Wednesday, April 8, 2015

KALANGGAMAN ISLAND: A Sparkling Beauty in Palompon (Leyte)

I have read in several blogs that in order to have an unforgettable Kalanggaman experience, one must be in Palompon early in the day. Since the island is starting to gain popularity among non-locals, it is advised that you call the Municipal Tourism Office first to check if there are available boats. (NOTE: Tourism staff are a bit strict with schedule.)

Since we spent the night at TJ's Lodge in Naval, the trip to Palompon would only take 3 hours via Ormoc. The first van bound for Ormoc leaves at 5:00AM -- if there are at least 7 passengers, it leaves even before then. We're lucky there was a bakery right across the street and the hot pandesal satisfied our rumbling stomach.

We reached Ormoc around 7:30AM because passengers were being picked up along the way. The final stop is at the terminal where you will also find the vans going to several destinations, including Palompon. An hour and a half after, we are finally at the Local Tourism Office where guests headed to Kalanggaman need to register and pay the necessary fees. (Please see image below.)

the Local Tourism Office & Lounge Area

Here are the fees/rates as of April 1, 2015. You can also find the contact details
of the Tourism Office. We paid P220 because we are staying overnight on the island and 
we are non-Palompon residents.

My friends and I were resolved to rent the boat (exclusive to us) so we can hit the island really early. But on second thought, there's no harm in waiting for walk-in guests whom we can split the bill with. Fortunately, a young couple arrived and asked if they can share the boat with us. We found out that they tried to go the day before we got here but then no boat was available for them. After buying food and water in the nearby market, the 5 of us are set to go and we shall be in Kalanggaman within an hour.

Do you see the long sandbar? 

Here we are. Welcome to Kalanggaman Island!

This is gonna be our home for the night. You can stay at this cottage 
for only P500 (good for 24 hrs.)

What to remember in Kalanggaman:

  1. Buy your supplies in the mainland. There is a market beside the tourism office.
  2. Chips and a few 'drinks' are sold in the island.
  3. There is a central grilling area. Bring your own charcoal.
  4. Segregate your waste using the black and white plastic bags provided to you at the tourism office.
  5. There is a restroom which uses saltwater. Freshwater (in gallons) are provided by the boatman. Ask for it as soon as you arrive in Kalanggaman.
  6. Based on personal experience, there are no mosquitoes. 
  7. Globe has better reception here. My Smart-powered phone could not even send/receive a message the entire time.
  8. If you are staying overnight and do not have a tent, make sure your clothes are thick enough to keep you warm. A pair of socks and a light jacket would be really helpful.
  9. Solar-powered lamp posts provide sufficient light at night. There is no place to charge your gadgets here so have your power banks charged 100% before going to the island.
a beautiful sunrise...It's like people are walking up to the sun.

Luvin' the sandbar...

That obligatory shot...

Hot pandesal - P20
Van to Ormoc - P130
Van to Palompon - P110
Food & water - P268 (P805 / 3 pax - including red wine and fruits)
Boat to Kalanggaman Island - P600 (P3,000 divided by 5)
Overnight Entrance Fee - P220
Cottage good for 24 hrs - P167 (P500 divided by 3)
Reclining beach chair - P50
Additional chips and drinks - P83 (P250 divided by 3)

TOTAL - P1,648

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

An Escape to Sambawan Island (Maripipi, Biliran Province)

Of the Philippine regions, the 2 that I haven't been to are Eastern Visayas (Region 8) and ARMM. One is because these two are not in my real bucket list. And two, either one region is ravaged by typhoons or the other affected by armed conflict.

This year's Holy Week was a great opportunity to visit, at least, Eastern Visayas. A travel buddy has been talking tirelessly about a certain Kalanggaman Island in Leyte. And since we were unable to chance upon promo fares to Hanoi, we shall go local this year. 

I must say this is the trip I was most unprepared for. Why? Because one of us who is a Waray is clueless about the location of the island and there were very few blog entries about it. While looking at how-to-go-there stuff, we came across Sambawan Island in Naval, Biliran. Since it is 2 hours away from Tacloban Airport, it was considered a possible detour.

Several days before leaving Manila, we have decided to go to Sambawan and then to Kalanggaman in Palompon, Leyte. We shall go back to Manila via Cebu.

Sambawan Island (Tacloban City to Naval)

From Tacloban Airport, one needs to take a cab to get to the New Tacloban Terminal. Fare is around Php200. This will only take 15 minutes.

At the terminal, ask the Manongs there about the shuttle vans that go to Naval. The trip is 2 hours long and fare is only P150. Tell the driver to drop you off at the Naval Port.

[Longer Route] 
Upon arrival at the port, pay the terminal fee of Php10 before heading to your preferred ferry. There are three schedules for ferries that go to Maripipi: 10:00AM, 10:30AM and 11:00AM. Fare is only Php60 which is collected in the boat. Travel time to Maripipi is 1 and a half (1.5) hours.

