Backpacking the Highlights of Southeast Asia

Backpacking the Highlights of Southeast Asia

Are you thinking of a 5 week South-East Asia Adventure?

 I knew I wanted to See Southeast Asia before I died, but I was time limited to 5 weeks due to other commitments. So how many highlights can you fit within a 5-week journey? And Will a short timeframe have a detriment effect on the experience?

 I’ve separated the adventure into 4 parts.

 Part 1 & 2 The Philippines 

Part 3 highlights of Singapore, Cambodia Vietnam and Thailand

Part 4 Indonesia 

Part 1- The Philippines

Welcome to Asia Cebu Airport

My Emirates flight landed mid-afternoon, as I experienced waves of anticipation and excitement for my first trip to Asia. Those awesome feelings soon turned into nervous and anxiety walking through the arrivals hall and into a taxi. Where the culture shock and panic started to begin, as I underestimated the size, and congestion of Cebu city, I feared that I might miss my ferry, even though I had 3 hours to make the journey. it was really tight, rushing to collect my ticket, running through check-in and security and then I sat down in Departure Lounge, listening to the announcement “the ferry has been delayed by 60 minutes.” 

60 minutes went and still no ferry, 2 hours pass, again no ferry, will I make it to Bohol Island Tonight?  Yes, after a 145-minute delay, the ship set sail to Tagbilaran city.  I got the cheapest ticket £7 and settled into the open deck seating, falling asleep and waking upon arrival 2 hours later. Where I finally took my last leg of the journey a 30-minute tutu ride to Alona Beach. Where I had a 2-night stay at Moon Fools Hostel

Alona Beach Day 2

Alona Beach is a very welcoming site to your first day in Asia, it’s wonderful with full of character with its small beachside restaurants, tutu’s, huts and palm trees, it’s not over touristy though. I was one of the very few people to lay on the beach and go for a swim that morning. 

Bohol Island Tour

Bohol Island Tour

 These several providers offering a classic island tour of Bohol all offer similar destinations, the tarsiers and chocolate hills.  I choose to book mine beforehand with klook for £20 like with all trips in Asia don’t book via an online provider like Expedia, GetYourGuide and Viator will generally charge you at least double all triple the cost for the same experience.

The tour is a great way to experience the island in a short space of time, you get to see the following.

  1. The Tarsiers, the smallest primates alive and only native to Bohol
  2. Chocolate Hills
  3. a 2km long man-made forest called Bilar, it has trees stretching across the road creating a tunnel
  4. Baclayon Church
  5. buffet lunch on a 90-minute river cruise
  6. zip line
  7. swinging bridges

The Chocolate Hills are so called for their lack of flora, leaving the brown soil just visible. The hills are protected meaning that you can’t explore them, and the only way to see them is by 2 small vantage points leading to overcrowding and less enjoyment. Although any trip to the Philippines must include these hills as they are very unique and beautiful.

My favourite part of the whole tour was the buffet cruise along the Laboc River. The tropical flora amongst the hills that play host to children swinging into the brown waters of the Loboc created a very atmospheric feel to the journey.

Alona Beach to Apo (Turtle) Island Day 3

I was despondent about leaving Bohol, these so many adventures you can take, waterfalls, snorkelling trips and beaches but I had to move on to another ferry trip from to Tagbilaran city to Dumaguete on the island of Negros. A 2-hour journey costing £13. from there it’s a 1 hour’s tutu ride to Malatapay a place that holds a market Wednesdays and Sundays, but most importantly it’s a place where you can get a ferry ride to Apo Island.

. A volcanic island surrounded by diverse marine life a diving paradise that’s mostly known for its turtle spotting opportunities. The 300php ferry journey takes 45 minutes, on a 10-man boat only departing when it’s full. So, after a 90-minute wait, I finally got the chance to cross the Sulu sea in the hope of seeing some turtles.

Sadly, though by the time I checked into the hotel, it was too late for any spotting opportunities as the evening drew in. But what an incredible sunset, Philippine just delivery’s the most fantastic sunsets ever evening the skies are full of colour.

