Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Philippines General
Unfortunately, the Philippines has a somewhat poor reputation with most Australians due to the rather unsavoury activities of some Australian males who visit this country for what can often be described as less than noble causes. This reputation can tend to cause any males who visit the Philippines, especially if they are single like me, to receive many adverse comments from people, even if they are only made in jest. I cannot count the number of times over the weeks leading up to my trip to the Philippines in the 1990s I was asked if I was going to "get a wife".
This adverse notoriety is, to be honest, fair in respects of the larger cities such as Manila and Cebu City. The hundreds of "girly bars" are really low degrading (yes, I did go to one and I felt quite down after experiencing it). At the same time, I experienced excellent bars and restaurants, even in the middle of Manila and Cebu City, including Studebakers and the Harborside Restaurant.
This is a real land of contrasts, with unbelievable poverty in some areas and luxurious hotels and offices only a matter of a few hundred metres away. The larger cities can really be quite depressing, with the slums, overwhelming pollution (both noise and air) from the thousands of motor vehicles. The vehicles on the roads include tricycles (dirty two-stroke bikes with amazing side-cars that hold about six people), jeepneys (huge jeep like vehicles which are outrageously adorned with ornaments and paint and spew diesel fumes everywhere) and mini-buses that are more like motorbikes. A comment; all Filipino drivers seem to think that they must honk their horn every few seconds, even on almost deserted country roads. For the life of me, I cannot understand why, I can only assume that they think that their countrymen must be quite deaf and not able to hear their very noisy vehicles approaching.
On my only trip to the Philippines in 1997 I flew courtesy of Philippine Airlines. They have regular flights from Sydney and Melbourne (alternating starting points) and the service and food was quite good. The overnight flight is okay, especially if you can get some sleep on the plane. I am not sure of flights now.
Despite the good service on the flight, in general, the whole country is not very well organised, with examples abounding. On arrival in Manila at 5 am, not one bank was open even though there were more than 200 potential customers arriving and wanting to change money. As I had to fly out of Manila to a small island at 8 am (before normal banks open and there being no banks at the domestic terminal), I could not change any money for about three days. This causes problems as you will see later. Other examples of disorganisation were having to pay a departure tax for a domestic flight and the lone tax seller hand writing receipts to attach to your ticket. This appeared to be an employment scheme as the extremely low tax (from memory 10 pesos or 50 cents) could not raise too much considering there are not that many domestic flights each day (compared to Sydney for example).
When leaving your hotel or resort, make sure that you allow considerable time to check out as in my experience from five different resorts and hotels, it was a real chore to get the staff to understand that two people sharing a room sometimes do not want their bill combined. It took more than half an hour to pay your bill in most cases. Combine 13 people and even with four staff it could take all morning to settle up. As you enter or exit the airport terminals, dozens of porters jostle to grab your luggage (even if you have it on a trolley) and want payment for wheeling it a few metres to your cab. Unless you are frail, I would suggest doing it yourself and refusing their approaches, especially if like me you have no pesos to pay them!
When catching taxis, make sure that you negotiate a price before entering the cab. Even when you do this, most cab drivers will attempt to alter the price halfway to the location by claiming that the agreed price is too low. When this occurs, tell the driver that the agreed price is all you are paying, otherwise stop and let you out. The driver will keep going, dropping his price and in the end, do not pay any more than what you have already agreed to pay.
The area away from the main cities is very nice, with some very beautiful places. As you fly from one place to another you travel over beautiful blue seas with yellow tinged green islands. Despite the very large population (more than 65 million), the islands outside Manila, Cebu City and one or two other areas are not really as populated as you would expect.
The food and drink is, in general, very cheap, with a good meal available (1997 prices are quoted) in some resorts for $6 or so. Beers are $1 to $2 but can reach $4 in casinos and big city hotels. I did not strike a poor quality meal, although in one resort the quality and variety of food did not reach the high price forced on you by a compulsory food package.
The travel is also quite inexpensive, with taxis, jeepneys and tricycles very cheap. Boat and plane travel is less expensive than most other Asian countries, although there are problems here. One airline we were forced to travel on to get to and from one location had a total weight capacity of only 60kg per person. This is not your luggage allowance, it is your total allowance, including yourself!! Obviously, not many Australians can get on this airline without incurring a penalty. Thankfully, it was not too much but on the return trip we had to leave two people behind even though the plane was not full and there did not appear to be too much luggage (I have flown of the same plane in the Pacific filled with divers and all their gear!).
On my trip I travelled to Bohol, Mactan and Dimakya Island and Coron in the Calamian Group as well as Manila. I enjoyed all locations, especially Bohol and Coron. Over the coming months I will write in more detail about my dive trip, including the resorts, diving and general travel information.
In summary, an exciting and different dive location, especially worth visiting for the wrecks of Coron and the sharks of Cabilao Island.