A four-hour flight from KL took us direct to Cebu, in the Central Visayas, Philippines. Cebu City is one of the biggest cities in the Philippines, and is a base to get to many other areas on Cebu island or the other surrounding islands. It’s safe to say that we weren’t short of options when planning where to go in the Philippines, there’s 7,641 islands to choose from, so picking just a few to visit was never going to be easy.
The first stop was going to be on Bantayan Island, so we stayed overnight in Cebu City before going to the bus station the next morning and taking the four-hour bus to the north of the island to Hagnaya port. From there a one-hour ferry took us over to the town of Santa Fe on Bantayan Island.
This was no ordinary passenger ferry, it was huge, it could transport buses and trucks, as well as people, it was that big. The journey went smoothly, and before we knew it we were falling slowly back in to island life. When I say slowly, I mean it, the people in the Philippines must be the most laid back and relaxed people in the world, it is spectacular. If a boat is scheduled to depart at 10am, it might leave at 10, or 11, or three in the afternoon, or the next day, and that pretty much applies to everything here 🙂
Bantayan isn’t really much of a tourist destination, it mainly seems to be home to locals, with Philippine tourists holidaying here, a few expats and the occasional backpacker, in short… It’s amazing. On our first day we met another couple of backpackers from the UK, who had already met up with a local guy called Nikko, so that night (and every day after that) we all met up, and Nikko pretty much explained and showed us the whole Island.
It was a one-in-a-million opportunity that we were very lucky to have, and we passed the days sat on stunning beaches and the nights drinking and laughing. Bantayan was definitely one of our favourite travel experiences so far, the people made the place quite special, it was so laid back, not touristic, not ruined and the people I think are the friendliest we have ever come across.
In five days, I don’t think we have ever in our lives said “Hello” to people so much in our lives, almost every local said hello to us with a huge smile on their face, most wanted to talk, ask where we are from and why we were there. We walked along the sandbar on the beach one afternoon, when a group of nine or ten local teenagers who were swimming came over to ask us for a photo, from that we sat in the sea and all chatted for the next hour. They were unbelievably friendly, polite, inquisitive, and these aren’t the exception here, they’re the norm, the Philippine people, particularly the Cebuanos are just incredible. See the video below for proof.
Unfortunately, attitudes like these aren’t too common in South East Asia anymore, most of the tourist-trail is quite well-worn now, and the local people are tired of it a lot of the time, which is a shame, because this area of the world has so much to offer.
The nights spent drinking with friends; Nikko, Natasha, Luke, Nacho, Zaida, Steven the Canadian who bought all the beer, were great because they were so chilled out.
On the last morning, we got up early and went down to the beach at 5am with Nikko to watch the sunrise, Nikko brought along his skim board (like a mini surf board to skim on shallow water on), and attempted to teach me how to do it. Several falls and bruises later I surmised that I’m not very good at skim boarding, I eventually managed to do it for a few seconds but not with any consistency, and some of the falls were quite spectacular.
One more thing to note about the Philippines is the crazy cheap alcohol prices, they don’t export the alcohol that they produce for themselves. So, San Miguel beers, which are Philippine, not Spanish as most people think, go for about 30-60 pesos per bottle (50p-£1), a large bottle of local rum or brandy can be had for around £2-3, it’s quite cheap to be an alcoholic here it would seem.
For the first time in a long time, we had to leave but wished we could have stayed longer, we already had a flight booked to Palawan, to go to El Nido, and only when we got there did we realise how untouched by tourists Bantayan actually was.