From the Maripipi port, we rented 2 habal-habal that will bring us to that part of the municipality where we can ride a boat to Sambawan. Before hopping on your boat, make sure you have all the supplies you need as there is no store in the island. 

Welcome to Maripipi!

One mistake we committed was taking this really small boat to the island, only for Php350. As we get to the middle of the sea, the waves got bigger and the water started splashing into the boat. Honestly, I got scared because my two buddies do not know how to swim! Thankfully, we reached the island safely and in one piece. 

[Fastest Route]
There is another way, the shorter one, to reach Sambawan. From Naval, you can rent a habal-habal to take you to Kawayan Port (the trip is approximately 20 minutes). Boat rentals can go as high as Php2,000. For our way back, the island supervisor charged us P1,700 (split to 3) to bring us to Kawayan. I would recommend this route as this is faster and they use bigger boats. The trip to kawayan will only last for an hour.

Hello, beach.

 Amazing view from the top.


What to remember in Sambawan Island:
  1. Entrance fee is Php50.
  2. You can rent a cottage for Php500.
  3. There are no sari-sari stores. Make sure to have enough water and food with you especially when planning to stay here for the night. Buy your supplies in Naval.
  4. There is no cooking charge! The people here are just so kind.
  5. There are cottages you can rent for the night for Php2,500 -- cheap for groups. 
  6. Tents are allowed.
We stayed in Sambawan for 3 hours, enjoying the pristine white-sand beach and taking photos from atop the mountain. It gives you a 360-degree view of Sambawan.

The hour-long travel to Kawayan Port was a smooth one even if the dark clouds were already forming and it started to drizzle. At the port, the habal-habal brought us to Naval. To me it was a joy ride, the air was fresh. The rice fields set against the lush mountains make a beautiful background. After 20 minutes, we are back in Naval. We are staying at TJ Lodge. An airconditioned room good for 3 pax only costs Php850.

Taxi to New Tacloban Terminal - P70 (metered fare is P200, divided by 3)
Van to Naval - P150
Naval Terminal Fee - P10
Ferry fare to Maripipi - P60
Habal-habal to boat rental - P30
Boat to Sambawan - P117 (P350 divided by 3)
Island entrance fee - P50
Cottage rent - P167 (P500 divided by 3)
Boat to Kawayan Port - P567 (P1,700 divided by 3)
Habal-habal to Naval - P100
TJ's Lodge - P283 (P850 divided by 3)
Dinner at Goldilocks Carinderia - P73 (P220 divided by 3)

TOTAL - P1,677

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

MALDIVES - A Dream Come True (Final Part)

Day 2 - February 14, 2014

Today is Valentine's Day and we are spending it in the beautiful island nation of Maldives.

Gracie and I woke up at 5:30am in order to witness the Maldivian sunrise. I wonder how the sun looks like in this part of the world. That was like a stupid thought but it would be special seeing it rise over the Indian Ocean. 

When I tried looking outside, it was still very dark. I found the receptionist still sleeping at his desk. Then he awoke saying, "Good morning." I reciprocated the greeting and asked what time the sunrise will be today. "Oh, you're early." I went back to our room and asked Gracie to check google. True enough, it will be late -- 6:20AM today. Nevertheless, we started walking out of Shadow Palm to the part of Maafushi Beach where the sun will show itself.

This is how it looked outside. The orange color was starting to burst.

This is a public beach. We saw a few guys already in the water. I wanted to take a dip but since this is the public part of the beach, I needed to be fully covered. After a few minutes, some women with their children arrived and indeed the women went into the water still in their traditional wear, fully clothed. I skipped the Maafushi beach and waited for the sun.

some old, rusting boats by the beach

Some drama :)

And there it was, showing itself from behind the clouds. I super love this photo, it was like the sun kissing the ocean. Let me apologize to my photographer friends. They're probably thinking they could have produced a better, magazine-worthy photo of the Maldivian sunrise. But for me, this is my best sunrise photo (chosen from around 25 photos using my pink compact point-and-shoot digicam). 

After the sunrise experience, we walked around the island. Since it was still very early, the streets were empty of tourists. An early walk here is very relaxing, very far from the usual noise you're used to in Boracay and far from the after-party scene.

We saw a lot of these along the streets. It was a very innovative chair.

This is the street near the Maafushi port. It looked very peaceful.

And there I was...
(Photo credit: Grace Roman)

(Photo credit: Grace Roman)
We loved how the coconut trees lined up along the shore.

