Tag Archives: south east asia

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Philippine Dreams: To-Die-For Beaches, Black Magic, and Spanish Culture

Philippines – a country full of dreams. 

Not so much visited as Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are, this tropical, hectic, chaotic country gives the shadiest parts of Thailand (*cough*Phuket*cough*) a run for its money. Before Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Pearl Of The Orient Seas, I had the pleasure of travelling through this humble, South East Asian jewel that is all too often ignored by backpackers. Perhaps that is a good thing, as comparative to other places in Asia I have backpacked, this was cleaner (Manila is contentious), its beaches in immaculate condition due to an absence of senseless debauchery and hardcore partying, and its occupants (backpackers and luxury travellers) appearing to be there for tame relaxation, rather than an overly indulgent holiday.

The Philippines is the place to go to if you want a cheap trip, without the questionable excess that say, Phuket is reputed for, while chilling out on world-class beaches, and dining on Spanish-inspired cuisine. This, after all, used to be a Spanish colony, and the funkiness of a Latin-Asian mix is just too enticing to ignore. You want to be involved in the Filipino way of life when you arrive. Dark alleyways on Boracay will see you pass dilapidated buildings, occupied by a dozen bodies sleeping on dusty mattresses, before arriving at alluring Spanish taverns that rival those found in Spain (no kidding)!

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Fresh seafood markets are an island-hoppers paradise!

 

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Can you name a beach more perfect than this? Probably not.

 

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A sand castle: Next level skills right here!

 

After you’ve explored the cosmopolitan streets, hiding everything from dwarf bars to surf shops, head down to Talipapa and check out the fresh seafood market. Here, you buy the fish of your choice (including huge prawns and lobsters), and carry it with you to one of the nearby hole-in-the-wall restaurants, who cook it for you to your liking. It’s an enjoyable experience that feels intimate, and you can rest assured knowing that the fish is absolutely fresh (if you go for lobster, they’re alive when you buy them).

There’s also the possibility of going to Bulabog Beach, which is a world-renowned kitesurfing beach full of…kite surfers (naturally). This is great if you’re into the sport, otherwise it’s not the ideal place to go for a swim, since it’s predominantly overrun with kite surfers catching massive winds.

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Seafood (3)

The island is split into five main areas: Stations 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Station 1 contains the island’s most famous beach, White Beach. It’s a little more on the luxurious side with less to do than Station 2, which is full of bars, restaurants, night shows and market stalls. Station 3 is quieter, and offers good value for accommodation, if you don’t mind being further away from the action. Station 4 is where Bulabog Beach is, so if you’re into kite surfing, this is the place to be!

Station 5 actually flanks either side of Stations 1, 2, 3, and 4, and contains more resort style accommodation. It’s largely remote, so unless you’re on a honeymoon and really want some alone time, this probably isn’t the most active place to be.

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local transport roundup - jeepney in Manila Philippines
A Jeepney: The most pimped out way to ride around Manila!

 

I’ll have to conclude this post about my time travelling in the Philippines with two interesting observations, which I hope do not deter you from travelling here.

1. In Boracay, I saw a black magic stall containing decapitated monkeys, birds, sharks, boars, and crocodiles, whose heads had been shoved onto the ends of sticks. Interesting, but expensive crystal necklaces were also on display, while the tattooed men in the stall had a shady vibe going on. It freaked me out a little. What I saw in that stall, and the explanation about Filipino shamans (witch doctors), their tools for black magic (dead, decapitated animals stuck onto sticks), and the strong belief in curses made me a tad uncomfortable. I’m well-travelled, but this wasn’t something that flew with me. I had a bad feeling about the place and left soon after I chatted to the men in the stall.

A witch doctor holding a human skull
A witch doctor holding a human skull

2. In Manila, your car will be stopped at the hotel, a dog will be unleashed to sniff it out for drugs, licenses will be checked, and mirrors will be placed beneath the vehicle to check for car bombs. Terrorism is a problem. You never know if the taxi you’re in will explode, but it’s enough of a possibility that men armed with machine guns will undertake these procedures every time you try to enter their grounds. This takes some getting used to.

Bomb blasts and terrorism is a constant threat in the Philippines
Bomb blasts and terrorism is a constant threat in the Philippines

I feel obligated to mention those last two parts, so you know exactly what to expect in the Philippines. The people are lovely, the cuisine flavoursome, and the beaches perfect, but it has a dark side, but not so dark that you can’t go on and have a great time, so long as you are aware of your surroundings.