I stayed at the Mario’s Homestay, who offered the cheapest accommodation with meals included.  I had a hut that contained a double bed and a shower for 500php per night. 

Apo Islands Day 3,4

Being early morning, the cool temperature hosted the perfect opportunity to take a 1hour hike to see the Lighthouse, built in 1906 by the Spanish it overlooks views that stretch for miles across the sea, to Negros, Cebu and Siquijor.  Coming back down its time to spot some Turtles, but instead of going to the beachfront I headed south, across many, many rocks to a genuinely secluded beach, where I finally went to out to find some turtles. I swam and swam, but I couldn’t find any.

So, I headed back where I found a conservation area, where you pay a guide to take you on tour. They make sure no one harms the turtles in return the locals make money while the turtles have learnt to trust people. Within a space of an hour in a small congregated area, my guide managed to show me 6 greenhead turtles along with finding Nemo.

Achieving my goal, I finally slow down, and this is where the culture shock really hit me, the remoteness, limited electrical supply, cold showers, food etc. Sure, I’ve been to poorer countries before, but all the areas were touristy, built up, with backpacker vibes. This was indeed in the middle of nowhere.

Apo Island to Oslob Cebu Day 5

Coming back to Negros island a welcome bunch of 50ish dolphins came to say hello, bow riding for 10 minutes all so, cheering me right up while emphasising once again how exceptional the marine diversity is at Apo Island. Anticipating an arduous day of travelling ahead a tutu driver offered a ride to Sibulan ferry terminal, the gateway to Cebu for 200php. It meant that I would cut two slow bus journeys and make it to the port within an hour.

The next ferry ride was short and sweet, it even linked in with the bus timetable. Within a 30-minute bus journey, I arrived at Oslob famous for Whale Sharks, and Tumalog falls. I manage to bargain a 3-bed non air-conditioned room for 3 nights for £15 at the MB’s Sunrise view. It even had a brilliant location situated on the seafront right in the middle of town.

Whale Shark Day

Waking up early in the morning, my guide meets me at the hotel 5.30 in the morning, where she led me on a 10-minute brisk walk followed by an hour’s queue, where the anticipation and excitement of achieving a lifelong goal were building minute by minute.

But first I had to attend a safety briefing, that mostly went in one ear and out the other, A cause its 7 in the morning and B I was so flipping excited. I finally got the chance to get on a boat a real winner off the world’s tinniest overcapacity, unstable boat award; I got squeezed abroad with 11 other excited participates.

It wasn’t far out only 500metres from the coastline, but it seemed to take forever to arrive when we did I splashed into the water in the most uncool fashion. A minute later, appearing from the murky depths of the Cebu Strait, the biggest and prettiest animal I’ve ever seen, swam within an arm’s length of me.  The world seemed to slow down as the perfect shape beast with its white-spotted brown body gobbed away at plantation filling its white belly.

It was magical, spectacular the words don’t do it justice. Another followed, while the biggest swam towards me, I had to empty the water from my annoying snorkelling mask, as I plunge my head back down, I discovered the tail to this powerful creature was within 20 centimetres from my left foot. A priceless memory that I will never forget. Two more followed before being asked to exit the water.

Before visiting, I never realised how much of an impact its caused feeding the species. To encourage whale sharks to get involved with tourism, locals have started to feed the great beasts. However, instead of just staying in the area for 60 days all so, the feeding has broken their natural circle, and now you can find the endangered species in Cebu all year Long.  These other more environmentally friendly opportunities to see Whale Sharks in the Philippines at Donsol.  

Tumalog falls

After the morning of my life, I was hoping to do some canyoneering and visit Kawasan falls. Unfortunately, I underestimated the distance and the cost. Instead, I was recommended a cheaper alternative that I do regret now. But to begin with, I visited the magnificent Tumalog falls. It’s particularly unique as the falls spread its waters across a broad ridge producing a spray that feels more like a shower. Be careful though, as underneath the waistline bright turquoise waters lies many slippery rocks.

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