Our first activity will be a tour of Fihalhohi Island Resort. Fihalhohi is one of the posh private resorts in Maldives. Based on Agoda rates, I reckon Fihalhohi is the most affordable among all the private resorts. For a classic room good for 2 persons, they charge Php9,000+ per night (for 3 nights that would be P33,000+), not including transportation (P6,000 for the speedboat). The water villas, as expected, are more expensive. 

Before getting to Maldives, Gracie and I have both agreed to avail of the tour to Holiday Inn Kandooma. The day tour would cost US$120 (including transpo and taxes) for 2 pax. The US$100 is consumable -- for food and water activities.

It was a sudden change of plan that morning. Gracie and I will join Dianne and Jes, and a group of 7 other Pinoys in the tour of Fihalhohi. For more than 8 people, the trip would cost US$88 ($48 for entrance and lunch and $40 for transpo). 

Here they are! The 7 pinoys who are also lucky to get the glitch fares. On the day of our tour, it was their 5th day already in Maldives. One of them operates a tour group in the Philippines. And for this trip, their budget for a 6-day stay is US$400 per person! That's one helluva deal. That already included accommodation, activities and transportation. Oh well, one of the benefits of being with a group -- you can always split the bill.

Me, Gracie and Dianne...excited for Fihalhohi!!!

The travel to Fihalhohi takes about 45 minutes by speedboat.

And we have arrived at the resort.

The reception area was jam-packed that morning. Many tourists were still arriving, most likely because February is high season and it was a Valentine weekend too.

Fihalhohi Resort is still part of Maldives but it has a different time zone. From what I have heard, it is to give the resort more time to prepare for guests. As day tour guests, we were advised to still follow Male time. The buffet lunch will be open from 11am to 1pm at the resort's main restaurant.

After registering at the reception, the four of us (me, Gracie, D and J) took off to find a good spot by the beach. I really wanted to see the water villas first because those are what I always associate Maldives with. And when i saw the fantastic view of the ocean and the villas, I was just sooooo amazed. It felt like a postcard come to life.

And here are the water bungalows of Fihalhohi.

Who wouldn't fall in love with this view?

Mantra: I will go back only when I am with my romantic 'someone' :)

Oh, I have to be in the photo! :)

It was only when we moved to the opposite side of the bungalows that I realized the pathway was shaped like a heart. Awwwww...
(Photo credit: Jesehl Basco)

A view of the the resort entrance
On this side is the parking space for speedboats

At noon, there were still a few foreigners lying in the sun...I find the sand really amazing because it does not get hot even at high noon.

We did not like to go home yet. The experience here's just so awesome!

At around 11:30AM, our group decided to walk to the main restaurant for our lunch buffet. Make sure the wrist tag assigned to your group is always with you so that the waiters would know who to serve and charge the items not included in the buffet package.

I had lamb chops, fish fillet, beef, desserts (the brownie thing was really good) and fruits. That was sumptuous lunch!

Time to rest...

Drinking and selling alcohol in Maldives are allowed ONLY in the private resorts. And we were surprised they're serving San Miguel Beer! :) Time to drink up. A pitcher costs $24 (inclusive of taxes).

 The day tour ends at 5:00PM. But since we had to pay for the beer we ordered, Gracie had to get through the long queue for clearance to get out of Fihalhohi. The resort only had one cashier! Credit cards are accepted, by the way.

On the way back, it was getting dark. Now is the time to watch the Maldivian sunset. Gracie and I stayed a bit longer at the Maafushi port to take more pictures.

This is part of the Maafushi port. It's a picture of serenity, very far from the busy atmosphere that morning.

Many speedboats have already arrived from the different tours.

In the background is a 'shy' sunset.

the cove at Maafushi

However, on the way to Arena Lodge Sky, Gracie spotted that big spot in the night sky. It was a full moon!

Our home -- Arena Lodge Sky -- for the next 2 nights :)

I capped off the night with a Special Burger at the hostel. I regret that I wasn't able to take a photo of it. The hostel used a "special sauce" for the burger, hence the name. It only costs US$8 and comes with french fries and coleslaw -- enough for me and Gracie.

Lights off...

Day 3 - February 15, 2014

Still having a hangover of Fihalhohi, I am looking forward to explore 2 beautiful islands in Maldives today. 

Picnic Island is one of the uninhabited islands in Maldives. Ding! Ding! Ding! That would mean you can swim in your bikinis. :) Travel time is 25 minutes by speedboat. Entrance fee is USD$11 (MVR165 or Php490). We received advance info from one Pinoy traveler who took a trip to Maldives that this island has been acquired by Hilton Hotels. And in two months (from the time of writing), construction will begin. It will soon be another private luxury resort. 

