booked our Manila - Caticlan flight on the Philippine Airlines website and received an e-ticket via email which listed the flight number as PR039 and stated that it would depart from MNL terminal 1. At a ridiculous hour of the morning we fronted up to said terminal and lined up to have our e-tickets cross referenced with identification, as is done in India.


Terminal 1. The wrong terminal, as it turned out.

A puzzled expression came over the security agent as he studied our e-tickets.

'Sir, you must go to terminal 3 for flights to Boracay.'

Now it was my turn to be puzzled. A quick taxi to Terminal 3 and frenzied search of the checkin counters revealed no Philippine Airlines desks. A last ditch attempt to make out flight involved consulting the information desk where a lady casually pointed to a row of checkin counters emblazoned with the orange livery of Air Phillipines Express. Hmm. At said counters our e-tickets were accepted without complaint, which was odd as at no point during the booking process and nowhere on the supplied documentation were we informed that PR was not the operating carrier. If we hadn't been early to the airport, this could have been messy.

Air Phillipines Express flight 2P 39
Manila (MNL) - Caticlan (MPH)
STD 0700 STA 0800
ATD 0712 ATA 0755
Seat 12D - Economy


Four agents were tasked with handling checkin for each desk. One attached bag tags to luggage. One operated the computer. One inspected and tagged our hand luggage and one simply looked at us and smiled the whole time. It was actually quite disarming. We were handed real boarding passes and on our way in a matter of minutes.


Air Philippines Express checkin desks.

After the morning's dramas we still had some time to spare so naturally we sat down for the world's greatest breakfast - Beef Tapa and coffee. Energised and with renewed cholesterol levels we proceeded to the departure area, which involved paying a PHP200 departure tax. The security check was relaxed and we were in the concourse very quickly.


MNL Terminal 3 concourse.

2P uses a remote stand for its turboprop services, so this involved descending to ground level to a bus marshaling area.


Waiting for the bus.


Apologies for the quality of these photos - they were taken on my iPhone.


On the long scenic route to our aircraft.

The bus stopped at the edge of the airfield for about 10 minutes. The driver turned the engine off, opened his door and just walked away. The absence of any Tagalog speakers on the bus meant noone could really question this. So we sat and waited. Eventually he did come back and complete the remaining 200m drive to our waiting aircraft.






Leg room shot. My hand luggage was too big to fit in the overhead compartments so it filled this space for the remainder of the flight.

The flight itself was very short. I got halfway through an article on the potential of humans to become immortal and observed a buy-on-board refreshment service receive exactly zero patronage. The island scenery visible from the window was spectacular and the second I realised this, we began our descent.

The aircraft passed agonizingly close to beachside shacks before landing effortlessly. We slowed to a stop, performed a 180-degree turn and taxiied to the terminal via the runway, owing the the lack of a taxiway.


The apron at Caticlan.



Disembarkation was relatively quick, as was the process of exiting the airport. We pased through a large carport-like structure and were suddenly on the street outside the airport fence. Smallest terminal ever.

A representative from our guesthouse was waiting to guide us to through the relatively convoluted procedure for getting from Caticlan to Boracay island. As with most things in the Philippines, the whole process required no effort on our part whatsoever.
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Old Mar 28, 11, 3:12 am
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Boracay Island

The process for getting from Caticlan airport to Boracay island was complicated but oddly, not difficult in the slightest. Although our guesthouse representative was on hand to lead us around, I still felt the journey could be accomplished solo.

First, one needed to take a motorbike tricycle from the 'airport' to the ferry port, where one would need to purchase a ferry ticket, pay an environmental fee and hand over some pesos for a worryingly vague 'terminal fee'. The next boat departure was never more than a few minutes away and once on Boracay island itself, another motorbike tricycle served as transport to within walking distance of one's guesthouse. Whilst the total price for this entire experience was less than US$8, in paying it I couldn't help but congratulate the transport operators on their fondness for writing prices down. As a traveller I tend to distrust any price quoted verbally, but, perhaps in a trait left over from the orderly society that I live in, I will blindly pay any written price without second thought.


On the boat to Boracay.

Boracay Island, as the title of this trip report suggests, is paradise. And a cheap one at that. I thought of it as the perfect beach destination, mostly because it has ... well ... a perfect beach. White sand, small tide variation, clean water, and a stable dune system that facilitated development almost right to the water's edge. Boracay had none of the rubbish and filth of Goa, none of the horrendous traffic of Nha Trang and less of the sleaze and drunk Australians you find in Bali. But we didn't need to sacrifice comfort to avoid the elements that otherwise plague coastal holiday destinations - Boracay Island had an Andok's (the greatest fast food restaurant of all time), a Starbucks, a shopping mall, a go kart track and scores of classy bars, some of which even had dance floors.