Finally, I do sometimes hear people say that Boracay is too “touristy”. I’ve been to “touristy” places before, and while Boracay does accommodate for the full spectrum of traveller types, I don’t believe in any way it has detracted from the island’s culture, or the experiences it offers. It has a rustic ambivalence that reminds me of Koh Samui, Thailand – you can find what you want here, but the island doesn’t bend to please you. Instead, it exists proudly to offer you the perfect piece of genuine Filipino paradise, and that’s something you should embrace before full-blown tourism  does destroy it.

 

 

the beach film

The Beach Film: Inspiration For Backpackers

The Beach film has inspired a generation of backpackers to circle the globe, in search of adventure, cultural understanding, and to break away from the monotonous routine of an office cubicle.

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The Beach film is also responsible for the avalanche of backpackers who find their way navigating the mean streets of Bangkok, the alarming roadways of Phuket, and the picturesque beaches of Koh Samui. Backpackers can find beauty in every corner, on every street, and in every locale that they frequent and explore, but more often than not, they’ll agree that Bangkok is a hectic, polluted city, that Phuket’s exploitation of the sex industry (including the illegal side) ruins it completely, but that all is salvaged once Koh Samui welcomes their arrival.

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The Beach film is perhaps best known for flinging travellers and tourists towards Koh Phi Phi Don, as they hitch a boat towards the beaches of Maya Bay – the famous location where The Beach film was shot. Although the film has received questionable reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, one has to look beyond what the critics say, and reflect on what this cult film does for the legion of backpackers who relate to Richard (played by Leonardo DiCaprio).

Richard embodies the typical backpacker, who is in search of something more, in search of something  different, more visceral, more real. They wait for it to hit them. They go out with a group of friends, or they go out with their partners, or perhaps, on their own; whatever number accompanies them, they search for their own piece of paradise – something which is as much mental as it is physical. Legions of backpackers just like Richard come to Maya Bay in a ritualistic, rite of passage journey – let’s call it the backpacker’s mecca, because that’s exactly what it is. But backpackers soon find that the mecca is just that – overrun with hoards of people, leaving nothing to the imagination of what this place was like when Richard, Etienne and Francois discovered it.

the beach film

The great, leaping metaphor of The Beach film is that it compels travellers to get out into the world, and discover their own piece of paradise. I’ve found on my journeys that more often than not, deviating from the beaten path has been more rewarding than trampling the weathered roads. This isn’t about being elitist, and pointing the finger at somebody and saying “Hey, you, the Eiffel Tower sucks compared to the Catacombs,” or approaching Greek Island hoppers and laughing, telling them “You don’t know the real Greece until you’ve weathered the long road to Serres, Thessaloniki, and the remote areas of Rhodos.” Because what I’ve come to find is that, like Richard from The Beach film, people travel for their own reasons. I often wonder what backpackers say about Australia, using this line of reasoning, when ousting Bondi Beach, Byron Bay, and the Gold Coast from their list of special places Down Under.

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I wonder this because sometimes, these places are popular for a reason. You would, in fact, be hard pressed to find a beach as amazing as Bondi in New South Wales, or a rainforest as sublime as the Daintree. If The Beach film taught backpackers anything, it’s exactly that: Paradise is whatever paradise is to you. Paradise is not a universal place, it’s a personal refuge that suits our ideals, values, and ethics.

The only thing that ruins paradise, as The Beach film projects, is that paradise can only be kept a secret for so long. Once the crowds come, the development comes, and special places end up being overcrowded by hotel conglomerates and cruise ships. It sucks, but understanding that everybody has the equal right to travel in whichever way they please, I can’t argue with it. I don’t want to be unfair, and exclude people from the opportunity to experience something special for them, simply because it doesn’t match or agree with my thoughts on the situation.

the beach film

The Beach film has inspired me to travel all over Australia, Fiji, Switzerland, France, Malta, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Spain, The Netherlands, USA, China, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore. It’s the reason I’m leaving in 7 weeks to backpack through Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Brazil, Colombia, San Blas Islands, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Cuba, and the Caribbean. Damn, I might just chuck Belize in there for good measure too ;) The Beach film is the reason for this, which is why I have dedicated a post to the movie.

The Beach film has done more than that though, and I’ll share those thoughts with you all over time. My question is this: Have you seen The Beach film (if not, hire it now), and if so, has it inspired you to travel? I’d love to know the places you’ve been to, so feel free to leave a comment and share your own piece of paradise – if you dare….

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