TOUR PRICE for the 2 islands: US$50 + taxes = $57
The night before, I haggled with the hostel manager to give us a discount since we would like to see Sexy Beach after Picnic Island. If my memory serves me right, we saved around $15. I didn't have a hard time convincing him because the 2 are 15-minutes away from each other. 

 my breakfast at Arena Beach 
(french toast, hotdog, tuna with shredded coconut, bread with jam and coffee)

After breakfast, I took a few minutes to enjoy this view before heading to the port for another tour.

Here we are again.

A Maldivian affair to remember... with Rakim :)

I can see Picnic Island now.


from the speedboat is a fantastic view of the Indian Ocean :)

And I have to be in the photo, as usual.

Gracie, are you comfortable in that position? :)

We found our table. It also is a good spot to enjoy the view of the ocean.

We are here at the Office of the Manager. While waiting for our  official receipt, we posed again even if the manager wasn't looking. The manager, who was busy on the phone with his boss, gave us a warm reception and even offered us vodka. We didn't get to taste the vodka because we were too busy swimming and walking around the island.

Our Maldivian men preparing lunch.

To-die-for view.

Abdul, my Rakim, and another staff of the resort (sorry I didn't get his name)

Maldives, I am in love with you.

I think lunch is ready. I wasn't able to take a photo of the veggies and the cooler with bottled beverages.

This awesome view is at the far side of Picnic Island. I'm just sooo glad that we still had the strength to walk farther and endure the scorching heat of the Maldivian sun to find this.

Before leaving Picnic Island, we saw a group of locals (around 10, I think) who just hopped on their boat. One of the guides, who became our friend, said they're using a local version of the speedboat. It was not speedy enough, though.

And we bid goodbye to Picnic Island. You were such a beauty worth going back to.

Then we started sailing to Sexy Beach. 
The pilot did not warn us that there will be big waves we'll encounter as we approach the sandbar. Overall, it was a still a joyride.

It was already beautiful from afar.

When we arrived, we saw two couples basking in the sun. It was really hot that time.

Arena also provided us with an umbrella. Without one, you'll definitely have a sunburn.

Our guide gave us only 45 minutes to stay here as it was getting dark and the waves might get bigger. I think that's just enough because I could already feel the sun's burning  rays. We've been exposed to the sun for quite a long time since that morning.

Back to Maafushi...
And we are back. Gracie and I still had the energy to explore the streets of the island. It was almost evening but darkness hasn't set in. We used our shawls to cover our shoulders while walking. In the island, it's just respect not to show too much skin.

the welcome arc

There's a stadium that everyone can use. There were guys playing football when we passed by. 

the stage

the hospital -- Services here are for free!

Office of the City Council

an adorable kid we met on the street :) When he saw that I was holding a camera, he just said "photo! photo!" 

Summary of Expenses (Days 2 & 3):
Fihalhohi Tour -                       US$88
Beer -                                       $6 (each)
Burger -                                   $10
Some souvenir -                       $10
Picnic Island & Sexy Beach Tour - $57
Tip -                                         $6 ($1.50 each)
Dinner (Rehendi Restaurant) -    $1.13 (MVR17)
(Gracie paid for my dinner, it was a birthday treat.)
Aloe Vera Skin Lotion -            $8.33 (MVR125)
I had to buy one for my sunburn.

                                                US$181.96 (rounded off to $182)

Day 4- February 16, 2014
TOUR of MALÉ and Leaving Maldives

This is our last breakfast in Maldives...huhuhu...

The staff at Arena were very kind to prepare breakfast for us before we headed to the Maafushi port. The boat leaves 7:30AM daily to Male.

 Bye, Maafushi.

We are back again in Male. This will be the last chance to explore the capital city before we go back to Malaysia. The four us, with our (heavy) bags in tow, started a walking tour of Male.

We walked past a really nice (gold) mosque. 

Nice murals.

Oh yes, it's the name of the store. For a few moments we thought Barney Stinson would come out.

Another mosque.

the City Hall

Then we reached the port to take the airport ferry. 

the water is sooo beautiful!

This is the entrance to the Ibrahim Nasir Airport.

The airport had no free wi-fi but two computer terminals with Internet connection are provided in the pre-departure area. 

Back at Maafushi, I really had a difficult time trying to find nice souvenir T-shirts. The store in the island only had Large sizes. The ref magnets sell at $5 each so I decided to just buy at the airport duty-free shop only to find out the price is 3x more expensive! Left with no other choice, I had to buy them to bring to my loved ones in the Philippines. (TIP: Buy your pasalubong at the local island shops.)

There goes our trip to Maldives. Too bad Air Asia had to stop offering this route in March 2014 but I heard there's a chance to bring it back according to CEO Tony Fernandes. Let's all hope we get to see this amazing country again at cheaper rates. (Check Tiger Airways' flights to Male via Singapore.)

After writing this blog, my friends keep asking: "Kailan ulit magkaka-glitch?" (Will there be any glitch soon?) 

The answer is...nobody knows. :)