The only downside of our time on the island was that the All Terrain Vehicle activity was grossly overstated and over priced. It was, in fact a One Terrain Vehicle - the one terrain being regular road. But you take the good with the bad. The Go Kart track, run at the same facility, was fantastic fun.


Most of the one hour we paid for on our ATV tour was spent here at an island view point.




Boracay main drag. This strip of shops and restaurants ran almost all the way around the island.


Every sunset looked like this ...


... and was generally followed by a hearty banquet on the beach.


A one day snorkelling trip took us to this wierd island a few kilometers out to sea.


The beach ran like this for as long as my tired and drunk legs would take me.


Although the next morning's walk to Andok's never seemed as far.

Surprisingly, we had no issues filling our days on Boracay. I had a fantastic time and will most definitely be back. As far as Asia's beaches are concerned Boracay is undoubtedly the best.
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Old Mar 29, 11, 4:02 pm
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Caticlan to Manila

We had budgeted 2 hours to make the return journey from our guesthouse on Boracay to the airport at Caticlan. In the end this was one hour and forty minutes too long and we arrived laughably early for a flight which left from a tin shack. We figured a drink at the nearest bar was the best option to pass the time, and we engaged in high brow conversation and phototaking for a while.


Airport exterior.




The area in front of the plane is the entire arrivals section of the airport.


South East Asian airlines ticketing office and 'lounge.'

South East Asian air flight 142
STD 1650 STA 1740
ATD 1700 ATA 1745
Seat 2C - Economy


Without much regard for the time we sauntered up to the checkin area and casually handed the agent our itinerary. She said the words I least expected to hear when setting out from Boracay 2 hours earlier.

'Sir, it is already too late for this flight.' And pointed to a clock on the wall. Indeed, it was 40 minutes until our STD. And checkin closed 45 minutes before STD. Gulp.

I knew we had messed up. But I protested anyway.

'We ... only have hand luggage?' I ventured. 'And this is the last flight today. We have an international flight tomorrow.' A white lie.

She sighed and shook her head while tapping at her keyboard. All hope was lost. We weren't going anywhere ...

... until suddenly the desktop BP printer sprang to life and spat out 3 boarding passes. Without eye contact these were handed to us and we were on our way.


Check in desks.


Striding to the departure area, boarding passes thankfully in hand.

There are two security screening points at Boracay airport. One prior to checkin and one at the entrance to the departure area. Our vodka was picked up in the first screening and the agent sternly advised us to check it in. I was reluctant to do this, as I believe the only reason we were allowed to check in for the flight at all was due to our lack of luggage. At the second security screening point, the agent's eyes lit up when he saw a bottle of liquor show up on the X-ray machine.

'Sir, you can't take this through, you will have to leave it here ... with me,' he said in one breath, grinning. We sighed together and began to unpack the bag to remove the offending alcohol. I handed the agent the bottle of Absolut. He frowned as he studied it.

'Hmm. Maybe you can take it back and check this bag in? It is not too late for your flight.' He clearly didn't drink vodka. We appreciated his eventual honesty and Dave ran back to check the bag, which was completed without incident.

Now we could relax.


Departure area.


Excellent spotting.


A couple of Cebu Pacific flights boarded before it was our turn. There were a few false alarms and the other Dave bought some awful chocolate milk for US$3 but all in all the departure lounge was a peaceful and relaxing place.


Boarding.


Bit of a holdup. The earliest boarders were rewarded with a solid jetblasting from a departing Cebu Pacific aircraft.


On the apron.




Our aircraft.


Always a good sign.

The configuration was a 1-2 layout. I was in the second row from the front in the group of 2. A friendly FA helped stow my oversize carryon in row 1 and even secured it with a seatbelt for me. She then manually performed the safety demonstration.


Interior shot.


Safety demonstration.

Take off was characteristically steep and fast and during the short flight I finished the remainder of the article on human immortality. Our time on Boracay had been so busy I hadn't even had time to finish a 3 page article. In flight service consisted of a bottle of water and a serviette.

Landing in MNL gave me the chance to see just how large the metropolitan area is. We were soon on the ground and walking to the domestic arrival terminal via the tarmac.




Tarmac view.


Neighbours.

Our checked bag took a while to arrive but the previous vodka was thankfully intact. Outside the location of the meter taxi stand wasn't immediately apparent so I asked some uniformed people milling about the entrance, which lead to an interesting conversation.

Me: 'Hi there, excuse me, do you know where the meter taxi stand is?'
Uniformed lady: 'Sir, now it is peak time and it is too hard and expensive to find meter taxi. Is better to take private prepaid car.'
Me (aware of this typical Asia scam): 'Uh, ok, how much is it to Ermita?'
Uniformed lady: 'Sir, it is a flat fee of 535 pesos.'

This is over 3x the normal meter rate.

I began to laugh uncontrollably. As did my friends. Curiously, some of the uniformed staff even joined in. We must have made a pretty comical sight - 3 foreigners and 5 airport workers standing around laughing at each other.

As enjoyable as Boracay was, it was great to be back in the city. The fun had only just begun.
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Old Apr 1, 11, 12:21 am
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Manila

Part V - Manila


We spent the next few days in Manila, eating a lot and drinking to excess. The city was grimy but orderly and despite the many automatic-weapon toting security guards we never felt unsafe.


Manila Jeepney. These vehicles provide cheap transport to many Filipinos. They also clog most streets in the inner metro area.


Oddly enough, the best chicken kebabs I have ever eaten were from an open air restaurant in Manila's Malate district. This was the 1.2kg party platter...


... which we completely demolished.


Manila's Intramuros district.


Interior of the San Agustin church.

We were staying in Ermita, an area of central Manila known for its nightlife and tourist amenities. It seemed as though we were the only 3 foreign males who weren't in Manila to secure the attention of Filipino women. In fact, when I casually remarked as such in a bar near our guesthouse, people asked us what we were doing here.

Anyhow Manila proved to be as fun, historic and edgy as I had hoped and it was with considerable sadness that I considered having to leave. This sadness was was obliterated by a horrendous stomach infection brought on by a 7-Eleven hot dog. When the morning of our flight came, I thanked the lord. Then I remembered that it would take almost 20 hours to get home and to be perfectly honest, I cried a little bit.
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Old Apr 1, 11, 12:39 am
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Manila to Melbourne

Part VI - Stricken with fever in Y on an LCC

As suggested above, the trip home was not pleasant. I drifted in and out of consciousness enough to take a few photos, poke around at some food, endure an 8 hour delay, feel euphoric after being upgraded to J on the JQ SINMEL leg, lose the euphoria entirely after being kicked out of the QF Club and develop an impeccable mind map of every bathroom in all of SIN's 3 terminals.

The J experience was similar to my previous TR on the JQ StarClass product - the equivalent of a Y service on a legacy airline.


MNL Terminal 1 Checkin Area.


Ridiculous line for 3K check in.


MNL airside concourse.


KL shortly bound for AMS.


Vegetarian thali @ SIN T2. At SG$17.50 it was equivalent to 1 day's budget in the Philippines. I've GOT to stop being surprised at this.


Our SINMEL flight was delayed by 7 hours and after we quizzed the check in staff for 15 minute regarding rebooking options they were kind enough to let us explore the options ourselves. As we both used to work in reservations, this was handy. ^


StarClass amenity kit.


Only one meal was served on the SINMEL flight. This was it.

Upon arrival in Melbourne checked baggage took 45 minutes to begin appearing. Thankfully ours was among the first out and we were on our way soon after.

For those willing to make the trek there, the Philippines is an amazing destination which combines good food, a friendly populace, value for money, high levels of safety and a myriad of new sights and sounds to be one of Asia's top destinations. I highly recommend it.

Thanks for reading - questions and comments are always appreciated :-)

afterDawn
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Old Jul 31, 11, 8:33 pm
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Boracay definitely sounds worth a trip. I'd never heard of it until a few months ago and suddenly I seem to know lots of people (mostly Aussies) who have been recently. Is it the next Bali?
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Old Aug 9, 11, 5:08 pm
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Originally Posted by mad_atta View Post
Boracay definitely sounds worth a trip. I'd never heard of it until a few months ago and suddenly I seem to know lots of people (mostly Aussies) who have been recently. Is it the next Bali?
Likewise. Indeed, the very reason I went was on the recommendation of a colleague. But I don't think it will be the next Bali; DPS can be reached directly from every Australian capital city in 6 hours max. Boracay, on the other hand requires two stops from most cities (except DRW and SYD if one chooses JQ or QF respectively) and for your average work a day bogan who just wants a beach and a beer, thats probably a few hours too far. Lets hope this remains to be the case, for the sake of the rest of us
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Old Aug 24, 11, 7:36 am
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Originally Posted by mad_atta View Post
Boracay definitely sounds worth a trip. I'd never heard of it until a few months ago and suddenly I seem to know lots of people (mostly Aussies) who have been recently. Is it the next Bali?
Boracay was amazing, I think I was out there right around the time you were.

Boracay is a good distance from bali, would be about 5 hours to MNL, then another hour to MPH
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Old Aug 24, 11, 8:59 pm
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Wow! What a fabulous TR!!! I'm glad you had a great time in Philippines. I can see the meal was so good! I can see chicken is so delicious! I love it! That was best meal I've ever heard it before. I definitely that I will go to Philippines or others islands hopper, too. Someday in the future if we can go there.
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Old Aug 25, 11, 10:12 am
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Great Pictures!! Thanks for the report!^
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